March 17, 2011
Why I am not worried about Earthquakes or Radiation in Tokyomy experience in the big earthquake and then later a bit about food shortages, and strange things I am eating. I touched a bit there on the supply problems and issues with nuclear reactors in the north east, but I'll focus a bit more on that in this post. So first, initially I was wearing my anti-earthquake hat (+1 for saving throws vs. falling rocks.) Friday was crazy with earthquakes. The first was very scary, but Tokyo pulled through very well. Friday night there were many earthquakes, but none as powerful as the first one. Saturday there were also lots of earthquakes. Sunday there were fewer. I started noticing more in the news about the nuclear power plants in Fukushima. There were still tremors, and Tokyo is feeling the side-effects of the earthquake. Really the problems we have faced are with transportation and electricity. Trains are running at reduced capacity. There are scheduled blackouts for much of Northern Japan. Areas around Tokyo have also seen blackouts but the main center of Tokyo, the "23 wards" have been spared. That would be like all of New York state having scheduled blackouts, but Manhattan being spared due likely to concerns about business and population density. In fact, we are going to reverse evacuate my sister-in-law to Tokyo from a place that is about an hour and a half out of Tokyo further away from the North East because they have been having two blackouts a day and we have had none. Trains are pretty much running now, although at slightly reduced capacity, and at least the major parts of Tokyo have regular electric, gas, and water service. Our elevators are even back at home, although the escalators and elevators at the local shopping center are off to conserve energy. The other issue is food and gas. Gas is tight right now. Mostly people were panicked and trying to get fuel to get out of Tokyo. That has made it hard for the emergency workers to get fuel to go help out where there is real trouble - up near Sendai and further north east. I think that has taken care of itself now though since people are less worried about radiation and are just staying in Tokyo trying to get back to business as usual. Most companies still have people going to work. Amazon is a bit rare in that we can work from home (that it is allowed, and that we have a kind of job where that actually works well.) I have seen some other email from other friends in Japan saying that if they want to work from home, they can, but they will need to fill in a form and get it stamped by one or two people. That sounds like Japan to me. Everything here needs to be stamped to be official. So yay for Amazon Japan, they have just been really amazing throughout this whole thing. So I can attest that while we might be a bit inconvenienced and eating strange foods, day to day life is fine. My wife is home because Disneyland (where she is a nurse) is closed for an indeterminate amount of time. What has been more concerning is people over-reacting to the fear of radioactivity from the explosions at the Fukushima nuclear power plants, about 300km away from Tokyo. The news here has been pretty good about getting information out. As of right now (2011-03-17 10:40am JST) I do not think there is any danger to Tokyo from the Nuclear power plants. Here are some resources I have been using to get information:
- MIT NSE Nuclear Information Hub. A curated blog by MIT students and professors with a lot of information. I trust MIT, and their stuff seems to be very informative with a science (not fear) bent.
- As of the 15th, this post by Paul Atkinson makes it seem like Britain has no fears of radiation.
- As of the 16th the US Embassy also says there is no danger to Tokyo. They also say that TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Corp.) has been upfront about the disaster and their information accurate. This reassures me that there are international orgs watching the situation and that we are getting good information.
- The Australian Government has some advice for Australians in Japan. They suggest expanding the exclusion zone from 30km to 50km. Tokyo is 300km from the power plant sites.
March 16, 2011
You know it is bad when you are eating Nude Crunky Ballsthis take from an MIT engineer on why things are not as bad as the media might lead you to believe. 日本語版もあります。 I am joking around a bit here: we do have enough food for a few days, and supplies are getting better. I don't think we will have a problem in Tokyo. But if I am forced to eat delicious nude crunky chocolate balls, be sure that I will not let my blog go uninformed. Also, we are running out of truffles and foie gras. Please send more forthwith.
March 13, 2011
I hope you like broccoli, because that is what is for dinner
March 12, 2011
The Great Miyagi Earthquake of 2011
On Friday, as usual, a group of us from work went out to Beacon, a favorite lunch place. Lunch was great, a nice filling burger, as usual. Then back to work for the afternoon. At about three o'clock sometime (amazingly, I feel like I should know exactly when this started, but I do not) I started to feel some minor tremors. We have those frequently in Tokyo, and had had a few in the previous days. I checked with my co-workers to make sure it wasn't just me (when a loaded-down cart goes down the nearby hallway, it can shake the floor in a way that feel similar to a very minor earthquake) and they commented that they felt it too. Usually we would just sit and wait things out, but this one kept building. Usually these things start out as small vertical fluxuations as the ground moves up and down. This time, the vertical bumps started to get larger, and then started to change into a swaying motion. That is when we knew it was getting bad. We got under our desks - which I am not really sure would help in a ceiling collapse, but would probably be better than not being under the desk - and started to wait. The earthquake now was clearly a swaying motion. Perhaps the ground was moving up and down, but the building itself started to sway. We are on the 16th floor. The shaking went on for maybe five minutes. I really don't have a good sense of the time, but it went on for a very long time.
The building itself felt like a boat, swaying forward about three meters, then back, then perhaps to the left, then to the right. It literally felt like we were on a boat in rough seas. I didn't see out the window, so I had no real frame of reference, but the movement was amazing, and very unsettling. Our friends who have a very wide window view said the movement was sickening, you could see the entire building move, and move a lot. Our shelves fell. Other things fell. I was glad to be under my desk, in case the shelving fell my way. It didn't.
The swaying finally started to slow down. I checked my laptop, grabbed my stuff together, and led some of the guys down the stairwell. The stairs were littered with plaster, I assume from the walls of the swaying building. Our building was completed sometime in the 70's, very old by Japanese standards. I think it is rated for a stronger earthquake, but it was still unsettling. I would have preferred to be in a newer building. I'm curious to see how my friend at Google in Mori Tower faired.
We exited the building to the area around the tower. There were some small aftershocks. We were warned to stay away from the building in case of falling glass. That is a good warning, until you realize that there are skyscrapers all over Tokyo. Smaller building are likely less well designed for earthquakes. We were probably safer inside the tower than outside if another large earthquake struck, but that swaying feeling is just so unsettling that I think a lot of people just wanted to get outside, myself included. There was a lot of checking around, trying to see who was still inside, who was outside. Everyone was ok, and after a while the company president announced that people who could go home should go home.
