Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Music selections

When I was walking around this weekend it occurred to me that there were a fair number of songs with “New York” or “America” in the title. Having searched through my mp3 library I found 32 tracks (actually only 29 as three of them were cover versions of the same song).

These are now loaded onto my iShuffle and I’m listening to them as I walk around here – the best of these include “American English” by Idlewild and “North American Scum” by LCD Soundsystem. However, my favourite has to be a track I haven’t listened to for years – “The American” by Simple Minds (couldn’t find a link where the mp3 was available but you can play the track on the link I have posted).

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Flight and Customs

I haven’t quite got used to checking into business class fights yet – I turn up and there’s no queue so I’m invariably through to security with loads of time to kill. I did it again this time. However, this flight didn’t cost me anything in excess baggage unlike my original flight to Tokyo from London.

I was flying JAL and their seats aren’t quite as good as BA – the food wasn’t great either for a 12½ hour flight.

I wasn’t sure what to expect at Yank immigration (especially as I’ve had my Visa for 6 months but never used it) but it took no longer than the usual Visa waiver to get through and the line didn’t take long either. So having landed at just before midday I was off into town within about 1 hour which was pretty good going.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Tokyo – Epilogue

One last story before I start on my NY stories – on my last night I was in Geronimos and they have put my 15 shot plaque up. No joke, I haven’t been saving this, they really did just put it up that week.

So here it is, my mark left in Tokyo:

Happy now.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Tokyo – just a cracking place to live

So its my last full day in Tokyo today. As you may have gathered I think this place is great. There is no crime, the place is clean, the people are amazingly respectful of each other, its easy to get around and there are loads of good places to go out at night (and they don’t close). On the negative side, well – they have earthquakes, can’t think of anything else.

Last thing before I leave, if you ever find yourself in Tokyo (and I recommend you do) here are a few of suggestions:

- Bars: Train Bar; Geronimos; the Golden Gai area

- Restaurants: any of the three Ty Harbour restaurants, Bourbon Street (which is where I'm off to tonight) and also have a go at Okonomiyaki which was v good

- Baseball: get a ticket to see the Swallows in the cheap seats

- Sumo is worth an afternoon (but get a seat upstairs rather than a mat downstairs)

- Sightseeing: Ueno Park is full of things to see; Senso-Ji in Asakusa is impressive; and Yoyogi Park is full of weird stuff going on (including the Coz-Play girls)

- Culture: the Kabuki theatre was interesting

If you missed any of those things then look below, I've talked about all of them at some point over the last 6 months. Right, time for NY…to be continued (probably next week).

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Tokyo random stuff

As I only have a couple of days left in Tokyo I’ll have to put a few random thoughts and stories into today’s post so if you’re all strapped in, we’re off:

Why do they not use daylight savings time? In the summer the longest days is 4.30am to 7pm and in the winter the shortest is 6.45am to 4.30pm. Surely the summer would benefit for at least one more hour in the evening.

I found a Scottish bar on Saturday night (called Scottish Glamour) which served Haggis (to be eaten with chopsticks…) – slightly odd stuff but not bad:

The next bar I was in was a little Japanese bar which (like a lot of bars here) was big into Whisky. However, they also had a beer from Scotland or more accurately from the Borders (brewed about 30 mile from Hawick). How exactly a Japanese bar imports Traquair Ale I have no idea.

I'm not entirely convinced that an orange t-shirt went well with my grey jacket but I still can't decide.

On Saturday morning I went to visit Ebisu, it was the last place in my Tokyo guide book I had a map for that I hadn’t visited. Not a lot to say about it really, only interesting fact I now know is that it seems to be named after the beer Yebisu as it was where the brewery used to be – all the people who worked there moved to the area and it turned into a town which was named after the beer (I think that’s right anyway).

If anyone uses Skype then I have recently installed this application so drop me an e-mail with your ID. If you don’t know what it is then, briefly, it’s a free application that allows you to make free telephone calls over the internet to other Skype users – your computer just needs a microphone and a speaker and you’re off (it also has a Instant Messenger type application as well).

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

RWC (Team of the tournament)

So having watched the majority of the matches I’ve decided to put together my “team of the tournament” – now keep in mind that this is the players I thought stood out in this World Cup so past performance doesn’t count:

15. Percy Montgomery (SA) – I don’t think there is a standout performer here but Montgomery was very solid and kicked well from hand and at goal.

14. Drew Mitchell (Cons) – Underused by the Convicts and yet still scored 7 tries. Always looked dangerous with the ball (when thy actually put him on the pitch).
13. Jacques Fourie (SA) – Tough one this with no-one really outstanding, I would have gone for Steyn or Bai but they both play inside centre. Fourie was solid enough and picked up a few tries.
12. Luke McAllister (NZ) – OK, he should have been lining up a drop goal against France in the last 10 mins but other than that he made some cracking breaks.
11. Bryan Habana (SA) – Just too quick and can step at full pace as well. Add in that he isn’t small and you can see why he scored 8 tries.

10. Juan Martin Hernandez (Arg) – Best 15 in the world has now got a pretty good claim to be the best 10 in the world – maybe not great against SA but was masterful in every other game.
9. Fourie du Preez (SA) – Before the tournament I couldn’t understand why SA didn’t pick Ruan Pienaar at 9 but du Preez has played amazingly well.

1. Andrew Sheridan (Eng) – More of a nod to the comedy Convict scrum really.
2. Marius Tincu (Rom) – I remember this guy from previous Romania games and from a few games for Perpingan, as usual he was an absolute dynamo.
3. Martin Scelzo (Arg) – Solid in the scrum and showed up a bit in the loose too.
4. Ali Williams (NZ) – Showed up everywhere in the loose and was fantastic in the line outs, one All Black who I don’t think can be criticised.
5. Alun Wynn Jones (Wal) – I always think he looks a bit small for a 2nd row but he puts in a good shift every time I see him play.
6. Rocky Elsom (Cons) – The last position I picked and it’s a struggle (I’ve resisted the option of picking two opensides). Burger and T-Pole are close but I’ll give it to Elsom as he has improved immeasurably since first appearing on the scene and wasn’t his usual penalty machine self.
7. Nili Latu (Ton) – A hell of a lot of competition here with Quera, Juan Smith and Dusatoir all in the running but Latu is my overall player of the tournament so he gets in.
8. Gonzalo Longo (Arg) – I was originally going to say Henry Tuilagi as he was immense in the games he played but he only played in two. Longo was man of the match three time I think so in he goes.

Looking at the BBC team of the tournament they agree with 7 of my 15 (and they cheated by using two opensides).

Monday, 22 October 2007

RWC (Last weekend)

Was it a try or not? Being honest from my viewpoint in the bar I couldn’t tell but it seemed 50/50. I don’t remember the replay being frame by frame though which made it more difficult to tell – anyway the difference was 9 points in the end, not 5 or 6. Also, for the whole of the first half all England did was hoist up ‘n’ unders – not rugby which I want to see winning the World Cup (unless it is Scotland obviously).

The 3rd/4th game was a bit of a surprise though – Argentina having stuffing France says they have to get into the Tri-Nations now. I know the argument is that all their players play in Europe so they should go into the 6 Nations but their fans aren’t here are they! Also, the Tri-Nations tales place after the Northern hemisphere domestic season ends so the players are all available.

Tune in tomorrow for my team of the tournament – only two positions left to decide on.

Friday, 19 October 2007

Moving On

It looks like my short stint in Tokyo is nearly at an end - I say short but of course this was supposed to be 2/3 months and is now nearly 6 months. Not that I'm complaining mind, this place is great – I defiantly think that it has displaced Toronto as my favourite city I’ve ever been to.

At the moment the provisional plan seems to be that I will fly out of here to New York on Friday 26th - curiously as I fly over the date line, although the flight lasts 12.5 hours, the time difference is 13 hours so I will actually land before I have taken off (if you see what I mean). This is still not set in stone but seems to be a lot more certain that any other previously suggested leaving date so we'll see.

I've started the NY office manager looking for a temporary flat for me and might have to think about starting to pack up soon (for those of you who have been reading from day one you might remember that I got stung pretty heavily for excess baggage on my flight here so that could be fun again).

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Tokyo: a damn big place

I hadn’t actually realised but Tokyo is actually the largest urban area in the world with more that 35 million people here. The next largest is Mexico city which is less than 20 million – a big difference. For reference New York comes in 4th at 18.6 million and London is 28th with 7.6 million - so Tokyo has almost 5 times as many people as London.

Now the figure of 35 million is arguably slightly misleading as that includes the suburbs as well such as Yokohama and Chiba which are cities in their own right - but still, it is all one urban mass.

When it comes to the city on its own, Tokyo comes in 10th at 8.1 million with the largest being Seoul at 10.2 million. Again, for reference, New York is 11th at 8 million and London is 15th with 7.1 million (so not nearly as big a difference there).

Off on a tangent, I see there is a new Killers track out and this website currently has an mp3 of it available for download.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Off the cuff

I haven't had to resort to writing one of these off the top of my head for a while and considering how hungover I am this could be interesting. I went out last night a couple of beers and some food with a colleague to the Ginza Lion Beer Hall - do you see where my problem might have started.

After a couple there we toured round various bars in Ginza basically made up of whichever would let us in (Ginza is a big Japanese only area for bars) trying to find Coyote Ugly which my colleague swore he had seen at the weekend. We eventually found it at about 1am only to be told we weren't getting in - probably a fair call from the staff at this point in the evening.

