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.