Monday, March 29, 2010

More Hatto Hiyari!

This month's hatto hiyari. Enjoy!

Care should ALWAYS be had when moving in wheeled chairs!

This is going to confuse a Japanaman somewhere. Its harmless enough that I consider it a test of whether these are being read.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Monkey Waiters

In a little town called Utsunomiya a few hours north of Tokyo, there lives a monkey named Fuku-chan (there is no monkey post-nominal honorific, so they used the child one).

Fuku-chan works at an izakaya (tavern/bar) called Kayabukiya. He serves drinks, takes orders, and delivers hot towels oh-so-promptly. He takes tips in soya beans.

I'm not sure if thats a pimping chain around his neck or a sign of animal cruelty.

So yah, I'm going to go check this out. I'll report back.


Random funny image:

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

sensenshuu Takaosan ni itta, tanoshikatta yo.

I’m back from Ishigaki – only a small amount worse for the wear, and I really need to catch up on my blogging for all my intrepid readers. I got some photos from my trip to Takao-san, which seems like it happened weeks ago for some reason.

We decided to go because there was to be a himatsuri (or fire festival) at the mountain that day, which means firewalking for nihonjin, and coal walking for gaikokujin (I know how it feels to be a second class citizen). We had also heard tell of a monkey sanctuary near the top of the mountain, and my fellow gaijins lost in this godforsaken country seem to have developed a healthy obsession with monkeys.

The mountain was a bit of a trek away, so I gave myself some buffer time above and beyond what Jorudan (my super duper Tokyo-to route planner) recommended to me. Of course I ended up there right when expected (I love you, Japanese public transit system) and had to wait around for my tardy buddies. There was this white guy on the train with me who kept giving me that “I’m a white guy, you’re a white guy, we’re both in Japan surrounded by Nipponese, I know I probably wouldn’t talk to you if we crossed paths in a predominantly Caucasian environment, but I feel some kind of bizarre kinship to you right now” look while I was waiting for my friends (it’s a complicated look; part surprise, part furtive curiosity, part disinterest and part longing). Anyway he eventually came out and asked me “are you waiting for someone?” (with a notable American Midwest accent)

This provided me with a delicious opportunity to answer and apologize in French and show this guy that not all random white guys in Japan speak American. But I was feeling especially friendly at the time, and responded with a grunt and a “yeh”. A few minutes of unwanted conversation later and I figure out he’s a pompous Napoleonic syndrome case from Chicago with a chip on his shoulders, a friend from Hamilton (Ontario) and gradient sunglasses on his face. Thanks for that, “R. J.”. If that’s even your REAL name.

Sorry. Tangent. Voila, fire festival!

These were the lucky ones, they got to sit in front of the tall gaijin. Much of the crowd is actually in line already for firewalking. So no coal walking for us.

I believe that all announcements given during this thing were in chant form, so it was quite difficult to follow along. There was this massive pile/pyre of what looked like evergreen limbs (that were still quite green) in the middle of a cordoned off area. The whole area was surrounded by at least 2 fire brigades, suggesting that they might light this thing on fire.

First you sprinkle some oil around the thing (or maybe holy water? Either way, something combustive)

Then you bring out the monks, who try to achieve ignition through applied chanting (it didn’t work).

Now they’re bringing out the big guns. This guy looks like the Dalai Lama, but I assume he isn’t. The Dalai Lama wouldn’t need no stinking umbrella, not to mention this guy was wearing shoes.

I can’t really recall how this fire started, but probably something vaguely Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon crossed with Agumon.


Raaah, fire.
Then we decided to actually climb the mountain. It’s a little guy, with paths and stairs pretty much the whole way up (if you take the pussy way, that is). Sparks & co. set a crazy fast pace, as they either wished to put the rest of us in our unfit-place, or was in a rush to get to the top, go back down, and end up right where she started. Anyway we fairly promptly got to a pretty outlook place where you can see much of Tokyo.

You’re supposed to be able to see Shinjuku (a fancy neighbourhood of Tokyo) in this picture, or so the crazy Japanamantourguide said.

This one has some very, very corrugated hills, backed by Yokohama (That’s where I live!) in the background. No, I can’t see my house.

It was just about here that a couple of European noobies (a recent arrival from France, and from the Netherlands) and myself decided to branch a bit off the beaten path. So we jumped over some obviously mistaken obstacles and warning signs and headed onto a very sketchy path with promises of a waterfall and a shrine at the end.

The source of these pictures (Jessica) continued on her merry way, so the inevitably harrowing adventures that soon came my way went undocumented. But suffice to say we saw a lot of pretty flowers, dangerous precipices, waterfalls, albino monkeys with beards, Fujisan, etc...

We actually didn’t see any of these. I have no idea what they are.

We also saw a lot of stone Buddhas with hats, scarves, cardigans and earmuffs. I’m not clear on the reasoning behind these little accoutrements, but even the Buddhas on the tiny shrines we found in the mysterious waterfall area were well adorned with red hats and scarves at the very least.

Awwww, baby Siddharta!

This is the first time I've seen a Buddha in a toque.

It’s a shame there aren’t any photos of the massive Japanese temple complex at the top of the mountain (come on Jess, get with the program!), or the platform with an entrance to the temples that clearly says “Priests only!!” (which I accidentally explored, and was summarily cursed by). There is this one that I think is taken from the top, with (what I think might be) Fujisan very very dimly in the middle of the shot.

A very ambiguously dim caldera.

Right now I’m literally falling apart at work. My Ishigaki sun burns and coral wounds have left me horribly scarred and with mild necrosis of the right hand. I have 1.6GB of Ishigaki photos to steal from Jessica and Arianna and add to my own, I’ll post some goodies in a bit.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I'm leaving, on a jet plane...

Hey so I haven't posted here in a little while.

Last weekend I climbed Takao-san (they use post-nominal honorifics here for mountains). It was pretty exciting and harrowing at times. I forgot my camera though (lame) but a friend of mine who is a much better photographer put a bunch up on flickr, which I will put up here when I get back.

Get back from where, you ask? I'm heading to Ishigaki-jima, an island in the Ryukyu archipelago south of Japan (way, way south, about as far south as you can go and still be in Japan). The latitude is about the same as the Bahamas, and so we're going there mostly for snorkeling, rainforesting, beaching, diving, etc. Should be a good time. Unfortunately we're camping, and the Ishigaki camping season doesn't start until April 1st (so we can't get a permit).

This doesn't seem to faze my intrepid fellow-adventurers, who are more than happy to skirt the law in order to full experience this tropical getaway.

Two quick things.

One, this place has coconut crabs. To quote Wikipedia: "The coconut crab, Birgus latro, is the largest land-living arthropod in the world, and is probably at the upper limit of how big terrestrial animals with exoskeletons can become in today's atmosphere."
"Reports about the size of Birgus latro vary, but most references give a body length of up to 40 cm (16 in)[13], a weight of up to 4.1 kg (9.0 lb), and a leg span of more than 0.91 m (3.0 ft)[14], with males generally being larger than females. There have been reports in the literature of specimens measuring 6 feet (1.8 m) across the thorax and weighing 30 pounds (14 kg).[15][16] They can live more than 30 years [14]."

They also look like the guard the beaches of hell itself.

Here is a pretty picture of the beach near the place we'll be unlawfully camping:


See you all on the flip side. I'm catching a flight out of Tokyo early, early tomorrow morning, so I'm staying in a capsule hotel tonight. I'm going full-on Japanese style accommodations for this trip.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Nihonglish highlights that I certainly hope all my Japana-friends will adopt:

This evening, when it was waffling between freezing rain and melting snow, to my boss:
"Tenki fucking hidoi desu yo" (The weather is less than ideal, would you agree?)

Talking with one of my collaborators:
Oota-san: "Mitsubishi Kagaku wa iten o yoginaku saremasu. (Mitsubishi is forcing me to move [jobs]).
Me: No shit desu ne? (Is that so?)

My Japanese is doing pretty well, such that I can often understand quite a bit (if not most, if I know what to listen for) of what is said by my coworkers. But my speaking is still lagging behind, so I end up just responding in English. Its a good thing my coworkers are in just about the same position as me (except reversed), so our conversations work out better than expected. I intersperse some Nihongo into my speak just to make me not sound like a complete gaijin to passers-by.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Some Random Stuff

So I haven't posted here in a few days and I know that means that everyone's Buzz feed has been eerily empty. No one wants an empty Buzz feed, especially not Google. I feel as though I have to do my part to destroy Twitter and Facebook.

I pulled all these photos off of my iPhone. So I apologize for the ridiculously bad quality. Its a first generation one, and it has a case on it which has a very, very dirty little glass lens-protector that I have been meaning to remove for about 3 years, so theres a bit of a halo around everything. The photos are anywhere from a few weeks to a few hours old.

This is my favourite kitty from the Akihabara La La Neko Cafe that I went to wayyy back. He was by far the smallest, and almost troublingly thin, but he had a great regal look to him, so I had to take a picture.

Don't worry, thats the last cat cafe picture I'll post. I took about 300 while I was there, and I'm saving everyone's time by not posting them all with very predictable "Awww, KITTY!" captions.

This one is from the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo. Theres not much to say about this, except that I was quite disappointed not to find any REAL mounties at the embassy. There was one Nipponese guarding the door that ushered me in like royalty after I showed him my passport, but no mounted police to be seen, other than this cutout. I'm pretty sure thats a Wayne Gretzky doll or something on the left.

Ahh, the famous Saita-san, caught on film at last. This is us after the reception at the Embassy. I look like a monster! And hes wearing crazy heals on his dress shoes in this pic too.

Okay this is a really zoomed out shot, and the quality just isn't there to zoom in much, unfortunately. On the right is the Yokohama wharf, the longest in the world I believe. It looks like something that the USS Enterprise (the starship or the carrier) would dock at. This ship on the left is the newest of an experimental line of mega-catamarans, a couple of which are in service in the US Navy ( A Japanese ferry line just purchased a couple of them, and this is one of them. In true Japanese fashion, the port and starboard sides are covered in favourite A.A. Milne characters (Read: Winnie the Pooh). The ship is massive and looks like that stealth ship from a few James Bond's ago, except flamboyant, pink and covered with Piglet instead of mysterious, black and covered in stealth materials.

I'm really not a big fan of ships, but this one uses magnetohydrodynamic propulsion (known as a Caterpillar drive) that has no moving parts, but induces a current in sea water, and then uses a changing magnetic field to "push" the conductor (the sea water) away. So no moving parts, and this mother can go up to 60 knots (110+km/h).

So yesterday we (the normal crowd of NTTers and myself) went to the Kirin Beer Garden, according to a travel website the 8th most visited attraction in Yokohama (of 9, about 5 of which are hardly a 5 minute walk apart).
When we got in were were greeted by this cuneiform tablet. My brilliant understanding of Japanese was able to extract "Sumer", "Mesopotamia", "Beer" and "Welcome". From the information sign nearby, not the tablet, Katakana was not exactly the lingua franca in 3000 BCE Sumer. It seems as though Kirin (the oldest brewery in Japan) fancies that it can trace the roots of its recipes back to Mesopotamia (where beer was first invented).

And to Egypt (where beer was used to trick thousands of slaves into building pyramids - according to the brochure). The lobby with the ancient beer recipes also had a table for doing origami. If you could follow the instructions there and make a certain shape, you could trade it for an awesome "Blue Samurai" (kind of beer) bandanna. See Exhibit A.

Exhibit A.

The free tour came with some free beers at the end of it. This picture is noteworthy as Jessica is a staunch supporter of alcohol abstinence until marriage (did I get that right Jess? If not you're going to have to come out of lurk-mode and correct me). Don't worry, she didn't actually drink anything. Other than some revolting 0.00% quasi-Sprite-beer stuff. As you can tell from the picture, Arianna picked up the slack.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Its a slippery slope, friends.

I started talking to myself yesterday. I promptly told myself I was an idiot for talking to myself, and then chuckled semi-maniacally for about 5 seconds, and groaned for about 1 second. This is a problem.

Next thing you know I'm going to be staving off a psychological collapse by arguing the finer points of game theory with an imaginary British roommate named Charles.

That just won't do. My dorm room is too small for even the most sporadic of hallucinated roommates.

In other news, I found an American style 50's diner with good pancakes. Its totally authentic, if I squint a lot I almost feel like I'm at Mel's. Except for the eggs. They're still that strange Japanese egg-yolk colour.

Yes, those are white people.

Monday, March 1, 2010


I come to you now with a solemn plea.

Anyone who can find it in their heart to give me their PDEng Assignment 3 will forever earn themselves any of the following:

1. Your very own USB dental intra-oral camera, straight from Akihabara.

2. Your very own breathalyzer, with built-in timer AND flashlight! Also from Akihabara.

3. Your very own time machine*! Future-Blake shall be going to have given me this, he will have a thing for closed time-like curves.

Proof of time machine. Arash visiting his role model.

4. My undying gratitude and love.

5. Free, lifetime subscription to Coffee Nanoparticles.

6. A one-time favour of your choosing.