Monday, 26 April 2004

er... stream of consciousness time

All a bit quiet this week and have not had the kind of 'ah, that will be good to write about in the blog this week' type thoughts that often fill my long commute to and from work. This could be because by brain is gearing down for Golden Week, which starts on Thursday and lasts, luckily for the name else it would be entirely inapt, for a week. Am sure the brain is powering down as I tried to study yesterday for the first time in about three weeks, thought I'd better start some reading for the new module (not that I can remember what the new module is), but it made my brain hurt, then made it shut down as I fell asleep at the kitchen table surrounded by text books. This does not bode well for the rest of the course. Anyway in GW the good Guru and I are off to Kamikochi for a couple of days. I do not know why we are going there, or what we will do once there, but I have been informed that I must be present and correct at 7am on friday morning in order to get a long distance coach from Shinjuku station. Shinjuku station is a funny old place. It is one of the busiest stations in the world, with over a million people passing through it on a busy day, most of them with cricked necks from trying to look at signs behind them whilst being forced along in a direction they definitely don't want to be going in. I don't think anyone really knows where they are going in Shinjuku as there are so many bullet train lines, regular JR lines, subways, private railway lines, local and long distance lines that no-one can possibly know where they need to be. But the Guru, who has the directional sense of a compass on acid, can navigate through with precision and speed, a juxtaposition that is somehow right and proper. My father, on one of visits here, likened Shinjuku station at 5pm on a frday afternoon as one of the missing levels of Dante's inferno, which I think is about right. But I was a little naughty on that one as the Guru and I had left the parentals in Matsumoto (so they wanted to explore, it wasn't out of spite!) and when I arranged their travel back to Tokyo, made sure they arrived at rush hour on a friday afternoon - not nice, I know, but gave them a real taste of Tokyo life. And talking of hell, the 3 Japanese who were abducted in Iraq were finally let out this week (or maybe last week). But the weird thing is that far from symapthy and warmth and 'oh you poor things', the general public has actually been quite negative towards them, following, I think, the lead of this blog (see 12 April entry) in thinking they are really just a bunch of silly buggers. And the best thing about it is that the govt is going to bill them for the rescue! I think this is fab and they should do it more often. The govt is basically saying 'we had a fly a lot of people out to Iraq to negotiate your release, and then fly them, and you, back to Japan again. This cost a lot of taxpayers' money so we are going to get abit of it back - let's just call it a fine for being really, really stupid and not doing what we tell you'. The Japanese are well into this kind of compensation money. If you were to knock someone off their bicycle whilst driving your car, you would be expected to hand over a lot of cash as a 'sorry I bent your wheel' payment. Stranger still, if you top yourself on the Tokyo subway or a railway, the company running the trains will send an invoice to your estate for the inconvenience caused to the other passengers. So your family, wracked with grief, remorse and 'I should have seen it coming...' are then hit with a bloody great bill, especially if your spouse did the really inconsiderate thing by jumping in front of a train at 5 pm on a friday afternoon in Shinjuku. And of course now there are plenty of scams to get this compensation money. I once wrote...somewhere.. about these phone scams, well one recently happened where a chap called a late middle aged woman and said something like 'this is the police, your husband has caused a car crash and done some pretty serious damage to someone, if you don't want this to go to court, please pay 12 million yen [that's 60,000 quid] into this bank account right now'. And she did, not thinking this to be strange in anyway. And only then did think to call her husband to check. And course he was at work, perfectly fine, no car accidents in sight. So I think the Japanese have a very strange attitude to money - they will save and save, looking after the little one yens, but then if someone tells them to, or they feel in the slightest bit obligated to someone, they will give it all away with barely a murmur. Probably also goes to show why the Japanese never, ever hold doors open for anyone (er... the bit about not wanting to be obligated to anyone, not the bit about giving away their cash). I remember the main character from 'As I Lay Dying' by William Faulkner was dead against being 'beholden' to anyone. Central tenet of his being, and the book I shouldn't wonder. Hated that book, absolute load of old nonsense. But then again, I seem to remember I felt that way about most of the books I read for English Lit at A-level. Nothing like a bit of literary criticism to ruin a good book for you - thank god I didn't do English at university, which was once a plan. I might think I got slightly off the point there, but I'm not sure there was a point to begin with. But talking, as we weren't, of plants, the ones here are now a mixed bag. The success story is definitely the rosemary, which is healthy and hale. The basil is just tall and gangly now, with few leaves but lots of flowers. It hasn't died, as I'm sure some nay-sayers neighed before, but it is not happy. The lavender is fighting a rearguard action against death, a couple of the sprigs look as if they are well up for the battle, but the majority is thinking of suing for peace. The olive tree continues to sprout new leaves in prodigous amounts, but has had an alarming attack of 'leaves going yellow and brown at the tips'. This may be a lack of zinc so plant food has been purchased and dispensed to all pots and troughs. The tulips almost got to flowering but then seemed to give up the ghost, go pale and slowly fall over. I thought they might be drunk, as it sounds a little like I get, I don't really think so but am marking my bottles to make sure. Lastly the thyme and sage that was planted recently seems to have taken hold, but I am not counting chickens until the fat lady has made an omlette.

