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.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Matsuri (Festival) at Roppongi Hills

 image Roppongi is probably home to the highest concentration of non-Japanese people in Tokyo, and therefore Japan (not counting military bases of course). Made up of  tall buildings, expensive but good quality shops and restaurants and tons of night clubs, it is one of the last places one would expect to have a traditional matsuri style celebration. Roppongi Hills, which is where this festival was taking place is especially strange as the location since on days of popular movies, it is easy to spot almost as many foreigners as the Japanese people hanging out around the area. Roppongi Hills’ cinema usually plays home to premieres of foreign movies as well. So, you can imagine my surprise when, after watching a movie (G.I. Joe, which really, really sucked btw) I overheard very traditional melodies coming from below the movie theatre.

I did not miss the chance to make a little movie of the affair. I saw something similar in Kichijoji before which had a grander and more authentic feel to it since it took place in the garden of a temple but what actually took place, the singing, dancing, the little stalls, they were all almost the same between the two.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Comic Market (ComiKet) 2009

I haven’t had the impetus to write for a while now – blame it on the humidity, the one month gap I had to take while in Cyprus… I am definitely not short on possible reasons I could quote. Well, finally I managed to convince myself that  I should come back and write more since if I don’t start anytime soon I will never get back to this blog.


It is no secret that the Japanese market for comics, or Manga (漫画/まんが) is huge. There are hundreds of series followed by millions of all ages and genders. In fact, it is a pretty usual sight to see businessmen reading manga on the train home or stacks of manga from different series in any convenience store. Many of the animated series start their lives as mangas and as they gain in popularity a spinoff animation series gets developed. The manga usually keeps going even after the animated series concludes but there is a completely different type of manga that has almost a cult following – doujinshi or fan manga.

P8150408 Fan manga can exist because of Japan’s very liberal “fair-use” clause for copyright (at least for manga) in that readers are allowed to draw their own stories involving characters from famous well established mangas. Not only can they draw these they also get to publish them and sell them for prices much higher than the original manga since usually the amount printed is very limited. Comic Market, or ComiKet for short, is where one can find hundreds of such artists, reinterpreting other stories or creating completely new stories, and selling the comics they produce. These events take place twice a year and the limited number of the prints make these extremely popular amongst manga fans.


The last ComiKet was actually on Saturday and I made my way to Tokyo Big Sight in Odaiba to check it out for myself. The sheer number of people there was a sight to behold on its own but as I was there in the afternoon, long after the prime stuff is already sold out, the wait was just 30 minutes or so (which was not very pleasant I should add since the corridors of the building was not a/c’d enough to handle so many people) before I could go into the exhibition hall. The manga selection was interesting – ranging from stories introducing romance between characters who are not normally in a relationship in the actual manga (both same and different sexes and all ages, some R rated, some PG) to just new storylines. There was supposed to be an area reserved for cosplayers but I did not get a chance to check that out. I did see some people in costume though… The way back was an interesting endeavor with the train stations being completely swamped by the people returning from the exhibition.

It was definitely an interesting experience for me.  I don’t know if I would do it again seeing how I don’t really follow a certain manga with passion but hey maybe I will do it again just to people-watch… :)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

4 Earthquakes in 5 days

JP map - earthquake

This map, from the Japanese Meteorological Agency, show the latest of the 3 earthquakes we had in Tokyo in the last couple of days. This one, the lightest of the four, was not so bad – in fact it was the lightest – but it is a bit unnerving to experience so many of these in such a short time.

It has been two years since I started living in Japan and I think in those two years, I have experienced my share of earthquakes. After all, Tokyo, and Japan in general, is pretty unstable and an earthquake every couple of months is pretty normal. However, this, this is something else.

They say the Kanto region, which includes Tokyo, has a huge earthquake every 90 years or so. This held true the last two times but this time it is overdue by a few years. I am hoping these four earthquakes in quick succession is not a precursor to the big one. If it is, the estimate for the number of casualties is not less than 90,000…

Update: We just had a fifth earthquake about half an hour ago… Sigh…

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Watching movies under the sky – Starlight Cinema 2009

P8080360 From 17th of July to the 9th of August, Yebisu/Ebisu Garden Place in Ebisu is showing movies in the big open air atrium. I realize this may be a bit late since today (Sunday) is the last day but if you come across this and happen to live in Tokyo go check it out. It is pretty popular and they do have nice movies – some international ones as well as a very nice selection of Japanese movies (though I realize there is only one movie left). I knew about this event since the Christmas time when they used the atrium for a huge crystal chandelier.

  P8080358I really like Ebisu – it is such a nice, peaceful place even though it is only 2 minutes from the chaos of Shibuya. There are so many nice places to eat at, from little cafes to an oyster bar to a “fancy” pasta restaurant. Unfortunately, in order to go there, the shortest way for me is through Shibuya, using Yamanote Line which can get extremely crowded. I still think it is worth it though – nothing beats relaxing, listening to the water flowing through the sides of the gentle incline that leads to the atrium.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Hungry in Dubai? How about McDonalds?

My three week “vacation” in Cyprus which involved about two and a half weeks of army training drained me not just physically but mentally as well. That being the case I can hardly motivate myself to write here but I came across some of the pictures I took on my way there that might be interesting to some (and me in the future) so here goes the story that accompanies those…


The fact that there would be Mc Donald’s in Dubai is not surprising by itself of course. After all, it is impossible to go to pretty much any big city in the world and not be greeted by the big yellow “M” these days. However, seeing it in Arabic script still made me do a double take. This one is in the Dubai International Airport by the way. There is a local specialty that escapes my mind right now and if I remember it correctly, no pork products are offered. Other DVC00013than that, McNuggets tasted just the same and I could pay with a credit card so all was good.  Oh and unlike Japan they actually offer a 9 piece set – they only sell them by 6 here. Oh and sorry about the quality of the pictures – I took them with my cell phone so they are not the best as the light was not exactly good.