Friday, December 07, 2007

Immoral Effects

From a foreigners prospective living in Japan does seem strange, and unsurprisingly this isn't a new phenomenon. I recently came across scans of a book ‘Sketches of Japanese manners and customs’ from the 1860s written by a British guy living here at the time.

The book is available online here. If you've got a few minutes to kill, which judging by the fact that your reading my blog you probably do, have a look. It reveals a lot not only about Japan but about western attitudes as well.

One nice example is a comment the author makes about the Japanese custom of communal bathing, 'It would seem natural to conclude that such a system must have immoral effects, but the Japanese attribute no evil consequences to it'. Westerners are really such prudes... but they really did a good job of moralising Japan.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

How to avoid being a sexual offender

I forgot to pay my internet bill, again. This means that for the next few days I have to come down to the lobby of my building to use the web, which has the one advantage that I can also watch TV while I'm here. Japanese TV is one of those interesting experiences that is hard to explain without watching. For those wanting to see an example of something I found on the web recently, have a look here.

What I saw today was a little stranger however. A special on one of the talk shows about how to avoid be falsely accused of sexually molesting people on crowded trains. To put that in context, sexual offending on trains is such a big issue here that most trains have carriages reserved only for women. So its not surprising that the occasional innocent person my get accused of doing it, but it seems a bit strange that there is a show in prime time specifically teaching ways to avoid being accused.

The show had a section explaining different ways of standing so that your hands are always visible, or ways so that you can avoid being close to females. This was followed by a section on what to do in case you are falsely accused, and then an interview with one guy who claims to have been falsely accused and spent 3 months in prison for it.

Oh and of course, the excuse the falsely accused guy gave for it not being him, "It wasn't me, it must have been the half standing behind me!". Half is the wonderfully politically correct term for those with one Japanese and one foreign parent, who are invariable considered by most Japanese as criminal foreigners just like the rest of all. Sort of reassuring that they somehow managed to find a way of combine the endemically Japanese phenomenon of train perverts and the fear of criminal foreigners in a single story.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Information Density

In Japan you often see small two dimensional bar codes that cellphone cameras can decode as a web address. They are normally about a cm square, and are often found on the bottom of advertisements and occasionally on the business cards of certain Japanese companies that want to seem tech savy.

Last week I came across this somewhat larger than usual example, about 16square meters... which to store a single web address seems like overkill. Interestingly no text, so the only way to know what it was advertising was to scan it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Stairway to Heaven

The times when Japan seems the most unusual are generally those times when you are doing something which would otherwise be completely ordinary. Last weekend I went hiking up what the Japanese refer to as a mountain, that is a reasonable high hill with some trees on it and a few souvenir shops at the top.

Now for reasons I don't want to get into the day I went was the middle day of a long weekend, and so was the sort of day where a fair portion of Tokyo's corporate drones decided to take there families to see some 'Nature'. Naturally it wasn't the untamed remote dirty kind of nature you might find in other countries, it was nature that had its own train station, plenty of stairs, handrails and vending machines in case they got thirsty.

I think the only way I can describe climbing the mountain is as "standing in line for 3 hours on a slope". I wish that was an exaggeration, but for your consideration I submit the attached photo as evidence. It shows the suitably tamed nature, the aforementioned slope and the queue of people waiting there turn to get to the top of it.

The two things I found surprising about the whole experience was that this particular hill/mountain was surrounded by other hills/mountains that simply by virtue of not having their own train stations had no one wanting to climb them. And secondly I was also surprised by just how well prepared the Japanese people were for their wait in line. Not only the expensive Jackets, hiking boots, day packs, walking poles that would would normally convince me that these people were going on a multi day cross country trek, but also the occasional person carrying a compass just in case.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


Winter is coming, and Tokyo is slowly getting colder. What better way to keep warm, and display latent geeky tendencies from a childhood of video game worship, than these Balaclavas designed like Pacman ghosts?

Friday, November 16, 2007


Vegetarianism is not an affliction that many people suffer from in Japan, but in more progressive areas you occasionally come across a restaurant with a vegetarian option, or even somewhere with an all vegetarian menu. I came across one yesterday, but looking at the first item on the menu I have my doubts about how serious they are. A no meat Beef Bowl, perfect for all those vegetarians out there looking for a no guilt, karma free, beef fix.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Freedom of Choice

This is something I came across when I was in China recently. I had heard that China was taking environmental protection a bit more seriously these days so was pleased to see the recycling bins, but still I can't help but think that giving people the option of unrecycling things is a bit counter productive.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Anti Sale

To replace my last camera which was unfortunately dropped into a hot spring in China, I went shopping last week, found one, but wanted to check its price online before buying it. Turns out the price at the shop was equal to anything I could find online, so the next day I went back to the shop to buy it.

Only problem was when I got there, there was a big sign on the camera "limited time only, special price". Not normally a problem except that the special price was 20% higher than it had been the day before! Had a word with the salesperson and he checked in the computer and said that yes, the price had gone up, but that I shouldn't worry because it was going on sale again next week anyway and I should just come back then.

So it turns out that the price was special, and only for a limited time, but probably not in the way most people would expect. As for me, I brought the camera, on that day, at the cheap price.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

(Sushi) Bar Fight

I have long heard that Japan had a problem with bullying, emotional and physical, in the workplace, but until today I had never actually seen it. I was having a late lunch at a sushi bar near the university and I was the only customer in the shop, sitting at the counter and ordering sushi piece by piece direct from the Chef. Was enjoying it, chatting with the guy and enjoying sushi as fresh as it gets.

