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.
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