Thursday, 9 December 2010

Oh, has it been that long already?

Goodness I think it has been.

Kan he? I'm not so sure...

So, what's been going on. Well, in Japan, not a lot that I can really remember, hence the fact that I haven't bothered posting anything. One snippet this morning, though, is that Primae Minister (The Man who) Kan is quickly becomming (The Man Who) Kan't (if, of course, he became (The Man Who) Kant and then went around quoting dear old Immanuel all day long, for example "Happiness is not an ideal of reason, but of imagination" or "All thought must, directly or indirectly, by way of certain characters, relate ultimately to intuitions, and therefore, with us, to sensibility, because in no other way can an object be given to us.", or even "Act that your principle of action might safely be made a law for the whole world", though a few might argue with that, especially over one's personal definition of 'safely'; anyway if he had done this sort of thing then I think he'd be onto a winner, or at least a position within a university's philosophy faculty, but he hasn't, he's tried to be a PM, and a Japanese one at that).

Where was I? Oh yes, our man who Kan is, apparently, on the way to becomming the most unpopular PM Japan has ever had, and as you can imagine, that's up against some pretty stiff opposition. The real problem is this:

It's not the bit at the end that is doing our man down, poor support though that may be. No, the problem is at the start. For some insane, perhaps Japanese-only reason, every new PM, no matter who it is, always starts off with an approval rating that is really high. I guess it is a hangover from the fall of the previous guy, who, no matter who it is, will have stunk by the time he left office (think Silent Shinjo or Fuckwit Fukuda, anyone after them would have seemed like a renaissance man), which basiclly means that anyone who comes in is set up for a fall. I mean look at Kan's approval rating when he started, nearly 70%, no one is going to sustain that so it's a long slippery slope downhill

That said it does look like he had a pretty good rally there in the middle, towards the end of September... ah, that was when he was fighting the odious Ozawa for control of the party and, indeed, the country, no wonder he looked good then...I'd have looked good standing next to that crook! But anyway, apart from that, which had nothing to do with actual governing, it's all downhill, and it's the same for every single politico that takes the job on. It could be that he's in charge of a lousy party in a deadlocked house (a bit like Obama) but he's just not really doing anythign about it - I was tryign to think of some things that have happened that would have upped, or downed, his popularity, but I'm struggling apart from the Ozawa thing. OK, I expect that was a foot-in-mouth gaffe from a senior minister and a cabinet member-in-bribe scandal, but these are run of the mill events that happen to all PM's. But maybe that's it, they're all rubbish and it just takes a few months for everyone to realise. So it makes me wonder why they bother as I am certain that when (TMW) Kan goes, a new guy or [reality bending delusion] woman [reality bending delusion/] takes over, it will all happen again. Oh well...

Cricket News now

Ennnnnglaaaaaand! Ennnnnnglaaaaaand! etc

Come on you rubbish Aussies! An innings and 71! In Adelaide! (the first time we've beaten you by an innings there for 118 years!) And you couldn't even roll us over in Brisbane after taking a 220 run lead in the first innings! 517-1! ha ha ha ha hoo hoo hooo wa-ha hah  ha etc etc

But pride cometh before a fall and we're not at home to Mr Cock-up, so watch out boys as a wounded Aussie is a tricky beast.

And other stuff

Er, well, we're still on course to head to Blighty for Christmas, leaving a week tomorrow as it happens - looking forward to that.

Also on the cricket front I, along with some other staff, took the primary cricket team down to near Mt Fuji for a cricket tournament a few weeks back. Great fun, I took charge of the B team (naturally) and we out-performed even our own sky-high expectations by winning two games and coming within a whisker of making the semi-finals (though a good job we didn't as the games we lost were by embarassing margins and a semi would have been a similar proposition) - but it was a cracking weekend and the kids all had a jolly time, which is what it's all about, and, in the end, cricket was the winner (as well as Gunma CC A team). Anyway here's a photo (our chap's batting):

And last but not least, it's chilly here, but not as cold as England! What's going on? I do not expect to spend a 2 week holiday on a bench in Heathrow as no traffic is moving anywhere in the UK - sort it out!

Monday, 18 October 2010

Politician is a bit of a prat shocker!

Goodness it was over 2 months ago since I posted about the centenarians – where does the time go…? Anyway,

Political news now

I have little time for most politicos, it’s all about self interest and not about running a country properly, or even trying to most of the time. But about Japanese politicos I am even more in despair – I just don’t know why they bother. If there wasn’t actually a prime minister I don’t actually think it would make the slightest bit of difference to the country as a whole. OK, there might have to be a top level game of ‘paper, scissors, stone’ (or the j-equivalent ‘junken’) to decide who goes to the [insert name of international conference here] this week to stand at the back, not say anything and then come home and be criticised, or there might be an unseemly tussle if Carla Bruni comes a-visiting and someone has to shake her hand (or other stately appendage), but otherwise Japan would probably quite happily carry on with no head of state, or rather with the faceless grey bureaucrats and the plain grey emperor. But anyway they do have a PM so I’d better write about him.

Actually it’s not about him, the Man Who Kan, I am going to write, it’s about his erstwhile Moriarty, Ichiro Ozawa. OK, this is all old news, but hey, I’ve been busy. So Ozawa is the oldest of old skool, he is only in politics for one reason – himself. Pockets to line, plebs to rule over, god given right to lord it over other people with the expectation that they will thank him for doing so. I don’t like him, if you can’t guess.

Anyway a few months ago a probe was started into some alleged falsification of his financial reports by him and his little minions. At this time Ozawa was a serious heavyweight in the Democratic Party of Japan, a contender for future PM if he could avoid scandal. Now, as we know the DPJ had been out of power for decades until the The Hat came along and won an election. He then ballsed it all up over Okinawa and fell on his sword, as reported here before, and then The Man Who took over. So, new government formed for the still fledgling DPJ ruling classes, what better thing to do than launch a hostile bid for the leadership, just for a laugh. So that’s what Ozawa did.

Now, the timing of this, as you can see, is a bit odd. OK, the DPJ, according its constitution I think (a constitution that needs some serious revision by the sound of it) have to have a leadership contest – but as a party, if you’ve just been through a messy divorce with the standing PM and your popularity is shaky to say the least, you do not want the party ripped apart from the inside by an extremely partisan leadership contest. So, someone needs have a word with the potential leadership contenders along the lines of ‘this is a really delicate time, a time for unity, so there won’t be any challengers, will there…?’

Unfortunately the possibly most-appropriate person to have this little chat is our friend Ozawa, controller of the largest faction in the DPJ, but his chat is more like ‘Come on! Where are all the fighters in this town!?’ So he throws his hat in the ring.

All the while this is going on the investigation into his ‘financial irregularities’ is in full swing and the evidence is pointing increasingly strongly to the fact that he is a lying, cheating bastard (he’s a politician, as if there is any doubt!). His response to this is a simple ‘fuck you!’ to the investigators, reporters and general population of Japan.

So now we have a spot of internecine warfare in the DPJ and not just a little bit but a full on battle front as Ozawa is an important figure in the party who then gets endorsed by ex-PM, and current waste of space The Hat, and the very real possibility that, if Ozawa wins, he will become the first PM to be indicted whilst running the country (as well as the small matter of being something like the 3rd PM in 12 months).

The saving grace is the election process – now I won’t claim to understand the whole shebang, but basically the election votes are divided between (I think) the equivalent of the power-blocs in the Parliamentary party and the rank and file members. In the parliamentary party the votes are reasonably even between Ozawa and Kan, but the rank-and-file, who have been watching as this idiot Ozawa tries to destroy their attempt at government, are horrified at the prospect of him being PM and so are in favour of Kan by about 8-2.

