The road to third dan  

Friday, 22 October 2010

This Summer has been really great. But it’s not all been lounging around on beaches and having impromptu barbeques in our car parking port here at Beerhound Mansions. There was also the small matter of my iaido third dan examination that took place in September. Regular readers will know that I failed the first attempt earlier this year. No surprise, as I had really not had enough practice in the run-up to the test. If I’m honest, I’d also seriously underestimated the standard required. Having never failed a martial arts grading before, I thought I’d be able to swing in on the day. I was wrong. So this time, and with the honour of the dojo at stake (this is actually quite a serious point) I was determined not to make the same mistake again.

I had been practicing regularly throughout the Spring and early Summer, but my plan was to start accelerating the training in the run-up to September. As well as iaido practice, I also wanted to build up a reasonable level of base fitness. Even though the examination is not a full-on aerobic challenge like the gradings we used to do in aikido, it is still necessary to have a reasonable amount of core strength to be able to carry out the moves properly and with the required poise. So to help with this, I started running in June. As a devout Fat Bastard, this didn’t come easy at first but within a few weeks I was running a 5km circuit quite happily.

The next milestone was attending the dojo’s Summer Gasshiku, or Summer Camp. This is a tradition in many dojos – a kind of retreat where you just focus entirely on practice. As there is also an element of shared endeavour about the whole thing, this has the additional benefit of helping to strengthen the social ties within the dojo. So it was that I found myself trudging to the station at 4.30am on a bright and hot August morning for the long train journey to Katsuura on the Boso Peninsula.

My destination was the Japan Budo Centre; a purpose-built complex for visiting dojos and school clubs. Set high on a hill, the centre overlooks Katsuura and the Pacific coast of Chiba. It’s basically a hotel with dojo facilities. When I say hotel, perhaps the word hostel would be more appropriate as we were 2010-08-21 18.11.11all expected to share 4 or so to a room and the facilities were somewhat, er, Spartan. But comfortable nonetheless, and the dojo was blessed with AIR CONDITIONING! a rare luxury.

The weather was, to use the correct terminology, Bleedin ‘ot. So the air con in the dojo was a blessed relief indeed as the training sessions ran from 9am until 6pm with an hour for lunch. Over the two days, we ran through a lot of stuff; Seitei no gata, lots of koryu (old style) and some of the paired kata from our school where you get to practice with a real opponent using a wooden sword for safety. 2010-08-22 13.16.11

On the Saturday night after practice, I walked down the very steep hill from the Budo Centre to the town below. After purchasing some liquid refreshments from the local Family Mart, I made my way to the little fishing harbour for a little drink and some contemplation time. When I say ‘fishing harbour’…think more ‘Grimsby’ than ‘The Algarve’. But the fact that it was dark and warm, and I had a plentiful supply of various alcoholic beverages to hand, lent it a subtle charm. I spent a while watching the local yahoos let off fireworks on the beach (fireworks are a Summer thing here –quite sensibly, in my opinion) and quietly quaffing my Nodo Goshi and Chu-hi. As I sat gazing out across the calm Pacific waters, I really had a sense of wonder about how my life has turned out. I wouldn’t say utterly brilliantly – there’s plenty of things I’d change given the chance. But it certainly has been a remarkable journey; and I think I can take a little bit of pride in the experiences I’ve had and achievements I’ve attained along the way.

After the gasshiku, I had a couple of weeks to refine techniques ready for the grading and I took full advantage of the training opportunities to make sure I was as  prepared as I could be. I was still struggling with niggling doubts. Things can always go wrong in an iaido embu (demonstration). The cords that are used to tie the sword scabbard onto the belt have to be expertly handled and can easily get tangled; the scabbard can jump out of the belt; your foot can easily get caught under the hakama – the long pleated trousers we wear. These are all apart from any technical errors in the handling of the sword itself, and any of these will result in an instant fail. Bear in mind that this perfection has to be demonstrated under the baleful glare of a panel of 8th dan masters, looking at you from several different angles, and you can begin to appreciate some of the pressure. Oh and the entire embu has to be completed in 6 minutes, otherwise that’s an instant fail too. I’d had some real problems with the opening and closing Reiho (bowing and sword etiquette) during the gasshiku. During one practice grading, I just couldn’t get the sageo (cords) tied on correctly and I went over-time. These things were really playing on my mind: If it went wrong in the practice, it could also easily go wrong during the exam. But iaido is just as  much about mental training as it is physical. Having practiced as hard as possible – including hours spent at home just practicing tying and untying the cords and performing the bows correctly – I felt I had done my best and now it was really out of my hands. With that realisation came a degree of calmness.

2010-09-11 13.50.15

The grading itself was held at the Tokyo Budokan in Ayase – scene of both my biggest failure (first 3rd dan test) and my biggest success (winning my 2nd dan class at the Tokyo area championships). There are just two gradings each year. The Summer one was a good deal less busy than the March one, which made it feel a little less stressful. As always, I got there very early so I had a lot of hanging around to do before hand. But soon enough, it was my turn to march out onto the court and do my demonstration. You are given five techniques from the seitei no gata to perform within 6 minutes, including all the opening and closing formalities. These are announced on the day, so there’s no chance to practice these specifically in advance – so you have to know all twelve kata from the set equally well.

I don’t really remember much from the test itself, apart from the fact that it felt a whole lot better than last time. The techniques we’d been given were not my worst ones and I felt quite strong, smooth and in control, compared to last time’s desperate thrashings. It was all over pretty quick, and then I had the long wait to see what the result was. 2010-09-11 14.15.46

Once everyone has completed the test, the judges retire for their deliberations. I think for 3rd dan, a minimum of 3 out of 5 judges have to award a pass. The techniques are judged purely on technical merit, so it’s quite unlike a competition where you need to imbue your demonstration with a bit of spirit. I watched another gaijin going for 2nd dan – alas, with a bit too much gusto. He was obviously trying hard but it looked far too aggressive and didn’t exhibit the calm spirit required to advance up the grades. He didn’t make it that time.

After what seemed an eternity, the official emerged with the sheet of paper containing the numbers of those who had passed. If your number’s not on the list, you didn’t make it. I remember the disappointment of last time as I scanned the list in vain for my number. But this time, it was there. Ureshi! I’d done it! My sensei and fellow students were as delighted as I was (and perhaps a little relieved that I hadn’t disgraced them with another failure).

