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Exercises

Something over twenty years ago, I bought a book of exercises. It includes graded exercises, divided into ten weeks. I am currently on week seven.

I feel that the overall plan may have been a little optimistic.

It is true, I must confess, that I have not managed to keep up daily exercises for the whole of the last twenty years. I have, however, been pretty much keeping them up for the last nine months, more or less since last year’s asthma attack cleared up. And yet, while I am on week seven, I am not even fully doing that.

The problem is the press ups. The exercises require twenty press ups, followed by five hand-clap press ups, where you push yourself up off the floor, clap your hands, and then return to the front-support position.

This morning, for the first time in my life, I managed twenty full press ups in one go. Adding the hand claps is, as yet, utterly beyond me.

I don’t know whether my arms are naturally very weak, but the press ups have always been the most difficult part of the exercise set. If I leave it for too long between exercises (like, a couple of years, which is what happened when I came to Japan) the number I can do falls to zero. For a full press up, the whole body remains tensed with the torso roughly parallel to the ground, the torso touches the ground lightly and the legs not at all, and the arms do not relax at the bottom. For quite a while I couldn’t even keep my legs locked for long enough to do twenty press ups, never mind the complete failure of my arms.

I’ve been on week seven, doing the exercises six days a week, since I got over my New Year illness. At the current rate, I might get up to the 20+5 in another month or so.

I believe I have already mentioned my scepticism about the rate of progress proposed in the book.

Still, I have finally got to the point of feeling the benefits of exercise; the middle age spread has virtually disappeared, climbing four flights of stairs to our flat is no problem at all, and I can carry Yuriko around the flat if necessary. (Fortunately, that is not generally necessary.) I also have a feeling that I need less sleep than I used to; I seem to be coping on 8-9 hours a night, rather than 9-10.

So, on balance, I think that the exercises are effective. They’ve just taken rather longer than the advertisment promised. I’d ask for my money back, but twenty years of inflation mean that’s not worth the bother.

Taxes

Japan has lots of taxes. It isn’t that the tax rates are particularly high, but there are just a lot of categories. Yesterday, I submitted my return for my income taxes. I actually calculated my national income tax bill on the form itself, but the same information will also be used to calculate my local income taxes. Those are billed and paid separately, in three installments over the following year. The same information is used, again, to calculate my national health insurance premiums, but those are also paid separately, in monthly installments. My contributions to the national pension scheme are independent of income, and paid in one lump sum. You can pay monthly, but it’s cheaper if you pay all at once, up front. (Not much cheaper, but 3,000 yen is 3,000 yen.) Property tax, naturally, depends on the value of your property. That’s four installments, although they aren’t actually quarterly. (I split that with Yuriko, and when I asked for her half this time she said “I gave you property tax money in late December”. “Yes dear, that’s because I had to pay it in late December, too.”)

The basic system is very similar to the UK. Most people pay their taxes through the payroll, and don’t have to worry about it. I have to fill in forms, take them to the tax office, and then pay the last year’s taxes, plus estimates for the next year’s. The office assumes that your income will be constant; not always true, and you can ask for exceptions if necessary.

I have to fill in a form saying when I’ve been resident in Japan, so that they can determine which bits of my income are liable for Japanese tax. Last year, everything was, because I was a permanent resident for tax purposes: I had no definite plans to leave. This year, the rules changed, and since I’ve not been here for five years yet I don’t count as a permanent resident, which means that money earned outside Japan is only liable for tax if it comes to Japan. This actually makes no difference to me, but I still had to fill the form in.

Then there are forms to say where your income comes from. There’s a special one for authors, and I filled all my books in on that. This briefly confused the person taking the forms, because all the sections relevant to me were on the back; the front only had my name on.

Finally, there’s the actual return. The return is printed on carbon paper. The others aren’t. You get sent two copies of everything, and have to fill them in in duplicate so that you have your reference copies, stamped by the office to confirm that they’re what you actually submitted.

The biggest difference between the systems  is what you get to deduct from your income. There’s a basic personal allowance, of course, although it’s lower here. You also get to deduct your health insurance and pension payments. The UK equivalent would be if you could deduct your National Insurance payments from your taxable income.

Japan also allows some deduction of charitable and political giving. If you give to approved charities, you get a certificate at the beginning of the year showing how much you gave them in the previous year. You then stick those on your tax form (literally – you glue them onto the back of one of the pages) and fill the numbers in the boxes. The first 5,000 yen is deducted, but after that you can simply substract from your taxable income.

As well as writing the numbers in, you have to write the names and addresses of the charities in a box on the form. I gave to three different registered charities, and I had to write really, really small to fit the information in the box. Are they trying to discourage people from supporting more than one charity?

Filling the forms in was relatively easy; my finances aren’t very complicated, and I keep good records. Then I had to take the forms to the tax office, stand in line, and hand them over. That didn’t actually take too long. Some people drove, and looking at the queue for the car park, they would probably spend longer in that queue than in the submission queue. The walk from the bus stop to the tax office was long enough for me to listen to the Yomiuri podcast, though.

The next stage is simply paying my taxes. That will happen by bank transfer, though, so I don’t have to worry about it. Money will just automatically vanish from my bank account.

But is it news?

Recently, I’ve been listening to the podcast from the Yomiuri newspaper just about every weekday. This is partly to improve my listening comprehension, and partly to keep up with the Japanese news. The podcast is released every weekday morning, and generally follows a fixed format. First, there are half a dozen or so news stories, the day’s headlines. Then there’s an editorial. Next is “today’s topic”: a feature article about something. Finally, there’s another short opinion piece, “Yomiuri Brief Review”.

The feature article covers a wide range of things. Yesterday’s, for example, was about a Korean who will be running in Sunday’s Tokyo Marathon.  (The URL briefly puzzled me, but I guess a marathon is 42,195m.) This is significant because his grandfather won gold in the marathon at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, but, because Korean was a Japanese colony at the time, did so while running for Japan. Thus, the article was largely about international friendship.

The day before yesterday, it reported the results of a survey carried out by the newspaper, into whether men stand up or sit down to wee in the toilet at home.

Apparently 28% sit down.

Yes, but is it news?

Power of Faerun

I’ve just finished reading Power of Faerun, a Forgotten Realms book for D&D. I have to confess that I wasn’t over-impressed with it. It wasn’t actively bad; quality control at Wizards of the Coast is far too good for that to happen. However, it was distinctly uninspiring.

It’s a background book, dealing with high-level (powerful) characters in the Forgotten Realms setting. Each chapter covers different sorts of things that they can do. Unfortunately, most of these chapters failed to inspire me with lots and lots of ideas. A good RPG setting book should inspire the reader with more ideas than he could possibly use in a lifetime, and quite a lot of the previous Forgotten Realms books have actually done so, for me. I like the Forgotten Realms setting, because it’s “classic” high fantasy done well. It’s a good roleplaying setting, in a style that I find appealing. Thus, good setting books for that world tend to inspire me.

This book generally failed. The chapters seemed not to go beyond “Your character could become a high priest!”, “Your character could lead an army!”, and so on. There was very little that generated ideas beyond the obvious, or looked likely to save me substantial amounts of time if I actually wanted to use the material in play.

It wasn’t a complete failure; there were a number of vignettes and examples that inspired some ideas. But it did strike me as weaker than most books in the line. It’s also not obvious how it should have been done, because there are a lot of options. I think this format could have been done better, with a heavier emphasis on adventure and campaign ideas, but the format could also have been changed. For example, one chapter is about becoming a religious leader. That could easily be a whole book, with each chapter giving details of the current politics of one major faith in Faerun, and pointing out how a player character could rise through the ranks, and the problems he would face. Or a book could cover all the aspects of power for one region of Faerun, including a discussion of how to get all the characters in a standard party into positions of power at once: the cleric leading a temple, the wizard the power behind the throne, the fighter a border lord with an important keep, and the rogue a merchant prince.

So, a bit uninspiring. Essential for Realms completists, obviously, but probably not for anyone else. Although you should still buy it through my link to Amazon. (I suspect I’m not going to get much money from the link from this review, but then I don’t get much money from the links anyway.)