Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Cash Society

The Japanese economy runs on the belief that all the futons of all the octogenarians are stuffed with 10,000¥ bills. This belief enables us to believe that the country is not, in fact, bankrupt. If the exchange rates are anything to go by, we've conned the rest of the world too. However, there is no doubt that Japan is a cash-based society. We always warn our visitors of this, but there is still sometimes the odd one who arrives with just one of those useless little plastic things they call "credit cards"***.
We have 6 scientists from foreign visiting us in a couple of weeks. Of course I have already warned them about the cash thing, so this is just an illustration. Yesterday afternoon I got a dental implant. I took James along. For support? Perhaps partly, but mostly he was there to carry the cash. I really didn't want the double stress of being operated on and also looking after the equivalent of 3000 USD.
We do have little plastic cards in Japan. Many of them. In fact all my hospital details are on one. In order to pay, I slide the little plastic card into the machine, and then the machine asks for the cash:

Cash please!
It was a lot of fun feeding in all the notes. So to be fair there is a button on that screen labelled "credit" and another labelled "debit", so there was probably some way of paying by bank transfer, or at least of paying in installments. However, I couldn't see how one could use an actual credit card.
And here's Dr Ueno-san, looking forward to the money filtering down to him.
Ueno-san
The flip-side is that he has to work in Tsurumi, which is one of those weird suburbs, that doesn't even have a Starbucks. I suppose it can't be all bad, with so many bicycles.
Tsurumi
Tsurumi
***Credit cards are not actually entirely useless in Japan. They can often be used to pay for large items in big stores, but it is usually cheaper to use cash. Most hotel chains probably take them too. However, they are generally not accepted at smaller places, and can only be used to obtain cash at the Post Office ATMs, so they are definitely not the tool of convenience that they are in most other 1st world countries.

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Half-biking.

BEB
If God had meant us to run, He wouldn't have given us these brilliant minds that could invent wheels. We still need to work on the gears, however. Bike was singlespeed not long into the trip home (snow had melted and turned to mud).
snowy Kamakura
snowy trees
Have discovered that I can MTB to work in about the same time it takes James to run. So for the first time yesterday he ran both to and from work, while I rode my half-bike. Of course we have mountain tandemmed it many times, but I think James might have got a bit bored of carrying quite so much bicycle, and a bit too keen on running! I always wanted to attempt to steer the (rather technical) course. Mountain half-biking is excellent all-body exercise, whereas the tandem stoker doesn't really use the upper half of their body. My arms are tired today!

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Starbucks parking # !%&'

I still don't understand the Motomachi Starbucks parking hobby, but cars I had not seen before appeared on Sunday.
I thought this one was quite impressive...

Motomachi cars
Motomachi cars
Until this monster adrove up.
Motomachi cars
Wot an amzing colour...
Motomachi cars
...not that the camera is necessarily accurate in hue (which is all in the mind anyway) but the intensity and matte sheen seem truthy.
A weird olde-stylee station wagon appeared later too, but I didn't take it's portrait. It was kind of a yucky pale green... and as we all know, colour is the most important thing.

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Monday, February 18, 2013

Engakuji

We have visitors next month, and I seem to have promised them flowers. So we took a trip to Engakuji (in Kita-Kamakura) to evaluate the ume blossom status.

ume
One or two ume trees are in full bloom. The little birds looked to be drinking the nectar. Usually I find them impossible to photograph, but this time they were so intent on their breakfast that I could get quite close.
bird and ume
However, most of the trees still only have tiny buds, and a few are half out...
ume
The dragons are looking quite hungry...
Engagkuji dragon
All in all it is looking quite promising.
Engagkuji

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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Water Jump

During an intermission in the half-marathon, I turned my camera 180 degrees and captured this flying water person. The leap was followed by an undignified splash, the boat stopped, and "DaiJoBu, DaiJoBu?" ("Are you OK? Are you OK?"), could be heard over the loud hailer. This is what you shout at someone who looks dead but might just be pretending. The boat tracked back and pulled them out. They seemed to be not very dead after all. I was quite relieved not to have captured someone's last living moment.

Akabane Half Marathon - water skiier

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Akabane half-marathon

As James said, I wasn't really trying. I had sufficient energy to look like I was really running as I crossed the finish line!

Akabane Half Marathon - 10K
I've always been quite aggressive in cycling and rowing competitions, but I haven't got the heart to try to beat all the wee Japanese women just doing their cutie best. I tend to go with them a little and then let them pass just so they can feel good. Of course if I see a child or another whitey then I can't help but start racing, but I saw none of either in this race, so had a pretty easy time. I stuffed loads of men, so what was the point trying to be faster? Some of those men shown here, rolling up some time after I'd already changed.
Akabane Half Marathon
The bonus was that I had lots of energy left over for photographing the half-marathon.
Fingers on Garmins...
Akabane Half Marathon
Those at the front without numbers, but names instead, are special invited runners.
Go!
Akabane Half Marathon
There were about 5000 runners, and things quickly got less serious.
Akabane Half Marathon
I'm not quite sure why some people were bothering. After I decided to move up the course for a different view, I found I was walking almost as fast as some of the runners. But it did make me think I too could complete a half marathon! The course had a small number of small hills. We both found it curious that the other runners didn't run down hill but rather just maintained their pace. I passed many on each of the down hills. Is this not running on hills a secret runners' trick, or had these people just never seen a hill before?
Akabane Half Marathon
Beautiful scenery all around ... not.
Akabane Half Marathon
I was in position up the course by the time the leaders returned (around 17km). Luckily the correct people (note no numbers on chest) were in front, but they are kind of boring to photograph, zooming along like well oiled machines. Cyclists legs are so much sexier... sigh...
Akabane Half Marathon
The not-quite-leaders were more fun as they were in significantly more pain.
Akabane Half Marathon
Further back, this group still seemed to be running quite powerfully.
Akabane Half Marathon
Then came the funny body shapes, those in fancy dress, and finally the women and children came jogging passed. Here's enormous James being beaten by a tiny little woman. At this point, he'd just helped her through the strong headwind section. What a kind man! Seems he has the same problem as me with racing the tiny women. She beat him by about half a minute in the end.
Akabane Half Marathon
This was as good as the views got. Was it really worth getting out of bed for?
Akabane Half Marathon
Not everyone just pushed buttons on their Garmin as they cross the line.
Akabane Half Marathon
I think fewer die after the half-marathon than the marathon. Mostly the finishers looked quite chipper.
Akabane Half Marathon

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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Our zoo - turtles all the way down


native turtles, originally uploaded by julesberry2001.

We decided to smuggle a Hawaiian turtle into Japan as a companion for our resident British turtle. I hope they will be friends. The native Hawaiian turtle is noticeably the larger of the two. I suppose this is because Hawaiin turtles enjoy life, flapping about at beautiful warm sandy beaches, while British turtles have to endure the piercing bleakness of Blackpool, Brighton and Scarborough.

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

New Volcanics

Well quite new - the "fountain" that made the lava lake at KÄ«lauea Iki happened only 10 years before I was born (ie 1959). The crater itself is a hot, dry, semi-desert, and yet is surrounded all round by much cooler, humid, lush rainforest. A bit like what you might get if you tried covering Japan in concrete... Oh...

Volcano National Park
Volcano National Park
Volcano National Park
Volcano National Park

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