asazuke

Life in Japan, food, music, whatever…

Here it comes 6 May, 2011

Filed under: city,customs,seasons — johnraff @ 1:47 pm
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Last Friday it was officially announced that Okinawa had “entered the Rainy Season”. They’re about a month ahead of us, so the monsoon which comes up from India via SE Asia will reach us in early June. Although it’s quintessentially Japanese somehow, the “tsuyu” is the season I find hardest to cope with: humid, mouldy, sticky, damp… sure the new leaves hit new heights of green lushness but for me if it’s going to be humid and tropical I’d rather have some heat with it, and do it properly. Of course, that will come in due course, late July or so.

Meanwhile, here in Nagoya over the last few days the weather has been fantastic. Sunny skies with a fresh breeze – the kind of day when you want to eat an ice cream in the park. Lucky for all the people who have this week off: it’s Golden Week, something like a British bank holiday weekend when public holidays line up so if you take a couple of extra days off you can have a week’s break, so everybody piles into their cars, a train or plane and goes somewhere. Here at Raffles, though, we’re working through as normal. At least we don’t have to deal with the 75Km traffic jams.

 

Our Mayor: Part Three 4 March, 2011

Filed under: news,politics — johnraff @ 2:34 pm
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The story goes on… Kawamura won his election, by a landslide. He got re-elected as mayor of Nagoya, got his candidate elected as governor of Aichi Prefecture (where Nagoya is) and got his proposition to recall the city council passed – all with big majorities!

Now, I’m sort of in two minds about this. Of course I’m delighted those over-paid councillors will get thrown out, kicking and screaming till the end no doubt, though some of them seem to be coming round to the idea of having their salaries halved to 8 million yen a year ($100,000), now that it’s that or no job at all. That’s still a pretty good income I’d say – certainly more than I’ve got any chance of ever seeing…

On the other hand, Kawamura’s main platform seems to be “less tax” and he’s planning to cut Nagoya city tax by 10%. That appeals to most people for sure – who wants to pay more tax? Well… when they ask Scandinavians, for example, how they feel about their incredibly high tax rates, most of them seem to think it’s OK, because they get back pretty good government services in return. There’s the rub – what city services is K. going to cut to pay for this 10%? At the end of the day it’s a redistribution of income back to the rich, who have more tax to cut, from the poor who would benefit from the city services to be axed.

So is he a democrat, fighting city hall for the common folk, or a disguised conservative demagogue? It gets murkier too: at the national level the ruling DPJ is in trouble. Their popularity is collapsing, partly because of, again, taxes. There’s no escaping (in my opinion) that the rising proportion of elderly people in the population, along with the huge national debt, mean an increase in tax is coming, like it or not, along with a fall in standard of living in all the “developed” countries. My personal complaint is that the government want to raise this money by increasing consumption tax, which hits the poor hardest, rather than income tax. This comes just after reducing corporation tax by 5%, along with backing out of all kinds of promises made in their pre-election manifesto: child allowance, free motorways… People are getting fed up, and “wrecker” Ozawa, who’s caught up in another money-politics scandal, sees an opportunity to divert attention from his wrongdoing and set himself up as a kind of champion of the poor.

A lot of the DPJ diet members owe their seats to Ozawa, and when the current Kan cabinet excommunicated him last month for his sins there were rumblings and stirrings in the ranks. It now looks as if a split in the party is not out of the question. This is where Kawamura steps in. He’s an old Ozawa associate, and he’s been seen in meetings with the old fox lately, about who knows what, but Kawamura’s “Less Tax Party” which is about to fight in the Nagoya city council elections might get into some sort of coalition with a breakaway Ozawa wing of the DPJ, destroying the government so many people hoped would put an end to the old style money politics of the LDP.

One up for The Wrecker, and of course the equally unpopular LDP must be delighted.

 

Our Mayor – continued 17 December, 2010

Filed under: city,news,politics — johnraff @ 2:32 pm
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Takashi Kawamura - mayor of Nagoya

Maybe you remember this guy? The mayor of Nagoya I wrote about last March. His attempt to force the city councillors to cut their numbers and pay by half has been simmering on since then, but recently it got more exciting. The collection of signatures for a petition went ahead in November and, after a slow start, they eventually got some 400 + thousand within the couple of weeks allowed. It was tight, but they made a big push in the last week and ended up with more than the 360,000 (1/5 of the electorate) needed to call a popular vote on dissolving the council. BUT – the Nagoya electoral commission ruled about 110,000 signatures invalid, taking the total below what was needed. Oddly enough, most of the members of that commission are ex-councillors…

It didn’t end there though. There was a chorus of complaints, and people who checked their names on the petition found they had been invalidated for some pretty poor reasons: a single mistake in the address or phone number, smudge on the paper, illegible signature… Kawamura’s supporters put in complaints on sme 35,000 of them, maybe the ones they thought had the strongest case of getting through, and after more checks – all of this costing a fortune in taxpayers’ money – eventually got another 12,000 valid signatures, enough to get over the quota!

