March 24, 2007

Ishiyama-dera

After the Japanese Natural Language Processing Conference, I had a few hours before returning to Tokyo, so I went to the nearby Ishiyama temple, which is said to be where the Japanese author Murasaki began writing the Tale of Genji. It is a really beautiful temple, with very large grounds and nice areas in which you can walk around.

On the way back I walked past the Seta Karahashi bridge (also shows up in some old folding screens and some other nice pictures) before getting on the JR line to Ishiyama and catching the Shinkansen from Kyoto to Tokyo.

March 18, 2007

Installing Retexturizer plugin for Gimp on OSX

Resynthesizer is an amazing plugin for the Gimp, an amazing open-source photo editing program. Since I usually run OSX, I like to use Gimp.app, but it does not include the Resynthesizer plugin. Gimpshop, a version of Gimp modified to be more like photoshop, is supposed to include Resynthesizer, but the version that I downloaded did not seem to have it. So I've decided to try to build the Resynthesizer plugin from source to see if I can use it in either Gimp from fink, Gimp.app, or Gimpshop.

First, to build the plugin read more (613 words)

March 10, 2007

Review of Wataya Risa's "Keritai Senaka" / 綿矢リサの「蹴りたい背中」

A few weeks ago, I finished reading Wataya Risa's second novel, 『蹴りたい背中』 ("The back I wanna kick"). For me, it was a minor milestone: it was the first Japanese novel that I have read in Japanese. I've studied the language for about seven years on and off, but since I'm a compute scientist by trade Japanese isn't something that I've focused on. Now that I'm living in Japan, a lot of what I do at work is in Japanese, and I thought it was important to try to improve my proficiency with Japanese. On Benkei's suggestion, I started to read his copy of Keritai Senaka. It took me a long time, but I finally finished it.

Now I want to give a review of the book. In all honesty, I was quite surprised because I was not impressed with the book. It won the 2003 Akutagawa Prize for literature, so I was expecting great things. I've since heard a lot of talk about the prize being engineered by publishers as a public relations move. In 2003 the winners were both very young, 18 and 19 I believe, and cute young women, which publishers felt would interest youth in reading. I believe that they did get some positive effect from that move, but I was still disappointed with the book.

Warning: plot spoilers follow!  read more (395 words)

March 6, 2007

Maid Cafés in Japan

January 15th 社会研究調査

As part of a societal cultural research learning field trip, Benkei and I went with a friend of his to the Pinafore Maid Cafe. We went on a Wednesday evening, in the rain. This actually turned out to be pretty important, but more on that later.

I went to and wrote about Maid Cafés in Japan once before, but that was an individual trip, I went on my own, alone. This time, I was going in prepared, with comrades and advanced information: According to Benkei's friend K, we were going to one of the most representative Maid Cafés in Akihabara. The place was actually pretty small, and quite busy so we had about a half hour wait before we were seated. The Maids were all very cute (a prerequisite for working there?) and very polite, to the point that I might need to study more honorific Japanese to understand the conversations completely.

The food was slightly more expensive than what you would find in a regular café, but not unreasonably expensive. The menu was quite heavy on the desserts, but the meal section was a bit sparse, with perhaps five major items. The most popular item (I presume) is the "Loving Omelette Rice", which is regular Omelette Rice where the Maid writes something on the Omelette in ketchup for you. Of course, you are allowed to choose what the maid will write, but the picture in the menu is "LOVE", with cute hearts around the side of the plate. A very cute dish.

I think the idea of writing on your food, giving it a semantic meaning and clearly-defined role, is a great one. I asked that the Maid write "栄養" (nutrition, nourishment) on my rice. She seemed a bit daunted (she was actually a Maid-in-training) but wanted to give it the old college try, and decided to write the Kanji characters. Unfortunately, she was a bit off and wrote something that looked more like "労良" (not a Japanese word, but maybe "work, labor, good"). Honestly, I probably wouldn't have noticed the difference, but Benkei's got a keen eye, and picked up on it immediately. K asked for the Maid to write her name, and the Maid, somewhat shaken by her earlier missed attempt, used incorrect characters for the name as well, but Benkei didn't say anything until after the Maid left. Still, I was impressed: I always thought that the line on Japanese youth today is that they can't write Kanji at all, and what I asked for is a fairly difficult word.

