Friday, January 06, 2012

Go Here!

Hi! This blog has been defunct for a while, but I sometimes use it to comment on other blogger blogs. If you came here from them, then my current blog is here.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

My first kickboxing fight: video

I'm in the black shorts and white helmet. I think this is the first round, things were still going smoothly at this point (in fact some of my defences here look quite good, and a few kicks quite savage!)

Here is perhaps the beginning of the second round.

Things still look okay and there's some okay movement here. But it went pear-shaped after this...

Friday, February 05, 2010

Oranges are not the only fruit

Previously I wrote a long rant about farming, small hills, and the choice Japan faces in the future between permanent reliance on other countries for food, or changing its whole countryside in the interests of food security. In short, farmers in Japan are getting older and as they do, country towns are crumbling and the environment around them is becoming moribund. Currently the Japanese countryside is a picturesque collection of terraces for rice paddies, small hills covered in forest (invariably with a shrine on top) and occasional orchards. It really is the picturesque scene from My Neighbour Totoro, if one were to add in a lot of powerlines and a few hills that have been concreted over.

This choice that the Japanese face was brought home to me in a little more detail over the new year, when in the company of the Delightful Miss E I went to visit her friend, Mrs S, in the countryside outside Beppu. We were there to spend a day making rice cakes and soaking in a private hot spring, but while there we were taken for a tour of Mrs S's rather extensive orchard holdings. Mrs S has married a Japanese policeman, and they have together built a large house on a block of land they share with his parents. She has lived in Japan for about 15 years and speaks and reads Japanese fluently, and has essentially absorbed herself entirely in Japanese family life. Family life, unfortunately, comes with an inheritance of 1000 fruit trees, mostly mikans (mandarins) but also yuzu (a type of sweet lemony fruit) and kabosu (a kind of sweet lime-y fruit). Mrs S's parents-in-law have been running this orchard their whole lives, having inherited it from their parents, but have worked full time jobs this whole time. They are now past 60 and still manage the orchards, but they obviously expect that Mrs S and her husband will take on the same task, working in the evenings and weekends to maintain the orchard while they work day jobs. Mrs S is rather doubting her commitment to this project, but has been given to believe that 1000 trees do not turn enough profit to be worked full time. Unfortunately for the good family S, Mr. S works shifts and is often away for days at a time sleeping in a police box (like Dr. Who, only better looking), and Mrs. S has a full time job at the university. So the task of managing these orchards would fall onto her shoulders, mostly, and she doesn't relish it...

So here we see the problem of Japanese agricultural policy as it affects the ordinary lives of real people. Obviously the only thing which will keep the Family S involved in this orchard at present is a highly developed sense of obligation, something which holds a lot of otherwise barely-functional systems together over here, but it doesn't seem like a model on which to base food production for 120 million people. As these farmers retire the work they have done will fall on fewer people, and those people will have to work in what is still - for all Japan's modern industrial economy - back-breakingly hard old-fashioned labour. The full extent of investment in Mrs. S's orchard consists of an electric fence and a shed, primarily because like most orchards in Japan it stretches across a couple of steep hillsides and is completely incompatible with any kind of machinery. It's not quite the state of the art serried ranks of trees one sees in the Cottees adverts...

So what is Mrs. S - and all the other people like her in Japan - to do with this unwanted obligation? Bear up under it for another 40 years and pass it down to her (even smaller) family? Or sell up and leave the hillside to a conglomerate, to industrialise it and finally turn a profit? Such an act would mean significant changes to the area around her house, I'm sure, because in its current state it is not exactly the most productive orchard on earth. The whole joy of Mrs S's house is its position nestled in a forested valley between mountains, and in every direction one sees terraced rice paddies, forest, rivers or orchards. Industrialisation would change it so that the land her husband and children grew up in changes permanently. Should they work this way every weekend to keep it, or should they give in to progress and sell it?

I'm not sure why these decisions have been delayed in Japan compared to the rest of the world, but they are going to have to be faced as the population ages and the food situation becomes more perilous. As that time fast approaches we can think of people like the good Mrs S, wrestling with a lifetime of farming, and wonder how they will manage the conflicting obligations of family past, present and future, and the land they live on...

... but in the meantime I'm going to peel myself a mikan (they really are quite delicious), and think of distant friends, to whom currently my only obligation is to update this blog, and not to forget...

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Like a komori out of hell...

