Wednesday, 25 February 2004

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

Poor old Yoshinoiya, when it rains...

As reported before, the whole American BSE thing has hit Yoshinoiya's gyudon empire by depriving them of their main source of beef. Now it appears that the Bird Flu in South East Asia has now hit Yoshinoiya's second most important money earner, which was some kind of chicken and onions on rice, as there is now an import ban on all poultry from infected countries.

That leaves, on Yoshinoiya's once extensive menu, pickled daikon and water...

Monday, 23 February 2004

The howling wind

Last week, as is its won't, Haru-ichiban made its presence felt. Haru-ichiban is the spring wind in Japan and the harbringer of warmer weather, so when it blows for the first time in a year, it a sure sign that spring is on its way. It is not really up there with the big and famous winds in the world (the mistral, the sirocco, both my granfathers) but the Japanese like it. Just to give you all a quick lesson in meterology, during the winter a huge mass of cold air squats brooding and resentful over China, Korea and Russia. This air then tries to take over Japan as well, but has difficulty because of the Sea of Japan. So all the cold air rushes off the steppes, hits and sea and slows right down until it hits the Japanese coast, whereupon it sort of gives up and dumps prodigous amounts of snow all over the west coast and the mountains. So if you think of the shape of Japan, you can roughly split the main island of Honshu into two long halves, with the Sea of Japan coast and Hokkaido getting huge amounts of the white stuff from November to March, whereas the East coast, places like Tokyo, get very little indeed. For winter sports enthusiasts, the southern and northern Japanese alps and the mountains of Hokkaido are home to some of the very best powder snow in the world.

Now as you have probably worked out, all this is brought by the winds blowing from the north and west. But then along comes out friend Haru-ichiban, puffing away from the south and blows all the cold air away, bringing the scent of warmth and spring time. Sounds a bit romantic that, it would be if it didn't blow at about gale force 7 (rising steadily). It also brought with it some rain, which was welcome relief as we haven't had any rain for about a month or so, very dry winter this one, so the grass on the river bank was very happy (well, what is left of the grass after the local council had flame throer practice earlier in the week and burnt much of it to ash - now we have black banks, not pleasant to look at at all). So anyway, that was last week, which made Haru-ichiban 18 days earlier than average, which could well mean we are in for a really hot summer this year. Oh great...


Myself and the good Guru were out and about on Sunday, as it was such a nice day with the wind blowing, and we saw some of the whales that Japan catches for its scientific research projects. It was 458 yen per 100grams in Oh! Kawa supermarket over in Todakoen. Bit crap that really. But it did make me think, as Oh! Kawa is not some sort of specialist fish or whalemeat seller, it is just a bog-standard supermarket and home store. So what was it doing with whalemeat on it shelves? Who knows.

Now I do, after having done a quick bit of research - the things I do. I wandered over to the wonderfully biased Japan Whaling Association and had a gander around their site and apparently the Japanese are allowed to catch 4-600 whales a year for their scientific research. Now as this is an expensive business, they are conveniently allowed to sell some of the bits they don't study to supermarkets, who sell it onto the punters in the street, to subsidise the costs of catching the things. Lucky that. So around 2,000 tonnes a year finds its way to the supermarket shelves every year, even in places like Oh! Kawa in Todakoen.

Now my mother always told me 'try everything once'. I'm still recovering from the dabbling in smack and watching snuff movies, but I'm not sure about eating whale. I have eaten some strange things here in Japan, a lot of them only once, some more often (raw horse meat, for example, very nice with fresh ginger, spring onions and soy sauce), but I think there is something morally wrong with eating whales, so for once I am not going to do what my mother says.

Friday, 20 February 2004

And in this week's friday five...

When was the last time you...

1. ...went to the doctor? back in the UK in 2002

2. ...went to the dentist? same as above when a lump of my tooth fell off

3. ...filled your gas tank? never had one of my own

4. enough sleep? what, real, non-alcoholic natural sleep? No idea

5. ...backed up your computer? hmm, the whole thing? heaven knows, mba stuff - last weekend

Tuesday, 17 February 2004


Just had to post about this as saw it on TV last night. Remember the reality/humiliation gameshow that was 'Endurance' that Chris Tarrant used to show clips of all those years ago?

Now we have a new variety, a sort of reality tv auction. Silly punters with a little too much money go into a studio and bid for items live on camera. Then once they have 'won' the auction, they find out the real price. Marvellous!

Last night a very silly couple, wearing something I'm sure they bought in Roppongi Hills at the weekend, bought a pretty horrible looking afternoon tea/dinner service for 1,300,000 yen and then were somewhat aghast to find the true cost was about 400,000!

My how they chuckled and put a brave face on the fact they had paid three times the price. Ho ho ho went the studio audience. 'Oh no' went the watching gaijin, ' are they really this silly...?' Oh yes.

If you have a beef about something...

In a follow up to the collapse of the gyudon empire that was Yoshinoiya, this little gem from last weeks' papers. A lorry driver wandered into a roadside Yoshinoiya around 9am and, as a livener, ordered a couple of bottles of Asahi beer and, a little later, a bowl of gyudon. After quickly downing his beer he was told, very politely, that the Yoshinoiya would be unable to provide the gyudon as they had no beef left. The chap flew into a rage and started shouting at the staff 'what sort of place do you call this?' etc. Another customer, obviously a bit more clued up, told the chap to sit down and stop causing a ruckus, at which point the driver attacked him and, just for good measure, the person sitting next to him as well! On explaining himself to the impressively efficient police, who turned up on the same day, he said he was unaware of the whole US beef/BSE issue!

So if anyone tells you that the Japanese are the most educated people on the planet, remember that doesn't all of them.

A new blog

have a wander over to pogetry when you get the chance, made me smile, especially about the things parents said whilst driving...

Sunday, 15 February 2004

Out and about

Wednesday was a national holiday last week, Constitution Day or something, so all had the day off. I decided to take thursday and friday off as well to give me a bit of holiday and to do some serious study. In the end I did a bit of study for the mba, a lot of study of the grape and went out for a couple of day trips with the Guru, something we haven't done for a while. First up was...


Which is a jolly nice place and to be honest I would prefer to live there rather than Tokyo, or Kawaguchi, but have never had the opportunity. Anyway we visited a place called Daska (lit. 'big world' (?)). This is the kind of recreation thing that the Japanese love. It is based on a Chinese trading enclave and features period Chinese costumes, artifacts and, most importantly I guess, lots of restaurants selling small, over priced portions of Chinese food. The best thing about this recreation is that the powers that be decided that the best place for an artificial chinatown would be slap bang in the middle of the real Chinatown.

No really, and here is this week's point (I have them sometimes), the Japanese, in my humble opinion, don't like things they can't control and so, at the first opportunity, try to remake an idea they like but in a way they can control. Thus they love the idea of Chinatown, especially the food and the cheap goods (2 level bamboo steamer plus metal boiling pot for 3000yen - bargain) but they don't like the fact that it isn't Japanese and therefore aren't in control of it, so they make their own version right next to the original.

Another example to consider is the Seagaia resort in Miyazaki, Kyushu. A huge indoor, artificial beach was built, complete with wave pools, real sand and one of largest retractable roofs (at the time) so if the weather was nice, which is most of the time, the visitors could sunbathe on the artificial beach but with real sun. Seagaia was built, as you have probably guessed, right on a perfectly nice and respectable beach (in the picure in the link, it is the stadium looking thing above the tall hotel building). The problem with it was that it was miles from anywhere so no-one went there and it is slowly going out of business. Ah-ha, you may say, proves that they aren't really interested in these things then are they? But if that is true, where did the billions in planning, funding and contruction come from? Someone with an awful lot of influence thought it was a good idea.

So why have a dodgy, uncontrollable real beach, prone to weather and bad things like that when you can have a purpose built beach that a little man with a computer has complete control over? Same with Chinatown. Why go to the real thing, where people speak funny, you may get ripped off and the back streets are dirty, smelly and full of bustle when you can go to Daska where everything is clean and tidy and safe? A no-brainer, I think, to your average Japanese.

I think this is also manifest in things like bonsai and Japanese gardens, where control of form and nature is more important to aesthetic beauty than the wild lines of real nature.

So anyway we went to this Daska place and were quite disappointed, so went out to the real Chinatown and wandered around for a while, bought the steamer and a few other things and then wandered back to the bay area. The walk along the bayside is most pleasant indeed, through a park and then into the old warehouse district, which has now been renovated into a shopping and eating centre. (To get to Chinatown in the first place we used the new subway. Chinatown is a really inconvenient 15 minute walk from the bay, so what better way to connect it than spend billions on a six minute subway extension? On its opening day the new subway drew in half a million punters! Roppongi hills (more of which later) only had 330,000 visitors on its opening day, and it is a huge purpose built shopping an eating heaven in the middle of Tokyo. Japanese must love their trains.)

The warehouse area is a really well done, lots of little shops and restaurants to wander through, and original iron girders with 'Middlesbrough' stamped on them, which pleased me no end. The only downside to the place is that there are large open spaces between the old warehouses which the planners have filled with nothing, so we have wide expanses of pattened concrete. On a sunny February afternoon this was no problem, but come August it will be like an oven. A few trees would not go amiss, to break up the expanses and provide a bit of cover, but trees feature rarely in Japanese architecture, which is a shame as when they do appear, they always look exceptionally fine.

