David Chart's Japan Diary

February 2nd 2007

This diary entry is late again. I've had to move it right up the priority list for the day to get it done. I am actually thinking about starting a proper blog in English; I've been keeping a Japanese blog for about nine months now, and it really does make things a lot easier, even for people who are capable of doing HTML by hand in a text editor. When I were a lad, there weren't none of these fancy blog things. We 'ad to chisel the HTML into stone tablets. With our teeth.

The main problem with a standard blog is that I can't put pictures in as nicely, at least not without doing a lot of fiddling around with the style sheets and such. And uploading pictures through the blog interface would require making a directory world-writeable. I've heard that that's perfectly safe, but I have my doubts. So, although I plan to start the blog fairly soon, I also plan to keep the diary pages, for things like pictures of holidays, or festivals, or when we go on nice walks around the area. Basically, if there are photos, I'll do a proper diary, while pure text things will go in the blog. I'll probably end up putting links to new diary entries in the blog. I may even make the blog my top page, but probably not. The plan would not be to update the English blog every day; I do that for the Japanese one, to make sure that I get some practice writing Japanese every day. Still, I'd definitely be planning to update it more than once a month.

So, what have we been up to since I last deigned to do an entry? A fair bit, actually, which is why there hasn't been an entry for a while.

First, my feet are much better. They actually look about normal to me now (at least, as normal as my feet ever get), and the doctor seems to have been surprised by how much progress they made. We are now reducing the medicine, and if the symptoms don't return, or get worse, I don't need to go back to see him, which is good. (Part of the evidence that my feet are a lot better is that I walked to and from the doctor; twenty minutes or so each way. I've also started doing my exercises in the mornings again.)

Outdoor Cafe Yuriko at the cafe, in January.

On to more fun things. We've not done any major trips, what with work and all, but we have had a couple of local visits. Three weeks or so ago, we went to Kagurazaka. This is a part of Tokyo that still retains some of its old atmosphere, and there was an art show, in a hotel, that Yuriko wanted to see. The weather here has been absurdly warm and pleasant for January, as proved by the fact that the first thing we did was have a coffee sitting outside on a waterside terrace at a cafe. The water isn't actually a river; it's one of the few remaining parts of the outer moat of Edo Castle (now the site of the Imperial Palace). The cafe actually reminded me a bit of Cambridge, both in architecture and in the presence of possibly-moving water. The weather is still warm; I actually have the window open here as I type this.

Kagurazaka Streetscape An alley in Kagurazaka.

Kagurazaka is an entertainment district, and has a lot of restaurants and cafes, including some very traditional Japanese ones. It also retains lots of little back alleys, winding between Japanese-style buildings, many of which house small restaurants and the like. It's a very different face of Tokyo from Shibuya or Shinjuku, and it was fun to have a look around.

We bought a Nikuman (a sort of bread dumpling with meat and vegetables in the middle) each to eat, from a shop which is famous for them, and ate them as we walked around a bit. We popped in quite a few places; a couple of Shinto shrines, and a temple to Bishamonten (if I'm remembering correctly). This last is rather ambiguous. Bishamonten is one of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune, who are a rather peculiar mix of Japanese, Chinese, and Indian deities and Buddhist saints. These days, certain of them are generally revered at Shinto shrines, others at Buddhist temples, but the rules aren't absolute. We also had a look in a second-hand kimono shop, and it looks like we could get Yuriko a very nice kimono and obi at a fairly reasonable price that way. The obi (the belt) is typically more expensive than the kimono, oddly enough.

The plan was to walk around while it was daylight, and then go to the art show about two hours before it closed, when it was getting dark. Unfortunately, when we got to the show, there was a two-hour queue to get in, which rather put paid to that idea. Yuriko was a bit upset about that, but neither of us had imagined that it would be so popular. It bodes well for Art Fair Tokyo, anyway.

We also went for a walk this weekend, this time in the area near our flat. We basically went south, to see an area that used to be parkland. Since the guidebook was published, however, it has become a building site, with lots of new blocks of flats going up around a small park. Admittedly, the park is nice, and the flats have apparently been designed to be environmentally friendly and easy to live in. Yuriko likes looking at the model rooms for new flats, so we popped in to see. They were, I have to admit, very nice, although they were a long way out of our price range. Still, given that property loses its value when it becomes second-hand in Japan, they might not be in a year or so.

On the way back we stopped in for dinner at a ramen shop, which was very nice. I'm sure ramen experts would find plenty wrong with it, but we both enjoyed it, and added it to the list of local eateries to go to occasionally. It's one where you pay for your food in advance by buying a ticket from a vending machine outside; that set-up is fairly common in Japan.

Overall, I don't think we'll be rushing to do that walk again, but it was good to see a bit more of the area in which we're living. The weather's been very nice this week, so I've done a couple of the nice walks; down to and around the forest park, for example. I've been doing them while listening to podcasts, because I'm trying to keep that part of my Japanese practice up.

Early this week, there was a very surprising, perhaps shocking, bit of news. The minister for labour, health, and welfare gave a speech in which he described women as "baby-making machines". He has not yet resigned, and the prime minister has decided to support him. Obviously, in the UK or USA his career would now be ashes, but Japan is still a bit behind on such matters. Still, it's not like he's the defence minister; he's in charge of the department with responsibility for working conditions and looking after pregnant women. The opposition are pushing for him to resign, and even some members of the ruling party are saying the same thing; they feel that he may be an electoral liability (no, really?). I guess that, if you reckon that Japan is about forty years behind the UK and US in such things, then the older generation (he's in his seventies) would have rather old-fashioned opinions. Still, I think he should resign. No-one who thinks that, or could even say that, women are "baby-making machines" should be in his position.

Oh, that reminds me.

Yuriko is pregnant.