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Early in my stay at Tonjo's Foreign Faculty Building, I joked to Miho that I didn't want to end up as the main character of a Japanese tale, 「可哀相な外人の物語」, or "The Story of the Pitiable Foreigner". The thought had been prompted by my bedtime reading of a Japanese novel that had one of its main characters, sleeping alone in an old building, rather suddenly and unexpectedly introduced to a ghost to his room at night. At that point, as I looked out at the grove surrounding the large and otherwise deserted old building in which I was then sleeping alone, I had decided that light fiction was a better choice.

The yurei and obake of Tonjo ignored me, happily, but I felt that fever took me pretty close to "Pitable Foreigner" status, had I not been able to pull out of the dive for my last evening in Tokyo, merely scraping the tops of trees and getting bits of bird's nest in my cleavage.

I was particularly glad, because this was the day that Satomi, her mother and her friend Chiaki (who as luck would have it works in a kimono shop) were coming to do yukata-related things with me. Our original plan had been ambitious - to go to Kanda shrine and watch rakugo. Gradually, though, with the temperature being in the mid-30s, this was reduced to eating some nice desserts at my flat, then walking elegantly around the grounds of Tonjo drawing admiring glances from all who beheld us. Anyway, here are some of my favourite pics from the occasion. There are quite a few, but feel free to scroll past:

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Obi Wonky Maybe?

Of course, I only included that last photo so that I could use the caption.

Then it was on to Miho's place in Nakano, where my appetite returned on cue, and I had a wonderful meal cooked by her husband Hiroshi, a fine chef as I remember from last year. (Unfortunately, he wasn't feeling well himself, for much the same reasons as me before, and had to retire early.) Satoshi Kitamura, whom I'd met at the Mexican embassy, was another guest at supper, and we had a very good talk about the varying degrees of (in)directness one might expect in different cultures, which issued in the following Buzzfeedish joint declaration (apologies for the national stereotyping, but sake is no friend to fine distinctions):

If an American thinks it's a bad idea, they'll say, "That's a bad idea."
If an English person thinks it's a bad idea, they'll say, "That's a very brave suggestion."
If a Japanese person thinks its a bad idea, they'll say, "The weather's been hot, recently, hasn't it?"

We had drunk quite a bit of sake by that time. Afterwards we walked fifty yards to the local festival, the other reason for being yukata-clad. It's a small affair but a popular and traditional one: Miho reminisced how the sound of the festival music used to excite her when she was at primary school (she's a little older than me), and she'd run home to change, ready to dance. As is typical in such affairs - not that I'd seen one before in real life - a temporary tower had been built in the centre of an open space, with a small stage surrounding it. At the top, a taiko drummer accompanied a set of maybe half a dozen tunes (each of which had a different dance associated with it), which were basically played in rotation throughout the evening, and from the tower strings of lanterns radiated like filaments from a web. There were various food and drink stalls (though not goldfish scooping, sadly!) around the edge of the area. Some people were watching, some were dancing - the dance involving (whatever the tune) a slow, anti-clockwise circuit of the tower, done in conjunction with various combinations of arm gestures, claps, turns, and forward and backward steps. Not too hard to learn, if you've had enough sake, and I followed Miho and gave it a go. I am no dancer in any idiom, but I remembered the lyrics of the Awa Bon Odori:

The dancers are fools
The watchers are fools
Both are fools alike so
Why not dance?


This has been my motto throughout the trip, and to be honest it's not such a bad one for life.

If you want a flavour of the sound and movement of the thing, please click through to the video below:

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That marked the end of my Tokyo stay, and the next morning I boarded the shinkansen to Kanazawa in the west of the country, a town famed for fresh seafood, for the garden of Kenrokuen, and for putting gold leaf on so many things that it would make a rapper blush.

The first thing that fascinated me, though (because I am a Big Kid) was the fountain at the station, which was also at times a digital clock. Cool! (I'm sure they have these kinds of things elsewhere too, but I've not seen one.) The station itself is pretty impressive. This huge structure at its entrance seems new, and I suspect may have been erected to celebrate the arrival of the shinkansen line from Tokyo a couple of years ago, after which Kanazawa put itself on a no-holds-barred tourist footing.

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I'd put myself up at an air BnB for three nights in Kanazawa, to justify two nights at a proper ryokan in Takayama afterwards. It was my first Air BnB experience, and while it was nothing special nor was the price I paid for it. The room was pretty bare, but everything promised was present, and at least I had this as the view from my window:

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I have to say that, throughout the next few days, my energy and appetite, briefly resurgent for the Nakano matsuri, went back into abeyance, so I don't think I was able to do Kanazawa justice. However, I did put the miles in! First stop was the impressive fish market (which looked delicious but prompted no appetite in me at all, alas), followed by the castle park. Of course, no one knows whether samurai armour was originally modelled on the appearance of Japanese castles, or the other way round. What is certain is that in the feudal period, once two castles spotted each other they were apt to convert (much like the Transformers of our own day) into mechanised fighting machines of ferocious violence and battle it out until one of them was a flaming heap (which was then officially blamed on earthquakes). The sight so disconcerted the shogun that he ordered that castles should never be built within 4 ri of each other, an ordinance still in place today.

Actually, that may have been the fever writing. Interesting as Kanazawa Castle may be, it's actually less famous than the adjoining garden, Kenrokuen - so called because it's a park (en) containing six (roku) features (ken) thought notable - although I'm not sure which six they had in mind. I saw a lot more, personally. Even for someone with low energy levels it was a very pleasant place to walk around, and oddly reminiscent (in its penchant for sudden prospects, islands with "fake" temples, sinuous walks, water features, and commitment to "nature methodised"), to the kind of thing that was being done in English landscape gardening over the same period. (I wish I had the knowledge and vocabulary to expatiate on this.)

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Naturally, after wandering in the heat for a while, you want something to help you cool down. As I mentioned earlier, putting gold leaf in, or on, pretty much everything is a Kanazawa speciality. Want yourself a gold-leaf face mask? We've got you covered. Sweets or soap or sake with bits of gold leaf inside? Of course. Actually, why not just buy yourself an ice cream cornet covered in a single sheet of gold leaf?

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Oh, okay then.
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On Thursday evening I found myself with Miho and Mikako at the Mexican Embassy, which was hosting an event about Mexican-Japanese literary relations. This is not, to put it mildly, my area of expertise, but it sounded like an interesting gig, so with my credo of cultural omniverousness I went along. Most of the talks were in Spanish with Japanese translation, or Japanese with Spanish translation, which was an interesting challenge (I don't speak Spanish at all). The one exception was Satoshi Kitamura, once a long-term resident of England - you may remember Angry Arthur? - who, perhaps because he knew I was in the audience, kindly translated himself into English as well.

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From what I could make out through the dark glass of linguistic ignorance it was a good event, with some interesting stats, such as this one showing the huge imbalance between languages that have been translated into Japanese for children's books. (The columns represent English, German, French, Spanish, Italian and Chinese.)

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At dinner afterwards I happened to find myself next to Diana Wynne Jones's Japanese publisher, which made for a very stimulating conversation, particularly about titles. (Not only that, the following day I talked with DWJ's Japanese translator about the same subject.)

The 7th July is, as any fule kno, the festival of Tanabata. (Long story short, there were once two stars - let us call them Will and Lyra - who fell in love but were separated, and destined to be able to be with each other only for one day each year, this being that day: it has thus become a festival for lovers particularly.) This was to be a) my first festival in Japan and b) my first opportunity to wear my yukata. My friends Yoshiko and Hiroko had agreed to come with me, and indeed Yoshiko pointed out that her university was holding a Tanabata event, which included a free yukata-dressing service (even Japanese people don't find these things so easy!). Of course, I gratefully took up the offer, and so it was that I found myself on the 8th floor of Taisho University, in a room full of people being yukata'd up, having their hair put right, and so on, under the expert tuition of a group of (it seemed) professionals, two of whom immediately set their sights on me.

I don't suppose there can be any of us who hasn't fantasised at one time or another about being taken in hand by a pair of no-nonsense, Japanese ladies of middle age, and tucked, trimmed and twirled like a kokeshi doll, but I never thought it likely to happen in real life. After emerging from this experience I was passed on to a student to have my hair plaited and my decorative flower attached. The whole thing took, maybe, twenty minutes, and this was the result:

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Silk purses and sow's ears, and all that - I think they did a very good job with the material available.

Before the festival, a few of us slipped out for a meal of sake, raw fish and yakitori (yes there were also vegetables - but no, they were not boiled sprouts). In amongst the rest were a first for me, whale sashimi - something I was a little leery of for a number of reasons; but in a "When in Rome, everything comes with garum" spirit I gave it a go. I've got to say, it was really good! And - well, of course this shouldn't be surprising - far closer to beef than to tuna. (My mother has often mentioned the "Whale Steaks" served during wartime austerity as among the worst foods she's ever tasted, but I rather suspect they didn't know the best way to cook them at the Lyons Corner House, let alone prepare them as sashimi.)

The Tanabata celebration we went to afterwards took place at a local shrine - as you can see, it's a colourful event. We each wrote our prayers (mine in Japanese probably illegible to any but divine beings), and hung them with the rest, and shuffled off to bed (as you do in geta).

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The following day was the day of my lecture at the International Children's Library in Ueno, which is the children's section of the National Diet Library, the equivalent of the British Library. They sent a taxi to take me all the way from Tonjo to Ueno, about an hour's drive through central Tokyo. I was once again amazed at the decor of Japanese taxis, with their white crocheted (or tatted?) antimacassars, seemingly the product of a cottage industry run by a secret society of international, time-travelling Victorians. (I didn't take a photograph, but try this one for size.) The white gloves worn by the driver didn't faze me, for white gloves are to be seen in so many places in Japan, most obviously since I've been here by the people inside the election vans that drove though Tokyo in the run-up to the recent elections. Apparently the message on the loudspeaker was simply saying, in effect, "Vote for me!", but inside half a dozen white-gloved people (from a distance I suppose only their hands were visible) were smiling and waving, to add a human touch to what could otherwise come across as a rather hectoring message. Once, I was walking up a small side street when one of these vans passed me and a young woman hung out of the side of it, smiling and waving, and I admit that I was struck by her sincerity and, by extension, the economic soundness of the policies advocated by her party's representative. Still, "投票できない" I sadly informed her.

The library is a rather splendid building, and I was given a tour of it, the most exciting bit naturally being those parts the public doesn't get to see, namely the basement vaults, where you have walk across a very large fly-paper to get the dust off your shoes before you can enter. "We keep this at a constant temperature of 22 degrees," Ms Nakajima, my guide, informed me, "to preserve the books." I actually felt it to be a little cool for comfort, and congratulated my body on its ability to acclimatise. But, those whom the gods wish to destroy they first persuade that 22 degrees is a bit nippy, as I would later have cause to remember...

Ms Nakajima went on to tell me that they didn't keep manga - including things like Shounen Jump - at this branch of the library, but at the main branch in Nagacho, because manga wasn't thought of as essentially children's literature. However, they did have magazines for children and teenagers. Wondering exactly what this distinction amounted to, I took a volume at random from the shelf - a pink affair with the words "My Boy" written in English on the front and a picture of a rather beautiful young man. In fact, there seemed to be rather a lot of beautiful young men in evidence, and the volume fell open at a page at which one was depicted (in some detail) giving another oral sex. I'm still trying to get my head around a cataloguing system that classes this under children's literature but excludes One Piece. (According to Wikipedia, in 2009 62.9% of Shounen Jump readers were under the age of fourteen, just as a data point.) But all cataloguing systems have inherent contradictions, because the world's a contradictory place, as I have argued elsewhere...

My Boy was of course a work for fujoshi - mostly straight females who enjoy reading about male-male sex. Has anyone ever done a comparison between that demographic and the slash fiction phenomenon in the West? Probably - but if not, they should.

The lecture went well - and afterwards they sent me some pictures, in most of which I'm grimacing like Theresa May, but here's one that I feel sums up the actual spirit of the event far better, although you wouldn't get that there was quite a large audience. To my left sits Professor Hishida, who was acting as my interpreter:

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I got the taxi back, feeling strangely tired, but I put that down to nerves (not that I'd felt nervous, but perhaps my body knew better?), and stopped off at the little restaurant next to Tonjo called Paper Ban - odd name, but there you are - and ate a curry and rice topped with grilled cheese, a surprisingly satisfying combination. Then I went to bed at 9pm, feeling very tired....

... and slept feverishly for the next 12 hours.

At first, of course, I blamed the mosquitoes. Could it be malaria? Did it call for a G&T? But Dr Google said no, Japanese mosquitoes are malaria-free - so I tried to cure myself of hypochondria by rereading the first chapter of Three Men on a Boat, a worthwhile experience at any time, and reconciled myself to the fact that it was probably the heat, and constant mixing of heat with air-conditioned cold - the same thing that triggered my previous fever, four years ago in Boston (in the UK I never seem to be ill).

Anyway, I've been living with that fever for the last few days. It tends to hit in the evening (it's due just around now, in fact), sends me shivery, coughing and sans appetite to an early bed, and then releases me in the small hours, a little spacey and weak, but able to do some basic things. On Sunday, for example I was able make it to Kagurazaka for a lunch date with my internet friend Yuki (she's the one in the middle), though my appetite wasn't great:

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And on Monday for a lunch date with my other internet friend Yuka in Shibuya (I also have friends called Yako and Yoko, in case you're wondering). She'd come from Kobe specially, so I could hardly cancel - besides, I was really pleased to see her.

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And on Tuesday Miho's class came to my flat for tea, after a Q&A session:

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Me and my Crew

But I was not at my best for any of these events. And I had to cancel Tomoko, and decline invitations from Akira, Yasuko and Chie...

Yesterday I spent more quietly still, venturing only a short air-conditioned bus-ride to the cinema to watch the first film from Studio Ponoc, Mary and the Witch's Flower. If you haven't heard of Studio Ponoc it's run by a lot of ex-Ghibli staffers, and the director of this film is the Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who also directled Arrietty and When Marnie was There.

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Since this film too was based on an English children's book, Mary Stewart's The Little Broomstick (1971), I was curious to see what he'd done with the source material - especially since, compared with The Borrowers and When Marnie was There, the source is pretty slight. I was feeling quite good, though on the bus-ride I ran through the Crispin's day speech in my head and found my cheek wet with tears, which wasn't a good sign (though to be fair I'm easily moved to tears and that speech is a blinder).