After 2 weeks of internet silence, I have finally got my act together enough to send you all an email, having finished all the necessities of settling into Japan - alien card, bank account, mobile phone, hot spring visit, rice cakes, sex museum visit, furniture shopping, descent into hell - so I can settle into the task of communicating with distant friends. It's 7pm here and freezing cold (tropical archipelago my arse), snow is forecast for tomorrow and all my chores are done until Sunday, when I have to hobble onto a bus to Fukuoka and the commencement of my Japanese studies. My arrival in Fukuoka corresponds with some kind of annual pub crawl (which in this weather will be like scott of the antarctic), but rather than burden you with tales of expected hangovers, I thought I might let you know about a few of the fun activities to be had in Beppu town.

Christmas Eve Fireworks Fantasia: The perfect combination of Japanese cute, Japanese weird and pointless western ceremony, christmas eve in Japan is like valentine's day in the west, and young couples go dating. in Beppu this has been turned into a fireworks festival, with traditional festival stalls selling overpriced greasy food, bands and then a big fireworks display. The bands were, in order: a group of children in santa outfits doing a dance; a heavy metal band ("visual" style), with a male and female singer singing passionately about various dark topics; a young female soulful singer-songwriter giving everyone a gentle and warm feeling; and a hip-hop band. All proceeded on the same stage within 10 minutes of one another, did a 30-40 minute set, and were introduced by a screamingly happy female MC. This dizzying combination of genres meant that the crowd was stuffed full of couples from every mix of sub-cultures on the peninsula... very strange. But the combination gets wierder, because after the bands finished the "fireworks fantasia" started. This consisted of fireworks set to a medley of really cheesy 80s romance songs, all narrated by a really cheesy narrator. We could tell he was cheesy because when the foreign music sets came on, he introduced them in English in a really cheerfully tacky American accent. Yay. I had been in Japan for 1 day when I was subjected to this several hour-long concatenation of craziness, and right down to the love-heart shaped firework explosions, it was comfortingly Japanese and completely disorienting.

Mochi making: traditionally in Japan at new year one eats o-mochi, rice cakes, and on the 31st December Emma and I went to her friend Sarah's house to make rice cakes. Sarah has lived in Japan since 1994, and is married to a Japanese Policeman, and is essentially immersed in rural life. She stands to inherit a massive orange farm, which is an interesting quandary about which I will say more in separate emails for those of you who are interested...

Onsen (hot spring) visits: I have been now to 2 onsens, one an open air onsen in the garden of hotel, in which I boiled my brain, and one in a rather exciting Kyushu specialty, the "family onsen" (i.e., love onsen), which is a private hot spring which you can book in advance for a one hour period. The onsen I visited had an inside and an outside bath, the outside bath overlooking hillsides and shadowed by a tree for privacy. I went with a family (who were, fortunately, in a different private room with their 3 rowdy children), and they recommended I experience this onsen with the aid of beer. It's a good idea, provided the water isn't so hot that it boils you while you drink - but fortunately this hot spring was perfect.

The sex museum: I went there today, just before I went into hell. This place contains a wax work of snow white having sex with the 7 dwarves (please press the big breast to see the dwarves move) while prince charming looks on in shock from a window; wax life-size replicas of animal genitals (including a whale's girly bits!) with pictures of some of the animals in action (my god giraffes are scary); a little cinema playing really hammy 80s Japanese police porn; wax replicas of jane fonda and some other western actress; and upstairs a long series of exhibits of early 20th century Japanese pornographic prints. All of these prints were under perspex covers which had carefully pixelated dots over the juicy parts of the picture, just like in a Japanese porno. How pointless! But the staff had conveniently knocked the prints so that the dirty bits were in many cases just slightly to the right or left of the key sections... also the front counter, which was staffed by a dour middle-aged lady, was selling a variety of quite inventive sex tools. Woohoo!

My descent into hell: the sex museum is rather appropriatley situated on "Demon Mountain", which hosts the 8 Beppu "hells", hot springs too hot for humans to bear, in various lurid colours, which have been turned into tourist sites and can be viewed for a small fee. We went into "Demon mountain white lake hell", which has a hot spring at 99.1 C, a lot of steam, and cages full of crocodiles. Go figure. I have no sympathy for crocodiles, steaming them alive seems too good for them, but I get the creeps whenever I'm in the same area as they are. I wonder if one can buy crocodile meat in Beppu? Apparently historically people were chucked into these hells by samurai as a form of torture, but I'm not sure I believe this tale. Samurai were noble and honourable, right? I think this hell is called the white lake hell because of the steam; it wasn't very white. Apparently the steam produces enough power to drag a single carriage, but for some reason noone in beppu has ever worked out how (or tried?) to harness the steam or the heat for power. I suppose selling overpriced tickets to Korean tourists is a more efficient use for them...

