Monday, 31 October 2005

Craze Crazy

As you are no doubt aware, Japan is just crazy about crazes. A quick trawl through Wikipedia gives us Pokemon, Tamagotchi, and YuGiOh, to name but three recent(ish) examples. These crazes are basically games, the first, if you need reminding, was an electronic pet thing that you grew from an egg – fascinating. The other two were card games played by kids, a bit like Top Trumps but with stories and stuff you could build on, like comics, films, global branding and Coke™ tie ins, to expand the game and increase the fun, or something.

Anyway card games about little yellow aliens, as in pokemon, or about...er...whatever it is YuGiOh is about, are all very well, but they’re not exactly educational, now are they? Being a realist I can see that there isn’t likely to be a card game based on, say the periodic table of elements or quadratic equations, but those clever people at Sega have, at least, hit upon something that works, and it is the new phenomenon known as Mushi King!

Now I have heard about this before, mainly through a colleague who tells me what’s going on with his 4-year-old son and, for the last few months, Mushi King has been top of his list. But unfortunately he, or rather neither of them, were in a position to explain to me what it was all about. I mean, I got the ‘Mushi’ bit, that means bug or insect, so, Bug King, ok with that (though mushi also means humid, as in mushi atsui – hot and humid weather, but Humidity King doesn’t really have the same cache to it, if you ask me (though could be about Swedish Sauna battles, I suppose...)). But anyway, today I read about it in the paper and can report to all of you out there who don’t know what it is.

Japanese kids, it seems to me, have a fascination with bugs. I have a suspicion that most kids have a thing about bugs, mainly as bugs are interesting and have cool things like lots of legs, horns, shiny bits and mandibles of death. In Japan it is quite possible to buy bugs in department stores, especially beetles, as beetles seem to be the most popular kind of bugs to get – more popular than, say cockroaches, which everyone tries to kill. Some really weird otaku’s (lit. trans. Weird, compulsive collector people who you wouldn’t invite to dinner) pay an awful lot of money to get their hands on, for example, a rare south American horny tree beetle, or something, but of course kids cant afford these, so those clever people at Sega spotted a niche in the market.

So what we have now is, as far as I can tell, Beetle Top Trumps, or, to put it another, Japanese, way, Mushi King! There is even a website for those who can’t get enough of the card game. Nowadays, where once kids gathered in the toy sections of department stores to play pokemon or YuGiOh, now they gather to play Mushi King. This is an aspect of Japanese culture that I really like and wish could be imported around the world. Essentially the toy floors of local supermarkets and department stores will have an area where kids can go and play these games – you need floor space, you see, to spread out the cards – and as the average house in on the small side, the toy shops now oblige. Of course there is the angle that having kids come to the shop or floor will encourage them to buy more, but the point is that first, they’re allowed to play their games, second, they aren’t hassled by the staff even if they don’t buy stuff and third, the areas are safe, dry, warm and well lit, meaning parents can deposit kids and shop.

Anyway there must be more to the story than this, I’m sure you’re thinking, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about it. And of course there is. Like all good card game crazes in Japan there is a background story – why else would all these bugs be fighting? Well, it’s simple. Way back in the mists of time a whole bunch of foreign bugs were bought to Japan by person or persons unknown who, sadly, tired of their six legged friends and so let them loose in a mythical forest. This is a genuine environmental concern and is, of course, not limited to Japan – look at the lengths the Australian customs service go to to stop alien flora and fauna from entering Australia. But in Mushi King what happened was a disgruntled old-man-of-the-forest type guy named Adder who, angry at the deforestation of his home, recruits the foreign bugs, creates an army and sallies forth to wreak his revenge. With beetles. Anyway the ‘good’ guys are, of course, the Japanese beetles, who form an opposing army to fight the foreign invaders.

Anyone spot the racial overtones here? Good Japanese beetles fighting off the foreign invaders. Apparently Sega see nothing xenophobic in this. “Some of my best friends are foreign beetles,” a spokeswoman from Sega quite possibly said. What she did say was “we don’t depict the foreign bugs as bad”. Hmm, ok, but then followed it up with “They are not bad by nature [er, thought you said they weren’t depicted as bad at all?]. They were bought here and abandoned in the forest. They were manipulated by evil spirits [very easily led to the dark side, you average foreign beetle]”. For good measure she added, “Many foreign beetles are very popular”. Well that’s all right then, I guess.

