Archive for the ‘Focus on Japan 2008’ Category


May 9th, 2008 1 comment

We just felt another one. This was somewhat closer, a 4.5 magnitude quake just north of Chiba City, not far from the eastern Tokyo border.

Meanwhile, quakes continue to rock the same fault off the coast of Honshu that produced the larger quakes yesterday early morning. The USGS reports twenty quakes over 4 in that area, including a 4.9 just an hour ago.

Sites to monitor quake activity:

Update: we didn’t feel it, but a 5.6 just hit the active area off the coast.

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Felt THAT One

May 8th, 2008 5 comments

I just felt a quake here (at 1:02 am), which in Ikebukuro above the 20th floor, seemed fairly strong; it was one of those long, swaying types that usually indicates a stronger earthquake some distance away. Sure enough, the quake was some distance off the east coast of Japan, magnitude 6.3. they say there’s no tsunami threat.

The interesting thing is, there seem to have been about half a dozen medium-to-large quakes in roughly the same area over the last 12 hours:

2:39 pm, (5/7/08) M 4.5
6:59 pm, M 4.9
7:50 pm, M 4.6
12:25 am (5/8/08), M 4.6
1:02 am, M 6.3
1:10 am, M 4.2

Damn, there’s another one, feels even bigger than before, but is showing as 5.6:

1:18 am, M 5.6 (correction: M 6.2)

That last one was very shallow, only 100 meters (?) below the surface, again off the east coast in the same area as the others. This is starting to get me worried that it’s building up to something bigger. But it’s really having an effect–it started three minutes ago, and my building is swaying more than before!

Seriously, this is getting creepy.

Update: More quakes registered, though I didn’t feel them:

1:25 am, M 4.1

Plus a few in Tohoku, northern Honshu, under 4.0

Update 2: OK, THAT WAS BIG! A 7.2-magnitude quake, again off the Chiba coast. The place is really rocking now! Woke poor Sachi up. Doors knocked, building creaked. Even felt some up-and-down action at the start.

The TV is saying it was only 6.7, hitting at 1:45 am. The building here is just finishing its rocking, six minutes later. Wow.

Are we finished yet?

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A Day in Japan

May 2nd, 2008 1 comment

It’s all over the Japanese news today:

A local council employee in Japan has been punished after it was discovered he had accessed porn websites at work more than 780,000 times in nine months.

This is one of those stories that you just go, “Wow, what a perv” over. But something is fishy here: This guy would have had to do nothing but click on porn sites continuously for nine months in order to rack up the numbers they’re claiming. For the 177,000 hits in July, assuming an 8-hour workday, he would have had to open a new porn web site once every three seconds, non-stop, full-time. While this is not impossible, it is highly improbable, to the point where I cannot accept the clearly-implied conclusion.

My boss is dealing with malware on his computer which is automatically taking him to all kinds of spam and porn sites, and if you’re using IE6 with factory settings, then it is likely that closing one window will result in a large number more opening up. The windows open very quickly like this, and even if you hold down the shortcut keys nearly continuously, the right spam script will keep opening them up just as quick if not quicker. It’s quite something to witness, in fact.

What I can imagine is that this guy had such a malware infestation, which his anti-virus software missed and allowed to stay, and the guy, bored out of his gourd with meaningless make-work, spent maybe a half hour each day just playing IE6 Porn Pachinko, watching the windows open and close, maybe even making a game of it. Certainly not productive, but I’ll bet that he didn’t get any less work done relative to what was expected, or perhaps performed by his colleagues.

Surely the media is having fun with this, but there is no mention of any evidence other than the web hits for July and for the 9-month period, and the penalty (a demotion and a $200/mo. pay cut); everything else is pure conjecture. One can only guess that the papers figure this is attractive copy and everyone can have a laugh at his expense.

One way you can tell a news story is brewing is if helicopters start to circle, like buzzards in the desert. As I exercised this morning, I first noticed the buzz over the music from my iPod, and then saw the helicopters, two or three of them, circling Ikebukuro Station. On the way to work, with little time to spare for distractions, I took a side route which bypassed the station so any potential traffic jam wouldn’t slow me down.

And sure enough, the story was there in the news tonight:

Bus plows into pedestrians on sidewalk at Ikebukuro Station

A bus ran onto a sidewalk at Ikebukuro Station in downtown Tokyo on Friday afternoon, slightly injuring three pedestrians, police said.

None of them were hurt badly. I am sure the cameramen on the helicopters were disappointed, despite circling over the area for more than half an hour.

