Monday, October 31, 2005


Aru-aru semi-quackery

the spirit of monkey was irrepressible Aru-Aru Daijiten (fronted by Masaaki Sakai, the man who was Monkey, a show I remember fondly from watching it in my youth) is one of the more popular health-related programs on the telly, even though it wanders infrequently into outright quackery, but its regular skirting with faddishness or dodgy medical science quite often makes me angry. I can cope with stupid programs promoting stupid stuff, but this program presents white coats as voices of authority, even when those in the white cloaks are on the fringes.

This week was dieting with caffeine (uggh, I can predict AdSense quackery ads surrounding this story!) which demonstrated with a sample of six people how drinking five cups a day of fresh coffee decreased body mass and increased the resting metabolic rate by up to 20% of some of the participants. There was a couple of warnings displayed about not overdoing the coffee, but no mention of disruption of sleep patterns or an increase of stress, both symptoms that I had quite badly up to a few years ago when I was overdoing it on coffee and coke for a good number of years.

I always wish that program would tackle a real meaty issue for once; rather than this week's fad diet (I remember the total mess they made of an Aitkins low carb one) or woman's magazine-style personality tests (putting your T shirt on head then arms instead of arms then head indicates a Mummy's boy) how about addressing anorexia (fuelled in part by endless stupid diet programs) or some other real mental health issue? I know it is the purpose of TV to entertain, but surely they can find ways to be truthful at the same time?



yellow roseOne of the reasons we bought this flat was due to the garden. Before you start thinking I'm boasting or something, the garden is a mere 35 square metres (377 square feet or 42 square yards, for the non-metric amongst us). We rent it from the management company for 1,000 yen per month, which really is a bargain. Also, in our three storey building, the ground floor, like almost everywhere else in Japan, is the cheapest, with the price going up by 2,000,000 yen per floor! However, the higher up floors in our block get pretty bad light pollution from the railway station right in front of us, and the rooms can be seen a bit from the platform, so all in all selecting the garden has been a plus in so many ways.

Unfortunately, since the garden is just rented, we are not allowed to plant anything other than grass, so everything has to go in planters. The pictured rose is from one of the planters, a really lovely perfectly symmetrical and flawless yellow flower. Excuse the dodgy quality but we still haven't set up our new camera yet, so I had to use my rather so-so mobile phone.

When I talked about my garden at our work lunchtime meetings (you don't want me to explain what a wwork lunchtime meeting is!) I drew heckling from the crowd (a rare occurance since they are usually as quiet as church mice); my boss complained it was bigger than her whole flat (and I forgot to mention the terrace, which is another 15 square metres), and my boss's boss complained that it was bigger than his detached houose's garden!

Saturday, October 29, 2005


Reading for pleasure again!

owl reading

My parents dropped off a stack of books when they were here; rather than cart them all the way back home again, better for me to read them we reckoned. Most of them were picked up from charity shops, and no doubt I'll pass them on to Book Off for 10 or 20 yen each when I'm done.

After having spent the last year or so reading half the Yoshimoto Banana back catalogue and a couple of Murakami Ryus, staggering through them at 70% comprehension and 10 pages every 50 minutes (I have a 50 minute train commute), then the Kanji Kentei revision book for two months, it's nice to just relax with my native language. The book I'm going through right now is "Favo(u)rite Son" by Steve Sohmer, real airport novel trashy stuff, easily readable at a page per minute standing up in a wobbly train, and not overtaxing on my pre- or post-work brain. Next is, perhaps, a Douglas Copeland. I once tried reading Microserfs many moons ago, but barely got past the first chapter for reasons I have long since forgotton.

Friday, October 28, 2005


Prevent lung cancer with okonomiyaki

According to a story on the BBC's web site, eating at least one serving a week of a vegetable from the cabbage family can cut the risk of lung cancer by a half for about half the population (in the studied region) who lack a particular enzyme.

That famous Osaka (and elsewhere) dish Okonomiyaki is cabbage-based, so perhaps frequenting your typical ciggie smoke-filled greasy caff will stave off second-hand lung cancer for a bit, although there is no guarantee that you won't expire from overdosing on fat or beer instead.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


Aria and her brother

Taken from the pet shop's web site...

Aria and her brother

Kittens and blogs - can't go wrong!


Passed my kanji test (I hope!)

I just sat my Kanji Kentei level 6 exam this Sunday, and with a bit of luck, I should have passed it with a wee bit to spare. According to my own marking with the answer sheet provided after the test, I should have got just over 75%, with the pass mark set at 70%. For all you students of Japanese, the Kanji Kentei is actually rather a fun but challenging test of kanji skill that doesn't usually get exercised by other tests, especially by the more famous (amongst foreigners) Japan Language Proficiency Test, which I found deadly dull to revise for, slogging through a million and one obscure grammar points. I can read with a decent degree of accuracy novels and easier newspapers, yet even just level 2 of the JLPT is a tough proposition for me, and the average Japanese person knows nothing about the tests so cannot relate to them. On the other hand, the Kanji Kentei tests useful skills (and perhaps not so useful skills like radical recognition) that can be used every day, and the Japanese can easily relate to (and be impressed by!) describing your writing skills as, in my case, that of a final-year primary student.

With a bit of determination and a following wind, I want to try to pass levels 5, 4, 3 and 2.5 in rapid fire succession. There must be some tricks to remembering kanji - a lot of people swear by Heisig's book, although I think it is over-rated, but I'm making that statement from the ignorance of having never read it. I found getting readings learnt first was better for me, as kanji with common readings can be grouped then discriminated by ... ahh, describing how my memory works is rather tricky! I don't really know what I do but it seems to work to a decent degree. I just used the standard Kanji Kentei text books recommended on their web sites to do my revision. They seem to be suited to my style of learning, but note that the revision tests are a good degree harder than the actual test I took, but I suppose that just encourages you to work harder!

My boss was impressed by my (probable) passing, especially as she's caught Yon sama fever and has been failing miserably in her attempts to learn Hangul.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


Alex Kerr on Debito Arudou

I found an interesting interview with Alex Kerr in the Japan Times yesterday, and I'd like to highlight his comments on Debito Arudou. I've read Alex Kerr's book "Lost Japan" and enjoyed most of it (the tail end about how he saved Japanese art history rubbed me the wrong way), but I've not looked at "Dogs and Demons", although I think that a Japanese version of Godwin's Law should be formulated to say that people quoting the book have already lost the argument.

In Dogs and Demons you argue that Japan has failed to internationalize. What do you think about the work of Debito Arudou and others to combat racial discrimination in Japan?

Well, somebody has to do it. I'm glad that there is a whistle-blower out there. But, I am doubtful whether in the long run it really helps. One would hope that he could do it another way. He's not doing it the Japanese way. He's being very gaijin in his openly combative attitude, and usually in Japan that approach fails.

I fear that his activities might tend to just confirm conservative Japanese in their belief that gaijin are difficult to deal with.

That said, perhaps we who live here are slow to stick our necks out when we sense an injustice, and quick to self-censor in order to get along smoothly in our communities.

To me the most interesting aspect of Arudou Debito is that, in taking on Japanese citizenship, he has brought the dialogue inside Japan. His activities reveal the fact that gaijin and their gaijin ways are now a part of the fabric of Japan's new society. A very small part of course, but a vocal and real part.

I can empathise with Alex Kerr's opinion here - one big thing missing from Debito Arudou's campaigning is that he always seems to be going it alone; first, he seems to have a knack of falling out with people he works with, and second, although he appears to have a lot of political contacts, they don't seem to be allies. He seems very attached to the not-quite-dead-yet SDP, which doesn't help, I don't think.

It'll be interesting to see what buzz is generated from this article. I know that there are a lot of people who seem to worship both Alex Kerr and Debito Arudou as speakers of the truth, so I wonder how they can cope with the cognitive dissonance of one disagreeing with the other!

Post Script: I used Google Blog Search to find who mentions this story, and the two matches (only two? Mr Arudou needs to get with the times and start networking with bloggers!) I got were from Gen Kanai's blog and On Gaien Higashi Dori, both of whom see fit to highlight the mention of Debito Arudou, but neither pass an opinion on any part of the article, bar a non-committal "interesting", even though Kerr and Debito Arudou are two of the best-known and oft-quoted authors of all the Western-born writers on Japan. I find that, umm, interesting.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


Stealing traffic with SiteMeter

I was visiting another site that blogs around the same general topic of Japan, and clicked on their SiteMeter icon, and saw they were getting about 350 hits per day, with the vast majority coming through search engines. I thought it would be possible to monitor a site like that, look at the hot keywords from Google, Technorati et al, and use that as hints on what sort of articles to write and with a bit of luck, steal some of their traffic.

It's awfully unethical, and I wouldn't do it myself, but would you?


More on Osaka's image - shaanai ne!

On Saturday, when taking kitty to the vet's, in the waiting room I saw a bit of Seyanen, a local Kansai Saturday morning program where they have a bunch of regulars who look at this week's news and chat aout it. They covered the story about Osaka getting upset about its poor image, but all the guys, all locals, just got stuck into Osaka city council for being so thin-skinned. They then went to a bunch of vox pops from various cities around Japan and asked them for their image of Osaka, and the things these people were saying were a hundred times worse than the mild rebuke from the guide books!

The people in the studio's reaction was しゃあない (shaanai), the local dialectic pronounciation for/corruption of 仕方がない (shikataganai), one of these difficult-to-translate phrases that literally means "there's no way", but is usually translated as "it can't be helped". In context, they were saying, and I agree, Osaka wouldn't be Osaka without its rough character and rough characters.

Sunday, October 23, 2005


Found a nice vet!

Satsukiyama Animal Hospital

We took our new kitten, Aria, along to the vet's yesterday for her first jab. She was mostly well-behaved, although the train to and from the clinic was a bit unsettling for her. The place we ended up at was Satsukiyama Animal Hospital (click here for mug-shots of the clientele, but our wee Arai-chan's pic for her hospital records is far, far more cute - must ask for a copy when we go for the second dose!), a nice, rather new clinic that seems like a friendly place to take our custom.

I really want to post more kitty photos, but our digital camera bust three days ago! Kitty has a big letter M on her forehead, and looks more like some sort of Power Ranger than a moggy!

Saturday, October 22, 2005


Osaka misses the point

Tower of the Sun, Osaka Expo Park

I saw this article in the Daily Yomiuri about Osaka, the city I used to live in, and still work in.

Some major foreign Web sites and guidebooks carry misleading information on Osaka Prefecture, exaggerating its negative aspects by describing it as an ugly place full of gangsters and drunks, according to a survey taken by a prefectural government-related committee.


According to the survey, one major Web site's travel section says in its first paragraph about Osaka that the city "yearns to be loved despite its ugliness."

That'll be the Rough Guide, if I remember correctly. But, what is wrong with that statement? Osaka (like, quite frankly, many other Japanese cities) is ugly - concrete buildings out the wazoo; urban motorways, giant grey snakes strangling city blocks; and tatty smelly shopping streets winding through ramshackle residential zones. But I love it - the tower block with a motorway running through it; the authentic imported (I think) church put together on the roof of the Hotel Monterey; the neon glows of the city after dark as seen from Solviva's counter.

It goes on to say, "Osakans may greet each other saying, 'Mo kari-makka?' (Are you making any money?), but they also know how to enjoy themselves once work has stopped."

Whilst "Mo kari-makka?" may be as stereotypical as saying Glaswegians may greet each other with "Hurrya dae'n hen?", I can't really see anything particularly wrong with it, and anyway what's wrong with enjoying yourself after work, which the Osakans certainly do?

