July 24, 2007

Pizza: A comarison between Italian, New York, and Japanese perspectives

On my recent trip to Italy, New York, and Dallas, I ate some good food. Great seafood in Italy, and excellent steak and BBQ in Dallas. In New York, one of the things that I most wanted to eat was good old-fashioned New York style Pizza by the slice.

I really like Pizza. I wouldn't say that I love it, but I've always enjoyed a good slice. The problem is that here in Japan, Pizza is very different from what you get in New York, which is my favorite. I haven't really had much Chicago style deep-dish pizza, and while what I have had has been good, I still prefer New York style pizza. Greasy, lots of cheese, thin crust compared to Chicago style, but not super thin. Put some pepperoni on it, and you've got yourself a tasty meal.

In Japan though, Pizza had been adapted to the Japanese palette, and also seems to come more from the Italian thin crust style of Pizza. Japanese pizza often has seafood on it, shrimp is very common, as well as seaweed, bonita (a kind of fish flake), and inexplicably corn and mayonnaise are very popular. While I don't think Japanese pizza is bad, it just doesn't resemble American pizza. When you get a type of pizza that has normal ingredients, you still have the problem that the crust is thin, there is very little tomato sauce, the cheese is sparse, and oh, by the way, the pizza is very small (a large will feed two Americans maybe) and that large also just cost you $30. The first picture shows a current Pizza Hut promotion of a "Double Roll" pizza with both sausage and cheese "ears". Notice that on one half of the pizza is hamburger, complete with small cute mini-patties, not crumbled up as you might get in America, and corn. The other half has the Pizza Hut Gourmet side, which doesn't look too bad. If I poked around their site I could probably dig up some crazy seafood combinations (like the fried shrimp and tartar combination or Seafood mix with shrimp, squid, tuna mayo, broccoli and onion, or just about anything else off of the menu.) Anyway, like I said, while the pizza isn't bad, I don't really consider it in the same food category as American Pizza. It is a distinct category of its own.

While in Italy, I was also determined to try some authentic pizza. I had a nice Prosciutto pizza that was very good, but also isn't what I want when I feel like a New York slice. The crust is light and flaky, burnt in places, with cheese, but not a large amount, and not very oily. The Prosciutto was great, but I really wanted a pepperoni. I don't know if they just don't make that kind of pizza there, or if I didn't go to the right places. I only had one Pizza meal though, since I wasn't really there for that long. It seemed about the same as the Italian style brick-over fired pizzas that you can get in New York, or for that matter, here in Tokyo if you look around.

The real deal finally: New York by the slice Pizza. I had two Slices of pizza, one for lunch at Famiglia's near Columbia (famous Pizza since 1987. 1987? Are you serious? That's like only 20 years!) and one slice from Koronet's . Koronet's Pizza is crazy huge: the slices are as big as your forearm. Huge, huge slices. And cheap. About $4 with a drink. It was so very good, but I'm not used to eating that much and felt bloated for the rest of the day. It was worth it though. I've linked to a flikr picture of Koronet's Pizza so you can get an idea of the size. I should have taken a picture of my slice, but I was too excited and by the time I thought of it had already eaten most of the slice.

Good old-fashioned by the slice New York pizza. Oily, drippy, cheesy, thin crust that you can fold - in fact, I think it is required to fold your Koronet's slice in half to eat it. Good stuff. Man, I want some pizza. (Instead I'll have Japanese curry that I made last night: another favorite of mine.)

It's good to be back (home) in Japan

Returning from a two-week long trip to Italy for a conference, and then later New York for my friend Carl's wedding, and then Dallas to visit with family.

Italy was great, and I plan to write a blog entry about that soon if I can find the time. Carl's wedding in New York was great, and while I haven't written a blog entry about that yet, I do have a photoset on Flickr. Then a brief trip to Dallas to visit family. All of the travel was really tiring since I had to fly back to Japan before going to New York due to how the trip was funded, so the complete schedule was Tokyo -> Milan, Milan -> Genova, Genova -> Milan, Milan -> Tokyo, a six hour respite, then Tokyo -> Chicago, Chicago -> New York, New York -> Dallas, Dallas -> Tokyo.

