Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Revisit to Roppongi Hills (and Tokyo Midtown)

Making use of the extra holiday, (12/23rd was the Emperor's Birthday which they "moved" to Monday the 24th) I re-visited Roppongi Hills, this time the weather was much better. I got a clear view of the Tokyo Tower from the Hills. The area was really crowded - not sure if Christmas played a big part in that but there were also lots of foreigners. I got a chance to watch the second National Treasure movie which was pretty good at Virgin Toho Cinemas, Roppongi Hill. The screen they were showing the movie on is easily the biggest I have ever seen. The pre-movie announcements included something of note too - they explicitly mentioned "No kicking" - this is something movie theatres in the US could definitely use...

As the movie was two hours long it was dark by the time it was over (my original plan was catching an early show but everything was either sold out or had only the "front row" available so I got tickets for 7 pm show). The lights they set up were really beautiful which included not just the lights on the trees in the area but also lights (moving) on the tall buildings as well.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Christmas Concert

The Christmas Concert was great. The piano was good but the high point of the whole concert was the performance by the Percussion Ensemble. A group of three guys and a girl, they played a variety of percussion instruments including bells, xylophones and drums. Unfortunately I could not find a lot of information about them but the group has a website in Japanese.

The two other ladies (ones in the center) played the piano.

Friday, December 21, 2007


I have not written for a while so I wanted to, for the first time, write about something I am going to do instead of something I have already done.

I got two tickets to a Christmas concert (classical music) at Mitaka City Art Foundation's Concert Hall (三鷹市芸術文化センター)from the director of the lab. I will try to post something about the concert assuming I manage to make it there and back on the right bus ;).

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Tama-center (多摩センター)and Warner-Mycal Cinemas

Tama Center is a small but neat town further from Tokyo's center than Mitaka. To get there from Mitaka (and in particular where I live in Mitaka) one needs to take the bus (either Odakyu[小田急] or Keio [京王] 14 or Odakyu 6 from Mitaka City Hall stop [三鷹市役所前]) to Chofu Train Station (調布駅). The trip from there to the Tama Center Station takes about 15-20 minutes and stops along the way include the Yomiru Land which I may check out later on a sunny day.

The first thing that greets you at the Tama Center Station is a big sign proclaiming this to be the "Hello Kitty's Town". The main pedestrian way seems to stretch between the train station and a large number of stairs with huge Hello Kitty inflatable "statues". Since this is the Christmas/New Year's time there is also a huge lit Christmas Tree and the whole walkway is flanked by smaller trees.

On a sideroad from the main pedestrian way lies the Hello Kitty/Sanrio Puro Land. I have not actually been inside - I think I will be waiting for my sister's visit (she is a huge fan) before I try going into this... cute and cuddly... place. I did see quite a few tourists around which may explain all the English translations around on signs and menus.

The place in general feels very new and the movie theatre is one of the reasons for this. The Warner-Mycal Cinemas is one of the few places around which has Digital 3D - this lets the audience enjoy new movies using Real3D glasses with a "perceived 3D effect". I must say I was pleasantly surprised - I watched Beowulf there in 3D and not only was the movie rendered in impressive 3D with perspectives/depth added in pretty much all shots but also I did not get a headache after the 2 hr long movie. This is a welcome change compared to the head splitting experience of watching Spy Kids 3D (yes I did watch that movie but I swear it was in the name of watching something in 3D). They also use the nice plastic Real 3D glasses as opposed to the cardboardy cheap glasses used with the earlier 3D movies (which could be shown without extra equipment). The movies are very expensive in Tokyo - the standard price for a new movie is around 1800円 - in this particular case I had to pay 200円 extra for the glasses (which you get to keep so for the next movie I will not need to get glasses again).

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Security warnings

I have always thought of Japan in general, and Tokyo in particular, as being one of the safest places to live in. A few days ago something interesting happened though. I think this was last Saturday... I heard a the doorbell ring and went to check thinking it was my colleagues from work for our trip to Asakusa. Instead I found a policeman with a form for me to fill out. Unfortunately he knew exactly two words of English, the form was just in Japanese, and my Japanese was not nearly adequate enough to even begin to try to fill out the form. Thankfully I thought of bringing him the "foreign resident" card and he was polite enough to fill out the form for me. Then he handed me the two pamphlets in the picture. Apparently he is going door to door, recording information about the residents and giving the warning pamphlets.

