It is entirely possible to study a language for several hours every day and immediately upon closing the textbook become engaged in a conversation where the native speaker of studied language will use approximately none of the words you studied.
There's only one real response in a situation like this: a counter-attack in high speed English, delivered monotonously with the mouth hardly opening. Of course, this isn't a friend-winning tactic and is admittedly particularly obnoxious but I'm desperately hankering for just one day here in Japan where I don't feel utterly stupid.


Quite what happened I cannot say. I'm unsure. What began as a sedate adult evening enjoying the multifarious delights of conversation and Japanese cuisine very rapidly descended into a deplorable spiral of violence and destruction. Suspect I may have played a role in the instigation of the evening's sudden turn for the worse, but don't exactly know when or how. A swollen lip, cuts on the legs and back and welts across a large part of the carcass. In the morning those that remained crawled out of their respective pits into a landscape of smashed glass, broken furniture and pasta shapes stuck to walls.
And there is video footage. To my eternal horror. I do not remember being filmed. I do not remember doing that wicked, evil thing with Ben's testacles. But, sadly, the camera never lies.

An extremely heavy plastic horse properly intended for the shrieking amusement of children was stolen in Otsu this weekend. Dan did not help to carry it. He is innocent.

I am becoming to old for these things.


Gaaarrrggghh. Once I see a roach, regardless of size or relative threat, I start seeing them everywhere. Start feeling them in my hair and up my pants leg just above the sock. This particular little bastard was about the size of an uppermost thumb joint but I still had no scruples over reacting as if it where a foe of Godzilla's come to stomp my kitchen furniture into oblivion.

It was skulking under the dish scourer, biding it's time. Plotting. Sending signals back to the mother ship.

'It's too cold for you and your kind', I attempted to mentally project into it's hideous insect brain. It gazed back in disdain. How stupid I am. Friend Katy (who's a scientist and knows of these things) once told me that cockroaches are, amongst all living things, infinitely more likely to survive nuclear winter than any other strain of sentience - humans included. And here's me attempting to banish it with effette, limp wristed swats. Eventually friend Erin stepped in, scoffing my disturbed shrieking. She is Australian and presumably used to abominations such as these. I am English and as such the most malevolent insect I am accustomed to is a particularly sociopathic cadfly. She scooped it up and actually spoke to it. She said 'Come on mate'. Then she hurled it off the balcony. I'm 4 floors up. The roach hit the pavement and scampered off. 4 floors in roach ratio is like Everest. And yet it scampers still. Mocking. Diabolical mocking. It will, no doubt, bring others. Why wasn't it killed? 'Why wasn't it killed Erin?'

'It's just a cockroach'

Fuck that. I have laid six (6) traps tonight and will lay more yet. I have heard the sickening sound of cockroach legs across tatami matting - me esconced on futon - once before and have no desire to hark to it again. I bow to your hardened carapaces. I mean you no harm (save for the traps). Please do not lay eggs in my sleeping ears. Please leave my apartment be.


Everybody in existence will have a birthday this year.
2005 is not unique in this. Last year was similar, if not the same. 6 billion something birthdays. Think of it. All those candles.
1,303,654,784 birthdays will occur in China, though not on the dates we think they will of course because January is February and December is January and it's all 4207 and 2005 is not the year of our Lord but the very own year of the Cock, which may be tantamount to the same thing. What have I said? Moichido's improbable Catholic readership may now be going crazy, although a cursory check of recent headlines intimates that the Holy See probably already has. So much for infallibility.

And what of Christmas Island? An oft overlooked place in this world upon which live only slightly more people to have birthdays then there are year days available to have them. Pop. 373. And are birthdays so popular in a location where it's arguably Christmas everyday? Who knows? Not me.
Palau, the Cayman Isles, Lietchenstein, yes even Lietchenstein; birthdays to celebrate all. So why is mine important?

It's not.

I've had twenty-eight birthdays before and hardly celebrated any of them. Each another year closer to death, whenever that may be. Understand that this lack of birthday enthusiasm is not a faith based thing, it's personal. What did I do worthy of celebration? I just sit on my arse and allow the year to float around me, like a lift/elevator (hello America!) that goes nowhere whilst the building moves around it. So. Friday's going to be much the same as any other day, except my mother may call and say something about my 'making her feel old' but no 'Happy Birthdays!', because we don't do that. It would embarrass me if we did. No. I want very little.

But please; let there be drink and let there be friends and let there be some laughing too. And if the reason for any particular gathering is my rapidly approaching thirtydom then let it not be uttered. Instead, lets drink to my aforementioned mother and all the Mothers of the world. After all, she - my mother - did all the hard work - pushing and grunting (I imagine - my sole reference being hospital dramas) and in despicable pain during the hours before lunch on Wednesday 昭和51年2月25日.


