Archive for the ‘Focus on Japan Miscellaneous’ Category

Capsule Hotels

November 11th, 2009 2 comments

Capsule HotelGizmodo has a piece today on a cool-looking capsule hotel. Looks aside, my own experience with capsule hotels was less than satisfying. Far less.

What happens is that all the drunk businessmen congregate there after partying too late and missing the last train. It’s a feasible alternative since the capsule hotel is cheaper than a taxi ride home, and they have to be at work in 4-5 hours anyway.

Now, you’d think that these guys, being drunk and tired, having to go to work soon, and being so close to beds, would simply tuck in and nod off. But noooo. They stay up and drink more, talking to each other in the corridor right outside the tubes, and those in their tubes often are watching TV with no headphones and the volume turned up. Imagine trying to sleep in a regular hotel room, except with several drunk businessmen partying it up at the foot of your bed.

The one night I tried one of these places, I had to go to the front desk to ask for a different wing, you know, one where people were trying to sleep at 2:00 am. The guy was surprisingly unprepared for such an odd request, and had to go to an effort, finally putting me in an unused wing of tubes located right across from the air conditioning system, which made loud throbbing noises all night. At least they were regular and rhythmic, and I was eventually able to get to sleep.

Maybe I just had bad luck and most capsule hotels aren’t like this, but I am not eager to find out.

Categories: Focus on Japan Miscellaneous Tags:

LCJ Lecture: Tokko

August 18th, 2008 1 comment

For those of you who wanted to see, hear, and/or read more about the lecture by Mr. Tadamasa Iwai from last month, my apologies for the delay–I have been quite busy between work and the wedding and personal activities–but finally we’ve got the whole lecture right here, in one multimedia package.

To remind everyone of the nature of the lecture, Mr. Iwai is 87 years old, and in his youth, was an officer in Japan’s suicide soldier (“Tokko”) regiments during WWII. Most people know about the kamikaze, the suicide bombers, but not many know that there were several types of suicide soldiers. Mr. Iwai experienced life in two such regiments: one where soldiers were essentially a human guidance system aboard a torpedo, and one where soldiers were trained to wait underwater in diving suits so they could attack enemy boats from below by hitting them with mines. Mr. Iwai survived, and came to deeply regret what happened and how he participated in it.

First, for those of you who just want to read: the translation of Mr. Iwai’s lecture by Jane Goldstone and Yuka Sugiyama. This actually is more than was in the live lecture, as Mr. Iwai went over time, and so in order to allow for student questions, he wasn’t able to finish his written remarks. If you want the whole lecture, you should watch the video and read the lecture notes.

Translation of Mr. Iwai’s Lecture (RTF file, 28K)

A few excerpts:

The suicide divers were a commando unit created to destroy and sink American Armed Forces approaching the Japanese shoreline by waiting to attack at the bottom of the ocean. They would wear special underwater suits and carry bamboo rods with small mines on the end which would detonate on contact. If the attack were a success, the attacker would also die in the explosion. In June of 1944, after the overwhelming victory of the American forces in Okinawa Japan was facing the prospects of US soldiers landing on the mainland. This is the reason behind this military tactic. …

Even peering through the glass, from the almost upright angle, I could only see a few meters the sea bed ahead of me, and nothing of what might be above. Given this situation, how was it possible to place the mines on the bottom of the incoming boats? We young officers all agreed that this simply wouldn’t work. but in the Japanese Navy at that time, you had to do your best to obey orders, no matter how foolish they were.

This is why we young subordinates continued to practice diving in Okinawa, fully aware of how ridiculous it was. The training also came at great price. As I mentioned before, one could lose consciousness by not performing the correct breathing techniques or fall into a confused state of mind. One problem was a leak in the purification tank. If this happened, it was almost certain that the diver would die. …

Now, I’d like talk about the Pacific War when Tokko were considered necessary and why I became a part of them. It is not easy for me to talk about these things. Among my mistakes in life, this is the one that brings me the greatest pain. I feel I must talk openly about these things to today’s youth because I don’t have much longer to live. The mistake I made then could be made by others now. In fact, in my opinion, it is already happening in various ways. …

Even though I was opposed, in my own immature way, to the prevailing ideology and to Japan’s war objectives, I soon gave up and did nothing to oppose them. It was under these social circumstances that I obediently responded to the draft. I cannot defend myself against allegations that this was a cowardly compromise. Even if I had tried to resist at that time, it would only have led to my own destruction. It is certain that no real result would have come of it. “While critical of the war and the ruling system that had brought it about, and knowing that I would die, I still signed up without opposing it”. This was the beginning of my path strewn with contradictions.

Next, the video. This is what took so long: I had to find the time to download the 2-hour lecture, edit it, save it as an .m4v file, break it into 10-minute segments for YouTube, then upload each section with tags, descriptions, etc. Not an easy task; it took most of a whole day.

Here is the first segment; the rest of the segments are available below the fold (there are 12 of them, so they would make for too long a post if they all showed up on my main page).

If you want to view all 12 directly from YouTube, just do a YouTube search for “LCJ Lecture” (or just click that link), and you’ll find them.

One note: parts 1-8 are the lecture itself, Mr. Iwai speaking and Jane translating; parts 9-12 are students asking questions (in Japanese), Mr. Iwai answering, and then Jane translating the question and answers.

As promised, the other segments below the fold.

