Sunday, December 30, 2007


Slippery when wet

Sadly, the greyhound bike didn't last me all that long: having completed the pilgrimage up and down the Yodogawa a bunch of times, it was thieved by some thieving villain in Kyobashi. Another kick in the teeth in a year full of them.

Fortunately, Adam chose to return to America this December: fortunate because, although it further shrinks my already-shrunken circle of like-minded scoundrels, it at least enabled me to buy his bike off him.

And this thing is mint.

The first bike I've ever owned with drop handlebars, it has wheels like razor blades and they just shave the miles away in next to no time. It is quite a steed.

What it isn't so hot with, however, is tactile paving.

Dan has been teaching a lesson in Umeda on a rainy, rainy day. Picks up bicycle from outside station and sets off down Midosuji. Steady going, looking for a chance to move from pavement onto road and put his foot down. Spies pedestrian crossing ahead with green man on the go. Nice opportunity to transfer onto road. Speeds up slightly. Hits patch of tactile paving, which, wet as it is, doesn't agree too well with mighty steed's razor-blade wheels and slick tyres. Mighty steed goes from being mighty steed to being newborn foal with bandy legs. Dan loses control and all hope of making it home sans abrasions. Miraculously manages to rescue himself from falling off bike outright, only to find that his compass bearing has changed and he is now heading due tree.

Dan and steed rebound squarely off tree and end up in a parody of a lovers' embrace on the wet pavement, bicycle- as is usually the case in such events- on top.

Brrr brrr

"Emergency operator, what service do you require?"

"All the King's horses and all the King's men, please: I've had a great fall."

Click. Dial tone.

Morose introspection thus far completed, I hauled myself to my feet and assessed the damage. Casualties: coccyx and gear shift. Ring out the old, ring in the new. Rode home with handlebars at new rakish tilt. There's nothing new under the sun.


Friday, December 28, 2007



KYOTO (Kyodo) "Nise," meaning "fake," was chosen in a poll as the kanji of 2007, reflecting food mislabeling scandals, problems over political funds and faulty pension records, Kyoto-based Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation said Wednesday.
Kanji for 'fake' takes the '07 cake
The Japan Times, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2007


Thursday, December 27, 2007


2007: before the dust settles entirely...

Gave a bit of thought to how to write up the year yesterday, while I was pounding out the miles alongside the river (see halloween story if this doesn't ring any bells.)

Simplest thing, I decided, would be to sort out this year's winners and losers.

And here they are:

Winner: English club football

Three teams in the semi-finals of the Champions League? Can't be bad. I thought Liverpool were pretty unlucky in the final against Milan too. Third year running an English team has made the final.

Loser: England

On the other hand, the English national team were so far off the pace, that they've probably assured themselves a "loser's" berth in next year's column as well. The overpaid under achievers that stank up the pitch in the European Championship qualifying campaign will be bringing their mediocrity to the commentary box in next summer's tournament. Be prepared to turn down the volume.

Loser: Real Osaka FC

Having spanked their way to three back-to-back Awaji titles, Real would surely have been contenders for the All-Japan championship that was scheduled for January. Sadly, the plug was pulled on the tournament and Real went on to win precisely sod all this year, losing in the final of the spring Awaji tournament and only managing third place in the autumn tournament. The only gong I won all year was with Murphy's, for crying out loud.

Loser: Gaijin in Japan

With the murder of Lindsay Hawker and the subsequent failure of the police to apprehend her killer for starters, the collapse of NOVA putting everyone out of work as the main course, and the introduction of compulsory fingerprinting and mugshots at immigration (for everyone, including those on a spouse visa), it's been a bit of a difficult year to swallow.

When I poured the brandy over the xmas pudding, I got the feeling that we've never needed so much to burn away a year's luck.

Loser: Sumo

Let's start with the positives: a new yokozuna (sumo's highest rank) and a new Japanese Ozeki (sumo's second-highest rank.)

OK, so the year started with Mongolian Asashoryu the lone yokozuna, as he had been for quite a while. Having never been all that popular in the weeklies (or in general), it was no surprise when stories about bribery and match-fixing popped up ahead of the spring tournament in Osaka. Ho hum, off to a flying start.

Early leader in the Osaka tourny was Japanese ozeki Tochiazuma. Sadly, he retired from the tournament, complaining of crippling headaches. A few days later, it turned out that he would be retiring permanently for health reasons, having suffered what appeared to be a mild stroke. The Osaka tournament went to Mongolian ozeki Hakuho, who won with the much-frowned-upon trick of sidestepping at the start of the crucial bout against Asashoryu. No one was complaining too much though: Asashoryu had done exactly the same thing in his previous bout.

On to the next tournament and Asashoryu had a bit of a nightmare, managing to lose FIVE times and looking badly out of sorts. Hakuho took full advantage, clinching his second successive gong and thereby fulfilling the minimum requirements for a promotion to yokozuna status. The sumo council hastily made it happen and there was finally another yokozuna to challenge Asa's throne.

The next tournament was in Nagoya, where a resurgent Asashoryu defeated Hakuho on the final day to beat local boy Kotomitsuki overall. Koto earned himself a level-up to ozeki, which was a bright spot for Japanese sumo.

Then it all went a bit Christmas panto: Asa took a break from a regional sumo tour in order to recover from a back injury. During the course of his break, he played in a charity football match for, oh, say a couple of minutes? Anyway, this went all over the media and Asa was suspended from the following two grand tournaments for his misdemeanour, as well as losing a bundle of cash and being effectively put under house arrest by the sumo association. Claiming to be stressed and depressed, he was eventually granted leave to return to his native Mongolia after a doctor was found to vouch for the fact that this would aid his recovery. The tabloids had a field day with this one as well.

As a result, Hakuho strolled to the next two tournaments. For those who think that Barry Bonds ought to have an asterisk next to his name in the record books, I submit Hakuho for your consideration (albeit through no fault of his own.)

Anything else? Oh yes...

Well, there were no Japanese applicants to sit the examination to become a trainee sumo wrestler this year. This looked quite a wise decision on the part of Japan's youth when the case emerged of Tokitaizan, a 17-year-old trainee, who died at his stable on June 26th. The stable selflessly offered to have the youngster's remains cremated without the family seeing them, an offer which the family refused. It transpired that Tokitaizan, who had died during training, had previously been savagely beaten with objects including a beer bottle. Quite a training regime, when you consider that sumo is unarmed combat.

The Kyushu tournament, the last of the year was remarkable mainly for empty seats. Quite a disappointment when Kyushu-born ozeki Chiyotaikai had a share of the lead going into the final weekend. The Yomiuri newspaper wisely commented that Kyushu shouldn't be hosting a tournament if there weren't going to be bums on seats and suggested sumo's heartlands of Tohoku and Hokkaido as alternatives. Given the Sumo Council's track record on change, don't expect this any time soon.

A year to forget for sumo, thanks to a catalogue of largely self-inflicted disasters. Best course of action would be to have the heads of the sumo council on a spike, in my opinion. The New Year tournament will see the return of Asa: king of the gaijin. Fingerprint this, bitches!

Winner: the war against drugs in sports

Marion Jones finally came clean about the fact that she, er, wasn't clean; Barry Bonds's record-breaking home run ball got branded with an asterisk to suggest the record is tainted by his alleged drug use, then there was the release of the Mitchell Report; and the Tour De France would have had more credibility if it had been decided by paper-scissors-stone.

Plus Torri Edwards finishing out of the medals in the women's 200 metres in Osaka, although my schadenfreude was somewhat tempered by the fact that Edwards picked up a gold in the relay, not to mention the fact that the gigantic Sri Lankan she-male who pipped Edwards to the bronze in the 200 looked like she had more testosterone in her than the old East German swimming team.