After that long flight from Italy to New York, the eleven hour flight from Dallas to Tokyo seemed easy. Back in Narita airport, I'm always a little nervous when I have to face the immigration officer. Even though I have a valid work visa and re-entry permit, I'm always a bit worried that I will be denied entry, so it is always nice when I am actually let in.

After braving the trains to get back home and climbing up the three flights of stairs I was faced with a waist-high mountain of clothes, old toys, old shoes, and other assorted junk in garbage bags. The neighbors apparently were moving, and since I hadn't been around for a while they felt free to pile stuff up in the hallway. Yet another obstacle to overcome on the way home.

The biggest immediate change I noticed back in Japan is that it is humid here in July. Super humid. It isn't very hot, but it is really, really humid. So I thought I would turn on my air conditioner.

Of course, after a few minutes the air conditioner started to leak water. Lots of it. I spent hours moving things around in my room so that the bed isn't under the AC. In the end, the new arrangement uses space a bit better so I'm pretty happy with things.

The only problem now is when can I do laundry? Since you have to dry everything in the sun -- very few people here own dryers -- that is particularly tough in the rainy season. The rainy season should be ending soon, but after two weeks of nice weather, the typhoon season begins...

July 17, 2007

A Quick Trip to the MoMA

I came to New York for a few days for a friends wedding, and while here I stopped by for a brief visit at the Museum of Modern Art. I really enjoy the MoMA, and have visited there often. For the wedding of my friends Ron and Michelle my sisters and I got them a membership to the MoMA, which they have kept up ever since. I had about two and a half hours in the afternoon, so I stopped by.

The big exhibition that they have currently is 40 Years of Richard Serra Sculpture. I've seen some Serra pieces before, once in the Guggenheim in Bilbao, but wasn't really impressed with this exhibition. I liked his pieces in the sculpture garden, but the rest of the things that were exhibited didn't seem well utilized in the museum space. I think a lot of his stuff does better in a less formal environment, where you have more of an experience that isn't focused on the sculpture itself, but on the harmonization with, and contrast to, the surrounding environment.

I really enjoyed pieces in the Automatic Update exhibition. Particularly, 33 Questions a Second, an interesting piece that randomly generates questions in rapid succession using some natural language processing techniques.

Over in the Architecture and Design Galleries, usually my favorite part of the museum, they had a great exhibition juxtaposing modern and old design. There were some really great examples in there, particularly the iMac / TV combo I highlight to the left. I also have an iPod / Radio combo shot that is cute. There were a lot of interesting functional design examples, and interesting examples of industrial design. That floor is always lots of fun to check out.

In the same area was an interesting look at Helvetica, the first font in the MoMA collection. Coincidentally, my friend Ron told me about an interesting documentary about the typeface that is something I would like to track down and see.

There was another nice exhibition called "What is Painting?" with contemporary art from the MoMA collection. I thought that one was well worth checking out. As always, a short trip over to the MoMA is always worth the effort, even if it has the most amazingly hard and tiring floors of any museum in the city. I swear they've learned the secret of gravity-control plating and artificially increase local gravity there by about 20%. My feet are always sore after even a short trip to that museum.

Who needs the Kwik-E-Mart?

As part of the promotion for the Simpsons Movie, about 12 7-11 stores have been converted into Kwik-E-Marts, the mythical convenience store from the show. Since there is one in New York City, and I happen to be there right now for my friend's wedding, I made a point to go out to the Port Authority Bus Terminal to check out the Kwik-E-Mart.

They have a lot of merchandising going on, and many limited-edition items for sale. The most interesting are the Squishy-labeled Slurpees and the Buzz Cola and crazy pink sprinkle doughnuts. Those doughnuts are huge: a box of six comes in a box that would be a dozen doughnuts anywhere else. I had one and could not believe how huge the things were. The Buzz Cola is a regular type of Cola in the Coca-Cola mode, but I don't know who actually manufactures it. I'm sure they are making a killing though: the place was packed with people taking pictures and buying up the Simpsons-related stuff.

I particularly liked the Jasper poster on the Ice Bag freezer (note the "Jasper Extra" sign), and there are also interesting Giant Pez Dispensers, but I couldn't bring myself to buy one. Not only can I not cart something like that back to Tokyo, where would I put it??

There is also a Kwik-E-Mart in Dallas, TX, so I'll try to get some pictures of that when I head over there tomorrow before getting on the plane back to Tokyo.

Also, please note an appropriate usage of donuts here, unlike what I often see in Japan, where donuts are made out of strange and unusual things. (Well, not that strange, but still, frosting or at least sugar should be required!)

July 16, 2007

Books: Ian M. Banks' Excession

I generally have a few English books on my shelves that I am saving for transcontinental flights to pass the time. On this past trip to Italy, before getting on the plane on an impulse I purchased SAGA Jun'ichi's Confessions of a Yakuza: A Life in Japan's Underworld (translated by John Bester.) It was a fast read, lots of fun, but not heavy reading overall. I don't know much about the Yakuza, so I can't comment on that aspect, but it is an interesting character study. I'm now a bit more interested in that side of Japan, but I don't know that I'll pursue that interest with any intensity.

On the flight from Italy to Japan, and then Japan to New York via Chicago, I started reading Ian M. Banks' Excession, a complex science fiction novel set in his Culture universe. It was a very interesting read, focusing mainly on the response of the large scale artificial intelligence system of the Minds of the Culture ship to an unexpected impossible-seeming phenomena.

I've read a few other Culture novels, Consider Phlebas (good, but not great), The Player of Games (also good), Use of Weapons (this one was very memorable, very good), and now Excession. There are a few more novels in this universe which I'll try to track down; Banks is a very enjoyable author and he really has quite a wide range of plot types.

While in New York I picked up five additional books, so I should have plenty to read on the trip home. Once I get back to Japan though, I had better concentrate on trying to finish Murakami's Kafka by the Sea, which I'm slowly reading in Japanese.

July 15, 2007

Sable-Koo Wedding

On Sunday, July 15th, 2007 my good friend Carl Sable married the beautiful Cha-Eun Koo in New Jersey.

While I was a grad students at Columbia University, one of my first and best friends I made there was Carl Sable. I think the story about how we met is completely indicative of Carl's character. I went to one of the first classes that I had to take entering the Master's program in Computer Science, and I saw a guy wearing a Hoagie Haven T-shirt. Since I grew up in the Princeton area, I knew about Hoagie Haven and knew that I had to talk to this guy.

I went over and sat down next to Carl, and we struck up a conversation since the T-shirt made an easy introductory topic. Prior to coming to class, I had (for some reason) been thinking about palindromes. We started talking about those, and Carl let me know that he's been making palindromes since he was a kid, and had a great one with: "We? I vote cinema! ME! Nice to view!" Of course, it takes some explanation, but is completely understandable. Carl loves movies. In a hypothetical situation where a group of people are talking about what to do, Carl might suggest to go see a movie, which is quickly vetoed by everyone else. After lots of arguing about what to do, someone else suggests a movie and everyone agrees to it. Then Carl is mad, and utters his palindrome.

I was really impressed and even more so when I told Carl that I had been thinking that it must be possible to make some sort of palindrome with "flog" and "golf", but hadn't come up with anything. Carl almost instantly responded with "Re-flog a golfer". Since then, we've been great friends.

So when I heard that Carl was getting married, I made sure that I could make it out there for the wedding. The timing worked well, since it followed a business trip to Italy (which I'll hopefully write something about soon) and I was able to swing by Dallas to see my family for a few days as well.

I am very happy for Carl and Cha-Eun. I'm not positive, but I think that the first time that Carl and Cha-Eun met was when I invited Cha-Eun, a friend of mine through our mutual friend Lena Park, and Carl to a Bishop Allen and We Are Scientists concert at CBGB's. I'm not sure that this is correct though - I could just be misremembering horribly. I'll have to ask Carl about that actually. Anyway, it was a beautiful wedding, with great friends, great food (and too much of it!) and interesting music. One of the (controversial) highlights was when Carl and Cha-Eun walked into the ballroom after the reception. The music was the theme song from "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly". Sounds strange, but it totally worked.

