Archive for the ‘Focus on Japan’ Category

Big Shaker Today

May 25th, 2015 1 comment

A 5.5 earthquake hit northern Saitama today at 2:28 p.m., just 40 km (25 miles) north of Tokyo. The quake was a “Shindo 4” in Shinjuku Ward, where I work.

A 4 on the Shindo scale is defined as:

Many people are frightened. Some people try to escape from danger. Most sleeping people awake.

Hanging objects swing considerably and dishes in a cupboard rattle. Unstable ornaments fall occasionally. Very loud noises.

Of course, where I work, it feels worse than that. My college’s building has 7 floors, and the faculty office—where I was today as well as during the 2001 earthquake—is on the 6th floor. For some reason, the force of earthquakes are magnified considerably in that building, especially on the higher floors.

To me, it felt like a slight shaking at first, but then heavy, forceful shaking. All the phones starting blaring out earthquake warnings, though the warning arrived seconds after the quake did. The big rolling continued for at least a half minute after that, taking another half minute or so to settle down. Everyone was running about afterwards, checking for damage and trying to figure out if an evacuation was called for. (It wasn’t.)

Two hours later, when I went to catch a train home, the lines were still recovering, with significant delays just about everywhere. When I got home, Sachi reported that it was pretty heavy here as well, but the only effect was that a few cupboard drawers were rolled open, nothing else.

Definitely quite a shake and rattle there.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2015 Tags:


May 4th, 2015 Comments off

The Washington Post reported that there was a 4.0 quake in the San Francisco Bay Area yesterday. Wow. I am surprised that made the national news.

Here in Japan, we had three quakes bigger than that. Yesterday. All in the Kanto region, where Tokyo is: a 4.4, 4.5, and 4.8. And there was a fourth, a 5.8 in the ocean south of Tokyo, but we didn’t feel that one. I sure felt the others, though.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2015 Tags:

The Gaijin Tax?

April 19th, 2015 4 comments

A few years ago, I went to Akihabara and tried to buy some cables at a shop there. The four cables I got were in boxes with prices clearly marked; the total was ¥500 ($4.20). The guy at the counter tried to charge me ¥1380 ($11.60). I later realized that my dress was different—I probably looked more like a tourist, so they probably figured that I would pay without question.

At the time, I was pretty shocked; this really had not happened to me much in Japan. It happened in Europe when I visited, like the bakery counter lady in Athens who crassly gave me way too little in change, and when I complained, she took it back and gave me even less. I never imagined that happening in Japan.

However, I have noticed that recently, clerks “accidentally” make “mistakes” with me quite often.

Just the other day, Sachi and I went to a local burger joint, and got a standard lunch set each. There was nothing on the menu more than a thousand yen (less than ten bucks). Even the beer I ordered only cost a few dollars when swapped out for the drink that came with the lunch set. So, for two people, the total should never be more than, say, ¥3000. Even that’s a bit high.

So when I went to pay, I was rather shocked that the total was more than ¥5500 (about $50). The restaurant guy, who had served us and knew that there was only the two of us and we had not ordered anything special, had rung up the total, announced it to me, and then stood there waiting for me to pay.

The thing is, the amount was so far off it stood out like a sore thumb—like going to McDonald’s, ordering two Big Macs, and getting asked to pay $25.

This guy was not a newbie, we’ve seen him since last year; he maybe even owns the place. The total should have immediately stood out to him as incorrect, more than it did to me. But it took me to give him a puzzled expression—for several seconds, no less—before he caught the “mistake.” I put that in quotes because, frankly, I don’t think it was a mistake.

The thing is, after this happened, I began to recall other similar incidents over the past few years. I always just discounted them as errors, and maybe in fact they were—but the thing is, they are happening with increasing frequency, and are typically not minor overcharges. Several times, mostly at restaurants but also at other shops, I have had to check the tally carefully when I am given a total that seems suspiciously high. So much so that I now almost reflexively check my receipts, even when the total doesn’t seem unusually high.

Generally, I am beginning to get the feeling that this is a “gaijin” thing—something that’s happening because I’m a foreigner here. If so, it is relatively new; this never happened with such frequency before. (Although I would be interested to hear if Japanese people get the same thing as often as I do.)

I’m not counting the trivial stuff, like the conbini that gave me a 100-won coin instead of a 100-yen coin in my change (the Korean coin is worth 1/10th the Japanese currency), or whoever it was at McDonald’s giving me a single patty in a double burger. Just the times when the amount I am asked for is significantly over the total I am supposed to pay.

In Japan, when they give you change, it is (or at least used to be) customary for them to politely ask you to check the change to make sure it is accurate. I never really used to do that because it was always right. Now, I don’t hear them saying that as much—and I’m checking the change a lot more now.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2014 Tags:


March 11th, 2015 Comments off

It has been four years now.

Carrier Nonsense

November 2nd, 2014 3 comments

Usually I get new iPhones as soon as they come out, but my carrier kinda screwed me on that; somehow, over time, they added a few months to my contracts, and I couldn’t get out of it until November 1st. That, and a bunch of other stuff has me good and tired of SoftBank. For example, they offer “points” with your service, but after three years (after which the points expire) I had a grand total of ¥1090 (about $10) after about $5000 worth of bills for myself and Sachi over that time. To add insult to injury, you can’t buy squat with that at their store, which means you can only do so at the online store. And their online store is so convoluted that after 20 minutes, the staff member there couldn’t figure it out either, and started to give me a phone number which I am sure would have inevitably been staffed by a teineigo operator who would use such obscure vocabulary that they would only confuse me more.

I changed to a new carrier, Au, for a couple of different reasons. First, switching carriers means you get a discount in the first two years just for that. Au’s prices in general were already a bit lower than Softbank’s, and that was further sweetened by an additional $15 a month discount (each) because our home Internet connection is with KDDI, which is the same company as Au. Au was also much more accessible and open about the terms; for example, I had never known that the “unlimited” data plans get severely throttled after 5 or 7 GB of use in one month; Softbank’s people never mentioned that over the years, but Au was very upfront about it.

In addition, Au did me a solid on timing. While some orders can take a month, and commonly two weeks to fulfill—a problem with me because I had a short window in which to switch carriers else suffer a $100 penalty—Au happened to have an extra iPhone 6 the color and capacity I wanted, and decided kindly to hang onto it for me for 10 days after I signed up, so I could pick it up immediately as soon as my shackles to Softbank evaporated.

On top of that, KDDI (and, it seems, Au) have English support—if not total, they do try their best, and it’s appreciated.

Long story short, instead of paying about $75 apiece per month to Softbank, our contracts are now for about $55 for each of us. Over two years, that saves a lot of money (almost a thousand dollars over our first two years). We lose about $10 a month on each contract after that, as the switching discount is not renewed and the home-Internet discount is cut to $10 a month instead of $15—but even then it’s still better.

Not to mention I was getting the Worst Sales Rep Ever at Softbank every time I went, who was royally pissing me off. Glad to be rid of them.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2014, iPhone Tags:

Microsoft Bing: Small Tsu = Porn?

May 3rd, 2014 1 comment

I am on Facebook a lot now, and try to read some Japanese-language posts, especially ones written by my wife. They have the “See Translation” option, provided by Microsoft’s Bing, which supposedly translates the Japanese text into English.

The problem is, it often translates like it was written by a deranged screenwriter specializing in bad porn. Seriously, it’s like one of those Chinese dictionaries that resulted in obscene English labels in Chinese supermarkets.

Now I know that machine translation between European and East Asian languages is spotty at best, but one would think that certain words would simply not be in the translation matrix, or whatever it’s called.

However, it seems to be mostly related to a single Japanese character.

Take this sentence in Japanese:

フィギュア男子素晴らしい演技でしたね。 すごいっ!ステキっ!

A fair translation would be, “It was a wonderful performance in the men’s figure skating. Wow! Great!”

On Facebook, it was translated as:

Figure men’s amazing performance was … wow.! Nice boobs!

I tried going to Bing translation directly, pasted the sentence there—and it was even worse:

It was the figure men’s great acting. Amazing boobs! Nice boobs!

Seriously? “Boobs”?

Turns out that the “boobs” comes whenever a small “tsu” () appears out of place, used often in Japanese to create a sudden stop, acting kind of like an emphasis for the exclamation point. On Google translate, it comes out as “tsu” or (strangely) “LI.”

But “boobs”?

Here is a Bing translation of a single Facebook post:

In less than two hours March! (early!) fliped over my private calendar is out! (did buy a desk calendar “Hoshino Chan” thanks for accepted calendar for a super House by mistake, I have is and & my husband face big boobs a March to forgive.) was indeed warm day, so it was just a happy. Mood shop & cold hardens me you cum Sasha! I’ll do it! (what? for) of switch “chubby!”, I feel that it was. (Lol) weekend winter mode is, but another relapse is also no sense.

Seriously? “Big boobs,” and “cold hardens me you cum”? I’ve been getting questions from my family as to what exactly Sachi is writing in Japanese.

