About Moon Tan

A girl who fell in love with a boy who decided to move to Japan.

Train manners

Being polite is practically the national pastime in Japan. Along with baseball, being considerate of others at all times is deeply ingrained within every Japanese person. This is one of the many many beautiful things about this country. You never have to endure listening to loud private conversations on public transport, road rage is pretty much non-existent (at least from what I’ve seen) and people are constantly apologising and thanking one another.

It’s all very nice and civilised. It has to be, considering that the population density in Tokyo is like a gabillion percent. It doesn’t pay to piss off your neighbours and fellow Tokyoites.

Public transport is a classic example of where all eschelons of society converge and have to live with each other. The impeccable manners of the Japanese people ensures that the trains are always pristine, punctual and polite. If a train is more than five minutes late you can receive a special note with an apology from JR that you can give to your punctual and polite boss. Amazing.

You are constantly reminded when you are on the train, that you cannot speak on your mobile phone. If you are standing in the general section of the train you must turn your phone to silent, and if you are near the priority seating (the haven of the elderly, the disabled and the pregnant) you must turn it off entirely. In most of the commuter trains in Tokyo you can hear a pin drop. It’s bliss.

It might then surprise you all to learn that the Japanese still believe, however, that everyone must be constantly reminded of the rules of politeness on the train. Even though they are drummed into even the tiniest of Japanese kids. Therefore, you can frequently see helpful and instructive posters on how to behave on the trains. Oddly (or not so oddly) they seem to be centred around the train stations in the foreigner districts. I can’t imagine why.

Here is a very special gem that Tamago and I found the other day on our local train platform…

Zooming in to take a closer look at my personal favourite. I particularly like that the writer has gone for a tricky idiom but somehow pulled it off:

And finally; when riding the train in Japan, always ensure that your seat is only as wide as your bottom. No room for self-esteem issues here…

An evening in Odaiba

Yesterday was ‘Marine Day’ in Tokyo. Neither Tamago nor I know what this is about but it means that Tamago had a long weekend and I didn’t have to work Monday morning – yay! To celebrate, Tamago and I decided to go to Odaiba on Sunday night.

We took the Yamanote line out to Shimbashi and then changed to the Yurikamome which is something between a monorail and a train. The Yurkiamome ride gave us spectacular views of Odaiba and some impressive Tokyo skyrise.

When we got to Odaiba we headed for what passes as a ‘beach’ in Tokyo. Happily we stumbled across the annual Festival of Seaside Lights which happens every Marine Day long weekend! This year’s theme was in support of Tokyo’s bid to host the Olympics in 2020. I wish we could say that careful planning went into this but it was just beautiful serendipity at work.

Enjoy:

From the beach. That's the Rainbow Bridge.

 

Feeling jolly after a few drinks on the water's edge.

Yes. There is a replica of the Statue of Liberty at Odaiba. No. We don't know why.

They gave people lighters and everyone helped to light the candles. Even kids!

Magic

Odaiba Festival of Seaside Lights: highly recommended

On communal nude bathing

For those of you who are waiting for Tamago’s life and death update I can put you out of your misery. He did in fact survive and came back in one piece. As to the details of the trip, I feel that it would be wrong of me to describe it second hand. You’ll have to wait til he gets around to his own blog post.

I, however, am here on an entirely different mission. To share with you all the communal nude bathing experience.

Tamago and I recently took a lovely trip up to Kusatsu Onsen which is about a four hour bus trip away from Tokyo (see here for travel guide). It’s a village in the mountains that we had heard from various sources, mainly students, is a nice place to go if you want to experience onsen (hot springs).

Once we arrived in Kusatsu and located our ryokan – Tamago and I set out to get naked with some Japanese people in extremely hot water. But first we had to check this out:Also known as Yubatake, it’s a hot water field where water from the hot springs bubbles up and is diverted down these wooden channels in order to cool it. Then it’s distributed to the numerous public baths and onsens in Kusatsu. It’s smack dab in the middle of town, only a five minute walk from the bus station. There’s a free foot bath nearby which is a plus. Oh and it REAKS of sulphur but you get used to the smell quickly!

