Saturday, 31 January 2004

And here are my answers to the fab Friday Five

You have just won one million dollars:

1. Who do you call first? Have to call the Guru of all things Japanese, she'll be *so* happy.

2. What is the first thing you buy for yourself? A stiff drink

3. What is the first thing you buy for someone else? A big cake for the Guru

4. Do you give any away? If yes, to whom? Yes, to the family and some to charity (Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth)

5. Do you invest any? If so, how? Yes, bricks and mortar (but not in Japan)

Wednesday, 28 January 2004


Minako watched TV last night, she does this a lot. On one of the nonsense variety programmes that are so popular over here there was an item about the peeing habits of adult Japanese men. Apparently, according to recent research, 30% of Japanese men sit down to have a piss when at home.

30 per cent!

I know I've been talking about the collapse of Japanese society recently, but it was tongue in cheek. I had no idea things had become this bad...

Tuesday, 27 January 2004

A good read

As mentioned before I had run out of books to read so today, as I was in Kichijouji, I made a special visit to Bondi Books to stock up. In the process I met the pleasant Josh, his charming wife and a nice chap named Simon (I think it was might have been Steve...hmm...pretty sure it was Simon...sorry if you weren't Simon...I can be crap with names). Anyway we enjoyed a chat and a cup of tea and I, as promised, stocked up. Bondi Books is small but perfectly formed and I shall most certainly be going back to replenish supplies in the future. So thanks for the cuppa, see you again soon.

Sunday, 25 January 2004

A quiet week

Not a lot has been happening this week. As reported below, Tochiazuma didn't get the 13 wins he needed, in the end I think he only got 11, so no promotion for him. Asashoryu did the job, however, and won all 15 of his bouts and gained a zensho yusho or perfect record, something that doesn't happen very often and shows the paucity of the opposition around at the moment. Japanese culture hasn't collapsed, but it is getting creaky.

This week's political scandal is actually this week's two political scandals. The first is with a chap named Koga who won a seat in the lower house during the recent elections. On his personal website he wrote that he had attended some university in California, UCLA I think. But someone spotted this and checked up and found out that he didn't. Koga then changed his story and said, 'oh sorry, I meant to say California State uni'. Until Cal State turned around this week and said 'oh no you didn't' in best pantomime traditions. So he's over there now trying to forge attendance records or something. He's just a bit of a prat really, but well done to the Japanese journo's who are finally earning their bread.

The second political scandal has been rumbling for a while now, well about 50 years, but I saw a newspaper report today so thought I'd share it. Apparently in 1948 the govt, in an attempt to make it look like there were more doctors than there really were, made a rule that doctors could register as working at more than one hospital. This helped the govt figures and also helped the hospitals, especially university teaching ones, as there were severe financial penalties if a hospital didn't have, say, 70% of the doctors it needed, so the university hospitals could claim that all their graduating doctors were registered with them as well as going off to work at a private hospital as well. And of course, the doctors would be paid by both institutions even though they only work at one. Anyway this carried on for years and, though illegal, was the beneficiary of an official blind eye - especially as the govt still has problems finding enough doctors for out of the way places in Tohoku and Hokkaido. It all came out last year when a doctor in Hokkaido was found to have defrauded the govt by 1.32 billion yen (that's about 7 million quid) and suddenly everyone was up in arms. Of course the doctor in question said 'who me? but everyone does!' and then the whole story came out and a lot of people were a little unhappy by it all - especially the govt, but then again, they have said they have no plans to change the law, which seems odd but obviously there are other motives afoot. Anyway, well done again to the journo's, who seem to be having a good run at the moment.

By the by, this reportage of political scandals shouldn't be taken as criticism of the Japanese - I actually think it is quite healthy as people, journo's, ordinary people, are starting to ask questions that those in power haven't been asked before, which has got to be good. I suppose it is a symptom of the state of society and the economy that for the first time the average chap in the street isn't accepting that 'these things go on' and want to change things. Hopefully soon they will get round to Japanese landlords and the 'gift' money that everyone has to pay but no one knows why. (Japanese are big on 'gift' money: apartment contract up for renewal? Give the landlord an extra month's rent to say thank you for letting you live there; kid in hospital? Make sure you slip the already well paid doctor an extra 100,000 to 'make sure' your kid gets better; want your kid to get into Waseda kindergarten? (I love this one) Make sure you give a voluntary 'donation' of 3.5 million yen over and above the extortionate fees to get into the race for next year's enrolment etc etc etc In any other country it would be called bribery, but that only happens in uncivilised parts of Asia.) Anyway it's not meant to be Japan bashing, though I admit that it might come across that way.

