February 27, 2008

Street Fighter IV on Test in Akihabara 2/29 - 3/2

I keep up with a few blogs via Google Reader, and recently came across this entry about Street Fighter IV going on public test (Japanese).

I'm a big Street Fighter fan, but pretty much only Super Street Fighter II Turbo or the new mix-and-max Hyper Fighting Anniversary Edition. Great games. (A brief side-note: last night for the first time in about a month a stopped by the Shibuya Game Kaikan on the way home from work. It is my favorite arcade in Japan: 50 yen games, 3 of the Anniversary edition games, an old Hyper Fighting machine, and there is always great competition there. Sadly, much better than I am. I hadn't been there in a month or two, and they moved the SSF2HF:Anniversary (how is this supposed to be abbreviated??) to the back. Not a problem. But I think they changed the cabinets they were in, because the sticks on all the machines were horribly loose! They were awful! I can usually do a dragon punch 90% of the time (I'm no expert) but I was only hitting them like 10% of the time on one machine! It was awful!)

So the relevant bit from the SF4 article:

そして! 今週末、2/29~3/2には早くも第二回ロケテストが開催!

今度は秋葉原の駅前にある「Hey」というゲームセンターで開催しますので、 皆さん、引き続き奮ってご参加くださいね!!

お待ちしています!


「ストリートファイターIV」第二回ロケテスト 開催概要
・店舗:秋葉原HEY
・住所:東京都千代田区外神田1-10-5 広瀬本社ビル 2-4F 【店舗HPは、コチラ】
・期間:2008年2月29日(金)~3月2日(日)
They did a first public test of SF4. Great. But now, this week, they will test SF4 in Akihabara. That's like a twenty minute walk from where I work. They start testing on Friday, and will continue through until Sunday. I think I am going to have to check that out. They will test at the arcade HEY (I don't know that one offhand) and give the address and link to the HEY website. There is a little "Access Map" button that will pop up a map, and I think I know where it is now.

I'm really looking forward to SF4 because it is supposed to continue on in the SF2 tradition (no parries or air blocking I hope!) and from what I've been reading about it, it sounds like it will be good. Since this is a SF2 post, I also want to say that I really, really hope that the new HD version of Super Street Fighter II Turbo gets released in arcades over here in Japan. I think that is probably unlikely to happen, but it would be great. The information on re-balancing from David Sirlin's blog has been really interesting reading.

February 25, 2008

People that are not me

While reading the program for the 2008 International Conference on Weblogs and Social Media (it looks like an interesting conference, I wish I was going!) I was surprised to see that I am going, and apparently giving a presentation!

Oh wait, no, that is not me. That is another David Evans. A quick search pulled up this page on Psychster LLC, that has information about David C. Evans, a Ph.D (like me!) in Psychology (not like me!) and has worked at Microsoft. Whew, that was close!

Since it looks like he is doing work on sentiment analysis on blogs, we might actually run into each other some time.

There is another famous person that shares my name, David A. Evans, who is the CEO and Chief Scientist at Clairvoyance. He is very well known, and a really nice guy. I met him at the New Directions in Multilingual Information Access workshop a while back. His invited talk was very interesting.

I think it is very strange that I feel compelled to make a list of people that I am not, but I was really surprised to come across David Evans at a conference that I'm interested in. For a few seconds there, I actually thought "wait, did I write a paper, get it accepted, and then completely forget about it?"

February 23, 2008

Salad

I've been having salad more and more often. I would like to say that it is because I'm on a diet, but more truthfully it is because I'm lazy, and making salad is easy. Also, I don't like thinking about what to eat. I like having a clear decision. Since thinking about what to eat is often difficult, I just punt on the issue and have something easy like salad. (I love it when I have a big batch of curry at home, and I just eat curry. Then the decision is "what do I pair with the curry tonight?", which is a much simpler question.)

Anyway, this is what I want to say about salad:

It is amazing how you can eat a lot of salad, and once you have enough, you don't feel hungry any more. But I still want to eat, because I also don't feel satisfied! Damn you salad!! Be more satisfying!

Although, I have to admit that when I stop by the local Three F convenience store (I just looked up what that means: Fresh, Foods, Friendly. I especially like question 2 in their FAQ: when do they people at three F sleep? This page must be for kids, because it explains that more than one person works there. ha!) and pick up one of their spicy chicken cutlet things and cut that up into the salad, it is pretty satisfying.

The non-spicy chicken things from other convenience stores are not satisfying though. Probably because they aren't Fresh, Food, or Friendly.

Anyway, a random salad rant. Tomorrow I'll go into work and end up with a bento, so maybe I'll have a random bento rant. Probably not though, because Hokka Hokka Tei bentou are pretty good, and that is what I'm planning on getting...

February 18, 2008

Added Gravatar support for comments

This person wrote a Gravatar plugin for bBlog and I set it up here for the comments. I like the idea of Gravatars a lot, so I'll try them out and see how it goes.

If you are interested in the procedure, download the function.gravatar.php file from the website above, throw it in your bBlog_functions directory, go to the admin panel, and rescan to pick up the plugin.

Then you have to edit the bBlog/inc/bBlog.class.php file, search for the format_comment function and insert the line $commentr['posteremail'] = $comment['data']->posteremail; before the return statement.

Then you have to edit your template file to put the gravatar image where you would like. The code should go into the comments section in the post.html file. I added a <img style="margin-right: 10px;" src="{gravatar email=$comment.posteremail}" align="left"/> line to template and things are working great.

I would actually like to add Wavatar support on top of the Gravatar stuff, but that would take more than five minutes, so it will have to wait until I get more time.

Also, if you want to change any of the default values, you can set them in the call to the gravatar plugin in the template file (e.g., add {gravatar email=$comment.posteremail size=80 default=http://example.com/image.png}).

February 17, 2008

Dave, your forms are EVIL!

A while ago, I got this email from a friend of mine:
i left a long comment on your starbucks entry, but i got a character wrong in your CAPTCHA, and it told me to click the "back" button and try again. however, when i did that, all the entries in the form were BLANK! I LOST MY COMMENT! AIEEEE!!!!!
This is a problem, because I don't like evil in any form. Particularly in my forms. I've been really busy, but spent about thirty minutes poking around at the bBlog internals (looks I chose a bad horse: the bBlog project seems to have died!) and made the field values sticky on an error with the captcha submission.

If you are interested in the changes, here is a diff file that you can apply via patch: patch -b bBlog.class.php bBlog.captcha.diff against an unmodified version 0.7.6 bBlog.class.php from the bBlog install.

Once that is done, you have to modify your template to add value="{$commentFieldPosterXXX}" where XXX is some value. The only exception is {$commentreplytitle} which remains the same.

Here is the relevant portion from my template:

<div class="formleft">Comment Title</div>
<div class="formright"><input name="title" size="80" type="text" id="title" value="{$commentreplytitle}"/></div>
<div class="clear"> </div>
<div class="formleft">Your Name: </div>
<div class="formright"><input name="name" size="80" type="text" id="author" value="{$commentFieldPosterName}"/></div>
<div class="clear"> </div>
<div class="formleft">Email Address: </div>
<div class="formright"><input name="email" size="80" type="text" id="email" value="{$commentFieldPosterEmail}"/>
          Make Public? <input class="checkbox" name="public_email" type="checkbox" id="public_email" value="1" checked=\
"checked"/></div>
<div class="clear"> </div>
<div class="formleft">Website: </div>
<div class="formright"><input name="website" size="80" type="text" id="url" value="{$commentFieldPosterWebsite}" />
          Make Public? <input class="checkbox" name="public_website" type="checkbox" id="public_website" value="1" chec\
ked="checked" /></div>
<div class="clear"> </div>
<div class="formleft"><img src="/randomImage.php" alt="verification image"><br>Image verification:</div>
<div class="formright"><font color="red">{$commentFieldError}</font></div>
<div class="formright"><input name="verification" type="text" id="verification" /></div>
<div class="clear"> </div>
<div class="formleft">Comment:</div>

<div class="formright"><textarea name="comment" cols="80" rows="10" wrap="VIRTUAL" id="text">
{$commentFieldPosterComment}</textarea></div>
Of course, you also need to follow the relevant directions in my original post on adding a captcha for comment protection in bblog. But it looks like things are working well for me here.

The diff patch is here.

Kafka by the Sea Part 1: Japanese Vocabulary in half a modern fiction novel

This is a post that I've been waiting to make for a long time. Every weekend, I spend about one or two hours reading Murakami Haruki's "Kafka by the Sea" (村上春樹「海辺のカフカ」). I have been doing this for the past year, and finally today I finished the first book. Japanese books are often sold in two parts, so now I'll move onto the second and final part of this book. I expect it will still take another year for me to finish, unless I start trying to read it a bit on weekdays as well, but to be honest it is a bit difficult to read because I need to sit down somewhere with enough room to take notes in a notebook, and look words up in a dictionary.

This is the second novel that I've read in Japanese, and much more interesting than the first one, Keritai Senaka, by Risa Wataya, in which nothing much happened. I'm not going to write a review of Kafka by the Sea right now, since I'm only halfway through, but I enjoy it a lot so far. It has elements of fantasy and wonder that I usually really enjoy in Murakami's work. I've started reading a bit faster as time goes on, mostly because the story is getting interesting (and perhaps I'm remembering more words.)

What I would like to write about is the vocabulary with which I had trouble. I sat and wrote the words I didn't know in a little notebook, and then entered them into a simple text file when I finished each reading session. I also added little notes summarizing what when on (I didn't start doing that until later though, so it isn't a complete description of the first book.) These words aren't the only ones that I didn't know, just the ones that I wrote down - there are probably 10 words or so that I just skipped entirely because I was reading on the subway and didn't want to drag out my notebook, or something like that.

There were a total of 877 words that I wrote down in my notebook. Out of a 486 page book, that means there are about two words per page that I don't know on average, but the distribution is really not nearly that even. Of those 877 words, 103 of them showed up more than once. That means that of those 877 words, I couldn't remember about 11 percent of them. One of them in particular is embarrassing: I didn't know the word for "sentence", which makes no sense because I use that word all the time. I attribute it to the word showing up in a context that I am not expecting (literature instead of computer science stuff.)

There were two words that I wrote down four times, nine words that I wrote down three times, 79 words that I wrote down twice, and the rest occurred only once. The good news there is that at least I did seem to learn most words after writing them down twice: very few words occurred three or four times. Also, there are a lot of words here that I really don't need to know. Murakami likes to use strange words, and he will use less-common characters for them also. I don't think I need to know 咀嚼, soshyaku, to bite. Don't normal people just use 噛む, kamu (to bite / chew)?

On the off chance anyone else is interested in reading this novel, I'll put up my vocab list.

February 13, 2008

Arcade Fire Concert

I went to see Arcade Fire play Studio Coast in Shin-Kiba on Monday evening. It was my first time seeing Arcade Fire, and I didn't realize that they were such a large band. There were ten members up on stage: two horns, two strings (like, violins), three guitar-like objects (bass, guitar, banjo, etc.), one or two percussionists, and one or two keyboardists. Also, one accordion or some other random instrument that I could not identify that has to be wound up somehow.

It was amazing too that people rotated through the instruments. Very interesting to watch, and great music. Also, very, very lively. One member in particular was running around, jumping, stomping, just completely crazy.

It was a great show, I'm really glad I got the chance to go. I'm pretty sure it was pretty well known in the Tokyo area, in fact one of the blogs that I read (Jean Snow's blog) had a post on the show also.

Next month I'm going to catch the Stars and Broken Social Scene. Lots of Canadian bands. (I also recently bought the Weakerthans' Reunion Tour CD, as well as Magnetic Fields' Distortion, but they aren't Canadian.)

January 29, 2008

The Asian Olympic Handball Controversy (and Doctor Who)

For the past few weeks when I check out the news I've been hearing about the Handball Controversy.

First off, I didn't know that handball was an olympic sport. I know there are lots of olympic sports that I don't know much about, but I have never seen anything about handball in the US.

That is one interesting thing about Japanese TV: I see all sorts of topics that just are not on the radar at all for American Media. In general, I think American Media is just awful, reporting on unimportant things and ignoring interesting topics, completely dominated by large corporations and advertising to consumers. I like NPR, and that probably gives you a pretty good idea of what I'm about.

Anyway, I can't say that Japan is all that different, but the NHK news here does touch on a lot more international topics than news in America.

I've seen a few stories on the handball thing, and didn't really pay much attention but it seemed like there was some officiating controversy at the handball playoffs that decide who will go to the Beijing Olympics to represent Asia. I didn't get much more out of it than that - they played some clips, but I don't know the first thing about handball, so I didn't know what was going on.

This morning I saw that Japan and Korea will be re-playing a tournament. Japan and Korea. That sounds like it could be explosive. These countries have a long history of competing, and it can get serious.

Since I didn't know what was going on though, I did a search of the English web. Wow! Based on this afp news story and this story on China Daily it is even crazier than I thought! I basically thought that Japan and Korea had some problem with the officiating (and they do!) between the games they played. It turns out that they are accusing that the Kuwaiti team benefited from a late switch of officials (Germans to Jordinians) and cheated their way into an Olympic berth.

Korea and Japan appealed to the International Handball Federation who ruled that the tournament be re-played. The president of the Asian Handball Federation, Kuwaiti prince Sheikh Ahmed Al-Fahad Al-Sabah (who also serves as the head of the Olympic Council of Asia) does not sanction the replays and has threatened action against any other nations that play in them.

So in the end only Korea and Japan are playing in the IHF re-plays. The women play tonight, and the men play tomorrow.

I just wonder what will happen with the results? I mean, two teams can't make up an entire tournament, can they?

Since I saw that the game is actually going on live, I thought I would take a peek at the seven channels I get on my TV to see if it was on. It wasn't, but completely randomly I came across Doctor Who (dubbed in Japanese!) on NHK! It was great to hear Rose and the Doctor in Japanese. Rose doesn't seem as strong and independent in Japanese, but she's still cool. The doctor doesn't sound as funny and irrelevant either, but I only caught the last 10 minutes of the first part of the two-parter "The Impossible Planet" (Episode 22). The second part airs on Feb 5th at 7pm. I'll have to leave home early to make sure I catch it. :)

And now I'm watching "Sanma Palace", which is a show with a comedian that takes to a bunch of other "talent". I don't get it.

Also, they broke the talent into two teams, the "complete idiots" and the smart team. But when you look at the text they use to title the segment, it is the "not intelli(gent)" (ノットインテリ) against the "intelli(gent)" (インテリ). I think - I'm just guessing, and usually that means I've completely and horribly misunderstood the Japanese. I liked when they introduced the baka team with a segment "this is when you realized that you're stupid".

January 26, 2008

I lost my watermelon

I sometimes have conversations that go like this:
D: It's really cold tonight, so after dinner why don't we take the train home instead of walking?

R: Yeah, it's really cold today. That's a good idea. Oh but wait, hey hey, I lost my watermelon!

D: You lost your watermelon?

R: Yeah, I had it yesterday, then I went to my friend's house, and now I can't find it! It's really inconvenient!

D: It's inconvenient that you lost your watermelon? In the winter?

Of course, things became clear shortly thereafter: she was talking about her JR RFID-style card, the "Suica", which is a homonym for watermelon. I was so confused.

January 3, 2008

Happy Bags

Every new year in Japan, retailers put together bags, call them Lucky Bags, Happy Bags, Grab Bags, what-have-you, but essentially they are a collection of goodies for a good price.  I bought the 2008 Muji Happy Bag, and here are pictures of what was inside.

This idea of "Lucky Bags" (essentially grab bags) is new to me.  I heard about it just the other day, and it was explained to me like this:
Do you know fukubukuro? (福袋 - literally good fortune bag) It is a bag at a store.  It costs maybe 1000 yen, but has 3000 yen of stuff inside!
Now, I'm no business major or economist, but that sounds like a bad deal for the retailer.  Thinking about it though, it is a really interesting idea.  I'm sure that the retailers don't take a loss on these things - the margins are probably very low on them - but the idea is somewhat similar to the Black Friday sales you see the day after Thanksgiving in America.  So the day after Thanksgiving, stores sell stuff at ridiculously outrageous prices, certainly taking a hit on some of the deals as "loss leaders" just trying to get people into the store.  These are probably operating on the same, or at least similar, model.  Get people into the store, and they will pick up some other stuff along with your Happy Bag (I kind of like that as the translation instead of Lucky Bag.) 

The way these bags work is that you generally have a bag for some set price, say 3000 yen, and unknown contents inside.  Generally you can't see into the bag so you don't know what is in there.  It's a gamble.  (Given the Japanese peoples incomprehensible love of Pachinko  it comes to no surprise to me that they like the idea of a random gamble on a bag of unknown stuff.)  This strikes me as an interesting propsition on two grounds: it is good for the merchant because you can use the happy bag as not just a loss leader, a way to draw people into the store, but also as a way to manage inventory: you need to get rid of the 2007 models and make room for the new, trendy 2008 models.  I don't follow Japanese fashion magazines, but this place is dominated by magazines that set trends (see Neojapanisme, clast, or jeansnow.net for more about that) and last year's stuff just won't do.  Since you are selling this bag of stuff, you can throw in things that didn't sell well or that you are overstocked on, drop the price a bit, and people are happy because they are getting a good deal.  That's a win-win situation.  It also has the advantages of a video game system bundling deal: you can put in a few stinkers with the winners and hopefully people will overlook that fact. 

Having the Happy Bags be opaque is very interesting because now the merchant is faced with a problem: dump a lot of crap that isn't worth much into the bag and make some money, or put really good stuff in there, possible take a loss, but possible gain customer loyalty in the process?  It is a tough call.  Personally, I wouldn't want to a get, for example, a Don Quixote happy bag, but I'm pretty sure I would be interested in a Muji or Uniqulo happy bag.  Anyway, I have more confidence that Japanese companies would take the long-term view and generally try to put good stuff in their bags.  I'm not sure that I would trust American companies to do that same thing.  I think the closest thing, the Black Friday sales in America, are similar but have some bad sides to them as well: for example, generally the best deals are limited to a certain number per store, and now have resulted in not-infrequent tramplings and mad rushes at the stores.  I don't think that happens as much in Japan, but then again I didn't line up for any 初売り (first shopping!) trips either. 

Anyway, the short of it is that I went and bought the Muji Happy Bag this year.  It is the first year I had ever heard about them, and I was thinking of stopping by Muji and picking up some socks and a hat.  Thinking about the bag, maybe there would be socks and a hat in there.  Muji seems unusual in that their Happy Bag is see-through.  I like Muji a lot.  I haven't written about it, but I think that the idea of a brand that is personified by the lack of branding, is really interesting.  Japan is more or less brand obsessed, and a brand that is unbranded is still somehow a brand (you can tell by color schemes, design scheme, style, function, and so on.)  Anyway, they expect that they can sell more bags when people know their contents as opposed to not.  I think that is because Muji is an honest and reliable store.  And I like their socks. 

So here is a breakdown of what was in their bag:

  1. A large wool Jacket
  2. Two pair of boxer shorts
  3. One India Linen bag (?)
  4. Three pair of short socks
  5. One pair of long socks
  6. One short scarf

I have to say that the bag was worth it if for the Jacket alone.  It is a really nice large wool Jacket.  Of course, I got the large bag - the bag also comes in small I suppose - so the jacket actually fits pretty well.  I'm really pleased with just the jacket, but wait, there's more!  You also get two pair of boxer shorts (can't go wrong with those), three pairs of short socks (I was hoping for some socks!), one pair of long socks (they look warm), one short scarf, and one Indian Linen bag.  Now, I'm a little confused about the linen bag, since I'm not really sure what it is supposed to be for.  A dirty laundry bag?  Something that stands up is more useful for that task.  A shopping bag?  There are no convenient handles.  Really, I'm kind of at a loss here.  It is totally in line with Muji's style, but just not something that I have a use for.  I am currently using it as a tablecloth on a small table.  It is doing a good job, but I feel like I should put something inside it.  (But what?)

Anyway, I like this idea of Happy Bags.  I have a lot of blogs written by foreigners in Japan, and over on Tokyo Manga Lisa writes about the women's Muji vs. Uniqlo Happy Bags

The Seven Gods of Happiness New Year Temple Tour

The Tokai Seven: like Ocean's Eleven, but much older.  And less criminal.  They are both pretty lucky though.

The Seven Gods of Happiness represent different types of good fortune, and for some reason in Shinagawa there are seven temples, each devoted to one of the Gods.  One of the traditions of the New Year is the 初詣, the first visit to a temple of the new year, and while often this occurs at midnight, it isn't unusual for the first visit to be done anytime in the first few days after the new year.  The most busy time of the year is probably the First, and the most busy temple is probably Meiji Jingu.  I'm not going to brave those crowds, but since I was staying in Shinagawa, Lisa and I decided to make the rounds and visit all seven temples. 

