Archive for the ‘Focus on Japan 2010’ Category

Ah, Japan

September 21st, 2010 5 comments


The smell of the grill wafts up and down the street from the fan blowing just behind the lantern, making it sway deliciously. Chicken on a stick. Ahhh.

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You Know You’re In Japan

September 6th, 2010 1 comment


And not just in Japan, but out in farm territory, when you see vending machines selling 10kg bags of rice.

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August 31st, 2010 3 comments



Not too long ago, there was a bicycle sweep at our apartment complex. This happens in Japan from time to time. In many places in Japan, bicycles are, if not a disposable item, certainly one that depreciates quickly and is forgotten about. Parked bicycle congestion is rampant, with people having bikes but either choosing semi-permanent parking places, or abandoning them outright, in the damnedest locations. If you see any group of parked bicycles in Japan (except for carefully regulated and attended lots, especially near train stations), odds are that half of them are covered with dust and have flat tires.

It seems that everybody has bikes, but most people don’t use them most of the time, and eventually just forget about them. Sachi and I are of the maintaining group–we have ’em and use ’em. Not so with others. It’s sometimes frustrating, in fact, trying to find a parking space, but most are taken up by grungy old wrecks that obviously haven’t been touched for a year or two, and would require serious maintenance before being ridden again.

That is undoubtedly why the complex had this roundup, likely a regular thing every few years. First, they tagged the bikes where they were parked, noting that if the owner did not remove the tag, the bike itself would be removed. This was already in progress when we moved in. They gave everyone notice and left this going for some time, so that everyone could see what was up and make their move if they so wished.

After a certain time, they took all the bikes which were still tagged and moved them to the place pictured above. Yep–every single one of those bikes is a throwaway. They left that pile, impossible to miss, out there in the middle of the complex for a few weeks, giving owners one last chance to wade in and reclaim their bike. (I never asked if it was kosher to just take one for yourself or not; probably not, I’d guess.)

Now, the bicycle parking areas are much more open. But they’re already filling up again, and all too many bikes that remain are still covered with a layer of undisturbed dust and resting on flattened, airless tires.

Ah, Japan.

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August in Japan

August 29th, 2010 2 comments


If you’ve lived in Japan, you could not have failed to see this. In August, when the heat and humidity are turned up beyond high, the two- to three-inch cicadas (“semi” in Japanese) are everywhere, and are quite loud. In traditional insect fashion, they buzz then mate and die. So you see first this, above, and then just parts after the ants get to them.

Of course, they run low on gas the last few days and so many of these bugs are still alive while prone like this. I gave this fellow the obligatory “you dead?” nudge with my foot, and he took the momentum I offered and righted himself, with a few insectoid thank-you clicks.

Find a nasty close-up of the fellow here (full-res, but cropped), if you swing that way. Me, I can put up with a lot of stuff, but insects tend to get to me. The bigger they are, the worse they are. And these cicadas are sizable bugs. Snakes and frogs and other amphibians and reptiles I think are cool; Sachi weirds out when I catch the local salamanders, which I think are cute as hell. But the cicadas are too much for me.

Recently, at their peak buzzing fervor, they started coming to my home-office window at night. Makes sense–I stay up after midnight, it’s a big frosted-glass window all lit up like an insect welcome mat. So it begins when you hear them flutter up and then bump against the glass. And these bugs have mass, it’s like a small stone hitting your window, kind of loud. Flutter clickclick flutter BONK flutter BONK BONK clickclick flutter. Then they start their trademark high-pitched, very very loud mating-call buzz.

The other night I was trying to get some work done and they started up. So I went out with an umbrella to poke at them until they went away. Problem is, these things, in classic bug form, are attracted to light as if it held them by a bungee tether. And this night, it turned out there were three of them. Just by approaching, all three started flying about–golf-ball-sized buzzing insect horrors, all blurry wings and sharp edges and too many chitinous spindly legs and bulging thoraxes, three of them flying fast and randomly about. Please, kill me now. I run for cover till they settle, then come back and poke at them with the umbrella, before they spook and start the process again, whereupon I bravely and boldly squeak like a little girl and run for safety. Repeat this about a dozen times until two of three have settled elsewhere.