Two good pieces of personal news this week was that firstly the Indian restaurant where sometimes I eat my lunch have signed up to the live internet cricket coverage of the VB series, so on Thursday night Ian, my Aussie colleague, went to the Indian and watched the game. And what a craker it was, all the staff watching, food and beers on hand, and best of all, even though Australia won, they apparentlj waved him away without paying a penny. Marvellous, so we are off there to watch the finals in a week or two. The other piece of good news was that I discovered that Maruetsu supermarket near the office stocks Cellier des Dauphins. A drinkable CDR at 900 yen a bottle, can't be bad. Shame I have to carry them all the way home, but life isn't perfect all the time.

Lastly I started writing assignment #2 today, did 2000 words of literature analysis on motivation and performance management. No. It isn't motivating me at all and I will probably have to rewrite all of it, but it was a start. But now I shall stop.

Wednesday, 21 January 2004

+++ UPDATE +++ UPDATE +++ UPDATE +++

On Tuesday Tochiazuma slipped to a 7-3 record, meaning he can no longer gain the required 13 wins to be promoted to the rank of yokozuna.

Collapse of Japanese culture and society reportedly imminent.

Monday, 19 January 2004

Monday Night

Well here we are on a Monday night and I am struggling of things to write about. Been one of those weeks really. Last time I think I left you hanging in the saga of installing the webcam. We will leave it like that, I think. It wasn't a pleasant experience. Some psychologists like to think that reliving things can be cathartic, burn out the bad memories, confront demons, that sort of thing. I don't think psychologists have to deal with their own computers when they start to act up - or have to go to Akihabara for that matter. Suffice it to say that I started the process at about 9pm Friday, went to bed around 2:30am, went back to computer around 10am and craked it after lunch. Luckily I had father and golf playing brother on hand to send emails like 'your not logged on'. Oh really? The really galling bit was that I sat here for hours swearing, up walks Minako, says 'no, not that one, this one' and et voila. The line between abject devotion to one's spouse and domestic violence is a very fine one...


Well, they've gone. The Japanese are to set foot in a 'war zone' for the first time since WW2. The initial reconnas... scouting party has arrived in Kuwait, where they will spend a couple of weeks acclimatising to the surroundings (it's a desert, it's hot and sandy, how much more do they need to know?) before setting off for their sector. There they will spend a couple more weeks working out the quickest way to run back to the big safe place in Kuwait. Then, the main body of troops/engineers/water carriers will arrive and pretend to be soldiers before, I suspect, running home very quickly. Oh well, but at least they are trying. Further bulletins as events warrant.

The news

It has even been a quiet week in the news. No gaffes from government ministers. No large scale business fraud. It was the ninth anniversary of the Hanshin (Kobe) earthquake on saturday, at 5.47am if you're interested, but that passed with the usual solemnity, although a comment from a Kobe local who survived the quake did puzzle me 'we don't really want all these new people moving here [Kobe has a very high rate of people moving in] because we don't think they will know what to do if another big earthquake hits'. I think that applies to most people in Japan, and most of the inhabitants who survived the first one, for that matter. I mean, during a big quake there doesn't seem to be much you can do except shit yourself in an extravagent fashion and hope to god that nothing falls on you, or you into anything. After that, stay put and wait for the rescuers. Doesn't seem to be that tricky, not that Iwant to try, mind you.

So that only leaves...


Marvellous. Big lads slapping each other, what more could you want? But wait, there is a real crisis going on in Sumo right now. There hasn't been a Japanese grand champion (yokozuna) for a couple of years now, and no Japanese has been promoted to the rank for even longer. There should be 2 yokozuna at any given time, one in the 'east' and one in the 'west' (these are symbolic groups that mean nothing (to most people) but one is considered stronger). Anyway, right now there is only one, a chap named Asashoryu, and he's from Mongolia. The last couple before him were Akebono and Mushashimaru, both originally from Hawaii. You have to go back to Wakanohana and Takanohana to find some Japanese yokozuna, a few years at least, and heaven only knows when the last time there were 2 Japanese yokozuna at the same time, certainly before my time in Japan began. And now, goodness gracious me, there is even a European in the top Makuuchi division, a chap from Geogia named Kokkai, who seems to acquitting himself quite well in the current New Year tournament.

