30 December 2007

I scream, you scream, we all scream for Krispy Kreme

As with so many trends, a little while after it hit California, Krisy Kreme mania is on in Japan. There's one store in Shinjuku (as it turns out, two doors down from the Starbuck's the started the Japanese Starbuck's craze), and even after a few months the lines are insane.

The line stretches more than halfway across the bridge across the railroad at Shinjuku.

As you can see by the mufflers and coats, it was cold in Tokyo today! It didn't intimidate the line-waiters.

Needless to say, I didn't partake of the Krispy Kremes this day!

Good but not Great

I just finished "The Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett. I gather this is a shade more highbrow than his other books (although I haven't read any of his other books AFAIK), and it was good. It's a historical novel about the building of Kingsbridge Cathedral, and it brings in lots of information about medieval architecture, English civil wars, church vs. state in merry olde Englande, and so forth.

Those parts were all good, but... it's hard not to compare this to Iain Pears' "An Instance of the Fingerpost," which is the finest historical novel even written, and it definitely suffers in the comparison. The characters in Follett's book are well-drawn, but not always well-motivated; there are a few too many convenient coincidences and a few superfluous elements. So, if you like historical novels, Pillars is definitely worth a read; however, everyone (who has the patience) should read Instance of the Fingerpost.

23 December 2007

Holiday Music: The true worldwide constant

So, the Japanese may not believe in Christmas as a holiday (there are still incredibly few Christians here, the opposite of Korea), but as with holiday lights, they love Christmas carols. Every store here is the same experience as in the US of A, lots of Rudolph, Jingle Bells, etc., etc. Like in the US, this started right at Thanksgiving.

In general, I find the Japanese are a little bit classier about it: it tends to be some jazz or classic vocalist (think Andrews Sisters) version, not so much the Mitch Miller. On the other hand, my friend said the store he was just in was playing the "Chipmunks Sing Christmas" album so...

20 December 2007

Singapore at night from above

So, I booked my room at the Swisshotel because it's next door to the place I was going, but it turns out to not only be a very nice hotel, but also a very tall hotel -- my room was on the 55th floor! As a result, from my balcony I had gorgeous views of the city, which were especially compelling at night.

The above picture is the Chijmes complex, a converted convent that's now a fun nightlife area.

The body of water in the distance is Clarke Quay, another nightlife area. Also, hard to see at night, the huge round structure in the lower right is the Singaporean Supreme Court.

Never Before Seen in Aviation History

On my flight to Singapore last Sunday, the plane's departure time was changed... to be earlier!

Yes, you read that correct: original departure time 11:30, updated departure time 11:20. I guess they were hoping nobody tried to cut it close that day!

10 December 2007

More FF Miles

Well, after all our Singapore trainee program looks like it's going forward, so I'm off to Singapore for a 4-day trip starting Sunday. Time for some Chicken Rice!

02 December 2007


Every time I've gone out to Shimokitazawa I've had a good time, whether it was eating at an Okinawan restaurant with Makino-san, discovering an awesome Japanese beer emporium or hanging at a hookah bar with Eldred.

After the JLPT today I stopped by Shimokitazawa again, and I'm more convinced than ever it's a future trendy neighborhood. All the ingredients are there: arty fashion and performance spaces, trendy student bars and clubs ("live houses" as they're called here); multiple train lines; and lower-than-current-average apartment prices (maybe still 40% under central Tokyo). I hung out in a local record store and discovered a couple fun new Japanese bands, saw the crowds and the energy... I'm telling ya, invest in Shimokitazawa real estate now! ;-)

25 November 2007

Moonrise Over Tokyo

Right off the balcony of my apartment. We've had beautiful, clear (if somewhat chilly) weather for about two weeks now.

The red and white needle is Tokyo Tower, and the building with the illuminated roofline is the Westin Ebisu.

21 November 2007

Pigeon Point

Neat shot.


18 November 2007

i has a corm

[Cute Alert]

11 November 2007


There's an awesome subculture growing in Japan called haikyo or haikyo tourism. Folks go find abandoned buildings throughout (mostly rural) Japan and photograph them. There's been quite a market for picture books, perhaps because Japan's looming demographic crisis makes haikyo as a metaphor for the future seem not-so-fantastic.

One of the coolest websites is Haikyo Deflation Spiral. If nothing else it's fantastic source material for anyone making a postapocalyptic game!

