Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Rainy Season, Fat Men and Nutcrackers

Rainy season in Japan is not quite what I expected it to be. I expected to be enjoying scenes like this around now: 

Mount Fuji visible from the Sano ground. My debut was rained off. 
Coming from England, where it can rain at any moment, I am at least used to the wet. I’ve also experienced monsoon weather in Nepal where the water can come halfway up your shins, and tropical storms in both the Caribbean and Northern Australia which are usually short, sharp and give way to clear skies and stunning sunsets, but here it’s not quite any of those.

Today there was a massive hailstorm in Tokyo. You can read about it by clicking here, it may not have been as bad as the scene from The Day After Tomorrow, but it's getting there!

An example of the recent weather conditions
In Sano it’s damp, grey and gloomy; often pretty dark and the guttural rumble of a storm is never all that far away. Not so long ago it rained solidly for pretty much two weeks. The temperature however, is holding steady in the mid-twenties with humidity levels rising all the time, increasing the dampness. There are bursts of sunshine, which is enough to keep me sane, and I'm sure once the real summer heat kicks in I'll be longing for more rain. I'm told of course, that Sano has it's own unique weather system, and is also famous for its strong winds in autumn. I shall look forward to those. 

It’s an incredibly British thing to do, moan about the weather, but when you work in a sport that is pretty reliant on the sun shining you can see how it might put a bit of a bee in my bonnet.

In truth we have been quite lucky. The ICC Tournament that was just kicking off in my last post had glorious weather with the only rain coming on the rest day. This was just one of the many factors that made the event a great success (my own outstanding contribution being another of course), and all it needed was a Japan win to round it off. Losing in the final was therefore pretty irritating to say the least. There’s a decent six-minute video of the event here should you wish to see a few highlights.

The weather is not the only thing to have changed. The contrast between my first three months in Japan, and the second three could not be starker. If that first section was characterised by raw fish, no booze and a gigantic dollop of exercise, then the second has been significantly less austere.

The fish have remained raw, that much I promise and the below video should certainly prove as much (squeamish people and vegetarians are advised not to watch), but everything else has rapidly shifted to the other end of the spectrum.

Visits from Cricket Australia are largely to blame (you know who you are), and the discovery of a number of bars in Sano that, despite not looking like much from the outside, have a willingness to stay open to the early hours should the punters so desire, have combined to plant me back on a path I thought I had stepped off after departing London. This may also have contributed to the lack of any blog for almost two months.

Incredible support from Cricket Victoria
I am of course, not complaining. It’s been bloody entertaining. The folks who have visited have been a seriously good bunch, and every single one incredibly positive and supportive of cricket out here, which is a real shot in the arm.

My project kicked off back in late May, beginning with the School Cups and now the six week series is about half way through. A more detailed explanation is here for those who missed it. This has meant that prior to the weekend just gone I’d not had two days off in a row since March, so it’s safe to say I was due. The bosses from the ICC are over this coming weekend, and while numbers are not where I would like them to be, I hope there are enough signs of encouragement for them to extend the funding another year.

If it does then I fully intend to see more of Japan. Thus far all I’ve managed is a trip to the Sumo, which was seriously awesome (some of those guys are properly massive), and a sightseeing day around Tokyo, which included a trip up the Skytree like a proper tourist. I do however, desperately want to get out into the countryside and see more of rural Japan. Plans are afoot to do something along those lines next month, which will be brilliant. 

Large men who spent a lot of time in a tight embrace
Right, this is long enough. I’ll try to more regularly again – it was a pleasant surprise to receive a few queries from folks wondering if I was still alive having not blogged for a while, so there is a bonus purpose to this thing.

In other, totally unrelated news, a chap in my office took a cricket ball in the nuts this weekend and today admitted to me that he’s not worn a box for the last four years. My response to that was not overly sympathetic. For those of you who cannot fathom what that must be like, the below video may give you some idea (by the way, if you get these posts emailed then I'm not sure the videos come through, so you'll have to visit the actual site by clicking on the title at the top). 

PS: I cannot bring myself to write about international sport right now. If the Rugby team losing to the All Blacks 3-0 in NZ was understandable and the World Cup debacle predictable, how the England Cricket team are currently performing leaves me grateful I'm not within reach of heavy artillery. 

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Earthquakes & International Tournaments

Safe to say it’s been busy since my last post. To make the point of just how busy, I got to bed at 4:30am last night, and was up again at 6am, I've had naps at weddings longer than that.

Coming home at that hour and not being blind drunk was an incredibly strange experience – and in all honesty not one that I wish to repeat any time soon. However, do not misunderstand as I am not moaning here. Why? Because as I type, this is my view:

Obviously, I was looking right when I took this

Today is the opening day of the ICC East Asia Pacific Women’s Tournament, which is being hosted by Japan in my home city of Sano. I am currently watching Papua New Guinea take on the Cook Islands, having already seen the former put away Vanuatu by a fairly considerable margin.

The tournament got off to a sticky start when on the day the first people began to arrive we had the biggest Earthquake since I've been in Japan. According to this report from Sky News, it registered at 5.8 and was the first time I've thought seriously about getting out of the house (the first shudder was at 5am, the second was 20 minutes later and genuinely quite scary!). Still, it made for a good conversation starter for the folks fresh off the plane, especially those who'd never been out of their home country before.

Aside from the above teams and Japan, we also have Samoa and a charity side called Cricket Without Borders (CWOB) who have come over from Australia and are playing friendlies to give us an even number of teams thus ensuring there are always three games on at any one time. 

CWOB and Japan in Akishima last Monday
Upon returning from London I discovered that the guys in the office had been working until 2am on a regular basis, often going as late as 4am. I was pretty shocked by that, and it has continued, but does mean that we are, I think, putting on a decent show. After all image is everything in Japan.

Having landed on the Thursday and heading straight into work, I discovered there was a touring team over from Hong Kong who would be playing our women’s team five times over the weekend and who also required people to show them around the sights of Sano. Dhugal and I of course obliged, but this did lead to another karaoke experience which was even worse than the first.

The weekend after that we moved offices – out of the shoe box and into an old doctor’s surgery which is two storeys and I reckon maybe 15-20 times bigger than our previous digs. To say it’s a bit nicer would be a considerable understatement.

Darrell and Nobuko also came to visit that weekend, which remains the only proper day off I’ve had since my return, and naturally we spent it getting boozed and finding yet another game of cricket to watch.

Since then it’s been all go on this tournament, which brings me to my bleary eyes and foggy brain. The teams arrived on Monday, but there was a friendly in Tokyo between Japan and CWOB so we made what turned out to be the 14-hour round trip to watch that. The opening ceremony was yesterday and involved Kimono’s, Drums and Swords – in that order, but after closing just after 7pm our work really began.
The Japan girls looked pretty different to how I usually see them
I’m in the role of “Venue Manager” at a venue I had never previously seen a game of cricket played at and only visited once for about five minutes. We have three venues and had to set up all of them, which included tying sponsors flags to boards, erecting tents and moving about 3000 chairs in the back of someone’s car.

By 4am there were six of us stood in a circle, dawn breaking on the horizon but still chiefly lit by car headlights, each facing in the opposite direction with us highlighted in between and also shrouded in exhaust. It felt a bit like a scene from an old movie where the protagonists discuss how to divide the loot or where to bury the body. 

Under cover of darkness....
I had to be back here at 7am as the first game began at 9am and we still had to tidy a few things up and get the drinks in place. Since then it’s been a pretty constant stream of things not working, getting lost or just simply breaking, but so far it seems I’m the only person who’s really noticed so that’s a plus.

It’s good though. Weeks like this are why I took this job. The only downside is that my own project has suffered during these weeks because the guys have not been able to put the time in as the tournament has taken precedent. It’s frustrating, but it’s clear how important this competition is for Cricket in Japan, and the winners will go on to the World Cup Qualifiers next year so hopefully the Japan girls can get the win and keep moving upwards.

Of course, a number of people have been in touch after my marathon episode. Thanks for all the comments and well wishes. I really am fine, and have entered the ballot again for the race next year. Whether or not I actually end up running it remains to be seen, it’ll largely depend on where I’m living of course, as well as actually getting through the ballot.

If I do try again, I’ll follow the advice of pretty much everyone and see a specialist beforehand, to make sure that I won’t actually die trying. I’ve not been out for a run yet, although that’s largely been through laziness/lack of motivation than any great fear of collapsing in a heap. I have at least managed a couple of games of squash (lost for the first time last week…livid).

For now PNG are 43/0 off six, and give the Cook Islands were all out for 39 in their first match this morning I think this game might already have been decided, but it’ll be fun seeing how it goes – the enthusiasm on show alone makes the lack of slee……..zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Friday, 18 April 2014

London Marathon - Failure & Perspective

“To call running ‘fun’ would be a misuse of the word. Running can be ‘enjoyable’. Running can be ‘rejuvenating.’ But in a pure sense of the word, running is not fun.” Dean Karnazares – Ultramarathon Man.

I had been looking forward to writing this post. As soon as I set the blog up I was thinking about my triumphant piece post-marathon, where I would feign humility about what I had achieved and wait for the hearty congratulations to roll in. Instead I am writing something quite different.

I did not complete the London Marathon last Sunday. I fell short, quite literally, as my temperature reached 41.5 degrees and I collapsed in a dirty, bloody heap on the side of the road. I was carted off, probably on a stretcher, to the St Johns Ambulance medical team based at Poplar. I don’t recall the finer details except that my legs very suddenly turned to lead; like a dream when you’re trying to sprint but can’t move. The grazes on my knees tell me I crumpled rather than keeled over.

This is not because I ran as a Womble – the pictures below are of me borrowing the costume from my cousin, who I bumped into before the start of the race.

I have checked my GPS and can see that I hit the deck on Ming (the Merciless) Street, which is a fraction short of 21-miles, and that I had been running for almost exactly three hours at that point. 

When I came to I couldn’t move and was covered with bags of ice. I immediately tried to sit up and nothing happened. It took at least half an hour before I could move my arms and legs, but it was 90 minutes before the medical team pulled me up into a sitting position and later hauled me upright and over to an ambulance. Up until then I had spent the entire time thinking I was paralysed. I know now that fear was unfounded, the severe pain in my back and neck should have told me that, but rational thoughts don’t really kick in at such times.

What I have since discovered was that the more realistic danger was in fact death. A bit melodramatic I know, but had the medics not found me quickly I would have been in serious trouble. I was diagnosed with severe hyperthermia (the opposite of hypothermia – which is extreme cold). The definition of the condition reads thus:

“An elevated body temperature due to failed thermoregulation that occurs when a body produces or absorbs more heat than it dissipates. Extreme temperature elevation then becomes a medical emergency requiring immediate treatment to prevent disability or death.

“Hyperthermia is defined as a temperature greater than 38.3 °C. it requires an elevation from the temperature that would otherwise be expected. Such elevations range from mild to extreme; body temperatures above 40 °C can be life threatening.”

As mentioned, I was at 41.5 °C. What freaks me out the most is that I did a training run of almost this exact distance and time. Had the same thing happened out here in Sano four weeks ago, then I would not be sat here now, of that I am certain.

When my brother and sister arrived they were a trifle horrified when I said that we still needed to get to the pub. I had people to meet and already felt like I had let them down by not finishing, and had no intention of making that worse by not showing up to my own party. The fact I was shaking, my face ash-white and my lips blue were their chief concerns, not to mention that I didn’t notice there was a bag of ice still down my pants…but we went anyway.

So how do I feel about it six days later? Devastated, obviously, but I also have a sense of perspective given to me by the sheer terror I was in for those 90 minutes. I’ve never known anything like that, and never want to again.

Last year my brother did the race, got injured just a couple of miles in and dragged himself around the entire course in more than seven hours. Like me in Berlin five years ago, his first marathon was all about finishing and I said to him at the time that, odd as it may sound, a marathon is not just about race day. It is about the six months before, the early starts and the sacrificed weekends. I had been proud of him for those efforts, so I have been trying to tell myself the same thing.

This was my second marathon however. For me it was not all about just crossing the finish line. I had no intention of walking, as I had in Berlin. I walked greater distances than 26-miles several times during my Thames Walk. I wanted to RUN a marathon, and so I went to London with a target set, a desire and belief that I could complete 26.2 miles in less than four hours. A tough target sure, but I genuinely believed I could do it. Astonishingly, I still do as I was tracking for 3:55 when I went down and felt absolutely fine right up until the seconds before I lost consciousness.

I don’t believe I did much wrong. I drank plenty, I ran in the shade when I could and through the showers when I saw them. What I would do differently is not wear a hat and ignore the pre-race paperwork which tells you not to waste water by pouring it over your head; perhaps the single worst piece of advice imaginable on a hot day. I have every intention of returning next year.

Ultimately I am taken back to a quote that I have used again and again over the years, including in my own book, and one that Dean Karnazes uses in Ultramarathon Man after his own failure (he had only managed 72 miles of a 100-mile race):

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I have been lucky these last few years. I have known the triumph of high achievement with the Cricket on Everest Expedition, and to a lesser extent my Thames Walk. Failure can be relative. I have at least failed in an attempt to push myself to my limit. My pride is definitely wounded, but it will recover I’m sure.

To everyone who was out on the day, I thank you sincerely. To those I managed to see while I was over, it was great to catch up and I am sorry there was not more time. I managed to miss my flight back on Tuesday morning so had a bonus day and caught up with a few others which was brilliant. To those I did not see, I missed you all and thank you to those who sent messages of support.

Now it’s back to cricket in Japan

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Sakura Season and Pub Crawling in Sano

Every spring a wave of flowers sweeps across Japan. It begins in Okinawa and rolls from island to island to mainland. They call it the Sakura Zensen – the “Cherry Blossom Front” – and its advance is tracked with a seriousness usually reserved for armies on the march. Progress reports are given nightly on the news and elaborate maps are prepared to show the front lines, the back lines, and the percentage of blossoms in any one area.

Nowhere on earth does spring arrive as dramatically as it does in Japan. When the cherry blossoms hit, they hit like a hurricane. Gnarled cherry trees, ignored for more of the year, burst into bloom like fountains turned suddenly on.

The coming of the Sakura marks the end of winter. And in one of those extreme shifts that seem to mark Japanese life, the nation swings from intense work to intense play. These cherry blossom parties, called hanami, are a time for looking back and looking ahead, for drowning one’s sorrows or celebrating another successful year. Toasts are made to colleagues, absent friends, distant relatives and the Sakura themselves. Then, as quickly as they arrive, the cherry blossoms scatter. They fall like confetti, and in their passing they leave the dark green shimmering heat of summer, the wet misery of the rainy season, the typhoons of late August. At their peak – at full blossom and full beauty – the Sakura last only a few days.

During their brief explosion, the cherry blossoms are said to represent the aesthetics of poignant, fleeting beauty: ephemeral, delicate in their passing. The way to celebrate this poignancy, naturally, is to drink large amounts of sake and sing raucous songs until you topple over backwards.
The Sakura Trees behind my ofice
Much as I would like to claim those words as my own, they are taken from ‘Hokkaido Highway Blues’ by a chap who hitch-hiked the length of Japan called Will Ferguson, following the Cherry Blossom. Should you ever wish to get a good insight into Japan and its people, I highly recommend it.

It is Sakura season right now, and I had my first and sadly only Hanami party a week ago at the British Embassy in Tokyo. It was a cool opportunity to go to a place steeped in history and hang out for a few hours. I suspect that by the time I return from London the season will be done and the time for getting pissed under a tree will be over. As such I decided that to honour the season and to welcome our new national coach, the marvellously named Dhugal Bedingfield, we should do a pub crawl in Sano on Friday night.  

I can’t say that there are an abundance of boozers in this town, but once two men commit to a night of solid drinking then nothing can stand in their way. As such we continued until 1am before a late visit to the 7/11 in order to by fried goodness and more beer to finish off the evening, but not before making my Japanese Karaoke debut and bemusing the small bar of about 10 people with a perfect rendition of Mr Wendal.

Admittedly this is not best marathon preparation. However, every so often, as the Sakura season demonstrates, it is necessary to forget what’s gone before, what is coming up, and simply concentrate on the present.

As I write the marathon is seven days away, I’ve just completed my last long-ish run and I’m feeling worryingly confident about where I’m at. I fly on Wednesday and along with a work conference at Lord’s, a wedding, registering for and then running the London Marathon and seeing friends and family, it should be a quiet six nights. 

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Teen Wolf, Martial Arts & Rugby Sevens

Sano life has continued in its own sedate manner during the last few weeks, and as such I decided to actively seek out things that might lead to entertaining stories. The first of these was a couple of Saturday’s ago when I discovered there was a martial arts centre in town and decided to check it out. Prior to that however, I felt it was time to visit the local hairdressers.

I opted out of visiting the salon immediately opposite our office on the basis that it is called “Locomotion” and has the lyrics to the Kylie classic above the door, and instead went to the place recommended by my boss. Upon arrival I was immediately suspicious when the owner, and chap who would be cutting my hair, appeared in a beanie hat, despite having the heating on full blast. Hiding something?

Photo from Google Street View - not a joke
The haircut itself was passable, it was afterwards that things got weird. When asked if I wanted a shave I figured that this was as good a way as any to get my kicks on a Friday night in Sano, so nodded my head in agreement. I was immediately perplexed however, when shaving foam was then applied to my entire face. I repeat. ENTIRE face.

Slightly concerned but unable to properly communicate with the chap, I hoped he was just trying to get an even layer of foam for some reason. Faint hopes were swiftly dashed when out came the blade and he proceeded to shave my forehead.

Now, I admit that I’m a hairy chap, but my spam really is one of the few places that is pretty smooth. Well, it was anyway. Now however, I am destined to spend the rest of my days in fear that whatever hair there was will grow back thicker and faster and thus leave me looking like Teenwolf. Perhaps this was some clever ruse by our beanied friend to make me a repeat customer. Sneaky bastard.

That ordeal over with, it was time to see some sword wielding. Iaido is an ancient martial art that is described as: “a reflection of the morals of the classical warrior” and its purpose is “to build a spiritually harmonious person possessed of high intellect, sensitivity, and resolute will.” Sounds just like me I think you’ll all agree.

The place was about a 20 minute stroll from my place and when I arrived I discovered about eight folks, including the Sensei (who it turns out, owns a rather nice cafĂ© not far from my flat) in full regalia and carrying swords that I was informed were up to 400 years old. From what I can tell Iaido itself seems to involve a lot of sheathing and unsheathing ones sword, and taking several short steps before sitting down. Sadly I didn’t get to see them attack anything, or anyone, so departed a little underwhelmed by the whole experience.

After that it seemed only right to return to what I do best, so the following weekend I went into Tokyo for the rugby Sevens and got royally pissed in the manner of a typical expat. Upsettingly it was the Japan Cricket Association AGM the following day (yes, on Sunday), so while barely able to open my eyes I bumbled my way into Shinjuku, shook hands with some terribly important people and sat through two hours of Japanese which, believe me, is enough to magnify any hangover by a factor of a thousand.
Enthusiastic Japanese Rugby fan
The only other significant piece of news is that our National Coach has now arrived. His first day at work was in fact the AGM, so as you can imagine I made a cracking first impression. The season starts next week however and the East Asia Pacific Women’s tournament is just five weeks away now, so he’s got a fair bit to be getting on with.

My own project, Cricket Blast, is gradually developing. Plenty of hurdles to get over between now and mid-May when we have our first school festival day, but fingers crossed we’ll get everything ready in time. Before then I have the small matter of the London Marathon to complete, two weeks today. My body hasn’t completely given up on me yet so I’m confident that I’ll at least make the start line. 

I was helped by visiting the local physio in town. My hopes were not all that high when he told me, within less than five seconds of entering his house, that I should stop running and not do the marathon. He didn't look overly interested either as he moved my leg around with one hand and played with his phone in the other. He then strapped some weird electrode machine to my leg and I spent the next 15 minutes with my thigh in constant spasm. It was quite amusing at first but soon just got weird. Still, I made it through my 20-miler later in the week without any serious dramas so maybe I'll go back there before race day. 

