Category Archives: Japan

Oh, is it cherry blossom season in Japan?

After a spot of leafleting for the union outside the HQ of my glorious daytime employer, I strolled back toward the centre of town along the bank of the Ogawa river from Temmabashi to Nakanoshima and Midosuji.
Under the trees in the photo, traders are setting up stalls for food, games and drink, and folk are spreading their tarps for a day-long picnic. Yes, it’s cherry blossom and hanami season.
The cherry trees in Osaka are probably peaking today, or pinking to the maximum, if you prefer. The forecast says that from tonight it will rain on the pretty, and in a day or two this will look like the barren wastes of Mordor.
This photo is from the end of Nakanoshima looking east toward Temmabashi, or the exact opposite of the sexy sunset photo in the last post.


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Sexy Osaka sunset

Sunday night, Osaka. From Temmabashi looking toward Nakanoshimi, a very smokily atmospheric sunset.

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Anyone for … ?

Pal M who is on holiday in Hakone dropped in on a cafe for a cuppa, but apparently nearly lost his tea when he noticed this picture on the shelf.

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It seems the place offers muffin with your tiffin.

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On my trolley

I note with an embarrassing excess of enthusiasm that the new supermarket trolleys at Yamaya are equipped with drinks holders. Yes, beverage-friendly receptacles right there on your trolley (which, being Japanese, does not have a wonky wheel).

It is therefore now possible to consume while consuming.

This is why Japan is an economic powerhouse and I’m not.

Perhaps the super trolley boffins could go a tad further. I am thinking of comrade P who was observed by comrade Nagaijin (Hi!) in the Life supermarket in Nagai mixing rum into his can of Coke, both just harvested from the shelves of same shop, so he didn’t go sober while getting the groceries in.

Perhaps rather than a drink holder on the trolley, Yamaya could upgrade to a full cocktail bar.

Yaroo, as they say.

Buy the buy, Yamaya is the very same shop where I get all my wine. I only really go there for the sun-dried tomatoes but I usually pick up several litres of wine at the same time just to be friendly. Anyway, Yamaya is headquartered in Miyagi, which is the prefecture that was worst hit by last year’s earthquake/tsunami. This means that with boggling prescience, I have been supporting Tohoku’s economic bounce-back since about 2001, a whole decade before the disaster.


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Full partial terror alert

The date: Tuesday 21st of September, 2010. Terror comes to Sango-cho.

I get off my commuter train at my local station and attempt to throw away my empty beer can — I can’t always resist a glug on the very long journey from Osaka. This is near enough a daily ritual and I am rather attached to it, but today I was thrown off my rhythm: the recycle and rubbish bins on the platform were sealed. Heavy, officially endorsed planks of words ensured nothing was getting in or getting out. All bins were off limits as a security precaution for the duration of the APEC conference — that’s what the words said. As a magazine editor I was profoundly embarrassed that I was unaware of an APEC conference under my nose, and indeed, it turned out to be just up the road in the city of Nara.

However, my embarrassment was somewhat assuaged when I discovered later that such was the importance of this conference, APEC’s own web site didn’t mention it. The site listed a whole palaver of conflabs happening concurrently up and down the nation, but it took some detective work to find out that Nara was hosting the tourism ministers, who were discussing, er, tourism.

Well, an APEC conference is an APEC conference so I suppose you have to expect a little security.

But I did wonder about locking down the bins at Sango station. We are located in the same prefecture as Nara, but otherwise Sango is a small, non-happening of a town, 17km away from Nara proper. People go there to sleep and wonder whether they could be doing something else with life. As a tactical move, bombing Sango would be like attacking central London by shouting ‘boo!’ in Ongar. Even if the security in Nara were too tight for the most cunning bombers, planting a bomb in Sango would be a gesture so futile as to be risible. And why lock down the bins only in Nara? What about Osaka? It’s just next door. A bomb in Osaka would be as much a blow as a bomb in Nara. It is bigger, more populated, more famous, and there are plenty of good places to have a drink and a feed after a hard day planting IEDs, yet the bins there were open to whatever devices of mass destruction you cared to drop in them.

Back to terror-proof Sango. I was looking at the security-bound rubbish bin with an empty can in my hand. I had no desire to either litter or carry the can home, but no problem. I crossed the platform and dropped my can in the unsealed, unsecured rubbish bin next to the vending machines, which, being managed by Coca Cola and not a rail company, was not a place a terrorist would consider hiding a bomb. So that was all right then.

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The horror, the Crimbo horror

Monday this week, October 31st, Halloween, the Christmas decorations started going up in Osaka (one day earlier than last year).

