Thursday, 25 March 2010

Jimmy In New York : Day 5

The plan was, for the last day that we were going to book a hotel close to the airport because our flight was scheduled to leave at 7am. We really liked staying in Manhattan, and the Pod Hotel was quite comfortable both in location and cleanliness.

I'm really getting hooked on those Ess-A-Bagels so much that we're going to have a hard time finding the equivalent in Tokyo. This morning I had a "Chocolate Chip" cream cheese and she had a "Very Berry". A little bit too sweet, but they were both delicious.

We went to the Met, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I didn't want to be there too long. It's such a large place we zipped through the places that interested us the most, namely the Roman and Egyptian, and Japanese art exhibits.

From there we went to the Guggenheim Museum.

We didn't go in. We would've been totally burnt out if we did. I took a few photos from outside, then we went into Central Park around the Jackie Kennedy Onassis Reservoir.

One "landmark" I wanted to check out was the Seinfeld diner, Tom's Restaurant. (Also "Tom's Diner", the Suzanne Vega song). From the outside I could see that it looked nothing like the Seinfeld set.

At that moment I thought it'd be cool to go to the "Soup Nazi" Soup Kitchen International, but looks like I'm quite a few years too late. Also was a bit disappointing I didn't get to see the CBGBs facade either.

We walked to the nearby Columbia University where we sat on the library steps where I picked up some free wifi.

I wanted to go to the Rockefeller Center before dusk, so we could go to the "Top of the Rock" observation deck during the day and the lights at night. In my opinion I think the view from here is superior to the Empire State Building.

One highlight of the Manhattan skyline is the Empire State itself and the Rockefeller is in a great mid-Manhattan position which shows off Lower Manhattan to the south and Central Park in the north.
By day..
.. And at night.

We would have stayed there longer, but I thought we'd have one last crack at the cancellation line for "Wicked". Nope, we missed out. I'm happy I still got these panoramas looking really good. I did another for Times Square.
..And one more of the rooftop view from the Pod Hotel.

For the whole trip I'd taken about 466 photos. I managed to squeeze them in a New York Minute (and a half). Don't blink or you'll miss something. Look carefully for that pesky Battery Park squirrel!

Thank You New York for the most interesting experience. Worlds away from Japan, and another world away from where I'm from. It's definitely help me understand the New Yorkers that I've met here in Japan.

I'll be back again someday, for sure. But next time it won't be via San Francisco. It's the longest 6 hour flight you could imagine. Still 'Frisco looked great from the plane. Might be a worthwhile destination to visit.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Jimmy In New York : Day 4

This morning we decided to have another Ess-A-Bagel. I had a strawberry cream cheese one and she had a sundried tomato one. They both tasted great, but the strawberry made it taste more like a cake, than a sandwich. Very filling though.

The sun finally came out so it was time we went to the Empire State Building.

During the day from the outside, the building doesn't look as good as it does at night, but now that it's the highest in New York it does have a commanding presence in the New York skyline. Actually, it bears an uncanny resemblance to the NTT docomo building.

Again we waited for quite a while in a security line before going up to the 86th floor. Along with our CityPass entry, we got a very informative audio tour player. Looking out at the view I couldn't help but think of the Twin Towers and how it was a long way down.

From there we went back towards Broadway and Times Square. We went to Sam Ash Music where I bought a really nice microphone preamp (RNP). Compared to Australia or Tokyo, it was much cheaper here, even with the sales tax. One thing I don't like about America is how they don't quote prices with tax. I hated seeing a price and not knowing what the final price was until I got to the checkout. What's up with that?

In Times Square we happened to see the Naked Cowboy strutting his stuff on the streets.

We overheard a scalper selling tickets for "Wicked". I was close to buying them, but I was scared to be risking buying counterfeit ones.

Instead we went to the Museum of Natural History as it was one of the included tickets on our CityPass. A LOT of the museum was dioramas of stuffed animals. It might appeal to the kiddies but for me it was kind of boring. What WAS really interesting was the planetarium show narrated by Whoopi Goldberg.

We were close to Central Park so we went past the Dakota Apartments where John Lennon lived, and was shot outside by Chapman. There isn't any indication to tell you this is the place. There is no name on the building, only a gate person with Dakota on his uniform.

Across the road in Central Park there is a memorial to John Lennon.
A full and tiring day.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Jimmy In New York : Day 3

Nothing says New York more than the Statue of Liberty so it wasn't till I finally saw Ms Liberty herself, that I felt I was really in New York city.

Before getting on the subway, I asked a station employee on the platform for directions. I asked for "Battery Park" and he asked twice where I was going. In the end I said "to catch the Liberty ferry" which happens to leave from Battery Park.

One thing I noticed straight way when I arrived is that New Yorkers can be quite, how can I say, abrupt? Not exactly welcoming, but I did realize that once disarmed, they can be quite friendly.

There is a security line to board the ferry. Although long when we got there, it moved fairly quick.

As we got closer to Liberty Island, I was surprised about the size of the statue. Of course it's much bigger than the replica in Odaiba, but from pictures and movies I envisioned a gigantic monument.

The ferry stopped at Ellis Island before heading back to Manhattan. We didn't get off. There was still a lot to see today.

Most importantly I HAD to take a picture of squirrel in Battery Park that didn't stay still long enough for me to take its picture. Well worth it. Cute huh?

From there we went to Ground Zero. If you didn't know what happened, it just looked like any other construction site. I wish I was here before the towers came down. I think New York really misses the Twin Towers. I think they should build two towers at the same scale to bring the Manhattan skyline back to (almost) how it was.

Before going across Brooklyn Bridge we went to Burger King. I ordered Quarter Pounders. The checkout guy didn't understand me. I thought it was my accent until I realized Quarter Pounders are Macdonald burgers. Oops.

I wanted to go to the place on the Brooklyn side where I always see Twin Towers pictures looking into Manhattan. From this view the missing towers were even more obvious.

After Brooklyn we caught the subway to SoHo. There are a lot of great, cheap clothes and shoe shops in this area. I saw a pair of Docs for cheaper than I paid secondhand! We went to Uniqlo (the Japanese clothing store) where I bought two t-shirts, a Mickey Mouse and a Star Wars one, and also a nice cap. Mouse over (haha) the above image to see my "serious face" in the Star Wars shirt.

We were going to go to Katz Delicatessen in NoLita, famous (or infamous) for the Meg Ryan orgasm scene in "When Harry Met Sally", but it was further than we thought, and instead tried to make it back to Times Square to hopefully score cancelled tickets to "Wicked".

No luck there, so we decided to call it a day.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Jimmy In New York : Day 2

We woke up about 7am. For breakfast we went to Ess-A-Bagel.

I'd never really had them before, and now I'm totally hooked. I had an Olive cream cheese bagel.

First stop was MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art. There was a long line, but we decided we'd get the New York CityPass which gave a discount on the places we planned to visit.

This place was easily the most interesting museum for me with works from Warhol, Dali, Pollock, and an excellent, special exhibition of Tim Burton's work.

Most bizarre was the Marina Abramovic exhibit which featured live "art" of naked people. Makes you wonder what people consider art these days.

The Museum was so tiring but after we finished there, we made our way past Tiffanys (yes, that one), then to FAO Schwarz toy store which you might remember from "Big" where Tom Hanks played the big piano. Right next door is the Apple store.

Most days were rainy, so after there we made our way back to the hotel.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Jimmy In New York : Day 1

I had some days of annual leave to use or lose before the end of the month. I wanted to get out of Japan for a while and go somewhere other than back home. The options were Hong Kong, Shanghai or New York.

After checking out airfares I found out it wasn't much more to go to New York. I'd never been to America before, and in my mind New York always captured my imagination as the place to go for the American experience.

I put in my leave request and was happy when it was approved.

We flew into JFK arriving about 3pm and took the Airtrain and a subway connection to Midtown Manhattan. I booked the Pod Hotel (formerly Pickwick Arms). It's a very clean hotel. The location was good and the price was great.

The room was tiny. Only room for one person to walk through at a time. There are four bathrooms on each floor with a light that shows if it's occupied. We never had a problem with not being able to use them when we wanted.

Shortly after we arrived we decided to walk to Times Square. Although we were both quite jet lagged, we decided to buy 50% tickets at TKTS to see "Chicago". It cost $70 each, and we were seated about the 10th row from the front.

I had trouble keeping my eyes open. The show was fantastic. The lead role of Roxie Hart was played by Destiny's Child, Michelle Williams. All the performers were great and I really enjoyed the show.

Once we got back to the hotel I took no time getting to sleep all prepared for the next day's sightseeing.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

A St Pat's Day Karaoke

We're coming to the end of another school year, and consequently that means filling out a lot of kids certificates. I seem to get these to do at the end of my shifts, or when I don't have any in-between times to do them, meaning I've been overtiming just to do them.

Today was particularly annoying as it's not only "Station Beers" night, but also St Patrick's Day.

I was tempted to break open a can of chu-hi while writing, but I wrote them out reasonably quick, and hot-stepped it to the usual meeting place. After we all finished our cans we went to the Hub, the default gaijin's British pub in Japan.

Well actually before we did that, we stopped into the nearby UFO catcher as one of the guys was kind of obsessed with a weird rabbit toy for his gf. The guys were trying to pick it up, but I knew it needed a little staff help. I called one over and got him to make it much easier. First try missed, but the second one I did and won it for him. Sugoi ne?

There are two Hub's in Yokohama. The closest to the station was packed (much more than usual), but we couldn't get anywhere to sit. I thought the atmosphere was all right, but the other guys wanted to go to the other Hub.

Arriving there it was practically empty. I was kind of disappointed. There was an amusing group of cute Japanese girls getting quite tipsy (yes that's you Tomoe and Yuko!) that approached us and spoke a lot of broken English, but it made the night quite entertaining. Definitely better than a bunch of guys practising their English!

We all missed the point of no return regarding our last trains, so we all decided to go to a Re-mix karaoke box to while away the hours till first trains of the morning. Great thing it was only 1,200 each until 5am! We smuggled in a few drinks for a little more dutch courage.

Many songs were slaughtered beyond recognition. My favourite was "Alone" by Heart. There was also Backstreet Boys, and a few Japanese hits for good measure. Considering the mood of the evening I should have looked up a certain Stephen Stills song.

By daylight we were all drained and made our way back to the station. It was lucky I had the day off. I didn't get up proper until about 3.30 with a very late breakfast.

I had a great night out. I'm looking forward to the next one.

Monday, 15 March 2010


One of the things I had mentioned in the past was how great it is to be able to tune into my radio stations back home on the internet. Up until now Japanese radio stations have been noticeably absent online.

Finally it's possible!

Radiko allows you to listen to quite a few Japanese radio stations with the ease of your internet connection.

Knowing the Japanese, the portal probably restricts users to Japanese IP addresses. Being in Japan this is a little hard to test out myself. If anyone outside the "centre of the universe" wants to give this a try, I'd like to know if it works for you.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Touch & Try

I went to the Camera & Photo Imaging Show at Pacifico in Yokohama today. By registering on their website, I got free entry too!

While I could show you pictures of cameras and lenses, I think it would be far more interesting to show a few pictures of the booth babes that made a company's camera look oh so desirable.

One camera on display was the 3D camera from Fujifilm. By wearing 3D glasses, the images on the TV screen looked pretty impressive. Seeing the pictures on paper still left quite a bit to be desired though. I'd like to see how this progresses in the future.I wasn't the only one with a camera, so it was pretty funny watching geeks like me getting their part of the action.What was most interesting to me, (other than the models), was the Sigma 50mm lens, and the forthcoming G2 cameras from Panasonic. I sold my GH1 a while back, so I think I sold it at the right time. The most noticeable difference was the touchscreen. Nice idea, and I like the new blue colour too.
It was a good (White) day to rival the Motor Show in the number of fine J girls, so I was happy. Later on, I treated the gf to some yummy Chinese at Xin-li (also known as "Red Tiger"), on the 6th floor of CIAL complex in Yokohama Station. First a feast for my eyes, and then a feast for my stomach. Perfect.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Little Tokyo

Idle hands are the devil's workshop supposedly, so I like to find new things to do. Well at least to stop myself from getting bored.

I want to get better at photoshoping, so I thought I'd look up some cool tricks to spice up my Tokyo snaps.

One very cool trick is to fake an expensive Tilt Shift lens that creates an amazing optical illusion of a miniature model set. In a nutshell, you get a wide angle shot preferably from above, and gradually blur both foreground and background. The final pièce de résistance is to up the saturation to approximate the "plastic" look, and there you have it!

I'm still learning to perfect it, but I think my attempts have come out ok.

This is Hama-rikyu Gardens we went to almost exactly two years ago (Wow, I've been here too long). I don't have too many wide shots but with the Conrad Hotel in the background already dwarfing the garden pavilion, I thought it'd help the illusion.

Here's one from Akihabara I took today. I tried to find the highest point possible, specifically to do my version of a miniature Akiba. Not too many places 'round here. Mandarake would have been the perfect building if they didn't put the suicide preventative netting around the staircase. I went up a few escalators in an office building on the main road across from the big Sofmap.

Look at the cute little people!

It's very impressive when you see this effect on VIDEO. Check this out! Also very worthy are the Youtube videos like the one below. (No, this wasn't done by me. I wish!)

At the moment the apartment is covered in scaffolding for what looks like a re-paint so I "forced myself", ha ok, it gave me an excuse I didn't need, to go to Akihabara and Ochanomizu.

I've retired my Panasonic headphones. One ear cuts out and I'm sick of doing the "twist & flex" to hear from both of them. They had a good run I guess. My Kenwood cans are fantastic, but because of the sound leakage and size, they aren't really practical for the trains. I had my mind set on a pair of Sennheiser CX300 II. The cheapest was an online order, but I had luck with E-Trend via Kakaku for 3,980 yen without any headaches.

I'm one of those people that like to open headphone packs carefully, so I watched an unintentionally hilarious (to me anyway) unboxing on Youtube that actually finished without the guy being able to open it! Myself I managed a tiny cut on my finger from sharp plastic, but no major damage (to myself or the box).

The other interesting photo manipulation trick I'm digging at the moment is getting some of my pictures "Lomo"-ized. A friend once showed me photos she'd cross processed with slide film, and the saturated colours looked awesome.

There's something undeniably cool about the character and feel that it can add to a photo. I followed this guide to get the effect. In keeping with my Akihabara day, this is my Lomo version from my ahem, Akiba maid "archive".

I hope you enjoyed my little bit of "artistic expression". Got something quite interesting coming up. Don't change that dial!

Monday, 1 March 2010


Like I promised, I've finally put together a rudimentary guide to using your UFJ account to do bank transfers with their ATMs.

Although there IS an English menu, UFJ does NOT have a transfer button to do things like say, pay your rent or send money anywhere! For English, you only have access to basic functions like withdrawals, deposits and checking your bank balance.

This is the first screen you'll see as you approach the scary ATM machine. See that English button? Don't push it. It won't help you here. As indicated, hit that お振り込み (transfer "furikomi") button, and we're off!

This page lists after hours bank fees. When I did this, it was after hours so this probably won't come up if you do it in banking hours. Press that green button to continue.

This is just a fraud warning screen. Press the blue button on the left.

If you have the usual UFJ cash card, press the button indicated here. See that red button on the top, right hand corner? I like to call it the "abort" button. Screw up on any of the screens, press this to cancel your session. Über useful ne?

Next, enter your PIN number. Mine is.. nah, it's a secret.

If you make regular payments (say for rent), it's a great idea to get the staff to make a "furikomi cardo" (transfer card) for you at an ATM, which will bypass the next few steps of inputing the recipient's bank details all over again. Otherwise, good practise I suppose.

This is a list of banks. You'll have to use your eagle eyes to recognise a bit of kanji. UFJ branches are easier. If the bank is not listed here, press the "other banks" button.

If it IS a UFJ bank, select the branch here. UFJ branch not on this screen? Select the "more" button.

If it's an outside bank you select the first letter of the BANK's name. In this example, I'm looking for Kyoto Bank, so that would be "ki" (キ). You'll have to know your katakana alphabet here.

Ok, so here you see all the banks starting with "ki", the button I've marked is Kyoto Bank.

Now we have to get the BRANCH of the (in this case) Kyoto Bank. Again, select the first letter of the bank BRANCH's name.

The previous screen I just selected "ki", so here are the BRANCHES that start with "ki".

Ok, so now we have the bank and branch in place, we have to tell WHAT kind of account this is. In most cases it will be a standard bank account, so press the left button.

Enter the account number to send the money and press that green button.

Put in the transfer amount, hit the yen key, followed by the adjacent green button.

This just says it won't be processed until the next business day because it was out of banking hours at this time.

If you have some kind of special student/corporate number use the other button. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, press the button indicated.

EDIT: The "special number" 入力する (input) is a place where you can add a reference number if you need to: "I add my reference number with my Name in English - top-click on the left button: 入力する). I just hit a space after typing in my full name and then add my reference number. The receipt that the ATM spits out will show the 'transfer to-Bank details", and below that, my name in English on one line with the Reference number on another line." (Thanks Ken!)

This screen is just an identity check. If you see your name where it's indicated, press "はい" (yes).

This is a final check screen with all the details. Of course I've blanked out all the details for privacy. If it's all ok, press the green confirmation button!

Because I did this just for this demonstration I didn't go any further. From memory the following screens asks if you want a receipt and if you want to do any other transactions. Easy huh?

I'd just like to add a little disclaimer: While I think I've tried to do this walk-through as clear as I can. (I was drinking a can of chu-hi writing this) I take NO responsibility if somehow you cause earthquakes, tsunamis or send your money to my account by "accident". If you panic at any stage, hit that red "abort" button on most of the top right-hand screens, and ask for staff/security guard to help. I KNOW how stressful it is to work these things in Japanese.

An email has been sent to UFJ to add some English to bank transfers to hopefully rectify this situation in the future to make this post redundant, but personally I'm not holding my breath. Considering the amount of English speakers with UFJ accounts I don't think it's too much to ask, is it?

If you are a traveller here and have a foreign ATM card, you CAN'T use your card here at all. Instead go to Citibank where facilities like Cirrus allow you to use your home card.

If this helps anyone, please leave a comment of thanks. Just keeping my karma clean..

UPDATE: Apparently it is possible to have your account online now:

"I set myself up with an online MUFJ bank account. I can't read kanji but using Chrome Browser I could translate the essential Japanese. If you try and do it right, they'll send you this cute looking toy calculator, which is in fact, is a special password creator. When I'm working my way through the online MUFJ furikomi (bank transfer) windows I come to a page where I have to press the little red "1" on this cute little password creator, it gives me four numbers that I put in the password box. Pretty, pretty, pretty Cool.
Now I can do furikomi from the comfort of my home. That's all I use the online for, in addition to checking my balance. The only limitation with the online furikomi is that you can only transfer up to ¥100,000. However, at the bank branch ATM I transferred as much a ¥300,000."

(thanks to Ken!)

So there you go, maybe UFJ has actually done something to keep up with the times! (I wonder if the bank interest is still at 0.01%? LOL