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.
American Analog Set in Kyoto
So my sister tells me that I need to see the group "American Analog Set". They are currently touring Japan, and as luck would have it they played in Kyoto while I was there interviewing. According to my sister, the girl making her dress, Jesse, is dating the drummer of AmAnSet. Since I'm staying about 40 minutes away from Kyoto, it is a bit of a hike for me, but I thought it would be stupid not to see them, so I headed out.
I got to the venue (Metro) at about 7pm, and people had started lining up. They started to let people in about about 7:25 or so, and luckily they hadn't sold the place out completely so I was able to get in. Unlike New York, small live shows are really expensive: 5,000 yen for this one (included one drink.)
The first group up was 13 & God and I liked them. They had some nice soft soothing music, punctuated by really hard rocking parts and loud, fast rap. A guy I was talking to in the audience told me that the album is almost completely mellow, which was really surprising given the show, but I'm definitely interested in picking up their album, or perhaps some of the stuff from the component bands, since "13 & God" is apparently the joint work of a group called "the Notwist" and "Themselves". Here is a kind of nice review of their history together. "Doseone" even had one of those thinkgeek favorite LED belts. And at least one song was about gravity and atmosphere, so it has a geek appeal that I would like to check out.
After 13 & God, American Analog Set came on. Unfortunately, I had to leave after their first song in order to make it back to the station to catch the last train (I actually got the second-to-last train) back to my hotel. But I did pick up their latest album, "Set Free" which has 4 bonus tracks (remixes) for the Japanese release.
I didn't hear a thing out of the closing band, Her Space Holiday.
October 6, 2005
Talk and interview at ATRI gave a talk today at ATR (also in Kyoto) and met with some people there: Dr. Yutaka Sasaki, the head of the Natural Language Processing department. I also spoke briefly with Dr. Eiichiro Sumita, a principal researcher in the NLP group, and I heard about Dr. Kiyonori Ohtake's work on Japanese paraphrasing / simplification.
After lunch with Dr. Sasaki, I met with Yoshinobu Tonomura, the deputy director at NTT. We talked for about half an hour I believe, and I think he was impressed with (if nothing else) my Japanese.
October 5, 2005
Shinkansen to Kyoto, talk at NTTI took the Shinkansen to Kyoto today, from Shin-Yokohama. It took about 20 minutes, not including the ridiculously long time it took me to get to Shin-Yokohama. To get there, I took the Toyokosen to Kikuna from Jiyugaoka, about 25 minutes, then at Kikuna realized that I had forgotten my passport (which I will need to exchange my order for the JR Rail Pass I bought) so I turned right back around and was back at Jiyugaoka 25 minutes later. A short 10 minute taxi ride to the apartment and back to get my passport, and then another 25 minutes to Kikuna, from there one stop on the JR Yokohama line, and I had about 2 minutes to spare to catch the last Hikaru Shinkansen (the fastest type you can get with a JR Rail Pass.)
Of course, that train had no reserved seats remining so I had to chance the unreserved seating, but since it was only the second stop, there was plenty of room. I arrived at Kyoto at about 11:45am, and arrived at NTT at about 12:30pm.
The talk went well, and I met with Hideki Isozaki, supervisor group leader of the Knowledge processing group, Eisaku Maeda, Tatsuto Takeuchi (HR, Research Planning Supervisor), Naonori Ueda (Executive Manager), and Hajime Tsukada (Senior Research Scientist.) I really got the feeling that I would be welcome there. It was a nice visit, I saw a demo of their Q&A system, and heard about some knowledge ontology work that they are doing.
September 20, 2005
Cafes in Akihabara: Maid and Linux
A few days ago, I saw a show on "Maid Cafes" - places where the staff dress up in Maid costumes, but otherwise normal cafes. There are apparently a lot of them in Akihabara. Admittedly, that is a very popular destination for their presumed target audience: Otaku, but there still seems to be a very large number of these things. There are at least 5 or 6 in Akihabara, and that was just after a quick internet search. I didn't think it was worth counting after seeing there were that many.
I resolved to go check one of these places out when I got a chance. I went to Akihabara today to pick up a cooling pad for my laptop since it has been getting very hot lately. I decided to get lunch at the first Maid Cafe I came across.
I found a place called Cure Maid and went in. I had a nice Tonkatsu Curry Set for 1000 yen. What really surprised me was the normalcy of the place. There were at least twice as many women in there as men, which was the big surprise with me. It seems like these are just normal mainstream cafes, where the wait staff happen to dress up. I think maybe some of acceptance might be due to the wide publicity the "Otaku" has been getting recently in the Japanese media, especially from shows like Densha no Otoko, but it is still pretty surprising.
While I was there, I saw at least two couples come in for dates. In both cases the girls in each couple were semi-cosplaying. One of the girls was wearing a very cute dress, most likely handmade, that was in an Alice In Wonderland theme. It had a cute hearts and spades pattern, and some cat imagery (possible Chesire-inspired, but it didn't look like the Chesire Cat to me.) Anyway, that was a bit more in-line with my expectations.
After making my purchase, I wandered around for a while and saw this sign for the Linux Cafe. Now that is some place that I would like to visit. Apparently, they offer free wireless with purchase, which is very rare in Japan. It is a place that I will try to visit on my next trip to Akihabara. I can't say that I go there all that often though, so who knows when that will be.
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