Random thoughts, comments, observations and general fluff from a random bint who left London at the end of September 2004 to embark on a new life and new adventures in Tokyo, land of the cute.... and is leaving mid-June 2010 - and counting!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

A year in Japan.

One year ago, at this time (10pm Japanese time / 2pm English time) I was standing in my room in West Kensington, London (think Earls Court/ scummy area NOT South Kensington / museums / posh bit) and feeling a mixture of emotions: relief that I was getting the hell out of London and away from a life of shared housing and stressful jobs; excitement that I was finally, after all the planning and preparation, going to be off to Japan; a little bit of nervousness as I wasn't sure what exactly to expect; and a huge huge huge amount of stress as I'd left so much important stuff to the last minute.

I had a taxi due at 3.30 and an ex-boyfriend due at 2pm to help me. He was late; the taxi got postponed. I'd already run out to the post office once to buy boxes to post stuff. They hadn't been packed. I still hadn't, in fact, finished my packing, let alone taken the boxes to the post office and lots of bags to the charity shop. My room was still in a huge mess while I was desperately trying to fit as much as possible into my bags, whilst well aware I was probably well over the luggage allowance, and I still had lots to throw out, organise to send to Sarah to look after, Linda to look after and to me in Japan. I also still had cleaning to do. Oh, and a plane to catch. The ex ran me to the charity shop and he eventually sorted out the boxes too. We lost touch once I got here. That's life.

I can still remember the stress and disorganisation.

And the taxi fuck up that stressed me even more. (See here: Post from this time last year.)

And I remember bursting into tears at the airport when the taxi dropped me off and not appreciating the relief of not getting any hassle at all for having so much luggage. And finding some of the people from my course in a bar (where else) at the airport. And I just smiled reading over my first impressions from the post I linked above.

What's changed in the year? Me, I think. I've never had a whole year in my whole life where I've been, effectively, without any stress. It's quite something. Embarrassingly, my Japanese is still little better than when I got here but it's annoyingly easy to get by without it. I do intend to try and ram some into my head in the next 12 months though.

And I'm proud I've kept the blog going regularly the whole time I've been here: it's quite rare for me to stick to anything. And, whilst I may never get the huge amount of hits many blogs get, I like it that people read it from all over the world - even if there is only an average of 30 of you! Sadly, I'm pretty sure some of the people this was originally intended for don't check it ever. But that's life.

I love it that I've taken advantage of my location and have been to Sapporo, Taiwan and Hong Kong in the last 12 months, with Vietnam to come in December. I've been to sumo and kabuki and sung more drunken karaoke than I care to remember. I've eaten and drunk loads of things that I'd never tried before and, more to the point, I actually enjoy what I'm doing here. Most of the time!

Sorry, this is a bit of a jumbled bitty post but I'm trying to keep it brief!

How mundane.

By 2pm today I was back home having got up early, gone to the immigration office (I'm now legal for another three years), bought a DVD player, gone to the City Hall to update my alien card, signed up for more Japanese lessons and gone to the supermarket. All such totally boring activities.

I did see an ad on telly where a woman put a nappy (diaper) on a dog. I REALLY REALLY hope they weren't advertising nappies FOR dogs, although why would they use a dog to advertise nappies? Makes no sense, although as this is Japan, who knows. If I have my camera to hand and see it again I'll snap it and put up pictures.

I'm now going to have a nap as I was out drinking til late last night and got up way too early for my day off, today.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Pictures from the

Which is in Inokashira Park:

And which looks like this from outside:

As you go in you are greeted by a big stuffed Totoro (no characters running around: this is a serious museum. Please note the shadow of yet another kid about to be 'placed' by Totoro for a photo:

And the Dust Bunnies:

Outside, by the cafe is the big robot from Laputa: Castle in the Sky:

And inside, where you aren't allowed to take any photos, I snuck a quick one of the wonderful Nekko Bus:

Sadly, the Nekko Bus was for kids only to play on.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Too much pink!

Imagine a pink world. Pink. Pink. And more pink. Everywhere - pink. Pink everywhere. With a few pastel blues and pastel yellows swirling around the pinkness. Imagine a sickly sugary smell being wafted all around you. Imagine your worst nightmare - in pink - and you are getting close to the cuteness that overwhelms you and calls itself Hello Kitty Land (Well, Sanrio Puroland actually, but let's not split hairs here).

