Saturday, February 27, 2010

Venus Fort at Odaiba – Now an outlet mall

Venus Fort Fountain-0350 Well, not completely – but it seems like they did convert most of the stores into outlet/factory stores offering 50-60% off of the regular prices. Mind you, the Venus Fort is still a relatively high-end shopping mall (there IS a huge indoor fountain after all) so in some of the stores bargain prices are still in >$100 range.

It seems like this big change happened around January but as Odaiba is not exactly next door to Mitaka, it was only today that I actually saw the new mall. Outside is changed as well and the inner decor now has more lights – though, they kept the “streets of Venice” look. It used to be that the Venus Fort was worth checking out at least once just because of the design but now the possibility of finding a brand item for 60% off the price you would have to pay in Ginza/Shibuya or Shinjuku means regular visits every once in a while may well be worth it.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Keeping tabs on what’s going on in Mitaka

IMG_0328Mitaka, just like any other Japanese city in the Tokyo region (and possibly in general, though I can’t say that from experience) constantly has a ton of things going on for its citizens to take part in. There are cultural events like concerts, movies, and traditional Japanese arts as well as other things like marathons, competitions, fairs, and even English or Japanese language courses. To keep track of these things one can rely on the city’s website but usually those are not the best looking or the easiest to maneuver. Instead, I pick up this little, one page, newspaper. It is published only once a month but they do a good job summarizing what will happen in the next month.  You can find them at the Mitaka Station (which is where I pick them up) or at the City Center.

Monday, February 22, 2010

And the snow comes and goes…


Winter is almost over and we haven’t had a “decent snow” covering the rooftops more than, well, once actually. So when I woke up last week I was very surprised to see the roofs covered with a nice layer of powder.

Unlike what the huge amount of snow did for my friends in the US though, this snow did not cause any problems. In fact, the whole thing was gone in an hour after I took this picture (mind you it was still snowing at this point too). I think as long as this is how it happens, you know without any dirty slush sticking around after the snow or cars/people slipping on ice, I could use more of this snow. I mean, it looks nice when you are indoors, and when you are out you can do snowball fights for that one hour (kids in my neighborhood were doing just that when I was walking to work).

Monday, February 15, 2010

Of Winter and Japanese Water Heaters

My water heater picked the absolutely worst time to break. See, if this was during the humid hell that is Summer in Tokyo, I would have probably welcomed the sudden decision by my water heater to stop working. Unfortunately though, this is the coldest part of the winter and the idea of turning into an ice cube during shower is not particularly appealing.

Old waterheater First a little background on water heaters around here… They use gas to heat up water and the heaters themselves are actually provided by the gas company. The heater consists of two parts – an outside unit which is hooked up to gas and water and does the actual heating when you turn on the tap, and an inside unit which is this nice little display in your kitchen. The inside unit lets you turn the outside unit on or off as well as set a desired temperature for the hot water.  Pretty cool, right? Now, what you see on the right here is what mine was showing Friday night. Yup – “Minus zero”. It turns out this is an error code and also explains why all of a sudden I was out of hot water.  Going through manuals online which turned out to be all in Japanese, decrypting what I can, and finally getting help from a friend, I was able to ascertain that I had to unplug the unit outside, wait for 20 minutes and then plug it back in and presumably things would work. I won’t go into the details but let me just say there was no plug outside and I had to pick which fuse to turn off and eventually the unit did work but for barely long enough for me to take a shower.

New waterheater After my friend contacted the company that handles renting apartments, they reassured us that the device would be replaced and today, I came home to find a nice man from Tokyo Gas replacing the unit with a nicer, newer one. Well, I am happy to report that things are now back to normal. I have hot water and everything which is good news since I was sure the reset trick would no longer work with the older one. Oh and I like the new LED color too – nice and green :)

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Stroll Through Jindai Botanical Gardens

Sorry for the delay. I usually try to update this once every few days but I bought a new camera (Canon EOS 7D bringing me to the wonderful world of dSLRs finally) and I was using my free time to try to get to know it a little bit better. It is an amazing camera (if I might say so myself) and I don’t think I even scratched the surface but I decided the best way to learn is by doing. So I picked up my camera, put on a polarizing filter, and made my way to the Jindai Botanical Gardens which happen to be pretty close to where I live.

Getting in costs 500 Yen per person and inside you find a nice, serene park complete with a greenhouse and a little pond. If you happen to be by the Jindaiji Temple, this is just a 2 minute walk from there. I also had the chance to try out some delicious handmade soba which the place is famous for. Anyway, here are some of the pictures I took :)

jindaiji-8 There weren’t too many flowers outside this being winter and all but these ones caught my eye.

jindaiji-10 The small lake in the gardens. I am pretty sure it looks even more amazing in the spring and especially during the cherry blossom season.

jindaiji-17 A water lily from inside the greenhouse.

jindaiji-31 Handmade soba (Japanese buckwheat noodles) with Tempura served outside next to the fire to keep the customers warm.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Delicious Chinese food in Kichijoji

P1310622  I am a big fan of lamb and my recent trip to Hong Kong did pique my interest in Chinese food more so than before – two reasons why I was very excited to find out about X’ian, a very nice Chinese restaurant in Kichijoji serving up lamb dishes from the region of same name in China.

This little gem of a restaurant is actually located on the top floor of the Yodobashi Camera (yes in Japan even big electronic stores can have restaurants and even a floor full of clothing stores) in Kichijoji. They offer both various types of Dim Sum and a-la-carte dishes like the nice and yummy fried lamb leg you can see in the picture I took. The page I linked above has more information about the place than I can ever hope to put in there so feel free to check that out. One thing is worth noting though – watch out for the symbols for spicy food. They do mean spicy ;)