Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hello, Folks.

Hello cats and kittens-

Yes, I've resurrected this blog from the depths of Japan-induced depression where I last left it off. Wow, we had some dark days, ladies and gentlemen. Of this there can be no doubt. But it all seems like a bad dream now. But as a wise man once said:
Coming home from very lonely places, all of us go a little mad: whether from great personal success, or just an all-night drive, we are the sole survivors of a world no one else has ever seen.
Now I'm not claiming that no one else has ever seen the wrong end of an 8 month sentence with Co-op Japan, but like many people I enjoy relating to wise-sounding quotes. Lets leave it at that, and forever drop the Japan topic. From now on its the N-word, okay? Okay. Moving on.

Everyone can see that I've updated the subtitle of this blog. Yes, I am now a Starbucks® chemist (or Barista, as they're more generally known). Today I considered how well it jived with my blog title, and it is because of this realization that you're reading this post at all, instead of catching up on Ally McBeal or Reading Rainbow or something. Anyway, I submitted the online application for the Starbucks job a few weeks back. This was an arduous process which involves answering about 50 questions of a Myers-Brigg type personality test (I'm an ENTP beeteedubbs; "the visionary") as well as a bunch of fuzzy-wuzzy behavioral questions "What would you do if a customer asked you to help him buy coffee, even if you knew he was pursuing litigation which would eventually lead to the abolishment of abortions in this country?" and the sort.

I guess my answers were to their liking, as I received a call soon thereafter asking if I would come in for an interview the next day. I only made a complete fool of myself during ONE of the interviews, and even then a quick recovery resulted in only my pants being soaked in coffee. I feel this may have aided in my interview, as I must have smelled like I perspire an Arabica blend. So I've done all the official-business and I start my first training shift on Tuesday at 1:30pm. There are eight training shifts in total, I'm sure this is necessary in order to master the multiplicity of obscure Starbucks® jargon which I will soon use every day. I'll be sure to let everyone know how it goes. I've gotta say I'm really looking forward to the free drinks during my shifts and the free pound of coffee a week. I think I know what everyone is getting for Christmas!

In other news, I'm applying to graduate schools these days, and I'm hoping that being qualified to get a job at my local Starbucks® is enough to get me into one of my top four schools (MIT, Cornell, Columbia, Berkeley). Heres hoping, folks.

I've renewed this domain for another year, so you have lots to look forward to.

Later days,


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Hey I'm outta here soon!

Hello everybody.

I totally missed the 8 month anniversary of this blog! Why did nobody send me a cake or something? Fail everyone. Fail.

Anyway, 8 month anniversary of this blog means about 8 months ago I was writing/studying for final exams. Mon dieu, how the time has flew b-- oh wait, its been 8 months of stroking days off the calendar. But guys, this time is actually close enough to being over that it effectively is in my mind. Today at work I realized that I'm pretty much done, よ. I had one more experiment/synthesis that I kinda/sorta wanted to do, but my time is up now. Tomorrow isn't enough time to do it, and I've got to spend it finishing up a manuscript for a paper I've got to submit before I head home. Next week is summer holidays here, so its automatically a 4 day weekend, and my boss is taking the 3 week days off. So that leaves me twiddling my thumbs and maybe working on my experiential report (a colossal piece of bullshit I need to do) or my paper. But no pressure and I'm not allowed to do any lab work without my boss present in the research center somewhere. After that I have a bunch of farewell parties (How much better is a farewell party than a welcome party? About a billion times.) and a mandatory presentation. Then I hop on a plane to Busan and its nothing by bliss and smooth sailing. Now to get to a bit of a rant, because thats what you come here for, right?

Experiential report: Screw you, Canada-Japan Co-op Program (CJCP). --Name redacted-- presented my thoughts on this quite well today. "I finished my crappy experiential report this morning, so I am officially done all the CJCP stuff. Now I just need my boss to fill out some forms, and then I can email Yuko and then forget I was ever in CJCP." I can't wait until I can do this. The experiential report is supposed to be 10 pages on my experience in Japan, with pictures. So I think I can do at least 4 pages worth on Fuji-san complete with a series of normal, comparative and superlative adjective subtitles. The rest can be my tropical holiday from ages past and maybe a trip to Akihabara and Minato Mirai. I can fill it in with verbal diarrhea without too much trouble I think, I'm just having trouble scrounging the will to do so.

A similar task that stands between me and bliss is my mandatory presentation I need to give. My boss asked me last week whether I wanted to give a presentation:

I said; "Uhhh, who would I give a presentation to?"
"A good point. I would come. Maybe Noguchi-san? No... Ikari-san? No... I don't think anyone cares about you or your work." he replied, in his usual blunt manner.
"Seems kind of pointless, eh?"
"Okay, I guess you don't need to"
"*CHA CHING*" I murmur, incomprehensibly to the Nipponese in the room.
"Ohhh wait! The HR department requires you to do the presentation. They will come, but they don't care about the science because they can't understand it. So they want 50% to be about your experience in the company and in Japan." Saita-san adds.
"Lame."
"Oh, and remember to make it good. It needs to be good. Don't say anything bad. It needs to be 30 minutes."
"Great."

I don't think I can talk for 15 minutes about good things in Japan/Mitsubishi. The kakiage in the cafeteria are pretty good, guys. I really can't recommend them enough, especially with Eastern Japan sauce.


P.S. That conversation reminds me of another depressing anecdote. After Fuji-san, I was tired as a race-banshee and kind of sick, so I emailed my boss in the morning and took the day off. The next day I asked my boss if I'd have to take unpaid leave. He just said "No one noticed you were gone. I don't think anyone cares about you."

Thanks, Saita-san. If I wasn't going to be living it up in Waterloo in 25 days, that might faze me.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Fuji-san continued.

Here goes -- Fuji pictures as promised! It was really dark and not a lot of pictures were taken during the ascent. Most are of the spectacular view at the end. Makes sense, ne?

Fuji-san Subashiri 5th Station. This is where we took the bus to, and then climbed from here.

Maybe 1000 meters later, the Subashiri 7th Station. I enjoyed this picture so I took a picture of it. Toilets were $2.50.

Yes, I'm checking my Kindle. When Amazon says free 3G internet everywhere on earth, they mean it. Full bars at 3200 meters elevation on Fuji-san.

Mmmmm. Udon. I needed a snack at the 8th Station, this is about 3250m elevation. Water boils weird at this altitude, so the udon wasn't as cooked as I wanted.

Arianna and I at the summit obelisk. I'm very unhappy at this point. I've been climbing for like 8 hours guys, I think I look okay. Meanwhile Arianna discovers you can't do a peace sign with mittens on.

I loaded up all my layers. Another few shirts and another sweater. I was still very cold, trying to keep my arms close to my core. I'm laying on metamorphic rock. I know its metamorphic because it's very uncomfortable and I'm on a volcano.

I eventually woke up. I'm huge in Japan. I wish I brought my puffy pink snowsuit.

Beginning of the sunrise.

We beat the crowd and had the best seats in the house. The crowd is now accumulating and flowing back down the east slope.

PRETTY!

PRETTIER!

PRETTIEST!

Starting to lighten up more... Thats our cue.

We proceed to get the hell out of there. 2000 vertical meters of the descent was through a lava flow that was composed of one foot deep volcanic ash/sand. It was straight going at a >45 degree decline. You could run, but we just sludged through it. Needless to say my shoes are destroyed.

I've got some more but thats all for now. Later folks.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Fuji: Check.


I conquered Fuji-san. Shirt credit to Shrey. Thanks dude!

Yes those are clouds behind and below me. Yes the view was nice. Yes it was an incredibly long and tiring climb. More pictures to come.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Incoherence.

I went and saw Inception on Friday night. We headed into one of the little Tokyo border-towns of Machida (This place is actually a good 20 minutes further from Tokyo than I am, but more north, so it counts as part of the metropolis). Yah, going to the movie theatre in Japan is highly expensive, but considering all of the praise I’d heard for this particular film, I decided it was worth it.

For those who have seen it (probably anyone reading this), the first bunch of dialog in the movie is in Japanese, with English subtitles. When buying our tickets online (a harrowing experience… why must all important text be rendered as images and thus untranslatable?) we had a choice between a dubbed film (presumably in Japanese) and a subtitled film (also presumably in Japanese). So when the movie started with people speaking Japanese I was like “Ughhhh wrong theatre…. Lame.” But of course that disappointment was shortlived, as soon Ken Watanabe appeared and all was well.

Upon mentioning Watanabe-san above, I originally launched into a long winded discussion comparing a country’s pride with their influence and cultural output on the world stage, but it was packed full of generalities and likely brimming with logical inconsistencies, so it’s gone now. Instead I’ll just say that Japanese people LOVE Ken Watanabe, as he is pretty much the only Japanese guy to ever “make it” in Hollywood. Good for you, Ken. You weren’t half bad in Inception either, and the movie itself was awesome.

Ooohhhhh god!

I definitely felt a bit of that “Matrix” feeling while watching it, and most everything, even including the romantic sub-plot, was remarkably well implemented and in most cases, difficult to accurately predict before the big reveal. The action scenes were – to me – not the meat of this movie (that honour likely belongs to the intellectual trickery and technophilosophy of it all), but even so, they were refreshing and fun to watch. The last heist movie I remember enjoying a lot was “Inside Man” with Clive Owen, but Inception’s reimaging of the whole heist idea totally blew it out of the water. Way to go Nolan, you did it again.

On Saturday I went to get my hair cut. This is the third (and last) time I’ll be getting it cut here, and unfortunately my increased command of the Japanese language kind of left me in a lurch. Before I had tried to explain what I wanted them to do, and then let them go nuts. The result was always somewhat passable, so I just said “mmkay” and left. This time, when they finished it wasn’t as short as I wanted, because I need it to still look somewhat respectable in a month’s time. So I was completely comfortable asking the guy if he could make it a bit shorter. And oh-em-gee, guys, it’s short now, as short as I ever remember my hair being. But my lovely girlfriend says it looks good, so who am I to argue. I probably look more like my brother now though. Boooo. (Hi Spence, no offense intended, you have great hair).

Spencer's hair. Oooo, captivating.

Wow my thoughts these days are tangential. I need to first explain something that happened when Arash and I went to Europe a couple years back (wow, has it been two years already?). In Paris and more generally in France, we became big fans of a patisserie chain called “Paul”. “Paul” was most definitely not the best France has to offer, but it was pretty good stuff, and they were all over the place. One pastry I particularly enjoyed was called the “Gourmandise” (for those without a background in French, this refers to the French word “gourmand” which means glutton. So I translate it as “Gluttony Surprise”). It was like a chocolate croissant, but it also had custard and ship cream and more chocolate on top. It weighed something like 500g. mmmmmmm. We ended up enjoying les gourmandises in Paris and Amsterdam (they tasted better in Amsterdam, I wonder why) and one particular afternoon in London. It was pouring rain and I was near the Tower of London at the pier, looking down the Thames at Tower Bridge. There, like an oasis in the desert, was a “Paul” with a sheltered awning. I got to have a gourmandise and a hot cup of cappuccino overlooking the Thames in pouring rain – in true Londoner fashion. Paul made my day that day, and I vowed to find him again. Cameron, Simon and I even made an intrepid attempt to recreate the gourmandise once during our weekly communal dinner nights down in Notre Dame. I must say, Cam, that those were pretty incredible.

Yummy.

Fast forward 2 years (minus a month) and I’m living near Aobadai in Japan. There are 4 directions leading away from Aobadai train station, south of my dormitory. To the north is a long road full of stores and restaurants that leads to my dorm, to the south is a mall and a McDonalds, to the west is a bunch of bars and a gourmet grocery store, to the east is an electronics superstore like Bestbuy. Past the mall and the McDonalds to the south happens to be where my super cheap barber shop is, so I’ve only gone so far in that direction twice. I must have noticed the sign on the far side of the road for “Paul”, but I thought nothing of it, as strange misused English words and names are a dime a dozen in this country. However this time as I walked to get my hair cut, fate placed me on the other side of the road, and instead of seeing the sign from afar, I looked right in the window and noticed some particularly umai-looking almond croissants. Some big, lumbering gear clicks in my head and I glance up at the sign: “Paul”, oh how I’ve missed you. I quickly glance around the display and there it is, the gourmandise. It takes an incredible force of will to not drool.

“Gurumandeisu mittsu, taekuautode onegaishimasuuuuuu”. (Three gourmandises, to go, if you please, my good sir).

I know I’m more excited than I should be, but man, what are the odds? Looks like Paul has expanded over the last few years outside of Europe to Japan, China, Dubai and... Florida.

Work is ending shortly, and I’m already planning to go there and get either their Camembert or Prosciutto panini sandwich as a pre-dinner treat. Oh I love Japan’s love affair with the French. It brings all the convenience of patisseries and boulangeries at every corner without the pompous superior attitude of the French. Oh wait.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Maki Weekend

Hi all - I don’t know whether I mentioned this before, but on Friday I had this brilliant idea that I could steal rice from the rice cooker in the cafeteria and make makisushi for myself in my room. For those living in the 3rd world or far from a fish-filled body of water, makisushi are sushi rolls, seaweed wrapped rice with raw fish and other assorted delicacies in the middle.

Anyway, I think I’ve complained enough about my living arrangements and you all know that I have no food preparation area or kitchen or really anything but a communal fridge and microwave in the cafeteria. (An amusing tangent about the microwave: its covered in buttons, but I’ve only ever pressed one. You see, when I first got here I wasn’t too proficient at reading, and during my first once-over of the buttons I immediately recognized only one word (コーヒー, coffee). And I’ve never bothered since to use any newfound reading skills, I still only press the coffee button no matter what I’m heating up. I HAVE A ROUTINE, OKAY, IT GETS ME THROUGH THE DAYS.)

Wow, anyway again. The reason I mention the lack of culinary space is that I really miss making my own food, mostly because I’m sick of 7-11 dinners and stew/sludge from the cafeteria, and also tired of going out to dine by my lonesome. So sushi is the obvious solution, as by definition it requires very little cooking, but the major hang up has been procuring rice. So that’s solved now through clever thievery and complete disregard for the people telling me not to do what I’m doing as I do it. They’re speaking in Japanese, I don’t understand that language, guys. Moving on.

Theres a fish market near my dormitory that’s pretty great and cheap, so I buy fish there, and there’s also a gourmet (read: expensive) Japanese grocery store that carries a rotating assortment of almost restaurant-like dishes like the awesome seared steak that I’ll get to in a moment. The regular 東急ストア (Tokyu Store) supermarket across the road from my dorm supplied all the regular supplies like のり (nori, seaweed sheets), すし酢 (Sushi su, vinegar), (tamago, egg omelet thing), 天くさ (tenkusa, the tempura flakes that make crispy sushi crispy) and of course わさび (wasabi). I should note that I don’t have a cutting board or a knife (other than my swiss army knife – yes I’ve been using that as my sole knife for 8 months, I also don’t have a fork or non-plastic spoons) so cutting the maki rolls into roll-pieces was not possible, I had to eat them as wonderful seaweed maki pitas.

I took pictures of all of my wonderful creations, but as I mentioned before, my SD card is corrupt as viewed by all computers I’ve tried but fine on the camera, and I want to get the pictures off so I haven’t wiped it yet, and I’m compounding the problem by continuing to take more. Help? So descriptions will have to suffice until I get the pictures:

My first attempt was a pretty standard salmon, crab, tamago, wasabi roll. This was good, but in my haste and hunger, I ended up putting like 200 g of fishy goodness in the middle of the roll, and it barely closed. Eating it was also quite difficult, but of course enjoyable. I’m not entirely sure whether the crab is real crab, as it was strangely inexpensive and conveniently removed from its shell. It tasted great though, and the salmon was top notch.

Then I mixed things up a bit by making a spicy crispy salmon roll. I don’t have spicy mayo, so I mixed up wasabi with the tenkasu flakes and added them to the salmon. I added wayyy too much wasabi and it almost killed me, but it was a pretty fantastic take two. Wasabi in Japan comes in a tube like toothpaste. Do I see toothpaste swapping hijinks in my future?

The next day I bought a nice big piece of tuna, and added to it everything I had left from the previous attempt; crispiness, some salmon, some crab, and tamago. This one was also packed full, but I just compensated by adding less rice. I really take the same attitude with sushi-making as I do with sandwich-making. The meat (or fish, or what-have-you) is the main event, so if you’re not going to add a hell of a lot, don’t make it at all. There’s nothing I dislike more than a sandwich with a single piece of shaved ham in it. Come on, at least half an inch or go home. So those pussy maki they sell at sushi places here (or in Canada for that matter) just don’t cut it.

Continuing my overloaded maki trend, I next made a roll with four (count’em, four) colossal tempura shrimp in the middle, lightly lathered with wasabi. Mmmm Mmmm good. Unfortunately here they have this bad habit of not taking off the skin/shell/legs of the shrimps when they deep fry them. They pull the same stunt in kakiage (which is an awesome food, to be saved for another blog entry, likely a short list of the things I enjoy in Japan). Also, note to self: fine avocado. Mmmmmm.

Now the pièce de résistance. At that gourmet food joint I mentioned above they had this seared “Kobe” tenderloin for sale. It’s a raw steak (Kobe steak is fantastical, but I seriously doubt this was Kobe, it wasn’t expensive enough) that’s just shoved under a flame for long enough to burn off any surface bacteria and put a layer of seared flesh on the outside. It’s sliced just like sashimi and is a wonder to behold. It comes with this little baggy of yummy sauce that I don’t know the name of. I mixed in some wasabi with the sauce and poured it on the whole thing of beef packed in a single roll. In a word; God-like, ladies and gentlemen. Tasty. If you try it yourself make sure the beef is okay to be eaten raw (any good cut should be technically) and make sure you go real easy on the rice, you don’t want to overload the goodness in the middle (remember, main attraction).

Dessert: Yah, I decided to try a dessert maki. To make cooked rice ready to be sushi rice, you add this stuff called sushi su (sushi vinegar) that is pretty much just rice vinegar with sugar. So I sweetened up some sushi su with a lot of honey, and added that to the rice instead to make super sweet sushi rice. Then I put strawberries, banana, Nutella and flaky crispiness in the middle. The nori is salty (its seaweed, guys) and I originally thought it might be reminiscent of those sweet-and-salty granola bars, but its really not. It was still really good. But I used the last of my honey :(.

Wow, that would have been a lot better with pictures. Sorry guys, I’ll do what I can. Peace out.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

In the depths of winter.

It must be admitted that much of the time I'm not in the happiest state of mind these days. In the midst of everything however, some moments can still induce an undeniable feeling of rapture. It can creep up on you, like all the best things, when you least expect it. Completely against your bitter and stubborn will, a proffered smile, a free playing child or colours in a murky twilight can seize you and carry you away for the briefest of moments. How can the world still be so beautiful? Because it is. Are you paying attention?

The person to whom I most want to tell this also happens to be the most rapture-inducing person I know. My invincible summer.

Mostly unrelated. I don't recommend the stairs.

A disappointment and an appointment. (Wait no that's wrong...)

Yesterday was "International Check Out My Sweet Shirt, And Then Talk To Me Because I'm Awesome Day" organized by Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics. Some of you know I happen to be a proud owner of the "Time Traveler's Essentials" T-shirt also made by the intrepid Mr. North. So I sojourned out to Tokyo (-ish, technically Machida, but its still in the Tokyo Metropolis Special Administrative Zone). The goal of said day was to encounter other people wearing Dinosaur Comics T-shirts, start talking and hope that "sexy-times" (or more likely, friendly-times) ensue. I don't suppose anyone will be surprised to hear that no friendly-times occurred for me, but if English words on a t-shirt are an indicator of coolness here in Nippon, then I must have been by far the coolest person in Minami-Machida at the time.

Time Traveler's Essentials Shirt. Including basics of flight, electricity, stellar/solar geoposition, antibiotics, agriculture, etc. LOTS OF ENGLISH LOLZ.

I had a bit of a late night last night (understatement of the century) so my rhythm is a bit off today. I woke up and had a peanut butter, honey and banana sandwich for breakfast around 3:30pm. I used the last of my 1kg peanut Butter and honey, now either faced with either buying brown and golden gold here for a small fortune, or a month of no spready goodness. Now I'm at my old haunt, Tully's Coffee near my dormitory having just finished a light lunch of Triple Cheese Focaccia (トリプルチーズフォカチャ、lol) and something called a "Ballpark Hotdog" which is a classy café fare of hot dog with cheese and curry on panini bread.

I ordered my usual Hiyashi Americano, but today the coffee making girl left a little note on my cup.

Grazie? How nice of you. I'm not Italian, but I appreciate the gesture. Prego, prego ma bellissima barista! (Yah, I know I need to cut my hair. I'm waiting because I need to look presentable for my Korea expedition, but don't want to cut it too short now or cut it again later)

Thanks, barista-girl. Sure, you probably write "Grazie" on every cup, but I still smiled when I read it. Like I've said before, its always the small pleasures and smiles that make the days here a little bit easier. Also, across and to the left of me is a J-girl decked out in full baby-blue French maid outfit, just doing homework and texting on her matching iPhone in the coffee shop. Oh Japan, I'm not going to miss you at all. I'd like to get a picture, but all I've got is a webcam and the "flash" isn't turn-off-able, so I would probably be noticed.

I feel like everyone has seen and marvelled at Nolan's new movie (Inception) in the last couple days. Unfortunately we get things a little bit late over in this area of the world, and opening night is this Friday. I'll be going with Arianna and Yoichi that night, unfortunately stupid Japanese movie tickets are like 20 bucks (and thats not for that new-fangled IMAX stuff). Thankfully Hollywood movies are all available subtitled with Japanese but with the original English audio track intact. I'm looking forward to it.

In other news this is a long weekend! Which means a sleep in tomorrow morning, along with a 4 day workweek next week. Small mercies.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Who shat in your Cherrios, Izawa-san?

God damn it Izawa-san. (This is the Izawa-san of first-blog-entry-in-Japan fame, who’s introduction to me consisted of “fucking stupid gaijins, causing nothing but trouble and heartache”.

He’s the “landlord” or manager of my dormitory. What a poor and unfortunate soul, he has to live here, forever. Anyway, today when I was on my way out (at least 5 minutes late, but what I now consider “on time”), he stops me. He starts by saying “Money money money, now now now”. Then goes on to say how utilities money is due today, and I need to pay now. Excuse me, Izawa-san, but if you give me a bill with a due date of July 6th, then by god I will pay it on July 6th, don’t you worry. But don’t bother me about it until I’m late. I know Japanese people probably apologize profusely if they don’t pay it at the first available opportunity, but where I come from a due date is a perfectly acceptable day to pay. Anyway, I stand there and take his rambling, which eventually turns into a speech about how I’m always the last to leave for work, and I must be late every day. Stop judging me, Izawa-san. Then it becomes a soliloquy on how I never sort my garbage properly. No one really ever explained it to me, Izawa-san, and I’m sorry I haven’t the heart to track down paper bags and collapse all boxes and paper and wrap them in twine like everyone else does.

Through all this I’m just standing and looking stupid at him. Yes, Izawa-san, I’m more than willing to play the ignorant-gaijin-who-doesn’t-understand-a-single-word-you’re spewing card. At the end of his long winded ramble (“Wakaru?”, come on Izawa-san, dignify me with using at least a somewhat polite verb, okay?), now maybe 8 minutes late, I smile and say in my worst Japanese; “Once again, please?”. At this he scowls. I laugh and say “I’ll pay it after work, I don’t have money right now.” He doesn’t believe this, as not having 60 bucks in your wallet is a capital crime in Japan. I’m sorry I’m still not adapted to cash based society, and I never take more than $50 or maximum $100 out of the bank at a time. I end up just putting on my shoes and saying in my best Japanese “I haven’t understood a single word you’ve said, but I’ll pay my utilities after work today. Today is the due date, this is okay, right?”.

He gives up, but not after he puts me in a bad mood for the day.

God, after all this time all the little things can still bother the hell out of me. As unfriendly and bad-international-relations-and-gaijin-reputation inducing this is, I'm glad I'm living up to Izawa-san's idea of a gaijin boarder. Wow, I'm bitter. I had to get that off my chest.

"Oh my god Blake, its still moving!"

Canada day celebrations were a hit. We headed to Hon-atsugi, the stomping grounds of the Atsugi-NTT-Canadians, a place much more metropolitan than I had expected, considering how dreary and po-dunk the next stop over on the Odakyu (Aikoishida) is. Anyway the place was shabu shabu tabehodai nomihodai, and we took advantage of the former with lots of meat eating (I didn’t have a single vegetable, so there, Arianna. I didn’t even eat the ones you put on my plate, unless they happened to become attached to my meat. An unfortunate reality, when sauce is involved.) and the latter with lots of rather gay drinks following the first few rounds of beers. There was a two hour limit, and I was so busy gorging/talking/not listening that I didn’t catch it when the waiter came by and told us it was the last order. So though I could have done another platter of meat, I was forced not to.

Afterwards, due to a series of unfortunate events, I didn’t end up getting to sleep until after 6am, a scant hour or so before I usually rise for work.

Friday was a semisomia-filled workday, punctuated by Red Bulls.

Saturday evening was blowfish (fugu, ふぐ) night, and we went to one of the cheaper fugu specializing places because we weren’t in the mood for a 10000円 meal. We didn’t even have to head into Tokyo, as there is a fugu chain restaurant right in Aobadai (my neighbourhood). The place was reasonably classy, and I was happy I chose to wear a collared shirt instead of the block-breaker Jesus one I had been sporting earlier in the day. (Side note here: You know the stereotypical Jesus head/face that everyone in the western world recognizes, and I have formed in block breaker blocks on a T-shirt? No one in Japan recognizes Jesus. Oh god, they’re all going to hell for gross ignorance.) There were a bunch of Fugu course sets ranging from about 4000円 to 8000円 ($40-80). What a bargain! They even included desert. So I got the cheapest one which had a few courses including fugu skin, fugu sashimi, fugu nabe (cook in boiling water/soup like fondue) and some fugu egg rice dish, along with desert (no fugu flavoured ice cream here).

My overall impression after the meal, agreed upon with Arianna-san, was “nonplussed”. Fugu just isn’t that good. Sure, theres the appeal that “1 in 20 bites means death! OMG”, but once you get past that its kinda just sub-par fish. The sashimi had the consistency of really, really old gummy bears, and even tasted like gummy bears, you know that background flavour that they all share whether they’re cherry or blue or green or whatever. The skin was nasty, I never really like eating raw fish skin, and this just sealed the deal for me. It has the consistency of rubber bands and tastes like a fish market smells at 5pm after it closes. The fugu nabe was an interesting idea, the table had one of those magnetic induction heaters in the middle which uses rapidly oscillating magnetic fields to induce eddy currents (and heat) in anything iron or steel put on top of it. So they had a basket with water proof paper lining, and a piece of steel in it. When the induction heater is turned on, only the steel heats, and the water boils. The waiter puts all the fugu pieces, vegetables and such in it, and it becomes fondue.

Heres the fun part, the pieces of fugu that they brought out to us for the fugu nabe were STILL MOVING. Yah, it blew my mind too. I managed to get a video of the floundering fin attempting to get away from the induction heater that meant certain death. The fugu nabe is not meant to be eaten raw, so unfortunately I didn’t have the pleasure of eating the still moving fish, but it was nice to know how fresh this fish was. They have them swimming around in an aquarium in the front of the place, so I guess I should have expected no less.

[I wanted to put a video of the moving fugu fin here, but my SD card is unreadable on my Macbook and my work laptop, but works fine on my camera. WTF? Ideas?]

As entertaining as the fugu nabe was, the pieces were 90% cartilage and so very difficult to eat. I always like egg rice bowls, so fugu flavour didn’t detract too much from that, and the matcha ice cream was great, as per usual in Japan.

All in all, considering how much delicious salmon/tuna/unagi sushi/sashimi I could have eaten for 4000円 (unlimited, effectively), it was not a good deal. Of course, now I have the story, and the wherewithal to refuse fugu as haughtily as possible when its next offered (likely never).

Sunday I headed out with Caoch, a guy from the English happy hour at work, he brought with him some of what I must call the most enlightened and (how racist is this going to sound? fuck it) gaijin-like Nipponese people I've yet encountered. Seriously good time, Caoch. We headed to the best Spanish restaurant in Tokyo (a tiny hole in the wall near Jiyugaoka station in Meguro), which is apparently a common destination for Miss Japan, the most beautiful girl in Japan. I didn't see her. But the tapas were great, and wine was great, and due to some pecuniary support from my man Caoch, it wasn't even too expensive.

An Irish pub nearby was the apres diner destination, which was nice and rustic feeling, with an American barkeep. I also made a point to check out some of the surrounding shopping and stuff, which is supposed to be world class for affordable little gifty/Japanese/student-budget stuff. I wasn't disappointed. Don't know if I mentioned this previously, but Jiyugaoka is consistently voted the best place to live in Tokyo, and based on my limited exploring, travels, and interactions there, I have to say I'd agree. I just typed "Not that I'd ever want to live in Tokyo, ever again" by Japan-hating default, but now I find myself saying that I could see myself in Tokyo, at least on a part time basis if the situation demanded it, as long as I had someone there with me. Thats right, Tokyo on a part time basis. My plan is to be absolutely loaded. Where to live the rest of the time, you ask? Well, Arash and I have already agreed that we're going to do a timeshare on a pad in Amsterdam when we're rich, so thats two places. I should start a list.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Happy Canada Day from Japan.

This is my very first Canada Day in a foreign land. And what a foreign land it is.


I enjoy how Google knows I'm Canadian but in Japan, and so chooses this layout for me on my work computer. Also, apparently you can't say "I'm Feeling Lucky" in Nihongo. True story, I've only ever heard ラッキー (rakkii).

So I have a pretty busy weekend planned.

Tonight is Canada Day, so obviously all the Canadians (and friends/honorary Canadians) in the vicinity are gathering for a bit of a part-ay/nomikai. Tonight we're going all out though, have a private room at a Shabushabu place. You see, Shabushabu (a Nipponese apparently onomatopoeic dish) is Shinto-Jesus' answer to the whole lack of meat in many Japanese dishes. Its pretty much exactly Chinese hot-pot, but not nearly as spicey. And its all-you-can-eat, or tabehodai (most large food!). According to their website, this place has unlimited beef, pork, pork, assorted vegetables, rice and ramen. Yes, they said pork twice. Along with being tabehodai, this place is also nomihodai (most large drink!), meaning all-you-can-drink. This is going to be a bad Thursday night/Friday morning. In addition, when I called and made the reservation for our party, we had a fascinating little conversation like this:

Japanaman: "For how many please?"
Bureiku: "Around 7, but it might be more or less, is that okay?"
Japanaman: "Cancellation fee, so easier if more than less."
Bureiku: "Okay, 6 people then."
Japanaman: "How many boys and girls?"
Bureiku: "No idea. Maybe 3 and 3? Does this really matter?"
Japanaman: "As long as you're not all massive male sumo wrestlers, I think its okay."
Bureiku: "LOLZ. We're all gaijin."
Japanaman: "OMGZ. DO YOU HAVE A PROBLEM EATING PORK FOR RELIGIOUS REASONS?" [This guy was seriously concerned, he likes his pork.]
Bureiku: "Nope. Bring on the bacon."
Japanaman: "I don't speak English."
Bureiku: "Thats okay." [Note, this entire conversation, except for "Bring on the bacon", has been in Japanese]
Japanaman: "I speak some Spanish though."
Bureiku: "¡Hasta la vista, baby. That reservation is for Bureiku. Thank you very much."

Reservations in Japan are always so complicated. But this is a new record, three different languages!

Anyway, then Friday my ambitious goal is simply to remain awake all day, and I know thats going to be a tough one after Thursday night.

Saturday I have tentative plans to go five-course-fugu-ing and look death in the face by eating an entire blowfish (other than the poisonous parts). That 1-in-20 pieces is fatal is bullshit, its pretty safe as long as you have a good chef and you eat it while its still moving. Yummm. Its expensive though, so this is a one time thing.

Sunday a new buddy of mine from the Happy Hour for Communication in English (HHCE) at work is taking me to Jiyugaoka in Tokyo to chill with some of his gaijin friends at Tokyo Tech and go to a Spanish restaurant. Followed by an Irish Pub. I'm hoping for some rowdy Irishmen.

Wow, good thing yesterday was pay day. Where has all my money gone?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or oh my god why is it so disgusting outside.

A screenshot from my cellphone, showing the weather forecast for the next week. The 60+% humidex makes it feel soooo much hotter, its almost 35 degrees with that outside right now.

It is supposed to stay like this for a month. Lets hope it doesn't get biblical.

"-- on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. And rain fell on the earth for forty days and forty nights."

Yikes.


Why hath thou forsaken me?

Update:

Oh look! There wasn't a thunderstorm today according to my phone! (There was one though, curses)

Screw you, Waterloo. Don't look at me like that! I know I know I know! Oh god.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The single greatest human being I've yet encountered.

Good evening, cats and kittens.

Man, I have officially turned into a softy. Check out this video over at the BBC and tell me you felt nothing. I will send you a self-addressed stamped envelope to turn in your human being card.

Awwww.... Kitty!! This works even on highly educated bionic veterinarians.

Not only has this doctor devoted his research to giving prosthetic feet to cats in need (talk about a niche market), but he is an incredible badass and all around cool guy. In my opinion you can tell a lot about a person in how they treat cats (this may apply to dogs too, but I'm a cat lover). Giving amputee cats prosthetic feet is pretty much a perfect score on this test.

This doctor is a complete champ. He obviously cares a hell of a lot about this animal, hes well versed in both the aesthetic concerns of kitties (brown bionic feet on a black cat, no way) and the usefulness of duct tape in any of life's problems (you're doing it wrong). "Surgical high five, dude!" I mean, I'm not sure thats completely sterile, but it more than makes up for it in awesomeness. The nurses are just shaking their heads at this point at how badass their doc is.

Siks milyon doller kitty can leep tal bildingz, lol. But seriously folks, this probably cost a lot.

Are there any cat related nanotech innovations I can do to emulate the good Dr. Noel? This guy is just my hero.

P.S. @Mikhail: In the first sentence of the article below the video, I read "peg" as "PEG" (ie. polyethylene glycol) and was like "Damnit, I KNEW PEGylation could fix anything!" Then I was disappointed. Throw some TOPO in that shit.

P.P.S. @Jess and any other non-Gourmands: That meal I just ate was a full 2500 calories of KFC chicken and fries and chocolate chip cookie dough-based desert. Ugghhhmmmmmm...

P.P.P.S. @All gBuzz users: I've temporarily turned off the link between here and Buzz because for some reason I'm getting a billion copies in my work inbox and its kinda annoying. Forwarding issue, likely.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

100 posts, woooooo!

Friends, Nihonjin, countrymen, lend me your ears. I've been pouring my heart and soul into this blog for 100 posts and over 7 months now. I've only been in Japan for about 6 months (though, like Sméagol, I've forgotten the taste of bread, the sound of trees and the exquisite aroma of bacon frying), but right now there are only 49 more days until I go to Korea. And only 34 more work days! That's like, no time. I need to institute a countdown applet or something on this site.

In other big news, today its six months since Christmas. It feels like a lifetime ago. In addition, according to my research, this means its only 6 months until Christmas!

I seem to be vulnerable lately to spontaneous bouts of laughter. This may be directly linked to my diminished psychological state (after all, I started talking to myself like 4 months ago, and never stopped) or perhaps I've gotten to the point where some things about Japan amuse me.

I already told yesterday's story about a Nihonjin-ess (I prefer to genderize my Nihonglish, thank you very much) being shocked and appalled that westerners don't eat rice with every meal. I laughed a lot at that, then a lot more again later upon connecting this absurdity with the fact that "rice" in Japanese is the same word as "meal". When I was talking to Ami, an uninformed listener may have understood me saying "No, we don't eat meals in Canada, not usually." Hilarious.

Yesterday after work I stopped at the konbinience store to grab me some soft cream (soft ice cream). They had a new flavour today, so I glanced at the picture, decided it looked good, and said to the guy "Okay, I'll take some..." looking at the sign, I read the katakana as sutoroberii cheezu, and was like "This is strawberry cheese? Sounds wierd"

"Sutoroberii cheezu keki desu yo," says the guy.

In English now, "Strawberry Cheesecake. LOLZ." The guy starts laughing now, because Japanese people love it when your brain makes the connection between their bizarre katakanglish and the actual root word. I join in with near maniacal laughter. I got my strawberry cheesecake soft cream, and by god it was better than Marble Slab. Maybe that was just the 30 degree heat.

And then, this morning I was walking into work, my usual 5 minutes late (which is ages of the earth for Japanese punctuality, but my boss is off today, whatever). By the main building where the cafeteria is, theres often a sale of some kind, different every day. Sometimes its donuts, belts, wallets, coffee, tea, etc. But most often its tires. Yes, car tires. I don't know how often people at the company buy tires from salesmen outside of the cafeteria, but considering they're here almost once a week, it must be profitable.

There are different tire companies, Bridgestone is the only one I can remember right now, but they're mostly American brands. While walking by, it occurred to me that I've never seen Yokohama brand tires here. And I live in Yokohama. Hilarious!

Give me a break guys, seriously. Happy 100th post.

Okay guys, funny story.

So I just ate my dinner (Stew. Nasty shitty ass stew with a few scraps of meat in it but 95% radish by mass. I feel like I'm in a bad prison movie, being served slop at a cafeteria.), and I was eating with these two girls in my dorm, the only two people living here who tend to talk to me at all. Their English is negligible, but they don't seem to hold my skin colour against me too much, which is nice. Well actually I was eating, they were just drinking tea. I always eat my dinner after 10, because I eat a meal when I get home from work, to maximize my caloric intake. They often drink tea at this time.

So anyway I'm eating my very large heaping helping of rice (its unlimited and 250 calories per cup, so I load up), its tasteless and uninviting, but I shovel it down in whopping chopstick loads anyway. So I say to myself in Japanese (my brain is in Japanese mode at this time): "When I get back to Canada, I'm never going to eat rice again."

Well this prompts a response from Ami: "You don't like rice?"

"I like rice fine, I eat it in Canada all the time, but not 2 times a day, every day."

"You don't eat rice for dinner?" Ami asks.

"Nope, not usually."

"Eeeeeyyyyhhhhhh?!?!?!" Out comes the Japanese tone of utter disbelief and shock, "Then what do you eat?"

At this point I start to laugh my ass off. Seriously? This is like an American thinking everyone eats quarter pounders with cheese for dinner every day. Not even an American thinks that, because they have Chinese food places even in the deep south and they can usually guess that Chinese people must eat a lot of fucking Sweet and Sour Chicken Balls. Her look of disbelief completely blows my mind and I laugh until I realize I'm probably offending her.

"Sorry, thats just funny Ami," I say, mostly recovered, "Do they have rice at McDonalds? Because everything they have there, thats what we eat." A complete lie and ridiculous generalization, but it gets my point across.

"Bread? Do you eat bread then for dinner?" Ami asks, interested now.

"Bread? No, well, maybe. I don't really see bread as a fixture in western dinners." Now that I think about that, I have no idea how to say fixture in Japanese, maybe I just said fixture, I dunno. "We have pasta, vegetables, potatoes, sometimes bread, sometimes rice noodles."

I was at a loss at this point, I was trying to picture my usual dinner that I make myself and I was failing miserably. I couldn't think of anything but rice, and it scared me to death. I've been here way too long.

"We eat meat, Ami." I explain, this time with feeling, "We eat a hell of a lot more meat than you guys do. Chicken, pork, beef, lamb, fish, seafood, bacon wrapped steak, bacon wrapped seafood, bacon wrapped bacon." By this point I had definitely switched into English.

My only source of real(ish) bacon in this country is going to McDonalds and ordering a McMuffin or McGriddle with bacon. Everything else is unsalted or uncured or rice. I'm going on Saturday morning, thats a promise.

Bacon.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Kiddie porn is somehow still up for debate in Japan

To begin, some of the content described or mentioned in this post may be disgusting to some, and if you have sensitive sensibilities, then please just look at the pretty picture and move on.

I was reading the Japan Times the other day, and came by a story that caught my attention: "Manga child sex clampdown fails" was a minor headline on the bottom corner of the second page about a week back. Reading this led me on a exploratory journey through Japanese law.

Turns out the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly (somewhat analogous to a provincial or state government, as Tokyo is administered as a prefecture of its own) had proposed a bill which toughened restrictions on selling pornographic depictions of children in comic books and animation, as well as content depicting rape and other heinous acts of sexual violence. The bill as proposed was highly vague and liberal. Using the concept of "nonexistent minors" for characters in manga and anime that appear to be under the age of 18, the proposal would have urged bookstores and other vendors not to sell content depicting minors engaged in sexual intercourse to children. It would have URGED them. No bans, no enforcement, just URGING. Of course in Japan these things might be tantamount, but the point remains; this bill was not strict at all. The only note that would be enforced was the selling of such material to minors; this was to be made illegal. Note that right now these types of materials are sold to anyone who wants them at bookstores, convenience stores, and stalls on the side of the street.

To western eyes this seems like a pretty decent (if not completely obvious) proposal. Who wants to see prepubescent school girls getting raped on magazine covers when you're picking up some coffee and a doughnut in the morning? Even if it is animated? And obviously we don't want kids being exposed to such disgusting stuff, right? And much more importantly, what kind of person buys this stuff? The answer: a hell of a lot of Japanese men. So the diet (parliament) shot down the bill, saying it violated freedom of expression. Also noting that minors should be exposed to sex, not sheltered from it. Wow, Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly Diet. Just wow. (N.B. To contrast, all "real life" pornography in any form in Japan is censored, or at least the babymaking parts are.)

And it gets worse.

Japan is the only country in the G8 in which possession of child porn is legal. And not just animated stuff, real life stuff, with real life children. Of course production, distribution and possession with the intent to distribute is illegal, but owning it is fine. Really, Japan? Seriously?

The bans on production and distribution theoretically make getting one's hands on such materials somewhat difficult (though in the days of the internet... likely not that difficult in practice), but of course the Japanese entertainment industry want to give their customers what they want. So here comes the "Idol" magazine. These are "adult" magazines which are full of semi-nude (lingerie, tight, scant or revealing clothing, schoolgirl outfits, maids, etc) underage models in provocative poses, clearly being sold for a pornographic purpose. These magazines come in age ranges, and to quote Wikipedia:

"The primary divisions are divided by years U-18, U-15, and U-12 but there are also more recent partitions designated as U-10, U-6, and U-3 to reflect changes in the marketplace and idol fan communities"

So U-18 is the cut off for real porn, and the models in this range are around 18 years old. I'm so glad that recently the producers have moved on to "models" aged 10, 6 and 3 fucking years old due to changes in the marketplace and fan communities. Disgusted yet? These magazines are also sold to anyone who wants them at bookstores, convenience stores and stalls on the side of the street.


A photo I stole from another Japan Times article on this topic, showing an "adult" magazine with a bold pronouncement on the cover: "Our youngest cover model ever! She just turned 14!"

This really is all kinda disturbing to my western sensibilities, where such things would likely be at the very least frowned upon. But 3 or 4 million of these books were sold in 2006, so its not like they're a fringe group.

Just going into any of the seedier shops on the main road of Akihabara will give more insight into some of the more disgusting sides of Japanese culture. The walls are plastered with obcene (animated) sex acts. Now you might say "whatever, if its your thing, power to you, porn to the people! who are you to criticize such things, and when did you turn into such a prude, Blake?"

Well, anonymous and theoretical critic, if anime and manga depicting rape, torture, mutilation and humiliation of young children is your thing, then in my not-so-humble opinion, something is seriously amiss. Again, in my opinion, the consumption of such images and videos in a country's populace should not be cultivated or commercialized in such a way. Granted, its better than real kiddie porn, but hey, having that is legal too. WHY, JAPAN? Why are you so backward?

Its amazing how pervasive in the culture and people acceptance of this stuff is. A bunch of us gaijins were discussing this bill (before it was overturned) in front of a lone nihonjin. We were saying how ridiculous it was (implying that it was obvious and should have come into law ages ago), when the nihonjin was like "Oh ya, it is SOOOOO ridiculous? I mean, what are they thinking?"

"Wait a second... -name redacted-, in what way is it ridiculous? Ridiculous good or ridiculous bad?"

Lets just say he thought it was a bad idea, and this tends to be the overwhelming opinion here.

Regarding the selling of the materials to children, the people in power say that exposing sexual acts to children does much to generate a healthy and open view of sex, while sheltering leads to an unhealthy fear or embarrassment linked to sex. They say selling animes and mangas depicting the rape of children to be obviously advantageous to their society, and promptly cite this United Nations statistic:

NationTotal recorded rape per 100,000 inhabitants (2004)[17]Total number of reported child pornography websites (2008)[18]
Canada75.1677
United States32.05 (2000)[19]560
England and Wales26.632 (UK)
France17.589
Germany10.702139
Russian Federation4.78 (2000)[19]259
Italy6.451
Japan1.78 (2000)[19]6

So Japan has the lowest rape rate in the G8. And wow, Canada has like 50x more rapes per capita than Japan. Crazy. (Also wow @ Germany kiddie porn presence on the internet!)

If this is the case, why the fuck are there special train-cars on every busy train for women only, with signs explaining that its for women's safety and avoiding sexual abuse? The problem must have gotten pretty extreme for train companies to add such a feature. Why do girls fear going on crowded trains without said train-cars? Maybe I'm completely off base, maybe the sexually crazed view of Japanese people (think tentacles, robots and lolicon) is a result of something lost in translation, or instead of the media being a result of a sexually crazy people, the sexually crazed media serves as an outlet and ends up with a more peaceable and non-raping people.

Who knows, but this is all kinda weird to me.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Safety Drill, or More Evidence Against Gaijin Telepathy

I got to work this morning somewhat refreshed, having slept in another 20 minutes past my normal time. I had picked up my donut (590 cal) and green tea (0 cal) as is my custom, and was ingesting and imbibing while reading the UW Daily Bulletin (omg, the Warrior football program is being suspended, c’est domage!) at my desk in my usual normal fashion. I should note that there were announcements being played over the PA system, but I was tuning them out quite effectively as I read about a steroid scandal in the ‘loo.

“RAAAAEEERRRRRR RAAAAAEEEERRRRR,” goes the siren. As I look around everyone already seems to have their hard hats on and are under their desks. My first (and completely illogical) thought was “Air raid? Fuck those North Koreans.”

“Get under your desk!” shouts Saita-san, “Get your –Japanese word for helmet— on!”

“My what? Oh, helmet. Okay. Gotcha.” I say as I scramble under the desk that has barely enough room for my legs, and promptly slam my head against the edge of it; “Hence the helmet. Ouchy.”

Before I know it everyone is out from their desks and running (RUNNING) out of the building. I follow, catching up to Saita-san and asking him what the fuck was up, as I was a bit worried I’d left my laptop and Kindle inside uncomfortably near the flammables cabinet. A small but loud part of my mind is thinking; “Any kind of disaster of sufficient magnitude will probably get me a free pass out of here. Come on North Korea… I didn’t leave anything of value in my dorm, it’s a sweet target!”

“Safety drill, didn’t you know?” Saita-san explains, “Did nobody tell you?.”

“Fucking gaijin telepathy, I need to work on that,” I mumble, switching to English, for obscenity comfort. Calmed down now, I realize I must have panicked a little, as I’m sweating buckets and I don’t think it was just because of the rainforest-y climes.

“You should not smile or laugh or look like you’re having fun,” contributes Saita-san, “This is a very serious exercise, almost like a military drill.”

As we form up in a line outside the building, everyone starts yelling out numbers in no apparent order that I can see. Suddenly there is silence, and everyone looks at me. “Say your number, Blake,” suggests Saita-san.

“What number, employee number? Its like 10 digits long.” Turns out my number is 6. I don’t know how this was assigned or how I was supposed to know it, but there you go. You can call me number 6, same as that blonde Cylon from BSG.

Now everyone begins to jog at a leisurely pace away from the building. To the Nipponese, a leisurely pace of jogging is something approximately equal to my normal walking speed, so I just walk alongside.

“Run!” utters Saita-san in a terrified whisper, “You must run to the –Japanese word I didn’t recognize, probably checkpoint or something.— Else we will fail this exercise!“ So I ran as slow and comically as humanly possible. With my too-small hard hat, extremely baggy and ill-fitting uniform, generally white complexion and towering height, I’m sure I was a funny sight.

Now we arrive at the tennis courts, for which maintenance has recently been shut down (along with the pools, gyms, and ping pong rooms) due to funding cuts, and now are in a somewhat dismal state of disrepair. Turns out this is our checkpoint.

Here is where it gets funny. Some guy comes up with a megaphone and starts spewing highly muffled rapid-fire Japanese that I can’t seem to get much meaning from. Then he salutes, rigidly and professionally. Then suddenly everyone around me is saluting.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Gets me a look from Saita-san, so I salute in my best form and try not to smile. Everyone then assumes a military posture with their hands straight at their sides, looking straight ahead. Now there is an announcement over the PA, that I try to listen to.

“We’ve just been through a level 5 earthquake (Japanese level 5 is pretty big, definitely 8+ on Richter), so remain standing in –some word, probably referring to our stance— position.“

Silence for long minutes in the sweltering heat and humidity. Then another announcement.

“2 people are stuck in an elevator, we are endeavoring to rescue them now. Rescue teams, assemble!”

Silence for many enduring minutes. Nothing happens.

“The trapped people have been rescued, but a fire has broken out in Building 1. Fire teams, assemble!”

10 minutes later, nothing continues to happen. Then it begins to rain. First lightly, then a full, torrential downpour, all without a word. It was like that scene in that movie, you know?

“We’re still fighting the fire, at ease, everyone.”

The people around let out their breath and move for the first time in like half an hour. I of course had been lolling (the real act, not the acronym) for a while, but the gaijin shield saved me from all but a few looks. Saita-san turns around, his face completely and disgustingly covered in sweat and warm rain, and says “Almost done now.”

“Whats next? Comet impact? Godzilla vs. Mothra? Neo vs. Agent Smith? Weather seems good for it.” I ask him, deadpan.

“I don’t think anyone will make a comment.” He responds usefully.

“Attention, Attention,” blares the loudspeaker, “The fire has been extinguished, please return to your laboratories.”

People cheer. THEY CHEER. I don’t know if they’re cheering at the extinguished and imaginary fire we’ve conquered, or the fact that they get to return after 45 minutes in the heat and rain.

Was all that strictly necessary? I’m soaked to my skin, my feet are killing me, and I dislike subtropical climates.

That is all.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Heated Toilet Seat in 30 degree Summer Heat, or Creature Comforts: You’re doing it wrong.

I imagine I feel somewhat like the intrepid explorers heading west into the unexplored Amazon basin in centuries past: my feet are wet and covered in open sores, I’m overheating to the point of exhaustion, the natives aren’t friendly, and I have some mountain climbing ahead of me.

It is official: The rainy season has begun. According to the Japanamen I’ve spoken to about this, (which is a lot, they love to talk about weather, so my vocabulary in that topic is nearly complete) we didn’t get much of a spring/early summer season. It was unnaturally cold for a long time (which suited me just fine – 15-20 degrees isn’t unnaturally cold to me, where I come from we call that perfect refreshing T-shirt weather) and then suddenly now it’s insanely hot and humid and rainy. I distinctly recall about one year ago (it seems like an age of the earth has passed since this time) periodically checking the weather in Japan just to see what I was getting myself into. I remember weeks and weeks where I would see a string of “Thunder Storm” icons on my iPhone weather app every day. Along with temperatures in the high 20s and low 30s. I now find myself in the same boat. I woke up on Monday morning (not at all refreshed – I had gone to sleep maybe 3 hours before) and looked at the weather to find the familiar row of thunderstorms and sweltering heat for the next week – and likely beyond. Since sick days count against my paid holidays (and I’ve already used them all up for my Korea trip in August) I didn’t let the ensuing wave of revulsion and depression keep me from rolling (literally – its an advantage to sleeping on the floor) out of bed and into another day.

Little tangent here. Shortly before I left Canada my shoes were beginning to fall apart, so I tossed them and went back to an older pair that still fit and hadn’t been used much. In retrospect this was a very bad move considering I only brought one pair of real shoes with me (I brought some Nike Frees, but they’re woefully inadequate for water protection, and don’t look like safety shoes, so I can’t pretend like they’re steel toed and get out of wearing the tiny hard pieces of shit they provided me here) and hence wear them nearly every day. Well as expected, these shoes are now falling apart and completely water permeable. I need new ones but definitely can’t buy them here (size 13 American, approximately 31.5 Japanese – nigh unheard of here) so I guess I’m stuck until I head back and buy me some fresh new Pumas. To continue on the shoe/foot tangent a bit longer, on Sunday I was craving me some Golden Mango (one of my Waterloo haunts – cheap Thai food place) so I found a place with good reviews in nearby Yokohama and headed out. It was a beautiful day, and quite dry, so I decided to pull out my sandals which I haven’t worn since my Ishigaki trip in March. There was a lot of walking involved in finding this Thai restaurant, and going to the only open-during-the-weekend post office in the ward on my way, so when I returned – tired and satiated from a magnificently large and only slightly depressing meal of Pad Thai with spring rolls – I found sores from a couple pressure points which had lost their sandal-calluses from last summer. Now fastforward to 2 days later after wearing wet and hot shoes all day, and I’ve got myself a problem. They’re open and red and oozing and really not something you want to read about on a blog in the morning. I got some bandaids though, (can you think of a word for bandaid that isn’t a brand? I had trouble explaining this one to a Nipponese… adhesive bandage?) so hopefully they heal up good, but for the moment there are serious pains in my feet. Maybe I should talk to the chiropodist of the family.

Anyway, where was I? Something about bad weather and thunderstorms – they’re bad and I don’t have the shoes for them. The rainy season is officially my worst favourite season. Winter was fantastic and warm. Now its so hot and humid. Once it starts to rain, you're like "yay, its raining!" and you hope the humidity will go away. Then the humidity comes right back and punches you in the face with its energy legs. And the rain is WARM. WARM RAIN DO NOT LIKE. The only rain which should be warm is chocolate rain. (Youtube meme density for this paragraph: above average)

Oh ya, heated toilet seat. This thing is a god-send during the wintery months, but when its 30 degrees outside and nearly that inside (the bathrooms aren’t eakon-ed, wtf?) it’s a most disturbing and uncomfortable feeling. Thankfully my office space is cooled to almost chilly levels, and I control the AC in my lab, so things aren’t so bad once I get inside. Walking home and to work in the morning are going to be terrible though. I told my boss that the weather today was pretty much as hot/humid as it ever gets in Canada, and he got worried – saying that it was going to get much, much worse.

Great, Saita-san. 素晴-fucking-らしい.

Oh, and the mountain climbing I have ahead is Fuji-san, in the beginning of July. I'm looking forward to it big time.


View of Mount Fuji from my dorm balcony. Taken during sakura bloom in April.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I hardly think "Coffee-stain effect" is a scientific term

You know coffee nanoparticles is the name of this blog (with a much more apropos subtitle – which I will have to change once I return to the western world. Except for the steampunk romance part – that was pure clairvoyance), I haven’t actually spoken about coffee nanoparticles since my very first (and very brief) post. There I proposed the question: “Coffee – nanoparticle suspension or dissolved solution?”

Well now, my pretties, I feel I may have come to an answer. I do a lot of reading of recently published papers in a few of my favourite scientific journals (JACS, Nanoletters, Langmuir, Advanced Functional Materials, Nature Materials/Nano, etc) since I feel like this practice increases my chances of having a basic understanding of most problems or systems I’m likely to come across in work and at school.

Yesterday I was perusing Langmuir (a surface science paper, nanos can recall that this is the Langmuir of Langmuir isotherm/Blodgett films fame) and came across this paper: “Coffee-Ring Effect-Based Three Dimensional Patterning of Micro/Nanoparticle Assembly with a Single Droplet” by a group out of Berkeley. Obviously the first word caught my eye, the rest is just icing on the mocha, so to speak. The paper is pretty self explanatory, they just suspend some micro and nanoparticles in some solution, make a droplet, wait for it to evapourate, then watch the “coffee-ring effect” do its work in the form of a self-assembled circular microscructure composed of your particles. Take a looksee at the figure below.


Mmmm, coffee self assembly.

Anyway this isn’t what is important at all. This is just a new take on existing methods that exist to make such shapes and structures that we’ve looked into ad nauseum and inscribed in the tiniest of hands on our Nanofab cheat sheets. What’s important comes later:

And I quote: “Our technique is mainly grounded on the coffee-ring effect of solutes in an evaporating suspension. When a spilled drop of coffee dries on a solid surface, it leaves a dense, ring-like deposit along the perimeter. Such ring deposits are common wherever drops containing dispersed [nano]particulate solids evaporate on a surface.”
[Editor's node: I added a prefix I think the authors accidentally missed.]

There it is, spelled out in black and white in a peer reviewed journal. He even cites a reference for the last claim, so you know its legit. Coffee is a [nano]particulate solid dispersion. Just so we’re all clear now. I drank coffee nanoparticles this morning.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Random thoughts.

I was talking to Jess the other day, and confessed that something rather stupid had just occurred to me. I realized that I had never seen a stop sign in Japan. She thought this was weird, as they definitely have stop signs in Korea, and as far as I can recall, they had them in China too. Of course in Korea they have 정지('jeong ji', yah, I can read Korean now guys. eat it. its approximately one billion times easier than Japanese) in China they have 停 ('tíng', though I couldn't read that in Chinese. I'm maybe vaguely familiar with the uncommon Japanese kanji which is the same, but pronounced 'toma'). Italy, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, etc, all the countries I've been to have this common feature, a big red octagonal sign with STOP and/or their preferred localization on it in white typeface.

But I don't recall seeing these anywhere during my extensive travels of Japan.

The Japanese stop sign. (Tomare, for those who can't read. The e is an é (accent aigu) sound.)

Well, turns out the brain is a rather stupid organ. I've probably seen this sign about a billion times here, but it never clicked in my mind that it was a stop sign, even though I'm completely capable of reading the Japanese on it. The reason? Its a triangle. Come on, Japan. The rest of the world adopts a standard octagon, and you've got to go and screw things up for everyone. If I ever had to drive a car in Japan, I'd be up shit creek. No wonder Sony does the shit they do.

This is definitely an over reaction, but whatever. Now that I know that this sign exists, I see it everywhere.

On a similar topic, there seems to be this strange prevailing craziness among Japanese and Koreans (and perhaps others - Chinamen please comment). Whenever referred to in writing and very often in speech, the colour of the "Go" light of a traffic light is always referred to as "the BLUE light". Jess first told me this and it blew my mind, as apparently it was a region-dependent thing or something (Busan vs. Seoul). Then I talked to a Japanese friend of mine who told me that it was a blue light in Japan, too. He didn't seem to understand when the group of gaijins around him was like "Yoichi, its obviously a green light. Not blue."

Turns out the Japanese only invented the colour green in the Heian period. And they only started teaching kids to tell the difference between Green and Blue starting after World War 2. Forever it seems, all shades of green were always seen as simply more shades for blue. So the "Green" light can be generally referred to as the "Blue" light. The word "midori" for green has a kanji (緑), but apparently its almost always substituted with ao, for blue (青). Koreans have the same mild delusion it seems. Maybe something the Japanese left over there after their 30 year occupation of Korea.

This seems pretty insane to me, but I suppose the delineations in our colour wheel are mostly artificial... aren't they? I remember reading somewhere that the human eye is most sensitive to the colour green, which is why image sensors in cameras usually automatically process with a 4-colour filter, RGBE (red, green, blue, emerald). This must have something to do with the cone cells in your eye, I feel like red, green and blue are the only colours actually picked up, with green being the most sensitive. Kinda weird to ignore a primary colour, Japan.

The moon as seen from Japan.

In other news, the predominant opinion is that the sun is red here (as it is in the flag), and that the moon is yellow. Like cheese. Cheddar cheese. Crazy Nipponese.

Okay one more tangent that just occurred to me. I was waiting for a TG/Mass result the other day, and so I started reading up on the Second Sino-Japanese war and the conflict between China and Japan during WWII.

I have a little exercise for you guys. Without Googling or Wikiing or anything like that, take a while guess as to the number of Chinese killed during WWII. Also make note that most - if not all - of the conflict entered by the Chinese was against the Japanese. You can record your guess as a comment, even though you're about to be given the actual answer.

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I don't want your peripheral vision to see the number of zeros below.


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Mickey's estimation was ridiculously low, some number measured in the thousands or hundreds of thousands. Try this on for size: estimates start at around 10 000 000 civilian deaths and 4 000 000 military deaths. Thats 14 000 000 people. The Chinese claim it was over 20 000 000 deaths, with total casualties (dead and wounded) at over 35 000 000. At one time Japan had overtaken Shanghai and the then-capital of China, Nanching, forcing the Chinese government to move a wartime capital to Chongqing. Yah, in the 1940s, Japan ruled Shanghai. The Chinese defended Shanghai to the last as they felt it was a symbol of Chinese civilization to the west, and hoped that the Allies would intervene and help them out. Of course the Americans didn't lift a finger other than promising "spiritual support" until Pearl Harbour happened. How did I not know this? I feel woefully ignorant of the far-Eastern campaign of WWII. Some of the acts mentioned in the Nanching Massacre Wikipedia article are mind blasting and far too vulgar to be uttered here. Imperial Japan was full of seriously, crazy psychopathic dicks, it seems.

Its what happens when a race has a superiority complex which reduces another group in their eyes to something less than human. For Nazi Germany, it was the Jews' inferiority (and Poles, gypsies, Slavs, etc) and the Holocaust. For Japan, this second, arguably more deadly holocaust against the Chinese (and to a lesser extent the Koreans, and Pacific islanders, not to mention the American POWs) was caused not by hate of the Chinese, but by superiority felt by Imperial Japan over everyone else. At the time the Japanese Empire hoped to achieve 八紘一宇 (or 'hakkoo ichiu', eight corners [of the earth], one roof), a Japanese dominion over the peoples of the world. Yah, the Germans wanted to be uber alles, but the viscousness and racism and depravity demonstrated by Imperial Japan seems to have fallen to the wayside, at least in my experience.

I could totally let bygones be bygones if they didn't still have these xenophobic and racist undertones in their cultural psyche.