Monday, 30 August 2004


for the lack of posting last week. Work was in one of those 'no, you do not have any free time' kind of moods which meant I wasn't getting home till late blah blah break out the violins etc. Anyway there you go, but back this week, so here we go.

It's the taking part that counts...

Readers outside of Japan probably haven't realised this, but the quadrennial All-Japan sports meeting has been held recently, this year in the sleepy Greek town of Athens.

This sports meeting is really something. What happens is that Japan gets all its best athletes together and sends them to a country and then invites other countries to send some of their not-quite-so-good athletes for the Japanese to beat. Then Japanese TV shows all these competitions repeatedly, especially if the Japanese athlete does what is expected and wins the gold.

This meeting usually takes place at the same time as the Olympics, but I don't think Japan sends any athletes there as there are lots of sports the Japanese aren't much kop at, which therefore aren't of much interest to the average Japanese couch potato. Who on earth wants to watch sports without Japanese people winning? Not the Japanese, that's for sure, so they have this other competition where they know they are going to win all the medals. Neat huh?

OK, being just a little bit critical there, but the coverge over really is piss poor. It would appear that sports such as sailing and rowing, which just happen to be sports the Brits aren't too shabby at, don't exist in the minds of the tv producers here - and this with about 6 channels covering the games at various times. However if you want to see Ryoko Tani winning her next Judo gold, you can watch it on six channels at the same time (if you had 6 tv's, naturally). This is so even on the olympic digest shows on nhk (equivalent of the beeb) which, in theory, are meant to show coverage of all the medals being won. Fat chance. And I know that every country is a bit skewed as to what coverage gets the hype, but at least in Blighty they at least show other countries winning events, in Japan you would never know.

But the Japanese did very well, getting something like 16 golds, which is pretty good if you ask me. Half of them were for Judo, which seems appropriate seeing as Japan invented it, but then again England invented most sports and we're crap at most of those so it doesn't always follow. Unexpected Japanese winners included a lady swimmer by the name of Shibata, who won the 800m something-or-other, to which the collective watching public was most happy. I say 'included' for her, but she was really it on the unexpected winners front. Unexpected not winners included one of the women wrestlers Hamaguchi, who was meant to steamroller all before her but became derailed at the semi-final stage, Inoue in the men's Judo, who, well, didn't get a gold and both the men's and women's footy teams, who basically bombed out without troubling the scorers (actually that's not fair to the men's team, thet troubled the scorers by knocking in a hatful of goals. Great, except for conceding even more at the other end).

But it is all over now, as Mick once sang, which left time for...

Azabu-Juban Matsuri

Yes, the other weekend the guru and I strolled off to Azabu-Juban in the beating heart of the metropolis for their annual August festival, meeting up with Steve and Yasuko on the way. Azabu-Juban, as the name suggests, is the 10th Azabu in Tokyo. There is precious little mention of what happed to the other nine or, indeed from 11 onwards. There is a Nishi Azabu, which isn't really that close but must be related in some way, who knows. Anyway number 10 is a bit of an old Shitamachi or downtown area, long term residents, little dingy old shops, that sort of thing, to make the place interesting. It's losing a bit of that now as it becomes posh, being close to boring but expensive Roppongi Hills can do that to a place.

Anyway because it still possesses a bit of its shitamachi-ness, it is one of the few places in central Tokyo that still has a proper Obon matsuri (Obon, I think I've mentioned before, is the summer festival when one returns to the parental bosom to pray for deceased ancestors - and woe betide you if you don't). Now for a 'proper' obon matsuri you need three things: food stalls: bon odori dancing and; beer - all of which Azabu-Juban had plenty of.

First up the food stalls. As the area is a bit downtown, as the Japanese call it, that means narrow streets with bends in, rather than wide straight roads you normally get. Into these streets the organisers squashed as many stalls as they could, which is great as wandering around we found a plethora of yakisoba (fried noodles), yakitori, steak on a stick, big boiled buttered potatoes, corn on the cob, a donner kebab stall (Steve had to try it, not bad was the verdict), and much more besides. It was great as the streets were absolutely packed so you kind of got swept along wherever everyone else was going. The smells were all great and the people really friendly and the food not fantastically overpriced, only reasonably so.