In Hello Kitty Land, Kitty, in many of her pretty dresses, and members of her family (yes, of COURSE she has a family) wander around being mobbed by - well, by everyone really. Other Sanrio characters mingle around too. You can take a boat through more pinkness and cuteness. Wander through Kitty's house - sitting on her bed, hopping into her bath and shower, resting on her settee, posing in her car. And it's all pink. Very very very pink. And buttons and levers that, in a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory style, actually made big things happen. Very exciting. VERY surreal. And, finally even my friend, a die hard Kitty chan fan, ended up feeling Kitty'd out by the end of the experience. And (don't tell anyone this, but (pinkness aside) it was kind of fun!

Here is Kitty's House:

Here is one of the many Kitty's that wandered around:

I would have uploaded more, but it'd have been far too much cuteness for one post. The rest are on my photo page.

To combat all the cuteness, I went DVD player hunting in Akihabara the next day. Akihabara is full of electronics shops. Too many shops. Too many people. I gave up on trying to find a DVD player after trying a few shops. I was expecting to see a lot more gadgets than I saw, although there was a lot of interesting tourist tat and I did see a Hello Kitty backscratcher the size of hair tongs, which I didn't buy.

I did, however, get a headset to start using SKYPE so if anyone wants a chat my Skype name is, funnily enough, joinjapan (SARAH: do you have skype yet?) and I haven't tried it out yet.

Oh and today I'm off for more cuteness. This time to see these fellows at the Ghibli Museum:

I adore Miyazaki's films (My Neighbour Totoro, Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, etc.) Can't wait!


UPDATE: The Ghibli Museum was very mature. There was no pink and no huge Totoro's running around (which DID upset me). There was a large Nekko Bus, but only kids were allowed to climb in it (also quite disappointing). They had a no photo policy inside too - although I did sneak one of the Nekko Bus, which I'll get up soon. The rest of it was just lots of info about the films, how animations are made, that kind of thing. Nice place but nothing to rave on about. Although they showed the cutest animation in their little cinema for about 15 minutes about a puppy that gets lost. I cried.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Another bunch of randomness

Last night, after work, I met up with Timourous Beastie and Say It In Finglish bloggers for a bite and a couple of drinks, well, apart from Beastie who was still hungover from the night before! No karaoke though. They both claim to hate it. Yeah, right!

At Harajuku station I saw a cockroach scurrying along the platform. That's nothing, but the sight of four Japanese girls pinned to the spot in absolute horror, was priceless. The roach stopped them from moving any further down the platform and produced very interesting squeals or terror. It was also quite interesting to note they all had sock marks from where their long socks had been earlier, before being taken off or replaced with tights or whatever. I still can't accept long socks as not looking silly. It's a lifetime of seeing them only on pre-teens that's done that for me.

Briefly, on the subject of tights, ALL summer, even on the hottest days, some Japanese women could be seen wearing tights. Utter madness.

Summer though, is on its way out. I'm sad about this, although I know many people are relieved. I mean, it had it's unbearable moments, but they were pretty few and it was nice leaving the house without having to wear 20 layers of clothing, etc. It also wasn't as bad as I'd been led to expect. Yes, autumn is definitely moving in now, days and nights are starting to get colder, falling leaves can be seen and suddenly (or maybe I've just noticed it) it's getting dark at 6pm. Now that IS depressing. Japan has always got dark many hours before the UK, even in peak summer, but 6pm darkness in September is sobworthy. My feet actually felt cold in flipflops yesterday for the first time.

Also in Harajuku I spotted a girl in a plastic see-through skirt. It looked like she'd carefully pleated together a load of the umbrella condom things (oh, you know, the plastic sleeves you get outside supermarkets, etc so your wet umbrella doesn't drip everywhere. 'Umbrella condom' is much shorter and to the point though, no?). It was pretty bizarre though, and worn over a pair of jeans. Thankfully.

Another oddity I saw yesterday was a Japanese male bobbing along with his hair tied into two bunches way up on the top of his head, like six inch bouncy horns. And he did bounce along as well...

When I got home I put the telly on and channel surfed for a bit. I found a channel with Pro-wrestling on and sat watching it in horror. I don't like violence and violent sports go into this. The rules of this game, according to me: Up to two people can attack another person. You can hit, kick, thump, throw yourself on another persons torso, arms or legs, but not genitals. Face punching and slapping are also allowed. Jumping on your opponent, from any distance, seemed particularly popular and especially if launched by someone else. I think the aim was to pin someone down and not have them kick you in the face. *SHUDDER*

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


An article in the Japan Times today looks at crime in Japan.

Several crimes and their sentences are given.

In reverse order:

Selling dodgy cures to old people: 12 years
Stealing Peko-Chan dolls: 7 years
Passing fake coins: 7 years
Murder: 3 years
Using (not possessing) stimulants: 18 months
Fraud: 16 months
Refusing to show a Gaijin card: 2 months detention, 16 months suspended
Selling dodgy investments to old people: 2 years suspended

Peko-Chan Doll that stands outside shops advertising a famous confectionary chain:

Yes, that IS correct: Stealing one of those things above will land you a sentence four years longer than murdering someone.

This country is insane.

More Photos!

The Hong Kong photos, and some more Tokyo ones, are now here - under 'Aug to Sept 2005'.

They include such pictures as:

The Big Wheel in Yokohama, Tokyo:

Buildings in Hong Kong:

City Views of Hong Kong:

Markets in Hong Kong (Yes, they are goldfish):

Sunday, September 11, 2005

A rose by any other name....

is not a "Snack Bar"- which is where I ended up last night. (Okay, translation for anyone not getting the reference: things with the same name are not the same thing - apologies to Shakespeare for that).

I met up with a couple of guy pals in Nakano last night and after a trip to an Izakaya and a Family Restaurant, we went to find a bar. Now finding somewhere to drink that isn't an Izakaya, English pub or restaurant isn't actually that easy, especially in Nakano (a few minutes away from Shinjuku by train), but we went wandering around to find somewhere. After leaving the sex bar side of Nakano, and going to the more 'normal' side, I spotted a bar that had the same name as another bar I'd been in once before for a work party. There were no prices outside, and friend D said we should walk out if the prices were too much.

Peeking down the stairs we saw two people in the bar, but we were thirsty so figured we'd grab one drink before going somewhere else.

To abbreviate the rest of the night:
we drank two bottles of Iichiko, a rather strong barley liqueur and sang a shitload of karaoke, including a Bon Jovi medley. I have no idea who put that on for us, though I suspect it was C - the other friend we were with. Now, unlike all the rest of the karaoke I've done in Japan, which has been in a private room with friends; this was in a bar, with strangers. I announced I couldn't sing in front of strangers, but forgot I'd said that after a couple of drinks. Oh and they had tambourines, so I was happy.

Oh, did I mention yet this was a hostess bar?

To go off on a tangent for a moment: a 'hostess bar' (known as a 'snack bar' in Japanese. Apparantly.) is not filled with prostitutes. And a 'hostess' is not a prostitute. In fact lots of Gaijin and Japanese work in them for extra cash. The deal in most of them is the girls are there to flatter the egos of the men that go in: pour their drinks, laugh at their jokes, sing with them, chat to them. Most bars have 'no touch' policies.

Anyway, it took about 2/3 of our first bottle for me to twig the girl, Haru, who was pouring us drinks and chatting with us, wasn't doing it out of the goodness of her heart. Other things that made me suspect were feather boas, us being the only gaijin, me being the only female.... But the place (a long thing bar) only had six tables anyway. I said to D, what kind of bar do you think this is? And I think that was when he twigged... I'm not sure about C though as he was busy trying to chat with Haru - in French, English and Japanese.

We were a big hit in the bar anyway (or so my drunken self perceived) with the Japanese requesting songs for us to sing, and photos being taken of us. The mama-san (owner) was videoing us with her phone at one stage and later showed us. Haru had earlier said in the five years she'd worked there, we were the only gaijin she'd seen in there.

There were a couple of other groups in the bar, one who enthusiastically tambourined along to some of our songs. There were also a couple of men in there on there own, one who sang loads of crooney songs.

D was living, and C was staying, within walking distance of the bar, whilst I wasn't, so I left just before 1 and they stayed a couple more hours. Dreading what the bill would come to, I asked for the bill, which they took ages to work out. Haru said we were getting a good rate and explained it to me, adding females didn't get charged for being in there. All said, considering we'd elected to drink two 4000 yen (£20) bottles of liqueur and had a night of free karaoke it wasn't too bad. But I managed to negotiate a further 3000 yen (£15) off the bill, meaning the night of hilarity cost only 5000 yen(£25) each.

Totally random night but so much fun!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Typhoon 14

Wow! Typhoon Nabi (14) has been the worst since I've been here. There's been a lot of damage done in the southern islands of Japan and people are missing down there and buried under rubble, with at least 17 dead and more than 120 injured. 52 houses have been destroyed and some 6000 houses are flooded. Many households have been evacuated and many more are being told to do so still. There have been landslides, including caved-in roads and washed away houses, due to record amounts of rainfall down there (1000 mm / 40 inches of rain in some areas). (Reuters Article)

Up in Tokyo things aren't anywhere near as bad as that. I'm not aware of any serious damage up here, there's just been lots of torrential downpours in the last few days, and the fiercest winds I've experienced since being here. Last night the wind spent the whole night bashing against the outside of my apartment block, and rattling all the doors and windows with quite a ferocity.

Global warming, anyone?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Guess what I spent the last four hours doing?

Click here for lots and lots of Photos!!!

Above are a very small sample.

Go to the pulldown that says 'view' at the top as I've divided them all into different albums.

These are from November 2004 and include the ShichiGoSan festival, Hanami, various Tokyo things, Sumo, Kabuki, Nikko, Kamakura and Taiwan.

Many of the earlier ones don't look too great - but that's how the discs came back. The hard copies of the shots were much better. It's obvious which ones were from the digital camera.

I still have over a hundred on my camera to download and about the same number on my phone. I'll get around to those eventually.

Let me know if you have any questions. Enjoy!


'Maman' (the spider) in Roppongi Hills.
Two little girls at the ShichiGoSan (7, 5, 3) festival.
Man with a goldfish on his head in Harajuku.
The Eternal Spring Shrine in Taroko Gorge, Taiwan
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial in Taipei, Taiwan
A dumped tuna head.
Hanami (cherry blossom watching) in Yanaka Cemetary.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Qu'est-ce que tu veux?

Hey! Not only can I watch bad English programmes on Japanese TV (NHK) but I can also watch bad French, Chinese, Italian, Spanish and German programmes. It's great! The programme on at the moment is teaching 'qu'est-ce que tu vuex?' (what do you want?) and in the last 20 minutes they've repeated this at least once every 15 to 20 seconds.


Saw a woman a couple of days ago hooked up to an oxygen tank. She was cycling; it was in the front basket.


Typhoon 14 is currently battering the southern islands of Japan. We had 11 a couple of weeks ago (tyhoons go by numbers starting at 'one' at the beginning of the year) and I thought 13 was due this week. Apparantly though the typhoon numbering system goes throughout Asia so they don't all hit Japan. This still doesn't explain what happened to 13 though. I mean I KNEW 12 was passing by and not coming..... Oh it's just TOO confusing. In plain English it means Tokyo is currently being drowned in heavy rain and it's due to continue for another day or two.

People are being / have been evacuated from some houses in the southern islands as there is a possibility of flooding. One guy got trapped in his house because the water pressure stopped him opening his door. They interviewed him; but not before cracking me up by showing a little anime of him trying to get out of his room. I don't mean a normal graphic - I mean an anime (cartoon character). Very funny!


Autumn is on the way. I know this because the TV keeps reminding me to look out for brown leaves and - guess what? - they are right! There ARE brown leaves around. I still like the daft little autumn stories the news gives though! The other thing that reminds me that autumn is nearly here is that the fruit presents from my students have started again. To put this into perspective, fruit here is delicious but bloody expensive. Today I got pears and grapes. But the pears - WOW! They are round like apples and are two handers - ie huuuuuuge! And so sweet and juicy and swooooon! So good!


In the light of recent happenings, I've been thinking again about earthquakes in Tokyo. Now, there are hundreds of earthquakes in Japan, dozens of which can be felt in Tokyo, each year and 'the big one' (which is set to destroy Tokyo) has been overdue now for more than 70 years. Should it strike while I'm here I reckon I've got a 50/50 chance of surviving it. The likelihood of it happening while I'm here? No idea. If I'm at home, that'll be one thing but I spend more time out of my apartment than in it and, obviously I can't predict where I'll be or how bad it'll be wherever I am.

So, considering this, I'm wondering whether or not to bother with an emergency earthquake kit - stocking up on bottles of water, tinned food, medical stuff and the like... To be honest, I'm not sure I can be bothered. I don't really have the space for lots of 'in case' stuff. What'll happen will happen after all...


I've seen quite a lot of mothers, carrying kids, wearing special bum bags (fanny packs) that have what looks like a built in child seat on them. Good idea. Never seen it anywhere else.


I now have juice from my pear all down my chin.