There was a recent article on haikyo in Tokyo's english-language weekly Metropolis. Be aware that the link above changes every week, so you may have to Google for the article.

08 November 2007

Now that's a personal webpage


04 November 2007

Hee Hee Even Tesla Coils are Computer-controlled now

From Make Magazine: http://www.makezine.com/blog/archive/2007/11/tesla_coil_super_mario_du.html?CMP=OTC-0D6B48984890

Moonlight over Shibuya

Caught the moon behind the 0101 building in Shibuya last month...

02 November 2007

Japanese Elderly Inmates

I found this article completely fascinating. A piece of aapnese society that doesn't get much publicity:


26 October 2007

Best Videogame Reviews Ever

Omigod. I was laughing so hard at the Halo 3 review I had trouble breathing.


Thanks to Ken Tan.

09 October 2007

Kanazawa Reunion

Three of us who studied in Kanazawa got back together this weekend for a reunion in Kanazawa and had a blast! We persevered despite the fact that several of our old haunts have been ravaged by time -- both Famille and Biz Cafe are no more :-(

Nevertheless Kanazawa is still "ii machi". Frances is wild for purikura (print club) so we made a couple really fun images!

25 September 2007

Lots More Photos

Jason posted his photos from my friends' recent visit to Japan! Albums from things I did include:


Whew! That was a long week! Thanks for the photos Jason!


20 September 2007

Mysteries of the Japanese Culinary Mind

Today I got a Beef Croquette Sandwich for lunch (the Japanese love croquettes so much, they put them inside bread as a sandwich), and as a dressing, the sandwich had... tartar sauce. Hmm....

17 September 2007

One of the coolest museums ever

This weekend we went to the Hakone Open-Air Museum. It's an awesome museum, primarily dedicated to sculpture and mainly outside in the open air.

Photos are here, I'll post links to everybody else's photos as they get uploaded.



13 September 2007

Great animation blog


It Cannot Be Denied

This is funny.


12 September 2007

Indie Anim Fest

While I was in Korea I met up with my friend Jenny Hsoo, and she mentioned the Korean Indie Animation Festival (which she started a couple years ago, although she's no longer involved).

It's restricted to independent or student works from within Korea, and they had over 200 entries this year! There's a lot of stuff going on in Korea. They accepted 32 entries, I found the trailer on a Korean news site. It was cool to hear about all the activity in the indie scene!


04 September 2007

Quote(s) of the Day


03 September 2007

A Good Music Video?



Go little robot go!

Umi Hotaru

So over the weekend we had an offsite meeting over in 千葉県 Chiba-ken at a town called 金谷 Kanaya. We got there by driving through the Tokyo Bay Aqua Line, which is a freeway that passes under half of Tokyo Bay in a tunnel, and then turns into a bridge for the remaining distance.

Back towards TokyoForwards towards Chiba

The place where the tunnel comes out and turns into a bridge is called 海ほたる Umihotaru. Hotaru means firefly, and umi means sea, so "ocean's firefly?" It's a HUGE man-made building in the middle of Tokyo Bay.

It's 5 stories tall, so you park in one of the lower levels and then go up......and up......and up...
...and up......and finally come out on top where the views are!

Fundamentally, this is what we used to call a "tourist weir" -- it's job is to slow down the tourists so they'll spend money in the shops. It seemed to be a very popular spot to stop, which I was slightly surprised by given that the whole trip across Tokyo Bay only takes about 30 min.

At right, Tomoyo and Hitomi enjoy the bay sun. At below left, Shuzo tried to take a picture in the breeze. Below right, some of the insane infrastructure around this man-made island.

28 August 2007

That's not pain, that's passion!

From the camera of Jason Kim at our Karaoke session in SF!

Next up: Karaoke in Tokyo!

26 August 2007

Rhapsody in August, and storytelling

Yesterday I went with some friends to this month's installment of the Akira Kurosawa festival in Mitaka. Although I missed most of it, every month this festival shows one or two of Kurosawa's movies, in mostly (but not precisely) chronological order.

One of the things that surprised me when I first went to the festival is that, while Kurosawa's name is well-known, he's not a standard reference point of people in the industry, the way he is in the US. In the US, you can pretty safely assume that anyone in the entertainment business has seen Seven Samurai, and Rashomon; and that they have some idea of Kurosawa's ouvre outside that. Before this festival, I had probably seen seven or so of Kurosawa's movies (my favorite, hands-down, is Ikiru).

