Jan 3 2020

Tokyo’s New Olympic Stadium, an Exciting New Definition of Dull

By Fred Varcoe

Tokyo has a new Olympic Stadium. The National Stadium has been officially opened after a long and painful saga that clouded Tokyo’s Olympic preparations as well as the Rugby World Cup.

After deciding on a brilliant, futuristic design by Zaha Hadid, Japan’s organizers were slow to realize that their showpiece stadium would be credited to a muslim woman based in England. In a country known for xenophobia and nationalist pomposity, it was a massive own goal.

Japan’s leading right-wing dimwit, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, stepped up to the plate and declared: “This is a proudly homogenous country and we’re not going to have any foreign tart messing up our capital city with some space-age monstrosity.”

OK, he didn’t exactly say that. He said: “We have decided to go back to the start on the Tokyo Olympics-Paralympics stadium plan and start over from zero. I have been listening to the voices of the people for about a month now, thinking about the possibility of a review. The construction cost had been greatly inflated and there were criticisms from the public including the athletes on the plan. This made me believe that we will not be able to host a Games that everyone in this country will celebrate.”

Mr. “Back to Zero IQ” Abe never listens to the people, unless those people are the right-wing nuts he has in his government. The claim was that the Hadid stadium, which was stunning in its concept, would prove to be too expensive, even though the design was within the budget considerations set out by the organizers.

“It is not the case that the recently reported cost increases are due to the design, which uses standard materials and techniques well within the capability of Japanese contractors and meets the budget set by the Japan Sports Council,” a statement from Hadid’s company said.

More to the point was the baying of Japan’s architects, who were all less young, less female, less muslim and less talented than Hadid.

“I’ve never felt so emotional about any kind of architecture up until now,” Tokyo-based architect Edward Suzuki told Reuters. “But it’s happening in my garden, in our garden … We just can’t let it happen. It’s a sin, it’s a crime. It’s so overpowering, it’s not a human scale. It’s going to replace all the trees that had once been there. It was a park. Now it’s just going to be a very man-made object that is not really beautiful to look at.”

One must assume that Suzuki is a blind architect. Or a liar. The myth that Hadid’s stadium would wipe out a “park” was a lie. There were a few trees around the old stadium, but they were planted in concrete. It was not a park.

Hadid’s proposed structure was spectacular, but also stunningly beautiful. Some said it was too high. Also rubbish. Who has complained about architectural monstrosities such as Roppongi Hills or Tokyo Midtown or the ugly 50-story communications tower at Japan’s Self-Defence Forces headquarters in the middle of the city. No one. Pritzker Prize-winning architect Fumihiko Maki organised a symposium for Japanese designers including Toyo Ito and Kengo Kuma to protest against the size of the design. A number of Japanese architects were among the 11 finalists in the competition to design the stadium.

“I think it’s embarrassing for them, that’s all I can say,” Hadid said. “I understand it’s their town. But they’re hypocrites. They don’t want a foreigner to build in Tokyo for a national stadium.”

So, Tokyo has a new National Stadium designed by one of the protesting architects, Kengo Kuma. It’s way bigger than the old stadium and admittedly looks a lot better than the 1964 design, but it’s a 20th century lump of concrete (Wait, don’t forget the wood!) that looks pathetic when compared with Hadid’s 21st century design.

Kuma said he did not think that the Japan Sport Council had decided against working with Hadid because she was a foreigner, but added that working in Japan as a non-Japanese might be ‘challenging.’

Almost as duplicitous as his prime minister, who at the opening ceremony in December stated: “We revised the project, and today, we have arrived at this moment to announce the completion of the National Stadium, which has the world’s utmost universal design and is in harmony with the surrounding environment.

“I believe that there have been difficult times leading up to the completion of the National Stadium, which will serve as the symbol for the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics. There was the alteration (of the design), but it was successfully completed with an ‘All-Japan’ effort.” The prime minister blended in well with the concrete and wood used for the new “All Japanese” stadium.

Hadid died before the new stadium was completed. Probably just as well. If she’d seen it, it would have killed her anyway.

Dec 28 2019

Isn’t It Time Japanese Golf Changed?


By Fred Varcoe

It happened again. I think it happens a lot. It shouldn’t be surprising, but it is.

About a year ago, I went to play Pacific Golf Management’s Chiba Kokusai Golf Club in Chiba Prefecture with my friend and regular golf buddy Don. Don had to leave by 13:30 in order to get to work on time. So we booked an early start time, around 7 a.m., figuring we could get through in less than six and a half hours. We also figured that as Chiba Kokusai has 45 holes, there wouldn’t be any great delays. We finished the first half at around 9:10 and, depressingly but not surprisingly, were told to take “lunch” and wait until 10:50 before we could play our second nine holes. Still, we figured we should be finished by 13:30. It shouldn’t take two hours and 40 minutes to play nine holes of golf on a 45-hole golf course.

It took an hour to play the first three holes, at which point we encountered a serious golf traffic jam. This sometimes happens at Par 3s but usually things clear up after that. That didn’t happen. If anything, the pace slowed. After finishing the seventh hole, it was nearly 13:30. “I’ve got to go,” Don said and he called the clubhouse to ask someone to pick him up along with his clubs. I figured I might as well get my money’s worth and finish the last two holes. But the man on the cart said “No!” I couldn’t continue as a solo player. Why? Who knows? There was no logical reason for denying me the last two holes. I was paying for 18 holes, I had a cart and I wasn’t holding any other players up. If I’d finished the last two holes, the second nine would have taken roughly three and a half hours. I thought that was scandalous and made my feelings felt with comments on the Golf Digest (GDO) website.

Amazingly, someone (from the golf club, I think) called me the next day to apologize. I suggested that, as Chiba Kokusai has three nine-hole courses plus a separate 18-hole course, they allow golfers to play through on the 18-hole course. I got some pro-forma apologies and nothing happened. Obviously, I haven’t been back to Chiba Kokusai again.

Fast forward to this year and Don and I are in the same situation. He has to finish by 13:30 to get to work, so we choose Moonlake Mobara (coincidentally and unfortunately another PGM course) as it’s close to home and has a 7:21 starting time. We finish the first nine by 9:10 and then, once again, are told to have “lunch” for an hour and 40 minutes. More traffic jams on the back nine but we finish at 13:30, so Don can get to work. That’s good, but why should a round of golf take six hours and why can’t we play through? Simple questions, but the answers aren’t simple.

The pointless lunch

Why do golf clubs in Japan – almost unique in the world – insist that you stop for lunch, even if “lunch” is at 9 o’clock in the morning? It’s part of a frustrating golf experience in Japan, which has a reputation for slow play, and an odd attitude to golf’s rules that edges toward stupidity at times.

A note on PGM’s parent company’s website gives the impression they want to change:

“In the future, while there is concern that players in their late 60s, who are the major golf players, will retire at a stretch, ‘one person reservation’ services such as increasing opportunities to visit golf courses are drawing attention. There is a movement to gain visitors. In addition, to make it easier for young people and women to participate, you can also find casual golf courses that can be enjoyed more casually, such as using nine holes instead of 18 holes per round, or shortening the time by through play.”

In other words: No halftime lunch. The compulsory stop for lunch is an obvious ploy to try and squeeze more money out of the golfer. Customers are prisoners of golf clubs. They can’t go anywhere, there aren’t any alternative eating establishments and they have nothing to do for an hour, so the clubs make them eat food, pay for the food and, hopefully, drink beer. In the past, this might have made some sense as a big lunch can cost quite a lot, especially if you include drinks and coffee. But this is now largely redundant. Most clubs now include lunch as a package, which means it’s not going to affect the cost of a round of golf. But it also means there is no reason to stop after nine holes as the golfer has to pay for lunch whether he eats it or not. And, of course, it doesn’t make any difference to the golf club if lunch is eaten after nine holes or 18 holes. If I start my round at 7:30 and it takes a “normal” four and a half hours to play 18 holes, I can then choose to go home at midday or eat lunch at lunchtime. More to the point, I won’t disrupt my rhythm on the course and my stomach won’t be weighed down with curry, rice and beer as I play my second nine.

One of the problems of the Japanese system is that it is so ingrained into the Japanese consciousness that golf clubs can’t even conceive of players playing through. On a number of occasions, I have almost had to force staff to allow us to play through. Once, after being told we couldn’t play through, we were waiting around and there was no one on the tee. Still, the reaction of the staff was NO. Eventually, they realised that there was a space on the schedule – which, of course, they hadn’t even checked – and reluctantly allowed us to go ahead and play half an hour earlier than our scheduled post-lunch tee time. Compare that to the club where I regularly play – Ichinomiya Country Club in Chiba Prefecture. The staff there – mainly old ladies – are just wonderful. They remember our names, they laugh and joke, they noticed when one player was absent for a long time (due to illness) and they know we always like to play through. The last time we played there, they said there was an opening after about 25 minutes. So, as usual, we sat down in the lobby for a quick drink. Moments later, one of the old ladies came rushing in looking for us and said they could squeeze us out if we could start immediately. This, Japan, is service. They always try to accommodate us and we know that if they can’t, it’s not for the lack of trying. Invariably, we start between 7:30 and 8 o’clock and finish by midday. Then we have lunch and everyone gets to work on time.

The irony of the Japanese system is that while the clubs might think they are earning more by forcing people to stop for lunch, they really aren’t. A golfer is far more likely to feel hungry at lunchtime rather than at 9 o’clock in the morning and is going to drink more beer after his round than during the round. But don’t try that now, especially if you start late. After finishing our round at Nouvel Golf Club in Chiba Prefecture, my friends and I went to the restaurant for some drinks and snacks. At 5:30, I went downstairs to take a shower. “No shower,” the manager said. “The bathroom is closed.” Ridiculous. That is not good service.

So, how does this compare with the West? Have Japanese golf clubs never heard of the 19th hole?

The 19th hole in the West is the bar/restaurant in the clubhouse, where people can drink and eat and chat and have a laugh. Many clubhouse bars and restaurants are open to the public and cater to groups, parties and even weddings. They are open all day and close late at night and are often a focal point in the local community. In effect, the catering side of the golf club is separate from the golf side but provides a greater service. OK, this isn’t going to work for many of Japan’s remote golf courses, but one of my local courses, Kimi-no-Mori, is on a housing estate that has very few catering outlets. An upmarket café/ restaurant has opened on the edge of the golf course and is doing terrific business but has no connection to the golf club. You would think that the golf club would have wanted to use its own extensive catering facilities for more than lunch. By doing so, it could play a greater role in the community and even attract more members. Ironically, a new restaurant has opened up around the corner from the clubhouse and is doing good business.

Slow, slow, slow

I was once playing golf in Los Angeles with a friend and I was keeping an eye on the group ahead of us. They’d started a hole or two in front of us but were getting slower and slower. I watched how they played, particularly on the greens. “They’re Japanese,” I said to my friend and when we caught them up, I was proved right.

Lunch aside, why are Japanese golfers so slow? Well, it’s not all their fault. At a recent USGA-JGA symposium in Tokyo, most of the American speakers explained how they were trying to make golf a better all-round experience and create more customer satisfaction. They outlined the changes they were making and the targets they were aiming at. Most of the Japanese speakers had nothing to say, no results to explain and no vision of the future. They seemed reluctant to take on board the ideas expressed or else they just didn’t understand them. To their credit, Kasumigaseki Golf Club – the host club for the 2020 Olympic golf tournament – explained how they had done a heat-image survey of golfers on their course to find out where players went, where they didn’t go and where players got held up. Areas that players seldom visited needed less turf and less maintenance, so saving the course money, while logjams could be analyzed and solutions sought to maintain pace of play. Holes could be redesigned to be either more difficult or less difficult to adjust the pace of play. This might involve shifting a tee box back or forward or adding/ removing bunkers. Another way of improving pace of play was to lengthen the separation of tee times. The USGA reported that the biggest annoyance that golfers had on a golf course was being held up by other golfers.

The ritual of the green

Japanese golfers are so slow in putting, it’s painful to watch. In a casual round, me and my friends concede putts of around 50 cm or less. We just pick up the ball. Of course, in a competition you’re not going to do that, but in a friendly round, putting out is not really necessary, especially if there are people behind you. But the Japanese not only insist on putting out, they become obsessed with the ritual of the green.

They LOVE marking their ball, cleaning their ball, lining up a line on their ball and using their putters as a plumb line. And they love doing this on EVERY putt. Even if the putt is 20 cm. It wastes an inordinate amount of time and is largely unnecessary. I would guess that you don’t actually need to clean your ball more than 50% of the time. If the course is dry, dirt won’t stick to the ball. Japanese golfers think this is imperative, especially if you have a caddie to do it for you. There’s nothing quite like being a feudal master instructing your servants to do your bidding. This wastes time.

And the line on the ball? It’s there to help you square your club to the ball, but really I think it’s an illusion. It makes little or no difference to your putt unless you can line everything up perfectly, which most players can’t. And if you can, you probably don’t need a line on your ball. Yes, professionals do it, but they probably don’t need it either. The slightest deviance from your line’s alignment or the face of your putter renders the line useless. Even worse, it locks you into a shot when you need to retain some flexibility. When you address the ball from an upright position, the target will look different again. You might have to readjust. Not only will the line on your ball not help you, it will distract you from the target and the target is what you should be focused on. Mygolfspy.com did a comparison of putts of balls with a line and without a line and found that at 5 feet, there was a marginal advantage. But at longer distances (10 feet and 20 feet) the line on the ball was disadvantageous. The margin wasn’t huge, which seems to confirm that having a line makes no difference, so spending unnecessary time marking your ball and then annoying other golfers as you mistakenly align your line with your imagined route to the pin is just posing. Don’t waste my time!

Hurry up!

A recent marketing ploy by golf equipment manufacturers is the mini-bag, sometimes called a greenside bag. This is a little bag you can put your putter and wedges in and is another complete waste of time. My short-game set consists of my putter, 8-iron and three wedges. That’s all I’ll ever need and I can fit them in my hand quite easily. I don’t need to put them in another bag, unhook that and carry it to my ball. It’s another time-waster.

As is waiting for other people to play their shots after you’ve finished. It’s traditional for the player who is furthest away from the hole to go first, but this is not a strict rule. The actual rules state the following (bold emphasis is mine):

“A round of golf is meant to be played at a prompt pace.

Each player should recognize that his or her pace of play is likely to affect how long it will take other players to play their rounds, including both those in the player’s own group and those in following groups.

Players are encouraged to allow faster groups to play through.

(1) Pace of Play Recommendations. The player should play at a prompt pace throughout the round, including the time taken to:

Prepare for and make each stroke,
Move from one place to another between strokes, and
Move to the next teeing area after completing a hole.
A player should prepare in advance for the next stroke and be ready to play when it is his or her turn.

When it is the player’s turn to play:

It is recommended that the player make the stroke in no more than 40 seconds after he or she is (or should be) able to play without interference or distraction, and
The player should usually be able to play more quickly than that and is encouraged to do so.
(2) Playing Out of Turn to Help Pace of Play. Depending on the form of play, there are times when players may play out of turn to help the pace of play:

In match play, the players may agree that one of them will play out of turn to save time (see Rule 6.4a).
In stroke play, players may play “ready golf” in a safe and responsible way (see Rule 6.4b Exception).”

In other words, get on with the game.

But one sentence stands out from the above-quoted rules: “Players are encouraged to allow faster groups to play through.” This almost never happens in Japan for two simple reasons:

1. It’s barely a concept that’s thought about in Japan.
2. Fixed cart paths.

When I talked with Lauren Johnson, who gave a speech on pace of play at the USGA-JGA symposium, she wasn’t aware that the biggest obstacle to pace of play in Japan is that golf carts are invariably on a fixed path, making it impossible for one group to give way to another, faster group. Some courses do have free-roaming carts but they are expected to stay on the cart paths just like fixed carts. However, it is possible to play through and very, very rarely that happens. The old rules actually stated that two-ball groups had precedence over all other groups. In other words, you had to give way to a two-ball group. Now the rule is simpler, if the group behind you is faster, you should give way.

This almost never happens in Japan. But it’s not only other players who are to blame; the golf clubs and online booking services are also to blame. It’s very, very annoying when you book an early tee time for you and your friend only to find there’s one group ahead of you and it’s a foursome of old people who stick to their old traditions and think they’re playing by the rules. When you made your booking, there was no way of knowing who or how many people would be in front of you because online booking systems in Japan allow you to book two to four people on either the out course or the in course. Surely, there’s a more rational way of doing this. Wouldn’t it be better if all the foursomes were routed to one nine and all the twosomes to the other nine. Threesomes could go either way, hopefully ensuring that neither nine is overbooked. This would make it far more likely that the groups on one nine would progress at the same pace.