I'd seen from the trailers that Mary and the Witch's Flower appeared to be set in England, which is what made it especially intriguing to me, the other two stories having been transposed to Japan. And it was indeed set there, although this is never mentioned. Even more specifically, the landscape looked just right for Shropshire, the book's setting. The house, the character's clothes, the street, all looked right - except, oddly for Peter, Mary's friend, who in the 1971 book is the vicar's son, but here appears (to my eye) to have wandered in from America:

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Genuine question: would you be surprised to see a rural Shropshire 12-year-old dressed this way?

Overall the film was in improvement on the book, I thought, though it did recycle an awful lot of Ghibli tropes. One interesting thing is that, while everyone spoke in Japanese (obviously), when they wrote, they wrote in English. I wonder what the reasoning is there? Is it somehow more implausible, or more illusion breaking, to be seen to write Japanese than to be heard to speak it?

I felt reasonably good after the film, to the extent of making a plan to visit Shakey's for a tentative pizza, and then the shop called "Snobbish Babies" on the fifth floor of the station. (What can they sell?) Alas, before I'd got very far into the pizza the shivers descended again and forced me homeward. So today I've been extra quiet, writing blog posts and doing other such harmless nonsenses, but this one has already gone on quite long enough, so I will leave you for now with a calming picture of some carefully packaged but hugely expensive, and no doubt very delicious, Japanese fruit.

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Yes, that mango really will cost you £9.50
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My feet and my legs below the knee have become an izakaya for mosquitoes. Every evening I hear their tiny whiny voices cry "Kampai!" and remark on the superior taste of imported blood. Meanwhile, the rest of my body - including my luscious, lily-white inner arms, which look very tasty even to me - they pointedly ignore, adding insult to injury. I'm afraid I have no compunction about killing them when I get the chance, although to find one's hands sprayed with blood and to realise that it is one's own is a strange experience, like suicide at one remove. Of course, John Donne was way ahead of me on that last thought:

But now I find his words proved true in me,
Except with a mosquito, not a flea.

I don't have too much to report about the first of my "big" lectures, which I gave on 4th July - an important date, as I pointed out, because of course it was the anniversary of Charles Dodgson's river trip with Alice Liddell and her sisters, which ultimately gave rise to Alice in Wonderland. It was a good way to mark the 155th anniversary of that august event, anyway, and it seemed to go down well. There was a full house, too - which is an index of the popularity of the subject (the image of Britain in Japanese anime) more than of me, naturally. I'm not exactly a household name here, though of course that could change.... Anyway, photographs were taken and I've been promised some, but so far I don't have them so I can't pester this blog's readers with them as yet. Round two happens on Saturday, when I'll be travelling to Ueno to give (more or less) the same lecture, but this time with the aid of an interpreter.

Tuesday night brought a typhoon, which seems to have done a fair amount of havoc-wreaking in Kyushu but left Tokyo unscathed, aside from several bucketloads of rain. There wasn't even any wind to speak of, and I'll admit to some disappointment, considering I was a typhoon virgin until then. The words "Was that it?" may have escaped my lips. That said, I was happy enough that it had passed by Wednesday morning, because that was the day I climbed aboard the "Romance Car" train, a bottle of green tea and a "Summer Mikan Pie" romantically in hand, to go to Odawara.

I was off to meet Yuuko, the mother of my friend Haruka, who is currently living in England and who has appeared in these pages from time to time over the last few months. She lives near Odawara, and the plan was for me to stay overnight - but not before a little touristing. (I would have met her father too, but he's on business in Thailand at the moment, sadly.) Suspiciously obsessive readers of this journal may remember that I went to Odawara once before, two years ago, on my way to Hakone. How much one's perspective is changed by a little time and familiarity! Whereas in 2015 I was mutely rebuked with a laminated sign for showing the wrong travel pass, this time I was met at the gate with a smile both broad and warm, and shown by Yuuko to her (rather plush) car instead, in which we took off towards Kamakura, one of a surprisingly large number of cities able to boast of being Japan's former capital.

While we're on our way there, let me just remark that Yuuko's car has an integral television (with many channels) in the dashboard. I was impressed, but isn't it rather distracting for the driver? That said, it gave me a chance to watch a fair amount of children's television, and to notice one big difference between Japanese and UK children's TV for the under-fives - namely that in Japan they use lots of actual children, often dressed bizarrely, rather than just adults (whether or not dressed as creatures made of felt). Their sets are full of three and four year olds wandering about, singing along haphazardly to a song, or trying to move in time to a stridently "genki" 2/4 tune. If the dashboard TV would have fallen foul of UK health-and-safety laws, what was being broadcast would have done the same with child labour laws, I imagine. But in fact, no one crashed the car, and the kids appeared to be having a good time.

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Here I am with Yuuko in Komachi-doori the main tourist street in Kamakura. As you can see, I've taken to carrying a parasol (higasa), which are common in Japan, and something I rather like, not much caring either for tans or sun cream. (I also have my sturdy brolly for those days when the tsuyu lives up to its name.) When and why did parasols fall from favour in Europe, I wonder? Monet and Seurat's ladies seem to have them, and very nice they look too. But I fear I'll be too embarrassed to carry on the custom back in the UK (where, admittedly, there is very little occasion for a parasol, but still).

After Komachi-doori we when to a nearby Buddhist temple and garden, where having wandered through a very impressive bamboo grove we sat and drank matcha while gazing at some carefully landscaped nature, along with a good many other tourists, and attempted to achieve enlightenment. Once again, I didn't quite manage it (so near but so far!), but the matcha and okashi were good, and it really was a beautiful garden...

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Back in Odawara - or rather the suburb of Odawara called Tomizu ("many waters" - and it's true there are streams a-plenty) - Yuuko showed me to her house. I was impressed by this three-storey edifice -

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- and even more so when I realised that behind it there was another three-storey edifice of similar size (it was a bit like this moment), which was to be mine for the night. And a very luxurious night it was. I'm a sucker for Japanese toilets, as readers of this journal will know, so let's have the toilet stand as a metonym for the rest. Not only does their toilet have the usual heated seats, inbuilt bidet, etc. - features about which I've become almost blasé - but the lid rises in a friendly but respectful salute as you approach, like a faithful family servant who's known you since childhood. More, when you sit down, you are instantly surrounded by the sounds of a spring glade, with birdsong, bubbling rills, etc. I need hardly add the paper was of a softness and tasteful design quite unlike that to be found in the Foreign Teachers' Faculty Building, or that there was inbuilt mood lighting to complete the effect. It was the kind of toilet, in short, that made you want to have diarrhoea just so that you could spend more time there.

Before leaving the house, I should mention the two family pets, toy dogs of an impossible cuteness, so small that when they bark their front legs lift slightly off the ground, as if they were electronic, and with large anime-eyes - but definitely warm and furry to the touch. With difficulty I resisted the urge to slip one into my luggage.

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That evening we went into Odawara, where we had a very good meal, after which we took the air in a place with a good view of Odawara Castle, probably the town's most famous building. It was indeed impressive, but my eye was inexorably drawn to a huge illuminated sign nearby reading: "カラオケ". I'd never in my life done karaoke, and it did seem an ideal chance - if Yuuko was willing to indulge me, which (being very nice) she was.