However, that wasn't the point of this post! Yesterday we watched Ran, his beautifully cinematic remake of King Lear; and Rhapsody in August, which is what this post is about.

Rhapsody is not a bad film, in fact I enjoyed most of it. For one thing, after the hig opera of the jidaiteki (period) films and the out-and-out weirdness of Dou Desu Ka Den, watching Kurosawa direct normal characters in Rhapsody was a great break (the primary characters are a grandma who survived the Nagasaki atomic bomb, and her materialistic grandchildren). The movie definitely is an old man's movie (Kurosawa was 81 when he made it), and it reflects an old man's attitude about the decline of culture. However, it's still a reasonable story about the reconciliation of several generations and despite their differing priorities.

The things that were controversial at the time of the film's release seem like total non-issues to me; the film has a very negative view of the atomic bombing, but it's a film about a family who lost their patriarch to the bomb so that's natural. Some depictions of American were criticized as obsequious, apologizing for the bomb; but in fact Gere's character seemed to me to simply be having a humane response to the loss the characters around him had suffered.

But the story is another thing. Again, most of the film is good, as by small moments the grandchildren and grandma come to grips with each other. The grandma is slowly losing touch, which is portrayed very straightforwardly. But the ending ruined the movie; namely, that there isn't one. At the end of the movie, there's a another "grandma is losing touch" episode, but it has no consequences and no resolution (in fact, we don't even see the end of the episode; the movie cuts abruptly to credits while the families are chasing the determined grandma down a dirt road in a torrential rainstorm).

There simply is no coda, no ending, no meaning assigned to the issues the characters have been dealing with for two hours. Will the families move to Hawaii or not? (this is the central plot question of the film) Don't know. Will grandma go? Can she continue to live alone in this country house near Nagasaki? Don't know. That might all be fine if the final sequence provided some character insight that justified it; but it doesn't.

Making this extra-scary, the group I was this with was happy with the ending. Why? Because it "didn't put an explicit meaning on the movie." Sure, that's like saying you enjoyed the evening because an axe murderer didn't assault you; true, but no defense of the events. No, you don't have to tie everything in the plot up neatly with a ribbon on top, but a story should have a sense of conclusion at the end.

Now, the friends I saw this with are all highly educated, well-versed members of the industry. The reason their reaction scared me is because it made me think, "Will Japan ever be able to make mainstream worldwide entertainment?" If you've been through even the slightest amount of the mainstream story-development thread in America, it's painfully clear what was wrong with the ending: there's nothing the characters have learned and brought back to their lives. Happy ending, sad ending, whatever: audiences want a feeling that the events of the story have come to a stopping place. If you were a live storyteller around a campfire, and you tried to end the way Rhapsody in August does, your audience wouldn't let you go!

Sigh, it's gonna be a hard struggle to get successful content produced here.


Now playing: Vampire Weekend - Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
via FoxyTunes

25 August 2007

Appliances, Pt. 2

The refrigerator was freezing the vegetables, so I was motivated to follow on to the earlier post of "Kanji you might find on a washing machine" with this one, "Kanji you might find on a refrigerator".

Kanji Reading Meaning
冷蔵庫 reizouko Refrigerator
冷蔵室 reizoushitsu Refrigerator compartment (lit. "room")
冷凍室 reitoushitsu Freezer compartment
設定ロック settei rokku Setting lock
tsuyo(i) strong
chuu medium
yowa(i) weak
ソフト冷凍 sofuto reitou Soft freeze
急冷凍 kyuureitou Fast freeze
キッチンタイマー kicchin taimaa Kitchen timer (yes, my refrigerator has a built-in kitchen timer)
スタート sutaato Start
ストップ sutoppu Stop

Now playing: The Proclaimers - I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)

21 August 2007

Another miracle of Multi-lingual Product Marketing

The toilet paper randomly bought at the nearby 24-hour store is called Elleaire.

The tag line says (in English), "Elleaire is made with the finest quality and ultimate softness, in order to bring comfort back into your life."

Below that, it says, in Japanese, "100% Pure Pulp."

