Archive for the ‘Ikebukuro’ Category

Merry Christmas!

December 25th, 2011 5 comments

2011 has been a long year for us, with unusually extreme ups and downs. This was the year of the Tohoku earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis. It was also the year we lost Sachi’s father and my mother.

On the other end of things, however, we bought a car, got our brilliant little puppy Ponta, and bought a new house. I was even supposed to get Spanish citizenship, though that was thwarted at the last moment by Spanish bureaucracy (I’ll almost certainly get it later, though). Things have changed fast, making life today almost unrecognizable from what it was a year ago.

So here’s looking towards a bright future, with greetings from us here in the Poza household.

Here is our Christmas Card (enlarge on click) for this year:


And yes, I photoshopped the license plate, we don’t really have all fives. If you would like to see Sachi’s souped-up and doggie-fied version of this, go check out the post at Shiba Me.

Merry Christmas!

Categories: Focus on Japan 2011, Ikebukuro Tags:

Moved In

May 5th, 2010 10 comments

Sorry to be offline for so long. We’ve been busy, understandably. The move went pretty well, and the movers we chose, Ark, seem to be a good outfit. I explained before how their rep handled himself well, and the moving staff did the same. They arrived a half hour earlier than their estimated start time, did a good job of familiarizing themselves with the plan, and got to work right away. Any request we made was instantly carried out. They wrapped everything up well, and nothing was damaged or lost (at least as far as we can determine so far).

The day before the move, their air conditioner guy had come over and uninstalled our two units, setting them on the floor for moving, so that was all ready to go. On the day of the move, everything got transported, no problem with space in the trucks, and no difficulties in terms of logistics. (The Heart guys in Inagi were almost churlish about squeezing all of my stuff in the truck.) Within three hours, they were all packed up and ready to go. Sachi stayed behind to clean up while I scooted over to the new place so I could let them in. This is what it looked like the last time I saw it:

Vanguard Panorama 600

Now, the last time I moved, when we finished getting the trucks packed up and moved to the new place, the movers (an outfit called “Heart,” as I recall) were slow; on my scooter, I stopped by work on the way back, and still the movers did not get there until about a half hour after I did. This time, though, even without a delay more than a quick gas station pit stop, the movers got there within minutes of me–taking normal roads, no less. The Heart guys also were poor at installing stuff; they just dumped our washer-drier in its space, and said they didn’t do connections, leaving us in a pinch, as the hoses didn’t match the new setup at the time. But the Ark guys this time took care of everything, and made sure we were set up.

By the time Sachi finished up and got to our new place, the movers were mostly finished. But the place was cluttered with stuff, mostly boxes–it seemed like there was way too much stuff. It just looks like that when all your stuff is out and boxed, I guess. After the movers left, we had other visitors–delivery people, cable TV people, and a few others, to help us get started with everything. By the end of the day, we had phone, Internet, and cable TV in addition to the necessary water, gas, and electric. We were way too tired after that to do much unpacking.

The next two days were torrents of comings and goings. Two different air conditioner installers came; one to reinstall the ones we had previously, and one to install two new ones we just bought (for a bargain 35,000 yen each, a sale we found a few weeks ago). Another guy came to install the heated toilet seat with bidet (can’t do without that), and a variety of other goods were brought to us–a 6 x 3 foot shoes cabinet for the foyer (which I spent most of yesterday putting together), shelves for a kitchen spot, lamps for two rooms that needed them, and I forget what else. Oh yeah, a gas stove/range, which I installed. Later, while I installed lamps and laid wires, Sachi laid new topsoil for all the potted plants, which we hope will do away with the infestation of fungus gnats which we believe breed there. They’ve been in our faces for two years now; I hope we got rid of them. And then there was the unpacking, which we’re still only about 80% of the way through–but enough so that we don’t have to dodge boxes wherever we walk so much anymore.

So today we went out to visit home centers, hoping to find little “furniture” items that could help hold all the stuff we want to put in certain places, and take advantage of otherwise blank spaces in the apartment. Like this large counter space behind the toilet that would just be a big, empty, wasted space, or the ledge next to the washer & drier which we need to hold much more stuff. The kitchen pantry is great, but has way too much wasted vertical space, so we’re trying to find smaller shelving and boxes to add to it. We found some good stuff, but decided that it’d be cheaper, faster, and much easier to buy it online. But hey, home center stores are great fun anyway.

After that, we did the obligatory visit to the neighbors with little gifts, what you’re supposed to do in Japan when you move in somewhere. Two people were home, another two were out, and the last place seems to be in mothballs. Still, the neighbors seem like decent folks. Over the next week or two, we’ll have to finish up notifying all businesses and government offices of our new address.

The apartment: we’ve only been here for 3 days, but already several points are becoming apparent. First, it’s a big place. Great for spreading out, bad for trying to find Sachi to talk to her about something. Closet space is fantastic–we have five full-sized closets, and one small one. The small one is in the toilet-bath-laundry area, which is contrarily lacking in storage space, a lot less roomy than our old place–ironic, because it seems to take up more space in the new place. So while we’re struggling to figure out where to jam stuff in the bath area, we’ve got tons of closet space elsewhere.

The water pressure is so-so, and we’re back to having a system where we have to turn on the gas heater to get warm water. My solution back in inagi was simple: leave it on all the time. Sachi originally thought about turning it on and off every time we used warm water, but I balked and so now we turn it on in the morning and off at night or when we both leave for a few hours. The toilet room is OK–more isolated from the rest of the place, though not as well soundproofed–but it kinda has that new-apartment mildew smell to it, which I think this building is prone to. I’m not worried, Sachi has an innate (neurotic) sense for fighting stuff like that.

The soundproofing for the whole place is rather weak. Internal walls and doors are easy to hear through, and we could even hear stuff that neighbors are doing at their loudest–a switch from our last place, which was built more fortress-mansion-like. Still, it’s not so bad. However, I would not want to live with more than my wife here with the noise like that. Interestingly, the place could potentially house a family of five easily, six if you use what seems to be the foundation for a partition to make part of the living room a small extra room. If every room had two people, that would mean as many as 10 people in the place. I’m actually a bit surprised that poorer East Asian immigrant tenants, sometimes known for loading up in apartments, haven’t moved in to one of these units (people who don’t mind living in other people’s noise); rent would work out to about $150 per person, a steal for Tokyo. I only mention it because it almost seems like the place was designed for that. Or at least a large (for Japan) family with grandparents shacking up with them.

The sunlight is not too bad, but nothing direct enters the apartment. Most of the time it’s bright enough, but the dining room does get dark in the daytime sometimes; Sachi commented that a skylight would be perfect for the dining area, and I agree.

The neighborhood is pretty good. There’s a fantastic yakitori joint across the street from us which has terrific chicken on a stick, and they do take-out. We ate from there the first two nights. It’s 100 yen per stick, and they’re not chintzy on the meat.


Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be too many other eateries too close, but I’m sure we’ll unearth some good places nearby soon. Denny’s is right across from us, and they’re not bad. As I think I mentioned before, there’s a big supermarket with large drug store and dollar shop around the block (a rather large block), open till 9 (the market until 10:45pm), and a smaller 24-hour supermarket much closer, almost across the street.


And there seem to be four home centers within a 20-minute bike ride, a long with a lot of other stuff.

One more nice point: while our south-facing windows mostly look out on a 15-story bank of danchi, when we leave the apartment, the hallway overlooks a nice park, seen in panorama below. Down point: lots of kids making noise during the day, and a hangout for older kids later in the evening (which has me worried about the bicycles and the scooter). But nice to look at most of the time.

Hibari Park Panorama 600

Overall, it’s a good move. We miss some of the nicer appointments of Vanguard Tower, but for a place that’s saving us a relative thousand bucks a month, we haven’t traded down nearly so far as it might sound.

Categories: Hibarigaoka, Ikebukuro Tags:

Moving Day

May 2nd, 2010 1 comment

Ah, Vanguard Tower. 21st floor. Great view. Almost 3 years. Way too much rent money. We’ll miss it all. Especially the rent money.


Gotta pull the Internet cables now. See you in Hibarigaoka.

Categories: Ikebukuro Tags:

Vanguard Panorama

April 30th, 2010 1 comment

Been taking a few photos to remember the place by. Here’s a stitched panorama of the nighttime view from the balcony, taken tonight. The image runs from north at far left, through the eastern view, to the south and almost fully to the west–about 260 degrees, in all. The tallest building, on the right, is the 60-story Sunshine City building; the small blue building to its right is the Amlux Building (which blocks the view of Mt. Fuji from this perspective); to the left of Sunshine is the Prince Hotel. The bright light in the sky is the full moon. Tokyo Tower is a tiny thing in this image, barely a single pixel; it is halfway between the building below the moon and the tall, dark building to it’s right.


