Friday, 25 June 2010

Consensus and soccer.

It is often said that  Japan is a consensus nation.
After   28  minutes of NHK news dedicated to the topic of Japan's soccer team, the Samurai Blues, making it to the "Best 16" , I think it is fair to say, there is consensus in Japan, that it is a great thing. Consensus was reached after examining all possible angles that could lead to that conclusion.

NHK examined
  • the fact that (TFT)  there were people that stayed up all night in central Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Shizuoka.
  • TFT some bars made sleeping space for patrons so they could get a quick nap before heading off to work - some with dividing curtains..
  • TFT water usage in Tokyo surged at the half time break and immediately after the game - evidently people can control their bladders when they need to.....
  • TFT the primary school children at the primary schools attended by key players were rejoicing.
  • TFT primary school children could be seen in the playground today playing soccer.
  • TFT children stayed up to watch the match in the middle of the night (they filmed a 10 year old boy watching it at home)  (Probably not the same child who was running around with a soccer ball at lunch...)
  • TFT  Japanese people had been pessimistic about the team's chances  -  there was a perception that the Japanese players were undisciplined, that they 'let it all hang out' and weren't working together.
  • TFT  that the team has progressively developed solidarity and that the team worked together.  They even put their hands on each other's shoulders during the national anthem and made a circle of players before the game.
  • TFT 1.. the captain and coach worked together, 2. that they were aggressive, and 3) they persisted.    (their list not mine....)
  • TFT that each goal had key moves that led up to it - and a detailed analysis of each. 

After 18 minutes, the analysis of Paraguay began.
After 24 minutes,  analysis on other team's matches began.
After 29 minutes,   with a warm fuzzy feeling that we Japanese feel happy about the soccer, attention turned to G20 (with no mention that neither Julia or Kevin are going).

No doubt at 42 mins we'll have the sport report.....

PS... I should have known the news would be followed with a match's a good follow up to the highlights that went before the news...

(picture from

Friday, 18 June 2010

Aussie English

Today I have been teaching a group of students who are going to Australia for homestay. Their school has an unwarranted preoccupation with with Australian English; I'm not convinced of the merits of teaching Strine  to kids that struggle to even introduce themselves....

In what is possibly a hangover from Crocodile Dundee,   Aus. English seems to be considered one of the less intelligible strains.   I've had university English teachers praise my English for being understandable....(unlike most Australians......???)   If I had five dollars for every time a Japanese person has told me emphatically about how  Australian English is so difficult because Australians say "to die" not not today, and then followed it with an annecdote about  "I'm going to the hospital to die ", I would have enough money for a plane ticket back.....

The particularly irritating thing about their annecdote is that it invariably comes from people who couldn't pick an East London accent from a Louisiana one....

I digress... back to the students....

They  had already had some preparation about "Aussie English" from their regular English teachers.  To see what they knew already,  I got them to make a list of Aussie English that they knew.   Some was reasonable - arvo, cuppa;   some marginal - g'day mate,  ta ;  some inane - yep, yuck;   some of it .... well .....

Going through the blackboard list.....
"What do you mean by pig?"  (a little puzzled).
"The police"
"What!  Where did you learn that?"
"Our teacher" ...
"what?" student shows me a work sheet

Sure enough....... pigs = police......oh my.....I'd like to see them try that out on a man or woman in blue...

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Three cheers for the manji!

What bad luck - my bike was stolen last month.
What good luck - Japan has a bike registration system
What bad luck - I didn't know the registration number
What good luck - the powers that be did and I got a post card yesterday to say it had been found.
What bad luck - The postcard says I have to pay a fine to get it back.
What good luck - If you file a police report you don't have to pay the fine.
What bad luck - I hadn't filed a police report.
What good luck - I had picked up the sheet to fill in to file a report.
What bad luck - the kanji was too difficult and I kept forgeting to ask Hiro.
What good luck - I went to Ikebukuro this morning to lodge the form.
What bad luck - the police said there is no point to lodge if your bike has been found and to go to Shinjuku to collect it.
What good luck - the place to collect the  bike was close to Shinjuku station.
What bad luck - they said I had to pay a fine.
What good luck - After begging and pleading and saying that I tried to fill in the form but couldn't read it properly and Hiro had been away on business trips and too busy to fill it in,  the manji kindly said, this time you don't have to pay.  But if there is a next time, please follow procedures properly.

Three cheers for the manji  :)

(Note manji is not real Japanese for this context).

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Road rage

It was with some bemusement that I read on the Japan Today news site that a 49 year old office worker had been arrested for punching a fellow commuter in the face for having bad train manners.  The punchee had apparently been using his phone on the train in peak hour in central Tokyo.    

Punch in the face for phone use on the train, but the same man is probably oblivious to election vans, right wingers, and the sales staff with microphones outside electronic shops....... sometimes it doesn't make much sense.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Not so eco

In contrast, (to the eco story below)  these eco 'be green, no plastic bags' shopping bags, while undoubtedly well intentioned, are stuffed with plastic and styrofoam..
I spotted them out and about today with Bryn, a friend I met through Lily. We had a good chuckle.


Out and about the other day I was impressed by this eco discovery: milk cartons being used for writing messages on a public notice board at a park. (The signs are telling about various activities that are being held at the park.)  They last better than regular paper ones too.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Technology country II

This is technology I really like.
Lockable boxes that enable you to charge your mobile phone when out.   20 minutes 100 yen - lock it in - walk around the shop - come back  - unlock - a decent amount of charge in it.  How convenient is that?
They have them in electronics stores mostly, also at Narita airport - very convenient when arriving back with a flat battery.   
It's not new, nor is it unique to Japan, at BKK airport you can charge you phone (free) while you wait for your luggage to arrive on the conveyor belt.

Nonetheless, very convenient :)

Technology country I

Japan the technology country.

Out and about today we passed this......

A tobacco vending machine, but no ordinary tobacco machine.
A tobacco vending machine that scans your eye to determine whether you are an adult, and thereby able to legally buy cigarettes.  It seems to work... sadly it knew Hiro and I were both eligible to buy cigarettes.

Tobacco vending machines have become taboo since the powers that be decided that cigarettes dispensed this way are accessible to minors.   Rather than outlawing the machines or removing them from suburban streets, TASPO  cards were introduced.  The swipe cards, issued by Japan Tobacco to adults who register, enable the vending machine to be used.

Perhaps the powers that be have recognised that a minor with access to a card, still has access to cigarettes...hence the need for eye scan technology....

Imagine what could be achieved if this amount of money and effort was spent solving real problems!

(I have put it on extra large so you can see the cigarette price - 300Y {around $3.80AUD / $3.30 USD}  )

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Further troubles for the livestock industry

As the situation with FMD in Miyazaki began to improve, there was a cautious collective sigh of relief being breathed by the prefecture, neighbouring prefectures, politicians and the agriculture industry as a whole.

Yesterday a new outbreak was detected in Miyazaki, far from the original outbreaks.  This time close to the border of Kagoshima and Kumamoto in the  core area of livestock production. (see map).

Map of Kyushu from JR Kyushu's website.

It seems that it has most likely been spread either by cars or humans.

I am not sure if additional quarantine measures are going to be taken, but it seems to vindicate Australian quarantine having people from the UK walking through disinfectant as they got off the plane during FMD outbreaks there.

The Ministry of Agriculture has apologised that the previous outbreak took so long to contain.  I'm not really sure if that constitutes an admission of things done wrongly, or whether it is simply an expression of regret.  There is a no confidence motion in the Agriculture Minister being voted on this week.  What ever the outcome is on his future,  the livelihoods of many Kyushu farmers, depends on the spread being halted as a matter of urgent priority.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

I want to ride my bicycle

This song has a special significance these days....

After paying 4000Y to get my confiscated bike back, the very next week it was stolen for real.


Perhaps it's karma for giving a false name and address and refusing to show ID (they have no legal right to demand it) when I collected it... nonetheless - grrrrrrr.

Thinking it would be good exercise, I cycled to Ikebukuro to buy a card.  Bike locked,  go to shops, 30 minutes later returned, no bike.  Gone. No mistake.  I parked it so it had many bicycle friends  - a much tougher target for the manji when it's surrounded by friends... Alas.  The surrounding bikes were all there; mine was not.
A recovery mission to SEA would be more promising than keeping an eye out locally.   Almost all the rental cycles I saw in Siem Riep (Angkor Wat area) had Japanese registration stickers...  (see picture below taken in Cambodia 2009) No doubt it was whisked into a container and is already cruising the streets of Cambodia.

I've heard it said often - theft is rare in Japan - unless it's a bicycle or an umbrella.... sigh....

An international evening

Last night, as I often do, I went to the local government run volunteer Japanese classes for foreigners. Our teacher couldn't make it so our group opted to chat among ourselves rather than divide between other groups.  
 It's refreshingly international and  egalitarian;  age, socio-economic background, length of time in Japan, level of education  and even nationality  go by the wayside as people are there with the common purpose to improve Japanese.

The Cantonese Chinese high school student has very good daily Japanese - her classes make no allowance for the fact that she has been in the country only two years -  but she doesn't have the same command of formal Japanese as the Vietnamese woman, with a much smaller functional vocab,  who has been here less time but works in office.  My competence in formal Japanese is not so good (I actively avoid using it)  however I have been here long enough to be able  to understand more than most there about Japanese customs etc and things about Tokyo or Japan.  

Last night  I helped the high school student with her English homework - in a mix of Japanese and English.  (Learning a fourth language when already struggling with a third is tough going.)  Afterwards she was chatting to a newly wed Vietnamese woman accompanied by her Japanese husband, who was at the class for the first time,  in a mix of Cantonese and Japanese.   The newly wed couple speak a mix of English, Japanese and Vietnamese at home.  He works in an office in central Tokyo, she has been here a week. The Vietnamese office worker was giving them a rundown on all things Vietnamese in Tokyo.     A mid twenties northern Chinese man (who also speaks Korean and some English)  is busy studying for the proficiency test (which I forgot to register for)  and was comparing grammar points in a mix of Mandarin and Japanese with the high school girl.    Usually there are Koreans in our group as well, sometimes Mongolians, Thai, Nepalese, Bangladeshi, Taiwanese, HK - ese, Indonesians, Indians.  Mostly Asian and mostly young - younger than me anyway ;)

It's always cheerful and friendly.  Sometimes tea and snacks are provided.  People with electric dictionaries, lend them to the people without, and there is always exchange of information.  It's a very positve side to the internationalisation that that many Japanese nationalists abhor.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Do it again!

Much to my delight, Tokyo Metro is now appealing to the good nature of its passengers asking them to "do it again". The poster above shows a passenger reminding another to take the umbrella that he has forgotten.  There was a previous one applauding giving up ones seat for an old person using the same message to 'do it again', though I managed to delete from my memory card before uploading... 
It's refreshing after all the admittedly amusing  'Do it at home" posters.
This in some way reminds me of my grandmother saying 'don't tell the children to be good - then they'll think there's an alternative'. 

Saturday, 5 June 2010

An up and down week

Just a brief note to say that Kathy, a friend in Tokyo whom I had the utmost respect and admiration for, passed away on the weekend.  Her memorial service on Wednesday was a fitting tribute to her and testament to her remarkable graciousness, compassion and ability to see the good in everyone and the humour any situation.  She was a fountain of information on anything to do with Japan  -  life in Japan, coping with Japan, laws of Japan, customs of Japan, schools in Japan etc etc   and was so generous when people needed help or support.   She will be sorely missed by her friends, but more importantly by her family especially her four children.

While she was sick a lot of people helpe
d out with medical costs through her blog Mikan Days - .  Her family in the US have turned it into a fund for the children's education.

The up side to the week was getting into a Masters of Global Studies. I thought it would be a breeze to get in until I saw I was applicant no. 225 - for 30 places - phew...  evidently they started numbering at 200!    It will be a challenge no doubt, but good, and very necessary if I want to teach more than "I'm fine thank you.  And you? '