That was Thursday, on Saturday we went to...


But the only reason we went here was that Saturday was the opening day of 'The Return of the King' which we just had to go and watch - good valentines movie, you see. We queued for 2 hours and still weren't at the front, but we did get good seats and personally I thought it was a cracking 3 hour flick with a really bad last 30 minutes or so. Completely butchered the ending, the Shire was even lightly scrubbed, let alone scoured, which seemed to betray one of Tolkien's most important themes. Having said that the film was long enough so I'm not sure an extra 20 minutes would have been acceptable. Anyway, battle of the pelennor was awesome, the Frodo/Sam bit reasonably well done (except when Frodo tells Sam to bugger off, where was that from?) and Gollum stole every scene he was in. So I think a 7 out of 10 for this film and a 9 out of 10 for the series as a whole.

Which only leaves Sunday, which was...

Roppongi and Roppongi Hills

Today was our third wedding anniversary so we wandered into Roppongi for a pleasant lunch and chance to have a nose around Roppongi Hills, the new shopping place mentioned earlier. We found a nice little French restaurant in an out of the way back street that was most pleasant and even looked a little authentic - really old rather than pretend old, and served up a decent bit of scran with a pleasant drop of plonk too boot. Afterwards we had a short walk around the streets of Nishi Azabu, which is dripping in cash and full of lovely looking little bars and eateries, a place I could live if I won the lottery, twice.

Onto Roppongi Hills. This is a huge place, full of offices, hotels, residences, shops and food places. It was built by a chap named Mori who has a vision to encourage real people to live and work in the centre of town. A noble venture as Tokyo has a dearth of people actually living in its middle. So he has created this place with 4 enormous tower block right in the beating heart of the metropolis. Shame that rents start from about 1.5 million yen per month, but it is a nice idea (and therein is the reason no-one lives in the centre of Tokyo, too damn expensive. Anyone with a bit of sense can see this, so forward thinking boroughs try real experiements, like giving free municipal health care to kids so as to encourage families. Mr Mori obviously doesn't live in the real world of real salaries, silly bugger).

The other problem is that the whole place just feels artificial. Walking around with the Guru we saw plenty of places to buy a new handbag, pair of shoes, horrible item of clothing that only the filthy rich would wear, but nowhere to buy a book, or a chair, or a lettuce. It is a place you can visit, but as a place to live, I don't think so - and nor did the Guru. So, great date place, bit of window shopping, go to the Virgin cinema to watch the latest flick and then visit one of the many nice restaurants, but I think Mr Mori's vision is not going to be fulfilled here.

Again it sort of ties in with this week's point - Roppongi Hills is an artificial town, rather than going to Ginza or Shinjuku, where you have to walk to so many different places to shop, eat, watch, consume, come to RH where you can do it all under one roof. Much easier, much more convenient and much more under control.

Monday, 9 February 2004

Meaty topics

If you thought the BSE scare in the US was a domestic issue, you'd be right, except that it is a serious domestic issue for the Japanese.

Japan is the biggest export market for US beef in the world. Lots of millions of tons of the stuff comes here every year, a lot of it to top off a bowl of gyudon from Yoshinoiya (not one bowl, obviously, as that wuld have to be a very big bowl. Lots of small ones seems much more likely). Gyudon is a mixture of very thinly sliced beef, fried with onions and a special sauce served on top of rice (the suffix ~don means 'over rice, such as Tempura-don, Katsu-don and Maguro-don, but not Udon, strangely, which are noodles - different kanji I expect). Anyway, the point is that as soon as BSE was found in an american cow, all imports were stopped immediately, with little chance of a swift return.

So why not use Japanese beef? Oh no, far too good to be wasted on gyudon, which is the equivalent of student food. And to be fair, it would seem a bit of a waste to use Kobe beef in such a way, seeing as it can cost 50 quid per 100g. But this is also another example of the Japanese government basically screwing their own people, as the govt. here is really into protectionism for agriculture, so the price of Japanese beef (and rice, and veg, and everything else) is kept artificially high, ostensibly to keep up the quality, but, as everyone knows, to keep the votes for the LDP rolling in from the countryside - can't have votes being los...sorry, farmers going out of business now can we...?

So what about Aussie beef, also very popular in Japan (and dirt cheap and shit (i.e. non Japanese) quality like US beef)? Well now squire, you see, your Aussie beef, right, well, it doesn't really taste the same, does it...? Not like the crap we usually mix with an overpowering sauce and so can't tell the difference and eat with our rice. Or words to that effect. So poor old Yoshinoiya, the biggest chain of gyudon restaurants in the land, has had to change all its menus and come up with some alternatives to its biggest seller. Poor them I say.

