Thursday, August 31, 2006

Where In The World?

Now if you look below you'll see a zoom-in from outerspace right into my house.

I did actually put red rings on these pics but they've not come out very well.

Anyway, if you click to enlarge the last photo, and look inside the red ring, you'll see my house. If you look closely, you'll notice that it looks like the the bottom left hand corner my building has been chipped away. That's my balcony. And I've since found out, that I am the only one in the building with one. Quality.

Me Love You Long Time

The knocking shop outside Akabane station’s East Exit is hilarious.

Outside it has a big placard sporting the price made from a series of wooden numbers hung on pegs. When the price goes down (¥4000), they take off a number, and when it goes up (¥7000) they hang another on one.

The zeros usually stay the same, while the first number fluctuates. Almost like the NASDAQ. Or maybe, in this case, the SLAGDAQ.

On the way home last night I nipped into Mos Burger next door for a cheeky hotdog, and walked right past the two women they had out on the street as samples.

Noticed that the price had been lowered to ¥5000. I think I understand why. They looked about 45. Proper old slappers.

I think, as in any market, the price is dictated by the quality.

A few floors above there is a rival boudoir. On the window it says “Lover’s Communication Room”. I’m sure there’s no love lost between the participants, and I doubt, apart from haggling over services, there’s not much communication going on. But it definitely is a room, so one out of three ain’t bad.

Red Rum. Red Rum.

Had a lesson dumped into my schedule at short notice today:


As me Dad says: “Is he puddled, him?”. Translation from Derbyshire Dialect “I think this young man may have learning-based difficulties”

Can’t remember his name. Maybe I’ve blanked it. Taught him for a one-off lesson and hopefully will never see his face again. Except, maybe, for when I turn out the light tonight.

Generally, he seemed happy to swat objects off the table, and giggle maniacally to himself whilst scribbling angrily on paper. I noticed he was holding the pencil as a killer holds a kitchen knife.

And, for an entire thirty minutes, he refused to acknowledge my existence. He wouldn’t look at me or respond to me, except to assault me with Duplo, crayons and corgi cars.

Waiting out in the hall was his “mother”, although it could well have been his grandmother. She was rather crone-like, had a head shaped like a parallelogram and sported a set of chequerboard teeth. She reminded me of a pissed witch.

She had another offspring in a pushchair that had massive ears, cross eyes and what looked like shit on his chin. He rocked a bit as well.

I think these were genuine Japanese in-breds. Why his parents want him to learn English is beyond me. He’ll probably spend his life on a high rock near Mt Fuji picking off hikers with a crossbow. He will have probably named the crossbow.

The Japanese receptionist trotted out her one-size-fits-all explanation: “he’s just shy”.

Shy? Shy? I am reminded of a scene from one of my favourite films: Manhunter.

After being incarcerated by FBI agent Will Graham, Hannibal Lektor (Brian Cox) is studying forensic evidence on another murder case in an attempt to help track down serial killer “The Tooth Fairy”. After looking through the file, Lektor delivers his final conclusions to the FBI.

“Hmmmm. This killer - he’s a shy boy, Will” says Lektor.

Yes. The boy I taught today was “shy”. And one day he too will be the subject of an investigation, I’m sure.

It’ll be the stench from the attic. That’ll be the giveaway.

When Push Comes To Shove

My latest “thing” is to go to work mega-early and plan my lessons at a leisurely pace.

Except I didn’t realise that getting the Saikyo Line, Japan’s busiest line, at 9am was what I am now calling “A Very Stupid Idea”

My God, it is something else. The doors open, people flood in, and just when you think the carriage is going to tear, another wave of people career headlong into the carriage - all propelled by a Japanese train guard who is folding up limbs just so he can shut the train doors.

And if someone finds themselves hemmed in, and needs to get to the exit as the train approaches the station, they start shoving. Not a polite English shove, either. A full-blown ram.

It’s like a Prodigy gig in a portacabin. Pile on! I don’t know what the standing equivalent is. Pile along?

The upshot of this all was that I found myself perfectly spooning a nice young woman. We were entwined like a big sweaty yin and yang and lest I had an issue with blood flowing in the wrong direction I tried to think about a nude Lisa Riley eating a shepherd’s pie.

Didn’t help. I was hungry.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Some Things What Have Happened

First the bad news. My iPod is knackered. I feel like I’ve lost a friend.

Second, saw my first push bike accident – a granddad and a teenager wildly swerving over the road only to metallically clatter together. Both blamed the other. Given I’ve been here a month, I’m surprised I’ve not seen it happen sooner.

Third, had my formal feedback from the boss man. Was overwhelmingly positive. Few pointers to pick up on, but otherwise OK. Turns out I might be quite a good teacher after all. Who’d have thought it?

Fourth, went out with Eli last night in Shibuya. Quite a surreal night really, but really good to see her.

Started off by going to a British pub called The Hub, only to be accosted by a Japanese barman who had just finished studying in Manchester.

When he found out I studied in Manchester too, he let rip. Do you know this place? Do you know that place? Did you know so-and-so?

Alarmingly he had developed a slight Manchester accent (“I was doing me degree”), and now he was back in Tokyo had bought all of “Shameless” on DVD to stop the withdrawal symptoms. Sorted, like.

Then, oddly, as I looked up at the big TV screen, I saw another Manchester compatriot of mine, Rob Bantin, in a music video. It’s the Arman van Helden one where people get their bottoms spanked by some models.

It’s very strange when co-incidences pile up like that.

Honesty Is Not The Best Policy

Thursday is my day off.

This Thursday I was on sick-cover, which means I have to phone up to see if anyone is ill and, if so, dash out to some unknown far-flung school to teach all their lessons.

And that means bye bye to your day off.

Glancing down the sick cover-schedule, I noticed they had me down as Robert Rowles for 24th Aug. So, when it came to the Thursday, I was so bloody knackered I thought about claiming my name wasn’t on the list. “Who’s Robert Rowles?” I would ask.

But on the 24th I had an attack of conscience, and actually phoned up head office to see if anyone was ill and ask if I was needed. Luckily I wasn’t.

Felt better knowing I had done the right thing. Except I hadn’t. Turns out there really is a guy called Robert Rowles.

Head bloke Duncan spoke to me about it later.

“Good job you didn’t speak to a bloke called Jamie when you phoned in earlier on“ he said

“He would have probably asked you to come in anyway, even if you weren’t Robert Rowles. It would have been close enough for him”

I thought I was doing the right thing by ringing in, but nearly came a cropper there.

There’s also a guy on the list called Stephen Rowley. I am going to have to be careful.

Other minuses: next month I have two six-day weeks.

Some plusses: Next month there is a school holiday on a Friday and a Saturday. My days off are Thursdays and Sundays. Four days off in a row. Woo-hoo.

General Observations About Japan #2

More general observations.....

1. Japanese writing is so difficult that even some Japanese people don’t understand it. A couple of times I’ve asked for translation of a particular character only to be met with “Hmmm. Actually, even I’m not sure what this means”.

Today I was telling two adults in my class that the symbol for Warabi, one of my schools, was very complicated. One of them agreed and admitted he hadn’t got a clue how to draw it, and the other one cheated and looked it up on his phone. I wonder if it is the equivalent of not being able to spell Uttoxeter.

2. On a Friday night, as the train pulls up and the doors open, you are knocked over by the boozy waft of stale beer. On a Friday night the Japanese really go for it. I know the British can drink, but The Tube never smelled like a Burton-On-Trent brewery. A couple of times now, I’ve seen a businessman collapsed in a heap whilst a train guard went through his mobile looking for someone to call.

3.When food arrives, it’s really hot. As in McDonald’s Apple Pie hot. And it all tastes very fresh. Unlike Littlewood’s café, there’s not much hotlamping going on round here.

4. There are no old cars on the road in Japan. This is because parts and warranties are so expensive it’s just as easy to buy a new car. The same cannot be said for pushbikes all of which resemble the original “velocipede”. Or is that a dinosaur?

5. Taxi doors open and close automatically. Also the taxi drivers do not moan about “the ragheads”, refuse to go South of the river, or take you all round the houses. Oh wait, they do do that ; not because they’re dishonest, but because they haven’t got a chuffing clue where anything is.

6. Though Japan has the highest life-expectancy in the world, I’ve never seen so many people bent double with what I presume is osteoperosis. My God, these people really are at right-angles to themselves. It doesn’t stop them, though. They’re out and about trundling across Tokyo with their wheeled zimmer frames. Maybe there’s a home for doubled-up grannies in Akabane somewhere.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

More Shots Of Akabane, My Town

View From My Front Door : Ninjas Not In Shot


Or- in English- great!

Bit of good news - Eli, my utterly lovely Japanese friend has come back to live in Tokyo.

I’m glad about this because she can help decipher my gas bill.

I Don't Need No Education

Wednesday, I was at school for 11 hours. Tuesday, I did a 12-hour day.

The head honcho had come to see me teach. He sat in the corner of the lesson, occasionally raising his eyebrows and scribbling notes on a pad, though for all I know he could have been doing a sudoku.

After he said: “Yep, no problems there”.

“I’m not sacked, then?” I asked.

“I would have to have seen two or three lessons far, far worse than that before I thought about sacking you” he said.

Stick around a bit longer and you just might, I thought

However, felt a whole lot better knowing that, apparently, my teaching is of a required standard.

Meeting tomorrow for full feedback. I was thinking of letting rip with a full-on “Here Are Ten Things Wrong With Your Company” speech but actually, he’s a very nice guy, so I think I will play it “pally” with him to get him on-side before I steam in.


On Wednesday a 5 year old girl took one look at me, started bawling and refused to come into the classroom.

Why? I’m not that bloody ugly. Although, now I think about it, I was wearing a hockey mask and revving a chainsaw.

Basically, she threw a spaz-tantrum, hid behind her mother’s skirt and physically lashed out when she was man-handled into the class.

My powers of empathy had deserted me. “Oh, grow up!” I thought, conveniently forgetting that she was actually 5 years-old.

And that I was wearing a hockey mask and revving a chainsaw.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Scotland the Brave

Met another teacher last night - David, a Scottish fella.

Top bloke. Decided to go for a beer after work. Was in the arse end of nowhere and was difficult to find anywhere.

Stumbled across a rather authentic Izakaya - Japanese pub n' grub. Did a kind of Japanese Tapas (Japas?). Ordered lots of little dishes.

Once the beer was flowing, David, who had been quite reserved up until that point let rip about SHANE, and gave a twenty minute diatribe about what was wrong with it.

Everything he said was right. This comes on top of another conversation I had with another teacher, Martin, on Friday who was also moaning.

I will stick this out as long as I can because I like Japan, but at this stage I can't see me staying here for too long.

Scotland the Brave

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Burger Me

That's what I like about this country.

I've just had a curry with a burger in it and I ate it with a spoon.

And in Japan, I've done nothing wrong

Quality Control Street.

Palaver and kerfuffle.

Went back to the City Hall to collect my Gaijin card; the credit card-esque pass that allows me to stay in Japan.

Two weeks ago, when I applied for the card, City Hall said they would register my official address as flat 304, as 305 didn’t exist.

At the time, jetlagged and not with it, I assumed I had copied down the address wrong and agreed. Actually, it WAS flat 305, I discovered later that night.

So, when I collected the Gaijin card today, they had listed my address as 304. Never mind, I thought, what’s the worst that can happen?

Well, I’ll tell you: the address you give to the bank and the mobile phone companies must match the address on the gaijin card. If they don’t match you don’t get a bank account and you don’t get a phone.

And mine didn’t match.

Phoned Helmut for advice – he’s being living here for twenty years. He said, regrettably, everyone automatically defers to the government and a bank teller is more likely to believe the info on the Gaijin card than a story about a non-existent address.

Even if I could explain it in Japanese. Which I couldn’t.

So having just arrived back in my flat, I turned round and went straight back out again pausing briefly to grab my housing contract and take a photo of my front door number.

Clever, clever.

When I arrived back at City Hall for the second time that day I was gearing up for a ruck.

After explaining the situation, I was asked to sit down. Then there was a lot of frowning and mumbling, before they called me back. Once again, they showed me a map of my street with 305 missing.

Immediately I whipped out my housing contract which carried the address and then my secret weapon - the camera.

“Aaaah” the girl said looking at the screen but then started frowning and pointing. It appeared that the battery logo for the camera was obscuring the 5 in 305.

Amazing. Not only are they not satisfied with a housing contract carrying my address, they assume I went to the trouble of taking a photo of my front door only to cleverly conceal the only number that mattered – the last digit – with a battery power logo.

“Zoom?” she said hopefully. I began punching random buttons, only to accidentally flick through some of the more embarrassing photos already posted on the site – particularly the one of me with the Udon apron.

Finally, I sorted it and a big fat 305 appeared on the screen. “Aaah” she said before writing 305 in biro on the back of the card.


Thank goodness for modern technology, though. Here is the photo that saved my bacon.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Roppongi: Not Like Essex or Sheffield

Roppongi is another brightly-lit suburb of Tokyo, recently famous for its shopping mall and entertainment complex at Roppongi Hills.

There is some great architecture around here: clean concrete lines, fountains, odd modern art sculptures and polygonal buildings shaped like the Jawa’s giant droid-carrying truck from Star Wars.

In fact, it’s very much a place that could be used for some futuristic movie sequence – think Total Recall, Demolition Man or Back To The Future 2.

