blacklilly: (Crazy)
I came back to Tokyo yesterday. The shinkansen was packed, but my friend and I were lucky to get a seat. The four days down in Osaka were a much needed break from the constant anxiety in Tokyo - I stopped shaking, and despite dreaming about earthquakes for all but one night, got some rest and relaxation.  Every time I go to Osaka I wonder why I don't live there.  The atmosphere of the city seems to suit me much more.  The pace of life seems less frenetic than Tokyo, and the people much more friendly and relaxed.  There's something nice and grimy about Osaka which I like, too.  And the mexican restaurants are deeelicious.

I met up with an old friend on Sunday for lunch. Ayumi is a former student of mine from London, and she was always really cool.  She played in a punk band in London, and looked after the school principle's little boy as a part time job. She's really different from many of my Japanese friends.  We once went to an izakaya in Tokyo and she asked for a spoon.  They waiter gave it to me, and I promptly handed it to her as she had lost her patience with chopsticks for eating rice - too much time in England with mashed potato.  We went to a little omu-rice restaurant in Amemura (America-mura) and then went to buy earrings in a silver shop.  We walked past a group of young kids having a dance competition on the street.  There was a lot of silver lame, spandex and braided hair going on. Very cute.  Ayumi took off for a band practice and I took to wandering the streets, where I observed some guy getting mobbed by people and upsetting the traffic.  It turned out that he was Kid Yamamoto, a famous K1 fighter.  I had no idea who he was until I googled him after a friend also mentioned seeing him. 

So today, we've had three noticable aftershocks.  They've been 5+/6+ tremors, though in Tokyo they only registered 1 and 2.  I noticed the first one at work, mainly because I started feeling nauseous, and then the secretary called out "jishin" (earthquake) and we waited to see what would happen.  The other two have been since I got home, though I don't recall noticing the second one, which is actually a good thing.

This afternoon I headed down to a hotel near the British Embassy in central Tokyo to pick up some iodine tablets.  The likelihood of having to take them is low, as was stated when the embassy handed them over, but it provides some peace of mind for myself and the people back home.  The queue was quite long.  It took about an hour waiting to register but was pretty quick after that.  I bumped into three other people I know in the queue. 

The man standing next to me got talking, and provided a great conversational hour.  He is teaching techincal writing at Tokyo Univeristy, but has a doctorate in civilisation collapse in ancient cultures.  We talked about that, Angkor Wat, Frtiz Schumacher, and vertical farming, as well as his forthcoming book, which he says is a response to Jared Diamond's "Collapse".  I've not read Jared Diamond, but I am aware of his stuff, so will have to look it up.   This also ties in with what my friend Erik has been blogging about since last week.  Erik has some really good stuff to say on environmental issues, and he writes very well.  Check it out.  Very interesting, and very lucky that I got to talk to him, as the people ahead of us spent much of their time wailing about some sort of apocalypse, telling each other to hush up about the apocalypse, and slagging off the French.

So, apart from the continued tremors, things are slowly slowly continuing and getting back to normal.  The trains are running, though there is no set schedule running on some lines.  I had to take the subway to get the tablets earlier, so was a little nervous about doing that, but it turned out alright.  The subway is pretty empty in comparison to over-ground trains, but in general things are quiet.  Food is back in the shops.  In one supermarket they are rationing how much you can buy.  I got two 2-L bottles of water today (I guzzle a lot of water), and my friend picked up some gas canisters (1 pack per person).  10kg bags of rice at rationed to 1 per purchase, and there was no bread left, but plenty of bakeries.  So, not so bad.   There's still palpable tension about, but the Japanese are good at dealing with difficulty - mature, as Erik put it - and are battling on sensibly where others might lose their heads.

Oh yeah, I checked the BBC yesterday, only to find that we had started bombing Libya.  When did this happen??!!  And more importantly - ANOTHER war?????? 

blacklilly: (Default)
Day 3 in Osaka!  I was sitting in bed last night and thought the hostel was shaking, but yet again, it turned out to be me.  I hope I can keep myself from going nuts when I go home tomorrow.  No word of any big events or changes on the news this evening, other than that power is soon be restored to the coolers at the nuclear plant (fingers crossed).  Japanese TV has cancelled all advertising and so is running the same four or five public service announcements.  One is about strokes, one about cancer, one about having good manners on the train, and the other (curiously) about being friendly to people. Talking to strangers is the best way to make friends.  I'd like to see that work in reality.  Or maybe that's just me.