The ceremony was non-denominational, outside, and very brief. I was really impressed with how to-the-point the ceremony was. Cha-Eun's grandmother dressed in a Hanbok, the traditional Korean formal dress, while the rest of the party was in western formal clothes. There wasn't a very strong influence of Jewish or Korean customs, but some of each around the edges which was quite nice. I particularly liked how at the reception we sang and danced the traditional Hava Nagila song, and also raised the Bride, Groom, and their parents in chairs. Everyone seemed to enjoy the dancing and food after the wedding.

The one complaint that I would have is that, when I think back to Dave Han's wedding in Korea, one of the points that most stood out was when Dave Han bowed to Jiseon's parents, he got down on the ground and put his head to the floor. A full out kow-tow. When Carl bowed to Cha-Eun's parents, it was only a very small head and upper body bow! (Of course, I'm mostly joking Carl, I love you!)

July 5, 2007

Unlikely food combinations: What are you thinking, Japan!?

This is a post that started from a Mixi post I made about unusual donuts (in Japanese) and then purely by coincidence the next day I stumbled upon some other unusual foodstuffs. First, on with the donuts.

Don't make donuts out of that

On the way home from Jiyugaoka one fine Saturday afternoon, I stopped by the Boulangerie Asanoya, a bakery in the newish Trainchi Shopping Center in Jiyugaoka. It is a nice bakery - there are actually a bunch of nice bakeries in the Jiyugaoka area, but this one is on the way home. I was really hankering for a nice doughnut, but I instead came across some unusual doughnuts. This isn't uncommon in Japan, but for whatever reason (mostly the Ham and Cheese) I decided to take a picture of it this time. In this case they are calling one of their creations a ham and cheese doughut. While that sounds like a perfectly reasonable food, take some ham and cheese, stuff it in dough, and fry the whole thing, I just don't think it should be called a doughnut. I like my doughnuts to be sweet. I don't know if these had sugar on them or not, since I didn't want to try it particularly, but I don't think they should be called doughnuts.

Next to those were the green tea and Azuki (red bean paste sweetened with sugar) doughnuts. The Azuki doughnuts are very common. I'm sure everyone who visits and gets a doughnut expecting a nice creme-filled center is surprised with the slightly thick, somewhat unusual taste of the Azuki bean paste. They are very common. They are pretty good too. This is the first time that I've seen Maccha doughnuts though. Maccha is a green tea flavor, and I suspect the taste would be bitter, but again, I didn't venture a taste myself.

I went with the quite delicious, and exactly what I wanted, jelly-filled berliner.


Give me a break!

The other day while in a convenience store, I came across some unusual flavors of KitKat bars. Maybe I should back up a bit here. First, the Japanese really love the four seasons. You can have a very long and involved conversation about what your favorite season is, and none of them get short shrift really. There is a long tradition of poetry that extols the virtues of a given season. So, following that, there is a tradition of having foods and drinks that are exclusive to each season. Unlike poetry, Summer seems to get the lion's share of goods here - although in Winter our vending machine at work sports more hot coffees and hot chocolate, which turns cold in the summer. Anyway, there are lots of things that only show up at certain times.

For some reason, KitKat bars seem to be pretty popular here in Japan, and there is even a strange breaktown.com web site with KitKat themed games and stuff. They normally have regular KitKat bars, a Maccha green tea variety, and Strawberry KitKat bars (which are quite good.) The other day I stumbled upon three more mutant flavors: Orange, Kiwifruit, and Pineapple.

Orange isn't too bad. It is very similar in flavor to the regular chocolate KitKat bar, but has a really overwhelming Orange scent. I think they just added orange perfume to a regular KitKat and called it a day. Kiwifruit is pretty bad though. It has a really strange aftertaste. Pineapple is somewhere in between.

If I get around to it, I'll try to track down the other unusual (to me) KitKat bar flavors. According to the website, I should at least be able to find Exotic Tokyo II White Chocolate flavor (white chocolate and gooseberries with mixed American cherries), Exotic Tokyo Chocolate flavor (with mixed fruit!), Exotic Hokkaidou 2 (with Red Wine and Strawberries), Exotic Hokkaidou (white chocolate with creme cheese and matched sour berries to express Hokkaidou's oneness with nature), Exotic Kansai (with lemons and ginger), and Exotic Kyuushyuu (with Mango and Orange Caramel and black pepper).