So, as you can imagine there is a lot of soul searching going on right now. The Japanese have their hopes pinned on a chap named Tochiazuma, who, if he gets 13 wins (out of 15 bouts) will get promoted. But such is the strength of Asashoryu, that promotion is all they are really hoping for, just to have a Japanese yokozuna. Winning the tournament would be nice, but its not the top priority. Makes you think.

Of course this is just a symptom of much wider cultural problems going on right now. As with most of the western world, Japan has an ageing population, but as Japanese live so long, and the birth rate is so low (only Italy's is lower, I think) that it is going to become a really serious problem very soon.

(Aside: just remembered a bit of fraud from the government recently, knew there had to be some! When you retire, your state pension is based on the salary on the day you leave your job. Sound like that might be open to corruption? You betcha. Something like 92% of retiring government officials and civil servants in 2003 were given large pay rises on the day of their retirement in order to gain higher pensions. This was sanctioned much higher up the chain and has been going on for a while. But as the economy is not working, journalists have decided to start and have begun asking questions. At last, good on 'em)

Anyway, back to ageing populations. Sometime, sometime soon, Japan isn't going to have enough workers. This means that they will have to let foreigers in to do the jobs that are there, and this is scaring Japanese at the moment, scaring them a lot. The reason is that really the Japanese don't like foreigners very much, they're not Japanese, you see, these foreigners, so they don't understand. So having non-Japanese as the top Sumo wrestlers grates a bit. You do get attempts at internationalisation, but they are a bit of a sham. For instance, a while back a city down in Kyushu announced proudly to the world, well, the rest of Japan, that it was a model of internationalisation by electing a Foreign Mayor to the town. 'Gasp' we gasped. Until the details came out. This foreigner was born in Japan, as were his parents. His grand parents had moved to Japan after the war from Korea. The new mayor had never been to Korea, couldn't speak Korean and had no blood realtives alive in Korea. But according to the Japanese government's policy, he has a Korean passport, must carry an alien registration card at all times, get a re-entry permit when he leaves the country on holiday and is barred from any kind of government/civil service job. Pretty poor, really.

Which leads us quite nicely on to Tama-chan. Tama-chan was an arctic seal that swam up the Tama river last year and amde itself at home for the summer - though goodness knows how as the Tama is the river between Tokyo and Kawasaki (Kawasaki...think Middlesbrough without the good points) and therefore the Tama is similar in make up and consistency to the Ankh in Ankh-Morpok. But it did, and was adopted by the locals as their kind of symbol or mascot. Then some local pompous bigwig decided that it would be nice to present the seal with a certificate of residence. Nice touch, get in some tourists, that sort of thing. But this actually created a furore, so much so that it got on the national news. You see, a certificate of residence is a bit like gold dust. It means you are a citizen of the town and in a way is much more important than having a Japanese passport, it means you belong. I don't have one. Even if I changed my visa to a spouse one, I wouldn't get one. But the bigwig was going to present one to a seal. So the foreign community actually reacted and started a fuss. It began with questions and comments like 'how will it carry it's gaijin card?' and 'will it register at the local ward office?' but then moved onto demonstrations by foreigners who had been refused visa or permits or these certificates. For a while it was a bit of a cause celebre and, as I mentioned, was on the news. The bigwig withdrew the plan, in the end, but the average Japanese in the street was a little disgruntled by it all. They couldn't understand the fuss, and then started blaming it all on the foreigners without ever looking at the reasons why. They're good at that.

So here we are.......ah.....where are we? Japanese don't like foreigners and are in for a big shock when their economy starts to fall apart due to lack of workers. Then they will have to start importing cheap chinese builders and the like, who are going to want rights and things and the Japanese are not going to give them, not without a fight anyway.

That's how important Sumo is.

Monday, 12 January 2004

I want to believe

Being a blogger means you spend a silly amount of time looking at other peoples' websites and blogs, for research you see, and I can now announce there are a lot of people out there who really want to believe.

Check out 911 Conspiracy for the alternative view of Bush et al and also check out this one for those who have serious reservations about the BBC. It's all fab stuff and can keep you amused for hours

Sunday, 11 January 2004

War! pt.2: The Tactics

It gets even better with the GSDF and their trip to Iraq. A spokesman from the defence ministry said this week that they do not believe there will be a problem in Iraq with people shooting at them, even though it is a war zone. However, if, and this is a really big if, some nefarious local insurgents start to take pot shot at the Japanese Army, they now have a plan.

