Friday, October 31, 2014

Thousands of Halloween revelers descend on Shibuya

Thousands of Halloween revelers descend on Shibuya

Some fantastic photos accompanying this article.  Looks like a lot of fun had by everyone but the 200 riot cops.  But they might have secretly enjoyed it, too.  I'd like to think that.  "We're here in case anyone gets out of hand, but we also get to see a lot of party people in crazy costumes, so there's that."

I didn't read any alarmist stories about foreigners running wild on the Yamanote Line this year.  Maybe some Japanese-language newspapers ran them or I just overlooked the ones in the English-language news sites I visit.  Whatever the reason, it's been a refreshing change.  I'm in favor of any excuse for wearing costumes and dancing and I don't want a few bad candy apples spoiling the fun for the rest of us.  Even if I didn't participate.  I enjoy the potential for participation.  Next year, right?  Next year I'm going to go all out.  In a safe way everyone can enjoy.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at USJ...

Halloween is over here in Japan.  It's a rainy November 1st.  For me, November 1st has traditionally been one of those let-down days.  I remember waking up after the Halloween revelry if it took place on a school night and trudging up the street to the bus stop.  Festive decorations in creepy black, orange, green and purple still hung from doors and sometimes there would be crumpled candy wrappers in the gutters along the curbs mixed in with the dead brown leaves.  You anticipate, participate, then have to get on with your life with all the sounds and sights of that one magical night of the year playing on an imaginary loop inside your mind.

Between the pure fun of Halloween and the familial warmth of Thanksgiving and the Christmas season is just blah November nothingness.  Maybe you get to watch the Peanuts Thanksgiving special if you're not studying for a test, but Peppermint Patty bawling out Charlie Brown for serving popcorn and toast on a ping pong table in the backyard doesn't have the same mystic hold on the imagination as the Linus' Great Pumpkin evangelizing and "I got a rock."

Anyway, don't let my post-holiday depression get you down.  After all, we had a fantastic Halloween month and I'm not through sharing some of the photographic memories of what we did.  Yes, it's the long-awaited flood of Wizarding World of Harry Potter photos on my Let's Look at Japan blog.  I took them with my iPhone, which handles low-light conditions better than my Fuji digital camera, but they're still not great.  In the immortal words of Dr. Egon Spengler, "I blame myself."

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a fun place to spend a few hours and I hope at least a little of that comes through in my lousy photographs.

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:

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.

Cabinet OKs changes to law that bans late-night dancing

Cabinet OKs changes to law that bans late-night dancing

A 66 year old law, huh?  If this article has its facts straight, the anti-dancing crackdown has been going on for longer than I thought.  Not 66 years, but four.  I had this vague idea it started a year or two ago.  I remember dancing well past midnight in Hamamatsu and in Tokyo, but I'd long since given it up when the police dropped the hammer in the wake of the Osaka stabbing.  Well, 66 years or 4, it's time to let the people dance all night again.  Even if I won't be joining them.

Bad back and knees.

My favorite line from the story is this one:  "[P]roprietors were charged with the crime of making people dance."  Making people dance.  They must have brought some serious funk if such is the case.

First Halloween scare of the week: Colossal volcanic eruption could destroy Japan: study

Colossal volcanic eruption could destroy Japan: study

It's certainly true a large enough volcanic explosion would destroy Japan.  A large enough meteorite striking us would as well.  A nuclear war between the US and China or Russia would do the trick, too.  Or an airborne illness with no possibility of a cure and a 100% mortality rate.  If Crayon Shin-chan lit a powerful enough fart, he could incinerate all of Honshu.  One day the sun will consume the inner planets, including the earth.

It's best to be prepared, but in the event of a disaster of this magnitude, you should just kiss your ass goodbye.  In other words, pointing out the obvious-- a vast disaster we have no control over and for which no amount of preparation can save us kills everyone dead, dead, dead-- doesn't really help anyone do anything.  Makes for interesting news copy, though.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The sad clown: McDonald's profit slumps, sales fall worldwide

McDonald's profit slumps, sales fall worldwide

Thirty percent if I'm remembering this morning's news story correctly.  80% if I'm not.  The chicken factory scandal probably hurt McDonald's worst here in Japan.  Here, food safety scandals remain in mind for a long time after the last bit of chicken scrap has been scraped off someone's boot and thrown in with the meat going into the McNuggets. 

My wife and I eat at Makku maybe once every other month when we're both too run down from work to dress up enough to make an appearance at MosBurger.  In the time since the Chinese chicken factory scandal and now, we've eaten Makku three times and not once has she ordered anything with chicken.  Of course, in the months before the scandal, not once was she served anything with chicken.  At least, not chicken as it's commonly imagined.  A bird with feathers and a beak.  As opposed to some all-breast, no-beaked, featherless monstrosity quivering with pseudo-life inside a metal box with thousands of others of its genetically-spliced and heavily-hormone ilk.

