Friday, 16 December 2005

Merry Christmas one and all...

We are off back to the old country for mince pies and egg nog so postings unlikely for the next couple of weeks. I will ty, but can guarantee nothing.

So, hope everyone has a fine and jolly christmas and a splendid new year, I certainly intend to and hope everyone else does likewise.

See you in 2006

Monday, 12 December 2005

Christmas is coming

And plans, as I mentioned last week, are well under way for our return to the UK for a two-week sojourn. Logistically this is proving quite a challenge as neither myself nor the Guru have ever been to a foreign country with a seven month old baby, indeed we have only ever been away for one night with the little ‘un and that was an over nighter at the parents-in-law down in Chiba. This time that will just be the precusor as we will be staying with them on Saturday night before heading to Narita on Sunday for the flight – they live quite close to Narita, you see, or at least an awful lot closer than we do. Anyway on that first away trip we seemed to take enough gear to supply Caesar’s 15th Legion (including support staff and baggage train), so heaven knows how much stuff Virgin is going to have to stow in its holds, or how much excess we’ll have to pay for that matter. I’m hoping that as we are flying before the peak period, and on a Sunday, that the flight will be relatively quiet and so they’ll be a little bit less strict with the baggage limits, which with Virgin is a pretty puny 20kgs, even BA gives you more than that.

Along with the baggage issue is the ‘in-a-big-metal-tube-with-a-7-month-old-who-has-just-discovered-screaming-for-fun-for-12-hours’ conundrum. Not that it is actually much of a conundrum, really, as if he wants to scream, he will and there doesn’t seem to be an awful lot we can do about it at the moment, so more a case of feeling sorry for anyone sitting near us. Still, if the flight is quiet they might put us in a part of the plane where there aren’t too many others, such as upper class – well, one can hope. I, personally, am also banking on the kawaii, or cute, factor of the youngster. Being both British and Japanese (not half, thank you), and having inherited his mother’s looks (i.e. the better looking side of the relationship), he is an exceptionally cute looking baby, not that I am in any way biased, you realise, just stating fact. So much so that old women cross the road to get a better look at him and passers by shake me by the hand and congratulate me on having such a fine looking son. Anyway, hopefully we can use his good looks and charm to wangle something better for ourselves, or at least some good treatment by the staff (although I expect nothing less from Virgin, going on what I have heard).

The other problem we have is that with all of our baggage are Christmas presents for the whole family, plus electronic doohickies for golf-playing-brother, one of his work chums and another friend of the family. When I agreed to get all these things I wasn’t, of course, thinking about the packing because, as a man, I think about packing no more than 12 hours before I leave on holiday – now looking at the spare room I realise I should have thought about this more deeply, or at least asked the Guru if she thought we had room. So anyway it looks as if I will be packing a minimum of clothes for when I am over as I won’t be able to get any more in the suitcase even if I wanted to. Oh well.

But who cares as this time next week we will be back in Blighty with real beer, real sausages, real bacon and real(ly) crap service. Please note the “real sausages” and “real bacon” there, those upon whom we will be imposing...

Anyway in Japan right now the talk of the town, as it were, is infanticide. Last year I wrote about how parricide was all the rage, but that seems to have abated this year and it is adult men murdering young girls that is hitting the headlines. Not sure why these things come in spates, can’t believe it is copycatting, but you never know. Interestingly one of the horrible crimes was committed by the Peruvian chap of Japanese descent (there are a lot of big Japanese communities in South America and Peru, with ex-PM Alberto Fujimori, a favourite emigration destination early in the last century), the interesting bit being that the media didn’t make his foreign-ness a huge part of the story. It was part of the story, obviously, but more because the papers and whatnot were surprised he was allowed into the country after gaining a rather unsavoury reputation in Peru and having, therefore, to falsify his documents to get into Japan. The media focused more on the immigration lapses than the fact he wasn’t wholly Japanese, which is progress of a sort. In another story a cram school teacher stabbed a 7 year old girl to death in his classroom, no one is quite sure why, whilst elsewhere a spurned, lovesick boy killed the object of his lust and sometime killed two hostesses in their apartment, all of them stabbed.

Not exactly sure why I am writing about these grisly happenings. Obviously they are very sad, tragic, for the families and victims, perhaps now as a father these things seems to leap in the consciousness more, resonate more, I don’t know. But just goes to show that whoever says Japan is a safe country hasn’t been here for a while.

On a happier note there have been some particularly spectacular sunrises and sunsets recently. This time of year, about 2-3 weeks before the winter solstice, is wonderful as the sun sets behind Mt Fuji if you are looking at it from Kawaguchi, and especially if you happen to be on our balcony. So, here are some snaps, more over at those wonderful people at Flickr

Sunset behind Mt Fuji #1
sunset behind mt fuji #1

Sunset behind Mt Fuji #3
sunset behind mt fuji #3

Twilight on the Arakawa #1
twilight on the arakawa #1

Sunrise over Tokyo #1
sunrise over tokyo #1

Monday, 5 December 2005

The service game

Service in Japan is, generally pretty good. Indeed the usual standard of service here is far better than the top notch, best you can get service in the UK, it’s one of the reasons we moved back to Japan after living in London for 18 months (erm...OK, not really a reason to move back, that was more to do with weird bosses, dissatisfaction with London, shitty weather and the prospect of an NHS birth, but it was a reason to come back to Japan rather than, say, Azerbaijan).

And so this week is a tale of two companies and their approach to service here. The first is an airline battle between one airline, which we will call, for the sake of argument, Virgin and another, which we will call BA (mainly, it must be said, as this is their respective names (not that I have a lot of respect for BA)). Now I have heard nothing but good things about flying Tokyo-London with Virgin. Everyone says the service is great, the seats are comfortable, the games and video in-flight stuff is fantastic, strangers come up to you in the terminal to shake your hand in admiration and it is generally an all round top experience. Fair enough. But usually, in fact on pretty much every occasion I have flown to or from Japan I have used BA, mainly as the company has provided the flight and we’ve had a corporate deal with them so all managers fly BA and generally they have been pretty good.

But we as a company no longer automatically go with BA after they stiffed us big time last year and almost left 30 new teachers stranded at Heathrow. However BA does usually do some interesting campaigns for Christmas and had sent through details of their ‘home leave’ campaign. This looked quite good as it listed 70 grand for a return flight i.e. dead cheap, if you booked before the end of October and left mid December. “Ah ha” thought I, “just the sort of thing I am looking for”. But when I phoned up they quoted me 130! The conversation went along the lines of:
“But what about the 70 grand seats?” I queried.
“Oh, sorry, they are not available this year.”
“Then why did you send me them on your price list?”
“Because we are fuckwits, sir, have a nice day.”

Virgin, on the other hand, were nice as pie. Booking was no problem, baby on board didn’t seem to faze them, though check in early to avoid the baby carrying rush, everything seems nice and smooth and strangers have indeed been coming up to me to shake my hand as I walk down the street. Let’s just hope it all goes according to plan...

The second story is the story of my local offy. I have mentioned MyMart before as they are my number one alcoholic emporia of choice, this is because they have a very wide choice, which is good, and also that they stock about half a dozen varieties of Bordeaux reds about a grand a bottle that are mightily fine drinking on a Friday or Saturday evening (indeed they would probably be fine drinking Sunday to Thursday as well, but I try not to on school nights). So on Saturday the Guru had gone off to do Guru type things, like get her hair cut before our Christmas trip, so yours truly was left in charge of the little ‘un and what better place to take a baby than an off licence? My thinking is that if I take him enough times as a baby and toddler it will a) become second nature to him so I can send him to buy me wine and b) the staff there will recognise him and serve him as they’ll know he’s buying the wine for me (and if the little scamp wants a bit for himself, well, he has to start somewhere).

OK, we went to the super market as well to buy stuff for dinner (a rather fine Thai yellowy-green curry, if I may say so myself) and then trooped off home. After pottering about and later going for a run I went to open my bottle of Bordeaux at around 6pm. On doing so I found the cork to me wet through and the wine, after taking out the cork, was like vinegar. ‘Bugger’ was the main thought going through my head, but then the Guru, who knows stuff like this, remembered that around 6pm was the time MyMart does home deliveries (another reason to love them, although all local offies do this in Japan). So she calls them up and asks if there is anything they can do, giving the bottle code and whatnot. They say we’ll see. Now this isn’t the first time I’ve bought a bottle of wine from there that has gone off, but hey, you can never be sure (unless you by Celliers des Dauphins, which uses artificial corks and was, interestingly what I had drunk on Friday night and still had a drop left so wasn’t in a total panic about the Saturday night bottle, yet).

So about 30 minutes later the off licence chap rings the doorbell. I proffer the offending bottle, he takes a sniff and a quick mouthful and agrees that the wine is not at its best. He then produces an already opened bottle of the same wine and asks me to have a quick swig of that one (he even has little plastic cups with him). I do and it tastes a bit on the sharp side as well, so I say no thanks. He then produces another already opened bottle of a different Bordeaux and offers a taste of this one. It is much better and I tell him this. So he then says the already opened bottle, of which only a small amount has been drunk, is my replacement. Er, ok, fine, thanks. But not only that, he then produces another bottle of this new wine and says this is for the inconvenience, sorry about the hassle!

