Thursday, March 29, 2007


Friday at the Sumo, the state of Sumo in Japan and why Sumo is like cricket (or was)

Ah, Spring: the fragile, transient beauty of the cherry blossom and the Japanese scurrying hither and thither with streaming eyes and face masks.

And- most importantly of all- the Osaka Sumo tournament!

Yes, for the fourth year in a row I was in attendance. This time I clubbed together with some like-minded goons and put up the cash for a modest box in the B section ("100-dollar crawlspace" as the VMM put it; after the previous three years of paying bottom dollar then hopping between vacant boxes I wasn't too bothered about coughing up.)

Despite being plagued with a sinus problem that felt like a baseball, I was soon back in the swing of things, possibly thanks to the giddy combination of alcohol and medication. We sat through the lower-ranked palookas, the Juryo division (Sumo's equivalent of the Endsleigh) and finally got down to the big guns. (By which time we'd seen an unusually large amount of blood spilt and a few wrestlers having to be helped away from the ring, one with a suspected dislocated shoulder, and I was nicely drunk.)

Here's how my favourite wrestlers fared:

Takamisakari is very popular with the crowd (and sponsors) because of his robot-style gimmickry during the warm ups. As well as having showmanship on his side, he's pretty quick and tenacious. Things didn't go his way on this occasion, however: his opponent seized his belt, slapped him brutally around the head several times, then gave him a faceful of sand. I grimaced.

Ama, like Takamisakari, is comparatively lightweight. Lacking the sheer size to push the other wrestlers around, his victories usually come from wrong footing his opponents, then pulling them down. So it proved this time: his opponent, Takekaze, chased him around the clay, but to no avail. Ama squirmed out of his grasp, then sent him crashing to the floor to gain his kachikoshi (winning majority) eighth victory of the tournament.

Every time I come to the Osaka tournament Kaio is on the brink of rank demotion (which, for a wrestler of his seniority, would also mean retirement.) Last year, the big man only saved his (considerable) bacon by pulling out a series of unlikely victories against the other top-ranked wrestlers in the second week. Having already been bested seven times in this tournament, Kaio couldn't afford any more cock ups. To my relief, he pulled out a pretty confident performance, overwhelming his opponent and handing him his makekoshi (eighth defeat) by sending him sprawling out of the circle. (True to form, Kaio won on the Saturday and Sunday as well to finish the tournament with a record of eight wins and seven losses.)

The last action of the day pitted Yokozuna Asashoryu against the pin-up boy of Sumo, Bulgaria's Kotooshu. Last year, I found it difficult to conceal my mirth as several high-ranking Bulgarian dignitaries filed in at the end of the day only to watch their man last fully two seconds against the all-conquering Asa. This time, Kotooshu won my respect by coming out of the crouch with an aggressive all-out attack. Sadly, it wasn't meant to be. Asa swung him around and tossed him out of the ring like the lanky bum that he is. Maybe next year...


Sumo's popularity has been on the wane in Japan for more than a few years now. My younger students frequently profess a complete lack of interest in the sport, whilst older statesman Motoaki ("Japanese are a vegetable people; your house is small.") tells me (haltingly) that the sport is less enjoyable to watch now because there's too much slapping and the finer aspects of Sumo technique are getting forgotten.

Of course, it might be a different matter if there were a Japanese wrestler at the top of the tree: there is currently one Yokozuna (highest rank) wrestler, Mongolian Asashoryu. Of the Ozeki (second tier) the strongest is also Mongolian: Hakuho. The Japanese Ozeki are Kaio (past it), Chiyotaikai (just not good enough) and Tochiazuma.

Tochiazuma (whose stunning victory against Asashoryu two years ago remains one of my favourite memories in Japan) was an early leader in this year's tournament, but, after a couple of defeats effectively put him out of the running, he retired from the tournament complaining of headaches. Medical scans revealed that the problem was rather more serious and that he may even have suffered a minor stroke. He is now said to be seriously considering retirement. Given that, of the Japanese Ozeki, he is the only one capable of challenging for titles at the moment, this would be more bad news for Japanese Sumo prospects.


