Thursday, October 30, 2014

If you found a large sum of money in a secluded spot, would you keep it or hand it in to the police?

If you found a large sum of money in a secluded spot, would you keep it or hand it in to the police?

Best comment:

Strangerland
Contrary to what many people here seem to think, drug dealers don't go around leaving money in secluded areas.

I'd like to believe I'd turn the money into the police.  And that by doing so I wouldn't be accused of having stolen it in the first place.  But the question doesn't include enough information for us to make a definitive answer. 

What does the asker mean by "secluded spot?"  Many people in the comments thread think it's someplace out in the countryside, in a field or forest or next to a rock by some river.  Far from houses and office buildings.  What is the chain of events that would cause some forgetful or clumsy person to carry a tempting amount of money to some obscure, largely hidden location that is also accessible enough for them and then you to find it?  Maybe it's because my mind works this way, but barring the flight of a second D.B. Cooper, the only narratives producing this result I can conceive of are absurd and unlikely.

And what constitutes a "large sum of money?"  The equivalent of 1000 USD?  10,000?  100,000?  Who goes on a hike carrying that kind of money?  That the money might be drug-related or loot from a robbery and so stealing it from a rock near a river as a victimless crime seems to be the top justification for keeping it.  But as this Strangerland person suggests, this isn't the usual way drug deals happen.  I know Steve Buscemi buried close to a million dollars in ransom money in the snow and Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton found a fortune in a crashed airplane, but I also know those were movies.  Your real-world criminals tend to keep money close and launder it or stash it in a safer place than under some rock they have to drive and hike to whenever they need a little spending cash.  The only thing you're likely to find next to a rock is another rock.  Do you keep the rock or hand it in to the police?

Therefore, I suspect this entire scenario and the moral question it pretends to pose are actually an exercise in childish wish fulfillment where keeping the money is somehow justified because we just saw the new Playstation 4 and our moms told us we couldn't have it because it's too expensive and saving our allowances would take years, by which time there would probably be Playstation 12 and we'd be so old we could no longer make our arthritic fingers press controller buttons fast enough to make the characters dance or shoot.  This isn't real imaginary money, it's a magical imaginary treasure some good kids can find after a long adventure involving a witch, two ogres and a dysfunctional family of giants.  They take it home to their poor, hardworking mother and she buys a cow and a pig and some chickens with it and everyone lives happily ever after.  Also, no school.

However, if I found a wallet on the sidewalk, I'd take it to the police immediately.  If I saw someone leaving an ATM machine without taking the money he or she withdrew, I'd shout, "Sumimasen!" or some similar attention grabber.  If no one were around, I'd leave the cash where it is and split without even completing my own transaction and find an ATM free of moral quandaries and sticky situations where communicating with suspicious authorities while foreign aren't in play.  Or if my wife were with me, maybe we'd call the police and tell them about what we found. 

But what about a wad of cash in an old futon with no way to determine who owned it?  Although even in that case it's pretty unlikely I'd ever touch some moldy old futon much less tear it open to look inside at the stuffing.  Hey, what if you found money in the wall of your house years after the previous owner died?  Why are you tearing down a wall in your house instead of calling a professional?  What about a 500 yen coin lying in the street?  You have sharp eyes.  Almost as sharp as my father's and mine the time we were driving to Albany from Athens and just about to get onto the interstate.  We both spotted a bill lying in a pile of trash on the side of the on-ramp.  Dad immediately stopped and let me out.  Turned out to be a single when we were hoping for at least a twenty.  We kept it.

I don't want to wax poetically about how honest people tend to be here in Japan.  A top swimmer couldn't keep his hands to himself when confronted by a really nice camera recently and I have friends who have lost brand new bikes to thieves on consecutive days (and someone once stole my wife's wallet and she has NEVER forgotten that).  But I did have a small plastic case containing my ATM, credit and gaikokujin cards returned to me after it fell out of my pants pocket on the street somewhere between home and work.  The cops insisted I call the person who returned it and thank him, which I happily did.  Now I feel bad I didn't offer to buy the guy dinner or something.  And I've read or heard stories about people forgetting their bags on trains and getting them back from the station staff or simply hopping back on the same train later that day or the next and finding their stuff in the same place, untouched. 

Generally speaking, your things are safer here than, say, in my home town back in Georgia.  Just don't think you can go around putting money under rocks or leaving it lying around in fields or next to ATM machines and it's as safe there as it would be in a bank.

Take a look at some Halloween treats...

Over on Let's Look at Japan I posted a few photos of some Halloween candy you can buy in Japan this year.  Fujiya's ever-popular Country Ma'am chocolate chip cookies and the like.  Strangely, these appeared in September and vanished from our local stores (at least the ones we shop at the most) before October.  Also enjoy a spooky scientific skeleton, fall colors and Ray Parker, Jr.  Check them out!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Halloween twilight at USJ...

I added 10 more USJ photos to my Let's Look at Japan Tumblr.  You can see some sedate late afternoon shots of people having a relaxing fun time, a stupid photo of me trying to get into Doc Brown's famous Delorean time machine from Back to the Future (the Osaka park Delorean is a reproduction, I believe, but with a few movie-used parts for authenticity) and then the start of one of the Street Zombie attacks.  Since the lighting was disorienting and I'm somewhat thick, I missed photographing the actual simulated violence.  I like the colors in what is otherwise one very lousy photograph, though.

Next up:  The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Universal Studios Japan's Horror Nights...

Over at my new Let's Look at Japan! Tumbr blog, I've been flood-posting photos from our trip to Universal Studios Japan where we experienced this year's Horror Nights.  Or, as their website also calls it, "Universal Surprise Halloween."  It's a blast.  They decorate the park with Halloween banners, send their costumed characters around for trick-or-treat/photo opportunities with the kids, pipe in a nonstop stream of spooky songs (well, spooky and goofy) and at 6pm, turn most of the park into a haunted attraction with zombie attacks based on the popular Biohazard film series.  USJ dubbed it Biohazard-- the Real 2.  It runs weekends and Mondays until November 9th, so if you're in the Osaka area, looking for something to do for Halloween night and money is no object (it's not outrageously expensive but this kind of fun doesn't come cheap, either) get thee to USJ.

The Biohazard event starts promptly at 6pm with a bright flash and a loud bang from somewhere either near or within the New York City zone, setting the perfect ominous tone for the cannibalistic disaster to come.  If you've downloaded USJ's smartphone app, you get a message warning you some sort of virus has escaped the park's laboratories via an explosive accident.  There are street signs scattered around with flashing lights to let you know the areas of major zombie activity.  If this is your taste, hover nearby and enjoy the performances.  Some of the character actors are incredibly skilled at miming their undead state.  The makeup and costumes will freak you out, too, along with some disorienting lighting.  You can view the antics from 2013 on YouTube.  Apparently, the park projects strange new facades onto the buildings with spooky animated effects, too.  We didn't go too deep into that area, so I can't vouch for this year's event, but it's probably the same.

To experience the "Street Zombies" to the fullest, you should buy one of the blinking light eyeball necklaces available in gift shops and sidewalk stands.  Signs at the park assure us eyeballs are a zombie's favorite snack.  Otherwise, stick to the sidewalks after 6 o'clock and you should be (fairly) safe.  If you're squeamish, the kiddie fare Wonderland area is a zombie-free zone.  You can also get into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and ride out the living dead infestation there while drinking butterbeer and enjoying the soothing serenading of the Hogwarts Frog Choir, a cheerful group of magical students and their chirruping, deep-throated frog accompaniment. 

One word of advice-- to enter the Wizard World you need a special ticket you can only get inside the park.  I believe one or both express passes allow you to get in, too, but double check to make sure.  We weren't able to get express passes because they were sold out at the park.  The Wizarding World kiosks are near Mel's Drive-In on a semi-hidden path next to the central lagoon.  Look for the park staff members and the long line that seems to be going nowhere behind some shrubs or small trees.  Your park entry ticket has a mark each member of your party scans at the kiosk and you'll receive tickets with entrance times.  English language is a kiosk option.

It's best to do this as soon as you get into the park before people snap up all the times.  We arrived around noon the first day and the next available entrance time to Wizarding World were at 6:30pm.  Not a disaster since there's more than enough to do all day.  It is an amusement park, after all.  The next day we arrived around 10am and the earliest entrance time was at 6:00.  The Wizarding World is best enjoyed after dark, so again, no problem.  We did see a number of very disappointed people turned away at the Wizarding World entrance because they didn't have tickets.  On the other hand, the staff allowed us in a little early both nights.  But get those tickets!

On my Tumblr, I call it Mel's Diner instead of Mel's Drive-In.  I guess I have Alice on the brain.  Well kiss mah grits, anyone could make that mistake.  Like the other restaurants we visited, Mel's has three lunch sets (helpfully labeled A, B and C.  Just say, for example, "B setto, kudasai.  Cola onegaishimasu!" or something similar, or simply "B setto to Cola" will do.) but we only tried the ones with the cheeseburgers.  The burgers are large (about Whopper-size) and come with a side of fries and a drink.  This was my favorite meal at USJ.  All the restaurants are expensive, as you might imagine.  The food at the Jurassic Park's Discovery and Amity Landing restaurants was edible but not especially memorable, while the Mel's cheeseburgers were delightfully delicious.  One fun thing about Amity Landing is its atmosphere recreates one of those old school fast food fish restaurants, like a 1970s Cap'n D's or Long John Silvers, although the menu features only chicken.  The cashiers cheerfully call out, "Next captain, please!"  We got a chuckle out of that. 

Ah, service.  In all the restaurants we went to, the staff enjoyed greeting me in English and shouting, "Happy Halloween!" and "Have a nice time!"  Discovery Restaurant added a little Spanish to the mix.  The cashier asked me (in English) to say, "Hola!" to the person handing my food, so I did.  I really enjoy this kind of stuff, so I laughed and played along and had a grand time.  I wish we had tried pizza in the park or the fish and chips courtesy Harry Potter's world, but I have no complaints about what we ate.  Well, the price maybe.  Still, you don't go to USJ if you're going to experience sticker shock for paying as much for a single cheeseburger set as we pay for two meals at a local MosBurger.  Plan for it instead.

More food related tips-- the Boardwalk Restaurant in Amity Village is based on a set from the movie Mystic Pizza, not Jaws.  The sign boards offer slushes, but I didn't see them on the menu.  I ended up getting a vanilla shake.  It was fine.  The different ice cream restaurants seem to be all Baskin-Robbins 31 outlets, but we didn't go into any of them because the lines were almost as long as for some of the attractions.  And yes, you can enjoy alcoholic beverages at a number of places throughout USJ.  Crazed drunks must not be too much of a problem there, but this being Japan you will find people napping on benches and even along curbs despite the noise and bustle of costumed families.  Have fun spotting them!  Expect lines for any place that sells churros because eating churros is just what you do at an amusement park in Japan.  And if you want, you can fill up on cheaper food at one of the places just outside the park in the Universal Walk shopping area before you go in, then hit them up after you finish your day and night of fun on your way out.  There's a MosBurger, a McDonald's and a TGI Fridays, among other choices.  I couldn't do that because I like to eat all day when I'm running around.

Finally, our boy, Harry Potter.  If you're a fan, this is where you want to go.  You queue up inside a circle of standing stones with Harry Potter theme music playing and you're primed for an immersive experience.  Once you get in, you pass along a lighted path through fir trees.  Music and the sounds of strange forest creatures drift through the air.  There's a large stone strangely balanced on a smaller one.  There's a staff member lugging a plastic bag of garbage for a less-than-atmospheric moment.  And then you find the entrance to the town of Hogsmeade and all at once, you're transported directly from Japan into a Potter book or movie. 

The town is as J.K. Rowling describes it in her books.  Snow-peaked rooftops, quaint little shops, the Hogwarts Express awaiting its next run.  I'm not even much of a Potter fan and it enchanted me.  For the most part.  The shops are packed and difficult to search through for that perfect Potter souvenir and the waiting times for the attractions can stretch past the 2 hour mark.  Even just to walk through Hogwarts promises a 45-minute wait that stretched into over an hour for us.  We still had a lot of fun there, though.  The Hogwarts interior lavishly recreates what you've seen in the movies so there's no disappointment once you're inside.  Especially when the paintings begin to move and speak.

The cast members dressed as Hogwarts students greet guests very cheerfully if you run into them on their way to the outdoor stage, especially the young woman playing the lead role.  I can still hear her voice, especially during the post-show guest photo opps where she tirelessly worked the crowd while consistently maintaining her character.  "3... 2... 1... GRYFFINDOR!" or "3... 2... 1... HOGSMEADE!"

