Saturday, 28 April 2018

On Baseball

When I was a kid, while all other guys played football, and being somewhat of a non-conformist from an early age, I preferred baseball. 

I'm not sure what the attraction was for that American sport - maybe watching too much TV had a lot to do with it - but it was something about batter versus pitcher mano a mano in the diamond, the crack of a homer in the midst of a silent expectant crowd, which seemed much more alluring than a team of guys versus another team of guys on a muddy pitch kicking a ball around.

Plus, I was rubbish at football. 

I was rubbish at baseball too, but because it wasn't that popular in Scotland my rubbishness could remain undiscovered posing as unreleased exotic American potential, rather than out-in-the-open Scottish rubbishness that was clear to everyone.

Being the only kid interested in baseball in my house, street, town, country meant two things: 1) I was quite good (to my limited knowledge and in my limited circle) and 2) I had no-one to play baseball with. I think this must be the lazy person's fast track to excellence - choose something that absolutely no-one else does - and I realise now it's been a subconscious philosophy of mine from an early age. Explains why I'm not really good at anything.

So to practise I experimented with Swingball. Many long minutes over two or three afternoons per season I spent in the back garden trying to hit the swinging ball round and round with my homemade baseball bat. 

That was hard. 

It's difficult enough to hit a normal pitch from a guy you can see straight ahead of you, but to hit a ball that's unnaturally swooshing round anticlockwise is another kettle of octopi altogether. You'd think it might make me better at hitting curveballs. I don't know, I've never found myself up against someone who could throw one.

One day, in a sports shop, I bought a full-size adult baseball bat that had "Louisville Slugger" printed wonderfully on it which I could hardly swing. But I loved that bat. 

It's funny, baseball is so popular in countries like America and Japan, that it's fine to walk around with a baseball bat because it's clearly a sport accessory. Not so in Scotland. You can't really wander down the shops swinging a baseball bat around. You'll end up with your head bashed in.

Fast forward thirty years. 

I still have that Louisville Slugger baseball bat, and now two catcher's mitts that a good friend gave me in Japan to go with it, and a kid to play baseball with. 

One becomes two.

The bat is too big for my son to swing, so we got him a smaller bat and a couple of small, soft practice balls from ToysRUs. So just to get him out the house on these long Scottish summer evenings we went to the local playpark. To warm up we practise throwing and catching and do some stretches. Then we assign some bases and take turns pitching and batting. His pitching is better than mine because of his snowball throwing over the winter. 

Then they refurbished the local playpark so there's more play and less park, so we go instead to the enclosed sandy football pitch nearby, which is actually much better, because in the park whenever one of us missed the ball it went out through the railings, but the football pitch is fully enclosed with wooden boards and high chain link fence so the ball just bounces right back. We take plastic plant pots filled with stones to act as bases, and a couple more gloves just in case other kids want to join us.

On Sunday just gone we went up to the football pitch and had a practice, but I wasn't really in the mood and I think it showed. I'm a good bit older and slower now, and my energy levels have become unreliable, but it was good to get the kid out the house for a few, so I pressed on. 

When I was pitching I threw one overarm (which he preferred) and inadvertently hit him on the body. The balls we use, as I said, are a bit softer but still probably hurt a bit more than a snowball. I apologised and a few shots later hit him again. Things weren't going well. He looked hurt but he was holding back tears.

Time went on and it was getting close to hometime. He pitched a good one to me and I hit it a cracker and dropped the bat to run while he turned and went after the ball. But to give him a chance and to try and cheer him up a bit I ran in slow motion round the bases while he ran up behind me with the ball, laughing, to get me out.

Ha ha! I've done it, I thought, my dad skills are awesome.

And then somehow elbowed him in the teeth.

That busted the dam and the tears flowed, and the phrase I'd sensed was coming but dreaded nonetheless : "Let's not play baseball again."

We walked home slowly, together but apart, and he went into the house and I stayed outside to see if having another go at painting the fence would dispel the large rain-filled cloud of shit fatherness in which I'd found myself.

The baseball holdall was relegated to the dusty darkness behind the sofa.

A few days after that it was a sunny day after school. He comes home and says the phrase I'd been hoping for but not expecting: "Dad, do you want to play baseball?"