So, I can add my first karaoke session to the list of new experiences on this trip. Here I am, fuelled by iced coffee and enthusiasm, giving it everything for "Heart of Glass":

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Aren't you glad I've never worked out how to put audio in my posts? On the other hand, I wish I could have brought you the sounds that the frogs made from this rice field as we walked back to the house afterwards (it was dark by then, of course). The voices of Japanese frogs are quite different from British ones - something between a magpie and a fox's bark is the best way I can put it. It's slightly unnerving when you first hear it - but probably less so than me trying to sound like Debbie Harry.

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Now, with the rain falling steadily on a quiet Saturday, seems a good time to look back over the last few days and pull out a few choice plums for sharing. Tuesday and Wednesday were basically work days, spent largely on campus (though I did go to lunch with Satomi on Wednesday, and had my first Hamburg steak, which was pretty tasty, along with an "onsen egg", so called because it is cooked at a low temperature). The photograph has a rather unforgiving flash, though:

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My adventurous days were Monday and Friday, when I visited Seisen and Taisho universities to give talks and hang out with my friends Hiroko Sasada and Yoshiko Itou; and Thursday, when I went to the Ghibli museum in Mitaka City. Shall I describe Ghibli first?

One doesn't simply walk into the Ghibli Museum. On the contrary, you have to book way, way ahead. I bought my ticket online back in March, but Thursday was the day I cashed it this uncharacteristic bout of far-sightedness. Clutching this precious document and my passport - also required - I strolled the half hour from Toukyou Joshi Daigaku (which I've been calling "Toukyou Joshi Dai" for short, but turns out to be "Tonjo" for even shorter), in pleasant weather, through Kichijouji to the far side of Chuou line, where there is a zoo, a park, and other such amenities. Soon, I began to see enticing indications that the museum was nearby...

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And sure enough, it wasn't long before I found the place itself, frond-draped and intriguing...

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There was a short queue to get in, and I found myself waiting with a middle-aged woman from Aomori (on the northern tip of Honshu) who'd come to Tokyo - her first visit - especially to see the museum. We bonded over Ghibli love, and she took this nice picture of me with Totoro:

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Sadly, the inside parts of the museum couldn't be photographed, so you'll just have to believe me (but I see you already do) when I tell you it was wonderful. It's not a huge place, but spread over several floors, including a roof garden where you can meet one of those robots from Laputa:

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As well as permanent exhibits on the animation process and a little cinema where you can watch a short original cartoon about sumo-wrestling mice, there are rooms of books that Miyazaki has found inspirational (particularly interesting to me), a cat bus for younger children to play in, and (this year) an exhibition about food, which among other things alerted me to the many different ways which Ghibli characters handle their chopsticks: the little things say so much. The architecture of the place, as you can imagine, was amazing.

After a while, I repaired outside to the cafe, where I bought a "皆大好きハムサンド" ("Ham sandwich beloved of all") and a bottle of "Valley of the Winds Beer" - a name probably chosen with no intention of a double meaning, although it was pretty fizzy:

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So anyway, yeah - if you know three months ahead of time that you're going to be in Tokyo, I highly recommend getting yourself online and booking a ticket to the Ghibli museum. Tell them I sent you.

On Monday I went to Seisen, a Catholic university in Shinagawa, where I gave a lecture to the students of Hiroko Sasada, whom I met at ChLA in Ohio last year. Here I am in work mode:

At Seisen University

Seisen (like Tonjo) is a small university - actually rather smaller - but it too had a pleasant, slightly rural air, and an architectural style drawn from the early twentieth century:

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It was founded by a Spanish nun. Catholic statuary and symbols are still much in evidence, and Spanish teaching is taken very seriously, although I'm not sure whether there are many Christians among the staff or students. Anyway, I was treated very well, and the students heard my English-language lecture with the appearance of interest. I even managed to take some questions in Japanese afterwards, though rather stumblingly. Then Hiroko and one of her graduate students took me into a rather grand room for tea and okashi. Knowing that a Englishwoman was coming they had thoughtfully provided about ten different kinds of black tea; unfortunately I am one of those rare English people who only likes green tea, which had been omitted - the dangers of stereotyping! - but Hiroko soon made that good, and we had an interesting conversation, during which I learned of the existence of "Chibi Madoka Magica Chan" - apparently both a manga and anime. I long to see and read it.

Yesterday I headed north to Sugamo, workplace of my other ChLA chum, Yoshiko, to give the same lecture to her students at Taisho University. Hiroko came along too, because the three of us were planning to get together afterwards to relive old times over food and sake. Taisho is a much more obviously urban university, and the buildings (at least the ones I saw) are mostly modern, but there was a friendly vibe and the students were quite lively. I joined one of their self-directed seminars afterwards, where a Diana Wynne Jones fan among them was particularly keen to ask me questions. With considerable interpreting help from Yoshiko and Hiroko the whole session was pretty relaxed, although I'm not sure if I'll ever get used to everyone around a seminar table bowing to me as one. (Actually, on second thoughts I could definitely get used to it.)

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Yoshiko and Hiroko

I should just mention the tune played at the beginning and end of lessons at Taisho. At many Japanese schools and universities they signal the change of lesson with the Westminster chimes, but there are variants, and the Taisho tune - which is actually the university's own anthem, written by a well-known Japanese composer - is particularly striking. The end-of-lesson tune has a slightly sinister tone, as if Darth Vader were about to walk in and take over the whiteboard - I was actually a little startled the first time I heard it, in Yoshiko's office (where the three of us were enjoying soba and tempura bentos - a cut above UK university sandwiches!). The beginning-of-lesson tune is far gentler and somehow more uplifting. It started playing just as I was going into the toilet, and somehow made the whole experience feel like a solo in a romantic ballet. I've never washed my hands with such refined grace.

Sugamo (巣鴨) literally means "duck's nest", and the area's mascot is, accordingly, a duck, which was much in evidence when we went for a walk afterwards down the thoroughfare known officially as "Jizou Douri" (because of the Buddhist Jizou temple there).

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I say "officially", because unofficially this road - full of interesting, old fashioned shops - is "Obaachan no Harajuku" or "Harajuku for Grannies" (Harakuku being the super-trendy fashion district between Shinjuku and Shibuya). Although we barely did more than walk up and down it I really recommend this street, if you're Tokyo bound - and I'll certainly be going back myself. (Does that make me an obaachan? In spirit, undoubtedly.)

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During our short perambulation, we took advantage of no less than three ways to improve our health and spiritual wellbeing. First, we stopped in at the "Aka Pants" (red knickers) shop, which sells - well...

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But these aren't just tasteful underwear for the daring over-sixties - they also have a health benefit, releasing "chi" by the bucketload, although the English pamphlet I picked up does warn against wearing them at night, lest they cause "insomnia due to their stimulating effect":

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Second, at the Jizou temple, I took the opportunity to wash the Buddha's feet. Apparently the custom is to wash whatever part of the body is giving you pain, and since mosquitoes had given my feet a good chewing the night before that's what I went for:

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(And it's true that last night the mosquitoes, filled with religious awe, carefully avoided my feet altogether, as if they were a place of bad omen.)

If you see this sign, by the way, you will know to look out for begging Buddhist monks - who, the Jizou temple wants you to know, are nothing to do with them, and may not even be monks at all, the scallies!

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Finally, at the end of the street stands a several-times-life-size simulacrum of a duck's behind, along with a notice explaining that if you touch it gently you will die peacefully, with no need for personal care in your final weeks. With this inspiring message, as you can imagine, it has been worn down by the bony fingers of many an obaachan - and now also by ours.

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Having sorted out our chi, our bodies and our mortality, we went to a restaurant and got pleasantly drunk on sake. Rather than show you pictures of us bumping into things and falling over at the end of the evening I'll leave that scene to your imagination, uploading only a modest plate of sashimi moriawase, because it is almost as pretty as it was tasty.

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So far this diary has been a bit thin on mentions of actual people – but they do exist here in Japan, and I’ve been hanging out with quite a few of them, primarily Miho (who’s my sponsor here and has helped me in all sorts of ways), her assistant and student, Mikako, and her ex-student Satomi. (Satomi and Mikako I met two years ago at a conference in Worcester, which is how I came to have this Japan connection in the first place.) I haven’t yet had occasion to photograph any of them, but if you’re interested here are Mikako and Miho at Miho’s house last year, and here I am with Satomi earlier the same day, enjoying a hanami picnic. Natsukashii indeed – for now the rainy season has arrived in water as well as words, and I write this to the free-style jazz tom-tom of heavy rain bouncing into an avant-garde architectural feature from the mid-1920s. Reminiscing, as is proper in these conditions, I reflect on the vagaries of fate, which made a wayward railway ticket machine in Newcastle-upon-Tyne its instrument to bring me to Japan. For, had said machine not double-charged Satomi for a ticket to the conference in Worcester, I wouldn’t have helped her get a refund over the phone; she wouldn’t have mentioned me to Miho, Miho wouldn’t have discovered our shared research interests, and so on. (The refund came through, too, just six months later - which is the real miracle.)

Unlike my previous visits to Japan, this isn’t simply a tourist trip. For the first three weeks, at least, I’ve several jobs to get on with – so I suppose I won’t be blogging the days when I just sit in my room or Miho’s office preparing lectures or comparing The Borrowers with the UK and US dubs of Arrietty (my task of the moment). So far, I haven’t visited a single shrine or temple. Still, even ordinary life comes with its fair share of firsts. I’m enjoying listening to Japanese radio, and I’ve finally mastered the art of opening an onigiri with aplomb. Meanwhile, this is a view of my home as seen from Miho’s sixth-floor office:

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If you have a machete, feel free to hack your way through to my front door and say Hello!

On Saturday I made a trip to Shinjuku – only twenty minutes on the tube, but a world away, in the the privy chamber of Tokyo’s pumping heart. This was where I’d spent my first ever day in Japan, mostly getting lost in Shinjuku station (the world’s busiest, or so I’ve read). This time, as an old Japan hand, I only had to stop and ask directions twice before I found my way to the Keio Department store. I was there to have tea with Yasuka, whom I’d met at Clémentine Beauvais’s York conference back in May. We had a good chat (where I was pleased to find a natural occasion to slip in the expression “kuuki wo yomenai”, which I’d been dying to do for some time); but here I’d like to record a culinary first: kakigoori (or shaved ice). It’s very much a summer treat, so I’d not had the chance to eat it on my previous visits, which were in spring. I went for matcha flavour, tricked out with adzuki beans. Yummy to eye and tongue alike:

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(It has to be said that Yasuka’s choice was pretty lush, too.)

Yasuko Shirasu in Keio Depaato, 24 June 2017

Afterwards, I admired the hugely expensive clothes, kitchen appliances, etc., on Keio’s many floors, and played the “Irasshaimase!” game. You know those thrillers where people have to thread their way through a room without tripping any of the laser alarms (always coloured bright red for your convenience)? The “Irasshaimase!” game involves seeing how far you can walk through a Tokyo department store without triggering an "Irasshaimase!" from any of the assistants (“Irasshaimase!” being the welcome accorded, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, to any customer who strays into their field of vision). My record so far is 20 metres. I don’t really mind being greeted, but like many Westerners I’m never quite sure how (or whether) to respond. Should I ignore the smiling assistant entirely, as many Japanese seem to? It certainly appears to be going too far to say “Thank you” or “Hello”, unless you’re seriously considering taking the relationship to the next level and buying something. In between lies a sickly repertoire of half-smiles, half-nods, subliminal body-swivellings and other such awkwardnesses, the mastery of which my nation has made its own.

I worked most of Sunday, but in the afternoon declared “No more - I must abroad!” and, having got a taste for urban living, tubed me to Ikebukuro (literally “Pond Bag” – no, I don’t either). I was particularly interested to see the street known, so NHK World had informed me, as “Otome Road”, the female answer to Akihabara, where girl geeks gather to buy figurines, cosplay, check out the latest manga, and perhaps be treated like a princess at the Swallowtail Butler café (Otome Road’s equivalent to Akihabara’s maid cafes).

Advert for Swallowtail Cafe, Ikebukuro

Perhaps four o’clock on a rainy Sunday afternoon wasn’t the best time to visit this demi-monde, but Sunshine City was still busy despite the rain:

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(I like this couple the best.)

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Otome Road took some finding, even though I picked up a map (two, in fact – in English and Japanese) at the nearby Tourist Information, on which it was clearly marked. When I reached the area where I believed it to be there were, indeed, drifts of teenaged girls, all dressed to the nines (Lolita fashion was their key note), but no lively street of shops that accorded with my mental image of the trendy Otome Road. I asked a couple of the girls and got blank looks, and it was the same story with the assistant in the combini next door. Eventually, someone pointed me down a street that did indeed have some otaku-ish shops here and there along one side (the other side was just car parks and offices) – and that, it appears, was Otome Road; but it seemed awfully thin pickings, compared to what their male equivalents have in Akihabara. (I was later told that “Otome Road” [Young Woman Road] is the term used by male otaku, not by the otome themselves – which perhaps explains the blank looks.)

Eatery of the day: Brasserie Edible. I do admire an establishment that doesn’t oversell itself:

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Perhaps I should make some attempt to describe this campus. Toukyou Joshi Dai isn't a big university by the standards of the UK (it has about 3,000 students to Cardiff's 30,000, for example). It takes up what in American terms would be a block (if you're from Bristol, think of the zoo). That space has quite a few older buildings dotted around, like the one in which I'm living, some of which were apparently designed by a pupil of Frank Lloyd Wright with a taste for inverted dishes, as well as a few plate-glass jobs with offices and teaching rooms.

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This turns out to be purely decorative, and not after all a way of communicating with extra-terrestials

There's also a rather grand main building, with the Latin motto "QUAECUNQUE SUNT VERA" inscribed on the front. For this is a Christian foundation, as its English name (Tokyo Woman's Christian University) makes clear, even though the "Christian" bit is dropped in Japanese translation.

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There are trees (木), groves (林) and woods (森) (who said that kanji were hard to learn?), and although these come with matching mosquitoes I think it's well worth it. It certainly doesn't feel like the middle of one of the world's great metropoles. In some ways it resembles my idea of an American liberal arts college, although before you use this as a reliable reference you should remember that my ideas of American liberal arts colleges derive entirely from having read The Secret History and Tam Lin. Unlike a typical liberal arts college, this university appears (as far as I can tell) not to be a hub for ritual murder, whether inspired by Dionysian frenzy or the need to pay a tithe to hell, and as far as I'm concerned this is a plus. On the contrary, they take rather paternalistic care of their students, locking the gates at 11pm each evening (though nothing as extreme as the broken glass and razor wire I saw surrounding the female dorms in a Christian university in Taiwan a few years ago). Even I, when I leave the campus, have to hand my key over the guards (there are usually at least two) and pick it up again on my return - perhaps five minutes later, after a dash to the combini. I'm not sure what purpose is served by this requirement, but the guards are always very cheerful and polite, so I can't resent it.

The area is neither central Tokyo nor the suburbs, but a sweet spot somewhere in between. Turning left from the main gate the streets are quiet, with houses, family restaurants, antique and bookshops. There are people milling about, but no sense of city hustle, and more bicycles than cars. Here it is at about 7pm on my first evening, with dusk already falling in the abrupt Asian manner:

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In the other direction is fashionable Kichijouji, a far more bustling place, for shopping by day or eating by night. Here's where you need to go if you want to eat a curry doughnut, which I intend to do as soon as may be:

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On my first full day in Japan, though, I contented myself with buying a yukata and all the trimmings - something I've wanted for a long time. I placed myself in the hands of a very friendly department store assistant, and luckily it was one of those days when my Japanese was flowing pretty well (it varies greatly). She walked me through the process of putting on the underdress, the yukata itself, the obi, the geta (alas! my feet are so large that I had to get men's ones), and then set me up with accessories - a flower for the hair, and of course one of those terribly useful baskets.

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I hesitate to say how much all that cost, but suffice it to say that it sated my desire to shop for at least a day.

"They order these things better in Japan" Dept. A useful feature of Japanese supermarkets is that, rather than put the food into your shopping bags at the checkout, potentially holding up other customers as you do so, they provide tables where you can take your shopping basket/trolley after you've paid, and put things in bags at your leisure - rather like the tables in airport security where you can sort out your possessions after they've been through the scanner. A simple idea, but a good one - which I noticed only having held everyone up at the checkout putting things in bags, of course.

On the other hand, here at Toukyou Joshi Dai I seem to be a celebrity:

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Let's hope I live up to the billing.
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On the 21st the sun rose early (as one would expect on the solstice), but not as early as me, nor many other Bristolians, who were making pre-dawn departures in various directions. Some, I've no doubt, were heading east to Stonehenge, but a large contingent was going south to Glastonbury, and I encountered a good wodge of them in Bristol bus station, where special coaches were being laid on at regular intervals.

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As for me, I was off to Heathrow, though I did get to see the solstice sun rise in Wiltshire, admittedly over the M4 rather than the heel stone:

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The journey all went very smoothly. After some hairy experiences at Schiphol two years ago I'd been worried by the fact that I only had an hour to make my connection at Frankfurt, especially as it involved two different airlines (Lufthansa and All Nippon Airways), but the combination of German efficiency and, er, Japanese efficiency, meant that I needn't have worried.

On the plane from Frankfurt to Tokyo I found myself sitting between two middle-aged Japanese women, both of whom spent much of the next 11 hours in face masks, but who were to play a significant role in my journey.

I'd secretly been a little annoyed by the woman sitting to my right, because she closed the window just before take-off, depriving me of a view I always enjoy. Also, I remembered that you're meant to leave the windows open on take-off and landing, for the grisly reason that it helps recovery workers count the bodies in the event of a crash. I composed a Japanese sentence to this effect in my head, but hesitated to speak it, considering that it would be kind of snotty, however perfect the grammar, and that we were after all destined to be companions for quite a while.

She rose considerably in my estimation when I woke from a nap to find her absent from her seat. How had she escaped without waking me or my equally slumberous companion to the left? A minute later I had my answer, when she returned, removed her shoes, and clambered over both arm rests with the considerate dexterity of a service-industry ninja.

Then, about half hour from arrival, she became a friend for life by positively shaking me to point out a beautiful view of Mount Fuji.

Apart from one very distant blurry glimpse from a Tokyo high-rise last year, it was my first Fuji sighting, and it looked marvellous in the clear early-morning sun (for it was now 6am the next day, thanks to the magic of time zones), brown with an icing-sugar sprinkle of snow. Of course, I tried to take a picture with my crappy mobile phone, but captured nothing but a blur. Then I remembered that I'd bought a camera especially for the trip, and dug that out. Unfortunately I hadn't yet taught myself to use it, and my attempts were really no better than before. Eventually my kind companion suggested I photograph the picture she'd just taken with her iPhone. So here it is, my photograph of the next-door passenger's iPhone's photograph of Mount Fuji:

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Just like being there, isn't it? Hokusai would be proud.

As for my left-hand companion, she chatted politely with me, asking why I was coming to Japan, and so on, which was a good chance to give my Japanese a light workout. When I explained about the lectures I'd be giving in Tokyo she promised to tell her daughter, who was interested in anime - but added that her cousin (who was travelling on the same plane) happened to live in Kichijouji, near the university where I'd be staying, and would be happy to show me there when we landed.

So it was that I spent my first hour in Tokyo with left-hand companion and her cousin, the latter seeing me through the Tokyo tube in the rush-hour crush (no joke when you have two sizeable cases), all the way to the door of the university. She'd made a couple of remarks about looking forward to getting back to her Japanese life after her stay in Germany (her younger sister had married a German and even taken citizenship), so I thanked her for her "authentic Japanese hospitality" (本物の日本のおもてなし) - which I think pleased her, but was sincerely meant.

I spent the rest of that day meeting people, paying rent, registering at the library and getting online, and so on - more or less in a daze, for it was 24 hours since I'd had any sleep worth the name. I'll leave that aside for the moment - we will meet these actors again - and just give you a quick tour of my dwelling, the Foreign Faculty House, where I am sole resident. The outside I've already posted, but here it is again, in glorious colour:

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So far, the rainy season has consisted of bright sunshine and 29-degree heat, and my little patch of garden is alive with butterflies and dragonflies. A murder of crows has taken up lugubrious residence in a nearby grove.

Inside, I have a spacious and comfortable apartment, though rather oddly appointed. The building, being almost 100 years old, is in any case ancient by Japanese standards, with polished wooden floors on the landings to facilitate the swish of kimonos (not that kimonos do swish, but this is the obligatory word to use with female clothing of yore) and, I suppose, the clatter of geta. There is an ominous stairwell that leads up into a void, but from which, so far, nothing has issued. Anyway, here are a few shots of the inside, to give you a feel:

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Some of the facilities, though not quite coaeval with the house, have a distinctly retro vibe - but this makes me feel quite at home, my heart spending much of its time in the 1970s in any case.

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Japanese error in most urgent need of correction? Why, that would be my habit of pronouncing "Toukyou Joshi Dai" (the abbreviation everyone round here uses for the name of this university) as "Toukyou Dai Joshi", which translates rather unfortunately as "Tokyo Big Girls".

This must end.
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My daughter suggested I get highlights, and, intrigued by the process (all those bits of foil arranged elegrantly round one's head, as if one were a fashion-conscious conspiracy theorist!) I took her advice. It made much more difference than I was expecting: at first I was pleased with the change, then doubt began to creep in, and now I'm more or less back to liking it again.

Anyway, here is me bidding a lingering au revoir to Jessie's paws, while Ganesh looks on in the background:

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Next time I post it should be from Tokyo!
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I was hoping for a few days, after the end of semester marking madness, in which to relax and pack, ready for Japan, but stuff keeps coming at me from unexpected directions: an external marking package here, a PhD student's latest chapter there, a journal article to proofread somewhere else, and so on. I'm afraid to open my email now, because I really don't have any more wiggle room. I definitely shouldn't be writing this post, for example, short as it will be.

