Thursday, 23 December 2004

after thinking about it for a while, I'm not going to write about what I was going to write about. It was pregnancy stuff with the guru that is not, I think, for public consumption just yet. Don't worry though, everything is fine and the regular check-up yesterday was like clockwork - well, inasmuch as the guru was left staring at the clock in the hospital for most of the day whilst waiting for appointments, almost nhs-like in the amount of time it took, but the doctor said everything was ok, so that's cool. So onto other business.

The weekend

Last weekend was a busy one, what with not studying but going out for various parties and the like. Friday, being the last official friday in the office, was designated 'Pub Crawl night' and was organised by computer and erstwhile Tokyo nightlife bon vivant Chris, who, apparently, knows a bit about bars around central Tokyo.

So, first stop was What the Dicken's? in Ebisu. Personally I like the Dickens. It's big, it's dark and it serves decent enough beer in pints rather than odd Japanese glass sizes (and, interestingly, it is housed in a building that was, once, the Tokyo HQ of the Aum Shinrikyu cult that did the subway gas attack). Anyway we pitched up there at about 8 and tucked into a few pints and some of their rather good food. Drinking games followed in which Shigetaka, a japanese computer person of reasonable english ability outperformed a number of native english speakers (though not yours truly), including one Australian female known for her ability with the bottle (though not, now, her ability with Australian drinking games). From here it was to Enjoy! House in Ebisu we decamped. This is a crushed-velvet 70s heaven that was, strangely, empty on a Friday night. But is was pleasant, in a kitsch way, and a few more drinks (back to strange Japanese glass sizes) were downed.

So far so good. Then the first hitch - someone else was on the way to meet us and so we had to stop and wait, outside Wendy's for them firstly to arrive, and then for them to buy something to eat. With hindsight we should have gone back to Enjoy! House and waited there, but no, it was only for a few moments after all. Personally I am of a mind that you are either there for the start of a pub crawl, or the end, but let's have none of this buggering about waiting for people in the middle, eh?

30 minutes later we set off for the next place. I can't remember the name as, once inside, waiter chap said something along the lines of "8 of you, no chance". Ok, no problem, off to Daikanyama where there about 3 bars we are going to visit. Stroll stroll stroll and pitch up at a place called '4'. I was first in with another chap - once again "2 no problem, 8? You must be joking!" It was a small place, fair enough. You can guess what happened at the other 2 bars...

OK, rapidly sobering up, we'll head to "Soft" in Shibuya, which is in the basemant of some building. Get there, down the stairs, looks promising as there's no queue outside. Open the door of the "contemporary british pub" and we are assaulted by wailing. Peering around the door we see, on stage, a woman, some hitech looking AV stuff, lots and video screens. The "contemporary british pub" is an all white inside affair with red vinyl accoutrements and is having an evening of performance art - weird wailing woman with video, or somesuch nonsense. That'll be two grand door charge to you, thanks very much...

So, moving off we "must be able to get a drink at Bar Aoyama, they're always open" says Chris. The entrance to Bar Aoyama is a three inch steel door set into a concrete embankment on the busy Roppongi-dori. Apparently it is a bit of a rock music dive (fine by me, but Chris is a techno person) which lets in anyone and everyone. Except, of course, 8 wanderers who have now not had a drink for around an hour and a half and some of whom are getting testier by the minute. It wasn't as if this place turned us away, we couldn't even open the door...

And finally, we ended up at the Pink Cow in Shibuya. Thank god that it a) was open b)was pretty empty and c) had a good sense of humour because as soon as we turned up everyone headed to the toilet. By this time it was nearly 11 so a couple of swift pints and then head off to get the last train home, which I just managed to do but was cutting it very fine - indeed, had the pub crawl been more successful and I been more drunk, I probably would have given up and got a taxi from Ikebukuro, but being relatively sober I could actually work out how to get home using the trains. Also, as this was the last train it was absolutely packed, as only a train in Tokyo can be, and this inward pressure on my body was matched by an outward pressure in my bladder which wasn't helped by the queue for the bogs at Kawaguchi station.

In the end it was all crawl and not enough bleeding pub!

Next time Chris is not allowed to organise this. His excuse was that he had done a 'dry' run a month or two before and it was fine, but that was with only 2 people so of course it would be ok. Also, with the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to see - last weekend before christmas, well that's always going to be busy and, don't forget (though we did) it was winter bonus day, so not only did we have to contend with the usual Friday night revellers, also Japan Inc. Salaryman was spending his bit of the bonus before his wife got her hands on it. Ah well, better luck next time.

This led into Sunday, which was another christmas party, this time a company sponsored one. In keeping with the spirit of the season we went to a Hawaiian/Polynesian bar called Tiki Tiki in Shinjuku. This place was an odd mix, which is pretty much how you can describe most bars in tokyo, as we had Polynesian decor, grass skirted Japanese waitresses, french red wine, chinese (i think) food and a bunch of English people - in the next door room to ours there was a wedding reception with bingo! Prior to going here a couple of us had met up in the Dubliners (surprisingly an Irish bar) for a few and we retired there after our 2-3 hour all you can eat and drink extravaganza had finished. It was after this that I waddled/staggered home and ended up playing backgammon with big p until 2am - three quarters cut and unable to focus properly on the playing board. The score was indeed 10-5 but, interestingly, whilst big p was sober heading towards drunk he beat me 10-0, but by the time he arrived in the same state as me, I won 0-5. Food for thought there, I think.

Then on Monday it was leaving drinks for Helen, who is off to have a baby in February and from whom I will be taking over next year whilst she is away on maternity leave. So, again in the spirit of the weekend, after (sort of) visiting various bars on Friday and Irish and Polynesian on Sunday, we went to a Mexican place for Margueitas (I have no idea about the spelling). And that was that, now christmas is here the drinking can really get started.

Tuesday, 21 December 2004

things have been afoot, will write on Thursday, which is a national holiday (the emperor's birthday, no less)

Monday, 13 December 2004

Time to come clean...

Spring cleaning doesn't really happen in Japan, rather they go for winter and new year cleaning, which somehow seems a bit more appropriate, out with the old, in with the new, that sort of thing. I know this as on the news this evening they showed the good monks of Tsuruoka Hachimangu, which is a jolly famous old temple in the old capital Kamakura, giving the old shrine (or maybe temple) a jolly good going over with their bamboo brushes, which is called susuharai (lit trans. sweep the dust). Of course it woould be far too sacrilegious (which doesn't look right no matter how you spell it) to suggest that the monks might like to try a more effective way to clean their shrine, such as using a big hose pipe or something, but no, a few bamboo leaves tied to the end of a pole have been good for a thousand years so why stop now? (not the same leaves tied to the same pole, I think, they were remarkably green and spry looking if they were...) This cleaning is big stuff in Japan in December and I suspect that every house, temple and shrine in the country is doing the same (though you'd be hard pushed to notice in this apartment). I suppose that traditionally the Japanese were able to to this all in December as the weather is so good. OK, yesterday was wet and grey and miserable, but so far we have been having a beautiful autumn and early winter. Mt Fuji has been on show for a month or so now, pollution notwithstanding, and so on the windy days it is standing proud and erect in the distance, capped with the usual white dome of snow. Having said that, the colours of autumn don't seem to have been quite so vivid this year, so who knows, perhaps they need a really cold snap to get the chlorophyll really into gear (or whatever it is the trees make to change the leaves - answers not required, thank you).

The Japanese are very free and easy with their temples and shrines, none of this "this here is ma church and I'll be damned all to hell if I'll step into any other" kind of nonsense. Luckily different shrines and temples are good, if that's the right word, for different things. Naturally you have your own local temple or shrine, where you do your everyday praying and the like, but say, for example, you want to do well in your GCSE equivalent exams, well then off you toddle to Yushima Tenjin and do a spot of praying for good luck, hard study and an almost fanatical devotion to homework. However should you want to glorify fallen soldiers and war criminals then only Yasukuni Jinja will really do, or, more peacefully, if it's a pregnant wife and/or a healthy and safe pregnancy you want, then the two of you better visit Suitengu in downtown Nihombashi, where no doubt we will be off to in the near future. Very laissez-faire, this attitude to religion in Japan, as I feel I may have written somewhere before, but it just seems something that they do very well here so it is worth noting again.

On other more mundane matters, I have have mentioned, somewhere, that assignment 3 of the masters was sent off at the end of October. This one was quite interesting as it was a good opportunity to have a go at the marketng department at work who are, essentially, crap. Indeed, in a somewhat bewildering move, when other departments are losng staff to cut costs, the head of marketing was recently promoted to deputy MD even though the MD doesn't think he's very good at his job either, which means that not only does he get a pay rise etc, but someone else has to be recruited to head the dept, meaning more cash being spent. Oh well, there goes another foreigner out of the company to balance the books. Oops, little sidetracked there. Anyway assignment three came back this week with a provisional mark of 73! Another 'A', which surprised me even more than assignment two. I say provisional as this assignment was sent off to an external examiner, to keep the leicester crew honest. Today it came back with a mark of 70, which though a little lower is still pretty damn good and I am more than happy and this cheered me up no end. (Which mark is the official one, I wonder, or is it both?). Part of the assignment is to make recommendations about how things can be improved, which I have naturally passed onto my superiors in the hope that they might take some notice - fat chance, I know, but you've got to try these things.

Assignment four reading is now well under way, this time about The Curriculum and its management. Nope, I don't have much of an idea about this one at the moment either, which is worrying as for the others I had at least some inkling of what sort of things I wanted to look at, if not a concrete plan. But so far with this one, nothing. I'm desperate for one of Terry Pratchetts's ions of inspiration to come hurtling through space and smack me in the cerebellum on the way to work tomorrow...(pleeeeaaassse)

The plants are throttling back or winter in a big way now. I found some mint growing wild near here and took a couple of cuttings which seem to have taken quite well. Indeed mint could well be the rocket of the herb world....ah...rocket is probably the rocket of the herb world, isn't it? Hmm, ok, mint is probably the moving upwards in a very quick manner like an intercontinental ballistic missle of the herb world. It's doing well, hasn't succumbed to anything yet and smells minty. My sage, on the other hand, isn't happy once again. Anyone got any advice about growing sage? Mine just seems to do quite well but then the leaves just start withering and going black, cue end of sage. Olive tree, like the mint, is doing well, with new growth and branches everywhere, thank goodness for the olive tree, tough old bugger, that tree. The rosemary sometimes looks ok, then again sometimes looks sorry for itself, still, it s grwoing a little, whilst the chili plants seem to have decided that winter isn't for them so they look poorly, yellow patches to the leaves, but hanging in there...just.

Monday, 6 December 2004

Society (again)

One thing I noticed this week is sort of a follow up to something I wrote a week or two back. Then it was about the inherent crapness of the Japanese news media in that they didn't seem to be reporting about a manga artist and the pressure he was put under by right wing groups when they [the media] should have been. Similar thing cropped up this week.

A few years ago now there was the strange case of Lucie Blackman, who was out here working as a hostess. Generally speaking hostesses are not prostitutes, they merely pour drinks for stressed/immature Japanese salarymen, be nice to them, light their cigarettes and listen to them drone on about how nobody understands them. For this the hostesses get very well paid and so it is a lucrative line of business, especially for a foreign hostess who can earn a pot of cash in three months and then disappear on holiday for the rest of the year. Lucie Blackman was doing this around 1999 or 2000 when she fell in with an unpleasant chap by the name of Joji Obara who, it is alledged, drugged, raped and then murdered her, dumping her body in a cave near his house on the Miura peninsula, south of Tokyo.

Anyway the point here is that this week Lucie's father was in Tokyo to see the first steps in the trial of this unpleasant chap who is accused of doing this srt of thing to a great deal more women than Lucie, and where did I read about this first? That's right, the good old Telegraph online, whilst the Yomiuri to whom we doff our thinking caps of a morning, has carried not a word of this. Indeed precious little of it has been seen or heard in the media of this case (though to be fair, the Mainichi newspaper did carry the story, according to their website). So, Japanese man rapes and murders his way through foreign hostesses and nary a peep from the papers, just about par the course really, but you can be assured if it was a foreign man and some Japanese women the story might just be a little bigger...

The more I write about the Yomiuri the more I get to dislike it. I think it has a thing about foreigners, in that it doesn't like them, even though it publishes one of the biggest English language dailies in the country. What gave me the hint that perhaps the parent Japanese language Yomiuri Shimbun isn't too keen on the non-Japanese in the country was an editorial from last week [there are no editorials specifically in English, they are all translations from the Japanese paper]. The title of this editorial was 'Sufferage for Foreigners Insufferable Nonsense', which just about sums up the mood of the piece. There is a body of opinion in this country that non-Japanese with permanent residency status should be allowed to vote in local elections that choose things like school Principals and local bye-laws and stems, in part from the no taxation without representation type thing that kicked off the American War of Independence. Whether or not I agree with this is not the point (I don't, by the way), but the prose of the editorial was just such utter tosh that I found I ended up supporting the idea just to annoy the Japanese editors (not that I could actually annoy them, as it were, unless I was to go to their office and throw water bombs at them, but then I'd just be pandering to a stereotype if I did, but you get the point (I hope)).

Anyway, the reason that no non-Japanese should be allowed to vote in any kind of election is the havoc that these people could wreak if given the opportunity. What, argued the editorial, would happen if countries hostile to Japan sent over spies to infiltrate the system, gain the vote and then, potentially, oust a high school principal and get him replaced with someone more to their liking!? What indeed, those cloistered in the corridors of power must be quaking in their boots...

Load of old nonsense, but then again the Japanese are unique, you see, so can't have foreigners coming over and mucking about with their democracy, it might end up with officials becomming responsible for their actions! Heaven forbid.

Another thing I wrote about recently was a quick rant about the birth rate in Japan and how the govt worry about it but do nothing to encourage couples to have children, indeed going out of their way to make it difficult and expensive. Anyway there was me getting it wrong again as the govt has been doing a lot about this problem. Yup, they have had a committee meeting and, in a bout of no doubt frenzied activity, done a bit of research. This has led to the production of a report, a new annual white papaer no less, leading to an article in Yomuri this morning (I might knock it, but it does have some news in it). In another excellent headline, the paper, in no way trying to cause panic, trumpeted 'Japan heading for extinction' and then outlined the problem. Essentially lots of babies used to be born, but now they aren't and something needs to be done about it (honestly, I think they just read this blog and nick my ideas!).

In an enlightened mood, the white paper has called for a drastic overhaul of the welfare system which will mean shifting the emphasis from the older generation and pensioners to the younger generation and babies. This will prove tricky, considering that old farts have a lot more clout than unborn babies, but you never know. Interesting statistics (which never lie, as well you know) quoted include that pension and nursing care payments came to 70% of all social security expenditure in 2002, whilst day care and child allowances came to 3.8%. Also, average payments to persons aged 65 or over amount to almost 2.5million yen each per year, compared to 170,000yen to each child! No wonder everyone wants to be old in this country, it is financially worth it, much more than making a new generation to take over the burden.

Anyway you can read the whole article here, though don't go hoping that the govt has any answers to this issue, that is not what a white paper is all about. As the article says "But despite its portrayal of the crisis, the paper does not any specific measures to resolve the problem."

That'll be up to everyone else then...