Typhoons are a big deal here. A typhoon hitting the mainland will dominate all news hours and publications, and has every man, woman and child on the alert. Schools wait anxiously, ready to close their doors, and train lines shut down at the first sign of danger. Calls to loved ones run at about 500% of standard (my estimate). Cellphone companies must love typhoons.

My first Japanese typhoon hit in August, and I was told by everyone I met that I should be careful and not make too many plans because if I went somewhere, I could get stranded. Over the course of the weekend it struck, I received about five messages from various people making sure I was okay, even though I’d only been in the country for seven weeks. And of course, it was a massive anticlimax. It rained a little bit, and the wind was a tiny bit stronger, but there had been much fiercer storms since I’d moved here. I continued drinking as usual (yes, that’s right Ed, drinking).

This week another warning went out all over the news. Typhoon coming, lock up your daughters etc. I was like, yeah, whatever, strike me down with your pathetic volley, I’ll be on my feet and coming back for more. But this time, they weren’t kidding. I went to work on Thursday in steady rain, and by 6:30pm – halfway through my shift – it had picked up sufficiently that all of our schools in the region were closed, so that people could get home before the trains shut down. That night, sleep was difficult as the trees outside flailed about and sideways rain splattered against my window (which I now know leaks like a sieve in extreme weather).

On Friday the rain had stopped, but the gusts of wind remained. I was meeting friends in Tokyo, so I went to the train station, where I found that most trains weren’t running and the ones that were had been delayed by about 50 minutes. I waited, it eventually came, and it was PACKED – packed like you would imagine Japanese commuter trains are, with guards shoving passengers inside so the doors can close.

Being squeezed in such a tight space was something I hadn’t experienced since the dining hall queue at school. I wanted to take out my camera and get a photo, but this was impossible because my arms were pressed against my sides by the two young guys and tiny old woman to my left and right respectively. To my surprise, even in these conditions, people still closed their eyes and went to sleep, no doubt dreaming of that PlayStation ad where millions of people have a huge pile-up. By the time I came to get off, we may have been lovers; I can’t be sure.

I arrived in Shinjuku at 2, by which time the nastiness had been replaced by brilliant sunshine (well, as brilliant as it can be through the thick smog). I met my friends, and had a very pleasant afternoon and evening drinking and eating. Can’t wait for the next one. I can be like Philip Seymour Hoffman in Twister.


I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a lightning and thunder storm as fierce as the one going on right now. Every few seconds there’s a series of flashes closely followed by impressive claps and growls. The rain’s so loud against my window that I feel like it’s coming down the inside of the wall. I want to go outside and run around madly hailing the second coming of Christ.

It wasn’t raining on Friday – in fact, it was brilliant with sunshine – so I finally got down to the beach, which is barely a ten minute walk from where I live. For eight weeks I’ve managed to avoid it through a combination of bad weather, the effects of alcohol, and flat-out laziness. There wasn’t much special about it, really, apart from the fact that a big main road and particularly faceless apartment buildings were right behind me as I looked out at the sea. There’s a pretty small area for swimming, sunbathing and cavorting; several ramshackle food/drink establishments; part of an 8.4km walkway along the coastline; and the tiniest waves I’ve ever seen surfers attempt to ride. Not an amazing place, but it changed my perception of where I live. Where I used to think it was a bog-standard Japanese suburb, I now think it’s a bog-standard Japanese suburb next to the sea.

I went to another kaiten-zushi place on Tuesday after work in Yokohama, except it wasn’t revolving because we were there in the last half hour of business. Instead, we had a menu and placed our orders directly to the chef. I had four plates, one of which was blowtorch-roasted tuna sushi and tasted unbelievable. It was the best sushi I’ve ever had. By far the most exceptional thing about the place, though, was their system for billing your order. Usually at these places a waitress will manually count the number of plates you have in front of you, write the total on a slip of paper and hand it to you. Not here.

We’d been receiving different-coloured plates according to the varying cost of our orders. No problem; I figured they’d just add up the different values and write them on the paper. Instead, the waitress pulled out a scanner and positioned it on top of my pile of plates. A few seconds later, a printer on her belt spat out my bill. What? The guy I was with informed me that the plates were all microchipped, so all the waitress had to do was move that scanner near them and it would do the tallying up for her. Brilliant. I will go back and take pictures.

I don’t really get homesick. I have a way of being very practical about changes in my own life so that when they happen, comparisons between the former situation and the current situation don’t really occur to me. I’m here now, so I’d better deal with it. If you can believe this, though, the thing that finally made me miss home a little bit was reading about New Zealand supermarkets (Pak ‘n Save, New World, Foodtown etc.) on Wikipedia. The information on those pages is totally banal, but because you go to a supermarket at least once a week, as a touchstone of times past it takes no effort to recall.

I remembered all my hungry walks from Rata St to Riccarton Mall, from Worcester Blvd to Moorhouse Ave. Then I remembered running around New World Tokoroa searching for the coupon items my dad had given me to find. It’s essentially the same here, of course, except with none of the same stuff, and I’ve gotten used to that without any problems… it’s just that after twenty years of it back home, I kind of knew where everything was. It was easy. That’s why I came here, though – to challenge myself and open new doors in my brain. (Er… at the supermarket, oh yeah.)