Kids loved her.  How these performers keep up that energy remains a magical mystery to me.  I couldn't do it.  But imagine how fun it must be to do a stint as a performer at USJ if you're a talented young person with a hunger for experience.  Which reminds me-- the guy who played our tour boat guide on the Jaws ride was also a real trouper.  We got a massive kick out of his performance, and also out of the hard-working Harry Potter cast.

Butterbeer.  What does it taste like?  How do they get that foam on top that makes it look like real beer?  It tastes a bit like a cream soda or a mild rootbeer and the foam adds a butterscotch undertone to it.  Kind of what I expected.  We did not buy the souvenir mugs.  For one thing, they're plastic and we couldn't see much use for them around the house later.  And for another, we just didn't feel like carrying them around.  You may feel differently.  You should try butterbeer.  Be warned-- there are two beer wagons on the streets outside the shops.  The one you see just inside the Hogsmeade gates has the longer lines.  There's another past the stage closer to Hogwarts that has shorter ones.  I read on a blog somewhere you can get your butterbeer even faster inside one of the restaurants or bars or whatever it Hogsmeade has.  Wizarding halls?  We didn't go in, so I have no clue.  Do some reading online.  Wish we had first.

Oh yeah.  I almost forgot.  If you're truly tired and your feet are screaming bloody murder at your back that's whining about missing your nice, firm mattress back home plus your mind is on the verge of boiling over from crowd overstimulation and you just can't seem to find anyplace to sit with your churro and your vanilla milk shake, make your way into the fake Central Park underneath the overhead roller coaster.  There probably won't be as many people around and you're very likely to find a quiet bench to recoup your energy (and let your mind turn it down a notch or two) and have a little picnic while talking about all the fun things you've done so far.  And all the people dressed like Hogwarts students, of which there were hundreds (speaking of costumes-- you can outfit yourself Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw style inside the Wizarding World, but sometimes the prime Gryffindor and Slytherin costume goods sell out, and there was a more conventional Halloween costume shop set up in Hollywood for zombie stuff and sexy police officer dresses if those are your thing).

Central Park also makes a handy shortcut or at least crowd-avoidance route to take between NYC/San Francisco and Amity Village/Jurassic Park.

So that's Halloween at USJ.  Check my Let's Look at Japan! Tumblr for more photos and information.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Canadian journalist in Japan tests negative for Ebola

Canadian journalist in Japan tests negative for Ebola

I suppose it was inevitable the story would include Japan.  I don't think of Japan as a big tourist destination.  It's far, it's pricey.  But journalists are well-traveled, and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is the big news story of the moment.  So I'm not surprised the first Ebola-related incident in Japan involves a journalist.  It was either going to be a journalist or someone working in medicine.  I  wish him all the best on a simple human level, not because I'm afraid Ebola will spread in Japan.  His chances of having Ebola are very slim, but the fear-mongering and confused response has not been our finest hour as people on this planet.

Let's Look at Japan this Halloween (and forever after)!

I take some of the world's worst photographs and now I'm going to share them with you.  Japan is a wonderful place to look at and everyone interested should do so.  To help make this possible, I've started a terrible new photo blog on Tumblr and I call it "Let's Look at Japan!" 

The first few entries will celebrate Halloween in Japan with a lot of shots from our recent visit to USJ in Osaka (if you've never been, I highly recommend you go during October), but after that I'll be posting whatever catches my eye.  And I'll share some of it here instead of just commenting on Japan Today stories the way I've been doing lately.  Although I'll do that, too.

Here's a sample of the kind of visual torture you can expect (I don't mean what's in the image... these three characters are adorable and I love their Halloween costumes... I mean my crappy photog skills):

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sunday's Halloween parade in Kawasaki: Trick or treat

Trick or treat

Just a fun photo you should see.  It's Halloween week in Japan.  Yesterday we saw the same two Halloween-themed TV commercials a couple of dozen times.

Halloween's popularity seems to be surging this year.  I hope so.  Out of all the fun holidays I imagine Japan would do better than any other country, Halloween is the main one.  Much more so than Arbor Day or Take Your Kids to Work Day.  Japanese horror has a dream-like quality I find superior to that of my home country, and this is the place where some genius or group of geniuses invented cosplay.  Add in some of the frenetic qualities of Japan's homegrown local festivals and you're going to end up with something truly insane.  Halloween as it was meant to be.  A graveyard revel.  Death made kawaii.