Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Galaxy Note Too

After my iPhone 4 got lost  stolen, I had my cheapie clamshell as a stopgap fix to tide me over until I was going to get the new iPhone. The battery life was pretty amazing. I forgot how long it was between  charges. Something like five days. That's insane. BUT, unfortunately for me I had to choose a phone that didn't have any form of predictive text, punching a key up to three times for one letter was killing me!

Since we've all had some time to absorb the arrival of the new iPhone I don't mind it that much. I'm sure the maps will improve, and I think it's still a stylish handset. Apple says they want to keep it ergonomic for one hand use. I think they just want to sell some more iPads..

Anyway. I went to Akiba more often than normal lately. I was close to getting the original Galaxy Note. Secondhand, they are pretty reasonable and I'd be happy to have one. The Note II was going to be released soon, so I thought I should hold off at least till it came out.

Last Wednesday I found out there were some grey imports in Akiba so I made my way back. Most of them are around 70,000 yen. Quite pricey but still cheaper than an Sim Free iPhone 5.

One of the smaller shops had just got one in and he was nice enough to let me try it. My first impression was that it looked smaller than the first one, even though it was taller (About 3mm thinner). It had the same feel, but this felt more like a phone than a tablet. It was the only one I saw that day and it was raining heavily. The phone was white, but after seeing the original Note in black I thought I should wait a bit longer.

I found a white ROM online store that was bringing a shipment in, so I sent them an email and they were getting a Titanium Grey one to me. Yesterday I went to pick it up, and when he took it out of the box I was speechless. It's the feeling I'd hope for with the iPhone, even BEFORE he switched it on.

So I've been Jimmy-fying to my liking. Although I initially thought it was quite iPhone-like, it still takes some getting used to. I was VERY surprised to find it didn't come with any built-in Japanese. For that I installed Google Japanese Input which works fine for my needs.

Another BIG stumbling block is configuring the phone for S!Mail (MMS email). I set up an APN (Settings > More Settings > Mobile Networks > Access Point Names). I initially thought it was blocked but I found out if you hit the menu button (left of the home button),  you can add a New APN easily. I added a new APN using the information from here.

The stock messaging app wasn't working nicely with it, so I thought I'd try the Softbank mail app in the Play store. SMS went through fine, but emails were not going through. I experimented with Handcent, which also didn't work.

Finally I found GO SMS Pro. The interface is nicer than Handcent, has a very iPhone-like emoji plug-in. It can be used for both SMS and email. What made S!Mail work is the ability to change the USER AGENT. I used this - Vodafone/1.0/V802SE/SEJ002 Browser/VF-NetFront/3.3 Profile/MIDP2.0 Configuration/CLDC-1.1

I can find a lot of the same kind of applications as iPhone but I might miss the more music related apps which for guitar I think is a bit lacking at the moment.

For Mac file transfers you should download the Android File Transfer application. It works great. Much better than the iTunes-like Kies application. I downloaded to get a software update.

I was looking forward to an exciting multitasking split screen update which allows two apps on screen at once. 

The Hong Kong phone's update only updated Arabic as an input language (Japanese, please!?). I was quite disappointed so I manually updated it to a UK stock ROM with Odin. (I tried using a Mac equivalent Heimdall, but it was much more difficult. Odin works in VM Fusion).

The split screen is really great. You can virtually fit two iPhone 4S screen in each app space. Amazing. If I was Apple I'd be scared and sue too.  With things like this Apple really needs to step up their game.

Is the phone is too big? I don't think so. I managed to fit it in a microfibre sunglasses bag (Just, but it's possible). Domoco is likely to bring it officially in Japan as the SC-02E sometime, but in the meantime cases are impossible to find in Tokyo. I bought a cheap one from Hong Kong off eBay, so in the meantime I'll be babying it. I bought an iPad screen protector and cut it into shape with some boxcutters. I hate putting them on. It took a long time.

This new phone took up a large part of my day. Everything had to be checked carefully to make it all work. Unfortunately I couldn't get to the park today, but I think it was worth it.

Yes, I did say "My Precious" :)

Friday, 5 October 2012

Ess A Bagel in Tokyo

One of my favourite places to eat in New York was Ess-A-Bagel. I'm not a bagel fan but they were so delectable we went there almost every day for breakfast.

When I heard Ess-A-Bagel were going to come to Tokyo. I thought I'd have no reason to go to New York anymore. I wish it were true, but sadly not.

I don't know if it was just being in the land of "super size me",  but I could swear those bagels were bigger, and dare I say it tastier. Not only that, but what makes the New York ones so great was the mountains of cream cheese that they slapped in those suckers. Here it was sadly amiss.

It is only a small corner, that shares the New York "block" with other New York franchises. You can find it at Daimaru in the underground shopping mall (not far from character street) on the Yaesu side of Tokyo station.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The Great Escape

This might look a little familiar. It's another one of Bandai's solar powered LCD series released way back in 1982. I've got a sudden urge to chase that retro nostalgia once again.

This one's called Daiddasou ("The Great Escape") that I picked up on Yahoo Auctions. Again there are two screens. The first our prisoner (that's you) is making a breakout by sneaking up to the bars to saw them out to escape without being caught by the prison guard.

Having successfully done that he's now outside where he has to dodge bullets and guard dogs to make his escape to the van. The second screen is quite similar to Nazo No Pyramid (instead there were spiders and mummies to get to the gold). If I had to say which was better though, I'd say the former.

I had the chance to buy another one but I hoped it would be in better condition for the price. Also in Funabashi I found a "Mr Franken" but there was no sound and I have to say Nintendo's D Pad feels much better than the control on this.

Still on the look out for more of these. Time to hit up the junk shops and auctions.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Schoolgirls With Guitars

I never get a Saturday off. Today's Autumn Equinox day in Japan. It's nice to get a full weekend off for a change.

