Monday, 24 January 2005


I went to narita airport today to meet a bunch of new teachers who were arriving to take over from a load leaving at the end of the month. I don't mind going to the airport as it means I get to get out of the office, sit on a train and read for a good hour or two - or you could just call it having a skive and getting paid for it, I suppose. It's a tough job etc. Although now I have changed jobs I am getting out and about a lot more - did I mention I've changed jobs? Well, temorarily at least as I am looking after a job due to maternity leave, which means no longer do I "do something in HR", now I have to manage the director's of studies, which is, well, not what I was doing before. Anyway this means I won't get to go to the airport and meet the newbies as the person who is looking after "my" job is doing that for the duration, but today was rope showing day.

The oddest thing, I think, about Narita, is that once you get off one of the various trains that run there, you go through a kind of pre-immigration screening. So you stroll up to one of the counters, stop and hand one of the police-type bods your alien registration card (or, and I'm glad they're not rascist about this, your passport if you are Japanese). The bod then looks at the card, confirms that you are indeed a card carrying alien, gives it back and allows you to proceed. That's it.

What is the point?

They don't search bags, they don't ask questions, they don't do anything except look at your card and then let you go through. It seems such a waste of time and effort but everyone is stopped and held up for the minimum designated time allowed by the govt for annoying people. And why do they need to check the alien registration card of a person going to meet people and not go anywhere near a plane? I don't know.

Other than that I like Narita airport, though it seems I am in a minority on this one. I remember reading this, or something like it a while ago and it got me thinking. More than one article has gone on about the soullessness of Narita, that it is sterile with no character. Well, every time I go back to the UK I have to experience the sterile Narita and the characterful Heathrow and, well, give me Japan everytime please. Also, as the article in the link goes on about how Narita is a good way out of Tokyo in the rice fields of Chiba, but apparently this is a bad thing. Last time I was in the UK I took the tube from Balham, where I was staying with a friend to Heathrow, and the trip was at least the equal in terms of time of any of the ways from Narita to the center of town. And I've never used the super speedy and plush Narita Express, which at about 3000yen, or 15 quid, is a far better deal than the one from Paddington to Heathrow, so I reckon there is an even better way than I normally use.

For soulless and sterile read lots of space and speedy through times. I mean, who really wants 'character' at an airport anyway? Personally I want the quickest processing time so I have to spend the minimum amount of time there after which I can get on with what I'm doing. If you want character at an airport, go to the third world, or Heathrow, for that matter, which is probably the worst airport I've ever had to use. I rememer when the guru and I were having the UK leg of our extended wedding and her mother and brother came over. We met them at the airport and, after the 12 hour flight, they wanted to use the toilet facilities. The only place we could find was a rickety wooden portacabin outside a terminal as all the ones inside were closed for cleaning or refurbishment. It was embarassing to say the least.

The plushest airport we've been through was Kuala Lumpur, when we went on holiday to Langkawi island. The only problem was that we arrived at about midnight and our connecting flight was at something like 6am, so we had some time to kill. After wandering around for bit we decided to get a few hours kip on a bench, but, and here was the problem, they had the aircon cranked up to arctic mode and we, with our bags in a hold somewhere, had nothing but the t-shirt and shorts we were wearing. In the end we both did our best homeless person impressions by using newspaper as a blanket - rolled up in yesterday's daily yomiuri we must have looked a sight but at least we were warm...

So anyway, Narita, I think you're doing ok.

Wednesday, 19 January 2005

found this, oh so true...

Tuesday, 18 January 2005


for the delay, I would have written last night but I was entranced by the cricket and the 'will we won't we win'-ness of it all. Unfortunately all i could do was follow it on cricinfo and their excellent live updates service as this was the only place I could find it. I know the BBC aren't allowed to do radio broadcasts from overseas tests, which just pisses me off, but I'd have thought a radio station in South Africa might have picked up the coverage, but no, there's nothing for us poor plebs who don't live in the UK to listen to. What especially f*cks me off is that radio 4 or five live do broadcast over the internet, but only to those with an ISP (or maybe DNS, I don't know) in the UK. What the f*ck is the internet for, unless for people who don't have access to UK radio?

As you can quite imagine, this annoys me just a little. I even emailed the ICC in an attempt to find out the reasons why, but they did not deign to reply to me, the tossers.