Then in walks the Senior Sushi Chef, calls the guy over to him and punches him in the shoulder and complains about something. It was a full on punch to, to which the first guys response was, "sorry". The head chef then back hand slaps him across the face and says something I didn't catch, to which guy one bows slightly and say sorry again, for which he received another back hand slap. This hitting and bowing repeats four or five times at which point the boss storms out.

No other staff member says anything throughout the little incident, and once it was over the guy on the receiving end simply returned to making my lunch, with the impression of his bosses hand still visible across his face. Two other customers had walked in halfway through the exchange, and were doing a very good job of being awkwardly silent, which seems to be the appropriate Japanese response to this sort of thing.

Me, I was shocked, and slightly angry. Random violence is something I think I understand reasonably well after living as I have in NZ, but the idea of someone just standing there and bowing to a guy busy taking swing after swing at him is not something I can understand.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The new flavour sensation

There are many reasons why Japanese food will never completely catch on in the rest of the world. Many find eating raw meat and fish a bit off putting, others have issue with eating endangered animals, and some people just don't like the idea of fried chicken organs on a stick. Unfortunately the above reasons don't seem to be enough for some people, and they have begun a campaign to release even harder to swallow foods into the world.

I came across one such food yesterday. Someone had the wonderful idea of combining two popular Japanese snacks, chocolate, and dried squid. And hence squid-chocolate was born! Unfortunately for me, and anyone else brave (stupid) enough to give it a try tastiness is not addative, yummy chocolate + yummy squid = very very unyummy snack.

I only tried one variety and to be fair it comes in 4 flavours, green tea, white chocolate, dark cocoa, and something yellow, but for me one was enough. Though I will be happy to send a pack to anyone wanting to try the others.

Sadly this is not the only such strange combination I have seen recently, there was also the vanilla and salt flavoured candies, and the ice cream and noodle soup.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Birthday Shopping

As often happens at this time of year, I had a birthday last week. Which thanks to the capitalist culture in which we live, is an acceptable excuse to receive presents. And there was one particular present I wanted to receive, and to ensure that, I went shopping for it myself, a bottle of Sambuca.

Now this isn't exactly a common drink in Japan, but it is something that on occasion I have had the opportunity to pay $8 or $9 dollars for a shot of at a bar, so I know it does exist somewhere. Over the course of a week I visited about 10 different bottle shops that I found on my travels around Tokyo, no luck. Until the day before my birthday.

At a tiny little shop just down the road from where I live, on the back of a shelf, which I had to climb over some packing cases to reach, was a dusty old bottle of Sambuca. I climbed up and got it down, only to find the price tag had faded into unreadability, but then this is what bar codes are for so I took it to the counter.

They scanned it, and well, turns out it had spent more time sitting on the shelf gathering dust than I had expected. The bottle pre-dated the computer system, so its bar code wasn't in the computer! They refused to sell it to me, without a price tag, no offer I could make would convince the people behind the counter to part with their newly discovered rare and pressure drink. Damn it.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Saint Che

I've made plenty of comments in the past on the skill with which Japanese people manage to include western ideas and customs in their daily lives without having any idea of the cultural significance behind them. Today's wonderful example of this comes from the women sitting next to me on the train, or more specifically her cell phone's background picture.

The picture was that more than slightly over used poster art picture of Che Guevara, but with the addition of a few love hearts floating around his head. Ok, cute, nice and Japanese. The surprising thing though was the subtitle of the image "Jesus loves you". Umm, ok its hard to be sure what jesus looks like, but I am reasonably sure he didn't have a nice communist star on his hat.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Endangered Curry

Japan often receives a lot of criticism internationally for its whaling program, but Japanese people here normally completely fail to notice any of it as the Japanese media never mentions it. Of course when it does its to explain the fallacy of all there ridiculous reasons the nasty foreigners are trying to use to deprive the Japanese people of there traditional (diesel powered, explosive harpoon) whaling culture.

A lot of this sort of propaganda makes its way into Japanese language text books to educate all those poor misinformed foreigners who end up living here. One such text book had a lovely article summing up the Japanese peoples views and international views, and then asking the reader to decide what they thought and discuss it with the class. Surprisingly it managed to do this without using the words extinction, endangered, threatened or overfishing. Strangely I still don't know the Japanese word for "biased".

But to be honest, perhaps a little to much attention is given to scientific whaling. The Japanese aren't particularly hung up about which threaten animal they eat. The photos are of a range of canned curry products I found at a shop not far from where I live, amongst the different flavours I found whale, bear, and fur seal. So in case you were wondering what the Japanese were studying with their scientific whaling, its quite possibly part of a much larger study of the correlation between how endangered a species is and how good it tastes in a curry.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Loose change

Just a two random things that I have discovered recently.

In Japanese Green peas and Greenpeace are written and pronounced exactly the same. Realising this I couldn't help recalling with more than a trace of irony the green pea and whale soup that I saw for sale at a festival several months ago.

