May 14, 2007
Spider-Man 3The last day of Golden Week, I went to see Spider-Man 3 with my friend. I see very few movies in Japan, in fact, this was only my second in a year. I've always been a fan of the Spider-Man series, and really liked the first and second movies. The first is better than the second, in my opinion, and was looking forward to the third.
Sadly, I did not really like Spider-Man 3. What bothered me most about it is that the move lacked any subtlety at all. One of the main themes, Peter Parker struggling with his dark side as brought out by the Venom suit, was so heavy-handed and yet poorly done: all his "evil" moves were over the top, with a comical song-and-dance routine, and to me as a spectator, I didn't see any real conflict there at all. It all seemed forced and out of character. I really think that all could have been done much better.
That same criticism could be applied to the two main villains in the film as well.
Still, I really shouldn't complain: can one really expect subtlety from Hollywood films? I don't think so. But I expected more of Sam Raimi, especially because I think Spider-Man 1 did such a nice job. Perhaps it just comes down to money: when the studios put more and more money into a project, you should expect more and more a lowest-common-denominator result.
May 2, 2007
My feeling about Japanese comedyI 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 PunkThings 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 GunA while ago I downloaded the Japanese drama セーラー服と機関銃 (A School Uniform and a Machine Gun) and I've finally gotten around to watching the first episode. Sometimes Japanese dramas can be really hit and miss, but this one looks kind of interesting. I've decided to write a brief summary of the episodes as I watch them. The opening sequence is pretty interesting, they do some filming in front of the Asakusa Kaminarimon temple, one of the most famous temples in Tokyo. I've summarized each episode in the series below. read more (5405 words)
April 7, 2007
The PrestigeI just saw The Prestige and was very impressed. I really liked this movie a lot. I haven't read the book, but I am very impressed with the movie. It isn't subtle, and in fact was pretty hard for me to watch because it is violent and scary in ways that I do not handle well, but it did address a subject that I think Star Trek has never treated well: the transporter. Highly recommended.
Fumie Hiratai's closing party / Viola performanceA 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 TownNamja 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.
read more (597 words)
Little Barrie and Big Strides in the Liquid Room, Ebisu, JapanLast 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 Gyoenthe 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？
March 31, 2007
Sakura on the walk home
March 24, 2007
Ishiyama-deraIshiyama 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 22, 2007
Notes from Thursday 2007-03-22 Natural Language Processing Meeting in Japan
テーマセッション1 (2): 教育を支援する言語学・言語処理Theme Session 1 (2): Linguistics and Language Processing in Support of Education
- S2-1 英語例文オーサリングのための可算性決定プロセスの可視化
○永田亮 (兵庫教育大), 河合敦夫 (三重大), 森広浩一郎 (兵庫教育大), 井須尚紀 (三重大)
- S2-2 統計的自動翻訳に基づく日本人学習者の英文訳質分析
○鍔木元 (早大), 安田圭志, 匂坂芳典 (NICT/ATR)
- S2-3 日本語読解支援のための語義毎の用例抽出機能について
○小林朋幸, 大山浩美, 坂田浩亮, 谷口雄作, 太田ふみ, Noah Evans, 浅原正幸, 松本裕治 (NAIST)
- S2-4 外国人が作成した日本語文書に対する自動校正技術
○祖国威, 加納敏行 (東芝ソリューション)
- S2-5 コーパスを用いた言語習得度の推定
○坂田浩亮, 新保仁, 松本裕治 (NAIST)
- S2-6 日本語学習者作文支援のための機械学習による日本語格助詞の正誤判定
- S2-7 Dynamic situation based sentence generation used in creating questions for students of Japanese
○Christopher Waple, Yasushi Tsubota, Masatake Dantsuji, 河原達也 (京大)
- S2-8 漢字の読み誤りの自動生成における候補生成能力の評価
○Bora Savas, 林良彦 (阪大)
March 21, 2007
Notes from Wednesday 2007-03-21 Natural Language Processing Meeting in Japan
Information Extraction, Text MinigInformation Extraction / Text Mining room is almost completely full.
- D3-3 小説テキストを対象とした人物情報の抽出と体系化 ("Extraction and organization of character information from short stories")
○馬場こづえ, 藤井敦 (筑波大)
- D3-4 統計的手法を利用した伝染病検索システムの構築に向けて ("Towards construction of a statistical search system for infectious diseases")
○竹内孔一, 岡田和也 (岡山大), 川添愛, コリアー・ナイジェル (NII)
- D3-5 米国特許データベースからの引用文献情報の抽出 ("Extracting literature references from Western Patent Databases")
○小栗佑実子, 難波英嗣 (広島市立大)
- D3-6 開発プロジェクトリスク管理のための議事録発言の分析 ("Analysis of spoken meeting records for development project management")
○齋藤悠, 立石健二, 久寿居大 (NEC)
- D3-7 コールセンターにおける会話マイニング ("Call Center Conversation Mining")
○那須川哲哉, 宅間大介, 竹内広宜, 荻野紫穂 (日本IBM)
- D3-8 意見性判定手法の評価と精度向上 ("Improvement in precision of opinionated text identification")
○高橋大和, 廣嶋伸章, 古瀬蔵, 片岡良治 (NTT)
- D3-9 言語情報と映像情報の統合による作業教示映像の自動要約 ("Automatic summarization of pictures used for teaching by unifying text and image information")
○柴田知秀 (東大), 黒橋禎夫 (京大)
March 20, 2007
Notes from Tuesday 2007-03-20 Natural Language Processing Meeting in JapanI attended the (Japanese) Natural Language Processing meeting in Ryukoku University from the 20th until the 23rd. I've taken some notes on the sessions that I attended.
Session B1: Meaning Analysis意味分析 Session chair is Utusrou Takehito 宇津呂武仁 from Tkuba Daigaku.
- B1-1 構文解析を補助的に用いる意味解析
○船越孝太郎, 中野幹生, 長谷川雄二, 辻野広司 (HRI-JP)
- B1-2 結合価パターン辞書からの情緒を明示する用言の知識ベース化
○黒住亜紀子, 徳久雅人, 村上仁一, 池原悟 (鳥取大)
- B1-3 SYNGRAPHデータ構造における述語項構造の柔軟マッチング
○小谷通隆 (京大), 中澤敏明, 柴田知秀 (東大), 黒橋禎夫 (京大)
- C1-5 科学技術文献を対象とする日中機械翻訳システム開発プロジェクト
○井佐原均 (NICT), 黒橋禎夫 (京大), 辻井潤一 (東大), 内元清貴 (NICT), 中川裕志 (東大), 梶博行 (静岡大), 中村徹 (JST)
- C1-6 ハイブリッド翻訳のためのフレーズアラインメント
- C1-7 部分目標の達成度に基づく機械翻訳自動評価 - 部分目標の自動生成 -
○内元清貴, 小谷克則, 張玉潔, 井佐原均 (NICT)
- C1-8 Translation quality prediction using multiple automatic evaluation metrics
○Paul Michael, Andrew Finch, 隅田英一郎 (NICT/ATR)
March 18, 2007
Installing Retexturizer plugin for Gimp on OSXResynthesizer 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 15, 2007
Kaiser ChiefsThursday night Risa and I had tickets to see Kaiser Chiefs. The crowd was again very lively, and pretty packed. As with most of the concerts I've gone to in Japan, the crowd for English and American bands was 60% female, maybe a bit more. The keyboardist for the group, "Peanut", really reminded me of my friend Alex, which was just a hoot all through the concert. By the end of the hour and a half show (for 6,500 yen!) I was drenched with sweat, and pretty tired from jumping around in the crowd. I've had a few of their songs stuck in my head since the show.
March 10, 2007
Review of Wataya Risa's "Keritai Senaka" / 綿矢リサの「蹴りたい背中」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)
A Scanner DarklyI watched A Scanner Darkly this weekend. I really liked the rotoscoped-style look of the movie. I'm a big fan of Philip K. Dick, but I haven't read all of his stuff. I've never read A Scanner Darkly, so I was quite confused up until near the end of the movie, and then predictably, as with much Philip K. Dick work, I was still unsure about what had really happened.
Anyway, I do think it was a very interesting movie, but I don't think it is as strong at making a cogent point as it could be. The subject matter is very interesting: consciousness, reality as interpretation, government roles in surveillance, the police state, the police state manufactured from the threat of fear, etc. But the movie doesn't take these things on clearly, and focuses more on an individuals' journey, and seemed a bit dialogue heavy to me. It isn't something I'll watch multiple times, but it was quite interesting.
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 5thA 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 linuxread more (810 words)
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