Living free of McDonald's shame was nice, while it lasted.  Back in the US, I often wore a disguise or at least sunglasses and bag over my head to pick up a couple of large orders of fries.  For the longest time, here where there's a McDonald's approximately every 30 feet or so, I could freely indulge in my fry addiction along with a few black-suited office workers pecking away on both hamburgers and laptops because work doesn't cease even when you're away from the office on a dinner break, and dozens of high school girls who only dined there so they could spend hours after their meals perfecting their make-up using elaborate tackle-box like kits full of beautification powders, creams and stainless-steel tools.  Plus the occasional homeless person, who would sit with me to ply me with some mangled English and touch me up for a few yen.

Now there is nothing McDonald's can do right as far as consumers are concerned.  I'm told by my wife McDonald's fries have "seventeen different chemicals" in them.  One of those chemicals is no doubt some kind of sodium compound and the rest simulate the taste and texture of something vaguely potato-like.  Saturated with the products of advanced food science, my corpse will last uncorrupted for thousands of years, a monument both to my own amazing life and my poor culinary habits.

A saint for the Fast Food Age.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Two resignations this week, one justified, one kinda...: Justice minister undone by cheap paper fan

Justice minister undone by cheap paper fan

Well, that's too bad.  I get the need for strong election laws governing the ways in which candidates can sway voters.  For example, buying them booze and trucking a bunch of drunks to the polls all over town while letting them vote under a multitude of assumed names is probably considered wrong in some places.  Or simply offering bucks for ballots.  We tend to frown upon political parties who do such things to win elections. 

On the other hand, it's perfectly okay for an auto, insurance, oil or defense company to buy candidates outright even if those companies are wholly owned by people or groups who aren't even citizens of the nation where the elected serve.  There are any number of loopholes to make it seem that's not what's happening.  These are essentially changing the definition to fit the needs of the people with the money and the people with the ability to get laws passed to do so for a share of that money.  In some cases it's not necessary to buy the elected official as it is to do his or her work for her by writing the laws that person will sponsor in parliament or house or senate or diet.  Politicians love when other people do their jobs for them, and this arrangement makes it easier for the people at the top to take a big dump on the people below with a minimum of effort.

However it works out, someone benefits and it's rarely you or me.  In this case, some nice person attempted to provide fans in a country where summers are sweltering.  All kinds of businesses provide fun and helpful fans around the train stations.  If a movie studio does it to advertise the latest Pok√©mon extravaganza, people are happy.  And slightly less sweaty.  That way they're better able to cope with the heat, just like reality television starring bearded mutants helps Americans cope when the local rep proposes a law allowing oil companies to drill for crude in Grandma's brains.  They just wave their colorful advertising fans around the way people back home are increasingly finding ways to talk around the derrick sprouting from Grandma's wig.  Business as usual.

That's why I think this resignation is a bit much considering the crime.  If she'd colluded with Sony and Mitsubishi to change a labor law so that 10-year-olds had to start working 80-hour work weeks with in exchange for their elementary school educations, that would be completely okay.  Give away something useful like a fan and it's "So long, job!"

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Star Wars continues to dominate merchandising of every possible kind: Star Wars English-Japanese Dictionary for Padawan learners

Star Wars English-Japanese Dictionary for Padawan learners

And why not?  While I recently experienced a plethora of Harry Potter goods that offered a more immersive experience for the dedicated fan, there is no escaping the grasp of all things Star Wars.  If you can look at it, hold it or use it in some way (including during those furtive, individualized acts of bodily pleasure), there's probably a Star Wars version of it.  And now Star Wars can colonize the language centers of your mind and transform all thought modes into those of Han, Leia, Luke and possibly Yoda if you can't figure out subject-verb-object sentence structure.

I'm not going to give you any examples of Yoda speak.

Yes, many people in Japan also enjoy Star Wars.  There's already a Darth Vader language book for those who want to speak like a Sith Lord and now here's what I take to be a more generalized Star Wars quote translation book.  "I have a bad feeling about this" is probably more useful than "Send a distress signal, and inform the Senate that all on board were killed," but the latter is definitely more fun to say in Japanese.

It smarts: 26 students stung by hornets in Kumamoto

26 students stung by hornets in Kumamoto

I don't think I've ever been stung by a hornet, but I've survived bee and wasp attacks.  When I was about 8 years old, some friends and I were trying to pull a toy machine gun out of a bush where it was stuck.  We disturbed a bee's nest and out they came, filling the air and stinging us repeatedly while we ran away screaming.  We met up later to compare damage.  I think I came off best, with four stings that weren't all that painful.  One of my friends had six.  Years later I crouched down to pet a bulldog and trapped a wasp in the meat behind my knee.  It stung me once, causing me to stand up rather abruptly and free it to go off and kill again.  That one hurt like a hot needle and left a nasty sore that took a few days to heal.  In the years between, I'm sure I was stung here and there by individual insects but not as spectacularly as either of those.

