Thursday, August 28, 2008


Taking the "tat" out of tattoos

The textbook made mention of tattoos- I decided a digression was in order and sketched down a few of the tattoos I've see on friends and acquaintances over the last few years. I then asked the students whether they thought these were a Hit or a Miss.

The students probably thought that this was an exercise in expressing one's opinion. In fact, as far as I am concerned, there are definite right and wrong answers for each. Let's have a look, shall we?

Sono 1

"shinobi" meaning "endurance"
also appears in the word "ninja"

"Hit!" said my two students.

"Good God, no." I said. "He might as well have tryhard tattooed on himself. The only excuse he has is that he was sixteen when he had it done."

Sono 2


"Miss!" said the students. "He must not have known what it meant."

"Actually, it represents the year of his birth." I said. "And it's a hit."

"You like to keep balance," said one of the students, pointing at the scoresheet where I was recording the votes in the Hit and Miss columns.

Hmmmm. Harmony isn't exactly my watchword.

Sono 3

The Superman logo.  And I'm not even joking.

"Miss!" beamed my students.

"Damn your insolence!" I cried. "It's a hit!"


I then got snarled up in the ugly business of trying to explain the difference between Hits and Misses. It basically boils down to cheesiness.

The kanji tattoo, an ubiquitous cliche of our times, inherently runs a pretty high risk of being cheesy. "Shinobi" is a prime example. "Hitsuji" (sheep) actually has some individuality and relevance about it, so it doesn't rate so highly on the cheese-o-meter.

Getting the Superman logo tattooed on yourself is possibly the most cavalier usage of one's skin that I've ever been privileged to witness and, as such, transcends mere notions of cheesiness.


My brainwave for redeeming kanji tattoos from the realm of coffee shop-spirituality is this: to get a really obscure kanji with an absolutely terrible meaning, thus combining the aesthetic with a suitable touch of irony.

And here's the tattoo I'm going to get:

Most Japanese wouldn't recognise this.

It means "leprosy."

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Monday, August 25, 2008


Feline Liberation Front

I posted up an invite to my sayonara on Facebook, set my status to "Dan has let the cat out of the bag" and got on with my morning.



what cat?




what cat did u let out of the bag?


the feisty one

it was upsetting the others

some would question the wisdom of keeping several cats in a bag in the first instance

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The fall of a sparrow

As I am going out to play football, I consider the full shower a bit redundant. I am, however, aware that I have developed a fair pong over the course of the previous evening. Time being of the essence, I content myself with a quick trucker's wash in my bathroom sink.

Choices: Gillette shower gel or lucky four-leafed clover soap. I feel like I could use a bit of luck, so I go for the soap (it has a big, fake, four-leafed clover inside.)

I work up a good lather under the arms; the lucky soap squirts out of my grasp and falls, as luck would have it, directly into my lavatory.

I peer into the bowl, then, reluctantly, pull the "flush" lever.


Even for a bad omen, I thought this was particularly inauspicious.


Sunday, August 24, 2008


The suicide king

I was explaining the term "one-eyed jack" to a student yesterday, and I did a quick web search for some suitable images. In the course of this, I came across the term "the suicide king", which was new to me. I wikied it and got the following:

The king of hearts is sometimes referred to as the "suicide king" due to the fact that he appears to be sticking his sword into his head.

Why did I never hear this before?

Is there anything else you lot aren't telling me?

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Voice in the dark

DAN and the VMM walking through darkest Neyagawa in search of "Octopus park" (thus named after the garish monstrosity which dominates the play area.) These are strange and scary parts, walking down by the river in the inky murk, the air heavy with the threat of rain above.

DAN: Hey, can you hear someone singing?

VMM: Yeah, I think so.

DAN (into the darkness): SHUT UP!!!


The barbecue was a dud, despite being held under the bridge, out of the rain. Some odious tosspot from Toyama (strike one), now living in Kyoto (strikes two and three, plus loss of endorsements), was bending the VMM's ear with his flawless, boring English. When I tried to lend a hand, asking whether Toyama was a nice place, he humourlessly told us that it was, taking care to inform us that the tap water was safe to drink.

We gave him the slip at that point. If the best thing that can be mentioned about Toyama is the quality of its tap water, I think we can see why the guy didn't grow up to be a rivetting conversationalist.