On second thought, perhaps I'll pass on trying to track those down (although, the lazy can order them from the web via the links.) I also vaguely recall seeing other strange flavors like Sakura (cherry/blossom) at some point. I'll keep my eyes open at the local convenience stores.

Crazy country.


July 1, 2007

Catching up on movies

Over the past week or so, I've watched a few movies. I thought I would comment on them here, since that is what I said I would do when I started the "Movies" section. First up is Children of Men. I didn't know anything about this movie other than that it is in the Science Fiction genre, and it is supposed to be good. I was really impressed. I didn't realize until I checked afterwards that it was directed by Alfonso Cuarón. It reminded me in a lot of ways of 28 days later, and I really liked how they commented on modern (American) society by drawing out some parallels. I also didn't notice any special effects, but when reading about it later learned that they had some sophisticated CG in there. Overall I was really impressed. I highly recommend this movie. Next up is Reno 911!: Miami. I don't have much to say about it other than if you like they show, you should like the movie. It was amusing to have on in the background while working on other stuff. This is not a movie that you want to devote two hours of your attention to, unlike Children of Men, which I did watch with my full attention. Man of the Year. A reasonable movie, but I didn't think it was funny. Almost all of the jokes that Robin Williams told were old, tired, and waiting to be put out of their misery. I did like the critique of modern politics, but I'm glad that I was working on the laptop while the movie was running.

June 25, 2007

Installing the Perl Technorati API implementation WebService::Technorati on OSX via CPAN

This will be yet another entertaining dive into installing software on OSX. For today's task, I want to install the Perl WebService::Technorati API interface to the Technorati blog search / aggregation site. Usually, I do something like $ perl -MCPAN -e shell to get a CPAN shell, and then install WebService::Technorati and hit "yes" when asked about following references. This time, things failed because one of the requirements, XML::Parser, needs to have the XML parser Expat installed. I do have Expat installed - twice even, once from the Apple X11 extra install stuff, and once via the OSX packaging project fink - but CPAN couldn't pick either of those up since they aren't in the most obvious of places.

So it looks like I'll need to install XML::Parser myself. Since CPAN went to all the trouble to download the files that I need to do the install, I cd into the proper directory (have to spawn a root shell first since I'm installing in the system directories) cd ~/.cpan/build/XML-Parser-2.34-uwBcpV, then create a Makefile that actually points to the correct install: perl Makefile.PL EXPATLIBPATH=/sw/lib EXPATINCPATH=/sw/include, and then the magic incantation: make; make install. Since all that looked like it went well, I'll drop back into user mode, sudo perl -MCPAN -e shell and re-try install WebService::Technorati.

That installed some XPATH tools, and then failed spectacularly with a missing LWP/UserAgent.pm, which is something I should probably have installed anyway. Installing LWP::UserAgent failed with a missing HTML::Tagset, which installed easily (isn't CPAN supposed to chase down these dependencies for me? Usually it does, but today CPAN is really having trouble. It must be because of the rain.) The subsequent install of LWP::UserAgent went well. A final install WebService::Technorati completed fine as well.

So, a quick post on what I had to do to get that installed. Mainly, I needed to manually run the XML::Parser install process myself so I could create a Makefile that pointed to the existing install that I had put in via fink. Then I had to chase down some other CPAN modules that were necessary. Not to bad all told.

Just to be cautious, I tried a few things to test the install. Things were working just great. Of course, after about an hour of hacking away at some code, it looks like there are some problems with the WebService::Technorati Perl API: the SearchApiQuery does a cosmos query instead of a blog search query, but since I've got the .pm files, we can fix that easily enough...

June 23, 2007

Chungking Express

On Saturday (a week ago), I invited from friends over to watch a movie. My absolute favorite movie of all time, Chungking Express. I don't really have anything insightful to say other than Chungking Express is a great movie. I was happy that the local Tsutaya had the movie in stock. They don't seem to have my number two and three movies though (Terry Gilliam's Brazil and the Coen brother's Hudsucker Proxy.)

This is a film that I've seen many times, which I was thankful for because it is a Chinese language film with subtitles in Japanese. Surprisingly, between my knowledge of the plot I was able to keep up with the subtitles without much trouble. I was really surprised, since it has been a few years since I've seen the film, that I was still really impressed by the film. I really think it gets across the quality of humanity, and feeling. The movie comes highly recommended.

