Tuesday, 30 March 2004


Hey, get this. Arakawa is now a truly international organ. Check out the comments on the 19th March post and you will meet Heine, a Norwegian living in Denmark. He (...I think he is a he, but I realise that this is just an assumption, of you are a she, apologies, please let me know) is a remarkable person on three counts:

1. He has read this blog from start to almost finish in almost one go. This is dedication above and beyond the call of duty.
2. In a comment he referred to Danes as 'daft punters' which is fantastic use of language, especially for a non-native English speaker (and he also describes the blog as 'expert description', and as we all know, flattery will get you everywhere).
3. He seems to find my ramblings interesting.

All this has earned Heine first prize in the Arakawa Riverview Challenged Cup. This entitles the winner to a free beer or three, please come to meet me in Japan and I will happily provide the necessaries.

Anyway welcome Heine, good to have some Scandanavian input.

Monday, 29 March 2004

The other side of Japan

So as mentioned in the last post, I was off on a business trip this week, down to Fukuoka on the southern island of Kyushu. The Guru and I have been down to this neck of the woods before, in 1999 I think, when we flew to Fukuoka and went on a bus tour around the whole island (never again, by the way, for a Japanese bus tour - it was an experience that everyone should try once, but never again). Anyway that time I never went into Fukuoka, so it was virgin territory.

Getting to Haneda airport I was able to take the Tokyo Monorail. I thought this would be crap, but it was one of the best things about the whole trip! It runs from Hammamatsucho on Tokyo Bay and sort of follows the bay round to Haneda, which sticks into the Bay around the bottom of Tokyo where it joins Kawasaki. The route is great as it goes through Shimbashi and Tennozu waterfront areas, past OKeibajo, which is bloody great horse racing stadium in the middle of the city, and then down past the industrial/petrochemical bits that make Middlesbrough look like an advertisement for clean air. The best thing is the monorail runs about 20m off the ground so you get this great view of the whole area. It doesn't sound like much, but if you live in Tokyo and you see is grey concrete everywhere you go, it was a real eye-opener to see colours and contours and, well, life. Hmm, waxing lyrical there, better get to a rant.


During one of my visits to BA recently, we discussed the fact that the skies over Japan aren't deregulated like they are over Europe. So where in the UK, fo example, it can work out cheaper to fly from London to Liverpool via Frankfurt than to use the trains, here the same isn't true. No EasyJet or RyanAir to bring the prices down so my return flight to from Tokyo Haneda to Fukuoka cost over 60,000yen - that is 300 quid! This was with ANA with whom, last month, a colleague flew return to the UK for 62,000yen! OK, I wasn't paying so Iwasn't too bothered to be honest, but then this really got me - 300 pound flight and if I wanted a beer on the plane, I had to pay for it! I found this totally shocking. And even worse, when ANA tried to set up a budget style airline called Skymark, no-one used it. Weird, these Japanese. Anyway, I showed my absolute displeasure over the paying-for-a-beer issue by maliciously not buying one. That, I think you'll agree, showed them!


Is a most pleasant and compact little city. So much so that I was rather taken with the place and had a short but nevertheless strong desire to move down there. The nicest thing about it was, I suppose, that it is walkable. Actually thinking about it, this is more a shortcoming of Tokyo, though shortcoming seems the wrong word as, if you are going to walk anywhere, it is more of a longcoming. Anyway it was nice to be in a place where you could walk around the city, where the interesting little side streets held interesting little shops and restaurants and bars and where they still have trees on the pavements which must make the summers a little more bearable. They also have two small emporia that made my stay much more enjoyable. First, on the way back to the hotel was a cracking little yakitori shop that was perfectly placed for me to stop and have a beer with yakitori whilst writing up my notes from the day. There is nothing quite like a really cold beer with some barbequed chicken at the end of a long day. Anyone who bangs on about sushi and sashimi as the height of Japanese cuisine is talking rot, give me beer and yakitori any day. They also served, free of charge, a dish of raw cabbage with the beer. Now this sounds odd, and if you had told me before I would have politely declined. But no, it is a really good little combination, and much healthier than crisps or peanuts. Sounds strange but no, beer, yakitori and raw cabbage - winning combination.

The other place was a little bar just round the corner from the hotel. Normally you take you wallet in your hands when you enter an unknown Japanese pub as it can easily turn out to be a hostess bar, which will charge you anything from a small fortune to a very large one just to sit down, let alone have a beer or, even worse, a bowl of peanuts. Anyway this one looked ok as it had a sign for Abbot's Ale outside. No really, first time I have seen anything like it in Japan (Guiness, Kilkenny and Bass are about the best you can usually get). In the end I only got one opportunity to go in to this place, and the night I was in there was absolutely dead, no-one else at all. But this was great as I got to chat to the bar owner chap. He was really into all things English and was in love with Abbot's Ale, hence being the only place in Japan to regularly stock it. But even thought this chap was into Englishness, he couldn't speak a word and has never been there, so our long chat was conducted all in Japanese, which made me happy, if confused at times. But the best thing was he kept giving me free samples of beer to try! What a nice chap, but I think he was lonely. Anyway I got to try a whole load of beers made by local micro breweries on Kyushu, which was great as it really difficult to find a beer in Japan that isn't made by one of the big 5 breweries. The best one was made by a brewery called Suginoya and recently won first prize at some international beer competition thing. The worst was a strawberry beer that was very similar to cough mixture. So we chatted away and he kept *forcing* me to try all these different beers and we were getting on famously. Then three middle-aged Japanese men came into the bar and, with all these glorious beers on offer, ordered asahi superdry. Oh well, the spell was broken and I wandered back tothe hotel, gently bumping into things as I went. But I really hope this guy and his bar succeed, mainly so I can go back and ask his name.

But that was about it. The work was worky, the people very nice and a good bunch of trainees to boot. The hotel room was small and to say the most, functional. Anyone who has lived or stayed in Japan will know all about breakfasts in hotels here and, rest assured, this one was up to the usual high standards. I don't know what it is about breakfast here, but the Japanese really can't do a 'western' style one and a Japanese style one just seems to be the leftovers from last night. Economical? Yes. Tempting at 7:30 with a hangover...?

Monday, 22 March 2004


The Guru and I had a lively discussion this week and it all started with sellotape.

Or Scotch tape, for those of you who know it by that nomenclature. The Guru subscibes to a weekly email newsletter from a Japanese woman who lives in England. She has been living there for years and so offers sage and timely advice for those Japanese women who, or who want to, live in the UK. One of her many valuable contributions to the sum of Japanese housewife knowledge of the world is to point out, in no uncetain terms, that English people do not all have a full afternoon cream tea at 4pm everyday, and for this she has earned my undying admiration (as well, I suspect, the vitriol of Japanese tourist agencies trying to flog over priced cream tea holidays to the Cotswolds).

Anyway, in her last missive she started having a go at British sellotape. It is crap quality, you see, always breaking in the wrong place, twisting, difficult to handle and generally a bane in her life. The Guru nodded along with wholehearted agreement. "Useless" she laughed, casting amused looks in my direction (as I had anything to do with it! (But at 1 pound for 5 rolls in Brixton market, what did she expect?)). But the crowning turd, as it were, was the fact that the rolls of tape don't come with a built in cutter. In Japan, apparently, rolls of sellotape come with a small metal clip type thing that is actually a cutter and means you save valuable nanoseconds when wrapping your presents (not that Japanese ever wrap presents, the department does it for you!).

Now I have tried to use these little cutters and cannot get the hang of them, and nor has a friend in Japan Steve, so we prefer the 'biting with your teeth' method favoured by, I think, most English. So the argu.. discussion started on the relative merits of Japanese vs English sellotape and then progressed, through a series of logical bounds, to the Guru stating the opinion that the English never innovate. When they have invented something that is useful, apparently, they never try to improve it whilst the Japanese are always doing this, hence the little metal clip/cutter on sellotape here. My point was that firstly, it isn't an improvement and, if it was, it would catch on in England as well, and that, secondly, the Japanese are respnsible for a whole lot of unnecessary crap in the world mainly because they try and improve on things that don't need improving. And here we reached impasse as neither was willing to concede to the other. Then we went out on Saturday evening and met up with Steve and Yasuko, had the same discussion and came to the same conclusions, only double the numbers.

This is one that could run and run, I fear, as now anything useless or unnecessary that I see in this country I point out, whilst the Guru, when she remembers things that used to drive her crazy in London, doesn't shirk from reminding me. I am willing to concede her views on occasional, small things, like the London Underground, but she will not budge from her view. This made me happy the other night, though. She was washing rice in it's cooking pot when I mentioned that it was easier to wash rice in a seive under running water. "This is the way it's been done for thousands of years" said she.

I don't like to keep score, but that one went on the fridge door.

(The Japanese woman who started all this off, by the by, lives in Margate. Enough said.)

Fukuoka, Kyushu.

I'm off on a business trip!

That's right. Tomorrow I have to troop off to Haneda airport and fly down to Fukuoka on the southern island of Kyushu. We have a new franchise set up there so I have to go down to do some interviews/orientation for a bunch of new teachers who have been 'selected' by the franchisee, and then do a couple of days of training with them as well. Get to stay in a hotel that I don't have to pay for and get extra money for doing my job. Marvellous.

I am looking forward to this as it is a chance to see a new city, meet some new people and generally not be in the office for four days. Sounds like a great deal and should all be smooth as silk as luckily the franchise department isn't one of those where all the staff received, and used, DIY lobotomy kits for christmas last year. Oh hang on...

Full report next week.

Friday, 19 March 2004

and in this week's friday five

If you...

1. ...owned a restaurant, what kind of food would you serve? often thought about this, but never really settled on a definitive style, so probably a bit of everything that I like, so a bit of Japanese, some Thai, a touch of Mexican and your usual Euro/French/Italian stuff. I hate the word 'fusion' in cooking, so better to be pick n' mix.

2. ...owned a small store, what kind of merchandise would you sell? often thought about this as well. Definitely a combination deli/coffee/book shop. (This one, one day, will happen).

3. ...wrote a book, what genre would it be? i'd like to think a series of wry, occasionally humourous articles on the oddities and strangeness of living in Japan. But probably a fantasy novel.

4. ...ran a school, what would you teach? I work for a school, we teach English. So anything but that.

5. ...recorded an album, what kind of music would be on it? have never thought about this as I am so totally unmusical, a bit like Steve Martin's character in 'the jerk'.Although having said that, I love music. But the choice would change depending on the day, week, month, hour etc. Listening to lots of led zep/stones/ black crowes right now, so if i recorded an album this weekend, it would probably sound like them.

Wednesday, 17 March 2004

Musical differences

Here's a strange thing. The Guru and I were having a spot of dinner the other night and a piece of music started up on the old cd player. It was a classical piece and as it started the Guru slowly got a wistful, faraway look in her eye and murmured natsukashi. At the same time my thoughts wandered off, stimulated by the music and slowly an amused smirk spread across my face. The music, I'm sure you're dying to know, was the bit from the old Hamlet cigar ads (the name escapes me just now, and the cd has been replaced on the shelf). I was thinking of the ads, specifically the one in the restaurant where I think the waiter knocks the chap's toupee off, much to the amusement of his younger date, whence the waiter gives him the cigar and strikes a match on the back of his head. So like most English people my connection with the song is wryly amusing.

Natsukashi, for those who don't know, doesn't really translate well into English but is a sort of wistful nostalgia, "that takes me back" sort of idea. The reason being, you see, is that the same piece of music is the one played at all Japanese graduation ceremonies, so as soon as a Japanese adult hears it, they are suddenly transported back to school/college/university and those halcyon days. I just smirked. This could, of course, prove embarrassing in the future when, at my childrens' very solemn kindergarten graduation ceremony, when I should be crying with pride or something, I will be happily smirking to myself thinking of Hamlet cigar adverts. Must learn self control.

