Sunday, June 29, 2008

First trailer of the new Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli movie

Even though the movie itself will be out (and I will be in line for the first session showing it :P) in two or three weeks at Toho Cinemas the trailer is still not officially available on the web. However, I was able to find a clip from a TV program that included a look at the trailer (albeit with comments - people constantly going "かわいい!"(cute!)... But it is definitely better than nothing ;)

Friday, June 27, 2008

Rice and salmon wrapped in seaweed

I haven't been able to write for a bit longer than I would have liked but it was one hectic week. To top it all off I stayed up late on Wednesday to watch the Euro 2008 semi-final game between Turkey and Germany (which Germany won 3-2). It was a slow week too with not a lot to report - well not a lot with me being able to capture a picture of but once again it's Friday, and I am enjoying every second of it :)

Well today I wanted to post pictures of a snack that has saved me from many a skipped lunch. This particular one consists of rice with salmon in the center and a sheet of seaweed to wrap it in. The nice thing is they are made fresh (daily), very cheap (less than 200 yen), and come in a lot of varieties (in terms of content and shape). If you ever find yourself in a convenience store like 7/11 or FamilyMart, give it a try! Oh and a quick note, Salmon is cooked but some varieties are not so... be careful if you aren't into uncooked fish.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Japan vs. Bahrain at Saitama Stadium (埼玉)

After buying tickets well ahead of time (more than a month in advance!) I finally got to watch the Japanese National Soccer Team playing in a qualifier for the World Cup 2010 in Africa. The game was in Saitama Stadium which is about 40-45 minutes from the center of Tokyo by train. The constant heavy rain did only a little to quash my excitement...
Getting to Saitama Station is pretty simple - it is one of the final stops of the Namboku Line (南北線 - which literally translates to South-North Line) and for people who live close to Chuo Line (中央本線) like me this means taking the express to Yotsuya Station (四ッ谷駅) and changing lines there. As this was a "game night" per se, there were quite a few people wearing jerseys on the train. After 40 minutes it was time to get off and well, face the Urawa Reds badges and downpouring rain.
The stadium, which is one of the stadiums Japan built for the 2002 World Cup it co-hosted with Korea, plays host to one of the biggest teams in Japan's Premier Soccer Leauge - J-League called "Urawa Reds/Red Diamonds" (浦和レッドダイヤモンズ). The stadium is about a kilometer from the stadium (it's even marked on the way from the station with 100 meter intervals). There is also a bus (which I think is free) between the two. On a match day food vendors flank the walkway on both directions offering variety of snacks from traditional Japanese food like takoyaki/たこ焼き to food from other cuisines like gyros.
The Japanese supporters are really passionate though I must admit the most passionate of all seem to be concentrated behind the goals (I suppose that's typical since those are the cheapest seats and these people go to a lot of games....) The game was a bit slow and the walk back under the pouring rain was tough with more than 51,000 other people with literally everyone taking the train back (it was 11 or so by the time I made it home) but it was a lot of fun. I am looking forward to the next one in September!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Two weeks on, life is returning to normal in Akihabara

It was two weeks ago today around this time that Tomohiro Kato (加藤智弘) rammed people walking on the street at Akihabara and proceeded to attack the survivors and onlookers with his knife - an event that left 7 dead in one of the safest cities in the world sending shockwaves through the country. I was at Akihabara yesterday to see how/if things are different two weeks on. The good news is it looks like people have returned (for a few days after the attack the people seemed very hesitant to go to Akihabara) but of course this does not make the event any less painful. The picture is of the intersection that the attack took place in.

The attack took place on and around the big intersection close to the train station as it was one of the few through roads which was open to vehicle traffic around the area (now the whole practice of closing the street to traffic is scrapped). There is now a makeshift memorial close to the intersection. Passing people stop and get in line to pray in front of the memorial. They also leave unopened bottles of drinks (water, coke, tea, etc..) and snacks (chips, and even a mellon) as a part of the tradition. It was such a touching sight with so many people taking the time to pray as they pass by. I kept my prayer very silent and from a relatively far spot as I did not want to interfere.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Rain and humidity

Man, it's getting so humid it's ridiculous. It's almost like Japan (or at least Tokyo) is tropical. The irritating thing is there is no sun yet it's still uncomfortably hot - all because of the humidity. Thank God there is "cool biz" in effect which means no jacket and tie but still in the space of 7 minutes it starts feeling like hell on my walk to/from work. The good news is it will get better as the temperature goes up (which does not really make sense I know :P).