At your first stop, you can buy a poster-board with a spot for each temple.  As you go to each temple, you can collect a stamp for that temple.  Collect all seven!  You can also buy a boat, and buy little figurines that go in the boat at each temple.  The suggested order for visiting the temples is:

  1. Shinagawa (Shinto) Temple, for Daikokuten God of Wealth 品川神社 (大黒天)5 minutes to
  2. Yougan Temple, for Hoteizen God of Good Fortune 養願寺(布袋尊) 1 minute to
  3. Isshin Temple, for Jyuroujin God of Long Life 一心寺(寿老人) 5 minutes to
  4. Ebara Temple, for Ebisu God of Wealth 荏原神社(恵比須) 15 minutes to
  5. Shingawa (Buddhist) Temple, for Bishyamonten Buddhist Guardian God 品川寺(毘沙門天,金生七福神) 20 minutes to
  6. Tenso / Suwa Temple, for Fukurokujyu the God of Happiness, Wealth, and Longevity 天祖・諏訪神社(福禄寿) 25 minutes to
  7. Iwai Temple, for Benzaiten the God of Music, Wealth, Eloquence, and water 磐井神社(弁財天)

I didn't know much about the different Gods when I was visiting the temples, but I did do a little bit of research when I got back home.  A "little bit" means that I looked them up on Wikipedia, and noticed that there was an English page as well as the Japanese page.  So now you know about as much about them as I do.  It took a long time to visit all of the temples.  I don't remember the order that we did it (although possibly you can reconstruct the order from the pictures on Flickr) but it took us two days.  We visited five on the first day, ending with Shinagawa.  Shinagawa temple was probably the largest of the lot, and had police managing the crowds.  We waited for about forty minutes or more to make our offering there.  I also picked up an Omikuji (お神籤), which is a written fortune.  I was lucky and got "The very best of luck" (大吉) so I'm hopeful that this will be a good year.  So far, so good anyway.  After the long wait, and previous hour or so of walking around going to the other four temples, we decided to go back to Lisa's parent's place. 

The next day we went to the last two temples, Iwai Temple and Tenso / Suwa temple.  I've never seen a temple with two names in it like that before, and I wonder what that is all about.  I'm sure I could figure it out if I did some searching on the Japanese web, but I'm not too interested in doing that right now.  The Japanese web makes my head hurt when I stare at it for too long.  Iwait temple houses Benzaiten, which I think is my favorite of the Gods because I've always been a fan of Benten Records, a record label that focuses on female Japanese bands.  In all honesty though, I think you would be best off with Fukurokujyu, since that God seems to be a general jack-of-all-trades Gods.  Also, unless I'm really bad at looking these things up, it looks like there are two Gods of Wealth (Can't have too many of those I guess) and some other overlap also, but nobody ever said that your pantheon had to be orthogonal.  If I was to build my own pantheon though, I would probably try to select both orthogonal and complementary Gods, but that's just me. 

I really enjoyed this trip around to various different temples, and now that I've looked into it, there are lots of these things.  http://park1.wakwak.com/~hisamaro/tokyo2photo.htm lists many different temple tours, and has a convenient list of temples and gods for the Tokai Seven.  So I'm sure there are lots of other temple courses I can try out - but to be honest, it is a lot of trouble, and probably not something I'll repeat. 

Note: while writing my post, I relied on http://www.evam.ne.jp/tokai7/index.html as a general site on the Tokai Seven Gods of Happiness.  But I didn't rely on it too much because it is part of the Japanese web.  

Osechi Ryori

I feel obliged to say that the next few posts on my blog will be about the New Year in Japan.  None of them will really have interesting observations that haven't been made before, many times, by foreigners in Japan.  That is one kind of interesting thing about being a foreigner in Japan: you go through phases.  I'll have to write about that at some time, but we all go through a "I'm a funny guy and will comment on these crazy Japanese" as well as a "wow, look at all the cool cultural things they have here" phase.  You can probably find any number of similar posts on the blogs listed at the Japan Blog List.

I have been in Japan for about one year and nine months now.  Last year, I spent the new year on my own, and visited a local temple.  I didn't know what was going on really, but I enjoyed it.  This year, I had the chance to spend New Year's Eve with a Japanese family.  I was looking forward to the chance, because the New Year's holiday is one of the biggest holidays in Japan, very similar to a mix of Christmas and Thanksgiving in the United States, where families gather together  and eat food while celebrating the New Year and reflecting on the year gone past.  (Although in practice it reduces down to over-eating and watching people sing on TV.  I'll write more about that in a later post.) 

The main thing to which I was looking forward was Osechi Food (おせち料理), which is the kinds of food that families each over the New Year's Holiday.  I never really had a good idea about the food consisted of, and now after having experienced it, I'm pretty sure that there are not any real set dishes aside from a few common things, and that anything can be Osechi Food.  It is just a time for the family to gather, sit around the table, eat, and enjoy. 

On New Year's Eve it is traditional to eat a special kind of Soba called Toshikoshi Soba.  I didn't know the origins of this custom, and found two interesting sties with more information on it.  One is at jpn-miyabi.com and the other is at urban.ne.jp.  It seems like soba (buckwheat noodles) are traditionally thought to symbolize long life and good fortune.  The custom dates back to the Edo period, perhaps around 1700 or so, perhaps earlier.  More interesting is this post over on justhungry.com where they have a nice recipe for Toshikoshi Soba.  The Soba that we had was nice, although grandma humbly complained that it has weak flavor, and tasty.  It had some great wild mushrooms in there, and some chicken.  I hope it passed on to me the attributes of long life and wealth, but I'm afraid all it did for me was to fill me up before the main course: Sukiyaki.

Sukiyaki is a food that it seems like is a traditional Japanese "comfort food".  Lots of people associate it with happy times with the family, sitting around the table and talking happily.  I have had Sukiyaki a few times, and I think it is really great.  Absolutely delicious.  I was told that the Kansai (Kyoto / Osaka area) version of Sukiyaki uses a sweet sugar base with Mirin, while the Tokyo version uses a salt-based sauce.  This version was the sugar-based one, and I thought it was great.  What happens is you put food - vegetables, meat, and so on - into the Sukiyaki bowl, and pull it out as it cooks.  If you like, you can take a raw egg and crack it open into a bowl, which you then dip things into.  I am not crazy about the raw-egg-on-things custom that the Japanese harbor, but I don't dislike it.  (Other places where you can find this include Yoshinoya, where you can get a raw egg to put on your beef bowl, and many of the "o-don" dishes where the raw egg cooks, essentially, over the hot rice.)  Incidentally, you can buy eggs at the supermarket that are specifically meant to be eaten raw for this kind of purpose.  I suppose they have some sort of higher quality standard for safety or whatever, but I'm not really sure. 

Along with the Sukiyaki meal there were other small dishes, such as mochi (rice cake) both cold and hot with soy sauce on it, and of course alcohol.  The New Year's Eve meal was accompanied by sake and beer.  And not a small amount: every time I checked, my cup had been re-filled.  I also made sure to do my duty and keep the cups of those around me full.  After dinner, we all gathered around the TV to watch the special sets of shows that are specific to New Year's Eve, and pass the time until midnight.  I won't go into detail about that here, but shortly after midnight we went to bed.  I slept on a Japanese futon, the first time in quite a while, and woke up with a sore back. 

The next morning at 9:00am we gathered for breakfast, which is the proper Osechi Food.  There were two main components to the meal: the Ocean Foods, and the Mountain Foods.  The Ocean foods consisted of things from the Ocean and peculiarly a sweetened mashed-like Potato dish that I really enjoyed.  I liked the Ocean Foods a lot because they are colorful and made a very pretty arrangement on the plate.  The traditional colors of the New Year are Red and White, and some delicious seafood cakes took on those colors.  Sadly, I don't know what everything on the plate is, but it was all quite nice.  The Mountain Foods are fresh vegetables and things like that, including mushrooms and other things that I don't know.  As with many of the foods, some were round and in a ball-form since that symbolizes good luck.  There are some beans that are traditional as well, but I don't know the story behind that.  Interestingly, you can see in the lower-left of the photo that I took that there is a bottle of Sake and three bowls for drinking, each smaller and with a good-luck character written on them.  Before breakfast everyone at the table had a saucer of the sake before the saucers ended up with their rightful owners (in this case, the head of the household, his daughter, and myself.)  I enjoyed having sake for breakfast, although it isn't something that I want to do every day.  The final part of the meal was the Mochi (rice cake) soup.  I'm not sure what all was in it, but it was quite nice.  As with the previous night's dinner, mochi (rice cakes) were present and I was given a rice cake roasted with soy sauce and then wrapped up in nori (seaweed.)  It was nice, but those rice cakes can fill you up really fast.  They are heavy, sticky, and sink to you stomach.  I'm pretty sure I added a layer of fat composed entirely of rice cake over this three day period.

After breakfast Lisa and I headed out for our first temple visits of the year, which I'll document in a later post.  We returned after a few hours, and snacked on tea and some cakes, before dinner at 6:30pm.  I didn't get any pictures of the tea that we had, but I had a very, very large amount of tea over those three days. 

Dinner was Western Style (on my account?) consisting of Roast Beef that Lisa and her grandmother cooked previously, some salad, and leftovers from the previous day's food.  Of course, the Sake tradition continued, but this time we also had two bottles of Red Wine to go with the meat.  The roast beef was quite nice, but curiously served cold.  Actually, that isn't all that surprising; Japanese often eat meals (Bento boxes in particular) which are cold, and I've had roast before here before that was served cold.  It was still quite nice.  To accompany the beef there were two sorts of sauces: one was standard Wasabi like you would get with Sushi, and the other was a type of salt, called "Yuzu Salt", that was very nice.  Yuzu is a Japanese Citrus, and this salt was made with Yuzu in some way.  I've equated it with Garlic Salt in my mind, and will try to pick some up next time I'm at a shop that might have some. 

After dinner, I went back home so that I could sleep in my own bed, but I was asked to come back for breakfast the next morning at 9:30am.  Breakfast consisted of the same foods seen previously, and more Breakfast Sake.  To tell the truth, I was still absolutely stuffed from all the food over the past two days, but I think the point of the New Year Holiday is to save up energy and fat for the coming busy times when everyone goes back to work and does their standard twelve hours days subsisting on only ramen.  After breakfast the family watched some more TV, then Lisa and I went out to hit the last two temples on our temple card.  More on the Temple Visits and crazy Japanese New Year's TV at a later date.

December 27, 2007

Installing Fedora 8 on a Gigabyte GA-G33M-S2H motherboard with 2x 500GB SATA drives, onboard GMA 3100 video into an Antec Fusion (Black) case

This entry is a little bit different than the others I've made: I'll be updating it as I continue working on the box. 

Surprisingly, this was the first system I've ever put together myself.  The first computer I ever used was an Apple //e that my father bought.  I was probably about eleven years old.  It was great.  Of course, he did whatever assembly was required on that machine.  We had that machine for years: I was still using it into high school.  Probably in my freshman year of high school, my dad bought a "Fat Mac", one of the 512k Macs in the original case.  At some point he got a 10MB hard drive for it that sat under the machine in a matching beige. 

When I went off to college, I worked part-time at the campus computer store (a great job for a CS major, maybe) and saved up until I could by my first machine: a Mac IIci.  I had that for four years, and in my last year there I bought a PowerMac 6100av.  When I went off to grad school I made the switch to laptops and Windows, with a Toshiba Satellite Pentium II based laptop.  I eventually replaced that with an IBM ThinkPad A31p, which I have been running since 2001.  When I moved to Japan it was my primary machine, until I got one of the last of the PowerPC PowerBooks: a PowerBook G4 with the superdrive and 1440x960 display.  I'm using it this very minute to type this up, and it is my primary work machine at home.  (I have actually at work a MacBook Pro Core Duo 2 machine, as well as a Dell  box with linux on it, and a ThinkPad 60p that runs windows.)  The venerable IBM ThinkPad A31, with three internal hard drives, has been running as my entertainment center for the past two years, hooked up to a 24" 1920x1200 LCD monitor.  It is a great machine, but with a 1.8GHz P4 Mobile chip, it is starting to show its age, and can't play a lot of the video files that I download now.  Since I'm in Japan, I download a lot of American TV programs to keep me up-to-date on what is going on over in America.  The A31 has no chance at playing anything in h.264, and can't do any sort of HD content. 

So I finally gave in and bought a new system.  I thought I would get a media-center type system, and go with a desktop so that I can upgrade it as time goes on.  I was planning on getting a Shuttle box, but the prices for those are pretty high.  I spent about the same as I would on a shuttle box, but was able to pick up the beautiful Antec Fusion black case, which is designed to be quiet (it is very, very quiet) and cool.  On the downside, it can only take one 5.25" device, and two 3.5" devices, which is a bit limiting.  I would love to have four hard drives in there for some sort of nice RAID setup, but I'll settle for two very quiet drives instead. 
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December 26, 2007

A delicious Christmas Dinner

Ever since I saw Lost in Translation I have wanted to eat at the New York Grill, the restaurant in the Park Hyatt Hotel at which Bill Murray's character is staying. It is a bit out of my price range, but I thought I would take my girlfriend there for a Christmas dinner.

I put in a reservation about a month back, and since it is Christmas (I suppose) they were only serving a set menu. We started off with a Rose champagne, and then ordered a bottle of 2006 Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara off of their wine of the month menu. It was really delicious.

The dinner was a four course affair, and was absolutely delicious. It started off with shrimp in a caviar sauce. The shrimp were delicious. The second course was an artichoke soup with candied hazelnuts. The nuts really remind of Christmas for some reason: my mother collects Nutcrackers and usually sets out a few for Christmas, which means the taste of walnuts. They aren't quite hazelnuts, but it is close and felt a bit like home.

The third course was a delicious roasted John Dory (a kind of fish I've never had before) along with some great truffles and wild mushrooms. The fish was a bit salty, but I thought it made a great contrast with the previous soup. The next dish was a steak from Sendai. I don't know if Sendai is famous for their beef or not, but this steak was just delicious. It was tender and juicy, with an excellent sauce. Now I really want to try some Kobe beef in a similar style to see how they compare.

Finally, the evening ended with a nice chocolate fondant and vanilla ice cream along with a coffee. I don't usually drink coffee, but this was a special occasion so I'll deal with the caffeine headache tomorrow when I don't have another caffeinated drink. The dessert was very nice, but actually I was very full from all the food, and it was a bit tough to finish it all off. Of course, I did end up eating everything, but I do slightly regret it. I guess it just means more time jogging when I get back onto my regular schedule.

The view from the restaurant was really spectacular. From where I was sitting I could see Tokyo Tower, which surprised me by disappearing for a portion of the night. They turned the lights off, and when they turned them back on there was a heart made of lights near the base. The blinking red lights from the surrounding skyscrapers were nice - they made a somewhat surreal background. On the way out I noticed that the Shinjuku Government office towers were lit up all pretty - most likely for the Christmas holiday.

I highly recommend the New York Grill. It is expensive, but it was worth it.

December 21, 2007

The Hollywood Writer's Strike

I have to admit that the Hollywood Writer's Strike has had almost zero impact on me, seeing as how I live in Japan and don't have access to American TV.

There has been one thing that I miss though: new episodes of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report (with Steven Colbert?) I like those two shows a lot, and realized that without them I just do not have a good idea of what is going on in the news lately. I do watch about ten or fifteen minutes of the NHK news in the morning, but that mostly focuses on Japan, and usually the US news that they have on is "US News that impacts Japan". So they will have something on about how Bush thinks that the Korean Kidnapping problem is a big issue, and North Korea should really cut it out. While over in America, nobody even knows that there is a North Korean Kidnapping problem, and they certainly don't know that it refers to people that were kidnapped back in the 70s (or 60s, I don't really remember.)

Anyway, according to an AP news report I found on Yahoo! News, the Daily Show and Colbert Report will be resuming production on January 7th. I'm pretty sure they are both opposed to returning to the air without their writers, and they had a great quote about that:

In a joint statement, Stewart and Colbert said: "We would like to return to work with our writers. If we cannot, we would like to express our ambivalence, but without our writers we are unable to express something as nuanced as ambivalence."
Man, those two are funny. I'm actually a bit sad that they will be back on the air without the support of their writers, but it will be nice to have a good source of news once again.

December 19, 2007

A pro (sometimes) basketball player that is funny, writes well, and has great taste in music?

I've enjoyed Paul Shirley's blog entries written for ESPN, and now he has written a "Best albums of 2007" entry. This isn't really something you would expect from a pro basketball player, but I think he's got some real gems in that list.

Color me impressed. I also highly recommend reading Paul Shirely's stuff if you enjoy basketball. Check it out, you should be able to find it over on ESPN somewhere.

December 12, 2007

The Enemy Concert in Ebisu's Liquid Room

My girlfriend likes the the UK Band The Enemy, whom she saw at Summer Sonic (I was off seeing other bands at the time.)

She picked up a pair of tickets to their show on Monday the 10th at Ebisu's Liquid Room and we went together.

I have their album "We'll live and die in these towns" and I like it. It is a good album with really catchy choruses and a surprisingly complex sound. They have some piano on some tracks, which I like. It strikes me as a really sad album, with a hint of desperation, but the music is often upbeat and energetic. It is easy to listen to, and a bit catchy. I'm not going to go out on any limbs and declare it super tops, but I liked it.

Their live show was very good though. They were a four piece: the three official band members on bass, guitar, and drums, as well as someone on keyboards. The bassist was pretty cool: he totally jumped in and crowd surfed at one point. People were going wild: lots of crowd surfing, which is pretty rare for these gigs in Japan. The place was really packed, and as with most of the bands that Lisa likes, these pretty boys drew a large cute young woman audience.

We grabbed a standing spot on the side of the liquid room with a great view of the stage since we were on an elevated platform and had a little counter to rest on. I'm glad we weren't in the center middle stage where we usually go, since there was lots of moshing and energetic pushing that night. It was nice to just relax and not have to shove against people for once - I get enough of that on the morning train commute.

Anyway, I wish I had some pictures or other nice media to go with this post, but I don't. All the venues I've been at in Japan are dead set against any sort of photography other than the official venue stuff, which they sell after the show. I should have snapped some shots after the show, particularly of a group of high school girls in their uniforms that seemed shocked at how sweaty they were. Maybe they've never been to a concert and ended up in the packed crowd before, but I've always found that in Japan if I want to dive into the crowd, I pack a second T-shirt to put on after the show ends since the first one will be completely sweaty.

Anyway, if The Enemy is coming through your town I recommend them. They put on a good show. Their album is pretty good too, and I think a few of the songs will stick around in my permanent rotation.

December 9, 2007

Praise for Portal

About two weeks ago, I decided to buy Valve's Portal.

Now, generally I don't play many games, but I have been reading two blogs that focus on games which have both been giving high praise for Portal. The first, Shamus Young's Twenty Sided has a lot of gaming (both pen-and-paper RPG and computer type) information, and is home to the amazingly funny DM of the Rings.

If that wasn't enough, another blog I read has had good things to say about Portal also. The other blog is Japanmanship, a blog by a game designer from England who lives and works in Tokyo. His blog is a great read for any foreigners in Japan, and also lots of interesting stuff about game design.

So after hearing so much about this game, I decided to give it a try. This is a bit commitment on my part: I have pretty much given up on the entire First Person Shooter genre. I never really played many FPS games. I started with Pathways Into Darkness on my Mac IIci but that didn't work too well. It was scary, and I got lost, and there were mean monsters trying to kill me. I get lost easily enough in real life, and it isn't any better when people are shooting at me. I never got very far in that game.

I then went on an played
Bungie's Marathon
on my PowerMac 6100av, but ran into the same problem: people were shooting at me, it was scary, and I got lost.

Ever since then I just haven't played many FPS games. I don't really like 3D games in general. I like the constrained world of 2D games, and the nice pixel graphics. About the only game that I do play any more is Street Fighter II (in the latest incarnation of it that is any good: Super Street Fighter II' Hyper: Anniversary Edition.)

I finally decided to give FPS games another chance though when I bought Portal. Actually, I bought the entire Orange Box since it was only slightly more expensive and includes a few more games that are supposed to be top-notch.

I really can't say enough good things about Portal. I'm quite late to the party I'm sure, since people were playing and writing about this game back when the Orange Box was actually released, but I'll throw in my two cents as well.

First, the pacing is excellent. The game starts off with simple tasks, and clearly shows what you can do. The progression and learning curve is very well paced. I know it is because I am more or less hopeless at these games, and I found that I was able to figure out what I needed to do without resorting to looking things up on the internet.

I also never felt like I was lost: the levels were well designed and I generally knew what I had to do, or where I needed to go. I really loved the puzzle-game dynamic as well. I wasn't being chased by bad guys, and things felt more like an extended Tetris than a stressful first-person shooter. By the time I got around to the last "level" I was using all the tricks the Portal gameplay mechanics allowed for, and really enjoying it.

The other thing that really hooked me is how they managed to tell a great story that was just absolutely hilarious. I love the disembodied GLaDOS computer voice, and the gun turrets are super cool too. I almost felt bad about knocking them out of commission.

By the end of the game, you are treated to an absolutely amazing song. It was composed by Jonathan Coulton who you really should check out: he's got some geeky and funny stuff. I'll write a post about it at some point, once I sort out my top recommendations. Due entirely to the Portal end-song, I ended up spending $70 on the DRM-free Jonathan Coulton "box set" of MP3s. He also distributes his stuff under a Creative Commons license, so you can get a lot of his stuff for free, but I've been listening to a bunch of his stuff and thought it would be nice to support the non-traditional music distribution model.

Anyway, my recommendation is to play Portal. I've actually started playing Half-Life 2 from Orange Box, and am enjoying it as well, but I really wish I had my portal gun. And that people would stop shooting at me. And that I wouldn't get lost so often. I do have to admit though, I am getting lost and confused much less frequently than usual for the genre, which I attribute to the Valve designers putting a lot of thought into the level design.

December 4, 2007

The 2007 Japanese New Word / Buzzword / Hot Phrase Prize

I woke up this morning and was surprised to see on the news that there is a yearly Japanese new word / hot phrase prize awarded.  It looks like this prize is sponsored by a publishing company, and has been awarded annually since 1984.  You can check their yearly archive to see who won the prizes in the past.

I'm sure there are many bloggers in the Japan ex-pat sphere that are much more on top of these things than I am, but I thought it would be amusing to take a look through this year's list and see what I can figure out.  In general, it seems like an odd pastiche of catchphrases, nicknames, and social phenomena. 

And the winners are...



どげんかせんといかん

(Dogenkasen to ikan) This is a regional dialect from Miyazaki-ken.  The person who popularized this saying is 東国原英夫 (Higashikokubaru Hideo), currently the prefectural governor of Miyazaki-ken recently elected in January of 2007. Before that he was one of Japan's many "Talent", basically a TV personality of some kind.

This phrase is indecipherable to me, so I did a bit of searching on the interweb.  I know that いかん is basically Kansai-ben for "bad", so I can make some guesses based on that, but what I came up with, from this blog posting, is that it means "We have to do something (about this)."  I also know that the ~せん suffix is used in some dialects as a negative, so I can guess now that どぐ might be something like する (to do.)  These are all conjectures though. 

It seems like the story of this guy is that he was recently elected to the prefectural government of Miyazaki, which hasn't been viewed in the best of lights recently.  He's know as the "Miyazaki Salesman" because he shows up on TV shows and other things to extol the virtues of Miyazaki.  Popularizing some of the local dialect spoken in Miyazaki has been one of the points on his agenda apparently.  Anyway, it is interesting to learn, and I wish I knew more about this particular dialect, but in practice if you live in Tokyo you will only hear standard Japanese, and some Kansai-ben if you watch TV and comedians, along with whatever your friends speak.  It seems like most of my friends speak French or Senegalese these days, so Miyazaki-ben is completely out of the running for me. 

ハニカミ王子


(Hanikami Prince) This is the nickname for Ishikawa Ryu, a freshman high school student amateur golfer that has been popular lately.  The nickname was given to him by his godparent, who was announcing the Munsingwear Open KBS Cup at the time that Ryu won it.  I don't understand what the nickname means at all, but a quick look at his wikipedia entry did not clear anything up at all.  It says that the nickname was born at the time of his interview after winning the event, but doesn't say where it came from.  It says that was previously called "The Sunvisor Prince" because he wore a sunvisor, but that didn't stick, and Hanikami Prince did because of his characteristics.

And a slap to the forehead time: はにかみ屋 is in the edict as "a very shy person".  So I'm guessing this is more properly called "The Shy Prince" and now it all makes sense. 

I also think this is about as cool as everyone fawning over "The Handkerchief Prince" from last year, who was a baseball player (pitcher) for Waseda who wiped his brow with a handkerchief all the time.  People went nuts over him too.  I'm not as interested in fashionable nicknames.

(消えた)年金


(Kieta Nenkin)  This is a reference to the recent trouble about missing pension money.  This year, over $450,000 in pension money went "missing".  (This is nothing compared to how much money has gone missing in Iraq for the US!)  舛添要一 (Masuzoe Youichi) is a politician, and also ex-Talent, who has been involved with the missing pension money.  He's the part of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, the Minister of Health, Labor, and Welfare, and a well-known political scientist (not that I know of him!)  Anyway, he has been speaking out about lack of accountability and other problems with the social insurance agency.  The "Disappearing pension money" is one of his catch-phrases.


そんなの関係ねぇ


(Sonnano Kankei nee) This is an annoying catch-phrase that is apparently the height of Japanese humor, but just strikes me as completely idiotic and scraping the bottom of the barrel of humor.  (Of course, my friends would call me a hypocrite to be calling any humor stupid, but that's for another day.)  Anyway, そんなの関係ねぇ means "that has nothing to do with it!" or something along those lines.  It is a catchphrase that this comedian, 小島よしお (Kojima Yoshio) uses.  He comes out wearing just a swimsuit (Speedo-style, why?) and repeatedly says this in a good rhythm to cheer himself up.   Man, this stuff is not funny.  Of course, in his "interview" he answered every question with "that has nothing to do with it!"

I'm going to start using this at work and see if people laugh.  They probably will.  How depressing.  My amazingly funny, complex puns based on subtle translation errors just get blank stares, or worse, elicit outright anger.  You know what I tell myself though: そんなの関係ねぇ!


どんだけぇ〜


(Don dakeh~)  This is another annoying catch-phrase joke that you hear way too often.  It basically means something like "how much (or far) [has that gone?] - [it can't be as much as your are saying]".  It comes from どれだけ and is often used with a sarcastic intent.  So if someone says "I ate two donuts" you can say "How many?" with the implication being "you couldn't have eaten two donuts!" (it must be many more because you are fat) or something like that.  Then people will laugh. 

Also, the person that was nominated for this is Ikko, a makeup artist and Talent who is a cross-dresser.  He said that this isn't really his gag, it is one that is popular in the gay bars down in Shinjuku 2-chome.  Japanese people seem to really like cross-dressers and think they are very funny.  I guess they're kind of like the British that way. 

鈍感力


(donkanryoku) Thick-skinned (well, that's my translation anyway.)  More literally it is something like "the power to be stolid".  This is by author Watanabe Jyunichi, who wrote a book of the same name.  The meaning is basically "don't worry so much about the little things" which is a good message I think.  But I'm pretty sure I don't really get all the significance of the word, since I don't really know what that means within the Japanese culture context.  What is "little stuff" to me probably has no bearing on what is "little stuff" to the Japanese, and vice-versa for the big stuff. 

食品偽装


(Shyokuhin Gisou) This one is kind of interesting.  It means "fake food" and is a reference to a company here in Japan called "Meat Hope" which labeled some of its meat products as ground beef when in actuality the products included pork or rabbit or other things like that.  There were other similar sorts of food-based incidents, like a company that was selling fresh-made tofu treats (for years and years) but was actually labeling them as made on the day they were thawed out after being frozen, and other things like that. 


ネットカフェ難民


(ネットカフェ なんみん) This is a social phenomena expression.  It refers to people that, for whatever reason, sleep in internet cafés.  Some of the people are homeless and use the cheap net cafes (some with 1000 yen overnight packages) to grab a shower and sleep in big recliner chairs. The translation is pretty clear, literally: net cafe refugees. 


大食い


(おおぐい) I think the reading is right.  Anyway, this word I guess refers to the gradual super-sizing of foods in Japan.  Just like in America, portions are getting bigger, and food is getting less healthy (depending on where you eat anyway.)  The recipient for this prize was ギャル曽根 (Gal Isone, maybe loosely translatable as Stomach Girl).  She is Talent, and appears on eating competition shows.  She can eat a lot, I've seen some of the shows that she's been on.  She must exercise a lot with the amount that she eats.



猛暑日


(もうしょび) The day of fierce heat.  It was awarded to the president of the Kumamoto-city shop-owners association (or something like that.)  This summer, temperatures reached 40.9 degrees Celsius (105.6 F)  in Kumamoto.  That's crazy hot.


Well, that does it for this year's top 10  buzzwords / hot phrases prize.  I thought that one of them was pretty interesting, and three of them were completely worthless.  The others are somewhere in between.  It was kind of fun looking some of this stuff up though. 


Bad Omens

Today started off with a bad omen: I slept in for an entire hour. Usually I'm very good about getting up on time, but I was up a bit late last night. Even though I went home early (home by about 7:45pm) I logged on to some machines at work, and (slowly, while watching House) did some work-related stuff. I ended up going to bed at about 1am, instead of my usual 11pm, with a 7am alarm.

I almost never use the snooze function on my alarm (which is actually my cell phone) but this morning it was so cold that I just couldn't stand it. I turned on the heater, and then somehow an hour passed before it was warm enough to get out of bed.

Now, this isn't really a big problem since I don't have strict hours that I need to be at work (I just need to get my work done.) The problem comes in with the commute: they way things are now, a slight delay on my part changes my commute from annoying to unbearably crowded, hot, and sweaty.

If I wake at 7am, wash my face, and then hop on the train I generally will be able to sit on the second leg of my trip (~20 minutes) and can sit after the second station on the third leg of the trip (~20 minutes.) If I can't sit, at least I can stand and can hold a hand-strap, and generally I have some space and am not too crowded.

If I am delayed by twenty minutes or more, I skip the first train leg of my trip entirely (only 2 stops, maybe 5 minutes on the train) and walk the 15 minutes to the start of the second leg because that fifteen minute delay means that the train is so packed that when the doors open, you just see a wall of people. To get on the train you turn around with your back facing the people, and then press your way in. If you can get some leverage on the train door side that helps. Usually, somehow, miraculously, there is enough space to squeeze in. Your face will pressed up against the glass, which is slick with condensation from the hot breath of the people jammed into the train, making cattle cars seem roomy by comparison. If you are unlucky, more people will be getting on after you, and you will find yourself bent into improbably shapes as bags and briefcases force your lower body and legs one way, while other pressures force your upper body another way. If you can reach a strap that helps a lot, otherwise it is a crazy balancing act in which unusual muscles start to ache from holding odd positions. It doesn't matter much in the end though because you are packed in so tight it isn't possible to fall over, only lean more awkwardly onto the people around you.

So generally I'll just skip that mess entirely and walk the 15 minutes to Jiyugaoka. It is a nice walk anyway, and I can do with the exercise.

At Jiyugaoka things are slightly better because I can choose to take the local train, which isn't nearly as bad as the express, or god forbid, the commuter express, which is just comically packed. Typically though, even the local train is unbearably hot and humid from all the people. Also, don't think that there is the up-side of at least sometimes being pressed up against cute women: the rush is worst from 7:20am until about 9:30am, which probably 70% of the ridership is male. The women are smarter and try to avoid the typical salary-man hours.

Of course, on the express and commuter express train there are "women-only" cars so maybe more of them crowd in there. I don't know; I always take the local because it is only about five minutes longer from where I'm at and substantially less crowded (which isn't saying much.) The women only cars are supposed to address the problem of men groping women, which I might talk about at some point, but in reality I don't know much about it: I don't do it, and I don't know that I've ever seen it happen. I'm not sure I would know if it was happening though, so I generally just try not to think about it too much.

Anyway, today with my delay of one hour, I was in the packed train at Shibuya. It is usually pretty back until you hit Naka-meguro where lots of people get out (yay!) but then you are only two stops away from Shibuya, so it isn't really much of a win.

I transfer at Shibuya to the Hanzomon line. Today things were strange: I got down to the ticket gates, and there was a crowd of people backed up to the escalator. The place was jam packed. A few of the signs had information on the problem: due to a "personal accident" (人間事故, literally human or personal accident) the trains were severely delayed. A personal accident is a euphemism for suicide. They happen sometimes here in Japan, someone decides that the commute is unbearable, and in a sarcastic lash back at the commuting system they jump in front of a train. This has happened a few times in the approximately two years that I've been here, maybe four or five times. Usually the trains are running within twenty minutes to an hour.

This time, the accident happened at 6:15am and they were not letting people into the gates. I don't really know what happened, but I decided I wasn't getting anywhere fast, and I went for a cup of hot chocolate at the Starbucks in front of Shibuya Crossing.

I really need to remember this, but I hate that Starbucks.

Every few months I go there, and I hate it. Then, a few months later, I decide I want some hot chocolate or something, and I go back. And I hate it. The problem is that the place is always packed. You always have to wait for a place to sit. Even once you do sit, it is unbearably hot. The building is facing East (I think I don't know these things), and gets the full brunt of the sun as it comes up. It has a large glass face, and it is always unbearably hot. The tables are small and always crowded. One of my favorite things to do is to read a book and have a drink at the coffee shop, but in this place I can't spread out much which is a major problem: when I read, I need space for my book, my electric dictionary (ancient, so huge by modern-day standards) and a notebook that I write down unknown Japanese words (writing is still the best way to remember things.)

So while I'm drinking my hot chocolate, in a cramped counter seat in front of a huge glass window with the full force of the sun beating down on me in an over-heated coffee shop, I'm sweating like mad. Finally, the last thing about this place is that it is always packed with foreigners. Now, I'm a foreigner and I'm not one of those people that feels like other foreigners around me are invading my own special private Japan where I'm the only unique guy. But I don't like when I hear a bunch of people talking English loudly about things that annoy me. And you tend to get a lot of guys in this Starbucks talking about picking up Japanese women or other things like that which can be annoying. Or people doing impromptu English lessons - which is common in coffee shops, but this one is just so crazy crowded that it makes no sense to do one there.

Anyway, I eventually finished my hot chocolate, and headed back to the subway. They were finally letting people back on the trains, and I picked up my little ticket that said the trains were delayed for an hour (they pass them out so people can prove to their bosses that they weren't, in fact, just hanging out at a coffee shop making disapproving body language at strange foreigners) and finished the commute -- still crowded because of the delay -- to work.

I'm usually here at about 8:30am, today I didn't get in until 10:30am. Already two hours behind schedule!

And I love my schedules. Ah well. At least I get to rant about it on my blog. :)


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