Unko… or “poo” as we say in English.

Where should I go this time, I pondered. Ah, yes, a museum! A place of enlightenment and high-brow musing. So I headed down to the Unko Museum in Yokohama. Yep, The Museum of Poo.

Expecting an interesting history of toilets, feces and dietary trivia, I was slightly deflated to spend 1700 yen on a fluffy, colourful selection of rooms where the only thing to do really is take photos and then make good your escape. For the kids, it’s probably more fun as there is a ball pit where you can play, but it’s quite small and probably has an inch of sweat at the bottom. Well, that was the case in the only ball pool I’ve been to, down in Bognor Regis with my brother & grandparents.

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“Mum, my socks are getting wet…”

I walked in via the front of the building, asking if the Unko Museum was in there. Yes, on the 2nd floor, came the answer by the young lady manning the entrance. Went up to 2nd floor and went to a reception-type desk area. Tickets are sold downstairs, I was told. <sigh> So I went downstairs, bought my ticket and headed back up. I waltzed past that reception-y desk, smiling at the girl there, and she smiled back. Got in the queue and another staff member came up to me, asking for my ticket. I showed her. She informed me I had to give it to the girl at that reception-esque place, the one who had told me to go downstairs and get a ticket, and then had smiled at me when I came back up, but said nothing as I walked by. Throw me a friggin’ bone here!

Angry-Baby-Face“It vexes me!”

Finally got in and we sat down on toilets, and were told to mime taking a dump…

When you have stood up, there is a plastic poo in the toilet. A truly magnificent gift!

You move on through the (very) limited number of rooms then, enjoying the interesting ways people try and make the concept of your feces an entertaining one.

Colourful Poo, Flying Poo, The Princess and the Poo, Lover’s Unko Room… Remember this cost 1700 for an adult. Kids are 900 yen.

 

“That’s a lot of crap!”

I decided to forego shouting “Unko”. Maybe I missed out on some solid fun there… Also, gave the poo-hopping game a pass as I didn’t really understand the rules. And then almost walked into a mirror in the whatever-that-room-was.

And there was also a neon display of unko in various languages. Essential for any hard-core traveller!

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I reckon I was somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes when I arrived at the exit and found the message below. Classy!

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See me again?!

yohn_royce_tv_3_5496“I think not.”

I did purchase an Unko calendar so will slip that in with the prize on a future competition. Please remember to follow Buckmaster Books on Facebook for the monthly competition. Prizes range from “Wow!” to “Woh!” to “wtf!?”.

And “Ragnekai Winds” Kindle edition is FREE on Amazon till tomorrow (Friday 19th, US time zone, maybe pacific, not sure – sorry!).

Fare well ye noble folks! Game of Thrones is back so I am a happy lad. That is until they start offing all the best characters in grisly fashion. Ser Davos for the Iron Throne! Hmm, serious prediction is no-one will sit the Iron Throne as all will be dead or not really bothered with ruling a ruined realm.

And just a quick last one for you all. Please listen to this beautiful piece by Omnia.

 

 

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Cats, Marshmallows and…a clean wand!?

<warble> “Midniiiiight, not a sound from the paaaavement!”

Okay, so today I decided to head to one of the current places popular in Japan: a cat café. I’ve no idea if these are trending in other countries but Japan will make a business out of anything kawaii (cute).

I love cats. We had three over the course of my childhood (Blackie, Whiskas, Smitty) and I would take one in now if our house didn’t look like burglars had gone through it but found nothing of value, so just left one unholy mess.

My destination today was Mocha in Shibuya. Nice place, friendly staff and lovely cats. When I say “lovely” cats, they looked lovely but were your typical “I am Lord Ruler Supreme here”-type felines.

IMG_20190314_111350.jpg“Do not disturb my rest, peasant!”

The place is small but has a lot of groovy stuff for the cats to lounge about on, relax upon, recline upon, loaf on, nap on, watch the day go by…on, and even just “Need a break from walking three feet” on. Yep, these cats have a pretty nice home. <obviously they can’t go outside, which is not the best, but probably safer inside than on the streets of Shibuya with all those club scouts prowling around>

 

“Check out our digs, man!”

