Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Umbrella Condoms

Now that summer is well and truly over I feel so fortunate to have the stifling heat replaced by endless days of depressing rain, and typhoons that look so threatening on TV, pass by without a second thought to cross the mainland.

One thing that you can't help not to notice are the plastic bag "condoms" supplied to you as you enter most of the shops and arcades.

At the end of a shopping spree, these used plastic covers are just thrown away, so then you just get another one when entering the next store. How eco-friendly is that?

I took this picture ages ago of one of those umbrella condom dispensing machines.

And yes, in case you didn't notice, this IS in front of a UFO catcher place in Shibuya. Thankfully I've mostly weened myself off them. As usual I don't really care if people see me take photos of seemingly ordinary things.

As a case in point, this photo is the next installment of Tokyo Metro's train manner posters.

On first sight I thought the train people don't want you to practise your golf swing on a train platform.

I've only noticed this being done once in the men's bathroom while I was washing my hands. He must've been pissed. He must've been Japanese. He was.

I think the point here is, don't swing your wet umbrella in the path of others. It's so un-Japanese.

Maybe it's ok if your umbrella has "protection".

"If it's not on, it's not on." Right?

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Gimme 180 yen beer!

At late notice I got an email for a night out in Shimo Kitazawa the night before.

What I noticed mostly in the email was "180 yen" and "beer". With those magic words, it was a good turnout of twelve people. Mostly fellow teachers and their friends.

I finished my shift at 5pm and went home for a rest. Compared to Higashi Rinkan last week, this place is not so far away.

I caught the connecting Keio Inokashira express line from Shibuya. It's the first time I've been inside this part of the Keio line building. I saw a few shops for the first time. It's good to discover something new again.

For a saturday night, everyone was packed like sardines to go home. Luckily I only had to get off at the next stop.

My first impression of this place was that it was really quiet. It was only 8:30pm and all the shops in the small, main street were already closing.

Once we all met up, we made our way to an izakaya for a LOT of 180 yen beer. I'd give the location if I knew exactly where it was. I was just blindly following the others that knew the way. It might be a good thing though. For such low priced alcohol, places like this should be kept a secret.

The beer was served with quite a bit of beer head foam but for 180 yen I guess you can't complain too much.

We were seated on the roof terrace which has a nice atmosphere. I didn't know most of the other teachers there, so at first it was a little awkward getting to know everyone. But after quite a few drinks that really wasn't a problem.

Later on we had some Austrian hippies join us at our table with their guitar. They mostly played older rock songs which didn't draw my attention much.

When it got late, they told us to move downstairs to keep on drinking. It was still pretty good. By then I was doing my best to keep up with everyone else's drinking, getting harder and harder to get to the bathroom. The done thing in Japan is to split the bill evenly, so I had to make sure I got my fill.

Some Japanese people were having a birthday party next to us and at some point got to know us a little better. They gave me a birthday cake pin-on which I ended up bringing home.

The high point of the night was getting the chance to play and sing "Gimme Head" loudly to everyone in the restaurant. A classic moment. It's great when the Japanese don't understand English sometimes.

I gave them 3,000 yen for my share of the night's drinking. That would mean I would've drunk at least 15 beers. Somehow I didn't think I drunk that many. But then again, I lost count after three. Feeling my hangover well into the next evening reminds me that I probably did drink so many.

By the time we left the izakaya, someone inevitably mentioned karaoke.

I really didn't feel like doing it and wasting any more money, so myself and a few of the others passed on it. Instead we hung outside a bar nearby patting a big black dog, and chatting to a few of the locals wandering by until the sun came up.

We caught the first train in the morning. I was on autopilot getting back to the apartment. I slept for a long time.

I don't think this will be the last time in Shimokitazawa. No siree.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Going To Shoppingu In Ginza

Almost two weeks ago, on September 13th, we saw the first opening in Japan of a H & M store in glitzy Ginza.

Being my day off today, we decided to check it out. As usual the trains make it seem further from home that it is. It didn't take long at all to get there.

Neither I, nor the gf knew where it was, so of course I had to ask a security guard where it was. The question was easy, the rest I just watched where he was pointing and nodded my head.