Large hornets sometimes sneak into our apartment.  The largest hornets I've ever seen.  They look like flying telephone handsets from the coiled cord days.  I can't say I blame them for coming in and trying to make themselves at home.  Our apartment is a comfortable place and we certainly enjoy it.  What I don't like is how they hug the windows and refuse to participate in conversations no matter how we try to engage them.  I'm willing to discuss the sharpness of stingers, flight dynamics, living in bushes.  Whatever interests them.  But since they're a little standoffish, I find it best to shoo them out the sliding glass door on our balcony before feelings are hurt.

We're having a battle with wasps right now.  A few months ago, wasps nested in our mailbox.  The rental company warned us away and hired someone to come remove them.  Now there's a nest on our bedroom window.  My wife found it yesterday and called the office.  The rental company's solution this time is to tell us not to open that window.  Which we rarely do anyway.  Eventually they'll get around to sending someone to kill these wasps or relocate them back to the mailbox.

Going out to our car this morning, we were dive-bombed by several wasps, more than likely from the bedroom window.  Sleek black helicopter-shaped attackers zipped in and around us while we dodged.  I'm not particularly afraid of wasps, but I'd prefer to remain sting-free.  This does not extend to my musical tastes because I have been known to listen to early albums from the Police.

Friday, October 17, 2014

I hope I live long enough to ride this thing: Gov't approves JR Tokai plan to build maglev line

Gov't approves JR Tokai plan to build maglev line

Let's see.  If this goes into service in 2027, I'll be... pretty old.  Okay, not that old.  59.  Not even retirement age.  I'm not sure I'll still be living.  Take nothing for granted.  And if I am, I may not be living in Japan.  Ideally, if so, my wife and I will still be married and bringing the kids back to the mother country that year and we'll be among the first to hop a maglev train in Shinagawa and zip to Nagoya in 40 minutes.  Making the trip in an hour and forty minutes is fast enough for me.  I'm not so impatient I need that hour back, and I enjoy my time on the shinkansen.  But if the maglev train is as smooth then I imagine I'll imagine my shorter time riding it even more.

High-speed train service is certainly one thing Japan does well.  Shinkansen service is 50 years old this year and there have only been two derailments.  One was during an earthquake and the other a blizzard.  No one died in either.  The second year I lived in Japan, there was a horrible accident on a local train in Hyogo.  107 people died.  I tend to take shinkansen safety for granted, but when I'm rocking on a local train I stay much more alert.

Univ student stabs woman to death because he 'wanted to kill someone'

Univ student stabs woman to death because he 'wanted to kill someone'

You don't need me to tell you this story is horrifying.  Where was it in the US not so long ago a group of young guys cited boredom as the reason they killed a guy out jogging?  I wonder about the malaise in people's souls that causes them to harm others then give these nonchalant excuses.  I don't believe their excuses are their real motivation.  These words are translations of some untranslatable feeling or tangle of feelings, a way of speaking the unspeakable.  Or maybe people really do kill simply out of curiosity or boredom and I refuse to believe that because it's the more horrible concept.

Yes, this is another crime in Saitama story.  After reading the comments, I admit I tend to associate Saitama not with crime but with extra-sick crime.  I wrote a very pissed-off blog entry about Saitama after the guide dog stabbing, but at least I pointed out the positive example of the man who collected money for a reward for information leading to an arrest in that case.  I could easily have made him the focus of that entry with an intention to "prove" what a wonderful place Saitama is.

When we read articles about Saitama crime and immediately feel something is wrong there that goes beyond the wrongness of other cities, this is confirmation bias.  Sick crimes happen everywhere, but even that statement is something of an example of bias because it focuses on a supposed universality of wicked behavior.  Crimes do happen, but most people aren't committing crimes at all.  Even the worst "per 100,000" statistics feature tens of thousands of law-abiding people to create their ratios.

The people in the comments who argue Saitama is hardly the worst place for crime in Japan are correct and I'm wrong.  But once a misconception forms, it's hard to get rid of.  We allow stories like this to reinforce our mistaken beliefs while ignoring evidence to the contrary.  Even now I have this irrational dread of Saitama.  I'll try to do better in the future.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Beautiful: Snow falls on Mt Fuji summit 3 days earlier than last year

Snow falls on Mt Fuji summit 3 days earlier than last year

I'm not a fan of winter here in Japan.  Where we live winter is long and windy, but largely snow-free.  It feels colder than it is because I can never get fully warm.  We don't have much, if any, insulation in our apartment walls and central heating and air is almost unheard of.  We leave most of the windows open at work, too.  Walking the hallways here in January and February is like hanging out inside a meat locker.  I can't imagine living up in Nagano or... holy moly... in Hokkaido.  I'd freeze to death.

How do we manage even a little warmth?  We wear layers, we drink hot tea, we eat nabe and miso soup, we sit in the kotatsu.  We think warm thoughts.  I dream of vacationing in Vietnam, Guam, Australia or Hawaii.  Sometimes I set my clothes on fire or sit on a lit blowtorch.  I take baths in molten steel.  And still I spend the winter months with goosebumps and the shivers and feet of carved marble.

