Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Another Store Bites The Dust

Bit after noon. At the ryokan, waiting for my clothes to finish drying at the nearby coin laundry.

The news is on and they're displaying maps showing the path of the approaching typhoon which should soon hit Kyushu and destroy large parts of my travel plans.

Still have a bit of a cough but I'm feeling better. Woke up at 6 but let myself keep falling back to sleep.

Went for a jog. Not my old route but large chunks of it. On the way, something I feared I'd seen from the subway on the way home was confirmed. Nagasakiya, my main grocery store, is now a Mega Don Quixote. I peaked in through the glass doors and, what used to be a quiet clothing store (the grocery store was on the basement level), was now full of aisles and aisles Don Quixote crap.

Along with the closure of the Foodland near cast housing and the transformation of the 99 yen store, all of the places I once did my food shopping are gone.

How depressing.

Coin Raundry

Finally doing some laundry.  A wash cost 200 yen.  About 2 bucks.  Not great but not bad.

The dryer, on the other hand, costs 100 yen for 10 minutes.  So, around 3 bucks to dry a full load.  Ouch. (No wonder everyone hangs their stuff out to dry.)

But, it only costs 40 yen for laundry detergent and it's a cool little pouch you just toss into the load and it dissolves.  So, I guess that’s cool.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Seattle News vs. Japanese News

Seattle News:

Newborn girl left at Federal Way church:
"A baby girl born this weekend was left at a Federal Way church, and police are searching for her mother."

Japan News:

Foreign baby left at 'baby hatch':
"A baby with foreign nationality was left at Japan's first 'baby hatch' at a Kumamoto hospital, according to a report on Monday by a panel examining the practice."

Slight Change of Plans

What is it with me and typhoons?


I like how this one is taking a u-turn just to come bug me.

Anyway, finally heading back to Osaka now. Going to try to squeeze in a trip down to Kyushu mid-week (and get my money's worth with this train pass) before spending my last few days in Osaka.

Where did this month go??

Monday, September 22, 2008

Feeling Better

Decided to walk back to Megumi's place from the cafe instead of taking the train. The temperature has dropped quite a bit since the typhoon passed and I actually saw a few stars. (Would have been a great night to climb Fuji but I don't think I'd want to risk a night climb this long after the season has ended.)

It was nice taking all of the little side streets and trying to find my way back. Made Tokyo seem a little bit more normal. More like the Japan I love.

Tomorrow's Autumnal Equinox so Megumi's got the day off. We're taking a day trip to Kamakura to see the Great Buddha. It'll be nice to get out of the city.

More later. (Consider "later" as broad as possible.)

Why Did I Bring My Laptop?

Currently at a cafe. As seems to be par for the course here in Japan, there's no wireless. It's amazing that I'm in the middle of a city of eleventy-billion people and I can't detect one wireless signal.

I figured they'd have wireless all over Japan. I mean, I first discovered that "Seattle's Best Coffee" with free wireless in Cosomosquare back in 2005. That was 3 years ago. Surely they'd have wireless signals up the wazoo by now, right? (Especially since it's supposed to be one of the most connected places in the world.) Guess not.

There is a ton of those 24-hour internet/manga/karaoke places but I much prefer using my own laptop (when it works) and sitting in front of a large picture window looking out over a busy street while nursing a grandemungous caffienechino and musing about the subtleties of life.

And yeah, Megumi's got internet at her place but I had to get out of the house. What I thought would be a productive morning of breezily blogging ending up being a frustrating morning of trying to figure out why my computer keeps freezing up. And why the video and audio playback on my computer is so choppy. And why my "active desktop" keeps shutting down. And how glorious it would look seeing this laptop shatter after being dropped from the top of a large building.

I'm normally really good at figuring this stuff out but this laptop's OS is in Japanese (I bought it used from one of my stage assistants back in 2004) so, aside from the handful of basic commands I already know by memory, there's little I can do to troubleshoot without being able to read the menus.

[Several minutes now pass as I have to reboot my computer and resist the urge to dropkick it.]

Grumble.

I'm guessing it has something to do with the newest versions of Firefox and iTunes I (regret having) installed when I was in Osaka. While they're probably great versions of some good software, I fear my little laptop just doesn't have the horsepower anymore. Either that or it's a hardware problem. The software's all up-to-date and the computer is virus- and spyware-free, but it still keeps freezing up.

It's crazy frustrating.

So, it looks like it's going to be a little while longer before I can get my blog caught up with all of the glorious posts full of spectacular photos I have been working on. I do apologize.

Thank god for Twitter, huh?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

It's No "Moons Over My Hammy"

Went to Denny's in Sangen-jaya tonight. (I wanted to go to a place that had salads. Real salads. None of those piles of shredded radish that the Japanese try to pass as a salad.)

After a nice side salad topped with tuna, I had the "D's Plate": Hamburg steak in a demi-glace sauce, a side of omu-rice (ketchup flavored rice wrapped in a cheese omlette, covered in gravy) and one giant fried shrimp with tarter sauce.

You know, the usual.

Borrowed Words in Japan

Katakana - one of the three Japanese alphabets - is only used to write foreign loan words. Since there are only 46 katakana characters, you have a very limited number of sounds to choose from when forming the Japanese equivalent of whatever word you're trying to borrow.

Some stuff translates into katakana just fine. "Coca-cola", for example, becomes "Koka Kora". No problem.  But this is not always the case.  Since all but one of the katakana characters end with a vowel, each syllable of the word you are creating must also end with a vowel.  Additionally, unless the old word ends with an "n", the new word can not end with a hard consonant sound.  Therefore, my name "Matt" becomes "Matto".

Also, it should be noted that any sounds beginning with an "L", will start with an "R" in Japanese.

No joke.

So "la" become "ra", "lou" become "ru", etc.  Which means, if you're doing it right, it should sound like you're totally making fun of Japanese people.

I always found it fun to show the "rocals" a picture of my family and then listen to them Japanize the names:

"Here is my dad, Bill."
"Ah! Biru-san!"
"And this is my mom, Crystal."
"Oh!  Kurisutaru-san!"
"And here's my brother, Jason."
"Hai! Jaisan-san!"
"And here's my other brother, Ken."
"Ken?  That's it?  Ken?"

My two favorite borrowed words that didn't make the leap to Japanese so well are allergy (ah-re-ru-gee) and virus (ew-wi-risu).  And, sometimes to be mean (and by "mean", I mean "hilarious"), I would write out the sentence "The girl with the wolf is Avirl Lavigne" and have a Japanese person try to read it aloud.

"Za garuru uehzu za urufu izu Abiruru Rabinu."

Classic.

Anyway, what brought on this little post was that, during this trip, a Japanese friend offered me some Xylitol gum. "Xylitol".  As you can see from the picture above, that's what it says on the package.

Now, how do you think this little brand name would be pronounced? Well, based on the first 3 letters of xylophone, I've always pronounced it "zy-li-tol".

Nope.  Not even close.

"Ki-shi-ri-toe-ru".

"Kishiritoru".

That's not even a word, people.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

To Crazy Ken Or Not To Crazy Ken

One of my favorite Japanese bands is Crazy Ken Band. They're kind of a Japanese lounge act/surf rock hybrid. I saw them live 2 years ago and they put on a great show. Plus, I wear the 2 shirts I bought at that concert way more than I should.

Well, they're playing here in Osaka tomorrow night. The tickets are around $60 which is bit steep for a concert I've seen before. Plus, I already have plans to meet someone for dinner.

But I could always postpone dinner. And it's just money.

Besides... it's Crazy Ken.

So, should I go?

To help you help me decide, here's the video for their new single:



And here's an Oldie But A Goodie:

Where's a "Free Speech Zone" When You Need One?

I'm currently sitting at the St-Marc Cafe at the base of the giant gray Yodobashi Camera building (home of the best store on the planet).  I had some time to kill before meeting up with one of my new Japanese friends for a combo dinner/language lesson so I figured catch up on some blogging while enjoying the pre-typhoon breeze.

There used to be an Excelsior Cafe here in pretty much the same general location.  I used to go there a lot when I lived in Osaka because it was one of the few coffee shops that had outside seating.

I always remembered it as being a great place to sit and write in my journals.  Made me feel like a travel writer.  Plus, because there was a nice view of the exit of Osaka Station, the people-watching was always top-notch. After I returned to America, I used to think about how nice it would be able to sit out here again.

Now that I'm here, I realize that I'd forgotten a few small details.

First, sitting at an outdoor cafe in Japan does not necessarily imply fresh air.  I forgot how much people smoke in this country!  Crazy smoke.  Like "about to be electrocuted for murder" smoking.  Each finished cigarette is punctuated with the click-snap-inhale of a Zippo lighting another one.

Then, there's the noise.  Remember that really cool entrance to Osaka Station? Gone. In its place, a giant twisted mass of construction.  So, I've now got busy intersection noise and train noise mixed in with construction noise.

Now, that in itself is not bad but, I kid you not, as soon as I opened up my laptop, one of those vans covered in loudspeakers that you only really see in old movies pulled up in front of the building.

What started out as an annoying announcement is now a full-fledged demonstration.  On top of the van is a small stage upon which politicians are now standing, taking turns giving long-winded speeches and god-knows-what.

I understand very little of it but they keep saying "Yodobashi Camera no mae" (which means "in front of Yodobashi Camera", although that seems rather obvious) and "M.V.P" (which means what you think it does but, in Japanese, it comes out as "emmu-bee-pee").

It's a level of annoying which I'd forgotten existed. (Perhaps that's why everyone here smokes?)

I'm trying different styles of music on my iPod to drown it out but no luck.

On top of that, I thought there might be an internet connection here but still, no luck.

I mean, it's only at the base of a giant electronics store...

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Tadaima! (I'm Back!)

Greetings from Osaka!

I still can't believe I'm back in Japan.

I'm currently at Kansai International Airport. (Yeah, I missed the bus. Whatever. Gave me chance to change into shorts and flip-flops. Oh, and I got some green tea from a vending machine. A vending machine!! Heavenly!) The last time I was here was exactly 2 years ago, down to the minute. Needless to say, I'm in a much better mood this time.

I'm using one of the computers they have here. 10 minutes for ¥100 (around a dollar, although I'm afraid to check the actual exchange rate). Take that, AT&T!

I typed a few posts on my laptop during the flight (after finally getting some sleep) and could upload them on the wireless they have available here (same price) but, by the time I figure out how to use it, I'll have missed another bus. I'll post them later.

I will say that I somehow managed to get a 2-seat section to myself. Made for a great flight and gave me some much-needed rest.

Anyway, first impressions on being back:

When we landed, the American stewardess gave the usual speal. "Welcome to Osaka... Thanks for choosing United... Glad none of you were terrorists." What surprised me was how the Japanese stewardess gave the same speech. I couldn't catch all of it (my already rusty Japanese is even rustier), but she used "taihen" and "ostsukaresama deshita" which means she started off by saying something like "We realize that this flight has been difficult but we thank you for your hard work and exhaustion!"

You'll notice a slight difference in tone.

Another amazing thing: when the plane stopped, nobody unbuckled their seatbelts until the sign was lit. Remarkable.

I was fairly giddy during the walk to immigration as I kept being reminded of all of the little differences.

"Hey! The clock says '15:14'! Military time!"
"Red triangles in the windows! That's for firemen!"
"Christ, I'm TALL!"

My thrill was slightly dampened when I arrived at immigration. It seems that, in the 2 years I've been gone, some good, old-fashioned American paranoia has made its way out East. I was greeted by a big yellow banner with red letters saying:

"Strict Inspections being carried out for the prevention of terrorism".

Then, for the very first time, I was fingerprinted and had my picture taken. Strange. (Even weirder was that the computer they used had Windows-themed wallpaper.)

But, once I got through, I was back on Cloud 9.

"Everything is so clean! I don't have to pay for luggage carts! Such polite announcements!"

Even better, in the 20 minutes it took me to get through customs, I was noticably eyed-up by at least 3 really attractive Japanese women.

It's going to be a great month.

Monday, September 8, 2008

From Phone

Here we go! Next stop: Osaka!

From Phone

That's about it for my pre-flight coverage. Nearly time to shut my phone off.

"No Speaky Japanesey"

Currently at Sea-Tac airport.

I've got another half-hour until boarding starts so I figured I'd give the old Windows Live Writer a shot. Not sure when I'll be able to post this. They've got internet here but it's AT&T, which means it's not free (and, lest we forget, I'm cheap). Maybe they'll have free wireless in San Francisco. (Somehow I doubt it.)

They've got CNN on. Is there really another hurricane heading for Florida? Or are they just playing a rerun? Wow, I've been so caught up with getting ready the past few days that I was completely unaware of it.

Made it to the airport with time to spare. I actually got in line for United before they opened. There were only 3 people in front of me. One of them was a Serbian women who sounded cartoon vampire-ish, like Angilena Jolie in "Alexander". ("You vill be king! I vont to suck your blood! Von, two, three... three bats! Ah-ah-ah!")

The relative calm of the airport at 4 am was broken by Count Complain-a-lot bitching loudly into her cell phone about her job while her child - who was on a leash which was cleverly (and fittingly) disguised as a monkey backpack - kept crying and running away from her.

After far too long, she finally got off of the phone. That's when Attila the Ticket Officer appeared. While Attila's shift had only just begun, she was already over it. She explained the check-in procedure to the line as if she was addressing a classroom full bratty kids wearing monkey backpacks. I wanted to pull her aside and have a quick chat with her:

"You know, honey... I get it.

It's early. You're tired.

Well, so are we. But I've still got Homeland Security and 14+ hours of travel time to deal with. So cut the attitude, OK? Especially since it seems that the extent of your job is to point us to the self-check-in terminals where we get to do all of the work anyway."

But, I wanted to avoid a deep-cavity search (or, as we call it here in America, a "Freedom Handshake"), so I kept my mouth shut.

Oh, it was great, though... while I was self-checking in, Attila sent a guy to the terminal next to mine. This man - who I will call Hank, Jr. - had achieved such a level of hick-titude that he would have made Jeff Foxworthy blush. Hank, Jr. walked up, gave the computer a "WTF?" look, literally scratched his head, and then said to no one in particular, "Ah, hell... I cain't do this. I ain't got no ticket or nuttin'."

Attila stormed over and said in a "don't be a dipshit" way, "Just touch the screen".

Fittingly, where Hank touched brought up the Japanese instructions. When the scramble of kanji appeared, he said in a "see, I told you so" way, "No speaky Japanesey".

Attila eventually caved and took him to the ticket counter and I got to start my early morning with a smile.

On The Way To Sea-Tac

Well, I'm on the bus. If I forgot anything, there's nothing I can do about it now. Let's see if I can relax.

Random thoughts:

Made to the hotel with a few minutes to spare. 4 blocks is a hell of a lot longer when you're carrying luggage. I'm all sweaty now but at least I'm not about to be stuck on a plane for the next 15 or so hours. Oh, wait.

Seattle is beautiful at this time of night. Everything's lit up and the highways are empty. I'm usually in the driver's seat along this stretch of highway so I never really get a chance to enjoy the view.

The airport shuttle has a GPS system and, while it's pretty top-of-the-line for America, it would have seemed dated in Japan when I first arrived back in 2003. I'm curious to see how much more advanced things have become in Japan since I left.

Boeing is pretty cool at this hour, too.

It's strange. I ate most of the stuff in my fridge but I had some sour cream left and I couldn't bring myself to throw it out. It was still good. Never mind that when I get back in a month, it won't be anymore. I just couldn't throw out good sour cream. Is that weird?

It just hit me how exhausted I am.

While I obviously didn't get everything done that I wanted to do before this trip (who needed a third column anyway?) and while I didn't really have a chance to admit it to myself, I achieved an epic amount of stuff this past month.

Go, me.

Looks like the light rail station by the airport is nearly finished. Which reminds me, I get to ride on an actual subway again soon.

Sweet.

From Phone

Wow... Seattle sure is pretty this time of night.

From Phone

Did it. On the shuttle now. Man, I really have to stop cutting these things so close!

ORGANIZED!


And the angels sang.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Hot Jobs In Japan

Why act or teach in Japan?

I can just start my own business:

Rapidly aging Japan faces yet another shortage: Crematoriums (via The Japan Times Online)
"Japan's rapidly aging society is forecast to lead to shortfalls in young people, workers and tax revenues. Add to that another shortage: crematoriums."

Getting a JR Rail Pass in Seattle

OK, perhaps it's just panic that I'm nowhere near being ready for my trip, but I am getting crazy excited. I can't get over the fact that I'll be in Japan in less than a week! My heart is racing!

Of course, it could just be from the sheer terror I got from plopping down $500 for a piece of paper.

Yes, after weeks and weeks of debating, I finally went downtown to get my JR Rail Pass.  It's my first rail pass. Since I had been working the entire 3+ years I was in Japan, I was never actually considered "a tourist" there. Therefore I had never been eligible for one of these bad boys.

Before my parents came out for their second visit to Japan, I convinced them to each buy a rail pass which meant that, while they were there, I got to silently resent them every time I had to shell out a few thousand yen at every station while they flashed their rail passes like a backstage ID card.

It didn't help that my dad would rub it in:
"So, let me get this straight... I can use this here pass and go all the way from here to, say, the northern tip of Japan... and it won't cost me a cent?"
"Yes, dad."
"Or, if I wanted to go all the way down to the southern tip... from the northern tip... that wouldn't cost me anything extra either, right?"
"Yes, dad."
"Just checking."
Considering how much I'm saving by flying to Japan using my air miles, I figured I'd splurge and get the 3-week pass. Theoretically, I can get from Ibusuki in Kyshu to Wakkanai in Hokkaido by train. And it would only take me, like 28 hours! What a deal!

Anyway, if you're in Seattle and you're thinking of getting a rail pass, instead of sending away for one (which doesn't work if, like me, you put it off until the last minute), you can pick one up at Senkai Travel. (2nd floor of the "Active Voice" building, on the left.) Aside from having a super-friendly staff, the agency also does that really cool thing where, when you walk in, you feel like you're actually in Japan (something I had experienced on my first flight to Japan).

Plus, while I was there, I got to have some much-needed, pre-Japan ego-stoking.  Particularly when I started conversing in Japanese.  The agent perked up.

"Oh, you speak Japanese!  Why do you speak Japanese? Are you studying?"
"Actually, I lived in Japan for around 4 years."
"Is that so? Teacher?"
"No," and then I took a dramatic pause (mostly to prepare my tongue for the mouthful of awkwardness that is
"Universal Studios" in Japanese), "I worked at Yew-ni-baaa-su-ru-Su-ta-ji-o."

Gotta love the irony that the hardest Japanese words to pronounce are the ones borrowed from English.

Now, usually it's only the people familiar with Osaka who realize that I'm talking about the Universal theme park and not some "University of Stadiums" but this girl is a travel agent, so she gave the official sound of excitement for Japanese citizens (and Scooby Doo):

"Eeeeeehhhhhhh!"

She then asked me something which could have been anything but I've become excellent at pretending to understand what people say and then just replying to what I think they want to hear.
"I did a show for Back to the Future."
She allowed herself another "Ehhh!" before getting back to work.

Later, when I was signing the credit card slip, she picked up the conversation where we'd left off.
"But your show, it was in English, yes?"
"No, Japanese."
She looked skeptical so I gave her a quick taste, "'Hello, I'm Doc Brown. This is my DeLorean. I'm going back to the future now!'"
She let out a nice, loud natural laugh before clapping and saying "That's it! That's it! Wonderful!".

This trip is going to be so cool.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Cod! Cod! Cod Roe!

Ladies and Gentlemen, I think we've found a winner!

"Kigurumi" - たらこ・たらこ・たらこ (Tarako Tarako Tarako)

Here are the lyrics if you want to sing along!



Hypnotising.

Another Good One For Karaoke

"Orange Range" - キズナ (Kizuna)



UPDATE: Stupid copyright. Here's another:

Karaoke Selection?

Trying to think about what Japanese song I want to learn the words to over the next few days so I can sing it for karaoke this trip.

Candidate #1:

"Maximum The Hormone" - Koi no Mega Lover

A unique blend of J-Pop and Death Metal.



Not sure what I want to do more: the dance, the voice or facial expressions.


Candidate #2:

"Monkey Majik" - Sora wa Maru de

A unique blend of Canadians and Japanese.



Catchy!


Candidate #3:

"The Blue Hearts" - Linda, Linda

A unique blend of Linda and Linda.

Not sure if they made an official video for this song but here are 2 concert versions:





And the rock festival scene from the 2005 movie of the same name:



Plus, I'd get to dress up like a Japanese school girl.

What do you think?

Dr. Horrible Soundtrack Now Available!


You can get it through iTunes.

Now if they'd just get some Captain Hammer shirts back in stock...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Monday, September 1, 2008

Maybe I Should Be Going Back To Australia Instead

No mates, mate! 'Man drought' hits Australia
(via Todayshow.com)
There's a "man drought" on the Australian coast, and a "man dam" in the country’s remote bush. Though the nation was flush with men some 30 years ago, due to immigration policies that favored males, today's Australian women have it harder than their baby boomer sisters did 30 years ago.
Demographer Bernard Salt's book "Man Drought," which was released this week, reveals that love is really where you look for it in Australia, and that it pays to go the distance.
“There is simply less product for 30-something women, in particular, to choose from,” he said.
[...]
A Queensland outback mayor made international headlines this month when he called for female “ugly ducklings” to move to the remote mine town of Mt. Isa if they were desperate to meet a man.
Mayor says: "Ship in the ugly ones, we'll take 'em".
(via news.com.au)
"May I suggest if there are five blokes to every girl, we should find out where there are beauty-disadvantaged women and ask them to proceed to Mount Isa," Cr Molony said.

"Quite often you will see walking down the street a lass who is not so attractive with a wide smile on her face. Whether it is recollection of something previous or anticipation for the next evening, there is a degree of happiness.

"Often those who are beauty-disadvantaged are uphappy with their lot.

"Some, in other places in Australia, need to proceed to Mount Isa where happiness awaits.

"And, really, beauty is only skin deep. Isn't there a fairy tale about an ugly duckling that evolves into a beautiful swan?"
Classy.

[WTF?] UPDATE: Mt. Isa has Street View??

Of course, they only have, like, 12 streets.

[OMG!] UPDATE:
So does Penrith!

My old apartment complex:

View Larger Map

My old house:

View Larger Map

Creepily awesome!

Japan PM in Surprise Resignation

Well, that is a surprise.

Japan PM in surprise resignation
(via BBC News)
Japan's Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda has announced his resignation during a news conference at his official residence.

The surprise announcement means the 72-year-old is resigning less than a year after he took office.

His government has suffered chronic unpopularity. Lost pension records, a controversial healthcare scheme and a sliding economy have added to his woes.

At least it wasn't because of crippling diarrhea.

Footage of the press conference: