Thursday, February 28, 2008


Shine on

If you wanted further proof of the differences between the two yokozuna and their relations with the public gaze, you only had to look at Tuesday's sports newspapers.

"Asashoryu: 'Drop dead ---hole!'" screamed Nikkan Sports, which relegated Hakuho--and Monday's banzuke announcement for next month's Spring Grand Sumo Tournament--to the inside pages.

Instead, it and most of the opposition led with the "shocking" news that Asashoryu had checked in at Honolulu Airport for his flight back to Japan wearing... an aloha shirt, shorts and flip-flops. The yokozuna, who was in Hawaii for his brother's wedding, told a photographer who caught him in flagrente to back off, apparently because he was worried about being shown in public while not wearing a kimono (as Baruto could tell Asashoryu, this is a sumo no-no).

By the time he arrived at Kansai Airport, Asashoryu was wearing the right clothes but greeted a reporter with the recommendation that he die--one of the worst things one can say in Japanese.

Feb. 27, 2008


Note for readers back in blighty
The Japanese "Shine", or drop dead, (presumably what Asa said to the reporter) is pronounced "shi" (ship) + "ne" (negligence), to make use of two words whose juxtaposition has featured prominently in this week's headlines.

Less than two weeks until the spring grand sumo tournament kicks off in Osaka: come on Asa!

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008


"Girl" at school was 39-year-old man

I saw the above headline on Reuters and, even as I clicked on it, I thought "I bet this one's from Japan."

And the report began with: "TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese man was arrested..."

It's just too easy, isn't it?


OK, here's the full thing:

TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese man was arrested for trespassing this week after turning up at a high school dressed in a girl's uniform and a long wig, local police said.

Thirty-nine-year-old Tetsunori Nanpei told police he had bought the uniform over the Internet and put it on to take a stroll near the school in Saitama, north of Tokyo, on Wednesday, the daily Asahi Shimbun said.

When students standing outside the gates started to scream at the sight of him, he dashed inside the school grounds, hoping to blend in with the crowds of teenagers, the paper said.

They also screamed, forcing the man to flee, losing his wig in the process. A school clerk pursued him and stopped him at a nearby riverbank, the paper said.

Police confirmed the arrest of the man in school uniform and wig but declined to give further details.

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A little treat for my Catalan readership

For those of you to whom the above video is unclear, KKK Madrid, Spain's equivalent of Chelsea, have a goal disallowed for offside in the build up. Even worse is to follow as, whilst they're prancing around by the corner flag, dividing their exorbitant salaries by 90 in their heads and wondering how much cocaine and how many cabin attendants they're going to be able to get hold of this evening, the opposition take the free kick for said offside, run the ball up the pitch and score.

The beautiful game has never been so beautiful.


Friday, February 22, 2008


How to do it in Japanese

A couple of examples of how I've been employing my recently-certified nihongo competence for the greater good.

First couple of examples are from my Friday night evening class:

#1 Dealing with cultural differences

Sensei: Hawaii de, snorkel o shite, kujira o mita.

Me: Oishisou datta?

Teacher: In Hawaii, I went snorkeling and saw a whale.

Me: Did it look delicious?

#2 Proving that I'm more than just a gaijin tourist at the Sumo

Me: Haru basho wa sugoi tanoshimi na... nan to iu... aitsu... Tokitsukaze no heya no rikishi ga deru to, "TOKITAIZAN!!!" o yondari, aita bin o nagetari suru zo.

Me: I'm really looking forward to the Spring sumo tournament. When wrestlers from the Tokitsukaze stable appear, I'm going to shout "TOKITAIZAN!!!" and throw empty beer bottles (and such activities.)


Note for Tricky: I managed to use the -tari -tari suru form, even though I agree with you that it's usually absolutely useless.

Dealing with gaps in knowledge

Sensei: Kono kanji no hatsuon wa... Okinawa no o-sake.

Me: Hebi no oshiko?

Teacher: The pronunciation for this kanji is... Okinawan alcohol. (meaning "mori")

Me: Snake's pee?


Fortunately, my Japanese teacher is blessed with a sense of humour similar to my own.

Expressing disagreement

This one was a cracker: the very chatty English teacher at one of my elementary schools showed me her cute pencil case, with a picture of an insect on it.

Me: Uwa! Gokiburi!

She: Gokiburi chau! Suzu-mushi ya!

Me: Goki ya!

She: Suzu-mushi!

Me: Suzu-goki!

Me: Argh! A cockroach!

She: It's not a cockroach! It's a bell insect!

Me: Cockroach!

She: Bell insect!

Me: Bell cockroach!

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Thursday, February 21, 2008


Yesterday's Mainichi

Actually stumped up the cash for a copy of the Mainichi newspaper yesterday, mistakenly thinking that Chinese foods had finally been relegated from the front page.

On closer inspection, I realised that they had merely been relegated to further down the front page.

Top items were Castro's resignation and a maritime incident involving a collision between a 7,750-ton SDF Aegis destroyer and a 12 metre-long fishing vessel. Two fishermen are missing, presumed wet.

The silver lining to this cloud is that it brings a little respite to the massively-overfished tuna population.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Million-dollar Valentine.

When the clock hits midnight, my pumpkin turns back into a coach; although I'm more the opposite of Faust than of Cinderella.


Monday, February 11, 2008


The East is red (why wo ai zhong guo)

After the pesticide in Chinese gyouza dumplings story broke a week or so ago, the daily read of the newspaper has become rather monotonous.

It but more colourful are the displays at local quality book retailers like Kinokuniya and Junkudo. Bums on seats, eh.


More than 2,700 people have reported suffering health problems in the wake of a report that pesticide-contaminated gyoza produced in China had sickened 10 people in Japan, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

Yet since the original 10 cases, no further examples of organophosphate poisoning have been confirmed.

Experts say mild cases of poisoning by minute traces of organic phosphorus may have been overlooked. But they believe in most cases people are probably mistakenly attributing their symptoms to food poisoning...

Susumu Oda, a professor at Tezukayamagakuin University who specializes in psychiatry, said, "As concerns over Chinese-made food have been growing for some time, and with the reports of food poisoning, there may have been some cases of autosuggestion, where people thought they had been poisoned [but hadn't]."

Experts say gyoza cases exaggerated / Believe many people mistakenly attributed symptoms to food poisoning
The Yomiuri Shimbun


Reasons to love thy neighbours:

They've got Faye Wong

They've got Jet Li

And they've got child-proof doors.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008


NY's dad?!

Patience is the honest man's revenge.
-The Atheist's Tragedy

Last night I met up with my mate Paul in Murphy's bog-standard Irish bar for the first time since the AVON crash. Brett was also in tow, having thought better of attending Tricky's wife's mate's jazz debacle in Honmachi. A time for joy, levity and much quaffing of ale, not least as Paul turned 30 on the stroke of midnight.

Sadly, we were impeded in our would-be revelry by the presence of a particularly noisome gaijin chaser. This guy was obviously knocking on a bit and could speak English pretty well, although God knows how many Eikaiwa instructors either went mad or left Japan during the course of his learning. What rankled with me was the Jehovah's Witness-type approach to striking up a conversation: foot in the door, then talk until the cows come home. When I'm not on the clock, I loathe being treated as a commodity and I don't have much time for people who make themselves welcome when they're not (can't remember if I blogged it, but there was a previous incident in Murphy's when I threatened to bash someone from NZ over the head after all other hints that I wasn't interested in having a conversation failed.)

On this occasion, I ignored the gaijin chaser to the best of my ability and otherwise told him to shut up, get lost or burn in hell. It wasn't working though: he was a drunken, nattering lout who disrupted our attempts to engage in conversation, play pool and just about anything else. He kept banging on about "us Japanese" "Japanese is spiritual" (giving me a sneaky feeling of how NY's going to be in a couple of decades time) and wouldn't give it a rest about how he could trace his lineage back to a samurai, making him amongst Japan's 10% elite.

Incidentally, he walked with a nasty limp, indicating a knee injury which I fervently hoped he had sustained at the hands of an enraged gaijin in the Pig and Whistle or similar.

Brett, forever trying to be the good gaijin, walked him into the other bar a couple of times, but he was always back for more, even going to the extent of trying to pay me back for my frostiness by dancing around and waving his arms when I was taking my shot at pool: behaviour which would earn you a bit of a rough treatment in most bars even if there wasn't money riding on the game. And there WAS money riding on the game, but I kept my temper in check.

Finally, it was time to go home, whole evening shot to hell by the crapulent psychopath. Even as I put my coat on, he was still in my face with his us-Japanese-you-English-I-am-samurai spiel. I had one of my Moments.

"You're not even Japanese. You're Korean."

Suddenly, he was all bared fangs: "No! I hate Koreans."

Aha. Thought so.

"Balls, you're Korean. You can't even speak Japanese, can you?"

"Aho!" He snarled at me, which is not very spiritual Japanese at all.

"Sorry, don't speak Korean. Oh, hang on: annyeong hasseyo."

"AHO!" again.

"Oh, is that Korean for goodbye? I'll be off then."

For a moment, it looked like Mr Kim was about to give me a dose of Tae Kwon Do. I went into the other bar, bade goodnight to the barlord and, when I came back, the feisty bigot had vanished. Evidently the latter-day samurai had a dash of ninja in the mix too.

Either that, or he was getting his seppuku on in the bathroom.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008



Got home, there was the envelope.

Japanese Language Proficiency Test, Level 2

Writing / Vocab 77/100
Listening 89/100
Reading/ Grammar 162/200



And I didn't just pass that exam: I stomped its sorry ass. Go me!



I ain't giving owt up for Lent, mind

Having finally dined on good, old-fashioned turkey over xmas, I wasn't about to let Shrove Tuesday slip through my fingers. On my way from work to Japanese class, I called in the Kintetsu department store and laid in flour, lemon juice and sugar. Milk and eggs were already waiting in the fridge back in the gaff. I even got some fat on goodwill from the butcher.

Got home later than intended, but sometimes time's not the issue. Whipped up pretty much the most disgracefully lumpy batter of all time and went to work. Pancake after pancake went in the pan, got flipped, was tempered with lemon, frosted with sugar and served up to a ravenous clientele of Dan.

It has to be the fattest fat Tuesday on record: the only thing I'm giving up for Lent is regularity of bowel movements.


Saturday, February 02, 2008


Who Man-boo?

My first lesson at my new school, back in December, was with class 1-2. And it was hellish.

Since then, I've got a lot more used to them (and they to me) and it's a barrel of laughs at the moment.

For example, last week a student demonstrated mastery of the possessive pronoun "mine" by leaping onto a desk and loudly declaring ownership of his own penis.

I held my poker face for a fraction of a second, then burst into shameless laughter.

This week, I was drawing a picture of Homer Simpson on the board whilst explaining to students why I always say "Y'ello?" when answering the phone. One of the students jumped up and said he wanted to draw something.

Go ahead, I said.

He drew a pig's face on the blackboard. Very cute.

A second student expressed a wish to doodle. I assented and he drew a couple of lines around the pig's face, leaving the impression that the pig's face was on a bird's-eye-view picture of a canoe, or else peeping out from between some curtains.

A third student came up, further lines were added, and the canoe now looked more like a banana.

And then a fourth student came up and did a couple of horizontal lines.

And I realised that what I was looking at was a pig's head sticking out of a woman's... well, sticking out of a woman, at any rate.

I am rather quicker on the uptake than my Japanese teaching counterpart- an intellectual distinction which I suspect I may share with the vast majority of multicellular organisms- so it was a few moments before she realised the significance of the picture on the board, and by that time I had pretty much lost all pretence of self-control.

"Man-bu!" shouted the students. "Man-BOOOO!!!"

And, unfamiliar though I was with the term, thanks to the picture on the board I was able to determine that, on some bizarre level, it meant a pig's head sticking out of a woman.

And I was truly grateful for the knowledge.

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As the dust settles on the dohyo...

Leaving it almost a week before putting out my observations about the conclusion of the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament makes my coverage almost as worthless as that of the Japan Times.

I say "almost" because- unlike those hacks- I do actually care about the sport.

Sadly, the Asa comeback victory wasn't to be: Hakuho's defeat at the hands of Ama (go Ama!) made the final day a one-shot deal between the two Yokozuna (grand champions), winner takes all.

And that was that: angry Asa bested. For his part, Hakuho had a magnificent tournament, winning bout after bout in imperious fashion (plus a fetching bronze mawashi.)

Ama took yet another "fighting spirit" award for downing Hakuho. In the interview afterwards he played down his chances of making the Ozeki rank, and not without good cause: although he goes after the Yokozuna like a tabloid hack, he tends to drop points against lower-ranked opposition.

Overall, though, the tournament was a winner: an intriguing rivalry is developing between the two Yokozuna and both are a great deal more fun to watch than the lumbering salad-dodgers of yesteryear.

For example check out this footage of Akebono vs Musashimaru:

See what I mean? It's like watching Michael Moore making love to Jabba the Hutt. Bearing in mind that these two were also Yokozuna, it's easy to see why interest in the sport declined. (Factoid: Akebono and Musashimaru had a combined weight of over 1000 lbs.)

I'm also aware that cynics amongst you may suspect that Sumo's declining popularity has less to do with falling technical standards than the fact that the Yokozuna are gaijin. However, seats at the New Year tournament were at a premium this time.

I can't wait for March.


Bonus: Ama takes down Hakuho, accompanied by hideous soundtrack.



The tomfoolerous history of rugby's six nations championship

Having instituted the Home International Championships in 1882 (the organisers) singularly failed to implement any formal points system with the result that for a number of years there were angry disputes over who had actually won it. Perhaps in an attempt to limit the arguing, the predecessors of the men later characterised by England's grand slam captain Will Carling as "57 old farts" banned England from the competition in 1888 and 1889 and Wales in 1897 and 1898.

With the points system finally sorted out France were invited to join a competition that for two years had no name whatsoever. In 1910 it was the new boys who coined the term The Five Nations Championships. It did not remain five for long, however, as France were subsequently kicked into touch following allegations that their players had been concealing daggers down their socks. Shortly before their expulsion the always-innovative French had become the first rugby team to wear numbered shirts, at Murrayfield in 1929. Unfortunately this was little use to spectators, as the Scots didn't bother to print them in the match programme.

After France departed, England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales went on competing. In those days honour alone was the prize because - for reasons best known to the organisers - the Five Nations didn't present a trophy to the champions until 1993. It had one trophy, of course, the Calcutta Cup but that was only for winners of the game between England and Scotland. Since the game went professional, however, trophies have proliferated. Ireland, for example, could pick up no fewer than three pieces of silverware this year should they beat Scotland (to lift the Centenary Quaich) and England (the Millennium Trophy) to win the title (the Championship Trophy). Italy and France, meanwhile, compete for the Giuseppe Garibaldi Trophy. There are no prizes for beating Wales.

The heroism, the glory ... the cock-up
The Guardian, Friday February 1, 2008


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