Friday, 31 July 2009

Genghis Kong vs. Dodgy Internets

Argh! my last few days in Japan and the internets at my dorm have completely died!

A bunch of Koreans have just moved into the dorm, and apparently one of them downloaded something malicious/exceeded the download limit or something, and now none of us has any internets. Bugger!

So I am currently using a computer at school. Unfortunately all the computer rooms are closed because it's summer holidays now, so I'm using the totally crap, slow useless computer in the corridor near the computer rooms. It's dreadful.

So considering my difficult IT situation, and the fact that I'm supposed to be spending the next two days climbing Mt. Fuji, this may turn out to be my last post from Japan. I'll try to at least post one final update when I get back - let you know how I got on with Mt. Fuji - but that doesn't really count, so I've decided to make this my de facto goodbye message.

I've been in Japan for almost a year now, and while there have been bad times and difficulties and stress, I think on balance I'm prettypleased with the year. School has been utterly crap. I've learnt less than nothing, but I do actually feel like I can speak Japanese rather betternow than I could before, which I suppose was the whole point on the excursion. However I must say that my life here in Japan has been pretty stressful. I don't even know why it's been stressful - there's no one single source of stress - but I feel extraordinarily tired and run-down, and I am really looking forward to getting home to a country where I understand everything and everything is easy and everyone speaks my language. I'm tired of the heat, tired of trains, tired of washing machines that don't wash and tired of everything costing a fortune. Tokyo is a tiring place to live.

I'll definitely be coming back though. Without doubt. Although I think I might try living in a different city. Osaka is supposed to be pretty fun, and Hiroshima is far more relaxed and peaceful. Maybe I'll go and live in Okinawa for a while, get myself a nice tan.

Tomorrow will be my 22nd birthday, and I will be climbing Mt. Fuji. Hopefully. It sounds like the climb is pretty hard work - 7 hours up and 5 hours down, overnight. The success rate is less than 50%, and last month a climber was killed by a falling rock, Add to that altitude sickness and twisted ankles, and it's all rather worrying. And the weather forecast isn't good. Also, I may have to abandon the climb altogether if it sounds like a I can't get back down in time to sign for my scholarship at school. So it's all a little bit up-in-the-air whether I even attempt the climb or not, let alone actually complete it. Still, if it doesn't happen in the end then I've got an idea in mind for an alternative - all drinks are half-price all day at the English pub. That's right: my birthday is half-price booze day in Japan. I think they should make it a national holiday.

Hopefully the internets will come back on in the dorm, and I'll be able to write you an all-singing, all-dancing, lights and music goodbye postarama before I leave, but if not then I guess this is goodbye. I'm sorry if it's a bit of an anticlimax - no pictures, no triumphant fanfare - but in a pinch I'm afraid it might have to do.

Thanks for reading,
See you all back home in Blighty.

Love love love,
Genghis Kong


Monday, 20 July 2009

Genghis Kong vs. Koreans

Hello readers,

I've been meaning to write to you for some time, but just didn't manage to get around to until today. Much has transpired since last I wrote, possibly most significantly I finished Japanese school. Well, tentatively. I may decide that I actually haven't yet finished Japanese school, but we'll get round to that in a little bit.

Over the last week or so of school, rather than studying hard I was mostly fooling around and doing a few fun and exciting things, but to be brutally honest since school ended I have spent most of my time going to awful parties where I have a fairly rubbish time but get very drunk. This has led me to be feeling awful and miserable most of the time, and now that I have just got out of my nocturnal alcoholic cycle, I've picked up a bloody cold from one of my friends. Bastards.

In terms of fun things I've done recently which were actually worthwhile and memorable, there are a few. A couple of weeks ago I took part in the TKY Centurion event - a large, organised, (spurious) world record attempt at the largest centurion drinking game ever. For those of you who don't know, the centurion is a fairly simple premise - one shot of beer every minute for 100 minutes. "A shot of beer? Pah! That's less than nothing!" I hear you cry, and you are correct. However 100 shots of beer really is quite a lot, especially as a hundred minutes is not a very long time. Assuming the shots are 25ml each, this amounts to 2.5 litres of beer (about 5 pints) in one hour and 40 minutes. However I have a feeling that a standard shot in Japan is actually 35ml, making it more like 6 and a half pints in 1h40. Needless the say, the levels of drunkenness were quite high that evening.

Oh, and you are not allowed to stand up or leave your seat for any reason. Expecially not to urinate. This can put a significant strain on the ol' bladder, as I'm sure you can all imagine.

You can visit the official website here (if you scroll down to 'photos' and click on 'kato' there's a bunch of pictures of us in there), and see my name listed among the victorious centurion champions. I know for certain that more people completed it than are listed there, but either way it was a world record attempt fail. Firstly, it was not very closely policed so people could have easily cheated, and secondly Guinness said that it was irresponsible and dangerous to encourage this kind of drinking behaviour. Which is true.

Anyway much merriment was shared by all at the centurion. Incidentally, our centurion team included a pair of very sexy Japanese identical twins. Yeah - that's not just an Austin Powers joke, there really are sexy Japanese identical twins out there. I was just surprised to learn that they hang out with me, of all people.

Anyway, centurion finished, two from our table finished it successully. (Possibly three, actually, but I'm not sure. The third guy spent so much time snogging another guy that was with us that I think he must have missed a few shots along the way, but I think he made it to 100, sort of). Everyone's drunk, party's over lets head home. The two gays head off for the gay district, the two twins head home, leaving me, my (American) friend Nate and his (Japanese) girlfriend Mana. Mana at this point is very drunk. So drunk that she can hardly walk, and is tumbling around the street shouting that she hates us.

Now unfortunately this does not look good to the casual observer on the street: two large and relatively sober Gaijin leading a completely drunk Japanese girl home, and the Japanese girl shrieking and hitting them. In fact it looks to passers-by very much like we were trying to date-rape her or something.

Just then a small asian guy (presumably Japanese) comes up to us saying "Hey Gaijin! Where you going? What you doing with her?" and then asking Mana (in Japanese), "Hey girl, where are going. Do you want know these Gaijin?" to which Mana responded with a loud "FUCK YOU!" in English. (not very helpful)

It's worth pointing out here that Mana is completely crazy and can be rather a belligerent drunk.

The guy continues pestering us and we try to explain ourselves - with Mana continuing to be distinctly unhelpful - and eventually he leaves us be, but as we approach the crossing I look over my shoulder to see he is still following us. Mana is still reeling about the place and occassionally shouting or hitting Nate, and can't stand on her own so Nate is holding her own to keep her up, and the little asian dude comes up to us again while we're waiting for the lights to change, and is being really quite aggressive now, grabbing at Mana's arm and pushing at Nate, so I just stepped up behind him - I don't like fighting, I was just hoping that my bigness might get the little scrote to fuck off - at which point he goes off on one: shoving my chest screaming in my face and just generally trying to start a fight.

Just as I was thinking that it's particularly ballsy for one little asian dude to pick a fight with two big Gaijin, two of friends appear who had apparently been waiting across the road. What a fucking set-up! Clearly their game is for the one guy to pick a fight with a big guy, and then the other two guys come in to back him up and have a jolly-old beat down on the guy.

Fortunately, though, it seemed that one of them was willing to throw the first punch, and I sure as hell wasn't so eventually I managed to talk them down and we just walked home, but it still rattled me a fair bit.

Obviously we were a little pissed off with Mana, who could have easily just explained to them in Japanese "No, this is my boyfriend, this is my friend, we're going home", but afterwards when we asked her why she hadn't done this she just said "I don't wanna talk to him. He was a Korean anyway, so he's a Gaijin too!"

Well great! Thanks Mana, just as long as we don't get beaten up by Japanese people you're totally willing to let us get beaten up by Koreans? You're so thoughtful!

She was very apologetic the next day, and as I understand it Nate is actually pretty good at fighting, so had it come down to it we might not have actually been on the receiving end of a beating, but still - a very sout end to an otherwise very fun night.

Still - I'm putting that down as the first time I've been the victim of a racist attack! Cool - I can tick that one off the list of 'life experiences I never really wanted to have'.

But anyway, no harm no foul, I guess. It could have been worse.

Ignoring that, I carried on doing to do (like Betty Boo) and eventually it was the last week of school and I was taking all my final exams. The exams were all pretty easy, I would say. The only one I have got back so far I scored a fairly respectable 98% on, although that wasn't a language class taht was my Manga and Anime class.

Now the reason I say that I have finished school, but maybe not, is that I basically didn't do any of the work for the classes that I don't have to pass. The way the year abroad works with Sheffield University is that you have to pass all the Japanese language classes you take, and then you have to submit a 6000-word research paper, but any other extra classes you take at your host university make no difference - you can fail them or you can get an A, and no one will care. For some reason, unlike in most Universities I know of where the essays are usueally deu in the middle of the term and the exams are at the end, for my classes everything was due all in the same week - I had about 6 essays and 6 exams all in the same week. Putting aside the fact that my time management skills are miserable, I have also been suffering miserably with insomnia these past few weeks and I spent most of my last weeks of school in something of a daze from lack of sleep. Therefore I took the executive decision not to do any of the essays for classes I didn't need to pass. I did all the work for my Japanese classes and hopefully will have passed them with a decent grade, but I did none of the final papers for my three other classes, because it doesn't matter if i fail them.

So as it stands I have finished school (woop woop!) with 4 passes and 3 fails (boo!). Although I do quite like the fact that I have finished school, this rather lacklustrre ending has left a bit of a bad tastet in my mouth, so I'm thinking I might now write all the papers and submit them late. Even if they are so late that they can't be counted and I fail the class anyway, it might make me feel a little better about the situation. I've made a start on a couple of them actually, but i'm sure you can understand it's difficult to motivate yourself to write a paper which makes no difference to any part of your acamdemic career, except perhaps your self- esteem.

Yours nose-blocked-uppedly,
Genghis Kong


(P.S Sorry very wordy today - no pictures. I'll try to be more interesting tomorrow)

Friday, 3 July 2009

Genghis Kong vs. the British Council

Good Evening!

Right, well, it's now 4am, and I am definitely drunk, so I will keep this short.

I just got back from my drinks reception at the British Council. I may go so far as to say that my little speech went pretty well - I did forget what I was supposed to say, but I covered it well and carried on to -


- wha? huh? what just happened? I think I must have just drifted off there for a moment.