When I put the text into Bing’s official page, again it identified the small “tsu” () as the part translated as “boobs”—but it also translated the exact same character into “cum” in another sentence! What the…?

This is what you get if the exact same message in Japanese is put into Google Translate:

March in less than 2 hours to go! (Ll soon) Tsu was turning a private calendar of my home!
(And me accepted me to buy a desk calendar calendar super home for you’ve had “Hoshi-chan” by mistake and … face Deka-tsuna March excuse of & husband thanks) Today is because it was a warm day, I was happy with it. For me, that hardens and cold moody & was the day that was popular, the feeling that “Pochi” was the switch “Yaruzo pretensions” of (what for) … (laughs) The weekend seems to winter mode, but there is no sense going back.

As you can see, the translation as a whole is better on Google. It’s still mangled, but much more clear, and no porn terminology.

The thing is, it’s not just the two strange “tsu” related hiccups I found—strange words find their way into the text fairly commonly. Here’s a collection of sentences that I have strung together from various sources, to give you an idea of what I’m talking about:

Gaping! I always do you have weed… Hand fetish with me! Will drink your father who ate and I’m sure. Walk to him cum ♪ suffice in the exercise of said. I was the time you pack. Also to go out, when combined in the dog ultra-most fortunately I’m a boobs. Requests off my husband cum!

So, was Microsoft’s software intentionally sabotaged, and after months or years nobody at Microsoft noticed? What the hell is going on there?

Not Impressed by Tsukuba

April 10th, 2014 1 comment

We’re on an overnight stay in Tsukuba, visiting friends in a nearby town. We booked a room in the only accommodation we could find in the region which accepts pets. We got here early yesterday evening.

Tsukuba is in Ibaraki Prefecture, about 60km northeast of Tokyo; it is a planned city based on the theme of scientific research, first conceived in the 1960’s, and really built up in the boom years of the late 70’s and 80’s. However, walking through its streets now, I get a strong vibe along the lines I got in Shanghai: a city where a lot of initial investment was made, but was then neglected. The streets are wide with huge, impressively tree-lined sidewalks–but look closely enough and you’ll see creeping neglect. Playgrounds overgrown with weeds, buildings clearly not tended to for years, plots of real estate which should be prime left empty.

The accommodations have been bad as well. We may have just stumbled into the worst of the services, however. The izakaya we went to last night was horrible—half the things we ordered did not come until we pestered them about it, and one plate of sashimi never did come—we left after it had been waiting an hour or so. One of the dishes had a hair in it. We were just as happy not to have eaten their raw fish.

Our hotel is similarly awful. It’s one of those places that both allows smoking and has an interconnected ventilation system, so our room smelled like a chain smoker was in there with us most of the time. The refrigerator still had half-consumed drinks left by the previous guests, and the shoji screens were full of holes. The bathroom is big enough—if you happen to be a slender four-foot-ten. They forgot the towels, and we almost went without, believing they simply were not included. I found a common toilet on the first floor which had a warmed seat and bidet; I used it, but discovered that the bidet’s “off” switch was broken. When the water started to run cold, I finally risked getting off, and discovered that the weight sensor would turn off the water stream. They could have posted a sign to tell users about that, but they didn’t.

What’s stranger is that the hotel claims that only one room in the whole place can accept pets. However, once we got to the room, we found it has zero amenities for pets. Nothing that sets it apart from any other room we’ve stayed in. So, why is this room okay and others not? I have a feeling it’s just a marketing thing, or perhaps some way of avoiding city ordinances.

We probably have just had the worst luck here… but nothing about this town makes me feel like I want to come back.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2014 Tags:

The Risk of Using Amazon Third-Party Sellers (Or, “Beauty GardenSG” Sucks)

March 1st, 2014 4 comments

At the beginning of February, I decided that I wanted to get some sunflower seeds. Not the kind where it’s just kernels, but the kind roasted and salted in the shell. Yum. However, you can’t get those in Japan. Even the kernels are rare to find (though they can be ordered). But seeds in the shell? That’s considered bird food here. You have to order the roasted & salted in the shell type from overseas.

Normally, I would use the Foreign Buyer’s Club. They offer a box of twenty-four 1.75 oz. bags for ¥2,485. Unfortunately, they charge ¥990 for shipping and customs, and if I haven’t ordered from them for a while, add another ¥1,000 for the membership fee. Even without the membership cost, the total for a box is ¥3,475, or ¥145 per bag. If I order three boxes, that’s cheaper—the shipping is the same, so the total would be ¥8,445, or ¥117 per bag.