Winner: Facebook

This time last year, the only people I'd ever heard mention Facebook were KJB and Adam; now even my mother's got it. Facebook's phenomenal success is easy to understand: as well as being a very easy way to share photographs it has the "tag" option, which makes it very easy to locate items of interest in other people's albums. It also stomps all over the toes of e-mail, mailing lists and blogging amongst other things.

The groups thing is also great: I'm in Real Osaka, SBA FC and You Don't Like Marmite? You're A Twat, amongst others.

Of course, Facebook is not without its annoyances:

Markiyan took an IQ test

(And, in so doing, gets top marks on the Dan Insecurity Test.)

Namrita has bitten you

(That's a nasty, nasty habit you've got there.)

Find out how alike you are

(The fact that I'm receiving this message shows that we're not.)

Sign up for Funwall

Sign up for Superwall

Sign up for SuperFunwall

Sign up for HIVwall

(I made that one up)

Winner: Dan's waistline

Loser: Dan's hairline

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Merry Xmas to all, including dread sovereigns

Woke up at 8:15 with the predictable hangover and hazy recollections of running around Don Quixote at nigh on 3 in the a.m. on some damn fool present challenge. Got stuck into the first of my literary stocking-fillers: Edward III: a new play by Shakespeare.

(For those scratching their heads and wondering if they have forgotten how to read: the play itself is NOT new. However, Shakespeare has only recently been confirmed as the author by learned beards of literature.)

The play itself seems Shakespearean enough: the French and Scottish take an absolute pounding.

The title character, King Edward, is everything one might expect of royalty: capricious, lecherous and, best of all, completely above the law.

The KING is having his secretary, LODOWICK, write a poem.

KING: Forget not to set down how passionate,
How heart-sick and full of languishment
Her beauty makes me.

LODOWICK: Write I to a woman?

KING: What beauty else could triumph on me?
Or who but women do our love-lays greet?
What, thinkst thou I did bid thee praise a horse?


It hardly needs to be said that the poem being composed is not to his wife: it's to someone else's wife.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007


Peace and what was the other?

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is planning to slap a nationwide business suspension on temp staff agency Goodwill Inc. for sending employees to engage in banned lines of work and other violations, government sources said Saturday.

Goodwill may get suspended over temp staff violation
The Japan Times


Heh heh... Goodwill... xmas... oh my, the irony...
(Still giggling, Dan pours himself a large brandy and pulls his trusty old service revolver out of his desk drawer.)


Saturday, December 22, 2007


Sayonara Adam

ME: Hmmm... a spanner that big can only be for throwing in the works.

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Osaka-fu: the Bryan Adams of bag-snatching

OSAKA--Total purse-snatchings in Osaka Prefecture this year will be less than 5,000, the prefecture's lowest total in 15 years but still the worst in the nation, a recent survey by the Osaka prefectural police predicts.

The prefecture has this year seen 4,303 purse-snatchings as of Nov. 30, according to the survey.

However, the prefecture is likely to finish the year with more purse-snatchings than any other prefecture, continuing its run of 32 consecutive years. At the time of the survey, the prefecture had seen about 1,700 more snatchings this year than Tokyo, the next worst.

Purse-snatchings had increased each year in the prefecture since 1976, when it ranked worst in the nation with 735 cases, according to the police. The figure reached 10,973 in 2000.

Authorities have made concerted efforts in recent years to address the problem. In 2002 the police established an investigative office for street crime and crime involving intruders, and the prefectural government increased promotion of public safety measures. Improvements came, with total purse-snatching cases in the prefecture dropping to 5,311 last year.

This year the police arrested several groups of repeat offenders, including a group of teenagers from Kadoma in the prefecture and tried to raise public awareness about the problem through commercials aired in Osaka, Suita and other cities, urging people to refrain from using a mobile phone while walking.