Actually it's been about 5 days since i started writing this post. You can't really blame me for giving up on it at 4am with an extremely high level of drunkenness. I was going to continue with it the following day, but it sort of turned into one of *those* weekends. You know, the type of weekend which seems to be over as soon as it started, leaving you confused, disoriented and with far less money than you started out with.

I'll briefly summarise it for you.

After spending ages scouring Tokyo for a shirt in my size (harder than you might imagine), I donned my suit and made my way to the British Council's office in Tokyo for a University of Sheffield alumni drinks reception, at which I had been asked to speak. It was a little awkward at first - I can do polite conversation pretty well, but starting up a conversation with someone I've never met before doesn't come very easily to me - but my little speech went well. Lots of people came up to me and said how good it was. Apparently speaking is something I'm rather good at. Maybe I should be a motivational speaker.

So everyone thanked me profusely, and I was given a CD of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos as a thank you (which I am sadly unable to listen to, because my computer's CD-Drive is on its way out), and I went to Roppongi with two men that I had met there. These two were Sheffield old boys and now fast friends in Tokyo, but in all honesty they were a pair of nigh-on insufferable arseholes. That said, they both seemed to be pretty successful in terms of making money in Japan, so I thought that it might be worth my while to hang out with them for a bit, pick their brains and maybe make some useful contacts for the future. Also, they kindly offered to bankroll me for a night on the tiles in Shibuya.

So that brings us to the exact moment at which I started writing this post - home from the British Council (and Roppongi), drunk, at four in the morning.

I woke up around noon the next day, feeling dreadful. I sat around in my underwear stinking for a little while, before remembering that my mate Scott had said something about a barbecue on the roof. I dragged my pale and trembling body up the ladder to the roof to find a dozen Japanese kids sitting around having a barbecue in the sun. Fortunately one of the Japanese kids was in fact my friend Scott, so I joined them for some barbecue. And some beer. For breakfast.

See? Here's some concrete evidence that I hang out with Japanese people. Occasionally.

Barbecue proceeded with much merriment and meat for several hours. Eventually someone had the idea of going to the shop to buy vodka, and we all got drunk. A few people left, some new people arrived, and eventually it became nighttime and we were still barbecuing on the roof. Night fell, and the decision was taken to go to Shibuya to rendezvous with the birthday party of our friend Bård. Bård is a Norwegian Judo player who smells incredibly bad and talks a lot of nonsense, but he's pretty funny (as long as he doesn't come so close that you can smell him) and a valuable addition to any drinking event.

After a while wandering around failing to get into nightclubs, we ended up at karaoke. On the way to karaoke, Scott and
Bård bought some novelty man thongs from a strange shop, and decided that we should put them on in secret and then do a karaoke striptease, much to everone's amusement/shock/disgust. For some reason, I felt that this wouldn't be an awful idea and agreed to participate. Fortunately, I have not seen any photos of that particular moment (although I fear they may actually exist), so here's a photo of me and Bård at the Karaoke, still with our clothes on.

Doesn't he just look smelly?

Anyway, we got out from karaoke about 5am, I think. The sun was up, people were on their way to work, the world was going about its business. More importantly the trains had started running again so we could get home. So we decided to go to a club. At 5am.

We spent a few hours in a little downstairs hip-hop club/bar, with me dancing ferociously and everyone else looking on in shock and awe. I've been told that mhy dancing was something rather special, but I don't specifically remember. There is, I believe, a video of it on the Facebooks for those of you interested enough to track it down, but I'm not going to link to it here because I'm a little embarassed.

Aaaaaaanyway, finally got home at 9am Sunday morning. All this had started out as a barbecue around lunchtime on Saturday, remember. Needless to say, Sunday was a non-event. I hardly saw Sunday at all. And that is how I went from Friday evening to Monday morning without getting anything much useful done.

[That's quite enough debauchery - ed.]

Important informations time now. Ladies and Gentlemen, my return to England has been postponed.

*Pause for dramatic effect. Wait for murmur to die down*

Yes, my return has been postponed, but only by three days.

*Pause and wait for sighs of relief to die away*

Due to slight complications regarding my scholarship, it turns out that I have to be in Tokyo on the third of August in order to receive my scholarship money. Curiously enough, I will actually receive the scholarship money on the 31st of July, but they won't give it to me then unless I will be there on the 3rd. You see, I need to sign for scholarship on the 3rd so that I can receive it on the 31st (of the previous month). Before anyone says anything - yes, this country is crazy.

However, this has probably turned out for the better, overall, as not only am I receiving a massive handful of cash (¥80,000! That's loads!), but I am now planning to spend my birthday climbing Mt. Fuji! I know this is quite a departure from my typical birthday celebrations of going to the pub then accidentally going to Moles, but I'm really looking forward to it. Although I am rather nervous - it's a 7-hour ascent, and I'm not the fittest man in the country. Well, I guess I've no choice but to do my best, eh? DYB DYB! DOB DOB! Ging-gang-goo!

(I was never actually in the boyscouts)

So I will now be flying home on the 4th. As mentioned before, this does mean that I won't be in Bath for my birthday, sadly, but I'm sure we can have some manner of belated birthday celebration, so you won't be missing out on anything. My apologies to anyone who had arranged me a surprise party and is now going to have to tell the clown and the conjurer that their services are no longer required.

Also, exciting news just in - there are flowers on one of my little tomato plants! Yay!

My ongoing tomato saga has been fraught with tragedies. My original crop of 6 tomatoes and 6 chilis is now down to 2 healthy tomato plants, 3 rather poorly tomato plants, and 3 very under-the-weather chili plants. Nonetheless, one of the two healthy ones has brouoght forth flowers! This means that at some point it should actually bear fruit! Unfortunately, that might not happen before I leave the country, but I'm still counting it as a win.

Here's the family portrait:

In the middle, two large and (relatively) healthy tomato plants, which will possibly one day manage to bear fruit. One step down, standing vertical, is the healthiest of the surviving chili plants. Believe it or not, this scrawny little thing actually appears to have some flower buds at the top of it, so we may even see some chilis before the summer is over! One step up from the centre, are the three ugly sisters. These three did not react very well to being put outside. They haven't died yet, but they have not grown very much and their leaves are all pale and droopy. I don't hold out much hope for them. Then finally there are the two reclining chili plants. Basically, when I put the chili plants outside, all their leaves fell off, but new ones started growing from the top. This led them to become very top-heavy, and ultimately unable to support their own weight. I had one spare stake, so I staked up the healthiest looking of my chili plants, but these two were not so lucky. Instead, I decided that if they were too top-heavy to stand up straight, I'll just grow them lying down! Seems like a perfect solution, right? So I've pegged them down into a second pot of earth, in the vague and unlikely hope that they will put down root from where the stem touches the soil.

Finally there are the two empty pots. These, along with the pots my chili plants are reclining into, stand as a solemn monument to those brave plants which did not survive this far. Rest in peace, brothers, and god bless.

I also bought a T-Shirt!

Isn't that tasteful? Yay! Hitler!

Much love,
Genghis xXx

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Genghis Kong vs. The Fly

Greetings Earthlings!

I had a thought earlier that struck me as somewhat interesting. Or at least it struck me as something vaguely akin to interesting.

I have a friend, and she is a Muslim. Now if I say Muslim woman, it's possible that some of you will think of something like this:

But actually you couldn't be further from the truth. She is an extremely liberated, left-wing, bisexual feminist, who drinks alcohol and uses drugs. But she won't eat pork, because she's a Muslim.

It just struck me as odd that she adheres so strictly to the avoidance of pork (she won't even eat something that's been cooked with or near pork), but somehow the prohibition of all narcotics doesn't seem to all that important. I'm no Islamic scholar, but as I understand it Muslims avoid pork because it is 'unclean', whereas alcohol and drugs are 'abominations'. So why is she avoiding the unclean in favour of the abominable?

Curious behaviour. It just goes to reinforce my general belief that people (on the whole) are crazy.

As an amusing sidenote, the word 'alcohol' actually comes from Arabic, despite its consumption being prohibited by Islam. The story goes that when the prophet Muhammad was decrying the evils of drinking, he just said the most loathsome, disgusting, abominable syllables that he could think of at the time, which happened to be 'Qohol'. 'Al' is Arabic for 'the', and the name stuck: 'al-qohol'.

I like to imagine how this might have ended up had Muhammad's first language been Modern English.

"Drink not of these wines and liquors - they cloud the brain, inflame lust and violent passions, and lead the heart away from the light of Allah. They are a false happiness, and their use can only lead you to the Devil. I shall call this wicked liquor... BLEURGH"

And for the rest of time the world would be calling alcohol "thebleurgh". In chemistry, alcohols would no longer take the suffix '-ol', but 'eurgh': ethaneurgh, methaneurgh, even mentheurgh to keep you minty fresh. People in support groups around the world would be introducing themselves thus: "Hi everyone, my name's Gary, and I'm a Thebleurghic."

I suppose, ultimately, it wouldn't actually make a material difference to anyone's life, but it amuses me nonetheless.

Now, I am not alone as I write this blog. In fact, I am accompanied by hundreds of tiny helpers. No - I haven't lost my mind or contacted the spirit realm, I just have a fruit fly infestation in my room. I have been battling these tiny bastards for about a week now, and let me say, they are one of the most persistent and irritating adversaries I have ever faced. The only real remedy for fruit flies, I think, is prolonged and rigorous cleanliness, but every time I think I've finally got my room completely clear of any food waste, there's something I've missed and then I'm back to square one. Last week I thought I had the bastards beat - I had done all my washing up, emptied all my bins, so food lying around, everything clean, and there were hardly any flies left. I noticed there were still a few buzzing around my bins, but assumed that they would die soon. But then I noticed that they weren't actually buzzing around the bins, they were buzzing around the rice cooker that is next to my bins. That's when I saw them crawling in and out of the steam vent in the top of the rice cooker. With trepidation I lifted the lid and a whole swarm of tiny black bastard fruit flies swarmed up to meet me. Fuck.

Again, today, I thought I had got rid of the flies. Then I opened my school bag to discover yesterday's lunchbox and a horde of evil little insects. Fuck.

I've bought something that claims to be a fly trap, but aside from the fact that it doesn't seem to have any means of actually trapping the flies, it doesn't even seem to be succesfully attracting them. The one place in my room where I can guarantee there are no flies is the damn fly trap. I keep burning mosquito coils too, and the mosquito coils at least seem to bother the flies a bit - I like to think I'm pissing them off - but it doesn't seem to bother them enough to make them leave or make them die, so it's ultimately not a very effective solution.

If anyone has any top tips for how to get rid of flies, they would be very much appreciated!

In other news of ineteresting or exciting things, on Friday I have been invited to speak at a drinks reception for University of Sheffield alumni at offices of the British Council in Tokyo - very exciting! I hope I can still remember how to hobnob with bigwigs in polite society... It's been a while since I had to make polite conversation with anyone. Hopefully this will be a good opportunity to make some contacts with people in prestigious companies and such - perhaps I'll be able to score myself some kind of internship or something! Or perhaps I'll get really nervous and accidentally drink too much and embarass myself. That would be fun too.

Now I just need to find myself a smart shirt. Dress code is lounge suits - which I understand to mean 'ordinary suits' - but I don't have a shirt that fits. I'm also wondering whether or not to wear my bright yellow rubber Casio watch. Should I go for smart and understated, or slightly wacky and multicoloured. If I paired the yellow watch with bright yellow socks, would that make it better?

Anyway - I'm going to sign off for now. The smell of the mosquito coil is making me feel decidedly unwell, so I'm going to go somewhere for some fresh air. Maybe I'll go get a coffee and read my book. Incidentally, I am currently reading a book called Silk by a man called Alessandro Barrico, and I would like to recommend it in the highest possible term to all and sundry. It's very short, and written in a very simple, plain style, but it manages to be absolutely enchanting in its simplicity. It's also set in Japan, so it manages to encompass virtually everything I look for in a novel - short, not originally in English, and relating to Japan.

(That's me practicing for polite conversation, by the way. How did I do?)

Farewell my darlings!

and R.I.P Michael Jackson!

Genghis xx

Monday, 8 June 2009

Genghis Kong vs. Rikkyo University

The more astute among you may have noticed that haven't blogged for a while. I would cite the usual excuses, but I think we can probably skip that part and move on, okay?

It is June already - a fact which has taken me very much by surprise. I think by the time June has come around no one can pretend it's late Spring any more; it is most emphatically Summer now. In England, of course, Summer and June are synonymous with sunshine, barbecues, afternoons in beer gardens, bumblebees in the garden and all such idyllic scenes of British summer. Not so in Tokyo, I'm afraid, where Summer is a by-word for sweltering heat and humidity and June signals not the start of the barbecue season, but of the rainy season.

No, Summer is not Tokyo's finest season. The weather in Spring was extremely fine, but it's more-or-less downhill from here until September now. Nothing but rain, steam and heatstroke to look forward too for the next 8 weeks.

That's right, in only 8 weeks (actually, slightly less than 8 weeks) I shall be returned to England and celebrating a Birthday in the garden/park/pub/gutter (probably in that order). It seems extraordinarily soon now, although I must admit my feelings about that are mixed. I shan't deny that I am extremely keen to get home - I miss my family, my friends, my home and just being with my own people. My own sarcastic, cynical, bitter, alcohol-dependent countrymen with whom I have so much in common.

But despite my desire to be back on Her Majesty's soil, I can't help but feel that I have not yet achieved all that I set to in Japan. Indeed, I have achieved virtually nothing that I set out to, and i can't shake the feeling that my return home to England will be tinged with regret at having (as I see it) wasted a year of my life, not to mention a great opportunity to improve myself (and, of course, my Japanese). I don't quite know where it all went awry... When I first got to Japan I spent a lot of time with Japanese people - you may remember the IFL from earlier blog posts - but rapidly came to the conclusion that I didn't like them, so I basically stopped socialising with any Japanese people. Now, I'm not saying that I don't like any Japanese people, just that I don't much like the IFLs and I failed to find any better Japanese with which to replace them.

And so I came to socialise almost exclusively with Americans, which really does defeat the purpose of spending a year in Japan.

I went to Yokohama National University last weekend to drink with my mate James, and there I got a glimpse of what could have been. My university, Rikkyo, is an elite Tokyo private university with a very small student body. It owns an elementary school, a middle school and a high school which feed directly into it, and creates a student populace of incredibly sheltered, unworldly, small-minded, posh, rich Tokyoites with whom I can't find any common ground. They have such a sheltered, simplistic view of the world that conversing with them is really more akin to talking to children than university students, and in general I just find them infantile, shallow and uninteresting. Clearly, there are a few who are aberrations in this society of wide-eyed but tiny-minded children, and as far as possible I try to hang out with them, but overall my attempts to socialise with Rikkyo students have been largely unsuccessful.

Yokohama National University, by contrast, is a large state-funded university - neither elite nor Tokyo-based - and as far as I can tell is populated by a throng of rowdy drunkards, musicians, dance crews, bums and (presumably) a few serious students. In short, roughly what a student body ought to be. I can't help but feel that had I gone to Yoko Uni instead, I might have made more of myself this year. But there's nothing to be done about it now, and no sense in regretting a decision which was almost entirely out of my control. Besides, if I had gone to Yokohama I know for ceratin that I would have had no money and would have been living in the grottiest dormitories imaginable.

This is a picture of Yokohama University. Those signs say 'Tequila'. I think these men were associated with the Rock Music Society or something, and that's why they were selling me tequila. Or something. Either way, they were selling tequila with no shirts on.

You see what I mean? This university is clearly made for me! Alcohol and shirtless men? It's perfect!

Aside from my trip to Yokohama, my life has taken on a fairly mundane rhythm. It involves mostly going to school, going to the gym and going to karaoke. And eating. That's pretty much it. However, I have replaced variety of activities in my life with sheer quantity of the only four things I do. Except school - I still just do the bare minimum of school. But I go to the gym 2-3 hours a day, 6 days a week, I go to karaoke 2-3 times a week, for 5-7 hours at a time, and I aim to eat between 5 and 7 meals a day. By the time I get back to England I am going to be weirdly muscular and incredibly good at singing karaoke. I'm a little bit concerned about my rapid musculation - I find the idea of me being all ripped and muscley and what-not to be really quite disturbing. Check out my muscular back:

Sorry about the weird angle - taking a photo of your own back is rather tricky.

But anyway, if I keep working out at this rate for the next 2 months, there's a definite risk that I'll be getting rather buff by the time I come home. I don't think I'm mentally prepared for that.

Here's a picture of my 2 most stalwart karaoke companions. We've got some seriously deep three-part harmonies going on. You've never heard Kiss From a Rose or Can You Feel the Love Tonight sound so good.

Ummm... No homo, okay?

And here's a photo of my balls in a dude's face. Again, no homo.

And essentially that is what I've been doing recently.

Hope you all are well.
Write soon,

Genghis Kong xx.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Genghis Kong vs. Killer Fungal Spores

Hello world!

Sorry I didn't write y'all sooner. A curious combination of being theoretically terribly busy, but in reality almost completely inactive has led me not to write anything for quite some time. And now it's May already? May the 7th? Wow. Time really does fly when you're almost entirely inert but simultaneously very stressed.

Let me explain myself. I have been theoretically very busy these last few weeks, which is to say I have had a lot of work to do. Most notable among this is the 6000 word research project I was supposed to be writing for Sheffield over the last 8 months, but (in classic style) completely neglected to do. So I have been terribly busy with work. Theoretically.

Unfortunately, I have actually been completely inactive. The fact that 'I'm very busy with work' stops me from going out and doing anything exciting, because I should be working. Unfortunately it doesn't stop me from wasting hours and hours of time in front of the computer listening to Kate Bush and looking at funny videos of stupid things.

So that is how I have spent the last few weeks - staying in, stressing about work, but making no meaningful effort to get any work done. Hence I've not really done anything blogworthy, hence no blog.

But I felt I probably owed it to all of you to write a little something, just to keep you all interested and make sure you're still paying attention; none of you sleeping at the back of class.

So - what have I been up to? I have started school again (huzzah!). Yes, school continues in a frustratingly badly organised and uninspiring way. My language classes this semester are actually much better - I'm not re-covering stuff I learnt three years ago, and some of the assignments are actually quite difficult (!) - but my other classes seem pretty dreadful. Fortunately, I'm allowed to fail all the classes apart form language if I want to and Sheffield Uni won't really mind. Still, I'll not aim for a fail, and will continue to gambarimasu, which is a wonderful Japanese word meaning 'to persevere'. They use it in place of 'good luck' or 'do your best', because in the mind of the Japanese luck is of no great merit, nor is how well you actually do something. All that matters is that you persevere, even if you're utterly useless and have no skill or talent whatsoever. Because of this, someone with no great talent who spends years drudging away mediocrely is more respected than someone with great natural talent who can do whatever it is easily straight off the bat.

One of the most cutting remarks you make to someone if they ask you how well they did something is yoku gambarimashita - 'you persevered well'. That's about as close as you can get to saying it was absolutely bloody awful in this back-to-front language. The only more direct put-down I can think of would be chotto... meaning 'a bit...', or maa... - 'umm...'

So I'm back at school. That's about it. My big Year Abroad Project is due next week, and I finally got round to actually writing it today. I'm at 3000 words which I rekcon ain't too bad for a day or two's work. Should have it finished within a couple more days, with a spot of luck, and then I expect I will get very drunk.

Which is actually something I've been doing rather less often these days. Growing financial concerns, ongoing health and lifestyle concerns and two 'incidents' - the details of which are not spectacular, but nonetheless I'll not go into them here because my parents would read it and disapprove - have spurred me to curtail my wantonness significantly.

Now, 'curtail significantly' is clearly a relative phrase. Those of you who do not know me well might not realise quite how much wantonness I habitually indulge in, but for me 'significantly curtailed' still includes getting very drunk at least once or twice a week. At least drunk enough to regret my drunkenness and not quite know where all my money went, although I have at least been staying away from the all-night-karaoke first-train-back get-home-smashed-at-noon-the-next-day kind of behaviour. That sort of activity is just silly.

But yes - only drinking once or twice a week! Me! Shock! Horror! Stop the presses!

What a turn-up for the books, eh?

So not drinking much, still not smoking, going to the gym 5 or more times a week: it's all very surprising. I really didn't expect it to come to this.

