Monday, 27 September 2004

where to start...? always a tricky one. The advice usually given is to start in the middle and then go back to the start to finish off, or something like that. But that doesn't work if your not exactly sure where the middle is going either and you haven't even thought about the ending.

So today it was an exceptionally gray and wet day, in fact it almost seemed like a day in blighty, with low cloud and persistent drizzle, interspersed with buckets of very heavy rain, which was at least a little diverting. This was apt, the grayness not the diverting rain, as seemed to sum up my outlook at the moment, mainly on account of finishing the book that I wrote about last week, Alex Kerr's Japan is a Totally F**ked Concept. I have now realised the wisdom of reading books about countries when you are far, far away from the country that the book is about, preferably never to return. It is a big mistake to read a book slagging off the country you are living in, especially if a) you aren't leaving for the foreseeable b) you agree with most of what the book says and c) your partner, who is from said country, does not agree at all. This is not a recipe for a sunny visage and a spring in the step.

Then, to make matters worse, you troop off to the virgin cinema in 'trendy' Roppongi Hills to watch 'The Fog of War' which though very, very interesting, is also a wee bit depressing about the state of human nature and our inability to learn from past mistakes. If you haven't seen it, then I would highly recommend it: 2 hours of interviews, contemporary footage and anecdotes from Robert McNamara, the US Defence Secretary during the Cuban missile crisis, Vietnam and the like. Fascinating, but not exactly laugh a minute stuff. Also it was Roppongi Hills, which as you well know is not my favourite place in the whole of Japan.

This, though, made me smile this week, or perhaps it was last week, I can't really remember. The Japanese, like most people, like a jolly good opinion poll to brighten up their morning daily. Current hot topics in these opinion polls are such normal things like how much you dislike the prime minister (even though he cried in Brazil when all the expats cheered him for 5 minutes), how much you hate North Korea (especially now that Krazy Kim seems to be warming up his nukes for no apparent reason - hey! When did he ever need one?) and how dangerous Japan has become. This poll that I saw was on this last topic. Part of it was all about the breakdown of Japanese family life, the increase in violent crime, especially by younger and younger children and the fracturing of society. Good news on this point, by the by, as Kaio won the Autumn Sumo basho, which finished yesterday in Tokyo. He beat Mongolian grappler Asashoryu to claim the Emperor's Cup, the first Japanese to do so for...for, well quite a long time as I can't remember the last native to do it. Asashoryu fell to something like a 9-6 record, which is pretty dismal for a yokozuna - so smies all around in the Japan Sumo Association as Japan reasserts itself as a force to be reckoned with.

I digress. So this back to this poll and its main subject. The headline for the poll was something like 'Japanese Fear Increase in Foreign Crime!' Or to put it another way, your average Japanese person on the Kawaguchi omnibus is worried about the increasing number or crimes committed by foreigners in Japan, especially, it seems violent crimes perpatrated by evil Chinese gangsters and their terrible rackets (noisy people obviously, ho ho ho). Now, as a student doing an MBA, all of my assignments involve first person research, in which views of others need to be sought. So, all the books tell me, you have to be very careful when framing questions so that you don't introduce bias, or leading questions or try to put words into people's mouths. So imagine my surprise, as the saying goes, when the question that the poll was based on translated roughly like 'Are you worried about crimes being committed by foreigners who have over stayed their visas and are now residing illegally in Japan?' Surely the answer to that question, if asked of anyone in any country about illegal immigrants would be yes, but here it was trumpted all over the front pages as if it was some kind of revelation.

What made me smile even more was that further into the article it sheepishly revealed that whilst the total number of crimes committed by foreigners is going up, as a proportion of all crime it is going down. Also, violent crimes by foreigners are going down as well, the only real growth area, as it were, are for visa infringements, such as over staying your visa, and these generally for students studying Japanese - ok, they are mostly Chinese, apparently , so at least something was accurate in the report. Nothing like an unbiased free press to stir up intelligent debate, although coming from the UK, with its tabloid trash, I'm hardly one to talk really.

On the plant front, continuing good news from the chilli plants. We have now had a total of three chills, two of which I have eaten and can confirm that they were, indeed, green chillis. And they weren't too bad, reasonably hot and spicy, but not eye wateringly so. One certainly livened up a pot of bog standard tomato-y pasta sauce the other week, so well done the chilli plants.

The olive tree continues to grow apace and is now over a metre tall, which is most impressive indeed. No olives yet, but they will come in time, I am quite sure of that. Actually, last week I sneaked off the top shoots to slow it down for the winter, but already it has sprouted three new shoots around the cutting and shows no sigh of slowing. Today the balcony, tomorrow the world!

And the rosemary, much of which has died due to the same strange thing that decimated the mint, is now doing ok. There is only really one plant left, but it is the oldest and the biggest and also has new shoots a-sprouting so hopefully it will see the winter through.

But RIP for the coffee tree, which went brown and died in about 3 days. This after it was doing so well and had recovered from its little white bug(ger) attack. Oh well, looks like I'm going to have to contiune to buy my mocha...

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