In the end, of course, the election was won by the Man Who with the votes going almost exactly along the lines above. Was Ozawa repentant? Of course not, probably do it all again. The happy news is that he will be prosecuted by the police for the financial irregularities, but not before he threatened to sue the entire panel that came up with the indictment in the first place – his defence being ‘You can’t do that, don’t you know who I am?’ and other such choice defensive posturing. I’d like to think that’s the last we’ll ever hear of the inestimable Ichiro Ozawa, but I have the horrible impression that he will somehow avoid prosecution and bide his time whilst the Man Who inevitably cocks something up and then step into the leadership vacuum. Will be a sad day for Japan if it happens…

Holiday news now

Lock up your daughters, Mr Sexy Peasant is a-coming home for Christmas! Or something like that. Yes, we will be back to Blighty for festive celebrations from December 17th to, I think, 3rd January.

Already I have been instructed to present myself and family at a photo studio in Crowthorne (I know, who’d have thought it!) for family picture snappage – though worryingly father parental has mentioned something about having smart clothes with us for a ‘formal’ shot (golf-playing-brother is the organiser (I know, who’d have thought that adjective could be applied to that person!)). Anyway word to the wise, we will not have much in the way of formal clothes with us, not with normal clothes, Christmas presents and a small child with us.

And now, a brief mention of house guests

We have a house guest by the name of Adam – he is the nephew of a friend of the family and, unlike most 18 year olds (well, unlike most 18 year olds I knew when I was 18 (as I don’t really know very many now)) he doesn’t drink, take drugs or smoke – maybe he isn’t really 18… but he is jolly polite and somewhat diffident.

Anyway he’s here as he has a deep and abiding interest in Japan that needs knocking out of him so he’s staying with us for a couple of weeks. He arrived on Saturday evening looking slightly bewildered by it all, though he had been on a plane for 12 hours and had used, so he told me, one of paper bags that most people just make fun of.

Yesterday the Guru, youngster and I had to go to Meiji Jingu shrine near Harajuku for some serious feng shui praying (don’t ask me) so took Adam along with us. Then we wandered back through Harajuku to Shibuya and thence to Shinjuku and a ride to the top of the TMG building for a look over Tokyo’s sprawl. All very pleasant but at the time a little, niggling worry as whenever we asked ‘where you like to go and see now?’, he didn’t really know. Hmm, thought yours truly, so taking the bull by the horns when we got home I asked him outright, ‘what are your plans for the next 2 weeks?’ to which I got the reply;

‘Er, I don’t know really – maybe go to Kyoto and I’d like to climb Mt Fuji’

So you’ll have done a lot of research, then? Yes, you can climb Fuji in late-October but you tend to have to be an experienced climber with the full kit as snow has already dusted the top of the mountain. And Kyoto, good, that’s a couple of days, what about the rest?

OK, so maybe he is like any other 18 year old; lots of ideas but a bit lacking in the preparation department.

Monday, 9 August 2010

One of our centenarians is missing!

Actually that’s not true, at last count it was about 60 of the sly buggers – what is going on in the post-100 not out age classification stakes?

You may have seen a week or two ago that that in Tokyo a local ward office official from Adachi-ku, accompanied by a policeman, popped around to see Sogen Kato, a 111year old man, to check the usual things one checks on with 111year old people and to give him a commemorative gift for attaining such a ripe old age intact. Kato’s kids (81 yr old daughter and 53 year old granddaughter) refused to let the official see their pa, saying that he was a ‘human vegetable’ and therefore wasn’t in any condition to meet anyone.

But then the following day the granddaughter reportedly went to visit the stonemason who made the gravestone for Kato’s wife when she died, at the age of 101, and told the stonemason all about the visit, apparently adding:

"My grandfather shut himself in a room on the first floor of our home 30 years ago, and we couldn't open the door from the outside. My mother said, 'Leave him in there,' and he was left as he was. I think he's dead."

No shit! At the time, I read somewhere else, the old fella said something along the lines of “I’m going to become a living Buddha so close the door and don’t come in again, no need to worry about the food and water (but beer and yakitori on a Friday night would be most welcome) !” he probably didn’t add.

Of course with every dodgy event in Japan there is some money involved, this time being pension payments, which appear to be about 9 million to him but only from 2005 to now, and seeing as they reckon he’s been dead for possibly 30 years it could be a great deal more – but in the family bank vault is only about 3 million, so the kids have some explaining to do I expect…

So then a couple of days later a similar thing happened with Tokyo’s ostensibly oldest person, the 113 year old Fusa Furuya of Suginami-ku, who has not lived at her address in Suginami for decades and therefore no one knows where she is. Also missing is Furuya’s oldest son and when the police went to check his address, in the hope of finding him and mom, all they found was a vacant piece of land. They did eventually track down the errant offspring but all they got from him was an ‘I don’t know’ on the whereabouts of ma. At least in this one there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of pension fraud as the kids haven’t been collecting it, but there does seem to have been a lot of parental neglect by the kids, there are 3 in total, who don’t appear to have spoken to each other since about 1990 and when they were all asked ‘where’s your mum?’ all pointed to the person on their left and said ‘living with him!’

Of course since all this kicked off all the wards in Tokyo, and I daresay other prefectures as well, have suddenly realised they better be checking up on this sort of thing, and when they have it appears that at least 63 of the longest livers (I don’t mean that their livers are particularly long, or any other internal organs for that matter, just they have lived a long time) might not be that long lived after all. In Osaka prefecture at 21 are missing, including 18 in Higashi-Osaka alone. It’s not clear if this is just carelessness on the part of the local governments and/or relatives of these oldsters, or a more sinister plot being concocted by North Korea to bankrupt Japan by over claiming pension rights (no one has made the North Korean connection yet, so remember, you read it here first).

Half the problem, though, seems to be the kids (kids in the broadest possible sense, of course). For example in my own ward of Itabashi a welfare worker who visited the home of a woman recognized as the ward's oldest in September last year and again this spring was not allowed to meet the woman, as her family said she "had difficulty going out." Quite why ‘difficulty going out’ means the ward official ‘can’t go in’ wasn’t immediately made clear, but there you go.

A lot of the time the ward offices are trying to contact the old folks to give them presents or other handouts, whereupon their progeny basically say “yeah, he lives here; no you can’t see him but I’d be happy to pass on the cash”, but ‘pass on’ soon turns to ‘pocket’, which is, of course, fraud. Why the ward offices can’t make a simple rule along the lines of ‘you want the cash? Show us the person’, I’m not really sure, though the Guru said it was against their human rights to demand to see someone (but then again she was happy all the pension money was going back in the pot).

Anyway with 40,399 centenarians as of September last year this could well be a slightly more widespread problem, just watch out for those North Koreans!

Thursday, 5 August 2010

So then we went to Summerland

Summerland is a big water park out past Hachioji, so still in Tokyo but not in the city.

Summerland is a big place run by Japanese people for, mainly, Japanese people, but there was a surprising amount of English around so obviously there get a lot of foreign visitors there. We went on 13/14th July and I know what you’re thinking, ‘why did we go so close to, or rather in, the rainy season?’ well, it was one of those work-holiday-price-overcrowdedness questions, with the potential overcrowdedness issues of going leter in the month outweighing all other considerations. Don’t believe me, this is the large pool at ‘peak’ time:

There is a pool there, it’s just you can’t see it as it’s covered in people!

The “pool” above is their big, indoor wave pool; they also have a couple of kids’ play pools and a couple of waterslides inside; whilst outside they have more pools, more slides and an amusement park. So we got there after a journey involving not only trains but also a bus too. As I mentioned we went on the 13th and whilst this did overcome the overcrowdedness issue it failed on the nice weather criteria, being grey and wet and, as we were a little way out of Tokyo, quite cold as well – surprising, I know, for rainy season, but once you get away from the heat island effect of Tokyo’s 23 wards the temperature drops dramatically, there is tundra in Tochigi, you know… (not really).