Shinsaibashi, one of the major commercial districts in Osaka, is described as a place "where bequiffed lads cast their nets for mini-skirted girls on the Ebisu-bashi [bridge]."

Embarrassing but true. Not sure about the quiffs, but plenty of bad suits, perms and dye-jobs amongst the touts and scouts for the dodgy bars around Namba-bashi (chat-up bridge).

Another major encyclopedic Web site says people in Osaka are considered by other Japanese "to be rowdy and boisterous with a robust and coarse sense of humor."

And this is a negative how? Again, harking back to Glasgow, the City Fathers there don't mind, in fact they may even encourage, this image of the city.

Tsutenkaku Tower located in the Shinsekai district of southern Osaka, is mistakenly described as "Osaka Tower" on the site.

Fair enough, but we're getting into nit-picking now!

A 2003 travel guide published by a major British publisher has a boxed article titled "The Yakuza" depicting Osaka as a city of gangsters, accompanied by a photograph of man with tattoos all over his body.

I suspect that this lost something in translation from English to Japanese then back to English! The Yaks have a strong base in southern Osaka, but the average tourist need not worry for a single second about them.

Officials working for the committee will collect travel guides published in other nations to check whether the city is being similarly misrepresented.

Woo-hoo - junkets for all to bookshops around the world! I hear there are a lot of Osaka guidebooks for sale in Hawaii, Las Vegas and Bangkok.

They plan to send leaflets carrying "appropriate" descriptions of the prefecture to the publishers and Web operators in an attempt to restore the prefecture's reputation.

I'd love to see these leaflets! I've barely seen anything negative (and I'm sure a lot more cities get a lot worse write-ups) in the story above.

Friday, October 21, 2005


genre-o-matic project

Following on from a comment by jeff about how no blog is complete until it gets its first cute cat, and considering the various Anti-Housewife Mafia ideas about how no Housewife Mafia blog is complete without a pink theme and baby poo entries, I got thinking there ought to be scope for developing a new site, something like (ooh look, it's available!) that tries to do some sort of automatic genre classification of blogs. Blogflux, for instance, does some sort of fuzzy matching algorithm to find blogs that resemble others, so perhaps extending this theory into a scoring system, where posts tagged as "kitten" or "puppy" get one score; pink and pastel backgrounds get another; those silly weathergirls (the only people who really want to know the weather right now in Onehorsetown, Outer Jibrovia can just look out the window) or watch faces (which are supposed to say what exactly about you or your blog?) get another set of marks; and rittin UR postz diz whey gets your blog auto-deleted. The marks are then weighted, averaged up and otherwise fudged until a classification is arrived at, and the site is automatically inducted into the appropriate gang, be it Housewife Mafia, Baby Bores, Teenage Twee, Illiterate Ghetto or whatever.

So, in best Slashdot fashion, I finish off with a business plan:

  1. Develop genre-o-matic™ web app
  2. Ringfence the Housewife Mafia
  3. ???
  4. Profit!

This post, business plan and the ideas contained herein, forthwith and henceforward © ™ Shiron Chousa 2005, patent pending and other such nonsense, and may anyone caught stealing these ideas have all their blogs Housewife Mafiafied.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


Japanese the Japanese don't know

Find a handy Japanese person and a handy British person and bet the Japanese person a suitable sum of money or beer that the British person knows a Japanese word that the Japanese person does not.

Once you are taken up on the bet, choose the word sudoku, 数独 and collect (hopefully) your winnings. Not for nothing was sudoku chosen as Word of the Year in the UK.


How do you photograph a lively kitten?