I thought I'd show you a couple of pictures from last week:


The one on the left is my kitchen.  As you can see, stuff was thrown around, but apart from that not unlike the state of my kitchen on a Saturday morning - though I am less prone to hurling the microwave around.  The picture on the left is my friend's apartment.  He lives on the 4th floor and came home to find all his bookcases tossed about.  He didn't go home for 2 days, as he couldn't face dealing with the mess, only for it be tossed about again if another big one hit.

So, continuing from yesterday, reports in the Kansai region say that there are 90% more foreigners around than usual. Being the most conspicuous, it's an easy observation to make, but there are a fair few Japanese escapees too.  Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe hostels and hostels are fully booked for this weekend, and restaurants are packed out.  I was walking through Shinsaibashi yesterday with a friend, who spotted a group of people she knows vaguely from Tokyo, and I'm fairly certain I've seen a few familiar faces.

There have been some comments made by people in Tokyo saying that it the behaviour of people who left Tokyo is shameful.  I recall watching people leaving messages on Facebook last weekend saying they were moving to Osaka, and thinking that it was a bit of an over-reaction.  I can only say for myself that I waited until it became obvious I was going to get sick if I didn't leave. I admit to feeling a little ashamed of the idea of leaving, and certainly felt it when I was taking the train to Tokyo station on Friday morning, but the masses of (mostly Japanese) people at the shinkansen gates reassured me that this behaviour is not confined to just the foreign community.  So far as I can tell, and this is purely form observation, but the majority of people who left the country fall into two categories - those who are in their early 20s, and those with young families.  For both, I can appreciate their reasons.  Something hugely stressful like this is bound to have you heading home if you have responsibilites to your family, or a family who are desperate about your safety.  I certainly received a lot of messages from people asking me if I'm leaving, and some even offering to buy me a place ticket out.  A friend, who lives out here with his brother, posted a message saying he didn't want to leave Tokyo but was heading to Osaka purely for the peace of mind of his family.

The family pressure comes from the overblown coverage provided by the British press.  The Sun and the The Daily (hate)Mail are most guilty of this, but even the BBC seems to me to be over-egging things.  I appreciate they need the ratings, but the news they were providing was out of date, sometimes inaccurate, and came in such a bombardment that it was difficult for people not to get hysterical. I also felt that the focus on the nuclear plant was way out of proportion when there were thousands of people elsewhere in Tohoku who need that media attention more.

OK.  Dinner time. 

Here's a picture of an octopus.


blacklilly: (Default)
I am currently in Osaka.  I came down yesterday, after realizing that my nerves had got the better of me.  Despite the first two or three days after the earthquake being pretty constant for aftershocks, I thought I was handling it OK, but by Tuesday I realized that I was starting to go down hill. My head felt as though I was viewing everything through a haze, I couldn't sleep, and throughout the days I was constantly experiencing fake earthquakes - it was either in my head, or my heart beating so strongly that I the rest of my body was shaking.  By Thursday evening, I found myself in my friend's bar with my legs and hands shaking almost non-stop after having two strong aftershocks inside 10 minutes.  I had also taken to sleeping fully-clothed, with the light on, too scared to even take a shower for fear of another shock. 

My boss very graciously gave me yesterday off work, so I could have 4 days rest - this being a long weekend anyway.  My two other jobs have cancelled everything until next week at the very earliest.  The Omotesando job is bravely toiling ahead - they say they have no choice but to carry on - they have no where else to go, and a business to run.  