So we packed up the baseball bag and made our way up to the football pitch, passing the playpark, where four little kids were playing.

"Where you going?"

"We're going to play baseball."

"Can we come?"

So now I'm teaching four kids how baseball works. We warm up by practising throwing and catching round the bases, and then move to pitching and batting. I realise that one of the kids is the one who punched out one of my son's baby teeth many years ago, and who had joined us once last year for some baseball practice. He was getting pretty good.

Two days later the doorbell goes.

"Who is it?"

"It's X and Y, asking if we want to go and play baseball."

Two become four.

I smile inside. 

But with a straight face I say what my kid was probably both expecting and dreading to hear.

"No. Homework first."

© Chris Young 2018
Image Credit

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Sycophant - Word of the Day

While trying to think of words that rhyme with 'elephant' for a kids' book idea (aged 2-4)  I fell upon the word 'sycophant', which means 'servile flatterer, self serving parasite' and comes from the Greek for 'informer'. This is good to know but not very useful for a kid's book.
In the next cage stands an elephant
who is something of a sycophant.
To the zookeeper he will pine and pant
and fawn at dawn if at dusk he can't
get his favourite edible plant
(the plain sort or extravagant)
from the lowly guy who cleans his cage out.

You can probably see at what point I got bored with this poem.

© Chris Young 2018

image credit :

Monday, 23 April 2018

today a funeral

a gleaming light of hope and mirth
for free, of fun, frivolity
of drink and dance
of smiles and warmth
has left this world
to take her place among the suns

© Chris Young 2018

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Synonyms of 'feasible'

Every now and then I get a sinking feeling that my vocabulary (along with many other useful mental processes) is slowly deteriorating. So occasionally from now on I might post random synonyms and words of the day from a dip into my thesaurus and/or dictionary.

Today's random synonym is : feasible.

feasible = practicable, possible, reasonable, viable, workable, achievable, attainable, likely ≠ impracticable 

'Feasible' in itself is not a very common or overly used word. Most people usually nowadays say 'doable', which I think is quite a new trendy oversimplified version of 'possible'.

EG. "Shall we meet on Thursday at 2pm? Is that doable?"

Image credit : feasible region

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Social Media Addiction Questionnaire

Do you use social media too much? Answer this short questionnaire to find out.

1. Do you use social media too much?

Image credit :

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

The Coffee Cup Killer Begins

This morning (safely back in Scotland) I finally broke ground on the next part of the Jake Jones detective series. As I mentioned before, it's going to be a prequel, because I think The Old Mice Killer would be better as a climax than a hard act to follow. 

To contrast with the November chill of the first one, The Coffee Cup Killer will take place in the heat of the summer months, and will be salt and peppered with connections to the OM Killer. Jake's parents are gone, he still has his pot plants and he still sits with his feet up on the desk while reading the newspaper waiting for mystery and intrigue to knock on his door. Innocent victims are disappearing, but whether they are due to the OM Killer or something else ... who knows? You'll have to buy the book to find out :)

I'm trying to keep the flow going after the writing accomplished over the holiday, but without much special to write I'm forced to focus on fiction, which is the main goal anyway.

The reasons I tried to write every day about our trip to Japan are threefold. First, I have such a terrible memory now (as I'm sure you'll have noticed) that I feel it's a shame not to record such a trip for posterity. Second, to practise writing and try to get some kind of handle on this thing; some kind of understanding or insight into my own writing - the good and the bad - perhaps even find my own style or voice. Third, to practice self publishing. After all, isn't that what writing a blog is? You put ads on your blog pages, you write something that you hope people will find engaging and come back to for more, and with luck someone clicks on an ad and you (rather than Facebook or Twitter) make a little something from it. Also, daily stats might be a good indicator as to whether what you're writing is actually readable or not. Is it consistent, and if so, consistently good or consistently bad? 

Imagine if you will, a farmer who discovers his horse poops diamonds. He is understandably overjoyed and looks forward to becoming rich and never having to work the fields again. Unfortunately the diamonds are very small, and he has to sift through the manure on his hands and knees wearing a jeweller's eye loupe all the time. He has a bad back, the manure smells, the light is dim at dawn when we all know horses are more likely to poop diamonds, and he would much rather be working the fields or even sitting in his armchair reading a good book.