But, like it or not, Mushi King is here to stay and, no doubt, will be marching across the land in search of a new marketing opportunity in the very near future, but will American and European versions have the Japanese beetles as the ‘bad’ guys? No, I don’t think so either.

Anyway, here are some photos for you, some of the youngster and some of the Arakawa that I took last weekend on the only sunny Sunday we have had for weeks! For more photos please go to Flickr who are marvellous and host my photos online and even did the snazzy photomontage thing at the bottom of the sidebar.

Bright eyes
bright eyes

Yes, it's my ball
yes it's my ball

over we go...
over we go...

Confluence
Confluence

Arakawa upstream
Arakawa back towards Kawaguchi

Arakawa towards Tokyo
Arakawa towards Tokyo

Arakawa towards Kawaguchi
Arakawa towards Kawaguchi

Saturday, 29 October 2005

October sunset

October sunset near Fuji

Fire in the west

In the haze

Tuesday, 25 October 2005

Oh my word, I mean I figured America contained some really screwed up people, but this?

And the story is published on the day Rosa Parks dies, what was that about Americans having no sense of irony...?

Monday, 24 October 2005

True colours

Now it might surprise you to know, but there are apparently one or two cultural differences between Japan and the UK, some of which you may not even have considered. Being a quite-a-few year veteran of these shores, I can often spot these, but even I was surprised by this one, but then when I thought about, not really. Anyway, if you sit a class full of little Japanese kids in the same room a class full of little English kids and ask them to draw a picture of a sunny day in the country side, the English kids will invariably colour the sun in yellow (mainly because that is what colour it is. But the Japanese kids won’t, they will colour it in red (as they believe it to be so). Now I think this is odd, but the bit that made me think ‘maybe it’s not so odd’, was the fact, of course the Japanese flag, the hinomaru, is, of course, a red sun on a white background.

Ok, so that might explain why Japanese kids would draw a red sun, but it does of course beg the question, why is the Japanese flag a red sun on a white background? Every Monday I have to get up early as I am office cover for that morning and in the depths of January of February this usually means I am up just as the sun is rising so can check upon these things and can state, in my experience, the sun has never risen red on a white background. Orange? Yes. Red? No. Beautiful azure blue? Yes. White? No. (Actually, on these days, I have been known to get up a little bit earlier just so I can watch the sunrise in all it’s glory, as it is quite a spectacle. Even better is that on these days, when the air is so crisp you could spread cottage cheese on it and call it a diet, Mt Fuji is usually crystal clear. Watching the sun rise and the colours of the mountain change, from pre-dawn rose, through orange to yellow and then white is just amazing. I would take photo’s to post up, but I fear it would scarcely do the beauty of it all justice.)

But back to the flag. Having had a quick check on Wikipedia it appears that the whole rising sun may be to do with the Emperor being the descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu, which I suppose is as good a reason as any to have a particular design for your flag, but doesn’t explain why they went for red rather that a more realistic colour like yellow, for example. But that is not all. Apparently if you then asked the same class as before to draw a night time scene, the English kids would, so I am told, leave the moon white, whereas the Japanese kids would all colour the moon yellow. Now this one I had a little more trouble with as, thinking back to when I was a kid, though that I would go for either white or yellow, so didn’t think it was too big a deal. But the tv show that the Guru saw all this on thought it was all too weird to be believed – “what, those crazy foreigners colour the sun yellow and leave the moon white? Oh ho ho ho, what crazy, misguided and, in the end, plain wrong kind of crazy not Japanese people they are”... could quite possibly be one way it was all described.

Maybe it is all just a colour thing. I know I’ve written before somewhere about the traffic light thing they have going in Japan. For those who don’t know this one, Japanese traffic lights have three colours – if you are foreign they are red, yellow and green; if you are Japanese they are red, yellow and blue. No one seems to be able to fathom this one, but Japanese absolutely swear by it, blue, the colour is blue. If you show a Japanese a piece of card coloured the same colour as the go light, they will call it green, but on a traffic light it is blue (generalising, as I tend to, massively as I go). Just weird to me, but hey, we’re all different.

