Supress the Softbank You Got a Mail Notification

For some reason my Softbank iPhone started displaying "You got a mail" with every SMS.

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Paper Life From Shitamachi Tokyo

The stationers I use near my office, Okamotoya Toranomon, introduced me to L!FE products, when I asked for a good paper to use with fountain pens. Let me introduce them here.

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Unified Rail Cards in Japan

Japan residents who are frequent domestic travellers will be happy to hear this news about railpass IC card interoperability.

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Setsubun Bean Scatter 2013

Today was the setsubun, or the day before the first day of Spring in Japan. It was appropriately fairly warm, and we did the traditional thing. Read on to find out what that is.

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First Snow of 2013 in Yokohama

Today was the first snow of 2013 here in Yokohama. Usually this area gets one or two days of snow per year, which is a big contrast from central or northern Japan, areas like Nagano where the Winter Olympic games were held.

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Vegetarian Fresh Juice Bar in New Shinbashi Bldg 1f

The "Vegetarian" Fresh Juice Bar located in the New Shimbashi building 1st floor, has been in business for 40 years. It is worth a visit if you are in the area (Shimbashi station is just south of Tokyo station on the Yamanote line.)

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Salary Man Senryu Sara Sen Winners 2012

Dai-ichi Life Insurance announced their latest Sarariiman Senryuu_ (Salaried Worker Senryuu, サラリーマン川柳) competition winners. I'm late to the party by a couple months, but this time was the 25th year for the competition. _

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Japan Cyclists Aten Hut

Recently Japan law regarding bicycles has been strengthened, and it is a popular topic on TV "wide shows" (variety shows) as I write this, in Autumn 2011.

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Memoirs of a Geisha Film

Hulu is finally available in Japan, for more money and with less content than in the US, but it is nice to be able to see even a limited amount of programming. It seems like they are releasing according to how much translation is done, however, I guess I'll take it.

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Japan Girl Talk the Secret Code 2011

The creatures called "gyaru" (teenage girls who hang out in the youth spots in Tokyo) have their own slang language that morphs rapidly. Nobody, even them, can keep up with it. Morning TV had a special segment about the latest "gyaru-go" language trends, which I thought were worth sharing here.

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Mama Chari Schrader Valve Mushi Gomu Repair

If you live in Japan or have visited, you will know the ubiquitous "mama chari" (mom bike) from its loud squeaky brakes, and precarious perching of bags and children both, on its front and rear platforms and baskets. My wife's mama-chari rear tire got a flat, and as the resident mechanic around the house, I got to fix it. Here's what I learned in the process.

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Panku Bubu Wins M1 Grandprix 2009

Manzai duo "Panku Bubu" won the M1 Grandprix this year, in a unanimous decision over Waraimeshi and Non Style.

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39 Goroawase Japanese Word Play

One fun and unique feature of Japanese language is the ease with which you can create easy-to-remember phrases from numbers.

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Yanagihara Kanako Senryu Haiku

Kanako Yanagihara is so popular these days, that shop assistants are starting to impersonate her right back!

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Satirical Shibamata Senryuu

The elections are again upon us here in Japan, and the satirists are hard at work writing Senryuu (川柳) poems about the subject. Senryuu are like Haiku in that they have the well-known 5-7-5 sound structure, but they differ in that they are not so much about mother nature as about human nature.

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Salaryman Senryu Sarasen Winners

Dai-ichi Life Insurance has announced their latest Sarariiman Senryuu (Salaried Worker Senryuu, サラリーマン川柳) competition winners. It's the 22nd year for the competition, and people vote on the best humorous senryu that come from the daily life of salaried workers and the news.

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Japan Rail Is More Gaijin

I noticed something interesting. The JR East Japan announcements about the next station are done in a female voice, and she used to say the station names with proper Japanese pronunciation. Like this:

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Japan Marine Day Umi No Hi S Roots

The third Monday in July is "Marine Day" here in Japan, called "Umi no Hi" (海の日) in Japanese. It was established in 1996, a few years into my life in Japan. It's common knowledge that the day marks the return of the Emperor Meiji from a boat trip. More specifically, it's the day of his return to Yokohama port in Meiji 9 (1876), from a royal light-house inspection tour to the northernmost prefectures, on a Scottish-built schooner called the "Meiji Maru".

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Kenkoshindan Health Check

My wife and I did our yearly "kenkoshindan" health check via our insurance provider the other day. If you are on the national insurance plan or one of the big alternative providers, you're supposed to get this kenkoshindan once a year. My wife and my secretary at work badgered me into submission, so I finally took the plunge and got the big one-day "ningen dock" (人間ドック, and kind of like "human dry-dock" in its meaning).

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Japan and Its People Are Unique

At least that is what they tell me! Japan's my home, and I have had many interesting, enjoyable and indeed unique experiences here, otherwise I would not have stayed on in this country since 1987. But over the years, I've had an earful of people telling me directly or indirectly how unique Japan and its people are, and I've had to burst more than one person's bubble. Sometimes incorrectly. But let me vent.

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Tokyo Metro Do It at Home Manners Posters

Artist Bunpei Yorifuji (寄藤文平) is creating a series of manner posters for the Tokyo metro, around the theme of "Do It At Home".

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Gyaru Go Girl Japanese

Mezamashi TV broadcasted a segment on the lastest 'gyaru' (gal) language. If you're not familiar, gyaru are the sort of schoolgirls who hang out in Shibuya or Harajuku, dress in the latest fashion and speak in a sort of code.

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One Coin Services All the Rage in Japan

Japan morning TV reported that "One Coin" (ワンコイン) services are all the rage these days in Japan, due to the down economy. What, you say? Whassat?

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Ray Out S Iphone Jacket Case Review Diy Fix for D Ring Problem

I purchased Ray-Out's reasonably-priced leather "Jacket" case, model RT-P1LC4/B, perhaps three months ago from Yodobashi Camera. Here's what I think about it.

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Drop Enough to Scare the Crap Out of You

"Drop" is a horror story novella written by Koji Suzuki, the writer of best-selling horror stories such as "Ring" and "Rasen" (Spiral). Butt, there's a catch.

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Street Jazz From Kano Saito Kawamoto

I've seen this good, energetic "Street Jazz" trio at JR Shinjuku before, but today I waited for a good moment and got some materials from them. Read on if you like good jazz.

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Family Reunion Sad

Every year, we have a family reunion during the New Year holiday "oshogatsu". The photo in this post is of the 2009 edition.

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Finally Otc Drugs at 7 11

The Pharmaceutical Affairs Law "PAL" was revised to allow convenience stores like 7-11, Lawson, Family Mart or others to sell most over-the-counter drugs, as long as they have a clerk who has registered and qualified with the local government. The fact that they no longer need a pharmacist is a big cost-saving difference from before, that also allows a big new income stream for the conbinis.

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Best Tokyo Subway Map Vollmer Design

Vollmer Design's superior map of the Tokyo rail and subway system is a must for any visitor to or resident of Tokyo. The map is printed on A3 paper, but is folded small to the size of "3 x 1 2/3 matches" according to the nicely-designed Informa website where the map is available.

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Saboten No Hana Lyrics Kazuo Zaitsu

Kazuo Zaitsu (kanji: 財津和夫) of the Japanese band Tulip, is the singer of a favorite song of mine, "Saboten no Hana" or The Cactus Flower, which is a song about hope despite love lost.

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How to Gargle Ugai Garagara

Now, this is serious stuff. Today on "Mezamashi Terebi," a popular morning TV show, they had a fairly long, scientific-sounding introduction to "ugai" or gargling. They stated that it's only really popular here in Japan, where all kids are taught "ugai-tearai," or gargling and hand-washing, from when they are toddlers. They had mini-interviews with a bunch of foreigners asking if they had the culture of gargling. Mostly, they didn't, or they did heathen things like drinking the gargle medicine! The horror!

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Salaryman Neo S Salaryman Calisthenics

There is a skit called "Terebi Salaryman Taiso" (Taiso = Calisthenics) from the NHK TV comedy Salaryman Neo. It is based on the famous known-by-every-Japanese NHK "rajio taiso", a calisthenics show on the radio, in which the idea is to stretch to piano music.

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Rip Kiyoshiro Imawano

Kiyoshiro Imawano, the hugely-popular lead singer of RC Succession died of lymphatic disease at the age of 59. He'll be dearly missed. One of their hits, "Ameagari no Yozora ni" is representative of his music, and you can hear it on YouTube. I thought I'd translate the lyrics to it. The original Japanese is followed by romanized Japanese, followed by my English approximation. It's full of double-meanings, of course.

Ameagari no Yozora ni 雨あがりの夜空に


Kono Ame ni Yararete, Engine ikarechimatta


Oira no ponkotsu toutou tuburechimatta

どうしたんだ HEY HEY BABY, バッテリーはびんびんだぜ

Doushitanda Hey Hey Baby, Battery wa binbin daze


Itumonoyouni kimete buttobasouze

My engine's dead from all this rain

My junker's finally died

What's the matter, hey hey baby, the battery's fine

Lookin' cool like always, let's drive it hard


Sorya hidoi norikata shitakoto mo atta


Dakedo, sonna tokinimo omaewa shikkari

どうしたんだ HEY HEY BABY, 機嫌直してくれよ 

Doushitanda Hey Hey Baby, Kigen naoshitekureyo


Itsumonoyouni kimete buttobasouze

I rode you hard sometimes

But even then you toughed it out

What's the matter, hey hey baby, why don't you cheer up?

Lookin' cool like always, let's drive it hard

OH! どうぞ勝手に降ってくれ ぽしゃるまで

Oh! Douzo katteni kudattekure, posharumade

WOO! いつまで続くのか見せてもらうさ

Woo! Itsumade tsuzukunoka misetemorausa


Konna yoruni omaeni norenai nante


Konna yoruni hassha dekinai nante

Oh! Go ahead, fall apart til' you're a wreck

Woo! I'll see how long I can ride you

I can't believe I can't ride you tonight

I can't believe I can't blast off tonight


Konna koto itsumademo nagakuwa tsuzukanai


Iikagen ashita no koto kangaetahouga ii

どうしたんだ HEY HEY BABY お前までそんなこと言うの?

Doushitanda Hey Hey Baby, Omaemade sonna koto iu no?


Itumono youni kimete buttobasouze

This sort of thing won't continue too long

You gotta think about tomorrow

What's the matter, hey hey baby, are you gonna say that too?

Lookin' cool like always, let's drive it hard

OH! 雨あがりの夜空に輝く

Oh! Ameagari no yozorani kagayaku

WOO! 雲の切れ間にちりばめたダイヤモンド

Woo! Kumo no kirema ni chiribameta diamond


Konna yoruni omaeni norenai nante


Konna yoruni hassha dekinai nante

Oh! They shine in the night sky after the rain

Woo! The diamonds in the breaks in the clouds

I can't believe I can't ride you tonight

I can't believe I can't blast off tonight

お前についてるラジオ 感度最高

Omae ni tsuiteru radio kando saikou


Suguni iioto sasete dokomademo tondeku

Your radio's so sensitive

You make great sounds soon and fly away

どうしたんだ HEY HEY BABY, バッテリーはびんびんだぜ

Doushitanda Hey Hey Baby, Battery wa binbin daze


Itumonoyouni kimete buttobasouze

What's the matter, hey hey baby, the battery's fine

Lookin' cool like always, let's drive it hard

OH! 雨上がりの夜空に流れる

Oh! Ameagari no yozorani nagareru

WOO! ジンライムのようなお月様

Woo! Gin Lime no youna otsuki sama


Konna yoruni omaeni norenai nante


Konna yoruni hassha dekinai nante

Oh! It drifts in the night sky after the rain

Woo! The moon like a gin lime

I can't believe I can't ride you tonight

I can't believe I can't blast off tonight


Konna yoruni omaeni norenai nante


Konna yoruni hassha dekinai nante

I can't believe I can't ride you tonight

I can't believe I can't blast off tonight

Buttobase in heaven, Kiyoshiro. RIP!

English Bookstores in Japan

Maruzen in Oazo on Marunouchi Side of JR Tokyo Station.Here are some English bookstores in Japan, but mostly in Tokyo or Yokohama where I live, for the visitor or resident:

Maruzen in the Oazo complex (pictured) in front of JR Tokyo station on the Marunouchi side. 1-6-4 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo Tel - 03-5218-5100

Yaesu Book Center on the Yaesu side of JR Tokyo station. 2-5-1 Yaesu, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-8456 Tel - 03-3281-1811

Kinokuniya Shinjuku South Store in Takashimaya Times Square, on "Southern Terrace" of JR Shinjuku station's New South Exit. 5-24-2 Sendagaya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 151-0051 Tel - 03-5361-3301

Kinokuniya Shinjuku Main Store on the East side of JR Shinjuku. 3-17-7 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 163-8636 Tel - 03-3354-0131

Good Day Books near JR Ebisu, has a large collection of used books. 3F Asahi Building, 1-11-2 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0013 Tel - 03-5421-0957 Email -

Yurindo Landmark Plaza near JR Sakuragicho in the Minato Mirai Landmark Tower. 5F Landmark Tower Mall, 2-2-1-2 Minato-Mirai, Nishi-ku, Yokohama-shi, Kanagawa-ken 220-8172 Tel - 045-222-5500

Note: Yurindo in Landmark Tower has since closed down and been replaced with an H and M.

Brasserie Bec in Yoyogi Uehara

If you like French food but would like it at a more reasonable price than usual in Tokyo, give Brasserie Bec in Yoyogi-Uehara near Shinjuku, Tokyo a try. A project colleague and I went there last night (a Tuesday), and had an excellent meal, with a good French red. Brasserie Bec's impossible to miss, being right in front of the north exit of Yoyogi Uehara station on the Odakyu line, running from points north and south, and the Chiyoda subway line. We were walking from Yoyogi Hachiman, got a little lost, and the cook came out to the street to help us find it after I called in my SOS!

The atmosphere of Brasserie Bec is "relaxed French" I would say. It was late, around 10pm, when we got there, but we got ourselves started with a 5000 yen French red wine from their selection of 80 reds (wide-ranging; go see for yourself!), which seems pretty extensive for a small-ish place like this. The prices of wines were quite reasonable and ranging from 3000-ish to 10000-ish, if I remember correctly.

We each ordered the 4500 yen "four plate course" from the Japanese and French menu. First came a fresh bread basket, with liver pate. It was fabulous. Then, our entrees (appetizers for the Americans in the room) were salad Nicoise and ratatouille, both warm, aromatic and wonderful. A tasty potato soup followed, and after that were our main courses grilled lamb and grilled pork, each with generous portions of vegetables. My lamb was on cous-cous, which combined with the lamb's natural jus to make a nice background to the dish. These mains were both outstanding, we thought; grilled just right. Dessert was a choice between many, but I had gateau chocolat, my friend the marinated strawberries with sherbet.

When we finished it was after midnight, we were the last guests to leave, and we left really satisfied. Brasserie Bec is not pretentious at all, but hearty, good food in a relaxed atmosphere. Reservations: 03-3468-8773.

Map to Brasserie Bec in Yoyogi UeharaOhashi Farewell at Bec 200904Yoyogi-Uehara Brasserie Bec Appetizer 200904

Thierry De Baillon S Article on Social Media in Japan

Thierry de Baillon wrote an article about Japan and social media acceptance, which I thought I'd comment on.

I agree that Social Networking Service acceptance, or lack thereof, is not a simple matter of Japanese being "shy". Just go to Shibuya, Harajuku, or Kabukicho to prove otherwise! I think SNS acceptance is driven by the marketing of the SNS, by whether it "feels right" and "fits right" for Japanese people, and by whether other people are using it. I think that's what Thierry is saying anyway, but my perspective is that SNS's like Mixi are Japanese to begin with and not a localized version of an application like Facebook or MySpace.

Take Mixi: it's Japanese to begin with, so there were no strange hurdles to overcome; it's a bespoke system for Japanese by Japanese. I know a lot of localized applications that were not designed with Japanese in mind, from the language used in the user interface, to the UI layout and its functions, to the way the application was marketed.

Twitter's simple, and it's really easy to explain to people, whether they agree that they would like to participate in what Twitter offers. However, other apps that are more complex, would require quite a bit more explanation and "selling." If something needs selling like that, the sales process in itself is a barrier to adoption, not to mention other barriers like poor Japanese documentation, search that does not work in Japanese, or functional concepts that don't fit Japanese cultural concepts like "amae" which Thierry mentioned.

If you look at who first pushed Twitter here - Digital Garage - it says a lot. One thing that the Japanese joke about often is, their propensity to do things that either thought leaders or, "everyone else" is doing. The Japanese saying that describes this is:

Akashingo wo minna de watareba, kowakunai!

If everyone crosses at the red light, there's nothing to fear!

If Japanese discover something that "everyone else" is doing, many will do it just to see what it's like, whether it makes sense or not. If on the other hand they hear something is "strange" or "a pain" they'll be reluctant to even try. Anyway, that's my two yen on SNS adoption.

Kakaki Italian in Kugenuma Kaigan Near Enoshima

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

Tel: 0466-34-4483

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!

Conti Et Mer Great Tokyo Sandwiches

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.

Bribe Desserts Are Just Sour

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?

Japan Virgin Adventures

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?

Doki Doki Camp S Jack Bauer Driving Instructor

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.

Iphone in Japan I Am Satisfied

Despite sensationalist, hit-whoring and inane articles like this embarrassing one in Wired [1], as a long-term resident of Japan and Japanese cell-phone user, I think my iPhone is great in many ways. Unless you try to compare it feature-by-feature to Japanese cell phones, that is, but the iPhone is a paradigm shift, typical of many we see from Apple. It's just not the same sort of device, and should not really be compared to Japanese cellphones.

Japanese cell phones are indeed "cutting edge", sure, but a lot of the stuff on them is gimmicky and used infrequently if at all. I hear mention of "WanSeg" TV, but talk about an unpleasant user experience. Watching TV was so confusing on my KDDI AU phone, that I gave up, even after reading the thick manual (yes, I read Japanese). Apple spends great gobs of time and money to make sure their Apps are not like that, though. Apple products are of course not without their problems, but, they're pretty easy to use. That's a huge accomplishment that the feature-hoarders making Japanese cell phones have not understood. Are you listening, Panasonic, Kyocera, NEC, Sharp?

People complain that the iPhone software and hardware is proprietary, but you gotta be kidding me. Japanese cell phones are all about proprietary, in my opinion, and here's a sample of my gripes over the years:

  1. Different interface per maker. Kyocera is different from Sony is different from Sharp.
  2. New software to sync with Outlook every time you buy a new phone and limited options to sync with Apple OS X Address Book. Different data format per phone, which makes migrations hard.
  3. Special formats required for built-in music players, especially Sony. What a chore to get mp3's onto a Sony for playback!
  4. Number portability was not an option until fairly recently. Now, at least you can keep your number from company to company, for a monthly fee.
  5. Limited standards adoption, for example in that only a proprietary bluetooth headset can be used with the device.
  6. Incredibly poor English language text entry handling. My last AU phone from Sony could not enter a space in certain modes and a carriage return in others!
  7. Limited ability to switch interface into English. Sony allows this, but my Sharp from a year before did not, for instance.

Apple's user interfaces are truly high quality compared to those of Japanese cellphones, but there are indeed a number of aspects about the iPhone which would pose a barrier to adoption, especially for a person very used to the Japanese cellphone ways or modes. No infrared data or personal information exchange, none of the Japan-only stuff like Suica (train pass) or "wallet" function (auto-debit credit card), no hook for a strap, and a different text entry method are some of the things that feel like obstacles.

Regarding these, though, I can exchange data by email or VCard without trouble from my Mac due to the built-in sync to my Mac apps, or, by using an app to do it, I don't want my wallet on my phone because I feel it's a risk so I have never enabled that, I have a case with a strap hook, and the text entry is wildly better, from my perspective, than that on cellphones. Even the TV thing, you can get a frankly unattractive and sort of knobby adapter to hook onto your iPhone to enable WanSeg. Oh, and the expense, well, you're indeed paying a premium, but it's still less than BlackBerry. The device is rather expensive but the data plan monthly is typical for "all you can use" programs here in Japan, running about 45 dollars per month.

On the iPhone upside, well, I mentioned the stellar interface which is multi-lingual. Japanese smartphones feel cheap in your hands comparably. There are some pretty usable apps (app store problems with regard to developer submissions aside) for it for a reasonable price and for apps that you just won't get for a Japanese cellphone. Music-wise, it's the same iPod flexibility we have enjoyed for years on iPod. Very easy to ingest a CD I own into the iTunes library and get it to play. Safari mobile is smooth. Switching between 3G and WiFi is pretty easy and smooth. We also get syncing I never had with a Japanese cell - for mail, calendar, contacts.

From a western perspective, and after 21 years here, I have the opinion that Japanese are not so good at synthesis but much better at analysis. They are quite content to grouse about the state of something (the analysis bit) rather than figuring out how to fix it (the synthesis bit) and without simply copying. If a thought leader explains why a thing is great, though, the Japanese are pretty willing to make that jump. Since Softbank, the only iPhone carrier, is seemingly always being announced as "nearly bankrupt" I am more concerned about Softbank going belly-up than I am about Japanese peoples' ability to figure out why the iPhone is a great device to own.

[1] _In response to which there were a large number of comments, some even worth reading, and blog posts here by Mr. Daiji Hirata and here by Mr. Nobuyuki Hayashi. If all Wired's stuff is this poorly done, remind me never to believe anything they have on their site again. _

Niigata S Dubious Claim to Fame the Shortest Skirts

Here's a screenshot of a couple images of the posters being used in Niigata prefecture's crusade to try to prevent girls' skirts from getting any shorter. That Niigata has the girls with the shortest skirts is a dubious claim to "fame" unless you're a lecher or a horny male high-school student.

On the upper left in the screenshot, the "evidence" - a couple of female students from behind. These skirts are not even so short. Some are just over-the-top short. I can hear Bill Cosby:

Put your brains back in your head! Don't you let your brains fall out of your head! Have you lost your mind?

On the lower left, the designers of the posters hold their creations, and the pink poster says "if you set your mind to it, you can stretch your studies and your skirt". This makes sense in the original language, as "stretch" in this case means improve. The TV capture on the right is a pun on good taste or "grace", meaning girls whose skirts are too short lack it.

Good luck Niigata. I have a teenage daughter, so I know what it is to try to get her to let that hem out!

Free Wifi From Freespot Com offers free WiFi in Japan, and here's a map of their WiFi access points. I can't vouch for the quality of this service, but I thought it might be worth a try for visitors to Japan who need WiFi. There are WiFi services via ISPs, but you need an account, which is not practical for a short visit. If you try it, please let me know how it worked, or not, in the comments.

Jr Stations in Tokyo Soon Smoke Free

Good news for non-smokers in Tokyo. JR Stations are to be Smoke-free Zones as of April 1st 2009. This poster on the platform at Shinjuku station says:

All Stations in Tokyo will be Completely Smoke Free from 1st April - JR East has always had separate zones for smoking and non-smoking, but due to many customers requesting protection from second-hand smoke, and increased drives at companies to discourage smoking, from 1st April the smoking areas on platforms in Tokyo will be removed, and we will begin to implement a "Total No-Smoking" policy. This will be inconvenient for customers who smoke, but we wish to sincerely ask for your understanding and cooperation in this matter.

And I look forward to breathing fresher air on the platforms.

Yuuri Waterless Urinal Helps Reduce Global Warming

Some places in Japan are very much concerned with the environment. I know we sure do a lot of trash separation, but I had to snap a picture of the sign above a special "ecological" urinal today. I am sure I got a few looks for that!

The "Yuuri" urinal sign says:

Non-Water System "Yuuri"

Yuuri is an ecological toilet that does not use water. Because it does not use water, water is conserved **, and CO2 gas emissions can be reduced. By the way, for every 1 liter saved, 0.58 grams of CO2 emission can be reduced. Yuuri is effective for both water conservation and reducing global warming.

No smoking. Do not put cigarette butts or gum etc in the urinal.

** Note: Japanese write fairly redundantly like this literal translation, restating things so they can be absolutely sure people understand.

Al Gore would be proud.

Novartis Zaditen Allergy Medicine Available in Japan

"Zaditen", an allergy medicine from Novartis, is now available over-the-counter in Japan. Last year it was by prescription only, but I'm blogging about it because it works for me where little else did. It's about 1800 yen for a 20 capsule pack, which seems expensive but "welcome to Japan" eh? Its main ingredient seems to be Ketotifen, and I noticed it makes me a little sleepy, but at least I am not wheezing from the Cedar pollen flying down from the mountainous areas of Japan in great clouds. Zaditen might be useful to allergy sufferers in Japan, and you can print this and take it to your local pharmacy (yakkyoku 薬局) to get some, but of course use it at your own risk.

Rick S New Zoff Glasses

Here's an isight snap via Photo Booth of my new specs from Zoff. The old ones were getting pretty crusty, so I made the excursion to Ofuna to the very popular Zoff, an inexpensive eyeglasses chain something like LensCrafters in the US, I would gather.

The Carpenters Are Popular in Japan

Every morning on Japanese TV lately, there's a commercial segment that plays a cover of "Top of the World" by The Carpenters. I knew that The Carpenters were popular here, having seen their songs on many a karaoke menu and heard them played pretty consistently. I had mentioned their popularity in Japan to an American friend, who was baffled by it, and I laughingly mentioned this to my wife this AM.

She told me that their songs have been played for years in our local Gumisawa Elementary and in other Elementary Schools around Japan. "Top of the World" starts the day, and "Yesterday Once More" ends it, even on "Rainy Days and Mondays" and on "Saturday"s too. I've never heard such a thing in "All of My Life"! Maybe that is why so many Japanese people like them or feel nostalgic singing their songs at karaoke. Another factor might be that the English in the songs is sung clearly, and so it might be easier to understand for a non-native speaker.

My wife said it changes generation to generation, and her Dad's tune for leaving school was Humoresque (Dvorak). I prefer the Dvorak but that's just me.

"Goodbye and I Love You". [Sorry, couldn't resist. :-) ]

Japan Wifi Access for 380 Yen Per Month

Yodobashi Camera has a nice wifi access plan called Wireless Gate, with 6000+ access points across Japan for 380 yen per month according to the pamphlet I have.

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Eiken 3rd Level Pass

My daughter Kylie passed the first half of her 3rd level English-as-a-second-language test, the "Eiken" from Step. The numbering system is typically Japanese, where the testees start on the basic level 5, and proceed up to level 1 with a few sub-levels in between. She now has to pass the interview portion to get the certificate, so we plan to practice with her.

Zany Sound Experiments

Today on Japanese TV, which is generally either excruciatingly boring (watching people eat and talk, duh) or wonderfully creative, especially at year end, there was a show showing some interesting and zany experiments with sound.

Chord around the Race Track - one experiment was whether a chord played in unison (the very definition) by trumpeters around a racetrack, will sound like a song from the vantage point of a passing car. They spaced the musicians according to the rhythm of the music, and had them play the notes from the theme from the latest Miyazaki movie "Ponyo". The notes make up a chord, and sure enough, as the car passes you hear Ponyo, in all its doppler-ized glory. Sounds like a bunch of cats doing quick crescendo-decrescendos. I quote:

mEOw, mEOwmEOw, mEOwmEOwmEOwmEOwmEOwmEOwmEOwmEOw, mEOwmEOwmEOwmEOwmEOwmEOwmEOw, mEOwmEOwmEOw, mEOw.

Cup Chorus - if you think of the string-phones children play with, the contraption in use was several of those strung together. Imagine a set of spokes made of string, tied together in the middle, with each outer end having a cup attached. There was one listener, and the listener's string was extra long. Manning the other cups was a group of chorus members spread out in an arc, singing the "Cutie Honey" theme into each of their cups - sopranos, altos, tenors, basses. It works quite well, as the listener could hear the theme perfectly, and, it sounded like it had a funky kind of reverb, too. Flash!

Racing Siren - the last sound experiment I saw was where they attached a police siren to an F1 car, to see if it would sound like a regular ambulance buzzing by some stationary listeners at 300 kph around a racetrack. Interestingly, you could hear the siren rising in pitch as the F1 car got close, and falling as it went away, but when it was close the engine was so loud it drowned out the sound of the siren entirely. Pshaw, you couldn't get an F1-er through the streets of Tokyo even if you could rig it up to be an ambulance!

Kodomo Hyakutouban No Ie Kids Emergency House

Neighborhoods in Japan have people join the "Kids' Emergency House"
network, and affix these signs to their gates. If a child is in
trouble, they are taught in school that they can go to a house
designated this way, for help.

Station Kiosks the Hubs of Modern Japan

The Kiosks at Japan railway and metro stations are little stalls like US "News Stands" with two sides open, and two sides closed with storage. They have a refrigerator and a drink heater, as well as all manner of convenient articles - you can get drinks (alcoholic and soft), snacks (candy, bread, squid (yes!)), newspapers, magazines, novels, umbrellas, lighters, batteries, phone cards, neckties, handkerchiefs and the like.

They take cash and process it very quickly, but they also now accept "Suica" or "Passmo" cards, which are IC cards you "recharge" with cash at the ticket machines. When you make a purchase, you can touch your Suica on the sensor, and the price will be debited from your card balance. This is very smart, because people who live and work here usually go through the wicket with their Suica cards anyway, so one has it out and ready to pay for that little drink or newspaper purchase.

A couple of points about Japan Kiosks -

They don't usually speak much English, but there are English papers for a small ransom (Japan Times is 180 Yen).

They don't like one yen coins very much - I've been scolded a couple times when trying to unload my cache of 1-yenners.

Sometimes they don't offer bags just for speed, but you can ask for a "biniiru bukuro" (vinyl bag) and they'll give you one.

Japan does not really have a "haggling" culture - so asking for a discount will produce derisive stares rather than the desired result! The price is the price so pay and get out of the way.

The one thing that would be convenient, but is not yet sold at Kiosks, is pharmaceuticals - you can't yet pick up a bottle of Tylenol or some cold medicine at the Kiosk. Maybe some day, though, since they are trialling that at Convenience Stores like 7-11 and AM/PM these days. I hope this tip might help the traveller to Japan.

Grab and GoUsually Two Open SidesAsking Kiosk Sempai's AdviceKiosk Woman Works Very Fast

Asakusa Nakamise During Hozuki Matsuri

Asakusa is a popular tourist destination and fun for those of us who live here too. This was taken in the "nakamise" street (nakamise means something like 'central shops') which is the shopping area leading up to the Sensoji temple.

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Rainy Monochrome Mood

I took this monochrome photo on the platform at Shinjuku station, waiting for the Shonan Shinjuku line. The black and white treatment suits its rainy mood. We have had more than our share of rain, even into the fall, so it's sunny days like today that make me feel grateful for this clear, crisp fall weather.

Japan Is Mascot Land

There's no shortage of cute mascots in Japan. They look like they are made of fiberglass, and are in front of storefronts here and there. The one pictured here is the Megane Drug mascot, who has a peach on his headband, leading me to think it might be Momotaro, he of childrens' story fame. The thumb below is his back, with the kanji for trust "shinrai". Search Flickr for fiberglass Mascots and there is a whole group devoted to them.

Do ya shinrai us?

Totsuka Construction Big Pillars

There are these huge pillars being built near Totsuka station, on the Hitachi Software side of the main road, and these struck me as being an interesting photo. The 40 km speed limit seems to apply to the slow pace of the construction!

Click on the photo to explore my photo sets on Flickr, or see my Totsuka Construction photos.

Japan Rail Kudos an Amazing Record

I ride the Japan Rail trains daily in Japan, and sometimes take it for granted that they will be on time. Occassionally there is a problem and a delay, but there's amazingly always an alternative route and always a clear announcement (er, incessant announcements?). Japan Rail - here's to your professional approach and to getting people to where they need to go. Amazing years of basically accident free operation!

