Thursday, November 12, 2009

Japanes Hobbies #2: Stalking

A curious cultural fact, but it's true: Japan is a country of stalkers.

The phenomenon is a by-product of other cultural traits. Firstly, the hidden, repressed nature of sex in Japan; sexual relationships, while fairly common, are never publicly acknowledged. This means that commonplace 'Western' forms of courtship and gender interaction, such as flirting, are pretty rare and many men never develop mature ways of dealing with their sexuality. Secondly, Japanese men are emasculated and socially repressed from an early age; without effective social networks and with poor social skills, it is easy to fall into anti-social behaviour such as stalking or internet addiction. Thirdly, women, traditionally passive, are often unwilling to 'cause trouble' and complain about stalking to police or authority figures. Finally, the stalking behavior, incredibly, is not always seen as negative; it can be perceived as part of the tradition of 'gaman', or endurance, where ineffective and futile repetive action can be seen in a positve light: the stalker often believes he is courting; and indeed some Japanese dating guides suggest behaviour such as following your 'target' around waiting for the chance to create an 'accidental' meeting, over a period of weeks.

So stalking is pretty common; in fact, it is very rare to meet a Japanese woman who has not had at least one stalker, and many have one or more at any given time.

Western women living in Japan are not immune. Far from it; many Japanese men who become stalkers are obsessed with the curves, personality and hair and skin colour of Western women. You'll pick one up pretty quickly if you live here, and even quicker if you are young and live in the countryside.

Japanese police are infamous for doing nothing when stalking is reported; they are so well-known for their lack of sympathy that women very rarely try going to them; which results in massive under-reporting of stalking cases.

The most famous recent stalking case involved Tatsuya Ichihashi, who stalked English teacher Lindsay Hawker. After stalking and then killing her, Ichihashi was on the run for two years, changing his name, working, and having plastic surgery to alter his appearance. He was finally caught last month.

Most stalking cases don't end in murder but they are always unpleasant. A couple of first-hand accounts, all from my days on JET.

A British woman notices several underwear items go missing over a period of weeks. Somewhat alarmed, she tells her supervisor at the Board of Education, who tells her to hang up her smalls...inside. Which she does, only for more to go missing. Now she goes to the police, who merely tell her to hang up her undies inside (which she was already doing) and lock the door (which she was doing).
Months pass, things regularly go missing. There seems nothing she can do, life goes on. Finally a culprit comes to of her 13-year-old students from the fist year of junior high school! Apparently this lad had been crawling through a ventilation window at ground level (too small for an adult) and nicking her underwear. It was only his mother that found them when searching his room...some 40 different items! Well. The police pass her on the BOE and eventually, after several days, a man knocks on her door, introduces himself as the lad's father, and gives her about $400 worth of Japanese yen 'to pay for more underwear', and also offers all her old stuff back...strangely enough she doesn't want it back, and she spend the rest of the year teaching the boy as usual in her usual school class.

Another teacher comes home to find her window open, her bed messed up and semen stains on her sheets. The police merely tell her 'lock your doors and windows' and when she asked about DNA testing, said 'we don't do that here'. Similar occurrences meet with the same response. She knows, from being followed, who the guy is, and after telling the police, she is told 'it is not him'.

And one Japanese woman I knew, a student when I was teaching, showed me pictures on her mobile phone her stalker had sent: pictures of self harm, bleeding razor cuts on arms and legs, supposedly to demonstrate his love for her. The woman told me she admired his 'gaman spirit' and the last I heard was that they were getting married!

But hey, who am I to criticise another culture that I obviously don't understand...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Japanese Hobbies #1: Lining Up

These happy people are lining up, both sides of the street, for hours, to eat noodles. The ramen shop (I had a look inside) has seating space for a about 8, and is just one of many ramen shops (mostly empty) in the neighbourhood.

