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…