Tuesday, 27 July 2004

Had to listen to the cricket on Test Match Special last night so that was why there was no post, apologies to regular Monday evening viewers. Something odd about the England cricket team at the moment, mainly that they keep winning - six out of the last seven - which seems somewhat unbecomming of an England Cricket XI. Certainly feels like the first time in my lifetime that we've been doing it (though I can, just about, remember the '81 Ashes with Botham et al), but in modern times, not really. So hey, isn't the internet fantastic in that I, in Japan, can listen to TMS in real time whilst watching the score on Cricinfo and not have to worry about the tube strike?

Japan in hot water (again)
Except for another scandal. Now it is getting a bit dull, to be honest, writing about all these scandals. They just keep coming, thick and fast, so it is hard to keep up with who has bribed who, to cover up what, to protect someone else's arse etc, but this one, I thought, just had to be reported. It is the tail end of the whole thing, in truth, but I think it is important to tell as it shows the truly dark side of Japan, the canker eating at the soul of the nation, the sort of thing, in short, that the country is either going to have to deal with or end up at the bottom of the pile socially, economically, morally, ethically and any other ~ally you can think of.

You may think I'm building this up too much and that in reality it won't be so bad. You are wrong.

So what's it all about? Well, in the mountains of Nagano there are two things in abundance: ski slopes and onsens (or baths fuelled by hot springs). Now the ski slopes are all well and good in the winter, making pots of cash as they do, but the onsens are the real money earners as they are open all year and everyone, *everyone* in Japan likes a good hot bath, especially if it comes out of a mountain.

Now naturally all this water is gushing through the rock and out of the ground, where it is collected by onsen owners and put into big wooden tubs, whereupon one relaxes and, if one has any sense, has a beer or two to savour the moment. These rocks, of course, impart their minerals and things into the water, making them good for things like flatulence and arthritis and turning the water all sorts of different colours. And the more minerals the better, can cure you (or give you more) of whaterever it is you have.

But for some nefarious, no, downright evil, onsen owners this wasn't enough. Oh no. They had to be better than their neighbours, didn't they. "Doesn't matter if it is all the same water", they said. "Ours is different, another kind of rock in back garden makes my onsen water better". And the people trusted them, so they went and bathed and said "ooh, innit' nice, I can feel my flatulence returning good and proper".

And then the Inspector of Onsens came along and took a water sample.

"Now then sonny jim" said the Inspector "what's all this about a different kind of rock in your back garden?"

"Yeah, that white one there, very good for healthy toenails, or something..."

"Right. and the fact you've been adding bath salts to your onsen water wouldn't have anything to do with that, now would it?"

"Ah...Er...it's a fair cop?"

That's right, dear readers especially those not in Japan. The nation's onsen are not safe from the corruption that is sweeping the land. And the Inspector didn't just find one, he found loads. Dodgy 'onsen' owners were filling their wooden baths with tap water, adding a few salts and then charging punters to take their waters to give them back their flatulence and basically conning them all and coining in the cash.

And for a regular Japanese person, you can forget the sumo, to hell with the summer fireworks and even the cherry blossom can be put aside - just don't fuck with their baths.

So now there is a task force, the Inspector has some Constables who, I guess like the Michelin people (foodies, not tyre makers), visit establishments, sample the delights on offer and then grade the place on the quality of it's fart inducing products. This should, hopefully, put a stop the practice and make bath time safe for eveyone again.

Otherwise it was just another week in Tokyo, with ex-Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto accused of pocketing a 100 million yen bribe, sorry, donation, back in 2001 from the Japan Dental Association. Business as usual, really.

Actually, I like the story above for one redeeming factor, because of the way the Japanese media translate things. The bribe apparently was made by Nisshiren (I think that is the English spelling) which has been translated as 'the political wing of the Japan Dental Association', which I just love. The 'political wing' just sounds so cool. I can imagine their annual conference:

Main Hall: Japan Dental Association General Conference
Rose Room: JDA Political Wing
Jade Room: JDA Tactical Operations and Counter Insurgency Unit
Ivory Room: JDA Steering Committee for the Establishment of the World Revolution and Clean Teeth Brigade

Almost worth becomming a dentist for.