Multiple Choice

Q17: みょうじ ( ? ) よんでください。

(A) へ  (B) に  (C) で  (D)

Errrm...(C)? Strange how I actually know what this sentence means yet have no clue what the missing particle is. At my desk in the staffroom frustration and desperation and the need to have action lead me to place the test paper on my head. I don't want to come out from under it. I momentarily hope that perhaps this absurb paper hat will act as some kind of extra-sensory antenna and the answer will be transmitted from my colleagues into my brain. It doesn't happen. I eat an onigiri. The chewing movement of my jaw causes the test paper to fall. Outside it is snowing.


Yesterday was friend Satoko's birthday. Not really though. Her birthday's not until Monday. But she works on Monday so she's having her birthday Friday, today and tomorrow instead. I'll drink to that. And I did. Didn't take very much arm-twisting to get me murdering already sad songs on the karaoke system. Sure I protested lamely for several minutes, then proceeded to hog the mic for an hour or so. The voice of the drunken man is music only to his own ears, this I know. I've heard inebriated friends sing.
That was Friday - which at precisely midnight turned into today. Welcoming the chimes with too much food in CoCo's 24hr 'Californian' restaurant, accepting beer from strangers (rohypnol be damned), having difficulty with the chopsticks. Only DAY THE SECOND of Satoko's birthday marathon. We musn't go home, it is forbidden. Hmmm, it's rather cold - let's head to the beach.
Stood and faced a churning sea and felt not too much at all. Good. Congratulate myself on well adjustedness whilst skimming flat stones with, I felt, precision. Satoko proves much better at it however so I naturally walk off in a huff muttering stuff about 'kid's games'.
Fall asleep in the car and wake up miles away surrounded by mountains, covered in too many coats, heating full blast, lips dry and chapped and craving water. Satoko believes this temperature to be ideal. I concur that for the core of the fucking Earth, perhaps it would be. Still, it's her car. And it's still her birthday too.
And how lovely these here mountains, nestling as they are between metropolitan sprawls on all sides, these cities and towns also having beauty of sorts in the early morning delirium. And there are strange golf courses here, myriad aging people floating across the greens with outsize clubs and clownishly large, flourescent balls. Fascinates me. But the state I'm in - midway between cities, like the mountains, and between euphoria and hallucination - so does the skin on the backs of my hands. And Satoko's hair. So black. Does she dye it? If I touched it maybe I'd know. But maybe she'd kill me. Perhaps with a precision skimmed stone to the forehead. Kid's game. Must stop looking. Watch the old people. That's it. But there are stars. I see stars. For a stupid moment I am convinced I can see auras. No. Just tiredness and dehydration mixed in with the dreaded strangeness of impending contentment. Knowing it must end. Knowing a promise has to be voiced or shown or facilitated or would you look at that old guy go! My god, that's eighty-nine years of sushi and natto for you!
'Coffee?' say's Satoko, pronouncing the 'F's. Oh my. Please fuck up. Just once. Please.

Coffee, bread, and air oozed from pine trees massages our stomachs as the car motors down, always down, toward home. I'm drifting away. But home's not an option. I want to drive you some places says she. And she does. Beach towns, built up along cliffs. Like Clovelly. They make me fantasise earthquakes. Along this vast faultline, is this sensible homemaking? Then later, much later. Closer to where my bike has been left - outside the bar from so long ago. Satoko wants to sit in the park. We sit in the park. A chocolate hedgehog is made a present of to me. Satoko likes hedgehogs very much, I learn.
She is cold. Keeps expressing her coldness. 'Samui, samui, samui'. I suspect she wants holding. Wants something. A movement. An overture. Something musical. But from me, there is paralysis. There is nothing. Except this.

I sit drinking whiskey you bought me and I'm writing to you without writing to you at all. I'm posting it here for maybe eight people to read, but none of them you, in a language you don't really comprehend. For me it's a way to scream without you knowing. You could ask me what's wrong and the fact is you're perfect and as fucked as it is that's what's wrong. I deserve perfection less than you deserve me and that's a fact I almost can't comprehend. Yet it's how I think it must be. And if you take your sadness and hold it to mine I think we might find it's the same. Same, but different.