June 18, 2007

Added SPF support to fugutabetai.com mailserver

Using the Postfix and SPF howto over on howtoforge.com I added SPF support to the Fugutabetai.com mail servers. It looks like that is working well, so after a few weeks go by, I'll try to remember to look at the logs and see if SPF has been useful at all at rejecting spam from known unauthorized users. Since SPF (Sender Policy Framework) won't work without domains deciding to actually fail to accept mail from machines that are not authorized to send that mail, I've switched the Fugutabetai.com DNS SPF records to hard fail on mail that doesn't originate from the proper places.

June 12, 2007

A trip to faraway Yokohama for Gyoza

Last Sunday I headed out to Yokohama with my friend after a relaxing weekend. About a year ago, a researcher I met while at Columbia University who grew up in Yokohama took me to a Gyoza shop in Sakuragicho, Yokohama that he said has some of the best Gyoza in Japan. For reference, that is a little place called Sanyou, which is always busy, but did have great Gyoza. One of the reviews for that place said they didn't like the place because they want you to order quickly, and he didn't know what to get. They gave him a beer and told him to get out.

This time instead we went to Ban-Li another ramen-gyouza shop nearby. We ordered some gyouza, both fried and steamed, and they were great. A while back I went to Namco Namjya Town's Gyoza Battle Stadium, where there were lots of different types of Gyoza to try out. That was fun too, but I was glad that this place was a normal restaurant with just your normal choices. One of the annoying things about the Chinatown in Yokohama is that it has been created and marketed as a kind of "China Land" within Japan, and is almost more theme park than neighborhood. Everything there is really expensive, and more for show than anything else.

Ban-Li is not for show: it's the kind of hole-in-the-wall Chinese place that you would find at New York's Chinatown. Along with the gyoza, we got beer and mabu-tofu, which was also great. On the way out we went and checked on Sanyou, and it was packed. Lots of people waiting outside to get in. It is a place that I would like to try again sometime.

After dinner, we headed over to Landmark Tower, which has the tallest observation deck in Japan. They are very proud of their elevator, which is the fastest in Japan. It was very fast. I think it reached speeds of 470 km/h, but it was impressively smooth. I generally don't like elevators and easily get motion sick on them, but this elevator was ok. (I really think they should replace the elevator in Disney's the Tower of Terror with the one in Landmark Tower - I got totally sick on that one, but this one was fine.)

On the way we also checked out the Yokohama Ferris Wheel, which puts on a really nice show when it isn't doing its impersonation of a giant clock.

June 11, 2007

Emulating Wizardry I: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord on the GP2X

Not too long ago, I wrote about my old-school CRPG party-based gaming obsession. Randomly coming across a version of Wizardry I-III for cell phones in Japan rekindled my interest, but sadly my cell phone "terminal" (端末) is not compatible so I can't play it. It was very aggravating, because I know that there is a chance to play Wizardry while I'm in the subway - which is usually about two hours a day.

Instead, I decided to look around, and found another great old game, Dragon Wars, playing that at home on a laptop is a bit too difficult to do frequently. When I get home I am tired, and usually just plop down for dinner and some tv before going to bed. Something that is portable would be very nice...

Since I started thinking about playing older CRPGs, I thought that the most likely approach would be to get a Sony PSP or Nintendo DS and look at the state of emulation on those consoles. I'm not really a Sony fan, since they have had problems in the past with excessive Digital Restrictions Management / Digitally Restricted Media / DRM in the past, and I know that they discourage people running homebrew software on the PSP by releasing firmware that makes it difficult to run unsigned code. Things seemed a bit better on the Nintendo DS, but still requires some hardware solutions for using SD cards, and certain versions won't boot run homebrew software.

Then I found the GP2X, an amazing little portable linux device that runs off of a regular SD card, has a very nice 320x240 screen, and two ARM processors at 200 MHz that can be clocked faster and slower. The system is open, supports homebrew out of the box, uses open source software as a base, and has a plethora of emulators available for it.