They will evacuate.

That's right folks, in the best Monty Python tradition, the cream of the Japanese army will tactically retreat if someone starts attacking them... away! away!..........

Dante was almost right

He just forgot to include Akihabara on a Tuesday morning to his seven levels of hell.

Now Golf Playing Going to have a Child Brother oftentimes admonishes me for not going to Akihabara. For those who don't know it is the bit of Tokyo where there are lots of shops selling electronic gadetry, computers, game software and the like. Julian admonishes me because he has never been there.

I hate Akihabara. Really dislike it. If you have all day, nothing to buy, are a real gadget geek and have a mental age of 13, then I am sure you can spend a pleasurable 18 weeks there. But, if you are there before work on a Tuesday morning in January trying to pick up a webcam, it is a horrible place for a variety of reasons not limited to: the only shops you recognise don't open until 11am; you ask simple questions like 'where are the web cameras?' and get replies more complex than the current mission to mars; you can't get a cup of coffee anywhere; the piece of hardware you've been told to buy is only sold in one shop - but no one knows which one; if you decide to browse until the shop you need opens, looking at another floor of duty free md players and ipods gets *really* dull. And on...and on...and on...

But anyway I got the webcam, took it to work, installed it on my pc there with no fuss or hassle, just pop in the cd, agree to the terms and conditions and then we're good to go.

Then I brought it home for the weekend and tried to install it on the NEC laptop...

Sunday, 4 January 2004


What is it good for?

Absolutely nothing if you are Japanese and your constitution forbids you from entering into one. Or does it?

Now here's a weird thing. There has been a lot of discussion here in recent weeks as the Government has been mulling over whether to send members of the GSDF (Ground Self Defence Force) over to Iraq, which would be, in any other country, deploying one's army. It is against the constitution, say critics, and therefore we can't do it - although they obviously say it in Japanese with a lot more waffle. But apparently it isn't. Article 9 of the constitution says something along the lines of "the Japanese people forever renounce the use of aggression [in foreign affairs, or possibly gardening, who knows]" . It may come down to semantics and splitting hairs, but it doesn't actually say anywhere in the constitution that Japan can't have an army. Apparently no one noticed this in 1954 when the precursor to the GSDF (and airforce and navy) was set up, makes you wonder where they wrote down the rules, probably on the back of a serviette over a bowl of late night ramen.

So since 1954 Japan has had armed forces that aren't regulated by the Constitution and are, it appears, in sole control of the Prime Minister of the day. Slighty worrying, that. Also, these armed forces have been pretty well equipped by anyone's standards. Doing a bit of research (the things I do to keep you informed), spending on weapons by Japan was, according to the latest figures available was US$39.5billion. Sounds like a lot of money, and it is, especially when, for the purposes of comparison, you discover that the infinitely more war-like UK spent only US$31.7billion and Germany US$38.8billion. Even the much bigger and bellicose China spent only US$55.9billion, which considering the relative sizes, seems low to me. Makes you wonder how a supposedly neutral country with armed forces supposedly only for defence can spend so much on weaponry, although I wonder how much of that 40billion dollars went to American arms manufacturers? (Actually I'm not sure that Japan is a neutral country, but it is one that stays out of fights.)

So anyway, to get around this ambiguity, the PM, Junichiro Koizumi, says 'aha, but we aren't sending our troops to fight, we are sending our troops to a safe bit of Iraq to provide water for the Iraqi citizens'. To which the rest of the world, i.e. America, shook its collective head and asked just which bit of Iraq was safe enough to be considered not a war zone - in fact the Japanese had to use the term 'hi sento chiiki' to describe what they meant by a war free bit of a war zone, unfortunately (or luckily) this expression can't be translated properly in English, so the Japanese can satisfy themselves and say 'you just don't understand' to the foreigners. This happens a lot when the Japanese don't want to explain something to foreigners.

As a result of all this, the Japanese GSDF is off to a war zone for the first time in a long time, maybe even since the end of WW2 (my research doesn't go this far). As has been pointed out, no one is quite sure what will happen if some of the Iraqi 'insurgents' start shooting at the Japanese. The GSDF is going to an area with some Dutch peacekeepers as well [insert own joke about having protection here] and it seems a little optimistic to hope that the 'insurgents' might only shoot at the Dutch - and even if they did, would the Japanese stand and watch?

Naturally the PM decided it far better not to think about this before sending his troops to Iraq - far better to adopt a 'wait and see' approach, or more likely a 'pray that it doesn't' one, although as we all know, the shrine that Koizumi prays at is Yasukuni-jinja in Kudanshita, resting place of the souls of the war dead, including all the war criminals from WW2. Hmmm


And as if Iraq wasn't dangerous enough, we have had 3 reported deaths from eating mochi this new year already! Just in case you thought mochi was the fish that kills you, you'd be wrong. Mochi is a sweet made from rice, which is pounded until it forms a kind of sticky goo, a bit like that white PVA glue you used to get at school. This then hardens a bit until you want to eat it, which you do by either wrapping it in seaweed and grilling it or putting it in hot soup. On doing this is becomes soft and stringy, a bit like warm mozzarella. So if you put a bit lump in your mouth and chew, not a lot really happens, so you try to swallow a bit, but some goes down your throat and some stays in your mouth and it all gets stretched and so you choke. This happens every year to old people who really should know better and the news reports run an on going list of the number of mochi deaths through the oshogatsu period. Crazy country.

And, just in case you come across someone choking to death on mochi, here is how to save them (and I am not making this up). Run to your cupboard, get you vacuum cleaner, switch it on and put the nozzle down the person throat (after taking off the carpet cleaning attachment (if you like the person)) and suck out the mochi. No really. Heaven knows what they used to do in the days before vacuum cleaners, but every year you hear stories about brave 6 year olds who save grandma/pa from death by mochi by judicious use of household cleaning equipment.
NB. for those with Dyson cleaners, I think the cyclone style cleaner would be just as effective, but perhaps use a lower power setting.

Dave Barry

Lastly today, as I have to do some study, I have discovered that Dave Barry has a blog. For those that don't know, Dave Barry is an excellently funny American writer in the Bill Bryson mould and so should be read - he was one of the main endorsers of Speak Like a Pirate Day, there's pedigree for you. Anyway, go with the new link on the right - and Julian, make sure you read his Christmas poem as this will be you in a couple of year's time.

PS Defence spending data from the CIA world factbook, available at CIA which even has a CIA Homepage for kids - these guys think of everything.

Thursday, 1 January 2004

The hols

So we finally got to the end of it, but the hols are now all but over so thought I'd give you the quick round up of the last couple of weeks or so, just so you know what has been happening.

So, like, first up, y'know, was, like, the Emperor's birthday on the 23rd. This came the day after the 22nd (for all those of you who don't know how it works) when I discovered the Seijo-Ishii in Korakuen. Seijo is a great store as it sells foreign stuff, especially cheese, wine and decent meat i.e. lamb, as best of all, decent quality cheap Port. It is not that cheap, well, the cheese is, but it is great produce. So anyway, this one is huge, of small supermarket proportions, and is on my way home from work, which means I can pop in on a Friday and buy a lump of Brie and a bottle of Sandeman's and have a pleasant weekend. So anyway, I went there on the way home on Monday evening and loaded myself up with Christmas fare. Back to the 23rd and, after racking my and the Guru's brains, can't remember anything we did that day. May have involved vegetable shopping...

Christmas Eve and I went back to Seijo as I realised I there was lots more that I wanted to buy, including a whole chicken for our Christmas dinner. Whilst I was doing this the Guru was off to the hospital for a checkup, which she duly had, and the doc said come back tomorrow for the usual monthly turkey baster thing. So yes, on Christmas day, poor old Minako had to go back to the hospital with a beaker "full" of my outpourings for the Doc to give a boost to. This is strange for Christmas day, you may be thinking, but remember that Christmas is not a holiday here in Japan, everyone goes off to work as normal, although the kids do get christmas presents like greedy urchins all around the world, but the Japanese kids don't have to worry about the whole religious aspects of it, it is all pure commercialism. It is a bit more honest, I suppose, but means that there is no real magic in the air.

Christmas day we also opened presents, thanks to everyone for everything, and had a lovely christmas dinner with all the trimmings courtesy of me and seijo-ishii. In the evening we watched LOTR part 2 as we felt the need to slob out and disengage the brain.

