April 2002 Archives

All around the Yamanote

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All around the Yamanote line, alert riders will notice old-fashioned metal signs advertising Nozaki's Corned Beef. The ads look like they've been there a long, long time.

Despite the ads, I'd never seen the product anywhere. I expected to find it near the packaged sliced hams and sausages in the grocery cooler, but it wasn't there. That's because it was on the shelves with the SPAM and Vienna sausages.

It's surprisingly good for canned meat. It has the texture of shredded corned beef and tastes just like corned beef from the deli. It made a filling breakfast, fried up, topped with some melted cheese and egg, and served between slices of toast.

Today is Greenery Day,


Today is Greenery Day, the first of the official Golden Week holidays. We got a jump on it by strolling through Koishikawa Korakuen this weekend.

This is the oldest park in Tokyo and was laid out by a Chinese landscaper for the Tokugawa clan in 1629. It's full of water and bridges, minature mountains, shrines and all of the wonderful variety of plants and trees that make Japanese gardens so enjoyable.

And it's a short ten minute walk from our apartment. What a treasure. From inside the garden, you can view the local skyline--Tokyo Dome sports complex hovers like a giant cloud above the tops of the trees and the Tokyo Dome Hotel tower shows its profile.

The name, Korakuen, comes from a Chinese poem and means "a pleasure afterward." The poem, as translated in the garden's brochure, is oddly discouraging. Be the first to take the world's trouble to heart, be the last to enjoy the world's pleasure. Doesn't that mean you'll be the one to shoulder the world's troubles the longest?


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I have a shameful admission. I've just lost my karaoke cherry.

I've lived in Japan for nearly four years and escaped the painful embarrassment of singing in a karaoke room until tonight. MJ & Yoshi, who are completely undeniable, suggested it at the end of dinner and we said yes.

It turned out to be a lot more fun that I expected. My voice sucks after years of disuse and I couldn't remember the tune to Army of Me for the life of me, but so what? Enough beer and I made my way through MJ's karaoke classic pick--Killing Me Softly (Roberta Flack? Yikes! Worse yet, I remembered all the words...). Tod rapped Puff the Magic Dragon with lyrics so hysterical that our laughter drowned out his words. Yoshi sang Japanese pop and Seattle grunge with his usal elan. MJ is so cool she could sing anything and make it sound right.

So I'll be back to the karaoke room. Soon, I hope, and with plenty of beer.

New product season

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It's new product season.

In the late spring, all of the summer products start appearing on the shelves of conbini around town. Many of these new items are simply variations on a theme, taking a twist to accomodate whatever lifestyle fad is current. Last year it was blueberries and cranberries--drinks, chocolates, yogurt, ice cream, pastries. This year, it's too soon to tell what the theme is.

We must try the new things while we can--most of them will be one-hit retail wonders. Just like the sadly missed Jet, a gin-flavoured tonic soda from summer of 1996.

These are two new sports drinks. WELL is full of vitamins and good stuff but no so full of flavor. It tastes like watered-down grapefruit without the bite.

Its claims of "heart and body maintenance" really don't hold any weight when I see the "non-calorie, non-fat" notes at the bottom of the bottle. Combine that with the polka-dotted label and we can tell this is marketed to women despite the man wearing the leotard and bathrobe in the ads on the product website.

Concept-san (Mr. Concept) gets right in your face with its experimental nature, doesn't it? It's a notch up on flavor, a fantasia of grapefruit and sweet peach nectar that's not awful as it sounds. The label design is a carefully planned "we couldn't be bothered to make this pretty, because it's just a concept" look that probably cost Asahi a huge amount of money.

In addition to the usual panoply of vitamins and minerals, Concept-san includes citrate, malate and succinate which are meaningless without more detail but sound very important.

After trying them both, the verdict. WELL: will not buy again. Concept-san: might buy if feeling whimsically pseudo-scientific.

Coming soon: new summer candies.

Five Dees

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On InterFM last night, the Five Deez were promoting their Japan tour & new album.

They are a four man rap frenzy. They were taking callers' names and mixing them into raps live on the air. The rhymes were brilliant. My favorites were for Tachiro--touch n'go & Casio. Quick thinking!


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Every time a phone rings, I jump. For as long as I can recall, the blare of the telephone has startled me. I'm often on edge in trains, on the streets, in shops and during meals out and about in Tokyo, because other people's keitai are always ringing. To keep myself from leaping when my own mobile rings, have volume set low and I've programmed my own ring.

The interface for entering your own musical ring tone is full-featured but tedious. I can make a five-part melody by keying in every note, the rests, sharps and flats in what seems like an andless series of button presses. But I want a ring, not a symphony, so I've devised a clever hack. I start the music interface and type in some words.

Without caring at all what the notes will be, I type in names or phrases. I've done this several times now, an they turn out surprisingly well, especially when I add a touch of harmony by using two voices of my 5-part allowance. My phone sings out "Answer me, answer me" like a calm, tinkling brook. I'm hardly startled at all anymore.

Feather duster


While standing on the street in Minami Azabu, waiting for my DigitalEve mentoring group to arrive for a meeting last night, I fulfilled a small desire. I popped into a nearby household goods shop and scanned the aisles for cleaning supplies to find, in a box next to a bunch of mop heads and cotton wiping rags, what I was looking for. A proper feather duster. It's beautiful--a long thin bamboo handle with a bouquet of shiny black and green feathers blooming from the end.

I took it to the register and the shop owner shook her head. Then she said she'd find me a brand new one in the stockroom. She dashed off and returned with a shiny new duster. I carried it to my meeting where it drew some curious looks and had to be unveiled.

Not only does it look lovely and start conversations, it works great, too. When I got home at midnight, I feather dusted the entire house in about five minutes.

Bomb threat

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Yesterday morning a bomb threat claimed the Tokyo Stock Exchange, Nomura Securities, and Tokyo Station would be blown up. They're still standing today; apparently it was a hoax. But here's an interesting point:

800 people were evacuated from the TSE while the police spent 30 minutes looking for bombs. Nomura's office building and the train station were not evacuated or disrupted in any way (though one must assume the police did check for bombs there). Why evacuate one and not the other two?

Scary shellfish ID

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Yesterday's scary shellfish is a geoduck, a giant burrowing clam. Pronounced gooey-duck, it digs three feet deep into sand and lives there for up to 150 years. Wow. The Washington State Department of Ecology has great information about geoducks, and if you're interested in cooking one, here is a recipe.

Thanks very much to Lisa Kim and Kristen Elsby for clearing up my mystery.

Scary shellfish

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The Santoku supermarket near our apartment caters to gourmets and the local French population. There are five different varieties of escargot (three frozen, two fresh), and a frozen meats section that has every hard-to-find meat we've ever craved: turkey, quail, duck, and even American bacon.

There are lots of esoteric things, too. Like this 7,000 yen ($53) ostrich egg. They had six of them and two seem to have been sold.

And then there's this. Despite the sign, we aren't sure what it is. It has a clam-like shell but the muscle that protrudes (and hangs over the edge of its styrofoam container) is the size of my forearm. Is this tasty?

It might be better for self-defense. "Get back or I'll show you my giant shellfish! Any closer and I'll make you eat it!" For only 1,500 yen ($12), it's better than mace.

Bono, I

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I was tipped off yesterday by my friend that her husband's nickname for me (to differentiate me from her other foreign friends) is Bono.

My likeness to the rock star has been discussed before and I'm not entirely convinced. What do you think? I like Bono's style so I'm not complaining. It could be much worse. With my shaggy hair, Yoshi might have nicknamed me "buffalo."

There's no Japanese word for American bison type buffalo, but there is suigyu, which translates literally to water cow and means water buffalo. I prefer Bono to suigyu anyday.

Stupid tourists

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OK, these folks are just reinforcing the stereotype of clueless Japanese tourists. In a report from the BBC, we discover:

"Two tourists engrossed in their guidebooks and heading for the birthplace of Jesus Christ unwittingly wandered into the centre of a war zone on Tuesday.

"The Japanese couple were amazed to find that Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity was at the centre of a 16-day old siege between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen.

"Palestinian residents of Bethlehem looked on in disbelief as Yuji Makano and his girlfriend Mina Takahashi walked through the debris towards the church seemingly oblivious to the evidence of war."

TheJapanese couple explained that they'd been travelling for six months and hadn't kept up on the news. Hello? Bullet holes! Tanks! Journalists in flak jackets! Look around you, world travellers. Geeez.

Octogenarian croquet

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Octogenarians if they're a day, these croquet fiends have a little course of three wickets, all numbered with faded flags, and they laugh and cheer one another as they make their shots. Tod passes them in the park every morning on his way to work. Today I snuck a photo to share.

Standing reading

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Thank goodness for tachiyomi. Literally "standing reading" it what everyone does in bookstores here. It's perfectly acceptable to stand at the shelves and read books and magazines. It's a great way to kill time.

I had some time to kill when Ben called to say he'd be an hour late meeting for lunch. He was having a rough day--cleaning, closing bank accounts, shipping boxes, final packing--as it turned out we didn't have time for lunch. Ben had to catch the Narita Express to the airport becasue he's moving back to California today. Another foreign friend bids a fond sayonara.

It's always hard to say goodbye. Maybe I should take a cue from those long-timers who only befriend foreigners with permanent residency.


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Our February phone bill arrived (26,121 yen). I must stay offline more. Right after I do some research on ADSL providers.

When we moved we had to switch our Internet connection over to the new apartment. Only it wasn't as simple as that. We had to reapply for ADSL service which meant a 4-8 week wait. When the company finally contacted us to arrange installation, we discovered they'd changed their policy and no longer offered the service we needed.

So now we're back to searching for a provider that will sell us what we want--24x7 high-speed 'Net connection that allows us to telnet into our machine at home. Ideally, not at a corporate rate which is about 10 times higher than residential rates. I'm sure there must be a service like this, but the trick is wading through the Japanese sites to find it.


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Getting away from Tokyo gives me a chance to make comparisons when I return.

For example,Tokyo has much better subways and trains. London's Tube is small, dirty, and subject to lots of delays as old switching equipment fails regularly. The Tokyo subway system is efficient, clean and relatively inexpensive. But London's trains aren't as crowded as Tokyo's.

Water pressure in Tokyo is better than in London. Apparently, the London mains have fine pressure, but buildings don't use the mains--they put water in tanks on the roof and use that. So the pressure is pretty poor, especially in upper storey flats. This may not mean much to the casual vistor, but living without good water pressure makes showering and dishwashing lothesome chores.

Food is a draw. Althought British food has a reputation for being bland and fatty (and it's a well-earned reputation), London has a great variety of restaurants from around Europe. Japan has better native cuisine, but it's hard to find Polish or Greek food here.

Overall, with only a week's experiences, I certainly prefer Tokyo to London.

Home again, home again.

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Home again, home again.

London has really great sandwiches; British women all wear cosmetics; the Tube is ridiculously expensive; salaries are not commensurate with the cost of living in London; the ham in Buckingham (and Hampstead, Nottingham, West Ham) is from the Old English word for home; the growl of a Lancaster bomber flying over the city is ominous; multiculturalism and the class system exist side-by-side; candy vending machines are evil temptations; nobody else gardens like the British; police have a sense of humour and humanity unmatched elsewhere.

And I did speak Japanese. On purpose. Once.

I'm off to London

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I'm off to London this morning. The car to the airport is due to arrive in just over an hour. I'm ready, but now begins the race to get Tod up, dressed and out the door on time. He has coffee at his bedside, but I'm afraid it isn't working yet. In a few minutes I will break out the heavy artillery--English muffins.

I'm looking forward to escaping Tokyo for a little bit but it's odd to realise I'm traveling to a foreign country where I won't have to struggle with the language. I wonder if I'll speak Japanese by accident?

Shortly before I was

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Shortly before I was assigned to review it as part of the Peer to Peer Review Project, Kaye Ellis ended For Always. What a pity; Kaye is a promising writer. Her prose is clear and expressive with a strong voice that carries emotion. She has a natural gift that many 'blog writers lack.

In the mere seven posts available (apparently there are no archives), Kaye conveys a lot of information. A tribute to her grandmother, descriptions of her friends' searching for solace, and her own desire for job and art are balanced with frivolous musings about shopping and painting toenails. It leaves me wishing I had more to study. Kaye addresses her friends directly from time to time, noting tardy replies to e-mails or sending congratulations on new cars so I imagine she never planned for a wider audience to read this.

The design of the site is simple, but striking. The color palette echoes the dramatic cloud-spotted sky and Caribbean sea photograph she selected for the background image. A line of script along the horizon reads "and we'll dance on gilded wings where the sky meets the sea." White vertical boxes separate the periodic entries from a rash of buttons pointing mainly to friends' blogs and Orlando Bloom fan sites.

Perhaps Kaye will return someday when she feels the time is ripe and she is ready to reveal herself again.

Cogaru Club

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Cogaru Club! Only 18,000 yen!

What's Cogaru? According to Jeffrey's Japanese-English Dictionary she is an "obsessively trend-conscious teen-age girls who may offer themselves for enjou kousai [ aka "compensated dating"] with older men in order to finance their lifestyle."

This leaflet appeared in my mailbox last night. In addition to listing off the sexual treats in store for the customer, the ad claims that they are a specialist in slim schoolgirls. Home and hotel meetings. Low price, but we have good figures, manners, service, and confidence. Credit cards ok.

I've edited out the phone number. No girl needs a Louis Vitton purse that badly.

Civic view

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The view from the top of the Bunkyo Civic Center is really beautiful. It's the highest building around and has a semicircular viewing lounge and restaurant on the 25th floor. We dined there last night and got a bird's eye view of our neighborhood and the metropolis.

To the west, the Shinjuku skyscrapers huddled together like very tall sheep, herded by the brilliant neon of the sleezy Kabukicho nightclubs. To the north, a vast, seemingly infinite expanse of low residential neighborhoods twinkled. The huge Ferris wheel at Odaiba peeked out between the business district skyscrapers in Otemachi and at 8:30 we watched the fireworks from Tokyo Disneyland, way off in Chiba.

We also spied another "tall restaurant" and made plans to thread our way through the city, eating in upper floor restaurants we can see from the one we're currently in. We have some spectacular views in store for us.

Random names

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Another entry in the Buildings with Strange Names series, Random Koishikawa houses a hardware store in the basement, a doctor on the first floor and offices on the upper floors. En Es Tee has offices on 2 and 4 but different company with a very long name in kanji (another sign for them reads "Human and Nature") is sandwiched in on 3.

Most buildings in Koishikawa are similar in their size and tenancy and even the distribution isn't too unusual. Once again, I'm left wondering why they selected this name.


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"What's that noise?" I groggily asked Tod as he groped for its source in the dark.

"Uh...." he fumbled then found it. "It's my keitai alarm. Happy Birthday! Hahaha, I set that months ago."

We celebrated with a midnight snack of ice cream then fell back asleep.

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