But Japanese winter has its beauties.  A snow-capped Mt. Fuji is chief.  We can sometimes see snow-covered mountains along the horizon from our car when we go to the supermarket.  The skies become blue of seemingly impossible brightness and depth.  Skirts and shorts tend to go higher up the thighs.  Holiday illuminations at the station and in the trees downtown.  Festively lit Tokyo on Christmas Eve with young couples walking hand-in-hand as George Michael and Paul McCartney serenade them with two of the most god-awful holiday songs ever written.  Colonel Sanders in a Santa costume.  Families gathering for New Years.  Kohaku and Downtown on television and all the news programs and talk shows with merrily-decorated sets.  The emptiness of Shinjuku on New Year's Day.

I love all of those things.  But once we get past the first week of January, I'm ready for spring again.  After the season fun, all I can think of is sakura time and when will it arrive?  After the first of January, I have no use for winter.

I had no idea kawaii was now an English word: Kimono-clad princesses offer apologies for roadside construction in Kyoto

Kimono-clad princesses offer apologies for roadside construction in Kyoto

I came by that info from this article.  I'm fine with kawaii joining the vast numbers of words English has borrowed from other languages.  Most of them are food words, but there are enough that aren't.  And we use various foreign language phrases at times, too, because they have a certain je ne sais quoi.  That sounds smarter than saying we use them because they have this thing and I don't know what to call it.  It's probably charisma.  Kawaii means cute, but used for a particular form of cuteness as exemplified by Hello Kitty and various manga and anime characters (to use two more borrowed words), it has charisma.

For example, your grandchild is cute.  Your grandchild's Sailor Moon blanket is kawaii.

And yes, to make a general observation, there is a lot of emphasis on kawaii in Japan.  Every prefecture, many cities and practically every company you can do business of some kind with has as a mascot some cutie-pie cartoon character.  And some of these involve sending emissaries in fluffy costumes to do personal appearances.  Even the grotesque and hilarious Funasshi, a parody of these "wild characters," is ultimately kawaii unto itself.  Himself?  Herself?  Our local cute character is Ieyasu-kun, a kawaii-ified version of the guy who beat all comers to unify Japan and set up the Tokugawa Shogunate that then ruled the country as an all-powerful dictatorship for about 200 years. 

It's fun to have your photo taken giving the peace sign and smiling broadly next to a fluffy, round-headed caricature of an iron-willed man responsible for the deaths of thousands of people in battle, plus who knows how many political murders in order to consolidate his rule.  I feel the same way about Ieyasu-kun I do when I see the presidents race at a Washington Nationals game.

C'est la vie!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

This looks fun (and more suggestions): Roppongi Hills Halloween parade

Roppongi Hills Halloween parade

I've never been to the Roppongi Hills Halloween parade, but I'm in favor of most Halloween-related events, especially ones that call for participants to dress in costumes (this year it's "famous movie characters," certainly a fun choice).  There's another Halloween parade in Kawasaki, as wellUniversal Studios Japan in Osaka has "Halloween Horror Nights," which started back in September and runs until November 9th this year.  With the addition of "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter," this would be a fun Halloween destination.  Tokyo Disneyland's Halloween celebration actually ends on October 31st, but you can still enjoy the Haunted Mansion's "Holiday Nightmare" until January 4th, 2015.  These are not free like the two parades, though, so watch out!

Last year, we visited Hamamatsu Flower Park's Halloween display.  Seasonal pumpkins and scarecrows and a fun photo opportunity complete with costume elements provided some gentle afternoon fun on a very sunny, cool day.  That's always an option if you're in the area and in need of some budget-friendly Halloween entertainment.  Assuming they do it again this year.  And why wouldn't they?

If you want an even cheaper alternative, you can always eat Halloween candy and chill out with some spooky Japanese horror flicks.  Many candy companies have seasonal bags to get you in the mood.  Here are some recommendations:

1) Battle Royale.  The all-time coolest Japanese cult flick.  A junior high class find themselves trapped on an island with no way off for anyone... except for the lone survivor.  Turns out the government has chosen them to participate in the yearly "Battle Royale" event where armed kids kill each other off until only one remains.  Gross-out violence, a hard-working cast and some knock-out sequences make up for some of the plot holes and the central premise's ridiculousness.

2) Uzumaki.  Director Higuchinsky adapts Junji Ito's disgustingly fun, Lovecraftian manga into a silly romp.  The story involves a coastal town plagued by spirals.  Enjoy a dish of escargot while you watch for maximum impact!

3) The Happiness of the Katakuris.  Takashi Miike is at it again, this time with a sickly hilarious flick about a luckless family trying to run a bed and breakfast.  Their guests have the bad habit of dying on them, which leads to complications and singing and dancing.

4) Ju-On.  The original TV drama version, with several inter-connected segments.  Chiaki Kuriyama of Battle Royale appears in the third one.  This is part of the Ju-on franchise, which gave the world Sadako.  You know Sadako, right?  Long black hair in her face, white dress, tendency to climb out of televisions?

