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

Yo La Tengo

Yo La Tengo came to Tokyo, and I wasn't going to miss that for anything. They're touring in support of their new album, I m not afraid of you and I will beat your ass. I really like this album, and encourage you to pick it up.

They played at Shibuya's O-East, a fairly large venue. We got there fairly early, and since we had ticket numbers 103 and 104, we were just in time to pick up two seats on the balcony. I'm really glad we managed that since the place filled up to capacity, and it was really crowded. About halfway through the show a girl in the crowd fainted (possibly) and had to be taken out of the main floor. (She was fine afterwards though.) The show was really great, but as you would expect for a Yo La Tengo show, very low-key at times. Being able to sit through the ten minute guitar feedback songs was very nice. About a quarter of the way into the show, Ira invited three audience members up on stage to dance. It was pretty cool.

After the show Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley stayed behind to sign CDs that people bought at the show. Ira and Georgia were both very nice. I was really impressed that such a famous band would stay behind for CD signing and meeting the fans.

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!

December 29, 2006

Followup to "More Becky on Japanese TV"

This is a follow up to a previous post of mine about a Japanese drama I've been watching.

I finished watching "Anna-san no Omame" the other day, and in general thought it was ok. The show has a very exaggerated comedic style, and can't really be taken very seriously, but is fun for what it is. I didn't like the ending much; an absurd setup to keep Lilly living with Kyousuke and Anna.

There were some memorable episodes. The "lighting strike switches Lilly and Kyosuke's bodies" was memorable, if horribly cliched. There was another episode where Lilly faced down some Yakuza people, saving Kyosuke from them, of course in a situation that she forced him (inadvertently) into in the first place. The final wedding episode was sort of annoying. I was working while I had it playing in the background, but overall it seems like the entire thing was a charade set up by Lilly's father to see if Kyousuke would come to try to stop the wedding. Ridiculous and not even in a funny way.

Still, Lilly's catchphrases and mannerisms are amusing, and I enjoyed that, despite going into things thinking they would just wear on me. Eventually you really start to wonder how she will mis-interpret things, and look forward to that. Strange.

Next up on my J-drama list is "Sailor-fuku to Kikanjyuu" or "The school girl and the Machine Gun" - a kind of comedy (I think?) about a school girl that becomes the head of her families Yakuza clan.

By the way, if you don't know about it already, d-addicts.com is an excellent place to go for your Japanese (or Korean or Chinese) Television downloading needs. I usually grab the Japanese language releases, which are up the day after airing and then watch a complete run after they have all aired. Often, the fans there will subtitle series that they like. It is a very useful site for people interested in learning, or at least listening to, Japanese.

December 26, 2006

Christmas Colonel Sanders / The Japanese concept of a traditional Christmas

In Japan for Christmas, it is "traditional" to have Kentucky Fried Chicken on Christmas Eve. I was out in front of a store a day or two before Christmas. As I was waiting for the bus KFC started to smell better and better. I went in to see if I could get something to snack on, but it turns out that after 1:30pm on the 23rd they weren't serving customers anymore: they were only giving out take-home orders to people who had made reservations in advance!

Ever since I tried to get some Kentucky Fried Chicken, I've really been jonesing for some of the Christmas-y food. I'm going to try and go get some soon. It is very strange to me, but the "traditional" concept of Christmas in Japan comes from a commercially successful marketing campaign. I don't know the history behind this - shockingly, neither does Wikipedia, but from what I've learned from talking to Japanese people here, Kentucky Fried Chicken has always been the traditional food for Christmas. I believe that this is attributable to a great marketing campaign on the part of KFC, and the Japanese peoples' readiness to accept that Americans love fried food. At my friend's Christmas party just a few days ago, people were very surprised when I said that almost nobody had KFC on Christmas or Christmas Eve. Over at What Japan Thinks there is an article about foods that Japanese people most want to eat at a Christmas party. Fried Chicken tops the list.

Even more amusing is the prevalent belief that Christmas Cake is ubiquitous in America. Sure, some people have Fruit Cakes, but they are generally not well liked, and certainly not something that people go out of their way to order and get for Christmas Eve. At my friend's Christmas Party there was Christmas Cake as well, a nice light cream cake with white frosting and some strawberries. The cakes in general are light with strawberries and some cream. You also have to generally order these things in advance, from all the posters that I saw. There are probably places that will sell the without orders as well, but I saw a lot of posters for ordering Christmas Cake during the month of December.

Christmas overall is quite interesting here, since the population is only about 1% Christian in Japan, most people don't know that Christmas is a religious holiday. The lights, the big fat man in a red suit, and traditional food (fried chicken and cake) all make for a great holiday. It is a nice time to go shopping, always fun to do, and to have parties before the end of the year parties and new year parties. Parties are always a good thing. Mostly though, it is interesting to see the Japanese idea of the Western holiday. Oddly enough, as time goes on, I think the American concept of Christmas becomes more and more like the hyper-commercialized version seen in Japan. There are big differences though. In Japan, Christmas Eve is the main event, and it is a couples event. While I have read that presents are usually exchanged, I believe it to be primarily only between lovers who are the main focus of Christmas Eve. None of my friends exchanged any gifts. Christmas itself is not really observed, in fact, I had a meeting on Christmas and most places were open for business as usual. So the Japanese have imported what they think of as the important parts of Christmas, going out with a significant other, buying things (mostly for yourself than for others) and eating cake. They happily ignore, or more correctly, do not recognize, the other aspects which are from our point of view more important. It is a very interesting lens through which to look at our own culture.

Also, I really like Fried Chicken and Cake. So I think I'm staying here for a while. Small Christmas lists also help out the wallet too.

December 23, 2006

No force on Earth can stop one hundred Santas!!

Today, Saturday Dec. 23rd, there was a Santarchy gathering in Shibuya. Since it is close by, I decided to stop by and check it out. I've got plans already - I'm heading to my friend Watanabe's place this afternoon for a Christmas party, so I couldn't join in on the Shibuya Santa fun, but I did think it would be worth it to snap a few pictures.

Maybe next year I'll try to join in.

Since I went all the way to Shibuya, I stopped by the Shibuya Game Kaikan for a few games of SF2. There was someone playing Hyper SF2 Anniversary Edition, so I joined in with my Zangief. I took the first game against his Ken, then two more matches against his Ryu. He beat me, and then I tried again with Zangief, but he put the machine on speed 1. Speed 1. I haven't played this game so slowly for ages. It was impossible. Well, I had two more 50 yen pieces, so I switched into Ryu mode. We played soooo slowly. It was close. It could go either way, but I lost. One more game with Ryu, one more close loss. It was soooo slooooow. We were pretty evenly matched, although he probably plays many more characters than I do. I only play Zangief well, along with some reasonable Ryu and THawk impersonations. Still, it was pretty fun. Overall I think I won about as many as I lost, so not too bad.

Also, I saw all the Santas.

December 19, 2006

More Becky on Japanese TV

It has been a long time since I've posted (is anyone even watching?) because work has been just killer lately. This past month I spent a crazy amount of time working on a system to do automatic opinion analysis for the NTCIR Opinion Analysis Pilot Task. I submitted my results yesterday, and I can probably drop back down to regular work week hours now.

So today, for the first time in ages, I came home before 10 and started watching some TV that I've been downloading. First up is a Japanese show that I was interested in. The main reason is because of the actress Becky, about whom I have written before. She's the main actress in the show Anna-san's Omame, which has a bit of a suggestive title. While it can mean "Anna's bean", it can also mean clitoris.

Anyway, the story is about Anna, a nice normal woman dating a nice normal guy, and Anna's friend, Riri, who misunderstands almost everything. She is convinced that Anna's boyfriend is in love with her, and hilarity ensues. Or, in this case, not so much hilarity.

I do like that they don't make a big deal about Becky's being half cauacasian, but maybe that is something particular to Becky. Most of the caucasian or foreign acting talent in Japan are treated as a special case of having this particular unusual ability - being able to speak Japanese. I think with Becky, the Japanese are happy to use her in a role where they explicitly do not bring attention to her being half in a kind of intentional blindness. She still does get some crazy roles though, such as this one where she always makes outrageous misunderstandings. Her catchphrases in this show (so far I'm up to episode two) are annoying, especially ending everything with みたい〜なぁぁ〜, but it is very easy to understand, so I'll probably leave it on while I check email and do light work. I can't always do that with Japanese TV (especially the news!) because I have to concentrate.

I've downloaded one or two other current series as well, so I'll comment on them later if I ever get through this drama.

December 3, 2006

Sightseeing in Kyoto

December is a tremendously busy month for me, so I'm glad that I got to spend a few hours relaxing in Kyoto while I was there for a conference. I spent a few hours on Wednesday night to go to see Kiyomizudera (or try the official Kiyomizudera site), my favorite temple. Because of the Kouyou (紅葉, the short time in fall when the trees sport red leaves, or other colors too as the case may be) the temple was lit up at night for special viewing. This special night-service was ending in a few days, so when I went (with Yukawa Aya, a nice librarian I met at the International Conference on Asian Digital Libraries) it was very crowded, but still quite nice. The views were just spectacular. I tried taking a few pictures, but my simple point-and-click camera doesn't deal very well in low light conditions. Using nearby railings and things for some stability, I took a few long-exposure shots that turned out fairly nicely I think. You can see them (and many other pictures) from the Temples in Tokyo and Kyoto photo set on Flickr.com. After walking around Kiyomizudera, we walked to Gion and I had a nice eel dinner -- beats my cooking any day easy.

Before coming home on Thursday I also made some time to visit two major sites: Kinkakuji and Nijyou Castle. I have been to Kinkakuji numerous times, but have never taken any good pictures, so this time I went to buy some gifts for family, and to take pictures. I am absolutely positive that every single picture I took has been taken better a million times before, but now I have my own pictures, and I can use them as I wish without worrying about copyright issues. Isn't it strange that we have to worry about copyright issues for pictures of places that are thousands of years old?

My trip to Kinkakuji was relatively uneventful, except I started to notice the throngs of school kids running around town. Every year schools take field trips to places in Japan, and Kyoto is a very popular destination because they teachers can give students some sort of questions or workbooks to fill out on temples, helping them to learn history. I'm sure that it does the students good as well, but they probably just enjoy being away from home for the first time for a few nights and spending time with friends. I ran into many groups of school kids (usually middle school aged or younger, maybe early high school, I have a tough time telling) and first started to notice them at Kinkauji. Previous to that, it was either dark, or I was at a conference all day.

Nijyou Castle was quite nice. I had never been there before, and thought it would be fun to look around. They have a large garden that is very nice, and have a tour of the castle interior. It is a very different kind of castle than the European stereotypical castle. In a way, I could see how it was very impressive - large, and with a very nice landscaped view - but you could see how a common person (or noble at least) could aspire to and achieve a similar sort of residence. When walking around barefoot through the place, I noticed how the floor squeeked as you walked around. Of course, some of that is due to age, but I also recall hearing (who knows from where) that castles and such were intentionally squeeky so it is hard for assassins (Ninjas!) to sneak around. That's probably a (dis) urban legend though.

The last thing I did in Kyoto was visit the newly-opened Kyoto International Manga Museum. That was a very different sort of Kyoto activity, and if you are interested in Manga, I highly recommend it. If you don't know Japanese though, expect to spend a lot of time not reading things.


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