But these people did not come here to go to just any noodle shop. Make no mistake: they have come for the line. Japanese people are nothing if not easily influenced: they saw a special about this place on TV, or read about it in a magazine, and would no more go into another nearby ramen shop to get their noodles in downtown Yokohama than I would line up for two hours to get mine. The truth is that Japanese poeople just love lining up. Banks, post offices, elevators, town halls, ticket offices and restaurants of all kinds...wherever it can be done, the locals will be out there, enjoying the 'group' atmosphere and the imagined purposefulness of it. Mostly single men here too. Poor bastards

It is a curious phenomenon. Originating from a natural inclination to accept being ordered about, and combined with almost endless patience, Lining Up is the inevitable result. Not only is a decent reason not required, sometimes no reason at all: it often happens that people will join a street queue, several blocks long, without having any idea what they are lining up for, on the grounds that 'it must be interesting'. I have seen this. In a society where there is essentially very little to do, this makes sense.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Why do Japanese people use umbrellas so much?

They are obsessed with them. Many people carry one at all times. And statistically, evey Japanese person owns 7 umbrellas, and as a nation they go through 100 million a year.

At the first sign of precipitation, and often before, they go up. There is no concept that a few drops of rain, 'spitting' as we say, is not going to hurt somebody. Rain, even in the Summer, which I find pleasant, is an evil in Japan, to be resisted and opposed like a foreign invasion or threat to civilization.

In fact, the sea of umbrellas in a crowd of Japanese is a symbol, I fear, of something more than just a few drops of water. It is, like so many things in Japan, symptomatic of a deeper malaise: the fear of nature in general. The same fear, the need and desire for nature to be feared, controlled and avoided, is behind the concreting of Japanese rivers, the chopping down of the forests, the concreting of the seashores, the fear of dirt and infection, even the traditional, thousand-year-old tradition of bonsai, where the natural power of a tree's growth is tamed and perverted. It is one of the great ironies of Japan- and there are many. For a country that is supposedly so enamoured of nature, exactly the opposite is reflected in the behaviour of the people.

Personally I despise umbrellas. One of my pet hates. They are unwieldy, clumsy, a waste of money, and often ineffective.

And if one is able to accept a certain level of precipitation, enough, say, to dampen the shoulders, umbrellas are unnecessary. Admittedly, at times rain is heavy enough to make going outside unpleasant, but if one waits 5 minutes the situation will almost invariably improve. This is because the level of precipiation is changing constantly, and statistically speaking, a random change is likely to trend towards the mean, in this case a situation of no precipitation. That is why a change in the rain, if the rainfall right now is heavy, is likely to be towards a state of rainfall that is less heavy, and very likely to be comfortable to a human being who is not childishly and unnaturally afraid of nearly the most benevolent of weather conditions.

And that's why I don't use umbrellas.

SPARTANS never use umbrellas.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Something Strange About Japanese Breasts

That is, I think.

They are smaller than they claim, size-wise. What a woman claims to be a C-cup would barely muster a B back home. Half of the boob size seems to be in the padding of the bra, which is both generous and ludicrous.

In the summer of 1989 I spent nearly every afternoon making love to Becky Huckster in her family's granny flat while ostensibly helping her cram for her end of year Geography exams. As for what the Japanese would make of her huge bulging bazongas, with those great hairy nipples sticking out like an old man's thumbs, and wriggling blue veins spreading across her chest like lines on a road map, it is impossible to imagine.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Why are there so many trannies on Japanese TV?

Japanese beauty: vagina not necessary

Talks shows. Game shows. Commercials. The Japanese queens, 'okama' are there in strength. Miwa Akihiro. Maeda Ken. Ikko. Haruna Ai. Ayana Tsubaki. Kaba-chan. Can't ignore them. Once you find out they're men, that is.

Some of them are hot. It's a bit disconcerting when you find out for the first time, when your girlfriend informs you.

Then you notice that the okama are excessively feminine, exaggeratedly, absurdly, comedically feminine. They're there to be laughed at, with the possible exception of the old battleaxe Miwa-san. Their value on TV is to provide variety, be laughed at, to amuse.

But what's going on here? Do Japanese people really believe all gays are trannies? Well, I think many do. In Japan, being gay is not about same-sex desire. It's about gender orientation, about being as ridiculously feminine as possible: same-sex desire is about crossdressing. The idea that same-sex attraction involves some kind of transgenderism or desire to be like the opposite sex is constantly reinforced in the media. To be gay is to be a queen. There are no straight-acting gay men.

But of course there are. They're ubiquitous. A casual aquaintance with Japanese night life will gain the average western man more 'Hershey Highway' invitations than an evening in an Oxford Street steam club.

Or hang on...maybe that's just me.

Anyway, gay sex is widely and easily available, and I personally think it is only a small exaggeration to say that Japanese men are constantly shagging each other. Japan is steeped in gayness.

Only it's hidden. Most of the men are married. And most, I suspect, would deny that they are gay. After all, to be gay is to be a cross-dresser. What these guys do is just sex. And as long as it is hidden, it is not frowned upon. Nobody minds. Kind of like sex in general in Japan. As long as sexual practices do not threaten the legitimacy of marriage and household, they are accommodated by Japanese society.

Which is a good thing. Sexuality is not the political battleground it is in the West. Homosexuality doesn't carry the baggage it does back home. There is little discrimination, and the kind of open hatred that you might come across in some Christian or Muslim communities is just completely absent here. There are no 'God Hates Fags' groups in Japan.

That's not to say the portrayal of all gay men as screaming queens is not troubling. The visibility of these men has not created the space for individuals to 'come out' in actual life- the development of a personal identity for gay men who express 'normal' gender identities is problematic. This, of course, contributes to the hidden nature of the phonomenon. But Japanese culture is not confrontational, and many gay men in Japan feel little need to 'assert' their rights. As one gay man said, "For me in Tokyo, subscribing to the concept of 'gay rights' is like carrying around someone else's baggage."

But the real question remains unanswered:

Why are there so many goddamn queens on Japanese TV?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Starbucks rocks

Best of a bad bunch, madly overpriced but always hot girls to have a perve at.

They know what they are doing- they know what people really want it sweet. Ordering a frappacino is like ordering a cup of sugar with a little coffee in it. Great stuff, a combo made with humans in mind.

Monday, September 07, 2009

The Prime Minister's wife is a space cadet

That's right. A certified fruitloop.

Yukio Hatoyama, the incoming prime minister, has an interesting wife. She is emerging as eccentric counterpoint to her boring as guano husband. While Yukio talks of international relations, Miyuki talks of interplanetary travel and...eating the sun:

"I eat the sun. Like this. Yum yum." Raising her hands in an interview and pretending to tear pieces off the sun. "It gives me enormous energy".

Well, nuclear fusion is likely to do that.

And in her book Very strange things I've encountered she related being abducted by aliens some 20 years ago and taken to Venus, which was..."a very beautiful place, very green."

She also reckons she knew Tom Cruise in a past life. I wonder if he remembers.

But I say bring it on. We need a dose of the alternative in Japan.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Creepyness of Morning Musume

Morning Musume. Ubiquitous. Popular. Creepy as hell.

A no-apologies, no-holds-barred-made-for paedophiles girls band. Though most of the girls are mid to late teens, they can be as young as 12. They dance and sing sappy, cliched manufactured pop, wearing skimpy clothing and made up to the hilt; and they all have that "rabbit in the headlamps" deliberately brainless and defenseless look, designed to appeal to middle-aged paedophiles who are unable to relate to real women and resort to a ficitonalized semi-pubescent fantasy.

Formed in 1998, the name means "Morning Daughter", which is disturbing enough. Their biggest hit, "Love Machine", was sung by 13-year-old Maki Goto in 1999. Which is even creepier. The girls are kept young, as after a few years they "graduate", and new girls are recruited, so that the group survives and stays perpetually young.
All in all, I think it is safe to say that Morning Musume are not Japan`s noblest achievement.

This `band` could only exist in Japan, a society where paedophilia is tolerated and even encouraged, in that not only are girls sexualised from an early age, but adult women are expected to have a childish attitude to sexuality and retain it to maturity (forty-year-olds in pigtails anyone?)

If you have any doubts about the fan base of Morning Musume you can check out the audience leaving after one of their shows. Sends chills up my spine. No teenage girls in the audience; plenty on stage.

If all the semen pumped out from those guys the evening after the concert was collected, you could fill a swimming pool.

And could drown the girls in it. How about that for a suggestion?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Shopping in downtown Yokohama

It amazes me that people can actually enjoy this. Then again, maybe it`s just a gender difference...because department stores are made for women...

...and hundreds of tons of Chinese-made junk, made en masse in factories and sold with 1000% markups. And these tons of junk are being women; examined by women; bought by women; sold by women; wrapped by women; carried around in labelled plastic bags by women. Thousands of them, dressed and made up to the hilt, "picking out the trash that women are so curiously fond of," as Orwell wrote.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Michael Jackson is dead in Tokyo too

Thank God. It`s times like these, however, when I am happy I live here and not, say, in Sydney, where it would be impossible to escape the hype over the death of a paedophile who could do the moonwalk.

Apparently when the paramedics were working on him, trying to get his heart going again, they kept singing "Got to be starting something..."

Friday, June 26, 2009

Trying not to die in Disneyland

Last week I was dragged, kicking and screaming, to Disney Land. 30 minutes on the train. An hour on a bus. Hours in queues. Overpriced food. 80 bucks Aussie just to get in.
This was a traumatic experience. Obviously, no normal educated person could enjoy Disneyland. But I took it particularly harshly. Not because the very existence of Disneyland is an affront to human decency, an exercise in disgusting vomit-inducing sweetness, a land of fakery and creepily-sexual fetish make-believe, a lurid homage to all that is superficial in human nature. Not even because the success of Disneyland in Japan is a disturbing testimony to the overwhelming infantilism of Japanese society.

Or at least, not only because of those reasons. I do, after all, live in Japan and desire to accept the good with the bad.

Going to Disneyland was specifically traumatic because it made me, for the first time, afraid of Disneyland. I was possessed by the terrifying thought, not of death itself, but by the thought that I might die in Disneyland. It was unbearable. To be born on the wings of youth and poetry and hope and expectation...not to mention Metallica and George Orwell and Shinkichi Takahashi and the fucking Silmarillion...just to be remembered by friends and family as having died on a visit to Disneyland...any fate, any horrible destiny, would be preferable to that.

Apart from trying not to die, the rest of the experience was relatively painless, just an exercise in grim endurance, like waiting in line at the bank, which is pretty much what you are doing for 90 per cent of the time anyway, only instead of a bank teller at the end you go on a rollercoaster. By the way, 90 per cent of the time is not an exaggeration; the thing you can always count on at Tokyo Disneyland is 3 hour queues.

My girlfriend had a great time, however. Loved the "atmosphere". Which is of course, the real reason I went and, indeed, the only thing that could convince to go through with it. That`s what a relationship is, I guess. Compromise.

Disneyland: Go only if it will get you laid.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Skin Whitening Cream?

This one made me a bit uneasy. I found my girlfriend using this cream and idly read the spiel on the back seeing it was in English. I was shocked to find that it claimed to be skin whitening cream. Does my girl so hate her own ethnicity that she wants to change her skin colour? I decided to study the cream more thoroughly. The description on the tube is remarkable for these two assertions:

"lightens skin tone by healing visible wrinkles" and

"prevents skin aging through effective whitening"

The claims are conspicuous for their implausability and incompatibility.
Paler skin is the result in the first case while in the second it has become the cause. Curious. Good trick if you can manage it.

My lover on the other hand claims total innocence. She got the cream, she said, because it is cheap and effective. It contains both foundation and ...something in Japanese that girls put on top of the foundation. Furthermore, she didn't know it claims to be lightening cream and didn't buy it as such. Being unable to read English, she was bothered not at all by the description on the tube.

