Sunday, July 31, 2005

The downs and downs of waiting in an ATM queue

For those of you living in Japan, the above photo will surely be a familiar sight - a gaggle of old ladies in an ATM queue. Looks harmless enough doesn't it? Well, think again. This is panic stations. Here's why.

Japan is wonderful in many ways, but the ATM system is a bit daft. Perhaps the daftest is the fact that the ATMs all close at 9pm, and 5pm on the weekend. It's very easy to forget this, and you can be without cash for a day because of it. A further problem is that this, coupled with the innate predictability of the Japanese means that everyone seems to go to the ATMs at the same time.

In England, you have a card, you put it in the machine , you press some buttons, you take your money, and receipt if you want one. Finished. Easy. In Japan, there are umpteen options, for taking out money, putting money in, checking balances, printing balances, setting up standing orders, printing paying cards, the list goes on. There are also the bank books, which can be inserted into a slot and on which the transactions are printed for further reference. The trouble is, with all these options and having to find and insert both a card and a book, using an ATM in Japan takes longer than it should. And when you have a line of old ladies in front of you, as in the above photo, you might as well put the kettle on.

As I already mentioned in an earlier post, Japanese old ladies can be very difficult and awkward. They are not good in queues. They fidget, they push, they grumble, they cut in. And they also have numerous accounts with numerous cards and books, which means that instead of a 3 minute visit, they are often at the machine for a good 15-20.

The photo above was taken at about 2.30pm on Friday. I was in something of a rush, as I had an appointment with someone at 3pm. I needed some cash, which I would have got the night before, but as I said, the ATMs religiously close at 9pm and don't open again until 8am. Inwardly sighing at the sight of the old ladies, I patiently stood there and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

The first lady was fast, but the second, with her daughter in tow, had 5 different accounts and 5 books. With a bit of efficiency she could have finished in less than 10 minutes. But she was of the grumbling-pointing type, and seemed intent on examining each book suspiciously after every print out.

The remaining old ladies were only marginally better, and it was well after 3pm when I eventually got to the front of the queue. Of course there were more old ladies behind me, and there was grumbling, prodding and teeth-sucking.

There were audible gasps and mutterings when I didn't use a bank book, and even more when I was finished in about 30 seconds. Turning up for my appointment late, I had only to mention the words ATM and old ladies, and my Japanese friend nodded knowingly...

Just another thing I love about Japan

Meg 250 banana au lait.

Meg 250 banana au lait!

Meg 250 banana au lait!!

Meg 250 banana au lait!!!

Meg 250 banana au lait!!!!

Meg 250 banana au lait!!!!!

Meg 250 banana au lait!!!!!!

Meg 250 banana au lait!!!!!!!

Meg 250 banana au lait!!!!!!!!

Alternative Heroes - Patrick Moore

Patrick Moore... far more popular than both Michael Winner and Russell Grant put together, there isn't really anything that alternative about Moore, other than the fact that he wears a monocle and is host of the longest running show on TV.

Patrick Moore was there for me when I couldn't drop off to sleep during highschool, all the way through University and beyond. The Sky at Night is certainly the only program left on TV that remains basically unchanged from it's 50s origins. It's calming, intellectual and has Mr Moore talking about the stars... what more could you want?

On the morning of my graduation from University, I saw Patrick Moore in a restaurant in Bolton. He was well over 6 feet and had ridiculously large feet. I considered going up to say hello, but he seemed to be enjoying his breakfast mightily, so I let the moment remain. On the long drive home I suddenly remembered that he was The Gamesmaster, from the 90s video game TV show of the same name and one of my ultimate heroes, and wished that I had said something.

For being the biggest old man I have ever seen, for proudly wearing a monocle, for doing that xylophone comedy sketch, and for Ronnie Barker's inspired impersonation of you, and most importantly for being there for all of us video gamers in the years before the internet, Patrick Moore you are an alternative hero.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Bowling frustration

Due to a summer promotion, I went to the bowling alley early yesterday and had a cheap 10 games ahead of the usual 4 with the guys tonight. It went well, I was making spares, had some decent strikes, and got a 214 in one of the games. However, later on when the alley was full and I was playing with a group, it was hopeless. Shots were missed, spares were haphazard and I was only in the pocket a few times.

It seems that I am not a social bowler. If it's me and my ball and the lane, there's no problems. It just doesn't work in a group of 6. Is it because of the lanes? Is it concentration? Yeah, but it's also the waiting time. 5 minutes between shots negates any kind of rhythm and flow. I love being with my friends socially, but when combined with bowling it's just not enjoyable any more.

Thus, I've resolved to stay off social bowling for the foreseeable future. Why spend money and time on something that isn't fun?

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Stream of consciousness story whilst waiting for the baseball to come on TV

The teenager calmly looked into the ever-widening eyes of the old man, twisting the blade slightly. Bloodshot, flittering, wet at the corners. He was mouthing words through an open mouth, but the teenager wasn't listening. He thought about his own mortality for a moment, and then set to work. He removed the blade slowly and began to slice slivers of flesh from the left hand, from the wrist to the fingers. Strangely there was no blood. The old man never made a sound, although his eyes were screaming. The winding flesh peelings kept dropping to the floor, and the teenager thought absently about the last time he was at a hairdresser. The slivers became gradually bigger until the teenager was soon carving off small fillets of forearm. The old man could only watch. The bones of his fingers were exposed, peeking through the sinews and muscle like stew-bones. The tendons in the wrist were unconsciously twitching. Strangely there was no blood. When all the flesh was off, the teenager stood up and walked away, admiring his disfigured arm, leaving the old man to to his thoughts.

Ulysses 31

In the next 900 years or so, many things are going to happen. Wars, discoveries, deaths, advancements, untold things. How comforting it is to know that when the 31st Century rolls around we will be looking like Science teachers, wielding umbrella shields and saying "My son, have courage!".

Natalie Imbruglia's mouth - a celebration

There are some things in this world that are just perfect. The Brazilian football team of 1970. Grandma's sandwiches. Paul McCartney's bassline in Dear Prudence. And Natalie Imbruglia's mouth.

It is perfection. But why?

Aside from conjuring up all manner of scandalous thoughts, her mouth is geometrically perfect for her face. Were her mouth a fraction smaller or bigger, it would look out of place.

I can't really describe the next thing... just have a look at the photo above and notice her mouth at the sides of her bottom lip... you see the way her mouth pouts? Also perfect.

My late teenage years were spent dreaming of the day I would kiss and be kissed by that mouth, and although it's not likely to ever happen I still sometimes absently imagine what it would be like.

Something inside me will always have a soft spot for the perfection that is Natalie Imbruglia's mouth.

Baseball final

Today is an important day for my high school, as they are in the final of the Fukuoka prefecture tournament. If they win today, as they are expected to do, they will go to the national championships which start in August. Whilst most of the teachers and students are going to the game, myself and a handful of others will be watching the game on TV. I must admit that, despite the fact that baseball isn't at the top of my sports list, I feel immense pride when I see my students hitting home runs and striking out batters on national TV. Every day we hear them practicing outside our window, and they really are the quill. They haven't had a run scored against them yet, and it's the general consensus that the 2005 team is the best for some time.

Yanagawa Koko ganbatte kudasai!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The past is gone

Cycling through the morning sun, the smell of grass and distant traffic made me think that I was 16 and back at high school. Then it struck me like a fist that those times are gone. Nine years have spread my old friends to the corners of the earth, and there is every chance that I won't see many of them again.

In many ways I am more 16 now than I ever was...

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Political Correctness and the slow death of civilisation.

With not so much to do at work due to the Summer Vacation, I have been scouring the internet for sustenance and have spent the last day or two here, at what is proving to be one of the most interesting sites I have ever come across.

I'm fairly accustomed with PC, having witnessed it flourishing during my high school days in the 90s. I was lightly reprimanded for referring to a 90 year old woman in a text book as "old" and in Georgraphy we were taught from day one to call countries "developed and developing" as opposed to "rich and poor".

I appreciate that in the case of the above examples, the teachers in question have a job to do and have to toe the line. What I really hate though is the way that decent, dedicated and talented teachers have been gradually pensioned off to make way for the younger lefties.

During my first year of high school in 1991/92, there was a woodwork teacher (or "construction" as the PC mob called it) who was lovingly thought of as a bit daft, but heaps of fun. I distinctly remember him commenting in his leaving assembly that he wasn't that well educated, but that we should blame Hitler because he bombed his school, to which people fell off their chairs for different reasons. He was always making little jokes like this, and we loved it. After he left, there was still some humour to be found, but not much.

Another teacher was a tall bearded guy who wore red boots and often gave his maths classes with his feet up on the table. He had a habit of calling students by the nicknames he had assigned them in their first few classes (Clever Trevor, Princess Nicky, Katie Kazoo and my personal favourite, Jessicated Coconut were some of the more memorable ones). He was a big kid, and had the earring and comedic voicings to prove it. Yet, he was strict when he had to be, and would often push unruly students up against filing cabinets and shout at them for what seemed like hours on end.

He was apparently suspended later, for undisclosed reasons, although it seems that again it was a case of the old guard being replaced by yes-men (or positive-reinforcement operatives...).

A similar thing occured when I was at University. Used to the pale, sterile associations of Political Correctness, I was understandably refreshed to find that I was in classes of opinionated, free-thinking students under the tutelage of lecturers that (on the whole) had fiendish senses of humour and called a spade a spade. Most of the male lecturers were having affairs with students. Some of the female lecturers were too. I didn't care. I worked hard and got the results I wanted.

However, the spectre of PC reared its ugly head back at the end of my first semester. One of my Literature lecturers, and man in his early 60s, was encouraged into early retirement, despite the fact that he was arguably the most popular and effective teacher in the faculty. He was very fatherly, and would set aside counselling time for each and every student. Due to an unforeseen sports injury, I was having trouble meeting a Shakespeare deadline, but when I talked to him about it he told me everything was ok and gave me an extra few weeks to finish it off. His last hurrah was to teach us Oedipus Rex, which he did with such poise and humour that it remains one of my fondest memories from University.

It's a great shame that people like this lecturer, the maths teacher and the woodwork teacher have been squeezed out. Replacing teachers like these with younger, less strict replacements has proven disastrous over the last 20 or so years. British schools now are faced with critical discipline problems, and teachers are leaving in droves. Who can blame them? They are expected to teach unruly, disruptive students who are untouchable - physically and verbally.

Perhaps my biggest gripe with PC it's anaemic, leftwing earwigs with no experience in what they are talking about that get to decide how the rest of us should live. Why should a DINKY (double income, no kids yet) decide that parents can't occasionally smack a disobedient child to keep them in line? Why should people who have never been out in the real world working be in charge of teaching our children?

In the early 1970s, the liberals wanted school rooms to be open-plan, with random seating and no rules to encourage creativity and freedom of expression. What they got, and what we all got and are seemingly stuck with for good, is disobedience, dumbed down exams and no teacher-control.

I sometimes question the behaviour of my Japanese colleagues, who will reflexively strike unruly students with canes and books, or shout and make them sit in a very uncomfortable formal fashion for a long time. However, it seems to work. The students in my school respect the teachers, and the teachers respect the students. Most students know that if they misbehave, they will be punished. And they also know - and this is crucial - that their parents will be on the side of the teachers. Of course, there will always be a chance that some students will be punished unfairly, but on the whole this system seems ideal compared to the farce that passes for education in Britain. Of course, it's not perfect here, but in terms of discipline, respect and motivation, it works.

I wonder if all those liberal students from the 70s and 80s realise just what they've done. Spoilt and rebelling from their parents set of rules, they systematically dismantled the education system, and removed those most important of virtues: hard-work, repect and common sense.

So to all of the PC mob, the champagne socialists, the liberal educators and the thought police, here's a joke for you:

A Priest walks into a whore house and ask for a girl. The owner whistles and a rough looking hooker appears, and stands next to the Priest.
"Can I have a bottle of beer?" he asked the owner, who nodded and gave one to him.
The hooker meanwhile smiled and turned away from the Priest, bent over and hitched up her skirt.
"Hey, how did you know I wanted that position?" the Priest said, mystified.
"I didn't," replied the hooker, "I just thought you might want to open your beer..."

Ok, let me guess... you didn't think that was suitable.... well how about this one:

A person walks into a room, though not in a way that would offend the physically impaired... the end.



Following a heavy bout of stomach cramps and nausea last night, I realised that out of a possible 50 meals in the last few weeks, I had eaten curry, spicy curry, very spicy curry or variations thereof for around 16 of them... thus I have decided to abstain from the hot stuff for a while...

Monday, July 25, 2005

Alternative Heroes - Michael Winner

Michael Winner... loathed nationwide (and loved in small measure) for his pompous demeanour and scoffing. He always looks like an old jewish dog that's just eaten a particularly succulent steak, as the photo to the left confirms. However, there is more to Winner than at first appears.

The son of an eccentric Jewish mother that blew the family fortune on games of chance, Winner studied at Cambridge and became something of a celebrity with his writings. A self -confessed playboy, Winner boasts of hundreds of conquests with beautiful women, and can number some of Hollywood's royalty as his closest friends. His Sunday Times column, Winner's Dinners, is refreshingly acerbic and has resulted in Winner being blacklisted from not a few elite London restaurants. He doesn't care if people loathe him. His view is that he has the money and the confidence to do whatever he wants, so toss off.

He had a murder mystery show in the mid 90s (I can't recall the name) in which he recreated grisly murders from the past and attempted to draw some conclusions. This show was notorious for the episode in which a screaming, virginal parlour maid was seen to have her throat cut open by a vagabond with a foot-long bread knife when many families were no doubt tucking into their tea. Points of View were inundated with complaints and the show soon disappeared. Perhaps due to this, the not unpleasant image of Winner striding around the studio and smugly narrating tales of murder to the camera will remain in my mind's eye always. For that, Michael Winner, you join Russell Grant as an Alternative Hero.

Alternative Heroes - Russell Grant

Russell Grant... how can you not love this guy? He's as broad as he is long, and makes Herr Lipp seem like Dirty Harry. I'm not sure how tall Russell is, but he can't be much more than 5ft.. people he interviews always tower over him, sometimes the kids. Especially the kids.

Russell is as camp as you like and gives interviews like this... his TV show, Russell Grant's Postcards, was solid fare for insomniacs, night shift workers and students alike. Who can forget the episode in Blackpool when he bought a veritable shoe box of a fish supper on the pier and started bleating "Ooh me chips! Not me chips!", desperately trying to hold them out of the reach of some inebriated scally-tarts who were trying to get their 15 minutes of fame by filching the man's dinner?

Perhaps he deserved it though, as just before this scene there was a truly unforgivable music sequence, in which a very casio-keyboard-style dance beat accompanied the deadpan chant of "In the house... Russell's in the house..."

Nevertheless, for your dedication to your cause and for being wider than you are tall, Russell Grant, you are honoured to be the first of my Alternative Heroes. Take a bow little big guy.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Island review

Having obtained two free cinema tickets from Bowling Ben, I took my fiancee to an ickle cinema in Kurume last night to see The Island. Below is a "hidden" review of the film, obscured from view because there are spoilers that some readers might not want to see. If you want to see it, use the mouse to highlight the area below...

The Island is a good 2 hours of entertainment. Lincoln Six-Echo (Ewan McGregor) is a resident of a seemingly utopian but contained facility in the mid-21st century. Like all of the inhabitants of this carefully controlled environment, Lincoln hopes to be chosen to go to the "The Island," reportedly the last uncontaminated spot on the planet. But Lincoln soon discovers that everything about his existence is a lie. He and all of the other inhabitants of the facility are actually human clones whose only purpose is to provide "spare parts" for their original human counterparts. Realizing it is only a matter of time before he is "harvested," Lincoln makes a daring escape with a fellow resident named Jordan Two-Delta (Scarlett Johansson). Pursued by the forces of the institute that once housed them, Lincoln and Jordan engage in a race for their lives to literally meet their makers.

Good things:
- thrust of the story (we are clones but we have feelings and want to live) works ok.
- interesting and restrained imaginings of what the future will be like (table top computer displays, hover shuttles running alongside cars, not replacing them.
- Scarlett Johansson's mouth.
- Steve Buscemi.
- Ex-neighbours stalwart Madge Bishop as an extra in the facility (I think...)

Bad things:
- very Hollywood, with the predictable car chase, girl dangling from the precipice hanging onto the hero's arm, bridge on which the hero and baddy are fighting collapsing amidst fire and destruction.
- blatant and yawnworthy product placement.
- lots of excitement but scenes don't flow smoothly... seems a bit of a mess.

In other news, the deafening sound of cicadas in kyushu signals the end of the rainy season, or to be more accurate, the rainy long weekend, as I can only recall about three days of heavy rain this year. Instead of being hot and sticky and wet, we can now look forward to a month and a bit of just being hot and sticky, with a shower required everytime you return from outside.

Today is the final day of the Sumo Basho in Nagoya, and it's by far the most interesting one for the past few years. This is due to the emergence of unknown Bulgarian quantity, Koto-oshu, who has surprised everyone by going into the final day as co-leader with Yokozuna Asashoryu, tied at 12-2.
Koto-oshu stands at over 2m tall, and whilst not as girthful as his fellow wrestlers, he is thick set and has speed and maturity beyond his size and position in the hierarchy. This is the first time in ages that Asashoryu hasn't wrapped up the tournament before the final day, and if both men win today, there will be a play-off bout to conclude the tournament.
The smart money is on the Yokozuna, who is still, not literally, head and shoulders above the Bulgarian.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

New high score!

Determined to expel the disappointment of last week's farce at the bowling alley, I decided to go when they opened at 10am... it was quiet, and only a few hardcore rollers were about.

Ben was engaged elsewhere, so it was just me, two balls and 2400 pins... started ok, got a bit better, dipped a bit, and then...

My best ever score, by one pin! A few games prior to this I had a shaky 202, but this was what I was waiting for...

My hand is shot, my bike is on it's last legs and my hands won't stop shaking with the exertion, but for now I am happy...


Instant ramen so spicy that it teases the enamel of your teeth...
A beer so cold that it makes you look like Peter Cushing when you sup it...
A particularly choice episode of Roseanne...
The sound of a hot bath running...

I am, in the nicest possible way, a pig in fucking shit...

Friday, July 22, 2005

Random student quotes from my time as a conversation teacher...

During my year and a bit of being a conversation teacher here in Japan, I heard many humorous student quotes... and with nothing whatsoever to do for the last hour of the day, I'm going to transpose them to this blog. To set the scene, most of the quotes were heard in a dying city in the backwater of Fukuoka-prefecture, a place of physical impairments, chemically-tinged air and deafening cicadas. The last 11 were in my adopted home town, where I taught for the remaining five months of my contract.

"I see a fireball then light of a torch, then I finding a bag of fingers in the forest."
(reponse to "Have you ever seen a ghost?")

"I take a bath with Ayumi Hamasaki and she is rubbing a hot lemon into my balls."
(response to "What's the best dream you've ever had?")

"I want my grandmother dead. She's a drain on the family allowance."
(response to "Tell me about your family.")

"There are a lot of hotel girls for blow-jobs and serious conversation."

(response to "Have you ever visited Kurume?")

"You die with orange fingers."
(response to "Why is smoking cigarettes bad?")

"A newborn baby. I'd raise him in our way and send back to earth to take over."
(response to "If you were an alien visiting earth and you could take a human back home with you, who would you take?")

"We would be pets.. no, we would be food, because the animals want revenge."
(reponse to "What would happen if animals ruled the world?")

"Green apples."
(reponse to "What are you scared of?")
"Greeeeeen aaaaaaplessss."
(reponse to "Can you expand on that?")

"When living with a wife, white lies and flattery are so necessary."
(response to "Have you ever used flattery?")

"Sumos slap sakura trees. The first to have a naked tree is the winner."
(response to "If there was a Spring olympics in Japan, what new sport would you invent?")

"Oh shit! I falling from another house window!"
(response to "Can you think of a caption to this cartoon?")

"I made another girl come all night."
(response to "Please rephrase this sentence - my friend accompanied me on my date.")

"I like meek people , because I can control them better."
(response to "Do you prefer meek or assertive?")

"Poor people shouldn't have money becasuse they don't know how to spend it."
(response to "What do you think about money?")

"Your erection is so important to me."
(response to "You don't care about my apartment! That's why you had it demolished to provide sun for your garden!")

"Young girls - they're my favourite."
(response to "If you were an alien and you had to take 5 humans back to your planet, who would you take?")

"My wife."
(unintentional response to "What are you going to do at the weekend?")

"A young nurse... yeah."
(response to "Imagine you are sick. What do you need?")

"It was wrong of me to drop a carrot in the toilet."
(response to "ABC plumbing, how can I help you?")

"Sure, giving head."
(response to "Repeat after me - sure go ahead.")

"Foreign cock."
(response to "Which origami do you like making?")

"It's like homework from God."
(response to "Do you like studying Japanese history in your free time?")

"Mountain sun-fall."
(response to "What does this picture make you think of?")

"Teacher, be a robot so I can control you and chase my friend around the room."
(4 year old's Japanese response to "Let's play a game!")

"Don't play with fire lest you piddle in your bed."
(response to "Please invent a superstition.")

Mid-day trip

The teacher that sits next to me (overchews his food, listens to god-awful 80s dregs music) started to unpack his knapsack lunch, so I made a quick getaway and went to the convenience store down the road. On the way I met 3 of my students, and it was amazing how much better they were at English being out of the confines of the classroom. In the conbini (called Everyone, with a pacman style logo), I gave a quick glance to the magazine rack, and noticed with some amusement that there was a magazine called Men's Knuckle (fearing the obvious, I didn't look at it closely). I then bumped into another student, and although he spoke entirely in Japanese, he shook my hand and asked after my health. Once again, completely different from the classroom.

On the short walk back to school, I passed an archetypal Japanese family (that is: mum, young kid and grandma), and when I was still some paces from them, the grandma stared, pointed and shouted "Gaijin da!". Now I'm really past caring about such things, as it happens almost every day. But I should point out that the word gaijin is a shortening of the word gaikokujin, meaning foreigner. The shortened term has negative connotations and referring to a westerner as such is akin to staring open mouthed at a Japanese person, pointing and shouting "Jappo!" Granny is old enough to know better. The real shame is that the young kid will probably grow up using it as a part of her everyday vocabulary.

Anyway, I get back to the office, and Mr Easy Listening has hardly touched his lunch. This is because, you've guessed it, he's chewing every fucking piece to death. I discreetly watched him, and he chewed the same small mouthful of rice 244 times...

244 times!

Between him and Mr Shoehorn, I'm about ready to go home and buy a dog, just so I can kick it...


Yesterday was a good day... only two other teachers were here, and only an odd student here and there. Today however, the boorish, bullying sports teacher that sits across from me is back, and already the day has turned to shit. Aside from loving the sound of his own voice, he routinely shouts at the students and hits them with his elongated shoe horn. True, they may deserve this, but today he caned one boy, and cited as his reason "You got a low score in Mr Kenyon's exams."

If you want to cane children, arsehole, do it without bringing me into it.

I really don't like this job. Most of the students are apathetic and the teaching of English is way down the list of priorities. Not being fluent in Japanese, I am always left out of conversations and feel completely alone, as if I am an alien that has somehow lost his way and ended up surrounded by strange beings in a place he doesn't recognise.

Things are starting to annoy me here:

* The incessant shuffling of feet, which sounds lazy however you want to justify it.
* The slurping of drinks, hot or cold, and the overchewing of food.
* The way everyone simpers and swots when they are on the phone.
* The ingrained notion that looking as if you are doing something is better than actually doing it (the look on my boss' face when he asks me to send an email to an exchange school, and i do it within a minute, is priceless...).
* The fact that in some of my classes, the students are busily doing homework for Japanese class, and the fact that the other teachers consider this normal practice.
* The fact that I was encouraged to lower the grades of a student who did very well in my tests, because they don't usually study hard (the fact that the exams were geared more towards spoken conversation and not dictating from a 20 year old book didn't make a difference).
* The fact that I feel guilty for leaving at a respectable hour.
* The morning meeting is dull and on the whole unnecessary. The same things are said every morning, and the occasional new things could be easily sent over email.
* TOEFL classes have 40 students in them, which is far too many for effective learning. The fewest number of students I have is 20, which is still too many, considering I am supposed to be teaching everyday conversation.

That said, there are some perks:

* Some of the students are wonderful, creative and attentive.
* The President and Principal are really into English and are incredibly supportive and helpful.
* I have quite a bit of free time during the day.
* If I take a sick day, there is no deduction in my pay.
* The school canteen is excellent and very cheap.
* There are lots of breaks in the routine (exams, exam practice, field trips, study sessions etc).
* It's a prestigious high school and excells at a number of sports (consistently the best in Japan at baseball, tennis and golf).
* I am given a free reign to teach what I like (which can be a poisoned chalice...).
* It will look really good on a CV should I leave.

Big squeeze

In a discussion with some friends, the following question arose: "if you had to sleep with a famous fat person who would it be?"

I knew the answer already - Roseanne. There's something very sexy about sarcasm...

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Carrot perfume!

I've noticed this in England and Japan, over the last 4 or 5 years... there is a perfume or deodorant or something that women wear that smells exactly like carrots... perhaps it doesn't when they put it on, but the lingering after-smell is definitely more Farmer Giles than Coco Chanel...

A stream of consciousness story...

Feeding the baby one mealtime, father noticed that he was making hand gestures. Open hand. Closed fist. Two fingers. Open hand. Closed fist. Two fingers. Intrigued, father watched some more and called to mother, who was in the kitchen.

"Mother! Come and look at this.. it's the baby, he's making gestures with his hands."

Mother came in and folded the tea towel, putting it on the table. Looking at her, the baby made the gestures again.

"Aww, look.. he wants to play rock paper scissors with you, father."

"Don't be daft, he's 6 months old. He can't even talk yet."

The baby looked at father, then mother, then made the gestures again.

"Coincidence," father mumbled.

"Go on, play with him," mother said, sitting down next to the baby.

"Come on then," father sighed and moved closer to the high chair.

Unconsciously assuming a dumb face, he counted very slowly and deliberately, waving his hand.

"One... two...THREE!"

He looked down and blinked. The baby's paper beat his rock. He stared at the infant, who looked nonplussed.

"Ok, one more... one, two, THREE!"

Again, paper beat rock.

They played again. This time father chose scissors, but the baby chose rock.

Father - paper, baby - scissors.

Father - rock, baby - paper.

Father - scissors, baby - rock.

And so it continued. They played for half an hour, and the baby won every single hand without drawing once.

Mother, her washing up forgotten, was staring at her child and her husband alternately. Had she been educated, she would have known that the odds of such a thing would be very long indeed - nigh on impossible. Father had gone through amusement, shock, anger and back to shock and had retired to the back room to fetch his whiskey. Mother took her baby in her arms and mollycoddled him a little.

"Whoooo's a clever little boy, eeeeh? How did you doooo it?" she said in her silliest mother voice, more to herself than the baby. "Eeeeh? How did you dooo it?"

Baby wanted to tell her that father, as a rather lazy, unsophisticated and often aggressive man, relied unconsciously on rock, due the primitive and masculine connotations it holds. From this, he could calculate a simple formula, knowing that the subtle, peaceful paper would only be used arbitrarily and not as a tactical weapon, and that the practical, controlled aggression of scissors, often employed when winning, wouldn't be prominent in his father's very basic tactics. But seeing as he couldn't talk, all this came out as a drooly "ahhhh", and was lost forever to posterity on the shoulder of his mother's shirt.

It begins...

Today is the first day of my high school's summer vacation, and whilst the students are away, we teachers are required to come in and twiddle our thumbs for 3 and a bit weeks. I've been told that we will be working half days, but no doubt my colleagues will stay until at least 5pm anyway. Whilst many of them obviously subscribe to the, how shall I put it... fucking lunatic notion that to go home whilst it is light is unmanly, others surely stay on late because if they went home they would have to spend time with their families.

