January 1, 2007
First First Temple Visit
Kuhombutsu Main Gate
People lining up
Kuhombutsu Temple Bell
Happy New Year from Kuhombutsu!
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 ChristmasWikipedia, 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!!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 TVIt 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
Kiyomizudera at night.
God of Success and Promotion. I could use some of his help.
Red leaves on the way to Kinkakuji.
Kinkakuji reflected in the pond.
Kinkakuji with tree. I like this picture for some reason.
December 1, 2006
Kyoto International Manga Museum Opens
The Kyoto International Manga Museum is four floors of Manga and exhibits on Manga from around the world.
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November 12, 2006
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire / Jarvis Cocker!?So this is a strange one. On the weekend I do a lot of work from home, programming, some stuff for fun (some programming on side-projects, translating manga so I don't forget how to like, read Japanese) and so on. I like to play bad movies when I'm doing this. So, I finally got around to checking out Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire this weekend. Now, in all honesty, I do not like Harry Potter. I haven't read any of the books, but I did watch the first movie. I didn't like it. The main problem I had with it was that it didn't seem like Harry Potter himself did anything at all to merit being thought of as such a wonderful, great magician. As far as I could tell, Harry got by entirely because of gifts from his family and friends. He didn't seem to have any amazing courage or great ideas in the face of danger, and just seemed to go along with things as they developed. The third movie seemed to be more of the same. I can't think of a single instance where he did anything of his own merit. He got into this 3-wizards competition because someone put his name in there. He won the dragon challenge because he was told to use his skill of flying, and in the end just kind of bobbled around and got through by luck. He didn't seem to have a plan at all. He found out how to open that egg because someone told him, and found out how to turn into a mer-man because of someone else as well. The only good points he showed is that he was willing to put his friends ahead of himself, but since he's just a shy guy anyway, that isn't really too surprising. Even worse, it doesn't look like there are good role models in this movie either. I'm really surprised at how stereotyped and traditional the women are portrayed as in the movie. Also, how come it seems like none of these students know what is happening? If this school has been around for so long, and has a winter dance ever year, and that wizard competition thing, shouldn't they have known about it? Anyway, I didn't really pay much attention to the movie until the dance. Because then I could swear that I heard Pulp, famous for Common People, a most excellent song, singing. Well, not really Pulp, but Jarvis Cocker for sure. After looking around, I found out that indeed, it was him! He got together with a pretty high-powered group, called The Weird Sisters, to sing three songs for the soundtrack. I've got to try to hunt those down. So, basically, I still don't like Harry Potter, but I was really surprised to see Jarvis Cocker in the soundtrack. Pretty funny!
October 29, 2006
Video as an art mediumOn Saturday I went to the Mori Art Museum with a friend and saw the Bill Viola exhibition. This was the first exhibition I went to that was entirely done in Video. I have to admit, I wasn't impressed. I think video is a tough medium, because when it comes down to it, I do not think there is a shared consensus on how to interpret video as a medium for art. Culturally we have had a lot of experience with video as entertainment, and I think one would be hard pressed to argue for popular media as art, and especially as advertising. But museum art is a different creature. You have to spend time to watch the entire loop. If the loops are long, this can really be tough, because you are doing a lot of standing around. Also, it seems like an imposition to walk in or out on the people that are already there viewing. So I think that just as a medium, it is tough in a museum setting. More than that though, I just had a really hard time interpreting what the artist means to say when I don't feel like I'm equipped with the social metaphors to understand his art. I mean, I could film some people's hands for an hour and slow it down. Anyway, I still really like the Mori Art Museum in Roppongi Hills and am looking forward to their next exhibition. I am glad that I've seen some video art, but as of now, it isn't one of my favorite mediums. Of course, as I write this I'm watching "Scrubs", which is a form of video art. The deeper message is mostly "funny" with a dash of "serious topics", kind of like life.
