Monday, 21 November 2011

Born to run

As long as it means I don't have to run too far the next day...

So yesterday I finally donned the old New Balances and set out running in anger, taking part in the Ageo Half Marathon, my first competitive race. This was the first time I had run a race with other people since, probably, secondary school, so it was a bit of an eye-opener.

So, some thoughts and observations about running...

1. Everything I've read about it, which is a bit in recent years, says that at the start of a race novice runners tend to get carried away with the moment, so try to curb your instincts and don't rush off. This was not a problem for me - I had very sensibly headed for the sign saying 1h40m-2h00m, thinking that most people in front of me would be faster. Oh how wrong I was - now the people right at the front were seriously fast, fair enough, but most of them were not, so that for about the first 3 to 4 kilometres I had to run at quite a slow pace (for me) as I dodged around slow moving other runners who should in no way have been up near the front at the start. All the dodging and stop-starting meant I couldn't get into anything like a normal slightly under 5-minute kilometre pace, most frustrating. It might sound poncey, but even my breathing didn't get into the proper rhythm for about 20 minutes.

2. Running with other people is weird. As I said, I haven't done it for a long while, so having thousands of other people around doing the same thing (there were about 6,000 of us) was quite off putting to begin with - again it's all about getting into your own rhythm and with all these people around you with weird breathing or funny footfalls it really puts you off. Now I realise that to someone else I was quite possibly the most annoying person there (actually no, that would have been the bloke in the AC Milan shirt who sounded like Monica Seles with a heavy cold during a long  baseline rally) anyway, other people are annoying.

3. But not as annoying as little bands playing music - especially playing traditional Japanese music, which is a few drums, a flute and some clicky stick things. The natural speed and tempo of this 'music' is so completely out of sync with running that it it really fucks you up and, naturally, they were all placed at strategic points where you'd just found your own natural running tempo and now you're thrown off kilter. And it's not like you can tell them to shut the fuck up as they're so happily enthusiastic about playing.

4. Fast runners can run really fast. This, you may think, sounds obvious, but you don't realise quite how fast they run. It's a bit like watching cars around you on the motorway and then stopping and watch them whizz past you - on the TV marathon runners look like they are running, yes, but as the cameras are on motorbikes you don't get a feel for their actualy velocity. The winner was running sub 3-minute kilometres, that's about how fast I sprint, for 21k!

5. 21kilometres is quite a long way, but not nearly as long as 42k, a full marathon, and whilst I enjoyed the run yesterday, there is no way I could contemplate running the whole thing again immediately afterwards. OK, I'd do more training if I was going to do the full monty, but really, it looks crazy.

6. But it was a good day. On my watch I did it in 1h49m53s and later my official time came in at 1h50m01s. I was aiming for about 1h45m so I was a little disappointed by the time (but happy to have finished, not got lame or gome home in an ambulance, as some runners did) but knowing more about the start I will edge closer to the line next time so as not to get too boxed in. And yes, there will be a next time as it was enjoyable in it's own way - indeed there was a section from 10k to about the 16k mark that felt really good (mainly, as I think, it was quite an empty, relatively, bit of road so not too many other runners to put you off and no dinky little drum bands to piss you off). Actually I think I could break the race down into sections:

Pre-race: ok, nervous, waiting for the race to start but having to listen to Ageo bigwigs saying stuff for 15 minutes - get on with it!
0-5k: dodging and weaving, slightly frustrated with other runners, quite slow pace. first drinks at 5.5k mark
5-10k: get into rhythm, relax, felt good, lower-left shin pain from previous runs disappears. Pass the front runners at about 8k mark as they had started the double-back, realise quite how fast they run. Seond drinks at 10k
10-16k: head out into the countryside, nicely spread field, good rhythm, stretch legs, everything felt smooth, best bit of the race. Third drinks at 16k
16-19k: gets busier as people in fron start to slow down whilst I am happy at regular pace, annoying AC Milan bloke, long straight bit of road that we ran down earlier, feels like it's going on for ages, calf muscles begin to feel heavy. Last drinks at 19k
19-21.1k: back through the underpass and on the home stretch. Calves and hamstrings begin to feel heavy, but then pass a few drop-outs and second wind hits (will not end up like them!). Into the stadium, one lap to the finish, looking around for the Guru and Marcus, see them just after crossing the finish line. Older Japanese bloke comes and thanks me, he'd been following me for the second 10k (good to have someone to pace you, for the first half I followed a woman in very pink running gear as she was easy to see in the crowd, went past her at about 12k mark - very useful to get your rhythm going), made me feel good that he made the effort to say that. Happy but shagged out. Off for pizzas for lunch in Omiya...

Friday, 21 October 2011

Shitamachi - Ueno to Komagome

templetunneltunneltop of the gatesgatesgates
templeOmikujiClockssignold housegateway
Funeray stavesold local pumpwallold local pumpemergency water supplyold grave markers
sereneold grave markerslocal family planningEnglish and what?stepscrest

An afternoon wander from Ueno north to Komagome, Tokyo

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Noda - the first few weeks...

So the new boy wonder is in the hot-seat and what has he come up with to save Japan from fiscal, environmental and demographic catastrophe…?

Well, fuck all so far, it seems. The new kid has been keeping his head down and grafting, I know this because the media types have been bemoaning the fact the kid keeps his head down and doesn’t do interviews or press conferences. The old boys used to have at least 1 press conference a day, sometimes 2, with all that pressing going on you would think they didn’t have much time to do anything, and you’d be right (expect back-stabbing, mud-slinging and, in the case of (The Man Who) Kan, standing stock still in panic induced paralysis at the shit in front of him). But Noda has said “No, da won’t be many press conferences from now on” (apologies for the forced pun there), and those that he will do will be at ad hoc in locations the press will be told about with 2 minute’s notice (cue Keystone Cops-style charging about Kasumigaseki by the press corps whilst Noda chuckles to himself in Roppongi Hills/a rice field/Washington DC etc.)

But like most recent Japanese PMs, I can’t really think of much he’s done. I suppose he has overseen the indictment of the crook that is Ichiro Ozawa, who is still protecting his innocence, deriding the legality of the court and accusing the prosecutors of fraud, thereby acting like the supercilious, arrogant tosspot that he is; I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised if he had shouted ‘don’t you know who I am!?’ several times already.

Sorry, back to Noda – er… There’s been a bit of talk about the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership), a sort of free trade agreement with the US, but that will be wrapped up in the Futenma base shenanigans that are *still* going on. Then there are the proposed tax hikes, which will put my tax up in the not too distant future through a combination of increased income and sales taxes (yes, I can see they are needed but no, I don’t want them if all they will do is go towards more a) useless, anti-competition hand-outs for rice farmers/fishermen (for example) to keep them voting the right way b) ridiculous pork-barrel construction projects (there are enough real construction projects needed in Tohoku) c) bureaucrats d) semi-public institutions still bankrolled by govt. through my tax (JAL, Japan Tobacco et al) e) anything else that promotes waste and that I don’t agree with. Jesus, I sound like a Republican!).

I’m sure there is other stuff he’s done, but I can’t remember much about it. I’m sure he is doing great things to start the rebuild of northern Japan which will be, in the main, unsung, so maybe he needs to start blowing his trumpet a bit more.

Radiation news

The thing about having a nuclear power station going into meltdown 250kms away is that it makes everyone really paranoid about radiation. The first accusation is that the govt. and TEPCO aren’t telling anyone anywhere near enough about what’s going on at the plant. This was undoubtedly true at the time and though I suspect the flow of information is now much better, after the general panic has dissipated, I’m sure there is more they are not (or maybe not able) to tell us yet.

The second accusation is only possible after the general panic has dissipated and people can get back to living their normal lives, this is the paranoia that radiation is everywhere and the government aren’t telling us about it. The idea is that large amounts of radiation fell on Tokyo in very specific areas, creating radiation hotspots that will, for example, give your child incurable radiation sickness and/or cancer the second he/she goes near the aforementioned hotspot. There is no way the govt. can counter this unless it takes radiation readings from every street corner in Tokyo every 5 minutes for the next 10 years, and even then certain people, like some parents at the school I work at, will not believe the readings are real.

What makes matters worse are completely unrelated, random events that ratchet up the panic. For example a bunch of ‘concerned residents’ got hold of a radiation meter (another really, really bad idea as these are sensitive instruments with which it’s easy to pick up false readings unless you know what you’re doing) and started measuring bits of Setagaya-ku in west Tokyo. Somehow they managed to get an accurate reading and found a really quite large spike in radiation in one spot on a road outside a slightly rundown house. Cue local hysteria so the real boys were called in and, interestingly, found the same readings. Cue national hysteria and calls for the government to resign en masse for lying to the public (actually I made that bit up, but I’m pretty sure someone was saying it). Anyway, what the big boys found was that the radiation was coming from the house and, after getting permission to go in, found several bottles containing radium 226 (the stuff they use as luminous paint for watches) under the floor of the house. The woman who owned the house but no longer lived there said her (now dead husband, died if radiation poisoning…?) might have used the stuff but she really had no idea. So in the end it was all completely unrelated to Fukushima, but the paranoia goes on. Also, the level of radiation just above the bottles was 600 micro Sv/h, about the amount you would get from a stomach x-ray; so not exactly lethal though you wouldn’t want to stand there for too long, so outside the house on the street the level was around 3 micro Sv/h, so no one was going to get anything nasty just walking by the house every day, not that you’d think that listening to some of the comments that came out.

The Rugby World Cup

It’s almost over and I haven’t written anything about it. So, some musings…

- England were pretty rubbish on the field (looking good against Romania and Georgia does not count)

- Off the field England were not saints, but a large section of the media did seem to have it in for them from the moment they arrived in NZ (Mick Cleary and Mark Reason in the Telegraph spring to mind)

- I feel sorry for Wales but Sam Warburton should not have made that tackle as he did, whilst James Hook and Stephen Jones should have done better than 1 from 6

- I feel slightly sorry for South Africa, but they should have been a lot more savvy in realising that Bryce Lawrence had given carte blanche at the breakdown for anyone to do anything

- Japan played well, very well, at times but lacked composure when it really mattered

- No one put 100 points on any of the “minnows” – this was a great improvement and will only get better the more opportunities they are given to play the ‘big’ nations

- I now want France to win on Sunday, just because everyone is writing them off and saying they are the worst team ever to grace the final. Allez les Bleus!

- Stop blaming the refs and start looking at you team’s shortcomings

- Roll on 2019 when it all comes to Japan

And Dan Wheldon, R.I.P.

Lastly some pictures of cars from La Fest Mille Miglia in Tokyo a couple of weeks ago

Bugatti T37ABugatti Brescia T22Bugatti T43Bugatti Brescia T22 #7BNC 527 MonzaBentley 3L Speed
Austin SevenAston Martin International Le MansAlfa Romero 6C 2300Bentley 3.5LCisitalia 2041950 Healey Silverstone
...and what a backside!DB6_1DB6_2DB6_3DB6_4DB6_5
DB6_6Lotus 17Fiat 501SErmini 1100 SportFiat Farina MMHealey Silverstone
La Festa 2011, a set on Flickr.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Who was that Man...?

So The Man Who Kan is officially now the Man Who Couldn't. As I said before, he was dealt a shitty hand but seismic catastrophes are in the job description for a Japanese PM and I'm afraid to say that he didn't handle it particularly well. Yes, politics is riven by factions, especially within his own party, but at some point he had to stop, draw a line in the sand (after clearing away the wreckage and checking for radiation), grow a pair and, firstly, tell Ozawa to f*ck off and expel him from the party (and deal with the crook later) and then take charge of the country post-quake, show a bit of leadership, be strong, fight and all that. Sorry, but on both counts: FAIL.

So he finally did the decent thing, after the 3rd emergency budget was passed (or whichever one it was) and fell on his sword. After a bit of ministerial tooing and froing, the suits of the DPJ elected another of their own, Yoshihiko Noda, as the new #1. Of the candidates he was one of few who I didn't really want to get it, mostly as he looks like a toad (imagine a flesh-coloured Baron Silas von Greenback and you'll see what I mean), and he sounds a bit like one as well - and kudos to him if he ever starts burping really loudly in a cabinet meeting in a vain attempt to attract Renho for a ministerial debrief...

So Noda has also been dealt a pretty shitty hand by the fates, but at least he has the excuse that he saw it coming. Of course the main problem is the economy - at the moment government debt is running at about double the annual turnover of Japan Inc, meaning that we are well mired in the deepest of deep shit. That said, unlike the mountainous debt of Europe and the US, most of the people the J-govt are indebted to are the people of Japan, as pretty much all the IOUs are written to Japanese banks backed up by the savings of millions of households across the land. This is a good thing, and the only reason Japan Inc hasn't gone bust for the last 20 years, as the people of Japan are very unlikely to stop saving, take the cash from the bank and blow it all in Vegas (or, in the case of US/European debt, the Chinese suddenly saying, "hey, you know all those IOU's? Reckon we'll cash them in now...").

But with a shrinking popuation and no mass immigration any time soon, the tax base will decrease and govt income fall even before the rebuilding of Tohoku gets underway. So sales/consumption tax will probably have to go up, no defintely have to go up, from its current 5% - I can see that at 10% in the next few years and probably 15% in a decade. It's going to hurt but it's got to be done. The Tohoku clean up is, naturally, another bit blot on the landscape (quite literally) - of course things have begun and lots of work already done, I think pretty much all of the displaced people now have temporary housing, as opposed to living in gymnasiums and other evacuation centres - that's pretty damned good going, considering how many people lost their houses. But rebuilding lives, towns, communities, jobs and all the other myriad of things that go into a place to live, that's going to take some work.

And then there is Fukushima. The nuclear plant is still not safe, though the chances of it blowing up and spewing radioactive crap all over Japan have now, it appears, receded. Interesting that everyone is now happy to use the word 'meltdown' to describe 2 or 3 of the reactors - it seems that the partial meltdowns happened within days of the disaster, certainly when we were sitting at home in Tokyo wondering whether we should get the hell outta Dodge. If anyone had mentioned the 'M' word at that time we would have been on a plane without pausing for thought, as would about 12 million people around me. So in a way it is hardly surprising that no one used that word, panic would have ensued, but now the attitude is more 'we I lived through it and I'm not dead yet, so the cores melted, big deal, there's no mushroom cloud over Tokyo...'. Probably way too blase, that, but there you go.

Anyway, good luck with all that, Noda-san.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Oh, er, oops...

Sorry, keep doing this, not exactly a blog you can set your watch by, now are we?

So I can't really remember everything, nay, anything, really, that has gone on since the last time I posted back in April, though I am absolutely sure that some things have, indeed, gone on. Anyway, let's try the ol' stream of consciousness approach and see where we get to...

(The Man Who) Kan ('t do a f*cking thing)

OK, the guy has been dealt a fairly shitty hand, all told. No PM really wants a catastrophic earthquake on his or her watch, but in Japan it's one of the hazards of the job, as it were. Now as we discussed last post, the govt didn't really know what to do in the immediate aftermath, though things did swing into action. Of course once the initial shock has been sort the job of rebuilding begins – the idea of not bothering to rebuild Tohoku was, I admit, a bit of a non-starter, not just because ok, it had been devastated, but actually only a relatively small bit, up to about 10km inland, so that left an awful lot of Tohoku not devastated, so it would have been a mighty kick in the knackers (and a potential vote-loser) if the govt had said ‘ah, sorry, don’t have the cash to rebuild, best you move down to Kyushu and hope there isn’t a lethally big jolt down there in the next 20-30 years’.

Now, the quake has been a big opportunity for the people of Tohoku, and everywhere else as a show of support, to pull together, cooperate, work in harmony to get things done. Everywhere except, of course, Kasumigaseki, where the politicians all live. For them this has been an unparalleled opportunity to stab each other in the back, criticise, divide and generally act like, well, a bunch of politicians. In the beginning the tone was unduly harsh on The Man Who, as I said he had been dealt a shitty hand by nature and TEPCO but seemed to be doing the best he could. There were plenty of ‘we don’t think he’s handled it very well’ calls from other politicos who were safe in the knowledge that they would never be in that position so could snipe all they liked.

But then it really did begin to look like didn’t know what to do, what to start or even how to look like he was doing something even if it was just buying time (surely a pre-requisite for a politician?). It ended a few months back with a no confidence vote in the guy, which he survived reasonably comfortably. This should have been the green light for Kan to say ‘right, fuck off you lot, I’m The Man (Who), I got the vote, people have confidence, cut the crap and let me get on with sorting out this shit’.

But what he actually said was (something along the lines of) ‘er, what, I survived? Er, well, I guess that means that some people still don’t like me, so tell you what, I’ll resign when we have reached some point of stabilisation in the current recovery situation’.

So, the worst of all worlds; he didn’t flip the bird (like he should have done), he didn’t resign, he didn’t give a timetable for a possible resignation and didn’t clarify what that ‘point of stabilisation’ might be. It would have been better if he had just stood up and said ‘I do not have the first effing clue what I am doing, end of.’

So now Japan, from a leadership viewpoint, which should be steaming full-ahead on the recovery is still sitting in the ferry terminal arguing who is going to board first. I had some sympathy for Kan when the rest of the politicos wouldn’t let him do his job, but now I realise that he was not up to doing the job in the first place. What Japan needed, no needs, is someone to drain the poison out of the political system, remind politicians that they are there to serve the people and then, well, I don’t care if that person a) kicks as many butts as necessary, scruff of the neck, bull by the horns and other ‘strong-man’ clichés or b) builds a genuine consensus, one of mutual aid and common sense, either/or but which finally starts governing this country… I was going to write ‘governing this country properly’, but the way it is now no-one is running the show, so there isn’t even a ‘properly’ to live up to.

Nuclear Armageddon update

Apparently, according the newspaper this morning, we’re over the worst of it now, as you can see from this lovely graphic:

Now I’m not entirely how much of this I believe, especially now as beef contaminated by caesium has recently been sold in Tokyo, but still, it’s a start. One thing that (The Man Who) Kan has decided, or been told to decide, is that Japan, like Germany, is going to phase out nuclear power even though he, nor anyone else it would seem, has any really clear idea of what to replace it with. This is also after he stated, quite publicly, that Japan would not do anything to derail Japan’s long standing nuclear power policy – so clear and decisive leadership, then.

Update from yesterday [writing a few days after I started the rant] – apparently Kan’s u-turn on nuclear power, (the phase-out phase) is not government policy after all, merely the audible ramblings of a confused mind. Honestly, you couldn’t make it up…

Oh Ambassador, you’re spoiling us…

Not one but two invitations to be wined and dined at the Ambassador’s residence at the Embassy, that’s how important a member of the British expat community I am these days, that or a absolutely reliable (as in, will turn up if asked), probably won’t embarrass us, almost certainly British (no matter what Ichikawa ward office thought) person to make the room look full.

The reason it was 2 invites was because of Jeremy Browne MP. He is the Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, which I think means he’s like a deputy foreign minister, and he was meant to come in May but, in true British fashion, he was waiting for his flight in the US and his plane broke down. As this was at the last minute, as it were, the Ambassador, Dave, decided to go ahead with his soiree anyway and the caterers had been booked and he would have given less than 72 hours’ notice for a cancellation. So off we scooted to Hanzoumon, where we Brits have our embassy, and food and drink was laid on. Now free food and drink is always, in my book, worth getting out of bed for (hence the absolutely reliable above), but even more so when the British taxpayer is paying for it. I can tell you, all those of you who pay taxes on your hard earned cash in the UK, the Ambassador keeps a pretty good table and cellar – I’ll admit that we were not treated to his 1999 Chateau Lafite but a decent bit of plonk was provided, along with canapés and some other, more substantial foodstuffs. This time we were also treated to a few glasses of Pimms by way of greeting, which in Japan is a little hard to come by so that was nice.

But on neither occasion were we, I am very sad to report, offered any Ferrero Roche chocolates! When I grew up it was touted as the height of sophistication to offer them around, indeed the subtitle to this very piece was the tagline of the commercials, shot at some dodgy studio dressed up to look like some ‘swish embassy in a former communist republic but now very cosmopolitan place’ like Prague (think the embassy scene from mission impossible 1).

Anyway, dashed expectations are generally the forerunner to national insurrection so I am now fermenting revolution here in Tokyo at the hopeless decline of Her Britannic Majesty’s Foreign Service provision of chocolates at free nosh-ups. I mean, not even an After-Eight or a tray of Matchmakers! Pitiful! What will johnny-foreigner think? We’ll be a laughing stock. I believe the Argentinian invasion of the Falkland Islands was predicated on a bowl of Quality Street being proffered at a cocktail reception at the British Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1981; “If zis is ze only chocolate zey can afford…” General Galtieri is alleged to have said, ‘…zen we are in viz a chance, boys!”. At least they were offered…

So come on, buck your ideas up, Tokyo!

Finally in sports news…

 Well done to the Japanese ladies footy team, who won the World Cup

And the gents rugby team who won the Pacific Nations Cup

Well played all