Since coming to Osaka, I've met up with quite a lot of other people who have also left Tokyo - and the reasons are a mixture.  Some, like me, cannot deal with the constant aftershocks and the fear of another big quake, whilst others are much more concerned with the nuclear situation in Fukushima,  I've spent a lot of time researching the reactors, and trying to find out as much as possible about the likelihood of a meltdown and it's possible effects.  Most information seems to point to things being unlikely to get as far as the need to shelter indoors whilst a radioactive cloud passes overhead, but as the days go on and the British Embassy edits its advice (they have now started distributing iodine to British citizens), one can't help but start to feel a little anxious about what we are not being told by the Japanese authorities.  Despite people doing their best to carry on as normal, there is a palpable tension to daily life.

On Monday I went down to the station as I had heard it was crazy busy.  There were people queuing out of the building to get on a train.  Allegedly it took a friend an hour to get from the entrance onto a train.  The supermarkets were also bare by Sunday night - no rice, no water, no bread, no noodles.  I would like to show you pictures but my friend took them and I am unable to snatch them off of Facebook for you.  Anyway, I'm sure you've seen plenty of that on TV already. Despite the state of the the supermarkets, the smaller stores  were and are still operating extremely well.  Local bakeries are making a killing as they don't rely on a supply chain for bread, and the vegetable stores are still selling produce.  In fact, one supermarket in town managed to restock on Wednesday morning, though it was almost empty again by the early afternoon.

I'll continue more tomorrow.  I've got to go out!
blacklilly: (Default)
I am getting so fed up with these aftershocks.  Yesterday, we had one pretty much every hour.  Just when you started to relax, the house would start shaking again.  The other thing now is that sometimes I think we're shaking, when we're not.  I was sitting in my friend's bar last night and we spent our time watching the bottles to see whether it was us or the building.

And now the problems at the nuclear plant, which some people are getting worried about down here in Tokyo.  Some people are even talking about leaving the country for a few weeks.  The idea is quite attractive this morning, but I don't really want to uproot myself 6 weeks before I leave the country anyway.  We'll see how things work out.  I made sure the British Embassy have the correct details for me, and the British Council called me on Saturday to check I was doing alright.

I feel like I'm over-reacting a little.  I got off lightly - only a broken teapot - but it is really stressful not knowing when another quake is coming.  Interestingly, I was talking to a friend last night and their phone alarm went off.  It turns out the Docomo network have an early warning system, which gives you the location of the quake.  Last night it read Niigata, and 10 seconds later the bar shook.  It was actually a relief to know it was coming -  you at least have 10 seconds to process and react.

Anyway, I shall keep posting when I can.  From tomorrow we're going to be having 3 hour power cuts everyday - don't yet know what time yet, but allegedly we'll find out later today.
blacklilly: (A Vad Day)
Just to let you all know that I'm OK.  I had a pretty scary time in Tokyo yesterday, and an intense 5 hour bus ride back home (would've been quicker to walk, I hear), but was relieved to get back and find all my friends OK, and that house is still mostly in one piece.  Later I will be heading out on my bicycle to see what's what - plus, staying outside is better than in at the moment.

It's a beautiful sunny morning in Tokyo, but I can't begin to imagine what is happening in Sendai right now. 
blacklilly: (Default)
I thought this would be an interesting thing to do as I speed towards the anniversary of my fourth year in Japan.  I pinched it from[ profile] hinoai .  I'm gonna start tomorrow.