This is as good as I can manage!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


Jazzy Pixies

Just last weekend I went with my wife and my sister and mother to the Takarazuka theatre to watch this silly musical. Most Takarazuka musicals are silly, which I mean in the nicest possible way, silly fluffy romances with convoluted stories of long-lost siblings and mistaken identities. This one has five Irish orphans who grew up together then emigrated to the US, where one of them ended up as a hit-man paid to bump off one of the other ones, but they all end up living happily ever after, except for the leading lady (well, the leading lady who actually plays a lady) who dies of leukemia whilst everyone, including a gang of pixies who must have stowed away on the boat, dances a happy number around her corpse, or something like that.

However, the most striking thing about Takarazuka is the energy on stage. This time we were lucky enough to get a central fourth-row seat so could see all the stars up close and personal as they strutted their stuff. This play, since the story started off in Ireland, had an opening Riverdance number (in fact, they flew in one of the first people to Riverdance as a choreograph for the show) with a line of around about 50 people fair giving it laldie, although the lack of a specialised tap floor softened the tap shoes sound a little. I've not seen the original, but my wife and mother have, and said that this far surpassed the "real" thing in terms of scale and energy!

Up until then I used to think that all the female fans were more than a little bonkers in their rabid support of the theatre and the stars, but having seen them up close and personal I begin to understand a little, even though I cannot forget that they are just women dressed up as men, but not really very manly, nor even effeminate, men, almost androgynous. Perhaps that is the secret behind the charm - the character of the part, and the costumes and make-up highlights shine through, making the audience forget the fact that it's just a girl in a suit and a tight hairdo. A book by Jennifer Robertson, Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan wrote what to me was quite frankly a lot of nonsense (I have inside info!), twisting the stage to fit her own preconceptions of gender identification. A fair number of the troupe members are gay (interesting question: is there any correlation between playing a man's part and sexual identity amongst the members?), but to project this private sexuality onto the public roles is going too far. Why are there virtually no male fans for the female leads, even though some of them are very delicately beautiful, and one of the most prized wife material in Japan. (That would be a good survey for Seron to translate if I could find one, the most prestigious wife material. Stewardess - sorry, Cabin Attendant - is right near the top, for some reason, so I have heard)

I have a campaign to persuade just one person to go to Takarazuka, but so far I've failed miserably. Even the most expensive seats (if you can get them) are excellent value for money, 10,000 yen for a three hour show, with usually the first half a play, the second half a song-and-dance review.

Sunday, October 16, 2005


Bought a kitten today!

A lovely wee American Shorthair, silver with black markings. Female, but only just over two months, but Japanese pet shops tend to wean their little ones very fast. She's still awfully nervous and was kneading my legs and crying for mother's milk, so a bit of a worry, quite frankly. She's mostly toilet trained, but with the change in home I reckon poo will be unpredictable for the next few days.

Pictures to come later...

Friday, October 14, 2005


A nation of alkies

As well as being soft on the fags (on which subject I will not doubt write at length sometime soon) booze in its various forms is not seen as a particular health hazard here in Japan, especially when looked at from my Western perspective. There is no end of health-related programming on the telly here, but many gloss over the ill-effects of bevvying. My favourite program in this genre, Takeshi's Black Hospital (that's what we call it at home anyway), quite often has guests mentioning their drinking habits that back home would most likely have the guest committed forthwith to the nearest drying-out clinic, but here draw just gasps that sound more in awe than in astonishment. I've heard one guy, for instance, boast (yes, that is the right word) of knocking back almost two bottles of shochu (two litres at 25% proof) every night with zero reaction from the resident quack, and another woman on two bottles of wine at home (and remember, both were probably reporting average drinking habits, excluding quantities drunk at parties or other nights out) being told that that might be a little over the safe amount and she should think about maybe cutting down.

Last night there was another medical special, this time watching people's eating habits and predicting what illnesses may befall them in five and ten years time if they continue with the same diet, but alcohol did not feature as part of the diet in most of the celebrity guests, barring an occasional glass of beer appearing alongside the evening meal even though, judging by the other programs I see, booze fuels the whole tarento circuit.

Whilst I'm on this subject, there's also a poster doing the rounds in the train from the big brewers against under-age drinking. I can't find it online (I should snap it with my mobile!) but basically it lists a few horrendous things that beer can do to underage people that by implication suddenly stop happening the day you turn twenty. Bahh!

Note: I am a self-righteous ex-heavyish drinker (from 1.5 to 2 litres of 4% to 5% beer almost every day to three or so drinks one night every one or two months) so take all my rantings with the necessary pinches of salt.

Thursday, October 13, 2005


Kitty nibbles

This is a strange story about an alleged cat burglar who got away with some old lady's toes. Note that for those directly involved it is a really worrying event, and no sniggering matter, but the bizarreness of the whole incident fascinates me.

The first time we heard it it just didn't ring true to neither me nor my wife, and the more we learnt about the background, such as the cat being caught red-pawed, the more fishy it smelt. To remove a whole toe or two down to the first joint would be quite a feet, sorry, feat for a little kitty, and anyway what would motivate a cat to even try, without the victim reacting in some way to scare off the cat? There must be some abuse going on in the care facility, and the cat proved a convenient scape-goat as a cover story. Will we ever hear the conclusion of this story, though? I wonder if there will be some sort of behind-the-scenes brown envelopes full of sympathy money?

Japan so often reminds me of Monty Python sketches. This time it is the tiger sketch in the middle of the Meaning of Life.


Holiday in Osaka

The last two weeks my parents were here in Japan, and they had many interesting adventures that no doubt I will relate over many blog entries in the future. First, however, there is the common misconception, one which I held too, that Japan is expensive. To the long-termer, it is not necessarily so, as we get to know all the cheap eateries and can order the value set and so on, but for the fresh off the boat person, outside ramen and soba everything is pretty pricey. I had, in fact, warned my parents that about 1500 yen for lunch and 2000 yen per head for dinner may be a fair price to budget for. Admittedly, my parents aren't big eaters, but still, I felt that was a feasible target to aim for. However, come their visit, they decided to frequent the wee restaurant street on the ground floor of their hotel in central Osaka. With their virtually zero Japanese skills they just bumbled in and pointed at the plastic food in the window and ate what came. Simple home cooking is best for them - they are seasoned travellers, and the back-street eateries of Europe are oft frequented - and they got it in abundance. Breakfast was inari sushi, lunch and dinner usually ome-rice or Japanese curry or the like, always under 1000 yen, always delicious. Funnily enough, or not too funnily enough, once you think about it, the worst meal they had was a posh lunchtime set meal at a posh golf club restaurant halfway up a mountain, which I had to pick up the tab for, grumble grumble.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


Matsuken gets remarried!

The latest celebrity gossip is that Ken Matsudaira, the Gay Samurai (of course, in the old-fashioned sense of the word!) and the singer and dancer of the not-at-all camp in the slightest Matsuken Samba II (and I and the recently-released III) has got married to some relatively young bimbette Yuri Matsumoto. His previous wife, who was this year one of the faces of Shanghai Reicha, is well-known to bat for the other side (she in fact tried chatting up one of my wife's female pals many years ago when they were out together in a pub in Takarazuka) and their marriage was just a paper one.

If you've heard Matsuken wax lyrical about his Samba choreographer, the camp as a row of pink tents Majima-sensei (and I mean that in the nicest possible sense, as he's always entertaining on the box), one would form some suspicions about old Ken chan, so it'll be interesting to watch the gossip columns on this one.


Thursday, October 06, 2005


Welcome to Shiron!

This is a sister blog to my other one, Seron. The shiron here is the Japanese for personal opinion, as a contrast to seron being public opinion. Here I will have much freer rein to post my own personal nonsense and the like. The chousa bit at the end is for investigation, which doesn't really fit here, but it keeps the symmetry with the other blog. I suppose people can investigate my personal opinions by reading the blog, so it does sort-of fit, if you think about it that way. I'll have no particular theme here, it'll just be your bog-standard what-I-did-today and what-I-copied-from-more-talented-people-yesterday sort of place.

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