June 29, 2009

Tokyo Giants vs Yakult Swallows and Cosplayers

On Sunday, Risa and I met with my friends T. and M. for a Tokyo Giants vs. Yakult Swallows baseball game. T. is a huge Giant's fan, and I've gone with him once a year to see a game. I was excited to go this year because I hadn't seem him and his wife in quite a while, and it was the first time I would go to a baseball game with my wife.

We got to the stadium pretty early. Strangely, there were lots and lots of people dressed up in anime costumes. So-called "Cosplayers". Risa and I ran into the American Version in Seattle where I commented that I thought that American anime nerds were pretty low, lower than the Japanese ones because it isn't even their culture. But Risa countered today with her appraisal that the American nerds are at least learning something about the Japanese culture (outside of their own) while the Japanese nerds were just nerds. She's got me there. (Of course, I have to confess that I myself am a huge nerd, and probably incurable.)

Anyway, I snapped a few shots, but I didn't really feel like trying to do the full question and shoot treatment. I did talk to one group, who didn't seem all that happy to talk to me, and found out that there was a … "thing" for "people" that "dressed up" like "that", and it was not related to the baseball game. I was pretty clearly not in the target audience (you were either someone in a costume, or an overweight balding man with an awesome DSLR taking pictures of the cute girls in costumes, and I didn't fit either of those categories.)

Anyway, on to the game.

The Tokyo Giants are my favorite Japanese Baseball team. I don't really like baseball. I'm a huge basketball fan, but don't really care too much about baseball. I enjoy a game with friends though. I'm a Giant's fan not by default, but because I have a good reason: I hate the Hanshin Tigers with a fierce passion, and that means I am by necessity of Tokyo Giant's supporter. I definitely have to see a Giants - Tigers game sometime soon. Anyway, I have enjoyed all the games I've seen live.

This game was no exception. Before I knew it, it was the 7th inning. The Giants demolished their cross-town Tokyo Jinguu rivals, who have an open-air stadium right near where I work. I prefer Tokyo Dome though because it is a dome and as humanity has developed better and better technology I am all for using it to keep us out of the rain and humidity, which Tokyo has in abundance, especially in the rainy season, which it is now.

In the end, the Giants won 7-2 (wow!) and we went to dinner, and drank a lot, and then went to a bar and drank more.

The next day at work was difficult.


February 25, 2009

A trip Hirosaki in the Winter

I'm always complaing about how I am busy and don't have any time. It is true that I am busy, but time is one of those strange things that you can definitely find more of if you have a good reason. Last weekend I took a kind of spur-of-the-moment trip up north to Hirosaki. The main reason for the trip was to get out of Tokyo and see some snow. I also thought it would be a nice trip to get a change of pace. I've been working pretty hard lately and it would be nice to get away from computers for a weekend and relax a bit. When my friend Ian suggested a trip up north, I thought it was a great chance for a change of pace.

I have been in Japan for three years, but haven't really travelled very much domestically. Thinking back, I'm a bit surprised at how little I've travelled. I'll try to fix that once R. and I get on a better schedule together. So Ian and I visited the local travel agent and got a great deal on train tickets plus an overnight stay at an onsen (hot springs resort) in Hirosaki. I haven't been up north for siteseeing much - I did go to Sapporo once for a conference, and did a little bit of travelling then, but I haven't done any tourism in the northern part of the main island. One of the goals of going there now is to see the snow, because we don't get much of it in Tokyo.

On Saturday morning Tokyo train station was absolutely packed with lots of young people carrying skis and snowboards, headed west to go skiing. Not as much people were headed north, but our train was still pretty full. After about an hour, we arrived at Sendai, and from there on things were snowy. It was amazing once we got up in the mountains because you could barely see out the window. It was snowing and things were just a white blur at the speed the Shinkansen was making. I really enjoy train trips, and this was no exception. As part of our ticket package, we got a voucher for coffee on the train, and like most coffee on Shinkansen it wasn't the best in the world, but it was coffee and came in a cute Suica cup. Also, I was amused that one of the trains on our trip was apparently executable. The trip from Tokyo to Hirosaki was supposed to take about five hours all told. The main bulk of the trip was from Tokyo to Hachinohe, on the Shinkansen taking about four hours, and from there another hour and a half or so to cut across West to Hirosaki. Unfortunately, when we got to Hachinohe (which means the 8th Door. There are also towns called 2nd Door, 6th Door, etc.) the trains were not in service because of high winds and snow. Instead they were using busses. So we got on a bus. It was supposed to be headed directly to Hirosaki, but instead at the last minute was changed to stop at Aomori. That probably added an hour and a half to the trip and the passangers were not very happy about it. Two old guy started yelling at the JR guy in very unpolite Japanese. The bus was packed - people in every seat, including the unfortunately souls who had to sit in the aisle on these lame fold-out seats that did not look very comfortable.

The bus probably averaged about 40 KM/H. It was slow. We stopped at two rest stops. There was nothing to eat there except for the standard types of omiyage (gift foods) so for lunch we had strange cake-like things and other gift-type foods. It was a long, long trip, but we eventually arrived at Hirosaki at about 4:30pm. Then we had another bus ride, about half an hour, until we arrived at our onsen, exhausted, tired, and out of daylight.

If you check the maps (hopefully on the right, or maybe a bit up above this) the trip is basically a mostly straight shot from Tokyo north-east up to Hachinohe. That is all on the bullet train. Very fast, very nice. Then from Hachinohe we take a normal commuter train (express style, called the Super White Bird I think) over to Aomori, the biggest city in the north-east. The final leg of the trip is on a tourist train with beautiful big windows called the "Kamoshika", but as I wrote above, train service was suspended and we were in a bus. For like 3 hours. And we stopped at small rest stations. And there was no food. Ian and passed the time playing video games, him on a cool PSP 3000 playing Star Wars Battlefront II while I was playing Tapper on my older, less well-known but more linuxy GP2X. Actually, I enjoyed the bus ride to the extent that long bus rides can be enjoyed.

Once we got to our Ryokan, we were tired and so hit the onsen. I'm sure I've written about onsen (the Japanese hot springs that people here love so much) before, so I won't revisit that topic again. I will note that this place had a 露天風呂 (Rotenburo, outdoor hot spring) which we made use of. Walking naked outside in the cold, with lots of snow falling and on the ground was a bit tough, but the bath is only about a six second walk from the indoor bath, so it wasn't too bad. The suddent dip then into 42 degree C hot water probably isn't a good thing to repeat over and over (and I am suffering a bit of a cold after the trip!) but it was great to sit out in the hot bath and watch the snow fall a hand's reach away.