Saturday, 24 April 2004

and in this week's (archived as they are on holiday and/or too busy) Friday five

1. Laying on your back and facing the ceiling, which side of the bed do you sleep on? on the right hand side, nothing special I think, but it is the side furthest from the door, which apparently means I am not doing enough to protect my wife.

2. Do you have to have covers (blankets and/or sheets) at all costs, no matter the weather? no, far, far too hot in summer in Japan for that kind of nonsense. If I were in the UK, probably

3. Sleep nekkid or no? Why? oh yes, far better that way (and I'm always too hot in bed whilst the Guru is always too cold, so the duvet is arctic strength for her benefit)

4. What's under your bed? nothing, we sleep on a futon so it's on the floor

5. If you have pets, do you let them sleep with you? Why or why not? no pets, but wouldn't anyway as not enough space on the bed

Tuesday, 20 April 2004

it's not only me

saw this on ureshiidesu and thought I'd share as it kind of ties in with the stuff below. Must be a popular topic right now - finger on the pulse me...

Monday, 19 April 2004

Japan, Gaijin and the Constitution

This week's ramblings have all been in and around the news recently so will be well known to those of you here, but might be new to those of you who are not, so we'll go with them anyway.

As I may have mentioned in the past, the constitution of Japan is a pretty ropey old thing. It was, according to good authority, knocked up by MacArthur and a few others in 1945 during the victory party: written on the back of a beer mat and was only saved by a Corporal going through the bins the following morning, so most of the big things are there - equality, be nice to other people, make sure the trains run on time, that sort of thing. But some of the little things, that can become big things later, were a bit over looked - such as the separation of church and state and the role of the Prime Minister vs the Emperor as the head of state (well, not really that small then...)

Importantly, one thing that MacArthur did was keep the Emperor as the head of state which, in the eyes of your average Japanese (as one theory goes, I hasten add, this is not the definitive word) absolved old Showa of having any responsibility for the conduct of Japan from the pre-war days right through to the end. This has led to the assertion (accusation?) that the Japanese therefore kind of shrugged their shoulders after the war and thought "well, it wasn't the Emperor's fault as he is still there, so I guess we can't have done too much wrong" and so Japan, unlike say Germany, never went through a period of national hand wringing and self criticism before entering the second half of the 20th century.

"So what?" some may query. Well, it means for a start that Japan has never apologised for its conduct in WW2, or for the war itself, which as you can imagine angers most of the other nations in Asia, especially the Chinese and Koreans. Indeed, some of the more unsavoury areas of Japanese military history, the Rape of Nanking for example, are airbrushed Stalin-like out of the history books in Japanese schools. Not a good way to teach history, denying your past.

