Monday, 28 February 2011

The Gaijin Menu

If you've ever travelled in Europe, I'm pretty sure most people have heard of the "tourist menu".

It's conveniently all the meals translated for you in English. There is also an English translation for the price, which with exchange rates in the SAME currency, means you pay a higher premium more than the locals.

Now in Europe I can kind of understand the rip-off mentality, but with Japan's reputed honesty, I'd thought that this would just not happen here. I never noticed it before today. I guess I was wrong, wasn't I?

Let's open up the shame file!

After watching the concert we went to Tsurutontan, an udon restaurant.

The food itself was very delicious. I had the Spicy Sesame Udon, and she had the Tomato Creamy Udon. See those prices?

Now, have a look at this receipt. Notice anything a little different?

Sure, the prices on the receipt are cheaper. I was with a Japanese person. Had I been with other foreigners, I have no doubt that I would have gotten the "special" inflated prices.

Has this happened to you?

Shame Japan Shame.

Andy Timmons Band in Tokyo

Almost all guitarists are familiar with Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. But Andy Timmons?

I heard the name fleetingly, but before today I hadn't heard his playing. I watched a few videos on Youtube and liked what I saw. In my opinion he sounds like a bit of a bluesier Satriani.

I saw tickets to his concert here in Tokyo, so as a last minute grab we decided to see him play at STB 139 in Roppongi.

STB is a great looking venue. It looks like a restaurant more than a bar. Everyone is seated and candles are placed at the tables. The size was perfect to watch an intimate concert. I can imagine jazz would be a perfect soundtrack to the ambience.

You actually feel obliged to buy food and drinks, but we didn't. It felt a little strange when we left as others paid at the exit.

Andy and his three-piece band played a great two hour set. His own original tunes are filled with cool melodies. There were moments of widdly-widdly guitar solos that could be seen as self-indulgent to a non-guitarist, but this guy sure has chops. His slower songs had more universal appeal. I don't think that really mattered though, as I had a STRONG feeling the majority of the audience were guitarists.

He's endorsed by Ibanez and has a signature model that obviously derives a strong influence of a strat, but with an Ibanez headstock. To me it looks too strange. Sound-wise it's a strat sound. I couldn't help but think he probably rather have wanted a Fender endorsement instead. Call me a purist, but I reckon he should be rockin' a real strat.

From what I heard about the show, I thought he'd play a lot of the Beatles Sergeant Pepper's tunes from his latest release, but he only did three. "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" blew me away. Definitely one of my favourites. Good move to play as it again gave the general public a familiarity among his own songs.

His rhythm section was tight. The bass player did a solo spot that sounded good. He used an eBow with his bass that at first I thought was a sustainer pickup. It's the first time I heard it with a bass. Very creative.

I'd like to have taken more pictures, but again the photo nazis put a stop to that pretty quickly. As a guitarist if you do get the chance to catch ATB in concert I recommend you check it out.

It's not bad for a first night out for me in Roppongi!

The Battleship Building

In other parts of the world it's called Urban Exploration ("Urbex"), or "infiltration". In Japan it's called Haikyo.

Basically it's the hobby of taking photos in abandoned spaces, such as old buildings, theme parks and factories. My brother had taken pictures of an old power station in Sydney that was used in the Matrix film, that looked quite cool.

Strange as it might seem, I like the look of decay, how the elements have taken over man-made objects and turned them into a "living" thing. Rust never sleeps.

I like the stylised "distressed" look of a Marilyn Manson video, or the stench you can almost smell in a typical J horror film, like "Dark Water" or "The Ring".

While not quite a haikyo yet, I heard about one place conveniently located close to Shinjuku that I really wanted to see. From information I found, it has been scheduled for demolition since last year.

EDIT: It's actually been restored, and was not to be torn down.

I was in Shinjuku today, but it was raining so I didn't bring my SLR. In fact I was probably not going to go there. The rain didn't seem too bad, so I decided to have a look.

If I didn't know of it I'd have walked straight past it. It's sandwiched quite tightly between two tall buildings, so it's quite easy to not see it, but when I did I was so happy it hadn't been torn down yet.

By the look of the top of the building, and the compartments it bears a resemblance to a battleship.

I would've attempted to enter had it not been raining, and that I only had my iPhone camera for pictures. That, and this sign also deterred me from attempting an entry. I don't understand much kanji, but I got translated "立ち入り禁止", as in "no entry" :( There were quite a few workmen, and the hallway was lined with blue tarps, so no real way to sneak in.

I hope to go there again though. If anyone knows a way in, let me know. I don't want to get in trouble, or worse, deported for doing this, but haikyo adventures sound really interesting, ne?

Wednesday, 23 February 2011


I bought this red Uniqlo shirt a long time ago with the intention of screenprinting the Nintendo-inspired "Mindcontrol" logo on the front.

Looking around the DIY stores around Tokyo, I couldn't easily find the materials I'd need to be able to do it. I put it off for a while until I chanced upon a few shops that looked like they might be able to do it.

On Sunday we went into Shibuya and found a new store called smalldesign.

While we were there the guy was doing a "live" screen-print of Hello Kitty for a customer. I didn't hang around to have a chat but it seemed like he did prints using the templates that were already there.

Arton is another small shop in Central Shibuya. I decided to get the print done with these guys.

You bring the design you want and he does the print directly onto the shirts in about ten minutes. I already had the shirt, so the printing cost 1,900 yen. If I used one of his shirts it would've been 2,400 yen.

The print is ink as opposed to paint, but for a quick and dirty custom shirt it did the job. You can have it printed in any colour you want, as long as it's black though. I REALLY wanted white.

I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out. With all the fervour of the new 3DS, I wanted to make my "statement". Let the games begin!

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

3DS My Two Cents

With all the hype of the new 3DS, I thought I'd actually dig out my old DS from its Nintendo "house" under a pile of mess.

Since my world has become iPhonic, I really neglected it for a long time. It's still quite a bit of fun! I love the old Rhythm Tengoku, and Elite Beat Agents (wasn't there meant to be a number 2?).

Before getting to work I saw that they had some demo 3DS models for us to try out at Sofmap in Yokohama (7th floor of Atre).

I tried Asphalt, Street Fighter, Samurai Warrior Chronicles and Professor Leyton.

Overall the 3D effect is pretty trippy. It kind of reminded me of a pop-up book. It gave some nice depth to a 2D Street Fighter. With the faster motion of Asphalt, it didn't take long for me to get a bit of a headache though.

Should you get one of these?

If you take away the 3D effect (which you can do), the games don't look any better than a standard DS. It would've been great to see them up the resolution. The analog circle pad felt nice.

The region locking is a big letdown, especially for us foreigners here in Japan. Although I SHOULD be learning more Japanese, I appreciate some games in English. What if I want to buy a game in Australia? Too bad I guess.

Nintendo must've been annoyed about the flash cart "problem", but I see it as more sales of hardware. One of my favourite homebrew games is Still Alive DS, quite a cool 2D version of Portal. (If only they'd bring the real version to the iPhone).

With these restrictions I wouldn't be surprised if the hacking community race to break it wide open.

I think they have priced it too high here. Sure, the 3D is its dangling carrot, but is it really worth almost double a DS? They will retail here for 25,000 yen ($298 AU) without a game. In Australia, Dick Smith Electronics had a more reasonable pre-sale deal of $298 with a free game.

So for me it's a definitely maybe, at least when they'll inevitably bring the price down to a more practical level, and here's crossing my fingers to getting rid of that region locking.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Snowy Valentines

Even though I've been here a few years now, it still feels weird getting chocolates from the women. Especially when there's often no romantic connotations involved ;)

The only thing I have to worry about is the "payback" on White Day next month.

The "wife" gave me these Demel Les Langues Dorées cat tongue chocolates that I remember getting before from her, but surprisingly I didn't document the last time so I can't tell when, but I have a strange feeling it was a Val's day in the past. Her and her cat fetish. Hmm.

This evening we had a fairly heavy snowfall here in Tokyo. From memory it's probably the heaviest I've seen since I've been here. According to this, quite a few people were either injured, or inconvenienced by it.

Luckily for me, I finish work earlier so it didn't cause me any problems. I got home before it really got started.

It felt like Christmas. Yes, the snowflake light helps to create the illusion, doesn't it?

I'm still waiting for the snowfall that lets me make the snowman I'm itching to build. Probably better that way though.

Friday, 11 February 2011

CP+ 2011 Camera & Photo Imaging Show

You might remember this show from the time I went there last year.

I can't remember the last time it rained, but today was a virtual blizzard of snow. It's also a public holiday so with events a little thin on the ground lately, I didn't really want to miss out.

Shows like this are always going to be packed with some very fine Japanese booth girls. Myself, along with other *ahem* "camera enthusiasts" took the opportunity to take lots of pics of sweet young things. OK, I admit it, it's a nice incentive to come check out the camera company's wares.

I failed to mention in the past that I re-bought another Panasonic GH-1. This time I made the menus English, and did a few mods.

I actually bought it virtually to this day in November, but I was still using my Nikon the whole time. I did a quick test yesterday with all my Nikon lenses with a Novoflex adapter. At first it was a bit confusing how to set it up, but once I figured it out, it's actually pretty easy. With third party lenses I have to set aperture, shutter speed, and focus manually.

So today would be my first official outdoor test. I was going to use the 50mm, but I didn't want to change lenses, so I settled for the more versatile 18-200. Apart from forgetting to check the exposure, most of the photos came out really good!

Like I've said before, for indoor photography I think the Nikon has less misses, but what I missed with the GH1 was the video. With my lens adapter, I plan to have quite a bit of fun trying some interesting things out.

I didn't do any video from this camera. Instead while resting my weary feet (and eyes), I did yet another brief time lapse from my iPhone.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

The Drugs Don't Work

I really try to avoid going to the doctor.

In Japan it's pretty easy to get sick, with the close proximity of people on the trains, and to quote another teacher's comment, the "germbags" that come into the kids classes. After they cough, I REALLY don't want to touch the flash cards after they have.

Anyway, like I said, if I can withhold paying a visit to the doctor I will. There've been times when I thought I had a cold or something, but it wasn't worth the cost of seeing a doctor, or missing a day of work.

On Saturday afternoon I had some aches in my shoulders, and I was unusually exhausted by the end of the day. At the end of that shift I made a makeshift bed out of cushions to rest a while before going home.

On almost arriving home I felt short of breath, and had to take quick, sharp breaths. I couldn't sleep on my stomach or on my side. My chest felt tight, and uncomfortable. You'd think that'd be reason enough to see a doctor immediately, but luckily by the next morning I was breathing normally. Only this time I was feeling dizzy.

Going to work on the Tuesday my head was spinning a little. It's not the worst I had it, so I just soldiered through the day reasonably ok.

It was still lingering on Wednesday so I called in sick. I was going to see the doctor in the afternoon, but it looks like it just so happened that he was finished by midday, so I had to go in today.

He gave me some drugs, and organised a blood test. According to the test he figured I just had something like a cold. I don't know if its just me, but I think medicine in Japan is quite weak, and while I was feeling better eventually, I swear the same symptoms back home were alleviated in a day or two.

For days after I was still feeling weak. It just makes me think this medicine is just a placebo. A good but virtually unavoidable rule in Japan, is that you just don't get sick here, it sucks. If you don't know where your nearest English speaking doctor is find out now, before you get ill.