Boxing day we wandered in Tokyo for the day. We spent the day in Shinjuku, the capital of conspicuous consumption, and marvelled at the amount Japanese can spend in the trough of an economic depression. Heaven only knows what it was like in the Bubble, but it is scary now. We also went to watch The Last Samurai, which I will recommend as my film of 2003, along with LOTR pt2, as it was absolutely fab and everyone should go and see it. It has samurai, sword fights, ninja, macho nonsense, unbeatable odds and lots of shouting. Really very very good, made even better by the fact that the Japanese lead, Ken Watanabe, looks remarkably like Hemms, a friend in London, and the thought of Hemms with a 4 foot katana kept me amused for hours. So go and see it, even if you don' know Hemms!

Saturday 27th, you can see from my last post, I tried to study. not a good move.

Sunday we went to Steve and Yasuko's for our proper Christmas lunch. They came to ours last year and reciprocated the honour this year. And I can say that Steve cooked up an absolute treat, a great lunch with all the trimmings again, made even better by the fact that his oven managed to make his yorkshire pudding explode! Don't ask how. When we arrived, Yasuko was mopping out the inside of the oven, moving onto a scouring pad, a billo pad and lastly a scraper, in her attempt to get the oven clean. So we ate too much, drank too much, exchanged presents, played a game called Chicago about gangsters (not musicals, thank goodness) and generally enjoyed ourselves, so big thank yous to Steve and Yasuko for a lovely day.

Monday I studied, Tuesday we did the end of year cleaning of the flat, traditional stuff in this neck of the woods, and Wednesday during the day I studied again. The study actually worked on these two days and I managed to get a bit done. not a lot, mind, but enough to keep the guilty thoughts at bay...sort of.

Anyway New Year's Eve we went back to Steve and Yasuko's to get drunk again. This time the pattern followed much the same as sunday, but we went to an izakaya called shirokiya. Now shirokiyas have changed a bit since the first time I enjoyed their delights. When I first came to Japan they were the cheap night out, with bright, glaring strip lights, loud music, easy point-at-the-picture menus, big spaces for a dozen gaijin to sit around and complain about work and big, cheap beers. Now they have go up market with subdued lighting, jazz in the background, nice menus, small booths and sophisticated bars. Thank god they still do the big cheap beers.

So we were there for a bit and at Steve's place watching the traditional (i.e. crap) new year's eve singing battle on NHK. NHK is the BBC of Japanese tv and on this day they invite loads of famous singers - of all ilks, J-pop, enka, and others - to do 'battle'. The women are the red team and the men are the white. They get up on stage, sing each other's songs and then the judges decide who is 'best'. It is truly awful, the costume theme this year seemed to be the 'bucks fizz' special of the Eurovision song contest in the 80s, when the chaps pulled off the skirts of the ladies (if you can remember the event, we won that year) and everyone went 'oooh'. Or not. It is a bit like watching the eurovision really, you watch with a morbid fascination that anything could be so bad, but the Japanese lap it up every year. Minako and Yasuko were enthralled, so much so that we got to the pub late so we didn't get back in time to watch the other traditional new year's eve special, a midget comedian being fired out of a cannon. I don't know, these women have their priorities all mixed up.

So we got home around 6am, I spoke to various people in various states of disrepair in the UK (excpet Caroline, who was driving, very public spirited of you) at Julian and Katharine's new year party/birthday party for Katharine. Nice to speak to everyone, again if anyone can remember what I said, please let me know.

And today we have been off to Kawaguchi's main shrine to pay our respects, usher in the new year, pray for world peace, that sort of thing, as was the rest of Kawaguchi. The night before we had had a drunken discussion on whether the Japanese or the English are more religious. I still think it is the Japanese, if only because about 80% of the population visits a shrine in the first few days of the new year, a figure that never happens in the UK (I think). I've read other blogs and things bemoaning the fact that christmas in Japan is not about religion, only about presents. But I figure that this is now the same in the west, but the Japanese have never pretended to adopt the whole christian thing of christmas, they just like opportunities to give/get presents. But they do have a much deeper spiritual appreciation of the new year, when they go to shrines, pray for their ancestors, hope for the new year etc. That is their 'chistmas'. Indeed Minako and Yasuko are still surprised that people in the west don't celebrate the new year. We celebrate seeing friends, getting drunk that sort of thing, but we don't seem to celebrate the meaning of the new year, which to the Japanese is far more important.

Anyway, tomorrow we are off to spend the evening with Minako's parents, which should be pleasant. Then I will be off to the airport on Saturday morning to meet the new teachers who are arriving at 11am or so. And that will be my holiday, but I have a drop of port left so will have to get drunk on Saturday evening at the passing of my hols.