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…