5) Tomie:  Unlimited.  The most recent in the nine-film (so far) Tomie series, adapted from Junji Ito's manga about a girl who is so beautiful she drives her lovers to madness and murder.  But every bit of Tomie can grow into a complete Tomie.  The Tomie stories share a loose continuity, with the tale of Tsukiko, an unscrupulous member of a high school photography club, as the protagonist of the most cohesive narrative.  As with the first  theatrical Tomie, that story serves as a starting point for the movie's plot.  I haven't seen it yet, but I'm planning to.

People really hate bosozoku, apparently: Biker assaulted by iron bar-wielding Nara innkeeper

Biker assaulted by iron bar-wielding Nara innkeeper

Bosozoku are deliberately annoying people who customize their motorcycles (usually shitty little dirtbikes of some kind) and scooters so they're as noisy as they can possibly be.  Ear-injuring noise levels.  The kind that causes permanent threshold shift the likes of which Pete Townshend has had to adjust to.  They ride these bikes around late at night because that's the best time to piss people off and get noticed for something that makes zero sense to anyone who is not a bosozoku.  Or simply to avoid traffic and the police.  Judging by the comments at the end of this article, few people have sympathy for them or their loud hobby.

We have one or two bosozoku out where we live.  This area has a lot of broad avenues with straightaways and you can probably boom through as many red lights as you want after midnight.  Our local bosozuku don't ride every single night.  Once or twice a month.  Occasionally during the day.  I was waiting to cross a major street so I could get to a pizza restaurant for lunch one day and one of them was waiting at the traffic light.  I had to close my ears with my fingers to avoid hearing damage.  I hope he was wearing some kind of muffler or earplugs.  I have to admit to some interesting thoughts regarding the bososoku late at night when I've lost sleep because of their motorcycle antics.

People seem to grudgingly tolerate them when they appear.  This may have something to do with not wanting to be the one to violate the concept of group harmony while secretly deploring those who do.  Or maybe it's because bosozoku intimidate.  I saw a small group of them cruising slowly through downtown Hamamatsu a few years back.  When traffic became too heavy they simply switched their bikes from the street to the sidewalk and drove on.  People made way for them and no one waved a fist or cared to tell them to stop.

Hitting someone with an iron bar is a bit extreme, though.  I don't know what the best solution to this problem is, but that's definitely a step too far.  Did I receive a vicarious thrill from reading this article?  Of course.  But if we all give into vigilante thoughts we're going to end up with a worse society than one where a few noisy people with a dumb hobby cause us to lose some sleep.

What to do with that junk you can't bring yourself to throw out

What to do with that junk you can't bring yourself to throw out

With limited land space for trash, Japan makes its citizens divide their trash into categories like "burnables," "plastics" and "annoying relatives."  I don't pretend to understand all the nuances of what's burnable and what's not.  As far as I'm concerned, everything is burnable with the application of enough heat, even those annoying relatives.  I still think this is a sensible system, though.  I'm hoping all our separated trash goes to recycling centers and ends up rendered into brand new things we can recycle later when we deplete their usefulness.

The small town my parents lived in for many years tried in vain to get people to recycle.  Either the city or county government set up large bins clearly marked as to what you were supposed to feed them.  My dad became a stickler for putting everything in the correct bin, but our old-fashioned neighbors felt this was creeping Clintonism (read "socialism") and refused to participate in separating their refuse.  Eventually the city gave up and removed the bins and restored freedom to the local republic.  They were just a step away from atheism and race mixing,  I guess.  A guy I used to know when I lived in Athens, Georgia, raged at all the "progs" who advocated recycling.  He was so pro-America he loved to throw his garbage out the car window just to spite them.

One thing I love about living in Japan is recycling exists as a common sense measure rather than something you can argue politics over.  It's very pragmatic.  Like my dad.  There may be some assholes like the people who wouldn't do it in that town or that guy I knew but they're more than likely acting out of laziness rather than some willfully antithetical philosophy.  Laziness I can understand.  Destroying what you claim to love because you think you're proving a point is incredibly stupid.  But I prefer my dad's way of doing things.  Do the right thing at the right time in the right way.


Because we're consumers, my wife and I have accumulated a lot of things we're kind of stuck with for the moment.  Well, let me clarify.  I have accumulated these things.  My wife grudgingly tolerates them.  I have clothes I've worn almost to pieces and obsolete electronics with dangerous metals and chemicals inside them.  The local municipality provides each household with a calendar showing the dates when you can dispose of these items.  Your refrigerators that no longer refrigerate and kerosene heaters that have decided the best way to heat your house is by burning it down.  It's very easy to miss the correct days, though.  They come just once a month and sometimes you're doing other things that day.  And sometimes we just forget.  Forget for months or even years at a time.

