Saturday, February 28, 2009


(Note this actually took place the weekend of the 14th. I'm lazy and didn't write about it until now, however I'm going to avoid retroactive posts since they probably go unnoticed)

By now I'm sure you're all wondering the same thing: How can you spend this long in Japan without taking a public bath with a bunch of Japanese men? Well, you can put your worries aside and I can check off another cultural experience.

I went to Odaiba, the man-made island in the Tokyo bay, this weekend and checked out an onsen there.

This is the view of Tokyo from Odaiba. They have a statue of liberty. I don't know why. What I do know is that the Oedo-Onsen Monogatari has an attached dog resort. You know, b/c dogs need to go to spas too.

Anyway, the sign says they prohibit heavily intoxicated people, people with tattoos and yakuza members. The drunks I can understand, but is there some threat that tattoos pose that I'm unaware of? Should I not swim around tattooed people or just not bathe with them? I also wonder how they know who yakuza members are. My understanding was that the yakuza were similar to the mob. I wouldn't have guessed they make their allegiances known. Apparently I am wrong.

Anyway, I go into the onsen, leave my shoes in a locker and get in the entry line. When you get to the front, you pay the entry fee and are given a key on a bracelet with a corresponding bar code. Any additional expenses you rack up in the onsen are just added via the barcode and you pay upon exiting.

Next stop is getting a yukata. This allows you to blend in seamlessly with all the other onsen attendees. They totally can't tell if your from Japan or not. For bonus points you can wrap it with the right side coming over the left and feel even more like an idiot in your Japanese bathrobe when you notice your the only one wearing it that way.

Anyway, once you put on the yukata in changing room number 1, you enter the onsen proper. This, as it turns out, is a giant room which feels vaguely reminiscent of a children's carnival at a church or elementary school. There are little games such darts and 'pick a floating thing out of the kiddie pool' complete with requisite crappy prizes. There are souvenir shops and food stands and a Dip 'n Dots vendor. Performers dressed in exaggerated costumes from the Edo period juggle and sing and crap. There's a guy with a beer trolley which explains how anyone could handle spending more than 5 minutes in the main onsen area.

I hadn't eaten when I came, so I ordered some udon w/ tempura. I also have some hirezake. I did not take this picture (didn't have my camera on me at the time), but this is pretty much what hirezake looks like:

It's sake with pufferfish fins floating in it. Oh, and it's served hot. Somehow the vapors coming off it seem are far worse than the drink itself and kinda burn your whole throat. Also you eat the fins. I had to see this done before I would try it. Nothing about this experience was particularly pleasant.

Fortunately, the rest of the onsen is much more pleasant than the main hall. There's an outdoor footbath area where both men and women can go. There's a winding path of ~6inches hot spring fed water with little rocks attached to the bottom. The little rocks hurt at first, but you kind of get used to it.

The footbath is free, but there are also additional amenities that you can pay for. I decided to try a sand bath. You go into a smallish builing and lay down on a blanket in some sand. You are then basically mummified and buried up to your neck with hot sand. You lay there and sweat for about 15 minutes. It's okay, I guess. Much better, however, are the Dr. Fish:

It's a small pool filled with small fish. You sit on the edge and stick your feet in the water. This will prompt the fish to swarm around your feet and eat the dead skin off of them. It tickles a lot and is kind of creepy to watch, but my feet were very smooth feeling afterward. So, if you care about things like that, or just like the idea of paying to have animals eat part of your skin, then I highly recommend the Dr. Fish.

Aside from the coed footbath area, there are seperate bath areas for men and women. You go through locker room 2, leave your yukata and enter a large room with various hot-spring filled pools. There's also an attached outdoor area with a couple more pools and a sauna. In the locker room they also provide you with razors, toothbrushes and asorted hair products. The main bath area also has small stalls with shampoo and soap where you sit on a stool and shower by pouring buckets of water on yourself. The weirdest thing is that it doesn't seem that weird when you there.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bar My Place

So, at one point I thought I would make daily entries and use this to chronicle my entire time in Japan. I see now that this was an unrealistic expectation. I am clearly too lazy to write daily. And besides, you can only be amused by the random crap you see walking to work before it just becomes part of your routine.

Fortunately, tonight I was lucky enough to be reminded once again that Tokyo is a very strange place.

The area I'm staying and working, Bunkyo-ku, is a pretty dull place. It's apparently a very nice residential area with the some of the highest land prices in all of Japan. As I've chronicles previously, nightlife in Tokyo seems to be a strange beast. In Bunkyo for example, it seems to be non-existent.

Well, tonight as I was walking home, I hear a lot of noise coming from what appears to be another small restaurant. I stop to check the sign and see that the place is called Bar My Place. Seeing as the name is in English and it's called Bar My Place, I figure there's no reason not to drop in.

I'm immediately disappointed to see that I appear to be walking in on a dinner party. Like everywhere, it's a small room with one large table (currently seating 6 or so nicely-dressed people) and a couple smaller tables. Since I've already walked in, I figure I'll at least have a beer and jot some notes for the blog. The bartender is very friendly and tells me that I'm welcome to go upstairs where it's a bit more lively. I drop off my coat and bag and follow him up the narrow stairway near the entrance.

I find myself in what looks like a band practice room that someone set up in a small apartment. There's an inflatable deer head above the door, a projector showing some movie, a few couches and a band set-up behind the movie screen. I'm greeted by Jeff, another American. He introduces me to his wife, brother-in-law and a couple other Japanese people hanging out in the apartment above the bar.

I'd finished about half a beer when they decided it was time to play some music. The screen is raised. The brother-in-law sits at the drums, other Japanese guy grabs a guitar, the two women start messing w/ the keyboard. Jeff shoves some Bongo drums in front of me and grabs a microphone. I've now joined the most surreal band of all time.

The two Japanese guys are very good musicians and, since they don't speak English, Jeff assures me they think anything you 'sing' in English sounds good. I'm a bit weirded out, but figure it's better to just go with the flow and hit the bongos.

After a bit the bartender comes up to check on us. He asks how I'm doing and indicates that everybody up here is crazy. He then sits down and picks up a bass. Another song ensues. This time the microphone is shoved in front of me near the end and I'm forced to make up random lyrics.

Not long after this, everyone has to leave to catch the last train. I'm left to finish my beer and chat w/ Kento, the bartender, a bit. Turns out he used to be high up in some company and more or less retired to run the bar. It's mostly run as a restaurant where he cooks some daily special each evening. He gave me his card and cell phone number so I can call him if I ever want a specific meal prepared.

Kento also wondered why I had stopped by. I explained that it was just b/c I walked by and heard noise. For some reason this seems to be a common theme everywhere I go. Everyone is friendly and welcoming, but no one understands why I'm there. I don't know if the Japanese just never go to new places or if I'm just wandering into very non-touristy places or what. Maybe it's just that I'm weird and drawn to the unwelcoming places that have a small sign in a dark alley. I don't know.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Golden Gai

In my ongoing quest to thoroughly embrace the Japanese culture, I chose to sacrifice my weekend and the better part of Monday in order to examine Tokyo nightlife.

So Tokyo is large, cabs are really expensive and the subway shuts down at ~midnight. This, coupled with the fact that night entertainment options vary greatly by ward, means that if you plan to go out at night, it seems you have to be willing to commit the whole night to it. I assume this is part of the reason for the capsule hotels which I fully intend to try out sometime.

Anyway, Golden Gai is a little bar district next to Shinjuku, the insane neon district. The lonely planet guide recommends checking it out even if you don't plan to drink and mentions that it's not the most tourist friendly place. Friday night as I'm leaving work around 10, I decide that I'll sacrifice the night and check it out.

I'm running a bit late and manage to catch one of the last trains to the Shinjuku area. I don't have a map, so I'm not entirely sure where I'm going. When I get to the neon lights of Shinjuku, I know I've gone to far and back track a couple blocks off the main drag. As I'm wander, I spot Bon's, a place noted in the Lonely Planet guide. I stop in.

Bon's has a 500yen cover charge. It also has about 6 people in it sitting around tables. I sit at the bar and am not impressed. 1 drink down, I'm out of Bon's and wondering if I will seriously regret commiting the night to being here.

Fortunately, Bon's is just on the edge of Golden Gai and gives no real indication of what I'm getting into. Golden Gai is unlike anywhere I've ever been. It is literally jam-packed with bars. Every floor, every building. They are all tiny so they're packed in like crazy. The streets between them are too small for cars. For like 5 or 6 blocks, this is all there is.

The strangest thing, though, is that there's almost no one there. It's a Friday night, a little after 12 and the only people I see wandering amongst the hundreds of bars are a couple making out in an alley and an occasional staggering drunk. It's like some horror movie or something.

I literally just wander around soaking everything in. I really don't know what to say about it. I'll have to go back and get pictures.

Anyway, after I wander through it all, I decide I'll take a chance on one of the random bars. The small stairwells always intrigue me, so I decided to wander up one. I reach the top and don't see any open places to sit. It's a small place and a guy sitting at the bar asks me something in Japanese. I have no idea what he's saying, but he doesn't seem very welcoming and I don't see anywhere to go. I retreat back down the stairs.

I wander more. I notice some of the doors say 'members only'. The Lonely Planet guide had mentioned that the area wasn't particularly welcoming. On the far end from Bon's, there is a lively Karaoke bar that offers no cover and 500yen drinks. It is packed and spilling out the door. Mostly it seems to be packed w/ drunk European guys. I decide I'd rather take my chances with another random place. I appear to be developing a resentment towards non-Japanese people I see in Tokyo. I don't know why or what this means.

I find another place. It's on the first floor. I can see there are a few people inside, but there are seats available. English writing out front. All looks good.

Turns out I chose well this time. I meet Aaron, and English guy and his Japanese girlfriend, Chewy, or something. There's also a Japanese guy who turns out to be a baseball fan and recognized the Pirates hat b/c Masumi Kuwata pitched for them a couple years back. Everyone is friendly and I am fed Japanese bar snacks. These consist of some sort of fish eggs, a weird thing wrapped in a leaf, and some pre-packaged fried snacks with flavors like pepperoni and shrimp & mayonaise. There is also an Obama mask in the bar.

I stay there until 3Am or so, then decide I should check out more of Golden Gai. Aaron recommends a place not far away that conveniently has a sign saying 'I love English people and you'.

The bartender speaks English well and lived in Colorado for a while. We discuss how I think they're 10 years younger than they are and how they can't believe I'm not 35. This is another common theme.

Around 4.30 or so, I get hungry and wander over to Shinjuku to find some food. Even at this time I am harassed by people trying to lure me into clubs. I learn that if you tell them you want food they leave you alone much quicker than if you tell them you're just not interested in going to a strip club. A useful tidbit.

I find a small noodle shop where you order by selecting something and paying at a vending machine and giving the cook the ticket it produces. I have no idea what things are, but don't really care. I wind up w/ some sort of ramen w/ meat and eggs in it. It's not bad, but at 5am, I don't really care.

Soon, the subway is running again and I'm able to get home and crash. I still have yet to find anywhere with many young Japanese people, but I now know that Golden Gai is worth returning to.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Taco es muy delicioso

Tonight I went to a little restaurant not far from where I'm living. Unlike most restaurants in the area, this one is open late. Also it does not have any pictures of the food or anything written in English.

So, I'm seated at a small counter with my knees touching the bottom of the counter. Directly in front of me is the kitchen area so I can watch the cook. There's some octopus tentacle behind the glass right in front of me. I decide this is a good place to try it, so I point and request 'taco'.

Fortunately, the waitress speaks English. I ask her how the octopus is prepared and she tells me it's sashimi. This is somewhat disconcerting, but I figure I should go ahead with it. I also order some udon noodle something or other.

This is what about what they bring out to me:

Surprisingly, raw octopus tastes pretty good. The udon stuff is good too (except the ginger on it; I really don't like ginger).

The Japanese people at the counter seem amused by my ordering tako. They all ask if it's good. They also point out an error in my chopstick holding technique. One lady insists that I have some of her sashimi fish. It's also not bad. I think I'm developing a taste for raw flesh.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


I must be making an awesome impression upon the local grocery store employees regarding the eating habits of Americans. It's less than a block away, so I stop in every couple days or so. And I don't really vary my purchases very much.

Today's groceries: Bacon, bread, popcorn and beer.

I go through a bag of popcorn every day or two. I also get a lot of pasta and fruit. That's pretty much it.

Monday, February 16, 2009


Barack Obama enticing me to eat a hot dog.

Why, if it weren't for everything else around me, I'd swear I was in America.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Akihabara: the Redux

So my laptop sucks. This is slightly more problematic than usual b/c the other computers available to me are Japanese. This doesn't render them completely useless, but the keyboard is weird and likes to occasionally make me type jibberish and most of the writing is in Japanese. I can get by in Word by looking at the icons, but reading error messages when I'm programming is more problematic.

Given this situation, I decided it would be worthwhile to at least upgrade the memory in my laptop. This gave me a convenient excuse to skip out on work this afternoon and head back to Akihabara.

I'm working on getting a better feeling for Tokyo's layout, so I decided to walk. Everything was going fine until I was almost in Akihabara. Having seen the first of the electronics stores, I gave in to the temptation of deviating from the known route and following more interesting streets (damn alleys and there irresistable allure).

I found myself in a place that was very like Akihabara, except instead of electronics there were many clothing and golf shops. I was also deceived by an overhead rail track that I 'recognized' from my last trip to Akiba, so I kept walking. Just as I was getting quite concerned about my location, I stumble upon the Ueno subway station.

So my detour to Ueno wasted 45 minutes or so, but at least I knew where I was and how to get back to where I wanted to be. I finally get to Akihabara and quickly come across my first destination: Nyankoro

Nyankoro is a cat cafe. You pay money to hang out in a room filled with cats. As an added bonus you can help yourself to drinks from the fountain machines.

It is at least as weird as it sounds. There were 3 people already there when I arrived (a couple and a guy in a suit) and another group of 3 showed up while I was there. There are little mats and tables on the floor and you just hang out with 10 or so cats in a small room.

I didn't stay for the whole half hour I paid for, but it was worth seeing with my own eyes. I'm still not sure what I think of this.

Next, I went wandering around the many electronics stores. The bigger ones didn't have the RAM I needed (probably b/c it's old and crappy), but I found a smaller place where I could get a Gig for 2990yen. I also picked up some speakers for my mp3 player and a mouse for cheap.

By this point it was 6.30 or so and I was pretty hungry. Having already investigated the cat cafe, I figured I ought to try out a maid cafe as well. As you might guess, this is a cafe where the women dress up in maid costumes. There are quit a few of them in Akihabara and even more women in the streets dressed like maids handing out flyers for them.

I guess maid cafes are kind of like a weird Japanese take on Hooters. The staff is all female and they wear costumes and are flirty. I was sat at a bar and ordered Carbonara and a beer. There was already another guy at the bar when I got there (needless to say the only customers were guys). When he left, the bartender-maid came over to talk to me. She tried to converse with my, but did not speak English. So mostly she would just giggle a lot. I don't know, maybe that appeals to some people, but for my part, trying to eat while a Japanese woman dressed like a maid giggles at you is really just unnerving.

On the plus side, beer was only 500yen and the food wasn't too expensive either. Even w/ the 300yen charge for walking in the door, it was no more than a normal meal w/ a beer.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Having discovered that Ueno was within walking distance, I decided to return tonight after work. Ueno seemed much less gaijin-oriented than Roppongi so I thought I might be able to figure out where Japanese people go out at night.

As I wandered around amongst the neon lit alleys (there really are a ridiculous number of these everywhere in Tokyo) I came across a rather unassuming door with a signboard out front. 'Pub' was the only English word on the board. I could hear that people were inside. This was clearly the secret entrance to all Japanese nightlife.

I opened the door and peered into a small room (maybe 10' x 15') a third of which is taken up by the bar. All 15 or so people in the place turn and look at me. Aside from the most obvious difference, I am at least 10, probably 20 years younger than everyone in the bar. Also, most of them are in suits, whereas I, per contractual obligations, am wearing a Pirates hat and blue fleece pullover.

I stand there half-frozen in the doorway. I figure that there's no harm in going in and ordering a beer (they're not really an intimidating group of Japanese business people), but I don't see anywhere for me to go. The booth in the corner opposite the bar is full and it appears that all the barstools are as well. I have no desire to awkwardly stand around sipping a beer (especially since the place is so small that anywhere I stood would be uncomfortably close to someone).

I'm about to slowly back away when a Japanese women at the far end of the bar begins frantically waving and pointing out an empty bar stool. I figure this is welcome enough, and with a barstool I can awkwardly sit and drink a beer at worst.

To get to the empty seat, I have to squeeze by practically every other person there. There's only like 4 feet from the bar to the back wall and this area is both bar-seating and the path to the back door/bathrooms. It's a really small bar.

I take my seat and am quickly greeted by everyone around me. Koko (not really her name, but it was something sort of like that), Endo and Bald-guy are to my right. Creepy-guy is the 2nd person over to my left, and directly to my left is a guy passed out on the bar. A good start.

So Koko, who waved me over, and Endo both speak English relatively well. Bald-guy was a little bit worse. Creepy-guy was at the annoying level of 'speaks enough that he wants to talk to me, but not well enough to generally be understood'. This is kind of annoying, but not why he's creepy. We'll get to that.

So I order a beer and am given a bottle and a tiny glass. The glass seems kind of pointless since it only holds like 2 swigs of beer, but everyone seems to like to refill it for me. The bartender, Koko, Endo, anyone and everyone will top off the small glass of beer for me after practically every drink I take. I'm not really sure how to react, so I just stick w/ 'arigato' and a small nod.

I'm asked where I'm from and tell them Boston. Endo tells me I look Australian. I'm not sure what the visual distinction between American and Australian is, but whatever. Maybe America's reputation has reached a point where this is just being polite?

At discovering I'm from America they excitedly call out 'Obama' (seriously). I'm also informed that there is an Obama city in Japan. They seem to like Obama.

They ask what I'm doing in Japan. I tell them I have an internship working w/ robots. Old guy wants to talk to me about software. I think he writes software for something? Hard to say. They ask where I go to school. I say I just graduated from MIT. They are very excited about this. They like MIT better than Obama. They inform me I must be very clever.

They also wander how old I am. Being 25 also entertains them a lot. It also prompts creepy guy to squeeze my bicep and say something creepy. It's a little awkward. I order another beer.

They ask if I sing karaoke. I say maybe after I drink a little more. Endo sings John Denver's 'Take Me Home, Country Roads'. He doesn't necessarily sing all the words, but it works for him. It's most entertaining. Creepy-guy then decides to sing something in Japanese. He decides that he should stand next to me while singing it. For parts of it, he decides he should put his arm around my shoulder. It's totally weird. No one else seems to find anything unusual about it, so I just roll with it. I'm grateful when Creepy-guy sits back down.

Shortly after this, Creepy-guy decides to leave (I'm not sad). He wakes up the passed out guy next to me. The previously passed out is pleased to meet me, then stumbles out the door after Creepy-guy.

Old guy offers me a glass of whiskey and asks if I know the Beatles. I agree to sing 'Let it Be'. Apparently, being a native English speaker is enough to qualify you as a Karaoke star. Or maybe everyone is just amused by the American making an ass of himself. Hard to say. Either way, I get a rousing round of applause from the bar.

By the time I finish my whiskey it's 12:30 or so and I've got a decent walk ahead of me. I thank everyone and head back out into the neon-lit alleys. Needless to say, I'm a fan of the Karaoke bars and now know where to go on a Thursday night.

More of the Same

Nothing much happening today. Starting to work on learning Hiragana & Katakana. We'll see how that goes.

I downloaded some panorama stitching software (Hugin) today. It's pretty cool to play around with. Here's a pagoda from Ueno:

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Today is National Foundation Day in Japan, so I didn't go into work. Apparently skipping work is the only thing that's done to celebrate the holiday. I asked people at the office if anything I should go see or do on the holiday and they were somewhat confused. This makes me appreciate the 4th of July more. Whoever came up w/ celebrating via explosives was a genius.

Anyway, since we weren't going to work, Leo and I decided to check out Ueno. Ueno is the site of Tokyo's first public park and home to the highest concentration of museums and galleries anywhere in Japan (I picked up a guidebook, so now I can sound knowledgeable).

Unlike other temples and shrines I've seen so far, this one is surrounded by a swamp.

Unfortunately, according to this sign, an average of 8 childern drown in the swamp every year.

Here's the Japanese taco-thing I purchased from a street vendor. I really have no idea how you're supposed to eat this thing. It's covered in sauce, so you can't pick it up. It's not cut up enough to easily manipulate with chopsticks and they don't provide a knife. My solution was to stab at it w/ chopsticks until manageable chunks fell off and then eat them. It was not an elegant solution. Also, the taco-thing was pretty gross. All in all, I would not recommend it.

After wandering through Ueno-Koen for a bit, we headed to the Tokyo National Musuem. We only had time to go through the Main Hall, but it was worthwhile. Historical Japanese art, scrolls, swords and crap.

After the musuem, we left the park area and wandered through the more commercial part of Ueno. Apparently, this area was once the popular spot and has more or less been replaced by Shinjuku and such. There are a bunch of little alleys filled with restaurants and shops and kinda has a farmer's market type feel to it. For some reason, I'm really drawn to places with signs in otherwise unappealing alleys. It's like I'm convinced that all the best places have to be hidden in seedy locations.

Overall, I liked Ueno better than the other districts I've been to. There were plenty of restarants and things, without nearly as much crowd. It also doesn't feel catered to tourists and lacks the guys who harass you and try to direct you to strip clubs.

Best of all:

Meat Dish & Beer. It's going to be tough to top this as my favorite restaurant in Tokyo.

Monday, February 9, 2009


Today, I actually tried to do some work. I'm not going to write about it because: (A) it's not very interesting or (B) the killer robot technology I'm developing must not be revealed. Your choice.

I did however have a slice of pizza with shrimp and corn on it. I could not resist that delicious combination when I saw it in the grocery store. It actually wasn't as terrible as I thought it would be.

Mostly, I'm just making this post to see how I go about adding pictures.

huh. I guess that's how. Anyway, that's the Denzuin Temple. I walk past it on my way to work everyday.

Friday, February 6, 2009

My Gaijin Uniform

Admin. Note: Once I get some batteries for my camera, following my adventures will become twice as riveting for you, lucky reader. I anticipate full-color, photo-realistic images to accompany my engrossing narratives. Until then, you'll just have to deal w/ my text. And yes, getting batteries may take a while. I'm lazy. Oh, I also intend to retroactively account for my first few days and perhaps even add a prologue explaining why I'm in Japan in the first place.

Moving on.

Today I got to feel more out of place than I usually do. I went searching for the National Art Center in Tokyo to check out the 12th Japan Media Arts Festival . Seeing as I have a degree in Media Arts (and Sciences, no less), this seemed an appropriate event. Anyway, I wisely chose not to print a map, reasoning that the building was pretty distinct looking and appeared to be fairly close to the subway stop. My reasoning was flawed.

As a result I spent my afternoon wandering around downtown (?) Tokyo. Maybe I need to just go ahead and invest in a guidebook.

However, during my leisurely jaunt, I noticed that my clothing does not really fit in with the local style. The Japanese seem to be really big on the uniforms. Parking lot attendants dress kinda like cops, maintenance workers dress like sci-fi movie extras, little boys dress like pilots, little girls like British constables, and so on. Downtown everyone wheres nearly identical suits and coats. 90% black or navy blue w/ a few rebels sporting gray or the occasional tan coat. (Editor: There's supposed to be a picture to verify this)

I, on the other hand, and wearing jeans and a T-shirt w/ a Pirates hat and down vest. I was looking pretty stellar by any standards, but surrounded by the swarms of suits, I felt especially conspicuous. I decided to just consider it as my gaijin uniform and go with it. Not like I'd buy new clothes anyway. (Editor: I might include a picture to prove how awesome my uniform is)

I also encountered the best English-speaker I've run across since arriving. I went into some take out pasta place downtown. Assuming that I won't be understood, I forego trying to speak and just dive in w/ the gesticulating at a picture of some Carbonara. After watching me look like a jackass for a while, the lady behind the counter asks, without even a trace of an accent, "Do you speak English?"

Anyway, it's almost 7:30 my time and I'm going to head out and see what a Friday night in Tokyo is all about.

A sidenote, I decided to purchase my first beer from a vending machine as I was headed home tonight. Tragically, it turns out there are none on my route. I had thought there were b/c I'd seen Kirin and Asahi vending machines, but it turns out the beer companies apparently also make most of the non-alcoholic drinks.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Japanese TV

Alright, so I've been considering making a blog about my time in Japan. What finally motivated me? The Japanese TV crew that just tried to interview me.

I wasn't feeling great this morning, so I slept in and was didn't get to work until afternoon. Doesn't really matter, but as a result I am still here at 7.30pm. Anyway, when I left to go get food, I passed some people carrying cameras on the floor of my office. I came back from another fun supermarket adventure and they were set up to film something in our lab. I asked the director what was going on and he said they were shooting for a TV show.

I was amused by the fact that the whole film crew takes their shoes off and wears slippers while in our lab. I'm guessing they just carrying slippers w/ them everywhere? I find the slippers idea highly entertaining.

Anyway, I'm sitting at my computer and notice they've begun filming. They appear to be panning the lab when I look up. Then the 'On screen' lady comes over to me and starts asking something or other. So now I've got lights, 2 cameras, a boom mic and and interviewer hovering over me. I have no idea what she's saying. I'm bemused by the whole thing and say 'wakarimasen' (I don't understand). She apparently tries to rephrase the question. I stare at them. I tell them, in english, 'I don't speak Japanese'. She apologizes (I think) and then they wander back a few more rows of desks and she interviews the Lab director.

He then takes them on a tour and they film the lab's projects. I am left to wonder why they decided to try talking to me, but didn't talk to the Chinese guy who sits a row in front of me or any of the other students who would be able to answer.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Day 4

Today I awoke to find my mild/persitant headache feeling somewhat worse than normal. I had assumed that it was just a jet-lag effect, but it's gone on long enough that I've decided it must have another cause. It seems to me that the headache intensity is somewhat correlated to my heartrate, as I don't notice it while sitting around on my computer all day. I also might have some sinus issue. I decide the most reasonalbe course of action is to self-diagnose myself using the internet.

The internet tells me that caffeine withdrawal can also cause headaches. I've been avoiding caffeine to break my coffee addiction since I've been here (though the tea in the office probably has caffeine). Also, the internet says it could be an aneurysm or tumor. Either way, it seems like a fun opportunity to see if I can figure out which drugs to buy in a Japanese pharmacy.

On the way to the pharmacy, I decide to buy a small can of coffe from one of the vending machines, lest coffee deprivation be the problem. I'm pleasantly surprised to find that the can is hot. I'm a big fan of the vending machines all over w/ everything. However, I'm a little disappointed that this one did not have Tommy Lee Jones advertising some drink on it.

I was going to get some Ibuprofen, but don't see any advil and am unable to communicate this. The pharmacist speaks English pretty well and recommends Semedin, saying it's better than Tylenol w/ fewer side effects. I didn't know Tylenol had a lot of side effects, but whatever, I'll try the random pain releiver. I also get a box that has a persons airway highlighted on the cover when I mention a sinus issue. I'm a little disappointed that I was not recommended a surgical mask.

On the way home, I also pick up a cheeseburger at a little take-out place. They put Mayo on it (I'll have to learn to request without), but otherwise it's pretty much like any fastfood burger in America.

The Semedin is not a pill, it's a packet of granules. I figure it goes in water. It does not seem to dissolve very well, and begins to settle at the bottom. After refilling the cup a few times, I'm able to drink down most the Semedin. I also eat a banana b/c I remember seeing something on the internet recommend electrolytes. I haven't eaten a banana in many years. It's an anti-climactic experience.

Well, the headache has receded to background noise level and I think I will go into work for a while.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


My housemate Leo has to commute 45 minutes on the subway everyday. I'm lucky and can just walk to work. We decided to meet up for dinner in Shibuya tonight. Shibuya is pretty insane. This is the crowd at like 9:30 on a Tuesday.

It's pretty overwhelming really. Lights and screens all over the place. Tons of shops and restaurants and all. I'm sure I'll have to come back to investigate more thoroughly.

Monday, February 2, 2009

First Night

Having no clue about anything in Tokyo (since I did no research and didn't buy a guidebook), I aim for a cluster of restaurants on a map from (which I guess qualifies as research). Anyway, I successfully navigate to the Ginza station which I vaguely recall Leo talking about (he does have a guide, but in French). Turns out that the Ginza station is actually an elaborate underground city. After much wandering, I am able to escape to the street level. I am met with a sight that is far more what I expected Tokyo: bright, loud and busy.

It turns out that Ginza is the high end shopping district and, thus, not a great place to go looking for a cheap meal. I figure I'll wander around for a while and grab something to eat at the first appealing place. I figure it's my first night out, I can waste some money.

I choose a hole-in-the-wall looking Japanese place on the outskirts of the shopping district. I order something that involves shrimp and rice. I decide that holding off on the tourist book for another week or so might be a good idea. That way I'll be even more confused/surprised about everywhere I go.

My meal of shrimp w/ mini-green bean things and noodles is quite good. Bowl of rice side dish is less exciting. Also, I got a soup- it's ok and a particularly large bottle of Kirin beer.

As I wander back to the subway, I pass Kamikaze Hair Salon. This strikes me as being in poor taste. Is this just some lingering effect of being raised in an era of hypersensitivity and political correctness? I mean, I feel like the Japanese would be bothered by that name, but apparently their cool w/ it and I'm bothered on their behalf. Odd.

Day 1 at the office

I woke up about 8AM today, having agreed to show up at work around 10. After breakfast (the grapefruit I bought last night was delicious), I headed to work guided by a map that Mr. Miyake had left in his printer. While the map is able to guide me to the general region of my work, it doesn't tell me which floor, or even which building, I am supposed to be in. I take a guess at which building I should be and try to ask people where the Design Interface Project is. This means nothing to them. I try the 5th and 2nd floors. They are not correct. I walk all the way back home and find out I was in the right building, but should've been on the 7th floor.

So I return, only 3o minutes late. I recognize the logo on the door, but it will not open for me. There is a barrier inside that prevents me from seeing inside. I pick up the phone sitting conspicuously by the door. Something Japanese is said, I reply with a confused "hello". Quickly I am greeted by Mr. Suzuki.

Mr. Suzuki shows me the shoe lockers near the door and offers me a pair of slippers, which of course, are too small. I sign a few forms, am shown my desk and left alone. I have no idea what I'm supposed to do.

Aside from Mr. Suzuki and 2 other administrators, there are only two students in the office. I introduce myself, but am quickly left to ponder what I'm supposed to do. Rather than worry, I waste time on the internet.

Eventually, Mr. Suzuki invites me to lunch w/ the other administrators and another student. Upon returning, my diminutive slippers are noticed and I am given a new pair. These actually fit.

They also say "Beautiful Bird Land, Natural In Door Life" and have a picture of the duck. This pleases me.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


I left for the Airport at about 6AM Saturday, January 31st. I arrived in Japan around 3:00PM Sunday, February 1st. While a layover in New York and major time shift don't allow for it, I felt like I was actually on a plan for 33 hours. Fortunately the flight wasn't crowded and they had on demand (sort of) videos in the headrests. Max Payne sucks, but probably not as badly as Beverly Hills Chihuahua, which the older Japanese guy in front of me chose to watch.

Immediately upon arrival I find myself falsifying documents. The disembarkation form requires that you mark an intended address. I have a directions for a taxi that presumably has this information in it's Japanese form. I try to explain this to the customs guy, hoping he can decipher the address for me. He instead tells me to put my hotel. Assuming there's a Marriott somewhere in Tokyo, I mark that down. Apparently this is Kosher and I am granted 3 months in Japan as a tourist.

I find my luggage and manage to procure a bus ticket to the Tokyo City Airport Terminal. I can tell I chose the best bus company by the logo printed on the side of the bus. It's an anthropomorphic bus with wings for ears, a red bow on its head and a vaguely sinister grin giving me a big thumbs up. The excitable baggage handlers all bow to the arriving bus.

I get on the bus and am reminded that "portable phones are not to be used on the bus as they annoy the neighbors". Another passenger asks how long the bus ride will be. 1hr 20min. I'm not sure what I expected, but it dawns on me that I have no idea where I'm going and know absolutely nothing about Tokyo or, for that matter, Japan.

As we leave the airport, I'm surprised that people outside are often wearing surgical masks. Many of the customs agents were, but I had just assumed that was because they had to be in contact with disease-ridden foreigners. They're not worn by quite enough people to make you suspect some sort of plague had broken out, but they're more common than I would care for.

The bus ride is boring. The scenery is pretty non-descript. I peruse a flyer for Japanese cultural activities, apparently organized by the bus company. You can learn 'Samurai Sward Action' from a guy in Kill Bill for 12,000yen. Better yet, a 'Sumo Stable Visit' or 'Ninja'- which apparently needs no further description beyond a picture of some Ninjas. But my favorite is 'Wear a Kimono around Asakusa'- I mean, when they sell it like that, who can resist? and for only 19,800yen.

Catching a cab from the TCAT is simple. The automatic door on the cab is amusing, but the crochet-esque seat covers are better. The directions work and I arrive at the house I'll be staying in around 6PM.

Since the owner of the house is in California through the end of the month, he has arranged to have Ms. Gomi to meet me. I'm greeted at the door with much bowing. Ms. Gomi's English is comparable to my Japanese, but she manages to convey that I should take of my shoes and wear the small slippers that my heels hang off the end of. They are not comfortable, but whatever.

I'm lucky in that, Leo, the French student who will also be staying here, arrived ahead of me. This meant that he already spent the afternoon going over various aspects of the house w/ Ms. Gomi. Since he is far from fluent in Japanese, this took a long time and many phone calls to the Mr. Miyake in California. I am spared this experience since Leo speaks English well and quickly conveys to me the inner workings of the dryer's lint trap and the location of the vacuum.

As we wrap up the house tour (the house is big by any standard, from what I understand of Tokyo it must be ridiculous) another lady arrives. I don't recall her name, but she takes care of Mr. Miyake's cat Pablo, who is old and blind. Her arrival results in a frenzy of bowing and polite chattering between the two women. Leo and I are amused by the spectacle.

Leo and I are both hungry and tired from our day of traveling. Ms. Gomi leads us to a nearby supermarket before departing. After flying 6700 miles halfway across the globe, I select ramen noodles as my first meal in Japan. and by 9, i'm asleep.