20 August 2007

Firefox Mac OS X -> Death Spiral

I love Firefox and here in Japan I'm totally dependent on the awesome perapera-kun plugin to work through Japanese web pages (also, Google Browser Sync is pretty addictive as well).

But man, on Mac OS X, Firefox just slows down, and down, and down... This isn't the same as the while-holding-mouse-down problem, this is a progressive slowdown that accumulates over time (it's probably not a coincidence that memory size increases). I have to restart regularly. I just found a great workaround that makes restarting pretty painless, but I'm surprised this doesn't get more attention on Mozilla boards. What's the haps?

If I wasn't using the extensions, I'd switch to Camino for sure.

18 August 2007

A Tale of Two Books

I've recently read two books that had diametrically opposed effects on me.

Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion is essentially a rant against the evils and narrow-minded thinking of religion (and aggressive defense of atheism). I substantially agree with his point but the book contained little that made me think or explore the topic further; as my housemate Matt said, "Poking holes in weak theological arguments doesn't seem especially fruitful."

On the other hand, The Black Swan: The Effect of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb takes as its central thesis that Gaussian distributions are fundamentally incorrect and should be stricken from our analysis habits. That assertion is wrong in the fields of endeavor where I spend most of my time, and the prose itself far inferior to Dawkins'; yet, the book and it's strongly and personally argued points made me think at every turn. There's a decent chance I will reread the book (rare for me), not to reabsorb the main thesis but to relive the side arguments and intellectual explorations it inspired.

I'm sure I'll write more about the Black Swan book; after all, the author starts from experience and then applies models, an approach I'm much more comfortable with. And, I fundamentally believe in the applicability of his thoughts to the world of finance, where he originated, and wish more people grasped the fundamental risks he highlights (which I was exposed to some years ago via chaos theory).

17 August 2007


Shorter report than usual, since I was busy in meetings a lot! But still some stuff at http://www.stoneschool.com/Work/Siggraph/2007/.

31 July 2007

The most convienent thing ever

Oh my god I love Google Browser Sync. It makes working on multiple computers about a hundred times easier.

29 July 2007

A book I'll probably read

An interview with the author of a forthcoming book on Jewish creators in the comics industry (who were, as it turns out, most of them).


17 July 2007

Kubrick Public Service

Awesome! Using Lego people for public service ads!

I love this country!

15 July 2007


Today was quite a day. I got up early and hustled over to Tokyo station so I could take an early Shinkansen down to Nagoya and hang out with my friend Matt, who moved to Japan -- yesterday.

But no, when I got to Tokyo eki they had just stopped the Shinkansen due to flood conditions on the Fujigawa (Fuji river) in central Japan. Thus followed five hours of sitting in Tokyo eki. Of course, around 2pm when the trains started up again, I no longer had a reserved seat... (thankfully I managed to scrounge an unused seat for the ride to Nagoya).

Tonight Matt and his fellow Aeon trainees and roamed around in Nagoya (there's a lot of free music here! We saw three different concerts) but the other trainees were mostly new college grads - didn't want to drink, spend money, or stay out too late. Wow, quite a difference from my college days. Nevertheless, Nagoya is a fun town!

For a hotel, I grabbed a last-minute hotels.com room at the Nagoya Kanko Hotel, a perfectly nice but mostly empty business hotel (this is a holiday weekend). I'm sure it'll be packed again on Monday...

10 July 2007

The Frogs of Megurogawa

It's rainy season here, alas. Today was dripping rain all day, but one interesting result is that I learned we have a lot of frogs along the Meguro river! I walked home from Nakameguro station tonight, and saw at least three of these guys along the sidewalk:

Sorry there's nothing for scale in the picture, but those aren't bricks, they're large paving stones. These were good sized frogs!

08 July 2007

Guitar Hero Rocks Again

So on last weeks' trip to the US, I brought back two critical items.

1. Three pounds of Peet's coffee.

2. A US PlayStation 2, two guitar controllers, and a copy of Guitar Hero 2.

Omigod that game is fun, it's even better than the original. If by any piece of bad luck you're reading this and haven't played Guitar Hero yet, get thee to the store!

The biggest reason I brought it back is because we have a whole bunch of heavy metal fans at work. They're gonna go nuts when they play -- we're having a Guitar Hero party on Saturday.

07 July 2007

Four Books

Lots of books lately (much time on planes == many books read). In order from worst to best...

