Moore Than This

"Here we are living in paradise, living in luxury..."

Thursday, June 29, 2006

My Second-Last Day

Last night I went out with some Australian and Japanese students for a few drinks at an izakaya. Which turned into a few drinks and karaoke afterwards. Great fun, and reminds me that karaoke should also get a mention in the previous post. It's hard to believe that by tomorrow I'll be back in the U.K. Still, it's been an amazing nine months.

I will continue to keep an eye on Japan, blog on any news or issues about it that I find interesting, and of course carry on learning the language. For than anything else, the year abroad has reminded me of why I'm interested in Japan. That's definitely going to help with the remainder of my degree. And after that, I'd like to come back here. While my interest has widened to other countries in Asia over the course of this year, I'm pretty sure that Japan will always hold a special place in my heart.

UPDATE: This post from Adamu at Mutant Frog looks back at his experience in Japan. A good read, and sort of says what I was trying to say.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Things I will miss about Japan

Partly inspired by Feitclub and quasi's lists of things they would/will miss about Japan, here's a selection of things that make me very sad to be saying goodbye:


Top of the list, as it should be. Before I came, some aspects of Japanese food, such as azuki bean paste, I remembered with trepidation from my last trip. Over the course of this year, I've become a fan of all of them - except natto. Ramen, okonomiyaki, sushi, shabu-shabu, yakisoba - not only are they all delicious, but most are pretty healthy as well. I honestly don't know how I'll get by at home without them. Also, my time in Japan has introduced me to Korean food, which is so good that I resolved to travel to Seoul to try the real thing.

Urban Life

hanami 045

Because I live in a small town with not a lot going on, I enjoy going into Osaka or Kyoto. Osaka definitely has the edge in big-city atmosphere, and I enjoy wandering around Umeda, Shinsaibashi, Namba or Tsuruhashi, experiencing the crowds, the bustle, the crazy arrays of neon lights, and the many opportunities for fun.

Kansai Manners

As I fond out, people from the Kansai region behave quite differently to the traditional view of Japanese people. They're often upfront, direct and pretty in-your-face, which makes for fun conversations. Osaka is renowned for its contribution to Japanese comedy - many comedians on TV speak in Kansai dialect - and you can see some of that humour in how Kansai residents go about their business.


I've written a few times before about how much I like Japan's hot springs and public bath houses. They are a fantastic way to relax, and although they're better in winter, I've enjoyed them in all seasons. Although your fellow patrons (at least in the male side) will be on the old side, I have no problem with public nudity. Unless it's done by other people, in which case it's disgusting.

Public transport

train arriving

I've done a fair bit of travelling while I've been here, mostly thanks to the cheapness and convenience of public transport over here. In particular, Japan's widespread rail network is very friendly to the student traveller. I've gone by shinkansen three times for some long journeys, but for others, such as trips to Ise and Toba, we took a local train and got amazing views of the Japanese countryside as we trundled through.


danjiri action shot

Just as festivals across Europe provide an intruiging glimpse back into our pagan history, Japan's traditional festivals let you look past the usually formal, buttoned-up view of Japanese society. There are family groups, tourists, stalls selling all kinds of food, and usually groups of middle-aged men in traditional happi-coats, who look like they've been drinking heavily all day. At the Kishiwada Danjiri matsuri, which I went to last September, these men were in charge of pulling large floats, or danjiri, round corners at breakneck speed (see above). Nobody died last year, which according to some people was unusual.


On the occasions when the TVs in Seminar House 4 weren't being used by clueless Americans to watch CNN or the Discovery Channel, I loved checking out Japanese TV. Sure, it's renowned for its craziness, and rightly so. But you can also learn quite a lot from it, mostly thanks to NHK, Japan's public broadcasting service, which is second only to the BBC in terms of size. I remember watching a Japanese sign-language program on one of NHK's channels, at prime time on a Saturday evening. I can't think of any other network in the world that would give such a prominent slot to that kind of programming.

My fellow gaijin (and Japanese friends)

group shot, ise

Over the course of this year, I think the greatest help to me has come from the other international students. We were pretty much all in the same boat, and apart from a few exceptions, snobbery over language ability or knowledge about Japan never reared its head. Along with the Japanese friends we made, they were the best support network for finding yourself in a strange country that I can imagine. Together we explored Japan, from remote countryside shrines to city-centre bars, learning about Japan, our own countries and ourselves. It's been brilliant.


Saturday, June 24, 2006


Seoul was rather nice. I'd been thinking about going for a while, but I decided on it when in the last days of living in Seminar House I found a Lonely Planet guidebook to Korea that someone had thrown out. As good as handing me a free ticket there, IMO. I spent three days mostly walking around, visiting tourist sites and snapping pictures. A lot of memories stuck with me:

A park full of old geezers doing karaoke with portable machines in the open air at sundown. Street stalls galore selling food and alcohol. Drunken boisterous groups of middle-aged men in the street. On a Tuesday. The hugely impressive great city gates (photos to come). Branches of Dunkin' Donuts everywhere. Team Korea football merchandise everywhere. The Gyeongbokgung palace - more impressiveness. The amazing amount of stuff for sale at Namdaemun market, including a load of stuff that was obviously taken off the U.S. military base. Seeing people stretched out on park benches in the early evening, taking naps. A bunch of middle-aged Korean guys in military uniform putting up banners outside Seoul Station (I found out later from a news report that they were veterans protesting against the missile test by the North). The Cheonggyechoen river at night - it used to be really polluted, but after a huge clean-up operation is now a nice spot in the heart of the city, full of courting couples at night. It made me think about the approach in Japan - most rivers there are artificial concrete channels, just like the Cheongyecheon, but it at least in Seoul they make an effort to make it look nice.

All in all, a nice trip. Next time I go, it'll be for longer, and I'll make more of an effort to explore the rest of the country. From what I've seen of Korea's natural features, it's just far too beautiful to just visit once.

Oh yes, enjoy my photos.


Monday, June 19, 2006

Fukuoka: Part the Second

After the antics of the previous night, I managed to escape from my hotel at the exact check-out time. Unfortunately I didn't get to shower. So, what do you think I did? Walked around dirty all day? Ha! You don't know Jim Moore.

I took the train down to Futsukaichi, a small town with an onsen complex, and had a nice relaxing soak. As in most of these places, the clientele were mainly old men, with the less-than-ideal sights that entails. Still, it comes with the territory. It's not like I was expecting Jessica Alba or anything (though that would be a nice surprise).

After I got back I explored Canal City, the river (see above) and Tenjin a bit more, and before I met up with my Leeds friends again, checked into a capsule hotel. I had it down as one of those things I might as well do while in Japan, and this one seemed a little better than most - it had an open-air bath on the roof. Yes, on the roof. Who cares about sleeping in a pod - there are four-star hotels that don't do that sort of thing! I changed into the yukata-style nightwear they left out for guests, had a shower and quick dip in the public bath, and headed out on the subway to meeet my friends. (BTW, if you think I'm showering/washing/bathing too much, try spending a fairly active day in Japan in mid-summer. You will not believe how much you can sweat.)

I got a tour of Fukuoka University campus, during which I somehow managed to not spend every second pointing out things that were better at Gaidai. They've got a Mos Burger on campus, but we have a Seattle's Best Coffee. Despite my almost bankrupting myself last semester with coffeee, I still wouldn't care to trade. Anyway, they took me out to a little place off campus, where we had ramen. Fukuoka is actually famous for this king of foods, and there are many little mobile stalls, called yatai, selling it around town. I wandered past a few of these in the early afternoon, and they were just starting to prepare the ingedients. There were enormous hunks of pork bones laid out for making the broth - so big I could actually tell which part of the pig they came from. Being a carnivore is fun.

All in all, Day 2 was pretty chilled, but I had a nice evening. I'm heading off to Seoul tomorrow. It's all been a bit last minute, but it should be fun, barring those pesky North Koreans. Someone should tell them to play nice.

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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Fukuoka: Part the First

So, on Thursday I went down to Fukuoka on the shinkansen. It was raining in Osaka, and all across the area of western Japan we tore through in the morning. Arriving at Hakata station, though, the sun was shining. Hah! Moore - 1, weather - 0.

I dumped my stuff in the hotel, then met up with Jake and the other Leeds people studying at Fukuoka. I got a miniature guided tour of the city, wandering through the Canal City development, across the river and up to Tenjin, the big shopping/partying centre. I was struck by how small it all seemed after Osaka, but that wasn't necessarily such a bad thing. It was nice to be in a city where "the centre" was something you could cross on foot.

A rough trajectory of the evening follows:

- We see a animation show on the top floor on a bookshop, by an outfit that do short films of oddly-done jungle animals. They are giving away free badges on the way out. I grab a few for presents.

- We sit outside a conveience store where one of the girls says she's going to look for "HedgeCat". I assume this is someone she knows, as she uses nicknames for everybody (real quote from her: "I'm not worried about MaxiHat anymore, because now I have MiniHat.") Turns out HedgeCat is a real cat, who lives by the store. For a stray cat, he looks remarkably healthy. We pet him for a bit, before he takes offence to me, hisses and runs off. He must be able to tell a Kansai resident from a Fukuoka one.

- We go to an izakaya (Japanese pub-style place). When ordering drinks, I ask for a "big beer" and am brought something the aproximate size of a rain-water butt. I drink it dry and ask for another. Finally, a place that knows my tastes and does its best to accommodate them.

- We go to an amusement arcade. The girls try a game where you throw balls at a screen to zap various things threatening cute characters. The game is called "GASHaaaaan!" which makes me laugh out loud. The guys go for "House of the Dead 4". I mow down crowds of zombies in a tube station, an experience which brings back traumatic memories of rush-hour Osaka and Tokyo. We meet back up, and have all have a go at the ball-throwing game together.

- We head upstairs to go bowling. As I haven't gone bowling in over a year (and I was rubbish back then) I'm not looking forward to this. We talk about the low-rent bowling alley near Morrisons' back in Leeds, and how my old flatmate from last year stole a pair of bowling shoes from there to wear in clubs and other places with "formal" dress-codes. I am surprisingly good at bowling, even though Jake tells me I strike a "Spiderman" pose at one point. I explain that I was bitten by a radioactive bowling ball.*

*(I actually didn't. But it would have been funny as hell if I'd thought of it at the time.)

- We go to a club called Happy Cock (yes, really) to have a few drinks and watch the England-Trinidad and Tobago match. Because we get there super-early, we get wristbands which mean we can drink all we want for 1000 yen. I pronounce this the greatest thing ever, and immediately get a drink to celebrate.

- The dancefloor is filling with Japanese people in b-boy clothing. They look like the breakdancers who practice in Hirakata train station, and throw shapes at each other in a hilarious "You Got Served" style. Jake tells me that they are members of the Fukuoka University breakdancing club. I tell him that I "could do better than that." He motions to me to go ahead.

- The dancefloor has turned into a circle of breakdancers, who take turns performing jaw-dropping moves in the middle. Jake asks if I'd like to try and do better. The circle breaks up temporarily, and I step to the dancefloor and tear it up for a bit. They don't ask me to join their crew, but I think I earned their respect. Now all I have to do is beat a Japanese person at Dance Dance Revolution, and I will have something to legitimately boast about.

- Jake introduces me to two friends of his, who happen to be hot Japanese girls. I try to think of things to say to them, and realise my level of drunkenness has gone right past "Language ability magically improves" and into "Language ability goes straight to hell." I must be more drunk than I thought. This is confirmed when one of them asks me to go up and get a drink. Let's break this down a minute:

Normal thought process:
Hot girls suddenly interested in me + lack of nomihodai wristbands + request to buy drinks for them = manipulating whores using me to get alcohol
My drunken thought process at the time:
Hot girls suddenly interested in me + lack of nomihodai wristbands + request to buy drinks for them = Wow, I'm such a stud. I'd better get them a drink.

- Having got what they wanted, the girls proceed to ignore me. I am angry beyond measure. Charging up to the bar to get a drink for myself, the following conversation takes place in my head:
"Dude, you've been drinking a lot. Don't you think you should slow down, get some water in between?"
"Well, they are cocktails. They're not strong. In fact, look at the amount of vodka she put in that last one. That's a piss-weak drink by anybody's standards."
"Yeah, I guess there's not a lot of alcohol there."
"And the mixer is basically like drinking water anyway."
"Yeah. Slam a couple more, you're doing fine."

- It is later. I am not doing fine. I am sprawled on a sofa trying to watch the match, but sinking into semi-consciousness with each passing moment. I miss seeing England's last two goals, but hear the reaction and manage to cheer with everybody else as the replay unfolds.

- We leave the club. I decide to rant to Jake about how women are "manipulating whores" and that his friends are "off the list". Perhaps sensibly, he does not ask me to elaborate.

- The Leeds people point me in the direction of my hotel, and get a cab back to their dorms. Although it is literally a straight line to my hotel, I have to stop people several times and ask them for directions. I stagger into my hotel room, and glance at my watch before I pass out. I have been in Fukuoka a little over twelve hours.

To Be Continued...

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Saturday, June 17, 2006


I've been in Fukuoka for the last couple of days, visiting friends from Leeds. I haven't for a while because, well, nothing was going on. I now have a post in the works on my adventures down south though.


Friday, June 09, 2006

Other people's photos

I've been in the middle of a photo drought for some time - I just don't have the inclination to take pictures at the moment. It could be because I'm preparing to buy a whizzy new digitial camera. Anyway, in the meantime you can see these pictures from Of Rice and Zen. In fact, take a look at the whole blog - the guy is a damn good photographer, and a hilarious writer. See this caption on his picture of Japanese toilet instructions:
Do you realise what it looks like when you go into a toilet stall, turn on a digital camera and start flashing away in the middle of tourist season in the WORLD FAMOUS Sanjusangendo Temple? Yes, you're right. It does look like taking pictures of your cock at home like a normal bloke is not enough for you, and that you need the extra thrill of travelling around the world to do it in crowded tourist locations.
Ladies and gentlemen, a big hand. This man has done much to entertain us.

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Why Japan?

Some time ago, I came across this link to an exchange student's speech on why he came to Japan. (Note: later found out this guy was also at Kansai Gaidai. Small world, eh? I don't think we spoke at all, though.) Anyway, commenter Mayumi recently asked why I came to study in Japan. This is still a big question for me. I still can't give an exact answer to why I'm studying Japanese, but it's become such a part of my life now that I can't really feel like anything else is as important - not even English, the other half of my degree, and until last year my favourite subject.

I guess part of the answer is luck. The year I chose subjects for my GCSEs, Japanese was on there for the first time. So I picked it, sort of on a whim, because I'd never studied anything like it before and I was curious. I did pretty well, but lost interest in 6th Form, when it was all about constantly revising kanji. I let the spoken language slide, and got through with a decent pass. I'd already applied to Leeds to do English and Japanese, as they were my two favourite subjects and I wanted to continue them.

My academic performance in my first year at uni wasn't exactly stellar - in fact, I ended up having to convince my tutors to let me go on the year abroad. This was partly because due to my previous experience, I didn't take Japanese lessons for the first semester. Once I arrived, everyone had their own social groups and I found it quite hard to fit in. I made friends, but felt like I didn't have much of an investment in my work. So I let things slip.

Of course, once I actually got here, things changed. I had a reason to speak Japanese, to learn Japanese, to engage with everything around me. And once I get back, I'm going to carry on. There's so much I've learned, and so much I want to learn. I only hope I've managed to put a little bit of it across on this blog.


Friday, June 02, 2006

Some thoughts on development

Saw this piece in the Guardian yesterday, on a new scheme between a British supermarket and the African farms that provide it with produce:
Fruit growers in South Africa have seen more than £330,000 ploughed back into their communities over the past year by the supermarkets group Waitrose, which is hoping to raise a further £500,000 to fund educational projects over the next six months.
The cash has been raised as part of the food retailer's initiative to return a sizeable proportion of profits it earns on sales of citrus fruits to the farmers who grow them.
From there I followed a link to an op-ed by Larry Elliott, who takes the view that trading with poor countries on an equal basis is better than simply providing aid. Bono did a piece on the same theme on the Guardian's Comment is Free, a sign that orthodox thought on poverty relief and the big campaigners are getting behind this position. The Live8 campaign for debt relief yielded some disappointing results, but maybe governments will listen to the trade-not-aid viewpoint.

Or maybe not. Tim Worstall, commenting on the Larry Elliott piece, offers this opinion:
Err, how do you reconcile those two statements? Either trade barriers should come down as they are a serious impediment to development or they should stay or go up as an antidote to liberalising imports. Can’t have both now, can we?
As I mentioned in a comment on that post, the harmful effexts of economic liberalisation occur when it is unequal. For its "structural readjustment" packages, the IMF insists on countries lowering their trade barriers to developed countries, who then simply undercut domestic markets. (A big culprit at the moment is China - not strictly a "developed" country but one of the biggest exporters.) This is the kind of thing that destroys a country's fledgling industries. If we look at the most successful economies in the world, the U.S. included, they were all heavily protectionist at first.

Going off at a slight tangent, why have some post-colonial states developed so well, whie some have done disastrously? This grew out of a debate over attitudes towards Western and Japanese imperialism, where East Asia and Africa were presented as two opposite extremes. While I don't want to get into the imperialism debate (you can see these posts for some good discussion) I will say that while Japan's colonies tended to be whole nations (Taiwan, while being historically part of China, was a province neglected by the mainland), Western colonies in Africa and eleswhere were carved up along arbitrary lines, either disregarding ethnic and national groupings or taking advantage of them to promote imperial power. When Britain and others pulled out, we left nation states containing differing, and often competing, groups who had little identification with the state as opposed to their own identity. Often these groups had been deliberately played off against each other by the colonial power - see Rwanda for the most tragic example of this tactic.

Which leads me to the main difference between post-colonial Asia and Africa. A main feature of post-war Asia was "the developmental state" - including Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong, they were run mainly for the purposes of industrial development by an educated elite, with highly protectionist economies. Democracy didn't get much of a look-in (except in Japan, in a highly formalised version), but living standards gradually rose, and when enough of a middle class had developed, the demand for freedoms grew louder. South Korea and many other Asian countries have joined the club of democracies, and some are now part of the developed world. So where did Africa go wrong?

The answer may be found in this article on why poor countries stay poor; corrupt elites who rob the country to enrich themselves. For an Asian example, see Indonesia under Suharto - incidentally, also a country with a diverse ethnic grouping created by colonial policy. When people have little identification with "the nation" as a whole, they turn to smaller groupings. The neighbourhood strongman, tribal leader or militia commander will protect you, at the expense of anyone outside the group. For an instant snapshot of this kind of situation, look at Iraq right now.

Once beyond these primary loyalties, a civil society develops that allows the rule of law, which in turn allows trade, which increases prosperity and development. This is not a process which can be artificially started or speeded up. Some African countries are already there, some are on their way. For those that are stuck there is little we can do, unless they are complete basket cases like Mugabe's Zimbabwe, and even then there is little support for direct intervention. I don't have the answers, but in my lifetime these problems will have to be addressed.

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Thursday, June 01, 2006

My 20th Birthday

I moved out of Seminar House just the other day, and into my new digs where Internet access is not free, so updates may be sporadic. Anyway, I had to share the story of last night - one of the stranger birthdays I've had in my life. To think I had a considered post on international development in the works. I may return to it later, but this is probably more amusing.

Most people having left before yesterday, I ended up heading out to Osaka with just one close friend. We wandered around Shinsaibashi and Namba, and found an "English pub" where we had a few drinks. This place had the English pub atmosphere down pat:
Lack of natural light - it was exactly like being in a far corner of some warehouse-sized drinking establishment back in the UK, ingeniously simulated by being underground.
Thunderously loud music - not so much a jukebox as a full-blown sound system. Reminded me of a few places in Leeds.
TV screens - loses points for not having them all show different things for maximum sensory disorientation.

Yep, a real taste of home. As often happens on nights like these, the best things that happen are accidental. We came across a place that offered nomihodai (all you can drink) for a hour at a very reasonable price. We had an amazing amont of food, an even more amazing amount of drink, got the whole restaurant to shout "Kampai!" (Cheers!) at us, got chatting to some Japanese diners, and got invited out afterwards. So, we ended up walking through Namba with a bunch of very inebriated young Japanese girls. After a few wrong turns, we got to the bar they were headed for. The explanation of it they'd given (we were chatting in garbled drunken Japanese) didn't really prepare me for what was inside. The doors slid open and I saw a Japanese guy in a long evening gown, full make-up and blonde shoulder-length hair. We were in a drag bar.

Customers were sat at tables facing towards a small stage at the end of the room, as the "hostesses" moved around chatting to each table in turn. Our party was sat near the back, and we got visited by a few of them, one of whom got the whole club to sing Happy Birthday to me in Japanised English, and then poured us a bottle of something fizzy. I was sprawled on the seat, laughing out loud as I do when awesomely strange stuff like this happens to me. The girls (the real girls, the girls we came in with) were very friendly, and I shared a few stolen kisses with one who was my age before the lights went down for the main show.

Now this was very bizarre indeed. The performers were dancing topless, and some were obviously being women full-time, as they had fairly impressive breasts (implants, I guess). It wasn't really sexy - as feminine as some of them looked, the giveaway was in the face, particularly the jawline. You couldn't forget they were guys originally. Still, it was more enjoyable then a night out in a real strip club full of old men in dirty macs would have been. The crowd in this place was fun, loud, and predominantly female. Trust Japan to show you something like that.

Earlier in the night, Joe had asked "Is this where you expected to be after two decades living on this planet?" In a belated answer, not at all. But I'm grateful I ended up here anyway.

UPDATE: The nicest birthday tribute ever.

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