Sunday, November 30, 2003
A new location
I've just made my first post over at lost in transit, a communal blog by expats all round the world. I felt strangely nervous before doing so; in fact, I've been fretting all week about what it should be - it has to be good! - before eventually deciding just to bite the bullet and post. Anything. It's an interesting blog: do go back through the archives sometime when you have a spare hour or so.

Friday, November 28, 2003
Sweet (look at me today, Miss Prolific!). My dad says that my story about the taiko last night reminded him of going to see Jesus Christ Superstar at the cinema when I was on my way - mum was most uncomfortable!

OK I'm back and feeling much better, ready for a small rant about the bank. Before that though, while we're on the subject of diet, bread's good for you, right (it must = carbohydrate and some sort of vitamin or mineral)? Only I just ate 3/4 of a (large) loaf of bread. I hadn't eaten a morsel since lunchtime and it was just so soft and freshly baked and delicious. I feel a bit full now though.
So, all I wanted to do was transfer some funds back to the UK (because there is zero interest here and we have a mortgage at home) and some to Thailand to pay for our holiday. I remembered from bitter experience that I am not allowed to transfer money out of the country (though I can do internal transfers so anyone with an ounce of nous intent on siphoning off their husband's money can surely just transfer internally to an account in their own name - or that of an accomplice - then transfer overseas from there? I don't know) so I came armed with a 'power of attorney' form all filled in (by me, naturally) and signed by Cameron as well as the two ready-prepared transfer forms. Signed by Cameron.
Firstly, she told me (which I'd forgotten) that she would have to call Cameron to make sure it was OK (why did we fill in the forms?) Ok, I said, but he's out of the office today so you'll have to call his mobile (this is where your accomplice comes in, should you be siphoning). This, slightly surprisingly, was OK so I found his number and gave it to her. Much palaver involving transferring money to Thailand (which you're not allowed to do in Euros even if the bill you are paying is). Eventually we agreed on US dollars as a suitable currency - now remember this bit, it's important later! - so I changed the power of attorney form to show the appropriate amount to transfer. In front of the girl. While this was going on she was trying to ring him but getting no reply
When I suggested we transfer less back to the UK (this was the transfer for which permission was required), just the total I am allowed to do without a phonecall, that wasn't permissable because, you see, it said 6 on the form not 5. Never mind the fact that I myself had written that 6 there not 15 minutes before when I checked the account balance! And just changed the other bit of the form to agree with the transfer I was making! Fortunately Cameron eventually picked up his phone - she asked whether that was Mr Watson and his affirmative reply was sufficient security check - and said that it was OK for me to make the transfers. She had to ask him every single question she had already asked me; it wasn't just a matter of getting his permission but ensuring I was making the correct decisions about, eg, commission fees and currencies, because who knows what I might have said.
On the bright side, a nice lady offered me her seat! But she was American and a newish mum, so of course she did. None of those young healthy Japanese men stood up. And the whole process only took 45 minutes, which is pretty good. I'd mentally allowed an hour before getting Impatient.
Then I sat in Starbucks for a couple of hours editing a pig of a manuscript (though I must confess I enjoy the piggy ones, it's the routine easy ones that bore me witless) before heading to a tour of a maternity hosital. The good outcome of that was that I've decided I definitely would prefer to have the baby in a midwife clinic than a hospital - I just need to get booked in!
And then I whizzed to the supermarket to pick up some chilled soup (spiced pumpkin, yum) for my tea, it being far too late to consider cooking. The fruitcake behind me in the queue peered closely at my basket the whole time we were queuing before eventually asking me what "that" was, he'd never seen anything like it before. To which I replied, it's soup. He then quizzed me on what you do with it (heat it up in a saucepan or the microwave, no you don't need boiling water), what it tasted like (it's nice) and which aisle it was in (the chilled one) before declaring he would be back tomorrow to buy some and was it British because I sound British like his brother-in-law (no, it's Australian but yes, I am) and that whatever it was he was buying (I didn't examine his basket too closely) was American and you couldn't get it anywhere else but that supermarket. I ran. He was then in the ticket queue next to me at the station so I went and hid in the loo, I'm ashamed to say, while the first train left. He's probably just lonely.