The bad: "Death of a Salaryman" by Fiona Campbell.
I guess I should have been suspicious of a book concerning Japan written by someone with an Irish name, but I was in an airport bookstore so... As a premise, it's intriguing: a salaryman is fired from what he thought was his job-for-life, and goes through various complication before reinventing himself. In practice, it's just not well-written. The protagonist isn't a protagonist: throughout the book, it's luck and the competence of others that saves him, not his own actions; and I still don't know who he is to any detail. It also feels way too much like the author, with a few trips to Japan, connecting all of the things she happened to do while here into a (none too coherent) plot.

The pretty good: "The Assault on Reason" by Al Gore
Unsurprisingly, I'm pretty lined with Al Gore's view of the world (can you imagine what a better place the world would be if a few thousand more people in Florida had voted for Al Gore in 2000?), but I can't say this is a great book. While I strongly agree with his premise that the reason and bipartianship are draining out of politics, this book is more aptly titled "The Assault on Bush" or more accurately, "The Assault on the Bush Administration's Attempts to Make America an Authoritarian Government." I totally agree! But I fear this book is more about exhorting the faithful than making any new converts.

The good: "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins
Whereas in Gore's book I completely agree with his conclusion but didn't get a lot out of the ride, this book is more-or-less the opposite: while I don't favor the total abandonment of traditional religion Dawkins is advocating, I appreciate every bit of the thought and intellect that went into the argument. If you have ever had moments of doubt about religion, this book will magnify them, and on the basis of good arguments to boot.

Mild Spoilers:
However, Dawkins misses for me on two fundamental points. One is that he cannot, as the enlightment philosophers could not, prove the non-existence of God. He freely owns up to this, but tries to show why God is unlikely instead, which I don't think will really be a rallying point. However, I'll concede that Dawkins doesn't necessarily expect the book to convert the faithful. A more puzzling question to me concerns his argument that we should remove religious matters from what he calls the 'sanctity of religion': the idea that we must respect another's religious beliefs, whether we personally follow that religion or not. Dawkins never treats in the book the clear reason for sanctity of religion: having everyone observe that rule enables people of multiple religions to form a civil society. It's not just that he argues against this (he would probably be able to talk about it quite clearly), it's that he omit the question entirely.

And finally, the good but shallow: "In the Miso Soup" by Ryu Murakami
This is a thin, non-philosophical bit of adventure/thriller writing that follows a young marginally-employed Japanese man who works as a guide to Tokyo's water trade, and his increasingly worrisome American client. I won't say it's great literature, but it's fun to read! (and definitely written by someone who's spent more time in Tokyo than Ms. Campbell).

03 July 2007

Another winner!

I saw Ratatouille Sunday night, and even in my jetlagged state it was awesome. Big comeback! The animation -- incredible. Effects and look (wet! rats!) -- superb. Science harnessed in the name of storytelling -- sweet.

So much fun. I hope the fact that it's actually a better story than Cars is ultimately reflected in the box office numbers too.

08 June 2007

Math Nerds with Harmony


Anyone who thinks the creative possibilities of the superhero genre are exhausted...

...has obviously not seen this.


29 May 2007

Izu Hanto

About an hour and a half south of Tokyo is the Izu Peninsula, which is a popular resort area in summer (for the beaches) or winter (for the hot springs, or Onsen).

Amy Hay had just finished up at Polygon and this was her last weekend in Japan, so myself, Atsushi Yamane, Aya Nakamura, and Amy headed down to the sunshine and the waves in Izu!

We stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant -- it was a very local find of feeling, but the food was tremendous! This was the Tai (snapper) sashimi, absolutely yummy! At first we figured there'd be something clinging to life inside the shell, but in fact it was just for decoration.

After that, it was time for swimming! It's very unusual to go swimming in Japan this time of year, but that's more for cultural reasons than comfort ones: the water was clearly warmer than NoCal! We were a little cold when we went in, but we warmed up and had a great time after we did! ...well maybe except for Aya, who was cold the whole time... but Amy had a blast in the water!

