Nothing to report  

Sunday, 18 October 2009

It’s been bit of a quiet night. Big M is out with an old friend; the girls are home and busy doing whatever it is they’re up to on the “girl’s floor” – the top floor of the BH homestead where males (i.e. me) are banned unless there’s a cockroach that needs sorting out. All’s right with the world and, frankly, there is no justification for this post whatsoever other than being a bit bored. And slightly pissed.

Hmm…what to write about? I had a haircut today from my little mate around the corner. I’ve gone to the same barber every since I arrived here, and aside from being great at teasing what’s left of the BH barnet into something resembling smart, he’s an excellent benchmark for my progress with learning Japanese. My first visit was like being a 5 year-old again; After being told to plonk myself into the chair, Big M engaged the barber in a long conversation about what was required – out came the styling books; bald spots were discussed and cover-up strategies formulated. My role in the whole thing was just to sit still and not say anything.

There is a special relationship between a chap and his barber. I guess it’s a bit like taxi drivers, the awkward silence often proves a bit too much to endure and sooner or later, either the barber or the, er… barbee will attempt to strike up a conversation. Here in Japan, of course, this tradition has been given a wholly new dynamic by the fact that myself and the barber speak two different languages. The first sheering of the BH bonce was thus a very one-sided affair, with my dear barber trying to resurrect what he could from English lessons at school to break the ice. With, I have to say, considerable success. He’s a great guy and we both share a love of jazz, that he always has playing in the shop.

In the months that have followed, there has been a subtle and gradual shift in the mode of conversation from English to Japanese. Today, I’d estimate that probably about 80% of our conversation was in Japanese. I feel really good about that. I get very depressed sometimes about my pitiful command of the language, when every other foreigner I meet seems to be able to speak perfect Japanese. But when I have a day like today – a day when I’ve managed to engage in an enjoyable conversation with someone outside the family, I feel great.

I desperately want to have a second language. Like many of my compatriots, I’ve always felt slightly embarrassed by the fact that wherever you go in the world, everyone speaks English. In my current situation, I feel this pressure acutely; It is my responsibility to fit in to my host society, not the other way around. But on days like today, I feel I am making progress.

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Kokonatsu wo shikkari tsugan de! – taifu juhachi wa kimasu  

Friday, 9 October 2009

It’s been a bit drafty this week. Typhoon 18 – named Melor from the Malay word for jasmine – hit the mainland of Japan on Wednesday, carving a path of destruction across central Honshu before passing to the west of Tokyo yesterday. Tropical storms and typhoons are a fact of life here, but it’s comparatively rare that they make landfall. Most skirt by the coast, bringing lashing rain and strong winds in their wake but little in the way of destruction. Things have been a bit different this week.

Some of the more rural and coastal communities across the central region were quite badly damaged by winds gusting up to 123 mph and torrential rain that caused flooding and the risk of landslide – another natural hazard to be found here, along with earthquakes, volcanoes, tropical storms and Godzilla. Tokyo didn’t fare too badly, in fact there were some fringe benefits: Big M’s part-time workplace was closed so she had an unexpected day off. Most of the train services in the Tokyo area were disrupted, so Y had a relaxing half-day holiday and little M’s school was also closed.

Unfortunately, there were no typhoons on the internet and so your humble scribe remained shackled to the grindstone, as usual.

In terms of damage to the Beerhound homestead, nothing to report. Although a couple of the pot plants in my balcony garden took a dive, as did my basil, and my poor runner beans had their stakes blown down. In fact, I discovered the whole framework hanging over the balcony into next door, with just one tenacious bean plant stopping the whole thing disappearing over the side. He’s since been awarded the Vegetable Cross for outstanding fortitude.

If you say it slowly, you can probably work out the title for this post…clue: it involves coconuts and strong winds.

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A dream come true  

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

I love Japan. I love living here, I love the people, the culture,the food. Even the weather. There is very little I miss about the UK, and I have never really been afflicted by homesickness. Except on a Friday.

