Sunday, 30 September 2007

RWC (Week 4)

It was suggested last week that an accumulator on all of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland going out this weekend might not have been a bad idea. Well of course you wouldn’t have won but for the concept to be vaguely plausible tells you how bad things have gone for the home nations. Lets run through them one by one:

EnglandTonga were fired up and a form team but still, their scrum half played in English Division 3 last year! Gifting two tries to Sackey didn’t help them much either. I doubt the convicts are losing any sleep over next week’s game;

Wales – the expansive game that Wales try and play was always likely to play to the Fijian strengths but I still didn’t really think they could lose – apparently they could. Not surprised to see Jenkins sacked as a record of 7 wins in 20 games is not great;

Scotland – wow, that was a horrendous game – exciting but horrendous. I don’t think Scotland passed the ball passed 10 more than twice and never past 12. Paterson is still to miss a kick in the World Cup and thank feck for that as we never looked like scoring a try. Big improvement required to beat Argentina but we couldn’t ask for a better draw; and

Ireland – what a disaster the whole World Cup has been for the Irish. Tough group but they shouldn’t have even beaten Georgia. O’Sullivan should have overhauled the team (arguably after Georgia and definitely after France) with Best in the back row and Wallace at 10 at least - I wonder if he'll suffer the same fate as Jenkins?

It is definitely possible that there won’t be any Northern hemisphere teams in the semi finals – looking at the draw Scotland have the best chance…that tells you everything you need to know.

Anyway, after the group stages my scorecard reads:

40 matches played
18 matches watched live
7 matches downloaded and watched
15 matches missed (but I have a bit of time to catch up now)

Friday, 28 September 2007

Bad Hair XV

Strangely today's entry is not inspired by the Welsh front row (although they do of course feature). It is actually the horrendous mullets of the Irish scrum-half Isaac Boss and the Canadian No 8 Sean-Michael Stephen that made me try to do this. So after putting in the usual suspects I went through a few other teams and came up with the following (there were enough to include subs without any trouble):

15 P Montgomery (SA)

14 A Ndungane (SA)
13 S Mapusua (Sam)
12 M Bergamasco (Ita)
11 S Rabeni (Fij)

10 N Little (Fij)
9 I Boss (Irl)

1 D Jones (Wal)
2 D Szarzewski (Fra)
3 A Jones (Wal)
4 S Chabal (Fra)
5 L Samurai Vatuvei (Jap)
6 C Charvis (Wal)
7 H T Pole (Ton)
8 S-M Stephen (Can)

16 M Castrogiovanni (Ita)
17 S Bruno (Fra)
18 A-W Jones (Wal)
19 S Burger (SA)
20 P Griffen (Ita)
21 C Smith (NZ)
22 I Corletto (Arg)

Unsurprisingly Wales lead the way with four squad members with France and South Africa both with three. Going through the team lists it's the props and back-row who seem to be the worst offenders – 2nd row on the other hand was tricky to fill.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Yasukuni Shrine

This shrine was built in 1869 by order of the then Emperor to honour the memory of those who had died for their country – as a result there are more that 2,460,000 divinities worshipped there which predominantly include the many soldiers killed but also 57,000 women and children (mainly from the American occupation of Okinawa during WW II).

Also, on this site is the Yushukan which is the Japanese war museum. Unfortunately this was another museum where no photos were allowed other than in the entrance:

The museum itself dealt with the various wars which Japan has been involved in since around 1900. Annoyingly, only about two thirds of the information was translated into English so it was tricky to follow the full histories but still interesting.

Having read “Empire of the Sun” earlier in the year I was curious to see how WW II was written up from the Japanese point of view. Basically it was set out that the war was started by Japan as a result of an oil boycott by the United States and UK. The resulting oil shortage and failures to solve the conflict diplomatically made Japan decide to capture the oil rich Indonesia and to start a war with the US and Great Britain.

There was virtually nothing about the occupation of China and the exhibits went pretty quickly through the Japanese expansion, the Battle of Midway and the subsequent fall back. One thing I didn’t know was that in addition to Kamikaze planes there were also Kamikaze submarines (basically manned torpedoes) of which there was one on show in the museum.

Interesting place and worth a visit if you’re in town.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

BIG TV

I was looking round a big electronics shop on Saturday afternoon and came across this:

That, ladies and gentlemen, is a 110” high definition TV which would cost you ¥6,400,000 (that’s about £28,000).