One of the interesting things about the place was, of course, the clientèle. There were a lot of people that seemed to be the classic Otaku, loners who looked a bit shy and lonely, and who positively lit up when the Maids talked to them. I can understand how targeting that demographic could be lucrative, as they might develop a fancy for a favorite maid and become regular customers. Surprisingly though, there were also some groups of very normal looking people, a salary-man or two, and a few women in the café. I'm beginning to think that Maid Cafés in Japan are just a kind of mini theme park, or some sort of Las Vegas theme microcosm.

As we checked out, we were told about the point system. They have a point card that accumulates points based on how much you spend. There are various multipliers that can increase the number of points that you get. We hit two multipliers on this trip: it was raining outside (x2 multiplier) and there was a female in our party (x2 multiplier, which is a very revealing one!) Because of this, my card filled up to about 20 points. At 15 points you get a laminated card with a Maid character (anime style) on it, and at 30 points you get another card and you can take a picture with a maid. I didn't mention it, but all of these places have very strict prohibitions against photography. They use the promise of photographs as a reward for return visits! Another avenue towards profitability.

Since Benkei was going back to America, and K didn't seem too excited about going back to the café I got the point card by default.

March 5th

A friend of mine from the US, Panos, went to Hiroshima to give an invited talk for a conference and then came to Tokyo for three days for a visit. Since we both went to Columbia together, he called me up and we decided to get together for dinner on Monday night. Panos has come to Japan a few times previously so wasn't interested in the usual tourist options, but when he said that he was staying close to Akihabara, I knew I had to take him to the unusual Maid side of Tokyo. I took him back to Pinafore, and we had dinner. This time I also got a 4x point multiplier (2x because it was raining again, and 2x because it was a weekday and we finished our stay within 60 minutes) so I collected another laminated maid card and a card for a picture with a maid if I ever go back.

I thought it would be nice to get a drink after dinner, so I did some searching to find interesting places in Akihabara. I had heard about a bar where you go and can play games of chance with the Maids (yep, another Maid themed place) like paper-rock-scissors to get a possible half-off the drink price, but it seems like that placed closed down. Too many customers getting drinks for half-price? People really love paper-rock-scissors here, so it is possible. A quick search turned up a crazy number of maid-themed places. There are even maid cafes in Roppongi and Ginza now: they are spreading out beyond Akihabara. There was a place that looked very interesting though: the witch bar unattico-sttrega. We went there and had a few drinks. It was a fairly nice bar that was like any other bar, except all the bartenders were cute women dressed up like witches. Which is somewhat surreal, but that is Akihabara for you. There were only six customers, two Japanese men at the bar, the two of us, and then later on two women came in and sat at a table. There was a 600 yen charge for sitting at the bar, and 300 yen to sit at a table, and then the drinks which were a bit expensive. We had some sake, and then since each Witch has a special cocktail, we each had one of the cocktails. One of the witches was complaining that she hadn't made her special cocktail in a while, and had forgotten what it was! They both turned out quite nice though.

After that Panos and I parted ways, since he had to catch a plane back to New York the next day, and was dead tired. Sadly, he will probably be about adjusted to the time difference tomorrow, when he leaves, and then will have a crappy week back in the US as he tries to re-adjust to US time. One week is just too short of a trip to get used to the time difference well.

I think Panos had a good time, we certainly had a lot to talk about, but now I feel a little bad about introducing odd aspects of Japan to tourists. I always worry that the Western media only picks up the strange and unusual stories from Japan, ignoring the many similarities there are here with normal city life. Still, those few unusual stories are quite interesting.

I'm not sure when or if I'll go back to a maid café, but I feel like I should at least go back once to use up my picture card.

March 3, 2007

IO Data LCD-TV241XBR LCD monitor with linux

Ever since I came to Japan a year ago, I've wanted to get some sort of display device that was HD-capable and larger-format than the 15" display on my ThinkPad A31p. Generally, I only watch a little bit of TV, some NHK news in the morning and evening, but I watch a lot of TV shows from the US downloaded off of the internet, and a fair number of DVDs from the local Tsutaya rental shop. So for me, an ideal solution would be something that can work as both a monitor and a TV, and the TV part isn't all that important.

I've been thinking about this for quite a while, and I finally decided on the IO Data LCD-TV241XBR monitor. There are a few other monitors that are the same size that are a bit cheaper, but what really sold me on this monitor is that it has an internal analog TV tuner (and speakers) as well as a remote control. It is a drop-in replacement for a TV, and also has an analog computer input (DB-15 D-sub thing that can drive the monitor at 1920x1200) as well as a DVI digital input, a D4 digital input (whatever that is, some form of HDTV pre-HDMI connector) and a regular SVHS connection.

Details about setting up a dual-head display on Fedora Core 6 linux  read more (810 words)

March 1, 2007

Updated referrer tracking code

This is an update to a previous post on simple referrer tracking. The original code is from justinsomnia.org.

I was playing around with the referrer tracking code I use here over the past few days, and made some minor adjustments: I use a DHTML slider to set the range of days over which to track, and I allow you to choose to get a count of the unique referrers or requests. There is a max limit of 365 days, but that is totally arbitrary. Maybe I shouldn't have used a DHTML slider, but I thought it looked cool. I guess I could also change it so that "365" means "all days" too. But I won't do that right now.

Only the referrer php code has changed. You can see it in action at http://fugutabetai.com/referrer2.php and you can get the code from http://fugutabetai.com/referrer2.txt (putting the code up like that probably isn't a good idea, since I don't like how the database.php is included in the file so obviously, but whatever.) You can get the original code with the Javascript for the logging from the justinsomnia.org link above. I don't believe there are any possibilities for remote exploits since I make sure that the only user-settable parameter is a number. Anyway, thanks for the great JS code and the nice base for some fun referrer tracking. This does everything that I want for logging and is a hell of a lot easier than using a stats package for log parsing.

When I looked at some logging solutions, I was really surprised at how much referrer SPAM there was. This approach is much better from that point of view, except that users need to have JavaScript turned on for it to work.

February 24, 2007

A somewhat embarrasing great achievement

(Japanese version is here.)

For the first time in my life, I have actually read an entire Japanese novel. I personally feel that it is something that I should celebrate, but I have to say that I am a bit embarrassed to say that it has taken me about a year to actually read this book.

The book is Wataya Risa's a back I wanna kick" (please forgive the crap title translation). Wataya Risa is an interesting author - she won a literature at the age of 18 and has been somewhat of a phenomena with her first book "Install" and now this one. Anyway, I borrowed the book from my good friend Benkei, whose Japanese is just excellent. I also got a nice Japanese vocabulary sheet for those difficult words, but sadly his vocabulary is better than mine so I still had to look a lot up.

Even though I really like reading, I spend a lot of time at work reading and writing Japanese email and talking to people in Japanese, so when I get home I really don't want to read Japanese literature. I just want to read some easy English stuff, or maybe listen to some English TV or something. So just about the only time I ended up reading this book was on slow weekends, when I had enough time to walk over to Jiyuugaoka. I would have lunch in a cafe, usually Excelsior, and spend an hour or two reading. I probably went once or twice a month over the past year.

Eventually, I really came to like this custom. Unlike English books, which I can read stupid fast (but not remember anything about afterwards) I had to take this book slowly. Even if I only get through about ten pages in an hour, it really felt like I had accomplished something. I also enjoyed observing my cafe surroundings. One of the results of my year-long observation is that if you see a foreigner in a cafe, it is 95% likely that the foreigner is a guy with a Japanese girl, and they are having some sort of English lesson. Cafes are the new English Conversation Class. I don't really think this is a bad thing, because you can get some nice coffee, relax in reasonably open space (compared to small Japanese "mansions") and not worry about intruding on your partner's personal space. Still, it is kind of funny.