We had a great dinner (included in the price of the trip) which I forgot to take picture of. It was very good though. Then on the way back to the room stopped to see a live Tsugaru Shamisen performance. The guy was pretty funny, and put on a good show. Then on up to the room and bed.

One of the main goals I had was to get out and see some real snow. I grew up in LA as a kid, and didn't ever see snow. When I was around 13 years old we moved to New Jersey and this white stuff that fell from the sky when it was cold was amazing to me. Then I moved to Dallas, and after that New York, neither of which get all that much snow. Tokyo sees even less snow than New York. But Touhoku (the north-east region of the main Japan island) is full of snow. Not as full of it as Saporro, but full of snow. So I wanted to get out and walk around in it. Ian and I were on a kind of tight schedule, but got up at 6am, hit the onsen again, got some nice breakfast (which I did get pictures of), and then went out for a 15 minute walk to the nearest temple. The temple, 岩木神社 (Iwaki Temple), was great. It was up a hill, full of snow, and just seemed really neat. I wish we had more time to walk around and see the temple grounds. They had a sign set up near a hanging bulls-eye target saying that if you could hit it with a snowball (from the path) then you would have good luck. I completely missed the thing. But I like interactive temples, so it is all good.

The walk back was cold, but we eventually made it. Just in time to check out and head back to Hirosaki station. We really wanted to see some of the Hirosaki sights, but due to a variety of comical mix-ups, didn't really have all that much time. We did get a chance to see the Neputa museum though, which I was really excited about because I've seen some TV broadcasts of a festival in the area where people build these great lighted floats and walk them around town. The musuem had a bunch of these on display, and they look really great. I would like to go back to Touhoku in the summer for one of those festivals. There are apparently two main ones, the one in Aomori (which is crazy big) and the one in Hirosaki, which is not quite as well known and is somehow slightly different. It is probably like the difference between the New York Jets and the New York Giants: I'm not really too clear on it, but some people are rabid enough to kill each other over it (apparently.)

After a nice trip through the museum and some shopping for gifts - お土産 (Omiyage), which are required after every trip out of town. You need to buy enough for the people you work for and pass them around. It is the only enforced social contact that we have at work with people outside our groups. It is really cool actually, because usually once or twice a week someone comes and gives you a small cake, or cracker, and you can chat about what things are like way out there where they visited (usually an hour or two away by bullet train.) The region we were in is the #1 producer of apples in Japan, so most things were apple-themed. Pretty good stuff.

The trip back we were able to ride the great tourist train. Big windows, a nice viewing lounge, comfortable seats. Really nice. Unfortunately, we hadn't booked ahead for the train from Aomori to Hachinohe, and we were a bit late making the transfer. We were in the "open seating" train, and since all the seats were taken, we ended up standing for the hour or so it took to get to Hachinohe before we could catch the bullet train home.

All in all, a really nice trip out for the weekend. I'm really surprised that after living in Japan for three years, I haven't done more of these short weekend trips. As long as the trains are running they really go pretty quickly, and you can get pretty far for a good deal when you do the package hotel + meals + train tickets plan. I'm really looking forward to taking R. out to go snowboarding sometime.

February 8, 2009

Game Center CX: So totally nerdy, it has to be Japanese

Arino-san
Arino-san

Arino-san up close
Arino-san up close. He's afraid of "the concept of (a) time (limit)!"

Game screen shots
Game screen shots with little explanations of the game characteristics. In this case, rappelling action is the key to the strategy.

A while back I heard about Game Center CX (and an English Wikipedia link also.) It is a TV show that is on Fuji TV, a normal TV channel broadcast over the air, about video games. The main focus of the show is Arino-san, a guy in this mid-30s (?) who plays video games. It is a kind of twist on a conventional Japanese formula: put people in painful or awkward situations and see how they respond to the adversity. The painful situation in this case? Play a difficult game from the 80s to completion. These games are tough. Also, Arino-san is pretty much locked up in a room and not allowed out.

Of course, as with almost all funny people on TV, Arino-san is from the Kansai region. I'm not really sure why he is so funny, but he is really funny. He's playing some game, and gets up to the end boss. He pauses the game and is like "What's that? It's HUGE!" but the way he says it is hilarious. I've watched the first 5 rental episodes of the show (there are 6 total) and have enjoyed each one.

The versions that are available for sale are actually different from the rental versions. I have enjoyed these things so much that I am thinking of picking up the box sets (1 2 3 4 5).

The other interesting thing is that there are two Nintendo DS games based on the series which are compilations of re-made retro games. That sounds interesting to me too. I really want to pick up a Nintendo DS soon: they have nice dictionary software (漢字そのまま DS楽引辞典) and "games" for learning how to write kanji (DS美文字トレーニング) that I would like to try.

The "Division Chief" (課長 - Arino-san) plays some tough games. I was interested when he played Prince of Persia (the Super Nintendo version.) I played Prince of Persia on the Apple //e (after Karateka), but I never got very far at all. So it was really interesting to watch Arino-san go at it. I'm glad I didn't put much time into the game: it was super crazy hard!

He also took on both Ghosts and Goblins and Super Ghoul's and Ghosts, both of which I've played, and never got very far in at all. Those are tough games.

Anyway, check out the Wikipedia link. It is comprehensive. Nerds. I highly recommend the show. The Japanese is fairly accessible, it is super funny, and even if you don't understand Japanese just watching the games is pretty cool.

February 1, 2009

Running across the Rainbow Bridge

Lately I've been running once a week with a running club from work. I was hoping that the once-a-week runs on Friday would motivate me to also run once or twice during the week to make three runs a week. I haven't been able to run more than once or twice a week because work has been very busy and last weekend I came down with a fever. It was horrible, but after losing my Saturday and Sunday, I managed to recover for work. By Wednesday or Thursday I was ready to start running again, but the timing didn't work out.

The runner's club at work planned a jog on Sunday to run across the Bay Bridge. I've been wanting to run over the bridge ever since we moved to our new place, because we can see the bridge from our balcony (if you do enough acrobatics to actually twist around an see it.) It looks like a run from my place, up to the bridge, across it and a little loop on Odaiba would be about 17km, so that is maybe a long run I can target for an upcoming weekend.

The run that we did today was really nice. We gathered at the and in English) and headed out for our run. There were five of us, and we took a gentle pace, which was good for me since I didn't run at all this week. The run through Odaiba was really nice, there were lots of people around, and the running area was very nice. You didn't have to fight through crowds and there was lots of space. I was excited because I could see my apartment building from Odaiba and the bridge.

The bridge itself was pretty cool. There is a northbound and southbound walking route. Twice over the length of the bridge you have to stop and walk through a building. And take an elevator in one to transfer from the northbound route to the southbound route.