So, another milestone passed. I’ve passed a dan grade exam in Japan and I am now a fully-fledged sandan. Not that this means very much in the great scheme of things: I’m still one of the most junior members of the dojo. However the significance for me is that I have now passed the rank of the guy that wrote my first iaido manual, that I bought maybe 20 years ago when I was studying aikido. The book, “Iaido – The Way of the Sword” by Michael Finn, told the story of the author’s travel to Japan to study iaido and was just as much a personal adventure story as it was a description of the art itself. I was fascinated by his tales of harsh training sessions, stern discipline and his fear of losing face with his teacher. I remember thinking that, while it sounded exciting, it sounded pretty scary too and I wondered if I would be able to cope in such a demanding environment. The author finished his particular journey as a 2nd dan. I can now understand much more about his experiences. Whereas at the time I thought him the ultimate expert, now I can see that maybe he wasn’t quite so adept at negotiating the subtleties of iaido and Japanese culture. But that’s not a criticism – at no stage does the author try to elevate his own status or claim any special knowledge or skills, even though at the time the book was published he could have so easily done both. I have the greatest respect for someone who can maintain such dignified humility. And I still enjoy reading his book – I have it with me here in Japan.

Having an experience like this really brings life’s long journey into perspective. Like looking down from a high mountain pass at the road you’ve travelled along. I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to travel the same road as an author and commentator I respect, and to have perhaps even passed a little way beyond his vantage point.

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Chi-chi-chi – le – le - le  

Friday, 15 October 2010

fenix Well done Chile on a successful outcome to the trapped miner saga.

I am looking forward to re-enacting the dramatic rescue later with the Mrs. I shall be playing the role of the Phoenix 2 capsule. Hopefully managing a few more than 33 return trips.

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The long,hot Summer  

Monday, 27 September 2010


Well, it’s been a while since my last post and to be honest, I don’t know where this Summer went. One minute I’m blogging about the end of term at Japanese class, and the next I’m sitting here listening to the September rain pounding the street outside and wondering what happened in between.

Well, actually, that’s not strictly true. It’s been a truly great Summer and enough stuff happened over the intervening month or two to provide amble blogging material for the cooler, wetter nights to come. Now things are settling back into a more home-based routine, I shall be relating some of those tales over the next couple of weeks – so stay tuned!

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A trip around the world  

Wednesday, 7 July 2010


Last night was my Japanese class’s annual end-of-term りょうりパーチ イー(cooking party). Held at the end of the Summer term each year, this event has become something of an institution, popular with both students and teachers alike. The idea is that everyone cooks a dish from their own country. Given the huge diversity of nationalities at the school, the results are always interesting. And last night was no exception.

Big M joined me for the evening and it was a good opportunity for her to meet my teachers and some of my friends from school. But of course the real reason was to enjoy the tasty treats cooked up by my fellow students. We weren’t food

Last night’s fare was a gastronomic trip around East Asia. No Indian curries this year – alas – but some fantastic Thai curries, some Vietnamese dishes, Chinese dim sum and gyoza and some really tasty spicy Korean dishes. Plus, some Japanese favourites like tako yaki (sort of fried dumplings with octopus in side), onegiri (sort of rice sandwiches) and various chicken dishes.

Naturally, your humble scribe – being no slouch in the kitchen – rose to the occasion. This time, with a chicken and asparagus pie. Although I have to say, my effort looked a bit lame alongside some of the wonderful creations cooked up by my more talented colleagues.

The thing that I really enjoy about the cooking party is that it really brings it home to me how lucky I am to have experienced so many different cultures and made so many friends with people from every far-flung corner of the globe. The more I learn about people, the more I come to realise that most people are basically the same, and if we each reach out just a little, we are rewarded with friendship and a shared humanity that is enormously satisfying.

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Worlds in motion  

Friday, 2 July 2010

Sometimes, because the scenery changes so slowly, it’s difficult to gauge just how far you’ve come in life.  But every so often you have a kind of flashback to a former existence that brings the contrast between “then” and “now” into stark focus.

Me and Big M’s married life together has not been easy. In fact, persevering through the many cultural, linguistic and personal problems we’ve encountered has been by far the most difficult thing I have ever done. And I’m sure the Mrs would agree from her side too. We’ve had some bleak times. But slowly – almost imperceptibly – the grey clouds have drifted away. Now, despite the odd gloomy afternoon, we spend most of our days basking in the sweet, sun-blessed meadows of married bliss.

Maybe that’s something that a lot of married couples experience. But in our case, the cultural dimension makes it so much more special. Not only have we both had to learn to live together as individual human beings, but we’ve also had to learn how to close the cultural divide to enable us to function as a couple in the face of the problems that the world inevitably throws our way. In our own little way, we are a microcosm of the culture clashes that have shaped human history; a miniature United Nations, arguing over the dinner table.

When I think back to (or when I am reminded of) how I behaved when we were first married, I really cringe at how insensitive I was to my wife’s culture and sensibilities. This wasn’t down to any callousness on my part – merely the result of a big cultural disconnect between what I thought a husband should be like, and what Big M’s expectations were. Likewise, she has had to come to terms with the fact that the man she is married to holds different values to what she was expecting, and often behaves in ways that she finds surprising –to say the least.

Our married life has, essentially, been a the process of these two worlds slowly colliding; like two galaxies crashing into each over over millennia, we have slowly and quietly adjusted our orbits to be able to dance together in the void without smashing each other to bits in the process. The remarkable thing is that in learning to accommodate each other, we have each gained something of the other’s culture and absorbed it into ourselves. Over the years, this has created a kind of cultural Venn diagram – two distinct cultures but with a shared area between the two that grows a little larger with each passing year.

What brought this home to me was a conversation yesterday about Big M’s workplace. She has recently changed jobs and now works in a government office in Nishi Ogikubo. As a civil servant, she’s not exactly under a lot of pressure (as a civil servant myself for many years, I know what I’m talking about). But nevertheless, the peculiarities of Japanese culture can always be relied to introduce high levels of stress into even the most relaxed working environments. And so it is with Big M’s place of work.

It’s now summer here in Japan. High temperatures combined with insane levels of humidity make life unbearable without air conditioning. Big M’s place of work has – like every building in Japan – air conditioning. But, until last week, it hasn’t been switched on. The reason – the boss has the job of pushing the button: If the Boss decides it’s hot enough to warrant air conditioning, he will push the button. As subordinates, none of Big M’s work colleagues are willing to take it upon themselves to be the first to supplant the Boss’s authority by pushing the button themselves, despite the fact that they are all dying in the heat. So – there has been a subtle campaign running over the last few days to get the most junior and lowly member on the team (Big M) to push the button, so that the other members of the office can a) be cool and b) have someone to blame for pushing the button. I know – it sounds crazy to our western ears. But this is Japanese culture.

But what they haven’t reckoned with is my missus; having absorbed by osmosis the innate British aversion to Jobsworths and all forms of unfair authority, Big M has caused a mini-revolution by declaring  - in her own words - “Bollocks – I’m hot…where’s the button?” Pushing the button was one thing: Not feeling bad about it is quite another. I cannot overestimate the impact this has had on Big M’s petty minded colleagues, nor indeed on the esteem in which I hold my dearly beloved wife. In my own small way, I have gradually migrated towards a Japanese outlook on life and the obligations that life places upon us. The net result is that we share a unique, quasi-anarchic, pseudo-conformist attitude of our own creation that can exist happily in both western and Japanese cultures, yet not be absorbed by either. In other words, our own little world that has us as its centre. How great is that?

