The assistant at the office is my canary in the coal mine for the start of kafun, the hay fever season. He forfeits his contact lenses for glasses several weeks before things really tick upwards on the pollen count, and then starts popping pills. He’s been doing this for several days now.

Today another colleague mentioned he was suffering, and I sent him directions to my favorite allergist. Not too far from the office, good office hours for working people, and an excellent command of English.

And while I was observing the assistant and assisting the colleague, I was insisting that I was fine — that I wasn’t suffering at all. In fact, I’ve been doing a lot better these past few years, and sometimes don’t even bother with medication.

Then I left the office and went to meet a client for his English lesson, and he mentioned it also. It’s hay fever season, and he’s feeling it. I insisted I wasn’t affected in the least.

On the way home, I sneezed once or twice. Not really bad, but a couple of sneezes for seemingly no reason. And I was feeling itchy. I’ve been putting cream on my legs and now my scalp was starting to itch as well.

That’s it, I thought. Tomorrow, Nana and I are off to Izu for a couple of days of rest and relaxation, and I’m driving a minimum of three hours to get there. Once there, I don’t know what kind of access we’ll have to either allergists or drug stores. (I’m sure they’ll have both, but I don’t know if the allergists will prescribe what I’m used to taking or if the pharmacies will have it on hand.) Since the medication I usually take is available over the counter, I figured I could pick it up tomorrow morning on the way to the car rental pick-up. I’d heard Nana mention a 10 a.m. pick-up, and I was sure I could talk her into being just 15 minutes late for that so we could stop at the local drug store at 10 and get my meds.

Map of Japan with pollen count
Pollen count

On the bus home, I got off at the usual stop and realized I was right by the drug store. I shook my head at how long it had taken me to come to that realization. I found the medicine in under a minute, and spent another two minutes picking out eyedrops that were specifically formulated for hay fever. I spent a bit longer waiting in line at the register, and then the clerk informed me a generic was available for the hay fever medication I’d selected. He had a small basket of the generic right there at the register, which shows how widespread this hay fever thing is. (I decided to stick with my name-brand stuff. A few pence more and I get something I’m confident will work. Call it the placebo effect.)

I got home and had dinner with Nana and then took a pill. It was just a few minutes later that Nana mentioned we’re getting up early tomorrow, and we’re picking up the rental car at 8 …

Pre-dawn sirens screaming

Patrol cars with taxi

OK, this happened while I was on my way to work, so not exactly pre-dawn. More like 7:20 a.m. But anyway, the sirens were screaming. I’d assumed a fire, as we live near a major firehouse. But as I approached the corner of Shinjuku’s Central Park, I saw a police cruiser heading towards me with sirens screaming and lights flashing. As I watched, the car executed a U-turn and joined another cruiser which had pulled up behind a taxi cab along the curb.

By the time I walked up abreast of the scene, the officers from the second car had joined in the “situation” — which was revealed to be: a stoic taxi driver facing down an irate fare. As I watched, no fewer than six police officers were attempting to calm down the fare and make sure that he stayed separated from the driver. (I didn’t make any attempt to understand what the fellow was shouting, but he was obviously upset about something.)

A moment after I snapped the photo I heard another screaming siren, and a third police car joined the mix. I didn’t stick around, though, to see if they finished by rolling up the drunk in a blanket like a burrito and carrying him off.

Three police cars, and probably at least eight officers, to take care of a taxi fare complaint (and no threat of anyone pulling a gun and putting an end to the situation)? Some combination of living near a major police headquarters and having a populace peaceful enough that the typical cop’s day consists of giving directions to visitors.

The TV is our stereo

Mingus Plays Piano

We’ve moved into a new place and I have my own den, but it isn’t furnished yet. And so far, when I want to listen to music, I use YouTube and the Chrome Key to play stuff through the television.

I cue up some Mingus on the Chrome Key / TV:

The news comes on at 5:30.
You say that as if I care …

(It helps to understand that our musical taste is not entirely congruent … Plus I mostly get my news fix via Twitter.)

Tanuki totem pole

Tanuki totem pole

Spotted this in Aoyama today.

One of the little guys appears to be holding a keyboard, while another has a tablet representing 1,000 ryou (old-style Japanese currency).

Tanuku with keyboardTanuki with 千両
Tanuki with keyboard and 千両

Tanuki are often confused with raccoons, but are in fact a separate species, raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides viverrinus). Tanuki were formerly thought to be tricksters and shape-shifters, but are now associated with generosity, cheer and prosperity. You can read more about tanuki and their place in Japanese culture at this post by The Senseitions: The Worst Christmas Present Ever, Revealed: It’s a tanuki!.

Typical tanuki kitsch
Typical tanuki kitsch

Holiday pricing

Yesterday we went to the good supermarket underneath Shinjuku station to do the shopping for today’s New Year’s Eve party.

1kg of beef
1kg of beef for roasting

This supermarket is always a bit pricey, but the food is the best. Still, Nana was a bit surprised at a price of ¥1,340 for 本わさび (hon-wasabi), so she said she’d pick it up today at another store.

She’s just returned from the second supermarket, nearer our place but still a bit up-market. She paid a slightly more reasonable ¥1,280 for hon-wasabi. On the other hand, she paid more for some other vegetables than she would have at the first supermarket. That’s karma for you.

I just asked Nana what a usual price would be for hon-wasabi, and she replied she only buys it for the New Year’s party. But she thinks she paid about ¥1,000 last year.

The importance of holiday greetings

We had a case of beer and three cartons of shochu delivered, and we exchanged the typical holiday greetings with the deliveryman. When we got to “Please remember us again in the new year,” Nana suddenly remembered that we’ll be moving house next month. “If it’s the same district, then we’ll still be able to deliver to you,” he assured us. Then when we clarified where we’ll be living, he begged for Nana’s help. “That building only has a single delivery elevator. Can you ask the management to allow us to use the regular residents’ elevators, as long as we’re not bringing in a cart?”

Last-minute preparations

Kazari New Year's Decoration
Kazari New Year’s Decoration — just in time

In fact, we went twice to the supermarket yesterday because Nana forgot to buy the kazari holiday decoration the first time, and yesterday was the deadline for getting it up. There are a lot of places nearer where we could have bought one, but she likes the ones there.

So, which ones do you like?
You’re just asking so that you know which ones you don’t want to get, right?

Kansai Odyssey has a very thorough explanation of New Year’s decorations and the bits that make them up.

Kadomatsu, via Kansai Odyssey

Farewell, 2017

Yesterday’s sunset with Fujisan may be the last of 2017, as it’s overcast today with occasional rain and snow flurries.

Fujisan sunset
Fujisan sunset — the last of 2017

When the customer is always wrong

Scene from Monty Python's Cheese Sketch

This fonduegate discussion about a cheesemonger who refused to sell a certain aged cheese to a customer who intended to use it in fondue reminded me of a restaurant we once visited where the chef was very particular about how his customers behaved, and how they enjoyed his preparations.

We’d been warned when we booked the place that if we were too loud, to the point of spoiling the enjoyment of the dinner for other customers, we wouldn’t be invited back. Fair enough, we thought. Also, the friend who recommended the place had mentioned that the master was a bit particular in his ways.

The next warning — and it was a clear one — came when the master served our drinks. We started with a beer, as usual, and when the master set mine in front of me I moved it to the left side of my plate. When he returned with our salad, he moved my glass back to where he’d originally put it. The next time he returned to serve us and noted that I’d again moved the glass to the left, he said, “Well, I suppose if that’s where you prefer it … ”

This was followed by a five-minute lecture on the proper way to eat yakitori. I mean, it’s not rocket science, but the master did have a point about not resting the next morsel on the grease on your plate from the previous morsel. After all that, I wasn’t too surprised when he refused my request for a whiskey straight up (or at least on the rocks) despite the fact he had the whiskey on hand. (He served it as a highball.) I just could have done without the two-minute sermonette about how straight whiskey would overpower the flavor of the dishes.

In the final analysis, the food was good and the price was reasonable. Nana has a friend who is interested in going, although they haven’t made a date of it yet. I’m with my son, who reacted to this story by saying he was getting angry just listening to my description.