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.

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