Archive for the ‘Focus on Japan 2008’ Category

Lucky Dreams Tonight

December 31st, 2008 Comments off

If you go to sleep on January 1st, take note if you dream of Mt. Fuji; it is considered to be an auspicious sign of good fortune for the new year to come. If not Fuji, then dreaming of a hawk is the next best thing. And if not a hawk, then… an eggplant.

This is called Hatsuyume in Japanese, or the first dream of the New Year. The belief has been around for the past four centuries, with people saying that it started with Tokugawa Ieyasu (or “Lord Toranaga” to all you Shogun fans), as all three things were favored by him.

I can only presume that if you dream of a hawk eating an eggplant atop Mt. Fuji, then it’s high time to buy that lottery ticket.

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Weekends and Hospitals in Japan

December 29th, 2008 3 comments

One thing that has always puzzled, and often has frustrated me about Japan is that all medical facilities shut down over the weekend. Some have early Saturday services, but almost all of them are closed on Sundays, and most for the whole weekend. Of course, the hospital emergency room is open, but that’s for extreme cases (and you get charged a hefty premium for its services).

I’m sorry, but this strikes me as particularly stupid. Most people work during normal hospital and clinic hours, and many people have trouble getting away from such obligations except for the most severe illnesses. Not to mention that people don’t become ill on schedule; there is no magical physical law that prevents sickness from striking Friday evening or Saturday afternoon.

So, why do medical services all but cease on weekends? It’s not as if it’s impossible to get people to work then; all manner of businesses operate over the weekend. Just rotate schedules, or have clinics that have different days off.

It strikes me that if I wanted to open a medical clinic and really get customers, I’d start one which operated from 3pm to midnight, taking Tuesdays and Wednesdays off. The staff could sleep in and get a lot more personal business done on the days off, and streams of people needing medical attention in off hours would beat a path to the office.

Now that the holiday season is here, the clinics are mostly closed for the next week. Getting sick on the holidays in Japan can be either painful or very expensive.

Is it the same elsewhere?

On a related note, we’ve just been informed by our building that trash collection will be shut down for a whole week. During that time, we have to store all of our trash in the apartment. This, of course, makes little sense; trash usually sits in the trash area for 3 and 4 days at a time; just because the trash collectors take a week off doesn’t mean that we have to stop right after the last pickup and start only just before the next. Not to mention that such a long break is far worse in Japan than in places like the U.S., as there is no place to put it. You put it on the balcony, the crows get at it. You keep it indoors, it starts to stink up the place. Pretty much nobody has large cans which can keep trash contained for that period. So, yet another lovely service to put on hold.

All other businesses, such as shops, theaters, restaurants, and so forth, will continue on, business as usual. They somehow find a way to juggle schedules.

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Missed the KFC Mob Scene

December 27th, 2008 Comments off

I remember, years ago, seeing a local KFC mobbed with people at Christmas. You could literally not get chicken without a three-hour wait, and most people had reservations. For some reason, I thought that would be December 25th, but I was off by a day–it was December 24th, and I missed the scene with the long lines and all. Still, even on December 25th, you could see that the KFC people were ready for a lot of special orders:



They had at least a few dozen advance-reservation orders ready and waiting, and obviously had a system for processing it all. Still, the regular lines were manageable, and Sachi and I were able to get a quick order of chicken to eat at the restaurant.

Just in case this makes no sense to you, in Japan, the only thing as popular as cake on Christmas is chicken. Couldn’t say why, maybe it’s the closest Japan could come to a turkey dinner, else (and more likely) it’s what the PR people told everyone was The Thing to Do and everyone simply obeyed. Since then (at least since the 80’s), KFC has been swamped at Christmas. Can’t blame them, they do a fair job–save for the fact that they don’t have popcorn chicken (which likely saves me from obesity), their chicken tends to be superior to the American counterparts, which, I suspect, serve only mutant chickens raised to midget proportions. Japanese KFC is decent.

Since I usually go back to the U.S. at Christmas, I don’t know when I’ll have another chance to catch the mob scene at KFC. Suffice it to say that Japan is kind of nuts on this kind of thing, which, of course, is par for the course on the world scene. I mean, you can be nuts about lots worse stuff than this, right?

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Xmas Haul

December 25th, 2008 Comments off

So Sachi and I celebrated our first Christmas together. In the past, Sachi had to work past Christmas, which meant that she could not come back to the U.S. with me in time. But since we had our trip to the U.S. already this year, we’re staying in town this time.

The HDTV set and Blu-Ray/HDD set were our big Xmas presents to ourselves, but as you can see from the image below, I had a surprise for Sachi: we’ve been talking about getting the Wii Fit for quite some time, and I figured now was as good a time as any (watch them come out with the Wii HD next week).

Xmas Haul-01

We also redesigned the living room, and it works much better now.

Also, for Christmas Eve, we rented the Blu-Ray title Kung Fu Panda. Now, I am already impressed with regular HDTV; it’s pretty good, and very noticeable when you suddenly get regular TV signals. But Blu-Ray, especially with a computer animated feature that has great sharpness? Forget about it. It was impressive as hell. I mean, really impressive. The detail, especially the subtle textures, we astounding.

Old TVs (in the U.S. and Japan, NTSC is what it’s called) have up to 525 lines of resolution, though only 480 are used for the video portion of the broadcast (captions and other data occupy the remaining space). HDTVs have 720 and 1080 lines (depending on the signal), which as much as doubles the number of lines and (due to the widescreen) more than quadruples the information you see displayed.

But the difference is in more than just the resolution. There are types of image presentation called “interlaced” and “progressive.” Interlaced is the old technology, and is worse. With interlaced, every time the TV “scans,” or paints an image from top to bottom, only half the image gets painted–every other line–so it would like seeing a movie projected onto venetian blinds. The following scan fills in the blanks, so you need two scans to see a whole image. Even though old-style TVs scanned 60 times per second, they only showed 30 frames.

Progressive scan, on the other hand, paints the whole image with each scan, so you’re getting twice as much information, which translates to a better picture.

Old TV signals are designated 480i–480 lines of resolution with interlaced scan. Bad quality, but it served for half a century. HDTV broadcast comes in two flavors: 720p and 1080i. You can read what that means–720 lines progressive, and 1080 lines interlaced. 720p and 1080i are roughly the same quality, one doing it with more lines, the other with progressive scan.

Blu-Ray, on the other hand, gives you 1080p, which marries both the higher resolution of 1080 with the greater quality of progressive scan. And you can see it, it really makes a difference.

Most HDTV sets, by the way, can effortlessly switch between these different display settings, which is why we can see all of them. Very flexible.

Anyway, that was last night. We also had wagyu steaks, often referred to as “Kobe Beef,” but essentially was super-fatty-marbled sirloin steaks. Incredibly delicious, but more deadly than pastrami and Häagen Dazs combined.

Tonight, we had a more normal dinner, but enjoyed a very Japanese treat for dessert: Christmas Cake.

Christmas Cake-01

Christmas Cake-02I

Christmas Cake-03

This one was special-ordered through the cake shop at the Sunshine Prince Hotel, and is a half-white, half-dark chocolate cake. I’m no big fan of Japanese cakes–they’re usually way too bland and light for my tastes–but this one was very good.

Quick note: in Japan, back in the 80’s, “Christmas Cake” was often used as a pejorative to describe unmarried women over the age of 25–the idea being that no one wants to buy a Christmas cake after the 25th of December. Interestingly, no one ever uses that expression any more. Not because the cake has fallen out of fashion, but because the social stigma on marriageability has changed.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2008, Ikebukuro Tags:

Autumn Colors, Part II

December 11th, 2008 1 comment

More Autumn leaves from Rikugien Park:


This was a lovely image of a teahouse from a lower path in the park. Larger version on click:


There’s not much to say, except, beautiful.




This is something I have always liked: yukitsuri, or a rope setup to support these trees in parks like these. Sachi says thay are there to support the trees against the weight of fallen snow, except that it doesn’t snow much here at all. It might be just the to support the weight of the branches themselves. I think I saw this kind of thing first at Kenroku-en in Kanazawa, in Ishikawa Prefecture.



This nice couple walked into the park shortly before we left. I have no idea what their story is, but I love their clothes, and his hair. Very cool, and I told them so. Well, about the clothes, anyway.