Recently, though, they've taken an empty lot near a pharmacy and set up a 24 hour collection point for all kinds of bulky, difficult-to-dump crap.  So we'll soon begin the tedious process of figuring out what we need and what we don't.  Now that someone, somewhere, has made it easy for us to drop this stuff off and send it away where it can be rendered into its constituent molecules and reassembled into brand-new things to buy and re-recycle, there are no more excuses.  I'm actually happy about this.  I hate going through the process (although once I start, all sentimentality drops away and I become ruthless and even cruel about what I toss out), but at the end we're rewarded by endorphins and the feeling we're traveling light, free of burdens.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Lots of cute comments on this one: Mothers react to being called by their first names after years of just being 'Mama'

Mothers react to being called by their first names after years of just being 'Mama'

I suppose Japan can feel rather impersonal at times.  You go to work and everyone calls you Mr. or Ms. Whoever.  People tend to want to be familiar with me because they know I'm a friendly American and we're all casual like that, but I don't encourage it.  I can be Mr. Bryan among the Suzuki-sans.  Or Bryan-san, which I prefer while I'm here.  I don't get angry when someone slips up and says Joel or simply Bryan, and I don't correct them.  But when I'm asked what I prefer, I tell them I want to be called what you call any other co-worker, as if I'm Japanese, too.

After all, I'm largely expected to follow Japanese office protocol.  I could probably demand a foreigner's pass, but I haven't and won't.

Even your friends might call you by your surname (although I do have some close friends where our relationships are friendly enough we use cutesy nicknames for each other, which I will not share with you).  In English class kids are so reluctant to put each other on a first-name basis.  Halfway through the year, you're asking them, "When is your friend's birthday?" and they're still telling you, "Miss Nakamura's birthday is June 15th."

"Thank you.  And your friend's?"

"Miss Naito's birthday is September 20th."

And these are best-friend pairs.

This respectful distancing even extends to families, where you're called by an honorific based on your relationship to the person addressing you.  Oto-san, Okaa-san, onii-san, one-san, ojii-san, obaa-san.  Father, mother, older brother, older sister, grandfather and grandmother.  You might be "kimi" and your husband "anata."  Literally, "you."

The reason for all of this escapes me.  And, to be honest, I don't really care why.  I don't mean to judge it one way or another.  It simply is.  One person might feel happy if  you break the honorific barrier, another might feel offended.  My wife and I use our first names and she calls my mom by her first name.  She asked first to make sure it was okay.  I use Japanese family honorifics with her family.  I don't feel this is unfair or unequal.  It's simply in the nature of blending families and cultures.

Anyway, the comments at the bottom of the story tell a different tale.  Everyone has their little pet names and some of them are pretty funny.  I love reading about other people's experiences being married in Japan.  I wonder why.  Maybe it has something to do with being married in Japan.

Typhoon slams into Japan; 68 injured

Typhoon slams into Japan; 68 injured

There are some seriously stupid comments at the end of this article.  "Overreaction," "a dud," and "better safe than sorry is a terrible excuse for train stoppage" to paraphrase them.  Apparently some people aren't satisfied until they've been paid in blood for their attention to news stories.  And don't understand that overreacting on the side of caution early is much, much better than making a late decision and getting it disastrously wrong.  This is the difference between thousands mildly inconvenienced and dozens or even hundreds injured or killed.

I'm not sure how bad conditions got where we live.  It was wild and windy enough and both the rain and wind crashed against our apartment loudly at times.  But the power stayed on and we were safe and dry.  My wife monitored the TV news most of the evening and we watched some dramatic footage of waves exploding in white showers and subway staircases turning into waterfalls.  Mostly we were glad to have avoided the station crowds as the stoppage time came closer.

Later, we enjoyed warm bowls of delicious nabe and watched Halloween-themed DVDs.  That 68 people suffered harm from this storm wasn't lost on us.  We don't take typhoons lightly and we don't scoff at the results just because work continues as usual the next day or not enough houses fell over to suit us.  We made our own luck, but there are others who don't have our options.  As a nation, Japan has been reeling from news of natural disasters lately, so we have to expect the decision-makers to show extra caution in hopes of avoiding yet another one.  Better safe than sorry is an excellent excuse, and if things don't develop into worst case scenarios, then we can all relax be thankful for that instead of getting all pissy about it because we don't know the difference between foresight and hindsight.

Congratulations are in order: Yankees pitcher Tanaka, model Rola among winners of 'Best Jeanist Awards 2014'

Yankees pitcher Tanaka, model Rola among winners of 'Best Jeanist Awards 2014'

Some people are simply better than the rest of us at wearing jeans, and so we have to honor them with an award.  That they also happen to be whatever celebrities are currently the most popular here in Japan is no doubt simply a happy coincidence!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Japan's sozzled salarymen: the lost tribe in a modern pickle

Japan's sozzled salarymen: the lost tribe in a modern pickle

Commercials for energy drinks and stomachache relief tend to lionize the salaryman.  AKB48 members cheer for them as they drink their instant remedies and soldier on.  They're the dudes-- and some women-- you see all over the trains in the morning and evenings.  White shirts, black suits and ties.  The young guys sometimes sport pointy-toed shoes and trendy hairstyles, but they're all off to the office to grind out another day.