Day 01 - A picture of you "in Japan". (doing or wearing something "Japanese")
Day 02 - Describe your neighborhood in Japan.
Day 03 - Most interesting person you met.
Day 04 - What's your favorite place that's not in any of the guidebooks/lists of places to visit?
Day 05 - Which, if any, Japanese mannerisms or expressions have you adopted?
Day 06 - Food that you swore you would never eat but now love (or tolerate).
Day 07 - Which Japanese words do you use in English? (hanami, shinkansen, etc.)
Day 08 - Are you a Herbivore or Carnivore? S or M?
Day 09 - Favorite stores/shopping centers.
Day 10 - Something about Japan that sets it apart from anywhere else.
Day 11 - What did you find most overrated and underrated about Japan?
Day 12 - Describe a fail!gaijin moment. (Where you did something wrong or completely misunderstood because you couldn't ~read the air~ or just plain had no idea what you were supposed to do because you weren't born and raised here) Describe a gaijin!smash moment .(Where your foreignness was to your benefit)
Day 13 - -Something about Japan that sets it apart from anywhere else.
Day 14 - What is the hardest thing about living in Japan versus your home country?
Day 15 - Weirdest food item you've seen, and weirdest food item you've actually eaten.
Day 16 - How you realised you'd acclimated to Japan. (if you have)
Day 17 - Your karaoke top 5, your sushi top 5, your conbini top 5.
Day 18 - Post some amusing/cute/faily purikura.
Day 19 - Your favorite Japanese character(s) and Gachapon/UFO Catcher toys
Day 20 - Favorite Japanese festival or folklore.
Day 21 - Favorite and least favorite Japanese fashion trends.
Day 22 - Your favorite Japanese saying or kotowaza (proverb).
Day 23 - What is something you have/do in Japan that you wish you had/could do in your home country?
Day 24 - Your favorite Japanese slang or borrow-word (外来語), e.g. セフレ "sex friend"
Day 25 - Most interesting vending machine find.
Day 26 - What's your favorite/least favorite train line.
Day 27 - Place you avoid going to if at all possible.
Day 28 - A picture of you looking like a weaboo/A picture of you trying to blend in and failing.
Day 29 - What's the thing you [will] miss most about Japan when you leave (either on vacation, or move away)?
Day 30 - Did Japan meet your expectations, both good and bad? What has been the most surprising thing about Japan for you, or the thing you least expected?
blacklilly: (Takoyaki!)
Can I also point you in the direction of my new other blog, which is all about cooking in Japan, with one hob, in a shoebox, on 4000yen a week.


blacklilly: (A Vad Day)
Possibly one of the most stupid and gory horror films I've seen lately, though "The Midnight Meat Train" is up there on the stupid front too.  In fact, it was so stupid and bloody, that I had to get screen shots.  It's a good thing I was watching on VLC.

The Tokyo police have become sadistic bastards, wrist-cutting is all the high-school rage (it even makes your blood taste better), and the chief of police keeps an amputee prisoner as his personal "bitch" in every sense of the word.  When it wasn't being silly, it rather reminded me of one of [ profile] greygirlbeast 's stitchfreak stories, the one about the number 17 (the name escapes me).  There was even a living, breathing human chair.  However, my favourite was the girl with a serious case of vagina dentata:


Not sure if half-human, half-crocodile images are work-safe or not, but I doubt anyone one my flist would mind.

I also liked this scene:

in which our heroine chops off a bloke's hands for molesting her on the train.  And yes, that is a shower of blood.

Hmmm, anyway.  That was 90 minutes of my life in which I could have been doing something better.  But it made me laugh.  Ha ha ha ha ha.

blacklilly: (Default)
I'm currently in the process of cooking oden. Having been fortunate enough to be the recipient of the leftover veggies from the school Xmas party, I'm making a pot of yummy to keep me going for the next two days. Today's oden consists of daikon, carrot, chikuwa, eggs and tofu all cooked up in a soy sauce and miso soup. It's as Japanese as I can be bothered to be at the moment. I did, however, forget how long daikon takes to cook, no matter how small you chop it. Hey ho, it's a good thing I finished work early tonight, otherwise I may not have been eating until midnight.

Whilst I'm waiting on the radish, I've decided to tell you the long overdue gym story. It took me about 5 months to get round to joining the gym near my train station, as (surprise surprise) I was agonising about the cost. However, I eventually got so stir crazy for a swim that I did it. I would go in the mornings when it the gym opened first thing and charge up and down the lanes for 45mins before pelting off to work. No one really wanted to talk to me apart from two ladies, one of whom had a daughter living in London. The other old ladies merely gave me a basic good morning, or totally ignored my existence. That is, of course, until one of them clocked my tattoos in the showers.

One of the gym staff approached me while I was getting changed and asked me if I had tattoos, which I confirmed. She then informed me that this was not allowed, and that we'd discuss it when I came out to reception. Except that there was no discussion. I found a cancellation form and a copy of my contract waiting for me at the desk. Tattoos of any kind, be they the more yakuza-style, or mere "fashion tattoos" such as mine, were not allowed. So I was given the form to sign, told that it must be difficult being a foreigner, and ushered out in the autumn sunshine. At the time I found it quite amusing, but as the day, and days, went by I became increasingly more angered about the whole thing.

