Sunday, 28 November 2010

Jingu Gaien Leaves

The Autumn leaves are still in full swing, so we went down to Jingu gaien to look at the avenue of yellow-leaved trees. Lots of people thought the same thing.

We walked close by through Aoyama as well. We went to Cafe Madu to have a matcha latte. The last time we did this was in October 2007! It's good having a blog to remember these things.

Walking back we were hungry so we stepped into Pizza Salvatore for some pizzas.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

DS-1 Distortion Mouse

This was a NICE present. Quite totally unexpected too.

It looks like your average Boss DS-1 Distortion guitar pedal, right? It's actually a computer mouse! I first saw one at Rock Inn in Shinjuku, although it wasn't for sale.

I looked it up online to learn that it was a limited edition item only available on the UK site. Understandably, it sold out in no time. So, the only way to get it is mostly third parties like eBay, or online somehow.

The tone and distortion "knobs" are left and right click, and you can see the scroll wheel on the side there. Very cool indeed. It definitely made my day.


Sunday, 21 November 2010

Mt Mitake in Autumn

I've mentioned Mt Takao quite a few times, and the last time we went to Oku-Tama. Today we went to Mt Mitake.

It's on the same Chuo, Ome lines as Oku-Tama, and takes almost as long to get there so we had to get up fairly early. For a Sunday this is always a struggle for me. But, before 10am we finally got to the station.

There is a bus to the cable car, but we opted to walk which didn't take that long and allowed us to take in some nice scenery. By the time we got there one of the buses just unloaded a full crowd so the line for the cable car was about an hour long, so we decided to walk up taking about the same time anyway.

I think Autumn really is the best time to go hiking in Japan. Lots of colourful leaves.

The highlights were the Nanayonotaki waterfall, the big Tenguiwa rock and Musashimitake Shrine. The view up top is quite nice too. On the way down we caught the cable car.

For me Mt Takao is still my favourite place to go hiking, but I really enjoyed coming here. It's definitely better than Oku-Tama was, a bit more interesting scenery, and things to see.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Essential Japanese iPhone Apps

I must be bored or something.

I decided to make this video of the apps that get me half coherent, and living relatively comfortable in Japan.

First on the video is Human Japanese. It's one of the few teaching aids that keeps me interested with my ever-shortening attention span.

Japan Transit is the only English language train planner that I could find as an iPhone app.

It's a little bit limited that it only shows the next and last trains, but it gives good results, and considering it's the only one of its kind I'm happy to have it. There is a better Yahoo!路線情報, but it's Japanese only.

iKana was one of the first Japanese learning aides I used. It has a simple layout, and gives a painless way to practise learning, and memorizing the hiragana and katakana.

Kotoba! is definitely the MOST essential app I'm probably most thankful for. Many a time I have been totally misunderstood, I could get myself out of trouble by using this free one.

I've mentioned this one before. Radirou is great for listening to Japanese radio stations on the go. Unfortunately Japan only to you outsiders. I have the radio on my Nano, so I'm not using this one so much since I got that.

Fruit Ninja is the least essential of this bunch. It has taken its cues from a mini game of Rhythm Tengoku (nee "Rhythm Heaven" everywhere else.) It's a fun little time killer, and it kind of keeps to the Japanese theme of my post.

Make Out With Japanese reminds me of the "Make Out In Japanese" phrasebook that I had. Dang, I lost it around here someplace. This's a kind of Japanese girl dating sim.

Kind of fun. Ja ne!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Cheese Is Awesome

On the way home from Cheese Festa 2010, I was thinking what would make a good header for this post.

I REALLY miss eating cheese.

Living here in Japan the variety is sadly lacking to what's available back home. You can get it in specialty International food stores, but you usually pay a premium for the privilege.

I'm always surprised, nay shocked, that virtually everyone there was Japanese. Japanese aren't too well known for their taste in cheese. There weren't too many foreigners around.

Just like last year, we got 4 sample tickets, A-D, that gives you a cheese sample from one of the four tables.

Again the assumed politeness of Japanese people went out the window. I likened them to animals, pushy and uncaring of others around them to get that morsel of cheese on a toothpick.

As it reached the last hour, it was peak hour from people finishing work, although the room was constantly full from the time I arrived.

We got some extra samples from the demonstration area. I didn't understand a word, but I was all too happy when I got some food. All this cheese was making me real hungry!

These Eru cheese samples from Holland were really delicious. There's a blue cheese one that tasted real good, and I'm not usually a fan of that kind of cheese.

The Parmalat Mascarpone was first served on a spoon and just tasted like whipped cream to me. The second serving was on a pancake with syrup, and made a good combination. Like I said I was hungry. I was very thankful.

It's hard to take these guys talking about USA cheese seriously with their cheese hats and ties. Still, I'd love to wear that long tie for my English classes. Laughter and frivolity would no doubt ensue.

Don't eat the green cheese! Well, I didn't. Not that I didn't want to, I just didn't want to use up one of those sample tickets.

While I really like the smoked cheeses, the easy winner of today's cheese tasting was far and away the Tete De Moine Swiss cheese. It WAS like there was a party in my mouth and everyone was invited.

They also gave an interesting alphorn demo. Now, I just got to find a place where I can buy some of this awesome cheese.

I'm actually posting this in real-time, rather than my usual backdating posts to give anyone that reads my blog every day (ha, I crack myself up), a chance to go. Even though it is Cheese DAY, it is held over two days, so there is still a chance to check this out tomorrow.

It's at the Belle Salle building in Harajuku. Put this address : 東京都渋谷区神宮前2-34-17 into Google Maps and you're golden.

What're you waiting for? Do you REALLY want to wait another year for this cheese-tasting goodness?

Thursday, 4 November 2010

When The Morning Comes, I Won't Be Around

Back in the 80's I used to watch "Countdown", seeing bands that inspired me to pick up the guitar, and perform.

One of those bands was called "The Models". In Australia, this group was easily as popular as INXS. One of the lead frontmen was James Freud.

Today I heard he took his own life. It's always sad when one of your heroes lets you down. It feels very similar to when Michael Hutchence did the same thing in 1997. A little bit empty.

I'm glad that I had the chance to be a part of the great 80's Oz rock pub band days. Sadly nowadays people don't care about the scene anymore, so bands like these may never happen again.

Thanks for the great songs and inspiration. RIP James Freud :(

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Circumnavigating the Yamanote Line

Today is the Culture Day national holiday.

If I realised in advance that I'd have two days off in a row, I'd have planned something really special to do. Anyway, we'd thought to make the complete circle of the Yamanote line.

To those that don't know, the Yamanote line is the main train line, that does a complete 35km circle around Central Tokyo. It takes about 1 hour on the full loop. Instead of doing it like normal people, actually CATCHING the train, we did it the more DIY way, and took over 9 hours!

At 2.24pm we said goodbye to Nikon, the camera cat, sleeping blissfully unaware of our adventure, in her box bed under our apartment.

We thought it'd be best to start in Shinjuku and head south.

First stop on the line is Yoyogi at 2.50pm. Not much to see here. Probably most known for the Empire State doCoMo building, and also a common place to change trains to other lines .

At 3.05pm we reach Harajuku, a really popular youth district of Tokyo.

LOTS of people around today. I stop to take a picture at Takeshita street.

By 3:20pm we were in Shibuya. Here is one place that I think it's safe to say the most popular youth area. If you're in Tokyo, it's well worth a visit. At the front of the station there was some kind of political spokesperson blaring loudly atop a van, and people were as usual taking photos around the Hachiko dog statue.

We got to Ebisu at 3.40pm. Most noticeable around here is the Hinomaru driving school building which looks like someone lobbed a huge red ball into the building. Quite unmissable from the train line.

By 4pm we were in Meguro. Like Ebisu, this area looks very clean, and it looks like quite an upmarket exclusive place to live in. When I took a photo of the Meguro station sign a woman thought I was taking a picture of her feeding some pigeons. As if!

Gotanda(4:05pm), isn't very far away from Meguro, but there is a definite contrast of surroundings. There are many more office buildings, and in my opinion this area's kind of boring.

Just before we arrived at Osaki Station (4:20pm), I couldn't resist hamming it up with photos of the cool Art Village gnome.

You can't tell from this picture, but his hat rises up high into the sky. You can see this quite easily from the train too. Not a whole lot to see in this area. Just a lot of business parks otherwise.

Getting to Shinagawa station (4:40pm) felt like the longest gap between stations. Here is a big station which serves as another hub where many train lines come together.

By this time it was starting to get quite dark, and markedly cooler.

Before arriving at Tamachi (5:05pm) station, we made our way over a big street overpass where you can easily see Tokyo Tower peeking between the buildings.

You might remember from my other posts, Tamachi is a good place to get off to walk along the Rainbow Bridge to Odaiba.

Also, if you happened to be at this station it's possible to walk to Maruichi Bagel in Shirokane-takanawa a few blocks away for a good bagel fix.

We pass Hamamatsuchō at 5:30pm and Shinbashi at 5:43pm.

We got to Yurakuchō at 5:53pm. If you're on this line , here is an easy stop to make the short walk to the expensive Ginza area.

While we were here we first went to Kimuraya to hopefully get some anpan. We JUST missed out. Instead we went to the Chinese Tiger gyoza restaurant and had a spicy sesame mince noodles, fried rice and dumplings. Delish!

After eating we finally get to Tokyo station at 7:15pm. For a place that IS called Tokyo, this area seems really devoid of life. Just another area full of tall office buildings. As a policeman might say, "Move along, nothing to see here".

We pass Kanda at 7:26pm and Akihabara at 7:35pm. It must be the first time that I didn't notice any maids around! We had to take a short break because someone had to buy some stuff from Uniqlo!

Between Okachimachi (8:05pm) and Ueno (8:20pm) is Ameyoko, a great little market. I'd never been here before. Lots of shoes, and clothes, and other stuff.

I saw some "Basic Creative Reasonable" shoes that were a VERY close copy to another brand for only about 6,000 yen. I'll have to get a pair or two next time I'm here. Also worth checking out Ueno Zoo here too.

In Uguisudani (8:33pm) you can't help but notice a LOT of love hotels in this place.

The neon signs have enticing names like "Hotel Charme".

Rest or stay?

Passed Nippori (8:47pm), Nishi-Nippori (8:52pm), Tabata (9:02pm), Komagome (9:12pm), Sugamo (9:23pm), and Otsuka (9:31pm). These places are just about entirely residential. From the train these places look quite uninteresting. From the outside they don't look as bad. Only come here if you live here or visiting someone from here. There was a busker girl singing sweetly in Otsuka. She might still be there if you go ;)

Things start to get more interesting once we got to Ikebukuro (9:50pm).

I used to not like this place, calling it "Ikky", but it has definitely grown on me, particularly the higashi (east) side of the station.

Someone once told me it's like a little Shinjuku, and that's pretty close to the mark.

We got a bit disorientated getting to Mejiro (8:06pm). Didn't see anything of note here.

Next stop was Takadanobaba (10:20pm). Most notable as the "birthplace" of Astro Boy. The JR line departure song is very recognisable. There were quite a few drunk university students around here tonight.

I'm quite familiar with Shin-Ōkubo (10:30pm). I come here (too?) often to check out the wares in the "TC Gakki" music store.

Finally we get back to Shinjuku at 10:40pm.

Was it worthwhile doing this?

It's one thing to catch a train and watch the world go by, but to actually walk around and see what's around gives you better bearings, and a sense of place, and knowing where things are.


next time I'm catching the train!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

iPhone 4? Hai!

I was really disappointed I missed out on getting that iPhone in Hong Kong.

I had a few choices - 1. Go Back to Hong Kong 2. Buy one in Australia 3. Get one from Softbank, and re-sign for another two long years or, 4. Buy a phone locally or from the auctions.

Yes, number 4!

I came back unexpectedly earlier on Halloween night, and scoured Yahoo Auctions for one. The one I found was still locked to Softbank, but was only 5 days old! The "Buy It Now" price was less than the "sell your soul" contract, and even cheaper than the unlocked phone from Hong Kong.

On Monday I went to do the bank transfer with the details directly from my phone. I usually translate the kanji at home before I came but there was the bank branch I couldn't make out, so I had to ask for a little help. Funnily enough it was 六本木, meaning Roppongi, which is typically a foreigner area of Tokyo.

The guy lived locally and sent it quick so I received it the next day. It was the same Kuroneko delivery guy. He must think I'm rich with all the junk I buy. It looked brand new, still covered in the protective plastic.

Because my SIM is normal size, I had to cut it. I was a little hesistant with the 980 yen MicroSIM cutter I'd bought in Akihabara on Sunday. It didn't have any instructions, nor did it even have a company name on it! There was a slight movement, but I just had a beer and made sure as much of the gold contacts was NOT getting cut. I only had one chance to get it right.

With a count of 1,2,3, I just pushed down swiftly, and was quite surprised how easily it cut. I wasn't game to use the supplied adapters to try it back in my old iPhone so there wasn't really any going back.

Thankfully the cut was perfect and it fit into the iPhone 4's tray exactly. I turned it on and plugged in my laptop. I was holding my breath those few seconds while I waiting for the phone to register on iTunes. YAY, it worked!

So far, so good. I've just about finished "terraforming" it to my liking. All I need is to wait a short time for the carrier unlock which is just around the corner.

Me so happy!