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.

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