The problem: they take more than a month to deliver. FBC quotes a delivery time frame of 39-43 days (if you place the order on the right day). I didn’t want to wait that long.

So I went to Amazon, where I had ordered successfully before. The problem was that the seller I had used before, something called “LA Celeb Style” (um, okay) no longer offered the item. Instead, it was only available through “Beauty GardenSG.” I didn’t care about the name, really. But they offered a 60-pack bucket for a total of ¥8,000. Not a great price point—133 per bag—but they promised a delivery within 17-25 days. That, to me, was worth the extra ¥16 per bag. So I ordered.

Two weeks later, I get a cryptic email from the seller, claiming some sort of unspecified delay. Two days after that, they email me again: they cannot get the item for me, but will ship three of the 24-count boxes at the same price. OK, I think, that brings the price down to even a little under FBC. But then I read on: it will require another 2-3 weeks shipping.

Needless to say, I was kind of pissed. The time frame was the only reason I ordered from them. Had they told me straight off that they could not deliver the item, I would have been fine with that. But wait two weeks and a bit, when the order was supposed to be delivered already, and then say you can’t deliver? Like I said, that pissed me off.

The problem is, these people can more or less abuse you at will. I complained to Amazon, and their policy turns out to be: too bad. They will do nothing at all. You go with third-party sellers at your risk.

So I contact the seller and say that I am very disappointed, but go ahead and ship the item.

Two days after that, they email back: we canceled your order.

Needless to say, I was way more pissed. Hold me back a full three weeks and then cancel my order on me?

Most likely, they did that because they could see I was upset and knew that if they canceled the order, it would cut off any easy way to give them a bad seller review. Fortunately, by doing some research, I was able to find a way to bring up the canceled order and navigate to a page where I could enter a review and a seller rating.

Nevertheless, it was three weeks after my order and I was back to square one.

Fortunately, I found an alternative: The Flying Pig. They’re a firm a little similar to Foreign Buyer’s Club, but are Costco-centric. That is, they will go to a Costco in Japan and buy stuff you want and ship it to you. The cost is higher than going to Costco yourself, and with a Costco not too far from me, I never used them before. Some items, however, they will ship from Hawaii, as “Personal Imports.” I didn’t use that before because the shipping per item is almost ¥2,000.

However, if you order five items or more, the shipping becomes free. In addition, they had a different item I have been longing to get (boneless & skinless flaked salmon, great for a salmon casserole dish I like to make). If I ordered the three boxes of sunflower seeds with the other items, the total for the seeds would be ¥8,694, or about ¥120 per bag.

But their shipping is great: five to eight days. I ordered them last Tuesday, and the takkyubin guy is delivering them in the next hour or so. Excellent.

Had the Amazon seller not canceled, I would still be waiting another week or two for them to deliver.

Needless to say, not all Amazon third-party sellers are such slimeballs. But you take your chances.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2014 Tags:

Insane Amounts of Snow

February 15th, 2014 3 comments

Last week, Tokyo was hit by what was described as the biggest snowstorm to hit the metropolis in 45 years. It was crazy—snow piled higher than I have ever seen it in Tokyo (natch), rivaling even what I remember in Toyama, which had tons of snow.

Tonight, there’s an even bigger one. School was canceled, possibly saving me hours of waiting for trains on the way home.

I couldn’t take photos staged well enough to do it justice, but here are a few small examples:


What you see above is the street. Hard to see from this how deep the snow is, but it’s deep. Here is the view from the porch; keep in mind that the bicycle seen here is not resting at street level, but on ground about 10 inches higher than that—and the snow on the street has almost caught up with it.



In the image below, see all that snow on my scooter? I cleared that off earlier in the evening. The street in front of it we spent a half hour clearing maybe six hours earlier, but when I stepped into it, my leg went down enough so the snow was practically up to my knee.



Tomorrow, the temp is predicted to rise to 10° C (50° F) and there’s going to be heavy rain. I have no idea if that will be enough to help clear the snow, or if it will just turn everything to ice.

We’ll have to see.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2014 Tags:

This Ain’t 12 Centimeters…

February 8th, 2014 1 comment

According to the newscasts:

As much as 12 centimeters of snow was recorded Saturday afternoon in Tokyo…

I just measured 30 cm (1 foot) on to of our car, and that’s in a shielded area. I am pretty sure that we’re getting a good 18 inches at least, with another 6-8 hours of storm left to go.

Img 0044

This image was of our car at maybe two in the afternoon. This is one hell of a big snowstorm, maybe the biggest I’ve seen in Tokyo.

Ponta, on the other hand, loves it.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2014 Tags:

It’s Relative, I Suppose

December 8th, 2013 6 comments

Did you hear the news? Oklahoma had a big earthquake! A 4.5 on the Richter scale!

OK, nobody’s actually calling it a “big” quake. But it’s making the news. The thing is, hearing about this in Tokyo, it’s kind of risible. I mean, we had a 4.2 just two days ago, on Friday, and a 4.3 the day before that.

In the news report, however, they make note of Oklahoma’s “strongest earthquake on record,” back in November of 2011—a 5.6 on the Richter scale.

Yeah, we know what that’s like. We had a 5.5 last Tuesday. Right after a 4.7, with a 4.6 two days before that. Fact is, we tend to have at least four or five quakes in the 4-range every week, and a five-point-something every week or two. And we tend to get a quake around 7 on the scale every few months.

As for 2011, well, you know what we got that year.

It reminds me of living in Toyama, on the Japan Sea side of Japan,where we got several meters of snow each year, and it was typical to have several feet of snow on the ground at any one time. Then we would watch the news on TV and laugh at the big reports of Tokyo getting a few inches of snow, and everything shut down.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2013 Tags:

iPhone in Japan

December 4th, 2013 1 comment

This is kind of crazy. After two months, the iPhone still dominates the top 9 rankings in smartphone sales in Japan. Consistently. That’s something like 9 weeks in a row. And not just because DoCoMo is in the picture now, they occupy only the #5 and #9 spots, compared to Softbank’s dominance of the #1, #3, #4, and #6 positions.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2013, iPhone Tags:

Ponta Got Bit

May 1st, 2013 5 comments


Ponta got bit today. We took him to the hospital and had him treated. The wound was about an inch long and required four stitches.

We usually take Ponta to Koganei Park, a large park to the south of here. It has a three-pen dog run, big with good trees and running area. The pens are separated into large dogs, small dogs, and an exercise area for retrieving and so forth.

Ponta is small, but too big for the small-dog pen, so we always take him to the large pen. He is aloof from other dogs, but plays with partners that are usually his own size. Today, for example, there was a Shiba mix named “Penne” that Ponta got along great with.

Sometimes there are aggressive dogs. The first time we came, a Shiba mix named Sakura kept bullying Ponta, but he got over it. Several months ago, a chocolate lab named Cocoa was very aggressive with Ponta, to the point where I had to pick Ponta up to protect him.

Today, there were two white shepherds, dogs we had seen at the run several times before. They are sizably bigger than most of the dogs in the run, and tend to be pretty forward—not so much aggressive as they simply are big and imposing. Ponta got along OK with them, at least up until today.

Below is an image of the white shepherds and their owner.


Today, we were at the run, and everything was okay. At one point, a few new dogs, a pair of border collies, were introduced. Ponta didn’t seem to like them very much, but had approached one. He growled and barked a bit, and the other dog growled and barked back—nothing really unusual, but enough for me to get up and stand over them, ready to pull Ponta out should things get dicey.

Just as Ponta and the collie had a bark-and-stance, with one other dog close in, one of the white shepherds jumped into them, and it devolved into what I suppose you could call a scrum—all dogs at close quarters, barking and making such close contact that there was no space between any of them. Almost immediately, within a second or so, I saw the shepherd bite into Ponta’s neck, and had no doubt that this was way more serious than usual. Ponta yelped and more or less screamed, and it was clear that his teeth were deep into Ponta’s neck.

Within a few seconds, the scrum separated, but the shepherd kept coming after Ponta. Ponta was unmistakably scared and defensive, trying to get away. I placed my body between them—the shepherd did not seem like he was dangerous to humans—and then I picked Ponta up. At that point, I was not sure that Ponta’s skin had been broken, but I was fairly sure he had taken some damage, even if just a bruise.

But here was where I became livid at the owner of the shepherds: the jerk didn’t do anything about his dogs. He hadn’t when the one got out of hand, and he didn’t when they started harassing me. I was holding Ponta up, but the shepherd was still going after him, jumping up next to me, barking, and scaring the crap out of Ponta.

And the ass who owned the dog still did nothing.

After 5 or 10 seconds, I got Ponta away from that area and the shepherd lost interest. The owner still took zero interest, though Ponta was clearly hurt. I probed Ponta’s neck and was shocked when I felt my finger go through a puncture in Ponta’s skin—easily big enough that it was clear the wound was bigger than my finger. It felt warm and wet, and when I drew my finger out, it had blood on it.

I turned to the owner, who was peering at us, and I said, rather clearly, “Ana ga aru! Chi ga deru!” (“There’s a hole! Blood is coming out!”)

