October 25, 2006
Whale cutlets in the Cafeteria?!?Today for lunch in the office cafeteria one of the set lunches was a fried cutlet thing. Usually (almost always) this is a pork fried cutlet option that comes with rice, some miso soup, a small salad, and some tofu. I assumed that is what it was today, but when I looked at the card, it said that it was whale cutlets. Whale? I was surprised. I'm pretty sure that, for the most part, whale hunting is outlawed. I know that of all the countries that do engage in whaling, Japan is one of the more prolific countries, but I was still quite surprised to see whale show up on a standard cafeteria lunch menu. I just assumed that you could get whale in Japan, but that it was more of a specialty item, not something that shows up in cafeterias. It would be like a standard US cafeteria serving foie gras or something. Sure, you can get foie gras at specialty places, but you wouldn't expect it to show up somewhere completely regular. Of course, I had to try it. Sadly, it was disappointing. I would have much preferred pork cutlets, and somehow the idea of eating whale just didn't sit well with me. It did make a nice addition to a week in which I had already eaten something strange. Over the weekend, there was the 19th Annual Oyamadai Festival, a standard Japanese street fair kind of thing, with little stalls on the street side and so on. One of the places was for the local horse sashimi place. They had grilled horse on a stick for 100 yen, so I tried a piece. It actually tasted pretty good, but again I had a hard time with the concept of eating horse, so I don't really think it is something I will eat again. I'm certainly not ready to try raw horse, even though one of my French co-workers says it is just delicious. If I ever feel the need though, I do have a place within a three minute walk of my house that serves it. Oh Japan, you are such a convenient country! You think of everything!
October 10, 2006
Gallery Hopping in TokyoOn Saturday I met up with my friend Fumie Hiratai and we went gallery hopping with another friend of hers. Fumie is a very good guide to the art scene in Tokyo. We met when she was working at NII, but she is an artist and was able to give up her job at NII to focus on art full time. She's been working on large paintings that end up in hotel lobbies and large corporations lately, I think. We met up in Ginza, a very nice area of Tokyo that reminds me a lot of SoHo in more ways than one. Ginza is rife with art galleries, but similar to New York, the real avant-garde artists are pushed farther out as the rents go up, and like to retailate by moving to more and more inaccessible parts of the city. Fumie wanted to go to some more modern and independent galleries, so the first place we headed was the Inoue building in Kayabacho. The Inoue building is very interesting. It is an older building situated on the Kamejima river. (The link to the map is courtesy of the Masataka Hayakawa Gallery, which I do not think that we entered. The building has these interesting "井" grillwork signatures on the exterior. The majority of the building is devoted to galleries, with at least three or four of them, and a very interesting bookstore that just opened the week we went there. The proprieter was a very congenial fellow that we spoke with at length. We went to the Taguchi Fine Art Gallery for the Kim Taek-sang exhibition Hue of Time. In general, I liked the concept, but I didn't really think that it was great art, or anything that I would want to spend large amounts of money on to put up in my house. I do think I could do a fairly decent impression though if I took some time to find some nice ceramic tiles and some paints that I liked. It is an idea anyway. After the Inoue gallery, we took a long walk over to a very interesting building over near the Sumida river. It was a converted factory space, butted up against an in-use factory of some kind. Floors 2 and 3 were devoted to some strange engineering offices. Floors 5, 6, and 7 are art spaces. There are a bunch of interesting galleries there, such as the Zenshi Gallery, the Shugo Arts Gallery, and the Tomio Koyama Gallery. For the most part, I wasn't inpired by the art that we saw, although I did in general like Ikemura Leiko's Pacific exhibition. There was one piece that really struck me though. It was a work in the Tomio Koyama Gallery (which I found to be the most interesting) by Tom Sachs entitled Promental shit backwash psychosis (I think this is it - but the inscription that I remember does not show up.) The shocking, and thought-provoking, part of the piece was the inscription over the Burberry pattern and Hello Kitty (look Andy, I know how to use Wikipedia too!) image. I do not recall exactly, but it went something along the lines of
Chill out Japan, or you'll get nuked again.It gave me pause and it is very interesting to think about the Hello Kitty brand (and concept!) shone against the light of the incredible popularity of Burberry and other brand goods here in Tokyo. In what ways have brand goods become an end-goal in themselves for some segment of the hyper-consumer population of Japan? I did a lot of walking on Saturday, but it was very interesting to hit these smaller art galleries. I look forward to doing it again sometime.
