Thursday, December 31, 2009

Japanese TV Programs to Watch Around New Years

If you are not in the mood for braving the cold and the crazy crowds on the night of the 31st you might want to check out these TV programs on the New Year’s Eve night as well as the following day/morning.

image If you haven’t watched it before, 紅白歌合戦(Kouhaku Uta Gassen), is a singing competition on the national public television (NHK)  and it is broadcast both on television and radio. It has actually been on the air since 1950s. It is basically a singing competition between two teams – red team which is made up of female singers and the white team which is made up of male singers. In fact the beginning of the name of the program, 紅白, stands for red-white.  To be invited to sing at the competition is considered an honor and the teams are typically made up of singers of all backgrounds from J-Pop to Enka (the traditional Japanese folk songs). Every year NHK puts together a selection committee which does the refereeing and the invitation process for the artists is based on sales in the last year as well as their fit to the theme for that year. The theme is in turn determined by a survey on various demographics so you can see that it is a pretty big deal. This year 紅白 will start on New Year’s Eve at 7:15pm and go on until 11:45pm on BShi, BS2 and Radio 1. You can take a look at the homepage here.

image Another show I really like watching is さすけ/佐助(Sasuke). さすけ is the name of a famous Ninja from Japanese history and the show is about competitors trying to survive a gauntlet of challenges. This one you might have seen in other countries under a different name (for example in the US and Turkey they show it under the name Ninja Warrior). However, unlike the way they show it in other  countries, which is as a season of 30 minute long episodes, the way they show it here is as one long episode per season. There is a pretty dedicated fan base here as far as I can tell and there is even a museum in Odaiba called Muscle-Park where people can try some of the challenges from the show. Some of the competitors prepare for months, building smaller versions of the gauntlet at their homes. The 24th iteration of the show will take place on January  1st at 5:45 pm and last until 11:24 (no idea why not 11:30 or 11:15) on TBS.  You can find more information here and especially here.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Avatar in 3D at Roppongi


Roppongi, just like the other parts of Tokyo, is lit up still waiting to welcome 2010. I was there today to check out Avatar in digital 3D.

I always like to watch my movies at Toho Roppongi Hills since it is a pretty new theater. Being in Roppongi, it also attracts a lot of foreigners so it is sometimes interesting to go just for people watching. Anyway, today was nice – the movie, Avatar, turned out to be pretty good. I had high hopes but I did not realize we actually reached a level of CGI quality where computer generated things on the screen can interact seamlessly with the human actors all the while exhibiting emotions themselves. The technology behind 3D movies also improved by leaps and bounds as well. I remember watching a 15 minute movie at Niagara Falls with 3D glasses and getting a headache. This movie of 3 hours did not give me any such problems at all…

Anyway, thought I would drop a line and check in. More holidays are coming starting the 31st so that should be a nice break from all the work I hope.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Here, have some… placenta


I wonder which genius came up with this one… It’s a drink for women to give them “youthful looks” and it is called – yes, “The Placenta” (ザ・プラセンタ).

Why the name, you ask? Well, apparently it contains some of the same amino acids as the placenta(as well as a healthy serving of collagen, a favorite ingredient for Japanese ladies interested in keeping their youthful looks). Check out the picture of Marie Antoinette, holding a bottle as well (the picture is basically a painting from 1783 with a bottle added in) . One of the commonly believed eccentricities of the executed Queen of France was her fondness for using actual placentas for improving her skin. The pamphlet does mention this but there is no mention of what a placenta is it seems…

While I don’t think this particular drink contains actual placenta extract, you can actually find other products by Japanese manufacturers that does include the real deal. These usually come in lotion form however so you don’t actually “eat/drink” the placenta. The price goes up by quite a bit  though – this one sells for more than $300.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Anantara Dhigu Resort, Maldives

Wow, it has been more than a week since I promised I would post something about the resort. I now realize I have tremendously underestimated the workload I would be under during the week – both from my “official” work and from other stuff. Well, here we are a week (and a day) after the date I specified and I finally get to write a few words.