The 500-pixel image above doesn’t do the panorama justice, of course; so here are links to a 2300 x 1024 copy, or for a better view, one which is 4000 x 1667. And for those who want to see the bearings, here is a titled 4000 x 1750 version with the cardinal directions and major landmarks pointed out. Enjoy.

Categories: Ikebukuro Tags:

The View From Vanguard

April 25th, 2010 1 comment

We’re leaving next week, and so it’s appropriate that The View From Our Window has now been memorialized in Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish:

Screen Shot 2010-04-25 At 1.26.44 Am

The original here (click for enlargement, 2K pixels wide):


And here’s the post from last week, a photo taken about the same time, super-zoomed up on Tokyo Sky Tree under construction.

Categories: Ikebukuro Tags:

Tokyo Sky Tree

April 18th, 2010 Comments off

We’re leaving Ikebukuro–and our nice view–in a few weeks, so we won’t see the Sky Tree (I still hate that name) develop more than the 350 meters it is right now, unless we go somewhere else that affords a view. So here’s a nice, tall view of the tower a nice, tall view of the tower as it currently stands.


Categories: Focus on Japan 2010, Ikebukuro Tags:

Domicile Hunt, Part II

March 21st, 2010 7 comments

As is usual with a house-hunt, plans have changed a bit. Nothing final, but some developments. First, Sachi and I have switched preference from the first apartment I featured here a few days back. While it was a nice apartment, there were a few minor down points. While we were OK with the first floor, that was not a big plus for us. It was a touch on the small side for us, though it would have sufficed, to be sure. The toilet room was placed too centrally for my taste; I don’t like toilet rooms that feature sound from that room so prominently to the rest of the apartment. All these are minor points. A slightly bigger problem was location; at the far side of the development, it was pushing more than 15 minutes in walking distance to the train station. A potential problem was a construction site on the other side of the building. Plus points were the fact that it was brand-new, there was a Seiyu supermarket a few minutes away, and it was among park-like territory, with nice birds flying about.

Sachi and I can’t move house until at least mid-April, however, and putting a claim on the apartment would have necessitated that we move in earlier than that. So we waited for a week (risking the place being snapped up), and in that time, did a bit more looking around. One thing we found was another project in Hibarigaoka–same station area–but an older development, this one about ten years old. But we found that for just about ¥14,000 a month extra, we could upgrade from a 3LDK to a 4LDK–from 84 m2 to 89 m2.

The problem: we can’t even see the place until mid-April. The current tenants won’t move out for another 5 days or so, and UR won’t give us a peek until the reforming is done on April 16th. We’d love to tell them it’s OK, we won’t be scared by a little mold on the walls–but they were sticklers about it. So all we have to go on is the floor plan and a look at the unit from the outside. Here’s the floor plan:


The “Poza Room” is where Sachi does her aromatherapy / reflexology stuff. Sachi and I would each have a room to ourselves to use as office / den / workrooms. Sachi might use the feature of opening up the rooms between her work room and the “Poza Room.” (I might use the door space for shelves.)

Here’s a view from above:

2Goto 01

The new place in Hibarigaoka has some nice pluses. It’s on the top floor of the building; admittedly, it’s a three-story building, but noise from above tends to be the most notable, so having no one above is nice. It’s big, with a significantly sized living-dining room combo and a kitchen with an open counter to the dining room, and four rooms aside from that. The three smaller rooms are together and actually can be semi-combined by opening sliding doors. The hallway space is mostly adjunct to the other rooms, opening things up more. The kitchen opens to both sides, as does the bath, accessible directly from the master bedroom. There’s a small park on one side, the rest of the development on the other. There’s even an elevated nature area right outside, complete with bird feeder, which I think I could load and attract some nice birds with.

The down sides include the age of the building–at ten years, it’s not new. There’s a lot of green–including on top of the building–though as you can see above, it mostly turns brown and bare in the winter. The park outside is nice, but it was filled with kids at the time we were there, a bit of a noise potential. And the 14-story buildings are right in the southern-facing view; not only does a third-story apartment lack a good view, it is easily blocked.

However, the sun mostly stays above the buildings to the south, and strategically-placed trees help with the general effect. Moreover, the local amenities are not to be sneezed at: it’s on Yato Blvd., a good north-south road leading straight to Hibarigaoka and Tanashi Stations; there’s a bus station right out front; there’s a 24-hour supermarket right across the street, and on the far side of that block, a large combination supermarket / pharmacy / Daiso (discount store) open till almost 11pm.

The distance from the station is roughly equivalent to the place from last week–at 12 minutes walking (I timed it), it’s at least a few minutes closer, and along the main road too.

In the development in question, we were able to see a room–but only one that was a bit small for us. It was, however, on the 13th of 14 floors. The view was magnificent–north of Tokyo laid out behind you as you come in the front door, and from the balcony, all of south Tokyo laid out–from the skyscrapers of Shinjuku on the left, to Mt. Fuji on the right. Fuji was even in view when we visited:

Fuji Hibari

But then we thought back on the two and a half years we’ve spent in Ikebukuro: despite having a great view, we almost never actually look at it. We do, however, use the floor space in our apartment on a regular basis. So as nice as the view may be, floor space trumps it.

In the room we saw, though, we could get an idea of how ten years looks on the building, and what the fittings are like. Similar to many UR housing developments, the materials are pretty basic and relatively unattractive. Still, it’ll do.

So, will we go with the new place? Probably what we’ll do is put our claim on it. Since it is just now opening up, it gives us more time to look for another place. UR allows you to place a claim on a room, but if it’s open, you must make a final decision within a week. However, since this place won’t be open for viewing until mid-April, we get to keep our hold without a commitment until then, allowing us to spend the next month looking at possible alternatives, seeing if anything else opens up.

So, that’s probably what we’ll do–pass on the place I blogged about last week, and sign up for this other place tomorrow–then take our time looking at still more places. Whee!

Domicile Hunt

March 18th, 2010 5 comments

(This post covers the move Sachi and I plan to make soon; if you know much about the location or anything else we’re considering here, advice, information, or other input in the comments would be greatly appreciated!)

At the beginning of this year, Sachi and I decided that it was time to move. For two and a half years we have been living in our apartment in Ikebukuro, and that’s much too long. Don’t get me wrong, we love it–but it’s way too pricey. When we moved in, we had two incomes and could easily afford it–it actually was less than our previous rents combined. But then Sachi stopped working, for a short time we thought, but then the short time got longer. We really should have moved to a new place a year ago, but I guess we just got complacent. As a result, we’ve been treading water financially–at least in terms of salary and the bank account, with the Apple stock taking over as the only factor increasing our assets.

So from the beginning of the year, we started looking into the idea of buying a home. We chose an initial direction–Musashi Kosugi, just on the other side of the Tama River from Tokyo on a good train line–and started to look around. We got a realtor we liked who started looking into properties for us, and began the process of applying for a bank loan.

As it turned out, the loan didn’t go through; what may eventually decide it for us is my obtaining permanent residency in Japan. That should not be a problem–after 12 straight years living here, with the career of college professor, and married to a Japanese national, I’m more or less a shoo-in. I applied a few weeks ago, but it could take 3-6 months, and even after that, the loan could take a bit more to clear, and then just finding a place we’d like to buy could take even longer–maybe even a year or more. Meanwhile, our money is going down the rent drain.

So we’ve decided to move to a new place in the meantime, and mid-April–when I have a break from school, and Sachi finishes getting her license in aromatherapy–seems like the perfect time. It’ll mean moving out of Ikebukuro, where we have enjoyed the benefits of living in central Tokyo, not to mention a nice apartment on the 21st floor with a great view–but you get what you pay for, and pay for what you get.

One of the nice things about the place we have is the landlord–or the lack of one. We live in a building run by “UR” (Urban Renaissance), a public agency which has the very attractive features of solid, modern units, relatively low rents, no usurious “gift money” for landlords or commission for real estate agents (which combined is usually equal to three months’ rent!), and absolutely no problems with being a foreigner. You do pay three months’ rent as a deposit, but they are very honest about refunding it–they gave me back nearly all my deposit when I left my place in Inagi, despite a lot of damage to the place over time. If we move out of this UR apartment and into another one, we’ll actually come out with more money, as the rent will be lower and the deposit difference will be well in our favor.

After checking around, we have found what looks to be a good candidate, in a place called Hibarigaoka. It’s on the Seibu Ikebukuro Line, the second express stop out, just 15 minutes from Ikebukuro. Even better, there seem to be four trains per hour that run through to the Fukutoshin Line, which goes more or less straight to my work–two of them express trains (at worst, the train ride would be 40 minutes–perfect for watching a TV episode on an iPad…). The station area is pretty nice, with a fair amount of shopping and resources. It is a bit far out, roughly as far as Tanashi, Koganei, and Chofu–even almost as far out as Inagi, where I used to live, but on a much more straight line in to central Tokyo. Ome Boulevard runs right past that area, and to test it out I rode my scooter from Hibarigaoka to my school, and it took only a bit longer than half an hour–as with Inagi, the scooter would be faster. Catch a few lights, and it’d be a bit under 30 minutes. As an added bonus, it might even get me back to birdwatching; the place we’re looking at seems to have good birds right where it is, but the location is also a very short scooter ride from Koganei Park and Tama Reien, two good birding spots.

The apartment we’re thinking of is part of a renovation project they’re undertaking in Hibarigaoka, and about time. There’s a very old housing project there consisting of almost 200 buildings, and they look horrifyingly bad–just completely rusted, stained, run-down–as close to “slum-like” as I’ve ever seen in Japan. These are being torn down and replaced with new buildings.

We were first drawn to a unit which looked great–93 square meters, 4LDK (four rooms in addition to the main “LDK,” the living-dining-kitchen). And it is a good unit–but there’s a reason it hasn’t been snapped up yet: noise. It is right on a well-traveled road with buses constantly running through, and there’s a huge construction project going up right across the street. The windows are all double-paned glass and it’s not that bad, but it’s too much of a risk to take on just a short inspection. Too bad–as the unit is also just a few feet away from the neighborhood supermarket. But if noise were not a problem, it would have been snapped up by someone in any case, and still not an option for us.

Apt-Floorplan-01But when we came to check that one out, we also took a look at another unit which is now our prime candidate (pictured at right). It’s 85 square meters, 3LDK with a good-sized bedroom. Although the living-dining area is a tad smaller than our current place, it is bigger overall by about 12 square meters. We would use the extra room as an office or den, where my computer and other stuff would be set up; what I marked as “Sachi’s Room” is where she’d do her business with visiting clients. The rooms are all quite large–most places have rooms that max out at 6 tatami, whereas these rooms start at almost that size.

The unit is on the first floor, but it’s away from major traffic and has very nice landscaping all around (tons of cherry blossom and other nice trees). There’s a unit above us, but that’s it; the apartment is at one end of the building, and the other side is the entrance hall, so no neighbors to make noise there. Three sides of the apartment is windowed and it looks very nice. The terrace is wide enough to put a table and eat outside when it’s nice. They even have screen doors installed–something most apartments don’t have, and that costs you more. It’s a bit farther out from things–about 14 minutes’ walk from the station as opposed to the 10 minutes for the unit we originally were interested in, and it’s a 3-4 minute walk from the supermarket (a nice, large Seiyu open till 1 am), but that’s not a big problem. There will be construction one building over (the next stage of the renovation of the project), but it’s on the far side of the building and so shouldn’t be too bad. We probably won’t even have trouble with neighbors’ cigarette smoke drifting in (knock on wood).

There is one big down point: the toilet. Note from the map that it’s smack in the middle of the apartment, where the, um, toilet noises will be quite audible for most of the apartment. Worse, the toilet is plain-jane, no washlet with electric seat and bidet, something which Sachi and I now would have a very hard time doing without. But the noise issue is something we can live with I guess, and we can always buy a washlet–expensive, but not overly so.

One nice thing: the rent is $1000 per month lower than what we pay now. Not only will that save us a bundle in rent money on a monthly basis, helping to save up for the down payment on the house we’ll eventually buy, but it also means that when we move, if we get our full deposit back (which I suspect we will), we’ll have $3000 left over after paying up the new deposit. That’ll help pay for the washlet, the moving costs, and leave a nice chunk of change left over.

An interesting addendum: the unit I just described is in Higashi-Kurume City. Interestingly, the first unit we were interested in is in Nishi-Tokyo City–the city limit cuts through the development, with different city rules and regs–trash pickup is different, for instance, and we would get to use the local library almost across the street from us–only available for nice Higashi-Kurume folk, not those shifty Nishi-Tokyo riffraff.

If we move to this place, it’ll probably be around April 15~20, when I’m on break and after Sachi finishes her current training, so the timing would be good. We might even be greeted by the cherry blossoms, I’d have to check when they’re in bloom this year.

So, anyone have any input? Higashi-Kurume, Hibarigaoka Station on the Seibu-Ikebukuro Line, a UR apartment, 1st floor in a new building, etc. We haven’t committed yet, but will have to soon if we want it.


December 30th, 2009 Comments off


I fell asleep at about 10:30 pm last night, on my way to the usual accelerated westbound jet-lag recovery. Which means that I woke up around 5 am this morning, and was able to catch the early dawn light.

Categories: Ikebukuro Tags:


December 1st, 2009 1 comment

During a recent visit to Tokyu Hands, Sachi and I were tempted by the wigs:


We tried on about 5 or 6 before a clerk told us to cut that out (more I think because we were taking photos). Personally, I like the blond one: “Waaaayyynnee!!!!”

Sachi came out looking like one of my students:


Me, I just look cool.


New Tokyo Tower

September 26th, 2009 2 comments

Oldtt00If you’ve ever been to Tokyo, or at least seen the movie Mothra, then you probably know about Tokyo Tower, a fixture in the city for the past fifty-one years. Built in 1958, at a height of 332.5 meters, it has been perhaps the city’s most famous landmark. Go almost anywhere in the southern half of the city, and it’ll probably be visible–a big, red-and-white tower in the heart of the city.

Tokyo Tower was built as a broadcasting platform, at first for newfangled TV transmissions, and a few years later for radio as well. The problem is that Japan is now switching over to HDTV (called Hi-Vision here), and Tokyo Tower is not tall enough for sending terrestrial digital signals.

As a result, it was figured that a new tower would have to be built. I’d heard about it a few times over the past several years–a big ol’ tower raised in the relatively low-level area around Asakusa, due east of Ueno and north-east of Akihabara, about 1.5 km distant from each.

The new tower is slated to finish construction in December of 2011, opening in Spring of 2012, and is going to reach 610 meters in height, not quite double the old Tokyo Tower. But it won’t be called “New Tokyo Tower” officially. Instead, it has the doubtful monicker “Sky Tree,” a somewhat Japanese-sounding English name. I’m gonna call it “New Tokyo Tower” myself.

I had thought that it would take a while longer before construction was visible–they broke ground about 6 months ago–but when I looked out my window today, I happened to notice a new building on the horizon. Not every day that hap–um, well, actually, in Tokyo, it is about every day that happens, now that I think about it. But this building will be bigger than most. Here’s what I can see now:



According to the tower’s home page, it is currently at 153 meters; sounds about right.

By copying and photoshopping an artist’s rendering of the tower over the images I took, you can get an idea of what it’ll look like:



From our balcony, without the zoom magnification, at about 8.7 km (5.4 miles) distant, it would look like this:


So, naturally, buy 2011, some other building will have cropped up right in the way. Not that we’ll be here to be annoyed by it–we’ll probably move out of our current place by next year sometime, the intent being to buy a place and pay into the equity instead of just bleeding rent.

One other observation about the tower: it is situated almost perfectly for observing fireworks. I imagine that it’ll be booked for years in advance for engagements viewing the Sumida Fireworks show, the most famous in Tokyo, which go on just a few hundred meters away. Wouldn’t be surprised in the tower were already booked for three years from now, and maybe a few years beyond that.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2009, Ikebukuro Tags:

First Anniversary

September 20th, 2009 6 comments

In a way, that is. Officially, Sachi and I were married on March 17th, 2008. But that was just a legal matter, doing the paperwork at city hall. What we consider our “real” wedding was… well, again, more than one occasion. We got married on September 20th last year in the United States, and then again on September 27th in Japan. So it’s kind of hard to tell when out actual anniversary is. In one way, I have three times the burden of the usual husband, having to remember three dates instead of just one. On the other hand, if I forget one, I have two more chances.

Today we kept the celebration modest (next week’s will be more elaborate); we went to a very nice local restaurant, one we went to once before, but only once as it opened just a few months ago. It’s just a few hundred feet away from our apartment building in Ikebukuro. It’s a great little plane, called “Danoi,” which we were told is Italian for “home” (though I could not confirm that with online dictionaries). It’s a very nice little Italian restaurant tucked back on a side street nearby, and we really like the place. The chief waiter is a Nepalese gentleman named Sabin who speaks Japanese and English very well, and we were served by a charming waitress named Keiko tonight.

The restaurant first serves you bread; tonight it was with butter, olive oil, and a cheese sauce, and was delicious. We ordered pizza first; though it’s not on the menu, we asked for Prosciutto pizza like we did last time, and they obliged us. Next we had a delicious pork dish (gently cooked, with tomato topped by cheese), a nice Caesar salad, and finished with salmon and broccoli pasta.




At one point I mentioned it was our anniversary, and so they gave us dessert for free; we got Tiramisu and chocolate cake (it was more like fudge!), which were both delicious.



A few more images of Sachi and I, alone, and with Sabin and Keiko.


Danoi All

We’d include the URL for the restaurant, but as the place is new, the web site isn’t up yet. If you’re interested in knowing where it is, comment (fill in your email address) and note the request and that you don’t want the comment published, and I will send you more info on how to get there.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2009, Ikebukuro Tags:

Smoking Neighbors

September 15th, 2009 3 comments

Over the summer, Sachi and I have again been subjected to neighbors smoking. With reasonable temperatures out there, we like to leave the balcony window open and get some fresh air into the apartment. The problem is, the wind comes in from the north, and the neighbor immediately to our north frequently comes out onto his balcony to smoke. Closing our balcony door when he starts is no solution; by then, the stink has permeated our apartment, and it’s too late. We’d ask him to stop, but we’re pretty sure that he wouldn’t.

And when you think about it, what he’s doing is kind of asinine. The reason he goes out onto his balcony to smoke is so he does not stink up his apartment. So instead, he stinks up ours. How nice.

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Second Large Earthquake in 3 Days

August 11th, 2009 1 comment

Sachi and I were woken up just after 5am this morning by a quake just as strong as the one two days ago. Not much to report specifically aside from the usual shaking and swaying–and then we went back to sleep. (It was five in the morning!)

According to the news, this one was 6.5–a touch weaker than before–but had an epicenter much closer to the coast, this time just off Izu Peninsula. And unlike before, the magnitude of the quake was felt much more strongly near the center. In Tokyo, the strength felt was 4 on the Japanese scale of 7, but nearer the epicenter, the strength was a “low” 6–enough to throw items off shelves. Several dozen people were hurt, none reported killed so far.

Two large quakes in such a short time are certain to stoke speculation that a third, and much bigger one, is on its way. Wheee. Let’s hope, however, that these largish temblors are serving to release tension in the fault lines, and are doing the reverse of what people may fear.


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That Felt Pretty Darn Big

August 9th, 2009 2 comments

Quake in Tokyo, 7:56 pm. Sizable.

Wow, that was probably the strongest earthquake we’ve felt in our Ikebukuro apartment, and the strongest temblor I recall for quite a long time. It may have been magnified by the fact that we’re fairly high up in a tall building, but still, that was sizable.

News reports mark it as being centered in the Pacific, just south of Shizuoka Prefecture, maybe only 30km off the coast–but it was pretty big, at a magnitude of 6.5 to 7.0 on the Richter scale. On the Japanese scale of 1 to 7, Central Tokyo was marked as a “4.” A 2 is barely noticeable, and a 3 is easily felt and relatively common.

But if that was a 4, I don’t want to feel a 6. Even a 5 would be pretty scary. This 4 was bad enough.

Update: The Bosai site is saying that there was a quake at 7:55 200 km south of the 7:56 quake which measured 7.5 on the Richter scale!

Now more sites are identifying the more southern epicenter.

Otherwise, the quake info looks strange–locations close to the quake felt is less strongly than many places 1-200 km more distant. Looking at the strength as felt on the ground, one would think that the quake was centered north-east of Tokyo.


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Mini Castella

March 19th, 2009 2 comments

These are a great little snack: Mini Castella. “Castella” are a kind of pound cake, and sometimes you will see stalls along the street which make small balls, slightly smaller than golf-ball size versions of these, called mini castella.


In the basement of the Ikebukuro Mitsukoshi Department Store, they have a mini castella stand which produces a variety–cheese pudding filled, chocolate filled, maple flavored, and a few more, but the all-around favorite is the Caramel Flake, which is a castella filled with a good dollop of caramel cream with crunchy flakes. Yum. And not too expensive–each one is two bites, and you get 32 for about $10. (Well, not expensive for Japan, at least.)

I got these when Sachi’s friends came to visit, and they quickly disappeared.

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Birthday Gift

March 19th, 2009 2 comments

March is a full month for us, with Sachiko’s Birthday, White Day, and our wedding anniversary. Sachiko’s birthday is what I decided to splurge on this year. Being as excited not about cleaning as much as she is about having a clean house, anything which can help in that direction is a sure-fire bet to make Sachiko happy. Sachi will always perk up at commercials with cleaning devices, and so this seemed the perfect choice:


The Roomba. What I didn’t expect was how expensive it would be. In the U.S., a similar model is about $350–already quite a bundle. But then you have to factor in the Japan appliance tax: almost any electronic appliance in Japan will end up costing about 30-50% more than the exact same item costs in the United States–especially if it is built in Japan. So the base unit was expensive–but the higher models cost a lot more for very little extra. For an extra $200 you can get a Roomba that auto-docks to a base station (so you don’t have to plug in the power charger), and for another $200 on top of that, there’s a model which you can program to clean on a schedule in addition to auto-docking. I didn’t feel that $400 was worth it just so we could avoid plugging in a cable and deciding when it would clean stuff, and so went with the base model.

Sachi was thrilled with the basic model. We charged it up and just watched it go. The robot would seem to constrain itself to small areas at first, but eventually would cover the whole room. I am not sure, but I got the impression that it learned the layout more or less, as it seemed to figure out how to navigate through the narrow areas better, cleaning more effectively under chairs and so forth as time went on.

Previously, Sachi would cover the entire apartment with her mop-brush thingy, complaining about my “cotton balls” (little balls of material often from socks) and “poodle hair” as well as the copious amounts of dust that seem to result from my presence. Now, she just starts the Roomba and instead relaxes for a good part of the morning–now working more on her blog (which I’ll get to soon).

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Ikebukuro Bic… Not

March 9th, 2009 2 comments

Got Sachi her birthday present this Saturday (more on that later), but the only place in town that had what I wanted to get her was Bic Camera. Bic is usually OK, but not their main Ikebukuro store. They have three or four branches around the station, but their main shop is a nightmare to get around. The escalators (only wide enough for one person) only go up, and after going to the 2nd floor, you have to walk halfway across the place to get to the escalators going up to the 3rd floor. The elevators are worse–just two small cars, always overloaded, and it takes forever for them to go anywhere.

I was disheartened to discover that what I wanted to get was on the 6th floor, but I had time, so I didn’t sweat it. But after I bought it, they could not give me the box or even bring it up for me–no, I had to go all the way down to the basement to pick it up. (Even though they had it sitting there, they took five minutes to discuss whether or not to hand it to me.) The I wanted it gift-wrapped. No problem! All you have to do is go up to the 7th floor. The 7th floor?!? Who the hell puts item pickup in the basement and gift-wrapping on the 7th floor? The 7th floor doesn’t even have anything worth gift-wrapping–that counter was among the toilet fixtures. So, in a building that it already really inconvenient to run around in, I had to go up to the 6th floor, down to the basement, back up to the 7th floor, and then down and out. Just to buy a single item.

If you need anything in Ikebukuro, stay the heck away from Bic, the place is a narrow, crowded nightmare to navigate. Labi, right next door, has wide, dual up-and-down escalators and several large, fast elevators, and the place has wide places to walk. They just didn’t have what I wanted, else I would have gone there instead.

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No Lightsaber, Though

January 15th, 2009 2 comments

Today, Sachi finished the training and study she’s been pursuing for a while now, and received her certificate: she is officially a Master of Gendai Reiki Ho. Congratulations, Sachi!

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Xmas Haul

December 25th, 2008 Comments off

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

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

Xmas Haul-01

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas Cake-01

Christmas Cake-02I

Christmas Cake-03

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

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

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