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Showing posts from February, 2011

A springy day

There comes a day in each season when you realize the reigning champion may not be defeated yet, but he is tiring, perhaps even teetering. Sometimes he crawls into a corner to recover for his next bout, sometimes he flounces off dramatically, but he is on his way out. That day was Wednesday 23 February.
The winter's snarl has turned into a half-hearted growl. Tulips and other bulb plants are flowering in Taitō's alleys. It is getting too warm for a combination of thick winter coat + scarf + gloves. Spring is approaching quietly but steadily. Her grand ball will be towards the end of March, with the arrival of the cherry blossoms, but the preparations have started.
I am not naïve enough to think that winter will relinquish power gracefully. He has enough strength left to resist – I remember that last year's hanami was cold enough to freeze bone-marrow – but I think winter will do a Mubarak soon.

It's a woman driver!

The other day I took the Yamanote Line. I got into the front carriage, as is my habit, because the first and last carriages are often the emptiest.
I have to interrupt my story to explain why.
The front carriage is emptier because it is regarded by many commuters as unsafe, since it is supposed to be the "crumple zone" during a head-on collision. There has never been such an accident in the entire history of JR East, the railway company that controls Tokyo's rail transport, but that is obviously beside the point. Since I am from Africa, and per definition have a blasé attitude towards death and destruction, I exploit this paranoia to the full and enjoy the extra breathing space.
The lastcarriage is emptier because it is often furthest from the stairs to the platform. I have observed my fellow commuters for several years, and I still cannot explain the following Rules of Train Commuting: 
When you are in a train station, run-walk as fast as possible and shove lesser life form…


I have finally closed my Standard Bank account as well as my credit card account in South Africa. Thus I find myself in Japan as follows:

I don't own a house.
I don't have a car.
I don't have a credit card.
I don't have a television set.

I have none of the basic pillars of capitalism and consumerism, and all I can think is: "Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, I'm free at last."With apologies to Martin Luther King.

It is of course easy to sing such a liberation song if you have a job, an apartment, food, books, a computer. Four computers, to be exact. You will probably not believe me if I tell you how many books I have, but as I keep explaining: I do not find books, books find me.
We not only survive, but thrive with surprisingly little stuff.
It is, however, utterly impossible to have too many books. If I may repeat the words of Desiderius Erasmus: "When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.&qu…

The shinkansen from Shin-Yokohama to Tokyo

One of my favourite experiences in Japan is a very simple one: the shinkansen trip from Shin-Yokohama to Tokyo at night. Small things and small minds? I used to travel along this route regularly when I lived in central Tokyo and worked in Shin-Yokohama; these days I occasionally do it for fun.
OK, I confess: I love trains.
A shinkansen bound for Tokyo arrives roughly every five to ten minutes at Shin-Yokohama Station. If you take into account that these trains travel at speeds of 270 km/h, you will realize that a space/distance of five minutes between two trains is not a lot. If something were to go wrong, all the drivers on the line would have to stop their trains immediately or you would have one giant chain accident.
The shinkansen has different designs. When I worked in Shin-Yokohama, I usually took a train called the 300 Series. It is not particularly beautiful – it has a brutal, blunt, wedge-shaped nose – but it suggests pure power. It glides into the station accompanied by a sizzl…

Red tape on two continents

I have read countless complaints from foreigners about bad service at various bureaucratic institutions in Japan. I don't geddit. Am I just lucky that I have always been treated efficiently and with unfailing courtesy, or am I simply careful enough to follow the rules, prepare the necessary paperwork and arrive armed with a book in case I have to wait? Actually this has been a major disappointment. I always take a brand-new whodunit with me, but the accursed Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau in Shinagawa always processes my requests so quickly that I can finish nary a page. Drat. You would hope that they would be decent enough to have at least one SNAFU so that you could sort out the red herrings from the bloodhounds, but no, you have barely sat down or your number is called. Terribly inconsiderate.
To the perpetually disgruntled individuals who complain about Japan's bureaucracy, I offer an invitation: come to South Africa and try to cope with the African version of officialdo…

My biggest Japan fantasy

I am watching yet another food programme on Japanese television. Yet another arbitrary Japanese celebrity puts yet another arbitrary piece of food in his mouth, but instead of promptly having an orgasm of shindo 7, he spits out the offending morsel with an expression of utter disgust and pronounces it inedible.

That is my fantasy.
Japan may be one of the skinniest nations on earth – I seem to recall it is the skinniest, along with Korea – especially the women –
Where wos I?
Japan may be one of the skinniest nations on earth, but it is obsessed with food. 
Every Japanese person firmly believes Japan has the best food in the world.So many Japanese people have told me what they miss the most when living overseas is "real Japanese food".A question a foreigner often gets asked while in Japan: "Can you eat Japanese food?"  
I find this odd.
Does my country of birth have the best food in the world? No, I would not say that. I happen to like some of its food because I grew up …