"Where is this going?" I hear you cry. Well, as MacArthur absolved the Emperor of his guilt/complicity in the war, it also got a lot of the generals off the hook as well. Now earlier in the blog there was a small mention that Koizumi, like most of the post-war Prime Ministers before him, every year troops off to Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo to pay his respects to the war dead, bit like the Queen at the Cenotaph. But Yasukuni, whilst being home to now long-dead war heroes, is also home to many of the generals who ran WW2 and who were, or are viewed as, war criminals. And as you can imagine this pisses off a lot of people, all of whom are non-Japanese (especially when just over the road from Yasukuni is another shrine that honours the war dead, has no 'war criminals' and contains the Japanese tomb of the unknown soldier but is the path much less travelled).

Now the bit about the constitution is this. Recently there have been some lawsuits crawling through the Japanese courts, non-Japanese suing the govt for Koizumi's action of attending Yasukuni Shrine in his official capacity as PM. They say it is against the constitution as the church and the state are separate and therefore he's not allowed to do it officially. He says, "ok, I'm doing it a private citizen". But last week a court ruled that no, he wasn't doing it as a private citizen but in his official capacity and therefore what he was doing was unconstitutional. The real giveaway, said the court, wasn't that he used an official car but was that he signed the guest book 'Junichiro Koizumi, Prime Minister'. A pretty dumb thing to do really.

So the court upheld this suit by some Koreans living in Kyushu, but refused to pay them a million yen each for the emotional distress caused. But even better than this was Koizumi's reaction, which was, essentially, "I don't agree with your ruling so I am going to keep doing exactly what I want to do. Yah boo sucks to you too!" (some of that might just have been made up)

So that's right folks, the PM of the 2nd biggest economy and 3rd or 4th biggest armaments buyer is told by his own national court that he can't do something but he doesn't agree so he tells them to bugger off. Bit odd that. But because this is Japan a lot of the newspaper editorials agree with Koizumi and then refuse to print any dissenting voices from, say China or Korea.

Hmm, this one could run and run...


We're a funny old breed, us gaijin. We're happy to call each other gaijin, you know, "wassup my gaijin?" that sort of thing. But catch a Japanese calling you a gaijin and a lot of us start to take umbrage (not me, I hasten to add - what's in a name?), and it's all down to translation. Like most words in most languages, it can be translated in a number of ways. It can be, for example, 'foreigner' or 'outsider'. Now the people who take umbrage are the ones most likely to take offence at this translation of the word.

A letter in the paper recently said that a chap got jolly angy when he heard Japanese using it in this sense, especially when they were outside Japan. He overheard a Japanese lady saying (in Japanese) "my what a lot of gaijin there are here" whilst on holiday in Hawaii. Now personally, knowing how many Japanese there are on holiday in Hawaii, one western face could seem like a lot, but no, she meant there were lost of big nosed white people around. So he went up to her and said (again in Japanese) "no, you are the gaijin here", to which he received a shocked and horrified look from the lady and to which he felt suitably happy and vindicated.

But my point here is that gaijin can also easily be translated as 'non-Japanese person', so the shocked and horrifed look he received may well have been along the lines of "what do you mean I'm not Japanese, foolish American person? Of course I'm Japanese and these people are not."

Maybe it is just one of those things that I can't seem to get too worked up about, but a lot of people do as they attach all this impoprtance to labels that the Japanese really just don't get as, I think, there isn't really anything to get. I mean really, the Japanese people using a Japanese word to describe something that isn't Japanese. How dare they?

And the vote

This is the last one today about gaijin and their whinging. Again in the paper recently there has been a run of letters bemoaning the fact that gaijin with permanent residency status aren't allowed a vote in this country and isn' that jolly unfair. Now I am all for a revision of the laws so that someone born in this country is entitled to a vote, such as all the Koreans dragged here during WW2 who never left but are still counted, as are their children and grandchildren, as foreigners - that's wrong and needs to be addressed.

But for some foreigner from the UK or US to demand the right to vote because they have chosen to live here but not renounce their citizenship of their own country seems utterly crazy in my view. One chap from the US even went so far as to say something like "no taxation without representation is as true today as it ever was". Idiot. Doesn't seem to have crossed his mind that he chose to live here, or that he has a vote back in the US should he choose to exercise it, or that the tax paid in the 1770s all went to foreign coffers. Oh no, he's taxed by the Japanese govt because he works here and that is bad.