Read more…

Categories: Focus on Japan Miscellaneous Tags:

Blast from the Past

August 13th, 2008 Comments off

I photographed this housewife’s pot holder in rural Japan back in 1983:


It should be noted that in Japanese, the word for “cook” (the person, not the action), borrowed from English, is homophonous with the word “cock.” Ergo the likely cause of the mistake.

Bit & Pieces, May 21, 2008

May 21st, 2008 1 comment

If you’re in the mood for sleaze, check out a political ad run by a Republican candidate (and incumbent) for Congress. Basically, it attacks the Democratic candidate’s “San Francisco values,” demonstrating that by having three slutty-looking swingers partying it up, bumping and grinding. I’ve lived in San Francisco and grew up in the area, and this doesn’t come any closer to representing the values of the area than a seedy strip club in Missouri represents theirs. But apparently, this passes for kosher in conservative Missouri politics.

I reflected on how people would react if, say, a Massachusetts liberal were to put out an ad representing rural/heartland values by showing gun-toting redneck hicks drinking beer and picking their noses in front of a pickup truck with a Confederate flag on the side. Such a politician would instantly be excoriated, blasted out of the water as an “elitist.”

What it comes down to is the fact that not just ads showing such “San Francisco” values, but pretty much all criticisms of the same sort–attacking either urban/coastal or liberal values as “elitist”–this is in fact the true “elitism.” The same people who claim that liberals are prancing around thinking they are better than everyone else are themselves the ones with the superiority complex; they think that their values are better than those of others. The values I remember from the San Francisco area were pretty much respectful of a wide variety of views and beliefs; it is an accepting, big-tent culture, with “tolerance” being a major theme. I don’t see much tolerance or acceptance among the brand of people who complain about “San Francisco values.”

A new study:
In the “first nationally representative survey of teachers concerning the teaching of evolution,” the authors show that one in eight high school biology teachers present creationism as a scientifically valid alternative to Darwinian evolution. While this number does not reflect public demand–38% of Americans would prefer that creationism to be taught instead of evolution–it does represent a disconnect between legal rulings, scientific consensus, and classroom education.

Before you think that one in eight is not bad, or even, “what’s wrong with introducing creationism alongside evolution,” consider that this is similar to one in eight Medical School teachers telling their students to consider prayer as a scientifically valid alternative to antibiotics. And then consider whether or not you’d want to be treated at the hospital staffed by graduates of those classes.

Finally! Rumors of the iPhone coming out in Japan. The carrier: NTT DoCoMo, as I predicted. Apparently, all the attention crashed the Apple Insider web site, which I could not access as of this time. However, the rumors only say that Apple is “close to signing deals” with the Japanese and Korean carriers, and has no specifics about when the iPhone will be available–and Japan is rather infamous for getting stuff late.

Uh oh. Conservatives are starting to talk about “character” again. I guess, after eight years, they must miss being able to use the word in public when referring to their candidate for president.

From Virginia:
A federal appeals court panel in Richmond, Va., on Tuesday struck down a Virginia law that made it a crime for doctors to perform what the law called “partial birth infanticide.”

Good. “Partial birth abortion,” a political (not medical) term in this case escalated to “infanticide,” is nothing more than a manufactured straw man intended to stand in for abortion in general. The idea is to vilify the entire practice by choosing the least-commonly practiced (less than one-fifth of one percent of all abortions) but most-easily vilified form of abortion, and making a campaign of it, completely ignoring the medicine or the ethics involved in the process.

Ewww. An off-duty Japanese railway worker was arrested for forcibly kissing a woman on a train right here in Ikebukuro. Reportedly, he was so drunk that he doesn’t remember what happened, which only makes the image worse. Imagine that guy sticking his tongue down your throat–or your wife’s. From the article:
His employer was apologetic about the incident. “We’re sorry about the case. We’ll improve our guidance of employees,” said a spokesman for Seibu Railway.

Yeah. Be sure to give those employee seminars about not to get completely smashed and sexually assault women. That oughta do it. I mean, such “guidance” is stupid: any employee who doesn’t know better shouldn’t be working there in the first place.

No word in the article about whether or not the guy would be fired.

Climbing Takao, Part II

May 6th, 2008 2 comments

So, Sachi and I climbed Takao-san a few days ago, like I said. We are still recovering; Sachi mentioned that we look like penguins, waddling around because our calves ache so much. We really don’t do this quite so much, and weren’t physically prepared. I mean, I exercise regularly nowadays, but that wasn’t quite enough.

Coming down the mountain that day, it was painful exactly as I expected: my knees hurt like hell, though fortunately they really went out only at the very end, and only when stepping downwards. Sachi’s knees hurt also, but not as much as mine–mine have been bad that way since I was in high school. It was excruciating every time we encountered another set of steps at the end. But we heard a lot of people complaining of similar joint pain. But we didn’t expect the next-day calf pain (maybe next-week calf pain–it’s been two days and it’s not getting better) to be quite as harsh as it is.

And that’s despite Sachi praying at a temple along the ascent which, appropriately enough, is a special one for foot and leg pain sufferers. But maybe that’s because Sachi just prayed for our mothers, who have leg ailments all the time, and certainly need more help with that than we do….


In any case, we continued up the mountain, posing for pictures every now and then.


The main trail was crowded right up to the top, and most of the way was fully artificial–cement stairways, paved roads, etc. This segment here was lined with wooden planks commemorating people who made donations to the local shrine. The second shows a nearby path lined with lanterns, each wired up for electricity (electric power lines traced the entire route).



Not that the shrines and temples weren’t pretty to look at:

0508-Takao-Temple Detail

0508-Takao-Tengu Statue

And, of course, more views of the cities below. This was a nice shot of the city below, the kind of shot that has nothing but buildings in view. To get a bigger version with a lot more detail, click on the image.


And then, finally, we got to the peak–which looked like a crowded city square.


We decided to take an alternate trail down, but soon encountered a problem: the shorter, more nature-oriented path had a long segment which was essentially stepping stones along a small stream. And probably because of the less physically-able climbers, the path was a single-file traffic jam, moving painfully slowly.


We kept hearing these sharp yelps from somewhere down the trail, and after a bit, found out what they were: someone had brought their Dachshund up the trail, and the poor thing just wasn’t built for this kind of path. As they passed us, they were carrying the poor thing, but it was half-wet and still occasionally yelping.

The people coming up were less numerous, and so were forced to take the non-stepping-stone side of the path left by the crowd waiting to progress down; the people going up had wet and muddy shoes and socks.


After a while of this, with no end to the traffic jam in sight, we decided to take a branch course at a junction, despite the other course being longer; it was supposed to take 20 minutes more than the original path, but we figured that without the traffic jam, we’d save a lot more time in the end.

I had hoped to do quite a bit of birdwatching, and indeed, there were tons of birds. The problem: almost none were visible. We must have heard birdsong from maybe twenty different species, but we only saw four or five, including the Asian House Martin, Gray Wagtail, and Varied Tit, as pictured below.

0508-Takao-Asian House Martin01

0508-Takao-Asian House Martin02



All pretty birds, but not all that unusual. The rest were adept at hiding out of view, likely in or atop the greenery of the forest canopy. Maybe a professional birder could have helped us spot some, but I’m just an amateur. Ah well.

I will close with a few more images of Sachi and myself on the trail. For all the resultant muscle and joint pain, it was still a very nice hike.



Climbing Takao

May 5th, 2008 7 comments

You can always climb Mt. Fuji (I have three times, but probably won’t again), but in Tokyo, the most popular mountain to climb is Mt. Takao, on the western outskirts of Tokyo prefecture, just beyond Hachioji. Takao-san-guchi Station is the last stop on the Keio Line, and drops you off not far from the cable car and chair lifts which can take you half way up the mountain.

However, if you are expecting a nature hike, understand that the exposure to nature is a bit limited by the fact that you are crowded by the thousands of other climbers on the trails. Mt. Takao is almost more of a tourist exhibit than it is a mountain hike–at least on the main trail, which nearly everyone takes. Sachi and I didn’t know about the other trails when we arrived, otherwise we probably would have tried one. The main trail was jam packed, mostly because it’s Golden Week, I presume.



Fuji is the same way–the crowding slows the hike down to a crawl sometimes. For Takao, I’d suggest trying the other trails. They lack the tourist shops and the other attractions, but it’s a lot less crowded and a lot more like nature hiking.

On the main trail, we noticed quite a few people bringing their dogs. Sachi loves Shiba Inus, so whenever we see one it’s time to stop and make friends.




That last one has a larger version when clicked. They are beautiful dogs; we’re getting one as soon as we find a place where we can have one–our current place doesn’t allow pets.

The walk up the mountain does have some spectacular views, which these photos don’t do justice to.


If the weather is clear enough, you can see Shinjuku (below) or Yokohama on the horizon.


Here’s a stitched-together panorama, with a larger version (2200 pixels wide) when clicked:


Sachi and I walked up the whole way, as (1) taking the tram up is cheating, and (2) there was an hour-long wait. Just past the top of the tram lines is a nature garden, which, most importantly, features monkeys. There are signs all along the pathway suggesting that wild monkeys can be observed, but either it’s a fake-out to get you to look, or they must not like the crowds. But pay 400 yen and you can get to see a whole bunch in a zoo-like setting.



They are fascinating creatures, even these Macaques, for their resemblances to humans in some ways–close enough but still alien enough to be engrossing. Here’s one picking at stuff on the back of its hand, allowing us to see it’s palm; note on the close-up the ridges and valleys of palm- and fingerprints.



Also in the garden were a lot of flowers, trees, and other plants; this one below (larger version on click) I thought exotic and beautiful, a stunning feature of the garden–until I noticed a whole bunch of them in front of our apartment building this morning, I had just never noticed them.


This blossom is a lot less attractive; Sachi noted it’s resemblance to a certain body part, which I will not repeat here.


Enough for tonight. I’ll finish up with the other photos tomorrow.

Right-wingers Behaving Badly, Asian Edition

April 20th, 2008 7 comments

China’s pissed:

“Reaction [in China to protests in Japan] would be huge in comparison to the reaction against protests in France,” in which Web sites called for a boycott of French products sold at Carrefour stores, an international issue expert said, pointing out that negative feelings toward Japan remain strong in China due to historical issues.

A man in his 30s who runs a Web site that is popular with many Chinese “patriots,” told The Yomiuri Shimbun, “Chinese people won’t forgive [Japan] if the Japanese do the same things as the Americans and Europeans, such as making distorted reports about the Tibet issue.”

Well, China asked for it, and now they’ve got it. Seriously, did they expect that they could hold a summer Olympics and not have Tibet take the opportunity of a world spotlight to rebel? And when scattered protests break out in various nations, do they really think that threatening other countries is the way to make things better?

As for Japan, I bet they must really be scared at the threat this guy is making. Because, after all, Japan is so used to and dependent upon China forgiving it. Haven’t the Chinese been just the picture of forgiveness? Not that Japan hasn’t gone the full distance in asking for it, but China has come even less close to giving it.

If nothing else, these Olympics will serve an important purpose: to demonstrate that China is not ready to be an internationally respected leader of any global interest. Hell, they might even outdo the Bush administration.

But then again, Japanese right-wing extremists have been behaving badly themselves:
At a special preview of “Yasukuni” demanded by rightwing groups, some of the 150 members criticized the controversial, but award-winning, documentary about the so-named Tokyo war shrine and even threatened to sue the state for subsidizing part of its production. Rightwing groups arranged the preview so their members could have an opportunity to watch the film before passing judgment on it. Lawmakers demanded and got an earlier preview. …

One in the audience suggested he and his like-minded colleagues should sue the agency and the state, demanding the return of the film’s subsidy. Another said the movie should not be shown in Japan because it would give the impression that the war Japan waged was an act of aggression. “This is no good,” he said. “I absolutely do not want this movie to be screened.”

Mitsuhiro Kimura, one of the preview’s organizers and the president of Issui-kai, a rightist group, “I would like to produce a pro-Yasukuni movie with about ¥15 million” in agency subsidies.

My first reaction is, “right-wing extremists can force the government to give them a special screening so they can trash the film?” How did that happen? Lawmakers getting a screening I can understand, but the extremists? What official say do they have in this?

Of course, the rightists are extremely vocal about such things, and people on the other side tend to shut up, especially when the rightists threaten them with loud, hostile protests and even violence. These extremists have something of a hold over social commentary in Japan, often getting their message out in a louder and more aggressive fashion–and they are not shy about intimidating others.

An interesting contrast would be the 1995 Smithsonian exhibit of the Enola Gay fuselage. When text for the exhibit was released and it seemed to show sympathy for the Japanese victims of the bomb, American veterans and right-wing groups protested that the text was an “attack on America’s conduct in the war,” and successfully got the Smithsonian to tone down the message to a minimalist description. Historians then objected right back–but they did not have the clout that the right-wingers did. Conservatives controlled Congress at the time, and started threatening the Smithsonian with budget cuts and investigations. Intimidation of a different sort, but still intimidation.

And, oh yes–Japan protested as well, as they did with a similar Enola Gay exhibit in 2003. Hmm. Someone want to remind them of this in light of the Yasukuni protest?

It’s not as if Japanese cinema doesn’t get its share of right-wing sops; from heavily anti-American documentaries on the Tokyo Tribunals to a right-wing revisionist love letter for Hideki Tojo, Japanese cinema has without doubt leaned toward right-wingers’ view of history. Even Akira Kurosawa, long neglected by Japanese viewers, enjoyed a popular comeback when he produced a film about Nagasaki which featured Richard Gere delivering a heartfelt apology from America to Japan.

But films which portray the other side of things tend to get this kind of reception in Japan. Not to say that this doesn’t happen elsewhere, but at least in debates on such subjects in the U.S., both sides tend to get heard. Right now, there is some doubt that this movie on Yasukuni will even see the light of a public film projector.

Bits & Pieces, April 15, 2008

April 15th, 2008 1 comment

In Akita Prefecture, Japan, there is a measure coming before the legislature to ban door-to-door sales to minors and the elderly. Naturally, several categories of businesses (financial, insurance, and retail, according to the report–I’m surprised that newspapers were not mentioned here, as they do tons of door-to-door sales) are whining, saying that this will ruin their businesses. All I have to say is, if these businesses cannot function without conning people of limited capacity into buying their product, then they deserve to fail. Me, I’m waiting for them to go all the way and give “no solicitors” signs the force of law. Oh, wait, they’re doing that too!

The ordinance will also ban door-to-door sales of financial products in which the principal is not guaranteed, including investment trusts, stocks and variable pension insurance, for all people.

Under a proposed registration system, sales people will be banned from visiting homes of consumers who have registered with the prefectural government as people who do not want sales staff to visit. The registered consumers can also display a sign at their homes to keep away sales people.

Yayy! I wonder what real estate prices are like in Akita? Better yet, how about Tokyo legislators getting off their butts? Next: start punishing people who fill your mailbox with ads. Meanwhile, they can similarly outlaw NHK collectors, now that the politicians are calling for NHK to drop all pretenses and become an official propaganda arm for the ruling party. Yeah, I’d love to be forced to fund that, thanks.

(Hat tip to f*cked gaijin)

“Liberal” (turncoat) Joe Lieberman wonders aloud (on Fox Noise) if Obama is a Marxist. Um, yeah, right.

Bonus: Andrew Sullivan points out that in 2006, Lieberman loved Obama, inviting Obama to speak for him in Connecticut. Obama held no different stands then relative to now, so apparently Lieberman loves Marxists. Er, potential Marxists.

John McCain, playing up his imprisonment and torture on the campaign trail, also had this to say:
We cannot ever, in my view, torture any American, that includes waterboarding.

Apparently, everyone else in the world is fair game.

Obama, meanwhile, says this:

We have to be clear and unequivocal. We do not torture, period. … Our government does not torture. That should be our position. That will be my position as president. That includes, by the way, renditions. We don’t farm out torture. We don’t subcontract torture.

I’m glad that McCain’s impressive foreign relations credentials have not turned him into a wishy-washy hypocrite.

Wow. They’re calling it “Bittergate.” Also a “huge political firestorm.” Certainly, Obama suggesting that Pennsylvanians are bitter is not nearly as newsworthy as John McCain violating campaign finance laws that carry a five-year prison sentence, or revelations that the Bush administration approved the crushing of children’s testicles at the highest levels. Yeah, calling Pennsylvanians “bitter” was way out of line, and I can easily see such a huge gaffe wiping those other stories clear off the media’s radar altogether.

