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    Friday, September 29, 2006


    It's no good, I just can't get to sleep, no matter what I try. Must be those two cups of coffee I hd 6 hours ago.

    It's been quite a productive day today. Being Thursday, I had no classes, and so decided to make the most of my time off by ...doing my homework! Had I stayed at home I probably wouldn't have got much done. Probably would have played around with my Mac in a vain attempt to retreive the 200GB of data that I seem to have lost thanks to a faulty hard drive. I'll see if Windows can do anything with it once *Twinkle* and I are settled in our new place.

    The tail of the Golden Sperm, Asakusa

    I can't tell you how much I am looking forward to moving. For a start, it will mark the end of sleeples nights - we all know what the best remedy for insomnia is. It will also mark the end of time-consuming conversations via text and messenger, which I must admit I absolutely loathe, no matter who they are with. It's ok if it's video or voice, but if it requires key pushing it drives me up the wall, especially when I'm feeling so stressed.

    cacti twins

    So yes, I decided to go out for the day. My study venue? The beautiful 144 acre Shinjuku Gyoen. Who would have thought that such an oasis could exist just a couple of minutes from the world's busiest railway station, and major shopping / entertainment district? I know the park fairly well, having often visited during my previous life. Despite this, I still find myself surprised and delighted by what it has to offer.

    I was fortunate enough to find one of the four tables in the pavillion thing free, and so soon got down to work, practicing my posh Japanese for when I meet the Emperor. I sat there for about 4 hours, taking breaks from the class handouts by watching the world go by. The little child running around shouting "Hato Sama! Hato Sama! ("Mr. Pigeon! Mr. Pigeon!"). Why the daft thing didn't fly away I don't know. Later on, the scene before me turned into a TV set, as some celebrity or other appeared, followed by a couple of cameramen, and surrounded by production staff. There was an interview in front of the pond ...then they moved on, to be replaced by a huge group of scarily fit pensioners who started doing all sorts of excercises in front of me.

    There were other people too, who just sat.

    Incidentally, I had to leave my bow and arrow at the entrance gate, as it stated quite clearly that in addition to 'stealing plants' and 'playing ball games', "hunting animals" was prohibited.

    Shame. I just felt like tracking down central Tokyo's last Siberian Leopard.

    After the park closed at 4.30pm, I made my way back to Ogikubo. Unable to face the idea of spending the whole evening in The Cell, I opted for that bastion of Japanese restaurant culture, Dennys, which offers unlimited refills of tea and coffee for only 320 yen (£1.50).

    It was ok for the first couple of hours. I got quite a bit of work done. And then they arrived.

    The Trainspotters.

    I don't think I've ever witnessed anything quite like it. These two men, both in their early 40s, spent an entire HOUR quoting train timetables! I kid you not. One of them used his mobile phone to connect to some internet-type service, which seemed to be reading off up-to-the-minute train times. He would then repeat these very loudly to his mate across the table, who would burst out laughing every few seconds. The coversation went something like this:

    Man 1: Ah, so the Tokkaido Shinkansen, number 5435, it left Tokyo at 14:35, and it's arriving at Kyoto in, er, 23 minutes.

    Man 2: 23 minutes?! (bursts out laughing) That means it'll reach Osaka by 5.15pm! (both burst out laughing simultaneously)

    Man 1: Oh wait! The Niigata line, the train that left at 15:55...

    (is interrupted by man 2)

    Man 2: ...that'll be the Nozomi 7658

    Man 1: ...Yes, that's it, well it's due to arrive at 18:05. All the seats sold out!

    Man 2: Sold out??!! (busts out laughing again).

    It was one of those situations when I really wished I couldn't understand Japanese. Surely such an 'amazing', 'exotic' and 'unique' country such as Japan couldn't play host to such people..?

    Unfortunately though, it could, and it does, a fact drummed home for a further 50 minutes.
    "Ah, they had a lot more freight trains passing through Shinjuku 15 years ago, you remember..?

    My sanity was restored somewhat on my walk home. Last night, having been deprived of all my music by the afore mentioned hardware failure, I thought I'd plug a pair of headphones into my mobile phone. Blow me down if it didn't turn into a radio! Anyhow, imagine my delight when tonight I switched it on and was greeted by the oh so familiar sound of Giles Peterson! Whoda' thought it, one of my all-time favourite DJs , there on my phone. He must have overheard the conversation I'd endured in Dennys, and knew I needed therapy.

    Hmm, 4.10am. Must be time for bed.

    I'll leave you this morning with a photo of my uni, here in Tokyo.

    Wednesday, September 27, 2006

    The dangers of studying on the train

    I note that Japan Tobacco, one of the world's largest producers of lung cancer, has a new tag line, proudly displayed on all its ads.
    "The Delight Factory"

    Well, I suppose if one is the type that enjoys playing host to malignant tumours, then it's quite appropriate.

    When travelling to uni, a journey of some 40 minutes or so, I flick through one of my many packs of flash cards. This morning the train was already pretty packed, and so when we stoppd at Nakano station I found myself pushed even harder against the buttocks of a docile salary man, on his way to spend another day Doing the Right Thing. Good job I hadn't been thinking of *Twinkle*. Another result of the fresh onslaught of commuters (standing on the platform with their backs to the open doorway, hooking their hands backwards over their heads and against the inside of the doorframe in order to gain a bit of leverage) was the appearance of a rather cute lady to my right, clutching her umbrella and attempting to not thrust herself against anyone else. Being so close, she couldn't help but read my flashcards too, which I had temporarily forgotten about, and was casually flipping them over without looking.

    It was unfortunate timing. I was first alerted to the fact that something was not quite right when the cute lady looked up from my flash cards, startled. I looked down. The card on show was one that I'd written as a joke when with friends the other day. It said, in Japanese,
    "A woman who likes to experiment with vegetables".

    It was surprising how far away from me she was able to move, considering how packed the train was.

    The Japanese Language Learning Curve

    "Last year was a holiday compared to this!"

    I've been saying that for 2 years now. Firstly, when in my 1st year at Sheffield, looking back on my Access Course at Bristol. Then, when in my 2nd year at Sheffield, thinking back on my 1st year at Sheffield.

    I shall now continue the trend.

    "The freedom I speak of is that that sees me taking only 6 hours of language classes a week"

    I wrote that 3 days ago, having only experienced 2 of my 7 weekly classes. Had I known what was in store for me on Mondays and Tuesdays I don't think I would have been so ready to dismiss the pressure of uni.

    Mondays then, we have two lectures, one of which is all about writing essays in Japanese, the other of which is designed for Japanese students, and focuses upon environmental issues within Japan. Now there was a challenge! The professor is apparently quite famous in her field, and won't take any crap in the classroom. This week we focused upon Minamata Disease, a horrendous case of industrial pollution that was first discovered back in the 1950s, but the legacy of which is still being felt today. Thankfully, I had already studied this case in detail, having written an essay on it for a module I took last year. I got an appalling result for that essay due to my narrative style, but boy am I glad I chose that topic now! Thanks to my background knowledge, I was able to follow the entire 90-minute lecture - what an ego boost that gave me!

