Sunday, June 28, 2009

It’s rain and humidity for Tokyo…

DVC00010 While we may be still in the “rainy season”, a roughly four week long period that precedes summers in Tokyo, we also get the occasional sunny day. Yesterday was one of those days with the temperature reaching 36 degrees Celsius/93 degrees Fahrenheit. The problem with sunny days is that it gets extremely humid. I have survived through the humidity of Pittsburgh summers but this is something else.  It gets so humid that even when “sunny”, the sky is not blue as the clouds get lower and lower and paint the sky a gloomy gray.  Thankfully when it rains it gets better – well it gets very wet but at least less humid.

Today was a rainy day and when I say rainy I mean RAINY. It started to rain in the morning and it continued until at least 6-7pm. As people expect this kind of weather in this time of the year it became second nature to people to carry umbrellas, just in case. This is why there are “mini umbrellas” suitable for the smallest of purses widely available and quite cheap actually. I am going to have another week of this and then I will be away for a month – cooking in Cyprus. It will be even hotter than here for sure but at least it will not be humid there – for the most part…

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

You never know what you are going to run into…


… at a used clothing store. I snapped this at one of those stores close to the Kichijoji Station (吉祥寺駅). The tshirt is clearly a Pittsburgh Pirates (the baseball team) tshirt but it’s not just that. The design seems to be pretty old though I can’t really verify that right now. I think it is even possible that this tshirt was not made officially or that it was made simply because someone thought the Pirate Parrot was cute.

Seeing the Pittsburgh word made me miss the city though…

Sunday, June 21, 2009

20 meter tall robot in Tokyo


The love of the Japanese people for robots is a pretty well known phenomenon and it is easy to see artifacts of this all around Tokyo but this latest happening pretty much takes the cake…

There is now a “life-size”, that is about 20 meter/66 feet tall, model of a “Gundam” robot in Odaiba. It looks like it is not completed yet with the workers still on site and in fact you can see one of those workers in this picture on the bottom right corner so you can get a better idea. At night they also turn on the lights on the robot and it can also move its head. All in all, pretty impressive I would say. I unfortunately did not get the chance to look at it at night or walk right up to it because of the construction but I am hoping I will get to do both before they move the robot – I heard it will not stay in that spot forever. That gets me thinking – where are they going to move it to afterwards?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The watermelon is yellow


I don’t know about you but I have never seen a yellow watermelon – well, until a few days ago that is. Apparently these guys are pretty common in Japan and actually the price is not any higher than their good, old, red counterparts. The taste is pretty similar too, if a little sweeter. I think the outside of these is also a shade of yellow as opposed to green which makes it look almost like an over side melon as opposed to a watermelon. I wonder if these are indigenous to Asia…

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A box of cherries for $150 – You can get it in Japan!


Fruits (just like vegetables) are very popular in Japan and the Japanese public enjoy having choices in their fruits, in the same vein as pretty much any other consumer item out there (for example Sony PSP comes in 7 different colors here for that very reason). This means apart from the run of the mill fruits one can find at a supermarket, there are "higher quality” fruits available at specialist stores with prices easily topping $100 for a box.  Of course given this price point, it is easy to see how these particular fruits can be used as a present. One of these specialist stores is Nakano and I visited their location in Shinjuku close to the train station(They also have smaller stores throughout Tokyo though not all carry these fruits, with some focusing on desserts).


Cherries seem to be particularly popular, as a gift, with the Japanese. The boxes here each contain 40 “specially selected” cherries and they can cost anywhere between $100 and $150 depending on the type and quality of the fruits. Other fruits such as guavas and peaches are popular as well and are available in their own packages or in combination with other fruits. They also sell fruit jams and fruit juice made from these fruits as well and some of the combo sets include these. The same store also sells champagnes for making custom gift combinations with prices reaching $500 and up.

It is definitely an interesting place to visit and with the fruit juice bottles costing around $10 one can try them out for a reasonable price. Oh and don’t worry about the weight – they take care of shipping for you on heavier sets.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Ghibli Museum

P6060196 You may have never heard of “Studio Ghibli” but if you are even remotely interested in Japanese animation you must have watched “Spirited Away” (which won an Oscar), “Howl’s Moving Castle” or “My Neighbor Totoro” – all considered to be extremely good examples of the genre. Well, all of these gems were produced by the same company – “Studio Ghibli” or “スタジオジブリ”.  This animation studio has a museum in Mitaka which hosts a lot of sketches done in preparation or during the production of their animation masterpieces. I got a chance to visit the place for the first time after spending almost 18 months here – something I should have done much much earlier. Unfortunately photography is not allowed inside but as you can see from the little metal cover on the floor in the garden there are a lot of interesting things outside too.