I have reached the point in my week where Tokyo is full of stupid people being deliberately obstructive. And I'm fed up to here (quite high) of pregnant women beating themselves up because they had a glass of wine/some chocolate buttons/half a packet of crisps (all real examples). And as for the woman who posted to one of the messge boards claiming that when she "has" to have chocolate she has a handful of cocopops, all I can say is: get a grip!
Gah. I need a nice long bubble bath, a glass of red wine (=grapes=fruit=healthy) and a large amount of chocolate (=beans=healthy OR = calcium=healthy, take your pick. I like both) and/or ice cream (=dairy=healthy). I am a Bad Person.

Thursday, November 27, 2003
The drumming was fantastic: very exciting and visually attractive too. Only I have seldom, if ever, been quite so uncomfortable - my neck pain, coupled with the very hard and slightly too small seat (what is it with Japanese theatres, are they worried people will fall asleep if they are allowed a soft cushion?) and the almost complete lack of leg-room all conspired to have me gingerly shifting position every couple of minutes. Oh and my internal organs all received a good kicking throughout: this child either really loves or really hates the sound of the taiko drum - I don't suppose we'll know which for some time yet.
Having said that: the drumming! The drummers were incredibly muscly without an inch of fat on them (have a click about on their website, I can't link the pictures because it's all frames); and they had to be to keep up the rhythm for so long. At one point they were sitting on the floor, leaning backwards at about a 45-degree angle and drumming away, supported by their stomach muscles. Ow! And it wasn't just drumming, there were some dancing (actually slowly walking) girls, some twangy things, a piece played on clave-like sticks and the odd bit of singing (though I prefer the word vocalisation to describe it).
They're going to Europe next year and it's definitely worth going to see if you can.
In other news, my neck is feeling a bit better today so I am much more cheerful. I have nearly the full range of vertical motion back and can manage about 60 degrees horizontally as long as it is slow. Feeling tired though: Cameron was up at 4.30 this morning to go to Osaka for a meeting.

All I did was turn over in bed; something went twang! in my neck and now I can hardly move unless I shuffle chin to chest. Coupled with hours and hours lying awake last night I am not on tip-top form, in fact I have skipped taiko. But we are going to the kodo drummers tonight to see some real taiko, which I'm quite excited about.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003
Interesting. Lawson is a combini, a convenience store, and just the place to go if you are in the need of high-additive brightly coloured food. (I admit I do sometimes pop in for a 'ready meal' or as close as you get in Japan)

For Gap, who have picked up on my oft-repeated request and started to stock low-rise tights.

Ok since you asked
This is hello kitty world. There was loads of hello kitty tat in the shops but the place itself was not that kitty-y. It was decked out like a giant tree thing and I have to say we didn't really know what was going on. There was a stage by the big tree with an incredibly perky girl apparently conducting a raffle with the aid of a giant rabbit, watched by heaps of tiny children. There was a kind of 'cute animals do the baking' display with animatronic fluffy toys but honestly it must have been 20 years old so the movements were kind of jerky. Like disney from the 50s (I think I'm thinking of the bit in Snow White where the woodland animals help with the housework). And a display about electricity with cute batteries singing 'imagination' and a rabbit, bizarrely. Oh and another rabbit strapped to a table with a headset on, like Frankenstein's monster bunny - but we didn't see that one move. And of course we skipped kitty's house for its 70-minute queue but I was quite disappointed as that would have been the highlight for me. We did go and watch a 3d film (in Japanese) about, um, some pirates I think. Cameron got to sit in a moving chair but we expectant mums and short kids had to sit still. The 3d was quite good though they pumped in a 'cherry blossom' aroma at the end which was nauseating. I'm glad we went! But felt quite disappointed not to see her house (I might go back in the week sometime when it's quiet...)
Oh and there was a 'grown ups' shop upstairs selling, amongst other things, hello kitty toilet-seat covers and bras. Yes really.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003
It was a bank holiday weekend so yesterday we went to the John Lennon museum in Saitama. Cameron has been wanting to go for some time and with our recent Beatles DVD-fest (8 of them!) I was fairly interested too. I spent most of it feeling sorry for his first wife and son who were effectively ignored (OK, Yoko did pay to set up the museum - I think - or at least help towards it, but still. Seems unfair). I did enjoy his sketches from when he was trying to learn Japanese.
Sunday we went out to Hello Kitty world! Where we were both a little disappointed at the lack of pinkness and kitsch. We did opt out of the 70-minute queue for Kitty's house so perhaps the failing was ours. And the kiddies seemed to be enjoying themselves which is, I suppose, who it's aimed at.
Saturday was so beautiful (unlike today which is cold and disgustingly wet) we walked through Yoyogi Park to Omotesando, did a spot of shopping and treated ourselves to hot chocolate and cake, then walked all the way home again. We hit the local shops after 5 so stopped off for dinner at the West Park Cafe, where I gorged myself on delicious rotisserie chicken with herb butter. The table next to us was occupied by five extremely well-behaved 5 ('and a half') year old girls, having dinner before a sleepover. The main topic of conversation was who should sleep where with some giggling over boys - it seems girls never change. One poor little mite, Australian, declared that of course she was supporting Australia in the rugby before having to backpedal rapidly to agree with her friends, all of whom were at least half english. Bless.
And on the other side of the restaurant (I do like to people-watch) a girl wept silently and decorously into her napkin. Much specuation: was her boyfriend taking her out to dinner for the last time before going to war? Was she finishing with him to spare him the heartache of finding out she had consumption? (Ok my imagination tends toward the victorian) Intriguing. And then we came home and watched the rugby and even I got quite excited. And Cameron for once wasn't supporting the opposition so we didn't have to fall out. Which was nice.