Now I know I haven’t lived in the UK for a while, but I don’t really think your local Threshers or Oddbin’s is likely, if you buy a dodgy bottle, to drive out to your house that evening and not only replace the bottle you bought but also give you a freebie as well. Nice work, and that is why we love MyMart.

Tuesday, 29 November 2005


For the lack of a post yesterday, I was waylaid by a roving gang of colleagues who abducted me and forced me to drink beer and eat yakitori with a ex-colleague who was back in town. So anyway, here are some more photos of on the youngster and family on a recent trip to the riverbank on a sunny November afternoon.

ready to go out
Ready to go out

relaxing on the riverbank
Relaxing on the riverbank

mum and marcus #1
Mum and Marcus #1

dad and marcus
Dad and Marcus

happy #1
Happy #1

happy #2
Happy #2

the happy couple
the happy couple

Saturday, 26 November 2005


To a true sportsman and, from what I read and saw, a thoroughly nice bloke to boot.

Monday, 21 November 2005

The end starts here

Just got the bumpf through from the university for the resumption of my mba – uh oh... Up to now the 4 modules I have done were, apparently, ‘content’ modules, which seems to me to ones where they tell you what to study, like hr or something, and give you materials in order to do so. The new one is called research methods and is, as far as I can tell, an extended introduction and literature review for the dissertation – this wouldn’t be too bad if I had an idea as to what I want to study for the dissertation. But I don’t. Not even an inkling at the moment. I’ve spent the last six months letting my brain atrophy slowly and consequently all the knowledge gleaned from the first two years has seeped out of my ears, having a bay can do that to you. This could make life tricky for the next year or so. Bugger.

But on the plus side I now have a desk. This may not seem much but, and...well, ok, it isn’t much, but it is better than not having a desk. Up to now, when I have been studying, I have used the kitchen and shut the Guru in the living room with the tv and the video. This worked quite well as she got to relax and do not very much whilst pregnant (not that she was pregnant for two years, you understand) and I got to study in reasonable quiet. But this would not work with the youngster as well as he does not know how to be quiet, so I will need to need to be at the other end of the apartment with at least two closed doors between us. This has now been achieved as his room, which is still basically the storage room, is now ‘his room that is a storage room but now has a desk in it that I will use for the next year as he won’t need it yet’ room. Or something. Anyway it is a desk I can finally call my own for a year – I even have my books on it, as well as the (now) dreaded dissertation study guide.

Still, could be worse, I could have bought am apartment design by a slack arsed architect by the name of Aneha. For those of you not in Japan, this has been the big news of the weekend and has got not a few worried. As you might be aware, Tokyo is built on some slightly unstable land, prone to all manner of natural disasters, especially earthquakes. With this in mind there are some fairly stringent rules and laws regarding the building of apartment blocks and public buildings, with what are supposed to be reasonably good back ups to check blueprints and what not. This works fine until the architect of a building, for reasons I’m not quite sure if yet, decides to falsify the data on the buildings he has designed. These buildings are not some pokey little dives that no one really cares about, but big blocks with supposed state of the art construction to withstand all but the mightiest of tremblors, also Mr Aneha was a apparently a top notch architect who had all the right bits of paper issued by the construction boffins to say he was legit. Having now checked why he did it, it is safe to say that he is a lazy bugger, by the look of it, but don’t take my word for it, as he says, "I had many complicated jobs. I wanted to make those jobs less complicated," he said. "I falsified data for the first time in 2002." Oh, that’s ok then.

What makes it just a little bit worse is that all plans for these things have to be scrutinised by a government approved scrutinist to make sure no is mucking up the calculations and therefore indulging in sloppy practices. And the Aneha design consultancy sent off their plans to be checked. And they were. And they were returned with the stamp of approval. Oops. So these buildings got built and all the happy purchasers moved in and began their lives as owner-occupiers.

For some reason, then, some bod at the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure & Transport decided to go over the structural strength calculations for one of these buildings and discovered, alarmingly, that it would fall down in a magnitude 5 earthquake. Now a magnitude 5 is a pretty strong one, but not quite up there with, for example, the Niigata earthquake of last year or the Hanshin quake of ’95, so not small but not a real biggy, certainly one that an apartment building built in the last 5 years should be able to withstand. So this bod, obviously committed to his work, checked a few more of Aneha’s buildings and found that 13 of them (12 apartment blocks and a hotel) are structurally unsafe.

No one seems to be sure at the moment quite what the comeback for the people who bought these apartments is. If they all try to sure Mr Aneha then he will go bankrupt and no one will get a penny. The government would seem to be somewhat liable as they should have checked all the data thoroughly before giving the go ahead – but they seem to be blaming the architects. What about the construction firms that built the places, surely they must have realised that these buildings didn’t meet the usual standards? Possibly, and here the owners might have a way in as there is a law stating that any building found to have structural defects within 10 years of being built must be repaired by the builder. But here I fear that the builders will argue that they followed the plans and therefore there is a problem with the plans, not the building.

Anyway this one looks like it will run and run and has certainly got the apartment buying public just a little worried.

On a lighter note, George Dubya was in town recently for a pow wow with the Kool Kid before they both jetted off to Korea for an APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation gang(I think)) summit. Two things made me smile about this. First, as Bush arrived at the airport he was met not by the Kool Kid but by the Foreign Minister (ok there), but also by the owner of the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks baseball team (uh huh...) and Bobby Valentine, the manager of the Japan series baseball champions Chiba Lotte Marines (wha?). Most powerful man in the world, defender of democracy, leader of the free world, met by a baseball manager. Riiiight. (OK, fair do’s, they knew each other from when Bush, after proving useless as an oilman and before proving useless as a President was proving himself to be not that effective as a baseball club owner – but come on).

Secondly, after this summit a statement was issued that, amongst other things included a thinly veiled attack on the EU for its protectionist agricultural policies. They have a point, obviously, as the CAP (or whatever it is called now) does its job pretty well in protecting French farmers (and no doubt those of the UK, Germany and elsewhere, I suspect). But what made me raise my eyebrows and smirk was that Japan should be one of the authors of this statement – Japanese rice kept at artificially high prices so the Japanese farmers don’t go out of business? Not protectionist, as such, more facilitating a livelihood that is part of the culture of the country.

Monday, 14 November 2005

The howling wind

So the north wind started blowing on Sunday, the Kogarashi, signalling the start of winter proper and so, as if my magic, everyone was wearing overcoats, gloves and scarves on the train this morning, as if it had been announced on the NHK news that Monday was winter clothes day. Odd, as today wasn’t all that cold, and nor was yesterday, for that matter, but there you go. In Japan it gets a bit like that at times, the ‘official’ time to start doing things, I mean. Schools, apparently, are the worst for it. In the middle of a very warm autumn the principal will consult his (or her) calendar and decide that the winter has started and so every student must wear warm clothes, even if it means losing 3 pints of sweat on the way to school in the morning. Conversely, in spring, it can be sweltering and yet it is not officially ‘warm’ yet so the students have to stay wearing their winter woollies whilst the rest of the country has moved onto cool cottons. Of course in neither of the above cases will the warmth of the weather affect the length of high school girl’s skirts, which of course will redefine ‘mini’ (and I’m not talking about the car).

But all of this rambling hides another important insight into Japan and the Japanese, namely that firstly, Japan is quite a cold country in winter and that secondly, Japanese people are not very good at the cold. Japanese gentlemen, for example, invariably wear long underwear in winter, well, not even in winter, they are now when the temperature is about 18 degrees (and here’s another weird thing. When I first left the UK in 1996 I worked in Celsius, i.e. a hot summer’s day was 28 or 30. now, when I go back, everyone seems to be fecking about Fahrenheit, or something, and talking about temperatures in the 80s. I didn’t pursue this when I was back, but I’m sure I remember my family saying this was always so, but I do not remember it this way and I am sure someone is messing with my mind. Whoever it is, stop it and give me back my Celsius (and now I know, when I am back for Christmas, we’ll all be back to Celsius again and I’ll be even more confused)).

I digress – er, long underwear, all men over the age of about 30 seem to wear, judging by my experience of gym and onsen changing rooms, not that I hang around them, I hasten to add, just I have found myself in them, on occasion. Anyway, it is not even cold yet but already the long johns are out, or rather in. Surely, I would expect, that Japanese men would have got used to the fact that for about three or four months a year the temperature is a bit cooler than in, say the summer. This is also manifest in our office, which I find stiflingly hot all year round, as do the other foreigners, but the Japanese staff find cool and uninviting in winter. Now I expect someone is going to say ‘yes, but they’re all used to the heat in summer, but you’re not’ and this is true to an extent, but then again the Japanese office staff have a good old moan on the really hot days just like the rest of us, so not even sure about that one.

