Posted by stupot at 11:57 AM Monday 26 Dec
turkey and toys
christmas is always a great chance to catch up with family, eat a lot and take some time off. this year was certainly no exception whilst visiting scotland. it's nice to see all the traditional decorations - a flashing doraemon climbing up an apartment block in osaka in santa claus outfit is just a bit odd - but then there are no mantlepieces in japan and there really isn't enough room for a real tree.
the temperature in south west scotland was comparable to osaka, which fueled concerned looks by some who didn't realise it could get so cold so near the equator. it doesn't help that japan runs from so far north to so far south, but it's about as near the equator as scotland is the north pole (the popular belief in japan being that scotland is an arctic wasteland).
what was interesting was how dark it got there - if cloudy, it really didn't get particularly light during the day and 9am felt like 7 in japan. a reminder as to why christmas overtook the mid-winter solstice celebrations of old - there's still no escaping the lack of light.
Posted by stupot at 11:56 AM Monday 26 Dec
Posted by stupot at 10:04 PM Friday 23 Dec
when I was visiting edinburgh I took the opportunity to visit the new scottish parliament building. the building wasn't open when we moved to japan and it was a place I'd wanted to visit for what it looked like as much as what it stands for. there's a website in scots for anyone brave enough.
despite having won this years stirling prize for architecture and representing the first parliament in scotland for 300 years, the poor management of the project meant that the budget changed from around 50 million pounds to about 10 times that. the medias almost daily onslaught resulted in the nation being divided over something that was meant to be uniting them. perhaps that says a lot about other issues in scotland too.
having left the bitter controversy behind and viewing the place with fresh eyes the building seemed to be working well - easy to enter, lots of school kids visiting, chance to get into the main chamber to see business suits debating with track suits. it all seemed a world away from even westmister where, a few hundred years ago the same controversy raged over the amount of money it took to build.....
Posted by stupot at 09:43 PM Friday 23 Dec
Posted by stupot at 03:59 PM Thursday 22 Dec
a new view
I braved the flight and surprised family and friends coming back to scozia for chrimbo and hogmanay. it's a welcome break and nice to see the wide open spaces I know so well. with the festivities in full swing it is easy to see why people are that bit bigger in the west. the other main oddity is the amount of dog shit everywhere. it takes a keen eye to walk the streets of scotland and remain clean.
I wasn't working up to the visit overly but there was a small list of things to do and try - most of which I've accomplished: many pints of 'heavy' have been downed, many friends and family rooted out and lamb curry had. luckily all have stayed as good as I remember them.
the meetings have been often fleeting but there is much to be said about even the briefest of eye to eye exchanges. the space is a big issue too - I hadn't realised quite how unspoilt the place is, one or two big retail parks remaining the worst of it. houses too blow me away with their high ceilinged, vast rooms.
the main news seems to be same sex marriages becoming legal (with the already infamous headline in one tabloid being 'elton takes david up the aisle') and the impending smoking ban which kicks off in march. luckily, some things change but thankfully the view off the west coast remains unaltered.
Posted by stupot at 03:47 PM Thursday 22 Dec
Posted by stupot at 04:58 PM Sunday 18 Dec
a great birthday present
last year yuka and I were given membership to the 'friends of portencross castle' as a birthday present from my family. it was a really nice gift as the castle has been part of my life for many years and yuka's when we lived in scotland. we would often visit the rugged place for a bracing walk: the views to kintyre and the islands of the clyde are wonderful (oddly - the view made famous by ewan macgregor when he guested in ER).
the friends of the castle is a group trying to keep the building and site, public. there have been many attempts to sell the building privately by it's previous owner BNFL (British Nuclear to you and me - there is a power station hidden a mile 'round the coast). the building made it to the bbc's restoration programme a few years back and has a rich history.
anyway - I got an email from the group yesterday to say that ownership will at last be granted to them tomorrow after a discussion lasting many years. so as yuka and I gain another year, we gain ownership of a castle as well. fantastic!
Posted by stupot at 04:44 PM Sunday 18 Dec
Posted by stupot at 04:42 PM Sunday 18 Dec
ice cream by drip
whilst I've found some pretty nice soy ice cream in japan, I've never really found a great brand. until today! we got some I.V. tonyu (soy milk) ice cream from hankyu department store and it was de-licious - the packaging in itself said it would be a good product, the flavours were mouth watering to choose from and it lived up to all the haagen dazs traits on show. at 263 yen for a thimble it's not cheap but I felt worth it. I got rum and ichijiku (fig) which was a little rich and sweet, but then I didn't buy it to be dull and tasteless! try some.
I'm now quite accustomed to seeing large fish being gutted on prime time tv and tonight we marvelled at some beautiful big fish being caught at sea and then prepared and eaten in the studio as celebrity guests drooled, 'ooh'ing and 'ahh'ing over the delicacies. the healthy thing that strikes me most is that food here is understood and has a history: it's mainly seasonal (local) and people are educated as to how it is caught or picked. although satsuma's are something we associate with christmas, it never really dawned on me that they are actually harvested in cold weather. everyday's an education!
Posted by stupot at 10:44 PM Thursday 15 Dec
so there's this guy I know. he's a really nice guy but he's unusual in the sense that he reads the bible everyday, drinks jack daniels, swears a lot, listens to hip-hop and watches jackass. nothing strange were he american but a fairly unusual mix for a japanese teenager. anyway - last week he showed me a verse from the bible he'd written out and asked for my opinion (of the english, not the content). there wasn't much to comment on other than the ancient use of language, but then realising it was a bible quote I said it was fine, given the context. he even had a laugh at the 'ye' parts as it's similar to the language he hears in hip hop.
I meet him again this week and he shows me his forearm - the text now imprinted by needle forever onto his skin. "wow!" I said, genuinely impressed with his still raw tattoo.
as I was scanning over the verse he pointed out there had been a spelling mistake, and sure enough, there were two clangers. the first word, highlighted by larger type in caps, said LORD. or rather it was meant to. in fact it said LOAD. "I am the LOAD". the second was in smaller case but the word itself pretty important. here God had been misspelt 'Hod'.
jee whizz man. what can you say? you hear about these stories but you really don't wanna be a part of one of them. I felt a pang of paranoia that I'd hadn't checked it properly, especially as he reminded me that it was me that had checked the spelling, but I was not the one to blame. just as some tattoo artist in the UK is making a dogs dinner of some kanji on someones ankle, my acquaintance had met with a japanese equivalent.
it's funny he hadn't mentioned the end result during our first discussion. just a random bit of paper with some words on it. it certainly hadn't been signing off proofs for the client which it should have been - with second opinions and someone playing the devils advocate. I suppose the moral of the story is that if you're going to get a tattoo done in a foreign tongue - go there and get that other opinion. at the very least avoid dyslexic scotsmen.
Posted by stupot at 07:02 PM Monday 12 Dec
it's (almost) a wrap
so as the year marches on, today was put aside for gifts and cards. for the shopping part I headed to kintetsu department store in tennoji and their wonderful food hall. whether you are in Japan or not, the next time you come to osaka I recommend going to the food hall in a department store. perhaps tokyu hands, den-den town, horie and a department store food hall. it's magic. especially at this time of year.
today was very much a food theme with some toy shopping thrown in for good measure (any excuse, eh?). the sweet and cake section is a wonder to behold in kintetsu: it's a huge underground labyrinth which smells amazing and the food looks even better. so much care goes into the packaging too and this is all before you eat any of it. three of the counters we went to today started again after failing to wrap our chosen gifts with perfection - notably this was not through lack of skill, but more in trying to be flawless. we suspect the staff were later sacked though.
I remember an assistant wrapping a present in scotland for yuka and the look of astonishment on her face at the mess of sellotape and crumpled paper. I admit that before I met yuka - a botch job would absolutely suffice.
as I was looking for typically japanese stuff, the locals were often buying french tea and italian wine. the frivilous youngsters shopped for christmas presents for loved ones but the old guard remained, doing their best to buy annual gifts of gratitude, and so maintaining the tradition of o-seibo.
the pied piper
sometimes you don't need to look at your watch. sometimes things just always happen that remind you when you are. like the 5 o'clock chime for children to go home. the 11am kerosene van doing it's round in winter with its cute, heidi-esque, falling snow, kids choir anthem.
at eleven o'clock every sunday, without fail, the ramen man comes by our neighbourhood and the haunting tune of his traditional pipe music echoes around the streets like the pied piper himself. there's a security in always hearing him and there's also a feeling that time passes by so quickly. another week has ended, another has begun. on countless occaisions I've wanted to go and see him but I'm glad I haven't broken my image of him. his invisiblity and the secrecy of it all fuels the imagination. sometimes I think that if I look out the window all the local kids will be following him. or at least the local vermin.
in any case, when the tune fades into the distance and the stillness of the sunday night resumes, I know it's time for bed.
Posted by stupot at 11:12 PM Sunday 11 Dec
my dad reminded me that it's the 25th anniversary of john lennon's death this week and the bbc have a great series on 6 music to mark his death (scroll down the right sidebar for links). the wenner tapes from a radio 4 programme are particularly extraordinary and even more so given that they have never before been heard. it's compelling stuff.
on a related note, shawls and legwarmers (bear with me) seem to be all the rage here at the moment and so yuka's taken to the needles. this is, therefor, the reason I find myself in knitting shops taking photographs of wool. the legend of liverpool lives on in japanese clothing. respect.
Posted by stupot at 10:58 PM Friday 9 Dec
Posted by stupot at 12:28 AM Tuesday 6 Dec
it's difficult enough - the temperature is near zero and you're late for training. you get outside in 3 minutes flat with bagel in mouth and start to ride when you notice the road is speckled with dark spots which can only be rain. the weather forecast is 6 hours out and you forgot your jacket. with the warm up lost you still have to go all out to play catch up. passing the meet place thoughts of a warm bed drift in and out of your imagination as devil and angel sit on your shoulders. an almost revived pair of legs are ready to go and the rain is still light but the rest are almost definitely reading the papers in warm living rooms - even the cars you pass are sitting in glows of warmth with their TV's and heating on full. despite this you still feel more satisfaction.
at the halfway point the rain begins to fall hard, the training starts proper and as there's no sign of them, you know for sure everyone else is cosy inside. the water reaches your feet and hands through sodden gloves and overshoes and the chill begins. your few emergency possesions begin to reach emergency point themselves as the splash line up your backside soaks both your bank notes and cellphone.
you turn on the gas in an attempt to get home faster and soon, as your toes and fingers depart, thoughts turn dangerously only to warm showers and hot coffee. you start to trick your brain into thinking you're warm. the last 3 miles hurt as the windchill tries to finish off your extremities but local landmarks welcome you back and you know things are close.
even though you're desperate to warm up you can't get your clothes off because of your numb digits but you know that in a matter of minutes you'll be rewarded with the best shower and coffee of your life.
Posted by stupot at 11:59 PM Thursday 1 Dec
for posterity I thought I'd record this hair cut. popular with young men at the start of this century, and popularised by hide nakata (now plying his trade in sunny lancashire), this was spotted on a student studying in a coffee house in kyoto. although it's very much accepted now, I remember I studied with a guy who had this cut at art school about eleven years ago and people used to think he had escaped from a (different type of) institution. funny how much goes around comes around. eventually. I like to refer to this style as 'the reverse monk' but perhaps there is a more scientific name out there.
Posted by stupot at 11:50 PM Thursday 1 Dec