The reason I had no time to spare was that I had to go in to work, grab the boss’s computer, and along with my own, take it down to the Ginza. Not newsworthy, but worthy of pointing out: I love the Genius Bar feature at the Apple Store. Made an appointment last night in less than a minute, and walked in to the store, and saw a tech support person within a few minutes. Less than half an hour later, both computers were fixed. The problem with both: dead batteries. My boss’s had been dead for some time, he just never got around to changing it. The school picked up the tab for that one.

My own computer’s battery had gone from normally functioning to nearly dead within just a few weeks; leave it unplugged for five minutes, and suddenly the power goes out and the thing shuts down–and when I restarted, I had to always reset the clock, re-certify my email domains, and re-input all the passwords. Several times that happened when the power connected came lose when slightly jarred.

That they replaced–free of charge. Apparently, it is a symptom of recalled batteries. My original battery had worked fine for a year, then I got it swapped with a new one when a recall was announced; that worked fine until just a few weeks ago, and now I have another new free battery. Cool.

But the nice thing is having the option of going to the Genius Bar. It was not wholly clear that the problem with either computer was a bad battery–it could have been a power supply issue or something, and ordering new $150 batteries would have been risky. Calling tech support would have entailed the support person spending an hour running me through pointless tests, and then insisting I wipe the hard drive and re-install the entire system before they did anything. Not having the Genius Bar would mean shipping the computer off and not having it for a week or more.

But with the Genius Bar, it was a short, 1-hour jaunt to the Ginza, and access to free goodies that usually come with the personalized service. Had I asked them to replace the “a” and “s” keys on my keyboard–they’re getting pretty worn after three years–I am sure I could have gotten it. They replaced my command key cap last time I went.

I always regret not lugging my camera around with me. I would just buy a cheap 3- or 5-megapixel camera, except I expect there’ll be one in the iPhone I expect to buy in July (if my read of DoCoMo’s new mobile make-over is correct). But because I didn’t have a camera with me today, I didn’t get a photo of a Chinese restaurant near Shinjuku Gyoen-mae Station, named:
Chin Goo

I’ll get it next time.

Oh, wait, I forgot that someone must have photographed it and put it up on the web already; here it is via Google Image Search. Not a great photo, though, I’ll still snap my own sometime soon.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2008 Tags:

Olympic Flame War

April 26th, 2008 4 comments

Sachi and I are watching Japanese TV and a live picture of the Olympic torch run through Nagano. While there are some pro-Chinese groups, there is a very large pro-Tibet contingent in the crowd. People are throwing stuff at the torch bearers (the security includes runners with clear plastic panels to deflect projectiles), and at least a few people have tried to rush the runner. Unlike in European cases, the Japanese police are pretty good at riot control, and are successfully keeping the more active protesters from stopping the run. Japan Probe showed a preview of what the security would look like, and it was pretty accurate.

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Opening Ceremony

April 22nd, 2008 6 comments

Today was one of our ceremony days. I don’t usually blog much directly about my school, but I figure it might not be a bad idea to start. In the next few weeks, as we welcome the several hundred new students, move into a new building, and start several other new projects, this is probably a good time for me to give some blog time for introducing the college where I teach.

Today’s ceremony is a big gala bash kind of thing that we have every year to welcome the new crop of students to the school. Both my institution, Lakeland College Japan, and our local administrative affiliate, NIC, hold a common welcoming event.


As usual, the party is held at the ANA hotel in Akasaka, near Tameike Sanno and Roppongi (our graduation ceremonies, in contrast, are held at the Century Hyatt in Shinjuku). With all the students, faculty, staff, parents, and special guests, it fills up a pretty large room.


The first two hours of the ceremony are a bit, let’s say, “official”–it is a series of speeches, either in Japanese, or in English with translation. The directors of the NIC, the Vice President of our college, two visiting scholars, two student representatives, and two guest speakers (one a U.S. embassy official, the other a doctor and professor, author of a book on health) each give a speech. You see the two student representatives below, but the longest speech–more than a half-hour–was given by the author/doctor, and most of us in the faculty on the sidelines couldn’t follow a bit of it.



After that, we gather for a huge group shot–this image is a bit washed out because the flash didn’t take on this shot and I didn’t get another chance before we were shooed together for the official shot–but I wanted to include it to give you an idea of the sea of people it formed.


And then the real party started, lasting about four hours. It began with a toast and a buffet lunch–and if you’ve never had a buffet spread at a Japanese hotel event, you’re missing out on a delicious if high-caloric feast… if you’re fast enough to get your share before the food runs out. More than a dozen entrees, all of them very good. I get this four times a year at our various events.


The opening ceremony always has class, including this string quartet (accompanied by piano in this shot) serving as a nice background for the dining.


A little more official business–in this case, an introduction of the two or three dozen visiting representatives from consortium schools in the U.S. and U.K. (more on that in a future post).


