April 29, 2012

Alan's first play date, trip to Tokyo Disneyland, and visit with the family in Chiba

Over the past few days Alan and Lisa have been busy! One of Lisa's friends, Kaori Nishi, had her first son Taishi about a month after Alan was born. During the week while I was out working, Kaori and Taishi came for a visit. I wasn't here so I only have photographic evidence, but it looks like they got along famously. I wonder if they will grow up to be great friends? Well, they are holding hands already, so that is a start.

On Friday, the day before the long "Golden Week" holiday in Japan (we have Monday, Thursday, and Friday off the coming week) Lisa, Alan, Lisa's mother, her sister Rie, and Rie's daughter (4 years old) Yuzuna went to Tokyo Disneyland. Since Lisa works there (currently on maternity leave) even though Alan is really young (4 months!) it is fun for the whole family. They actually went there for a "Character Breakfast", where I guess they all get breakfast and then meet some of the Characters from the theme park. It looks like they were able to meet a lot of characters, primarily from the Winnie the Pooh franchise. So that was great! They also went to Mickey's house and got a picture with him. Nice.

Everyone was really tired when they got back. The next day, on Saturday, we drove over to Chiba to introduce Alan to his Great Uncle. We all had a nice lunch there with family, and stopped by Costco on the way home. Alan was getting pretty tired after all the excitement this week, and we had some trouble getting him to sleep, but hopefully things will be better today (Sunday.) He's already shown lots of interest in the NBA playoffs, so I think we will just stay around at home and take it easy.

I really like that picture with Tigger. Tigger is great.

April 28, 2012

Books by Shamus Young

I've linked to Shamus Young's Twenty Sided blog before. He puts a lot of time into his blog and what he writes there, often explaining technical concepts in plain, easy-to-understand language. He has run a great series on procedurally generating a nighttime city and a 3d terrain engine.

I was happy to hear that he was working on writing a fiction novel, The Witch Watch. He's actually written two novel type things before, one of them the freely available "Free Radical", which is loosely based on the old First Person Shoot "System Shock". I never played System Shock, I actually never really got into first person shooters. I did play Bungie's Marathon (look it up kids, also now freely available as Aleph One) but never got too far. I kept getting lost and confused, and people were shooting at me. It was too much pressure.

I did actually, come to think of it, complete one "first person Shooter", Portal. But that was more because it was a great game and allowed me to take my time to think about things without getting shot up all the time. Or lost as much.

Anyway, I didn't know anything about System Shock, but I have read a lot of cyberpunk and I do know a lot about computers. So I was really happy to read Shamus' take on the genre, and also thought he did a great job of writing about Cyberpunk and computers without making all the dumb mistakes about computers that people who don't know about programming make. You can get a kindle version for free at the link to the left, and I highly recommend it. You won't beat it for the price (free!) so you can't lose much by taking a chance on it.

More recently, Shamus wrote an autoblogography, and then turned that into a book (linked to the left.) Shamus didn't enjoy school much and homeschools his own children. While I never really fit in at high school, I don't think I had a bad experience. I made some great friends, worked hard, learned a lot, and had some fun. I'm not sure that I would have described it as such at the time, but that is probably more just about being that age with others kids in a social situation. At any rate, you can read Shamus' take on his education process in the book "How I learned." It is also full of funny stories and is a run read itself. You can read through it on his blog as well, so give it a try.

Once you are done with all of that content I linked, you can then decide if you want to buy his book "The Witch Watch." I really enjoyed this book. It is completely worth the price - I think he has dropped the price all the way down to $5, which is my impulse purchase price for books now. I've been reading a lot more with the Kindle, and taking chances on books with lower prices and finding some really good stuff. For $5 though, The Witch Watch is a steal. It is well written, has a very well-thought-out magic system, and has interesting characters, as well as a strong female lead. The only knock I have on her is that she is a bit too appealing as a smart, confident, skilled, and attractive character that seems like a dream come true for geeks, but that isn't really too hard of a flaw to overlook. Better than the default of assuming that a woman couldn't be all those things at any rate!

I highly recommend the Witch Watch! If you liked Brandon Sanderson's Elantris then you will like the Witch Watch. And if you haven't read Elantris, I recommend that one too!

April 9, 2012

Cherry blossoms and Saitama Shrines over the weekend

Last week I was in the US after a business trip and had a day to visit with family. Due to the international dateline, coming back to Japan you lose and entire day, so I had two days at work (and groggy ones at that) and then the weekend hit. What a weekend it was!

During the weekend the Cherry Blossoms around Tokyo are just starting to come into full bloom. They aren't there yet, but it is really close. Usually, due to the timing of my twice-yearly business trips to America, I miss the Cherry Blossom season in Japan. This year though, due to the weather and trip timing, I'm here for the Cherry Blossoms! Hooray! The Japanese love the Cherry Blossoms. Something about the transience of time and impermanence of beauty, the passing of seasons. So people love to go out and sit in under the Cherry trees and watch the blossoms fall. Whatever your reasons, it is very pretty. So we decided to take Alan out to a nearby park, Eastern Shinagawa Seaside Park, a good ten minute walk from our house. The weather was very nice, a little bit chilly but comfortable in a t-shirt and hoodie.

The park was playing host to a Cherry Blossom festival, so there were lots of people around and nice little stands selling food, candy, and of course beer. You can't have a proper Cherry Blossom viewing party without alcohol, and you can't have a proper festival without beer. That means a Cherry Blossom festival definitely has beer on the menu.

We wandered around a bit, found ourselves a spot under a tree, and had some nice food. Overpriced for what it is - in our case some fried chicken, yakisoba, and grilled clams, but super good. The clams were so good we bought a bag of them to use in the next night's dinner (kim-chi hot pot, which was delicious.)

It was Alan's first trip to a park, and first time to see Cherry Blossoms. I'm not sure that he noticed, but we had a good time. I know that Alan likes taking trips in the baby carriage, so I think he enjoyed that at least. We had a really nice time at the park, and I'm really glad I had a chance to see the Cherry Blossoms with the family. I know Alan won't remember this, but we got a few pictures and at some point we'll be able to line up pictures of Cherry Blossom parties every year. Maybe.

On Sunday we had a plan to visit some friends in Saitama. We decided to drive. It has been ages since I've been to Saitama (perhaps only once?) so it was a bit of an adventure. It was also Lisa and Alan's first time! The trip took about an hour (I drove on the way there - on the way back it was about 40 minutes, but I wasn't driving...) We stopped by our friend's place, and visited for a while. Alan was sleeping almost the entire time. The purpose of the visit was interesting; my friend's younger brother is in grad school for biology, and has to give a talk (in English!) at a conference coming up in two months. I've given talks before, so his sister thought I could help out with the translation. The talk itself wasn't ready, but I did get a chance to listen to his research work, give some pointers on research presentations, and learn a bit about high fat diets and mouse pregnancy. Pretty cool actually!

