Sunday, 21 April 2013

Yamathon

So yesterday we did the Yamathon and jolly good fun it was too.

What wasn't fun was getting up at 4.45 in the AM to be in Harajuku for 6.00, that was hard but I managed it. Surprisingly large number of people getting the train at 5.30 on a Saturday morning, no idea why but smattering of school kids off to, I guess, cram school or sports fixtures, construction workers and others. They were probably looking at me thinking 'where's that weird gaijin in the running gear off to at this hour...?'.

So the idea is that in teams of three or four you visit every station on the Yamanote line in Tokyo and take a photo of your team at each. It's not a race, as such, as there are no prizes for position, but of course there is a bit of kudos for finishing first and as BST had three teams joining in there was always going to be a bit of friendly competition. Of our team there was me (regular runner and half-marathoner), Ava (regular runner), Charlotte (regular runner, winter sports instructor and zumba enthusiast (whatever that is)) and Alice (Tokyo marathoner, triathlete, crazily fit person). In other teams there were also marathon runners, sports enthusiasts, PE teachers and the like - so while the Yamathon is ostensibly a walk there was definitely going to be a bit of running going with a bit of needle attached.

The groups were let off in blocks depending on when they had registered, the other 2 school teams were in the first group who set off at 7.00 whilst our team, the British Staggering Team, were in the last group at 7.25 - gave us the incentive to catch the others.
The British Staggering Team at the start, 7.26AM - Ava, Alice, me & Charlotte


We figured we would run for the first bit as we would be fresh, the stations are quite close together so you can get through a few quite quickly (that said the longest stretch of track is only 2.2km between stations (between Shinagawa and Tamachi, should you be interested) so there was always a station just around the corner). Navigation was good and we whizzed past Yoyogi and Shinjuku barely breaking stride. Unfortunately we then, due to too much talking and not enough concentrating, whizzed right past Shin-Okubo and were half-way to Takadanobaba before someone said 'this seems to be a long stretch...' so we had to go about 750m back to the station to take our photo, an unnecessary round trip of 1.5km - not sensible! When we were running back we passed a group of three walking guys who for the next 15 stations always seemed to appear in front of us even though we ran past them, like they had some kind of temporal field generator to slip ahead of us when we weren't looking. The same thing happened to us with another team between Ikebukuro and Otsuka - maybe our navigating wasn't that good after all...
lost in Shin-Okubo

We ran pretty much all the way from Harajuku at the start to Ueno, notwithstanding a short toilet and banana break at Mejiro. As you had to have all team members in the photo of the station, as well as the station name, it meant you had to ask random members of the public to take photos of you - generally speaking this wasn't a problem as stations tend to have a lot of people in and around them, the problem was choosing the right person. At Nishi-Nippori the only person was a middle-aged guy who initially looked suitably nonplussed at being accosted by several gaijin waving a phone at him. When he twigged what we wanted he threw away his half finished cigarette and took my phone - one can only suspect he had never seen a smartphone before (or maybe he was just an Apple guy through and through) as my HTC phone seemed to confuse him completely. I even showed him how to shoot and what we wanted (4 people and a train sign - one of Hugh Grant's lesser known films) but he just couldn't get it. Eventually a younger woman, watching this from the side, decided enough was enough and basically snatched the phone, elbowed him out the way and got the shot. From that moment on the rule was 'young people only!'

Just before Ueno, at Uguisudani, we met the first team going the other way (we were going clockwise) and they looked suitably in a hurry. At Ueno we figured it was about half-way around so stopped for a proper food break and a sit down. We did the first half in 3 hours and at that stage were thinking of a 6 hour finish, a revised estimate after our initial sub-10 hour aim. The problem was that Ava had felt a  tendon twinge at the top of her thigh and the sit down probably didn't do it any good.