The owner did not react, but simply turned and walked away, apparently unconcerned.

Ponta was a wreck; he was whimpering and his tail was down, and when I held him his heart was beating like crazy and he was shaking awfully hard. Sick with worry, we got Ponta out of there, back to the car, and took him to the nearest animal hospital. Our usual doctor’s office is closed from 12:30 to 4:00 pm; by the time we got out of the park, it was almost 3:00. The vet’s office answered, and Sachi explained Ponta’s injury while I drove—but they refused to treat Ponta until their break was over.

So instead, we drove to a hospital a bit farther from our house (but very close to our old apartment) where they opened up at 3:30, which was five minutes or so after we arrived. As we were waiting, it became clear that Ponta was bleeding a bit—but his neck fur is so thick, it’s kind of hard to see anything, and it holds the blood in.


That doesn’t look like much, but when I pulled his fur back, the seriousness of the wound was somewhat more clear:


We got in to see the vet, and they started treating Ponta right away. The vet said that they would have to shave the area (which I expected), and then they could assess the damage and do whatever they needed to do. They took Ponta in, and Sachi and I waited outside.

After a few minutes, we started hearing Ponta make frightened noises, so I asked the receptionist if we could come in and calm him down. After another minute, they called us in. As they treated Ponta, we were able to hold him and tell him what a good boy he was. This calmed him considerably, and I am really grateful to the vet for letting us do that.

Ponta was sitting on an exam table, being held bodily by a nurse, with a plastic cone around his neck, the wound being enough below it to not cause a problem. This also helped as Ponta could not see anything but us.

We could see the doctor working, however, and saw the damage—an inch-long crescent-shaped tear (the vet had clipped away excess damaged flesh). I am including the photo, but am hiding it behind a link—it is pretty graphic.

Image of Ponta’s neck wound (will open in new tab or window)

The doc gave Ponta a local anesthetic, cleaned the wound, and then stitched it up and applied an antibiotic ointment before wrapping it; again, I’ve put an image behind a link, this time of the stitches (less gory, but still kind of disturbing):

Image of Ponta’s stitches (will open in new tab or window)

The doc applied gauze to the wound, and wrapped Ponta’s neck with long bands of tape, presumably made to not stick disastrously to fur. He said Ponta would be fine, but told us to bring Ponta in two days later. One thing we like about this hospital: not only do they have better hours, they are open 365 days a year, no holidays. This is Golden Week, a huge vacation season, and two days from now is a national holiday.

We took Ponta home, gave him some nice treats (including some rice with his antibiotic medicine), and lots of love. He seems to have recovered emotionally for now, and is resting fine.



Sachi later called up the park office which oversaw the dog run. To our dismay, they refused not only to identify the owner so we could contact him, but also refused to take any action beyond simply making a record of our call. What the hell good is the registration for the place if people can bring dogs that bite and injure other dogs with no repercussions of any kind?

At the very least, I want to confront this guy and hand him the vet’s bill—though, considering his alarming unconcern at the time, I have the feeling he’s not the kind of person who would take any sort of responsibility for his dogs.

Another possibility I am mulling is to make a handout, showing the dogs and the owner, and a photo of Ponta’s wound, describing what happened, and warning people to watch out for those dogs. Maybe post it up outside the run or something.

But then, I am still more than a little pissed at the jackass; maybe I’ll calm down eventually.

One point about all of this which is less bad than expected: vet bills in Japan are much lower than you’d expect. For injections, shaving & cleaning the wound, stitches, ointment, dressing, and the time spent by a vet and a nurse, in addition to a week’s medication, I expected a bill at least in the hundreds of dollars.

Instead, the bill came out to ¥8,295—just $85.

Sachi, meanwhile, simply does not want to return to the dog run at all—a shame, because it’s the only dog run less than 10 minutes’ drive away; we have been going there every two or three weeks for more than a year and a half now. There’s one in Tokorozawa to which there is no direct driving route; there’s another in Nerima we haven’t tried yet. Both would take about 40-45 minutes to get to. We’ll see….

Categories: Focus on Japan 2013 Tags:

Neighborhood Incident

April 24th, 2013 3 comments

I was walking to the station this morning to go to work, and saw something that was rather troubling.

There’s a small candy shop near the station exit, and as I approached, I saw four people standing in front of it: two uniformed police officers, one man in a suit, and one “regular” person, a foreigner. The person in the suit was wearing white gloves.

