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.

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Recent Entries:
Leftovers
Ratatouille to you to!
If the Mountain Wouldn't Come to Masako...
Japanese Sage Derby
Going Underground
Toshimaen Spa
End of a Bland Week
Thurdsay
Signs
Reconstruction via Receipts
Gyoza
Another Day Lost to VBI
A Day of Rest
Ikebukuro Overload
More Adventures in the Land of VBI
Wednesday
Tuesday
Obon
Beach
Rain
The Wonderful World of VBI
I Didn't Expect the Spanish Inquisition...
Half day
Virtually Gadding About
Mornington Crescent
Cafe Culture
A load of nonsense about railway timetables...
Ikebukuro All Nighter
Mount Beer
Packing
Time Waits For No Man

Leftovers
[Thursday 31st August]
According to wikipedia:

La ratatouille peut être mangée immédiatement mais elle est bien meilleure après une nuit.

I couldn't agree more. Today for dinner we had an assortment of leftovers including the remaining stew from Monday, and the remaining ratatouille from Wednesday. Both tasted better for having matured a bit in the fridge. Oh and we also had some corn-on-the-cob, another major feature in our most recent food parcel from Nagano.

Culinary matters aside, I had a long phone conversation with my Dad this evening about plans for the future. I hadn't spoke to him in a while and so there was quite a lot of news to tell, and it was really great to catch up.

The rest of the evening was pretty uneventful really.

[3 comments]

Ratatouille to you to!
[Wednesday 30th August]
On our recent trip to Nagano we had stayed with the family of Chie's friend Junchan. They live in a very rural area and Junchan's mother takes advantage of all the space to grow quite a lot of vegetables. She is also either (A) extremely generous or (B) desperate to go to whatever lengths are necessary to get rid of the damn things, as since our visit we have received two large packages containing an assortment of said vegetables. Very nice they are too.

So tonight's dinner was largely dictated by whatever happened to be in the latest box of surprises - I am utterly determined that none of this fine produce is going to waste.

Today I focused on using lots of courgettes - and the obvious choice here is of course ratatouille. To go with this I made a couple of potato rosti (using potatoes from the latest parcel) and a green salad (with cucumber also from the parcel). The ensemble was, although I say so myself, rather good. I wish I had taken a picture now, but given that it took quite a while to prepare (vegetables can be really hard work) I was somewhat ravenous by the time it was ready, and so wasn't prepared to hang around for these kind of aesthetic luxuries.
[2 comments]

If the Mountain Wouldn't Come to Masako...
[Tuesday 29th August]
It was another crappy day at work, and I felt I needed to cool off before going home so popped into the little bar next to one of our two nearest stations. I had a chat with Masako-san, the woman who runs it, which was very nice. She seems to really like foreigners - she told me all about all the different nationalities of customers that come to her bar, and said it all with a constant smile and a sort of sense of wonder. Whilst the Japanese are among the world's most prolific tourists, there are also a lot of people that have never left the country. For us Europeans it is so easy to just "pop across the border" to visit our neighbouring countries, but partly because of distance, and perhaps partly because of strained relations, it doesn't seem so common for Japanese to go to Korea, China etc. Europe and the US seem to be more popular destinations, but they are of course both quite a distance away and Japanese companies don't seem to give their employees a lot of holidays.

So it seemed to me that Masako-san was quite delighted at the prospect that without her having to go anywhere but her own bar, the whole world would come to her. This was very nice to hear.

When I got back to the apartment, feeling in a somewhat better state of mind, Yuka (Chie's sister) had come to visit. The three of us had dinner together - a fairly mixed bag Japanese type of meal.

After dinner I spent a long time on the phone to my Mum. I think I have now more or less made up my mind about my plans for the future, but I have a few more people I'd like to discuss it with before I feel it's appropriate to write about it here. Maybe in a week or so.
[4 comments]

Japanese Sage Derby
[Monday 28th August]
To the average (non-vegetarian) person, rennet is probably not an issue over which you'd lose any sleep. To me however, it is something of an obsession. I absolutely love cheese, but sadly this one small ingredient renders a lot of cheeses non-vegetarian. In the UK standards of labelling are superb, and it is very easy to identify cheeses which are made with non-animal rennet. In the rest of the world it seems people just don't care. Here in Japan I have never seen any labelling identifying the type of rennet used, or even mentioning it at all. So I hardly ever buy cheese here in Japan.

So I was quite pleased today to find a block of Sage Derby in a shop near where I work. Whilst obviously there was still no sign of any information on the label, it was imported from the UK, and cheese.com had it listed as vegetarian. Presumably there are several UK companies which make this cheese, and it is possible they don't all use the same type of rennet, but it did seem a fairly safe bet - vegetarian rennet is now more or less the norm for British cheeses. It was imported by Mycella and is, I believe, manufactured in the UK by Coombe Castle.

In the evening I was still in the mood for bery British food, and so made a kind of stew for dinner - not the usual red wine base, but a sauce more similar to an onion gravy. I found it quite hearty and satisfying, but I'm not really sure if it was Chie's cup of tea.

I spent some time after dinner working on my travel pages - particularly the map. I've made a first attempt at having the map work hierarchically. So rather than just bunging all the places I've been to in the world on the map all at once, they are arranged by areas. It basically works, but at present it is a bit slow and slightly rough around the edges. Oh, and it seems to cause Firefox to leak memory somewhat, which is a bit worrying.
[3 comments]

Going Underground
[Sunday 27th August]
We'd originally had a vague plan to go away somewhere this weekend, but as Chie had a dentist appointment the previous day this had been revised into just a daytrip. So Chie had done a bit of research and had somehow or other come upon the idea of visiting some caves. Nippara Shonyudo caves to be precise, near Okutama in the North West of Tokyo prefecture.

It took quite a while to get there as it was in a pretty remote part of Tokyo prefecture, and we were relying on fairly slow local trains and buses. So we first had about a 2 hour train journey to get from where we live to Okutama. From there it was a half hour bus ride to get to a little village (which I assumed was Nippara itself), and then finally another half hour walk from there to the place where the actual caves were. I got the distinct impression that this is the sort of attraction which most people get to by car.

Still, I don't mind this kind of travelling so much - I find it quite relaxing being on these little local trains, and the scenery was quite pleasant, especially towards the end of the journey.

The actual caves were quite nice - I'm not sure if I'd strongly recommend them to anyone else living in central Tokyo given the six hour round trip involved, but if like me you don't mind the travelling then it makes for an interesting and slightly different day out. They're billed as limestone caves, although it was only towards the end of the tour that we saw a few stalactites and stalagmites. I'm not sure these formations were really the star of the show, so much as the general atmosphere of the place. It was actually a bit creepy down there, especially as towards the end the passageways are quite narrow and not easy to navigate in a hurry.

After leaving the caves we popped into the adjoining cafe place (no Japanese tourist attraction would be complete without one) and had a strange late afternoon snack consisting of rice and lots of konnyaku. I'm never sure if I really like konnyaku or not, but I was quite hungry by this point, and was prepared to eat just about anything (with the usual constraints of a vegetarian diet, of course).

On the way back to Tokyo we stopped off in Tachikawa. Somehow or other Chie had found out there was a vegetarian Chinese/Taiwanese restaurant there. In fact the station had a big newish shopping centre built around it, and one floor was devoted to a kind of mini Chinatown. So we had a very nice meal at Chien Fu - apparently a small chain of vegetarian chinese restaurants. The menu was rather vast, and we were struggling to choose initially, so I rather flippantly said we should just get the most expensive set menu. To my surprise Chie actually agreed. We had something like 9 courses (although most of them were fairly small) and by the end we were rather stuffed. Very nice though - I'd definitely go again.
[3 comments]

Toshimaen Spa
[Saturday 26th August]
It was mostly a fairly lazy day today. I spent some time in the morning and early afternoon back on the VBI, and managed to make some really good progress in a short time - I finally found out how to handle the unusual bit checking mechanism, so I can actually be confident that the demodulation I'm doing of the waveform is more or less correct.

I knocked together a quick pasta dish for lunch. In the afternoon we watched the other DVD we had rented out the previous evening - a rather disappointhng modern attempt at a Sherlock Holmes film. To my slight embarassment I realise I have become something of a Sherlock Holmes geek, and spent the whole film picking flaws.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0337593/

Chie made a kind of vegetarian gyuudon for dinner, which was rather nice actually.

After dinner we headed out for the evening, to go for a late bathe at Toshimaen Spa. It was a similar sort of thing to some of the other spa places we'd been previously - like Enoshima and Yunessun in Hakone. I still think Enoshima was the best - whilst this place was a little cleaner and less full of kids than Yunessun, it was a bit on the small side and there were too many people even in the supposed quiet period. Anyway, I suppose it broke up the day a bit.

On the way back we popped into one of our old haunts - Grazie Gardens - the Italian style "famiresu" (Japanese English for family restaurant) in Hatagaya (the place where we had lived for a couple of months at the end of 2005 when we first started work in Tokyo. It's very cheap and cheerful, but I rather like this place, and it is quite handy that it is open until 3AM.
[2 comments]

End of a Bland Week
[Friday 25th August]
It had been a pretty bland week all in all - so when Friday night came round I was quite determined to go out at least a bit. So Chie and I went to Doma Doma after work - the izakaya (next to one of our two nearest stations) that we have been to a few times before. There are a few items on the menu here which don't have any meat in, so whilst it's not quite enough to have a thoroughly satisfying meal, with the addition of a beer or two I can at least get to the point where I'm not that bothered any more. So we had pretty much the usual things we always eat at this place - some fresh tofu (hiyayako), some garlicy potato wedges, the "Salt n' Shake" style vegetable chips, a few crudités and so on.

Oh and after that we popped into the little bottled beer bar next door, which had coverage from the Fuji Rock festival on the big screen TV, which was nice. I was reminded yet again how completely ignorant I am about Japanese music.

After that we went to our local Tsutaya (Japanese equivalent to Blockbuster) to rent a couple of DVDs. We rented out Spirit / Fearless / Huo Yuan Jia / Whatever it is called - that one with Jet Li in. We watched it when we got back, although I have to say I was a bit disappointed. Maybe I just wasn't in the right frame of mind for this kind of film.
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Thurdsay
[Thursday 24th August]
This week was just a blur of dullness - really struggling to remember today as well!

The pile of receipts on my desk informs me I had a "caramel macchiato" from the little Starbucks in our office at work. This sounded quite unpleasant from the description, but I had got bored of everything else on the menu and this was probably the only thing I hadn't tried. It wasn't too bad I suppose, but a million miles from what I thought a macchiato was supposed to be.

Following a discussion with Chie, it turns out we had a kind of Japanese omlette for dinner.
[No comments]

Signs
[Wednesday 23rd August]
I went for a few drinks after work with TK at a little bar near the office and we had a good chat about the future. We had been discussing project schedules in the daytime, and I'd felt it was necessary to inform TK that I didn't really plan on being in Japan forever. He was very understanding, not surprising of course, given what a tremendously nice chap he is!

Chie was out with her sister for the evening, so when I got back I wasted a bit of time watching the telly - Signs was on, and conveniently by some clever analogue TV trick which I don't fully understand it was a bilingual broadcast. So once I'd worked out which button on the remote control I had to press I could watch it in English. I'm sure this film is generally regarded as being a bit naff, but perhaps I was in an odd frame of mind, and so I found it oddly rather unsettling.
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Reconstruction via Receipts
[Tuesday 22nd August]
I'm writing this entry a few days hence and I was initially struggling to remember what I did.

Fishing back through the little pile of receipts on my desk reveals that I went for pizza for lunch at the little pizzeria near my office (yes, to remind you I live in Japan - but there is a lot of Italian food about here). If I recall correctly I had a pizza verdura, for which their intepretation was like having a salad on top of a pizza, and was actually surprisingly quite nice. Oh, and it cost 1320 Yen (62 Yen of which was tax).

In the evening I apparently went to "Kaldi Coffe Farm" which is a chain of delicatessen type shops. There I bought some Yukon Potato Chips (Salt and Vinegar), 399 Yen. A tin of diced tomatoes, 90 Yen. A jar of tomato and porcini pasta sauce, 441 Yen. Finally some a bag of Chifferi Rigati pasta, 241 Yen.

So dinner was pasta with that tomato and porcini sauce. All in all quite an Italian day, foodwise.

I think I spent the rest of the evening in a frustrating search, trying to find more information that would help my proceed with my VBI project.
[No comments]

Gyoza
[Monday 21st August]
After Chie's weekend long training marathon, today she had a day off. This was nice as it meant she could come to the part of Tokyo where I work and we could have lunch together.

After I finished work we met up again at the supermarket next to our nearest station. Initially we were both at a complete loss for what to have for dinner, until eventually one or the other of us came up with the idea of gyoza.

Standard gyoza in Japan typically contain some kind of meat. So when we make them at home, we have a somewhat adapted recipe with a filling involving okara (a by-product of the tofu production process), nira (a kind of Japanese/Chinese leek or chive) and usually some kind of Japanese mushroom. This seems to work rather well actually - although I've never had the "real thing" to compare, they certainly taste good to me at least.
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Another Day Lost to VBI
[Sunday 20th August]
Chie was on her training course again, and following the previous day's rather slothful display, I was determined to make more effective use of my time today. So it was another day spent trying to fathom Japanese VBI. As I'm not sure whether or not this blog is the right place for lengthy technical explanations about broadcasting technology, I've started a page over at Stuffware. This is turning out to be a significantly difficult project, and so I'm keen to put as much information about my findings on the web as possible. For two reasons - firstly to help out anyone else who might try and tackle the same thing, as I've spent a lot of time searching the web for information on some of the hurdles I'm trying to overcome, but haven't really found a lot of information. Secondly I'm hoping someone might come across this and offer to give me a hand!
[1 comment]

A Day of Rest
[Saturday 19th August]
Following a couple of late nights in a row, today constituted an exceptionally long lie in (it was well into the afternoon when I finally got up), and basically I then did nothing the rest of the day. Chie was out in the daytime on a training course, and then in the evening having dinner with some people from work. This was probably for the best, as my totally slothful mood would probably have become quite irritating for her after a while!

A bit of a waste of a day really - I would have liked to have made some more productive use of the time, but was just far too worn out to do anything.
[2 comments]

Ikebukuro Overload
[Friday 18th August]
Following my very late night at the office the previous day, today I determined I would leave on time - even - gasp - slightly early. So I headed out about 5PM, and went off for my absolutely bog standard Friday night routine. So, dinner at Rohlan first. For a change I chose dishes that were bordering on Japanese rather than the usual Taiwanese/Chinese - a kind of yaki soba. Oh and some gyoza, and a tofu dish which I forget the name of.

Obviously after that I headed on over to Quercus. Normally I average about one visit a month I reckon, but I was keen to go back a bit sooner this time, as last time in a fit of generosity (probably fuelled by alcohol!) another guy at the bar had paid for all of my drinks - and I wanted to return the favour (or at the very least say thank you).

So the chap who had been so generous last time did turn up later on, but to my amusement he barely seemed to remember he had shelled out all that cash last time. A lot of people at that bar seem to have a lot of money to throw around, and so it's hardly worth them batting an eyelid over that sort of incident!

Oh and I made another couple of new friends - a guy doing a PhD (so obviously I had some sage words of advice etc) and a guy who works for Zara. It was a pleasant coincidence that I was wearing a Zara shirt at the time, and I always like the way in Japan that people say thank you when you tell them you are using their companies' products.

I had originally planned to get the last train back (around midnight) but somewhat regrettably I rather lost track of time. I'm not really sure what time it was when I left, probably around 2:30 or 3. I then got a taxi back home - the first time I've taken a taxi all the way from Ikebukuro. Actually it was surprisingly cheap - 5000 Yen (25 quid) which is like a drop on the ocean in Japanese night out terms.
[2 comments]

More Adventures in the Land of VBI
[Thursday 17th August]
Stayed really late at the office - until about 10PM.

A lot of this time was spent waiting around for my PC to finish long jobs. So I spent the time constructively trying to decipher ARIB STD-B5.

This is the standard for Japanese VBI based data transmission - their version of Teletext and subtitles on analogue TV. It was really tough - the PDF appears to have been scanned in, so there was no option to just copy and paste into Google translate or whatever. It's not even easy to retype Japanese text like you could with English - I either have to know how to pronounce each Japanese character to type it, or alternatively I can try a few lookup mechanisms based on radicals or numbers of strokes or even a primitive thing that lets you draw the kanji and tries to recognise it... but the dictionary runs into many thousands, so it is no mean feat!

Plus the bit that I'm currently trying to work on - the actual modulation of the VBI signal - is really quite different to anything I've done before. Usually I start with a clean signal of 1s and 0s and go from there. With VBI though the data is modulated into a signal in the image data - so I've got to demodulate that first (in software) before I can make any sense of it. Take a look at a tool called VBI Scope (which incidentally I've found very useful) to get an idea of the task in hand. Actually having said that, the VBI data shown there is a really clean signal (possibly NTSC closed captions?) - part of the reasonm I'm really struggling is that the signals I've been getting from both the tuners I've tried have been really, really noisy.

So I'm working in a technical area I don't really understand based on a spec written in a language I can hardly read. I think I may have bitten off more than I can chew here!
[1 comment]

Wednesday
[Wednesday 16th August]
Another day I'm really struggling to remember as I'm writing about a week after the fact.... so probably not much to report.
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Tuesday
[Tuesday 15th August]
I'm writing this a week hence, and really struggling to remember what I did on this day. So I guess it must have been pretty uneventful.


At some point this week (maybe today, or maybe Monday/Wednesday) I watched Girl with a Pearl Earring, which Chie downloaded for free from gyao.jp. Yes before you ask it is perfectly legal - there's usually adverts etc so I think that is how they get their revenue (or maybe it is somehow funded by our ISP???). Anyway, whilst t wasn't exactly the sort of film I'd typically watch, I found it oddly compelling actually. If nothing else the costumes and scenery were all done very well.

Possibly had spaghetti for dinner - although that could have been another night this week instead. They've really all merged into one now!

[1 comment]

Obon
[Monday 14th August]
This week is Obon week in Japan, so whilst there are no official national holidays, many people take time
off work. This is a time of year when the Japanese believe their ancestors return temporarily to earth,
and many people return to their family homes.

On the plus side it makes Tokyo a lot quieter than usual!

Today was TK's only day in the office this week, which seemingly warranted a few drinks after work -
like we need an excuse!
[1 comment]

Beach
[Sunday 13th August]
Had a lazy morning, and then after lunch got into the standard Sunday afternoon "so what are we going to do today?" routine. I had a hankering to go and see the sea, although I was a little pessimistic about whether or not it would work out, given that, as usual, we didn't plan anything before hand, and by the time we got round to thinking about heading out it was already gone 2 o' clock.

To my pleasant surprise though, we both mustered enough enthusiasm to go and get on a train, with only a vague idea of where we were headed. I spotted a sort of peninsula on the map at the edge of Tokyo bay, which, acting on a hunch, I had determined was the sort of place that might have a beach.

It took a while to get there, but that didn't bother us as we both quite like being on trains in Japan. So by just before 5 we had arrived at Miurakaigan. Whilst it was by no means the most wonderful beach in the world, it met our simple needs. I could look out to sea from there and not see a single building or indeed anything man made (with the possible exception of some ships in the distance). This is a tremendous luxury when you live in central Tokyo, which is about as far away from nature as you can get.

The beach wasn't so busy when we got there, as it was already towards the end of the day. I got the impression it would probably have been quite busy earlier on though (and I'm glad we missed that!). There were a lot of life guards manning the beach - something I'm not so used to from the UK. At one point there was even a touch of drama - they all went and dived into the sea to haul out some bloke and drag him to the shore. We looked on with some concern for a while as they appeared to resucitate him etc, until we eventually realised that one of the life gaurds was holding up a board which read "renshu chu" - which means practising.

We didn't stay that long - probably only an hour or two - which may seem daft as we'd probably spent a total of about four hours to get there and back. Still, I was happy with that - I really just wanted to see the sea for a bit, get some "huge lungfuls of sea air" as my grandmother would put it, and get away from the city, even if just for a short while.

When we got back in the evening I made a "mediterranean stew" using the large soya chunks I'd bought at It's Vegetable the previous weekend. It had a good splash of red wine in it, but other than that it was mainly tomato based - with a decent helping of Herbes de Provence for that mediterranean flavour. Probably not to everyone's tastes, but I liked it at least.
[3 comments]

Rain
[Saturday 12th August]
We had planned to go to the Takaosan beer garden today, but in the end had to cancel because it was raning so much. The original grand plan had incorporated about six or seven people, but it seems the rain had washed away everyone's enthusiasm to do anything. So in the end just me, Chie and our friend Haruka-kun went out for the evening instead. Given that Haruka-kun lives just a stone's throw from our apartment, it made sense to just go out in the local area. So we started off the evening with a few games of pool, then went to an Italian place for dinner, then went back to Haraku-kun's apartment to have a couple more drinks and listen to some odd Japanese music.
[No comments]

The Wonderful World of VBI
[Friday 11th August]
I'm a TV nerd you know. By this I don't mean I watch a lot of television - in fact here in Japan I hardly watch any at all - but I am really fascinated by the technology that makes it all work.
[Click here to read more...]
[1 comment]

I Didn't Expect the Spanish Inquisition...
[Thursday 11th August]
Fairly normal day at work. After work I went out with some people from the office for dinner and a couple of drinks, in the area around where we work. Nothing much to write home about really. I seemed to receive the Spanish Inquisition at a number of points during the evening about what my plans were for the future - clearly the team as a whole has got wind of the fact that I'm not entirely enamoured at the prospect of continuing to work in that environment. It isn't really appropriate to talk to the people on the team about this kind of thing though, so for now, I just issued a lot of "no comment" type answers.
[1 comment]

Half day
[Wednesday 9th August]
Had a half day off today, so was only in work for the afternoon, which made a nice change.

In the evening I made a sort of Mexican dinner (i.e. chilli), but other than that not much else to report.
[No comments]

Virtually Gadding About
[Tuesday 8th August]
Spent a bit of time in the evening doing some work on my travel pages. I've been trying to change the underlying system so I can organise the places hierarchically, but it's only about half done so far.

Chie was out for the evening with some people from work, and staggered in rather late and somewhat three sheets to the wind, bless her. Naturally I was very proud of her!
[2 comments]

Mornington Crescent
[Monday 7th July]
There's no particular reason to name this article after the iconic London tube station, other than the fact that the previous evening I had bought Belle and Sebastian's The Life Pursuit on iTune, which I then duly listened to on my way to and from work today. The last song on the album is called Mornington Crescent, and I've found it to be oddly endearing - somehow I knew I was going to like it even before I'd listened to it.

That musical interlude aside, today was otherwise every bit as bland and uneventful as you'd expect an average Monday to be.
[No comments]

Cafe Culture
[Sunday 6th August]
Earlier on in the week I was chatting to TK at work about the fact that Chie would be away for a couple of days, but would be back by Sunday. To my amusement he predicted I would spend Sunday out shopping with Chie, and he was in fact entirely right. I suppose it wasn't that bad actually. Usually I dislike the now routine Sunday afternoon trips into Shinjuku. This time though there was onlt a fairly limited amount of shopping, and the rest of the time was spent hanging around in cafes etc - much more my sort of thing.

Particularly we went to this French style cafe/bar, part of the Lumine department store in Shinjuku station. Now I'm sure a genuine Frenchman wouldn't be seen dead in there, but for me at least it did have just enough of that all-important sense of being anywhere but Tokyo.
[2 comments]

A load of nonsense about railway timetables...
[Saturday 5th August]
I'm reminded of a Monty Python sketch here:

Many people see Shunt's work as a load of nonsense about railway timetables, but clever people like me who talk loudly in restaurants see this as a deliberate ambiguity - a plea for understanding in a mechanised ethos.

I spent a significant part of today going back and forwards on Tokyo's Metropolitan rail network. So for a bit of a change I am going to use my train movements as the main narrative underpinning for this post. To make this a tad more colourful, I've got all these places added into my travel pages so you can see them on Google Maps, etc. I'm not promising this is going to be in anyway interesting, but at least it's a bit of variety.

So, I started off at about 4:45 in the morning, getting a train from Ikebukuro via Shinjuku to Sasazuka, in order to go home and get a few hours sleep.

After I finally woke up around midday, I had a spot of breakfast/lunch, then headed out to get my haircut. I had to pop into the office for a bit, so this meant at around 4ish getting a train from Sasazuka to Chofu (actually this involved two trains). After an hour or two there, it was time to go and meet Chie who was returning from her trip to the North East of Japan. So at 6 o' clock I went from Chofu to Shinjuku, and then from there to Tokyo station where I met up with Chie.

The two of us then got a train from Tokyo to Kinshicho where we had dinner at the always excellent It's Vegetable. Finally from there we headed back home, so Kinshicho to Shinjuku, and then Shinjuku to Sasazuka.

Given that all those pins are in the map (although currently you've got to do a fair bit of zooming to find them), with a little bit of work I could probably get that complicated route plotted on the map somehow...

Although that of course would beg the question: why?
[2 comments]

Ikebukuro All Nighter
[Friday 4th August]
Tonight marked the second - and final - night of Chie being away, and so another evening out ensued. This time there was no requirement to go to work the next day either, so I intended to pull out all the stops.

Things have been quite busy at work this week (for those of you who know the company I work for, the reason may be fairly obvious). I've put in quite a few late nights, and tonight was no exception - I didn't leave until around 9PM.

My plan for the evening after leaving work was to go over to Ikebukuro, although given the time I finally left I was almost on the verge of not bothering, and just going home instead. Somehow though I mustered up the energy, and plodded on bravely to Ikebukuro. It's a fair way from where I work, so it was getting on for 10 by the time I got there. To my frustration I found that Rohlan had already closed, so as a substitute I went instead to eat at Great India. It's a small chain of Indian restaurants, and there are a few around Ikebukuro - this time I went to the little counter place, which only has about 7 or 8 seats. The food was very nice, but I really had my heart set on Rohlan, so this was a bit of a disappointing start.

Still Quercus made up for this - although I discovered my unusually late arrival meant I had missed one of my favourite drinking buddies there. Anyway, tonight I made friends with two guys I had vaguely seen there before, but had never really spoken to prior to tonight. The conversation wandered over a wide range of topics - including the scandal over how "Buddhist" Monks in Japan are often so rich, and the slightly less controversial topic of loan words in Japanese (apparently ponzu - that citrusy soy sauce stuff - actually takes its name from Dutch).

Oh, and at one point "spam onigiri" came up - this is a fairly nich area of humour, but I just couldn't stop laughing at this rediculous concept, for which I got quite a few funny looks. The Japanese people involved in this conversation just kept looking at me, with a completely straight face, and saying "What's funny about Spam?" - which naturally only made my fits of giggles worse. It seems Spam doesn't have nearly the same humorous connotations in Japan as it has in the West - I guess that's because Monty Python isn't really that popular here.

I was determined to stay right to the bitter end, and it was something like quarter to five by the time I finally headed out. To my surprise it was absolutely broad daylight, however there were still a number of denizens of the night out on the streets (I know this as I was politely molested by a couple of them).

I was surprised that the first train of the morning on the Yamanote line (Tokyo's equivalent of London's Circle line) actually goes at about 4:30. The first few trains of the day are fairly spaced out though, so it did take me quite a while to get home - and it was probably around 6 by the time I actually got to bed.
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Mount Beer
[Thursday 3rd August]
Allow me to take this opportunity to publicly apologise for any negative comments I may have made about Japan in recent months. I had clearly forgotten to take into account one hugely important factor: beer gardens.

Tonight was the first night of Chie being away, and so naturally some form of outing was required. As it was a school night though, I didn't want to be too excessive. Luckily I knew just the thing. I'd seen a lot of adverts for a beer garden atop Takaosan - the mountain near Tokyo me and Chie had been to for days out a couple of times before. This sounded fantastic and I'd been itching for an opportunity to go since it had opened at the start of the summer. As it turned out TK also seemed keen to give it a try, and so we had a plan.
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Packing
[Wednesday 2nd August]
Chie was going to be away for the next two nights, on a tour festivals in Tohoku (the North Eastern part of Japan). So I just quietly wiled away the time whilst Chie was busying herself around me packing.

Packing. Now there's an area which appears to divide the human race into two parts. Chie really takes her time over it, seemingly agonising over ever clothing decision. Me, on the other hand, I basically have a working set of current clothes - a few shirts and a few pairs of jeans. Having travelled a lot over the last couple of years, I seem to have got out of the habit of accumulating a lot of clothing. So I basically just own one week's worth of clothes at a time - when I start to get fed up of a particular shirt/pair of trousers (or it gets holes in it or whatever), I go out and buy a new one to replace it. In this way packing is fabulously easy - I just pack all the clothes I normally wear, with possibly some small thought for variations in climate, depending on where I'm headed.

Anyway, that's it, basically a pretty uneventful day. (Oh, and following my strange obsession to account for my dinner each day, we had spaghetti with an olive and tomato sauce.)
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Time Waits For No Man
[Tuesday 1st August]
Actually that's an unnecessarily grand sounding title for what will be a very bland entry!

Anyway, the summer is marching on, and apparently it is August already.

Not that it really makes any difference!

So it was a pretty uneventful day really, worked until fairly late and then made a Japanese curry for dinner when I got home.
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