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December 24th, 2012 1 comment

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

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

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

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

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Big Quake Aftershock

December 7th, 2012 6 comments

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

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

TV is reporting a 7.3. More soon.

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2012-12-07 At 5.48.06 Pm

Here’s the video:

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

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

Categories: Focus on Japan 2012 Tags:

Why I Got Clobbered by Seibu

September 21st, 2012 11 comments

A few months ago I posted on how the new train schedule had royally screwed me over. Not too long after that, I found out the actual reason, but didn’t get around to posting it until now, having seen a poster just now with the prime reason—they call it the “Convenient Commuter Pass:”


This is a new sales pitch by Seibu which betrays their real reasons for making the use of merged lines a pain in the ass: they want more money. It’s fairly apparent that under the old system, it was far too convenient for too many people (like me, for instance) to take the trains linking in to the Fukutoshin, which branched off in Nerima, quite a distance out from Ikebukuro.

That’s bad for Seibu because it means that fewer people will ride in along their own line the rest of the way in to Ikebukuro, depriving them of their share of the fares along that section. They seem to have decided that this is unacceptable, and acted to rectify it. They apparently could not just break the connection with the subway lines, so it would seem that they decided to do as much as they could to make things inconvenient within the framework of joint lines.

The plan: cut the number of direct trains going off on the Fukutoshin out of Nerima. Have the ones you retain start closer in, meaning that people farther out on the lines no longer can catch the train without an inconvenient transfer and wait. Have the ones coming in from the Fukutoshin stop closer in, and at inconvenient non-express terminal stations with long waits before a connecting train comes along. In short, make the direct-connect trains fewer and far more inconvenient.

And then start selling the all-new “Convenient Commuter Pass,” in which they advertise the connection with other train lines… but tout how convenient it is to ride the Seibu Line from Ikebukuro, It’s an extra option! You have two ways to get to your destination now! Just look at the poster! See how easy it is? See how close those stations are? See how the commuters all get to sit down with nobody in the adjacent seats? Isn’t that so much better?

Except it’s not. The whole reason why people ride the direct-connect trains is because it’s a pain in the ass to transfer. To switch from the Fukutoshin to the Seibu line means a quarter-mile walk through one of the most crowded rail stations in the metropolis, up and down staircases and then waiting for trains at the tail end of extremely long lines, never getting a seat unless you decide to form a new line for the following train, which means you stand on the platform for 15 minutes or so after a long day at work.

Yeah, that’s much more convenient than staying in my seat on the train all the way.

But with the new pass, Seibu now gets revenue from the Ikebukuro-to-Nerima stretch, regardless of how often you actually use that stretch. Doubtlessly, many will buy the pass, thinking they are getting a deal—and then realize that the Seibu stretch is completely not worth it, even after Seibu totally screwed up their direct route.

I considered registering a complaint, but after consideration, decided it was pointless. This obviously works for Seibu, and since there are no viable alternatives for commuters, they will have no reason to change the system—at least not that I can foresee. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am.

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The Devil Is in the Details, And Immigration Doesn’t Say Much about the Devil

August 13th, 2012 5 comments

So I am leaving for a business trip to the U.S. soon, and Japan has just adjusted its immigration laws and procedures. One welcome change: re-entry permits are no longer required.

However, there are other details as well. Rules are different between regular visa holders and those with permanent residency. And there’s a new “Residence” card to replace the “Alien Registration Card.”

I have not had time to get the new card, and after all, I am not required to change until 2015. My last re-entry permit expired, but they say you don’t have to have one any more. Feeling my “Gaijin-ey Sense” tingling, I wanted to make sure: if I travel outside of Japan without a new Residence card and without an old-fashioned re-entry permit, am I still OK?

I called Immigration in Shinagawa to make sure, and they said “yes.” I called the Narita office, and they repeated the same thing. Still paranoid, I called the main immigration office again and spoke with a supervisor. Same answer.

Just to be on the safe side, I spoke with an advisory center for foreigners, who told me the same thing, but added one tiny little detail: on the embarkation-disembarkation card they have you fold inside your passport, a new check box has been added: it reads, “みなし再入国許可” and “Departure with Special Re-entry Permission.”

If you don’t check that box, you lose your visa status, including your permanent residence status.

I called Narita once more after learning that, and they gave me the same vague reassurances they had before. I asked if there was anything else, they said “no.” I then asked about the check box. The guy said, “Oh yes, You have to do that too.”

Well, thanks for giving me the heads-up on that.

Okay, maybe they make sure you check the box at the airport. Or maybe it’s something everyone must do and they did not think of mentioning it in answer to my specific question.

And yet, with the consequences as dire as that for such a tiny little detail, one would think they would mention it in passing. You know, “Just make sure to check the ‘re-entry’ box on you E-D card!” To which most people would reply, “The what on my what?”

I really have to wonder how many people are going to walk into major trouble because that detail is glossed over.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2012, Travel Tags:

They Thought I Was a Tourist

July 9th, 2012 Comments off

There’s a small shop in Akihabara called “Akiba Palette Town” which is known for its deals. They are very much the kind of shop that has cardboard boxes out front with cheap merchandise inside. They sell old computers for a few thousand yen a pop, and have all kinds of used CPUs, RAM, and other junk that’s fun to rummage around, and sometimes buy.

A few weeks ago, I went there and saw that they had some nice extras I wanted to pick up for teaching, including a USB3 cable (with the funky new peripheral connector) for ¥200, a few SATA cables for ¥100 each, and a VGA cable for ¥100 also. When I came inside to buy them, I was pleasantly surprised: they gave me half off on everything except the VGA, and the above came ¥300. And they probably still made quite the profit on that.

Today, I was leading a group of students around for our Computer Making Club, showing them the back streets in-between our purchases of parts for the club’s computer this semester. I figured I’d pick up the same collection of cables again, as I could use a few spares and regretted not having bought more the previous time.

So, I put them on the counter and the guy started adding them up. I was wondering what was going on as I saw some strangely high numbers on the tally screen, but figured they had their own odd accounting system. But then the total came up: ¥1380.

¥1380?? At first I thought it was a big mistake, and then I asked the guy how much for the USB3 cable, as an example. He told me it was ¥500. A guy sitting next to him confirmed that.

The box outside was clearly marked ¥200.

I just left the cables there and left, waving them off with an incredulous smile. No sale.

Because I figured out what had happened: when I had come in before, I was wearing different clothes, and looked the part of an otaku who knew what stuff was worth. This time, I had a t-shirt with an American college logo and a cap from our trip to Europe.

They had read me as a tourist and were actually trying to rip me off!!

I was more amused than anything else. Had they charged me full price I would have paid. But more than double? Fifteen bucks for a few pieces of crap they charged me four dollars for before?

Next time I go to that part of town, I intend to try again–the exact same items–and see what they try to charge me then.

I mean, wow. I’ve had shopkeepers try to rip me off before, but never in Japan, never so blatantly. It was a shock, albeit a transparent and amusing rip-off.

Of course, it was nothing to the crap we ran into in Greece; one merchant apparently thought I was unable to count, short-changed me, and when I called her on it, took back my change and then gave me even less back.

However, I did not expect that in Japan. Well, live and learn.

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Clobbered by Seibu

July 7th, 2012 7 comments

When I first moved to Hibarigaoka and up to the time we committed to living there, the train situation was sweet. The line we live on goes only as far as Ikebukuro (short of my work destination), but spurs off at an earlier station, Nerima, to link with the Fukutoshin and Yurakucho subway lines. The Fukutoshin is key for me; it goes directly to Shinjuku-Sanchome, the station where I work. Better yet, there were, I recall, six trains an hour which left my station and stopped in Shinjuku–non-stop locals and express runs. After years of transfers and extremely long walks to and from inconvenient stations, I finally had found a setup that seemed solid.

Just as we bought our new house, the 3/11 quake hit, and train service was disrupted; for a few months, the Seibu Ikebukuro Line stopped serving its connection to the Fukutoshin. During that time, I used my scooter to go to work.

By the time they restored normal service, I was disappointed: they had cut the number of direct trains between my station and Shinjuku down to four per hour–two express and two local runs. Still, there was a direct train every 15 minutes, which was not too bad, and not too different from previous times.

Last week, I came to the station as usual, and saw that the trains were all wrong. I initially assumed that there had been some disruption, and asked at the ticket office. Nope, I was told, the trains were right. The schedule had changed again.

They had cut the direct trains to Shinjuku down to two per hour. Both were express trains, whereas I usually prefer the local (I often use the station before the one at my work, as there’s a sandwich shop close to it, and the walk in to work is only slightly longer).

I was told that there was still a local to Shinjuku, but it left from a station down the line, and I would have to transfer.

Well, great.

I got an even greater shock, however, that evening: the trains coming back home were far worse.

The train lines are a bit complex. As I noted, the Seibu joins with two subway lines; those lines join with two other lines, the nexus more or less being a stop called Kotake-Mukaihara. From there, a small spur reaches out to a station called Nerima on the Seibu Line. This is why the direct trains are a blessing; I can jump on one train, hopefully get a seat, and ride it all the way home. If there are no seats at first, then there are sure to be openings at the transfer points.

When I left for home that night, I found no trains going directly to my line. So I took a train heading to the nexus, and got off to transfer there. It was an 8-minute wait for even a local train to my line, and an additional 12 minutes for the following local. Both stopped short of my station, no express trains within a reasonable time. I took the soonest local, and found myself at Nerima. There, I found that my train had an extra 7-minute wait, while another local to the exact same station would leave in one minute. So I transferred, but lost my seat. When I got to the final stop, one station before mine, it was another 6-minute wait for a train to take me one stop.

Usually it takes 30 minutes to get home. That night, it took more than an hour; four trains, waiting 15 minutes on crowded platforms for three transfers, all trains locals.

One of the reasons we chose our location, why we bought our house here, as I mentioned earlier, was because of the handy access on train lines. Now, a year later, it has been turned into a nightmare. And summer is just beginning. I do not look forward to an extra 15-20 minutes every night of sweating profusely in intense heat and humidity, waiting on a crowded platform for multiple transfers to crowded local trains with no seats.

I discovered my main problem: direct trains from work to home still exist, but there is a baffling 1-hour gap in the schedule with no direct trains in the 7:00 hour–smack in the middle of the times I usually leave work. So I will either have to rush out the door after class, or sit around and wait, and hope I can catch the one train at 7:57, or else wait half an hour for the next one. None of them, by the way, express trains–apparently, no more direct express trains–a few have express stretches on the Fukutoshin, but turn into local pumpkins on the Seibu Line. Kind of defeats the whole purpose of living at an express station.

I am definitely going to issue a complaint with the train company; this is ludicrous.

Not to mention, I am hardly the only one. I see people with physical disorders on the lines quite often; just that one hour-long trip home, a guy with bent legs, in obvious discomfort, was forced to stand and wait and walk and wait and stand some more; if I was annoyed, he was in pain.

Of course, what can you do? Sell the house and move to one on a different train line? No reason for Seibu to give a damn.

What I wonder about is whether this is a permanent change, or will it even get worse in the future? There is a planned extension where the Fukutoshin, at its far end in Shibuya, beyond my stop in Shinjuku, will hitch up with another line leading all the way to Yokohama. If that happens, then you could, conceivably, take one train all the way from Tokorozawa in Saitama to Yokohama in Kanagawa. Maybe when that happens, the schedule will change in my favor again–or maybe, the extension is what’s causing them, for some counter-intuitive reason, to cut the service I depend on.

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A Lot of Stuff Sounds Good…

June 8th, 2012 3 comments


Sure, popcorn shrimp sounds good… but then you buy the dollar-pocket of convenience store seafood and begin regretting it.

When Inferior-Quality Off-White Lard Just Won’t Do

June 6th, 2012 Comments off

Seen on the street near my home recently:



Car Doctor

June 2nd, 2012 Comments off

An aging sign outside a lot on a corner near our house. The lot is filled with old and rusting cars–not the best indicator of how good a “car doctor” the proprietor is. But the sign is the real deal-killer:


Nice aging, wouldn’t you say? The years have given him not only a double chin and some grid-like acne, but two bullet wounds in his right arm.

This sign always freaks me out. Look at the eyes–hell, look at the face:


I mean, damn. It looks like a clone of Super Mario accidentally hybridized with an albino goat, only this moment realizing in abject horror his monstrous fate. Even were the sign not aged and peeling, I feel as if I would recoil from it with a deep sense of hideous disgust.

Really, not a fantastic indicator of the owner’s good sense or taste–in that he not only paid for the thing, but he also has displayed it, for years.

Smelly Train Guy

June 1st, 2012 Comments off

In the past two weeks, I’ve had the same uncomfortable experience four times: some guy walks through the train car I am in. Immediately in his wake, he leave a foul, pungent odor. Not sulfurous, if that’s what you were thinking. More like, kind of a “I haven’t bathed in six months” aroma. It takes a full minute for the smell to dissipate.

This being Japan, nobody in the crowded car so much as turns their head. But if you have become even a bit attuned to people’s expressions here, you can see they feel the same way I do: disgusted by the smell, and grateful that the guy walked through and out to the next car instead of settling in among us here. I feel badly for the people he does camp out next to, though.

I don’t even know if it’s the same guy, but I would not be surprised.

Such things are not rare on Japanese trains, but they are not common, either. I do recall a passenger who was much worse once. This was back on the Chuo Line, maybe in the late 80’s (possibly the early 90’s). A short, stocky guy, messily dressed. The car was not packed, but all the seats were taken. This fellow came to a bench at the end of the car, where three people can sit. Nobody was standing in front of the bench, and the three occupants were either women or slight men.

He stood in front of one of the three people sitting there, and after a few seconds, started hitting the seated passenger’s knees with his knees. More or less he was saying, “I want to sit here, pal, so get out!” After a few seconds, the accosted passenger got up and fled to another part of the car.

But the brazen ass didn’t sit down. He moved on to the next passenger, and did the same thing. After that person left, he got to the last passenger and went through the exact same act as before.

After he cleared the bench that way, he laid down and went to sleep.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2012 Tags:

Late Night Quake

May 28th, 2012 Comments off

Sachi and Ponta and I all just felt a strong, up-and-down trembler, one strong enough to make you think it could turn into “The Big One.” This one was centered in Chiba not too far from Tokyo, but it came on really fast and shook us rather noticeably. It appears to have been at least a 5.0 on the Richter.

Update: it was a 5.2.

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Bad Traffic

May 23rd, 2012 20 comments

Last weekend, Sachi and I went on a kind of ‘day trip’ we have done from time to time: driving Ponta to a dog run in Tokorozawa, and then on to Costco for shopping. Now that we have the car, Costco trips are much easier–but because Costco always sets up shop in distant locations (presumably to avoid high land costs), it’s not an easy drive. Not because of distance–in total, it’s a 35 km (22 mile) round trip. Instead, it’s hard because of insufficient roads and horrific traffic control, making what should be no more than an hour in traffic into a four-hour road trip.

In Japan, most people use trains, in part because of cost, but also perhaps because traffic can be a nightmare at times. Tokyo, like most places in Japan, is not exactly traffic-friendly; thoroughfares are not ubiquitous, and often you have to navigate three sides of a square to get where you want to go.

Take our trip to the dog run in Tokorozawa. As the crow flies, it’s just 8 km (5 mi.). However, the most direct route is on small, narrow roads which, in Japan, qualify as streets with two-way traffic–which is to say, one car pulls over onto the curb while the one coming from the other direction slowly creeps past, with inches of clearance on either side. A lot of roads in Japan are like that, streets so narrow they would barely qualify as a one-way street in the U.S.

The same path is also filled with a multitude of turns, some of which are so subtle and confusing that it is easy to go down the wrong way.

However, this is usually the way that the GPS recommends, probably because it chooses the least-distance route and ignores how fast one might go. Google Maps does the same thing, claiming that the 11-km small-road route to the dog run takes 34 minutes–when in fact, it is more than an hour. Sachi and I discovered that a three-sides-of-a-square route, taking bigger roads, is much faster, despite the fact that it is 16 km (10 mi.).

However, what really gets me is the traffic control. In Japan, I really get the impression that when they plan traffic, they don’t. As in, they don’t give a good goddamn about traffic flow, instead they just follow pre-set standards someone set randomly some time in the past.

It’s like that with road designations and speed limits. You can be in the countryside, on a wide two-lane thoroughfare, with no lights or stop signs for a kilometer at a time, no pedestrians in sight and the sidewalk blocked off by large barriers in any case… and the speed limit will be set to 25 mph (40 kph). In the U.S., a similar street would have double the speed limit. In Japan, the limit is set by the road’s official classification–meaning that a narrower, pedestrian-laden one-lane street near the city center may have a higher speed limit.

Traffic control in Japan seems to be planned the same way–mostly arbitrarily. On our trip last weekend, we ran into at least three traffic jams which were obviously endemic; the exact same traffic jam is there every time we go, and I am sure the same is true of the new jams we encountered on our route this time.

The culprit is usually the same: a badly timed right-turn signal. In Japan, we drive on the left, so right turns must cross traffic. The roads are narrow, and right-turn lanes are short. A traffic signal, especially at a 5-way intersection (where these jams usually occur), may take 2-3 minutes to cycle. However, the right-turn light will last only two or three seconds–and no, I am not exaggerating, I timed it. (The turn light is actually 5 seconds, but straight-through drivers run their red light, cutting a few seconds off the turn signal traffic.) So, naturally, the line of people wanting to turn right quickly backs up, and very soon blocks the whole flow of traffic (as most streets are one lane), thus creating a traffic jam that backs up for more than a kilometer.

What is so stupid about it is that the jams could obviously be eliminated, or at least greatly lessened, by simply extending the turn light by five to ten seconds–nothing when you consider the overall cycle duration. And yet, it never happens. Not all right-turn lights are so poorly timed, but enough are, and they tend to be in key spots where you cannot get around them.

This last weekend, we got caught by exactly that type of traffic jam, made even worse by an incredibly idiotic placement of a parking lot exit stream just 100 meters or so from just such a right-turn trap. We were almost at Costco–one turn away–when traffic came to a stop. And I mean, a dead stop. At one point, I realized that traffic had not moved for more than five minutes. People were starting to get out of their cars to see what had happened.

Now, this was already bad enough before: a signal at the intersection had the same short-right-turn-lane combined with the three-second-turn-light syndrome. Add a steady stream of cars exiting the mall parking lot close by. (In previous trips, we noted that these people got impatient real fast, as if they had been the only ones waiting for half an hour, and tended to bull into the line and then go bumper-to-bumper, denying the main street traffic access to the stream again.)

But instead of simply adjusting that right turn signal, what did the morons in traffic control do? They added a signal just before the parking lot traffic flow. The timing was perfect: as soon as the new signal turned red for the main traffic flow, that’s when the line moved forward, essentially giving most of the flow’s movement to the parking lot traffic–but also more or less turning the main road beyond that point into a parking lot.

Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid. For no cost, they could have alleviated most of the problem. Instead, they spent all that money to add a traffic light, making the problem even worse.

After 10 minutes and still no forward progress, I decided to do something that seemed counter-intuitive. Instead of trying to complete the last 500 meters of that nightmare, I turned around and took a 4-km “shortcut” around a large country club, essentially covering 3-1/2 sides of a large square. It took about 7 minutes, and saved us anywhere from half an hour to an hour.

Nor is this the only kind of stupidity one sees in Japanese traffic control. I remember when I lived in Inagi, they spent years building a completely new, luxuriously wide (for Japan), two-lane thoroughfare straight through the center of town. What used to require a circuitous, jammed-up ride down narrow roads was replaced by a beautiful, wide avenue where one could leisurely cruise straight across town.

Except, of course, they screwed it up with traffic lights. Lights at virtually every intersection, every few hundred meters. Of course, that would not be so bad… if the lights were not set to be staggered. Yep, you could see it down the straightaway: red green red green red. You just leave a red light, and seconds later, you stop at the next one. Each wait was about thirty seconds, and there was virtually no cross-traffic. You felt like a complete idiot, just waiting there for no reason. Then again. And again. And again and again. Just as stupid: I found that if you took a narrow side street, it had no stops signs or traffic lights, and so you could completely avoid the three-minute delay and zip past in seconds. And yet, I was apparently the only one who had found this–the side street was always empty, even when the traffic on the main street was heavy.

Ironically, the main, traffic-signal-filled street passed right by city hall. I don’t understand why the place has not get been burned to the ground by irate commuters.

Except that, this is Japan. People simply accept this crap–probably because they know that complaining will do no good. I would not be surprised it, six years later now, the traffic lights were still the same.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2012 Tags:


May 21st, 2012 8 comments

Just got finished viewing the eclipse here. People out on the street and all that. Got to see it through a filtered lens, and while the live view is something you should see, it’s still–ironically–way better on TV.

What was neat, though, was the quality of light–something which you can’t really photograph well. It got darker, but not the way it does with coldness. Kind of a muted shade, but still with direct sunlight. Spooky, and cool.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2012 Tags:

Romertopf Chicken

May 13th, 2012 4 comments

When I was a kid and our mom had to work nights, we took responsibility for our own cooking, and one of our usual meals was Romertopf clay-pot chicken. Romertopf is an unglazed ceramic cooking pot which does a great job of keeping juices in–I had just forgotten how well it can do that.

When my brother and his wife left Japan recently, they left us their Romertopf; they had acquired one small enough to fit into a Japanese microwave/convection oven. It was not as big as the ones we used to use, but it can be big enough.

Eager to try it out, I went to our local supermarket and ordered a whole chicken–they don’t sell them whole in Japan usually, and this one took 4 days. Now, my sister-in-law warned me that the pot would not take more than a 1.5 kg chicken, and so I tried to order one. The store guy warned me that the chickens they could order would be bigger than that, so I just asked him to order the smallest one he could get.

It turned out to be a 2.5 kg chicken.

And, as expected, it came nowhere close to fitting in the pot. I still wanted to try it out, though, so I cut off the neck (they had left about 6 inches of it), the wings, and a bit of the tail; I also cut off the legs and thighs, but didn’t leave those out. With everything trimmed, I could fit the torso in the pot, and though it was a tight fit, I was able to put the legs and thighs back in, albeit reversed.

One of the tricks, I think, is to leave the torso cavity open, stuffed with onions and spices, so I did not want to just chop the bird up and pile the pieces in–they would have fit better, but keeping the chicken as whole as possible was optimum.

So, after pouring on some soy sauce, brandy, and red wine, then adding the same spices I put in the chicken (basil, garlic & onion powder, celery salt) on top, with some paprika (Spanish pimentón in this case) for appearance.

Rom Ready

As you can see, it was bulging out. I could fit the cover on, but obviously there was not much space left. I could only fit in a few small potatoes, instead of several along with some carrots.

Figuring it was the best I could do, I put it into the oven–even with a small pot, it barely fit–and set it for 90 minutes at 175 C. Or, for 60 min at 180 C, as the oven couldn’t be set for more than an hour, and only could be adjusted to 10-degree intervals. After 60 minutes, I set it for another 30; you’re supposed to cook for 80 minutes, take the top off, then cook for another 10 minutes.

Of course, the oven was so small that I had to remove the whole thing to take the top off, and so all the heat escaped; I cooked for 15 minutes rather than 10 with the top off.

But boy, did it ever work!

Rom Cooked01

Rom Cooked02

Alas, the photos (different colors as they were taken by different cameras) don’t do it justice. It looked good enough from the outside, but when I cut up the meat, it was the juiciest chicken I remember ever seeing. Just fabulous. Again, this photo doesn’t do the spread justice:

Rom Table

We went in for seconds and thirds, eating nearly the whole chicken.

Next time, I want to try a 2 kg chicken, if I can get one just the right size. One of the nice things about Romertopf, however, is that it is really hard to get wrong; it’s very forgiving, and consistently good.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2012, Hibarigaoka Tags:

None for You

April 2nd, 2012 2 comments

An advertisement seen on the Tokyo subway today:


Motto: “No Loan: We’re Just Here to Taunt You.”

Recent Funny Stuff from Japan

March 27th, 2012 11 comments

The usual Engrish:


A dog harness, licensed by Disney no less:


A hub guard for bicycles:


We’ve had these diapers for a while:


However, I had never seen this brand before:


Is that like “Tosh.0”? Maybe the “N” is like n, a variable.

Out of the realm of language, I saw this recently:


In case you can’t make it out, that’s a crow’s nest–made almost entirely of clothes hangers. Talk about your city birds.

Finally, when we went to see War Horse, they were also showing Star Wars: Episode 1 (the 3-D version), and had loads of Star Wars gear. Aside from the R2D2 trash can (at more than $130, way too expensive), the only thing that appealed to me was, I thought, a very clever item: lightsaber chopsticks.


Each one was associated with a character, the handles modeled carefully after the ones in the movies. Note the handles on Dooku’s:


I was tempted to buy a pair, then I imagined how I’d look using them.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2012 Tags:

Early Quake on Top of Us

March 16th, 2012 Comments off

When I woke up a few minutes ago, I had a vague feeling there might have been a quake during the night. Turns out there had been–a 5.2, in fact, centered just 17 km, barely over ten miles to the north of us. Sachi said that it was pretty scary, but all I did was check the time on my iPad (it was 4:20 a.m.) and fell right back to sleep.

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And Get a Haircut!

February 15th, 2012 3 comments

At a local bank:


And while you’re at it, get a job! Move out of the garage!

iPad 3 and LTE

February 14th, 2012 1 comment

Rumors are now solidifying, identifying a March 7 date for an Apple event announcing the iPad 3. The release is expected within a week after the event, in mid-March. The new iPad will almost certainly have a high-density 2048 x 1536 screen, a stronger battery, and likely a quad-core A6 CPU.

What about the long-rumored LTE, however? The most recent stories claim thew other features are expected, but that LTE is only “possible.”

That made me wonder, if there is LTE in the new iPad, how will Softbank be able to react to it? They don’t have LTE yet, do they? So I looked it up.

Softbank actually “soft-launched” (whatever that means) an LTE network last November, covering only parts of major cities. It plans to cover more than 90% of Japan by the end of 2012, with eventual 97% coverage of the country. They have been installing a very large number of microcells, as many as 150 base stations per square kilometer, in the hopes of handling high capacity traffic. The service will reportedly provide speeds of up to 110 Mbps download and 15 Mbps upload.

However, it’s not publicly available yet. So, when will it be commercially launched?

At the end of February. A week before the iPad 3 is announced, just a few weeks before it is launched.


Categories: Focus on Japan 2012, iPad, Mac News Tags:

Another Quake? Oh.

February 11th, 2012 Comments off

A 4.7 just hit a few minutes ago, epicenter 40 km / 25 miles north-northeast of here. Probably the fourth one big enough to feel in the last month or so, that I’m aware of.

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