Tag: Tokyo

A. A. Gill and the je ne sais quoi in France

Sunday, 4 February, 2018 0 Comments

Background: A. A. Gill was an English journalist who died of cancer in London in December 2016, at the age of 62. Adrian Anthony Gill was also an alcoholic who stopped drinking at 29 and followed the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) “12-step plan” to recovery. In tribute to the fellowship, he began using the name ‘A. A.’ Gill professionally. His finest writing is collected in The Best of A. A. Gill and it covers his observations on food, television and travel. In “Markets,” published in July 2007, he pontificated on the phrase the French have created to “encompass it all”: je ne sais quoi. Snippet:

“My weakness, my pleasure, is markets… The Mercato in Addis Ababa, biggest market in Africa: dangersous red-eyed tribesmen, maddened and delusional on khat, unloading bushels of the stuff flown in daily from the ancient cities on the Somali border. The stalls selling coffee and the winding lanes of incense dealers, the gifts of the Magi, smelling of martyrdom and plainsong.

Tsukiji, the Tokyo fish market: miles of frozen tuna, lying like a thousand unexploded bombs steaming in the dawn as the auctioneers paint red characters on them, buyers cutting tiny nuggets of flesh from their tails to knead for water content.

Crawford Market in Bombay, the book market in Calcutta, the bird market in Denpasar, the karaoke market in Tashkent…”

However, when it comes to the market’s market, the perfect market, Gills puts his money on “the weekly markets of southern France.” And what makes them so superior? It’s the je ne sais quoi:

Je ne sais quoi is France’s abiding gift to the world. More je ne sais quoi for your euro is to be found in a French market than anywhere else. We wander down the aisles of trestles and stalls aghast at the marvellous repose of produce. There are peaches warm from the tree, ripe and golden. Figs, green and black, bursting with sweet, ancient, darkly lascivious simile. The smell of fresh lemon, the bunches of thyme and lavender and verbena, the selections of oil and olives, pale green and pungent, and the they honey, from orange blossom, from heath and orchard, and the beeswax. The charcuterie, the dozens of ancient and dextrous things to do with a dead pig, in all the hues of pink, and pale, fatty cream.”

Never was A.A. Gill happier than when in France, the land of Armagnac, Calvados and a thousand cheeses, wandering its markets, savouring the je ne sais quoi.

Apples


The day Jim Hogan ran the marathon in Tokyo

Sunday, 21 August, 2016 0 Comments

The men’s marathon event at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics was run on 21 October 1964. A total of 68 athletes started, 58 finished and the gold medal was won in a time of 2 hours and 12 minutes by Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia. One of the starters who did not finish was Jim Hogan from Croom, County Limerick, in Ireland. With the silver medal seemingly within his grasp, dehydration forced Hogan to abandon the race with just five kilometres remaining. His agony can be witnessed at the 5:30 mark in this clip.

After the Tokyo Games, Jim Hogan became disillusioned with the Irish athletics hierarchy, which he called “the blazer-wearing brigade”, and he decided to compete for Great Britain instead. He recorded the biggest victory of his career when he won the marathon for Great Britain at the 1966 European Championships. Later in life, he returned to Limerick and trained horses with success for local point-to-point races. Jim Hogan died on 10 January 2015 and is buried in Knocklong Graveyard.


The Swimmer swims

Saturday, 13 August, 2016 0 Comments

It’s early to be contemplating life after Rio, but there’s just a week to go and our thoughts will soon turn to Tokyo, site of the 2020 Olympics, and the only Asian city to host the games twice. The first time was 1964 and highlights of the Games of the XVIII Olympiad included Australian swimmer Dawn Fraser winning the 100 metres freestyle for the third time in a row, Ethiopia’s Abebe Bikila winning his second Olympic marathon, New Zealand’s Peter Snell winning gold in the 800 metres and 1500 metres, and the US men’s swimming team winning all but three gold medals in the pool.

“The Swimmer” is a famous short story by John Cheever, which was published in The New Yorker in the summer of 1964. It begins with Neddy Merrill sitting by a friend’s pool on a sunny day. Suddenly, he decides to go home by swimming across all the pools in the neighbourhood, which he names “The Lucinda River” in honour of his wife. He starts off energetically, but his journey takes on a dark and surreal tone. Snippet:

“He took off a sweater that was hung over his shoulders and dove in. He had an inexplicable contempt for men who did not hurl themselves into pools. He swam a choppy crawl, breathing either with every stroke or every fourth stroke and counting somewhere well in the back of his mind the one-two one-two of a flutter kick. It was not a serviceable stroke for long distances but the domestication of swimming had saddled the sport with some customs and in his part of the world a crawl was customary. To be embraced and sustained by the light green water was less a pleasure, it seemed, than the resumption of a natural condition, and he would have liked to swim without trunks, but this was not possible, considering his project. He hoisted himself up on the far curb — he never used the ladder — and started across the lawn.

When Lucinda asked where he was going he said he was going to swim home. The only maps and charts he had to go by were remembered or imaginary but these were clear enough. First there were the Grahams, the Hammers, the Lears, the Howlands, and the Crosscups. He would cross Ditmar Street to the Bunkers and come, after a short portage, to the Levys, the Welchers, and the public pool in Lancaster. Then there were the Hallorans, the Sachses, the Biswangers, Shirley Adams, the Gilmartins, and the Clydes. The day was lovely, and that he lived in a world so generously supplied with water seemed like a clemency, a beneficence. His heart was high and he ran across the grass. Making his way home by an uncommon route gave him the feeling that he was a pilgrim, an explorer, a man with a destiny, and he knew that he would find friends all along the way; friends would line the banks of the Lucinda River.”

You can download a PDF (89.3KB) of “The Swimmer” here.

The pool


IBM brings Watson to Munich

Tuesday, 15 December, 2015 0 Comments

It would be an exaggeration to say that Germany has bet the farm on the Industry 4.0 concept, but the country certainly is investing a huge amount of credibility along with significant sums of money in its variant of the Internet of Things (IoT). That willingness to take manufacturing into the cloud and beyond got a big vote of confidence today when IBM opened its Watson IoT global headquarters in Munich. The city will also host IBM’s first European Watson innovation centre.

The declared goal is to add the power of cognitive computing to the billions of connected devices, sensors and systems that make up the IoT. The campus environment at the Highlight Towers on Mies-van-der-Rohe-Straße will bring together a thousand IBM developers, consultants, researchers and designers and will also serve as an innovation lab for data scientists, engineers and programmers “building new connected solutions at the intersection of cognitive computing and the IoT,” according to the IBM press release.

Along with the facility in Munich, IBM announced today that it is opening Watson IoT Client Experience Centres across Asia and the Americas. Locations include Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo, Sao Paulo, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Texas. These will provide clients and partners access to technology, tools and talent needed to develop and create new products and services using the cognitive intelligence delivered via the Watson IoT Cloud Platform.

As Thomas J. Watson Jr. once said: “Wisdom is the power to put our time and our knowledge to the proper use.”

Watson


The drone wars have begun

Monday, 14 December, 2015 0 Comments

TOKYO — “The Metropolitan Police Department is set to launch a drone squad as new regulations have come into force to ban unmanned aerial vehicles from flying over crowded residential areas, MPD officials said…

…When drones are spotted in no-fly zones, the squad will search for the operators and order them to ground the drones. If they fail to comply, the squad will scramble large drones equipped with cameras and nets measuring 2 to 3 meters in length.”

On the face of it, this is an understandable law-and-order reaction to a new technology that might contravene municipal regulations, but the Yamaguchi-gumi will be watching with interest, no doubt. Kenichi Shinoda, its current oyabun, is said to favour “an expansionist policy” and one can imagine him ordering gang members to form a “drone squad” complete with nets. Could be a nice little earner, that, pirating drones laden with tomorrow’s equivalent of pieces of eight. Take note, Amazon Prime Air.


“What hath night to do with sleep?”

Tuesday, 25 June, 2013 0 Comments

That’s what John Milton asked in Paradise Lost. Ichiro Tanaka, 45, who commutes daily to Tokyo from Kumagaya City in Saitama Prefecture, may never achieve Milton’s level of immortality but his Zukai: Densha Tsukin no Sakuho (An illustrated guide to accomplishing rail commuting) has the potential for posterity. Do not close the book you are reading, look out the window at the platform or make a phone call is his advice to seated passengers on how to avoid giving a false sense of hope to the standing masses that they’ll be getting your seat at the next station.

Tokyo Dreams, “a journey behind closed eyelids”, in which the British filmmaker Nicholas Barker “contemplates the stillness and vulnerability of his fellow passengers and wonders whether they will wake in time for their stop”, is an absorbing clip about sleeping commuters in Tokyo, but it does raise some disquieting questions about privacy. Are all our public appearances now fodder for the filmmaker? What right to solitude does the unconscious person have? And, importantly, what aspectbs of personal dignity remain within the control of the individual today?


Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Thursday, 26 April, 2012

Everything that people admire about the Japanese: their reverence of tradition, their dedication to craft, their respect for family, their work ethic, their politeness towards customers… is captured in Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a documentary about 85-year-old sushi master Jiro Ono. Filmed in his Tokyo restaurant, it focuses on his work and his relationship with his son and successor, Yoshikazu.