Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Fate

A wise man once said, “All we can do until time kills us, is kill time.” So yeah, that’s what I’ve been doing this past week. Thanks to the glorious invention of the three-day weekend back in 1785, I have been able to attend one concert, one tradeshow, and one mountain, although quite how you actually attend a mountain is frankly beyond me at this point.

But first! A long meandering discussion about Fate. Or Coincidence, if you prefer. For last night, on our way back from the Mountain, we stopped in Yokohama for some Chinese food. This is a good thing to do. Not only was the food good, but it was complemented by the appearance of Yoko-san, who works at the company I did my thesis at. Said company is abour 20 miles away from Yokohama. This got me thinking about other chance meetings I’ve had the pleasure to experience in the past - queue flashback music and blurred picture:

1) Last night, on our way back from... Ok, did this one already.

2) One week ago, in Shibuya, at the Hachiko-crossing (“The busiest intersection in the world”, according to those who want it to be the busiest intersection in the world), I’m out with a couple of friends when I am distracted by someone actually pronuncing my name correctly, at very high volume, nonetheless. Queue Norwegian friend Sigrid, who is back in Japan for a month, training with MTV to present a show on Norweigian TV3. So a celebrity, no less!

3) Back in July, I was having dinner with some friends from work near Tokyo station, when Aya-chan, whom I am on a sort of friend-of-a-friend status with passes by and waves enthusiastically. She was moving to Osaka in a couple of weeks, just a little FYI.

4) Then we have the work-people: I’ve run into one guy both in Nakameguro and in Shibuya, and another time I’ve run into Ie-chan from work, also at Nakameguro, this time at the station. So 4) should really count as 4-5-6).

7) The really freaky one happened in December 2003. Tomo, Caroline, Alexandra and I thought it would be a good idea to spend three weeks travelling three thousand miles across Australia. And it was! At the start, when we camped on the World’s Largest Sand Island (Fraser) by night and bumped around in a landrover by day; a couple of Germans, an English guy and two girls of the same nationality also joined in. This was around December 20th. Our group split up on reaching the terra firma of Australia proper a day later, and we thought that would be the end of it. Ten days and 1500 miles later, without any communication of any kind, we’re celebrating New Year’s at Mrs Mcquarie’s Point in Sydney, when English girl #1 show up and happily greets us with a fairly gorgeous "Hello!"

8) Ok, I have one more, about running into a Korean guy I met in Gifu in Tokyo two weeks later, but after the Australia-story, it’s kinda hard to work up the enthusiasm. Never mind.

Now that that’s all taken care of, lets get down to the triple mentioned at the start of this post, before it got all verbose. The Concert:

Ah, the Sound of Music.

If you think Japanese people are mild-mannered, polite, and just people who don’t indulge in crowd-surfing and thereby shoving their feet and other even less preferable body-parts in your face, then you obviously weren’t at this shindig. Which is a shame, because it was what the early ninties would refer to as a blast. Did you see the purple lights, well, did ya?!

Next up: Trade Show! This was not the first time I’d made the trek (by train) out to Chiba, but it was the first time that crowd-control had gotten it into their collective hive mind that it would be a good idea to make 70 000 people walk around the entire building (a one-mile walk, thank you Google Earth) before allowing them to gain entry to the show proper. The length of the queue at it’s peak? Estimated at a mile and a half, which, yes, is almost an entire mile longer than the shoddy half-mile deal H&M managed to pull together when they opened in Ginza last month. Also, here’s what it looked like, from back-stage:

Look ma, people!

Then the triple to complete the crown. Nothing quite like a show about cars to make you more interested in Nature. A while back, I’d seen an episode of Top Gear (look it up!) where three English gentlemen travel to Japan to see what can get them from point a (Sea of Japan) to point b (Mt Nokogiri in Chiba) the fastest: a Nissan with more bhp than the spaceshuttle, or public transportation - bullet trains, that sort of thing. A story of sat-nav failiures and getting-on-the-wrong-train-’cause-the-signs-are-in-Japanese hilarity ensues. Eventually, the car option wins, by about three minutes.

But that’s not the point. The point is that Mt Nokogiri is a gorgeous place. I shall demonstrate this now:

A gorgeous place.

So a mere one hour on different trains, a 40-minute ferry, a 15 minute hike to the ropeway station an hour-long hike to the top, and we were there! Which was very much the prefered option to “here”, at least at the time.

The “we” who were “there”.

Also there? Japan’s biggest stone Buddha, a cliff sticking straight out of the (other-) rock with just a neat-o 100 foot drop straight down (“peaking into purgatory”, they called it, and yes, going up there was not completely un-scary), and a sunset.

You guessed it.

Final note: the thing that will stay with me from this trip, possibly more than any other? Two Japanese guys, who going up the trail as we were going down, went “Ninja! Ninja! Ninja!” to... get in to the spirit of things? Whenever you need a little extra energy to keep going, just exclaim that quietly to yourself. And no, I don’t know why.

Beverage of the Week #14
Name: Sprite 3G
Catchphrase: "Look at us, we've named our new softdrink after that next-gen mobile phone tech that was so hot four years ago"
Price/volume: 147 yen for 500ml
Place/time of purchase: Circle K, somewhere, 09:55
Particular Point of Interest: The 3G’s are: Glucose, Green-Tea-Caffieine, and Guarana. And yes, they call it Glucose because a) “Sugar” doesn’t have the ring it used to, and 2) calling it “Sugar and 2G” or possibly “SGG” was just not an option.
Taste: Like Sprite. Or maybe 7-up, I can never tell those apart.

Overall score (package/taste): 5/B

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Desperation

You might imagine there have been goings on over the past seven days, and you would be right.

Not quite as many as you might think though, take it easy now. First of all, there’s all the crazy “I didn’t see that one coming” type-deals. For example, Autumn! I mean, what the h****? See, that extra asterisk makes it completely impossible to tell which word I’m aiming at. Could it be “helix”, or maybe “hello”; surely not the obvious answer: “helve”?

Yeah, I’ll just go play scrabble now.

Ok, back now, hope you enjoyed the break in our regularly sceduled programming. So yeah, autumn. Really? Does this mean I shall have to take out some sort of coat to wear to work? Surely not! This is Japan, and while they have yet to perfect the one-person electrical heating system (surely by next winter, though!), there is no need for a coat yet. The reason for this is that Japanese autumn, thus far, is a wuss. I’d say “sissy”, but that’s one of those words that by taking it in your mouth and making it your own, you sort of become that word, or what it means, rahter. Kind of like “extraneous”.

Man, I thought I was all scrabbled out, but apparently I was mistaken. Sorry ‘bout that.

Getting back on track (not that I can remember getting on track in the first place, but yeah), you have not lived until you have witnessed a middle-aged Japanese man in a suit try to parallel-park a Hummer H2. Yes, I know it’s the “tiny” model, but if that was your first thought, they you do not realize the magnitude of this situation. The entire population of Sweden is gathered here in a 35-mile radius from my house (and no, I don’t mean all my neighbors are blond, blue-eyed, and have a strange affinity for the outdoors and eating fish eggs on hard bread). Nine million people. Approximately 34 parking spaces for them to share. Which means that when I said before that the rent on a parking space by my building is pretty much what I paid for my 920 square feet apartment when I was a student in Sweden, I am not kidding. Supply and demand, my friends, or at least demand. Supply apparently took the day off, and was last seen heading towards Cancun. He was never spotted in the lower 48 (or at least Japan) ever again.

Sadly, I didn’t have the cohones to actually take a picture of the situation, so if you have problems visualising, feel free to use Google, or maybe that newfangled YouTube (you see, it kind of sounds like “You too!”) that them thar rotten kids are always screaming at me (?).


Yes, it’s the return of the three dashes to mark a new section! Yay! And in this one, I shall examine... vegetables! And ham! For you see, on my way home from the gym, I stopped off to have some vegetable tempura (look at me, being all healthy and aware-like! Probably won’t happen again. Ever). I also did some other shopping of the food kind. Now, putting aside that one banana is like two bucks, and that the money you’d have to spend on four tiny tomatoes could allow some people (me) to live the good life for a fairly long time, the story of the day is the ham. For you see, people are starting to see this whole overpopulation of the Earth-thing as a problem. To paraphrase an old teacher of mine: imagine a world with six billion humpback whales. Not much room for anything else.

But yeah, that’s not the point (surprise!). The point is that, the boffins (God, I love that word!) have figured out that you can feed more people if said people eat veggies instead of meat. For years, the meat-lobby has stood firm, arguing... well, basically not arguing anything, since people still love their meat. But now, change is coming. After my delicious veggie tempura, I tried to get back to my normal over-consuming self by purchasing ham. And what is written on the pack? “Vegetables are tasty” Seriously! Do I not feel bad enough already? Do you have to remind me that not only am I missing out on eating something that’s a) good for me, 2) good for the Earth (or comparatively less bad, anyway), but also something that’s actually tasty? Three darts is too much man, indeed.


Finally, this has nothing to do with Japan at all. But I found this blog the other day... It’s kind of freaky. Have you ever had that feeling, you know, walking around town, looking somebody in the eye and immediately think “Whoa, I’m sure that dude is actually an American expat living in Sweden, writing about his experiences of Sweden and Swedishness just like I’m living in Japan, writing about my experiences of Japan and Japaneseness. ” Ever get that feeling? Maybe it’s just me. But there are loads of expats writing about loads of experiences in loads of countries. So to spice things up further, this guy is from a place I am going to visit in a couple of months time, and he’s now living in Linköping, home of my dear University. Still not freaked out? Then your heart is made of stone, there is nothing more I can do here. Bet you didn’t cry when your mom told you that Mr Wiskers was just going on a long vacation in the country either, huh?