Monday, November 24, 2003
I think I might have been terribly rude last week. Thursday night we were at the Hyotan (it's a pub) and one of the staff, in visiting on her night off, came over to say hello because we haven't seen her for ages. She then dished me up a plate of food 'good for baby' but I'm afraid I couldn't eat it and had one piece then tried to pass it over to someone, anyone, else. Well, would you want cold thin-sliced pigs ears?

Saturday, November 22, 2003
Midwife madness
I must remember to ask my friend Mia-the-midwife if random lifestyle advice is a proclivity of midwives everywhere or a peculiarity of Japan. I've met two this week in my quest to find a place to have the baby. Midwife One told me that I should eat lots of rice - in fact, to eat a full Japanese meal (meat, fish, veg, rice) three times a day - and never wear a bra, and that I must walk briskly for 1 1/2 hours every day. Clearly this is not going to happen: who has time to slot an extra 90 minutes into their day? Which brings me neatly to Midwife Two, who says I should go to bed at 10 every night and get up at 6 (I made the mistake of saying I usually get up around 8 and then had to laugh at the expression of horror on her face). Also, I should eat lots of vegetables but nothing sweet, not even fruit, and definitely no dairy. (Is this why they have so much osteoporosis here I wonder.) She also runs a singing class to teach voice control, which I think must be something to do with breathing. Oh and, after struggling for some time for the word, she seemed to say that I myself should be doing lots of moxibustion: this is a kind of aromatherapy where they burn herbs, often performed to try and turn a breech baby and, I would have thought, not particularly suited to amateur dabbling in the home.
So I expect I'll do what I usually do and ignore them all.

Thursday, November 20, 2003
you know when you are so tired and stressed and overwhelmed you just want to curl up in a small ball and howl?
I'll blog again when I've regained some equilibrium

Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Busy busy busy
And utterly exhausted: did somebody say something about taking it easy during pregnancy?
Yesterday morning was the pregnancy group, to which I cycled as it was quite close to home. Came home via so many shops I had to push my bike as the basket was so full I was scared of stuff dropping out (or of overbalancing). Then in the evening I had to make a trek all the way across Tokyo to pick up a super-bargain pushchair. Cameron is having a busy worky week: we haven't seen each other to have a conversation (I've been asleep before he gets home and still asleep when he leaves!) since Sunday night and don't expect to do so until Saturday morning though there is a small chance he might get home before bedtime tonight. Which would be nice.
Today I took some work to starbucks for breakfast, just for a change of scene, then met some friends to go to a van Gogh exhibition, so I have sunflowers on my mind now. The exhibition was quite disappointing - they had a few vGs, which were lovely, but they had filled the gallery with other random paintings of flowers, most of which were not very exciting. We did see some Monet waterlilies but when we got to the painting of 'woman reading next to van Gogh's sunflowers', ie a painting of the painting we'd gone to see, that was really too much.
So we went for lunch in an excrutiatingly noisy Italian restaurant - so noisy we gave up and went elsewhere for coffee then sat and chatted for hours. Quick trip to the secondhand bookshop before going for a much-needed and long-overdue haircut then home to finish off the work. And now I am going to have a long soak inthe bath.