Last Friday's Angst

Strange thing angst. As reported last week, I had issues on the way home. This week, even though I got drunk, I didn't. Strange thing was that the night of angst came after a good week at work and a pleasant evening out, drinking and laughing. Friday just gone, I had a shitty week at work, went out in the evening, watched a bit of a boring game of cricket which Australia won and then carried on drinking and discussing the unpleasant things about the company before heading home (though to be fair we did chat about pleasant things as well and the evening was enjoyable). This time I wandered along the riverbank - being careful not to sit down - but everything was right with the world and I was in a much happier frame of mind. Must be the modern novel.

And talking of novels...

Actually not talking about novels at all, that was just a clunking segue into talking about navels (or belly buttons, if you prefer). This is a bit of research into belly buttons and their fluff (or lint, as some may call it). Now I get belly button fluff, and it is of a certain colour, no matter what colour clothes I wear. Minako, bless her heart, thinks this to be odd and doesn't believe me when I saw that not only do most males get it, but it is usually the same colour as mine. Heaven only knows how she could doubt me, but she does.

So, dear readers, I would be most grateful if, as a male, you could use the comments section to state whether firstly you do, or don't, collect fluff in your navel and, if you do, what hue it may be. Anonymity may well be respected

Sunday, 1 February 2004

What does it all mean?

Had a real moment of existential angst on Friday night. Well, I had to, I was drunk.

Being drunk I questioned the meaning of existence, analysed the motivation of desires, addressed the refutation of the immortal soul and composed a letter to my unborn children concerning free will and logical positivism.

To be honest I came up with some pretty startling conclusions that shook the very bedrock of accepted philosophical thought and fused western rationalism with eastern mysticism to create a whole and radically new way of thinking and viewing the world.

I also sat in a puddle on the riverbank, which I grant you isn't quite in the same league and led to a frozen arse, but you can't have everything in moments of blinding insight.

Blinding insight also falls down in the face of rigour and looking back on what I can remember of my thoughts, I think I may have left something out. Or lots of things, who knows. Come to think of it, I don't actually know what logical positivism is, but it sounded like a very good thing to write to one's unborn children at the time and I came up with a very convincing argument for it (or perhaps against it).

But I did get to watch the moonset over the river, which was a first, and most beautiful it was to. Indeed it was better than a lot of the sunsets we get (and we get them almost everyday) so it was worth it for that at any rate. I think the moment of angst was rooted in reading Atomised by David Hollebecq, which is resolutely depressing. I don't know why I bother to read 'modern' novels as everytime I do they seem to depress me. Maybe it is just me. Maybe I'm reading the wrong books. But maybe I'm right and for a modern author to write about the state of the human pysche they have to look on it in the most negative way their storyline will allow them (i.e. Atomised - one bloke had a bad childhood, shags lots of women but can't love them, finds one he can love and she commits suicide; his half brother doesn't shag women at all, can't find anyone to love until he meets his childhood sweetheart, they are just about to try and be happy when she dies of cancer. First guy ends up in an asylum, half brother creates genetically engineered sexless 'humans' with no passions who inherit the earth. Laugh a minute, I think not.) Maybe I should get out more...

As you can guess, I'm scratching around a bit here for things to write. But at least we can talk about the...


Seem to be in reasonable fettle. A couple of weeks ago I blitzed the basil with some kind of chemical bug killer thing as the little white buggers were doing much damage and causing much angst. It seemed to work for a while, but I think little white buugers may be back with a vengeance so more Agent Orange may be called for.

But, the basil is flowering! I was most surprised by this at first as it didn't occur to me at all that basil should flower (but of course it should, it is a plant, I know that now). There seems to be quite a spread of little blossoms all over the basil patch so I am quite hopeful that things may continue to improve.

Today I hacked back the Olive tree a bit, just to see what happens. I have tried a little half-heartedly in the past and, to be honest, I haven't noticed a lot of change, so this time all the budding shoots were hacked back to the base to see what happens. Further bulletins as events warrant.

Lastly, back in Novembr I think, the Guru said she wanted flowers in spring, so tulips were duly bought. Just goes to show how much the Dutch know (or maybe the Japanese, depends where they're from I guess) as the tulips were sold under the name of 'Union Jack' but the picture was of a mainly white flower but with 4 red stripes going up the petals! Do these people know nothing?

Anyway the rosemary is still growing, as is the lavender. Soon I shall be sowing thyme and sage to add to the collection.


Or not really Hutton, but the idea. I think that it is impossible for an inquiry such as the Hutton one to happen in Japan. I suspect that the mechanisms for calling the national braodcaster and the government to account do not exist in this country. So whilst a great many people seem to bemoaning the fact that the inquiry went too far criticising the BBC, or not far enough with the government, perhaps those people should reflect on the fact that it can happen at all.