Here’s Sachi posing at the scenic spot I noted in the previous post.


As always with these gardens, the carp are somewhat of an attraction. They’re everywhere in the waters.


Sachi too a liking to this one Calico Carp, which was not very visible, but that Photoshop feature brings it out:



And this shot was a favorite of mine: the scenic bridge from the tree-framed view, with the sun reflecting off the water. Click for a larger view.

Twosuns Bridge-Rikugien-450

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Autumn Colors, Part I

December 9th, 2008 2 comments

Sachi and I returned to Rikugi-en Park recently. We were there last November at about the same time, and each time it’s lovely. I will let the images speak for themselves. First, Sachi leading the way in to the park:


A lovely spot–everyone paused here to take photos of each other against the background.


A nice bridge, with an even nicer view from within the woods:




Everywhere the trees were of different colors; Sachi on the bridge, from a different perspective:


The next two photos I liked enough to link larger versions to, if you’d like something larger for your personal use…



Photoshop, I should say, works beautifully in cleaning up images. I recently found out about the “Shadow/Highlight” feature in the “Image” menu, under “Adjustments.” If you have a shot with a mix of bright and dark, something in shadows, a badly exposed shot, that Photoshop move might help make the image a lot prettier, and fast.


To show you how Photoshop helps, here’s the un-retouched version of the above photo:


That’s not even the best example of how the Shadow/Highlight helps, but it’s a hint. If you’ve ever had a photo where some people are in bright sunlight and some are in dark shade, that feature helps immensely. But it also helps in a lot of dark shots to bring out detail, brightness, and color. Most of the shots here don’t use that, but when the original just didn’t cut it, I was still able to get something from the image.

More images from the park tomorrow.

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On a Clear Day

December 8th, 2008 3 comments

Sometimes, winds and storms clear up the air enough for us to get nice views of distant features of the Kanto landscape. One feature that’s an early indicator is the ferris wheel at Kasai Rinkai Park, just at the eastern edge of Tokyo, with Disneyland across the river from it in Chiba. On bad days, we can’t even see it. On good days, you can not only see the ferris wheel (16 km. distant, 10 miles), but you can see the Chiba coastline (40 km., 24 miles) behind the wheel as well. Really, that’s probably mountains, not coastline, which would be 50 km./30 miles.

Kasai Rinkai-Dist

Closer-up, notice that small mountain to the right of the wheel; that’s “Mysterious Mountain,” an attraction at Disney Sea, the sister theme park to Tokyo Disneyland.

Kasai Rinkai

We also get a great view of Mt. Tsukuba in Ibaraki Prefecture, 70 km./40 miles distant, a nice, big landmark.


The structures to the left are a shrine complex, with weather and cell repeater towers in the middle.


These mountains and a bunch surrounding the city of Nikko, a resort town famous for being the source of the Three “No Evil” Monkeys–“See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil,” you know. Distance: 120 km./75 miles.

Nikko Mts-01

I’d love to be able to see Fuji, but the damned Toyota Amlux building is still in the way….

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Local Protest

December 7th, 2008 2 comments

Again with the views from the balcony. A short while back, Sachi and I heard some drumming ruckus coming from outside. I checked it out, and there was some sort of group marching down the road away from us. By the time I got my camera ready, they were just turning out of sight, but with the magic of the zoom lens and many megapixels, I saw at least this much, far more than the naked eye could resolve:



From what we could read of their signs, they seem to be a group of protesters. At least some of them came from the Northern Area Labor Group–that’s the big red flag with the sunburst. The yellow banners read, “Citizens unite in protest of the Patriot Missiles.” (Japanese-language only, see the last story on this page.) It would seem that the U.S. is outfitting Japan with a series of such anti-missile missile systems in response to missile tests by North Korea. All the same, a lot of Japanese are not all that enthused about them. Many have been installed in the Tokyo area–two installations as of a year ago, and about a dozen or so in all planned over the next few years. Apparently they’re located in local military bases spotting the Tokyo plain, many in the middle of outlying cities, close to large populations.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2008, Ikebukuro Tags:


December 6th, 2008 1 comment

Once again, we had our graduation ceremony at the college. This is the 20th we’ve had since I started, and I have attended all but one or two, when illness made attending impossible. But for me, this one was supposed to be a special case: as a once-in-a-blue-moon situation, I am acting head of the branch campus, the Academic Coordinator, while we have a graduation ceremony. This would have been the first time in five or six years–and maybe the only time ever again–where I would have the ability to lead the commencement ceremony, and hand out degrees. Also landing on the tenth anniversary since my first one, I was very much looking forward to it.

However, the best laid plans of mice and men are all too easily derailed by a stray virus picked up from the class or office at the outset of chilly winter days. When we had to set the speaker in print last night, there was little hope that my throat would be in shape–it was gravelly all day yesterday, and these things almost never clear up. And, as it happened, I would not have been in shape anyway. Major bummer. I was, as I mentioned, very much looking forward to it.

However, the ceremony went very well with my on the sidelines, and our traditional after-party went just as well. We got a bigger-than-usual hall this time.


The Hyatt Regency serves up a delicious buffet, the Bingo game is always fun, and student performers really put on a show. One popular set of acts came from the Hula Club–three dance numbers, and these ladies do a spectacular job.


Afterwards, a group did a dance number based upon a dance done at fishing festivals; from what I was told, this was popularized by an episode of Kimpachi Sensei, a Japanese TV show from long ago, often revived, like Doctor Who (which, coincidentally, I was able to discuss with a student at length–we shared an interest). Later, the Guitar Club put on a performance which was very nice.


I did get some stage time, introducing many of the students who won awards for their participation in school activities and responsibilities. A great group of kids we’re seeing off this year.

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Ichou Matsuri

November 24th, 2008 4 comments

Sachi and I went to Jingu Gaien Sunday for the Ichou Festival. Literally, “Ichou” is “Ginkgo Tree,” as in “Ginkgo Biloba,” the widely-known herbal supplement. The southern avenue of Jingu Gaien is lined with Ginkgo trees, which are also known as “Maidenhairs,” though they resemble most the hairstyle worn by Alice in the Dilbert comic.


One of the down points is that the Ginkgo nut, as Sachi pointed out to me, smells kinda like dung. The main drag was OK, but some areas nearby were pretty smelly.

We also miscalculated in thinking that we were going to a park, as “Gaien” means “outer garden.” Jingu Gaien, however, is more of a sports complex (built for the 1964 Olympics, in fact); although there were a few small actual parks here and there, it was mostly stadiums and sports fields. Still, the main drag was nice, with the tree lining and all.







There was one field given over to the usual food stalls (a surprising number selling foreign food, not your usual Japanese festival fare), plus an area for crowds to gather, mingle, and enjoy the occasional show.



One we saw was some kind of performance art we could not figure out: a guy dressed in only a loin cloth, head band, and white paint, standing on a box, imploring a small boy to hold his hand as he pointed off into the distance. If the boy let go, the guy slowly turned with a doleful expression as if to beg for the boy to hold his hand–and when the boy did, the guy turned away again to point somewhere. Frankly, it weirded me out–I felt like calling Child Protective Services.


On our way out, we ran into a fun little activity: a bike-riding training session for little kids. We were wondering why there were so many kids bicycling along our path, until we ran into this.



It was mostly kids seriously trying to learn how to ride, riding in on their training wheels and discarding them for the course. As Sachi and I walked past, we heard an erstwhile young boy intone, “One, two, three! as he took off for yet another try. They were so cute.

Then we saw this:


Sachi had to explain to me that it was not a firearm enthusiast’s tour bus, but a tour bus from Gunma Prefecture.

After the festival, we headed over to Shinjuku Gyouen–more on that tomorrow.

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Google Map Directions Now Work in Japan

November 1st, 2008 2 comments


Well, this was an unexpected but nice surprise. Google Japan has just added the Directions feature to their maps service, something that was missing until now. I found out when someone posted that Directions now works for their iPhone on the iPhone in Japan forum.

On the web version (shown above), you can choose to find directions by car or by train. By car, you can exclude toll roads and/or give preference to “normal” roads; the results display with an option to see the Street View to get an idea of what each turning point looks like. Missing feature: not being able to click on the map to define a starting/ending point (unless it’s there and I just missed it). By train, it works just like Yahoo! Transit, but better–as it not only shows the route on a map, but it’s all contained on one page, and seems to have more options. Very, very nice.