Then came the highlight of the evening: an occasional guest at the opening ceremonies is Toshi, of X Japan fame. X Japan was a very big rock band in the 90’s, and Toshi was a co-founder. The band has recently re-grouped and sold out three Tokyo Dome concerts a few weeks ago. Toshi became a fan of one of NIC’s directors, Hiroko “Zukie” Hirota, after his wife read Zukie’s book and introduced them; he frequently sings at events Zukie organizes.



After treating us to a song, Toshi showed incredible charm and patience in agreeing to take a group photo on the stage with the students who cared to join in–and was swamped in a rush of 18-year-old fans to the stage.


After that came student performances; first was a cheerleading squad, which I happened to catch in an apparent defiance of gravity:


Then a karate demonstration. While breaking the boards never impressed me as they get broken along natural striations in the wood, this guy broke a wooden baseball bat with his foot and a concrete block with his hand. His first attempt that the cinder block didn’t work and you could hear the thunk and see it was not a styrofoam stand-in. Even our librarian, a martial arts practitioner, was very impressed with the guy.



Then came a dance group, two members of which are shown going at it here:


And then another celebrity (a future one, at least), this time one of our own–Hiromi was a student with us six years ago, and releases her first CD soon. (Here’s her blog, where she posted already on today’s event, and on meeting Toshi.)



The evening ended with a few more performances, and then a san-san-nana byoushi clap. I don’t fully understand it yet actually–it seems to be half-cheer, half-good luck tradition. Everyone claps in unison: three sets of three claps followed by a single clap, repeated three times. The father of a former student led everyone, and then we wrapped.


Quite a party, all in all. Welcome, students! And more on my school soon.

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The Anti-Walmart

April 16th, 2008 1 comment

How could anyone resist this sales pitch?

0408-Bike King-1

This is the outside of a used motorcycle shop in Ikebukuro.

0408-Bike King-2

Actually, it refers to prices they offer to buy bikes, so in fact, it makes sense. But unless you know what the shop does, the sign looks like a huge mistake.

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No, We Can’t!

April 9th, 2008 3 comments

Obama would be disappointed:

Cannot Change-1A

Cannot Change-2

This was taken at a pastry shop I always pass when I visit my doctor’s office. In case it isn’t apparent, this is supposed to be a sign stating that the cashier can’t make change without a purchase. Funny thing is, you see these signs a lot in Japan. For some strange reason, most are bilingual, though most other signs in supermarkets (except those for style or display) are not–I guess they must get a lot of foreigners asking for change or something. But the weird thing is, I don’t think that I have ever seen a sign stating a no-change policy at a cash register in Japan that was worded correctly. Every such sign I have seen has English which is wrong in some fashion–most often the noun-verb confusion seen here.

Maybe Moving Is Not a Bad Idea for Other Reasons, Too

April 3rd, 2008 4 comments

Next month, my college moves into a new and bigger building than we’re in now, in part due to the fact that after getting Japan Ministry of Education recognition and the ability to grant student visas has increased our student numbers. (Another might be the fact that a second subway line is opening this summer just a few meters from our doors, and probably rents are going up too high).

One thing that we both will and will not miss (for very different reasons) is the drama going on in the streets around us. We are now located on an east-west avenue in northern east Shinjuku, not too far from Kabuki-cho. As I drove my scooter up to school today, I saw a tall guy standing in front of our building, looking intently down the sidewalk past me, talking on a cell phone. His look instantly prompted the reaction, “yakuza!” He was wearing a well-tailored pinstripe suit, and was tall, beefy and, well, rather yakuza-ish looking.

I pulled into our little side alley and parked, and a staff member who joined us not too long ago was observing from the alley way, noting surprise. He told me that someone had just chased a woman (who was at that time nowhere I could see), shouting at her. I replied, “well, maybe not too surprising considering the number of digits some gentlemen in this area have,” referring to the well-known yakuza habit of chopping off one’s pinky as a show of contrition or as punishment. And sure enough, when we looked at the hands of the men in front of our building (a guy in a jogging suit had joined the pinstripe guy), one of them was missing a pinky. Yow.

Actually, in recent days, the yakuza are not as prominent around these parts as they used to be. In the past, every few months we’d suddenly get about a half-dozen and more expensive sedans parking in the immediate area, each one guarded by a beefy yakuza-looking guy standing next to it. The cars would bring and then take away suited men also apparently of the yakuza persuasion. I heard second-hand that there was some incident a year ago, and the police cracked down on the area soon after that, maybe that’s why they moved their meetings somewhere else.

Not that any of this presents a risk to us or our students. In the ten years we’ve been in this location, I have never heard of a single instance of anyone in the student body or the faculty being harassed in any way by these guys; they seem to stick to their own business. Still, it adds a dash of adventure to the environment. Like I said, this is one reason to like the area–often some excitement happening without any real danger–but also is probably not a bad reason to be glad we’re moving to a new location.

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See the Cherry Blossoms

March 29th, 2008 5 comments

Though we caught a glimpse of the cherry blossoms last week as they were just starting to bloom, Sachi and I figured that we’d see them in their prime this week. We decided to go to two different places. Sachi dislikes Shinjuku, so we didn’t go back to Shinjuku Gyoen (though I think that’s really the best place for cherry blossom viewing, as it’s big, well-kept, has lots of trees and varieties, and has elbow room to spread out in–a big thing when you see the other places), and we decided that Ueno would be too crowded.

For some reason, we thought Inogashira Park in Kichijoji would not be. Big mistake.


You really can’t understand the press shown in this photo, it isn’t done justice here. There’s a quaint, narrow shopping street going from near Kichijoji Station to Inogashira Park, and it was packed enough most of the way–but the last 50 meters or so was intolerably jammed. We virtually inched along, with some jerk at my back apparently thinking he’d move faster if he pressed up against me and pushed. The jam was caused more by the large number of people on the street lining up for yakitori at a place called Iseya, near the entrance to the park.

Once inside, the park was little better–it was sardine time, worse than I’ve ever seen it. To top things off, the park has adopted a new don’t-feed-the-birds policy, which meant the loaf of bread we’d brought would go to waste, and there was little else left to do. Forget going out on the lake in a boat, the line was tremendous. Even just walking along was bad enough. Still, a few shots did result from the visit:



In addition to the blossoms, some Oshidori (Mandarin Ducks) were in attendance, though they were just about the only birds there; since the no-feeding policy, the number of birds in the park has plummeted. Clever idea they had there.



So after walking through the park for about fifteen minutes, we’d had enough, and went back to the station, and on to Meguro. Sachi knows the location well because she lived nearby for a while. There’s a river lined for a good distance with cherry blossom trees, and so we enjoyed ourselves there, somewhat better because it was far less crowded.





One thing we did notice was that it was Crazy Day. First, there were accidents on both train lines we wanted to use–the Yamanote and the Inogashira. In fact, as we took the Inogashira Line, we passed a station where, at the end of the platform, there appeared to be two human bodies completely covered over by tarps, apparently explaining the accident delay. A bit of a shock there.

Then, a little later on the same train, some guy came racing through the car; we thought he needed to get from one end of the train to the other fast, but he stopped at the end of our car… and started touching advertisements. Only the ones on either side of the doors–first the ads on one side, then the other, then to the next set of doors, all down the length of the car. Obsessive-compulsive or something, I suppose.

Then, in Meguro, there was quite a bit of craziness brought on by simple drinking, including these guys pictured below (apparently just back from a wedding), who had one member pretend to climb over the railing while the rest, for some reason, sang the Hanshin Tigers baseball team song.


Nevertheless, Sachi and I enjoyed ourselves with a pleasant few hours’ walk, and then dinner at a nice restaurant before heading back.



One last image. Just before we finished up in Meguro, we passed a taxi parking lot, and spotted several cats who had learned about warm car hoods. Two were on one taxi, and another underneath; I caught the couple on the hood.


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Japanese Movie Titles

March 26th, 2008 3 comments

When you live in Japan, one of the obstacles to everyday entertainment is trying to find a video at the rental store. Aside from the usual bizarre choices for which categories they place titles under, the main impediment in finding a title is…the title. Sometimes it’s the same as it is in the U.S., but all too often it’s not.

Even when it is the same title, you still have to work through the Katakana-ization of the original English; for example, when asking for Back to the Future, you would have to say “Bakku to za Fyuucha.” Of course, the rental store clerk might understand you when you just say it naturally in English, but if the title has tough sounds for Japanese, and/or the movie is not well-known in Japan, then you could still get into trouble–for example, “Batorufiirudo Aasu” is not quite as recognizably Battlefield Earth–and sometimes naming the stars is not so easy either (“Jon Toravorutora”?).