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sega's Kissing Robot - E.M.A.

Of course it was just a matter of time before someone in Japan made a robot that can actually kiss a person as well as dancing. Well, it looks like Sega is making the first one. I saw this newsletter today on Sega Toy's website - The robot is called EMA or Eternal Maiden, Actualization; yes, very Anime I know...

The robot can give out business cards too soo it's not all play ;) The price is a very reasonable $175 too but unfortunately I cannot get my hands on one until September. I wonder when I can see one at Akiba but as soon as I do I will post something.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

New Miyazaki movie - "Ponio on a Cliff" (崖の上のポニョ)

I saw the trailer for the new Miyazaki /Studio Ghibli スタジオジブリ animation today at the movie theatre (in fact this is the second time I see it at Roppongi). It looks like it will be great though I don't know if it is possible to match some of the amazing previous work by Miyazaki like Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, or Howl's Moving Castle. I will definitely watch it and I hope my Japanese will be enough to at least understand the main idea. I can usually watch movies on TV and get the gist of them but it would of course be great if they somehow add English subtitles - at least at a place like Roppongi where lots of "foreigners" come to watch movies. It looks like they have not released the trailer online but I found the song they are using for the title (and the trailer) accompanied by stills from the movie and some of the sketches. I am finding it extremely hard to get out of my head :P

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Celebration at the middleschool

I am not entirely sure why but there was a pretty loud celebration today at the middle school right next to my apartment as it was getting dark. It was pretty jubilant - with students singing songs together, a campfire in the middle of the school grounds. and even fireworks... I know here students seem to come to school even in the weekend for various extra-curriculars but I wonder what the reason was for this one.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Making fresh Wasabi (山葵)

I have never been a big fan of wasabi (Japanese horseradish for the uninitiated) save for using a little tiny bit on sushi in the US. As it turns out here there is already more than that tiny bit in the sushi rice so here I use it even less if at all. However for many Japanese, wasabi is a key ingredient providing that little "bite" to what may otherwise be considered bland food. The typical serving of wasabi in the US, which was the only "format" I knew for wasabi, is like compressed green powder. In its home country however one can get, no no make that "make", wasabi fresh right at their table with the aid of a cute little grater in a few minutes.

This picture is from one of the nicer restaurants I have been to in Japan and it specializes in soba. In case you were wondering that is not my hand :P The restaurant and the fascinating nail designs of the Japanese women deserve their own posts so I will keep this about wasabi...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Tokyo places 3rd in the world for quality of life!

The folks at the UK based Monocle magazine (which claims to be focused on culture and living) chose Tokyo as the 3rd best city in the world for quality of life after Copenhagen (Denmark) and Munich (Germany). I have yet to see the magazine myself but the article is covered pretty well in other newspapers including The Observer ( The top 20 in the list are:

  1. Copenhagen (Denmark)

  2. Munich (Germany)

  3. Tokyo (Japan)

  4. Zurich (Switzerland)

  5. Helsinki (Finland)

  6. Vienna (Austria)

  7. Stockholm (Sweden)

  8. Vancouver (Canada)

  9. Melbourne (Australia)

  10. Paris (France)

  11. Sydney (Australia)

  12. Honolulu (Hawaii, US)

  13. Madrid (Spain)

  14. Berlin (Germany)

  15. Barcelona (Spain)

  16. Montreal (Canada)

  17. Fukuoka (Japan)

  18. Amsterdam (Holland)

  19. Minneapolis (US)

  20. Kyoto (Japan)

Last year Tokyo was 4th in their poll of "Most Livable Cities in the World" (

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Knife attack in Akihabara (秋葉原)

It looks like a crazed 25-year old drove his truck into pedestrians walking on the road at Akihabara today (on Sundays the place is closed to traffic so people can freely go around and shop as well as perform on the street wearing outfits reminiscent of anime). The guy did not stop there and proceeded to attack people who got close with his knife. Slightly less than 20 people were injured with I think 7 casualties so far. Given that I like Akihabara quite a bit, visit there once a few weeks, and was there yesterday this is extra scary. I am not sure what was his problem but I know, for the police, it must be very difficult to be prepared for something like this. This won't stop me from visiting the place or anything but... scary...

Steak as fast-food

One does not usually consider steak and fast-food together (unless one considers Philly Steak I suppose ;)) but in Japan there is a fast-food chain specializing in steaks, called Pepper Lunch (ペッパランチ-, which actually is pretty decent and cheap. Today, I gave the branch at Kichijoji (close to the train station) a visit.

The whole process of ordering food to eating it is pretty streamlined. You order the food and drinks from a machine which gives you a ticket. Then you just go and sit down at the counter (there are no tables, just a round counter) and hand the ticket to the waiter/waitress who go and retrieve your food. There is no need to tell them how you want your steak - you cook it yourself anyway ;) They give you the steak cubed or cut into strips on a sizzling plate with veggies and you cook it yourself as much as you want. It's no Peter Luger's but if you are interested in getting a quick bite for a reasonable price this is definitely an option. I think I will definitely revisit.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Xbox is back and like new - in less than a week!

It has been about 5 days and my XBox 360 is back like new. Apparently they had to change the motherboard and another board - all in 2 days. The shipping took 3 days only because there was a Sunday in the middle. Not only did I not have to worry about paying a dime, or packaging/shipping the unit myself, they also cleaned and repackaged my XBox and even gave me a month free of XBox Live for the time spent without an XBox (which was just 5 days). Thanks Microsoft Japan - now I can get back to finishing the Lost Odyssey :)

Slow, rainy days

These days are going pretty slow; I guess the gray skies and the rain has a hand in that. The sky did open up a little yesterday and glad it did because me and a few friends wanted to walk to a nearby restaurant for lunch for a change (company cafeteria is distinctly Japanese cuisine though rarely there is an occasional spaghetti with a Japanese style topping). I must admit it sounds a bit strange when one considers the similiarity of food especially in the US between Chinese and Japanese restaurants but here the two are pretty different and we chose to go to a Chinese restaurant called "Dragon". The restaurant itself was not bad, slightly smaller than a typical restaurant though the line between small and typical restaurants is pretty blurry here and the food was decent but I think the price was a tad high - around 1000 yen for fried rice and soup set.

Oh another interesting thing happened yesterday night. After my Japanese class I ordered pizza from Domino's (yeah I know, not very Japanese but believe me the pizza is better, if more expensive, here) and it turns out the delivery guy, who is this young Japanese guy, actually speaks Turkish! Apparently he went to university in Turkey for a bit (probably some exchange program) and he recognized my name so he asked me where I was from (after apologizing profusely for doing something more than just taking the money and leaving) and he knew Cyprus! What can I say, the world is indeed a small place...

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Shinjuku on Sunday

Last Sunday I was at Shinjuku for shopping and lunch at my favorite Turkish restaurant in Tokyo - Pamukkale ( The area around the restaurant has qutie a few different stores ranging from the really expensive to casual. It turns out they close some of the streets to traffic on Sundays and last Sunday being nice and sunny the whole area was great to walk around in. It felt almost like a European town with people hanging out at cafes and narrow streets. The picture is from the warning sign on one of the streets. They got the English down almost correctly except for two words this time...

Of course for me pretty much the only place to shop in Tokyo is Akihabara but, anyway ;)

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Bad news: XBox is dead, Good news: Getting it fixed in Japan is easier...

So three days ago I witnessed my XBox 360 dying a horrible death; signalled by the dreaded "ring of death". I panicked thinking not only it would cost a bunch of money since the warranty expired but that I would have to figure out a way to get it to the US and back. Thankfully it turned out to be a much much simpler process...

The first thing I did after restarting the XBox a few times and witnessing no change, was calling XBox support in the US. Thankfully the 1-800 lines are free on Skype so the 15 minute hold time didn't really hurt. After explaining the situation to the helpful operator in India, I learnt two pieces of information - that the problem is covered by warranty even though general warranty expired (good news) and that I had to find a friend or relative in the US since they would not ship to or pay for shipment from Japan (horrible news). Just as I was starting to think of how to pack the XBox in my PS3's box (since I did not bring the box for it to Japan) I came across a blog entry by someone who actually had a similar problem and ended up calling XBox Japan.

What did I have to lose, right? So my friend Kota called XBox Japan for me and they were extremely nice. It turns out the console numbers are sync'd all around the world so you can get service from your local XBox group as long as they either offer to fix your XBox (instead of replacing it with a refurbished version which I hear happens quite a bit in the US) or they have an XBox from the same region as yours which they can use to replace yours. We got them to come and take the XBox just the next day without me having to bother with even packing which actually is faster than how it works in the US even (in the US they send you a box and you put the XBox in it and call for pickup). Now I am in the waiting mode. I have to get back to Lost Odyssey ;)