Shinagawa Kumin Park

While out walking with my family yesterday, we happened upon a great park that we never even knew was there! 

Tokyo and the surrounding area is home to about 37 million people, and so green space is quite hard to come by. 

A couple of hours after our discovery, I eagerly went out to run around it! It’s only a short distance from where we live and has now become my new favourite place to run!!! 

I haven’t yet paced it out properly. But Shinagawa Kumin Park (Shinagawa Kumin Kouen 品川区民公園) has a running / walking course of about 2 kilometres with all kinds of exercise bars, benches and beams all around. Shinagawa refers to the ward that the park is located in. And Kumin doesn’t refer to the spice associated with Indian food (sorry, my poor attempt at humour) but rather means “citizen of the ward”.

It has great playing facilities for the kids, an aquarium, restaurants and even a barbecue area.

Anyway, don’t recommend it to too many people, we should just keep this paradise to ourselves! 🙂



Bending Adversity – Japan and the Art of Survival: Book Review

Currently based in Hong Kong, David Pilling is the Asia Editor of the Financial Times . He was Tokyo Bureau Chief from 2002–8. After the earthquake in 2011, he came back to Japan on a number of occasions. This book covers the recent history of Japan interlaced with interviews with Japanese from all walks of life. 

Bending Adversity takes its name from Pilling’s loose rendering of a Japanese proverb introduced to him by the husband of Japan’s former High Commissioner for the UNHCR, Ogata Sadako:

wazawai wo tenjite fuku to nasu.  災いを転じて福となす。
(Literally: Turn calamity into good fortune)

It is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand Japan in the current age. 

Starting in the small coastal town of Rikuzentakata a mere 40 kilometres from where I spent the first three years of my life in Japan, Pilling recounts the story of a hotel general manager and the fateful day that changed his life and the lives of 23,000 other inhabitants of the town.

He talks of the miracle Lone Pine that stood while 70,000 others fell on that fateful Friday in March. The before-and-after photos and words on a page don’t fully capture how harrowing the difference is.

The first time I went to “Takata” as the locals would call it was on my second weekend in Japan in early August 1997. I remember eating at the small fast food restaurant near the beach some eighteen years ago, which he describes from photographs:

An entire Mos Burger restaurant, Japan’s equivalent of McDonald’s, floats across the valley like some unmoored boat, its red roof and ‘M’ logo distinctly visible as it sweeps towards the hospital. By the time it gets there, it has been ripped in two.

I remember walking in amongst the trees remarking how huge Japanese crows were (like ravens), and how their voices sounded like grown men’s; picking up a stray volleyball as I walked on the beach, passing it back to some high school kids. Later that evening, I remember sipping beers, eating barbecue meat and camping out under the stars with my new-found teacher mates on the JET Programme. I went back there a few times over the years – to see the annual taiko festival, to watch a traditional street festival where men pulling floats would bash into them into one another, and to eat ramen after running in Ofunato further along the coast. After I moved further north, I didn’t go back there again. Not until six months after the disaster.

I saw the Lone Pine with my own eyes in September 2011 when I went to volunteer with All Hands. I couldn’t help but feel sad at seeing nothing but flat land where houses had once been. And a single tree where a forest had once stood.

In much the same way that we show signs of aging (not linearly but in sudden leaps and bounds) Japan has lurched forward and re-defined its direction through various events. Pilling goes back in time to chart Japan’s forced opening by Commodore Perry’s Black Ships off Yokohama, which brought about the Meiji Restoration but didn’t spell change in the shimaguni (island country) mindset. He also tells the story of expansionist Japan aspiring to be like the Western colonial powers around the turn of the 20th Century; the 1923 Tokyo earthquake; and the devastation of WWII; through the miracle years of growth, surviving not one but two oil shocks in the 1970s; through the bursting of the Bubble in 1990. 
Writing only a year after the earthquake, Pilling doesn’t go so far as to say that 2:46pm on March 11th 2011 was a turning point in history, though he does examine how Japan has defined itself through some very testing episodes. Based on interviews with Murakami Haruki among others, he picks out 1995 (the year of the Kobe earthquake and Sarin gas attacks) as a decisive post-war turning point for Japan, which really spelled the end of the boom years.
Still, the image of Japan in the West is of a waning economic power overshadowed by China. Yet, Pilling reminds us towards the end of his narrative that

[t]hough we have got used to the idea of Japan’s inexorable economic decline, it remains quite comfortably the third-largest economy in the world, the size of the combined economies of Britain and France and three times the size of India’s.

And this in spite of the cataclysmic events of March 2011. According to the World Economic Outlook Database (April 2013) he notes that Japan had a per-capita GDP eight times the size of China’s (or four times in per-capita purchasing power parity terms).

The Tokyo conurbation alone is home to about 37 million people, which is more than the population of whole countries including Canada, Finland or Australia to name a few.

I have called Japan home for nearly eighteen years now. And like Pilling, I can attest that there is still much hope in this beautiful country.

Why I’m really looking forward to today (Part 2)

After writing Part 1 this morning, I went to wake my wife up and give her her anniversary present. As the 7th anniversary in the UK is wool, I decided to go with the American convention: copper and bought two tumblers for us both. Now that we are in April, I didn’t think my wife would appreciate a woolly jumper. 


My wife surprised me with a really nice brown leather bag, which my daughter helped her choose. I like brown leather and it will really go well with some of the other brown items I use or wear for work. 


After a fairly slow and leisurely morning, where I used rain as an excuse to not run, we went out at about 11:30.

We enjoyed a nice Japanese lunch at Aqua City in Odaiba and then took a look around a few of the shops.

By 2:30, we were ready for our main event and went to the fourth floor of Decks to get our picture drawn. 


As with every year, the artist was different again and so we looked forward to how it would come out.

I must be honest. When I first saw it, I wasn’t so thrilled. But that has happened many times – and after a while, I get used to it. Caricature is often like that and this time is no different. In fact, I’m already getting used to it. 


Our kids look sprightly with their rosy cheeks. They are both looking upwards in anticipation of something(?) while my wife and I look quite tired. 

I suppose it has been quite a demanding year, with lots of new things happening: a new job for me, and new schools for both kids. So it is probably a fair reflection. After all, an artist can only draw what they see, and a caricaturist’s job is to exaggerate what they see.

What I read from my kids’ expressions is that it is my job to help them learn and to navigate their new worlds. So it should be another exciting and probably stressful year ahead. I will continue to worry only about what I can control and not about what I cannot. 

The artist commented at one point that my hair looked green. Maybe I left some shampoo in my hair today. I had been more concerned about going grey. 

I would love to hear from you. What do you think of this year’s picture? How does it compare to previous years? Which is your favourite?

Running around Westminster, London

On the evening of Tuesday, March 10th, I ran my 600th ever Runkeeper activity. It is fitting that for such a milestone, I was in London, where the distance for the modern marathon is said to have been formalized at 42.195km.

Staying on Belgrave Road in Pimlico, I was ideally placed to see some of the major sights of Westminster for free (at least from the outside).

Darkness is not so conducive to great photos when using an iPhone camera: apologies for any blurred images. I ran a slightly shorter version of the route in early evening light a couple of days later. Photos from both runs are included and the grey pins along each route represent the places where I stopped to take pictures.

From Runkeeper app
Tue, 10 Mar 2015
From Runkeeper app
Thu, 12 Mar 2015

I hope this article inspires visitors and residents of London to take a run or a walk around some of the major sights.

Buckingham Palace

This large and ornate palace has been the official London residence of the British monarchy since the 1830s. It is where the Queen stays when she is in London. Here are 40 facts about Buckingham Palace.

buckingham palace
Buckingham Palace by night
buckingham palace, london
In front of Buckingham Palace
buckingham palace, london
A good way to ruin a nice view!

Trafalgar Square

A short run up The Mall (not as interesting to American teenagers as the name might suggest), and we find ourselves at Trafalgar Square. The square is home to the National Portrait Gallery. Like all public museums and art galleries in the UK, it is free to enter, though I am not sure if the staff and patrons would appreciate a sweaty runner wandering around the exhibits.

The other famous sight in Trafalgar Square is Nelson’s Column (a tribute to a 19th Century naval war hero). And the square itself takes its name from a battle in 1805 won by Admiral Nelson.

Each year on New Year’s Eve, the square is filled by revelers awaiting the countdown.

The image of the tall statue on its column with buses or taxis passing by its foot is one of the iconic images of London and features on many a postcard. I tried to emulate this with my photos, though I will never make a career out of photography.

London, Trafalgar Square, black taxi, double decker bus
A running cliche: double decker and black Hackney cab in Trafalgar Square
London, Trafalgar Square, black taxi, double decker bus
Trafalgar Square: Early evening

Crossing the Thames

After leaving Trafalgar Square, for the first run, I passed Charing Cross station on the Strand and ran over Waterloo Bridge, stopping to take photos of the cityscape over the river. Being on the river bend, this is said to be the best spot to take photos of London at ground level. Unfortunately, only one of my photos came out. So you’ll have to go and see for yourself now…

London’s famous river is said to derive from Celtic origins and to mean ‘dark’. It is surprisingly similar to the Russian темно, which also means ‘dark’. 

London Eye
London Eye seen from Waterloo Bridge


For my second run, I took a slightly shorter route, cutting one kilometre off the overall distance and taking one of the Golden Jubilee footbridges that runs parallel to the Hungerford railway bridge. Likewise, I took a few pictures over the river.

London Eye, Houses of Parliament
London Eye and the Houses of Parliament

London Eye
London Eye from Golden Jubilee Bridge
London, Houses of Parliament, Westminster Bridge
Houses of Parliament and Westminster Bridge

London Eye

While I didn’t climb on the London Eye (the big Ferris Wheel on the banks of the Thames), I have been on there before and do recommend spending money on this for the wonderful views it affords visitors.

London Eye
Approaching the London Eye

Houses of Parliament

Coming up to the Houses of Parliament, I was presented with two choices:

(1) stay on the other side of the river to get a fuller shot of the building, or

(2) cross Westminster Bridge to get a closer view of the political seat, and also to pass alongside Westminster Abbey, where Prince William married Kate a few years ago.

I opted for the first choice because I didn’t feel like negotiating the tourists that dawdle along the road looking up at the buildings and taking photos. Don’t judge me for my double standards!

London, Houses of Parliament
Houses of Parliament in black and white
Westminster Bridge, London Eye
Westminster Bridge and London Eye

Along the river and over Vauxhall Bridge

The last part of the run was down along the river and back to Pimlico, crossing at Vauxhall Bridge. As I managed to sneak a little bit of Russian trivia in here earlier, I am now going to end on a segue into my very favourite piece of Russky general knowledge:

When Tsar Nicholas I visited London, he saw the sign “Vauxhall” as he was pulling into the station on the train. He thought it was the general English word for station and took the word into Russian when he adopted railways there. To this day, the Russian word for railway station is вокзал.

London: 8 Places to Visit on a Budget

As I will be heading there myself quite soon, reblogging this article on places to go in London.


Last Friday I did a day trip to London; I didnt spend much but saw so many places! My only expenses were my coach ticket to London Victoria, my all day travel card for the London Underground (£12 for an adult), and lunch! Here’s what I saw and what I recommend.


Buckingham Palace
No trip to London is complete without going to see and get a selfie in front of the Queen’s house! With the thousands of other tourists we took loads of photos of the Palace, the guards, and the gold statue in front. Along with Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace is the most visited tourist attraction in England.


Camden Town Market
Camden Market is a personal favourite when it comes to visiting London; the stalls, the food and the culture make up a great atmosphere, and the Lock provides some beautiful views…

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