After a delicious homemade lunch, we went out of a walk to the nearby Hikawa Shrine. It was a nice walk away, maybe twenty minutes or so. Alan was a good kid on the way there, and we walked around the temple for a bit before heading back. On the way back Alan started to cry because it was about time for his milk, but we weren't prepared to walk and feed him at the same time, so it had to wait until he got back to the car. Alan's actually had a cold or something so his voice sounds funny, and just sounds so painful for him. I hope he gets better soon. He isn't crying or anything because of it, but when he does he sounds like a confused chicken.

So, in two days we had two firsts for Alan: first Cherry Blossom viewing, and first Shrine visit (along with a trip to Saitama to visit some friends!) It was a great, but busy weekend. I was really happy with how it turned out, even though I think both Lisa and I are tired from all the prep work it takes to travel with little Alan. Still, lots of fun!

Happy Cherry Blossom viewing to all of you!

March 4, 2012

A visit to the limited-time Koyama Sweets shop

My friend Akihiro Oyama's family has run the Koyama Western Sweets shop in Kessennuma for 120 years. His older brother is the 5th Oyama to run the Koyama sweets shop. Last year in the March 11th Earthquake and Tsunami, their town and shop was completely wiped out. Since then Akihiro has been involved in various charity and other efforts to bring attention to the Kessennuma area.

On Saturday and Sunday his older brother opened up, for two days only, the Koyama shop in the Takanawa Prince Hotel in Shinagawa. Since we were out and about for the day, and Shinagawa isn't all that far, we took a trip out there. We all bought a bunch of stuff - prominent among things the "Kizuna" (bonds / community) Sponge Cake. The box for the cake has messages from all their supporters, a delicious honey flavor, and appreciative feelings for all who have supported them (and other recovery efforts in Japan.)

Alana's friends Wendy and Lizette also bought a few goods from the store and between the three of them we will be spreading the word about the Koyama Western Sweets shop throughout Austin and San Diego. Probably not much further than that, but I'll tell you what: the stuff is delicious, they deliver from their website (linked above) throughout Japan, and you can't go wrong trying to support recovery efforts in Eastern Japan by eating cake.

Aside from France, when has eating cake every gone wrong?

Professional Family photos

As my loyal readers know (all one of them - myself, potentially twenty or thirty years down the road when I start to forget things) that my sister, my father, and two friends have been in town for the Tokyo Marathon. Well, back before Lisa and I had our son Alan Yoshiyuki Tanaka-Evans, we went to Happy Birth Photo studio to take some professional Maternity photos. We thought that went really well and we liked the studio so we decided to go back when my sister and father were in town. This time we had a lot of people - Myself, Lisa, Alana, Gary, and our son Alan Yoshiyuki as well as Alana's son Scout.

I think the pictures turned out great. Initially our son was tired and most of his pictures show him crying, but by the end of the session he started to cheer up a bit, and we got some nice photos throughout the shoot. We have a bunch of photos with my sister, father, and I with out medals we received for finishing the Tokyo Marathon - those are great! We also have a few pictures with me and my twin sister as well as our sons. They all turned out great.

Growing up we never really took too many professional photos, but these have really turned out great so far, and I think that we will treasure them for a long time to come. Assuming our digital data storage strategy keeps them from being deleted at some point or other. I'll have to get started on setting up some sort of secure backup for the important data, but for now at least I have them on two machines with one backed up nightly.

March 2, 2012

A trip to Hakone with the family

After running the Tokyo Marathon, I was a wreck. My legs were shot, and I was just barely able to hobble home with the rest of the group. When we decided to actually run this marathon, I thought it would be a lot of fun for us to go to Hakone, a traditional Japanese hot springs resort.

It is about an hour and twenty minutes from Shinjuku via the Odakyu (private railway) Romance Car train (which has nothing to do with romance.) The ride up to Hakone from Shinjuku is quite nice; you get a nice view of Mt. Fuji, and also Odawara castle near the end of the trip. You end up in Hakone Yumoto, and from there can take a very small train further up the mountains.

Before continuing on the trip, we went to get lunch at a soba shop that we often go to. Hakone Yumoto is a small little town with a nice shopping street aimed heavily at tourists. On the walk up, we stopped at a little shop that outside lets you grill some of the fish that they sell. For free. I don't know how they make money because every time I have gone to Hakone I have stopped there and had some fish (it is delicious) but I have never bought anything from that store.

The soba shop is just up the road and across the river. We ended up going to the "new" building of the same shop, around the corner and a bit further down the river, but as always the soba was great. We then took a walk back down the shopping street and headed to the train station, where we were able to get on the small mountain train that takes us up to the small station closest to the onsen we were going to, The sound of Water (水の音.) I've been there a few times with Lisa's family before and it is a nice onsen. They've got I think five different hot springs (ten really, since they are segregated by sex, and switch who goes where each day) both inside and outside. We got there in the afternoon, and had time for a trip to the onsen before dinner. I stayed in the room and looked after little Alan, and dressed him up in the cute Yukata that everyone wears there.

Dinner was a great 12 course meal that is half cooked at your table. Our bunch took over two tables in the place, and with Scout walking around, and sometimes Lisa or I would take Alan for a walk (it was a long dinner) the people at the tables near us struck up some conversations about how our kids were cute. I agree! But they were probably only getting that because our kids are double American and Asian mixes. I won't turn down a compliment though.

After dinner, we entered the hot springs again. Of course, it is a little strange getting naked with your dad and father-in-law and hanging out in a bath for a while, but once you do that, it does help break the tension and make things more informal. It is a pretty good way to build up personal relationships and break down barriers actually.

The next day we left and headed up the mountain more. We took the train to one of the stops, and then from there took a special cable car train. The cable car climbs up a steep mountain, so the car itself is canted and has stairs in the car. Neat.

At the end of the cable car ride, you can take a ropeway ride to another station where they make black onsen eggs. You eat one of those and your life is extended by 7 years. The eggs are black because they are cooked in a sulfur pool. A bunch of us hiked up to some place where they made the eggs - which was really tough because my legs were still jelly from the Marathon. The eggs are pretty good. We also had some awesome sweet potatoes. It was pretty cold though, so we hurried back and caught the ropeway down the mountain to Lake Ashinoko (or really just Lake Ashi, since no ko just means it is a lake.)

At Ashinoko we rode a boat. A pirate boat. They were announcing stuff that was on the lake, but we were just taking it easy after all the hiking and various modes of transportation. When we got off of the boat - and why there are fake pirate boats in a lake up in the mountains I will never know - we just took a bus back to Hakone Yumoto, did a little shopping, and hopped back on the train back to Tokyo.

It was a great trip with great food, and we saw a bit of natural Japan. We road all sorts of different types of transportation, and had some eggs that increased our lives by seven years. If you want a nice relaxing getaway from the city, Hakone is always our go-to place.