The first pamphlet warns people about locking their door which I guess goes to show you that at this day and age there are some people who still feel like they do not have to lock their doors. This, I think, is a good thing. At least we know things are not so bad that people need multiple locks on their doors a-la-some parts of the US.

The second pamphlet is about conman trying to pose as a policeman or other authorities and asking the family for money on the phone claiming that a loved one has committed some crime or is in some kind of trouble and money is needed for their release. I guess since I can not speak Japanese properly I am safe for now ;)

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Sukiyaki, Asakusa, and Anmitsu (すき焼き、浅草、とあんみつ)

Today easily was the most "Japanese" day I have spent so far. It started out with a traditional sukiyaki lunch and a visit to the world famous Sensouji Temple and ended with a delicious portion of Anmitsu!

I had heard of sukiyaki before coming to Japan but I never thought it would be so delicious. We went to the Chinya (ちんや) restaurant which is very close to the Kaminarimon (雷門)entrance to the famous Nakamise Shopping Street (仲見世). The restaurant has been specializing in sukiyaki for more than a hundred years. The name of the restaurant apparently comes from the fact that when it was initially built, the establishment was effectively a pet shop providing the wealthy with Pekingese dogs among other pets. There are three different kinds of beef to choose from for the meal - "marbled" (桐), "excellent" (楓), and "regular" (椿) with prices of 8100円, 5500円, and 3200円.

After the awesome meal, we headed through the Kaminarimon onto the Nakamise Shopping Street. Easily one of the busiest streets I have ever seen, this street reminded me of the night markets in Taiwan. We stopped at one of the shops and bought a set of chopsticks. The agemanjou (あげまんじゅう)we picked up while walking was so tasty. It is a fried dessert filled with bean paste inside.This street is one of the few places that I have seen Japanese people eat while walking.

Flanked left and right with stores selling traditional Japanese things from kimonos to chop-sticks, and trying to make sure we do not impede the flow of the people (the crowd actually included more foreigners than we have ever seen before in places like the Emperor's palace or even streets of Ginza on a weekend when there is no traffic) we proceeded to the Sensouji Temple (浅草寺)which boasts a five storey pagoda and is known to be the oldest temple in all of Japan.

Up until the Allied bombing of 1945 the was standing for more than 1400+ years. After it was partially destroyed during a bombing of Tokyo, it was rebuilt. Visiting the temple one can draw a fortune (100円)or buy talismans that are supposed to bring good luck in various aspects of a person's life from the store inside the temple. Of course, one can also pray ;)

After a walk around the streets we decided to go to a small but famous store that serves anmitsu, a traditional Japanese dessert. The dessert, just like the meal, was pretty healthy (save for the ice-cream) and reasonably priced (~500円). All in all, the day was very very enjoyable for me. I would have never expected dipping cooked onions and thinly sliced beef into whisked raw egg to taste so good but Sukiyaki proved me wrong. I will definitely try to have sukiyaki again as soon as I can and may be even try to figure out how to cook it at home.


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Irix 2007

Sorry this took a while... Work has been keeping me pretty busy last few days and to top it off it has been getting (well I should not be saying this since I lived in Pittsburgh for 10 years but..) cold. It is amazing how one gets so lazy trying to cozy up against a heater...

Ok so where was I... ah yes - IRIX 2007. The basic layout of the exhibition was defined by 3 seperate areas dedicated to working robots, software, and entertainment robots. The whole place was very crowded even though it was the last few hours of the last day (though granted, it was the first weekend day for the duration of the conference). The entrance fee was pretty reasonable too (1000円, less than $10) and for people who pre-registered it was free which is great. I had an invitation through Secom which saved me the trouble of having to pre-register ;)

The industrial robots ranged from robots doing heavy lifting (one was lifting this huge pane of glass) to repetitive tasks like picking up and arranging boxes to welding robots. Pretty much all of the booths had demos which was fun to watch. Granted, this was not the reason why I went to this exhibition but it still ate up a bunch of my time. One funny thing to note here is that some of these robots had little cute heads even though their faces were just made up of static plastic pieces. I guess the idea was to make them look more like "fun" robots no matter how dull their tasks would be. There was even a music/drum show (with a Chinese dragon no less) by some industrial robots as well.

But of course I was there for the "entertainment" robots. These guys ranged from just plain cute (and not very functional) to purely functional (and not really that cute). The first category included a Hello Kitty robot (that did not move at all but had flashing lights in its cheeks and tried to carry on a simple conversation with you which of course is impossible in that loud environment anyway), a huge robot that looked like an enormous june bug and my favorite, Paro, which is a soft and cuddly seal that does move a little bit and blink its eyes as you pet it (btw, they call Paro a Mental Committment Robot). The second category included lots of build-it-yourself kinda robots that could do one hand pushups, run around and even do cartwheels in the case of one. I think the pictures tell the story the best so I am including those below. Enjoy :)

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The trip to "Tokyo Big Sight"

On Saturday, which I guess would be yesterday, I went to "2007 International Robot Exhibition (IRIX 2007)" at Tokyo Big Sight. The journey there takes about an hour and is quite picturesque warranting its own post so I will do that today and delay the post about robots until tomorrow ;)

The first part of the journey, from Kichijouji (吉祥寺) to Shibuya (渋谷) is pretty straightforward and the Keio-Inokashira Line links the two - in fact they are the end points which means taking the express saves a lot of time; the trip is about 20 minutes long. From Shibuya the next stop was Shimbashi (新橋) using the Ginza Subway Line so, no view there. This part of the journey takes about 20 minutes or so.

The last part, which is on the relatively new Yurikamome Line, is the part of the journey with the beautiful scenery since the train goes right by the water and even through the bridge. The stops on the line include Odaiba which boasts the Fuji TV building. There are lots of nice, modern buildings and a great view of the water. I am pretty sure at night the view would be even more amazing so I am definitely planning to come back. I should not forget to mention the ferries as well - it looks like it is possible to get a tour of the city from the sea using these.

Tokyo Big Sight is right by the... well... longest named stop I have ever seen on the JR/Subway Map. Let's see if I get this right - Kokusaitenjijyoseimonmae (国際展示所正門前 - long even in Kanji :P). The building is pretty amazing (both in terms of style and size) and it is impossible to miss it from quite a long distance. It hosts a lot of different exhibitions over the year and it is not unusual to see multiple exhibitions on at the same time (in this case there were 4!). For people who get hungry, the building boasts some stores for quick substinance but walking over to the Yurikamome Line stop which is connected via a bridge and continuing on, there is a huge mall with proper restaurants as well.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Around the apartment - water heater thingie

Yes, I know I do not post much during the week but I really do not get a chance. The work is keeping me so busy. Even though I am under "flex-time" I still go to work around 10 in the morning and come back around 6 pm in a pretty-tired state. So I thought, the least I can do is put stuff up about the stuff around the apartment that's -different-.

The water heater thingie is basically hooked up to gas behind the lines and the water heater. It is digital though so you just set the temperature you want the water to be and when you turn the hot water tap you get water at that temperature. Turning it on or off is also with a digital button so you don't have this lighting up a pilot, gas leaking, etc. You can also set a timer for the heating to turn on or off but it does not use gas when you do not have hot water turned on anyway.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Back at Ginza... Yummy tempura!

I went back to Ginza today. I had in mind seeing the Sony Building again (this time more than the first 3 floors I had a chance to visit last time) and eating at a nice Japanese restaurant. A brief web search turned up Ten-Ichi - an apparently world famous Tempura restaurant. Unfortunately they do not have a website which is very surprising (or may be I just couldn't find it). The nice thing is that the restaurant is in the Sony Building's basement.

The prices at the restaurant are a little bit on the steep side but I think given that it's in Ginza this is resonable. For lunch the cheapest set (they had 3) includes two different kinds of fish, shrimp, prawns, shiitake mushrooms and asparagus tempura as well as miso soup, japanese pickles, rice, and green tea. This costs around ¥4000 (during lunch). The best part is it is prepared right there in front of you and it tastes sooooo good. Soo fresh and good. Some of the tempura goes well with lemon and a pinch of salt, some with tempura sauce (soy based) with radish puree mixed in, and yet others with a mixture of salt and curry powder. The chef helps you out by pointing to which one to use (which was a great help for me ;))

I could so eat another portion right now...

Emperor's Palace

We went to the Emperor's Palace yesterday. It is a very short walk (5-10 mins) away from the Tokyo Train Station (which has a very beautiful building by the way - at least from the outside.). The area is sprinkled with new and modern buildings and you can even make out the Tokyo Tower in a distance. You walk through these buildings and suddenly you come to a very flat area with very neatly cut grass and beautiful trees. This flat area are the gardens surrounding the palace. Even though one is not allowed to get inside, they let you take pictures around the entrance gates, which themselves are very pretty.

The most famous entrance gate is the one furthest away which also has a beautiful view of the palace in the background and the famous bridge). This gate is where the change of the guard takes place as well. The palace is surrounded by water canals and the gates are basically bridges themselves. The last part of the walk to this furthest entrance gate is on rubble and I am not really sure why that is there. One thing that surprised me here is the lack of a huge tourist crowd. We did see many people who looked to be from abroad (and non-asian) but this number was still below 20-30 total. May be people like hanging out at more hip places?

After it got dark, we dropped by Shibuya for a quick stroll and dinner. It was crowded as ever (i.e. crazy crowded) and I think we saw more tourists here than at the palace; though, granted possibly not everyone who did not look asian was not a tourist. And would you believe it - we came across another Turkish restaurant. I think there are quite a few in Tokyo.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Surrounded by kids

SO as it turns out, my apartment is surrounded by a middle-school, a primary school, and to top it off a park with a children's playground. The schools are pretty amazing with respect to their facilities and because of the proximity I can hear them practice in music class if I am at home in the afternoon which sounds nice but on the downside I also get to hear the school bells, the announcements, and all the "good" stuff. Thank God I have to wake up around the same time as the announcements anyway so all the noise just end up helping my alarm clock make sure I wake up ;)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A slow weekend...

Ah this was a slow weekend... Spent most of the time with laundry and shopping for groceries. I think the laundry thing is a nice change from the coin operated machines I had to use in the US. Now I get to use a proper washing machine. Granted I got the cheapest one they were selling at the electronics store (コジマ), all the buttons and the users manual is in Japanese and it is a top loading one rather than the fancy front loading ones but it feels good to be able to just walk to another room in the apartment to do the laundry. To dry off the clothes, you use hangers on two horizontal poles in the balcony. Everything was dry by the time I got back at night.

My original plan was to go back to Akihabara (秋葉原) today but I realized that I was both tired (from staying up late yesterday night) and I had not really had a chance to explore Kichijouji (吉祥寺) so after taking the bus to the train station (吉祥寺駅) I did not take the train but rather walked around. After a nice lunch/dinner/linner at Pamukkale I walked around a bit more but I feel like I still have only scratched the surface. Kichijouji is huge and I will be back soon to check out more of it.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Turkish restaurant in... Kichijouji??

I actually discovered Pamukkale a few weeks ago while walking around in Kichijouji and trying to get a feel about the area around the station, 吉祥寺駅. Today, on my way back from the Call-Center Japan conference thingie, I stopped over at the restaurant. It's a family run business - everyone working there are from the same town in Turkey and most are related. If you ever are in the area, you should definitely give it a try. More info an menu at - http://www.pamukkale.co.jp/.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Garbage and recycling

Unlike Cyprus, or good-old Pittsburgh, throwing out your garbage is a very serious thing here in Tokyo. There are specific days for specific things such as newspapers or plastic products. People in Seattle were picky when I was at Microsoft but it was nothing like this. I actually witnessed two of my colleagues investigating a candy wrap to figure out if we can throw it out with the paper stuff or if I need to wait for a few days before throwing it out with the plastic stuff...

Man, I miss the "garbage chute" I had in Pittsburgh by my apartment. Any garbage, just toss it down the chute! Granted, not good for the environment but man, was it ever convenient ;)

(I actually took a picture of the actual Mitaka schedule with my phone but my super-duper phone does not have Bluetooth. It even has sending the images using iC but it cannot send to my laptop - my laptop's iC is only for transaction related things. The phone also has iR but the laptop does not and I am too lazy to go to the TV room to get the microSD to SD adapter)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Akihabara Electric Town (秋葉原)

Akihabara, or Akiba as the locals seem to prefer calling it, is basically the capital of anything and everything electronic and electric in Tokyo. May be that's why they call it the Electric Town. Its fame is well beyond the borders of Japan - I heard about it when I was back in the US - so I know I had to go see it for myself now that I happen to live in Tokyo...

Getting to Akihabara from Kichijouji (吉祥寺) is pretty painless. One can take the Chofu line local directly there for example but since this is a local train it makes lots of stops. I instead took the Chofu Rapid from here to Ochanomizu (御茶ノ水) which takes about 25 minutes, and then took the local JR Chofu-Sobu train from there to Akiba. The whole trip takes about 30 minutes and costs ¥380. On an unrelated note, Ochanomizu seemed very pretty from the train with a river going across it. I might check it out if/when I get a chance.

Once you get out of the train station, the first thing you realize, I guess if it is during the weekend, is that there are lots and lots of people. It is kinda like Shibuya (渋谷) from that respect but here people are not just on the sidewalk but also on the road. Just like Ginza (銀座) they cut off the traffic to let people roam around. This does change around 5 pm though and the traffic is left back in.

There are lots of stores with "Tax Free" signs designed to attract tourists. Basically, if you are a tourist you can buy things a little cheaper is what they mean. Of course that's assuming you were't paying more than you would somewhere else to begin with... Since they get a lot of tourists the big stores (and they are big, they all have at least 5 floors) have people who can speak different languages. In fact, in the last store I stopped at I heard someone talking in Turkish trying to sell memory cards to some tourists from Turkey. They also sell equipment designed for overseas usage. This means what you buy from there would work with both 110V and 220V but more importantly it would have and English user interface and manual. You can even find game consoles and games for other regions as well as computer software like Vista and Office in English. I even saw computers with English OSs for sale. I bought a region-free slim DVD player which also plays DivX and DVD audio.

Of course they do not just cater to foreigners in Akihabara. There are lots of trading card collectors browsing stores as well as manga enthusiasts. I even went through a store dedicated to building models. One floor was purely robots, another trains, yet another warships and warplanes and yet another lots of different kinds of guns.

One quick hint - even the most benign looking store might have a floor dedicated to... well... pornography. So don't be surprised if you find yourself surrounded by animated porn when in the previous floor you were looking at something very innocent. If you don't want to be surprised just check for the number 18 - even if you may not understand the rest of the sentence the number is a good hint.
There are huge buildings filled with arcade games of all sorts. Some of these are your typical arcade games you can find pretty much anywhere but I saw some games that are built completely different. Leveraging the IC technology that they use in Suica and putting that together with collecting Trading Cards, Sega and other game makers built arcade machines that require you to use Trading Cards to play. For example, there was a soccer game where you use the cards to determine the players you will field. The better your cards are, more competitive you become in the game. They also have huge versions of the "claw" machines where you try to adjust the claw and get it to pick up and give you items. In the US the biggest item I saw these things to pick up was a kid's soccer ball. Here, they have claws picking up huge stuffed toys and various other things including medium sized nude models of characters from video games and anime and electric tie racks.

I feel like the 4-5 hours I spent there was not nearly enough. I will definitely go back to give the place a more through checking may be next week.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

My cellphone (Foma F904i)

I got my cellphone a few days after I came here. Compared to the cellphones in the US, it was extremely cheap (less than $200) with a year contract from NTT DoCoMo (ドコモ). I am sure there are lots of websites that explain the technical specifications of the phone so I will just mention the features I use:

  1. Mobile Suica: I use the phone to pay for trains and busses as well as just generally buying stuff at/around the train station. It also works with my laptop which has a FeliCa port (FeliCa ポート) and I can watch my transaction history on the laptop or buy items off the web using Suica.

  2. GPS: The phone has a GPS receiver and it retrieves the map of the location from Internet using i-mode.

  3. Synching with media player: With a USB connection, I can copy wma files from my library onto the phone. It has a microSD card and it can play the music.

  4. TV: Using the OneSeg technology designed for receiving terrestrial digital broadcasts on the move, I can watch TV on it. The quality is pretty good as the screen is of pretty high resolution and the digital transmission is of a high enough resolution. The problem here is that you cannot get reception everywhere. Around my apartment it is a little tough to get the reception (since it is digital there is either full quality or no quality).

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Shinjuku (新宿)

I had a very nice post here about Shinjuku that I visited today... But of course my laptop had to be a complete idiot and recognize some weird mouse gesture as automatically going to the previous page. That being the case, I lost everything I typed. I am in no mood to type up everything again so here is the gist. Shinjuku:

  • Impressive government buildings they look like they were taken out of an anime movie. I read somewhere it is actually featured in some animes.
  • Not impressed that much with department stores

  • Yodabashi Camera, an electronics store chain, owns 6 buildings in a neighbourhood each one selling a different kind of product (one focuses on watches, another one on computers, etc.)

  • The station is linked to the government buildings by an immense passageway which had a lot of closed stores today. Must be because it was a Sunday.

Shinjuku (新宿) - updated/recovered

The main thing that made me want to visit Shinjuku was the Tokyo Metropolitan Building which I must admit is pretty darn impressive. It's almost like taken straight out of a post-modern anime story (actually I read somewhere that the building does show up in at least one anime). The building itself is flanked by many other buildings of similar design. I heard that one could visit the top floor which I am pretty sure would have an amazing view but I did not see any signs for that and my father was not in the mood for walking around the building. It seems like on Sundays the whole neighborhood of that building is pretty calm. We saw may be 20 or so people total in 10 minutes of walking around. That number is pretty much negligible in Tokyo...

The Shinjuku JR/Subway station is one of the most heavily used stations and it was no different today. There are immense underground passageways linking the station entrance to the government buildings neighborhood as well as some deparment stores. It must be because it was a sunday afternoon that the stores in the passageway and spots where I think street performers perform were all closed and deserted. I was not impressed much with the deparment stores and street vendors that I saw. One funny thing I saw was that Yodabashi Camera, which is a huge electronics store chain, basically seems to have bought 6 buildings close to one another and made each one a different department (i.e. one store selling just watches, one concentrating on computers and peripherals, etc.). I also saw a lot of arcades but did not get a chance to check them out. I think I will go back on a Saturday to check out the place again.

Shibuya (渋谷)

Shibuya is, hands down, the busiest place I have ever seen in my whole life and that's counting the Times Square in NYC. It's very very easy to get to (Nonstop on JR Keio Inokashira Line) from Kichijouji 吉祥寺. There is even an express train which gets there in less than 20 minutes. There is a crazy number of stores in all the main streets but the little streets connecting them have many more. I wouldn't say it is as nicely organized as Ginza (銀座) but it is every bit as impressive.
Shibuya is also the first place in Tokyo that I saw a Disney Store. It was very very funny to hear the songs from Disney movies playing in the background in Japanese.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Getting an Internet connection is not trivial...

So it turns out, contrary to what I used to think, not all houses/apartments in Tokyo come with magical outlets connecting you to Internet at 100 Mbps. In fact, if you happen to live in what's called a "mansion type" (マンション) apartment that may be slightly old, you may need to wait for a whole month before you can get DSL/fiber hooked up. Of course once hooked up you could have a 100 Mbps connection but who is going to wait for a month? Since that would have basically meant living in hell for me, I had to find another solution and that solution came in the form of an HSDPA connection from EMobile. It basically has a SIM card in it just like a cellphone, and you get a speed of around 3.4Mbps. This is already faster than my connection back in the US (3 Mbps) but they also mentioned that before the end of the year the speed will go up to 14Mbps. Granted, it is more expensive than DSL (at around ¥6000 per month) but I really did not have an option (well, I could have technically waited but not really, no). Getting it to work was easy with my Vaio that I got in Japan but the driver would not work with my tablet running XP Pro English when we tried it at the store (コジマ) (of course, once I got home and tried the new driver CD that came out of the box, it worked...).

Now I need to figure out how to get wireless networking, well, working with this connection. VAIO is running Vista in Japanese and that is not helping me with setting up internet connection sharing. I looked at some HSDPA wireless routers on the web but they all seem to work with a PCMCIA card which I do not have (what I have is connected to my laptop with USB) I think if I can get wireless internet connection sharing that would be the easiest/best. I will figure something out...

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Got the company ID!

Finally I have the id :) Granted, there is nothing in English on it but at least I can decipher the カタカナ. Oh and I had Soba noodles for lunch today - except for the awkward sitting position and being sure that I could never order that food myself (everything written in Kanji on the menu), I really enjoyed the food. It was a pretty close restaurant to work too so I might check it out myself at some point.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Certificate of Alien Registration

Got my Alien id today - after the USA, it's nice to be in another country that calls me an alien :P Anyone staying here for more than 30 days (and above a certain age) is required to apply for one of these at their respective city halls. Thank God I can walk to mine since you need two trips to get one of these - first to apply for it and a few weeks after that, to actually get it. As a 外国人 (foreigner), you need one of these things to open a bank account or when you try to get a cellphone in your name. Since the process takes time though you can get a piece of paper that says the document is pending and the bank (and the cellphone company) are happy.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Mobile Suica (モバイルSuica)

In a country where you need to have a PhD in Mathematics to figure out how expensive a train ticket you need to get for the subway (and the JR lines), SuICa is a godsend. The touchless pre-paid card lets you pay for the train automatically without having to stare at a huge matrix of prices. Needless to say you can also use it to buy things at some of the stores and vending machines. Now they work on some busses (busses that take Passmo) too which means no more carrying change in your pocket for the bus. But this is not even the best part...

NTT DoCoMo, working together with SuICa, now has cellphones which has are IC-enabled. You don't even have to carry the SuICa card, just wave your phone at the sensor! And you just need a credit card to register for the service if you have one of the right handsets (which I thankfully did). When you want to top off your SuICa, you just run the applet and it transfers money using i-Mode. Sooo convenient!
If the Mobile Suica homepage from JR is no help for you (since it's in Japanese), try this page. It helped me get all set in just 10 minutes. http://pkeruno.googlepages.com/mobilesuica.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Ginza (銀座)

I went to Ginza with my father today. It was sooo crowded - not sure whether that's because of the fact that they cut off the traffic to let people shop on Sundays or if it's just how it is on Sundays everywhere. We went to the Sony building first and saw the new organic displays - 3mm thick! These are not on the market yet but I suspect in a few years we will be able to get one for our homes.

The stores in Ginza are not just numerous and generally more expensive than the stores I saw around Mitaka but they also cover a wide range of products. From famous international companies like Christian Dior or Rolex or Zara, to Japanese brands including Hello Kitty, one can find pretty much anything at Ginza.

We also stopped by the Nissan Showroom and man, it was really nice. They had the new GTR on display and everyone was taking pictures like crazy. The cars looked pretty amazing.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Roppongi (六本木)

I went to Roppongi (六本木) today with my father to see Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown. Both were very impressive buildings. Well, they are more than "buildings" but anyway... The weather was awful. It wasn't just raining but the wind was crazy. Tokyo Midtown was hands down the most international place I have been to in Tokyo. Not only the stores had a clear international "aura" about them but also there were quite a few foreigners. I spent a few minutes talking to someone from London who was in Tokyo with his family on vacation. I initially thought he was an American because he had a Red Sox tshirt on. I took some pictures from the top of Roppongi Hills which I think is called "Tokyo View". As it was pretty cloudy the view wasn't that clear but it was still nice.

Of course the whole trip (which takes about half an hour or so from Kichijoji (吉祥寺)) wasn't without a hitch. Twice during the trip I had to change trains because either the train decided to not keep on the same line or in one case start going back.

One of the favorite parts of the trip for me was me finally getting to use my Suica-d phone to pay for trains, the bus and even for the loaf of bread I bought on the way back at the station. I will try to write more about the phone during the week though since I won't have anything to write other than what I do at work and let's face it, it is not that exciting so far.