Monday, 24 September 2007

RWC (Week 3)

No major surprise in the Scotland result against NZ considering it was the 2nds (as much as Hadden can argue otherwise). Could have been worse but for some good last line defence and some dodgy play by NZ. Still, all set for the Italy game next week which I’m fairly confident about. I’m also supporting Argentina over Ireland this weekend in the hope of avoiding France in the quarter finals.

The Tonga v SA game was the best game of the tournament so far and they are playing with so much confidence that England must be a bit worried about their match.

In the Sumo tournament the Yokozuna did end up winning with a 13-2 record - the nearest challengers finished with 12-3 and 11-4 records and six wrestlers finished on 10-5.

One of those days

Nothing seemed to go my way on Saturday, here’s a quick run down of where things went off track:

- on my way to the Yasukuni Shrine and war museum I wasn’t paying attention on the Underground and got on the wrong train. Having got on the right line I then missed my stop;

- I planned to go to the baseball in the evening but when I got to the ground the tickets were sold out;

- Geronimos have added the plaques to the wall up to the end of August and have missed me out (I made this point rather drunkenly at 3am on Saturday night so may have to do it again while a lot more sober); and

- England won.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Park Hyatt – New York Bar & Grill

Instead of watching all the rugby last Saturday I was in the New York Bar & Grill restaurant in the Park Hyatt Hotel in Shinjuku (this is the bar featured in Lost In Translation) – shocking behaviour I know.

The restaurant is on the 52nd floor and has amazing views out over the metropolis of Tokyo in every direction (unfortunately my camera battery was flat and the pics I have are from the camera on my mobile so not as good) – this will give you an idea of the views:

Major flaw with this place was the price – my wallet took a hell of a beating for this meal.

On the subject of beatings (seamless link there), for anyone wondering how the Sumo tournament is going, the Yokozuna has recovered from his opening day loss to a 10-2 record and has a share of the lead with one other fairly lowly ranked wrestler. There are another couple of wrestlers with 9-3 records so there is still a bit of competition for the tournament victory going into the final three days.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Wagyu

There’s a place where cows drink beer and get regular hand massages and that place is Kobe, Japan – I’m not talking about cows drinking at bars and visiting masseurs, I’m talking about farming. The aim of the peculiar practice is to produce the Kobe Beef.

But let me back up to the beginning of today’s story, we went out for dinner last night to a pretty nice restaurant called “Beacon”. On the menu here (and not as ridiculously priced as I have seen it) was “Wagyu” beef.

Wagyu refers to several breeds of cattle the meat from which is known worldwide for its marbling characteristics, increased eating quality through a naturally enhanced flavor, tenderness and juiciness, and thus a high market value. Basically Kobe beef is Wagyu beef which comes from the Kobe region of Japan and meets rigid production standards imposed in that prefecture (a bit like Champagne is sparkling white wine from the Champagne region in France I suppose).

So I had a crack at this stuff last night, ok it was Wagyu beef rather than specifically Kobe beef but being honest am I going to notice much difference? And the meat itself, well it was a bit rich for my liking but tick another Japanese experience off the list.

The rest of the meal was excellent however. This restaurant is part of a chain of four of which we have previously visited Cicada and also been impressed. So if you’re in Tokyo I definitely recommend checking one of the Ty Harbour Brewery restaurants.

I’ll leave you today with a quote from Anthony Bourdain regarding Kobe beef burgers:

“If there’s a better way to prove one’s total ignorance of all three words - Kobe, beef, and burger - this, my friends, is it. It’s the trifecta of dumb-ass. The Kobe experience is principally about the marbling, the even distribution of fat through lean. A hamburger is a bunch of lean beef thrown into a grinder with varying degrees of fat. If you are foolish enough to order a Kobe burger, you are entirely missing the point.”

Over to you Nick as I’m sure you have plenty to add on the subject of Wagyu.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Early start

Up at 3.30am to watch the Scotland game is not going to put you in a good position for the rest of the day. I dis have grand plans of going swimming at 6am after the game and then going for breakfast in the hotel. In reality I went straight back to bed for another hour and a half of sleep…

Add the lack of sleep to the cold I’ve picked up this week and I do not feel like Tony the Tiger today. However, to the match itself – not a bad performance from Scotland with some good stuff: Rory Lamont is still in great form; pack played pretty well; defence never gave Romania a sniff of a score; and Webster was reasonable at centre (although could anyone be worse than di Rollo? – Andy Farrell is the only name that springs to mind).