Last weekend, the one just gone, was adventure number 864 for the young ‘un as we spent our first night away from home, not including hospital visits, which don’t count. The reason for this was that the Guru had her Junior High School reunion on Saturday night and it was just a bit too far for her to get to and back, so we went to stay with the in laws for the night. As this was Marcus’ first ever proper night away, you can imagine the preparations were somewhat akin to the south of England 2 nights before D-Day (would that make it B-Day? Ho ho ho…oh never mind). 2 rucksacks, a pushchair and a baby sling were all required to make sure that baby and parents moved successfully from Kawaguchi to the folks place over near Narita airport. It was also useful as it is the same route we will be tacking at Christmas before heading back to the UK, but then we will have considerably more stuff and be somewhat more fractious, I suspect. Anyway we got safely to the in laws place and even managed to get seats on the train, which was a surprise.

Then, after an hour of faffing, I was left to fend for myself with in laws as the Guru departed for the bash. I was not looking forward to this too much as a) my Japanese ain’t good enough and b) their English isn’t much better; but luckily we had two props to help smooth the way. First, babies and doting grandparents get on like a house on fire, especially when baby is in totally focused ‘aren’t I cute’ mode, being a model of all the good things that babies do, like smile, gurgle, look excited, not shit everywhere etc. and second, we were saved by baseball, as it was game 1 in the Japan series with Chiba, where we were, at home in front of a baying audience (and, if you are interested, it was 11-1 to Chiba in the 8th when the game was called due to fog. Now what I don’t get about this is that Hanshin, losing by 9 runs admittedly, might have turned it on in the last two innings and wrestled the match away from Chiba, Umpires decide that Chiba win when the game’s not finished? In the playoffs Chiba was winning a game 4-0 and in the bottom of the ninth the Hawks scored 5 to win – could Hanshin have done the same? Now we’ll never know, though Chiba did go on to win game 2 on Sunday night 10-0, son perhaps the right call...)

Anyway, all this is a roundabout way to get to the point, which was, as far as I can remember, the little ‘un woke up screaming a couple of time during the night on Saturday, something he’d never done before. Now it could be that he was in a strange place that he didn’t recognise and this freaked him out. Hmm, but could also be teething, as he now has two front teeth, both the lower ones, and does like a good chew on dad’s fingers as they are longer and can get to those hard to reach back gums. Or, it could be because he is now moving onto solid foods. Now, for his mid morning feed, he is getting mushed up veg, watery rice gruel stuff and, just this week, weird fishy protein space food, or something, which he seems to be enjoying, well, enjoying spreading around his mouth. But the cute thing now is that he spends most of the time pretending to chew things, open and closing his mouth, as if to practice eating. Of course it makes him look a guppy fish at feeding time, but hey, if it makes him happy...

Oh, and as for Presumin’ Ed’s two essays: "The comfort women issue compels us to politicise the very concept of history. Discuss." – er no it doesn’t as the Japanese courts don’t care so we can just ignore it like they do; and "Can and should feminism transcend the modern nation-state paradigm?" what? Er transcend in what sense? Define the terms of the essay how you want them so you actually write a piece about British tactics at the Battle of Trafalgar, far more interesting.

Monday, 17 October 2005

Hmm

Am having real trouble thinking of what to write about this week – think my muse may be coming to an end. I put this down to two reasons, first is that I am too busy at work to stop and think at the moment, just too much shit going on. Second, all my time at home now goes into keeping the young ‘un happy/fed/watered/changed/etc, which doesn’t leave an awful lot of time for other things, such as thinking what to write in a blog – this will become even harder from the start of November when I am officially meant to start the mba studying all over again (oh shit!). And third (ok, three reasons), nothing interesting seems to be happening in Japan right now. I mean, we’ve had the election, that got a bit stimulating for a while, and before we had scandals and Kool Kid Koizumi – Krazy Kim double act for a while, but all seems to have gone quiet. The Yasukuni Shrine thing is still rumbling on after the three different rulings from three local high courts here, and I see that the Kid visited the shrine again today (mainly as it was raining and therefore he could avoid the crowds, very important when you turn up on a push bike, which I’m sure he did as he was visiting as a private citizen) but even that is old kind f news these days as it just goes on and on and on and etc.

Having said that, I noticed one comedy or errors this morning that raised a smile – in a speech in Ishikawa prefecture, former PM Yoshio Mori pointed out that 4 potential candidates to take over from the Kid when he retires look to be good bets for cabinet posts (he’s a sharp cookie, is old Yoshio). Anyway this is a comedy of errors, in my view, for two reasons (and it will be two this time), first is that Yoshio Mori was the most useless of PM’s that anyone can remember in Japan for a long, long time (e.g. “Japan is a divine nation with the Emperor at its heart” (everyone thinks this but you are not allowed to say it out loud, especially if you are the PM)), so backing from Mori should the kiss of death for any aspiring to be PM – except, in a perverse show of the topsy-turvy world of Japanese politics, Mori heads one of the most powerful factions in the LDP and thus has a great deal of influence (as incompetence is not, and has never been, a barrier to promotion for Japanese).

Anyway the four would be new PM’s are Shinzo Abe (acting LDP Gen. Sec.); Taro Aso (internal affairs); Sadakazu Tanigaki (finanace); and Yasuo Fukuda (currently of no fixed abode). Now where is this all going and where is point number two you were on about earlier? I hear you cry. Well now, if the name Yasuo Fukuda above seems familiar to you, it might be that I have written about this bloke before, here to be precise, way back in May 2004. Just to recap, this guy didn’t pay his pension contributions for a period of time in the 1990s and then basically lied to parliament about it, saying that he had, unlike other nefarious non payers, but he got found out, the cheeky blighter and whilst it is one thing to have financial hiccoughs in Japan, it is quite another to accuse others of what you’ve done while covering your own ass, and then get found out. So anyway he did the honourable thing at the time and resigned from his position of Chief Cabinet Secretary and went home to indulge in his passion for collecting antique toothpicks (possibly). Now in any normal country, a scandal that precipitated a resignation from a cabinet post would mean a life demoted to the back benches, if not out of politics altogether – it would not mean a return to a cabinet post, with a view to a tilt and Prime Ministerial windmill, a scant 18 months later.

But like I said earlier, incompetence, or scandal, is no barrier to success in this country, it would seem. But of course, the corrupt and scandalous Fukuda is a prominent member of the generally useless and gaffe prone ex-PM Mori’s ├╝ber powerful faction in the LDP, and if isn’t a worrying political prospect for Japan, then I don’t know what is.

+++Update+++

Just seen this over at Ippoippo - seems that Taro Aso decided that he was not going to be outdone by generally useless and gaffe prone ex-PM Mori, or indeed by corrupt and scandalous Fukuda, so decided that he would make his own amsing proclamation by describing Japan as having "one nation, one civilization, one language, one culture and one race. It is nowhere else in other nations," in a speech during an opening ceremony on Saturday of the Kyushu National Museum in Dazaifu, Fukuoka Prefecture. Again almost all Japanese believe this (generalising massively and in no way scientifically as I go), but again, it is not the sort of thing you are meant to say out loud, especially at a public gathering if you are etc

The Ainu up in Hokkaido will be in whole hearted agreement with the small minded Mr Aso, I have no doubt...

Thursday, 13 October 2005

Another new blog

Have found another new blog that is most amusing and droll - check out An Englishman In Osaka for his view on all things Kansai. Well, some things kansai, but you get the drift.

Monday, 10 October 2005

It's the taking part that counts...

Not an awful lot I can think about to comment upon this week in the goings on of this fair land.
Though one thing that caught my eye was another case of sadistic and brutal baseball ‘coach’ in death of student incident. This one happened down near Osaka and was caused by a baseball team’s loss in a Sunday lunchtime game. After the game the coach took his team back to their training area near a river, harangued them for about an hour on the loss and then proceeded to give them three hours of punishment (his words). You might be thinking that these were older students who had possibly just lost the final of the all Japan league, or something, but no, it was a class of 13 year olds having lost a local game. Three hours of pitching practice, sprint relays, running up and down the river bank (probably about 4 storeys high, if anything like the banks of the Arakawa) and general abuse later and a 13 year old kid collapsed of heat exhaustion, this was about 830pm (after, remember, a lunchtime game) and the poor kid died just before ten the next day.

