Monday, June 30, 2003
oh dear...
We bought a 'top ten' book on Rome this weekend - better than a full-scale guidebook we thought as we'll only be there for 3 days. Number one on the list of things to avoid is "Rome in August"! Apparently the heat will be oppressive (I have to question whether the book was written by people who had experienced a Tokyo summer or not - I suspect we might find it less oppressive than some). Oh, and many of the shops and restaurants will be closed; and "you will see tourist Rome not real Rome". I think we can cope with all of that - it is only a short trip after all - apart, maybe, from the lack of anywhere to eat. How many restaurants will be closed? Presumably some must remain open? Does anyone know?

busy busy busy. Life in Tokyo happens at a faster pace than anywhere else; roll on August. We might be spending most of it on a plane but at least I'll get to sit down!
Having said that, we had a verrrrry relaaaaaxing weekend. Stayed in on Friday night with a pizza and wine; Saturday was spent pottering* about the house then out to the shops to buy headlamps and a backpack for next Saturday's Grand Assault on Fuji. have we taken leave of our senses? Yes, probably. I am mostly worried in case I can't make it and have to come down, then Cameron will feel he has to come with me and he'll be disappointed. I'm not so worried for myself, though it would be nice to say I'd done it. Anyway, headlamps and a backpack and the obligatory CDs.
Saturday night we went to a pub in Ebisu to say goodbye to Julia, who's leaving (left! today.) to teach in Spain. The pub had a comedy night which we were reluctant to go and see but eventually were talked into (when the young boys at the next table started to be annoying - how surprising can it be to meet British people in a British pub?). Julia even got up and told a few jokes (it was that sort of place.) Our favourite was Ken Suzuki. The man is either a comic genius OR a bit crap - I favour the former opinion though I have never before felt I was being rude when I laughed at a comedy club. Ken's style is impossible to accurately relay: try to think of Andy Kaufmann's "Eastern European Guy" but from Japan. He gave a long list of Things not to say to Canadian Guys: do not say to Canadian Guy you are from United not say to Canadian Guy what is there to do in Canada apart from winter not say to Canadian guy what is there to do in Canada apart from winter sports and American infinitum. His story of being told about segregation in America was hilarious, In America all the black people had to sit at the back...all the white people had to sit at the front....but where did all the yellow people sit?...probably in the middle...
Sunday, more pottering** - Cameron slept on the sofa and we didn't leave the house until dinner time.
*get it? Pottering? The real reason I haven't done much this weekend is that silly book!
**finished it on Sunday!
Parts of this post were brought to you by Cameron

Friday, June 27, 2003
summer hols
We've finally got the flights booked (now I have to start researching hotels, tourist attractions and transport and trying to organise people to see). We're leaving here on the 2nd August, to Singapore for a couple of days, back to blighty (Scotland-Chester-Surrey) for a fortnight, Rome for 3 days then Hanoi for just over a week with 24 hours in Hue. Phew! It wouldn't be so exhausting-sounding if we could fly direct from Rome to Hanoi, as I believed we could when we booked it; instead we have to change at both Zurich and Singapore! And we return to Tokyo via Singapore also, getting back on September 2nd. I feel knackered just thinking about it - but also very excited indeed!
Now, any top tips for any of these destinations? Apart from the UK, I think we've got that covered. Our plans for there are lie about at Cameron's parents' house being waited on hand and foot and recovering from our long flight and the ordeal of living in Japan. Go to Chester, see chums and hopefully do a couple of days' work. Go south, stay at my parents' house and get waited on hand and foot while we prepare for the flights ahead and the ordeal of sightseeing. Oh, and buy clothes and toiletries and teabags. Hopefully our parents' plans coincide at least approximately - in the waiting on hand and foot elements - with ours.