And then there’s the groups who want to play through. As I have stated above, clubs such as Ichinomiya will go out of their way to help groups play through, while others just don’t care or can’t be bothered. Why? Why? Why?


There really aren’t many reasons why playing through shouldn’t be an option at every golf course. The prime reason why golf clubs THINK they can’t accommodate golfers who want to play through is that they think it will be difficult. The real reason why I have to have nearly a two-hour lunch at 9 a.m. is because the tee times between 9 and 10:30 have already been allocated. Those starting early have to wait until all other groups that have booked have gone out. But the answer is very, very simple.

If a group that starts at 7 a.m. makes a booking with an option to play through, then the golf club eliminates a tee time at, say, 9:10 or 9:20 to allow that group to go through. They can add tee times after 10:30 to accommodate those who want to play a little later and still have the same number of groups each day finishing at the same time. There might be a need for all parties to be a little flexible, but players often have to wait anyway and traffic jams can cause heavy delays. Overall it would give players a more satisfying golf experience. Japanese golf clubs are wrong if they think that Japanese players don’t want to play through. It would also make sense for golf clubs to offer both earlier and later starting times to allow more groups on the course, especially at weekends. I once called a golf club from Narita airport asking for a tee time at 11 a.m. “We can’t do that,” came the reply. There were no starting times after 10:30. If the sun sets at 7 p.m., there should at least be starting times until 2 p.m. It’s very frustrating to drive past golf courses at 5 in the afternoon and see nobody playing, the flags removed and the course getting ready to shut up shop.

The last resort

Finally, there’s my experience at Kanucha Resort in Okinawa. I went there as a journalist and promised to publish my article on golf websites, a good opportunity for publicity for the resort. They came back with an offer: You can play six holes! If you think that sounds ridiculous, their next statement was even more absurd: “You can’t play on your own.” This is ridiculous in itself, but it is compounded by the fact that we’re talking about a resort golf course. So, a player could travel halfway around the world to experience an Okinawan golf course, he could take his clubs and his gear and then be told he can’t play because he’s on his own? At a resort course with almost no players on it? This is pure idiocy and symbolic of Japan’s resistance to change. In the West, a solo player expects to be teamed up with one, two or three other players, especially at a resort course or busy course. It’s nice to see there’s been a little headway on accommodating solo golfers in Japan, but so far the progress is slow.

And that is Japan: Progress is slow. When I worked at The Japan Times, my Japanese boss once refused to use an idea I had. I asked him why and he replied: “Because it’s never been done before.” Golf courses in Japan, which in general are a joy to play on, are facing a major crisis in the years to come as the population declines and the economy falters. If they’re not going to do stuff that hasn’t been done before, many of them are doomed.

Nov 6 2015

Victoria’s Video Debut


Jun 20 2015

The Battle of Okinawa (excerpt)