Christmas and Halloween decorations fleetingly co-existed in the supermarkets and shopping malls.

I hear myself ask, why does Japan need Christmas or Halloween? Why do any of us need Christmas or Halloween?

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Lions and tigers and bears

So far this year I have seen in my garden, one skink and one respectably sized frog. I have let one part of the garden go feral as a sort of mini biotope to attract such things as frogs and lizards. Actually, I have let whole bloody garden go feral out of complete laziness, but only one part of it is officially wild. Frogs have humoured me by moving into that bit.

I thought I had accidentally biffed the skink today. I was planting chilli when the thing zoomed out from under my trowel — stripes, blue tail, the whole skink thing. I couldn’t find any skink bits in the planting bed, so I think I missed it.

These creatures are not unknown in my garden, but every time I see one, I get childishly excited. There they are, real life creatures hanging out in my space and being cute and alive and natural. None have naff jobs or carry mobile phones.

I am, incidentally, sitting in the garden with beer while writing this. I shall have wine in a mo.

In previous years, I have seen the biggest skink ever, lots of miniature frogs (the kind that adhere to the windowpane), geckos, and even a small snake. I didn’t ever see a snake in my garden in Hackney. I did see a hedgehog in my garden in Hackney and hawks hunt over that big green space the other side of the Lea from Springfield park where magic mushrooms grow. I think that’s unspeakably cool.

A Canadian friend of mine was bitten by a baby viper on a street in Kyoto. It got him on the fleshy part of the hand between thumb and first finger. He was completely stoned at the time. You want a head full of tetrahydrocannabinol when you get bitten by a snake. He lived to get wasted again another day.

Years ago, my upper son J tried to stamp on a viper on the mountain above our house. We were strolling in the woods by the tiger shrine when this thing skittered across our path and J, about 10 at the time whooped like a loony and give chase trying to stamp on the snake’s tail. I have no idea why he thought it was a good idea. I suppose you have to be ten years old for that sort of thing to make sense. The path was narrow and I had my whole family between J and I, and I was unable to bound over in a fatherly, rescuing sort of way and had to content myself with shouting like my own kind of loony instead. Of course, the Japanese families strolling in the same woods, unable to see the snake, just saw a big foreigner shouting at a child and I inadvertently confirmed a number of unkind stereotypes in one go.

I have even seen the occasional cat in my garden.

In the neighbourhood generally, we have big snakes (shima hebi, no danger to people), herons, cormorants, ducks, tanuki (a dog-like creature that is reminiscent of a raccoon), stoats and an unnamed stoat-like thingy with longer legs and mangy mien. The river is full of big carp and the paddy fields are full of crayfish and, of course, millions of frogs, which end up flattened all over the road in the summer.

And the wildlife doesn’t confine itself to the garden. I once found one of those miniature frogs hopping across my kitchen floor. I have no problem with frogs in the house but I thought Mr. Cat might have opinions about it so I caught it. Catching a small frog after a bottle of wine and who knows what other gluggables I had consumed that night is a recipe for instant slapstick, knockabout comedy. I tumbled over a chair.

I once found a gecko curled up on the gas element of the cooker. Geckos have chameleon abilities and this guy had matched the colour of the gas burner perfectly. I think he thought he was being pretty clever, cleaving to the gas burner while wearing the colour of cinder. Lucky I spotted him or he would have been real cinder when I put on the water for my tea. I like geckos, but I think they might be a bit daft. Another time, closing the shutters one leapt from the runners right onto my hand where he clung on. You could see it in his face: hey, I just escaped squishy death with that magnificent leap! Geckos pretty much wear their thoughts on their sleeves; they don’t keep much to themselves at all. You always know what a gecko is thinking. And then he did this comic little double take as he realized he was clinging to the hand of a potential predator and leapt again, this time into my daughter’s doll house, where, endearingly, he took up residence.

Oh, and we have lots of bats. More bats than a very batty belfry. I have just been reminded of bats as one zoomed over my head a second ago. A lot of these guys apparently live in the loft of the house behind ours. When I am sitting here with my beer at this time of day I can see them dropping out of the eaves and zooming away like small, hairy jet fighters.

The sky tonight is luminous pink and blue and the moon is very milky indeed and it really is getting close to wine time.

So. Animals. I’m hanging out a bit longer this evening wondering what living things might stroll round for a chat. A herd of wildebeest sweeping majestically across this suburban lawn? A pteranodon in the olive tree, perhaps?

Whatever the beasties here, that commuter train tomorrow morning, with its cargo of blue suits and combovers will be the opposite of wild life.

Mood: deeply mellow

Music: the sound of the spheres

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