I was shocked to see that they had set up a queue to enter the store that went across two street blocks!

Those Japanese are a crazy bunch. There's no way I'm waiting in a line THAT big for a clothing store.

To kill some time we looked around some department stores in Ginza. We walked into Kimuraya and Sampleman® proceeded to eat as many samples for maximum energy.

Our big mistake was to say we'd come back later, only to find all the anpan gone :(

We had dinner at the unagi restaurant we once went to ages ago. Still pricey, but really tasty.

Eel is not much different to a snake, but unlike octopus or prawns, I manage to just savour the taste, leaving the mental picture far out of my mind.

So, back to the H & M...

The line was considerably shorter later on, so this time we waited less than five minutes to get in.


There are three levels of women's clothes and only one basement floor of men's clothing.

This place reminds me a little of Uniqlo. The prices are reasonable, but I think the quality and style is a little more hip.

I hadn't planned to do any shopping, but I saw a brown argyle sweater vest that if Justin Timberlake looks pretty suave in, maybe it can make JiJ look less "otaku", (but likely more) than I am.

A girl looked like she was almost going to buy it with her bf, but as soon as she let it go, I snapped it up. It was 3,290 yen. Not bad.

I waited in line (again) to try it on. I wanted to see what it looked like with a dress shirt, so I grabbed a brown-orange striped one that was near the fitting rooms to see how it would look on me.

This shirt has a really nice slim-fit cut, so I unexpectedly bought that as well. Another 3,990 yen. Arriving home I realized I have a similar yellow-brown striped shirt, but I think this was a good buy anyway.

Want to see what they look like? Here you go..

With my well-developed afro, "designer" stubble and this combo, I'm bringing sexy back. Ok? riiight..


Saturday, 20 September 2008

Tex Mex Pickups

It's good to be out and about every now and then. It keeps me sane. So, tonight after work, I joined a few of the others for dinner, mexican-style!

Location? Mike's Tex Mex Restaurant, Higashi Rinkan.

I could have went straight there from work in only about 20 minutes but that would've meant I'd be waiting around for about three hours. Not a great idea.

Instead I decided to go home and chill for a while before getting styled-up for a big night of enchiladas and tequila - sort of. Luckily the typhoon threatening Japan passed in the morning with only a little bit of rain.

From Yotsuya, it's more than a little bit far to go back there.

I caught my local into Shinjuku and then the Odakyu line to Sagami-Ono transferring to the Enoshima service to the next stop, Higashi Rinkan. It took around about an hour. All the while on the train I was thinking who's crazy idea was it to go to THIS restaurant in the middle of nowhere.

I haven't really done mexican before, but I have to say the food was really good! We took advantage of the "party menu" (4000 yen) which included all the food, draft beer and spirits. There was more than enough food and I couldn't manage to finish off my last beer (because of the trains of course).

For good measure, we all had a premium shot of tequila (1500 yen). After having my usual kind of tequila, this was really smooth. It went down like water. Dangerous.

By the end of the night I was totally full of mexican food and alcohol.

Surprisingly I didn't have too much trouble catching the train home. One of the girls was going in the same direction so it was nice to have one of them to chat with on the way back. She almost missed her stop, but I had to say "Isn't this your station?" Sometimes it's better just to shut one's mouth.

Getting back to Shinjuku station, I was more than a little disorientated as to which train to catch. For some reason I thought I had to catch a Yamanote train home. Ikebukuro or Shibuya direction?


The smart way home was via the Chuo line which alcohol-guided, I got on finally.

My camera's pics didn't come out so good (everyone was two-headed from the blurring), so I give my thanks to BBD for his donated pics of me and those fine ladies.

Looks like there may be another fun night coming up real soon. I can't wait. I had a blast.


Monday, 15 September 2008

Roughing It

I was excited for the first camping trip I was going on since high school, a LONG time ago.

The rendezvous at Kamio-Oka was around 8:30pm. I thought I'd have plenty of time but I just couldn't get there before 8:40pm, even though I finished work at 5pm at Tama Plaza. This is the first time I've travelled on the Keikyu line since I lived in Tomioka. I didn't realize how much nicer these trains are than the JR line.

Lucky for me I wasn't the only late one.

It wasn't until 9:20pm that we finally left. For most of the journey we travelled along the Bayshore route of the Shuto expressway towards Chiba.

My particular highlights of this road was going along the Yokohama Bay Bridge with a really nice view of the Minato Mirai area, and passing Odaiba and the big Fuji TV building.

I can't believe how many toll roads there are around here. We made our way to Chosi in Chiba, and drove south down the coast towards Kujukuri-hama looking for a cool place to pitch our tents.

It was quite dark so we couldn't see much.

About 4am, we finally settled on a place in Isumi-shi, Misaki-machi. We put up our tents next to a car parking area overlooking the sea in the darkness, guided by our flashlights and alcohol. It was the perfect spot to be.

This satellite photo shows the exact location of our camping site and the eroded hill that you could see.

We all wanted to climb to the top but none of us tried it.

I took a few photos for this panoramic shot. It's not quite perfect for a hand-held shot, but you can see how nice it looks. Click it for a close-up.

In my tent it was quite warm and the ground was not as hard as I'd thought it would be, so I decided not to take out my sleeping bag . I slept on the ground sheet and used it as a pillow instead. With the sound of waves I slept pretty quickly. The next morning we woke to the sound of kids and their families down on the beach.

We had a nice BBQ of pork, chicken and bean sprouts spiced with seasoning salt.

Another Japanese family seemed to like our idea, left and came back with their barbeque set. Instead of gas they were using hot coals which made a ton of smoke that blew in our direction.

Thanks guys.

At night some other family decided to shoot off a few fireworks. I'm sure these would be banned in Australia. Some of them were pretty cool, but if you set it up wrong it could easily cause a nasty accident. They were letting their kids light it! Nice light show though.

During this trip I swam in the sea twice. I don't understand it when people come to the beach and don't swim. In the morning the water was surprisingly warm and inviting. My later swim was actually much colder but I got used to it quickly.

There were lots of large rocks under the water so I had to be careful to get a good footing while absorbing the waves breaking around me.

On the other side of the hill there aren't many rocks but the waves were much stronger and the large rocks made it feel more dangerous here, so I switched back while the Japanese looked at me like I was a crazy man.

Here are a few more random shots at our campsite.

The Toyota "Probox", the rented station-wagon that carried us to Chiba and back.

This is my tent (without the rain cover). It done its job great. Lots of room too. Captain Stag to the rescue!

Looking down the beach from on top of the breakwater barriers trying to avoid getting hit by a strong wave that occasionally lashed the rocks below me.

We went back a different way catching the ferry across Tokyo Bay to Kurihama Port near Yokosuka. From there back to Kamioka. Full circle.

From saturday night to monday I think it was a worthy trip. I had a good time with no rain at all. Almost perfect. One negative was the sunburn I received even though it was mostly cloudly on each day.

The other negative and this is a BIG negative was something I didn't expect to happen. It left a dark cloud hanging over our trip. Not a good way to end the weekend.

Read the next post for more..

Respect For The Aged?

One thing that really irks me about Japan is the accepted racism and xenophobia that a foreigner WILL face here.

From the moment you step off a plane at Narita, all foreigners are electronically fingerprinted for security reasons (of course).

Welcome to Japan!

Japanese people look kind and generous, but under the surface at the end of this camping trip I was disgusted by the reaction of the ugliest discrimination.

As a permanent outsider of Japan you will ALWAYS be referred to as a "GAIJIN" (outside person).

This didn't bother me when I arrived. As I didn't know what it REALLY meant, I accepted it as being outside of this monoculture society.

Now I realize that this term is used in the derogatory sense to insult. Overreaction? Let me explain..

The place where we stayed was close to an official camping ground we were intending to stay at. There was no one at reception so we instead camped down by the road nearby.

On our last day there we decided to take a very brief shower there. We didn't sneak in. We were observed by other Japanese without question.

Getting back to our tents two Japanese guys from the camp ground drove up to our area and questioned our use of their shower facilities. The other guys with me said it was no problem IN JAPANESE, that we were prepared to pay for using them.

You think that would be simple enough. Story over, right? No..

Typical of Japanese people not being able to make individual decisions by themselves, they called the caretaker of the camping ground (not the owner) to sort out this "really difficult" situation.

Shortly after this elderly man drove up in his 4WD and proceded to tell us what we did wrong and how "THIS IS JAPAN" and showing us what ugly Japan is all about. We said we'd pay, but you think this was it? No, of course not.

He called the police, constantly referring to us as GAIJIN. As everyone knows the only trouble in Japan is because of foreigners.. Hmm.. sarin terrorist attack on the subway.. Japanese.. serial killer in Akihabara.. Japanese..

So anyway, here comes the police. That sounds singular doesn't it? I mean SIX policemen! Two police cars and two scooters.

This is a major issue here! We have three gaijin take a fricken shower! No wonder Japanese have a warped idea of the "dangerous" foreigner. The onlookers must think there is something BIG going down.

In my opinion there should be a law against building fugly orange houses on the beach like in the picture above.

The younger policemen are reasonably sympathetic towards us, but a few of them use the same "Japan's rules" verbatim to smack us on our wrists.

They even bring up the camping in a National Park rule (There aren't any "No Camping" signs here). During our whole time here we saw two or three police cars going up and down the road, and not ONE of them came to tell us we couldn't camp here.

After this farce was over, the caretaker demanded 2400 yen for our two minute showers. (The rent for the DAY is usually only 300 yen!) Although he said earlier it wasn't about money, it showed everyone what a piece of Japanese s**t he is.

This is NOT an isolated incident here. I think this is an attitude largely held by a lot of the elderly population here. Respect for the aged? The only thing I can thank you for is this day off.

Oh another big thank you to the number of YOU JAPANESE that refuse to sit next to me on the train because I am GAIJIN. The arm room and place to put my bag is appreciated.

I thought it was an exaggeration, but to encounter this first-hand makes me really HATE this place.

Sorry for the venting. I like the people I work with and teach, but I just want to be treated respectfully, and not like the criminal they make us out to be.

Any comments?

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Full Metal Watch Band

Don't believe the Japanese Meteorological Agency website when they say there is a 30% chance of rain.

Thinking those odds were pretty good, I was about to leave home towards Shinjuku. Outside it looked like another drab Tokyo day, and wouldn't you know it, we had a short burst of heavy rain making a mockery of the weather man yet again.

Still I wasn't going to give up that easily. I grabbed my umbrella, and I was determined to get there rain or no rain.

I realized the watch band on my newish Citizen watch was not the original one. While it's not a bad strap, it doesn't fit as well as I'd like. I prefer a steel one so that was my main reason for wanting to go into Shinjuku.

The best (easiest?) place for these things are the big three electronics stores, Yodobashi, Bic Camera and Sakuraya.

Sakuraya had the biggest selection of the three in Shinjuku, as they have a store solely selling watches and accessories.

Here I saw my favourite one that would've looked amazing with my watch. It looked like this. The only thing holding me back on this one was the around 9000 yen price tag. I could buy another watch with that kind of money!

They had an all black one like this, but it didn't really match too well, and in the light looked like it was almost a chocolate brown colour.

Yodobashi had a H-link one (2100 yen) that I didn't mind, but I think the size may have been a problem. Unfortunately the 19mm that I need is not a common size.

In the end I got this divers-style band from Bic Camera that looks pretty good, don't you think?

It only cost 1570 yen, and with my Bic Camera points card I got 157 yen in points to buy something else. That's about one and bit more than a half Crunkys! Sweet. Literally.

After that we were both hungry for dinner. Okonomiyaki was the word and it hit the spot perfectly.

I picked up some AA batteries too for my crappy torch to use on my weekend camping trip in Kujukuri-hama, Chiba prefecture, not too far from Tokyo.

Only two more sleeps to go!

Sunday, 7 September 2008

When I'm 64

Another boring weekend for me. One reason is that the weather was crap and the more likely reason, I'm just so damn lazy!

So using the internet as my lifeline to English, and a surrogate TV I stayed home.

Many, many years ago my older brother had all the Nintendo consoles, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES, Famicon here), the SNES and the N64.

For something to do, I looked around the net for a Mac N64 emulator and sure enough I found one called, Sixty Force. Apart from a nag screen to register, the games look great.

The N64 has a very individual look. Seeing the games it looks like it could only be an N64. Very retro, I like!

I thought to try out Goldeneye 007 and Wave Race 64 that my brother had.

These were a whole lot of fun back in the day, and still are.

Please, please Nintendo, like you did with Super Mario 64, please port at LEAST these two to the Nintendo DS. That will make Jimmy a very happy boy!

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Retro Funkadelic Watch

It's been less than a week since I was in Akihabara last.

I went back so soon mostly because I wanted to exchange that headphone adapter for the other one (2079 yen) that not only converted the plug, but also had a volume control AND a hangup/call button as well.

They looked slightly hesistant but hey, they were getting more money from me. This is Japan though. I was waiting for them to say "It so difficult.. Solly", but no, not as uncomfortable as other times.

It works great.

It sounds as good as the other adapter, and the headphone hole is not too tight like the other one was. I took the headphone sleeve right off with that!

Not a good thing.

Also now I don't have to rip the adapter out when I get a call. Good stuff.

Another big reason coming here, was another watch that caught my eye last week I was thinking of buying. It's in the same electronics rabbit warren area near the station that I got my skeleton watch and belt.

The brand was KEDE, which again I think is from Hong Kong or China. I still wasn't convinced to buy it. Although the design was unusual, it looked (and was) kind of cheap.

It just so happens that in one of the other boxes was a Japanese-made Citizen 1481010 Independent watch in the same style for 2980 yen.

Although this one's secondhand, it only had a few very minor scratches, and still had the label on it. The leather band shows no signs of wear on the outside (slightly dulled on the inner side though).

This one looks much more expensive and has a funky, retro style that I really dig a lot. Much easier to read than the other one I was thinking of too. I might just change the band for a metal one.

Feeling still in the spending mood, I decided to get an 8gb sandisk micro sd card for 3299 yen. It's the cheapest price I could find. It's made in China. I'm hoping the quality will be ok.

Using one card for multiple gadgets, meant that I've been constantly running out of room taking photos and other stuff.

I was trying to hold off until the 16gb would come out but it's just taking too long and when they finally do, it's going to take a while for the price to come down.

All afternoon it looked like it was going to rain, but luckily it mostly held out with only a tiny bit of spitting rain.

Another good day in Akky! The only thing missing was a Nintendo Wii in my shopping spree. Uh oh..

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

No Stools!

I'd like to thank my fellow "station beer" person for this photo. It sums it up really doesn't it? Or maybe it'll leave you more confused.

This was apparently taken in Yokosuka, not to far from the army base.

Arigato Gozaimasu

I'm real happy it's the middle of the week, and even more happy tomorrow's my day off.

Thank you cute J-girls for walking by tonight, looking oh-so pretty while I was drinking my Chu-hi.

Sorry it was el-cheapo Daiei home-brand.

Once more, Kampai! for making Japan a better-looking place.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Please Don't Do Anything We Don't Like

The Tokyo Metro people seem to keep these posters coming.

Some are mildly amusing, but I just can't wait to find out next what they don't want us to do on their trains.

On first sighting of this one I didn't see the connection with the beach. Surfing through the doors about to close? Personally I think it's hilarious as a (usually Japanese) person gets on the train with a bag, or even better an arm or leg caught halfway in the jaws of the railway carriage doors. It's brightens a typically mundane, sleepy, yet humid start to my day.

This one I think HAS to be directed at foreigners. I rarely see a Japanese person with any big items on a train. I was quite proud when I carted my futon sets from the sleepy yawn of Tomioka, to the hustle and bustle of the big, bad city.

Did I care if people were looking at my pillow and bedding? Of course not. I don't know these people and I don't recall seeing them again so.. pffft!

I personally can't wait for a "Please Do It At The Zoo" (staring at us foreigners). How about a "Please Do It In Bed" (sleeping on the train, leaning on the person beside you)?

Bring 'em on!