I often astound my students by telling them that Sumo is similar to cricket. The rationale is simple enough: you sit there all day, sporadically paying attention when it looks like something's about to happen. The rest of the time, you can just sit nattering with your friends or reading a book. Therefore, it's like cricket. Or like a Hindu wedding with alcohol.

However, given the current state of things in the Cricket World Cup (a murder investigation, plus England's vice captain being dragged out of the ocean at some ungodly hour of the morning following a drunken pedalo mishap) my comparisons are beginning to look rather spurious.



What lies east

Police in Japan have launched a manhunt after the body of a missing British woman was found buried in a bathtub filled with sand on an apartment balcony near Tokyo.
The woman, whose body was discovered late on Monday, was today identified as Lindsay Ann Hawker, 22, from northern England.

Police in the UK are liaising with Ms Hawker's family, a British embassy official said, declining further comment.

Ms Hawker reportedly arrived in Japan three months ago and worked at a branch of the Nova English conversation school on the eastern edge of Tokyo.

Japanese police find missing British woman's body
The Guardian, March 27


A powerful earthquake measuring a magnitude of 6.9 on the Richter scale hit the Hokuriku region at 9:42 a.m. Sunday, killing one woman, injuring 190 people and setting off small tsunami.

The earthquake caused tremors that registered an upper 6 on the Japanese intensity scale of 7 on Ishikawa Prefecture's Noto Peninsula--the first time an intensity of 6 or higher had been recorded in the prefecture, the Meteorological Agency said. Tremors of an intensity of more than 3 were recorded in wide areas of the Hokuriku, Tokai and Kinki regions.

M-6.9 quake jolts Hokuriku
The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 26


The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry issued an emergency instruction Tuesday to suspend the use of the anti-influenza drug Tamiflu in treating people aged between 10 and 19.

The decision was made after two new cases were found in which primary school students behaved abnormally after taking the drug.

Although the ministry had insisted there was no safety problem related to Tamiflu, it decided to take the measure after receiving new reports of abnormal behavior. The ministry instructed Tamiflu's import-distributor, Chugai Pharmaceutical Co., to add a warning in the drug's instructions that it should not, in principle, be administered to patients aged between 10 and 19. The ministry also instructed the firm to provide information about Tamiflu to medical institutions.

The ministry has not suspended the use of Tamiflu to treat children under 10, but continues to call for parents to pay close attention to children who take the medication.

According to the ministry, a boy aged 12 who took Tamiflu in the afternoon and evening of Feb. 7 ran outside barefoot at about 2 a.m. the next morning and jumped from the second floor of his house, fracturing his right leg.

On Monday, another boy aged 12 who took Tamiflu in the afternoon and night jumped from a second-floor balcony of his house late at night, fracturing his right ankle, according to the ministry.

In February, two middle school students fell to their deaths from condominium buildings after taking the drug.

In response to a series of accidents, the ministry decided to issue a warning on the use of Tamiflu, though it maintained there was no causal link between Tamiflu and abnormal behavior.

The ministry requested that people between 10 and 19 refrain from using Tamiflu in principle, because it is difficult for parents to stop them when they show abnormal behavior.

As for those aged 9 or younger, it is comparatively more frequent for influenza to be fatal in this age group than in others. Therefore, the ministry has not sought to suspend the use of Tamiflu for treating young children but is asking parents to keep a close eye on children for two days after they have been diagnosed with the flu.

As of Oct. 31, 16 fatalities had been reported in Japan in which children aged under 16 died after taking Tamiflu, according to the ministry.

Five cases have been confirmed in which children died from such causes as falling from buildings after showing abnormal behavior, including a case of a 17-year-old.

The ministry has maintained that there are no serious safety concerns regarding Tamiflu at present, as medical experts who examined the cases denied the drug had caused the abnormal behavior.

