Friday, 28 December 2007

Empty Set Takes A Vacation

And there's a shiny 1 yen piece for the first person to place that reference. That runs to just less than 0.5p in her majesty's sterling. In fact, you can have a whole bunch of 1 yen pieces if you want, I fucking hate the things. I just fill old pasta sauce jars with them and shake my head, otherwise my wallet would be "Costanza-izing" all the damn time.

Wow! That came off grumpy, and believe me even though I had to work on Christmas Day, I'm not feeling all that grumpy at all. Because I am actually on vacation now for just over a week, and some fella called Chris is coming to visit tomorrow! In fact he's probably flying right now! So it would be impossible for him to hear any insult I direct at him huh?

Chris, you stink!

But instead of packing and getting a good night's sleep I seem to be writing words to feed the insatiable hunger of the internet.

What do I have to say? In lieu of an actual proper Christmas, with family and turkey and lethargy and The Great Escape, I instead fitted 6 Christmas parties into 5 days. This included lots of eggnog (made by me to great acclaim, but from the reciped passed on by Richard Swinbank, bless him), karaoke, expensive sushi, cold roast chicken and amazing mashed potatoes and a cold. Yeah, I pretty much assumed when I went down with a cold last weekend that I should just ignore it and carry on, and somewhere around losing my voice entirely on Tuesday I realised this might not have been the best course of action. Oh well! You live and learn, it's coming back now. The voice, not the cold.

So not only did I make eggnog, but Tara gave my recipe for eggnog to a bar we often go to where the barman speaks good English and he added it to their Christmas menu! And boy were they charging a lot! And no, we didn't get it free! We still love them.

Oh, I should blog something about Christmas in Japan. Christmas is pretty big in Japan, but not as a holiday, more as a fun celebration and a December based partner to Valentines Day. Certainly I was shopping on Christmas eve and every watch and jewelery department was just HEAVING with twenty something couples, picking out adorable presents for each other. Shopping for shoes with good ice grips by the way, and I'm still screwed on that front. I found some horrible size 30s (Japanese sizes are in cm, which is... phenomenally sensible) and it turns out I'm probably size 29, and I can't find any of those. Still I saw some awesome smart black leather numbers with built in flip out spikes for ice-walking. Just not in my size.

And today I tried sukiyaki for the first time. Sukiyaki being basically as follows, dip raw meat into a boiling pan of soy based sauce until it's cooked, then fish it out, dip it in raw egg and eat! Whenever I thought about this in the past I kinda assumed that the searing meat would cook the egg on it, but it pretty much doesn't, it's just eating raw egg and it's delicious. We've been talking about this quite a lot, what with concocting so much eggnog, but in Japan eating or drinking raw egg just isn't an issue, whereas in the UK and US it's some sort of leap of faith. I will leave the science to the scientists (or perhaps anybody wearing a white coat and holding a test tube... at the very least a clipboard), but I have no trouble eating raw egg in Japan.

Jesus, what a lot of nothing to write about. Just time to leave you with the greatest song title ever:

"If your face was Georgia, my fist would be home right now." by American Cheeseburger.

No, I've never heard it, neither do I want to. It could never live up to that title.

Oh and some pretty cool pictures taken from the top of the TV tower a couple of weeks ago that I forgot to post before.

Happy New Year everyone!

Monday, 17 December 2007

The Inaugural 100 Yen Shop Challenge!

100 Yen shops are, of course, the Japanese equivalent of the humble pound shop, or the American “Dollar Store”. However, 100 Yen shops are a far more advanced and mutated beast, with a bewildering range of products on offer, some essential, some almost without need, use or reason. Foreigners here always comment on this, how much crazy crap you can pick up at 100 Yen shops, so we thought - let’s put a very, very little bit of money where our mouths are! We resolved to find as much weird shit as we could, and to make it SCIENTIFIC, we decided to make it into a competition. Five items at a maximum of 105 Yen each (yes, sadly the “100 Yen Shop” moniker is pre-tax), the aim to find the weirdest, gaudiest or most unlikely objects, and a final independent judging.

THE CONTENDERS! Your Humble Narrator: primed and ready for the unusual, the unknowable, the unfathomable. Tara Smith: never has such a ruthless eye for useless shit been crammed into the skull of so unassuming a Michigander. “Teenage” Matt Longarini: the windy city’s loss is Sapporo’s gain; out to show that age never comes before beauty.

THE ARENA! Sapporo Daiso. 5 floors of bargain basement goodies, from sweets to building supplies to pet goods to gardening equipment to toys to stationery to...

525 Yen each! Half an hour! Go!

After the smoke had cleared it was clear that EVERYONE was a winner. Unlike war of course, where no-one is a winner. Anyway the actual winner, as decided in a bar later that night by our friend Yuka, was Tara even though she ran ten minutes over time (I was two minutes over, Matt was early – and also managed to buy one item from each floor of the store, so kudos to him for that), because she found what may possibly be the unbeatable, final answer to all 100 Yen Shop Challenges – a “Buttocks Washing Seat” so that you can care for your elderly relatives. So that you can wash their buttocks that is. How could we possibly trump that? Impossible, nevertheless here are the final scores:


- Novelty Inflating Breasts – to be concealed under your clothes until needed.

- Hideous Plastic Dachshund Christmas Ornament

- Glass with cryptic definition of “Fragrance” written on it.

- Horrible, gurning “War Photographer” Figurine

- Illustrated Japanese “No Dog Fouling” Sign


- Beautiful Revolving Stars and Stripes Ornament

- “Rodeo – United States of America” Business Card Case

- “No Urinating” sign, with adorable “Peeing Boy” statue picture

- Combination Whistle / Compass / Thermometer

- Squeaky Plastic Dog Head Bicycle Horn Thing


- Phenomenal Buttocks Washing Seat

- A whole cooked corn cob

- “You Can Be A Drag Queen” Plastic Mask Kit

- Wild Dove Repellent

- Miniature Bust of Thomas Jefferson

Yeah, looking back at it now I’d have to say that even with points deducted for running over time and trying to slip more than five items past the judges, Tara pretty much took us to school with that lot. The novelty breasts gave Matt an early lead, but sadly Tara and I had already seen them, taking away some of their impact. So, well played Ms Smith… THIS TIME!

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Oh Boy! Snow Again!

Said entirely without irony!

Coz tonight it snowed pretty heavily, but I didn't really notice how much until I went to take my rubbish out. Halfway down the stairs I decided I ought to go back and get my camera, and once outside I decided I ought to go back and get a coat on so that I could stay out longer.

And of COURSE Tara was up, and wanted to make a snowman (see the video that I posted... um, on facebook, sorry!). So at 1.30am we went crunching around and it was beautiful and there was running around Asabu park and a snowball fight (yukigassen in Japanese!) and I fell over and hit my head on a tree, but I'm OK I think! and my new camera fell in the snow, but it's OK I think, and I seem to have bruised my hand and I couldn't feel my fingers and Tara made a snow angel too.

And the snowman turned into a snowbear and I love snow.

The end!

Oh no, wait, not the end, there are pictures too! And I've had to start up a Flickr account coz I bought a new camera and facebook won't accept my pictures. So check that out.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Getting Down To Business - Xmas Songs

So, I don't know how you godless animals celebrate in Britain and America, but over here in Japan we like to throw down a little gauntlet called CHRISTMAS.

How does that taste, huh? Tastes FESTIVE doesn't it?

The notion of Christmas has been so soured and devalued in the west as to be almost meaningless, but here we KNOW what Christmas is all about. And so we celebrate with all our hearts the anniversary of the day that Little Baby Jesus invented dynamite. Or something.

Anyway, I concede! I finally gave in, and started listening to Christmas music on Saturday coz I was feeling lousy. Christmas music is pretty precious to me, as some of you may know, so help me out here, and let's make the best Christmas playlist ever! Of course, we are constrained by the medium of our time to a maximum number of infinity tracks, so keep an eye on that. Suggestions below please.

So let's start with the best Christmas song ever:

1) The Jackson Five - Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

after that they're in pretty much any order:

Wham - Last Christmas

Low - Just Like Christmas
James Brown - Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto
Milton Delugg & The Little Eskimos - Hooray For Santa Claus
Jona Lewie - Stop The Cavalry
Mariah Carey - All I Want For Christmas Is You
Nat King Cole - The Christmas Song
The Waitresses - Christmas Wrapping
Wizzard - I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday
Crash Test Dummies - Jingle Bells
Shakin' Stevens - Merry Christmas Everyone

Pretty much all of Phil Spector's "A Christmas Gift For You..." but especially:

Darlene Love - Marshmallow World
The Ronettes - Sleigh Ride

And I'm torn about:

Eels - Everything's Gonna Be Cool This Christmas
...because to me it doesn't sound so festive, but it does have the line: "Baby Jesus - born to rock".

Help me out, I'm keeping it short and I know I'm leaving a lot out.

Oh and here's some pictures of Sapporo too.

Zowie! Big, sparkly Christmas thing in Sapporo German Christmas Market!

Because, yes, we have a stupid German Christmas Market too.

And here's another random picture of Sapporo. The point was meant to be the mountains at the end of the road, but they didn't come out. Still, fun I think.

The View From Above

Well I had a good weekend, empirically judged on the following experiences:

Doing lots of Christmas shopping for other people, and buying a camera for me. Really though, I promise to only take pictures of frighteningly awesome things, so it's kinda a present for you too...

Catching the train along the coast, where it runs next to the sea, and watching the surfers paddling out through the breakers as the snow started falling.

Eating sweet, sweet sushi. Drinking too much.

Making new friends.

Going out to an outlet mall where we rode a big wheel that gave us a spectacular view of patchy, twinkling lights and a big gap where the sea might have been. Also a nice angle on the patchwork of windows you can see below.

Finding a giant Christmas tree for the second week in a row. And a clock, powered by steam that gave off an enormous "TOOT!" while we were posing by it.

Finding a cavernous kids' hall in the same complex where a giant, police hippo, bouncy castle was being used by only one kid. Her dad was trying to make things more exciting for her though, again, as you can see below.

I hope everyone else had a good one too!

There're some Christmas lights in there too.

"Are you trying to start that shit with me? Huh? Come on you big bastard!"

Christmas Portents

So, I was down at Sapporo Factory shopping mall and there was something in the air. I don't know if it was the giant fibre-glass Santa climbing the giant chimney, the tinkling muzak or the monstrous 20ft Christmas tree surrounded by automated bells that gave a five minute chiming sound and light display every half and hour, but there was definitely something trying to tell me...

It's almost Hanukkah.

BOOM BOOM! Thenkyew, thenkyew, I'm hee-yah awl weeek!

Enjoy the photo.

But seriously, I'm so fucking excited!