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February 2002, Tokyo, Japanprevious month
The Daily Mumble March 2002 Archive
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March 2002 Highlights: the end of my OBC career, a three day hangover, the smell of freedom, cultural comparisons, the mystery surrounding skyscraper construction, the poo building, TGW goes biluingual, mature prostitution ring, leather bomb found on beach, cherry blossom parties, motorway fireworks, my national TV debut...

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Friday 1st March 2002 - 15:14(GMT+9) Tokyo, Japan

Joseph: "Hello, OBC".

Student: "Hello. Could you I speak to Mr. Joseph please...?"

Alas, the joyful days of participating in such conversations with my 300 students are over, as today sees the departure of Mr. Joseph from OBC in central Tokyo.

I'd like to thank Mr. Darryl my manager for his enjoyable convenient safety management style. I would say that you have been like a second father to me but that would be a lie.

Tito and Shari for embarking upon an involuntary crash-course in how to deal with the sharpest (or was it "daftest") of English humour. I know it's been a tough lesson but I hope it serves you well in the future should you have the misfortune to meet such a warped personality again.

Miss Risa Lobinson my fellow Brit for reinforcing in me the knowledge that I am perhaps the funniest person on Earth whilst coming a close second herself. Also for being an endless resource of kind words for others.

Finally, Rebecca, for being an absolute love, feeding me chocolate and crisps and for reminding me how great it is to have very happy people around. And for her wicked stories of sexual deviance.

Thanks to all the Japanese staff too, for the endless supplies of nibbles that seemed to appear on a daily basis from the middle of nowhere and for emptying the bins.

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"Hello, OBC..."
"Hello, OBC..."
"Hello, OBC..."

"Hello, OBC..."

Friday 1st March 2002 - 17:14(GMT+9) Tokyo, Japan

I take back all kind words for my manager, Darryl (see above) having just been handed my reference. It reads:


March 1st, 2002



Mr. Joseph Tame worked at OBC from November 2001 to March 2002. His work would have been adequate had he worked for an undertaker, but as an English teacher, it left quite a lot to be desired. In fact, I don't think it's going too far to say that as an English teacher, he is about as effective as tits on a bull.

If we were truly scraping the bottom of the barrel, we would probably hire him again, but we would all have to be delusional to do so.

To be honest, if he comes your way looking for employment, I would avoid him like the plague. In fact, lock the doors, turn off the lights and pretend everyone is away on holiday.



Darryl McGrath




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Monday 4th March 2002 - 12:14(GMT+9) Tokyo, Japan

Wow. I haven't had a 3-day hangover in years.

I had good excuse though - end of work party on Friday night. Nomihodai (drink as much as you like) is always lethal for me. Unfortunately I was so drunk at the restaurant that even after wrestling with a crab's leg for fifteen minutes I'd failed to extract any meat, although I had managed to spill crab-juice all over my trousers.

As for the karaoke afterwards, I don't think I sung a single song. All I remember is trying to fit the whole microphone in my mouth.

I've just spoken to my friend: had I done anything really embarrassing? No, she replied, not really. Oh, except for standing on the streetcorner and howling like a wolf for a while...

I managed to take a few photos before I passed out. They're over here.

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Monday 4th March 2002 - 12:30(GMT+9) Tokyo, Japan

The smell of freedom.

I have never thought of freedom as having a particular smell - until today. Having just finished work (with no plans as to when or where I will work next) I find myself without any time-related responsibilities. I have made the decision to stay in Tokyo and study hard until the end of the month, before packing my rucksack and heading off again. Where? I don't know. As a working holiday visa is a once-in-a-lifetime visa I do not want to waste it, so I shall opt to stay in Japan until October.

Anyhow, this morning when stepping out of the house into the spring sunshine, I really could smell the freedom. For those of who who have seen the movie The Matrix I could best describe it as the smell that accompanies the final showdown where Neo finally sees it for what it is. Speaking of which, did you know that the characters that you see are actually mirror images of Japanese kanji characters?

The smell is a combination of sunshine, excitement, fear and joy. Newness, stress, education. Put all these feelings together in a bottle, give it a good shake and inhale - that's what it smells like.

Do you know what I mean?

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Tuesday 5th March 2002 - 23:20(GMT+9) Tokyo, Japan

Why am I so allergic to study? Having never really been a student I've never really had to do it. I promised myself I'd spend at least 5 hours a day in March studying Japanese, but I just can't bring myself to do it. Why? I dunno...

I feel afraid of not being able to learn as much as I'd like to, and this then stops me from even picking up my books. It's just nuts! Does anyone know of a secret method to make yourself want to study?

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Wednesday 6th March 2002 - 08:57(GMT+9) Tokyo, Japan

It's quite startling what bizarre notions people have of countries that they have never visited. I have lost count of the number of times I was asked by my Japanese students if everyone in England (where apparently it rains everyday) ALWAYS carries an umbrella and if everyone really does wear a bowler hat when out in the swirling mist.

"Japan has four seasons" they would say. "Why does England only have two seasons?"

"I never want to go to America because I will get shot."

Perhaps the most surprising reason I was given by a student for them not wanting to go abroad was;
"I am afraid of the tap water. I think it would poison me if I went to Europe." They were quite serious too. They were under the impression that Western water was designed for Western bodies, and therefore the Japanese body would reject it - a bit like being given the wrong blood in hospital. (This coming from a student who lives in central Tokyo where the tap water is possibly the worst-tasting most chemical-ridden I have ever come across).

Anyhow, it works the other way around too. A couple of English friends were quite surprised when I told them just how popular Harry Potter was over here. Yes, we DO get films in English here (with all the merchandise too). The reason I mentioned this is that I'm off to see "The Lord of the Rings" this morning. Sorry, actually in Japan it's called "Rordo obu za Ringu" - that's the closest one can get to the title using Japanese characters. I'll be buying the tishatsu (that's T-shirt to you) afterwards, before heading off to McDonald's to get my free "Monsutazu inku" action figures with my Happy Meal.

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Thursday 7th March 2002 - 15:20(GMT+9) Tokyo, Japan

Life's Great Mystery No. 238: Huge Great Cranes.

I've been watching this skyscraper making its way up for the past 4 months whilst working in Shinjuku. As the skyscraper goes up, so do the cranes on the roof.

Q1. What are the cranes attached to? Are they just sitting on the roof? Are they balanced on great big poles that go all the way down to the ground via the incomplete elevator shafts?

Q2. How the hell do they get these things down once the skyscraper is completed? Do they dismantle them and pack them into meccano boxes? Is a helicopter involved?

There must be someone out there who knows the answers. Does anyone know of a Crane-Fan homepage?

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how on Earth?

Ah!! I've been Solarized!!!

Friday 8th March 2002 - 11:44(GMT+9) Tokyo, Japan

I feel so happy today as you can see in this photo taken 2 minutes ago. I think it's because of the spring, which has finally arrived. We're just going to go on a boat trip around Tokyo Bay, oh and we're hoping to see a big poo too!

I always wondered what being solarized felt like.

Friday 8th March 2002 - 17:00(GMT+9) Tokyo, Japan

We saw the poo building, and very nice it is too. (It actually belongs to Asahi Beer and that's supposed to be a blob of beer froth. I think the architect must have spent too long indulging in the company's products before picking up his pencil).

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Unchi Biru

Crackin' parkin' Grommit...

Sunday 10th March 2002 - 17:30(GMT+9) Tokyo, Japan

Another Sunday afternoon has been spent wandering the downtown lanes of Tokyo. Today's springtime discoveries included a fully automatic singing robotic popcorn machine ("cooked before your very eyes!") and the new garden-shed-sized bird traps employed by Tokyo Metropolitan Government to tackle the population-explosion crisis.

The Japanese are well known for their skilful handiwork when it comes to Origami - but how about this fine example of papier mache?! What I want to know is what on earth is Wallace doing over here in the first place? He can't even speak Japanese! When The Wrong Trousers was released he had to have a native do a voice-over for him! Grommit didn't have that problem...

Tuesday 12th March 2002 - 21:30(GMT+9) Tokyo, Japan

With my departure from Tokyo now only a couple of weeks away, today I thought I'd better figure out where I'm gonna go next and what I'm gonna do. However, I discovered that I've made an unfortunate mistake in relying on just one organisation, Wwoof, to provide me with contacts at my next destination somewhere on the southern island of Kyushu. It just so happens that my current list of host farms is hopelessly out of date and the new one will not be completed until well into next month. So, that kinda leaves me a bit stuck, i.e. no job and no place to live. My girlfriend Kae (with whom I've been staying for the past 6 months) is departing for Italy in a couple of weeks and what money I do have left is supposed to last me until god knows when.

I might have to take that job in the hostess bar after all...

I think I'll hitchhike down there anyway and just see what happens. Perhaps some local will take pity on me and let me camp in their teahouse, or perhaps I'll find some Buddhist monks up a mountain and go into hibernation - on second thoughts, two years up a Swiss Alp gave me more than enough time for reflection on life's great mysteries.

It's this kind of situation that I love, and its this kind of situation that I need more of. It's also this kind of situation that stresses me out!

I'm pretty confident in terms of my Japanese. Don't get me wrong, it's still appalling. "Advanced Teletubbies Standard" might be a pretty accurate description of my competency. I finally cracked the second of the three alphabets last week, and now find myself able to read all signs written in Hiragana and Katakana - they're the basic ones that 3-year-olds are proficient in.

I tend to find that my language skills are vastly improved after the downing of a bottle of cheap white wine. I'm surprised that this method is not mentioned in the introduction to "The Living Language Beginner's Japanese Course".

Wednesday 13th March 2002 - 10:46(GMT+9) Tokyo, Japan

Being the international jet-setter that I am I always have the problem of deciding what to do with my air-miles. Well, yesterday I found the perfect ticket to exchange them for: a sub-orbital space flight. For only 10 million air miles I can reserve a seat on the first private spacecraft to take passengers into space. Want to join me? Click here!

Not a frequent flyer but still want to go? No problem! for US$20 million you can fly to the International Space Station courtesy of Space Adventures.

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Friday 14th March 2002 - 16:48(GMT+9) Tokyo, Japan

Oh boy. What a hangover. It's almost 5pm and I feel just as bad as I did when I woke up at 1pm.

Last night saw my final lesson at Access International, where, for the past five months I've been teaching English a couple of nights a week. To mark the event, when the lesson was over we all migrated to the neighbouring restaurant for a fantastic meal and an endless supply of drinks. We had a whole room to ourselves, although perhaps "large lift" would be a more accurate description of the box that the 12 of us squashed into. It was very cosy though, I do like the restaurants where you sit on the floor, your legs in a pit below the table that's raised about 30cm from your cushion.

I was very drunk. Very drunk. Quite well-behaved though, of course. I took a few photos too, they're over here.

Right, I must get back to bed. The Sumo's on the box so that should keep my mind off the alcohol poisoning...

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Saturday 15th March 2002 - 13:16(GMT+9) Tokyo, Japan

Tame Goes Wild is now bilingual! - sort of.

Yesterday I spent three hours writing a very short letter to a chap who owns a rice farm that I'd like to stay on in Hyogo-ken. Anyhow, my satisfaction at having completed my first ever letter in Japanese encouraged me to try and make this site a little more Japanese friendly - the result is a basic sitemap in nihongo. I am especially proud of the fact that I did it all myself, with my girlfriend only checking it afterwards.

And to think that a year ago I could only say "Hello"! I am shocked that such a lazy idiot such as myself is capable of learning another language.

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Tuesday 19th March 2002 - 13:38(GMT+9) Tokyo, Japan

Truth can be stranger that fiction. The following article is from The Yomiuri Shimbun, a national daily English-language newspaper in Japan.

2 held over 'mature' prostitution ring

Osaka - A member of a crime syndicate and his common-law wife have been arrested on suspicion of operating a prostitution ring made up of middle-aged and elderly women, police said Friday.

Shinichi Mochizuki, 25, and Chie Yamazaki, 27, allegedly pocketed about 40% of the ¥40 million the ring earned over a 10-month period.

According to police, many of the women turned to prostitution after their husbands lost their jobs, or because they had to repay loan sharks. In advertisements, the suspects promised to send "mature" women aged between 40 and 70 to meet clients in hotels.

Most of the clients were male company workers in their 50s and 60s, who were charged between ¥17,000 [£85] and ¥25,000 [£125] a time.

Some of the men used the service several times, apparently because they felt comfortable being with women of a similar age.

In one instance, a women employed by the suspects allegedly dispatched a 57-year-old woman to a hotel in Osaka, to provide sex to a 52-year-old company employee in late January.

The pair are also suspected of hiring four women aged between 42 and 57 to have sex with clients between August and November last year.

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Tuesday 19th March 2002 - 19:13(GMT+9) Tokyo, Japan

A BIG BIG "Domo" to Emmie and Russ for being such great hosts at the weekend. John John, Michael, Kae and myself hired a car first thing Sunday morning and made the five hour trip south to Shimoda where Emmie (who was in the year below me at the Hereford Waldorf School) and Russ have been living since last summer.

Picking the car up was pretty stressful. We'd ordered a Honda (?) "Vitz", a nice compact thing that has only recently gone on general release, but unfortunately as Nippon Rent-a-Car were out of them that morning we ended up with a Nissan Sunny, which reminded of my parents' 1970s Volvo (nicknamed "the tank"). To make matters worse, this unwieldy beast had an automatic transmission - I hadn't a clue of how it worked. Not wanting to worry the hire firm, I decided to refrain from asking them how to make the car go forward, and instead played around with the pedals and gearstick until I'd managed to perfect the bunny-hop.

Having almost driven into a tree in their yard, I finally managed to get out onto the road, learning more every single second about automatic transmissions. I was also rapidly picking up on how to drive in Tokyo without either being hit by a stop sign or one of the millions of suicidal cyclists.

An hour later we'd managed to get out of city; it was then that we embarked upon a 4-hour game of I-Spy which kept us happy until we reached our destination.

We had no real game plan once at Emmie and Russ's, but an exploration of the coastline turned out to be great fun. Beachcombing in the UK can be a little dull, with plastic coke bottles and used condoms being the most common find. Here however it's an entirely different ball game.

One of the first finds was Harry the crab. He was a very friendly crab, and didn't nip me once. Nicely patterned too. Shame he was dead.

Then there were the sea slugs. Before Sunday I'd never even heard of such a thing. Slimey and very well camouflaged, we found a family of three. When threatened they squirt a bright purple ink - which the smallest did after being fondled a bit, making the rockpool look like someone had just dropped a Dylon tab into it.

Other finds that day included 2 dead sharks (OK, so they were only about 30cm long but nonetheless I was impressed!) and, oh yeah, the mystery blob.
Harry the crab

Initially we thought it was a stone. Lying flat, half buried in the sand with a fairly smooth grey-brown surface, it looked like it couldn't be anything but. However, a little prodding revealed that it was slightly squidgy. It took three of us to heave it to an upright position, that was, after a little debate about whether this was an unexploded bomb we were dealing with - would it be wise to shift it? Well, no explosions occurred, and no matter how much we investigated we came no close to discovering what this bizarre object was. What is made of leather, has a metal frame inside and weighs several hundred kilos despite being pretty small? The mystery remains.
A stone gone soft?
An unexploded leather bomb?

That evening Russ cooked us a fantastic meal. I can't remember what it was as I'd had too much beer, but I do remember that it was delicious. There was drinking, talking, laughing, watching tropical fish, more drinking, more laughing and relaxing.

The drive home was punctuated by a stop at Michael's Uncle and Aunt's place. Having walked their monkey-mad dog and indulged in a great feast laid on in our honour, it was back to Tokyo. Boy was I glad to get to bed. All those hours driving were knackering, but it had been well worth it.

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Tuesday 19th March 2002 - 22:06(GMT+9) Tokyo, Japan

I like Shimoda a lot. It's sunny, pretty clean, friendly and almost tropical.

However, there is no light without dark.

Fresh dolphin meat, on sale in a Shimoda supermarket.

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Dark red dolphin meat

Thursday 21st March 2002 - 23:06(GMT+9) Tokyo, Japan

It's only a rumour, so don't go spreading it, but I heard that Joseph Tame is now considering staying on in Japan until October 2003. His original plan was to hitchhike south to Australia in October 2002 - so why the change of plan?

My sister, Jessie, has just mailed me with her wedding date (CONGRATULATIONS JESS AND DANNY!), so I have to be back in the UK for that on the 21st of September. It actually works out pretty well as my Japanese visa will expire around then. The thing is, I'll be pretty much broke after that, so I'm gonna have to do a bit of work. Europe isn't too appealing at the mo, and I really do want to improve my Japanese, so I thought I'd come back here for a year and work on some remote island. That way I can save enough money for further travels...

Well, that's the plan anyhow. We'll see...

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Saturday 23rd March 2002 - 15:29(GMT+9) Tokyo, Japan

The Sakura (Cherry Blossom) season is now in full-swing in Tokyo. Like the maple-leaf season in October/November, this mass demonstration of beauty and colour really takes Japan by storm. At the end of the TV weather forecast there is a daily Sakura forecast, detailing when and where in Japan the cherry blossom will look the best. Where you can't see the trees in the flesh, you will always find plastic replicas, for example hanging from ceilings in supermarkets and attached to lamppost on concreted streets. Many many Japanese get together to have "Ohanami" (Cherry blossom viewing parties). These are essentially great big piss-ups under the blooming trees in large parks, with entire offices getting together after work for amusing times.

Sakura up close

Ueno Park, Tokyo, in full bloom

Ueno Park is the current hot-spot, and prime positions there are so highly prized that some people camp out the night before to reserve a place for the following afternoon. In fact Kae and I were going to go to one today, but unfortunately it's been rained off.

Nevermind, we're having almost as much fun here at home watching some mad film called "The Belly of an Architect" whilst drinking beer and coke.

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Monday 25th March 2002 - 16:52(GMT+9) Toyohashi, Japan

So much for hitchhiking Japan. Today Kae and I were up at 7am, in order to catch the early-morning expressway traffic. Having spent four hours at two impossibly fast and unfriendly junctions, we opted to take the train! And to think that we could have got up at our usual time of 11am... Hitching's all very well - but don't try it in Tokyo!

We are now in Toyohashi, Kae's home town. Boy is it good to be mothered again! Just like at New Year we have absolutely no need to do anything other than relax. Kae's mum is cooking all the meals, washing all our clothes on a daily basis leaving us with all the time in the world to sit under the kotatsu and watch TV or sleep. I would feel guilty if I did this on a permanent basis, but it is only for a week so I think it's OK to indulge in the opportunity. It takes me back to being a child in the summer holidays, except now I really enjoy lie-ins and doing nothing in particular!

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click here for full picture
Beer and more beer
sakura galore

Tuesday 26th March 2002 - 16:58(GMT+9) Toyohashi, Japan

That's what it's all about. It was off to the park today for a "Ohanami" (cherry blossom viewing party). We were equipped with a fantastically fashionable plastic tarp, complete with pictures of cyclists spouting Engrish galore.

Cyclist 1: "Let's race on the other ride of a hill!"

Cyclist 2: "I'm sure defeat by yours"

Cyclist 3: "Oh, no! Your appetite is great!"

OK, so these events usually involve quite a lot of people, but today it was just the two of us, the dog Bibi having been sent home on bad behaviour. Three cans of beer and an apple-vodka drink later I'm completely wiped out for the day. Yeah, I think it's time for bed, it is 5pm after all...

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Saturday 30th March 2002 - 17:18(GMT+9) Toyohashi, Japan

Kae's father (pictured right next to Daddy-Long-Legs) kindly offered to take myself and Kae for a two day break in a mountain onsen resort, about 4 hours north-west of home. This was my first experience of a Japanese style hotel, or "Ryokan", which is pretty different from western hotels in every way. For a start, there's no shoes inside (as in Japanese homes), just attractive red slippers designed exclusively for Japanese feet. Looking at the picture on the right you can guess what trouble I had getting my great skis into them. I looked a right idiot falling down the stairs whilst attempting to keep them balanced on my big toes.

The main feature of these places are the bathrooms, which with their volcanically heated water (works wonders for arthritis) and outdoor pools are relaxation itself (more info on onsens over here).

It's absolutely impossible to get shoes in my size over here

Raw Squid For Breakfast?

Anyhow, we basically spent a few hours in the onsen and the rest of our time there eating or sleeping. Speaking of eating, when was the last time you had raw squid for breakfast? That accompanied the usual delicious selection of pickles, rice, soup, baby fish and porridge oats with prawns and seasoning. I must admit to feeling queasy for the rest of the day as the squid was so chewy, and for lunch I accidentally ate liver which always makes me want to puke!

Reduce Speed Now: Fireworks Ahead!

It was when we were on our way to the Ryokan that we all got a bit of a shock...

OK, so you're a breakdown patrol vehicle in charge of a particularly busy stretch of Japanese motorway, and you get a call from a motorist who's out of gas and stuck on the hard shoulder. What do you do to warn oncoming motorists of the hazard ahead? Ah, of course! You light a couple of dazzling red flares and lie them down right next to the main carriageway about a mile in front of your customers vehicle! I noticed that rather than make drivers pay more attention it actually resulted in them fixing their eyes on their mirrors to try to figure out what the hell lit fireworks were doing on a motorway, thus not seeing the broken down vehicle at all!

The oldest tree in the world?

On the way home we decided to take the scenic route, which wound its way through the mini-mountains of central Japan, at times giving us stunning views of the Japanese Alps which rival those of Switzerland any day. Along the way, in addition to seeing a vast slope containing 1,282 terraced rice-paddies, we also spotted what must be in the running for the title of "The Oldest Tree in The World". At 1,800-years-old (yes, one-thousand eight-hundred) it's certainly the oldest living thing that I have knowingly met. It was huge, and looked surprising healthy for its age. Just imagine the changes it has seen in its lifetime... If anyone knows of an older tree let me know!

We're back home now (at Kae's parent's house in Toyohashi). I think we're going to a conveyor-belt Sushi restaurant tonight - I must be careful to avoid the squid and octopus, I don't think that my stomach can take any more surprises today...

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Saturday 30th March 2002 - 21:00(GMT+9) although my head feels like it's at least 1am. Toyohashi, Japan

Crikey, what a night! That was my first time to go to a real Sushi bar, boy was it a laugh! The owner was a right character. Initially very shy (foreigners are a rarity around here), he soon relaxed and then never stopped talking to or about me. He was eager to teach me how to make my own Sushi, plying me with various ingredients and directing me in how to roll it, much to the amusement of the rest of the customers. I was tempted to try to overcome my fear of Tako (Octopus), but no matter how much rice wine I drank I could not make that step. Still, I did eat eel, and salmon eggs as well, two firsts for me there. Oh, huge slabs of raw tuna went down nicely after that. The final dish was miso soup, cram-packed with little things that live in snap-snap shells that try to bite your fingers off when you poke them. (That's the technical translation by the way, I think it's "wee little clam" in Scottish). I had quite a bit of some weird cheese-like creature too - Sea Urchin I think, an aphrodisiac allegedly. I must admit, the overpowering feeling that came over me wasn't hornyness, more sickness and "I'd-better-advoid-that-next-time-ness".

There's a nice little photo of the chap who entertained us in my latest photo album.

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Saturday 30th March 2002 - 21:00(GMT+9) Toyohashi, Japan

Joseph makes it onto national Japanese TV!

I can't believe I forgot to tell you! I made it onto national Japanese TV yesterday for the first time! I've been on Tokyo and Kyoto TV in the past (got the videos to prove it too), but this was a first. On Thursday afternoon Kae, Ottosan and I were walking down one of the oldest streets in Japan. Ahead of us, Kae spotted a cameraman, and promptly tried to hide as I spotted my opportunity to step into the limelight. The incident was quickly forgotten as we got back in the car and drove on to our Japanese hotel.

That evening we switched the TV on to watch the national (TBS) 6 o'clock news.

"Heah look! It's an article on this area!"

"Heah look! It's US!!!"

And there we were, walking down that street. National TV. 6 o'clock news. Millions of viewers. Fame...

Since then I've taken the precaution of wearing a wig, and it seems to be effective as I haven't been asked for any autographs yet.

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