Flawed though my Japanese is, at least I've got something to say. I entertained some horrified listeners with the following tale of the old days in Hirakata:

Dan in the toilet, doing his thing. Large mosquito buzzes past. Dan kills large mosquito. Mosquito really is quite large. Dan takes large, dead mosquito back into the teacher's room (neglecting to wash his hands in the process.) Dan shows large, dead mosquito to Adam. Adam puts large, dead mosquito in the loathsome manager's half-full can of cafe au lait. Satan sharpens his pitchfork and waits for the day the pair of us try to cross the road on a red.

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Angel Valodia Matos of Cuba kicks out at referee Chakir Chelbat of Sweden

The paper was full of gems today: a picture of a Japanese synchronised swimmer being loaded onto a stretcher after hyperventilating in the pool was a good start. The above is the winner, though: a Cuban fighter expressing his disapproval of the refereeing in the Taekwondo, via the medium of, well, Taekwondo!

I suppose we should consider ourselves fortunate that he wasn't competing in the archery; and to think that yesterday I was criticising the tennis players for their lack of Olympic spirit.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008


Four more years-- oh, never mind

A sleeping Giant woke up in time to roll over and squash Japan's hopes for a gold medal in baseball.

Lee Seung Yeop, a familiar face in his fifth season in Nippon Pro Baseball, blasted South Korea into the final with an eighth-inning two-run home run that completed a comeback for a 6-2 victory in Friday's semifinal at Wukesong Field.

The shot, which came off Chunichi closer Hitoki Iwase, broke a 2-2 tie and helped South Korea turn around an early 2-0 deficit.

The bloody Yomiuri


Nice that the Yomiuri was able to find a silver lining in the fact that it was a player from their franchise that did the dirty deed. Overall, a pretty good example of how not to write a newspaper article, I'd say, capped off with the superfluous "c" in front of "loser" for Iwase.

I was rooting for the Koreans in any case: they beat Japan twice during the World (sic) Baseball Classic and the Japanese still ended up winning the tournament overall. After Korea beat Japan in the qualifying group on Saturday, I had a nasty feeling that history was going to repeat itself. My pessimism intensified when Japan beat the US to the softball gold (this despite having lost to the States in the semi final- figure that qualifying system out.)

Another reason to cheer for the dog eaters was that the student I was watching the minute-by-minute on Yahoo with hails from those shores and had "entertainment visa" written all over her. I was meant to be teaching directions, for the record.


Friday, August 22, 2008


The right word in the right place

Bog-Irish Mick, barlord of Murphy's bog-standard Irish bar is not well. He keeps sneezing, then handling food and drink without washing his hands. After the third or fourth instance in the space of ten minutes, one of the less long-standing customers slaps a nasty official-looking piece of paper on the icky, sticky bar counter and speaks thusly:

"Public health and safety inspector. I'd like to see your hygiene license, please."

Mick already has a layer of cold sweat, courtesy of the chicken flu. His cold sweat redoubles, however, and he knows that the long-dreaded day has come at last. What he needs now is an excuse. A good excuse.

"Er, a rat ate it."

The look on the public official's face tells him that his excuse couldn't have been worse.


Disclaimer: the above didn't really happen. Murphy's is perfectly safe and it has a free pool table.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin

Although the above title refers to the resurgence of my beard, I reprimand myself for the writing: "chin chin" does, after all, mean "penis" in Japanese, making the raising of glasses a hilarious business to all those whom Mother Nature saw fit to deprive of a real sense of humour.

Ah, sexual innuendo: for those who trot out the trite "sarcasm is the lowest form of wit" in the absence of anything better to say, I submit the following:

Dan's official list of the lowest forms of wit

1. Racist "humour" (this includes "casual" racism, which is the same as racist humour, but used by better-educated people, so can't possibly be considered true racism, what?)

2. Sexual innuendo

3. Saying "sarcasm is the lowest form of wit."

4. Puns

5. Violence


I digress. The beard is back, lending me a certain outdoors-ish distinction. My Tuesday night workmates were astounded by the hairy-faced Hercules who strode through the door yesterday.

"Wow, Dan- did something happen?"

And, later:

"Seriously, did something happen?"

I told them my apartment had been burgled, milked the coos of horror and sympathy, then explained that the miscreants had taken my razor.

This wasn't the lowest form of wit, but you could have been forgiven for thinking it was at the time.