But that one last one is stubborn. Another dozen attempts and he sticks to my window area like glue. When I finally get him out, where does he go? Our recessed front door alcove. Where he again refuses to leave–and now I’m trapped outside my own apartment by a bug. If I try to sneak past him, he could easily just fly in the door, and then God help me.

After a full 20 minutes or so outside, I finally get past him (he slowly crawled away when I left him alone), and went back to work.

Egads, I hate bugs.

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Don’t Do It!

August 28th, 2010 1 comment



This is something like the 4th restaurant I’ve seen open at this location in the last two years. It’s always the same: a remodel, redecoration, a beautiful new opening that looks expensive to set up… and then only a trickle of customers over the ensuing months, no more than one or two people in the place at any given time if anyone is in there at all. Usually you just see the cook behind the counter and the waitress sitting on a bar stool talking to him. Then it’s closed more often than it’s open, and finally no activity–until the next remodeling begins and a new name goes up.

The thing is, it looks like a good location, but it’s not. It’s situated between my school and our partner school a block down the street, so there are hundreds of students around all the time. The problem is, they don’t eat at restaurants. They bring bento lunches or nosh at snacks, or just eat at home. If they do eat out, they have long gotten advice on and settled their list of go-to places (and the area is saturated with eateries, another reason why this place is doomed) which include all-you-can-eat lunches for a thousand yen, or that great noodle place which has a 500 yen bowl which is more than enough. But they’re not going to plop down 1800 yen for a nice dish of pasta.

So every time a new tenant starts setting up shop, I want to go in and warn them, “Don’t do it!” But of course, by then, it’s probably too late anyway. Poor sods.

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Blu-ray Rentals

August 26th, 2010 Comments off

Japan, strangely, seems a bit behind in the HDTV game. For a country where it seems you can’t get anything but HDTVs at electronics shops, not as many people seem to have them as you would think.

Worse, Blu-rays are a tad too sparse here. Of course, this being Japan, they are all over-priced, even more than standard DVDs. $42 is a usual price for a new release. But I can stock up back in the U.S., especially since Japan and America are now in the same region–but then, the videos won’t have Japanese subtitles for Sachi. Damn.

No, the real problem is video rental shops. They have wide floors with dozens and dozens of racks filled with DVDs. However, only recently did they expand their Blu-ray sections to two racks from the lonesome single one they had previously. It’s pathetic, really–take Avatar, for example. Huge hit, new movie and all. I go to the local video rental shop, the closest one to us, a place called GEO. You know how many Blu-ray copies they have? Four. All rented out all the time, of course (I’ve stopped by this place several times before). So I go to the north side of the next train line over, quite a distance away (I’m looking for exercise these days, and I had the time for it then), and find the next-closest rental shop–again, a GEO store. How many copies of this recent blockbuster do they have, in Blu-ray, the logical viewing choice for a movie of that type? Two. Again, rented out. The DVD version they have dozens of, practically a rack full of them, most not rented out. But they have two Blu-ray copies.


I asked the guy at the counter, even though I knew what the answer would be. It was the same last year at Tsutaya in Ikebukuro: “Not enough people have Blu-ray players.” Bull. First of all, if nobody has the players, then why are so many of the Blu-rays always rented out? You have to be lucky to grab a recent release in these places. Sure, Blu-ray adoption is not strong yet, but it’s way stronger than their supply of titles merits. Second, probably a big reason people don’t get them is because they know the rental shops don’t have squat in their Blu-ray sections.


So I move on, knowing there’s a Tsutaya a little further down the road. Fortunately, although they also still have just a 2-rack Blu-ray section, they at least have caught on to the recent-releases idea, and when you check the regular DVD racks, the recent hits all have multiple Blu-rays tacked on at one end. So Sachi and I got movies to watch this week.