On the negative side there were way too many knock-ons in contract and too many turnovers lost in rucks and mauls. Overall though, 42 – 0 is a good result considering the shocks a lot of other teams have had in what should have been easy matches.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Respect for the Aged Day

Yesterday was a public holiday in Japan and it was Respect for the Aged Day. This national holiday traces its origins to 1947, when the Hyōgo Prefecture in Southern Japan declared 15 September as Old Folks' Day (Toshiyori no Hi). Its popularity spread nationwide, and in 1966 it took its present name and status as a national holiday.

There are all sorts of weird national holidays in Japan (none of which seem to be related to religion or wars which covers pretty much all the UK and US public holidays) – here’s a few of the better ones:

- Coming-of-Age Day (January): all people who turn 20 this year are celebrated on this national holiday. Cities and towns hold ceremonies, often with addresses by prominent members of the community. Many of these ceremonies serve alcoholic beverages, which are the privilege of adults. Disorderly conduct has led some cities to curtail these ceremonies (kinda hope I’m still around for this one);

- Marine Day (July): this holiday is “a day of gratitude for the blessings of the oceans and for hoping for the prosperity of the maritime nation that is Japan”;

- Health and Sports Day (October): this holiday is for “enjoying sports and cultivating a healthy mind and body”.

While looking into this I also found out that on Valentines Day in Japan women traditionally give chocolates to their special men, as well as to their male coworkers – seems like a sensible system to me.

Anyway, what did this holiday mean for me? Nothing good that’s what, I was still in the office but the air-conditioning wasn’t on which made for a particularly disgusting day.

RWC (Week 2)

So, as a Scotland supporter I’m in the minority (WAIT UNTIL I FINISH THE SENTENCE BEFORE COMMENTING), as I was saying, I’m in the minority as a home nations supporter as Scotland haven’t completely stunk up the pitch yet. True, we’ve only played Portugal and weren’t awe inspiring then but we’re in a hell of a lost better shape than the others:

- Wales: I had their game against the Convicts down as a potential shock but no – not even close. Still they should qualify easily enough with only Fiji and Japan to play even if they won’t beat the Safas;

- England: bah, ha, ha, ha, ha – absolutely abysmal against USA and no better against the Safas. Farrell must have some dirt on someone to keep getting in as he has never played well in Union. The entire team (other than Robinson) should be shot after the display against SA (makes me think Scotland’s 27-3 loss to them in a warm up game wasn’t that bad – we were definitely a hell of a lot more competitive). Unfortunately I don’t think the Samoan or Tongan set pieces are good enough to win enough ball to trouble England next week but I can hope;

- Ireland: much as I would love to continue laughing at the English the piss poor home nations performance award goes to the Irish. Dodgy, to say the least, against Namibia and lucky against Georgia. Improvement of about 1000000000% needed to get past France and Argentina.

Well, having slated everyone else I now fully expect Scotland to go one better than the above and actually lose to Romania on Tuesday. If however, we do win and beat Italy (who have also looked mince) its looking like a quarter final against Argentina which is as good a draw as I could have hoped for.

Anyway, here’s my current scorecard after the weekend:

19 matches played
10 matches watched live
3 match downloaded and watched
2 match downloaded to watch
4 matches missed (to be downloaded when available)

Friday, 14 September 2007

Gun Crime

In the months coming up to my departure from the UK and on my quick visit back the press has been big into the gun and knife culture of Britain – now regardless of how sensationalist the reporting is and how bad the problem actually is there is definitely an issue.

On my flight back to Tokyo there was an article in the paper about the rise in shootings in Japan – in the first half of 2007 there were 8 people killed which was a big rise on two in the same period last year. In total there were 33 shootings reported in Japan in the first half of 2007 of which 21 were gang related. Crime in Japan is a subject I’ve been wanting to write about for a while and this is a good way to start. Lets compare Japan (population ~ 130 million) that to a few other countries shall we:

- UK (population ~ 60 million) – according to provisional Home Office figures, there were 58 firearms-related homicides in 2006-07 compared with 49 in the previous year (i.e. a hell of a lot more than Japan with less than half the population);

- USA (population ~ 300 million) – firearms were used to commit 68% of the 14,860 homicides in the United States during 2005, that’s about 10,100 in a year. Not even vaguely comparable;

- South Africa (sorry Clinton but I have to make my move to the US look a bit less moronic – population ~ 47 million) – according to a recent Oxfam report more than 100,000 people lost their lives in gun-related violence in the first 10 years of South Africa's democratic transformation; or

- Australia (population ~ 21 million) – back to a vaguely sensible country now but in 2004/05 there were 40 firearm homicides – loads more than Japan in a county with only 16% of the population.