You can expect plenty of random posts during August, and if today is anything to go by, a fair amount of wrath.

An insight into us...

We are vulnerable because we were born, being forced from the safe, warm, idyllic womb into the stark unknown.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

My Dream School (part 7)

Form Teacher: Roseanne

A master of sarcasm and as sharp as a Japanese sword. Being in Roseanne's class would be fun beyond belief.

School Nurse: Lucy Liu

My high school never had a school nurse, but if it did, I would be hard pressed to find anyone better than Lucy Liu to tend to students in their hour of need.

My Dream School (part 6)

Home Economics Teacher: Betty Turpin

Instead of watching nutritional videos and filling in flow charts, I'd like to return to basic cooking skills and how to work with a budget, so who better to teach than everyone's favourite grandma from Coronation Street?

Construction Teacher: B.A. Barracus

As well as being an electronics genius, Barracus knows his way around wood and metal, and could help the students build machine gun mounted swivel chairs, armoured bikes and show them how to throw hoodlums over bars in slow motion.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

My dream school (part 5)

Drama Teacher: Frankie Howerd

A master of comedic timing and double entendre, Frankie would be the ideal choice to bring even more fun to an already relaxed subject.

Religious Education Teacher: Reverend Bernice

Passionately controversial and suffering from chronic ennui, Bernice would be a great R.E teacher. Her cutting remarks would make classes memorable and help fight off the cancer of political correctness.

My dream school (part 4)

Art Teacher: Tony Hart

TV hero to millions of British children, Hart is the architypical Art teacher - gentle, passionate and caring. An almost complete antithesis to Deputy Headmistress, Joan Ferguson.

Music Teacher: Paul McCartney, c1966

The godfather of modern pop music, and at the height of his creativity. Was in a battle for the position with Jimi Hendrix but prevailed, due to his ability with piano as well as guitar and bass.

My dream school (part 3)

Maths Teacher: Will Hunting

Maths is almost exclusively boring for the majority of students, so perhaps the teachings of a drinkin', scrappin' wild child teenager will make it approachable for the youth of today.

Science Teacher: Doctor Emmett Brown

Who else? Every lesson would be incredible, and even the most mundane subjects would come alive with Brown's antics and skewed take on things. Narrowly beat Stephen Hawking to the position.

My dream school (part 2)

English Teacher: Stephen Fry

Fiendishly intelligent and a master of the English language and its works of literature. Academic enough to be credible, but alternative enough to make lessons quirky and memorable.

History Teacher: Simon Schama

A History of Britain brought history to the imaginations of Britain's youths, so who better to teach it than Schama. A master narrator, the guy next door, a fatherly figure.

My dream school (part 1)

Headmaster: Sid James

Who better to run a school? Everyday would seem like a holiday with Sid in charge. Headmaster's assembly would be a scream, summons to his office would be welcome, and school outings would be legendary.

Deputy Headmistress: Joan "the freak" Ferguson

Although Sid would be more comfortable with a young, attractive right hand (in the mould of, say, Valerie Leon), someone of the calibre of "the freak" would be required to ensure that the school runs efficiently. A strict disciplinarian, Ferguson would run a very tight ship, but Sid would still have the final say.

JAPANESE JAMES - bmx stunt rider and acrobat

He came, he saw... he fucked up on national TV!

My hat goes off to JAMES - part-time bmx stunt rider and illusionist-cum-acrobat. In an incredibly camp performance, even for Japanese entertainment TV, he entered from stage right, waving to the crowd before attempting to jump the bike onto the stage (he nearly fell and had to use his right foot to prevent a tumble). He then rode around his specially made box (purple, emblazoned with a big silver JAMES logo), and then it really went wrong. Juggling three clubs whilst balancing on his bike, he dropped one and had to start the whole thing again. Then, having successfully managed the juggling, he mistimed his jump from his bicycle and fell on it. Next he revealed a small silver carry-box and did a little bit of vintage I'm-trying-to-move-this-case-but-it-won't-move visual comedy. Then he opened the case to reveal a ridiculously small bicycle, which he then rode through a small gate. Cheers James, I haven't laughed like that since high school.

After JAMES came a lady gymnast doing that circusy thing of climbing up lengths of red silk and balancing on them. With JAMES still in mind, I thought she might hang herself, but fortunately she was faultless.

And next came another strange guy... (oh yeah, I must apologise for the poor photo in this entry - I had to take it with my cell phone camera in a darkened room whilst laughing). So anyway, the second guy. He wore a lot of make up and a silver foil suit with a sky blue furry front. Can you guess what he did? (aside from disappointing his traditionally minded father, no doubt).

He balanced on pieces of wood, which were balanced on cylinders, like mini see-saws. He was actually really good, and only had a hiccup when he tried to do a handstand on four of these see-saws.

After this lad came a very odd American. I wish I had a photo, but he wasn't on long enough for me to catch him, and anyway I doubt whether my photo would have done him justice. He was dressed in blue, exactly like cousin Scampi from The Sooty Show. He wore Peter Parker glasses and had the biggest unicycle you will ever see. With the aid of a helper from the audience, he clambered up the cycle and began balancing. He put on a hat that was a bubble-blowing toy plane on a string, and as it spun around and spat bubbles, he started juggling... KNIVES! Real knives! And Crocodile Dundee style blades at that! I was seriously impressed, as were JAMES, the circus girl and the silver-furry guy.

I have no idea what this TV is called, and whether or not it is serious or a deliberate comedy farce. I don't want to know, for then the magic might be lost...

A disgrace to music, sport and integrity...

Perhaps my biggest rant with Japan is the so called music that saturates the media over here. As my fiancee will wearily attest, I like nothing more than complaining about the talentless cardboard cutouts that mime formulaic pop dross whilst pretending to be serious performers.

Unfortunately for me (and my wife to be), one of the worst examples of this kind of music - the shockingly mundane News - are somehow tied in with Japanese Women's Volleyball. I love volleyball. I love watching it, playing it, thinking about it, everything. But I really hate having to put up with News.

I believe that the reason News are the "special guests" of the volleyball team is that their recording company probably owns the station that broadcasts the games, so it's a forced tie-in. So at the start of every game there's the inevitable mimed performance of their below-par latest single, and at every time-out the cameras cut to the stands where two members of the group make superficial comments and try to play up to the audience (only two members, for in an obviously cynical business decision by their company, it's been decided that the two most popular members will do all the talking, and the other six will sit back and not say a word).

Why does this bother me? Well, firstly because I like music that has been created and laboured over by those who perform it. And secondly because the presence of News at an international volleyball tournament, as special guests no less, is an insult to the players and managers, who have sacrificed years of their lives to reach a physical and mental plateau. Theirs is a world of intense training, dedication and responsibility. As for News, they were hand picked with the sole intention of making money from young girls for the fat man upstairs. They don't have to get up at 5am and train all day, all the time being shouted at and driven to the point of exhaustion, ever fearful that they might lose their place in the national team. They don't have to put themselves on the line everytime they are in the public eye. And most importantly, News and the vast majority of the other J pop groups are not performing from within. When they perform, they have no control. They are told what to do and how to do it. The volleyball players have to work as a team and perform as individuals. If you make a mistake, it's your fault. You and your team will suffer. Any possible element of risk with News is removed, as they mime their songs and are given strict instructions on where to stand and exactly what to do.

However, this attempt to eliminate risk has been dealt a blow, as a few days ago two members of News were arrested for being drunk and disorderly in a park, along with the regular volleyball TV reporter. Not surprisingly, there was no mention of this last night when Japan crashed to a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Olympic champions China. The reporter had been replaced, and the missing two members were hardly missed (they are from the six that never talk).

My chagrin was irreversibly rubbed when one of the Japanese players, Ai Otomo, having made a series of service errors, costing Japan valuable points, was presented as the tragic villainess, and treated to a series of inconsiderate TV interviews and an immediate press conference. Ok, she made some mistakes, but she's doing her best (something that seems to be a national mantra in Japan). Instead of criticizing a young athlete for testing her mettle and feeling the pressure, it would be better to consider the purpose of cut-out pop groups, and what right they have to be given elevated status above the sportsmen and women of Japan.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Perfect Day

I am at the end of a perfect day. I went to Oita-ken today with my fiancee and visited a private onsen, which was out of this world. We also went to a superb bakery, and paid a visit to Anne of Green Gables World(!), as well as a breathtaking waterfall in the mountains.

I have nothing bad to say about anything. All is happy in mudsville.

Saturday, July 16, 2005


.. it would also be nice if people on Japanese TV replied to an observation with something other than "So desu ne!"..

Bowling irritation...

Well, the big day arrived... Ben and yours truly went to the bowling alley early to begin what we thought would be our 20 game marathon, only to find a very kid-busy bowling alley and a very cute attendant who told us, rather too cheerfully, that today was "special day", and that we could only play two games, which were free... I asked her in Japanese why today was a special day, and does this lunacy apply just to today, to which she replied "Don't know!", again too cheerfully.

Well, rules are rules I guess... but I wish they'd warned us about it.. some other regulars turned up to be greeted with the same thing. A shame for them as well as us. We took our custom elsewhere, as did all of the other regulars, and had 7 decent games. The first bowling alley probably lost close to 500,000 yen (if my estimates are correct).

This sort of thing has happened before... Ben and I went there 3 days after the end of Golden Week, only to be told that we could only play 5 games (for more than the cost of 10 games at any other time), and that we would have to use one lane, and not the usual two. The fact that Golden Week had been over for three days didn't seem to make any difference, nor our protests that most of the other regulars had been given two lanes, before and after we arrived.

Just once, I wish that staff in Japan would speak frankly and say things as they are, instead of hiding behind "I don't know" or "sumimasen."

Letter to my Japanese brothers...

Dear Japanese Men,

It seems that you consider leaving work before it gets dark "unmanly", to the extent that some of you sit in your cars for a couple of hours until the sun goes down before going home.

I have three things to say to you all:

- Spend more time with your families.
- Grow a backbone and stop being sheep.
- Instead of always trying to appear to do something well, how about actually doing something well?

Faithfully yours,

Tall gaijin spending quality sunlit time with his fiancee.

Friday, July 15, 2005

A pictorial representation of what I miss about England...

In a very English city pub, my best friend Diamond sits with some cold, refreshing pints of beer, surrounded by wooden floors and gentle conversation... there is a fireplace, tasteful paintings on the walls and drinking games are threatening to be introduced..

Despite loving Japan, there are no places like this, no pints like this, and no conversation quite like this.

Midnight thoughts...

Sat on a park bench, looking up at Kurume City Hall, certain truths surfaced before me:

- I don't like my job.
- I love my fiancee.
- I miss my family.
- I miss my friends in England.
- I cherish my friends in Japan.
- Kurume is home.
- In many ways I am fettered by the past.
- I am a night owl.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Kurume & Omura Chess Championship

It has begun, the inaugural Kurume and Omura Chess Championship.

The place: cyber space.
The contestants: Luke Kenyon (GBR) and Sean Speed (AUS).
The rules: the best of 15 games, 10 minutes per game, played in blocks of 3.

Wednesday 13th July saw the first three games, all of which went to Kenyon. The first two were scrappy affairs, riddled with unforced errors and wild attacks, with Speed losing on time in the first and being forced into a last gasp resignation in the second. The third game was marred by an early error, leading to a concerted king side attack from which Speed never really recovered.

Tonight should see games four through six, in which Speed needs to make a mark on the tournament. Kenyon meanwhile remained non-commital on the match, saying only "It's not over yet. Sean is a very dangerous opponent and a three game lead is nothing."

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Interesting kanji..

The Japanese kanji for "slippery" comprises the elements "water" and "skeleton"...

The Japanese kanji for "gorge" comprises the elements "mountain" and "scissors"...

The Japanese kanji for "gamble" comprises the elements "money" and "puppet"...

The Japanese kanji for "vow" comprises the elements "fold" and "words"...

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Bowling becomes fun again..

Bowling is a wonderful pastime.. sometimes. When it goes well, when you make your shots and get the rub of the lane, there's nothing like it. Watching the ball as it whistles down the pine boards, dangerously close to the gutter, before violently hooking into the pocket to send the pins crashing is an almost spiritual experience. But when it goes badly, it's awful. You miss easy spares, you can't read the lane, and even seemingly perfectly executed shots leave pins standing.

After spending a month in the doldrums, tonight saw some of the better side of bowling. Having not had so much as a sniff in the upper 180s, tonight saw my third best ever score - 216 - and during the game bowling seemed so easy. It made a kind of sense, as if it was somehow my purpose to knock down the pins. I'm hoping this will continue at least until Saturday, when I play 20 games against my biggest rival, Ben, at another alley in town.

Bowling is both the easiest and the hardest thing in the world.. you have to concentrate absolutely, and in the next second empty your mind, much like in golf or snooker. Therefore it deserves to be classed as a serious sport, and not just the beery refuge of fat American truckers..

Monday, July 11, 2005

My favourite ten films and a sentence why..

1. The Godfather - a perfect film, flawless in every way.
2. The Good the Bad and the Ugly - Eastwood, Van Cleef, Wallach.
3. Picnic at Hanging Rock - oozes sexuality and finesse.
4. The Breakfast Club - a perfect brat-pack film.
5. The Wicker Man - the greatest British cult film ever.
6. The Sting - wonderful in every sense, sharp as a tack.
7. The Seven Samurai - possibly the greatest non-English language film ever made.
8. Battle Royale - achingly Japanese, in the best sense.
9. Commando - Ahnuld's purest action film.
10. Big Trouble in Little China - the most underrated film of 1986.

It's 1.40am, I have to wake up in about 4 hours, and these things are keeping me from sleep...

- The annoyance I feel when I hear the cliched phrase "be afraid... be very afraid."

- The annoying habit of people in the media c.1996-1998 saying "what he/she/they want, what they really really want" in a reference to The Spice Girls' first hit song.

- The moment when the beer starts to taste bitter.

- The fact that we always go to bed feeling awake and get up feeling shattered.

- The thought that once we are dead, that's it, for all eternity.

- The culinary perfection that is rice pudding.

- The joy to be had holding your hands under the bathwater at such an angle that they resemble the stumpy mitts of a dwarf.

- That Miyamoto Musashi stoically contemplated "The Way of Tea."

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Something that gets my goat...

Here is something that, in the words of David Lo Pan, "really pisses me off to no end"...

When you are talking to someone, and you say, for example, "I used to think that John was from Canada," and they reply "No! He's from America!"


Certain people pay no attention to what you are saying... and it's really annoying. The sentence "I used to think John was from Canada," clearly shows that the speaker ONCE thought that John was from Canada, but now knows that it's not correct.

Of course, a lazier way of saying this sentence would be "I thought that John was from Canada", which is grammatically correct, indicating the past tense, and subtley implying that the speaker now knows the truth. However, in everyday speech we use "I thought..." instead of "I think...", so this sentence is almost guaranteed to yield the annoying "No! He's..." response.

If we go to the trouble of making our sentences grammatically sound and unambiguous, is it to much to ask that the people to whom they are addressed actually pay attention to what is being said?

Try it out for yourselves... think of something that you used to think, but now know to be untrue... follow this sentence structure: "I used to think .... " and see how many times you are misunderstood. I dare you.

Friday, July 08, 2005

On a lighter note...

Today was the once-every-two-years sports festival at my high school. The emphasis is on the word festival, for unlike the sports days that loom large in England, this was to be a celebration of culture and kinship...

So what sort of things happened? The first event was a relay of sorts that involved students racing to a table and thrusting their faces into bowls of flour to pick up candy with their teeth, and then passing the baton to their teammates, who did the same thing, finally racing to the finish line, all white faced and coughing.

After this came a different relay, which was really just an excuse for the various school clubs to parade about. Each club member had to complete a lap, but with a gimmick particular to their club. So the volleyball players ran whilst setting and receiving the ball, the tennis players bounced a ball on their racket, the male gymnasts wowed the crowd with incredible back somersaults and occasional apparatus routines, the brass band club jogged around the track with their instruments, stopping occasionally to treat the students to a bit of improvised jazz, and an unknown club decided to dress in girls underwear and dance around the track, falling over and screaming at everyone and everything.

The next event was something that really appealed to me - the sports field was cordoned off into two halves with a team occupying each half. They then had to throw hundreds of tennis balls into a plastic bin that was held aloft on wooden stilts! The team that had the most balls after a certain time was declared the winner.

Next was the tug of war, and although it brought a much needed burst of competitiveness and machismo into the proceedings, it failed on two counts. Firstly, most of the students were barefoot, and everyone knows that one of the secrets to tug of war is to wear big tough boots and dig your heels in as you pull. Secondly, there were no anchor men. The students at the end of the rope just held it gingerly and let their teammates at the front take all the strain. This was a golden opportunity for the overlooked and ridiculed class fat kid to shine. All he had to do was wrap the rope around his waist and lean back a bit and he would have been king for the day.

After this came the "performance" pieces, which were large scale war-dances, rather like the New Zealand hakka. One or two members from each team were designated to play the huge taiko drum, and the others acted out meticulously rehearsed movements and shouts. One teams kung fu style performance was particularly fine, and their drummer was exceptional with his "drunken master" style.

Next was the horse race, where three students held up one, and they ran around the track, passing on the baton until everyone had had a go. There were tumbles and grazed elbows and squeals of delight from certain girls as they neared the finish line neck and neck.

After this was a game that was "very difficult to translate" according to my boss, but from what I can gather it involved the students racing to a table and choosing a card, which had some sort of task for them to complete, for example a simple maths problem, or finding a hat, or a teacher that wears glasses.

The "High School Quiz" was next, and proceedings took a turn for the bizarre when the compere, a sports teacher who has a reputation as a bit of an extrovert at the best of times, appeared on the roof of the school with a microphone and the biggest red sparkly bowtie you will ever see. The students were instructed to all stand in the field and listen to a statement about their high school. They then had to decide whether it was true of false, and stand in the relevant half of the field. Those who were incorrect were out, and the winners went on to the next round, and so on, until the final half dozen were given silver bags filled with piss-poor potato snacks.

The final event of the day was the "block relay" and involved every single student and a great deal of teachers running a lap each and passing the baton to see which team would emerge as the winners, some 45 odd minutes later. Perhaps the highlight of this was the sight of the 250lb underdog setting the track on fire with his pace, shaming his slimmer and more fancied colleagues in the process.

All in all it was a good day, certainly something I've never seen before and there were moments of inspiration that transcended the hours and hours of shy girls shuffling along with condiments on their cheeks. Sitting behind the Principal, he regularly turned around and cheerfully explained some obscure activities that would have gone completely over my head otherwise. Afterwards he invited me up to his office for a coffee and we chatted lazily about Oxford and the Lake District for about an hour or so. "I would like to live somewhere like Oxford," he beamed as he sipped his very black coffee, though I couldn't help thinking that he'd miss the flour-covered teenagers and the screaming cross-dressers.

A new London

What a difference a few hours can make... one minute the Capital is in rapture, having secured the 2012 Olympics, and the next it's in utter chaos as the spectre of terrorism casts its ugly shadow... our thoughts are with those who weren't so lucky when the dice fell.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Things that are annoying/amusing/pleasing in Japan...


- When Japanese people drag their feet and scuff their shoes (especially high school kids).

- When the teacher that sits next to me chews his food for at least 2 minutes more than he needs to, and loudly and UNNECESSARILY slurps his coffee. And he unconsciously shakes his legs whilst he is at the computer, and he overreacts to blatantly unfunny stories and jokes (I do like him, honestly, it's just he has some annoying habits).

- The fact that ALL of my male colleagues wear short sleeved shirts and a t-shirt underneath in Summer (not the idea of it, just the fact that they all blindly do it like so many sheep).

- The incessant "machine-gun" Japanese speaking of one of my students... unbelievably annoying!

- The moronic bureaucracy that manifests itself in a Japanese school.

- The idiotic "talents" on Japanese TV who talk like idiots and overreact to everything.

- The fact that the various train queues that I see everyday always have the same people in them.

- The fact that you can't get a decent sandwich easily in Japan - chances are it's made from oversweet bread with the crusts cut off, filled with egg and spaghetti and had all the flavour processed out of it.

- The fact that bread only comes in loaves of 6 slices, which are ridiculously overpriced.

- The godawful travesties that are Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese and Canto pop.

- The fact that you can't buy envelopes or packaging in a Japanese post office.

- The way that Japanese shop staff, instead of admitting that they don't know or are not sure, blindly claim that something either doesn't exist or is unavailable (example: multi-region DVD players apparently don't exist in Japan or the rest of the world, even though I have seen and used numerous ones in numerous countries).


- The preference of a great deal of Japanese men for very pink shirts.

- The fact that Japanese hairdressers and barbers have a "menu" outside, listing the prices of haircuts and treatments.

- The fact that there is a hairdressers called Ball Hair in Kurume, named completely straight-faced.

- The way that some Japanese shops have giant moving props outside their premises, like something from The Simpsons.

- Japanese pro wrestling, with it's costumed grapplers, such as Dragon Kid and the blatantly-a-may-queen Anthony "W" Mori, with his sailor garb and a rose in his jauntily-set hat.

- The way that Japanese girls often wear a skirt and trousers together, with no penchant for colour coordination or fashion ( I have been told differing reasons for this trend - it's either that the girls want to wear skirts but fear that lecherous men will peer up them, or that they are following a very 1980s fashion movement).

- The fact that all Japanese mobile phones make a very deliberate and loud noise when taking a photo, due to the alarming increase of upskirt candid photography.

- The blinkered assumption of most Japanese that the eating of whales is somehow rooted in their historic past (the eating of whales only began after the mid 1940s as a cheaper and more practical alternative to beef and other meats), and that the government only hunt and kill whales now in the interests of scientific research (as opposed to exploiting a legal loophole which allows them to keep the supermarket shelves stocked).

- The fact that most Japanese sweets and chocolates are individually wrapped.

- The Japanese overreaction to getting a cold (nutrition drips, hospital visits, bag fulls of medication).

- When I worked at a large English conversation school and walked into the "teaching cubicle" to find my student with a large white patch over her eye, and said "what did you do to your eye?", and she said, completely deadpan, "which one.


- Japanese drip-coffee, which is generally delicious.

- Some of the quirky adverts on Japanese TV (such as Beat "psycho teacher from Battle Royale" Takeshi hugging a large egg at the bottom of the sea, Lucy Liu riding a bicycle up the side of an office block, a man choosing his lottery numbers by playing musical chairs with numerous beauties in numbered negliges, and so on).

- The fact that my fiancee, seemingly overnight, has developed a flair for cake and pastry making.

- The ridiculously cheap and high-end technology available everywhere.

- The fact that you can send umpteen phone emails every single day for a pittance.

- Being able to go to a large, well-maintained bowling alley and play 10 games for about £7, as opposed to about £5 a game back in England at a dim, poorly-maintained alley.

- The way that Japanese girls say "nng" instead of "yes".

- The delights of a Japanese bath and futon.

- Green tea ice cream.

- When arrogant, jutting salarymen fall asleep on the train and miss their station.

- The incredibly cheap, lightning fast internet access that's available even in a little city like Kurume.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Olympic wait...

Now this is something exciting on a wednesday evening in Japan! Browsing the net a moment ago, I saw that the hosts of the 2012 olympics will either be London or Paris... just who will it be?

To be honest I have no idea... I keep trying to imagine the headlines both ways, and see which seems the more likely, but they both do. Is the hosting of the olympics a good thing anyway? Whichever city gets it will have to virtually shut down it's business centres and traffic systems, not an easy task. Then there's the cost, as well as the environmental issues. Nonetheless, the olympics is, for better or worse, probably the greatest sporting event in the world, and both cities could do with a much needed boost after recent times.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

My choice for the best 15 minutes in film history...

Thirty five ish minutes into the 1969 British film Kes, the viewer is treated to a 15 minute virtuoso performance by the highly underrated and talented Yorkshire born actor, Brian Glover. He plays Mr Sugden, a frustrated games teacher, who lives out his football playing dreams at the expense of his embittered students. For anyone that went to high school in England, Glover's portrayal of a boastful, scary, bullying, often psychotic games master will no doubt strike a chord. My games teacher in high school had all of Glover's boasting ("were you a good footballer, sir?" "Oh, I was brilliant... pace, strength, suppleness, I had it all.") but thankfully non of his propensity for violence. Some of the more memorable scenes are as follows:

- Brian Glover says to the boys that he will give them "a sample of my footballing skills... a rare delight."

- Through on goal, Glover takes a dive that would honour Jurgen Klinsmann and wins a very dubious penalty. He fluffs it and pretends that the keeper moved, so he takes it again and scores, much to the students' chagrin.

- As the film's main star, Billy Casper, tries to leave without taking a shower, Glover asks him whether he has had one, and when he says that he has, smacks him around the head and stares at him with a hang-pig expression.

With such a performance, an oscar for best supporting actor wouldn't have been unmerited. Glover plays the part beautifully - and unneringly accurately, as I can attest, being surrounded by mildly psychotic Japanese games teachers every day - and it's hard to believe that Mr Sugden isn't a real person.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Ken's on the spot film review...

- Star Wars III ROTS: A turd. Utterly disappointing. Terrible dialogue, rushed, amateurly put-together sequencing and in essence just a collection of bolted together, poorly executed set-pieces. Riddled with scenes that contradict the events of Episodes IV-VI, a further absurdity is that we are to believe that in 20 years Ewan McGregor will age sufficiently to become Alec Guinness. As if all this wasn't bad enough, the transformation of Anakin into Darth Vader, which should have been the most iconic and important moment in the entire series, was reduced to farce, with the stumbling, Frankenstein's monster Vader parodying every "nooooooooo!" scream in the last half century. Shame on everyone for grabbing the easy money. 2/10

- Coffy: Pretty stylish blaxploitation fare with Pam Grier providing the template that Beyonce Knowles would aspire to 30 years later. Standard revenge plot, but some snappy dialogue and funky-smooth soundtrack make it worth a watch. Some of the acting isn't hot, a good example being the unconvincing beating of good cop Carter. Grier plays her part well, and displays the required twin elements of looks and brains (such as when she pre-empts a catfight hair-pull by placing razor blades in her 'fro). One of the better blaxploitation films, and oozes sass and groove. 7.5/10

- The League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse: A good accompaniment to the TV series, although the film is sometimes noticeably lacking in momentum. The characters are as good as ever, and the writers' darkly intelligent humour punctuates the scenes with the sharpness and precision of a surgeon's blade. The premise of the film - the characters coming alive and confronting the writers to petition a new series - is on paper very difficult to achieve credibly, but Dyson, Gattis, Pemberton and Shearsmith manage to pull it off without disappearing up their own arses in self-congratulation.
To many of my generation, myself included, The League are our Monty Python, and whilst this film doesn't quite reach the heights of the first two TV series, or the summit of the Xmas Special, it does nothing to cast doubt on that claim. 7.5/10

Table Volleyball

Just as there is Table Tennis to Tennis, I would like to see Table Volleyball in addition to the 6 a side court version. Table Volleyball would be played on a table resembling that of Table Tennis, but with a higher net, and would have two players per side. The ball would be something akin to a pingpong ball. It would follow the fundamentals of Volleyball, with a serve, receive, set, smash system. Instead of the tops of the hands and fingers, the palms of the hand would be used for receiving and setting.

Basic comforts

It has come to my attention over the last few weeks that the taking away of something as simple as running hot water can greatly affect the resolve of men (and women). My apartment has a weak, sporadic water heating system, which requires considerable time to heat a veritable old-man-pissing stream of hot water. I have been running the hot water almost non-stop since last night, and the hot water has only just started to come through.
I need a shower. I feel dirty. I had a cold shower last night and it made me feel miserable. The thought of having to go to work with yesterday's grime on me makes me feel depressed.
Our ancestors wouldn't flinch at the absence of hot water, but unfortunately for us, it has become an indispensable commodity.