And from the ocean, we had to try Izu's other famous treat: the hot springs. We wound our way up to a hot springs in a residential neighborhood and went for a good long soak. Since for obvious reasons I have no pictures from inside the onsen, I give you Atsushi posing out front:

And last, but not least, dinner! We went down to Odawara and did some o-miyage shopping, then wandered around checking out various restaurants. We were standing, looking at the menu at this place:

when a Japanese man came out right in front of us. Everyone excused themselves and then he waited until we finished our discussion on whether Amy should try kujira or not, and then said in perfect, unaccented English, "You guys have gotta try this place, it's the best fish in Odawara! Be sure to sit at the counter!" And he was right -- it was a great restuarant, we had all sorts of Odawara's famous fresh seafood as well as an absolutely dynamite broiled lamb.

After that it got less exciting -- a long drive back to Tokyo that stretched Atsushi's English conversation skills, and a slog to drop everybody off at home. A great trip though!

18 May 2007

Green Aliens swarming Tokyo

So I made the first trek to Tokyo Disneyland this week! The rides are the same as all Dinseylands (meaning they were still fun) -- we did the Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear, Big Thunder Mountain, the Jungle Cruise, and of course the new Winnie the Pooh Honey Hunt ride, since we just finished working on the series!

Character-wise, the most popular character at Tokyo Disneyland is Stitch, from Lilo and Stitch. Not only was the morning parade the Lilo and Stitch parade, there was Stitch merchandise everywhere. I'm pretty sure there was more Stitch merchandise than Mickey Mouse merchandise, which is the first time I've ever seen that at a Disney park!

Among the Pixar characters, by far the most popular character was the three-eyed Green Alien from Toy Story. These pictures are from the store right at the exit of the Buzz Lightyear ride, but there was Green Alien merchandise everywhere!

Three of the girls get down with their Aliens!

It was a really fun day, and to continue the experience we had dinner at the Rainforest Cafe (same chain as in the U.S.) -- unfortunately, we were seated right next to the animatronic gorillas so we got growled at every ten minutes or so.

Should you feel the need to be inspired in your figure drawing

then follow these links.


13 May 2007

Fluid Dynamics Game

Fun! Cross-platform!


Thanks to Sally.

08 May 2007

It's in Norwegian, and I still laughed

Sorry for those of you who've seen it already.

Medieval Helpdesk.


05 May 2007

Hike Report

Yesterday I went hiking at Oyama in Kanagawa prefecture. You take a train about 1 hr. from Tokyo, then a bus about 25 min. up into the mountains, then head up alongside this stream.

My route was Minoge Bus Stop (elev. 500m) to Yabitsu Toge (Yabitsu Pass) (elev. 750m), then to Oyama Honsha (the top of the mountain, and of course the location of a Shinto shrine) (elev. 1250m), then to Shimosha (site of a Bhuddist temple) and Oiwake, then back to the train via bus.

Despite losing the trail for awhile and getting pretty tired, I made the whole trip. I'm looking forward to another trip back - the temples Shimosha and the cool built-on -the-hillside town of Oiwake were neat. See all photos here. Hopefully I'll get an earlier start next time!


02 May 2007

Yay! 4-day weekend

Tis the last half of Golden Week, Thurs-Fri-Sat-Sun no workee.

Too bad it only happens once a year...

29 April 2007

So three firsts came up today.

#1: I ran over a pigeon on my bike

I spent most of today on a long bike ride out along the Tamagawa river. There are various rec paths on both sides of the Tamagawa. At one point, there were a whole flock of pigeons on the path. When I'm riding and I encounter a pigeon in the road, because it's so hard to predict which way the pigeon will move, I generally stay moving towards the pigeon -- that way, whichever way it moves, it'll be out of the way.

Except this pigeon never moved! It just stood there in the road, even as all the other pigeons took off. It stood there so long that... I ran it over. I don't think I actually hit the bird itself, just it's feathers, because when I looked back there were feathers everywhere but the pigeon was flying. Still, I was amazed -- I've never seen a pigeon not get out of the way, whether it's a car or bike that's coming. That was an amazingly lazy Japanese pigeon.

#2: I saw a falconer in real life

I've heard of falconing as a hobby of course, but I had never before actually seen a falconer live. Along the other side of the Tamagawa, when I was headed back home, I saw a Japanese man training his falcon. He would hold the bird and feed it, then walk about twenty feet away and gesture the falcon to his glove. When it came, he'd give it another small piece of meat.