After the run we hit the onsen. I'm not really a huge fan of onsen, although I do like them in general. I just have a hard time staying in a really hot bath for more than fifteen minutes or so. This place is set up to make a nice day trip. You go in there, get a wrist-band with a bar-code, and choose a Yukata to wear. Then you change into your Yukata and head out into the big shopping / eating / gaming section. It is a big themed building with lots of things to do, and lots of things to eat. You can pay for things with the bar-code on your wrist-band that has your key. And you will need it because things are expensive. I had a pretty normal lunch (well, it was more than I needed, but come on I had just run 10km!) and a beer, which came to 2700 yen! That is 1000 yen too many. And the food was completely average. I could have gotten some ice cream for 600 yen too, but I didn't think it was worth it.

I enjoyed the onsen, but again couldn't spend too much time in there. There were lots of foreigners in the onsen compared to other places that I've gone, probably because this is a really big onsen in Tokyo that is well-known. Also, onsen in Tokyo? Really? Are you saying that there is real natural hot spring water in Tokyo? I know there are lots of places that say they pipe it in from deep underground, but...

After lunch, the five of us went to the outdoor "foot bath" where you could wade around in these hot springs with rocks that is supposed to be good for you if you walk over them, but it was mostly just agony for me. You could also pay 1500 yen for 15 minutes with your feet in the "Doctor Fish" pool, where there are these strange fish that eat the dead skin off of your feet or something. I didn't think that was worth it either, but it was apparently an interesting experience. Maybe if I go back.

I really enjoyed the "run 10km, then hang out in an onsen for a while" day plan. I don't think it is something that I will do regularly, but it certainly was something doing once. It would be a lot less fun without the run though I think.

A visit to Kashiwagi Farm and Ooyama Temple

In mid-January R. and I had a party at our apartment. R. wanted to make roast beef for the party, and since we had a rare instance of days off at the same time coming up she thought it would be fun to drive somewhere to get the meat. She was wanted to go to Kashiwagi Farm, about an hour out of Tokyo in Kanagawa that is apparently pretty well known. Of course, that means I was going to drive, but it is just as well since I need to get used to driving in Japan anyway.

The drive went well, and the farm had a nice shop. We got a bunch of meat, and then on the way out checked the nearby building where they milk the cows. You can take a tour, but it costs money and takes time.

Since we had the rest of the afternoon, we thought we would take a trip to nearby Ooyama Shrine up on Ooyama. I've never been to Ooyama, but I liked it because it was a big mountain and that is exactly what the characters mean: 大 big, and 山 mountain. I love it when things make sense like that. It must be a big mountain because even after we drove up pretty far (through some super narrow roads that were absolutely one-way despite what R. kept telling me) we then walked up lots and lots of stairs. Then we took a rope-train. Cool! The view was really great from up there (not that you can tell from any of the pictures.) Since it was "Adult Day" they had set up some special stuff that I do not know the purpose of. The last train out was at about 5:30pm or 6:00pm, so we just had time to really look around, take a few pictures, then get some tea before catching the train back to the midway station. Then lots more stairs, back to the car, and back to some super narrow roads before hitting Tokyo traffic.

It was both fun and stressful, but I do feel like I'm getting a bit better at driving in Japan. I don't know if I will ever be as comfortable as I am in America though.

You can see all the pictures at the Flickr set.

January 20, 2009

I need to check out 紅虎餃子房 or 万豚記

According to Famitsu, the restaurants 紅虎餃子房 and 万豚記 will have SF4 themed menus from 2009-02-12 to 2009-04-12. There are a bunch of either of those places in Tokyo, so I should be able to find one. Didn't look like there were any in Shibuya though.

Also you get a card with a QR code and can download a character voice to your phone. Or something. I hardly use all the crazy stuff that my phone can supposedly do.

January 12, 2009

Let's Talk about Bathtubs


My bathtub is a lot smarter than I expected. It has a nice little spout thing that doesn't get in your way. The spout can shoot water out to the left or to the right. There is a control panel where you can set the temperature of the water, and the bathtub will re-circulate water to make sure that the water stays at the temperature that you set. More interestingly, you can press a button to have the bathtub fill itself up automatically. It says nice things like "Ok, I'm filling up!" and when it is done it says "Ok! I'm ready and full, let's take a bath!" It plays little songs to encourage you to take a bath. Inviting, warm and nice sounding songs. There are a lot of appliances in my house that play songs, and in my opinion the bathtub is the least demanding and annoying of them all: if you ignore it for a bit, it doesn't start to get on your case about it.

One of the things that really surprised me is that after you take a bath and let the water out, it says something about cleaning, and then starts putting more water into the bathtub. It shoots water around in an attempt to clean the tub for you! My wife got after me because I was actually supposed to take our special bathtub sponge and bathtub cleaner thing and clean it myself, but I was still surprised. Actually, I thought it was starting the robot revolution because even though I had hit the big physical button that opens a drain, the bath decided to counter-mand my orders and started filling itself back up. (Well, it couldn't beat the big wide open drain, but still.)

Finally, if you tell the bath to fill it up but accidentally forget to close the drain it will do its thing for a while, and then tell you the check the tub: "I can't fill up! Check the drain (you moron!)" Then it waits until you close the drain and tell it to fill up again.

Man that thing is smart.

January 3, 2009

Our Hatsumode Plan

One thing people like to do in Japan around the New Year is their first shrine visit, the Hatsumode (初詣). I think generally people in Japan visit a temple probably on average 1.8 times a year (this is a wild guess.) Generally, people go to a shrine right after the new year. Then they probably don't go again, unless they have kids at those special ages (3, 5, 7, 20) a wedding, or some other things. I don't really know though.

Anyway, at midnight of the new year people go to shrine. Meiji Jinguu is probably one of the most popular shrines in Japan. It is absolutely packed.

R. wanted to go to Meiji Junguu for our first shrine visit of the year. As a foreigner, I actually go to lots of shrines. They are cool and new to me. R. likes to visit shrines around the country when she travels, so she goes to a few shrines a year also. I haven't really visited Meiji Jingu so I was excited about it.

The interesting thing is that R. had a plan to avoid the crowds. She was working the night shift on the 2nd, so she would get home at about 2:30am or so on the 3rd, then we would go to the Shrine. Awesome! So she got home at about 3:30am, picked me up, and we drove to the shrine.

I like cities late at night. People say that New York is the city that doesn't sleep, but that isn't true. I've walked around New York city last at night, 2am to 5am at various different times. The city does sleep. But it has different rhythms at night. Garbage men are out, people are making deliveries. The roads are less busy, sidewalks are empty. Just seeing what does on behind the scenes while we sleep is interesting. Of course, there are places that people are out and partying or whatever, but those are more the exceptions than the rule. Las Vegas is probably a better example of a city that sleeps less than New York.

So driving around Tokyo late at night was very interesting. I haven't spent as much time out late at night in Tokyo because the mass transit systems shuts down, but I really enjoyed it.

So when we pulled up to the shrine and got out of the car and found out that the temple was closed until 6am, it wasn't a disappointment for me: I had already had a nice time. We went home, and got in bed by 4:30am for some much-needed rest. (I stayed up until R. got home out of a misguided sense of solidarity. Also, I was trying to get WPA2 wireless on Fedora 10 working on a ThinkPad X60.)

Just to be clear, she was pretty sure that the place would be open: it is open 24 hours on New Year's eve / day, and probably should have been open until the 4th or so.

December 23, 2008

Jogging around the park

It has been a while, but I had time today on my day off (Happy Imperial Birthday Day everyone!) to go for a nice jog. I did my normal 6.8km loop around the park across the river, and brought my camera since it is daytime. I took a few pictures of the random stuff in the park and then probably too many pictures of our apartment building across the river.

There are a bunch of other joggers in the park, and a few dog walkers usually. There are also lots of people fishing. Do they really get fish? Is the fish good? I can't imagine that they can be all that great, but I don't know much about fishing. There are some random statues in the park and some sort of museum thing that I am curious about. There's also a big baseball (well, small) stadium, a horse track across the river, a bunch of bridges, and generally it is a nice run. The only problem is that half the run is fun, the other half is along a feeder road for the highway, so it isn't so good. I could try to run through the more residential areas near the road, but the sidewalk by the road is nice and straight and well-paved so that usually wins. It is harder to get lost on also.

The job by the river is nice, especially near the end when I can see my apartment building on the way back. The monorail runs by every once in a while and is pretty cool too. I really like this park across the river. I should check out the facilities that they have. I know they have tennis courts and baseball fields, but they do not have basketball courts. I did check with the ward office and there aren't any basketball courts within walking distance. Dang.

Driving in Tokyo, buying turkeys, and Eeden Mall

This weekend, R. and needed to go and buy a turkey because we are planning to cook a nice traditional (for Christmas, which is what R. thinks I need) turkey dinner for the Emperor's Birthday, which is the holiday that we get off that is near Christmas time. I'm pretty sure we are the only people that will be preparing a turkey dinner for the Emperor's birthday, but that is fine by me. Anyway, in order to get a turkey, we had to go somewhere to buy one. Since turkeys are not really all that popular around here, the only place I know of that sells turkeys is high end grocery stores, andKinokunia is one of them.

This weekend both R. and I have time off - a rarity - and so she wanted to go for a drive. I'm now officially a "paper driver", which means that I have a Japanese license, but I am not prepared or able to really drive in Japan. I've been driving in Japan twice, more or less: once for the driving test (which I failed once, then I went and took some lessons and passed the second time) and then when I drove to Fuji Rock a few months back. That was scary and dangerous for everyone involved. But I'm not a quitter, and more importantly, R. wants me to drive and when R. wants something, I've learned that it is best to help her get what she wants.

So we decided to kill two birds with one stone, and go drive down to the the Todoroki Kinokunia near my old stomping grounds of Jiyugaoka and buy a turkey, then keep going on down to Fujisawa to pick up R's younger sister and her niece. That is about an hour drive, and is worrying for me, but we hopped in the car and took off. We made it more or less safely toKinokunia , but parking was a problem. I ended up ignoring the GPS system to my own peril, tried to enter a do-not-enter driveway, and had to keep going. I eventually found a nice parking lot that was forKinokunia customers and free, but a bit farther off than the one that I was aiming for.

Once parked, it was a bit past noon, so R. and I decided to get some food. I used to hang around these parks, so I knew that the "Fukazawa Eeden Mall" was nearby. It is a little shopping district that time has passed by more or less: it is kind of far away from the station, and not really convenient to anywhere, so not many people are shopping there. I used to stop by there sometimes for lunch or dinner, but not too often because there really isn't anything great there, but thought we would take the 5 minute walk to check it out.

Surprisingly there was a new restaurant there: Palmetto, a Western (like cowboy) themed place. They specialized in hamburgers, and I was shocked to see that they had honest-to-god real pepsi in a glass bottle. It was great. The burger was pretty good too. I wouldn't say you should go out of your way to get a burger there, but if you are in the area, it is a good burger and nice little joint. There was a cute 12 or 13 year old helping out at the place, and it looked like one of his little (girl) friends from school came by and they were chatting while he was back in the kitchen and her mom chatted with one of the cooks. Doing a quick search on the web, this person is a friend of the person who opened the shop up in 2008-08 some time.

After lunch, we checked out the turkey selection at Kinokunia and picked up one that I hope will fit in our small oven. I also bought all 4 packs of Bettery Crocker Brownie mix that they had. And R. yelled at me for buying too much brownie mix.

Then we drove down to Fujisawa. It took a bit over an hour. I didn't hit anything. We picked up R's little sister and her super cute niece. Then we drove back. Things went mostly well, except for the one time that I completely blanked out and almost drove through an interestion. I was worried about the right turn I had to make and was thinking about that, and forgot to check if the signal at the intersection was, you know, signaling me to stop. Luckily R. yelled at me in time and was able to screech to a halt. I swear it wouldn't have happened in the states because I wouldn't have been worried about trying to make sure that I stayed in the correct lane when I cross traffic. I actually probably would have seen the light in time to stop myself, but having someone else in the car who believes she is about to die and will yell out warnings at the drop of a hat can be useful also.

Driving on the highways is fine, but is very expensive here. I think for approximately two hours on the road we spent about $40 in tolls. I don't want to even think about the gas. The local roads in Tokyo are a lot more scary for me than the highways. I hope I'll have more time in the coming months to go out for drives and get used to things, I'm starting to think that I might be able to manage this.

Luckily the train system is so good here that I don't really have any reason to drive, but as long as I got the license I should try to use it.

December 7, 2008

A busy day - another typical blog post

This is another really typical blog post. Nothing interesting here.

I had a lot to do today, and didn't get enough done. In the morning I got up at a reasonable time for the weekend - 9:30am, and called the family back home. It is hard to find good times to call America because usually in the morning I've got to go to work and can't spend too long on the phone. After chatting with Alana and Mom I started in on folding the laundry, which had been waiting for me since Saturday. My wife was catching up on sleep, since I think she didn't make it home from her work-related drinking party until very late.

