Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Samurai Stories - when to shoot a duck

So the question has been asked, "why didn't the land of the samurai warrior man up and shoot down those North Korean missiles as they flew over the Emperor's sovereign territory?". Well, taking a step back, at least this time Japan saw the missiles coming as opposed to the first time back in 1998 when Kim - "the middle one", lobbed a patriotic singing grenade over the country and the government had to be notified via a small telephone from America (though the same is true of the Russians who also missed it in flight, though apparently, as was later explained, it had been tricky and swerved to avoid their sensors).

But before we arrive at an answer, there is the slight confusion as to whether Japan already is actually currently able to shoot down a ballistic missile aimed in its general direction (Monty Python spoiler alert) or does the country need to purchase yet more kinetic hardware from the shelves of Lockheed Martin Space Systems to resolve the issue once and for all? A ponderance that begs the question "what exactly are those Patriot Missiles doing lying around the Ministry of Defense in downtown Ichigaya if not to defend against in-coming?" But let's save that for another day.

So could the reasons that Japan decided not to press the button really be two fold. Firstly, if something is flying towards you, shooting it down enhances your chances of cranial injury; i.e. if you shoot at a duck, it might just spear you out of a refined sense of irony. Point made; the second main, and much under-reported, reason for not shooting at these ballistic javelins was that as they traversed Japan, they were at a peak trajectory of some 750 miles. That's roughly double the altitude of the International Space Station to put things in perspective. Japan knew these missiles were going going to miss by the proverbial mile. And as legend would have it, those wily samurai also knew both when, and importantly when not, to shoot at a duck.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Your dinner's in the dog

There was a time when the idea of walking into a restaurant and being confronted by a slobbering dog would have seen me spin on a dime and head in the opposite direction. And then, of course, we acquired two wonderful furry friends and my approach to life changed overnight. But that still leaves the question of lunch. Now, I'm used to the idea of sunshine, a glass of wine and a balcony with a dog. Which is wonderful in summer but as the skies close in (and allow me to avoid saying "winter is coming"), the question arises as to where exactly to go.

And these days there's a plethora of options largely driven by the rising popularity of small, home specific bundles of fun. And we're not talking about a water bowl on a deck; we're talking full on, high-end restaurants that provide for your four-legged friend to join the fun at the table. And granted this may be a little unsettling for those without pets, it's a boon when you're looking for somewhere to celebrate a special occasion and you'd like to be able to take your dogs with you. Or just going for lunch. And it doesn't really end there.

If you don't have your own favorite pet, why not meet one pre-packaged? Owl cafes are something of a rage at the moment; you can literally sip your coffee under a beady eye. Or you can pat a bunny at a rabbit restaurant or stroke a feline in a cat cafe. There is even one location that specializes in hedgehogs, though I'm not totally sure what you can do with these spikes little balls of, well, spikes. Or you could just go to Starbucks, have a coffee and surf the internet looking at pictures of puppies instead. Let's face it, there are worse things to do with life. But I love my dogs and, having finished this post, I'm going to take them for lunch.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A magical Wash 'n' Dry

Although now something of an anachronism given Japan's penchant for demolishing and rebuilding their residence on a seemingly weekly basis, it is only in recent times that having your own bath became the norm rather than something of a luxury reserved for the rather more well-healed. And so, in days gone by, the daily wash-down would occur in the local communal bath-house, known as a sento. Unlike the more familiar onsen hot springs of rural Japan, where the weary traveller goes to relax in the therapeutic waters bubbling from the volcanic lands, the humble sento is predominantly functional. It's the place one goes to get clean.

And never having been to one, I decided it was time to tick this particular experience off the list. Japan is very relaxed about bathing together with friends and family often enjoying a gossip through the soapsuds and water, though post-war spas have typically been segregated as the western influence has encroached into life on the ground. And so on arrival into the back streets of Nakano in western Tokyo, nestled in an old, quiet residential neighborhood, we took off our shoes and my wife went through one curtain and I the other. And then things got weird. Inside the sento the walls were decorated with pictures of Fuji and a high tiled wall separated the men from the ladies and the first thing you notice is the incredible noise. 

It's amazing how loud a group of friends can be in a bath. And then there was the man covered with tattoos (something of a taboo in an onsen) and after I washed down politely I jumped into a one of the pools. Only to be electrocuted (I should have read the sign first). Washing down once more I headed back to the changing room where I relaxed for a few minutes au-natural (as you do). Looking up there was a kind old lady looking down, smiling through the open window of her house across the street. And then the attendant turned out to be a world class magician and began a series of incredible card tricks of which I am clueless as to how he achieved them. So, after all these years here, I proved to myself that the old adage is true; you learn something new every day. Have a nice bath.

Not me. If you were wondering....

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Confused, you will be....

Some of my international friends believe the UK can be a little, shall we say, confusing. Sarcasm apart (and read into that what you will), we measure distances in miles, land in acres and weight in stone. Yes, we have liters for petrol (gasoline) but that only came into effect at the outbreak of the first Gulf War as the prices hiked and no one really understood what 95p per liter was compared to the good old gallon. And we measure whiskey by the gill, but that would be a different gill between England and Scotland. And then again the US gallon needs an extra top up of around 20% just to make it to the table with its English cousin. At least we no longer have 240 pence to the pound and let's not even discuss the good old guinea (which I could have sworn was equal to twenty one shillings but let's let that one go).

However, don't even get me started on Japan. Ok, do. And let's start at the beginning. The counting system, for example, revolves around "base 4" rather than "base 3". And yes, I did just hear you go "huh?". Western numeracy would refer to 10,000 i.e. 10 x 1,000 however the Japanese system would refer to 10,000 (ichiman, if you were wondering) as one, ten thousand or 1 x 10000. Confused, you will be... Especially when you go to the cash machine and take out several thousand dollars rather then the intended few hundred. Or see the apartment rental steal of the century only to find it is ten times the price you were thinking.

Currency is maybe easier; for a start there are no decimal points (watch the IT system programmer go white when you mention this). In days of yore there were 100 sen to the yen and one yen to the dollar. And then there was a small Pacific incident. There are 2,000 yen notes but they're not used as they're generally considered unlucky being divisible by two. One plate is ichi-mai, a bottle i-ppon, a minute i-ppun and a typhoon ichi-go. And if you really want to show off, a pair of chopsticks (hashi) are not the expected "ni-hon" (two long thin, round things) but rather ichi-zen; being one pair. So next time you become confused between stones and pounds, miles and kilometers, tsubo and square meters just pause, and take a moment, and be glad it isn't MCMXCIX any more. Unless an Imperial succession occurs and then it could be 29 and 1. But that's another story. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Oh no, it's The Time Warp Again

It has to be said that I am probably one of the world's worst time travelers (speaking in terms of the jet age rather than that of HG Wells and his eponymous Time Machine as it were). Those few hours of difference between Asia and Europe will leave me disoriented, degraded and at a complete loss to not just the time of day but the very day itself. Give me a week and I'll still be rubbish but eventually the rhymes and rhythms of this existence of mine will settle down and I'll begin to feel (ab)normal once again. But why does the journey have to be so painful in it's own right.

Heathrow (T2 from T5)
My return home started with a domestic flight in the UK (delayed two hours by the wrong type of rain) at Heathrow. Where, upon arrival, I had to wait forty five minutes for my luggage to be recovered from the bowels of the aircraft. A ten minute walk, five minute train ride and another fifteen minute walk and I arrive at the chaos of Terminal 2, where the self check-in system appears to be requiring more staff at that moment than the conventional counter and clerk. And then it's another fifteen minute walk to lounge (yes, I indulged myself a little I admit), at least that's what the signs said but as the first two "fifteen minute" signs were about five mins apart, I'm going for more like a twenty minute hike.

And twelve hours later we land on a proverbial different planet. Narita may be the wrong end of nowhere but a modest walk where a soft English voice gently reminds me "the end of the walk is ahead, please mind your steps", a sign welcomes me to Japan (though the Japanese version actually says "welcome home") and a dedicated queue for returning foreign residents has me to the luggage carousel faster than my wife can make it through the Japanese passport lane. Which, to be fair, does annoy her somewhat. And standing there you notice all the bags are emerging from the center of the earth before the passengers have even arrived; and they're neatly spaced with handles carefully turned towards their expectant owners. And, I have to say, it's the little things that make the difference. It's good to be home.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

See you soon!

TenguLife is on vacation. Which is good because it is wet and cold in Tokyo. In August. And I'm going to England. Where it's usually wet and cold at any time of year. I really should plan my vacations better. See you soon...

Monday, August 21, 2017

The "Mother of the Seas" - A Seaweed Story

It has to be said, I enjoy good sushi with my two favorite delicacies being uni (the inside of the spiny sea-urchin, akin to eating slightly thickened seawater) and ikura (the slightly less salty and more familiar, salmon roe) both of which arrive at the table encircled in nori, the dark green crispy seaweed which is actually conjured from a red, cool water algae (it isn't actually green at all). And without this porphyra seaweed, my two favorite dishes would be simple pile of mush on a plate.
And in 1948 that was very nearly the case. Harvested from the eight century, porphyra began to be actively farmed from the seventeenth when farmers would place poles into the water for it to wrap and grow around. The use of nets was later introduced proving a success and significantly increasing output but nets were capital intensive though in good years proving a sound investment. In poor years though it could prove something of a gamble and then in 1948 a series of typhoons, peaking in September of that year, all but wiped out the sea crop.

And at this point in wades the Mother of the Sea to the rescue, literally. In the 1920's an English phycologist (yes, I misread that as psychologist too at first), by the name of Kathleen Mary Drew-Baker figured out the reproductive cycle of the algae, something that had been a mystery until that time. Her breakthrough provided the groundwork for the resurrection of the nori industry in Japan and in recognition of her contribution to saving their industry the people of Uto in southern Kyushu erected a monument to her, named her "Mother of the Seas" and dedicated 14 April in her honor. And rescued my favorite mush.