Most Leathernecks viewed Okinawans merely as more “Japs,” who might look and act somewhat differently from those the Marines had previously encountered but who were still subject to suspicion and definitely not to be trusted. “All they know about Americans is what they get from Tokyo propaganda,” the handouts warned, “so you can expect them to look at you as though you were a combination of Dracula and the Sad Sack— at first, anyway.” What Tokyo was telling the Okinawans , and what was being reinforced by a large majority of the Japanese soldiers Tokyo had sent to their island, was that the Americans were devils, in the most literal and loathsome sense of the term. They were devils whose sole desire was to kill Okinawans in the most brutal , merciless ways possible. They would shoot Okinawan men on sight, but instead of a quick kill , they preferred to leave their victims writhing in agony for as long as possible. They would rape and torture Okinawan women and butcher their children before their eyes . At times, they would pretend to be friendly, but the gifts of candy or other food they offered were always laced with poison.
To emphasize these points, some Japanese soldiers supplied the Okinawans with grenades so that they could blow up themselves and their children before the American devils could subject them to their unquenchable bloodlust. But when U.S. troops began finding grenades hidden on civilians, their first assumption was that the explosive charges were intended to hurt or kill Americans, rather than as instruments of self-destruction. Hence, every confrontation between traumatized natives and wary invaders held the potential for violent tragedy. It may have been somewhat worse in the early going, but what no American could anticipate was the depth, intensity— and obsessive power— of many Okinawans’ fear. It seemed to have a life of its own.
By their very nature, the Okinawans were a peaceful, nonaggressive people, who hadn’t seen armed conflict on their soilin more than 300 years. Then the Americans had come, first to rain fire bombs and high-explosive shells on their cities and towns and later to storm ashore by the tens of thousands, sweeping across the countryside, brandishing their awesome weapons and , it seemed, searching for Okinawans to brutalize and murder.
“The most pitiful things about the Okinawan civilians,” said PFC Gene Sledge of K/ 3/ 5, “were that they were totally bewildered by the shock of our invasion, and they were scared to death of us. Countless times they passed us on the way to the rear with fear, dismay, and confusion on their faces.”
Author George Feifer cites the case of eleven-year-old Shigeko Sonan, eldest daughter of a family in Gushikawa, a village seven miles east of the landing beaches, near the east (Pacific) coast. Although ordered by the Japanese to evacuate before the landing, the family had elected to stay, and Shigeko, her three younger sisters, and their pregnant mother were terrorized by the preinvasion bombs and shells, some of which landed in their village. In school, Shigeko had been taught all about “subhuman Americans who drowned deformed infants and killed healthy but unwanted babies by bashing their heads against a wall,” wrote Feifer in his book, Tennozan: The Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb. “She knew about their racist yearning to destroy and depopulate Divine Japan, except for the few attractive women they planned to keep for their insatiable animal lust.” Not surprisingly, Shigeko was petrified with fear when the invaders began marching toward Gushikawa. When an American plane flew overhead, she believed it was shooting directly at her as she took cover. After the girl’s father made his way home from working as an enforced laborer for the Japanese, the family decided to flee with as much food as they could carry and try to reach the northern village where they’d been assigned. But a bombed-out bridge forced them to leave their provisions behind, and they struggled on by foot, traveling only at night.
The family came close to starvation , but when Shigeko and the other children accepted chocolate and K-rations from the Americans, their parents threw the food away, fearing it was poisoned. Eventually , the children’s hunger won out, and they ate some of the food, anyway. Otherwise, they subsisted on boiled grass, tree bark, edible palms, and discarded half-rotten sweet potatoes. As the family fled from one end of the island to the other, some of the huts where they hid were burned by advancing U.S. troops, and Shigeko witnessed the rape of a young woman by two American soldiers. At the scene of a fierce battle, they came upon dozens of blown-apart Japanese corpses. Too weak from hunger to dig deep enough to bury the bodies completely, they collapsed from exhaustion among the corpses, stuffing leaves in their noses in an effort to block out the smell. The family’s plight continued for more than three months and might have lasted longer if Shigeko’s mother hadn’t given birth while seriously ill with malaria. The children were walking skeletons, and, because of her illness, Shigeko’s mother had no milk for the baby. Faced with all this, the girl’s father finally brought his family down from the mountains and surrendered to the Americans. Within a few hours, they were in a detention camp, where they were fed and sprayed with DDT, but the ordeal had been too much for Shigeko’s four-year-old sister , who died a few days later of illness and malnutrition. Surviving family members weren’t allowed to return to their village for ten months after the fighting ended, and when they got there, all their possessions were gone. Despite this, the Sonans were luckier than most Okinawan families. Only one family member had succumbed to their ordeal; none had met violent death at the hands of the American devils , and none had committed suicide.
Corporal Don Dencker of the 96th Infantry Division’s 382nd Regiment, Second Battalion, had paused in the drive east across the island when he confronted his first civilians. As Dencker and his buddy, PFC Ernie Zimmer, were setting up their mortar and dining on K-rations, they noticed an Okinawan woman come out of a cave on a nearby hill. She glanced down at the two GIs for a moment, then quickly ducked back inside. Dencker hadn’t seen even one Japanese soldier, either dead or alive, since coming ashore, but he decided the cave warranted investigation. With Zimmer covering him, he drew his .45 and approached to within about fifty feet of the entrance. “De-tay-ko-ee!” Dencker yelled. The strange-sounding phrase meant “come out” in Japanese and was among three or four potentially useful expressions included in the GIs’ preinvasion orientation. Dencker waited. When nothing happened, he eased closer to the cave and yelled again: “De-tay-ko-ee!” This time , seven figures slowly emerged— three women, two children, and two old men— and stood staring at Dencker in obvious terror. When he motioned them forward, they took a few halting steps toward him, then stopped. The women sobbed and whispered nervously to each other. “Move! Move!” Dencker shouted, advancing to within a few feet of the group and pointing to the path that led down the hillside. The Okinawans still stood there immobilized by fright until one old man stepped forward . He pointed to the pistol in Dencker’s hand, then to his own head, repeating the gesture several times until its meaning became distressingly clear: He was asking— actually pleading— for Dencker to shoot him in the head. Dencker refused, of course, and after several more minutes, he managed to coax the group down from the hill and into the company’s defensive perimeter. When two MPs showed up a short time later and led the civilians away to one of the detention centers hurriedly being set up in rear areas , Dencker felt a surge of relief. For the time being, he thought , the war was over for these Okinawans, and they’d been spared— in part, at least, from themselves and their own anguished fears. But as Dencker and his comrades would later see with their own eyes, thousands of other innocent noncombatants would be denied this little group’s good fortune. Within the next few days, they would come across the bodies of dozens of civilians who had died of self-inflicted wounds.
CORPORAL DAN LAWLER of K/ 3/ 5’ s machine-gun section had never seen kids refuse to eat candy— not until now. But the little Okinawan boy, who looked about seven years old and had ventured out of a cave with his younger sister, was adamant about it. When Lawler held out a K-ration chocolate bar to the boy, he shook his head so hard that Lawler was afraid it would fall off his skinny shoulders. “They were the cutest damn kids you ever saw,” Lawler recalled more than sixty years later. “Neither one of them appeared to be injured, but they were both so scared they were shaking, and their clothes were streaked with dried blood.” Lawler continued to hold the chocolate bar out toward them, smiling and awkwardly repeating a phrase that he thought meant, “Don’t be afraid. Come on out, and we’ll give you some food.” The boy shook his head again, his eyes wide with fright. “The kid thinks the candy’s poisoned,” said Lawler’s assistant gunner. “The Japs’ve told these people if they ask us for anything we’ll kill ’em. Maybe if you took a bite of the candy yourself, the kid might change his mind.” Lawler shrugged and bit off a corner of the bar. He chewed it up and swallowed it, then licked his lips. “See, it’s good,” he coaxed. “Come on, try it.” The boy took a couple of steps forward with his sister peeking out from behind him, then he hesitated and shrank back. Lawler broke the other corner off the bar and ate it, too, with elaborate expressions of enjoyment . “Umm, that’s really delicious! You’d better come on and get it before I eat it all.” The kids couldn’t stand it any longer. The boy sidled up to Lawler, took what was left of the bar, broke off a piece for his sister, then gobbled down the rest. He managed a small smile as he turned and shouted something toward the cave. Then a whole group of Okinawans crept out into the daylight, smiling, bowing, and moving in slow motion with their eyes glued to Lawler and the other Marines. There were eight of them in all—two other children, two women, and two ancient, virtually toothless men. “We gave them all some candy,” Lawler recalled, “but they still refused to touch it unless one of us ate some of it first. You could tell they didn’t trust us as far as they could throw us.”
As Ushijima’s army deteriorated into small groups, desperate soldiers sought any means to elude advancing U.S. forces. Many attempted to slip past American lines by posing as civilians and mingling with women and children. “Near Itoman, we set up trip wires across the road that would set off flares if anybody hit one of them,” recalled Lieutenant Colonel Spencer Berger, commanding the Second Battalion, Seventh Marines. “That night, a mass of people— about 150 of them— came along and set off our flares. Many of them appeared to be women in kimonos, but then our guys noticed that some of them were also wearing boots.” Berger hesitated only a few seconds before ordering his troops to open fire. Almost every member of the group was killed —including more than forty kimono-clad Japanese soldiers.
Between June 1 and June 23, when the battle for Okinawa would officially end, American land and naval artillery eclipsed their earlier bombardments by pouring nearly 7 million rounds into the compressed southern area where the refugees crowded among the remnants of Ushijima’s army. Dead and dying civilians littered the roads and roadsides as dazed orphans and maimed adults dragged past, some crawling on hands and knees, with no concept of where they were going. To Tokuyu Higashionna, an Okinawan schoolteacher who crossed the area while trying to reach the town of Kyan on the southern coast, the scenes of mothers carrying dead children and living children lying on the corpses of dead mothers defied description. It was, he said, “Utter horror… dead everywhere … everywhere!…literally hell.” Every tragedy seems to have its elements of irony. The irony of this one was that, if the Okinawans had only done as they were instructed by either the Japanese or the Americans, the vast majority of civilian deaths could have been avoided. The Chinen Peninsula, which juts into the Pacific Ocean about four miles southeast of the town of Yonabaru, and where the civilians had been ordered to go by the 32nd Army, was almost totally untouched by the fighting. Likewise, if the noncombatants had assembled on the west coast highway and avoided Japanese troops, as the American leaflets urged , they also would have found safe haven, along with sufficient food and water, in the detention camps. As it was, however, close to 15,000 civilians are believed to have died during the retreat from Shuri alone— about the same toll suffered by Japanese troops— and those who survived then found themselves in a grinding trap between the armies from which there was no escape.
Evidence suggests that extremely few Okinawan civilians were actually “gung-ho” enough to stage deliberate attacks against Marines or GIs. But the thousands who leaped to their deaths from high cliffs, slashed their children’s throats, or blew themselves to bits with Japanese-provided hand grenades to avoid American brutality are ample proof that the Americans’ distrust was returned a hundredfold. Some sources contend, however, that the majority of Okinawans didn’t commit suicide but became victims of disease, starvation, Japanese atrocities, and indiscriminate American bombing and shelling. “[ T] he greater number of civilians slaughtered on Okinawa… more often died in days or weeks rather than minutes,” wrote historian George Feifer, “with that much more time to witness the agony of their families.” Meanwhile, some of the same Japanese soldiers in whom the Okinawans had placed infinite trust became the natives’ worst enemies. As the soldiers grew more desperate for food, water, and temporarily safe shelter, they systematically slaughtered men, women, and children who got in their way. Numerous eyewitness accounts tell of Japanese soldiers murdering crying children in cold blood for fear their cries would attract Americans to the soldiers’ hiding places. Military deaths on both sides of the battle totaled just under 120,000— at least 20,000 fewer than the number of noncombatants who died during the same period, according to official estimates. Virtually every Okinawan lost family members to the battle . About one of every three civilians living on the island in the spring of 1945 was killed. As the Japanese 32nd Army was collapsing and during the final mop-up by American forces, approximately 80,000 Okinawan civilians surrendered to GIs and Marines. Up to half of these were wounded, and many might well have died without the food, medical care, and other assistance they received at U.S . refugee centers.
Sloan, Bill (2007-10-23). The Ultimate Battle: Okinawa 1945–The Last Epic Struggle of World War II (pp. 310-311). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Sep 18 2014

I’m fine with YES or NO




Congratulations, Scotland, you’ve got a referendum. As a resident of Monmouthshire, nobody ever asked me if I wanted to live in Wales. Where was my fucking referendum when Monmouthshire was moved from England to Wales in 1974? There wasn’t one. The best I could do after that was to vote Plaid Cymru in the hope that Wales would just fuck off and leave the rest of England alone.
I’m English, but possibly up to a quarter Scottish (Douglass and Brown if you’re tribally inclined), so where should I stand on the Scottish referendum?
I’m English, so why should I give a fuck? In truth, if Scotland’s getting a referendum on independence, England, Wales and Northern Ireland should be getting the same choice. Would I like to be independent of Wales? Fuck, yes. Scotland? Don’t have a strong opinion about that, but it wouldn’t worry me.
So what should the Scots do?
Well, they have to think about the currency, security, the EU, oil, their health system, the national debt….but, wait a minute…..
They have to ask themselves:

1. Do I feel primarily Scottish or British?
2. Would I rather live as a Scot under a Scottish government or as a Scot under the cunts who make up the British government?

YES or NO?

Scottish NO voters (why the fuck do foreigners in Scotland get a vote?) will, I believe, vote NO on the basis of security. They think things will be more secure, safer, more economically sound under a British government.

They can never go back to a union again. FALSE
They can’t use the pound. FALSE.
They’ll be shut out of the EU. FALSE.
The oil fields are in English waters. FALSE.
Banks will desert Scotland. FALSE.
You won’t have a queen any more. FALSE.