September 22, 2006
Sumo Wrestling In TokyoSharon Stone also was there when we were. I think I saw her; the blond down in the very expensive seats, I imagine. I really enjoyed watching the Sumo matches. The last two matches of the day were Kotooshuu, a Bulgarian Sumo Wrestler who is quite popular, and Asashoryu, a Yokozuna wrestler who I've also heard of before. Asashoryu did the Bow Dance at the end of the day, since he won his match. I was a little sad that he won his match, because I was totally looking forward to throwing my zabuton. Usually if there is a big upset that people are unhappy with, they will throw their zabuton up in the air. We didn't get that chance though. The Sumo experience was really great. We ended up spending just about all day there, which was a bit tough because of the seating arrangements, but I'm glad that we saw the younger Sumo wrestlers also. I think I also now have a better grasp of Sumo. I'll try to catch it on TV if it is on some time. The people sitting next to us were quite nice too, and Andy also got a great picture of himself with some Sumo wrestlers. Just for completeness sake, you might want to surf over to GoneLiving.com and check out Andy's entry on our Sumo Funtime Adventure.
September 17, 2006
Tokyo Disney Sea
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September 9, 2006
Kuhonbutsu Taiko pulling festival
August 25, 2006
Awa-Odori in KouenjiKouenji, in Tokyo. I went with some friends from work, and really had a great time. I've posted some pictures up to Flickr, so take a look!
July 15, 2006
Mitama Matsuri at Yasukuni JinjyaOn Friday, I with some friends from work to the Mitama Matsuri at Yasukuni Jinjya. This is a very interesting trip all around, because it is a traditional Japanese Matsuri (festival) that takes place in a temple that honors those who have fallen during wartime (Yasukuni Temple.) The temple itself has been the center of, in a peripherial manner, a long-standing controversy between Japan and its neighbors, mainly China and Korea. The main controversy is not over the temple itself, but visits to the temple by Prime Minister Koizumi, who has been going there for the past few years. He says that he goes to the temple as an individual, and not a representative of the government.read more (1717 words)
June 26, 2006
Go-Con! Japanese Love CultureThis weekend I watched a movie, Go-Con! Japanese Love Culture that I had spotted quite a while ago, and thought might be interesting. A Go-con is certainly a formal institution in Japanese culture, although it isn't really quite clear to me what role it plays, and how I personally should relate to the phenomena. It is basically an en-masse blind date, where one male invites a number of his single friends and a female invites an equal number of her single friends to a dinner, everyone meets everyone else, and people chat over drinks. I know that I have never encountered this kind of thing on such an organized level in the United States. Of course, blind dates exist, and group outings with friends exist, but it seems to me like one of the main points of a Go-Con is to introduce single people to each other, with the hope that some permutation will result in non-single people eventually. I didn't particularly think the movie was very interesting, despite a reasonable score from the imdb. The main joke, that three guys organize many go-cons over and over, and follow a predictable script in each encounter, was played out in the opening minutes. It was interesting to see who their chosen fourth patsy would be for each evening, and what character foible would be used to highlight his complete unsuitabilty (hence improving the other three's chances at having a good conversation with one of the ladies, who effectively outnumber them by one now) but otherwise there wasn't much interesting until the closing scene. In the final scene there was some introspective commentary about the surface nature of Go-Cons, where judgments are made quickly based on appearances, and the competitive nature was just a way to comparatively measure one's own worth against the others in a battle to impress the women. An alternative viewpoint is offered by the older Japanese chef narrator who says that this is just a modernization of a long-time Japanese cultural practice (which I can't really comment on since I don't know the historical basis) and that despite the surface appearances it is important to speak from the heart. That viewpoint is hardly shown by any of the male actors outside of the final scene, and even then they have all been portrayed in such a superficial light that I can't believe any of the emotion that they try to bring about to redeem their characters to make for the happy ending. A thid semi-interesting point is the view that the Go-Con is a team endeavor that requires brains, thinking, and planning in order to "win". Of course, I don't really like how this sets up the Go-Con as essentially a battle of the sexes in which women must be tricked into thinking that men have some redeeming quality, because as everyone knows, we're devious beasts after only one thing. Which, indeed is the impression that the movie gives out for 95% of the movie! Most unbelievably, if I was the main female lead, a waitress who works in the restaurant where the Go-Cons all take place, I certainly would have no interest at all in any of the repeat Go-Con attendees. That was the hardest leap of faith of all to make. All that being said, I'm going to a Go-Con set up my by friend Watanabe-san this week, and have been thinking about what sort of role I play in the outing. Am I the unlucky fourth, chosen because my lack of mastery of the Japanese language will confine me to a corner seat where I'll eat my food and nod my head? Or am I going to steal the thunder of my fellow Go-Conners and dominate the conversation because I'm exotic? Most likely I'll just have a nice evening chatting with people about inconsequential things because frankly, I'm not Japanese and I don't think too hard about what a Go-Con is supposed to be. I don't really know what it is to the Japanese experience, and no matter how many bad movies I watch, I won't; I'll have to form my own (slightly biased) opinion as seen from foreign eyes. If anyone knows of any other Go-Con related movies please let me know.