Monday, August 18, 2008


The marathon for girls

The absence of Noguchi Mizuki and the long odds against a British podium finish meant that I only tuned in for the last hour or so of the women's marathon. Having forgotten to don my white "no drugs" wristband before setting off for the Media Cafe, naturally the first thing I saw when I switched on was a hulking Romanian man-witch, who looked like she had more testosterone than the Welsh pack, commanding what looked like an, ahem, insurmountable lead.

As expected, the first Brit home was Mara Yamauchi. Paula Radcliffe, amongst tears and trauma, finally made it to the finishing line of the Olympic marathon: four years and ten minutes late, by my reckoning.

Thankfully, I was spared whatever the BBC made of this. I was, however, witness to Reiko Tosa (Japanese bronze medallist in last year's world champs) out-Radcliffeing Radcliffe, struggling horribly from 10k to 25k in obvious pain before dropping out.

It was quite the most harrowing thing I've seen in ages: the spent athlete, barely able even to stand, pushing her way between the road-side spectators to collapse into the arms of her support team, sobbing piteously and- which is worse- audibly. This was due to the diligence of the TV crew who circled the poor woman, feeding on her agony and beaming her distress to the world as- limp and wasted- she was loaded into the back of an ambulance, one wet towel draped over her face, another over her right foot.

How despicable some people can be, I thought, as I watched every last second.


Saturday, August 16, 2008


The bottom of the barrel

Wakaru -- komebitsu no soko o mieru toki no -- ano mudana kimochi

I know how bad it feels to see the bottom of one's rice bin.

Tasogare Seibei
(The Twilight Samurai, 2002)


Friday, August 15, 2008


Notes on the Olympics

1. Noguchi Mizuki has pulled out of the marathon for girls, leaving me with little inclination to get up early Sunday and watch the wretched business. Noguchi's run in Athens was definitely the highlight for me of the last Olympics, sugaring the pill of Britain's favourite, Paula Radcliffe, weeping in the gutter like a despondent tramp.
(Radcliffe is competing with an injury this time - Mara Yamauchi might be Britain's best hope for a medal.)

2. I'm riven by the baseball. I don't object to it being an Olympic sport especially, but I think the format could use some change: the only non-American, non-East Asian country represented at the games is Holland, and I don't exactly anticipate them giving Japan a hiding this evening.

3. My quadrennial argument with students about the relative demerits of synchronised swimming is no more polished than it was four years ago.
DAN: "Kimochi warui!"

4. I don't have a worst-case scenario for the men's 100m at the moment, although I'm sure one will evolve before tomorrow evening. I think I'd be happy for any one of the three main contenders (Tyson Gay, USA; Asafa Powell and Usain Bolt, both Jamaican) to win. My slight preference would be for Powell who has shown a Colin Jackson-like inability to perform in major championships before.

5. Haile Gebrselassie is running in the 10,000 again. Homeboy's well past his prime and I was half-expecting him to have a tilt at the marathon. For anyone who doesn't know the name, there's always youtube-- the man's a legend.

6. I'm wearing my white "No Drugs" (nee "Smirnoff") wristband again. Let's keep it clean, folks!



The whole bouquet

"A perfectly logical conclusion," said I. "Yes - your logic is faultless. Quite surprisingly so. Now, look here, clever, just hand me back that pencil of mine and be quick about it."

That made him sit up and put him into the frame of mind I required.

"You forgot it on the grass," he mumbled in a bewildered manner. "I didn't know if I'd see you again."

"Stole it and sold it!" I cried - even stamped my foot.

His reply was remarkable: first he shook his head denying the theft and then immediately nodded admitting the transaction.

There was gathered in him, I believe, the whole bouquet of human stupidity.

"Confound you," I said, "be more circumspect next time. Well, anyway, let's let bygones - Have a cigarette."

Vladimir Nabokov

(With thanks to Andy- DM)


Thursday, August 14, 2008



Every now and then, there is the unfortunate necessity of doing a lesson on Social Ills. This is a great deal less fun than teaching elderly women not to count cheese. However, recently I came up with the answer to all of Japan's problems.


There- I said it: Catholicism.

My student looked mystified as well.


What- you want me to explain? OK...


Big problem #1: Japanese people tend to commit suicide more than people from most other countries, whether it be samurai honourably disembowelling themselves, salarymen belly-flopping onto train lines or government ministers taking "the gentleman's way out" (making sure to leave behind a note implicating their wives.)

Catholic view of suicide: go straight to hell and burn, you worthless sinner. Burn from the balls up whilst Satan and his hellish minions take turns puncturing your eyeballs with their naughty parts.

It might even prove a more effective deterrent than JR billing the families for delayed trains.


Big problem #2:
declining birthrate.

Catholic view of contraception:
burn, burn in a pool of magma, whilst Beelzebub empties his bladder over your hapless forehead, you selfish hound.


My student now looked not only mystified, but also a little panicky. I may have my first convert.

Disclaimer: the author of this post is not a Catholic.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008


The glass house lies shattered irreparably

The sporting spat between Britain and Australia plumbed new and comical depths yesterday as the most senior Australian Olympic official accused British athletes of lacking personal hygiene.

After Rebecca Adlington's 400m freestyle gold set the tone for Britain in the pool here, John Coates, the head of the Australian Olympic Committee and an International Olympic Committee member since 2001, was asked for his thoughts. "It's not bad for a country that has no swimming pools and very little soap," he said.

Olympics: Australian official accuses British swimmers of bad hygiene
# Tuesday August 12 2008


Monday, August 11, 2008


Summer sonic

After the pyrotechnic delights of Saturday night (Yodogawa fireworks with accompanying thunderstorm) and a great deal less sleep than I generally favour, it was off to Summer Sonic for some music and mayhem with Tricky and Gamble.

Dan, Tricky and Gamble

We saw:

"Blood red shoes"

Brit-poppish two piece from Brighton. Started very brightly, but ran out of decent material before you could say "Menswear." Powerful sound, but not much good vocally.

"Band of horses"

Looked like they met in a rehabilitation centre for sex offenders, but played a good set. Best point was that their guy could actually sing, unlike the previous act.

Bad image, good tune

GAMBLE: I think you have to earn your facial hair in this band. I mean, look at the guy over there with nothing (points): he must be the newbie. Singer and keyboards are rocking beards, the guitarist has got... whatever he's got going on and even the bass player's got his little dirty 'stache. The drummer, too. So that guy must be the newbie.


High energy and good fun. Also blessed us with the quote of the weekend: "Thank you To-- er, Osaka!" (Summer Sonic runs simultaneously in both cities, like the Reading / Leeds festival.) Her backing band, incidentally, had adorable grey shirt / mint green bow tie combos which were great, except that the sweltering heat soon had everyone looking like they'd been doused in water. Best sweat patches were on the guitarist / nu-age keypad thingy player.

GAMBLE: Take it off!

"The Kills"

Similar to "Blood red shoes", except about a millionth as tolerable. We left quite quickly.

"Panic at the disco"

Were clean-cut and amiable. Although this is pretty much all I can say about them, it's still a lot more than could be said about the next act...

"The Verve"

Richard Ashcroft smashed up a guitar and stormed off the stage in a big huff about something at the end, but it was great entertainment. We also had the treat of a beautiful sunset, albeit somewhat marred by an uncharacteristically out-of-key rendition of "The drugs don't work."

Not a thundercloud in sight

Richard Ashcroft: hasn't aged a day.
Or matured a minute, for that matter.

"The Prodigy"

Was an awesome set, but didn't condescend to playing anything off The Prodigy Experience which disappointed me. Did play "Poison", but didn't play "No good" which disappointed Tricky.

This one's for Tricky!

They still kicked it though- and it was good to be able to dance at long last, instead of doing indie-ish head bobbing.


DAN: Gamble, what's with you today? Normally, every time you open your mouth it's a complete travesty, but today's been nothing but gold!

I don't normally say Encouraging Things to Gamble, but he was on good form.

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SHE: Why are you so negative?

ME : I'm not.


It was funny at the time.


Friday, August 08, 2008


Dan's dog-sitting service

New student, first lesson. We stumble up against the word "kidnap." My options: definition, example, stick-man art (always a favourite), mime, or translation. I opt for "example."

ME: Hmmm... you got a dog?

SHE: Yes.

ME: Well, if I were to break into your house, throw your dog in a bag and leave a note on the table saying "give me a hundred thousand yen or I'll throw your dog in the Yodogawa with a brick for company"... THAT would be a pretty good example of kidnap.

She looks strangely horrified and struggles to summon up the words "I see" in response to this brilliant and tasteful example. I decide to give her a push in the right direction.

ME: This dog of yours... big or small?

SHE: It is a small dog.

ME: Excellent. And where do you live?


Thursday, August 07, 2008


Hot in the city

The barbecue was a true success- I rocked up on the back of three hours of sleep, hit the sauce pretty hard and engaged in all manner of shenanigans. The following morning brought me plenty in the way of recollection but little in the way of guilt and, with a light work schedule (not to mention extensive bruising to my body), I went out for lunch and fun with the VMM.

Fellow goon confessed to having an outbox full of shame on his keitai, a relic of the previous night's tomfoolery. When I asked him how shameful it was, he said he couldn't tell me because he was too ashamed to check what he'd actually sent in his drunken folly. The reason he knew he had an outbox full of shame was the e-mail he had sitting in his inbox from Random Bird, saying "What- now?!"

After a hearty Mexican feast, we went around the game centres of Minami in search of an air hockey table to sweat some of the debauchery out.

What we found was Super Dodge Ball.

This was great fun. The Japanese title is Nekketsu Koukou Dodgeball-bu ("Hotblood High School Dodgeball club.") After besting the rival high school (VMM High), I went on to represent Japan against England.

Sadly, the prancing limeys wiped the floor with me and, with our date with an air hockey table still pending, we left the dodge ball at that. I would heartily recommend this game to anyone with an NES though.

(Here's a shot from a later level: Japan vs Iceland. Maybe next time.)

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All hail the maestro

Friar Barnadine: Thou hast committed--

Barabas: Fornication-- but that was in another country; And besides, the wench is dead.

-from The Jew of Malta, Christopher Marlowe


It was outside Vivre, back in the days when it was still called Vivre and not Satyr or whatever it is now (all that's changed is the name and the lack of an eikaiwa school.) We were having lunch on the bench, enjoying the pre-summer weather, and He was telling me about the old days, living in the north and a misadventure with the fairer sex.

", basically I did her in a dead guy's shorts."

And, then:

"I think most guys would have done the same, right?"

I carefully finished chewing my food and swallowed. Then I agreed that most guys probably would have.

It was probably the best ending to a story I've ever heard. But then, those were the best of times.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008


Nagoya basho! (overdue)

Couple of videos here from my trip to the Nagoya sumo basho.

#1: David vs Goliath
The kind of mismatch in size one often sees early in the day at the sumo.

#2: Takamisakari..!
..gets his head kicked in.


The Nagoya basho was pretty much finished as a contest by the end of week one: Hakuho had a perfect record, Asashoryu had gone home with an elbow injury and nobody else looked consistent enough to make a challenge.

Ama, having made it to 5-0, limped to a double-figures victory tally over the course of the second week. Kotomitsuki was popular with the local fans and did pretty well but never got really close to winning, Hakuho finishing unblemished on 15-0.


-I hate Koto-oshu; he always makes his opponents wait an eternity at the start of the bout and his wrestling is about as interesting as watching yoghurt ferment.

-Was Asa saving himself for the Mongolia tour?

-Ama should have got more than ten wins after his flying start. If he wants to be an ozeki he needs to kick more arse.

-The Osaka basho knocks spots off Nagoya in terms of customer service. Nagoya's still a cool town though.


Monday, August 04, 2008


Three seshes on the bounce and still standing

"Friend of the devil" by the Grateful Dead

I lit out from Reno,
I was trailed by twenty hounds
Didn't get to sleep that night
'Till the morning came around.

Set out runnin' but I take my time
A friend of the devil is a friend of mine
If I get home before daylight,
I just might get some sleep tonight.

Ran into the devil, babe,
He loaned me twenty bills
I spent the night in Utah
In a cave up in the hills.

Set out runnin' but I take my time,
A friend of the devil is a friend of mine,
If I get home before daylight,
I just might get some sleep tonight.

I ran down to the levee
But the devil caught me there
He took my twenty dollar bill
And vanished in the air.

Set out runnin' but I take my time
A friend of the devil is a friend of mine
If I get home before daylight,
I just might get some sleep tonight.

Got two reasons why I cry
Away each lonely night,
The first one's named Sweet Anne Marie,
And she's my hearts delight.
The second one is prison, baby,
The sheriff's on my trail,
And if he catches up with me,
I'll spend my life in jail.

Got a wife in Chino, babe,
And one in Cherokee
The first one says she's got my child,
But it don't look like me.
Set out runnin' but I take my time,
A friend of the devil is a friend of mine,
If I get home before daylight,
I just might get some sleep tonight.


Friday, August 01, 2008


A question for those in California

Otherwise, for anyone else who has travelled through LA International airport at some point: do the guards really have the words LAX SECURITY on their ID tags?

Because if so, I think it's the best thing ever.


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