So Japan is worrying about an increase to 8 in half a year. Folks, in relation to crime in Japan THERE JUST ISN’T ANY (or at least not to the same degree as any other large country I can think of). Crime is a subject I’m planning on returning to again as it really is virtually non-existent here.

Drunken adventures, lessons in Japanese history and culture and now social commentary – I should start charging to read this stuff!

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Bibimbap

Just back from lunch - once or twice a week we don't bother with the midday lunch stampede to the company cafeteria and head off out. This was one of those days. Today we went to a local Korean restaurant for what we refer to as "hot bowls" but what is correctly called "Bibimbap" (which means "mixed rice").

This stuff is excellent for lunch - basically it is a stone bowl filled with rice topped with vegetables, raw strips of beef, a raw egg and chilli paste. The stone bowl is really hot so when all the ingredients are mixed together the egg and the beef are cooked against by the heat from the bowl. If you feel adventurous in the kitchen (which is something I've never been accused of) try this.

I haven't sent you off to any other sites for music downloads for a while so here's a couple:
- Suburban Knights by Hard-Fi (this has grown on me)
- Tear You Apart by She Wants Revenge (nothing to do with Joy Division but I like it)

Right, that's your lot, I'm going back to what I've been doing for the last couple of days - laughing at the English rugby team selection.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Sumo – the tournament

A Sumo tournament runs for 15 consecutive days from Sunday to Sunday. During this time that wrestlers will fight once each day and the best record wins the tournament – in the event of a tie there is a play-off to decide the winner.

A day lasts from 9am to 6pm with several different divisions through the day with the best wrestlers starting at about 4pm. We had decided to get seats up the stairs rather than spaces downstairs where all you got was a cushion and the floor – I really didn’t fancy kneeling for a few hours in their. We rolled up at about 2.30pm so caught the end of the “2nd division” bouts before the tops boys rolled in:

All the wrestlers were introduced to the crowd at this time except the Yokozuna who was subsequently introduced in his own entrance:

There were 21 fights in this division in the next couple of hours – the actual pre-fight stretching/posturing/ceremony takes a fair amount longer than each fight which typically will be over in between 5 to 10 seconds (a long fight would be 20 seconds).

Now these guys are big, I mean really big, looking down the heights and weights in the programme (which is pretty much all I can read) they are all about 185cm (which is my height) and about 150kg (this is about 50kg more than me). However, the tallest guy was 203cm (6ft 9”) and the heaviest was 181kg.

The later in the day the higher ranked the wrestler so the Yokozuna was last up against a wrestler who was in the fourth category of wrestlers (at least as far as I can tell he was in the fourth category) – and in the best match of the day with a cracking “dump tackle” the Yokozuna lost (something new I’m trying here is to post a video of the full match):

video

OK, the quality ain't great but it was from full zoom on my camera which is a few years old now. Hopefully you can make something out of that! What you hopefully noticed was that following the Yokozuna’s loss the crowd started throwing their cushions in the direction of the ring – apparently this is common practice when a Yokozuna loses. He's now recovered to a 2-1 record but there are still a couple of guys with 3-0 records ahead of him - long way to go yet though.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Sumo – background

The first week I was in Tokyo there was a Sumo tournament on but I didn’t manage to go along – well fours months on and its time for the next Tokyo tournament. A colleague and I got tickets for the opening day yesterday but before I run you down on events let me recap the headlines from the Sumo world in the last couple of months.

The May tournament was won by a Mongolian wrestler names Hakuho who was then promoted to the rank of Yokozuna – this was the first time since 2003 that there were two wrestlers at this rank. The next tournament in July was won by the other Yokozuna (Asashoryu – another Mongolian).

Now that was when the fun started – Asashoryu pulled out of a scheduled 2007 regional summer tour claiming injury but was then pictured playing in a charity football match in Mongolia. The Sumo association threw the book at him in early August and suspended him for two main tournaments (there are only six per year) and cut his pay by 40%. Since then things have got worse and worse for this guy as allegations of match fixing and domestic violence have been made. Additionally, he has undergone checks by various psychiatrists who came up with equally varied diagnoses of his mental state and he is now back in Mongolia receiving treatment for depression.

So, rather than see the first Tokyo tournament to feature two Yokozuna’s for 4 years there was just the one on show. I’ll run through my day there tomorrow.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

RWC (Weekend 1)

That was a tough weekend for me - the opening game on Friday didn't kick off until 4am in Tokyo so a bit of a late finish was in order. Of course 3am finishes on Saturday and Sunday didn't help either and I'm really looking forward to the end of Monday so I can get some sleep.