Anyway, as we’re staying for the night we are allowed to drop our bags at the ‘lodge’ and head to the attractions. As it wasn’t really raining at this point we thought we’d try a few of the rides. Knowing that the little fella isn’t really into being scared that much we head for the gentle looking Spin Dinghy, a ride based on, if you can guess, a spinning dinghy. Apprehensive though he was we board and the ride gradually builds up spinning speed. Approximately 0.25 seconds into the ride Marcus starts to scream, a scream that lasts the rest of the ride and causes concern in parenting circles that the fella might pass out through lack of oxygen. He didn’t, I’m glad to say. With that and the prospect of the ‘Air Catapult’ looming we felt discretion was the better part of valour and headed for the pools instead.

The pools – what can I say, they were big and full of water. The first one the little fella tried was the Tropical Fruits Island, which was a bunch of little waterslides designed for the smaller members of public (e.g. children and members of the ‘under 5-foot club’). So Marcus slid, jumped, wallowed and generally had a very nice time. There was also another pool next to this that had a climbing frame and a big bucket that filled and then dumped water over everyone. Then there was the big wave pool in the picture above.

Because it was a Tuesday still in rainy season the place was pretty much empty, comparatively speaking. There was a big kindergarten group that Marcus attached himself to and played with for a while, until they disappeared somewhere else. But hordes of fun seeking holiday makers there were few, which was good as it meant we didn’t have to wait for anything. At lunchtime we did the decent thing and went for lunch. After my much documented travails with TDL I was most happy to discover that this place, as it is run by Japanese, realised that doting though fathers may be, they still like a beer with their chicken and chips, and a reasonably priced beer at that.

The evening was spent at the aforementioned ‘lodge’ – this was a bit of an odd place. To start with there were only 2 occupied rooms in the place, leaving 22 gaps, as it were. As is natural the place had a big ‘ofuro’ (lit. bath) but as there were only 2 sets of guests the lodge people decided that we, as a family could have one bath to ourselves and the other guests could have the other. OK, so even knowing this it felt weird using the ‘women’s’ bathroom because I knew, deep down, that even though I had been told I could use it, I knew I shouldn’t, not really – it was the women’s bathroom. A relaxing bath it did not make.

Dinner was taken in a dining hall with space for about 40 scoffers but with only actually 5. Vast, echo-ey spaces and all that, but at least they served beer (pet hate here (might have mentioned it before, but this one annoyed me) – went to the serving lady, who was also the front desk lady with whom I had conversed earlier, and asked in flawless Japanese, as we stood next to a poster of a bottle of Suntory Premium Malts beer, if I could have a beer, please. She looked at me, then turned to the Guru who was getting some water, and told her that they only served bottled beer, was that OK? Er, hello, I’m standing next to, asking you a simple question in Japanese that we have previously established I can speak to a reasonable degree, the least you could do is address me first and wait to see if I do the confused guppy-fish expression before asking my wife. For fuck’s sakes).

Anyway, dinner was a mostly Japanese affair, with lots of small dishes of mostly edible stuff. Nice, but not awe-inspiring. Breakfast, on the other hand was a sight to behold – it was a full on Japanese morning dining experience, that meant a bowl of grey slimy stuff, a bowl of pink slimy stuff, black slimy stuff that might have been seaweed, rice with raw egg, natto and other not so easily identifiable or digestible delicacies. Mmm. Envious glances at Marcus’ kid’s breakfast, which included toast, hash browns, a sausage, scrambled eggs and a small, pleasant looking salad. Oh well…

The rest of the day was spent in the pools, of course, but this time the weather was fine so we could use the outdoor pools as well. This was good, of course, as we could use the slides. Bit of a gripe that there were three different water slides open but 2 of them were ‘pair rides’ so 2 people had to go at the same time, but with a small child and a wife who wasn’t into water slides I had no one to go with – boo hoo etc.

And that was about it, all in all a good couple of days away, but like TDL I wouldn’t want to go there on a bank holiday Monday in August – actually to be honest there aren’t that many places that I would like to go to on a bank holiday Monday in August…

Friday, 16 July 2010

A tale of two amusement parks

Part 1 – in which our intrepid heroes visit Tokyo Disneyland

We don’t get to go away on holiday much in our house, mainly as it’s too expensive and we don’t have enough of the folding stuff. This means we have staycations, which is great as so does everyone else these days so we are being hip and trendy like other people, as opposed to being poor.

This does mean, though, that we go on a few day trips and/or ‘short breaks’ and it is to this we turn now. So, back in May Marcus had a half term holiday of 2 days and on one of those days the Guru decided she and Marcus were going to go to Tokyo Disneyland – only the two of them, you’ll note, as I had long maintained that visiting anything to do with that old racist Walt Disney was right up there with golf and Alzheimer’s – i.e. when I do it, shoot me there and then as I will have lost my marbles and I need to be retired, permanently.

Anyway that’s what I thought but, low and behold, when we told the little fella that a trip to TDL was in the offing he was mightily excited as only a 5 yr old can be but, importantly, only if both parental entities could take him along. And so, after much wheedling, I bowed to the inevitable pressure and found myself going along as well.

So we aim to get there early, around 930am for a 10am start, not too early as this is a Tuesday in May, not a national holiday and not a school or university holiday period either, so kids older than about 4 yrs should be thin on the ground as they’ll all be studying. As we approach the gates there aren’t any queues so we smile a bit say various thanks – then we get to the turnstiles and realise that today the opening time was 930, probably a bit before, and so there are people already inside. Oh, ok, then we go through and realise that it is not a few people but a shitload of people, the place is heaving!

Nowadays at TDL they have a smart queing system, so you can buy pre-booked tickets to rides so you don’t have to wait for hours in lines; this works to an extent, except you have to wait in line for hours to get the pre-booked ticket, thereby shifting the queue to a different queue. So we really wanted to go on the new Monsters Inc ride, so we rushed there along with 1/3rd of the population of Japan and waited for about 45minutes until we got our ticket for, if memory serves, about 230pm, so for 5 hours later! We went to another popular ride to see if we could pre-book that but by the time we got there the ride time was about 7pm! Er, no thanks, not staying here that late…

So after that we decided to get on some of the less popular rides, like the Star Wars one, which was really cool whizzing through the universe and had zero queue (and amusingly scared the shit out of Marcus), and Buzz Lightyear one (which had a longish queue but wasn’t too bad). Then in need to refuelling we went to some pizza place and got a couple of somewhat stiff slices of pizza and small drinks for the GDP of Vietnam.

“And can I have a beer with that?” I asked…

“A beer! Here? In Tokyo Disneyland!? What are you, some kind of demented alcoholic wife-beating child-molester?” the serving lady shouted at me (with her eyes) before calling the Pentagon and having me transported via extraordinary rendition to Fort Bragg via Rangoon, Kabul, Algiers and Panama city, where I was kept for 72 hours in a dazzlingly white room and had classic Disney songs played constantly at ear-splitting volume before being dropped naked in a lay-by near the M3. Or something like that, but the important thing was that I didn’t get a beer. A sneer, yes, but no beer – this did not make me happy. I thought about asking if they had any crack instead, but I don’t think they would have got the joke.

After that we went to see the parade – as a show this was actually pretty good, as parades go. The song and dance routines were very song-y and dance-y, though the irony of course is that all the performers looked they had taken speedballs moments before they were unleashed on the suspecting public because no-one can look that perky for that long unaided.

So what else? We went on a number of rides or attractions that, after a while, seemed to blend into one. A lot of them, like the pirates of the Caribbean and one with small furry critters were of the ‘sit in a boat and go slowly with the flow whilst looking at the vignettes’ variety, so good in that a lot of work has gone into the production, but not really that original an idea and a bit, well, dull towards the end. We also went on an Amazon ‘river’ cruise which was in a proper boat looking at not-real animals. Lunch was actually very nice with decent sized portions but cost the other arm and leg and I still couldn’t get a beer, even in a ‘proper’ restaurant.

Oh, splash mountain was good but as we didn’t have fast-track tickets we had to wait for this one and it took nearly an hour of queuing, but at least that one had a bit of oomph about it, and proper ride rather than a sit and watch stuff ‘experience’ – also it amusingly scared the shit out of Marcus again (not literally I am glad to say), but he was most proud of himself afterwards that he survived.

And that was about it – oh, except for the long awaited Monsters Inc ride, the new pride and joy of TDL. Well, remember I mentioned the Buzz Lightyear ride? In that one you were in a trolley/car thing and you had to shoot aliens that popped up and the Zarg thing as you went around – all good fun, that one. In Monsters Inc you were in a trolley/car thing and you had to shine a torch on monsters that popped up [and then something big at the end] as you went around – all pretty much the same as the Buzz ride, just with a different backdrop.

And that was the problem with TDL, it’s basically about 3 rides which are repeated with different themes, so after you’ve done them once that’s it, you’re bored. Now on a busy weekend, when you’re only going to get to do about 3 rides, this may work well (though a rip-off), but if you can squeeze in 8 or 9 things in one day (as I said, it was busy there, but obviously not that busy as we did a lot – I would hate to be there on a bank holiday Monday during Obon…) then it gets a trifle boring.
And Mickey-fucking-Mouse is everywhere.
And you can’t get a beer anywhere.
(They could make a world of difference for the better by swapping those last two around…)

So shoot me now as I have lost my marbles and I need to be retired, permanently.

And coming soon…

Part 2 – in which the courageous team head to Tokyo Summerland

Sunday, 6 June 2010

The man who Kan

Oh hang on, probably not, anyway here's the gen on the fella in  case you missed the changeover...

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

The Hat Goes!

So the Hat has gone, done in by his ability to do nothing at all - normally for a Japanese politician this isn't a problem, in fact many a political career in J-land has built on the ability to prevaricate and procrastinate, but for the Hat this has not worked.

So, 4 PMs in 4 years and now another on the way, but the big question is, will anyone notice the change?

Monday, 24 May 2010

Towel Wars & other stuff

As if to prove that the recent plunge in stock markets, instability in the Euro and general demise of the world’s capitalist economy is just something that happens to other people, big manufacturing news in Japan! So, how’s this for a headline…

Osaka, Shikoku battle over No. 1 towel production title!

Now you may laugh, I know I did, but towels are important, and not just for drying yourself off (or wetting your brow on a hot day, wiping up spills or many other of the myriad of uses that a square or oblong piece of cloth can be put to) – I mean, where would Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent have been without their towels? So as you can imagine when I saw this headline on 17th May I immediately though I had better investigate further as it was prime Arakawa Riverview, ahem, material.

But, I’m sure you’re wondering, how can this be a battle, surely the association with the highest sales is the winner, no? Well, no. You see the Osaka Prefecture and Shikoku region (the smallest of the 4 main island of Japan, containing 4 prefectures, Kochi, Ehime, Kagawa and Tokushima – and yes, I did just have to look that up – and very close to Osaka) both claim they are the top producers of towels in the country, but base their claims on different calculation methods.

Ah, the murky world of towel production statistics.

Before WWII Osaka was, apparently, the place for towel production in Japan, however post-war the upstart island, through cunning use of cotton blanket production, overtook Japan’s second city. Recently the figures of 9,381 tons to Shikoku against 9,209 tons from Osaka have been bandied about, accounting for 99% of domestic towel production. But this of course, raises a number of questions – how were these figures compiled? What percentage of overall towel sales in Japan does this represent? Where does the other 1% of domestic towels produced come from? Who, outside of Osaka and Shikoku towel production associations and me, really gives a fuck about any of this? How on earth did this story get onto page-2 of a national newspaper?

Well, I can’t answer very many of those questions, except, luckily, the first one – the Osaka Towel Industry Association (102 member firms) uses as its basis the volume of towels brought to dye houses as the production figure – so if 1 ton of towels arrive to be dyed then the production figure is 1 ton.

The Shikoku Towel Industrial Association (132 members) calculates production by using the yield rate, which shows the percentage of cotton yarn that is actually turned into towels without being wasted. The association multiplies the amount of yarn by the yield rate to calculate towel production – the yield rate has gone up from 84% in 2007 to 95% in 2010, they argue, meaning the amount of towels actually made has increased.

Confused? I am. Why don’t they just count the number of finished towels shipped from their factories? Or the sales? Or at least agree on something? Why hasn’t the Japan Towel Industrial Association (or maybe the Japan textile Federation) got involved and sorted this out.

Uncertainty reigns as both Osaka and Shikoku associations are both now using ‘Japan’s largest towel production center’ on their advertising and websites – as you can image, in the cutthroat world of domestic towel production this has huge ramifications (and if I can think of any I’ll let you know).

So this is set to run and run, I’ll keep you posted if anyone ever writes anything about this ever again…

Yukio ‘the Hat’ Hatoyama news now

Jeez, talking about things set to run-and-run…

A few posts back I mentioned that the relocation of the US Airbase at Futenma, Okinawa, was a pressing issue for the Hat (I don’t think he is particularly known for his hats, by the way, it’s just an easy (read lazy) nickname for him). He was going round the houses desperately trying to find a solution that wouldn’t piss anybody off – fat chance of that as who would really want a US airbase next door? Not I.

So two updates, the first from a couple of weeks or so ago – so he’s the PM of a major, first world country, he knows he wants (or maybe needs) the US to be here, but he also knows that the ”people”, whilst knowing deep down that having the US here is a good thing, especially with Krazy Kim torpedoing S Korean ships, the “people” want the US to ‘here’ but not ‘here’ as in ‘close to my house’ but ‘here’ as in ‘over there – maybe in between Osaka and Shikoku so they can sort out this towel battle business’. So what does the Hat do? He goes to somewhere that isn’t where the base is now (I can’t remember where, the details of this story are so unbearably boring, which is ironic as the associated politicking is undeniably fascinating) and says to the local worthies;

“Ah, excuse me, terribly sorry to bother you, er, would you mind awfully if I put a US airbase in your prefecture…? No? Not the sort of thing you really want? Ah, I see, well, sorry for the trouble, do have a good day. Thank you.”

Oi, Yukio, grow a pair, will you! I mean, what did he expect, a tickertape parade and a welcome with open arms? This story has been going on so long that anyone, in any prefecture, is going to tell him to take a running jump. So instead of slapping down a few compulsory purchase orders and sending in the bulldozers he’s fart-arsing around and getting nowhere. OK, so maybe he’s trying to be less like the LDP which would have sent in the bulldozers (unless it was farmland) and ignored the locals, but this way everyone is looking at him saying ‘did we really vote for this guy…?’

So the weekend just gone he eventually went back the Futenma people and told them that, sorry, all been a big mistake and they would still have the base that they don’t want, but also the expanded version that they really, really don’t want. So 6 months of fucking about, a period which has seen his popularity plummet, to get back to the original plan which will still piss off the locals and will get the media even more on his back as he opposed this plan way back in 2006. Nice work there, Mr The Hat.

In other news

Goodness a lot has been going on since I last bother to write. Britain has 2 new leaders, well done there – I personally like the plan for the Clegg-Haig house share, with each getting to use it on alternate weekends, I’m sure they’ll get on like a house on fire…

Japan Cricket news, well, more like school cricket news in that now yours truly is coaching the primary cricket club kids on Monday mornings before school. This is jolly fun as these kids are some of the only humans on the planet who know less about playing cricket than I do, so I can generally sound knowledgeable when talking to them. Actually on Saturday just gone I took them up to Gunma Prefecture for a knockabout with a load of Japanese kids who are being coached by a chap named Richard, who is a loud, Aussie ex-pro cricketer who, I’m glad to say, told the kids basically the same things as I have been telling them when he gave them an impromptu batting session in between games.

Last but not least

Who are you all, part II.

I now have, it says on the sidebar, 38 followers of this blog – good on yer, as they say. Now, please could everyone who is a follower please leave a ‘hello’ type comment, just see how many we get – go on, you know you want to…

Saturday, 17 April 2010

I'm depressed

Once upon a time, in July 2003 to be exact, I wrote this:

Even more impressive a scam is the newly formed Resona bank, which was previously known as Asahi bank, and a couple of others. This is now in seriously deep trouble, so what do the government do? Let it go to the dogs for having such inept managers? Oh no. They decide to pump in 1.96trillion yen's worth of tax payers cash to bail them out. That is 1,960,000,000,000, or 98,000,000 quid...for a private bank. In any other country this bank would be allowed to become bankrupt, probably as soon as everyone found out they were in trouble and took out their savings.

In light of events over the last few years I can't believe how naive I was. As usual Japan was at least half-a-decade ahead of the curve, bailing out rubbish banks and even more rubbish managers with my cash.

I think Gordon, Obama, Alan, no hang on, it's not Alan anymore is it, it's Timothy and Ben, and all those other shysters that have fucked the world up, they all owe a nod and a wink to Japan and the Kool Kid to acknowledge that, once again, Japan was there first, at the forefront of propping up big business with our money.

A blog of note

In fact so noteworthy that I have been interviewed for a prestigious online blog voting thing, or something. Anyway have a gander here and vote for me (see the doohickey on the sidebar below) and I can win cash! How great is that!

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Alas, poor Yukio

A while back, here if you're interested, I wrote about the (then) new Japanese PM Yukio Hatoyama and is election victory. It was important, I seem to recall, as it meant an end to the almost uninterrupted post-war LDP monopoly of nice offices in Kasumigaseki (or whatever the Japanese equivalent to Whitehall is - I think it's there, I went there once and I think the Guru told me that's what went on in the office buildings...I digress). I might even have attempted a spurious resonance with the elecetion of Barak Obama as they both came from left field, upset long standing cartels (middle aged white men in Obama's case, now the whitehouse as a middle-aged nearly white man at the helm) and were meant to be all about change.

So, a year or so on Obama has done his healthcare thing, turned America in socialist/fascist/communist/progressive wasteland/utopia/same as it ever was, whilst also reducing nuclear weapons stocks, playing basketball in his back garden and doing some other stuff as well.
Well done there.

The big question, therefore, is what monumental changes to the very fabric of Japanese society has Yukio wrought in his term of office so far (which, to be fair, is just under a year as he was elected in May 2009)? 

No, I can't think of any either. He's talked a lot about the relocation of the US Airforce base in Okinawa (but not actually done anything about it). He's talked a lot about the state of the Japanese economy (but not actually done anything about it). He's talked a lot about letting foreign permanent residents in Japan vote in local elections (but not actually done anything about it). He's talked a lot about members of his cabinet and party being found out for taking sizeable undisclosed donantions of a political nature (but not actually done anything to stop it). Made some firm commitments to carry on talking about the relocation of the US Airforce base in Okinawa (and been good to his word).

He has worn a couple of very nasty shirts that should have been banned by the Geneva Convention, like this one:

and another but I can't find a picture of it; it was even more alarming.

OK, I admit it, I thought that with Hatoyama it would be a bit of a change - I mean he was coming after Silent Shinzo Abe and that Fuckwit Fukuda so he couldn't have had an easier 'in' to the big chair - but things just haven't materialised. There were promises to end corruption that have spectacularly failed thanks to members of his own party; promises to curb the pork-barrel spending projects of the provinces, things like dams and concreting over rivers, but nothing much has stopped or changed. The amukudari are still floating down from heaven.

Oh, hang on, he did promise to increase child allowances and from June I think we do get an extra 8,000yen a month for the youngster, so we can add one tick to the credit column.

But it was not meant ot be like this, a return to the old ways with a PM from a party who didn't have any old ways. He shouldn't have known what the old ways were, let alone how to get to them. Maybe I, like a lot of other people, were getting a little bit too carried away with his 'fresh-faced new change' thing to actually listen to what he was saying at the time, which probably wasn't very much. Maybe more should have been made of the fact that he is very old-school politician (which inevitably means conserative, with or without the big 'c') as his grandfather was PM and founded the LDP and his father was foreign minister.

But he wasn't meant to be LDP, he was meant to be different. He told us he was. New broom. Fresh start. Not like those other old farts. But it's been; No broom. Fresh scandals. Same as it ever was. And bad shirts.

You have to wonder why. I'm sure that when he got the top job he did want to make a difference, but at this rate he will go down as one of the most rubbish/least effective PMs in postwar Japan (and as you can imagein, that's up against some pretty stiff opposition). His cabinet approval rating has gone from over 70% at election time to just 33% now - that despite not doing anything, or maybe because he hasn't done anything... now I'm getting deja vu - I wrote almost exactly the same as this after the Kool Kid had gone and we had whoever came after him...

Oh no! Maybe it's Japan that turns you into a caricature of yourself, rehashing the same-old same-old and never coming up with anything new. Oh my god! I'm becomming a Japanese politician!

Saturday, 27 March 2010

You gotta have form

Ready for a good old fashioned rant? OK, strap in and let's go...

How many world class Japanese athletes can you name? I'm talking about genuinely world class, ones that would walk into any team (if it's a team sport) or at the top of the tree individually. I can think of two, Kosuke Kitajima the swimmer who won double golds at the last 2 Olympics and Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners baseball team. For a country of 120 million people that doesn't seem a good return to me, so why is that?

Personally I think it all starts in school. I've written before about sadistic baseball coaches who train their teams literally to death every summer, I think that's a big part of it, but I think there are a few other factors as well. One is too much specialisation, this might seem counter-intuitive but bear with me. When I was a kid at school I got to play just about every sport the school could give me, so winter was rugby, football, hockey and cross country; summer was athletics (having a bash at all events) and cricket whilst all through the year we played indoor sports like badminton, squash, basketball, volleyball, gymnastics and I'm sure a whole bunch of other stuff as well. It helped that my school was next to a sports centre, but even if it wasn't we'd have still done a lot of this stuff. After school I could have joined a load of teams had I wanted to, I chose rugby but I could have represented the school at football as well if I had wanted - the more the better.

At a Japanese school, once you have decided you are a footballer, for example, that's it, you will play football all the time and it will be the only game you play. You will play it in the winter and the summer. You will not be allowed to play baseball even if you are quite good at it. You are a footballer and football you will play. Why is that? Doesn't it seem a bit rubbish? Rob Andrew, amongst others, was a blue at rugby and cricket for Cambridge - wouldn't happen at Waseda.

The argument, I'm sure, is that this makes you better at the sport you've chosen to specialise in, but that's hokum. The skills you learn in one sport will usually have a beneficial effect in other sports - think of the balance you gain from gymnastics, how useful would that be for our footballer? So I think they're missing a trick here, the more sports you play the better generally at sports you'll become, but that's not how it's done here.

But the real problem, I think, is all the fault of martial arts. Remember the film Karate Kid? Old Mr Miyagi gets Daniel-san to do menial jobs around the place - wax on, wax off etc. At the end Daniel says "you haven't taught me anything!" but then they spar and, lo and behold, cunning Mr Miyagi has been teaching Daniel the 'form' of the moves he needs to know. And that's the problem, in Japan it's all about form, or put it another way, it's about style over substance and especially being able to look correct, follow the form book and not being able to think for yourself. This might be a good approach for karate but it's a disaster area for everything else.

Walk past a school tennis club session and for 20 minutes you will hear the swishing of racquets but if you look at the session you will see a long line of (probably) girls swinging their arms practicing backhand, backhand, backhand, backhand, backhand, backhand, backhand, backhand, backhand, backhand, backhand, backhand, backhand. Stop, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk from the coach. Forehand, forehand, forehand, forehand, forehand, forehand, forehand, forehand, forehand, forehand etc but, and this is the important thing, the only thing they will be hitting is thin air. Isn't the point of tennis to hit a ball? It's the same with baseball, swinging bats or throwing & catching; same for football, swinging your leg; I watched a rugby coaching session a while back for 14-16 year-olds and they weren't allowed to touch a ball for 30 minutes of the one hour session while they were running through back's moves! The point from the coaches is that you have to practice the move, but how can you practice hitting a ball if you don't, actually, hit a ball?