Thursday, June 26, 2003
Some people
Some people correspond so exactly to their stereotypes it's hard to know how to deal with them. A San Franciscan attended the cooking class today. She wanted to make the dish with chicken breast instead of leg (lower fat) and to take the skin off. She said that she doesn't really do cooking, and liked the dessert because it was low-fat - but thought it was too much effort and better to go out and buy one. She flustered the teacher with her loud perpetual questioning so she (the teacher) forgot to do things, which led to more intense questioning - a vicious circle. And she picked her chicken to pieces, peering at it suspiciously in case it wasn't cooked. (I was tempted to point out that it was leg not breast so was supposed to be brown not white, but bit my tongue.) Oh and when I remarked that I didn't do much Japanese cooking at home as we generally eat Western food when we're in - then explained when she asked that we ate things like pasta - she declared that she thought as I was British I would be cooking fish and chips every night!
The trouble with this expat life is that people keep leaving! You try so hard making friends - a yoga-class friend, a cooking-class friend - and then they all just up and move away. My cooking-class friend is Japanese so I had high hopes of her staying but she's gone to Hawaii. Today she gave me two sweet chopstick rests as a farewell present. I felt bad as I hadn't realised today was her last class so didn't have anything for her. I am a rubbish friend, no wonder they all go away.
Now excuse me, I have to go and gut a fish. One innovation that could do with making its way over here is the ready-gutted fish; when was the last time you bought guts in Tescos? It's a bit yuk.

more pictures
still from the girls' visit - today we have some arty(ish) ones. The first three were taken in Kamakura - note my avoidance of the ubiquitous hydrangea (I just don't get it! Cherry blossom, wisteria, irises and autumn leaves I can understand but hydrangeas leave me completely cold.) The fourth is the view out of the front of a yurikamome* train as it crosses the rainbow bridge to Daiba.
*do go and look at that link, it's so sweet
a water container Jizu statues in kamakura shoes the yurikamome line

Wednesday, June 25, 2003
some pictures

fuji-san and autumn leaves
as a special treat (?) because I've been quiet over the last few days. Little work coming in means little time in front of the computer. Let's see. Wednesday night our Japanese teacher arrived to find one of my projects spread out over the table; she expressed her amazement that I, *I*!, might do something with my hands when I'm a thinking sort of person. (How little she knows me. thinking?). Thursday morning I went cooking: here are some pictures. The one to your left is the view from my cookery teacher's window: Fuji isn't as clear as I've seen it but distinctly there. Beneath is (left to right) my teacher; Junko-san, the other Thursday regular-cum-teacher's assistant; serving the soup; and our meal. The egg things were a kind of japanese-style scotch egg, made with quail's eggs .
sensei Junko-san serving up yum yum
In the evening I went across to Odaiba to meet Cameron after work. I didn't have anything pressing on so I went across early to investigate the shopping precincts: wow! I was very excited. There's a Next!! I bought a completely impractical top, no idea when I'll wear it (pink, sequins, no sleeves) just because it was marked in my size, no translation required! I found some shoes I liked too but they were Japanese so I had the choice of small (=miniscule), medium (tiny) or large (might have fitted) rather than any sensible sizing scheme, so I decided there would be shops in New Zealand and left them. We had mexican food, including the largest margarita I have ever seen, certainly have ever drunk, served in what looked like a goldfish bowl. Yum (first mexican meal in over 8 months, no wonder it tasted delicious!).
Here's a picture of the view from Odaiba back to Tokyo (right side, Tokyo tower. Middle, Rainbow bridge. Left, Christmas tree!)
rainbow bridge

Then off to the cinema where they had a two-storey tree; we saw Harry Potter. Cameron said he didn't hate it, which is more than I had expected. Alan Rickman was fantastic of course.
And lastly, some autumn leaves gathered in a gutter, snapped this afternoon just because they were pretty.