Word for the day
That's what I think my writing is like. Tiny diamonds in large piles of horse manure. The trick must be to make the diamonds bigger, or at least produce more of them, and reduce the manure as much as possible. Then, and only then, will the farmer become a rich man.

Let's accept then two rules of writing.

1. Include more diamonds.
2. Cut out more manure.

Hey at least manure is good for growing things.

It's hard work to read a blog everyday. If what I write does not hold any recurring value then there's only one person to blame, and that's myself. I completely understand that. That's why I'm doing it. Feedback loop. Writing: Response. There should be something for the readers to gain to make them want to come back - that's what I'm trying to drum into my own thick head.

It's like karaoke - you've got good singers, bad singers, and people in the bar just trying to get on with their evening. The drinkers suffer the bad singers because they understand that it's only going to be the length of a song and they empathise with the singer and know that to them, singing is nice. But if they're honest they would rather listen to a good singer, because there's something in it for them, be it a pleasant feeling, a memory of better times, music and tone and rhythm combining to conduct the kind of magic that only music mysteriously can.

© Chris Young 2018

Monday, 16 April 2018

cherry blossom haiku

late in life we drift
sadly briefly on a breeze
cherry blossom falls

photo & words © Chris Young 2018

16 - Going Home

(Day 16 Tuesday 10th April)

Well, here we are at Haneda airport international terminal at 5:50am, and my son and I both agree we are looking forward to going home to our nice warm beds as these early mornings (two of which) were killing us.

a large Gundam in the airport

Well, it's been a whirlwind tour! I think we could have done with a day of just chilling in the hotel to recharge our batteries, but it was really good to catch up with old friends and we can always sleep on the plane home.

The early morning sun-drenched ceiling of Haneda Airport
Thanks to everyone who took time out of their busy lives to see us, and also thanks to those who joined us on the journey via this blog. 

Joking and amusing cultural observations aside, I do love this country and have absolute respect for the customs and traditions here. As with any difference in language and culture, friendly misunderstandings can easily arise, but rather than ignore them and brush them under the carpet it seems to me to be better for everyone to acknowledge them, share a smile with another human being, and get on with our lives.

I can't help finding it fascinating how different peoples communicate, with each other and themselves. For example the Japanese expression kouin yanogotoshi 'Time flies like an arrow', which seems very appropriate for this trip. 

Why do they say like an arrow and not like a bird, or a rocket? It must be because in the days of old when people had more time on their hands to sit around and make up proverbs, they didn't have rockets. And birds don't usually fly in a straight line, fast and dangerous with often death on the end like an arrow. Birds flap hither and thither. Arrows can neither stop nor turn in mid air. After it leaves the bow there's no turning back. It doesn't flutter by like a butterfly. It doesn't fly like an OK computer. There's no delete or undo button in real life. But there is time to regret once the arrow is set on its course. A feeling that - ah - it wasn't quite on target, or it was just a little too late or early.

Time does not fly like a crow or a stone's throw. It doesn't plummet like a lead balloon. Nor does it tumble, ooze, stride, whisk or frolic. It flies fast and straight and true, inexorably towards its target, whether intended or not, where it will hit, with a thud, a dull impact, a final note of terminality. Most arrows are designed to only be used once. And as with a bow when an arrow leaves its string, time has vibrations, waves; there is a twang, a woosh, a thud. 

An arrow's speed is restricted by air resistance, as are we, if we fall, at terminal velocity, towards our final destination. Life from an arrow's viewpoint is a blur, a mere instant of hurried activity on a predestined journey from A to B.

No turning back. Let's make the most of it.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

15 - Haneda & Forgetfulness 2

Day 15 - Monday- Haneda

Last night after my kid had nodded off, and painfully aware I hadn't had any exercise for some time, I went out for a walk-run around my old neighbourhood. (A walk-run is ideal for someone who is out of shape who wants to try to get back into shape. It's simple - you walk for a while to warm up, then you run for a while until you're tired, then you walk until you get your breath back, then repeat. It's basically half-assed running for unfit lazy people like myself.) 

Slept quite well last night despite waking up dehydrated, but a carton of fruit juice in the fridge soon put an end to that. I went out for my morning walk to the supermarket to buy some much needed fruit and vegetables only to discover that it wouldn't open for another hour. So I fell back on plan B and returned to the hotel for some writing.

Recommended non-sleepy Hay Fever medicine
I tell you it's not been easy typing on my MacBook. The 'O' key doesn't work, so I'm forced to open the keyboard viewer and click on the 'O' every time the autocorrect doesn't figure out properly what I mean. Halfway through this trip though I realised that I could type up the text of each blog entry on my phone using this iPhone 'Write' app and then copy and paste it into the browser, which has made things a hundred times easier. In its own way this has been good writing training, as it's a bit like running with a tyre tied by a piece of rope to your waist. You never realise how many damn words there are with 'O' in them until your 'O' key stops working. Janet Jackson was right.

I'll miss these breakfasts
We had to check out of the Toyoko Inn this morning at 10am, which I think we were all a bit loathe to do, but the next leg of the trip was waiting for us at Haneda. We pulled our luggage down the street to the Machida Bus Centre and bought three tickets on the airport bus to Haneda Airport, despite leaving not today but tomorrow. When we were booking hotels etc online it just seemed to make sense to stay the night before leaving at a hotel near the airport. So we rewarded ourselves with some donuts from Crusty Kreme and hopped aboard. The journey only took about 45 minutes and before we new it we were standing inside the doors of Haneda Airport feeling quite pleased with ourselves. That's when I noticed  there was a weight off my shoulders. Oh no, not again. Yes, again. I'd left my black laptop bag on the overhead shelf on the bus. Fortunately two things - one, this time I had my passport, wallet and phone in my waist pouch, and two- we're not leaving today.

After a moment's self-beratement, I won't lie to you, I handed my phone to my wife and said, please sort this out. And like a boss she called Machida Bus Centre, who gave her the number for the bus central office (AKA the Idiot Gaijin Hotline) to whom she explained the situation. They then radioed the bus driver and got him to make a U- turn somewhere and come right back to the airport. But he wasn't happy about it. Ten minutes later he'd brought my bag back and to say thank you my wife wanted to give him a small tub of potato snacks (Jagariko) in gratitude, but understandably he refused. We should have offered him our third and final donut instead.

After a nice lunch in the airport watching the planes, we boarded the bus to nearby Anamori Inari station and checked in to the rather classy MyStays hotel which sported shoebox- like rooms and an even narrower double bed than the first Toyoko Inn.

Despite there being one in the foyer of the hotel, we went out for a walk around to try to find a restaurant, but failing to do so returned to the hotel only to find a notice at the door of the restaurant saying they were fully booked between 5pm and 8pm for this two weeks. It was 6:45pm. I looked in and saw that the place had tonnes of free tables. Hmm, I thought. Have you guys been reading my blog?

So there was nothing else for it but to go back to the supermarket and buy some provisions there to take back to our room. All was looking good until I ate my son's umeboshi onigiri (sour plum rice ball) by mistake, which he was understandably upset about. 

Dango Unchained
What - on earth - is the matter with me? What is happening to my cognitive processes? When I got off the bus, what was I thinking? I was thinking, "Son, check, waist pouch with passports and wallet, check, wife, check, donut, check, ahh, how nice it is to be back in Haneda again, that bus driver drove well.' I did not think: 'now, have I got everything?' And nobody told me to think that, and even if they had I probably would have brushed it off as an inconsequential question. Of course I have! Of course I have you fool! I'm a grown adult who has been to Japan umpteen times! I have my wife, my kid, my waist pouch, even my donut!' I just didn't process the information. Sheer sloth-headed laziness 

What was I thinking when I ate my son's umeboshi onigiri? I overheard him choosing it in the supermarket. The information was there. But when we got home I just sat down and began digging into all the onigiri in the bag, not even reading the labels because nine times out of ten I never could anyway, and 'aah, it's nice to be back in the hotel,' and 'mmm, this is a particularly tasty one.' That's when my son somehow twigged and the shirt hit the fan.

Again, I had all the details, I just didn't even question the situation. Is it because I'm on holiday? Is it because I'm in writing mode? Perhaps it's from drinking too much, or having to listen to my kid's constant chattering, or having been married for nine years. Who knows. But one thing's for sure- if I'm like this now, what am I going to be like when I'm seventy?

Tomorrow we have to wake up at 4:30am, be downstairs for 5:30am, and get the shuttle bus to the airport (7mins), and I have to go to bed sober and do my best to get a decent night's sleep on the edge of a cliff.

Read Day 16.

14 - Friends, Talking Birds & Guinness

Day 14 - Sunday

Today we were kicked out the hotel room again at 10am for cleaning. It's quite good, both for us and the environment, that the hotel has offered us a discount if we just ask for the room to be cleaned every second day instead of every day. I just wish we'd planned it better so we had a lie in on the non cleaning days...

This morning (after awaking slightly the worse for wear after last night's jaunt into Tokyo) we were to make our way to Machida station to meet some friends and go for a very nice lunch in Denny's. We caught up on the past six years and again found the time lapse almost insignificant. The only change was in our kids' ages. It was fantastic to mix and mingle with familiar faces and made me more and more want to consider every possibility in whether we could actually relocate back to Japan.

My son got a present - a toy blackbird with a small microphone and speaker so that you can record a short word or phrase and when you pull the trigger it opens its mouth, flaps it's wings and repeats back to you what you said in a high pitched squawk. It cracked my kid up for the whole rest of the day.

After lunch my family went off to Sagami Ono to track down one of his old friends (when he was three) and I slunk into a Doutours near the hotel for a bit of blog self publishing. I have to confess, I've never really done this much travel writing and upload in the space of two weeks before and I am starting to get a little fatigued. I know it's all down to self discipline, to keep writing every day and there's no such thing as a bad first draft, rest on the page etc., but also in the back of my mind I can't help thinking: is any of this any good? I try to leave the words to cool down on the page for a few days and come back to them to try to reread them and edit as a third person, but is it working? Is it interesting? Are you the readers feeling engaged or is my exhaustion showing through between the lines?

What is prose? The longer and more often you study a sentence the less it seems to mean. It should flow. Be easy to read. There should be variety in vocabulary and sentence structure. Imagery. Words should fall like drips from a stalactite onto a stalagmite to form a connection between the writer and the reader in the dark chasm of nothingness.

Boom. A simile. And it's only 8:40am!

After writing, the image of me crawling into our huge empty recently made up bed in the hotel room for a cheeky afternoon few z's became too compelling to resist, and I obeyed instantly.

Blackness. Blackness, and if I'm honest, some drooling.

After my nap I went out to meet my family in Ono again for some dinner before heading off to meet another old friend from our 'Tough Gig' and 'Ripped' days, in a new Irish Bar right across from our hotel in Nakamachi, Machida. There, among other things, we discussed recent changes to Japan's national English program in schools. Presumably to save money on a drop in budget ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers) are now only present a few days a week on a rotational pattern, and to make up for this, all Japanese English teachers must teach their lessons only in English. It's a shame and must make things difficult for both lower level students and teachers, but I suppose when a board of education has to tighten its belts the ALT program would be the first to be affected. My chances of getting another job in Japan had just taken a hit.

But when I returned to my hotel room I heard from my wife who'd heard from her friend that because of this change in the public schools more parents were sending their kids to private lessons and after school English clubs. My chances had just sprung back!

Another thing my wife relayed to me was the story of the talking bird (which had been driving us both crazy all afternoon). Apparently, on returning to the hotel, my son had trained the bird to say, "Key 401 please" in Japanese in order to pass this on to the receptionist. He'd rehearsed it several times in the long queue and when they finally arrived at the desk and the young Japanese woman smiled politely at them, my son took out the bird and pulled the trigger. "Key 401 please!" it squawked. My son and wife cracked up and waited for the receptionist to smile or laugh or get the key or something. But according to my wife, there was absolutely 'no reaction'. She said she tried to make a joke out of it and got my son to repeat the bird's request just in case the receptionist hadn't heard right. He repulled the trigger : "Key 401 please!" bleeted the bird. My wife and kid cracked up again, and my wife was crying wth laughter when she retold me this story. But again, 'No reaction.' The receptionist had frozen, and for all we know is still standing rigid and petrified to the spot days later, as understandably she had not been trained to deal with such a bizarre and unsettling request from wide left field. If she had had an ALT in her school while growing up she would have been familiar to such antics, but alas it didn't seem that way.