But the even better thing about it was this. Azabu-Juban is home to a fair number of foreign embassies and they, in the spirit of joining in and having a good time, set up food stalls of their own in a special, well, foreign embassies food stall park place...thing. So along with all the Japanese food there were curries from Asia and Africa (the Bangladeshi lentil curry was good, says the guru), smoking meat on the barby from Argentina, meatballs from Sweden, tapas from Spain, tacos and burritos from Mexico etc etc and shepherd's pie from Blighty. And this area was also packed with hundreds, if not thousands of people, all drinking the requisite beers, but everyone was jolly and happy and having a splendid time. It was a bit like the Notting Hill carnival but without the worry of being knifed (but also without the possibility of securing a decent bit of skunk, more's the pity).

There was also Bon odori dancing and the young ladies with their Taiko drums. For those who have never seen it, bon odori dancing is quite something. The general format is this.
  1. Erect a tower made of scaffolding
  2. Attach big loud speakers and a drum on top (and lights, decorations etc to make it look nice
  3. Gather lots of old ladies in yukata in a circle around aforementioned tower
  4. Play the bon odori tape and get everyone dancing around the tower
  5. Repeat until drunk and/or shagged out

All sounds nice except for two things. First the music is shite - one plucked shamisen, some wooden blocks clapped together and wailing. It might be only one track, there might be hundreds, to the untrained foreign ear it is hard to tell. Second the dancing itself. It sort of goes something like this: (remember everyone is moving in a big circle with the tower on their left) take a step forward, and another, then a step back, dip, up, turn to the left, clap, turn right, clap twice, sway, dip, up and start again, continue to music stops. That's about it really, though the order of the moves can be changed for different tunes - except only you, as a foreigner, won't know that the tune has changed and therefore the moves are different, cue much Japanese old lady hilarity as you sway in the wrong place and clap twice instead of dipping.

But, and this is a big but, after a few cans of beer you don't care, and that is why beer is so important for a bon festival. So we did all the bits, though not the dancing this time, and we ate and we drank and generally enjoyed ourselves, as one is meant to do at a festival. Also at this festival, much to the delight of the organisers, they had some snow from Gifu prefecture... Your guess is a good as mine.

Tuesday, 24 August 2004

Nope, not going to happen this week

Wednesday, 18 August 2004

Back in the saddle

So even though it is now Wednesday, this post will naturally be all about last week, as this is the way things should be. So what went on?

Well, last week was hols (as is this week, up to tomorrow, ah the bliss of not working...) so the guru and I celebrated by not going away and not doing much at all really. There were a couple of reasons for this, firstly as it was just too damn hot. By Saturday Tokyo had set a new record for consecutive days over 30 degrees c, the new record being something like 40 days, which seems a tad biblical to me, but luckily it wasn't 40 nights over 30 as well (though I reckon it was pretty close).

Anyway it seems we have Tibet to blame for this as excerssive yak dung production created a massive lump of high pressure, which then moved off and deposited itself on Honshu, or something like that. And it made it hot and humid and horrible. On Sunday it was grey, overcast, raining and, blissfully, only 26 degrees - we both felt slightly chilly, which is just mad for a day in August. I had hoped that the worst was over as Mon and Tues were quite cool, relatively speaking, but today is back up there in the hotness stakes, oh joy.

Deep breaths please.

I also took my annual medical on Friday at a clinic just down the road. This is the second time I have been for a medical in Japan and it is still a difficult and slightly nerve wracking thing to have to go through, mainly as I'm never really sure exactly what it is the doctors and nurses are saying to me.

Medicals are big business in Japan as companies generally pay for them and so clinics are quite happy to overcharge. I had expected (the first time) that it would be in some out of the way place in the country side where I could discuss things with the doc, stroll around the grounds in the dressing gown etc, bit like James Bond on a bit of R&R (it is quite amazing just how many events in my mind's eye have me in situations like James Bond, or maybe not). But no, it is more like a conveyor belt, production line medical - go into this room, stand here, don't look, press this button and so on. Makes it all quite impersonal really.

So they checked my ears and eyes, internal organs (piss into a cup, rather than the ejaculate, more's the pity), impedence (whatever that is) and the usual other stuff. Everything seems to be in working order, which was good news, though I did find one aspect of it all somewhat disconcerting.