In fact I seem to making bold steps towards my New Year's Resolution - dedicated readers might remember - to 'sort my life out'. Let's review the resolutions and see how I'm doing...
  1. Study more, work harder, be less lazy - okay, this one still needs some work. Let's move on.
  2. Drink less booze, less often and be less drunk all the time - check. So far not doing too bad on this one.
  3. Exercise more, eat properly, lose loads of weight - Exercising more - yes; eating pretty well- yes; losing loads of weight - remains to be seen, but I'm optimistic
  4. Have more sex - *ahem* Nope. Total fail.
But let's not dwell on that last one there. In fact, lets move on to more serious issues.

Britain's Got Talent. Now I may not technically live in Britain at the moment, but that doesn't mean Britain hasn't Got Talent, nor does it mean that I shouldn't be enjoying Britain's much-vaunted Talent to its fullest.

I know I'm not the first one to point out that Susan Boyle is not actually that amazing of a singer. Admittedly, amongst the standard of those who enter BGT she may well be one of the better singers, but compared to actual singers - professional singers who can actually sing - she's really not much more than a fairly decent club singer. I'm not trying to be a party pooper -she definitely put a smile on my face when she turned out not to be a completely embarassing tragic crazy lady, but she's not really that great a singer.

Jamie Pugh on the other hand - now I really liked his voice. Tempered by extreme nervousness, of course, he sounded rather mouselike and timid, but there was something to it that I actually really liked. Out of interest I started listening to professional versions of these Les Miserables songs, and whereas Susan Boyle compares as decent enough, but just not as good as the pros, I thought that Jamie Pugh sounded very different to the professionals, but had heaps of merit all his own. He just has a lovely voice. I think the word 'melifluous' describes it quite well in a neat linguistic cliche.

So in summary, Jamie Pugh FTW. Although I actually reckon it'll come down to a Susan Boyle/Jamie Pugh double act singing the hits of Les Mis to win in the final. Just a hunch.

Oh and Jamie Pugh also has the most adorable face. So sad and droopy. Like a slightly melted Rafa Benitez. Like a cross between Neil Morrissey and a potato. What a lovely man.

Anyway, all this Talent got me listening to Les Miserables. I've downloaded the soundtrack, and I've decided that i want to play Jean ValJean in a production of it. That is my decision. So I'm thinking about taking up Am Dram once I get back to Sheff. Of course, I probably won't actually end up doing any Am Dram, but I'll certainly talk about it a lot and my friends and family will say how good I would be at it but then I'll not actually bother. It's a lot easier that way, I feel. Less stagefright as well.

So the last point of business for the day, I think, shall be my tentative foray into the world of horticulture. Regular readers will recall that I planted some tomato and chilli seeds about 6 weeks or so ago. Well, as the saying goes: from tiny tomato seeds, mighty tomato plants grow. Or something. But the point is my teeny-tiny little seedlets have grown into this fairly impressive jungle:
That's tomato plants potted up individually on the right, chilli plants still in their seed tray on the left (although I really ought to pot them out by now). The tomatoes have gone a curious dark shade of green because I rather rashly put them out onto my roof rather too soon. They got a little sunburnt and overexposed, I fear, but I've brought them back in now and they seem to be recovering.

I have just noticed, though, some strange white fuzzy things growing at the base of the stems of both my chilis and my tomatoes. The look rather like roots, but they're growing above ground. I think this might be because the humidity in my bedroom is so high that they actually think they're underwater half the time, but the other possibility is that it's some kind of killer fungus that's going to take them over and kill them, then grow to a monstrous size and attack me in the night, sucking all my vital force out through my toenail, leaving me a dessicated beige husk until I erupt into a fountain of new fungal spores transforming all of Tokyo into braindead fungus drones.

I hope they're just confused little roots.

That's about all I think I have to say for today, so I will bid you adieu. I realise that today's post has been a little dry - not much multimedia presence - so to make up for this shortfall, I'm going to treat you to some funny pictures of me!

Okay here's one of me now, sitting in my room, writing a blog, eyeballing a bunch of bananas.

Here's one of me Oli kindly took while we were travelling around Japan.

I reckon this one might have been while waiting for a train, possibly Tokyo to Kyoto. Not sure.

I'm sure you'll all agree it catches me at my very best.

Really brings out my gums and blackheads and nosehair in a way that most photographs just don't do justice to.

And finally I'm going to treat you to a photograph from my youth.

Brace yourselves.

Seriously, brace yourselves.

This is, as far as I know, the only surviving photo of me from when I had long hair.

That's right, I had long hair.

I reckon I'm about 16 in this photo.

No, I'm not in drag.

For your information I'm in fancy dress.

As a pirate.

And that is my real hair.



And did I say,


Good Night.


Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Genghis Kong vs. The Sacred Iron Phallus of Kawasaki

Sunday of last week dawned bright and blustery. I was not personally awake to see the dawn, of course, but it was still bright and blustery when I awoke at the ungodly hour of 9-ish so I assume that that was how it dawned. It was with a sense of nervous anticipation that I broke my fast and performed my morning ablutions (checked my Facebook and e-mails, looked at youtube for a while - the traditional morning rituals), for I had arranged some days earlier to spend the day at a penis festival in Kawasaki.

This plan had come about during an utterly failed - although nonetheless very enjoyable - attempt at a hanami (cherry blossom viewing) party in Yokohama. I had been trying to arrange a hanami party in Ueno park in Tokyo, but due to a rather feeble response to my RSVPs, I decided at the last minute to abandon that plan and take myself down to yokohama instead, where my friend James was attending a hanami party of his own. Having gathered together myself and a friend (Kaleb) we set off (3 hours late) for Yokohama's Yamashita park, to view cherry blossoms. When we arrived, however, we discovered that Yamashita is the only park in japan to be completely without cherry trees. Not a single one. So an utter failure with regards to hanami, although we still sat around by the sea in the sun and had a couple of beers under the trees, so it was very pleasant. I think it's worth mentioning that while walking from the train station to the park we passed through an area called sakuragicho, which means cherry tree district, so you would have thought that cherry trees wouldn't have been too hard to find.

So beer and time was merrily shared in Yokohama, and James mentioned that on Sunday there was a famous penis festival happening in Kawasaki, and that he and his friends were planning to attend (those of you who know James will not find this surprising at all). Already with a considerable measure of Asahi Superdry swilling around inside me, I don't think I really had any option but to eagerly promise to go with them. We were about to go out that evening for a proper drunking session around Tokyo, but at that moment I realised I had no money, so that particular event was called off, and I went home. It will happen soon though, I'm sure, and when it does I will tell you all about it. Or at least, as much of it as I remember.

So on Sunday morning I set off for Kawasaki. The station was uncommonly full of gaijin, cameras at the ready, as I understand this festival has become rather infamous among western tourists. From Kawasaki station we had to take another little train to the particular district, and on this train almost 95% of the passengers were groups of rowdy white folk, talking in loud voices about cock. Honestly, when you are en route to a penis festival it is extremely difficult to refrain from constant cock-jokes. Well, it's certainly very hard (boom boom).

We arrived, and had to hang around the station for a while (again) waiting for more people to show up, but we could see a crowd gathered at the end of the street and could hear excited voices, and then slowly a curious shape began to appear in the distance and move towards us.

Now, I don't know how well you will be able to see it with the picture this size, but you can probably make out a pink shape poking up above the heads of the crowd under the archway, roughly in the centre. This is the centrepiece of the penis festival parade.

We crossed the road and moved closer, and realised that the giant pink wooden penis was not, in fact, the only article on display here and it was in fact second in line, behind a somewhat smaller, although nonetheless impressive, black lacquer offering carried in some kind of portable shrine.

I'm just going to post this video clip again, for those of you who missed it last time. I think it demonstrates the general theme of the event quite well

As I so astutely point out there, the main giant penis appeared to be carried by a team of transvestites.

The parade passed by where we stood, and we got to see the final float of the procession. This was the least visually impressive of the three principle penises, but it is the most religiously significant (yes, this is actually a religious festival, not a gay pride parade). Again there are slight difficulties with the photo's being reduce for, but hopefully you can make out inside the little portable shrine there is a large wooden pillar with bits of paper tied to it, there is a little wooden gateway at the front and in the little wooden gateway, maybe 6-7inches and 3 inches across, is a small (relative to the two previous ones) iron penis. This object, in fact, is the centre of the festival and the parade, although it could easily go largely unnoticed.

You might be able to see it better in this video.

Or possibly not.

Incidentally, these wooden shrines are supposedly very heavy, so they periodically have to swap the teams of people carrying them. When this happens, they mark the transition with a bit of vigorous penis shaking.

But anyway, this is the famous Sacred Iron Phallus which is enshrined at the Kanamara Shrine in Kawasaki. The legend is thus:

Once upon a time (I'm not quite sure when), a young girl lived in village near Kawasaki. She was very beautiful, and many men wanted to take her hand and marry her. Eventually a suitable man was found, the marriage was arranged and they were wed. Unfortunately, she had a demon living inside her vagina which bit off his genitals on their wedding night. She remained beautiful, however, and another gentleman of the village also decided to try his luck, with the same eye-watering consequence.

It was then that the local blacksmith hit upon a bright idea, and forged an iron penis for the girl. I needn't go into details, but basically it broke the demon's teeth and the demon died/ran away, and they all lived happily ever after.

So, the Phallus was enshrined at Kanamara, and the shrine became famous as a place to pray for fertility, marriage, marital harmony and protection for children. It also became popular with prostitutes praying for protection from sexually transmitted diseases.

So the parade went up the road, then at the top of the road it turned around and went back down the road. After toing and froing a few times over a few hours, it eventually made its way back to the Shrine from which it came. We got distracted by lunch, so missed its triumphant return to penis shrine, but on out route to the shrine we encountered some of the lovely 'ladies' who had been carrying the big pink willy.

Now, at first glance I had assumed they were a group of local lads who had just dragged up a bit for the festival, but when we saw them close-up (some closer up than others, James), it turns out they all had boobs. Not padded bras or falsies, but actual boobs. So this means that they must either be a team of really unattractive broad-shouldered women who have no idea how to apply make-up, or they are genuine she-males/transsexuals. Very peculiar. Anyway, James obviously had to pose for photo with them all.

What gender are these... people? Answer on a postcard to:
Genghis Kong's Lair

Anyway, eventually we got to the famous shrine for more penis-themed fun. Apart from penis-shaped lollies for licking, there were also a pair of giant wooden penises you could mount, presumably for fertility or luck or something, it was never never really explained. Much jollity when me and James leapt on one of these things - me posing at the base of the penis, as if 'twere my own, and he bending over at the other end - but the stranger sight, for me at least, was a Japanese man who mounted the giant cock with his tiny infant daughter. I just didn't quite get it - was he praying for fertility for his 3-year-old? Seems a little premature to me; give the poor girl a chance!

Anyway, there were stalls selling freaky penis shaped items and a man handing out some kind of freaky sake. Normal sake is clear and smooth, but this sake was sort of thick and white and... gloopy... It was only after I had had a cup of it that someone pointed out it's slightly worrying similarity to semen. I mean, it didn't taste particularly spunky. At least, it didn't taste like what I would imagine jizz to taste like, but then, maybe I'm wrong - maybe jizz does taste like sake. Who knows. Perhaps I just had a cup of priestly man-milk.

Oh well. Once a philosopher, twice a pervert, as I like to say.

Here are some of those strange penis shaped items. I mean, I could deal with a large wooden sculpture of a gnarled penis with a bright red bell-end, that wouldn't be too bad, but for some reason half of these penis seem to have vaginas in them, and that's just disturbing and off-putting. I guess the thinking goes something along the lines of 'double the genitalia in your statuette, double the magical fertility ju-ju'.

And the was about the long and the short of it. That was the famous penis festival. I presume that I am now many times more fertile than i was before this ritual took place. In fact, I'm pretty sure I impregnated at least four women just by looking at them on the train, that's how fertile I am now.

I hope that was worth the wait - sorry it took me a week and a half to get round to writing this - there just somehow never seem to be enough hours in the day for me to get everything done that I would like to. I had to skip going to the gym today in order to write this.

Since I went to the penis festival I have mostly started school. Update on that, as well as my tomatoes (very exciting) to follow shortly. I've got no class tomorrow, so I may get round to it then, but we'll see. You know how long it takes me to get anything done.

So that's it from me this time, folks.

Comments and donations (cash, cheque, bank transfer and PayPal all gleefully accepted) are welcome as always!

This would seem most appropriate. Enjoy!

Oh! Incidentally, when we finally got to the penis shrine there were quite a few cherry trees there, they were in bloom, and I was drinking a beer. I'm counting that as a successful hanami party! Epic win!

Lots of love,
Genghis Dong xx

or should that be Genghis Schlong?

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Genghis Kong vs. X-Box Live

Okay, so to quickly finish off the episode of my family coming to visit in as short a time as possible: We had a really cool time in Tokyo, then Oli went back to England. Mum and Dad and I then went off on another jaunt round central and western Honshu following a similar, although slightly different, general itinerary to mine and Oli's trip - Kyoto first, then Nara, Himeji and finally Hiroshima. Even though I had just been around most of those places with Oli, we stayed in different areas and went to see different sights so I still had a really interesting time. Of course, travelling with the parents meant that I was also eating extremely well and staying in relative luxury, which was wonderful (especially in comparison to the rather small and damp apartment/bedroom/hovel I live in in Tokyo).

3 Highlights of my trip with Mum and Dad:

1. The Dattan Matsuri festival in Nara.
By pure coincidence we arrived in Nara on the last day of a 2-week long festival, which ends with a dramatic closing ceremony. We were, unfortunately, clueless to this fact and very nearly missed the whole thing, except that when we asked the Ryokan staff to serve us our dinner at 7pm they turned to one another and muttered something about "They're not going to the festival? Are you sure? They're really not going up to the temple?". Eventually we discovered that there was this event going so we rescheduled dinner for earlier and after eating we all but ran the 2 miles or so uphill through the park to try and catch the festival. Even so, we arrived just as it was ending, and only caught the last few moments of what must have been a spectacular sight.

The ceremony consists of the monks lighting on fire several enormous 8-metre long torches and then running circuits around the temple veranda with them while crowd of pilgrims/tourists (the line between these two categories is extremely blurred) is gathered below. It is a festival for the protection of children, I think, but anyway it is considered lucky if the falling cinders land on your child's head, so the onlooking worshippers actively try to catch falling fire using their children's faces.

I'm afraid I didn't get any good photos of it myself, but here's a stock photo from the internet to give you an idea of what it looked like:
The next day we went back up to the temple and collected little bits of burnt cedar from the torches for luck - I've got one attached to my phone!

2. Himeji Castle.
As I think I mentioned in my last post, Himeji is just an awesome sight. Really, truly beautiful and magnificent and breathtaking. What really makes the visit though is the volunteer guides that show you around. Without them it would be impressive, and a great photo opportunity, but the guides show you the intricacies of the design and the ingenious strategic devices built into the castle layout to deter intruders, and all kinds of extra little background information. That said, I noticed that the two different guides I had gave us entirely different tours filled with entirely different little nuggets of wisdom and tidbits of information, some of which directly contradicted each other or even directly contradicted the information plaques around the castle!

So a fascinating tour, but not neccessarily a strictly factual one.

Incidentally, anyone hoping to visit Himeji in the near future: do it this summer, because after this year it is undergoing massive restoration work to the main keep and will be closed and under scaffolding for 5 years. You have been warned.

3. Hiroshima
Hiroshima was pretty amazing, but for completely different reasons. Despite all the hilariously tasteless jokes I might make about the bombs (I was going to change my name on facebook to Hereward 'A-Bomb' Feldwick before I went, ho ho), actually visiting Hiroshima was a deeply affecting and sobering experience. We actually spoke to some A-Bomb survivors about their experiences which was rather grim and harrowing, and it is shoking to think how recent and how utterly devastating it was. Seeing the A-Bomb dome and feeling first-hand the blast marks where the heat waves from the bomb had caused gravestones to shatter really brought it home and made it seem much more real.

Top bit in Hiroshima? Seeing groups of smiling American tourists posing for photos in front of the Cenotaph - the mass grave for all the unrecorded victims of the Hiroshima bombing. Something about that scene just struck me as remarkably tasteless. I mean, in their defense I think it was their Japanese friend actually taking the picture for them, so it seems to be a collective obliviousness to possible deeper layers of meaning shared by Japanese and Americans alike. I think to most people it's just another tourist spot to tick off the list and get the photo.

Again, my photography around Hiroshima wasn't really up to much, so here is someone else's photo of the A-Bomb Dome for you to consider:

So anyway, after a few more days in Tokyo my parents went back home to England and I was left to get on with the ordinary humdrum everyday business of living in Tokyo. You know: wake up, wash, eat, go to the gym, eat, look at facebook, eat, have some beers, watch the Daily Show, eat, sleep and repeat ad nauseam. The most exciting developments in my life over the last couple of weeks have been my first tentative steps into horticulture and my purchase of a Super Nintendo.

I'm growing some tomato and chili plants from seed. It's all terribly exciting. They're living in eggboxes on my windowsill at the moment, soaking up as much sun as their little tiny leaves are able. I'm optimistic that I might start getting actual fruits from them before I have to go back to England, which will be a great thrill! Okay, this may not sound exciting to most of you, but considering I've been middle aged since the age of about 13 the idea of growing my own vegetables is honestly the very peak of excitement for me. Once I've got my own house and garden I'm going to grow all manner of vegetables and I'm going to keep half a dozen ducks for eggs and meat. I've already got it all planned out: house, wife, 4 kids, vegetable patch, ducks, lots of cats, maybe even a dog.

I also bought a Super Nintendo, and it is honestly the very finest purchase I have made for a very long time. In my opinion, it is immeasurably more fun than any of the new hi-tech machines that everyone raves about these days. I mean, so what if you've got the most advanced first-person shooter or the most realistic driving simulator in the world - I've got Super Metroid and F-Zero, and they're awesome! You can take your X-Box Live and shove it up your arse.

Right - I'd better go to bed. Once again I didn't manage to write what i had been planning to. What I had meant to write about was the enormous penis festival I went to today, but I got all caught up recapping events up to that moment. I have my placement test for Semester 2 tomorrow morning and I don't want to stay up too late writing, so that tale will have to wait for another time - hopefully not long.

Here's a little teaser for you:

So I'll leave you with that.

Wish me luck on my exam!

Friday, 27 March 2009

Genghis Kong vs. Venereal Diseases

Right - I'm back.

I have eaten my breakfast, washed and dressed, been to the gym and eaten my lunch, and I don't have to go out again for 3 hours so I should be able to lay down a pretty decent amount of bloggery.


Thank you, thank you, you're too kind. Settle down now, settle down.

It has been a terrifically long time since my last proper blog update. Part of the reason for this long hiatus was the coming of my family to visit (well, three quarters of my family). At the end of February my elder brother Oli came to Tokyo and I showed him around a bit, then we went off for a week or so tour of Kansai (Kyoto, Nara and Osaka). After that, my parents arrived too, and once Oli had gone home me and the parents went off on another merry jaunt around Western Japan (Kyoto, Nara, Himeji and Hiroshima). So I have been busy touring and travelling and translating, sightseeing and seasides and sausages, eating and eating and eating.

I really enjoyed having my family here to visit. It was nice to share a bit of my peculiar life here with them, and I was very grateful to spend some time with British people. That might sound like a peculiar statement, but honestly the endless intercultural interaction just gets tiring. I mean, language barriers aside, even conversations with Americans are fraught with little differences in meaning or bits of slang or references to celebrities or TV shows which just don't translate (pissed, fanny, paracetamol, pulling pants, bum, Kate Bush, Pat Sharpe, The Chuckle Brothers are just a few of the myriad conversational tools which cannot be used with Americans).

But anyway - really great time with my family. We travelled around Japan a lot, but I don't think I can write out a complete blow-by-blow account of everything we did on each day over a space of about 5 weeks. There isn't enough ink in my pen, nor enough hours in the day nor enough coffee in the world for that. So instead I'm afraid you will have to content yourselves with the (very) edited highlights.

After briefly touring all of Tokyo's main sights, me and my brother departed for Kyoto (by Shinkansen, of course). In Kyoto we stayed in a really nice Ryokan (that's a traditional Japanese inn - sleeping on futons on the floor, Japanese bath, green tea, ninjas hiding in the walls kind of thing) which gave us a very Japanese feeling. For the tourist, Kyoto is all about temples, and we saw a great many of them. It was all terribly impressive and some them were extraordinarily beautiful.

Here is a nice photo of my bother looking delightful (the wrong way) at Kinkakuji - the Temple of the Golden Pavilion.
From Kyoto we went on to Osaka. Osaka is a very cool, funky, hip, interesting city with loads of atmosphere and nightlife and good places to eat and drink, but not a great deal by way of tourist attractions. Osaka castle is a ferro-concrete reconstruction built about 45 years ago, and apart from there really is only the Aquarium (which was quite good - it's got Manta Rays and Whale Sharks) and Universal Studios Japan (which is apparently really good, but costs about £60 or something so we didn't go). However, from Osaka you can make a day trip to Himeji castle, which is the best-preserved and most beautiful mediaeval castle in of Japan. Here it is:

I'm sorry the waether didn't co-operate to provide a more glorious spectacle.

The final stop on our tour of Kansai was Nara. Nara the town has little to speak of to attract tourists, but Nara park and the temples contained within are well worth a visit. Nara's principle attractions are large heards of wild deer which wander freely though the park stealing your ice creams and menacing children

(this photo doesn't capture them at their most menacing), and the famous Todaiji Temple, which is home to the largest wooden structure on earth - the Daibutsukan, or Great Buddha hall. Here is a lovely photo.

I hope that is sufficiently impressive. It is very large. I don't know how clearly you can make it out, but each of the doors is about 4-6 times as tall as people (depending on the tallness of the people), so it really is very big. It's strange though - as you approach, you sort of think that's it's just a bit big, but not very far away. Gradually you start to realise that actually it's actually absolutely crazy big and just a bloody long way away. Curious tricks of perspective.

The Great Buddha Hall is, unsurprisingly, home to the Great Buddha - a twelve metre tall bronze statue of one of those old Buddha types, first cast in the seventh century or something ridiculously ages ago and still there. the head has had to be replaced a few times because it keeps falling off in earthquakes, but I believe the body is actually the original bronze casting from a million years ago. Pretty impressive. Didn't photograph so well.

So that was our tour. Apart from the nights in the Ryokan we were doing it on the cheapy cheap staying in hostels and things which was actually pretty fun. It was kind of like doing the gap year travelling thing again with the drinking with strangers and sleeping in crappy beds. In Osaka we met two Indian-Australian girls whose actual names I can't remember - Vandrapradeep and Dendradev or something equivalent - but they introduced themselves as 'V' and 'D', in that order. Me and Oli (both quite drunk) simultaneously burst out in fits of laughter, to be met with confused and icy stares, because apparently they had never noticed that 'V' and 'D' spell VD - venereal disease. Ho ho ho. I think we made some friends for life just there.

Anyway, urinary infections aside, really nice time.

The same day Oli and I got back to Tokyo, our parents arrived in Tokyo from England. There was nearly a week's overlap when 4/5 of the family were rocking out in Tokyo together (mad props to my little brother Greg who couldn't make it. And Happy Birthday for a month ago. Sorry I'm a bit late with that - Oli turned up and got me all confused and distracted). On my Mum's Birthday we went to say a Kabuki play which was fascinating, but very slow-paced and incredibly long. We gave up after the second act, which was after about two and three-quarter hours, because it was getting late and we wanted to find some dinner. The Kabuki also provided great entertainment for the entire remainder of the holiday, thanks to my Dad's Kabuki impersonations. He's really quite good at it - you should ask him to do it for you sometime. After Kabuki and dinner we went for Karaoke - can you imagine a more Japanesey way to spend a Birthday?

This blog will be continued tomorrow. I'm off for an all-night karaoke disaster. Don't expect much from me tomorrow. I'll speak to you all again soon.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Genghis Kong vs. Red Wine and Breakfast

Good morning Blogosphere!

As I woke up this morning and began clearing away the debris left over from last night's excesses - baguette crumbs, cheese wrappings, empty wine bottle - it occurred to me that that might make a nice opening line for a new post on my blog. So I decided to start writing it.

So that is how you find me now - naked except for a towel (it's not a mirt - there's no belt), with bits of baguette getting stuck between my toes and an absolutely kicking headache from the bottle of wine I drank last night. Chilean Red: Concha y Toro Carmenere. A reasonable drop for the price, but lacking in body. Makes up for it in morning-after skullfuck.

So I'm slurping some slightly peculiar coffee (it claims to be kirimanjaro brend), thinking about breakfast and hoping for my headache to go away.

There are a few impediments to my breakfast (and therefore my happiness) this morning. Number 1 I didn't wash up yesterday, so before I can scramble eggs I need to clean my pan and my plate, and Number 2 the only toaster I have access to is at the end of my corridor, so in order to make the toast onto which I hope to put my scrambled eggs, I have to get dressed. I suppose, technically, I could go make the toast wearing only a towel, but something tells me that might not be a good idea.

Actually, sod this, I'm hungry. I'll return once breakfast has been dealt with.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Genghis Kong Vs. The 4 Month Itch

As many of you will know, I gave up smoking roughly four months ago.

I found quitting really surprisingly easy - I used no patches, gum or any other kind of nicotine accessory and just stopped smoking overnight. I made no grand running-my-fags-under-the-tap last gesture, I didn't tell any of my friends "whatever you do, don't let me smoke", and in general didn't make a big deal of it. And it was easy. I never really liked smoking in the first place - it was just a habit. Just something I did. Friends of mine would go on about how they loved smoking and could never quit. I never loved smoking, and always thought quitting - when I finally felt like I should - would be easy.

And it was.

But I hadn't counted on the 4 month itch. I should have prepared for it though - the one previous time that i stopped smoking I stopped for just over 3 months without any difficulty. Then after 3-4 months I made the (seemingly) logical (at the time) decision that actually I preferred being a smoker to being a non-smoker, so I started smoking again.

And I smoked very happily. I smoked heavily and contentedly through first year. I was good at smoking - people even complimented me on how nice my bedroom smelt, even though i was smoking around 15-20 a day in my room.

I was very happy to continue to smoke through second year as well. Ours was party house, the floor was covered in cigarette butts, I'm sure several of them were mine. But of all the silly things I did during second year, smoking never really bothered me.

In fact, although I never really relished smoking and always hoped to quit, I specifically planned not to quit smoking while I was in Japan. This is why:
  1. Fags are amazingly cheap here. 300yen for a pack of Lucky's (just about £2), and they are nowhere near the cheapest
  2. You are allowed to smoke indoors. In fact, you are actively discouraged from smoking outdoors, so bars, clubs and restaurants are considered the most acceptable places to have a smoke
So it would seem unfair to expect me to stop smoking in the face of these two very compelling reasons not to quit.

But quit I did. And it was easy.

Incidentally, one of the reasons I stopped smoking was that I massively fancied an Australian girl, who had a very low opinion of smoking.

But now - just as it did the last time I stopped smoking for several months - the 4 month itch has kicked in. And it has kicked in hard.

No one ever tells you that quitting smoking is not the hard part - it's surviving the 4 month itch.

Right now every part of my subconscious is just saying "go on - have a fag", "just roll one up and have one" (for the record I never threw out my baccy - I reckon a real man can quit smoking with a full pack of baccy, skins and filters in his drawer and doesn't need to wash them down the sink in order to quit), and until just recently it's not been a problem at all. I have genuinely had no desire to smoke whatsoever.

Except since about 3 weeks ago, since when the desire to smoke has been growing and growing, and my reasons for not smoking have been becoming blurrier and blurrier. I know one thing for certain: my main number 1 reason for stopping smoking has just gone back to Australia, so why am I continuing to punish myself?

Because once you pass about 3 months of not smoking, your thinking begins to change: it goes from "Wow - I've been 3 months without smoking" to "good god - I've been 3 months without smoking - how long do I have to go before I can smoke again?". I know it sounds retarded, especially having not smoked for 4 months, but right now I can't imagine my future life without smoking. In my head I'm still a smoker, almost as much as I reckon I'll always be a drinker (barring unforeseen circumstances).

I want to smoke, but I don't want to fail at not smoking, although I still consider myself a smoker, even though I don't smoke any more and don't really intend to ever again...

And that's my stance: I'ma smoker who doesn't smoke, and proabably never will.

But seriously - how long do I have to go without a cigarette to prove that I'm not addicted so I can have a smoke again without feeling bad about it?

I don't know, but I'm at least 95% sure that I'm not about to crack and start smoking again, even though I really, really want to more than anything right now and I have all the makings of a fag in my desk drawer. I'm not going to. I don't know why, but I think I might be stronger than that.


Can I have a fag please?


Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Genghis Kong vs. Coffee


Brief hangover grumble time.

I did my shopping at about 6am this morning, having been to all-night all-you-can-drink karaoke and I woke up this afternoon to discover that I had bought the wrong bloody coffee. By "wrong" I mean the kind of coffee that requires some kind of coffee apparatus to convert it from powder format into a stimulating morning beverage. I do not own any manner of coffee apparatus, and so my morning beverage is proving significantly less than stimulating.

I also have a headache and I'm extremely hungry.

Yesterday I learnt that dancing vigorously to your own iPod in the street is considered strange behaviour in Japan. To be honest, it would be considered strange just about anywhere, I think, but it somehow seemed appropriate at the time. Dubstep just has that effect on me (when I'm drunk).

And one last thing - when am I allowed to start smoking again? It's been 4 months since I quit, so I've succeeded, right? I've definitely, definitely quit, proven that I'm not addicted and that I'm a better man and don't need to smoke etc etc, so can I smoke again now please? Grumble grumble I'm gonna keep on not-smoking, of course, but just recently cigarettes have started looking and smelling really appealing. Not to mention fucking cool.

I mean, it's just not fair! Who would be so cruel as to make something so detrimental to your health so fucking cool-looking? If smokers didn't look so awesome all the time I would not be having this crisis of will, I'm sure.

Anyway I'm hungry, so I'm going to count how much cash I have left from last night, weep a little, and then decide whether to go out for noodles or stay in and eat pasta based on which remnants of a 10,000yen note I find in my pocket.

Genghis Kang

PS. Short post, written with a hangover about nothing in particular. Would you, Dear Reader, prefer lots of little posts like this one, or continue with the weekly/fortnightly/monthly epics? Please let me know.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Genghis Kong vs. The Pistes

Well, Ladies and Gentleman, here I am.