I spent the first fifteen minutes trying to entice one over so I could get a cute photo, but they were being cats so… Do they know that mobile phones have cameras?! Hold mine up and they just turn their head or get up and walk off. What could I do to win their affection? Ah, yes, you can pay 500 yen for a little cup of cat treats (looked like meat of some kind, or maybe tuna). The staff give you an apron and lay out a mat on a table. Hold the cup high, stand close to the table, only give them food over the mat, etc. will be explained to you politely. And then they came!

 

“Did we tell you how awesome you are, human?! What say you get another cup of these munchies?”

The white cat in the left frame was a greedy bugger. Literally pushed other cats out the way. Bustopher Jones’ grandson perhaps.

It’s not cheap but was worth the cost (just over 2000 yen for about an hour). I could imagine it being very relaxing for someone who has a stressful job and just wants to relax without having to make conversation.

And on to Marshmallows! have a read of this Beeb article to learn about White Day, the follow-up to Valentine’s Day here in Japan. V-Day = ladies give to me, W-Day = men return the favour.

http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20190312-how-japans-valentines-day-follow-up-plays-on-gender-roles

When I was teaching private English lessons at the students’ homes, this day cost me a fair bit. And I was always last-minute with it. Not as costly as having a load of friends get married in a short span of time though (guests pay between 30,000 yen and 100,000 yen to the bride & groom at a Japanese wedding; and you don’t even get to invite your partner! – but Japanese weddings are rather grand!). A topic for another day!

And last but not least in this brief blog for March is the Wand! As I have mentioned before, Japanese toilets sometimes have little control panels that would not be out of place on the USS Enterprise.

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“There be Klingons on Uranus, cap’n!” 

The toilets at one of my local stations have been refurbished recently, and I can’t help but wonder if some foreigner was asked to check the English and figured he/she would have a bit of a laugh. The Japanese reads “Nozzle Clean”, and it will blast the bidet/butt-wash nozzle with water to clean it. So how did we get to “wand”?! It even has a pic of a magic wand. Really, matron, this is just too much!

“Almost finished. Just cleaning the wand.”

So please take care, all of you wonderful people! And if you fancy entering one of my Buckmaster Books competitions, please check out the Facebook page of the same name. Interesting flavoured Kit-Kats are part of the prize this month.

Nugget of trivia: Kit-Kats are often given to students at exam times as the Japanese pronunciation of Kit-Kat, is kitto-katto, which is similar to kiito katsu, which means something like “you’ll definitely win” or “it’s a sure thing”.

Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu!

Or Happy New Year! Feliz Ano Nuevo! Bonne Annee! Or Vorsprung Durch Technik as they say in Germany. ‘Tis another year and I ain’t getting any younger, more is the pity. Damn this aging process. Still debating on whether to grow my beard super-long and then have the ultimate comb-over to hide my bald spot. It is an idea worthy of deep consideration.

So we had a busy Xmas and I basically conked out afterwards (fever, swollen lymph nodes, general feeling of “urghhhh”), thus missing out on delicious new year foods at my wife’s family home. Damn… Japanese new year food is fantastic. New Year is pretty much like Christmas in England: family, gluttony and napping. “The Great Escape” hasn’t made it over here yet though.

Osechi is a set of dishes made only (I believe) at New Year, rather like mince pies and Xmas pud. Absolutely delicious and some quite healthy. I could eat the daikon dish (namasu) every day. Below is a photo from a rather excellent Japanese cooking web-site I found recently. I frequently use this site when cooking dinner, as I figure my family would prefer not to be clutching their stomach in agony on a regular basis.

https://www.justonecookbook.com/osechi-ryori-japanese-new-year-food/

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As with so much of Japanese cuisine, the presentation is incredible.

Another Japanese food eaten at New Year is omochi, which are rice cakes. You can toast them, heat them on foil in a frying-pan or just blast them in the microwave. Then cover them with soy sauce & sugar, kinako (roasted soy bean flour) or anko (red bean paste). They are totally fantastic and an essential part of oshougatsu (New Year). But also, rather tragically, they are a fatal aspect to New Year here for some. Every single year there are reports of people choking to death on these rice cakes. They are very sticky and dense in their consistency and sadly many old people do not chew them enough, swallow and the cake gets stuck in their throat. Please take a look at this article from last year’s BBC news: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-42537953

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Although Christmas has become very popular in Japan in recent years, it is quite different to the Xmas I grew up with. I tend to go all out to create a British Chrismtas for friends and family (probably why my body shut down after the last gathering we had). New Year is the big event here though still, and families head back to their home-towns to stay with parents. The chilldren receive little envelopes of cash on January 1st from their relatives. This is called otoshi-dama and obviously is something the children anticipate eagerly. The amount in the envelope increases as the children get older, starting at a 500 yen coin when very young, going up to a thousand yen bill when they begin elementary school. I believe this is fairly standard all over the country.

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Another new year tradition is the sending of nengajo (new year post-cards). If you watch TV on the 1st January, you see footage of postmen  heading out on their scooters to deliver the mountains of these cards. Japan follows the Chinese zodiac so each year the cards have a different animal as their theme. This year is the year of the boar. So perhaps a year when we all charge head-long into everything…

And finally we have the shrine visit, the first one of the year being called hatsu-mode. This is a chance to see some exquisite Japanese kimono. The weather is generally good at new year (at least in the Kanto area), with blue skies and crisp air. Just heading out to a shrine and soaking up the atmosphere is a must if you are ever in Japan at this time of year.

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<NOTE: I have been pulling up images from the net. If anyone has any objection to an image, please contact me!>

So this is the January blog coming to a close. I missed December because…I was busy releasing Ragnekai Moons! Drum roll, cymbal crash, fireworks exploding above, cannons booming and…yeah, just general noise.

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So fare thee well, one and all! I wish everybody the best for 2019. May this year bring good health and good fortune. And thank you to everyone who takes the time to read my blogs! It is much appreciated and I hope you find the posts of interest. Till we meet again!

AKEMASHITE OMEDETOU GOZAIMASU!

明けましておめでとうございます!

Japanese New Year, a time to visit family.

Location, location, location!

After my mis-step in October, visiting “Anata No Warehouse of Smoke & Stench”, I chose well for this month’s bit of sightseeing: “Edo-Tokyo Open-Air Architectural Museum” (http://www.tatemonoen.jp/english/)

It’s a bit out of the way, 15 minutes walk from Hana-Koganei station (Seibu-Shinjuku line, 20 mins from Takadanobaba on the Yamanote line), but worth a visit. If you walk from the station, turn right out of the ticket gates and you’ll see a map on the station wall. There is a route shown that you can roughly follow (I say “roughly” because I have zero sense of direction and cannot be 100% sure I walked that exact path). There is a udon place along the way, which served me perfectly for an early lunch. Think it might have been one of those places that are semi-famous, judging by the thank-you cards on the wall.

The anago ten-don with soba was excellent!

The museum itself is within Koganei Park. It’s basically a collection of houses from Tokyo’s history. Only 400 yen to enter and there are guide pamphlets in English.

You can go in some of the houses but you must remove your shoes. So don’t wear a pair that take ages to unlace etc., like I did…

This house/building really gave me a 4-D experience. The smell of smoke (good smoke this time) and the chap tending the kettle made for a very satisfying ambience.

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I spoke about three short sentences of Japanese to this chap and another Japanese man asked how long I’d been here.

“16 years.”

“And you can speak that much Japanese.”

<sarcasm?!>

“If I’d lived in England 16 years, I wouldn’t be able to speak that much English.”

<You wouldn’t have learned three short sentences in 16 years? I suggest you study a bit more conscientiously!>

I moved on and checked out the bath-house. There was a group of scouts visiting the park and one lad figured he’d get in.

The pictures on the tiling were pretty impressive, especially the naginata-wielding samurai. <I only just learnt that word so am showing off>

One picture was a bit saucy though. I had to politely cough as I pretended not to look. I am British after all.

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I believe this was an old-time izakaya (drinking hole). Made me want to watch “Tokyo Story” again.

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Seeing all the old school buildings and goods was fascinating for me so I imagine this would be nostalgia heaven for elderly Japanese folk.

If you enjoy the Miyazaki Hayao films, then I’d recommend a visit. You can almost picture Satsuki & Mei sitting on a porch.

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And to finish off, let me just give a shout-out to Japanese toilets. Yay! Clean, fully functional and will even let you play the sound of rushing water to drown out any parps and plops you might make. Nihon no o-te-arai, I salute you!

 

See you in December!

 

What?!, Whaaaat?! and…Ahh.

Good morrow to ye all! Last week I decided to check out Anata No Warehouse (Your Warehouse), as I’d seen some pics on the net and thought it looked like a typically quirky Japanese place. Hmm, should have done more than skim-read the text with the photos. From outside it looks like it might be cool, something like the haunted hospital attraction at Fuji-Kyu Highrando (which is damn scary!).