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Samurai Blue bow out  

Wednesday, 30 June 2010


Bitter disappointment last night at the Beerhound residence as Japan were so narrowly defeated by Paraguay. The end – by penalties – was especially difficult to cope with, coming as it did after such a hard-fought battle. Japan came close to scoring a couple of times – one blinding strike rattling off the crossbar just inches from its target.

But disappointed as the country is, I think it’s fair to say the team acquitted themselves admirably well and have shown amazing progress since the last World Cup. Maybe next time…

But in the meantime, both I and Big M will be wearing our new Japan shirts with heads held high. Unlike England fans, of course, who I’m sure will be only to willing to try and put England’s humiliation behind them. How I feel sorry for anyone that got stitched-up purchasing the vastly overpriced England strip.

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No explanation necessary….  

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

bomb squad

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Overpriced, overrated and sub-standard – and that’s just the shirt!  

Monday, 28 June 2010

Your humble scribe is feeling a little jaded today after staying up late to watch England play Germany. I wish I hadn’t bothered. What an absolute farce. As I watched our team taken apart with skill and precision by Germany, I came to ponder just how much England’s performance – both on and off the pitch – has come to reflect the spirit of the age. What I’m talking about is the last 13 year’s national obsession with appearance in preference to substance; to spin over actual performance. As a country we seem to have become used to paying over the top for fourth-rate goods and services. From extortionate train tickets prices, rip-off taxation, useless call centres, appalling customer service, mindless bureaucracy – the poor British public has been forced to accept plummeting standards, while all the time choking on the endless bullshit spouting from cheesy-grinning government ministers and over-chummy corporate talking heads telling us how great everything is. We’ve got used to hearing what good value we are getting, how much better life is now and how they are worth every penny they’re ripping out of our poor little hands. There can be no greater example of this than our pampered, overpaid, arrogant, ignorant and ultimately useless national team.

Two things really bought this home to me: The first was Rooney’s outburst after the last England match where he complained about being booed by the England fans. The arrogance was extraordinary: Ignoring the fact that the performance was a disgrace, Rooney seemed unable to appreciate that not everyone in the country earns £90,000 a week. The trip to South Africa was clearly a major expense for the majority of England fans that came to cheer the side on. They had every right to feel disgruntled over being served-up such a lack-lustre performance. But not, it seems, to express their dismay.

The second incident was when your humble scribe ventured forth to purchase a Japan shirt in advance of Tuesday’s match against Paraguay. The local sports shop has a fine selection of kit from every team in the contest. Having bagged my Samurai Blue shirt, I thought I’d take a look at the new England strip. Much as I love my trusty 2004 away shirt and 2005 home shirt, it’s always nice to have the latest kit. But on closer inspection, I decided I wouldn’t bother.England%20Away%20shirt%202010

The England away shirt looked like something out of Primark’s bargain bin: A cheap cotton T-shirt with a amateur-looking Three Lions badge stuck on the front. Absolute rubbish. That was bad enough, but when I saw the price I nearly fainted: 14,000 Yen (that’s about "£100) for a shirt that looked like it cost about a pound to make. I compared it against all the other country strips there: Every other country – including Japan – was 10,000 Yen (£70) or under. Plus the fact, they looked like quality shirts… hi-tech fabric, embroidered badges etc. not like something straight out of a backstreet Malaysian sweatshop.

Then of course we have to endure the tired old clichés being trotted out again: World Cup 1966, the Blitz, Spitfires over the White Cliffs ad nauseam. I am as proud of my country as anyone, but I wish we could move on from past glories. From the outside, it looks so utterly childish and moronic to still be trying to taunt the Germans about the war or clinging onto events of 40 years ago as evidence of our continuing greatness as a world power. Germany’s well-deserved victory has really exposed the gap between belief and reality. It seems to me that the sooner we stop deluding ourselves, the sooner we start booing those that fail to deliver what they’re paid vast sums of money for; the sooner we reject being sold worthless shit for insane prices, the sooner we can actually start back down the road to having a team – and a country – we can be proud of.

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A dream come true – in more ways than one  

Sunday, 20 June 2010

2010-06-20 20.11.11

Today is Father’s Day across the world. In my family, that means one thing – a great excuse for the girls to visit their favourite local cake shop Ates Souhaite (“Your dream come true”) to obtain one of their fantastic creations. I am not a great fan of sweets and desserts, but even I get quite excited by the prospect of tucking onto one of their exquisite cakes – not only outrageously delicious but an absolute treat for the eyes as well.

Today’s offering was no exception – a fantastic pistachio and chocolate delight that exploded with flavour and richness.

But all that paled into insignificance compared to the small chocolate heart-shaped message perched on top. The message reads: “Dear father – thank you always”. As a stepfather, I can’t really describe how touched I am by the deliberate choice of those particular words, as opposed to just my name or some other term of endearment. I love my stepdaughters just as dearly as if they were my own flesh and blood. To have them acknowledge that is the most wonderful thing for me; how fitting that one of Ates Souhaites’ cakes should literally become my own “dream come true”.

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You’re ‘kin nicked, me old china  

Friday, 18 June 2010


I have just completed my first patrol as a member of the Bouhan Patrol – the crack law enforcement unit charged with the onerous responsibility of maintaining order on the mean streets of Shoan. And I must say, for a first day out it was pretty satisfying. Although I didn’t get to write out  any tickets or anything, I managed to glare at a couple of taxi drivers and issue a formal warning to a cat, who I believed to be loitering with intent to have a poo in someone’s borders. Bastard,

Naturally, my reprimands are pretty much confined to the four-legged denizens of the ‘hood at the moment because of the language difficulties. But it’s early days and I feel I’ve made a good start. The residents of Shoan can sleep a little sounder in their beds knowing that Fido and his miscreant chums will think twice about slashing-up lampposts or leaving flower bed messages in my manor.

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A fragile haven of peace and tranquility  

Monday, 14 June 2010

We have just returned from our family trip to Karuizawa in Nagano prefecture. Thankfully, nearby Mt. Asama behaved itself and we didn’t all get blasted to bits by a volcanic eruption.


The main reason for the trip was Y-chan’s piano recital at Karuizawa’a famous Ohga Hall, shown here at dusk. The concert went pretty well and Y-chan acquitted herself admirably in the ivory tickling department. The hall is a fantastic venue for music – its specially designed pentagonal auditorium has superb acoustics and the Steinway grand piano, which Y-chan played so expertly, sounded absolutely wonderful.



The hall itself is beautiful, made entirely from wood. Part of the secret of the hall’s acoustics is the fact that the walls are lined with pine needles from the forests that surround the town. And therein lies the essence of Karuizawa’s undeniable charm – a rather cultured little community nestling amongst some of the most breathtaking scenery Mother Nature can provide.