My other impressions of Beppu are that, besides being steamy and cold and smelly, it is a little backward compared to the previous country town I lived in. it's very pretty, being a narrow town pressed between steep mountains and the sea, and it has a typical mix of interesting bars and nightlife (I've already been on a tavern crawl on new years' eve, during which I was groped by a massively drunk overweight Japanese girl from her position sprawled on the floor by the door, and Emma was forcefed champagne by a self-styled hoodlum). People here are of course friendly and cheerful, and it seems like possibly a very nice place to spend a few years of my time. But it's early days yet, and I don't know yet what is going to come crawling out of those hells to get me...

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009


子供時に、ソーズベリの周りに住んでいた。その時に、よく里の近くにある downs と言うところに行った。downs て言うのは日本語で原野だと思う。


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A strange way to be behind

England is strangely behind Australia at times, but this is a very strange way to be! Britain has discovered the joys of giant tourist attractions - giant angels, giant horses, etc. Over in Australia we have been doing this for year - and it has always made us a laughing stock! So why is England jumping on the Giant Tourist Attraction Bandwagon? Wierd!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Guardian is racist

This is another off-topic rant which I'm going to cross-post with my other blog, because I'm a grump after watching a fortnight of insane british racism. The Guardian is the UK's supposedly intellectual, left-wing newspaper, ostensibly well-respected internationally for its quality. Unfortunately it is in reality a propaganda organ for the labour party (who are currently in power), which is probably the world's most illiberal left-wing party, and is best characterised by its being the only left-wing party in government to join the Iraq war. Need we say more? I suppose we could excuse them for being spineless lickspittles and quislings, but if that's their defense against allegations of racist mendacity, well, they can use it as much as they like.

I've been watching the Guardian defending racist language, standing by anti-foreign strikers, and supporting the government's open racism (in the form of the slogan "British Jobs for British Workers") and feeling my ire slowly rise for a week, but the straw that broke the camel's back is this piece of unmitigated shite - disguised as opinion, by a supposed academic - which tries to lay the blame for all anti-semitism in Asia at the feet of the Japanese. The Japanese! Who, let's not forget, rescued Jews through their German embassy in world war 2, even though Germany was their ally.

Now, I have tried to give this "academic" the benefit of the doubt but I find only one fact in his whole article which isn't straight from Wikipedia, but the breadth and scope of his assertions leaves me stunned. For someone who has studied the orient, he shows two types of nasty racism which really, really annoy me: first, he wants desperately to smear Japan specifically; and second, he sees the entire rest of Asia as in their thrall.

First, to Japan, which he claims has long been anti-semitic based on citations of books which coincidentally all appear in this wikipedia article labelled as "tondemo bon" (outrageous or dodgy books)[1]. He expects us to believe further that this anti-semitism - which is apparently confined to a bunch of phantasmagorical fringe texts - was exported all through Asia. He sites one book from China, and then proceeds to mention that Malaysia - a majority muslim country - also has anti-semitism. His support for this claim? Statements by the ex-Prime Minister. So Japan is the well-spring of anti-semitism in Asia, as proven by a few dodgy fringe books, while Malaysia "are not immune" even though their PM was publicly anti-semitic. This weak phrase suggests contagion from abroad, which seems a little topsy-turvy when one considers the relative importance of the media through which this anti-semitism is expressed in the two countries. But did our hero stop to consider this? No, he didn't, he certainly didn't. Japan, you see, is our misfortune. Sound like a familiar trope?

Our worthy scholar then proceeds to the usual claims about Japan - that it is a closed society with a short history of democracy, and so vulnerable to conspiracy theories. Of course, Japan introduced male suffrage in the Meiji restoration, 150 years ago, so its history of democracy is no worse than many other countries, and the "closed society" claim is just the usual ignorant rubbish. Perhaps not unusually, our noble inquirer then proceeds to link anti-semitism to anti-colonialism [2], which rather contradicts the implication that Japan is the well-spring of Asian anti-semitism, since it was never colonised (though Malaysia was...)

