Posts Tagged ‘Life’

Daily Tokyo Occurrence 1: The Street Sloth

Posted 28 Apr 2009 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Only in Japan, Tokyo


The Street Sloth is a particularly widespread pest. It is native to Tokyo, but has now spread throughout Japan, and can even be found in some of the world’s major cities during the summer migratory period. This heel-clad monstrosity walks along pavements in a zigzag fashion, blocking the progress of anyone who would like to get to work before Christmas.

The Street Sloth has an ingenious method for killing its prey: it will walk in a straight line for a brief period, luring would-be overtakers into a false sense of security, before suddenly lunging “accidentally” into their way, forcing them into the path of an oncoming heavy-goods vehicle. It then feasts on the corpse, taking only the poor victim’s mobile phone strap as a memento of its kill.

The world’s greatest analogies

Posted 31 Jan 2008 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Tokyo
  1. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.
  2. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Bounce.
  3. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now he goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.
  4. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. coli and he was room-temperature British beef.
  5. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.
  6. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.
  7. He was as tall as a six-foot-three-inch tree.
  8. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife’s infidelitly came as a rude shock, like a withdrawal fee at a formerly withdrawal-fee free cashpoint.
  9. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.
  10. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Tesco bag filled with vegetable soup.
  11. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.
  12. The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.
  13. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Manchester at 6:36 PM traveling at 55 mph, the other from Birmingham at 4:19 PM at a speed of 35 mph.
  14. John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.
  15. He fell for her like he was a mob informant and she was the East River.
  16. Even in his last years, Grandad had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.
  17. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.
  18. The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.
  19. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was acutally lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.
  20. The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fencepost.
  21. He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a Securicor van reversing.
  22. Her eyes were like limpid pools, only they had forgotten to put in any pH cleanser.
  23. She walked into my office like a centipede with 98 missing legs.
  24. It hurt the way your tongue hurts after you accidentally staple it to the wall.


Posted 19 Nov 2007 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Personal

Well, it’s certainly been a while since my last post. Recently, I:

  • discovered that any more than three pints of lager renders me out of action for the following two days;
  • caved in to fierce internal pressure and bought an iPod Touch, plus a rather nice armchair from Muji;
  • have pretty much finished my side of work for this year, although I’m sure something ridiculous will happen, forcing me to work late all December;
  • booked my ticket home for Xmas/New Year (23rd Dec!).

Typhoon No. 9

Posted 08 Sep 2007 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Engrish, Photography, Tokyo, Weather

Thursday night saw the arrival of Typhoon No. 9 in Tokyo, and it was a big ‘un: Winds reached speeds of 90 kph, at least two people died, and the city’s transportation network was thrown into chaos.

Meanwhile, I slept through the entire event, waking up at 8am to look out of the living room window to remark that it ‘looks a bit windy out’. Things seem to be back to normal now, at least in western Tokyo. The emergency services are well prepared for disasters – when you expect earthquakes to flatten everything at least once a century, dealing with typhoons must be more of a sort of training exercise for the Big Event, which will hopefully happen when I’m not here.

I came across an Engrish of staggering outrageousness today:

A what-burger?

Continuing the phallic theme, I discovered this air freshener in an izakaya last week:

Phallic air freshener

Like an old friend

Posted 15 Mar 2007 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Personal

Murray's Mint!

The film that has done the most to ingratiate Tokyo to Western audiences over the past few years has to be Lost in Translation. The first time I saw it was towards the end of my first stint in Japan, and for some inexplicable reason made me feel a huge wave of nostalgia.

The first couple of months in Japan had streaked through my life like a Sunday morning train from Roppongi station (and I know all about those, much to displeasure of my bank account). I can’t say I was able to spend my time exploring the fascinating new country that lay beneath my feet, as my feet were usually trying their best to avoid stepping on the hyperactive throng of kindergarten kids I was supposed to be teaching. This miserable situation was compounded by my dismal surroundings: an apartment that, in any other country, would have been deemed too inhospitable for even the most savage of serial killers. The walls were made of toast. Toast made from very, very thinly sliced bread. I could hear the humming sound of my neighbours-neighbours fridge as clearly as if I had been wearing it for a hat.

Thankfully, I was able to move to a different city after a couple of months, and was befriended by a number of my fellow countrymen, who wasted no time in regaling me with their colourful accounts of life in this wonderful prefecture they called Saitama – “the Essex of Japan.”

Yes, together, we were the most negative group of individuals mankind had ever seen, but spend a few months in Saitama and you would understand. Its proximity to Tokyo invariably led to comparison, and an ever-present feeling that incredibly exciting things were going on just a bit further down the train line, just ever so slightly out of reach. And yet, here we were, with only our local video rental shop and Seven-Eleven’s for entertainment.

To be fair to Saitama the majority of complaints were made against our employers, who seemed to take great pride in screwing us over at every possible opportunity (and from what I’ve heard recently, still do). For me, every single Monday afternoon was hell on earth: Abandoned in the lowly confines of a scabby franchise school in the suburban wilderness with only a severe receptionist for company, whose only hobby – wrestling – incidentally happened to be first sport I would choose to be wiped from the entirety of human history. Add to that six hours of almost continuous kids lessons, and I was beginning to see the logic behind those lost souls who choose to jump in front of speeding express trains.

But as time passed, things began to fall into place. Those once-stressful days at work became carefree and routine, the holidays were long, and the weekends were for a good night out.

Eleven months after arriving in Japan, as I watched Bill Murray lovingly perform “More Than This” in some random karaoke box, at some random time way past normal people’s bedtime, I realised that it would be exactly those kind of things I would miss the most about Japan. The little things, the unusual things, the things that couldn’t happen anywhere else. I returned home one month later. But, as fate would have it, I wasn’t to return for long…


Posted 27 Nov 2006 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Only in Japan, Photography, Tokyo, Work

Taken from a restaurant in Ginza last night. I’m writing this entry using my mobile phone on the train home from work as there’s not enough arm space for me to open a book and read, and to be quite honest I’d rather not just have to stand and stare at the back of someone’s head for 10 minutes, which is the only other option. Last Friday some random weirdo decided to do a full gymnastic warm-up by using the handles for standing passengers. It was like a mobile version of the olympics, only totally rubbish. What was the other passengers’ reaction? Pretend to sleep, of course!

Moving On

Posted 26 Nov 2006 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Food, Japanese Language, Only in Japan, Video, Weather, Work

Yes indeed, after eighteen months of teaching at A Big university I will finally be moving on to pastures new come the end of December. Learning some Japanese seems to have paid off and I’ve managed to secure a job in central Tokyo doing interesting stuff (well, interesting for me, at least). My new company wants to employ me for at least the next five years, so it looks like I’ll be in Tokyo for quite a while yet. But… it’s very possible I’ll be making business trips between Japan and the UK (as well as Australia, South Africa and Singapore – cool!) over the next few years, so I’m sure I’ll get a chance to see at least some friends and family sooner rather than later!

In other news:

  • Bought a new sofa last week, which arrived this morning and is sweeeeeet. Lying on it feels like being back in the womb.
  • The weather has turned: It’s now most definitely cold. The upside is that almost every day is incredibly clear and bright; I can see Mt. Fuji from my office again!
  • Christmas has arrived. It’s impossible to go shopping without being bombarded by Xmas songs, tinsel, horrendous plastic reindeer and lights, so so many lights. But – what with Japan being not being a Christian country and all that – Xmas Day is in fact a normal working day. So what’s the effing point? Ey?
  • Have a Japanese exam next Sunday and have come to the conclusion that I haven’t studied anywhere near hard enough recently. Oh well…

Today we decided to have dinner at home for once (we usually eat out on Saturdays). This is what we bought:

Seafood Feast

Now that’s what I call fresh! Cooking them proved a bit of a heart-wrenching experience (word of advice: never grill shrimp unless you are 100% sure they are dead first), but as you can see, the end result looked pretty good, and the taste wasn’t bad either. Recently I’ve been trying to at least put some effort into cooking. I think everyone has the impression that everything in Tokyo is ridiculously expensive (melons more expensive than human kidneys and so on…), but to be honest I would say the UK is probably even more expensive these days, especially when it comes to restaurants… But anyway, it’s late and I’m in dire need of sleep. Ciao for now.

The Train Warrior

Posted 01 Oct 2006 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Only in Japan, Tokyo, Travel, Work

Obaasan WarriorOn Wednesday I witnessed my first ever train fight, although it turned out to be somewhat different from how I imagined; which was something along the lines of two guys going at it using finely-tuned ju-jitsu techniques to defend the honour of their briefcases and ¥300 neckties. But anyway, allow me to indulge you…

As per usual Ayako and myself had managed to get a seat on the train (our station is the first stop, so it’s just a matter of waiting for the next train to arrive and then legging it on board to get a seat), and I was trying not to fall asleep. Ayako has to change trains a couple of stops before me, and after she and a few others disembarked all hell broke loose:

A middle aged woman had been patiently waiting to board the train and was first in line to get on, but!… behind her stood a complete tosser of a guy – no older than thirty, typical junior salaryman suit and demeanour – who was absolutely determined to get a seat, AT ANY COST.

Middle Aged Woman sensed the presence of a challenger as she boarded the train, and spied a free seat opposite my position. Junior Salaryman leapt onto the train, side-stepping Middle Aged Woman in an attempt to sit down first. Unfortunately both of them went for exactly the same seat, at the same time, which looked a lot like two highly competitive eight year olds playing musical chairs.

Middle Aged Woman had clearly had enough of dickheads pushing in front of her and, quick as a flash, stood up and elbowed the guy in the head. And when I say elbowed, I don’t mean in a “oh I’m so sorry” kind of way, this was a professional, advanced street fighting-style manouvre. Junior Salaryman looked, well, pretty shocked to say the least, but before he had a chance to say anything Middle Aged Woman decided to give him a few punches to the temple. Junior Salaryman’s legs flicked up in an attempt to shield himself from the blows, while all I could do was stare gormlessly at the two of them (well, what was I supposed to do?).

Eventually an older guy came and broke it up. Amazingly it was Middle Aged Woman who moved to a different carriage. Junior Salaryman, after rearranging his now deshevelled suit, pretended to sleep for the rest of the journey. I wanted to ask “how does it feel to be decked by a grandma?”, but my Japanese skills don’t stretch that far.

So, let that be a warning to you. When in Japan, DO NOT MESS WITH THE OLD WOMEN.

The Japanese Sandwich

Posted 25 Sep 2006 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Food, Only in Japan, Photography, Tokyo, Work

The Japanese Sandwich

One thing that really could be improved upon here is the quality of pre-packed sandwiches. Usually it’s best to not even try and work out what’s inside, the truth would be too depressing.

A Rude Awakening

Posted 11 Sep 2006 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Events, Food, Japanese Language, Only in Japan, Photography, Tokyo, Video, Weather

At around 3am this morning I witnessed the biggest thunderstorm I have ever seen in my life. Without any warning whatsoever the heavens opened, lightning struck surrounding buildings disturbingly frequently, and the thunder was loud enough to violently shake the windows.

And I didn’t get any of this on camera. Bugger.

Giving the god a good hard shake

Kichijoji Matsuri was held this weekend, meaning lots of people walking around in blue pyjamas getting drunk, carrying mikoshi around the local area (portable shrines used to carry gods. God taxis – cool!). Apparently the gods quite enjoy being shaken around a bit to wake them from their slumber, although I’m not sure if anyone has ever actually asked the gods for their opinion on this matter.

There were many different mikoshi, carried by different teams. Some of the more active (i.e. one sake too many) groups can get pretty vocal, like this set of individuals here:

Mmm... crabs

There’s also loads of food stalls to have a wander around (and yes, the ubiqitous kebab trucks are here as well. There’s just no escaping them). I’m especially fond of the fried baby crabs. They’re soft enough to be eaten whole, legs and all, and they’re fantastic. I’m quite aware they look like something out of The Thing, but really, they’re great!

In other news, we attended a residents group meeting for our apartment, which was about as interesting as it sounds. Most of the people living in our place are retired so we were the youngest people there by a good thirty years. Luckily they’re all really nice, and had some particulary amusing ideas on what should be done in case of The Big Earthquake (ten years overdue, apparently). Nakada-san – the group leader and ex-university professor – suggested climbing the stairs to the roof and waiting for a fire service helicopter to pick them up. His wife kindly pointed out that the fire service might have a few more important matters to attend to in a city of 30 million people.

Tokyo's suburban sprawl

One exeptionally good point to come out of the meeting was that we were given the key to the rooftop. Apparently we should have been given it when we moved in last year but Nakada-san forgot. The views from the rooftop are supoib, you can see Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, even Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Tower (yes, I know you can’t see very much in the photo, but trust me, you can see it). We’re also allowed to have parties and stuff up there any time we like which is great during summer. Apparently the old folks are having a full moon party next month, which I absolutely must attend at all costs.

Tokyo skyline (sort of)

I’ve foolisly decided to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test in December, although recently I’ve put in absolutely no effort in when it comes to studying. Methinks I should stop writing this and get some revision done!

My trip to Enoshima, aka “I went so you don’t have to”

Posted 04 Sep 2006 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Events, Only in Japan, Photography, Tokyo, Travel, Weather

The weather throughout the latter half of August had been amazing, perfect beach weather in fact. Last Friday seemed like an excellent day to go to Enoshima, the weather forecast was good – occasional clouds, not too hot – and so the previous evening Mike and I decided to meet at 9.30am, Shinjuku station.

Friday morning, 8.30am – The weather’s looking a bit… grim, but no rain and besides, Enoshima’s a good 50km from Tokyo, so it’ll probably be nicer there.


Mike arrives at Shinjuku, and we board the train for Enoshima. At some point between my arriving and leaving Shinjuku, the Gods clearly decided that no-one was going to be enjoying any kind of outside activities for the rest of the day, “Today is a day for watering the garden, pool parties and tramp cleaning”, they declared to each other. “But what about all those people who decided to go to the beach today?”, asked Faiyah Laitah, God of Barbequeues. “Oh yes, forgot about them.” replied the others, “We’ll send them a memo or something…”

However, as everyone knows, the gods are not too great at paperwork, and the memo was never sent. Meanwhile, we arrive at Enoshima in a blaze of… rain. Quite a few others seemed to have had the same idea of heading to the beach today, and look just as disappointed as us as they get off the train. Not to be deterred, we buy a pair of umbrellas and set off into the unknown.

Enoshima is actually the name of a small island a stone’s throw from the beach (and means “Island of the Bay”. How original…), and there’s a causeway linking it to the mainland on which we stood. Seeing as hitting the beach was a definite no-no, we decided to walk over there and see what it had to offer.

Skylab 3 on Enoshima

The first thing we encountered on Enoshima was this rather tatty-looking object on the left. At first I thought it was some bizarre attempt at making a space-themed ice cream stall. But no ladies and gents, this was in fact a real spacecraft used by NASA for Skylab missions during the 1970′s. How it came to be standing in a hotel courtyard on a random Japanese island is anyone’s guess, although I imagine the hotel owner had been out with mates, downed way too many beers, stumbled home and decided to have quick browse on eBay. The rest is history.

Ii tenki da ne

There are many temples and shrines on Enoshima, and I really didn’t care much to look around any of them. Yes, I know they’re pretty, and ooze zen, karma, chi and Orange Fanta from every orifice, but I’ve had it up to the eyeballs with them. Word on the street is that Benzaiten, godess of music and entertainment, is enshrined on the island, therefore I decided to try and communicate with this mighty being, and have her explain why Japanese TV is so absolutely appauling.

Before I could attempt my meeting with Benzaiten, I had to climb to the top of the island. This meant either climbing lots and lots of steps or… taking the escalator! I shit you not, someone had built a series of escalators all over the island. The best thing about this was that each escalator had it’s own ticket booth (manned by a random old hag), despite being only twenty metres long. AND they charged ¥150 for a one-way journey. That’s 75p for a ten second trip!

Rain and steps - a recurring theme today

Unsurprisingly, we opted to take the stairs, and my, what wonderfully slippy stairs they were, and so many too! The streets were absolutely deserted, with the exception of the stalls and restaurants, who naturally had approximately 17,000 staff each (this is Japan, you know, that’s how they do things. Don’t argue). I’m sure this place must be heaving with tourists come the weekend, but it must be absolutely suicide-inducing to work here on a day like today. I contributed to the local tourist economy by purchasing a bottle of Coke from a nearby vending machine. Enoshima is ¥150 better off thanks to me. I hope it’s grateful.

Biiig cliffs, and random fisherman

Occasionally, i.e. when someone had opted not to build a restaurant or gift stall in place of what would have been a really nice view, Enoshima was a really beautiful sight to behold. Very much like the rest of the Japanese coastline, vegetation clings to sheer cliffs for dear life. In fact, once you make it out of the major urban centres and into the mountains, everything seems to be clinging on for dear life. It’s no wonder Japanese tend to live crammed together; there’s simply nowhere else to go.

After around an hour of walking up endless amounts of stairs, and being confronted by a hideous toothless granny who was trying to cadge a cigarette (there was a cigarette machine round the corner), we made it to the top of Enoshima. Here, at the shrine dedicated to Benzaiten, I would feel the full spiritual force of this sacred space. Carefully placing my footsteps, so as not to disturb the mighty power that lay before me, I approached the entrance. As I grew closer I could see that there appeared to be some kind of guardian barring the way, protecting the higher powers from us mere mortals. It seemed to have taken the form of an animal, but I couldn’t make out which one exactly. I stepped further forward to take a closer look and…

Scabby Eared Cat - Guardian of the Temple

…yes, there was a scabby eared, flea bitten cat, casually licking its bollocks. He had the pose and demeanor of the fat, couch-ridden father Jim from The Royale Family. I attemped to communicate with Scabby-chan, as he became affectionately known, but he simply looked up to face me, eyes burning with a mixture of feline rage and cataracts, and said “Temples? My arse!”

After the failure of attempting to communicate with a higher realm, we attemped to get the hell off this place. A wrong turn led us to the sea, on entirely the opposite side end of island. Around here there seemed to be absoutely nothing going on, with the exeption of a few brave souls attempting to fish off the rocks. I used to go fishing for hours when I was a kid, and caught absoutely nothing for all my time and effort. It gave me some satisfaction then, to see that these guys seemed to fairing just as well.

What. The. Eff... are these things?

We had no option to return the way we came. As we walked along one particular footpath on the way back I made the mistake of looking at the sheer cliff-face to my right-hand side. My God, it was like being in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The cliff was covered in thousands upon thousands of brown, cockroach-like insects. I made an all too sudden arm movement, and they parted from the area of wall nearest to me with a swiftness that made me feel like jumping into the sea.

The remaining part of our journey back to the mainland was entirely uneventful, although not once did the rain even look like stopping. As soon as we stepped off the train at Shinjuku, the rain stopped, and every day since then has been absolutely glorious. I don’t know how to say “taking the piss” in Japanese but if anyone finds out, please let me know.

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