Read on for more information about my (successful!) quest to get Wizardry emulated on the GP2X.

read more (1098 words)

June 2, 2007

Bitten by the CRPG Bug, memories of hex-editing savegames

A long time ago, back in the days when the big fight was whether an Apple //e or a Commodore 64 was a better machine (the answer is Apple //e, but I might accept Atari ST as well) I used to play a lot of Computer Role Playing Games (CRPGs.)

Click the link to read more about computer RPGs and stuff. There is some actual useful information for people who want to cheat at the old game "Dragon Wars": I include hex offsets and directions for how to give your players some extra experience points for leveling them up. A lot.
read more (1600 words)

Babylon 5

In the past few months, I've been watching Babylon 5. I noticed the first season available for rent at Tsutaya, and since I really enjoyed the series when I watched it on TV back in the 90s, I decided to rent it. Of course, after watching the first season, I had no choice but to watch the rest. Tsutaya didn't have seasons 2 or 3 for rental, but they were available for sale over the web, and cheap too: 4000 yen per season, so about 700 yen a disc. That is a great deal, so I bought seasons two and three. Unfortunately, I couldn't find seasons four and five for sale, except as ridiculously expensive imports from the US. So I obtained seasons four and five as digitally time shifted broadcasts via the international world fat web. Coincidentally, I just found out that there is a new Babylon 5 related project: direct to DVD releases! The first one, Babylong 5: The Lost Tales will come out at the end of July. I'm really excited about that, and might have to import it. I hope that it will be on sale in Japan at the same time, but we'll see. Anyway, just a reminder to everyone out there that Babylon 5 is some of the best sci-fi that has been on TV. It definitely holds up to my two favorite things on the air right now, Doctor Who and the new Battlestar Galactica. I was also very surprised about how well the effects held up. I expected that every time I saw a graphics shot that I would be thinking "Amiga! Lightwave! Video toaster!" and so on, but I quickly forgot about the technical issues, and became wrapped up in the story. In fact, I was surprised at just how GOOD the special effects were over the course of the series. I'm really looking forward to what they will be able to do on the DVD releases due to the amazing advances in technology and CG that we've seen since then. Highly recommended, add Babylon 5 to your Netflicks queues immediately!

May 29, 2007

Tokyo Giants vs. ORIX Buffaloes



On Sunday night, I got a call out of the blue from my friend Tomoki, who invited me to the Tokyo Giants baseball game on Monday night. They were playing the ORIX Buffaloes.

Approximately a year ago, I took Tomoki to a Giants game when my friend Tai gave me a pair of tickets since he couldn't use them. He's a lawyer and their firm represents the Giants sometimes, so they get tickets every once in a while. Now, I'm not much of a baseball fan, I wouldn't really watch it on TV, but when I do go to a game with friends, I always have a great time. It is fun to watch live, and especially fun when you've got friends around and people are into it.

This game was no exception. I don't know much about the Giants, but Tomoki told me that Ogasawara is one of their best players, so we bought some Ogasawara shirts and headed to the stands. And boy, he did not disappoint. He had a homer in the first inning, and then later hit another with two men on base, and finished up the night with a final third homer. That was the first time that he has hit three homers in his career. Amazing game to see if you only see one game a year. The Giants won 8-2, even though they lost to the same team the night before! I really don't understand much about baseball, but what a swing!

Tokyo Giants: also recommended. Interestingly, it is only about a fifteen minute walk from where I work (NII) to the Tokyo Dome.


May 21, 2007

Asakusa Sanjya Matsuri (三社祭)

On Sunday, I headed out to Asakusa with a friend to see the tail end of the Asakusa Sanjya Festival. Sanjya (alternatively, Sanja) means "Three Shrines", and if you've been reading along you know that Matsuri (祭り) are religious festivals, but really more akin to block parties.

Asakusa is home to one of the oldest temples in Tokyo, Senso-ji, and is the site of the Sanjya Matsuri, which Wikipedia reports as being the largest and most popular festival in Tokyo. Since Tokyo is a pretty big place, that must mean that there are a lot of people there, and wouldn't you know it, the place was absolutely packed.