I haven't been to Nakano Broadway for what seems like ages, so it feels like a good time to return there. The last time I went to Akihabara, I saw another Nazo No Pyramid, and even a Galaxy Invader 1000. I figure you can't have enough of a great game, but I held back. The later was 5,000 yen, and had a few scratches. Maybe for 2 or 3,000 yen I would've taken it for nostalgia's sake.

Well if you like Akiba, then Nakano is more of the same times eleven. I got there at 3pm and struggled to look around in less than four hours.

I bought a Yui Hirasawa (lead guitar) anime doll from the K-ON! series, a long time ago in Funabashi. Shortly after I got Ritsu Tainaka (drums) in Shibuya. I figured since I started this I may as well get the whole band, right?

In Shibuya and Akihabara, the prices were quite high, but I bought  both Tsumugi Kotobuki (keyboards), and Azusa Nakano (red rhythm guitar) here today for a reasonable price. Here, and in Akihabara you'll see shops with items in clear stacked cases. The shop leases the boxes to the sellers. Quite a good idea. This is where I found them.

I've never watched the K-ON! anime. I just think rock chicks are pretty cool. Assembling them takes a bit of time. They usually come in pieces with dismembered head, arms and torsos so they can be put into smaller boxes and cushioned.

 I've got them displayed in my glass cupboard. I've only got Mio Akiyama, the bass player, left to complete my "band". Then I'll stop, and find something else I don't need to buy.

Friday, 21 September 2012

iPhone Five Is Alive. Is It?

I've had a run of bad luck starting from losing my phone. They say bad things come in threes. It felt like it was getting close to five or six. (Even with all my updates of posts, I didn't mention the 750g of meat I left out overnight. I did give them to the seven or so stray cats in the carpark of my apartment though).

Anyway I'm thinking positive. I ditched Facebook for a start. I got sick of the political issues, the whinging of needy people, the food pictures, and the so-called privacy issues Facebook couldn't care less about. 

I watched this video. While parodying the mythical iPhone 5, I think it also sums up the general feeling of Facebook itself. I'm going to miss my Italian friends. Sorry guys.

When I bought my replacement phone, I did have in mind to update eventually to the new iPhone 5. I, along with probably the rest of the world followed all the leaked pictures with religious fervour to find out what it was going to have and look like.

The early news was not so good. Oh, a nano SIM card. So somehow I'm going to have to work out how to cut my prepay into one of these. Fantastic. And, a new proprietary dock connector to deal with. It's not so long ago I bought my nice Apogee Jam guitar iPhone interface. Thanks Apple!

Today I had a chance to have a look at one in the flesh, so to speak. Even though it was raining, there weren't many people in the Softbank store, and it was easy to play with it.

The four inch screen is such an subtle screen update. It still does NOT feel much bigger than the 4S. Being thinner is nice, but it lacks that certain WOW factor I want. If Apple made it at least the 4.8" size of the Galaxy S3, I would have let Apple have my baby, and do what they want with me. This just makes me annoyed. No doubt I'm sure Apple will make the "real" size a feature, when they release their best phone yet in a year or two, or five from now.

While functional, the UI needs an update. It looks boring. I was very curious how Apple was going to handle their own maps. In 3D it sounded awesome. In reality it doesn't have the polish of Google Maps, and Street View is not here. Hello Bueller?

I've lost count of how many times Street View made finding a street SO much easier to locate, especially here in Tokyo.

I've been looking at the S3 and even the Galaxy Note. While I'm used to the iPhone interface, I am loving the bigger screen. Android is very close to the iPhone experience now. The forthcoming Note 2 looks to be amazing. The way Apple is doing things, there's a pretty good chance Samsung is going to take my money this time.

It hurts to say that. If I forgo the Galaxy phones, I'd rather pick up the 4S for compatibility to what I have, than the iPhone 5. I even prefer how the metal band goes around the phone. That's if I can get over that screen size.

Apple's suing of Samsung to me shows that they are threatened by the popularity of the Android phones. Instead of doing that why don't they give the people what they want? Please?

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Yoshi's Semi Acoustic

It looks like my beach days are over this year. It rained for about five minutes. We took our umbrellas and caught the train, but it was to be the last rain of the whole day. It seems like this is the way it is. Forget your umbrella, you're screwed. I HATE carrying an umbrella for no reason.

Today's plan was to go to Ebisu to check out two exhibitions, Sound & Vision (Masayoshi Sukita), and Light of Dreams (Akihide Tamura), at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography.

Both exhibitions were pretty interesting. Sound & Vision had some very cool rock photography. Quite a lot of David Bowie. I didn't know he had something unusual with his eyes before. Akihide's photography had a lot of locations around Tokyo and Yokohama, with earlier shots of the construction of the Yokohama Bay Bridge, Rainbow Bridge, and the pre-Minato Mirai.

After Ebisu we decided to walk to Shibuya.

I found a Yoshi that will go well in my Super Mario plushie collection, as well as a semi-acoustic guitar. I know yes, ANOTHER guitar. Inspired by Heth and Jed in New York, I was thinking of getting a pickup for my acoustic, but the price of a built-in preamp WITH a guitar was too hard to pass up.

Now that the weather is due to turn cooler, and the beach days over, I'm thinking of my park picnic drinking, and it's going to be a good opportunity to finally get that amp, and stomp boxes out there! Carrying the guitar on my shoulder if going to be much better too.

So, my other steel string guitar is up for sale. If anyone is looking for a cheap acoustic guitar, post me a comment. I'll keep it anonymous if you want to leave a return email. I'll throw in the hard case as well.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Tooth Hurty

It was just another night. You know making a pizza, eating it, then finding a hard, small stone in your mouth after finishing the last bite. I didn't remember adding anything like this to my secret recipe?

A piece of my tooth had broken off.

Before this happened, I noticed that if I bit on the left side of my mouth, I felt the slightest jolt of pain. Touching the teeth there was nothing, so I couldn't exactly locate which tooth it was.

It was before I came to Japan that I last saw a dentist. Yeah I know, bad, bad me. If it isn't scary enough seeing a dentist in your native country, imagine how bad it could be in Japan?

Like I said in a previous post, it's HIGHLY advisable to find an English speaking doctor before you get sick. And so too, a dentist is a very good idea as well.

As my never-ending "luck" would have it, this happened on Friday night. I thought finding a dentist on a Saturday would be close to impossible. The following Monday was a public holiday, and I didn't feel comfortable to wait till Tuesday. Fortunately there was a fluent English speaking dentist available for an appointment at 430pm.

Only problem was I finished work at 415pm, and making my way from Tokyo station would be a challenge. I didn't have any students from 350pm, so I asked if I could leave a little earlier to make my appointment on time.

Instead of making it a simple, "ok, go ahead, get better soon", it was such a difficult task. They HAD to call HQ, no one "in charge" was available. Instead of an easy executive decision, I was questioned relentlessly so much that by the time I got off the phone it was my normal punch-out time. What a runaround!  Only in f*ing Japan!

Anyway, enough of the that rant for the time being..

Dental clinics in Japan are a little unusual in that they usually see more than one patient at a time. Here, there were three chairs in close proximity. Although in the same room, no-one faces one another. Luckily no one was screaming in pain while I was there.

The head dentist was the only one that could speak English, but I didn't have too much trouble. When it needed explaining he told me what was going on. They even let me hold two mirrors to see what was the problem. Nice.

For an X-ray, a filling and a little clean, it cost about 3,700 yen. A follow-up appointment cost 550 yen. Pretty good!  The dentist is covered by my National Health Insurance, so it's a rare moment that I am very thankful for having it.

He did ask me to recommend him to my friends, so if you're living in Tokyo, it's Yamaguchi Dental in Yotsuya. Their address is , 東京都新宿区四谷1-5 東交ビル3F(put the address in Google Maps), and their phone number is 03-3358-0894.

Keep um, smiling!

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Jellyfish Kiss

I loved going to the beach last summer. The last time I went last year was Sept 16th. I made a conscious decision that this year I would go as often as possible. I lost count, but it was about fourteen or fifteen times.

The weather had been great and there was always plenty of eye candy on the beach. Once it reached the end of August though, and the end of the summer holidays there were far fewer people on the beach, and it was much easier to find a private plot of sand to assemble my blue tarp. (Although this didn't stop a Japanese guy from sitting down within two metres of me).

The last time I went was the 12th of September. It was humid and hot in Tokyo, so another dip in the Japan Sea was still inviting. It was quite sad to watch them pull the beach huts down. It felt like the end of Summer was here.

Nevertheless  it was relaxing. I arrived at 1pm. I quickly went into the water, and alternated between drinking a chu-hi and eating, then getting back in again. By 5 or 6pm I had two and a half chu-his. I felt hot, so I thought I'd jump in once more.

So.. with my gung-ho intoxication, I leapt through the water, and dived head and arms first into the water. And then it hit me. As soon as I went under the water I felt a warm, tingling sensation.

It was a familiar sting. The only thing was it was on my face, and all over the whole torso of my body. I had dived into the path of jellyfish. I quickly got out of the water, and went to the toliet block. My body had distinctly red rashes, and what looked like a tentacle welt line running down both sides of my face down to the middle of my chest. Mostly it looked and felt like sunburn.

I was cursing my bad luck sitting on the tarp. Feeling sorry for myself I drank the rest of my chuhi before leaving. I guess I should be mildly thankful. The jellyfish in Australia are much more deadly. IF the same thing happened I'd most likely have been screaming in agony.

The next morning when I woke up, I felt my right eye was heavy. Overnight it had become swollen enough that I could only keep that eye have open. I guess it was time to see the doctor.

My doctor said, "You know it's jellyfish season?" Of course I knew. I had little stings before and made nothing about them. If I didn't go into the water so quickly, I think I'd have avoided this.

It only cost 1,100 yen for the appointment, and 790 yen for the creams and allergy tablets he prescribed. In a week, my face looks normal, and the rashes have subsided. If the weather had not turned rainy in the days after, I'd even have attempted to go to the beach one last time.

Want to see an example of what a jellyfish kiss looks like? Here you go!

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Summer F*ing Sonic

I really don't like how they organise this festival.

You see all the bands on the poster and think, how cool the lineup, and the sheer number of bands on the schedule. Creativeman or better put, UNcreativeman, should get a big hard, violent pat on the back for making the days as unpleasant as possible.

Where do I start?

This year like every year (yes I went last year, but I was too exhausted/peeved to write about it), they have a LOT of overlap between the bands. There is no way to catch the full sets of the bands. Either leave early, or miss the beginning of the next band's performance.

The staff also make it extremely difficult to get to the next stage, quickly moving the entrance and exits to as far as they can to give you good practice for next year's marathon. In the end I ignored them and went in the exits anyway.

The photo nazi security made it difficult to take photos, but I managed to capture a few choice band moments of the festival.

I've heard Gotye's "Somebody that I used to know" everywhere in Tokyo, even in the supermarket. This performance was definitely one of the best of the day. He also speaks fluent Japanese. Who knew?

Nelly Furtado was another act I was looking forward to. The guitar initially sounded a bit fizzy, but improved later on. A couple of songs I would've liked to have heard but a good show!

As you can see, pretty far away watching Green Day's long two hour set. They've got a large repertoire, and fit the stadium well. Great interaction with the audience. 

When I think of Sigur Ros, it's hard not to use words like "ethereal". Listening to them live, I felt like it was putting me to sleep, but in a good way. Sweet Icelandic lullabies for sure.

Perfume's fans are totally nuts. While I got reasonably close, the amount of pushing was pretty insane. Bit dangerous. Amazing for a group that I'm sure do a whole lot of miming. Nice eye candy. Interesting to hear them REALLY sing, Seiko's "Fresh".

I had high expectations from the Cardigans. Gran Turismo was a favourite CD, but it was a slow-paced set. Nina's looking a bit frumpy here, and her voice sounded a bit drained. "Love Fool" and "My Favorite Game" peaked my interest.

Garbage were truly back in form tonight. A powerful set. Definitely in the top performances of Summersonic. Unfortunately had to leave early. F*** you Creativeman, honestly F*** YOU!

Now this is going BACK. I grew up with Tears For Fears. A fantastic performance. You wouldn't know this band originated way back in the 80s. I never knew Roland did the falsetto in "Seeds of Love". Wow. Funny to see the audience of oldies getting down here.

If I had a choice I'd rather see these bands on their own tours. Unfortunately this is often my only way of seeing them when they come to Japan. Such a shame.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Lost My iPhone :(

In my haste of rushing to get food to go to the beach, it fell out of my pocket. I wanted to blame H & M, or their sweatshop in Bangladesh for making my short pockets only an inch deep.

I realized as soon as I got home it was missing. I backtracked over and over. I tried calling, but there was no reception at all. It was either broken or "lost".

I went to the police box to report it, but two weeks later, I hadn't heard back. So much for the wonderful police service and the good samaritan citizens. I found that Facebook had been accessed on the 28th, so now I can likely say that it was now, not only lost but stolen.

I hadn't password locked my phone. I changed all my passwords. In hindsight I wished I had installed a GPS program to locate it, but having said that I didn't always have location services on all the time anyway.

After a few days I was thinking it wasn't going to come back to me. I called Softbank to see what they could do. They couldn't trace the phone, and being a prepay they didn't make it easy to get a replacement.

To keep my phone number and email, a replacement SIM costs about 2,000 yen. BUT, they wouldn't be able to give me a phone to go with it?! I could get a new phone number with a prepay phone though. I was considering doing that, but I still had a month left on my old SIM, and about 16,000 yen of credit. I went to Akihabara and picked up a cheap Samsung secondhand for 4,000 yen.

Initially it was hard to go back to a non-smartphone (dumb phone?), but I figured this will do, especially as the iPhone 5 was going to be out soon. Overall it's not a bad phone. I'm missing the GPS , and camera. But hey, the battery lasts about five days! The lack of predictive text is REALLY killing me though.

I still miss my iPhone. The phone has a white carbon-fibre sticker back with a black Apple logo. If you know of someone who took the phone, punch them in the face for me, or tell them to 'fess up and return it. It was a hassle and a lot of money to get it :(

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Cup Noodles Museum

After a failed attempt of coming here back when we went ice skating, I found some discount tickets so we couldn't pass it up.. or could we?

The title is not a misprint. Japanese often get plurals messed up as it is, but when they're used for describing things, things don't look much better eg. bicycles parking.

I don't know why I had high expectations. Basically it's like a shrine to the memory of the founder of Cup Noodles, Momofuku Ando. There is a room where I did see the Chin noodles, the first "food" I bought on my arrival in Japan WAY back in 2007. Wow nostalgia!

The entry is (usually) 500 yen. The highlight of the place is the chance to make your own Cup Noodle um, cup (300 yen). Well, sort of.

You get a cup, decorate it with markers. You choose one base flavour (I chose curry, but I wanted to get curry AND tomato. No dice). Then you get to choose four additives.

After that it gets sealed and vacuum-packed, and then you put it in a blowup cushion bag for protection, or probably to advertise the place on your travels home.

Not highly recommended to come here, but if you were always wondering about the origins of instant noodles this is your place. I have to say though Ando's philosophy of creative thinking I should take on board, if I weren't so goddamn lazy.

This wasn't the only reason to come to Yokohama. Oh no, of course not. It also happened to be the time of the Summer fireworks. I love them fireworks. I think we found a better area than in the past.

 As usual people had "reserved" their places with tarps, but we did find a nice place for a good view, and a steady place to rest my tripod. I brought along my GH1, along with my fisheye and 200mm zoom.

I like coming to Yokohama, and Minato Mirai is a great place for a short day trip from Tokyo. I'm planning to go to one more fireworks show again in Kita Senju soon.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Korg Monotribe

It's pretty easy to find Roland 303's in Tokyo. Only problem is they cost an arm and a leg. While there are some very good plugins that emulate them quite well, such as Audiorealism ABL2, and the "classic" Propellerhead, Rebirth for iPad, there's something cool about the tactile feel of a physical box and real knobs.

When I was at the Yokohama Music Fair, Korg showed off it's Korg Monotribe. It's a very old school analog ribbon synth, and rudimentary drum machine. I didn't get much of a chance to play with it there.

When I tried out a 606, I also tested the Monotribe. With the same spirit of the 303, I had a LOT of fun making up random bass lines, and playing around with the filter. At that time I didn't get either, but I did get that 606. Unfortunately the Korg was gone.

Checking online one day I found one for sale at a reasonable price at Sound Fiz in Takadanobaba (Astroboy's "birthplace). I hadn't been to the store before but it wasn't too far away. It was my day off too.

It uses a proprietary adapter so I am stuck with batteries for the time being. Keeping with the old school vibe, there is no midi, but it's possible to get access to using a midikit which I bought from here.

I haven't had a chance to install it yet, but from other reports it greatly enhances the unit above its seemingly toy status. Unfortunately he has retired making them for the time being. Another option is the Miditribe, but it was costing a bit more.

While it doesn't sound like a 303, I can't help but thinking if Korg can make an affordable analog bass machine, why can't Roland reissue a true analog 303?

Monday, 25 June 2012

He Ain't Heavy

He'd be away for three months from Australia, backpacking around Europe. At the end of all this he decided to take a week extra to see me in little Tokyo. It's not often that I get family coming to visit. While there are ways cheaper than the Narita Express, I thought it'd be the simplest option, and with a Suica pass, not too bad.

His first words, "concrete jungle".

Unfortunately because I didn't take any days off, I wasn't able to meet him. With a detailed explanation and Google Maps, he managed to find my apartment. First night we went into Shinjuku for a quick look around and a nice and simple, sushi train dinner.

Tuesday, we had typhoon number four passing Japan so we were lucky that I finished early. It would've been better though if they announced it before I completed my kids classes. I made a nice Yakiniku-style dinner that tasted pretty, damn good!

For my day off on Wednesday, I thought it'd be nice to take him to one of my favourite places, Yokohama's Minato Mirai. It was the most windy day I've experienced, possibly the remnant of the previous day's typhoon.

Because it was on the way, before and after we went through Shibuya. He's an avid photographer, so plenty of photo ops, including a young J girl jumping in frame and asking him the universal "Where do you from?" We ate Shabu Shabu at Nabezo. I didn't eat as much as I usually do.

Friday I took him through Ginza. He wasn't that impressed with the most expensive place in Tokyo, but he took a few photos at the International Forum in Yurakucho. Leaving him to start work I let him go on to the Imperial Palace area and Akiba.

Saturday night I proposed drinking in Shibuya. We were going to have a combini drink, but somehow a "lost in translation" moment, he thought it would be Shinjuku. When we finally found each other, I took him to Hidekaya, a place that serves a quick, cheap feed.

I thought it'd be nice to take him to Tasuichi, the first bar I went to when I arrived in Tokyo. To my disappointment, the beers are much smaller and four hundred yen now. Still the same ordinary J girls looking around for foreign guys. I was totally put off by the bad gaijin who thought it intelligent to steal someone else's potato chip while the staff was serving it. Terrible. Time to go. We went to my usual bar. It's better than Tasuichi, but the smoking still gets to me.

Finally on Sunday I took him to Odaiba. We walked across the Rainbow Bridge. I brought my Nikon lenses. I swapped lenses between his Tokina 11-16 and my fisheye. Apart from the obvious barrel distortion, I found them fairly similar. I had my 18-200. I'm thinking about leaving my manual lenses on for a while.

For dinner we had Italian. He bought some Uniqlo shirts and Vans shoes, and I was tempted by a ¥4,000 pair.

So, what did he think of Japan? He said the Japanese were friendly. He stands out as a tourist, a curiosity and an opportunity for English practice brings that out. He wanted to see more traditional Japan, and remarked it was similar to Sydney.

Maybe that's the illusion of Tokyo. But with all the places to go, he loves Yodobashi Camera. Thanks for coming.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Five Years

Five years. Five long years.. (pensive pause). I can't believe it either.

I think it's gone pretty quick though. Actually, every week passes by so quickly that I'm finding myself far behind with updating posts. Generally my enthusiasm has waned a tad, and I become every day just that little bit more cynical of these people I live and work amongst.

The new working year started great when I got thrown a bone of an extra twenty yen an hour. This is pretty much the norm. Oh, until I found out others were getting more.

It was great that I got a bonus for sticking it out after "the big one". (That was a joke. Are you kidding? They used that as an excuse NOT to give us the stipend anymore). How fantastic is that?

After the Kanto area manager gave a morale boosting speech of how bad we were doing compared to Kansai, one can get the feeling that if they didn't need native English teachers they'd rather do without us.

They say the aim was two and a half different schools.. I get four. Two of those are at schools pretty far away, and were definitely NOT requested so, so much for request surveys.

My Wednesdays at the moment are lonesome affairs at the park. No one I know has the same day off, so it's going to be great in the Summer going to the beach. Right?

I've been meeting at lot of new people at the bars, but rather than being the Charisma Man I thought I was, I'm excellent free English practice. Even the boys think so too.

Japanese men are so wonderful. I don't know how a woman can turn down a man that spits on the street. It must be hard swallowing one's own saliva. 難しい ね

The smoking is really getting to me. It's great having smoke blown into my face, or even how they thoughtfully rest a lit cigarette on the tray to let wisps of smoke waft towards me. I look forward to the day Japan taxes the crap out of cigarettes and bans smoking INDOORS just as Australia did many, many years ago. Likely not going to happen in my lifetime.

It's going to be stinkin' hot in my new apartment. I haven't been searched by police on the street, but I have had a house call, because they want to know where I live, even though the ward office and the government actually already have those details. hmm.

Good things? Yeah for sure!

I love having two empty seats next to me on the train. Reverse racism has its benefits too! Although I have had solo outings at the park, I still find it calming.

Apart from the kids classes where I've felt like I'm just babysitting, I've enjoyed the majority of my lessons. Still wish I'd learnt more Japanese in this time.

Best thing I did was shave my head. It was cathartic. Totally necessary. I think I need to do one crazy thing every year to keep me sane.

I think my time in Japan is limited. I'm really hoping there won't be a year six post. The payoff is virtually non-existant, and the rewards are few. I'm here because I don't know what I want to do, and I've made some good friends here. And.. one my best friends.

I don't want to lose that.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Tokyo Gate Bridge

Although it's great having a week off for Golden Week, it's been not so great weather to do something interesting.

On the first Sunday it was a beautiful day. Just about hot enough to go to the beach, Instead, along with quite a few co-workers I headed to Yoyogi Park to drink, eat inari and play a bit of guitar. The "usual", except for the breaking of my first string in Japan. (I've been EXTREMELY lazy changing strings while I'm not doing any pro gigs.)

The days following had mostly rainy days keeping me inside. Today was an exception. A top of 26 degrees C and the brightest full moon of the year.

A couple of things we had in mind. First going to Wakasu to see not only the new Tokyo Gate Bridge and the large windmill power generator, but also to see the resurrected 1/1 scale Gundam model in Odaiba.

Our way there from Yotsuya was plotted there with the great assistance from Google Maps and my ever helpful iPhone GPS :

The purple line you see on the map shows the 16km journey to Wakasu to be an almost straight bee-line there. We went by Tsukiji, where I've been telling myself for ages to go check out the famous fish markets.

In many parts of the trip, it was hard not to miss the Tokyo Sky Tree.