That itself was quite a difficulty. You see, none of the mass transit systems were running. Everyone here uses mass transit. I live about 10km from work, and usually bike to work. Today, of all days, I decided not to bike since I was sore from playing basketball the previous night. I decided instead to take the train. That means I had no easy way home, except 10km isn't really all that far. So I started to walk home. I had my GPS watch, and also unusually decided to bring in my camera today (perhaps thought I would walk around Shibuya at night and take some pictures.) Looking back, I really should have headed into the Shibuya city center to see what things looked like, but I was more concerned with getting home and making sure that Risa was safe. I sent her an email earlier, but knew that networks would be overloaded. I did eventually hear from her, she was fine, but still at work (at Disneyland.) Satisfied that my family was ok, I set out to head home. Before doing that though, I snapped a few pictures of the people around the office. I was also wearing my Amazon Japan hard hat the entire time, and asked a group from the Merchant@ team to model their beautiful headgear for me.
I set up my GPS watch and headed home. All told, it took 1:54 minutes, 9km, and 620 calories. On the way though, I took a few pictures. First, let me just say that for the most part, the Tokyo that I know did not suffer major damage. I heard that one building, the Kudan Kaikan, close to where I used to work, had a portion of the roof collapse and there were some injuries. Otherwise there was nothing major that I knew of (I learned of some other things later) - I was listening to one-seg TV for a lot of the time I was waiting outside the building trying to get in touch with Risa. On the walk home, there was no major structural damage either. This is Tokyo though, up north near the epicenter the damage was horrific, and on the news they were talking about a Tsunami that was coming.
So, I set out walking. See the link for the map of where I walked, but basically it was a two hour walk that I knew fairly well from riding it on a bike every day. On the here are some interesting things I saw.
People taking refuge at a temple
Waiting for a phone
More phone lines
Graduation ceremony interrupted
Very close to work there is a small temple hidden off the beaten path. There were lots of people there taking refuge. When you think about it, one of the few places in Tokyo that isn't high density living, working, or shopping spaces are temples. They have small buildings and some open grounds. A good place to go when you want to get away from large buildings. You can just see a whole bunch of blue hard hats in the background of people all from the same company presumably.
Walking on, you started to see people lining up for pay phones. The cell infrastructure was overwhelmed of course. I got a few emails out, but voice calls were just impossible. I also started to see people lining up for buses. Note that these early lines are short. An hour later the lines for phones and bus stops were huge.
Near Ebisu station there was a group of girls in Kimono for a Graduation Ceremony. That must have been a rude interruption to their ceremony. They were waiting for a friend who was apparently across the street near Ebisu station. I was curious what the mass transit situation was (my cell phone tv was telling me that no trains were running) so I swung by the station. Indeed, no trains were running.
The station was full of people, but the gates were close and the signs all said "Under Preparation". Walking out towards home there were some stores with tvs, and those got a lot of attention. People were intent on finding news, but all the news was saying is that there was an earthquake, a tsunami is coming, and where people should be evacuating. My cell phone has a digital tv tuner, so I would check occasionally with what was going on. Tokyo at least didn't come out of it too bad.
Massive crowds at Gotanda
Beam looks like it is in bad shape
Bent support beam
Taking down scaffolding
More comfortable on the first floor
Somewhere to go, no way to get there
Another closed station
Over closer to Gotanda, much later, there were massive crowds at Gotanda station waiting for buses. I don't think they are going to get anywhere anytime soon. I kept walking, only about 3 kilometers from home now. I passed some large apartment complexes which had set up temporary chairs for people that lived there who I presume didn't like being up high in the building. I could understand their feelings. I think they probably are safer inside the building that outside, but maybe the ground floor would sway less than the higher floors. That is probably a good idea, and I might take that route in the future myself. There is one tunnel I have to take that looked a bit damaged. As I walked up to it, it made a horrible noise. Still, seemed ok, so I went through. I'm curious whether that will be repaired in coming days. There were also some construction workers taking down scaffolding. I would not have wanted to be in their shoes; there were still aftershocks and that scaffolding did not look very safe.
Closer to home near Aomono Yokocho, I finally started seeing buses with people in them. Lots of people in them. Going slowly. Traffic was just jammed by this time. Anyone that could drive was. I bet taxis were charging extra.
Walking by Aomono Yokocho more people were waiting for the trains to start running. The station was also closed. By this point, I was pretty close to home. My feet were killing me, my shoulders were sore from carrying my heavy backpack and laptop, and it was getting cold. On the way home I stopped by Aeon, the local supermarket. They were starting to run out of stuff. I bought some simple things for dinner, and headed home. At home, things were fine, but the elevators were out of action. So I had a 14 floor hike up the stairs before getting back to the apartment. The most amazing thing is that I only noticed one or two things fallen over in our place. Our building was built two years ago, and is supposed to be very safe in earthquakes. The place was a mess, but that is just because I haven't cleaned recently; you would not have known that there was an earthquake just looking at the place.
At home, I turned on the TV and spent the next few hours trying to get in touch with friends (everyone is ok) and sending out some email and facebook updates. I didn't feel tired, so I started playing Mass Effect (1, a game I've been playing lately.) There were lots of small aftershock earthquakes. I lost count. More than ten. More than twenty probably. They kept happening, although our building handled them like a champ. None of this crazy boat stuff (I am really curious how the main earthquake moved the building, but I'm happy not to find out.) I watched a lot of tv. I tried to find out what my wife was doing. She said she was ok, but that she would not be able to come home. I stayed up until 6am. I also finished Mass Effect - very good game. I think that kept me up, but I also just was still unsettled, and didn't feel like sleeping.
I finally got to sleep at 6am, and now on Saturday have written this us. Right now Risa came home. Here is how her day played out: after the earthquake at Disneyland lots of people were motion sick from the earthquake, and there were people that were scared and with minor injuries. She works as a nurse there, and all the nurses were busy. They worked through the night and she got off at 11am Saturday morning (after starting a 10am shift on Friday morning) and then had to walk to the Rinkai line Shinkiba station, about 6km. She is going to hop on the computer for a bit and then go to sleep.
So to sum up: we are safe, our house is fine. We have enough food for today and tomorrow, and I anticipate that most of Tokyo will be relatively back to normal by then. I'm worried and concerned about northern Japan, and I have a few friends that are stuck outside of Tokyo due to the transit system shutdown, but everything seems fine. It should be an interesting few days. All sorts of things are coming out now, the major one being concern over some nuclear reactors and possible problems there, but I think Japan will be able to get through this.
January 23, 2011
Monjya-yaki and the Lion King's Simba
It was only the second time I've ever had Monjya-yaki, but was quite nice. We had a lot of fun. The most unusual aspect of the night is that one of the people at the party is an actor in "The Lion King" - he plays Simba. Just by chance when my friend was in New York, he sat down next to this guy who was also in New York at the time, and they became friends. So we had a good time talking about plays and musicals and the like.
R. and I actually had tickets to see the Lion King, but due to a comedy of booking errors, ended up giving the tickets away to other friends. So we're going to have to try again to see it in Tokyo. It will be a lot more fun thinking that an acquaintance of ours might be in the show!
October 3, 2010
Fukuroda Falls shrine
Tokyo Night Driving
Last weekend R. and I took a day trip out to see Fukuroda Falls. It is about three hours by car to the North of Tokyo. We took the car out (for the first time in months) and I drove. It was supposed to be about three hours, but I think the way there took about three and half hours. I'm not a big fan of driving in Tokyo, but I have to admit that the highways in Tokyo are pretty interesting. Some of the central highways through the city are elevated to about the third or fifth story of the surrounding buildings. If I wasn't in such a panic while driving I would like to enjoy the scenery a bit more.
Anyway, once out of Tokyo, we headed through the country-side of Ibaraki prefecture. By country-side R. means that you are on smaller roads and only pass through a town or population center every twenty minutes. Or that there are only five or six cars within site at all times. Compare that to our trip through Eastern Washington state when we went two or three hours at a time without seeing cars or signs of civilization.
We had a nice trip, and got up to the waterfall. Like all things in Japan there is a fee to enter the waterfall attraction. A very reasonable fee, like $3. It was a nice waterfall, and pretty large. I haven't seen many large waterfalls, and this is apparently the third largest in Japan. So now I'm a bit curious about the other two larger ones. It is a pretty nice waterfall and the surrounding area is a bit nice too. There is a nice bridge and lots of hiking paths in the area, but our plan was to get lunch and then head home, because that will take a few hours. We really just hung out near the waterfall, but if we had more time we could have done some hiking. It would have been nice if we had the time to stay overnight and maybe try the hot springs there. It is apparently the only one in Ibaraki. I like the idea of taking a day trip though, and just getting out and doing a bit of driving - it is nice to take that car out if we are going to pay for parking it in this crazy city.
Lunch was a special type of hot pot native to the area. And pretty good. Then we headed home. Of course, on the way home there was an accident or two, and the roads into Tokyo were very busy. I think it took five hours to get home. Still, a nice day trip and fun. The most important thing is that there was this crazy road sign showing the traffic status on the major Tokyo highways. It isn't that bad, but still at speed that thing is tough to take in.
August 15, 2010
Summer Comic Market 78 in Tokyo
Comic Market Catalog
Waiting in the parking lot for the Comic Market to open
A crowded Tokyo Big Site
Comic Cure Sports Drink
Captain Jack Sparrow
Saint Oniisan: Jesus and Buddha
Some Giant Robot
Ginrei from Giant Robo
On Saturday, I decided to take a trip out to Tokyo Big Sight to stop by the 78th Summer Comic Market. I've never been to one of the comic markets before, and have always been interested. They are a large forum for the amateur (although quality can be extremely high) clubs to sell their work. Usually they write comics (同人誌, fan comics) that use characters from popular series, or sometimes their own creations entirely.
Since I've never been to one of these things before, I just kind of winged it. I left the house at about 8:10am, and arrived at Tokyo Big Site at about 8:30am. We live pretty close. The first thing I didn't expect were the crowds. There were lots of people. The first thing I noticed were the staff out there to direct the crowds. I followed the signs for "general admission" (一般参加) and eventually got herded into a large parking lot. A very large parking lot. With other people. Lots of other people. While we were lining up I stopped and bought one of the Comic Market Catalogs. It is about the size of a phone book. It cost 2000 yen. Apparently there are also CD-ROM versions of that thing, which would probably be even more useful for people preparing a strategy for the comic market. We were herded into the parking lot and then told to hurry up and wait. That was at about 8:45am or so.
Checking the Catalog, I learned that the comic market opens up at 10:00am. Crap. I didn't bring a long sleeve shirt or sunblock. I didn't bring much of anything. All I brought was a book (Haruki Murakami's Kafka by the Sea, which I've been reading for two years now) and a camera. I am terrible at sitting on the ground. The line didn't start moving until about 10:30am. I didn't get in to the venue until about 11:00am. I think this was a bit harder to handle than Fuji Rock, because I just was not prepared for it, and also the attendees didn't seem to be as well groomed as your standard Fuji Rock attendee (just joking. Kind of.)
Once inside, Tokyo Big Site was crowded. Very crowded. I kind of went with the flow of the crowd and ended up in East Hall 1-2-3, which isn't where I wanted to go. I had studied the catalog a bit before going in, and that hall had a lot of stuff that I'm not into (mostly groups focusing on Full Metal Alchemist, Naruto, and women's comics.) I wanted to go to East Hall 4-5-6, which had some stuff from Ultra Jump. I was hoping to find some Tenjo Tenge and Dogs: Bullets and Carnage stuff, which are two manga series that I enjoy. I just had a hard time fighting the crowds, and figured I would come back a bit later. On the way, I picked up a sports drink. I was interested in getting "Comic Cure" - a kind of special drink for the Comic Market I guess - but passed on it. A normal Aquarius was 50 yen cheaper.
First, I wanted to check out the Cosplay portion of the Comic Market, which it is pretty well-known for. What is Cosplay? It is generally people dressing up as characters from manga or anime series, and people taking pictures of them. Since I didn't really know what I was looking for, I thought it would be most fun to go and check out the costumes and take some pictures. So I headed over to the cosplay area.
The cosplay area was out in the garden of Tokyo Big Site, outside. Apparently when it is rainy sometimes they cancel it altogether. The weather was nice, but started to get a bit hot. There was an incredible number of cosplayers and probably more photographers with varying degrees of pro-sumer DSL cameras. Some of the people had really incredible gear. I took a bunch of pictures, and some of my favorites are listed below:
- Captain Jack Sparrow
- Jesus and Buddha from Saint Oniisan.
- Some Giant Robot
- Ginrei from Giant Robo
- Usavitch Rabbits
- Xbox Man
You can see the full set here on Flickr, which includes a few women in skimpy outfits.
After the cosplay, I wanted to get something to eat and head back to the East 4-5-6 hall. All the restaurants were packed. So I just grabbed something quick, and tried to go to the East Exhibition hall. The place was jam packed. The hallway to get there looked like it wasn't moving at all. Since it was about 1:30pm, and I needed to get home to prepare for the fireworks in the evening (which I had somehow been roped into providing pizza for) I just decided to call it quits and head home. Without ever seeing any of the main Comic Market that I originally intended!!
So, based on my first foray into the Comic Market, what do I think I need to do to improve the experience?
- Find someone who knows what they are doing. Since I don't really have any Japanese friends that are into manga, this might be hard to do. I would like to make more friends though, so maybe I can look into the communities for this and do a more organized outing.
- If I can't get a guide, the next best thing to do would be to prepare beforehand. Decide what groups I would like to see, and find out where they are. That means buying a catalog in advance, and doing a lot more preparation work learning about the different circles and what they do.
- Prepare for longer lines better. Bring a small portable stool to sit on. Sunblock. A fan. Some snacks.
- Buy a bigger zoom lens. I was starting to feel inadequate next to all these people with large DSLR setups!
- Or, forget about it and just play it by ear again.
Overall it was a pretty fun day. Took a lot more time than I expected, and was more tiring than I expected, but I think I will give the Winter Comic Market a try too. Probably do a bit more up-front prep work and might just go later to avoid the long lines, but it isn't that far from home and was pretty interesting.
May 17, 2010
A small bar in IkebukuroLast Friday, R. and I went to a small bar in Ikebukuro. Our aim was to find the small bar Afiya, run by a friend of a friend. It is a really small wine bar that has a focus on food from Senegal. The place has maybe room for 8, so a very cozy atmosphere. We actually headed down a bit early (because I am an early to bed, early to rise kind of guy) but the place wasn't open yet. We called the proprietress and it turns out she wasn't planning on opening until 8pm, so we had about an hour to spend.
Luckily, right around the corner was Ete, another wine bar. It was a themed night. The place is actually very nice. I highly recommend it. They had some nice French food, some nice French wine, and the staff was great. The chef was a pretty taciturn guy, but the waitress / bartender was a very friendly young lady, who I later learned was much later younger than I thought! (23. Why does age always come up in conversations in Japan so often? I don't know.)
Anyway, a glass of wine and some appetizers later, we headed down to Afiya and met up with Kei, the owner. Then we had more wine, and some great Yassa chicken. Highly recommended. The regulars were also really nice and fun to chat with. Ben, one of the regulars, beat out a mean rhythm on the drum.
And we had a bit much to drink, but did make it back home eventually. If you are in Ikebukuro sometime, check Afiya out!
March 27, 2010
Tokyo Anime Fair and Hanami
Tokyo International Anime Fair 2010
Tokyo International Anime Fair 2010
Sakura in Ueno Park
Sakura at Ueno Park
March 7, 2010
Japanese that Japanese people don't know
December 26, 2009
Adventures with Flat Everett
Flat Everett Goes to Shinjuku Station
Flat Everett catches a train
Flat Everett catches a train
Flat Everett rides in style
Flat Everett makes some Santa-style friends
Flat Everett meets a sushi Chef
Flatt Everett meets my niece
Flat Everett is a new friend of ours that arrived in the mail the other day. My cousin (non-flat Everett) had a school project where they make a flat version of themselves, and then mail them off to friends. Then the friends will show the Flat Person around the town they live, and take a few pictures, that sort of thing. Sounds like fun! It is a good reason to spend a bit of time around the town where you live.
One of the things that my wife and I sometimes do is have dinner at a nice sushi restaurant that her family has been going to for many years. They know the head chef there, and he's a really nice guy. The sushi place is about an hour out of Tokyo, so we needed to catch a train. We headed out to Shinjuku station, which is one of the busiest train stations in the world.
From Shinjuku station, we took the strangely named Romance Car out to Sagami Ono. We didn't have enough money to get a separate seat for Flat Everett so he rode (fairly comfortably I think) in the seat-pocket. Once we arrived, Flat Everett met two Japanese women dressed up like Santa. It was just before the Christmas holiday and so there was lots of themed Christmas advertising and trees. People in Japan don't celebrate Christmas like people in America do. Christmas is not a national holiday and people go to school and work on Christmas day. Christmas Eve is a time for couples and couples will often go to a nice dinner and exchange presents. People don't usually give presents or toys to each other on Christmas though. They traditionally have Kentucky Fried Chicken (they do a lot of business on Christmas and Christmas Eve, due mostly to strong marketing campaigns in the 70s and 80s) and a Christmas Cake. I haven't had a Christmas Cake yet, but all the big department stores take pre-orders for Christmas Cakes a few weeks before Christmas.
We walked to the Sushi place (a nice restaurant in the local department store) after doing some shopping, and Flat Everett met the Sushi Chef there. He also made friends with my niece. The dinner was great, and we all went home very full. Unlike Flat Everett, I am starting to turn round. I need to see what Flat Everett does to keep in shape.
Flat Everett visits Mori Tower
Flat Everett sees a spider
Flat Everett and the Tokyo Skyline
Flat Everett visits Mori Art Museum
Flat Everett and Tokyo Tower
Flat Everett takes a walk to Tokyo Tower
Flat Everett at Tokyo Tower Base
Flat Everett and Tokyo Tower Sign
Flat Everett celebrates Christmas at Tokyo Tower
Flat Everett at an old Temple Gate
The day after Christmas my wife and I had the day off so we decided to go out to one of our favorite places in Tokyo (the 54 story Mori tower's Mori Art Museum) and Flat Everett came along with us. We've gone there a few times in the past year, at least three or four, and there is also a great view from the top of the tower over Tokyo itself. I had also, a few weeks prior, made reservations at the nearby Tateru Yoshino in the Shiba Park Hotel (a French restaurant that received a Michelin Star rating the past few years) in the evening, so we planned to make a day of it.
There is a big Spider sculpture outside of the Mori tower, and Flat Everett got a picture there too. The thing is large, and creepy. At night it is lit up a bit, and is intimidating. It also moves slightly with the wind, and has moved six or so inches in the four or five years since the tower opened. Walking past the spider, we eventually get to the entrance of the Mori Art Museum, and Flat Everett wanted a picture there also. Inside the museum there is a strict policy against taking pictures, so we don't have any pictures there. The exhibit we went to see was the Medicine and Art exhibit, which looked at the study of medicine as art. There were lots of drawings of human anatomy through history, including three drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci. It was a very interesting exhibit.
After the museum, Flat Everett, my wife, and I went up to the City View to get a look at Tokyo at night. One of the most famous sights in Tokyo is Tokyo Tower, a tower built in 1958 modeled after the Eiffel tower. We got a picture or two of Everett in front of the tower from the City View area, and then headed out to dinner. Our dinner was in Shiba park, and to walk there (about two miles) we would need to walk right by Tokyo Tower. So Flat Everett got to take a look at the tower up close. Since it was the day after Christmas, there was still a lot of Christmas decorations up. A lot of people come to Tokyo for Christmas with the girlfriend or boyfriend to just see all the Christmas lights and decorations. Tokyo Tower was no exception, with a big Christmas tree and lights and a little light show on the hour.
Right before we arrived at the hotel, there was an older Temple Gate with some statues in the gate. Flat Everett wanted a picture of that as well, although it didn't really turn out all that well. Flat Everett didn't join us for dinner, but it was really great.
I think we might try to visit a temple before Flat Everett moves on and visits a friend of ours.
December 18, 2009
Foreign takes on Akihabara: fight!Go and read this post over at Colony Drop by Sean, and then read the comments.
I like Akihabara a lot. The first time I went there was back in the 1989 (I believe) when I came to Japan with my dad. I bought a portable CD player (a ridiculously impossible thing at the time) with the money I had been saving. I marveled at the computers in the shops. We had an Apple //e, I was just beginning to do some programming in Basic and Pascal at the time. The color MSX computers on display at the time were amazing. I had never known anything about Japan before my first trip there, and afterwards I was interested.
A few years (well, a decade and a bit) later when I finally moved out here in a professional capacity, and Akihabara has changed. I miss the focus on computers, and the whole area seems like a high commercialized anime marketplace now. I was into anime in high school and college, but it never really stuck with me. I have been reading and translating manga for many years, mostly because that is something I can do at my own pace and it is easy to work in translation in small chunks of free time, so I'm familiar with the culture. But it isn't really anything that I am too interested in. As a professional programmer though, I miss the focus on more unique hardware and DIY computer projects. That still is there - and hey, stop by the Linux cafe next time you are in Akihabara - but that really seems like less of a focus now.
I also am big into Street Fighter, and really enjoyed when SF4 was on play test at the Hey! arcade there.
Anyway, the comment thread is really interesting. I haven't ever met Max Hodges but know of him through the ex-pat blogosphere and like what he writes. I have no idea who this Sean guy is. I've seen Patrick Galbraith in Akihabara before, but I'm not really into the whole moe thing. Doesn't mean I look down on it; I'm just not into it.
But wow, total ex-pat nerdfight.
September 27, 2009
Home Owners Association and Fire Walking
Today was an interesting day. I started the morning off with a 6km jog by the canal, and then got back in time for toast and coffee. It was very rushed though, because from 10:00am today was our first Homeowner's association meeting. This was the first major meeting of the elected body of representatives in our apartment building to present stuff to the people that live here. There was an initial meeting right after we moved in (and the building opened up) when I suppose people were elected. Actually, they weren't elected as much as drawn randomly from a box, but that is somehow on the egalitarian end of things so good enough.
The meeting was being held across the street in the convenient high school there. It is a pretty nice campus, and was the first time I had ever ventured inside the grounds. There were about 100 people at the meeting (over half the required to make quorum) but our building hasn't yet passed 50% occupancy. The meeting was all in Japanese, and more or less understandable. The main thing was a discussion of the budget and what the monthly maintainence fees are being used for. There wasn't anything super exciting in there, although since it was the first year the building has been in use some of the estimates were not spot-on. Electricity use was the big under-estimated cost. They keep the lights on all the time here, which is very nice, but apparently costs a bit of money. For the meantime they would like to keep the lights on because we want to present a nice image of our building. I'm fine with that. I don't really use the hallways much past 1am or before 6am, but keeping the lights on doesn't hurt me either.
Probably the most controversial thing discussed was a plan to invest a large sum of money for a 10-year period to get interest on it. In about 10 years there is a big expenditure that is required to keep the building up to spec so until that time we might as well try to get some use out of the money. There were lots of questions about the investment vehicle to be used, risk, stuff like that, but in the end it passed.
Ah, also there was one person complaining about signs that were posted saying not to make too much noise. Especially if you have young kids try to keep them quiet late at night and stuff. She complained that you can't really do much about young kids, and those signs feel like attacks on her. I don't think I even noticed the signs, even though there is a good chance they are aimed at me: I drop my bags (loudly!) says my wife when I come home. Huh. Also, she said that the signs for the AED machines need to be translated into Chinese and English so that foreigners could understand them also. I thought that was pretty funny; she said that there are "lots" of foreigners in the building. There are two Americans that I know of (including myself!) and maybe one or two Chinese people.
Anyway, after two hours of meeting, that was over. New representatives were "elected" (their room numbers were pulled out of a bag, and the ones that stood up made the cut) also. Luckily I wasn't in the candidate pool. Whew. I don't have enough spare time as it is.
Shinagawa-dera Fire Walking Festival
The rest of the afternoon we went to the Shinagawa Fire Walking festival: 品川寺大祭 柴灯大護摩 火渡り荒行. Ok, so let's see what that is. Shingawa-dera is pretty clear, as is the big festival. Then there is brushwood fire big buddhist rite of cedar stick burning and finally fire crossing asceticism. Whew, what a mouthfull. Sounds like fun. First up: standard Japanese festival stuff.
Aomono Yokocho Street Festival
These roads are not salty enough. Priests, salt them up!
For one day, and one day only, these two pretty ladies are the police chiefs
We walked down to Aomono Yokocho, near the temple where the main activities are. Those would start at 1:30pm and it was only noon so we had some time. They actually closed off the main street, which is on the historic Tokaido route from Edo to Kyoto. There are actually a bunch of festivals coming up, part of the Shinagawa-juku set of temples I guess. Seems interesting, I need to look into it more when I get some time. There is a lot of stuff that people around me assume that I know, but I don't have the accumulated knowledge that one soaks up from growing up in Japan. So, we have this really old road, which now has kind of been relegated to just a small street in some older falling-out-of-use shopping streets (but the temples along the way get very busy at New Year's) that every once in a while has a nice festival. These festivals really are excuses for block parties, but excuses that are backed up with hundreds of years of precedent and religious justification. Pretty cool.
As part of the festivities they held a parade. As you should do with any parade, make sure priests go first and salt up the road a bit. We used to salt roads back in Jersey in the winter, but I don't think there was any religious justification for it. There were police out, showing their colors, and they had two pretty women who were made police chiefs for a day. Because they are pretty. I think. Maybe having really cute women as your police chiefs would actually incite lawlessness from love-starved youth. Who knows.
There were lots of groups in the parade. The PTA, local associations, etc. One of them was the anti-terror association. I am not convinced that the people that comprise the association are crack anti-terrorism experts, but it is nice to know that we have people looking out to make sure that we are safe. I like their banner anyway. Also, a giant cat, of the delivery variety.
Like all parades, the local high school (or possibly middle, I am not really sure about that) marshals (hah!) a band. So we've got a few pictures of that. I actually really enjoyed the music, and they had some nice trumpets and drums. The girls were really working up a sweat also. There are a few more pictures over at my flickr set for the pictures. There is one picture that is pretty good of two small girls carrying these massive Tubas. Pretty funny.
Otherwise, on the walk we also passed by a fire truck. It was a nice looking truck, and there was a line of kids waiting for a turn to ride in the fire truck ladder basket. Right near that is a nice bridge that had the nice old-style look to it. I know that there is a temple right near the bridge though, R. and I went there last near at the New Year for the Seven Gods of Happiness temple tour.
A little later we saw some of the standard festival dancers go by. We had stopped a bit earlier for some lunch, which consisted of the standard Matsuri food: beer, yakisoba, kara-age, and gyoza. Nice.
So we walked quite a ways down the street sampling all sorts of stuff from the shops. We headed back to get to the temple in time for the main event: ascetic fire walking.
Waiting at the gates
Kimono-clad women often show up at the festivals
That looks hot
Wow, look at that
We got to the temple and there were lots of people. They had shops set up, and some women dressed up in a traditional style at the gate entrance. I'm not really sure why though. We pressed on deeper into the temple, but you really need to get there probably an hour or two earlier before we did to actually get a good view. I wasn't really able to see anything, and neither could Risa. Once things started to get going though I played the part of the human tripod, R. got up on my shoulders, and we got a few shots of the action. Sadly, we don't currently have a real camera. I lost my point-and-shoot about half a year ago in Dallas somewhere, and R.'s camera has been sent for repair for the third time. So all these pictures from my camera phone. But still, pretty good for a phone.
The whole time we were there, some great monk chanting was going out over the PA system. They were probably preparing the fire in some way; I really couldn't see well enough to be able to tell. At some point though, the monks started going over the fire. I could catch a few glimpses of that. I think the main point of the thing was for them to carry the cedar planks across the fire, which eventually happened. After a while, they announced that anyone who was interested could also join in and walk across the fire. The number of people who took them up on that offer was pretty impressive. I decided that next year I'll join in too. If I'm going to walk across fire, I at least want to have someone take some good pictures with something other than a camera phone.
Anyway, it was a very interesting festival. There are supposed to be many festivals in this area so maybe I'll be able to catch another one or two in the coming weeks.
September 20, 2009
A visit to the family gravethe Eko-in temple in Ryokoku.
I've done this a few times now. I thought it would make sense to write down what a family grave visit in Japan entails. First, you have to get there. I drove there, which was a bit of a trick. Because of the holiday, the place was pretty busy and we had trouble getting a parking place. We eventually got into the temple grounds though, and said hello to the head priest. A few months back he did a ceremony for R.'s grandfather and apparently the family knows him well.
You have to fill a bucket with water, and also should pick up some incense and leaves. I am not clear on how you get those things; the other family members always just got them somehow. The leaves or incense might be for sale, I'm not really sure. Then you head out to the grave. I don't know if it is because this is Tokyo, but the graves are all in small concrete plots. They should contain ashes, but I am not really sure about any of that. They are quite close together compared to what I would expect from an American graveyard. Once you find your grave, you take water from the bucket and fill up the central reservoir that is on the grave. Then usually in some pre-determined order (age / seniority of some kind) you splash water from your bucket on the grave. Pull a leaf off of the branch of leaves that you got in advance, and dip both sides in the water reservoir, then place it on the grave. Then you say a prayer for your ancestors. Then the next person does the same thing. I know they explained this to me before, but I am not really sure what the water and leaves represent. I think the water is a simple thing: to cool the spirits down. That grave gets hot in the sunlight. I might be mis-remembering though. I don't know what the leaf represents, but let's say life of some sort. After everyone has had a turn, you are done. Mission complete. It is actually very nice. I like that there is a set ritual for things. I don't know if that is the case in America. Well, you bring flowers, and say a prayer. Maybe it is similar.
Also, we visited the temple interior and said a prayer there also before visiting the grave, but I don't know if that is common.
The temple, Eko-in is in Ryokoku, where they Sumo matches are held. It is an interesting temple, with a few famous people there, and a large monument to past Sumo wrestlers that is still used by modern day sumo wrestlers to pray for power. One of the interesting residents is Nezumi Kouzou, a famous thief. I was told that you are supposed to chip shavings off of his gravestone and put them in your wallet, then you will also become rich. I definitely took them up on that; they have added a stone especially for the shaving bit, because the old tombstone kept disappearing over all the years. So it is nice that they accommodate people like that, both respecting the past and making realistic concessions (also, probably making money.)
There is also a little shrine there for cats, but I didn't really understand the story behind that. Something about a guy who had a fish shop, then got sick. Somehow, the cats brought him money and he was able to recover thanks to that, and really liked cats. But then some neighborhood thug beat up his cat (?) and it died, and he commissioned a grave for cats. Or something like that. You can try to figure it our here if your Japanese is any good.
After visiting the temple, we went to the Mitsukoshi in Shinbashi and had a very nice lunch at the Shark-fin Chinese restaurant. Overall a very nice day.
September 9, 2009
Mister James, McDonald's and MOS BugerAn interesting article on the McDonald's "Mister James" kerfuffle. Nice video with an alternative view pushing people to Mos Burger.
September 6, 2009
Naoko Ogigami's "Glasses"Kamome Shokudo, directed and written by Naoko Ogigami. I enjoyed it. The second was "Glasses", also by Naoko Ogigami. I have seen two of her movies now, and am pretty sure that she has a distinctive, slow, good-hearted feeling movies. This movie was also a good movie. I am seriously reminded of Jim Jarmusch movies, so I'm excited to get a few of those and see what R. thinks. Mystery Train is pretty high on the list, that is one of my favorite movies (I didn't even know it was Jim Jarmusch until many years later.) Anyway, I don't really know what to say about this movie except that it is very atmospheric, slow-paced, and relaxing. I came away from it feeling happy and satisfied, and also somewhat confused about the application of Chekov's Gun to the movie (I was derailed by the Biology teacher information) and now wonder about the validity of story fabula theory applied to modern independent cinema. I guess that is one thing that keeps us on our toes; when we go and see a hollywood film, the twists and turns of the plot are expected so much that we can hardly be surprised (or are surprised by the lack of a turn) - so when you enter into the realm of less constructed (more constructed?) stories that all just breaks down. Anyway, good film. Has a nice Japanese expression in it, which managed to cause a minor fight between my wife and I (only in the sense that my Japanese sucks, and her randomly generated picture is a totally hilarious bean.) So, recommended! Although honestly, it isn't like I'm going to spend ten or fifteen minutes writing about something sucks on my blohg. Am i?
梅はその日の何を逃すRemember that. Similar to "An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away", a Plum a Day wards you from the dangers of the day.
June 29, 2009
Tokyo Giants vs Yakult Swallows and Cosplayers
On Sunday, Risa and I met with my friends T. and M. for a Tokyo Giants vs. Yakult Swallows baseball game. T. is a huge Giant's fan, and I've gone with him once a year to see a game. I was excited to go this year because I hadn't seem him and his wife in quite a while, and it was the first time I would go to a baseball game with my wife.
We got to the stadium pretty early. Strangely, there were lots and lots of people dressed up in anime costumes. So-called "Cosplayers". Risa and I ran into the American Version in Seattle where I commented that I thought that American anime nerds were pretty low, lower than the Japanese ones because it isn't even their culture. But Risa countered today with her appraisal that the American nerds are at least learning something about the Japanese culture (outside of their own) while the Japanese nerds were just nerds. She's got me there. (Of course, I have to confess that I myself am a huge nerd, and probably incurable.)
Anyway, I snapped a few shots, but I didn't really feel like trying to do the full question and shoot treatment. I did talk to one group, who didn't seem all that happy to talk to me, and found out that there was a … "thing" for "people" that "dressed up" like "that", and it was not related to the baseball game. I was pretty clearly not in the target audience (you were either someone in a costume, or an overweight balding man with an awesome DSLR taking pictures of the cute girls in costumes, and I didn't fit either of those categories.)
Anyway, on to the game.
The Tokyo Giants are my favorite Japanese Baseball team. I don't really like baseball. I'm a huge basketball fan, but don't really care too much about baseball. I enjoy a game with friends though. I'm a Giant's fan not by default, but because I have a good reason: I hate the Hanshin Tigers with a fierce passion, and that means I am by necessity of Tokyo Giant's supporter. I definitely have to see a Giants - Tigers game sometime soon. Anyway, I have enjoyed all the games I've seen live.
This game was no exception. Before I knew it, it was the 7th inning. The Giants demolished their cross-town Tokyo Jinguu rivals, who have an open-air stadium right near where I work. I prefer Tokyo Dome though because it is a dome and as humanity has developed better and better technology I am all for using it to keep us out of the rain and humidity, which Tokyo has in abundance, especially in the rainy season, which it is now.
In the end, the Giants won 7-2 (wow!) and we went to dinner, and drank a lot, and then went to a bar and drank more.
The next day at work was difficult.
February 25, 2009
A trip Hirosaki in the WinterHirosaki. The main reason for the trip was to get out of Tokyo and see some snow. I also thought it would be a nice trip to get a change of pace. I've been working pretty hard lately and it would be nice to get away from computers for a weekend and relax a bit. When my friend Ian suggested a trip up north, I thought it was a great chance for a change of pace.
I have been in Japan for three years, but haven't really travelled very much domestically. Thinking back, I'm a bit surprised at how little I've travelled. I'll try to fix that once R. and I get on a better schedule together. So Ian and I visited the local travel agent and got a great deal on train tickets plus an overnight stay at an onsen (hot springs resort) in Hirosaki. I haven't been up north for siteseeing much - I did go to Sapporo once for a conference, and did a little bit of travelling then, but I haven't done any tourism in the northern part of the main island. One of the goals of going there now is to see the snow, because we don't get much of it in Tokyo.
On Saturday morning Tokyo train station was absolutely packed with lots of young people carrying skis and snowboards, headed west to go skiing. Not as much people were headed north, but our train was still pretty full. After about an hour, we arrived at Sendai, and from there on things were snowy. It was amazing once we got up in the mountains because you could barely see out the window. It was snowing and things were just a white blur at the speed the Shinkansen was making. I really enjoy train trips, and this was no exception. As part of our ticket package, we got a voucher for coffee on the train, and like most coffee on Shinkansen it wasn't the best in the world, but it was coffee and came in a cute Suica cup. Also, I was amused that one of the trains on our trip was apparently executable. The trip from Tokyo to Hirosaki was supposed to take about five hours all told. The main bulk of the trip was from Tokyo to Hachinohe, on the Shinkansen taking about four hours, and from there another hour and a half or so to cut across West to Hirosaki. Unfortunately, when we got to Hachinohe (which means the 8th Door. There are also towns called 2nd Door, 6th Door, etc.) the trains were not in service because of high winds and snow. Instead they were using busses. So we got on a bus. It was supposed to be headed directly to Hirosaki, but instead at the last minute was changed to stop at Aomori. That probably added an hour and a half to the trip and the passangers were not very happy about it. Two old guy started yelling at the JR guy in very unpolite Japanese. The bus was packed - people in every seat, including the unfortunately souls who had to sit in the aisle on these lame fold-out seats that did not look very comfortable.
The bus probably averaged about 40 KM/H. It was slow. We stopped at two rest stops. There was nothing to eat there except for the standard types of omiyage (gift foods) so for lunch we had strange cake-like things and other gift-type foods. It was a long, long trip, but we eventually arrived at Hirosaki at about 4:30pm. Then we had another bus ride, about half an hour, until we arrived at our onsen, exhausted, tired, and out of daylight.
If you check the maps (hopefully on the right, or maybe a bit up above this) the trip is basically a mostly straight shot from Tokyo north-east up to Hachinohe. That is all on the bullet train. Very fast, very nice. Then from Hachinohe we take a normal commuter train (express style, called the Super White Bird I think) over to Aomori, the biggest city in the north-east. The final leg of the trip is on a tourist train with beautiful big windows called the "Kamoshika", but as I wrote above, train service was suspended and we were in a bus. For like 3 hours. And we stopped at small rest stations. And there was no food. Ian and passed the time playing video games, him on a cool PSP 3000 playing Star Wars Battlefront II while I was playing Tapper on my older, less well-known but more linuxy GP2X. Actually, I enjoyed the bus ride to the extent that long bus rides can be enjoyed. onsen (the Japanese hot springs that people here love so much) before, so I won't revisit that topic again. I will note that this place had a 露天風呂 (Rotenburo, outdoor hot spring) which we made use of. Walking naked outside in the cold, with lots of snow falling and on the ground was a bit tough, but the bath is only about a six second walk from the indoor bath, so it wasn't too bad. The suddent dip then into 42 degree C hot water probably isn't a good thing to repeat over and over (and I am suffering a bit of a cold after the trip!) but it was great to sit out in the hot bath and watch the snow fall a hand's reach away.
We had a great dinner (included in the price of the trip) which I forgot to take picture of. It was very good though. Then on the way back to the room stopped to see a live Tsugaru Shamisen performance. The guy was pretty funny, and put on a good show. Then on up to the room and bed.
One of the main goals I had was to get out and see some real snow. I grew up in LA as a kid, and didn't ever see snow. When I was around 13 years old we moved to New Jersey and this white stuff that fell from the sky when it was cold was amazing to me. Then I moved to Dallas, and after that New York, neither of which get all that much snow. Tokyo sees even less snow than New York. But Touhoku (the north-east region of the main Japan island) is full of snow. Not as full of it as Saporro, but full of snow. So I wanted to get out and walk around in it. Ian and I were on a kind of tight schedule, but got up at 6am, hit the onsen again, got some nice breakfast (which I did get pictures of), and then went out for a 15 minute walk to the nearest temple. The temple, 岩木神社 (Iwaki Temple), was great. It was up a hill, full of snow, and just seemed really neat. I wish we had more time to walk around and see the temple grounds. They had a sign set up near a hanging bulls-eye target saying that if you could hit it with a snowball (from the path) then you would have good luck. I completely missed the thing. But I like interactive temples, so it is all good.
The walk back was cold, but we eventually made it. Just in time to check out and head back to Hirosaki station. We really wanted to see some of the Hirosaki sights, but due to a variety of comical mix-ups, didn't really have all that much time. We did get a chance to see the Neputa museum though, which I was really excited about because I've seen some TV broadcasts of a festival in the area where people build these great lighted floats and walk them around town. The musuem had a bunch of these on display, and they look really great. I would like to go back to Touhoku in the summer for one of those festivals. There are apparently two main ones, the one in Aomori (which is crazy big) and the one in Hirosaki, which is not quite as well known and is somehow slightly different. It is probably like the difference between the New York Jets and the New York Giants: I'm not really too clear on it, but some people are rabid enough to kill each other over it (apparently.)
After a nice trip through the museum and some shopping for gifts - お土産 (Omiyage), which are required after every trip out of town. You need to buy enough for the people you work for and pass them around. It is the only enforced social contact that we have at work with people outside our groups. It is really cool actually, because usually once or twice a week someone comes and gives you a small cake, or cracker, and you can chat about what things are like way out there where they visited (usually an hour or two away by bullet train.) The region we were in is the #1 producer of apples in Japan, so most things were apple-themed. Pretty good stuff.
The trip back we were able to ride the great tourist train. Big windows, a nice viewing lounge, comfortable seats. Really nice. Unfortunately, we hadn't booked ahead for the train from Aomori to Hachinohe, and we were a bit late making the transfer. We were in the "open seating" train, and since all the seats were taken, we ended up standing for the hour or so it took to get to Hachinohe before we could catch the bullet train home.
All in all, a really nice trip out for the weekend. I'm really surprised that after living in Japan for three years, I haven't done more of these short weekend trips. As long as the trains are running they really go pretty quickly, and you can get pretty far for a good deal when you do the package hotel + meals + train tickets plan. I'm really looking forward to taking R. out to go snowboarding sometime.
February 8, 2009
Game Center CX: So totally nerdy, it has to be Japanese
Arino-san up close. He's afraid of "the concept of (a) time (limit)!"
Game screen shots with little explanations of the game characteristics. In this case, rappelling action is the key to the strategy.
Of course, as with almost all funny people on TV, Arino-san is from the Kansai region. I'm not really sure why he is so funny, but he is really funny. He's playing some game, and gets up to the end boss. He pauses the game and is like "What's that? It's HUGE!" but the way he says it is hilarious. I've watched the first 5 rental episodes of the show (there are 6 total) and have enjoyed each one.
The "Division Chief" (課長 - Arino-san) plays some tough games. I was interested when he played Prince of Persia (the Super Nintendo version.) I played Prince of Persia on the Apple //e (after Karateka), but I never got very far at all. So it was really interesting to watch Arino-san go at it. I'm glad I didn't put much time into the game: it was super crazy hard!
Anyway, check out the Wikipedia link. It is comprehensive. Nerds. I highly recommend the show. The Japanese is fairly accessible, it is super funny, and even if you don't understand Japanese just watching the games is pretty cool.
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