Still, it’s annoying that Blu-ray somehow is getting passed over. Of course, if the discs cost half of what they do and you could find a decent selection at rental shops, then maybe people would find reason to start using them more. Just saying.

I’ve been meaning to try out the local version of Netflix, Tsutaya has this thing called DISCAS. Before now, I have always been stopped cold by their indecipherable home page, very badly designed, which even their shop people could not figure out for me. But now I just went back to it, and it seems much more user-friendly. And their Blu-ray section seems pretty well-stocked (over 700 titles, not bad), certainly much more so than the brick-and-mortar shops. ¥980 ($12) a month to have four discs out at any–oohhhh, no. Four discs rented out per month. You don’t get to see all you want so long as you return them quickly enough. You just get a set limit. Hmm. They also have an 8-disc plan for about twice that cost.

Found another service called Posuren (“Postal Rental”?), but it seems to be the same deal as Discas, as are DMM and GEO–they all seem to be following the Discas model. There’s Rakuten Rentals, ¥100 a pop, but they have a ¥300 delivery fee; it gets mitigated by renting many at a time, but there’s a 10-day limit on keeping them.

Anyone know a better service? Something more Netflix-like? So far, I’m not impressed–they seem to have little advantage over going to the actual store, some have prohibitive delivery costs, and the potential hassle factor (contracts, late fees, etc.) could mitigate that further. If there’s nothing better than this, I’ll probably opt for going to the store….

Rental Cars and Ryokans

August 25th, 2010 5 comments

Last week, Sachi and I headed to Saku, Sachi’s hometown. This time we decided to go the rental car route, seeing it as much more convenient than train and having relatives cart us around. The costs were close–The rental car, including all insurance and extras, was about ¥23,000 for a 3-day rental, while the train fare would have been ¥26,000. Add gas and tolls, and the rental car total went up to about ¥35,000–but add the convenience of going where we wanted, when we wanted (runs to the store for eats, and even a Costco run added to the end of the trip), and especially not requiring Sachi’s family to act as our chauffeurs for the 3-day period, and I call it a worthwhile expense.


The rental car business annoyed me some. Not the main process–it’s pretty painless, just fill in the usual name & address thing, and you’re in the car. But the last-minute added charges for you-have-no-idea-what-this-is-but-you-can’t-risk-not-getting-it kind of stuff. They carefully don’t mention it until you are ready to walk out the door, and are undoubtedly up against a schedule, like I was, and had no time to run through all the minutiae. (I had visited days earlier to make the reservation, and had even asked about the price, and they didn’t bring it up.) They say it’s insurance and other serious-sounding and maybe even legally-required kind of stuff, and it’s certainly made to look like you need it, but–even if you spoke the language well enough–I’m pretty sure many other novices would also have been intimidated, like I was, into paying for it all. I am fairly certain that most of it was not needed, but I had no way to tell, and no time to sort through it, especially as I’m certain it would have involved all kinds of technical language. I blame myself–I have rented cars before, I just forgot about this. It’s more than the kind of thing travel agents do, hiding the taxes and so forth until you’ve more or less committed–this is more of a real con game. And I felt like a first-class sucker. Good lesson.


The drive was pleasant enough, though we got into trouble because of the GPS. This is a usual thing, getting a rental vehicle with a complicated gadget which even for regular users can be a pain to figure out. I kept on giving it the destination, and it kept on insisting we take local roads. Again, I felt stupid–I really should have researched the route ahead of time. The thing was, when we first set the route, it looked OK, and seemed to match what Google Maps said we’d be doing–going past the expressway to circle around and find an entrance, or “interchange” for the expressway (since Japanese expressways are all toll roads, they don’t have exits as often as U.S. freeways do). But after we passed a rather clear route to get on the expressway and the Nav System kept insisting we keep going on route 254, a narrow and crowded avenue with slow traffic, it was clear that it was leading us the wrong way. Driving half-blindly, I took the route that seemed best to me, and got on the expressway. Then we got the usual nonsense with the Nav System insisting we leave the expressway at every new exit and take normal roads. But we did have fun telling the Nav System to bugger off whenever it did so.

We stopped at a rest station along the way to get some grub and I took the time to figure out the right way to program the device. It turns out that when you program the destination into the system, it seems ready at one point, but there was a button rather misleadingly labeled, down a list that was topped by a “calculate route” button, but the lesser button led you to a menu which allowed you to specify toll roads, turned off by default–seems rather dumb with rental cars so often used for long-distance driving like we were.

Then we got to the ryokan:




While in Saku, we usually stay at a ryokan, a countryside inn. This is an experience you have to have if you visit Japan. These are buildings that have a very traditional look and feel–definitely not the business-hotel variety of lodging. The ryokan is usually surrounded by manicured gardens, has an almost hunting-lodge-meets-classic-Japanese-decor lobby, an obligatory inner garden, and rooms decked out with tatami, tokonoma, sliding doors, shoji doors for the windows, floor chairs and mats, low-set wood tables, and of course futons. Cut out in the corner of the image below are the slightly out-of-place Hi-def TV and the air conditioner.


Alas, I forgot to get photos of the most ryokan-ish part of the stay, dinner. Ryokan dinners are a cacophony of more than a dozen separate dishes, including miso soup, pickled vegetables, sashimi, grilled fish, vegetable dishes, shellfish, shaved beef cooked on rounded frying plates, eel on a bed of rice, and other bits and pieces. The fish is iconic, basically a small fish (maybe 6-8 inches) skewered on a stick, covered with salt, grilled whole, head and fins and tail and all. I am infamous with Sachi for not liking most of what these dinners offer up, and since it’s important to Sachi that we eat together, it’s a sticking point against staying in places like these, even though they can be central, even essential, on trips like this. Sachi and her mother, fortunately, claimed that they really weren’t in the mood for the beef or sashimi or many of the veggies–all things which I liked–and claimed to be hungry for the stuff I didn’t like. What a coincidence! They protested that really, they weren’t just doing this for me, but I wasn’t fooled.

Breakfasts aren’t much different–mussel soup, a hunk of dry cold, fishy-tasting cooked salmon, salad–you know, normal breakfast fare. Fortunately I can get by without breakfast.

A nice point about ryokans are the baths. This one, however, was a tad more exposed than I prefer. The ladies’ bath is downstairs and out of view, but the men’s bath is upstairs. You walk in to the dressing room, undress, and walk into the bath. Now, the inn is situated on a river in the midst of a small town. And the men’s bath has floor-to-ceiling clear glass windows. Here’s what it looks like when you walk in:


Pretty big windows. You look out, and realize that you are standing, buck naked, in direct view of, well, the neighborhood.



Sachi later pointed out that since we were the only ones staying there that day, I could have used the ladies’ bath with her. She mentions this after I finished my bath. Swell.

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Just So You Understand, It’s Not an Actual Bargain

August 25th, 2010 Comments off


Nuns at Starbucks

August 21st, 2010 1 comment

Sachi and I are on our way back from her home town after a few days with family. We rented a car (cheaper than the Shinkansen, I think), and we’re at a rest stop.

I went straight for the Starbucks, of course. Crowding the place: a gaggle of nuns.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But it just seems a little … off. Somehow.

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Permanent Residency

August 16th, 2010 8 comments

Took them five months and one week. Not the quickest ever, but many report a six-month wait. I’ll be heading down to the Immigration center this week to get the status change. I’ll still have to get re-entry permits–but there are reports that those will be done away with soon (if not already?):

[T]here will be an extension of the maximum length of permission to reside in Japan from three years to five, the abolishment of the re-entry stamp system required to leave the country and return, and — most significantly — the replacement of the Alien Registration Card issued by ward offices with a new Resident Card to be managed by the Immigration Bureau.

If that happens, I think I’ll still have to visit immigration when I get a new passport, but otherwise, the regular trips will become another thing to reminisce about.

Update: Here’s the official page at the MOJ concerning the new changes (specifics here). Says the re-entry permit thing will take effect within three years of July 15, 2009. Whether that means July 14, 2012, or some time before that I can’t tell–they seem to hint that it’ll be 2012.

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Hiroshima and Nagasaki at 65

August 10th, 2010 32 comments

I have blogged on this in the past, and simply restate my feelings now: Hiroshima and Nagasaki, if not war crimes, were certainly not necessary to end the war. I hold that it would have been more than adequate had a “warning shot” been detonated over mountains outside Tokyo, in full view of the capital, and then a warning given that a city a week would be obliterated if Japan did not surrender unconditionally. I do not accept any of the excuses about this; it was a clear alternative anyone could have seen, and had more merit than what was done.

The usual side concerns arise: while Hiroshima and Nagasaki were horrific, they paled in comparison to what the rest of Japan suffered in many ways. Carpet bombing of civilian populations killed far more people, and a person dying of third-degree burns likely feels little different if the burns came from conventional or nuclear weapons. The A-bombs were essentially the plane crash equivalents of war: they captured attention because they were unusual and horrifyingly spectacular in nature, even though more people died just as horribly by other means.

An interesting twist on this, the 65th anniversary of the bombings: the U.S. ambassador attended the ceremonies in Hiroshima, the first time an official American representative has been present at the proceedings. This was done with the intention of showing America’s commitment to nuclear disarmament, but some Japanese were “disappointed” that America did not take this opportunity to offer an official apology for the bombings. That is very, very unlikely: many Americans tend to feel completely justified about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and get their backs up whenever anyone says differently. Were an American official to apologize in such a manner, there would be political hell to pay. But especially for Obama, who the right wing already pillories for “bowing to foreign leaders” and “apologizing for America” to foreign powers, if such an apology were made on his watch, he would pay an especially high price–not to mention that there is no evidence that he would agree that an apology is in order. Indeed, even sending the ambassador was too much for some people.

Then there is the question about the appropriateness of Japan asking for such an apology, considering the fact that Japan itself has never fully apologized to its Asian neighbors for acts just as horrible and extreme. Not that this has any bearing on any actions that might be taken by the U.S., nor does it suggest that people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki are against Japan apologizing to countries such as China. But it does bring such facts to light.

Then there is the idea that America was especially guilty for using such weapons. One would have no doubt whatsoever that had Japan possessed such weapons during the war, that they would have used them without hesitation. Nor can Japan deny that intent, considering that Japan itself had not one, but two different nuclear weapons development programs underway during the war. If Japan was seeking to build nuclear weapons and had the unquestionable will to use them, how pure are Japan’s protestations about the inhumanity turned against themselves? Again, not that this excuses or justifies what America did, but if Japan truly wishes to make a statement against the use of such weapons, to claim victimhood only and ignore its own nuclear intent is more than just a little telling. To admit that the programs existed and those were just as wrong would be a much more powerful statement–and yet I have not heard anyone in Japan make such a statement.

This plays into the larger issue of Japan’s own views of what happened in WWII: its whitewashing of its own aggression and atrocities, its sharp and sometimes extreme focus on how Japan suffered with great emphasis on Japan’s victimhood. I have heard students tell of History teachers in public schools who teach up to the point where Japan started invading other countries, claim there is not enough time to cover all the material, and then jump to the last year of the war where Japan suffered most, without covering the intervening events. Films critical of Japan are regularly blocked or extremely limited, while films lionizing people like Hideki Tojo are well-received. It really does not seem that Japan is itself carrying out the self-introspection and regret that it expects of others.

I remember seeing one of Kurosawa’s final films, Rhapsody in August. It starred Richard Gere as an American nephew of a Japanese woman who comes to visit his family in Japan, learns about the bombings in which the woman’s husband died, and apologizes for what happened. Now, confronted with survivors of the bombings, I myself would offer an apology as an American, so I do not see such a concept as inappropriate. But for a Japanese filmmaker to write such a script is, to say the least, just a bit out of place. Imagine, for example, if an American director like Francis Ford Coppola were to make a movie based in Hawaii where a Japanese visitor learns of Pearl Harbor and decides to apologize to Americans for the attack; I doubt it would be well-received in Japan, nor would they feel it appropriate.