    I can't really say the same for yesterday's Multicultural Society Theory (that's a literal translation). Now there was a challenge! The profesor, a very kind man who also happens to be my supervisor, spoke at the speed of a firework that was allergic to Planet Earth, and the vocab - well, let's just say that *Twinkle's* electronic dictionary has never worked so hard. That really was absolutely exhausting, but I left the lecture almost none-the-wiser vis-a-vis multicultural theory. Still, I have a (kanji-packed) handout to read through, and have been assigned a PhD student who I'll meet on a regular basis in order to breathe.

    The 4 language classes are great. The level is perfect (i.e. stuff I've covered before and have forgotten!), but boy do we cover a lot in those 6 hours. If anyone at Sheffield thinks they get it hard in the second year of Nagai Sensei's classes they should think again!!

    The final class on my weekly timetable is Society and Culture, taught in English by Mary, a tutor whose nationality I am yet to figure out. Now here is a module to get excited about. Initially, we'll cover some key theories of popular culture, before moving on to specific examples of what roles specific sectors of Japanese society play / have played, such as the Akihabara Otaku, the dominant youth subculture, the "I shop therefore I am" mentality which you have never really witnessed until you've been to Japan. We'll look into how in Japan High Culture follows youth / sub-cultures, rather than vice-versa.

    We look at how in Japan anything goes, as long as you don't break the golden rule. Yes, there is only one sin in Japanese culture, and that is to not take part in Japanese society. Everyone must have a place and abide by the codes of conduct that come with one's role. Nothing is accidental - yet everything is ambiguous.

    It's going to be an interactive class, that is, participation is a must. This is quite something for Japan where in most classes, a significat number of students actually go to sleep. I've heard the odd tale of people nodding off in certain lectures at Sheffield (this phenomenon seems to be limited to one lecturer in particular), but here, my God, I couldn't believe it when I attended those two lectures designed for regular Japanese students. OK, so one could understand it if heads started to nod after an hour or so of the 90-minute classes, but here you see students putting their heads down after 5 minutes, I kid you not, and sleeping through the entire lecture! Like, what is the point in coming to uni if you're just going to sleep?! It says a lot about the nature of most classes over here, and the education system in general. NEVER send your children to a Japanese university is the lesson here.

    I am also the lucky beneficiary of a service offered by the St. Paul's Ladies Club (Rikkyo Uni = St. Paul's) - extra Japanese lessons. I had my first lesson today, with my charming sensei, a lady in her late 40s perhaps, who comes all the way from Yokohama to teach me! This is done on a purely voluntary basis; I'm not even allowed to pay for her not-insignificant train fare.

    I really enjoyed today's lesson with Nakamichi san. Unlike the 18 and 19-year-olds whom I see quite a bit of at lunchtimes, she has patience, and doesn't lose interest or jump in and give me the vocab if I find myself struggling for words.

    The volume of homework is quite, er, horrendous! If it was just the standard language modules that would be ok, but on top of those, I have to do all the reading for the Japanese classes. I asked the Environment professor what next week's topic was so I could read up on it (in English, using the internet); she simply replied by writing the name of her textbook on the blackboard! Thankfully they had it in the library so I didnt have to buy it, but no matter whether it costs money or whether I borrow it, it's still full of Japanese! At least it's written left to right...

    As for the Mulicultural society module, well, I have the entire lecture on video, although I am doubtful as to whether I'll understand any more the second time around! Oh well, at the end of the day it doesn't really matter if I fail that module. I'll do my best though.

    Ahh, then there's the matter of the kanji. I have my first test on the 10th October. I'd prefer not to think about that for the time being!

    I've always said I like a good challenge, so I'm not complaining. It's great really, I don't think my brain has ever worked so hard. Having said that, it is utterly exhausting. Not only do I need my usual 8 hours of sleep, but I'm also finding I need a couple of hours when I first get home from uni! Still, these early days are bound to be demanding. Hopefully, once I've learnt all the everyday uni-related vocab, things will start to calm down. Until that time, it's a case of "Ganbarimashou!"

    On a side note, *Twinkle* has accidentally made it through to the second stage of the selection process for a company that offers 3-year contracts and does not abide by the crazy rules of the standard Japanese system. She wasn't at all confident about the interview or the exam, but passed both with flying colours. Mind you, having heard what the other applicants are like, they being products of the normal japanese 'education' system, I'm hardly suprised. After all, *Twinkle's* name in Japanese does mean "intelligence" after all. She must have been having a bad month last September...

    jaa ne

    Monday, September 25, 2006

    Things take shape

    With great freedom comes great responsibility.

    The freedom I speak of is that that sees me taking only 6 hours of language classes a week. This is compared to the 4.5 - 6 hours a day that my Sheffield classmates are taking in other universities around Japan.

    If I'm not to fall hopelessly behind I am going to have to be really disciplined, and just make myself study outside of uni hours.

    Yellow bridge over the Sumidagawa

    I've drawn up a list of daily excercises that I've promised myself I will carry out without fail. This includes reading time, TV (or TBS online news) time, vocab time and kanji time. I bought my first Japanese newspaper tonight.

    I've really enjoyed spending time with my friends from Sheffield, especially those times when we all speak Japanese (like much of yesterday). It becomes so natural, and we can learn so much from one another. For example, today I taught Jon the word for 'poo'.

    A huge gang of us visited the Edo Tokyo museum near Akihabara today, great stuff. Amazing building, straight out of Star Wars. I'm not usually a big fan of museums but thoroughly enjoyed today's trip. Following that, we walked up the Sumidagawa (past the national Sumo Stadium where the grand final of this years season was taking place - saw some real live Sumo-san's too!), past the golden sperm (which was glistening beautifully, see Flickr in a couple of days time), and along to Kikowotsitmon with the huge lantern.

    I really must cut down on my alcohol intake. Felt utterly exausted for much of the day today. I blame my living arrangements, as at the moment I have no inclination to return to the cell. As of next Wednesday though that will all change; the promise of a *Twinkle* at the other end of the train line will be more than enough to draw me home before I descend into the murky depths of tales of a time gone by.

    Righty-ho then, time to copy my daily vocab onto flash cards from the denshi jisho.

    jaa ne!

    Sunday, September 24, 2006

    Cosplay Convention

    Jon and I were also "fortunate" enough yesterday to find ourselves walking into a national Cosplay Convention. Ok, so I've seen plenty of elegant gothic lolitas on the streets (they are starting to rival salary men in terms of numbers), but I have never before seen so many people attempting to escape reality by pretending to be fictional characters from various comics and so on.

    I was very impressed, and also somewhat worried. The amount of effort these people had gone to was astonishing - some didn't look at all like dressed-up humans, they really looked like lifesize 3D cartoon anime characters.

    Unfortunately I have very few photos, and none of the more impressive outfits - this is due to my being told by an attendant that photos weren't allowed - despite the fact that virtually everyone around me was clutching a camera!

    One could say that this paints a worrying picture of Japanese society, when people go to such lengths to escape reality. But then I think of our trip to York last year when it was crawling with vikings; they were actually living the dream by having real battles, whereas these cosplay characters were not attempting to jump off tall buildings and fight each other with Golden Power Balls, or whatever they use. Then there's George Bush. Talk about living in a fantasy world.