There  are so many interesting things inside other than the drawings.  Even the ticket that you get inside, for admittance to the movie theatre (which happens to show a special 12 min animation only shown at the museum), is made of a part of a film strip from one of the animations (though I also heard they can be from Pixar movies as well since there is some sort of agreement between Pixar and Ghibli). They even sell little set-ups that let you inspect the films closer. This is one of the two pictures I managed to take inside before I was (very politely) told off by the nice lady inside. You can kinda see the ticket inside and the magnifying glass on the side. There are a lot of models based on the animation characters, some of which actually move. One particularly amazing setup involves many little models from Totoro looking like they are dancing around thanks to strobe lighting. There are two stores in the museum as well, one selling primarily books and the other one all sorts of related merchandise from Totoro earrings to jackets with the museum coat of arms. On the second floor there is even a full sized cat-bus from the Totoro movie though unfortunately only elementary school students or younger are allowed inside the fluffy vehicle.


The second floor opens to a garden outside and through some more stairs one reaches the towering statue of the robot from “Castle in the Sky”. Saying that it is life-sized would be doing it a disservice. The thing is huge and extremely detailed, just like all the other things in the museum. If you follow the little walkway in the back you can end up by an extremely detailed cube statue with writings which is also from the same movie. It is definitely a photo-op for everyone. Oh, and there happens to be at least one (though I suspect two now) cafe in the museum. Next time I go I will be sure to check it out.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Unfortunate model name for a car


I should be finishing up something else but I realized I have not posted anything since Wednesday… Well, that simply won’t do so here it goes…

I dived into the stack of random pictures I took and came up with this one which I think you might find to be interesting.  This tiny “car/truck” is produced by Daihatsu and its model name, as proudly shown in the front of the vehicle is “Midget II”. Needless to say if they were to export this model to, say, the US, they might have to rebrand the vehicle (which would not be the first time of course). Car manufacturers, and I don’t mean just the Japanese ones, regularly use different names for models that would be sold in different regions of the world. It’s just I have never seen quite a name like this being used in any region.

It turns out there was a “Midget” as well – which was the original model. Wikipedia has a lot of information on the models with more pictures.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Hydrangeas


Hydrangeas are beautiful flowers native to parts of Southern and Eastern Asia. Apart from looking so pretty themselves, they have one interesting property. Their color changes based on the acidity/alkalinity of the soil they are planted in (for example from blue to pink). As the rains can change just that, these flowers are sought after during the rainy seasons in Japan. Some cities like Kamakura (鎌倉市) are particularly famous for their hydrangeas. I snapped this picture when I was in Roppongi of all places. On my way to the National Art Gallery/Museum I saw these hydrangeas in front of an apartment building and took their picture with my phone (sorry for the quality). I hope this year I will be able to visit Kamakura during the rainy season with my actual camera and take some close ups of these very beautiful flowers.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Sumo (conclusion)

It’s rain pretty much every other day for now and with work piling up I don’t get much of a chance to breathe but I should update the blog and finally finish up the Sumo story, shouldn’t I? Let’s see… Where was I?… Ah, yes…

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Let’s start with various gestures. As I mentioned before there is a big ceremonial component to sumo and you can clearly see that when watching the competition. Certain gestures are for expressing a message, like showing open palms indicate the willingness to engage in fair-play. Other gestures are related to showing respect to the sport and the ring. For example, the wrestlers need to “purify” themselves and the ring when enter the ring – even if they only left the ring for a second. Talking about showing respect – the wrestlers are ranked not just based on their performance but their respect and sportsmanship as well. The “wins” of course matter a lot but wrestlers who are deemed to be not “behaving well” are usually punished by the national sumo committee.

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There are no advertising billboards in the arena which is a huge contrast to pretty much any other professional sport. Given that it attracts huge crowds and is broadcasted nationally, one might find that a bit strange. Well, not to worry – there are ads but they are a bit hidden under a “traditional” cover. Before popular wrestlers’ bouts, as the wrestlers are warming up, men carrying advertising signs get in the ring. Each man carries a single banner containing a single ad and the more popular the wrestlers are, more signs there are. Each banner also signifies a set amount of reward money (about $500) to the winner so, for example, if there were 10 banners, the winner would receive an extra $5000.


Let me finish up with this picture I snapped of the Japanese Prime Minister, Aso Taro. He was there to give the final trophy to the winner. I heard that even though prime ministers are supposed to give the final trophy they rarely show up to do so. This time, the elections being so close, this was a good photo-op for the PM and he did not miss it. Well, I am not complaining. I got the chance to see him in person and snap a photo. Not too shabby I would think – especially given that he looks almost certain to lose the upcoming elections…