11.26.2008

Home Sweet Home

I've been looking for an apartment, and in my search, I have been using Google Street View. I came across this pretty amazing rundown house in Yoyogi-Uehara. I think someone is still living there, but haven't actually checked it out in yet real-life.
(If the image doesn't appear, click on View Larger Map to see it.)


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10.23.2008

Ueno


Ueno
Originally uploaded by Braincell Jupiter
This brick building near Ueno Park is probably pre-war. I like the windows. Unfortunately, it's covered with netting as most old buildings here are.

10.07.2008

Patbingsu


When my girlfriend and I went to Seoul last January, we enjoyed eating Patbingsu -- -- Korean shaved-ice, soft vanilla ice cream, assorted fruits, mochi and sweet beans. It's similar to Japanese kaki-gori, except the proper way to eat this Korean specialty is mixing it all up into an unrecognizable mess. Last week, we went to IceBerry in Shin-Okubo, which serves up some good Patbingsu. Unfortunately, I only have the pretty "before" photo. My girlfriend took an "after" mixing photo. Oh, this is a two-person serving, hence the two spoons. I could probably eat it all by myself, though, if I had to . . .

Rainbow Heffers


The Cow Parade is currently going in the Marunouchi area of Tokyo. We went to the area on Sunday to walk around the Imperial Palace grounds, but when I got hold of a map of the Cow Parade, we decided to go a little out of our way to see the cow that the photographer Nobuyoshi Araki painted.

9.26.2008

The Datai, Langkawi






Finally getting around to uploading some photos from our brief trip to Malaysia. We stayed at The Datai on the island of Langkawi for three nights. The resort hotel is surrounded by rainforest, and the lobby is completely open to the outdoors, which made for an otherworldy impression when we arrived at 10:30 PM on a Sunday night. As we sat on a sofa and sipped our welcome drinks, we listened to the sound of frogs croaking in lobby's lotus-filled pond. It's pretty impossible to capture the vibe of the place in photographs, but for anyone looking to do a romantic, relaxing beach holiday, and willing to spend the extra bucks, I recommend it. We got chased by monkeys. . . I touched a huge iguana that I thought would bite my hand off. . . flipped our rental kayak . . . got sunburned. . . got oil massages. . . took an open-air flower bath. . . had a private dinner on a secluded beach. . . ate starfruit. . . drank planter's punch. . . and all-in-all had a great time.

9.09.2008

Street View

Today I was playing with Google Maps, which recently launched its Street View feature for Tokyo. To protect people's privacy, people that appear in the Street View have their faces blurred out. Overall, the possibility of being captured in the Street View image while you were randomly out on the street seems rather slim. But taking a virtual walk around where I work, I found something interesting. The guy who sells fruit and vegetables in the alley near my office building is right there in the Street View. You can see him in the screen grab above, with a white cap on, standing in front of an electric pole . It's like he's a permanent fixture on the street. I plan on doing some more virtual walking to find other people that have been immortalized in Street View.

9.03.2008

Travel TV


Now that I've gotten on the subject of travel programs, I might as well come clean. The majority of TV programs that I watch in Japan are travelogues of some sort. In my previous post, I wrote about my fondness for "Weekend Cinderella." In fact, there are three other shows that I try to catch every week -- all of which involve travel, but are thematically very different. The best is "Sekai Ururun Taizaiki," which has been on TV for the last 13 years. The show has different celebrities go on a homestay for about a week in another country. Most of the time they have a goal to accomplish by the end of their stay, maybe walking a tightrope in a Korean acrobatic act or learning how sing to make a camel cry in Mongolia. Unfortunately, "Ururun" is going off the air this fall. That means I will have to be satisfied with the remaining travel programs.