So there.

Monday, March 30, 2009

My thoughts on wedding customs

When thinking of the wedding ceremony, I have always been dismissive of traditional customs. I have no respect for a ritual designed to glorify the superficial aspects of relationship over the substantial (why is there no emphasis of the wedding night, for example? No photos, videos, public toasts or speeches?)

I have no desire to sacrifice one of the most important days of my one and only life to empty ritual, lining the pockets of every hypocritical money-hungry parasite living off the vanity and earnestness of innocents in the process. Thousands of dollars for wedding photos? Those people should be shot. I want nothing to do with matching china, bridal veil styles and table centrepieces. In fact, not only would I eschew traditional wedding customs, I would like to demonstrate my contempt for mainstream culture by avoiding human practices of all kinds, even those which serve to separate the human species from our closest primate relatives.

"I would like to get married naked", I told my girlfriend suddenly.

"Why?", she asked, looking puzzled.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Hakone Checkpoint

Last weekend I went with my girl to Hakone, the hot-spring resort town about two hours from Tokyo. It was only mildly disappointing, with the onsens a pale overpriced imitation of those in Kagoshima, but the food and the service in the ryokan was very good.

But the most interesting thing to see was a little side trip on the last day, when we went to Hakone sekishyo, the reconstructed checkpoint that guarded the entrance to Tokyo during the shogunate, when Tokyo was known as Edo. There were guardrooms, inspection chambers, administration offices, barracks for troops, even a small jail. I was interested to learn, however, that Hakone checkpoint, known for its strictness, was, according to the brochure,

"primarily responsible for keeping women from escaping from Edo."

That's all the English-language brochure said about the subject, leaving me wondering just what that was about. In the inspection chambers were teams of female officials who inspected women from Edo. Why were these women (known as deonna) trying to get out? Were Tokyo women being systematically abused? Where did they want to go? Was there some other women-friendly place in Japan 200 years ago, some kind of medieval harassment-free safe house?
Was Tokyo really that bad ?

Eventually I worked it out, dictionary in hand, through Chizuru and the helpful staff. The checkpoint officials were on the lookout for escaping hostages, women from the families of rival daimyos to the shogun who were being held to guarantee the good behaviour of feudal lords in distant parts of Japan.

There. Just the normal cruel politics of humanity. Nothing sinister.
Hakone Checkpoint: Hard on the chicks

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Time Out

I went running today and blanked out, lost track of time. This is the first time this has happened since I started running again two months ago. It wasn't for very long- just 5 or 10 minutes, but it was real and it was good. One second I had reached the midway of my run, where I turn back home, and the next I was halfway back to the mouth of the forest, running towards the fork in the path that led to the meadow...I lost all track of who and where I was, forgot the nagging ache in my knee, the problems at work, the evolving relationship with my partner.

This happened often in Kagoshima; I would lose myself for half an hour or more. I would come to and realise that I couldn't remember that hill, or couldn't remember that slope. On a few occasions I lost the entire run, fininished it without any memory of it at all. Once I was jolted out of my reverie by the sight of a large monkey, a big male, as it scooted across the path in front of me. I remember that, remember being nowhere and then being suddenly on the road again, feeling my body and watching that bloody monkey.

I was always most restful and most content when I came out of these trances, happy about my body and about my mind, but it is a little creepy. What is my mind doing at this time? Surely it is doing something: the brain produces thoughts like the liver produces bile. What is it thinking about when it is not me?

Friday, February 27, 2009

Getting caught in the chicks' train carriage

No penises allowed

It was about 9 o'clock at Shibuya station, one of the busiest. I was tired, happy to find a seat, and mildly surprised that there seemed to be so many women in the carriage.Then a Japanese woman, swift and oddly confident, comes up to me and says something rapidly in Japanese. Not catching it, I reply 'Sumimasen?'. She switches instantly to English and tells me that I am in a women-only carriage. I stare around, thinking that accounts for why everything is pink. I thank her and get off the carriage.

