Friday, August 31, 2007


What's in a name?

The Japanese readership of this page was in school yesterday: she gave me a bit of a laugh name-dropping the 1500m runner Khoudir Aggoune. His surname is pronounced Aho ne, which translates into Japanese as He's a prat, isn't he or similar.

Very funny, Japan: let's all laugh at the guy with a funny name. Hey, who's running for you in the women's marathon? Oh that's right: Reiko Tosa, tossers!

However, for a truly unfortunate name, we need look no further than newly-crowned 100 and 200 metre champion, Tyson Gay of America. It's not difficult to imagine how Gay developed his prodigious turn of pace: a monicker like that is bound to earn you some extra attention from the ne'er-do-wells at school.


VMM: If your surname was "Gay," you'd change it, right?

DAN: Nah... I'd just change my first name to "Not."

We raise our glasses to this, although his is already empty. Feels like the 1400s arrived in the 1300s this month.

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3-day weekend, no actual breakages

Vivre was closed for a stock-take and Dan got a three-day weekend. Here's how it went:


Off to Mount Fuji! I'd been meaning to do this since I came to Japan, but never quite got round to it.

Arrived at Shin-Fuji station and my first thought was: Damn, that's a big mountain. Came out of the station and thought: Hey, where did it go? It seems that in the summer Fuji is only fleetingly visible, disappearing behind cloud for long stretches of time.

I climbed Fuji on the Fujinomiya-Mishima route, starting from the 5th station. It should be noted that I win zero points for originality here- everyone climbs from 5th station, because it's a lot less hassle; and everyone from western Japan climbs the Fujinomiya route because it's a heinous pain in the anus to get to any of the other routes. I was deeply saddened not to be able to take the purportedly-scenic Yoshida route, as orgasmed over relentlessly by the Lonely Planet.

Full of zest, I set off from 5th station at 8pm and fairly hoofed it up the mountain. It wasn't too cold, but there was a kind of nasty, persistent sideways moisture that was making light work of my laughably-titled waterproofs.

Maybe due to speed of ascent/ lack of acclimatisation, I started to get a bit of a headache just before the 8th station, but I decided to press on to the 9th before taking shelter, which would leave me an easier walk in the morning. The temperature dropped as I blundered about groggily on the damp rocks in the murky darkness, but I had the best torch a thousand yen can buy. Plus, there was lightning. Did I mention the lightning? It was cool.

Finally got to the 9th station and coughed up half my wallet for the chance to bed down in the crawlspace with some complete strangers.


Alarm woke me up at 0245 hours and I enjoyed(!) a light breakfast of "Topvalu" (sic) shortbread, before setting out at 0320 in frankly minging conditions (plus the sodden clothes I'd been only too happy to divest myself of a few short hours previously.) Although it was bitterly cold and windy, the fleeting glimpses of the stars above, mirroring the lights of early-morning Fuji city below, were probably the best view of the weekend.

I got to the top at 0415, and parked my arse in the nearest available cabin, surrounded by weedy jackasses slurping oxygen out of expensive cannisters. I had it on good authority that the sun would come up at 0430 on the dot. (Ah Japanese sun: is very punctual Gaijin-san.) As to whether it did or not, I really couldn't say: the dense clouds swilling around the summit frustrated my hopes of seeing the dawn from Mount Fuji. I didn't really mind though. I did a couple of laps of the crater (second was much easier: the conditions were beginning to improve.) The cloud started to thin out and I got a decent view of the forests way down at the bottom of the mountain.

Sadly, my camera crapped out on me, so the following farcical photos are courtesy of the Ferrari phone:

A torii gate on the mountain, far above the clouds.

The unprepossessing arrangement of pebbles which marks the very highest point of Fuji-san.

Dan, sporting Canucks hat and kag-in-a-bag over jacket from "What Everyone Wants"

Having had my fill of Fuji-san, I hopped it back down the Fujinomiya trail, noting the ant-like procession of people on their way up.

Reasons why doing a night-climb is a good idea:

-Less traffic.

-Not so hot.

-You can't see anything, least of all how much of the bloody mountain you've got left to climb.

-You don't have to talk to anybody.

Got back to Shin-Fuji station around 2pm, turned round to steal a last glimpse of Fuji-san, but, true to form, the mountain was hidden from sight once more behind the veil of cloud.


Friday was far from finished though: there was still BEER NIGHT at the Osaka Dome. In order to take the patrons' minds off the paucity of baseball on display, the Osaka Dome infrequently holds Beer Nights (200 yen a beer, son!)

Sadly, it was a low-scoring game, but we did get the unlooked-for bonus of the 10th innings, by which time I was well and truly sozzled.


The opening of the Athletics World Championships in Osaka! Overslept, but still made it down to Osaka-jo park in time to watch the leaders of the marathon come through. Went for breakfast with Adam, got back to the park and found that my bicycle had been nicked. The Stag was a freebie present from Andrew when I moved into the Chez Shinsaibashi. Even so, I was a bit miffed to be parted from it. I sincerely hope that it was stolen by the last-placed runner, who just couldn't be asked to persevere in the inhumanely warm Osaka conditions.