As I passed, I noted two things: first, the foreigner, a dark-skinned gentleman, spoke English but with an accent that suggested he was a national of an African nation. Second, the man in the suit with gloves spoke English—and was telling the man that he wanted to do a “body search” (I assume he meant a pat-down).

In the 80’s and 90’s it happened constantly. They never patted me down, but they stopped me all the time, very often when I was riding my bicycle, which they always accused me of stealing. They would ask for my ID card (all non-Japanese save for some Koreans are required by law to carry their registration cards with them at all times), sometimes that being the only purpose of the stop.

In recent years, I have not been subjected to this, but it has never stopped for many in the foreign community.

So when I saw what I did this morning, it evoked more than just a little suspicion.

True, it could have been justified—perhaps the man had actually stolen something from the store, maybe it had been caught on video or something. Or it could have been something completely unrelated to the shop.

But here’s the thing: I have never seen police confront anyone on the street in that manner before.

I have seen endless incidents of cops pulling people over in cars for traffic violations, of course. I have seen cops dealing with people in all sorts of situations. But in over 20 years in Japan, I have never see cops stand by as a man in a suit and gloves patted someone down on the street.

As I mentioned, it was somewhat disturbing to see.

First of all, where did the guy in the suit speaking English come from? Certainly not from any local police box, that’s for sure. There were no cop cars parked nearby that could see, no cars at all in fact—the streets there are pretty narrow, it’d be hard to miss. The closest police station of any size is 3km south, a good 12-14 minutes away by car—and even there, I’d be surprised to find English-speaking plain-clothed cops. So where did this guy come from? Was someone holding the man there for a half-hour while they called someone in?

More disturbing, though, was the venue: they were suggesting a pat-down, presumably for shoplifting (though who knows what they were in fact stopping him for), right there in the street.

Is it just me, or is that more than a little improper?

One incident this brought to mind was one of the many times I was stopped on suspicion of stealing the bicycle I was riding, usually in the same area I biked almost every single day. On this one occasion, I was stopped by not one cop, but by about half a dozen, with a squad car and everything. While one peered into my bicycle frame for a serial number to trace, the others grilled me about my job, where I lived, my country of origin, and so on.

Now, at this time—in the late 80’s to early 90’s—there was a great deal of friction between the U.S. and Japan, and part of this played out in police behavior and part in the media. When Americans would appear in TV dramas, they were usually violent, loud, criminal, obnoxious, and/or AIDS carriers. When Japanese pitchers intentionally hit American players with fastballs, the players would rush the mound—prompting media excitation about “害人”, supposed to be the word “foreigner,” gaijin, but spelled with the characters meaning “harmful person.” And so on.

So, when I was surrounded by those cops engaged in the serious business of discovering that I did, indeed, own my own bicycle, I saw Japanese pedestrians walking past and glancing at the tableau—and had no doubt that many were seeing me, and thinking, “So, it’s true.”

Nor did it help that, while I was pulled over with some regularity, and while I saw other foreigners pulled over, I never saw Japanese people pulled over for bike-theft checks. Not that it never happened, but it was pretty clear there was a sharp difference in how such stops were decided.

Ergo I am sensitive to such displays which center on foreign residents.

It is possible that what I saw was completely legit. However, the fact that I never seen anything even resembling this treatment before raises doubts with me.

Am I being unreasonable? I’d be interested in anyone’s thoughts on this…

Categories: Focus on Japan 2013 Tags:

Kit Kats

April 23rd, 2013 Comments off

As you may or may not know, the KitKat candy bar in Japan is famous for taking on multitudes of flavors, including some odd ones. I got some wasabi KitKats for my nephews a year or two back, but this one surprised even me: Red Pepper-flavored KitKats. At least, the ones on the right. On the left are Blueberry Cheesecake ones.


And no, I didn’t try the pepper ones (nor, alas, the tastier-looking cheesecake ones).

Categories: Focus on Japan 2013 Tags:


April 23rd, 2013 1 comment

This photo was from a building we passed the other day:


When we first started walking Ponta, we saw something similar in our neighborhood: a 2-story building with a slide, not a staircase, from the second floor to the ground. At first I thought it was a kindergarten with a novel route to recess, but then I discovered it was an old folk’s home. The building above is, in fact, a hospital.

As you may have guessed, the slides are not for kids, but for incapacitated people unable to take stairs with any speed, or perhaps at all.

Do we have this in the states? Don’t ever recall seeing or hearing about anything like this.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2013 Tags:

Personalized Annoyance

January 25th, 2013 Comments off

Doing my usual morning routine, I could not help noticing a loudspeaker going outside. For a while, I thought it was the usual annoyance: a recycle/secondhand shop truck making the rounds, promising all kinds of stuff about what they’ll take off your hands for free (until you actually try to give them something and it turns out you pay through the nose).