That, my friends, is essentially your kettle of fish. Except for:

Beverage of the Week #13
Name: Aquarius
Catchphrase: "Hey man, it’ll stick around for approximately 2150 years. Either that, or we named it after what we thought that catchy 60’s tune by The Fifth Dimension was called. We were apparently mistaken."
Price/volume: 98 yen for 500ml
Place/time of purchase: Foodium, Musashi-kosugi, 20:48
Particular Point of Interest: Aquarius is an (surely not “the”?) official drink of the International Olympic Commission. And no, I did not just make up “Foodium”.
Taste: Like if I had brought this climbing Mount Fuji, I would still be able to drink it, unlike Pocari Sweat. And yes, the whole point of that sentence was to inform you that I have climbed a very high mountain in Japan. Mainly by buss, but come on, it’s the 21st frikkin’ century!

Overall score (package/taste): 7/B+

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Typhoon

You might imagine there have been goings on over the past four months. And you would be right.

But instead of that, let’s live in the now, and just get on with it, yeah? The problem with that is that I don’t quite know where to begin. Which means this is probably going to end up being one of those list-type posts. With numbers and crap! Here’s the official Only-In-Japan-Kids-list for the week of September 22, 2008:

1) The last time I was going to go see a movie, we got to the theatre seven and a half hours late. That’s actually not the point. Nor is the point that there was a typhoon raging outside - it hadn’t even impacted the screening scedule! However, upon choosing to have dinner instead, we discovered exhibit a) Fresh towels in the entrance for people to try to make themselves less dripping wet. It’s a grand concept, almost up there with Hello Kitty Toilet Paper.

2) Hello Kitty Toilet Paper. I’m not sure, but maybe somebody, somewhere, crossed The Line when I wasn’t watching. I mean, really?

There you go.

3) Pen-twirling. It’s the next big thing. Or the last one, damned if I know. But it’s still big enough to warrant its own display in the fabulous Tokyu Hands store in Shinjuku, They’re not taking any chances on letting this thing pass them by, I can tell you that much. Of course to begin with, you need to acquire the probper technique. This is not easy. Thankfully, people have been bored in class/meetings/while meeting the in-laws for the first time for a while now, meaning the field has been extensively researched. Now you too can enjoy the fruits of those last 10 000 years of human evolution, as long as you have a Region 2 DVD-player, and 2940 yen to spare. But of course, what use is a DVD, if you have nothing to practice with? For that reason, the boffins (damn you, boffins!) have developed special twirl-friendly pens that will allow the user to... make a strong statement to everyone around that he’s (women have better things to do, at least that’s what I’d like to imagine) so boring he’s even practiced his being boring - or at least bored - at home. Here you go, this one’s for you:

Further explanation redundant

4) There was a show the other night on TV (if you by “the other night” mean “May ‘07”, and by “TV” mean “TV”) where they were doling out legal advice on what to do, should you be falsely accused of groping someone on the subway. Apparently this is a major social issue in the country I live in. There are “women only-cars” on the trains during rush hour - I double dare you to break the social convention and actually ride in one (given that you, dear reader, is a man; it wouldn’t really be that big a deal if you are of the fair sex)! But yes, the problem has escalated so that people who get unjustly accused of groping are standing up, and with one voice, they scream from the top of their lungs: We want a portable subway strap for five bucks that shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are innocent; our hands were busy carrying this stupid plastic thing around, so there’s no way we could be groping! I still say the guy on the right could hold his files with his elbow and get a free feel in, but maybe I’m being too cynical.

Look out!

5) Ok, maybe I don’t really have a five, but have I ever ended a list with an atual entry in the list, and not one of these stupid things to use as filler? Thought not.

And that’s your kettle of fish for the week/next four months. But before I go on my merry way and try to publish this thing (which probably won’t be as easy as I hope it will), there is something I should direct your attention to. I tried finding it on YouTube, but for some reason it’s not there, and the site it’s on won’t allow me to embed it here, so I’ll just have to link it the old fashioned way. I’m sure it’s meant to be funny, but maybe not in the way it actually is. And somehow, it must have been officially sanctioned by The Company, given the environments in the video. But no, you don't have enough spare time to waste by watching this.

Beverage of the Week #12
Name: Café Use blend coffee
Catchphrase: "It’s coffee"
Price/volume: 430 yen for like 150ml
Place/time of purchase: Café Use (well duh), Shimo-Kitazawa, 16:02
Particular Point of Interest: The first café in all Japan I’ve been to that makes a point of not putting sugar or milk in the coffee. Also the first café in all Japan I’ve been to that plays music with the main lyrichs are “Sugar in my coffee”. Depending on who you ask, this could teach Alanis Morisette a thing or two about irony.
Taste: Like I could actually get used to drink coffee if it tasted like this.

Overall score (package/taste): 6/A

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Tomato

Sure I'm a week late. Or am I? Maybe you were just a week early? (And it turns out that, no, you're not, and yes, I am)

In other news, I know this girl. This may come as a shock to those of you who actually know me, but it's true. What's so special about this girl that she deserves being mentioned here? Well, she owns a book about avocados. And one about tomatoes. This, to me, is absolutely gorgeous. It gets better. For you see, this weekend, I went with her to Odaiba. For those of you not in the know, allow me to inform you that not only does Odaiba host one of metropolitan Tokyo's two beaches (swimming not recommended, according to Wikipedia, so I've never tried it) and a replica of the Statue of Liberty, it also contains a Toyota showcase. Where there's a car that looks like a big tomato. With several small tomato-touches to increase the level of tomato-ness.

Sadly, it doesn't run on Bloody Marys. Apparently

Of course, the tomato-loving girl in question was overjoyed at the sight of this thing, and it's not hard to understand why. I mean, I eat a tomato every morning (as well as other things, preferably on bread) but without being a complete tomato lunatic, I could see it's appeal here in the land of, well, lets just say Japan and leave the rest up to your imagination.

Now I'm sure you think I'm going to spend this entire post blabbering on about tomatoes. Nothing could be further from the truth! I shall, instead, blabber on about other things. Like global warming, and - in an increasingly rare moment of actual segueing - cars/commuting. From the last post! For you see, there are a few reasons why I don't own a car, despite quite often ending up in really-really-wanna-buy-ville, population one. I'd like to say the main one is global warming, but of course it isn't. Not really. It's more the combination that getting a parking lot here would add US$200/month to my rent. And that gas is hitting US$1.60/liter (yeah, that tops six bucks a gallon), meaning I could get a car, but then I'd actually have to live in is as well. Have you any idea how hard it is to cook spaghetti in the back of a Prius? Thought so. Anyway, the other reason is that there are trains here, and trains that work well, run on time, that whole thing. Sure, they're overcrowded and full of ads, but that applies to the roads as well. Enter pet peeve #1783: The rolling advertising trucks clogging up downtown Shinjuku/Shibuya on any given weekend.

Like advertising trucks in the night

Now I can accept that a certain amount of physical distribution needs to go by truck, or at least need to go by truck if I'm too cheap to pay for somebody to ride a bike and get it for me from the port of Yokohama and too lazy to do it myself. But having these - by Japanese truck-standards - massive things cruising around making a nuisance of themselves for no other reason than "we want to sell ice cream using pictures of scantily clad ladies, but billboards cost too much" or "we want to sell whatever that second truck is selling using a picture of a fairly well-dressed smiling guy, but billboards cost too much" just irks me, for some reason. I'll just go ahead and lie down for a while.

That's better. Before I head off into the sunset, allow me to present you with this: It's a picture from Odaiba, which has in no way been altered by in-camera or in-Photoshop filters. Or any other such digital trickery! It just reminds me of a simpler GameBoy era, when everything was either green or grey. Or maybe, maaybe, black and white as well.

Fuji Television

And now: The beverage of the week!

Beverage of the Week #11
Name: Fanta Furufuru Shaker
Catchphrase: "Will you carbonate? You know, Jell-O? Will you? Really?"
Price/volume: 120 yen for 190ml
Place/time of purchase: Unknown, it was a gift
Particular Point of Interest: It's carbonated orange Fanta. So far so good. But it's also Jell-O. So you have to shake the can "at least ten times" before opening. Then you can suck down gelatinous chunks of... something, to your hearts content. At least if it's content with 190ml. Which, and I speak from experience here, it will be.
Taste: Like the illegitimate child of orange Fanta and, well, Jell-O. Not too bad, actually.

Overall score (package/taste): 6/B+

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Commute

I know it's not Sunday. Even in Hawaii.

You may feel the need to vent this frustration on someone. Or something. I suggest the morning commute. Ok, so maybe it's not solely responsible for me being three days late with the post, but it plays a large part.

For you see, as with most things, the Japanese like to go big with their commuting. Lots of trains, lots of stations, and above all, lots of people using lots of trains to go to lots of stations. In theory, this is all very well and good. I mean, if you've got all these trains and all these stations, it would be a shame if nobody used them, right? But this beautiful theory has a fatal flaw. All of the lots of people want to go use not lots of trains to go to lots of stations; they all want to use the same train to go to the same station. At the same time. More importantly, at the same time as you.

For the commutationally impaired masses living outside Tokyo, but for some reason still earn their daily croissandwhich in said metropolis, this is (probably) a problem. Me, I commute in the other direction, so I get to sit (sit, I tell you!) and smirk at "the other people" feeling justly superior in my choice of domicile. However. Upon changing jobs, it has become necessary to sometimes go in the opposite direction some mornings, crossing through downtown Tokyo and come out the other side, if you will. This is painful. How painful? Allow me to demonstrate:

The train.

Now I forgive you for thinking "Hey, that doesn't look too bad. It's just a lot of people on a platform, waiting for the next train." Have a closer look. At the doors. They are in a state of semi-openness, not because of my superhuman photographic timing skillz (although superhuman they may be!), but because there is not a single square inch of free space inside the train, and some people just can't live with waiting for the next one, so they squeeze in anyway, prompting the men in white gloves (not the ones with white coats, but close) to with all their might forcibly push the extruding salary man flabbyness (or, in my case, just general flabbyness, I guess?) into the train. And then they try to close the doors, the above is an example where someone is still in the way.

The funny thing? This behavior is what keeps the universe from imploding. For you see, if that final salary man had not tried to mutilate your groin with his shapely attaché case, he would have had to wait for the next train. And setting aside all the micro- and macroeconomic consequences that would have, it would mean one more person trying to get on the the next train. Which is gonna be pretty f-ing full as it stands. So we're all saving the world in three easy steps.

It's a good thing the powers that be have spotted this problem and are now doing everything in their power to alleviate the sitation. The first logical step, introduction of a new SuperHero!

Hey kids, it's Mr. Business!

The final thing that causes my life to be slightly less than 100% perfect? Going shopping on the other side of tracks as everybody's coming home at night. This means you have to face the human tide, equipped only with an (admittedly gorgeous) SAAB-bike. While going shopping back home used to be a physical challenge due to various hills, inclines or whatever you call them, doing it here is a mental one; try to get back before going insane from internalizing the anger at all these people going in the opposite direction, keeping you from your goal. Really, what is the problem with some people?

And now, a Tiny Sniper Special Event! I sure didn't think we'd ever reach this stage, but here we are. History in the making. Standing on the shoulder of giants, or whatever. The 10th Beverage of the Week!

And no, I'm not telling how you can get ten beverages of the week to take seven months.

Beverage of the Week #10
Name: Kinokuniya Omo
Catchphrase: "No way did we just put tap water in here!"
Price/volume: 120 yen for 350ml
Place/time of purchase: Aoyama 1-chome station/12:50
Particular Point of Interest: Kinokuniya is mainly a bookshop. Very good selection, I especially recommend their 6th floor.
Taste: It's water. Sold at a ridiculous price to people who really should know better. Tastes like, well uhm, water. Reminds me of my history teacher telling me we drink the same water that the dinosaurs pee-peed.

Overall score (package/taste): 4/B-

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Concept

It's not every week that you buy a new umbrella.

There have been two main events with which I wish to regale you this week. T-shirt shopping and breakfast with the prime minister of Sweden. In that order, though sadly otherwise without any relation to each other.

The first, and thus most important(?) - T-shirts! Finally, we are in that time of year when people realize that all their short-sleeve garments are soo 2007, and go out and buy new ones. Now I'm not one to care about other people, but it does mean that various stores try to profit from this. Now I'm not one to care about profit (or, indeed, "various stores"), but it does mean that they bring out new t-shirts for me to drool over. And then hand wash 30C, no tumble dry.

Now that I've (hopefully) got you thinking t-shirts, I've probably got you thinking Harajuku, fashion capital (well, one of them, anyway) of Tokyo. Either that, or you're thinking 990-yen cheap-ass white-tees from Uniqlo. If you are, however, combining these concepts, you are the winner of our little quiz.

Behold, the future of t-shirt shopping!

Or, indeed, the future of shopping, in general. See, a little less than a year ago, Uniqlo introduced this "concept store" (which is marketing-ese for "it's a really cool idea that's gonna cost a f-ton of money and will never ever make any noticeable ROI, but we see it as a tax-deductible brand-capital investment") where - and here's the kicker - all the clothes are t-shirts! Wait, that's not it... Where all the clothes are stuffed in plastic cylinders! Except for the jeans, that would just be silly.

Yes, when purchasing a t-shirt here, it's like you've traveled back to a vaguely 60's inspired retro-futuristic vision of "how people will consume goods in the 00's". Pretty cool stuff, then! I loves me some of that retro-futurism, big time!

Behold, the close-up of the future of t-shirt shopping!

It is at this point that I'd like to make a segue into the breakfast meeting, but regardless of how "with it" I am (enough with the retro-futurism, already! And that doesn't even make sense!), I did not head off to meet prime minister Reinfeldt wearing a t-shirt from the Uniqlo store in Harajuku. I did it in a plain white one from a Uniqlo, bought for song in Nagoya back in 2005. Good stuff. I also wore a shirt (and suit, underwear, etc; I even brought an umbrella!), but that's beside the point. The point(s), then:

1) I got to cross off another prime minister from the Grand List. Not like I spent hours one-on-one with him discussing how to tackle global warming (or how I opened the door in the face of his predecessor, and almost went to jail, as previously reported), or anything, but I still feel it counts as an achievement. Did I mention I wore a suit?

2) I learned that had he not gone into politics, he could so have ridden the Seinfeld wave in the 90's and gone into stand-up. He was genuinely funny at one point, and that was something I didn't expect.

Beverage of the Week #9
Name: Ribbon Citron
Catchphrase: "Ribbon City, population: Flavor"
Price/volume: 120 yen for 300ml
Place/time of purchase: Ebisu station/16:11
Particular Point of Interest: I wonder if that little red kid on the bottle has a name.
Taste: Like every other "cider" (lemonade?) in Japan. With a faint, but noticeable twist of lemon.

Overall score (package/taste): 7/D

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Rain

I always thought that finding the work/life balance just meant working as little as possible to maintain the fun parts of life. Until I got this gig.

If you do a Google search (and who doesn't, really?) for why we talk about the weather you get around six million hits. Ok, sure, if you're all smart and use quotation marks to weed out undesirables, you get 577. But that's still a lot! So I thought I'd add one more (?).

See, it's been raining this past week. This is... not the way it's supposed to be at times other than that lovely rain month that is June/July. And while I am generally a fan of rain, it's a sort of passive fandom. I suppose it's like being audited for tax evasion, I wholeheartedly agree that it should be done, just not to me (and no, I've never missed the filing date for my Form K4, thank you).

The good things about rain even when it's really cold and happening as you are outside are:

1) You get to play the power version of SalaryMan Bingo. For those of you joining us for the home game, this is a powered up version of SalaryMan Bingo. I guess the name kinda gives that away. Anyway, SMB - the kidz love to reuse their old acronyms - basically involves getting on a train at non-peak-rush hour, and guessing at which stop the two SalaryMan (looks like a superhero name, but yes, that's still the correct plural) sitting across from you discussing how easy it is to find the warp zone in the old SMB are going to depart the train. A seasoned Marunouchi-line traveller always bets on Kasumigaseki. But yes, the power version is basically the same, only this time, you get to take into account the extraordinarily mundane umbrellas they carry, to match their very likely far too expensive suits.

(incidentally, I had a Hillbilly moment this week when I told a colleague I had to get my suit dry cleaned for an event next week. So what if I only have one!)

2) You get to pass Chiyoda sushi, and have what the internet of five years ago would have called a Lost in Translation moment. Maybe it was the rain. Maybe it was my pronunciation. Maybe the clerk was hearing-impaired. Either way, when you have chosen your take-out sushi for the night, she asks "Chopsticks and soy sauce?" requiring input on if you have said articles at home, or would like some of theirs to bring with you. Being the proud owner of a pair of "Man Chopsticks" (I kid you not), and also being generally cheap, I ask for "only soy sauce, please". Having made a choice of three fine dishes I expected to be granted the standard three small packets. And I was. And then I was granted 20 more. I have no idea why, but I imagine it was because it was raining.

Another example of West Shinjuku trying to be like London. Wait, what was this post about again?

3) I can't really think of anything else, but in order to make a list, you really need three things, so here we are.

That's pretty much it, I guess. Short and sweet, just the way I like it. Be sure to tune in next week when I will have had my suit dry cleaned and had breakfast with the prime minister. 'Tis the truth, I tell you!

Beverage of the Week #8

Name: Kirin Nuda
Catchphrase: "No added sugar, no fruit juice" (then what the h*** is in there, really?)
Price/volume: 150 yen for 350ml
Place/time of purchase: Circle K /21:31
Particular Point of Interest: Looks invitingly like cheap sparkling wine, with a name to match.
Taste: You'd think a drink named something which is almost "nude" would be too good to be true. In reality, it's just not too good.

Overall score (package/taste): 6/F

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Job

Too good to be true.

To most people, working seven days in a row seems a bit much. Not cripplingly so, just a bit more than you'd really like, the same as when the guy comes in and tells you that you can get a free refill of Kimuchi with your Bibinba. No, I did not make either of those up. But yes, I'm on something of a Korean kick at the moment, at least a culinary one.

The reason for this "working week" is, as you are no doubt aware (surely!), that I have a new job. At my old job. Which is kinda cool. Or actually really cool, but I'm not sure I'm able to judge that after only having worked there for four days so I'll just drop it. For now. You have been warned. Instead, I give you this:

The Sakura goodness.

This, as they say, is Sakura. You may know it from how it seems to make every foreigner in Japan take random pictures of trees every spring. But you see now, in the words of Murray Walker, "they think it's all over, and it is." Because today is the second day of summer. Logically enough, the first day of summer arrived yesterday, what with yesterday being the first day that I spent outside that didn't necessitate wearing a sweater. Or a wool overcoat, for that matter. If it's almost twenty degrees at the start of April, you can imagine what it's gonna be like here by... mid-April?

This next picture is just here 'cause it looks freakishly similar in composition to the one above, but instead of trees, it prominently features various electrical cables. How very post-industrial of me! In the future, there will be no room for trees, due to all the wiring. And such.

A not uncommon sight. In the FUTURE.


Now, though, I'd like to talk to you about advertising. Sadly, it is not that this blog has been purchased by what is basically a giant grocer, but rather since I'm now at least partially into that most definitely evil field of work, I feel it is important to update the people around me on how they do things here. For today's presentation, I shall use two examples, one image, and zero added sugar.

First. When I went to the movies a while back with my good friend Tomo (As I've stated elsewhere on the internet, "there's a delicious pun in there somewhere, but not good enough to learn Japanese for"), I bought a drink. A soft drink, quite naturally, as I prefer to keep the hard liquor out of the theater. Now this soft drink, which shall remain unnamed (except to say that it was Coke - not New Coke, not Classic Coke, not C2, just plain Coke) came in a very handy cup, in order for me to be able to imbibe it when I saw fit, and not having to bring the entire Coke-machine into the place with me. However! The cup came with a lid. The lid came with a tiny-@$$ CD squeezed in there, complete with flash-ads for the cinema I was currently visiting, as well as ladies underwear. A fine combination. It is, and I quote "turning the lid into the perfect marketing tool." Another possible slogan might be: "LidRock® - It's no wonder we still haven't cured cancer."

Second. LidRock is all well and good, but you have to first realize there's a tiny CD there, then actually be dumb enough to bring the thing home with you and play it in your CD-ROM-drive (whatever happened to those things, anyway?) of choice. A far simpler solution would be be to have your prospective target register his/her commuter card (Suica) in advance, and then, when he or she sees an ad poster on a train that features something he or she would like to know more about, he or she can just hold up his/her commuter card (Suica) to the poster, which reads the card, consults the database for the registered email address associated with said card, and sends you an email about the product. Or you could just, you know, access the website. It's probably not that hard.

Suica registration is a beautiful thing.

And that was supposed to be it. But as I wrote that, the little ticker-thing I have at the bottom of the screen informed me that a US man just got 2.6M$ for the domain name It all feels very late-nineties, somehow.

Tune in next week as I will have worked all week! Again!

Beverage of the Week #7
Name: Pocket Juicer Stand Kiwi Smooie
Catchphrase: "As if you still don't have enough crap in your pockets"
Price/volume: 120 yen for 300ml
Place/time of purchase: Heiwa Park /15:00
Particular Point of Interest: The second in a series of two exclusive PJS-tests
Taste: If you really want that much kiwi, you should probably consider buying one. And possibly moving to New Zealand.

Overall score (not an average): 7/D

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Wait

It has been brought to my attention that a great deal of my posts start with the word "so".

In order to justify the fact that this post is tagged with "toilet cleaner, F1, exhibitionisms", I shall proceed to proclaim the following: I went to baseball. On a Wednesday.

For you see, it is not every day that the World Champion Boston Red Sox - and yes, that little bit of extra arrogance still bothers me, despite it probably being true - face off with the Oakland Athletics (which, by the way, is the far superior name for a baseball franchise). Ok, maybe it actually is every day, I don't know. But apparently the A's are moving to some place called Fremont, prompting affluent white young Bay Area Volvo-owning Americans to protest.

But that's not the point. Either. The point is that it was all on in Tokyo dome, filled with 55296 random people, and three guys I know from work. Upon arrival, half an hour before the opening toss, you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd walked in on NHK filming a special... I don't know, I honestly have no idea why you'd fill the entire infield with people doing their very best to convince the world they live and die by Bushido.

In the words of the entire internet, formal attire ftw wtf!

But all was not lost, or won, for that matter. There was still the little matter of watching the game. You'd think paying a quintuple digit amount of any actually existing currency for a seat would pretty much guarantee interest enough to pay attention, but no. It just guarantees that you have enough cash to buy the ticket so that you can proceed to watch the game. On your phone.

Sorry 'bout the flash there, buddy

I can understand how when - watch me name-drop corners from the Suzuka Circuit - sitting in the Spoon curve you might want to keep appraised of lap times and leader boards by, say, bringing along a tv and a frikkin' satellite dish. But at a baseball game? Where the action's always right in front of you and the scoreboard is right there? You might think it was for the color commentary, but the guy's not even bothered to produce his ridiculously tiny headphones. And no, that screen is so small that it sure ain't to watch the close-ups.

Sanctioned usage of television at sporting event

Now, though, there is but one thing left to do. And that is to say I went to Ikebukuro prior to the game. Once upon a time, I was there quite often, having to do with me living a mere hour and seventeen minute bike-ride away. Lately, though, living not-there has changed my Ikebukuro habits to the extent that I only ever go there to catch the night bus. Which, lemme tell ya, ain't that often, see? But this time, it was not for the bus. Nor for the sushi. Although that was good too. Hell, it wasn't even for the Bic Camera, despite the very convenient bathrooms. No siree, it was for Café Pause.

Which is a great name for a Café. Given the chance to get side-tracked, I'll jump at it with the strength of ten men and the sleepiness of a koala bear. For you see, it is not only in Sweden that hair dressers have "funny" or "funny" names:

I'm not sure this is a good thing

Anyway, back to Café Pause - and watch as I stick to just one subject all the way down to the rest of the post! There is currently an exhibition there. It's actually running for another week, so you still have time to make the money for the ticket, pay the fare, and go. Kinda. If you like ok latte and pretty pictures, it's definitely worth the trip. I went for the pictures, but I ended up staying for, well, for the pictures. It was really uplifting to see something genuinely beautiful, and genuinely depressing to come to the understanding that some people just see things in this world that I don't. And genuinely uplifting that those people are nice enough to show it to me. And I'll stop now.

Beverage of the Week #6
Name: Pocket Juicer Stand White Natadekoko
Catchphrase: "As if you don't have enough crap in your pockets already"
Price/volume: 120 yen for 300ml
Place/time of purchase: Heiwa Park /14:59
Particular Point of Interest: The first in a series of two exclusive PJS-tests
Taste: The first comment upon drinking this was, and I quote "why did they mix these white cubes of coconut with toilet cleaner? And why did I then proceed to purchase it?!"

Overall score (not an average): 7/F-

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Addiction

There's no way this can be healthy.

For the second time in what mere mortals refer to as a week, I have returned to the internets! But the last post was kinda different, so lets not count that one, and just get on with it. The reason for the getting on with it is that I've got a job!

Ok, before you go all nit-picky and try claiming that that's been true for all of the mighty fourteen months since I left the cradled world of university life, let me expand by introducing a modifier. I've got a new job! For those of you noble enough to have read the comments on the last post, I hinted at this opportunity there, and it has since come to fruition. In what's probably the fastest turn of events ever, I applied on Monday, got the call to come to an interview on Wednesday, had the interview on Thursday, and got the news I'd passed on Friday. In retrospect, Tuesday was quite uneventful.

So now that we've taken care of the important things, let's get down to what really matters, which in this case would be me detailing how wonderfully strange life in Japan is, and how small the world the world can be sometimes.

Exhibit A) In many cities, especially the ultra-urbanized city-centers, the issue of graffiti is one that has caused many a mayor sleepless nights. Whatever the basis or rationale for it, it is a fact of life in many cities. This is the part where I tell you about how ridiculously clean and efficient Japan is, because they've... abolished spray paint? Sadly however, this is not the case. I present you with the following evidence that in their heart of hearts, Japanese kids also just ache to take to the streets, chanting "Vi vill ha en lokal". (And yes, you are certainly entitled to ask what's the point of this thing being in English if I insist on making Swedish in-jokes all the time)

Ok, it's a crappy hard-to-read shot, but look close enough and I hope you'll agree Japanese graffiti lacks the punch of its American or even Swedish counterparts

Exhibit B) The other day, on one of my travels, I came across the following, which basically informs people that at this particular Pachinko establishment, patrons are not allowed to automize the process of losing all their money by fixing the handle in place.

Lots of Japanese squiggles, and a big STOP, basically

Update! Upon consulting my knee-deep-in-Pachinko mafia connections, it turns out that if you manage to fix the handle in the exact right place, you can just keep feeding the machine quarters or balls or squirrels (or whatever it is you feed it) and keep winning, well quarters or balls or squirrels, basically. Serves me right for only having played once (borrowing 500 yen and turning it into 5000 in five minutes is still my prime - and, sadly only - gambling achievement).

Exhibit C) Bet you were expecting me to change it up with a humorous "Exhibit 3" instead, huh? No dice, continuity cops! Instead, before the Beverage of the Week makes its celebrated return, I shall offer you this: It's the first ever - surely! - Japanese sighting of what nine million people know and cherish as Lösgodis, something which is best - though certainly not most accurately - translated as "loose candy" with a definite promiscuous air about it. The sighting took place in Roppongi (where else, really?), and upon reading the fine print, you'll see that getting 200g of the stuff (normally the prescribed amount for going to a non-romantic movie) will set you back 630 yen. Which is more than six $US. Which back in 1961 would have netted you 2437 yen. Which today... Yeah, I kinda lost me too.

(Not) Only in Japan, kids

So yeah, there you have it! And now, for the moment you've all been waiting for: A tirade about Copenhagen Airport. No, not the actual facility itself, but the album it's spawned. Normally, I'd think it was funny enough to have come across a find such as this at my local Tsutaya (think Blockbuster if your American, Patriks Video if you're not), but it doesn't end there, oh no! For you see, upon consulting the track list, one notices that there are several tracks there by a band called Physics. Which is all very well and fine, until - dadadaduuuum - you realize that that's the same Physics that my first Swedish Japanese teacher (hah!) played in. And probably still does, for all I know. So this means one of two things:

1) Either they've really made it big, are already famous from Tirana to Tashkent, and I'm just late to join the party (surely impossible!). OR

2) The world is really, really small. Which is kinda the point I'd like to make, so bear with me. First of all, the series of events that conspired to me living in Tokyokohama in the first place are kind of what the 80's kidz would call "whack". No less "whack" are those that conspired to have me walk in to Tsutaya with enough time on my hands to check not only movies, but also music. Not to mention those that had me find a two year-old album partly by a band my old teacher belongs/ed to, named after the airport that almost always takes me home and back. That's just freaky.

And now, your international moment of Beverage:

Beverage of the Week #5
Name: Hukkokudo Cream Cider
Catchphrase: "Add vanilla to your carbonated cream"
Price/volume: 120 yen for 300ml
Place/time of purchase: Heiwa Park /14:58
Particular Point of Interest: Something must have made me try it?
Taste: Carbonated cream is the next New Coke

Overall score (not an average): 7/D