Monday, 30 June 2008

Astro Wars Strikes Back

I know it's only been a week, but I went back..

Yes, I went to a place to get OFF.
To a lot of "Offs". This is the Hachioji one I went to last week.

I decided to take this better picture from the carpark. See that van in the photo? Almost ran into me as he was going forward, to be able to reverse into his space. I got your number plate buddy. Don't mess with Sampleman®!

I was going to go somewhere new, but time was running out. I had to pay my extortion money today as well. Oh sorry, I mean my NHI and resident tax.

The main reason I came here was that I was itching to try out Astro Wars (aka Galaxy II).

An old game from when I was many, many years younger than today. Bring your mind back to 1981 if you will.

Would I be disappointed that it was good back then and now horribly dated, and way too easy to play? I'm happy to say it's the same joy I experienced all those years ago. It was a blast.

The asking price here was around about 3000 yen with the original box. The only thing that stopped me from buying it was that it LOOKED like it was 27 years old! Shame that. I've been spoilt by museum pieces that must've been put in time capsules.

There's also the slight hassle of bringing this one back home. It's quite a bit bigger than the other handhelds I've accumulated so far.

There's a sim that I'm sure I mentioned before that MADrigal has created that while not exactly the same, he did a good job. There's something about glowing LEDs that a computer sim can't emulate no matter how good it is. Want to try it out? Get it from here.

From memory, I think my Astro Wars naturally died on its own and wasn't thrown out before it was considered non-functional. I will find another you!

Another reason I came here was to try out Dr Dental again.

I was undecided to get it last time. I tried it again, and to tell you the truth it didn't quite do it for me. Definitely not the nostalgia trip that the other one gave me. Maybe it was because I never actually owned this handheld.

On that same simulator page is Hippo Teeth, by Time & Fun, which is practically the same game. Quite a few of their games are rip-offs of other company's successful ones. It'll give you an idea what the game is about.

Stay tuned for some more recycle shop craziness soon!

Sunday, 29 June 2008

A Portal Away From The Rain

Today's my day off. Therefore it must rain.

As if on cue, from the moment I woke up until this point of time it has been raining. I'm not going to let it get me down though. My brother asked me if I liked puzzle games. Usually I'd say no, but this one's pretty addictive.

It's called Portal. The aim of the game is to go through rooms using some strategy and essentially, a portal gun.

The original, retail version uses a 3D environment and third person view like a RPG. If you'd like to give it a try, there's a free 2D flash version you can try out from here.

Although the graphics are not quite as detailed in this one, it's plenty addictive and at times frustrating. It's easy to get stuck, so me being lazy I just used some walkthroughs on Youtube to get through the levels slightly easier.

I'm up to level 15 right now. I'm momentarily giving it a break for now. Out of curiosity I checked if there was something like this for my Nintendo DS. There is!

Someone has actually written a game, Still Alive DS using the same elements, and it's really good. Great actually, considering it's a "home-made" creation.

You can even make up your own levels with a custom map editor included in the game. Another excuse to waste time, instead of learning Japanese or doing something else productive. Fantastic!

Speaking of the Nintendo DS, I came across this promo for "Guitar Hero On Tour". Intentional or not, it's hilarious.

Something a little more useful perhaps, is Jam Sessions which turns your Nintendo DS into a (very) portable guitar. It's based on the original Japanese version called, Hiite Utaeru DS Guitar M-06.

You strum the screen to play the guitar. A little tricky to play well, but a great idea I think. Imagine, a Nintendo DS band! The funny thing is, I could actually see something like that happening in a place like Japan.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Sampleman Saves Kitten

I really should give myself a good night's sleep. It doesn't help when I get asked to save a poor kitty that's been crying on the balcony all night.

"Sampleman®, can you help us?"

I wasn't wearing my power pants, in fact I wasn't wearing.. never mind.

Anyway, it took about ten minutes or so. The little ball of fluff wasn't letting me rescue him easily. Helpfully the little pussy was hiding under the airconditioning unit on the very narrow balcony.

I used an umbrella to coax it out. The gf pleaded with me not to hurt it. If only I could just push it a little over the edge onto the car it probably jumped up from in the first place.

No, I am not that cruel.

Finally with rubber glove, I managed to grab the kitten from underneath and I rushed through the apartment to release the ungrateful furball out the front door. It was like a kitty gun. As soon as I let go a little bit of pressure, the lil' dude was a feline bullet.

Sampleman's mission accomplished, no samples required!

Today after work I made my way to Treasure Factory in Eda, only two stops from the school in Tama Plaza.

Unlike the other recycle shops (did someone say "Hard Off"?), this was an easy ten minute walk and looking around this place it looked like it had items I might actually buy!

It's located in a large green building on the second floor above "Fit Care Depot", a large drugstore.

The prices were actually quite reasonable.

Not much that I was actually looking for though. It was like a combo-Off store with a bit of everything. If you need household stuff: fridge, washing machine, maybe a desk or sofa. This is the place. I think they have a delivery service as well.

I didn't buy anything yet again, but this is one place that I'll definitely come back to on the hunt for a good bargain.

Friday, 27 June 2008

Price Off!

Maybe it's some kind of twisted coincidence that lately it's been raining on my days off. Yesterday I wanted to go to Akihabara, but the rain only let me get as far as the nearest combini to pay my phone bill.

On a lovely (work) day like today it was unsurprisingly fine, so I woke up early enough to kill a bit of time there. Although a little bit quick I managed to see everything I wanted to see.

I popped into Superpotato to see if they had any goodies for me, and I saw a "Pengin Gin" for the sweet price of 1344 yen.

I had some watch batteries to test it but they wouldn't let me test it there before buying. I asked if there was any warranty and they said just a week. It looked in good condition so I decided just to buy it.

It looked just like a "Neko Don Don" with penguins instead of cats. It seemed a good enough reason to get it.

After I took it off it's plastic wrapping I noticed a screw holding the battery compartment shut. It was a little bit of a nuisance. Why did they do that? So kids don't eat the batteries I suppose. I walked into one of the many computer shops and asked to borrow a screwdriver.

I was a little disappointed to find that it wasn't working apart from a tiny bit of sound. I took it back and they gave me a refund and two 100 yen vouchers for my troubles.

That was a nice gesture. On arriving home I tested the batteries on Zaxxon and Neko Don Don. They worked but the batteries are almost drained, so the LCDs were quite faded. Maybe it needed stronger batteries? It still showed SOMETHING on these games, so I still think it was a broken game.

To end today's post, I saw it and couldn't help myself to take this picture.

I have been OD'ing on "OFF"s. Here's no exception. When it's off, it really is off.


Wednesday, 25 June 2008

The Kind You Find In A Secondhand Store

I must be bored. I assigned myself another mission. Yes, Another Hard Off..

How "hard" can you get?

Because I have another day in Yokohama, I plotted all the Hard Off's on Google Earth closest to here, and chose Tsurugamine on the Sosetsu line, not too far from Yokohama.

There is one a little further away, but I just didn't have the fricken time to do both of them. I always seem to be cutting it fine, but somehow I got to work in plenty of time.

It didn't help that I momentarily lost my way. I got on track pretty quick.

Another reason why I wanted to go, was because when I had planned to leave Tomioka I almost moved into a place in Wadamachi on the same line.

Looking (very) briefly as the train passed the station I'm glad I didn't move there. About ten minutes from Yokohama, it felt not unlike another Tomioka.

I knew I was there when I saw the back entrance. Not only is there a Hard Off but also an Off House.

i ascended the elevator and looked around. Although like the other places, a lot of the items were shrink-wrapped in plastic, there was nothing I wanted.

It's funny. After all the places I've been to so far I haven't bought anything at all.

It's the journey, not the destination..

Monday, 23 June 2008

Going Off!

After the shock surprise of the only inner Tokyo Hard Off gone AWOL, I decided to find some more as yet unexplored "Off" stores.

Conveniently today there's one not too far from Tachikawa, in Hachioji.

That's the good news. The not so good news is that there is approximately a twenty minute walk from the station. What makes this particular outing enticing is that there's not just a Hard Off.

Oh no. No siree!

What we have here is a Hard Off, Mode Off, Off House, Hobby Off and Off House all in the one area.

The first that appeared on the horizon (well, around the corner) was Mode Off.

What you'll find here are used men's and women's fashion apparel. I looked here briefly hoping to find some old Oakley Frogskins. No luck I'm afraid.

Walking a little further up the road I saw a warehouse with the words, "Hard Off" and "Off House" proudly displayed.

Off House is quite similar to Mode Off in that it had much of the same items. Nothing out of the ordinary here.

Oh, maybe an interesting Mickey Mouse watch but how many do I really need of those?

Hard Off is pretty much the same as all the other Hard Off stores I've visited so far. I felt a little bit of deja vu coming here. There was nothing that made me want it so badly that I had to have it.

Finally I went to Hobby Off (There was also a Book Off, but unlike the other stores, these are all over the place in Tokyo). This is kind of like a junk yard toy shop.

I did find some "Game & Watch" games. I tried a Donkey Kong II and a Bandai "Dr Dental". Although in good cosmetic condition, the DK's LCD had faded sprites and two small black blotches of liquid crystal.

Dr Dental's screen looked slightly better but still faded. The gameplay was not as good as I remembered it, but with faded LCDs it took away a bit of the joy.

I asked the clerk if they had any others and he said no. I think he misunderstood, because after I tried these games I noticed quite a few others right behind me! Damn you Japanese!! There was even an "Astro Wars"!

Because time was running out I didn't have the chance to test it for old time's sake. Maybe a good thing. I probably would've bought it. My abort time had passed, and I still had to get back to the station to get to work at Tachikawa.

I made it to the station in reasonable time. I was cautious getting on a special rapid service and asked a man, "Tachikawa?" He just grunted, so I jumped off to catch a local service. I should've known better. The next train was ten minutes later, closing my window of opportunity to get to work on time.

I had to run, but somehow I managed to punch in with one minute to spare.


After work I decided to get some Krispy Kreme.

There was a small line but I wasn't offered a freebie. At the counter I noticed others been given a donut before placing their orders. When I got there, she just took my order and was about to take me to the checkout. I pointed at the complimentary tray, and she thought I wanted a box.

For now I'll give the benefit of the doubt, and not say it was a Japanese discrimination thing, but I wasn't happy about it. For that, I just bought four instead of my usual dozen.

It won't be the last Krispy Kreme, and something tells me it won't be the last Hard Off just yet either.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Rule Of Threes

Ok, it's saturday and it's happening like I thought it would.

I left slightly later than I usually do to get to work in Tama Plaza. For some reason one of the trains was delayed by about ten minutes. Not much you'd think, but to make a connection that is enough to miss it easily.

What is cool about train delays in Japan (yes, they DO happen contrary to what you might think), is that the ticket gate master will issue a densha chien shoumei sho (電車遅延証明書) to excuse yourself being late for work.

To play it safe I grabbed one (My first since I arrived in Japan. How exciting). Luckily I still managed to catch my connection arriving to work in time.

Today I found out another teacher has left to go back home. I found out from other staff. While he told me he was thinking of leaving, it still feels quite sudden.

What made it especially saddening is that it looks like I'll be the last of my training group still here very soon.

See You.

Friday, 20 June 2008


As I sip instant coffee from my DOA boobs mug, I can't help but think of the little disappointments I've come across this week.

For starters my sore throat persisted for a whole week. The damn thing would just not leave me. I even had to excuse myself from a class momentarily to have a drink of water. I just couldn't speak.

Recently I received what I thought were my health insurance payment slips finally arriving. They look the same. Each month I now have to pay 12,000 yen.

I expected a bit of a hike, so I resigned myself to the situation. In the next few days I was shocked to realise these were resident tax payments, NOT my NHI!

On Tuesday I watched as I was sitting safely on the train, two elderly women getting quite violently pushed along as all the salarymen impatiently boarded the train. Just another Tuesday I guess.

Wednesday was my time-out for a while. I always look forward to the "Station Beers" next to The Diamond complex, where there is a great view.

And no, that's not it. I mean the passing parade of sweet looking Japanese girls walking to catch their trains home, watching me as I scoff my nikuman and chu-hi.

Tonight there was a Japanese man in our usual standing spot, so we came across the not-so-good idea of parking ourselves on the other dimly-lit side near the Koban.

Not as much to look at over here. A young guy with a guitar sat next to us and thoughtfully decided to take it out and tune it for ages before playing a song I've never heard of. Bit of an average player though. Maybe he was expecting us to say how great he was.

Even though it is clearly posted EVERYWHERE that smoking wasn't permitted, there were smokers puffing away nearby. One guy cautiously looked at us, before sitting down close by.

My colleague had enough, and yelled "NO SMOKING". The guy apologised in English, "sorry, sorry", but he still stayed around like a bad smell, looking like he wanted to kill someone.

At that point we just decided to go back to our old position, near the Diamond. MUCH better.

On arriving home with the usual level of toxicity, I noticed another envelope almost identical to the one I received earlier.

THIS was my National Health Insurance! I was so pleased to find out that my payments have gone from 1000 yen a month, to 7940 yen a month. At that point of the night, it was just too much to take, so I just went straight to bed.

I knew today would end up not so good from the moment I tried to catch my train.

I watched the closing doors laugh at me, because the "effing" Japanese were moving down the stairs at sloth speed, not allowing me to get on in time.

I had in mind to stop off at Oimachi where there was a Hard Off. Note that I say "was". I was more than a little pissed to find the building was white-boarded up and covered with scaffolding. Looks like a central Tokyo Hard Off is just a memory now.

To top things off, today I find out my work don't want me to wear T-shirts for kids classes.

I wore them because I feel less hot, and much more comfortable wearing them. They say I can bring another shirt (but not even a polo). This really defeats the purpose why I wanted to wear a T in the first place.

Only one more day to end this week. What else can go wrong?

Saturday, 14 June 2008

The Fukyu Line

Beginning today, Tokyo has it's newest, and probably last metro subway line.

The Fukutoshin Line adds a new link between Shibuya and Ikebukero. For short, I've dubbed it the "Fukyu Line".

Have I ridden on it yet? No, why? To get to Ikebukero? No, thanks. I will spare myself any time in "Ikky", wasteland of Pachinko's broken dreams.

It's no coincidence at all, but today is also the anniversary of being with the gf.

The time has gone by quickly. While there have been a few hiccups along the way, I think I've made it this far relatively unscathed. I guess I should be happy that it's one of the few that have gotten this far.

Only time will tell. Wish me luck.

Over the last couple of days, I've been watching a Yahoo Auction with the same Invaders Of The Mummy's Tomb that I used to have.

With an original price of 4000 yen, I thought it was a reasonable price to buy back my memories. Tonight the auction ended at 7000 yen. No, I didn't win it.

I was more than a little disappointed to let it go once more. I guess I'll have to just keep on the look out until I finally get it.

Friday, 13 June 2008

iPhone, I want

Some very interesting news.

Apple has announced that the new 3G iPhone will be distributed in Japan through Softbank next month. Great news for me considering it's the network I'm on.

My mobile phone bills are considerably tiny, since I chose their white plan. That, and the fact that I must be the only person in Japan using SMS rather than email to communicate.

I can't work out my bill though. For some reason it seems to vary even though I use it the same way every month. It helps when just about everyone I know is on Softbank (formally Vodaphone). With this news, they are sure to grab even more market-share from AU and DoCoMo.

I know I've only had my Windows phone for less than six months, but that iPhone is one sexy piece of kit.

It should be big over here. There's some interesting comment about it's impact here in Japan.

One of my peeves regarding my phone is the lack of a Japanese font and input (with an English WM6).

I've solved this small problem with some very useful Ce-Star software here.

Now my webpages show all the Japanese text I want to see and allows me to input data as well. Just like as if I had the WM6 Japanese ROM. Nice.

So, with GPS and wi-fi I won't be too envious of all the people that will soon be flashing their new iPhones around.

The only question now is, where is everyone going to hang their too cute little phone charms off their iPhone?

Monday, 9 June 2008

Getting Another Hard Off

Recycle shops (what the Japanese call "secondhand"), are pretty hard to find around Central Tokyo.

Unfortunately they all seem to be out in the sticks away from any transport.

You may remember from way back in January, I went through my first Hard Off experience.

Knowing that I had another day in Tachikawa, I thought to check if there were any nearby. As luck would have it, there's one in Izumi Taiikukkan on the Tama monorail. It's only three stops from Tachikawa (5 minutes) and a short walk.

It added an extra 400 yen to my train fare. For some reason an elevated railway line costs more to travel on. (That train to Odaiba is a rip-off as well). A more scenic view perhaps?

Was it worth it?

A lot of stuff was in pretty amazing condition. There were some nice Fender guitars. I saw an Yamaha V50 I used to have. It was about $160. It wasn't much of a good synth though. Again I saw a lot of video game consoles from a long time ago.

I actually found a few Game & Watch games, but they weren't priced that well, and I've seen examples in much better condition.

It wasn't a useless trip. I didn't buy anything but it's interesting what the Japanese consider junk. The stuff was definitely in much better condition that the equivalent places back home. I wish I had more time to rummage through the boxes.

After work I had a bad sore throat and went to the drugstore.

As usual it was a game of charades telling the clerk my problem. I did a babelfish translation online and it came under the category of "horehound" which I thought was pretty funny. They say it's good for sore throats.

It wasn't as good as the trusty Strepsils back home. That stuff works magic to soothe a sore throat.

It didn't help that there was a big delay on the Chuo line getting home either.

What did make me smile was a poster on the way out of the station.

The gesture this guy is doing is commonly known back home (and Italy) as the "Get F*#ked" gesture. A sort of "giving the finger" in a larger way.

Too funny.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

I Can Play Japanese DVDs Now. Sugoi!

There's no better way to getting up in the morning than hearing some hearty chanting, and watching a group of Japanese carting a portable shrine outside your window.

I knew there was some kind of shrine festival going on this weekend, but it looks like there are numerous ones all over the city, so I don't know what this one was called.

I didn't go to bed until quite late last night. I was trying to figure out how to make my Mac DVD drive region-free.

This is pretty simple on a PC, but the Matshita drives Apple use have their shipped firmwares unable to be unlocked. The DVD region can be changed a limited amount of times and then is locked forever after that.

I think this is an appropriate topic in my blog. I'm not too happy about that limitation, and being here in Japan I'd like to be able to play some region two Tsutaya rentals (THE music/movie rental company in Japan).

The good news is someone figured out how to do a firmware to make my drive region-free.

First I went here to find the firmware relative to my Mac.

To check the spec on your mac drive get DVD Info X. Once the drive is unlocked, you have to manually change the new region with Region X.

For some reason I got "the application quit unexpectedly", when I tried to load the new firmware. I tried everything to make it run without any luck. I think it may be a common problem when doing this on a Macbook Pro.

Looking through the forums I found a link for a simple flash utility that updated my firmware manually using Terminal, without any problems. So all good, and I could finally get to sleep!

For a change on a day off, I actually wanted to do something interesting. The weather was overcast. At least it wasn't raining.

I thought to check out a surf gear shop near Oshiage station. On Google Earth, it doesn't look that far from Akihabara. It IS.

I found out it's actually not that far from Asakusa. How I knew that, was because I made a wrong turn and found myself overshadowed by the Golden Poo.

Along the way there, I discovered a weekend market behind Akihabara selling mostly women's clothes and kitchen utensils in stalls lining the roads. It reminded me of the markets in Sicily. Nice.

It was good to check out something new in Tokyo, but unfortunately the shop I planned to visit was closed today. It's not the destination that's important, it's the journey getting there. At least that's what I told myself.

While I was in Akihabara I checked all my favourite shops. The novelty has mainly worn off, but I still like to walk along the back streets. Today was particularly busy.

There were some cars pimped with anime characters.This was my favourite looking one.Only in Akihabara.

I was cursing myself for playing a UFO catcher and losing 100 yen. I thought I'd kicked this habit. That was Crunky money! Speaking of..

Feeling hungry, I walked into a Family Mart for a Crunky. I wish I'd spent the catcher money just for this. Crunky is always worthwhile. They had another Limited Edition Crunky that looked like white chocolate and coffee, but after last time, I just went with the classic one.

After a long day I was pretty tired.

Lucky I wasn't in Akihabara a few hours earlier though. There was a really serious incident, with quite a few dead. Read about it here.

Not good at all. You've got to be thankful for what you've got, and what you do with your time.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

So Japanezy in a Kawasaki Izakaya

Yesterday I was asked to go to an izakaya tonight.

While it's not exactly on my side of town these days I said yes. I haven't been izakaya "dining" for a while now, so I thought it'd be a good chance to be out and about for a change.

I got a call from them letting me know they weren't going to wait for me until 7:30, and meet me there. Not a good sign for a promising night, but it looks like I didn't have much to worry about.

Izakaya cuisine isn't the most filling, but the food was actually pretty good.

There were only three girls and three guys including myself. I thought there'd be more people, but at least it's a nice even mix. A lot of Japanese was spoken so a lot of the time all I heard was, "blah, blah, blah", hahaha, "blah, blah, blah". Another of those times I wish I knew how to speak Japanese.

I managed to get the train back easily. I should get out more often. Although a little subdued (I didn't drink as much as I thought I would), I had an enjoyable night. 3000 yen each covered the food and drinks so not bad at all.

After my last post about Hikaru Utada, I got curious about her other songs. So I scoured Youtube for her other stuff.

I was surprised to learn she was born in America and spent a long time there. She's only released one fully English singing CD so far. The first single of that was pretty catchy, but unfortunately has the lamest line in a song ever, "You're easy breezy and I'm Japanesey".

I forgive her with the other good tunes she's done. Maybe it's a good thing I don't understand Japanese.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Prisoner Of Love

It's official. RAIN sucks.

Apart from a really nice day yesterday, I am treated to another overcast day keeping me inside yet again. So I'm doing what I usually do. Useless surfing of the internet.

A song doing the rounds at the moment is "Prisoner Of Love" by Utada Hikaru. It looks like it's featured as the theme song for a Japanese drama on tv.

It's really catchy and I really like the lyrics. I just sing "I'm just a prisoner of love, prisoner of love". The rest I just kind of hum along. I'm sure the words are really deep with meaning.

It doesn't hurt that the girl is a bit of a honey.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Sampleman Loves Kimuraya

Another day in Ginza seldom gets more rewarding than making your way into Kimuraya for some azuki goodness. With constant days of rain lately, I need a sugar high to raise my mood.

Last night I decided against going into Krispy Kreme, Tachikawa for another box of doughnuts.

I just got the last lot a week ago. A lot of sugar can't be too good for you. So this week I've decided to opt for a "little less" sugar instead.

Still a bit unimpressed with the price increase, Sampleman® gets as many free samples as he can. A great way to get an extra bite to eat before work too!

Going home is hilarious. I don't know why I do it, but I put myself in the busiest carriage. At Ginza it's pretty easy to get a seat. One station before mine the people just pile on. The best way to describe it is like a sausage machine. Every available space is quickly squashed with people.

From my safe sitting position, it's truly a fascinating sight.

I like being the outsider looking in. I'm glad I'm not Japanese sometimes. These are one of those times.