So now there will be a popular vote here in Nagoya on whether to dissolve the council, and hold another election. It looks as if the vote will succeed, and there’s a good chance that the new council will have enought sympathetic members to pass Kawamura’s motions to cut their pay by half. They’ll still get 8 million yen (~$95,000) which is enough to get by, I’d have thought…

 

Farmlog 12th September 2010 16 September, 2010

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 2:40 pm
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  • A small praying mantis in the kitchen as we’re getting ready to leave Nagoya. This “exotic” insect is quite common out in the country, but you don’t often see them in town.
  • Stopped off at the bank ( a different one from the bad karma bank ) and there were little piles of salt on each side of the entry to the ATM. Salt is a purifier, like the sake at festivals, and you sometimes see it outside a bar or restaurant intended to ward off bad spirits – either to improve business or because of some incident they want to expunge. I wonder what happened at this bank?
  • Lots of brown kids at the supermarket. It’s been a long hot Summer and Japanese have lots of melanin so they tan easily. T can get a tan in an afternoon that would take me a whole Summer! Being white is more cool these days but I’m old-fashioned and still a sucker for brown skin…
  • On Sunday evening or so The Front passed through and we switched from the humid Summer air to cool dry Autumn in a few hours, with some rain in between.
  • Now being very careful about what might be in clothes that are lying on the floor!
  • Working on the chillies and heard a lot of excited bird chatter. Eventually in a nearby cedar I saw a couple of tits, a small mejiro and what looked like a finch, maybe others, flying around……a snake. Some kind of small snake had climbed up the tree, looking for eggs or chicks I suppose, and the birds were co-operating in trying to scare it away.
  • Listened to the Sumo on the radio in the car driving back to Nagoya. Sumo’s been under a cloud lately with a whole succession of scandals: dope-smoking Russians, bad-behaving yokozuna Asashoryu, sadistic death of a young apprentice and yakuza connections… NHK punished them by not broadcasting live from the last tournament, which was in Nagoya as it happened.
  • Min temp 19°C max 30°C
 

Bulbuls 22 July, 2010

Filed under: city — johnraff @ 2:58 pm
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Yesterday was a big day in our Nagoya garden, excited bulbuls flying around chirping, or screeching, at some bemused chicks. Yes, it was Nest Leaving Day. I think they’re bulbuls of some kind – a kind of scraggly-looking bird that reminds me of the starlings that used to hang around our garden in England, with a long tail and sort of curved beak, and a somewhat untuneful call. T says they’re called “hiyodori” which translates as “Brown-eared Bulbul”.

The garden in front of Raffles isn’t that big, but there’s a tree just in front of our second-floor living room window that’s grown almost as high as the house. A couple of years ago the same – well, maybe not the exact same birds, but the same kind of birds – did it the honour of building a nest just outside our window where we had a view of the construction process. They made good use of locally-available materials: twigs, leaves, discarded plastic twine, shopping bags… laid some eggs but maybe they finally decided the position was just too overlooked or something and abandoned the nest. Later that Autumn it fell out of the tree with three eggs still inside.

This year’s bulbuls had a bigger tree to work on though, and the nest they built was above the window, not below, and things seemed to go better. We tried not to be too obtrusive and the birds ( did they take turns? ) spent several weeks incubating the eggs till an excited mother bird told us they’d hatched a week or two ago. Then the hardest part must have been scouring the neighbourhood for insects to keep them fed, but suddenly yesterday the nest was empty, and the birds were being really noisy.

I wondered if they’d been got by a crow, but that night when I collected the blackboard from outside Raffles to close up, there was a dazed-looking chick clinging to it! Not knowing what to do I just left it at the bottom of the tree, but the next morning it had made its way out to the road. This was no good, so using a plastic bowl a stick and some sticky tape I made a sort of scoop and managed to drop it off back in the nest from our 2nd floor window. No, in an hour or so it was gone again, and the parent birds were flying around this creature on the ground below, trying to persuade it to fly. Didn’t seem to be working, but today that chick is gone. The bulbuls still come back to the garden, and the parents are still feeding insects to the other two, bigger, chicks, but I don’t know what happened to the little one. Hope the cats didn’t get it…

 

Daihachi Ryodan – really 30 years? 14 May, 2010

Filed under: music — johnraff @ 2:38 pm
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第8旅団 Daihachi Ryodan. When I first met these guys it was a band playing on a street corner in Nagoya in 1980: wild-looking people playing some kind of one-chord dirge with atonal guitar, sort of rock beat and incomprehensible off-key lyrics. I knew immediately that this was the band I wanted to play in…

Thirty years on, (although there was a 10 year break in the middle) we now use three or four chords – sometimes more – and like to think we’ve improved in various other ways, but basically it’s still the same band. Stardom is still just round the corner, but meanwhile we’re plugging away playing mostly original stuff with somewhat odd arrangements. I like to call it “latin-jazz-rock-reggae-psychedelic-enka-punk” but who cares?

If you’re in Nagoya on Sunday 16th May, come and check us out at Tokuzo!

 

Farmlog 4th April 2010 7 April, 2010

Filed under: countryside — johnraff @ 2:43 pm
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  • This time the sakura were out in force. Every year it’s a surprise to see just how many cherry trees there are hiding around the country – both in gardens and growing wild in the mountains – waiting for their few days of glory. Everywhere you look it’s sakura, sakura, most of them in full bloom!
  • We stopped off in our usual supermarket and picked up a bottle of their house wine – a white made from the Chardonnay grape (imported juice I think) so might not be too bad, though you can get a fair Chilean white for the same price of ¥498. It turned out to be awful. Just not nice to drink at all. Even at this low price you can do much better with a something from Chile, Spain or Italy. I’m amazed they expect people to buy that stuff.
  • Spent an hour or so taking down the barbed wire round the chilli field. It wasn’t doing any good at all – just getting in my way, and tangling up in the net that turned out to be the only thing that would keep the deer out.
  • On the way back to Nagoya we took a different route, and saw even more sakura…
  • Coming into Nagoya at dusk, a lone bat flying around a crossroads. In the summer there’ll be lots of them – small creatures about the size of sparrows, picking up the insects drawn to the traffic lights.

Min temp -2°C. max 15°C

Cherry blossom in the Japanese countryside.

Riverbanks seem to be a popular place to plant cherries.

 

Queuing for Doughnuts 4 April, 2010

Filed under: city,news — johnraff @ 2:23 am
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If you live in the US you presumably know all about Krispy Kreme doughnuts, but here in Japan they’re an exotic import, like sushi over there perhaps. I’ve never tried one but apparently it’s the crispy sugar glaze over the soft doughnut inside that does it. When KK opened a shop in Tokyo they had some 500 people queued up for 5 hours on the opening day to be among the first to sample this delicacy, so when the first Nagoya branch opened the other week they were well prepared for something almost as big here (Nagoya is about a fifth the size of Tokyo).

As it turned out, they had some 900 people waiting for eight hours for their first taste of a Krispy Kreme Doughnut.

Nagoyans like to queue apparently.

 

Spring

Filed under: city,customs — johnraff @ 2:11 am
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A weeping cherry on a street corner in Nagoya, Japan.This is a weeping cherry on the big crossroads near us, about two weeks ago, already in full bloom. It was a beautiful day, but freezing cold actually with a fierce wind blowing round the buildings. The much-heralded early blooming of the “proper” cherries – the “somei yoshino” – was stopped in its tracks by a cold wave that at last seems to be coming to an end and finally the cherries in the park down the road are completely out. I expect it was full of revellers enjoying hana-mi, but we had to work. Maybe we’ll take a look on Monday if it’s not raining…

Hanami is a sort of Rite of Spring I suppose, and can be a Bacchanale at times. There are people who claim flower-viewing should be accompanied with writing haiku and sipping green tea or something but I have no problem with people getting paralytic under cherry blossom…

 

Our Mayor 20 March, 2010

Filed under: city,news,politics — johnraff @ 2:27 pm
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Takashi Kawamura‘s a bit of a character. He first crossed the radar when he was running as Diet member for a constituency round here – his trademarks were riding around on a bicycle and speaking with a broad Nagoya accent, the kind nobody except him actually uses these days. He got elected and bicycle canvassing caught on, but nobody else tries that Nagoya accent… It’s OK for a bit, but he does lay it on a bit thick. It’s all about the Common Touch no doubt, and he’s doing something right because now he’s the Mayor of Nagoya.

There are other reasons for that, though, a big one being his promise to cut Nagoya city tax by 10%. Of course 20% would have been even better, but you can see the appeal of that idea – for those on low incomes (like us) city tax can be quite heavy as it doesn’t have as many allowances as national income tax. Of course for those whose incomes are too low to be taxed at all the 10% reduction has no meaning. For them, more important might be the social services that would have to be cut to pay for that tax reduction.

Kawamura has laid on a distraction though – his plan to halve the number of city councillors from 75 to 38 or so, and halve their salaries too, as well as stopping their expense allowances! Here he has rather more support among the general Nagoya population than in the city council, where the overpaid leeches are fighting him tooth and nail, understandably. Even at half, they’d still get much more than I do so I’m with Kawamura on this one, and it has to be admitted he’s already halved his own salary. He’s going to try to dissolve the council if they don’t pass his motion, and I’m sure they won’t, but needs to collect a huge number of signatures in order to do a “recall”. He’ll probably succeed, but it will take some time, during which the councillors can continue drawing their inflated salaries and collecting their expenses…

So is he a genuine man of the people or a right-wing demagogue in disguise? We’ll see eventually…

 

 
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