But of course there are many more examples of this sort of wholly different cultural reaction to music. For example whilst we in the west are somewhat pissed and spluttering "I love you, yur my besht mate, no really" at new year to the tune of Auld Lang Syne (or whatever the spelling is), here in Japan it is known as the 'Firefly' and is played to tell you that the supermarket or department store you are in is about to close. Curiously, the image I have for Vaugh-Williams' new world symphony is the Hovis kid walking with his bike up a steep hill on his way home in Yorkshire or the Cotswolds, which is spooky as it is the music they play over tannoys at around 5pm in towns all over Japan (well in Kawaguchi at any rate) telling kids it is time to go home. Maybe it has a deep psychological resonance about returning to the bosom of ones family. Or something.

Sunday, 14 March 2004

Spring is almost here and the sakura will be in full bloom next weekend, so the colours have changed to usher in the new season.

Saturday, 13 March 2004

and on this week's friday five

1. What was the last song you heard? haven't been listening to a lot of music this week, the md player has remained at home, but I think it would be 'when the levee breaks' by Led Zeppelin

2. What were the last two movies you saw? that would be Love, Actually and Lord of the Rings pt 3. (and surprisingly love, actually wasn't as awful as I thought it would be)

3. What were the last three things you purchased? apart from lunches, a load of Harvey Nicholls toffee (going cheap at Sogo dept store which was given to the ladies in the office for White Day), 4 books at Bondibooks over in Kichijouji (thanks Josh) and a lot of beer last night.

4. What four things do you need to do this weekend? haircut, study, recover from hangover and study.

5. Who are the last five people you talked to? The good Guru (in a drunken state last night and a hungover state this morning) and then 4 others from the office - Dave, Helen, Sally and Simon - with whom I drank too much beer and probably put the world to rights (lucky old world!).

Tuesday, 9 March 2004

It 's the new War

Dave, once of Tokyo and now of Bangkok has a new blog, The Hundred Day's War, detailing his new offensive against complacency. Please pop over here to see it and support him in his endeavours.

Sunday, 7 March 2004

What's in a name?

Quite a lot really, if you are Japanese....actually quite a lot for anyone really, but as this blog is all about Japan we're going to go with this theme.

I saw an article in a magazine this week that was all about naming children and the fun you have to go through in Japanese. I had never really thought about it before, but as this is something I will be doing for real (hopefully) soon, I read the article with gusto, and it turns out that it is not simply about choosing a name you like for your offspring. Oh no, that would be far too easy. There is a lot more to it than that. A lot. But before we begin this I think I should give you all a brief guide to the complexities of the Japanese language (for those of you in Japan and who know all this, you may want to wander further ahead. Or you may not, up to you really).

Kanji and all that

So Japanese, in a nutshell, is this - why use one alphabet when you can use four? That's what someone over here said a few centuries ago and everyone thought it to be a jolly wizard idea. So for starters there is kanji which a lot of can be seen at the Kanji Site link on the right. Kanji is the writing that came over from China a few millenia ago and is the one with the pictographs (or maybe pictograms) and pretty much everything old or major has a kanji. Some of these are quite literal and you can see how they developed - for example Kawaguchi, where we live, is made up from a square (meaning guchi, or mouth as it is in the shape of an open mouth) and three vertical parallel lines (meaning kawa or river, from the banks of the river with water in between). Put them together and you have Rivermouth, and there is a river mouth here, so it all makes sense. Unfortunately this is an isolated case and most kanji bear no resemblance to the thing they are meant to repesent. Kanji are not phoenetic, so you can't really try to work out what they mean, especially as you can put two together and the sum of the parts bear no relation to the original bits.

Because Kanji came from China so long ago, they have also become Japanized, so each kanji will have at least two different ways of being read - two if you're lucky. So if you see a kanji you can never be sure how it is read and therefore what it means, which creates a lot of scope for confusion. This is especially true with names - if you find a random business card you won't know who it belongs to as you won't be able to read their name until they tell you. And place names, like nishi kasai, where I work, is made from 2 kanji, the first, 'nishi' and the last, '-sai' are the same kanji, but pronounced differently. Sound a bit silly? You bet.

Even the Japanese realised this, so about 500 years ago hiragana was developed (actually it was developed by a noblewoman at the Emperor's court to send secret messages to someone, somewhere - I forget). So anyway hiragana is phoenetic, unlike kanji, so it was jolly useful for writing under kanji to show what they meant. Now it is used for particles and articles, defining tenses and the like. So that is two alphabets.

The third is katakana, which was developed more recently, in the last hundred years or so when lots of new foreign words started appearing in the Japanese language. This was a problem because, unlike English, there are no spaces in between the words in written Japanese, so if there suddenly appeared a foreign word spelt out in hiragana, the reader would not know where the word started or what it meant. So katakana is essentially the same as hiragana, except that where hiragana is soft and curvy, katakana is angular and sharp, so when reading a sentence you can see where the words change. This is quite a sensible idea really, but confusing for the average foreigner as katakana takes no account of where the foreign word comes from - so lots of English speakers have been very confused by their studebts saying 'I have arlbeit' - they mean, of course, they have a part-time job, from the German, but no-one told the Japanese that, they just think of Japanese and 'foreign'.

So that's three. The last alphabet the Japanese use is this one, the roman alphabet, called romaji in Japan and not really used very much, except in train stations which is very useful if you are going somewhere new.

So back to names

So first you have to choose the name you want for your kid. This is the easy part as there are lots to choose from. So far so good.

But then you have to decide how you want to write it. Now we can assume that the surname is going to be the same as the rest of the family, but what of the first name? Well, you could write it in hiragana, the curvy phoenetic script above, but where is the fun in that? Now in English, if you want your kid to be called John, you have little choice but to choose one 'o', one 'n', one 'j' and one 'h', out them in the right order and hey presto, you have John. But with a name like Akira, for example, reasonably popular especially after the post-apocalyptic dude, you will have at least 25 different ways of writing it in Kanji. 25!

So just pick a nice looking kanji that means something nice like 'strong-warrior-salary-man', yes? No. You've forgotten the strokes! and we're not talking noveau rock pop here. All kanji have a set number of strokes and an order in which to write them, and woe betide you if you get either wrong. This is important because you have to add up the number of strokes and see if you get good numbers or bad numbers - but not just the total number of strokes, that would be too easy, you have to look at:
Jinkaku - the number of strokes in the last character of the last name and the first character of the frst name. This will tell you the child's talent or character.
Tenkaku - all the strokes in the last name. This will tell you about destiny and the influence from your ancestors (surely the same for everyone in the family?)
Chikaku - all the strokes in the first name. This will tell you about the kids life up to middle age, including marriage and health, but not after middle age, that is from...
Sokaku - which is all the strokes in both names.

With it so far, well then

Get your number of strokes in the sokaku and deduct the jinkaku, this will give you the gaikaku, which will tell you how society will perceive your child, his or her sincerity and self-confidence. You couldn't make this stuff up if you tried.

So what does it all mean. Well, if your sokaku (that's all the strokes in both names) adds up to 19, your kid will be artistic but rebellious and tempramental. In Japan this is not a good combination so it is to be avoided at all costs apparently. You can just see it...
Dad: what about Leonardo?
Mum: hmm, what does it say in the book?
Dad: Artistic but might get a bit angry.
Mum: Ooh I dont like that, how about Kevin?
Dad: happy go lucky, bit of a dreamer, steady.
Mum: that's nice, Kevin da Vinci, has a nice ring to it and none of that rebelliousness...

