Friday, February 27, 2009

First snow of the season


My hopes of a “snowless winter” were dashed today thanks to a minor snowstorm going on for hours. Of course this does not even remotely compare to winters in Pittsburgh but still… Not a big fan of snow, especially when I have to be outside. I just hope it gets warmer soon. The picture of course does not do the situation justice. It was taken with my cell phone’s camera which, even though is a 3.2 MP camera, is 2 years old and well, it is a cell phone camera :) The view is from my company’s cafeteria which even offers views of Mt. Fuji on exceptionally clear days.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

どうもありがとうミスターロボット! (Thank you Mister Robot)

I was watching the Oscars on Monday (WoWoW showed it both in the morning [live] and at night) and I couldn’t help but crack a smile at Kunio Kato’s speech. His English was not the best but he kept it simple and smart, finishing with a reference to the song by Styx. It is a pretty well known fact that Japanese people are into robots of all kinds (even if the statement may not be all that factual) and when one says “robot” these days after a few animated offerings, one of the first things that comes to mind is Honda’s Asimo or Sony’s Qrio and Aibo.

So here is the speech and the song:

Oscar speech


Mr. Roboto by Styx

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

PM of Japan is “Cool old dude” ?


I snapped this picture in Akihabara yesterday. The guy in the cartoon is Japan’s Prime Minister, Mr. Aso, with a huge grin, saying “I love Akiba”. While I don’t doubt his liking Akihabara – it is one of the hustling parts of Tokyo’s economy and pretty popular with tourists I believe – it is the first time I see anyone call the guy “cool”. Now, I have heard the “old dude” title pretty often but by itself that seems to imply the opposite of “cool”…

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Japan and small cars

P2070212 I don’t know if it is the lack of space (be it for parking or driving through the narrow roads in Tokyo) or the Japanese fascination with all things minute and cute but there is definitely a surplus of small cars on the streets of Tokyo. Most of these are Japanese made and some are two seaters but one can also see cars made overseas that rival their Japanese counterparts in minuteness. This particular one was in a showroom in Aoyama and is a Fiat. Oh and of course there is another advantage – cars smaller than a certain engine size get tax breaks and they also use up less gas which with today’s economy is definitely something worth keeping in mind.

On an unrelated subject – see the phrase “Grand Open” ? That’s a “Japanese-English” phrase which they use very often around here instead of “Grand Opening”. I guess when they took the phrase they decided to keep it short and sweet ;)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

New ID cards for foreigners living in Japan?

old-gaijin-card According to Daily Yomiuri change is coming to the foreigner ID’s we have been carrying in Japan. I think it makes sense to revamp these ID’s since they really are a bit outdated in terms of the security features and how they are updated. Basically the only security feature seems to be the reflective foil on front and updates, such as extension of stay, are done in handwriting on the back. Now, it does not take a genius to see how one might forge one of these things and get by as long as no one with access to the government computers checks. It is high time that we get cards with ICs in them. Japanese driver’s licenses, pre-paid cards like SuICa, and even some store membership cards have ICs so this is not exactly a big leap. The only hassle for us seems to be the requirement for going to the immigration centers for updates instead of just stopping by the city halls but now the details of the bill are hazy anyway. We will know better when it gets closer to passing…

Image from

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Blue Tokyo skies

In an interesting twist, winter has decided to mock with the residents of Tokyo and for today (and if forecast is true, tomorrow) it has left the scene, leaving spring in charge.  On the menu for today – blue skies and sunshine! Now the picture below is actually not taken today – I took it sometime last year but I think it gives a good approximation of the view today. I think the busses were a bit ill-equipped to deal with the high (well, relatively high, floating around 20 degrees Celsius) temperatures so the a/c which is on during the summer months was off and the bus trips felt like travelling in a greenhouse on wheels. Not that I am complaining though, the blue sky is clearly worth any inconveniences like being slightly cooked on the way to the train station…


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A stroll through Aoyama on a sunny winter day…

P2070202  I have passed through the Aoyama Icchome Station (青山一丁目駅) countless times before, mostly on Ginza Line’s metal contraption, on my way to Roppongi from Shibuya. I guess I never had a good reason to go check it out before but this past Saturday, my final destination was Aoyama. I paid a visit to this very pretty neighborhood of Tokyo (whose name is made up of two Chinese characters by the way “Blue” and “Mountain”, they happen to be on the very short list of Kanji that I know) on a sunny yet windy day which seems to be the trend around here these days. The sun graces us with its presence but its effect seems limited to providing light and not heat. I am hoping one of these days it will remember that its job description involves providing both of those but I digress…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         As soon as one leaves the Aoyama Icchome Station, one is greeted with the view above – tall buildings and a nice and wide road going through them. Among the buildings are Sony’s Computer Entertainment division and even Oracle but a short walk to the right gets you to this nice street flanked by trees on both sides, hinting how beautiful they must look when they are not bare as they are now.  Continuing the walk gets you to a park, a baseball field and lots of people running/jogging. The sidewalks here have distance markings for runners to keep track and it is not uncommon to see a group of kids in baseball or soccer outfits doing laps.

P2070216 Aoyama is very close to the Meiji Jingu Shrine which I mentioned in an earlier post about my visit there for New Year’s. Being so close to the shrine means Aoyama not only gets visitors on a stroll from the shrine but it also gets lots of couples who get married and visit the shrine and then come to Aoyama for the celebrations. In fact, Meiji Kinenkan (明治記念館) is a very famous place for holding wedding parties. It is a pretty big place with lots of taxis up in front and complete with a bridal store.  I heard it is a pretty expensive place to use but it definitely seems like it would be worth it.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A little detail from Shibuya Station

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         I have been to Shibuya Station so many times and even though it is easily one of the most crowded places I have ever been to I was still surprised to notice something I have missed for more than a year now – a clock with an interesting poem about time on it. This guy is entitled “Bright Time” on the way to Ginza Line if you want to check it out yourself.  The poem goes:

On the loveliest of all worlds,
the splendor of sunlight
awakens the Earth
and rouses birds in flight.
Hear the flutter of wings.
Feel the pulse of time.

There is no signature under the English version of the poem but right above it is the Japanese version and the poet’s name seems to be 天津 恵 (Amatu Kei).

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Korea House

P1110143 Korea House is an interesting place in that it houses – pun completely intended – a cultural showcase as well as a high-end restaurant. It is listed in pretty much all “tourist maps” but there are a few different names for the same place so it can get a bit tricky to locate (even though it is literally a 5 minute walk from the closest train station which is a very important thing if you are visiting in winter time). The architecture of the place is very distinct and beautiful. This view is from the inner courtyard – from outside getting a view is a bit more difficult because there seems to be a construction.

P1110140 The food part is pretty decent, served buffet style and there is a wide variety to choose from.  The price is a bit steep though and it seems during the week there is not a lot of takers for the buffet (to be fair I took this picture right before the cultural show thingie was starting so people were all gone.)  It is still recommended, and may be even required, to make a reservation though and the easiest way to do that is through the concierge. I am thinking this place being so, touristy (no one there was Korean when I was there), they should be able to handle phone reservations in English as well.


The food was nice and all but I think the highlight was easily the cultural part of the experience. Korea House hosts a stage where various cultural aspects of Korea is on display for guests to enjoy after dinner. This place requires its own reservation by the way and like a theater the seats are numbered, with each reservation tied to seat numbers. As performances are displayed, the TV on the right, displays information in Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and English. The show I watched was pretty nice including things like a fan dance, moon dance by a couple, and various musical performances. Even though it is not allowed to take pictures during the show, after the show some performers come outside so you can take pictures with them as a souvenir.