It was only a short distance from Ueno to the next stop Okachimachi and very crowded along Ameoko-dori so we walked to get back in the swing and let our onigiri go down. As the crowds thinned out we started running again but it was aorund here that the twinge in Ava's left turned into a strain - she gamely tried to run-walk from Akihabara to Tokyo but by then it was clear that she couldn't really run any more. From that point on it was walking all the way, though we did so at a brisk pace. Though 6 hours was out we hoped we might do it 7.
strange bloke behind Charlotte's head

After Shinagawa we took a short cut through the back streets to cut off a loop of track and found the first of the other BST teams. They had run a bit but had tired of that so decided to start drinking instead. We found them outside a convenience store, Chu-hi's in hand and having a great time. We set off together but as there was another BST team in front of us and we really wanted to catch them we ended up moving ahead of out colleagues.

By Gotanda Ava was really starting to struggle, but as by then we only had 3 more stations to visit she kept on it. The last bit was hard for her and by now the rest of us were feeling it, it was a long way, about 50km according to friend in another team who kept his gps runkeeper thing going for the whole route.
Ava struggling in Gotanda


We hit Shibuya, our final station, at about 2.40pm. By then we had had a text and photo from the first BST team, safely in a bar with a big beer in front of them - they were 4th home in 5 hours 46 minutes, a really great achievement having run all the way. For the last leg, from Shibuya to the finish line, we had a celebratory chu-hi was well which started to damp-down the leg ache.

Shibuya, your final station stop




We finally crossed the finish line in 7 hours 35 minutes, good enough for 15th place out of 100+ teams. Then it was to TGI Fridays for beer and food, the first team had already gome home by this point but the last team did make it for beers with us later.
The finish line at 3.01PM


All in all a really good day. I reckon we could have done it in 6 hours if Ava hadn't got injured, but there you go, it's not like it was her fault. If we do it next year, and I think we will as we all said we're up for it, then I think anti-clockwise might be best, get the longer sections out of the way first, and probably a bit more training prior to if we want to run the whole way.And now we have a BST target to beat...


Thursday, 18 April 2013

Tokyo Yamathon 2013


 This saturday i will be getting off my backside and try to give something back - I haven't done a great deal for charity, I must admit, though doing stuff for the Japan Scottish Highland Games was sort of for charity, as were the event for the St Andrew Society... so I have done a bit for charity but anyway, here's a bit more.

The Yamathon is a 12 hour walk-run-stagger around the Yamanote line in Tokyo, the Yamanote line is like the Circle line in London only thankfully a bit smaller - about 35km if you follow the tracks and I reckon about 40 if you don't. You get 12 hours to do it and my team and I reckon we can do it in 10 or less, so here goes.

My team is me, Charlotte, Ava and Alice - 3 colleagues from work who are decidedly younger and probably fitter than me (Alice ran Tokyo marathon in February) but hopefully I'll be able to keep up.

We are raising  money for Oxfam for their Democratic Republic of Congo project, details can be found here http://www.oxfam.jp/en/whatwedo/emergency_work/drc/

If you would like to donate please go to my fundraising page here http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=JustinBowdidge 


Should be a blast...

Monday, 15 April 2013

Reprise

Just to follow up on the past about Abenomics, on Friday, after we had been to the Japan Mint (which was very interesting unless you are a 7 year old boy, when it is apparently the most boring place in the universe) we went to a kid's centre in the neighbouring ward off Adachi. The centre was excellent, with a climbing frame that was three stories high (and really cool, obviously) but there was a couple of climbing walls, activity rooms, music rooms, a super cool planetarium with a live feed from an observatory in the Atacama desert and loads of other things.

The point is that in Abenomics' grand plan what they need to build, if building shit is the answer, is more places like the Adachi kid's centre and fewer concert halls or useless roads no nowhere. Centres like these will do all the stuff Abe wants, create construction jobs, staffing jobs, people to design stuff, will be useful for normal people who will use them (this one was basically the play area for a couple of big mansion blocks), and may well have the benefit of encouraging families to have more kids as the kids have somewhere to go and play that's cool and free. Let's hope...

