Dr John Hawkins
Welcome to my bit of the Maison de Stuff,
home to a huge load of pictures,
and my daily blog.
My email address is as above - I've put it in an image in a vein attempt to reduce the amount of spam I get.
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Maison de Stuff
- Recent Entries:
- Monday Night Karaoke
Late, but not so Late
Geoff the Snowman
Out in Shinjuku
More Transportation of Olive Trees
Holmes and Donkey
An Evening with Holmes and Watson
Potential New Local
The World's Fastest Olive Tree
At Home with the Family
Out with the Moriwakis
Off to Hiroshima
Tokyo by Night
Failed Gardening Attempt
Curry for Breakfast
New Year's Eve
- Monday Night Karaoke
- [Monday 30th January]
A work night out which was quite fun. Went out in the region of the station nearest to my office. Ate lots of garlicy food at a bar/restaurant place, and then went for the now mandatory bout of karaoke. I hesitate to say I sung well, but I did actually receive a round of applause after each performance, and was later complimented on my singing as we were leaving. I guess this is down to the fact that I have had a lot of practice now, and have got to know the songs I can just about manage. Me and my favourite drinking colleague have developed something of an act between us over the past couple of months, and we've got the whole routine down to a fairly fine art.
One particular feature of tonight's performance was an emphasis on changing the words of the songs to make embarassing nerdy work related in-jokes. Unfortunately it would be somewhat futile to attempt to re-produce any of these here, as without the context they would fall somewhat flat on their face. However, let me just say that I am somewhat indebted to message board regular and former colleague Jimmy, for having shared with me his timeless classic "Killing me softly with DShow" - for better or worse I believe I am now the undisputed king of nerdy in-jokes within my team.
- [Sunday 29th January]
Not much to report. Chie went out to see a friend in the afternoon, while I stayed in for a bit of a rest. We met up in the early evening again to go for an Italian meal at a place near where we live, but it was pretty disappointing. In the same way we get Anglacised Italian/Chinese/Indian food back in the UK, they have the equivalent Japanicised (?!?) versions of things here, and they are often not to my taste. Of course, I hear you say! They are not adapted with my particular tastebuds in mind... but then Chie often finds this Japanese version of Italian to be pretty disappointing too. Maybe she has just spent too long abroad though!
- [Saturday 28th January]
I got back spectacularly late the previous night (in fact to call it night is really not doing it justice), and so for what remained of Saturday morning I was somewhat dead to the world. When I finally awoke, I looked through the sliding doors to the living/dining room, to see there was a table and chairs in there. Marvellous. We had ordered them the week before, and they had arrived whilst I was asleep. Chie was forced to admit it was actually of benefit that I did not get up to greet the delivery men - the furniture was supposed to be self-assembly, but the delivery men clearly took pity on Chie having to do this all by herself, so went somewhat beyond the call of duty and assembled it all for her. Marvellous.
No particular hangover to speak of (note to Mum - didn't actually drink that much, and Chie was also out until late, so no nagging email this time please!). We headed out for a late lunch at some place near Shibuya, that we had walked past a while back, and had stood out as the menu included vegetarian burgers. It was a smashing burger, and really set me up for the day. Chie dragged me round a few shops for the remainder of the afternoon, although I was in something of a daze, having not had a great deal of sleep.
For dinner we made sushi back at home - of the lazier temaki variety (just assmeble it yourself as you eat it). It was great to eat dinner at a proper table for the first time. All we're missing now is a sofa really, and we have a pretty much completely furnished apartment. Marvellous.
- Friday Night
- [Friday 27th January]
"Excess ain't Rebellion" as the wise poet John McCrea once postulated, however it does appear to feel pretty good on occasion, somewhat regardless of this fact.
[Click here to read more...]
- [Thursday 26th January]
It had been quite a tough week thus far, and I felt I really needed a complete rest in the evening. Thankfully I managed to leave work at a sensible time for a change, giving me plenty of time to just veg out. I did have one minor task to deal with though - our new curtains had arrived in the daytime, and had been put in a delivery locker by the entrance to our apartment building. As Chie was out for the evening I had to fathom how to open the locker thing by myself - and of course the instructions were all in Japanese. It took several attempts, but somehow or other I got there in the end, and then dutifully went about unpacking and hanging up the new curtains. It is crazy to think back that we have now been in that apartment for over a month, and only had a single set of curtains (which weren't even the right size) to cover both sets of windows at the back of the flat.
I made a simple dinner for myself - a potato and spinach gratin, with some salad, and then wiled away the evening with Holmes and Watson, both on DVD and in the more conventional written form. Today I finally finished reading the last story in The Complete Sherlock Holmes (I had read them a bit out of order, so I finished on "The Second Stain"). This means I've now read every Holmes novel and short story ever written (50 or 60 in total).
It's sort of sad to have come to the end really, particularly as I hadn't actually read any of these books as a kid. My only real knowledge of Holmes and Watson had been from films and TV, and even then I realised I actually hardly knew any of the plots. I am sure I'm not unique in this - it is interesting just how pervasive and well known this famous duo are, and yet many people, like me six months ago, have never actually read any of the stories. So yes, kind of sad to be at the end of that now - I will never be able to read these stories "for the first time" again.
Still, at least I still have a good chunk of the DVDs left to watch!
- Okinawa Town
- [Wednesday 25th January]
For those not familiar with Japan, Okinawa is the island (or group of islands) at the South Westerly extreme of the Japanese archipelago. It is fairly remote from the rest of Japan, and has such has quite a distinct and different culture to the rest of the country.
I have never actually been to the island, but tonight I did manage to do the next best thing - a visit to "Okinawa Town". To call it a town is probably something of an exageration - it is in reality a small street with just a handful of Okinawan shops and restaurants. It is, however, very close to our apartment. Despite this, it is the first time I have ventured down this street (having only seen the top of it before) and even then I didn't really get much of a look at it - we just bundled into the first restaurant type place that looked reasonable.
So anyway, I spent a pleasant evening in there, to start with just me and one of my colleagues, and then later on we were joined by Chie also. The food was a little problematic as always, but by the third of fourth attempt I managed to get something which wasn't covered in fish. I particularly enjoyed the umi budo (literally "sea grapes" - a type of seaweed) and peanut tofu - both specialities of Okinawa I'm led to believe. Clearly it was also mandatory to have an Orion beer and a glass or two of Awamori.
- Late, but not so Late
- [Tuesday 24th January]
I was planning to leave on time today, but got called into a teleconference just as I was starting to head out the door. So again I ended up putting in a couple of hours of overtime, which will no doubt go utterly unappreciated, but that's life I suppose. Couldn't be bothered to cook when we got back, so instead ordered in a pizza, and indulged in an eipsode or two of Sherlock Holmes.
- [Monday 23rd January]
I was in the office before 9 in the morning, and when I left it was getting on for 9 at night. 12 hours seems rediculous to me, and yet it appears irritatingly common amongst Japanese workers. On the plus side, dinner was ready waiting for me (after a short blitz in the microwave). Still, this is certainly not a routine I want to get into the habit of.
- Geoff the Snowman
- [Sunday 22nd January]
The flurry of snow seems to have just been a one day thing - by this morning it had stopped falling, but there was still a decent covering of it on the rooftops of the buildings we could see from the windows of our apartment. More importantly, there was also still a decent covering on our balcony. After lunch, Chie made a passing comment that there was enough snow there to make a snowman.
Approximately eight seconds later I was out on the balcony, busily undertaking this task. I wondered why it hadn't occurred to me sooner. Our balcony is pretty large by Japanese standards, and as the snow was quite deep there was ample building materials to make a really good go of it. This was tremendous fun, really one of the highlights of this year so far. The snow was perfectly suited to this kind of construction work, allowing me to get a bit "artistic" and sculpt a nose, some misshapen ears, eyes and even arms. Oh, and I decided to name him Geoff.
The rest of the day was pleasant enough, but not really up to the same proportions of fun as I'd had with Geoff. We went over to Shinjuku to do some shopping, and finally got round to ordering a dining table. We also finally ordered a faster internet connection and a phone line (just using a weird sort of mobile thing at the moment), but apparently it will be quite a while before this can be installed. Made a baked gnocchi dish for dinner, which was jolly nice.
- [Saturday 21st January]
On my way home the previous evening a few snowflakes had been falling. Between then and when I opened the curtains the next morning it must have snowed quite a lot, as there was a thick covering of it everywhere I looked.
Poor old Chie had to go into work today. I on the other hand didn't, which was just as well given my late return the previous evening. I didn't surface until after 11, and then spent most of the daytime just lolling around the house basically.
- Out in Shinjuku
- [Friday 20th January]
Had a work realted outing in the Shinjuku area in the evening - a guy who used to work in my group had his "official" leaving do, although he actually left quite a while back now.
Started off at a slightly trendy izakaya type place, then went on to a karaoke place where nobody actually seemed to do any singing (?!). A few of us then decided to go for "one drink" at a little karaoke bar I'd been to once before, which is a particular favourite haunt of one of the US based managers. I got talking to some other foreigners in there - a couple of whom I'd seen on my last visit. It ended up quite a late night like the previous visit - I think I got home about 4AM.
- Oriental Food
- [Thursday 19th January]
Had another late meeting, but this was was not so late as the previous day's. Met up with Chie in Sasazuka on my way back home, and we went to the supermarket together to buy stuff for dinner. It occurred to me that we'd hardly cooked any kind of Oriental food (Japanese, Chinese etc) since being in our new flat - it had mostly been English or Italian. So tonight we made a haf Chinese, half Japanese meal, which all came out rather well. Started with agedashi tofu, then had a dish of chinese leaf stir fried with atsuage in a garlic/ginger/soy sauce. Finished off with sort of fake yaki niku - using the thin soy pieces we'd got from It's Vegetable a while back, and then cooked in a kind of yaki niku sauce with some vegetables. This was a particular surprise - really came out well.
- [Wednesday 18th January]
Had a late meeting, so it was about 9 by the time I got back home. Don't remember doing very much in what was left of the evening, had pasta for dinner I think, and possibly watched some Sherlock Holmes.
- [Tuesday 17th January]
It was six years ago today that Chie and I first met, and so we set the evening aside to mark the occasion. We'd originally planned to go for dinner at one of the swanky restaurants in the hotel where Chie works, but in the end we gave up on this idea - understandably it wouldn't have been that much of a special occasion for Chie eating in what is effectively her office!
So instead we kicked off the evening with a quick bite to eat at a Turkish restaurant near Shinjuku station. After this we then spent the main part of the evening in the New York Bar on the 52nd floor of the Parc Hyatt Hotel - as featured in Lost in Translation. I'd also had this place recommended as being a really nice spot, quite independently of its appearance in the film, and so we'd both wanted to go for some time. I suppose it is one of those things one just has to do when in Tokyo. Judging by the number of foreigners in there it has probably become a bit of a cliche since the film, but anyway, I thought it was very nice in there, and it made for a lovely evening.
- Hard Work
- [Monday 16th January]
It had been quite a while since I had done a full five day week at work, what with all the Japanese public holidays around the start/end of the year. This marked the start of the first five day week for almost a month in fact. I was not deterred by this however, and determined to put in a really hard day's work. I was pretty proud of what I had achieved by the end of the working day, although whether this will be appreciated by the powers that be remains to be seen. So anyway, I ended up leaving work quite late - by my standards at least - around 7:30.
Yuka, Chie's sister, came for dinner in the evening, which was really nice. It did however mean a continuation of the hard work theme after leaving the office. I rushed back as quick as I could, ran round the shops to buy all the stuff I needed, and the moment I walked through the door went straight to the kitchen, where I busied myself for over an hour trying to make a nice dinner for the girls.
Cooking in Japan is still not easy for me, both the available ingredients and the apparatus present all sorts of difficulties when compared to what I am used to in England. Today I wanted to make lasagne, but this is pretty tough going without a proper oven! So I decided instead to make a sort of plated lasagne instead - making a tomatoey and cheese sauce as usual, but boiling the lasagne sheets, and then assembling an individual "stack" on each plate. Considering all the difficulties with which I was faced I thought I did a pretty good job of it really.
- [Sunday 15th January]
Headed out in the afternoon to go over to Shimo-Kitazawa, a district of Tokyo not too far from where we live. Chie had been told there were lots of little furniture shops etc there, and we might be able to pick up a few bits of pieces for our still somewhat bare looking flat.
We met with relative success - found a shop selling some acceptable stools, and even a decent dining table. Although eventually we hesitated on the table, we did at least get the stools. There is a little counter bit between our kitchen and the main living space, and the stools turn it into a kind of little bar area, which is great. Envigorated by the prospect of not having to eat on the floor for once, I put a fair amount of effort into dinner for a change - made a sort of stew thing, I guess you might call it a vegetarian version of Boeuf Borgignon. Although I say so myself it was rather nice.
- More Transportation of Olive Trees
- [Saturday 14th January]
A week or two ago I'd had a failed attempt to find a garden centre near a station called Chitose Karasuyama. Today I decided to give it another go, with the added assistance this time round of a phone with internet access, and Chie on hand as well. It turns out I was actually working with the wrong address last time - just a digit off on the three digit block codes used in Japanese addresses. Still, that had meant I was looking in totally the wrong area. Today though we found the place with relative ease.
It was however, pissing it down, if you'll pardon my French. So on the way to the garden centre we got on a bus from the station. At the garden centre I decided to buy another olive tree - they're obviously quite popular in Japan at the moment, this being the second shop I've been too which sells them. I have a distinct preference towards foliage with some food connection, and the only things they had in this line were either olive trees or rosemary. Still, I love both, so am happy to double up on either. We then had a "fun" time getting back home in the pouring rain, attempting to manage a fairly sizeable tree and an umbrella between us. The rain didn't really seem to let up, so the new acquisition was fairly unceremoniously dumped outside the back door upon arrival, and remained there all day.
The "Hanging Gardens of Daitabashi", as I've determined it should henceforth be known, is still very much a work in progress. Still, we are now up to three plants - two olive trees and a little potted rosemary bush. It appears to be taking a distinctly mediterranean theme thus far, which seems appropriate somehow. I recall when we first came to look at this flat, standing on the balcony, looking at the rather ugly view, and thinking "It's not quite Florence is it"?. Give it a few weeks though, and the Hanging Gardens will be the envy of all of Tokyo.
- Friday 13th
- [Friday 13th January]
I was unusually wary about this unlucky day today, but as it turned out nothing untoward occurred. It was a reasonably eventful day in the office. Had a video conference with the US office, during which I was somewhat irked that they put us on mute for a while, to discuss something they obviously didn't want us to hear. One wonders what the point of having a meeting is in the first place! The Japanese side of the meeting then discussed some technical issues entirely in Japanese, and I can't help but think the language choice here wasn't a complete accident, given the earlier breach of etiquette.
I went out for lunch by myself, as I really fancied some Indian food, and there is a place just the other side of the station from the office which does a fairly respectable curry. After this the afternoon then seemed to drag somewhat, until right at the end of the working day, a sudden breakthrough occurred, which was rather gratifying for last thing on a Friday. I probably couldn't explain this without breaching my NDA, and besides, it is rather long and boring anyway. Still, in a nutshell, the project I'm working on is starting to look somewhat more rosey.
Anyway, it was late by the time my thoughts turned to leaving - getting on for 8 o' clock. I decided it might be a good idea to go out for a minor celebratory drink with some of my colleagues, and several of them were clearly in a similar frame of mind and therefore happy to oblige. We went to a couple of bars in the area around the station nearest to our office. Had a nice evening out, but didn't stay out hugely late, and was on a train heading back to the flat before midnight.
- Holmes and Donkey
- [Thursday 12th January]
Spent another glorious evening escaping from the modern world, working my way through my new collection of Sherlock Holmes DVDs. Oh, and also went to Donkihote - "donkey" for short - a shop near our flat that sells just about everything. Bought a new light for the bedroom, meaning we might actually be able to start making use of this room finally (although we still only have one set of curtains!). Also bought stuff for dinner - made tacos, which came out rather well.
- An Evening with Holmes and Watson
- [Wednesday 11th January]
I left work on time so I could be back home to wait for the delivery man. He actually arrived a little before the allocated slot, but I'll forgive him that, as he brought with him a little bundle of joy (no, not a baby). I had ordered The Complete Sherlock Holmes from Amazon - every single epsiode of the excellent Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series. Naturally I then spent the rest of the evening watching several episodes back to back. The acting is a little hammy in places, but I was happy to overlook this as the atmosphere was somehow spellbinding. Marvellous.
- Potential New Local
- [Tuesday 10th January]
Chie and I met up at the nearest station to our flat after work, and decided to go for a drink at a little local izakaya on the little shopping street that leads up to the station. It was jolly nice in there, and also managed to find a couple of things to eat on the menu. Two very nice salads - one mushroom oriented and the other a sort of mozarella and tomato salad but with tofu slices instead of the mozarella. It was really good quality tofu so it worked surprisingly well.
- The World's Fastest Olive Tree
- [Monday 9th January]
Spent the daytime in Hiroshima, and headed back to Tokyo around 5ish. There's a pretty good Juntendo near Chie's parents house (a sort of home and garden centre, like Homebase or B&Q). We went there in the afternoon before getting the train to Tokyo, Chie bought some plastic boxes and I was rather pleased to find a small olive tree.
I got some funny looks carrying it back on the train, as you might imagine. I couldn't help but wonder how many olive trees have been transported by Shinkansen, travelling up to 300 km/h.
- At Home with the Family
- [Sunday 8th January]
Spent most of the day lolling around Chie's family's house. Chie's Dad made okonomiyaki for lunch, and Chie and I went out to do a spot of shopping in the afternoon.
- Out with the Moriwakis
- [Saturday 7th January]
Spent the day out and about in Hiroshima with Chie's family. Visited some Japanese gardens, had afternoon tea, went for a beer or two with Chie's Dad whilst the girls went shopping, went to our favourite sushi restaurant, and then (of course) rounded off with karaoke!
- Off to Hiroshima
- [Friday 6th January]
Chie and I decided to spend the weekend back in Hiroshima - a sort of late Shogatsu (New Year) visit. So I left work bang on time, and hot footed my way over to Shinagawa station to get on the Shinkansen. Spent a surprisingly pleasurable four hours on the train, using the internet on my new phone (actually Chie's new phone as mine had a battery issue), whilst sipping beer and nibbling otsumami. Lovely.
- Finally Ikebukuro
- [Thursday 5th January]
Recently I had made several failed attempts to go for a night out in Ikebukuro, (see here and here), so tonight I thought I would give it another go, and met with more success. Just did the usual - dinner at Rohlan and then drinks at Quercus. Nothing out of the ordinary but both places were excellent as ever!
- Tokyo by Night
- [Wednesday 4th January]
Lolled around the flat in the daytime, then went out towards the end of the afternoon for a wander round Hinode. The illuminations over Tokyo Bat were quite nice, so it didn't seem like an entirely wasted outing! Walked from there to Roppongi, by way of Tokyo Tower (which looks nicer up close than I had imagined), and met up with Chie for a quick pint in the Hobgoblin. Went from there to a nearby Mexican place for a spot of dinner.
Also finally got a Japanese mobile phone today - it is pretty cool too, has internet access and everything. Super!
- Failed Gardening Attempt
- [Tuesday 3rd January]
Headed out in the afternoon to try and find a garden centre. Chie had found the address of one on the web, but either I got completely lost or it didn't exist any more. Either way I couldn't find it, and as a result our balcony is still looking rather bare.
Met up with Chie after she finished work and went for dinner at an Italian place somewhere around Shinjuku.
- Curry for Breakfast
- [Monday 2nd January]
Today was an odd sort of day. Both of us were off work - it was a national holiday. As such we revelled in doing very little whatsoever!
We had hired a couple of DVDs from Tsutaya (the Japanese equivalent of Blockbuster) a couple of days ago, and needed to return them by 10AM. So despite having a bit of a cold I gallantly headed just after 9:30, which felt like the crack of dawn, to go and post them through the box.
I've had an insatiable craving for curry recently. So on the way back I popped into the supermarket to buy some vegetables etc for a Japanese style curry. I then busied myself on making said curry when I got back to the flat, whilst Chie continued to doze. It was probably well after 11 when Chie finally awoke, to the smell of curry, and an announcement from me that we were going to have curry for breakfast. To my pleasant surprise she didn't seem in the slightest bit phased by this idea.
The rest of the day passed with me doing very little but lolling around the apartment, and occasionally going back to the vast pot I had made to eat more curry. Chie headed out around 5 to do a bit of shopping (shops here seem to open fairly late even on national holidays) but I decided I would rather stay in, as two outings in one day was probably pushing it given my cold and everything. So not a particularly eventful day, but then there's probably some sense in treating holidays as, well, holidays - i.e. actually taking a break for once.
- [Sunday 1st January]
Went for a day out to visit Kamakura with Chie's friend Maiko and her boyfriend Koji. Kamakura is a town near Tokyo, famous for its shrines and temples, and as such attracts a lot of people around New Year, when Japanese people typically pay visits to these sorts of places. Probably the pictures describe the days' outing best...
We got back home pretty late - after midnight I think. It then occurred to us that we hadn't yet watched one of the DVDs we'd rented the other day - Miyzaki's newest film Howl's Moving Castle. Given that we had to return it by 10AM the next morning, I decided to stay up late to watch it (Chie on the other hand fell asleep part way through, exactly as she predicted beforehand). I have to say I was a little disappointed really. Maybe I didn't do it justice given that I was pretty tired when I watched it, but still... The story was just such a mess - perhaps this is my failing for not understanding this kind of Japanese narrative properly, I don't know. It seemed such a waste to me to have a film which looked so fantastic visually - I particularly liked the pseudo European Victorian era backdrop - but have such a random and unabsorbing story. I think Spirited Away remains my firm favourite as far as Miyazaki films go.
- New Year's Eve
- [Saturday 31st December]
Over the past couple of days Chie and I had had some disagreement over how to spend New Year's Eve. Chie initially wanted to go for a more traditional Japanese New Year's Eve (visiting Buddhist temples before midnight, and Shinto shrines afterwards) whereas I favoured the more Western approach of well, basically, drinking.
So as a compromise between the West and the Far East, we ended up sticking a pin in the map roughly inbetween, and going out for Indian food. We went over to Ikebukuro and had intended to go to Rohlan (my favourite Taiwanese restaurant) but found it was closed. Chie and I have a particularly bad habit of getting into arguments when we can't find anywhere to eat, so I was very concerned to come up with an alternative ASAP. I was convinced there must be an Indian restaurant somewhere around there, and after a few minutes of anxious wandering my suspicions were confirmed. We found a branch of a small chain called "Great India". The food was in fact great, and very reasonably priced (Indian food is often quite expensive in Japan). So this backup plan turned out to be a minor success.
After this both Chie and I realised we didn't have much in the way of enthusiasm for doing anything else. So we decided not to bother visiting any temples (either of the Buddhist variety, or shrines to the great god of beer), and basically just went back home for a quiet night and watched some DVDs.