But then I noticed that it was going on for a long time. And it was not changing in volume, as you would expect in a moving vehicle. Nor was it talking about what you could throw away.

Finally, I decided to check it out.

It was a politician. I had no idea there was an election. I don’t think there is one.

Nor was this guy on a truck. He was standing in front of my house speaking into a bullhorn.

I have seen this before in large apartment and condominium complexes, where hundreds or even thousands of people live.

But in front of my house? There were maybe a dozen residences where people could understand the idiot from inside their homes. We’re on a small street. Almost no traffic.

It’s almost like the guy figured, “Hey, let’s go annoy that foreigner and his immediate neighbors!”

I have never felt so close to buying a bullhorn, finding out where that politician lives, and going on a 20-minute tirade in front of his house about how politicians are pointless irritants in this society.

But yeah, I know… compared to what politicians in the states are doing, this guy was a mosquito next to a case of flesh-eating bacteria. Still, an annoyance is an annoyance.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2013 Tags:


January 14th, 2013 2 comments

When I woke up this morning at about 9:00 a.m., it was raining hard. Big puddles of water outside. Very wet.

About a half hour later, the rain turned to snow, as predicted in the weather forecast.

Within an hour, there was more than an inch of snow on the ground. I took Ponta for a walk, and it was already white everywhere you looked. By now, 3:00 p.m., it must be more than 6 inches. We have to go outside every hour and shake the snow off our small cypress goldcrest trees or else they’ll be crushed under the weight.

This is the view from our door, just a few minutes ago when I went to do the shaking:


The neighbors are also keeping busy, shoveling and keeping the card cleared.


The snow accumulation is pretty amazing—we are really getting socked here.


You just know this stuff is going to stick on on the ground for another few weeks…

Train lines in the area are severely affected, and road traffic is jammed. On the JR, Chuo, Sobu, Saikyo, Keiyo, Joban, Nambu—all lines completely shut down.

Up to 40 or 50 cm is expected today.

Soon after I posted that, the snow stopped—but not the precipitation. Nothing worse than rain after a snow…

Categories: Hibarigaoka Tags:

Back Home

December 24th, 2012 1 comment

Having just returned back to Japan, I am trying a few new things. First of all, I am on the Keisei Skyliner this time, not the Narita Express. While it does not roll me directly in to Ikebukuro, it does have a few key advantages: first, it’s cheaper by a thousand yen or so. Second, it’s faster—it does not take the roundabout way via Chiba and Shinagawa. This ride will be only 40 minutes, compared to the usual hour and a half. Third, I was able to jump on a train departing 17 minutes after I left customs; the Narita Express has only infrequent trains going to Ikebukuro, my transfer point—I have sometimes had to wait a full hour to catch a train.

On the Skyliner, I will have to get off at Nippori, transfer to the JR Yamanote Line, and then transfer again at Ikebukuro. Not fun, but if it will save me an hour or more in total, and be cheaper by a third, then it’ll be worth it.

The second thing: I am back to tethering, officially now. As Softbank started the tethering service December 15, I cam back and voila, there it was. So a blog from the Skyline as we pass through… let’s check Google Maps in iOS 6 (!) … ah, Komuro, on our way to Shiroi. Wherever the hell those places are.

One more point in the Skyliner’s favor: power outlets at each seat. Also, they don’t clump people together when there are free seats available. So far, so good.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2012 Tags:

Big Quake Aftershock

December 7th, 2012 6 comments

Still don’t know how big, but it looks like it was centered in Tohoku. Sachi and I found out by having our iPhones buzz at us. Kind of a scary sound, like a a zapping siren.

Sure enough, moments later, we felt the shaking start. It was kind of like being on a truck on a bumpy road.

TV is reporting a 7.3. More soon.

Looks like it was centered in the ocean off of Sendai. This post did not go up, and I am having difficulty reaching certain sites.

There is a tsunami warning for Tohoku, with the greatest danger around Sendai—apparently, this was an aftershock—a big one, one and a half years later.

7.3 seems official. The epicenter seems about the exact same place as 3/11/11 quake. Am uploading video of what it was like here, 480 km (300 mi.). Here’s what shows about the quake:

Screen Shot 2012-12-07 At 5.48.06 Pm

Here’s the video:

That’s set as “Unlisted,” and “privacy” is enhanced—let me know if you can’t see it.

They’re still saying there could be a 1-meter tsunami in Sendai.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2012 Tags: