Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year

Another year comes hurtling...

Weird game


There is no real point except watching things fall in different ways but make sure you scroll to the bottom and play around with all the different elements you can draw with.

This is the Japanese original. And this is their new "Hell of Sand". Weirder still. I think I'll stick with the first game.

And, from the same stable, a Cat Sledging game. Use "Z" and "X" to shift the cat's weight backwards and forwards in the sled.

The future is haafu

Further to my previous nail biting posts [1,2] about G.'s haafuness, what a wonderfully encouraging article this is. I think I'll shut up about this subject now.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Weird and wonderful videos

More and more silly, disturbing, incomprehensible, violent, product placed and, just occasionally, funny videos seem to be getting passed around on the Google Video website. (Just look at the first and last ones, Mum)

A tip for the top

Professional pugilism and toupee wearing don‘t mix, as this Japanese boxer learned to his cost. Amid mounting hilarity in the audience, the boxer's corner eventually decided to throw in the wig. Our hairless hero, possibly enraged by his humiliation or perhaps inspired by shouts that he looked much cooler without the head furniture, went on to destroy his opponent with a knock out in round seven. (Via Mari)

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Season's greetings!

I'm sitting here, with my belly full of turkey and Christmas pud, feeling rather chuffed. We managed to do a pretty good celebration here for our first Christmas in Japan. A.'s Mum and Dad, Uncle and Auntie all came to the dinner. It really felt like a proper family occasion. I enjoyed a little tipple with the in-laws, just in the interests of being sociable, you understand. G. is asleep having tired himself out opening all his presents. (Of course he was more interested in ripping up the wrapping than playing with the presents, but he loved it.)

The cooking was a a challenge. We had two chickens rather than a turkey, because the latter are very difficult to get here, and we then ran into an oven space problem. They simply don't use ovens here in Japan. Well, I lie. We have one but it is about as big as that little pocket you have on your jeans to carry change in. Anyway, to cut a long story short, we were forced to hark back to the Old West and cook our chicken outside, using a fire and a Dutch Oven. I was convinced that I was going to hopelessly burn the bird but it turned out very tasty.

Anyway, Happy Christmas everyone. And cheers.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Christmas Fuji-san

I can't get enough of the view of Fuji-san on my way to university. I am a terrible photographer but just to get a feel of how close she feels click on this image to zoom. As you can see from this blog, large parts of the rest of Japan are having some of the heaviest snowfalls for years, but here down by the sea in Shonan we are untouched. Sickly people used to come here in the winter to avoid the harsh weather further inland. A pity really because I like snow.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The American Gulag

The medieval version of "waterboarding"

Can someone explain something really basic to me? It has taken me a while to digest reports like this and this and comment like this about the US playing fast and loose with the Geneva Convention and basic human rights in the War on Terror. Here is an example of the kind of thing I am talking about. It is called "waterboarding". It is not the result of a few CIA officers getting out of control in one of those secret prisons in central Europe. It seems to be in the manual:
Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.

According to the sources, CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. They said al Qaeda's toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess. [source]
Anyway, the really basic thing I don't get is the insistent rhetoric which drums away as a justification for these violations of the normal rules of war and of human rights. This discourse has it that we are fighting an exceptional and unprecedented war in which the merest scrap of information about the enemy's plans might save thousands of lives. It seems a powerful line but, leaving aside the observation that torture is a systemic disease that has always threatened to corrupt and degrade intelligence gathering agencies, destroying their ability to provide accurate information to leaders, the really basic question I need answering is this:

Isn't it true that in all wars the merest scrap of information about the enemy's plans might save thousands of lives?

I mean, in World War Two, hundreds of thousands of lives were lost or saved due to good or poor intelligence gathering. So is there anything really new about this? Maybe it is right to break the existing rules, but why are we framing the debate as if we are facing a novel dilemma?

Monday, December 19, 2005

What a Lark!

Nothing like a good bit of vertical integration! The same brand sells the ciggies that puts the stains on your teeth and the toothpaste that claims to get rid of them. Wonder if they do a cancer machine too?

Interestingly, the cigs, at about 1.30 GBP a packet, are considerably cheaper than the toothpaste, at about 2.10 GBP.

Saturday, December 17, 2005


Today we went to the hospital to visit A.'s grandfather, who unfortunately is not very well at the moment. Talking at his bedside, he mentioned that he had been visited by "kashiya", which means "sweetshop". For a moment I thought either my flimsy language skills were worse than I thought or A.'s grandfather was having a senior moment. It seems neither was the case.

