Monday, 31 May 2004

Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday dear Arakawa Riverviiieeew
Happy birthday to you!

Gosh how time flies. Yes, that's right, on 31st May 2003 Arakawa Riverview was born and my how it has grown into the strapping blog you see before you.

But that's all old history. Who cares about the last year we'd better look forward to the next 12 months, starting here...

The war on Terror...

Has come to Kawaguchi! No really.

Now Japan isn't really much good at wars anymore. As has been discussed before, the ropey old Japanese constitution is a bit vague on the whole war stance and as such, Japan has strenuously avoided all of that kind of nonsense for nigh on 50 years. And as you can also hopefully remember, the SDF is in Iraq right now in a foreign country deployment for the first time since ww2. Luckily they haven't been attacked by anyone yet and so haven't had to run away (sorry, strategically re-deploy to a rearward location)

But now the war on Terror has come to Japan, perhaps because of this very deployment. And it hasn't just to to Japan, it is here, right under the very nose of Arakawa Riverview - again no really.

On Wednesday this week a sweep by the for once effective police force, 5 suspected Al-Qaida terrorists were arrested, two here in Kawaguchi and one in Toda, which is right next door.

So, what were they arrested for? Was a bomb making factory found? Perhaps trace elements of uranium or plutonium for a 'dirty' nuclear device? Evidence of a plot to hijack taxis and leave them in 'no parking zones' with malice of forethought?

Nothing so exciting, I'm afraid. As usual it was the old standby in Japan, immigration violations (though to be fair, if the US authorities had been looking, a lot of people might not have died). Apparently the 3 arrested round here were all from Bangladesh and had been identified from phone records taken from a Lionel Dumont, a chap arrested in Germany after living in Japan for a year and who, alledgedly, was trying to build up an AlQaida cell here in sunnt Saitama next to the river. However the charges one of them seems to have been arrested on is 'forging official documents in relation to a mobile phone dealership' whilst the rest are the ubiquitous and extremely vague 'suspicion of violating immigration laws'.

Now this information comes from the newspaper and various TV news reports, but it seems to me that there is just a hint of flimsiness about it all. Not that this will bother the authorities, naturally. As a senior Interior Ministry official (might well have) said after the arrests "Suspected but unproven terrorist links? We-ell, if they're foreign it must be true, best arrest them, keep them locked up for as long as we can get away with and then deport them. Just to be safe".

Anyway it is now Monday after the arrests and, as far as I can tell, not a peep have we heard about this since last week. No huge in-depth follow up. No investigative 'how could they have got here' type journalism. Not even a 'yes they were guilty' or a 'no, sorry they weren't'. But what really strikes me as odd is that no one seems to be asking either...

You thought it could only happen in America

But no, here in Japan we are now seeing utterly ridiculous law suits. Again related to the whole SDF in Iraq thing, a citizens' group in Shizuoka prefecture has files a suit against the govt seeking 10,000 yen (that's about 50 quid)compensation on the grounds that the deployment of troops infringes on their rights to a peaceful life. Now even I can see that it is a symbolic thing to bring the govt to task, but surely they could have thought of a better charge than infringing on their right to a peaceful life? Against the ropey old constitution, perhaps, or against an illegal invasion and occupation of a soverign state, but infringing on a peaceful life? Oh please.

And finally, sorry to report...

No new games or stories about strange Tokyo wildlife to report this week, I'm afraid. Must try harder.

Wednesday, 26 May 2004


Had a most singular experience this morning that was odd enough to share. I was walking to work at about 8:30 along the backstreets of Kawaguchi, minding my own business and compiling letters to various people in my mind, as I went, when what should cross my path but a real life chicken... (or perhaps cockerel, though I saw no marauding French rugby players)

The bird, a rather thin and weedy looking brown specimen was a-strutting along the road near the big building site looking distictly bemused about its predicament, though not nearly as bemused as the crowd it had attracted.

but anyway

For those of you not here, the Telegraph have a 'Go to Tokyo' thing in their online paper here. Joy that we are finally becomming a tourist destination must be tempered by the fact that this feature, at the end of May, contains the sage advice 'avoid from June to September due to heat and humidity'.

Monday, 24 May 2004

Krazy Kim's People Mart

So the big news this week in Japan has been Kim Jong-Il, North Korean and the Japanese abductee thing that, in truth, has been going on for ages.

But first I should point out that being a foreigner here, I can't get nearly as worked up as the Japanese about it. I find this understandable, for the Japanese it is an affront to their nationhood and all a jolly nasty thing indeed so they are getting very, very het up about it all. And rightly so, I suppose, but I can't sustain the levels of vitriol that they can.

Anyway, if you didn't already know, in the 1970s and 1980s, nefarious north korean types came to Japan in mini-subs, abducted perfectly normal Japanese people off lonely and windswept beaches in Niigata and Hokkaido and then whisked them off to the homeland. Some people say they knicked 400 people, others say only 10 to 15, so who knows? Why did they do it? Well apparently it was so the abducted Japanese could teach the North Koreans about Japan and in Japanese ways, like wash before having a bath, don't wear the toilet slippers around the house, that sort of thing, so the NK's could be spies. All very James Bond. Then they kidnapped some Japanese women so they could marry the Japanese men and so not be lonely, I think.

But of course the NK's denied all this for years and years and no one believed the Japanese. At big UN meetings the rest of the world kind of shook their heads and smiled indulgently and said 'yes of course the NK's are kidnapping your citizens, now come along and take the little blue pill, there's a good little paranoid schizophrenic nation'.

Until the NK's fessed up about 18 months ago.

And about 18 months ago a bunch of the original abductees came home to Japan. And there was much rejoicing and the Japanese govt said 'look we f**king told you so' and everyone lived happily ever after.

Except that there weren't enough people. 'Where are the rest and where are the kids?' said the Japanese.

' see...its like this' said Krazy Kim 'well everyone else that we kidnapped is dead, mostly through suicide, sorry about that. And the kids, well, you can't have them back. Bibble bibble my old man's a dustmen like my new hair goes with shoes. Frog!' Which was the most coherent thing he'd said in decades. So all the Japanese were a)mightily relieved to have some of their chaps back but b) mightily pissed off that the kids were still there and others were dead.

Until now.

So in a bout of diplomatic tooing and, I would not be in the least bit surprised, a bit of frooing as well, the Japanese PM Koizumi, he of the leonine Micheal Hestletine-stylee hair, trooped off to NK this weekend for a pow-wow with Krazy Kim to see if he couldn't get the kids back and everyone else etc.

We have to stop here and feel just a little bit sorry for Koizumi as he is in an absolute no-win situation. Just about everyone in Japan really wants him to go over there, get out everyone with a trace of Japanese blood in them and then, really, nuke the place. Most off the rest of the world couldn't really give a toss but would have to be really angry if Japan nuked another country and would therefore have to give Koizumi a jolly good telling off. Also, Krazy Kim holds all the aces, as it were. He has the kids, he has the others, he has the information and he doesn't have to give them back if he doesn't want to. Koizumi has some money and some economic aid. As Krazy Kim isn't really too bothered if everyone in his little fiefdom starves to death, what kind of bargaining chip is that?

So off he goes. He is hideously snubbed at the airport, only being met by the Asia Foreign Minister, rather than Krazy Kim, so now the Japanese media want to string up every NK by their ankles before nuking them all. Krazy Kim and Koizumi meet, they chat, they watch dancing girls and get really smashed on cheap Chinese red wine. Later in the evening Krazy Kim says 'look, yur my besht mate and I luv you. No really beeeep! You jusht don' undershandt. I'm off to hartlepool to buy some exploding trousers. Have the kidsht, I never really wanted them anyway.' And so Koizumi says 'nah nah, I do luv you, its jusht, well, its the hair and glasshes. but thanks for the kidsht, have shum econmm... n' stuff'. [the above is the real conversation and you shouldn't believe the nonsense written in the newspapers. Honest. No really.] And they part the best of friends.

Until koizumi gets home and everyone starts calling for his head. 'This is the worst possible outcome' says Yokota (whose daughter was abducted and who it is alledged died in hospital). Now this is patently not true as the worst outcome would have been Koizumi to come back empty handed. But he played his hand too soon, they say, didn't discuss the others, didn't talk about nuclear weapons, gave the aid away and generally got screwed by the opposition.

And now people are screaming at Koizumi along with all the NK's and, of course, Krazy Kim's. And that's the bit that gets me. I can understand the anger of people like Yokota and the other abductees and their families, but Koizumi seems to be trying his best and I wonder when dealing with someone like Krazy Kim, what more one can do short of nuking the place.

and just to let you know

The disintegration of Japanese culture continues apace as Asashoryu won the Summer Sumo tournament with a 13-2 record. Although there was something for the Japanese to shout about as he was pushed all the way by a chap by the name of Hokutoriki, who could quite possibly be a local.

Tuesday, 18 May 2004

sorry about the delay, trouble at mill.

Japanese Culture at its best

Japan has a long history and a culture to match. Everyone knows this. Every application form I ever read says the person is interested in teaching in Japan because they are interested in the culture (this is, of course, complete nonsense, they are interested in good looking girls and making money (if they are men at least). I was. That's why I came out here. Naturally I put 'Japanese culture' on my application form as well so it just goes to show I am as original as the next man).

So, the long varied history has bred an interesting and diverse culture that is just waiting to be dived into. And luckily for you, I found some great examples this week...

It's snot what you think

Great one this. A sweet manufacturer has had a patent revoked by the Japan patent office this week due to a complaint from Todaiji Temple in Nara. For those not in the know, Todaiji is one of the (if not the) biggest wooden structures in the world and holds a jolly big statue of a Buddha. Nara itself is an old capital of Japan, is a world heritage site and all round spiritual place to be. And has lots of deer. Anyway, the sweet company had been sufficiently awed-inspired by this colossal statue that they had made a sweet in its honour. They are gob-stopper sized, black, and are called...

Buddha Boogers!

What a great name! (for those again not in the know, a booger is the American term for a lump of nasal mucus - haven't you been reading your Calvin & Hobbes?).

Apparently they had been making these sweets for about three years and selling them in local souvenir shops. And very popular they were, apparently. But then some officious monk type person spotted the aforementioned confectionary and, it would appear, took umbrage at the assumption that such an august figure as their Buddha could possibly have a nasal mucus problem. 'Disgraces the image of Nara' apparently, these sweets. Seems to me this attitude does more damage as now everyone thinks worse of the po-faced monks of Nara. Anyway, I also liked the quote from the company spokesman, "We never intended to insult the Buddha statue. We hoped it would be accepted with open minds..." Fat chance, but, luckily, they have no plans to cease production. Orders via email please.

Combat Food

Now anyone who reads any Prattchett will know all about the offensive possibilities of dwarf bread, but now we have better options.

On TV a week or two ago there was, as usual, a programme about how dangerous it is in Japan and this one was all about food and drink. First up was a bit about drinking from plastic (PET) bottles. (PET as in a type of plastic rather than a bottle that is kept as a pet (although I wouldn't put that past some Japanese)). Apparently, if you drink, say, half of the juice directly from a pet bottle, not from a glass after pouring, and then leave the bottle somewhere warm for about a week, it will explode!

No really, and they filmed one to prove it. By all accounts the germs and bacteria in your saliva start eating the juice with relish and gusto and, as a by product, start to fart prodigously. Such is the voraciousness of the bacteria and the volume of their gaseous effluent that the pressure builds and builds in the bottle until BANG! It goes up with no small amount of violence. Quite possibly an environmentally friendly anti-personnel drinks bottle could be developed for the deserts of Iraq...?

But it gets better.

Pickles are very popular in Japan and none more so that Kimchi. Now I realise this is getting into Korean culture, but it was on Japanese TV and that's good enough for me. Kimchi (again for those not in the know, and my, there must be a lot you didn't know but do now) is a Korean pickle made by getting a whole cabbage, bunging it in a pot with a *lot* of chilli, vinegar and other pickle making paraphernalia and then burying it for a year (well, the good stuff anyway). You get the picture.

Now with the explosive pet bottle potential you needed the influence of a bit of saliva to get everything going, but it appears that with Kimchi you don't even need this. So the TV show, again in the best traditions of investigative journalism, put a plastic tub of kimchi on a window sill, rigged up a camera and waited. And in less than 7 days the tub exploded! The tub, which must have weighed half a kilo (that's a pound in old money) leapt about 2 feet in the air, showering everything spicy red goo. Excellent televisual entertainment. Again the TV show said is was due to bacteria in the kimchi which, if left unopened in the jar, begin to ferment and fart out all the gases, leading to the explosive conclusion if the pressure isn't released.

It even works if you leave the kimchi in the fridge, although much more slowly. I, for one, will from now on be checking the sell-by date on my kimchi purchases...

Assignment #2

As you may remember, at the end of March I completed assignment 2 for the mba, the one all about motivation. This was the ironic one as I was completely unmotivated to write it and, although I tried my best, just couldn't really get into it. Well on Saturday I got it back, marked, from the university. Obviously I need to get more unmotivated for my next assignment as number 2 was awarded an 'A'.

I impressed even myself with that one.

And finally

Josh, over at BondiBooks is trying to lose me my job. First, a while back, he found a golf game that was really annoyingly addictive. Now he has found this.


Monday, 10 May 2004

Back to the Scandals

As we all know, well, anyone who lives in Japan or reads this blog regularly knows, Japan, as well as being the land of the rising sun, is also the land of the rising public and/or political scandal. And we have two more this week.


is first up. Yes those lovely chaps who bought you world rally championships and...and...oh yeah, Zero fighters that kamikaze pilots used in WW2, have been hitting the headlines recently in what can only be described as the plot to a John Grisham novel.

Essentially what happened is this. Mitsubishi Motor Corporation, as well as making cars, are a bit of a dab hand at making big trucks. They have a decent market share and are one of the major players in Japan, and I guess the world, of trucking. Anyway, a couple of years ago, in the mid-nineties, there was an accident where a wheel came off a mitsubishi truck whilst the truck was travelling quite fast. It rolled down the street and hit a couple of pedestrians, killing a small kid or two and injuring a few others.

So, usual story, govt called for an inquiry, MMC did some tests and said "not our fault, truck was fine so must have been dodgy maintenance by the owners". But they lied, the cheeky buggers, as the real report found there was an inherent fault with the wheel hub which meant that they were prone to do this sort of thing. So the good bean counters at MMC did their number crunching and, as in the John Grisham novel, decided that a cover up was the cheaper option than recalling all the trucks with this defect.

But now someone has found out, at last, and all the top brass at Mitsubishi, especially any of those to do with trucks, are now getting very edgy indeed whilst some, like ex-MD Akio Hanawa, have already been arrested on charges of telling great big whoppers. Soon he will have to stand up in a room full of people, bow a bit, say he's really sorry, maybe squeeze out a tear or two and then he will be let off, as that is how major corporate scandals are dealt with in Japan. Then he'll probably go and commit suicide.

Anyway, one very important and unforseen outcome of this Mitsubishi scandal, perhaps the most important issue really, is now the Guru will never let me buy an Evo...

And in Politics

As you may have read here before, somewhere, Japan is heading for a serious problem with an aging population. This is much like the rest of the Western world really, but unlike a lot of countries in the West, Japan doesn't really like foreigners so doesn't really want them here to bolster the work force.

Anyway, all this is old ground but one area we haven't touched upon before is pensions. Again like the west Japan is facing a big problem with the number of people paying into the govt pension schemes isn't sufficient to blah blah blah. You get the picture.

So obviously the govt. are exhorting all and sundry to keep up their payments and if they haven't started yet, to get on with it. One reason they are panicking is that young people seem disinclined to pay into the schemes as they think, quite rightly it would seem, that they are never going to see any of the money they pay in as it will have been frittered away by the baby boomers.

Now in the UK it seems pretty straight forward, you have a job, you pay national insurance. But in Japan there appears to be a way around it, although I don't now how (although being a gaijin is a pretty good way of getting by). But now it appears that quite a few govt ministers have been found out - they haven't been paying their contibutions. And not just a few back benchers in the ruling LDP. This seems to have been across party lines and almost to the top. On Friday last week, Yasuo Fukuda, the LDP Chief Cabinet Secretary, resigned over non payment. Fukuda, as Chief Cabinet chappy, was really the right hand man to Koizumi and in a very powerful position.

His crime, like the MHI chaps earlier, was to lie about it in the first place. Back in April he said that he had paid all his dues up to the age of 60, but then in May this suddenly changed to "oh, except for 2 years in the early nineties and a few months in 1995, but that doesn't really matter, does it?" But thankfully it did as finally the Japanese people, again as mentioned here before, are starting to reject the 'do as I say don't do as I do' attitude that has been around for so long. And good on them I say.

Looking on the bright side...

Tuesday, 4 May 2004

Get well soon

First up this week goes to my uncle William. I got an email from my mother at the backend of last week to say that William, or uncle William as I know him, has recently had an operation for bowel cancer. The offending bits have been removed and all, apparently, is well as can be expected. So come along William, get well soon, that sort of thing, soon have you up and about. And, whilst we're here, hats off to the NHS as apparently they went from first inkling to recovery bed in less than a month. Well done. This leads in no way at all to...


As mentioned last week, the guru and I had a jaunt to Nagano pref. and Kamikochi in particular last week as part of the Golden Week hols, which come to an all too soon end tomorrow evening. Nagano is a jolly sort of prefecture, all outdoors stuff, hearty pursuits and even heartier foodstuffs (bear meat stew, anyone?) and was, of course, the site of the winter olympics in 1998, more of which later. In the two days that we were away we visited a temple, Zenkoji, looked at a bog that is particularly famous for flowers, did the kamikochi thing and even got to visit a winery. So first up was...


Zenkoji is a jolly important temple for all things Buddhist, as associated halls in the temple grounds are the headquarters of a number of Zen sects such as the Jodo and the Tendai, which means that pretty much every Japanese person has heard of it. Interestly, there is also a family connection. The guru's family, on her mother's side, come from Nagasaki prefecture, home to the famous city (for all the wrong reasons) and the family owns, or runs (I'm not really sure which) a temple on one of the many islands just off the coast of the prefecture. The bit of the famaily that now does the temple thing is quite a way removed, but had the guru's mother been born a boy, then he would now be head priest or something, but as she was a woman and women can't be priests, it went to another branch (pay attention, I will be asking questions later!).

Anyway, the family temple was part of one of the sects that held Zenkoji as important and so all of the members of the family that went into the priesthood went at some stage of their training to Zenkoji to receive instruction in how to be a good monk, or whatever it is that they learn at that time. I keep having images of David Carradine in Kung Fu spring unbidden into my mind's eye as to the sort of thing they learn. I know it isn't true, of course, but that is the power of television. (It's either that or Monkey, take your pick...)

So it was good to visit there and have a poke about. The best thing about the place is a great way of scamming money from people. For 500yen you can walk the path of enlightenment. What you do is walk down some stairs into a passage way underneath the temple. It is completely dark, not a flicker of light to guide you, so you walk and, with your right hand, feel along the wall trying to find the key to Buddha. Once you find and touch the key, which sits directly under the statue of the Buddha, you will attain paradise. So, walk through a dark passage, find the key and you will be eternally blessed. Seems like a pretty useful way to use that oh-so-difficult area beneath the temple. Martha would be proud. This sounds a tad irreverent, I know, but I really do think they have hit on a good way to get some more cash out of people, it's original, so why not. During the walk in the dark you are meant to let go of worldly concerns. I failed as I was very concerned with the decidedly worldly issues of not smacking my head into something, not stubbing my toes and not walking into the person in front of me. Must try harder next time.

The bog

Not much to say really. We went to this bog, it is famous for flowers but as Nagano is emergent from winter, especially up in the mountains, there wan't much in the way of flowers to be seen. Nice try though. And the melting snow was pretty in a last-vestiges-of-winter kind of way. No really.


We stayed the night in Hakuba which was made famous by the 1998 olympics. It was something a little bit personal for me as it is related with one of the best experiences as a gaijin in Japan. I remember that, on that fateful day in 1998 I had gone to the gym in the morning before going off to teach in the afternoon, this was at the Sports Square in Gyotoku. The morning sessions were always very low key affairs as the gym was full of older and retired folk, mainly as everyone else, except English teachers, was at work by 11am. Anyway, as usual the tv screens were showing sports and on this day it was the team ski jumping event. Japan has a decent record in ski jumping and hopes were high. And luckily the chaps didn't let the nation down. As the competetion wore on, more and more people in the gym stopped their pumping of iron (or considering the age group, pumping of hair tonic) and were watching the drama unfold, yours truly included. Now ski jumping is not the most exciting of sports to watch, usually, but this was enthralling and it all came down to the last jump of the competition by a Japanese veteran, Fukuda I think, who had fluffed an earlier jump and fluffed something in the individual competition and it all came down to him and the snow was falling heavily and the wind was blowing strongly and they thought they might have to cancel the competition but no he said I'll jump and in best disney style he did and he flew and he flew and he flew and he did it and they won and the gym erupted and we danced and they cried and we all hugged and for the briefest of tiny flickers I felt part of Japanese society because we were all united in our happiness at the reult of the team ski jumping competition. And then composure reasserted itself.

So we went to Hakuba and we saw where it all happened and now I have an even more profound and deep respect for anyone willing to throw themselves off a mountain like that. Mad, the lot of them.


The following day we went to Kamikochi. It is a lovely place where the overstressed denizens of Tokyo and other big cities can get away from it all and be closer to nature.

With 12,000 other people.

But that's not really being fair. Everyone knows it is a popular place and therefore is going to be busy, especially on the first saturday of the golden week holidays. That's why the people who really want to get away from it all take the bus to the car park and then head off into the mountains for some real hiking, which I really wanted to do and had some real angst issues that I couldn't and then I looked up into the mountains and then looked again at the equipment the hikers had and realised that they weren't hikers at all but were climbers with serious gear (ice axes, crampons, rope and abseil equipment) and thought "ah, maybe into June or July would be more appropriate for me". The mountains around Kamikochi are in the 3000m range, about double anything I've ever climbed before and looked like they had some serious 'up'.

So like evryone else we did the walk up the river valley, we marvelled at the scenery and breathed in the deliciously clean and fresh air and tied to blot out all the other people (as they, I'm sure, tried to do with us). And it was good, in itself, but am now getting very itchy 'climbing' feet. But at least we got to visit the...


Ever tried Japanese wine?


They make nice grape flavour ice creams though.