The iPhone version is nice as well, but with a major failing: there’s no option to exclude toll roads. This is a deal-killer for anyone like myself who has a vehicle that is not allowed on toll roads. It also makes no sense as often the toll roads are jammed and local roads serve better, not to mention that the tolls are expensive and you might prefer the regular roads in any case. Hopefully, there will be an upgrade to the Maps program at some point (soon?) in the future which adds this critical option. Who knows, it may come with the iPhone firmware update v. 2.2 coming soon–the update allows for Google Street View, which means that they’re changing the Google Maps app.

Gmapdir01 Gmapdir02

Nevertheless, this is a welcome step forward for Google Maps Japan, not very long after Street View became available here.

What’s still missing: traffic information.


October 5th, 2008 1 comment

One of the down points about having a nice view is that sometimes you see stuff that you can’t explain, and it would take too much effort to investigate. This morning was one of those times. We heard a loudspeaker voice from outside, and when I looked over at the World Import Mart at the Sunshine City complex, I saw this:



Now, you often see lines outside Pachinko parlors, movie theaters, and comic book stores, presumably when they have some hot new game/movie/comic. This kind of thing, you never know. Some convention/trade show? Most in line seemed to be young men, many carried bags with green “SC”s written on the sides.

Ah, a mystery for the sake of not caring enough to go outside to check it out. Seriously, though, it would take like twenty minutes or more and I probably still wouldn’t care. But it still bugs you not to know.

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Welcome to the 21st Century

September 4th, 2008 1 comment

This is in most of the Japan-related web sites, but in case some of you don’t read those, this should be of interest. A couple walking their dog in the mountains of the Izu Peninsula were horrified to see a human form bound in plastic, hair showing out of one end, feet the other. They called the police, and more than a dozen officers arrived on the scene and cordoned it off. The media arrived and took photos, and a huge story began to circulate.


Police carried the body off to the pathology lab, and set about interviewing a large number of witnesses, launching a massive investigation.

Until, that is, the pathologists unwrapped the body and found it to be a life-size, life-like sex doll. One which, they reported, showed “signs of repeated use.” They speculate that the owner didn’t want to throw it out in his usual trash–that could be embarrassing–and so dumped it in the mountains, without thinking about how that might look. Apparently, he did nothing illegal other than dumping trash where you’re not supposed to, but he cost the city quite a lot of money and embarrassment. One would imagine that they have more than enough, er, biological samples to identify the guy should they find him.

As technology improves to this point, so should certain standards–one of which is, if you absolutely have to have lifelike sex dolls, provide a means to safely dispose of them without causing quite this much commotion. Heaven knows the guys who buy these dolls probably don’t desire this kind of attention. I can only imagine the guy who owned the doll and how much he is cringing right now.

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Tourist Ice Trap

August 26th, 2008 7 comments

Since it was raining so much our one full day in the area, Sachi and I decided to try out the local Ice Caverns. Sounded grand, and the images in the pamphlet showed towering columns of glittering ice. You get the impression that you’ll be wandering around this great cavern with these things jutting up around you, reaching up to the roof of the cave. Okay. So we went, and paid our three bucks each. By the time we were out, I was commenting that they should have paid us six bucks for going through that.

Sachi had a great time, but only because she really enjoys it when I get royally pissed–she thinks it’s the funniest stuff ever. Me, I was amazed they could keep such a place open. First off, the railings that you absolutely needed to grip on 90% of the time were freezing cold. The caves themselves were cold, but you could bear that because it was atmospheric–the railings you had to grip hard, which froze your hands stiff in a minute or less. No warnings outside to use gloves.

Second, the cave got really claustrophobic the last half of the way down, making you crouch as you went more and more–then got incredibly narrow at one point, so much so that you either had to slide down a freezing, wet, rocky surface on your ass, or else do the damnedest imitation of low-as-you-can-go limbo in order to avoid that. Seriously, it was so narrow you couldn’t even crawl through unless it was on your stomach–not to mention that part was a 30-degree downward angle on wet, cold rock. One thinks they could note this before you commit yourself, which, by that point, you were. I remember praying that they didn’t let seniors down there. Below is Sachi after the narrow part (I wasn’t able to un-contort myself enough to take a photo of the worst part), smiling because she’s learning so many new cuss words.