But I thought I'd share a picture of the building I'll be staying at in Tokyo - the Foreign Faculty Building of Tokyo Woman's Christian University. At least, I think this is the one:

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The ground floor is a Women's Study Centre, but the top floor is mine for three weeks, which is to say I'll be the only person living there. Until a few days ago I wasn't sure whether I'd just have a room and shared kitchen, etc., student-style, but it seems I get a self-contained apartment, which is very nice.

I'll give a tour when I get there. As on my previous Japanese trips, I intend to blog this one fairly assiduously: since it's not quite a such a tourist affair this time there may be a little less prettiness to show, but I'm sure that staying in a work environment will have its own points of interest...

My visit coincides exactly with the rainy season (tsuyu, 梅雨), which isn't ideal but at least offers poetic possibilities for an LJ tag.
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I'm sure this point has been made elsewhere, but since everyone from Eric Pickles to the Daily Mail (and even some Labour supporters) have taken to describing the pledge to abolish university tuition fees for English students as a "bribe", I'd just like to point out that, if you want to look at it that way, corporation tax cuts are a bribe, as are the triple lock on pensions, with free TV licences, bus passes, winter fuel payments, free prescriptions, etc etc. And the NHS, of course. Why get all hoity toity about it only when the young are beneficiaries? It smacks doubly of hypocrisy when most of the people flinging this word about were the beneficiaries of free university education themselves. (I've yet to hear of any of them offering to pay the money back.)

"Bribe" is the wrong word to use in all these cases. Free education is a recognition that we all benefit from having an educated population; the NHS is a recognition that we all benefit from having a healthy population; those who advocate tax breaks do so (in most cases) because they think it will benefit the economy generally. This isn't bribery, just enlightened self-interest.

You might even think of it as paying forward some of the benefits (bribes, if you will) that you received. Or do you think your parents were profligate fools when they bribed you for your love with food, shelter, money, toys? I've no patience with that view of the world, especially when it's so selectively applied.

Tangentially (as I noted on FB the other day), Greg Mulholland's father was on Any Answers on Saturday, arguing that students should be registered to vote in their parents' constituencies rather than the university towns where they live. That way, they won't be able to gang up on poor Tory and Lib Dem candidates like Sir Julian Brazier and, er, Greg Mulholland. Hilariously, he began by saying how much he welcomed the fact that the young had decided to vote this time. He just wants to make sure that their vote won't count.
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I mentioned on Facebook the other week that one of my pet marking peeves this year (they operate on a strict rotation basis) is the habit of saying "it could be argued that X", rather than simply "X". It always strikes me as evasive, a way of saying "I'm going to float an idea, and if you agree with it I'll take the credit, but if you don't then I wasn't advocating it, okay?"

Thanks to [profile] stormdog I just saw the perfect illustration of this tactic, although not using that exact phrase, from Nigel Farage - who I bet scattered "It could be argued that" all over his school essays. It's in this article about the reaction to the London bombings on Fox News. Were internment camps a good way to go, mused the incisive analysts of Fox? (For the benefit of those reading outside the UK, no mainstream British politician - by which for this purpose I mean a politician from a party with more MPs than zero - has suggested it.)

Who better to ask than Nigel Farage? Like one of my bet-hedging students (Farage was a professional bet-hedger when he worked in the City, trading commodities, and the instinct is still strong) Farage doesn't call for internment. He says (of people on police watch lists) "if there is not action, then the calls for internment will grow" and, "unless we see the government getting tough, you will see public calls for those 3,000 to be arrested".

Did he just call for internment? Of course not - how dare you suggest such a thing! He was merely acting as a commentator! (Unless it happens, and then he'll be able to say he was brave enough to float the idea.)

And then of course, along comes Katie Hopkins of the Daily Heil like the organ-grinder's monkey, repeating his sentiment but minus the hedge, proving Farage's words true in the process: “We do need internment camps.” What a double act!

A few people on Facebook were bemused by my dislike of "It could be argued that", implying that it was perhaps a bit over the top. This is why I try to drum into people that it's a cowardly and dishonest tactic, whether you're talking about the date of a sonnet or the best reaction to an atrocity.

Nigel Farage uses it, for heaven's sake!
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I was always fascinated by the story of Herostratus, the young man who is said to have destroyed the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, just so that his name would go down in history. Well, he got his wish.

I wonder how easy it would have been to destroy a large (110x55m) temple, without explosives or even paraffin? Weren't those things made of stone? It's actually quite an impressive feat, in its way.

The online Encyclopædia Britannica refers to Herostratus as a "madman", which seems harsh. At least, it's a very common form of madness - the last infirmity of noble mind, as Milton put it. And at least Herostratus didn't kill anyone, unlike Alexander the Great, who was born the day the temple burned and was clearly driven by similar motives, at least to judge by the number of cities he named after himself.
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While breakfasting with friends at Betty's in York a fortnight ago, I mentioned that I was wary of predicting the result of the French presidential election (which was happening that day), since I was worried that Trump's win had been precipitated by my privately expecting it to happen.

Clémentine Beauvais remarked that it was rather splendid to say something so equally composed of narcissism and paranoia, and I have to admit she had a point. But isn't that a familiar combination in our times? Anyway, taking that hint (and another from "Porphyria's Lover") this poem came to me as I was wandering back from town this afternoon, a bag of marked essays at my back.


And so, Mark Zuckerberg, we are alone.

My last four Facebook posts have gained
No likes at all – although, in point of wit,
And weight, and power to shock, they should
Have gone as viral as the Spanish flu.

How could this be, I mused? Am I perhaps
Too dangerous now? My insights honed too sharp?
Have the Illuminati moved to hide
Me from all timelines, fearing my quick tongue?

At last I understand. Mark, it was you.
You made this private room on Sugar Mountain
Just for two; built Facebook walls around us.
Speak! I am waiting! What would’st thou ask of me?
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Japanese words often have a wide range of meanings. For example, there's ataru (当たる): I've cut and pasted this from my flashcard program (Memrise - I recommend it). I could have inserted punctuation in the relevant places, but I think the effect is conveyed more feelingly without it:

ataru = to be hit
to lash out at to be affixed to apply to to be a hit to be afflicted to be selected (in a lottery, etc.) (in baseball) to be hitting well (of fruit, etc.) to be bruised to be equivalent to to lie (in the direction of) to undertake to be applicable to be assigned to face to go well to be successful to be stricken (by food poisoning, heat, etc.) to be on a hitting streak to be in contact to confront to be right on the money (of a prediction, criticism, etc.) to treat (esp. harshly) to be unnecessary to be called upon (by the teacher) to touch to spoil to win to strike to check (i.e. by comparison) to probe into (in fishing) to feel a bite to shave to feel (something) out


I especially like words where the meanings include ones that are antonyms or (better still) near antonyms of each other, such as hitting and being hit, or to be successful and to be stricken. Of course, it sends my mind back to English, which has no shortage of similar artefacts, even in this semantic area. To be touched or struck could be a good or disastrous thing, depending largely on who's doing the touching - a god, the heat, elves (as in elf-stroke), genius.

As ever, a big part of the appeal of learning Japanese (and no doubt any language) is to make oneself more aware of the peculiarities of one's own word-weathered mind, carved as it is into eccentric peaks and whorls by the constant swirl of linguistic currents.

The other day, I imagined (or remembered?) an Addams Family cartoon in which Morticia is discovered sprinkling dust over the furniture, and responds to an enquiry, "Oh, I'm just doing the dusting". "To dust" is one of my favourite auto-antonyms, perhaps because it's such a simple-looking, common word. Who cares whether "cleave" means the opposite of itself, when we don't often use it in either sense? But dust? That gets under one's skin.
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My friend Chiho told me a story today about how she'd gone with her mother recently to watch Deep Water Horizon at the cinema. During a sequence with a lot of explosions, an earthquake happened to strike Kagoshima (4 on the Richter Scale, which isn't so unusual, but certainly feelable). Afterwards she mentioned the earthquake to her mother, who was surprised, and said, "I just assumed the film was in 4DX!"

It made me laugh - and only afterwards did I realise that I hadn't even been thinking about the fact that she was speaking Japanese. I count this as progress.

This is as an aide memoire. When I visit the places in Japan that have been inspired by Britain (detailed in this recent post), as I surely will, I mustn't forget to include these two additions to my list:

a) Brockhampton Church. Brockhampton is a village in Herefordshire, with a nice Arts-and-Crafts-inspired Church. But it's also (copied at full scale) a place you can get married on the 20th floor of an Osaka hotel.

b) At least they left the original Brockhampton Church in situ. Not so with "Lockheart Castle" (formerly Lockhart House, near Edinburgh) which in the 1990s was transplanted stone by stone from Scotland to Gunma Prefecture and re-erected, much as that American bloke did with London Bridge back in the 1960s. The new Lockheart Castle has been rebranded as a paradise for lovers, although it also hosts a museum of Santa Clauses. Obviously.
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One hundred and one years ago my curate great-grandfather preached a sermon in Esperanto at the church of Holy Trinity, Goodramgate, York, on the occasion of the British Esperanto Congress being held in the city. When I lived in York in the 1980s I often visited the church, loving the old box pews (as who couldn't?), but at that time I didn't know about Thomas Robinson Butler's performance. Yesterday, however, in the wake of a conference organised by the talented and delightful Clementine Beauvais, I visited with her and Maria Nikolajeva, and photographed what was, I assume, the very pulpit:

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Meanwhile, here are Clementine (l) and Maria (r), as seen through the church's hagioscope:

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Tonight I'm staying with Farah and Edward in Stoke-on-Trent, which really ought to be the occasion to visit the Esperanto Association's Butler Library, named after Thomas's son, my grandfather and housed at nearby Barlaston. But, alas, Wolverhampton calls and I must take the morning train. Bonan nokton, ĉiuj!
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In recent months, as I've mentioned here a couple of times I think, I've taken to working at Coffee #1 on the Gloucester Rd. I like their green tea, and I've got to that stage now where they reach for it when they see me come through the door. That's good in a way, of course, but it occurred to me that I might be becoming predictable, and a while ago I said jokingly to the woman behind the counter, "I ought to have a catchphrase - like, 'Tea me up, Scotty!'"

To my surprise, she found this weak quip highly amusing, and in subsequent weeks I felt honour bound to quote it whenever she happened to be serving. After a while, though, for the sake of my sanity I thought I ought to vary it. "Greet me with green tea" worked for a short while; "The green, green tea of home" was even more ephemeral. I've been through quite a few phrases now, and it's getting desperate. I've got "A green thought in a green shade" saved up for next time, but I worry that eventually I'll run out of mildly amusing ways to order a pot of Jade Tips. Then I'll have no choice but to switch to Rooibos. The horror!

* * *


Obviously I can't help overhearing the people who sit next to me while I'm working at the cafe. It's not that I'm listening in, not at all.

So, today it was a man of about 35 and his 9- or 10-year-old daughter. I was drafting my Annual Performance Review document on a laptop a couple of feet away, but absorbing as that activity was I couldn't help but be struck by her loud claim to be able to "predict the past".

Dad, naturally, plodded out a few clichés about the unidirectionality of time, the meanings of Latin prefixes, and so on. (By this point I was trying to find a way to say how wonderful my teaching has been without sounding boastful - no easy task, as I've recently had occasion to observe.)

Finally, the father said in exasperation: "I refuse to believe that you have access to a non-linear, atemporal mode of being!" His daughter stared back mulishly across her babyccino. Relenting, he added: "Anyway, what do you want for supper? And don't say cheese and pasta!"

"Pasta and cheese," she replied.

Touché.
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I don't believe in posting just because a) you haven't for a few days and/or b) something important has happened that you feel you "ought" to comment on. Nevertheless, that's what I'm doing - partly as a data point so that I can remind my future self what I was thinking now.

So, I think this is obvious and dull, but here goes. The most striking thing about Theresa May's announcement of the election the other day wasn't the fact that it was a U-turn on all her previous promises not to hold one; nor that she rather ridiculously talked about "strong, stable government", stealing a line from David Cameron, Britain's most chaotic Prime Minister ever; nor was it even... Oh, but I think this could turn into a very long list, so I'll refer you to point-by-point analysis and cut to the chase.

The most striking thing was the way in which May evidently regards any effective Parliamentary oversight of the Government's actions as an unjustified infringement on the prerogatives of the executive. Far from opposing her at every turn, Parliament has in fact been extraordinarily accommodating, letting her Brexit bill pass with a three-line Opposition whip in support, and no amendments from the Lords. How much easier could they have made it? For May, however, even having to go to Parliament was an indignity, and she wasted a lot of taxpayer's money trying to avoid it.

I can't help wondering whether Erdogan's victory in Turkey wasn't more of a spur than the invigorating air of Snowdonia in inspiring her to go to the polls, asking for a majority that would effectively free her from democratic scrutiny. Okay, it's not quite being made President-for-life (even Trump has fought shy of that so far), but like Erdogan and Trump, May has that dangerous combination of entitlement and paranoia that makes any criticism, or even any constitutional check or balance, appear illegitimate, whether that be a federal judge daring to do his job in Hawaii, or a Parliamentary opposition doing its job in Westminster.

She's a very stiff-necked person, I think, when what we need right now is an Olympic gymnast. (I'm not saying Corbyn's that, but he can at least manage a forward roll.)

Back in the bubble, why does the Guardian think "Brenda from Bristol" requires subtitles when none of the other people in this clip do?
steepholm: (tree_face)
It's odd, isn't it? Every time LJ does something stupid (and it does), people talk about how it's the end of the platform, and they're high-tailing it off to Dreamwidth, or wherever. Sometimes they go, sometimes they stay.

By contrast, since I've been on Facebook it's been clusterfuck after clusterfuck. The arrangement of newsfeeds, privacy settings, how adverts are placed, what names people are allowed to use, all these things are regularly interfered with without warning or apparent justification, other than the whim of Zuckerberg. Imagine if LJ decided that pictures of breastfeeding mothers weren't allowed! There'd be more flouncing than in a Victorian haberdasher's. Yet FB gets away with all this and more (as well as being a vastly inferior platform in terms of threading, linking, etc.), without - well, I wouldn't say without a grumble, but certainly without a mass exodus to MySpace. Strange, n'est-ce pas?
steepholm: (tree_face)
I spent this weekend in the Gower peninsula, taking part in a magical weekend - my first in two years (last year having been taken up with other matters). Of course, it's in the nature of the beast that I shouldn't go into details about our Dreadful Rites, but I can at least share some photos (albeit taken with a very poor phone camera) from the archaeological part of the adventure.

Over Sea, Under Stone )

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