Tuesday, 20 July 2004

Out and about
As I mentioned yesterday, Monday was a national holiday so the good Guru and I ventured forth to keep those not living in Japan abreast of the state of the nation. And about 5 paces from the flat this proved to be a stupid move as it was hot. Hot, hot, hot! I may have mentioned that last year it was hot at times, but last year was nothing compared to this year. And luckily yesterday was nothing compared to today, when all I had to do was go to work. Today the mercury topped 41 degrees in Shinjuku, next to the station. 41 degrees! This is just silly weather, I mean, it is as hot as Delhi (old and new) and tonight the temperature will drop to a much more 'comfortable' 28 degrees, which is good for a lot of things except sleeping. "Why did I come back to this ridiculous country?" is a thought that is going through my head quite a lot at the moment. However I am allowed to rib the Guru mercilessly as she was heard to utter, back in May or June "oh I have missed a Japanese summer" - she ain't thinking that now...
So anyway, as it was such a nice, hot, sunny day we thought what better way to spend it than to go to the beach. Now for you sad plebs not at home in Japan, this would mean going along to some sad bit of the country where the land stops and the sea starts, all very haphazard and, well, natural. Oh dear. Now us ultra chic and 'with it' people here, we don't do nature, organic or original. Oh no, if it is a beach we want, we go to an artificial one right in the middle of Tokyo. Yup, we wandered off to Odaiba.
Odaiba is an island built on reclaimed land right in the middle of Tokyo bay. You might think, therefore that it is all quite new, but you'd be wrong. It was originally built, according to the rough guide, by the Shogun in 1853 as a cannon emplacement to protect Tokyo from Admiral Perry's black ships in the same year. This was about as successful as trying to keep MacDonalds out of Moscow and soon Japan was opened up to the west after 300 years of isolation. About 140 years later the governor of Tokyo had an even better wheeze;
"Lads, lads, hold that and watch out for the roach, I've just had an epiphany [translating freely as I go]. What we need to do, right, is get all the crap from Tokyo, throw it in the bay and build a big shopping centre on it. What do you think? Nah, nah build on the rubbish, they'll never know. And we'll get this really big bridge right across the bay, we really need one as we don't have a famous bridge and everywhere has a famous bridge..."
And he got his way, Mr Shunichi, so he dug a big pit in the middle of Tokyo bay, filled it with rubbish and then built the Rainbow bridge across to it and, in the best magician traditions said 'ta daa!' And what he had, then, was an enormous, and enormously expensive, car park, as there was nothing there at all. Somewhat surprisingly, this annoyed the good tax payers of Tokyo so they kicked him out and scratched theirs heads thinking, 'and what shall we do with this' until someone, clever and more perspicacious than the others, asked 'what do Japanese really like doing?' to which the answer is, of course, shopping.
So they turned this great big car park into a smaller car park with lots of shops there. This proved to be immensely popular so they built more, and restaurants, video arcades, cinemas and, in the end, houses and offices, even persuading (or maybe tricking) Fuji TV to move there. And then lastly, in an effort to keep the place at the forefront of cutting edge silliness, someone decided about 2 years ago to make an artifical beach there. This is a grand idea as, if you live in Tokyo, it is a bit of a trek to the beach, either down past Yokohama to Enoshima, or over to Chiba to the Pacific (Sotobo) side. The reason you have to go so far is that if one wants to put a toe anywhere near Tokyo bay as it is horrible water, brown, a bit smelly, definitely oily and, like Odaiba, basically crap.
So we went there as, being residents of Saitama, we are even further from the sea than Tokyo people. So we stood on the sand, looked warily at the water, sniffed, endured the sun, and then retreated back to the shopping malls for lunch. Odaiba, nice beach, shame about the water.
But the rest of Odaiba is a bit like Roppongi Hills, where the Guru and I went before, and a bit like Yokohama, and a bit like Shiodome, in fact I think that Japanese adults have theme parks here, they are called shopping malls and they are all the same - maybe, though, I'm just being naive and the rest of the world is like this, though I hope not.
Julian, golf playing soon to be a father brother, passed his driving test last weekend after going on one of those (I shudder to use the phrase 'crash course') short course things in Wales and he passed, at last, mainly so he drive Katharine to the hospital when the sprog finally makes its entrance. So, first time Julian drives his wife anywhere will be when she is about to give birth - my won't that be a fun journey...
Mr Jenkins again
So he is still going to be arrested by the American authorities, but he is now in Japan as he has to have some emergency medical treatment. The MPs won't nab him until he is all better, which who knows, may take 20 or 30 years? But here's a weird thing. When he got off the plane in the Sweden of South East Asia, he was a spry and energetic 65 yr old with a mischevious twinkle in his eye. By the end of the week he was bent over double, using a cane and leaning on anybody close. Just coincidence after the Japanese govt. found a loophole in the deserters agreement with the US which says if they're in hospital they're safe, for the time being...?