"Sekai Fureai Aruki" is a really unusual show on NHK that features no visible host. Alternatively featuring a male or female narrator, the show is a virtual walk through various towns all over the globe. Most of the walk is shot in real time, and includes face-to-face exchanges with people randomly encountered on the streets and alleyways.
"AiNori" is the closest to US-style reality TV. It's similar to MTV's "Road Rules," where a small group of girls and guys travels in a van through different countries. The twist here is that they are trying to make a love connection, and they can only return to Japan once they successfully partner with someone of the opposite sex. Or until they "retire" from the show. I find the show odd in the sense that if I had a choice, I would choose to travel the world for as long as I could for free. To me, going home to Japan seems like losing rather than winning.

Cinderella Man


Every Saturday night I make sure to watch "Shuumatsu no Shinderera Sekai! Dangan Torabera." Loosely translated, it means "Weekend World Cinderella! Bullet Traveller." Each episode has a female celebrity go on a seriously short and speedy trip. Originally, the show was supposed to be the kinds of trips most women could either afford the time and money for, but recently the destinations are pretty far from Japan. This has resulted in odd, three-day, one-night itineraries, meaning the travellers spend most of their time on the airplane. Regardless, they make the most of their time once on the ground. Usually they have a specific site they wish to see, like the jelly-fish lake in Palau or the Aurora Borealis in Canada, or a bit of foreign culture they want to experience, like being a "bride" at a wedding in the Greek islands or drinking tequila in Mexico. I've always enjoyed travel shows (yes, I even used to watch Rick Steves on PBS), and this one makes you realize that you don't need that much time to have a mini-adventure (although, you probably do need a lot of money).

9.01.2008

Gone


Gone
Originally uploaded by Braincell Jupiter
A snack bar that once was. This building in Gotanda is no more. Snapped the photo just two weeks before it was torn down.

Embassy Dog

The dog at the back entrance gate to the Brazilian Embassy in Tokyo.

8.29.2008

Popcorn Kitty


Popcorn Kitty
Originally uploaded by Braincell Jupiter
Hello Kitty is getting into the popcorn vending biz. Watch out, Orville!

Just Like Pisa

This ramen sushi shop has its neighbors to thank for supporting it. Literally.

8.05.2008

Kimono Art


Stumbled onto this event at Omotesando Hills last Friday night. The guy was rapidly sketching a lifesize portrait of the model on a folding screen.

7.31.2008

Onsen


We stayed at Daikon-no-Hana, a hot spring inn, in Miyagi Prefecture on Sunday. This is one of the private outdoor baths by the river. The photo was taken on Monday morning after breakfast. The night before we visited the bath. Although there were lights at the bath, the inn provided flashlights because the raised wooden walkway through the woods was pretty dark.

Lost Turtle


Lost Turtle
Originally uploaded by Braincell Jupiter
Somebody is looking for their lost pet turtle in Meguro.

7.22.2008

Scanners!


Maids are brainwashing people on the 5th floor of a nondescript building in Akihabara.

Balloon Tree


Balloon Tree
Originally uploaded by Braincell Jupiter
This is what a tree covered in balloons looks like.

7.08.2008

Hip To Be Square

Japan. The only (?) country where you can buy square melons.

7.07.2008

Tea Time

Last week's anmitsu at Toraya in Ginza. Sweet beans and apricot and shiratama (marshmallow-like balls made from rice, not to be confused with rice-balls, which means something else) and more...yum.

6.24.2008

Caution!


Caution!
Originally uploaded by Braincell Jupiter
This faded sign near my girlfriend's home in Yamanashi warns of children running into the street.

Ryokan


An old ryokan, or inn, in Yamanashi. It's only open in the summer. It's no longer in business.

Tunnel Vision


Tunnel Vision
Originally uploaded by Braincell Jupiter
An old train tunnel built in the Meiji era in Yamanashi. Now part of a hiking trail.

6.11.2008

Escar-deco


Escar-deco
Originally uploaded by Braincell Jupiter
A snail motif in the railing along a main street near work. Why a snail? I'll have to investigate.

6.05.2008

Lipovitan Stand

This stand only sells the energy drink Lipovitan in Shinagawa Station.