Not so much to be said for today. A rumour of warmth in the air, a low sun through the staff room venetians bringing a promise of sakura and some much needed serotonin. Some classes were taught, some English was spoken, some students slept. My interest in what manga that guy at the back is attempting to hide below his desk continued to outweigh my interest in making myself understood. I love these kids. They think I hate them. I'm a teacher after all. Cops 'n' Robbers, Teachers 'n' Students.
I learn my application for a second year amongst these kids is 'initially accepted'. Have this confirmed in both English and Kanji. Good. Two sheets of paper means 'definitely'. Right?
Okada Sensei is moving to Malaysia in April. Wife and kids too. Teaching English in a Japanese school. 16 students. In 6 year groups. Says I can visit whenever I like and I know I will. We discuss mobile phones and the price plans of such. He says 'the merit is...' and looks at me. 'Can I say 'merit?' 'Well yes, absolutely' says I, although I haven't heard it in a dog's age and aren't entirely convinced. Mentally riffle through the personal thesaurus alternatives. Bonus. Good thing. Best thing. Positive point. 'Merit' is, I conclude to myself, the perfect usage. And again I'm being taught English by the Japanese.



Japan gets through around 130 million pairs of waribashi everyday (about 11,000 million pairs a year). Waribashi are manufactured from tropical hardwood of which Japan is the world's number one importer. Waribashi are, apparently, outlawed in South Korea in favour of stainless steel alternatives and now there is a growing movement against them in China. Waribashi are disposable chopsticks.

Hardwood comes mostly from rainforest and every year an area the size of Great Britain is deforested world wide. South-East Asian countries such as Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia export huge amounts of their indigenous forests to Japan and now suffer from soil erosion making land unsuitable for agriculture. Whilst not all of this wood is used to make waribashi (some is used in construction and a portion goes toward paper manufacturing), plenty of it is, and it's fairly alarming.
Generally Japan has the best recycling programme I'm aware of. I have to sort all of my rubbish out into glass, PET, other plastics, paper and so on. But there is no provision for wood, and specifically for chopsticks. And they are re-usable: just 6 waribashi would make a good quality piece of writing paper.

But let's not continually knock Japan. Many of Japan's waribashi are made in and exported from the United States and often from wood sourced from native and Canadian forests. For a product that is used for essentially a matter of minutes.

The problem is not that Japan (and China, and Taiwan) use waribashi, it's that they designate rare, tropical hardwood as the material of choice. An online Trade and Environment Database has this to say:

The point of contention in this case is that the products for which Japan is using the wood for are questionable uses for the wood. Surely there are substitutable resources that Japan could use to make chopsticks and concrete forms instead of using the almost irreplaceable trees.

Or recycle them at the very least. In fact, that's what led me to write this entry. I'm not trying to Japan bash - this environmental problem is just one of many throughout the world - but I live in Japan, and it's an issue I thought about earlier whilst using my third pair of waribashi today. I wondered if there was a provision for recycling them I wasn't aware of. There isn't, certainly not of any significance at least.

Although it's good to see that these kids started the revolution a little while back.


Friday evening and Kyoto by 8.20pm, Otsu by 9. Ben, Richelle and Dan in a German bar, knocking back Jagermeister and laughing it up. Good friendships kick back off exactly at the point when goodbyes were last said - no awful, clumsy silences here. Apart from when booze inspires an unprovoked attack on a friend's breast. Snapped a pivotal button on my trousers too. Karma.

And Saturday - Kyoto again. Can't get enough of it. Random shopping, games arcades and ramen. Booking ourselves in for tattoos, a promise made some weeks ago whilst staring fearfully at a recently traitorous sea.
Richelle appears, the night begins. 5 seconds to choose a drink from the vast menu regardless of familiarity with the beverage, can't change your mind and must drink the whole drink. Jungle Fantasy and Gin Back imbibed. What the hell are we drinking? Craving Guinness, a stroll to an 'English' theme bar is in order. Pints of the black stuff and video strip poker - Richelle's name still on the highscore board since the last time she played. Dark horse.
Chatting with the group of Japanese to our left. Get's real messy. Litres of beer in school science-lab beakers. Impossible to drink without spilling magnificently. International relations. Canadian, English, American and Japanese all sodden in lager, red-faced and grinning. The United Nations could take a leaf out of this book. Then Dan has absinthe. Materialises in his hand. We're losing people, they're falling all around us. Quick, pool the money. Guarantee a taxi before this gets out of hand. A blur. A 5 second ultimatum, but Shihomi's mouth too distracting. 'Get your own taxi then twat'. Must run. Sorry.

Sunday - today. Scrambled eggs on doorstep toast. Huddling in Ben's front room. A DIY haircut. Cigarettes smoked. Richelle on a marathon tea-drinking binge. A little snow outside but warm in here. Coffee and isotonic sports drinks from a bowl. Half a movie then home. Away from these people I care a great deal for.

Tomorrow: Joto Junior High.


Staff room, 10 minute break after third period. Propped against my laptop: a little package, couple of inches across. White with red trim and two red kanji. Inside: dried soy beans. Cast a glance over to Kitano Sensei - teacher of mathematics and Buddhist priest; setting difficult problems by day and tackling the bigger, more enduring ones by night. 'These beans' I'm told, 'are for Setsubun'. 'Setsubun' says I in the tone I've evolved of late which is intended to mask ignorance and infer the notion I know what's being discussed and am not entirely ignorant. No one falls for it. 'Setsubun' they inform me 'is when beans are flicked'. (Those of you with a comprehensive knowledge of smutty terminology may laugh at 'bean flicking' - I must admit to a suppressed chuckle myself. Child).

My explanation would no doubt be wordy and innacurate - I'm also extremely lazy. Here's something illegally reproduced from the website of the Japanese embassy in, for the fun of it, Denmark:

Setsubun refers to the division between winter and spring. The term originally referred to the eve of the first day of any of the 24 divisions of the solar year known as Setsu. Later, it came to be applied more specifically to the last day of the Setsu called Daikan (great cold), (Great cold? No shit.) which corresponded to the eve of Risshun (the first day of spring), the New Year's day of the ancient solar calendar and the traditional beginning of spring. Since Risshun and the traditional celebration of New Year fell at about the same time, Setsubun became associated with those rites of purification and exorcism of evil deemed essential to preparing one self for the coming year and the spring planting season.

So how to get those evil prescences on the run?. How? Soy beans! Dried Soy beans! And what to do with them? Let's ignore the fact it's historically the coldest week of winter, throw our doors and windows wide open, grab a handful of these dried beans, chuck 'em outside (first checking for passersby, cats, other easily startled things etc) and yell 'Fuku wa uchi, oni wa soto!' ('Fortune in, demons out!'). So simple. If William Friedkin had been aware of this 'The Exorcist' could have been a much shorter film.

Have been practicing the old 'Fuku wa uchi...' all day and finally feel ready to get out there and have them oni's (demons) hoofing it back to their lairs where they'll huddle together in their greasy loincloths and think twice about giving any of the old evil to the crazy gaijin with the admirable throwing arm.

'Him? Were not cursing him. He's got beans, for Satan's sake. BEANS I tell you!'


Lavatories that play music - with heated seats, vending machines accessed by mobile phone, jacuzzis with underwater lighting and water-proof TV's, love hotels, back-packs with out-facing miniature plasma screens showing whatever you load into the incorporated DVD player and now this (bit risque, for the sensitive type). Wonder if it'll ever turn up, edge of frame, in MTV's 'Cribs'?

Culture shocked - should do something constructive and enrol here. Nah, don't think it's gonna help.


And so, with nary a 'How'd you do?', February encroaches upon our lives. What's to be said for you? You're cold, I'll give you that. 'Coldest month in the Japanese calendar' I'm severely informed, as if I was unable to register the temperature change dermatologically. Grateful you're a short one. Month.

Ah, February - keeper of Valentines and a certain birthday of little note - how much longer must we cling to inadequate clothing, fantasising thermal underwear and smoking cigarettes for the fire that's in them?

Outside Family Mart, 7.50 am, awaiting the black Nissan that conveys me schoolward and tears form in the eyes. The wind's doing? Or the result of reminiscing the central heating, chicken soup and sausages abundant in a smaller island on the other side of the world?

I want my futon. All that body heat awasting. Took me eight hours to build it up. I want bed and bacon. Must have bacon, and soon. Bacon wrapped around little sausages. A roast! A roast bird. Chicken! Alas, no whole chickens to be bought in supermarkets here - just pieces, body parts. There's a chicken farm next to Kusumi Junior High - hear them shrieking all day. Steal in there one evening, intimidate the staff with my superior physical prescence - no need for violence - and make off with a prize, plump hen. Homeward. Up the stairs. In the door. Out with the pans. Cast about for vegetables. Chicken running amok, shitting on the tatami. Cleaver. Head off. Still running about. 1 minute. Flops ridiculously to the floor. I laugh at it's carcass. Chicken laughs last, even in death. No oven you see. Japan. No ovens. Fish grill. No oven.

Out to the balcony (warmer out there) with coffee and toast. Gaze about. Oh, February - there is some joy in you! Look at the mountains. White tops. Glorious. 12 months of the year they endure, waiting to shine like this for the meagre 28 days you offer. 28 days. You'll make us feel every one of them.