I digress. So you have to employ the services of a fortune teller to make sure that the name you have decided upon is going to be an auspicious one for your progeny. And you have to be careful as the number of strokes can change unexpectedly when you use a kanji for a name rather than its normal usage, for no good reason whatsoever, except, as with all of this, to confuse foreigners (although it is pretty good at confusing the Japanese as well. When the guru and I wed at the local ward office, the desk bound chappie admonished the Guru for spelling her name wrong, something she had been doing for thirty odd years as her father had chosen an alternative kanji that changed in name usage but then he had basically forgotten to tell her!).

And then, of course, there are the forbidden kanji. There are only 2230 kanji that can be used for naming your kids, out of a total of many tens of thousands that are out there, the 1945 Joyo kanji, which are the sort of everyday ones that everyone can read (yours truly excepted) plus 285 special kanji for names. That is it. Back in the nineties a rather deranged chap wanted to name his son Akuma, which means evil or devil (using the kanji he wanted to use). Now he was a silly chap, but his local authorities actually took him to court and won, meaning that he was legally not allowed to name his son what he wanted! Now although I think this chap was being a bit of a prat, I am shocked at the principle that you can't name you kids what you want to. And who chose the 2230 kanji? No one seems to know.

But there you have it. Seems to me that if you eant to do this sort of thing properly you need an advanced degree in calculus to work out the stroke permutations and then a direct line to Russel Grant to chack everything is sweet in the heavens.

Think I'll be giving my kids English names...

Friday, 5 March 2004

and this week's friday five

What was...

1. ...your first grade teacher's name? Not sure about first grade as we don't have them in the UK, but the first teacher's name that I can remember is Mrs Kenyon - old, pinched face, bit of a harridan sometimes but basically ok.

2. ...your favorite Saturday morning cartoon? Battle of the Planets with G-Force, and their spaceship called the Phoenix that, cunningly, went all fiery in times of need, which was actually 'Gatchaman' here in Japan, for Japanese it was. (After asking the Guru what the Japanese name was, she has just sung me the theme song - bless her!)

3. ...the name of your very first best friend? James Milne - whatever happened to him...?

4. ...your favorite breakfast cereal? As a kid I have a very vague recollection of Golden Nuggets, which I suspect where lumps of sugar with yellow food colouring (which luckily covered all the major food groups for a four year old). If not, Crunchy Nut Cornflakes.

5. ...your favorite thing to do after school? Too many to write down but 'bugger all' and 'not doing homework' come close to the top.
Truth for today

There is always space for one more person on a rush-hour Tokyo subway train.

Monday, 1 March 2004

The Police State

Interesting story in this week's news about the police, which I thought I would share. Now personally I have a lot of time for the police in the UK, they seem to be a hard working lot, over stressed, criticised from all quarters, that sort of thing. I haven't had to much to do with them, to be honest, and long may that continue, but they seem to be trying to be doing a good job. And before anyone gets too irate in the comments section, I am looking at them from 5,000 miles away with little in the way of domestic UK news, so I may be wrong about that. I am also looking at them in comparison with the Japanese police, who are, I think, pretty shite.

I mean sh*te in a sort of useless way. Not bumbling incompetence, like the jolly laughing policeman, but a kind of arrogant, don't mess with me but if you do mess with me I won't really know what to do about it sort of way. If you take my meaning.

Anyway what got me thinking was a story in the paper. Apparently a week or so ago, a woman was out and about when suddenly she started screaming at the top of her lungs, someone had snatched her bag, you see. Now the police, far from their usual policy of waiting for two weeks before checking anything out, actually arrived at the scene as the woman was still a-screaming. (Perhaps she was near a koban or police box, which is not, as the name might suggest, a law enforcement protective, rather it is a little box-like shed found next to most railway staions where the police can relax after a long morning's doing nothing by drinking coffee). I digress, so the local coppers turn up, at which point the woman stops her screaming and, pointing, shouts 'it was him'. Keystone Cops-like our intrepid heroes turn and apprehend the larcenous individual. This proves to be a 68 year old gentleman laden with shopping bags in both hands - hardly the type to have just snatched a ladies handbag, seeing as he doesn't have a ladies handbag on his person and couldn't carry anything more anyway, let alone run, the favoured modus operandi of bag snatchers, or so I am led to believe.