Yes: here indeed, and certainly in no other place, am I. Returned from my great adventure up a mountain and safely sequestered back in my little apartment, I am finally getting round to penning another (long overdue) blog update.

The month since my last post has been characterised by brief but frenzied industry, followed by an extended period of inactivity and finally 3 days of sport- and action-filled adventure and excitement. All of this has, of course, been peppered with those little ups and downs, daily victories and hardships, small pleasures and tedious chores that we call (without a hint of irony) life.

When last I wrote, I believe I had just arrived back in Tokyo after Christmas (it seems an awfully long time ago now). Not long after that, I started my final exams, such as they were. I had 5 exams, one in each of the 5 main disciplines of language study: grammar, writing, reading, listening and speaking. It turned out that I was worrying for nothing with regards to these exams. Although most of them were scheduled for an hour and a half, not one of them took me more than 40 minutes. They were, to be honest, almost disappointingly easy and have left me with nothing but contempt for the Japanese education system. Well, perhaps i should wait and see what my results are before I declare the exams a walkover. I'm sure there's still time for me to come up short.

So my last exam was on January 15th, and I have been on Spring Break since then. My Spring Break, in fact, lasts until roughly April making a total of about 10 weeks with literally nothing to do. Woohoo! Am I not just the luckiest/laziest man you know right now?

Well, possibly not quite as lucky as all that. I don't mean to whinge, but having absolutely nothing to do can get rather boring (especially when you live on your own), and doing anything fun in Tokyo has a habit of ending up being incredibly expensive (£40-50 for a night at the pub, £80-150 for a night clubbing, £15 for a bowl of noodles and couple of beers). Two obvious remedies for my predicament of having nothing to do would be to study a lot or to get a job (which would also help with the costliness issue), but so far I've not quite managed either of these. What I have been doing to keep myself busy, which is at least somewhat productive, is going to the gym. Me and my mate Kaleb have been going down the Uni gym roughly every day since term ended. Factoring in Sundays, hangovers and laziness, 'almost every day' still translates to fairly impressive 4-5 times a week. It turns out that working out can be quite fun, especially when the alternative is sitting in your room on your own watching TV or Youtube.

We take it none too seriously though - none of that shouting encouragement at each other in a testosterone-fuelled homoerotic rage:
"Come on, buddy! Push those goddamn weights! Work those legs! You can do it! Gimme 3 more! I wanna see 3 more! Go on dude! We fuckin' OWN this fuckin' gym! Grrrrr! Arrrgh!"
You know the kind of stuff.
No, our motivational gym talk goes more along the lines of
"Ugh. The gym's full of Japanese people. And they're all much stronger than me. This is shit. Why do we even come here? Why do we keep doing this to ourselves? Can I go home now? Wait - it's totally happy hour at the pub. Let's go."

So that is pretty much how I have spent my first few weeks of Spring Break: going to the gym, getting some food every now and then, and getting drunk from time to time (trying to cut down on that one though). I went to see Richie Hawtin at Womb with my buddy Scott (from Sheffield) about 2 Saturdays ago. Richie Hawtin was quality, but as is always the case when me and Scott get together the evening as a whole was a fairly disgraceful exhibition in excess and debauchery, ending, as usual, with the two of us on different trains going in opposite directions around noon the next day.

I do have to give Scott some kudos, however, as he had been out at bars in Tokyo the previous night without going home or sleeping at all in between. He and I had made plans (while drunk) to go out that night about a week earlier, and I had mostly forgotten about them. I was reminded of them, however, when I received a text from Scott at 8.30 in the morning saying "It's all gone tits up. I'm in tears. Fancy a pint?"

Unfortunately I was in no fit state (being fairly hungover myself) to respond to or attempt to cope with an uncontrollably drunk and sleep-deprive Scott at that time of the morning, so I returned blearily to sleep. I was awakened again around 11.30 by a phone from Scott who told me he was really drunk and was somewhere in Shibuya, he thinks. Shibuya is roughly where he should have been - it's where he had been out the day before and it's not far from where I live, so it made sense. I told him I'd need a couple of hours to wash, dress and feed myself, and he said he'd call me back later.

I called him around 1 to make sure he was still awake and still planning to go out that night, and he told me he was really drunk and somewhere in Akihabara. Akihabara is about a 40 minute train ride away from Shibuya. I asked him why he had gone to Akihabara and he told me he had walked there. I'm pretty sure it would take any ordinary person about 5 hours to make that walk, so Scott was either mistaken or has acquired some superhuman sprinting powers which can only be activated when he's so drunk he can't see.

He called me again half an hour later to let me know he was really drunk, had no idea where he was, had been walking for ages but couldn't find a train station.

We eventually met up around 3, and went for pizza all-you-can-eat washed down with a jug of beer. It was all downhill from there. We spent the next 9 hours or so staggering around Ikebukuro getting increasingly drunk (mostly at the English pubs), before heading to Shibuya to find the club. Although, of course, before we could try and find the cllub we decided to grab a couple of extra-strong chu-hai (basically 500ml cans of 8% Bacardi Breezer) each and drink them near the station. I persuaded Scott to pose for a photo with the inexplicably famous statue of Hachiko at Shibuya station .

I believe my directions for this pose were "Look awesome. No, more awesome. No, no, more awesome!"

I'm very pleased with how it came out.

So, we wandered around for a while trying to decipher a very unhelpful map with our booze-befuddled brains, until we eventually found some young and trendy looking Japanese who we thought would probably know the whereabouts of a young and trendy nightspot such as Womb. They kindly led us there, and we both realised that had no money, so while they went in we quietly ditched them and went off to find a cash hole (and another Strong Chu-Hai while we were at it).

We eventually made it inside, at which point I realised that I had actually been there before on another hideous drunken adventure. Womb is very like Tokyo: massive, so crowded you can barely move, really fucking expensive and funny-smelling, but unlike the rest of Tokyo the sound system is really good and Richie Hawtin was playing.

I think me and Scott must have lost contact within about 15 minutes of getting inside. It was too massively crowded and we were too drunk and disoriented to ever find anything in there, so we just sort of went off about our respective businesses. My business mostly consisted of buying a can of beer at the bar, squeezing my way very very slowly towards the front, dancing for about 3 minutes when I finally made it somewhere near the front, then realising I had run out of beer and so starting my epic journey back to the bar again. I would imagine that this whole process took me about an hour, and I probably managed to complete it 4 times or so, which would take me up to about 5 am when the club kicked out.

I got home in one go this time, without taking a wrong turn anywhere. I picked up an enormous tray of sushi and another can of beer on my way back to my house (about 7am by this time) and sat about stuffing my face and wondering where Scott had got to. Eventually I gave up and went to bed. When I woke up around 3 and checked my phone I noticed I had a couple of missed calls from him and 2 messages. The first, sent around 6am, said something like "Nah. what the fuck? I think i'm being robbed up." The second, around 11am, said just "lol. i think i'm on a train".

So, by our usual standards, a completely successful night out in Tokyo. Well done me and Scott - we really can be a truly disgraceful pair of human beings when we put our minds to it.

This whole debauched spectacle cost me around £140. Did I mention Tokyo's really expensive and I need a job? I can't wait to get back to England where you can do the same thing for about £50 and still have change for a cab home.

There was also a little farewell party for the people who have been living in my dorm but staying for only 1 semester. Scott (a different one - this one is Hawai'ian and lives in my dorm) cooked loads of food and a bunch of people came round and it was all fun and nice.

Sadly, I didn't really realise quite how immediate of a farewell party it was, so I didn't do any proper saying of goodbyes to anyone, and then they all left. Of all the people in this photo I think only 2 of them are still in my dorm. Most of the others disappeared like thieves in the night without even knocking on my door to say 'so long'. The shits.

Oh well. It's not like I gave a crap about most of them anyway.

So that general pattern of things brings me all the way to Wednesday, which is when I left for my totally awesome and exciting snowboarding trip.

Our bus departed at the miserable hour of 11.30pm from Ikebukuro station and spent about 7 hours chuntering out of Tokyo and then meandering nauseatingly up winding mountain roads to the resort. The resort, bearing the embarrassingly gay name of Cupid's Valley, is located in the mountains in the middle of Japan, Northwest of Tokyo in Niigata Prefecture. The trip started in classic Japanese style with us arriving 2 hours before the ski rental shop opened, giving us plenty of time to sit around doing nothing and getting grumpy. This is a common feature of any event organised with or by Japanese people - I know, they are the most punctual people in the world, but for someone reason they seem to schedule in extra time for standing around waiting for things and then walking incredibly slowly from place to place and taking half an hour to make simple decisions.

Eventually we all managed to find kit which more-or-less fit, work out how to put it all on and then find our way to the mountain to slide.

Here's a view from the bottom of the mountain up the slope. Now, seeing as 4 out of 5 of our little group had never snowboarded before, this little slope looked a little intimidating. It seemed fairly steep, fairly high, and rather full of people going fairly fast. So, seeing as this was our first time, we decided to take the Gondola up to the "Beginner's Course". This turned out to be one of the most misleading names for a ski route I can possibly imagine.

25 minutes later, we reached the top of the Gondola, several miles away from the resort, many hundreds of metres higher up the mountain, with absolutely no idea how to get down again. The course was genuinely several miles long. I will concede that there were several quite flat sections to it, but there were also very steep sections, lots of very narrow and twisty sections, and sheer drops down the mountain on either side of the piste. Progress was slow.

Did I mention that most of us had never snowboarded before?

Well, my snowboarding experience started exactly as I had expected: I sucked. I was utterly, utterly incapable of even standing up from the floor, let alone staying stood up as I careered wildly into snowbanks. Fortunately Kaleb, who is pretty good at snowboarding, was extremely patient with all of us. Gradually everyone else started to get the hang of it, at least a little, but I was still sitting on the floor completely baffled as to how to stand up on the damn thing. It sounds retarded, but I genuinely couldn't stand up. I don't know whether my board was the wrong size, or my knees don't work properly or I'm just too heavy, too weak or too useless, but every time I moved my weight forward over the board the damn thing would just slide away from me and I would fall on my arse again. I fell on my arse a lot.

Eventually I worked out the technique of rolling over onto to my belly like a retarded walrus stuck upside-down on an iceflow (not very easy with a 5' long plank of plastic strapped to your feet) and then getting up onto my knees and hoppin up onto my feet. By this point we had been on the mountain about an hour and a half and I had progessed about 500 yards (some of that on foot, some on my arse, very little on my snowboard).