Three-day weekend damage report:

Extremely sore legs: 2

Remaining bicylcles: 0

Remaining cash: don't ask

Mystery gash and bruising on one arm, presumably sustained during or after Beer Night.

Actual breakages: 0

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Saturday, August 25, 2007


The Deep Blue of arm-wrestling

Arcade game manufacturer Atlus Co., announced Tuesday it will voluntarily recall all 155 units of its Ude-damashii arm-wrestling machine installed across the country, as three people have broken their arms playing the game since its release late July.

The Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo-based company has also requested arcade proprietors take the game out of operation, and will look into the cause of the accidents following the recall.

According to Atlus, all the units were designed for wrestling with the right arm. The game, which was sold to arcades across the country, has ten power levels. If a player keeps winning, he or she can challenge "opponents" at three different levels during each game.

To date, the company has confirmed that a 25-year-old male South Korean tourist in Osaka, a 19-year-old male French tourist in Fukuoka and 24-year-old Japanese man in Kyoto all broke their humerus--the bone between the shoulder and elbow--in their right arms.

Arm-wrestling game recalled as 3 break arms
The Yomiuri Shimbun


Not wishing to sound alarmist, but this is the beginning of the end. It's all very well computers being able to defeat us at chess and suchlike, but now they're physically beating us up.

Next thing you know:

knock knock

"Sarah Connor?"



The machines are rising.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


The end times are back: they're here every Wednesday

More disturbing then the ethereal flickers of silent lightning in the heavens was the absence of comment from those around us: no sugoi! (wow!), no kowai! (I'm scared!); just mute watchfulness.

Last sign that the end times are coming: people close their mouths and open their fucking eyes.

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Friday, August 17, 2007


Grisly death to the bugs of Higashi Shinsai

One of the numerous drawbacks of the hot, humid Japanese summer is the resurgence of the cockroach population. So far, I've had three in the room and dealt grisly death to each in turn.

#1 "Salman"

Opened front door, saw glimpse of dark movement amongst my trainers just inside the room. As the skulking bug was confined to the footwell, I had no need to hurry. I turned on the air con, changed my shirt, then grabbed the washing-up liquid (cockroach napalm, folks) and squeezed the bottle out over my unwelcome visitor he twitched horribly, then perished. I left him where he lay for a couple of days, just to warn his mates.

#2 "Linford"

This guy was determined not to go out the same way as Salman: the instant I opened my door, he came racing out. I've read that a cockroach can scuttle 50 times its own body length in a single second. Trying to get past the cat-like reflexes of Dan was a bit of an error, though. Stomp. Nice try, Linford.

#3 "The Terminator"

In the end, I had to hit this guy with a bookshelf. A bookshelf.




Biker rode 2 km without noticing leg was severed
The Yomiuri Shimbun

A man rode his motorcycle for about two kilometers without realizing his right leg had been cut off after an accident in Nishi Ward, Hamamatsu, on Monday.

According to police, the 54-year-old company employee from Naka Ward in the city had his leg severed about 10 centimeters below the knee after hitting a central divider on the Hamana bypass of National Highway Route 1 at about 6:30 a.m.

The man only noticed his injury after stopping his bike at the Tsuboi Interchange, about two kilometers from the scene of the accident. His life was not in danger, the police said.

The man was traveling ahead of a touring group of about 10 friends. The police believe he failed to negotiate a left turn and struck his leg against a corner of the central concrete divider.

"I suppose he must have struggled to retain his balance after the accident and did not realize he had been injured," a police officer said.

(Aug. 15, 2007)


Woman loses toe in escalator accident
The Yomiuri Shimbun

A 27-year-old woman's left big toe was amputated when it got stuck in a hole in the step of an escalator at JR Kawasaki Station, police said.

The hole, in the vertical side of the step, was 12 centimeters high and 7.5 centimeters wide. A piece of aluminum suspected to have broken off the step, creating the hole, was found inside the escalator, the police said.

The woman, a company employee of the city, was on her way home shortly before 10 p.m. Sunday when the accident occurred. She was not aware her toe was in the hole because she was talking to a friend. When the vertical side of the step narrowed near the top of the escalator, her toe got stuck and was sliced off.

(Aug. 15, 2007)


Finding these two eye-watering gems next to each other in the briefs section of the Yomiuri livened up my payday a little.

As the summer continues, there was further ominous news for Japanese extremities with the revelation in today's paper that Hammerhead Sharks have been coming uncommonly close to shore this year due to a warm current.

Bathers have been advised not to pet the sharks. A spokesman for the Ministry Of Looking On The Bright Side Of Things said: "Well, the good news is that Hammerhead Sharks are not extinct."


Sunday, August 12, 2007



"Go home and die."


This one gets off to a slow start.

Spitting Image- classic rubber puppet political satire


The veil of darkness lifts... a little...

Wednesday, and I was warming up to teach my compromised kid's class (the one with the listening device planted in it I mentioned in my post On the subject of paranoia.) The Yamaguchi family, my tormentors were sitting in the waiting area outside the classroom. I bade them a cheery "hello", then recoiled slightly as something small and winged buzzed its way past my face.