Monday, 19 July 2004

Today was a national holiday, marine day I believe, which means the Guru and I were out and about. So no post today, a long squawk as Monty Python would have it, but I promise that it will be done tomorrow.
Having said that, blogger seems to have altered things a bit, so i can write in different colours without an awful lot of arsing about. Hmm, and
  • have bullet points

should I feel the urge. Not to mention upload pictures by the look of it, may have to buy that digital camera now...

Wednesday, 14 July 2004

saw that chicken again this morning

Monday, 12 July 2004

This week in Japan

So two stories have really dominated the news and views of Japan this week, at least as far as I'm concerned. The first follows on from something I wrote about before, that of...

Krazy Kim's People Mart - reprise

So as we all know from reading the august reportage of this great tome, Japan has been having a spot of bother with North Korea over the nicking of Japanese nationals for nefarious purposes in the 1970s and 80s. No one belived the Japanese until Krazy Kim said it was all true and let some of them go, but not the kids etc.

Anyway, there is another part of this story that you in Japan may not have followed, the strange case of Robert Charles Jenkins. Now he was an American GI who fought in the Korean war back in the 1950s on the side of the US and the South. So he finishes the war without being shot, a pretty good feat if you ask me, so the powers that were decided it would be a jolly wheeze to ship him off to Vietnam to fight another bunch of God fearing Asian types who obviously hadn't learnt their lesson at the hands of the wishy washy frog eating French. Now as you can quite imagine, trooper Jenkins (sorry, don't know his rank) thought this to be a less than enticing prospect and so, no doubt in a fit of pique, deserted from the US Army and went over to the North.

Now you may think this was not a good career move, but you would be most wrong. He was exactly what the north Korean propagandists were looking for and so he spent the next 30 years making films like 'The Devilish American Baby Eating Monsters from Des Moines", or something like that, and having a pretty life, by all accounts. But in that time he met Hitomi Soga...

Soga-san was one of the Japanese abductees. They met, they talked and in the cliched and over used American-GI-deserts-to-the-most-closed-tyrannical-state-in-the-world-meets-girl-who- has-been-abducted-from-nearby-US-influenced-democracy style, they fall in love, marry and produce offspring who are brought up to believe they are one big happy North Korean family in Kim's world.

Then Hitomi Soga is given the chance to return home to Japan, and she takes it.

And as soon as she gets here she starts complaining loudly to anyone that will listen (and that is everyone in Japan) that it's a terrible thing that she's had to leave her husband and kids in North Korea and that everyone, especially Koizumi should be trying to get them back and if that includes going to war to get them, so be it. No one (or no one that I have read about) seemed to say 'why did you leave them there, you selfish person?' or 'stop moaning and go back' or anything remotely negative (and I do realise the gravity of it all and that it is a highly emotive issue, but one dissenting voice would be nice).

But the crux of this little problem in thus. She can get the kids, no real problem, but as soon as Jenkins sets foot on Japanese soil he will be arrested and extradited back to the US to face a court martial for desertion. Now this guy is about 60, no real harm to anyone so the US can do themselves a big PR favour by saying "ok, we waive the charges, enjoy yourselves" etc. But do they?

Of course not, not the present administration in this day and age. So again poor old Koizumi is up against the wall. Everyone is shouting at him to do something about it all, but he can't let Soga return to Korea (that would lose face), he can't let Jenkins come here (the Americans would shoot Jenkins, he'd lose face) and he can't do nothing as everyone is getting really het up about it all (and he'd eventually lose face)...

So thank goodness for Indonesia. Out of the blue they say "you guys can meet here - for we are the groovy Indonesians, a bit like the Swedes of South East Asia without the blond hair, so, like, chill out man, yeah (oh, and, like, don't worry about East Timor, they're kind of like the Danes, yeah, so what do you expect?)". Or something like that.

So they do, last Friday, in a tearful reunion. And so Koizumi is saying 'curses, missed a PR op. there', and the US are saying 'curses, missed a chance to execute someone there', and the Japanese people are saying 'curses, that should have been here', and the North Koreans are saying 'curses, hotel security won't let us back onto their floor', and Krazy Kim is saying 'curses, they've forgotten about me already'. And the Swedes, sorry, Indonesians are saying 'groovy guys'. But at least the Jenkins-Soga family is happy, though I suspect the kids are a little overawed by it all as it is the first time they have been out of Krazy Kim's Krazy Kingdom so they don't have to eat grass and boiled shoe leather anymore.

But what happens next is the big thing. The US has extradition treaties with quite a few nations, which limits where Jenkins can go (though not the cool Indonesians, of course, so staying there is an option). But of course Soga wants to come back here with all her family intact, but unless the US relents, this will be impossible (of course we could be preparing for a George Bush Jnr electioneering PR coup by pardoning the nefarious Jenkins, you never know). What they really want to settle down away from the glare of publicity, which would be nice for them, though seeing as Soga used the media so shamelessly to get what she wanted, a bit of payback is probably due.

Anyway, further bulletins as events warrant. Which leads us onto...


Sunday was the Upper House elections here in Japan, and, luckily, Japanese elections are just as boring as English ones. Now Koizumi, as Prime Minister, is head of the Lower House. The Upper House is full of other people who mill about and shout a lot when they feel the need to. I assume they are a bit like the House of Lords, except they are elected and are not Lords (strange, we have a Royal family in Japan, with Emperors, Princes and Princesses, but none of the cool titles like Earl and Baron, or even Samurai - seems such a waste).

Now from what I remember about electioneering in the UK, prospective people who want your vote drop leaflets through your letterbox and then come and annoy you on your doorstep (not that any MP came to my door in Brixton). But in Japan someone once decided that this was for too much of an invasion of privacy (or too much like hard work more like, what with all the apartment blocks), so they decided that noise pollution was a far better ploy and not nearly as invasive of your privacy. Yeah right.

So we got, for two weeks, vans with exceptionally loud speakers on the top cruising around spouting their 'message' to every block. And the message was always the same. "Tanaka! Yes, Tanaka! That's his name! I said Tanaka! Vote for Tanaka! Tanaka! How many times do I have to tell you? TANAKA! YES, TANAKA!" etc etc etc. A curious fact of Japanese life is that women should have high squeaky voices, it makes them more sexy to Japanese men (Japanese men, conversely, no matter how wimpy, should have a deep, gruff baritone (you may think I am sweeping in my generalisations here, but if you ever worked with a Japanese women, you will know this to be true - talking to you they will use a perfectly normal voice, as soon as the phone goes they will answer in pitch usually reserved for etching glass). But these high voices, when put through a sophisticated PA on top of a moving van, can penetrate the thickest of concrete and hit that bit of your inner ear that registers pain. The walls of Jericho were not flattened by horns, it was one of these vans that got lost...

And if you ever get to see one of these vans at street level it is even worse. Not only are you physically assaulted by the noise but then inside the van are the electee and all his little wizards, smiling serenly as it they are doing you a favour by cleaning out you ears. So I gestue to them rudely, not that it makes any difference. But I'd like to meet the person who thought these vans were less of an invasion of privacy than knocking on doors.

The other thing that the electees do is gather around the local train station, or other open area, stand on top of their van and then shout at the top of their voices about the terrible state of Japan/the world/their fillings/litter/insert own rant here. They don't seem to do much of the 'if I were elected I'd...' more the negative 'what has the [incumbent] ever done for us...?'. And they get quite agitated about it all, shouting, frothing at the mouth and gesturing a lot, suggesting that if anyone got in their way at that moment they might not be responsible for their actions.

And today it is all over. Thankfully. Koizumi and the LDP didn't get the 51 straight seats that he wanted in the upper house, but with his alliance partner, New Komeito, they seem to have done OK. Minshuto, the main opposition party did much better than expected and took a decent chunk out of the LDP - people seem to have been a little unhappy with Koizumi over North Korea (can't think why), sending the GSDF to Iraq (can't think why either) and the pension scandals (nope, got me there) - in fact all things that have been extensively discussed on this site, how very topical...

Monday, 5 July 2004

After the laziness comes...

A proper post this week. Apologies for last week, but lethargy and apathy set in in a big way. I blame the weather, which has turned hot and humid, as is its won't in July. Also to blame was England's triumphal return to sporting mediocrity, with the football, rugby and cricket teams all losing, Robert Millar being kicked off the tour de france for drugs offences and the absolute drubbing of the England 1st XV Croquet (gateball) team by the Kawaguchi Irregulars (amateur) at the Saitama Super Arena on Thursday morning (possibly). Anyway, you get the picture. Luckily there were no loud mouthed antipodeans to rub in the salt, or octagenarian Japanese for that matter, so I survived and have come through the stronger for it.

However for sporting success I did turn to...

Japanese Rugby

Rugby in Japan has a long and glorious history. It has always been popular with universities and companies and has a lively following today, indeed Waseda university team is one of the most popular sports teams in the country, apparently. OK, so Japan has the record world cup thumping on its books, 145-17 against NZ a few years back, but I say well done for putting 17 points on them, its more than England managed in two games last month!

Anyway, up until this year, as rugby was only played by universities and company teams, it meant that there wasn't really much of a season to talk of, all very bitty, and when the companies played the unis, they thumped pretty spectacularly. (A little aside - strange thing about sports in Japan, all teams, in every sport, are basically formed, owned and run by companies, so the top baseball side, the Giants, is owned by the Yomiuri newspaper group, one of the Tokyo football teams (I think Verdy) is still nicknamed the 'Gasmen' as their are owned by Japan Gas, whilst the top rugby teams are Kobe Steel(ers), Yamaha and Suntory. Its all down, I think, to the idea that as an adult male in Japan you have to work for a company, even if you are a sportsman (or women). The idea of a non-company aligned team seems an anathema. I suppose it makes sponsorship easier to come by, but all seems a little soulless to me, but then again, who am I to judge)

So no real competition on the domestic front and, to be honest, not much competition from the rest of Asia, whom Japan regularly walloped, and so when those pluckly little banzai warriors
came up against the Europeans, Aussies and Kiwis, they had had little preparation and were walloped.

Not good.

So cunningly, this season, they invented the Top League, organised a season, levelled the playing field (as it were) and generally sorted their house out. So we had a jolly good season of rugby, I even watched a few matches on TV and they were all good fun, hell for leather, death or glory type affairs, a little lacking technically, perhaps, but more than made up for in passion and commitment. And one of the important things it did was to stop the one-sided 100-0 games and get a bit of tension and competitiveness in there, making the players improve their decision making under pressure and learning how to fight teams of equal strength.

This all has the desired affect as, in May, we had the somewhat optimistically named Super Powers Cup. Not, as you might have thought, with England, Oz or NZ, but with Canada, Russia and the US. But the important thing was that Japan won by beating Canada in the final, which I did watch, by about 30-20 with some pretty good play, especially up front.

"Now where is all this wittering going?" I can almost hear you muse.

Well, yesterday Italy were in town for a one off test match against Japan and so Steve and I, intrepid as we are, went down to the Prince Chichibu Memorial Ground in Gaienmae, Tokyo, to watch proceedings and assess Japan's progress (and get out of doing any study).

And what a fine afternoon we had. First up was the fact that we bought tickets in advance and so got a pair of tickets for only 2000 yen, or about 5 quid each - for a deal like that who isn't going to watch international rugby live? And it was a lovely hot and sunny day. Chichibu stadium will never be counted amongst the great world rugby stadia, but it is cosy and compact and was pretty much full for the game, so must have drawn in 20-30,000 punters, 99% of whom were shouting for the Japanese (not surprising, I guess...).

And we were treated to 80 minutes of attacking and skillful rugby, but most of it, as you've probably guessed, from the Italians. The Japanese were never really out of it, but then, they were never really in it either. It was summed up by a passage of play about 5 minutes or so into the second half. The score was 9-18 to Italy and Japan was camped on Italy's 22, hammering away at the defensive line when they broke through - I can't quite remeber if it was a deft pass or a re-gathered kick but Ohata was away and through. So he cruised up to the try line, no one around and with the rest of the Japanese players starting to celebrate, started his dive to score the try under the posts and...


dropped the ball. I mean really. At this level. Of all the things to do. Had he not, and the kick gone over, it would have been 16-18 and the game may well have followed a different course. But no, the silly bugger dropped it.

The final score was 19-32, not a complete drubbing by any standards, but one always felt that Italy were never really that stretched. They were happy, of course, and especially their loose head prop, Castrogiovanni, who scored an unlikely hat-trick and who will, if that sort of thing continues, be drummed out of the front row club and forced to become a back. So Japanese rugby is still trying to get there. It will, I think, mainly because it will continue to be popular and more money will flow into it and the players will become properly professional and therefore better, but I think it's going to take a bit more time.

All that was left was for Steve to kick over a beer and ruin the young lady in front's Louis Vuitton handbag - more fool her for taking it to a rugby match, I reckon.


The thyme and sage are having a most trying time. Light patches on the leaves that then develop little black spots, go pale and die, taking the plant with it. I looked on the net but couldn't find anything, answers anyone?

Sunday, 4 July 2004

Hemingway had it right

'I am drunk,' Pablo said with dignity. 'To drink is nothing. It is to be drunk that is important. Estoy muy borracho.'