Armed with my new (if inelegant) technique for standing up, I was able to actually stay on my board just long enough to go a bit fast and then fall over hard. Standing up by rolling over and then geting up on your knees may be easier for ungainly men such as myself, but it has the added complication that you always stand up facing up the hill, sliding backwards, so before you can even go anywhere you have to turn around backwards. This caused me some significant hardships early on, considering I couldn't even go in a straight line facing forward (although actually, going straight is one of the hardest and most terrifying things to do, because going straight you go incredibly fast. If you can go sideways then you go nice and slowly all the way).

However, gradually I began to get the hang of it. First, I worked out turning round and falling over. Then turning round, going down the hill a bit and falling over. Then turning around, going across the hill a bit, turning round again and falling over. Eventually I had my technique pretty well sussed - stand up, turn around, go across the hill, turn around, go back across the hill, turn around and so on and so on until (eventually) you reach the bottom of the hill.

Our first run down the hill took 3 hours. While I will say that "Beginner's Course" is an unforgivable misnomer for that course, I have to admit that had it been a shorter course I probably would have given up after about an hour and gone in to find a bar, but because I had no choice but to continue I was forced to find some way to get on my damn snowboard, stay on my damn snowboard and get the damn snowboard down the damn mountain with me still on it.

After completing this gruelling initiation into snowboarding I had to call it a day. My calves were in excrutiating pain where I had had my boots fastened too tight, my lower back was burning from where i had falling hard in some very packed snow and got a friction burn of some kind, and my thigh muscles were aching from going so slowly down the hill, braking all the way (going fast takes no effort but is terrifying and difficult; going slowly is safe and easy, but incredibly hard work for the legs). It was my boots being too tight on the first day which caused this quite impressive damage to my leg. It's just a collection of funky bruises, to be honest, although it stained my socks red so it must have broken the skin somehow and the shapes of the bruises are quite interesting. It almost looks like a bit of a St. George's Cross or something.

That night I went to the local Onsen - natural hot spring public bath. Usually I find Japanese baths just too damn hot - usually it's a grim room tiled in school-changing-room not-quite-white, so full of steam that you can't breathe, let alone see anything, and within 3 minutes of entering the bath I get dizzy and lightheaded from the heat and have to leave. This one, however, was really really nice because it was an outdoor Bath, and at an outdoor bath in the snow-covered mountains the air is cold and the steam can dissipate, so it's not so unbearable. Also, the snow on the roof was melting and dripping through slats so a very fine rain of ice-cold water was falling on my head as I soaked in the fiendishly hot bath of slightly sulphurous water.

It really was nice, and helped, albeit only slightly, to soothe away the crippling pain in every part of my body.

First thing on Day 2, we made an snowman. Tessa, an Australian friend of mine, insisted on it. She said that the only snowman she had ever made before was about 12" high and I told her that at best that was a snow pixie, maybe a snow imp, but certainly not a real snowman. Understandably as there's not much snow in Australia, she seemed incredulous when I told her that we were going to make a snowman bigger than her. Lacking a carrot, any coal, or any appropriate clothing for the snowman, we made do as best we could with whatever materials we had to hand - specifically snow.

It was an epic success. Not only taller than Tessa, but also fuckin' awesome looking. I rolled the head and then sculpted the face - and I didn't do too badly at either, I hope you'll agree.

Having completed the snowman challenge, we went immediately back up the Gondola to the Beginner's Course again. This time it took us just over an hour. Then we did it again, this time in 55 minutes.

After lunch I discovered that apart from the Beginner's Course, there was also a training slope and a practice slope. I went up and down the practice slope a few times, before being dragged up the damn Gondola again.

By this stage, I was beginning to feel fairly confident with my very limited snowboarding ability. I wasn't falling over very often, and usually when I did fall over it was mostly deliberate (sometimes it's just the easiest way to stop), although I did manage some extremely heavy falls right square on my arse which hurt like hell. Usually when you fall down snowboarding you kind of skid along a bit which takes most of the force out of the fall - you get a cold wet bum and you bump your knees and elbows a bit, but it's not too bad. When you fall down hard on packed snow straight on your coccyx though, that hurts like a motherbitch.

Also, I was still going incredibly slowly down the mountain, so my thighs by now were exploding with pain from braking braking braking all the way down the course. You may well say "well, if it hurt so much why didn't you just go faster?", but it's not as easy as that. Going slowly might hurt my thighs from being tensed all the time, but going fast was likely to hurt my everything by going out of control and slamming into a tree or an infant or just going of the edge of the mountain. Going faster is also a lot more technically difficult. Going slowly like a n00b you go the whole way with your weight behind the board, standing on your heels, just adjusting your weight left to right to control which direction you go, how fast you go and when you turn. You look like a bit of an idiot because it's very stop-go stop-go as you swing slowly from side to side, almost coming to a complete stop each time as you turn around to go back the other way.

Going properly down a hill requires you to alternate between having your weight behind the board, standing on your heels and then having your weight in front of the board, standing on your toes as you "carve" quickly down the hill. This is much more difficult, and leads to much falling over.

So that was my project for the final day - learn how to ride on my toes and "carve", like a real snowboarder. I received the top tip that the place to practice was not, in fact, the Beginner's Course, nor the practice slope, nor the training slope, but in fact the Snow Park. Obviously. What a fool I was to go as a beginner to the beginner's course, or to try and practice on the practice slope. I should have gone straight to the Snow Park - the place with all the jumps and kickers and rails and boxes where adrenaline junkies like to injure themselves - it stands to reason it would be the best place for a beginner.

But it is - as long as you can control the board enough to go around the jumps, the Snow Park is mostly quite shallow gradients with no real difficult bits. So I set off to the Snow Park to try and learn how to carve. I was having some success - I certainly managed to do it, a bit, although I can't really claim that I was in full control of my board the whole time and I did fall over. A lot. Of course, by this stage I was confident enough to go fast enough that when I fell over it really hurt. I was also thoroughly bruised from the previous 2 days snowboarding. Also, when you are trying to learn how to turn on your toes, you fall straight onto you knees a lot, which hurts a hell of a lot more than just falling on your bum.

Sadly though, we only had half a day of snowboarding on Day 3 as our bus left at 2pm. So unfortunately I had to leave Cupid's Valley (snigger) still not quite able to do it properly, which is a little unsatisfying.

So I've decided to go snowboarding again. Sometime. As soon as possible. Apparently a day trip can be done pretty cheaply - travel, rental, skiing and lift pass for about £40 - so I'm gonna try and do that before all the snow melts.

Okay; so you've had a brief summary of what I've been doing, an amusing anecdote of me getting smashed, some interesting tales of adventurous exploits - now on to the bit you've all been waiting for:

The shelf of tat!

There it in all its glory, with a few new items for you. On the far left you will see a can of Final Fantasy Potion. It restores 100hp when you drink it. Just to the right of that is a little gay snowman - this is a souvenir from my snowboarding trip both to commemorate the awesome snowman I made, and because the Onsen I went to was called Yukidaruma Onsen, which means Snowman Springs. The snowman is clutching a special Christmas Baileys swizzle stick, which came free with my Christmas bottle of Baileys (note that there is another one in the Mickey Mouse shot glass). On the far right you will see a box of backwards chocolate. Dars is a popular chocolate brand here, but it is usually printed forward, not in mirror-image. This is a special promotional pack for Valentine's Day. Valentine's Day works differently here, although I'm not entirely sure the details, but I think it's usual for girls to give chocolate to their boyfriends. Backwards chocolate, therefore, is special chocolate that men are allowed to give to women on Valentine's Day. I know - they do it backwards here to begin with, they're crazy.

Finally, front-and-centre, in pride of place is a patch I bought commemorating Pearl Harbor. I shit you not - in Japan you can buy Pearl Harbor patches. In case you were wondering; yes, the USS Arizona BB39 was sunk by Japanese bombers at Pearl Harbor in 1941. What tickled me even more was that on the shelf next to this patch was another one with 'kamikaze' written on it. Hmmm... Ever heard of tact? No. Didn't think so.

So once again, good work Japan! Way to come to terms with you war history! Keep up the good work my bandy-kneed friends.

What else now... Oh yes - a brief note about my ongoing non-romance with Australian girl (Tessa). It remains a non-romance, although it is no longer ongoing. She went back to Australia halfway through the ski trip (no, I didn't scare her off or anything. She was always planning to leave halfway through).

If I ever had a chance I guess I missed it. If I never had a chance anyway then I guess there's nothing to feel bad about. I'm sad to see her leave because not only did I fancy her but she was also a really close friend, but that's just how it goes. Now I just need a new woman to direct myself at. If anyone knows any cool, single English-speaking women living in Tokyo, please send them in my direction. Thanks. I'm afraid I really have no interest in getting with a Jap, to be brutally honest.

So that's news dealt with, I think. Now time for future news.

In 10 days or so my brother Oli is coming to Tokyo to party with me. We're going to look at Tokyo a bit, travel round Japan a bit, and then 2 weeks later my parents are coming too for about 3 weeks. I'm really looking forward to it - it'll be nice to go sightseeing again and break the humdrum tedium of regular life in Tokyo. After the first month or two the novelty really wore off, and I haven't been pursuing any cultural endeavours really since then, so it's going to be fun to put on my tourist hat again (although I think I'm largely going to be wearing my tour guide's hat).

Until then, well, sadly the gym is closed this week, so I guess I'm going to be at home mostly. I'm going out for shabu-shabu and karaoke tomorrow though. (Shabu-shabu, in case you couldn't guess, is the noise a thinly-sliced piece of beef makes when it is moved around in a pot of hot broth. Karaoke, on the other hand, is the noise a well-pickled Me makes when shut in dark room with a microphone and a beer). I've also started studying again recently, which makes me feel a little bit better about the fact that I'm drunk right now, so I guess I've got a little while of staying at home, studying and maybe occassionally going for a run. At least until the gym opens again.

I am extremely tired, and my bum still hurts. My knees have both turned greyish-green, there's a large purple patch on my right buttock, my elbows, forearms and wrists are covered in dark little rings and there are some dark purple stripes down my left hip, so I'm going to bed.

Read into this what you will.

Kong X