Sunday, March 30, 2008

Watching cherry blossoms at Inokashira Park

Going as a group to have a meal under cherry blossoms is very popular in Japan. Taking into account the fact that the cherry blossoms are typically only around for a week or two at best, that here are a few very famous spots for doing so in Tokyo and that Inokashira Park (井の頭公園)is one of those spots, it is understandable why the park was so crowded yesterday night. Thanks to Kota's advance thinking though we had a spot saved (there were 5 of us) right next to the pond and under a beautiful cherry blossom tree.

It was a very interesting sight. The sheer crowdedness of the park was a sight to behold. The closest approximation I can think of to that is this: Imagine a patch of land, about a quarter mile square in size covered with cherry blossom trees, a pond bordering it on one side and square pieces of plastic mats with about 5 people on each on average. Anyway, one interesting part of the tradition is consuming alcohol so it was very interesting to see all sorts of people drinking all sorts of drinks without anyone making a scene.

I am very glad that I got a chance to experience this. Probably by the next weekend the cherry blossoms will be all gone.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Cherry blossoms are in bloom

I am waiting for the weekend for the full experience but I did wake up with a good surprise today. The school yard visible from my apartment's balcony (well, actually the yard that is literally under the balcony :P), as it turns out, has two huge cherry blossom trees and they are in full bloom. This is literally the view I get when I look out the window from the living room. Lucky me - at least for a few days more...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

An earthquake in Tokyo

Yesterday just as we were having lunch at the company things started shaking. I think the fact that the cafetaria is on the 7th floor of the company building did not help things. Anywho, the trembles lasted for about 20 seconds or so. I think people are a little more used to earthquakes around here than I thought. Not only did it not go beyond someone casually remarking "I think we had a small earthquake" but no newspapers or TV news covered it as far as I could catch.

Today, I found a "Disaster Guide" from Mitaka City Hall - I am hoping it is not a sign that they know something we don't about the upcoming days :P The picture is of the big shelter sign in front of the school close to my apartment.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Futsal on the 8th floor

I was at Tama Center (多摩センタ) today with my colleagues from Secom for an I.S. Lab-wide Futsal tournament (Futsal roughly means in-door soccer...). The whole experience was a lot of fun and it gave me a chance to see how everyone in the lab fares on the soccer field ;)

Getting to the Tama Center Futsal-Stage (as it is officially called) took a while because of traffic. But thanks to Kota I didn't have to take the train at least. It would have meant taking a bus to the train station followed by the train trip which probably would have taken at least the same amount of time but not as comfy as going by car. Once we got there it was on to searching for the actual "Futsal-Stage". I was frankly expecting a one or two storey building at most but it turns out it is in this glass office building...

The eigth floor of the office building, as it turns out, contains 4 indoor soccer arenas. How did it go for me? Well, I will just say that my team won the first game. The remaining games are not important :P

Monday, March 17, 2008

Yokohama (横浜) Trip

Yokohama is surprisingly close to Tokyo (30 minutes by train from Shibuya) and yet it looks like a completely different city. For me, it felt much more like a sea-side town with a much more relaxed atmosphere and complete absence of the hustle and bustle of a big metropolis like Tokyo.

Upon exiting the Minato-mirai Station (みなとみらい駅)you get greeted by the ocean and right on the water is a... well, a decent-sized amusement park with a huge ferris wheel (this is the third one I see after the ones in Osaka and Tokyo's Odaiba). Unfortunately there wasn't enough time to check out different rides but I am hoping to do that next time - I got my eyes on the water log ride thingie, it looked like it could be a lot of fun.

I got the chance to see the old port, the new port, the famous red brick building used as a warehouse when Japan first opened its doors to the outside world during the Meiji Era called Akarenga (赤レンガ)and last but not least the Landmark Tower - the tallest skyscraper in Japan. In fack I took the picture below from the deck at the top of the tower called "Sky Garden".

I am planning on being back to Yokohama for further exploration as soon as I get the chance. There is so much more left to explore including the famous Chinatown.

ps. Thanks so much for your hospitality 櫻井さん!.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Hiking up Mt. Takao (高尾山)

Yesterday I spent most of the day with 原さん, 岩下さん and Chris, hiking up Mt. Takao. Even though it was challenging at times I must say I enjoyed the experience quite a bit.
Getting there
Getting to Mt. Takao is relatively simple - more so for people on the Chuo or Chuo-Sobu JR lines (which works out great for me since I can take a bus to Kichijoji or Mitaka (三鷹駅)both of which are on both the lines). On the weekends there is a special express train with reserved (and unreserved) seats, double-decker cars and very few stops between Mitaka and Takao. The whole trip takes about forty minutes or so. In order to get to Mt. Takao though one needs to take one more train from Takao - on the Keio Takao Line (京王高尾)though this trip only takes a few minutes and one finds himself/herself at the Takaosanguchi Station (高尾山口駅)which literally translates to "entrance to Mt. Takao".
The Climb
As soon as getting off the train, a huge mural with the map of the region and a list of possible trails up the 600 meter/2000 feet high mountain welcomes the visitors. We chose one of the harder trails because we wanted to see at least one of the two waterfalls on the mountain. It turns out the mountain used to house a "training facility" for Buddhist monks and the waterfalls were used as a part of this training with the monks standing under the waterfall, getting pounded on by the freezing water. We even saw someone under the waterfall when we were passing by.

The way up can be as gentle or as tough as one chooses based on the trail chosen. The trail we chose turned out to have quite a few paths with lots of rocks sticking out of the ground making it a little tougher. We saw only a few people on this trail due to the difficulty of the path I am guessing. On the other hand the funny thing is the few people that we did see were relatively old :P Oh and a small cultural note - it looks like people are much more likely to say こんにちわ! to people they do not know on the mountain than on the street.

The view on the top of the mountain is amazing - a complete mountain range is visible as well as a decent portion of Tokyo's sprawling buildings. The top also has quite a few more people than on the trails since some people take the cable car up. In fact, we even saw some very young kids up there who could not have possibly hiked up. There are two restaurants and a visitors center as well.

Climb Down
For the climb down, we decided to use the cable car to get a different view of the mountain (which by the way does not exist, there is pretty much no view during the 2 minute trip). The high point of the climbdown though was the many temples on the way with beautiful statues and beautiful buildings. Some of the statues were actually wearing wool berets which I heard was to keep them from the cold...

Friday, March 14, 2008

Cold soba(そば) to hot soba(そば)

I have always wondered why on Earth anyone would eat soba noodles cold. In fact, before coming to Japan, I had no idea there was any kind of noodled served cold at a restaurant. Until now I tried to keep always going for the hot noodles thinking it is prepared in a completely different way. Turns out that may not be the case...

Last week I went to a nice, authentic looking Japanese restaurant for some tempura over soba noodles and this time I did not see anywhere in the menu a specification for whether or not the noodles would be hot. Instead they were cold but the nice waitress also brought this red, seemingly strange wooden thing. As it turns out, it's just hot water to pour over the noodles which are actually brought in a special plate which has a little grill to allow for the hot water to drain down.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Jero(ジェロ) - A surprising Enka(演歌) singer

It was actually a CNN article that got me searching for who this American guy from Pittsburgh was who came to Japan to sing Enka/演歌 - the traditional Japanese songs usually sang by older singers wearing a kimono. Jero is doing the same while wearing a hip-hop outfit ;) He is pretty famous around here. Anyway, here is his first video. I personally like the song...

Monday, March 10, 2008

Cherry Blossoms Official Forecast Map

As I mentioned earlier, i.e. right below this one, cherry blossoms are kind of a big deal aroun here. I found the "official" forecast for the time for the blossoms across Japan by the Japan Meteorological Agency. If you are reading this and you are in Japan check out the map. The actual website is at

Saturday, March 8, 2008

"Cherry Blossoms" (桜)approaching

Watching cherry blossoms is one of the traditional things one can do in Japan. The practice of going and having a meal under the blossoms is so common that the government announces every year when the cherry blossoms will open in different parts of the country since the temperature variations through the year can change when that happens. I must say I am looking forward to my first meal under the blossoms - not only because it will be a beautiful sight to observe but also because I would be participating in an activity which dates back quite a few years and is shared by the Japanese populous in general. In fact, because of its popularity now that there are only about 10-15 days until we see the cherry blossoms in Tokyo every store started offering Cherry Blossom-themed items ranging from sushi to desserts... I will make sure to post pictures once it happens but for now this will be the first post without a picture ;)

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Robots, robots, everywhere...

I mentioned the seeming infatuation of the Japanese with all different kinds of robots. One really needs to keep an eye out because robots really do show up in random places, trying to get the attention of people passing by. I took this picture in Akihabara passing in front of at least 10 of these robots on the street. For the cute little girl all of the craziness of Akiba seemed miles away as she spent a good two-three minutes completely focused on the robot, trying to get it to respond to her.

You might say "Well, of course there are robots. This is Akihabara. It's full of electronics stores." While you would be completely right, the store these were tied in front of was a... sandwich stand. Only in Japan...