Friday, 16 December 2005

Merry Christmas one and all...

We are off back to the old country for mince pies and egg nog so postings unlikely for the next couple of weeks. I will ty, but can guarantee nothing.

So, hope everyone has a fine and jolly christmas and a splendid new year, I certainly intend to and hope everyone else does likewise.

See you in 2006

Monday, 12 December 2005

Christmas is coming

And plans, as I mentioned last week, are well under way for our return to the UK for a two-week sojourn. Logistically this is proving quite a challenge as neither myself nor the Guru have ever been to a foreign country with a seven month old baby, indeed we have only ever been away for one night with the little ‘un and that was an over nighter at the parents-in-law down in Chiba. This time that will just be the precusor as we will be staying with them on Saturday night before heading to Narita on Sunday for the flight – they live quite close to Narita, you see, or at least an awful lot closer than we do. Anyway on that first away trip we seemed to take enough gear to supply Caesar’s 15th Legion (including support staff and baggage train), so heaven knows how much stuff Virgin is going to have to stow in its holds, or how much excess we’ll have to pay for that matter. I’m hoping that as we are flying before the peak period, and on a Sunday, that the flight will be relatively quiet and so they’ll be a little bit less strict with the baggage limits, which with Virgin is a pretty puny 20kgs, even BA gives you more than that.

Along with the baggage issue is the ‘in-a-big-metal-tube-with-a-7-month-old-who-has-just-discovered-screaming-for-fun-for-12-hours’ conundrum. Not that it is actually much of a conundrum, really, as if he wants to scream, he will and there doesn’t seem to be an awful lot we can do about it at the moment, so more a case of feeling sorry for anyone sitting near us. Still, if the flight is quiet they might put us in a part of the plane where there aren’t too many others, such as upper class – well, one can hope. I, personally, am also banking on the kawaii, or cute, factor of the youngster. Being both British and Japanese (not half, thank you), and having inherited his mother’s looks (i.e. the better looking side of the relationship), he is an exceptionally cute looking baby, not that I am in any way biased, you realise, just stating fact. So much so that old women cross the road to get a better look at him and passers by shake me by the hand and congratulate me on having such a fine looking son. Anyway, hopefully we can use his good looks and charm to wangle something better for ourselves, or at least some good treatment by the staff (although I expect nothing less from Virgin, going on what I have heard).

The other problem we have is that with all of our baggage are Christmas presents for the whole family, plus electronic doohickies for golf-playing-brother, one of his work chums and another friend of the family. When I agreed to get all these things I wasn’t, of course, thinking about the packing because, as a man, I think about packing no more than 12 hours before I leave on holiday – now looking at the spare room I realise I should have thought about this more deeply, or at least asked the Guru if she thought we had room. So anyway it looks as if I will be packing a minimum of clothes for when I am over as I won’t be able to get any more in the suitcase even if I wanted to. Oh well.

But who cares as this time next week we will be back in Blighty with real beer, real sausages, real bacon and real(ly) crap service. Please note the “real sausages” and “real bacon” there, those upon whom we will be imposing...

Anyway in Japan right now the talk of the town, as it were, is infanticide. Last year I wrote about how parricide was all the rage, but that seems to have abated this year and it is adult men murdering young girls that is hitting the headlines. Not sure why these things come in spates, can’t believe it is copycatting, but you never know. Interestingly one of the horrible crimes was committed by the Peruvian chap of Japanese descent (there are a lot of big Japanese communities in South America and Peru, with ex-PM Alberto Fujimori, a favourite emigration destination early in the last century), the interesting bit being that the media didn’t make his foreign-ness a huge part of the story. It was part of the story, obviously, but more because the papers and whatnot were surprised he was allowed into the country after gaining a rather unsavoury reputation in Peru and having, therefore, to falsify his documents to get into Japan. The media focused more on the immigration lapses than the fact he wasn’t wholly Japanese, which is progress of a sort. In another story a cram school teacher stabbed a 7 year old girl to death in his classroom, no one is quite sure why, whilst elsewhere a spurned, lovesick boy killed the object of his lust and sometime killed two hostesses in their apartment, all of them stabbed.

Not exactly sure why I am writing about these grisly happenings. Obviously they are very sad, tragic, for the families and victims, perhaps now as a father these things seems to leap in the consciousness more, resonate more, I don’t know. But just goes to show that whoever says Japan is a safe country hasn’t been here for a while.

On a happier note there have been some particularly spectacular sunrises and sunsets recently. This time of year, about 2-3 weeks before the winter solstice, is wonderful as the sun sets behind Mt Fuji if you are looking at it from Kawaguchi, and especially if you happen to be on our balcony. So, here are some snaps, more over at those wonderful people at Flickr

Sunset behind Mt Fuji #1
sunset behind mt fuji #1

Sunset behind Mt Fuji #3
sunset behind mt fuji #3

Twilight on the Arakawa #1
twilight on the arakawa #1

Sunrise over Tokyo #1
sunrise over tokyo #1

Monday, 5 December 2005

The service game

Service in Japan is, generally pretty good. Indeed the usual standard of service here is far better than the top notch, best you can get service in the UK, it’s one of the reasons we moved back to Japan after living in London for 18 months (erm...OK, not really a reason to move back, that was more to do with weird bosses, dissatisfaction with London, shitty weather and the prospect of an NHS birth, but it was a reason to come back to Japan rather than, say, Azerbaijan).

And so this week is a tale of two companies and their approach to service here. The first is an airline battle between one airline, which we will call, for the sake of argument, Virgin and another, which we will call BA (mainly, it must be said, as this is their respective names (not that I have a lot of respect for BA)). Now I have heard nothing but good things about flying Tokyo-London with Virgin. Everyone says the service is great, the seats are comfortable, the games and video in-flight stuff is fantastic, strangers come up to you in the terminal to shake your hand in admiration and it is generally an all round top experience. Fair enough. But usually, in fact on pretty much every occasion I have flown to or from Japan I have used BA, mainly as the company has provided the flight and we’ve had a corporate deal with them so all managers fly BA and generally they have been pretty good.

But we as a company no longer automatically go with BA after they stiffed us big time last year and almost left 30 new teachers stranded at Heathrow. However BA does usually do some interesting campaigns for Christmas and had sent through details of their ‘home leave’ campaign. This looked quite good as it listed 70 grand for a return flight i.e. dead cheap, if you booked before the end of October and left mid December. “Ah ha” thought I, “just the sort of thing I am looking for”. But when I phoned up they quoted me 130! The conversation went along the lines of:
“But what about the 70 grand seats?” I queried.
“Oh, sorry, they are not available this year.”
“Then why did you send me them on your price list?”
“Because we are fuckwits, sir, have a nice day.”

Virgin, on the other hand, were nice as pie. Booking was no problem, baby on board didn’t seem to faze them, though check in early to avoid the baby carrying rush, everything seems nice and smooth and strangers have indeed been coming up to me to shake my hand as I walk down the street. Let’s just hope it all goes according to plan...

The second story is the story of my local offy. I have mentioned MyMart before as they are my number one alcoholic emporia of choice, this is because they have a very wide choice, which is good, and also that they stock about half a dozen varieties of Bordeaux reds about a grand a bottle that are mightily fine drinking on a Friday or Saturday evening (indeed they would probably be fine drinking Sunday to Thursday as well, but I try not to on school nights). So on Saturday the Guru had gone off to do Guru type things, like get her hair cut before our Christmas trip, so yours truly was left in charge of the little ‘un and what better place to take a baby than an off licence? My thinking is that if I take him enough times as a baby and toddler it will a) become second nature to him so I can send him to buy me wine and b) the staff there will recognise him and serve him as they’ll know he’s buying the wine for me (and if the little scamp wants a bit for himself, well, he has to start somewhere).

OK, we went to the super market as well to buy stuff for dinner (a rather fine Thai yellowy-green curry, if I may say so myself) and then trooped off home. After pottering about and later going for a run I went to open my bottle of Bordeaux at around 6pm. On doing so I found the cork to me wet through and the wine, after taking out the cork, was like vinegar. ‘Bugger’ was the main thought going through my head, but then the Guru, who knows stuff like this, remembered that around 6pm was the time MyMart does home deliveries (another reason to love them, although all local offies do this in Japan). So she calls them up and asks if there is anything they can do, giving the bottle code and whatnot. They say we’ll see. Now this isn’t the first time I’ve bought a bottle of wine from there that has gone off, but hey, you can never be sure (unless you by Celliers des Dauphins, which uses artificial corks and was, interestingly what I had drunk on Friday night and still had a drop left so wasn’t in a total panic about the Saturday night bottle, yet).

So about 30 minutes later the off licence chap rings the doorbell. I proffer the offending bottle, he takes a sniff and a quick mouthful and agrees that the wine is not at its best. He then produces an already opened bottle of the same wine and asks me to have a quick swig of that one (he even has little plastic cups with him). I do and it tastes a bit on the sharp side as well, so I say no thanks. He then produces another already opened bottle of a different Bordeaux and offers a taste of this one. It is much better and I tell him this. So he then says the already opened bottle, of which only a small amount has been drunk, is my replacement. Er, ok, fine, thanks. But not only that, he then produces another bottle of this new wine and says this is for the inconvenience, sorry about the hassle!

Now I know I haven’t lived in the UK for a while, but I don’t really think your local Threshers or Oddbin’s is likely, if you buy a dodgy bottle, to drive out to your house that evening and not only replace the bottle you bought but also give you a freebie as well. Nice work, and that is why we love MyMart.