Not to be distracted, Tamago and I continued on to the Sainokawara National Park where the most famous outdoor onsen in Kusatsu is located. For obvious reasons we couldn’t take photos in the actual onsen (if you want to see what it looks like click here) but this is what the walk looked like:

Most onsen have seperate bathing for men and women so when we got to the bath, Tamago and I nervously said goodbye and went into our separate change rooms.

In retrospect, you really only need to bring a towel with you. Or you could buy one at the onsen. Many Japanese people make do with a very small towel which they fold and put on their heads while they bathe.

Of course, it being Japan, there is etiquette that goes with onsen bathing. If you’re really interested this is a very cute guide. The overall rule is: never do anything that might remotely get the water dirty. This means that you can’t wear bathers in the bath, if you have long hair you should tie it up, and you should always always wash before you get in. Usually there is a shower or in the case of Sainokawara there is a basin with bowls for you to splash yourself. Basically just copy what everyone else does! If you do it wrong, the Japanese will very gently help guide you back to the correct way of doing things.

The bath itself was large and the water is about thigh height on a tall gaijin. You have to get in VERY slowly as the water is VERY hot. Once you’re in you can walk to a submerged bench and ease in up to bellybutton height. When you’re feeling ok with that, you can sit on the bottom of the bath up to your neck!

Needless to say, it is super hot and you can’t help but feel a bit like you’re a frog being slowly cooked. I had to dip in and out a couple of times becuase it’s soo hot. It did feel great though. The water is silky smooth and there’s probably nothing more peaceful than a hot bath amongst the trees. Surprisingly it’s very social and there were several groups of young women chatting and laughing but also plenty of others just sitting back and enjoying the serenity.

I know what you’re all thinking. Seriously? You bathed nude with a whole bunch of strangers? Yes. And yes it was confronting for my upper middle class Aussie/British upbringing. I’m really not comfortable with public nudity but the cliche is true. It’s very liberating and if everyone else is doing it, it’s not so weird. Once you’ve undressed there’s no turning back! And the plus side is that even in Japan, land of the size 6 woman, there is always someone who has more wobbly bits than you, and who cares less about them than you do. Excellent.

One of the best experiences I’ve had so far in Japan. Hands down.

Onsen: highly recommended

Ankle biters

I never expected that my working life so far would turn out to be so kid-oriented. I don’t have a super high tolerance for tantrums about socks, I’m not especially interested in answering a gabillion senseless questions regarding ants and I don’t really understand why kids have to make huge amounts of noise all the time. Don’t get me wrong, like most people I think kids are darn cute but I just don’t think I was born with a disproportionate interest in them.

However, fate has handed me a series of part time jobs, all of which have involved me spending large amounts of time with small humans. This year in Japan is no exception.

One of my (many) current roles involves teaching preschool to Japanese and Western kids in English two days a week. It’s exhausting and frustrating and very rewarding all at the same time. I’d like to share some discoveries I’ve made with you.

1. You don’t need to speak the same language to communicate. By pointing ominously to the naughty chair and giving the teacher eye you can convey dire things.

2. Kids are, for the most part, pretty similar. Sorry Mums and Dads, I know your child is your precious little snowflake and that’s how it should be. I think every child is unique…but I also know that when it’s windy outside they are all equally feral and when they zonk out in your arms they are all equally cute. Oh and sharing Thomas the Tank Engine toys doesn’t come naturally to anyone.

3. Maybe it’s just the kids I get to see in this job (kids who get dressed in Ralph Lauren to attend preschool) but there seems to be a difference in how dirty Japanese and Western kids are willing to get.

Back home, most children I hung out with actively sought out the way in which they could get the most dirty in the shortest amount of time: literally rolling around in a pile of dirt (true story), painting their entire arm or deliberately squeezing globs of glue onto their hands to peel off later. Actually that is pretty fun.

Most of the Japanese kids I work with are VERY reluctant to get dirty. If they get a tiny spot of paint on their hands there is a mini panic and soap and water has to be administered immediately. Making any kind of mess seems to be a bit scary. We did water balloons the other day and surprise, surprise the one American kid in the class was running around like a lunatic throwing every water balloon in sight and the Japanese kids were staring at him like he was an alien whilst cupping their own water balloons reverently.

Needless to say it’s my secret mission to encourage as much mess as possible.

4. In a similar vein, Japanese people seem to love structure for their kids. Playtime at the park is from 11.30 until 12. And no, you cannot take the kids to the park at 11.20 so don’t even ask. However, if you want to be a really sneaky gaijin teacher you can take the kids to the park at 11.30 and conveniently forget to come back on time…you will get the gentlest of fairy scoldings from your boss. But hey, you’re a foreigner, you’re expected to do nutty things like that.

5. Nothing compares to the high you get when you actually TEACH a tiny person something even if it’s just that A is for Apple or how to play What’s the Time Mr Wolf. It’s pretty amazing.

 

Sunday afternoon in Yoyogi Park

Is insane.

Imagine a music festival, the post-Christmas sales at David Jones, a Wiggles concert, the Clipsal and Australia Day at the beach all rolled into one and you will begin to approach a slight understanding of what Yoyogi Park on any given Sunday from April to October is like.

The crowd is just as diverse and it is just as insane.

Tamago and I unwittingly and delightfully stumbled across this phenomenon only recently. Up until now, it has been the dead of winter in Tokyo (see earlier blog post) so we haven’t been venturing out much. But at long last the weather has finally turned and we have had some days where the top has been in the double figures! We decided to take advantage of the sunshine and have a relaxing picnic in Yoyogi Park.

Or so we thought.

We emerged from the packed train and were immediately gobsmacked by the sheer amount of bodies in such a small space. Harajuku station was a zoo and Takeshita Street (the main drag) was ridiculous. We shoved our way through to Tamago’s favourite takoyaki shop (if you want to know what takoyaki is click here) and spent a fascinating 15 minutes standing in line watching the deft hands of the shop owners make hundreds of takoyaki. Of course when we started waiting in line, we only wanted four, but by the time we got to the front of the line we ordered 16. I’m sure there’s some kind of exponential maths equation that could explain this. Something like time spent waiting multiplied by original number desired to the power of the deliciousness of the smell.

 

Anyway, that mission completed, we clutched our takoyaki like a trophy and slowly made our way to Yoyogi Park. The first thing we saw was this:

Yes. Rock and rollers in the park. They didn’t seem terribly organised. There was no performance per se and no routine to speak of. They were just dressed up and boogieing down. Completely assured that they were contributing to the general happiness of everyone else. And they sure were.

We made our way into the park and found a patch of lawn to sit on. Being gaijin, we hadn’t got the memo about bringing a picnic blanket. But also being gaijin, that didn’t really phase us. We plonked down amongst hundreds of groups of people sitting on blankets, eating, playing games and just revelling in the sunshine.

Oh and:

Women in incredible outfits that I would only wear to job interviews were slipping off their stilettos and plonking themselves onto blue tarps. Young men were skipping with giant skipping ropes. Mothers and sons were playing badminton. It was awesome chaos.

Tamago with his takoyaki!

After we finished our takoyaki, Tamago and I took a stroll through the park and soaked up the atmosphere.

Space is at a hugely high premium in Tokyo so people tend to get together with recreational groups to practice in the park because it’s free! We saw girls doing baton twirling routines on a bike path, old men practicing kendo under the cherry blossoms and even a bunch of people dancing in a thick clump of trees in strange Rocky Horror-esque costumes and filming the whole proceedings.

Japan is weird. This is not news.

We wandered past some stunning flowerbeds:

Plus a couple of dog parks. We spent a good 20 minutes gawking at the dogs and deciding which one we would most like to dognap. The highlight for me was the man with two Saint Bernards. To state the obvious: these are freaking enormous dogs. Like, you need a small farm to have one in Australia. So the million dollar question is: WHERE IS HE KEEPING THE SAINT BERNARDS WHEN THEY’RE NOT AT THE PARK??

Possibly the coolest part of our afternoon in Yoyogi Park was this:

That’s right. He’s holding a giant bubble wand. Kids and adults alike were going nuts. As far as we could tell, the bubble man was not getting paid for this service. He was just in the park making bubbles for the masses. What a champ.

Yokohama

A several weeks ago, Tamago and I decided to venture forth from the heaving metropolis that is Tokyo and explore a slightly smaller metropolis: Yokohama!

Yokohama is a harbour city that is less than half an hour train ride from Tokyo’s Shibuya station if you catch the limited express (if you take the local train it will take FOREVER!) You can get there really cheaply if you take the time to do some research (for example: here) into which train line is best. If you take the Tokyu Toyoku Line it only costs 260 yen one way.

We had heard mixed reports about Yokohama, some people say there’s nothing there, and others told us it is a fantastic day out. We had to see for ourselves.

As we disembarked from our train and emerged from the main Yokohama train station, the smell of salt water hit us (well me, Tamago has a spectacularly bad sense of smell). Ahh. Smells sorta like home. I was really keen to try and hire bikes in from somewhere near the station so we could cycle along the harbour front but predictably this turned out to require forward planning as does most things in Japan. If I was doing it again, I would be tempted to look into this (eg here) because the harbor front of Yokohama is well suited to cycling. There’s a nice flat bike path pretty much from the station all the way to China Town!

Thwarted by the tangled web of complicated administration required to hire bicycles Tamago and I hoofed it from the station. With no real plan and a vague map we walked towards Yamashita Park, passing the Red Brick Warehouse and the Cup Noodles Museum on the way. Unfortunately both of these places were closed the day we went but I think they would be well worth a look if we visit again.

As we strolled along in the unseasonably warm sunshine we spotted an amusement park. Yokohama Cosmo World is pretty much impossible to miss if you walk along the front as it has a pretty massive Ferris Wheel! Naturally, we had to check it out and luckily it was completely deserted the day we went. Maybe because it was Tuesday at 11am in February. We went for a ride on the Ferris Wheel. The dodgy Engrish voiceover at one point told us it was the biggest Ferris Wheel in the world, but later then said “one of the biggest Ferris Wheels in the world”. All I’d be willing to say is that it probably was, at some point in time, the biggest Ferris Wheel in the world. It might now be in the top ten. We also went on the ‘Disappearing’ rollercoaster which was reportedly a pretty tame experience for Tamago but I’m terrified of rollercoasters I kept my eyes closed the entire time.

The other big drawcard for Cosmo World was the massive video game arcade. Heaps of skilltesters but lots of classics such as Dance Dance Revolution, MarioKart and table hockey.

After prying Tamago’s fingers loose from the controllers of a Hello Kitty skilltester we continued our walk. We made it to Yokohama’s famous Yamashita Park and saw the NYK Hikawamura – once called the Queen of the Pacific, anchored in Yokohama Bay.

After discovering a very strange fountain…

we pressed on…

we finally found Chinatown! Yokohama was once the centre of immigration to Japan (seeing as it’s the harbour) so many immigrants stepped off the boats and settled right there – many of them Chinese. The Chinatown was amazing. The main roads in and out are guarded by huge gates. Inside you will find wall to wall dumpling shops, restaurants and panda themed souvenir stores. Tragically by the time we got there we were running out of time so we didn’t get a chance to truly experience everything Chinatown had to offer. But apparently Yokohama is beautiful at night so we have big plans to return for feasting and merriment in the near future!

Yokohama day trip – recommended!

The many faces of Tokyo public transport: a people spotter’s guide

1. The Go Go Grandma

These savage senior citizens will stop at nothing to get a seat on the train. They are not above pushing you onto the tracks if you look like you’re eyeballing one. Their preferred weapon of choice is a gigantic shopping bag filled with what I can only assume are the skulls of gaijin who have wronged them in the past. They will hip and shoulder you like a Port Adelaide full back and the worst part is that their hip and shoulder is in line with the average foreigner’s stomach and knees. Very painful. Plus you never see them coming. However, once they’re on the train and merrily ensconsed in a corner seat (prime position) they are relatively harmless and are content to mutter and shoot dirty looks at everyone. In the interest of fairness I should say that the Go Go Grandpa does exist, but he is rarer. Also he doesn’t seem to glare at the schoolgirls so much…

2. Snoozy, Sleepy, Slobbery

A lot of people who work in Tokyo don’t necessarily live in Tokyo so they have a long commute. Plus the Japanese are famous for working ridiculously long hours. Naturally, people sleep on the train. There are three subspecies of this category: Snoozy, Sleepy and Slobbery. The most harmless is Snoozy. They doze with their eyes closed, partially conscious and perfectly respectable. Not worth taking a funny photo of. No dramas here. Sleepy is the next evolution. This breed often falls asleep mid text or even standing up holding onto the handholds on the train and sways back and forth like they’re on a boat. They nod forward deeply or loll backwards hugely. May be snoring quietly. Will still somehow wake up and get off at the right stop. Lastly there’s Slobbery. This person often also fits into the Drunky McDrunk category but sometimes they’re just very tired. This subspecies breaks all the rules of sleep etiquette on the train. They lean on random people and maybe even dribble on you a little bit. They miss their train stops and wake suddenly wide eyed and panicky (this is fantastically fun to watch). They often craft a small pillow and blanket out of their bag and scarf. Kind of cute but you don’t want to be caught sitting next to one unless you like a damp shoulder.

3. Drunky McDrunk

Ah Drunky McDrunk – a staple character on public transport systems the world over. However the Japanese version is a little different to your garden variety Australian or American yobbo. The Japanese Drunky McDrunk often looks totally normal. Usually they are well dressed in business attire and they are all very well behaved and very jolly. The biggest giveaway is the thick fog of whiskey breath, that being the drink of choice for most Japanese hitting the bottle hard. The DMcDs often travel in packs because Japanese businessmen and women tend to go out drinking with their bosses and cowokers a lot – so when one of the group gets off the train there’s frenzied bowing, waving and giggling. Once they’re on the train, there’s only so much mischief Drunky McDrunk can get into. They are actually more of a risk on the platform. Combine drunken weaving and simultaneously attempting to text in Tokyo peak hour and you’ve got the equivalent of a dizzy three year old with a bouncy ball playing real life Frogger – in the busiest transportation system in the world. Also, as I mentioned, they tend to merge into an SSS. It’s not totally bizarre to see a full grown man in an expensive business suit curled up across several seats on the late night or early morning weekend trains. I can’t say I blame them; in the cold Tokyo winter, the heated seats are practically narcotic.

4. Baggage Barbie

Baggage Barbie is most commonly female (sorry for the stereotype folks but if you’ve made it this far through the post you’ve probably given up hope for a glimmer of PCness). Their main characteristic is the huge amount of stuff they are lugging. Shopping bags, suitcases, enormous handbags, small animals and sometimes skis. This is due to several factors: Tokyoites rarely use cars, they love to shop and there is a social convention of bringing back enormous amounts of souvenirs from every trip (omiyage). The BB takes up way more than her fair share of space on the crowded trains and escalators and incurs the wrath of those who are just trying to get to and from work. Partly because they get in the way, and partly because the BB has just come back from or is going on holiday and the rest of us plebs aren’t. The BBs tend to wander aimlessly in large groups with their baggage through the station – mouths agape, looking for the right train. They are also frequently ridiculously dressed up which slows them down. I’ve seen some hauling huge handbags, a wheely suitcase and shopping bags full of souvenirs. All in filmy stockings, a tiny skirt and Lady Gaga heels and sunglasses. It’s really too impressive to be annoying sometimes.

5. Schoolgirls

Tamago assures me this category deserves it’s own number. All I can say is that no matter how cold it is, skirts are still alarmingly high. And even if you don’t swing that way, it’s very difficult not to stare. Truly, Japanese women were blessed with thighs that Westerners can only dream of. Despite a considerable amount of “innocent” leering on Tamago’s part, bag placement and skillful knee position have ensured that neither Tamago nor I have seen anything above the tiny hemlines. Amazing.

6. Gaijin!

Foreigners, to me, seem to fall into two main categories: they’re either doing their best deer in the headlights look or they have lived in Tokyo for a sufficient amount of time to look composed and smug on public transport. The Deer Gaijin often look totally lost and frequently flock to the enormous subway maps to fruitlessly study the candy-striped hell that is the Tokyo Metro. If the Nonchalant Gaijin is feeling charitable they might mosey on over in their Tokyo power suit and stop to lend a hand. However a part of them kind of enjoys watching the Deer struggle and secretly hopes they might give up and go home, because the more Nonchalant Gaijin there are in Japan, the less special they feel.

7. Maybe She’s Born With It: The Maybelline Girl

This species is a close relative of the women who put their lipstick on sitting in their car at traffic lights. The Tokyo Metro Maybelline Girl is able to stand in peak hour Tokyo traffic in precarious high heels, hold a hand mirror in one hand and apply flawless liquid eyeliner with the other. All without stabbing herself in the eye or falling over. For those of you who haven’t attempted it, applying liquid eyeliner with two feet on solid ground is no mean feat on it’s own! The natural enemy of the Go Go Grandma, the Maybelline Girl’s main strength is her ability to ignore everyone else on the train staring or, in the case of the GGG, glaring at her. She is usually stunning and exquisitely dressed. Tragically, in my opinion, the whole effect is ruined a little because the MG doesn’t usually need makeup, plus it shatters the illusion of effortless beauty to see the behind the scenes primping taking place on the crowded 9am Yamanote line. Also, I live in constant fear of being a witness to a tragic eye stabbing accident.

8. Siberian Cranes

The Siberian Crane is one of the rarest birds in Japan. It’s critically threatened according to my speedy and super reliable Google research. Siberian Crane individuals are the rare characters that are only occasionally spotted in the wilds of the Tokyo public transport system. Siberian Crane species one: Harajuku Girls. The ones that made Lolita a fashion style all on it’s own (see here for examples). It’s not especially strange to see one, particularly around Harajuku on a weekend, but they are rare enough to warrant a double take. Triple points for seeing a pair of Lolitas, one Gothic and one Sweet. Another Siberian Crane is the Woman in a Full Kimono. Again, they are a little more common on the weekend, but to foreigners in particular, it’s super exciting to see one! Often you can hear them coming in the train station before you see them as their shoes and famous two pronged socks require them to shuffle a little. Lastly, the Hardcore Punk Crane. Apparently in Japan, punk is not entirely dead. You can see sickly-looking skinny men dressed in head to toe black leather, with pink hair, chains and enormous combat boots strutting their stuff through Shinjuku Station from time to time. Yes there are punks back home but I have never seen a comparable level of commitment anywhere else.

If you’ve made it this far through the post I’m incredibly impressed. Please feel free to suggest any weird and wonderful types I’ve missed!

Online discount travel agents: a cautionary tale

Once upon a time there was a boy and a girl who lived in a faraway land in a big city called Tokotropolis. The boy and the girl really liked living in Tokotropolis, there were lots of things to see and do and generally things went pretty well for them even though they couldn’t speak Tropoli – the native language. The girl’s name was Moonface and the boy’s name was Eggman. Both Moonface and Eggman worked at the local word factory which wasn’t the best job in the world, but paid the bills so they didn’t mind it too much.

One day, they decided to go and visit some friends of theirs who lived in another far away land called Tawville They planned the trip carefully and put away plenty of golden gzats from their jobs so that they could afford the expensive journey. To get there, they would have to fly on the back of a shiny silver dragon. It costs a lot of gzats to feed dragons so naturally, they knew it would cost them quite a bit.

Moonface and Eggman were very optimistic and were looking forward to going to see their friends who they hadn’t seen in a very long time. One day when they were out walking around Tokopolis they stumbled across a wizened old man selling tickets for the dragon trip to to Tawville – and it was so cheap! Moonface and Eggman were very excited! The old man told them his name was Expedialopoltian (Ex for short). After old Ex had assured them that everything was perfectly legal and above board he took lots of Moonface and Eggman’s hard earned word factory gzats and gave them the tickets. They went home very happy indeed.

One day, they got a message from the old man via flying pterodactyl telling them that unfortunately their return dragon flight had been cancelled. The dragon was going on holidays and wouldn’t be able to get them back to Tokopolis. Naturally, Moonface and Eggman went to see Ex again to find out what was going on. Unfortunately when they went to see him he said that it was nothing to do with him and it was the dragon pilot’s fault. But he promised he would get in touch with the pilot and find out what was happening.

Old Ex whipped out his crystal ball and gazed into it’s depths, his white beard blowing around in the breeze, his blue eyes glinting. Eventually, after leaving Moonface and Eggman standing there for a long time, he sighed and told them that sadly, the pilot could not be reached at this time, but maybe they could come back tomorrow?

So Moonface and Eggman trudged off back home, feeling a little worried that their precious gzats were still with Ex and yet they still had no way of knowing that the dragon would fly them home again!

So they went back the next day and asked the him again. Ex looked into his crystal ball and again, he told them that he could not reach the pilot. The pilot was on a coffee break or something. Again, he told them to come back tomorrow.

So they did. Moonface and Eggman dutifully came bak the next day and asked Ex to contact the dragon pilot. They waited very patiently while he tried and tried to reach him but alas, again he could not be contacted! Ex sensed the growing frustration of the pair. He studied them for a minute and then smacked his palm to his wrinkly old forehead and shouted ‘of course! How could I forget! The dragon pilot is actually part possum and is only awake at night! You need to come back at 2am and then I will definitely be able to contact him and find out if he will fly the dragon for you!’

Now by this stage, Moonface and Eggman were feeling very weary and also wary of the crafty old Ex. He had gotten them back here three times already, but this time he finally had a different answer for them so they sceptically accepted to his terms and disheartedly walked home.

2am came around and Moonface awoke with a start; this was their last chance to make sure the dragon would be available. She tried to rouse Eggman but having no luck she set off alone on a solo quest. When she finally got to his decrepit tent he regarded her solemnly. Something within his gaze seemed to tell her that she had somehow passed the test and that this time, the crystal ball would give up it’s secrets and tell her some good news. And she was right. Kind of.

Ex spoke into the crystal ball at length, leaving Moonface shivering in the dark and the cold of the wee hours. Finally he turned back to her and proclaimed, ‘all is well. The dragon is not going on holiday at all. The dragon flight was never cancelled at all! Oh and the pilot will definitely send you a pterodactyl message within the next 24 hours. I promise’. Now most of my dear readers will have begun to believe that Moonface was not too bright to have believed old Ex so far. And maybe they’re right. By this point, even she was getting fed up with his behaviour. ‘Are you absolutely positive they will send me a message confirming our dragonflight? Do you promise?’ she said desperately. ‘Absolutely’ said Ex, ‘by tomorrow night it will definitely be there’. Reassured, Moonface went home, and didn’t even mind that she had to get up in 3 hours to go to work at the word factory.

Then a day passed, and another and another and still no pterodactyl message! How odd, thought Moonface, Ex was so sure it would come. Then wonderment gave way to disgruntlement, disgruntlement gave way to crankiness and finally crankiness gave way to insane rage.

Moonface couldn’t take it any more. Ex had all their golden gzats. She had no way of knowing if she and Eggman could get the dragon home. Their lovely holiday to visit their friends hung in the balance and it was up to her to save it!

Finally, fed up. Moonface did the only thing left to her. She got the tincan string number from a friend and called the dragon pilot directly. Unfortunately he didn’t speak very good English, mostly Tropoli but 40 minutes later a pterodactyl had delivered all the dragonflight tickets to Moonface and Eggman, including the one they thought had been cancelled. Luckily Ex had lived up to his word in that he had at least passed on all the golden gzats to the dragon pilot so luckily he was still willing to take them on their trip.

Moonface and Eggman have taken some time off from the word factory and are leaving on their trip next week! They’re very much looking forward to it and fully expect to live happily ever after. In the meantime they are telling everyone they know and don’t know that if in their travels they ever meet a crooked looking old man who tells you his name is Expediapoltian – DO NOT TRUST HIM NO MATTER HOW CHEAP HIS DRAGONFLIGHTS ARE. THEY MAY BE CHEAP BUT THEY WILL COST YOU TIME YOU CAN NEVER EVER GET BACK.

Christmas Day

Merry Belated Christmas everyone! We hope you all had a fabulous Christmas Day and that you all ate too much, got spoiled rotten with presents and enjoyed spending time with your family and friends.

Tamago and I had a very successful Christmas together here in Tokyo. A couple of weeks ago we got a tip-off from one of Tamago’s students that you could get Cooper’s beer at a certain mythical supermarket in Tokyo, so a few days before Christmas we went to investige Nissin World Delicatessen in Roppongi. This supermarket is located in the notorious foreigner district in Tokyo. In addition to the bars and clubs it’s famous for, Roppongi and the surrounding area is where a lot of foreign embassies are located (including Australia). Also, incidentally it’s a good spot to go for a gaijin keitai, if the Softbank near the train station has any left. The staff there speak English!

Anyway back to Nissin. As I was saying it’s located in the foreigner district. As soon as Tamago and I got inside we felt right at home. To begin with there were several Australian mums doing their Christmas food shopping with some very cute kids in tow. Considering how few foreigners we see in our daily lives, it was very tempting to give everyone I saw a huge hug. I managed to keep myself under control and amazingly we found everything we needed for our Christmas feast at this supermarket. We could even have had an Aussie steak if we’d wanted, but we decided to embrace Japan even at Christmas time and bought the biggest hunk of Waygu beef I have ever seen in my life for our Chrissy dinner. We also found TimTams, Lady Grey tea in bulk and Western food in general that is just hard to get hold of in average Japanese supermarkets. It was predominantly American brands but some Australian ones were nestled in there which was nice to see. We ventured up to the liquor store level and found Cooper’s beer, some cider for me and even some decent Australian wine.

Tamago and I had an excellent lazy Christmas Day. We got up late and opened presents from each other and from friends and family. Then we had a fabulous bacon and egg brunch cooked by Tamago. Just because we’re not at home being force fed by various branches of families doesn’t mean we didn’t eat big. After that we had to recover for a couple of hours and watched a DVD. We also spoke to our far away families via Skype which was very special and it made it feel like we were still a part of everyone’s day.

After this it was about 5:30 and we still weren’t hungry enough to do dinner justice so we went for a walk up to Shinjuku to check out the scene at KFC, it was pretty busy and there were KFC employees brandishing fried chicken in plastic bags trying desperately to get us to eat there but we resisted. I still kind of want to grab people by the shoulders here and explain to them that no self respecting Westerner would eat KFC on Christmas, but then I realise I’d have to mime the killing and eating of lambs to depict my perfect Christmas dinner and the urge fades.

After we’d worked up a bit of an appetite we trundled back home and cooked our dinner: Waygu steak! As Tamago said, it was the first piece of meat he’d had in Japan that actually required a knife and fork. It was excellent and well worth the walk in the cold.

Finished off the day with some Christmas themed Father Ted. A perfect Tokyo Christmas.

 

Chocopie

I’m massively into sugar. Chocolate in particular but cake comes in at a close second. Preferrably chocolate cake. I’m not addicted to coffee, or alcohol, or heroin, online gambling or long distance running (ha!). But I do need a certain amount of sugar buzzing through my bloodstream to function like a decent human being. Tamago doesn’t have the same problem luckily for us or we probably would have broken up years ago. Probably because of TimTams (why do they put 11 in the packet? Prime numbers = evil). However he does enjoy the odd sweet.

One of the most important things that I needed to do in Japan was suss out the dessert situation. Sadly for me, Tamago didn’t feel drawn to Belgium (home of the world’s finest chocolate) or Paris (the chocolate croissant) or even England (mmm pudding). Nope he had a yen for the land famous for raw fish and rice.

Fortunately Tamago and I have discovered the Chocopie. This may be the thing that saves our relationship from certain doom. They’re kind of like an obese Wagon Wheel. They are coated in chocolate and contain marshmallow filling – as you can see from the helpful diagram that features prominently on the packaging:

The really intriguing thing about the Chocopie lies in the biscuity/cakey substance that provides the sandwich for the marshmallow. We can’t figure out what it is. It’s soft, and not biscuit-like at all. But it holds its shape more than cake. Mystery. All we know is that we like it. A lot.

*Note: the Chocopie does come in other flavours. We have sampled the strawberry and it is terrible. We recommend sticking to the original and the best.