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Blogger app installed

So you never know, I might get around to writing a few more posts as I can do this on the train :-)

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

We're all doomed, doomed I tell you...



Goodness me it’s been a while

I know I always write that, but there you go. I think I wrote at Christmas that it was about time for a proper post so getting it done at Easter isn’t too bad, is it? Anyway I’m a busy person, cut me some slack.

The return of Silent Shinzo

Yes, I know it’s been a while since Yoshihiko Noda got dumped for trying to do the right thing, since September 2012 to be precise, that’s when the LDP clawed their way back to power, so how has the new boy, Silent Shinzo Abe, been getting on?

Well he’s invented a new word, or rather he’s had one invented for him, the so-called Abenomics, a cunning and inventive blend of Abe and economics. So what is it? Well, as far as I can tell it’s the same as the quantitative easing that worked so effectively at kick starting the economy in the US and Europe. The idea, as far as I can see, is that the central bank prints lots of extra yen and uses this to buy lots of government bonds, I think they buy the bonds from Japanese banks who up until now had been propping up the government by buying these bonds thereby proving the government with cash (I could well be wrong about that, I’m not an economist; if I am wrong, what do you expect, go read Bloomberg).

The effect, hopefully, of this central bank buying spree is that it firstly provides liquidity to the banks who can then start using the money to give loans (which let’s face it is hopeful as no one wants a loan when they don’t want to be more in debt (except governments, of course, but they have different rules known as ‘fuck you small people, we do what we want’ rules)). The second supposed effect is to kickstart an infrastructure construction boom which, by the miracle of trickle-down economics, puts money into normal people’s pockets thereby restarting the economy as people buy stuff, inflation increases a bit, interest rates rise and everything is right with the world. This second point may sound familiar and it is to anyone who has been to anywhere in ‘small town countryside’ japan where there are enormous highways to nowhere and cavernous 1500-seater concert halls in a town of 200 people (and another up the road) – yes, it’s basically what’s been going on for the last 20 years.

There are other tenets to Abenomics, like devaluing the currency – this was important and something I agree with as for the last few years, even though the Japanese economy (we’re talking macro scale here) has been structurally fucked (no growth, stag/deflation, aging population time bomb etc)  it seems the people who run these things decided Japan was a safe haven, and compared to Europe and the US for a while I suppose it was, so the yen was at stratospherically high levels for far too long and some adjustment needed to be made. What’s interesting here is that for the 2-3 years that the yen was strong there was little mention from the currencies that benefitted, dollar, euro and yuan, whilst Japan was left to suffer in silence. As soon as Japan started to try to devalue the yen all these currencies that had benefitted suddenly started predicting the end of the economic world because if Japan aggressively devalued its currency then they would have to as well (from a position of being devalued, interesting…). So suddenly Japan is screwed if it does and [continues to be] fucked if it doesn’t – good position to be in.

In a way I feel sorry for Abe, inasmuch as I can feel sorry for any politician. Japan has been in a bad place for a couple of decades now and something needed to be done, but as with a lot of these things it looks like it’s impossible to do what really needs to be done (e.g. separate big business from the government/ministry of finance; stop the white collar closed shop corruption; wipe out the bank’s toxic debt; make business stand on their own two feet; end protectionism; transpose the ultra-efficient Japanese manufacturing processes into company structures and the workforce (i.e. promote efficiency in all areas of the company); introduce meritocracy; value people; value ideas; make decisions; act. Goodness me, got a little carried away there, maybe I should be the next PM or Chancellor…). Anyway all that needs to be done but can’t be done solely by the government, so the government has to try and find ways to encourage business to buy into this, which means getting the currency down, liquidity into the market and more people into the shops to buy stuff (and most importantly get people having babies as old people don’t buy new TVs/cars/houses very often but young people do – fat fucking chance of this, of course and as discussed elsewhere, but you can’t say it enough times).

Er, lost my thread there with that ‘what is to be done’ mini-rantlet. So…something needed to be done and Abe can only do so much. He can’t really sit on his hands and not say anything, like he did last time he was PM back in 2006/7 as the world has changed for the worse since then. So he has to try something new, though a large part of the ‘new’ seems to be to do what has been done before but on a much bigger scale. At least Abe does have the bonus, if it could be called that, of having to rebuild Tohoku after the 2011 earthquake – that will take a lot of money and time and will, eventually, lead to a lot of people buying a lot of new stuff and maybe having babies, but whether it will be enough…

Reaction to his policies has been unsurprisingly mixed. The markets have loved it and the Nikkei, up another 100 points today, is now moving upwards at a rate of knots. Most economic commentators have looked on with a mixture of awe and morbid fascination, expecting the economy to either implode or explode in the not too distant future, pointing out that for this to work interest rates and especially economic growth rates will have to be impossibly high whilst keeping inflation manageably low all to ensure that debt servicing doesn’t exceed the country’s GDP (and seeing as the debt already exceeds GDP by a considerable margin and could head towards 245% this is a real worry). However given the right circumstances, such as continued growth and construction/rebuilding work that does actually benefit people, put money in their pockets and encourage them to spend, there is a feeling of optimism in certain quarters (the Economist http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21569435-can-fiscal-and-monetary-splurge-reboot-japans-recessionary-economy-keynes and Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz  http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2013/apr/08/japan-shinzo-abe-yen-economics to name but 2 big names).

So I guess we’ll have to wait and see, I’m in the optimistic camp myself, having lived here for the best part of 17 years in the midst of depression (economic not personal) and still the country seems to get through, people spend, new buildings are built and the sun still rises. It would be better if he took on board my suggestions above, I wouldn’t charge too much for him to use, and not just because I have probably nicked them off lots of other people, but I know it’s unlikely to happen as it would mean too much of a change in the fundamental psyche of Japan.  However it will all be for nothing because…

Krazy Kim Junior

Just what the fuck is going on over in Krazy Kim Junior’s People Mart? No, I don’t know either but I do with they’d sort it out and stop threatening to drop a large piece of metal on my head from a great height (though to be fair to Krazy Kim it seems to the South Koreans, naturally, and the Americans that have his dander up at the moment and in a show of enormous self-restraint the Japanese generally, and Silent Shinzo especially, have decided to forego the normal inflammatory ‘can we have any of our citizens you may still be holding captive back now please, and their children’ modus operandi that holds sway in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

One thing you have to wonder about – there is no way, as far as I know, that your average North Korean person can see any foreign news whilst they are in KKJPM, so whilst we understand that Junior has to be seen to rattle the sabre by his people in order to a) wring concessions from the US; b) get the US, China, Japan and who knows, Malawi to the negotiating table; and c) get some food aid. What I don’t understand is, when his people aren’t going to be watching BBC World or CNN why does he actually have to go through the rigmarole of the sabre rattling in the first place? He could just ask for some food and then, when it arrives, he goes on TV and is interviewed by that vicious newsreader woman and all he has to say is “I jolly well rattled my sabre and look, a bally load of rice/mung beans/marmite has been delivered by the quaking imperialist capitalist mongrels”. Or something similar – it’s not like there will be rioting in the streets with workers holding up copies of the Guardian declaim Junior as a liar, more likely they’ll be waving flags and smiling (and trying to ignore guns pointing at them from behind).

Anyway come on Junior, dad was a nutjob but I don’t really remember him going this far before…

Monday, 8 April 2013

Yotsuya

DeliveriesOld barberBins, blooms and gravesGutter gardeningGravesBig man
Pink blossomsWhite sakuraRoofs and leavesPeaceToriitemple detail
old wallnew wall

Yotsuya, a set on Flickr.

Thursday, 4 April 2013