If there's one thing guaranteed to make you paranoid (who, me?) it's living in a country where you can't speak the language. For instance, why, today, did everybody using the ATMs get a resounding arigato gozaimashita from the duo of security guards until it was my turn. I successfully withdrew my cash, turned to accept the ovation and was met with silence. (Just a queue of people looking quizzical.) I suppose they could have been too busy apprehending robbers or something but if so it was very inconspicuous.
And why does the vegetable man always smirk at me? I might be funny I admit, but surely not smirk-worthy. Today he tried for the first time to strike up a conversation (our exchanges usually go something have you got any spinach/red onion/lettuce? him: no). But, well, I've already told you about the problems of old-man Japanese. I know he said anato, meaning "you", and it was a question - and presumably it was a question about the two oversized courgettes I'd selected because he was waving them about at the same time. I asked him to speak slowly and simply but that just made him smirk and declare you don't understand!. I went home.

More cat stuff
We often remark on Jura's yoga ability (ever since smashing her leg she sleeps twisted up on her back) but Islay took the biscuit today. I was doing my yoga tape (because classes have stopped for the summer). Sitting in dandasana she came and licked my toes but then, when I got myself into cat pose (yes really!) - basically on all fours making a table - she jumped onto my back and lay down. I think she was jealous because I made such a good cat. It is not helpful.

Too much bejewelled, I think - walking through the station this afternoon I found myself mentally rearranging the random-laid floortiles to make rows of three!

Tuesday, June 24, 2003
rainy season
rain on a lotus leaf

I'm sorry it's been so dull here recently. What with frantic sightseeing with Claire and Caroline (and recovering in between) and the rainy season, I've just not been going out having adventures. Hence all the books'n'films witterings. If it wasn't for that, I'd be posting my innermost thoughts - something like this:
erg. fish breath, hair in my mouth*. is it morning? how early? early. go away islay. ok. am i working today? why does this computer take so long to get going? perhaps it needs a cup of tea. mmm, tea. god this kitchen looks like a bomb has hit. should really clean up. am i working? no. not again. what will i do today? I'll surf the net for a few hours, see if inspiration strikes. it's raining. too dark for june. tea. biscuit. email (in case someone has mailed in the 5 minutes I was away from my desk).
and I just don't think anyone, even my politest visitors, would find that interesting!
*Islay wakes me up by licking my nose and headbutting my chin. Quite revolting.
So. I thought I'd post some pictures as I haven't for ages. First, the girls' visit:
Claire and a monk off to kyoto making friends

It's so grey! Hot and muggy and grey; roll on summer. (The thing is, it's OK to wear little tops and shorts and stuff when the sun is out but somehow, if it's not, you have to be covered regardless of temperature. There are Rules.)
Writers' group this morning, think I ruffled a few feathers with my reluctance - refusal - to read. But you know me, the more I'm pushed the more stubborn I get. Besides, I have not yet written anything but shopping lists and drivel...
It just occurred to me last night, I was asking for your funny books without telling you mine. The ones we thought of were (mix of authors and books, I know):
Terry Pratchett (in small doses, well spread out)
Just William
Bill Bryson
Nancy Mitford - love in a cold climate and the other one
Douglas Adams - Hitchhikers, not Dirk Gently
Kate Atkinson
Cold comfort farm
Bill Drummond's 45
Marian Keyes
Bridget Jones
Ben Elton (sometimes)
To which, prompted by Adrian, I can add three men in a boat. And I'll be looking out for all your other suggestions. In the meantime, if it is possible that there are people remaining on the planet who don't know it, I'm sorry I haven't a clue is running a new series and has me holding the edge of my desk and gasping with laughter.

Monday, June 23, 2003
Today I worked! I'd forgotten how exciting it can be. (OK slight sarcasm lurking here). I managed to get it all done by lunchtime, when I went up to Kavitha's for a fabulous lunch. She talks a lot about how she can't cook, and now I know she lies. Then spent a veggy afternoon (it's rainy season here, what is a girl to do) watching 'Legally Blonde' before dashing home for our Japanese lesson. I feel quite exhausted, it's amazing how you get used to doing not much.
I don't have much more news. Claire and Caroline made it home safely though I haven't yet quizzed them on the state of their hangovers. A night at the hyotan always leads to a sore head so I suspect their flights were fairly unenjoyable.
Thank you for all your funny book suggestions! You've reminded me of a couple I'd forgotten and given me some new ones to try. I have to say, for me, Jasper Fforde fell into the amusing category rather than being laugh-out-loud, and much as I enjoy a good Pratchett, they are all the same aren't they. Still, keep the suggestions coming...