Today, I was pretty sure that I would finish the book since I only had about ten pages to go. I was pretty excited about it. As I ate my usual four types of cheese and four types of mushroom panini sandwich with hot chocolate, I leisurely read. Next to me was a group of (the usual kind) of high school (maybe?) students trying to look older than they are, with overly fashionable clothes (not their school uniforms) and too much makeup chattering on and ostensibly studying math. As they started to talk about moving to a new place, one of the girls looked over at me and said "No way, he's reading kanji" or something like that. I didn't hear much after that, since they lowered their voices a bit, probably worried that the now-known-to-be Japanese speaking foreigner next to them might hear, but I did hear "American" a few times. Things like that would happen every once in a while.

Well, even though someone said that I can read Kanji, I don't really think that means that I understood everything. I'm still not really sure about that book. Did I even understand the point behind the whole thing? I could kind of, and then again, not, relate to the main character, an isolated lonely girl named Hatsu, but I'm not sure that I really understood what was meant by "that back that I want to kick". In the end, I think she liked the nerdy Ninagawa character, but I'm just not really sure. I don't know if it is a problem of the Japanese language (probably not, since I understood the majority of things) or a problem of a difference in cultures, which I think is more likely.

Well, in the end I'm really happy that I was finally able to read this book. I think it's a great achievement for me on my own personal scale. I'm a bit worried about what will come of my beloved habit of reading in Cafes now though, since I don't have a Japanese book to read anymore. I wonder if I'll be able to find another good book that I can understand and like enough to finish reading?

February 20, 2007

Nationalism / Isolationalism in Japan and perception of foreign crime

I read a few blogs, and an interesting post over on What Japan Thinks about a survey on crime in Japan (and how foreigners are a large contributing factor) pointed me to another very interesting post over on Debito.org on a Japanese magazine about foreigner crime. It is definitely worth taking a look at both posts.

Arudou Debito's site, Debito.org is quite interesting, but not generally something that I read often. He's a guy who has lived in Japan for quite a while, gotten citizenship here, and often posts about issues relating to foreigner discrimination in Japan. I'm not particularly interested in that: I know that there is discrimination here, but for the most part I accept it, and I think that mostly it isn't done with malice. It is just that Japan is a fairly homogeneous country, and many people are not used to foreigners. It is natural to be wary of what you don't know, so I try not to worry about it too much, and when the foreigner effect goes against me, I try to laugh it off.

The recent post about a magazine that is basically about crime in Japan by foreigners is a bit disappointing though. I also don't put too much weight into it, because sensationalism sells, and it only takes one or two people with a bad idea to actually get something published. How close did the OJ Simpson confession book come to being published in the US? That's clearly a bad idea. So I think in this case you probably have a book that not many people are buying, or at least taking seriously, that is getting a lot of attention because it is so offensive to foreigners, but I would hope that most people wouldn't outright agree that foreigners are ruining this country.

Of course, the post over on What Japan Thinks says that maybe that isn't the case so much.

Would a similar poll in the US about crime point the finger at largely foreign groups? I don't think so. But I bet you there would be controversy over groups of people with low economic income or race. Is that similar though? Certainly I think crime is more likely to be committed by people who are desperate, and being poor is a good way to get desperate quick. You can argue that Americans have an institutionalized system in place to keep the poor poor and all sorts of things from there, but it somehow feels a bit different from the blame that foreigners get in Japan for crime here.

Now I'm interested in seeing what the statistics are on actual crime committed in Japan: do foreigners commit most of the crimes? Well, I don't really know where I would go to look those numbers up, so I'll just have to continue on hoping that this here is nothing more than a storm in a teapot.