If these people want the vote here in Japan they should become Japanese. Seems to me that if you want a say in how the country is run, you should be a citizen of the that country. Now there could be an argument for having a say in local elections as one is a member of the local community and, paying local taxes, one might be granted a say in how things are done, especially if you have children in local schools, for example. But votes for foreigners in national elections? Don't think that would be right somehow, even with Japan's dodgy old constitution.

Wednesday, 14 April 2004


Am reading some Haruki Murakami right now. If you haven't already, give him a try. He is one of my favourite Japanese, he is one of my favourite authors full stop. Very odd, some of his books, but well worth it. This one I'm reading now is a good one, but also try 'A Wild Sheep Chase' and 'The Wind Up Bird Chronicle'.

Monday, 12 April 2004

The beautiful Game

Am feeling a bit tired and shagged out today as, in response to a cry of need, I played football yesterday. The cry of need came as it was a 9am kickoff in Yokohama and, as such, not the sort of hour on a Sunday that most are up and about, unless it is returning from a night on the sauce in Roppongi and therefore not in a state to kick a ball around.

So we played the bottom of the league team (we are comfortably mid table) and, even though we only started with seven players, gained a 3-3 draw. We could have won. Perhaps we should have won, I don't know. But I didn't embarrass myself, as I am more than capable of doing on a football pitch, so I was happy in the end. Also, we played at a rather swish place called the Yokohama Athletic and Country Club, which was nice in a 'they-wouldn't-let-us-in-here-if-we-hadn't-just-played-football' kind of way, especially after we sat around afterwards drinking beer and enjoying ourselves and, I suspect, being quite loud into the bargain. Home team didn't stick about though.


You may have read about the 3 Japanese who managed to get themselves kidnapped last week. Well, silly buggers, if you ask me, the whole lot of them. Silly kidnappers who wanted to make a stand against the imperialist powers but only managed to get some random Japanese, whose soldiers in Iraq do actually seem to be trying to do something positive. Silly Japanese for being there - noone seems to know who they are or what they are really doing there, except they claim it was humanitarian aid (one of them was 18, for goodness sakes) even though the Japanese govt had obviously told people not to go. And silly parents who demanded that the govt accede to the kidnappers demands and pull all of the GSDF troops out of Iraq in 36 hours and then get really angry when Koizumi refuses to speak to them and refuses to follow the demands.

And then the sill kidnappers say 'hang on, these guys are Japanese! Sorry, thought they were Americans. Bugger, ok, you can have them back' and then not actually let anybody know where they are.

All a bit of a shower really.

Monday, 5 April 2004

Bits and Pieces

No big theme this week, more a collection of randomness that crossed my path in the last seven days or so...

The Music Man

This was a strange experience, to say the least. Occasionally, of an evening, I am prone to fits of activity which generally result in my strapping on the running shoes and going down to the riverbank for a jog. Nothing wrong with that, very sensible really. But I am not, of course, the only one. The riverbank, as I may have described before, has a lot of space between the river and the actual embankment. This is taken up with a small golf course, baseball and football pitches, a barbeque area, that sort of thing, unlike Japanese houses, which are jam packed into as small a space as possible. This means that anyone with a potentially annoying-to-the-neighbours hobby must go elsewhere to practice it, so you get musicians down there.

Prior to last week, the oddest experience was to find a bagpiper practicing his wheezy way through a selection of Scottish classics. As you can imagine, that was strange enough in the middle of Tokyo, I mean the Scots only play the pipes to annoy the English I'm sure, so why a Japanese would want to play, who knows. I digress, so on Tuesday I was rumbling along and passed a middle aged trumpeter giving it all he was worth. He was ok, I suppose, and as I passed on way he was trying something suitably jazzy and upbeat. On my way back, however, when all was dark and the bats were starting to flit, the trumpeter had finished the Miles Davis and moved onto infinitely more depressing...the Last Post. I have no idea if he knew the significance of it, but it sent shivers up my spine and I had the distinctly uncomfortable impression that he was playing it for me and, one completion, was going to whip out a rifle and do away with me. Well, I was running, lack of oxygen to the brain i suspect, but it was a spooky one all the same.