Sunday, June 22, 2003
Speaking of Harry Potter
You might enjoy this. (Link aquired from Pete.)

Two things happened yesterday. (And only two as we spent most of the day sleeping off the effects of our exuberant visitors, who left Saturday morning.) First, the postman woke us up at 9 am to deliver my Harry Potter. What a thick book! Aren't children put off by that? (seemingly not). I think it made it to me about an hour after release, which is pretty impressive - I hadn't expected it to get here for a couple of weeks at least. Secondly, Rahul from London emailed to ask permission to submit this. It's one of Cameron's photos from last year's Fuji rock festival and he's photoshopped it into art.
Today Cameron is going to play football and I have my readers' group. We read Roald Dahl's my uncle oswald because somebody wanted something funny but (it's probably just me) it didn't make me laugh at all - or not until I started to explain the plot to Cameron, when it did make me giggle. So I've been trying to think of books that really are laugh-out-loud funny - can anyone help with suggestions?

Thursday, June 19, 2003
I just saw a great film: The cat's meow. Judging from its miniscule web presence it seems to have been out in the rest of the world months if not years ago but if you haven't seen it (because it's small and obscure - we had to go to a tiny 4th-floor cinema near the imperial palace) then go! go! Charlestons, flapper frocks, fabulous 20s music, murder and Eddie Izzard as Charlie Chaplin; what else could one ask from a film?

Redundancies and gloom back in the UK. I'm well out of the way over here (even if I am work-free). Steamy and hot (but blue skies) here today and the girls have gone to Nikko. I don't know how they keep up the pace, we saw virtually every temple in Kamakura yesterday having started at 5.45 am to see the fish market (which was actually well worth getting up for). Then karaokeing until 12.30 again last night!
I am going for a nice gentle cooking class then to the pictures, where I might fall asleep.

Monday, June 16, 2003
a weekend in hell
Friday we flew to Kyushu, managed the bus from the airport no trouble, then found a taxi to take us to our ryokan from the bus stop. We only wanted to drop off our bags but when we turned around to get back in the same taxi the driver wasn't having any of it and insisted we get a bus! Our wanting to go to the station (because it was central and had a tourist information centre) was seen as very eccentric but we eventually communicated that no, we weren't actually going anywhere by train, and that was deemed acceptable. The taxi driver was definitely not going to take us so the ryokan lady finally took us next door to the bus station.
Our pasta lunch at the station was accompanied by the very slow conversation of the man at the next table, who clearly wanted to chat but lacked the ability. Every five or so minutes he would drag another gambit from the back of his mind (in Japanese, mind, we weren't making the poor chap speak English): Toshi (which I eventually sussed was his name), is that your wife?, is Japan good? and similar pearls.
The tourist office was super-helpful, providing reams of leaflets about Beppu and environs. We decided to spend the afternoon at the Takasakiyama monkey park. Well, we expected a few monkeys. There were hundreds. Thousands! Tiny few-day-old babies clinging to their mothers' bottoms and trying not to be sat on; slightly bigger babies taking their first tentative crawls; toddlers, adolescents and big greying ones. When we arrived there were a few hundred sitting about, grooming each other and splashing in puddles. We had wandered off to one side when one of the attendants pointed to the monkey sitting nearby: B group then to another that had just appeared: C group. All of a sudden, C group came streaming down the hillside. 800-odd monkeys, all wanting their seeds and sweet potatoes. One disturbed monkey licked a concrete pillar and another had such badly damaged hands I'm sure it wouldn't have survived if they weren't being artificially fed.
The bus back to the ryokan dropped us off in a totally random location but, wandering the streets, we saw Caroline and Claire waving from the balcony. So much for my carefully rehearsed speech about my friends coming later and how the okasan should call me when they arrived - and a good job they were resourceful with a phrasebook! Apparently they'd been shown hand-made dolls and everything.
Saturday it rained. We started the day at the hyotan onsen. First, a sand bath - burying ourselves in hot sand and sweating it out. Quite pleasant, very relaxing, disgusting when you stood up and realised that all that sweat had firmly stuck the sand to you. However did it get so engrained? Then into the watery section, hot baths, cool(er) baths, outdoor baths and steam rooms. A funny thing about this country, they make no attempt to make things look nice. So there we were, relaxing in the bath, massaging our feet on pebbles and our backs under waterfalls, all the while gazing at rusty pipes and a mouldy corrugated-plastic roof. The outside bath was pretty though: it had a waterfall, and it was lovely to steam while the rain gently fell.
From there, we went to Hell. Beppu has nine hells (jigoku), hot springs for looking at rather than bathing in. Well, the guidebook warned it would be tackily touristy but somehow we hadn't expected it to be quite so spoilt. There were some fascinating boiling mud pools and mineral pools of varying colours, some of which erupted in response to a puff of cigarette smoke, but the themes imposed were utterly ridiculous. The worst were yama-jigoku and oniyama-jigoku. The former truly was hell for its inmates, as it involved a 'zoo': animals in far-too-small cement and concrete enclosures, being fed by the visitors. Cameron told off a couple for feeding biscuits to the elephant before we realised that was part of the attraction. Poor thing. And poor hippo, reduced to begging for small potatoes from elderly couples. We didn't stay long. The oniyama hell was paired with small cement enclosures of crocodiles and alligators: not my favourite animals by any means but even though they are not cute I wouldn't wish such an existence on them.
On our way to the final hell (that of the blood-pond - so called because of the crimson water - where we simmered our feet to a well-done hue in a bath of pH2) we met an old man with no teeth, his yukata hanging off his skinny chest. It is hard enough to understand old-man Japanese when they have a full set of teeth and make allowances for linguistic ignorance, but this one was well-nigh impossible. Not to be deterred, he held forth for a good ten minutes, spurred on by my uncomprehendingly polite smile and Cameron's enthusiastic nods every time he deciphered a word! We think he knew the head of a company who built a ship for some battle, and that England and Japan are friends. And we also think he said that he had no teeth, which was quite superfluous. But it could have been something else entirely.
By this point we'd had enough. Claire and Caroline headed off to see the monkeys while Cameron and I hopped in a taxi back to the ryokan. I fell asleep in my chair and when I woke up I found him asleep in his futon! I think the morning's bath had been just a little too relaxing. Three or more baths a day are de rigeur in Beppu so we fitted in another soak before dinner, by now being entirely used to bathing together (Claire observed it's not very english, is it - we don't do naked things!). Dinner included enormous snail-like shellfish (they just don't look like food to me) and was accompanied by the far-off strained strains of karaoke as there was a doll-making party downstairs.
Sunday began with a western breakfast, presumably because we hadn't enthusiastically consumed sufficient rice and seaweed the day before - I didn't like to tell her I'm really not a breakfast person so struggled manfully with my ham and fried eggs. The girls polished theirs off though, cleanest plates I've seen yet. We decided to head to Usuki, which warranted two small paragraphs in one guidebook and nothing at all in the other. What a nice little town! Not only does it have these stone buddhas from around the 14th century - unusual enough in a country plagued with fire, earthquake, typhoons and war and seemingly lacking any desire to preserve the old - but the world's chattiest taxi driver took us there. I don't think he drew breath for the entire 15-minute ride and once again was completely undeterred by our minimal comprehension. (I did peer out of the window on the correct side when directed, but was not at all sure what I was supposed to be looking at.) At the top of the hill above the buddhas was a sign 'no more buddhas from here', which I felt could have been located more usefully at the bottom of the hill (I used the exercise to justify an afternoon visit to Mr Donut!). Across the rice fields there was an extraordinary old temple, unfortunately undergoing renovation. Its guardian figures were buried to their waists following a flood some hundreds of years ago, which allowed an unusally close view of their snarling, eroded faces. We saw a small orange crab scuttling through the grass but luckily no snakes despite the warning signs. And four old chairs were set in a row beside a sandy square, obviously for watching something - croquet? The town itself had streets of lovely old buildings (rather incongruously piping jazz from the tannoys). We could have spent hours longer there, exploring the old temples and gardens, the castle, the rocky coast and the parks. The guidebooks once again have it wrong, though quiet and empty of tourists is never a bad thing.
Photos to follow soon.

I'll be back soon with an account of our weekend but for now I want to refer you to a couple of new additions to my blogroll: Karla's very funny confessions... - I seem to be making a small collection of blogs I like from Japan - and Claire's brand-new blog, so new I don't know what to call it (Claire: puss or Claire and Alex?) It is so new I don't yet know what she's going to be writing about but she's one of my oldest friends (meaning I've known her forever, not that she's aged) so of course she gets a link.

Thursday, June 12, 2003
While we're away, go and look at journeywoman, Kavitha's new blog. She lives near us and is a real (trained, published, proper!) writer and it's very good. If you go, be sure to leave her a comment (and don't forget to come back here on Monday...)

Sorry for the lack of posts: my super-energetic visitors have been keeping me occupied. Yesterday we were up at 6 in order to visit Tsukiji fish market...which was shut! This is apparently absolutely unheard of and nobody seems to have an explanation - a man there said they were on holiday and I didn't think (it was quite early for mental function) to ask him why. From there we decided to go to the sumo-stable area in the hope of seeing an early morning training session, but that failed too as the guidebooks were just too vague. We had coffee and toast and reassessed, and by mid-morning the day was back on course. Shinjuku for the department stores, high-rise views, a park (where we saw turtles) and some sushi. And we saw two sumo wrestlers at the station so ticked them off the List! Harajuku for the Meiji shrine (via the iris garden which was looking very pretty and packed full of old ladies in hats and men with very long lenses - and a sweet couple who wanted to know the English for waterlily), a cup of tea and a scone (very traditional) and the oriental bazaar.
This morning was an early start again as I took them to Tokyo station for their trip to Kyoto. I think the rainy season started - or anyway it was very wet; the kind of fine rain that Tokyo does so well at this time of year and that leaves you thoroughly soaked. I then headed to a coffee shop, where I had a good read and a croissant before the 'writers group' turned up. This is a spin-off from the monthly readers group: one lady (hello Tamako!) wants support in getting her novel underway; others mainly want to chat about writing. I'm just along for the ride. Until a month or so ago I'd never thought about writing anything (apart from that thesis I suppose) and I'm quite concious that 1. I don't know what to write, 2. I'm just doing it because I'm a bored housewife, not from any burning desire to Tell My Story, and 3. I was rubbish at creative writing - creative anything - at school, the last time I tried anything similar. Still, I enjoyed today's meeting and we bored housewives have to have hobbies in which to dabble. If I wasn't at the writers group I expect I'd have to have an affair with the pool boy or play hide and seek with my gin bottles around the house!
We did some writing exercises (mine have gone firmly in the bin) and I was amazed by the quality of writing and interesting ideas that the others came up with just in 5 minutes of scrawling. It then moved onto general chat about essays and short stories versus novels and whatnot and all in all was an enjoyable morning. I was accused of being quiet again though! What do they expect?! This afternoon I was reading a book about creativity that claimed people who are suppressing theirs (as I am. Probably. Unless I just have none which is entirely possible too) often work in related fields, eg as editors when they want to write but feel they can't. Interesting.
I have a deep-seated belief in talent. I think everyone has one hidden deep down and it just needs to be found - part of this is my quest to find mine. I'm sure I have one, something I can do better than other people, and wouldn't it be awful to never discover what it was? Though I sincerely hope it's not snake-charming or bog-snorkelling or, I don't know, wrestling! Novel-writing would be a nice talent to have I think. I suspect mine will be something really dull, judging by the things I have found so far to be good at (spelling, passing exams. I hope, if I have a Talent, it is something far less prosaic, something exotic and interesting. Try telling people "I can spell" and watch the room clear!)
Hmm. The thing with the writing exercises, I have got used to putting down anything that comes into my head, hence this overly long post about nothing much. Back to tourism, scenery and amusing anecdotes about the cats next week, folks. We're off to Beppu tomorrow for the weekend so don't expect another update before Monday but I'll be back then with some pictures.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003
Caroline and Claire are super-tourists. Not a hint of jetlag, yesterday we were out of the house by 9.15, ready to fit into one day what has taken all normal visitors two! Tokyo tower, hama-rikyu garden, river trip, asakusa temple, ueno market, ueno park, then I pleaded a Japanese lesson and crawled home, leaving them to do ginza on their own. In the evening we went to Shibuya for dinner then Cameron ran away while we intended to wander about taking a few snaps and soaking up the atmosphere before following him home. Come 12.30 we were singing I will survive at the tops of our voices in a karaoke booth.
tokyo tower torii in ueno park sing!
This morning I packed them off to Hakone - I was a bit concerned as I spotted them looking confused on the platform as my train pulled away but they weren't there when I got home so I presume they found an appropriate train. I went to yoga, sushi lunch then to see Chicago again. I think it's even better the second time! And I promised their tea would be on the table when they got home so I suppose I'd better go do something about that now.

