Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Off Kilter

A manhole had burst open on the way to the university bus stop. In the dark, the sewage looked like an oil slick. The air was damp and shit-smelling, exactly matching my mood. Since arriving on Thursday I've managed one night's sleep of more than three hours and been forced to sit through twelve hours of training for the fourth time, on the premise that I may have forgotten how to write on a whiteboard or structure the most simple of forty-minute lessons. Last night I had no sleep at all; tonight it's half past two and I'm sitting with a glass of water, typing on a computer, listening to the noise of traffic through an open window.

Friday, September 25, 2009


Not a lot changes in nine months away from Fuchu. FC Tokyo banners hang from Edo-imitation lampposts, and I found the cheap tempura place opposite the keiten sushi and all-for-300-yen izakaya in a back alley behind the station. Between there and my flat is a whole row of room salons, still with hand-written signs advertising for "Filipina workers with proper visa."

My apartment is smaller than last time, overlooking the end table in a Nepalese restaurant, the top of a roof and the corner of a car park. The Shop 99 has changed too, replaced by a Lawson 100 store that costs a whole one yen extra for bags of misshaped aubergine and tins of tomato sauce flavour mackerel.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Off To The Match

Way back at the beginning of May, watching the final meek surrender in a sports bar at the slightly more salubrious end of Lāčplēsis iela, I decided that Ashley or no Ashley I would be back at St James' the next time I possibly could. As things turned out, a second placed finish in an online score predictor won me two tickets to a Premier League game of my choice or £80 in cash - enough for three seats in the Leazes End this afternoon with drinking money to spare.

First prize was flights for two to New York, but the Big Apple doesn't come with views like this:

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Even when you spend nine months of the year abroad, it isn't too hard to grow a decent crop of onions. Dig over the ground at the end of the year, start the seeds in a greenhouse at Christmas, and get someone to transplant them in March. Remove any nearby weeds while they're growing, water occasionally and you should be able to ease them out of the ground by the end of summer, a week or so after the foliage turns brown and begins to topple over.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Edinburgh Visa Run

Returning to Tokyo means first returning to Edinburgh, to the grey sandstone blocks west of Princes Street that house stockbrockers and architects and the Consulate General of Japan. Arriving on the bus at half past eight, and with an hour to kill before I could hand in my visa application, I headed down the Royal Mile to Holyrood and took the steep path up Salisbury Crags, passing Americans wearing baseball caps and lycra shorts and a woman running her dog downhill.

I was inside the Consulate for no more than five minutes. A security guard sat by the door reading the sports pages from the Daily Record and there were mugshots of Japanese Red Army members on a poster next to the counter. "Your passport will be back by Friday, maybe earlier," said the woman on the other side of the glass. The sun shone through the window on the bus ride home. By the time we reached the border, I'd long since fallen asleep.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Japan Again

Even before I left Japan I knew I'd be going back. Despite the iffy impression of so many three-month contracts on my CV - "You move around a lot, don't you?" was the opening question in my last interview - and the utterly inane online training I've just had to complete for the third time (Example: Speaking English is likened to playing volleyball because a) many people are involved and trying to keep things going, b) one side controls the conversation before passing it back to the other side, or c) everyone talking has a different strategy to come out the winner), Tokyo - a city you could visit a hundred times before you stop discovering something new - is the only place I've ever lived that I can't imagine getting tired of.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

The Miners United

I've been in Spain for the past week and a half, hiding from the sun in my parents' front yard with bottles of beer and paperback books. The best, GB84 by David Peace, got me into this absorbing day-by-day account of a Westoe miner's year on strike.