The problem is this creates generations of kids who can swing a bat but can't hit a ball properly - how can you learn the hand-eye coordination needed to hit a ball if you can spend half the time swinging the bat with your eyes closed? Also a generation of kids who are told what to do all the time so can't think for themselves and play what's in front of them. It also walks hand-in-hand with the Japanese trait of squashing individualism and being a member of a team - in the team you don't have to think as the coach tells you what to do, but it means that Japan will never create a 'genius' sportsman or sportswoman, a Chris Hoy, a Michael Jordan, a Kelly Holmes, a Dan Carter, a Lionel Messi, because these players used their brains and natural talent to excel at their sports. If any of these kids grew up in Japan they would have had talent coached out of them by the time they were 14.

It's such a shame as Japan has the wealth and resources to create athletes that should compete with the best on a regular basis. Their football team should, by any measure, be right up there, but they are functional and utilitarian at best - the best player they produced, Hidetoshi Nakata, was generally regarded as a maverick, difficult to mange and didn't get on with other players on the team. At least the managers had the good sense to pick him - just before the recent winter olympics in Vancouver a Japanese snowboarder and gold medal prospect Kazuhiro Kokubo arrived at Narita Airport in his official olympic blazer but with his shirt hanging out and his tie undone. The shock, the horror - he's a snow boarder, what do you expect? But officials from the Japan Olympic Committee (quite possibly the biggest bunch of old farts in the sporting universe, and as you can imagine, that's up against some pretty stiff opposition) wanted to ban the guy from the games - a gold medal prospect banned for not tucking his shirt in! You couldn't make it up. It took a quick bit of negotiation from some agent or other with the guy and a bit of top level mollification toward the JOC and finally the kid was allowed to go (once he tucked in his shirt, one trusts). Eventually he came 5th in his event and I wouldn't be surprised if his mental equilibrium was shot by the crap he had to go through before getting on the plane.

Last there is this. Do you know that characteristic is most prized by Japanese parents in their children? Courage? No. Intelligence? A distant second. Apparently the most prized characteristic parents want in their kids is, according to a recent poll, shyness. Apparently it is considered cute. Oh for fuck's sakes, cute! It might be OK for a 4 year old (though I would have serious reservations about even this) but you want to cripple your child for the rest of his or her life by making them socially inept, scared and unable to think clearly when conversing with another person? This of course has a far more wide ranging impact than just making decent sportsmen and women in Japan (for example the abnormally high suicide rate in Japan), but that was how this rant started so that's how we'll end. Can you think of a shy elite athlete? I can think of plenty who value their privacy but shyness? Elite athletes tend to have big personalities to go with their enormous egos which drive them on to win. Ichiro, who we mentioned above, has a pretty sorted ego, as did Nakata, that's what made them better then the rest of the baseballers and footballers of their generations, it's why their Japanese teammates didn't like them and why they ended up playing overseas. Let's hope a few more of them and their ilk come along and manage to slip through the fingers of their junior high school coaches and they find someone decent to nurture and develop their talent, not beat it out of them...

Saturday, 20 March 2010

At last

So today, 3 months to the day after my ill-fated 10k, I was finally able to go for a run with enough confidence that my thigh/groin would be able to take it.

And I'm glad to say that the leg took it well and, this evening, I am able to move with no problems. Phew!

I must say I was a little worried, who wouldn't be, but I took it nice and easy and didn't go very far. I jogged at a gentle half-pace to the running track up the river (passing the preparations for tomorrow's Arakawa Marathon, which I will join next year rather than Tokyo as it starts about 500m from our apartment), did a lap of the running track at half-pace and then jogged back home, stopping to stretch at various points along the way.

Probably about 3k in total but I didn't time myself as that wasn't really the point. We'll see how it feels tomorrow, but if tonight is anything to go by I should be OK. Now I can get back into it again - I have really missed running - but it will be slow, steady and short for a while longer yet.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010


So last weekend I went skiing.
"I?" I hear you ask, not "we" as in with the family?
No, this was an 'I', along with 3 teachers from the school and 19 kids in the 'school ski club'. This may sound like a recipe for disaster, but it was not, in fact it was a jolly good weekend jaunt, there are several reasons for this.

Firstly it was the ski club, which means it wasn't an unruly mob of kids but a bunch who had done this twice before this year so were used to the whole caper, this meant that they were not quite into the silly bugger mode as might be expected. Secondly I didn't have to pay for anything as it was a school trip and I was 'staff' so shinkansen tickets, accommodation, lift passes (and the odd enormous gin and tonic after the kids had gone to bed) were all covered by the school and parents of kids on the trip. Also the kids knew how to ski very well, so we didn't have to worry too much about them hurting themselves by accidentally falling off something inappropriate, like a mountain (however it did mean we had to worry about them attempting to break the sound barrier whilst racing their mates). And last but not least we stayed in a great place called Canyons, which is essentially a cheap & cheerful outward bound centre, the sort of place that for some reason generally does not exist in Japan so is run by a bunch of crazy New Zealanders.

It's weird but ski places in Japan are extremely po-faced and serious, a place to go to ski, have a bath and sleep, missing out that important 'get shitfaced in the evening' bit after the bath. I don't know why this is, but trying to find an open izakaya, let alone a bar or karaoke place, after about 7pm at a Japanese ski resort is next to impossible. Well it was until Aussies realised this and started opening bars especially in Hokkaido, but not in Gunma, where we were, but luckily the Canyons place we stayed at had a most convivial bar that required propping up on a Saturday night.

However before we got there we had a day of skiing to get through. As I said this was the ski club so no beginners here, but they were there to improve so had lessons. The kids were split into groups and taken off with an instructor and as a responsible adult I went with one of them. Now it has been a while since I last ski-ed, I think it was with Steve on his last trip with the high school he worked at, maybe 4 or 5 years ago, so I knew it would take me a while to get back into the swing of it. So we went up the first lift and then a second, then the instructor stopped, had a quick explain of what he wanted us to do. 

Quite straight forward so off we went - the first slope was quite shallow and we all cruised along. Next bit, stop, explain again, off down a steeper bit and zoom, off they all went and quite an alarming pace. Of course I was last to go as I had to make sure I was following up if anyone fell over or got lost, and as the rest were quicker than me by the time I caught up with the group the instructor was saying "everyone got that? Right, let's go...". And off they went. This carried on for about 45 minutes until, coming down on a reasonably long run into the main starting area, the last of the kids who I was following disappeared over the lip of a hill and by the time I'd got there had completely disappeared...uh oh. To be fair there were a lot of people down there milling about waiting for lifts, but I lost them totally. Ah, slightly embarrassing, outrun by a bunch of kids.

Oh well, luckily I found another of our groups and tagged along with them, figuring we'd probably meet again at some point and the kids were with an instructor so probably weren't in too much danger. And meet up again we did about 30 minutes later - cue much bullshitting on my part about how I had to find Mr L to discuss something... no, I don't think any of them believed me either...

After that I had to speed up, but of course the more confident I became so did the kids, so they were always far out in front of me, but I consoled myself in the knowledge that it wasn't a race. No, that came in the afternoon and on Sunday. We set up a slalom course and Saturday afternoon was practice for the big race on Sunday. Naturally the steepest bit of slope was found to set up the course and whilst skiing a steep slalom course is tricky (believe me), setting one up is even harder as you have to stop, drill into the snow and screw in poles with a big corkscrew type thing. Anyway that done the kids all set about the course, some better,some worse, but none quite so bad as yours truly. I figured I had to have a go, but soon realised that a slalom course is extremely down. This may sound obvious, but when you ski you tend to go across slopes more than down, until you get better and are confident about more downness than acrossness. I only fell over twice, but one was a real headfirst-into-the-snow wipeout - must have looked good from above, judging by the mirth.