I had a bit of work to do for NTCIR (an academic workshop I'm involved in) and standard checking up on email and the web, then I spent some time writing blog posts. I've been meaning to write about a bunch of things, and finally knocked a few of them out. There's still more on the list, and I'm not sure why I'm writing these things since I don't know who is reading, but I think it will be nice to have these things down for posterity. In eighty years maybe it will be interesting for me to go back and read these things. Assuming the technology still exists to access such ancient data. :)

R. cooked up some spaghetti for lunch, and we worked on the leftover meat sauce that I made a while back. It was good. She added some spices to it, so it was a bit hot too. Nice though. Then she headed out to work and I went to the local Jusco to buy some clothes for running: it has been getting cold lately, and I want to keep jogging, so I needed to get some good sweat pants and a light jacket.

More bad things to put in doughnuts

While shopping, I ran by the Mister Donut shop and saw another doughnut combination that I just really don't think should exist. I wrote about unusual food combinations before and think this is another good example: a Shrimp Gratan donut that has shrimp, a white cream sauce, macaroni, and mushrooms. That doesn't sound bad really, I just don't want that in a doughnut shop.

Jogging

Once I came back from that, I needed to test out the cold weather running gear so I took off for a jog. Since it was still 4pm, there was a bit of sun out (only for another hour though) so I thought I would try to find a new loop. I had a nice 6.8km loop, and a nice 4.3km loop, but nothing longer. We live in a nice area for running (for Japan) I think: we are right on the Tokyo Bay on a little canal that runs up between us and an island that is used for loading and unloading boats and storing trains. There is a big park on the island. I can see the loading docks from my balcony, so I've been trying to find a way to get out there and jog alongside the open bay. Today was the closest I have ever come, but I failed. I don't think that loading docks are really open to the public.

You see two pictures of the route that I took that were recorded with my cell phone. It has a nice little GPS program that can do all that stuff. The website that displays the data isn't very good though and it drops a lot of the little location dots. Bummer. I tried to get over to the bay twice, and was stopped by dead ends or major highways. I'll have to check the area out with Google Maps more and see if I can get over there somehow, because the view must be great.

Running back up the canal area at night is really nice: you can see the Monorail glide by over on the other side of the canal, there is a nice big horse racing stadium that is lit up sometimes, and there are some nice towers that make neat reflections over the water (including ours.) Hopefully I'll be able to keep on jogging through winter. The new running clothes worked great, and the jacket was too hot, so I almost ended taking that off. Should be great for even colder weather, and Tokyo usually doesn't get down to much below 0 Celsius, so I think I'll be fine.

After the run I came home, took a shower, vacuumed, did the dishes (man I have got to take a picture of our dishwasher. It is comically small - only slightly wider than my outspread hands) then had some leftover curry.

Dealing with HD Video is much harder than it should be

R. has been trying to make a DVD of a video she took for her friend's wedding, but she used this completely high-tech 1080p HD video camera. (Not ours, borrowed from her sister.) I couldn't get that thing to transfer data onto my OSX machine, couldn't get it to transfer data onto my big ThinkPad, didn't want to try to do it on my linux machine, and had major problems doing it with the little ThinkPad that R. uses, but finally that went through. She burned a few DVDs and finally asked me why she couldn't watch them. Hm. Good question. Checking the DVDs out, it is clear: the program that she used to edit the DVDs only seems to burn to a format that can be ready by Blu-Ray DVD players, of which we have none. She just wants a normal DVD. I have iMovie on my Mac which can do that, but it can't read the files spit out by that camera.

So she asked me to do something about this. I spend some time with the "HD Writer 2.5" software that Panasonic included with the camera (and which wouldn't install on the beefier ThinkPad) and found a way to export to MPEG-2. That is a pretty reasonable format, so I was pretty sure I could get that to import on the Mac. Annoyingly, you have to export each scene one at a time. Then getting the network settings on all the machine right so I could copy them over the internal network took more time, but finally I got the files moved over to the Mac, and...

Wouldn't you know it OSX can't read MPEG-2 out of the box due to probably licensing issues. I needed to buy a $20 add-on to get Quicktime to read MPEG-2. So annoying. Once that was purchased and installed, I could import the MPEG-2 files. Great! It is only going to take 299 minutes.

Oh man, you've got to be kidding me. I'm going to bed. I hope this thing finishes by morning.

What I had for lunch and other misc

Yeah, I know, the stereotypical "What I had for lunch" blog post. Well, you have to put up with these sometimes. This is a recent food post and a few other random notes.

First up: food.

Breakfast

The other day I stopped by McDonald's for breakfast. They have a bunch of "Mega" stuff here, where they basically just try to make things really huge and big. The most well-known is the Mega Mac, basically a big mac with the beef patties doubled up. I'm not a big fan of Big Macs normally (the cheese is terrible) so I haven't tried one of those yet. I did see a "Mega McMuffin" though, and tried that one morning. Two sausage patties, an egg, bacon, and the McMuffin muffins. It was pretty good. I usually just get some toast, eggs, or cereal at home, but once in a while I might go with this again.

Lunch

The concept of pre-made lunch boxes, bento, is really popular here. You can walk into any convenience store and there is usually a selection of 5-10 different types of little microwavable lunch boxes. I'm co-organizing a track at the upcoming NTCIR Information Access Evaluation Workshop and we have 4-5 hour organizational meetings for that every once in a while. The other day we had a meeting, and I thought I would snap a picture of the lunch box that they supplied us with. It was also pretty good - but everything was cold. It is very common in Japan to eat things cold that in America I wouldn't consider eating cold. (Then again, I was never a fan of eating cold pizza.) Usually things like roast beef fall into that category, and often there are meatballs or other things in these bento that I think should be hot. Throw the whole thing into the microwave and you are golden, but it is also common just to have it cold.

Anyway, this was a nice bento. We eat stuff like this pretty frequently here.

Dinner

For dinner I've been cooking a lot myself lately. Unfortunately, I don't really cook well: I plan to take a cooking class next year once I have cut out some of my obligations and free up some time. I particularly want to take a real cooking class because I insisted on getting a real honest-to-god oven (you do not get those in Japan generally) in our apartment. It cost thousands of dollars. Completely ridiculous (granted, it is a microwave - convection - conventional oven and plays like, music and stuff) but I absolutely demand an oven because my previous attempts at making brownies in toaster ovens failed completely and I really want to be able to make brownies if I will be living here for 30 years.

So now that I have this crazy oven, I want to learn to use it. And generally cook more because I do enjoy cooking. Some of the things that I have in my cookbook (I have to update that someday) are dirt simple, and a spaghetti meat sauce like my mom used to make is on the menu. Simple, but you can make a whole bunch of it at once, and it is good.