We must have taken a wrong turn on the way back to the hotel as we ended up on the wrong side of the train tracks but not to worry - we did find a bar which was filled with a lot of the hotel staff who had finished work. Having lived in the hotel for more than 5 months now I'm a known face so we joined then for a few beers. I think I left around 4am so am not on the best (or indeed any) form today. Roll on tomorrow.

Beware: Japanese people on bicycles

A I’ve alluded to before there really is virtually no crime here and everyone follows the rules or etiquette almost exactly – except in one instance, bikes. You have to keep your wits about you the whole time as they are flying along all over the place – on pavements, through lights the wrong way up on-way streets.

I checked and the rules seem to be the same as in the UK – i.e. on the road and follow the same laws as cars. Well pretty much no-one follows those rules here – they’d rather fly along the pavements trying to hit me!

Sunday, 14 October 2007

RWC (Week 6)

Bollocks to the World Cup – would someone just beat the sodding English so I can just enjoy the tournament. Still 36 – 0 in the group stages surely can’t be turned round…it better bloody not anyway.

Now, a word about scheduling – putting all the games on at 9pm in France is sod all use for anyone in, say, Japan (or NZ or Convictland). That makes kick off times here 4am and even later (or should that be earlier for the Antipodeans). Now I suspect that these are some of the bigger markets so would it really be so difficult to have the games on in the afternoon in France?

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Okonomiyaki (and Monja-yaki)

A couple of weeks ago I ended up in a little restaurant in Shinjuku which served Okonomiyaki (known as Japanese Pizza) – this is a mixture of flour, egg, cabbage and onion all mixed together with meat or fish sometimes added. The Okonomiyaki ingredients are served in a bowl for you to mix up and the tables in the restaurant have a hot plate built in for you to cook the dish. It ends up like a pancake sort of thing, only takes a couple of minutes and is damn good.

Monja-yaki is the same sort of thing but differs slightly in that it doesn’t form a pancake/pizza when cooked as the batter is much more water based. As a result the result isn’t a solid omelette/pancake like the Okonomiyaki and consequently takes a while to get through. Still good though but I’m not a big a fan as the Okonomiyaki.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Boots of beer

We visited the last of the Ty Harbour Brewery restaurants last week and it was again excellent. This one was actually at the brewery itself and the menu had 1ltr Boots of beer for sale…didn’t expect it to be in the shape of a boot though:

Before I go today, a couple of music downloads to send you off to: "I Ran" by A Flock Of Seagulls (trust me - even if the name means nothing to you you will know the song and its a classic); and Radiohead released their new album (In Rainbows) as a download only yesterday - the catch here being you can pay what you like for the download (i.e. from zero to however high you like). How much did I pay? Well, how moralistic am I in your eyes...

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Friday night continues...

…I don’t think I mentioned that Friday was the birthday of one of the girls working here and her choice (after the boat was abandoned) was to go to Geronimos as she had never been. She may not want to go back now as she had about 8 shots in about an hour and a half and was then escorted back to the hotel. Incidentally, I now owe a barman there ¥5,000 as I lost a bet that England would lose by more than Scotland over the weekend (neither of us were arguing that we either team would actually win). Anyway, three of us continued through Roppongi…but you’ve heard this story before and know the ending already so let me tell you about something different.

I was looking thought the concert listings for Tokyo yesterday afternoon and noticed that Hard-Fi were playing in Shibuya. After years of effort in London I had reached the point where I generally knew when all the bands I wanted to see were on, when the tickets went on sale and any presales so its rather annoying to be back to the start in a new city on that.

Anyway, having scrambled around for the afternoon it became clear that it was sold out and that if I wanted to go I would have to take my chanced with the touts outside. I arrived outside the venue (Club Womb) just before 6pm (just as the doors were due to open) to find nothing: no touts; no queue to get in; and the doors still closed. At 6pm exactly the doors opened and people began sedately arriving and walking straight in – all very different from going to a gig in London. I hung around for about 20 minutes before deciding that it was a lost cause and wandered off. Just another example of how different things work in Japan.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Booze cruise

As a change of pace for Friday night we found a boat with a bar which runs for 3 hours on the Sumida River (actually it does the same hour round trip 3 times).

Quite a good view of the Fuji TV building (with the miniature Statue of Liberty in front):

Being honest it was pretty dead on board with a bloke doing Elton John covers so it was knocked on the head after an hour and we headed to Roppongi…

RWC (Week 5)

If asked before the weekend what the best chance of an upset was I would have picked Scotland to beat Argentina and I'd like to think that isn't a biased view. I mean seriously, England shouldn't have been close to the Convicts on current form, France would surely only beat NZ by having one of those days that only France seem to have and Fiji were out of their depth against SA.