Anantara Dhigu Resort, where I was at for 5 days, is an example of how a holiday resort should be. It is relaxing, the staff is courteous and professional, the over water villas where I stayed at are luxuriously decorated both in terms of comfort and technology and the service, the food, everything was great. But hey, I am getting ahead of myself. I think I should make a nice pictorial thing, keep the picture number high and the word number low. That way I can give you an idea about the resort and the experience and also make sure I can actually publish something in less than a month…


This cup of fresh fruit tea is what welcomes you to the island of Dhigu while you finish up your check-in.


The island is just sand, trees and wooden buildings – that’s it. No cars are allowed and the biggest vehicle you will see will be little electric carts carrying people and room service.


The overwater villas cost a little more to stay in but they are completely worth it. You can see the water from the bath/shower as well as listen to the sound of the waves at night. You also get an Ethernet port as well as wireless internet service and a nicely sized LCD TV and a port to hook up your iPod/mp3 player to listen to music through high quality speakers hidden in the ceiling.


This is the back of the villa. Yes, it did rain on a few of the days but since the place is basically tropical it was warm enough even during the rain to go for a swim. As the island is an atoll, the water has an amazing light blue tint and it is pretty shallow. I could walk from the back of the villa to the hammock that was on a tiny island (you can see it like a strip in this picture).


This is from one of the restaurants on the island. The lighting is dim all around the island, including in the villas.


The food is fresh and tasty in all restaurants, if a bit on the expensive side. The island boasts 3-4 restaurants, with as many more in the neighboring island, accessible by a free boat service that runs every 15 minutes. The room service is pretty good too – after all, few things can beat enjoying nice food in the privacy of your own patio, overlooking the ocean.

Saying I want to go back there would be the understatement of the century. Unfortunately I am not sure when the next time will be but I am looking forward to it… (Oh well, there goes another understatement :P)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The heavenly Maldives

I know I mostly talk about Japan and it makes sense that I do just that since Japan is where I live and spend most of my time. After all, even after the two years I spent here I still see so many things that catch me off guard. However, today I will talk about a place that could not be any more different than Japan – a place where everyone is laid back and you are surrounded by an amazing tint of blue and green… Maldives

 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         OK, let’s start with getting there. Maldives consists of many, many little islands as well as Malé, the main island. Most, if not all, of the touristic resorts are on those little islands but the airport is on Malé. Finding a flight to there is not a big problem but expect layovers unless you are flying in from certain parts of Asia. I know for a fact that Dubai and Kuala Lumpur have direct flights (through Emirates and Air Malaysia respectively) since I took those routes on my way there and back. Oh, one thing to keep in mind – Maldives is a Muslim country and they are pretty strict about it. What this means is that you are not allowed to bring in pork products or alcohol. The resorts carry both, mind you, it’s just you are not allowed to bring these into the country yourself. If you do, I am told, they just confiscate them, give you a tag, and when you are leaving the country they return them to you.


The real “challenge” is getting from the main island to the island where your resort is. Depending on how far away, this would be by boat or seaplane. If you are like me though, ahem, a little sensitive to motion, the boat ride maybe slightly problematic. My hotel was on an island about 30 minutes by boat and let me tell you, the small speed boat jumping over the waves is not an experience I want to remember. This is what the boat looks like. Notice the big white cylindrical thing in the front? That’s basically there just because it is heavy. Your luggage gets loaded safely under the cabin and you get to sit in the back, about 20 or so people per boat. I am told if you pick the season when it is “officially summer” (the islands are pretty hot, or hot enough to swim, pretty much throughout the year though you might want to check online for the temperature ranges in each month) the boat ride is more pleasant. If you are really unlucky though it will be raining and crazy windy, making up for one bumpy ride.

OK, on Saturday I will continue and this time it will be about the resort, the beautiful Ananthara Dhigu.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

More Christmas Caroling – this time at Ebisu

Christmas is coming and Tokyo is definitely getting into the mood. I snapped this at the Ebisu Garden Place in, well, Ebisu :) Unfortunately my phone ran out of memory space so the clip is only 13 seconds long but it should give you an idea I think. The live concert was pretty good with people clapping along though not many people could sing along since the carols were all in English.

