Yesterday, I purchased the new Canon PowerShot D10 at Yodobashi Camera in Shinjuku, Tokyo, to take over for an old Canon IXY 500. The IXY has served us well and works OK still, but the waterproof and shockproof nature of the D10 were attractive because of the proximity to the Shonan beach area near where we live, and how often we’ve been nervous about taking electronics to the beach! It’s going to be nice to drag the camera right into the surf or even underwater.
During my 56 km bike ride today, I ate at this nice little Italian place called ”Kakaki” in Kugenuma Kaigan near Enoshima, at Kugenuma-bashi, along Rt. 134 the coast road.
Address: Kugenuma Kaigan 2-17-21, Fujisawa
Hours: 11:30 AM-14:30 PM, 17:30 PM-21:00 PM, Closed Mondays
Nearest Station: Kugenuma Kaigan (5 min walk from there)
Parking: 4 spaces
The owner, presumably Mr. Kakaki (?), was personable and spoke English. The table help was a charming young lady, who did a great job despite it probably being her first job, judging from her youth.
The lunch set was about 1500 yen, and included a simple but good vinaigrette salad, “kakaki style” with a little cheese, salami and prosciutto, fresh-baked bread flavored with poppy seed, a choice of pasta and a small dessert. I had the lasagna, which had nice crispy parts and those great-tasting burnt-cheese bits along the edge of the crockery. Yum, I’ll be back!
iMovie, included among other excellent consumer applications in Apple’s iLife 09, now provides an easy way to share your videos on Google’s YouTube video sharing service. You just prep your video, and then use the Share menu to share it in various ways. However, YouTube has a 10 minute, 1GB limit. Read on to find how to get around that.
If you’re longing for some great sandwiches in Tokyo, try Conti et Mer, who have a good range of “French-style”, take-out sandwich boxes and sweets, and party platters. Conti et Mer has three shops, in Jingu-gaien, Shirokane and Ginza, covering most of Tokyo for delivery. Their minimum order is JPY 2000 within their delivery areas, and more for areas outside that.
Sandwiches include Ham and Gruyere Cheese, Foie Gras and Prosciutto, Milano Salami and Cheese, Turkey, Grilled Herb Chicken, Mozzarella and Tomato, Baked Ham and Egg, Ham and Brie Cheese, Pate de Campagne, Prosciutte and Mozzarella, Tuna and Herb Salad, Beef Pastrami, Brie and Vegetable, Terrine Provancale, and Grilled Vegetable.
A ”Sandwich Box” set with baguette sandwich, hashed potatoes and a sweet (usually apple pie) costs about JPY 1000 to 1500, or you can get your sandwich in the “Seigle Box” which has the sandwich on rye bread.
These sandwiches might not be exactly authentic French, but they taste great to me. Hope you enjoy them sometime.
Since the Lockheed scandal brought Kakuei Tanaka down in the late 1970’s, Japan has seen many and varied incidents, their occurrence only escalating in recent years. Even the Tanaka protege Ichiro Ozawa, who has been stressing a (rather two-faced) populist agenda of late, is now tainted by a bribe scandal via a top aide accused of taking corporate donations. Ozawa san, so much for that “for the people” agenda eh? Who’s going to replace Aso?!
I like talking to just about anyone, and it’s frequently the case that I find myself talking to a random taxi driver about something or other happening in Japan. The other day, during a conversation variously about Ozawa, bribes, the US Sarbanes Oxley legislation and ”settai” (client entertainment) in Japan, my “over 60” year old driver told me he worked at Mizkan, the vinegar maker, for 40 years. I assume was his whole career, and he said he was in sales, in charge of large corporate accounts.
He said he invited the big supermarket chain buyers out nightly, for expensive dinners and visits to “caberet clubs” (kyaba-kura) in the Ginza or Kabukicho in Shinjuku. He mentioned, bragging a little, that it was common to spend “a few thousand dollars each night”, wining and dining these buyers to ensure getting their business. He made the point though, that most of the companies that were allowing sales reps to entertain them were now bankrupt - Daiei, Seiyu and others. He said they tried wooing the Ito-Yokado buyers, but they were adamant, and never went out. Since 7-and-holding’s Ito-Yokado stores are very strong performers today, I think perhaps that company policy of not accepting any sort of bribe was a good one.
My retired ex-Vinegar Maker sales rep and taxi driver must have a sour aftertaste in his mouth, despite all that expensive settai. Just desserts?
I was thinking about the massive projects that the world has seen, like the Pyramids, great Dams, Bridges, Skyscrapers and Railways, or well-designed and -architected cities in general, and wondering: Are these things we marvel at, built on great inequities? Inequities that people of certain demographics cannot even imagine (thinking about myself as a white, male, middle-class American).
It’s not comfortable to think about, but would such marvels even exist if there were not the exploited and the exploiters? Can this said to have been even necessary for technical progress?
Food for thought.
A conversation the other day prompted me to recount some experiences of my first days in Japan, so I thought I would share.
What? No NEX?
When I was “fresh off the boat” at Narita way back in 1987, I gathered up my suitcases, met one of the daughters of my host family, and schlepped my too-heavy stuff onto the JR Yokosuka line, which was already full. Japan Rail had no Narita Express yet, so it was stop-by-stop the whole long trip to Zushi, an hour south of Tokyo. Unfortunately we hit rush hour at Tokyo station, so there was another sweaty, smelly hour on an absolutely packed train. Sardines! With two large suitcases. And a backpack. And a total lack of experience on trains at all. This made for a bumpy, crowded, jolting, lurching ride, and kind of sowed my hate for rush hour trains, I think!
When I finally got to Zushi, it was early evening, and we were met at the station by my host parents. I was grateful just to be released from the train, but I almost did not get off, with weak Japanese for saying something like “I’m getting off. Make way!” and way too much stuff. We hauled everything up to my host family’s palatial house, and got me situated in a beautiful room overlooking their garden. I thought I would put up with anything to live in this beautiful room.
Gamblin’ Vending Machines
Later in the evening, wired from the trip, I took a walk with the host family’s daughters, and some friends. I saw a vending maching with a lot of blinking lights, which my cohorts told me were like a slot machine. You put the money in, they start blinking and moving around quickly, and if you can “catch” them when they are in a specific position by pressing the button for your drink, you get a free drink. Well, I won one on the first try, so I got two for the price of one. Surely auspicious, yes? No, just ironic, because I’ve never won at that since then.
The Ugly American?
One thing I did not want to be was the proverbial “ugly American” so I swore to myself to eat anything that was put in front of me. The first test was at breakfast on the first morning after I arrived. If you’ve been to middle America, you’ll know that it’s possible to get some pretty boring food (I’m spoiled now, by Tokyo’s cosmopolitan and eclectic food scene). And get it repeatedly. Where I am from, in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, with two hard-working parents, we were eating what I would call typical “meat and potatoes” fare; pretty standard and fairly easy to prepare; by necessity. As I remember, the potatoes and veggies would stay the same, but the meat dish would rotate between burger, pork chops and chicken, usually.
So despite the incantations, I was completely unprepared for this Japanese breakfast. The first morning, I smelled something wafting up to my room that was not exactly appetizing to me. But I repeated my silent pledge. “I’m not going to be the whining, ugly American. I’m going to eat this!” So I trundled myself downstairs, where everyone was awake and busy (busy is pretty typical too, in Japanese houses especially with students around). It was a huge spread of Japanese food. White rice, miso soup, dried seaweed or laver, small smelts (fish) called shishamo, pickled cucumbers, a fried egg. Well, nothing except the egg was familiar, though the rice was easy. I ate everything. I learned that shishamo are meant to be eaten whole, how to wrap some rice in a square of nori, and to have some rice with the pickles because they tend to be pretty salty. Well, I managed to get it all down, despite not feeling so well after the four shishamo fish, heads, fins and all. Grandpa said “calcium!” when he saw my grimacing after the first shishamo assault.
When Grandma asked if I liked the food, I said in my halting Japanese “Hai. Oishii desu!” Afterwards, the daughters were grousing at me, saying “you hated the meal; why did you say you liked it!” I told them my promise not to be the ugly American, but they said “you watch; she’ll make it every day now and we’ll never see cornflakes again!” Cornflakes!? Anyway, my words must have made Grandma happy because she made that meal, or variations thereof, every morning for the next year, with some exceptions when the whining from the daughters for bread and cornflakes became too much! I came to really love the tastes of Japan, with this experience.
Would you like some Stodgy with that Formal?
One of the primary reasons I came to Japan, was to go to graduate school. Armed with recommendations from my fourth year advisor at Allegheny College, Dr. Wurst, I enlisted my host mother to call the two people I might be able to intern under. The first person was the VP at Chugai Pharmaceuticals. Host mom kindly called this guy up, and he took the next 10 minutes berating her for calling in the first place, and for not having a formal letter of introduction from Dr. Wurst, in the second. She gallantly put up with these hysterics. She told me later about what he said, but I could hear him really hollering at her during the conversation. Strike one of two. So much for that, and I guess a jerk is a jerk in any language.
So, after a little break after calming down from getting screamed at, host mom tried Dr. Sugiyama at Tokyo University. He turned out to be the nicest person, and invited me up for some talk and some evaluation. In the end, he let me in his Masters program, telling me frankly that my Japanese was awful and I’d better do something about it. So this fresh-off-the-boat gaijin committed himself to studying Japanese and Pharmacokinetics hard, and I am really fortunate to have had the chance to study under him. In fact, I think I’m fluent now because of his frank words then.
These experiences gave me some insight into Japan. First, with the case of the VP at Chugai, I’ve met intensely formal people like that in Japan since that time, and I would say that Japan is probably generally more formal in daily matters as compared to the US. But like the US and like any country, it depends upon the circle you’re in, the school, or the company.
Dr. Sugiyama was rather the opposite of the Chugai guy; relatively relaxed and informal. Ironically, while there was a clear hierarchy in Dr. Sugiyama’s labs, there was continual confusion over what was the right way, because of the mix between Japanese and other cultures (there were students from Korea and China too). In Japan, and apparently especially in Junior High School, students create and more importantly are allowed (encouraged?) to create hierarchies. Sempai-kohai, senior-junior hierarchies abound, and you don’t break them or their influence easily. Sometimes, these things really get out of hand and lead to some serious bullying especially in Junior Highschools. When a Doctoral student, let me call him “Koji”, befriended me and insisted that I speak English to him, “Let’s speak in English; call me Koji”, I was continually corrected by the other students. “No, he is Tanaka Sensei to you.” So, I learned to call him Koji, quietly, when speaking English but to call him Tanaka sensei any time else and especially in front of the manners police. I have to say, I’m not a very formal person myself, and so was always kind of bemused by this insistence to go against the guy’s wishes by his kohai.
Only after a few drinks, ok?
It’s said that the Japanese are inhibited and “shy”. Well I’ll tell you: not after some drinks, they aren’t. I’ve had several interesting experiences here, but I’ll relay three that happened to me when I was in my 20s, early in my stay in Japan, and one later one. The first was when I was wandering in Asakusa. I went to see the famous Kaminarimon, and was walking around the area when this old and drunk guy approached me. He haltingly introduced himself, and immediately started running his hands through my then-long hair. This was when I had a lot of hair. While I squirmed, trying to get away in the crowd, I left this guy saying “so nice” and “so soft”. Shudder.
The second interaction was a few years later, on the train in the heat of summer. A really, really drunk guy named Kimura, told me that he and his buddies were firemen, and wanted to make sure I understood Japanese culture. Kimura san slurred “Ith Japanese culchaa, bunka, you see, to givea GIFT to VIZtaa.” He thrust out his fan, and would not hear of my trying to give it back. I still have it today. It has “Kimura, 1st Fire Brigade” handwritten in Kanji on its spine. He probably wonders where the heck it went.
The third run-in with Japanese drunk culture was with a guy who took it upon himself to give me money. Said he: “You must be having a hard time. Japan is hard. You take this money.” I kept trying to explain to him that I have a full time job, and am doing ok, but I appreciate the gesture. Again, he would not hear of it and stuck a 10,000 yen note in my shirt pocket on the way out the door. But he was drunk, and I knew his wife would be pissed finding out he’d spent some of the family fortune on a random gaijin, so I stuffed the money in his departing back pocket.
Yakuza Ramen Noodle Projectile
I’ll leave you with this recent story. A friend and I were working together on a project, and he was here visiting from the UK. We went to a couple of bars after visiting a potential distribution center, and after we were sufficiently sauced, we decided to get one for the road at the train station. Standing right there in front of the kiosk was this older guy dressed in a gaudy white kimono. He had “Yakuza” written all over his face, but we said Shitsurei and went to grab a couple of beers from the kiosk fridge.
Just as I’m trying to pay, and praying for no interactions from him, Mr. White says “what are you drinking…” in slurred English that I could understand being used to the accents here, so I answered him in Japanese. He complimented my language skills, and then insisted on buying our drinks and snacks. The typical refusal-insistence-refusal-insistence dance ensued, and we ended up accepting his hospitality.
That was nice of him and all, but in the middle of our brief conversation he coughed, and a piece of ramen came out of his mouth, and proceeded slow-motion (at least it felt that way to me), to spin end-on-end toward my friend’s chest, where it landed with a splat after a few revolutions in mid-air. Our Mr. White was oblivious, but we sort of wiped it off, and got the heck out of there with our Chuhai’s and snacks.
A nice introduction to Japanese culture for my friend, wouldn’t you say?
If you are a Jack Bauer or 24 fan, you might be surprised to know how popular Jack Bauer is in Japan. Kiefer Sutherland appears in TV commercials for an energy bar called Calorie Mate, and the manzai comedy group in this video, ”Doki-doki Camp” (ドキドキキャンプ) does him in various scenes in ordinary Japanese life. In this one, Jack is an instructor at driving school and tells the learner “you’re gonna get your license in 24 hours!”, and in others, he interviews for a job, pointing a gun at the interviewer while insisting that he’ll be the CEO “in 24 hours!”. No deaths in the skits, which is somewhat anti-Jack, but it’s very funny stuff.