One other note: before this film, despite his status as a legend, Kurosawa had been unable to get funding for his films. George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, and Steven Spielberg had to give Kurosawa the funding necessary to make both Kagemusha and Ran, both receiving widespread critical acclaim. For the less-well-received Rhapsody in August, however, Kurosawa had no trouble getting domestic funding. Take from that what you may.

In the end, I hold to Santayana’s advice: we must remember atrocities and injustices our own people have committed lest we commit those crimes again. Remembering the crimes committed against us by other nations and forgetting or forgiving what we ourselves have done is to ensure we will repeat those mistakes in the future. No one is immune from whitewashing their past; America does so quite often. However, despite right-wing anger and disapproval regarding Americans who “apologize” and “hate America” for recognizing the worst of our heritage, such observation is nothing less than the beginning of peace for the future, and necessary for a far more civilized world to live in.

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Not a Dry Heat

July 22nd, 2010 4 comments

Temperatures in Tokyo, or at least in my area of the city, rose to 37.6 degrees C–that’s roughly 100 degrees F. And humidity is up at around ninety percent. Five people nationwide died from the heat.

In short, it was hot today. Bright sunshine over the past several days, with the mercury rising higher and higher. Tonight, however, clouds with thunder came to the city, where they will stay for perhaps a little less than a week–but the temps will remain in the 90’s, as will the humidity.

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Local Color

July 9th, 2010 1 comment

I snapped a candid shot of this guy, as he is something of an icon in Shinjuku. I remember him way back in the 80’s or 90’s, I forget how far back, but he was riding his bicycle and wearing his rainbow wigs all the way back when. I never stopped him to ask what the hell his schtick was. Is he working for some quirky company that has hired him over the decades to be their mystery mascot? Or is he just presenting an aggressively creative take on homelessness?

Anyone know who he is?


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Catching On

July 7th, 2010 4 comments

I remember back when politicians’ campaign posters seemed like entrants in a nationwide Ugly Man contest. Seriously, most of the candidates were hideous. Huge warts, metal teeth, bad comb-overs, buggy eyes–the works. It seems that candidates today are more hip to the concept of not looking like diseased toads.

Which, in a few different ways, is sad.


Also hard to miss: a lot more women on the posters today than there were 20 or 30 years ago. There’s even Josei-to, or the “Women’s Party.”

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Junk Food Challenge

July 6th, 2010 2 comments

A show Sachi and I sometimes find on Japanese TV while flipping through channels is Otameshi ka, a kind of game show where a group of people collect at a family restaurant, a fast food joint, or a noodle-gyoza shop, and try to guess the ten best-selling menu items. In the past, we’ve seen them do Denny’s, First Kitchen, and KFC.

The catch is that they have to (as a group) eat every one they guess at, and there are usually more than a hundred items on the menu. Worse, they start after the place closes at night and don’t get to leave until they guess all of the top ten, which often results in a bunch of bloated guys with indigestion watching the sun come up through the restaurant windows.

In one sense, the show is a kind of huge advertisement for each restaurant, though I am not sure if the image of a bunch of sick people leaving the place at 7 am is the best publicity you want to have.

By this time, something like 4 am, they are literally praying that they get one of the remaining top menu items. But no, it’s #41.

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Recent Engrish

July 5th, 2010 1 comment

Finding that fully dentist’s sign recently made me remember that I have a few similar images on file–though none can top the dentist, really. But here are a few honorable mentions.


I don’t think I want to know what or who “Chee” is in this case.


Not to be confused with fanny hair.


The actual name of a housing complex in Hibarigaoka. Don’t ask.


They sell cold showers, baseball imagery, and saltpeter, one can only assume.


Always good advice: you never know when something will fly right at your head, after all.

iPhone 4 Seems to Be Coming Out Big in Japan

June 29th, 2010 3 comments

First, of course, there were the huge lines for the pre-order, and of course the computer systems having trouble keeping up with the load. Then SoftBank had to stop taking orders. Then the huge lines again the day the phone came out. All these were pretty big indications of a blow-out sale.

Yesterday, a smaller indication: I saw the first iPhone 4 in the hands of a user, on the Seibu-Ikebukuro line–where I still haven’t seen a single iPad yet. I’ve seen iPads on the subway and Yamanote lines, but the Seibu Ikebukuro seems to be a bit more conservative. Even despite large releases, it does take time before you start seeing new devices popping up randomly in public here and there. Still, it could just have been a coincidence.

Another small indicator which annoys me is that I still haven’t gotten my iPhone 4 yet–despite having pre-ordered one from SoftBank the second day of pre-ordering. Considering that the first “day” of pre-orders was just three hours long, and that I was first in line the second day, the phone must be selling out pretty thoroughly. It could be that supply is really short, or my branch is not getting hardly any supply, of course.

But the site that tracks sales now has figures that include the iPhone 4, and the iPhone takes up three of the top 5 slots: the iPhone 4 32 GB is #1, the 3GS 16GB is #4, and the 16GB iPhone 4 is at #5. What is most remarkable about this is the fact that the numbers do not track pre-orders, but rather actual delivered products (the iPhone 4 was not on the lists at all last week), and the week covered only includes 4 days of iPhone 4 sales. I expect that next week, the iPhone will show even better–and considering backlog, will probably maintain that for a while.

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Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That

June 23rd, 2010 3 comments

There is a new ad campaign out in Japan for Winston cigarettes. You get so used to the cigarette vending machines being everywhere that you actually forget they’re there–but nowadays they stand out like a sore thumb. Their ad themes are usually pretty offensive–young, fit, healthy people doing active things, while smoking, as if smoking were part of a physically fit and adventurous lifestyle.

The thing is, in Japan, ads often have a way of being “off” if you’re not Japanese. It’s hard to quantify, but many campaigns will simply look ridiculous to you. Sometimes it’s language–like Coca Cola’s “I Feel Coke” campaign some years ago, or Japan Railways’ “Traing” (“train” and “-ing” combined to denote active train use) ad series. But a lot of the time, it’s just the images or the main thrust of the ad that make you wonder, “What the hell are they thinking?” And then, “Must be a Japanese thing.”

But the latest Winston ad campaign, pasted all over town, beyond the obvious offensive elements, is at least somewhat mystifyingly hilarious. It features a bodybuilder striking a pose while looking dreamily upwards, with a lit cigarette in his mouth. Check it out:


That’s not the only thing, though: in some ads, you get the whole body shot:


Now, looking at these ads, what’s the first thing that comes to mind–after the disconnect between bodybuilding and smoking? I know I’m not the only one, I’ve talked to other foreigners and everyone got the same, very strong impression. If the makeup and dreamy expression and the way he’s holding the cigarette don’t do the job, then the pants put it way over the top.

Now, I thought, maybe it looks different to Japanese eyes; maybe he just looks like a tough guy. And maybe so–one group of students I asked only said that it looked like Bruce Willis, but nothing more than that. But another group said, “No, he looks gay.”

So I am left wondering: was it intentional? Is the fact that he’s a white guy part of it somehow? Or was it simply older managers setting up the ad and not seeing it? I really do not know. Any ideas?

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SoftBank Freezes Pre-orders for iPhone 4

June 19th, 2010 Comments off

So says The Japan Times. Apparently they hit a limit or something. Softbank will not say when one can expect your pre-ordered iPhone (if you got your reservation in before they stopped taking them) will get to you–they just say that they’ll call you when it’s ready. In the U.S., they were putting deliver dates of mid-July on orders taken most recently. I got my order in first thing Wednesday morning, after SoftBank had taken just 3 hours of orders the previous night.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2010, iPhone Tags:

Harbinger of Noise

June 16th, 2010 4 comments

Uh oh…