But it gets even harder when they change the title. There are two variations of this, the first being when the new title is in Japanese. These titles can be hard if you don’t read or speak the language well, but even when the title is directly translated, it can make you strain at your Japanese. 許されざる者, for example, translates directly to “The Unforgiven (Man),” more or less the title of the Clint Eastwood film Unforgiven. 猿の惑星 is an accurate translation of Planet of the Apes. But some titles are changed and in Japanese, some more understandably than others. For example, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants became 旅するジーンズと16歳の夏, or (as far as I can imperfectly translate) “The Traveling Pants and the 16-year-old’s Summer.” Dead Poet’s Society becomes いまを生きる, or “Live for the Moment” (or, Japanese for Carpe Diem). The great comedy Blast from the Past became the rather convoluted タイムトラベラー きのうから来た恋人, or “Time Traveler: The Lover from the Past.” One that will really throw you for a loop is 四つ数えろ, or “Count to Four.” Give up? It’s Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, Steve Martin’s parody of old detective flicks. Why the title? Because 三つ数えろ, or “Count to Three” was the Japanese title for The Big Sleep. I remember an older title, 愛は静けさの中に, literally “Love is Within Silence.” Any guesses as to what that one was? How about 愛しのローズマリー, or “My Dear Rosemary” (possibly “Poor Rosemary,” depending on the translation)? See the answer below the fold.

Even more confusing is when the title is changed but remains in English, but different English. For example, if you want to get The Siege, you need to ask for “Marshall Law.” X-Men 3 is not The Last Stand, but “Final Decision” instead. Miss Congeniality becomes “Dangerous Beauty.” Bicentennial Man is “Andrew NDR114.” The movie “Total Fears” might be too easy to guess as The Sum of All Fears; however, would you care to guess which movies got the titles “The Agent” and “Color of Heart”? Those below the fold as well.

If you’re searching for a title in Japanese, a Google search for the title plus the words (in quotes), “Japanese Title” will often get you the correct answer. But if you want a cheat sheet, try this guy’s web site–he lists a good many movies with their Japanese titles–though a few are a bit misspelled in English, most notably Load of the Rings. At least, I hope that’s misspelled.
Read more…

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Shinjuku Gyouen, Part II

March 25th, 2008 Comments off

As promised, here is the birdwatching conclusion to the Shinjuku Gyouen Park post. Actually, at the park, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get any bird photos–after taking about a hundred photos of blossoms and other things, my camera stopped working. When I looked, it was flashing, “CF Card Full.” What the? I had cleared the card before leaving home, and the thing holds close to five hundred photos, even Large, SuperFine 10-megapixel images. But then I remembered–I had last set the thing to take JPEG plus RAW images… and the RAW images are huge. Worse, I couldn’t find a way to delete just the RAW images without deleting the JPEGs as well. Fortunately, I had taken quite a few excess images, and was able to erase enough unwanted ones to clear up enough space for a few hundred more high-quality JPEGs.

Good thing, too, because there were quite a few birds there–twenty-one species (though I may be forgetting a few) in all:

Brown-eared Bulbul
White-cheeked Starling
Great Tit
Varied Tit
Bull-headed Shrike
Great Cormorant
Large-billed Crow
Mandarin Duck
Spot-billed Duck
Little Grebe
Black-faced Bunting
Rose-ringed Parakeet
Dusky Thrush
Oriental Turtle Dove
Common Kingfisher
White Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
Japanese White-eye
Tree Sparrow
Great Egret

Always beautiful is the Common Kingfisher:




The Black-faced Buntings are not too rare, but you don’t often see them out in the open like this:



The Varied Tits were all crowded in one large bush, coming out to sit on a cable and dip into a plastic sleeve… for some reason. (The first two images have larger versions on click.)





A surprising catch was a Rose-ringed Parakeet, which I have heard about but never spotted before–I did not expect to catch a new species in Shinjuku! The Rose-ringed Parakeet is an escaped species, originally in Japan as a pet, but they have been doing quite well in Tokyo for some time–even roosting 600-700 strong near this biological research lab in Meguro. You can also see a map showing sightings of the birds throughout Tokyo. I only caught this one in flight–and this attests well to my new camera’s worth. I only saw the bird after I heard a strange screeching in the sky, and I spotted and photographed the bird only as it flew overhead in a matter of a few seconds. Nevertheless, these pictures resulted:

0308-Rose-Ringed Parakeet-450

0308-Rose-Ringed Parakeet2-450

Just one more image for today–a flock of Mandarin Ducks were at the park–but only under dark shade and at extreme range in the park’s westernmost lake. Could barely see them, but you could see that they were there in number.


There were lots more, but those were the more interesting of the day.

Small Quake

March 24th, 2008 3 comments

There was a small but noticeable quake just a few minutes ago. Strangely, about five minutes before that, I swore I felt a quake, but the ceiling lamp didn’t sway visibly (as it did with the larger quake just a few minutes ago), so I discounted it. Also strangely, the larger quake so far has not been noted by the usual quake sites I visit.


Update: OK, it was a 5.6 quake off the coast of Fukushima. Mystery solved.