Monday, November 17, 2003
Yesterday was such a beautiful day (breezy but warm, clear blue skies) that after having breakfast on the patio (thus beating last year's record we think - and last year we were in fleeces not T-shirts) we decided to have a walk to Shimokitazawa. It's only about 15 minutes from here but a different world from central Tokyo, with small recycle (secondhand) shops, funky record shops, gorgeous asian furniture and some lovely bars and restaurants. We eventually settled on rotating sushi for lunch, followed by a doughnut just for something sweet. And we were very restrained, buying nothing but well-reduced timtams (half the price of the international supermarket!). We did go into a baby clothes shop but I just get too confused by the sizes. How big are they when they come out? How fast do they grow? (Why does Gap sell clothes to fit up to 3 kg and then 5-7 kg: what do they wear at 4 kg?) Cameron suggested we ask people to send baby clothes for Christmas, which is probably sensible as we do need them, but doesn't seem right somehow. And, of course, we had to go into one of the two dog clothes shops, where we giggled at the 20-something man holding up coats for size against the ridiculous bundle of fluff under his arm and the middle-aged ladies carefully selecting dog biscuits from the counter using tongs as you might in a bakery. We then came out and gave abuse to a naked dog walking down the street: has it no shame?

Flicking through the channels last night waiting for Frost to start, we came across a travel show about England. The American girl was trying to do an 'off the beaten track' tour, travelling by barge (London-Yorkshire in no time at all and apparently for just a few dollars), hotel-bus and steam train, and generally it was quite a nice programme and I felt quite homesick. The bit we enjoyed most though was when she wandered into a kebab shop in Liverpool, turned to the camera and said that one of the nicest things about England was the way you could go into any fast-food shop, even if it looks like nothing (gestures to formica counter and tatty menu), and you would always get something nice to eat. She the asked the chap what he recommended (actually she asked for 'something really yummy') and came away with a tray of chips and curry sauce! (We were also laughing because, to us, that's one of the nice things about Japan, the way you can go into frankly grotty-looking establishments and get good food.)

Sunday, November 16, 2003
Neil Young is fantastic, and I know because we saw him last night. I was a bit unsure beforehand because his latest album is...well, a bit strange. It's a series of songs, not quite a rock opera (maybe a concept album?), about a fictional family - the Greens - living in a fictional town - Greendale - and he seems to have thought out all the family history far beyond what appears in the songs. It might make me a bad person but generally when we see people live I like them to do all the old favourites, I'm never that keen to hear new songs (I also like to buy greatest hits compilations). Anyway, we knew the first half of the show ('act 1') was going to be Greendale. Well it was brilliant! He told little stories about the family between each song then, as he was singing, actors acted out the lyrics and mimed along. In a real am-dram way (pointing to their eyes when they see stuff, to the floor when they were talking about being here). I think all bands should be encouraged to interpret their music this way as it gave a whole new wonderful dimension to the stage show. My personal favourite bit was the finale where, like a real musical, all the cast appeared on stage to dance and clap and sing. The sea captain in his waterproofs alongside old grandpa (who, incidentally, was the roady too) and grandma; the paperboy and the pub band (playing along on broomsticks); the environmental activist and the TV journalists. And a stage-full of extraordinarily enthusiastic japanese dancers, clapping and gurning for all it was worth. Act 2 was quite humdrum after that: Neil Young being Neil Young, Crazy Horse being Crazy Horse. And not being the Neil Young I like best either, it was very rock and roll with extended guitar nonsense. It all got a bit King Crimson at one point when a keyboard descended from the heavens on wings of a dove (or an angel, it was hard to tell) but then perked up again when they broke into 'like a hurricane'. At which point the stage crew pushed the big wind machine out further onto the stage. Cameron thinks it might have been coincidence as apparently it was running for ventilation all the way through; I maintain it was part of the literal interpretation tradition begun in the first half.

Look where we're spending the week before Christmas! I'm very excited indeed.

Saturday, November 15, 2003
In the middle of the night
3.44 am, to be precise, we were shaken awake by another quake. Cameron turned straight back over and went to sleep; I found myself awake for hours so feel a bit weird this morning.

Thursday, November 13, 2003
I had one of those uniquely frustrating Japanese experiences today. I've been putting off filling in my medical insurance form but, as I currently see the doctor every month, it's getting a bit silly. The only thing I had left to fill in was the bank's fax number and sort code so I thought, as I was going to Shibuya today anyway, I'd pop in and ask them. Well. It seems the fax number is a Deep Dark Secret, not to be told to the likes of me. I approached the chap on the front desk, optimistic because the front-desk staff generally have excellent English. I clearly picked the exception to the rule but I spoke slowly and clearly and thought it would be fine. I communicated what I wanted and he bustled off to ask a girl at one of the inside desks. He came back, demanding to know *why* I wanted to know the fax number. I said well you see, I have this form... so he took the form and dashed off again. Eventually he reappeared to tell me that they don't think I need to know the number! I asked whether he was telling me that they didn't have a fax machine, to which he made one of those noncommittal grunts that Japanese men (men in general?!) are so good at. I interpreted this to mean they have no machine but, having thought about it since, that's ludicrous! I can't imagine there’s a bank anywhere in the world that has no fax machine, let alone in Tokyo, the city that runs on faxes. And the sort code he grudgingly gave me is all letters, not a 6-digit number as I was expecting so I hope that's OK.
After taiko (which was great fun, I was a tiger and we were attacked by the dragons) I spent the rest of the day dashing about. Out to the carrot tower (ridiculous name) to pick up tickets for the kodo drummers; over to Shinjuku to buy various ink cartridges and photographic bits. Yodobashi camera, always a contender in the world's most confusing shop competition, has rearranged its entire stock in all four buildings so that all took some time longer than anticipated. Shinjuku thinks it's christmas: the only appealing cake to go with my afternoon cocoa (it's good for you!) was a cranberry slice and I had to eat and drink fast to get away from I saw mummy kissing santa claus, then I watched men on a hydraulic lift putting up the christmas lights.
I then popped into Takashimaya, one of the bigger department stores, to check out their maternity wear. When I eventually stumbled into the small dark back corner of the 9th floor, I realised that their pregnant clientele is obviously aged 50-something and that it's company policy not to let pregnant women wear anything but black, beige or grey. Or navy on very special occasions. Apart from at night, when they all revert to childhood and sport pink frilly nighties with teddy motifs. And the bras (sorry if it's too much information, but what I was really after were bras and tights) were all pink, lacey and well-padded and all tights were tea-coloured and thick. Very disappointing indeed.
And finally I popped to the menswear floor to buy some braces (it's a long story but it involves too-big maternity jeans). The assistant looked at me like I was a loony (perhaps she's right) when I said they weren't a present and asked me twice more in Japanese and then again in her very best english before consenting to give me them in a plain paper bag and plastic bag (minimum wrapping here). I should have just let her beribbon them, would have been easier.
When I got home I found Yolly still here ironing, waiting to rub my tummy (arg!) and tell me I'm having a girl (this week!) because I like flowers. Doesn't everyone? And I think I forgot to tell you of last week's insanity (last week it was a girl too, she's getting more consistent. At least she’ll be able to say she was right, whatever comes out) - she told me my bust is getting bigger! I'm British, you can’t say things like that.

(I hope you don't) read it here first!
Cats are acting very strangely this morning. Jura is trying to get into things (the freezer; the tumbledryer) and running about wildly; Islay has had a drink from the toilet and is running about wildly. I do hope they're not trying to warn of an impending quake ('The Big One').
meow meow meow
what's that Jura? There's a big earthquake coming?
and some kids trapped in a mine?

Wednesday, November 12, 2003
Update: A 6.5. Quite big. And it was deep, apparently, which I imagine is why it seemed to go on for a long time.

Eep! That was a big one!
Started off gently, didn't think much of it - only it didn't stop for ages, then suddenly got quite shakey indeed. Went on for long enough to get sweaty palms but not long enough to spring into action. Cats seem completely unperturbed; they are so Japanese these days.

It's definitely autumn here now. Not only because the leaves are changing - although they are - or the temperatures dropping (we've put the heating on twice now!) but because I have started to cook. All summer we eat easy food; in summer proper I try not to put the cooker on at all then as it cools a little I can't be bothered faffing about so we have tried-and-tested food. But we had experimental toad in the hole Sunday night (thumbs down), experimental chicken-n-rice last night (thumbs up) and I've just been to buy pumpkin and sage for tonight's experimental pasta dish. I don't have very high hopes as I seem to recall I don't much like sage, but it looks nice in the book so I'll give it a go. And tomorrow night we're having stew. Sorry Cameron (but honestly, you can't just not like stew, all stew, and soup, all soup. It's weird.) Oh, and Cameron has eaten the last Christmas pudding, so it must be getting on to re-stocking time!
This site has some lovely photos; I particularly like the historic ones. Cameron thinks he must know the chap as he seems to live near his mum and dad, but there aren't enough clues on the website to tell for sure.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003
What we saw of the bunnymen was very good: he does have a fabulous voice. But who plays without a support band? It is not civilised. Their lack of support meant that they started to play 15 minutes before Cameron got home then I, assuming there would be support, decided I needed a burger first (high in iron!), with the result that we arrived in time to hear two songs before they said thank you Tokyo goodnight! How very disappointing. Fortunately they came back twice so we heard a total of 6 songs (40 minutes including the time spent waiting for them to reappear) but still, we felt very sad.

Monday, November 10, 2003
I've spent today being a pregnant housewife, which suits me because I've been feeling a bit icky anyway and I need to conserve energy for tonight's Echo and the Bunnymen concert. The initial plan for the day involved a museum visit and editing a manuscript only it's raining and the friend I was going to the museum with says she's had a tough weekend (without elaborating so I do hope everything is alright over there) so we postponed the outing and I can't access my work email! How frustrating. So I've washed laundry and dishes, tidied the house and varnished my latest washi-paper creation, done some exercise and inflated my birth-ball (I'm sitting on it now and it's great - my back doesn't ache at all!)
Anniversaire in Omotesando is a wonderful shop. It took me some time to realise that it is mostly set up for wedding planning, because it looks like a very exclusive sort of department store. The chocolate stand has three or four boxes of chocolates but they are exquisite. The champagne stand sells only one type, but it's the best. Upstairs they have some fabulous housewares and evening dresses as well as beautiful wedding gowns (in the Japanese western-wedding style: very white, very sparkly, very big). Yesterday afternoon, we were sitting in the Anniversaire cafe, when a girl came along and gave us handbells - G sharp for me, C sharp for Cameron - from a basket. Shortly after, there was a round of applause and a trumpet fanfare and a bride and groom processed past (we put down our cups of tea and jangled our bells and applauded). I don't know where they went after that - it looked rather as though they turned the corner and went back into the shop, or into McDonalds, but perhaps they hopped into a waiting car instead.

Saturday, November 08, 2003
public drumming
kids on stage me and a  lovely headband
Left: kids from the school do their thing. Right: me making a twit of myself. I do have my arms in the air at the same time as everybody else in my group (off the edge of the photo so you'll have to take my word for it), which shows progress.
My favourite part of the day was the rehearsal before, practising getting us on and off the stage (not enough drums to all play together so mostly the kids played followed by the adults, swapping seamlessly mid-piece). We were practising without the drums so had to wave our sticks about as though we were hitting a drumskin while making the drum noise vocally bom-bom-bom!

Thursday, November 06, 2003
A minibreak in Izu - day 3
crashing waves surf girls on the beach
Day 3 was bright and sunny again so we decided to go to the famed white-sands beach. Only breakfast of course took longer than anticipated so we had to walk along a nasty main road - we caused quite a stir! - instead of going by bus. No matter, it was worth it when we arrived. Golden sands almost to ourselves apart from a few beginner-level surfers, more crashing waves and a sea that was sufficiently warm for a paddle. Spent the morning lounging on the beach before packing up a picnic and heading into Shimoda to see if it actually had a centre and a seafront or if the previous night's suspicions were correct. It seems they were correct as we walked for miles and miles and found little of interest. We ate our picnic by the harbour then Rachel decided to have a small sleep on the bench so we left all our stuff with her and wandered around the headland and back. On our return we found she was surrounded by old men: I think we had strayed into their territory.
Onto the bus and into the wilds of the central peninsula. Very green and rustic looking; not a soul to be seen. We felt very proud as we got off the bus at the correct location and found our ryokan...and a good job we did given the aforementioned lack of people to consult. The ryokan was right next to the stream which looked and sounded nice but smelt quite damp. Still, we gamely gathered towels and yukatas and toddled along to the rotenburo (outside bath) 700 m up the road and across the stream on a rickety old bridge.
The bath was interesting. We were there alone at first, which was just fine as we rapidly realised that the men's washing area was separated from us by a thin bamboo screen and that everybody shared the same bath. We soon heard some rattling from around the screen so cowered under the water as a small boy with big eyes drifted around the screen. His mum soon joined us and then, to our surprise, dad came too! I scuttled quickly from the bath (too hot for the baby) but the others stayed a while with the family - I have to say the man was not as modest with his modesty towel as he could have been!
Some discussion about whether it is OK to walk about outside without pants, then back down the road and trip-trap-trip-trap over the rickety rackety bridge in our yukatas and geta (silly wooden flipflops). More giant spiders were noted. In fact I am very proud of myself because there was one actually in our room when I woke up the next morning but I managed not to screech (I chewed my pillow) and scare the others - and it disappeared while we having breakfast so I managed to stay calm.
We spent the evening quietly, as one tends to in a ryokan. Lorna I think was asleep around 9; I read my book and Rachel played infinite games of the aptly named patience. Dinner had been interesting with Rachel turning quite green over prawn brains and the lady getting upset because we hadn't called for rice quickly enough. I found her quite frustrating as she could/would not turn off the super-polite Japanese to use words I could understand and she quite clearly couldn't understand any of my attempts. We managed in mime.
after a bath

the life of a medical editor
Depression makes a nice change from cancer.
(actually it's been anxiety disorders today - my least favourite because I always recognise the symptoms in myself. It's like the bit in three men in a boat where he decides he has everything in the medical dictionary apart from housemaid's knee.)

Wednesday, November 05, 2003
A minibreak in Izu - day 2
Day 2 dawned bright and sunny and the anticipated 'Japanese breakfast' turned out to be sausage and egg, delicious homemade bread rolls with jam and coffee, so we were quite happy. Apart from the giant spiders hanging from the balconies outside, which I coped with by virtue of not having my specs on when I noticed them. The nice hotel man drove us to the station to drop our bags in a locker then to the suspension bridge that formed part of the coastal walk. Predictably, there were hundreds of old ladies in hats there, posing for photos in front of everything and anything imaginable. We spent some time basking in the sunshine and watching the waves crashing on the cliffs below before deciding to walk a bit of the walk - not the full 10 kilometres, that would be silly. All was going well - shady trees, blue skies and sea, more crashing waves, fishermen, etc - until we started to notice the monsters spiders hanging in the trees and to the sides of the path. Rachel is distinctly nervous of spiders and squeaks when she sees them; I am pathetic and terrified by them; Lorna is quite well adjusted and will look at them in interest but not touch. The walk was taken much faster after this. We eventually came out at 'the shed', which was, in fact, a shed and not the hoped-for coffee establishment and wandered about a little longer looking for elevenses then, as we failed to find any, lunch. Eventually found a small supermarket so we had a picnic on the harbourside surrounded by more divers squelching about in wetsuits than you have ever seen in one place.
We crept warily back to the bridge and onto the train to our next destination, Shimoda. En route, we stopped off at a kind of dog theme park. First we went to the play with dogs area, where we could pick up and cuddle all sorts of girl dogs. The man in charge looked panic-stricken at our arrival (I don't think they have a huge number of gaijin visitors) but somebody rushed off to the other end of the park to find a girl who could speak english, and everybody relaxed. She told us some dogs' names and that this one was shy and the other greedy, so thank heavens they found her. The enclosure was a bit smelly to be honest but then, I'm not huge dog fan, and they were quite cute once you got used to it. Next we wandered around dog town, looking at dogs in cages. Poor wee things. But then - and this was the absolute highlight for me - we found our way to dog forest where a smiling girl asked (in Japanese with no sign of fear) if we were wanting to walk. We each chose a dog and were made to put away anything that was in our hands before carefully and firmly taking hold of the lead to walk it around a small circular route through the trees. Fantastic. My little dog (Netsume) was very cute with a fluffy face and picked up a stick to carry about. Rachel had a largish dog called Korea (we think) and Lorna a sausage dog called Cocoa, who shared Netsume's stick part of the way in an adorable manner. I expect they do it every time. Finally we went back to the play with dogs area to see the boy dogs who were now out. See the photo below (and do note our old-lady hats; we just wouldn't have felt the part without them)
A bus from Shimoda took us once more into the wilds - no streetlamps again - and we found our little minshuku, where we were the only guests. Unfortunately the local restaurant was shut so we had to go back into Shimoda, where we wandered about feeling despondant and hungry for ages before happening on a suitable eating establishment where we had a good meal of kushiage. What a strange town it is! It seems to have no centre, no real shopping street, and nowhere to eat - yet it is known as a tourist destination.
suspension bridgecliffsNetsume
how insane do we look? I think it should be a postcard. And look at Lorna's dog's ears!

He's keen!
Col Sanders at the KFC in our local station has his santa outfit on already. I think he's foolish myself - he'll only be bored of it by the time it is Christmas

Tuesday, November 04, 2003
A minibreak in Izu - day 1
Having made vague arrangements to meet Rachel and Lorna somewhere on the Izu peninsula sometime on Wednesday and having little idea how long it would take me to get there, I left home around lunchtime. All was fine; I had an uneventful journey apart from a momentary panic when my train split in two and the other half pulled off, leaving me in the station (but it was fine - the other half just got there quicker than me.) The snow-capped peak of Fuji was gleaming spectacularly in the sunlight and the train went right down to the sea before following the coast so it was really very pleasant. A lady made a tiny paper crane from a sweety wrapper and gave it to the tourist sitting opposite me.
At Atami, we changed from a proper train to a tourist train painted with roses and sophisticated french slogans. 'We' at this point was me and a horde of old ladies, all unfeasibly short with pointy elbows and old-lady hats (see day 2) who hustled onto the train to rush for the best seats. Two old men shoved me away from my chosen seat then glanced at my tummy and apologised - but there were plenty of other, clearly less desirable, seats available so I just went away to sit opposite two old ladies, strangers to each other, who fought and elbowed each other all the way over who had the larger half-share of the bench.
I decided to get off at Ito and have a look around. I had just missed the bus so I hopped in a taxi to Komurayama park, a dormant volcano. The chairlift going up was fun: no safety bar or security of any description, merely a seat hanging from a wire - but it was only about a metre off the ground so not too scarey. What was slightly scarey was my realisation, when I was alone at the top, apart from two men with cameras, that not a soul in the world knew where I was. The thought crossed my mind again when one of the chaps started chatting and wanted to take my photo - but it seems he just wanted to practise a bit of English and he used my camera, so it was fine. The view from the top was wonderful and it was so quiet! To my left, Fuji-san; to my right, a vast expanse of blue sky and sea and a couple of little islands.
I walked down, passing a man walking his huge black dog (I have no idea what it was but its shoulders were higher than his waist) and a chihuahua, declined a lift from two elderly men in the carpark and caught the bus back to town. Just time to walk to the seafront and examine the memorial to William Adams (who had built his ships in Ito with the assistance of the excellent local shipwrights) and a small sculpture park, before it was dark.
By the time I got off the train again, at the village where we were staying, it was really dark. Of course I hadn't brought a torch: I live in Tokyo where it's always bright - this place had no streetlights and hardly any buildings. I did fairly well, reading the map by the light of passing cars' headlights and only walking into one tree, but eventually decided I was really lost and wandered into what looked like a conference centre. The man on the front desk was really kind and rang my hotel, having rung directory enquiries first to get the number - the hotel man appeared about 30 seconds later to get me; I was about 50 yards away! Everybody we met on Izu was extraordinarily kind and the hotelman later dropped what he was doing (namely, cooking dinner for the rest of his guests) to run me back to the station to meet the girls (we discussed, in my best Japanese, the fact that Izu was dark while Tokyo was always bright. I never claimed to be able to do sophisticated chat.)
Mount Fuji in the distance - not so clear on a photo as in realitylong shadowsWilliam Adams (as played by Richard Chamberlain in Shogun)an Ito cat at sunset

I am here, honest. Only R&L have been keeping me busy and then I got a nasty cold so had to mope about and then my cold kept me awake all night so I'm tired and now I'm working. I will definitely be back with pictures from Izu and a tale of public drumming very shortly.