Still, interesting reading. Since Debito's original blog post in early February, after about a week or complaints to Family Mart (one of the stores in which the magazine was sold) sales of the magazine were halted. You can also read a translation of the publisher's response to criticism about the magazine.

February 15, 2007

Happy Cheap Chocolate Day!!

Today is one of my favorite days of the year. The day after Valentine's Day. Cheap Chocolate Day. When I stopped into 7-eleven this morning for my morning yogurt and bottle of lemon water, they were running 50% off of their Valentine's Day Chocolate.

Valentine's Day is pretty big here in Japan, even more so than in the US I would say. In the States, it is really a lover's holiday, and probably there are lots of sales of diamonds and necklaces. Here in Japan, it doesn't seem promoted as much as a lover's holiday, but the chocolate companies really know what they are doing. They have somehow introduced the idea of giri-choco (義理チョコ), or "obligatory gift chocolate". I'm not really sure if that was something that the chocolate companies came up with, or in some roundabout way happened because in Japan Valentine's Day is for women to give chocolate to the men that they like. I could imagine that in high school or much before, shy girls would be too shy to give only chocolate to the one boy they liked, and instead gave chocolates to every boy, kind of like how in elementary school everyone in class exchanged valentine's day (cute little playful) cards with everyone else so nobody felt left out. Then that somehow continued on up into the workplace, where it is normal for the women to give their bosses and co-workers chocolate. I have heard though that if you are the real sweetie, then you get hand-made chocolates, while everyone else gets store-bought chocolates, so maybe that is how the secrete message is actually communicated along.

It very well could be the chocolate companies though, since they also came up with White Day, a holiday on March 14th (one month after Valentine's Day) where men give chocolate to the women that they like. I haven't heard about giri-choco for White Day as much though.

Actually, yesterday in my office I bunk with a couple of foreigners. They are in the Honiden Lab research group, and the two secretaries for the lab gave them all chocolates. (None for me though!) That is giri-choco at work: at least one of the secretaries (probably both though) are married!

So anyway, Valentine's Day in Japan is interesting. It sounds very expensive if you are a female secretary with lots of male members in your group.

As for myself, I did find some chocolates on my desk this morning, and combined with the half-off cheap chocolates I got myself, I had two valentines! Yay!

I wonder how long the 50% off sale is going to last on chocolate around here. Man, I love the day after Valentine's.

February 10, 2007

Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles

I've been quite busy lately, but yesterday I threw on "Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles" while I did some work at home.

I was a big fan of Robotech as a kid, I watched all three series, and of course didn't realize that it was a mish-mash of three different anime brought over from Japan. I was quite surprised to see that there was a new movie made, so I was interested in seeing what it was about. I didn't pay too much attention while it was on (I was doing work, after all) but I was really confused. I haven't seen any Robotech since I was a kid, and this thing just jumped right in and continued the story from the last show of the US cartoon. I didn't know who any of the characters were, but had some vague memories of the characters.

If you are a Robotech fan, I recommend it. If you aren't, I'm afraid you will just be confused. If you watched the show as a kid, you will probably enjoy it like I did, but be confused.

And boy, that scientist was annoying.

February 4, 2007

Best little bar in Jiyugaoka

I just wanted to drop a link to my friend Ahmadu's (spelling is almost positively incorrect) bar, Saraba. It is a bar and art gallery in between Jiyugaoka and Kuhombutsu, so it is right on the way home for me. I've been stopping in there lately for a nightly glass of wine. The bar is full of Senegalese books and African-related movies that Ahmadu has collected. The second floor is a art gallery with rotating shows. If you are in the Jiyugaoka area, it is definitely worth checking out! The Senegalese food and snacks are great too.

January 31, 2007

Interesting post on Japanese marriage statistics

I read a few Japan-oriented blogs every once a while, things like what japan thinks, and they came across an interesting post over on mutant frog about Japanese marriage statistics. I'm surprised that more Japanese men marry foreigners than Japanese women, that was exactly the opposite of what I had always assumed to be the case. It is also (sadly) unsurprising to see zainichi counted as foreign.

