In a move that is destined to swell profits but can only spell disaster for me, the one-minute-away-from-my-apartment Family Mart has begun selling alcohol. This is a major land mark of my life here in Japan. Yes, you are right. I need to get out more. Well now I will. To Family Mart.


Permission granted. Moichido may now present an image of an afflicted man. We do not mock, belittle or indeed, cast sneering accusations of this man's relative 'pussyness'. Oh no. Make of it what you will. He is no longer wearing an eyepatch.


If you have to go snowboarding somewhere in Japan then where better than the site of the 1988 winter Olympics, if only to feel the collective residual auras of a thousand or so competent atheletes frowning at you as you slide down a black run on your arse, head facing downhill.
This is how I spent my weekend - marvelling at the seemingly endless mountain terrain of Nagano. No less marvellous upside down with ridiculousy talented pre-school age Japanese kids in flourescent one-pieces skiing past on either side of my snow-biting face.

Some of them laughed. I would have intimidated them a little had I been able to catch up with them.

でも、たのしかった! Day one and, like the last - first - time I went snowboarding I was with a group of much more able, experienced individuals and so it was that, at 10:30am (after an all night bus journey from Osaka) I'm stood at the top of Hakuba facing down a mean looking black run ("It's the most difficult on this side of the mountain!") and not really feeling up to it. So I gamely scrape, slide and shit myself to the bottom, keeping up with the others the only way I know how - heel edge, floating leaf, occasional painful tumble. But not all the others, oh no. Myself, Dan, May and Sarah were all low-level boarders and not enjoying the vertical drops.

A shot of the main run on Hakuba. Note the circled unfortunate who, uncannilly enough, shares the same technique as me.

So, day the second. Myself and May, Dan and Sarah pair up respectively. We decide not to inflict anymore fucking pain to our collective coccyx. (Dan especially needed an easier break. I want to post a photo of his injuries but I don't know if he'll allow me.) And what a day! 6 hours of practice on a nice green run and I can now say that I can snowboard - fully linking turns, 360º spins, a few meek jumps. This is what I needed to do all along.

And the best thing about snowboarding in Japan? Onsen. Oh yes. Onsen. Hot springs. Sitting in an outdoor onsen, snow falling down around and onto you, butt naked and sporting the same tattoo as two other guys in the same bath (and no one said a thing - so much for the 'Yakuza' problem). Life is good.

And cheap. ¥16,000 all told. Room, meals, ski pass, transport, board and boots hire. Cheap. やすい。

Next winter's gonna be a lot easier to get through.


Never paid too much attention to UK news whilst I lived there but I kind of dabble now and all I seem to be reading is 'UK on terror alert' banners. Why? What's happened? Why the new terror bill?
Why is London and by extension the rest of the UK so pumped up about terrorism these days? What's changed? I can't think of a time when there wasn't a vague threat of terrorism hanging around the streets back when I lived in London. No rubbish bins in airports or train stations, myriad signs warning against unattended baggage. Three times in as many years I've been travelling on trains which have made unscheduled stops and been evacuated due to 'suspicious packages'. It was just part of everyday London life.
And now I see those same 'unattended luggage' signs appearing bilingually in Japanese trains and stations along with, at larger stations like Kyoto, armed police. Why's everyone so paranoid these days.

Something I found a little odd about 9/11, and I may be about to piss a few people off, is how all of a sudden the world was supposed to wake up and acknowledge the 'very real threat' of terrorism. Well, wait a second - we already had. We'd had it for years in Europe, in the Middle East and in parts of Asia. So what changed? It honestly felt as though, because the US had been terrorised (admittedly in an appalling and disastrous way and I'm seriously not intending to belittle that, or the many well-adjusted, non-reactionary American people out there) the whole world should have to feel a lot more threatened, had to suddenly share America's apparently new found fear and realisation that a few poeople, in just a few countries, really didn't like them.

Am I being ignorant? Am I over-simplifying? Good. Let me continue in that vein.

