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 -

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...