While Alex Smugbastard may not be the poster boy I’d want for my country, I think I’d vote for him rather than the scaremongering and lying fuckheads in Westminster: David Camerloon, Corporal Clott and Ed Moribund. These people deserve to die horrible political deaths. They’ve already thrown away Britain’s sovereignty to the even bigger cunts of the EU, so why are they bleating about a country that wants self-determination? Is Scotland Palestine in disguise?

Can separation work? Well if can work for the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Sudan and South Sudan and the countries that used to belong to Yugoslavia, why the fuck can’t it work between two brotherly countries of the United Kingdom? And most of those countries above were separated violently; this is being done by a referendum. It’s about what people want, not what they’ve been forced into.

So the Scots are free to make a free choice. Good luck to them is what I say. If they vote to stay within the United Kingdom, I’ll be fine with that; if they vote to go their own way, I’ll be happy for them and, as a brother Englishman and part Scot, I’LL TRY TO HELP THEM, NOT TRY TO FUCK THEM UP.

The referendum’s a good thing.

Now bring on the fucking EU referendum. NOW!

Sep 9 2014

Blunders cost Japan as they draw with Venezuela


Yuya Osako was taken off at halftime.


YOKOHAMA, Japan, September 9, 2014 – Defensive mistakes spoiled Javier Aguirre’s second game in charge of Japan as his team twice let leads slip away in a 2-2 draw with Venezuela at Nissan Stadium in Yokohama.

After their 2-0 defeat to Uruguay in Sapporo on Friday, Japan started off brightly enough with Keisuke Honda firing just over the bar after 12 seconds. But it was a bit of a false dawn as the first half descended into a scrappy contest.

Venezuela’s Rosales forced Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima into a good save after 11 minutes, while Mario Rondon’s volley went wide in the 24th minute.

Kawashima was again called into action to save from a decent effort by Rondon on the half-hour mark after some some poor play by Hosogai let the Venezuelans in.

Venezuela continued to carve out chances but luckily for Japan the next three went off target.

Japan sparked only occasionally but a nice move in the 38th minute forced a save out of the Venezuela keeper Herndandez.

Aguirre realised changes were necessary at the break and took off the lightweight pair of Yoichiro Kakitani and Yuya Osaka in favour of Shinji Okazaki and Yoshinori Muto.

The change paid off quickly for Japan.

Six minutes into the second half, Muto seized on a poor clearance from Venezuela, sprinted forward 30 meters and rifled in a left-foot shot from just outside the box.

Things were looking up and Maya Yoshida showed his confidence with a superb covering tackle in the 54th minute on Mario Rondon.

But three minutes later his fellow defender Hiroki Mizumoto let him down. The Japanese defender allowed Guerra to rob him of the ball in the middle of the park and after a chase into the box, brought him down.

Rondon stroked the penalty down the middle to make the score 1-1.

Suddenly, the game was livelier. Honda was able to be more involved than the first half when there was no pattern to Japan’s attacking play, Muto was looking confident and Yuto Nagatomo started to make more runs down the left in conjunction with Okazaki.

And it was Okazaki who turned it on for Japan’s second goal in the 67th minute. He sped down the left and put in a hopeful ball to the center where Gaku Shibasaki was on hand to sweep the ball home with a nicely controlled downward shot from 10 meters.

After Vizcarrondo brought down Muto just outside the box, Honda had a chance to put the poor free-kicks from Friday’s game against Uruguay behind him and he did well but saw his shot rebound off the inside of the post.

That was to prove costly when Cichero unleashed a speculative shot at the Japan goal in the 71st minute. Kawashima had it covered all the way but let it slip through his gloves to make the score 2-2.

Kawashima made up for that with a neat save from a Rosales long shot in the 84th minute, but Japan couldn’t pull another goal back and Aguire will have to wait another month for his first win.

Sep 5 2014

Japan lose to Uruguay on Aguirre’s debut


Tatsuya Sakai loses the ball before Japan’s first goal


By Fred Varcoe

SAPPORO, Japan, Sept. 5, 2014 – Javier Aguirre had a disappointing start to his reign as Japan manager after his side lost 2-0 to Uruguay at the Sapporo Dome on Friday.

Japan gifted Uruguay a goal in each half – Edinson Cavani in the 34th minute and Abel Hernandez in the 71st minute – and struggled to create chances.

Aguirre opted to play with Hiroshima’s Yusuke Minagawa up front and a back four of Yuto Nagatomo, Maya Yoshida, Tatsuya Sakai and Hiroki Sakai. Masato Morishige and Hajime Hosogai played in front of them, with Keisuke Honda, Shinji Okazaki and Sporting Lisbon’s Junya Tanaka providing the attacking impetus in midfield.

Japan started brightly enough and were able to keep Uruguay in their half of the pitch for much of the first half. Okazaki had an early but weak shot, while Honda planted the first of a series of free-kicks in the Uruguay wall.

In the 14th minute, Nicolas Lodeiro took a free-kick and Cristian Rodriguez had a free header but put his effort over the bar from 6 meters out.

Okazaki responded with some dazzling work down the left to give Minagawa a similar chance, but the Sanfrecce Hiroshima striker also headed over.

Japan came under pressure around the 25-minute mark and made a couple of very poor defensive headers, a sign of trouble to come as it turned out.

In the 34th minute, Hiroki Sakai played the ball back to his namesake Tatsuya who had the simple job of controlling the ball and getting rid of it as two Uruguayans bore down on him.

Unfortunately, he failed to cushion the ball and let it run to Cavani, who offloaded it to Diego Rolan. Cavani ran for the rebound before squeezing the ball past goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima and a desperate lunge of atonement from Sakai. Japan 0, Uruguay 1.

To be fair, Japan had acquitted themselves decently up to that point and the game was open, perhaps even there to for the taking by whichever team showed a bit of drive and imagination. Tanaka was looking the most likely to do the job for Japan but he didn’t have enough strong support.

Japan need to find another Yasuhito Endo, a player who can take the ball and distribute it with ease. Japan were also missing Makoto Hasebe in defensive midfield and while Morishige did a decent job, Hosogai still has to turn in a convincing performance for the national team.

Tanaka’s last major contribution was a decent 25-meter shot that went straight to Uruguay keeper Fernando Muslera. He was replaced by Yoichiro Kakitani with about a quarter of an hour to go.

Before that, Uruguay had gone 2-0 up. Hiroki Sakai, who had one of the first half’s dodgy headers, inexplicable headed a cross back into his own box. Kawashima made a great save from Lodeiro’s fierce shot but Tatsuya Sakai couldn’t clear the ball and Hernandez rushed in to fire it home from close range.

Honda had time to fire his third crap free-kick into the Uruguay wall as Japan resorted to negative play and didn’t look like scoring.

However, in a rare ray of hope, substitute Yoshinori Muto saw a lovely 25-meter volley bounce off the inside of the post in the 88th minute.

Japan weren’t going to get any closer than that and will have to hope for better luck against Venezuela on Tuesday.

Dec 2 2013

U.K. to the world: No dogs or Koreans (rapists OK!)

 By Fred Varcoe

The traditional image of your average embassy is that they are there to protect a country’s citizens. My traditional image is that embassies are there to help move the country they represent closer to the country that hosts them.


Access all areas (if you've got the money)

Access all areas (if you’ve got the money)

The traditional image is complete rubbish, of course. Embassies exist to glorify the country they represent, to push the policies of the government in power and to drum up business and money. Citizens in trouble hamper these ambitions and are usually treated as dog shit on one’s shoe.

Take the case of my friend R in Saudi Arabia. She unwisely got pregnant to a married man. OK, he wasn’t a Saudi but a good stoning was still a possible outcome.

I know, she thought, I’ll get the nice people at the British Embassy to help me.

Er, it’s not our kind of business, the embassy people said, meaning, of course, that unless you help the UK make lots of money, you are of little use to us, so why should we be of use to you.

Luckily, R’s father did make lots of money for the U.K., and after phoning the Foreign Office, the lackeys at the embassy in Jeddah got R home where she could have her baby.

The British Embassy describes its role like this:

“We develop and sustain the important and long-lasting relationship between the UK and Japan. This involves dealing with a wide range of political, commercial, security and economic questions of interest to the UK and Japan.

“The British Embassy in Tokyo, together with the British Consulate-General in Osaka, represents the UK government in Japan. Our two offices work together to support the full range of British interests in Japan: international cooperation in support of our values and working to reduce conflict; building Britain’s prosperity through increased trade and investment in open markets; and supporting British nationals who visit and live in Japan through modern and efficient consular services.”