Somewhat surprisingly, the town owes a great deal of its history to foreigners. Canadian missionary Alexander Croft Shaw is widely credited as the founding father of the community, having introduced it to fellow missionaries as a summer retreat from the heat and humidity of Tokyo in about 1886. This Christian influence can still be seen today in the many churches and chapels that are dotted around the town. As we browsed through a local shop that had reprints of old photographs from the area, I was very surprised to see pictures of Victorian ladies on bicycles and photographs of picnics that could have been taken in Surrey. Given the lush, cool beauty of the forests that surround the town, it’s no surprise that the town became a popular resort – as this rather fine example of Meiji-period architecture shows. The beautiful surroundings continue to draw people here from all over the world. DSC_4432

Today’s visitor tend to be either tourists or people that have summer holiday homes here. And there are a lot of them. DSC_4427







Here’s a typical summer house. This particular one holds special memories for Big M. When she first started work as a kindergarten teacher, so many parents had summer houses here that the entire kindergarten decamped here for the summer months. This was the house she stayed at. This was her first real taste of independence, and clearly a time of happy memories as she described buzzing around the town on her scooter.  We hired a couple of bikes from the hotel where we were staying and spent a lovely afternoon cycling through the woods and the town. Although she hasn’t been here for over 20 years, she has vivid memories of the town, and our journey was punctuated many times by Big M stopping and pointing out a favourite bar, shop or restaurant from her youth.

After exploring the town on two wheels, we gradually worked our back down the hill from the town, meandering through leafy lanes and grassy glades. Eventually we came upon one of the famous sights of Karuizawa, the Kumoba pond. DSC_4458 Nicknamed “Swan Lake” for its mirror-like surface, it’s an absolutely beautiful spot, teeming with wild birds, fish and even the occasional bear!

And what about the troublesome neighbour? I personally found it hard to get my head around how such beautiful surrounding could also be so vulnerable. You can’t see Mt Asama from the woods, but as you descend to the valley floor below the town, there is no mistaking its brooding presence just a couple of kilometers away – a sleeping monster that could unleash terrible destruction on this verdant paradise at any time. As indeed it has many times in the past. But this is nature’s way – and, quite interestingly, it is ironic that a town founded by Christians, with their core beliefs in eternal permanency, is built in a landscape that is so volatile.

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Beautiful location – shame about the neighbour  

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

This weekend we are off to the picturesque and – according to Wikipedia –upscale mountain resort of Karuizawa in Nagano prefecture. The occasion is a piano concert featuring our very own Y chan, to be held in a proper concert hall in the town. It’s something we’ve all been looking forward to for some time. Apart from the concert, Y Chan is looking forward to hitting one of the many outlets in the area in the hope of securing some good bargains. Y-chan’s boyfriend S-chan (as he is known “in-house”) will be accompanying us, so it will be a good opportunity to get to know him a bit more. guide_p_14 Whereas I and Big M are basically looking forward to a night away, eating, drinking something different and maybe a long soak in a local onsen, such as shown here. Fantastic. I’m also looking forward to a long drive and the opportunity to see something more of rural Japan.


Looks great doesn’t it? This was how the trip was explained to me – beautiful scenery, fresh mountain air, upmarket shops and restaurants, Y Chan’s triumphant piano recital and the opportunity to partake of new and exciting comestibles of both the culinary and alcoholic kind in the company of the most delightful people in the world. Wonderful.

Funny how they forgot to mention one small detail…


Karuizawa is located right next to Mt Asama – the most active volcano on the main island of Japan. I only discovered this last week, and I must say I was a bit disturbed to discover we’d be sharing our weekend away with this fiery monster, which last erupted just a year ago. When I mentioned it to Big M she said casually, “Oh yeah there is that.”

“Is it safe?” I demanded. “Of course,” she said, adding under her breath, “Probably”.

Bloody hell. She really has missed her vocation as an estate agent

Now – as mentioned before here – I am terrified of volcanoes. As a Brit, I am woefully emotionally underequipped to deal with the full force of nature’s fiery fury and the prospect of getting closer than a hundred miles to one of these primordial hellholes fills me with dread. For comfort, I decided to go and look at the official town website, reasoning that they were certainly the best placed to advise on the current situation locally vis-a-vis the aforementioned harbinger of fiery doom. What I found didn’t exactly fill me with confidence:

Considering the past cases, unless the eruption is an especially large scale eruption, the damage to houses would be relatively minimal. However, we should always be on the alert for small ash deposits and volcanic ash fallout, and a possible earthquake may occur.

In 1783, Asama erupted unexpectedly killing thousands. Presumably this is what they refer to as “an especially large scale eruption”. So what they are saying is – all those times that Asama hasn’t completely blown its top, you’ll probably be ok. The inference being that you probably won’t be if it decides to properly let rip.

●When the eruption begins

Listen to the TV, Radio, town's loudspeaker van, radio transmitted by the disaster prevention section.

Can’t help thinking I’d be more focused on running for my life at this point.

Do not rush outside. It may be dangerous as volcanic ash and rock may fall.

Oh ok – so I should stay inside my wooden, highly inflammable house then? Bollocks – I’m off!

When there are evacuation instructions, follow the orders immediately.

…Or try to keep up with me as I shall be redefining the phrase “Getting the fuck outta here”

Remain calm when evacuating and give priority to the elderly, handicapped people and children.

I shall be maintaining a high state of panic, concentrating mainly on getting our collective arses out of harms way as quickly as possible. And I’ll probably be screaming a lot too.

When going outside, wear a helmet, mask or goggles to protect yourself.

Oh right – of course; the helmet and goggles that I carry around with me for just such a situation.

Clearly getting away from the area is going to be the smart move, and the town has some helpful advice on that as well:

1. Move away from Mt. Asama.

2.Avoid being downwind as much as possible.

Well, nothing to worry about there, then – they’ve clearly got the escape plan all sorted out.

So my attention turned to what portents of doom to look out for. Here too, the town has some helpful advice.

(1)Make a habit of checking for smoke from Mt. Asama
Check to see if the smoke smells sulphurous, if there is any colour in the smoke, and if the amount of smoke has increased.

Also, watch out for great fountains of white hot lava, which are often a telltale sign that something is amiss.

(2)Hang a curtain on the windows facing north
In 1958 when the large eruption occurred, the glass was destroyed due to aerial vibration. Try to reduce the damage by hanging a curtain or replace the glass with a mesh glass.

For “Aerial vibration” – read “Catastrophic explosion”

(3)Prepare emergency supplies
When evacuating due to a volcanic eruption, helmet, mask and goggles will protect you.

…although not as much as being 200 fucking miles away will

(4)Be on the alert for urgent and pre-warning notices on volcanic activities When the number of volcanic earthquakes increases, “The pre-warning notices on volcanic activities” and “The urgent notices on volcanic activities” will be announced. These notices will not necessarily mean that an eruption will occur immediately, however please remain calm and be on the alert.

