Monday, April 27, 2009

Historic cars and… a giant mechanical spider?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         I was in Yokohama on Sunday and as luck would have it there was a historic car exhibition right outside the restaurant I was at in Akarenga / 赤レンガ. Given that there was a ridiculous wind outside I was happy to get a seat inside and almost as soon as I sat down I saw a group of people gathering right outside and surely enough in about a minute the first car passed right in front of the window followed by more. Apparently this was a part of historical tour around Japan which explains how they managed to attract a crowd even under those weather conditions. There was a nice collection of both very old (see the pic above ;)) and very new cars including a few generations of Ferraris, all looking equally impressive to my untrained eye.


It was on my way back to the train station that I noticed this huge spider towering over walls, I suppose a part of some exhibition. I couldn’t see much though thanks to my zoom lens now I can see much clearer ;) It definitely looks impressive, a mechanical spider with (at least) 6 operators controlling its moves. I would love to see this from close up myself. I am not sure what the exhibition was for exactly but I suspect it is a part of the 150th year celebration of the opening of Yokohama Harbor.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Children’s Festival

The 23rd of April is Children's Festival in Turkey and the north of Cyprus. Children from all around the world attend ceremonies in Turkey and show traditional dances. I dug up this video from Youtube and they show Japanese kids from last year. Unfortunately there is no information on where they are from in Japan and the type of dance and the video quality is pretty bad but I thought it was still interesting enough to post here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A new Japanese TV Drama

紺かつ If you don’t know what a J-Drama is you might be a bit confused so let me clear that up really quick – J-Drama stands for Japanese Drama and at a given time there are many different series offered by different TV channels in Japan. They are even pretty popular abroad, though mostly in other Asian counties, and even in the US one can find fan subbed episodes of popular series.

tonkatsu Thanks to my Japanese teacher, Ms. Uchida, I heard about a new series starting yesterday and managed to catch the first episode. This particular series is called Konkatsu (婚かつ) – a mashup of [Kekkon (結婚) – marriage] and [Tonkatsu (とんかつ) – fried pork cutlets]. The main character is an unlucky young man, who after graduating from a pretty mediocre university gets fired from the job he manages to get. Even though his father owns a tonkatsu store he refuses to work there and lands a job at a small town’s town hall. His work is in a newly formed department formed as a part a national push to find ways for increasing the number of children per family. There is one catch though – during the interview, in order to get the job, he mentions that he is planning on getting married very soon himself when he does not even have a girlfriend…

The first episode yesterday was a lot of fun, even for someone not understanding most of the individual words in Japanese. It is on Fuji TV, every Monday, between 9 and 10 pm.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

“The Flame of Hiroshima and Nagasaki” at Ueno

P4110080If you take a walk around the gardens of Ueno Shrine (in Ueno Park), you might run into this little statue which is very very easy to miss since it is a bit off the main walkway. The dove contains a little flame inside it which has been burning since the day it was brought here in 1990. While much smaller than the flame in Hiroshima, this flame has its source from that same flame as well as a flame from Nagasaki. There is a plaque explaining how the flame has two sources – a torch from Hoshino village (星野村) in Fukuoka prefecture and a fire in Nagasaki which was list by the rubbing of broken roofing tiles against each other. The torch I mentioned, in turn, originates from the fire in Hiroshima. After the news of the bomb reached the Hoshino village, Tatsuo Yamamoto went to Hiroshima to search for his uncle where he only found the rains of his house burning. He took the flame from the remains as a memento of his uncle and kept it burning. The flame, which initially was kept by Yamamoto out of resentment, turned into a symbol of his desire for the abolition of nuclear weapons and peace. A torch was built in the village in 1968 out of that flame and this is one of the sources for the flame at Ueno. There is a plaque which describes this and more right by the statue so if you are in the area make sure to stop by and read…


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ueno Park and the beautiful flowers


While most of the cherry blossoms are gone the Ueno Park still had a few trees that had an almost full load and there were tons of people who were out for “Ohanami” (お花見) – literally flower watching. I talked about this last year when I actually had the pleasure of joining them myself at Inokashira Park. The idea is sitting under a tree and enjoying an alcoholic beverage of sorts (beer, hard lemonade, different types of sake, whatever works for you…) while watching the flower petals slowly fall all around you. In the case of these people though since most of the flowers are gone except on two trees which actually had noone under them, I think the main goal was drinking…

If you happen to go by Ueno Park you may not be able to catch much of the cherry blossoms but there is a special garden open by the shrine. There is a little entrance fee (600 yen/about 6 dollars) but it is worth it. Some of the flowers are just so pretty and hard to find outside this special garden. I am putting some of the pictures of the flowers I took below. May be they can convince you to go :)

P4110065 P4110069

Monday, April 13, 2009

Adventures in Nashville

I am still getting over the jetlag even though it has been more than a week by now but I thought I would drop a line and let you know about at least the highlights of the trip. New material about Tokyo is accumulating with the nice weather we are having these days and I can’t move onto that without finishing up with this so, here we go…


First I need to talk about the Centennial Park. This green gem of a spot lies pretty close to Vanderbilt University and hosts a copy of the Parthenon. Granted it is a bit on the smaller side compared to the original in Athens but hey, it is newer and in a better condition (yeah, I do realize that does not make it better than the original but still ;)). Now as luck would have it we ran into some cherry blossoms in bloom there which kind of made up for our missing the cherry blossoms in Tokyo – again, not quite as special as the original but much better than nothing. The day we were there was very nice and sunny for the most part which made the view more enjoyable and I saw a squirrel or two which sure brought back memories of the US. I even spotted a blue jay which looked really really pretty.


Another highlight was this – the district. It is basically a well lit and clean street flanked on both sides by souvenir stores and live music venues. We had dinner at one of the restaurants with live music playing and it was a pleasant experience. If you are into ribs you are in luck here though for those of us who are “pork-challenged” (like me) there are other options such as catfish. Keep in mind though – the style they seem to prefer is either BBQ (in terms of the ribs) or deep fried (in terms of the catfish). The “Batman building” in the background is the AT&T building and the Nashville skyline can be seen pretty clearly from this street. It was not a very crowded night but I don’t know if this is typical since the night we were there also was the night when a hurricane touched down in Nashville and there was some heavy damage in certain areas of downtown and traffic was backed up on certain highways which brings me to the biggest highlight (after the conference of course) – the hurricane/storm…


What is this you say? This is what everyone in the conference was watching for a while on the last day of the conference… It is the tornado report on the weather channel. Shortly after my talk on the third day, during the coffee break, we all realized that it was not so sunny outside anymore. In fact, it was raining like crazy and there was lightning left and right. While we started talking about how it was unlucky we could not go out to see the town a bit on the last day we heard these sirens coming from the hotel’s PA system. It was the first time I heard such an announcement – asking everyone to gather in the lobby but it did not end there. We had to get in line and go to the basement and stand against the wall for a few minutes. Luckily there weren’t any delays at the airport the next day and we were able to get back on time. It was an interesting experience but I enjoy seeing new places and experiencing new things so this trip definitely was enjoyable for me.

Onto recent things in Tokyo starting with the next post…

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Buying a PSP from a vending machine?

P3290046 If anyone asked me before my little trip to Nashville where, if anywhere, one would be able to buy a PSP or an iPod from a vending machine I would say it has to be in Japan somewhere. Well, imagine my surprise when I got off the plane at Dallas International Airport and ran into not just one, but at least 3 huge vending machines which, well, vend, PSPs, iPods and related accessories. There is also a little touch screen introducing each item and of course the all important credit card reader. I am not sure what would happen if an item would get stuck just like with other vending machines – I can live with wasting a dollar for a bag of chips that gets stuck, or I can pay for another one and get two at the same time but the same “trick” doesn’t work when each item costs upwards of $100. Still though – pretty interesting concept. It seems like Sony and Apple are the two big backers of this as of now.


The airport is your typical large US airport, with a multitude of terminals and a train system linking them. There isn’t really a distinguishing feature of the airport – at least internally. I am not entirely sure how it is from the outside though since it is one of the airports I have only seen from inside. Oh and before I forget – I snapped this picture of a crashed application that was on the display screens. I am wondering why no one noticed it but I suspect there is no application that watches for crashes and notifies an operator. I guess this would be something good to build for applications like this though I am surprised there is not one already.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

From Tokyo to Nashville


Last week I was in the US, attending a conference in Nashville and well, if I don’t start posting about this I am going to forget so… here we go…

P3290041 I took the AA flight out of Narita on Sunday and had a 10 hour flight, touching down in Dallas. The flight was generally pleasant and contrary to my last experience aboard an American carrier (United back in 2006) there was actually an entertainment system of some sort for each passenger in economy. Now before you get excited – it is a VERY limited system.  First of all, it has the smallest screen I have ever seen. The screen is supposedly touch screen and it does allow, um, touching, but the resolution is basically 8 by 8 or so. When you succeed in pressing a “button”, the whole screen reloads giving the whole experience a slideshow kind of feel (which I guess was appropriate given that I was going to a conference with lots of slideshows). There are a few new movies and TV series available and they even threw in a token Japanese movie but the whole collection included less than 20 or so items – when you compare this with literally hundreds offered by Emirates (which not only had recent movies but also classics) and the like you can see how AA still has a long way to go. Oh and the system they have for the videos is just strange – unlike a perfectly digital system where you can start to watch any of the offerrings whenever you want as well as pause it, rewind it etc, you have to start watching at certain time blocks (seemed to be about every 20 minutes) or you have to watch starting from the middle. Better than nothing but not by a lot…

I want to talk a little bit about the next hop to Nashville but it is almost 11 pm so, that’s it for today. More coming tomorrow (hopefully) ;)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Are you a foreigner working in Japan? Get your 12,000円!

P4050034OK, so it is not a whole lot of money (about $125 as of now) but hey, it is still something. The Japanese Government has sent out “Supplementary Income Payment Announcement”s. I am posting a picture of what I got which came from the Mitaka City Hall so your version will vary.  It looks like anyone between the ages of 18 and 65 who are “alien registration card holders who are registered as of February 1st” can file a claim for 12,000 yen while card holders who are younger or older can claim 20,000 yen. The amount is automatically deposited to your bank account within a month and they ask you to attach a photocopy of your documents proving your status (alien registration card or passport for example) as well as something to give information about your bank, for example a photocopy of your cash card. The window for submissions opened on the first of April and it will stay open until October so there is definitely a decent amount of time to prepare. I already filed mine though since the process is pretty simple assuming you can decode the form. Unfortunately the whole application form is in Japanese so you might need some help (Thank you Momoe :)).

On an unrelated note, can you see the little Poki character in the forms? It is by Studio Ghibli and it was given to Mitaka City as its mascot (Ghibli Museum is in Mitaka after all…). I don’t think I have ever seen a mascot character on a government form before. These tend to be really serious affairs in the US and even though the Japanese government is just as strict with respect to the bureaucratic process they do keep things more… lively… I like it ;)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Go see the cherry blossoms already!

If you live around the Tokyo area, or I think possibly in Kanto region in general this weekend is the best time to go see the cherry blossoms. I haven’t posted almost a week, I am aware of that, but I have a good reason – I was in the US attending a conference and guess what, I saw cherry blossoms even in Nashville of all places. Anyway, I will try to write about my trip and my “adventures” there including the cherry blossoms at Centennial Park and of course the “hurricane alert” which forced us to the basement of the hotel. My plate is pretty full today though so I will leave you with this and the picture of the cherry blossoms as I can see them from my apartment. I made sure the linked image is a bit bigger than the usual size so you can get a better view of the cherry blossoms :)

cherry blossom view