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And the entrance was pretty atmospheric, the automatic sliding with a whoosh of air. And then onto a corridor where I thought there would be some jump-scare awaiting me.

And then more decor that suggested this place was cool!

And then…an arcade. Oh, right, think I remember reading about an arcade level. Yeah, pretty cool! Hey, look Pac-Man! And Purikura (Print Club – little boothes where you can take photos with your friends and spice up the images; probably with high school girls…though with the latest mobile phone, not sure there’s much need for them anymore).

And then there was a gambling machine level…and a darts/table tennis/pool level. And a sharp turn into a different taste in interior design.

As you ascended the floors, the stench of cigarettes got worse. Probably worst on the gambling floor where people sat at machines, ash-tray to hand, endlessly puffing away. It just stank to hell. The kind of smell that is ingrained after years of heavy smoking.

And that was it. Basically a place for salarymen to goof off in the day or people who like to exist in a fug of cigarette smoke. Apart from the design, there was nothing special. I was expecting some quirky place with staff dressed up, weird food on sale and more visual entertainment. Suffice to say, my visit was short. I was in and out in ten minutes. Unless you enjoy reeking of ciggies, I’d give this place a miss.

A more enjoyable day was Saturday at the World Beer Museum in Yokohama. It’s not, as you might think given the name, a museum. At all. It’s a restaurant and beer shop. Great beers and the food was pretty good. Decor is suitably beer hall-ish. They were playing hip-hop music though, which for me and my stuffy tastes, just seemed off-kilter. Ordering a huge glass of weissen, video of the German Oktoberfest running, nice meaty sausages and a noble attempt at sauerkraut, faux-stone brick walls…and hip hop. It’s like if you had heavy metal playing in a Gucci store.

So being a bit selfish (it was my birthday so pls forgive me), I asked them to change the music.

“What would you like?”

“Anything but hip-hop. Got any 70s?”

The waitress, probably born just shy of the millenium, went off and a minute later, the CD stopped. Mid-song! Classy. A new song came on and I was glad there were no other foreigners with me, as I would have wet myself laughing. “Africa” by Toto! The 80iest song of the 80s.

And then followed a string of 80s classics. It was like being at home but with much better beer, waitress service and decent grub.

And then we got the bill.

Holy Gold Mountains, Bat-Man! Just under 28,000 yen for the four of us. Ouch. A nice meal with great beer and some awesome 80s music (Yey!) but not sure we can justify another trip there.

So that’s my What?! & Whaaaat?! The Ahh is a book I’m almost done with, which is a bit of a curio. “Convenience Store Woman” by Sayaka Murata. An interesting glimpse into the world of a conbini worker but quite a challenging protagonist (how to keep the nephew quiet line…ahh). Worth a read though. Very short and easy to zoom through.

And so we come to the end of another incredibly exciting, breathless tale from yours truly. Keep safe people and remember to avoid Pumpkin Spice Latte.

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Kamakura & Kitsune & “Bumpy”

This was about my fifth visit to Kamakura. It’s not because we live close that I’ve been a few times but because this place is just a good day out. And the daibutsu (big Buddha) is intriguing in a big-ass, yet Zen-like, way. I can sit there and look at this fella for ages, just contemplating….well, turning my brain off really and forgetting the stress of these Crazy Days we live in.

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Although Kamakura is fairly small, it does have some boasting rights. One is that,  in 1192 Minamoto Yoritomo established the first shogunate (military government) of Japan in Kamakura, which was where his HQ was situated. So Kamakura can lay claim to being the beginning of almost 700 years of military rule and countless NHK jidai-geki, or samurai dramas (jidai-geki is the word which George Lucas used to create the term “Jedi”…please say someone didn’t know that so I can feel good about myself for sharing some Nerd Knowledge).

 

This is the grave of said bad-ass “I did it first” Shogun, Minamoto Yoritomo. It’s worth a visit, despite being a bit off the beaten track (ie. other side of the station to the main draw, that huge Buddha) and is very small. You head off the main road down a smaller side street, then climb up some stairs and there it is. You’d expect it to be a little grander considering who is buried here but it’s very tranquil. So quiet in fact, you can hear the shade of Minamoto whispering “I did it fiiiirrrrrst!” If you read the blurb above, you’ll see that he used to have a nicer home for his bones but it was destroyed.

