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.