    We also shared an elevator with a very famous person yesterday, although we have no idea who it was. We were on our way up to the 43rd floor in the exclusive Tokyo Hotel by the Big Egg, and noticed that the two older ladies in front of us were in a bit of state, acting all child-like around the other occupant in the lift - a very smartly dressed man in his 50s.

    Upon arriving at his floor, the ladies tried to utter some compliments, but seemed almost speechless. The doors of the lift closed behind him, at which point they almost collapsed on the floor, absolutely starstruck.

    The amusements were not over yet however, as a few floors further up a couple of businessmen and their wives got in. Now this elevator was situted on the edge of the building, and one wall of it was made of thick glass. There was another sheet of glass about 20cm the other side of that forming the outer wall. One of the businessmen thought he'd take a look down at the miniture landscape below us, and not noticing the inner-glass wall, walloped his head hard.

    Somewhat startled at what had just occured in front of us, Jon and I asked the man if he was ok. He gave an embarrased smile, and then had to explain to the other occupants of the lift what had just happened. We all thn started to laugh, and didn't stop till we reached the top floor.

    ...where we discovered that in order to gain entry into the Sky View Restaurant we'd have to fork out 10,000 yen (45 pounds) on a meal! Back down in the lift it was then.

    And back through the revolving exit door. A revolving door that incidentally wasn't powered by a motor, but rather, by a white-gloved man in his early 70s. Yes, his job was to stand at the entrance to the hotel all day and pull the revolving door round!

    I also had my first taste of baseball yesterday, in a netted court that has a row of machines at one end that hurl the balls at you at over 100kmph. Ouch.

    It would seem that I got rather drunk last night, as according to one of my friends' websites I lectured the four Sheffieldits on the dangers of buying over-priced dildos from love hotels.

    It's a good job I'm running out of money.

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    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.

    Saturday, September 23, 2006

    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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    Friday, September 22, 2006

    A Year in Japan Goes Live

    Episode one now available for download at

    Go for the Advanced version if possible - it contains photos and links, and is actually smaller in file size than the basic .MP3 version!

    N.b. Broadband a must!

    tags:  |  |  | 

    Thursday, September 21, 2006

    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.

    Tuesday, September 19, 2006

    I think mine's the one at the back

    It has to be said, the ability of my fellow inmates to park bicycles in even a semi-organised manner leaves more than a little to be desired.

    In wedding-chapel news: Everyday on my way to uni I pass by this Western-style wedding chapel (they're all the rage, despite the fact that only something like 1% or less of the poulation are practicing Christians). It was not just the glass chapel that impressd me, but also the church-tower that adjoined it.

    Until I realised that said church tower was actually one of those conveyor-belt car-parks, that stacks the wedding guest's motors one on top of the other whilst the ceremony takes place.

    I wonder if they link up all the horns to a remote computer, so that at the appropriate moment a celebratory peal of car-horns could sound out across the neighbourhood. I'll keep my ear open, and let you know.

    Foreigners: Negotiable

    *Twinkle* returned from way out west today. Good job I was able to leave uni early, otherwise we would have never had time for our Kyukei (which thankfully didn't cost 3000yen) (although admittedly there's no TV screen set into the wall of the shower room here).

    Got my timetable more-or-less sorted today. My core (Japanese language) classes number four per week, at 90 minutes a class. My optional choices (to make up the minimum of ten hours) are: Japanese society and culture - a class taught in English (which some Japanese friends from Sheffield are taking, thus I am taking it in order to support them!), then two modules taught in Japanese: Environmental Issues and Minority Issues. This is all subject to confirmation.

    My choices were informed partly by interest in the subjects themselves, and partly by the timetable - i.e. I wanted at least one weekday off! Two classes on Monday, two on Tuesday, 1 on Wednesday, 2 on Friday. I start at 10.40am every day, and only on one day do I finish later than 4.30pm.

    This is exactly the kind of timetable I wanted, me's a happy boy.

    It's quite exciting to observe my classmates encountering Japan for the first time (lucky bastards!). Ah, I feel so jaded! Thing is though, I know if I was to leave Tokyo I think it would all be that little bit more "authentic" if you see what I mean. The main problem however, is that I am subconsciously avoiding straying from my comfort zone. My comfort zone is pretty big in a way; it includes most elements of normal everyday life in Western Tokyo (and in partcular Suginami-ku). Shopping, commuting, eating, watching people do the most bizarre exercises in the park at 7am (lying face down in a patch of mud - I kid you not, I almost trod on the guy this morning), it's as familiar as shopping for soya milk in Sheffield.

    The thing is, I know that there is so much more out there, but at the moment, as I am able to get by perfectly well without venturing beyond Shinjuku/Ikebukuro/jogging along Zenpukuji river, I have no desire to reach out into the void. Of course, it's not really that I don't want to, it's just that I'm afraid, good old fear of the unknown.

    We'll overcome it given a bit of time, but it's important that I remain conscious of the issue so as not to let life wash over me.

    The ability to understand kanji is making a huge difference to my relationship with my surroundings. It pulls you in to the world, makes you feel a part of it, and helps you forget that yes, you do look different from most people around you.

    Tell you what though, I can't believe how many gaijin there are here now! In only 5 years their seems to have been a huge increase in the number of foreigners. The official stats from the MOHLW or the MOJ would either confirm or negate that impression, but I'm afraid I can't be bothered to look (feel free to send me the link to the spreadsheet though!). Yeah, riding on trains, walking the streets; they're everywhere!

    As is discrimination. Looking at ads for an apartment today, amongst those few that said "Foreigners: OK", we spotted one that read:
    Foreigners: Negotiable

    jaa ne

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    Monday, September 18, 2006

    In bed with Natsuko

    It's been a week now since *Twinkle* ventured off to Kansai, 3 hours west of Tokyo. Last night I could stand the lonliness and isolation no more, and finally succumbed to the randy Natusuko who has been desperately trying to seduce me these past few days, by wearing no clothes and making it blatantly obvious that she would not resist were I to make a move.

    Had a great day today, courtesy of the newly-opened IKEA Yokohama. It's only Japan's second branch, and having only been open 3 days, and today being a public holiday, it was understandably HEAVING! The traffic jam caused by the store's popularity went all the way back to the motorway, whilst the queue to actually enter the place on foot was also pretty damn long. We joined the 'tail end' of it, as you can see.

    The primary reason for my visit was to meet up with Emmie and Russ who had hired a van in Shimoda with friends, in order to equip their countryside residence. Tom and Miyu, who've just moved into the Imperial Heights, were also after a table etc, so it seemed a great opportunity to make a whole day of it. I bought a blue towel, a lampshade and 6 cookies.

    It was whilst at IKEA that I spotted two unfortunate souls who have what it possibly the most boring job to have ever been created by a Western company in Japan (there's still no beating Japanese 'public safety' companies when it comes to the big prize).

    Bag folding.

    Here we have a huge mountain of heavy-duty once-used IKEA bags, that need flattening and folding back into their original shape for the use of future customers.

    Imagine being told you were going to be on bag-folding duty for the rest of the day.