The streets of Kamakura are fun to stroll along. I’m not a shopper but it’s interesting to just amble along and look at the wares. The main draw here though is the street food! I could spend a week walking up and down, trying different foods each meal and not be hungry (but get very tubby). Ice-creams of various persuasions, sausages of various ingredients and sweet things of varying prices. I indulged in a “Custard-In-Baum”, which was delicious but tiny. And also a sausage, which was also tasty but disappointing due to the fact I thought I’d get three bangers for 380 yen but alas, that hefty price tag was for one lonely wiener.

 

There is some good hiking in Kamakura, moving off the roads and into some hill trails. And of course, a bevvy of shrines to visit. Google it before you go (plenty of helpful people have put up guides and videos) and get a map from the Information Centre at the station before you head off on your little trek.

I find the shrines more interesting than the temples. I think I am right in saying that temples are Buddhist and shrines are Shinto, and also that in Japan, you are born Shinto and die Buddhist. Anyway, the fox deities that guard these shrines are intriguing. Please check out this excellent piece by Dennis A Smith to learn about these benevolent chaps.

http://dennisamith.com/2017/10/23/travel-guide-the-one-about-the-meaning-of-fox-statues-at-shrines/

 

As always, my favourite part of the day is having a meal out. I am ruled by my stomach. Ruled? Dominated perhaps is a more accurate term. I went to a wa-shoku (Japanese cuisine) place on the 2nd floor of Cial in the station building.

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The meal was pretty good but the sashimi wasn’t the best and the rice seemed like it had been left on the side a bit. Unusual for Japan and so a bit of a bummer. The mother and daughter next to me had ten-don (tempura & rice bowl) and kept saying how good it was, so looks like I…chose poorly.

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There is a wide range of restaurants in Kamakura so something for everyone. Unless you like Amish cooking of course! Ha ha, as if there’d be an Amish restaurant in Kamakura! Ha ha…ha…ha…ha…wohhh!

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Other highlights of my trip include: scary temple guardians (anyone seen Gantz?!)

 

A rather large haul of sake drums…all empty sadly. <insert ad for book now>

 

And a kama-kiri (Praying Mantis)…Tomoki likes them.
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I’d like to go back to Kamakura in winter. Sky would be bluer and the air crisper. Would be amazing to the Daibutsu under snow. There are quite a few festivals in the summer (pretty sure we stumbled across one when my brother visited in 2002) and did I mention the street food?!

Will slap some more photos down below for anyone who has not got bored and started watching Then & Now videos on YouTube.

 

And one of my favourite kanji. dekoboko. It means “bumpy” and this kanji is the most un-letter-like, most like-a-drawing I know. Take care everyone and see you in October!

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Super Ranting & Galactic Moaning

This summer has been looooong and hot. Could have really done with a handful of blockbuster movies but Japan’s domestic audience means these get shunted into September and beyond to make way for Doraemon and the accursed Pokemon!

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Anyway, just wanted to put forth an opinion concerning the super-dooperest of heroes, Kal-El, aka Man of Steel, aka Superman (not to be confused with Russ Abbot’s Cooperman).

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Cooperman & Blunder Woman

I loved Superman growing up. Richard Donner’s Soops was incredible, the sequel even better and the third creeped me out with that Fem-Bot and made me wince when Clark gets squished in the trash compactor (I shall not mention the one That-Shall-Not-Be-Named, ie IV). And I also really liked Man of Steel. Cavill makes a great Soops for this day and age, and Michael Shannon was awesomely bad-ass as Zod. But so many dissed the film because Superman broke Zod’s neck. “Superman would never do a thing like that!” they cried and accused Zack Snyder of not understanding the character.

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“I WILL FIND HIM!”

I am not a comics buff (wish I was) so am not making any comment about what the character of Superman would or would not do; my beef is with the comparing of the two movies (Superman II and Man of Steel) on the point of Zod’s demise. Doesn’t anybody remember the actual way Superman killed (yes, murdered!) Zod in the former incarnation?! He crushed the bones in his hand, then threw him into an icy grave. How noble! Zod might have been down there with several other broken bones sustained in the fall, unable to fly ‘cos Supes had duped him out of his powers, and then freezing or starving to death, or internally bleeding to death. At least Cavill gave Zod a quick death and did so because innocent people were about to be toasted by the Mega-Red-Eye-Death-Ray. I rest my case.

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Suit could do with a clean…

This brings me onto Galactic Moaning. I’m starting to feel that the so-called “True Fans” are ruining things for new fans. First point to make is that we are in a very different world now in terms of what we watch on TV and at the cinema. I’m not sure at what point things got so gritty and grim, but when you have Game of Thrones and Vikings showcasing the bloody reality of the period/fantasy era, you can no longer be blown away by the A-Team’s antics or take seriously a guy who wears his underpants over his tights. A loss of innocence? A feeling that the consequences of violence need to be displayed in all their terrible glory (unlike said A-Team where bullets flew and bad guys just jumped into the dust)? Or the inevitable escalation of anything?

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Social media has sadly revealed just how awful and nasty people can be. I loathed Jar-Jar Binks but did “fans” have to scream their anger so loud Ahmed Best almost took his own life? Hayden Christensen wasn’t well cast as Anakin, his acting a tad sandy, but was anybody praising Mark Hamill’s acting chops back in the 80s?

One problem is that a legion of man-boys believe Star Wars belongs to them and they should be able to dictate what is in the new movies. Rather impractical it must be said, trying to satisfy a million grown men who yearn to return to their childhood and experience that same fantastic buzz we had when the Star Destroyer first flew over our heads. And also rather unfair to all the new fans who are seeing Star Wars for the first time.

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“I wanted Rey’s parents to be Palpatine and Leia!”

Here comes my confession. I went to see The Last Jedi with my two boys (aged 7 and 10 at the time) when it came out. Like many I was disappointed and annoyed with what struck me as a lack of decent screen-writing. I didn’t mind Luke being a grump but I thought his chucking away the lightsaber was a silly gag to get a shock-laugh from the audience. Poe Dameron didn’t seem to lose too much sleep over all the lives he lost; Finn and Rose’s side mission was seemingly written on the back of a coaster after one too many Jaeger Bombs; and Snoke’s death was cool but seemed like a convenient way for people to stop asking who he was…’cos nobody had bothered to give him a back-story.

<Note: I haven’t read the books so Snoke may be explained there but I kinda feel you shouldn’t have to read all the extra stuff to get info on the Big Bad. Maybe Ep9 will have a few revelations…>

I vented my feelings to my kids on the train home and afterwards I have to admit felt pretty shitty. When I saw ROTJ in California in 1983, I was 8 years old and felt like I was in another galaxy. The experience of Jedi was a feeling that tingled through my entire body. If my Dad had started blathering on how Luke would never have slaughtered a barge full of people (even though they were underworld goons), or how the Ewoks overpowering trained troops in armour was unrealistic, or why didn’t the Empire put up a few steel barriers to stop ships as big as the Falcom flying right into the core, I’d have cried, no doubt about it.

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So, in conclusion, I think we Man-Babies who grew up with the original trilogy, need to take a step back, have a beer or a cup of tea, and just relax a bit. We do not own Star Wars and should admit it was intended for children anyway. And we need to cut back on the angry Tweets and FB posts. Discuss with your friends what you didn’t like but FFS don’t start petitions asking for a film to be erased from history! There are so, so many other issues in the world that need that kind of outrage and then activism by adults right now. And the children need to be able to enjoy this new generation of Star Wars, Star Trek, Superman, Bat-Man etc., without their Dads and Uncles piously informing them that “<character> would never do that.”

As for the racists, homophobes and misogynists… please ask yourself if your insults and slurs make you any happier or make you feel important. If they don’t, then perhaps step onto a new path in life. If they do, then ask yourself why that is.

Not to end on a downer, let’s all of us, kids & adults, guys & gals, fans & casual viewers just enjoy the abundance of TV shows now available. There has to be something on Netflix or Hulu etc. for every taste.

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These posters get me even now, sparking the wonder I still hold somewhere inside.

 

 

 

 

Summer Sucks!

I’m British so don’t fare so well in high humidity, which is what summer in Japan has in abundance. Once the rainy season comes to a close (end of June roughly), the heat ratchets up and the humidity goes to sauna levels. And my productivity levels plummet…

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It’s tough to sleep some nights as the air is so oppressive. It just doesn’t move, not even a glimmer of a breeze some nights. At some point I fall asleep but wake in the morning feeling as if I have come out of a deep hibernation (that wasn’t particularly restful) and the Sandman has dumped a JCB’s shovel-worth of gunk in my eyes. My coffee intake goes up in the summer; in England it was the opposite.

And then I don’t seem to get much done in the day. Twiddling my thumbs really.

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One way to beat the heat is to get the pool out. If beer-belly and money were no issue, I believe I’d spend each day sipping cold ones while submerged in the paddling pool out on the wood-deck. But alas, such utopian visions will never come to pass.

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Air-conditioning is the only way to go when the mercury hits the upper 30s and the humidity is 80-90%. Friends here say it wasn’t like this when they were children. Summer was shorter (it now seems to creep sweatily into October) and the highs were just over 30. But what do they know?! Climate change is a hoax, right!

So slap the AC on and entertain ourselves within the home.

I have been mostly selecting photos from the summers of 2010 and 2011 for this post. Tomoki was a few months old in 2011 and Haruki three. Looking back at these memories makes me wonder how much summer really does suck. Browsing through snaps of yesteryear in a cool room, no sweat dripping, no gasping for air and no photos of crappy times. I think this is why photographs tend to be kinder viewing than watching home videos (jerky camera, hearing your own weird-ass voice and the general over-long nature of them). So, does summer really suck? Hmm… Probably for the best I don’t have photos of my three summers working in schools. They only introduced AC into the classrooms in my last year. I changed all my clothes (shirt, trousers, vest <don’t laugh, essential in Japan>, underwear) three times a day; once when I arrived at the school dripping in sweat, again at break-time soaked to the skin, then once more at lunch. Laundry every evening. Damn, that was gruelling.

But on the brighter side!

You have the festivals…

You have nature getting jiggy…

You have a different cuisine…

Well, when I started writing this blog, I really was going to charge into a rant about I hate summer here. But after seeing the good memories, I have to temper my British Grumpiness. Yes, summer is a slog in Japan and the heat can really get you down, but I guess you have to find your coping mechanisms (air-con, pool, beer, camping, hiking in the mountains, going to England!! ha ha!…etc.).

And in general, heading down Memory Lane every now and then is well worth the time. Still scenes of the good times and none of the daily grind that comes between them. So add that to the list of ways to deal with summer: AC on, coffee in hand and then start browsing through the thousands of digital photos just sitting on your PC.

I shall sign off here before I bore you all to death… Hello, anybody out there? <a church bell chimes in the distance> Keep cool, people!

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Undoukai, Kamaboko & Odawara Castle

The Japanese undoukai is basically sports day. The primary school undoukais feature a mix of races, games and performance, and can be quite impressive.  Not quite at the level of North Korean synchronisation but two hundred kids all carrying out dance moves in unison is quite a sight.

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My wife is actually a teacher and every year her school does its sports day on the same date as our sons’ school. Bugger! So she misses the whole thing and I spend the entire time videoing it. I thought I had done a superb job this year but when we watched it later, there was a nice extended clip of my feet as I sat down to take a rest. Thought I’d videoed the dance in the picture above but had turned off Record. Then turned it on when the dance finished. Once again…bugger!

It was the school’s 50th anniversary this year so they spiced up the proceedings a bit. The smoking Olympic-style torch was pretty cool. Different colours and a nice pong filling the air.

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The cheering squads are impressive too. These kids really belt out the cries of support. And wear nifty outfits!

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The sports day was on a Saturday so the kids got the Monday off in lieu. We headed to Odawara Castle, where my main take-away was that Japanese castles would not do well against trebuchet.

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But, as this blurb about armour says, there was an aesthetic in feudal Japan. I am no expert on Japanese history but it seems battle was more a case of one-to-one combat. Warriors rather than soldiers.

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Odawara Castle.

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After storming the castle and looting the family silver, we headed to a soba restaurant for lunch. Japanese cuisine will always be one of the top five reasons I love this country. Looks fantastic, tastes delicious and is relatively healthy.

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And then onto the kamaboko experience. Kamaboko and chikuwa are shaped fish paste. In the photo above, the white thing with a purple flower is kamaboko, as is the white thing with a pink swirl on the opposite side. We made our own chikuwa and kamaboko, and all of our creations turned out well. Not bad considering the instructor hardly paused for breath and I gave up trying to follow. Just did my own thang!

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Odawara, doumo arigatou!

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Quickie!

Just a quick one to let you know that Amazon is running a giveway of the Kindle version of my debut novel, Ragnekai Winds. Ends May 13th. Please take a look!

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