February 29, 2012

Tokyo Marathon

About a year ago my father made a joking suggestion that we run the Tokyo marathon together. My twin sister ran the new York marathon in 2010 so she wanted to run her second marathon. So we planned to run the marathon. By early October our application results were in and all three of us made the lottery. We were committed. I had never ran a marathon before - the closest I got was a half we ran as training in high school cross country once. I started training.

I initially started daily 5km runs and worked up to 10km per day. Up until the end my standard run was a 60 minute 10km run at 6am before work. On the weekend I would run longer distances, usually between 20km and 35km.

I started training in October, and it just started getting colder and colder in Tokyo. It was hard to get up at 6am and go for a run, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought that I really needed to complete this marathon. I was expecting a son in December, and I thought it made a lot of sense to try to show him that you can accomplish difficult tasks if you set your mind to it, make a plan, work hard, and stick to the plan. That is the main thing that kept getting me up and out into the cold to train for this marathon.

During training, I usually listen to a bunch of podcasts. Mainly some NPR Cartalk, APM Marketplace, This American Life, Marc Maron's WTF podcast, Freakonomics, NPR Planet Money, and a few Japanese podcasts (news and economics.) I was on target through most runs for a four hour time. My longest training run was about 35km, and through the first 30km I ran it in 3 hours, but then the last five kilometers went a lot slower. I estimated based on that run that my final time should be around 5:30, since basically I would end up walking the last few kilometers. Still, my goal was to finish, and beat the Tokyo Marathon mandated 7 hour (gun time, not chip time) limit.

The day of the race, we woke up early (I believe 5:30am) and headed down to Shinjuku, where the start is at. We went through all the procedures (drop off the bag, line up) and probably had about an hour until the 9:10am gun. Alana and Dad said the process went very smoothly, at least compared to the New York marathon, and the line up went well. We chatted with some of the people around us, and before you knew it, the gun went off. It was cold, but we had enough people around us that it wasn't too bad. Alana and Dad were amazed at how quickly we proceeded through to the start line after the gun. I think we were about fifteen minutes behind the start, despite being very far back. They made us line up in order of how long we thought we would take, and I entered the slowest time of 6 hours, so we were in the six hour block.

I don't have much to say about the Marathon, aside from how much fun it was to run with Dad and my sister. We went through some really interesting parts of Tokyo that I know well, and it is very strange to have the whole road to yourself without any car traffic. The first twenty or so Kilometers went pretty well. The time between twenty and thirty is about when Alana and I went a bit ahead of Dad. After about thirty five kilometers it was very tough. Perhaps the last three kilometers or so we ended walking at a fast pace, but that was ok.

Oh, I will note one amazing thing that happened during the race. Alana's husband (coincidentally named David) didn't come to Japan because he was very busy at work. But secretly he flew in at 5am on the day of the race and surprised Alana at the 11km point. It was amazing. There is video proof of how amazing it is.

Near the very end, with a kilometer left to go we started running again. The crowds the whole way along the route were great with supporting us. They thinned out a little bit near the end, but were still there and trying. At the very, very end Alana took off like someone had lit a flame under her. I took off after her. Later, she told me that her husband was always telling her during training: "You're at the very end! It is you, Twin A, and Twin B. Who is going to win? You can't let Twin B win!"

She beat me by 2 seconds. So I need to run another marathon so I can run it three seconds faster than this one.

For posterity sake, here are out times:

  • Alana Evans: 5:34:22
  • David Evans: 5:34:24
  • Gary Evans: 5:41:09

February 3, 2012

Setsubun - throw beans around for good luck!

Today is Setsubun, a day that marks the traditional start of Spring. Well, I hope it does because it is super cold out here, and getting up and running every morning has been a challenge.

What Setsubun really means is that you buy a bunch of beans of some kind, and throw them outside your house, chanting "Demons go out, good luck come on in!" Or something to the effect. I took a look around our house, and oh no! We had a demon infestation!

We corrected that with the traditional bean throwing, and even little Alan Yoshiyuki helped out (although he does look suspiciously similar to one of the crying demons I caught on digital film just a little bit earlier.)

Anyway, happy Setsubun to you all, and I hope that all the demons in your house flee your violently flung beans and make room to let in all the good luck for 2012!

December 19, 2011

Announcing the birth of Alan Yoshiyuki Tanaka-Evans

On Friday, December 16th, at 12:08pm, our son Alan Yoshiyuki Tanaka Evans was born. In Japanese his name is 田中エバンス・アラン吉恭. I'll say more about the name later.

On Thursday the 15th, Lisa started to feel like the contractions were starting, and after some calls to the hospital, we caught a taxi and arrived there in the early afternoon. We went to the labor delivery room and spent some time with the nurses getting things timed and instrumented. We started to discuss what we wanted in our birth plan. The primary divergence from the standard Japanese birth plan - which is usually a natural birth with no epidurals - is that we wanted an epidural. Our hospital, Aiiku Hospital, is very accommodating and has an anesthesiologist (or multiple?) on staff. So we can get an epidural. Unfortunately, they don't really promote epidurals and prefer natural birth. So if you want an epidural, you can only do it from 9am-5pm Monday through Friday. Since kids aren't really known for being prompt and on time, we were very worried that we wouldn't be able to have the epidural.

Speaking with the doctors, Lisa's contractions were pre-contractions, so they wanted us to see how things went Thursday night. If things went well, Lisa would go into labor early Friday, and we would hit the epidural window. Since they wanted Lisa to stay overnight, and visiting hours (even for family members!) is only from 1pm to 8pm, they made me go home. Around 9am Friday morning, I got a call from Lisa to come into the hospital. She had been in labor since 1am. By 10am, the doctors said that if we wanted to have an epidural, Lisa would need to have stronger contractions, so they administered a labor inducing agent via her drip-feed. That worked well, so around 11am or so the anesthesiologist came by and started on Lisa's epidural. She was really in pain from the contractions and started to feel a lot better in ten minutes when the drugs started to take effect.

Things were going well, Lisa and I were talking with the nurse that was in the room. The baby heart rate monitor suddenly dropped from about 150bpm to 70, and kept going down. In an instant some alarms started to sound, and then suddenly there were ten or twelve people in the room, including the main delivery doctor. Things happened quickly; Lisa got an oxygen mask and the doctor told me that they needed to perform an emergency c-section. They rushed her out, and had me sit in the waiting room. An eternity later, a nurse came by and told me that a healthy boy was born. I was ecstatic, for a few minutes until I wondered at the peculiar wording that left out any mention of how Lisa was doing. Then I got worried again until I was able to hunt up a nurse that told me that my wife was indeed fine. The doctor later explained to me that they did not have any idea what happened, but they were concerned that with the drop in the baby's heart rate, they needed to get him out of there quickly to avoid any potential for damage to his brain. Everything turned out ok, and also, I could go see my son!

I spent about half an hour with my son, and then he was taken away to get weighed and whatever else the nurses needed to do. I went back to do some more waiting, and then was able to go see Lisa. I had a few minutes to talk with her, and then the nurse came in to check on her bandages. Again, in an instant the place was full of doctors and nurses, and I was rushed out. I caught a few snatches of conversation about how she was having massive bleeding. I had another hour or so waiting outside the room, but the doctors got everything stabilized and I was allowed back in, along with our son. Lisa was exhausted but looked extremely happy.

Alan Yoshiyuki Tanaka Evans was born on Friday, 2011 December 16th at 12:08pm. He weighs in at 2884 grams, and 48.5 cm. Since Friday, mom and son have been recovering together in the hospital. She will stay there for about a week (a bit longer than normal due to the c-section, but not much.) Visiting hours are from 1pm to 8pm, so I go to the hospital and visit for a few hours. I can't wait for them to come home (just in time for Christmas as it turns out) and start my own sleepless nights.

What about the name Alan Yoshiyuki Tanaka Evans?

I have always thought it was somewhat sexist that the wife should change her last name to the husband's last name, and I think the name Tanaka is really cool, has a long tradition in Japan, so we just never changed our names when we got married. We are married though. So when our son is born, we had to think a bit about the name. I like the sound of Tanaka Evans, which is what we will use as his last name on his US Passport. We'll probably have to hyphenate it, so Tanaka-Evans. For his first name, I want a connection to my family, and the name Alan works really well there - my father is Gary Alan Evans, my sister is Alana, we have a few other Alans in the family, and one of his godfathers' middle name is Alan (although I might not have the spelling right there.) On Lisa's side of the family, men often have names starting with the Chinese character 吉 (Yoshi, "good fortune".) There are many people in their family with names starting with that character, so it is very hard to choose a name that is unique to the family. Lisa had a few candidates, which we narrowed down to two, Yoshitomo ("good fortune" and "intelligence") or Yoshiyuki ("good fortune" and "courteous".) Since one of the reasons we chose Alan is in the hopes that he turns out as smart as my father Lisa didn't want to have two "smart" meanings in the name, so Yoshiyuki it is. So far, he has cried enough that I'm not sure he understands the meaning of his name, but we'll work on it.

For reference, the Japanese writing of the name is 田中エバンス・アラン吉恭.

November 26, 2011

Rainbow Bridge Loop

Yesterday I went for a 20km run, and finally was able to do the run I've been trying to do for the past few weeks: starting at home, jog up to the Rainbow Bridge, jog across, then circle around Odaiba and back across the bridge home.

It was about 20km in total. When you get to the entrance from the Shibaura side, you have to take an elevator up to the bridge. On the bridge, there is a pedestrian lane, then two lanes of traffic, then two tracks for the monorail, and the same going the opposite direction. It is pretty loud in there, and when a big truck goes by, you can feel the bridge shaking. You can take the north or the south route, and get a different view. I like the north view, you have a nice view of downtown Tokyo.

Once in Odaiba, I ran along the beach which was surprisingly full of people even in this cold weather. Odaiba is supposedly a date spot (although honestly I don't know what people are doing there) and there were people out there on dates. I saw a few other people running around too, but not as many as I expected. Going around the island, you get into a more industrial section with loading cranes for shipping. You can actually see our apartment building from the island, and get a view of the front side of the cranes that we can see from our balcony. I don't get to see that view all that often, so that is pretty cool.

I got a bit lost on the way back to Rainbow Bridge, but did eventually make it. As with my other long runs, the last two kilometers or so were pretty tough, and I bought a drink and walked a bit to make it back home. Still, I completed the run, and got to see a bit of Odaiba on foot.

You can check out the run below.

November 24, 2011

Maternity Photos

Yesterday, R. and I went to a small photostudio, Happy Birth Photo in Shibuya. R. thought it would be a good idea to have some professional maternity photos done. Since this isn't something that happens every day, I definitely agree.

The photo studio staff is all female, which I suspect works well for them. They were very nice and walked us through the photo session with some options for things we could do. They weren't super interested in taking pictures of me, and I can't say that I disagree with them. I was in the first few shots, and then they focused on R. That was cool by me. I think the pictures turned out very well, here is a small sample.

I can't believe how large R. has gotten! We've got about three weeks to go I think.

November 13, 2011

Happy 37th Birthday Run

Rainbow Bridge
I wanted to jog across Rainbow bridge into Odaiba, but it was closed to pedestrian traffic.

Tokyo tower
Since I couldn't run across rainbow bridge, I headed for another landmark.

Inspired by my good friend Eric, who ran a half marathon today, I thought I would go for a long run (which is called for on my training schedule anyway) and decided to shoot for 21km (close enough to a half marathon for me) myself.

It also happens to be my 37th birthday. Since I'm training for the Tokyo marathon, which I'll run with my twin sister and father, I wanted to go for a long run over the weekend. So today, after we got back from a leisurely lunch with Lisa's friends, I headed out for a run. The plan was to run up to Rainbow bridge (which we can see from our apartment) and run across it over to Odaiba, circle around there for a bit, and head back home. That should have come out to about 20km, but when I made it to the bridge, it turns out that it is only open to pedestrian traffic from 10am to 6pm. So I was out of luck. I didn't want to give up though, so just kept heading in towards Tokyo, and eventually through Shinbashi and Ginza. On the way home I made a slight detour to visit Tokyo tower, and then slowly made my way home.

Prior to this run, the farthest I had gone was a 16km jog last weekend (not counting a half marathon distance run in high school.) So this was a pretty long run for me. I was absolutely stuffed from lunch (we met some of Lisa's friends from her days at Sizzler at Sizzler, and their buffet style salad bar is way too easy to overeat on.) So I had some cramps, but generally felt pretty good, until about kilometer 16 when my feet started to hurt. Just a general ache in the bones since I'm not used to this distance. I ended up buying a Pocari Sweat and mixing in some walking on the way home, but in the end I made it. And now I'm sore.

The good news is that I made 21km, I think I can (after a few more months of training) make 42km. The bad news is, man, I'm sore. Overall though, happy 37th birthday. Here's to another healthy 37 birthdays!

October 26, 2011

Fat, Sick, and nearly Dead

I watched "Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead" on Amazon Instant Video tonight. Another great documentary! I'm excited because a few days ago I ordered a Vitamix (1363 Spy [or possibly it was CIA] model) blender which can make great juices. Since I'm currently training for my first marathon, and my father has really enjoyed his vitamix blender, I started to want one at home. With little Alan on the way, I think we can also make fresh baby food when he gets around to eating that kind of thing.

I also checked out a few other things on Amazon Instant Video, and suspect that I'll be watching a bit of Doctor Who before sleeping. They have a whole bunch of the old series and the new series on there. Amazing.