The doors

This week's unnecessary scandal is all about doors and is a very sad story indeed. If you remember a few weeks ago I wrote about Roppongi Hills and the delights therein. Well, the weekend before last a young kid, 6 I think, was racing to catch up with his parents and tried to dive through a gap in one of the big revolving doors that are the main entrance. As you can probably guess the kid didn't make it and unluckily got his head caught between the door and the frame. These doors are huge metal things and through 2 design flaws had an infrared sensor blind spot from about 15 to 70cms from the floor (about the size of a small kid) and also the pressure sensors don't stop the door from moving until it has travelled another 20cms round. As you can imagine, this was not too good for the boy, whose neck was broken and the poor kid died.

The scandal is the fact that this was not the first time this had happened. Indeed at that very door there had been a couple of dozen cases since Roppongi Hills opened, but the door company and/or Mori had done nothing about it. Even worse was that all the cases involved little kids and worse still, three of the accidents were serious and involved the kids being trapped in exactly the same way as the kid that died. But worst of all, these doors have been in operation at the Landmark Tower in Yokohama for a good few years now and the same things have been happening there as well and the door company has done nothing to change its designs. Seems a pretty poor show to me, but it has led to safer...


In the usual knee jerk over-reaction that comes after these sorts of things, some kids were playing down on some playground equipment in Osaka when a bolt came away from a bit on a roundabout. This created a small hole that children, as is their wont, could stick their fingers in and, if the roundabout was turning, get a painful nip on the end of their finger (or maybe taken a small piece out of). So the local police, swinging into action as they do, closed every single playground in the prefecture whilst the Prefectural Task Force (Playgrounds Division) inspected every piece of hardware available to ensure the children's finger safety. This took up a good 20 minutes of the national news on (I think) Friday evening. But this led to Saturday's...


Or Cherry Blossoms. More words than there are cherry blossoms have been written and more pictures taken than there are fish in aquariums regarding the sakura season in Japan. So ok, it's pretty, it is a good opportunity to get drunk in a park and...and...that is about it. But the Japanese go head over heels at this time of year. It is meant to evoke the samurai spirit of a short but beautiful life apparently, but it seems to me that someone being cut in half with a four-foot katana would be a better symbol of the samurai, but maybe it is just me. Anyway the Guru and I went to Yoyogi Koen on Saturday, along with two thirds of the population of Tokyo. It was very pleasant in the quieter bits, but the busy bits were really busy and I can't really see how people could enjoy themselves - except, of course, Japanese are used to living cheek by jowl with everyone else so I guess it makes more sense.

It was nice, anyway, and we explored the park, something we haven't really done before. Yoyogi Koen also houses Meiji-Jingi shrine, you see, so everyone really goes there as it is a magnificent structure. Then we walked through the backstreets from Harajuku to Shibuya, poking through the alleys and byways, which was excellent. So all the business I wrote last week about Tokyo not being a city to walk in, ignore it, I was talking crap. To get home we used the new, improved...


We're all stupid, us foreigners, and can't use the subways properly, so the powers that be have put a new plan into action. No longer do we have a subway, now it is the Metro. And no longer do the staff wear boring olive green jackets, now they have natty blue ones. Not much here, I grant you, to make life easy for foreigners, so in a brainwave of fantastic proportions, the Metro decided that all stations would now have not just a name, but an identifcation letter-number combo. So now Nishi Kasai, were I work, is T6 - T for Tozai (line) and 6 as it is 6 from one end. Where I change, Iidabashi, is T16, so I can tell it is 10 stops from T6. Great. The problem, it seems to me, is where you get interchanges, as Iidabashi is T16 and also N6. Otemachi, which has about 8 lines running into it, is a veritable alphabet that you need an enigma machine to decode. Anyway it all seems to make the whole scene a lot more confusing to me. Uh oh, I've been here too long...

and lastly

I've been getting bored with plants I have so yesterday I increased the herb yield potential by planting sage, thyme and a cutting of mint. Updates to follow as event warrant.