And the payoff, once you were down there? Dirty ice, followed by a quick glance at some things that were probably ice columns behind a small grated opening. Below is a flash photo of them:


Then you climb out. That’s the whole show.

When we got out, Sachi went to the restrooms while I waited near the entrance gate where an employee, maybe fifty years old, was taking tickets. I paid attention because a couple of seniors just happened to be there. They asked the guy, “Is the cave wet?” The guy answered, “Not at all!” A total lie–like many caves, maybe this one more than most, all the surfaces were wet to dripping. It was an ice cave, for crying out loud.

I tried to tell the couple that, aside from being wet, the hand rails were freezing cold and gloves would be called for, if they had them. They looked to the ticket guy for confirmation. “Oh, it just seems like they’re cold because it’s an ice cave, it’s cold in there!” I then tried to describe the really narrow part, pantomiming the contortions you needed to go into. The guy laughed it off and encouraged the couple, easily in their 60’s, to go on through.

That guy should be taken out and shot.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2008, Travel Tags:

Google Street View: Japan

August 6th, 2008 2 comments

Japan Probe reports that Google’s “Street View” feature is now finally active in Japan. Only in major cities, though–aside from the greater Tokyo metropolitan area and the Osaka-Kyoto area, only Sendai, Hakodate, and Sapporo are included. But in the Tokyo area, almost every street is included–very few blank areas indeed!

As in the U.S., the views are in 360˚ views, which can be scrolled by dragging the cursor over any view. The images seem to have been taken over the past 9 months or so, some even more recently. Take, for example, this image of my school: we moved in in May, and that’s my scooter parked in front.


In the views, certain parts seem to be blurred out, especially people’s faces, one can suppose to calm fears of intrusion of privacy–though if you’re on a public street, it seems that you can’t expect too much “privacy.” Also, it doesn’t work perfectly, especially in crowded places–but the resolution is low enough that it’s doubtful you’d recognize anyone outside of a specific context (like standing in front of their house). There is a “zoom” feature allowing you to zoom in to any view by two steps, but there’s no increase in resolution–you’re just blowing up the existing image.

I appreciate that Google has this–it represents a lot of effort–but I would much rather they had worked on directions and traffic first. This is a toy, directions and traffic are tools, and very useful ones.

For those of you wanting a few interesting spots:

The base of Tokyo Tower
In front of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
In front of the National Diet Building (the Japanese parliament)
The National Sumo Stadium
Asakusa Shrine Main Gate
Look to the east to see the “turd building” (atop the Asahi Beer building; it’s supposed to be the head of a glass of beer somehow)
Tokyo Dome (not so visible from this angle–but look across the street for the amusement park with roller coasters jammed into a city block in central Tokyo)
Sunshine Shopping Street, near our apartment (must have been early morning for (a) cars to be allowed down the street and (b) pedestrian traffic to be so limited)

Any suggestions or requests? Links to your favorite places of interest?

Light Shows

July 27th, 2008 2 comments

It’s been an interesting few days out the window. Yesterday was the Sumida River fireworks, and today there was a spectacular lightning storm and sunset.

Yesterday’s fireworks show was, actually, a big disappointment. It came on what was arguably the haziest day of the year so far; we could barely see Akihabara from Ikebukuro, and that cut down on the show considerably. Add the smoke from the previous fireworks, and it got hard to see anything. In fact, the haze just got worse and worse as the evening went on; by the end of the show, we could see the fireworks streaking up, only to disappear, and, if we were lucky, the faintest of outlines of a starburst would show through. Most of the bursts, however, were simply invisible.

Here are a few shots from earlier in the show:






Tonight, there was a much more spectacular light show, and I almost missed it. However, I heard some sounds out on the balcony, and knew that winds had started tossing about a few things we’d left out there. As I went out to batten down the hatches, as it were, I saw a tremendous thunder- and lightning-storm charging by to the north, darkening the sky before sunset.