October 25, 2011

Amazon Instant Video

I'm currently in America for work. I bought some stuff from Amazon, and they offered me a free Amazon Prime trial, which I can cancel within the first month for no charge. I've been curious about Amazon Prime Instant Video for a while, so decided to check it out.

They have some great videos up there! I checked out "Bigger, Faster, Stronger*" yesterday, and "Between the Folds" today. They are both great documentaries. Bigger, Faster, Stronger* is about steroid use (in sports and elsewhere) while Between the Folds is about origami. I particularly recommend the origami documentary for anyone interested in science, art, and the strange intersection between them.

I'm pretty impressed with the selection (there are a lot more interesting things that I would like to watch) and the process has just worked without a hitch for me. I won't keep the Prime membership in America because I live in Japan, and can't take advantage of the streaming there (as far as I know) but if I lived in the US I would definitely pony up for prime and make great use of this feature.

Since I work at Amazon, this might come off as blatant advertising, but really I don't think you can blame me too much. ;-)

September 24, 2011

A Wedding in New York, and a Baby Shower in DallasA Wedding in New York, and a Baby Shower in Dallas

Last week Lisa and I went to New York for the wedding of our friends Lena Park and Ben Grenier. This will be Lisa's second time in New York, and a welcome return for me. Because of the wedding, I also had a great chance to see a bunch of friends from grad school. We did this vacation pretty quickly, arriving Thursday evening, and flying from New York to Dallas on Monday, then back to Tokyo from Dallas on Thursday. That gave us basically three days in New York. We basically had a bunch of errands to run (shopping) but on Friday we were able to spend some time at the MOMA. You can see a picture with Lisa by Starry Night and Warhol's Marylin Monroe as proof. It is really amazing how many world class famous paintings are in that building (and how many more in storage?) We also swung by M1-5 in the evening for a get-together with Lena and Ben and lots of friends.

On Saturday we took a trip down to Princeton, primarily to visit our friends Ron and Michelle and their super cute boy Evan, but also to swing by some of the local favorites. For me, that primarily means Halo Pub, a great ice cream place. Strangely, Princeton has more ice cream parlors than bars. Michelle is convinced that the Bent Spoon is the best ice cream in Princeton, and of course you can't forget Thomas Sweet if you are talking about Princeton Ice Cream. So we decided to go for the rare Princeton Trifecta: ice cream at all three places. For dinner, we swung by perennial favorite Hoagie Haven.

We started at Thomas Sweet, where Lisa sampled their sugar free frozen yogurt. I had brownies blended into strawberry ice cream. Little Evan loves ice cream, which he calls "ice see". He also loves trucks, and even since spending a day with Evan, every time I see a truck now, I shout "truck!" We walked over to The Bent Spoon, and had some interesting ice cream there. Lisa tried the Avacado and Mango, I had a scoop of chocolate (excellent) and blood orange sherbet. They were all very good, I loved the chocolate, thought the avacado was a bit strange, and liked the blood orange sherbet but would have preferred a traditional strawberry or other type of berry. The last stop was Halo Pub, where I had more traditional strawberries on chocolate. Even though I was pretty full of ice cream, Evan didn't seem to be slowing down (Ice See!) and we did need some sort of dinner, so we went over to Hoagie Haven. Lots of our Princeton friends just love Hoagie Haven, and I like it as well, although I don't go out of my way for it. Lisa enjoyed the steak hoagie (we split a half) as well, but probably doesn't see the attraction that some of my friends have for the place.

After spending a great day with friends in Princeton (see the shot of the two of us in the flower gardens) we took the train back to New York, which was a great contrast with the trains in Tokyo. Slow, not necessarily on schedule, and perhaps not as clean as you would expect coming from Japan. She also noticed a few rats in the subway and commented on those. Another big issue with New York is that there are lots of stairs if you take the subway. Lots of stairs.

The day of the wedding, we had lunch at the Russian Tea Room. That was my first time there, and while people say it has really become a tourist trap, I thought the food was good, and I like the atmosphere. Who cares if it is a tourist location now? I ordered the trio of sliders, and was disappointed. Lisa had the Beef Stroganov and was not. We split the borscht. The tea was very nice too - I am going to drink more tea now. We have great teas out here in Japan, I can't deal with the caffeine in coffee and soda, but tea seems to be ok. After dinner, we headed uptown to Columbia, and then over to the wedding.

The wedding was at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament, a beautiful church on 71st. The ceremony was shorter than I expected, and beautiful. It seemed like a fairly traditional Catholic wedding to me, but I'm not super well versed on traditional weddings, so I won't try to analyze the wedding aside from saying that it was a great ceremony and seemed to do the job.

The reception was at Del Posto downtown. The dinner was delicious, with great speeches by friends of the lovely couple, and the bride's twin sister.

After the wedding, we flew the next day to Dallas to visit with my family for a few days. My great sisters set up a baby shower for Lisa since they are not common in Japan. We had a great turnout of friends and family at the party. One of the highlights of the trip was getting to spend time with Alana's son Scout, who has grown very big!

Our Aunt Laura made some delicious cupcakes for the party, and the Butlers were gracious enough to bring sandwiches and other dinner foods. Don't misunderstand; we don't have Butlers, but Jerome and Sydney Butler did come to the party and brought the food. Alana and Jana also bought a bunch of white baby onesies and fabric markers, and the guests drew great designs for our little boy. We've got a whole bunch of fashionable clothes for our baby now.

Our mom, who has Parkinson's disease, really perks up when little Scout in the room. It was great spending time with mom and Scout, and we also were able to get a few pictures of the whole Evans family together. I don't think we've had the full family together for a few years, so that was also very nice.

We had a short trip, but it was packed with friends and family. As always time just seems to fly, and now here we are back in Tokyo. I'm hopeful that once we have our little boy we'll be able to see family back in the States again, but it might be a while before we feel up to the task of a 10+ hour flight with a little baby. Alana and Scout seem to have managed really well though, so maybe we will be able to do it also. At any rate, it was a very nice vacation! Many thanks to all the friends and family for taking the time to see us, and congratulations to Lena and Ben!

July 24, 2011

Announcing Project: Micro Cooper

R. and I have recently started on a new project, which we will call Codename: Micro Cooper. The story starts about four months back, when R. complained of feeling sick in the morning and tired. A quick trip to the hospital, and we found the reason: an as-of-yet unmet new member of the family. We don't yet know much about this little person in the making, but for now we will address the person as (micro) Cooper.

We've been going to a hospital in Hiroo called Aiiku Hospital. Hiroo is a kind of stylish neighborhood and Aiiku Hospital is a well-respected hospital that is popular with expats. It is convenient for me because it is a quick 5 to 10 minute bike ride from work, and maybe fifteen minutes from home on the bike. It is about a thirty minute train ride with one transfer, or a quick 10 minutes in a taxi. So we are set on that front.

Yesterday, we decided that we needed to get some additional backing on the safety front, and we visited Suitengu Shrine, a Shrine renowned for the worship of the deity of Safe Childbirth. Walking around the area there are lots of Maternity shops and lots of pregnant women. We planned to make a day of it, so before going to the shrine, we went to have a very nice Unagi (freshwater eel) lunch.

In July Japanese people traditionally have a Summer Unagi meal, which is supposed to be a meal to help you get over the oppressive heat and boosts your stamina. So we headed over to Asakusa's Unagi Maekawa for lunch. The cute little restaurant is right on the Sumida river, in a small three story building with Tatami-mat seating. You can actually see Tokyo Sky Tree from the Tatami room in which we ate on the second floor. The other thing about this restaurant is that it has been serving up Unagi over rice for a long time. A very long time: about 200 years. So they have had a long time to perfect their art. I really enjoyed the meal, and highly recommend the place. It is a bit pricey though (I think we paid about $80 for the two of us for lunch.)

After lunch, we took the train to Suitengu Shrine. It is a pretty small place actually, which surprised me. We washed our hands, and headed to the Shine sales shop. If you aren't familiar with Japanese shrines, they usually specialize in one sort of thing (with a specific deity to back it up) and then sell a variety of charms to help you attain your goals. There are traffic safety charms, charms for doing well on tests, and so on. This particular shrine specializes in safe childbirth. We asked for an order of "Have the priests pray for our safe childbirth", but it turns out that we were too late for that (they were all sold out - or more properly booked up) so we just got the safe childbirth womb wrap.

The safe childbirth belt includes a nice cloth wrap (with some blessings on it) as well as a charm that you wrap up with the cloth. That should really help. R. tried it on, but we're still a bit early on in the process so she thinks it can wait a while yet.

We still have about four months to go before Project: Micro Cooper is unveiled, but there are lots of big changes coming up in our lives. We're going to have to see how we can fit more stuff in our little apartment, and start looking at baby carriages and child seats. We've also been checking out new cars, with a chance we'll trade in our Mini Cooper for a Mini Cooper Clubman or possibly a Mini Cooper Crossover. We've got to send in our Mini Cooper for the bi-annual inspection this month, and then it will be licensed for two more years. Once that is up though, it will be 8 years old, a veritable octogenarian in Japan.

So friends and family, we've got big changes coming up, and definitely welcome any advice and pointers. The release date for Project: Micro Cooper is currently 2011-12-15, so check back around Christmas time to see what new super cute features we've got coming!

June 25, 2011

Premium Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Last weekend R. and I went to see Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stanger Tides. This is an unusual occurrence because since I moved to Japan and got married, I generally see only about four movies a year. So going to see a real movie in a real movie theater is a pretty big deal for us. I'm not really sure why that is, but it probably comes down to two things:

  • Movie tickets cost a lot here in Japan
  • R. and I usually don't have the same days off, so we don't have a lot of time together

Pirates looked like it would be fun, so I checked out the times, and we could make it last Sunday. We headed down to the Roppongi hills in time for Brunch, and stopped off at 37 Steakhouse. They had an excellent Eggs Benedict. I hadn't had a real American style brunch in a long time, and I really enjoyed it. We are going to have to do this more often. R. enjoyed a nice lunch steak, but I think I was the winner with the eggs and delicious bacon.

We also stopped by the Roppongi Mini Cooper dealership and checked out the new Crossover model. It is much bigger than the Mini Cooper we have now. But I don't really think we need a car in Tokyo, and certainly not a new one.

We were a bit early to our show, but that was ok because we had Premium Seats. I've never had Premium Seats before. I wasn't even sure what that entailed actually. It turns out that means that the chairs in the theater are a bit better. They have a really nice reclining function, and a small table for drinks and stuff. There is also a special bar and each ticket entitles you to one drink. A beer or wine or juice or something. So we sat down and had nice drinks and conversation in a little bar while waiting for the movie to start. The theater itself was pretty nice, and the seats were great. The place was also packed. You also could take a little blanket if you were cold. The theater was a bit on the hot side for me, but R. took two blankets, and most of the women there were taking a blanket also.

How was the movie itself? Pretty good! Not great, but a really fun adventure with Johnny Depp doing a great job being funny as Jack Sparrow. I think the movie was a bit weak on some of the motivation points (I am not sure why the love interest did a lot of what she did) and there were many points of contrivance to make things work for Jack and/or the plot. But who cares? It was a fun romp.

Also, as a bonus, the day before I hung out with Eric, R., Ami, and her boyfriend. We had a great Chinese dinner. Actually, I need to try to make it out to Ami's family's restaurant more often. I'll put it on the list of things to do. Like finish writing blog entries.

Hey, mark one off the list!

June 11, 2011

A Vacation in Singapore and Indonesia

We took a vacation and went to Singapore and the Bintan Island in Indonesia. We flew into Singapore from Japan on Tuesday evening, arriving a little before midnight, and went to a cheap hotel in Singapore. We woke up pretty early in order to get to the ferry terminal by 7am for a 9am ferry to Bintan. Not much sleep, but that's ok, we plan to catch up at the resort.

The ferry ride was about an hour and was very smooth. I was worried about getting seasick, but no problem. We arrived at the ferry terminal, and made it through immigration (with a bit of a stop over for me, but I eventually made it.) At the immigration office, the officer said that I had a nice beard, and then asked if I was Muslim. I'm not, but I thought that was a compliment.

We found a bus that took us to the resort, and as we arrived there was a group of people playing music and dancing to welcome us in. We got a nice cool watermelon juice and checked in. The grounds of the resort are very nice, they have a bunch of birds of paradise, a beach, a couple of restaurants, and a very nice pool. For most of the time that we were there, we spent our time at the pool relaxing and reading books. I love my kindle for outdoor reading.

On the first evening we also went out for a tour of the mangroves. We had a guide take us up the river in a little boat, and also there was an older Japanese couple with us. They couldn't speak English, so I ended up doing a bit of interpretation for them. Sometimes in the mangroves there are monkeys and other animals, but all we saw were a bunch of lizards. Also there is an old earthen oven that was used to burn some special sort of tree that turns into charcoal, which used to be a major export of the island a long time ago.

We tried a few of the restaurants affiliated with the report while we were there. We stayed two nights, so not really all that long, but it was a very relaxing stay. I think we spent all of Thursday in the pool and ocean. When we were in the ocean I felt a sharp pain on my right foot, and hurried out of the ocean. R. didn't believe me when I told her that I was attacked by a jellyfish, but it puffed up pretty good and clearly was a jellyfish sting. A few hours later it was ok, but I do not like getting stung by jellyfish.

We also had dinner at a seafood restaurant by the sea, and stopped in at their bar that was out in the ocean. One of the patrons was actually fishing while having his drink. I had a Bintan beer, and the first ingredient on the list of ingredients was "Air". I later learned that "Air" means "Water" so that made more sense once I figured that out.