People often wonder why Japanese people struggle to learn English, whereas most Europeans seem to get on quite well. One problem I have seen is the quality of dictionaries here, mine is full of mistakes, outdated words, and misleading examples. It is also the most popular dictionary in Japan. Today's discovery, what is it called when a marriage ends? A divorcement (yes, my spell checker is underlining is in red)

apparently not an isolated example, a friend of mine today asked about a datement she thought I was going on.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Warm Welcome From Japan

Ok Japan is mostly a warm and welcoming place. Yes of course there are some arseholes, and a fair portion of the population do think foreigners are mostly criminals, but they are civil about it and don't normally bring it up. Well, except for the nationalist who hold rallies in front of some of the train stations on weekends and shout over the megaphones about how all the nasty "gaijin" should go home. But apart from that, Japan is quite welcoming.

Still seeing this friendly little sign on the door to a shop in Shinjuku was a bit of a surprise. "Japanese Only", somehow I doubt they are talking about the language. Luckily, as those of you who can read the Japanese in the picture probably realise, this is not really a shop I was likely to go into anyway, but still they could of been more polite, "Japanese only PLEASE"...

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The prize goes to...

More than occasionally I comment on the wonderfully inventive ways the English language is put to use in Japan, but so as not to appear biased I thought today I would share one particularly fine example from China.

Its not the most surprising, funny or ironic example I have ever seen, but I think it is the most efficient example of an English mistake I will ever come across. Normally in Japan they have to write an entire sentence, or at least a single word before they mess something up, at the Chinese hotel I stayed at they managed to do it in a single letter. More interesting than staying in room F.

Informative Advertising

Shopping in China is quite an experience for many different reasons. Firstly there is the fact that the shop keepers despite not speaking any English are quite willing to make a very valiant and wordy attempt to convince you to buy anything you show an interest in. They aren't picky in deciding what constitutes "showing an interest", in my experience walking past something is normally enough.

If you do decide to actually buy anything there is then the question of price. If you are lucky enough to be buying something that even has a price tag, the amount printed on it normally bears no relation to how much you will have to pay for it. 20%, 50%, 70% discounts from that price aren't just possible, they are normal. Of course if there isn't a price tag, you may face the natural disadvantage of being western in which you have no chance of getting a normal price.

The third interesting point about shopping in China which I didn't realise until I got back to Japan is the problem of accurate advertising. I bought a bunch of cookies and snacks for my friends here as souvenirs (its a Japanese cultural thing), and shared them round while we were having dinner at the university. I had no idea of any of the brands or types of sweets so I just got a random selection of things that looked interesting from the super market.

One such was the box in the photo. Purple, heart shaped, with Chinese writing and fill of big pieces of almonds. Opened the box and found it was fill of the small brown dog biscuit looking things that I'm holding in the picture. Not only are they not purple, heart shaped, un-written on, and completely lacking in almonds, but they tasted like sand. I couldn't believe it, so I showed it to one of my Chinese friends here and she just shrugged as if it was normal.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Final Impressions

I am now back home in Tokyo, and before I forget I thought I should just write a few of my general impressions on China.

Judging from the prices of Chinese imports in NZ and Japan you would possibly expect China to be a reasonably cheap place to live. But in the places I went to at least, this isn't really the case. Guangzhou is a big city, and it has the sort of prices you would expect in a big city anywhere else in the world. Basic stuff is pretty cheap, trains, food stuffs, but anything that could be considered a luxury item in anyway is pricey. Still cheaper than NZ, but not much. Of course, I am sure it would be different if I went to one of the smaller cities, but that is an experience for my next trip.

The food is variable. It is one of the few things that are cheap, and even if you go to the particularly expensive restaurants, it is still less than half what I would normally pay on an average night out in Tokyo. As to the quality, depending on where you go it is either literally poisonous or some of the best tasting I have ever eaten. I say literally poisonous as I got food poisoning twice. But don't think its just my weak western stomach, my Chinese companion did as well, on both occasions.

Of course being China you do see the occasional surprising item on the menu. I saw the standard shark fin and birds nest soups of course. The more interesting fried beetles, stewed cows stomachs, chicken feet and hundred year eggs (which should probably be avoided due to the heavy metal content). But the winner for weird food item that I didn't eat was pigeon and pork spine soup.

ps. I would add photos of some of these dishes but someone dropped my camera into a hot spring.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Chinese Internet

I'm still in China, and ever since I got here I've only had sporadic internet access. Its partially to do with the fact that the hotel I am staying in hasn't updated their network since the early 90's, and partially to do with the fact that I am lost somewhere behind the Great Chinese Firewall.

As soon as your try to goto a blocked page you just get a "problem loading page" message, and thats it. I of course knew the government censored a lot of the web, but its surprising what they censor. For example I can goto where I goto post on this blog, but I can't goto where I go to read it!

I think the most annoying lack is that I can't goto wikipedia, or certain other news sites, but I think it would be worse if I lived here long term because of some of the specifically censored stuff. Just to give it a try I googled "tiananmen square" which is something the Chinese are particularly sensitive about, of the first 10 results that came up, I could load 2, neither of which mentioned the unpleasant events from 1989.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Made in China

Im currently sitting in an internet cafe in Sanya, China, and while they are still fresh and unperverted by too much rational thought, I thought I would share some of my first impressions. China is perhaps the oddest place I have ever been and I would reccomend the experience to everyone. I would also recommend they find someone to show them around because no one speaks English, which unfortunately doesn't stop them trying to rip you off or steal your wallet.

The first thing that really struct me was the view from the bus between Hong Kong and Guang Zhou. Lining the highway on both sides were hundreds of three to six story high, office block looking buildings. It was about nine in the evening and the lights were all still on, so I was able to see in through the windows. Row after Row after Row of sowing machines... I wonder what brand clothes they were working on...

The next thing that really struck me was getting on the plane in GuangZhou to come to Sanya. After having going through security, check-in, boarding and finally sitting down on the plane there was the standard welcome message in Chinese and English. Welcome aboard .... Thanks for flying with ... The flight time is.... the destination is.... please check your tickets and make sure you are on the right flight. The last comment was slightly disconcerting.

Other random things, the guy behind me at the internet cafe is watching SM porn with the volume turned to full. Everything in Sanya costs exactly three RMB, well almost everything, drinks, snacks, coconuts. People stare at me wherever I go, and I don't just mean people in the distance. I had one guy walking about a meter in front of me and just turn round to stare at me for about a minute...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Beetles, not the band

I came across another interesting speciality shop in my travels around Tokyo recently, this one only sells beetles. Well that is not entirely true, it also sells beetle food and beetle cages, oh and books about beetles.

This seemed slightly strange to be then I realised, its sort of just speciality pet store. The only difference between it and the ones that only sell dogs, is that if you are not careful you may end up having to scrape your recently purchased new best friend of the bottom of your shoe.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Almost time for my second summer holiday, this time, China. I'll be going to Hong Kong on Thursday and then heading round a couple of places in south China in the following two weeks. Its a trip I have wanted to take for a very long time, and I am looking forward to getting myself completely lost in an unknown city or two.

My European trip did a very good job of making me feel confused with respect to my future plans and what I should be aiming at while I am in Japan, I am hoping this trip should do the opposite. I currently have no real idea what country I will be in a year from now, what I'll be doing there, or who I'll be do it with. I don't have deadlines in my life these days, but I feel like I need a goal, or at least some idea of what I want.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Life goes on

Every now and then I hear stories about what's going on back in NZ, and occasionally they involve things even stranger that what's going on around me in Japan. I recently heard one such story from my mum.

Last week she had a car pull out in front of her in Wainuiomata, she couldn't stop in time, hit it, totalled her car, and needed to be taken off to hospital in the back of an ambulance. Good news is she is OK, no lasting damage, bloody lucky (well as lucky as someone who has been in a car accident can be).

Strange thing is, when my dad when to recover the car that night, it was gone. Someone had stolen a car that had been left smashed up on the side of the road following a car crash. It wasn't even a particularly nice car, worth only about $2000, that was naturally before the accident!

Rang the police, the next day, only to be informed the car had been spotted in Porirua or somewhere driving away following some crime. That explains where the number plates had gone, but why take the rest of the car as well?

Oh well, thats Wainuiomata for you. Currently however I live in a city of 400,000ish people an on average less than 10 car thefts a year. But the really strange thing is that here, people are scared of the high crime rate.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Social Networking Sites

Judging by the number of friends requests I've gotten lately it seems that Facebook has become pretty popular in New Zealand since I left. I still don't like the idea of using one of these nasty sites where I have to choose who my "friends" are, but I have succumbed to peer pressure and registered for an account. Saying that I still have no intention of actually using it, but feel free to add me using my luke.mccrohon(At) address.

On the other hand fed up with the lack of opportunities I've had to practice Japanese since I got back from Europe I have signed up for the Japanese equivalent, If I am going to be wasting time on the web anyway, I may as well be learning Japanese while I do it. If you have an account please add me (same email address), or if you would like to start one ask me and ill send you an invitation.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Rove and Lomance

Well as Japanese typos go this is nothing particularly shocking, but the idea of a nice glass of wine by the grass on a summers day is kind of romantic. The only problem would be the choice of wines, Rouge Wine or Brown Wine, and no, thats not what it says it Japanese.
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Mouth Expander

Occasionally you come across some pretty weird little gadgets in Japan that occasionally make you doubt your own sanity. I just simply can't believe that I am the only person in the country that finds this particular device weird for example.

What it is is a mouth expander, you stick it in your mouth for 5 minutes every day and it stretches your mouth so that you can sing Karaoke better. Costs about $15 and I've seen it on sale in two shops so far.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The grass is greener...

and the sun shines brighter, at the other end of the station.

This is a sign I spotted at a train station in Tokyo, and yes there is a perfectly good reason for it, but I prefer not to think about it. Its just good to know that if the weather is getting me down, I now know where to go.
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Hello Panda

While in Poland last month I happened to be in Gdansk while there was some massive festival going on. As part of the festival there were street markets spread throughout the town, which were all cheap and stocked full of things that I couldn't possibly imagine uses for.

One stall I found was stocked full of cheap imitation brand name goods, complete with all the usual misspellings of names. There was also this particularly nice example, a Hello Kitty wallet... well so it claims, but if that is a Kitty its probably the scariest I've ever seen.
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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

3 Day Weekend

In the weekend in the middle of the conference I took a bus halfway across Ireland to visit a Japanese friend of mine living in Galway. Dublin hadn't exactly felt Irish, particularly as everyone I met was from overseas, but Galway had a very Irish feel. Full of pubs and drunk people. Also the nice small lanes, churches, and country side, but mainly the pubs, which strangely all close at about 1 am.

From Galway we took a day trip out to the Aran Islands, which despite Ireland's almost perpetually damp and unappealing weather, have to be one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Fields divided by ancient stone walls, castles thousands of years old, and even a white sand beach. But best of all, it actually stopped raining for most of the afternoon and turned into quite a pleasant day.

We hired bikes as it was about 10kms to the main castle we wanted to visit, and there were a lot of things along the way that buses wouldn't have stopped at. Explored a couple of nice castles along the way and one very nice ruined church. Check my brand new mechanical pocket watch that I had brought in Japan, and seeing we had time, even stopped for a bit at the beach.

Finally got to the castle, and had a nice relaxing lunch lying in the sun on the side of a 100m cliff plunging into the Atlantic. This time checked the time on my cell phone, and was somewhat shocked. Turns out I had forgotten to wind my watch that morning, and it was actually about an hour later than I had thought. The next 30 minutes of my life involved a quick trip down a hill and an energetic bike ride back to the boat that was about to leave. Got there 4 minutes before it set sail.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Europe Trip

Tomorrow I am leaving Japan, and going to Europe. Ill be there for nearly 4 weeks and will be visiting Dublin, Gdansk, Malmo and Madrid. So you don't have to google it, ill be visiting Ireland, Poland, Sweden and Spain. Its sort of an educational thing visiting a summer school in Dublin, with a holiday tacked on the end, that I hastily arranged about 3 weeks ago.

The choice of places to visit was based largely on a night spent using a wonderful web page aggregator of information on European budget airlines. The trip is already costing me far too much and I couldn't really afford to visit specific places, so my apologises to all those people I would otherwise have come to visit. As it is though, I got flights from Dublin to Gdansk, Gdansk to Malmo, Malmo to Madrid and Madrid to Dublin, for about 100euro. That's less than the 137euro I'm paying to rent a room in a flat in Dublin for 10 days... The other days will be spent on couches and in hostels.

I'm not really sure what I'm going to do in any of the places, but they all of nice churches and I've heard rumours of a castle or two, so I'm sure ill find ways to spend the time. Its going to be quite bad for my Japanese though, a month of not using it at all would be enough to forget quite a bit, but then i guess its easy enough to find Japanese tourists anywhere in the world.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Godzillas Birthday Party

Every now and then in Tokyo I come across a speciality store that only sells one kind of product. Occasionally its a type of food, or a shop that has every imaginable type of firework. But then other times its a shop that only sells balloons.

And you might wonder how you can full an entire shop only with balloons? Well they don't just stock regular party balloons. The one in the photo is a 90cm diameter one I brought to try out. Unless you've seen one of these in person you have no idea how fun they are, or how hard they are to blow up!

But the best thing is, 90cm isn't as big as they have. They go up to 160cm in diameter! I don't want to consider blowing one of those up without a pump...

So next time anyone is thinking about filling someone's office with balloons, let me know. With these it should only take 7 or 8 to fill a reasonable size office.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The shortest 6 months of my life

I just finished my Japanese Language course, which was actually pretty good. I can read and speak a lot better than when I first came, and a lot better than if I had only been studying on my own for the last few months. As part of the course I had to give a 10 minute presentation in Japanese on a topic of my choice, mine involved semantics with reference to a cat shaped robot from the future. The one really surprising thing about the course though, was that in just over 3 months they managed to complete the promised 6 months of Japanese language training that I was supposed to be given as part of my scholarship. Japanese efficiency...

Oh I should probably mention that I have decided that I will probably not being doing my masters degree here. I've learnt a lot more about the Japanese system since getting here and I don't really think the masters degree would be worth it. One of the biggest points is the time it would take, if I was still in NZ I would finish by the end of this year, but here I wouldn't even start until next April and it would take two years after that. I would have to spend a few months studying for the entrance exams, which are in areas completely unrelated to what I want to study and which have no bearing on what I've studied until now in New Zealand. Add to that rumours that the exams and courses require as much rote learning as actual understanding and it doesn't seem like my sort of thing.

So my current plan is to stick around until next year at least and decide whether I want to try and get into a Phd program here, while spending my time on my own research and hopefully get a paper or two published. If I decide not to stay I will look at getting another scholarship and moving on to Europe to do my Phd there. Of course during my time here there are a lot of people I can learn a fair bit from, and I will of course be able to improve my Japanese. Plus to be honest, the lifestyle here is enjoyable enough that I'm not in any hurry to leave.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Vending Machines at the Top of the World

This week I climbed mount Fuji. Its not an impressive accomplishment once you realise the number of retired people who reach the summit everyday, but it was still good fun. I climbed it with a couple of my foreign friends who I often go hiking with here. We started climbing at about 9pm so we would reach the summit at sunrise. Yes, yes, its very Japanese climbing a mount for a photo opportunity, but I have to say climbing a fog covered mountain by torch light is one of the most surreal experiences I can imagine.

It was foggy when we started so pretty much all you could see was the beam of your flash light fading into the middle distance. But once we got above the fog the view was excellent. Stars, so many stars, including 23 shooting ones. It was a nice change from the Tokyo sky where I've never seen more than 6 stars at any one time...

The climb isn't actually too bad, a well marked trail and to be honest, restaurants every 500 meters or so. We stopped at about 3000m for a bowl of noodles in a restaurant that didn't really look a lot different than the ones where I normally eat dinner. Got to the top at about 3.30am, and watched a reasonably unimpressive sunrise. Once the sun was up however the view was magnificent, like the cloud layer seen from an air plane, except there was a mount rising up from it under your feet.

Oh and I cant remember who it was I joked to about there being vending machines everywhere in Japan, and suggested there was probably even a few on the way up mount Fuji. I was wrong, they are not on the way up, they are at the summit! (oh and a bottle of coke costs about $6)

Monday, June 25, 2007

Drinks in a Dungeon

Neil and Chris came to visit Japan for a couple of weeks recently. It was good catching up on news from NZ and having an excuse to avoid my Japanese course and go sightseeing. It was pretty much the standard Japanese holiday, temples, raw fish, sky scrappers, small explosions, electronics, crowded trains and a few gardens. Well the only exception was Neil trying to avoid eating fish, which is decidedly unjapanese, and not the easiest thing to do in this country. (Neil if you eat fish you will have something in common with your cat...)

I don't know what there impressions of Japan were, but considering Neils first full day in Japan ended in a simulated dungeon, with two Japanese girls, fighting off monsters with a mace, drinking shots from test tubes, and trying to avoid eating fried balls of tobasco sauce and octopus, his impression should atleast be interesting. I've come to accept themed restaurants as part of the Japanese experience, but still I am occasionally surprised. I came accross a new one last week, unhappy with just a prison or hospital theme, it decided to combine the two, giving Alcatraz Prison Hospital Restaurant.

On the day they were leaving we had lunch together in Shibuya, with Neil complaining that he "wished he could stay longer". Well in an inspired stroke of unconscious planning, he confused the departure/checkin times for their flight back, missed the plane, and got an extra two days in Japan. He also got a sizeable bill for Chris and himself to share, but I'm sure he was able to look on the bright side about it.
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Friday, June 01, 2007


I'm back in Japan, and after an abortive attempt at keeping a blog on a wiki, I have decided to resurrect my old Japan blog. I will try and post frequently, but as past experience shows this is not something I am particular good at, so my apologies in advance.

If you didn't know me back then, please feel free to have a look at some of my older posts, Japan was equally as strange two years ago. I would appreciate comments, so long as they don't concern my spelling or grammar.


Thursday, May 31, 2007

Too Many Foreigners

The Japanese attitude towards foreigners is something I could say a lot about, but its not something I could even pretend to understand yet, so Ill avoid that topic for a year or two. But occasionally I am going to hear/see something so ridiculous that I have to say something about it, such as today when I found out the number of foreigners living in Japan.

Now its obvious that there aren't a lot of foreigners here, I can remember by the end of my stay in Nara that if I went to a place and saw more than 2 foreigners I would start to wonder what was going on. But its always good to have a number, and today while reading an international newspaper I found one, 1.6% of the Japanese population is officially a foreigner.

Ok now lets compare that to NZ, 17.5% of people living in NZ were born overseas as of the last census. Now before I said 1.6% of people in japan was OFFICIALLY a foreigner, well what makes you a foreigner in Japan and NZ is slightly different. Of that 1.6% over half were actually born in Japan! They just had the misfortune of foreign parents, so cant possible join the exclusive Japanese club.

Saturday, May 26, 2007


One of my favourite things about Japan has always been the fireworks, and generally the ones that fly or go bang, not just the cute little ones. You can buy fireworks at any time of year here and they aren't tied in to any particular holiday, so its something you can do a couple of times a year which is what makes it even better.

Of course its still too early in the year for the massive 2 hour long fireworks displays, which make summer evenings fun, but that didn't stop me and some friends letting off our own in a park one night last week. Ok you might think that doing them in a park is a bad idea, but this is Japan, where else are people going to do them? Well the first pair of policemen who we met in the park also thought it was a bad idea and suggested we do it in our gardens.

Now about 90% of the population of this city we don't have our own gardens, so we didn't really know what to do with our bag full of fireworks. Though when we were leaving an hour or so later we thought that letting off a few little ones would probably be ok. The second set of police men didn't think so... and I am so glad that it was a different pair. The chances of be recognised there are now much to high and I wont be able to do fireworks in that park for at least a month, which is a pain as its the only large park nearby.

That night left me with a large surplus of explosives sitting on the shelf in my room. That particular surplus got a lot larger today when I discovered a fireworks wholesale shop. It was paradise, a shop where everything was cheap and explosive! Some very interesting types including rocket propelled toy cars! And the best thing was right next door was another shop exactly the same. I now have a truly scary amount of fireworks in my room though...

Monday, May 21, 2007

Natural Onsen

As I said in the last post I went to Nikko over the weekend, and one of the things I wanted to do while I was there was goto an Onsen. Now my past experiences with Onsen have be somewhat mixed, ranging from natural hot springs in the middle of forests, to essentially large bath tubs and given Nikkos reputation for natural beauty I was hoping to find something of the former.

Having been somewhat lazy about organising the trip I just decided to ask at the Tourist information centre which of the onsen are of the more natural kind, and was told about 3. Me and my friends chose the cheapest of these which turned out to be owned by a hotel. That's quite normal here, so I wasn't overly worried. We went there paid our money and were lead to the onsen.

Turns out what the tourist information centre consider natural is in the basement of a building, with no natural light, tiled wall-to-wall, with several rocks to one side of the room and the hot water coming out of a tap. I hate to think what the others were like.

We did find another one while tramping that was about as natural as you can get, some hot puddles in the middle of a swamp. Unfortunately they were only big enough to bathe your feet in, still was nice.

Crime in Japan

Well despite 6 months worth of warnings last time I was in Japan about all the things I shouldn't do because of the crime rate here, I never actually saw any crime. That changed yesterday when I saw a theft from a souvenir shop in Nikko (Oh yeah, I went to Nikko, nice place). Of course the theft was by a monkey, so it doesn't really contribute to the crime rate.

Cute little bastard walk over to the shop, took one of the bags of snacks, and then just bolted. I call it a bastard because like every other animal in this country it tried to attack me, all I wanted to do was take its photo...

Oh yeah and as to crime I recently heard on the news that there had been a rash of gun related crime, apparently last year there were 53 shootings! 3 of which were fatal. Considering that the population of Tokyo alone is over 3 times that of NZ, how do you we compare.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

No I dont hear Voices

This week is "health check week" at Tokyo University. Apparently the University wants to check all students, except for first years, to see if they are dying or not, and apparently its something I'll have to look forward to every year while I'm here.

I guess its good that the University cares about its students (well, except for the first years), but I really wonder why they want to know? If they find that I have some horrible incurable disease does that mean I don't graduate?

Thinking about it, I expect they are more practical than that, and I would probably be passed on to the medical department for study. I want to be involved in writing a few papers here, but that's not the way I have in mind. I find out in two weeks.

They were thorough, blood tests, X-rays, ECG, etc. and then just for foreigners a mental health survey. I have at times thought the Japanese consider most foreigners to be crazy, but I was somewhat surprised that the mental health survey was reserved solely for us.

No I don't hear Voices that no one else hears, and in the last year I haven't believed anyone was out to get me. I answered no to so many questions that by the end I was starting to get slightly nervous, it was like sitting a multi-choice exam and answering A to every question.

Oh and apparently I am 168cms tall...

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Fucking Bird

Why is it that every animal I feed in Japan attacks me? Last time I was here it was the deer in Nara park, this time a bird. I was sitting under a tree eating lunch and a raven landed nearby and was just hopping round looking for crumbs. Everyone here thinks they are horrible birds, but until today I quite liked them, so I threw it a chunk of bread. It took it and flew off, seemed happy enough, a couple of minutes later it came back. Landed on the seat behind me, snuck up behind me and tapped my back. I went to look round and the bloody thing bit me. If all the wildlife here is like what Ive met so far I understand why the Japanese don't pay much attention to looking after the environment.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Chemical Brothers

I went clubbing with some friends last night to a club called Womb in Shibuya It was my first time going to an actually dance club in Japan, so I was expecting to be surprised. I was, both positively and negatively.

Although it wasn't a surprise the door charge wasn't pleasant, 3500yen, it was worth it. The dance floor was brilliant, with lazy light show and an almost 2m diameter disco ball. The music wasn't bad either, but will be better this week, they have the chemical brothers coming.

Me and pretty much every other international student from the hostel will be going (most of the Japanese people we've mentioned it to have no idea who they are). Only costs about $40 to get in tonight, so isn't even to expensive. Oh and I got membership last week which means I get a $10 discount.

Membership is one of those strange Japanese things, nearly every bar, restaurant, shop or Internet cafe has a membership program. They normally cost nothing to join, and get some pretty good discounts and special offers, just takes a few minutes.

Unlike all the other membership programs I've seen though, the one at the club didn't give a membership card. Instead they take a digital thumbprint scan! Not only does it mean I don't need a membership card, but also I don't need to carry ID to get into the club, just a scan at the door.

As to the negatives, there were a few, the worst being the gender ratio. It seem liked there were at least twice as many guys as girls! Tonight may be better

Friday, April 27, 2007

L and R

There are so many examples of bad English being used in Japan, so its not normally something worth mentioning. Occasionally though you come across a case that is particularly funny or ironic, and those can be worth sharing.

To be fair I probably make similar mistakes when speaking Japanese, so I don't normally find mistakes when people speak funny (Except for the Japanese guy who was talking about "the big election", but always confused L and R). However lots of Japanese companies use English in advertising campaigns and you would kind of expect them to have someone check it first.

Last time I was here I worked for a company which on their website offered "professional transration services" which fits the ironic category. One I saw last week might beat it though, an advertisement for a talking electronic dictionary that helps people learn English. The picture in the ad of course had a speech bubble, and what was it saying? "Lets Listening!"

The best Ive come across so far this time was when I went to karaoke last night. Lots of the songs are western and of course have the words in English, though not always the words you would expect. For example missing a space turned "I want you to hold me at night" into "I want you to hold meat ..." and a slight confusion between "you" and "your" gave "I want you baby" a whole new meaning.

Friday, April 20, 2007

WTF?!? level four?

Well last week I had a japanese language placement test and interview. The test went ok and the interview went well and they told me I would probably in course 3. There are five courses, from beginner 1 to advanced 5, and to be honest I was quite pleased with myself for getting into level 3, its what I was aiming for.

Yesterday though I found out what class they actually put me in, level 4, I am so buggered. I just finished my first class and in 2 hours there was a grand total of 3 words of English. I can survive the explanations in Japanese, my speaking/listening isn't to bad, but the problem is the writing.

I've only ever studied Japanese on my own, so I always skipped over the boring bits, ie how to read, and just concentrated on speaking. So of the thousands of Chinese characters hat are used in Japanese I know about 100, most of which refer to different types of food.

In class however Im supposed to know 600+, so it looks like im going to have a fun few weeks trying to catch up. Hmm maybe I should stop complaining, its just after months of complete laziness I have to actually do some work.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

11mm Cell Phone

Living in Japan without a cell phone is difficult, well actually not difficult, just bloody boring. When you have a city of 12million people you don't often run into friends by accident.

Of course like everything else here it take a fair amount of paperwork to get one, but annoyingly you also need to have an alien registration card before they will let you get one. I waited until I had mine then went shopping, which involved about 4 hours talking in Japanese with sales people that had to constantly keep checking what rules applied for foreigners to buy one.

Following that I decided to get a phone from softbank (they used to be vodafone and so my phone will work in NZ when I come back). I got a 2 year contract, at $15 a month, for which I get a free phone, free txt/pic/video messaging to all other softbank users, and free calling before 9pm to softbank users. Other messages cost 4 cents, and calls are 40 cents a minute.

The free calling is great, I convinced all the other foreigners I know to sign up for the same contract and so apart from my Japanese friends all my calls are free. The actually phone is pretty cool, much like a RAZR (but thinner I think, 11mm), has a 2 mega pixel camera, blue tooth, Internet, micro SD etc. Ok its not the wonderful compared to what you get here, but you've all seen what sort of phone I use in NZ, and this one was free!

Monday, April 16, 2007

$115 Bike

My rent here is cheap, but thats only because I'm a student staying at the on campus hostel, but some things in Japan are cheap regardless of who you are. Tokyo is flat, and even though it is quite large most of the interesting bits are close together, its perfect for biking.

I've been thinking about buying a second hand bike since I got here, but hadn't seen any second hand store. Well it turns out that its not much of a problem, because brand new bikes are ridiculously cheap anyway. I'm not sure what I'm going to buy yet, but this one is only 10 400 yen, which is about $115. Japan isn't really that expensive.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

First Months Rent

I thought I should probably say something about what my accommodation is like in Japan, it is small, cramped and somewhat tiny, that is to say it is Japanese. I didn't really have any problems with that, but the kitchen is completely unusable.

I have a mini-fridge that could probably store 12 cans of coke, no freezer, no microwave, a single cupboard, no drawers and a one element stove. I was thinking about buying a microwave, but then I realised there are also no power points. Umm I haven't been doing all that much cooking since I got here.

The bathroom is similarly minimal, it has a toilet and a shower, though not both at the same time. You slide the sink to one side an there is a toilet, to the other side and there is a shower head.

On the plus side the location aint bad, its walking distance from Shibuya which means there is lots to do nearby. Have been going there most nights for dinner, but have been having a hard time convincing any of the other international students to do karaoke with me.

I was planning to move out and find somewhere closer to the university to live, but then I got the bill for the rent. Only $130, including expenses, and being japan thats per month, not per week! Unfortunately Ill only be able to stay there for my first year, but at that price, i should be able to save a bit, or more likely do some traveling.

Friday, April 13, 2007

USB Missile Launcher

I was walking through Akihabara last week looking for a new cell phone when I found the coolest USB device I have ever seen, a USB Missile Launcher!!

It cost 1000yen, so about $14, and fires three foam darts. Using the arrow keys you can rotate it through 360 degrees, up and down and then fire using the space bar. Bloody powerful too, can easily fire from one side of my lab to the other which is about the same width as Memphis.

Here's a photo of it, and I'll try and get a video up later.

Yes I'll go back and see if they have any more, Memphis needs one of these. Also if anyone else would be interested add your name to the discussion page and I'll see if I can send some back (Postage might be expensive).

Thursday, April 12, 2007

We want 10yen back

I'm in Japan on a scholarship, and quite a nice one. I get 170000yen a month, my airfares paid for, tuition and subsidised accommodation. The only thing I have to do for this is some research, and a lot of paperwork.

Last week I was looking at the list of things I needed to take to the international office at the university, lots of official documents about enrolling, a copy of my passport, some photos, and 10 yen. 10 yen is nothing, sort of like 10 cents in NZ, but it was one of the things on the list.

When I got to the office I found out why. Everyone needs to open a savings account, so you need an initial deposit, thats what the 10 yen was for. I ended up waiting in line, for about 10 minutes while a lady asked everyone in front of me if they had their 10 yen or not. I shouldn't complain, after all they are giving me plenty of cash, just so strange the lengths they had to goto to get 10yen of it back...

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

30000yen Taxi

Before I came to Japan I had almost no idea as to what I was going to be doing once I got here. I was under the impression that I would be told once I got here, though apparently that wasn't what was planned.

I got off the plain with one very dead sunflower, cleared customs and was met by a guy from the Japan Student Association. He seemed to be quite disorganised, and initially didn't seem to want to believe that I had come from New Zealand.

Having convinced him I was not in fact Renald from Australia I was taken via 5 other people, each of whom wanted me to sign my name and fill in some part of a form. After this I was told to wait, still having not been told anything, but having received an envelope with 25000 yen. I waited.

An hour or so later I was told that my ride was there, and still not knowing anything I was thrown into a cab with the single other NZ student and a cab driver who spoke no English. I asked how long it was going to take, and found out that it would be a few hours. I spent the next 2 hours watching the fare go up, and up and up. I had no idea who was going to be paying for it, which made me slightly nervous when it hit 300 000 (about $400).

Oh it was about that point where the Taxi driver got lost. I knew he was lost not only because we had gone past the same intersection 3 times, but also because he turned round and asked me if I knew how to get there. We did make it eventually, after stopping and asking pedestrians, and I discovered that the bill wasn't for me.

To this day I still haven't been told anything much, but apparently I have a Japanese test on Thursday and might have classes at some point after that. I'll let you know.

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