Now, I admit that I am aware of the general "no tattoos" rule in a lot of places in Japan, but I've been used to them not being enforced. I've never been to a gym or an onsen which has refused me access, even when I've told them I have tattoos. Even my previous gym in the sticks of Nagano didn't worry about them, and one would expect more "traditional" thinking in a place like that. Yet, it seems that the suburbs of Tokyo are far more intolerant than one would assume.

There are two lines of thought here. The first would be that as I'm living in a culture foreign to the one I've spent 26 years of my life in, I should try to adhere to their values etc etc. Which, I would say I respect and value, for the most part. Yet, the other line is that I should be allowed to do as I wish with my own skin, without having to face discrimination as a result. I'd like to do both, but it seems I can't. Of course, being an foreigner here means that I will never really be accepted, and that my views on certain subjects are at a wide variant to those of some Japanese people. So one is tempted to give "tradition", and old ladies, the finger. I've certainly had far less tolerance of them lately, especially when the sneaky bitches jump the train queue. In fact, ANY queue that I'm in seems to be fair game.

I think this is what sparked the recent "slump", and led to me feeling rather victimized in that self-pitying way I have. It wasn't just that, but I can date most of my ill-feelings to around that time.

Anyway, here's a picture of some yummy for you:

Daikon, chikuwa (the weird brown and white stuff), carrots, a boiled egg, tofu and some wakame. I just ate it, it was pretty good. The egg, of course, is saved for last.
blacklilly: (Default)
'And so you are going abroad; and when do you return?
But that's a useless question.
You hardly know when you are coming back,
You will find so much to learn.'

T.S. Eliot
"Portrait of a Lady"

Today marks one year since I came to Japan. I've been thinking about how to comment upon this occasional here, as this journal is the only way many people keep up with what I've been doing. Should I say something profound, something funny, something sad? What I will say is that I am happier here than I have been in a very long time. Is that because I'm in Japan, or away from England? I was finishing Thoreau's "Walden" only a few days ago and he says the following:

"... there are continents and seas in the moral world, to which every man is an isthmus or an inlet, yet unexplored by him, but that it is easier to sail many thousands of miles through cold and storm and cannibals... than it is to explore the private sea, the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean of one's being alone."

My memories of this first year are mainly sensory ones. It seems too much work to put them into some kind of narrative form so here are the various things I think of with a smile:

The glorious Tokyo cityscape at night from the top of the Tokyo Park Hyatt; the aching cold of my first month here, the loneliness and the confusion of a new home where you can't speak the language. The auditory assault of Gotanda on my jet-lagged first night in Tokyo, and the noise of the izakaya ("SUMIMASEN!!!) my friends Yusuke and Chihoko took me to in Ikebukuro (and wandering round that vast station trying to find each other).
The smell of cedar wood on the air; rice waves rippling across fields in the wind. A humid day in Yokohama, being jostled on the Tokyo subway, being stared at in Ina. The silence and serenity of the temple I stayed at in Koya-san, and the sunlight coming through the trees in the early morning mist. Singing ABBA songs to guitar accompaniment in bars; finding unexpected kindness and generosity; making unlikely friends. Looking at the mountains each day and seeing something different every time.

"There is more day to dawn."


Jun. 24th, 2007 07:13 pm
blacklilly: (Default)
Due to last week's sad news I wasn't in the mood for posting these pictures, so here they are.

Oodles or Noodles )
blacklilly: (Default)
On Saturday night I was talking to a cat outside a bar for a good ten minutes. It was very cute, and I was tipsy. I'm not sure what passing pedestrians made of our conversation, but actually I don't care too much. My enduring memory of Saturday is listening to Whitesnake and enjoying it. This has not happened before.

Today I went shopping and bought t-shirts. Yay! And I joined Tsutaya, which means I can now watch as much horror as I can lay my blood-soaked hands on. And I can find Whitesnake and rip it onto iTunes. Why has no one but libraries ever thought of renting music in England? It's a fabulous idea.

