Friday, February 28, 2003
I don't know why I worry. Cameron just rang to say he'd come straight to the restaurant but that he was wearing (and I quote) "really bad shoes and a scruffy jumper". Now those of you who know him will realise things must be *really* bad for him to even think about it, so I'm going out in my pyjamas. By comparison I'll look like Kate Moss.

I would go out tonight
but I haven't got a thing to we-ear. Well, apart from the three new tops I bought last weekend at Zara, but short of wrapping one around my legs to wear as a skirt I'm a bit stuck. Tops are ok (ish) here but bottoms? Tricky. I have three pairs of jeans (one very old, from gap, distinctly dorky, never liked, and far too high-waisted to wear in the evening these days!; one very old and about to fall apart and *slightly* too short in the leg but in need of an appointment with the washing machine; one new and quite cool but the hems are held up with pins and the waistband would fit 2 of me in. And anyway, I don't want to wear jeans). I have some skirts that are starting to look very worn after being worn on every outing for the past year. I have some 'posh' skirts but we're only going for a curry (and anyway I have no shoes to wear with them that I can walk in). I have some summery stuff but we're not quite there yet. I have a pair of linen trousers but they are a bit too grown-up-looking (!) for me. I have some black trousers that are now too big (change of diet and yoga I think!) and several old pairs of trousers that are too small (and have been for about 3 years - maybe I should throw them out?).
Is there anywhere that does mail order, with deliverers who will wait while you try on several sizes and take back the ones that don't fit - or, even better, who can do on-the-spot alterations? That would be fantastic wouldn't it! Oh, and they need to come instantly because I have to leave in an hour and ten minutes.
Most of my shoes are starting to look a bit aged feet aren't huge, I could in theory buy shoes here. But I was put off on the one occasion I tried by them being marked small, medium, large rather than in proper sizes! (If you look at girls' feet here they are often hanging off the backs of their shoes by a good half-inch. Somebody told me they buy smaller sizes for vanity, but surely that's insane and can't be true?)
While we are on the fashion theme, that email going round with the 'see-through' printed skirts? (here) I haven't seen any on the streets. The minute I do, I'll let you know.
Oh, and Korea set off a missile and stuff.

Thursday, February 27, 2003
tokyo-style scattered sushiYou know, I really like my cooking class. Usually on a Thursday there's just the three of us: Konishi-san the teacher, Junko-san, a student-cum-teacher's assistant (she's been going for years), and me. I've been going long enough now that Konishi-san doesn't feel she has to supervise everything (when I started we would each be handed a sliver of carrot to cut into matchsticks while she made sure we did it properly) so we can just get on with it and have fun. Today, for example, Konishi-san was pulling veins out of prawns, Junko-san was pounding salmon to a paste in a pestle and mortar and I was blow-drying the sushi rice as we all chattered away in a peculiar Japanese-English hybrid.
We all chat in the language we are most comfortable in (though they often have to stop and say their Japanese again and then put it into English for me), dropping in bits of the other - they drop in English words when they suspect (rightly) that I wouldn't understand; I drop in Japanese words on the odd occasion there is one I know. Today I learnt that futsu-no-nabe is a medium-sized saucepan and they learnt circumference and smudge. The conversation remains polite however - no intimate revelations as you might expect after nearly a year of seeing somebody weekly in the UK. I do know that Mr Konishi likes to cook but won't clear up and uses every pan in the house!
I was asking today about a kanji I'd spotted on a fish label in the supermarket and then chattering about some vinegared mackerel we'd enjoyed at a party last year, when Konishi-san suddenly exclaimed that she had never! known anyone who knew more about Japan and Japanese culture and kanji than me. A stunned silence fell as Junko-san surreptitiously looked around to see if there was somebody else there she could be speaking to. Living here you get used to the constant low-level flattery (Cameron's skill with chopsticks is praised several times a week in his office canteen) - it's just polite - and generally ignore it (muttering 'no no I'm rubbish'). I like to join in at times (where did you learn to use a fork so well?!). Apparently you know your Japanese is getting half-decent when nobody remarks. But this was taking flattery to a whole new level and my no I am very unskillful seemed a bit of an anticlimax!

Wednesday, February 26, 2003
It's amazing how a slight lightening of the evening skies and the first hint of some warmth in the sun lifts your spirits, even if you are not aware that they needed lifting (even for me, and I love the winter). It's amazing how the seasons affect your mood even in a city like Tokyo. It smells like spring out there (a mixture of plum blossoms and drains I think!) and I've just bought some almost-out hyacinths in a pot. The hydrangea* down the road has green bits sprouting at the end of its twigs. I've a moderate amount of work coming in, which is nice (while it lasts) and we've visitors coming next week who are bringing teabags. Tra la!
*I never really saw the point of hydrangeas in the UK - manky leggy bushes covered in cabbagey flowers in a sickly pink or blue. Here they are a whole new thing of beauty. Remind me to rave about them in hydrangea season (June, or thereabouts)

Monday, February 24, 2003
yuk, it’s snowing. Not prettily swirling white flakes, but big clumps of almost-rain plopping wetly down. Cats not impressed and I don’t intend to leave the house unless I have to (which I suppose i might if we are to have anything other than ice cream for tea).
We had a busy weekend: karaoke friday night with some shell visitors, then took the same visitors to asakusa temple on saturday, whizzed off to, respectively, a book group meeting and a football match (we mostly liked the book; Cameron won 3-2 I think), then met up again for dinner. We wanted to go to kupu-kupu, an asian restaurant we went to once before and enjoyed. And we did but in the time between the two visits the restaurant had gone upmarket and got rid of the picture menu (so we had random food but it was actually very nice).
Sunday we were off to Harajuku for a sushi lunch and to watch the freaks, then to the meiji shrine, where we were accosted by a gang of 5 teenagers. They wanted to show us around the shrine in order to practice their english. They were very pleasant and polite and their english was, of course, excellent - but how bizarre is that as a sunday afternoon activity (and apparently they do it every week)?!

Thursday, February 20, 2003
origami cranesWhile I'm on the black and white thing, here is a string of origami cranes I have hanging in the kitchen window (this was another finish-the-film shot but I quite like it). One was left on our pillow every night in the hotel we stayed at when we first came to Japan.

Spring is on its way. We have plum blossoms in the garden and the cats are full of beans, running and jumping and climbing trees. (Cameron opened the mug cupboard, which is on a wall, not under the worksurface, to find Islay shut inside with the teapot). And it's 4.30 and not yet dark!
prum brossom
Black and white blossom doesn't look so spring-like, but that's the film I wanted to finish up.
The flowers are white with a dark pink-purple centre, and smell delicious

Wednesday, February 19, 2003
Part 3 of the Great New Zealand Photo Extravaganza is now available here. Only one left now (probably. or maybe one and a small one)

Tuesday, February 18, 2003
I did it!
I did it! Plank to chaturanga to up dog to down dog without collapsing! First time ever. My teacher was so excited for me she squealed, which did make me collapse, but still - progress indeed. I also learnt today, courtesy of a classmate, that low-waisted hipster trousers are not really suitable for yoga. All she needed was a copy of the sun and she'd have blended into any british building site...(apart from the ponytail and lycra top, unless builders' fashions have changed in the past year).
I haven't been here since Friday, have I. We haven't done much so, not having much to say, I stayed away (I know, doesn't usually stop me). But now here it is, tumbling out in a torrent of inanity*: my weekend.
  • Friday night we went for drinks with some of Cameron's colleagues. Utilising all our technology, here are some (slightly shaky) snaps taken by telephone (one chap there had a phone you could take movies on: how jealous was I?!).

    Nakazawa-san. Wants Cameron to bathe with his wife.

    Aota-san. His dad knows all about icebergs

    Nakamura-san. Can sleep anywhere.

    Ang-chan. Works at the hyotan, sings like an angel.

    Omura-san. Doesn't say much; loves horseracing
    Hagiwara-san. But we can call him Hagi-chan.

    He's filming us photographing him...

    Munakata-san. Sits behind Cameron at work

  • Saturday we tried to see a film. We tried to see one hour photo, only to be told it was standing room only (for full price). Then we tried to see the pianist - we even bought tickets for that one - only to be told when we got to the top of the stairs that there were no seats, so we got our money back (what kind of way to run a cinema is that?). Then we bought tickets for red dragon, which I didn't really want to see, and queued for ages in order to be assured of a seat. It was quite good actually - a bit too scarey for li'l ol' me, whose heart was pounding through most of it, and Anthony Hopkins hammed it up like he was in panto - but definitely worth seeing. Then we stumbled across a pub Cameron had been to before with his football team, and had fish and chips and tomato sauce for tea, hooray!
  • Sunday it poured with rain then snowed then rain again. Cameron went all the way to Yokohama for a game of football that was cancelled (but apparently they still had the beer, so it was probably worth the journey!) and I worked, having cunningly spotted that the forecast was sun and clear skies for Monday
  • We are both immersed in the world of mobsters at the moment, having discovered that our video shop has the sopranos. We somehow missed this in the UK (past my bedtime I think) but it is really excellent and I love the theme tune: we are halfway through series 1 and averaging an episode a night.
  • Yesterday was my official Sunday...I went to the secondhand bookshop, meeting up with a new girl I'd 'met' online (how else is one supposed to make friends in a strange city?). Bought several books of course, never knowingly having left a bookshop empty-handed, including a nice recipe book for asian soups, stews and curries...guess what we are having for tea for the next week or so (until I get bored and it's back to spag bog). Lunch, wandered around some shops...fell for a cushion (it can happen. If you can't buy clothes you have to divert your shopping urges elsewhere) but remembered how stunned Cameron had been in the UK when I suggested spending >£10 on a cushion there and decided that this one, at around £35, was probably unnecessary (oh but it was nice. kimono material, round, the cats would just love it!) and came home without.
  • I have a cold. Just a small one but I feel a bit ick (and am offending people on the train with my public nose blowing). In fact I just went and looked in the mirror and I look as sheet-like as I feel so I think I'd better go and have some maltesers. Strictly medicinal.
    *Ok, it's more a neatly bulleted list than a torrent but what can I say? I'm a scientist!

  • Friday, February 14, 2003
    A great story here, courtesy of tokyowriter. Tama-chan (a seal who has been living in a Tokyo river since last summer) has been given residency. Now, Japan is reknowned for its reluctance to give out residency - in fact, there are 2nd- and 3rd-generation inhabitants who have yet to be granted it - so a group of foreigners are going to paint whiskers on their faces and black noses, wear swimming gear and carry placards saying 'we can be cute too' in the hope of attracting some press attention!

    Our community newsletter
    (an excerpt)
    Dear Members
    Belated Happy New Year to you all. The New Year has brought in to the whole world with oppressive atmosphere, due to the issues such as Iraq's development of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction, North Korea's nuclear development and abduction cases. On the other hand, Japan's economic downturn makes it even gloomier.
    New Keio bus line now in operation...

    that was great! Why didn't anyone tell me before? It was so cosy and draught-free, no unexpected blasts of cold air or sticky-out bits, even the cats tried to get in (until Jura stood on Islay's head and there was a row). I thought it was a Saturday when I woke up - though I suppose this has more to do with the alarm being set an hour later than usual than the warmth; there's no particular reason why cosiness should mean saturday, is there.
    Hoorah for large duvets.

    Thursday, February 13, 2003
    oh the bane of my life. Today I am trying to receive a nice new duvet, all the way from John Lewis in the UK. The first attempt came at 12.45, despite me telling them yesterday that I wouldn't be here until 2. I've just been downstairs to put the kettle on, only to find another delivery note shoved through the door - presumably when I failed to pick up on the psychic vibes he was sending and open the door he concluded that I wasn't in! So I've rung the office (english, english, does someone there speak english? - fortunately someone did) and told her in no uncertain words that if he doesn't ring the doorbell then I won't answer the door but that I'll be here all afternoon and I'd really like my parcel. I know the doorbell works, I've just tested it. gah!
    Still, won't it be lovely when it does come...we've had a double duvet on a king-size bed forever and it's just going to be luxurious to go to sleep without clamping the bedding under my chin to stop Cameron stealing it all when I'm asleep! I'm listening very carefully for any little doorbell chimes or mouse-like knocks at the door...

    Tuesday, February 11, 2003
    a grey and dreary day
    but that's just what we needed after a busy weekend. Hokkaido was great, and not as cold as we expected (above freezing mostly, which unfortunately meant that the sculptures were a bit melty!). We drove snowmobiles (I am Lara Croft) and slid down snow slides and ate huge warming meals and saw some incredible ice and snow sculptures and sang karaoke in our dressing gowns and saw a japanese pantomime and played in a ninja maze and I fell over and bruised my bottom (so not Lara Croft - but it was very srippely). It was fun! Photos to follow eventually.
    Today was a bank holiday. When I got up and went to yoga Tokyo was silent. The reason became clear when I went to Omotesando later on and saw a parade of six portable shrines being carried down the main road ('the champs-elysees of tokyo') accompanied by chanting and singing and much rowdiness.

    Friday, February 07, 2003
    Mr Tickle
    I swear, by the time we leave Japan my arms will be 2 inches longer. I don't seem to have learnt that not having a car means I have to limit what I buy and I've just knackered my back carrying bags and bags of shopping up the hill. My back was sore enough anyway after falling down the stairs Wednesday night (safety note: carrying a cat downstairs while wearing slippery slippers is not a good idea).
    Anyway. I went to the postoffice, made sure I got the same girl then smiled hopefully at her when I reached the front of the queue - luckily she did remember me so I didn't have to make my prepared speech about coming in on wednesday and my parcel is delivered here today (not grammatical but as close as I can get), and she just trotted off and got an enormous amazon box which looks very interesting but is disappointingly addressed to Cameron.
    Yesterday was quite exciting for me: not only did I get a reply from the company I did a test manuscript for telling me I write well and they think I'm fantastic and please please come and work for them (that's reading between the lines you understand!) but I discovered that the company I work for in the UK is opening a Tokyo office! Few details yet but that has to be good news. Sounds like I might be able to go in a couple of days a week and interact with real human people. Yay! Only now I have to worry about my visa. Why is it all so complicated?
    We're off to Hokkaido tomorrow so part of my shopping was some extremely attractive thermal undies, and I also got some heaty-up teabag things you can put in your shoes. And lots of film. I am very excited! In fact, I must go and pack all our winter woollies now.

    Part 2 of our New Zealand trip can now been seen here. There is still more to come but I got as far as I could before being overwhelmed by the sheer number of beautiful shots - our day at Franz-Josef might need a page to itself! I'll grit my teeth and start it next week.

    Thursday, February 06, 2003
    omedetou gozaimasu*!
    celebrations are in order; we both passed the JLPT!! Obviously this has not supplied me with the means to communicate with postoffice people - ludicrously, the three papers are vocabulary, which is mostly reading kanji, listening and reading/grammar with no speaking or generating original sentences at all - but has made me feel quite happy with all the hard work we did before Christmas. Now I just need to revise it a bit - most of it fell out of my head somewhere in New Zealand! Oh, and find someone to practise speaking to...(though I might soon have some exciting news on that front - watch this space.)
    *means 'congratulations'

    Wednesday, February 05, 2003
    10 hours of work and that trip to the postoffice have left me feeling quite cross-eyed and irritable, but the discovery of the cotton tree, the blog of an American (I think) expat in Korea, has cheered me up a bit. It's all in rhyme! That would just take me forever (is there a rhyme for postoffice? a-office b-office c-office...forfeits? I suppose there's parcel I don't think I'm a natural!) and it's very well done - go and have a look.

    Some days I just want to chuck it all in and go home. I had to go to the post office today and explain that they had tried to deliver a parcel last week but that we were out and that somehow we'd managed to lose the delivery note. The girl was very sweet and was trying very hard but my Japanese is just so abysmal that it took forever and was utterly frustrating not to mention humiliating to feel so stupid. If it hadn't been such a pathetic reaction I'd have burst into tears at the counter! Can you imagine how people in the UK would react if some poor Japanese woman came in burbling about "last week", "parcel" (I'm not even sure I had the right word for parcel) and "card forgotten"? I don't think we'd be that kind...Hopefully the parcel will be waiting at the post office for me on Friday, though I could have got it completely wrong. And even if it is, I'll have to go through the whole performance again, only with the added difficulty of trying to explain that it should be there. I can hardly wait!
    I am rubbish though, rather than inspiring me to study harder (or "at all") it just makes me wonder why I'm bothering since I am clearly never actually going to accomplish anything. And even if I did get to the point where I could have a conversation, who am I going to converse with? I find it hard to make friends at the best of times, Japanese people are not going to be any easier. And it's not like I ever go anywhere where I might meet people who would be kind and encourage me to speak my baby words...only our teacher, and Cameron, who is rapidly leaving me behind. Mainly because he works at it (I am very lazy) - and he mixes with Japanese people all day every day. He even knows some people who don't speak English!
    Oh, just ignore me. We watched Kes last night and I've been feeling depressed ever since. And my arms hurt.

    Tuesday, February 04, 2003
    I do have triceps.

    I feel quite exhausted this evening - I'm clearly not used to spending time with real human people any more (I don't find virtual people a strain at all!). First, I went to yoga. Since it was a small class and we all knew the routine, the teacher explained delightedly, we could go extra fast! She's into 'cat bows' at the moment, where (in theory) you start on all fours then, like press-ups, lower your upper body down and forward through your arms, keeping your elbows in, then come back up again. Slowly. What actually happens is I lower myself down carefully, collapse on my face, pick myself up, lower myself down carefully, collapse on my face...I just don't seem to have any triceps.
    After that, we made our way to omotesando to meet some friends for lunch, before going to the british embassy for a puppet show. It was very good actually; traditional kuruma ningyo puppet theatre (I think this link is actually the chap we saw), where the puppeteer sits on a small wheeled seat and operates the puppet - he grips the puppet's feet between his toes so it 'walks' and manipulates its arms and head (the facial expressions of the first puppet were amazing) with his hands, or, in some cases, with his head (in which case you kind of watched the expressions on his face and applied them to the puppet). I took some photos but they haven't come out too well - I was trying to be unobtrusive (failing, with my noisy camera and red-eye reduction feature that I couldn't turn off!) and the heavy red brocade backdrop wasn't very helpful either.
    one man and his puppet how it works a flamenco

    Left to right we have: a traditional dance routine (this was the one with the moving face); the puppeteer showing us how it works; a comical dance thing. The immaculate hairstyle and ear you can just see in the first photo belongs to the princess (nobody told me there'd be a princess, else I might have worn a smart suit like most of the other women there. Though the suited ones were all over 50 so I expect I was forgiven my scruffiness. Actually they should be grateful I changed out of my yoga outfit!)
    One more thing I'll say for the british embassy - as you'd expect they do a good cup of tea and lovely scones. Yum!

    Monday, February 03, 2003
    By the way, my dad explained frost to me and I was right! Frost happens when the moisture in the air sublimates (that's turns straight to ice without being liquid water first, fact fans) so no moisture=no frost. I can sleep easy in my bed now I know.
    I've had stacks of search referrals from this photo search recently, wonder what that's all about?
    Arg. Back to work.

    Oh dear, I didn't mean to leave stuff about tights up all weekend! I just got sidetracked by important things (eating, sleeping) and forgot what was here! Never mind, I'm back now. It was a quiet weekend all told; dinner with Eiji Friday night followed by drinks at a teeny little hole-in-the-wall bar; Saturday we shopped for snowboots but failed (end of season I think, only silly sizes were left) and bought waterproof trainer-y walking boot things instead. They'll be fine I think, I've checked the forecast and it should be about -5°C or so, not the -15 it was threatening. (Um. Does anyone know what I'm talking about? We're off to Hokkaido next weekend for the snow festival and to ride on snowmobiles and bathe in hot springs surrounded by snow and whatnot. Should be good!)
    Saturday night some friends came round to watch our lord of the rings DVD before part 2 comes out here - Cameron went and knackered his hamstring playing football and was very disgruntled because he had to come off at half time. It doesn't seem too bad, he's just hobbling slightly. Yesterday we both got our hair cut (isn't this riveting?).
    So. I was reading this month's Elle, and some beautician woman was saying that she asks new clients to bring in their skin products for her to look at, and that she'd been amazed when someone brought in 120 face creams. OK, I'm with her so far. She then went on to say "more than six or seven is too much". I am just such a scumbag, with my rub with a flannel and dollop of oil of ulay approach - I'm off to buy face creams! (But you know what? At least I know it should be too many not too much!)