So if you ever stay in the Toyoko Inn in Machida, and see what looks like a very lifelike wax statue of a young female Japanese receptionist behind a glass case in the foyer, that was us - the Young family.

Read Day 15.

Friday, 13 April 2018

13 - Lego & Beer

(Day 13- Saturday)

I hate to say it, but I slept a hundred times better in that guest house in Arashiyama than three in the bed at this hotel last night. My son punched me in the mouth and kicked me twice in the bits and this morning will no doubt pretend he knows nothing about it.

Taken in Shimbashi, Tokyo.
Today we've come from Machida up the Odakyu line to change via Yoyogi Uehara and Shimbashi to Odaiba to the Lego Discovery Centre. 
This way to the Tokyo Teleport Station
I wasn't kidding
There's a bigger Lego Land in Nagoya, but due to it seeming a bit expensive and us not having much time there, we opted for the smaller Lego Discovery Centre in Odaiba. Our kid loved it and we spent five long hours there surrounded by hundreds of hyper children and pale, tired parents, not to mention billions of lego bricks.

The beautiful Tokyo skyline at night, but look closer
Tokyo Tower
The best part I think that both my son and I liked was the automobile creation area, where you designed your vehicle and tested it on various ramps and races against other kids' (and Dads') creations. We spent ages there and made a few pals from many different countries.
A Lego Dragon
The second best thing was the 4D short Lego movie theatre. 3D glasses, fans in the ceiling to blow air at you, water splashing on you at appropriate moments - it was quite an experience! But I have to confess, after five hours of lego I was ready to never buy, play with or think about lego ever again.

A Lego Star Wars Death Star - just 86,300 yen! (£570.09)
In the evening I'd arranged to meet another long standing friend of mine from our 'Ripped' days in a bar called the Warrior Celt, in Ueno, which is hidden away upstairs amid the packed in shops and services of every description in the depths of downtown Tokyo. Depths is a good word for it, because you can really feel the pressure from the sheer density of bars, restaurants, pachinko parlours, karaoke bars, American clothes shops, convenience stores all crammed four high into tiny spaces beneath railway tracks.

The Warrior Celt, while serving good Guinness, is a smoking zone, which I hadn't been used to for many years since coming back to the UK, and when we arrived a group of about a dozen people from all over the world were involved in some kind of vociferous drinking game which in the small space made it very hard to talk, so we removed ourselves to a Brewdog in Roppongi. On the way to which we were propositioned by a guy who wanted to take us to a Strip Bar, which is something I wrote into my first novel 'Tokyomares'. I tried not to freak out too much though as just because I write about something (I rationalised while a little drunk) it doesn't mean it can't still happen in real life.

Once we finally found the Brew Dog we sat at one end of the bar and drank exorbitantly priced "British Pints" and caught up on the past six years, while down the bar I saw about five guys all sitting alone, on their cell phones, right next to each other. Among other things we discussed aquaponics (the growth of fruit and vegetables in water instead of soil) and much much more, which I have absolutely no memory of now whatsoever.

TVs on trains. But I see my conveyor belt ramen train carriage idea hasn't caught on yet
Navigating the Tokyo train and subway system is hard enough for the sober Japanese person from out of town, let alone the drunk foreigner on holiday, but I had a feeling I'd be all night once I got onto the circular Yamanote line and headed for my old favourite station - Shinjuku (which I have much experience navigating while drunk). There I switched onto the Odakyu line and headed south, thinking whatever drunk gaijin think about on the second last train home.

Read Day 14. 

moth haiku

a new friend is found
with whom to reflect on life

image & text © chris young 2018

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

12 - Dogs, Robots & Geckos

(Friday 6th April - Machida)

The nicest dog ever
Got train and bus to an old friend's enjoying a very pleasant lunch and a long chat in Japanese. Drank beer, champagne, whisky and coffee. 