The falcon was beautiful. I don't know enough about falcons to know what species it was, but it was fairly large, maybe 20 inches from top of head to tip of tailfeathers, and had dark feathers with a golden hue; it was a stunningly beautiful and graceful bird.

Of course, when he was away from the bird, it was totally free. It's amazing that it didn't just fly off.

#3: I encountered my first (petty) crime in Japan

A few weeks ago I bought a rear splash guard for my bike. Rainy season is coming, and I know I'll need it by then. It installs without tools, but I just hadn't gotten around to attaching it to the bike.

This morning I thought I'd attach it, so I took it down with me. When I test-fitted it, it turned out to block the view of my tail light. That's no good, but I realized I could probably fix it if I rearranged the position of the tail light. So, I put the splash guard on the rack where I usually lock my bike, I figured I would finish installing it when I got back.

When I got back, the splash guard was gone. Now, in the U.S., I wouldn't even think of that as stealing -- I left something unlabelled, not attached to my bike, and in a public area. But in Japan, that's full-on theft; people here just don't steal stuff left around. As an example, Friday night on the way to a nomikai (drinking party) we saw a cellphone lying on the ground. After talking about what to do for a minute, we left it where it was -- that way, if the owner remembered where they dropped it, they could come back and find it. That's how Japan usually is, so when my splash guard was gone, while I'm not heartbroken or anything, I was pretty surprised.

22 April 2007

Sigh, I remember when the Mac had *better* internationalization than Windows...

I've now been using both the Mac OS X and Windows input managers daily for months, and I've come to the reluctant conclusion that Windows now has a better Japanese input manager (for those of you who don't do the languages thing... "input manager" is the piece of software for Asian languages that allows you to type in multiple keystrokes to create a single character from the tens of thousands available).

The Mac still has an edge in terms of copy/pasting text, but falls down when some Kanji (notably the one for "ku" or "Ward", as in "Meguro-ku / 目黒区" often turns into an empty square symbol, even when other Japanese characters don't).

But the bigger differences are that the Mac OS X input manager is missing a couple convenience features that Windows has.

The most important by far is that Windows assumes a string of characters starting with a capital is an English phrase. So, when you're mixing a short English phrase in the middle of a long Japanese sentence, you just begin your phrase with a capital and you're done. On the Mac, you have to explicitly leave Japanese entry mode and return to English entry mode, which takes some extra keystrokes but even more than that, requires a mental shift (you have to always be aware which input manager mode you're on, on both OSes).

The other annoyance is that on the Mac, you can't exit Japanese mode mid-conversion. That is, if you've typed a few characters but haven't hit space to convert yet, the cmd-space sequence that normally changes input manager modes doesn't work. So if you mistakenly types a few characters, you have to backspace over them or hit escape, then hit cmd-space, type your English characters, and hit cmd-space again. Windows will let you exit from Japanese input mode at any time.

Mac OS always did much better at this in the past; it feels like another example of Microsoft patiently copying the good features over time.

P.S. However, yes, overall, I still prefer the Mac OS X user experience. ;-)

17 April 2007

Google Calendar keeps getting better... now, about resources....

Google Calendar keeps getting better and better. I'm slowly converting the project management staff here over to using it, because of it's universal accessibility and sharing features. The latest awesome addition is daily weather icons -- totally great when you're planning weekend events!

Now if they would only make resource scheduling (i.e., conference rooms) work decently, the world would actually have a viable alternative to the groupware calendar in Outlook. The current way of scheduling conference rooms or other resources is a half-supported hack...

16 April 2007

Just better in Japan, Vol. 1

I've been meaning to post for awhile about some of the things that just plain work better here. Here's #1!

On the inside of the cupboard door under the sink in Japanese kitchens, there's a knife rack. Now, it only holds 4 or 5 knives, depending on the rack, so maybe you'll have another knife rack somewhere as well, but it's just incredibly useful. The knives are very safe; because they're hanging, you can even put them away slightly damp and they'll dry; they're out of the way, and yet they're extremely convienent.

While there are plenty of aspects of Japanese life that are incredibly inefficient, there are also a fair number of things like the knife block that are just unmitigated wins! Hopefully if I keep writing about them people in the rest of the world will pick up on some of them ;-).

15 April 2007

Tokyo is awesome

Last night after the Kurosawa festival we went to a neighborhood called shimokitazawa that was really interesting. It's a center for performing arts, with a lots of venues and low-cost theatres. When people are in college, their friends who perform are always over in shimokitazawa so it was a very college-student feel.

