Thunder Dolphin

Wow. That rollercoaster has to be the best in the whole world. At least the best in the world that I’ve been on. Absolutely incredible.

Not only is it incredible high, incredibly fast, and incredibly thrilling, it is also in an incredible location, standing as it does in the very heart of Tokyo. The view just before sunset yesterday was stunning. Jon and I had a few moments at the top of the first long haul up to look around and say “wow” repeatedly. It really was stunning.

This is the rollercoaster, you may recall, that I visited in March 2003, before the amusement park that it is situated in opened for business. I said at the time “my heart was certainly beating fast – and I was only looking at it!” – so you can imagine how I felt yesterday, actually riding the thing.

Mind you, Jon and I didn’t sit in any old seat, oh no, we were positioned right at the very front. Getting there was no easy matter. It required planning, and the subtle twisting of two young girls’ minds. It all started at the back of the queue, you know, the place beside the sign that reads “Persons who, based on their shape, cannot fasten their safety belts, are not allowed to ride”

In front of us in the queue were two young girls, perhaps age 10 and what seemed like age 4 – she had her lines well rehearsed though when asked by the attendant how old she was! During the 30 minute wait they couldn’t help but overhear our gaijin Japanese speak, and frequently turned around to giggle at something or other that we’d said. This broke the ice between us – we were all children now, dead excited about the ride in store for us.

Time ticked by. The queue shortened, until finally we figured our turn had come, and oh bollox, it looked like we’d be right at the back of the ride! But no! The attendent closed the gate, leaving us in positions 3 and 4 for the next ride. The second row! So close and yet so far!

It was at this point that the two litle girls in front of us leaned forward to glimpse up at the train now being hauled up into the clouds. “Ah, it’s a bit high!” one said to the other. Jon and I looked at one another – could this be our golden chance to steal the prize seats at the very front? It was so funny – should we agree, should we say, “Yes, yes, it is VERY high isn’t it? Looks positively scary!” What if the other people in the queue heard us, what would they think of think of those means, selfish gaijin?

We now made full use of the relationship that we had carefully cultivated over the previous half-hour, sympathising with the girls, whilst trying to ignore the voices in our heads shouting “Let us go in front! You want us to go in front don’t you?!! You really do!!”

The second rollercoaster train had now arrived, it’s shaken occupents struggling from their seats. Time was running out. We’d have to board in a second.

The situation was desperate, and I finally decided to kindly offer to take the front seats, sod those behind us and the reputation of foreigners as selfish bastards who make little kids take second place so they can enjoy pole position!

Just as I opened my mouth the 10-year-old said, in very polite Japanese, “Would you be so kind as to swap seats with us?”


And the rest, as they say, is history.

The final twist in the tale comes after the ride when we are admiring the size of our screaming mouths on the screens above the ‘Thunder Dolphin Hi-Tec Photo Counter’. As well as appearing in our own photo, being quite tall we also appear in the photo of the two little girls behind us, whose faces are almost completely obliterated by our heads.

How many days can a loaf of bread last?

I find it worrying how long my loaf of bread has survived without going mouldy in this hot and humid room. I don’t like to think what they’ve put in it to prevent the growth of greenery.

I have no such worries when it comes to jam however – happily, that developed a huge great mouldy within 3 days of its purchase. I’ve overcome the problem of having nothing edible to put on my titanium bread though – I bought some honey.

We signed the contract for our new place yesterday. Ahh, can’t wait to move in. This place is SO noisy! Situated right next to kanpachidori, the house shakes whenever a large lorry goes by, and believe me, they do go by, in their hundreds, mostly in the middle of the night.

Had my second Japanese language class yesterday. Great stuff. Mind you, the speed that that woman speaks at – incredible. As a baby, she must have been put in a tape recorder which then had its fast-forward button pressed. I understood everything, but the concentration required for that 90 minutes was immense, with the resulting headache lasting all day!

It seems that for the most part, it really is down to us as to whether or not we study. There is very little pressure to do anything but attend classes (all seven of them!). Indeed, yesterday we were actually told “it’s ok not to study Kanji” – although this was followed by a warning that we’d have to stay in level three if that was the case as they didn’t use much furigana in J4.

We were also strongly advised to watch TV. “You really can see the difference between those students who watch TV and those who don’t”. Our new house comes with a TV so that’s ok. It’s just a shame that it’s all such rubbish; cookery programs and shoe-cleaning quizzes. Yes, an entire half-hour program devoted to testing celebrities’ knowledge of shoe-cleaning tecniques. Surely a sign of social illness; all this self-control and supression of true desires is clearly harming the Japanese.

It’s at times like this that I wish I was a pigeon. No constant pressure to better oneself. All the pleasure one could possibly require in life obtained by a single simple action, that being the opening of one’s bowels when perched up high above an unfortunate human victim with black hair.

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On the streets of Ikebukuro

Last nights finds on the streets of Ikebukuro included:

A man with a duck fetish (I tweaked his nipple as a thank you for letting me take his photo, as which point he let out a rather surprised Quack)

A HUGE Preying Mantis

A silent life-size teddy bear

A man who had great faith in the ability of his vehicle to not topple over, no matter how high he piled his cardboard for recycling.

First proper day at uni

So, yesterday was indeed my First Proper Day at Uni.

I only had one class, Japanese language, and that was a pretty positive experience. There’s nine of us in the class, all but one of whom I’d already met. Sensei is lovely, very clear Japanese, very kind, GSOH, and pretty cute too, which helps of course. I’ve already studied the stuff we covered, which was a relief, as I was finding it difficult enough just getting to grips with the way the class was taught – let alone having to worry about actually learnig something!

As the class ended we were met by IFL (the Internatioal Friendly Lunchi brigade), who invited us to join them for what turned out to be, funnily enough, a Friendly Lunchi.

They really are nice people… I ended up spending the entire afternoon with them, chatting about this, that and the other, being taught rather questionable Japanese and so on. Quite a few of the members are Korean / Chinese students who have been here a few years – I was pretty surprised when they told me their names, as their Japanese was (to my gaijin ears) so natural.

I was invited by one of my new friends to attend the first session of a course she’s taking in Civil Law. Now that was an experience!

Like all sessions at Rikkyo, the lecture lasted 90 minutes. I think during that 90 minutes I managed to decipher the first 3 lines of the module outline. As for what was actually said, well, let’s say my knowledge of Japanese Civil Law is not that far advanced on what it was 24 hours ago. Ok, so I understood that he was using car salesmen and loan companies as an example of whatever message he was trying to get across; there were also frequent mentions of refrigerators, and according to my dictionary, a parasite that infects Siberian Swan eggs. I think I may have mis-heard…

I tell you what though, I would be utterly lost without that electronic dictionary. I’ve always thought of them as being for lazy people, people who can’t be arsed to look up whatever it is in a proper dictionary. After that lecture, I appreciate just how indispensable they are. There is no way I could possibly have looked things up fast enough in a regular dictionary – and it would have had to have been a huge dictionary to match the power of my eight milimetres of pure electronic sex-with-buttons-on. It also has a history – recording every single word / phrase / kanji I look up, so when I get home I can simply sit down with the dictionary and write up the day’s new finds.

Anyway, back to that lecture:

Is this not fantastic or what? Here we have a huge cinema-screen, and beside it, what appears to be a standard whiteboard. When the professor writes on the white-board in pen, whatever he writes appears instantaneously on the huge screen – is that not something to lose sleep over? Ah, such a long way from Sheffield, where the teachers are still forced to explain new grammar points by etching their example sentences into slabs of granite using iron-age etchy-things.

Mind you, yesterday’s professor could do with a litle kanji practice. I’ve never seen such badly-drawn characters before. Makes looking them up devilishly tricky.

After uni, the International Freindly Lunchi brigade met up to go for an International Friendly Supper at a fantasticly cheap okonomiyaki restaurant. Wow, the food just never stopped coming. Haven’t had okonomiyaki for a long time, absolutely delicious.

Naturally, the real highlight was being given the opportunity to get to know people a bit better. Hmmm, a very positive experience.

It was then suggested that we all go for a drink in “Kappuru-Koen” (literally “Couple park”, a nickname given to this little green oasis in the centre of Ikebukuro due to the number of couples who go there to whisper sweet nothings in one-anothers ears). When asked if people in the UK gathered in parks to drink, I replied that yes, they did, but usually only between the age of 12 and 16. It’s a very different affair in Japan however, with people bringing instruments, poi and the suchlike along, gathering in small groups to relax and enjoy the feeling of community. No smashing of beer bottles on the tarmac, no raucous screeching, and thankfully no “Yeah well Stacey said she slept with Darren last week but Stacey’s a lier and I hate her”.

By this time it must have been about 11pm. It had been a long day. *Twinkle* was just finishing a meeting elsewhere in Tokyo, and so we met on platform 10 at Shinjuku station. Having consumed two whole cans of beer in the park I was mightily talkative, and utterly inconsiderate of the Japanese dislike of PDAs (Public Displays of Affection).

I’m so glad I have *Twinkle* here at the end of the day. My rock of relative stability, in a world where I am otherwise very much at sea, in semi-charted waters.