I'm sure I could write a piece of software which can assemble 3 or 4 stereotypes about Japan into a single paragraph, and then use them to justify any racist claim you want to make. Why employ shonky academics to do it when you can just do it with dice and a couple of slips of paper?

Buruma's other piece of racism, though, seems to me much nastier. His claim that Japan is the well-spring of anti-semitism in the region depends on the assumption that all the other Asian nations are weak, easily influenced and vulnerable to superior western ideals. Which claim, incidentally, relies on some sort of view of the Japanese as super-human politically and culturally[3]. But more importantly it relies on the idea that these societies are not capable of self-determination. Witness, for example, the breathtaking claim that The Chinese picked up many modern western ideas from the Japanese. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I recall the Chinese taking a somewhat different path to the Japanese in the '30s, through this chap Mao and this idea "communism" which he definitely didn't get from an itinerant Shinto monk. And you know, I think China might have a 1000 year long association with the West through this thing called "the Silk Road". They might have some independent ability to get ideas there, including anti-semitism, if they want it. Which they probably don't, Buruma's entire evidence being the claim that an anti-semitic book is selling well and even read by members of the government. The Chinese Governments' reading patterns are well known on account of its high level of public accountability, you see.

But this claim is obviously made about those nations - Malaysia, the Phillipines - which are generally viewed as less sophisticated. They're not, of course, but ranking them according to their similarity to western ideals is the classic stance of the cheap orientalist. This is slipshod academic work, and sloppy journalism to publish it. But it suits two combined tasks that the Guardian has to cope with. On the one hand, they have to fight off the hordes of right-wing Israel supporters who claim their coverage of the war in Gaza is anti-semitic, which defense they mount by regularly running critiques of anti-semitism; and on the other hand they have to remind themselves that yes, the British did win the war, and the Japanese are sub-human. Which they do by regularly running articles which assemble as many nasty stereotypes as possible, with the express purpose of reminding the reader of how awful those Japanese are. The final conclusion is irrelevant - it's the body, where the gentle reader is reminded that Japanese are inscrutable aliens with great powers, that is the important bit. And if that tactic sounds familiar to you, there's a reason...

So, this week, I have concluded that the Guardian is racist. Don't even get me started on the Daily Mail!


[1] The only fact he changes from the wikipedia article is the date of translation of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion into Japanese, which he claimed occurred in 1905 (two years after they were "discovered" during the war with Russia), while the wiki claims the translation at 1936. Tel Aviv University puts it at 1924. Obviously a true scholar! Japan was so anti-semitic that it only translated the text of the chief anti-semitic coda 21 years after its original publication, and only because some soldiers stumbled on it and brought it home. Imagine if the Nazis had been as anti-semitic as the Japanese!

[2] a fine trope, incidentally, for right-wingers who want to tar all national liberation movements with the same brush. I'm surprised he didn't fit a critique of Mao and Ho Chi Minh in there somewhere.

[3] projection much?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

花の名 (Flower's name)

This is my really poor attempt at a translation of my favourite Bump of Chicken song, Hana no na (Flower's name, or name of a flower, or something similar). I had to do this from a couple of lyrics sites (there is some dispute over "grew old together" or "put", amongst other things), and I'm really not good enough at Japanese for this task, so take it all with a pinch of salt. But as far as I know there is no other translation! Here goes...

Even though it's a simple thing
I want to be able to say it somehow
Even though it's a thing I can't say
I think I want you to be informed somehow

Even though I forget the sky we looked at together
I will not forget the time we were together

Even if you were a flower
and there were many just like you
still you would be chosen by a single person
There's a song that only I can sing
There's a song that only you can hear

That I am here is your proof that we were here
That I put this song here is your proof that I was put here with you
Because I gained the strength to live from you, I have to return this to when I lived

Just when you have forgotten my laughter and my tears, please remember
when you are confused by the same burdens as me
There is a song that only you can sing
There is a song that only I can hear

Everyone has a person who wants to meet them
Everyone has a person who is waiting for them
If there is a person who wants to meet only you, that person is waiting for you

Even if you were a flower
and there were many just like you
still you would be chosen by a single person
There's a song that only I can sing
only for me, only for you

Just when you have forgotten my laughter and my tears, please remember
You will be chosen without confusion by someone
There is a song that only you can sing
There is a song that only I can hear
There is a person waiting just for me
There is a person who wants to meet only you

It is, as one of the commenters on the youtube video says, pure love.