I noticed today that it has been exactly two weeks since last I updated my blog, and that last post was not even a real update: just an amusing video of Japanese people being silly (they are so very silly), so I felt that I really ought to write something. More than that, I feel I owe you all an apology for keeping you waiting so long. I will try to make sure this little post is all you could wish for and more.
I have of late been somewhat troubled by two things in particular. The first is insomnia, or some kind of problem with my sleep pattern, and the second is the plummetting value of the Pound. I think I may have mentioned my sleeping problems before, possibly at great length, so I'll try not to go into too much wearysome detail, but in short I can't sleep. I lie down, I close my eyes, I even count sheep, but nothing happens. I seem to have forgotten some vital step in the going-to-sleep process, but I can't for the life of me work out what it was. I'll eventually drift off around 2 or 3am, then wake up several times, usually at 5, 5.30 and 6.30, each time thinking "hmmm, I'm pretty awake now, maybe I should just get up", but when my alarm clock goes off at 6.50 my only thoughts are "Bleeaaarggh. Mrrrrfffff? Hrmrmrmrmr fuck offfff..." and I wake up groggy, woozy, headachey and pissed off, which is not a great way to start the day.
No - that's not just a hangover. I know what I hangover feels like, and this is much worse.
In fact, my difficulty sleeping is driving me to the drink. Now, those of you who know me well will be aware that I was not a teatotaller before i came to Japan. I have been known to enjoy a drop of bubbly at Christmas, and sometimes even a shandy or two at the end of a long week. But recently I've been thinking "God I can't be bothered with another sleepless night and feeling shitty all day tomorrow. I'll just get drunk" which is not a healthy lifestyle or frame of mind. The fact is though, I feel better with a hangover but having slept well than I do when I haven't slept properly.
I've been thinking perhaps I ought to go and buy another mattress; my bed is spectacularly uncomfortable. I've bruises on my hips just from rolling over in the night. I think my futon might be stuffed with granite or iron filings.
And then there's the money issue. It's almost like there was some kind of global economic crisis going on or something... Basically, the value of the Pound is unimaginably low, especially when compared to the Yen which has remained relatively strong throughout the turmoil. 5 months ago £1 was worth 215 Yen. 2 months ago it was 185. Now it's around 140. That's a fall of 25% over 2 months, or 35% since July.
To put this in context for those of you not particularly familiar with Japanese currency, as long as I've been paying attention to Japan it has always been around 200 Yen to the pound, give or take. Sometimes it was a little more, sometimes a little less, but it was close enough. This made the calculations pretty convenient: 1000 Yen (the smallest note) was worth a fiver (our smallest note), so it all made sense and was pretty easy. 10,000 was £50. A 600 Yen pint was a £3 pint - pretty much average. Now a 600 Yen pint costs £4.28. Whenever I want to take out fifty quid, it costs me £71.50, not including the £1.50 my bank charges me for the privilege of using my card abroad!
Needless to say, this has caused me much fiscal consternation. Fortunately I have some money in Yen format, so I haven't actually had to use my Pounds too much, but I've not got many Yen left so I'm going to start feeling the rub pretty soon.
On the other hand, as my Father pointed out, this would be a very good time to start earning some Yen - exploiting the credit crunch to my own advantage - so I'm going to look into some English teaching work or something.
Aside from these two minor worries, however, the sun is shining, I only have one more lecture left this week, and all is pretty much well with me. I've been doing a fair amount of work, although I'm falling wa-a-ay behind with my Kanji - it turns out 60 kanji per week is rather more than i can realistically keep up with. My mid-term exams are all behind me, I've no major deadlines for 2 weeks, and I'm making progress with my Year-Abroad research project.
Also, possibly more significantly, I've recently been starting to feel like I can speak Japanese. Not especially well, mind you, but on the whole I understand when people speak to me, and they seem to understand what I say in response, so I guess I can speak Japanese... There's no other explanation for it.
I think that's all the 'serious' bit dealt with. No more real 'news' to tell you, except that I'll be back in 5 weeks and my cheese cravings are almost unbearable. Every day on my way home I detour to walk past a bakery where they are always giving out free samples of cheese bread - the typical sweet, spongey Japanese bread with a few meagre pieces of yellow and orange generic-factory-cheese in the middle. I also, once or twice a week, go to the food court underneath the Seibu department store and eat all the free samples at their cheese stall. Sometimes when I'm a bit drunk I buy a little pack of salami and smoked cheese, but apart from those three indulgences, there is no cheese in my life. They do have cheese in this country; in fact, at the fancy department stores they even have some pretty good cheese, but it's so gosh darn expensive that I can't bring myself to buy it. 150g of Stilton at the supermarket is 1,680 Yen, which is £12 at today's exchange rate, and there's no way I'm going to pay that much for a piece of cheese. Even the cheap crappy Japanese cheese is 400+ Yen (£2-3) for 100g.
Now, on to the important stuff. Let me start with the Shelf of Tat. You will be excited to know that the Shelf is positively groaning under the weight of Tat arrayed upon it. In fact, some of the older Tat has been pushed back slightly to make room for the newer Tat.
So, to introduce the new ones, and refresh your memory on the older ones, let's do a quick roll-call, left to right.
1. Battleship Yamato beer mug
3. Talks-just-like-your-father SoftBank Dog
4. *NEW* White dog with your Father's voice
5. Sexy Dr Pepper can
6. *NEW* Minnie Mouse ears
7. *NEW* Bag of Yen
8. *NEW* Mickie and Minnie shot glass
9. *NEW* Singing employment mouse
That's right: there are 5 - count them - 5 new additions to the shelf of tat. Lets take a closer look at this motley bunch.
You all remember the talks-just-like-your-father SoftBank dog, right? With classic one-liners like "You are too young for that!" who could forget? Well, I am proud to introduce to you one of the finest pieces of tat I have found so far: a really naff plastic rip-off of the SoftBank dog! That's right, this isn't just a smaller version of the talks-just-like-your-father SoftBank dog, this the 'white dog with your father's voice', made by the White Dog Company. I won it in a 100 Yen UFO-catcher machine (took me about 6 tries, so the little bastard cost me about £4). It even comes complete with naff crappy rip-off pieces of fatherly advice. (Look back to September's post, 'Genghis Kong vs. the SoftBank Dog' to remind yourself of the nuggets of unfiltered fatherly wisdom that the original SoftBank Dog dispensed).
White dog says:
Boys be amitious! (he just says this in English but with a Japanese accent, so it comes out as boizu bii anbishasu)
Your intention is weak!
And other crappy bits of nonsense. Well, he used to say those things. His battery is already dead.
SoftBank Dog says: "That's quite enough of that!" and I think he's right.
The Minnie ears are from DisneySea (like DisneyLand, but wetter), which I went to a couple of weeks ago. They were lent to me by Lisa (one of the Japs), so I wore them all day with everyone laughing at me. Here's a picture of me modelling them with Yumiko (Dude! Chick! Hot! Bang! Totally!!!)
I believe this is what the Japanese call 'kawaii'.
Lisa says she wants the ears back.
The bag of Yen came free with a bottle of tea I bought. Well, the bag came free. I had to provide the Yen, unfortunately. A bottle of tea had a strange small item attached to it, so I bought it out of curiosity. The small soft 'free gift' turned out to be a tiny (about 3" square), see-through yellow drawstring bag with a picture of Rilakkuma (Relax Bear. Rilakkusu means relax, kuma means bear. Rilakkusu + Kuma = Rilakkuma. Genius) on it. How utterly pointless, I thought at first, but then I realised that my pockets, desk and floor were overflowing with another achingly pointless item: 1 Yen coins. So I put my 1 Yen coins in the bag. Problem solved.
Minnie and Micky shot glass. Another souvenir from DisneySea. For those dark, dark times, when the only thing that can cheer me up is shots of gin and a picture of Mickey Mouse.
Finally there's the singing employment mouse. I can't quite remember where I got him, but if you squeeze his belly he tells you to go get a job.
Well, not exactly, but it sounds better if I tell it that way. If you squeeze his belly he sings a little jingle which goes "If you're looking for part-time work, go to Baitoru.com". It's very irritating, and mind-numbingly catchy, and just thinking about it has got it stuck in my head again. Oh... God... Make... It... Stop...
So those are the new contestants in the international Tat parade. I'd like to make a brief mention of Gachapin though. Gachapin, if you remember, is the one who says that giggling is good for your balls. It turns out he's some kind of Tom Cruise-esque action man super hero. And he has a friend who is a red yeti called Mukku. Here's proof.
How fucking cool/ridiculous is that? I particularly enjoyed the bit at the end where he's burying a corpse... and then the freaky magnet people?
*sigh* Somehow I can't help feeling that I'm more of a Mukku than a Gachapin...
So what kind of fun stuff have I been doing for the last few weeks? Well, briefly (because I've been at this post for about 2 hours now), Simon (coursemate from Sheffield) came up to Tokyo for the weekend, which we used as an excuse for a larger Sheff-crew gathering. All told Me, Simon, Jimmy, Morrell, Lisa, Rachel, Katherine, Evie, Ildze, Morito and a couple of Catherine's friends whose names I sadly can't remember met up (apologies if I missed anyone out there). Food and booze was had with much merriment. There was also Karaoke and a Curry, I can't quite remember in what order these events occurred.
Simon stayed with me the first night, and we had a day of doing some low-paced sightseeing which was nice. We had Okonomiyaki for lunch.
The one on the right is the one I made. The one on the left was Simon's...
In his defence, mine was an okonomiyaki, ans his was a monjayaki, so we were working from rather different recipes, but I'm still not entirely convinced monjayaki is supposed to look like that...
We then went up the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building,
Which offers a very fine view of Tokyo,
Although it was a little too hazy to see Mt. Fuji.
Then there was DisneySea. A really fun day out, but the rides were all rather tame (well, it is for kids after all) and it was pretty expensive. There are tons of photos of it, but I can't quite be bothered to upload them here. If you've ever been to a Disney resort before it looked just like that. If you've never been to a Disney resort before, just imagine a 3D Disney film with me in it. The photos should make it on to Facebook eventually.
At some stage later that week I went out to the English Pub. The Fish and Chips are pretty rubbish and the beer is very expensive, but cocktails are cheap and it looks like a pub, so it makes me feel at home. This started out as a pretty low-key, low-drunkenness event, just me and three Japanese girls (dudechickhotbang? Totally!), but more and more people turned up later on and I ended up in a fairly disgraceful state of inebriation. Happy hour is 4pm until 7pm, and all cocktails are half price. That makes it about £2 for a pint or so of G&T. Not good G&T (no ice, no slice), but a pint of it.
Here's me earlier on in the night (don't let the blurriness of the photo or the droopiness of my eyes fool you - I was pretty sober).
Then the other Gaijin turned up, and the Japanese people questioned my abililty to drink a litre of beer.
(Wilko, I drank this and thought of you)
Then I was quite drunk.
Then... well... I don't know to be honest. I like to think I was playing peek-a-boo with a child under the table. Or demonstrating the brace position for a plane crash. Hopefully not crying.
Actually, I think I might have just hit my head. That seems the most plausible explanation. That would also explain the headache I had the next day...
Onwards and onwards and I've been at school, studying hard. I've started going to the Gym (I've lost about a stone, I think, which is nice). Yada yada yada.
Believe it or not Ive been writing this thing for about 3 hours now, so you'll forgive me if my patience is starting to run out.
I've also written an article for Article (my friend Dunmore's magazine that he prints in Sheffield). Keep your eyes peeled for it in paper format if you live in the Steel City, otherwise there will be an online edition at some stage too.
I have to go now - my vision is starting to blur and I'm starting to suffer from typist's headache, not to mention diarist's ear and blogger's ballbag - but before I do, I would like to leave you with a few more words from Gachapin. In fact, a whole song from Gachapin. It's called Tabechauzo (Eat it up!), and I find there's something amazingly creepy about it.
Lyrics in Japanese:
大きな大きな口あけて 食べる子どの子 どの子にしようか
おいしいスープのできあがり 食べる子どの子 どの子にしようか
仕返しやってくる夢の中 食べる子どの子 どの子にしようか
じゃんけんぽんよ勝ったら食べろ 負けたら逃げろLyrics in English (I can only be bothered to translate the first verse):
Eat it up! Eat it up! Naughty children eat it up!
With butter spread thickly on it and sugar sprinkled on top,
Open your big big mouth - which child will eat it, which will it be?
We'll rock, paper, scissors for it: if you win, you eat, if you lose, run away!
God that was creepy.
I've got some other stuff I might like to write, but I can't be bothered right now, so hopefully you won't have to wait quite so long for the next post.
Let's making happy! You are number one biggest friend and always filling your love!