I was going for the really basic medical check, rather than the full monty, mainly as it was the cheapest option, though not cheap at 50 quid (or is it? I don't know). So my actual contact time with a real doctor was limited, as this, I guess, is what you pay more for when you go for the more thorough/expensive check ups. So anyway I pop into the docs little consultation room a little nervously as if he asks me anything technical in Japanese I am not going to know what he is on about, unless, that is, he asks me to order a couple of beers and some yakitori - which was unlikely let's face it. But when I walk in he asks me sit down in English, hesitantly, it must be said, but in English nonetheless. So far so good.

Then he whips out his stethoscope for a listen to the old chest. What he would really like to say next is "deeply inhale Mr Justin....and exhale".

What he actually said was "deeply inspire Mr Justin...and expire".

It comes to something when your doctor tells you to die on the spot. But I did not take his advice and so I am able to write to you all today.


The rest of last week was quite quiet. After the last day in the office on the Friday a few of us went out for beers in Aoyama. This was most pleasant as we found a couple of jolly pleasant bars in which to sup. One, named NOS (which has a cute litte website, especially the 'room' section, if you can look at it) was very nice as it had a terracy thing that we could sit on and drink red wine after the obligatory first beer on a Friday evening had done its magic. But these chaps only let us stay there until 8pm as the place was booked out. This looked to be a bit rum, but we then found an even better place. We wandered down to Las Chicas, which is quite well known, but this place was packed but upstairs we found a really nice little place, quiet, reserved, with a terrace but a perfect place to continue with the red wine and convivial chat. I wish I could remember the name of the place, but it doesn't matter as it was quite easy to fine - I recommend it to anyone in Aoyama passing by.

Japan itself has been quiet this week in terms of scandals, mishaps, buggering about and the like, mainly as all the politicians and bigwigs are either gearing up for the Olympics or gearing down for the Obon holiday. Naturally the Games have been big over here as Japan has won a bucketful of Judo medals, a few in the pool and also the men's team gymnastics. Well done to all, doing better that team GB, though that doesn't seem to be too difficult to me. By the way, anyone else think the Olympic flame, rising after it had been lit by the torch, looked like a giant penis surging to erection? Maybe it was just me then.

Fantasy football

Last but by no means least, the fantasy football season is now up and running. Go to the CoB website to see just how sad we all are, and to the Telegraph site if you fancy joining - the more the merrier, we have 25 or 26 in our mini league right now. And on this note I would like to say thanks to Mr Steve Denney for providing me with the prize for winning last seasons UEFFA Cup, by buying me the required 'a couple of beers' in the Adgate pub last night.

Monday, 16 August 2004

No post

Listening to the cricket, can England do it? 175 more to win, plenty of overs but what about the pitch? Will write tomorrow.

Thursday, 12 August 2004

We're back

Apologies if you have been over recently and found yourself transported to the strange world of, this was due to some old bits of code that were hanging around the template and confusing me from the old comments provider. Now hopefully sorted, it's almost like we've never been away.

(PS thanks to Jason at Blogger for pointing me in the right direction.)

Monday, 9 August 2004

Am now in holiday mode so there will be precious little structure to the ramblings for this week and, quite possibly, next.

This week, or perhaps next week dates are a little hazy, is Obon. For those who don't know, obon is the festival of the dead, as far as I can tell, where you average Japanese salaryman person decamps back to the family dwelling in the country side, with wife and kids in tow to say hello to the folks and pay homage to the ancestors by visiting graves and, nice touch I think, leaving little offerings of sake for the deceased but obviously thirsty grandparental to sup on. Makes more sense than flowers, if you ask me, and seems to prove that the Japanese have the right idea towards deceased relaties, i.e. they could do with a drink. As we don't have any deceased realtives in Japan, that means the guru and I get to stay in Tokyo and do nothing (and I get to keep the sake for myself, which seems an even better outcome than giving it to blocks of stone containing ashes of people I have never met).

On top of this, not only are we not worried about long gone parts of the family, as mentioned yesterday we are far more interested in new additions. So again a quick congratualtions to Julian and Katharine for producing the next generation of the family. Well done, jolly good etc etc.

However what with it being the obon hols, my brain has gone to sleep, probably on account of the heat and the humidity, so my usual prose and eloquent discourse is replaced with the following:

Football - Japan won the Asian cup in China against China and the Chinese weren't very happy. They booed the anthem and rioted after the final. The China coach, a dutch chap, refused to accept his losers medal as he said the Japan team cheated. Blah blah blah, if he was really pissed off he would have complained about the referee, who made the decisions and approved the goals, rather than the team, who played to the whistle (though Japan's second goal was a handball worthy of Maradonna)

Fallout - Another day another problem for the Japanese nuclear industry. Last year Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) had to close all 17 of reactors after investigators looked up the word 'maintenance' in the TEPCO manual and found the explanation 'sit back, have a cup of coffee, falsify reports and hope no one asks you about it'. Now it would seem a reactor in Kansai (Osaka) has had to let off a bit of steam after overheating or something. Unfortunately 4 or 5 workers got in the way and were boiled on the spot, poor chaps. This is a breaking story, so more bulletins if I ever remember.

Jenkins - oh for heaven's sake is this still going on? Allegedly so, though now he is back on Japanese soil and in hospital it has taken a bit of a back seat. Anyway he is, apparently, going to plea bargain with the US. I don't really know what this means, but I think it is where he says 'I'm really sorry' and the US says 'Oh right, that's ok then' and everyone goes home happy. I might be wrong about that, but I don't care.

Onsens - Even more have been discovered doing, as it were, the dirty. This time in Ikaho, Gunma, where rather than put bath salts in to make the water smell nice, the dodgy owners couldn't even be bothered to do that. They, again allegedly, boiled up bog standard tap water and then added it to the bath and claimed it was the good for you, flatulence inducing real mccoy. Que outrage in Gunma and, no doubt, Japan as a whole as the whole edifice of Japanese bath times crumbles in the face of a scandal that, try though I am sure they do, they can't blame any foreigners for at all.

More Fallout - This week was, of course, the 59th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (in fact Nagasaki was today). Having been to both peace parks I can say they are places of tranquility and reflection. Blair, Bush and any other leader with an itchy nuclear trigger finger would do well to visit those cities in August.

Sunday, 8 August 2004

It's a boy!

And so I am an uncle! Golf-playing-soon-to-be-a-father-brother has dropped the now entirely inappropriate 'soon' business as Katharine gave birth to a bouncing baby boy at 12:08pm today. Charlie James George (or possibly Charlie George James) dropped into this world with all the correct appendages and, to quote 'enormous knackers'. They, or he, weighed in at 8lbs 5oz in old money or around 4 kgs in new, which seems like an awful lot to me, but apparently it is not.

Anyway, congratulations to mother, father and well-tackled baby and welcome to the newest addition to the family.

Monday, 2 August 2004

Do not forget!

But of course I did, I mean, it's not the sort of thing you remeber on a friday night as you're charging out of the office in search of that first, friday evening, start of the weekend, ice cold asahi superdry beer. Japanese do the friday evening beer very well. Most of the time their beer seems a little lightweight for western (ok, my) tastes. But that first friday beer, the refreshing one that is gone in three gulps and hardly touches the sides, the one that mocks the heat and humidity as it slips down your throat, released from the pint glass that has been in the freezer, meaning the beer is even colder and even crisper. That beer the Japanese do really well. Better than any other beer I've come across. And, in my view, asahi superdry is the king. All hail the king.

Slightly off the point.

Do not forget to bring the webcamera home. These were instructions given to me by a parental a few weeks ago. I used to webcam every couple of weekends but now they have a behemoth that they use to clog up the roads of southern england at weekends to 'get away from it all'. No one is quite sure what it is they are getting away from, their children and their webcams perhaps, who knows. Anyway, do not forget it last weekend as it is a grandparentals birthday on friday so send a card and then we can all webcam chat on sunday when the family comes around etc. No worries. I remembered the card, even remembered to send it, but forgot the webcam.

Now what, you may ask, am I doing bringing a webcam home from work? Well once, in these hallowed pages, I wrote about going to Akihabara to buy a webcam and the awfulness of having to do it (and then install the bleeding thing on the laptop after. I still have flashbacks). I did swear that I would go back and buy my own, but taking the one from the office at the weekend was a good stop gap that never got filled. Until, that is, about 8pm on friday when, halfway home and in no mood to return to the office, I realise that the bag is somewhat light in the webcam department. Oops. I was even talking to the guru at the time, mentioning that I was off to seijoishii to buy smelly cheese and salad dressing - strange how things jog your memory...

So we decided to bite the bullet, return to Akihabara and buy our own webcam so I could forget the whole office nonsense. And with a due sense of foreboding and dread, we set off on Saturday for the heart of nerd-dom in Japan, nay, in the world.

It's actually quite convenient to get there, straight down the old keihin-tohoku line, so in the flash of an eye we were there. But on the way we were witness to a very strange thing. Now I've been in Japan a while now and am used to seeing strange things on the trains. This one had to do with a young lady and her appearance. Japanese young ladies are most fastidious about their appearance, you will rarely see one out without her face plastered in makeup, hair just so etc and trains are, it would seem, a jolly good place to adjust oneself. I once watched in awed fascination a couple of school girls transform themselves from very prim and proper A-grade looking students into the... searching for the best phrase... school girl bimbos on their way to Shinjuku, all in 25 minutes on the subway line.

Anyway this girl on saturday was, thought the guru, on her way to hot date city. She was forever checking her hair, checking her makeup, checking her phone for messages, checking her hair again etc etc etc. For a good 20 minutes with abolutely no let up at all. Not that odd, you may think, but one thing was. Asian people, women especially, have for a long time had a thing about their eyes and eyelids. It became very fashionable, if you could afford it, to have cosmetic surgery to give yourself western style double eyelids rather than the more common single variety you get in Japan and, more commonly, in continental asia. Now this girl on the train looked a little young to be seriously considering cosmetic surgery on her eyelids, so she would do what I guess is the next best thing. She would get her bicycle lock key, which was about a inch long, flat and quite narrow, hold it near her eyelid and then push it in, trying to fold back the skin between her eyeball and its socket. Sound horrible?

Trust me it was ten times worse to watch. And she kept doing it. I don't know if she expected it to stay there, but I have a strong suspicion that someone in Japan has invented eyelid glue, to give you the western look without potentially blinding you with an operation. I don't know, but it made me feel queasy watching her do it, I wanted to look away but it was just horrible fascination that meant I couldn't. Anyway she got off at Ueno, hope she had a good date.

Akihabara was easy this time, as perfect as a shopping trip there could be. Into the first shop, 'sir, vend me a webcam, pronto, chop chop' even got the same make and model, just in case. In and out in 15 minutes - minimum nerd exposure time, and then off to the Maru building near Tokyo station for lunch (yes, just like roppongi hills, shiodome, odaiba, yokohama etc, but good place to get a bite to eat).

Anyway, got home, set up the camera, all worked like a charm. Waited around at 6pm on sunday for the call.

Did it come...?

I'll leave you to guess the answer to that one.

but on a more positive note...

Power to the people!

Very popular in Japan, John Lennon, and he would have been proud of this one.

Amalgamating towns to make cities is big business in Japan. It would appear that if you can get two or three towns together to make an urban area big enough to be called a city, then you can get loads of tax kickbacks from the central govt, new amenities, maybe even lower taxes, who knows. Anyway there must be something in it as lots of places seem to be giving it a go and making themselves into new cities and changing their names and confusing local people. So recently the good burghers of Kawaguchi (where we live), Warabi and Hatogaya decided that it would be a jolly wheeze to all join together and make a big, bright and shiny new city that everyone would lurve, and they'd get loads of cash, pocket the slush fund, live like kings for a few years, patting each other on the backs, then get discovered and thrown in the clink for misappropriation of funds (cynical, moi?). And these chaps decided that the new city should have a new name and in a very Japanese way, decided it would be Bunan, but in a very un-Japanese show of democracy, thought they'd ask the people what they thought.

So apparently the good people of Warabi and Hatogaya said 'Bunan, sounds ok to me' but the people of Kawaguchi said 'oh no, the new city should be called Kawaguchi'. So the committee chaps decided that Kawaguchi was just being selfish and they said 'no, you must be quiet and not be selfish, we will call ourselves Bunan from now on'. And this caused such a furore that the whole plan has been shelved, just because of the people of Kawaguchi!

And too right I say. I live in Kawaguchi, not Bunan. What is Bunan anyway? Some made up artificial piece of nonsense. No, long live Kawaguchi!