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, they tend to agree with Obama:

As a native-born, small-town Pennsylvanian, a son of native-born, small-town Pennsylvania parents – one from the coal region, one from Lancaster County – let me assure you that the so-called offensive, condescending things Barack Obama said about the people I come from are basically right on target.

“Bitter” perhaps best describes my late mother, an angry Irish Catholic who absolutely clung to her religion.

Dad, also a journalist, wasn’t really bitter as far as I know, but he sure liked to hunt.

So, despite carping from Hillary Clinton and annoying yapping from her surrogates (really, it’s like turning on the lights at night in a puppy farm), I take no offense.

What’s offensive to me is suggesting that small-town, working-class, gun-toting and/or religious Pennsylvanians are somehow injured by a politician’s words.

Are you kidding me?


Tasty Seal

September 17th, 2007 2 comments

Saw this yesterday at a Seibu department store meat shop, in the basement food arcade.

0907-Seal Meat1-450

0907-Seal Meat2-450

In case you’re wondering, all the other signs like this in the display case said “SALE.” This was the only one with the misprint.

And yes, it was a misprint. I asked.


April 1st, 2007 2 comments

It’s that time of year again. Japanese people love this. It’s the one-week period when the Cherry Blossom trees are in full bloom. All too often, the unstable weather at the beginning of Spring will lessen the impact of the trees; one strong rainfall, especially with heavy winds, can ruin an entire viewing season before revelers get a chance to enjoy them. But this year, in Tokyo at least, everyone got a break: the blossoms came into full bloom on Saturday (though it was a bit chilly), and despite a Saturday night storm that had unusually strong winds, the blossoms stayed put just long enough for the trees to still be beautiful on Sunday, when the temperature shot up 8˚ C (15˚ F) for a 24˚ (75˚) partly sunny day.

So millions of Japanese people were doing what they always do when this time rolls around: they lay out blue tarps on just about every inch of space under the Cherry Blossom trees, and party as the petals fall. Beer is a favorite (and often times the area smells of it), but people lay out full picnics, including portable gas stoves and everything they can cook, drink, or snack on, while kids run about like crazy. I’ve never been a huge fan of this pastime, but you have to admit, the white-and-pink boughs contrasted against the near-black bark of the trees is quite a pretty sight on a beautiful spring day. Sachi and I went blossom-viewing both weekend days, Saturday along the Meguro River, and Sunday in a local park. Here are some photos from the walks. Enjoy.

Because of their popularity, Sakura trees are everywhere,
lining streets and rivers in abundance.

This is what you see when you look up.


The Brown-eared Bulbuls love the blossoms as a snack; they were all over the trees.

The petals fell in such abundance that they often looked like drifts of snow on the streets and rivers.
Here’s a close-up of one of the covered areas of the Meguro River. (Click for larger view)

Notice the petals drifting in the breeze just above ground level.
If you walk in such a drift while looking down,
it’s like walking in a river of petals.

And sometimes, when a good gust of wind comes along, it looks like it’s snowing.
Click for larger image.



And let’s finish today’s post with a nice image of two isolated petals, growing almost directly off the tree trunk’s bark. Sachi spotted this one, and it seemed too poetic to pass up. Click for a larger image.


Categories: Focus on Japan Miscellaneous Tags:

Street Signs

January 25th, 2007 2 comments

I thought I’d share a few things I’ve spotted on the streets as I go to work every day.


This first one is a view I get while coming up Meiji Boulevard. That “OMEN” sign stands out a bit ominously. In fact, it’s the Marui Men’s store; the “O” is really an “OI” (pronounced “Maru-i” in Japanese) with the “I” hidden behind other signs on the right side. With the “MEN’ sign below, it produces the creepy effect. I always find myself thinking, “is that a good omen or a bad one?”

Next is a label I started seeing on taxis a few months back:


And a close-up, from a different taxi:


Literally, the sticker reads: “CAUTION! MOTORBIKES — Two-wheeled-vehicle Accidents! Repeatedly Occur (Police Headquarters – Tokyo Passenger Vehicle Association)”

Though it’s a bit cryptic, the essence is pretty clear–the sticker warns people on motorbikes that they cause accidents frequently. I say that because it certainly doesn’t seem to be blaming the taxis, as taxis are not even directly mentioned. And if taxis were to blame, the sign would read something like “Caution — this vehicle makes sudden stops” or something like that.

Now, should a regular car bear such a sticker, I could see the justification–many bike riders do get out of hand. But for taxis to be bearing these is like a murderer calling a jaywalker “hard-bitten.” Taxis are dangerous sunzabitches. They constantly weave in and out of traffic–as bikers do–but then they also, often and without signal or warning, merge suddenly and/or hit their brakes and pull over to pick up or drop off passengers.

They also have a tendency to hog the road; on two-lane streets, they will straddle the center line, slowly weaving a bit right and a bit left, so they can command both lanes while driving leisurely, something which probably causes many of the aforementioned bike accidents. Bikers have enough room to pass on either side, and the taxi will often at the same time suddenly decide to choose one lane over the other–of course, without signaling or other warning–thus causing the biker to brake suddenly or veer off dangerously.

For that and other reasons, taxis and motorbikes are often natural enemies on the road. A further frustration for bikers is that taxis get a free pass from traffic police, who will instead over-prosecute bikers. I have seen literally hundreds of bikers pulled over for tickets, but only once in more than a decade have I seen a taxi driver given a citation. Same thing with truckers, who also (though less frequently) pull dangerous crap on the roads. I think the police cut a lot of slack to anyone whose driving is also their livelihood.