On the day that we decided to relax at the pool, I read a book on my kindle, and R. read a book on a book. After lunch we got an hour massage on the beach for something like $60 for the both of us. Very nice.

On Friday morning we headed out to the Ferry terminal to return to Singapore. There is an hour difference between Singapore and Bintan, so when we got back to Singapore it was close to 1:30pm. We caught a cab back to our Singapore hotel (Hotel York near Orchard Road) and checked in. When we entered Singapore I realized that my passport was full, so we caught a cab to the US Embassy which was conveniently close. We got there just before they closed the office for adding passport pages (3pm) but they were kind enough to accept my application. Also, since Monday was a holiday and we were leaving on Tuesday (and it was Friday) they were very kind to do a rush job and add pages to my passport right then. Great!

We had a quick late lunch / early dinner at our hotel, sampling the famous Chicken Rice, and then I signed us up for the Night Safari. That is actually a really fun tour. You go to a part of the Singapore Zoo at night, and ride a tram around (or walk) at night to see a bunch of animals. Lots of people try to take pictures (no flash photography please!) and all fail because it is night. So it is one of those things that you will need to remember, instead of document.

Saturday we went to Little India for lunch and had a very nice vegetarian dinner. We ordered the lunch set, which had a whole bunch of different types of curry that you can eat with some bread and rice. It was a delicious and very filling meal. We wandered around for a bit and checked out a few of the temples in the area (quite a few!) There was even one place that had a Hindu and Buddhist temple next door to each other. After some sightseeing we stopped for a coffee in a mall, which had some Sesame Street show for the kids. I was glad to see Cookie Monster, but I never remembered him having three back-dancers.

After that we headed out to see my friend Min, and he gave us a few tips on Singapore. We decided to take him up on one of them and went out to find some Durian fruit. I am not a fan of Durian, but R. had never had any before and was excited to try it. I don't like the smell (rotten) or the consistency (slimy) or the flavor (hard to tell once you get back the smell and consistency.) We also got a bunch of other fruit like Rambutan and Longan. We actually made a dinner of just fruit after a lunch of just vegetables, and I considered it a good food day! Amazing!

So after that we headed home and go some sleep.

Hey, what is that? A Merlion! Yep, we went to Sentosa, the ridiculously overprice Singaporean vacation play-land. It is like a place that wants to be both Disneyland and Coney Island. Sentosa Island costs some amount of money to get to, and is basically a beach with a lot of attractions. That are expensive. I bought us two tickets that let us try a few of the attractions, but I think we spent over $160 or so for the two of us. Just to get there and walk around and do a few things. Way to go Singapore! Still, we got to see the famous Merlion. We went up inside his head and got to see the surrounding island, and Singapore from that vantage point. Pretty good.

What else did we do at Sentosa island? We saw the Images of Singapore museum thing, and then tried to get in line to see a 4-d movie at the 4d Magix movie theatre but we didn't have the time. We did catch a cable lift type thing down to the beach, and then saw Songs of the Sea. Songs of the Sea was a show with water and lights and lasers and people singing and fire. When it started I thought "oh man, they suckered us." It was a bunch of people (6?) on the beach singing some really campy songs that sound like it should be a Disney thing, except you don't know the characters or songs. But then they started to get accompanied by lasers and water and fire. In the end it was pretty good, but still feels like really we should have gone to Disneyland.

After that we headed back to Singapore itself, and on the way back stopped by Clarke Quay. Apparently Clarke Quay is a place with lots of bars and nightlife. So we went there to check it out. Turns out they were running the Monaco F1 race live, and it was some sort of historic race where there was a wreck and the final few laps were started after a yellow flag. Exciting. If I knew more about fast cars. R. really loves F1 though, so we had a good time.

Then went home. There were lots of bars there, although the prices were ridiculous (possibly better than Sentosa, but running pretty close.)

On our final day in Singapore we did some shopping and then headed over to the Marina Bay Sands complex. We hung out in the shopping center (and did some shopping!) and eventually headed over to Sky 57, a nice restaurant up on top of the building. The dinner was great. I took pictures of the meal, but don't really feel like posting them here. You can check them out on Flikr if you are really interested though. Very nice dinner. Before dinner though, R. went to the Casino. It was her first time at a Casino. It was probably my third or so. I'm not big on betting, because I figure if you keep at it long enough you will lose money. The only exception might be poker, where you can win money off of the other players if you are good enough. I know that I am not good enough. I don't really know how to play poker really, so I stay away from it. When I do go to casinos I will play blackjack, because I can add up to 21. Pretty much.

Anyway, R. decided to play Roulette. I explained the game to her to the best of my ability. And she won 2x the money that she started with. She turned $50 into $100. Amazing. I told her we should never go to a casino again. I also had a run of luck and turned my $50 into $200 at blackjack. So I guess I shouldn't go back to a casino again either.

After the casino and dinner it was late, and we went back to the hotel. We had to get up at 4am to catch a cab to go to the airport to get there in time for a 7am flight back to Japan. And we both had work the next day.

My foot still hurt from being viciously attacked by a jellyfish, but we did make money playing at the casino (and then spent much more than we made at the mall and dinner) so I guess in the end it was ok. I didn't get sunburned, we relaxed, tried some strange fruit, and go to read a lot and swim in both a pool and an ocean. A very nice vacation!

March 20, 2011

Dinner and a Movie in Tokyo after the Earthquake

For the past week, R. and I have been at home. I have been working from home (it is great that I work at a company where this is possible) while R. has been off of work because Tokyo Disneyland is currently closed. I have not been getting out and about the city much, I really have only been visiting the local supermarket and a few stores around where we live. We have generally been eating stuff that we have on hand - I've made a bunch of omelets since we were able to find eggs. We cooked up a batch of Curry on Monday, and have had that for dinner and lunch quite a few days. Curry is great because you can make a lot of it at once, it keeps for a long time, and you just need rice to go with it.

On Saturday, I wanted to take R. out to do something, and coincidentally the movie Tangled just opened in Japan on Saturday. She wants to see Tangled, I'm interested in getting out, and so we had a plan. A normal sort of thing that people do everywhere: a movie and then dinner.

Note that actually this isn't something we do a lot here in Tokyo. I used to see two to four movies a month (hi Carl!) but since moving to Japan I have not seen many movies at all. Tickets here cost about $30 (given the current crazy exchange rate) and just are not as common of an activity as they are in the US. Still, it is still a pretty normal thing to do. So R. reserved us some tickets for a 3:30pm showing over in Roppongi Hills.

That got me to thinking about dinner. One thing I want to do is to support the Japanese economy and get things back to normal. Sitting around at home eating curry for a week (while it is economical on our end) is just not going to do that. I've been hearing good things about Union Square Tokyo for the past few years since it opened in 2007, so I wondered if they would have an opening for us. This place is a nice restaurant, not say Michelin three star or anything, but it is a nice place where a main dish will run from $40-$60 or so. Normally I would try to get a reservation a week or so in advance just to be sure, but I called them up Saturday afternoon and they took our reservation for that evening.

So, here are my main reasons for trying to get out and go do dinner:

  • A week after the earthquake, I think it is time to get back to normal life (not that we are always going out to high class restaurants) and stop sitting around at home.
  • I wanted to see how well mass transit could serve us. Roppongi Hills is usually about 30-45 minute trip from our place on a train and a bus.
  • I thought after a week of sitting around, Risa and I deserved a bit of a treat after surviving the largest Earthquake in Japanese history. If anything deserves a bit of a celebration, that is it.
  • I love curry. But I love me a good steak a bit more, if I can get an excuse to put out the money they cost in Tokyo.

Click the "read more" link to see how well we fared.

read more (3240 words)

March 17, 2011

Why I am not worried about Earthquakes or Radiation in Tokyo

In the past few days there has been a lot of confusion about what has been going on. I wrote a bit about my experience in the big earthquake and then later a bit about food shortages, and strange things I am eating. I touched a bit there on the supply problems and issues with nuclear reactors in the north east, but I'll focus a bit more on that in this post.

So first, initially I was wearing my anti-earthquake hat (+1 for saving throws vs. falling rocks.) Friday was crazy with earthquakes. The first was very scary, but Tokyo pulled through very well. Friday night there were many earthquakes, but none as powerful as the first one. Saturday there were also lots of earthquakes. Sunday there were fewer. I started noticing more in the news about the nuclear power plants in Fukushima. There were still tremors, and Tokyo is feeling the side-effects of the earthquake. Really the problems we have faced are with transportation and electricity. Trains are running at reduced capacity. There are scheduled blackouts for much of Northern Japan. Areas around Tokyo have also seen blackouts but the main center of Tokyo, the "23 wards" have been spared. That would be like all of New York state having scheduled blackouts, but Manhattan being spared due likely to concerns about business and population density. In fact, we are going to reverse evacuate my sister-in-law to Tokyo from a place that is about an hour and a half out of Tokyo further away from the North East because they have been having two blackouts a day and we have had none. Trains are pretty much running now, although at slightly reduced capacity, and at least the major parts of Tokyo have regular electric, gas, and water service. Our elevators are even back at home, although the escalators and elevators at the local shopping center are off to conserve energy.

The other issue is food and gas. Gas is tight right now. Mostly people were panicked and trying to get fuel to get out of Tokyo. That has made it hard for the emergency workers to get fuel to go help out where there is real trouble - up near Sendai and further north east. I think that has taken care of itself now though since people are less worried about radiation and are just staying in Tokyo trying to get back to business as usual. Most companies still have people going to work. Amazon is a bit rare in that we can work from home (that it is allowed, and that we have a kind of job where that actually works well.) I have seen some other email from other friends in Japan saying that if they want to work from home, they can, but they will need to fill in a form and get it stamped by one or two people. That sounds like Japan to me. Everything here needs to be stamped to be official. So yay for Amazon Japan, they have just been really amazing throughout this whole thing.

So I can attest that while we might be a bit inconvenienced and eating strange foods, day to day life is fine. My wife is home because Disneyland (where she is a nurse) is closed for an indeterminate amount of time. What has been more concerning is people over-reacting to the fear of radioactivity from the explosions at the Fukushima nuclear power plants, about 300km away from Tokyo. The news here has been pretty good about getting information out. As of right now (2011-03-17 10:40am JST) I do not think there is any danger to Tokyo from the Nuclear power plants.

Here are some resources I have been using to get information:

  • MIT NSE Nuclear Information Hub. A curated blog by MIT students and professors with a lot of information. I trust MIT, and their stuff seems to be very informative with a science (not fear) bent.
  • As of the 15th, this post by Paul Atkinson makes it seem like Britain has no fears of radiation.
  • As of the 16th the US Embassy also says there is no danger to Tokyo. They also say that TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Corp.) has been upfront about the disaster and their information accurate. This reassures me that there are international orgs watching the situation and that we are getting good information.
  • The Australian Government has some advice for Australians in Japan. They suggest expanding the exclusion zone from 30km to 50km. Tokyo is 300km from the power plant sites.
I've kept an eye out on Facebook where friends in Japan are posting up relevant information as they see it. I like this pictures showing radiation readings in Tokyo. Right now the level is at about 0.2 microsieverts per hour. Eating one banana is 0.1 microsieverts (assuming you eat one banana a day for a year.) Andy Heather has a good blog post about this.

I am convinced that unless there are disastrous changes in the situation, Tokyo will be fine. We are getting good information on the situation on the news, but even a worst-case scenario, a meltdown like at Three Mile Island, we should not see any negative effects in Tokyo. Of course, if you are within the 30km exclusion zone around Fukushima, there is danger. It isn't going to instantly kill you, but the professionals are on the situation and taking care of it.

There is no way there will be problems in the US from this. As long as we are careful about not eating food from the surrounding area - which is what I gather a lot of the problem from Chernobyl was from - there should be no problems. Chernobyl did not even have the external containment vessel that these power plants have. Lots of eyes are on this, and the professionals are doing their best to keep the radiation contained. I have my tv on, and am watching a few sources, but I think things will be fine.

On to another major subject. Why am I not worried about earthquakes in Japan? First, read this blog post by an engineer in Japan. It is a really good description of how things went right. I totally agree. We have an earthquake warning system. I usually see a warning about 10 seconds before an earthquake hits, assuming I have my TV on. Realistically, this isn't too helpful, but it has helped me get on my hard hat or put down a bowl of burning soup before the shaking starts. That is really impressive though: advance warning for a natural disaster.

The other thing that makes me feel safe is the building engineering. I'll use the building that we live in. It was built two years ago, just about. This website lists the safety features of our building. You can run it through Google's translation service. Actually that doesn't really help, but we've got 56 230cm diameter pylons driven very deep (28 meters) into the bedrock, and the whole building is made to sway with earthquakes. Why does our small two bedroom apartment cost half a million dollars? Because the entire building can dance with an earthquake. This video shows skyscrapers swaying in the earthquake. By design. It feels very, very strange when you are in one, but they do this by design and Japan has poured lots of research and effort into building design. This site has some general information on earthquake and building design. I should see if my architect friends have more information. I know most skyscrapers in Japan use base isolators.

At any rate, Tokyo is doing pretty well. The north east is horribly devastated and could really use more of the focus an attention that is currently being spent on the Nuclear power plant. It seems like that is not as big a problem as people fear. I'll still keep my anti-radiation hat handy though, so please don't worry. I can make all sorts of hats as necessary, and possibly radiation-proof my earthquake hat as well.

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