But back to Friday. In order to be in a vaguely reasonable state for the match I delayed going out until midnight a bounced round a few bars prior to rolling into Legends Sports Bar at about 3.30am (my plaque still isn't up in Geronimos!). My Yank colleague who had been planning to watch the game was virtually in shut-down mode by this time and disappeared back to the hotel just before kick off. There was still a reasonable crowd in the bar of about 50 people I think. Good game and a cracking start to the tournament - judging by the Ireland score against Namibia it looks like Scotland may well face Argentina as Pool winners.

The Saturday games started here at 9pm and went through to 3am - I didn't think Italy would get as badly thrashed as they did but I did have fun baiting Convicts with my Japan shirt. Now to England, bah ha ha ha ha - that was absolutely awful. Do that against Samoa, please.

Sunday was the same deal with games from 9pm to 6am - I made it through the Welsh, SA and Scotland games in Legends to 3am but Ireland was never gonna happen as I was due i work by 8.30am. Wales got a good scare there for 55 mins, SA were good but if Samoa just had any sort of forward platform they would be a different proposition (I expect England to play 10 man rugby against them). Scotland didn't look great against what I expect to be one of the poorest sides in the tournament although Rory Lamont is on fire at the moment.

So to sum up, my current scorecard reads:
8 matches played
7 matches watched live
0 matches downloaded to watch
1 match missed (to be downloaded when available tomorrow)

Friday, 7 September 2007

Back to Osaka

Today will be a round up of the other places I visited in Osaka. Before going to the castle on Saturday I went to the Floating Garden Observatory. This is a doughnut shaped bridge connecting the two towers of the Umeda Sky Building which has views out over the whole of Osaka from 170m up:

What I didn’t realise was that to get up there I had to take a glass lift and a glass encased escalator– not a fan of such things. I’m not sure why it is called the Floating Garden as there is no Garden up there.

Next up we’ll move on to Sunday and one of the places I visited worth mentioning was the Shittennoji Temple. This is the oldest officially administered temple in Japan which was built in the 6th century:

Good weirdness in Osaka too, the best being as I walked from Osaka Castle through the grounds to the train station where I passed a man walking a squirrel on a leash.

Right, bring on the World Cup - I'm planning on watching every match this weekend other than the Ireland v Namibia game. We'll see how bad a plan that was on Monday.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Fugu

I'll finish up my Osaka trip tomorrow but take a break today to tell you about my dinner last night. Fugu (河豚) is the Japanese word for pufferfish and is also a Japanese dish prepared from the meat of pufferfish - also Fugu is lethally poisonous if prepared incorrectly.

Fugu contains lethal amounts of poison in the internal organs and the skin. Therefore, only specially licensed chefs are allowed to prepare and sell fugu to the public, and the consumption of the liver and ovaries is forbidden. Non-lethal quantities of the poison remain in the flesh of the fish and give a special "tingling" sensation on the tongue. However, a number of people die every year from consuming improperly prepared fugu. The poison, a sodium channel blocker, paralyzes the muscles while the victim stays fully conscious, and eventually dies from asphyxiation. There is currently no antidote.

Since 1958, only specially licensed chefs can prepare and sell fugu to the public. The fugu apprentice needs a two- or three-year apprenticeship before being allowed to take an official test. The test consists of a written test, a fish-identification test, and a practical test of preparing fugu and then eating it. Only 30% of the applicants pass the test (this doesn't not mean that 70% die from poisoning). Additionally, the fugu restaurants typically only sell fugu -just serve it in a number of different ways:

Would probably have been a better idea to take the picture before we were half way though but anyway, this was our meal last night and includes sasihimi (i.e. raw); tempura (i.e. in batter); and grilled (cooked ourself on the hot coals you see in the picture). Now I'm no great fan of seafood, generally I'll almost always order something else on the menu but this is a bit different. Being honest it was pretty bland and a consistency somewhere between what I would expect from fish and from squid. But lets be honest, the taste was secondary at best in the reason for trying it.

Bonus score for the restaurant is that the fish was so fresh (when we went in there were about 15 in the tank, when we left only about 5) that when it was served for us to cook on the coals a number of the larger pieces were still in spasm - seriously this stuff was pulsing on the plate.

For those of you who want to try it - bad luck if you live in the EU as sale of fishes belonging to this genus are forbidden altogether there.

Osaka Castle

I reckon the most impressive tourist attraction in Osaka is the castle which I went to visit on Saturday prior to going to the athletics. On the way I ended up walking from Osaka-jo station which is next to the Osaka-jo concert hall, that night a band called 関ジャニ was playing – best guess seems to be a boy band, that would certainly fit with the crowd as I seemed to be the only person anywhere near the area who wasn’t a teenage girl. However, due to my commitment to bring you all a cultural report from Japan I managed to drag on to the castle (that and there were no tickets left):

So, construction of the castle itself began in 1583 under the direction of Hideyoshi Toyotomi and was completed in 1598. It really is a damn impressive place on top of a hill with extensive outer walls and moats before you get anywhere near the castle itself.

Inside the castle are eight floors which, from the observation deck downwards, tell the story of the castle from the original temple on the site, construction of the castle, the many battles fought around the castle including its fall in 1615, its reconstruction in 1620 and subsequent destruction in 1665 due to a lightning strike.

The next reconstruction didn’t actually start until 1843 and the main tower wasn’t rebuilt until 1931 (this tower is the one there today). Unfortunately I only had a couple of hours to explore the castle and its grounds before heading off to the athletics so really didn’t have nearly enough time to fully explore the grounds and the history of the place which was rather annoying. But if you find yourself in Osaka I can definitely recommend a trip as I reckon it is the most impressive building I’ve seen in Japan so far.

RUGBY UPDATE - I've almost solved my world cup viewing issue. This website allows me to download all the matches 24 hours after they've finished for US$50.

Monday, 3 September 2007

World Athletics Championships

So the main reason behind my trip to Osaka was to see the IAAF World Championships. The evening session kicked off at 7pm so I had thought I had arrived at the closest station in plenty of time at 6.40pm and indeed the stadium was right outside the station – not so as it took almost an hour to get to the North Gate, get through security, get some beer and get to my seat. Not much of a problem as the only events I missed were the 1,500m Wheelchair races (odd that these events are on and none of the other disabled events are) and the end of the Men’s 50km Walk (NOT A SPORT).

Anyway, my seat was in the very back row of the entire stadium but still a reasonable view as I was at the final bend:

Additionally, the only field event of the night, the pole vault, was on in front:

Other events through the night were the: Women’s 4x400m heats; Women’s 5000m final; Men’s 4x400m heats; Decathlon 1,500m; Women’s 4x100m final; and Men’s 4x100m final. Some of my better pictures are below of the Women’s 4x400m and 4x100m respectively:

I may even have cheered when Lee McConnell (one of only two Scottish athletes at the games) was running the first leg of the 4x400m. Of course that was nothing compared to the Japanese who went nuts every time on of their runners overtook anyone or led the field in a race.

The final event finished at just gone 10pm but as my seat was at the back I hung around to watch the last couple of medal ceremonies before heading back into town to find a bar at about 10.30pm.

In unrelated sports news J-Sports (the equivalent of Sky Sports over here) has the rights to the Rugby World Cup and is showing all the games live. The bad news is that my hotel only has one of the four J-Sports channels and the disastrous news is that none of the Scotland games are on that channel!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Given that the first two Scotland games are on at 1am Sunday night and 4am Wednesday morning I’m gonna be a star at work the next day after having been to a bar to watch them…The last two group matches aren’t as bad being 11pm on a Sunday night and the Italy game on a Saturday night (good, I might need a lot of beer for that one). Unless I can find a website which will stream the matches this is gonna be bad – suggestions welcome.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Bullet Trains

This weekend I went down to Osaka to see the World Athletics Championships – I’ll go through my trip and the athletics in the next couple of days when I’ve downloaded my pictures.

Firstly though, in order to get there this I used Japan's high speed trains (bullet trains) which are called Shinkansen. The Tokaido Shinkansen connecting Tokyo and Osaka was the first Shinkansen line and the world's first high speed train. When this service began in 1964 the trains already ran with speeds of about 200 km/h and nowadays they reach speeds of over 300 km/h.

From Tokyo Station to Shin-Osaka is 515km and this was covered in around 2 ½ hours (with three stops on the way) – still an average speed of over 200km per hour. During the Shinkansen's 40-odd year history there have been no passenger fatalities due to derailments or collisions (including earthquakes and typhoons) although injuries and a single fatality have been caused by doors closing on passengers. The only derailment of a Shinkansen train in passenger service occurred during the Chūetsu Earthquake on 23 October 2004.

All of which shows you what an antiquated piece of junk the UK rail system is.