The bit about helping British citizens seems to be a bit of an afterthought.

Recently, Britain’s ambassador to Japan, Tim Hitchens, made it clear that British embassies are more concerned with commercial benefits than British citizens, with business and political relationships rather than human relationships.


U.K. ambassador to Japan Tim Hitchens

U.K. ambassador to Japan Tim Hitchens

In 2012, the British government introduced legislation that seriously penalises British citizens married to non-EU spouses. The Guardian quoted Home Secretary Teresa May as saying that British citizens can marry who they want, but “if they want to establish their family life in the UK, rather than overseas, then their spouse or partner must have a genuine attachment to the UK, be able to speak English, and integrate into our society, and they must not be a burden on the taxpayer. Families should be able to manage their own lives. If a British citizen or a person settled here cannot support their foreign spouse or partner they cannot expect the taxpayer to do it for them.”

Part of that seems reasonable, but does it seem fair?

Know this; earn this

My wife is Korean. We carried our earlier married life entirely in Japanese. The new rules require a reasonable level of English. She might have that now, but if we wanted to go to the U.K. halfway through our 15-year marriage, her level of English would not have been high enough and she would have been rejected on those grounds.

She is also required to have knowledge of life in the U.K., including useless facts such as: How many members does a jury have in Scotland/ Which daughter of Henry VIII was a devout Catholic and persecuted Protestants?/ In which year was the National Trust founded by three volunteers? Where is Europe’s longest dry ski slope situated?

My wife has been to the U.K. many times and even stayed with my mother for six weeks (when her English – but not her sanity – improved). She knows more about English life than someone who can remember that French people called Norman invaded in 1066 (and I only learned this week that the Normans were actually relocated Vikings). She can make shepherd’s pie, Yorkshire pudding, porridge and marmalade. She understands her British husband and where he’s from (although it often seems that he doesn’t). She didn’t need to speak English to understand this and she doesn’t need to know how many inches there are in a yard to understand British culture.

You can’t quantify a relationship!

Oh, but the British government is trying. Childless couples where one partner is British and the other non-EU must earn a minimum of £18,600 to be allowed to settle in the U.K. If you’ve got children, you have to earn more.

Auberon Waugh wrote in in Another Voice: “The whole language of politics is geared to treating anything as good which is conducive to general prosperity, anything as bad which is detrimental to it. Often one finds whole passages of political rhetoric … which assume that this pursuit of prosperity is the only and supreme Good.”

Oscar Wilde’s perspective is still definitive: “People nowadays know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

This is true of the British government and current ambassador to Tokyo Tim Hitchens doggedly follows the government line. Here’s his meandering and totally unconvincing response to my question concerning the restrictive and illogical new immigration rules for spouses of British citizens (who, like my wife, can also be parents to British citizens):

“We live in democratic societies and therefore need to respond to the pressures from our electorate and there are two different strong pressures that are operating in the U.K. at the moment. One is the need to achieve growth to pull out faster from our economic difficulties and the other is the need to control legal immigration. Those are two very powerful messages that come from the electorate and therefore one has to get the balance right between those two. It’ll mean that there are tough rules that are unpopular with certain people who want to come and which are very popular with the electorate and there are other moves which encourage businesses to work and to allow us to have more students coming, allowing a loosening of visa rules on Japanese businesses operating in the U.K. which some in the U.K. population may wish we didn’t do because that seems a bit loose to them, but our judgement is that … [garbled] … we keep on having an open economy and encouraging investment in the UK. So those are the two competing forces. I don’t think that this is an issue that is particular to Britain and I think this is exactly the same debate that you would get if you were trying to get into France, if you were trying to get into the United States or if you were trying to get into Japan, and it will always be one of the hardest issues to respond to because everyone will have a personal vested interest in the particulars of the policy and moving it back to the democratic legitimacy of the policy is a painful thing for that person to do. So that’s my honest response at the general level but it won’t satisfy you on a personal level because these are tough rules.”

It won’t satisfy me on a personal level because it’s a rubbish answer and if it’s really a policy, it’s a rubbish policy.

It’s the economy, stupid

First of all, the electorate in Britain is demanding an end to uncontrolled immigration. I’m sure the ambassador would say that immigration is controlled. Yes, there are rules, as we can see from the above, but they are haphazard at best.

Why do people want to control immigration? Is it about economics and jobs? Partly. British people see foreigners coming to Britain and finding jobs when the native population can’t, but of course in part the incoming foreigners are plugging a gap in the job market (as well as undercutting the rates of their British competitors). So, there may be an economic argument for both allowing them in and keeping them out.

But is there an emotional one? The main problem with immigration is that many people don’t want to live alongside people from other cultures. This is not universally true, but in Britain it’s hard enough for a northerner to settle in the south, let alone alongside a Korean or a Pole or a Bangladeshi. The history of India demonstrates that. The Indians were united in their desire to get rid of the British and divided in their approach to independence, which resulted in three imperfect countries (invariably at each other’s throats) instead of one. Point me to a country where immigration has benefitted the integrity and culture of a country (and no, the USA is not the right answer). Accepting outsiders is hard for most people. It’s not impossible; just hard. The British government seems to think that if you earn £18,600 and know why Hastings is pertinent to British history, it’s easy.

Quantify. Quantify. Hitchens went on to talk about the EU but to him – representative of the government of David Cameron (oh, and Corporal Clegg) – it again came back to how much the EU can do for Britain’s business:

“The single market is the key reason that Japanese investors want to be in the UK and I personally find it difficult under any circumstance to imagine any government wanting to take the UK out of the single market.”


Please don't leave us, rich Japanese company

Please don’t leave us, rich Japanese company

The problem is not one of a single market; it’s one of a single culture. The EU is trying to homogenize an amazingly diverse and culturally rich continent. As with politics, culture is largely local. Countries and their culture evolve from small communities. The EU’s attempts at a form of affirmative action and the undermining of national interests is going to tear countries – and the continent – apart. David Cameron says if the Conservative get in with a clear majority at the next election, he will put forward a yes/no referendum on EU membership two years later. That’s nearly four years away. He’s trying to dodge the issue. Britain should have had a referendum way before this. You will remember that Britain did have a referendum on entering the forerunner to the EU, the Common Market. The people of Britain said yes – to joining a small economic community in Western Europe, not to a monolithic, federalised pseudo-state.

Citizens of 28 countries can walk into my country, find a job, claim benefits and even get housing from the state. Nobody asked the citizens of my country if this was a good idea. Meanwhile, my wife of 15 years, has to jump through hoops to stay in Britain and be a mother to my 5-year-old daughter if I choose to go back home. The British government seems to think that Britain needs operate at maximum commercial capacity to survive in the modern world. Britishness, it seems, is something it can sacrifice on the altar of commerce.

Why should I have fewer rights to a family life in the U.K. than a couple from France or Slovakia? Why should a non-EU criminal have the right to a family life but not me (see here for one example of many: http://tinyurl.com/6ajkvx5). I married a woman I loved, but she’s not of sufficient commercial value to the country I was born in to allow her to reside there.

I wish I could rediscover the country I was born in, but it’s not there anymore.


Dec 3 2012



Japanese here: http://lostingumyo.blogspot.jp/2012/12/house-for-sale.html


Why do I want to sell my house?

Simple: I don’t want to sell my house.

But I do have genuine reasons why I want to sell my house.





Am I selling it because I’m afraid of another earthquake?

Definitely no. I was at home on March 11, 2011, and watched my house rock as the first earthquake hit. When I went inside, almost nothing had moved (a few books fell down).

I was impressed. In the nearby apartment block, televisions, glasses and other items crashed to the floor. I’m confident my house will be safe in an earthquake.


Six-mat upstairs room




Customized kitchen


Am I moving out of fear of tsunami?

No. My house is 10 meters above sea level. Of course, 10-meter tsunamis are possible but are very, very rare. The Boso Peninsula has been hit by big waves in the past but the area where the house is located has apparently never been flooded. The house sits behind a hill and the escape/safety areas are just three minutes away.






Am I moving because of any defect in the house?

No, one of the reasons we bought the house is because it could be lived in immediately.

That applies today. In fact, it’s more liveable. We’ve added various items: outside stairway paving, garden path, grass, three air conditioners, fitted kitchen, IKEA cupboards in the toilet and bathroom, a new water heater, new TV antenna, trees and plants, vegetable garden. We’ve lived here for five years and maintained it in good condition.





