So here's the mystery - I wake up this morning, naked and slow and suffering from a strange, unexplainable headache, and I wander into the living room and there's an empty 900ml carton of sake and I have no clue how it got there. No one came round last night. It was just me watching DVD's I got from the video store. I watched three: 'My Neighbour Totoro', 'Samurai Fiction' and 'Bright Future'.
Last thing I remember is eating a curry flavour instant ramen whilst watching the third movie and after this - nothing. Was I drugged by forces unknown? How come I woke up undressed and in bed? Where did that sake carton come from? Who drank it? Where's the aspirin?


Good Reasons To Learn Japanese 1

The video store! My God, it's a tease. Every Japanese movie I ever wanted to see right there, gleaming in their shiny plastic boxes. Right there but alas completely out of my reach, for they are, as you would expect, in Japanese. Gaaaarrgggghh. Look at all those Takeuchi Riki movies, and all those Aikawa Sho titles. Shit, there's the latest Takashi Miike's and all the Hama Mike TV Shows! Kurosawa! Ozu!! Ichikawa!!! There's 'Gojoe' and 'Bayside Shakedown' and 'Last Life in the Universe' and all that Suguwara Bunta stuff andohmygodI'mhyperventilatingdoesanybodyhaveapaperbag?

Ah, but I discovered this: mostly in Japanese, but not all! Oh yes, some have English subtitles, some even have English language audio tracks. How do I know this? I know this because I learnt some Kanji, yes Kanji! That ridiculously difficult script developed by the Chinese, those characters that now surround me constantly, looking oh so foreign and bewildering. I learnt some, me, yes.

I now know this: 英語字幕 means 'English Subtitles'. I even know how to say it: えいごじまく. So there you go.

Self congratulatory though this post may well seem (and perhaps it is) and though I'm acutely aware that this is a terribly trivial achievement - a drop in the ocean - I'm really just trying to echo the post on Hayato's blog about learning Japanese through manga. If there's something you really want, need or enjoy, and the Japanese language is a barrier to that, then you're gonna learn it much, much quicker.

It also helps stave off the culture shock that much longer.


There are stop/go lights for pedestrians and cyclists at every corner of every road junction in Wakayama City and when you appreciate that Wakayama, like many cities in Japan, is built up along a huge system of grids it starts to dawn on you just how many stop/go lights that amounts to.
The speed of any journey is necessarily frustrated by these lights, which are not user triggered and seem to be timed arbitrarily. Often you wait and wait and wait and wait, the length of time increasing proportionally when it's raining, raining, raining, raining.
On an average day I encounter 23 of these crossings and wait an average of 1.5 mins per crossing which works out to about 34.5 mins a day spent waiting. That's an average of 241.5 mins a week, 966 mins a month, which means that, on average I will wait at road crossings for 8 DAYS every year. 8 DAYS!
Surely then, given these figures, I can be forgiven for occasional bouts of jaywalking from time to time, particularly during the evening when there's little road traffic. Surely? It would seem not. Stand up (if you can) elderly population of Wakayama City! You whose reproachful glances have steeped me in guilt these many days, you whose open mouthed, disbelieving stares have made me hang my head in shame and check my reflection in shop windows in the fear that horns may have sprouted from my temples or, at the very least, a penis lolls ridiculously from my forehead. In deference to your collective greater years I now wait out the changing lights and count the minutes of my life pissing away into the wind, just as you have yours.

I guess I can use the 1.5 minutes each crossing demands of me to calculate how much time I'll spend sat on the toilet during my lifetime. Or maybe I don't want to know.


Out of bad news comes some good. Although I'm not sure the little guy is going to think it's so cool when he asks where his mother is.


That it rained constantly and unceasingly today did nothing to dampen the spirits of three busloads of Joto Junior High school kids on an outing to Wai Wai Mura, a camp and day visit centre up in the mountains south of Osaka operated by the Osaka YMCA.
I have to say how impressed I was with the kids attitudes. Not once did any of them complain or whinge about the weather, which could so easily have turned the day to shite. I found myself imagining the equivalent amount of English junior school students, pissing and moaning about the mud and wetness and sloping off to smoke fags or to break something. That's how it would have been with the kids at the junior school I went to, at least.

Here's some images:

Heading out

I really don't know what he ended up doing with this mantis though I suspect the worse because at one point I saw him hitting something with this same piece of bamboo.


We all dug for sweet potatoes, which we then cooked on open fires. The one you see below is the one I retrieved from the mud. It was such a fat one, I couldn't eat it all.

Sweet potato


In a bitter victory for Murphy's Law I'm wishing I hadn't posed that final rhetorical question in that last entry below as it seems the answer is very much 'Tonight'.

Having found a stray ¥1000 in my wallet I have just cycled to Lawson's and the girl in question was working (of course she was, I memorised her schedule. Is that creepy?) right up until the moment I entered the store. She then instantly disappeared only to resurface in civilian clothing moments later as I left the store clutching, yes, Chu Hi and - God only knows why - some Yakult. As I was mounting my bike (not in that sense, that would have been very embarrasing) she came out the store too and yes, gave a little coquetteish wave and then walked promptly up to her boyfriend. Her. Boyfriend. (Who, disturbingly enough, also gave a coquetteish little wave, the bastard).

So, all that stuff I somehow percieved as purposeful flirting (as it would be back home) was evidently nothing of the sort and I am left feeling both sheepish and let down by a girl I never even knew. I was once warned about this sort of thing by another girl, but she's thousands of miles away now in that particular mysterious country, the name of which begins with a P (if you don't read the comments boxes you're not up to speed on this).

Ah well, time to start making a dent in that Chu Hi. Maybe I can get the fridge door closed tonight.
Really must break this habit of skulking around in Lawson's simply because they often employ very good looking girls. One day I might even go there because I actually need something instead of having to purchase random things in order not to look shifty. I seem to have stockpiled an awful lot of Chu Hi, ¥399 Gundam chess pieces (will I ever get the complete set? I doubt it) and assorted One Piece and Panda-Z sundries. The saddest part of all this is not that I've pissed away so much money, it's the fact that there's a perfectly good Family Mart just outside my apartment door; Lawson's is a bike ride away. Although in my defence, the Family Mart doesn't sell alcohol, and I swear that there's this one girl with a great smile, who keeps throwing lingering looks my way and waves, yes waves, when I go in. It's not like I'm walking past - I'm actually in the store and she's waving. Aren't you supposed to wave at people when they're at a distance? Or when they're leaving? What does this mean? Does she feel the same as I do?

When will this financially and emotionally costly torment end?


I stumbled across this blog and I'm glad I did. I love it. I particularly like the posts concerning smegma. Nice profile photo too I thought.


I don't particularly care for them in any language, but they're a factor of modern life. Emoticons, Smileys - whatever they're called - are now an everyday occurence in phone texts, emails and any other medium to which they can be applied. I've learnt them, I'm down with this ridiculous sub-lingo. I understand :) and ;) and :P and all the others. What I don't get are the unreasonably complicated Japanese versions. Why oh why must they be so complex, and why must they be employed so frustratingly often?

What is this? o (^_-)O It's 'gentle punching as a sign of encouragement' of course! Didn't you know that? Jesus!

And this: m (_ _) m Is bowing, like 'I'm sorry' or 'Thank you'. This one I understand.

This; (^ ^) is apparently 'smiling'. What? Smiling? How do I know you're smiling if I can't see your mouth?!

p(^^)q - This is supposed to be someone wishing good luck. To me this looks like someone hittting themselves in the face.

Crying; (T_T) - This makes sense.

W('O')W - I'm sorry, I don't have a clue what this is. What are you saying!?

(oIo) - This is Ultraman. I understand this one. I don't understand why you would mail it to anyone however.

I guess these are just things I'm gonna have to learn. I can't tell you how many of these emoticons I've recieved during my tenure in Japan but it's a large amount of which I can figure out maybe 40%. Please readership (if you exist!) send me your Japanese emoticons via the comments box below - I want to get these things down pat.


Deary me, what a self-congratulatory post this is going to be.

Please be kind enough to observe this photograph of Wakayama's handsome (though reconstructed) castle. (Small image I know, but it's clickable)

Wakayama Castle

See all those visitors standing about cluttering up the shot? See that annoyingly modern looking red light down the bottom there? Not particularly of the Tokugawa era is it?

Now check this shot out:

Wakayama Castle sans visitors

That's right folks! I've discovered Photoshop. With all this time on my hands I now spend my days hunched over my laptop at this frustratingly low table of mine manipulating pixels until my eyes bleed. And I'm proud of myself. I cordially invite you to share in my joy. Comissions will be considered.

(Yumi, I'm sure you're thinking 'WTF? I do this stuff everyday, big deal.' And you'd be right).


There are many riotous moments to be had attempting to get the necessary vaccinations for a pending excursion let me tell you. Even though Jeff had kindly agreed to accompany me and provide translation, the search for a suitable clinic soon became an epic Holy Grail type quest.
Slightly unnerving to be asked by a doctor (when located) which vaccinations were required. Wait, don't you know? You're the doctor. I'm going to Thailand - inject me! To his credit he enlisted me on a three month programme of inocculation, including vaccines for encephalitis (how I laughed at his everchanging pronuciation of this word - how he and his staff laughed at my inability to say even basic words in Japanese - touché), rabies, tetanus, hepatitis A ad infinitum. The reasoning for this is I supect, that one of the vaccines I'll be loaded with has got to be the one I actually needed.

The total cost of this programme amounts to more than the entire cost of my planned excursion but hell, I'll be superhuman! My immune system will be impregnable! I'll laugh and sing as I wade through waste deep sewage with cuts on my legs, rabid bats hanging from my carotid arteries. I'll whistle as I happily share needles with all who offer - heroin, my favourite, thanks!

What am I talking about? Is there a vaccine for chu hi hangovers?


OK, maybe I played this typhoon down too much. Dear me.



The typhoon has afforded me time to tinker around with some HTML and so behold, for your viewing pleasure, an image of the marvellous vista that greets me each morning from my apartment's balcony.
That right there, that's Japan.
Typhoon No. 23 actually has something to say for itself. Not the first typhoon I've experienced here and, I suspect, not the last though it's predecessors have generally been anticlimactic. Typhoon 23 however has been asserting it's severe self all day.

As is often the case during severe weather, school was cancelled today but I learned this only after having biked to work, arriving utterly soaked and unable to laugh at my 'face very red' as much as the other sensei obviously could. One sensei was particularly pleased to be able to use a recently learned English idiom and followed me around the staff room pointing out of the window and saying 'Cats and Dogs' over and over again.
On typhoon days the staff room TV is switched on and all day the news stations broadcast an endless loop of wet misery from every island of Japan, tracing the route of the cyclone. (Generally, typhoons come up from the South, kicking the shit out of Okinawa and moving on to Kyushu, Shikoku and then across Honshu, moving North Easterly out over Tokyo). Floods, people gazing vacantly from windows and wondering how the hell they're gonna get to Pachinko when the Honda is submerged, weak pensioners crossing the road their umbrellas buckled and turned inside out, their scrunched up faces following suit. Always on these latter unfortunates the camera lingers just a little too long, almost revelling in some poor old dear's distress. Go help her for god's sake, before she's blown under an articulated lorry!
Then there are the requisite shots of seafronts and rivers, always fierce and overflowing, and shots too of absolutely nothing - blurs - the camera lens too rainslicked to provide a coherent image yet these shots too are left onscreen for inordinate lengths of time as if to say 'The weather's so bad, we can't see a thing. Look at it! Fuck!'.
Throughout these broadcasts the bottom right corner of the screen is reserved for a graphic like this where the white and red circles represent the typhoon, the lines it's projected path. (On the graphic linked you may notice typhoon 24 lurking out there in the Pacific, due some time next week). Updated constantly, the main circle of the cyclone shifts up across the map like the minute hand of a clock and I often find myself gazing out of the window for any sign of a vast white and red disc jerking stacatto like above Wakayama, which is dumb I know but it gets me through the day.

Apartment: Finally tidied
Recycling: Finally sorted
Japanese Learning: Slow
Music: Shudder To Think - Appalachian Lullaby (thanks Stephen!)


Thank you little genki (healthy: energetic: lively) students of Shinnan Elementary School for seven of the happiest hours of my life thus far in Japan. Within minutes of my first class your Hello Kitty trainers and Snoopy socks had trampled my initial nervousness to a paper thin disc and your joyful shrieks rang in my ears like songs.

Special thanks to you little guy, yes you with the train fetish. Book after book you retrieved from the niche in your desk and proudly shared them with me, and together we marvelled over Shinkansen, steam locomotives and Stephenson's Rocket (this latter pointed out whilst shrieking 'Igirisu! Igirisu! ('England! England!). Just as I began to think that you might well be my favourite there was you little girl, you who came to steal my attention, clutching what looked like a chestnut and saying 'mushi' which I knew meant 'insect' yet here you were holding a nut. Ah, the grin in your eyes as you handed me that spiked tool along with another nut and indicated that I prise my way into the shell. I followed your lead and together we demolished the shells of those nuts and inside each, as you said, an insect - a maggoty grub. Oh, the screams of you three girls - hitherto quiet and furtive - when we showed you the wriggling treasure and your wide eyes when I placed mine on my head (why, I can't say) and it fell on the floor and was inches away from being squashed by the tiniest but most determined feet I ever saw.

Thanks to all of you Class 4-A; all you spirited 9 year olds, who laid my lunch desk out with tartan tablecloth, chopsticks and tray and watched attentively to see what I would do. Thank you for showing me how to correctly crush and fold my empty milk carton for recycling, thanks for your patience when I couldn't determine the rules to your strange game involving flat marbles. A silver medal to each of you for learning the rules to table rugby so quickly and a gold one for you little girl - you who could hang upside down from the rail across the windows.

Thank you for just doing what you do everyday, and for your ignorance that for me this was not everyday at all. You couldn't know that I needed to be amongst you so much, to realise my place in this new world, to be beyond myself, to appreciate why I'm here.


This was intended to be about you.

The mornings here now are the colours of you, the promise in the sky like the sound of your breath when you slept.
Suspended between moments of grace I realise I write only for you, and I am moved to tears.
This morning enlightenment dawns within me: I love only you, the shadow, the residue.
Clinging to half truths in the half-light, deceiving myself whilst holding my fears to the sun,
To punish, to hurt, to feel fully awake for an instant.
Exhuming the little that remains only to bury hope.
To cauterize a bleeding heart, worn on forearms now darkened.