January 24, 2007

Getting Japanese input in UTF8 to work in LaTeX on OSX

I have installed LaTeX via fink, and when writing a paper, came across the problem that Japanese just does not work in my environment. This is a bit of a problem as I'm writing about some analysis of English, Japanese, and Chinese data. So I'm going to try to get Japanese input working in my LaTeX distribution.

read more (372 words)

January 23, 2007

Let's pound rice together (not a euphemism)

Last weekend, on Sunday I left my apartment to get something for lunch and ran into the local rice pounding festival. I guess these festivals are common during the New Year, since they are basically about making that delicious Japanese pounded rice treat Mochi. Mochi is used for a lot of things, but generally is like a sticky semi-sweet taffy, but from rice. It can be used in all sorts of ways, but for the festival that I went to (completely by accident, but since I live close by I trotted out my camera) they sold the final product in a little plastic box and put on some sweetener. There were three kinds, two of which I didn't know, and one I did, Anko, Japanese Azuki bean, which is what I ended up buying. It was pretty good.

The more interesting part for me though was the actual rice pounding. There were lots and lots of kids and parents there, so it seems like a thing you do as a family. I waited my turn in line, and was a bit worried about horning in on the kids' fun, but it turns out that everything was ok. They need to have a few reasonably good pounds (maybe thirty or forty?) on the rice before it is really done. They had a shop in the back that would bring out some of the rice that had been pounded to start with, but wasn't completely done. Then they would as for an adult (always a father) to pound on it for a while, or the older man in the green would do it if nobody volunteered. After a good number of vigorous whacks with the big hammer, they would bring out the small hammer and let kids (sometimes helped out by their parents) pound the rice for a while. So when a new batch came out I gave it a go, and after some brief explanation I banged away at the rice for a while. It was very satisfying.

Afterwards, I waited about half an hour in a line to buy the resulting snack. No discount even though I helped out. I took lots of pictures of all the kids having fun. They really had great big smiles and looked like they really enjoyed it.

January 22, 2007

Chasen on OSX 10.4

I found myself needing to do some Japanese morphological analysis today, which usually means either Chasen or Kabocha. Kabocha is supposed to be the new hottness, running fast, but a quick search didn't turn up any precompiled packages for it on OSX. ChaSen, on the other hand, is available in DarwinPorts, but since I went with fink, and just want to get something running, not enter into some sort of strange package-management land-war, I skipped that. It also turns out that apple is hosting an package for chasen. It install with a nice installer into /usr/local/bin/chasen.

It seems to run fine, includes the necessary dictionaries, etc., but I had a strange problem. When I tried to process a file in shift-jis encoding using the -i s flag, I would get this strange error: chasen: /usr/local/lib/chasen/dic/ipadic/cforms.cha:9-21: no basic form

That wasn't really what I wanted: I wanted parsed output. Well, since things seem to work just fine in EUC-JP encoding, you can always use iconv to convert from shift-jis to EUC-JP and pipe the resulting output to chasen: iconv -f SHIFT-JIS -t EUC-JP file.txt | chasen

That works nicely.

January 21, 2007

First drive in Japan

(日本語版はこちら) Yesterday I went on my first drive in Japan with a friend. We weren't too sure where to go at first, but in the end decided on Chiba. One of the really cool things about cars here in Japan is that many of them have these in-car navigation systems that can plot out a course from where you are to where you want to go. They usually use a DVD and have the entire country recorded on it. I know these systems are available in the US also, but they are not very common yet. I wonder if all of the US would be able to fit onto one DVD, because these things are totally cool.

Anyway, going to Chiba from Tokyo took us through the Tokyo Bay Aqualine. I had never heard of the Aqualine before, but it is pretty cool. It is a tunnel and bridge system that goes across the Tokyo Bay. As an example of engineering it is really cool: it is basically a tunnel that goes three quarters of the way across the bay, then pops up and complets the trip across the bay as a bridge. They built an artificial island where the tunnel pops up, in the middle of the bay, and put a restaurant, parking garage, and gift shop there. It was all quite impressive really, but I really thought that Japan is one of the only places that would think "hey! three-quarters of the way through this bay tunnel, we need to construct an artificial island, and put a gift shop there!" According to my friend, not enough people take the Aqualine (it is expensive - about $25 one way!) and it is losing money. I can't believe it took 31 years to complete the thing!

We checked out some Chiba-ken tourist information at Umi Hotaru (the sea firefly - that artificial island) and decided to go to the Kamogawa Seaworld. It was a nice trip, taking some small narrow twisty roads through the countryside hills. We saw some performances by the Beluga whales, the Killer Whales, and Sea Lions - similar to other things that I've seen before. I was glad that I've been to a bunch of similar things because I was able to understand what everyone was saying - all that neat beluga echolocation stuff and so on.

On the way out you have to exit through the gift shop. I thought it was really funny that they were selling sea-food related items though. I don't think you would see that in America. But then again, while looking at some of the different fish, my friend also made comments like "that one is delicious!" so there you go. The giant crabs looked particularly yummy to me...

Also, the Mola Mola were amazingly strange and crazy. They are just hilarious.

January 16, 2007

Building libbow and rainbow on Mac OSX

For some research work I'm doing, I would like to do some Bayesian modeling for text categorization. Since I'm not interested in re-inventing wheels when there are plenty of very well constructed wheels available for the taking, I thought I would install Andrew McCallum's libbow and rainbow packages on my Mac. Of course, I had a little bit of trouble, and thought it would be a good idea to document how I went about installing since a quick google search didn't turn much up. (Not quite true: I turned up one or two references to the packages being available via fink, but I couldn't find them in my setup.)

Details follow the read more link.

read more (484 words)

January 14, 2007

Eating too much in Korea: a wedding tradition?

On Friday January 5th I got on a plane and went to Korea for Dave Han's wedding. He married Jiseon Park, and the ceremony took place in Gangneung Korea, on the East coast. It was very exciting for me for a few reasons: I've been friends with the Hans since I was a kid, and it is always lots of fun when I can spend time with their family. I've seen Dave a few times at UT when I go there to visit my sister, and was excited to meet his fiancé. I also haven't seen Greg (the eldest Han brother) in a really long time, and I'm always happy to see Eric. I've also never been to Korea before, and one of my good friends from New York was in Seoul visiting her family, so I was really looking forward to seeing her in her native Korea. Finally, I really love Korean food and have been looking forward to eating the real authentic deal for years.

Since Gangneung (compare to Wikipedia's entry on Gangneung) is about three hours away from Seoul by express bus, it was an all-day affair getting there. The wedding was on Saturday, Dave was looking dapper in his tux and Jiseon was beautiful in her Christian-style wedding dress. Christianity is very popular in Korea, about a quarter of the population is Christian, so it makes an interesting comparison to Japan. The ceremony, was entirely in Korean except for a few bits that the preacher also said in English directly to Dave. The night before, when I just arrived, Eric, Greg, myself, and Jiseon's brother-in-laws all went out drinking (something that I did an unreasonable amount of in Korea) but Dave Han begged off because he had to study for the wedding. He did in fact have a few lines that he said in Korean. It was actually a very nice ceremony, even though I didn't understand anything. The choir also sung in Korean, and sounded amazing.

After the wedding everyone went downstairs and we had lunch and a reception. There were not speeches or anything, just lots of very good food. For the reception, Dave and Jiseon changed into traditional Korean outfits. We all sat around and ate for about an hour, and in fact had lots of food left over. Gangneung is right on the coast, so there was a lot of sashimi and fresh seafood. After the lunch, the "young people" and the newlyweds squeezed into a van and we went to the coast for ... four more hours of eating and drinking. I was going to explode. The food was excellent though. The table was just piled high with plates, and lots of very fresh food. There was some octopus sashimi that was so fresh that the autonomous nervous response system was still running, so when you grabbed one of the cut-up tentacles, it would wiggle around. After the post-lunch gorging, we went to Jiseon's family's house for more food. I was going to explode.

Back at the house, everyone played a very fun traditional Korean board game called Yut. You play with four sticks that can land either round side up or round side down (so basically four two-sided dice) and the point is to move five pieces around a board before the opposing team can move their pieces around the board. The Wikipedia articles gives an in-depth explanation, so I won't talk about that. But while our team was down at first (lost the first two games) we came back for a strong win by taking the next three games! We did have to extend to a best-of-seven series though.

The next day I went to Seoul, which again took up the majority of the day for the three hour bus ride, and spent some time in the large COAX shopping mall. My friend Lena showed us around the city, and we also were kept very well fed. It seems like there is a cultural tradition to keeping guests extremely full. Since the food is great though, I really couldn't complain. I did gain a kilogram over four days in Korea though, which is frightening. It is going to take me ages to work that off while in Japan (which also has great food.) We also did some Karaoke singing in Korea, which is very popular (just like here in Japan, but perhaps even more popular?)

Sadly since I only had four days in Korea, I didn't really get a chance to explore any temples or museums. I plan to go back sometime when it isn't so cold, and I have a bit more time to explore. Still, I really enjoyed seeing my friends in Korea, and eating until I was about to explode.

January 10, 2007

Simple Referrer tracking

Just for fun, I've added some simple referrer tracking code to this site, and will be playing around with it for a while. The code is from Justinsomnia. Thanks for the code!

January 1, 2007

First First Temple Visit

Happy New Year!

This was my first ever New Year's Eve in Japan. Last year, I was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia celebrating the New Year with my friend Gyn Ian Yap, and back in the States the year before that. I've been looking forward to my first New Year's in Japan because it is a big holiday here. While Christmas is not really deeply culturally connected to Japan, the New Year's holiday really is. Most companies have three to five days off to celebrate the holiday, and one of the big parts of the New Year's celebration is the 初詣 (Hatsu Moude, literally "first" "temple visit"), the first visit to a temple of the New Year. Many people go to the temple at midnight to (literally) ring-in the New Year. I've been looking forward to my first first temple visit (初初詣?) since I came here. One of the most popular temples for the Hatsu Moude, the Meiji Shrine, can see as many as ten thousand people go through the first day. I've heard that there are two or three hour waits just to get into the temple. In fact, New Year's Eve is the only night in Japan where the trains run past 1am so people can go and visit temples.

Because I'm not too excited about multi-hour waits, in fact I've done that a few times when I went to Times Square in New York, I decided to go to a local temple. Luckily, I have a great temple about a five minute walk away from where I live, called Kuhombutsu. I headed out at about 11:20pm, and ended up waiting at the gates for a little while. The main gates were closed until 11:30pm, and I waited with about twenty other people for the gates to open. We went in and walked around the temple grounds. The main building is lit up nicely and they open it up so you can see the large golden Buddha statues inside. At about ten minutes before midnight two priests started to chant near the large temple bell, and people started to line up near the main building to wait for the New Year. At midnight the priests start ringing the bell, and people start donating to the Shrine and wishing for a Happy New Year. I was quite surprised because while there were few people at 11:30pm, by ten past midnight maybe two hundred people had lined up.

I stayed until about 12:45am, and even when I left people were still coming in. I think they kept on coming for quite a while, but as for myself, I was tired so I headed home. On the way home, I bought a lucky arrow that is supposed to bring good luck. I'm not sure about that, and actually I think it would be more useful if I had a bow to go with the arrow. That way, if something bad happens, like a burglar tries to break into my apartment, I could shoot them with an arrow which would possibly be good luck. I also bought a yaki-moe (hot potato) on the way home and ate that. I don't know if they are traditional foods for New Year's, but it sure did help keep my hands warm. There are traditional foods, but since I was on my own, I didn't know what they were.

Anyway, I hope you all have a great 2007 and a Happy New Year!


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