John Hawkins



Dr John Hawkins

Welcome to my bit of the Maison de Stuff, home to a huge load of pictures, and my daily blog.

My email address is as above - I've put it in an image in a vein attempt to reduce the amount of spam I get.

John's Journal / Blog
Main Index
Archives
RSS
John's Pictures
Main Index
Main Index (text only)
Categories
Recent Updates
RSS
John's Travel
Main Index
Places
Map
RSS
Other Related Sites:
Maison de Stuff
Stuffware
Exif.org
Chiesan
Celtlands

Recent Entries:
Random Touristy Day Out
Quiet Friday
Trendy Telly Types
Old Friends
Knackered
Japanese Curry
Cooking for the Girls
Roppongi and That
Eclissi
Food for the Poorly
Chotto Biru no Kibun
I Don't Remember Tuesday
Yellow
Buying Stuff
Takaosan
A Local Night Out for Local People
Cooking
A Bit of a Breakthrough
Beer and Broadcasters
Language Ability
A Very Sociable Sunday
Junchan
Quercus
Cheap Dinner
Hanami Number 2
Hanami Number 1
Back at Work
In Japan Again
UK to Japan
London
Leeks and Llyn

Random Touristy Day Out
[Saturday 29th April]
We had almost no plan whatsoever for today, which actually turned out to be one of the day's real highlights. We just wandered aimlessly from one thing to the next, and surprisingly actually managed to have a really good time.
[Click here to read more...]
[7 comments]

Quiet Friday
[Friday 28th April]
Left work on time, and went straight home. Not a very eventful evening - made a simple salad and pasta sort of dinner. The only thing worth reporting was the inclusion of grated carrot - which I haven't had in a long time, and thanks to the addition of some vinaigretter was wonderfully nostalgic.

I then spent some of the evening fiddling with the website. Now that Sheri and Nigek have both got blogs on the 'Maison, we have a lot more regularly updated content... So I wanted to make the main page a bit more "live" - so it was easier to see at a glance what had been updated. It is great to have these new users on the site - the "community feeling" of the site just gets better and better, which in turn makes the task of administering it all a lot more rewarding.
[3 comments]

Trendy Telly Types
[Thursday 27th April]
I am lucky enough to be working with a contractor at the moment, who is not only a very nice guy, but is also very well connected in the broadcast industry here in Japan. So in the evening today he had arranged to go for a few drinks with a TV producer friend of his, and very kindly invited me along. It is great to have the opportunity to hang out with these kind of broadcasting types - I find it a very interesting industry, full of lots of great people. My new found friend was no exception - given that he was from the production side rather than the engineering side, he was somewhat more swish and trendy than the usual TV people I meet, but nonetheless very affable and down to earth.
[4 comments]

Old Friends
[Wednesday 26th April]
In the evening, met up with a few old friends from mine and Chie's university days - Dale, Erina, Kanako and Hide. It was the first time all of us had been in the same place at the same time since all the Japanese contingent graduated, back in 2002.

Not much else to say really - we had a very pleasant evening out in Akihabara, a district of Tokyo normally famous for shops selling gadgets and electrical items. On this particular occasion we only really focused on the bars and eateries though - we went to a total of three places altogether, and all of them were very passable.
[3 comments]

Knackered
[Tuesday 25th April]
I worked until pretty late again (again, by my standards) and was completely knackered by the time it came to leave the office. So when Chie called to ask about what we should do for dinner, I decided the only available option was to order in a pizza - I was too tired to cook, and too tired to go and eat out anywhere. After getting back home, I then spent the remainder of the evening trying to fix stuff on the website, but after a while had to give up, as my extreme tiredness made me a bit too dangerous to be doing that sort of thing. Generally, I was just plain knackered.
[5 comments]

Japanese Curry
[Monday 24th April]
Not much to report. Worked until reasonably late (by my standards at least), then came home to cook dinner for me and Chie, who had been off work sick again. I decided to make Japanese curry - and on the way back bought a whole host of expensive non-Japanese vegetables. I can't remember now how much a cauliflower costs in England (probably there's some seasonal variation as well), but I'm pretty sure this rather small specimen I got ranked among the most expensive I'd ever bought. Still, the resulting curry was rather nice, so I'm not inclined to complain too much.
[No comments]

Cooking for the Girls
[Sunday 23rd April]
We'd originally planned to go out for lunch with Chie's sister, to a vegetarian Chinese place we'd been to once before (see here). Chie still wasn't feeling that great, so in the end we decided it might be better to have Chie's sister come over to our apartment instead. Oh, and somewhere along the way, lunch turned into dinner.

I'd bought some dried beans in the UK (and another bag in the US) quite a while back, but have never quite got round to using them because of all the messing about with soaking etc. Today I decided I ought to finally get my act together and make something with them, given that I had the whole afternoon free to cook. Whilst Chie tried to sleep off her cold, I was busying away in the kitchen making one of my favourite recipes my Mum gave me - Boston Baked Beans. The resemblance to the original recipe was only slight - many of the ingredients had to be adapated, but I did at least stick to the core tenants: molasses (OK actually a kind of Japanese burnt sugar called kokuto) and Worcester Sauce (err, again, a Japanese version - but better for me as the Japanese one doesn't have anchovies in it). The original recipe also involved curry powder and beer (!) - both of which I approximated more or less.

I served the finished product with a quick salad, some crusty French bread, and some pan fried potato wedges. Although I say so myself, it was rather good.

As I sat back towards the end of the meal, I watched the girls chattering away and tucking in to second helpings. I experienced a wonderfully parental feeling of satisfaction, safe in the knowledge that the "young folk" had at least got a decent meal inside them.
[8 comments]

Roppongi and That
[Saturday 22nd April]
Chie had to go into work today, whereas I had a very lazy day off, just lolling around the flat. I did at least managed to get out for a bit in the afternoon to go and get my hair cut. Whilst at the hairdressers, I noticed that the guy sitting next to me didn't seem to be having a great deal done to his hair - he was just sitting there and the staff were completely ignoring him. On closer inspection I noticed he was in fact asleep, and the staff seemed to be too polite to wake him up. When he did finally wake up the staff got his things together and saw him out as though this was perfectly normal. It probably is. I couldn't help but wonder afterwards if he had in fact had his haircut at all.

As a small concession to poor old Chie, having to work on a Saturday, I went to meet her when finished. I had another mildly interesting "encounter" on the train on the way there. As the Oedo Line train was pulling into Shinjuku station, I noticed a whole row of empty seats on an otherwise reasonably busy train. "Great!", I thought, and proceeded to head towards that carriage. Once I had got on and sat down, I realised why they were empty. There was a guy sitting at one end, presumably homeless, who must have had, well, a bit of an accident. I couldn't see any, err, physical evidence, but the smell was, well, very noticeable. It was as if something had drowned in a vat of infected urine, and then been allowed to rot. I just sat it out, feeling too embarassed to walk off. However, at every station, passengers getting on must have had the same reaction of "Great - a whole row of empty seats" - and then almost all of them got up and moved within a few seconds of sitting down.

Anywho, I got to Roppongi around 6:30, and after a short wait met up with Chie. We decided while we were there it might be a good opportunity to go up to the top floor of the Mori Building, very near where Chie works in Roppongi. There's a viewing floor called "City View", imaginatively enough, and as Chie worked nearby we both got in free. The night time view was very nice actually (although there's a lot of this sort of thing in Japan, and the novelty has sort of worn off a bit now). I took some pictures there, but they didn't really do it justice - another reminder that our eyes are still significantly better than digital cameras! We also popped into the cafe / bar place on the same floor while we were there, which was quite nice, although, as you might expect, a bit pricey.

After admiring the night view, we came back down to ground level to have a bit of a wander round Roppongi, to see if we could find anything we fancied eating. We failed. Both of us (me particularly) seemed to have lost interest in eating out in Tokyo. More specifically, I realised I really don't like Roppongi that much - something about being around lots of other foreigners, and all the tackier and seedier things they unfortunately seem to attract, makes me, well, embarassed I suppose. So we started to head back home, thinking we might stop off at Shinjuku for something to eat on the way back - but gave up on that idea too. So in the end we just went home, and after a bit of digging about found the remnants of a Mexican meal in the freezer. Actually this was quite nice.

Still though, I think I have got to the point where I am really starting to miss English food again (despite having only been back there a few weeks ago). It is somewhat rediculous to say "I'd give anything for a trip to Sainsbury's", because actually I don't have to offer anything. I know quite specifically what is required to achieve this objective: simply a 500 pound plane fare. However, it is hard to say whether a lump of decent cheddar and some baked beans would taste better or worse knowing this somewhat hefty supplement had been applied to their price.
[9 comments]

Eclissi
[Friday 21st April]
Poor old Chie wasn't a hundred percent today, but still bravely soldiered on into work, given that she apparently has a lot of things piled up, and her employer isn't particularly generous when it comes to sick leave (i.e. basically any days she takes of as sick, she pretty much has to work extra days later to make up the time).

Anywho, in the evening neither of us felt like cooking, so we met up after work at one of the two stations near our apartment, to get a quick bite to eat somewhere. We ended up going to a slightly posh looking restaurant called Eclissi. I'm always a little unconvinced by "posh" European-esque places in Japan - they tend to be very superficial indeed, and at times bordering on slightly comical (for example, the way they distribute cutlery, you can't help but wonder if they had some kind of training video they had to watch). Clearly there are expensive Japanese places as well, and these are highly professional etc... but it's just typically when they try to do European it ends up seeming a bit, well, daft...

The food was, well, OK I suppose. One of our starters was a bit rediculous, and my main course was more like a starter really... but luckily neither of us were particularly hungry so we didn't mind the smaller portions so much.

After that just went home really.
[2 comments]

Food for the Poorly
[Thursday 20th April]
Chie wasn't very well today so took the day off work, as a result I made sure I left work on time so I could come back and look after her. So obviously I cooked dinner tonight. For a starter I made a kind of tofu salad - in a nearby izakaya I'd had something similar, where they used tofu in the same way you'd use mozarella, in a mozarella and tomato salad. I also put a kind of herb salad with it, and a not-so-vinaigry vinaigrette. This all came out rather well. The main course was less of a success - I was planning to use some leftover pasta sauce I remember I had in the fridge, only to find out Chie had eaten it at lunchtime. So I had to improvise, and instead did gnocchi with a sort of cheese and mustard sauce. To my shame though, for almost the first time in my life, the absence of any milk or cheese forced me to use an "instant cheese sauce" that came in a powdered form in a packet. Predictably it wasn't all that great. The addition of whole grain mustard did make it slightly more palatable though - although probably gnocchi and mustard is a slightly unusual combination, mustard does go really well with cheese sauces... a bit like the flavouring for welsh rarebit.
[No comments]

Chotto Biru no Kibun
[Wednesday 19th April]
The title is a Japanese way to say "I'm in the mood for a beer". After finishing work, I happened to be leaving the office at the same time as two of my colleagues, so the three of us walked to the station together. About 30 seconds before going through the ticket barriers, I casually murmured this handy phrase, in the most non-commital way I could manage. Lo and behold, both of my colleagues also appeared to fancy a drink.

The guy I work most closely with at the moment told me later on that evening that he is actually incapable of saying no when someone suggests going for a drink. It has occurred to me since we have been working together he has in fact said yes unequivocably every single time I've suggested a beer. I'm starting to worry I might be a bad influence!


[2 comments]

I Don't Remember Tuesday
[Tuesday 18th April]
I often get behind with my blog - in the week I'm either too tired or too lazy to update every day. Either that or there isn't so much to write about mid-week and I'm just not that inspired. So I've got into a bit of a pattern of updating in a big chunk at the weekend, with an occasional extra burst every now and again in the middle of the week. I'm writing this entry a few days after the fact (it's Friday now), and I've been really struggling to remember what I did just three nights earlier. Chie couldn't remember either. It started to bug us so Chie looked at her mobile to see if she'd emailed me on that day. From there we managed to work it out - (not particularly eventful though). We went out for ramen at the place near our apartment, that we'd been to the previous week - the one which amazingly had completely vegetarian ramen on the menu. Yep, that's it I'm afraid.
[No comments]

Yellow
[Monday 17th April]
Well don't expect a very exciting entry, it was a Monday after all. Work was productive and mildly interesting, but otherwise fairly uneventful. In the evening I got back before Chie, so went to do a bit of shopping around one of the two stations near our apartment. I bought an assortment of foodstuffs to cover a number of bases, as I was rather indecided about what to make for dinner. By the time I got back home though the idea had formed into a Thai Yellow Curry. It came out rather well, pleasingly. After that had a bit of time on the computer, and then spent the remainder of the evening reading my book, which I have really got into now. It was a bit of a slow start, but after acclimatising to the first couple of chapters I've realised it is actually very funny indeed.
[No comments]

Buying Stuff
[Sunday 16th April]
Today I bought a load of stuff. First off I had a shopping list of electrical items that I wanted to buy, and whilst I didn't get them all, I did manage a fairly respectable three out of five. These consisted of a USB DVD writer (plus one DVD-RAM disk and 20 DVD-R disks), a USB memory stick, and one of those fourway power socket adapter thingies. The two items which fell by the wayside were, predictably, the larger ticket items - a big LCD panel and a networked hard drive.

I also bought a few odds and ends for the garden (well, balcony) - two pot plants, a long window box style planter, and some soil.

The evening was then spent with a short burst of gardening (which was very straightforward, and quite gratifying), followed by a longer burst of fiddling with newly acquired gadgets (which was not at all straightforward, and highly frustrating).

I am amazed that even in 2006, support for writable CDs/DVDs on PCs still leaves a lot to be desired. As a result of this, although it was partly my fault for not reading the manual, I believe I have totally destroyed the one DVD-RAM disk I bought. Well that's 500Yen (2 pounds and 50p) down the drain then. I really don't know what the problem was, but it just seem to get completely knackered almost straight away.

The DVD-R experiments were somewhat more succesful. I was reluctant at first to install the software that came with the browser - usually this kind of software that ships with a peripheral is a pile of crap, and there is also the akwardness of installing Japanese software on my (non-Japanese) OS. Once I finally caved in and installed it though, I was pleasantly surprised. Despite being entirely in Japanese I actually found it relatively easy to use, and it seemed to be quite good at making rather twee slideshow DVDs. The main purpose of getting the DVD writer was so that on a semi-regular basis I could send pictures to my grandmother. She's the one member of my family who cannot monitor my exploits via the internet, however, I was surprised to learn on my previous visit that she does now have a DVD player in her lounge.
[9 comments]

Takaosan
[Saturday 15th April]
The cherry blossom has pretty much all finished in Tokyo, but thanks to a handy chart in our local station, we were alerted to the fact that on Takaosan, a nearby mountain, it is still only 50% in bloom. I guess this is something to do with the altitude making it cooler or something. So anyway, given that the weather forecast for Sunday was not that great, and by next weekend the best of the blossom might be over, today seemed like the perfect day to visit Takaosan.
[Click here to read more...]
[3 comments]

A Local Night Out for Local People
[Friday 14th April]
Normally when we go out in Tokyo, we'll go to one of the larger centres like Shinjuku / Ikebukuro or occasionally Roppongi / Shibuya. Tonight for a change we decided to try going out in the area around one of our two nearest stations - Sasazuka.
[Click here to read more...]
[1 comment]

Cooking
[Thursday 13th April]
Left work relatively early (which would be described as "on time") in any other country, so got back home a fair while before Chie. This gave me the opportunity to spend a fair bit of time cooking, so I could pretend to be a stereotypical Japanese wife and have dinner ready on the table when Chie got home.
[5 comments]

A Bit of a Breakthrough
[Wednesday 12th April]
Had a bit of a breakthrough at work. I won't bore you with the details, and I probably couldn't even if I wanted to thanks to NDAs and all that. Anyway, it was a great result, so me and the contractor I'm working with were both very pleased with ourselves. A quick celebratory drink after work was of course obligatory, but we kept it short and I was back at home before 8. Made a Japanese curry which didn't come out all that marvellously (I realised part way through we didn't really have any vegetables in the fridge!). Ho, hum.
[No comments]

Beer and Broadcasters
[Tuesday 11th April]
Left the office slightly early, as we had an appointment at TV Asahi to do some testing, and to go for a bit of a tour of the facility. Trivia fans may wish to note that whilst I think the TV station is (I think) owned by the same company as the Asahi newspaper, I believe it is not connected (sadly) with the popular Japanese beer. I like visiting broadcasting companies, it was an occasional treat in my last job, and it seems I may become a semi-regular thing in this one too.

After our visit to TV Asahi, I decided to take the contractor I'm working with to England for the evening. As we were in Roppongi Hills, we weren't that far away from my favourite English pub in Japan - the Hobgoblin. It also meant we could pick up Chie on the way, who also works in Roppongi Hills. So the three of us had a pub dinner and a couple of pints of bitter each. Marvellous.
[No comments]

Language Ability
[Monday 10th April]
It was a little bit of a struggle getting up and into work in the morning, it had been a very fun weekend and so predictably the thought of going back into the office was not totally welcome. Actually though I had a pretty reasonable day. I got a lot done, and also out of the blue had a "power lunch" with the big head honcho of the division I work in, who was visiting from the US for a few days. I was put on the spot a couple of times - clearly he assumes as I'm working in Japan that my Japanese is a bit better than it actually is, so he had me translating the menu, ordering food and so on, as well as doing a bit of interpreting for a colleague of mine who doesn't speak much English. I think I pulled it off reasonably well though actually.

Language ability is always something at the back of my mind when doing this job - originally the powers that be were not totally sure about giving me the posititon, apparently, given the concern over whether or not I'd be able to cope in a largely Japanese speaking office. So I always feel really good when I can successfully demonstrate to someone high up that I can actually get by, more or less.
[10 comments]

A Very Sociable Sunday
[Sunday 9th April]
Spent the daytime wandering around Tokyo again with Chie and Junchan. Like the previous day, had a generally lovely time (and this time without any interludes of right wing campaigners or irrate Americans!).

The first part of our day out involved a visit to "Veggie Fest" - amazingly a small festival of vegetarian food in Japan. As is often the way in this part of the world, there seemed to be some sort of religous underpinning to it all, but unperturbed I munched my way through a number of interesting meat free snacks.

After that, and a bit of a vague wander, we took a tram ride to Sugamo - unofficially known as the "Old People's Harajuku" (Harjuku being a place popular for, er, young people). So it's the old people's young people's place. Go figure. Anyway, it was kind of interesting, I couldn't help but wonder if people who aren't that old go there in order to feel younger, by contrast. I certainly did after an hour or two wandering those streets.

Around 5 or 6 Junchan got on a train back to her hometown of Sendai, and Chie and I headed back to our flat. In the evening Chie's sister and Harukakun (an old university friend of Chie's) came over for dinner, which was very nice - the first time we've had anything resembling a dinner party since moving in.
[2 comments]

Junchan
[Saturday 8th April]
Had a very nice day out with Chie and our friend Junchan, which was punctuated (but I'd like to point out not spoiled) by some rather unpleasant behaviour.

Junchan was in Tokyo for the weekend to see some friends on Saturday night, but had arrived around midday so she could spend the afternoon with me and Chie first. So, after coming to our apartment to drop off our bags, we headed over to Shinjuku for lunch.

On the way between the station and an Indian restaurant we like, we walked past a campaigner for some kind of Japanese right wing party, complete with the imperialist Japanese flag and everthing. To my surprise, the guy with the loudspeaker came out with "gaikokujin ga warui" - quite blatantly "foreigners are bad!". I turned to the guy and smiled, as if to say, "err, hello, I'm here and I can understand you", which then led to him to say "waratenai" over the loudspeaker (meaning "don't smile"). Looking back it seems a little comical really, and of course there is always the chance that it was just a misunderstanding. Despite being in a very crowded place most people seemed to completely ignore this guy droning on about the woes of liberal governments and so on - even Chie didn't notice what he was saying. Ho, hum.

So we had lunch in this Indian place, which I thought was pretty good as always. Whilst we were there, an American guy and a Japanese woman came in. To start with the American guy seemed very civilised - he was speaking very good Japanese, and as far as I could understand it was something about architecture. So anyway, there appeared to be something wrong with his curry - I think they'd made it too hot. So he quite politely asked (in Japanese) for them to make it again. When he tasted the replacement however, there was a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde thing, and he suddenly seemed to go from the mild mannered intellectual type I'd pegged him as to a rather angry individual, somewhat reminiscent of the film Falling Down. I believe his exact words were: "What have you done to it? This tastes like shit!", which he repeated several times with a tone and volume that ensured everyone else in the restaurant was aware of his discontent. What made it slightly more amusing was the dissatisfied customer adding on "Do you want me to come here again?", to which I couldn't help but wonder if the staff were thinking "Actually, no.".

On my way out I thought to myself, oh well, at least we've been nice polite and easygoing customers. Then a while after leaving I checked my receipt and noticed they'd added two random items to our bill. I couldn't help but wonder if they'd decided we ought to subsidise the rather loud and displeased customer, who probably wasn't going to pay at all. I can't say I'm that bothered really, the spurious items only amounted to a couple of quid, and if that helps re-align the ying and yang of the universe a bit then it's money well spent!

Anyway, I didn't let any of this unpleasant behaviour spoil what was otherwise a very nice day out! After leaving Shinjuku, we headed over to Iidabashi, because there was a bookshop specialising in French books there that the girls wanted to visit. The river there is lined with sakura trees, and although the cherry blossom in Tokyo is coming to an end now, it still looked very picturesque. So we spent a couple of hours having a vague wander around the area, chatting as we went, which was just lovely.

Junchan headed off around 6 to go see her other friends, leaving Chie and me to do a spot of shopping then head home for dinner. Both of us wanted to eat very simple food - I made a sort of cheese and potato bake, and Chie just had miso soup and rice, then we both had a bit of each other's.
[6 comments]

Quercus
[Friday 7th April]
Another productive day at work merited another reward - this time a trip to Quercus, my favourite bar. It was fairly quiet in there for a Friday, which on the plus side I was able to have a good long chat with Watanabe-san, all in Japanese, which seemed to flow very easily this evening. The selection of whiskies for the evening was also very easy - I just asked Watanabe-san what new Islays he had got since last time I had been, and he lined them up on the bar, allowing me to just work my way through them one by one. Particularly interesting was the Lagavulin - it is pretty rare to see independent bottlings from this distillery.
[1 comment]

Cheap Dinner
[Thursday 6th April]
Had a very productive day at work, and decided as a reward (like I need an excuse) me and Chie should go to our favourite frighteningly cheap Italian-esque "famiresu" place. It's a chain, so they have several branches all over Tokyo, but we went to our old haunt back in Hatagaya, where we'd stayed for the first two months after I started my job. Dinner - two pizzas, a pasta dish, a caraffe of wine and some weird cocktail thing, came to a ludicrously inexpensive 12 quid.
[No comments]

Hanami Number 2
[Wednesday 5th April]
Everyone that worked on my floor had been given the afternoon off to go to a hanami at a nearby theme park. This ought to have been great, but unfortunately this was the one day in a week of otherwise marvellous weather that it absolutely pissed it down. All day, non stop. There had been serious talk at one point of turning the picnic into a bus tour of Tokyo, but this hadn't met with much enthusiasm. So instead we all soldiered on despite the awful weather in what seemed like a very British way to me. There were some small gazebo things put up, and 100+ of us were huddled into these with our drinks and nibbles, pretending like we were enjoying ourselves. Whilst the party was supposed to have gone on until at least 3, by 2 o' clock most people had gone home already. It was, quite literally, a washout.

Still, I'm a great believer in not looking a gift horse in the mouth - an afternoon off, is, after all, an afternoon off. Even more so when free drinks are also supplied. So I stayed right until the bitter end, and then, when everyone else was getting onto the last bus, one of my colleagues suggested going to a nearby bath house place to wile away the rest of the afternoon.

This bit was really nice actually - the rain didn't seem to be able to spoil even the outdoor baths. Plus afterwards we were able to sit for a long chat in the kind of cafe/restaurant place attached to the bath house, have a couple more drinks, and talk about life, money and the future of the broadcast industry.

It was, as Arkwright might have said, a funny sort of day.
[1 comment]

Hanami Number 1
[Tuesday 4th April]
So I was pleased to find on my return to Japan that I hadn't missed the cherry blossom - they were coming to an end, but I could still appreciate the full bloom. So that meant hanami season was in full swing - the one time of the year when the Japanese feel comfortable about drinking outdoors. Oh, apart from the summer when they have those "beer gardens". Oh, and the winter when they go and visit hot springs, and have those little sake boats floating along by their sides.

I have yet to discover what the Autumnal excuse for exterior alcohol consumption is, but no doubt there is one.

Anywho, at this time of year, almost every spare afternoon and evening is a potential hanami. So Chie and I decided after work to try and find a nice park, and have dinner plus a drink or two in the great outdoors, whilst admiring the cherry blossoms (in the dark). After a bit of research, we discovered that Inokashira Park (which can be incorrectly translated as "I believe it may be a dog" park) was open until late, and as it was not too far from where we live, this was obviously the place to go.

It wasn't difficult to find. Just after we got off the train, we went to a nearby conbini (convenience store) where seemingly everyone else was buying a few beers and a bento. So we just followed these people really.

It was pretty busy there, it is seemingly quite normal for companies to give their employees an afternoon off around this time of year, or at least let them leave early, which meant many people in the park looked, well, like they had been enjoying themselves for some time already. Despite my rather cynical opening paragraph, it is actually quite uncommon to see Japanese people drinking outdoors so it was something of a sight to behold.

Chie and I were very sensible - we just sat quietly on a bench, had a token beer each, and watched the world go (or more appropriately stagger) by. Still, a very nice evening out nonetheless.
[No comments]

Back at Work
[Monday 3rd April]
First day back in the office after almost two weeks in the UK.
[2 comments]

In Japan Again
[Sunday 2nd April]
My flight landed at Tokyo Narita around 9AM. This is now something like the 10th time I have landed in Japan, what with all my trips before I was living here, plus a certain amount of going away and coming back for business/holidays since I've taken up residence. The routine is now a very familiar one.

So I managed to get through immigration / baggage reclaim / customs etc pretty quickly, comparatively speaking, and was on a train leaving the airport within an hour of having landed. My bags were quite heavy, and I was really tired having not slept at all, so it was quite a strain to get back from the aiport to my apartment. Anyway, I had got through the door by about 11:30, only to find Chie still asleep!

I have no discipline when it comes to dealing with jetlag - people say you should stay awake until the normal time to go to bed at your destination, but given that I can never sleep on the plane, I'm generally like a zombie by the time I arrive. So not long after getting back I had the classic "little nap" which turned into about 5 or 6 hours.

Chie woke me up for dinner, and I then spent the rest of the evening just lolling around the flat, and realised although I'd had a great time in the UK, it was also nice to be back here.
[6 comments]

UK to Japan
[Saturday 1st April]
Today I flew back from the UK to Japan. It was all pretty run-of-the-mill really. I checked out of my hotel in London around 8:30, and headed over to Paddington, which proved to be quite handy for buying last minute omiyage (souvenirs). In Japan edible souvenirs are very much de rigeur, and so the little Sainsbury's in Paddington served my requirements perfectly. I was also particularly pleased that I finally managed to spend the WH Smiths voucher I'd been given as a leaving present from my previous company, over a year ago. Better still I wasn't subjected to the usual slap in the face of being given more vouchers as change, instead I got hard cash with which I duly bought a cheese, tomato and basil pasty from the West Cornwall Pasty Co.

Once the souvenir shopping had all been done, I got on the overpriced but very handy Heathrow Express to the airport. The airport was very busy, and despite getting there almost three hours before my flight, I still seemed to spend the majority of that time in queues. I was also bitterly disappointed to find Terminal 3 doesn't have any KLM/Northwest/Skyteam business class lounge, so I couldn't flash my gold card anywhere, and had to endure the humiliation of waiting with all the rest of the cattle flying economy.

The flight was OK, I spoke to the Japanese guy sitting next to me quite a bit, as he'd been in England on a language course, and was keen to get in some practice it seemed! Also watched a total of three films - that Narnia film, Memoirs of a Geisha, and a slightly unusual film called The Big White. None of them were fabulous, but all were watchable and helped to pass the time.
[No comments]

London
[Friday 31st March]
As I would need to be in the airport Saturday morning, I had to travel down towards London from North Wales the day before my flight back to Japan. So it seemed only proper to make the most of a night in London, see some old friends, and visit some of my favourite haunts.

I arrived in London around 1:30, and a short while later met up with David, for a couple of kick off drinks and a spot of lunch at the whisky society. From there we then headed down to Waterloo to meet up with Duncan, and after a quick pint in the ever characterless All Bar One, we checked in my bags at the hotel, such that the proceedings could then begin in earnest.

We took a stroll along the Thames from Waterloo, and then headed over Blackfriars bridge, naturally then stopping off the other side at the excellent Black Friar. From there we headed north, and popped in for a quick drink at The Viaduct Tavern. After that we were just a short walk from the whisky society, and so couldn't resist another visit to there. Duncan seemed to like it a lot, but I couldn't quite persuade him to become a member.

The second (or was it third?) phase of the evening began at The Cittie of Yorke, where I was still as awe struck as ever with that wonderful high vaulted ceiling and the giant sherry butts in the back bar. We met up with the rest of the evening's participants in there - Stuart, James and Simon. After a couple of drinks there, we determined we ought to get something to eat, and popped round the corner for a fairly middle-of-the-road curry. Still, that duty out of the way, we were then free to continue on to the last pub of the evening - Ye Olde Mitre - a great note to finish on. I'm not sure that my drinking companions for the evening had quite the same sense of wonder I do at this magical place, but still, if nothing else it was at least a bit out of the ordinary. We stood outside in the alley, oblivious to the less-than-friendly weather, soaking up the atmosphere of that little outpost of Cambridgeshire.

It seems the change in licensing laws has not yet had much of an impact on pubs in London - at least in the area I like, and at 11 o' clock everywhere seemed to be shutting up shop as usual. Maybe that's for the best, I don't know. Anyway, after closing time Duncan and I then headed back down to Waterloo, where it transpired our hotel bar was still open. Well, you know - it would have been rude not to.
[2 comments]

Leeks and Llyn
[Thursday 30th March]
This turned out to be my only full day in North Wales. The weather was not that wonderful most of the day, but we did manage to get just enough of a break from the rain for one "envigorating" walk on the beach. We went to a beach called Black Rock Sands, that we often used to go to when I was a kid, on holidays in North Wales. Oh, and we also stopped in at Portmadog to by some rock, to take back to Japan as souvenirs. Marvellous.

Dad had asked me the day before what sort of things I fancied eating whilst I was there, and, given that I was in Wales and everything, I replied simply "leeks". So food today all followed a very leeky theme - an excellent leek and potato soup for lunch, and then an equally excellent leek and cheese bake for dinner.
[No comments]