I fly home in ten days and hope to see a few people then. In the meantime I shall leave you with these sage words of advice, written on a T-shirt I was recently given:

Monday, 10 March 2014

Sanomaru, Tochigi FC and a love of Convenience Stores

When I started this blog I was keen to not write stuff just for the sake of it, but to actually have something to say. Alas, the last couple of weeks have lacked somewhat in excitement so you’re going to have to make do with a slightly jumbled selection of random observations and happenings from recent days.

Perhaps the biggest piece of news is that on March 1st the Sano Christmas lights finally came down. Although this was a massive disappointment, combined with the fact that the snow has all melted, I’m thinking that warmer weather will soon be on the way. The pink flowers will appear on a few trees and everyone will celebrate by getting hammered in the park – so that’s something to look forward to.
I think someone built a snow cave for their pet...
The Japan Guide website gives helpful advice on how to enjoy a “Hanami” Party, which is this: “Cherry blossom viewing is easy: Simply enjoy the intensity of the many blossoms by looking at a single tree or a group of trees.” Thanks for that folks, I’d never have thought that to see something I had to look at it.

This reminds me of some directions I took from another website recently. I’m not kidding, I was trying to find a physio in Tokyo (I was unsuccessful and after searching for an hour gave up and went to the pub) and this was the advice given if planning to come by cab: “If the driver tilts his head and sucks air for any longer than one second, it’s probably easier to find another taxi.”

Hanging out with Sanomaru. I honestly love this thing
Anyway, I digress. Last week Sanomaru came to our office. That may mean nothing to you folks, but this weird little dog-like creature is something of a celebrity in these parts. Sano TV were doing a feature on events in Sano this year and wanted to include Cricket, so the town Mascot, and winner of the 2013 Yuru Kyara (Japan’s Next Top Mascot…or something) came to see us. What followed was perhaps the most bizarre exhibition of cricket I have ever seen. Take a look:

Genuinely, that has been the highlight of the last two weeks. Well, that and discovering this utterly weird song by a load of foreigners about how much they love convenience stores. It’s made extra strange by the fact that the bloke at the start reminds me a lot of occasional Drover - Neil Brearley. I’m pretty worried that I might be like this after a few more months here. The news piece on it is here: but I felt that this deserved to be included here too: 

This weekend I also took in my first J-League game, which involved a two-hour journey to watch my “local” team, Tochigi FC who play in the second division, grab a 1-1 home draw against Yokohama. The match wasn’t entirely devoid of quality, but it was pretty short on excitement. The best bit perhaps being that all the chants are still sung in English, even if they may have been translated a little strangely (the Tochigi slogan is “Keep on Fighting” – which could be seen as a little edgy if this wasn’t Japan).

Keep on Fighting Tochigi
To complete the utterly scatter-gun approach to this blog, I recently read about a Japanese prank that I hope to never fall victim of, if you're curious then just click here, while it also seems that the main reason Japan is making the news in Europe right now is because of a shoplifting cat

On a final, more sombre note, tomorrow is the third anniversary of the Earthquake and Tsunami. I've not heard about any plans to mark the occasion but I'm sure there will be plenty of people throughout the country who will be mourning. Being so new to Japan it's hard to know what to say about it, other than my thoughts are with those who lost their loved ones. 

Monday, 24 February 2014

A Weekend of Surprises

Well that was an interesting weekend, full of surprises and slightly surreal experiences, but certainly one I’ll remember – for a number of reasons.

On Friday I headed into Tokyo since I had a meeting with a potential designer. As I dressed in the morning I was debating whether or not to wear a suit. One wants to impress at meetings, but then I really didn’t want to drag a suit around with me all weekend, and certainly not to a half marathon.

Then it hit me. I’m the client. These folks are trying to win business from me. I could turn up in my Bananaman outfit and they’d still be the ones trying to impress. I’ve never been the client before. My entire career I have been the one trying to sell a product – but this time I'll be on the other side of it. Rather nice it felt too. Sadly Eric, along with all my other fancy dress, went to the skip before I left London, so trousers and jumper would have to suffice. How very dull.

Meetings where everyone dressed like this would be infinitely better

Meeting done and I managed to get lost on no fewer than three separate occasions before successfully meeting up with Darrell to eat a considerable amount of meat while supping on several fine craft beers and chasing them down with a couple of bourbons as the evening wore on. All good prep for a race on Sunday.

Saturday was to be a quiet day, but it got off to an incredibly odd start. My morning routine involves me checking my emails as soon as I wake up, because of the time difference it means that the majority of emails I receive come in overnight and it’s always nice to start the day with word from home.

Now, I’ve had a bit of a Facebook embargo recently, more on that later, but I saw an email from the site and then a whole load of responses from people. It turns out that Cricinfo, the biggest Cricket website in the world, had an article on the homepage asking “What’s the best job in Cricket?” Which then went on to describe yours truly as a: “Sushi-eatingCricket Missionary”.