Sweet stuff


Sweet stuff
Originally uploaded by Braincell Jupiter
Yummy and pretty jelly candies from Kyoto courtesy of my girlfriend.

5.29.2008

Panda Gone Wild


Panda Gone Wild
Originally uploaded by Braincell Jupiter
Weird panda stuffed animal near Tokyo Station.

5.27.2008

Parked Whale

This whale is in a park by my office.

Telephonevision

I've mentioned my new phone, but haven't talked about it in detail. I got a Panasonic Viera 920P from Softbank. I am not some cellphone fanatic, but it's nice to have an up-to-date phone in Japan, where it seems like people replace their phones as soon as a new model comes out. Like most new phones in Japan, it plays one-seg TV. This TV service is free, and in addition, the channels broadcast additional digital information. Last night, I noticed that the TV drama "Mito-Koumon" includes maps and historical quizes you can look at and navigate while watching the show in a split-screen mode on your phone.

Nice Backside

Ever since I started working near Ochanomizu, I've wanted to take a photograph of this building. It reminds of the back of a refrigerator; it's not pretty at all, just functional. There are all these exposed metal ducts and air conditioners, and the color is just so faded and grungy. Actually, it's not that unusual to see buidlings like this in Japan, but the angle of this one, looking up from the street, added to its charm.

Now that I've at least got a digital camera in my phone (still have yet to get a stand-alone camera), I'll be able to snap a few pics of architectural details that amuse me as I wander around.

5.21.2008

Bombs Away

We went to Chofu to eat soba and visit Jindaiji Temple on Sunday. Unfortunately, we picked the worst day to do it. What should have been a relatively short express-train ride turned into a roundabout train and bus ordeal. An unexploded bomb leftover from World War II that had been found in the area was scheduled to be removed that day, and as a result, train service was limited. According to Yahoo News:
The Self-Defence Force's explosive ordnance disposal team began an operation Sunday morning and successfully removed the one-tonne US-made bomb buried some 3.5 metres below the ground, officials said.
And, as luck would have it, the way back was even more of a mess because someone decided to go and jump in front a train. What a way to end the weekend. . .

5.20.2008

Robot Sidewalk

Got a new cellphone on Saturday, but still haven't replaced the digital camera I lost in Seoul. For now, I guess I will be posting some of the cellphone shots that I take when I am out and about. Today after lunch, despite a cloudy sky that threatened to rain any second, I walked through Akihabara and snapped this pic of the sidewalk. Akihabara is a neighborhood famous for all its electric appliance stores. The sidewalk has several colorful tiled pictures along the main street, kind of like a walk of fame for gadgets. This pic is of a robot. It says in Japanese, "Hello. Welcome to Akihabara."

5.08.2008

Animal Cookies

The first time I came to Japan I bought a bag of animal cookies in Tsukiji, and I loved 'em. Now whenever I see some for sale, I usually buy a bag. They are much better than the animal crackers that are available in the U.S. The main reason they taste better is that they've got icing on them. On Sunday, I bought a bag of them in Sugamo. 200 grams worth. I just finished the bag at work. I often buy them at Muji stores, too. The Muji bags are much smaller, only 80 grams. The shape is a bit cuter than average ones, but the taste is about the same. The cookies are called doubutsu youchi. Doubutsu means animal, but I didn't know what youchi meant. After some research, I found out that it comes from the word for kindergarten, youchien. The name apparently comes from something called "kindergarten biscuits" that came into Japan from Britain in the late 19th century.

5.02.2008

Delicious Dekopon

I've recently "discovered" a new fruit here in Japan. Dekopon. Basically, it looks like an ugly orange with a protruding navel. I always avoided them for some reason. I think I judged the book by its cover and simply assumed that the ugly exterior must mean it would be sour and full of seeds, or be tough on the inside. Well, I was wrong. So far in the last couple weeks I've eaten about 10 or so, and they are sweet, almost always seedless, and super soft, almost like a gummy candy. I would probably even say, "Move over mikan," but it seems the dekopon season starts around the time the mikan season ends. Winter for me in Japan means eating bags of mikan. Now spring can mean pigging out on dekopon. Maybe my belly button will soon start to stick out just like the fruit.

4.23.2008

Enka Statue

I need to get up to Hokkaido. This statue of enka singer Hosokawa Takashi at a rest stop area in Makkari, Hokkaido actually plays music! Sensors on a back panel let you choose a few of the singer's greatest hits, and a speaker blasts the songs out at an incredible volume. Hosokawa is the singer of one of my favorite enka songs "Kita Sakaba."

4.15.2008

Kate Bush in Japan

I used to listen to Kate Bush all the time. Even had posters of her on my bedroom wall at home and my dorm room in college. Now I just found this British video newsreport of Kate Bush traveling to Japan in 1978 to compete in the Tokyo Song Contest. Pretty cool. It looks like she visited Meiji Shrine before the peformance. But I guess she didn't pray hard enough there since she only took home the silver prize. I don't know too much about her popularity in Japan back then or even now. Judging from the karaoke parlor song book lists, she was never that big. The only Kate Bush song I can ever find at karaoke here is "Wuthering Heights," and even that is listed under Pat Benatar, who covered the song on one of her own albums.

Birthday Cake

So it was my birthday last week. Rie special-ordered a cake for me from Akita Prefecture. I should have known something was up when several weeks ago she asked me if I could be any "Star Wars" character, which one would I be. Well, when the cake was delivered to her door, she started laughing. The cake was supposed to be me as Han Solo frozen in carbonite. It looked more like me on a chocolate coffin. I'll have to post a photo of the entire cake later on, but for now here is the aftermath. My mini-head and my big head, together at last.

4.01.2008

Scent of a Man

I don't think I have bad breath (except for when I wake up). And I don't think I smell bad in general. But this gum for men, called "Otoko Kaoru" is supposed to make your body exhude a nice fragrance. The name means something like "Man Fragrance," which actually sounds kind of gross since I don't think men smell all that great. The flavor is Extra Rose Menthol, and the images on the package are of a rose -- overall, not very manly. The packaging itself, however, is really done well, and that is probably what got me to buy it in the first place. Not only is the package done in blood red and deep black, the inside wrappers also alternate from red to black. Each wrapper is different: some have just lettering on it, some have just a rose, etc. I've chewed most of the pack at work, but so far no one seems to have noticed.

3.28.2008

Ru the day

I had some spicy Japanese curry rice for lunch today. Japanese curry rice isn't usually as spicy as Indian curry. But whatever was in today's ru really had some kick. After one spoonful, I had a sudden hiccup/convulsion that almost knocked me out of my chair. The two co-workers I was with started laughing, and I laughed, too. It was the shock of it that had me laughing, rather than embarrassment. And then before I knew it, the guy next to me who also had ordered curry started hiccupping as well.


3.21.2008

Thumbs Up

"No Country For Old Men" just opened here in Japan last Saturday. The title is shortened here to just "No Country." I went to see it on Wednesday night with Rie. I enjoyed it, but not as much as the Coen's "Fargo," which I can watch over and over.

On March 11, Javier Bardem came to Japan to promote the film. For some inexplicable reason, the actor was paired up on stage with Edo Harumi, a 40-something-old (?) comedian who recently won a TV comedy contest and has been showing up everywhere on variety shows. Her schtick is always the same. She wears a black suit-dress, then proceeds to rip it off to reveal some kind of red leotard underneath, then the song "My Sharona" starts to play, and she dances to the beat while reciting phrases that all end with the sound "gu." The "gu" sound means "good," and every time she says it, she gives a double thumbs-up to the cameras. I don't really see what's funny about it except for the fact that it's so bad it's funny. . . sort of.

I saw a bit of the press conference on morning TV news, and Bardem seemed somewhat amused, if a bit confused, by Harumi's presence. Yet he still went along with it and posed with her, both holding up their thumbs. Unfortunately, Rie couldn't get this image out of her mind, and it kind of ruined the movie experience for her. For some reason, I had forgotten about it, but I did think the first shot of Bardem looked a lot like Bananaman Himura. He's got the same bowl haircut!

3.12.2008

Sutaa Waazu

I'm always searching for new ways to study and improve my Japanese. Recently, I discovered if I use the Force, I might be able to master my language skills. Since I practically know the lines of the movie "Star Wars: A New Hope" by heart, reading the script in Japanese allows me to understand the meaning without having to translate it. I found that this Star Wars website has the dialogue from all the movies in English and Japanese, including Episode 4, which I will always refer to as "the first Star Wars." I'm not sure if it's a Lucas-sanctioned site or not, so who knows how long it might be up. I already saved a hard copy just in case. By the way, if you want to say "May the Force Be With You" in Japanese, it's "Fousu ga tomo ni aran koto o!"

3.11.2008

Titalicious

I love the traditional Japanese sweets known as wagashi. Over the weekend a show on TV featured a walking tour that included Kakushin Wagashi, an old store near Kagurazaka Station. The third generation owner decided that when he took over the business he would make wagashi that hadn't been made before. Some creations are decidely un-Japanese, like the "Indora," a dorayaki pancake-sandwich treat that replaced traditional bean paste with a mixture of spicy curry and almonds. But the shop's most popular sweet, especially among children, is "Oppai-chan." Oppai in Japanese means breasts, and that is exactly what this wagashi looks like. As for flavor, it's milk-flavored with apple slices and white bean paste. My mouth just waters at the site of it. . . or should I say them?

3.10.2008

Manga Nightmares

I found a new subculture-ish bookstore on Kamiyama Street this weekend on my walk back from Shibuya. It was a very minimalist shop, which made it easy to spot things that might be worth reading. I wound up buying a copy of Ebisu Yoshikazu's "SF & Mystery Compilation," just one part of what appears to be a large collection of his comic works. Basically, I bought it because the artwork and subject matter appealed to me. I had no idea who he was until I got home and Rie told me that this is the guy that appeared on the TV show "Ikari Oyaji," loosely translated as "Angry Old Man." In the episode that he was in, he yelled at an onsen geisha for being stupid and having no life. Basically, that's what goes on in that show all the time. People with no lives get yelled at by older male TV personalities (but sometimes female ones appear, despite the show's name). Anyway, I read just a bit of the comic before going to bed, and I wound up having some pretty strange dreams. A look at Ebisu Yoshikazu's official website might help explain why.

Cool Cover

I've been watching a lot of the anime Manga Mukashi Banashi lately. The opening theme song and the closing song is pretty cool. Since the beginning of the year, Nissan has been running a commercial that features a punk-rock version of the closing theme, "Ningen-tte Ii Na." The band that covers the song is called GaGaGaSP, although the commercial credits them as GaGaGaDX. Maybe they're in the midst of a name change? Here's the commercial:



And here's the original closing titles from the anime for comparision:

3.06.2008

Soy Sauce for Ice Cream

I love Japanese sweets. One of my favorites is mitarashi dango, round rice dumplings on a stick covered with a sticky, sweet and salty syrup. The base ingredient of that syrup is soy sauce. I always wanted to use that syrup for pouring on top of ice cream, since it is similar to caramel. Well, I found out recently that there already is a company out there selling soy sauce for ice cream. It's got a very original name: "Aisu-kurimu ni kakeru shoyu" (loosely translated, "Soy Sauce for Pouring Over Ice Cream"). I haven't found it on the shelves of the local supermarket, so I might either have to order it online or do what I originally was planning on doing, making my own. Additionally, I found some other interesting recipes in English from the official Kikkoman site, including this one for Green Tea and Soy Sauce Ice Cream.

3.03.2008

Homeless Humor

I haven't read anything in a while except for news and stuff online. So I finally bought a new book to read, called "Homuresu Chugakusei" (Homeless Junior High Student). It's written by Tamura Hiroshi, a member of a comedy duo called Kirin. Supposedly, it's autobiographical and it tells how he had to live for a while in a park after his family got kicked out of their house. Since I've only been reading it before I go to bed, I haven't gotten very far, but it's a nice antidote to the TV and Internet. At the bookstore, I found that there is a comic based on the novel, and I also heard that there are already plans to make a movie version. A short while back, Tamura was the center of a prank by the London Boots comedians, in which three women pretended to be interested in him over the course of several weeks. Think of MTV's "Punk'd," but done in a way that can actually mess up someone's life!

2.28.2008

Video Night

Rie and I watched the film "The Wife of Seishu Hanaoka" last night. It stars Takamine Hideko, an actress (on the left) who starred in most of director Naruse Mikio's films. I saw a lot of Naruse's films while at UC Berkeley, and I became a fan of Takamine. She's got a very distinctive voice, and her eyes are really expressive. Directed by Masumura Yasuzo, "The Wife of Seishu Hanaoka" is about the relationship between a wife of a doctor (Wakao Ayako) and his mother (Takamine). Set in the late-18th/early-19th century, the doctor (Ichikawa Raizo) is trying to develop anesthesia to perform operations on patients. He first experiments with the anesthesia on cats, but finally, when he needs a human subject, both the wife and mother offer to be his test patient. It was a bit hard to understand, but it seemed like both women wanted to prove their love for the doctor by sacrificing themselves.

***SPOILER ALERT***

***********************
In the end, one of them goes blind.

2.25.2008

Mukashi Banashi

I've recently been told that I don't know enough about mukashi banashi, or Japanese folk tales, the kinds of stories that every Japanese person knows since childhood. And without knowing these most basic of cultural references, I'm basically a cultural moron. So last night I rented and watched some animated versions of children's classics from the 1970s. The collection I watched included Momotaro, one of the most popular stories in Japan. It's a story about a boy who is born out of a giant peach and is raised by an old childless couple. He is super strong and brave, and he goes off and fights some demons that have been terrorizing the villages of Japan. (The cartoon made the demons look way too wimpy.)
Anyway, in an odd coincidence, I just found out that the Japan Postal Service started selling stamps last Friday featuring heroes and heroines from this animated series . I am going to have to rush out and get some before they are sold out.

Screens and Scrolls

On Saturday I went to the new National Art Center to see a retrospective of Yokoyama Taikan (1868-1958), a painter who mixed Japanese and Western techniques in a style known as Nihonga. As usual with special exhibitions in Tokyo, there was a pretty big crowd. One of Taikan's scrolls on display was fully unrolled, which gave a rare opportunity to see the entire work at once. However, there were so many people, we had to slowly side-step along the glass case inch by inch to see it. This gold leaf wall screen of Mt. Fuji and clouds was also on display. I bought a post-card sized reproduction of the screen that folds just like the real thing, allowing me to stand it up on my desk.

2.15.2008

Sumo-sized Dinner

Last night we ate Chanko Nabe. Nabe is basically a big hot pot of stuff that you cook yourself at your table. Chanko Nabe is the version that sumo wrestlers are famous for eating. The restaurant is named Tokitsunada, after the former sumo wrestler that runs it. His face appears as a drawing on the sign outside as well as on the chopstick wrappers. I didn't realize he was a real person, however, until Rie pointed at the wrapper and said, "He's here." When I looked up I saw a big guy walking around, and he proceeded to approach every customer's table to welcome them. He no longer looks like a sumo wrestler though, just a big guy with a pig nose. On a darker note, recently the former master of the stable where Tokitsunada trained was arrested along with three wrestlers in connection with the beating death of a 17-year-old junior wrestler.