I felt sheepish but also grateful to the woman, not only for telling me (50 other women had ignored me) but because she had tried Japanese first; she gave me the courtesy of not assuming I couldn't understand her.

Part of me wanted to object to being thrown out of my seat; but I don't have the right; the Japanese have made the decision to have women-only train carriages and a public objection by me would make the issue a Japanese versus gaijin issue, when it isn't; it is a gender issue.

But I do think it is a bad idea. It has been put into place to combat the problem of endemic sexual harrassement on the trains; or, to be more specific, the problem of chikan, the train groper. These guys take advantage of packed trains by groping girls when the trains are completely packed, to the point where nobody can move. There are even cases of high school girls turning up to school with cum stains on their skirts. Distasteful, I know.

I myself saw an incident (or saw the resulting fracas) with a chikan. I was coming into Shinjuku, rush hour, one of the busiest stations in the world, when suddenly I heard a tremendous shouting from the other end of the carriage. One guy was yelling for all he was worth. Another man's voice, repeating over and over again: sumimasen, gomenasai, sumimasen, gomenasai. Then the train pulled up to the platform, people flooded out of the carriage, and I saw what was happening. The apologising man, head bent in shame, was trying to get away, pulling hard, while his arm was being held by the other man, a young man, who would not let him go. A young woman was standing nearby, presumably the young man's girlfriend. The man holding the guy's arm stood in the doorway of the train, which meant that the doors couldn't close, which meant the train couldn't leave, which meant that within 30 seconds the platform was swarming with staff. When about a dozen station staff had turned up, the guilty guy had appeared to accept his fate and stood silently, head bowed, on the platform, while the young man talked rapidly to a station officer. All the while the girl stood by, expressionless, saying nothing. She was a pretty girl, short skirt and all that, and I would have been tempted to put my hand on her arse myself... if she had been my girlfriend or we were dating or soemething weird like that...

I often wondered what happened to the chikan guy. Did he go to jail, get fined, or what?

But what stuck with me most about the incident is what the girl did. Nothing. Zilch. I knew that if her boyfriend had not happened to be there, she would have just put up with being felt up on the train, as they usually do. While that chikan was caught, the whole incident was hardly empowering for women.

Which is part of the problem of women-only carriages. It perpetuates the perception that women are helpless and cannot deal with their own problems, or that they are incapable of protecting themselves, or, just as bad, that they should not be expected to make an effort to protect themselves.

It's a defeatist attitude, and one that seems to me to be an admission of failure. Why should women need to be segregated in order to feel safe? It is like dealing with the Arab-Israeli problem by building a concrete security wall to separate the two communities. Walls are not the answer. Shouldn't they be targeting the gropers? Or shouldn't women be putting up more of a fight?

Would Western women?

I also find it insulting to me as a man. It tells me that I cannot be trusted. That women need protection from me. It reminds of the unease I felt, as a young and earnest university student, when during a safety-on-campus meeting I was told that at nighttime, if I see a woman walking towards me on my side of the street, then I should cross over to the other side of the street. I had gone to the meeting wanting to help, only to find that I was part of the problem. I felt strongly then, and still do, that perpetuating victimhood does not help.

Fear is not the answer.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Face masks: Just how creepy are they?

The Japanese love face masks. In the street, at work, and especially on trains, you can see them everywhere. Seems a bit weird for newcomers, you come to a strange country with an unusual culture, only to find that Ebola seems to have broken out, and the locals refuse to breathe the air, oblivious to the alien, inhuman feeling they create among freaked-out foreigners.

Well, the Japanse have reasonable-sounding explanation for wearing face masks. It is claimed the masks prevent infection, especially from influenza, and more importantly, stop your flu being transmitted to others. It is thus considered polite to wear the mask, as a courtesy to others. They are also worn in the Spring to prevent breathing in the pollen that commonly causes hayfever. A reasonable explanation, I suppose.

However, I prefer to believe that these Japanese are members of a satanic death cult, and they wear face masks because they are preparing for Armageddon, as only face masks will protect them from the hideous viruses soon to be released by the government and foreign multinationals. Soon the charismatic leader of the cult will unleash his word and the mask-wearers will attack, killing and eating, zombie-like, all the unbelievers who refuse to conform...

But that's just me.

But seriously, what is it with these people? Don't they know how they look? Extras from some B-grade sci-fi plague movie? Basically, the truth is that the Japanese are basically afraid of everything; somebody in the same city with a case of the flu gives them an excuse to put another barrier between them and the scary world. Japan: paradise for paranoia. Lowest crime levels in the world, yet locals patrol the streets at night looking for 'troublemakers'. Safest country in the world for kids, yet the poor little buggers are forced to wear personal alarms, just because a few years ago, one child, out of a population of 125 million, was kidnapped and murdered...

Anyway, for an account of my favourite example of Japanese paranoia see for some nice pictures of the Pana Wave cult, whose penchant for white masks, white everything has some interesting parallels with the face mask movement. Call me cynical, but it has occured to me that the Pana Wave people are just at the extreme end of the face mask continuum.

Anyway bye for now. I gotta lie down. Think I've got the flu coming on...

Maid face-mask soft porn: why didn't I think of that?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009


Saw a trainspotter today. My walk to work takes me past a multi-track segment of the railway, several lines going past, a perfect trainspotting site.
So this guy was standing there at the link fence, a huge-zoomed camera hanging around his neck, checking a printed schedule and looking at his watch anxiously, stamping his feet against the cold. He looked rather pitable, but then, who am I to judge? His hobby takes him into the fresh air, gives him something to do, costs little, and satisfies his need to...look at trains. I can understand it in a way. It's the same urge I had as a boy to collect toy cars, categorise them, line them up, look at them. If this man's hobby seems a bit ridiculous, even laughable , it's important to remember that most men his age in Japan play pachinko.

The only other trainspotter I've met in Japan was a regular conversation school student I had years ago in Tokyo. Middle-aged man, desperate comb-over, missing teeth.

"Trainspotting?", I said in mild surprise.

"Not like the movie!" he said adamantly.

The intensity with which he made this statement, coupled with the almost aggressive countenance he assumed, made him seem for a moment actually not dissimiliar to Begbie as he was stabbling that innocent guy in the pub. I briefly wondered whether the lifestyles of trainspotting and heroin addiction in the Glasgow underworld did in fact overlap in some ways, and that the irony of the otherwise well-chosen movie title was perhaps misplaced.

Then I looked once again at my middle-aged student, who had once claimed that he had never used a washing machine in his life, leaving domestic duties first to his mother and now his wife, and I thought...


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Going to the Immigration Office

Try to avoid this if at all possible.

However, when eventually you are forced go, put it off another couple of days.

If you have to go the office in Yokohama, don't try to find a map on the internet...because there isn't one. Actually there is, but it will lead you to a doll museum next to Yamashita park. The only way to find the real immigration office at Yokohama is the ask the station staff, and he will direct you to a large concrete block variously signposted as
'Dr Hepburn's former residence', 'Yokohama municipal prefectural office', or 'Private-Keep Out'

Finally you will notice the inexpressibly minute English letter writing on the postbox, and only when you enter the building will you notice the streams of desperate foreigners crowding the elevators. The first four floors are occupied entirely by stacks of immigration forms, piled to the ceiling, so the dirty gaijin crowd into the tiny lifts. Disliking the smell of people in general, let alone desperate people, I took the stairs. Inside, it was like the refugee scenes from Children of Men. No, I'm exaggerating. A bit. But happy camping it is not. Take a degrading, dehumanising number and wait your turn with an officious pointy-faced moron who will expetct you to read and write kanji and will look at you like a piece of used toilet paper when she discovers you lack a simple form nobody told you that you had to get from another officious cow in another grey concrete troll house in another part of this rotten souless city.

Just as well we would never treat foreigners like that back home, huh?????

Yokohama Immigration Office: Helpfully signposted