Purse-snatchings still worst in Osaka Prefecture
The Yomiuri Shimbun


The VMM informed me a few years back that Neyagawa city, where I am currently working (centred around Neyagawa-shi station, highlighted yellow on the map), was the bag-snatching capital of Japan. I thanked him and passed this information on to my students along with warnings to clutch their Gucci like a football and under no circumstances to go anywhere near the VMM.

Nice to see Kadoma (red) representing the Keihan line also. Country and bad boys.

For those unfamiliar with the area, the left-hand side of the map is Osaka, the right-hand side is Kyoto.

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Friday, December 21, 2007


Customer care

Dear Daniel McKeown

Hello´╝îmy name is Catherine, I will be happy to assist you with your
question regarding your PayPal account.
I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience caused you.

The withdrawal limit resets on the anniversary date. If you withdrawed
on Nov 25, the limit would reset on Dec 25.

If you need any other further assistance, please do not hesitate to
contact us.

It is my pleasure to assist you. Thank you for choosing PayPal.

PayPal, an eBay Company


Daniel McKeown to customercare
show details Dec 19 (2 days ago)

Thank you very much for your informative response.

I would like to point out to you that the term "monthly limit" is then
entirely misleading in this case: the world and his wife would
naturally presume that you were talking about a calendar month, as
this is how the vast majority of financial transactions are conducted
in the developed world.

Please adjust your web page accordingly.

Thanking you in advance,

Daniel McKeown


I resisted the temptation of teasing "Catherine" about her English.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Future career?

Well, having finally sat the level 2 of the JLPT, I think it's high time I reinvented myself as a Japanese teacher and cast some light on the bloody awkward language for the uninitiated.

Today is chapter one, in which we will be focusing on a word you are likely to hear everywhere you go in Japan: sugoi.

Now, as soon as you look in a dictionary, you will see that sugoi is translated as "great" or "wow" or similar.

What the dictionary doesn't tell you, however, is that when Japanese people use this word, they are invariably being sarcastic. This crucial information was suppressed during the post-war occupation period by the Ministry Of Making Stuff Up. Contrary to popular western stereotypes, the Japanese in general have a remarkably caustic sense of humour, and like nothing more than doing other people down.

Let's look at some examples:

1. If you tell a Japanese person that you know around 500 kanji characters, dollars to doughnuts says they will respond with:

Sore wa sugoi desu ne.

Meaning: "Wow, and to think that I only know about ten thousand."

2. If you find yourself in Osaka's aquarium, there will be a continual chorus of sugoi!

Meaning: "Oh my goodness. A big fish. How remarkable."

3. If you try to impress your new JHS class with your juggling skills, you can bank on the home-room teacher piping up with a sugoi from the back of the class.

Meaning: "Do it with chainsaws, you bloody hack."

So, next time someone compliments you on your ability to use chopsticks, there's no need to feel like they're being patronising.


In chapter two, we'll be looking at the phrase ii na, meaning "I'm glad I'm not in your shoes."


Tuesday, December 04, 2007


Update on all things Dan

Hi everyone, been a bit busy recently. Here's the lowdown.

Saturday: I was Santa at Nico's kindergarten for thirty pieces of silver.

Here's the snap.

Sunday: I had another tilt at the Nihongo nouryoku shiken (Japanese language proficiency test.) This time I was going for level 2 certification (criteria here). It was definitely a passable exam, but whether I covered myself in glory or heaped infamy upon the name of McKeown will not be known until early February when the dullards finally get round to sending out the marks. Only saw one yellow card in the exam this time: Chinese chick in front of me was a little over-eager to get started. Bit disappointing: Brett and I were having a bet on how many cards were going to get dished out and I'd plumped for three yellow, one red.

Monday: first day at new job. I am now an ALT in Neyagawa city, which is pretty close to where I was working before. I am going to be splitting my time between three schools (two elementary, one JHS.)

Today: first day hungover at new job.

I guess the leopard can't change his sheets.


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