So to see so many taxis sport signs more or less accusing the bikers of causing accidents–especially when bikers are the ones who get hurt in the collisions–is a tad galling. Now, maybe I’ve got it wrong and the signs are not meant to be accusatory–but frankly, I doubt that.

But on to a lighter subject: the Construction Sign of Doom! (Sorry, Sean, I ripped that moniker off from your satchel.) This is the one I mentioned last week, and I got it on film this time.


It’s a bit different from what I recalled an hour after having seen it for only ten seconds or so, but my recollection mostly holds true. The big, dull red arrow at bottom was pulsing; the orangish smear above the green-backed construction signs was an electronic scrolling text sign; the three yellow arrows were flashing on and off from left to right; above them, those yellow lights were the flashing roller lights, and above those, the pizza-slice rotaters, with flashing green lights at their centers.

Sadly, the guy with the light baton was absent tonight (I guess they figured out how irrelevant he was), but if you can picture it in your mind, he was only tall enough so that his construction-site helmet only reached the bottom of the big, pulsing arrow near the bottom of the sign.

This has to be the most outrageous warning sign array I’ve seen on Japanese roads. Now that I’m aware of them, I have noticed that other signs use the exact same elements of this one, except they only use half as many parts at most–like the pulsing red arrow and the green-backed warning signs only, or some other combination of bits and pieces that make up the sign. Maybe on this one, someone got too enthusiastic and just threw in everything but the kitchen sink.

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January 16th, 2007 1 comment


It having been maybe 24 years or so since I last visited, I got away to Asakusa last weekend with Sachi. The main draw of the area is the large temple, Senso-ji (a.k.a. “Asakusa-dera”). The street to get there begins with the landmark Kaminari-mon, or “Thunder Gate,” with the distinctive large red lantern, pictured above. Once inside, you get to brave the long gauntlet of pricey tourist-trap stalls and shops lining the avenue, separated by masses of tourists.


This is about as touristy as it gets in Japan, the kind of shops where kitsch dominates. Shops filled with “Ichi-ban” T-shirts, “Kamikaze” hachimaki headbands, Hi-no-maru folding fans, to bawdy novelty items–like the “Oppai Purin” (“Titty Pudding”) pictured below (miniature brassiere optional–I’m not kidding). The Osaka variety at left was sold out (god knows why that one went first). And no, I didn’t get any.


To round off the tourist kitsch, there were dango & manju (dumplings & buns) salesmen dressed up as old-style samurai, and nice rickshaw rides available. Though Japanese don’t call them “rickshaw,” they say “kurumaya” or “jinrikusha.” And to those of you who have never been to Japan, rickshaw are only located in the tourist areas, and not even very often then–though I will admit to having spotted several underpasses with “no rickshaw” signs at their entrances–probably very old signs indeed. Though they may have been simply more generic “no hand-drawn cart” signs instead.



Nearby is the Asahi Beer Building, designed to have a giant flame atop the monolithic base. However, many Japanese see it differently, and call it the “Unko” building–literally, the “Turd Building,” after what they recognized to be a giant, stylized, golden piece of fecal matter (if you’re familiar with Japanese manga, they are kind of drawn like that).


Once you get past all the tacky shops, you get to the Senso Temple proper. At the front there is a rather famous incense pot, where everyone stops and waves the smoke over their heads and at their bodies, as a kind of good-luck thing.



There is also a pagoda there, quite a nice one. This shot below is actually a composite. I took two shots at different exposures; one that was exposed well for the pagoda had the sky too washed out, and the other was good for the sky but the pagoda was too dark. Experimenting in Photoshop, I superimposed the good sky on the good pagoda and got quite a nice effect, I think. Click on the image for a larger version.


One more shot before I go: the pagoda with the washed-out sky. A very nice view regardless.


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Ruminations on an Early Morning Mall Walk

November 19th, 2006 Comments off

I walked Sachi to the station this morning before going off to do some birdwatching (next post), and on the way back, snapped some photos of the pre-business mall walk. This is an upscale area just out of Meguro.


This one I’m not sure I figured out. It’s twenty people lined up to get into a pachinko parlor/game center, at maybe 8:15 am. Was there some special new game that gets 20 forty- and fifty-somethings up before eight a.m. on Sunday morning? Or do they do this every week? Note the mini-chairs many are using.


This shop is interesting as it’s not some Japanese faux-American rapster joint or something–it’s a clothing shop and the proprietor is an African-American man, as I’ve observed while passing by during business hours. Not something you’d expect to see on an upscale Japanese walk-and-shop mall. I wonder if he has local shoppers coming in all the time and then seeing him and slooowly backing out…


And this is a chiropractor’s sign. They got the foot OK, but what the heck is with the hand? Is that a hand? If not, then what the heck is it?

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Why Can’t They Just Leave Us Alone?

November 11th, 2006 4 comments

One of the down sides to living in Japan is the loudspeaker trucks–as you know well if you are a long-time reader of this blog. True, we don’t get robo-calls during an election, and I admit that this could be worse than loudspeaker trucks. But only marginally. At least you can avoid the robo-calls by leaving your house.

My location has turned out to be pretty bad, in fact: there is a spot on the road just outside my building which all the loudspeaker trucks favor as a staging area for long rants and raves. They’ll stop there, deploy their banner-toting crew, and do their schtick for ten, twenty, or even thirty minutes at a go. During heavy election season campaigning, we sometimes get one or two of these every day. The are, of course, scheduled for times when the most people are at home trying to relax in peace and quiet.