Outstanding robot models

Got the bus back to Machida where we went to New Yorkers in the Machida Forum and did some homework and blog before getting dinner in Origin Bento and returning to the hotel in the quite high wind. 
We found this little guy/girl outside my friend's house 
Said friend is a member of the volunteer group which plants and takes care of the flowers along the roadside

The smallest shop in Machida - Palm Reading 
Then we watched Spider-Man: Homecoming back at the hotel which was quite good at points. I don't want to spoil it for you if you've not seen it, but a kid gets bitten by a radioactive spider and has super-spiderlike qualities. Apparently Spiderman was the first creation of Stan Lee, which is a factoid I will find out tomorrow.

Apologies for the brevity of this post. Obviously the beer, champagne, Suntory whisky and coffee are not altogether conducive to blog writing.

Read Day 13. 

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

11 - Nostalgia Lane

(Thursday 5th April - Machida)

Commercial survivors : The Ducky Duck : an overpriced and oddly named but central coffee and cake shop
Woke up feeling not so hot and bothered this morning to what felt like a 5 degree drop in temperature over yesterday morning, and sure enough, on venturing outside for my morning constitutional beneath the heavy concrete sky the temperature was pleasantly cool.
Don Quixote : everything from toys to bicycle bells
I don't know why I keep ending up back here. Maybe it's because it's technically part of Tokyo but right on the edge to still be open minded enough to accept different ways of thinking. Machida straddles two perpendicular train lines which can take you to a very wide variety of locations- the JR can shuttle you east to west from Hachioji to Yokohama, and the Odakyu can whisk you from the black sands of Katase-Enoshima all the way up to the seedy breathtaking towering human neon anthills of Shinjuku. 
This overpriced but delicious centrally located steak shop
To witness the reduction of what had been the largest 100 yen Daiso in the world to just half a floor in the opposite building was quite a tragic experience. If I remember right it was spread across six floors, resulting in a 92% downsizing. What happened between 2012 and 2018 to result in such drastic measures? Was it the increase in tax from 5% to 20%? Some other prohibitive legislation on imports? Who knows. I remember once someone questioned the morality of 100 yen shops saying that workers slaved away in gulags just to provide us with our cheap bowls and cooking utensils, but I found out later that it was Daiso's business model of buying huge volumes of goods in bulk at large discounts allowed them to sell them off individually at such a low price. Whenever you bought something from Daiso it was always a bit of a gamble, but, like gambling, it was fun, and everything was so cheap (67p) the stakes were low, so what did it matter if your umbrella broke on the way home in the rain- it was only 100yen. Who cared if the handle of your trowel snapped off the first time you try to build a sandcastle? And if your plastic shelving unit survived several lifetimes you thanked your lucky stars and looked back in amazement and marvelled, 'This was only 100yen!'.

For many years after leaving Japan I dreamt about this station exit
We decided today to take a walk down Nostalgia Lane and go back to where we used to live to see if our son, who was 0-3 years at the time of living there, could recall our apartment, and maybe even pop in unannounced to one of his play friends for a chat.

My sister found a gun in this river
He seemed to remember our old 4-block apartment building and where we used to sit him in a large basin of cold water on the top stairs verandah to cool him down in the height of the summer. 

I remember when this was all fields! Oh, it still is
When we went round for his friend though, for some reason we were all a bit nervous, but we needn't have been. The friend was either not there or too shy to come down, so we ended up chatting politely with the grandfather about his impressive collection of animals that he himself had hunted in the hills of Kanagawa and had stuffed and put on display around his home.

Presumably these tanuki (raccoon dog) were exactly like this when he shot them

I'm home, deer!
We took a walk around nearby Sagami Ono Station to see what had changed, as we were leaving in 2012 the old narrow alleyways filled with bizarre and wondrous back street shops were all being bulldozed to be replaced by an accommodation supermall. And when I got there I felt a little down. The tiny, meandering backstreets filled with so much unique Japanese character and history had been replaced with the ubiquitous clinically spotless shopping mills filled with many trademarks of businesses found in any large city in the world.  I didn't come all the way back here to visit another Starbucks or Burger King. 

Sagami Ono's new mall complex
In the evening, while my wife and son were off visiting his childhood friend again (this time for a prearranged and more successful meeting) I wandered the streets of Sagami Ono killing time before meeting another old friend of my own. I probably shouldn't have, but I was cold and dressed unwisely in shorts and T shirt, so I went into a game centre on the main street and found the Gundam consoles.

