April 2007

Wired had a fun short article this month. The best quotes preceeding an apocalypse.

As a university lecturer, I get asked by quite a few students to act as a personal referee for them in applying for jobs, further study etc. It goes with the territory and I’m generally happy to do it. What I’m less happy with is the standard of the people asking for references. I’m getting really tired of receiving a reference request with questions like “What are they like dealing with co-workers?”; “How is their time-keeping?”; “Would you re-employ them (if company policy allows)?”. That is, references which assume that the referand was employed. Now, when the reference is for something like a temp agency, that’s a little more understandable, but when I get these things from regular graduate employers, it really ticks me off. I got another one like this today. I try to be polite, since I don’t want to mess up my students’ chances of getting a job, but I do get a little short in my notes pointing out that I could fill in the form, but it would consist of lots of N/As and would they like to send me an appropriate form or would they like a free-form reference as a letter.

As many of you know, I’m mostly vegetarian. This is fairly hard to do in Japan. One of the delegates I met at the Ethicomp conference recently, who was just finishing a five month stint in Japan, had been a strict (moral) vegetarian when he arrived and had recently been told by his doctor that he had to start eating meat because his health had suffered so badly. Of course, he was eating out in traditional Japanese restaurants much of the time. The fare in these places is very very meat-heavy. Typically variants of yakitori (chicken kebabs mostly) and lots of other dishes with meat. The best you can do for non-meat dishes are green salads (very over-dressed for my taste) and a barbecue-it-yourself selection of vegetables. The barbecue-it-yourself selection gets very boring after a few tries, particularly if (like me) you don’t like the vinegar-based dressing that comes with the veggies. Luckily for me, I’m OK with chicken meat. I do specify chicken meat there, because it would appear that the Japanese eat every part of a chicken except the feathers: chicken skin (both on the meat and separately); chicken entrails; deep-fried chicken tendon; chicken feet (not many witches in Japan because the peasants eat up the feet); processed chicken bone (it’s processed in some way to soften it up). I’ve not seen it, but I’ve been told that some places even serve “chicken nose”.


While I’m in Japan, I’ve been ordering books from Amazon.co.jp. They do have an English language site, although it doesn’t cover all of the elements, which can be a bit annoying. I had to get one of the caretakers here at the Guest House to help me decipher the page to report a problem with an external seller order (Amazon were hassling me for feedback and it hadn’t arrived – they hadn’t shipped it yet nor updated the shipping estimate on Amazon’s site – they got modest feedback for that when it did arrive).

It did strike me that this is now a global marketplace for small businesses when I got a book today. I ordered it on Amazon.co.jp from an outfit called “UK Books and Music” (with web address Paperbackshop.co.uk) and it arrived posted from an address in Illinois in the US.

I’m really glad there is the Akismet spam filter for Word Press. So far, it’s caught almost 1500 spam comment to this blog, and not one seems to have been a legitimate comment. It’s catching better than 99% of the spam as well. I only have to manually mark a couple a week as spam. Of course, I’m not getting many comments, so maybe there’d be more false positives if there were more to make the mistake on.

Well, my barber back in Reading did a particularly hard shearing on me before Christmas, but sooner or later I was always going to have to get my hair cut. I got around to it last week. It’s a little terrifying going for a hair cut when your grasp of the language is limited. You never know what you’re going to get. So, before my hair started getting in my eyes I decided it was time for a shearing again.

As you can see in my photos of Ikuta there are a number of barbers and male/unisex hairdressers in Ikuta. Actually, there are an awful lot of them. Having now experienced a Japanese haircut, I know why there are so many(more on that below).


Someone asked me for a bit of physical context for where I’m living in Japan. I’m at a Guest House owned by Meiji University for visiting scholars. It’s near their Ikuta campus (not actually on it, but very close to the Ikuta railway station so handy for getting in to Tokyo).

The complex includes 7 single person rooms (self-contained like one of those US “medium term suite” motels). These are on the first floor (UK terminology; ni-kai or 2nd floor in Japanese/American counting). The ground floor includes four larger family flats which have two separate bedrooms, a living space and a (I assume bigger) kitchen as well as a bathroom. The place has a small courtyard and a “common room” which contains the pigeonholes and quite a lot of tables and chairs, a bit like a cafe. They’re hard chairs and high tables. Not really comfortable. The single rooms contain a bed, desk high shelf down one wall and an office chair along with a built-in wardrobe. It’s quite spacious for Japan, especially given the price.

Ikuta is a very developed suburb. I haven’t come across any parks in my wanderings around it. Very urban.
Anyway, Ikuta is basically in a valley (hence the canalised river that I posted a picture of when I arrived). There’s ridges to the south and north. The railway runs along the river course, crossing back and forth a lot. I’m just south of the railway and north of the river. The river runs east-west. I have taken a bunch of photos of Ikuta. I noticed on the way up to the barber that what I thought was a small wooded area on a raised piece of ground overlooking the main road up to the ridge at the south is actually a combination of trees and the kind of big bamboo you get in Chinese movies – House of Flying Daggers/Crouching Tiger etc.

It’s the cherry blossom season here in Tokyo. Japan’s cherry blossom time is famous, and justly so. There would appear to be a number of reasons for this.

  • The cherry trees produce incredible amounts of bloosm. Not only do the twigs and minor branches produce blossom, but the major branches produce it in places as well. The incredible profusion covers the trees with pink and white flowers.
  • The cherry trees produce their blossom before producing any leaves, unlike many trees which produce leaves first. This again provides a spectacular sight of just the blossom with no leaves to get in the way of viewing.
  • It’s a very short lived affair. As soon as the blossoms start appearing, petals start dropping off, and within a couple of weeks they main bloom is over.


While writing the post on the Butler cafe, I wanted to say something like “oodles of useless google search results”. This obviously leads to the new term:

Goodles: a large number of hits on a Google search, where the term you are searching for, if present anywhere, has been overridden by one of the following:

  1. a semantic difference: e.g. searching for Bob Baker and finding bread and confectionery makers called Bob;
  2. mis-spellings of a different word overwhelming it: e.g. searching for “femininist” brings up goodles of hits for “feminist” spelled wrong;
  3. googlewashing;
  4. googlebombing.

Spotted today in Mainichi Daily News (Mainichi means “every day”). Following the success of their “Maid cafe” Pinafoa (“Pinafore” in Engrish) where the waitresses dress up in traditional maid outfits, a company has opened a “Butler cafe” where the waitresses dress up in pseudo-traditional butler outfits. The quote from one of the senior waiting staff was:

“There’s a wide range of butlers here — moe (passionate interest) types, good-looking types and tsundere (aloof/lovestruck) types — so both men and women can enjoy it. We’re aiming to be the world’s No. 1 butler cafe.”

Easy to be the best when you’re the only one, I would have thought.

Just daily life weirdness in Japan.

I’m often reminded of an SF story which included the idea of “femininists” (note: that’s the correct spelling). In the story they’re a cover for a terrorist organisation, but the idea itself is a lot of fun: in reaction to the imitation of masculine traits exhibited by many feminists, the femininists emphasise “traditional” feminine virtues while retaining control over their own lives. This seems to be quite in keeping with where Japanese women are coming from. They strive for equality of opportunity in many things while not losing the things they like about being “feminine” in clothes, appearance and power over the sex-dominated brains of men.

Unfortunately I can’t remember which story that was in and a web search on femininists simply brings up huge numbers of pages where they’ve spelled “feminist” incorrectly.