Tamiflu use to be halted for youths aged 10-19
The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 22


Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Mincing words

I went to the kusuri-ya in the basement and laid my cards on the table. I told the guy on the counter (who's seen me in some pretty bad states) that I had a cold and my head was hurting so badly I wanted to kill myself.

He listened attentively, then produced a couple of pills and told me they'd do the job.

It was only after I'd thanked him and left that I realised he hadn't said which job.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007


WMD (Weapons for Maiming Dan)

Adam and I devoted a lot of free time yesterday to constructing makeshift weapons from the odds and ends lying around the teachers' room.

Adam managed to come up with a pen barrel/ elastic band combo which could fire tooth picks pretty hard. I think I won the day with this though:

take cover!

You will require:

-a PET bottle
-a balloon
-pencil crayons

You will not require:


Saw the top part off the bottle with whatever's sharp and handy, attach the balloon so that the nozzle is clinging onto the part where the lid of the bottle would twist on, then push the rest of the balloon through, grab a crayon and hey presto- you have a home-made crossbow.

It was as good as I remembered. (I first saw one of these little beauties when Tim brought one home that he'd confiscated at school. I wonder what his students would have thought if they'd seen us firing biros off the wall and laughing like maniacs.) My workmates weren't as joyous as I'd hoped. I suspect they may have felt that I'd Gone Too Far again.

As if to prove this, this morning I fired a pencil into my own thumb so hard that it stuck. Blue on blue, we're so in jail dude.



Almost perfect

The lesson topic was cause and effect: poor choice, hence the fact that the students fell silent with about 15 minutes still to run. In sheer desperation, I brought up the topic of polar bears and how they might be preserved.

SHE: "Why don't we just move them all to the South Pole?"

This was truly beyond anything I'd expected; childlike in its simplicity and brilliance. It broke my heart to have to point out a small but significant flaw in the plan.

ME: "And how long exactly would it be before all the penguins were dead?"

SHE: "Ah, right..."


Saturday, March 10, 2007


Alone in the dark

I have an announcement to make; one that is unlikely to make either of my surviving parents proud.

I, Daniel McKeown, nearly 29 years old, have had my electricity cut off.

"Why have you, Daniel McKeown, nearly 29 years old, had your electricity cut off?" I hear you cry.

Because, dear reader, I couldn't be bothered to pay the bill. Couldn't be bothered, even though it would only have required a two-minute walk to the convenience store, and I could have bought some orange juice while I was there to celebrate having paid said bill.

So, when I rolled in last night, the lights were off and they were staying off. Wouldn't you know it, they disconnected my electricity on a Friday, leaving me with a full weekend of reliving the dark ages before they start answering the phone again on Monday morning.

I am now reliant on what little daylight seeps into my room for reading, and the bathroom, being awkwardly situated, receives no light at all. As the gas company seems to be in cahoots with the electricity company there is no hot water, so I am not going to be spending much time in there anyway. I'm morbidly curious about how my shaving is going to go tomorrow.


Thursday, March 08, 2007



With a class of students who haven't met before I usually open up with a quick game. Simple concept: we each say four things about ourselves, one of which is a lie; the others have to guess which one isn't true.

There are times when I wonder why I bother.

"OK, so my name's Dan, I come from England, I'm a space pilot and I like natto."

My students giggle. One of them raises his hand.


"You don't like natto."

The high school girl to his right dissolves into laughter. Keeping the now-legendary poker face, I tell him that I do like natto. I manage to do this without including the word "cretin." He looks astonished.

The high school girl composes herself, then raises a hand.


"Your name is Sam."



Suit Monday!

MWAHAHAHAHA!- it works on so many levels...



Unmodest what people would say, were they not familiar with the term "immodest." Wes, it seems, was trying to teach his students to respond in an unmodest(sic) fashion. What purpose this would serve in the context of the English-speaking world is a matter for conjecture, but the results were spectacular:

HE: That was an awesome homerun MA!