Tokyo Nightview - Cogley 2008JR Japan Rail at Totsuka - Cogley 2008JR Japan Rail at Totsuka - Cogley 2008JR Japan Rail at Totsuka - Cogley 2008

Beiju 88th Birthday

In Japan, a person's 88th birthday is called "beiju" and is a special celebration where yellow- or gold-colored gifts are given. The "bei" of beiju comes from the three kanji characters for eight "八", ten "十", and eight "八", or "hachijuu-hachi" (88), which combined together form the character kome, or rice "米". You can see one eight flipped upside-down on the top, the other on the bottom, and the ten as the cross in the middle. The "ju" of beiju is the character kotobuki, or celebration "寿", which is also the su of sushi. Beiju is written out as "米寿".

Because rice was so important to Japanese, as an integral part of daily life and vital to sustaining life, the 88th birthday is a celebration of importance in Japan. Beiju is also known as "yone no iwai" or Rice Celebration, the yone being another way to say kome or rice. The photo is from great-grandma's beiju celebration in Sept 2008.

Kintaro Ame by Anzyaprico on Flickr

This is typical Kintaro-ame next to kompeito.

Originally uploaded to Flickr by anzyAprico

Kintaro Ame Chopstick Stand at Robataya

Went to Robataya in Roppongi last night, and got this shot of some ceramic chopstick stands that look like "Kintaro-ame" candy. Kintaro's the guy on the right, and he is said to be Sakata no Kintoki, a Heian Period samurai. There is a traditional story about him that Japanese children learn, in which Kintaro, born with great strength, goes on to conquer a group of "oni" or demons. Kintaro-ame is a cylindrical candy produced from the Edo period on, which has the same image of Kintaro wherever you cut it. Kind of metaphorical and suitable for his legendary stature.

Retro Looking Nissan Figaro Gumisawa Totsuka Japan

This is a rather retro Nissan "Figaro", parked at its nest in Gumisawa Totsuka Japan. I saw it while cycling around, and compositionally liked the play of the sun below, and the angles of the ferro-concrete house. I took this shot with a Nikon D90, using the Nikkor 60mm f/2.8 Macro.

Aging Population in Japan Needs Drugstores

Japan's society is aging, so you see more and more pharmacies and drug stores popping up. This one is in Odoriba, near Totsuka Japan, and has the bases covered by selling typical household goods as well as pharmaceuticals. The colors struck me as I was walking by. Taken with a Nikon D90 and 60mm Micro Nikkor.

Support the Local Stores Imamiya

This is our local store "Imamiya", which is not as cheap as the local giant chain, but has a certain charm. It has been in business for quite a long time, but recently seems like it is a little bit run down. These places get driven out of business by the big guys, so I like to shop there when I can. Support your local store!

Japanese Evacuation Centers Are Well Marked

Japan is obviously prone to earthquakes, so there are designated evacuation areas or "hinanjo" here and there, usually in parks or stadiums (stadia?). This one says it is down in the US Military Fukaya Communications Base "tsushintai" in Japanese under the words "EVACUATION AREA". If you live here, keep and eye out for these markers, because that is where most people will proceed in the event of a major disaster.

Baru Tapas in Hiroo Tokyo

Baru Logo PlateBaru is a great Tapas place in Tokyo's Hiroo district between Tengenji and Platinum Street. Great Tapas and wine, and it is always packed with good-looking ladies (unless a certain Jason is there :). The master is a personable guy, who speaks a little English and a little Spanish. Go. You won't regret it.

Jack Anna Phil and Rick Tour Kamakura

Jack, Anna (pictured), Phil and I tried our hand at "omikuji" at the big Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine in Kamakura. Omikuji are fortunes that you draw by shaking a box of numbered sticks, the number corresponding to a white piece of paper with the fortune written on it. You can pray to improve your fortunes by folding and tying the omikuji paper onto a contraption shrines have, with horizontal wires. You can see it in the picture.

Seems when I take customers touring, someone always has to pull a "kyo" (worst luck)! Oh well, it can only get better. My year end omikuji in 2007 was a "kyo" but I drew a "daikichi" or "best luck" on New Years day, my birthday. Good luck to all in 2008!

Kamogawa Kan Beautiful Ryokan in Chiba

I took my family to "Kamogawa-kan" in the Chiba peninsula for a couple days to relax in an onsen hotspring spa and sunbathe.

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Apologies the Japanese Tradition

I've lived in Japan since 1987, and it never ceases to amaze me about the way there's continual apology going on for fairly trivial stuff, but none to speak of when it's really warranted.

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Brush Me Sign

This Japanese sign on a door says "brush me" or "touch me" - "furete kudasai". But there's a problem, and it's me.

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Japan Post Office

Here is a snap of the Japan Post Office logo, on our local post office's door. The sign you will see for the PO, or "yuubin kyoku" is a red T with two horizontal bars on the top.

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Welcome to Snap Japan

This is the first post on the Snap!Japan weblog. Welcome, and please come back to see snapshots and slices of my life in Japan.

Warm regards,