Gundam was something that I confess was an unhealthy addiction in my previous incarnations in Japan, but if I hadn't gotten into it I would have missed quite a few good moments getting deep into Japanese culture interacting with other gamers. It was an effective (not to mention expensive and time consuming) way to break out of the culture bubble in which many people who live abroad find themselves. That said, sitting down to play this time I found that through several years' lack of practice, as well as unfamiliarity with the new system and robots, and not particularly liking the over-complicated and cluttered set up, I was destroyed quickly and decisively each and every time, by faceless victors online.
In the evening I met someone I usually bump into while randomly walking around the area, but this time had prearranged a rendezvous just to make sure. We went to Angie's (which was completely dead being a week night) and soon warmed up with an Irish coffee, before moving on to Heartland. A good chat was had and many topics discussed to various degrees of depth and sobriety. 

Read Day 12. 

Monday, 9 April 2018

10 - Return To Machida

(Wednesday 4th April, Nagoya-Machida)

Interestingly I woke up this morning having slept the worst since arriving in Japan, probably due to the fact that it had been very warm, added to that for a cheaper room we'd elected to all sleep three in a double bed. But alas, our son is no longer the small quiet creature of yesteryear when this used to be possible. The heat also got to him which lead him to moan and thrash around, lashing out in his sleep resulting in a punch in the nose or kick in the takoyaki becoming a real and present danger. My wife staying up to sort out the washing in a plastic bag with the light on didn't help, and in fact only exacerbated the situation. Imagine trying to sleep in the desert at high noon lying next to a pack of wild dogs tied to a cactus while someone maliciously crunches an empty crisp packet right next to your ear.

Morning couldn't come soon enough, and when it did it was too soon.

I had two onigiri, some rice, two cups of coffee and two orange juices, some mini sausages and other seaweed bits and bobs, and afterwards began to feel quite human again. On TV at the end of the hall was a program that seemed to be about big butts. The female Japanese presenter seemed to be saying, "Using these cutting edge methods and optical illusions people with big butts can become people with smaller butts." Each of the guests to me were clearly thinking, "Why are we here?" My wife disagreed. She interpreted their expressions to be that of polite interest. Not "What idiot TV program producer planned this nonsense?"

Striking architecture in Nagoya

 I heard chocolate was an aphrodisiac, but still ....
Even though we were due to check out today we left our cases in the hotel foyer so that we could wander around Nagoya for a while until we were due to catch the shinkansen up to Tokyo at 2:40 pm.

It was hot and sunny and the heat bounced off the asphalt, concrete, steel and glass to produce a shimmering haze though which we meandered like a mirage, gasping for coffee, coffee. 

My son and I holed up in a Doutours in the station to do some homework while my wife slipped away for a few precious solitary shopping hours in the labyrinthine symbiotic department store train station.

Shinkansen coffee travels at 200mph
We dismounted the bullet train in Shin Yokohama station and climbed the familiar stairs up and round and down to the JR station where it was just anther 20 minutes or so until our next destination, a little old place called Machida.

Full Circle - Back in Machida 
I walked past this hotel every day from 2000-2002
I can't believe we've come all the way back to Machida. Coming down the stairs at the JR exit looking out over the night view I almost felt faint as three lots of memories all superimposed on my mind: the first version I experienced in 2000 when I first arrived in Japan, got disorientated due to the two raised platforms and ended up blissfully lost; the second chapter of my life when I returned to Machida in 2006 and we made Tough Gig and Ripped; and this third 2018 version, with its similarities and differences - the commercial enterprises that survived, those that didn't, and those that adapted. But still the same glittering neon-lit canyon from JR to Odakyu, providing everything you need from donuts to guitar tuition; from steak to spatulas; from fish to cigarettes.
The Hub in Machida is still there, and has expanded to Sagami Ono

This could be why I keep returning

The massive Daiso 100 Yen Plaza in Machida has become an apartment block
We did find anther Daiso but it had been reduced from 6 floors to half a floor in the Lumine Building.

Relieves stress!?

Ninja climbing tools - just 250 yen!

The Neon Lights of Machida Main Drag

Order by iPad in Ootoya to reduce the stress of talking to other humans