It was still far too light to take time exposures to catch the lightning, so I tried another strategy: with my finger on the shutter, I waited for lightning bursts to come, hopefully catching some prolonged bursts that way. When that was not successful, I just held down the shutter and took continuous shots, dozens at a time–and that worked. The lightning was frequent enough that I got some good shots. The last one, the most spectacular, is available in an enlarged version when clicked:




And then, out of nowhere, there came an amazing red lighting. Clouds had cleared around the sun as it set, and even as lightning continued to scatter to the north, a brilliant red and orange wash broke out from the west. As we’re on the east side of the building, I could not see the sunset directly, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t see some fantastic light effects. Many of the images below–which don’t do the reality justice–are available in larger sizes. I swear, some of them look like images of Coruscant from the Star Wars movies.





The Sunshine 60 building looked almost ominous in the light:



Here is a panorama of Akihabara to Ochanomizu–first cut into two parts, then in full, but reduced in size artificially. Click on the lowest image to see the full-sized image, 1920 pixels wide. The buildings almost look like toy models here.




Categories: Focus on Japan 2008, Ikebukuro Tags:

Another Big One

July 24th, 2008 Comments off

We seem to be getting lots of big quakes in northern Japan. About a half hour ago, Sachi and I felt a rather strong one, which made the furniture shift a little for a few seconds, and doors creaked for a few minutes. Seemed pretty strong even here, and yet it was 300 miles (480 km) distant, up in Iwate, near Morioka (probably hitting less than 30 miles away, though the greatest effect was in various places, maybe because the quake had a depth of about 110 km). The magnitude, originally reported at about 7.2, is now rated as a 6.8 on the Richter scale.

This differs from recent big quakes in that it hit on land, and not too far from populated areas. Since it hit about a half hour after midnight, it might be a bit before we hear about the real damage done.

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Liveblogging from the Tokko Lecture

July 23rd, 2008 3 comments

Mr. Iwai is with us right now, giving his lecture on his experiences in the Tokko-tai, the suicide squadrons in WWII. Mr. Iwai was an officer in this squadron who trained others to use manned torpedoes and diving suits to attck Allied vessels.


Mr. Iwai is 88 years of age, and full of energy. He has begun by explaining the weapons used,such as the torpedoes used by the pilots.

We have a full house tonight, perhaps 70-80 people.

Mr. Iwai himself was not one of the suicide pilots himself, but he trained and traveled with the pilots. Health problems and supply of boats prevented him from operating as one of the pilots. While he was training to perform himself, he was transferred out of the squadron.



Mr. Iwai then transferred into a new unit, one that used little more than primitive diving suits with mines attached to bamboo poles.

After practicing this technique, Mr. Iwai came to feel that this way of attacking vessels would be worthless. The suits made it impossible to look upwards, as the balance of the suits forced the wearers to lean forward and look down. Nevertheless, as officers in the Imperial Navy, they were expected to perform even if the orders were foolish.

Because of flaws in the suit design, sometimes a corrosive liquid would flow through the air hoses and fill the helmets of the divers, burning their faces and throats, killing them. Mr. Iwai says that about fifty young men died in this way, though records of these events were burned after the end of the war.

He ends with a message that Japan was committing a kind of crime against it’s own people, reminding us strongly of what nations to to their own in times of war. His intention here tonight primarily, however, is to let the young students here understand that these acts are not to be seen as an example to follow, but as terrible acts forced upon the soldiers, in an unjustified war. While the acts of sacrifice made by the soldiers was in itself beautiful and much worthy of respect, the war itself was wrong and should never have taken place.

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Another Quake

July 21st, 2008 Comments off

This one hit stronger and faster than before… This is immediately reported as a 6.5, same location as the 7.0 we got hit with the other day.

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Another Big One

July 19th, 2008 Comments off

Sachi and I felt the building start to sway big-time a few minutes ago. There was a big quake, preliminary report makes it a magnitude 6.8 (the TV is saying 6.6) about 150 km off the east cost of northern Honshu, Miyagi Prefecture, maybe 400 km north-east of Tokyo. Still, we felt it pretty big here. Ten minutes later, and the building is still swaying a bit. Now they’re talking about tsunami warnings in Miyagi.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2008 Tags: