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This is one of my all-time favourite adverts:



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Michael Jackson; the distance between you and the rest of the world

Since I’ve never met him in person, I may be wrong here but the impression I get from listening to his music (by which I especially mean his voice and singing) and how he talks in interviews, I think he must have been a really innocent and childlike person.

Every single person should know where they stand in relation to where the society “norm” or the “majority” is, in terms of their identity and the way they think and feel about things. This is especially so if you are at all “unique”, “marginal” or “in the minority” in any way. One should know what the “normal thinking” on things are, and where you fit (or don’t) in relation to it.

My personal feeling is that Michael Jackson probably didn’t see this gap between how and who he was and how the rest of the world saw things, and how different they were.

This world is not, as yet, fit for souls like him, and I fear that it is becoming less and less so. That is my lament.


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My summer delights: peaches and “Uji-kintoki”

If you read any decent guidebook to Japan, it should warn you not to go there in July or August. The reason being that, in these summer months, the temperature there is around 30°C which, in itself, may not be a bad thing if the heat were dry, but in Japan it comes with a humidity of around 95%.

95% humidity is almost as if you hit a wall of warm unpleasant water as soon as you walk outside. Not nice at all. The only thing that saves you from that is the air-conditioning that most shops and houses in Japan are armed with. One practically dashes from one air-conditioned building to the next.

So, why do I brave the heat and the humidity? Well, there are two main reasons, both of which are to do with food ;)

hakuto peaches

If I were disallowed to eat all fruits but one sort, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose hakuto, which is a type of Japanese peach. They are absolutely divine; the words like “nectar”, “juicy” and “elixir” are made for them. I could happily eat them every day of my life.

If you read the Chinese classic, “The Journey to the West” (which some of you might know as the cult Japanese TV series called “Monkey”), peaches are described as the “fruits (fit) for gods” and those hakuto peaches are exactly that.

Triumphant: uji-kintoki as it should be

The other thing that is only available in the summer months in Japan is this exquisite crushed ice concoction called “Uji-kintoki”. It’s a layer of vanilla ice cream, sweet red-bean (aduki) paste, drizzle of matcha-syrup on top of a bed of crushed ice and another hidden layer of aduki beans. The name comes from a region near Kyoto called “Uji” which is famous for tea.

ice banner

The cafés that serve uji-kintoki often have this banner outside. The kanji (the Chinese character) there means “ice”. One develops an almost Pavlovian automatic reaction of salivation to this.

Summer ain’t summer without my hakuto peaches and uji-kintoki.


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An example of what’s wrong with the “manual” culture

As I say in my “summer delights” entry, one of the must-have’s during my summer hols in Japan is uji-kintoki. And as far as I’m concerned, uji-kintoki is not complete without the ice cream on top.

And yet I found myself in this café in one of Tokyo’s biggest book shops, and their version of the kintoki doesn’t have the mandatory vanilla ice cream.

Below is a rough transcript of the words I had to have with their waiter:

Me: I would like an uji-kintoki, but I see from the photo on your menu that it doesn’t have an ice-cream on top, but I see elsewhere on your menu that you do have vanilla ice cream. Would you put a scoop of that on top of the kintoki for me? I would pay for both, of course.

Waiter: I’m afraid, we can’t do that.

Me: <taken aback> How DO you mean, you “can’t”?

Waiter: I mean, that is not possible.

Me: Look, I was here only 2 days ago and asked for the exact same thing and one of your female colleagues was happy to oblige. So, I really don’t see why YOU can’t.

Waiter: I really am sorry but I can’t do that.

Me: <a sharp intake of breath> ARE you telling me, you are personally incapable of putting a tiny scoop of vanilla ice cream on a kintoki?

Waiter: I will go ask the kitchen.

Waiter: <returns from the kitchen and declares> I am told that cannot be done.

Me: <absolutely losing it but calmly> Right, then I would like to order one portion of vanilla ice cream AND a separate portion of ujikintoki, please.

Me: <when my order arrives> Ah, waiter, stay there. Watch me scoop out the vanilla ice cream on to this kintoki mountain. Look, it fits perfectly. There, see? There are limits to how ignorant one should be, you know.


Yes, the Japanese have long-fallen victim to the Yank-y manual culture, I’m afraid. A lot of them cannot seem to compute what their manual doesn’t allow them to think. Lamentable.

Oh yeah, my mother apparently had a similar experience before: she only eats shellfish like lobsters and crabs, she doesn’t eat fish or meat. One time, she was in some bog-standard café type place in Yokohama (a port town just outside Tokyo) and said:

Mother: I would like to order ham sandwich [which usually consists of ham, lettuce and cucumber], but would you bring it to me WITHOUT the ham?

The poor waitress couldn’t compute that. Alas …


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