Time was, people were afraid of black people, so they made slaves of them - attempted to subdue them. Then it was malevolent Martians and their imminent invasion. Then Russia and communism. Then South East Asian communism. Then homosexuality, because obviously it's gay people who gave AIDS to the world right? Then we were 'concerned' about Iraq. Then we were 'concerned' about Iraq again. Now it's Iran. And North Korea. And somewhere in there was the mistrust (or fear) of Jewish people and we all know what that led to. Fear, fear, fear. We keep getting told to be scared of something. True crime shows, newspaper headlines screaming immigrant crime (and recently, in Japan, a glut of headlines announcing apparent huge 'gaijin crimewaves'. Yesterday, whilst out shopping a middle aged Japanese woman stood in front of me in a queue moved her handbag away from my line of sight - not the first time this has happened).

Occasionally we laugh at the fears of history - watching old newsreels (Watch the Skies!) and movies of the time. Weren't we dumb then, we think.

Aren't we dumb now, I think.


Why can't it be spring all year? (Rotation of the Earth).

It's a joy to stand on the Okozakimae Nankai platform these lately balmy days.

Some sparrows were busy having dust baths. I watched them, chuckling away at their rapid head jerks. There was an old woman on the platform too. She was talking to herself. I was chuckling, she was talking. Must have looked like a Tourette's institute outing.
Those sparrows though, they seemed very gleeful. Tweeting away they were. That's why I imagined them gleeful. They may have been yelling 'Bastard! Bastard!' and it might well have been a sparrow Tourette's institute outing, but what I heard was 'tweet tweet' and an occasional 'chirp chirp'.
They were making this sound because they are sparrows and because I am English. So birds tweet, frogs ribbit, and dogs stink. Ask a Japanese schoolkid what a dog sounds like and they'll reply 'Wan Wan'. A frog? 'Gerro Gerro'. I have English phonics in my head. Japanese schoolkids have Japanese phonics in their heads. And Print Club.

So I tried to listen to the sparrows as if I were a Japanese schoolkid. I found it difficult to pay attention. This was a sure sign that I was achieving a measure of success in becoming a Japanese schoolkid. Eventually, after imaginary murmured consultation with the guy who sits next to me, the guy who sits in front and my best friend two rows over, my new mind decided that I heard the sparrows going ちるちる. Which is 'Chiru Chiru'.

Boarding the train I was feeling smug. I'd listened in Japanese. Oh yeah. Until sometime between Okazakimae and Nichizengu, watching the woman who rotates the advertisements hanging from the carriage roof, it dawned on me that if you add another 'r' along with a 'p' 'chiru' could well be 'chirrup'. English.
And later still, as I unlocked my bike for the final leg of the journey home, I found myself humming a song from 'Mary Poppins'. Professional Cockney Dick Van Dyke had coined 'chiru' some time ago, I realised. Usually as a suffix to 'chim chimeny, chim chimeny, chim chim'.


It's getting gradually warmer. Espied a mosquito today as it alighted upon the screen door. For it's cheek I killed it with a nice one-two combination of thumb and forefinger. No one was around to thank me for this service to humankind so I congratulated myself with a cigarette as I surveyed the small, devestated corpse - a beacon of warning to it's kin. Briefly hope said kin might pick up the scent, wing it over, and weep openly over the horrific death of young Pip, as I've posthumously christened it.

Ah, bring on summer. I'm ready. Mind casts back to last year and a lesson at Higashi Junior School, the room full of moisture and an ungodly amount of mosquitos. The Special Needs kids going crazy slapping their arms.
No wait. It was me going crazy and they were wondering why they were having their arms slapped.

Yes, there was much insect death in that room that day in this majoritively Buddhist country.

Back at Higashi again now and haven't been asked to teach Special Needs this time. This of course, is pure coincidence.


Unthinkingly, during a class centered around the joy of homophones, I wrote the word on the blackboard in two parts. I was intending to explain what it's component words meant. So in fat yellow chalk characters I've scrawled 'Homo' on the board and a great many students are chuckling away. I hastily write 'phones'. More laughing. Now gestures too. Effette people talking on the telephone. Haha.
Some of these kids can't spell 'February' yet but 'Homo' is something they know. And also apparently 'the dick into the pussy', because some wag had written it on the board between lessons. Had to restrain myself from correcting the lack of a capital 'T' as the Japanese English sensei was watching.