So yeah, Whitesnake. I blame Bruce Dickinson's rock show, which I've been listening to for the past few weeks. Not that he's played ANY Whitesnake. But, why not blame a god of rock?

Anyway, here are some photos from the past few weeks I wanted to show:

The meishi of some guy I met in Yongo Yongo on Saturday night. Think I should call him?

Last week Atsuko brought cool cakes for dessert.

I particularly liked this guy.

Gentian? I want to say Scabious, but I think that's wrong.

Bearded irises. These grow on the side of the road and, unlike England, no one steals them.


Apr. 2nd, 2007 04:14 am
blacklilly: (Default)
You can see some of my photos from New Year at Flickr. A little late, but it has taken me that long to get the film developed.

In addition, here are some of the photos from the party we had a few weeks ago: )
blacklilly: (Default)
I have mentioned to various people that fact that I have had trouble shaking off references to dystopia since being in Japan. Having not read the books for a few years I’ve had a sudden desire to re-read “Brave New World” and “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” I tracked down a copy of the latter in Tokyo this week so have added it to the pile.

1232 Words - Week 10/11 )
blacklilly: (Default)
Though I checked out the Yoshida Brother homepage before I went to see them today, I still had very little idea of what to expect. I'll compare it to the first time I saw Nickelcreek, as they are band which comes closest to a comparison. Watching young, extremely talented-musicians is always rather jaw-dropping for me as my musical ambitions came to nought (unless you count the karaoke). Taking a traditional form of music and turning it on its head with accompaniment from keyboards, guitar and drums, the Yoshida Brothers played like... well, like little shamisen demons. As is to be expected from well-respected musicians, the songs were faultless, with impressive build-ups and impeccable timing. I was thoroughly entranced the whole way through. I can't name songs, and as it was all new to me, my head is still reeling a little bit from it. To give you a little taste of them, check out this video.

Much as I loathe Myspace, I'm going to add them to the friends list.
blacklilly: (Default)
Well, if you check out the Flickr page you'll find some pics from my last trip to Tokyo. They're mostly of Asakusa with a little Meiji thrown in. To whet your appetite for more, here's my favourite:

blacklilly: (Default)
”I wish they were not so beautiful; if they were not so beautiful and so inaccessible to me, then I should feel less lonely, although, after all, I came here in order to be lonely.”

The Smile of Winter
, Angela Carter

1730 words )
” Simplicity! Simplicity! Simplicity! I say let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand,; instead of a million count half a dozen… Simplify, simplify.”

, Thoreau


Nov. 23rd, 2006 05:56 pm
blacklilly: (Default)
I seem to have got the "Firefly" bug again. It's the only DVD I brought with me to Japan so I save it for lazy mornings and nights when I can't sleep (there have been a few).

Today is a national holiday in Japan so we got the day off. I went to Komagane with Yasuko and one of my students, Yuko, for lunch. We went to an Italian restaurant for spaghetti and then onto Mr Donut for coffee. I had three cups of the stuff so I'm now simultaneously tired and buzzing. To give my shaking limbs a rest I read the entire Firefly entry on Wikipedia, with associated offshoots and found out some rather interesting stuff. I know want to watch more episodes but I have to ration myself!

Komagane is, from the bit I saw, one huge retail park in the most dramatic setting you could hope for - out-of-town shopping with mountains. Not a big deal for those who live with them, bit for a small person, from a small country, with smallllll mountains (which one rarely sees), this kind of thing is quite shiny. I'll write some more about it at the weekend for the weekly report.

Have started putting together tentative travel plans for the coming month or two including trips to Tokyo, Matsumoto and Nagano amongst others. I want to get into my new apartment and feel a little more settled and at ease with things before I start venturing off for the weekend. The Japanese switch in my brain has finally turned on and all the random syllables are now starting to make sense a little more, so much so that I can now intuit the meanings of certain words according to context, and the rest I merely repeat and ask the meaning. This is a very slow process, however, so expect no bi-lingual-ism anytime soon.


blacklilly: (Default)

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