It's a hard life, no doubt.  Up early, out late.  The company comes first, even above your mental and physical health.  There's a word for dying from overwork.  The buzzword is "black company," used for businesses that bully and abuse their employees, demand unpaid overtime, pay little, allow for no sick days and no paid vacation days, expect employees to work six or even seven days a week.  But the real word is just "company."  People are complicit in this exploitive system as well because they respond passively, but you can't really blame someone because the system grabs them as early as kindergarten.  Everything is preparation for tests and tests are preparation for lifetime employment of 60-80 hour weeks, after hours drinking and eventual retirement to a house you're not very familiar with to live with a family who have become strangers.  And resentful strangers because you lack basic social skills and disrupt their otherwise orderly lives with your disheveled presence.

And as lousy a time as these guys have, women involved in the workplace have it much, much worse. You work just as hard for even less money and then you're expected to act as hostess at these after-hours parties.  Sexual harassment and stalking cases are on the rise but this is only because women are learning to report these crimes rather than suck it up as they've been trained to do at every stage of their lives

Increasingly, too, the entire idea of lifetime employment with attendant security and safety has become a lie as well.  Companies depend on dispatch workers or temporary workers to skirt labor laws.  But even then you just define an employee to suit your corporate whims.  I had a friend who was listed on the payroll as a part-timer but worked 60 hour weeks, every week. 

Some people break the mold, though.  The "going my way" people.  That same friend introduced me to a co-worker of hers who eventually quit to become a full-time theramin instructor and performer.  I had a conversation student who quit one job with higher pay for one that allowed him to leave the office every day at 5pm and be with his family and have his weekends free for cycling.  Some people drift through a variety of part-time jobs, getting one then leaving it when the mood strikes them to live abroad for a while.  I see young families sometimes on weekend outings and the father's the one wearing the baby-carrier.  Shoot, just seeing an entire family unit together warms my heart.

I'm an idiot, but Shuji Nakamura is not!

I just had to delete a post because I mucked it up in editing and turned into complete nonsense.  In short, it consisted of praising Shuji Nakamura for bucking the system and coming away with a Nobel Prize.  That part was not nonsense.  I suggest everyone learn from his example.  The guy is a winner all the way and not just because he nabbed the world's top science award.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Welcome to Westworld: The androids are coming

The androids are coming

Or its less-successful sequel, Futureworld, starring Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner.  Notice, however, no one has yet attempted to duplicate Yul Brynner.  Instead, robot manufacturers seek to perfect a female appearance for their creations, and find themselves mired in the uncanny valley.

I think they should go for a more unisex, Star Wars look first.  Exploit the natural human ability to find a face in things that aren't necessarily faced.  Some big round C3P0 eyes and a small, happy-looking mouth would go a long way towards charming the public.  Even R2D2, essentially a mobile trash bin with blinking lights and a series of beeps as a form of communication, was much cuter than the corpse-like appearance they've managed with this humanoid model.  Seriously, it looks as though Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs hooked up with a former BattleBots champion to make a robot only Ed Gein could love.

Where's Stuart Margolin when you need him?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Typhoon 18 has left the place a mess!

I just got to work after a short drive through a hurricane.  That's a bit dramatic.  The worst of the weather passed through earlier this morning while I was drawing a picture on my computer and by the time we left for work around 8am the day had resolved itself into just a drizzly mess.  A runny nose of a morning.  A little windy but nothing like the lashing we received before first light.  Leaves down, flower pots scattered on the sidewalks, large puddles mirroring the gray skies.

And I'm partially deaf right now, by the way.  My ears have shut themselves against the noisy world and my head feels like a slowly inflating balloon.  It's as if I just came down from altitude in a jetliner or off a mountain in a car.  Or walking.  Damned if I know what the kind of transportation I used would have to do with it.  There is pressure and I hear things muffled.  What sounds penetrate come from unexpected directions and have me in a state of constant distraction.  I'm not sure why.  Could be an atmospheric effect from the storm or it could be just some residual stuffiness from a cold I had recently.

We won't know until tonight and we watch the television news what damage the storm brought.  For now it's just an interesting way to begin our week.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Architectural history in tiny Tokyo capsules

Architectural history in tiny Tokyo capsules

I don't think I'd enjoy living in a place with a large round window with no shade right next to my bed.  Just the light from our parking lot security lights is too much for me to sleep at night.  In the heart of Tokyo you'd have all kinds of flashers and blinkers and an overflow of ambient light from the street all night long bathing your sleeping area.  Other than that, the size wouldn't bother me, at least for a short stay.  It would be like spending time on a space station with artificial gravity, or in a submarine.  A sort of futuristic, Kubrick-ian existence, at least for a while.

Then it would probably feel more like a prison.

What am I babbling about?  Nakagin Capsule Tower, one of those architectural/philosophical concepts brought to life many years ago and now in danger because it never really caught on or revolutionized urban living the way its designer intended.  Still, it was an ingenious idea.  And the few tenants remaining have put their capsules to some inventive use.  I guess its appeal is to the kind of creative, odd-thinking mind that would find a smallish, room-sized pinhole camera something worthwhile.  I find it worthwhile.  So I'd love if someone could find a way to preserve this building.  It probably won't happen.

Do you associate capsule hotels with Japan?  I always have, at least in the back of my mind.  Capsule hotels aren't up there with Mt. Fuji or even noise rock as far as characteristically Japanese phenomena go, but I vaguely remember news stories or segments on shows like Real People and That's Incredible! detailing capsule hotels as the kind of weird inventiveness common in booming, economic-powerhouse-yet-land-starved Japan of the 1970s and 80s.  Eventually the bubble popped, but we were left with some kind of skewed views about Japan, many of which persist today. 

Are there still capsule hotels?  Heck, yeah. 

I've never stayed in one myself, but a friend of mine spent a night in a place in Shinjuku and took me on a tour.  It looked like a set from Star Wars.  His sleep chamber was up a stainless steel ladder, set in a plastic or fiberglass wall.  I was disappointed in the bamboo screen that passed for a door.  I was hoping for some kind of vacuum-sealed hatch.  The common bath was a steamy pit with ankle-deep water and a lot of guys in white towels trying to dry off in the damp atmosphere.  I really needed to pee out some beer but decided I could hold it until I got back to my own, more comfortable business hotel room rather than wade in my sock feet to the toilets somewhere across the room.

Capsule hotels are probably suitable places for sleeping off a drunk or getting a few hours of sleep after missing the last train.  I'd rather pay a little more and stay at a business hotel where the rooms are still small but seem palatial compared to what you get at a capsule hotel.  You can stand up and the fiberglass is usually confined to the bathroom unit.  Bathroom units in every business hotel I've stayed in have seemed modular, probably built elsewhere and then have their fixtures installed when they're plugged into the hotel construction.  Maybe they're made by the same companies that produce the sleeping chambers for capsule hotels.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Tokyo pulls plug on late-night Roppongi-Shibuya bus service

Tokyo pulls plug on late-night Roppongi-Shibuya bus service

Well, this has zero effect on me.  I was never a Roppongi party person anyway.  Back in my party days if I was in Tokyo I was in Shinjuku.  Not because I'm some cool, danger-seeking guy.  I don't know how dangerous Shinjuku is at night, really.  I'm told it's dangerous.  I may have been in a bubble of obliviousness or else people tend to over-estimate the dangers.  I've been in the middle of actual riots in the US, so there may be a subtle skewing of my sense of what's dangerous and what's not.  I never felt endangered by the elderly man who propositioned me for oral sex in Shinjuku on two different trips months apart, for example.  I certainly didn't feel endangered by the young woman who did the same my first time in Shinjuku, although when her pimp came running up I thought it best to walk away.  Allowing the guy from Boston to lead me through some back alleys in search of a nomi-hodai place was probably not my smartest moment, although he did take me to the same hostess bar where a friend of mine and I once spent $200 in an hour before depositing me at the Hub about a block from my hotel... where I drank beer and ate fried food alone.

Anyway, Roppongi has never held much appeal for me.  I've never been a "scene" person.  Even when I lived in a small town here and the scene consisted of the same 12 people, I wasn't interested.  I don't really need to be seen by others, don't feel my appearance is necessary.  My scene has always been the people I'm with and my immediate surroundings.  Wherever we are drunk--be it a parking lot outside my apartment, a smoky bar full of townies and college students, a live music venue, a sweaty, groping dance party, naked after-hours trespassing in apartment complex swimming pools or eating pancakes and sausages at IHOP at 6am as cops make a pot bust in the parking lot outside-- is my "scene."  And I've always been more in search of really solid drunkenness than a one-night hook up.  When I want to dance, I want to dance all night to rock music, not club beats.  I'm not into dressing up and using "product" or whatever.  So it usually turned out my ideal night on the town was just getting trashed on beer, eating some yakitori, then doing karaoke until 3am with some close friends.  You can probably do that in Roppongi.  I wouldn't know.  That's not my image of the place.  I'm sure I'm wrong about it.  I don't really care to find out otherwise.

Well, the last train.  I suppose a bus that takes you to Shibuya Station at 5am from Roppongi could be pretty convenient for some, but it didn't work out that way.  One that drops you off at 1am is completely useless.  There's no train.  You still have to wait.  You'd be better off back in the club, if it's still open.  Or  walking around to find one of those clubs that open after all the other ones close to cater to people who don't like to end their evenings based on train schedules.  Or taking a nap in a 24-hour Internet cafe, the kind with big comfy chairs and showers.  I've known people who had to take out of town business trips that invariably wound up with after-hours drinking parties who regularly slept over in Internet cafes.  Cheaper than a hotel room.

This leads me to wonder how the abrupt end to the partying will go over with the Olympics crowd in 2020, or if the various city governments in and around Tokyo will come up with some kind of plan.  The anti-dancing laws put a damper on the fun, too.  Another thing you can do is just stick to your ward when you're out getting wasted and hooking up.  Get you and your partner to a love hotel within easy walking distance of your meeting place.

Actually, these days my "scene" is lying in bed reading books on my Kindle while my wife does Facebook on her laptop beside me.