October 25, 2006
Whale cutlets in the Cafeteria?!?Today for lunch in the office cafeteria one of the set lunches was a fried cutlet thing. Usually (almost always) this is a pork fried cutlet option that comes with rice, some miso soup, a small salad, and some tofu. I assumed that is what it was today, but when I looked at the card, it said that it was whale cutlets. Whale? I was surprised. I'm pretty sure that, for the most part, whale hunting is outlawed. I know that of all the countries that do engage in whaling, Japan is one of the more prolific countries, but I was still quite surprised to see whale show up on a standard cafeteria lunch menu. I just assumed that you could get whale in Japan, but that it was more of a specialty item, not something that shows up in cafeterias. It would be like a standard US cafeteria serving foie gras or something. Sure, you can get foie gras at specialty places, but you wouldn't expect it to show up somewhere completely regular. Of course, I had to try it. Sadly, it was disappointing. I would have much preferred pork cutlets, and somehow the idea of eating whale just didn't sit well with me. It did make a nice addition to a week in which I had already eaten something strange. Over the weekend, there was the 19th Annual Oyamadai Festival, a standard Japanese street fair kind of thing, with little stalls on the street side and so on. One of the places was for the local horse sashimi place. They had grilled horse on a stick for 100 yen, so I tried a piece. It actually tasted pretty good, but again I had a hard time with the concept of eating horse, so I don't really think it is something I will eat again. I'm certainly not ready to try raw horse, even though one of my French co-workers says it is just delicious. If I ever feel the need though, I do have a place within a three minute walk of my house that serves it. Oh Japan, you are such a convenient country! You think of everything!
October 14, 2006
Shake, Rattle, and RollI woke up this morning at 6:39am thanks to a small earthquake. At least, I think it was small. It registered a 4 on the Japanese scale in Setagaya-ku, but I don't really know how that translates. In some of the earthquake materials I've read, a 4 is enough to possibly unstack your dishes and move things around on your shelves. My dishes made it through ok. I like how within a minute or two of an earthquake, NHK will interrupt broadcasting and switch to "earthquake mode", where they read off affected areas and other information as comes in. Earthquake mode broadcasting only lasted about ten minutes, so you know it wasn't really a bad one.
October 10, 2006
Gallery Hopping in TokyoOn Saturday I met up with my friend Fumie Hiratai and we went gallery hopping with another friend of hers. Fumie is a very good guide to the art scene in Tokyo. We met when she was working at NII, but she is an artist and was able to give up her job at NII to focus on art full time. She's been working on large paintings that end up in hotel lobbies and large corporations lately, I think. We met up in Ginza, a very nice area of Tokyo that reminds me a lot of SoHo in more ways than one. Ginza is rife with art galleries, but similar to New York, the real avant-garde artists are pushed farther out as the rents go up, and like to retailate by moving to more and more inaccessible parts of the city. Fumie wanted to go to some more modern and independent galleries, so the first place we headed was the Inoue building in Kayabacho. The Inoue building is very interesting. It is an older building situated on the Kamejima river. (The link to the map is courtesy of the Masataka Hayakawa Gallery, which I do not think that we entered. The building has these interesting "井" grillwork signatures on the exterior. The majority of the building is devoted to galleries, with at least three or four of them, and a very interesting bookstore that just opened the week we went there. The proprieter was a very congenial fellow that we spoke with at length. We went to the Taguchi Fine Art Gallery for the Kim Taek-sang exhibition Hue of Time. In general, I liked the concept, but I didn't really think that it was great art, or anything that I would want to spend large amounts of money on to put up in my house. I do think I could do a fairly decent impression though if I took some time to find some nice ceramic tiles and some paints that I liked. It is an idea anyway. After the Inoue gallery, we took a long walk over to a very interesting building over near the Sumida river. It was a converted factory space, butted up against an in-use factory of some kind. Floors 2 and 3 were devoted to some strange engineering offices. Floors 5, 6, and 7 are art spaces. There are a bunch of interesting galleries there, such as the Zenshi Gallery, the Shugo Arts Gallery, and the Tomio Koyama Gallery. For the most part, I wasn't inpired by the art that we saw, although I did in general like Ikemura Leiko's Pacific exhibition. There was one piece that really struck me though. It was a work in the Tomio Koyama Gallery (which I found to be the most interesting) by Tom Sachs entitled Promental shit backwash psychosis (I think this is it - but the inscription that I remember does not show up.) The shocking, and thought-provoking, part of the piece was the inscription over the Burberry pattern and Hello Kitty (look Andy, I know how to use Wikipedia too!) image. I do not recall exactly, but it went something along the lines of
Chill out Japan, or you'll get nuked again.It gave me pause and it is very interesting to think about the Hello Kitty brand (and concept!) shone against the light of the incredible popularity of Burberry and other brand goods here in Tokyo. In what ways have brand goods become an end-goal in themselves for some segment of the hyper-consumer population of Japan? I did a lot of walking on Saturday, but it was very interesting to hit these smaller art galleries. I look forward to doing it again sometime.
October 8, 2006
Movies on FuguTabetai.comI'm starting a section for movies that I watch. I can't really say that I am a movie buff, but I do enjoy movies. What I used to enjoy most about movies was going to see a movie with my movie buff friend Carl Sable at the Magic Johnson Theater in Harlem, New York. That place is great because you can get food with your movie, and the crowds are usually lots of fun. Anyway, now that I am living in Tokyo, I do not see movies in movie theaters; it is quite expensive here, about twice the price as movies in New York. I do watch movies at home though. I particularly like to start a movie and work with my laptop, answering email or doing some programming when I come home for the evening. Documentaries are nice to watch in this way, since there isn't much action and you often can follow the movie quite well just by listening to the dialogue. Foreign subtitled movies are not possible to watch in this manner. In this section I'll post comments on random movies that I watch (or don't, as the case often is) while I'm in Tokyo.
October 1, 2006
Adventures in Cooking: OmuriceSkänka wok for about 2,500 yen. I thought it would be a good time to test it out. I'm big fan of Omurice. (Omelette rice - basically fried rice wrapped up in an ommlette.) I thought I would give cooking some Omurice a go. Based on this recipie for Omurice I started on some Omurice of my own. I also added a paprika and some bacon to the mix, and for the sauce in addition to ketchup I used some Tonkatsu Sauce which is just amazingly great. I didn't do such a good job on the Omelette part, but the rest of it was just great. I ended up with six "omlettes" but that's only because I had six eggs. I'm also left with a lot of fried rice, so I'm set for the next week. As long as I don't get tired of it...
September 30, 2006
Who killed the Electric car?
September 28, 2006
My new Fågelbo CouchAndy for being at my place to receive shipment. And oversee living toom redecoration. Now my apartment is pretty packed. I've got to think about how to change things around so it is less crowded, but I'm really happy with this sofa. It has a built-in storage compartment also.
September 22, 2006
Sumo Wrestling In TokyoSharon Stone also was there when we were. I think I saw her; the blond down in the very expensive seats, I imagine. I really enjoyed watching the Sumo matches. The last two matches of the day were Kotooshuu, a Bulgarian Sumo Wrestler who is quite popular, and Asashoryu, a Yokozuna wrestler who I've also heard of before. Asashoryu did the Bow Dance at the end of the day, since he won his match. I was a little sad that he won his match, because I was totally looking forward to throwing my zabuton. Usually if there is a big upset that people are unhappy with, they will throw their zabuton up in the air. We didn't get that chance though. The Sumo experience was really great. We ended up spending just about all day there, which was a bit tough because of the seating arrangements, but I'm glad that we saw the younger Sumo wrestlers also. I think I also now have a better grasp of Sumo. I'll try to catch it on TV if it is on some time. The people sitting next to us were quite nice too, and Andy also got a great picture of himself with some Sumo wrestlers. Just for completeness sake, you might want to surf over to GoneLiving.com and check out Andy's entry on our Sumo Funtime Adventure.
September 17, 2006
Tokyo Disney Sea
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September 10, 2006
Somebody doesn't like my bike...So this morning when I went to grab my bike to go home from Jiyugaoka (why I was headed home early this morning is another story entirely) my front tire was entirely flat. This is actually the second time this has happened, and it was strange because the tire itself was not punctured, the air had just been let out of the tire. So it looks like someone doesn't like my bike. Or, more accurately, someone doesn't like where I park my bike, and is going to great passive-aggressive lengths to let me know. They could try something more direct, like a note, but I guess it is more fun to keep my guessing. I'm pretty sure now that this isn't some spontaneous leak in the tire though, since when I filled the tire up with air again it was as good as new.
On the ride back home, the front tire was making some really interesting squeeking sounds. I rode past two police officers, just sitting on their little scooters and waiting for something to happen, and thought "I bet a white guy riding by on a bike with a flat front tire will get their attention."
Sure enough, a few seconds later the two officers pulled me over (I think I could have given their scooters a run for their money if my front tire had air in it though! I can't imaging police officers in America on those little 50cc motorbikes.) and checked on the bike registration. Since I registered the bike with the police when I purchased it, everything was fine, but it was a little scary. I forgot the first rule of being a foreigner in Japan when it comes to police: don't speak Japanese. Anyway, the two guys were nice, and just concerned that I would crash my bike because of the tire. Since I only lived about two minutes away though, I didn't think it was a big worry. They let me go on, and one of them thought it was very important to tell me that someone was "teasing" me by letting the air out, since he didn't find any damage on the tire.
Is that a common itazura in Japan? I guess maybe on the level of keying someone's car?
Anyway, I put air in the tire this afternoon, and my bike is as good as new. It is still about two feet too short for me though. That is getting to be annoying. I would not want to ride in a triathalon on it, that's for sure!
September 9, 2006
Kuhonbutsu Taiko pulling festival
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