Back in Blighty, Friday night was – if not the highlight of my week – then something I really looked forward to; the final full stop at the end of my week and a precious hour or two away from home, little M’s homework and the stresses of trying to scratch a meagre living. At 6pm on a Friday evening, the office would be closed and off I’d amble to The Phoenix for an hour and a lovely pint of Stella or three and a packet of crisps. Ahh – such simple pleasures. 2007-11-04_14-32-14_04112007139

Now don’t get me wrong; Japan has a love affair with beer that would put the Germans to shame. Every train carriage is plastered with beer adverts and every TV show is punctuated with beer commercials featuring men and women in the throes of rapture as they gulp down one of the hundreds of different brews available 24 hours a day from any convenience store. And believe me, you never tasted beer so good as an ice-cold daijokki on a sweltering hot Summer’s day.  Everyone loves beer in Japan – from young, hip teenagers to old women. We’ve never heard of “binge-drinking”; we don’t have the nanny state waving a finger at us every time we crack a tube; there’s no stupid licensing laws and – best of all – people here can have a drink without wanting to stab each other in the face. In short, it’s a beer-drinkers paradise.

Given the domestic passion for lager  it will come as no surprise that Japan has some of the biggest brewing corporations in the world. In fact, if the planned merger of Kirin and Suntory goes ahead, the new company will in fact be the biggest beer brewer the world has ever seen. Incidentally, I found out recently that Kirin – that most Japanese of beer brands – was actually started by an American bloke.

Anyway – I digress.

For all the beery pleasures that Japan has to offer, it is missing a small but vital detail. You can’t get Stella here. Well, actually that’s not true. You can get the bottled variety, as long as you’re willing to shell out around 7 quid for a 330ml bottle. No, what I’m referring to is draft Stella – the kind quaffed in every pub in the UK in vast quantities every weekend. And I must admit – I really miss it. Just like I miss those kicked-back Friday evenings in The Phoenix, munching crisps and reading the paper.

So - as you can imagine, finding somewhere in Tokyo that has Stella on draught has become a bit of an obsession. There are plenty of “British Pubs” here – at least 3 in Kichijoji that I know of – but none of them offer Wife Beater on tap. I thought I’d found somewhere in Ogikubo recently, but my excitement at seeing the distinctive white pump topped with the familiar red and gold logo was cruelly dashed when the landlord sheepishly informed me that is was actually connected to a barrel of Yebisu. Buggery bollocks. But, gentle reader, my dogged detective work has finally paid off and after a year sans Stella I’ve finally hit pay dirt.


Ladies and gentlemen – may I present the finest British pub in Tokyo. The wonderful, authentic, Stella selling, mysteriously named, Three Thread in Yotsuya nichome.

As I mentioned, Tokyo has a lot of British-themed pubs, But most are – frankly – crap. The Black Lion in Meguro isn’t bad, suffering only because of its lack of Stella and insistence on doing things the Japanese way i.e. having to wait for the dopey waitress to come over before you can get a pint. But the Three Thread tops them all. It’s a small place, but nicely decked out inside. The bar looks authentic and you can whistle up a pint of Nelson Mandela from the comfort of your bar stool. They do the obligatory fish and chips (Japanese-style miniscule portion) but also great bar snacks like nachos that really bring back memories of the dear old Millers Arms in Canterbury. In short – it’s a really excellent place; cosy, friendly and comfortable.

And so to the beer…

03102009461 I nearly cried when I saw it. A proper pint of Stella (actually 400ml – but bloody close enough) in a proper glass, served with a perfect head and chilled to optimum drinking temperature. Not only that, but they pour a good pint of Guinness too, as Mrs BH’s pint in the background will testify.

And the taste? Bloody marvellous; full bodied with its characteristic hint of aromatic flowery fruitiness. Sigh. I was in heaven. At least, until the bill arrived.

At 1000 Yen a glass ( £7) it’s not exactly a cheap night out. But I’d say it was worth the £21 I spent on 3 pints! The good news is that if you go during happy hour, the price drops to about 4 quid -  a bit more affordable. I shall definitely be darkening their door again in the not too distant future. Particularly as the Iaido dojo is just around the corner! A pint of Wife Beater after training? Now that’s what I call luxury.

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