Of intense heat, intense training, mad dogs and Englishmen  

Sunday, 26 July 2009


Summer has very definitely arrived and iaido practice has become a real test of stamina and endurance. Although not as aerobically challenging as aikido or karate, the controlled movements and constant rising from a seated position to standing, and back again is quite demanding physically. Especially for a gentleman of ..ahem.. a fuller figure and especially in 35 degree heat and 70% humidity with no air conditioning! Each class is three hours of fairly constant activity, and it is quite a challenge to stay focused and on the ball. But it is excellent training; in the heat and humidity, your brain is too overheated to get much involved in what you’re doing, so the body kind-of takes over – a sort of induced state of mushin where the technique flows naturally without conscious thought.

Still – it has crossed my mind that I must be bloody bonkers! I’m no stranger to hard physical training, but I never thought it was possible to sweat so much in such a short space of time! In three hours I went through 1.5 litres of o-cha, and another 1L of sports drink. And none of it has reappeared in the form of wee! I’m also red raw from the chafing of a soaking wet dou gi But, for all the hardships, there is a sense of achievement from completing a demanding session. This is real Budo training – testing yourself in difficult conditions. And also – the Beerhound has earned his Dai Jocky of beer tonight!

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Cherie Blair has suspected swine flu - Telegraph  

Friday, 17 July 2009

Swine flu  - so it’s not all bad news then

Cherie Blair has suspected swine flu - Telegraph

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One year in Japan  

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Today marks the first anniversary of our arrival in Musashino. A time for reflection and not a little thankfulness that everything seems to have worked out ok – well, so far at least. It was a tumultuous year of change and upheaval for everyone. For the girls, getting used to living all together under one roof; for me, adjusting to a new way of life and a new culture. Looking back to last August and my return to the UK to finalise the house move single-handed, my posts from that time bring back all too clearly what a desperately hard time it was for me personally. To be honest, I don’t know how I coped with it. But I did, and I have no regrets; I believed then that we were doing the right thing, and I’m even more certain of it now.

My concerns about whether I would be able to settle here have (almost) evaporated. I love Japan with a very real and visceral affection that seems to grow stronger with each passing month. Of course, there have been frustrations and upsets, but for the most part I am very happy to be here, and I genuinely have no desire to go back to the UK with all its problems.

I’m just trying to think about the highlights of our year here. I think Xmas last year was wonderful – all together in our own house for the first time. The family New Year trip to an onsen in Ito City was great fun.  Competing in the Tokyo Iaido Championships was a thrill; visiting Yamanashi prefecture, staying at a wonderful onsen and driving into the Minami Alps made a spectacular change from Tokyo’s concrete vista. Interspersed with these highlights have been numerous small pleasures and surprises; a tasty new dish, a wonderful shrine or unexpected splash of greenery discovered nearby.

But I think the greatest joy has been the warmth of the people I’ve met here – Japanese and gaijin. With the exception of miserable Mr. O who lives across the street, our neighbours have been faultlessly hospitable and welcoming to this lumbering gaijin. I joined a Japanese language class run by our local council in April. At first, it was very, very difficult and I almost quit (which is very unusual for me) but I stuck with it and have been rewarded with some wonderful new friendships with people from all over the world – as well as a vast improvement in my Japanese skills. Our teachers are both wonderful – patient, kind and encouraging but also persistent and very “genki” – hmm, enthusiastic – about our progress. The course culminated in a chaotic ryori (cooking) party in which all the students had an hour to knock-up a representative national dish. Well, I can tell you – the food was out of this world…curries, Thai, Chinese, Russian, Pilipino, Bangladeshi – an absolutely marvellous evening.

Looking forward to the next year – well, I can’t really guess what might be in store. I hope to further improve my language skills, contribute something to the society which has accepted me (more or less) into its midst and just do my best to create a happy home for everyone.

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Apologies for absence  

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

I know, I know…several months have passed without so much as a single word. If there’s anyone actually reading this, then I most humbly apologise for my tardiness. In mitigation, I would explain that life has become very busy just trying to keep the work and money coming in. But of course, that’s no excuse.

Also – I should explain that the reason for my sudden burst of activity is not entirely motivated by shame. I’ve recently found out about something called the Japansoc Blog Matsuri – a monthly festival of blog writings on a particular theme. There are really excellent writers that take part, and it’s something that looks like a lot of fun. I’ve decided to pitch-in with an entry and see what it’ll do. This month’s theme is “What do you find most strange about Japan”. My entry is an edited version of an earlier post – so if you have a strong sense of déjà-vu reading the following, don’t worry…you aren’t going nuts.

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Japan:Take nothing for granted  

One of the most endearing features of Japanese life for a Westerner is that absolutely nothing can be taken for granted. Food is, of course, probably the first culture-shock people experience here. We are not accustomed to having our dinner arrive still attempting to escape, nor do we share the Japanese enthusiasm for plonking raw egg yolks on everything. But long after these occurrences cease to become remarkable, the country still has the capacity to catch you out with some unexpected cultural roadside bomb.

Take, for example, shower gel. A pretty innocuous household substance, that you would think was fairly universal in its formulation and use. But you’d be wrong, for in Japan they strive constantly to achieve perfection – and those good people at Sea Breeze shower gel are no exception.

Sea Breeze is quite a good name for a shower gel – conjuring up images of bracing sea air, the exhilaration of the briny spray with a hint of wind-swept manliness thrown in. Plus something else: They put bloody menthol in it.

While on the face of it, it doesn’t sound too bad, it’s a different story when Sea Breeze meets the more delicate parts of one’s anatomy. If you’re not expecting it – and why would you be – the sudden warming sensation in the nether regions is an alarming experience.

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