Friday, 28 December 2007

They'll get you, and there'll be no exceptions

Once before, a long time ago, I wrote on this very blog about the local traffic police in Nishi Kasai, or rather the parking police, who drove around putting chalk marks on your car tyres to prove you were illegally parked (having to clean your car tyres being the direst punishment in the Japanese Big Book of Punitive Actions). Anyway it was my contention then that this was 'a bit crap really' and wasn't much of a deterrent - if you can be bothered you can go and read the original post, but heaven knows where it is.

Anyway this general level of dissatisfaction with the parking busies, and the boys in blue overall, should not in any way tarnish the image of the Bicycle Parking Police, who are assiduous and dedicated in their approach to what is, in a country of 120 million people and 874 million bicycles, a hard job. So, on Boxing day I was walking through Nishi Kasai on my way to lunch when I stopped dead because I saw this:

So here we have a child's tricycle illegally parked outside a convenience store. The evil perpertrator of this crime is nowhere to to be seen (thankfully as I would not want to meet them!) but the plucky bicycle police (Child Tricycle Division) have reasoned that illegal parking is illegal parking and, dangerous though the situation may become, they have a job to do and that job is to tag illegally parked vehicles and take them away if no one reclaims them within one year and a day of tagging.

As you can see this tag has been firmly placed on the handlebars of the tricycle and now the Bicycle Police can only sit back and wait for the inevitable backlash. I am happy about this on two counts; firstly that the Bicycle police do their job without fear of favour, protecting and serving as is their remit. Secondly, as of Boxing day I no longer work in Nishi Kasai (that's another story) so will not get caught up in the spiral of violence that will inevitably follow this dramatic event.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

So the other weekend we went to Karuizawa

Karuizawa is a town in the mountains in Nagano prefecture, I think, and is full of bracing things like fresh air, rain, trees and people, so it’s is good to go to if you live in the chemical smog of Tokyo, or, indeed, Kawaguchi. The other good thing about the place is that you get to go on a shinkansen (bullet train) to get there, which, if you are 35 years old is pretty cool (though, following the immutable law of the universe of you wait ages for one trip on a shinkansen and then two turn up together, the week before I went down to Osaka on business) but if you’re 2 and-a-half (and really, really into trains) it is just the best thing ever in the world. Even better than all that, if you are parent of said 2 and-a-half year old, the journey by shinkansen is only about 1 hour, meaning that once the magic of the ride has worn off, child doesn’t have too much time to get bored before you arrive – great! Anyway if you look here you can see pictures of small boys and big trains.

The first part of our trip out of the metropolis was to visit a great big shopping centre. Doesn’t sound like much fun, I know, but it was a jolly big shopping centre and outlet mall place that sells lots of stuff at knockdown prices. Also it was useful as when we arrived at the station it was chucking it down with, well, not rain but misty, drizzly, cloudy, English style rain, so we didn’t have a great deal of choice. Because we went on a Monday-Tuesday jaunt the place wasn’t stupidly busy, but it was still pretty packed, especially as, due to the poor visibility and lack of maps, we only actually looked at one side of the place. Doh! What we did get to do, though, was spend about half-an-hour in the Lego shop, which was ultra-cool. I remember lego from my days as a kid and in those days it was ‘normal’ stuff, basic space-lego, castles and a few of the ‘technical’ kits. Now, wow, the options are enormous, with more, and much cooler, space stuff, aqua stuff, monsters, really wizard looking technical kits, like the Ferrari 360 racing model, and just loads and loads of fab looking stuff. I can’t wait until Marcus’ old enough for me to justify buying this stuff for him and then keeping it all to myself. In fact maybe I should buy some now and give it a test run, just to make sure it is safe for him to play with, hmm…

Later we dumped our stuff at our pension, a slightly sinister, slightly creepy place, in a you’re-the-only-people-staying-and-no one-knows-you’re-here kind of way. Then we wandered off to find a park to run around in. This we did, luckily, and found not only a park but also a small shrine, which was ok, and also a small sumo dohyo, which was really cool. As you can see from these pictures I taught the youngster the finer arts of the samurai scream and the tachiai – gave me a warm, fatherly feeling I can tell you.

Back at the creepy pension we then attended to our nightly routine, i.e. bath, beer and dinner. The bath was fine, though unfortunately not the onsen style that one might have hoped for. Beer was provided by a small fridge on the 1st floor landing, you helped yourself and made a note for the owner to tot up upon check out. The problem was that they were charging 300 yen for a small can and, as there was no local beer machine and the rooms had no fridges, this was the only way to get a cold one. Unless you are cunning, of course. So before bath I had one of their overpriced beers but super cunningly I had, beforehand, been to a local alcoholic emporium and brought similar though cheaper cans of asahi superdry. Once I had taken one of their overpriced cans I replaced it with one I had brought, thereby keeping it cool. Later, after dinner (more of which in a moment), I was able to drink a couple more cans of cold beer, but it was the ones I had brought earlier for less cash. Anyway the upshot was that I got to drink beer but didn’t have to pay through the nose for it. I thought it was cunning, the Guru just thought I was being dishonest and tutted at me reprovingly as I quaffed.

Dinner, however, was a fine proposition. How many small pensions in Naka-Karuizawa can boast a Japanese chef who thinks he’s French? Only one to my mind, and that’s where we pitched up. The meal he knocked up for us was really good, a 5 course extravaganza that included soup, fish and meat courses, all of which were tasty and of sufficient volume to fill my stomach. The problem, however, was that the food all arrived in something of a rush. The starter was fine as that was waiting on the table for us, then the arrival of the soup was ok as well. But then, as the last drop of soup was slurped the fish course arrived. Again this was very pleasant, some sautéed sole, if memory serves, but as I was pontificating about something the Guru finished hers a few mouthfuls before I did and, as soon as her fork touched the plate for the final time, the meat course was brought out. So, as she started on her beef fillets I polished off the sole, put the used plate on my left and then started on the beef with nary a break between forkfuls.

Now, of course, she was far ahead of me so completed her beef whilst I had only got though half, but no problem as then desert arrived, giving me the slightly cack-handed task of, on finishing my meat, transferring the desert to my place mat and placing the dirty dish on my right (where the desert had been), so that I then had dirty dishes all around me. Ah, the romance of fine dining.

I mean, is it too much to ask for them to allow a breath between courses, of for both diners to finish one course before starting the next? Actually no, not in Japan, as, to be honest, it doesn’t seem to be something Japanese restaurants have got their heads around (generalising wildly as I go). This might be to do with traditional Japanese cooking, where you tend to get everything placed in front of you when you sit down and then just plough your way through (i.e. like a meal in a ryokan) so the serving staff don’t need to worry about courses; or other Japanese eating experiences like shabu-shabu, yakiniku, okonomiyaki etc where you do it all yourself. It also happens with main courses if you have more than 2 people sitting down to eat – often 2 will get their meal whilst the rest will have to wait a further 5 minutes before tucking in. I don’t know, but it does seem to be something of a cultural blind spot.

The following day we what most people do when going away for a couple of days in Japan and went to an onsen. This was a jolly swish, new looking place to the north of Karuizawa, up a hill a bit. This is worthy of mention as it was the youngster’s first trip to an onsen and we were on the wary side due to the often very hot nature of the water (and he, being small, isn’t too good with hot water). But like most things when you’re 2½ years old he just took it all in as a big adventure. The good thing about onsens is that they are generally big, so lots of space to run around naked, which is what all little kids enjoy doing, as, let’s face it, do their fathers. So we did the whole onsen thing of washing and then sitting around outside in the bath generally relaxing and so forth. Nice though the onsen was it didn’t actually provide a beer machine for me to buy beer, so one of life’s little pleasures was unfortunately denied. But the bar next to the onsen did serve some local brew, the name of which I have now forgotten, but it was jolly nice.

That day we also visited an odd shaped church, which was odd but strangely pleasant. The oddest thing about the place was its founder, however, who was big in dentistry in the early 20th century and this was how he made the money to build the church. Under the church, where the crypt should have been, they had a little museum dedicated to him and it had old slogans he had made up, like ‘Spirituality Through Healthy Teeth!’, which I thought was great.

Anyway that was about it. I’ve written too much now, my work here is done.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Rugby World Cup

OK, haven't really written much about anything recently (proper new post in the pipeline, with photos this time), but just wanted a quick mention of the old RWC and England's phoenix like rise from the ashes of, well, the last 4 years.

So, into another final, this time against either the Boks or the Pumas. Personal choice would be the Boks so we can beat them and make up for the 0-36 drubbing we got in the pool game - how much would that stick in the craw of the Boks and their supporters? Beat us in a pool but, when it really matters, coming up short... Of course I'm sure England aren't thinking that way as hubris has a habit of, well, coming back to haunt you. Or something. But I would also love for Argentina to be in the final, just so they can stick 2 fingers up to the IRB, the Tri-Nations and the 6-Nations for shamefully ignoring them all these years.

Anyway, whoever it is, come on England. If you have the time, and inclination, take trip back to 2003 and see the nonsense I was writing then.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Requiem for Silent Shinzo

the end

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Your friendly, neighbourhood bobbies on the beat

Apparently this is a flyer published by the friendly boys in blue from Ibaraki. Just a quiet note to the locals that states the best policy when dealing with the influx of foreigners, all of whom are criminals, is to "stop them at the shores!"

Yes, that is a total of 7 riot police subduing one helpless chap (well, 6 and their mate on his way in to help out)...

Just in case you're wondering, the first 3 kanji in yellow say "gaikokujin", or foreigner. And I thought Japan was a friendly place.

For more see the newspaper report here.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Not long until the Rugby World Cup

So here's something to get you in the mood (and have a laugh at Association Football)

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Quick hello

Am on holiday this week, and most of next for that matter, so have a little time to post (I said it was only adieu, not goodbye).

So. this week I have mostly been going to the park. Most parks in Japan are a bit rubbish, like the one near our flat. That one is a smallish expanse of white gravel, with about four trees, some playground equipment (which is ok), a toilet (into which I once threw up whilst 'looking after' the young 'un) and a water fountain. This is fine in the autumn and spring but in summer, with 35 degree days, it is like a furnace as you get heat from the sun, reflected heat from the ground and nowhere to hide. The metal playground equipment often reaches temperatures of 850,000 degrees during August, causing small children to combust on the spot.

But the park near the station is different. First of all it's bigger, which is useful, and this space has been put to good use. Firstly a shitload of trees were planted a long time ago. I have posted before about the trees in spring when the cherry blossoms are out, and jolly nice and plentifulthey are too, but they also have maples (to look nice in the autumn) and lots of what I think of as 'western trees', such as beeches, chestnuts and sycamores, giving the place a bit of height as well.

But more importantly than that the good burghers of Kawaguchi also decided to build a small, paddling river that runs from the top of the park to the bottom, with several sections, with little rapids and places that kids, and their hot parents, can easily get into the water. I cannot begin to describe the pleasure of standing in cool, calf-deep water, under a tree, on a blisteringly hot day whilst the little fella mucks about and generally enjoys himself.

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Not goodbye, as such

You might have noticed that I've been rather lax with the posting recently, bit difficult not to notice really. But work is exceptionally busy and I've started studying Japanese again, 930 to 1030 every evening (have a suspicion the company is going through a rough patch, so better make myself more marketable...), which kind of cuts into blogging time.

So, I'll try and post again soon, but I wouldn't go holding your collective breath if I were you, as I don't know how regular this is going to be.

Still, it's been fun.


Saturday, 19 May 2007

Preserving the great traditions of S.E Asian nations

Laos the great whaling nation or Japan at it again? You decide...

Wednesday, 16 May 2007


Lots of odd stuff going off in Japan right now. None of it, I should point out now, concerns Silent Shinzo, but that is to be expected. In fact he's a bit like Silent Bob in those Jay and Silent Bob Do Mescaline type films, one of which I watched once (I think I might have been drunk at the time, that is only reason I can think of that I actually sat through it).

I digress. No, read in the paper this morning that a 17 year old boy, a high school student as you would expect, from a central bit of Japan walked into a police station yesterday morning with his mother's head in a platic bag, as you would probably not expect. Apparently this boy had killed his mother and hacked off her head the previous night because "he really wanted to kill someone" and I suppose his mother was the closest person to hand, as it were. I know Japan is full of weird, but how weird is that? What strike me are parallels with the chap who did all the killing at Virginia Tech in America a month or two ago. Both boys, both obviously very, that's about it on the parallels, but the main difference which I can see, but a lot of Americans can't, is that fact that American college chap got his hands on lots of guns and ammunition and managed to take a lot of his classmates with him, whilst Japanese boy, with only a knife, decided he didn't need his mother anymore and then turned himself in. At least he kept it in the family (I realise that is not a particularly nice thing to say, and certainly isn't too good for his mum, but it did keep the death toll down).

Other weird thing is the new hatch down in Kumamoto. This is a baby hatch, the first in Japan, where parents with new offspring who suddenly decide they don't want said offspring can leave the little one in a hatch in a hospital and the nursing staff will take the baby in and look after it etc. Why anyone would wait until giving birth before deciding they don't want to keep their baby is beyond me, but obviously people do (and before we get into a discussion about the prosand cons of abortion, the Japanese have a very different take on abortion than the typical western view and it is, because of this, a lot more common - I'm not saying that's good or bad, it just they have a different way of thinkning about it with much less of the stigma (but no less of the emotion, I feel sure)). Anyway the weirdness was that yesterday morning, I think, or amybe before, the nurses found a 3 year old boy had been abandoned in the hatch. Now relieving yourself of a newborn must be pretty hard, but a 3 year old! Apparently the little boy is 'helping police with their inquiries', to use the euphemism, but what sort of parents would do that? (answer, I suppose, is desperate ones).

Anyway that's all quite depressing. On a lighter note Steve and I ventured into town last week to watch the Classic All Blacks do a number on the Japan national team on the rugby paddock. At half time it was 6-10 to the Old New Zealanders (I think calling them the All Blacks adds to their aura, they're from New Zealand, so say that!) and so we thought that ew might have a game on our hands, but alas no as after 1/2 time the ONZ's scored 26 points with noreply to walk away with it. The Japan coach is ex-NZ star John Kirwan, he wanted his charges to play the ONZs to toughen them up a bit before the Pacific 6 Nations - that's all well and good but I shudder to thnk what score the Young New Zealanders would put on this Japan team...

And finally. Just a few words about the little fella, he now has more energy than that star that exploded recently and got all the NASA scientists in a tizzy. However he is putting this to good use by learning lots of new words, some of which we even teach him. His favourites right now are 'where are you?' which he says whilst hiding behind the curtains; daddy + noun, such as daddy belt, daddy work, daddy beer or daddy shoooes, just in case I had forgotten; whilst also beginning to realise that some words work better with daddy, like 'pick me up' (as I won't respond when he asks me in Japanese), but when mummy is cooking he'll point to the cooker and say 'abunai' rather than dangerous, both of which he knows. Clever that.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Lots of stuff

Well where to begin with it all? I think the last proper post was before I went back to the UK on the business trip. This was a successful little jaunt with myself and the principal from Taiwan going in there kicking butt. Well sort of. We certainly went and we certainly kicked about London for a week or so. But whether any butt was involved or not I suppose is a moot point. At the time the trip seemed successful, but now, a month or so later the fruits of our labours seem a little less burnished. This is more to do with the owner of the company and whether he wants to spend money or not, and, as his history in this department is not the strongest, I think our plans may come to naught, or at least, closer to naught that we want. The trip did, however, confirm what a little weasel the supposed boss of UK operations is, I am surprised his cutlery drawer has any knives left in it, judging by the number I saw protruding from various colleagues’ shoulder blades (ooh, bitchy). I now get the Guru to check my back every time I come home – so far so clear, but I will not be betting on any hedges.

Of course the other reason to be back was to see friends and family, which I managed to do equally successfully, though this was a weird feeling as I was back in December, only 4 short months previously, and it didn’t quite feel right seeing everyone again so soon. Usually I go for 12 to 18 months between visits so twice in four months and we almost didn’t have anything to talk about. Indeed the whole trip felt a bit weird, I had a vague and nagging sense that I wasn’t working enough even though my days did seem to begin at about 9 (into the office) and finish about 11pm (back to the hotel), but the evenings seemed to be spent in pubs, which although I was with work people talking about work things (and spending work money, in some cases), didn’t quite feel like work, even though it was. Then the whole slightly odd family/friend feeling and you have a strange sense of, well, weirdness.

Whilst I was away, of course, the poor English teacher was murdered, so for once Japan was all over the English media whilst I was in the UK. I didn’t know the girl but she lived in the town that we used to live in so a few people I know did know her apparently, and possibly one chap even knew the guy that did it (though said chap is a bit of a bullshitter, so that could all be hot air). But get this right, on Thursday last week one of our managers, an Australian woman, was groped on a train. Groping is, unfortunately, quite widespread on Japanese trains and there are posters everywhere saying things like ‘if it happens to you, shout for help’, so my colleague did and no one lifted a finger to help her. She dragged the guy onto the platform, kept shouting, but no help. Eventually a couple of young guys helped her get the miscreant downstairs to the station office because ‘she was causing trouble’, all the while telling the bloke it would be ok (what about her!?). The station officials asked her what she wanted to do, she said call the police so they did but then let the bloke go! She then had to drag him back into the station and lock him in a room. When the police finally arrived she was made to feel that she had done something wrong and caused an affray – right up to the point she showed her ID card and they realized she was married to a Japanese guy, at which point they became very helpful and apologetic. This all happened around 8-9pm but she wasn’t allowed to leave the police station until 3am as they questioned and questioned her, made her act out the scene several times and took lots of photos. She was even finger-printed because she didn’t have an official ‘hanko’ or family seal with her. Good to know that foreign women can feel a little bit safer now after the Lucie Blackman and Lindsay Hawker incidents.

Anyway enough of that. On getting back to Japan work suddenly decided to bowl a few off breaks at me, so I went from quite busy to exceptionally busy in the blink of an eye. I won’t bore you with the details but suffice it to say we have staff problems (they want more) coupled with company problems (we’ve got less) which is the recipe for, well, more crap for me to have to deal with. This one isn’t going to end anytime soon, I fear, so we could be in for a long summer of discontent, which will be fun.

On a much happier note the youngster achieved the ripe old ago of two years on April 27th, which I my book is a good reason to have a party. So we had one. In reality he got an extended, long weekend party as his birthday was on the Friday, the last Friday before I finished work for the Golden Week hols. So on Friday he got to open a couple of presents before I went off to work. At this moment he opened a couple from my parentals (a noisy bus and a couple of DVDs) and from us (books). Then on Saturday he got his main present from us, which was a brand new bicycle. As you can see from the photos below he doesn’t have much to do at the moment except sit on it as he can’t get the hang of steering and has no idea what pedals are for. That meant that Saturday afternoon was spent pushing him around on aforementioned bike.

That evening I went off into Tokyo to see a friend’s band play, which was excellent except for the fact that someone forced me to drink an intemperate amount of beer, mostly without me realizing it, so that come Sunday I was much the worse for wear. This wouldn’t have been too bad had I been allowed to lie in bed and groan the day away, but with a hyperactive 2 year old, with a new bike, and a wife who wants you both out so she can clean the house, it was not too be. We made it to the park, where he could run around a lot and I didn’t have to do very much, but thank goodness the park had a toilet (and for any new parents out there a word of advice – hangovers and children’s’ swings are a match made in hell; avoid).

So then on Monday we had his birthday party. This entailed inviting the Guru’s side of the family over for tea and cakes. The little ‘un is getting pretty good at recognizing the different parts of the family. He knows, for example, that oojiisan and oobaasan (grandfather and grandmother respectively) are likely to visit and is jolly happy when they do, like Monday. Conversely he knows that ganma and ganpa (the closest he can get to grandma and grandpa) live in the computer and we see them every few weeks or so (we see them via webcam, hence them living in the computer). He even knows that cousin Charlie lives in the computer as well, with uncle Julian and Auntie Katharine, though not in the same place as ganma and ganpa as he doesn’t see them so often. Anyway is he in for a big shock in the summer when we all go back and he finds out these are real people!

So anyhoo they came over (the Japanese side, that is, the UK side webcammed on Friday evening, reinforcing the above notion of computer habitage) and the aforementioned tea and cakes were had, as was beer and other food stuffs. As you can probably tell I’m trying to find something interesting to write about here, but alas it was not to be. We did go for a walk down by the river and took photos, as you can see below, but that was about it. Tomorrow, however, we are off the Aquarium in Ikebukuro as I feel it would be beneficial to the youngster’s education (and I think aquariums (aquaria?) rock), so more photos then – might even write something about Japan...

(Oh yeah, Silent Shinzo had a big pow-wow with the Chinese PM (whose name escapes me right now...Jintao, or was that an old one?) and then with the USandA PM Georgie B, but I still can’t think of anything to write about the bloke. For f*ck’s sakes do something Shinzo!)

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

What's he talking about?

"It is the vast majority of the people in the world against a small number of loose, shifting and disparate groups who have relatively little in common apart from their identification with others who share their distorted view of the world.

"What these groups want is to force their individual and narrow values on others without dialogue, without debate, through violence. And by letting them feel part of something bigger, we give them strength.

This was Hilary Benn talking about "terrorists" and the subsequent downgrading of the use of the term 'the war on terror' by the Blair administration.

Or was he talking about Blair, the neo-cons and the George W Bush...?

Anyway Apologies

I'm sorry, I haven't posted for a while, I just don't seem to have the time at the moment. Tonight is the first night in what feels like weeks (it is weeks) that I have been home at a reasonable hour (i.e. before 9pm), so blogging has fallen by the wayside. I will get back on that horse just as soon as I can, especially as the first week of May is all holiday, but it might all be a bit quiet until then.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Back but jet-lagged

So have returned from my international business jet set lifestyle trip to the UK but have been straight back into the office and am knackered. So, if it's ok with you, and even if it's not, I will not be writing usual post just yet.

But I should mention that I did play backgammon with the fatherly parental and he did whip my sorry a$$ something like 26-10, though even he had to admit that my dice did appear to be loaded against me. Oh well, good work there and better luck (for me) next time...

Monday, 19 March 2007

The comfort of women

Japan has a bit of a pesky little irritant that just won’t go away. No, not Krazy Kim this time, or gone-bad politicos, or corrupt business persons or even a dodgy building industry (though it does have all of these things to worry about). No, the little itch that Japan just can’t scratch is the Second World War.

Now it might seem odd that I am writing about this a mere 62 years after the jaunt ended, but to use a clichéd Americanism, Japan just can’t get any closure. The problem is, however, self inflicted (unlike the war) because Japan just can’t or won’t accept that they really did anything wrong. It was a war, you see, so anything goes (as in, now for a second tired cliché one paragraph, ‘all’s fair in love and war’ (and as far as I can tell Japan loved being at war (well, in the beginning when they were winning (I digress (and have used too many brackets now (darn))))). Now I have written in the past about certain things that happened in the war (or perhaps didn’t) like the Rape of Nanking and also the aftermath, such as the ongoing issues with Japanese PMs visiting Yasukuni Shrine to honour class A war criminals. But another issue has also never gone away, that of the alleged, so called, unverified, supposed ‘Comfort Women’.

The basic premise of this is simple, during the war the Japanese army forced many thousands of women to work as prostitutes but specifically to provide ‘comfort’ for Japanese soldiers stationed overseas in places like China and the Philippines. Now the government finds it very hard to deny this since former Imperial Army soldiers have come forward and said they did this, the forcible rounding up, and also in 1992 a number of documents were declassified showing that the army did indeed run official brothels. So now, it seems, the official line is that Japan accepts moral responsibility for this treatment, but not legal responsibility, and even that’s pushing it a bit as Silent Shinzo recently declaimed that there is ‘no proof’ of any of this. However the official way they argue it is this:

1. Even if the women were held against their will there was no law against it at the time
2. If it was illegal to force women to be prostitutes (and we’re not saying it was, see point 1), then the international laws you might be referring to didn’t apply in military-occupied territories
3. Even if we are caught out by 1 and 2 above, everything was settled at the end of the war so we have no case to answer

And this is what the courts in Japan have been saying for the last 62 years, or at least since people have been trying to sue the government. For example in 2000 the Tokyo District court threw out a case by 46 former alleged sex slaves when it decided that ‘crimes against humanity’ (on which the case was brought) as a concept did not exist in the 1940s, whilst a court in Hiroshima in 2001 threw out a case stating that coerced sex wasn’t illegal in the 1940s! The courts obviously didn’t know their history because apparently the notion of crimes against humanity goes all the way back to 1904, whilst in the first half of the twentieth century Japan signed up to no less than 4 international treaties outlawing the white slave trade, trafficking in women and the abolition of forced labour. So you’d think that they wouldn’t have a leg to stand on, but still the government won’t make any reparations or, really, admit that it happened and say they are sorry.

Of course because Japan is a sovereign state you can’t actually sue it from the outside, so you can’t bring a case against the Japanese government in, say, America, you can only do that in Japan (and fair enough on that score). But as noted above the judiciary in Japan don’t look like they are about to go as far as admitting to anything anytime soon, even when it is pointed out that the basis on which some courts make their decisions are fundamentally incorrect.

The third defense of the government, about things being sorted after the war, is also erroneous, or at least open to attack. Apparently after the end of the pacific war the country was in a bit of a state so when it came to war reparations, mindful of 1918 and the Treaty of Versailles, MacArthur or whoever it was who took these decisions said, effectively, “aw c’mon, these little guys are whacked so no, you can’t have any of their money because right now they haven’t got any”. The important thing here, say prosecutors, is the ‘right now’ bit because, they argue, in 1945 that may well have been the case but in 2007, or even more likely in 1988 before the bubble burst, Japan has money to burn (OK, that happens now with soon-to-be-discovered prefectoral slush funds) and some of it should be going to those who were wringed in the past.

The article I have taken a lot of this from (from the Los Angeles Times section in the Yomiuri (it had to be a foreign newspaper as the Japanese press isn’t going to write anything balanced about this issue c.f. Yasukuni etc)) reckons that Japan will need to do something about this in the not too distant future as it is affecting relations with Asian neighbours and trading partners such as China, Korea and the Philippines, but personally I wouldn’t be holding my breath. Japan has far, far too much of a grip on the ‘Japan was the real victim’ stance with regard to WW2, mainly on account of the atomic bombings of the two cities. Whilst this was indeed a terrible and abhorrent thing, there is a collective, national blindness about what happened in the decade before August 1945 that led to the decision to drop the bombs. Therefore issues like Nanking, Yasukuni and Comfort women will run and run until there is no one left alive to champion them and then they’ll be quietly forgotten.

NB Anyone else feel that the government’s defense #2, the one about happening in occupied countries, is just a bit too close to Bush, extraordinary rendition and the hostages enemy combatants held in Guantanamo Bay for, ahem, comfort...?

But anyway...

Wouldn’t you just know it? Last week a letter arrived for me. It looked very plain and the envelope promised neither that I had won any yen nor that I was being asked to fork any out. And as no birthdays or anniversaries were due, so I was perplexed. On opening the envelope I was somewhat surprised to find an invitation to the Embassy to view cherry blossoms with the outgoing and newly arriving Consuls General (I think that’s the correct plural) on Tuesday 27th March. It was the proper thing, too, mostly printed but name handwritten. And this had come to the flat, not to the office, so it was obviously a personal, rather than a professional invitation (I think). Anyway the bugger is is that I will be flying to the UK on Monday 26th March and will therefore be unable to attend.

I RSVP’d as per the instructions and the women to whom I spoke seemed a little surprised. Then again I did say to her that, assuming that the reason Her Majesty’s government want to meet me was to recruit my services for a spot of cloak-and-dagger, I would be only too happy to visit the MI5 building in London next week instead of meeting my contact at the embassy. At that point she hung up, rather abruptly I thought, so I am still waiting for my ‘drop’ details in London, it will all be very hush-hush so I’ll probably have to wait a week or two until I can write about it, but rest assured I’ll keep everyone informed...

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Happy thoughts

Am reading this book at the moment, as you can see from the sidebar, about the Vietnam War. The basic premise is simple – get a load of the old protagonists together, those responsible for the war rather than the foot soldiers, and get them to chinwag like that should have done 50 years ago and find out if they missed any opportunities to not have a war.

When I started reading this book I thought this was a fascinating premise and got into the book, but on reflection I think they are, to a greater or lesser extent, a bunch of fools. It’s easy not to have a war, you just don’t fight. When you’ve started you just say stop. I don’t know if I’m being too simplistic here, though I think I probably am, but surely it is easier not to have a war than it is to have one, especially if the two protagonists are separated by 5000 miles of ocean.

However the main current of the book is that the knowledge of each side about the other was, essentially, non-existent, and their ability to communicate with each other wasn’t a great deal better. If they’re going to talk about missing opportunities I feel it would be better to do it with wars that are yet possibly not to happen, such as the bellicose rantings of the US against, for example, Iran, rather than an opportunity that has been missed already, as in Vietnam. But perhaps that’s the point and that we should learn from our mistakes – if so I hope someone gives George Bush a copy of this book before it’s all too late.

Interestingly, in the Vietnam War, so the book says, the ‘intelligence’ community apparently were the ones to get it right, by basically saying, from a very early point, that the US was never going to win the war, not even close, their military strategies were doomed to failure and that they were fighting a completely different war than they thought they were. But the military were blind and deaf to this and kept shouting at various presidents to increase troop numbers until they had enough materiel to defeat the ‘enemy’ (though even knowing who the enemy was was quite tricky). I’m not sure about you, but this does sound suspiciously like what has happened for the last few years since 9/11 to me i.e. intelligence being twisted to be ‘fit for a purpose’ then the military going in, doing a job and then being totally unprepared for the aftermath, and then just shouting at everyone to provide more troops for a war that is increasingly unpopular at home. But, and this is big but, Iraq is not the new Vietnam, right...?

Monday, 5 March 2007

Rich Pickings

So, had a tricky week at work last week, hence no posting, but must admit the creative juices not flowing to freely either, which doesn’t help.

This week also there hasn’t been much going on to write home about, as it were. The results of the question posed in the last post, about Silent Shinzo’s apparent fall from grace were published in the Yomiuri, but such were the responses that I can’t really remember what they were on about (which isn’t good reportage, I realize, but there you go). Anyway from what I remember there were things like ‘he hasn’t had enough time yet so give him a chance’, also at least a couple of ‘well, what has he done?’ which kind of reflects what I was banging on about in the post, whilst I’m sure there was one ‘I just don’t like his ugly mug’, of which I heartily agree. Of course Silent Shinzo’s response to this was a furious verbal broadside against the print media in general and the Yomiuri in particular, where he savaged the inanity of the questioning and questioned the reliability and validity of the research undertaken. Or maybe not, but it is nice to speculate what he might have thought.

What we did you, yesterday, was go strawberry picking. The reason we did this was, ostensibly, to show the little ‘un that strawberries do not grow in plastic trays in supermarkets but are, in fact, part of living things called plants. So off we trooped to Konosu at 715 on Sunday morning. Now Konosu, for regular readers on this blog, might sound familiar, as indeed it should as it is the place where yours truly has been to get/renew my driving license (see here if you’re bored). I am beginning to think that Konosu may well be the centre of the universe as far as Saitama Prefecture is concerned, or at least the centre of Saitama. So anyway we get there at about 845am and go to this suspiciously small plastic greenhouse and ask a startled looking chap if we are in time. The reason we have to do this is this is a strange place – they only give out 40 tickets for fruit pickers and don’t take bookings, so if you get there and all tickets are gone then you are out of luck, bye! You may think this odd – me too, but don’t worry, it get odder.

We were in luck and safely procured three tickets but then, as the picking didn’t start until 10am, we had bugger all to do. Now luckily there was a playground thing and so the youngster could spend an hour clambering over, under, through and around things, mostly avoiding other bigger kids running amok, but not always. At the appointed hour we re-presented ourselves to startled looking chap, his visage hadn’t changed, at which point he asked us, and others, if we wouldn’t mind getting in number order according to the tickets. OK, this wouldn’t be too tricky unless he had given out random numbers, ah. So as we had 27, 29 and 32, this meant the youngster would be on his own in between random punters, but then, after a moment of milling, everybody ignored startled bloke anyway. And I thought these Japanese were meant to take rules seriously?

Now the picking could begin. But this was no ordinary picking, rather it was a strawberry eating experience. You went into the greenhouse, picked a strawberry off an obliging plant and then ate it. You had a small punnet in which to catch the strawberries as you cut them off the plant and also a small dish containing condensed milk, which you often eat with strawberries here, and that was it, off you go and eat for 30 minutes whilst, of course, paying for the pleasure. There was none of this collecting strawberries and taking them home to make a nice pie or, indeed, tart. Now I don’t know about you, but I have a threshold of how many strawberries with condensed milk I can eat at 10am on a Sunday morning, standing in an overly warm greenhouse in Konosu and it does not, I can confirm, take 30 minutes to reach that threshold. More like 10 minutes, and that was pushing it. The Guru also, I must add, felt likewise. The only person who might have wanted to stay and consume even more (but without the condensed milk) was the youngster. I don’t know if he came to realize that strawberries grow on plants, but he definitely did find out that all he had to do was follow a parent around and he would be given lots and lots of them to eat.

And that was about it. We went, we ate, we returned. They were very nice strawberries though.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

The Abe issue

The Daily Yomiuri has, once a month, a readers’ write-in thing where they propose a theme and your average punter can write in and let loose their thoughts. Recently they have had such things as ‘what more can Japan do to encourage eco-friendliness in others so we don’t have to?’; ‘Just how many nukes should we drop on Krazy Kim’s People Mart?’; and a personal favourite ‘What avenues of whining should Japan now explore in an attempt to get a permanent seat on the UNSC?’. This month’s question is a little different, however. If memory served it is something like ‘Why has new-ish PM Shinzo Abe’s popularity gone down the tubes?’

Now I have thought long and hard about this over the past few minutes and I must admit to being at something of a loss. This might strike you as strange, but it is so. The reason I am at a loss might, however, also be the reason his popularity has gone down the tubes, as I can’t think of anything that Shizo has done since he became PM, so much so that I still can’t think of a decent, or indeed any, nickname for him, which I find just a little bit depressing.

So, he came to power after the Kool Kid Koizumi collected his P45 in September last year and, as far as I can remember, really hasn’t done anything. It almost seems as if Japan has gone to sleep with him at the helm. Reading through the archives of this blog, as I am wont to do on occasion when bored, I have come across posts about Krazy Kim, about dodgy architects, scandals a-plenty, succession issues, Yasukuni, takeovers and makeovers and all sorts of other things that happened with, to and by the Kid (read back, you’ll find them all in there (somewhere)), but since the autumn I really can’t think of too much that has gone on. OK, there was the cabinet minister that said women were essentially ‘birthing machines’ and that they were failing in their duty – he threatened to resign but Abe wouldn’t let him. That was interesting for about a day, but that’s about it.

It’s almost as if John Major has decided that being the most dull and boring politico in Britain wasn’t enough so he thought he’d branch out and give another legislature a go. But maybe, and here possibly is the point of all this, the Kool Kid has actually done what all politicians want to do but generally fail in the attempt: he changed the game (here in Japan), changed the political landscape. Recast the mindset of ‘the people’ (whoever we/they are). Redefined what it is to be a politico in Japan. Reinvented. Shifted. No longer are ‘the people’ going to be happy with a faceless, humourless, unmemorable grey suit. Now, because of the Kid, perhaps people want politicos who try and do stuff, who have opinions, who try to change the way things work (or don’t work), who say things like ‘oops, might have bungled that one a tad’ and who have, (shudder) some passion for the job.

The thing with the Kid was that he polarized opinion, he really was, it seems to me, either loved or hated. Now that might seem strange if you are reading this in the UK or US (or elsewhere, but I don’t know much about the politics of that country) as political parties, and political issues, often have the effect of polarizing opinion, but here in Japan consensus has often been the order of the day. This is perhaps because Japan has essentially had one political party in power since 1945 (the good ‘ole Liberal Democratic party, who are neither liberal nor democratic, natch) and also because harmony is/was paramount – in this sense harmony means collusion between big business and big politics to ensure people are told what to do and then do it, sort of like Stalin or Hitler’s command economy but with smiles, nicer cars and no gulags. But the Kid, with acts like going postal (privatizing the postal savings system), being principled (kicking out the dissenters in the party) and having the balls to fight (his back me or sack me the country at the last election, and they backed him), maybe something changed in Japanese politics which has, perhaps quite unexpectedly, changed something in the electorate.

So when Silent Shinzo (how about that one?) comes along, expecting everyone to slip back into their late-90s political acquiescence, he may be feeling just a tad miffed that people are asking him questions and expecting (as if?!) answers and action. I think there may be a lot of head scratching going on the Strip OL Shabu-shabu joints of Shinjuku as the old guard, the ones who breathed a sigh of relief when the Kid was as good as his word and retired in September, try and figure out how they can run a damned country with a lame duck PM and an increasingly irritating tendency from ‘the people’ to ask questions they shouldn’t and expect something approaching a reasonable, or at least reasonably believable but not necessarily true, answer.

Or I might be wrong, maybe they just don’t like his ugly mug, but I’d like to think that there’s a bit more to it than that.

Monday, 5 February 2007


So a couple of things going on this week, well, in the last few weeks or so.

Well done

First up a welcome week for English sporting success, with both the cricket team beating a not-really-trying-Australia team and then the rugby boys beating a not-very-good-Scotland team. Well done there to both, but I suspect it will be harder against teams who are actually trying to play them (indeed I fear the Aussies want us to reach the final of the CB series so they can humiliate us all over again – but that’s perhaps just my jaded and cynical view of the whole thing). But hey, at least we’ve remembered how to play the oval ball game at last, and long may it continue (might even get out of our RWC pool now...)

Beans means ?

Then yesterday, Sunday 4th, was Setsubun-no-hi, a rough and ready translation of which is ‘Day of throwing beans at Ogres’. Now this may sound like great fun, and in a way it is, in a weird Japanese festival kind of way. Essentially on this day, which in the weird old Japanese calendar is the first day of the New Year and of spring as well (could be the Chinese new year?), it was a whole new start kind of thing. So what you had to do was get some beans (special anti-ogre beans one suspects) and then proceed to attack any ogres that might be living in your house (as far as I can see). Now in our flat we, unfortunately, did not have any ogres, or any lesser fairy-tale creatures either, more’s the pity, so we had to make do with dad in an unconvincing ogre mask.

This ‘ogre’ then attacked the Guru and youngster before being repelled with the aforementioned anti-ogre beans. These were chucked at the ‘ogre’ whilst chasing the beasty around the house and then out of the front door. The youngster was, however, all a bit nonplussed by these anti-ogre antics so was not particularly good with the bean throwing (and come to think of it had I known that beans held such effective ogre repelling qualities it would have made role playing with MERP and D&D a whole lot easier in my spotty youth). However the ‘ogre’ was dismissed from the house and then, surprisingly, we had to spend the following 20 minutes picking up little bits of crushed beans from all over the place.

The youngster was happier, however, when he got up after a nap to find a train in the living room. He has a bit of a thing about trains, as does any 1 and 3/4 year old, as far as I am aware, and has books about them, models of them and probably dreams about them as well. Anyway a few weeks ago, or maybe a month, we bought a new oven/microwave thing that came in a big box. Since it was delivered the box has remained in the living room as the youngster’s Best Toy Ever ™ and the parent’s Most Annoying Big Box in the Living Room ™. Anyway for weeks I have been looking at said box and thinking, and saying, I must make a train out of that box, so yesterday I finally pulled my finger out and did the business. I must admit that it gave me a huge dose of fatherly feeling to actually make something that he plays with. My art skills, being a ‘bit shite actually’ are in fact perfect for impressing not-quite-two year olds and so he was most happy with his new train. It was modelled badly on a Kodama shinkansen, for those of you sad enough to want to know.

Our living room yesterday afternoon

The food of hot, p3rvy $ex...

Ok, you hear about chocolate being the food of love, or maybe strawberries & cream, asparagus or even oysters and powered rhino horn. But they, I’m afraid, are but a chaste peck on the cheek compared to Shabu-shabu, the padded black leather fetish dungeon of the culinary world.

Now for those of you not in Japan you may wonder what I am on about, but that’s surely been the case for the last four years, so no change there. Shabu-shabu is a type of dish that Japanese do very well, D-I-Y food. Japanese, it seems to me, love food that you go to a restaurant for but then proceed to actually cook yourself, for example okonomiyaki, kushiage and yakiniku to name but three. This, it seems, negates the real need to have a restaurant, but I guess Japanese hate washing up, hence their desire to go out. Shabu-shabu works like this – get a bit round pot of boiling water, take some wafer thin slices or raw beef, dunk beef in water for few moments (holding with chopsticks all the while), dunk now cooked beef in assortment of condiments (pepper, raw egg, candle wax), then eat. The shabu-shabu-ness of it comes from the motion of swishing the beef in the water.

OK, so far so not that odd or depraved. But it was in the 1990s that Shabu-shabu became, in Japan, a byword for smut with the notoriety of the No Pants Shabu-shabu restaurants in Shinjuku. The premise was simple. Same basic restaurant but with two key differences; one, mirrored floors and; two, waitresses not in kimono but in very short skirts and nothing to keep out the drafts. These became the talking point as they did not cater, as you might suspect, for the lower end of society, but it seemed predominantly for the ministry of finance and other government mandarins (actually you might have suspected that more...). A few dodgy deals, one or two intrepid reporters and the blag was blown.

But now we have a new phenomenon – the OL Strip Shabu-shabu. An OL, should you be wondering, is an Office Lady. They wear kind of crap corporate uniforms and until recently we employed to make tea and be groped on trains. But Women’s Lib finally arrived and so the mean old government made it illegal for the salaryman to manhandle these young ladies on the subway, thereby increasing the sexual frustration of every salaryman over the age of 40.

So OL Strip Shabu-shabu has now arrived. As you can see from this news article the basic idea is again simple – as you shabu you thin slices of beef you can ask you waitress to strip off. Great, your own personal floor show whilst you eat you dinner. You can, it seems, even ask the waitress to then dress up in another costume from, one assumes, the ‘side order’ menu.

But what makes me really wonder is, why Shabu-shabu? What is it about thin slices of beef that make men want to ‘get down on it’? I mean there’s no No Pants Okonomiyaki, no Strip Yakitori, so why Shabu-shabu? This, I suspect, is one of the unfathomable idiosyncrasies of Japan that I keep reading about in travel books...

Thursday, 1 February 2007


Just to pass on a few choice quotes from a letter I received this morning:

"It is a very useful introduction"

"The literature review is relevant an extensive. Presenting a framework for literature review and explaining the relevant terms and concepts is very useful."

"[investigation] Sample is excellently explained"

"Data presentation is detailed, and reflects an understanding of the issues involved."

"The conclusions are well linked to the study."

"This assignment [dissertation] is an excellent piece of work" (particularly proud of that one)

"The author has a deep understanding of the issues involved, and the effort to engage them in the backdrop of international literature and practices is commendable. Very well done!"

And my personal favourite...

"We write to offer our warmest congratulations on achieving your Masters degree with distinction..."

OK, it's subject to external marking, which won't be complete for about three months, but as the first and second internal markers both gave over 70%, which is an 'A', I'm quietly confident that the 'with distinction' bit will remain.

Quite chuffed about this.

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Movie of fairy vacance life

Now I know that everyone who blogs in or about Japan does this eventually and just so I don’t buck the trend, here’s mine. Yup, it’s the Japlish post. Now you may have spotted the link over on the right for, which is a whole website devoted to it, and indeed it is a fascinating aspect of Japanese culture, that of their extraordinary ability to mangle the English language.

The title of this post is from a Japanese advertisement that came through the door this evening as one of those pieces of unwanted junk mail that appear on an almost daily basis. Can you guess what it is promoting? Go on, have a guess...

Well done for those of you who managed to figure out that yes, it is the tag line for a new block of apartments that are being built on the other side of Kawaguchi station, as can be seen from the photo below.

And just in case you wanted to see the back of the flyer...

I mean, what the ****? And what’s the ‘No Cinema, No Life’ bit for as well? The flats won’t have a cinema in them!

Now I work for an English school and have a pretty good handle on the English language and its uses (even if my typing leaves a lot to be desired (that’s why this blog is full of typos, not because of my ability, honest)), but I am well and truly stumped about a) how someone could possible come up with it b) what it could ever possible mean and c) how on earth I could even begin to explain what is wrong with it. Seems to me that some marketing bod probably said, after a long toke, “let’s play Cheddar Gorge and use the results to form the basis of our next advertising campaign” (for those of you who don’t know how to play Cheddar Gorge, firstly shame on you and secondly visit I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue immediately!).

Anyway it is an amazing ability, the Japanese have, this utter un-mastery of English. I figure that the company building these flats probably have a bit of cash, as do the people advertising them, so surely it wouldn’t be beyind the wit of someone to say “hey, do you think this makes any sense at all?”. Or perhaps I’m coming at it from totally the wrong angle. Maybe the original tagline was something like ‘Apartments in Kawaguchi: Quite a Nice Place to Live’ and the advertising bod said “hey, that’s no good; it makes sense, throw this trash out and give me some non sequiturs! Show me the nonsense! Etc” or something like that.

But everywhere you go, as you can see from the website, you get this weird and wonderful use of English. Vending machines are fertile ground, especially cigarette machines with their legends extolling you to ‘enjoy happy smoke life in harmony’. Another I especially liked was for the SMBC bank, who have the pleasure of holding my well earned wages for a few hours on pay day (before the Guru spirits the lot away into hidden (from me) savings accounts (and this is a good thing else I would spend the money, possible enjoying a happy smoke life, who knows?)). Anyway one of their campaigns, when we got back here in 2002 and joined the bank, was based on the tagline One’s Next..., which in itself isn’t too bad, except their pension planning brochure was entitled One’s Next Life, for which I’m sure you’ll agree, you probably don’t need a pension for.

The common excuse for all of this is that having a bit of English is cool and as most people, except perplexed foreigners, can’t read it and even if they could they wouldn’t understand it, it therefore doesn’t have to make sense. But that just seems a bit too pat and a bit too lame to me. Then again I suppose plenty of westerners go around with Kanji tattoos for girl power or other such nonsense that it is a two way thing. (aside, two stories about tattoos I like. One, from Chris who used to be in Japan and set up the excellent kanji learning site KanjiSite, he was amazed how many requests he got from people wanting to know specific kanji so they could get tattoos done, his favourite was from an American chap from one of the rectangular, mid-western states who wanted the specific kanji for carburettor so he could have it tattooed, probably on his forehead. And second, from a football (that’s association soccer) email I get, a teenager in Argentina is suing a tattooist as the tattooist, a supporter of the River Plate team didn’t, as the chap wanted, do a great big logo of Boca Juniors (the chap’s personal team and huge rival of River Plate) on his back. No, he tattooed a picture of an enormous penis. The chap only found out when he got home and proudly displayed his back to his parents...)

Anyway, I’ve often wondered how I’d be able to get a story about tattooing the kanji for carburettor onto an American chap into this blog – I can sleep easily tonight.

Monday, 15 January 2007

Burn Kawaguchi burn, taking down steeltown

Ok, I know it doesn’t scan quite as well as the original, but hey, nobody’s perfect.

So yes, Kawaguchi was on fire on Saturday night. I don’t mean that in a figurative sense, I mean that in a real, literal, Kawaguchi was a-burnin’ at the weekend. Now this may seem odd, and indeed it was. At about 9pm on Saturday evening we were getting to that ‘bedtime story’ kind of time when we heard a few sirens going off. Now this is not an unusual thing as we live on a main road and so quite often we get fire engines and ambulances going past. The young ‘un got a noisy fire engine toy from a grand parent for Christmas so he is quite into them and so the Guru thought ‘ah, good learning experience here) and took the little fella to the window for a peek. And what did she see? Not one engine but a whole host, certainly more than one would normally shake a stick at, and they seemed to be congregating around this area...

Odd, we thought, and then for some reason I thought I’d have a look out onto the river and, low and behold, the river bank was on fire!

For those who have never been in japan in winter I should mention that winters here are very dry indeed, so the grass and reeds on the riverbank become very brittle and easily flammable, a bit like kindling, so in a way it not that much of a surprise that some bright spark might accidentally start a fire. Anyway this was quite a conflagration and at one point seemed to stretch about 100 meters from side to side, and luckily, being on the 7th floor we got a jolly good view, as the photo below shows...

OK, doesn’t really do it justice, but it is all on fire. The fire engine chappies did their darnedest to get to the flames, but I must admit that it did take them a while as they had to get over the levee/bank bit and then past all the sports pitches and finally to the fire itself. But got there they did and once on site made short work of the inferno. How it started can only be pure speculation, but it is a popular place for fisher folk to try and poison themselves by catching swimming turds from the river, and also there are a few homeless souls (or fisher folk who have forgotten how to get home), or indeed it could be young hoodlums and their high jinks (like burning homeless people to death, as seems a reasonably popular pastime amongst the more deranged/crazed/disaffected yoof’). Anyway it was lucky the fire was there and not, say, in my apartment, juding by the time it actually took to get there. But it was good practice as the following day (Sunday, if you’re not paying attention), in exactly the same place, was...

Kawaguchi Fire Persons Training and Demonstration Day

No really, which means, of course, that the fire that really happened was actually about 12 hours early and was meant to be part of the Sunday jollity.

But seriously, folks, Sunday was the local fire brigades’ deomstration day. We kind of half remembered this from last year and again thought it would be a jolly good wheeze to take the young ‘un down to enjoy the show, after all it is only 5 minutes away, involves loud fire engines, gets us all out in the fresh air and contains the possibility of a helicopter being included for free (and the youngster loves helicopters at the moment). So at about 855 we can see the fields have been set up and long line of fire engines are in a sort of scramble mode on one of the riverbank access roads. We wonder when things are going to start, but as 9am passes by and nothing happens, the business of breakfast takes over. The same thing happens around 955, but this time, as the more likely hour of 10am looms do we do anything about getting ready? Of course not, so when the sirens start blaring at exactly 10am, we are thrown into a frenzy of ‘get him changed! Where are his gloves? Sort out the pushchair! I said it would start at 10am but who listens to me! Etc’. But we get out of the front door in a world record 1 minute 35 seconds and , as I mentioned it was all quite close, we get there in time.

‘In time’ for what? is a question that might be asked. Well. There were lots of fire engines and lots of hoses spraying a lot of river water into the air. There were mocked up buildings surrounded by, I guess, earthquake style debris and detritus, from which ‘injured’ people had to be rescued. There were also other buildings that were torched so the firefighters could strut their stuff and dowse the flames. This last bit was quite impressive, but less so for those who had been witness to the real thing the evening before. They also had those long extendable ladder things and rescued a ‘person’ from a tallish building that only about 27 floors lower than the new tower blocks they are building here at the moment, so no need to worry (much) for those new residents. You can get a feeling about the whole thing from these photos below (click for bigger photos).

The main thing was the youngster thoroughly enjoyed it. Well, he seemed to and he did wave to the fire engines and ambulances that went past, which is always a good sign. I am glad to report that the chaps coped very well with all the drills and everything went off with nary a hitch, though I must admit I was slightly worried about what might have happened if, say, a major fire had broken out in Omiya whilst all these engines were on the riverbank as there were a lot of them and not just from Kawaguchi but from all over southern Saitama. But this was just idle speculation as nothing of the sort happened, I’m glad to say

This week’s out-of-touch politician award...

...goes to Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Hidenao Nakagawa (well known for commonsense approach to politics). There is a potential bill being debated at the moment, known snappily as the White-collar work-hour exemption bill, which as far as I can tell, would exempt office workers from the standard 8 hour day (meaning they could be forced to work much longer hours) and also stop them from being entitled to overtime pay (meaning they wouldn’t get paid for it). Mr Nakagawa apparently complained on a news programme on NHK last weekend that “salaried workers and their families, who should welcome the white-collar exemption system, were opposed to it [so it can’t be submitted]”.

Now call me crazy, but a bill that might mean that I work longer hours for which overtime payments have been abolished, hmm, let me think about it...Hey, sounds like a swell idea, where can I sign up?


Monday, 8 January 2007


December was a busy month, as might have been alluded to in a previous post, and as it is for everyone who has one (a December, I mean, though for some they are busier than for others, I suspect. Anyway). So at the start of the month I headed back to Blighty for a good friend’s wedding. Richard, who had once had the dubious honour of being my best man, got hitched to Lorna, his sweetheart of the past couple of years. I went solo on this trip, for a couple of reasons, one was the expense, which we decided was too great for what was quite a short trip back (and we will be going back in August 2007 for my cousin’s wedding, all things being equal (like being given time off from work, not guaranteed by any means now), and also because this was a ‘no kids’ wedding. This was the first time I had come across one of these, though according to friends they are much the common thing nowadays. Personally, this bothers me. When the Guru and I had the UK leg of our wedding in 2002 it would never have occurred to me to have a ‘no kids’ wedding, what’s the point? If you want your friends there, you invite them. If they have kids, along they come too. It’s simple. But not, apparently. But OK, if that’s what people do nowadays, fair enough, but what about if you are flying 5,000miles to see your mates and have no chance of arranging baby sitting facilities as you don’t live in the country? Tough, is the answer, it seems to me. And, for those who can arranging babysitters, not only do they have to buy presents for the happy couple, but fork out for a sitter as well (which in London, is eight quid an hour, according to the friends I was staying with. 8 quid! So for them, from 2pm to midnight, the cost was going to be something like 70quid! Outrageous that it costs that much and outrageous that they should have to pay because of this ‘no kids’ rule – it kind of p*ssed me off, this ‘no kids’ thing, as you might suspect from this rant. But really)

Anyway I was back for a week and managed to fill my time most responsibly. We had a big family Christmas about 3 weeks early, this not just for my benefit but also for my cousin who lives in Hungary, who was over with his Romanian wife for the weekend. That was jolly good fun, as one might expect from this kind of thing. Then I got to treat Golf-playing-Brother-and Family’s house like a hotel for a few days whilst I spent time visiting old school friends in Fleet. This again was most pleasant as I got to meet lots the (quite recently) arrived children of my friends, and of course my nephew Charlie. I fact one of the over-riding themes of the trip was kids; firstly mine, in that I didn’t get to see him for about 10 days and at times it was really difficult, and other people’s kids, which were everywhere (except the wedding, of course) and made me miss the youngster even more. But everyone seems to be having, or had, them. As I said all my old school friends in Fleet were kidded up with one, if not two, whilst the old university friends in London I stayed with had one with number two due in March. As I said, everywhere, but then again I suppose we are of an age where these things are happening. In London I also met up with an old work colleague who moved back to the UK earlier in ’06. He was doing well in that he had finally left the company and was now free-lancing, which in time honoured tradition meant he was living with his parents and not, technically, doing any work. “That will change” he said, ‘but not too soon’ I thought. But anyway good luck to him in his IT endeavours.

The wedding itself was held at the English Speaking Union, which is at Dartmouth House in the heart of Mayfair. It was, as these things tend to be, a rather drunken affair. I seemed to spend all of my time talking to people, some of whom I hadn’t seen since the end of sixth form, so only about 15 years ago, which made me feel exceptionally old, as I mentioned in a past post last year (but I can’t remember where – think I might be getting old…) The same of it was that (apart from the family not being there to enjoy it with me) I didn’t really get much of a chance to talk to the bride or groom as they were doing the bride and groom thing, which seemed to involve being nice to parents and worrying about stuff. I think I might have said ‘hello’ and ‘awfully nice to meet you’ to Lorna, as it was the first time I had met said lady, but I think that was about it (though of course I may have said an awful lot more, but due to the rigours of alcohol and jet lag, I might have forgotten (this has happened before), but no one mentioned anything to me the next day, which is always a good sign).

Last but not least I picked up presents from various family members to do my best Santa impression and ferry loot from one side of the world to the other. I’m glad to say that, on knowing I was coming alone and that I would therefore be traveling light, my family did their level best to send me rocketing over the luggage limit on Virgin (to whom I once again doff my cap). Suffice it to say I went to the UK with once smallish case at under 10kgs (including presents for all them), but returned with my original bag as hand luggage and a new case twice the size of mine and a whisker under the 23kgs limit (and that was with leaving a present for me behind!). And last of all, on getting back and lugging all this stuff half way across the world, I got back to find the lift in the apartment building was being repaired so I had to drag everything up six floors to finally get home. (oh, and I lost the backgammon this year in a strangely disappointing series).


Was something I enjoyed with the Guru and the Youngster on, and this night come as a surprise, December 25th, as unlike some I don’t have to work (though the bit of work from getting back from the UK to finishing for the holiday was hellishly busy, possibly on account of a promotion that has somehow seen me end up as principal. Don’t ask me how.) Anyway my last day was Saturday 23rd and then it was a frenzy of shopping, eating and drinking, not necessarily in that order, until, well, today really. For Christmas day we awoke early-ish, I think the youngster did us the honour of sleeping in until at least 630am (not because it was Christmas, it is just his time of arising). Breakfast was followed by presents and, as is traditional, the young ‘un had a huge pile, the guru had an impressive pile and I had, well, pitiful in comparison does spring to mind (of course this was my fault as I had not told anyone what I wanted – I didn’t think that was the point...) anyway the youngster got, in no particular order, a Mr Potato Head, a puzzle, lots of books and DVDs, a noisy fire engine, a toy helicopter (his favourite word at the moment is he-buta, which is his attempt at this obviously tricky word) and a load of other stuff as well.

Then it was to the park to run around a bit and climb up and then slide down the slide. This was in order to tire the little fella’ out a bit as he goes a bit stir crazy if he doesn’t burn off a few kilowatts a day.

(I know I don’t, as a rule, put photos of him of the blog anymore, but it’s Christmas (or was) so a special exception can be made).Then it was back home for yours truly to cook the Christmas lunch. This was, I must admit, done with a certain panache and aplomb, with the three of us sitting down to a veritable feast at 2 o’clock. There was, however, a slight cock-up – the plan of using up a bit of the youngster’s energy worked so well that as we sat down to eat the excitement of the whole day got to him and, no longer able to contain himself, he fell asleep, as you can see from the two photos below:

And so we ate in peace and quiet, which is always nice, mainly as it is so uncommon, and then spent the rest of the day feeling bloated. We even had a Hollywood blockbuster to watch (Pirates of the Caribbean, I think), but as I had already seen this on the plane to the UK (and didn’t think that much of it) I only had half an eye on it. (In fact all of the three films I watched going to the UK were sequels: Pirates etc 2, Mission Impossible 3 and X-Men 3, all of which weren’t that much kop at all. I saw Cars on the way back, which was better, but I wasn’t exactly bowled over with the choice).

Boxing day it rained all day, so we just sat around eating and drinking again. All this lead to the New Year, which for Japanese involves a shit load of cleaning. Japanese don’t do spring cleaning, they do new year cleaning, which makes sense I suppose as the weather is usually nice and it is a grand idea to start the new year with a clean house. That this cleaning took three whole days, for an apartment the size of ours, doesn’t really bear thinking about. But we managed it and for ringing in 2007 we had the cleanest apartment in Japan (I am willing to bet). The night itself was a low key affair, as they tend to be when you have kids, I suspect. After which we went to spend a couple of days with the Guru’s folks to let them look after the youngster for a few hours each day so we didn’t have to! This was pleasant and I got to do what always makes me feel it’s new year and watch the Hakone Ekiden (kind of like a long distance relay race from Tokyo to Mt Fuji and back for university athletics teams (men only) over January 1st and 2nd, very traditional and always makes me feel the new year has begun, especially if I watch it at the Guru’s folk’s place).

And that was about it. More shopping was to be done, including a couple of new suits and a new oven, more visits to the park and the riverbank to use up that energy (so successful was this that on a couple of occasions the little ‘un actually fell asleep around 7pm, giving us a couple of evenings together for the first time in ages. We watched more films in the last week than we have in the past two years!) And so tomorrow it’s officially back to work, though I did have two days last week, but I don’t feel they count as today is a national holiday. Great!