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!