Sunday, June 08, 2003
Islay brought us in a little lizard last night! She was very pleased with herself; less so when she was shut in the toilet while we rescued it. It must be the season because it looked just like this one, only it was brown and certainly didn't fly. And it had a tail (so not so much like it at all). I wonder if Jessie had had a few little Saturday-night drinkies?

Friday, June 06, 2003
I've worked today! Blimey, shock horror, etc. It took me at least 10 minutes to excavate my desk from the pile of debris it has accumulated over the past couple of months, and somebody had moved my favourite red pen.
The novelty wore off fairly quickly - by 11.30 I was back to checking email, gazing at the sunshine out of my window and wishing it was all over! But I feel quite virtuous now. I also went to the gym; see what happens when you send me stuff to do? It opens a whole can of activity worms. I've not lazed about one bit today.
In the post office sending a parcel. Hon to shashin desu I said when asked what was in it, only to watch the man write on the customs form in a beautiful copperplate hand 'books and photos'. I don't know why I bother! He also wanted to know whether there was a letter inside - I said not as if there is, it goes at a higher rate (don't ask.) And there wasn't a letter as such, more a note. On the way back I started to wonder whether I had actually said that there was no letter, or whether I'd told him there was one - yeses and nos are quite confusing here, and I don't know enough verbs to bypass them and construct a positive or negative sentence (though in this case I probably could have, given some notice and 10 minutes to prepare myself). They do 'yes we have no bananas' so I might have said no, there is no letter but equally might have said no, there is a letter. Bah!

Smile is best makeup
A nice sentiment but I can't help wondering what it is advertising. It seems to be a beauty place but that doesn't make much sense. A dentist?