If anyone has seen "The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain" you may remember that the villagers in the small rural Welsh community in which the film is set were called things like "Johnny Shellshocked", "Williams the Petroleum", "Davies the School", and "Evans the End of the World", rather than using proper surnames. The problem being that their real surnames were useless because so many people shared the same ones.

Anyway, it seems a similar thing happens in our district. Among those who are not commuting newcomers, there are only really five extended families in the area and so surnames became a bit useless here a while back (actually, I don't think they even had them until the late 19th century). Instead, A.'s grandfather was using "yagou", a system of nicknames which have been attached to each of the subbranches of those extended families for generations. The "kashiyas" got their name because once, way back in the mist of time, they ran a sweetshop. There are also "the indigos", "the buckets", "the roofers", "the sandal sellers" and "the retireds". These are not these people's present occupations, it is just that a head of the family a long time ago was once retired or once made buckets. It is like being present as surnames emerge from the primeval soup.

I have talked before about how we are in a curious situation here, living in what has become a commuter city but in a family which has farmed in this district for centuries. I kind of like it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Plug dreams

G. got in a major tizzy yesterday because he wanted to play with the heater plug and he was not allowed to. By “major" I mean about as upset as a one-year-old can get, which is pretty upset as anyone with any experience will know. The mood eventually passed and he forgot about his plug fixation.

As he slept last night, however, A. says she saw him reaching out and grabbing at what she could only figure was a dream plug. He did this several times and then got quite exercised in his sleep as, presumably, a phantasmal Mum or Dad intervened and turned his dream into a nightmare.


Update: In preparation for G.'s return from the nursery today, I had stacked a load of pillows in front of the plug socket. The first thing he did after I carried him into the room was turn to the plug and hurl the pillows to one side. We resumed where we left off yesterday.

Sunday, December 11, 2005


It's a bit like Lent and Easter chocolates, you starve yourself of central heating (most people in Japan do) so that the sumptuous singe as your freezing bottom comes in contact with the heated toilet seat feels all the more sublime.

It has taken me a long time to come to terms with Japanese toilet culture but I have finally got it.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Sushi mockumentary

Please don't take this seriously.

(Via Gen Kanai)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Mr Shiraishi of the Co-op

Almost all university shops in Japan are run by the same organisation, the University Co-op. It seems a well run chain, they always have clever little offers and sales on. One of their things is to have comment cards on which the students can make inquiries to the shops' staff about products they want sold etc.. The replies, together with the initial requests, are posted on a little message boad.

Anyway, the message board at Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology (Tokyo Noko Daigaku) has become a bit of a phenomenon. A member of staff called Shiraishi san, who was given the job of replying to the messages, struck up a bizarre dialogue with the students. They began to ask a series of weird and wonderful questions, which had nothing to do with the shop's product lines, and he replied punctiliously in a very polite, apparently guileless way to every one of their inquiries. He always stayed in the role of the shop assistant and became an excellent foil for the students' wit, and vice versa. The best way to explain it is with examples:

Q. Please sell a cow
A. Thankyou for your request. There was an office meeting today and we immediately concluded that we cannot keep cows in the shop. I am sorry.

Q. Don't you sell love?
A. It seems love is not an object to be sold. If it is sold anywhere, there is a strong possibility of it being some kind of trap. Please be careful.

Q. Breathing capacity 1800 cc :-)
A. It seems slightly inadequate for a grown up man. Try to breathe deeply daily. You may want to make sure that the air in your room is clean. Currently, Sharp's Aeon air filter is 19,800 yen.

Q. Please give yourself to me Mr Shiraishi.
A. I discussed this with my family. They said they couldn't give me away yet. The phraseology made me slightly uneasy but I am relieved. Thankyou for your understanding and cooperation.

Q. One hundred iron swords (by Hero)
A. I hope I understand correctly that you want the above mentioned products. Unfortunately, we can't sell you even one sword. It might break the weapons law. It would be better to give up hope of the purchase.

As I say, it became a bit of a phenomenon. First, the students started reporting their questions and Mr Shiraishi's sage answers on the internet. This was picked up by a publisher and has become a best selling book.



Emperor system

Empress Aiko?

I usually relegate news like this to my Japanese news feed (see top left or bottom of this page), but the discussion going on in Japan at the moment about whether to allow a female monarch is interesting. Female monarchs are not a novelty here. There were a number of female emperors before Japan was "modernised" but ever since the American occupation there has been a law limiting the line to men only. Now, with no male heirs available, the Government is preparing to legislate to allow women to ascend the throne.

What I find interesting is this: it seems that the Prime Minister's preferred option may be a simple system in which the first born child will become monarch. The Government commission set up to investigate the problem has recommended that option. In other words, there would be no male preference at all. That would mean that Japan's royal house would be way ahead of most of the rest of the world's monarchies in terms of gender equality.

Can't help feeling sorry for Princess Aiko though. Modern monarchy is a cruel and unusual punishment, a tyranny of the majority over an individual.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Haruki Murakami online

I found out via Daishirazu that the New Yorker has recently been publishing a number of translated stories by the most excellent Haruki Murakami.

The Year of Spaghetti
The Kidney Shaped Stone That Moves Every Day
Where I'm Likely To Find It

The last two are among the five stories included in Tokyo Kitanshu, the new Murakami book published in Japanese this year. Not sure whether the first one is in there.

Anyway, it seems there is a load of translated Murakami stuff available on the internet. The following list is all jumbled up. Some pages are collections of translations others are single stories from collections listed elsewhere. Anyway this is what I found in my net:

Landscape with Flatiron
The Second Bakery Attack
On seeing the 100 per cent perfect girl one beautiful April morning
The Kangaroo Communique
The Sheep Man's Christmas
Super-Frog Saves Tokyo
A Slow Boat to China
A Fine Day for Kangarooing
Firefly, Barn Burning and other stories
Carrousel's Dead-heat
The Second Bakery Attack
TV People
Spider Monkey at Night
A UFO Lands at Kushiro; And another version. And another version.
The Twins and the Sunken Continent
Lexington Ghosts

I even found a parody of Murakami.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Ricky Gervais podcast

The Guardian's website is hosting a 12 part podcast by Ricky Gervais of "The Office" fame from this week:
Episode 1 December 5 2005: In which Ricky, Steve and Karl discuss the pros and cons of technological invention, leading on to Karl's Malthusian concerns and a possible solution. There's a digression into the extra sensory perception of early hominids. Oh, and some Monkey News of course. Plus strange tales about lethal drinking vessels and stately homes.
An original move for a newspaper. And clever. They will get thousands of subscribers and begin to establish themselves as a player in a market which the established broadcasters are treating very circumspectly.

Monday, December 05, 2005


It seems ridiculously late in the year to an Englishman, but Autumn is reluctantly giving way to Winter here. There is still fruit on the trees and a glorious mixture of yellows and reds in the dying foliage, but there is also fruit rotting amid fallen leaves at our feet.

Not to worry though, we may still have months to go until Spring rudely interrupts Winter's meditation, but a new blossom has already appeared on the trees at Tokai University. Rather unusually, it flowers at night. It is called "Kurisumasu Irumineshon".

Christmas is obviously not a big religious or family festival over here but it is far from ignored. Christmas Day is seen as a time for lovers to spend time together. Like everywhere, it has also become an excuse for rampant consumerism. Anyway, Tokai has done a very good light show.

Looking more closely at this image, it is a bit weird. The poor quality of my mobile's camera makes it look as though there is blue sky between the leaves of the trees failing to illuminate a dark street. Or have I had one too many sakes?

Sunday, December 04, 2005


Shortish podcast offering a nice idea for a short break: chocolate in Paris. Made my mouth water.

Smooth as a baby's bottom

There is a saying "smooth as a baby's bottom". As I was changing G.'s nappy today, it occurred to me that there is a very sound evolutionary basis for this feature. A baby with a hairy bottom would not work. Back at the dawn of time, the hairy bottom strain must have been eliminated early. Poor old hairy bottom cavedad was on his 53rd wipe as the sabre tooth tiger sidled up.


Mount Fuji is clearly visible most days at this time of year. In summer, she hides away. This is the view on my way to work (click on the image for a larger sized pic).

Friday, December 02, 2005

Games and stuff

There seem to be a growing number of quite arty internet based games out there (ie. games you can play by just going to websites without having to download anything). Some are pretentious. Some are pretentious and rubbish. Some are card company cute. Some are political. Some are queer (click the headline on the page). But this strangely beautiful game is the pick of the crop. You need to have the sound on for it and to take a look at this to understand what the hell is going on. Basically, you run your mouse over the screen, find spots where it turns into a pointy hand and click them to see what happens. You have to work out what combination of clicks will get you off the screen and onto the next one. It is only few screens long and is really quite easy (especially with the hint site).

Alternatively, you could opt for a not particularly arty but fiendishly addictive mining game or have a snowball fight or a game of table tennis. Perhaps you just want to sit back and watch a (quite violent) animation.