So lets go game by game:

Eng v Cons: Just being rubbish at scrums shouldn't lose you a match where you should be so far ahead in the backs and breakdown while being competitive in the lineout but apparently not - Fat Matt Dunning might be able to kick drop goals but he really can't scrum;

NZ v Fra: I suppose its not a huge shock and I have said all year that NZ were going to choke again although I did think it would be against SA in the final - still always funny to see NZ lose and especially to a forward pass (it was pointed out to me yesterday that it wouldn't have been forward in Super 14s anyway);

Fiji v SA: If Fiji had scored that try in the corner with ~15mins to play when it was 20 all I think they would have gone on to win it. Great performance as I had them down for a real hiding in this one; and

Sctd v Arg: Such a winnable game as Argentina did nothing all game other than play for territory - they never looked like scoring a try (and the one they did from the charge down was offside). Scotland only abandoned trying to play the territory game in the last 20 mins and the Argies looked tired then. We still don't recycle the ball quick enough and lost too many balls in contact but disappointing to lose a game that could have been won.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Tokyo lights

It is difficult to describe just how bright Tokyo is – every street is covered in neon signs and bright billboards from the ground to the top floor of every building. There really is no need for streetlights.

I’ve taken quite a few pictures when I’ve been out in the evenings to try and collect a few that do justice to just what it is like to walk around this place at night and these just about do the trick:

Geronimos. On a Tuesday. This can’t end well.

A useful rule I’ve discovered is that if you’re going out to dinner in Tokyo try and avoid a restaurant anywhere near Roppongi as you will probably end up in the bars afterwards. Further evidence, as if any was needed, of this occurred on Tuesday night after we had been to Bourbon Street restaurant (excellent food – we will be back).

Admittedly the move to Geronimos was due to me wanting to remonstrate about my plaque having been missed out in a rather more sober manner than I had tried last Saturday at 2am (it actually looks like the whole of July has been missed so I suspect I’m not the only one with a complaint).

Anyway, back on 26 June when I first wrote about this bar I mentioned anyone who hit the drum in the bar had to buy everyone in the bar a shot – there were only about 8 to 12 people in the bar all night so the three of us all hit the drum (at least once):

Each month there is a leaderboard showing the people who buy the most shots in a month (no idea what you win and no intention of finding out):

Anyway, by the end of the night we pooled our collective totals together and now sit 3rd on the leaderboard for the month (this was on the 2nd so I doubt we’ll survive the weekend). A late finish on a Tuesday is not the ideal start to a week.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Golden Gai

I was out in a different area of Tokyo early on Saturday night – my guide book recommended a small area in Shinjuku called “Golden Gai” which included loads of bars (although only a few apparently allow foreigners in). As I was only going out for a couple before going to sleep before the Scotland game I thought it would be a good night to check this place out.

Golden Gai, or golden district, is a patch of a land of roughly 2,000 square metres. In contrast to the adjacent Kabukicho's modern bars, strip joints and karaoke clubs, Golden Gai hosts ~200 bars (that comes out to less than 10m2 per bar after you account for the pavements) which are all crammed into these few streets. In reality these place fit about about a dozen people at most. Here’s the view down one of the streets:

There are probably 50 bars in that picture on the ground and first floors. A lot of the bars have their own themes and walking along one street I found one with a rugby ball stuck on the wall – I’d found my bar for the evening:

It was run by a Japanese guy called Ken who (although his English wasn’t much better than my Japanese) apparently used to play rugby and had loads of memorabilia all over the walls. I stayed in there discussing the World Cup with Ken and the other few people in the bar for the evening before heading off to bed at about 10pm (early starts you see).

Hopefully I’ll have time to go back to this area again and explore a few of the other bars in the next couple of weeks.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Japanese F1 Grand Prix

You may have noticed that the Japanese F1 Grand Prix was last weekend and it was being held at the Fuji Speedway which is not too far out of Tokyo. I had actually tried to get tickets but by the time I looked the cheapest “General Admission” tickets (~£80) were sold out and the next cheapest were (~£150). I don’t think F1 is a great spectator sport anyway (in fact I don’t thinks its much of a sport – until they somehow make it possible to overtake I won’t be tuning in) so I wasn’t keen on spending that much money. Also with the Scotland game on at 4am on Saturday night/Sunday morning it would have been tough to go on Sunday.

It was a lucky escape by all accounts as the weather here was terrible – probably the worst its been since I’ve been here (discounting the two tropical cyclones which have hit).

I meant to mention yesterday, how good is Nili Latu the Tongan captain and openside flanker. He is everywhere making tackles, wining turnovers and also popping up with the ball in hand – my player of the tournament by a long way. I looked him up and he seems to play NPC level in NZ but that’s it. If I was recruiting for a club in Europe he’d be top of my shopping list.