Update on Quarter Pounder in Japan Situation

The other food thing is a quick update on the Quarter Pounder situation in Japan. Recently these two "Quarter Pounder" shops opened up and proved really popular. They only sold quarter pounder and double quarter pounder meals. Japanese people love things that are new and limited edition, so for the month that the shops were around (one in Shibuya, near where I work) and one in Omote-sandou (super high-end shopping place, like Park Ave.) were pretty crowded. The really funny thing is that most Japanese people had no idea that these were McDonald's shops. The Quarter Pounder has never existed here, so I think the general consensus was that these were new fast food restaurants. Anyway, last week the Shibuya shop disappeared (and I assume the Omote-sandou one as well) and a bunch of signs went up at McDonald's shops everywhere: "Surprise! Qaurter Pounder was us! Now you can order them at all McDonald's Shops too!"

Most Japanese people I've asked so far were shocked. They had no idea. I guess the equivalent would be some cheap fast food place opening up that is fairly stylish and serves good sushi in the US. Then after a month, "Surprise! This is McSushi, and now you can get it at every McDonald's in America!" Not that that will ever happen, but still.

Random other stuff

Last week I stopped by my old workplace for a meeting. Checking my old office, my name is still on the door. It has only been three months, so I'm not completely surprised, but I'm sure it will disappear after a while. I think that the last time I visited Columbia University my name was still on the door of my old office - that is about 2.5 years. I'm pretty sure it is gone now since everyone that I was working with at the time is gone now. 2.5 years is a pretty good record though.

While at my old workplace I took two pictures of the fall leaves at the Imperial Palace. One of the really great things about the Japanese National Institute of Informatics is that it shares a building with Hitotsubashi University so there is a small gym with showers, and the Imperial Palace is really close. I used to do a 5km loop around that place a few times a week and miss it (but there is a great 6.8km loop right near my new apartment, so I still have a place to run.) The fall leaves look pretty nice out there.

Finally, there are two new buildings going up right near where I live. It looks like one will be ~20 floor office building, and the other a residential tower. I think it won't be bigger than the tower we are in though (26 floors, not that we're that high up) so that is cool. I would hate to have our brand-new building eclipsed by another brand-new building next door. :)

Marketing in Japan

The other day while walking around my local supermarket, there was a stage set up. I thought this was a bit odd, but no stranger than anything else I have seen around Tokyo. On the way out, things had started to happen: people had gathered around, and a strange-looking mascot had shown up. He got up on the stage, and some people talked about all the great products that come out of Aomori Prefecture and then the mascot started to dance along to a song promoting Aomori products. There has been a lot of trouble in Japan over the past few months about false advertising attached to food (foods that are mis-labeled and include foreign meat or juice or whatever, or things that are labeled as good past their official expiration date, some issues with poisoned food from China, etc.) so people have really been trying to buy locally and stick to brands with high quality. I guess this might be a push in that direction, but the dancing mascot and song about (just in general - nothing specific) Aomori branded food was interesting.

The second one I'll point out is a bunch of new Final Fantasy posters I've been seeing around the subway stations. I believe that this is tied into a new artbook (or possibly postcard art book, I'm not clear on that) that is coming out in a few days. The posters are advertising "Final Fantasy Drink Potions" - I've seen these before back when the last final fantasy came out, little drinks made in the shape of the potions from the game. I think it is pretty geeky-cool, so I'll pick some up even though I haven't played a final fantasy since Final Fantasy VII. I really would love to play more video games, but I just haven't had the time (but do see my most recent post on World of Goo.)

Mini Manga Reviews 2: Crossfire and Yotsuba volume 2

Continuing in my series of mini-manga reviews, we have Miyuki Miyabe's "Crossfire" and the second volume of "Yotsuba to".

Crossfire is a pretty nice and easy read. There were two words that I learned, basically accelerant (促進) and pyrogenesis (I think that is the English for it - someone that can cause fires with their mind.) The author, Miyuki Miyabe is known for murder mystery and suspense novels. This one has a bit of a supernatural tint to it, since the main character has the ability to start fires. (Hence the title.) I think that makes things a bit interesting, since I like to read about things that are bit divorced from the normal reality that we live in. If I wanted to read about arsonists, I could find that in the newspaper just by looking hard enough. The manga was a pretty quick read, and has furigana for most of the complicated words, but is probably more of an intermediate than beginner level. I thought it might be self-contained, but it ended on a clear cliffhanger, so it looks like I'll have to keep my eyes open for volume 2. This manga was just released back in September so it is fairly new. There is also a DVD movie version of what looks to be the same thing, but I'm not enthralled enough to want to search that out. I might rent it if I come across it in Tsutaya though.

Next up is the second volume in the Yotsuba to series. I really like this series: it is funny, each chapter is short and self-contained (makes for good reading when you only have five or ten minutes here or there, which is generally the situation I am in) and the Japanese itself is pretty basic. It has full readings given for the kanji, so it is very accessible to beginners. I also think this series is great for foreigners because of the whole "unusual aspects of Japan" that is explored from the point of view of a naïve (or possibly very stupid, putting her on a level I can relate to :) ) young girl. Highly recommended.

As always, you can click on the links to the left to hit the Amazon.co.jp pages for the books, but they have my referrer ID in them so I clearly am trying to make money off of you. :)

November 24, 2008

Fall leaves in Koishikawa Park

Yesterday, R. and I went to Koishikawa Park (小石川後楽園) in the middle of Tokyo, near Tokyo Dome, for an afternoon picnic. It was a holiday weekend, so the place was packed. Actually, I'm not sure that it wouldn't be packed on any normal weekend either, but since it is also the time of the year when the fall leaves turn colors there were lots of people there. We bought boxed lunches at a nearby convenience store, and some beer, and headed out to the park. It is a really beautiful place, just amazing that a park like that can be hidden away amid the skyscrapers and bustle of Tokyo. There are lots of parks like this really. They are medium sized, but seem much larger than they are due to creative landscaping.

Check out the Flickr Set for all the photos but generally I think that things looked really nice. The leaves are turning some nice colors, and I really like the mix of traditional park with modern backdrops: Tokyo Dome and tall buildings in particular are interesting to me.

While we were eating on one of the benches there was a Bunraku (Japanese traditional puppetry) show on a small stage erected for the event. I would have liked to watch it, but the place was packed and I couldn't see a thing. I did get a decent picture though.

After lunch while we were walking around I saw a woman in a Kimono, and asked if I could take her picture. She was pretty surprised, but called her friend over (who I hadn't seen) so I ended up with a nice shot of two women in Kimono. Nice! Also, it is amazing how many people were taking pictures with camera phones. There were people with crazy big lenses on DSL cameras, but more people with crazy small cameras taking pictures also. My new phone also has a high resolution camera (5MP, more than my point and shoot 4MP camera camera, but the pictures on the phone are really bad at anything more than 2MP.) My new phone actually has two cameras on it, which I find really funny. My camera doesn't have two phones on it.