There seems to be an election on right now; I haven’t heard of this in the news, but I sure can hear the loudspeaker trucks. Yesterday, as I tried to teach a lesson, no fewer than three trucks drove past the school, almost drowning out my lecture. As for the people pictured below, I honestly can’t say whether they are a political campaign (I couldn’t see the side of the truck where a candidate’s name would usually be plastered, though the lack of a name on all sides is a hint they may not be campaigning for a particular candidate). All I know is that this is an election season of some sort, and these people blared away for 15 minutes as I tried to do my morning blog-reading.

The caravan parks and begins to unpack their wares; the speakers waste no time, shouting their message from the moment they arrive

Getting the banners out

The first of several speakers

The Banner Brigade, fully deployed

Two weeks ago, I caught some audio of a guy with a loudspeaker truck; the audio is here (800KB wav file). This guy was on an anti-American kick, and at one point even shouted, “America dai-kirai!!” (“I despise America!!”) The significant thing about this audio was that I never actually saw the guy or his truck–when he made this speech, he was at the very least a few hundred meters away, maybe more. And yet I could hear him blasting away with my windows closed.

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Arts Day 2006, Part 2

November 2nd, 2006 Comments off

In the second half of the show, we’ve had some dance groups, who have been pretty good–impressive for kids who don’t do this much.

“OK,” a cheerleading-style dance group (with one odd member…)

The first set of “Studio B,” a 9-person dance team

Studio B did several sets, with costume changes for each one

The Drama Club put on a performance

…and finally, “Voices of America / Japan” did some singing for us.

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Construction Mannequin

October 27th, 2006 8 comments

Perhaps one of the most visible jobs one could have in Japan is the person who works at a construction site, waving traffic along with a flag or a flashlight cone. I’m not talking about the kind where they direct traffic, but rather the kind which simply stand in front of the traffic cones and work crews and gesture traffic to the other lane. That particular job tends to stand out for two reasons: first, you almost automatically imagine how easy and yet mind-numbingly boring and unrewarding such a job must be, and second, because 95% of the time, the position seems utterly unnecessary.

Now, there are some situations in which a person standing there controlling traffic is vital–like when the road construction is right around a sharp bend in the street, and you wouldn’t see it until it were too late. But most of the time, you can see the construction cones and heavy machinery from a mile away, and the person standing there waving you to avoid hitting them seems completely lame. But you gotta figure there’s a law that requires it.

Fairly often, you’ll encounter a site which is using a mechanical signaler–usually a simple stylized-figure cutout with a mechanical waving arm with a light on the end of it, as in the photo below. Nothing to write home about.


But once in a rare while you’ll see a rather interesting sight: a mechanical dummy, complete with arms that goes up and down, with a flag in hand. Talk about having your job taken over by a machine… but when your job is so completely simple and mechanical in the first place, one should pretty much expect to have a simple motor take over the position.

Click for larger image

The funny thing about this particular dummy was that the flag he’s waving had to be strapped onto the end of his arm–apparently, it’s not set up to hold one normally.


Nor are these mannequins unique to construction sites. One sometimes sees fake policemen as well. Back in my touring days, when I drove across Japan on a motorcycle, I would see both cutout photographs of policemen and mannequins dressed up as cops placed in strategic locations on roads to try to fool drivers into slowing down. Sometimes they were very realistic, but sometimes they were laughable, including one mannequin who was clearly strapped to a pole–it looked like he was both frozen absolutely rigid and tied up by a kidnapper or something.

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Chofu Hanabi, 2006

July 23rd, 2006 4 comments

I always do it this way, figuring it out at the last minute. This time, I was washing dishes, and heard some loud pops, like fireworks. It was still light out, late afternoon, so I figured that maybe it was a local display, maybe something inconsequential. But it reminded me that I had not yet found out the fireworks schedule for the summer, and so I checked.

In the U.S., we have fireworks displays usually only at special times–the Fourth of July being the most notable. Sometimes at New Year’s, and at special events, maybe at some ballgames, and Disney does it a lot, I hear. But in Japan, it’s an all-summer thing. There are big displays, usually on the weekends, throughout July, August, and sometimes later months.

Near where I live, there’s an annual fireworks show by Chofu City, on the other side of the Tama River. The display is actually held on the river itself, and is one of the biggest local shows. And all too often, I forget to find out when it is, and miss half of it. This time, I didn’t expect it because it was so early–usually this show is later, and once it was in October even. But when I checked the schedule after hearing the booms, sure enough, this was it–and just 20 minutes from when I checked. So I made sure I had a clean flash memory card, packed up the tripod and the camera, and took off. This time, they blocked off the river street entirely, so I had to take back roads in, and got settled maybe five or ten minutes after the show started.

And got these shots. Enjoy.







Often they include smaller shaped shells, including hearts, stars, cats, mice, and as pictured here, smiley faces.





There always seem to be more trains than usual going by during the display–I think that in itself is considered an attraction, to be on the train while you ride by the show.


The people along the river nearby as we watch the show.

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June 19th, 2006 2 comments

Well, that’s quite the strange experience.

I got a phone call not two hours ago from the police. I didn’t know it was them until a bit later, as they didn’t use the word “keisatsu,” the one I know. But I could tell it was someone who worked for city services in some manner. They told me that my scooter was found abandoned in a nearby park, about a quarter of a mile from where I live; someone had found the insurance papers.