In an interview afterwards the coach said: “I don’t understand it. I’ve been coaching baseball for 20years and nothing like this has ever happened before. But I don’t think it was anything to do with the punishment practice the team were doing.”

That’ll be no remorse then. Or an apology to the parents of the child. Or an admission that he’d done anything wrong. Or an awareness that this sort of shit happens every year. Nothing.

I really cannot begin to understand this, not fathom it at all. 3 hours of punishment for a team of 13-year-old kids? For what, to engender a love of the game? Oh for fuck’s sakes please. Be passionate about sports, yes, but to the extent that the man charged with the responsibility (ha, responsibility) of looking after a bunch of children too young enough to say no ends up killing one of them! I hope the rest of the team learned a valuable lesson last weekend.

What possibly makes it even worse is that I have a strong suspicion the parents will demand an apology and probably let it go at that. If it was me I would be pursuing this guy through every court in the land to get some kind of guilty of manslaughter or at least criminal negligence kind of thing going. Not some half arsed apology and let the psycho loose again with another bunch of kids.

No wonder that I will never let my son anywhere near a Japanese junior high school. Anyway, some more detail over at ours friends at the Daily Yomiuri.

This weekend was a bank holiday one and so Monday was off so we could all indulge in sports as Sports Day it is. Except, in a very British way, it has pissed down with rain all weekend, and indeed all last week and, quite probably, all next week as well. Grey, dank, drizzly rain as well. I could have stood on the riverbank pretended, without too much of a leap of faith, that I was standing on the shores of Loch Lomond, or other renowned holiday destination in the UK. This meant, of course, that adventures and tales of derring do have been thin on the ground.

But sitting on the floor and playing with Marcus has been high on the agenda for the weekend. In case you have been wondering, he can now happily sit up unsupported, though he does plant his fists on the floor in front of him, so resembling a gorilla sitting and having a break. He can stay up right most of the time, but hasn’t got the hang of tracking people as they walk past, so has a tendency to fall over backwards whilst looking into the air. He also has a tendency to fall slowly but elegantly forwards if he tries to pick something up, which is highly amusing (for me) but leaves him with bumps on his forehead. He is also becoming adept at picking things up, clutching at things hanging, such as washing, and manipulating objects with his hands. Or more simply, his motor skills are developing quite nicely (I think) and so he keeps trying to do new stuff. But still hasn’t quite got the hang of falling asleep quickly and quietly...

Thursday, 6 October 2005

Noise pollution

Nice find here by Taffy san over at Ippoippo, seems that that Hiroshima City Council have had enough of those loud speaker vans that assault ear drums as they are driven around town. They are targeting the right wing chappies who, amongst other things, hurl abuse at foreigners - coming over here, taking our jobs!streets will be awash with rivers of blood! some of my best friends are foreigners, but there are always one or two bad apples! etc - however the hope is that firstly they will also put a stop to the loud speaker vans that drive around during city/prefectural / gubernatorial / mayoral / regional and national elections; and second, that the rest of Japan will follow suit.

Well, it's a start.

Oh, and as we haven't had one for a while, here's a picture of Marcus enjoying himself...

Monday, 3 October 2005

Court in the act

Ok, so have remebered to write this out using Bill Gates’ finest word processing software first so I won’t have the frustration of blogger eating my post again. Or so the theory goes.

Anyway last week’s post wasn’t that interesting anyway as it described a thre day weekend upon which nothing much happened as typhoon #17 decided to dump its load all over kanto, precluding the karting tripwe had planned. This will happen sometime in the future as I am still sore at my boss (who is organising this trip) as a few years ago we were up in Tochigi prefecture around Nikko one holiday and discovered, quite by accident, that we were quite near the Twin Ring Motegi circuit. So, quick detour and low and behold, there was a karting track attached. Wasn’t too expensive to race so we had a couple of goes and it came down to the last race. I shot to the front and, through skill and daring, stayed in front of James (who admittedly is a quick driver) until about mid race. Then, going into a sharpish right, he totally over cooks it and smacks into the back of me. I go careering off the circuit, he sort of bounces back onto the racing line. Now, of course, I am last of six, but, bit between my teeth and anger in my veins, I launch an assault on the leader much the same as Mansell did in ’87 at Silverstone. Fastest lap after fastest lap until, the final corner, I’m in second, I try a dart down the inside, the door closes, James takes the chequered flag, I the runner’s up position.

