Sunday, July 25, 2010

Stormy night

Just wanted to provide some more ambience / atmospheric effect by uploading a video (from outside my apartment window) of the nice 1-2 hour long thunderstorm we just had over here in Tsukuba.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Tokyo is for rich people

Today I went to Shibuya again in search of my men's designer clothing company. I forgot to check Seibu after checking the 109, OIOI, etc shopping centers so this time I searched all over Seibu. However, it was nowhere to be found. I was able to explore the Seibu Loft though, which is a cool place to find all sorts of traditional Japanese items and great souvenirs, etc. I'll have to come back sometime before I leave Japan to stock up.

At the top of Seibu on the roof there's surprisingly a pet shop--it was insanely hot inside. I'm surprised all the animals were able to bear the heat. Some of the birds had their mouths open trying to cool off. Some cool pets were baby pufferfish and some other strange exotic animals. Nothing especially exotic was to be found though (owls, slow loris, for example).

Also, as I was exploring the 10000 floors of Seibu I came to the conclusion that Tokyo is for rich people, and is a shopper's paradise. There were soooo many designer labels and obscure high-class brands I was amazed. So much expensive stuff, there was even a Porsche lifestyles area with ridiculously priced items like $800 USD Porsche branded pens, and $6000 USD watches, luggage, bags, sunglasses, etc. I don't know what kind of people are able to afford this kind of stuff but it's cool to check out at least.

After failing to find my shop in Shibuya I ventured to Ginza which I was sure to find as it's a mega expensive Japanese designer clothing label. It didn't take very long as I found 2 of them in 2 neighboring department stores. However, they wouldn't let me take pictures due to some policy of the department store itself. Maybe I shouldn't ask next time and play the dumb foreigner. Anyhow, I asked where I could find the flagship store and was suggested to visit Odakyu in Shinjuku. I guess that's where my next destination / adventure will be sometime in the future.

There were a lot of groups / people filming on the streets of Ginza, perhaps doing some kind of interview for TV. It was also interesting that the roads were closed off to cars and there were tables and chairs placed in the middle of the streets for people to hang out. Not a very captivating idea in this heat though.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Been feeling a few small rumbles previously but they weren't too noticeable, felt kinda like a fat guy shaking his leg on the floor while sitting close by on bleachers.

This morning was a bigger one though, it woke me up from my sleep with the rumble of stuff shifting and shaking for a few seconds, nothing terribly long. I'm only on the 2nd floor of my building so it wasn't as bad as I imagine it would get higher up. Checked the earthquake logs online and seemed to be a 5.3 magnitude quake. Just another typical day in Japan, will probably feel more before I leave. Hopefully not a big Tokai quake though.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Tokyo: Shibuya

Today was the beginning of a 3-day weekend so I decided to start the break off with more exploration of Tokyo. I started off in Akihabara as usual since it's practically the first main Tokyo stop that I arrive at.

You can see a bunch of otaku waiting to enter an electronics store, Yodobashi Camera probably I think, every single person waiting in line was playing with a Nintendo DS in hand. It's hard to tell from the pic but you can take my word for it. It was an insanely hot day today with a fairly blue sky, meaning the heat was even more intense than it usually is. The maids of Akiba were out in full force also, I think I probably saw maid representatives from at least 10-20 different cafes.

After wandering in Akiba for a while, I walked to Ueno in the deadly heat and took the Ginza line to Shibuya where I spent pretty much the entire day. Shibuya is known for it's massive shopping areas (so is the rest of Tokyo it seems) catered to youths, it's a pretty big hotspot for young people and is especially famous for its crossroads where both intersections turn red and 10000 people flood the streets... every minute of everyday, day and night. But before I could explore all this I managed to get lost by going the complete opposite way after exiting the train station. I did get to take a few pictures of some kinda residential / quiet areas though.

Also saw this cool BMW which is not any model I'm familiar with, I don't even think it's an real car in that it's gotta be some heavily modified 3-series or 1-series or maybe even a Z. Whatever it is, it's got style.

On second thought after looking more closely I don't think it's a BMW at all, I think I was thrown off by the round badge from afar but it looks like it's some kind of Alfa Romeo. Whatever it is, looks sweet.

I had to ask some police where the crossings were and I eventually found the ocean of people and became a part of the ocean, several times.

It took me a while to find the statue of Hachiko, the famous loyal Akita that practically everyone in the world knows about these days. The statue is popular spot to wait while trying to meet up with friends as the place was packed--which is what helped me find the spot.

I basically walked 10000 miles all over Shibuya and I realized it's nearly impossible to tell what's inside all the huge buildings without going inside them. I went and explored a massive store called Tokyu Hands which was 6-7 levels of hobby / stationary / household items / pens / crafts / everything. I was amazed by all the sheer vastness of STUFF that this place carried, basically they have everything you need to make anything you want. I was impressed by the collection of tiny branding irons they had to brand designs and patterns into the variety of raw leathers on display. There was also some outdoor event outside the OIOI (marui) building which was some kind of infosession about how to put on some sweet summer make up, that you can probably buy only inside their store, I didn't understand so much of it but I stopped listening after she said something about using a magic hair brush.

After hanging out in Shibuya I headed back to Akiba on the Yamanote line and decided to kill time by hanging out watching people try to win stuff from UFO catchers. While I was watching I spotted some old wrinkly-faced guy wearing a wig and dressed in the girliest clothes ever--so weird. Saw tons of people winning big items, and saw a lot of really old guys trying to win body pillow covers with anime girl prints on the front.
Wasted a bunch of time doing that before heading back to the train station to go home. On my way back I discovered another reason why Japan is so amazing, legal blue lights on vehicles--pure amazingness. There were a bunch of sport bikes with these blue lights blasting on the throttle and popping wheelies down the street--too cool.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Hotaru (Fireflies)

Today was fairly laidback, played badminton with some friends for a few hours in a building with no airflow or a/c. Hot and sweaty doesn't even begin to describe it, now I can understand the feelings of the characters in Japanese TV shows that I watched while in America when they constantly complained about how hot it is. Saw a cool dragonfly on my way to a vending machine.

Afterward, we went driving off into I don't even know where, basically to an area with very minimal lighting in search of hotaru or fireflies. It didn't take very much driving to get there, but it was basically by some rice fields in the middle of nowhere, with the only artificial light coming from the occasional car passing through and a few buildings far away near the top of a local mountain. Driving through the lightly lit alleyways to get to our intended location was pretty fun and had a cool atmosphere.

Once we arrived, it took a little bit of searching but sure enough there were a few fireflies flying around. I think firefly season is nearing its end but it was cool to find a couple still around--it's too bad they don't exist in urban areas anymore due to capture by humans. Japan at night is pretty noisy, lots of bug sounds, frogs, and various other nocturnal animals having a chat.

After our search we went to eat at a place called Gyouza which specializes in what else but gyoza or "pot stickers" as Americans call them. They had the gyoza stuffed chicken legs which someone ordered which I could finally get a picture of--pretty wild.

Aterward, we all went our seperate ways with me riding my bike off into the night.

Friday, July 9, 2010

End of the week

It's the end of my first work week and I can't say that I did all that much since everyone in the office was gone on a conference and I'm not allowed to start until everyone comes back. So I did a bit of reading. The week was pretty uneventful although I saw a nice red (what else) Ferrari parked out in the middle of nowhere the other day which was pretty surprising considering I'm in a pretty remote area.

Today the group went out to "party" or eat out at a place called torikichi which I think means something like good fortune bird. The place was pretty small but had a good atmosphere and I got a feeling of some of the Japanese customs involved with eating as part of a large group. A few people at the end of the table did all the ordering for everyone and they seemed to order practically everything off the menu. Some interesting items came out including chicken legs with a dumpling stuffed inside and chicken kebabs with large strips of what was described as bone, but I think it was more like cartilage. The "bone" pieces were long and thin and I couldn't think of what part of the chicken they came from. Surprisingly it was pretty good once you got past the crunchy texture of the stuff. All the chicken items that were ordered were pretty amazing, I can't say I've had chicken prepared anything like this in America. It was very tender and had some kind of seasoning or something that was very light but completed the whole taste. The best part of it all was that the group covered mine and another visiting student's share of the expense.

Also went to the grocery store and picked up a pack of monster figs to help fill up my fridge.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

More Japan

Nothing really new to relate so I'll just post a few more observations and comments as I can remember.

Most of the cars here are tiny econoboxes, but there's always the sporadic appearance of a cool car, GTR, old Evo, etc. which brings a smile to my face.

I don't know if it's a seasonal thing that's part of the rainy season or what but the I don't think I've seen the sky since I've been here.

Napkins are hard to find here, and in restaurants, etc. you're either given 1 tiny napkin or a wet cloth. It's all in part to minimize garbage and maximize sustainability I think.

On a similar note, for all the fancy robo toilets and such that are everywhere, all the toilet paper I've encountered in single-ply--but I guess if you use all the robo-functions you probably don't need to use much at all anyway.

The forests here are dark and scary, I like that. I walked around a park which surrounded a small body of water yesterday looking for cool animals. I didn't find any giant beetles which I was hoping for, but saw some fairly big fish and crayfish in the water and some of the ugliest giant ducks I've ever seen that have these nasty red fleshy heads like buzzards. I approached some and they also make some funky sounds, instead of the expected quack / honk or whatever, they make loud panting noises like dogs.

I've been riding a bicycle to work each day and I still haven't gotten used to the reversed traffic rules. When I get to the entrance of my workplace, there's a security guard in full fancy uniform (every job here seems to involve uniforms) that goes into full salute as I ride by. I'm dressed in normal casual clothes riding a ghetto bicycle getting saluted by what looks like a policeman. Everything here is so backwards, but maybe it's a good thing.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Japan - Day 3 (Tokyo)

Today I went to Tokyo with the guidance of a local friend which was really useful as I didn't really know where to start or what to check out let alone how to get to places, buy tickets, etc. First place we checked out was the well-known Akihabara area. This seemed like a good start and it was pretty amazing. Akihabara is known to be a mecca for electronics / games / etc and it didn't disappoint. Everywhere you look, every little alley way you walk through, there is countless supply of what I can only describe as STUFF. Apparently wherever I was walking through you can find any particular electronic component be it a switch or resistor or whatever and it can only be seen to believe. Akihabara is also famous for it's large quantity of maid cafes which there are maids (girls dressed up in costume) walking around everywhere trying to get people into their cafe so they can make bank. They charge by time, and for anything you want them to do including taking your picture with them, playing a game, serving food, etc. It's pretty interesting but I didn't go into one this time.

There's tons of anime related stuff EVERYWHERE, figures, you name it--no surprises there. I saw the famous rotating car parking storage things which are everywhere and aren't really worth mentioning. There are tons of video game / arcade shops everywhere and UFO catchers are SUPER popular, think floor after floor after floor full of this stuff. You can win some pretty big items with them and I saw a whole range of people playing them including old guys in dress clothes. I played a few times and won 3 cheezy cell phone strap things with 1 play, some of the UFO catcher games are really easy and you can just harvest little stuffed animal things all day long which I also witnessed.

We also went and did purikura which are basically little sticker photos that print out after posing in a photobooth, with a twist. The twist being that there's tons of these things everywhere and each has different features. Apparently the one I went into is supposed to make you (assuming you're a girl) look cute by making your eyes huge and airbrushing and giving everything a glow. The technology these things have is amazing. The pictures it took of me are very scary and kinda gross yet hilarious at the same time.


Saw some more sweet scooters and ate mini okonomiyaki for a snack and had monja for lunch while walking to Ueno. The okonomiyaki was from a street vendor and was pretty good whereas the monja was from a restaurant and looks nasty but tastes kinda ok, depending on what you put into it. It's basically this gooey mess of stuff that can't really be described.

From Ueno we took a train on the Yamanote line to Harajuku which is a pretty big fashion district for young people. I noticed that the area seemed to be something like 90% girls. We checked out the Meiji jingu shrine and saw a traditional wedding there. After that, we went around Harajuku walking by all sorts of strange shops and looking for crazy looking people. Checked out this fancy indoor mall in I believe it was Omotesando. Then took a train to Shinjuku to get a view of Tokyo from a government building. The train at this point was PACKED more than sardines I could barely believe it. It was at this point that I began to realize and notice the pace of Tokyo. People are everywhere, its 100000x crazier than anything that can be experienced in America including NYC, and the city is massive. I can't even begin to describe how gigantic Tokyo is. You could probably spend years wandering around checking out all the strange "hole-in-the-wall" like places that are everywhere.

At this point it started to get dark and I noticed a shop selling fruits wrapped up in fancy packaging which I had heard about before. The rumors were true, a small box of cherries selling for $180, a single mango selling for $190, a square watermelon for $240, and a single melon for $360. Apparently these fruits get even more expensive in some places. That better be the best fruit in the world.

Tokyo at night is pretty amazing too and the whole feel of the city changes like something out of bladerunner. We briskly walked through Kabukicho which is apparently the red light district of Tokyo and the area is pretty shady. I hear most of the "establishments" in Kabukicho are run by yakuza so we tread lightly and I took some pictures. Following that we went to an izakaya which is something like a restaurant but meant for drinking. The whole experience was pretty cool in that is was one of those hole-in-the-wall type of places where we walked down an alleyway and took an elevator up to the 6th floor of a building--the elevator door exits directly to the entrance of the restaurant and the whole feel of the place is very traditional with wood "scaffolding," rocks on ground, and "sitting on the floor." The food was pretty good too.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

@ Japan Day 1-2

A lot has happened since the last update. Did a couple drift schools and an event at Evergreen speedway. I'm getting better, but won't be able to practice for a while. Another big update is that I passed my General Exam which brings me 1 step closer to becoming the "Doctor" portion of the title "Drift Doctor." It was pretty difficult but I managed to survive, so I can "relax" for a little bit right now at least--which is good because right after I passed my exam I went home to pack up all my things to catch the next flight to Tokyo to start working on a research project there.

The flight departed at around 1:30pm on the 30th, took around 10 hours of travel time through 16 time zones to arrive at around 3:00pm the following day. The flight was crazy long, but the fact that there were a few movies to watch helped to pass the time at least. The flight contained the usual being surrounded by 10000000 screaming babies and a new experience in that the stewardess asked if anyone was a doctor/physician/nurse on board to help somebody dying or something I guess. We were around 4 hours into the flight and the person must not have been that bad because we didn't turn around and there wasn't any panic going on.

Japan from the plane is very green and looked very rural with lots of rice fields and farm plots all the way to Narita airport. I arrived at the airport and had to get through swarms of people (immigration/customs/etc.). First thoughts after getting off the plane is CRAZY HUMID, I was wearing a jacket and started sweating right away. Lots of kinda high-tech stuff around, as you're walking there's an infrared camera that's measuring your body temp to catch people with swine flu or something, and digital fingerprints and a mugshot are taken before you can enter the baggage area. I was pulled aside during this process and taken into a room surrounded by frosted glass because I didn't haven enough information related to my visit. I had a phone number they could call though to find out all my details so I eventually was able to get through this process. I picked up my bags and then the culture shock started to kick in.

I had to make a phone call to say that I missed the first bus departing time and that I'd catch the next one. That means I needed to get money, so I went looking for an atm and eventually found one but it only dispensed 10000 yen bills. Then I had to get it broken down into smaller bills and coins to make the phone call. Then I had to make the phone call using a phone with 10000000000 buttons and nothing in English. Eventually managed to buy my bus ticket wait a bit outside in the gray and took the bus for an hour and a half to the city I'm working in. There was someone to meet me and gave me a packet of info and keys to my new place--we went to my new place and it's pretty nice. It's very clean and simple yet pretty high tech. It was super hot and humid when I went in but there's AC so I turned that on which can only be done with some fancy remote thing. There's panels all over the walls to control floor heating, building door functions with intercom and video, and a few panels for the bathroom which were the most interesting. There's a digital control for hot water temperature outside the bathroom and buttons for turning on fans, ventilation, heat, and drying. There's also one of those seemingly robotic toilets too. Overall it's a pretty nice setup.

A few things I noticed on the bus ride over here is that all the roads here are completely pristine. Everything is perfectly smooth, lines and stuff are all there and look pretty fresh for the most part, which is in direct contrast to the absolutely HORRIBLE roads that exist in the usa. You would think with all the seismic activities here that the roads would be cracked all over with lots of potholes but that isn't the case. Another thing is that ALL the cars and vehicles here are PRISTINE, I was amazed at how basically every car in the road is super clean and shiny and in amazing condition--even the junky little econoboxes. Then I think I noticed why this is the case at one of the gas stations there are attendants that were wiping down everything on the cars that were getting gas, pretty amazing. Other things I noticed were that the landscape is super green, it's almost like a jungle / forest here with tons of bamboo forests everywhere--and not the cheesy little bamboo plants people have in America but giant bamboo trees with stalks that are 4" wide or more. Lots of rice farms everywhere, and also a lot of traditional looking houses I've noticed with little courtyards and the ornate asian pointyish roof architectures.

A lot of the stores I passed by or whatever they are were massive also, bigger than some of the biggest Costco / Target / Ikea shops in America. Tons of little noodle shops everywhere and lots of bicycles and scooters--lots of heavily modified scooters too. It was getting fairly dark by the time I arrived but these are some of the things that caught my eye on the way. I'll be sure to take some pictures of my observations later.