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.

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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.
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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.

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April 7, 2007

Fumie Hiratai's closing party / Viola performance

A friend of mine, Fumie Hiratai (平体文枝), is an artist and recently had a show at a very interesting book shop, the Morioka Bookstore. It is a cute little book store in an art building (the Inoue Building in Kayabacho) that has a bunch of old photo books and other random art focused books. There is interesting architecture stuff, strange magazines, and so on.

If you browse the Morioka Book store site about Fumie's exhibition you can see some of the paintings, which are quite nice. The closing show was about an hour long, and featured Satou Keiko (佐藤佳子) on the Viola, as well as sporadic accompaniment on some form of drums in the back. It was quite nice. I would have gone out with Fumie and her friends afterwards, but I had to get back home to continue work revising a paper that I need to submit on Monday so I skipped out after the performance. It looks like they are planning to hold some sort of exhibition performance in the Morioka bookstore each month, which is kind of nice. It is a small setting, has nice acoustics, and promises to be eclectic. Also, the price is right: this show was only 500 yen, future shows might be in the 500 yen to 1000 yen range.

April 4, 2007

Namja Town

On Wednesday, I had a day off from work on Wednesday, so I met up with Risa and we went to Namja Town. Namja Town is a strange place in Ikebukuro, Tokyo that is essentially a food-based theme park for kids and older kids. It seems like a completely strange place to me, because it was constructed by Namco, a video game company, in conjunction with Bandai Namco group, which is I guess a toy company but I'm not really sure. I'll give you a brief run-down of the things that we did at Namja town, and let you decide for yourself what kind of place this Namja town is.

First up was a trip to Gyoza Stadium, a themed area with a whole bunch of Gyoza shops. There are about 13 shops in the area, all but one (Big Man) specializing in Gyoza. In the middle of the "stadium" there is a seating area, so we went around to three shops and grabbed three types of Gyoza, and some of the crazy Namco-branded Beer. We actually went later and got two more types of Gyoza later on.

We then went over to the Amazon Mosquito Shoot-out, which has the story of some crazy large mosquitos that came to invade Japan from Brazil, so we have to shoot the mosquitos down. It is a tracked ride where you get on these pig things, you know like they have here for burning anti-bug incense with the large mouths, and shoot at mosquitos. The guns shoot light and there are sensors on the mosquitos that track if you hit or not, just like Lazer Tag back in the day. It was actually pretty tough, but kind of fun.

After that, we decided to run the scavenger hunt / town clue hunt type thing. You get these little cats that have RFID chip or something in them, and when you are near a clue the cats meow. You set the cat down on the receptacle for them and then see a clue of some sort. Some of them are just a recorded message, others are some sort of video type thing, or something like that. After running around to the eight or nine stations you go back to the "police station" and then take a little quiz. Now this was really tough for me because the quiz (well, everything really) was all in Japanese. You have to answer each question in five seconds. That is just about enough time for me to read the question, so even with a multiple choice setup I didn't really have much of a chance. Even worse, the questions are hard. For example, at one of the "clues" you ring a doorbell, and then look in through the peep-hole at a scene inside a bar. Ok, putting aside the issue of optics and how looking through a reverse fish-eye peephole would not give you such a clear image, it was a long scene about a woman talking to someone offscreen about losing her husband, and how she is now perhaps ready to move on, and a bunch of details about her life. The question in the quiz about this clue was "What was the color of the table in the bar?" Had I known that question, I could easily answer the question, but of course if you go to ten stations first, not knowing what will be asked, it is impossible to remember all these details. That is probably the plan: you can buy a card of some sort to track your progress and run the course over and over, so it is a way to encourage people (kids) to come back over and over.
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Little Barrie and Big Strides in the Liquid Room, Ebisu, Japan

Last night I went to see Little Barrie (with a Japanese Fan Site too) and Big Strides at the Liquid Room in Ebisu.

I really liked the Liquid Room. It reminded me a lot of the Mercury Lounge in NYC, a place where I've seen a lot of great shows. It was about the same size, perhaps a slightly larger stage area, and a nice lounge area up on the second floor (separated from the live music venue though.) I plan to go there more if possible, it is one of the nicer venues I've been to in the Tokyo area.

I really enjoyed Big Stride, but that could be because they have an upright bass, which is really interesting. No frets on those things, and they are massive. Just huge. Penn Jillette plays one of those things, and I really enjoyed his radio show podcast when it was still on.

April 1, 2007

Cherry Blossoms in Shinjuku Gyoen

On Sunday, April 1st, the weather suddenly became beautiful, despite earlier predictions of rain. My friend Risa and I decided on the spur-of-the-moment to head over to the Shinjuku Gyoen National Park (新宿御苑) for some Cherry Blossom Viewing. It is hard to think of anything more traditionally Japanese than a good old-fashioned Hanami, and we certainly weren't the only people with that idea. The weather was just beautiful, the day started out a comfortable and sunny 23 degrees Celsius, but after a while sitting in the park started to get a bit warm. We picked up some Bento lunches near Shinjuku station, and then some drinks (of course, Nihonshyu is a required drink) before going to the park.

After about ten minutes waiting to buy tickets to get into the park (only 200 yen for adults!) we headed in and looked for a place to sit. It was pretty crowded, but we got there at about 11:30am, and was much less crowded than when we left at about three or so. We found a reasonable place to sit, sat down and enjoyed our picnic lunch and some loverly beer and sake. With the cherry blossoms falling around us and beautiful weather, it was a great little lunch.

Predictably, I got too much sun and now the top of my head, where I used to have hair yet now have none, is slightly red (to match my beard I guess.)

Happy Hana-mi everyone! 皆様、お花見は楽しみましたか?


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