Tuesday, 15 February 2005

Onsens in hot water (again)

And other excellent cliches, if I can think of them. If you recall, I wrote somewhere before about Onsen owners in Nagano (or perhaps Niigata, I can't remember) who firstly were using tap water in their authentic onsens (not good) and then another bunch who were found to be adding bath salts to theirs to make them smell better (possibly even worse - I seem to remember that the expression "just don't fuck with their baths" was in that post, possibly to try to convey the importance of the issue). Anyway, more fun was to be had last weekend.

I first noticed something was amiss by the helicopter circling over the Arakawa at about 8pm on Thursday evening. We get quite a few (for Japan) helicopters passing our apartment, I think the river must be used a kind of route marker for the military to go around Tokyo, but these are usually during daylight hours at the weekend. So to see a chopper hovering and slowly circling at night was a little odd. The guru confirmed this on my getting home, saying it had been there all afternoon and was making a bloody racket. What could it be, we wondered?

Well, apparently over on the Tokyo side of the river in Kita-ku (lit. trans. North Borough (hugely original, that name)) a company had been sinking a 1,800meter hole in the ground to find a hot spring from which they could then build an onsen. What they failed to appreciate, however, was that until 1972 natural gas was extracted nearby and that there might be some small pockets of gas still around.

"Er..." they said, as a Tokyo monitoring centre found increasing levels of methane in Setagaya-ku (lit. trans. Outskirts-rice-field-in-the-valley Borough (yeah right))...

"Oops..." they opined as a mixture of water and methane shot 10 metres into the air, breaking the overhead gantry lighting...

"Fuck..." they added as the water and methane mixture swiftly expanded and was ignited by the broken lighting into a 20 metre tower of flame...

"...and here we go again", said the fire department, as they were called in to deal with the blaze. This took them nearly 24 hours to do, such was the ferocity of the fire and the fact that the methane was being pushed out of the hole by all this pressurised water. Apparently it took 4.5 tons of muddy water and 2000 sandbags to bring everything under control, though why muddy water was necessary, rather than, say, clean water, I am not sure. I am also not sure how to get a terrible pun involving the bluesman Muddy Waters into that sentence. I will keep trying, but fear the moment has passed.

One has to ask, of course, quite why the metropolitan government allowed the company to sink such a deep hole into what was formerly known as the Koto Gas Field, especially when the Environment Ministry (slogan: Concrete painted green is just like Real Grass) said something along the lines of, oh yes, this has happened before in Tokyo, happens all the time in fact. Doh. And, indeed, one has to wonder quite why anyone would want to build an onsen in Kita-ku. There are already 59 hot spring sources in Tokyo's 23 ku's, so why bother with another. And, I mean, onsens, well, they are basically places to go out of the city where there is a bit of nature the Environmental ministry hasn't got its hands on yet. You know, a cold beer in a hot outside bath with views over the snow covered hills, that sort of thing, not wander down the street with a one-cup sake, turn left at the car park and have a bath there, what's the point? Ah, but I'm not Japanese so I can't appreciate the spare aesthetic beauty of an onsen in an industrial estate.

Meat me at Yoshinoya

Again last year I wrote about Yoshinoya and the problems they were encountering by the banning of American beef imports due to BSE in US cattle. Luckily, this time I can remember where, it's here, so you can relive the old days if you feel the urge. Well, this week Yoshinoya decided, in it's infinite wisdom, that whilst the the beef ban is still in place, it may as well use up it's last stocks of meat, so decided to sell gyudon in a number of it's restaurants across Japan. And so, even though the beef maybe contaminated, long queues were seen outside all the stores giving this once in a lifetime opportunity. Weird, as people were ecstatic to be given the chance to eat gyudon with American beef - usually it is only Japanese produce that creates such a rush (but of course Japanese beef is far too good be used in gyudon, whilst Aussie beef is too stringy and British beef, well, that's were BSE came from. Actually, on this point, the first case of Variant CJD was either reported, or the first person died from it, in Japan this week. The reason why the man got the disease was that he spent a month in the UK in about 1989. That's right, of all the beef the guy has eaten all through his life, it was one month in the UK that killed (or will kill) him. In a no way knee-jerk reaction, the Japanese Medical folks announced they will not accept blood donations from anyone that has spent a month or more in the UK in the last 100 years (or somesuch time period). Indeed I wonder if I will even be allowed into the hospital when the guru gives birth...)

Good news and Congratulations

To my colleague Helen and her husband Yosh as Helen gave birth to a healthy, boucing baby girl on Saturday night. Mother and baby are doing well, the baby was three thousand something grams and fifty something centimetres long (or tall). Good luck to all.

And as for the rugby

... I reckon Sue Mott has got it about right.

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