But what a game and what performances by Trescothick and Hoggard. Goodness me but it was nailbiting stuff, even if you only get news refreshed every 70 seconds. Well done chaps, excellent work all round.

baby stuff

The guru went for another check-up and scan today and all showed up ok. The Doc had said that we would be allowed to know the gender today, if they could tell from the scan, but unfortunately they could not (still looks like a fuzzy grey blob to me, hope it looks different when it comes out...). A little annoying is that the doc knows. It was confirmed by a test they did about a month ago, but you have to sign a piece of paper acknowledging the doc won't tell you at that stage, I guess as it is still within the legal abortion time limit and they don't want, rightly, couples choosing this option because of the baby's gender. But now, you'd have thought, the doc would relent a little as we are past that date, but no, rules are rules, don't you know, so wait until the scan shows you.

Still all a bit abstract for me, this pregnancy thing. Obviously the guru is getting bigger and I see the scan shots after every check-up, but it still doesn't quite seem to be real or connected yet. The other night I felt Fuu (as he/she/it is known at the moment (which is Japanese for 'wind', as this is what the first movements the guru felt might have been (and sounds better than naming a foetus 'indigestion'))) kicking for the first time myself, which freaked me out and pleased me no end at the same time, which is a strange feeling. I remember golf-playing-brother saying that the emotions didn't really kick in until Charlie was born, and I can see very much what he means.

Also, i think, parenthood in Japan seems to be left to the womenfolk as the men are too busy out hunting mammoths, or something. Don't really know why I think that, on reflection, perhaps I'm falling into the foreigner trap that views Japanese men as workaholic automatons (spelling?) whose free time consists of golf, pachinko, hostess bars and sleeping, which I am sure is doing a great disservice to a lot of fathers. But having said that, paternity leave is unheard of in Japan (so, interestingly, is compassionate leave) in that there is nothing enshrined in legisation to say that you are allowed to take time off work for either. Indeed my boss, whose wife gave birth in August last year, was phoned on the day by his (Japanese, female) boss and asked questions about budgets before it was suggested that he might be available the following day (which, to make matters even more absurd, was a Saturday) for a meeting! He naturally gave the idea very short shrift (which I think is a fantastic expression and not used nearly enough these days) and still kept his job, which was nice going.

Also, I have no idea what prospective fathers go through in the UK in terms of 'training' or 'parenting classes' or whatnot, but here again dads-to-be get a couple of 2 hour workshops on, as far as I can tell, how to bath babies (in the sink?) sure what else we get, how to brush their teeth, perhaps, I do't know. Anyway, doesn't seem to be a lot, whilst again the mums-to-be seem to be off to something every other week - well, the guru seems to be pretty active and busy, and that's about as far as my knowledge goes. But, and I'm really looking forward to this, at one of these workshops I get to wear a 'pregnancy pack', which a 3kg strap-on that is meant to recreate the sensation of weight that women have to put up with and therefore make us menfolk sympathise more with our wives' plight. This is cool as I get to sympathise, nod sagely and then take it off after 10 minutes whilst the guru will have another 3 months. Doesn't seem fair, somehow.

+++update 2+++

As I'm no doubt you've been worried, I can confirm that all our teachers returned safe and sound from their holidays in Thailand and the Indian ocean. I think this was more down to luck than anything else, and a few teachers saw things that didn't want to, but overall everyone was uninjured and unharmed, thank goodness.

Saturday, 15 January 2005

they cannot be serious...?

Found this over at Dearie Me all because of this chap's blog. Something's very wrong here...

Anyway, I shall not be visiting Waterstones in the near future!

Monday, 10 January 2005


Been quite a quiet week, all told. Well, worky kind of stuff was busy, what with new teachers arriving - and leaving the day after they got here in one case (not a great start to the year!) and the usual problems with visas and immigration that governments all over the world seem to enjoy providing visitors with. Japan is a great country in this respect, for the last eighteen months or so it has been one of the main areas of my job to ensure that every foreigner in the company has a valid working visa and that we comply with all the regulations etc. This would be fine except that it means we (not I, I have a Japanese assistant who actually does the talking, thankfully) have to deal with the immigration department on an almost daily basis. Now as I noted above, I think immigration departments the world over are of a standard, in that they like to make life as difficult as possible if they can, but the Japanese one is especially good in that it refuses, as far as we can tell, to give definitive aswers to any questions that we may ask. So, if we were to, say enquire if it was ok for so-and-so to apply for a visa, considering this is their background? The reply we'd get would be "apply, if it's refused then no, if its accepted, then ok". Can you tell us without the rigmarole of applying for the visa? "No, apply and you'll see". Very helpful. Even better is the 'its decided case by case' answer, which means that a person might get a visa on one day, but on another day with another inspector, might not...

Now I can accept this from a third world banana republic where the size of the donation influences the expedition of your case, but in a scrupulously by-the-book country like Japan, it doesn't seem to fit somehow. Still open to personal interpretation, I suppose. Puts me in mind of a situation from over a year ago, when a teacher was hired to come out from the UK. He wasn't English but had been living in the UK since he was 2, so had been through all stages of education in the UK, including university and then completed a teaching course and was eager to start his first teaching job. Immigration had other ideas, though. He was originally from South Korea, you see, and therefore can't be an English teacher as English isn't an official language of South Korea so he can't speak it. But, but, but... Nope, doesn't matter, he can't speak English therefore he can't be an English teacher. Not the slightest hint that it was because he was South Korean? Well, probably, but of course immigration can use this argument because they feel like it. Doesn't matter that the visas we get aren't even for being an 'English' teacher, they are issued under the spurious title of ''Specialist in Humanities and International Relations', whatever that really means. And of course if the Japanese Embassy in London make an error in processing the visa at their end, that must really be the fault of the passport holder - they should have spotted there was an error and notified the Embassy, even though no-one knows what a visa looks like until they get one, so how would you know there was an error on it?

Seems that some bright spark somewhere has also decided that a good way to speed up the immigration queues at Narita is to introduce ID cards with biometric data on and a fingerprint sample, meaning that one could in effect do away with a passport and just whizz through with the swipe of a card. I couldn't gather if this was ging to be only for Japanese, for foreigners with work visas and/or residency permits, or everybody. I don't know, when I first came to Japan they were still issuing the old style Alien Registration (or Gaijin) Cards. These were much like the current ones, except that the new ones have a signature whereas the old ones had a copy of your fingerprint on it. Personally, because of the connotations associated with fingerprinting i.e. that you a criminal or a suspect, I didn't like these old cards and was happy when they changed them. Now, in the name of security, they are proposing to re-start them. Hmm indeed...


Talking of teachers, some good news on the holidaying front as one of the teachers I was worried about has returned safe and well to Japan. I haven't spoken to him but apparently he is fine and I'm not even sure he was near to anything bad at the time. Another teacher was very close to everything, being on Ko Phi Phi island on boxing day. She is safe and uninjured, which is the good news, but somewhat traumatised by what she has seen, not surprisingly. Her director of studies spoke to her today and said she seems ok, but this will take some careful looking after, I suspect. Also, she wasn't aware of too many other of our teachers on the island, which again is good news, but then again we have a lot of teachers and she wouldn't know them all, so... Anyway, as I mentioned last week, tomorrow is the first day back at school so we will wait and see and hope.


Read this in the paper this morning made me wonder. Chap in car with colleague/partner runs a red light and a crossroads. Coming the other way, approaching the green light, is another car. Second car goes through the green and hits the car running the red light, killing both the driver and passenger in the red car - driver of car going through the green is injured but survives. Simple situation, case closed says a judge. Except yesterday another judge re-opened the case as the parents of red running car driver wish to sue the driver of green running car for killing their son. They say that there was enough visibility for the green driver to see their son's car and therefore he should have taken avoiding action. Also, and this is where it gets a bit more complicated, the green driver was doing 'about' 90kph approaching the crossing in a 60kph zone. So the judge has decided that he will open the case to look, I guess, at manslaughter by the green driver. Personally I think this is just a little bit too screwed up. I mean, the guy ran a red light, so surely any responsibility was then his. OK, the green driver was speeding, but you still wouldn't, shouldn't and can't expect a car to be breaking the laws of the road and of common sense by driving through a red light at a crossing. Or can you?

'Drive as if you expect every other car on the road to be about to do something stupid' is obviously good advice, but still, in this case, I can't believe the green driver is too culpable. Then again I don't drive in Japan, no real need to, so maybe I'm the one who's in the wrong.

Tuesday, 4 January 2005

it's all over now...

My holiday that is, rather than all the nasty things that have been going on over the festive period. Not content with all the bombs going off in the middle east, the indian ocean tsunami has cut its path over the area. Now I realise that most people, unless living on a very different planet, will know what has happened, so far be it from me to go over old news, bad though it is. I'm not looking forward to tomorrow, the first day in the office but not the first day open for schools, as I will have to begin the quest to find how many of our teachers were caught up in the whole thing. As Thailand is only a little over 6 hours away and is both cheap to get to and cheap to stay, it is a very popular destination for expats in Japan and especially our teachers - I have been there myself, though not to Phuket and the southern islands. I know for a fact that at least two teachers were in Thailand over the christmas holidays - I pray that I'm right in remembering that one chap I spoke to really did say that he was going north for the first few days to see jungles and elephants before heading to Phuket to spend some time on a beach. That doesn't, of course, include anyone that might have been in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, the Maldives or Indonesia, which is a distinct possibility as well as again all are reasonably close and not too difficult to get to. The 7pm news on behind me has just mentioned a potential figure of 150,000 victims, a truly mind boggling number and that's just from the waves and destruction, heaven knows what the real toll will be after the diseases, pollution and poverty kick in. Seems to me that usually earthquakes themselves aren't actually all that lethal in themselves, it seems to be what follows that does the damage, like the tsunami last week and the fires after the 1923 Tokyo earthquake (ok, the idea doesn't apply to the 1995 Hanshin/Kobe earthquake, but there you go - but then again, there wasn't much in the way of 'aftermath' from the Chuetsu/Niigata earthquake earlier this year and the number of victims was comparatively small).

One of the more disagreeable things about the reactions to the tsunami was how quickly some sections started shouting "you're not sending enough" to various national governments even before the dust had settled, as it were. It would seem to me that that sort of comment, would be better made after at least a period or recovery and stock taking, not before the first aid planes have even left the runways. Now I realise that those at the centre of things want as much help as quickly as possible, and fair enough, but the comments I saw were made by people nowhere near the crisis and were made, it appeared, to score political points, which seems entirely inappropriate. Also interesting was the situation in Sri Lanka with the government and the Tamil Tigers. Immediately after the tsunami both parties refused to co-operate (unlike the situation in Aceh) and both accused the other of putting lives in danger and the papers seemed to sympathize with the govt. In today's paper it would appear that the highly hierarchical and militaristic nature of the Tigers and the area they control have in fact been extremely effective in dealing with the problems, leading to reduced but sufficient essentials for everybody, whilst those in govt controlled areas are suffering from the old problems of looting and corruption. Who knows, the tsunami might be a blessing in disguise for the Tiger's independence movement.

Of course finger pointing will start, or has started, mainly concerning why a tsunami early warning system wasn't in place and why govts, aware that a massive earthquake had occured and knowing tsunami were likely, didn't warn peopleto get away from the beaches. Good questions and some govts are going to have a hard time of it, I suspect. Hopefully Japan, with all its expertise in earthquake detection and the minimising to associated damage can be helpful in building the requisite systems that will make this less of a disaster if and when it happens again, though the feeling of closing the gate after the horses have bolted will surely persist.

On a personal note

Glad to say that baby things are all going well, though the guru, who thought 'morning sickness' was a thing of the past, seems to have rediscovered a knack for it and is feeling somewhat leer, the poor thing. Plenty of lying down and rest, says the doc, but that seems to make it worse - I don't know, I thought it was all meant to be a little easier than this...

Anyway yesterday we did our duty by going along to Suitengu shrine as reporrted that we would do a few weeks ago. The reason one goes here is to pray for a healthy and happy pregnancy and trouble free birth - fat chance on the first score so hopefully the birth will be ok. New year is a time when absolutely everyone in Japan visits a shrine or temple to pray for good luck in the coming 12 months, so we were expecting the crowds to be awful, but no need. When you go to Suitengu for a blessing, you get the personal treatment in that you go into the temple proper and kneel whilst the priest chap does his stuff. This, essentially, is shaking a big white paper/feather duster at you, then chanting something that, somewhere, includes the mother's name (I missed it) and other words that I assume are along the lines of "murmur murmur murmur hope everything goes smoothly murmur murmur murmur etc". The whole ceremony only lasted about 10 minutes but all the expectant mother's to be were happy (they do you in batches of 6, to save time (and murmur potential I daresay)), including the guru. And me, of course.

Oh yes...

...and got my GT4 at last - looks like studying's out of the window for a while, then.