That gave me a start. I just bought a new scooter a year ago, and it’s a nice one, too. My immediate fear was that I had left the key in the ignition–something I have been known to do–and that someone had taken it for a joyride. But the guy on the phone told me that the scooter was beyond broken. Not good.

There was, however, a possible alternate explanation. I got the new scooter to replace the old one–and I hadn’t gotten rid of the old one yet. It was six years old, and probably didn’t even run anymore. I couldn’t even get the ignition lock open, it had rusted shut. I had been meaning to call someone to tow it away, but had never gotten around to it. So the missing scooter could be that one.

I had severe doubts, however. Who would want to steal a junker like that, when a nice new bike was right next to it in the parking area? (I did not think about the new bike’s security alarm at the time.) Also, the fact that the insurance papers had been found by the person who discovered the bike suggested that the seat was opened–which suggested that maybe I had been an idiot and had left the key in the ignition when I came back from Costco late Saturday afternoon. In which case I may have been out about $2000 for a new scooter.

As soon as I could, I got the caller’s number and went downstairs to check. Going out the door, I got a nice reassurance: my keys were where I usually leave them at the door, meaning I hadn’t forgotten them. And, when I got downstairs, sure enough, it was the old junker that was gone, its accompanying helmet left on the other side of the parking area.

I called back and discovered I was speaking to the local police officer (I found this out when he told me he was at the koban, the police box). I went down, and he showed me the insurance papers–indeed mine–soaked with water. The officer thought that they had been left in the rain from yesterday. He offered to take me to see the bike, and I wanted to go, to see what had happened to it. The officer had only been told that it had been deposited next to a pond at the local park, and so first took me to the place a quarter of a mile away, where we climbed stairs to go to a pond way away from it all. When the bike was not there, the officer admitted there was another pond–the one right across from the police box where we met–that the finder may have been referring to. We went there, and found the bike.




It was at the edge of an artificial pond, one which I pass every day. One edge of the pond is under an archway, relatively hidden. The bike was stripped bare–tires, wheels, engine, lamps, belts–everything. Even the seat was missing, with the contents of the helmet well left behind, scattered on the ground. Evidently the insurance papers had been tossed into the pond, which is how they’d gotten soaked.

Apparently what had happened was that some local kid had the same model scooter, and it was falling apart. Unable to afford new parts and repair from the shop, the kid stole my bike and stripped it bare. Saturday or Sunday night, he came to my apartment building and somehow spirited the bike off. That would have been no mean feat; as I mentioned, the ignition lock was rusted shut, and when I found the bike, it had not been opened. That means that the steering column was locked in a turn. Either the thief broke the steering column entirely at the parking area (directly four floors beneath my bedroom), or he and some hoodlum pals carried the bike to a truck and carted it off to the pond, where they could strip the bike unobserved.

As you can see from the photos, they did a hell of a thorough job. Fortunate for me that it was the bike I had fully intended to have taken away for parts and scrap anyway. I just prefer to do it on my terms, not some punk thief’s.

When the policeman and I found the bike, I made an effort not to touch anything. But he seemed indifferent about any investigating, and started touching parts on the ground, even asking me to pick up this or that. Afterwards, he apparently changed his mind and started printing the carcass. He found nothing but a partial shoeprint on the broken dash. It would seem that the thief or thieves had worn gloves during the disassembly. The officer allowed me to remove the license plate and take it with me. He told me that he’d see to it that the bike was junked, and kindly waived any fees for doing it. He told me that if they found anyone from the shoeprint, they’d give me a call. I don’t expect anything to come of it, but the officer seemed strangely confident.

Apparently, this kind of petty crime is not too unusual. The officer told me that it’s usually teenage kids with certain popular scooter types (which mine was) who steal other people’s bikes and strip them like this. He recalled one instance in particular where one teenage kid lost his scooter that way–and eventually discovered that one of his own friends had been the thief!

So it has been an adventurous afternoon, and I’m grateful that it was a lot less unfortunate or expensive as I had initially feared.

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A Day Out

March 27th, 2005 Comments off

It seems like everyone was out there today–I’ve never seen so many people out at the parks and on the river. Tons of people. Too many, in fact, for good birding. A lot of guys fishing out there, especially. You see them out a lot of the time, but today they were everywhere.


Though my usual spot on the river didn’t have any birds because of the crowds, there was one interesting visitor near the embankment:


So I traveled around quite a bit, up and down the Tama River, and up into Sakuragaoka Park (no birds there, but some nice views). One thing this birding will do for me is give me some much-needed exercise. Though my feet are killing me.

In any case, a few nice photos from today–vertical shots, this time. Photos of the birds I found later.



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Not a Snow Town

March 5th, 2005 Comments off

Well, Friday brought quite a bit of the white stuff into town, though the weekend-long storm predicted fizzled out in the end. But we did get a few inches all over town, and for Tokyo that’s quite a bit.



This city is not really geared up to handle much snow. I remember back in the countryside, where we got real snow, meters of it, things would run relatively smoothly. Trains would operate. Business would go on. And in the evening we’d watch the news shows with images of a few inches of snow in Tokyo and people slipping, sliding, and waiting for late trains, and we’d have a good laugh. Of course, it’s not the people, it’s the city and its readiness. Even several hours after just a light snow, the trains were still running late.


One small note–they’ve added wooden planking to the railroad tracks next to the platforms at stations, at least some on the Keio Line. I have no idea if this is a snow measure or not. If it is, it doesn’t seem to help the trains stay on time in bad weather.

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