Anyway, I don't have much more to write about the picnic: it was a nice break in the middle of the city. There are lots of little parks like this - I've been to Shinjuku Gyoen before, Hamarikyuu park, and the central park equivilent as well. I enjoy finding new places liket his though. I'm going to have to spend more time walking around my new apartment and find out what we have in this area.

The leaves are really starting to take on nice colors, and pretty soon it will be winter. I'm not looking forward to the cold winters, but they beat the nasty summers.

Fukuya open house and Fukutoushin subway line pictures

Last weekend (I can't believe a week has already passed and I didn't have time to write up something quick about this!) I went to an open house that my friend Tomoki Fukuya did the interior design for. I was interested because I haven't seen the Fukuyas in a long time, and the house itself sounded very interesting. The house is 3.1 meters wide by 15.4 meters long: basically, a long, thin house. One of the challenges Tomoki faced was making a small space feel open - probably something that happens a lot in Japan. The top two floors are residential (rental) space, the first floor is an office space, and the bottom floor is a retail space. I didn't really take many pictures - I should have, but I always feel strange pulling out the camera and snapping pictures - and now I wish I had.

I really liked how there was lots of storage space all over the place, it seemed really big and the lack of walls really made the place seem large. The bathroom was cool too: all glass (but there were blinds if you wanted them) that let in the light from the full window. Also also really liked the staircase and the bookshevles there. The concept was that kids would sit on the stairs and read, so the stairs are dual-purpose: you climb them, and sit on them. I was surprised that the place was a rental property instead of one up for sale. It seems like the place was going for a very reasoanble rate: about $1000 a month and it wasn't too far from the train station. About a 5 minute walk, and it is about 20 minutes from Ikebukuro on the Tobu Toujou line.

The house itself kind of reminded me of the Austrian Cultural Institute in New York, a really cool narrow building.

On the way home, I took the Fukutoushin line back to Shibuya. That was the first time I had taken that line - it just opened up in June, and generally I don't go very far off of my commuter pass, so that was kind of interesting. There is also a new station entrance in Shibuya station that I thought was kind of neat. There are other renovations going on in Shibuya but I just never go through that part of the station so I hadn't seen this area yet. The colorful signs are really great.

It was also interesting to see people sitting around all over the place with little clicking counters they were using to count how many people were using the the different exits and corridors in the station. They really do a lot of profiling in this city to manage the congestion. So far though, from what I can gather, the Fukutoushin line hasn't been too successful: it generally connects places that other lines also go to, so not many people have been using it. It was pretty empty when I took it too, so I wonder what is going to happen there. I'm glad that the line that I normally ride is pretty empty because it means I can sit on ride in. That is a lot better than my old commute, where I almost always had to stand, and it was usually crazy crowded.

November 16, 2008

A new, advanced phone (nice) with an awful intercface (boo): DoCoMo P906i Review

After two and a half years in Japan I am retiring my "sweets" AU phone and switching to a new P906i phone on the DoCoMo network. I am switching networks because my wife has been on DoCoMo for years and wanted me to switch so we could be on family plan where calls are free between family members. That is great for us, but also means I can talk to my wife's immediate family for free, which means I have no good excuse not to talk to them - and talking to them in Japanese is a bit stressful.

Anyway, a week ago I decided to take the plunge and switch from AU to NTT. It took most of my Saturday afternoon last week, where I went to the AU shop, told them I want to move to NTT then picked up the number portability forms and went to the NTT shop. Canceling service was easy, they didn't try any of the retention tactics that you get back in America. So that was nice.

When I first got my phone three years ago I just got the cheapest phone they had - a one yen deal with the basics (GPS was the most advanced feature it had.) For my new phone I wanted more features. The main thing I wanted was a GSM capable phone with the capability to work in America, Bluetooth, and the Electronic Wallet feature so I can put my commuter pass on the phone. That really limited selection down but there were one or two handsets that fit that criteria. I sprung for the 906i, a kind of bulky flip-open model with a beautiful screen and all those features. Actually I kind of want an iPhone but the software for those is still pretty bad (Japanese email is still really bad) and it doesn't support the Electronic Wallet feature either (or 1-seg digital TV but I don't really care about that.) Also, while Risa wants an iPhone, she isn't willing to leave NTT for one.

The new phone has great hardware but the interface is atrocious. It is awful. I thought my AU phone was bad, but this one is worse. In my old phone to see my own profile I just pressed up. That was really convenient because I put my home phone number there, which I don't have memorized. To see my profile on my new phone I need to press the menu button, then press 0, but that isn't shown as an option. I actually had to read the manual to figure that out. Worse, my profile does not show my home phone number. I have to hit the "edit" command, and then my "extra" information pops up.

This phone has three types of email. Normal email, R messages and F messages. I do know the difference between these (I think F are Free messages from NTT) or even care really. Why the added complexity?

After almost every command, the phone requires acknowledgment. If you take a picture it throws up a box "I took a picture" and you have to press Ok. After sending an email "I sent an email". I know! That is what I asked you to do! Don't force me to click stuff unless there is a problem!

One of the main features I was interested in is bluetooth. It looks like the phone can only use BT for headphones though. I wanted to send files with BT, particularly pictures. I can use it to set up internet access though, which sounds useful.

The phone has at least three ways to wirelessly transfer data, none of which work for getting data into my Mac. It has a standard IR Port, the aforementioned Bluetooth, and also some mechanism used for RFID data transfer that can be used with some phones to transfer pictures or address book information. So far they are all useless to me.

The preference settings for the phone are insane. There are about 20 menus for main settings, each with 10 more settings, many of which have another menu of 10 or so. They provide a search function to find the setting you want. I have only scratched the surface there.

P906i tech specs:
  • Main display: 480x854
  • Front-panel 1-bit display: 128x36
  • Camera max resolution: 2592x1944 (looks like crap though!)
  • Video max resolution: 640x480
  • Has a MicroSD card, up to 8GB MicroSDHC (I've got 4GB)
  • Bluetooth, but can only use it for headphones / headset, can't transfer files with it. (To my knowledge.)
Typing in English is not possible. Well it is but there is no completion mechanism for English. My AU phone at least you provide you completions for the words you used before, but not this phone. There might be a setting for that, but it is just easier to write in Japanese.

You can set the phone to use English menus, but I don't recommend it. The menus are more confusing in English than Japanese, and worse it defaults to the useless English input method in that mode, so I went back to Japanese pretty quickly.

The phone isn't all bad though - it has a beautiful screen and the GPS navigation, a different program than my previous phone, is really nice. I think the Electronic Wallet will be really nice once I set it up, but I wasn't able to transfer over my commuter pass on initial setup so I will have to see the JR People about that.

The camera is stupid crazy. It is 5MP which is just insane because the sensor is way too small for that. My old Cannon at 4MP takes much nicer pictures. I have reduced the size so maybe it will take nice 2MP pictures. A few of the pictures on my Flickr stream are from this phone now, and they seem pretty good.

I tried the 1-seg digital tuner and it works. That is probably the last time I will use that.

It is supposed to have nice games and stuff available for purchase, but I don't think I will even bother. The web browser is also supposed to be nice so I think I will try to set up Mixi on it, but I do not anticipate using the web browser a lot: I just am not often in situations where I need to access the web and I don't have a computer nearby.

Overall I like the phone a lot, but think the software and UI are just awful. It will work fine for what I need but falls very short of my expectations from looking at the specs. I could have gotten away with a $50 instead of this $400 monster, but at least the cost is broken out over the 2-year contract without any interest.

November 15, 2008

Quick Manga Reviews

One of the interesting things about working at Amazon Japan on the 14th floor is the shelf of free books you can peruse. There are lots of manga, so I started randomly grabbing volumes here and there. Here are some random reviews (click the links on the left to go to the product pages on the Japanese website - fair warning, if you buy something I will get like, 2 or 3 yen or something.)

So I thought I would write some very quick, very basic reviews. The first manga I read was けんぷファー (Kenu fau? Supposed to be some sort of German word) volume 1. It is completely awful, and totally cliché. The story starts with our hero, whose name escapes me, wakes up and is a girl. A high school girl (well, he was a high school boy so that makes some sense.) He has a stuffed animal that talks to him (some sort of tiger) and tells him that he was chosen to be a Kenpu fau who fights other Kenpu fau, who are all apparently high school kids. The reason they fight was never explained, but clearly that is supposed to be the interesting mystery to the story that draws people in. It just annoyed me because the fictional world makes no sense. Also, there are many gratuitous panty shots and the like. Why does the guy get a high school girl's uniform when he transforms for no reason? Yet in the middle of the story, he says he has to go shopping for clothes because he doesn't have any women's clothes (except for the magic schoolgirl outfit?)

It rates half a star. Out of however many stars you want (at least 5 though probably.)

Next up is よつばと! (Yotsubato) which is apparently written by a well-known author, Kiyohiko Azuma who also wrote another well-known series Azumanga Daioh. The reason I ordered this manga is because in one of the chapters, the main character Yotsuba creates a robot out of a cardboard box. The author designed a toy for Amazon that uses Amazon boxes, which I wanted, and then when I tried to order it Amazon recommended the first volume of the manga. So I bought it.

What is the story? It is a cute look at Yotsuba, a young (naive or stupid?) girl who has everyday adventures. It is very easy to read, with full furigana, and simple enough that anyone can understand it. I think it is very accessible to foreigners because the humor is based on this young girl not knowing about her surroundings - a somewhat familiar situation for a foreigner in Japan. I read the first volume fairly quickly, and ordered the second volume. I haven't started in on it yet, but plan to read it on the subway.

My wife told me that I shouldn't read it on the subway though because people would think I am a nerd. Since I am a nerd, I didn't take her advice, and plan to read it on the subway.

November 4, 2008

Simplifying the menu

At work this afternoon a friend brought in a bag labeled simply "Quarter Pounder". Our office is out in Shibuya, and randomly what used to be McDonald's turned into some random post-modern simplified version of McDonald's called simple "Quarter Pounder". I guess they are promoting the Quarter Pounder coming to Japan (wasn't it always here?) by changing two shops, one in Omote-sando and one in Shibuya, into Quarter-Pounder only joints. I stopped by for dinner more out of curiosity than anything else. I actually really like the idea as a short-term thing: it addresses the concerns brought up by The Paradox of Choice.

The interior is all black, with nice modern (well, modern from the point of view of the 80s) furniture, and everyone has black uniforms. It reminds me of some sort of Clockwork Orange view of restaurants of the future. The menu is great: Quarter Pounder with Cheese, or Double Quarter Pounder with cheese. You get a medium fry, and a choice of Coke, Coke Zero, or a hot coffee. All for the low price of 500 or 600 yen. You also can get them without cheese, which is awesome.

While I like the idea of simplification, I don't know realistically how long that place will have customers with such a sparse menu. I did notice more people than usual getting take-out from there today, but I think, like me, they were drawn in by the novelty factor.

Also, I can't believe how many people they had out there holding signs and proclaiming the arrival of "the number one most popular burger in America now available in Japan!" I'm sure this will be all over the ex-pat Japan blogosphere (Marxy at least already posted about it in the Meta-no-tame blog.)

October 26, 2008

A quick update, and get more convenient, Japan!

Ever since I changed jobs, I've been pushing pretty hard to keep up with all my commitments. I'm organizing a track for the NTCIR 7 workshop so after work at my new job, I head home and spend anywhere from two to six hours on NTCIR-related stuff. The big push has been for this week, when I have to get the evaluation results back to the participants. I've just about finished the coding I need to do that, and then I have to spend a few hours working on some human-in-the-loop semantic matching.

So that has been keeping me very busy. I hope things will get a bit better after this week, but I am pretty sure that I'll be busy until after the workshop in December.

But there are a few things that are worth noting. First, I don't know how I had missed the show The Middleman, but it is a funny show. I heard about it on tor.com from someone there. It is a sci-fi take on Superheros and Supervillians, and is a perfect live-action match for The Venture Brothers.

Otherwise, I haven't been watching much tv, but R. has been putting the Fox Channel on TV when she's home. I really like listening to Dr. House in dubbed Japanese.

So there are two other notable events. Really, I've been working 12+ hours a day, so very little has been going on. These little stories are all I have.

The other day I decided that I would cook some curry. I went out shopping and saw that there is now "low fat" curry. There were 50% off and 30% curries. I was pretty sure that 50% would be pretty bad, so I gave the 30% a try. Back home while preparing the meat, I saw that R. has some meat scissors, which I just love. They are so convenient. So, I cut up the meat, set the curry going, and then tried to wash the scissors. Huh. Funny. The blades don't come apart for easy washing.

Later on, I asked R. about that. "Why don't the meat scissors in Japan come apart for easy cleaning?" "What are meat scissors? We don't own any such thing!"

Oops.

And just yesterday, as R. and I were going out of the house to get lunch on a nice Saturday, we stopped down by the mail room in the apartment building because I wanted to mail something out. I was about to drop it in the outgoing mail slot and R. stopped me. "What are you trying to do?" "I'm trying to mail this." "By putting it in the junk mail garbage slot?"

Oooh. That explains why a bunch of the forms I mailed out over the past three months never seemed to actually arrive. Come on Japan! Outgoing mail in the building is really convenient! So are meat scissors! Let's get moving here!

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