While these announcements may not mean that an eruption will occur immediately,  they will mean that your humble scribe will be streaking across Japan like a bat out of hell for the relative safety of Shoan – concert or no concert.

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‘ello, ‘ello, ‘ello - 何が、ここでありますか?  

Saturday, 5 June 2010



Your humble scribe has been gripped with a sudden and unexplained surge of civic responsibility. The net result of which is that – and I don’t know quite how it happened - I appear to have joined the local police.

Or more accurately, the local neighbourhood patrol volunteers. A note came through the door the other day that they were looking for more volunteers to patrol the local streets, and there was a meeting with free lunch on Saturday. I just mentioned to Big M that it might be a laugh to join up. The next thing I know – it’s all arranged and I’ve been issued with a pass, a Hi-Vis vest and hat and packed off on my rounds.

The duties don’t actually seem that arduous, and appear to consist mainly of walking the streets peering into people’s gardens and commenting how lovely their roses are. As most of the other volunteers are about 90, our “beat” is about half a mile in duration. So from now on, every Saturday afternoon at 3pm (weather permitting) I shall be patrolling the mean streets of Shoan with my crack unit of retired bus drivers and old ladies. The fact that I can’t understand a bloody word anyone is saying doesn’t appear to have phased them at all. Presumably, having someone my size on the team might help should we run into trouble. But having now been privy to the latest crime stats from the area, I think the chances of that happening are quite remote.

In Shoan this year so far, there have been a total of – wait for it – 18 crimes. 17 of those were bicycle thefts. Generally speaking, the level of crime here is low, even by Japanese standards, so I shan’t be losing too much sleep about putting my life on the line in the pursuit of justice. The idea of the patrol is that by maintaining a high visibility, criminals will be deterred from descending on our sleepy little neighbourhood. And I’m sure that’s exactly what would happen, should they decide to start their crime spree between 3 and 4pm on a Saturday afternoon, if it’s not raining. I can’t help wondering if, even as we speak, some criminal mastermind  hatching a cunning plot to turn up on a Friday and catch us all napping.

Frivolities aside, there is a serious side to all this. I’m actually very keen to do more to become part of the local community. I really do like it here and I think it’s nice to get involved (how very British). Making good contacts locally has also got to be good news, not to mention maintaining good relations with the local police - a smart move in a country where foreigners are still regarded with a great deal of suspicion. Should I end up in trouble, I stand a much better chance of being treated well if I’m known to be an upstanding(ish) citizen. Plus, there’s almost certain to be some drinking involved at some stage as very little happens here without an alcoholic component.

But the funniest part of all is that Big M came along to the meeting just to translate for me, but she’s ended up being drafted herself. She’s not happy and that’s made it all the funnier. The best part is she explained to me “If something happens, even the middle of the night they will call you.” To which I replied “Hmm don’t think so – I gave them your mobile number. Try not to wake me when you leave.” That went down like a steel band at a KKK wedding. Happy days.

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A moment of clarity  

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

I am presently going through one of those revelatory periods in my iaido practice where some small insight into the deeper significance of the art has become clear to me. This has come at the end of a reasonably despondent period of training where I don’t seem to have made any progress at all. After all the disappointment of failing 3rd Dan, I really felt down about the whole thing.

The reason I felt I didn’t do well was related to a lack of practice – of course – but also to a sense that my ki (spirit) just wasn’t strong enough. In the dojo, it’s easy to kid yourself you are better than you really are; it’s not until you are in front of the unwavering scrutiny of a panel of 8th Dan masters that you really find out how good your techniques are. It is very stressful, and that stress manifests itself as tension, which in turn robs you of speed, power and fluidity. In a weird way, it’s like the ki is being sucked out of you leaving your cuts weak and your movements slow and clumsy. And it’s the same in competitions as well. This is what I have felt has let me down many times in the past – not the knowledge of the technique but the strength of spirit to be able to carry it though under stressful conditions. This is the very essence of any martial art – without the will to carry through your attack, all technical proficiency is pointless.

It was this weakness of spirit that denied me 3rd Dan, and rightly so. The question was, what to do about it. I considered that perhaps what I needed was a period of more physical training involving actual combat. A return to this kind of environment, I reasoned, would help to rediscover a more aggressive fighting spirit. However my plans to start kendo were comprehensively poo-pooed by my teacher, who suggested that if I have time to study kendo, I’d be better-off training for my 3rd Dan re-test. She had a point.

But suddenly, just last week, I suddenly had a eureka moment. I can’t describe in words what I mean, other than to say that it suddenly became clear that I had been concentrating on the wrong thing. Rather than obsessive focus on perfecting technique, the mind should be almost entirely on the act of engagement with your enemy. This had been described to me before by a 5th Dan colleague in the dojo, and I thought I understood at the time, but now I can see I didn’t really get it. Furthermore, this mind has to be carried with you at all times, and in all things. If you can maintain this mind, then suddenly everything drops into place. At last week’s practice, I decided that I would practice with this in mind. The results were spectacular – smooth, co-ordinated strikes with dramatically improved power.

I have since re-read a translation of a book written in about 1630 by a famous samurai Lord called Yagya Tajimanokami Munenori, called the Heiho Kadensho. In it, is the following passage that describes in amazing accuracy what I have just come to realise.

The books of Confucius are thought of as a gate to those who devote their mind to learning. What is a gate? A gate is the entrance to a house. Only by going through the gate can one meet the master of the house. Learning, for example, is the gate to truth. Only by going through the gate can you obtain truth. Opening the gate should not be mistaken for having entered the house, for the house lies beyond the gate. (my italics)


The gate in question is my iaido technique. I can see now that learning the technique is merely a means to an end. Seems obvious now. But I feel that with that knowledge I can perhaps start to make progress on the path towards what is waiting in the house for me.

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Festival time in Nishiogi  

Sunday, 23 May 2010

This weekend there are festivities happening in our local town centre, Nishi Ogikubo. There doesn’t appear to be anything particularly significant about the date – I think it’s more of an early Summer shopping festival run by the local chamber of commerce. But it doesn’t take much for the locals to get into the festival spirit and any excuse for a parade is usually eagerly grasped. We went along to have a look yesterday evening and to watch the matsuri parade around the main streets near the station. As to be expected, it was a colourful and noisy affair – made even more fun by the presence of a couple of mounted samurai warriors. Not quite sure of the significance, but I must say, they looked very impressive.

On paper, Nishi Ogikubo is a fairly non-descript urban suburb on the western fringes of Tokyo. At first there doesn’t seem that much here to write home about. But over the last couple of years I have grown to really love this area like an old friend. Even Big M, who is normally rather cynical about these things, has to admit a real soft-spot for Nishi. Charming is perhaps not the right word to describe it, but it certainly has a real vibrancy and character that illicits a real feeling of affection. Although not as well-to-do as some of its neighbouring districts, it is a comfortable, relaxed area to live.