June 5, 2006
Happy Road Oyamadai
Happy Road Oyamadai. It is a super cute little town.
This Baskin Robbins, a mere seconds from my apartment, could spell trouble for me.
My living room, sans furniture. The bedroom is off to the left. Click on the picture for more apartment shots.
April 2, 2006
Hamarikyuu Park and Monjya-yaki
F. and I went for a walk in Tokyo on Saturday. We first went to Hamarikyuu Park, and looked at some of the cherry blossoms. They are just about in full bloom now. NHK was there filming, which we later saw on TV that night. Hamarikyuu Park has a pine tree that is 300 years old. It's a pretty impressive tree.
After the park, we walked through Tsukiji, and went to a place that specialized in Monjya-yaki. Monjya-yaki is like Okonomiyaki, only it doesn't thicken up as much. It was quite good. We had an order of Cod fish eggs (mentaiko, 明太子) and a mix of shrimp, octopus and something else. It was very nice. I think architects and artists would like monjya-yaki (a Tokyo-area specialty I'm told) because first you have to build a restraining wall with space in the middle out of the solid ingredients, cook it a bit, and then pour in the soupy stuff, and cook it all together a bit. Once it has firmed up a bit, you mix the stuff up and cook it through, then eat it up. Good stuff.
On the way to dinner we also passed by the Tsukiji Hongwan temple, which is a very unusual temple architecturally. It looks more like it follows in Indian architectural tradition. It was closed though, so I didn't get to find out very much about it.
March 28, 2006
細木和子 (Hosoki Kazuko) Japanese fortune-teller, and Japanese dramas
So I got home at about 8pm today, ate dinner and started flipping through channels on the TV. I came across a special for Hosoki Kazuko's birthday, who is a well-known fortune teller. She has people on a show and then gives them (typically brutal) advice, from what I could tell.
I really couldn't believe some of the advice that she was giving. This particular special had 100 female high school graduates on the program. They would survey the audience about a topic, get the results, and then Hosoki Kazuko would give a little lecture. Anyway, she seems to be extremely conservative. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I certainly think that from an American perspective, people would think she is setting women's rights back about 40 years. For example, one of the questions was "Do you regret losing your virginity?" These girls are all about 17 or 18 I think, and the poll answer was something like 22 yes to 78 no. Hosoki ripped into them for being too young and being deceived by men because they are too trusting. Certainly that might be a problem, but I would think that for most people there they were dating people their own age, and how else does one learn about the world anyway?
That really isn't too shocking, but she also had some other really bad advice I thought. One girl said that she was really looking forward to starting to work and taking a job. One of the reasons she gave is that it is a way to get independence, and if for some reason she had to get a divorce, how else would she support her family without a career? That doesn't sound like a bad thing to be thinking about to me, but Hosoki completely lambasted her for that. She gave some expression amounting to basically: "Women should have a child, love, protect, (maybe one or verb ending in ru). Men should go out, work, fight, struggle, (etc.). Together these two build a family. That is the role for humans. (Women and men.)"
Another woman said she wanted to become the Prime Minister in the future. She was told that it is a very honorable and good thing to become a mother and house-wife. There were some other things like that, but I was just really struck by her opinions. Now, I don't have anything against women who want to be housewives. But I also think it is great for women to want to have a career, and men should try to house husbands as well sometimes.
I was ready to go to bed, but while flipping around I ran into 都立商売 (School of Water Business), a Japanese drama based on a manga that I know nothing about. Water business though, is generally red-light district night-life stuff. This drama is a comedy about a girl who transfers into a high school where people learn to be hostesses, bartenders at gay bars, escorts, stuff like that.
I believe it is just a single 1:45 minute drama thing, and it is unbearably bad, but like a train wreck I can't stop watching it. The main actress, playing the role of Yamashita Sanae, is amazingly interesting: a half Japanese (I'm assuming half, I only know that her dad is British) woman named "Becky" (short for Rebecca) that has been living in Japan. Her Japanese is just perfect, unlike some of the foreign actors you see on tv (and she doesn't grate on my like David Spectre does.) Some interesting information on her on the Japanese wikipedia. Looks like she went to Asia University's Business Administration school in Japan, and has been in some shows in the past few years going only by the nick-name "Becky". I'm really impressed by her, and even though I really should go to bed now, I've somehow gotten drawn into this otherwise very average drama that is horribly over-acted.
Here are some pictures from the official site. I don't know how long they will last, but give them a try.
November 13, 2005
Birthday Blood TypingSo I turned 31 today, in Japan. This is the second birthday I've had in Japan actually. Last time I was here for a conference in 2002 I believe, and it was not memorable. I believe that I bought myself a cup-cake at a convenience store or something. This time, I had a memorable birthday. I met F. at Shinjuku for lunch, at "La Boheme Cafe", which was quite nice. After that we walked to the governmental building, which is constantly being destroyed by monsters in movies. We did some window shopping, and then came across a blood drive. I've been meaning to give blood for a while, since I don't know my blood type and would like to have it typed. Also, I like the idea of helping out people in need. One reason I'm interested in knowing my blood type is because in Japan, people believe that one's personality is indicated by blood their blood type. I've been asked what my blood type is many times, and I never know. People are shocked. Anyway, I donated blood, and it turns out I'm type A. Sounds good to me. Now I know, and knowing is half the battle. It's a birthday I won't soon forget!
October 17, 2005
Ikebana showFumie and I went to a large Ikebana show at the Takashimaya in Nihonbashi on Sunday.
October 13, 2005
Visit to Hiroshima City University
On Wednesday morning I went to Hiroshima City University (広島市立大学) and met with Professor Hidetsugu Nanba (難波 英嗣), and was introduced to Dr. Teruaki Aizawa (相沢 輝昭 先生). I gave my multi-lingual multi-document summarization talk, as well as a brief demo of NewsBlaster and a short talk about graduate student life at Columbia University. Professor Nanba and one of his students, Ms. Taniguchi, gave a talk about their work on PRESRI, an automated survey paper generation system, although currently it identifies survey papers.
Afterwards I met with some of the students, and saw a brief presentation on some of their hetergeneous database searching research that also uses some interesting citation analysis methods.
I had some Hiroshima Yaki (a type of okonomiyaki) at Micchan (a chain) at Hiroshima station. Then I caught my 6:30pm Nozomi to Tokyo, and arrived at Shin-Yokohama at 10:10pm. I wish they had electrical outlets so I could use my laptop for longer than the hour that the battery lasts, but I really like the Shinkansen rail system. It is very comfortable and convenient.
October 12, 2005
Trip to Hiroshima, do I have to change this website to FuguTabeta.com??
On Tuesday evening I took a train from Tsu to Nagoya, and from Nagoya to Hiroshima on a Hikari Shinkansen. The picture is actually of a Kodama Rail Star train from Hiroshima because the shot I got of my Nozomi 700 Series Shinkansen from Hiroshima to Tokyo didn't turn out well.
On arriving at Hiroshima, I met with Professor Hidetsugu Nanba (難波 英嗣 先生) for a very, very nice dinner. We ate at a place called きっ川, proprieter 吉川 修平 (Kikkawa Shyuuhei). It was a fresh seafood restaurant, small, and with a very nice personable atmosphere. Every dish is described and explained by Mr. Kikkawa before you eat it. I really enjoyed the dinner, it was just excellent. We also had a nice local Sake with the dinner, 雨後の月 (Ugono Tsuki).
The first course was a nice Sashimi, and then there was a baked fish and a stewed fish? There was a great tempura course, and as Mr. Kikkawa explained, the anago (conger eel) was caught earlier that morning by Mr. Tiger, a famous Anago fisherman in Hiroshima that has been catching them for 40 years. It is said that he catches the most delicious Anago. It certainly was delicious.
The next course was a soup with many interesting things, mostly mushrooms and oysters, but there was also Fugu. Yes, Fugu. The namesake of this site, which I've been running since about 2000, but of course I've wanted to try Fugu for much longer than that. Maybe I first heard of it in 1996, in my first long trip to Japan. So, I had the Fugu, and it was delicious. Now, do I have to buy the domain FuguTabeta.com?? (FuguTabetai means "I want to eat Fugu", FuguTabeta would mean "I ate Fugu".)
So if you are ever in Hiroshima, I highly recommend Kikkawa. The phone number there is (082) 241-0002, but you had better know Japanese if you call there. It is a small place, so reservations are recommended.
Lab visit at Mie Daigaku (三重大学)Tuesday I visisted Dr. Masui (桝井先生) at Mie Daigaku. He introduced me to Dr. Atsuo Kawai (河合 敦夫 先生) and I was able to see some demonstrations of the research that they are doing. They have some very interesting work on identifying errors in Japanese and English (particles and determiners respectively) and some interesting Q&A work, as well as automatically learning features for nouns from the internet. Some of the Q&A work uses patterns, similar to Sasha's genus / type identification for ACQUAINT.
October 11, 2005
Trip to Tsu and Ise Jinguu
On Monday morning I caught the Kanki 3 train to Tsu (津) and met with Professor Nanba of Mie Daigaku. He and two of his students (Naito, who was very talkative, and another student who was not as talkative) took me to Ise Jinguu (伊勢神宮). Ise Jinguu is a very large temple, one of the main ones in Japan, that has a "moving shrine" that is destroyed and re-built in a new location every 30 years I believe. There are two main grounds, the outer temple (外宮) and the inner temple (内宮). We visited and walked around both.
Before we went to Naiku, we stopped at Okage yokocho, an area of lots of little shops and restaurants. We had a nice gyuudon for lunch, and then went on to the Naiku temple. It was really impressive: the grounds are just huge. And, they have lots of nice places to store rice.
October 10, 2005
Visit to Nittaiji in Nagoya
October 9, 2005
Tokyo to Nagoya, dinner with the Maeda family
I caught a 3pm Shinkansen from Tokyo and arrived in Nagoya at 4:22pm. I met with Maeda-san, and we went back to his house where we met with his daughter Ryoko, her two children Amane (2.5) and Hitoki (.6), and later on Masao and his wife Chisato and their two children, Yuusuke (3) and Motoki (1.x?). A total of four grandchildren, and they were all very active, especially Amane-chan.
We had a great dinner of tempura and sukiyaki, and I really ate my fill. Later, at about 10pm, we were able to use iChat to video chat with Mom and Dad back in Texas, which was a lot of fun. All the little grandkids enjoyed seeing themselves on the computer, and Amane liked screaming at the camera. She just likes screaming in general though, it seemed.
October 7, 2005
Kyoto Daigaku, Kinkakuji, back to Tokyo
On Friday I left the Keihana area and headed to Kyoto to meet with Professor Toru Ishida, whom I was introduced to by Professor Sal Stolfo. Professor Ishida spent some time at Columbia University years ago. We had a nice lunch and talked about the upcoming "Language Grid" project and other things. I should contact Isahara-san at NiCT.
After meeting at Kyoto Daigaku for lunch, I headed out to Kinkakuji. It was really nice - the golden pavilion is just so dominating. I took some pictures with my Japanese cell phone, but it turns out that the camera on that thing is like 64x64 or something! It's horrible! While walking to the temple I met a family of three from Utah who had visited Kiyomizutera and Ginkakuji earlier in the day, and were finishing up with Kinkakuji. It seems like they were having a really nice vacation in Japan, which is nice to see.
After Kinkakuji, I headed back to Kyoto station and had a coffee. I tried to connect to the free wireless network in Kyoto, but you had to register (in person!) to get an account to set up a VPN. So that didn't go anywhere. Anyway, I caught my Shinkansen at 7pm, and made it back home by 10:00pm.
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