Back on Cricinfo - but not writing about myself this time

It was a very odd way to start the day, reading an article on a website you visit daily that you might just have the best job in the sport you love. While I’m not entirely sure that I agree 100% with the sentiment, it is rather humbling and the next time I have a shitty day at the office and start complaining to myself I may just re-read the article and then give myself a solid slap round the face.

The rest of Saturday involved steak for lunch (protein you see, all good for muscle recovery) and a trip to the cinema, before an early start on Sunday for the Odaiba Half Marathon.

Odaiba is small island of reclaimed land which is a bit of a tourist attraction. At present it hosts things like Cirque du Soleil, Oktoberfest and in 2020 it will be the staging post for much of the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Having done a long running post recently I won’t bore you with all the details, but the course was exceptionally dull – up and down the bay four times, which meant running passed the Statue of Liberty no less than eight times. I felt for the people who were running a full marathon on exactly the same course.

Knackered, but pleased at the end
I did the run in 1:44:51, meaning I broke the magic 1hr 45min target I’d set myself two years ago. Considering I have not run all week and genuinely couldn’t walk six days earlier because doing 15 miles had left my right knee creaking worse than the bike shelter outside my building after the snow, I was doubly pleased and now feel that I might  have a chance of hitting the target I’ve set myself in London – provided the knee does not copy the bike shelter and collapse. Days like this are a huge confidence boost, and make you realise that the training is actually doing it's job, and thus worth sticking with.

Dear knee - do not behave like this shelter.
That’s all for now. I’m steering clear of Facebook because, well, essentially seeing what everyone else was up to was making me homesick. That and the fact that I felt it had reached a tipping point where I found more stuff on there to be irritating than amusing or informative. As such I am only visiting to post links to this blog, while the occasional photo via Instagram will go up there too. I will of course, respond to any messages that come via the site, but would rather people just emailed me instead!

As ever – Mahanimashte. 

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Filming Day

Not a great deal to report right now, I spent most of Valentines weekend hiding from social media to avoid all the photos of flowers, hearts and inappropriate usage of pet names. Never understood the need for Valentines Day, surely if you love someone you should tell them everyday, not just once a year? 

Since the weekend was once again snow and hail filled, Saturday involved a lot of doing nothing (hoovering the flat, having a bath - seriously rock and roll), but I at least managed a 2:20hr run on Sunday, which has left me more than a little sore (couldn't straighten my right leg on Monday - oops). I've got a half marathon around Odaiba Island this weekend, so let's see how that goes. I'm also planning to go into Tokyo on Friday and find a steakhouse - I cannot tell you how excited I am by this.

Only thing of interest to report from last week is the guy made it over from the ICC to make some video tutorials for our new website (which someone today kindly offered to do for us for free, in both English and Japanese, which is a gigantic result).

Because of the heavy snow we had to do all the filming indoors, which was a bit rubbish, but having seen the first cuts this afternoon I think they still look pretty reasonable.

We spent the whole day doing a variety of coaching drills and playing different forms of the game which was all fairly entertaining, but what I liked most about it was watching these kids really enjoy themselves. It was pretty awesome, and some of them were even quite good! 

Below are a few photos that I thought I’d share here. Enjoy.

An award before the games got underway

Opposable thumbs - very useful

Genuine enthusiasm
Girls and boys all play over here
Filming the sessions took all day - editing took all night

Obligatory group photo


Teaching the kids to Boom Shake Shake Shake the Room


Not cricket related, but this made me laugh. 

Friday, 14 February 2014

Aches, Pains and Melted Brains - Marathon Training

Wednesday morning. 5:59am

My eyes flutter open and I immediately wonder what time it is. I know I have to be up at six, any later and I’ll be rushing; which is a strange thing to be worried about when you know you’re going to be running.  

I roll to my left and reach for my phone. I’ve barely lifted it from the dresser when it begins to vibrate, the familiar alarm tone coming a split second later. That’s three days in succession I’ve woken at the exact time I wanted to. My internal clock has always been pretty good, but this is getting absurd.

The snooze button glares bright red at me, daring me to press it. Not being one to pass up a dare, I accept. Sadly however, snoozing is not on the agenda.

I check the weather. It is -4 outside, not factoring in the wind. Holy shit that’s cold. I put the phone down and roll to my right, pulling back the curtain to see if the sun has come over the hills yet. Not quite, but it’s clearly trying. Like me it’s awake, but not quite ready to swing its legs out of bed.
Sunrise, as seen from my bed
Before long the alarm goes off a second time. Nine minutes in what felt like two. It’s time to pull back the duvet – the worst part of any morning. The cold bites immediately, and as I reach the sliding doors of my bedroom I immediately notice that the air con unit is irritatingly silent. I must’ve messed up the timer again. Bugger.

Dress, stretch,  a quick glass of water and it’s time to go. This  is the second run of the week, it's usually 4 miles on a Monday, 6-8 miles on Wednesdays, like today, Friday could be anything from 4-8 miles and the long runs on Saturdays are now almost exclusively half-marathons or more from now until April. I’m not eating before the midweek runs; trying to train the body to get used to running on empty, like it will be in the final throes of the marathon. I’ve not read that anywhere, it’s just a theory I devised because I hate eating first thing in the morning.

