Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Commute (17) Rice

Monday, June 26, 2006

Great tits, shame about the ...

stray cat strut. (Apologies for schoolboy humour).

June 18:
I didn't want to get emotionally involved. But now I am. We have a nest of great tits in the back garden. Well, hopefully we still do. I woke this morning with shrieks coming from the garden. My wife was hopping around in distress, "the birds, the birds". The bird box, given to all children at elementary school out here in the Japanese countryside, lay partly split in the dirt. On the ground were about five baby great tits and the ants were starting to tuck in. My wife flicked as many ants off as possible, and thrust the living birds back into the box. The one dead baby I buried under the rose bush. The parent (mother presumably) has been in there a long time, presumably feasting frenziedly on ants.

Prime suspect is a stray tabby that struts (while baby birds fret) his hour upon our stage. I fear we haven't heard the last of him.

June 22:
Surviving baby great tits doing fine, as far as we can tell. Parents flying in and out of bird box with tasty morsels every day. We are on full moggy watch.

June 26:
Cats are very agile! Commotion in our house as large white feline caught three quarters of its way up the bird house pole. Wife shrieks and makes a bolt for the door. Daughters make violent shooshing noises. I throw something large and heavy in the vicinity and the cat slinks away (with serious attitude mind you, and a look akin to giving me the middle finger) to wait for another day.

Survival of the fittest. Where do our loyalties lie? Not as simple as it might at first seem.

Our family were up in arms when a neighbour, Old man Sato, tried to get rid of the young stray cats in the neighbourhood with a long pole, caveman grunts, and brute force. Now those same stray cats face our wrath, and missiles, simply for doing what they are hard-wired to do.

Darwinism in the back garden. Hoping fervently that the young great tits fly the nest soon. Judging by the size of their food parcels today it can't be long.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Japan football team ... not as great as its goalkeeper's ego

"I made some saves but it didn't appear to help us change the tide of the match and I don't think we were able to get over giving up the equalizer at the end of the first half. On a personal level I feel I have done everything that has been asked of me but I can't do everything on my own."

So said Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi, Japan's goalkeeper in the World Cup. This quote really bothered me. Kawaguchi really bothers me, and has done since he first set foot on the Japanese football scene.

In the early days he was all hair flicks and gel (anyone spot the jealousy of a bald man, here?). Always the last man off the pitch, so that he got significant camera time. His gestures were exaggerated. The trademark wince of pain to show just how much he cared. The concentrated stare to show just how much he ... well, concentrated. Everything he did was designed for the cameras, like the ekiden relay runners who insist on falling over in exhaustion after they've run their leg, just to make sure everyone knows they have given their all. Kawaguchi made everyone know that he had given his all. Every wince. Every stare. Every flick of the hair. It was designed to tell a story. The story of a man with an incredible ego.

Unfortunately he hasn't grown up in the intervening years.

"... I can't do everything on my own."

Now who would you normally hear saying that? A harried mother at the end of her tether berating a family of World Cup watching couch potatoes? A boss snarling at incompetent underlings in the office? Or a person with an inflated ego belittling his comrades?

What Kawaguchi is basically saying here is that he is wonderful and the rest of the Japan team are just not up to scratch. He might have something with the latter half of that assessment - Japan were clearly outclassed in Germany. But he is by no means wonderful. A wonderful goalkeeper would not have been third choice for Portsmouth when they were a second-tier club. Nor would a wonderful goalkeeper have been released by them. A wonderful goalkeeper wouldn't have flapped awfully at the cross that led to Australia's equalizing goal, the goal that led directly to the change in Japan's fortunes in this World Cup.

Yes, he did make some fine saves, including a penalty save against Croatia. But he also screwed up on a number of occasions. He, like the rest of his teammates, just weren't up to the job. Simple as that. He was quite right about not being able to do everything on his own. He contributed significantly to Japan's World Cup demise with help from the rest of his teammates.

Friday, June 16, 2006

It's a fair cop?

"I was fairly flying along the expressway at about 140 when the cops pulled me over. The cop's eyes rolled when he saw I was a foreigner. He spoke at me apprehensively in Japanese. I smiled and said, 'nihongo tabemasen (I don't eat Japanese)'. The cop groaned and with visions of mounting paperwork (in English!) he let me continue on my way."

Cue large guffaws, slaps of the thigh, and pats on the back. How cleverly deceitful this foreign resident (fluent in Japanese) had been.

This was the first story I heard about Japanese police. Since then there have been many more.

Those in uniform stand out. They make an easy target for criticism. But sometimes you can't help noticing that the uniform changes the human for the worse. It's the power. Isn't it? Whether it is a strutting football referee, officious security guards at a rock concert, parking attendants with new punitive powers (click here for The Times' man's take on this), or the police. Don't those shiny buttons and those epaulettes, along with their peaked hats, go to their heads just a little bit more than they should?

I don't want to get into a Japanese police bashing thing here (they've always been great with me!), but a couple of disturbing articles caught my eye in the news about recent police (in)activity. The first, from the other correspondent of The Times, is the tale of an unsolved (a rarity in Japan ... but this rarity is not necessarily something to gloat about) crime. Knocking on 15 years ago, the Japanese translator of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses was murdered. The statute of limitations in Japan is 15 years. Read here for one or two unpleasant nuances in the police records of this case that suggest the murderer can't have been Japanese.

The second is the case of a Hiroshima bar owner, of Peruvian descent, subjected to incarceration and a grilling over a number of days. You can read his story here. When I read this, visions of Haruki Murakami's interrogation scene in Dance, Dance, Dance popped into my head. The two cops, Bookish and Fisherman, try to force an admission of guilt and a signature out of the hero. Scenes like this are why Amnesty is so worried about Japan's high crime clear-up rate.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Commute (16) Egrets ... rice field sentinels

Click the picture and the egret line-up should become clearer.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Japan v Australia ... no sweat

Tonight sees Japan's first match in the World Cup. Their opponents are Australia, a bunch of dirty cloggers if the Japanese Football Association chief's words are to be believed (maybe he has seen Lucas Neill in action for Blackburn this season). The hype on the TV here has been quite amazing. All sorts of shows with all sorts of pundits giving all sorts of opinions, all sorts of advice, and all sorts of "interesting" anecdotes. One ex-pro, the intensely annoying Yomiuri Verdy player of yore, Kitazawa (long of hair, short of legs and talent), explained to the Japanese populace that one of the main problems the Japanese players would face was when the shirt-swapping took place at the end of a match. This is no problem within the borders of Japan, apparently, but international matches can be a bit of a problem because them there foreigners pong a bit.

So can Zico's sweet-scented Blue Samurai overcome the dirty (in more ways than one) Aussies tonight?

My money is on a draw. But watch out for the shirt-swapping etiquette. Which of the Japanese players will be brave enough to don an Aussie shirt at the end of the game?

Hiroshima earthquake

A rude awakening at 5:01 this morning. A shake of the earth beneath us, a rattle of the shoji windows, and a roll over in the futon. The quake lasted a little longer than I expected, and I was fairly lucid this time. A quick checklist went through my head. Do I need to get up? Do I need to get the kids? Will we all fit under the kitchen table? Before I had got myself vertical the rumbling had subsided and I went back to sleep.

Not sure if it is just me, but all these quakes seem to hit in the early morning. My first experience of one was in 1989, my first year in Japan. Waken early in the morning by shaking paper doors, head fuzzy from an interrupted sleep, and fresh from England, my fear was from thinking there was a burglar stuck in my cupboards. Slowly the realisation dawned. My first trembler. The big Kobe disaster in '95 was early morning, too. As night turns into dawn, it's as if the earth is groaning at having to face a new day. Can't I have just a few more hours of sleep, please?

This one measured about 5 on the Japanese scale. And when they hit, you never know whether the epicentre is local, or whether the big one has hit Tokyo. They say Hiroshima gets a "biggy" every fifty years or so. In the 1905 quake, eleven died; two perished in 1949; and in 2001 one old lady in Kure died. Last night's quake took no lives, but once again a reminder of the power in the bowels of the earth, particularly here in a country where four tectonic plates meet.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Commute (15)

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Frogs, football, and dead rice farmers

The morning comes, and, for once a dream I remember.

We are at a wake. The dead man is a local rice farmer. His son is motioning to the distant hills - to the boundaries of prime rice land that he now owns. I am the only foreigner in a Japanese sea of wizened, sun-dried farming faces. The congregation are barefoot in the slimy mud of the paddies. We raise One Cup Ozeki sake pots in a salute to the dead man. A massive frog sits and watches. It craps a miniature football. This surprises nobody. Then its jaw distends astoundingly, like a trap door opening, and an official World Cup football is belched into the paddy. This gets everyone's attention. Not wanting his father's solemn occasion to be usurped by a frog, albeit an unusually talented one, the son starts to read out the old man's last will and testament. I am bequeathed the contents of his wine cellar - the finest collection of reds to be found outside of Europe.

Mmmmm. What can it all mean?