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.