And did I mention?…full of characters who are as equally charming and colourful. Not to mention just a teeny bit mad (in the nicest possible way!)


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Doubting Thomas gets twatted  

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Fresh from the “That’d never work in real life” school of martial arts scepticism, this reporter decided to pit himself against an 8th Dan iaido sensei in a direct stand-off. After having witnessed iaido competition and training, which is always carried out solo (for obvious reasons – it’s a real bloody sword!), our hero has clearly formed the opinion that it’s just a load of wannabe samurai waving swords around. Watch as his attitude is swiftly – and painfully – corrected. To be fair, he’s not an idiot and I suspect his “attitude” was really more for the camera’s benefit. But a salutary lesson none the less.


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Nihongo wa totemo musokashii desu ne?  

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Your humble scribe has just returned from his twice-weekly humiliation at Japanese class. Tonight was a particularly taxing session after the recent holidays and I found myself in one of those classes where I am so completely out of my depth that it just becomes a meaningless exercise. Most of the time I am ok; I don’t understand everything that’s going on but if I can get a hook on the topic of conversation, I can usually take an educated guess and I’m usually not far wrong. But then there are nights – like tonight – where there are no straws within grasp and I really flounder.

The problem is that Japanese actually contains many languages within one. In English we tend to have “posh” words and “common” words for many things, but verbs tend to stay the same. The difference between “common” and “posh” is dramatically different here; in the UK, use the wrong word and people might think you’re a bit thick. In Japan, you can be ostracised forever for using the wrong terms of speech. It’s serious stuff.

In Japanese, there are not just different words for levels of politeness but entirely different verbs and terms of speech. This makes Japanese as it is spoken between friends a radically different language to that learned in most courses. In practice, what this means is that entire conversations can whizz past without you hearing any recognisable words that you can latch onto for reference. It’s very difficult.

But it is worth the effort because slowly…slowly, comes familiarity and understanding. I understand far more about what is happening around me than I did a year ago, so slow though it may be, there is progress. I am absolutely determined to be able to speak another language passably well. There is something so extremely cool about bilingual people – most of the gaijin (foreigners) I know here can speak reasonable Japanese and I always feel like a total chump in their company. It might take me a while, but I feel sure I’ll get there eventually.

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What a difference a day makes  

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Well, it seems the BH panic was a little premature and everything seems to have turned out ok at Number 10. Yet, I fear the whole Nick Clegg wobble affair has revealed something of his true character and intentions. DC would do well to keep a close eye on that one.

But for all the drama, let’s not forget the real good news – Brown and all his cronies have gone from power. And with any luck, Labour is now about to be torn-apart by bickering and in-fighting for the leadership. If our luck holds, that should give DC and Cleggy a chance to get going on the problems facing the country without being distracted by the constant whining from the opposition about how they didn’t really lose…yeah right.

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Twists and turns on the road to ruin  

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Well, I never thought that I would be anything less than overjoyed to hear that Brown had got the hint at last and slung his hook. But it has come to pass; it looks like the slimy toad has managed to hang onto power after all with the help of the even more slimy Nick Clegg. I am – frankly – gobsmacked that anyone would have the sheer brass neck to state publicly their intention to act in the national interest, and then take exactly the opposite path. The sheer treachery of it is truly jaw-dropping.

Now with the markets in predictable flight away from Sterling, I truly believe we are witnessing the final months of the UK as an independent sovereign state. After revealing himself to be nothing more than a duplicitous snake-in-the-grass, Cameron cannot seriously contemplate having anything to do with the Yellow Peril. That leaves no other option than the eventual implosion of the country as England is financially ransacked by the EU, and by the national assemblies of Scotland and Wales in the inevitable deal to keep the “traffic light” government together. What future awaits the country I can only guess. A terrible day.

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Hung parliament? Not a bad idea  

Monday, 10 May 2010

“I don’t think a hung parliament is a bad idea…who should we start with?” So said an unknown but pithy commentator on the recent UK elections. I think that comment sums up the mood of the country better than any post-election analysis. Your humble scribe couldn’t concentrate too much on work matters last Friday for following the unfolding drama online. And in the end – as you will no doubt be aware - the result was pretty much as many had been speculating'; a parliament where no one party achieved an overall majority and thus a clear mandate to govern.

As the final returns trickled in, a certain pall of gloom settled over Chateau Beerhound  as I contemplated the fact that after the dust had settled, the incumbent first minister remained in residence at Number 10. I was disappointed – actually bitterly so – that a party I regard as having done so much damage to my country, and a PM that I so utterly despise, remained with their hands gripping on the reins of power. Albeit slightly less firmly than before. From there, it is all to easy to start blaming the opposition for their woeful inability to land a glove on what has got to be the worst government in modern British history. But then I got to thinking about it a bit more, and I realised that perhaps the good old British people had got the result they really wanted: to shake-up Westminster and put all MPs on notice that they are very definitely in probatio for the foreseeable future.

I think most people are heartily sick of the bureaucracy and political correctness; of endless rules and regulations, initiatives, spin, spiralling taxes and deteriorating services. And yet, after the expenses scandal, who do they turn to in an effort to sort it out? While Labour are completely discredited to all but the staunchest supporters, the Conservatives under Cameron would appear to promise little alternative if given the chance to rule. The Lib Dems make nice noises but appear to many to be strong on idealistic rhetoric but unable to delivery in the real world. The alternatives are too cranky or too small to offer any kind of credibility. And yet – almost magically - the British people appear to be heading for possibly the best solution in a difficult situation -  an alliance between Cameron & Clegg.

To my mind, this has certain advantages. 1) Labour, and particular Brown, are out of office and will hopefully be so consumed in such bitter in-fighting over the next few years that they will remain so for a long time to come. 2) Cameron gets to try and implement his Big Society idea, but through a tenuous majority that means they’ll have to tread slowly and carefully, and they’ll have to bring a lot of people along with them rather than steamrolling through legislation. 3) Politicians of all hues are made keenly aware that none of them has the unequivocal backing of the people to rule and that the people will not tolerate more mistakes and hypocrisy at the top.

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Lows, highs and my eternal gratitude for both  

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Well, at the risk of tempting fate, we’re still here despite the mass exodus of oarfish. Although regular visitors might be forgiven for thinking otherwise given the shameful lack of recent posts, for which I can only apologise.

I’d love to be able to explain the aforementioned post drought on work pressures or thrilling adventures being had in far flung corners of the globe. But the truth is – I haven’t really been motivated to sit down and pontificate much of late. After the chaos of Europe and the UK at the beginning of the year, I’ve been enjoying just bumbling around the house with the toolbox and doing something other than sitting in front of the PC. But that’s not to say I’ve been idle. Oh no. There’s been plenty going on in Shoan Nichome, as I shall now relate.