So then on Sunday (after a Saturday night ski and aforementioned g&t) the kids spent all day racing down an even longer slalom course to see who could record the overall best three times of the day. More wipeouts from the kids this time, but then again they were really going for it and it was very icy in the morning. In the end we had various champions but the biggest winners were that we didn't have any injuries and managed to get all the kids back to Tokyo in one piece and with all their gear. 

I was knackered by the end of it, but will definitely be back next season.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

I think we're getting there

Slowly but surely - at least I've got the photo in the header box centred, re-sizing is an issue so we may have to stick with what we've got. Even got proper titles for the posts now!

Saturday, 6 March 2010

A new beginning

So, the old comments really have gone this time, they have been obliterated by the new template, which for some reason doesn't like old things.

The new look is because I found out that new blogger templates have loads of stuff on that you can play around with really easily - the old template, from about 2003, was all html based so any changes you wanted to make you had to code yourself, or rather, I had to code myself. But this new stuff is all drag-and-drop and edit in real time - super I say! Shame about the photo in the title not really being the same size as the box, but I'll figure out how to resize it sometime.

Anyway; off with the horns, on with the show...

Saturday, 27 February 2010


OK, so the comments haven't disappeared, don't blame me, I was just passing on what they told me, or what I thought they told me. Whatever, the comments are all still there and new ones can be added so I don't know wtf is going on (hah! like that's any change...), but as long as I don't have to change anything with the template I'm good with that.


They're everywhere, man, just everywhere. And I'm just, like, OMG! It's sooo kinda out there!!! Ooops, sorry, a bit of the princess dippy blog there spilling back into the Arakawa universe (see the comments section of the last post if your really want to).

No, signs, they really are everywhere, telling you what to do or passing on information that you really don't need. Then again, every now and again you see a sign or two that makes you think 'yeah, see what they mean' or 'hmm, useful info, thanks' or even 'wtf?'

This is a long way of getting around to talking about a couple of signs the Guru and I saw the other day. Last Sunday we were in Kudanshita (I know, on a Sunday! Believe me not a lot goes on in Kudanshita on a Sunday but there we were, actually, not a lot goes on in Kudanshita most of the time, I reckon) as we were taking the little fella to a birthday party. "What, in Kudanshita? On a Sunday!?" Yes, believe it or not. Kudanshita is the bit of Tokyo just to the north of the imperial palace compound, with a bit of moat, a lot of cherry trees for spring, Budokan (if a concert is on - I saw Oasis there many a moon ago, maybe 1998), Yasukuni Shrine (enshrined class A war criminals (read the archives for more)) and not much else. But one of Marcus' school chums' fathers works for OUP and probably has strong embassy (which is close by but round the corner in Hanzoumon) connections and so for some reason chose a restaurant, no, a Bar & Grill, in Kudanshita for his daughter's 5th birthday party. Maybe it's because his wife is Russian, I don't know.

Anyway, we dropped the fella off (does this make us bad parents? A birthday party - here, you look after 20 kids with too much sugar intake for 2 hours whilst the wife and I have a Starbucks, just the two of us, for the first time in 3 months... No, sensible parenting, if you ask me) and then went to find the aforementioned Starbucks. The cafe in question was on the ground floor of an office building, which had the following sign affixed:

Now, doing business is the purpose of an office block, if you ask me, so what is it that people have against pets in Kudanshita? Worried that a bunch of market-savvy corgis are about to move in and clean up, or maybe a syndicate of Siamese are about to move in - that's probably a good idea as the area looks like it needs a high class pussy or two around to liven things up (ba-dum-tsh, I thank you!)

Anyway also spotted on our wanderings was the next sign:

It's the 1st floor that is of interest here. Now, think about James Bond (bear with me), when he is under cover and trying to get that all important first meeting with Blofeld he doesn't call up and say "This is James Bond from MI6" does he? No, he says "James Bond, Universal Exports" - it's called a 'cover', from what I am to believe reading John Le Carre novels. In Japan they don't bother with this sort of cloak-and-dagger stuff when it comes to espionage, they just play it straight and tell you how it is.

So I couldn't believe it either when I saw the sign above which says (roughly translated)

1F Office Japan Secret Service

Of course it could all be a front, I mean there was me, a shaven-headed foreigner taking pictures of the Secret Service building and so far no SWAT team has jumped through our living room window spraying bullets and tear gas...

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Haloscan comments, they just can't go on...

Apparently they are going all Rita Hayworth on us and discontinuing the service - it looks like a pain in the ass to transfer the comments (to a service that costs $12 a year!), so I may just not bother - I can't import them into Blogger template anyway.

So they will all probably disappear, quite possibly tonight, so if you have any personal favourites, go read them now...

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Who are you all?

Now here's a weird thing - usually, in your average week, about 10 or so people inadvertently stumble into Arakawa Riverview's universe, realise they have made a wrong turn somewhere in google and bugger off. Occasionally one of these persons may stop and read a post, possibly out of sympathy or maybe they are trying to find inane ramblings to comfort themselves that there are sillier people out there than themselves.

Anyway, for some reason, from 29th January onwards, my viewing public has increased alarmingly, averaging about 80 views a day, with a high point last Thursday of 112 poor unsuspecting souls reading my missives about dodgy thighs and trying to run. And I haven't even posted for about 3 weeks.

So come on, just who are you and what are you doing here? And how are you getting here? The blog stat thing Site Meter just says you are all coming from the blogspot navigation bar, but not much more than that, so why now and what do you want...?

Other stuff

Anyway, other stuff. So the 6 Nations has kicked off, well last week really, but a jolly good kick it was, with us beating the Welsh. Can't wait for this evening's game against the Italians - hopefully England will put in a performance to match the French dispatching of Ireland last night, 80 minutes of the best the northern hemisphere has to offer, come to that the Wales:Scotland was even more exciting, but more because both teams seemed more intent on losing the game than winning it - Wales in the 1st half were rubbish and Scotland in the 2nd just shaded it in the 'anything you can do we can do worse' stakes.

My dodgy thigh is now, almost and yet not quite, better. There is still one stretch that I do where I can feel that it is not right, but even that one is getting better so I think, hopefully, this Thursday, I will go for a run for the first time since December 20th. That will be February 18th so almost 2 months to the day - what a pisser it has been, my whole body feels fat, apathetic and lethargic. I can't wait. But I will take it very easy, a nice short run - or even go to the running track about a kilometre upriver and use that as it is obviously a much better surface to run on.

I have devised my own new training regime after talking to Andy, my triathlete workmate, who had some sensible advice. He reckoned that my old regime of plodding along at the same pace for session after session was a big contributory factor as you begin to get a sort of repetitive strain injury if you don't vary what you do. So, when I'm back up to a proper level of fitness my schedule will be: Tuesday night - interval training at the track (essentially sprint-rest-sprint-rest etc over varying distances); Thursday night - 8km run at brisk pace; Saturday - 1 hour biking along the river bank; Sunday - 10km+ run at normal plodding pace. The biking is in there to use different muscles and reduce the impact stress on the legs (whilst still having a good aerobic workout). Who knows, hopefully it will be better for me.

However it might all go out of the window as today we, as a family, discovered ice skating. Actually I ought to rephrase that to be more accurate, last week Marcus discovered he doesn't like ice skating very much, which was reconfirmed today; today the Guru found she doesn't like ice skating very much either; however I, much to my surprise, found that not only do I quite like it, I was actually quite adept in a 'first time in skates for 25 years' kind of way. It all started because some of the little fella's friends arranged an ice skating playdate for Friday this week, as it half-term. As he has never been on skates before the Guru thought it sensible to have some lessons, so signed him up for 2 Sunday morning classes in central Tokyo where they have set up a temporary rink for the winter. Lesson one last week seemed to be an hour of falling over and getting up, whilst today was how to skate. Well, it would have been if the fella had mastered the art of getting up, but as he hadn't he went into the 'not so good kids' class and from here he did quite well. He still resembles Bambi on ice, but by the end he wasn't falling down all the time, just a lot of the time.

The Guru realised that when she takes the fella to the playdate she will probably have to skate as well, so today, after the lesson, she strapped on a pair of skates and tried it out herself. The idea was the the fella and I would join in as well, but, scarred for life as he is, the little 'un declined so I stayed on the sidelines with him. Phew!

But then, the curse of the 4 yr old struck, "Daddy, I'm bored...". Unfortunately there wasn't too much else to do so he finally said that he wanted to go skating again. By this stage the Guru was almost done but no, "of course you can come and join me" she beamed. Now, I had been skating before, when I was about 13 years old, one afternoon after school. I didn't remember it being too bad, but then again, I didn't remember ever wanting to put a pair of skates on since that afternoon, and that lack of desire is usually a pretty good indicator. But now I was trapped, so, on went the skates and out the little fella and I hobbled. But, I had used my time on the sidelines to good effect, thinking that this might happen, I had been watching both the skating lesson and what able-skaters had been doing since, so I figured I had a pretty good bead on what one was meant to do.

Of course remaining upright is the first priority and though I had a few moments of panic, I didn't go immediately arse-over as soon as I stepped on the ice. So far so good - now, I have to move... What I'd figured was that it looked a bit like skiing - bend your knees, weight forward - but then use the spiky bit on your toe to push-off with and "glide" (like a le[a]d zeppelin in my case) on the other foot, hence all the one-foot practices they made the kids do, and then do the same with the other toe. And it worked, after a fashion. Now I know this blog won a skating gold at the last Olympics but I'm afraid I don't think we are going to repeat that feat this year. However in an hour of skating I didn't fall over once (came close on a lot of occasions) and by the end I was going around quite well, even if I do say it myself. Of course this may well mean that I will be one taking the little fella to the ice skating play date on Friday, but at least I won't look like a complete idiot on the ice - and that it pretty much the best I could have asked for.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Follow up

So have been back to the ortho-chap for a follow up. The warm bath-stretch-cold patch treatment was partially successful, but still not right. So in the consultation he prodded me back and front again, I think he was convinced it was a sports hernia, but no such luck I'm afraid, so actually I think he was stumped. Then he asks "do you want an MRI scan to see what the soft tissue damage is like?"
"I don't know, do I?"
"I don't know, do you?"
"You tell me, you're the doctor!"
"Well you could have one, but you don't have to have one"
"What will it tell me?"
"Where your soft tissue is damaged"
"So, basically, it will tell me where my leg hurts?"
"I know where my leg hurts"
"It might tell us why your leg hurts"
"Well, these things are never certain..."
"Er...ok, why not"
"Where do you want to go? There are clinics all over?
Flicking through the MRI brochure...
"Ah, Shibuya, that's where I work, that'll be fine"
"OK, I'll arrange for you, oh, and it's 50 quid"
"So what other treatments are available...?"

So now I go there a couple of times a week for treatment with a sort of prehensile-microwave-leg warming thing and some hot packs. I don't know, it seems to be getting better but goodness it's all taking a bit of time. I did the groin in on 20th December and so that's over 5 weeks past and I can still feel it. Also the weird thing is that in the last couple of weeks, when I put all my weight on it like putting on a pair of trousers, I can't support myself. Probably 'core strength and stability issues' says my Aussie physio footballing friend (who was away over Christmas, otherwise I would have gone to see him straightaway).

Anyway, on we go...

In other sports related news, yesterday morning, at the ungodly hour of 7.30, I coached the junior school cricket team as the regular coach was doing something with a group of ballerinas. Yes, I know where I would have preferred to have been as well, especially as to be at the ground for 7.30 I had to be up at 5.10 in the A.M. (yes, it does exist as a time and no, it was not pleasant (but then again the Guru gets up at this time everyday to make bentos (that Japanese packed lunches) for the little 'un (and sometimes me)).

Anyway, apart from the time and the fact it was perishingly cold, it was jolly good fun. The kids were really up for it, very enthusiastic and not a little skilled. We did some fielding drills, useful as their throwing is wayward to say the least, and a bit of batting and a bit of bowling. Their batting is a touch on the 'kitchen sink' side (i.e. see the ball and throw everything at it...) but some of their bowling was pretty good, including one little Year 4 kid who is a pretty mean wrist spinner; England's Shane Warne for the 2025 Ashes...

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Orthopaedic chap

So went along to the ortho-chap today. We were going to go to our local hospital but then the Guru found what looked to more like a physio/sports-injury doctor so there we went. Interestingly we were the youngest patients there by about 50 years, and it was packed, so goodness knows what the hospital's ortho section would have been like...

Due to numbers of extremely decrepit old personages there we figured that we were in for a long wait, but I think that their interest was piqued by the prospect of treating someone under the age of 90, so a young doctor-ish person came out straight away and started asking questions about what, were, when etc.

First decision was to make sure it was anything to do with problem bones, so it was x-ray time. I thought it would be one, maybe another from the side, but I really must get out of this mindset and remember I'm in Japan. So, something like 15 x-rays later we were done - about half way through I did feel slightly worried that they were taking snapshots of my groin; not that I'm planning on any more kids, but 15 doses of radiation on the old meat & two veg can't be good, can it?

Then a meeting with the Doc - the good news was that there is no bone damage, so it's not like I have a stress fracture in my femur or anything like that (I was worried). And the bad news... well, wasn't really like bad news, except he said, essentially;

"Your thigh hurts and it's muscular - not much you can do except 1 rest; 2 stretch, especially after a hot bath; 3 buy some cold patch things from the chemist down stairs, here's a prescription."

Can I run again?

"Your leg hurts you idiot, no you can't, not for at least 2 weeks, then come back and see me if it still hurts".

So there we go. No real help or advice on what I did wrong or what I can do to prevent it happening again in the future. But then again he isn't a sports physiotherapist so maybe he doesn't know the why's or how not to again's, just what's wrong and how to make it better.

At least another 2 weeks of not running will mean I have been off training for the best part of 5 weeks and it will only be about 5-6 weeks until the marathon; so not enough time to get back to where I was fitness-wise and improve enough/get enough miles under my belt to make the race a realistic proposition (and avoid serious and permanent damage to myself in the process).

So the marathon is off the agenda for 2010, more's the pity. However I will be applying for 2011 and fingers crossed I'll get in for that one.

In the meantime I will recover from this setback, be wiser for it, start running again and launch the 2011 training programme from a much stronger running base. Also I'll try and get a couple of half marathons in there so I know what racing feels like.

Monday, 4 January 2010


Or rather thigh - been two weeks now, 2 weeks of not running, eating too much, drinking too much (probably) and still the accursed thigh is no better. Well, it's a bit better but not better enough to be able to go out for a run.

This means I have missed 2 weeks (and counting) of training runs so the goal of running and completing the marathon seems to be receding into the distance. If I started again now I would have to spend a couple of weeks getting back to where I was and as there are still 8 weeks to the race I think that would be possible - but I'm nowhere near being able to run at the moment, so I have a horrible suspicion that that is it.

I'm off to see a physio on Wednesday to see what they say but I am not hopeful. Oh well...

In different news, read this lovely passage in Herodotus' Histories (book 1), which I feel should be adopted by all world leaders immediately.

He says, talking of the Persians:

"If an important decision is to be made, they discuss the question when they are drunk, and the following day the master of the house where the discussion was held submits their decision for reconsideration when they are sober. If they still approve it, it is adopted; if not, it is abandoned. Conversely, any decision they make when they are sober, is reconsidered afterwards when they are drunk."