June 2002 Archives

Countdown

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Shortly after Tod & I arrived in Japan, we saw a big billboard with a digital display counting down the number of days remaining until the 2002 World Cup. It was a lot of days in the future, why should anyone care?

In Shibuya this week, I noted a sign counting down the days to the 2005 World Exposition in Aichi Prefecture. It's 1000 days from now. So what? When it rolls around, will we head out to Aichi to see it? Will we be caught up in the excitement of a big, international event in our backyard?

I'm not sure. But I've got to go prepare snacks now. The World Cup final kicks off in a little while.

Taxi phobia

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I have a phobia about taxis. Not being terribly fond of cars in general, I don't like trusting a stranger to drive me around town.

Maybe you can imagine how I was feeling when I was deposited at Ikebukuro at 1:15 am on the last train around the Yamanote line. I had a difficult decision: walk for an hour to get home along a route that's not too familiar to me, or hop into a taxi and be home in 10 minutes. I chose quick petrification over lengthy hiking.

Lots of other people wanted taxis, too, so it was about 20 minutes before I managed to flag one down. Thankfully, my driver was skilled and we even conversed in Japanese about the crowds after the last train, the weather, and my occupation.

I felt triumphant when I arrived home. I still hate taxis, but every positive experience makes the phobia a little less difficult.

Brand name fever

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I've never been sure whether to believe the idea that Japanese are excessively fond of brand names. None of the Japanese women I know display flashy, expensive belongings that are outside their means. If they have them, they don't flaunt them. Since showing off is the main purpose of brand name goods, I think they don't have them.

On the other hand, there was a two-hour long line to get into the "super brand discount fair." Once inside, shoppers made a beeline for the booth that was selling expensive handbags. Here they are, crammed in ranks against a counter, looking at wallets under glass and the bags on display behind the counter. Even in discount stores, items as lowly as house slippers have "brand names" emblazoned on them--Lewis Vittal, Polo Pony, and other copycats.

I don't like perpetuating myths, but maybe brand name fever is truth.

No more loanwords

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The education ministry is setting up a committee "to propose ways to prevent too many imported words from entering the Japanese language."

Spoken Japanese is a mishmash of Japanese and 'loan words' from English, French, German, Dutch & other languages. Rendered in katakana, often both the pronunciation and the meaning change from the original.

Are loan words necessary? There are plenty of Japanese words that are being forced out of service in favor of 'cooler' loan words. In those cases, loan words aren't necessary and only confuse things. But some words, such as computer terms, are new in every language. Why not use a common jargon in those cases?

The French have been fighting this same losing battle for decades. Maybe the education ministry should go have a chat with the people who tried to ban "le weekend."

Take that, smokers

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Japan is one of the most smoker-friendly places I've ever lived. So many people smoke here I forget sometimes what it's like to breathe non-smoky air. But one of Tokyo's wards just passed a new ordinance against smokers--the first one of its kind in the country.

As of October 1, Chiyoda-ku is banning smoking outdoors in busy places, like outside Akihabara and Ochanomizu stations. There will be a 20,000 yen fine for smoking in those areas. I don't know if the idea is to clean the air or minimize the litter of cigarette butts, but either way, it will make Chiyoda-ku a nicer place to be.

Chiyoda, Yes we love!

Move or quit?

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If presented with a dilemma--follow your job to Singapore or become unemployed in Japan--what would you choose?

We've decided on unemployment. In about 30 days, the door closes on the current chapter of Tod's wage earning. It's a little bit scary, but it presents a million possibilities for new directions and challenges so it's exciting, too.

In the past, we've leapfrogged over one another when we change jobs. So I guess it's my turn to go earn bread! Anyone interested in hiring a writer/filmmaker, please e-mail me. :-)

With Africa Against povery

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A couple of weeks ago, I accepted a pro bono job to make a virtual banner to accompany the "With Africa Against Poverty" campaign that the United Nations Development Programme is running.

All of the footballers in Africa (along with some FIFA executives and the heads of several African nations) signed a huge, 7 meter long banner in support of increased aid to the poor in Africa. The banner is now on display in downtown Tokyo outside Nakata.net Cafe for the duration of the World Cup and will be shipped to UN headquarters later this year.

Late Night Delinquency

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Middle of the Night Delinquency

"I am seriously wigged out," Tod wrote to a friend on IRC at 3:20 this morning."Kristen and her friend MJ went out to the convenience store about an hour and 20 minutes ago (it is a 5 minute walk) and they are not back yet. There is no sign of them anywhere. I went to the convenience store and asked if they had been there...the guy remembered seeing them but offered no clues.They were just going for some cigarettes and breakfast foods. They were wearing their pajamas! They decided to go on a 'pajama run' to get smokes for MJ."

We did go to the conbini in our PJs and planned to come right home, but the all-night billiards hall beckoned. We played five games (MJ won all but one) and before we realised it, the sun was rising to the sound of birdsong. Poor Tod was home fretting about where we could have gone in our pajamas.

"I could imagine them going to an all-night ramen place or something under normal circumstances... but not in pajamas. Most places around here are closed at this hour. The pajama run was a 'well come on with me before you go to sleep' kind of thing but maybe they figured I would be asleep and not worry about them. MJ is kind of a wild child, brings our Kristen's party side."

I was very contrite when we returned and found Tod still awake and so worried. He & MJ had egg on toast then I fell asleep and MJ went home. A silly drama with a happy ending.

World Cup view

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This was my view of last night's exciting US-Germany game. Although the US lost, they played well. One shot on goal really might have been a goal, but it was ruled not. Even in the instant replays, it was hard to tell if it went in or not. Half the US team got yellow-carded for fouls. The Germans were tough and they won the match, but I think the US played better.

Tod called me from Korea to say he'd arrived safely and was watching the England-Brazil game at an Irish pub called "O'Kim's" before the evening's match but I didn't see him on TV later that night. I watched all the crowd shots carefully, but the cameramen seemed to like the scantily clad women and fans with full-face paint. I guess Tod's pedestrian American flag just wasn't worthy. I hope he had a good time.

Marunouchi beauty

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The Marunouchi line is a subway, but it peeks above ground several times along its route. Here is a view of the track between Ochanomizu and Awajicho where the train crosses a bridge over the Kanda River.

I love this tiny section of track. It takes about five seconds to traverse it, but the view is beautiful and on a sunny day, the sudden switch from darkness to light and back again is refreshing.

WC ticket, 1

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My lucky husband got a ticket to tomorrow's US-Germany World Cup game in Ulsan, Korea. What a great chance! He's got a full day ahead of him with two flights, a reservation for a seat at a pub to watch the afternoon's game (England-Brazil) being played in Japan, then a taxi to the stadium for the match.

I'll be watching on TV, hoping to see his face in the crowd. Tune in at 20:30 JST and see if you can find him. :-)

World Cup quarterfinals

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Well, the World Cup is quickly drawing to a conclusion. After a flurry of qualification games, the "round of sixteen is over and we're down to eight games remaining. I'm surprised at how much I've been paying attention. It's sort of fun, even if I don't understand the esoteric rules of big-league soccer.

The quarterfinals begin on Friday. Japan is out after losing yesterday 0-1 to Turkey. Although they lost, Japan should be proud that they made it so far; they've never been out of the qualifying rounds before. Yeah, Japan!

Korea won over Italy in double overtime 2-1 last night. It was an upset and the Italians looked so disappointed. But the Korean team was jubilant. How well will they stand up against Spain in the quarterfinals? I guess we'll have to wait until Saturday to see.

Incidental music

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Japan is full of incidental music. Train stations on the Yamanote line have signature tunes, busy crosswalks play music, and all around the city at 5 o'clock, songs play on the public address system. I phoned the ward office to find out the name of the tune that's played in our neighborhood.

Mariko Harada was only slightly taken aback by my strange question. She asked what park I lived near and promisd to check and call back. A few minutes later, I had an answer. Our park plays Yuuyake Koyake, a folksong about the evening sunset.

50 man parade

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50 men parading a mikoshi through Ginza.

Soba gluttony

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Gluttony isn't so bad when it's all based on soba.

We tried a restaurant in Asagaya last night on the recommendaiton of a friend. We splurged on the 4,000 yen "all soba" course and were presented with eight courses, all involving buckwheat. Everything was astonishingly good and as each course arrived we declared it better than the last.

Three dishes really stood out. Soba miso is a unique presentation of soba grains mixed with salty-sweet miso paste, spread on a small wooden paddle and lightly grilled. It was accompanied by translucent slices of daikon and cucumber. We scraped bits of the miso off the paddles and wrapped a slice of daikon around it. Mmmmm.

Soba tofu squares were topped with grated cucumber. The taste was very rich and earthy and the texture a little bit firmer than soy-based tofu-- the wheat gluten was well developed and heading towards gummy. It was a simple, subtle and surprisingly filling dish.

My favorite was soba sashimi. There was no fish involved at all. Instead, it was triangular sheets of soba noodles served cold with a pile of shaved gobo (burdock root) and wakame (a sea vegetable). The dipping sauce was soy and wasabi and there was a sweet soy sauce as well.

If you want to go, the restaurant is tucked behind the Suginami City office at Minami-Asagaya 1-15-18.

Bunkyo-ku merchants

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Bunkyo-ku merchants have banded together to create a point card system. Pink banners with cartoon figures of bees declare "I (heart) Bunkyoker" let you know which shops give points.

Last night, I filled up my first card. As a reward for spending 35,000 yen at the ward's independent stores, I get 500 yen off an upcoming purchase. It's not much of a prize really, but it's nice to get to know the local shopkeepers.

It took me 20 weeks to fill the card; that means I should see my next one filled in early October.

Zousan.com wins

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I can't decide whether I'm thrilled or humiliated.

In the past 13 days, the Zous website has had 824 visits. Mine got only 166.That explains the possible humiliation.

On the other hand, I'm excited because zousan.com was mentioned on KininaruWeb, a Japanese site that shares links to interesting sites. The comment that accompanied the link was "No deep meaning, but very cute." That garnered about 250 hits.

I'm puzzled about where the other 550 visitors came from. I've got maybe 100 steady readers here, and I doubt you've visited the site five times each! The mystery may be solved over time because we're tracking the referring URL in our logs as of yesterday.

Construction flagmen

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What on earth are these construction workers doing? They are taping a battery powered, blinking light stick to the hand of their colleague--the mechanical flagman whose head and helmet are visible in the upper right corner of the frame. I guess his must have burned out; he's not really able to just grab himself a new one.

Mechanical flagmen are pretty common, but they don't seem to take jobs from the human ones. Walking through this construction zone near Roppongi last night, there were six men pointing the way along the already well marked paths around the site.

The flesh-and-blood flagmen bow and ask you to be careful as you walk. They apologise for the inconvenience they're causing. Quite a contrast from the wolf whistles you'd get in the States...

Otama-jakushi

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otama-jakushi is the Japanese word for tadpole. We've been watching these grow in the Tokyo War Memorial Park near Korakuen station. Their heads are bulging out now and if you look carefully, you can see the budding legs (not in this photo, though, sorry!).

The park was also the site of my first dragonfly (tanbo)sighting of the season, across the tiled plaza hovering near another manmade pond.

I cling to the small wonders of nature in my overly paved environment.

23:56 on Kasuga Dori

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23:56 on the way home from a meeting and dinner.

Kasuga Dori, the main street through our section of town, is lined with glowing red cones. They have been doing improvements to the undergrown conduits for over two years.

The end is in sight. Last night, they were snaking pedestrian traffic through corridors of cones and barriers so that the workers could lay bricks into the sidewalk. When they are finished and the trees are replanted, the area will be transformed.

But it looks so pretty at night. I think I'll miss it.

Zousan.com

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The Zous are very excited. Their domain, zousan.com, went live yesterday. They have photos, personal favorites, and even a song. They are already considering upgrades, like a weblog and a guest book.

They keep looking at the webstats to see if anyone has visited it, so if you have a minute, take a look and make them happy.

Sunny backdrop

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What a beautiful day. It's sunny, warm and not too humid. The perfect backdrop for a do-nothing Sunday. I've been reading, napping, and watching movies. I think I'll go for a walk soon and pick up some veggies to grill tonight.

Outdoor furniture

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Yesterday's task: build a container for the grill accessories. There's nothing worse than a soggy cardboard box full of charcoal and tools scattered all over the veranda.

I designed and built a simple table with a shelf and a door panel that's hinged along the bottom. The charcoal, blowtorch and other things are hidden behind the door. The upper shelves can be used for trays of food.

Working on this brought back lots of memories of doing woodwork with my father. He had a little shop in the basement and from the time I was 12 or so, I had my own tools. We built bookshelves, mainly, and also my childhood desk which was 8 feet long and 12 feet high. My bedroom had high ceilings and an excessive quantity of books!

Un-procrastinating

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I've been on a personal crusade to take care of things that I've been putting off. I'll bet you have some of these pesky tasks on your mental "To Do" list.

So far, I've managed to accomplish several things: visiting the gynecologist and mailing Seth's VCR to Vancouver count among the prominent items crossed off the list. Yesterday I came a big step closer to "get more exercise."

There is a jazz dance studio about a block from my house. I noticed their sign the other day, but didn't have time to read it to see if they teach adults. When I went back with more time, the studio was closed and the sign wasn't out. But last night it was out and it said they do teach adults. In fact, they welcomed visitors into the studio. Of course, I almost didn't go in. "Oh, I'm kinda tired. I should get home. I'll check it out another day," ran through my mind. But I screwed up my courage and resolve and went up.

I stuck my head in the door to see five women in red t-shirts and black leggings taking a break. When I appeared, they looked a bit shocked. There was a flurry of "please come in" with noises in the background about "Where's sensei?" and " Does anyone speak English?"

They offered me a chair in the corner, handed me some info on the school, and went back to practicing. I had butted into the advanced class rehearsing for their happyokai (recital). I watched in delight for about a half an hour, chatted with the teacher about beginner classes and my dance background. I'm all set to start in ten days.

The school seems very relaxed and Misae-sensei was kind and patient with my stumbling Japanese. The dancers laughed with me when I explained that I was getting fat. I love dancing, though I'm not skilled, and these classes are just what I need to get into better shape.

So here's a challenge for you. Pick something on your "I'll get around to that soon" list and do it. I can promise you that you'll feel a weight lift.

Traditional gate

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This traditional gate belongs to a private house on my street. It's usually closed but I caught it open yesterday afternoon. What a lovely landscape inside.

Someone flipped a switch

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Someone flipped a switch and turned summer on. The weather is sunny and hot during the day with just enough humidity to feel sticky. The evenings are wonderfully warm. There's no excuse not to spend lots of time outdoors.

The veranda has become our extra, outdoor room--we eat breakfast and dinner out there, carry our laptops out to work and generally spend as much time as possible there. We've got charcoal arriving on Friday, so we'll be set to grill this weekend. Soon enough it will be tsuyu and we'll be soggy with the rain.


Last night we tried a Mexican restaurant in Ochanomizu and on the way home, paused on a bridge over the Kanda River to take this photo looking towards the train station and Akihabara.

It was about 9 pm--look at all the people on the train platform! They are heading home after spending dinnertime at sports bars watching Japan's first game in the World Cup (it was a 2-2 draw against Belgium).

Tree trimming

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Tree trimming in our back yard. From forest to manicured garden in a day.

Hamster's Lunch

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Hamster's Lunch. "Seed shape rice cracker and hamster figures will provide you a enjoyable tea time."

The box also explains that there are 12 different figures and each comes with a Hamster Facts card. The rice crackers are shaped like sunflower seeds and are made of 100% mochi rice, in case you should mistakenly think they are actual sunflower seeds.

My figurine is Roborovski's Hamster. I bet he's annoyed that I ended up with it. What a silly snack.

Early summer fashion report.

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Early summer fashion report. Gleaned from the streets of Omotesando

  • The ethnic look: peasant blouses and long pairie/gypsy skirts. Next year, I expect to see a revival of "bistro print" skirts (the sort with French-looking bottles of wine and luggage labels). Why? Because that's how it went in the 80s.
  • Stripes: clean, crisp cotton (or seersucker), with evenly spaced white and blue stripes made into camp shirts and skirts.
  • White lace: white eyelet skirts, white lacy overshirts. It's everywhere. Bright and fresh now, it will be dingy in a few weeks and sadly bedragled by August.
  • Hawaiian shirts: for men only. And maybe only for large and/or middle aged men.
  • Uniforms: police, fire, and other non-military workers' uniforms (minus insignia) imported from the US and elsewhere. I've seen them on the racks, but not on people yet.
  • Skirts over pants: brightly printed cotton skirts, knee length, with slightly flared cotton trousers underneath. Retailers must love selling twice as many bottoms as tops. Girl-watchers must hate the demise of the very short skirt.
  • Accessories: wide, open-weave belts slung low over the hips. I'm not sure how the slim-hipped Japanese women keep them up, but they do look nice skimming over their ultra-flat stomachs. Not a good look on the middle aged woman I saw with hers cinched tightly around her waist.
  • Sandals this season are high-heeled & strappy, or flat with one broad strap. Fishnet stockings seem to be falling out of favor.

DE-J meeting

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I'm not sure what we were thinking, but it is not a good plan to have a meeting in a British restaurant on the opening night of the World Cup.

The DigitalEve Japan steering commitee got together last night at Pizza Express, a British pizza chain, in Harajuku. We arrived at seven and had the restaurant to ourselves for about half an hour. The staff turned on the huge TV and we watched the opening ceremonies in Korea. We all cooed over "Kimutaku," one of the aging SMAP boys who was commenting on the ceremonies and Misa taught us a new word--menkui--a woman who likes attractive men.

As we ate and chatted, the other customers poured in and soon we were surrounded by 30-something foreign men, all dressed in football jerseys. As the volume of their conversations increased, we finished up our meal and scooted out just before the France-Senegal match began.

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