Thursday, December 18, 2008

Theme Dining: Taiwan Style

Themed restaurants in Tokyo offer amazing variety, from christian cathedrals, to prisons, vampire castles, a rabbit hole (of Alice and wonderland fame) and of course many comic book adaptations. Now the boom years before the Asian economic bubble burst apparently offered an even better selection (I am slightly disappointed that I missed the chance to eat ice cream together with real live penguins...), but even then I don't think they would have beaten this particular Taiwanese restaurant in terms of unexpectedness.

How many Japanese does it take to Change a light?

I finally moved to a new flat. The word "Finally" is going to take some elaborating, so I'll save that for another post.

Since moving in I have had to spend two or so weeks sorting out all manor of Japanese paperwork and red tape. Some of it you expect, filling in the real estate contract in triplicate, getting official seals stamped on the contract, getting official documents proving that the official seals stamped on the contract are legitimate, et cetera.

That sort of thing is frustrating, but expected. Its all the unexpected things that are annoying, and there are a LOT of those. Take for example the fact that Japanese apartments don't come with light fittings. I'm not talking a lack of light bulbs, they don't even come with the appropriately shaped hole to insert them into. I was reasonably lucky that the previous resident of my place had left one very old and slightly broken fitting behind. I decided it needed replacing.

Naturally being as old as it was it didn't make use of the now standardized interchangeable power connector so I had to call an electrician to get it changed. The electrician I called wasn't able to tell me what days he was available when I called, and said he would call back later. He did after 3 days to ask "Is now ok?" Not really what I had been expecting, but I was just up the road shopping so thought it would be ok. Met him back at my place, he came in, looked at the light fitting and said "oh, that type, I didn't bring the right tools for that. Is it ok to come back tommorow?"

Next morning he now shows up with another guy, seems to have the right tools, gets halfway through and realizes he doesn't have the right kind of screws, so sends his partner back to the shop to get them. AKWARD 30MINUTE CONVERSATION. Guy comes back with screws and finishes the job.

Payment time. Using carbon paper to write out an invoice he manages to carbon copy my name onto the cover of his notebook, but somehow not onto my copy of the invoice. I can live with that as I know my own name. I hand over some money to pay for it, and the two guys spend the next 5 minutes going through both of their wallets trying to find change.

They give up eventually and leave promising to be back in a few (Of course at this point the combined contents of both of their wallets were at this point sitting in two small piles in the middle of my floor). One of them comes back eventually with my change, and needs me to remind him about the two heaps of coins and notes in the middle of the my floor that he might want to take with him.

How many Japanese does it take to change a light? Only 2, but it takes far more drama than you can imagine. Oh and I have the plumber coming next week.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Other Processed Foods

Items such as cookies, crackers, candies, cereals, dried noodles, etc., may be brought into Japan. Most types of nuts (with the exception of walnuts, which are prohibited) may be brought into Japan, particularly if they are salted, dried, or roasted.

I was just looking at the customs laws of what I can import into japan and found the wonderful quote above. I would like to believe there is a nice sensible reason why walnuts are considered particularly dangerous, so if anyone knows please tell me.

On the same page I also found I can import 100kg of rice duty free per year, so if anyone coming to visit me has some left over weight allowance how about bringing me a sack? Preferably long grain, and definitely not that nasty non-stick stuff! (try and eat it with chopsticks if you wonder why)

Monday, April 14, 2008

A wedding gift

I normally use this blog to write about all the strange things that I come across in Japan, well at the moment I am back in NZ which unfortunately isn't quite as weird. I am of course working to change that, and here is evidence of that....

Friday, March 21, 2008

Shopping List

I sent an email to most of my friend in New Zealand with a list of items I could buy and bring back for them when I come next week. The most popular of these was a hello kitty personal massager, so in case anyone had any doubts what I meant heres a picture of what happens when sexual liberation and the Japanese fondness for cute intersect.

(And yes, if you are interested in one let me know by Monday, same goes for ipods)


I was slightly surprised a few months back to see Nazi arm bands for sale in a store in Harajuku, and couldn't help but laugh at the idea of Japanese dressing up in costume wearing them. I passed it off as Japanese people not really knowing the significance, which when you consider how much history of world war 2 they learn in school is entirely plausible.

Recently I was slightly more surprised by the swastika shaped spa pool I saw being advertised in Shinjuku. Yes I know its actually a sensible shape for certain things, but it is one of those things you probably wouldn't see in the rest of the world.

A little bit of history...

One of the things I most enjoyed while traveling around Europe was spending an hour or two going through antique shops in each new city I visited. They were like museums filled with exhibits that if you really wanted to, you could purchase.

Japan of course has antique shops, but for some reason I don't find myself as attracted to them. There is a difference between browsing through 2ooyear old furniture and books, and 30 year old godzilla figures and comic books. I shouldn't compare, its just you don't see "antique" used to describe something made of plastic.

Halloween Special

Can't find a pair of shoes to go with your Jack O' Lantern Halloween Costume? If you live in Japan wouldn't be an issue thanks to the inspired design of these limited edition special Halloween Vans sneakers, available in not 1, but 2 Halloween styles!

Oh and by the way, I took the photo in February so perhaps they weren't enough of a limited edition.

Im lost

Now if you are a person who has trouble with reading maps you might want to take a guide while looking for a toilet at this Tokyo subway station. They kindly provide a map, but its the sort of map that I think Escher might be proud of having drawn. Its still comprehensible, but considering this is a map of only a quarter of the station, I think the full version might be slightly scary.

Perfect for Chocolate Cake

Ok, I have to admit this is neither strange, nor unbelievable, but is simply a good example of Japanese style. Spade shaped spoons. Cute and slightly unpractical, but still very cool.

Umm, well ok

There are times when I just don't know if its a mistake or if they actually know what the English they are using means. This poster advertising a concert locally is a good example of that sort of English.

But I don't want to carry it all day.

The following picture shows the rules for use of coin operated storage lockers at Shinjuku Station. Click for a larger view. All pretty standard until you get to 2.7...

Of so its prohibited to store this corpse I have been lugging round the city with me all day while I go and do some shopping? What am I supposed to do with it then? If I leave it here, someone might steal it and then I'd have to go report it to the police...

Eggs in a hurry

If I had to describe Tokyo in one word it would be "Convenient". The ubiquitous 24hour convenience stores, wonderful public transport, shops selling every service you could imagine, and vending machines selling six packs of eggs. The last being something I discovered while riding in one of the less densely populated parts of town.

Admittedly I don't often wake up at 3am in the morning and think "I need eggs", but if I do I now know where to go. Its not using the services that matter, just knowing they are there if I need them. But to be honest, I think the watermelon vending machine I found in Nara is still my favorite.

I guess you could say I am fluent

In the run up to my entrance exams at Tokyo University I had to deal with all manor of paperwork at a time when I would have much preferred to actually have been studying. I eventually finished all the application documents and took them over to the administration office only to be told that I needed to include my TOEFL score.

Now for those who dont know, TOEFL stands for Test Of English as a Foreign Language, and due to the F component I naturally assumed that it wouldn't apply to me. I pointed this out to the people at the office, who agreed that my taking it would be completely pointless, but continued to insist that I take it. Bureaucracy.

Ok, so I looked into taking the test (and how to pay the $170 it cost) and found out that I had missed the application deadline to have my test results back before my entrance exams, so went back to tell the office that I couldn't get the results in time. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but their response was that because I am a native speaker my results don't really matter that much... relief, I just saved $170 I thought... but it just matters that I can show I took the test. What? They want me to take the test even though they won't get the results in time?? Apparently.

So I take the test, it wasn't actually all that easy and felt horribly artificial. Moreover it is a completely inappropriate test of English language ability for average Japanese people which is what it is used for. I sadly didn't get a full score, but considering my speling it is lucky that I only lost one make in the essay section. So I am now able to Prove that I speak mostly correct English.

Friday, January 18, 2008


My refrigerator broke a couple of weeks ago, waiting for the replacement could have been quite inconvenient except thanks to the weather the my balcony is quite capable of keeping my food as cold as my fridge ever did. Unfortunately if I wait a few more weeks my milk will start to freeze, which is going to make breakfast unpleasant... Hopefully the replacement will arrive and stop my food from getting to cold before that happens.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Abyss

I must apologise for a month without posts, this is not because my life has suddenly regained some level of normality, but is due purely to a series of run ins with Japanese bureaucracy at its finest. Essentially due to several seemingly minor mistakes in the paperwork concerning my scholarship, I was told that although the Japanese government was quite happy to keep paying me for the next 18months, they wouldn't pay for me to actually do any study during that time or afterwards.

Now an 18 month paid vacation is always tempting, but I am reasonably keen to do a PhD, and I am even more keen to have them pay for me to do it. This lead to an adventure through the Japanese paperwork jungle that took 3 weeks, and was filled with as much weirdness as you would expect from Japan. I won't give a full account, but here are some highlights.
  • Startlines and Deadlines: In Japan Applications not only have a deadline when they have to be submitted by, but they also have a startline which they not be submitted before! Generally the difference between the two is about 1 week.
  • Triplicate: Whenever submitting documents multiple copies are required, luckily this is why we have photocopiers right? Unfortunately in many cases all of the copies have to be hand written!
  • Internationalism: Despite my scholarship being only available to foreign students, with no requirement of Japanese language ability, all information about it is only available in Japanese. And not the sort of friendly Japanese you see in the real world, that type of impenetrable legalistic Japanese that caused several of my Japanese friends to shrug when ask about its meaning.
  • Submission: I went to the office and asked where I needed to submit my application to. They said "here", so I preceded to hand it over, only to be met with shocked faces. Turns out that although it has to be submitted "here", it has to arrive by post.
A few of other interesting points:
  • Less than a third of the staff at the international office speak a language other than Japanese.
  • Any time you apply for anything you must submit a passport photo.
  • CV's in Japan must also be handwritten. And yes, this means if you make a single mistake while writing them out you start again.
  • Students start looking for jobs over a year before they graduate university, and if they haven't got one less than 6 months before its generally seen as too late.
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