So of course in winter the heating gets cranked up everywhere to compensate for the cool blood of the majority. This isn’t too bad if you are out shopping as you can remove your jacket if you are wearing one, but in the depths of winter, when jacket and overcoat is required, it can be very hard work in a packed subway train when the heating is on full tilt. The train man doesn’t seem to realise that a train running at 110% capacity withal the punters wearing many layers probably doesn’t need the heating on as well, because all the bodies present are generating a bit of warmth, but no. But I do realise that it is probably only me that feels this way, otherwise there would be a few more complaints to Tokyo Metro and so I guess they ain’t gonna change anything for me (see, I can be self perceptive sometimes).

But anyway, today was scarves and gloves and I’ve only recently gone back to wearing a suit jacket to work every day, won’t be long before my glasses are steaming up on entering the train of a morning.


Last weekend, being the last weekend in autumn, probably, meant it was time for the Kawaguchi festival. I might have written about this last year or the year before, not sure but this is quite a pleasant little thing. What happens is the local council, realising that they ought to do something useful with the golf course, close it to sad little people who want to hit balls for the first Sunday in November and open to everyone. On the fairways and greens they erect tents and mark plots and then everyone in the city comes to enjoy themselves. There is a flea market, for those itching to buy cast offs, there are stalls selling food and drink, there is, and I love this, a crazy golf putting game for those who can’t do without their fix for even a couple of hours, plus cultural things like Mikoshi (portable shrines) to lug about and shout washoi whilst you’re doing it (something I have done, a long time ago, in the festival around around Tomioka-Hachimangu Shrine in Monzen-Nakacho, an old downtown part of Tokyo, and I can safely say those mikoshi are bloody heavy). It was all very jolly except for the fact that it was grey and overcast and generally pretty miserable weather. Oh well. But the good thing about the whole shebang was that Marcus got to sit on the grass and get excited with a bunch of his little mates who were born around the same time. The Guru, of course, had a little gang of pregnant pals when she was thus and, as support groups naturally grow, kept in touch and meets up with them on numerous occasions. Usually this is at one of the community centres nearby, but on Sunday they could meet on the golf course. It may not sound much, but for him, sitting on grass was quite an experience, especially with his pal Shunta. But even better than that was that Dad took him to sit in one of the bunkers and so he got to play with sand for the first time ever. Of course this was completely fascinating as he had never been able to pick the floor up before and watch it slip through his fingers (and we even manged to avoid the dog sh*t).

So he had fun, the Guru enjoyed herself as could chat with pals, Dad met some other Dads for the first time and we sat around feeling a little awkward, as I’m sure fathers do all around the world in such circumstances (but they were all very nice and most complimentary of my Japanese (the kidders)).

And there was even a miniature railway for the kids to sit on, but I think that may be next year’s treat.

Thursday, 10 November 2005


According to this survey, it's 45 times for Japanese but 118 time for Brits, what about Brits living in Japan? And does w*nking count because I've got 73 times owing to me from somewhere...?

Monday, 7 November 2005

A new cabinet

So what is there to write about this week in the goings on of Japan? Well again not a lot, it would seem to me. The Kool Kid chose his new cabinet after the landslide election victory of a few months ago and this time he went for something nice in teak. Ho ho, joking aside, the new cabinet has, some commentators have noted, something of a hawkish feel to it, but personally, having only been here for about 8 years, I have yet to spot this. What I did note was that there was, as ever, a somewhat grey, male tinge to the gang, though there were at least one or two female members (one of which wore an alarmingly blue dress to the formal inauguration dinner thing the other night – or rather it was BLUE!). Most of the MP’s that I wrote about the other week got in now, one assumes, in a position to push their claims for the Premiership (as in the PM-ship, not as professional Association Soccer players in the English league, doh!) once the Kid does his bunk next year – a plan he is still apparently committed to.

Maybe I don’t watch enough domestic news of an evening, but the cabinet in Japan just doesn’t seem to have the same function as it does in the UK, or at least the same levels of commitment or importance. I mean, when a domestic policy issue comes up on, say education in the UK, the news media will talk to the Minister of Education (or whatever their title is now), the shadow minister, a junior minister or two, perhaps a mandarin from the Civil Service, maybe another cabinet member like the deputy PM and, quite possibly the PM as well, depending if he’s around and no one has stuck a camera on him in the last few minutes. But in Japan it seems to me that the only politico we ever get to hear about is the Kool Kid himself. In fact as I try and remember now, the people of that ilk I can think of are the Kid, Tokyo governor Ishihara and the head of Nippon Keidanran who’s name I can’t remember but I know the face as his top lip doesn’t move when he speaks (Nippon Keidanran is a bit like the CBI, I think, in that they always seem to be going on about business and business sentiment in the city. Or something). But I suspect that if you showed me some pictures of the new cabinet members now, I wouldn’t be able to tell you who many of them are or what they do. I’m sure this is a failing on my part, but I’m an educated sort of person and, when living in the UK, could have a decent stab at naming and shaming those who ruled in my name. But not here, and I wonder how many Japanese could?

Anyway they had they big inauguration thing and were all jolly happy and indulged, no doubt, in a spot of back slappage and general bonhomie for the evening before going back to their constituents for a bit of scheming and plotting.

In the news there has also been a lot about the US and some plans to move some of their bases around in Japan and give some land abck to the Japanese, or, again, something like that. As you can probably guess I haven’t been following this one too carefully either, mainly as I don’t live anywhere near any US air or naval bases, have no intention to do so, so don’t really care where America puts its aeroplanes or ships. Does the US presence in Japan, I wonder, really act as a deterrent to China’s expansionist desires in east Asia, as not a few seem to think? I mean, are the Chinese, or indeed anyone, really interested in world domination anymore? OK, Krazy Kim of Krazy Kim’s People Mart does probably want to take over the world (bwahahahahaaaaa etc), but he is, as we know, something of a loon and not really in a position to do so, but he does quite possibly have nukes which he could lob at Japan any time he pleases, so does the US deterrent work their (and also with the US troops in South Korea)? Or does the presence of so many US troops in Japan and Korea antagonise the situation and ratchet up the tension causing more harm than good? Goodness me if I knew the answers to these questions I suspect I would not be working in the job I do now but would certainly be knocking on the door of the UN.

It is difficult to know what Japanese people really think about the presence of the US troops here as it seems to me to be an issue that is somewhat skirted around by the media. Again this might be to do with me not seeing anything about it, rather than the media not asking, but I do read a newspaper everyday and try to watch the odd bit of news. If I was to hazard a guess it would be that the average person on the Kawaguchi omnibus would not exactly be happy that US forces are here, but would be pragmatic enough to think that they might be a good thing for a bit of stability in the region – and as far as I can tell, there hasn’t been any of the anti-American style riots that seemed to happen in South Korea a few years back. But then again as I wondered earlier, if all the US forced buggered off tomorrow, is it likely that a country such as China or North Korea would attack? I think not as China is now such a huge trading partner with Japan (and the US), and money speaks a lot louder than anything else these days, that why would China bother. Krazy Kim might do something silly like drop a bomb on Roppongi Hills, but I think even that is unlikely as China does seem to hold their leash to a large extent.

But the US isn’t going anywhere anyway, just moving their runways around a bit I think, so all a bit moot, really.

Monday, 31 October 2005

Craze Crazy

As you are no doubt aware, Japan is just crazy about crazes. A quick trawl through Wikipedia gives us Pokemon, Tamagotchi, and YuGiOh, to name but three recent(ish) examples. These crazes are basically games, the first, if you need reminding, was an electronic pet thing that you grew from an egg – fascinating. The other two were card games played by kids, a bit like Top Trumps but with stories and stuff you could build on, like comics, films, global branding and Coke™ tie ins, to expand the game and increase the fun, or something.

Anyway card games about little yellow aliens, as in pokemon, or it is YuGiOh is about, are all very well, but they’re not exactly educational, now are they? Being a realist I can see that there isn’t likely to be a card game based on, say the periodic table of elements or quadratic equations, but those clever people at Sega have, at least, hit upon something that works, and it is the new phenomenon known as Mushi King!

Now I have heard about this before, mainly through a colleague who tells me what’s going on with his 4-year-old son and, for the last few months, Mushi King has been top of his list. But unfortunately he, or rather neither of them, were in a position to explain to me what it was all about. I mean, I got the ‘Mushi’ bit, that means bug or insect, so, Bug King, ok with that (though mushi also means humid, as in mushi atsui – hot and humid weather, but Humidity King doesn’t really have the same cache to it, if you ask me (though could be about Swedish Sauna battles, I suppose...)). But anyway, today I read about it in the paper and can report to all of you out there who don’t know what it is.

Japanese kids, it seems to me, have a fascination with bugs. I have a suspicion that most kids have a thing about bugs, mainly as bugs are interesting and have cool things like lots of legs, horns, shiny bits and mandibles of death. In Japan it is quite possible to buy bugs in department stores, especially beetles, as beetles seem to be the most popular kind of bugs to get – more popular than, say cockroaches, which everyone tries to kill. Some really weird otaku’s (lit. trans. Weird, compulsive collector people who you wouldn’t invite to dinner) pay an awful lot of money to get their hands on, for example, a rare south American horny tree beetle, or something, but of course kids cant afford these, so those clever people at Sega spotted a niche in the market.

