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.




Monday, August 14, 2017

A dogs life, in English, in Japan

So we have two dogs. They're unrelated but are both the same cross. Chihuahua / poodle. And they're cool. They joined us on Valentine's Day 2011, which, for anyone who cross references, is about three weeks before the earthquake. The big one. Five days after the quake, tsunami, nuclear meltdown, etc etc, I got my family on a flight to foreign lands but stayed myself with our new little friends / responsibilities. And I was so grateful that they were with me as the gasoline ran out and lights began to fail. Those weren't great days but all in the past.

And then you know how it happens. Everything goes wrong at the same time. It's a national holiday. My wife is out of contact. And one of our dogs dislocates her hip. We don't know how but I found her at the bottom of the stairs not being able to stand and gently whimpering. [(earthquake while I type) (tiny and I caught the tv) (no worries)]. Having been a rugby player and seeing a shoulder dislocation I can guess the pain she's in. And, of course, her regular vet is closed for  National Mountain Day and with any vet, without my wife, the Japanese is going to be tricky. "Dislocated hip" isn't exactly in my vernacular.

And then the best thing that could actually happen, happens. My wife's phone comes back on line. She's found another vet nearby and he speaks English (as does his wonderful assistant). And on a national holiday he will open up early for me. And, after sedation and two general anaesthesia, our six inch tall little chawoodle is now on the mend. I rarely evangelize here on my blog but this time, it's a huge thank you to the team at West Cross in Nakameguro, downtown Tokyo. Life in a foreign land and language is tricky sometimes. But it's not impossible. And it's important to say thank you.


Thursday, August 3, 2017

Where to stand when the lights go out

Hmm, join the queue...
It's summer. And to many that means something involving Mount Fuji, the sacred symbol of Japan the world over. Looking exactly the way a child would draw a volcano, these days it attracts some 300,000 each year to its slopes with its currently popularity being attributed by the government to a World Heritage listing in 2013. Presumably the thinking goes that people hadn't noticed it until then. And so if you are going to climb to the top of a 3776m stratovolcano, you might want to remember that the vertical lift from the fifth station is greater than sea level to the peak of Ben Nevis, the highest location in the UK. And that the support facilities are closed on weekdays.

The west coast of Izu
But if your plan is to see, rather than scale, this national icon, don't actually go there. If you do you'll see a car park and a path. There is not much to view when you're standing on it as it were. The photography from Yamanakako to the north or Hakone to the south can be stunning and the west coast of the Izu Peninsula offers a beautiful, though rarely seen, vista (and don't even try if you get car sick). But you also need to be lucky, there's a lot of cloud available when you're the highest obstacle between the winds of continental Asia and the warm waters of The Pacific. And then of course, the question is where to stand when the fireworks go off for real.

Fuji from the 40F Cerulean Bar
Technically still active, Fuji-san last erupted in 1708 though a M6.2 quake in the locale that went off late on a Tuesday evening following the mega-quake of March 2011 did make us all somewhat wonder if we were in for a more contemporary visit. And if it does go off, the conventional view points mentioned above would be a little too close for comfort. However, the bar on the fortieth floor of the Cerulean Hotel in Shibuya, downtown Tokyo, might just be ideal with a 100km direct line of sight. And then you might want to leave. That ash cloud will fuse the power grid and collapse the city as it slowly crawls towards you.


When Fuji erupts (with thanks to Tofugu.com)




Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Of Bitcoins and Bedsprings

June 9, 2017 and the Japanese government passes into law the Airbnb Act. It isn't technically called that but then again, neither is "Obama-Care". The act allows for the average citizen to register with their local authority and offer out a spare room, sofa or house to paying guests. For roughly half the year these properties can supplement the more traditional venues for a quick vacation and now with no-minimum nights stay requirements. Which, if you dwell on it, is in direct competition to the established hotel and tourist industry and, let's face it, Japan is not too famous for encouraging competition in the face of vested interest. So what's different?

The root cause of seemingly broad support lies in a fundamental problem surrounding the incredible success of the government in marketing Japan as the ultimate oversees tourist destination. And as a result of all the additional bodies, there is a dearth in supply of night-time nests. There simply aren't enough beds to go around. The original target of 20 million inbound tourists by 2020 for the Olympics was blown away by 2015. The target has been raised by the National Tourism Organisation to 40 million by the time they fire the starting pistol to celebrate as the games begin and then after that 60 million penciled in for 2030. And with a reputation for safety, cleanliness, a little peculiarity, reasonable prices and lots to do, it's looking on the cards.

Budget price hotel chains such as APA, with 150 properties across the country (which it utilizes to distribute its publications with a slightly alternative view of Japan's "liberation" of Asia) are growing fast but with twenty million additional slumber parties to accommodate in the space of five years, that's an extra 55,000 heads to rest each night. 365 days a year. One proposal to convert ten thousand Love Hotels, an industry that would appear to be in death spiral as the youth of the country forget how to enjoy themselves, seems to have floundered and so it's private enterprise to the rescue as it were. The Airbnb Act it is. And so no one's complaining as in reality there's more than enough to go round for all. They'll be taking Bitcoin next.