Firstly, Little M started at University. We went along to the matriculation ceremony at the beginning of April. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting. As we were ushered into a lecture theatre to watch a video of the proceedings on a big screen, I had a suspicion that this probably wouldn’t turn out to be the most exciting experience of my life. And so it transpired. Nevertheless, I was as proud as punch of Little M and her achievements, and very grateful to have had the opportunity to have played a small part in helping her get to where she is. Incidentally, Princess Maki is a classmate of Little M – who knows…maybe an invite to the Imperial Palace might be forthcoming after all.

The big disappointment was your humble scribe failing to achieve 3rd dan in iaido. To be honest, I didn’t deserve it and it’s a good thing that I didn’t get it. I’ve never failed a martial arts grading in 30 years of training, so perhaps it was a lesson I needed to learn. In any event, it has kicked me out of my complacency and made me more determined to practice hard for the next chance in September. My resolve was given a boost by winning in my class at the Tokyo area championships a couple of weeks ago. Nobody was more shocked than me, but I finally hit gold in Japan. It’s not like winning an Olympic gold or anything like that, and actually it really doesn’t mean anything. But I’m secretly bloody chuffed that not only have I had the chance to train in Japan but I’ve actually beaten Japanese in straight competition. Amazing. The nervous little 10 year old that started karate in Lochaber Road church hall in south London would never have dreamed that the path he was starting would lead so far.

Next week marks the 6th anniversary of the “official” start of my relationship with Big M. We’ve been talking a lot about that week and it is still so fresh in my mind I can almost feel the gentle Pacific breeze as we walked hand-in-hand along the harbour wall in Kamakura. I can see her dear face sheltered under an umbrella as we dodged Spring showers between our numerous forays to various restaurants, shrines,temples and bars (not necessarily in that order!) It was a magical time. I won’t go into details, but I will say this: If anybody ever tells you love isn’t real, don’t believe them. Love is as real, as powerful and as glorious as all the poems and songs say it is. Most people never get to experience it the way I have – and I am truly and daily grateful for that.

Anyway – it’s 1.30am and the shochu is slipping down far too easily as I write so it’s probably time to call it a night. I won’t leave it so long next time!

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Oh shit!  

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Oarfish omen spells earthquake disaster for Japan

Japan is bracing itself after dozens of rare giant oarfish - traditionally the harbinger of a powerful earthquake - have been washed ashore or caught in fishermen's nets.

By Julian Ryall in Tokyo
Published: 7:00AM GMT 04 Mar 2010

The giant oarfish can grow up to five metres in length and is usually to be found at depths of 1,000 metres

The appearance of the fish follows Saturday's destructive 8.8 magnitude earthquake in Chile and the January 12 tremors in Haiti, which claimed an estimated 200,000 lives.

A quake with a magnitude of 6.4 has also struck southern Taiwan.

This rash of tectonic movements around the Pacific "Rim of Fire" is heightening concern that Japan - the most earthquake-prone country in the world - is next in line for a major earthquake.

Those concerns have been stoked by the unexplained appearance of a fish that is known traditionally as the Messenger from the Sea God's Palace.

The giant oarfish can grow up to five metres in length and is usually to be found at depths of 1,000 metres and very rarely above 200 metres from the surface. Long and slender with a dorsal fin the length of its body, the oarfish resembles a snake.

In recent weeks, 10 specimens have been found either washed ashore or in fishing nets off Ishikawa Prefecture, half-a-dozen have been caught in nets off Toyama Prefecture and others have been reported in Kyoto, Shimane and Nagasaki prefectures, all on the northern coast.

BH: Incorrect – Nagasaki, Kyoto are in the far south

According to traditional Japanese lore, the fish rise to the surface and beach themselves to warn of an impending earthquake - and there are scientific theories that bottom-dwelling fish may very well be susceptible to movements in seismic fault lines and act in uncharacteristic ways in advance of an earthquake - but experts here are placing more faith in their constant high-tech monitoring of the tectonic plates beneath the surface.

"In ancient times Japanese people believed that fish warned of coming earthquakes, particularly catfish," Hiroshi Tajihi, deputy director of the Kobe Earthquake Centre, told the Daily Telegraph.

"But these are just old superstitions and there is no scientific relationship between these sightings and an earthquake," he said.

BH: Didn’t Michael Fish say something similar back in ‘87?

Oarfish omen spells earthquake disaster for Japan - Telegraph

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Time to Replace the Chapel window?  

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

chapel_windowProbably seemed like a good design at the time . . . . 

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Relaxation and reflection  

Friday, 22 January 2010

I am sitting in the rather agreeable bar of the George Hotel in Rye. I haven’t been here for 15 years at least. In fact the last recollection I have of this place was coming here with my father, so that must be over 15 years ago.

Needless to say its changed quite a bit since then. Not least in its selection of beers; hello lovely Leffe !

It sure has changed a lot since the last time I was here. The world has changed a lot; I have changed a lot. It’s strange coming back to a town that holds so many bad memories. Even though the faces and the scenery might have changed, this is still a place I associate with the worst period in my life. There are ghosts here that no stylish makeovers can ever truly exorcise and no matter how tasteful or up-market places like the George become, there will always be a grey pall of gloom hanging over this town as far as I’m concerned.

I will forever associate Rye with failure; once upon a time, your humble scribe had a proper job working for a proper company, with all the benefits that entailed: Big house, expensive car, high disposable income etc. Life was stressful, and sometimes difficult, but generally good. For a while. Then it all started to unravel. First, a messy and very destructive divorce. Next, within 12 months, my company went bust. And, after struggling to find work for many months, so did I. I lost everything. I ended up here in Rye. Washed out and with my self-esteem in total tatters. For a while, I lost the plot here – something that’s very easy to do in a town that consists almost entirely of alcoholic losers. I existed here a few months before my instincts for self-preservation kicked-in and I realised I had to get out and start rebuilding a life again. The rest, as they say, is history. But even though life now is good – in every respect far better than before the “crash” - I can’t come back here without feeling tainted and depressed by the bitter curse of those dark few months. Regret for the bad decisions I made; Hatred for the losers and wasters that beguiled me into wasting so much precious time and resources following the wrong path. It’s not Rye’s fault, of course. The blame lies entirely at my feet. I should have been stronger. But Rye rubs my face in my own failure every time I come here and I still have a hard time dealing with my own fragility in this regard.

15 years ago, The George Hotel was once quite the den of iniquity for the local lushes, all of whom were banished when the walls were knocked down and the designers bought in to create the George as it exists today. Maybe I should do likewise with my soul: take the time to properly demolish and refurbish the dark corners that still lurk in my psyche from those black days. Perhaps with the right lighting, those dark corners will turn out to have been not so dark and dingy after all.

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Tokyo Dome Matsuri – a treat for the senses  

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Apologies for the delay in writing some words to go with the picture shown here. While it is very easy to upload pics directly to this blog – especially with my wonderful new phone – writing the copy to go with it takes a bit longer.

