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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