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Shinjuku Gyouen

March 23rd, 2008 1 comment

Seeing as how the weather was nice, and we’d heard that the cherry blossoms had already started to bloom, we made off to Shinjuku to visit Shinjuku Gyouen Park, a large botanical garden very close to Shinjuku Station’s south exit. There was quite a bit to see today, and everyone seemed to come for the same reason we did. Tons of people were there, lots of families with kids, and surprisingly many foreign visitors as well.

Before we entered the park (¥200 admission fee, by the way), we stopped by a convenience store and picked up some food. We broke down and got a few “Calbi Franks,” which were nothing less than frankfurter sausages wrapped in bacon. Incredibly unhealthy, I am sure, but god they were good. We also got a few cans of beer, and so had to hide it when we noticed at the park entrance the sign which said, “no alcohol.” But one really strange thing to me at the store was the sandwiches. Among the ham & cheese and other usual sandwich types were these:


Those are strawberry, cream, and custard sandwiches. Not sold with the snacks, but with the regular sandwiches. Hmmm.

Anyhoo, we got into the park, and it was quite nice:



This little kid below, for some reason, decided to stop right in front of us as we sat on the lawn, and give us a little boogie dance.


Sachi took some photos of me by a cherry blossom tree, and caught this kid with his rather interesting English shirt, staring up at me in shock and awe:


And I can only suppose that these people were doing a catalog shoot for a bridal gown company or something. That little light/lens flare near her chin was there in the photo when I took it.


Naturally, the main reason to be there was to view the blossoms, and though (this being just the bare beginning of the blossoming season) most of the trees were not in bloom yet, there were a startling variety of trees which, while few in number, were nonetheless gracing the landscape with all varieties of white, pink, and red. The park has all different kinds of cherry blossom trees, some which blossom earlier than others (one was already shedding blossoms!), and many which sported different colors, even mixes. One tree had half white and half red blossoms, with several blossoms showing a mix. I’m sure that by next weekend, the park will be spectacular.











Sachi posed very nicely before one of the branches–many (I am sure by design) hang down low so people can see them very close.

0308-Sachi Sakura

The park is also very good for birdwatching… but this is enough for one post. More soon!

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What’s Next?

March 23rd, 2008 2 comments

Good lord. Already the English language teaching market in Japan has become bad enough so that most jobs out there for teachers rate only the rock-bottom $30,000/year salary, work you hard, and most require you teach classes to little kids. For those of you who thought it could not get much worse, then prepare to have your hopes dashed.

What’s next? Clown suits and pie throwing? (Although this could easily be seen as the equivalent….) I am all for making the classroom environment stimulating and interesting for the students, but there are limits; this borders on the fetishistic.

Categories: Education, Focus on Japan 2008 Tags:

At Home in the Countryside

March 22nd, 2008 1 comment

As I mentioned in the last post, Sachi and I used the Vernal Equinox to make a day trip back to her hometown in Nagano. Despite being in the way-out inaka, the Shinkansen (bullet train) stops relatively nearby, just a half-hour drive from her brother’s house. So we took the express train to Omiya just north of Tokyo, and switched to the Shinkansen there; Sachi’s stop is just one after Karuizawa, a popular Nagano resort town. Despite it being the first day of Spring, it was snowing in Karuizawa, which kind of surprised us even though it was cold and rainy elsewhere. It was snowing only a little less in the highlands of her parent’s home where the grave site is.


After the ohaka-mairi visit, we went back to Sachi’s brother’s place for some food and drink and company before heading back. Hard to ignore was the family dog, Ryu. A cute dog, except that he’s so damned ugly. He’s a seven-year-old dog but looks fifteen. The poor little guy has allergies all the way to Hades and back; he’s a mass of red rashes which cover the exposed skin of his belly, around his eyes, and often right through his fur. He is constantly scratching himself, and spent half the time we were there barfing on a cushion. I just had to take some photos of him. He had no problem with that, but did not seem to like the results–when I showed the picture of him to the canine directly, he peered at the camera through red, squinty eyes, and then started growling deep and low. He showed the same reaction only when the camera’s display, with his image on it, was turned toward him.



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My Grave

March 22nd, 2008 4 comments


Not just mine, of course. This is Sachi’s family grave site (the name is distorted out at Sachi’s request), and Sachi wants us to both be buried there. I’m cool with that–while incredibly out of the way from anywhere most people would ever know about (it’s way up a narrow, steep, and windy little road, far out in the Nagano countryside), it’s a beautiful locale. Being hard to reach doesn’t concern me, and could be seen as an advantage–little chance it will be one day paved over or anything.


There are graves from Sachi’s ancestors reaching back maybe at least a few hundred years, well into the Tokugawa era. The site has permanence, esthetics, and a history. I never really thought or cared much about my eventual burial site before, and this certainly will do just fine.



We visited it because of Shunbun no Hi, or Vernal Equinox, when many Japanese do Ohaka-mairi, or visiting the family gravesite. Sachi’s father set up flowers, left a food offering, and burned incense; he as well as Sachi and I prayed shortly. It was quiet in the snow upon the hillside, almost poetic.



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March 18th, 2008 1 comment


A view of our building, along with the northern Tokyo skyline, from our table at the Cruise-Cruise restaurant on the 58th floor of the Sunshine Building last night. This time, I left a light on at our apartment so we could identify it more easily. Can you see it?

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Japan to Take Measures that Will Make the RIAA Green with Envy

March 17th, 2008 2 comments

While the details still seem a bit fuzzy, Japan seems poised to deliver a huge blow to file-sharing taking place here:

The nation’s four Internet provider organizations have agreed to forcibly cut the Internet connection of users found to repeatedly use Winny and other file-sharing programs to illegally copy gaming software and music, it was learned Friday.

The move aims to deal with the rise in illegal copying of music, gaming software and images that has resulted in huge infringements on the rights of copyright holders.

Resorting to cutting off the Internet connection of copyright violators has been considered before but never resorted to over fears the practice might involve violations of privacy rights and the freedom of use of telecommunications.

The Internet provider organizations have, however, judged it possible to disconnect specific users from the Internet or cancel provider contracts with them if they are identified as particularly flagrant transgressors in cooperation with copyright-related organizations, according to sources. …

According to the new agreement, copyright organizations would notify providers of Internet protocol addresses used by those who repeatedly make copies illegally, using special detection software. The providers would then send warning e-mails to the users based on the IP addresses of the computers used to connect to the Internet. If contacted users did not then stop their illegal copying, the providers would temporarily disconnect them from the Internet for a specified period of time or cancel their service-provision contracts.

The details given seem strangely incomplete. For example, the article only mentions cutting off people who download “music, gaming software and images”; the music and gaming software were mentioned repeatedly throughout the article, and no mention was made to television shows, movies, or any other kind of computer software. Was that simply a narrow focus chosen by the writer of the article, or are specific industries behind this move?

That narrow focus might indicate a desire to protect primarily Japanese copyright holders–since the most-copied Japanese-owned content is music and gaming software. If this is the case, then the crackdown might be similarly focused. They do mention that the interested parties are “copyright organizations including the Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers and the Association of Copyright for Computer Software.” Of course, it might be that this story was leaked by that organization, thus explaining the narrow focus.

However, the question then becomes, “how do they know what’s being shared?” Will they really go to so much trouble to discriminate? Or will they simply detect the signature of a particular type of file-sharing software, or scrutinize accounts which carry a large amount of traffic?

Another confusing sentence in the story is, “They will then begin making guidelines for disconnecting users from the Internet who leak illegally copied material onto the Net.” “Leak?” So, downloading is okay, but uploading is not? The article also notes that “particularly flagrant transgressors” will be the ones shut down.

The article is also vague on what file-sharing software will and will not be monitored for. All of it? The article mentions Winny predominantly, because (unlike the U.S., where Bittorrent is now widely used) Winny is one of the most often-used file sharing programs in Japan.

In one manner, the cooperation by Japanese ISPs makes a lot of sense: file sharers tend to use more bandwidth than most people. Shutting them down, or even discouraging them, could clear up a lot of bandwidth. They might be able to save some money down the road because of this kind of thing. It is hard to see another reason why the ISPs would be so willing to rat out their own customers in favor of, and to the profit of, a third party.

Also, they did note that 1.75 million people used the software; how many people in their customer base are they willing to cut off? Will they be satisfied with simply shutting down a few users, but enough to scare most other people into cutting down on file sharing? Or perhaps, for the ISPs, this will simply be a way of weeding out the less-profitable customers for their service.

Then there is the privacy consideration. In what way have they circumvented that problem, in a way which they were unable to do a few years ago? Are they sure that the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, which shut them down two years ago, won’t tell them to cut it out again?

In a country where copyright violation is practiced flagrantly (music & video rental stores sell blank CDs and DVDs right up at the checkout counter), this is a bit of a surprising development. Having read accounts of this in western publications, I see some wondering what legal challenges there will be. If this is actually carried out and if the government doesn’t tell them to stop, then I presume the answer to that will be, “not many.” Japan is not known for that sort of thing, not too much anyway.

It will be interesting to monitor this story and see where it goes.

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Do Me

March 13th, 2008 1 comment

A few days ago, I posted about the nice weekend Sachi and I enjoyed, and I mentioned a fun bit of Engrish we saw:

We went home, and I gave Sachi the earrings I got for her main present, then we went off to a very nice restaurant downtown–the Oregon Bar & Grill in Shiodome (unfortunate motto: “Do Me”) City Center in Shinbashi.

To supplement that post, I tried to find some image from the web that had this logo and motto, but couldn’t find anything. Well, I should have been keeping up with, as they had this just a few days before my post:


You’d think that Japan would know by now to vet things like this past native speakers before printing them. We’re not that hard to find, you know.

Out and About This Weekend

March 9th, 2008 5 comments

Sachi and I have been around in the past few days. Yesterday was Sachi’s birthday, so we celebrated. I stopped by Mitsukoshi to pick up a few snacks; usually called “baby castella,” a kind of specially shaped pound-cake mini-snack, except these are filled with maple or caramel-flake flavors, very nice. Plus a bouquet of flowers from a nice florist, not the usual market florist. Then we went to a local “spa.”

It’s not that it isn’t a real “spa,” but more that it is a combination of spa and local bathhouse. These are relatively common, in that you might find one around even medium-sized train station shopping areas. We’re talking about a place that occupies at least three floors of a local building; one floor is set aside for the lobby and men’s baths; another floor exclusively for a more expansive women’s bath; and a third floor for a general-service area, with massage rooms and lounges.


This one is called the “Resta Spa,” though Sachi and I visited a similar spa in Fuchu that was nearly identical. You pay a nominal “introduction” fee (around $20), and another nominal fee for being in the spa for up to 5 hours.


Then you can opt for various services, like massages or aromatherapy. Sachi chose for a varied package of services lasting more than an hour, and I just got a 20-minute back massage (you have to be specific about what kind of massage, and it can be great).


There is a relaxation room with powered first-class chairs with TV units built in, but I could leave that behind easily–unless you enjoy listening to old guys snore heavily, I am more relaxed in bed at home.

We went home, and I gave Sachi the earrings I got for her main present, then we went off to a very nice restaurant downtown–the Oregon Bar & Grill in Shiodome (unfortunate motto: “Do Me”) City Center in Shinbashi.


A bit expensive, but very good food–one of those multi-course dinners. The view was from the 42nd floor over all of Tokyo, though had I made the reservations well in advance we might have gotten the choice seats looking over Tokyo tower and Roppongi–not that the view over Ginza we had was bad one.

Today, we had a lazy sleep-in day, followed by a visit to Sunshine 60 Cruise-Cruise restaurant, one of the first in a series of visits to places to find a good location for our wedding party this September (though the official stuff gets done next week). A lot of restaurants have special setups for wedding parties, and we’re looking into what the best ones are for our needs and budget. We had a talk with the coordinator there, about costs for various rooms with meals and packages (rental outfits, ceremonies, cakes, dinners, photos, etc.) We’ll visit a few more in the coming weeks to see which one can give us the best deal.

After that, we went to a new favorite Izakaya–a popular Japanese dining format, a restaurant that serves lots of smaller dishes to large numbers of customers in big and/or partitioned common rooms. We’ve tried a few in this area, and found bad ones and good ones. A bad one was a place called “Tapa Sunshine Street”; we went there for a nice meal once, and instead got shafted. Went in the door, got seated in a corner among noisy, smoking groups, and were given our introductory snack. You think that it’s a complimentary snack, but it’s really a cover charge. We ordered beers and those were served promptly–they want you to drink as much as possible as the beer is where they make most of their money. But when we waited more than 40 minutes and none of the ordered food arrived, we got fed up and left–to have to pay about twenty bucks for a glass of beer and a bad snack each. Horrible service.

But we found a much nicer place: Nijyu Maru–though it might be ironically run by the same corporation that owns that “Tapa” dump, it’s a much better-run izakaya. You get seated at your table and use an LCD touchscreen tablet to order food. When Sachi and I ordered, the food came almost too quickly; expecting a wait, we ordered everything we could eat at once the first time we were there, and suddenly found ourselves swimming in an abundance of dishes. Tonight, we ordered more leisurely, and got everything in good time. The touchscreen tablets are easy to use (and becoming the rage in Japan, it seems–more and more places we visit use them), and the food they serve is delicious (especially the Negima yakitori, salted). What I like is the fact that the cigarette smoke is less offensive than most places. Most izakayas are smoking dungeons; after leaving this place, we could still smell the cigarette stink on us, but not nearly as badly as most izakayas, and we didn’t notice it much at all while there. Somehow, the seating and/or the ventilation keep it from becoming too offensive. The prices are reasonable, too–$30 per person for two beers and a more-than-satisfying set of dishes we ordered.

So, a nice birthday weekend for Sachi, and, for that matter, for both of us.

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