Sunday, 27 June 2004

oh for heaven's sake...

it's a pretty pass when i have to rely on the cricket team for some success in england's international sporting arena

(and i hope, pray, that we beat the west indies in today's one dayer)

Wednesday, 23 June 2004

So apologies for the delay, but when there's magic on tv, well, you've got to watch really haven't you. No? OK, I have to watch, which seems eminently fair to me.

Global Warming

Time was, so I'm reliably informed, when typhoons were an Autumn phenomenom. Certainly when I came to Japan first they seemed to congregate in September and October as a sort of 'Summer-heat-is-over' signal that meant body odour was no longer going to be such a problem for every westerner in Japan.

But it is a measure of how buggered up the weather patterns have become by global warming as last weekend we had typhoon number 6 pass by, and my what a biggy it was too! Usually typhoons seem to hug the coastline, moving up from Taiwan and Okinawa and, once they get to the bottom of Kyushu, either head left towards Korea or veer right along the coast of Honshu, occasionally wandering up past Tokyo but more often that not moving back out to sea. Maybe there is a meterological reason for this, maybe not, but this bugger moved slightly to the right of Kyushu and then just kept going, passing right over Shikoku and Honshu and, in the process, doing its worst.

If you've never been in a typhoon, they are pretty wicked things (or a hurricane, for that matter. By the by, know the difference between a hurricane and a typhoon? Guesses/answers in the comments section please). They start with a stiffening of the breeze about a day before they are going to hit. This can be quite pleasant as they sometimes push cooler air in front, so you get a nice cool breeze, hence everyone quite likes them in Autumn. Then the wind starts to really pick up, and clouds start to form and the air gets wetter. First a few spots of rain, then a steady fall, but not too heavy. Then, an hour or two before it hits, things begin to pick up. The rain gets heavier and the wind really starts to howl over the balcony and through the telegraph wires. When it hits proper it really is time to batten down the hatches. The rain is coming down at 30-40 cms per hour and wind is whistling past at 160kms, heady stuff and hot and sticky too boot. No walking in that, and no surfing, though some always try and a chap died on Sunday off Shikoku trying that very thing (surfing, not walking). All the trains stop running, all the streets are empty, ghost town stuff and the wind howls.

And then it stops.

Absolutely and completely.

Calm in the eye of the storm? You betcha, and it is that which is the strangest thing. No wind, no rain, just stillness and silence after all that noise and fury. And you know it is only for a short time and so its the waiting for the restart that gets you. Because it all starts again with no warning at all, suddenly the wind is howling again and the rain driving horizontally into the buildings and you have to sit it out for another hour or two to wait for things to die down.

When this happens in the Autumn the air after is often beautifully cool, clear and soft, like it has been freshly washed and laundered, which it kind of has, and so the world looks a little brighter and cleaner, everything seems a little sharper and in focus. But with number 6 being at the start of summer it brought with it loads of moist warm air from the south pacific, meaning that on Tuesday the temperatures in Tokyo hit 33 degrees and 37 in Saitama - these are the temperatures we usually see in the dog days of August and are far from pleasant. Last year, in a cooler than usual summer the temp in Tokyo never got above 32, so to hit 33 in June doesn't bode well for a pleasant summer (though aircon manufacturers and brewers have big smiles right now).

As with anything to do with nature in Japan, this is of course dangerous (think earthquakes, volcanoes and mud slides - dangerous country...). 4 people, I think, died because of this typhoon, and all of our new teachers who arrived on Monday were delayed as flights were held, shinkansens cancelled and roads made impassable, all from a bit of rain. Powerful stuff, I guess.

Luckily I got all the plants inside and so all were protected from the ravages of nature, just in case you were worried. Oh, and I'm not sure I've mentioned it but we have some new additions, now we have mint, growing as if its life depended on it, little chilli plants which seem hale and hearty (though no chillis yet) and shiso, or Japanese basil, which I am rapidly discovering doesn't like too much water - god knows how it survives June in this country...

Monday, 21 June 2004


Apologies, should be blogging but there is one of those 'magician does magic' shows on tv and, as a complete sucker for this kind of thing, I am absolutely hooked. Promise to write tomorrow.

Monday, 14 June 2004

Well thankfully a lot more happened this week, which night make this blog intetesting for a change (don't believe the hype). First up was...

Gareth and Kumiko's Wedding

Gareth is a chum from work, jazz afficionado, wine lover and general all round good sort. On Saturday he and the lovely Kumiko were married. I don't know Kumiko so well, she did use to work with us, in the bit of the company that fleeces students by convincing them that studying in the UK for an inordinate amount of wad is going seriously improve their English ability. Seriously lighten their wallets, more like, but plenty sign up so either the dept is very persuasive, of there are a lot of Japanese students out there who want to splash their cash, have a nice holiday and assuage their guilt by pretending to study...

Seem to have wandered off the point somewhat, apologies.

Anyway now Kumiko has an infinitely more pleasurable job in the wine import business, which means she gets to go on lots of tastings and, in the best business perk I can think of, filch lots of half empty bottles of very passable plonk. Normally her and Gareth knock these back of an evening, but occasionally some of us others do as well, and I have spent a very pleasant evening or two with them in a small wine bar with take-in that the owner doesn't mind as she a good supplier. It also means that they know how to pick a good place for a wedding reception as they start at the wine list and go from there.

But that's getting too far ahead, first up was the ceremony. This was held at Kando Myojin Shrine in the very heart of Tokyo (going to the link, by the way, gives you a lovely picture of the shrine and some excellently bad English written by a Japanese person, enjoy).

Now I, who has been here for quite some time in total, had never been to the actual cremony part of a Japanese wedding before Saturday, so this was an interesting experience. Part one involved G&K sitting in, as it were, state. A reception room was set aside, they sat at the end, all dolled up in Japanese finery, with the families down each side. Mere mortals and friends then tentatively creep in, say "ooh, don't you look nice" and then ushered outside again, quick as possible. Sort of like paying one's respects, I suppose.

At this point I should mention that G had all his family over from the UK, that included parents, brothers, sisters and hangers on, all of whom looked utterly bemused from start to finish. But kept up with everything and certainly seemed to enjoy the day, especially after the wine started flowing.

Anyway, then it was onto the parade. Here we walked from the first room to the shrine proper. This was cool as G&K and the rest of us followed and kind of marching band, consisting of 6 monks playing flutes, shakuhachi (another kind of flute (and interestingly, the crude Japanese word for a blow job, no really)), and other instruments to make for a very traditional atmosphere. Also in the line up was a tsukisoi-nin (or perhaps a kaizoe-nin, the Guru isn't quite sure). This person's very important job is to make sure the K's kimono looked picture perfect - quick note about kimono, usually they are a bugger to wear, but bridal ones are very heavy, have 12 layers, a huge head dress/hat affair, are very restricting and are, basically, a real bugger to wear. So the tsukisoi-nin is there to help, though how much help you are when, with 50 metres to go you stop the procession to adjust the kimono, then the bride starts again and, with 48 metres to go the procession is stopped and kimono adjusted again and then the proces.... It's a moot point, anyway. Anyway the pair did look smashing and the tsukisoi-nin did prove amusing for the gaijin there.

Once in the shrine we had the ceremony, which was very traditional and Japanese. We had some chanting, where the chief priest chap tried his best to do each, admittedly long, stanza in one breath but really struggled on some of them. We had shaking of tree branches to drive out evil spirits. We had the shaking of rattles, to scare away any rattle snakes that had escaped from the zoo, presumably. And G&K got sake. In a Japanese wedding there is no exchange of rings, rather the betrothed swap alcoholic beverages early in the morning, which seems a much simpler, less expensive and, I think, apt, way to celebrate marriage. Start as you mean to go on, kind of thing.

One thing that did make me smile was the collection box. At Shinto shrines the average punter walks up to the barrier, throws some coins into the collection box, has a pray and then moves on (which is perhaps why it is still so popular, none of that droning on for hours on a Sunday morning nonsense). Whilst the ceremony was going on, this could still happen as the punters stand outside as normal and lob in their coins. What made me smile was that the sound of the coins falling sounded exactly like an electricity meter. So when the coin dropping coincided with the end of a chant, it was remarkably like paying to get the old chap started again. This put a smile on my face, though no-one noticed as most of the assembled were, by this stage, dabbing at tears.

Then it was outside for the group photo. At this time we had the attention of not only the tsukisoi-nin, but also the photographer and the photographer's mate. This meant an awful lot of fucking about to get everything 'just' so. It came to something when one of them moved Gareth's brother, who is in a wheelchair, from one point to exactly the same point but, as he was in the chair, this included no small amount of too-ing and, wait for it....fro-ing into the bargain as well.

After all that you may think I am citical of the whole shebang. Not so. It was an excellent thing to be asked and, as it was my first, it was an interesting experience. The ceremony itself was nice and quick, about 30 minutes, long enough to enjoy the differences but not too long to get bored. So, a very pleasant time was had by all.

Then we went off to get drunk.

This was much more in the 'western' style. G&K changed out of their kimono clobber, much to their relief I'm sure, and we all decamped to a Californian restaurant not 15 minutes away. I got to sit next to Mark, Gareth's older brother who seemed pretty remarkable to me as he is disabled but has his own house, lives alone and works in IT for Prudenial and was a nice bloke too boot.

So we all chatted, we drank some extremely agreeable Californian red wine (Californian, never really tried it as has always suspected it, don't know why as usually new world wines are where I go. Anyway, I will certainly be going back to California when I get the chance) and we ate some rather pleasant tucker - though not G&K, who were too busy talking to everyone and so weren't able to eat, so ended up eating in the kitchen after everyone else had gone to the nijikai (second party) venue.

And we got speeches, we got gifts (in Japan you give money to the newlyweds and they give you a present in return - strange custom that)and then we got to go to the nijikai. And from here the rest of the evening gets hazy. There is lots of moving, you see, in a Japanese wedding. Ceremony, then reception, then second party, then third party, then fourth party, then gutter, all in different places with a gradually diminishing list of attendees. I made it to the end of the third party before I ungracefully bowed out - at least it wasn't disgracefully... well, I haven't heard anything yet, but then I took a day off today... I did manage to persuade the bar in question to let me keep the 3/4's of a bottle of red that I had just started, and so I wended my way home, luckily with enough presence of mind not to swig from the bottle as I stumbled around on the wrong trains. And I manged to get home with dignity intact and with all my valuables in place. Yes, I was surprised as well.

So, congrats to Gareth and Kumiko, thanks for a great party wedding day combo. Good luck and all that.

What else...?

Well, this weekend was also Le Mans...

...which I was able to listen to at length via the internet and even on TV. Now I don't want to blow the Arakawa trumpet too loudly, but after last year's diatribe on these very pages about the shocking quality of Le Mans coverage on TV, this year we got really good coverage. OK, it was on ESPNi, which I luckily have and heve never watched, but who's to complain? We got about 6 hours of live feed, of which I got to see about 3 hours of, and jolly exciting it was too. About 1 hour to go, that's 15 laps, with Johnny Herbert about 45 seconds down in second but lapping 3 seconds a lap quicker that the first placed car. Can he do it? No, in the end, but boy did he try. Cracking stuff. Even got to talk to various mebers of the b-team, who were there this year - they did mange to do their usual trick of waking me up at 6am, mainly as I was dead to the world with the wedding party hangover. And there was...


Best not talk about that. And the...


can be put into the same bracket.

But, strange thing. I came home from the wedding party, much the worse for wear but was able to program the video to record the rugby on sky, a difficult process that involves moving wires, which was being repeated at 5am as I had missed it earlier. But when I was sober I set the video to record the football, being shown live at 4am, and completely mucked it up and recorded the wrong channel. This then proves that video timing recorder things are only successfully operable by young children and adults who have gained mental acuity on a par with young children through the judicious application of alcohol. They should put that in the manual.

Monday, 7 June 2004

This week in Japan...

Has been quite quiet, to be honest with you all. The pension scandal has rumbled on. As you may remember I wrote sometime ago about how lots of dodgy old politicians had been caught not paying their pension premiums whilst at the same time telling everyone else that they should. Well, now some resolution has been passed about it. But here's the thing, I have been reading the paper trying to find out what this resolution says, mainly so I could write about it here, but, in all the column inches, I couldn't actually get to the bottom of what it was all about. Some of the dodgy old politicians didn't like it, I think from Minshuto the main opposition party, so they performed an 'ox walk' which is where they walk very slowly up to the voting place in an attempt to delay, and then stop, I guess, the vote.

It didn't work, of course. But it did mean that a lot of old politicians, who should know better, got to act in a very silly manner, ham it up in front of the camera and generally pretend to be 4 yr olds. And in this sense, I suppose, they are no different from any other politicians around the world.

But anyway I still don't know what the bill passed was all about, which is probably bad news for me as I have a sneaking suspicion it was something important...


Japanese are very proud of their seasons. There are four of them, you see. Now everyone not Japanese who is reading his will be very surprised at this because much unbeknownst to you, you don't have four seasons in your country, only Japan has four seasons and the Japanese are very proud of it. (They seem to forget that Vivaldi, the distinctly non Japanese Italian composer wrote a piece of music called the Four Season, but that is by the by of course). Anyway, the Japanese four seasons are called spring, summer, autumn and winter. It doesn't matter what seasons in your country are called and it doesn't matter how many of them there are. Japan is unique in that it has these four seasons, each of which has its own distinct weather patterns.

They're a weird lot, these Japanese.

Anyway, you can easily confuse them by asking what season it is now. They will say 'tsuyo', which translates into English as 'rainy season' and lasts from mid-June to early July. It's like trying to teach Baldrick to count:
'So that's spring, tsuyo, summer, autumn and winters - 1,2,3,4,5'
'Oh no, Japan has 4 seasons'
'And that one'
'And if I add tsuyo to these 4, what does that make?
'A very crowded calender, my lord'