The mother stiffens.

Mosquito? She asks sharply.

Possibly. I respond. She clucks something about getting bitten to her younger daughter and pulls the Hello Kitty device out of her bag. I am astounded.

That thing's for catching mosquitoes?

She responds, somewhat frostily I feel, that it is. Perhaps she is displeased by my unfortunate habit of not conjugating my verbs politely. Perhaps she reads this page and is aware of my unworthy suspicions.

I stand agape. Then, almost unconsciously, my hand shoots out and clutches at the air. I open my fist slowly. The sad, crumpled insect in my palm eases my conscience. The kids aren't getting bitten on my watch. I'm sorry I doubted you guys, but one can't be too safe in these dark, dark days.


Saturday, August 04, 2007


On the subject of paranoia

The origianl classic quote regarding paranoia (or the one I first fell in love with) went along the lines of:

Paranoia is merely a heightened state of perception: most people are persecuted beyond their wildest dreams.

For years this enjoyed no competition as my favourite paranoia-related quote. Then, a few weeks ago, I finally had the chance to watch Darkman 2: the return of Durant.

Darkman, you see, has the scientific know-how to adopt other people's faces; a technique which he puts to good use, infiltrating the bad guys' organisation and causing well-laid schemes to go wrong. Durant (Larry Drake), aware of this, takes to seizing his henchmen's faces randomly, just to check they're not the good guy.

When a henchman with a smarting face accuses Durant of becoming paranoid, Durant screams:

"Paranoia is total awareness!"

and we have a new contender for best comment on paranoia.


For years I have been convinced that I am being subjected to extra scrutiny at airports. Particularly on the England to Japan leg of my annual return home. In 2005, I got pulled out of the boarding line at Heathrow by the nice young man who'd previously handled my check-in for an extra badge. Evidently, I am unable to differentiate between nice young men and neo-fascist twats. I've got yours right here, Adolf.

I got the third degree coming through Osaka as well.

Last year, Doris Day at KIX went through all of my bags, asking pointless questions about every damned item she could lay her hands on. Asked me which university I studied at, despite having my passport open to the page to which my working (that's right- working!) visa is attached in her hand. I maintained frosty civility, gathered my much-rearranged possessions and made my way through the arrivals gate to a welcoming party of three policemen.

Who proceeded to ask me all the same questions again.

This year, I felt sure I was going to get the cavity search: I was flying in from Amsterdam. I even said as much to my father as we supped an obligatory coffee at Birmingham International airport.

I disembarked at Osaka, and they just waved me through. Waved me right fucking through.

I walked fast towards the train terminal, head down, mind racing.

They know I know. Somehow, they know I know.

Either that guy at the next table was listening and told them to abort the mission or...

...Jesus, no: not my own father...


Just a little something to keep that fire of fear burning in my heart: one of my students (I think she's about six) has taken to wearing something round her neck when she comes in my class.

It's an adorable Hello Kitty baby monitor: one of those two-part things parents keep so they can hear if their offspring is choking to death upstairs in the cot while they're watching The Bill or Casualty or similar.

And it's switched on. I'm not even joking.

Which means somebody, somewhere, is listening. And even if it's the mother, that doesn't make it OK: what's she expecting to hear?

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you. One of my father's oft-repeated gems.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007


Tanuki watch 2008

In the staffroom yesterday I was riding roughshod all over the Tanuki again. I fear nothing except fear itself: fear, and that dream where all my teeth and toenails start falling out.

The Tanuki decided she'd had enough of my gyp and it was time to drop her bombshell. She informed me that she'd be taking over from trusted comrade Caesar (with whom I was having a balloon-wafting contest) as the Figure Of Authority at Hirakata. Caesar was getting shipped off to Kyobashi.

"Good riddance to bad rubbish" I shrugged. The Tanuki choked back a laugh; Caesar took it in his stride.

"Welcome to new rubbish" I added, giving my most impish grin and wafting the balloon extra hard with my freebie fan.

My coffin's got so many nails in it by now, we could take it down the wrecking yard and lift it up with one of those car magnets.

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Dan fibs again

I couldn't stop myself: I honestly couldn't. I'd had a riotous night of revelry with comrades in Korien, woken up on Adam's sofa and I knew that I'd be in big trouble once the coffee wore off.

Warming up for a lesson on film criticism, I asked my student if she'd seen anything recently. She said that, yes, she had seen The Shawshank Redemption the previous week.

Wow, I said: I thought the ending of the director's cut was a bit depressing.

Eh? she said.

ME: Have you seen the director's cut?

SHE: No...

ME: Well, you know how they end up on the beach down in Mexico?

SHE: Yeah...

ME: In the director's cut, Morgan Freeman shanks Tim Robins and steals all the money that he ripped off from the prison.

SHE: Eeeehhh?!?!

My student was completely astounded by this whopper and once again I got that warm glowing feeling from knowing that I had, in a small way, made the world a more entertaining place.


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