Thursday, June 05, 2003
Earworms and exhibitions
Have you got an earworm at the moment? What is it? I have, 3 days now (ever since I bought a Suzanne Vega compilation) and it is getting on my nerves. It's a bizarre medley of Ms Vega's Marlene on the wall and Marillion's Kayleigh - for some reason my brain short-circuits to link the two. It goes marlene watches from the wall/dawn escapes from moonwashed college halls/her mocking smile says it all/you never understood I had to go before ditching marlene altogether for the marillion chorus. Over and over and over and over. One song or the other I could probably cope with, but 3 days of this is driving me mad.
Busy being unemployed again today. Cooking this morning: the standard class (sushi, soup and salad) followed by an extra class to learn gyoza as I've been asking for ages. Then spent the rest of the day carrying a bagful of gyoza; lovely smell but mildly inconvenient!
Met Alison to show her the secondhand bookshop as she hadn't been, so we both ended up with armfuls of books. We then went (via the library because my bag wasn't quite heavy enough) to Aoyama to see this photography exhibition, which was very interesting. The photos were good but I was fascinated by the different mountings (one was displayed in a felt venus fly-trap, another in a plastic box filled with liquid and sparkles which floated down when the box was rotated). I suppose that's what makes these people artists rather than workaday snappers.
I finally made it home, up the hill with my heavy bags. My normal 'don't leave home without it bag' (containing all the essentials plus 800 pages of Anthony Trollope, just in case I should be left alone for a minute or two), a bag of gyoza, a punnet of raspberries a man was selling on the street, two sets of photos and six new books. My arms feel longer than they probably should be, but how nice! My house had been cleaned when I got home. I do have a good life.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003
Or friendly, yes. Satsukis maybe attract lonely or friendly men.
My dad didn't like the implication below!

Today I went to a satsuki exhibition in Ueno park. This was at my dad's behest, because he is quite a fan - I tried to go last year but failed, despite wandering around the park for an afternoon. (I didn't then know that it was beside the lake on the other side of the road). Anyway, off I went to Ueno; no exhibition. The show is notoriously secretive anyway, advertised only as 'early June' and you have to know where to look for the ads in the first place, so after mooching about in the rain for 20 or so minutes (watching a woman walking a cat on a lead) I decided to head home...then spotted a poster on a wall that looked like it might have satsuki pictures on...which turned out to be hung on the end of a camouflaged display unit, stuffed full of satsukis! The people there seemed very surprised to have a western visitor, and no wonder.
So surprised, in fact, they wanted to speak to me.
Man 1: where are you from? me: england. man 1: beckham. me: yes.
Man 2: Are you a teacher or a student? me: no, neither. man 2: ah so you are a tourist (when I explained that my husband worked here he started talking about how Western companies cannot understand Japan and then somehow veered into no! you don't understand! Japanese women are smart! and it took me a good while to extricate myself. sigh.)
Another old man talked to me for at least 10 minutes about how Western women should be with Japanese men so (I think) the cultures can communicate and understand each other. Oh, and if a Western woman came here (to the park) and set up a business it would be a success and she could go home and tell everyone how easy Japan is. And yet another nice man explained the prize-winning plants to me in terms of presidents and prime ministers, which was helpful. But I think satsukis maybe attract some lonely men. The plants *were* very lovely and the nice lady at the bookstall gave me a free poster so all in all a success, I think. And nice to be a minor celebrity, if only for half an hour.
I ended up in starbucks for an hour yesterday morning (having dropped Martyn off at the station and not having time to go home before yoga) so I decided to write my 4 pages. I think it's supposed to be done immediately you wake up but it was close enough. How hard! I'd spewed the entire content of my brain within the first page and a half. I think the solution is a notebook with smaller pages.
(Sorry, I haven't mentioned that before, have I. Author-boy Adrian, in an email about writing a novel, suggested this book and in particular an exercise where you write 4 pages - anything, nothing - every morning when you wake up. To get used to the idea of writing and to stimulate thought and creativity and stuff like that. I thought I might give it a go, but it was hard! I don't do creative, I'm a scientist...)

Tuesday, June 03, 2003
Cameron's ex-boss and good friend Ken died yesterday, which has made all the trivial witterings I had ready in my head, about Friday's film and Saturday's book group and Martyn (Amy's dad) coming to visit, seem, well, trivial. Normal service will resume tomorrow.