It. Still. Pisses. Me. Off.

But good job I’m not in the slightest bit competitive, eh?

Anyway this week has been quiet as well, most probably as work is all focused on budgeting for next year and...yawn... How exciting can it be...?

However some interesting rulings from Japanese judicial service the report this week. First up was a ruling from the High Court in Osaka that the Kool Kid’s trips to Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo were in fact illegal as he was making them as PM, something the ropey old Constitution forbids in its attempts to keep separate the ‘church’ and the state. Now I am sure I have mentioned this whole Yasukuni shrine thing before, several times perhaps, but to briefly recap for those not paying attention, a number of people, mainly heads of state of other Asian nations such as China and both Koreas, dislike the Japanese PM paying his respects to the dead at Yasukuni as enshrined there are the souls of 14 (I think) class A war criminals, specifically ones who did unpleasant things during the occupations of Korea and China. The Kool Kid’s argument is that he does it as a private citizen therefore he should be able to do what he wants, but a court last year in Fukuoka decreed that no, he wasn’t doing it a private citizen as he was using his official govt car to get there and, amusingly, signed the book of condolence as Kool Kid Koizumi, That’s Mr Prime Minister to You, or something very like it. Now the Kid pops along on his pushbike just like the rest of us, probably.

Anyway this ruling wouldn’t be particularly newsworthy, people, it seems are always suing the govt for the mental anguish this issue is causing them in the hope of a few yen in compensation. No, but what makes it all a bit weird is that on Thursday, the day before the Osaka ruling, the Tokyo High Court decided that the Kids’ visit are not illegal as they are made as a private citizen! The Tokyo court based on their decision on the fact that the Kid did not visit the shrine on August 15, 2001, the anniversary of the end of the war, but two days earlier, which obviously makes it all right then. Even better is that we are awaiting the ruling of the Takamatsu High Court as they are about to make a decision on this very issue on Wednesday this week.

So, Tokyo says he’s OK; Osaka says he is in the wrong; are Takamatsu going to straight down the middle and just say that the PM is a private citizen and is allowed to do what he wants? Personally I can’t quite get my head around the fact that there are at least 3 High Courts, all giving seemingly binding judgements that the Kid should be adhering to. Weirder still is the fact that Fukuoka ruled that the visits were illegal and, I guess, that the Kid should stop, but because he didn’t agree with the ruling he ignored it, seemingly with impunity.

All very odd, if you ask me.

The second ruling which caught my eye was this. A Tokyo District Court ruled on Thursday that a baby girl who was born using frozen sperm from a man who died could not be recognised as the man’s daughter. The reason behind it seems to be that the dead man cannot be considered to have given his consent to have his sperm used in the ivf process, even though it was the third attempt by his common law wife and the man had been alive when the first two attempts had been made. By my reckoning that makes the baby girl his daughter, but not in Japan, it would seem.

Half the problem here is recognition. If a man makes a woman pregnant and they are not married, the man can refuse to recognise the child as his own and therefore abrogate any responsibilities for supporting the mother or child during the pregnancy and beyond. So all the kind of paternity issues that go on in places like the US just do not seem to happen here as all the man has to do is say ‘nope, not mine’, even when the baby biologically is, and he can wander off. This is bad enough if the mother happens to be Japanese as at least the baby will have Japanese nationality, but when a mother is from, say the Philippines or Korea, the baby might well end up having no status in Japan but growing up Japanese and then being forced to leave and return to their ‘home’ country when they reach 18 or 20. Anyway going back to the court ruling, it seems a bit rum to say that the dead chap didn’t give his consent when the couple had already tried twice before and where using the same batch of frozen effluent.

Again all seems a bit odd to me, but then most things about this country are.

Saturday, 1 October 2005

New blog

Just a mention that Chris, he of the knowledge of things technical, has revamped, reshaped and above all republished his excellent Tokyo Tales blog. Chris is something of an IT whizz and probably knows more about how this blog works than I do, but unlike an awful lot of (self proclaimed) geeks, also has a personality as well. Oh, and a keen eye to boot.

Anyway, go check it out