MA: Thank you. But your house is small.


For those who care, MA is the same guy who diagnosed the Japanese as "vegetable people" in a previous post.

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Monday, March 05, 2007


Murakami miss

Got talking to a (inverted commas)High Level(close inverted commas and disgorge the remnants of breakfast over the guy in the next booth) student on the subject of literature the other day.

The Man in the High Castle loathes him dearly, but Murakami Haruki has had a lot of books translated into English that I really enjoy: Kafka on the shore is one of my favourites, The wind-up bird chronicle is also a classic, Underground is a must read and Norwegian wood would be a great deal better if it didn't have a shit name (and ending.)

I mentioned Murakami to the HLS and he lit up. He said that one of Murakami's most famous books was Hitsuji-tachi no chinmoku.

I considered the words.

Hitsuji = sheep
Tachi = group
Chinmoku = silence

So, according to my HLS, Murakami wrote The Silence of the Lambs.

Normally, if I could have any super power I asked for, I would request the ability to make pigeons explode with telekinesis- I hate those filthy bastards. However, there are times when I would request the ability to slow down/stop time itself and this was one of those occasions.

I would have stepped out of the classroom, walked past the booths of lost souls, frozen between the first and the second "so" in response to some question involving their opinion; I would have walked out of the school, past the hospital, down to the bank of the Yodogawa river. I would have sat by the river and collected my thoughts. I would have drank in the stillness of the universe.

I wouldn't have wept in the shrivelled pit of my soul and said:

"I'll keep an eye out for that one."

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Follow the van

Dragged myself up to Ibaraki for football tonight, played like a leper for the first half, downed a hot can of coffee from the vending machine at half time (in preference to the more traditional and infinitely more boring bottle of water) and went on a caffeine-fuelled goalfest in the second half which brought my team from several goals adrift to a respectable eleven-each draw.

Bear in mind that a slight scheduling error meant that the second half was only about 20 minutes long.

Got chatting to a newbie after the game. He claimed he'd played at a pretty high level in England and pulled out the names of a couple of teams he'd played for and against. All of them I recognised, but he had the grace to concede that whether or not someone made it into a decent team, as he had, was largely a matter of luck.

I felt inclined to agree, as I thought he was a pretty crap player.

But, if I'd ever had my break, I couldn't ask for a better team than West Ham- and here's why:

A culture of reckless high-stakes gambling is causing division within West Ham and rupturing morale to such an extent that the first-team squad, already riven by cliques, is 'spiralling out of control' - and the players, manager and directors already know that they can do nothing to stop the club being relegated. That is the damning view from inside the dressing room at the Premiership's most troubled club.

Players are haemorrhaging vast amounts of money to each other at the card table, as much as £50,000 in one sitting. They have won and lost these staggering sums on the team coach to matches. 'How can they be in a good frame of mind for a match after that?' says one first-team player, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The player said: 'I've never seen anything like it in my career. It's one big mess here, the atmosphere is terrible, people don't talk to each other. Players are losing 30, 40 and 50 thousand pounds sometimes. By the time we arrive one player owes another and it's terrible for the team and morale. They are always playing cards.'

One senior player, an established international, is said to have won £38,000 from two of his team-mates in one afternoon recently. The losers had to pay up and manager Alan Curbishley is no longer speaking to the player who won the money. Two members of the squad have undertaken counselling and treatment for gambling addiction, and a third player is also believed to be seeking professional help.

The disillusioned player also identified a catalogue of other problems. These include spats between rival cliques within the dressing room over territory and wages; divisive tension between Curbishley and his players; doubts over the decision-making of new chairman Eggert Magnusson; and the widespread admission, privately, that the club will be relegated. He also said that one recent signing was amazed when he was asked to a meeting to discuss club affairs with senior management in a lap-dancing club, though the club strongly deny that any such meeting took place.

West Ham squad 'out of control'
The Grauniad


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