However, have to say was a bit disappointed with the actual shopping centre itself. From the guidebook, I had been led to believe that this was a Meadow Hall, Bluewater or Lakeside and it’s not.

It’s one of the strangest shopping malls I’ve ever visited. Whilst it is beautifully designed with its rich oaky panelling, ornate water features and hanging gardens I couldn’t really find many shops – a key requirement in any shopping centre, I think.

Put simply, it’s almost as if the makers only had applications for 30 or so stores, so decided to spread them out over as a wide an area as possible whilst filling the space in between with snazzy stone cladding and polished chrome escalators.

It’s not a horrible place, just a bit confusing. You find yourself on another faux-wooden panelled walkway, crossing another marble floor or wandering through another atrium only to be met by maybe a mobile phone shop in one corner and a tiny cake shop in the other. The shop is tiny, by the way, not the cakes.

“Where are the shops?” you shout. In your head, obviously.
In a city where space is at a premium, I am surprised that the Japanese haven’t been tempted to really pack ‘em in.

Udon’t Have To Be Mad To Eat Here But It Helps

Udon – it’s noodles in curry soup, basically.

It comes in a big round bowl and is accompanied on a tray by an oversized china spoon and chopsticks neatly rowed up like a surgeon’s instruments.

Upon sitting at the Udon counter down I noticed that instead of a napkin, I had something a bit larger. As I picked it up for examination, it origamied out into a knee-length apron, complete with the halterneck ties. A brilliant idea but clearly this was to be a messy operation.

For a Westerner, eating Udon is not so much tricky as unlikely. I would liken it to searching for the end of the cling film whilst wearing boxing gloves.

When it arrived with the customary bow, I stared at it for a brief moment before glancing out of the corner of my eye to see how the locals were tackling the problem.

It seemed as if the best way to handle it was to use the chopsticks to lift the noodles high out of the broth, at arms length in some cases, before lowering them in a neat little nest onto the big spoon.

That’s the theory, anyway. Except my noodles chose to slink away wetly when in contact with the spoon and fall back into the curry soup flicking hot broth in my eye. At one point I was convinced that the entire bowl was one very long noodle.

This was proving difficult. I’d been sat there five minutes and I hadn’t eaten anything yet. As The Righteous Brothers’ Unchained Melody played in the background and the singer crooned “...and time goes slowly”, I found myself saying “too right, mate”. Obviously written over a bowl of Udon.

20 minutes later and I’d finished. Udon is actually very nice and of course, as always in Japan, the service was impeccable.

I would order them again although next time I might take a pair of scissors to make the whole thing more manageable.

I kept the apron for posterity and later modelled it for the enclosed photos. If you click to enlarge you can actually see the battlescars down the front.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Diamond Ginza

Love this place. It’s the posh bit. Some of it is hidden away in a kind of underground city. This is where you find your Guccis and your Pradas.

Prior to this photo being taken we had been seeking refuge underground from an almighty Biblical storm.

There’s a bloody big typhoon over this way at the moment and it’s already caused a fair bit of grief for the Chinese, the Taiwanese and the Japanese in the Eastern peninsula of Chiba.

About 2.15 Helmut and I were making our way over to Ginza from Tokyo when the sky went an Apocalyptic purple, the wind picked up ominously and the trees began violently depositing their leaves on the sidewalk.

You could feel it in the air, the anticipatory lull ; something big was going to happen.

We picked up speed and moved toward our destination. Minutes later the rain was violently hammering down, like someone had up-ended a billion buckets.

It was great.

Imperial Palace

Some photos of the Imperial Palace. It’s out-of-bounds to the public. Caption competition now open........

Tokyo: The New Stoke-On-Trent

Tokyo is like Stoke On Trent. Not because they both have a fondness for pies and pottery, but because both are made up of many different towns that, like drops of rain on a window pane, have slowly dribbled into one another.

And in the same way as Stoke itself makes up a rather small portion of Stoke-on-Trent, "Tokyo" too makes up a small part of the Tokyo Megalopolis.

I think the similarities end there, though.

This is Tokyo, Tokyo. Proper Tokyo. Historical Tokyo. Not one of the many other cities (Shinjuku, Shibuya etc) which, as outsiders, we more readily associate with the capital

This is the business district - like Canary Wharf or The City. It’s an area often described as “Marunouchi. “Maru” meaning “within” and “no uchi” meaning “the circle”.

Traditionally, this area was within the confines of the Imperial Palace. This is where the bureaucrats, businessmen and scholars plied their trade and indeed the Palace still sits at its heart.

Nowadays, “marunouchi” still has connotations of status. It’s not only a descriptor of a geographical location, but also a word which denotes highbrow commerce, prestige, refinement and other assorted regal qualities. Buses round here all have the word plastered on their sides, as do the buildings. It’s a label to lend your brand gravitas.

Here we can see the Marunouchi skyline from the grounds beside the Imperial Palace. You’ll notice the Tokyo TV Tower, the closest thing the Japanese have to a national landmark.


Asakusa - pronounced alarmingly like Arsekisser – is a straight-up tourist attraction. An impossibly long line of trinket-selling market stalls lead up to a traditional Japanese temple and pagoda combo.


If any of you have seen Anime classic Akira, this might look familiar. Obviously, this stretch of road is not in the film, but it very much reminds me of the lonely, dead highways Kaneda and Akira zoom along. Would look better at night.

Rodin's Thinker

This is statue outside the Ueno Museum of Western Art. It’s Rodin’s “Thinker”. Helmut says this is the original. I questioned this, but he says he’s pretty sure.

Black and White

First up, this is the infamous black chicken curry.

You’ll notice this is a variation on the dark vs light theme I was mentioning in a previous post, as this has an additional third layer of beef curry. Make no mistake, this mother is has more kick than a chilli enema.

Incidentally, after re-visiting Homemade Curry with Japanese cultural expert Helmut, I have now discovered I’ve being doing it all wrong.

No wonder I’ve been getting funny looks. I am supposed to order my food from a little ticket machine outside, then hand the fella the chit with my order on.

As previously detailed, I have been waltzing in and shouting “CHICKEN CURRY” until they just gave in.

A Tokyo Story (told in the Present Continuous Tense)

You step out of the icy airy cool of your aircon apartment and into a humid greenhouse heat. Down the tin steps and into the narrow labyrinthine streets, your shirt is already beginning to stick to your back.

You weave your way out of the maze, through the jumbled jungle of concrete and steel and along to the main road.

At the traffic signals people wait patiently to cross, but upon turning green a swarm of bicycles appear from nowhere and scatter across the road like some crazed formation display team

You reach the station, walk through its cathedral-like opening, and go over to the ticket machine. You only have a ¥ 2000 note, but the machine never runs out of change.

Through the gate, up the stairs and onto the platform, you’re looking at the electronic board waiting for the English to scroll round, but you know your train will never be more than five minutes away. And it will never be late.

The train arrives, and although commuters have been queuing patiently along designated lines, you know the moment the doors open it’s a free-for-all.

Inside the carriage, the benches are plush and run along the length of the cabin. The temperature is cool and the windows are huge – big enough to watch the muddled buildings glide past.

No one is talking on their phones, yet everyone is staring intently at their screen – playing games, sending email or selecting another tune from their iTunes phone library. A Japanese businessman is falling asleep, his head nodding until his chin is on his chest. You arrive at the station and are back out into the heat.

Later that evening you are wandering through the streets and its getting dark. Everything is lit up. Signs in the street point to bars and restaurant up dark staircases or down in basements. Promotional staff are trying to hand you toilet tissues wrapped in adverts. You graciously decline.

You wander aimlessly through a sea of faces. Some look like Japanese versions of people you know. Some catch your eye but most don’t. Women are mostly wearing summery skirts and high heels, but some are wearing kimonos. The men are wearing T-shirts with badly-translated English slogans that now make no sense.

You scan the shops. You can’t read a word of Japanese, but you’re pretty sure that’s a record shop, and that’s a café, and that’s an amusement arcade.

You enter a restaurant to a chorus of “welcomes” from every member of staff. You make yourself understood by pointing at the photos in the menu. Though the restaurant is full, everyone is there alone and they all eat in silence.

Back at home you flick through the channels secretly deluding yourself you’ll find anything you’ll understand. You fiddle with the air-conditioner until you think the temperatures right. Then you go to bed.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Japanese TV

I promised an entry on Japanese TV and here it is.

Japanese TV has many pundits and critics who focus on the more outlandish formats and cite them as evidence of some crazy alien culture. But the reality is that TV out here is not as madcap as we’re led to believe.

The hallmarks of Japanese television can be found in its narrow offering and slightly misjudged production values. Not, as it is sometimes portrayed in the West, in its “Endurance“-style gameshows or “BigSuperCoolCrazyChallenge Show” quiz formats.

True, these do exist but have you had a squint through The Radio Times, recently? Do just that and you’ll see British formats like:

It’s Now Or Never: Contestants deliver a big announcement to their friends and family through a fully choreographed razzmatazz song and dance routine. Presented by Phillip Schofield.

I caught 10 minutes of this before I went away and really it was shocking. The UK hardly represents the pinnacle of TV culture and Alan Partridge’s Youth Hostelling with Chris Eubank and Arm Wrestling with Chas and Dave weren’t far wide of the mark.

In fact, then, in terms of naff, off-the-wall formats Japan is no worse than anyone else. But Japanese TV is still a curious beast with the overriding conclusion is that it presents a rather limited offering.

Broadly, Japanese TV falls into three categories: Food shows, news and discussion shows. Often you’ll find a format that straddles all three genres, usually shows where people discuss what food has been in the news recently. I’m not kidding.

There’s a dearth of soap operas. I only managed to find one, but I count 5 in UK. Similarly, there are no sitcoms - any comedy comes in the form of studio based slapstick challenges. Finally, I couldn’t find any drama or any documentaries either.

And for a country supposedly obsessed by Western Culture I could find few imported programmes. Where are The Simpsons and Star Trek? Surely these must be somewhere around here?

Maybe it’s because I don’t have satellite, but I do have at least 12 channels on my box, and there is little evidence of these formats on here.

Food Programming

Good god Japanese like food. They talk about food, they think about food, they breathe food - sometimes they even find time to eat it. It’s like it’s just been invented: Food - from the makers of drink.

Flicking through my twelve channels you can guarantee you will come across a culinary-based show within three touches of the channel-up button.

Usually its 6 or 7 people sat around a curved table sampling various delights from small porcelain bowls. Initially they wear a slightly quizzical expression which, after tasting, is followed by an emphatic and positive “mmmm!”

They also spend a lot of time on the food’s nutritional qualities and how will affect your body - often demonstrated via a computer-generated cat-scan with pulsating arrows indicating the food’s direction of transit through the body.

There does also appear to be a slightly sado-masochistic element to the proceedings. I have seen a few programmes now which involve a panel looking on in gleeful anticipation whilst some unsuspecting guest levers something wet and wiggly into his mouth before they all point, go “aaaaaaaaah!”, and then tell him/her what they have eaten eg bear’s eyes, squid fried in bears eyes or a lionburger wrapped in a bears arse and fried by a man with no eyes


News is a sombre occasion, but the most striking thing here is that the
Japanese appear to have no concept of which colours work together on screen.

Here’s a tip: for a classy news set use no more than two colours.

Presenting the news from behind a red and orange desk in front of a blue and green backdrop, whilst yellow and purple captions scroll left to right does no one any favours. Especially not epileptics.

And why are there potted plants, and wicker chairs and lamps in the back of the shot. Are you presenting this from Focus Do-It-All or something?

Also, there appears to be little foreign news. People talk about the Americans being isolationist but through America’s aggressive foreign policy international issues are often forced on to their news agenda.

Here, I feel that contact without the outside world is reactive rather than proactive. They find out about things when they affect them, rather seeking an international experience. However, I’ve only been here a short while, so I’m prepared to be proved wrong on this issue.

Discussion Shows

For a country which is notoriously tight-lipped about its feelings, the Japanese appear to be very keen on each others’ opinions on everything.

These shows cover a variety of topics, but like the aforementioned cookery show, largely involve people sat around in a semi-circle having a bit of a chinwag about this and that.

Similarly, like the news, they are often situated in gaudy bric-a-brac sets littered with ornaments, plants, chairs, books, cushions etc.

If you’ve got guests coming round, just have a bit of a tidy up for Christ’s sake.

They are also keen on their picture-in-picture reaction shots. Remember Beadle’s About in the 80s? As they showed the full prank back to the victim from the comfort of the studio, their face would appear in a little box at the top of the screen to see them going “Oh, what I am like, eh?” as they watched events unfold.This mechanism is used in Japan for absolutely everything.

Playing a short piece to the guests about public transport? Let’s have a picture-in-picture reaction shot. Running a piece of reportage about dwindling salmon stocks in the South China Sea? Let’s have a picture-in-picture reaction shot.

What for? When I watch a piece about a new bendy-bus route in Shinjuku, my face is totally immobile. It’s not that interesting.

Except here the guests feel they have to make a bit of an effort if the camera is on them and consequently go for either the raised eyebrows and “ohhh” of surprise, or perhaps the frown and shake of the head as if to say “that’s just not on!”

As mentioned before captions are everywhere. They pop up, fire down, scroll across at very short notice. It’s like Ceefax Tourettes.

Sometimes they are accompanied by sound effects. On the more light-hearted shows they go for a straight big fat “BOOOOOING”, but on the more reserved shows they opt for a more polite “DING” of a bell - almost like “next please”.

Bizarrely, although I can’t read Japanese yet, the captions appear to be simply echoing what is being said on the screen. And they’re not bothered where they put them either. Across people’s faces is quite usual.


Adverts are as limited in their range as the programmes within which they sit, Food and drink seems to be the number one sector here and products are usually pre-packaged curry, noodle-dishes and other microwaveable malarkey.

Strangely, they are often served up by attractive young mothers in massive kitchens on the side of big, expansive, expensive oak-panelled lounges with huge gardens.

Where are these people living? Where are the people in the Tokyo shoeboxes – the ones turn over in their sleep and accidentally fall into their bath or who knock the frying pan off the ring when they open their front door?

Bloody Ad Land.

Overall, Japanese TV is quite poor, but I suspect no worse than UK or America. Perhaps a satellite decoder might unlock some more interesting gems.

But perhaps not.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Funny Ha So

Bit of a first last night. Saw a Japanese comedy programme that actually made me laugh loudly.

I’ll do a separate entry on Japanese TV one day because there’s quite a bit of mileage in it, but in the meantime I’ll tell you about “Gut’s”.

That’s their punctuation error not mine, by the way.

“Gut’s” gives members of the public the chance to win prizes by competing in humiliating slapstick challenges. The contestant doesn’t know the challenge until he opens a sealed envelope.

This week’s show featured a rather timid man who was kicked out of a plane with an instructor at 20,000 feet, and on landing was immediately pushed along a line of people dressed in nappies, all of whom custard-pied him really hard in the face.

After that dazed, confused and covered in flan, he was lobbed into a ring with two Kendo Nagasaki-style wrestlers, who set about bodyslamming him into the canvas. Finally, the wrestlers threw him through a hoop of fire.

The whole thing happened in the space of about 4 and-a-half minutes.

Trust me it was funny.

Best of the night though was contestant number 3. His challenge was ingenious and is an idea I’d love to steal.

He visited a series of po-faced Japanese psychic mediums and requested congress from beyond the grave with a number of famous people under the pretence he had to give them all a special message.

But unbeknownst to the stupid medium, once they had run through their “I am now possessed” schtick and contacted the “other-side”, the contestant’s challenge was now to make her laugh or react in order to highlight her as a fraud.

Consequently, when the medium said “what is your question, my child?” the contestant, clad in an all-black body stocking, would then stand up and proceed to do a series of hilarious strutting dances accompanied by bouts of Olympic-class gurning and general arsing about in attempt to make her laugh.

They tried it on three different psychic mediums. Two kept a straight face, but the third one cracked.

Trust me it was funny.

Beginner’s Guide To Japanese

My Japanese is coming along slowly. First, a geography lesson.

Tokyo is not pronounced Toe-Kee-Oh, but more like Tock-Yor. Osaka is not Owe-Sarker, but Or-sack-her. And, on the South island, Fukuoaka is not Fucker-Whacker but Ffffff-Coker.

I noticed when I was interviewed back in May that Ian kept dropping in the oh-so Japanese pronunciation. “Yes, you see the things about Tock Yor is....”,

And now I’ve started falling into the trap of pronouncing the Japanese place names with increasing authenticity. What a twat. I promised myself I wouldn’t do that.

Mind you it works the other way round. I remember when Gena was depressed after he realised he’d started pronouncing Russian words in an English way. “I’ve started saying Gorber Choff instead of Gorrrrrrrbatchev” he moaned.

I know about 7 or 8 phrases now, and so far I’m doing alright. Phrasebooks are okay but it’s best to work out which phrases you need and then practise them. At the moment my favourite is “atatame, kudasai” which means “can you heat this up?”.

Handy if you’ve ordered a Frankfurter Pie in Mister Donut.

The Write Stuff

Tuesdays are made better by the Japanese receptionist. Eiko is lovely. Very chatty and smiley and speaks good English.

She’s not drop dead gorgeous or anything but there is something about the way she carries herself which appeals. Japanese girls seem to come with a kind of in-built delicateness or precision, and just watching Eiko write is very absorbing.

When I write I press too hard and my spidery letters scratch their way illegibly across the page. But with Eiko, and also with my friend Eli, each movement of the pen contains a delicate flicking motion leaving a series of fine but accurate strokes on the page - all of equal thickness but all as thin as a human hair.

Apparently, the Japanese alphabets (all three of them) are so unwieldy that deadly accurate handwriting is drilled into children from a young age and indeed precision and accuracy are very much hallmarks of Japanese society: Their trains run to the second, their signage is all very clear and their shopworkers appear to have a very strict consumer-facing code of behaviour.

But you can also see this in the way they move. Objects are never plonked down, dropped, slammed, shunted or forced. They are smoothly placed, gently slid or softly positioned. It’s like everything is a Faberge egg.

And I was thinking all this as I was watching Eiko draw me a little map. She was attempting to locate Starbucks in Ikebukuro after I had asked her if she knew of any wireless internet hotspots in Tokyo.

Like a trooper, she had ploughed through a series of impeccably arranged plastic folders until she had found a relevant map, whereupon she had photocopied it, neatly trimmed it down with a pair of scissors and then set upon scoring lines onto it with laser-like exactness. It was like watching Tony Hart - if Tony Hart made short, breathy “ah!” noises of contentment between each stroke.

Later, I scrawled what Japanese I knew on to a piece paper whilst she laughed and drew it again properly.

Very nice.

Silence is Golden

How do you solve a problem like Kazune?

She’s a 12 year-old girl who has a one-on-one lesson once a week. So far, across the two half-hours she has spoken approximately 8 words: I, don’t, know, no, yes, Beckham, hello (and) goodbye.

I try so hard to get a response from her, but she just stares back with slightly fearful eyes; I’ve just asked her if she like chicken not explain the guiding principles of quantum string-theory.

Her text-book and class report suggests a level of competency I simply don’t seem to be able to find. Is it because I am male and her previous teacher was female? Is it a sullen teenage strop?

Whatever it is, each lesson really drags and I had to finish the lesson mouthing words like I was trying to communicate with someone through soundproof glass:

“Doooo. Youuuu. (point at girl) Have. A. Dick. Shun. Reeeeee? (raise eyebrows quizzically at end to denote question).

It’s like angry Give Us A Clue.

Is This A Dagger I See Before Me, Duck?

The kids’ lessons I was moaning about last week seem to be developing nicely; it’s just a case of having so many activities that they don’t catch themselves learning - find the pairs, blind man’s bluff and paper, scissors, stone have been my saviour this week.

Adults were fun as well. Met a middle-aged woman called Junko who claimed she had seen all Johnny Depp’s films, didn’t like sushi and couldn’t use chopsticks. Secretly I suspected she may not be Japanese at all.

Also, taught Hiroko for the second time. She wasn’t interested in the text book and wanted to tell me all about her planned trip to England, thrusting the map the travel agent had marked up under my nose. There were felt pen splodges on London, Edinburgh, Oxford and one, bizarrely, on Stafford.

“Why is Stafford here?” I said

Her English is poor, and she simply repeats the last words you say:

“Stafford here” she said.

“No. What is at Stafford?” I repeated “What will you see?”

“Will you see” she said

I was about to give when she pulled out a second piece of paper, an itinerary, started reading through it.

“Lonn Donn. Edin Bah. Ox. Fawd. Stafford –on –Avon”

Stratford-on-Avon. The penny dropped.

Clearly, the travel agent had marked up the map wrong. Stratford does look a bit like Stafford I suppose.

Two thought occurred. First, I hope the bus driver knows what he’s doing because there’s not an awful lot to see at Stafford. And second, what if Shakespeare had come from Stafford?

Plays could include Tesco and Cressida, Coria-bus-lane-us and Twelfth Night (In A Cell After Punching A Bobby In The Town Centre)

9th August

Crikey, this job is full of ups and downs: one minute you’re stabbing pins into SHANE’s effigy, next moment things are looking up and the kids are behaving, then you’re back to a lesson being scuppered by someone dropping an administrative bollock.

It’s being punched in the face by Lisa Riley, having it kissed better by Keira Knightley, before Lisa comes back in to knee you up the bracket.

Here are some more highlights:

Sunday, August 06, 2006

6th August

Things are alright. It’s all peaks and troughs, but it appears to be averaging out.

Here are some highlights from the past few days. This is a long entry but I have broken it up into handy themed paragraphs for ease of consumption (ie because you are all lazy):

1. Small Victories.

I wasn’t looking forward to Friday, largely due to one particular class containing an 8 year-old boy who every teacher has sent out at some point.

Notes from the last teacher suggested: “give him a chance” and “get to know him” along with other liberal platitudes. Sure enough, within the first 5 minutes he was diving on the floor, shouting, throwing and fighting.

Now, we’re not supposed to use words or vocab we haven’t yet already introduced in class, but nevertheless he understood when I said: “You carry on messing me about and you’ll be out”.

He wasn’t too bad after that. And they actually appeared to understand what I taught them. me: 1, kids: 0.

Actually, if we’re keeping score it’s more like - me: 1, kids 47

But that’s one more than I had yesterday, and I will claw it back.

2. Small Defeats

My first lesson on Friday was supposed to be 16.30. So, realising that the school doesn’t open until an hour before I phoned head office to check what time I should arrive.

Director of Studies, Jed, told me that actually the school was already open as there was another teacher with lessons earlier in the day. However, with my first lesson at 16.30, he ventured that I turn up at 15.30.

In fact, knowing the school was open and wanting to get a head start on my preparation, I rolled in at 13.30, 2 hours before the suggested time.

When I arrived I was greeted by Duncan, another Director of Studies. “How’s it all going?” he said. And, considering how pissed off I was, and not wanting to lie I mumbled a response in a non-committal fashion.

Then I added, “My first lesson is at 16.30, isn’t it?” to the receptionist. “Oh no there is change. First lesson is at 14.00” she replied. “Not according to my schedule” I said. “Booked yesterday” she responded.

“Right….. so that gives me 30 minutes to prepare, does it ?” I said in an indignant fashion half-looking at the Director Of Studies as if to say “I hope you’re listening to all this”

Actually Duncan was listening and added “that’s why we ask that teachers are here at 13.00”.

Got him.

“Well I phoned Jed, and he said he wasn’t sure what time I should come in“
I altered it slightly so as to not drop him in it.

“Aaaah.....OK” said Duncan. And then he left.

The day was rounded off with a fax from Duncan saying:

“Dear____ Philip ____ I would like to_____observe your teaching ____ on the _____22nd August________”

Not good. Seems I may be rocking the boat already.

3. Black Hole Radiation

Found this great curry house in the middle of Akabane station. It’s called “Homemade Curry” and, like every Japanese eaterie, has a menu of colour photographs daubed with chunky Oriental captions.

In I ventured and, guessing they would have chicken curry, I said “chicken curry” in a variety of accents until they finally understood.

Actually, what the chap behind the counter said was “brack chikan karey ?”, which I worked out must be “black chicken curry”.

And when they said it was black, they weren’t joking. It was the colour of Castrol GTX and was presented on an oval platter with one half the colour of night (the sauce) and the other virginal white (sticky rice).

In addition there was a breaded chicken fillet precariously balanced between the light and dark, as if conflicted between good and evil.

It was a bloody good curry and it wasn’t until I had paid up (£4) and was halfway home that I realised my stomach was buzzing with heat. “Mmmm”, I thought, “I’ve just realised: that was actually a really curry hot, wasn’t it?”

Toilet trouble ensued the next morning whereupon my flat was exposed to a severe dose of Black Hole Radiation

Incidentally, a few people have come up with a few alternatives to my “Akabane is the Japanese Clapham” analogy.

Tak suggests that Akabane is the Japanese Harringey. Hmmm….maybe Tak. But, as I suggested, there are no Turkish opium dealers in the fruit and veg shops here J

4. Lost In Translation. And In Tokyo

Stephen and I both finish early on a Saturday and, with very little contact with Westerners throughout the week, we thought it would be good to meet up.

He had already phoned me in the week to say that he was pissed off and that it was akin to being in some shoddy ITV documentary called “When English Teaching Goes Bad”. This was to be an exercise in spleen venting.

I was in the arse end of nowhere in a place called Sendagi which I will dub the Japanese Finchley (thoughts Tak ?), but needed to get to Shibuya (the Japanese West End).

Was given a sturdy route by the receptionist: Chiyoda line to Otemachi, change on to the Handzumon line and on to Shibuya.


Except when I got to Sendagi station there were no English tube maps and the bloke in the little window seemed to be in a right old mood.

“Sumimasen. Shibuya, ikura desu ka?” I asked (how much to Shibuya)

He shook his head and grunted a short reply including the word “chikatetsuo”- the Japanese word for station. He then stared me out as if to say “I don’t speak English – deal with it” and then “....are you still here? Didn’t you hear?”

Now, I obviously don’t expect him to speak fluent English and, hell, none of the staff in a London tube station speaks Japanese (or English sometimes), but so far Japanese people have been so keen to help in what ever way they can, that this came as a bit of a shock.

I gracefully retreated and thought about how I was going to do this. This is when you find out how smart you are – how will you solve this puzzle?

Eventually, using the one sign I could see, Sendagi, as a Rosetta Stone, I located the relevant Japanese character on a station map, and managed to decode my location and the eventually right ticket price. No thanks to you - you fat, unhelpful, stupid-hatted twat.

After I had changed at Otemachi, and neared the centre of Tokyo everything began to get a bit futuristic. Commuter trains on the outskirts are clean and large. But the Tokyo underground is on a whole new level. Well, literally.

Comfy seats, obligatory aircon and full colour flat screen monitors show your route in real time while the sleek white plastic is decorated with irregular-shaped orange and lilac panels. It was all a bit Kubrick.

Very accurate, very clean, very mechanical. I was listening to Alison Goldfrapp on my iPod at the time and the lyrics “I’m in love with a strict machine” never seemed more pertinent.

I arrived at Shibuya station with a choice of 9 exits. And somehow I chose exactly the right one. I emerged to another classic Tokyo sight : hustle, bustle, a blaze of artificial light and tubular towers adorned with huge TV screens.

10 minutes later and I was with Stephen in the British Pub from last week. 4 pints (4.50 a pint!) later we had finished with SHANE, the Japanese Kanji alphabet, our University days and were on to how we were going to get home.

Best joke of the night came from Stephen who pointed out the fact that because our large textbooks are called “SAC” and the level is denoted by colour, we can actually say to the receptionist “Have you seen my big purple SAC?” without her realising.

Left at 11.45, and nearly didn’t get home. In a Mexican wave effect, lines starting shutting down across Tokyo one-by-one. And like some shoddy game from The Crystal Maze, you have to start thinking fast about how to adjust your route. If you’re not quick enough, and more lines close down, you’ll have to start planning it all again.

I found this out the hard way by making my way towards the Shinjuku line to get the express line back to Akabane, only to be shouted back by a train guard as it had closed.

This time the staff couldn’t have been more helpful. He spoke good English and suggested an alternative route. Good on yer.

All fun and games and a good night.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

3rd August

Slept for close to 11 hours. I was on my feet all day yesterday and I ache.

Went for brekky at “The Selfridge Café”. Nothing to do with Selfridges in London”. Also they don’t Sell Fridges.

Ordered a coffee and massive pancake stack with a Mt Fuji-sized dollop of ice cream on the top. £2.80. Can’t complain - that would have been £4.50 in London.

Heat now feels different. Before it was a tropical, vegetative, jungle heat and the air tasted of greenery, if that makes sense. Now it’s a stinging, Costa Del Sol, sunlamp heat.

Got back from brekky, and had a call from Helmut. Today is his first day of teaching and he is now beginning to unearth the “quirks” of the job a few days after me.

It’s like a bitching relay. Steve will be next with the baton, I think.

Helmut’s two main gripes were that 1 hour is not enough to prepare for the lessons and that going in early is a redundant exercise as the school isn’t open.


It’s very reassuring when someone echoes your thoughts so precisely.

I am writing this in just my pants. You can take boy out the North......

Also Ive not been able to work out how to edit links yet because the PCs are all in Japanese.
So I should say here that you should also check out me mate Paul Jaymes's blog as well over at

He is far more hardcore than I am and is doing a grand tour of Earth taking in Russia, Oz and China as well as NZ, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

Good day to you sir, whichever sweaty shack you may be found supine in.

Getting Home

‘The day finished at 9pm. Was knackered. Then I had to get home. Nearly came a right cropper as well.

Japan is a cash-based society. Credit cards are not really accepted in stores, and hole-in-the-wall machine are disconcertingly absent from high streets. In short, you have to cart around great wads of cash.

And if you forget this fact and spend your money, perhaps thinking in the back of your mind, I’ll just nip to the cashpoint, you’re going to come unstuck. As I very nearly did.

I realised, nearly too late, that I barely had enough money to get home. Lunch was out if I was to see my air conditioned flat again that night, and so had to cobble together all my coppers for my two train tickets home.

It is one aspect of Japan I cannot understand. They are an incredibly advanced nation: their trains run to the second and their mobile phones can receive microwave transmissions from outer space.

So why can’t they accept credit cards? And HSBC? Oriental company? World’s Local Bank? My card is not accepted out here.


2nd August

Today was better than yesterday, and infinitely better than the day before that. If it continues to improve at this rate, I should reach a state of optimal happiness by the middle of August 2008.

Two kids’ lessons. Both fine, and dare I say it, some of the kids were actually very likeable; particularly Yuseke who is a little fat lad who says “Ay Ay!” and slaps his forehead every time he makes a mistake.

Also a couple of private lessons - one with an absolute honey called Keiko. Good end to the day.

My favourite lesson of the day was with the Desperate Housewives. Five 50 year olds and one poor 33 year old bloke, Takashi, stuck in the middle of them all.

They are a bit like a coven of saucy aunties, and make Carry On / naughty seaside postcard expressions of approval when you tell them anything.

They are very interested in all you have to say and, really, you could read out Chris Rea’s discography and they would still nod approvingly and go “ooooooh” and aaaaah”. And then write it down.

Actually, might try that:

Kyoko, which album featured the track Looking For A Rainbow?”

“Er...Load To Hell?”

“Very good, Kyoko”

Infuriatingly, however, they do tend to be so enthusiastic that not only do they finish their homework, but then go on to pick off and complete random exercises in the book.

Yesterday, I planned a lesson around a game where everyone writes down a question for someone else in the class, and passes on their exercise book to the next person for them to write another question, and so on and so on until we have a list of questions we can all ask each other.

Except when I asked them to open their exercise books, I could see 2 out the 6 had already written all their questions into their books.

“When did you do this” I asked “Was this homework?”

“No, not homework”

“Well, who asked you to do it?”

“I did it at home”

“Yes, I know. But who asked you to do it?”

“I did it on my own”


So, at this point I’m thinking…..”Shit, what do I do now?”. Had to move on to the next exercise which, thankfully, I had looked at in advance.

Also, they often don’t realise you are asking them a question.

Me: So in this sentence how do we change ‘have’ into ‘have got’?

Them: (nodding sagely) Oh yes

Me: No. Listen. In this sentence how do we change ‘have’ into ‘have got’?

Them: (nodding sagely) Oh yes

Me: So how do we do it?

Them: (nodding sagely) Oh yes

Ad infinitum ad nauseum…..

1st August

I had a good rant yesterday, didn’t I? And thought I’d feel better this morning. Well, no, I didn’t. I actually felt a little bit worse.

But now at 22.35 pm after just getting home from work, I would say my mood has lifted by approximately 32%.

Today was OK. Had two kids’ classes. One went fine. The other not so fine.

I take it very personally when a child doesn’t pay attention. One little shit in particular looked thoroughly bored through the entire lesson, wouldn’t write in his book, and kept armpit trumping. Apparently, he very rarely does his work, and is convinced the sun shines out of his arse.

But if he isn’t interested, then why come? Piss off home and play on your Playstation.

Mummy and Daddy (both school teachers) would be better off spending their money on something else. Some kind of contraception perhaps, lest they produce another cocky, spiteful little stoat.

However, it was mainly adults today. And they were OK. They wanted to chat, and though we’re advised to teach from a textbook, I think management tends to turn a blind eye if a student requests just a chinwag. Goodness, I’m more than happy to oblige.

Experienced another great SHANE moment. In training last week, we were told that every school should be equipped with everything the Teachers’ Handbook instructs you to use in lessons.

“What happens if anything is missing?” I asked
“It should all be there: flash, cards, toys, building bricks, maps” insisted Canadian Mike

So guess what happened? Yep.

First kids’ lesson. Teachers’ Handbook said “Use the flashcards to reveal and teach ‘Yes, it is’ and ‘No it isn’t’”.

“Where are the flashcards?” I asked the receptionist.

“Oh. So sorry. Will order for next week. You need them for today’s lesson?”

“Yes....never mind”


More kids again tomorrow, although I have already met these classes before and they seem fine. There’s one trouble maker, so we’ll see how we get on.

31st July

Rant. Rant. Rant.

Things are not good. First day’s teaching was bad, and I am not a happy man.

My suspicions about this job have been borne out. I have three major gripes:

1. Inadequate to time to prepare lessons. We are given 1 hour at the start of the school day to prepare what we are to teach for the whole day. This could be up to 8 lessons.

Given that we are not supposed to just work through the textbook, and are meant to devise games and draw posters for the lessons, this is not enough time. Schools only open 1 hour before, so going in early is not an option either.

My suggestion would be to give teachers a pared down schedule at first to give them time to work on their lessons and to become accustomed to the textbooks.

2. Incorrect information about what lesson to teach. Previous teachers record which point in the syllabus they have reached (eg what page of which text book etc), and then I plan the following lesson accordingly.

Except on two occasions yesterday I devised lessons which appeared to have already been taught, leaving me looking like a complete dick.

3. …and the most pertinent: inadequate training in how to teach children. My friend is a primary school teacher. She trained for 1 year. Much of her training was in classroom management; how to control the kids.

I have had one day’s training on 9-12 year olds and one day on 4-9 year olds.

They are running riot.

Yesterday wasn’t so much “in at the deep end” as kicked off the side of a boat into the middle of the Pacific in a hurricane.

Found I was having to string every lesson out as exercises fell flat, or were made redundant because they had already been taught.

The adult lessons are great, however. I knew what I was doing, the students are intelligent, reasonable and are there of their own free will.

However, one young couple, who were very nice, politely pointed out that the text book I had brought out (and used to create questions for them on the board) had been finished two weeks ago. See?

No. Adults are fine. It’s the kids. Little shits. The boys were badly behaved, and I spent most of my lesson telling them to sit down, or encouraging them to get on with the task at hand. I had varied success.

The girls meanwhile are perfectly behaved, but get bored when you spend most of your time trying to control the boys.

The school suggests that if a child is bored with an activity to move on. They also suggest that if a child isn’t paying attention you let him carry on, and that he’ll return to the activity when he is ready.

What? Control them, but don’t control them. Teach them, but not if they’re not bothered. Ridiculous.

I have very little training, and the general approach of the management seems to be “just pull it out of the bag”.

What bag? You’ve not put anything in my bag. You don’t tell surgeons to “pull it out of the bag” (unless of course it’s following some kind of scrotal accident)

Lawyers, doctors, soldiers, electricians, chefs, plumbers. How much of the training for these professions involve someone going:

“Ok. How to be a plumber. Part 1. If you find any leaks, mend them. The End. Any questions? No. OK bye.”

Contrary to this irate display, I really like the country, the people, the atmos, the buzz, the transport network. But this is tougher than I thought.

Yes, it was my first day of teaching. And yes I have probably got the hump because it didn’t go well. But the kids are a nightmare and I appear to have been given very little help.

Second day of teaching is imminent, and if I have a similar experience, I won’t be happy.

The Meiji Shrine and a woman who is dressed like that on purpose ie not for tourists

Harajuku - me in a street and some stupid Goth fashion

Shinjuku - a bit like Blade Runner

Akabane - my town

30th July

Today was the day I saw proper Japan. I say proper Japan. Actually, I probably mean the opposite: tourist Japan, movie Japan, guidebook Japan.

I have no problem admitting that’s part of the reason I came: vertical neon signs, space age transport, crowds of people moving fast across walkways.

Took about 25 minutes to get to Shinjuku from Akabane, and from the train I could see very little except the usual dense melange of drab Lego

But about 5 minutes out from Shinjuku, the buildings fell away and I was greeted with a view that can only be described as iconic ; a forest of impossibly tall vertical signage flanking either side of one of the city’s chunky arterial routes.

It was classic Japan. I don’t know what the English equivalent would be ; driving over Vauxhall Bridge and seeing Big Ben one side of the Thames and the Millennium Eye on the other, I suppose.

The sight was so great that I let out a rather overenthusiastic and embarrassing “Woooooaah”. Wish I’d kept my cool.

Arrived at Shinjuku station which, I am informed, is the busiest station in the world. Also the station has 283,629,163 different exits, some of which are in different timezones.

Get the wrong exit and you can be in trouble – you’ll be miles away from where you thought you were.

Went up the government metropolitan towers first. They are free, and there’s some good views to be had. However, unfortunately Tokyo doesn’t really have much to see from the air, apart from Mt Fuji. Which I couldn’t see because of some rubbish clouds.

Another quick tour round Shinjuku and then on to Harajuku.

Harajuku is like Japanese Camden – meeting place for moody teens, Goths and anyone with angst issues.

Goth in Harajuku however does not mean a faded black Cure t-shirt, big platform shoes and a stud through your chin. It means dressing up like Dickensian housemaid.

Black all-in-one dress, overlayed with a white petticoat/apron, lacey cuffs and collar and a haircut straight out of Bleak House. Honestly, one of the most stupid fashion trends I’ve ever seen.

On to the Meiji Shrine. Hidden away in a forest. Beautifully preserved and a real sense of history, but there’s not much to do there really. Apart from bow a lot.

Finally on to Shibuya, which reminded me of New York. More neon and more crowds. Into a British pub for an orange and lemonade. They gave me a glass of orange, and a glass of lemonade. Close, but never mind. I’ll drink them both at the same time.

Back home and watched a rather bizarre programme about Japanese cuisine in London. Lots of footage of Tower Bridge, Big Ben and St Pauls. Made me home sick.

It’s been a full-on day. I feel like I’ve been hit in the face with copies of Akira, Lost In Translation and Blade Runner.

Have been reading about haikus. Thought I would try and compose one to demonstrate my thoughts on the day.

I can still see it
The noise, the light, the movement
Though my eyes are closed

What a pretentious twat I am.