As I open the door to leave I hear the air con kick in – at least the flat will be warm for my return. It’s 6:30am.

The first few strides are horrible. My body growls at me for making it start work so early, and all the old pains in my back and knees give me a sharp reminder that they still exist. Thankfully they soon realise that bed is gone for the day, and start behaving as they should.

Barely 100 metres in and a terrible thought hits me. I’ve left my gloves at home. I’m wearing base layers on my top and bottom half, a beanie and sunglasses, so I look faintly ridiculous, but I’m grateful for all of those and think about going back for the gloves. Of course, I spend far too long deliberating and before I know it I’m at the left turn for the high street – too late.

I pass the office. There’s nobody in there yet thank God, which was not the case this time last week – although I’m still not sure why Makoto was there so early. He’s pretty eccentric at the best of times, so who knows.

Right turn, towards the rail tracks. The lights start to flash and I hear the bells going over the music on my iPod. Without thinking I sprint for it, going under just as the barriers start their descent. Nothing worse than getting stuck there before I’ve even warmed up. There are plenty of traffic crossings to come still, so highly likely I’ll have to stop at some point anyway. I hear the train rumbling past behind me, and feel sorry for the commuters already heading into work at this ungodly hour.

I say ungodly hour, but actually this is the best part of the day. I realised that on my Thames River Walk back in September, when I was often on my own first thing when the day was still and the sky just gaining its colour. 
A dude wandering in a school field well before first lesson
This is also when I start to drift off and think about whatever. Usually a song sets me off, reminding me of a person, place or specific event, and from there the mind wanders aimlessly. I believe this is what people refer to as “the zone” and I want it to last for the whole run.

Often I can cover several miles in this state before something blasts me back to reality, but today it’s short. About 15 metres ahead is one of the major junctions and the green man has begun to flash. It’s a four lane road and I’m going to have to sprint. Only being a couple of miles in, this isn’t so bad, better than stopping anyway, so across I go.

What song am I listening to? Oh, it’s finished. Despite the fact I was singing along to it moments ago, I’ve already forgotten what it was so I wait for the next to begin. Another junction approaches and the man is staying green. Well done Sir.

It’s time to go through the underpass. Infuriatingly my sunglasses are steaming up. I ignore it and push on, the brief downhill slope helps lift the pace again and as I come up the other side I see another runner. This is a genuine shock, as it is only the second one I’ve seen in the month I’ve been here. He’s an oldish guy and I wonder if he’s doing the Tokyo marathon, which is just a couple of weeks away. If I was shocked though, he looks utterly bewildered at the sight of a Gaijin coming towards him – it is always this way for me in Sano.

Left turn, and now I get the best view of the run. Or it would be if my glasses hadn’t steamed up so much that there’s now just a tiny gap in each eye, right by the bridge of my nose, so I am essentially running cross-eyed. Realising this could end badly I decide to wipe them, but in doing so my hand slips to the volume button on my phone and suddenly Van Halen is melting my brain like that scene with George McFly and Darth Vader in Back to the Future.


With vision restored I admire the mountains before me. One stands out above the rest and is amusingly called “The Man”. Apparently “The Woman” is around somewhere too, but I’ve not seen her yet.

Over the bridge and another left and the mountains are gone. I’m now on a main highway, which on my longer run goes for a full five kilometres, but today is about 3.5. With nothing but petrol stations, warehouses and a weird gift shop with a giant tomato displayed outside to look at, I desperately try to recapture “the zone”.

What do I think about now? It’s always the same. I think about home. Sometimes it’s the very recent past, the last year or so. The big events; weddings, holidays, family occasions mainly, sometimes just the odd night out that makes me smile.

Other times it’s less pleasant memories that come to mind; things I’ve done I’m not proud of, people I may have hurt – even people from long ago. There’s no  way of controlling the thoughts that pop into my head, but when it starts getting depressing I stop myself and think of people who have inspired me instead.

Lots of people have run marathons, a few people I know did it last year in fact and so this time 12 months ago were doing exactly as I am now. They managed it, and I’m proud of them for doing so. It’s hard this stuff, but they put the training in, so I can too – and I hope they’ll be proud back.

There’s others too, who inspire me in different ways. Not through physical exertion, but the way they live their lives, deal with different circumstances. It’s hard not to think of Rob and Bells – it would’ve been Thea’s 2nd birthday this Friday.

I’m blasted out of this thought process by the Foo Fighters, swiftly followed by Cotton Eye Joe, which shifts me on to wondering if those two songs have ever been played back to back by anyone before. Not usual bosom buddies I suspect. Odd how my thought process can swing so dramatically. 

I’m not far from the final turn, but before I reach it there is a surprise for me. A gigantic stone head. Seriously. I’ve done this run half a dozen times now, but I’ve never seen this head before, just resting in a car park, divorced entirely from its neck and body and barely an arms reach away. How have I never spotted it? If it wasn’t for Joe and his Cotton Eye then I might have missed it again, so there’s a reason to give thanks.
Did someone lob a snowball at him?
I’ve hit every green light this morning, even the one I don’t need as I take the penultimate turn. The traffic guys are in place now – they carry big batons and seem to stop traffic at random, despite always being stationed next to a zebra crossing. I’ve seen the guys by my house a few times now and one of them recognises me as I come towards him. He waves me forward, a big grin on his face, then steps out and stops the traffic for me. What a legend.

I don’t have a watch, so I’ve no idea if it has been a quick run or a slow one, but I stretch my legs out on the final straight anyway, my hand slipping as I do and once again my brain gets melted by the volume. It's one of my favourite tunes though, and a great one to finish with, so I leave it loud. 

47 minutes to do 9.6km (exactly six miles). I’ll take that. At no stage have I been trying to run quickly, and actually felt pretty ropey at the start, yet this is the quickest I've done this loop. Enjoy it while it lasts I tell myself, before long the knees will start squealing again - it's inevitable.

Right now though, all I have to worry about are my hands. By the time I’ve taken the lift up to the 4th floor they are in so much pain from the cold that it takes me a good minute to get the key in the door.

I wonder to myself, did I enjoy that? Truthfully? I did not. I am not a natural runner, and this stuff does not come easily to me. Admittedly, I might’ve enjoyed it more had I not forgotten my damn gloves, or melted my brain twice, but there is solace to take. I am glad I’ve done it, and not just because I need to clock the miles before April 13th. I’ll feel better today for having done this. I’ll be more alert at my desk, less likely to drift off into daydreams, because I’ve got most of those out the way already, I hope.

Next it’s sit ups, press ups, stretches, shower, cereal and the office. It’s safe to say that Sano Life is somewhat different to London Life. 

Union Jack running shoes - what a knob

PS - This post was based on a run in late January, it's just taken me a while to write it up. I actually did the same run this Wednesday, and it took me almost 50 minutes and I had a nasty pain in my right knee from about four miles - typical given that the day before I'd taken 90 seconds off my fastest time for the four mile route I do. I've got a five-miler lined up on Friday and then 15 on Saturday, which is going to be the biggest test yet, especially as it's been snowing for the last 18 hours - just like last weekend.

PPS - A few people have asked about sponsoring me for the marathon. Obviously, that would be very kind - but I am doing this together with the Thames Walk, so if you sponsored me for that, which most of you almost certainly did, then you really needn't do so again. If the money is burning a hole in your pocket of course, then you can sponsor me by clicking here

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Snow Business

It’s been a pretty eventful last week or so. I spent much of it trying to finalise the project plan (currently a 36-page dossier) which I need to present in order to release the second set of funding from the ICC (of four that is), while also preparing for another visit from a Cricket Australia representative due to arrive on Monday morning.

The plan is pretty much done, but the dude coming over from Australia is going to have a bit of a shock when/if he arrives. I say if because it absolutely dumped down with snow on Saturday, and the bloke is coming over here to make a load of video tutorials for us – not sure we can do those outside anymore.

It happened just as I thought this place was warming up. It reached 17 degrees on Tuesday, and then on Weds we had about a foot of snow fall in just a couple of hours. By the next day it was all normal again.

On Friday morning Alex and I went into Tokyo for our first “Brits at Lunch” event, which is exactly what it sounds – a boozy lunch for expats. Randomly I bumped into someone who I sat next to at a wedding last summer – small world. Not much to tell about the day other than I got suitably boozed, met a few interesting folks and had my picture taken with this random dude on my way home.

Excuse me Sir, may I borrow your hat?
By the time I woke up on Saturday morning it had snowed again pretty hard. Because of the boozy lunch I had skipped my Friday run, meaning I had to run both days on the weekend, which sucked. It was just a short 4-miler on Saturday which gave me a chance to see just how deep the snow was and if it was even possible to run on. It was, just, and I was amazed at how many people were out shovelling snow in their driveways. I’m just not used to that. My feet however, got soaked and utterly frozen. 

It then snowed throughout the day, so dragging myself out for a 14-mile run this morning was a serious effort. More on the actual running in a separate blog, but to give you an idea of just how serious the snow has been, a reported 7 people have been killed and more than a thousand injured as a result of it nationwide – according to this news report.

At least their wipers were OK...
I took a few pictures while out this morning and needless to say I decided afterwards that the best course of action was to sit in front of the TV for the remainder of it. Irritatingly I still can’t watch any live sport which is starting to get on my nerves, despite all the Six Nations games kicking off at about 2am over here (not that this has stopped people sending me 4am texts of course – which despite my complaints, I secretly love).

Taken this morning - those piles of snow were twice my height

In other news, the proposals for the restructuring of theICC went through on Friday after South Africa, who originally questioned the legality of the whole thing, decided that their bank balance was more important and so switched sides. What this means for the smaller nations is pretty unclear right now – although most on social media have already proclaimed the death of the sport as we know it. What is clear is that every Test playing nation is now guaranteed more income, so it seems unlikely that the other 93 will get the same as what they previously. 

Finally – it was awesome to receive some post the other day. Simple pleasures here in Sano. Thanks sis! 


A small shrine just down the road from my house. 
PS - I'm trying not to slap too much stuff over Facebook as I know how irritating that gets, but if you use Twitter or Instagram then I am polluting them aplenty with photos etc, always using the #SanoLife hashtag.