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.

Monday, 15 August 2005

No post tonight...

listening to the Ashes - Come On England!

Tuesday, 9 August 2005

Ashes update

Wouldn't it be a real shame if Lee couldn't make it to the 3rd Test...?

Monday, 8 August 2005

Well what a weekend that was...

Friday was my last day at work, so no matter now crap it was, and to be fair, it wasn’t actually that crap at all, it didn’t matter as by 6pm I was off and that was it for a whole two weeks. So Friday evening came and, as is the wont of people heading off on their hols (it wasn’t only me that was off, our office Obon holiday starts on Tuesday) we went off into Tokyo for beers. Now we wanted to go to the pleasant roof top bar that a few of us went to after the rugby that I wrote about somewhere, but when we turned up, mob handed with 10 of us, the rather sniffy chap on the door curtly informed us that they were rather busy and he might have a table on the terrace that could accommodate us, but not for 2 hours at least and that, should we come a-looking for service, it would be a sensible thing to book in advance. So much for spontaneity.

Of course we were now faced with the age-old problem. 10 people, in Shibuya, looking for a night out but more importantly, looking for somewhere that would let s in without a booking. Hmm, so we ended up at the Dubliner’s, not as salubrious a place as we had hoped, but it was open, cheerful, not exactly expensive and didn’t hold with nonsense seating policies i.e. it’s a “proper” pub so you can stand up, if you so desire, a feat of coordination seemingly beyond most Japanese after a couple of dai-namas (and, let’s be fair, after most foreigners after a couple more). Anyway, the initial set back apart, the evening was most convivial, beers were consumed, food was ingested and chit was chatted. All pleasant fun.


Saturday was hanabi season all over Japan and Kawaguchi was no exception. Hanabi, for those not in the know, are Japanese for fireworks (lit. flower of fire) and my they do love them here. Also, being far more sensible than, say the English, the Japanese have their firework displays in August, when it is hot and humid and just right for sitting on riverbanks and drinking beer, instead of November which, whilst historically significant, is bloody cold (I said ‘the English’ above as I initially thought that bonfire night and Guido Fawkes and all that was an English peculiarity, but on reflection I suspect that it might be a British celebration. I mean let’s face it, the Scots, Irish and Welsh are certainly going to celebrate someone who tried to blow up the English parliament – I digress).

As you Marcus is now three months old (my how time flies), we thought it was about time that he received guests whilst at home. To this end, then, friends and colleagues came over, bringing offspring as well. So not only did we have six adults over, but a 7 month old and an 11 month old as well – the 11 month old being my boss’s son (he bought his folks as well) who I am sure I have mentioned somewhere here before. One of the great things about our apartment is that not only does it overlook the river, but away to the right, over the railway bridge in this photo, we get a birds eye view of Toda Koen – Adachi-ku fireworks, all for free and, as the guru likes to point out, without having to be too far from a toilet. We are close enough to see everything, hear and feel the explosions and generally enjoy the atmosphere but, importantly with small ones around, far enough away so that the bangs don’t scare the shit out of the kids. So once again plenty of beer was consumed, food, lovingly prepared by yours truly, was again ingested and fine old time was had by all. The kids all seemed to enjoy themselves, there weren’t any tears before bedtime and, because all were so generous, I’ve got a fridge full of beer that I didn’t have to pay for.

And then there was a small matter of...

The Ashes – what a test match that was. Wow. I tried to listen to as much of it as I could, and certainly got some of the good bits, like Flintoff and Pietersen cutting loose on Thursday afternoon before tea (and Flintoff getting out third ball after tea!). Friday night was a bit hazy, but I certainly remember Flintoff wrapping up the Aussie first innings with 2 in 2 and then Warne bowling Strauss at the end of the day so I must have been compos mentis for at least some of it. Then Saturday night I finally got to turn on the computer after everyone had gone and heard Flintoff’s second bout of fireworks but then went to bed, stupidly, so didn’t hear the majority of the Aussie 2nd innings. But then came Sunday evening and, well, I think that took a few years off my life.

I blame Jonathan Agnew myself. During, I think, the first or second over of the day he turned to a fellow Test Match Special commentator (who was Australian – Geoff Lawson, I think) and said something like “well I suppose to make it interesting we would like Australia to get really close to the target”. Lawson was, of course, incredulous, as was everyone else listening, and said surely you want this over in two balls, like any sensible sportsman with an interest in winning would? But no, Aggers stuck to his guns, the silly bugger. But what a match, I was worried, really worried, going into the last few overs, but finally, thank everything, they did it with 2 runs to spare. I suppose it confirms two things, first that Australia aren’t going to give up without a fight (not a nice, Queensbury rules, jolly good fight but a real, dirty, no hold’s barred dog fight – and why not). Second, that England can win the tight ones. OK, it was close, but old England would have lost, their nerve would have gone, the resolve waned and Kasprowicz would have got the winning runs. But they didn’t, they had the character and the nerve and they won. The fact that Glenn McGrath wasn’t playing certainly helped but hey, how many injury problems have England had in recent series? (and ya boo sucks to Mr McGrath and his 'we'll win 5-0, oh hang on, it's England so there's bound to be some bad weather, let's make that 4-0' prediction.)

And then on Monday

Kool Kat Koizumi is fighting for his political life as the LDP, with shades of the Conservative Party circa 1997, decides to implode over the privatisation of the Japan Post. Just in case you were wondering, the Post Office here is, in effect, the biggest bank in the country, with about 3,000 billion pounds worth of savings in its vaults. This cash has effectively bank rolled Japanese economic expansion for years as, as far as I can make out, various governments took out massive loans using the money as collateral... actually that doesn’t sound quite right as I’m sure there was something about government bonds in there as well. As you can see, this isn’t an issue that I have been taking too much notice of, mainly as it is really quite dull. Until today when the vote on its progress was sent to the upper house after scraping through the lower house last week (I think). Anyway a fair few LDP bigwigs don’t like the idea of using all that cash so threatened to vote against their own party to scupper the bill. The Kool Kat said “do that and I will dissolve the diet and call a general election – we’ll let the people decide”. Bigwigs responded by saying “oh yeah, dare ya”. This was swiftly followed by a “double dare, no returns” from the Kool Kat, and the board was set.

So today the vote was taken and the bill defeated 108 to 125. His bluff called, what did the Kool Kat do? Good as his word, he has dissolved the diet and called an election for September 11th. Of course we now have a dilemma – I like the Kool Kat for sticking to his guns, having a few ideas and for not wearing a tie, but I would love to see the LDP toppled from power for only the second time since WWII, something needs to shake the politics in this country and this could just be the catalyst.

This is going to run and run, more reports to follow, if I can get my head round it. For now, though, thoughts turn to Old Trafford and the third test...

Wednesday, 3 August 2005

Might be useful

Just found this whilst over at Bondibooks, might be useful for those of you here in the metropolis (of Tokyo, that is) whose Japanese isn't up to much...

Monday, 1 August 2005


Not a lot to say, this week, which may come as a surprise to those of you know who know me. But might just go with the flow to see where it takes us. For those of you not living here in the mysterious east let me tell you that it is fucking hot right now. The summer, after the not-really-a typhoon of the other week has decided to let rip with a vengeance and with a desire to make up for lost time. I read somewhere that June in Japan this year was the hottest on record, I don't know if that was meant to be a true statement, but it did not feel like it to me. Or July for that matter, until last week. So now we are back into 35 degree heat and humidity to match. I realise that I proably write about this every year - and quite right too. Of course this wouldn't be too bad if one was sitting on a beach with a good book and something long, cool and alcoholic (and a wife as well), but when one has to go to work, it is not pleasant.

But having said that, yours truly only has four days of work left until a two week holiday! Yaay! Two weeks, wow! This will be the longest holiday I have had since the Guru and I spent a fortnight down under (with a week in the most lovely town of Noosa, where our very own Mr Pratt is at this moment becomming more domesticated as he prepares for family life - congratuations, sir, to you and the wife, good luck and all that (and, of course good luck in the tri-nations and in your attempts to retain the ashes, both of which I suspect are far more pressing concerns right now)). Anyway yes, two weeks off, plenty of time to bond with youngster, read books, get slowly drunk all day and generally do as little as possible, although it would seem that I already have an action plan, including health checks and visits to various government ministries, courteously supplied by the Guru.

But that should leave at least some time for me to get on the bike and go off exploring and getting sunburnt into the bargain. I keep meaning to at the moment, and to take some nice pics of the river and environs to share with you lovely lot, however no matter how bright and sunny the weekdays seem to be at the moment, each weekend clouds over (though with little diminuation in heat or humidity), making snapshot shooting a dull and grey affair, so why bother. Anyway as I will have more time, this will mean more opportunities to go father afield and get lost, which is, of course, the point of having a bike - might even try and ride to the mountains, but they do look a very long way off...

And talking of bicycles, as we were, what is it with Japanese and their inability to oil their bicycle chains? Every day I ride to the station and wince at least twice as some kid (or adult) goes past with a rusty old chain making that teeth-clenchingly horrible squeak. Sends shivers down my spine just sitting here thinking about it. I remember once going to a bike shop with the Guru so she couold get some air for her tyres and then thinking to myself 'ah, some WD40 oil type spray would be useful for a squeaky door hinge at home', so asked the Guru to buy a can. But bike shop guy basically refused, saying her bike didn't need oil. When mentioned that it wasn't for the bike, bike shop guy got very suspicious, as if I had asked for 115grams of processed weapons grade plutonium, a detonator and directions to the nearest cop shop. Suffice it to say I have refrained from using his velocipede emporia since.

One thing that will be taking up a large portion of time will, of course, be the new fantasy football season. Football, being as we know a winter game, kicks off in blighty on August 13th, which surely is about as far from winter as you can get. Seems odd, but who am I to judge. As you may or may not be aware, fantasy football is a pleasant way to while away the winter months and as such there is now quite a following for the Crate of Beer (CoB) Intercontiliga run by chap with far too much time on his hands, Stephen Denney. Anyone sad enough to want to join us is more than welcome, we use the online Daily Telegraph's Telegraph Total Football as the basis for our game (although they've revamped it this year), though be warned, as reigning League Champion and Champion's League winner, I can tell you it is not that easy, not easy at all.