Pleased with themselves, the coppers drag the bewildered shopper back to the screaming woman, only to find her gone, with out so much as a by your leave and leaving not a trace. 'Oh well', think they, 'but at least we got our man'. So they drag said man back to the koban, on, you remember, a hysterical accusation by a now disappeared woman. Unfortunately the chap, obviously not used to this sort of thing, is now bewildered and extremely stressed which, I'm afraid to say, pushes his dicky ticker into overdrive, giving him a massive coronary and leading, very shortly, to his untimely death.

All very sad, but what makes it worse is the fact that the police refuse to apologise for anything. Apparently they had a suspect who had been identified and accused by a victim and that, sadly, is good enough for them. Doesn't matter that the 'victim' has disappeared, or the chap was an elderly gent laden down with shopping, or most importantly, for the chap at least, that he died in police custody. Nope, he was obviously guilty, so they got him.


I think it is because the police, when faced with a potential crime against a person, aren't really sure what to do. Most of the crime in Japan is of the white collar kind, as reported in these pages in the past, somewhere, so most police really do sit around in their koban's all day, drinking coffee and giving directions to lost people. Now much of this is because Japan is a safe country, much safer than, say, the UK. Having lived in both I feel I can say this with some knowledge, although anywhere feels safe after living in Brixton. Japan is becomming less safe, mostly through socially maladjusted kids losing it and murdering their peers, or parents, and also Japan has always been a place where sexual harrassment goes uncommented upon - for example men groping women in trains, which has become such a problem that there are now Women Only carriages on trains in central Tokyo of an evening. But Japan is still, I feel, much safer physically than the UK.

So when the police come up against this sort of incident, they don't really know what to do, so they either go a little over the top, as with the chap above, or do nothing. In Nagasaki last year there were numerous assaults on kids around a kindergarten but the police didn't tell anyone, so the attacks continued for quite a while until the police finally thought they'd better do something about it - they did catch the guy, in the end, but a word of warning might have helped. An argument against this, I realise, is that they don't want to cause a panic. Fair enough. But how about this.

This week Shoko Asahara, the Aum Shinrikyu chap was sentenced this week. It was the death penalty for him for the 1995 Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway (and a lot of other murders, going back about 6 years, some of them using Sarin gas - was he investigated? Have a guess...). Anyway because of this there have been lots of TV news features about ex-cult members and what they are doing now. Most of them are trying to live new lives, leave the past behind, but they can't as wherever they move they have to register with the local police who then tell all their neighbours, everyone in the town, who they are and where they live, so they and their kids are attacked, threats made and houses defaced. All nasty stuff that need not happen but is basically encouraged by the local boys in blue.

Seems to have turned into quite a polemic, this one. But they are pretty useless, in my opinion. Pick on the small guys whilst letting the big fish, the yakuza, swim freely about.

But on a happier note

Let's all cheer for Middlesbrough, who finally won something for the first time in 128 years by beating Bolton in the Tin Pot Cup. Yay!

And also

Saw a very strange thing on Friday. I was on the train - clean, cheap, on time (pogo take note) - and sitting a few yards down the aisle was a girl in suspenders. I had to stop and stare. I could hardly help myself, such was the scene. Now lest you think I am one of the dirty old men mentioned above, this young lady was wearing gentlemans' suspenders, the old fashioned type that go around one leg at about calf height and are attached to the sock by a single clip. Otherwise she was quite normally attired - coat, scarf, skirt, socks and shoes. Most very odd indeed, although it is indicative of the strangeness of the fashion of young women in this country. I mean for heaven's sake, leg warmers are back in fashion right now...