I've taken a bunch of pictures of the actual portable shrines, which on Sunday were the three main ones for the temple (supposedly!) and a few short videos, which I put up on YouTube. YouTube didn't like the first three though, so right now only one video is up there. I'll try to work on that. The videos are nice because not only are there Mikoshi (神輿), the portable shrines, there are wooden festival cars (山車, literally "mountain car") that people pull around with musicians that play really great music to go along with the people jostling the portable shrines about. There is lots of energy and activity, the place is amazingly crowded, and of course, there are little shops selling food, beer, and carnival-style games. It was lots of fun, but very tiring.

These periodic festivals in Japan area really great, and definitely something that I suggest you do if you ever have the chance.

May 2, 2007

My feeling about Japanese comedy

I saw a great post over at the (sadly) now defunct Japanmanship blog about Japanese comedy teams. It explains how I feel about Japanese comedy almost completely, along with some nice diagrams. A funny read and worth checking out.

April 12, 2007

Japanese traditional music, and modern indie Punk

Things have been busy at work lately, so I haven't been able to post much. Of course, since it has been busy there hasn't been much going on for me to post about. Last week though, I did venture out for two music-related events. I posted up a blurb on my Japanese Mixi blog, but I haven't had a chance to write up anything about it here in English.

First, on Wednesday I went with a friend from work to a classical Japanese concert. It was about an hour and a half long with five groups, which varied in size. The first one had about ten koto players, ten shyamisen players, and two shyachihachi players (a kind of Japanese flutes.) It was really very nice. I don't know much about traditional Japanese music, so it was a new experience for me. I really liked the Koto, which is a kind of large steel guitar type thing. The strings on all the instruments at the concert were really nice: gold or silver, bright and sparkly. The larger bass kotos had the gold strings. I really enjoyed the music, although I preffered the more traditional songs. One of the groups played a more modern song. You could tell because it was somewhat dissonant and jarring, and had pacing that made me feel a bit uneasy.

I much prefer to write these blogs posts soon after the event, because thinking about it now, I just don't give a good description up there.

On Thursday, I went out to catch noodles, (or their official website) a Japanese girl band that I caught when they came through on the Benten Records Japanese Girls Samurai US Tour back in 2004. I thought they were pretty good, and loved that they covered Depeche Mode's "See You". When I randomly saw that they were playing in Shimokitazawa, the new cool kids hot spot for the past year or so, I thought it would be a good chance to catch my first local Japanese band.

I found out that the noodles were playing because they recently performed the soundtrack for an independent movie, Love My Life, which is based on a manga (so I hear) and is a lesbian love story of some kind. I had seem some talk about the movie around on the web, and am intrigued, but am more interested in the soundtrack.

They played Shimokitazawa's Club Que. It is a nice club, kind of small but with a fairly large stage for the space. A few chairs on the walls for sitting. A bar with beer for drinking. A reasonable setup, all told. Noodles opened the show, and it seems like most people were actually there for the second or third acts (Foe, who I didn't like at all, and Platon I think who were pretty good.) I talked with one guy who came just to see the noodles, and he seemed like a big fan. Anyway, when noodles came out, they started up and it was a good show. Since I had seem them last time they had dropped a member, losing the rhythm guitarist. It didn't seem like a big loss though, since their sound was still coming through strong.

From when I last saw them, one thing that really struck me is that the bassist still never smiles. I remember her just staring down at the floor the whole time, pretty tame and relaxed. The lead singer was all over the place, strutting around, working the crowd, and smiling up a storm. Somehow the pair is appealing. The noodles are kind of interesting because they've played SXSW a few times, and a lot of their songs have English in them to some extent. It is a little hard to understand, but it is English, and they seem to have some sort of draw with the American audience; there were a few other foreigners in the club.

On the way out, I picked up their album "Cover me Shakespeare", but I haven't had much of a chance to listen to it yet.

April 8, 2007

A School Uniform and a Machine Gun

A while ago I downloaded the Japanese drama セーラー服と機関銃 (A School Uniform and a Machine Gun) and I've finally gotten around to watching the first episode. Sometimes Japanese dramas can be really hit and miss, but this one looks kind of interesting. I've decided to write a brief summary of the episodes as I watch them. The opening sequence is pretty interesting, they do some filming in front of the Asakusa Kaminarimon temple, one of the most famous temples in Tokyo. I've summarized each episode in the series below.

read more (5405 words)


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