So what we have now is, as far as I can tell, Beetle Top Trumps, or, to put it another, Japanese, way, Mushi King! There is even a website for those who can’t get enough of the card game. Nowadays, where once kids gathered in the toy sections of department stores to play pokemon or YuGiOh, now they gather to play Mushi King. This is an aspect of Japanese culture that I really like and wish could be imported around the world. Essentially the toy floors of local supermarkets and department stores will have an area where kids can go and play these games – you need floor space, you see, to spread out the cards – and as the average house in on the small side, the toy shops now oblige. Of course there is the angle that having kids come to the shop or floor will encourage them to buy more, but the point is that first, they’re allowed to play their games, second, they aren’t hassled by the staff even if they don’t buy stuff and third, the areas are safe, dry, warm and well lit, meaning parents can deposit kids and shop.

Anyway there must be more to the story than this, I’m sure you’re thinking, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about it. And of course there is. Like all good card game crazes in Japan there is a background story – why else would all these bugs be fighting? Well, it’s simple. Way back in the mists of time a whole bunch of foreign bugs were bought to Japan by person or persons unknown who, sadly, tired of their six legged friends and so let them loose in a mythical forest. This is a genuine environmental concern and is, of course, not limited to Japan – look at the lengths the Australian customs service go to to stop alien flora and fauna from entering Australia. But in Mushi King what happened was a disgruntled old-man-of-the-forest type guy named Adder who, angry at the deforestation of his home, recruits the foreign bugs, creates an army and sallies forth to wreak his revenge. With beetles. Anyway the ‘good’ guys are, of course, the Japanese beetles, who form an opposing army to fight the foreign invaders.

Anyone spot the racial overtones here? Good Japanese beetles fighting off the foreign invaders. Apparently Sega see nothing xenophobic in this. “Some of my best friends are foreign beetles,” a spokeswoman from Sega quite possibly said. What she did say was “we don’t depict the foreign bugs as bad”. Hmm, ok, but then followed it up with “They are not bad by nature [er, thought you said they weren’t depicted as bad at all?]. They were bought here and abandoned in the forest. They were manipulated by evil spirits [very easily led to the dark side, you average foreign beetle]”. For good measure she added, “Many foreign beetles are very popular”. Well that’s all right then, I guess.

But, like it or not, Mushi King is here to stay and, no doubt, will be marching across the land in search of a new marketing opportunity in the very near future, but will American and European versions have the Japanese beetles as the ‘bad’ guys? No, I don’t think so either.

Anyway, here are some photos for you, some of the youngster and some of the Arakawa that I took last weekend on the only sunny Sunday we have had for weeks! For more photos please go to Flickr who are marvellous and host my photos online and even did the snazzy photomontage thing at the bottom of the sidebar.

Bright eyes
bright eyes

Yes, it's my ball
yes it's my ball

over we go...
over we go...


Arakawa upstream
Arakawa back towards Kawaguchi

Arakawa towards Tokyo
Arakawa towards Tokyo

Arakawa towards Kawaguchi
Arakawa towards Kawaguchi

Saturday, 29 October 2005

October sunset

October sunset near Fuji

Fire in the west

In the haze

Tuesday, 25 October 2005

Oh my word, I mean I figured America contained some really screwed up people, but this?

And the story is published on the day Rosa Parks dies, what was that about Americans having no sense of irony...?

Monday, 24 October 2005

True colours

Now it might surprise you to know, but there are apparently one or two cultural differences between Japan and the UK, some of which you may not even have considered. Being a quite-a-few year veteran of these shores, I can often spot these, but even I was surprised by this one, but then when I thought about, not really. Anyway, if you sit a class full of little Japanese kids in the same room a class full of little English kids and ask them to draw a picture of a sunny day in the country side, the English kids will invariably colour the sun in yellow (mainly because that is what colour it is. But the Japanese kids won’t, they will colour it in red (as they believe it to be so). Now I think this is odd, but the bit that made me think ‘maybe it’s not so odd’, was the fact, of course the Japanese flag, the hinomaru, is, of course, a red sun on a white background.

Ok, so that might explain why Japanese kids would draw a red sun, but it does of course beg the question, why is the Japanese flag a red sun on a white background? Every Monday I have to get up early as I am office cover for that morning and in the depths of January of February this usually means I am up just as the sun is rising so can check upon these things and can state, in my experience, the sun has never risen red on a white background. Orange? Yes. Red? No. Beautiful azure blue? Yes. White? No. (Actually, on these days, I have been known to get up a little bit earlier just so I can watch the sunrise in all it’s glory, as it is quite a spectacle. Even better is that on these days, when the air is so crisp you could spread cottage cheese on it and call it a diet, Mt Fuji is usually crystal clear. Watching the sun rise and the colours of the mountain change, from pre-dawn rose, through orange to yellow and then white is just amazing. I would take photo’s to post up, but I fear it would scarcely do the beauty of it all justice.)

But back to the flag. Having had a quick check on Wikipedia it appears that the whole rising sun may be to do with the Emperor being the descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu, which I suppose is as good a reason as any to have a particular design for your flag, but doesn’t explain why they went for red rather that a more realistic colour like yellow, for example. But that is not all. Apparently if you then asked the same class as before to draw a night time scene, the English kids would, so I am told, leave the moon white, whereas the Japanese kids would all colour the moon yellow. Now this one I had a little more trouble with as, thinking back to when I was a kid, though that I would go for either white or yellow, so didn’t think it was too big a deal. But the tv show that the Guru saw all this on thought it was all too weird to be believed – “what, those crazy foreigners colour the sun yellow and leave the moon white? Oh ho ho ho, what crazy, misguided and, in the end, plain wrong kind of crazy not Japanese people they are”... could quite possibly be one way it was all described.

Maybe it is all just a colour thing. I know I’ve written before somewhere about the traffic light thing they have going in Japan. For those who don’t know this one, Japanese traffic lights have three colours – if you are foreign they are red, yellow and green; if you are Japanese they are red, yellow and blue. No one seems to be able to fathom this one, but Japanese absolutely swear by it, blue, the colour is blue. If you show a Japanese a piece of card coloured the same colour as the go light, they will call it green, but on a traffic light it is blue (generalising, as I tend to, massively as I go). Just weird to me, but hey, we’re all different.

Last weekend, the one just gone, was adventure number 864 for the young ‘un as we spent our first night away from home, not including hospital visits, which don’t count. The reason for this was that the Guru had her Junior High School reunion on Saturday night and it was just a bit too far for her to get to and back, so we went to stay with the in laws for the night. As this was Marcus’ first ever proper night away, you can imagine the preparations were somewhat akin to the south of England 2 nights before D-Day (would that make it B-Day? Ho ho ho…oh never mind). 2 rucksacks, a pushchair and a baby sling were all required to make sure that baby and parents moved successfully from Kawaguchi to the folks place over near Narita airport. It was also useful as it is the same route we will be tacking at Christmas before heading back to the UK, but then we will have considerably more stuff and be somewhat more fractious, I suspect. Anyway we got safely to the in laws place and even managed to get seats on the train, which was a surprise.

Then, after an hour of faffing, I was left to fend for myself with in laws as the Guru departed for the bash. I was not looking forward to this too much as a) my Japanese ain’t good enough and b) their English isn’t much better; but luckily we had two props to help smooth the way. First, babies and doting grandparents get on like a house on fire, especially when baby is in totally focused ‘aren’t I cute’ mode, being a model of all the good things that babies do, like smile, gurgle, look excited, not shit everywhere etc. and second, we were saved by baseball, as it was game 1 in the Japan series with Chiba, where we were, at home in front of a baying audience (and, if you are interested, it was 11-1 to Chiba in the 8th when the game was called due to fog. Now what I don’t get about this is that Hanshin, losing by 9 runs admittedly, might have turned it on in the last two innings and wrestled the match away from Chiba, Umpires decide that Chiba win when the game’s not finished? In the playoffs Chiba was winning a game 4-0 and in the bottom of the ninth the Hawks scored 5 to win – could Hanshin have done the same? Now we’ll never know, though Chiba did go on to win game 2 on Sunday night 10-0, son perhaps the right call...)

Anyway, all this is a roundabout way to get to the point, which was, as far as I can remember, the little ‘un woke up screaming a couple of time during the night on Saturday, something he’d never done before. Now it could be that he was in a strange place that he didn’t recognise and this freaked him out. Hmm, but could also be teething, as he now has two front teeth, both the lower ones, and does like a good chew on dad’s fingers as they are longer and can get to those hard to reach back gums. Or, it could be because he is now moving onto solid foods. Now, for his mid morning feed, he is getting mushed up veg, watery rice gruel stuff and, just this week, weird fishy protein space food, or something, which he seems to be enjoying, well, enjoying spreading around his mouth. But the cute thing now is that he spends most of the time pretending to chew things, open and closing his mouth, as if to practice eating. Of course it makes him look a guppy fish at feeding time, but hey, if it makes him happy...