Across the bridge leading into Toyosu I noticed the adjacent railway bridge, from my interest in haikyo. Although it didn't look too hard to jump the fence and ignore the simple warning, I didn't feel the need to get closer, unlike this guy who actually went on it to take pictures. I could see all I needed to see, and it would be quite obvious to the passers by on the existing, busy bridge.

Further along I saw the Tatsumi International Swimming Center. Just like Pacifico in Yokohama, it reminded me of the Sydney Opera House with its white and quirky architecture.

As we hooked a right turn from Shin Kiba we noticed quite a few people around here.

While the new Tokyo Gate Bridge is the big current news, I was actually a little more interested to see the windmill. As we were getting closer and closer, I was keeping a sharp lookout for those enormous blades.

Around Yokohama there is also a wind power generator that could teasingly be seen from Minato Mirai. It's in Suzushigecho, but it's on US Army property so prohibited to get up close. What makes this one different is that it is situated unobstructed in the middle of Wakasu park!

I took a LOT of photos. I even made a video to show its slow rotation and the swooshing sound. If it couldn't be cool enough, it even has Astroboy on it. This video gives a more moody interpretation of this windmill than mine.

From there we made our way to Tokyo Gate Bridge. This has only recently been opened (12 Feb 2012), so interest is still very high. There is an elevator to take you up to the walkway, but the long line made it easy to just use the stairwell.

First thing I noticed was the wind. It's SO windy up there. Much more so, than the Rainbow Bridge. Secondly, there is a non-stop passing of planes on their way to Haneda Airport. The view is quite nice though. You can see a great panoramic view from here.

From the bridge it looks like there are also two other wind power generators on the artificial island coming off the other side of the bridge, but we only went half way, so hard to say if it's possible to get close. One day I may go to the Kamisu wind farm but it's pretty far away from Tokyo in Ibaraki prefecture.

While it may be possible to go to Odaiba from the other side, we went back towards Shin Kiba. Before going back however, we decided to have a short look around the narrow jetty, where there were plenty of fishermen. Be careful of the rush on the waves coming through the grate!

I had a bit of deja vu going to Odaiba via Shin Kiba. There we were passing the wasteland of a Tokyo industrial area. Seemed quicker this time. I was sober at least.

I had to ask some otaku boys where Gundam was. Strangely enough they only knew where it was when I mentioned the building it was next to.

SO where is Gundam?

You can find it if you look for Aomi on Google Maps, about a 5 minute walk from Daiba Station on the Yurikamome line. It's outside the new Diver City ("Diversity", get it?).

Funnily enough it is not far from where it was temporarily displayed in Shiokaze Park back in 2009. I always thought Odaiba was a perfect place for Gundam, so it's great to see it back.

I didn't know about it, but there is an Oktoberfest here too. Food and drinks were crazily overpriced, but by looking at the crowd, it looks like they don't really mind. They didn't notice it wasn't anywhere near October either.

We explored nearby. The Tokyo International Exchange Center looks like a PCB or computer circuit board to me. I don't know if that was the architect's intention, but it looked fitting in Tokyo's odaiba area.

Speaking of things looking like other things, the Maritime Museum does a pretty good job of looking like a ship. We went further along the Telecom Center area seeing other interesting buildings, harbour cranes and some.. cats.

As it got darker we went along the Daiba waterfront.

I still find it hilarious that they have a Statue of Liberty here. In front of the cool Fuji TV building.

Making our way back, we went via the Rainbow Bridge. Maybe it's just because it's the holidays, but it seems like more people are trekking across the bridge than when I first crossed it. My little "secret" is out.

Inside of going through Tamachi, and the hilly Roppongi area, I find it much easier going north to Shiodome and Shinbashi where although a little longer, is flatter and easier to manage.

Wow. Long post. Well, it's been a while since I last posted, so I guess this makes up for it.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

I didn't mention it on this blog, but from Thursday, the 9th of February to the 16th, I took the week off to fly back to Australia. It was two years since I had been back.

It was good because almost the whole family was there, and it gave me a chance to see how I might feel going back home for good. I didn't do much but relax. My car was out of service most of the time but it's funny how after so long you don't forget how to drive.

The most notable thing I did was cut my hair. When I gave myself that "trim" in Japan it was lopsided, so I couldn't really wear it out without some repair. So early morning April 15th, I got the clippers out to do this:

When I came back to Japan I decided that I was going to keep it short, for quite a while so I decided to look for some hair clippers.

I was at a school party one Saturday and I saw a pair of Phillips QC5530 hair clippers that were supposedly on sale at Bic Camera. I bought them only to find they were the normal price. I had points for Yodobashi, so the next day I took them to Bic in Shinjuku for a refund, to get them at the other store.

Close to a month later I clipped my hair to 15mm, but I was thinking I wanted to get the other model, so again I took it back.

The other model QC5550 had a special shaver attachment like one you'd usually use for your face, but it does a little bit more:

See where I'm going with this?

Uh oh :)

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Direct Sound EX-29 Extreme Isolation Headphones

My old Sennheiser CX-300 headphones were nearing the end of their 2 year warranty. They had a small, but not too discernible split near the top of the plug. It didn't affect the sound, but I thought since it was my last chance to have it repaired, and maybe give it an extended lease of life.

While it was getting repaired I had to use what I had in the downtime. I tried to tolerate a pair of the most horrible in-ear headphones I got on my Jetstar flight to Australia. With all treble and no bass, it only lasted one day.

I like over-ear headphones, probably more for the retro aesthetic look rather than any other reason. I LOVE the sound of my Kenwood KH-K1000 cans, but they easily leak audio making them unsuitable on the trains. And besides I sent them back to Australia!

While looking through Shibuya on the 3rd of March, I was again considering the Sennheiser HD25-1 II. They sound great and have easily replaceable parts. Close by I saw the Direct Sound EX-29 Extreme Isolation headphones.

I'd heard about these through seeing Paul Gilbert use them live and part of his first Signature Fireman guitar release a few years ago.

Also watching this video turned me onto their sound isolation features.

I switched between the Sennheisers and these to try to discern any noticeable differences especially with bass as the HD's had a spec down to 5 hz, but to my ears both sounded excellent, so with the price difference (and points I got from my last purchase) I decided to get these.

The clarity is very nice. They sound quite balanced. The bass is not hyped, so all kinds of music I listened  to were equally pleasant and the stereo separation was very clear. I let her hear it too, and she wanted mine! It was her birthday at the end of the month so I decided a week later to get her a pair as well.

All's well until April 21st when I was getting to work. I just took them off my head and the cup clip on my right side had snapped off the headband! Like all new things I baby them carefully so I was quite shocked.

From looking at some forums, it looks like this was a common problem. I was going to take them into the Shibuya store where I bought them, but I figured with my poor Japanese it'd be better, and quicker to go straight to the source.

I emailed Direct Sound's customer support and found them to be absolutely fantastic. They sent the replacement parts immediately so by the 28th, they were as good as new.

From looking at this video, it looks like they have made the headbands more durable, so I guess time will tell. But seeing how they responded quickly and professional, I'd still recommend these if you want a great pair of cans.

I get some strange looks when I walk around with these, but really, being a foreigner in Japan is par for the course for getting strange looks so.. meh. They get a little sweaty with prolonged use, and I'm sure in the Summer it will get much worse, but for now I'm quite happy with them.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Tokyo Character Street

Most people probably think that the centre of Tokyo would revolve around Tokyo Station, but unlike other cities, Tokyo doesn't really have a centre (closest would be Shinjuku, or if you're looking for younger lifeforms, maybe Shibuya).

Tokyo Station is usually devoid of much life save for the odd, (ha, like most of them aren't) salaryman.


I found it quite by accident. Underground, there is an interesting corrodor of shops called Tokyo Character Street. So, you want to get a little Hello Kitty, Rilakkuma, Totoro souvenir?

It's been open since July 2011, but I didn't know about it. I was after a wind-up Domokun toy for ages ever since the big Kiddyland closed down for renovation. So luckily I found one at the NHK shop here.

Don't know Domokun? :O Here's an appropriate video ;)

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

I Heart Hanami

On the 8th of April I did a hanami with a lot of people, a few other teachers that I didn't know so well, and others that I didn't know at all. This was the first time that I did it with a large group of people, so I wondered whether it was all that it'd be cracked up to be.

 Actually it wasn't.

 I felt apart from this group, so much that I enjoyed the cherry blossoms a whole lot more when it was just me and her. To make matters worse, she said it was the first time that we wouldn't experience hanami together. 

Fortunately we did get to do it today. Her fridge wasn't working so we decided to go down to the BIC Outlet store in Yurakucho to have a look, and on the way back pass by Chidorigafuchi, where we've been every other year.

The lights weren't on anymore but there were still lots of cherry blossoms to savour. It felt a little strange without having the obligatory chu-hi while viewing, but it felt like the good old times.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Lenny Kravitz in Tokyo

It's funny but I've never seen Lenny play live before. The last time he was in Japan for a proper tour was 14 years ago, so now seems like a good time not to have to wait any longer.

Like I've said before most acts play on weeknights and start early. Fortunately I had two opportunities to catch his show. My new day off, or even Saturday. Unlike the Aerosmith show I had to take a day off work for.

For some reason I thought he was playing Tokyo Dome. But actually it's in a much better venue, the Tokyo Dome City Hall (formerly JCB Hall). The sound was great, and I luckily scored a first balcony seat closest to the stage.

It was a great performance. He has a lot of popular songs which made it feel like a greatest hits show. You can hear a strong Beatles influence in many of his tunes. In my mind the weakest moments were his first CD's songs ("Let Love Rule" and "Mr Cab Driver"). Some of his newer songs were so too but only because I was not familiar with them, save for the "Come On Get It" opener, which follows the great formula for his well-known hits.

He was ably supported by his backing band. It was great to see a 3-piece brass section. It's not often you see the horns come out. "Always On The Run" sounded fab. The afro guitarist reminded me a little of a former me.

In the encore he did the rounds of the hall. I said "Hey Lenny", and he high fived. Hopefully some of that talent will rub off on me.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Gevey Ultra In Japan

It's quite sad when a phone company locks their own customers out from using a phone they provide, just so they can force you to go on a more expensive plan. Shame shame shame.

Since I changed to a prepaid I quickly learnt that it would not work on the company's locked handset. For Christ sakes, it's the same company! Fortunately I did manage to unlock my iPhone 3G and it worked great. BUT, it was slow and clunky and well, I had the later one so what's the reason to let it go to waste sitting in a drawer?

I waited a long, long time for the software unlock but it never eventuated. Gevey offer a SIM unlock solution which is a chip that goes under your SIM card which allows it to be used with other providers (or breaking the unfair locking scenario).

I decided to bite the bullet and get me one. Be careful going around Akihabara. From what I saw, there looks to be a lot of fakes, and there is no guarantee of their success rate.

It arrived yesterday around noon, but I waited till after work to do it. I had to do an extra cut on my SIM card for the chip. I used my swiss army knife, and with one slip I lightly cut the top of my finger. I didn't feel any pain but it didn't stop bleeding, hindering my efforts to do the most minimal cutting in case it wasn't going to work, I could put it back in my old phone. Tip: Just use scissors (or nippers)! It's much quicker and safer.

There are two models of the Gevey - Pro and Ultra. Any other name is definitely a fake. While the Pro is cheaper, get the Ultra. The advantage is by using the FuriousMod application, the whole unlock process is completely automated. (If the app doesn't work you most likely have a fake chip.)

Thankfully it went well without a hitch (except a cut finger). Everything is working as expected!

Friday, 20 January 2012

Getting Internet In Japan

I took it for granted. Alone in my new apartment, there I was staring at the ceiling. You have no idea how boring it was not having internet!

I tried real hard trying to do without it. My plan was that I'd be able to concentrate on more important things rather than wasting time online. Sad to say, I AM the king of procrastination, and it looked like it was easier just to do nothing and be bored.

I thought checking the internet at known open wifi points would be enough. I waited patiently in three degree evenings for my FB and email to download. Most times I hadn't missed a thing, but the lack of it was akin to not having a mobile phone. You know just in case someone MIGHT call you, when in actual fact they hardly do.

It might sound strange but this is the first time in all these years of living here that I actually have my own internet connection. I was fortunate enough to have an open wifi in my first apartment, and after that my other half took care of the later net setup.

What also helped pushed to get a connection was that I somehow managed to kill one of my Mac laptops (on my birthday no less), and I had been thinking to upgrade the one I had been using since I got here. Combined with an internet connection you can save a LOT of money on a new computer.

So where do you start?

I thought that you needed a phone landline in order to get connected. Actually you don't! The cheapest option is the hikari fiber optic mansion (generally highrise apartment, not a rich person's house) connection.

There are 2 companies involved - the phone company (NTT Flets), and your chosen ISP provider (eg. Yahoo, OCN, AsahiNet). If you go to the big electronic stores BIC, Yodobashi or Sofmap you will find each have their perks for signing up with them, so it's worth going around to find the best deal. They can also do a building check to see if fiber's available.

I signed up on the 5th of January. Along with the discounted Mac, I got 3 months free internet. They coerced me into taking an optional wireless router and helpline support that I won't use, but they tell me I can cancel that without penalty in 2 or 3 months. First payment will just be the 2,100 (+840 yen admin) NTT connection charge.

They sent a LOT of papers but the setup was quite painless. I just had to go to Network settings on my Mac - create a PPPoE connection by adding the ISP service name, account name and password to get up and running.


Sunday, 15 January 2012


I knew my self-imposed ban on buying another guitar couldn't last.

It caught my eye near the door of the music shop on December 18th. It was just the body, but from that first glance I knew exactly what it was. The way they do this special finish I mentioned in this post.

I immediately asked to put it on hold. He was reluctant but after I offered a deposit he agreed. I knew if I passed it up I'd never see it again. It took a while to actually get it, a whole month! But now it's mine all mine.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Blades of Glory

I woke up early today at about 8am. I wanted to go out. Technically it's the last day of the holiday break, (although I am fortunate enough to have Thursday as my normal day off giving me an extra day).

I was out of bed, had breakfast and showered. I was outta there by 930am. She.. took a while. We would not get to Yokohama until about 1pm.

We had a double plan, no actually a triple plan, but only managed two of them because of the late start.

First mission was the Cup Noodle Museum in Minato Mirai. It took a while of walking around but we found it. As part of the 500 yen ticket you get to make your own noodles, but seeing as we were late, the spots were filled so I'll have to tell you about that in another attempt in the future.

Another BIG reason to come here was to go to Art Rink. I mentioned it before, but last time we didn't didn't actually do it.

It's been over 20 years since I last put on a pair of skates. I can remember Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" was playing over the loud PA. Also I can recall how lousy I was.

True to form I was not a gazelle from "Swan Lake". As much as I wanted to move with such grace, it took a LONG time for me to even get my center of gravity in balance.

What probably made it harder was being one of the few gaijin on the ice, I felt any fall would have been noticed and ridiculed by watching Japanese ready with cameras to capture my folly. Also too, I had my camera with me that I was quite terrified of breaking had I fallen over. Luckily I managed not to fall at all.

After three hours of perseverance, I maintained an acceptable level of balance, but even as we left my only way of stopping was banging against a wall. It was getting cold so I had to admit a little bit of defeat. I had fun though! I'm sure to come again. Maybe this will be like Zushi was for me in Summer.

Quite cheap too. Only 500 yen to get on the ice, and another 500 yen for skate hire. Being outdoors, it's only open until February.

While we were in Yokohama we took advantage of a free butter chicken curry from Muji. There IS a catch though.

To claim your prize you have to play their Sugoroku game. It asks for a twitter, Facebook or Mixi registration, but it's otherwise straightforward if a little frustrating to play.

It took me over 240 tries to claim my prize, so have nerves of steel and you will be rewarded. Be quick. This freebie is only till the 10th.

Ok, so until next time. Bub bye!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Trick Me Once

We've been to Mt Takao numerous times before, but it's strange I never really noticed the Trick Art Museum, a VERY short walk directly across the road from Takaosanguchi station (Keio line). Haven't done much this New Year's break so a good reason to get out of the house.

The museum has predominantly an Egyptian theme. I love optical illusions, so it's definately in the highest part of my top five museum exhibits. They encourage hands on, so it was quite a bit of fun to pose directly incorporating yourself as part of the art.
They allow photographs. Actually you HAVE to bring your camera to get the full effect. Somehow seeing it directly takes a bit more to fool your mind, but in a photo it looks pretty amazing. If you've ever been to the Leaning Tower in Pisa and taken a photo "holding it up", this is the place for you!

The only real negative is that the place is quite popular and now that it's holiday time, it was FULL of kids, so taking that photo was sometimes frustrating and ruined a good illusion. Go when it's as least busy as possible.

A discount ticket can be printed off from the website. You'll get a free drink token for the vending machine outside the entry on your way out.

We wasted a lot of time in the museum so we didn't have as much time as we liked to go up Mt Takao. We usually hike up. Ironically being winter it would've been the easiest time to walk up, but as time was cutting it fine, we took the chair lift.

This is a first for me. I thought there was only the cable car. Chair lifts are MUCH more fun. Brings out the kid in me.
We only had less than an hour so it was almost time to go down not long after we got to the top. I managed to take a photo of Tokyo in the distance. Now it's finished it's quite easy to identify the Tokyo Sky Tree as part of the skyline.

If you want to do both the museum and Mt Takao it's a good idea to leave as early as you can. Both highly recommended!