Tuesday, 28 March 2006
Tuesday, 21 March 2006
Apologies for the lack of post last night, but I was out for leaving beers with colleagues. End of March is always a popular time for leaving beers as lots of colleagues seem to feel it is a good time to move on to something new or return to the UK. I know this to be true as when we left in 2001 we went in April, probably because it coincides with the end/beginning of the academic year here in Japan. This year is a popular one with three friends moving on, one to pastures new in Japan (the chap we were out for last night) whilst two others are returning to Blighty to do stuff there. I have warned them, but little heed has been taken. Oh well.
So in the news this week has been the World Baseball Classic, which is a silly name for what is, in effect, the baseball world cup. It is about time baseball got a world cup, mainly so whichever American team wins their domestic league title (or World Series, as it is known there, after it was originally sponsored by World magazine) will stop calling themselves the world champions, when, patently, they aren’t. Of course the winners of the US’s domestic American football championship will continue to call themselves the world champions, but at least the baseball is a start. Anyway this all kicked off a couple of weeks ago with some games here in Japan in the Asian leg, where Japan managed to lose to South Korea once, or even possibly twice, but they both went to the finals in the US anyway. Lots of games, not a little controversy and some excellent teamwork saw Japan into the final against Cuba, the Americans having been put out by someone, possibly Mexico, whilst Japan got there by beating South Korea at the third attempt. To put it in context a little, Cuba were the favourites to win as they are a better team and, more importantly I guess, are reigning Olympic champions so should be quite handy.
The final was today from 11am Japan time, an amazingly synchronicitious coincidence as today is a national holiday (spring equinox, don’t you know) and so everyone could stay at home and watch it, and not have to get up early to do so. As the kick off (er... pitch off? Hit off? Toss off?) was at 11am, we decided to go out to the community centre, and thence shopping, as it seemed a better thing to do. Actually we went to the community centre a bit earlier than that, to be honest, just after the young ‘un had had his breakfast, when father’s hangover was kicking in (though it wasn’t too bad, luckily (the Oh God of Hangovers would not be happy)). The community centre, which has a name in Japanese that I can never remember, possibly Kokumin centre, is a jolly place that mothers, and sometimes fathers, take their kids under 4 years of age to let off a bit of energy. Essentially it a big room with mats and lots of toys where you can just let your kid go off and they can enjoy themselves whilst mothers chat with other mothers. Today was my first time there and I must say that I was impressed. It was big, there was plenty of room and plenty of toys and, because it was a national holiday, not too crowded. Marcus seemed to enjoy himself, playing with various things, including waving a toy (wooden) kitchen knife around with surprising precision and gusto (career as a chef or mass murderer perhaps). Dad also had fun as I got to push Marcus around on a little scooter thing, his legs aren’t quite long enough to reach the floor just yet, and also because I managed to make two other little kids cry just by looking at them – and there was me thinking I had a great rapport with little kids, oh well. At this point I should just mention that on Saturday we went to Akachan Honpo (Japanese Mothercare, if you remember) and whilst in a play area Marcus managed to stand all by himself with no support and not holding on to anything! An auspicious day, I think you’ll agree and something he did again this afternoon back home, but only for a moment.
So after spending about an hour or so there we went off shopping to the new shopping centre in Kawaguchi (the city is abuzz, I tell you, new building sites, shopping complexes and other stuff everywhere. The place has changed completely in the three years we’ve been here). The place is called Ario and it is, basically, a shopping mall, but it has a cinema that we haven’t been to yet, so it is not all bad. Anyway the good people of Ario were sensible and realised that whilst lots of families may be there to do a spot of shopping, more than likely the fathers would be far more interested in watching the baseball, so they set up TVs for precisely this purpose. When we got there it was 2-0 to Japan in the first inning and people were getting excited. Now personally I don’t really care for baseball, I prefer cricket as any self respecting Englishman should, but then again I have a little interest in it and follow what happens in a cursory way, much as I did ski jumping before watching the Nagano Olympic final in a sports centre once that I wrote about but don’t know where. And of course I, and by ‘I’ I mean we as the Guru got into it as well, really got into this game. We wandered around Ario for a bit, had lunch, bought dinner food, looked at arms & armour for the boy (more of which in future posts), but always kept coming back to the baseball. By the time we left it was 4-1 to Japan and there was a palpable buzz. We walked home in the pleasant spring sunshine, the young ‘un fell asleep and as soon as we got into the house we switched on the TV to find out what was going on.
At this stage I should really have gone to do some study, but what with the previous evening’s exertions, the baseball on the tv and the cricket on the web discretion was the better part of valour and so I slobbed out. On out return Japan was now winning 6-1 and it was looking like a cakewalk (what does that expression really mean and where did it come from?), but then Cuba came back into it. Soon it was 6-3 and Japan had stopped scoring. Then in the bottom of the eighth a Cuban hitter smacked a two run homer to left field and it was 6-5. was an upset on the cards…? Belatedly Japan got their offence working again and, though some really excellent team batting, managed to pound out 4 runs (inexplicably the Cubans walked one Japanese hitter, loading up the bases so that the next man in, Ichiro, who holds the single season record for hits in the US league, had merely to connect and Japan were assured of runs). So, by the bottom of the ninth it was 10-5 and Cuba had to score 6 to win. The second in chap hit another home run, I think, to make it 10-6, but then the Japanese pitcher showed some excellent control and struck out the last two batsmen for no runs and unfancied Japan won the inaugural series and can now, justifiably, call themselves world Champions. And jolly well done, too.
Perhaps the most pleasing aspect is that their play followed national stereotypes almost to perfection. The Cubans wanted to big and macho and hit the leather off the baseball. All death or glory, the individual big hitter, superstar kind of thing. Japan, on the other hand, was all about teamwork, playing as a group, all members doing their bit well to make sure the whole team (and country) succeeded. Or maybe I’m reading too much into it...
Tuesday, 14 March 2006
Now Tokyo has, if you don’t know and/or haven’t lived here, one of the best public transport systems in the world. I can say this because I have been to a few places and have decided it to be so (but, for the record, I haven’t been to that many places, but have decided it to be so anyway. I mean, I haven’t seen the marble-clad mausoleum that is the Moscow subway, but I reckon that Tokyo’s probably works a little better). The fact that the public transport services are, to put in mildly, excruciatingly busy of a morning does not seem to stop their ability to deliver me to where I want to be at, basically, the time I want to be there. Actually there was an interesting piece in one of the free weekly listings magazines recently about the Tokyo Metro (as it has been renamed as when it was called the subway people kept going to station masters and tried to order club sandwiches with extra mayo (honestly)), which had the usual blurb you would right about a metro system if you were writing an article about one, and also some facts and figures. The most interesting fact and figure for me was that the most crowded bit of line is the Tozai line between Kiba and (I think) Monzen-nakacho, heading into Tokyo, around 830am of a weekday. This was interesting to me as this exactly the time that I pass this stretch of line – thank goodness that I’m going out of Tokyo and can wave at all the suckers squashed sardine fashion on trains going the other way. Ho ho. Amazingly this bit of line runs every morning at 197% capacity. 197 per cent! I mean, how can that be? To me 100% capacity means a full train so to squeeze double that number of people on, I mean, phew. Thank goodness it isn’t me indeed. Although I do get a jolly busy train for three stops from Kawaguchi to Oji on the Keihin-Tohoku train line, and that three stops is bad enough and is only rarely crowded enough that I have trouble breathing. Still, with this aging population problem there should be enough space by about, say 2106, or something.
Anyway that is not exactly what I was going to write about. What I want to mention is the fantastic service you get if, shock horror, the trains go wrong. Now this has happened on the old Keihin-Tohoku line a couple of times in the last month, which in itself is enough to write home about (not that I have, apologies to parentals) as, generally speaking, trains and metros do not get delayed in this country, even when the men with white gloves are pushing people onto the trains so they all fit (yes, it does happen, it is not an urban myth but no, I have not been subjected to their synchronised shoving and nor do I want to be). But sometimes the trains do get delayed, quite often by some exceptionally unhappy yet not very public spirited person who jumps in front of a train as it pulls into a station. Other times there are just technical problems (wrong kind of snow, leaves on the line, tricky sudoku problem to solve), which mean delays. Now in the UK, from what I remember, there is such a thing as a timetable which BR and The London Underground produce which list trains, times and destinations and which have no bearing to what is actually travelling along the tracks at any given time. The Japanese, on the other hand, have a timetable which bears not a passing resemblance to reality but which is actually run by atomic clocks and is attuned to the cosmic tick (or rather, the universe sets its wristwatch by the 11:02 Tokyo-Osaka shinkansen (possibly). That this works is testament to the fact that, well, the Japanese know how to run a train/tube system properly – so much so that if I go onto Yahoo Japan and tell it I want to be in Yokohama at 930 in the morning, as I did this morning, it will tell me to take the 8:30 from Kawaguchi and I know that I can pitch up at Kawaguchi at 8:30 and the train will be pulling into the station and it will then deposit me in Yokohama at 9:26 as promised. And it works every time. Why the British can’t do this, I will never know.
Slightly off point there – so, what happens when it doesn’t work? Well, last week, or perhaps the week before I arrived at the station at my regular time of about 8:15 to find crowds and an unmoving train at the platform. Hmm, thinks I, shall I pop for a cup of coffee and wait as this could take a while if it was a jumper (i.e. someone jumped in front of a train, not a sweater left on the tracks, which would be a BR excuse)? I have a moment of indecision and walk to the overpass to see if the trains start moving. They do, but I wait a little longer just to make sure another comes to replace the one that left, which it does.
Ok, so I head down to the platform and wait for a train, of which plenty come past but these are now somewhat more stuffed than usual as, naturally, more people have got on, or tried to get on, at earlier stations etc. by the time I manage squeeze on my 8:20 has become an 8:40 running at (at least) 197% capacity. As I said I only have to go three stops before I change and, even better the first of the stops in Akabane which is a big changeover station so you can usually fight to get into an aisle here, much better than being squashed against a door and/or other person. By the time I get to Oji I am still about 20 minutes late but here is why the Japanese public transport system is so great. At Oji I leave the trains and head underground and actually change station and on exiting Oji JR station there are stationed three bowing, exceedingly apologetic JR staff, saying sorry for the delays and hading out little slips of paper, about the size of a shop receipt with the day’s date, approximate time, station and train line and a short message to my boss saying ‘sorry this chap was late, it wasn’t his fault, the line was delayed, we will happily pay for any inconvenience this has caused or offer our daughters hand’s in marriage, if it will make things better’, or something like that. I mean wow, can you imagine BR apologising for being 20 minutes late? Come to think of it if a BR train were only 20 minutes late the staff would congratulating themselves on a job well done.
So, well done, greater Tokyo public transportation staff, for a job really well done.
And just in case you thought there wasn’t anything to complain about this week, well done to the boys in blue of Kawaguchi who arrested a woman the other week for ‘looking foreign’ even though she was Japanese. But fair enough because looking foreign is a crime in Japan, isn’t it...? More here.
Wednesday, 8 March 2006
These things seem to be all the rage right now, well, I mean that they have appeared over at 35degrees and SAAP recently and as I don’t have much to write about this week, or rather I do but summoning the creative energy has defeated my so far, I thought I’d be self indulgent and write about myself. And why not, so...
Four jobs I’ve had in my life
Cheese a deli assistant in Waitrose
‘Jonny No Stars’ in KFC
Recruitment Consultant (which is bottom of the list for a very good reason)
Four movies I can watch over and over again
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Four places I have lived
Fleet in Hampshire
Somerton in Somerset
Leamington Spa in Warwickshire
Kawaguchi in Saitama
Four TV shows I love
Er, well this is a tricky one as I don’t really watch a great deal of TV except for news and sports, mainly as in Japan there isn’t a great deal to watch. I suppose ER is about the only thing that annually comes around that the Guru and I watch all of, but I’ve never got into The Simpsons or much like it. Though I suppose if I can catch South Park, I will. And there is the Before/After house changing programme thing on Sunday evenings, now sadly discontinued, that was worth a watch, as was Iron Chef when it was on. But otherwise, not a lot really.
Four holiday locations I have enjoyed
Sydney, Brisbane and Noosa in Australia (and a place I’d like to add to the ‘...have lived in’ list)
Koh Samet in Thailand
Annecy in France (ah, childhood)
The Lake District in the UK
Four of my favourite dishes
Mum’s roast beef (of course)
Thai green curry
Grilled lamb chops (not that easy to find in Japan and not at all cheap)
Maguro (tuna) sashimi
Four websites I visit everyday
The Telegraph (for news and sports and the Alex cartoon)
Cricinfo (to see what’s going on in the world of cricket)
Site Meter (to see who’s looking)
Flickr (to look at other people’s snaps)
Four places I’d rather be now (apart from playing with the little ‘un and the Guru)
Sitting on a beach somewhere, not really that bothered where, so could be SE Asia, Australia, southern France or anywhere else warm really. But must have a bar close by, a decent book close to hand and somewhere for the little ‘un to play.
Gambolling up, or indeed down, a mountain somewhere in the UK, probably in the Lakes, but Wales and Scotland are also beautiful.
Poking my nose into some antiquity such as Egypt, Greece or Iran, getting a bit of culture, seeing the sights, breathing in a bit of history.
Wandering around Italy, I’ve never been but the Guru has and of this I am very jealous. When we finally have the time, it will be spent travelling from place to place.
Four bloggers I have tagged
Er, is that the same as linking? Don’t think so, in which case none. I may have a blog, but that does not mean I know what I am doing. What is tagging? Actually don’t bother to answer that, if I had wanted to do it I would have done it by now (as it is free, unlike spending a year wandering around Italy, which most definitely is not).
NB all the above will have probably have changed by tomorrow - well, not the ones about where I have lived, for example, as that cannot be changed, but opinion-y ones like where I'd rather be. You get the idea.