Oh, and as for Presumin’ Ed’s two essays: "The comfort women issue compels us to politicise the very concept of history. Discuss." – er no it doesn’t as the Japanese courts don’t care so we can just ignore it like they do; and "Can and should feminism transcend the modern nation-state paradigm?" what? Er transcend in what sense? Define the terms of the essay how you want them so you actually write a piece about British tactics at the Battle of Trafalgar, far more interesting.

Monday, 17 October 2005


Am having real trouble thinking of what to write about this week – think my muse may be coming to an end. I put this down to two reasons, first is that I am too busy at work to stop and think at the moment, just too much shit going on. Second, all my time at home now goes into keeping the young ‘un happy/fed/watered/changed/etc, which doesn’t leave an awful lot of time for other things, such as thinking what to write in a blog – this will become even harder from the start of November when I am officially meant to start the mba studying all over again (oh shit!). And third (ok, three reasons), nothing interesting seems to be happening in Japan right now. I mean, we’ve had the election, that got a bit stimulating for a while, and before we had scandals and Kool Kid Koizumi – Krazy Kim double act for a while, but all seems to have gone quiet. The Yasukuni Shrine thing is still rumbling on after the three different rulings from three local high courts here, and I see that the Kid visited the shrine again today (mainly as it was raining and therefore he could avoid the crowds, very important when you turn up on a push bike, which I’m sure he did as he was visiting as a private citizen) but even that is old kind f news these days as it just goes on and on and on and etc.

Having said that, I noticed one comedy or errors this morning that raised a smile – in a speech in Ishikawa prefecture, former PM Yoshio Mori pointed out that 4 potential candidates to take over from the Kid when he retires look to be good bets for cabinet posts (he’s a sharp cookie, is old Yoshio). Anyway this is a comedy of errors, in my view, for two reasons (and it will be two this time), first is that Yoshio Mori was the most useless of PM’s that anyone can remember in Japan for a long, long time (e.g. “Japan is a divine nation with the Emperor at its heart” (everyone thinks this but you are not allowed to say it out loud, especially if you are the PM)), so backing from Mori should the kiss of death for any aspiring to be PM – except, in a perverse show of the topsy-turvy world of Japanese politics, Mori heads one of the most powerful factions in the LDP and thus has a great deal of influence (as incompetence is not, and has never been, a barrier to promotion for Japanese).

Anyway the four would be new PM’s are Shinzo Abe (acting LDP Gen. Sec.); Taro Aso (internal affairs); Sadakazu Tanigaki (finanace); and Yasuo Fukuda (currently of no fixed abode). Now where is this all going and where is point number two you were on about earlier? I hear you cry. Well now, if the name Yasuo Fukuda above seems familiar to you, it might be that I have written about this bloke before, here to be precise, way back in May 2004. Just to recap, this guy didn’t pay his pension contributions for a period of time in the 1990s and then basically lied to parliament about it, saying that he had, unlike other nefarious non payers, but he got found out, the cheeky blighter and whilst it is one thing to have financial hiccoughs in Japan, it is quite another to accuse others of what you’ve done while covering your own ass, and then get found out. So anyway he did the honourable thing at the time and resigned from his position of Chief Cabinet Secretary and went home to indulge in his passion for collecting antique toothpicks (possibly). Now in any normal country, a scandal that precipitated a resignation from a cabinet post would mean a life demoted to the back benches, if not out of politics altogether – it would not mean a return to a cabinet post, with a view to a tilt and Prime Ministerial windmill, a scant 18 months later.

But like I said earlier, incompetence, or scandal, is no barrier to success in this country, it would seem. But of course, the corrupt and scandalous Fukuda is a prominent member of the generally useless and gaffe prone ex-PM Mori’s über powerful faction in the LDP, and if isn’t a worrying political prospect for Japan, then I don’t know what is.


Just seen this over at Ippoippo - seems that Taro Aso decided that he was not going to be outdone by generally useless and gaffe prone ex-PM Mori, or indeed by corrupt and scandalous Fukuda, so decided that he would make his own amsing proclamation by describing Japan as having "one nation, one civilization, one language, one culture and one race. It is nowhere else in other nations," in a speech during an opening ceremony on Saturday of the Kyushu National Museum in Dazaifu, Fukuoka Prefecture. Again almost all Japanese believe this (generalising massively and in no way scientifically as I go), but again, it is not the sort of thing you are meant to say out loud, especially at a public gathering if you are etc

The Ainu up in Hokkaido will be in whole hearted agreement with the small minded Mr Aso, I have no doubt...

Thursday, 13 October 2005

Another new blog

Have found another new blog that is most amusing and droll - check out An Englishman In Osaka for his view on all things Kansai. Well, some things kansai, but you get the drift.

Monday, 10 October 2005

It's the taking part that counts...

Not an awful lot I can think about to comment upon this week in the goings on of this fair land.
Though one thing that caught my eye was another case of sadistic and brutal baseball ‘coach’ in death of student incident. This one happened down near Osaka and was caused by a baseball team’s loss in a Sunday lunchtime game. After the game the coach took his team back to their training area near a river, harangued them for about an hour on the loss and then proceeded to give them three hours of punishment (his words). You might be thinking that these were older students who had possibly just lost the final of the all Japan league, or something, but no, it was a class of 13 year olds having lost a local game. Three hours of pitching practice, sprint relays, running up and down the river bank (probably about 4 storeys high, if anything like the banks of the Arakawa) and general abuse later and a 13 year old kid collapsed of heat exhaustion, this was about 830pm (after, remember, a lunchtime game) and the poor kid died just before ten the next day.

In an interview afterwards the coach said: “I don’t understand it. I’ve been coaching baseball for 20years and nothing like this has ever happened before. But I don’t think it was anything to do with the punishment practice the team were doing.”

That’ll be no remorse then. Or an apology to the parents of the child. Or an admission that he’d done anything wrong. Or an awareness that this sort of shit happens every year. Nothing.

I really cannot begin to understand this, not fathom it at all. 3 hours of punishment for a team of 13-year-old kids? For what, to engender a love of the game? Oh for fuck’s sakes please. Be passionate about sports, yes, but to the extent that the man charged with the responsibility (ha, responsibility) of looking after a bunch of children too young enough to say no ends up killing one of them! I hope the rest of the team learned a valuable lesson last weekend.

What possibly makes it even worse is that I have a strong suspicion the parents will demand an apology and probably let it go at that. If it was me I would be pursuing this guy through every court in the land to get some kind of guilty of manslaughter or at least criminal negligence kind of thing going. Not some half arsed apology and let the psycho loose again with another bunch of kids.

No wonder that I will never let my son anywhere near a Japanese junior high school. Anyway, some more detail over at ours friends at the Daily Yomiuri.

This weekend was a bank holiday one and so Monday was off so we could all indulge in sports as Sports Day it is. Except, in a very British way, it has pissed down with rain all weekend, and indeed all last week and, quite probably, all next week as well. Grey, dank, drizzly rain as well. I could have stood on the riverbank pretended, without too much of a leap of faith, that I was standing on the shores of Loch Lomond, or other renowned holiday destination in the UK. This meant, of course, that adventures and tales of derring do have been thin on the ground.

But sitting on the floor and playing with Marcus has been high on the agenda for the weekend. In case you have been wondering, he can now happily sit up unsupported, though he does plant his fists on the floor in front of him, so resembling a gorilla sitting and having a break. He can stay up right most of the time, but hasn’t got the hang of tracking people as they walk past, so has a tendency to fall over backwards whilst looking into the air. He also has a tendency to fall slowly but elegantly forwards if he tries to pick something up, which is highly amusing (for me) but leaves him with bumps on his forehead. He is also becoming adept at picking things up, clutching at things hanging, such as washing, and manipulating objects with his hands. Or more simply, his motor skills are developing quite nicely (I think) and so he keeps trying to do new stuff. But still hasn’t quite got the hang of falling asleep quickly and quietly...

Thursday, 6 October 2005

Noise pollution

Nice find here by Taffy san over at Ippoippo, seems that that Hiroshima City Council have had enough of those loud speaker vans that assault ear drums as they are driven around town. They are targeting the right wing chappies who, amongst other things, hurl abuse at foreigners - coming over here, taking our jobs!streets will be awash with rivers of blood! some of my best friends are foreigners, but there are always one or two bad apples! etc - however the hope is that firstly they will also put a stop to the loud speaker vans that drive around during city/prefectural / gubernatorial / mayoral / regional and national elections; and second, that the rest of Japan will follow suit.

Well, it's a start.

Oh, and as we haven't had one for a while, here's a picture of Marcus enjoying himself...

Monday, 3 October 2005

Court in the act

Ok, so have remebered to write this out using Bill Gates’ finest word processing software first so I won’t have the frustration of blogger eating my post again. Or so the theory goes.

Anyway last week’s post wasn’t that interesting anyway as it described a thre day weekend upon which nothing much happened as typhoon #17 decided to dump its load all over kanto, precluding the karting tripwe had planned. This will happen sometime in the future as I am still sore at my boss (who is organising this trip) as a few years ago we were up in Tochigi prefecture around Nikko one holiday and discovered, quite by accident, that we were quite near the Twin Ring Motegi circuit. So, quick detour and low and behold, there was a karting track attached. Wasn’t too expensive to race so we had a couple of goes and it came down to the last race. I shot to the front and, through skill and daring, stayed in front of James (who admittedly is a quick driver) until about mid race. Then, going into a sharpish right, he totally over cooks it and smacks into the back of me. I go careering off the circuit, he sort of bounces back onto the racing line. Now, of course, I am last of six, but, bit between my teeth and anger in my veins, I launch an assault on the leader much the same as Mansell did in ’87 at Silverstone. Fastest lap after fastest lap until, the final corner, I’m in second, I try a dart down the inside, the door closes, James takes the chequered flag, I the runner’s up position.

It. Still. Pisses. Me. Off.

But good job I’m not in the slightest bit competitive, eh?

Anyway this week has been quiet as well, most probably as work is all focused on budgeting for next year and...yawn... How exciting can it be...?

However some interesting rulings from Japanese judicial service the report this week. First up was a ruling from the High Court in Osaka that the Kool Kid’s trips to Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo were in fact illegal as he was making them as PM, something the ropey old Constitution forbids in its attempts to keep separate the ‘church’ and the state. Now I am sure I have mentioned this whole Yasukuni shrine thing before, several times perhaps, but to briefly recap for those not paying attention, a number of people, mainly heads of state of other Asian nations such as China and both Koreas, dislike the Japanese PM paying his respects to the dead at Yasukuni as enshrined there are the souls of 14 (I think) class A war criminals, specifically ones who did unpleasant things during the occupations of Korea and China. The Kool Kid’s argument is that he does it as a private citizen therefore he should be able to do what he wants, but a court last year in Fukuoka decreed that no, he wasn’t doing it a private citizen as he was using his official govt car to get there and, amusingly, signed the book of condolence as Kool Kid Koizumi, That’s Mr Prime Minister to You, or something very like it. Now the Kid pops along on his pushbike just like the rest of us, probably.

Anyway this ruling wouldn’t be particularly newsworthy, people, it seems are always suing the govt for the mental anguish this issue is causing them in the hope of a few yen in compensation. No, but what makes it all a bit weird is that on Thursday, the day before the Osaka ruling, the Tokyo High Court decided that the Kids’ visit are not illegal as they are made as a private citizen! The Tokyo court based on their decision on the fact that the Kid did not visit the shrine on August 15, 2001, the anniversary of the end of the war, but two days earlier, which obviously makes it all right then. Even better is that we are awaiting the ruling of the Takamatsu High Court as they are about to make a decision on this very issue on Wednesday this week.

So, Tokyo says he’s OK; Osaka says he is in the wrong; are Takamatsu going to straight down the middle and just say that the PM is a private citizen and is allowed to do what he wants? Personally I can’t quite get my head around the fact that there are at least 3 High Courts, all giving seemingly binding judgements that the Kid should be adhering to. Weirder still is the fact that Fukuoka ruled that the visits were illegal and, I guess, that the Kid should stop, but because he didn’t agree with the ruling he ignored it, seemingly with impunity.

All very odd, if you ask me.

The second ruling which caught my eye was this. A Tokyo District Court ruled on Thursday that a baby girl who was born using frozen sperm from a man who died could not be recognised as the man’s daughter. The reason behind it seems to be that the dead man cannot be considered to have given his consent to have his sperm used in the ivf process, even though it was the third attempt by his common law wife and the man had been alive when the first two attempts had been made. By my reckoning that makes the baby girl his daughter, but not in Japan, it would seem.

Half the problem here is recognition. If a man makes a woman pregnant and they are not married, the man can refuse to recognise the child as his own and therefore abrogate any responsibilities for supporting the mother or child during the pregnancy and beyond. So all the kind of paternity issues that go on in places like the US just do not seem to happen here as all the man has to do is say ‘nope, not mine’, even when the baby biologically is, and he can wander off. This is bad enough if the mother happens to be Japanese as at least the baby will have Japanese nationality, but when a mother is from, say the Philippines or Korea, the baby might well end up having no status in Japan but growing up Japanese and then being forced to leave and return to their ‘home’ country when they reach 18 or 20. Anyway going back to the court ruling, it seems a bit rum to say that the dead chap didn’t give his consent when the couple had already tried twice before and where using the same batch of frozen effluent.

Again all seems a bit odd to me, but then most things about this country are.

Saturday, 1 October 2005

New blog

Just a mention that Chris, he of the knowledge of things technical, has revamped, reshaped and above all republished his excellent Tokyo Tales blog. Chris is something of an IT whizz and probably knows more about how this blog works than I do, but unlike an awful lot of (self proclaimed) geeks, also has a personality as well. Oh, and a keen eye to boot.

Anyway, go check it out

Monday, 26 September 2005

stupid f*cking blogger has just eaten my post.

i know i should write these things out in word first.

i know, i know...

Monday, 19 September 2005

Back in the saddle

So we’re back to the blogging this week after a hiatus last week as I was too drained, mentally and physically, after England’s fine series victory in the Ashes. My how that final Monday was tense, especially when McGrath took two wickets in two balls (poor Bell) and almost then had Pietersen. But more worrying for me as I sat listening at my computer, was that passage of play just after lunch when Pietersen decided to go after Lee and started smacking him for fours and sixes, over the heads of the retreating fielders – my heart was in my mouth and whilst it was exciting to listen to, part of me was saying ‘you don’t need to do this, take it easy’ etc, but he wasn’t listening to me anyway, thankfully I suppose, in the end. So anyway, this little green stretch of the Arakawa riverbank will always now remain a part of England (but don’t tell the locals) and in the not too distant future I will be out there with Marcus, boring him to death with re-enactments of the final day’s play from the Oval.

Apparently some other news happened as well, but didn’t really catch too much of it to be honest. The election came and went and, as I am sure you are now fully aware, The Kool Kid Koizumi astounded the nation, and probably himself as well, by romping to a landslide victory, increasing his majority to... a bigger one than before, crushing the DPJ as one would a slow moving cockroach and making his New Komeito (I think) coalition partners just a little jumpy as he doesn’t really need them quite as much as he did before.

However two stories did come out of it that I will share. The first was a little pre-election gem from a chap named Konoike. He was one of the original LDP (Kool Kid’s party) rebels who voted against the Kool Kid in the upper house election, thereby precipitating the election by forcing Koizumi’s hand. As we all know then Kid was not in the least bit happy about this and so kicked the 37 out of the party and crossed them off his new year’s card list – a fate worse than losing someone’s business card in this country. A bunch of these oldest of old farts, including Konoike, then set up the new New People’s Party of Japan (Splitters!) in an attempt not to loose his very lucrative money-spinning venture, otherwise known as his seat. But then, about a week before the election, with all the opinion polls showing the Kool Kid with a very healthy lead, Konoike began to get a little antsy so went to the LDP chairman and said, well, if it appears that the will of the people was that postal reform was ok, well, he, having no principles, morals or most importantly scruples, would quite happily rejoin the LDP and support the Kid in whatever krazy schemes he could cook up. Well isn’t that jolly magnanimous of Mr Konoike?

I am not sure what the upshot of that all was. I sincerely hope that the Kid told Konoike to bugger off. Given Koizumi’s record, and the fact that he kicked the lot of them out of the party to start with, I think there is hope. But then again I am not stupid or naïve enough to really believe that and suspect that back room back scratching has been indulged in the Konike will soon find himself Minister of Postal Reform, or something.

The other thing that came up is a follow up to something reported by this very blog a week or two back. I mentioned that members of the SDF risking their necks in Iraq had been criminally left without recourse to vote, well it seems that a top judge in Japan actually reads this blog and thought he’d do something about it (and Judge, please leave a comment, it’d nice to have something highbrow on the comments page for a change). I’m not sure of the in’s and out’s of this one as I haven’t been able to get much paper reading done recently, but I can confirm that after a campaign of sustained pressure by Arakawa Riverview, the Judge confirmed that it was indeed, and literally, criminal that the SDF couldn’t vote and ordered, firstly, that the govt make some symbolic attempt at compensating the troops by giving them 10,000yen each (that’s fifty quid), and secondly, that the govt take its forefinger out of its collective arsehole and do something about this so it had better not happen again.

Nice to know that blogs can make a difference.

So what else? Well, golf playing brother had a birthday, as I am no doubt everyone is now aware, as did Curly Joe Smyth. I am still waiting to see if Curly responds to the birthday wishes we sent to him, but strangely I have heard nothing back from the record company as yet.

Yours truly also had a birthday last week and in doing so reached the ripe old age of 33. This has a certain resonance as it was at the very tender and green behind the ears age of 23 that I first pitched up on the shores of Japan, though that was in the April following the birthday so a little way to go before we have the anniversary. Indeed about that time will be Marcus’ first birthday, which seems auspicious – actually next year will be chock full of anniversaries as it will my ten years in Japan, tens years since the Guru and I got together and also, sychronicitously (he says, trying to make up a new word), our fifth wedding anniversary. Oh, and we’ll have birthdays as well, but don’t go expecting that anyone else’s will get a mention. Anyway, for my birthday I bought an Ipod, which is sooo cool I can’t imagine how I ever coped without one before. The problem with it is that this poor NEC laptop is in no way capable of dealing with it. First up it is still running windows 98, which it does quite happily, thank you, but Ipods are way too cool and modern for that and will only run on 2000 or xp. Now I have disks for 2000 that I could install, but I figured that I’d bring my xp’d work computer home first, install everything on there first to see how it works and then do the same on the NEC (as I did with the digicamera software, very sensible option). So I did this and everything worked jolly well (though note to Apple, if you are a foreigner living in Japan, you can’t register with the Apple network as foreigners don’t have kanji names, one of the required fields. Doh!) so now I have copied a whole bunch of cds onto the itunes thing and have already used up about 1.5gb’s of space. The problem here is that the NEC is so old that it only has 8gb’s of disc space in total, so if I install itunes put a third of my cd collection into it, I’ll overload the computer and meltdown will ensue.

(I know meltdown will ensure as today, at the Guru’s behest, we installed our snazzy new(ish) Canon photo printer as the main printer for the computer, finally replacing the stalwart Epson we got from Dave when we came back to Japan. Anyway, to install I had to hook up the external cd-rom drive, which even without a disk in, made the computer crash 4 times before it decided that it did recognise the drive (have we met? Were you at the Finkelstein’s bar mitzvah?) and then twice more before it would accept the data from the cd-rom (f*cking thing)).

So at the moment it all works (ipod, itunes on work computer, home computer with new printer) – so, bets please, gentlemen, for what will go wrong first...

PS hope you like the small changes I’ve been trying to make to the blog – still can’t manage to get the photo to stop tiling across the title, any not too technical suggestions gladly received

Tuesday, 13 September 2005


Cricket's coming home.

Fantastic, the Ashes are back where they belong.

(now I'm off to bed)

Tuesday, 6 September 2005

Birthday update

Oops! Almost forgot, and what with all that has be written in the comments sections over the last few weeks. How silly of me.

So anyway, I hope you will all join me wishing a very happy birthday to the true troubador of country music, yup, "Curly" Joe Smyth of the exceptional Sawyer Brown is 47 today.

Have a great day Curly!

Monday, 5 September 2005

The first hundred days

Now in Japan there is a special ceremony/celebration after one’s offspring has attained the age of 100 days. Quite why someone decided on the age of 100 days, I am not sure, but there must be a special reason buried in the depths of Japanese culture somewhere. Anyway, Sunday just gone, we decided we’d better get in on the action, so invited Japanese parentals and brothers over.

Now, a moment of honesty. The eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed that last Sunday was not the 100th day anniversary of Marcus’ birth, it was something like the 130th day. This was because yours truly, on being asked by the Guru when the 100th day after Marcus’ birth was, had a moment of not-able-to-count-itis and managed to work out the 100th day after 4 months rather than the usual, and let’s face it more accurate, three months or so. And the great thing was neither of us noticed it until Wednesday last week, when the Guru mused upon it and realised my error.

Still, we were not to be deterred and with family already invited, there wasn’t too much we could do about it anyway. The main focus of the 100 days celebration is food. Now remembering what the Guru told me, the party is an attempt to kick start the youngster into eating real food for the first, or something. So, as you can see from the photos below, special food was bought in – this consisted of a whole baked fish, red rice (rice with azuki beans), nimono (vegetables braised in soya sauce), special pickles and sushi (which isn’t that special apparently). Marcus was, of course, the guest of honour, and tradition has it that the oldest member of the family present must pretend to feed to newest member of the family. The Guru’s father tried this though did seem a little unsure of what he was meant to do (he wasn’t the only one) and after a few tentative attempts of holding a bit of fish in Marcus’ direction, was content to declare it open season on the rest of the nosh.

And that, really, was about it. There were a few more photos, general family chitchat and a pleasant lunchtime was had by all. The odd thing, from my point of view, was that this was all conducted without the introduction of any alcohol – not the done thing for children’s celebrations apparently, and also the Japanese side of the family are not great drinkers. Not the sort of thing that would happen in Blighty, mind, must get Marcus to see how it’s done as quickly as possible, lest he get the wrong idea.

Marcus' celebration food
Originally uploaded by tokyobogue.

Food for all the family
Originally uploaded by tokyobogue.

Marcus gets to grips
Originally uploaded by tokyobogue.

The happy family
Originally uploaded by tokyobogue.

The happy family and photographer
Originally uploaded by tokyobogue.

Other stuff

Election fever is approaching Japan. I wrote somewhere before about the hideousness of Japanese electioneering vans that cruise the streets and assault the eardrums and I’m glad to say that this election is not letting us down. Luckily I have been paying very little attention to what has been going on, although I have caught a bit in the newspaper and on the telly and can, therefore, report that there really isn’t a lot new going on. I suspect that this really could be quite a pivotal election in Japan’s postwar history and that textbooks may well be written about it for a good long time, but it all seems just a trifle dull. Now this is probably as I am not Japanese and my language ability is not good enough to follow everything first hand, but all the same, there doesn’t seem to be any characters for people to root for (except perhaps the cool mayor of Nagano, who has formed a new party to fight Koizumi’s LDP, but even then I saw his party commercial on TV the other night and it was woefully amateurish). But it will all be over by next week, so hopefully something interesting will happen.

Actually one thing I did see about it that got my goat (such as it is) was that the Japanese Self Defence Force (SDF) chappies currently stationed in Samawah (I think), Iraq have been told they are not allowed to vote, which is a nice kick in the balls for them. Apparently when a Japanese goes abroad they have to register they are going and inform the authorities 3 months before an election where they will be in order for them to be classed as an overseas voter. For the SDF guys this is tricky as they have only been in Iraq for two months so are ineligible to be classed as overseas so must return to their registered domicile in Japan to vote – which of course they cannot do. Ooops. And is anyone going to make an exception for these few hundred souls braving their lives for their country? Of course not, rules are rules and are there for a reason.

Apparently the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Dept. are worried about a possible yakuza turf war as one of the head bosses has recently retired (not permanently, actually retired to his beach villa near the Japan sea coast) and because Japan is a much more civilised country than, say, anywhere else in the world, the MPD had a top level meeting at (and I love this) one of the Yamaguchi crime syndicate’s registered Tokyo offices for a chat over coffee. You’ll be glad to know that gangstering is a solid career path these days, with a section on the census forms (which gang, position within it, salary etc) and a generally positive, can-do attitude with the police. Weird.

Tuesday, 30 August 2005

No post this week except for some more photos of the youngster

Marcus on the sofa
Originally uploaded by tokyobogue.

Originally uploaded by tokyobogue.

Who are you looking at?
Originally uploaded by tokyobogue.

little and large
Originally uploaded by tokyobogue.

Fuji in August
Originally uploaded by tokyobogue.

Monday, 22 August 2005

That was the week that was

And quite a busy one it was too. Now you all thought, and so did I, that I was on holiday last week, a time for relaxation and de-stressing from the rigours of work. No such luck, last week was busy. Monday was Kawaguchi Town Hall day - I had to go as I need to renew my gaijin card, which runs itself out on my birthday (13th September, if anyone is interested in sending me any presents) and on the card it says you must renew within 30 days. Now, this time limit thing is a tricky one. If you are talking visas, the deadline to renew is within 30 days of the end date but beforehand; if you are talking driving licenses (more of which later) then it is within 30 days before or after the expiry date; so with gaijin cards I assumed, wrongly it turned out, that their 30 limit as either before or before/after situation. Oh no, the gaijin card people are a strictly renew after your card has run out. Doh, how silly of me not to spot this.

So up I troop to the very busy desk, proffer my card and ask nicely if I can renew my card. A cold and somewhat frosty stare ensues and I think lady says to me “you can’t renew this as it is more than a month in advance”, or something. I therefore begin to remonstrate in poor Japanese, stating that it most certainly not over a month until my card runs out, indeed it is only 28 days. She is having none of it, as I suppose is her wont, and it takes not a short amount of time until she starts using Japanese that I can understand i.e. simple stuff and makes it clear that it is only after. This is followed by much rolling of eyes, not a little tutting and a definite glint of ‘and when you come back in a month, I am going to be as difficult as possible’ in her eye (when it wasn’t rolling). Oh well. The Guru had a few things to do as well, not that I was privy to them, I just got to sit in and out of the way place with Marcus in his pushchair (he was sitting in the pushchair, not me) and amuse him, which I did with certain panache.

Tuesday was at home but I was on my own for a chunk of it as the Guru went off for her health check, which was all good, I am glad to say. As was mine, just to mention, though apparently my kidneys aren’t working as well as they were last year. I think the problem was that I went for a run the night before and then didn’t drink enough water afterwards, but I might be wrong. Anyway, nothing to worry about for either of us.

Wednesday was driving license renewal day. Here I had to get up at the crack of dawn and go to Konosu, which is in the middle of nowhere, fine if you have a car, which is probably the point, but a bloody long way if you don’t. So anyway, I have a Japanese license, which I got on coming back here a couple of years ago. This is especially useful if I want to drive anywhere, but as I don’t, and don’t have a car either, it is perhaps a little superfluous. But better to have than not I suppose, so I took my woefully under-utilised card to Konosu, all by myself, to get the bugger renewed. I was expecting it all to be quite hard work but, in a surprising show of bureaucratic efficiency, it was mostly smooth and plain sailing. The beginning of the process is very much like a conveyor belt. Desk number 1: have you changed address or anything else on the card? – no, fill in this form and go to. Desk #2: please give me 4000yen – here you go, take these bits of paper and go to. Counter #3: Is this you on these pieces of paper you have given me? Er, yes – good, go to that eye test desk there. Eye Test Desk #4: look into this box and say where the arrow is pointing (aside, I get confused with left and right, the Japanese words for, I mean, so I ask the chap if my right hand is migi? He says no, no, no! I ask if therefore my left is migi? He again says no, no, no, looking a little exasperated. I say “well one of them must be”, to which he replies, “no, you must look in the box and tell me!” Very helpful, that chap. That done, eventually, please go upstairs to. Desk #5: Are you the person identified on the bits of paper you have given me? Yes, that’s me – good, go to photo booth number 3 and have your photo taken. Click. Counter #6: have any of your details changed in the time you have been in this office? – Er, no, I don’t think so. Good, go upstairs to the third floor and proceed to. Room #5 (the 7th part of the process, in case you’ve lost count). It is now 10:00 am, only been in for about 20 minutes, now I have to wait until 10:15, when the 2-hour boredom lecture of death will start.

Boredom lecture of death – the whole idea of renewing you license is, I think a good one, as making any driver have an eye test every two or three years has got to be a good thing. But of course, once ‘they’ have you in there, they can’t let you get away without a lecture. The gist of the first part of the lecture, deliver by a kindly looking old bloke (but who is a retired copper and therefore a mean bastard) was, I think, this: “don’t kill people with your car. I SAID DON’T KILL PEOPLE WITH YOUR CAR! Are you listening to me? ARE YOU LISTENING? If you kill someone with your car, it is a bad thing. The worst of it is you will have to sit through this lecture every two years for the rest of your life and possibly eternity too. If you don’t kill someone with your car, next time you renew your license your lecture will only be an hour and a half. If you become a ‘gold’ license driver then the lecture is only 30 minutes. SO DON’T KILL PEOPLE WITH YOUR CAR! Now watch this video of PEOPLE DYING IN CARS and don’t do what they do. Lights please."

And then we got a video, which was much as you’d expect that sort of thing to be i.e. don’t drink and drive, don’t fall asleep and don’t kill people (or yourself, the video added) with your car.

Then the lecture carried on in a similar vein, taking about how many accidents there are in Saitama prefecture, what kind of shit driver you are (impatient, nervous, don’t care about this lecture gaijin etc) and then, the only really useful bit, I suppose, changes to the road safety laws which have been, are or are going to be implanted. The sum total of this, well the bit I could understand, was that on motorway service area signs a big ‘i’ has been added that means ‘information'. Useful that. I’m there was other useful stuff, other people seemed to be writing stuff down, sometimes. And then the bloke with the new licenses came in so the lecture bloke, who apparently had at least three more page references to go through said “oh, bloke with the new licenses is here, that’ll be all from me then” and buggered off.

And that was that, license in hand I made good my escape and will probably be back in three years time, having not driven at all in the intervening period and so hopefully not having killed anyone with my car.

Friday was passport day, not for yours truly but for Marcus. For this we had to go to Omiya, to the north of Kawaguchi, where the government has a jolly big building called Sonic City. Anyway the Guru had gone the week before and had submitted all the relevant docs so this time we had to take the little ‘un along to prove he was who we claimed him to be, so off we toddled on Marcus’ first ever trip out of Kawaguchi. I’d like to say there was an interesting adventure attached to all of this, but sadly there was not. We turned up, the passport chap looked at Marcus’, agreed that his photo was a near enough likeness for it to be him and then we were on our way. Again it was a surprising brush with bureaucratic efficiency, twice in one week made my head fair spin.

Then on Saturday Steve and I went to watch Newcastle Falcons giving the Japan Top League Champions the NEC Green Rockets a right good stuffing at the National Stadium. 17-4 at halftime was respectable, but 8 second half tries meant over 70 points to the lads from the north, all without that nice Johnny Wilkinson.

The election

Actually turned interesting this week. The 40 odd LDP MPs that voted against Koizumi’s postal savings plan have been expelled from the party. This is a two fold exercise, methinks. First to send out a message that you do not f*ck with the PM and second, that it should reduce the average age of the party and put them more in touch with the ‘people’. Interestingly, as there isn’t a production line of replacements it seems that anyone is joining the LDP in an attempt to become an MP, so local people, business men and women, basically people who haven’t been into politics before. This may not sound much but politics in Japan, much like everything else, seems like a closed shop in that there are people/families that are politicians and you are not allowed to join their club. Until now, it seems.

Anyway a bunch of the expelled MPs have formed a new party named, interestingly, The People’s Party of Japan (or something like it) and the members of it have an average age of 156 or so, but with an aging population they are probably more at the correct end of the scale than those targeted by Koizumi. They claim that they are going to give a voice to the farmers and small businessmen of Japan, who have been drowned out by big business since Koizumi took power. Of course with one of the most protected agricultural rackets on the planet, these farmers really need a voice. Still they have been the bread and butter of the LDP’s victories for the past 50 years so it is nice to see they aren’t being abandoned.

Tuesday, 16 August 2005

Goodness me

Well, I mean I thought the Edgebaston test was a close run thing but what about Old Trafford. This time I got to listen to nearly all of the match as I m on holiday and staying up until 3am listening to cricket is acceptable, even encouraged. From the moment Vaughan won the toss – no longer a luckless tosser – England didn’t look or take a step backward. And those Aussies? Played woefully in the main, honourable exceptions for Shane Warne and Ricky Ponting, whose 150 was truly exceptional. But the sting in the tail, the real nail biter was this. Last night, 2:50am, Ponting is out so it is Lee and McGrath, the last two batsmen, to face the final 4 overs. I’m gripped, the nation is gripped, can we do it? 3 overs to go, no wicket. Flintoff’s last over, big shout for lbw turned down, he can’t finish it. Down to Harmison, can he pull off a miracle like he did in the last over of the 2nd Test...? Well I won’t get to hear as my internet connection disappears and will not, even after rebooting the computer, re-connect to let me know what happened. At first I thought we must have done it and the connection failed due to a surge in logging on, or something. But no, it was my local server deciding that no one in Kawaguchi would be using a computer at 3am on a Tuesday morning.

So, onto Trent Bridge on Thursday week for the 4th with the series tied at a thrilling one a-piece.

The furies

The only bits of the 3rd test that I missed (except the last over) where due to some wonderful pyrotechnic displays that Tokyo has enjoyed over the last three evening. Not sure why, but there have been the most enormous thunder and lightning storms raging at about 7 to 8 pm recently, starting with modest sheet lightning but developing into huge arcs of fork lightning, earthing itself, I think, in the skyscrapers of Shinjuku – at least that’s the direction most of it seems to have hit. One massive, second long fork managed to black out Adachi-ku, just over the river from us, for a couple of seconds and I could watch as the grid rebooted itself and sections of the city flickered back into life. The whole stanza, from strike to the return of all lights, took about 5 seconds at most but wow, what a spectacle.

But what gets me is this – I am no physicist, but surely some of the billions upon billions of dollars that Bush and Blair are spending to ‘liberate’ the oil supplies of Iraq could be put into research into tapping lightning as an energy source? I mean there was enough energy released over Tokyo this weekend to power the city for a year, it seemed to me, and it was free, clean and abundant.

A job well done

Last but by no means least, the annual report into the crapness of Japanese teachers was released last week and made for some interesting reading, as ever. In 2004 a record high 566 teachers in the public/state system were deemed to be incompetent, up 85 from 2003. Apparently the increase in incompetence was not due to failing standards of the teachers but because the evaluations have become stricter with new guidelines – well that’s all right then.

But what was more worrying was this, in 2004 the number of teachers punished for alleged obscene acts or sexual harassment dropped by 30 to 166. That’s the good news, but of those 166, 95 were sacked and 30 were suspended. That, by my reckoning, is 125 teachers, so what happened to the other 41? The newspaper report makes no mention of these teachers, so were they let off, reprimanded, promoted? If I were a parent with a kid at one of these schools, I think I should like to know, don’t you?

But then again, these were only alleged cases of obscene acts does this mean that they weren’t investigated, or that to make an allegation is acceptable and the teacher concerned will be punished? Worrying if it is.

Oh, and one more thing

Yes, there’s going to be an election, it’s really hotting up and the parties are getting increasingly fractious. This means, of course, that blah blah blah. All a bit dull really, I will try to follow it all, but to be honest, I have some interesting paint I have to watch dry.