Second floor open loft area


What kind of house is it?

It’s a tall, open-plan, European-style house with large windows facing south. It has two rooms upstairs plus a large open loft area. There is a large, storage attic in the roof.

Downstairs, there is one tatami room and a large, long, bright, open living room with sliding doors opening onto the deck. The bathroom and toilet are tucked away at the back behind the kitchen.





Odd-shaped dividing line between our land and our neighbor’s


And the outside?

The house is situated at the end of a short (100 meters), non-paved road, so it’s veryprivate. We park two cars there. Our land is a strange shape and our neighbour’s garden appears to cut into our garden. As a result, the garden is almost divided into two (at one stage, our neighbour said she might be willing to sell part of her land to resolve this; I don’t know if this is still possible). The garden has many trees. There is a house next door, but the owners have only been there once in five years.






Am I moving because the area is unpleasant?

The area around the house is quiet, the sun and moon rise over a hill (and over the sea), you can see millions of stars, the air and water are clean, the supermarket and drug store are only a10-minute walk away, there are bars and restaurants and coffee shops nearby.

Kazusa-Ichinomiya station is only 10 minutes away by car and it’s only an hour from there to Tokyo. Taito port and beach area is a 15-minute walk away. It has a swimming area in the summer and people surf all the year round.

There’s also a huge pink apartment block nearby (with some famous tenants from the entertainment world). Some say it’s ugly. I think it has an art-deco feel about it and when the evening sun shines off it, it’s like being in Miami. More importantly, it’s also on the blind side of the house, so you don’t notice it. To me, it’s like an interesting friend. (And if you make a friend there, you can use the pool and sauna there.)


The ‘Pink Mansion’ shows off its style in the evening light



The attic (3F)



First floor, six-mat tatami room



The garden has been fully turfed

Nov 4 2012

Call them Okayama girls

Okayama Castle


By Fred Varcoe

I always thought Okayama was a fairly industrial type of place. Still, my opinion was immaterial as it was a place I never stopped at and never thought I’d visit. It’s famous for pink peaches, a green garden, a black castle and some stupid mythical kid (Momotaro, the peach boy), but really it’s just an ordinary provincial town between Kobe and Hiroshima.
I tried to gauge the buzz of the place by engaging in conversation with two very hot schoolgirls. Both had their uniform skirts hoisted high, one had blue contacts and they were good-looking girls.
“Where you going?” I asked casually, detecting that they really wanted to get to know me.
“Station,” came the reply with a giggle. Not a schoolgirl giggle really; childish, yes, but not stupid cute.
“You just finished school?”
“No. Today’s a holiday.”
“But you’re wearing your uniforms. What have you been doing?”
“In your school uniforms?” My fantasy life flashed before me.
“Yes, we like the uniforms.” So do I, honey.
“I’m heading for Starbucks.” I didn’t want to be too pushy. Play it cool, I thought.
“OK, fuck off.”
Ah, er, OK.
Alright, they didn’t tell me to fuck off directly, but they did in that way that young girls can, and do. They wanted to talk to the gaijin for a minute; that was about as much intercourse as they needed.
They probably weren’t schoolgirl prostitutes and as I only have 1,000 yen to last me for the rest of the year, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. But as I glanced around the streets of Okayama, it seemed to be full of provocatively attired teenagers. Was this place populated entirely by teenage prostitutes or was it my imagination?
Unfortunately, it was my imagination. I mentioned the fact on my Facebook page and my “friends” demanded pictures. Next day, I was ready with my phone camera, but all the teenage prostitutes had gone. In fact, I couldn’t find any prostitutes at all at 10 a.m. Strange town.



“It’s Saturday night
And I’ve just got paid,
Gonna find a whore
And try to get laid.”

Yes, I’m sure that’s what Bill Haley sung in his famous groundbreaking rock ‘n’ roll classic “Cock Around the Clock.” But it didn’t apply to me, ‘cos it was Thursday night, I hadn’t got paid, I wasn’t trying to find a whore and I never get laid. I’ve just finished my work and I’m plodding along the streets of Okayama. The internet tells me there are two bars that might be of interest to me.

“On weekdays (nights) there is nothing to do, but there are some bars around the main street. Aussie Bar is one of them which is a ‘gaijin bar,’ literally foreigners bar. It’s a friendly Australian bar but not so crowded on weekdays (even weekends recently). Weekends you can go to Club Matador, which is a Latino dance club with English-speaking staff. Friday nights they have salsa parties, which are not crowded, but on Saturday nights every bored foreigner and Japanese ladies who are looking for foreign guys are gathering there. The musics (sic) are South American-based boring stuff, but after few drinks you may like it. The place is hard to find and not so close to the station. It’s somewhere in Tamachi area (adults area).”

Ah, a ringing endorsement in disguise – or in disgust. I hit the streets, walking away from the east side of the station where I’m staying. According to the map, there’s nothing on the west side (although a couple of people I talk to tell me their favorite eating and drinking places are on the west side). I head up the street from my hotel. It seems relatively lively. There’s a couple of late-night coffee shops (they’re even hard to find in Tokyo), some bars and izakaya. Nothing adult. No schoolgirls, not many slutty looking women – in fact, not many people at all. Five minutes up the street, I’m outside the “hard-to-find” Club Matador wondering if I should chance their tempting-looking chicken and chips. Seems surprisingly pricey. Half a chicken and chips is 1,500 yen, 600 yen more than I pay at the press club in Tokyo. Let’s walk some more.
A few yards beyond Club Matador I’m standing on a tree-lined road that is split in two by a narrow, fast-moving river. It’s really very pleasant. That and the trams make the city seem very parochial. It’s like a throwback in time. I’m tempted by the smart-looking tapas bar I see, but that would also involve spending more than I want to. I wander further up the street past a pink-signed soapland advertising some cute local gals, none of whom appear to be teenagers, schoolgirls or partial to clothing. There’s a conveniently placed hotel to the rear. I circle back towards Club Matador and opt to stroll up the road-lined river.

Las Bimbas

Here’s Skippers, obviously trying to look like an English pub – and succeeding until I look at the menu. Pizza, pilaf, chili con carne? I glimpse inside. It looks alright. I’ll check it out another night when I might be in the mood for British pilaf. (I tried; it was closed.) Cafe Gong looks tempting in a dingy kind of way, but I have my walking boots on now and can’t stop. A deluxe darts bar looks OK (they have a Guinness sign outside), as do the modern-looking Agate and Shelter, but I end up outside Club Matador again and I’m hungry. I would really like their chicken and chips – so I order the guacamole plate. It’s barely passable (for 800 yen) and the bimbo next to me insists on nicking some of my doritos. Her (cuter) bimbo friend passes, but smiles in a non-patronising way. (Japanese bimbos are masters in the art of the withering smile; I’m sure they teach it at bimbo school.)
Bimbo 2 works in a dentist’s or is a dentist, or maybe she just likes teeth. Or perhaps she’s offering to clamp her teeth around my …. I really should learn more Japanese. Such faux pas could prove embarrassing. Anyway, it’s Thursday night and the two are out enjoying themselves, which seems to involve trying every cocktail on the menu.
“What’s that?” I inquire of the pink monstrosity in front of B2.
“It’s pink,” she replies.
“OK, but what flavor is it?”
I take a sniff.
She smells nice.
I sniff the drink.
Oh my god.
“It’s strawberry. It’s like a milkshake.”
“It’s got vodka in it,” Ippei, the English-speaking barman tells me.
Ippei is a handsome young chap who looks like he knows the bimbo sisters, or at least wants to undress them. His English isn’t perfect, but he’s very friendly and happy to talk. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have much to say. I tell him I was looking for the Aussie Bar, but was told it had closed down. I had asked three women I was working with in Okayama where the best places in town were, in particular the Aussie Bar. It was closed they said. So I asked them where I could go instead.
“To eat?”
“To drink, you know, a bar.”
Clueless. I’m not sure they even knew there was an east side to the station.
Luckily (a relative term in this context), I met Ippei.
“I’m working there tomorrow night,” he says. “Come along.”
Bimbo 1 has a headache, is whining and has decided to fall asleep in her food. I’d asked her what she does for a living.
What do you do all day?
What do you do at night?
“Are you a whore?” I imagined a brave version of me asking her.
“Of course I’m a fucking whore, you idiot. Do you think a normal person would dress like this?” I imagined her reply.
“Where’s the Aussie Bar?” I ask Ippei.
“I’ll draw you a map.”
Nice guy.
Fifteen minutes later he presents me with a map on a small but detailed piece of paper. He’s even colored in the river. If I’d had the time, I think he would have built me a three-dimensional mock-up of the area. It’s a very intricate map for something that only needs a few swift strokes of the pen. It turns out all he had to do was say: Go outside, turn left at the river and walk for three minutes.


How to get to Aussie Bar

The bimbos are becoming boring. The foxy barmaid is anything but – but she ignores me. Barman No. 2 grudgingly says hello. He says he’s Mexican. All his buddies speak Spanish. One plonks himself down beside me (I think to avoid sitting next to the black guy a few stools up.) I look at him; he looks at his drink. I look at my drink. I look at him again. He looks at his drink. I look at the barmaid. She looks at his drink. Time to leave.

Lowered expectations

“It’s Saturday night and…” I grab Ippei’s map and go in search of the Aussie Bar, which, of course, is just around the corner from everything else.
I cross the main street that leads from the station to the castle.
Everything goes dark. It was like someone had turned off a light switch. If there was actually anything there, I would call it the sleazy part of town. But it was just gloomy. There’s one place near the main street called the ORZ Bar. Is that it? I didn’t actually check what the Aussie Bar was called. You’d expect Waltzing Matilda or Ned Kelly’s Last Stand or the XXXX Bar or the Where the Bloody Hell Are You Bar. I decide the ORZ Bar isn’t it. Shame, it looks quite decent. As I venture further into the gloom, a dull yellow sign appears.
It says: “Aussie Bar.”
Great name.
I lower my expectations.
But it looks like a bar, a British bar really. Ippei is sitting next to the fridge and offers me a stool. He introduces me to the owner, Jason. Pleasant enough.
I’m hungry.
“What’s on the menu, Ippei?”
Not much, as it turns out. Mexican pilaf, chicken and rice, a dog turd and sausages.
The dog turd sounds tempting.
“What kind of sausages do you have, Jason?”
“Are they Japanese, or English style or German frankfurters, or what?”
“Errr… I don’t know. I think they’re Japanese.”
“Yes, I think they’re frankfurters,” Ippei chips in unhelpfully.
“What flavor is the dog turd?”
I need an alternative to unspecified sausages. Rice. You can’t go wrong with rice.
“What’s the Mexican pilaf like? Has it got beans? Is it hot and spicy?”
“It’s rice,” Ippei explains. “And Mexican.”
“And maybe a little bit spicy, but it’s good.”
“Can you put a dog turd on it?”
Mexican it is, then.

The Mexican chef tosses rice from the rice cooker into the pan, sprinkles chopped chilis on top and adds some home-spiced chili beans. In a few minutes of crazed flambé culinary magic, he has conjured up a healthy helping of home-cooked soul food to warm my stomach and my heart…

Ippei takes the plastic bag out of the microwave and cuts it open. The brown contents ooze onto a plate, which Ippei serves to me with his ever-cheery smile.
“Mexican pilaf,” he reminds me. It tastes good, but I was so hungry even my toenails would have tasted good.

Nice but Tim

“Here’s another Englishman,” Jason exclaims. “It’s Tim.”
Why, so it is. Never met him before, and within minutes I’m thinking he’s a complete twat. Might be marginally tolerable when he’s not pissed. Drunk, he comes at me with all barrels blazing.
“Writer? I’m a writer, too.”
“What do you write?”
“Oh, everything. You know…”
Er, nope; haven’t got a clue. No matter, he’ll keep talking.
“Do you know there are three ways from which to examine life? Love, justice and pity. These three define everything in life. Take David Beckham. His love of playing for England. The just decision to drop him. And the pity we have for him. You see; love, justice and pity. It defines everything.”
God, I wish I’d met this guy before I’d had that Mexican pilaf. I sense vomit.
Tim’s faux-yakuza shirt and wicker trilby are too close – not to each other, to me. Not only is he trying to ram his cod philosophy into my brain, he’s also trying to ram it down my throat physically. He goes to hug a guy at the bar. Then he comes back to me and makes to try and hug me. I warn him to back off.
“Tell me more about your philosophy, Tim.”
He rants. He’s still too close. This guy is obviously stir crazy. Small towns can do that to you. Luckily, he goes to the bog and the girl at the bar smiles at me. I move. She’s sitting with a guy who surfs and boxes. She works in Starbucks, and makes it sound like a career. Maybe in Okayama, it is. They’re friendly, although Starbucks girl is constantly looking over my shoulder at the entrance as if she’s seeking salvation from another patron as yet unarrived. Surf dude buys me a beer and asks if he can stay at my house in Chiba. I tell him my wife might not approve. He’s a little too insistent. And I don’t want to buy him a drink.
Jason distracts me by introducing Matt, another Englishman. He’s a middle-aged northerner with unfashionable glasses. Wearing an England shirt. He reminds me of a mad, very highly strung former submariner I used to work with in Saudi Arabia. Too wound up. Too intense. But compared to Tim, he’s almost a relief.
Time for a little relief of my own. Reality returns in the bog (luckily Tim’s left it).
What the fucking hell am I doing in a craphole like this? Aussie Bar? Any Aussie Bar that calls itself Aussie Bar is desperately saying to all sane people: Stay the fuck away!
I get the fuck out.

Eureka! Erikas!

Sunday morning. My last full day in Okayama. Time for a latte to sustain me through the afternoon’s work. It’s shopping day in Japan. Lots of girls; not a lot of fashion. Still, it makes pleasant viewing. A girl in a floral dress comes in, gives me a smile. It’s not the “Why the fuck are you looking at me” smile I usually get; it’s more a “Hello, have a nice day” kind of smile. But a genuine one.
Hot chicks in hot-pants waltz by outside the window. My peripheral vision catches a floral dress. It’s sitting next to me. It’s Erika; she’s a bank person. She’s very attractive. She speaks English.

Metal-tipped tentacles spring from her ears, she slices open the top of my head and removes my brain.

Surprisingly, this isn’t true. Erika is simply an angel sent by Bog in heaven to make me like Okayama. She lives half-an-hour out of town with her family and three dogs. She works in a bank. She likes Starbucks. She’s visited England (London, Oxford, Windsor, Canterbury, Salisbury). She wants to speak English with native speakers. She’s so pleasant I’m tempted to ask her what species she is.
She asks what I’ve done in Okayama. I tell her about the previous night’s visit to the Aussie Bar.
“An Aussie bar. Maybe I should go there.”
“NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” I suggest lightly.
Don’t you know anywhere else, I ask.
Not surprisingly, she doesn’t. She gets up at 5 a.m., gets to work before 8 a.m., finishes at 5:30 p.m., goes home, eats with her family, plays with her dogs and goes to sleep. In spite of the fact that she’s met me, she has faith in foreigners. She wants to meet her prince, she says.
“Prince Fred of Chiba?” I inquire.
As much as an angel can do it, she gives me the “fuck off” look.
So many Japanese know so little about the places where they live. I wonder if I know that little about England. Well, certainly I do now, but I’ve been out of the country for 30 years. Nevertheless, I know things. When I go to a new town – in any country – I try to walk around it. Sometimes, I walk for hours and hours. I look for restaurants or bars, nooks and crannies, history and schoolgirls. All the things a tourist needs. All the things a resident needs to know. After a two-hour walk around Okayama, I seemed to know more than all the residents I met there. And that happens all the time. I still know dick, but I know more dick than most residents.
But Erika restores my faith in the people of Okayama. I can’t judge the place on the few barflys I’ve met. She’s wholesome and genuine, not stupid and outgoing in a very demure way. I’m not sure she’ll find her prince in Okayama, but I know a few places she needn’t bother looking in.

Molly volley

But she wasn’t the only Erika sending out positives vibes from Okayama. Erika Araki is the captain of the Japan volleyball team and she hails from Okayama. On Saturday, she had been massive in helping Japan overcome the unbeaten Poles in the women’s World Grand Prix.



Recovering from an injury, she had come off the bench and put on a hero’s performance in front of her family, friends and fans. In fact, the whole team were awesome. They may not be giants on the international sports stage, but this particular group of players – coached by the tight-lipped, but, I suspect, very fucking good Masayoshi Manabe – is a wonderful advert for Japanese women, Japanese athletes and Japanese potential.
Hopefully, Okayama will be inspired by Erika and her teammates. Maybe all Okayama girls should be called Erika.
More likely, they’ll just be called Okayama Girls.
Don’t want to confuse the guys at Aussie Bar.