Tuesday, 26 December 2006

About football

So, as alluded to in the last post, which being over a month ago I am sure most have forgotten (I had until I read it again), recently I went to a footy match. This was the first time I had been to a J-League 1 match (the equivalent of the English Premiership (in terms of, well, being the number one league in the country, but in terms of money it is well down, but in terms of excitement and lack of play acting, it is far, far ahead)) before, but I had been to see football (that is, Association Football, rather than Rugby Football or Aussie Rules) in the past, a World Cup qualifier no less, in 1997 I think, when Japan played the UAE. But no, this was the first league match.

So what prompted you? I hear you muse. Simple really, I got a pair of free tickets so thought ‘what the heck, may as well use them!’ the free tickets came about because, strangley, the old NEC laptop disintegrated. When we bought the new one the deal with the shop was that if we changed to NTT for our broadband connection, at no extra cost, they would give us 20,000 yen’s worth of points at the selfsame shop, and as NTT sponsor one of the teams we watched, for some reason they decided to throw in a pair of freebie footy tickets into the bargain. And they even gave a choice of which games you wanted to watch. Great.

So Steve and I duly made our way to Saitama Stadium 2002, where I ahd been before to play 5-a-side footy many years ago (I even wrote about it somewhere in this blog, but I don’t remember where so sorry, no link). Now if you remember, when I wrote that post, the home team was Urawa Reds – they are still mainly the home team and play most of their games there, but they are sponsored by Mitsubishi (I think), so it was not them. Oh no, we went to see Omiya Ardija. Omiya is a big city brother of Urawa but has a pretty rubbish footy team, though having said that they are in J-1, something they could not claim a couple of years ago, and it does add a little spice to the derby games. (And no, by the way, neither Steve nor I have any idea what an Ardija is – it might be a rodent of sorts, apparently, but no one we asked knew either).

Now once, when I lived in London, I went to a premiership game. I, for al my faults, am a supporter of Middlesbrough, mainly for the simple reason that I was born there. In London I have a chum who is a Chelsea supporter (for the simple reason that he was born in Fulham). He often got tickets for games and surprisingly it was quite easy to come by tickets to watch ‘Boro as they weren’t, and aren’t, one of your sought after draws. When we went to that game we met in a pub in Fulham and I was under strict instructions not to wear anything that might incriminate me as in some way a Middlesbrough fan as I might get lynched – we were to sit in the Chelsea stands after all. The walk to Stamford Bridge was through the streets of west London and was one of the more unpleasant experiences of my life. It was threatening, tense and oppressive, and that was just the walk to the bar. Inside the ground there was a hostility I have not encountered anywhere else, especially when, in the 90th minute, a Chelsea defender deliberately handled the ball in the area and Alan Boksic (I think) completed the penalty and tied the game at 2-2. The walk back wasn’t too pleasant either. It was not the sort of atmosphere I would ever want to take a family to enjoy, there were police a-plenty so I don’t think anything would have kicked off, but you just don’t know and the attitude of the police didn’t exactly make the afternoon any better. Worse probably, but then I suppose they have been dealing with this every Saturday afternoon for years.

Now I know that the Japanese have a very different take on these things, and reports from England hooligans fans after the 2002 World Cup was friendly and efficient staff and stewards at the games, but I wondered how things might have changed in 4 years. The good news was not a lot. We got to the station about 30 minutes before kick off and had about a 2km stroll to the stadium. Plenty of other fans were strolling with us and, like my experience in London, plenty were draped in flags and other tribal insignia. But everyone was really happy. The atmosphere was more like, well, for want of a better comparision, that everyone was off to watch a rugby match rather than a football match. And there was not one policeman to be seen, in fact the only uniform we saw between the station and the stadium was three chaps directing pedestrians across an extremely un-busy that crossed the route at an inopportune point at about two-thirds distance.

The stadium was as big and impressive as I remembered it, but this time I got to see the inside as well, which was nice. On the inside it was jolly big, but as we were watching Omiya Ardija vs. Kashima Antlers (a team with a storied past but now on leaner times), it wasn’t exactly full (the attendance was, I think, about 12,000 in a place that could hold well over 40,000). Now as we had freebie tickets we were in the ‘unreserved’ section, which meant, again astoundingly to anyone who’s been to a football match in England, anyone could sit where they wanted and opposing fans could intermingle with impunity. And they did. The hardcore fans occupy opposing ends behind the goals, as can be seen from this photo (after Kashima scored)



But everywhere else is far more relaxed – it’s almost as if the people have paid money to come along and actually watch the game, rather than fight or hurl abuse at people not from the same town as them. Or something. But that is not to say that there wasn’t an atmosphere in the place. Oh no, there was plenty of that, with both sets of hardcore fans doing there bit for chanting and singing. But again for the rest of us it was all pleasantly low key. The hard core fans were fascinating to watch as they represented a microcosm of Japanese culture (he pontificates, donning an in-no-way-deserved anthropological hat). If you look at this photo you’ll see a bunch of guys standing at the bottom facing towards the terraces:



These guys are the organizers. They are paid members of the club and it is their job to gee everyone up by organizing a constant stream of chanting, singing and flag waving. They didn’t watch the game except for a corner-of-the-eye job to make sure the chants were appropriate for the action. They shouted, heckled, cajoled, whipped and generally made the hard core follow their lead. In Japan, you see, you mustn’t do spontaneity, individuality is a no-no; if you want to support a team you must do what the team supporter’s manager says you do. This happens at baseball games as well, even at high school games apparently (according to Steve, who has attended a few at his school), and volleyball and basketball as well, I don’t doubt. It is a reflection of society as a whole, that to take part you must join in with everyone else. If you want to chant at a footy match you stand behind the goal and do it there with the hardcore – no one around us chanted in any way during the game. Interestingly the one game, as far as I am aware, that doesn’t follow this pattern is rugby. Certainly all the games I’ve been to, and more that I’ve watched on TV, none have had this hardcore organizer element to make sure everyone is, literally, singing from the same page.

So anyway, we watched the game and the Antlers scored in less than 30 seconds from the kick off to get, as it were, the ball rolling, and never looked back. The final score was 0-3 to the visitors, but it was a bit of a mid-table nothing game as neither team was in danger of winning the league or being relegated (for the record the league winners were, in fact, our old pals Urawa Reds, who were pipped at the post in 2005 but were not to be denied this season). The atmosphere was pleasant and positive and there were plenty of families in attendance. This might also be due to the fact that tickets are dirt cheap. I know ours we freebies, but the regular price is only something like a tenner, if that, so a family of four can watch a game for comfortably less than 50 quid, which is what I might have to pay if I wanted to watch a reprise of the Chelsea-Boro match by myself this season.

Anyway, here are some more photos, next up will be my trip to the Uk and then Christmas (were about a month behind, I reckon, with these posts, but will try to get as much written in the next week or so whilst I am on my Christmas and new year hols)

Spirit of Zico? No wonder Ardija lost...


Interesting spelling there...


And from one English football hooligan...


...to another

Sunday, 26 November 2006

Exams and the like

Well I know it has been a while, but things have been just a tad busy recently so posting has been a bit of luxury I haven’t been able to afford. But now, Sunday afternoon, rest of the family napping, the scoreboard from Brisbane ticking over on Cricinfo (and what depressing reading it is, seems that plan A has been adopted for the first test. This worked at Lord’s in 2005, but I’m not convinced it will work here.), and a spare 5 minutes after reading briefly perusing thr reports from England v South Africa from last night, I find a bit of time on the old hands so thought ‘how better to use the time than waffle on and post something on the blog?’. So here you go. You can tel that having less time to post hasn’t done anything to stop the verbal diarrhoea, more’s the pity.

So many things have come up in the past few weeks that it is wonder where to start. About three weeks ago I saw an article in the paper mentioning that the 2006 Kimono exam had taken place and not a few people had taken it. This was to the basis of a post all about Japanese and exam taking, to which they are addicted, but this has now passed (the post, not the addition), but in a nutshell, risking repeating myself as I go, the Japanese love taking exams. But then again, on reflection, I don’t think they do, but they love having benchmarks on which to judge themselves and exams are a good way of doing this. They are also a good way of making money, according Alex Kerr and his book Demons and Dogs, which I talked about a couple of years ago. It’s all to do with Amukudari (which I think is how you spell it) apparently. This essentially means something like ‘descent from heaven’ or something, and is a practice where govt. bureaucrats, on retiring, take exceptionally well paid jobs in the private sector, for not a lot of work, in the hope that there presence will confer benefits on the company or organization they join. The best example of this is the construction industry, especially bridge builders who are currently going through a massive bid-rigging scandal. The premise is that local govt. chap retires and joins Bridge Builder A, he then calls his old office where he was a bigwig and asks what’s in the pipeline. He gets the info, along with info, illegally, on what other firms are bidding. He then calls up more firms and together the collude to ensure that one of them gets the contract at an inflated price. Then a couple of months later the same process happens but this time Bridge Builder B gets the contract. Throughout this the local govt. johnnies claim big salaries and even bigger bonuses for making a phone call or to and defrauding the local taxpayers. This has been going on for time immemorial, but now the locals are getting restive and those responsible are being called to account, which can only be a good thing (thought I feel sure that if they stopped all the corruption in Japan the entire country would grind to a halt).

Those canny amongst you will have notice a couple of things here. One, this has nothing to do with exams, and you’d be right but we’ll get there, and two, I said I wasn’t going to write about it, but I’m on a roll now so here we go.

The exam thing happens, apparently, when one of these Amukudari chaps joins an organization, like the Kimono promoters or whatever they are. Now with the construction industry it is easy to see where the money might be made, as above, but with kimono, or aerobics, things are a little trickier. So some bright spark, a while ago, came up with a cunning plan, that of exam and preparation courses. The idea evolves into a system where you can’t be a teacher of a subject unless you have taken and passed an exam in it. Now I’m all for this for things like schooling, as teachers have know what they are doing, but for Kimono it seems a bit much. The example Alex Kerr uses is aerobics – here there are apparently two certificates you need, they are not legal requirements, but their influence is such that sports centres won’t take on instructors without one, but the rub is that as neither is a legal requirement it is not clear which one you should havem so instructors in the end have to take both, but to take each exam, which ask essentially the same thing, you must take an expensive preparation course. All this cash, of course, goes to the organization in question – essentially a license to print money.

Another example is, oddly hairdressing. A colleague’s Japanese husband in a hairdresser and in the fullness of time he wants to open his own salon. Now the fact that he has to pass a test in hairdressing is fair enough, I wouldn’t particularly want someone with no basic skills attacking my head with a pair of scissors, however for this chap to open his own shop he not only has to prove that he has worked in another shop for 3 years (sort of like indentured service, or something) but he also has to take a long and expansive course in ‘how to open your own hairdressing salon’ before he will be granted a license to open his shop. If he doesn’t get the license he won’t get planning/opening permission from the local town authorities. Now seems to me that if you want to open your own place then fair enough off you go. If you can’t cut hair properly you’ll go out of business, so better make sure you can do it properly, but to have to pay for all these courses and tests and things just seems, well, like someone else wants a bit of cash and is taking the piss.

The upshot of this, of course, is that there are exams for absolutely everything you could ever want to do in Japan. As I said for some things I can understand this, like schooling, or martial arts, where you might hurt someone if you muck up a move. But I really don’t get it for things like putting Kimono on, or performing tea ceremonies, hence the article mentioned at the top caught my eye. To make life more difficult, of course, most of these exams are only once a year and so if you miss the date due to illness or some unforeseen circumstance, then you are b*ggered for another year. To rate your Japanese for example, everyone takes the govt. organized Japanese Language Proficiency Test, I did it once when I first came to Japan, and this is only held on the first Sunday in December, no retakes, no extenuating circumstances. Imagine if you had to get a grade to get a job but had a cold that day, as people often do in December, you’d be, well b*ggered. Now I know that this argument can be applied to the UK for things like school exams, which are always in June, and fair enough, but a direct comparison to the JPLT would be something like the TOEIC exam, a very popular English language exam in Japan. This is not run by any Japanese agency, so no Amukudari (though I bet there’s one or two in there from the Ministry of Education), no mandatory expensive preparation course, (you can study at home), and best of all the exams are held something like every two months.

Other stuff that has gone on include the retirement of Kyokushuzan from the ranks of Sumo. Kyok was my guy, mainly as when he joined the top division he was the first Mongolian to do so, at about the same time as my first arrival in Japan. This meant that as we were both outsiders, my support was sent his way. He often remarked on this in post-bout interviews, stating that he would never have been able to progress so far without the knowledge I was rooting for him. Although as he always said this is Mongolian the translation often became a bit garbled and in the press was reported something like ‘I was very happy to win’. But that’s ok, I knew what he was really saying.

Also, you may be wondering quite why I have time, on a Sunday afternoon, to post. ‘Shouldn’t you be studying?’ is, I suspect, your first thought. Well the good news on that score is that the dissertation is finished, as of yesterday (though I might go and give once more once over whilst the house is quiet). All printed, proof read and inserted into a folder and ready to be sent off, all 120 pages or 21,000 words of it. Thank goodness for that, is about the best I can come up with. I won’t know what to do with my Sundays from now on, but blogging is a possibility as this blog has been going about as long as I have been studying. Anyway that’s enough for now.

Next time I will regale you with stories, and photos, of Japanese professional football, but I’m not sure when that will be as I am off back to Blighty next Saturday for visits and weddings, so see some of you then, I feel sure.

Sunday, 12 November 2006

Plan A (part 2)

Seems the RFU might have fallen upon the same strategy in England's defence of the Webb Ellis trophy...

Friday, 10 November 2006

Plan A

+++Confidential England Ashes Memorandum+++Confidential England Ashes Memorandum+++

ECB Strategy unit issues the following advisory to Duncan Fletcher (coach) and Andrew Flintoff (captain) of England Ashes Tour Party 2006/7.

1. Lull dumb Aussies into false sense of security by being strategically thrashed by any non test-status team.

***Status Report***Status Report***Status Report***Status Report***Status Report***

Implementation of Plan A worked perfectly. Australian cricketing professionals and public alike stunned by abject captulation by our boys to third rate bunch of sheep shaggers and Presidents. Note: have word with Andrew Strauss, appears to not understand current tactical thinking - half century may lead to suspicions of competence by Australian authorities.

Monday, 30 October 2006

Where are we?

So on Friday last week the little ‘un finally reached the ripe old age of 18 months, so I figure it is about time to take stock, look back and see how we got here, or something like that. So in no particular order, this is what he, and I suppose we, have achieved in the last year and a half:

He has grown from a promising 3.23 kgs to a much larger 10.99kgs, and from 51cm to 81.9cm (that’s a foot, but still under 5 foot so he can join the club)
He has spent two weeks in hospital with a dodgy oesophagus, but this now seems to be working just fine
He can now not only walk forwards without bumping into too many things, but he can also walk backwards (though bumping into more things)
He can help get himself dressed and undressed, a marked improvement
He can now deal with water being splashed on his face, which for some reason took what seems like an awfully long time
He has a full mouth of teeth, head of hair, hand of fingers and foot of toes. Indeed all appendages seem present and correct
He knows when he is doing something he shouldn’t, but still does it anyway, like trying to play with the computer or with daddies CDs
He gets excited by trains, though worryingly not cars at the moment
We have a first year book of his that is full to the brim of advice, wishes, photos and information we have already forgotten
We have realised that taking videos is important, not for now, but for much later. We know this as neither I nor the Guru can really remember what he was like at 3 months old, so now we take more footage to remind us of him now
You really can sit for an hour at lunchtime talking about kids to your colleagues, but only those with kids themselves
He can identify a whole bunch of animals, though saying their names is tricky
His favourites are elephants, snakes and cows
Masie, Teletubbies and Baby Shakespeare videos rock!
Pulling as many books as possible off the bookshelves is FUN
I spend all day every day at work wishing I was at home with him and the Guru, so we’d better win the lottery damn soon
Climbing is good
No, climbing is dangerous!
He doesn’t put everything he finds in his mouth anymore
He can feed himself, just about, and choose things he wants to eat and drink and, more importantly, have a pretty good stab at letting us know what they are
For some reason he loves cookbooks
Brushing teeth isn’t usually too big a chore (not compared to colleagues kids, apparently)
Crayons and drawing paper are cool (as was one of the sliding doors before we stopped him)
He is really good at copying mum and dad’s routines
He loves getting the brush and pretending the sweep up
He will happily sleep through the night but will wake everyone up at 630am because if he’s up, we should be as well
He has had two haircuts in his life
Things that are quite warm he will point at from afar and shout atchee!, or hot!, but things that are really hot he will silently walk up to and touch
Atchee! (hot) sounds very like oishi! (delicious) when he says them, making mealtimes a bit of a lottery to know what he is going on about
Most of the words he says are Japanese, but he understands words in Japanese or English that are thrown at him. The few English words he says are apple, banana and mama
He likes mud and muddy puddles
He is not so keen on asparagus
But marmite toast is a great way to start the day (though not as good as pancakes or French toast, apparently)
The balcony is a source of unparalleled mystery
Stickers are great
There is very little left in any drawer below a height of three feet
He smiles all the time
I am the luckiest dad alive

Tuesday, 17 October 2006

To you it’s a potato, to me it’s a potato, but to Sir Walter bloody Raleigh...

So on Saturday we did something that was quintessentially both Japanese and autumnal, and luckily it involved mud. The Japanese, you see, are really, at heart, all sons and daughters of the soil. If you listen to any Enka song (enka = original Japanese pop music, or maybe folk music. Maybe folk/pop music. Not sure about this one, but it is very 50s, I suppose, but without Elvis style pelvic thrusts, but with men in bad suits, women in kimono and a lot of heartfelt wailing. It is also phenomenally popular and was the reason for karaoke. I digress). So, if you listen to any, or pretty much any, enka song it will be about a wistful longing to jack in the salaryman lifestyle and return to the ancestral rice fields of Toyama, or other such rurally depopulated for very good reasons place, and retake the reins of the rice/shiitake/sea cucumber farm, or whatever you do to take control of one. No one really does this, of course, because being a farmer is bloody hard work and is, like most things in life, better left to the professionals, so come Monday morning the salaryman is back selling flood insurance to the selfsame rice farmers because it is what he is good at. So that’s enka.

Anyway part of the Japanese psyche is this desire to return to the soil (not in the literal sense of being buried in it, but to till it), but as most people don’t do it, mainly, as mentioned, because it is hard work, they kind of give it a go in spring, when little kids (and adults too) go off and plant rice er, saplings? Sprouts? Little baby rice plants at least, for a couple of hours until they realise that it is back-breaking work and best left to the professionals (whereupon the professional farmer, who is a darned sight cleverer than the dumb townies, gets out his Acme rice planter and lets the machinery get on with it). But in autumn, much like harvests everywhere across the world, everyone gets the urge to pull things out of the ground, which is what we did.

Now Japan and the Japanese are quite big on potatoes. They like to chip them, and bake them, and do the usual things that you do with potatoes – however the humble spud will never replace rice as the staple accompaniment to every meal. But sweet potatoes, now they are a different kettle of fish (to use an unrelated metaphor). Sweet potatoes, or satsuma-imo, (yes that is Satsuma as in the place and type of orange and no I don’t know why a potato should be named after it as they certainly aren’t orange but they may originally have come from Kagoshima where Satsuma is so that might have something to do with it) are big in Japan, in a literal and a metaphorical sense, and apparently pulling them out of the ground in October creates a massive nostalgia trip for everyone as it is what you used to do as a kid. So on Saturday morning we embarked on a trip to Asakadai, to the north of Kawaguchi, to do just that.

Now if you, or indeed I, think of potato farms you think large rolling fields, big machinery to pull the goods from the ground and generally things on an oversized scale. But this is Japan and unless you go to Hokkaido, or possible Toyama, farms can be quite small scale. Indeed they can be in the middle of a town, like Asakadai. So it is a 10am start there so about an 830 start for us as although it isn’t that far, there is a change of trains and a spell on the Musashino line which, in very un-Japanese fashion, only has a train about once every 10 minutes! Very poor service, that. Also there is a bus to catch as the farm isn’t very near the station (though only about 15 minutes walk away, as we found on the way back). This particular jaunt has been organized by a local (I think) group that organizes things for kids to do and so is aimed at those from 0 to 2 years old, though quite what a 1 month old kid would want to do in a potato field is beyond me). On getting the bus it was obvious that this was the bus for the potato picking as there were lots of parents and sprogs, all looking eager.

The farm was owned by Mr & Mrs Watanabe, they had a nice old farmhouse and a bit of land surrounding it. They also had another bit of land over the road. Another bit behind the apartment block to the left. And the right. And some more bits round the corner. And so on. They probably had enough land for a large, rolling field, but it was spread over the whole of Saitama prefecture, so the average size of one of his fields was about the size of a large garden. All very odd. Anyway we go there and there are about 30 families, with kids and as this is being arranged through the community centre, and as we have some of the community centre ladies there, we have to do some songs. I didn’t know any of the songs we do, though I did recognize one tune, but every single other person not only knew the words but also all the actions that went with them. All very confusing for your poor reporter – it felt a bit like trying to learn bon-odori dancing that I wrote about somewhere, but this time all the kids knew what to do as well. Stil it was fun. Then we had a little play about pulling sweet potatoes out of the ground. Typical thing, big potato, won’t come out, need extra help to pull, so audience participation is de rigeur. So, 30 families, one foreigner, you work out the odds of me being dragged to the front.

That’s correct. Ladbrokes would not give you odds as it is a sure fire guarantee, more likely to happen that an England one-day batting collapse. Luckily no photographic evidence exists as I was holding the camera, but for some reason, known only to Japanese, I had to put a cat mask on and help pull the recalcitrant sweet potato whilst the young ‘un looked on bemused..

Then we strolled about 10 minutes to field 42a to pull up the sweet potatoes. In typically organized Japanese fashion not only had the irritating stuff like undergrowth been pushed back, but little plot had been marked with chalk dust so you knew you were getting five plants. Now this being a field you expect a bit of mud, so most people, knowing this, would not a) wear trainers or b) well at least not their best ones. But no, most people did so we had the odd sight of adults tying plastic bags over their shoes and around their ankles to protect their designer footwear from the brown stuff. Me? I just wore a pair of old boots and got on with it. And get on with it we did. On our little plot of five plants we found a veritable treasure trove of medium to large sized sweet potatoes. I must admit that it was quite therapeutic, in a get your hands a bit dirty sort of way, mostly as you never get to get muddy in Tokyo. The little ‘un, on the other hand, wasn’t really interested in the whole potato thing at all, but he was into pouring mud over himself and everything around him, which was fun. It wasn’t so much fun for the little girl next to us, who was into finding potatoes. She didn’t find the mud thing a problem, but their 5 plants yielded only a few small spuds, nothing like the half-a-hundredweight that we yanked out, so we donated a whole load to her, which made mum happy but you could see the little girl was far more into the pulling, which she didn’t get to do. Oh well.

And that was about it. Back to the farmhouse for baked sweet potatoes and hand washing, which was fine, and a bit of a picnic. And then, for some reason, they gave us a bag of ordinary potatoes as a kind of souvenir. Not really sure about that, though they were tasty on Saturday evening.

But there you go, fun on the farm. Pity I don’t actually like sweet potatoes...

Teeth

Had the at-the-back-totally-wrong-angle-tooth out last night. Dentist told me it would take about 50 minutes. Over two hours later I finally left the surgery. Am in a reasonable amount of pain, mainly from, I think, the muscle strain of keeping my mouth open all that time and him pushing down so hard on my lower jaw for leverage. Had plenty of anaesthetic, which was good, but even that couldn’t hide the times when, getting a bit of tooth out, he twisted and twisted until the piece snapped off. Back next Monday to have the stitches out, but fair play to the bloke, he called here earlier this evening to check I was ok. But now he wants to be my friend and go out drinking.

Wednesday, 4 October 2006

Bit of an overreaction

OK, I know we’re all a bit unhappy that the Kool Kid has gone and been replaced by [think of nickname] Shinzo Abe, but I do feel that Krazy Kim is taking it just a little bit too far, don’t you? I mean OK, you’re upset, maybe the Kid didn’t pop over to Pyongyang to say goodbye, but that doesn’t really seem to be much of a reason to start letting off nuclear devices, now does it?

As I say, I think Krazy Kim is just smarting because no one told him that the Kid had gone, not even the Kid himself, probably, so he’s just a little pissed by this so decided to throw some of his toys out of his pram. Hope he doesn’t through them quite as far as Tokyo, or indeed anywhere else in Japan, as that could cause one or two tensions. Of course the fact the eyes of the world have been drawn away from North Korea to the Middle East (most bits of it) probably doesn’t help [aside, hey, here’s a really annoying thing – I’m using Japanese Word to type this, which is fine, but every time I highlight something, or use the spell checker, it works but then decides that I am indeed stupid to be using Japanese Word to type in English so decides to go back to a much more useful script like Japanese. If anyone knows how to stop it doing that in xp, I’d be most grateful].

Otherwise it has been quite quiet in Japan, considering we have a new PM. Although he has said that he’s not going to do anything about the ropey old constitution, especially with regard to the imperial succession (note – I had a bit of a dig about the whole female succession thing last post and suggested that Japan was a bit behind. Whilst this is still true I then found out that Spain has a similar policy, so just goes to show that people are dumb all over the world) which caused a bit of a stir. He also said, though I haven’t seen it in the papers, that the plan to make English a compulsory primary school lesson was going to be axed as Japanese kids need to learn Japanese. I can see some sense in the second bit of that, but don’t understand what it has to do with the first bit – I mean, if that were true, best get rid of all subjects except for Japanese history, language, literature and patriotic citizenship lessons for kindergarten kids and upwards. Dimwits, the lot of ‘em.

Talking of dimwits, Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara was in the news this week (Ishihara is great if you like racist, misogynist and other ~ist politicians, but he is also great if you want stuff to write about in a blog). In past Ishihara has come up with such gems as ‘watch out, if the big one hits Tokyo the rioting and looting will only be done by foreigners, so kick them out [nb he used the term ‘sangokujin’, rather than ‘gaikokujin’, which is to ‘foreigner’ what n**ger is to those of African-American descent i.e. rather insulting]; on the rape of Nanking by Japanese soldiers “They say we made a holocaust there, but that is not true. It is a lie made up by the Chinese”; and I have a strong suspicion he was the infamous one who said that birthrate would go up if the footy world cup came to Japan because the foreign fans would rape all the Japanese women they found (but I might be wrong in attributing that one to him, though someone did say it).

Anyway a year or two ago he passed a resolution that stated that all teachers at public (i.e. state run) schools, from primary through to high school, must stand and face the hinomaru, otherwise known as the flag of Japan, and sing Kimigayo, the national anthem, during school ceremonies. If the teachers failed to do this they could be reprimanded and sacked. This was, it appears, to make them better citizens, more patriotic and something else as well. So this was passed and not surprisingly a bunch of teachers didn’t do what they were told and were then reprimanded and/or sacked. But in an unusually un-Japanese move the teachers complained about it and took the Tokyo Government to court. Even more unusually, they won. Last week the Tokyo District court of somethingorother found that the rule passed by Ishihara was unconstitutional and that people cannot be forced to sing the national anthem if they don’t want to. Naturally this first of all really surprised Ishihara as I suspect he had paid awful lot of mon...[snip: we would prefer not to publish libelous comments on this blog – rude, yes; libelous, no] and secondly he was really pissed off about it, naturally, so has decided to appeal the ruling (at least I think he has, he was certainly mulling it). But for heaven’s sakes you shouldn’t be forcing people to do this – you can create a just and civilized society so that its citizens might be proud and want to sing the national anthem, but as soon as you start telling people they have to, well, best call Krazy Kim for some advice.

Oh, and found this link over at Ippoippo – if you haven’t seen it it is the interview Bill Clinton did on Fox News where he gets a little angry. So nice to a) hear an intelligent American (ex)president speak and b) for said intelligent American to have a right go at Fox. Enjoy.

Wednesday, 27 September 2006

Back in the saddle

OK, we are, as the title says, back in the saddle. The old NEC laptop has been replaced by a new NEC laptop, which some might say is only courting disaster (and a certain part of me thinks the same way) but it is new and seems to work so far, since last Sunday, and came with the added bonus that the internet was up and running with a few clicks of the mouse (we were both expecting lengthy phone calls to Guatemala in order to get it going, but no, just a simple “do you have an existing provider?” and from there it was simple).

So, quite a lot has happened since I was last able to post. Various people have had birthdays, for a start, including me and golf-playing-brother, so well done there. The Kool Kid has finally departed from Prime Ministry and has been replaced by the rather dull and dreary Shinzo Abe, who looks very much like the 50 odd PMs who came before The Kid (i.e. grey, boring, accountant-like). But, interestingly (if you like these sorts of things) he is the first Japanese PM to be born after the end of WWII, which makes him one of the baby boomers that are causing all the problems for the pension systems (hope he’s paid his premiums…). Anyway he says he wants to continue with The Kids’ reforms and, even, speed them up, which would be good to see. I hope he does something interesting soon as I have got to think of a nickname for him (i.e. Koizumi = The Kool Kid; Mori = The Fuckwit and; Hashimoto = The Bryan Ferry of Japanese Politics (which I agree isn’t a snappy nickname, but hey, there you go)) and it hasn’t been easy so far, and calling him The Accountant is just too lazy (and could apply to most of the working ale population). Nevertheless he’s here to stay, apparently, though no news of when we’re meant to be having an election – not for a while as, thinking about it, The Kid had one this year over the postal dispute thing that I wrote about somewhere.

Another thing you might have seen is that one of the Japanese royal family dropped a sprog within the last month. This was big news as it had lots to do with the succession. Now personally I am something of a republican – no, I’m everything of a republican unless royal families go the way of the Dutch, or maybe Belgians, where the royals all cycle around and are generally normal people. When they start to get ideas above their station, like having people bow at them and all that nonsense, let alone taking my hard earned yen, or pounds, and then just being given it for no good reason (give it back to me, I say), then my goat begins to be got. But when you throw in a good dose of misogyny, as the Japanese do, they can all go the way of the Dodo for all I care. But I’m writing about then so there must be something there. Anyway the problem was no male heirs were being born and under Japanese law, or the constitution, or more likely some old tosspot in the Imperial Household Agency, women are not allowed to ascend to the imperial throne as they might sully it, much in the same way as women are not allowed to enter the sumo dojo. This was a vexing question as although the crown prince was a man, his progeny was the princess Aiko, definitely a girl, so when it came down to it, how was she going to be able to rule the heavens and earth, or whatever it is the emperor rules? The Kid was going to have a committee look at it but then the crown princes’ brother’s wife got pregnant and everyone held their breath for 10 months (it is one month longer in Japan – they’re special, you know). But luckily for everyone concerned the brother, who has a 70s porn star moustache, and his lovely wife, had a boy! Thank goodness for that, everyone said, as now we don’t have to address any difficult questions of equality, gender bias or any other nineteenth century concepts we don’t like and have managed to avoid for the last 100 years (goodness it has been a while since I let the bile rise). So now, I think, the succession goes the crown prince, then the brother, then the brother’s son. If I was princess Aiko I’d sue.

Naturally there have been a few scandals over the past few weeks. One of the better ones was the Gifu Prefecture government who made their very own slush fund, as you do, from the very tax revenue that should probably have been paid to the royal family. Anyway after a while they realized that even by bloated Japanese standards they had skimmed off quite a large amount of cash, so much so that they couldn’t spend it all, even if they went to the swankiest of restaurants and the most expensive of foreign ‘fact-finding’ holidays work tours. But then, to really piss off the people of Gifu, when the fraud office started sniffing around the slush fund some of the members took bundles of cash and threw them in the incinerator! What bastards! I mean ‘appropriating’ other people’s money is one thing, but burning it when you get found out…

Otherwise there has been the usually spate of parents killing their kids then committing suicide; parents killing their kids then bottling out of suicide; kids killing their parents and not even thinking about suicide; and more unusually a crack down on drink driving. This was because of a couple of particularly nasty crashes, including one where a drunk driver lamed into a family’s SUV so hard it pushed the SUV off a bridge, whereupon three children drowned as their parents struggled in vain to release them from the car. The drunk driver was apprehended even though he tried to drive off. In fact traffic accidents have been in the news very much recently, none more so than our very own Kawaguchi, where a not-drunk driver, whilst adjusting his car stereo, managed to run into a group of 30 kindergarten kids and their teachers who were walking to a park, killing two little girls and putting 16 others into hospital. Tragic stuff. Anyway it seems to be being taken a little bit more seriously now, which can only be good.

As for this bit of the clan, things are ok except both the young ‘un and the Guru both have colds at the moment and are generally under the weather (and as the weather is bad, it makes it doubly worse). The young ‘un’s vocabulary is increasing all the time, his latest favourite word is atsui, or atchee as he pronounces it, which is the Japanese word for hot – this sounds good and most of the time it is as he points to quite hot things, like the hot tap in the bath, and says this repeatedly. However for really hot things, like the grill on the cooker, he will say ‘atchee’ once and then go and try and touch the hot thing, rather defeating the purpose of the self administered warning. Oh well, kids eh?

Thursday, 14 September 2006

Kaput!

Was the last thing the NEC laptop said last week, and then...silence. This is going to make posting pretty tricky for a while, at least until we can rustle up enough of the folding stuff to persuade Dell or some other such cheapo desktop manufacturer to part with their wares.

So, watch this space...

Thursday, 31 August 2006

We’re going the zoo, zoo, zoo...

So, been away for a while, but am back now. First things first, should get the ‘gazette’ stuff over and done with first, so congratulations and felicitations to my father, who celebrated his sixty-something birthday by visiting the village of Goosnargh in Scotland, a town with great family connections (and, indeed, connections with anyone who has read The Meaning of Liff), so well done you. Also, not six days later, the Guru celebrated her something-something birthday, we celebrated that by eating curry in Nishi Kawaguchi, well known for its large, non-Japanese population, most of whom work in the ‘pink’ trade, as it is sometimes affectionately known. In fact walking back through the town after eating the aforementioned curry we wandered across a sort of cross roads that seemed to have about half a dozen slightly disreputable persons standing in the corners, almost as if they were about the re-enact the climatic scene from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, where Clint, Tuco and Angel Eyes face off in the cemetery. Actually, with a toddler in a pushchair it could have been the Odessa Steps scene from Battleship Potemkin, but I could be heading towards pseud’s corner quite quickly, so had better stop. Anyway happy birthday to parental and guru.

Last week was off and, for the most part, was devoted to studying. This was a good thing as I am now nearing the end of this damned course. About 11,500 words have been written and rewritten, so only about 8,500 to go, but I’m quite happy with most of those 11,500 done so far, though I must admit to being a bit worried about the rest. But what the hell, it will all be over by Christmas! (now where have we heard that before…?) although really it will all be over by the end of November, which is even better. However what we also did was spend a long weekend with the in-laws who live down Chiba way, as I may have mentioned. Their place is very much more ‘in the countryside’ than us here in Kawaguchi, so the air was clear and the heat and humidity milder, which was pleasant indeed. They also live quite close to Chiba Zoo, so we went there for the day.

Now I must admit that I am not a great fan of zoos at the best of times and I’m afraid that Chiba Zoo isn’t very close to ‘the best of times’ at all. Quite far from it really. But they do have what they called a ‘Kids Zoo’, which I suppose is what you would more likely know as a petting zoo, or somewhere where the kids can get closer to some animals, touch and stroke them if they wish and watch them doing lots of poos. So that was where we headed so the little ‘un could commune with nature a little more than he has. But of course he wasn’t reallt that interested. This might have had something to do with the fact that the animals weren’t really interested in him, who knows. But we went into the sheep and goats enclosure at feeding time and he looked about warily as I held onto him, I thought about letting him go, but figured that he would grab and twist handfuls of fur/ear/leg/anything, so discretion meant I kept a reasonably firm hold on the young chap. And so the animals sort of swarmed around our legs and he watched them go by, and they ate leaves and then he tried to wander off. I think he enjoyed it as he point at a few things and make noises, but then again he does that for most things. In the kids zoo bit we also got to look at pigs, horses, ducks and cows, so all very domesticated, but also parrots, prairie dogs and penguins, which makes me think the zoo couldn’t quite decide what to do with animals that start with the letter ‘p’, so put them in there. The most fun thing in the kids zoo, for some reason, was the big washing sink and taps, which the little ‘un thought was the best thing he had seen in ages and so kept wanting to go back and wash his hands, something he never does at home – odd that.

The rest of the animals in the zoo seemed pretty sad and listless, sitting around and not doing too much. We saw an old elephant, camels, giraffes (who did seem quite animated), kangaroos, a water buffalo, monkeys and baboons and a stately emu. But the best thing was actually when we got home. We had taken some wooden toy animals with us and when we saw an animal for which we also had a toy, we made great play of showing them together, making the noises and generally trying to get the youngster to realise that the toys were representations etc. So, when we got home he got the bag of animals and started to show them to his grandparentals, but only picking out the ones we had seen earlier that day. This impressed us no end and, whilst it may appear a little dull, was fascinating to watch him and the development of his cognitive reasoning, or something.

Other news is that we are now mobile with the youngster. Being a big urban megalopolis (remembering my GCSE geography – the others being Boswash, Chipitts and Sansan, if you’re interested (well, they were in 1989, could all have changed now)) there isn’t too much piint having a car, but you’ve got to have a bicycle. In Japan these are often known as mamachari’s, or mama chariot’s, as they are used for carting kids about to and from shops, clinics and the like. Anyway we purchased a brand new Bridgestone contraption with a built baby/toddler seat over the front handlebars (specially designed by NASA scientists to be in the optimum load bearing/centre of gravity position, or something), and a mighty fine ride it is. When you try and manhandle the thing it feels like it weighs a quarter of a ton, but once you get one, that passenger is on too, it is surprisingly easy to manoeuvre, and with three gears one can fairly race along as well. So taken with it was I that I took the little ‘un out for a spin and we ended up at the water park about 40 minutes away – on our first trip! He seemed to enjoy it, which is the important thing, and not object too strongly to wearing a baby skid-lid (which, it comes as no surprise, are mystifyingly scarce in Japan, even though mothers everywhere take their kids, everywhere, by bike. I don’t wear a helmet, but I’m buggered if I’m going to let my son on a bike without one. But then again, this is a country where kids routinely stand on their father’s laps, or on the passenger side seat, when being driven in cars, so there you go, I suppose).

And now I’m back to work – and what a joy that is...

Wednesday, 16 August 2006

Just because you'll all dying to know

I finally reached the end of my aural odyssey this morning; track #1799, Ziggy Stardust, was played around Kudanshita station on the Tozai line at about 855am. It has been a long, hard journey but certainly a worthwhile one.

I might even provide some analysis next time I post...

Monday, 14 August 2006

Top-right-back

So no post for a while, but I reckon you spotted that already.

The reason behind this is two fold, or possibly three- or four-fold, it depends on how many I can think of whilst typing between here and when I get there, or something. Anyway the main reason was work (and, totally unrelated, here’s a point about ms word – when you misspell a word, for example leave a letter out, it tells you, but why, when you add a number into a word by accident, such as behi9nd, it doesn’t? (and that happens a lot when I type the letter ‘i’ as this keyboard is a little small)). Anyway work was shitty because everyone went on holiday. This is usually a sign to kick back and surf the net, but not for me as it left me ‘in charge’. I don’t mean in a nominal sense, I unfortunately mean in a ‘questions from the CE and MD’ kind of in charge. What made it worse was not only did my boss disappear on July 31st, but so did the recruitment manager (my old job, for those paying attention to such things), so not only did I have my job to do, but I had not one but two others as well. Even better was this was in the eight or so working days up to the Obon holiday, not traditionally a time for the faeces to hit the fan (much, if at all. Any way I can make that more ironic?). And now, just to add insult to injury, their returns may well be delayed due to all the nonsense going on the UK with the airports and the terror and whatnot, so my ‘one day back in the office to handover’ on the 16th, before my holiday starts, may well also be delayed (like f*ck will it, even though I have nothing more planned than a trip to the outlaws, if the MD tries to stop me by as much as a day then an invoice for an extremely expensive flight to the UK for the 17th for the whole family will mysteriously appear (I didn’t work closely with all those airlines for nothing)).

The second thing was that on the final day of term, before the Obon holiday started, I had to go and get drunk, as is traditional at these times. So chalk off the middle of last week as it now takes me a day and a half to recover from these things.

Then, on Friday, I had an appointment with death.

But that was after I had my annual health check up. This went quite smoothly though again, as I wrote about last year (or maybe the year before that) I think the scales they use are slightly dodgy. Or they’re just plain wrong. But this year I fear they are even wronger as they seemed to indicate that my lithe and svelte look was nothing of the sort and 3 kilos (or 6 pounds in old money) had appeared upon my person from somewhere. I know what you’re thinking but no, it was either the wrong scales or the nurse had her foot on the back of the scales as well as yours truly. However being a realist I realised that diet or amputation is the only real way forward from here, I will let you know which it is in due course.

That was Friday morning and then, in the afternoon, I had the aforementioned appointment with death. Now you may think I am over-dramatising here, but I can think of them in no other way. I mean, they take pleasure in the pain and torment of others (just like death). They smile far too much (just like death). The first two letters of their profession are d-e- (just like death). And they are evil (ok, not like death, but I’ve got to try and keep the analogy going). So, if you haven’t already guessed from my obtuse prose, I had to go to the dentist.

I have not had a particularly relationship with dentists. The first one, when we lived in Somerset, was fine as I was too young to know any different and he didn’t inflict years of unwavering pain upon me. Unlike the right bastard who ‘looked after’ me when we lived in Hampshire. His name was Dr Yoong (de Sade), a gentleman of (possibly) Singaporean descent who tortured me for about three or four years whilst at secondary school by fitting me with a brace – the split level ‘train tracks’ variety, which meant monthly visits to his chamber (the inaptly named ‘Health House’) whereby he would tighten the ****ing thing with pliers, electric screwdrivers, crowbars and anything else he could lay his hands on. But that, actually, wasn’t the worst of it. Because my jaw and/or mouth is too small (ironic, for those who’ve met me) I had to have four teeth taken out. Four healthy, living, well attached to my jaw teeth. It was the anaesthetic that really got me. On the chair, oriental gentleman say ‘relax, this may hurt a little’ (as if you can relax when someone tells you, a 13 yr old, it is going to hurt!) and then watching a needle about 8 feet long and 2 feet wide (the joys of perspective) being lowered slowly and then the excruciating agony of this needle being poked directly into my gums and the roof of my mouth. Of course his knee on my chest as he tried to prise the healthy teeth from the living bone of my jaw didn’t help much either. I’m wincing as I write this now – time does not heal all wounds, not by a long ****ing chalk.

Once I had the thing off my teeth that was it for me and dentists. I was lucky in that my teeth never actually hurt so I had no reason to go back. Well, except when a bit fell off one of my teeth whilst we were living in Brixton a few years back. At that moment I thought it prudent to go and see another one, all of about 15 years since I had last set foot in a surgery. This time it wasn’t a Singaporean gentleman but one from central Europe, Czechoslovakia perhaps. Anyway he looked at my back tooth, from whence the bit had fallen off, and said ‘hmm, yes, it vill haff to come out, but maybe today, maybe tomorrow, who knows? But it vill be tricky as it is right at za back, you know…’ Which of course I did know as I could feel it. But, happy that he was so non-committal, I figured that maybe later was good enough for me and never went back to him (or his surgery which, I swear, had a Dickensian air about it – dimly lit, musty smell, peeling wallpaper...ok, it had a Rising Damp air about it).

Into the present and I suspect you are wondering why I eventually gathered up the courage to go. Well, mainly it was because I discovered that dental was actually included on our insurance policy so I wouldn’t have to pay for it, and secondly the Guru had been going and the bloke didn’t sound like a complete, evil bastard (as dentists go). Indeed he seemed something of a gaijin-ophile and was always asking the Guru about her foreign husband. But of course I was wary, not only for the reasons stated above, but also because the Japanese, as a nation, seem to have bloody awful teeth (better, I suppose, than awfully bloody teeth). Mouths full of gold and/or other substances or, more commonly mouths half full of black teeth, or, not uncommonly, mouths full of nothing at all. Doesn’t fill you with confidence, that. Theories are put forward like lack of calcium in the diet from an early age (also blamed for higher levels of osteoporosis) or a lack of fluoride in the water system, but I personally blame dentists as I figure it is a plot by them to stay in business (like garage mechanics, they’re never going to completely fix everything, now are they, as then you might not need to come back).

So I knew I had to go, even though I still had no pain from my teeth, and so last Friday was deemed D-day. So we go in and the place is jolly swish, no Dickensian/Rising Damp here. Importantly everything looked new, shiny and professional. And, far more importantly, the nurses looked pretty – a far more important consideration if you are about to have pain inflicted upon you. First up was a quick sit in the chair, which had a pleasantly space-age feel about it, including a computer monitor attached showing scuba diving pictures (‘probably feed my remains to his fish’ was my thought). Then it was an x-ray. At the Health house this had taken weeks to do and probably involved pain, but this was just ‘stand here; chin here; bite this; don’t move; whirr; done’. Cool, then, as I sat back down in the space chair my x-ray came up on the screen! (Apologies if this isn’t hi-tech at all and is now common across dentists world wide – it has been 20 years, after all).

And yes, he confirmed that top-right-back was indeed rotten and would need to be pulled out, the sooner the better (I could have told him that... I did tell him that on the beloved Japanese pre-action questionnaire!). But top-left-back, which I thought in a similar condition, actually wasn’t too bad. But the worst bit was back-right-bottom; I’ve always though this one was a bit odd, but the x-ray showed that whilst healthy, it is at completely the wrong angle. Teeth should all be in a nice neat line with the roots pointing down and crown pointing up. This tooth, whilst in a neat line, has its root pointing out the back of my head and the crown at ninety degrees growing into the next tooth. Bugger.

So the doc said that top-right-back needed to come out right away and would be a cinch, 5 minutes at most (what was in Czech dentist said again?), but bottom-right-back needed to come out as well but this would be hard because of the angle and the fact that it is still healthy – he even sucked in his breath through his teeth when he said it...

And then we did the rotten top-right-back. Now if you remember it was the anaesthetic that caused me most issue when I was a kid and I was expecting more of the same. Indeed the new style syringe looked a bit like a hot glue gun you used to get, so I wasn’t holding out much hope, but when he did the business I didn’t feel a thing. I didn’t, for want of a better expression, feel even a slight prick. Wow. And the old style used to make the whole side of my face go numb, but this one was pretty localised around the tooth in question – in fact I began to worry that the anaesthesia had worn off as I could feel the outside of my cheek, but when I gave the gum a surreptitious poke with my finger, no feeling was to be had. Wow again.

Then, in order for the numbness to take full effect, I was put into the hands of a nurse with very pretty eyes who had the undoubted pleasure of cleaning 20 years of tartar of the backs of my teeth, lucky her. So caked on was it that she only had time to do the bottom row before the Doc called me back. With trepidation I settled back into the space chair and let him do his thing. And true to his word, in less than 5 minutes and with barely a sustained tug, the offending peg was in his hand and I didn’t feel a thing. Wow for a third time. And that, rather anti-climactically, was it.

He was relived as he could tell I was sooo stressed about the whole thing, whilst I was full of admiration for his technique – or whoever invented to the new anaesthetic thing. I still have to go back for a bit or remedial work, and the tricky bottom-right-back, which could, literally, be a pain. But overall a little bit of faith has been restored in the dentisting profession, and by a Japanese dentist to boot.

A little was then lost when I found out I was banned from alcohol for the evening to prevent infection, or something. Nice of him to tell me that after the procedure.

Wednesday, 26 July 2006

Caterpillars

Been thinking a lot about The Very Hungary Caterpillar recently, mainly as I seem to have to read it at least 4 times an evening to the young chap (and no, I’m not talking about George Dubya here) as it is one of his favourite reads. So ok, the caterpillar is born and is hungry, good premise so far. His diet over the first week, if you have forgotten, is thus:

Monday – one apple
Tuesday – two pears
Wednesday – three plums
Thursday – four strawberries
Friday – five oranges

So far so good, but then, as we know, he goes for the blow out smorgasbord on Saturday:

One piece of chocolate cake, one ice cream cone, one pickle, one slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage, one cupcake, and one slice of watermelon.

And that night, as the story goes, he had a stomachache.

But what is this story trying to tell us, really?

Is the book trying to say that eating a lot of food isn’t a good idea? This seems to be the case as the caterpillar goes from eating five bits of fruit to eating a whole load of stuff. So the underlying message to the young mind might be ‘only eat as much as you need and don’t stuff your face else you’ll end up a fat wheezy kid no one picks for their team’.

But wait; if we look at it from a nutritionist’s point of view might the problem be with the choice of food? I mean the caterpillar, for the first 5 days of his life is following a strictly fruitarian diet – on raw fruit dropped from the bough. But then on Saturday he suddenly gets into complex sugars and starches, diary products, processed and cured meats and strong acidic vinegars. Wow, that would be a shock to anyone’s system, surely? So perhaps what the book is really trying to say is ‘keep as far away from man-made, processed foods and unnecessary fats and sugars as they are not good for you and will mean you have to detox your body else you’ll end up a fat wheezy kid no one picks for their team’. (Ok, similar sort of message but from a very different perspective)

However it might not be as simple as either of those possibilities. What if the book, and its author Eric Carle, is actually trying to suggest to young minds that there is a radical and destructive dichotomy in the world between the haves and the have-nots? In the first 5 days of his life the caterpillar eats as if he is in a pastoral/agricultural economy, what might be construed as the third world, where food is raw and unprocessed and what is eaten is whatever can be grown. But on the Saturday the caterpillar, Gulliver-like, is transported to the ‘first’ world, where he gets to eat all he rubbish that is regularly consumed by overweight westerners who have lost touch with what it means to nurture and grow food and who are at a loss if faced by something raw and unpackaged. No wonder the caterpillar gets sick, we think, but not sick on the food but on the consumerist over consumption of junk whilst half the world starves. So the message might be ‘don’t eat and eat and eat all this rubbish food but realise there is a whole world of starvation out there and anything you can do to help them is a good thing’. (Perhaps the one nice green leaf the caterpillar eats the next day to make himself feel better could be a metaphor for overseas aid and the good work of bodies like Oxfam and the UNHCR).

But of course the nutritionist would be asking “where are the vegetables in this caterpillar’s diet?” And, perhaps more to the point, what does he drink?

I never realised that picture books for young children could be radicalised in quite such a way. But do the kids get it, that’s the important question? I mean, I have been reading the book for a few months now but it has taken me quite a long time to realise that there are far deeper layers than at first you might assume (a bit like Rousseau comparing society to the layers of an onion, in whichever book it was that he wrote that (but I wouldn’t want you to think that I am comparing TVHC to Rousseau, I think the caterpillar is way beyond anything that tiresome French windbag could come up with, though they are both obviously very into their pastoral)). Naturally now I am trying to read all Marcus’ books first, but now with an open mind to see if hidden ideas can be discerned. My worry is, of course, that that in some innocent looking story about a train taking animals to the beach there will be a subliminal message exhorting the youngster to become an accountant, or something equally devastating.

Of course I might be reading too much into it, but don’t get me started on Curious George...

And congratulations...

...to my cousin Matthew who was married to Be├íta on a boat in Budapest on Saturday. We couldn’t be there, I am very sad to say, but as soon as someone sends me some photos of the actual wedding I will glad put them up in their honour.

Tuesday, 18 July 2006

Reverse angle

Ok, I know this is a bit late as the association football world kickabout finished over a week ago, but the computer decided to do something funny on Monday evening (not yesterday but the week before) which is only just righting itself. No idea what happened, but seemed to coincide with the date that those wonderful people at microsoft decided to stop supporting windows 98 – now I know we should get a new computer, one a bit more up to date and that has a larger memory than my ipod, but to hell with it, the good ole’ NEC has only caused me hours of frustration so far, and what makes you think a new one would be any better? Anyway I asked the Japanbloggers webring if anyone had any ideas and they were all very helpful (thank you all), suggesting solutions that had lots of acronyms in them. It tried to do what was suggested, but got bogged down and in the end the laptop seems to have righted itself, after a fashion, anyway. IE is still pretty tetchy, which was where the problem was, it wouldn’t load any pages, and suffice it to say that when we do eventually get a new computer I will certainly be downloading netscape, which I use at work and prefer – if I tried that with the NEC it would explode, or rather implode, I feel sure.

Anyway, a few things to mention this week. As it says above, the reverse angle. Now I watched quite a lot of the world kickabout and cannot quite fathom the reverse angle. I mean take Zindane’s header towards the end of extra time in the final. First of all we get the normal, as-it-happens shot in real time. Fine, great header, great save. Then, as there are about a zillion cameras in the stadium, we start to get the replays, from about a zillion different angles. But then, for some reason, the producer decides that one particular angle is the ‘reverse angle’ and the legend duly pops up on screen. Now from watching all these games I still cannot understand what constitutes the ‘reverse’ angle. Sometimes it is 90 degrees from the original live footage, other times it was 180 degrees, so where was the consistency and, more importantly how did the producer know? Is it important for the match, be judged by the TMO or something? Also, what was the point? As I said each incident was filmed from a zillion different angles so why should one be singled out as the ‘reverse angle’ – ok, it’s one of a zillion angles that isn’t particularly better than any other, so what? I just didn’t get it, and still don’t. I watched the tri-nations Australia versus South Africa game on Saturday night to see of they indulged in the ‘reverse angle’ conspiracy, but I don’t think they bothered – though the data from this piece of investigative rugby watching must be tempered by the fact that I was a bit pissed and actually fell asleep for the last 10 minutes (they were showing it late after all), so it might just be that I missed the sign coming up on the screen. Anyway I shall continue to investigate with any major sporting event that I happen to come across on the telly.

Cute

Cute, for those of you who don’t live here or have never visited, is big in Japan. I don’t mean big in the sense that little kids like cute stuff (though they do, like kids everywhere), or that the people of these fair isles are particularly cute in a good looking way (though again some, most of them undoubtedly are). No, cute is big in Japan in the sense that not only do little kids like cute, furry, cuddly things, the entire population does. Unlike say the UK, where girls grow out of the cute phase by about the age of, I don’t know, ten (I haven’t lived there for a while), in Japan this carries on well into adulthood. There are lots of books written about this and from the outside I am sure it is a psychoanalyst’s wet dream. Perhaps it is the glorification of the young that does it, or maybe it’s just great branding and marketing, who knows? But it seems to permeate every level of society – where else do apparently sophisticated 20-something urbanites of both sexes have Hello! Kitty straps on their mobile phones?

Anyway this was brought home to me the other day whilst I was with the youngster down on the riverbank. There has been quite a bit of construction going on recently, widening and paving the footpaths, that sort of thing. Now as in most countries warning signs are put up to, well, warn people that construction work is going on. here is one I spotted...

silly signs #1

and just to zoom in to close up on the bottom of that signboard...

silly signs #2

Quite what a couple of cute pussies have in common with repaving footpaths, I don’t know. Also in this series was the ubiquitous floppy-eared dog and, strangely, an image of some penguins (?). seems to me that if you want small kids to be attracted to something, the best bet is to put cute pictures on it, but surely the point of warning signs is to keep people, especially little kids, away from potentially dangerous situations. A contradistinction, methinks...

Krazy Kim

Is at it again. As I am sure you know Krazy Kim fired off some rockets from his People Mart a couple of weeks ago. He did this around 5am on the day of the Italy v Germany kickabout semi-final, which caused panic in the massed ranks of mass media in Japan. now as I have written before, somewhere, Japan has some pretty odd ideas when it comes to screening sports fixtures, and this was no exception. So, Italy Germany went to full time all square. During the second half Krazy Kim looses his rockets. As extra time starts NHK channel 1, showing the footy but nominally a news and current affairs channel, says “thanks for watching the footy so far, but as this news is so massively important we are going to switch the rest of the footy to NHK channel 3. We are sorry that this will completely ruin anyone’s day who is recording the footy on this channel, but, well, fuck you, we don’t care.” Or words to that effect. But it was ok as the two periods of extra time weren’t that interesting, where they? Oh! Ah...

Anyway whilst Krazy Kim has been firing his arsenal at Japan, Russia and anyone else who he deems fit, the Kool Kid has been away on the government sponsored world junket. Now this would, it would appear, be all right and proper, but actually with parliament now closed until September, when the Kid is going to stand down, what this tour really amounts to is a glorious goof off. I mean, he’s been pretended to be Elvis in Graceland, pretended to be Indiana Jones outside Petra and, most recently, pretended to be Japanese prime minister in Saint Petersburg. Nice work!

Thursday, 13 July 2006

....++++Hello Houston++++....

....++++We seem to be experiencing technical difficulties++++....

....++++er.....think it might be because Microsoft have stopped support for windows 98++++....

....++++probably ought to buy a new computer sometime this century++++....

Monday, 3 July 2006

Well thank goodness that’s over and done with.

So, once again England fail to show the necessary class against handy but, let’s face it, not exactly superior opposition. Was it the mind games that didn’t work? Are the team just mentally not strong enough? Who knows... Can we take any positives from it all? Well, some of the news members of the squad did well, and some of the senior pros played well in places, but once again it was the old England failing of not all playing well for the whole game, or series of games, really. To be without you captain obviously doesn’t help, but then again there should have been enough quality on display to overcome that and put the game away. But again we failed when the pressure got too much. Have we learnt anything from it all? Well, play your strongest team in the positions they play day-in, day-out would be a start. Have a plan B would be another. But, at the end of the day, I don’t think we’re going to have too many international teams quaking in their boots right now, especially the Australians, who we visit this winter, or indeed the Pakistanis, who are next up. So, on the whole a bit of a debacle for the tour, but well done Sri Lanka and their 5-0 drubbing of the England cricket team.

Oh, and apparently something similar happened in the football, but that wasn’t exactly unexpected, now was it?

And it comes to a pretty pass when I have to rely on a Scottish tennis player for a bit of sporting relief (though as I type Mr Murray may well have been knocked out of Wimbledon already).

Life in Japan carries on apace, as it is wont to do. Nice to see the Kool Kid over in the US of A, making a bit of a fool of himself by pretending to be Elvis. Now personally I have nothing against trying to be Elvis, indeed I have be known to do the odd song by the ‘king’ during a karaoke evening, mainly as these are the types of songs that just about anyone (i.e. me) can sing without sounding totally off-key/rhythm/timing/tone/pitch/etc as I normally do when attempting to sing. But to do it on national news tv and, at the same time, making GWBush look less of a prat than normal, well, it doesn’t really project the image of a senior politico figurehead. But then again, why not, I suppose? The Kid is off later this year, retiring with grace to do who knows what, so why not enjoy his last few months in the job, organise a few foreign trips at the taxpayer’s expense, he won’t get them any more, after all. I feel sure that the Kid went to the land of the free to discuss something along political lines, but I’m buggered if I can remember seeing anything in the papers about new accords being signed. I remember seeing GW saying “buy our beef, it’s great”, but if his level of senility is anything to go by, I would not be buying any slightly dangerous foodstuff that he recommends.

The real issue is that the whole country is waiting for him to go so they can get on with the life. It is a bit like the whole Blair-Brown sage going on the UK, though at least we know when the Kid is off (well, when I say ‘we know’ I mean we know in a general sense of ‘later this year’, but truth be told I can’t recollect right now when this might be). Anyway as I wrote about once before a number of bigwigs are doing their bouffant best to position themselves in their ‘what me, take over from the Kid? The thought never crossed my mind…but now that you mention it’ pose. Still no one wants to come out and say that yes, they want to do it, but I suppose that isn’t the way its done in this neck of the woods – a bit more back room back scratching to do just now, then, just as someone shouts ‘look over there’, we’ll find we have a new PM whilst no one was looking.

But talking of PMs, as we were, it was sad to see Ryutaro Hashimoto pop his clogs at the weekend. Hashimoto was the PM when I first came to Japan in 1996 so I’ve always had a certain affinity for him. If the Kid is the Elvis of the Japanese politic world, the Hashimoto was the Bryan Ferry. If you’re wondering quite what I mean by that, it wasn’t that he was a brilliantly avant-garde muso or a stylish and contemporary dresser in white dinner jackets. No, he just had really greasy looking hair. But still, it meant that he stood out from most politicos as most only have quite greasy hair, and not a great deal of it, but old Hashimoto had a startling head of hair slicked back with a day’s worth of OPEC production. He did two years as PM, which wasn’t bad in the post war years, but again a reason to like him was that he was the chap accused of taking bungs from the political division of the Japan Dentist’s Association, which again I wrote about here I mean, if you’re going to take bribes, sorry donation, from a service industry, dentists are as good as any, and they’re rich, and you might get some decent dental care out of it.

And what with ‘Fiery’ F.S. Trueman shuffling off this mortal coil, it was a bit of a weekend, all told.

Wednesday, 21 June 2006

Of technology and trims

OK haven’t posted for a while, as I am sure you have noticed, but this can be blamed fairly and squarely on the Association Football World Cup, currently being played in Germany. It’s their fault as the early afternoon kick off in Europe is a TV friendly 10pm here in Japan, i.e. exactly when I would normally be musing on things to write in this here blog. So today I have taken the bold but necessary step of trying to write something during my lunch hour – and 86 words so far is a good start.

Now I don’t normally post about work as I don’t want to think about work whilst I am at home as it is bad enough having to go to work, let alone think about it at home. But sitting here in the office I still don’t want to think about work, so whilst some of you might want a post about work, you’re not going to get one from this wage slave today.

But what I’m sure you do want to read about is more brushes with technology that I have unfortunately had to make (and no, I am not going to talk about my iPod even though it is my blog and I can write what I want.. but I will say that I am sitting here listening to Beethoven on my iTunes as I type, how civilised). So, around the time the world cup started the grand old Yomiuri printed a schedule with all the games, what time they were on and which channels would be showing them. As I read I became a tad disheartened – Japan has 7 domestic TV channels that everyone can watch in the Kanto area, plus 2 satellite channels run by NHK, the Japan equivalent of the Beeb (and who no one pays the subscription for after some scandal a year or two ago that I cannot now remember – and of course no foreigner ever pays for because as soon as the collection person comes around you put on your best ‘dumb gaijin’ persona (not that difficult), refuse to answer even the simplest question if it’s in Japanese and then try to mime, at great length, that as a foreigner you only watch videos as you can’t understand the local lingo – apparently, so I’ve heard m’lud). Anyway the world cup was to be spread over most channels but predominantly on NHK’s domestic and satellite channels, with certain, high value games only on satellite.

So this is OK as we have satellite so no problem there. But the video is. It is about 400 years old and was given to us when we arrived. It has provided sterling service, no doubt, but its limitations were cruelly exposed by the world cup schedule as it cannot record the satellite channels (and no, before anyone starts on about it, especially those who have never been to Japan and know nothing about the broadcasting and/or home electronics systems (you know who you are), it can’t). this then means that we are going to have to spend some cash on getting something new that can record these programs and so, on a rainy Sunday after the Paraguay game, the Guru, youngster and I troop off to our local Yamada denki to purchase new consumer electronics.

Of course it is not that simple. One, no one buys a simple video deck anymore, not even sure if they make them. Second, there are an awful lot of acronyms out there. And third, in 2011 Japan will go wholly digital so unless you want to spend money now and again in 5 years time, you had better buy something that is savvy with all types of inputs. The choice was, of course, bewildering and the Guru and I (the youngster sensibly fell asleep), did not have much of a clue what we wanted. Well, I say that but we figured we needed something that could record DVDs, something, if it wasn’t too expensive, that had a recordable hard drive and something that, most importantly, could record the analogue satellite broadcasts from NHK that show the footy.

So we looked at all these sleek, expensive boxes in Yamada denki, prodded them, poked them, wondered what the difference between a DVDR, DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD+/-R and DVD-RAM was and generally became confused. Then we saw the most popular, biggest selling model. ‘Absolutely great’ the sales chap assured us. ‘Does everything including make your dinner’ he intoned. ‘All ready for the digital age, in fact the only one that is’ he claimed. ‘Even have big baseball star Hideki Matsui advertising it on the telly’ he added. “Does it record DVDs, have a hard disk and can record the existing NHK satellite channels?” we asked with serious faces. ‘Oh yes, all of the above, sir, just you wait ‘til you get it home’.

So we bought it and a bunch of DVD-RAMs (that I subsequently looked up on wikipedia so now know at least what they are) that set us back the best part of three hundred quid. Got it home and low and behold it could do all of the above – with the one exception of actually being able to record the NHK satellite channels that we expressly bought it for. Bugger. It can record the NHK Hi-vision channels, the new digital ones that will take over fully in 2011 and on which many games are being shown, but that’s not much good if you aren’t hooked up to those channels, which we aren’t, or the building you are in doesn’t want to get the cables put in, which they don’t.

So now we have a jolly complex DVD/HDD recorder thing, which is very cool and does have great features, like being able to start watching the program you are recording whilst you are still recording it, but it still doesn’t do what I really wanted it to do, so this morning I had to get up at 4am to watch England vs. Sweden, as I couldn’t record it, and what a pain that turned out to be and now I am flagging as lack of sleep kicks in. oh well.

Otherwise the other big news this week was a haircut. Not mine, though I did have one last night, but the youngster’s. Yes, at the tender age of 1 year and nearly 2 months he has had his first trim. We, the Guru and I, have been going on about this for a while and...

[finishing this off back home now]

...well, basically neither of us could pluck up the courage to go anywhere near the little fella with a pair of scissors. So off we trotted to a local hairdressers, which is a bit of a grand sounding word for a cheapie in-and-out-in-10-minutes kind of place, where to our surprise one of the chaps there said he’d have a crack at a one year-old’s hair. On we plonked the little ‘un on to the booster seat and then, much to our surprise again, he stayed absolutely stock still, probably paralysed in fear and wonderment, as the chap did his stuff. He snipped, judged, snipped again with a flourish , as artistes do and after about 3 of our allotted 10 minutes, the youngster was done.

And it worked as the hair cut has taken years off him, which at 14 months is a pretty impressive thing to do.

Tuesday, 6 June 2006

One step closer

Now if you remember back to here, I started an aural exploration of my ipod recently with a view to listening to each and every song on there, just to say that I had. So recently I was walking along when the U2 track “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, track #643, came along. Just to digress for a moment, there are 30 song titles in my ipod that start with the pronoun (that, for all you grammarians out there, is a noun that has lost its amateur status) ‘I’ – this is more than the 17 ‘alls’ that I remarked upon earlier, but in my opinion is not as remarkable as all the alls as I just seems like a more song-y kind of word to start wit. I will spare you the list of 30 songs as I can’t be bothered to note them all down. (NB. I will also not be counting the hundred or whatever songs that start with the definite article as that would just be silly).

Anyway the U2 song with the long title came on and it got me a-musing, as these things are wont to do. The muse went along the line of ‘hmm, I remember this...haven’t heard it for a while...[interlude of half humming half singing long forgotten words]...biggest seller on the planet once...read about it in Q magazine ages ago...hmmm,1987 it was released........1987! Holy Shit that’s 20 years ago...TWENTY YEARS AGO!! (I don’t often do double exclamation marks, but this moment was a definite double).

Normally this would have been an issue, but in that week my dear Ma had written to me with contact details of a bloke who I’d known at school and college, we’d played rugby together for about 8 years, but with whom I’d lost contact with around the start of university. Anyway my mum met his mum, she passed on his email address and we got in touch. It had been 15 years, or something very near that. He didn’t know I live in Japan even though I’ve been here for the best part of a decade. It blew me away.

So it all got me thinking about that fact that I’m getting older. It had to happen sometime, I know, especially after the youngster was born, but I didn’t think I would sneak up on me this way – I bet everyone says that. So ‘I Still...’ was off the Joshua Tree album that was released in 1987 which is about 20 years ago, and as my mind did strange things with mental arithmetic it said to me “wow, so, the Joshua tree was released 20years ago and, like, if you go back twenty years from that you’re in, like 1967, which is like another planet”. That’s when I began to lose it a little. It only seems (sort of) like yesterday that I got a copy of the Joshua tree and played it for the first time, but twenty years before that is like soooooo long ago – but if course it’s not, it just seems that way to me.

So anyway, as I was mulling all this over, my disappeared youth and the fact that policemen and doctors are looking younger everyday, fate in her fickle way decided to make me feel really bad.

In our office at the moment is a guy named Joe. He is from New York and is an intern. He came to Japan a few months ago and is studying at a university in Chiba but on a Wednesday he comes to our office to gain valuable experience in business and to use his rapidly expanding Japanese vocabulary (the fact they put him on the only set of desks containing foreigners who are all English speakers seems to have escaped his handlers, but there you go (and he’ll learn an awful lot about how companies operate from that piece of planning...)). So I was talking to Dave about this whole ‘getting older’ thing and we were both looking in wonder back at the nineties and eighties, wondering where they had gone, and so, knowing it would hurt, asked Joe how old he is. “Twenty” wss the reply. We both do some mental arithmetic, but get confused so ask his date of birth. “October 1985” he answered.

It then dawns on us both, Dave and I that is, that pleasant Joe from New York was not even born when the original Live Aid concerts were on in the summer of 1985... OMG. And to make it worse is that he looks at us, as our jaws (and jowls and waistlines) sag, with a kind of ‘yeah, I’ve heard about it but it was, like, so long ago man, ancient history, it had those kind of drug dudes from like the seventies in there, the hippy stuff, yeah, whatever...’ expression. He probably looks at the original Live Aid the way I look at Woodstock – yeah, I know it happened but like get over it, it was ages ago and no one cares about it anymore, live in the now, man – or something like that. (God knows what Joe thinks of Woodstock, probably reads about it in history class).

All the markers of my formative youth, things like the Falkland’s war, Bhopal and Chernobyl, the first shuttle launch and then the Challenger disaster, Gazza, the Mary Rose etc – this kid has no first hand knowledge of them whatsoever. Completely freaked me out, I can tell you – but what is it going to feel like when the youngster grows up...?

PS up to track #730 now, Kashmir by Plant & Page off their MTV (sort of) unplugged album No Quarter.

Monday, 29 May 2006

Good news

So the good news about this weekend, apart from the fact that I took today and tomorrow off, giving me a four day weekend, is that the youngster decided that he had had enough of this crawling or standing lark so so put them together in a semblance of what can only be described as 'walking' (though waddling then falling over would be slightly more accurate, so gross misuse of the word 'only' there).

His first attempt at this seems to have been on Friday evening - as I was getting ready to give him a bath he was standing by, and holding on to, the fridge. He then let go but instead of sitting down, as is normal, he took three tottering steps to the door, whence he held on once more. I was watching this in the bathroom mirror (the angles are such that one can see into the kitchen, this usually entails a game of peekaboo with the youngster) and thought it was impressive but something he had already done, but on telling the Guru she was surprised as she had not yet seen it (a rare occurence when dad sees something for the first time!). Obviously he realised that as a big boy (well, it was 1 day before his 13 month 'birthday'), he had better get this walking thing sorted, and so he has.

But for some strange reason he has regressed a little in that whilst over the weekend he has tried, and achieved, quite a bit of tottering, the new best game is to use his stroller/trolley thing to practise with, supported by the bar rather that 'free' walking. Anyway that will come, I am sure, but for now it is a big well done for the walking boy!

Wednesday, 24 May 2006

First Aid

So on Saturday we went off for adventures in Kinshicho. Now you may think there is little adventure to be had in Kinshicho, and in the main you would be right, but we found a little bit of it that was not only adventuresome but also educational and informative as well. Well slightly adventuresome, at least. OK, I’m padding now.

Ever since the little ‘un was born the Guru, in her dedicated mother sort of way, had been looking for a kind of first aid for little kids type class we could go to together as a family. Now I know what you are thinking, how can a one year-old kid do first aid? But no this was a class for the parents of kids who have a feeling that their kid is going to injure themselves in the not too distant future (i.e. every parent on the planet, I reckon).

But it might surprise you to know that these kinds of classes are pretty few and far between and hence we had to go all the way to Kinshicho to find one – not that Kinshicho is really that far away, but it isn’t just around the corner and took a good hour to get to via various train lines. We were meant to leave around 1130ish but sitting arounf at 930 we found we had little to do except tidy the house and as such the cry of ‘why don’t we go earlier?’ was raised and accepted with, it has to be said, a lucky degree of foresight.

The other reason for going was to visit a brand spanking new Baby Zarus. Now I am sure you can looking at it written there, quickly work out that is meant, in fact, to be Babies ‘R’ Us, but when the Guru told me this was where she was intending to go I must admit that it took me a good 5 minutes to work out what she talking about (try saying it quickly with a Japanese accent and you’ll see what I mean). So we arrived in Kinshicho early and headed off in search of the aforementioned Baby Zarus, which had only be open for about a week. Whilst we were in the UK for crimbo we went to a UK version (or it might have been a Toy Zarus, I can’t quite remember) and it was, to be quite frank, somewhat on the dingy side, a bit tatty, understaffed and well, a bit dishevelled – basically, I suppose, like the UK. But this one was all gleaming and new and shiny and, as with most shops in Japan, heavily staffed. However what we also found out was that it was pretty over-priced and Akachan Honpo (to whom we take off our hats) was just as good and a darned sight cheaper (though I will admit that Baby Zarus has Baby Einstein DVDs, of which I will return to purchase as I haven’t seen them anywhere else in Japan).

Other than that it was all pretty much the same as the baby store was in a shopping mall that, I figure, there is a big mould for in some far away corner of Japan, as these places are ubiquitous not only in their occurrence in the towns of Japan but also in their uniformity and, truth be known, their dullness. (OK, OK, I know, cheap shot at shopping malls, but come on, they’re getting a bit too much now, don’t you think?)

Then it was onto the fire station and their attached ‘Disaster Prevention Centre’, or somesuch grandiose name (hint – to prevent disasters in Japan, move away from seismic fault lines and volcanoes (and yes, I realise that would mean moving out of the country all together)). So we arrived and registered and then had a few minutes to poke around and see what was what. It is quite a good place this and there were lots of kids playing with various touch screen TV gizmos that told them how to put out fires or save their elderly relatives from mochi-death at new year and, as luck would have it, you could choose English language variations as well. Got to worth a crack, thought I, and selected a machine for phoning the fire and/or ambulance service. At the start this was quite straight forward as you selected what sort f thing you wanted to report, I chose an accident in the home, then you picked up a real phone and placed the imaginary call. But here it got a little strange at the voice at the other end of the phone said everything in Japanese and the TV screen translated it into English and, as it was all a recording, it didn’t matter what you said into the phone as the video played through anyway. So if I do ever have to phone in an accident in our home I hope a bloke on a TV screen suddenly appears as otherwise person at the emergency end of the phone isn’t going to understand too much of what I’m saying. Hmm.

So onto the first aid bit. Now having been in various boys organisations as a spotty youth I have a pretty good grasp of first aid, rusty though it may be, and so I was quite looking forward to this to see if it was what I remembered and to see if things were the same in Japan as the UK. But in the end there wasn’t actually that much first aid going on, more it was what to do in one of two situations: 1 what to do if your baby is choking on something and; 2 what to do if s/he has stopped breathing (and to be fair the first one is something that is invariably going to happen, judging by the fact that anything that can be picked up goes into the mouth almost straight away).

Places on these sessions are hard to come by and when we saw the other attendees it was easy to see why. The session had been block booked by the Kinshicho women’s volunteer baby task force group, or something, about 15 of whom took over one end of the practice dojo, there were only two couples with kids in there, of which we were one. Not sure what the task force actually do, could be cleaning up the dodgy, gang infested streets of Kinshicho for all I know, but some of them looked pretty mean to me (and others pretty dopey so maybe not).

The leader of the session was not some strapping fire or paramedic type person but a little old lady in a uniform whose skirt made getting up and down from mats on the floor quite an operation. She was also one of those types who would not stop talking or interrupting, which can make instruction excruciating at times. First the choking. This was practiced with a plastic baby who had swallowed a small foam pellet just the right size to get trapped in a hole in her mouth. The instruction was simple, put the baby face down on your thigh as you are kneeling and then give it one almighty thump on the small of the back with the heel of your hand. The instructor women said hard, but I am sure that the way I was thumping the back (and failing to remove the pellet) I would have broken the baby’s spine, but there you go. She said it was fine and in the end the pellet did come out, but only after enough force had been applied to dislodge the lungs, appendix and spleen, I suspect.

The stopped breathing bit was more complex as you had to check various things as you went along, as you would expect, and ended with trying to give artificial respiration to another small plastic baby. This was actually quite interesting and we all got quite into this – the thing to remember is when you are trying to blow air into the baby’s lungs you should only do it a little bit otherwise you might blow too much air in the lungs might explode – not a nice way to go! Anyway the point about this was the instructor showed everyone how to do it, then went through it again, and again and again. Then we got to have a go with the dolls and she talked us through it, stopping at each action to explain, again, what and why. And then we did it again to her accompaniment. At no time did she let everyone just have a go themselves, all the time she was clapping and counting and stopping and explaining. Even the Guru got frustrated with the instructor so in the end we just did it ourselves and got the hang of it without interference, which we felt was more important as it is unlikely the instructor will be in our apartment to help count out 10 seconds if something does happen to the little ‘un.

And that was about it, so now we fell jolly prepared for if something does happen – well, a little bit more prepared than we did before. They also had one of the big earthquake simulators there, which we really wanted to go on, but it was all part of a tour that we had missed the start of so wouldn’t let us in, more’s the pity. But by the end of the day the plan to go early proved the right decision as just as we got home a massive rain storm hit, flash flooding in the streets stylee, and we just missed it. Nice.