    Russ and I were saying how impressed we were with how well the place was run, considering it's infant status and the fact that it was overun with thousands of shoppers. I was impressed by the staff who spoke not only Japanese and English, but Dutch too. Oh, and the gaijin employees - I've never seen so many before! The ones I heard spoke pretty good Nihongo too. All in all, mightily impressed. Now if only one could be sure that the poor vietnamese workers who made those rugs that sell for 200 yen received such good training and care.

    In other news, this morning, for the first time in my life, I saw a man wiping a dog's bum with toilet paper on the street.

    I kid you not.

    He was right outside Tom and Miyu's mansion when we left for IKEA... I really had to look twice. I don't think he was even wearing gloves. It was a bit tricky to look without appearing to be looking, if you see what I mean. Anyhow, I needed proof that it's quite true that if (as Tom said) Alien's were to land in Japan they'd think that dogs were the rulers of the planet, so I took this photo from a distance.

    Examining it now, I can see a wheel to the right-hand-side of the dog. A little wheel, the sort that you might find on those little carts for dogs that don't have the use of their back legs. A disabled dog! Oh no! Maybe it needed its bum wiped for medical reasons, and there was me taking the piss. I felt terrible (but stil decided to post it on TDM).

    I got very stressd last week when told of the amount of work that was required in order for us to pass our non-language modules at Rikkyo. Basically, I wanted to take some regular classes in japanese, like all normal Japanese students, but was told that if I did so, and failed the exam (as I probably would as my language ability is no way near the level required to understand proffessor talk then write an essay under exam conditions), then I wouldn't receive the relevant credits, and thus would not pass overall.

    I called my uni in Sheffield today to discuss this issue (Hurray for almost-free Skype! I find it quite ironic that it costs me far less to call university this year than it did last year, when I was about 10,000km closer to the place!). Anyway, turns out that all Sheffield is interested in is the results of my core language modules, and my so-called Year Abroad Project. This is just what I wanted to hear, as I really want to concentrate on my core language modules. I can also take some regular classes taught in japanese and try my hardest to understand what's being said - but if, at the end of the day I were to fail those non-core modules it wouldn't actually matter.

    *Twinkle* and I may have a look at some other apartments tomorrow, as we've heard a couple of bad reports of the company we were going to use. However, time and money are in short supply, so we may end up going for the place we've already reserved. It will be so good to live together. After all, regular fantastic sex is what life is all about. Tee hee.

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    Sunday, September 17, 2006


    Wow. When it rains, it really rains. There's a typhoon swinging in from the south west, and although the centre of it won't actually come anywhere near Tokyo, it seems that we can't escape its outer reaches. The damage in Okinawa and Kyushu has been pretty horrendous, the video footage shows all sorts of damage to town and countryside. Land slides are still fairly common it would seem - a fact I find quite remarkable, considering the enthusiasm of the Japanese concrete industry. On the other hand, were the land not so concreted over there would be more room for natural drainage, thus avoiding the channeling of tonnes of runoff into narrow concrete-lined rivers.

    Feeling somewhat calmer now I have the suihanki (rice cooker) working - I could live off this 5kg sack of rice for a considerable length of time :-)

    Going to stay at the Hotel Kobayashi tonight; Tom and Miyu now have the title of 'Occupiers of the largest residence in Tokyo of any of Joseph's friends'. Tomorrow morning we're all off to the new IKEA in Yokohama, where we'll meet up with dear Emmie and Russ, who are on a Big Trip Out from Shimoda down on the south coast to furnish their exclusive residence. Tuesday is the final day of orientation at uni, and my little rabbit *Twinkle* should return from Kansai that day too.

    I hope to start taking photos sometime soon.

    Ho hum tiddly pom


    Saturday, September 16, 2006

    Is it all in my head?

    Some days, like today, I wake up and find that my confidence left me in the night, carried off by that huge crow who I met on the clifftop near Castle Urgh.

    I don't want to leave my room, but I don't want to stay here. I'm afraid of today, I'm afraid of tomorrow. Not the best of spaces to be in. I have an idea as to what the main cause is: stress. Stress over my (as yet pretty unclear) timetable, stress over dwindling funds, stress over living in a house of ghosts. Stress over time, or the lack of it, stress over social obligations, stress over stress!

    I do find living in Japan quite difficult. I hesitate to put this down to the cultural / language divide - haven't I also felt like this in Sheffield at times, especially at the start of a new semester? Is there a barrier between Us and Them, or is it all in my head? The more time I spend in Japan and the better my Japanese becomes, the more I am inclined to believe it is the latter.


    Thursday, September 14, 2006

    And all hell breaks loose

    Imagine yourself walking along a quiet track deep in the heart of the English countryside, miles from the nearst human dwelling, and a world away from any roads or rails.

    You see a corner in the green lane up ahead of you... and turning, find yourself plucked from the peaceful landscape, and hurled into the middle of a high-speed super-highway along which thunder a thousand juggernauts, each emblazoned with advertisments promising untold riches; the ground on which you stand is now saturated with mini bars of organic chocolate and bright lollipops, whilst naked ladies lick every inch of your sweaty body.

    That's what happened to me today. Yes, I started uni.

    What a lovely bunch of folks they are. "Special International students", of which I am one, number 30. I've got to know about 6 of them, and all are great. No weirdos so far then. There's only two Brits, myself and my clasmate from Sheffield (who I was very happy to see this morning); we seem to be mostly European, a couple of Singaporeans, 3 Chinese, oh, and the American contingent who seem to have studied their national stereotype quite hard before coming to Japan :-p

    The departmental staff are fantastic. I don't quite want their babies, but it wouldn't take much. The two teachers I've met are Uber Cool, had a very nice chat with them in my speaking test, felt very at ease. The written placement test was pretty damn hard, with a lot of grammar in that I swear wasn't Japanese, just made up to trick us. Possibly the hardest exam I've yet taken. Still, it's only a placement test, and overall I was pretty happy. I don't mind that much if I go into one of the lower-level classes.

    The highlight was definately spending a couple of hours with about 20 Japanese students who are the core members of the equivilent of Sheffield's Japan Society. Wow, what a difference they made. I must say though, it felt very odd to be on the receiving end in that kind of situation. So yes, we had a tour, then all had lunch together. Got to know quite a few of them, exchanged numerous phone numbers (thank goodness mobiles can store photos too!). The majority were like instant mates; only one or two spoke to you in polite Japanese - that really gets my goat! It seems I'll be spending a lot of time with these folks, hanging out on campus, going drinking together, or out of the city on trips. All good stuff. Oh, myself and my fellow Sheffield-ite had a head start on the others - the guy who came here from Sheffield last year is an aboslute legend! He seems to have attained divine status, courtesy of his thirst for fun and alcohol! The path he beat certainly helped us today. As did the fact that two good japanese friends of mine (who studied at Sheffield last year) are core members of this international circle.

    So yeah, my japanese uni experience looks like it is going to be just as positive as my British one. Tomorrow is paperwork day. but thankfully i don't have to go as I already have a bank account etc dating back to the early years.

    Speaking of which, I finally managed to get my money off Mrs Ogawa at the Koenji branch of my bank. It was quite a struggle though - I think they thought I was a terrorist. Must remember to take my belt of dynamite off next time. Yes, that really was a palaver. I was soooo happy though when my balance finally changed from 575 yen (£2.50 ish) to over 200,000 yen! I bet no-one has ever made it from Ogikubo to the Shinjuku branch of Yodobashi Camera in less than 3 mintes before! So yes, I now have a lovely new camera and 2GB stick. 7.2 mega pixels, ultra lite, ultra compact, superb quality video (that shown below is compressed by uTube!), very discreet for taken photos when one shouldn't. Such as when one is in a massage-chair sales room surrounded by tired japanese businessmen and women on their lunchbreak!

    Myself, my classmates and japanese friends have been causing a few riots around town of late. Last night we all headed on down to Shinjuku to play BiliBowl - a crossed between Billiards and Bowling!

    After a few beers, I found myself doing really quite well, with four strikes in a row. At the end of the game I looked up at the scoreboard and noted that I'd reached 279, which I thought sounded pretty good. I casually mentioned this to a Japanese friend who, on hearing it, got very excited;
    Wow! You've won a year's worth of beer!!
    Having been unaware of this promotion, I was pleasantly surprised. All I had to do to claim my prize was to show the staff my score, as printed out by the machine that was buried under my coat, and had therefore become jammed and stopped printing!

    Matters were now taken out of my hands, as the manager was summoned to reset the mainframe and hack into the score log: my incredible performance had only been matched twice in the history of the game. I looked on somewhat bemused at the commotion I had caused, but the staff seeemed so excited that I didn't dare spoil their fun.

    I knew I should have taken my glasses. Thing was, I'd actually mis-read the scoreboard, and instead of 279, I'd actually only got 179... !! I apologised profusely, and ordered another gin and tonic, which I swear was made with white spirit.

    Soon after that, we decided to take a trip up the Tochou - Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. What we'd forgotten was that it was nightime, so all we could see from the 45th floor was flashing red lights on other skyscrapers. Still, they were very pretty flashing red lights.

    Time for food, and time for the 12 of us to take over a little basement ramen-ya, with our raucous laughter and tales of the unexpected. Ahh, that was nice. It was what friendship is all about.

    I'm starting to feel at home now. Ok, so the home within my home, that being my cell, has a leaking roof which means that when it rains hard (as it did this morning) water pours in through the ceiling, but at least I am surrounded by friends.

    A busy social weekend is lined up ahead, and there's the *minor* issue of study.

    caw blimey gov I think I'd better get some sleep!


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    I can't get no, satisfaction

    As has been well documented on TGW, when it comes to the bedroom, Japan is a poor performer, appearing at the bottom of the global sex table.

    One enterprising company has taken it upon itself to provide the population with a convenient alternative to the somewhat time-consuming and paper-wall reverberating real thing.

    Here it is demonstarted by My Yamamoto, who I spotted on the 6th floor of Bic Camera in Ikebukuro this afternoon.

    p.s. comes with plastic cover.

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    Tuesday, September 12, 2006

    The President Speaks the Truth


    This week I am going to attempt to live on 4000 yen (£20). This isn't through choice however - the £1000 I wired to my Japanese bank has yet to materialise, and £20 is all I have left of what I brought with me. My scholarship doesn't come through for another 4 weeks. I have the equivilent of about £4 in my Japanese accounts.

    I just called my UK bank - yesterday marked the maximum time that the transaction should have taken - the girl tells me that a note has been put on my account asking me to contact them urgently. I have to call them back in about 9 hours when the International Department opens.

    I think the word BOLLOX is called for in this situation. Perhaps TIT as well.

    Oh well. At least *Twinkle* is better. She was extremely ill yesterday, in a lot of pain. I took her to the private hospital I'd joined a few years back, but they said that there were no doctor's available for her to see. Luckily there was another private hospital just around the corner. The waiting time, even for those who'd booked appointments, was between 2 and 3 hours - rather than sit in the waiting room many patients left their phone numbers and asked to be called at home 10 minutes before they were due to be seen by the doctor. *Twinkle's* symptoms were so severe that she was seen a lot sooner, and plugged into a drip for half an hour.

    What wonders medical science is capable of. Although she's not 100%, she's soooooooo much better today (i.e. she can actually walk!).

    Now there's something to be grateful for. Without health there's no meaning to eating anyway, if one looks at it in a kind of extreme manner.

    Ho Hum.

    Monday, September 11, 2006

    13,000 bodies, sweating it out together

    I was woken this morning at 4am, by what at first I thought to be a Very Large Bomb going off somewhere in Nishi Tokyo. The boom was just incredible, shaking my residence, The Cell, with its sonic waves. The shock of it dragged me from the depths of sleep (where I'd been complaining to the JR (Japan Rail) staff that my SUICA (equivilent of London's Oyster Pass) wasn't working, as indeed I had done yesterday), into the cold harsh reality of life in the 21st century, where the bombing of major cities by the US and its allies is a regular occurance, and one never knows when Bush might have decided that your cupboard is harbouring dangerous al-Qaida terrorists, or families where most of the men have beards.

    Ears swivelling around 360 degrees, I could hear no building collapse, no sirens wailing, no CNN helicopters arriving at the scene.

    Then came the blinding flash. Seconds later, another boom, strong enough to shake the thong off Godzilla (had he worn one). It was only a matter of time before the downpoar began, and sure enough, the rain soon started to pound upon the tin roof of this shack.

    It has been very, very hot lately. One would have hoped that this morning's brief outburst would have cleared the air, but no, it remains as hot and sticky as a massage parlour without air-conditioning, and with an entry policy involving duffls coats smothered in Lyle's Golden Syrup, and clotted mango juice.

    Since I last wrote I have been somewhat busy. Saturday I managed to track down my old friends Tom & Miyu, and enjoyed (Aggghh! A japonism! I've clearly been here too long!) a lovely a-la-posh meal which was bloomin lovely, and a welcome change from curry priced at 300 yen (£1.50). There was much consumption of alcohol, and talking of the vocal variety - all in all a lovely evening spent with lovely people, my thanks to you both.

    Yesterday I was up at 8am to meet *Twinkle* for a rather large meeting that took place in Yokohama Arena; this was in aid of one of the businesses that we are concentrating on to ensure that we don't have to work for money by the time I'm 35. There were over 12,000 people in attendance for the Japanese-language-only affair - talk about a challenge! You know what though, I was actually able to follow what was being said most of the time! Sure, details are lost on me, but throughout the whole day there were only a few occasions when I was completely clueless. I know that prior knowledge and an awareness of context play a huge part in the process of coming to understand what is being said, both of which are not necessarily language-dependent, and both of which I was fairly clued-up on in that situation, but nonetheless, it was a victory for me and a victory for my Japanese Studies course at Sheffield. Comparing last year's trip to Japan with the past week, I really have noticed a big difference in my level of comprehension. My dedication to the Heisig method of kanji study this summer is really proving to have been worthwhile - I'm not frightened by kanji I don't know have forgotten, just curious. *Twinkle* has lent me her super-dooper electronic dictionary (which includes no less than 70, yes SEVENTY seperate dictionaries). I know this all sounds very conceited, but you'l have to forgive me. I think I should be allowed to feel like this following all the work of the past two years.

    The power balance within our relationship has shifted to a certain extent. The change isn't as great as it could have been due to the fact that a) when here, she's on my turf, and b) I'm pretty familiar with the places we've been together and the systems we've encountered. Also, the basic fact that I am pretty grounded in my own place, and she is still living out of a suitcase in her overcrowded family-home influences our sense of security.

    Anyway, *Twinkle* has just managed to pour her breakfast all over my bed, so I must be off to decode the kanji on the washing machine.

    Saturday, September 09, 2006


    Just when you thought you'd got over the jetlag, you find yourself waking up at 4.30am, and realising that the reason you slept so late the previous day was not because you'd finally adjusted, but rather because you were so drunk that had you woken up early you would have been at risk of running down the main road with no clothes on, asking people "Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?"

    It has been known to happen.

    There seem to be a rather large number of frogs in the area. Somewhat odd, considering the fact that the only green around here comes in the form of the sign for the local Barber, 'Cut Me'.

    The heat is shocking; a high of 30 degrees today, rising to 35 degrees tomorrow. As we all know, gaijin skin is just not built for this kind of environment. Roll on autumn say I!

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    Friday, September 08, 2006

    Includes Free Dog Cleaner

    I bought a mobile phone yesterday.

    Naturally, it came with a free Dog Cleaner.

    Now all I need is a dog.

    Upon unpacking my collection of goodies from the 100yen shop this afternoon, I discovered that the bin I had purchased was no ordainary bin.

    No, it is in fact a WITTY TRASH CAN, no less than an Eco Green Dustbox, which I am told is "bound to make your room the most wouderful"

    I've always wanted a wouderful room, and I can see the transformation taking place already!

    This could be connected with what *Twinkle* was told by a store owner when we went into a bakery this morning.

    "You look so happy... Something wonderful is going to happen to you today".

    Not exactly what one is expecting to hear when handing over 200 yen for an almond slice, but then life is full of surprises.

    Such as the one involving the 5 cocktails I drank last night, having already consumed 3 large beers. It turns out they did actually contain alcohol, despite my insistence at the time that as they were on the nomihodai menu (drink-as-much-as-you-like) they wouldn't really contain anything but juice.

    It was a really fun evening. In the end 17 (former and current) students from Sheffield turned up, mostly Japanese, including some very familiar faces that I hadn't seen for about 18 months. First stop was a cosy little izakaya ...ah! Japanese food! Just the best! Why do we Brits put up with such rubbish?! It seems I am destined to be a carnivore this year, having already consumed chicken, pork and beef this week.It has felt a little odd to be eating dead animals, I can feel my stomach grumbling "What the hell is this?" for about an hour after I eat it, before figuring out what combination of acids it can use to break it down into goodness and poo poo.

    Following that it was into the lift and up to the 7th floor for Karaoke, only to fidn ourselves turning around in order to go find a cheaper place - they wanted over £10 per person per hour!!

    Back on the street we were accosted by a young chap with the typical copper-coloured hair that is a must if one wants to work in the seedier areas of town. Ooooh, such a rebel! Anyhow, he had a great karaoke deal going - just less than £4 per person per hour, including nomihodai! Crikey, two drinks and you've recouped the cost already! So, we start to follow him back to the place he represents - only to find that it's the same place we've just left in digust at the prices! Lesson: there's no fixed price for karaoke, always haggle.

    Wow, my singing just got better and better as the evening wore on!

    It's only today that I realise how drunk I must have been. It has, at times, been quite difficult to remain standing. The trip to the estate agent to sort out our new flat (which we hope to move into at the beginning of next month) was quite painful. A whole hour of trying to look respectable and not fall off my chair.


    The release of the first episode of my podcast is having to be delayed, due to the loss of my camera en-route to Japan. This was my primary recording device (the sound quality was simply excellent), and without it I'm a bit stuck. I note that my phone can do everything including the washing up (and is, according to its website, 'Music Hungry!'), but this being Japan and it being a Sony it isn't Mac compatable, thus no way to transfer stuff to the Podcast. I'll get a new camera sometime in the next week; still waiting on my money to arrive from the uk.

    Tell you what though, I feel as if I'm an old fogey when it comes to using my mobile. takes me absolutely ages to write a text message, and I literally have to stop whatever I'm doing, sit down and concentrate hard! It's pretty amazing what it's capable of though: as well as being a phone and Walkman, it's also a GPS navigator (shows you maps of where you are / where you're going), you can use it as a ticket to get on a train just by holding it over the reader on the ticket barrier, likewise you can buy stuff with it in loads of shops that have the phone-reader thing. Built-in QR 'barcode' reader for quick navigation to websites, videos, vibrations etc. And what did it cost? 5 pence (plus a 12-month contract!). Buying it was quite an amusing process, and I wouldn't be surprised if that poor girl at the shop spends the rest of her working life going to great lengths to avoid having to serve gaijin!


    I do feel somewhat displaced at the moment. I think things will be better when we move house. The new place is exactly that, having only been built 3 months ago. All the furniture is included, as is the 100mbps fibre optic internet connection (priorities!). It's a lot closer to my university than the place I'm in at the moment, and there's probably less chance of the bathroom being 'befouled' and not cleaned up.

    Uni will of course bring welcome routine too. That kicks off next Thursday.

    Anyway, I must make a few phone calls in a final bid to locate my camera. Then there's the minor issue of revision...

    "I know that kanji, I know I know it, isn't it a St.Bernard dog being suspended from the ceiling with a snowboard strapped to each ear?"


    Notice to all residents

    One wonders what exactly took place at some point in the history of this guesthouse that resulted in the displaying of the numerous notices which read

    "When you befoul toilet or bathroom, make sure you clean it up yourself"

    Welcome to The Cell

    As gaijin cells go, it's not actually that bad. I can stand with my back to one wall, stretch my arms out in front of me, and not actually be able to touch the opposite wall. The view out of the window is pretty impressive too - there's a whole 3 metres between this buiding and the next lump of concrete, an improvment of about 2.8 metres over the last gaijin house I had the misfortune to stay in.

    My 2nd-floor room is essentially square, about 14 square metres in size, with two large cupoards set back into the walls. I have a very narrow bed (shortly to be replaced by a futon), a little desk, a chair and a clothes rail. There appear to be 4 wireless broadband networks floating around, one of which is unprotected, and has an actual performance rate of 540kbps - not bad. I've not heard a peep from the 4 other folks on this floor, although the silence that I would otherwise enjoy is somewhat compromised by the existence of a huge trunk road just the other side of the building, a road upon which, incidentally, I was once stuck in a traffic jam for a good hour or so, watching fish swim by a window in the huge tanker in the next lane.

    There's a diagram of the place here. N.B. The only recommendation I give with regards to this company is that you don't use them.

    I think the most worrying thing about this place is the fact that the floor has a distinct slope to it. Whether this is the result of movement in last week's earthquake, or a cunning device to aid the removal of dribble / spilt green tea, I'm not quite sure. Another downside is the fact that the kitchen and showers are on the floor below me, which is only accessable by going outside and coming back in again. I get the impression that I won't be doing much cooking here, and will become an expert on the local noodle bars.

    The company that runs this place is called 'TGK REALTY', owned by the chain-smoking "Haggy" who seems to think that customer service means doing as little as possible, and at a time that is not suitable for you, the customer. Prior to our arrival in Japan, we informed him of our intention to pick up the keys on Wednesday morning at 10am. Wednesday morning 10am comes around, we arrive at the entrance to agent's office building (with over 35 kg of luggage), only to find that the elevator doesn't respond when we press the button for their floor. Our confusion was soon clear up when worker from a company on another floor told us that in recent months the people on floor ten rarely appeared, and thus the elevator would't stop on their floor.


    We phone him:
    "Oh, there won't be anyone in until 3pm today..."

    Fan bloomin'tastic! Feeling mightily peed off we trudge back to the station, decide to stick my stuff in a coin locker, and attend to other business elsewhere in town.

    5 hours later we're back, and thankfully, Haggy is in. What followed came as quite a shock to me - the usually ever-so-polite *Twinkle*, now on her own territory, released a torrent of abuse upon the unsuspecting chap who attempted to do a matrix-style dodging of bullets, but ultimately failed. I was mightily impressed.

    When told that I had to give one month's notice if I wanted to move out, I replied, "Ok, I'm giving my notice". That felt good.

    The location is excellent - 2 minutes from Ogikubo station, which is situated in Suginami-ku, the ward that I have almost always lived in when in Tokyo. This is both a good and bad thing: on the plus side, I know where everything is bla di bla, on the minus side, everything is so familiar that I am no longer able to appreciate it as I once did. I was talking to a graduate of Sheffield last night who is now living a few stops down the line about this very thing. She agreed that it would be nice to be able to go back in time and see things as we saw them several years back. I feel quite envious of those who are coming here for the first time - if their experience is anything like my first taste of the country they should have a fantastic time.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not dissapointed. This is no anti-climax: it's exactly as I expected. The fact that the engineering works being carried out at Shinjuku station are EXACTLY as they were 2 years ago helps. The SEAS graduate I mentioned above joked last night that they've been banging the same metal pole into the ground on the construction site opposite her flat for the past 18 months.

    Which reminds me, I was delighted to see that the immigration department at Narita Aiport is still employing the same man as it was in 2002 to carry out the entirely pointless task of directing arrivals towards the mini-queues in front of each counter, much like the LED displays do at Post Offices. It really is extraordainary how inventive the Japanese are when it comes to dealing with the need for jobs for the aging population. No matter where you go, you are never far from some old man standing with a glowing red baton directing pedestrians around an obstacle such as, say, a piece of chewing gum on the pavement. Ok, so a slight exaggeration, but seriously, sometimes you have to laugh. Yesterday, when on our way to the agent, we passed by a group of workers checking for something in the suspended ceiling of the station. A stepladder, and a man with a torch was all that was really required - but that would not have been enough to satisfy the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Thus, they had a ring of cones surrounding the stepladder, and surrounding them, 2 workers looking on, offering tips on how to turn the torch on, and a further 4 men with red batons, protecting the public from the danger that the cones posed. I'm surprised they didn't have a further ring of men protecting the public from the 1st ring of men!

    I still think the classic was that man in Hokkaido whose job it was to stand by a traffic light and wave a green flag when the lights went green, and a red flag when they turned red!

    Anyway, must go. So much more to tell you, but I need to get my chainsaw helmut and steel toe-capped boots on as I'm off to the supermarket in a bit.

    Tuesday, September 05, 2006

    Live blog from 10,000 feet

    Broadcasting live from 30,000 feet, somewhere over Western Russia

    Hello hello.

    And it all started so well!

    Got up in plenty of time, final bit of packing and weighing of luggage on the bathroom scales (2kg under our combined limit of 60kg), into the car with ma and pa, straight through all the green lights in town to our train that departed shortly after our boarding it. Nice ticket inspector that didn't ask to see *Twinkle's* Young Person's Railcard that had been accidentally stowed at the bottom of her huge heavily-fortified suitcase that is equipped with a time delay preventing it from being opened until our arrival in Tokyo.

    Birmingham International was so smooooth. Being a one-runway regional airport it wasn't at all busy. The staff were helpful and friendly, making what could have been a very irritating check-in experience not at all unpleasant. The recently imposed "anti-terror"security measures (including rules such as no liquids, only one item no bigger than 16cm x 35cm x 45cm) meant that we basically had to strip off before proceeding through the scanner thing - *Twinkle* was permitted to keep her underwear on, and I was given one of the 4 rubber fig-leaves that are circulated around the men,

    From there it was a case of walking straight onto the plane, which took off almost as soon as we had sat down. No 3-hour taxi down an endless strip of tarmac, or waiting in line behind what turns out to be ten other aeroplanes despite looking like only 2 when you try and look out the window at the runway ahead. From the air, Birmingham actually looked quite pretty - all in all, a miraculous flight experience.

    45 minutes mater and we were on the tarmac once again, this time in the Netherlands. I suppose it was at about this time that things started to go pear-shaped. Walking over to the cheese section of the duty-fre shop, I noticed that I wasn't wearing my camera - odd, I distinctly remember slinging it over my shoulder in Birmingham ...didn't i have it on the plane?

    So began the long task of trying to find my Sony DSC, an excellet compact digital I've had for a couple of years now. On approaching airport staff, I was advised to wait for the cabin-crw to disembark. Thus, I waited by the now-locked door of the skywalk. 10 minutes later I was told that in fact they'd already disembarked, and that I should go to Lost Property - located on the other side of immigration in the Netherlands proper! What a palaver... That airport is huge... through the baggage hall, through immigration (at least it was Europe gving me no visa worries!), out to lost and found, who informed me that no, no camera had been found, but really I should have checked with the transfer desk the other side of baggage / passport control, where I'd just come from!

    This being a PROPER international airport there was a damn impresive queue to join the back of, and no fastrack for some idiot like me who was desperately seraching for his camera and had a flight to Tokyo departing shortly! All this time *Twinkle* was waiting patiently with a coffee, unaware that I'd effectively had to leave the airport in my quest.

    Finally I mae it back into the transfer area, where I was greeted by another huge queue. As I didn't actually need to check in - all I needed to do was ask anyone beihind the long desk if they had had a camera handed to them - I thought it would be ok to join the very short Business Class queue. Boy was I wrong there. On approaching the man behind the counter, I was told, "This is Business Class only. Are you Business Class?"
    "No... but I just want to ask..."
    "Did you hear what I just said?!" he growled. Somewhat shocked, I tried to explain that I just wanted to know if he or his colleagues had had a camera handed to them, but he was having none of it, and ordered me to leave his counter and join the end of the very long queue leading up to the 1-person enquiry desk.

    By this time I was really starting to sweat. Check-in for the flight to Tokyo had begun, and it was a long way to gate E24. I ran back to the information desk where I'd been told to try the transfer desk, explaining that I had to go. I was given a card with the Lost and Found number on, told to wait 24 hours and then give them a call. So that's what I'll do.

    It was ironic then that boarding was delayed by 50 minutes, due to "extra security checks involving the engines". Having checked in, we sat surrounded by 400 japanese people, us both quietly freaking out (more on that to come). Suddenly, over the intercom came an announcement, of the type broadcast right across the airport.

    "Would Mr. Tame bound for Tokyo please make his way to gate E24 immidiately. You are delaying the flight and your luggage will be unloaded."

    WHAT! I'd checked in a good 30 minutes beforehand! Back out through the metal detector thingy to iinform the staff that I wasn't delaying the flight, and I'd really appreciate it if they didn't unload my luggage! Once on the plane, we squeezed into these seats which seem to be made for people with no legs / japanese people, and waited. And waited. And waited. After 30 minutes, and a journey of about 20 metres backwards, we were told by the captain that due to engine trouble we'd be returning to the dock. back we go, on come the engineersm who replace a part of the engine. "Don't worry though, weve taken some extra fuel on board so we can fly extra-fast to Tokyo".

    So here we are.

    The in-flight movie might be quite good, but as the in-seat screens I thought this plane had are missing, I'm not quite sure. My glasss are in the hold so I can't see a thing on the screen at the end of the cabin.

    As you can tell, everything's perfect!

    Despite the fact that I have lost my camera and am unlikely to see it again, and despite the fact that my knees are superglued to the back of the seat in front of me, I don't actually feel too hard-done by. The fact is I have my *Twinkle* beside me, and she's looking really cute :-)

    Mixed feelings about returning to japan.

    Well, I've only got aother 4 hours of battery life left on my MacBook :-p so I'd better sign off here.

    xxx joseph

    6 hours into the flight

    The excitement continues as an elderly Japanese gentleman falls unconcious out of his chair and onto the floor four rows in front of us. The hostesses struggle to pick him up, and no sooner is he on his feet than he falls to the floor again, witha thud. An anouncement is made, asking if there are any doctor's amongst the 400 passengers. One japanese lady comes forward - she's a nurse. Oxygen is administered, and after a while it is decided to move him to the upper deck where he can lie down.

    Only a cynic would think this a cheap ploy to get an upgrade. Still, it is worth bearing in mind that it was actually very effective, with the dramatic fall having a much greater impact than my own "my knees are stuck against the seat in front" routine. Next time i should make sure `I am carrying a while pack of Epilim in my hand luggage, rather than just three tablets, and then have a seizure triggered by altitude, or perhaps flickering sunlight as we pass through clouds.

    The sun has actually risen, bringing our 3-hour night to an end. I love these sun rises over Russia. Where there's cloud, the beautiful light turns the landscape into a sea of orange. Where it's clear, the sun picks out the vast stretches of siberian wilerness. Rivers and hills are all one can see for miles - no sign of humankind.

    The Baton of Dominance was passed from myself to *Twinkle* about an hour ago, exactly half-way through our flight. As previously agreed, from here on it's Japanese only, no matter how frustrating it gets. As noted by *Twinkle*in her dissertatio on intercultrual marriage, being the owner of the dominant language can bring one great power within a relationship (although it would seem that not all intercultural couples conscously acknowledge this). This is the price that I will pay for improving my japanese. I am willing to let her be the dominant party (wicked grin). Seriously though, it's going to be interesting to see how this changes the nature of our relationship. In fact, the whole coming-to-japan thing could actually be considered to be a new beginning for us, where we learn the basics about one another all over again.

    So, yes, mixed feelings about returning to japan. We both found it pretty unnerving sitting in that departures lounge, surrounded by JTB OAP tour groups and stereotypically dressed teenagers; the place was awash with conformity and We Japaneseness.

    Needles to say, I wll probably have equally strong reservations about returning to the UK in a year's time - it's all a case of familiarity I guess.

    Anyway, I think I'll have a little snooze for a while, before our gourmet breakfast (consisting of a stale piece of reconstituted 'bread' and a slice of polycarbonate 'cheese") is served.

    ++++++++ 90 minutes from Tokyo, just crossing the Russian coast line.+++++++++

    As planned, whilst the majority of the 400+ passengers on board ere sleeping, *Twinkle* and I have taken advntage of our maiden flight together, and made it into the Mile High Club! Having returned to our seats, I keep on thinking that the air stewerds Know Something - or are their glances exactly the same as when we boarded? Incidentally, we won't be posting the details on the official club website!

    Feelings towards Japan mellow as we near the islands. Perhaps it's the influence of the woman who's been serving me orange juice for the past 9 hours. Whatever, it bodes well. I'm looking forward to seeing my friends at immigration and customs. The trauma of my trip back from Korea remains burned into my memory, and so now, whenever I manage to enter the country, I feel that it is a victory for me. Upon my arrival last summer, I actually had a really positive welcome, thank to the blue-uniformed white-gloved man at customs. He was delighted that I could speak a little japanese, and a really friendly conversation ensued (whilst he emptied my big rucksack in its entirity). I like the baggage carasol too. `i think it's the conveyor belt action - they really do it for me (think of my joy last June when I was given the job of pressing the start/stop buttons on the log conveyor on that charcoal farm),

    I'm a bit nervous about meeting *Twinkle's* father at Narita airport. Being shattered, My language ability will be reduced even further from its normal appallingnes. Oh well. There's a big bottle of finest Single malt Scotch Whiskey in the locker above my head.

    Ho hum tiddly pom. See you on the ground.




    arrived on ground ok. Bloody hell it's hot. Knackered, but all's good.

    Saturday, September 02, 2006

    this is it

    grrrr. Just switched my mobile on and got a text from my sister saying that her computer, which I used last night, is no longer working. The problem? I absent-mindedly agreed to the installation of Microsoft Windows Genuine Disadvantage Tool, forgetting that the PC was an HP. Idiot me; I can now look forward to wasting time trying to get that sorted from a distance tomorrow.

    Not really sleeping much now, the adrenaline just won't stop flowing. Feeling very odd. I'm meeting up with a few classmates in Shinjuku on Thursday night (feel free to join us, 6.30pm @ Studio Alta)... that feels very strange. Never really had the crossover effect before. It's always been two distinct, seperate worlds. I have my UK world with my UK friends, and my Japan world with my Japan friends. The overlap of the two, or at least the idea of the overlap of the two, is very disconcerting. I know this is quite daft, especially considering the fact that there's so many millions of people in Tokyo, but nonetheless, it's had quite an impact upon me, resulting in quite a sense of unease. The reality of course will be very different, and all this thinking is just bollox, but there you go.

    I walked into what I thought was a health clinic today. Approached the receptionist and said, "Would it be possible to have some condoms please?"

    The smile that she'd greeted me with dissapeared, and was replaced by a half-confused half-frightened face.

    "Err, I'm sorry, but this is a dentist."

    It was then that I noticed the big sign on the wall behind her,
    NHS Walk-in Dentist.

    I was a tadge embarrassed.

    We have managed to amass 108 condoms courtesy of the NHS, so that should last us about 10 days. After that it's bloomin expensive Bennettons, the only company to relieve foreign men of the same problem that they suffer from when trying to buy shoes in Japan. :-p

    Tell you what, I'll be gald to be over there. I'm tired of the wait now, and I really do miss *Twinkle* badly; I need her support, and she needs mine.

    I must remember, at times like this when I feel a bit down, and depressed, and stresed (more over having caused my sister grief than anything else), that I have to remind myself how lucky I am. Life really is very good to me, and all that's really 'wrong' at the moment is that I'm in a state of flux. There are so many positive things in my life, that I really shouldn't let little problems like Microsoft upset me.

    Well then, I suppose this is it from the UK for this year. I'll see you in Japan!

    love joseph xxx