I should say a few words about the backdrop too – every year the Baccarat Crystal Company puts up an amazingly fancy chandelier at the Ebisu Garden Place. This is the same place where they show movies in the summer if you are familiar with that event. The same company also puts up a very nicely decorated (with crystals of course) Christmas tree at the entrance to the Ebisu Garden Place as well.

The place is definitely worth checking out any time of the year but during Christmas time it gets especially festive. Oh, and I recommend the “Sapporo Beer Station” restaurant. They serve many different kinds of beer, if you are into that, but also they serve very reasonably priced food with portions uncharacteristically big for Japan. The overall theme is that of a German beer garden so they serve sausage, etc. but they also have other, fancier fare, such as lamb and sirloin steaks.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

International Robot Expo 2009 in Tokyo

I think the best way to write about this is with a picture-rich post, what do you think? :)

image So here goes… I am going to just put a link to my gallery on Facebook (you shouldn’t need to have an account to see it) since it has been two days and this is all I could write. These days I am more than a little stressed out about my Japanese exam in the weekend unfortunately… Blah…

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Christmas Carols in Tokyo

DVC00048 It’s less than a month left until Christmas and I feel like I have been in the Christmas mood for a couple of months already. If nothing else, I have definitely been listening to carols for more than a month. So you can imagine the pleasant surprise I had walking up the stairs at Mitaka Station today and I heard carols!

It turns out a church in Mitaka is arranging a Christmas concert and this was a group from that church singing all to familiar carols, albeit in Japanese. I still stopped for a minute and hummed along in English. Even if these people were not professionals, it still beat listening to mp3s :)

There are decorations all over the city – in train stations, certain restaurants, etc… I definitely appreciate the festive mood.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Japanese arcade machines continue to innovate


Not many people realize that the smash hit that is Guitar Hero was once an arcade machine in Japan (in fact it still is). The Japanese arcade scene is extremely creative. While in some other countries “arcades” mean your traditional small cabinet with a joystick and a couple of buttons, in Japan one can find touch screen machines, machines with musical instruments, machines that you need to use collectible cards to play among others.

Every time I step into an arcade here in Tokyo, I find something cool, something new… In this case it was this – a shooting game where you travel between floors in a building, going all the way from the basement to the roof. The twist? Well, there are two – There are “quick time events (QTEs)” where you need to drop the gun and use the three buttons to get your character out of tight spots and as you move from floor to floor you take the elevator. This elevator taking would not be so significant if it was not for the fact that the machine actually has elevator doors closing and opening between the floors. It’s such a small thing that it might seem like a gimmick but it is more than that. Since it is something physical it definitely helps with the immersion and when it gets stuck with enemies rushing from left and right it is definitely a rush.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Premier toilet

I am supposed to write on more involved subjects – after all I did spend almost a month away from this blog but the workload and the crappy cold weather is getting to me I think. I feel like I have zero initiative to write here, at least about something substantial. So what am I going to do? Well, I am going to write about something small, and hopefully something that will put a smile on my, and your, face…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         This gem comes from the mall in Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I have seen free public toilets in malls before – heck, they are dime a dozen in Japan and most of them are actually extremely high quality with auto-warmed seats etc.  I have also seen for pay public toilets in other countries but I have never seen a mall containing both. It’s similar to upgrading your plane ticket to business class I guess. I just have trouble seeing the point given the free ones and the for pay ones are so close to each other. I suppose the free ones maybe really bad or these are really good. I didn’t feel up to checking either of the two scenarios – I did not have any RM that I could use as exact change and I definitely did not want to check how bad free bathrooms would be…

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Back to Tokyo


Oh, wow… It took a long while to update this I know but I do have a good excuse – I was in Cyprus, Maldives, Malasia and then finally back to Tokyo on Wednesday last week. As you might imagine, I was quite a bit tired. I will get to talking about each of those countries hopefully but for tonight, it will just be me typing about what I did today – a very sunny and uncharacteristically warm day given the time of year. I was in Omotesando (表参道) walking around. I heard about a good Portuguese restaurant called Perola Atlantica (Madeira cuisine) from a friend who was here last summer and decided to check it out. Unfortunately for me however, the restaurant was hosting a private party today and it was closed for anyone else.  I ended up lunching at the French restaurant next door (which I must add was a VERY French place, almost surrealistic in fact: French music, all but one of the waiters were French, etc…). I took the above picture at Omotesando Hills  - a very nice, if expensive, mall close to the restaurant. The place is already in the Christmas mood…

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A break from blogging

It looks like I won’t be able to update my blog for at least another week or two. I am going to be outside Japan (in fact I will be home, in Cyprus for about two weeks) during that time. I will be sure to post pictures and update the blog as soon as I get a chance though, I promise :)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Security and Safety Expo 2009 at Tokyo Big Sight

Today I made the trip to Odaiba (well, more specifically Kokusai-Tenjijo) to attend the Security and Safety Expo (Riscon 2009) today. From robots to  signaling equipment to hazmat suits, there was something for everyone  but I was most impressed by the Tokyo Fire Rescue team who showed off both a rescue robot and more importantly, let ordinary people be "firefighters” but I get ahead of myself so let me try to make this more interesting and do it in a “album” kind of way again.

You can see the album here. I also uploaded two movies I made of the demonstrations I watched. I am embedding them below:


Sunday, October 18, 2009

The “Japanese Wedding” Protocol – the invitations

P8140374 Even though a lot of things about Japanese weddings may have changed over the years (and I will talk about these in more detail later) one thing stayed the same – there is a very well defined protocol in inviting and accepting (or rejecting) the invitation. If someone invites you to a Japanese wedding they will not just hand you an invitation – no, no… They will give you a little packet containing  the marriage ceremony details, invitation to a part (or multiple parts) of the ceremony such as the chapel (the trend these days), the dinner, and one of the after parties (yes there are multiple usually) and a postcard for RSVP. It is this postcard that I want to focus on…


What’s so special about RSVP you might say and I must admit it is rather similar to an RSVP card in the US but there is one little procedure one needs to follow which I think reflects the Japanese culture’s many aspects. See, there are some not-so-out of ordinary fields such as the name, address, and a message for the couple. The really interesting part is where you are supposed to circle a phrase signifying whether or not you will attend. The two phrases, 出席 (will attend) and 欠席 (will be absent) both start with the honorific “ご”. In English one can think of this as an RSVP card which has a phrase like “I will honor the party” and in Japanese it is pretty normal since it is the owner of the party referring to the presence of the invited. However, since it would be rude for the accepting/rejecting person to use this phrase for himself/herself when returning the RSVP, one is expected to cross out the “ご”.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

L versus R strikes again in Japanese English

Unfortunately these keep showing up. One would think a spell-checker would pick up most of these but they are still there… The first one is from the supermarket. It used to be wrapped around an apple. The second one is from a restaurant’s menu by a lake near Mount Fuji. Spot the problem? I don’t know if it is overcompensation in this case but this is something that happens much more rarely – an L for an R… Of course this one would not be caught by a simple spell-checker but something a bit smarter which aims to find L <-> R substitutions could pick it up.

Ah the researcher in me is flaring up again :P



Monday, October 12, 2009

A faster way to get to the Narita Airport – NEX version 2


A pretty late (though still hopefully useful) piece of information for those out there who are going to travel to/from the Narita Airport in Tokyo (成田空港) – it looks like Japan Railways has a new, faster version of its Narita Express. Narita Express is one of the cheapest (though definitely not the cheapest – that honor belongs to the busses running to and from the airport) and quickest ways to get to the airport. This new train, comes with a bunch of new perks. According to the Mainichi Daily News:

  • There is an active vibration control system which makes for a smoother ride
  • All seats have power sockets for passenger’s use
  • There are new security features such as cameras, dial locks for luggage space, etc.

Interestingly, both trains share the same top speed. You can find pictures of the actual train, as well as some videos on Shibuya246’s page here. It definitely looks like an impressive piece of equipment. This new train, which has the model number E259, is replacing the older, E253 model. According to Wikipedia, so far only 10 of the 26 N’EX services are so far using the newer model. It will not be before June 2010 that all of the older models are replaced.

On somewhat related news, from the same Mainichi story, it looks like there will be a new train line for getting to Narita, called “Narita New Rapid Line” which will be run by the Keisei Electric Railway Co. Competition is always good so I am looking forward to hearing more about this new line which should open to service in the Spring of 2010.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

When recycling gets picky in Mitaka


I have been a big fan of recycling since moving to Japan and even though things could get a bit inconvenient at times due to only certain types of garbage being picked up on a given day I thought it was still worth it. After all, it is very important to recycle…

Very recently thought something interesting happened. Instead of letting us put our garbage in our own garbage bags, which let us recycle all the extra plastic bags we got from supermarkets and other stores, we are now required to put both burnable and non-burnable garbage in special Mitaka City bags which the city sells at supermarkets. Garbage put out in other types of bags are simply not picked up with this purple “Attention” message pasted on the bag. The “official” garbage bags themselves do have 2 sentences in English (and Chinese, Korean and a few other languages) on them but this purple piece of paper does not.

I wonder if other cities have started doing something similar and what the “official” reason is for using these bags.

Monday, October 5, 2009

A wedding in Yokohama


I was lucky enough to be invited to a friend’s wedding which took place yesterday in Yokohama. It was my first “Japanese wedding” though just like most other young people these days, the wedding was “western style”. It took place at a hotel in Yokohama, with an initial section taking place at a chapel. These “hotel weddings” have become the trend among the young Japanese, who enjoy the chapel/church setting even though they themselves are not Christians.

Attending a wedding ceremony, just like many other cultural “concepts”, is a ceremony itself, based on very strict rules dating back hundreds of years. There is so much to write, both about the rules and the wedding itself but I am really busy these days with studying for the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) and working at the office so I guess these will wait for now…

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A remote controlled LED light-bulb


I was out searching for an LED light-bulb in Yodobashi Camera in Kichijoji – my usual quick drop in and out place for electronics when I cannot take the 35 minute trip to Akihabara. I came across this little gem – a remote controlled LED bulb by Sharp.

The remote, which does not come with this strap by the way – I just added my old strap to it, allows turning the bulb on or off, setting the light intensity (5 steps though the two extremes and the middle value can be set using the 3 shortcut buttons) as well as setting the temperature (from soft white to an incandescent-like yellow) using the same number of steps and/or shortcuts. It is a pretty cool little toy if you can get beyond the weight of the bulb, relatively low luminosity (I would say this one gets about a typical 60W incandescent bulb), and the price (about $80). It also lasts (or should last at least) more than 40 times an incandescent bulb. That, we will have to wait and see. So far I am pretty happy with it…

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tokyo Game Show 2009 (photo blog)

Today I was at Tokyo Game Show (came back 5 about 3 hours ago actually) so I wanted to post this before the day is officially out in an hour and a half. I think something like the TGS deserves more photos and less text, a photo blog format if you will, (which coincidentally makes my life easier too ;)) so here goes:

P9240446 P9240448

   Tokyo Game Show took place in Makuhari Messe, a big exhibition hall in Chiba (for those unfamiliar with Japanese geography – Chiba is not in Tokyo, it is its own prefecture). This translated to waking up pretty early and travelling for an hour and a half so that I could make it there before the show started at 10 am. It was pretty interesting to listen to all the “foreigners” on the train, talking about their impressions about Japan.


P9240454 Even thought I made it there about 15 minutes before 10 am, the line already reached outside. Thankfully though, Makuhari Messe is huge and once the doors opened everyone got in. This will of course not be quite the case during the “public days” on Saturday and Sunday when the number of attendees will probably grow ten fold (if not much more).


P9240491 There were a lot of famous game companies but some of the booths were pretty specific to Japan – for example this one by DoCoMo, the cell phone carrier. They had a lot of cell phone games on display and even had these huge walls with free games (though they were either feature or time limited. I did download a copy of Metal Slug M1 for my cell phone though). The lights on the wall are touchless (IC) terminals so putting your phone next to them automatically directs your phone to the download site for that game.


P9240471Some of the more familiar faces, Konami and Square Enix, creators of the Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts series.


P9240473 Microsoft had a pretty strong showing in a huge “booth”, showing off both exclusives like Halo 3 ODST and Forza, as well as non-exclusives such as Fifa 10. They also had a “secret” room set up for demoing Project Natal but they only let in the national television channel (NHK) and other “big media”.  One could look through the transparent stripes looking into the demo-room though and watch people play with Natal – it seems like they were having fun. I saw a part of the video they shot inside on NHK Nightly News tonight.

P9240484 P9240501 

P9240490 Of course no game show would be complete without the pre-requisite pretty women calling the participants over. Pretty much all of the big booths had a few and they somehow managed to smile and pose for pictures for the whole duration of the show which is no easy feat.




Game companies used a lot of other “gimmicks” to attract attention too. From a Mercedes used by Sony for their Gran Turismo franchise to the fighting statues (static except for the floor they were on which was rotating) for Tekken 6, there were a lot of different things. One particularly interesting one was at the Modern Warfare 2 booth, which used fake snow to “snow” on the people watching their preview video.


P9240507By 5 o’clock I could no longer feel my feet from the constant walking around. I think it was definitely worth it though. And as an added bonus there was this tank/robot hybrid thing on the way to the station flanked by 2 female “soldiers” – all characters from a game of course.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

“The only flower in the World”

I know I haven’t written in far longer than I really thought was appropriate but what was I expecting when one combines laziness with being on holiday? In my defense though at the hotel I was staying at by Kawaguchiko (河口湖) did not actually have internet in the rooms. I still survived the two and a half days I was there though which in an odd way impresses me. But I digress… I am not going to write about my trip just yet however – I just lack the time and will needed for such a sizable entry.

I will instead write about this song that got stuck in my head. One of the places I visited during my holiday was the “Music Box Museum” and one of the most popular pieces the little contraptions they sold at the gift store played was a song by the Japanese group SMAP, called “世界に一つだけの花” which I guess roughly could be translated into “The only flower in the World”.  The song dates back to 2003 and it has a very catchy tune. The lyrics are also pretty inspirational – not something typically found in songs by boy bands. Anyway, below are two videos – the original, and an “unofficial English version” which has the translated version. I really can’t get this song out of my head – tonight I must have listened to it at least 15 times, different versions combined.

Original version by SMAP

English version

Monday, September 14, 2009

Tokyo Game Show 2009 – invitation to business days


My invitation is finally here! I missed this last year and I was very sad that I would miss it this year as well but nope, I actually get to go! I am so looking forward to next week to go see the show on both Business Days (Thursday and Friday) before the show opens up to the general public – and becomes an all too crowded endeavor to fully take in. Anyway, this will be a short post… Being an avid gamer and in general crazy for new, exciting technology like Microsoft’s Natal, I just couldn’t contain my joy. I will be sure to take a lot of pictures to post here next week :)

Friday, September 11, 2009

The biggest library in Japan

DVC00022The National Diet Library of Japan, located in Nagatacho (永田著), Tokyo, is the biggest library in Japan. It is located extremely close to the Diet, the Japanese assembly, so a visit to the library ensures catching a glimpse of the Diet, together with a level of security uncharacteristic of Japan – roughly 1 policeman per couple of square feet…

The library itself, not terribly imposing or even impressive from outside, is home to every single publication ever made in Japan (yes this includes all manga publications as well ;)). Furthermore, they have a very very impressive international collection which I tested by borrowing a 1887 copy of “Huckleberry Finn”. The services offered by the library are pretty impressive – not only you can borrow books from these extensive collections, and get copies made for certain parts, but you can even request copies of sections through the web, to be mailed to your address. A quick point of information though – this is not your typical library so “borrow” just means “borrow to read inside the library”. You cannot take any materials outside which I guess explains why it was so easy to get my hands on a book published in 1887 so easily in my hands.

If you live in Japan, becoming a member of this library and paying it a visit at least once should definitely be something on your to-do list. However, make sure you check out the procedure and the needed documents online at the website I linked above.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

“A member of an organization”


File this one under “so close, yet so far away” category… I took this picture of a hairdresser’s sign close to my work. One can kind of ignore the “Good sense and professional technic” tagline based on poor/awkward choice of words but the “A member of an organization” is simply baffling. Which organization? Any organization? It is not even a matter of picking the right article here since “A member of the organization” would still carry a vagueness as to which organization we are talking about here.

I have done some digging on “Zenbikanren” but came up with nothing. Now I am really curious…

Monday, September 7, 2009

Armies can have mascots too


This guy, who apparently is a mascot for the Japanese Self Defense Force, was flanked by actual soldiers – definitely an uncommon sight in the middle of Shinjuku. This public square, right across from the East Entrance (東口) to Shinjuku Station, usually is where new albums of a music group are advertised – together with a small concert of sorts. I have even seen groups filming music videos here. This, definitely was an interesting change of scenery. I guess this was a music related thing too since they were advertising a concert by the army marching band as well as asking for recruits. The army people were very nice – they gave everyone, including me – a foreigner, JDF phone straps. I took a picture with the mascot too… He seemed cool ;)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The mystery of “Shoecream” solved


When I first heard the term “shoecream” in Japan I was more than a little shocked. See, we were walking from lunch at a restaurant close to where I work and a Japanese friend asked me if I would like some “shoecream” as dessert. These turned out to be little cream filled puffs and I figured out that the word was simply a phonetic construction. It was not until about two years after that, or more precisely, last weekend, that I saw a box of “shoecreams” at the supermarket and realized what the original phrase is - “chou a la crème”. It’s a French phrase which, of course, means “creampuff”. It is very easy to assume that a foreign word in Japanese, rendered phonetically, comes from English as most actually do but in this particular case that assumption turned out to be worse than wrong. Still, it was pretty funny while it lasted ;)

Monday, August 31, 2009

Elections, Elections, Elections!

AP video from YouTube

It looks like we are in for a change – the party that has been ruling Japan for almost five decades, the party that produced stars like Koizumi (小泉 純一郎), has lost the election. The party that has won the elections came to power offering “change”, a-la-Obama. In fact, they can be considered liberals compared to the conservatives who were ousted (it is a bit funny actually since the conservative party is called the “Liberal Democratic Party” and the winning party is the “Democratic Party”). What this means in terms of real actions, both for the Japanese people and us “foreigners” alike, we will have to wait and see but so far I am getting good vibrations ;)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A visit to Tokyo DisneySea


This is what happens when I get lazy – I start telling myself that I will try to post every other day only to talk back, to myself again mind you, and convince myself that there is no urgency, culminating in this blog being in a limbo for at least a week. Well, this limbo is coming to an end right now with a few words about Disney – let’s hope I can post the next one in a few days…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         DisneySea feels almost like the perfect complement to Tokyo Disneyland, which is right next door and distinctly lacks water which, DisneySea, as one can guess from its name, provides in copious amounts.  There is an interesting difference in focus on which Disney characters are most prominent as well. Unlike Disneyland Mickey and his lovely girlfriend do not show up much, replaced by characters which do not show up much in Tokyo Disneyland like Aladdin, Jasmine and Ariel (The Little Mermaid). In fact, the title of “host” should go to “Chip and Dale”, the rescue squirrels who keep going around and shouting with their extremely high pitched voices. I mean, Mickey has a high pitched voice but compared to “Chip and Dale”, he is like Dave Barry. This little metal statue of Mickey does grace the entrance to DisneySea however, hiding the untold horrors of “Chip and Dale” lurking inside the park…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA          The theme park is divided into different zones which should not come as a surprise to any Disney veteran. What makes this different than Disneyland is that every one of these zones is based on a “water related” theme – there is a Mediterranean Harbor, Arabian Coast, a small US beach town of old right next to a small New York City from the 1930s complete with a real (or at least real looking) cruise ship and other areas like these. The rides themselves are generally geared towards an older crowd compared to Disneyland save for most of the rides in the Little Mermaid’s Cove which target really young kids, complete with a soft floor in case the children fall.


The highlight of any visit to DisneySea in the summer though, has to be the show at the end of the day in the harbor – a love story between the “God of Fire”, a dragon, and “Goddess of Water”. Unlike Disneyland, there are no Disney characters in the show save for Mickey who shows up for about a minute in the beginning just to introduce the story. The way the dragon rises from under the water and lights up the harbor is a sight to behold and my picture does not do it any justice at all. Of course the “Goddess” is equally impressive and they, coupled with the light effects, make for a very powerful and visually engrossing story.

You can get the tickets online here or just visit your local FamilyMart (in Japan) – they carry the tickets too.