Monday, 24 April 2006

All I ever wanted...

Now as you may or may not remember, yours truly bought an ipod last year as it was a gadget that I just had to have, and jolly good it is too. Now, like most people, I suspect, I put most of my cd collection straight onto it with nary a thought as to whether I would actually listen to most of the tracks and it struck me the other day that I probably hadn’t and wouldn’t. so with this in mind I thought I would give it a try, just to see if anything came along that made me think ‘ooh’ in rediscovery, or indeed in discovery of a hidden gem.

One of the features of the ipod is you can list all the tracks alphabetically by song, rather than album, so last week I embarked on my aural journey to the nether regions of the hard drive. My ipod is only a 20gb one and even then it’s only just over half full, but that still means 1,621 songs to plough through, which could take some time.

I realise you may be wondering where this is all going, and it is here. Last Thursday I was walking home and as I got near to the flat on came Bob Dylan with All Along the Watchtower (which, by-the-by, I’ve always wondered about, as how can you be ‘along’ a watchtower? Maybe I’m missing the Bobness of it all, but a tower seems a bit, well, up and down, rather than along a bit. Any suggestions?)

Nothing strange in a bit of Bob, of course, and just as I reached the flat the ‘wind it begin to howl’ and the song finished. Next morning, which was Friday, if you’re paying attention, I walked out the front door and in the lift replaced the earphones and carried on with my sonic saga and, by the time I got to the office, about one hour and twenty minutes later, John Lennon was telling me, along with Paul, George and Ringo, that All You Need is Love. That’s about an hour and twenty-five minutes of songs all starting with the word ‘All’.

I don’t know why, particularly, but for some reason I find that quite remarkable. No one at the office did, when I remarked to various personages there, and I suspect that neither will you, dear reader, but there you go. I will keep you informed as to whether any other words crop up with such regularity at the start of song titles, but I think they will have to go some way if they are going to beat the all conquering ‘All’ – well, about ninety minutes to be exact...

The ‘All’ list in full

All Along the Watchtower – Bob Dylan
All Apologies – Nirvana
All Around the World – The Jam
All Because of You – U2
All Blues – Miles Davis
All I Wanna Do – Sheryl Crow
All I Want is You – U2
All Mine – Portishead
All Night Long – George Shearing & Nancy Wilson
All Of Me – George Benson
All That You Give – The Cinematic Orchestra
All the Things She Said – Simple Minds
All the Things You Are – Wes Montgomery
All This Time – Sting
All Those Yesterdays – Pearl Jam
All Tomorrow’s Parties – The Velvet Underground
All You Need is Love – The Beatles

NB, now up to Bear Hug by the Fun Lovin’ Criminals, number 117 on the count up.

Thursday, 20 April 2006


OK, so the eagle eyed amongst my reader may have noticed a lack of a post this week. Apologies, I guess, are in order. Now I don't want to whinge, as it always sounds crap, but it's going to sound like that, I suspect. So, just too many things going on at the moment, too busy, not enough time to think, let along write too much down. These include work (too worky), study (too booky) and home life (too baby - though thank goodness the Guru is around to do most of the work here (thank you :-))

So for a bit, at least the next few weeks, I will try and post a few, shorter posts at random intervals rather than try and rewrite war & peace every Monday evening.

(it doesn't help that ER series 11 is now showing at 10pm on a Monday evening either)

In the meantime here is a photo of one of the few interesting things being built in the backstreets of Omotesando...

That's right, it's a one third size replica of a European cathedral for all those Japanese non-christians that absolutely must have a church wedding. Weird, if you ask me...

Tuesday, 11 April 2006


Omotesando [Street, road or perhaps boulevard, I suppose], has been described as the Champs Elysee of Tokyo, though not be me, you understand. I’m not entirely sure why, maybe it is because of the trees that line it, or maybe because it has always been home to fashionable boutiques and expensive stores (and by fashionable I really mean expensive and full of clothes normal (or rather sane) people don’t buy – I digress), but then so is Ginza and no one, to my knowledge, calls Ginza Dori the you-know-what of Tokyo (maybe as they are calling Omotesando that? -Ed.). It could also mean that it is full of rude people, as is the rest of Paris. Or even that it is a long shopping street with too many cars running down it and the Arc de Triomphe at one end (though sadly this is missing from the Tokyo version so it can’t be that one).

BasicallyI don’t really know why, but what I do know is that it is a rather fetching street of Tokyo. Or, at least, it was.

What Omotesando was was a long road full of quite interesting shops and then a network of small lanes behind on each side which contained many small, interesting little shops, bars, galleries and restaurants and where it was pleasant to stroll of an afternoon. It also had, near the top of the road, an apartment block the name of which I cannot remember, but which was built after the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake using cutting edge technology (of the time) and which came to be a beloved, ivy clad symbol of the area as its lower floors were filled with more interesting little shops and galleries

Now as everyone knows the average life of a building in the Tokyo area is about 26 years so an apartment block that was eighty was either going to be declared a national treasure or torn down. And I bet you can guess which one it was...

Enter, stage left, Mr Mori, he of the boring, way over hyped and remarkably uninspiring (in my opinion) Roppongi Hills. He was given he task of redesigning the area surrounding, and possibly including, the apartment block so it became a centre for international fashion and shopping and lifestyle and other vitally important functions as Tokyo, with only Ginza, Shinjuku, Shibuya and Roppongi, was felt to be at something of a disadvantage with other major cities as a shopping destination.

Mr Mori took a long hard look at the apartment block and came to startling but very perceptive conclusion – unlike his other ventures, Roppongi Hills, Ark Hills, Aoyama Hills and Hills Hills, Omotesando in general and specifically the apartment building in question did not have the word ‘Hills’ in their respective names. He also realised that the area of Omotesando had some individuality in its makeup that did not sit well with his vision for the redevelopment of central Tokyo.

Thankfully, a few years later, Mr Mori’s dream has been realised and (no really) Omotesando Hills has been created.

The reason I am going on about this now is that on Saturday I visited Omotesando for the first time in really ages and certainly the first time since OH was opened and so I got there a bit early to have a wander around. I was there for a leaving do (of Chris, who knows stuff about IT and his partner Vicki, who are heading back to the UK), so knowing that OH had been opened I thought I’d have a walk down the avenue to have a gander. I wasn’t expecting much as I had, over the preceding months, read plenty about OH, most people slagging it off as an eyesore. Well, to be honest, I didn’t really feel it was an eyesore or carbuncle on the backside of Tokyo. To me it was much worse than that. It was, sadly, just bland.

It is, essentially, a copy of Roppongi Hills and all the others, only whereas Roppongi Hills is all towers and upwards, Omotesando Hills is flatter and low rise. It does, apparently, go down quite a long way as well, so that while the top is only about 2 or 3 stories high, there are in fact 6 or 7 floors – this has been done to keep the low sky line feel. A nice touch but ruined by another, really ugly building across the road that is meant, I think someone told me on Saturday night, to resemble a tree or something equally preposterous (what’s wrong with a real tree instead of the building, I say?). But for OH, the outside is all white concrete and pale/white glass and not a lot else. The few shops that have windows on the outside, and there aren’t many, for some reason, are full of jeans that cost a month’s salary. Fascinating.

I realise, as I write this, that I am in danger of becoming an old fogey, but what the hell, I don’t care, I loved the old Omotesando for it’s quirkiness and variety and sense of itself and that has all now disappeared.

Walking away, saddened as I was, I went through a few back streets and they, at least, seem to have retained a bit of their charm, thank goodness. But one of my favourite lunchtime eateries, and place named Bamboo that did great sandwiches and which was in a great building, all nooks and crannies, has been transformed into Bamboo bog standard French restaurant (parties, weddings and monotony catered for) that now looks truly uninspiring indeed.

In fact the lanes seemed to confirm that Omotesando is now the place to come if you need to buy expensive jeans or for a woman to get a haircut and not a great deal else.

Shame that.

Monday, 3 April 2006

Last week

So apologies for the lack of posting last week, other than the brief message – all got a bit too much, as things are wont to do at times. Of course it didn’t help that my boss took three days off in what is arguably the busiest week of the year as it is the end of the academic year, new teachers arriving (the biggest intake of the year), spring schools before the regular teaching day begins and, though not his fault, the owner of the company still fecking about with 2006 budgets even though we are well and truly into the year. Enter stage right muggings here to try to keep all the plates spinning at the same time, whilst worrying about his son’s and wife’s health and getting a little bit antsy over dissertations.

But now it’s all over. Well, apart from the dissertation, which resolutely won’t go away until I have actually written the bloody thing, but at least I have 1800 words (of mostly, if total, crap) down which is, as is oft said, a start. [Not really sure why I used the word ‘oft’ there instead of a more sensible one...perhaps am developing a poetic steak (which would be odd as I have a very strong, profound but personal belief that poetry is, essentially, all shite)]. But no, the little ‘un and the Guru are now in much finer fettle than they were a week or so ago. Work has quietened down a little and the boss is back, so I don’t have to worry about stuff that he has to deal with. Unfortunately the owner of the company still owns the company and is an imbecile, oh well.

Hiding behind words

Anyway, this week I want to write about words in their spoken form. Actually that’s not strictly true, as I don’t believe that ‘words’ could really describe the noises that Marcus makes, though there may be one or two coming through. But here’s the point – how are you meant to know?

Now the little ‘un is quite the verbose type, apparently. Whilst at the community centre with he Guru he crawls around, plays with toys and generally enjoys himself, all the accompaniment of his own voice – something that the other kids there, especially the same age kids from the Guru’s pregnant pals group (not, of course, that they are pregnant anymore, but it sounds a lot better than her birthing buddies or mumma mates). All the other kids kind of get on with things without making too much noise, whilst Marcus keeps up a running commentary, just in case anyone is recording it for posterity. Kinki over at 35degrees recently wrote about the various noises her daughter makes, and there are similarities, though Marcus is now very much into compound noises such as “bababababaaaa” and ‘jyarjyarjyarjyar” and “shashashasha”. As you can see the whole consonant-vowel thing is very well developed

But what got me thinking was this. The other night he woke up about 3am, as he often does these days, for no good reason, it seems, other than let the world know. Except that he doesn’t really wake up, rather he stays in a pretty deep doze but manages to engage the bit of his brain that connects the stomach to the voice box and, sensing he could do with some milk, lets anyone close by know about it. So the Guru will wake up (as will I, I hasten to add), change his nappy and then give him some milk. But the other night, in between changing his nappy and giving him some milk she went to the toilet, so Marcus sat there and wailed and what came out could have been “mamamamamamaaaa” or it could have been “mama, mama, mama” as there did seem to be added stress on each odd syllable i.e. “Mama, Mama” etc

Of course he denies it completely and, when properly awake later would say only “bababababaaa”. Will keep you posted on this one, though I think “...and a pint for my dad” is a way off yet.

Exam hell

Japan is known as exam hell for some very good reasons, such as, there are too many, they are too hard, school doesn’t actually teach you anything useful in terms of knowledge to pass them and there are too many. But now there is another reason – very dodgy invigilators.

Two stories came up in recent weeks that made sitting an exam even worse than normal. One was in an exam at Tohoku university where a professor was invigilating – now I have never invigilated a proper, 2 or 3 hour exam but I reckon it must be pretty dull. This professor thought so he sat down and slowly nodded off. This wouldn’t have been too bad except that his snoring was such that he was asked to leave the hall as he was putting off the examinees. Nice work.

More recently, during the World Baseball Classis as described in an earlier post, a teacher at an elementary school got so wrapped up in the game during the lunch hour that when lesson started again in the afternoon he switched on the TV in his classroom so he could follow the action. The fact that he had set his students a test and they couldn’t concentrate obviously slipped his mind. Again what a plonker, but worse still in this case is the fact that the kids complained about not being able to do their exam, rather than sit and watch the game with the teacher. All going to grow up to be accountants, that lot, and serves them right too.

Last but not least, Saturday last was gloriously sunny and the peak of hanami, or cherry blossom viewing, so we, and the rest of Kawaguchi, went to the nishikoen (or east park) to drink some beer, eat something unhealthy and look at the onset of spring. Here are some snaps, there are a few more over at flikr.

Hanami at night
Kawaguchi hanami night #5

Nishi park
Kawaguchi hanami daytime #1

Hmm, hanami...
Kawaguchi hanami daytime #3 (Marcus in pensive mood)

People and trees
Kawaguchi hanami daytime #5

This is what the fuss is all about
Kawaguchi hanami daytime #6

Hanami hangover
hanami hangover...