Anyway – I can finally reveal that the picture was taken at this weekend’s Tokyo Dome Matsuri, that took place at, er, the Tokyo Dome. In Tokyo.

What’s a Matsuri I hear you ask? Good question.

All regions of Japan, and often individual districts and city wards, have their own matsuri – a local festival to mark the passage of the year. Every matsuri has its own traditions, often hundreds of years old. Likewise, every region of Japan has its own epicurean specialities – food, drink, arts and crafts. Some bright spark thought it might be a good idea to weave this whole cultural tapestry together into a single event and so the Tokyo Dome Matsuri was born. Basically, it’s a 4 day festival of Japanese folk traditions combined with an exhibition of regional food and drink from all over the country. In short -  a brilliantly vivid and intense slice of Nihon no bunka – Japanese culture.

This weekend was my last weekend in Japan for a while as I am headed back to the UK this week on business. Consequently, Big M and I wanted to do something a bit different. We’d heard about the matsuri from our friends A and Y, and we headed over to Suidobashi almost on the spur of the moment. Boy, what a fun afternoon.

2010-01-09 16.48.52

The first think that struck us was – it’s massive! When we arrived, there was a folk dance in full swing in the main arena. Behind that were crammed hundred of stalls selling every imaginable kind of produce.

2010-01-09 16.52.22 





From Hokkaido we saw stalls selling kani – snow crabs that can grow to huge dimensions. These are small ones! 2010-01-09 17.07.20


Also from Hokkaido was ice cream, cheese and other dairy products. From Kyushu we saw dried fruits and wonderful cakes and pastries. We bought some spices and feasted on fantastic yakisoba and donburi dishes from all over the place.

Last but not least, was the local beer. It’s not often you get to drink anything but the mass produced stuff like Kirin or Asahi. But some of the “real beers” being produced in Japan are as good as anything you’ll find anywhere in Europe. I am resolved to try and track down a few of these breweries upon my return in a few weeks.

So, a fantastic day and some really nice memories to keep my spirits up over the next couple of weeks. To say I am not looking forward to returning to the UK would be a considerable understatement. If it wasn’t for the weather I think I could tolerate the prospect, but after such a hellish experience in the snow last year, the prospect of a re-run is filling me with dread. My brother in law joked that his friends refer to him as “the banana” – yellow on the outside but white on the inside. By the same reckoning, I think my nickname should be “Tamago” (Egg).

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A decade of shame  

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

I personally believe that politics, like religion, should be ones own affair. Consequently, I made a conscious decision some time ago to keep whatever frustration and anger I felt about the present UK administration out of this blog. However, as we enter a new decade – and particularly as we enter what will be an election year – I feel it is worth reflecting on the record of this government in office. The article below was published in the Telegraph.


All governments get into scrapes, make mistakes, let people down – that’s the nature of politics. But it’s hard to think of any government in recent memory that has behaved quite so shamefully, quite so frequently, as this one. At the turn of the decade, here’s a reminder of just how low Labour has stooped.

1. Tony Blair led the country to war on the basis of a lie – the 45-minute dossier was a disgraceful manipulation of some very sketchy intelligence. More than 200 soldiers have been killed, a similar number grievously wounded, while tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians have lost their lives.

2. The suicide of Dr David Kelly after he had been exposed by Downing Street as the source of leaks to the BBC about the soundness of weapons intelligence (see above). The most nauseating moment in this episode came courtesy of Alastair  Campbell, an unelected Labour functionary, who summoned a press conference to crow over the findings of the Hutton inquiry into Kelly’s death which inexplicably decided it was all the BBC’s fault.

3. Tony Blair’s warmongering extended beyond Iraq – there was Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan – but a common theme was that British forces were routinely expected to put their lives on the line with inadequate kit and equipment. Much of the responsibility for that lies with Gordon Brown who, as Chancellor,  just did not “get” the military.

4. Brown’s uncontested accession to the premiership – after years spent undermining Blair – revealed just how rotten Labour had become. This was more akin to the Politburo than a modern democratic party. The one consolation is that it has proved an unmitigated disaster for Labour.

5. While Chancellor, Brown perfected a whole armoury of tricks to obscure what he was actually doing – double and triple counting, endless re-announcements of the same policy, stealth taxes by the score. So intent was he on his smoke and mirrors games that he seemed not to notice he was sending the economy down the tubes.

6. Bernie Ecclestone’s £1 million donation to Labour was an early indicator that Labour’s moral compass was non-existent and that Blair’s claim to be a “pretty straight kind of guy” was to be taken with a sackful of salt.

7. Parliament under Labour has been utterly marginalised. Both Blair and Brown have treated the Commons with contempt and we now have the weakest (as well as most dishonest) legislature in memory.

8. Labour’s failure even to attempt to control immigration has led to profound changes in this country that people did not want. Yet any attempt to debate the issue was branded racist by Labour – until it finally dawned on them (far too late) that their own supporters were furious about the changing nature of their communities.

9. A spending binge without precedent in this country’s history has delivered the most paltry improvements in the public services. A great opportunity to modernise Britain has simply been frittered away.

10. Labour’s Big Brother intrusiveness into all aspects of our lives is without precedent outside communist or fascist regimes. A government that has trumpeted its commitment to human rights has systematically eroded them.

To this list, we could also add the explosion of violent crime; the destruction of the education system; the miring of enterprise and initiative in miles of red tape; the traitorous signing-away of British sovereignty to the EU; 3000 new criminal offences created with the intention of criminalising decent honest people, while ignoring the activities of the true criminal underclass; fostering the parasitic benefits culture; presiding over the breakup of the normal family values; ….the list goes on.

Although I pray nightly to see Blair, Brown and Campbell swinging from the gibbet for treason and war crimes, if I have one wish for 2010 it is that Labour are not just swept from power, but humiliated at the polls.

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Warmed by the prayers of others  

Friday, 1 January 2010

Well, here we are at the end of another year and once again I find myself with the family queuing on a cold and clear night to clang the temple bell of our local shrine and offer a prayer for good fortune in 2010. Afterwards, we are treated to a cup of sake and a plastic mug of hot porridgy stuff and a warm by the fire, shown here.

The fire is more than just a bonfire to warm the hands on. It's traditional at the turn of the year to burn all the good luck charms and decorations from last year. So in a very real sense, we have been warming ourselves on the prayers and hopes of our neighbours, and that knowledge is a very comforting thought.

It seems strange to us to burn the very charms that we hoped would bring us our dreams. Yet, it is another reminder that everything has a right time and place to be. Just like in martial arts, energy that is misplaced or left over-long in a static position usually turns out to be a liability rather than a benefit. I guess it's the same with our prayers and dreams. Just like everything else in nature, they have to live, because to stand still is to die.

To anyone reading this, I hope your dreams and prayers thrive and grow strong in 2010, and my best wishes for everything you hope to be.

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