But the truly cool thing is that shimokitazawa has a Short Film Theater.

It's called Tollywood (in katakana) and they show nothing but short film programs (this is almost as exciting as the left-handed guitar store). The run arious different programs of short films all the time, many of them animated, and they've managed to keep the doors open for quite a while. Starting next month, they have a series of short film programs from various animation schools around the world (Goebbelins, Supinfocom, etc.) which I'm totally looking forward to.

Their URL is http://homepage1.nifty.com/tollywood.

11 April 2007

ACM Member Grades -- a good idea?

I'm not sure if these new ACM Member Grades are a good idea or not, but I decided to apply for the first one anyway. I need three endorsements, if anybody who's ever worked with me has a minute to spare head to this URL and if you fill out the form I may become a "Senior Member"!

09 April 2007

It's a Whole New World of Consumer Electronics

I just bought a new TV to help complete my integration into Japanese society... and so that I'll have something to play Wii games on :-). It's a 32" Sony Bravia LCD, and there were two things about it that were different from all other TVs I've ever bought.

1. It has an Ethernet port. I'm not really sure quite what that's for yet. It also has two HDMI ports, two D4 ports, and a D15 port for a computer hookup.

2. The instruction manual (otherwise completely in Japanese) comes with a copy of the GNU General Public License. According to Wikipedia, it runs embedded Linux with various GNU libraries, necessitating the license.

06 April 2007

"k*ik*n" or, In Japan, single-letter errors are fatal

I've been observing for awhile that Japanese is far more sensitive to single-letter mistakes than English. In English, while there are some words that are only a single letter apart (e.g., ball, bell, bill, bull), usually there's quite a distance between words. If you try to change the third letter in 'ball,' 24 out of the 25 possible changes are gibberish; only "bail" is a real word.

In Japanese it's quite the opposite, and because of some recent vocabulary I learned I came across a great example: k[ae]ik[ae]n. That is, take two-syllable words in Japanese where both syllables begin with k, one syllable ends with i and the other with n, and the vowel in the middle can be a or e. There are four such possible words, and it turns out all four are real words:

会見かいけんkaikeninterview, audience (as in "audience with")
快感かいかんkaikanpleasant feeling *

* In fact, かいかん has another full homonym, 会館, meaning "meeting hall"

And it keeps going. If you reverse the syllables and go for k*nk*i, there are four other possible words, all of which are also real words in the language:

県警けんけいkenkeiprefectural police
見解けんかいkenkaiopinion, point of view

This definitely starts to show why the Japanese are so fond of wordplay and puns; the language is just full of opportunities to use single-letter errors for humor! But man it's tricky when you're learning.

01 April 2007

Wow! Sakura

(not an April Fool's ;-)

Wow, this weekend was Sakura (Cherry Blossom) time in Tokyo. It was unbelievable -- I had heard Sakura was beautiful, but I really wasn't ready for *how* beautiful. I took a *lot* of photos this weekend, now mostly online at my Picasa site, but here's a sample!

27 March 2007

Out-Japan-ing the Japanese

Yay! The game I was working on at EA finally has some English-langauge press.


Of course, I'm pretty fond of the quote

"I think EA is trying to 'out-Japan' Japanese developers."


25 March 2007

Genghis Khan flick

Tonight I saw the Japanese production 青き狼 (Blue Wolf), a film about Genghis Khan. I still couldn't understand every detail of the dialog, but it certainly was a riveting story. Afterwards I was pretty curious how much it corresponds to what we know from history... in general, it turns out, quite well (at least per Wikipedia), the major elements of the story are all part of the historical record for Genghis' early life (the movie ends when, after unifying the Mongol tribes, he begins his invasion of China).

The movie is nicely production-designed, and has an interesting history. It was produced by Haruki Kadokawa of the Kadokawa publishing house, who also made the surprise hit about the battleship Yamato last year. I can't comment in detail on the story, but it does have a little bit of the feeling of someone who saw "Crouching Tiger" and said, "I wanna make one of those." Good for hiim, though -- the mounted warfare scenes are great, and the scope of the movie is awesome.

Disclosure department: Before I arrived, Polygon Pictures worked on a few shots for the movie. We had credits and everything!

24 March 2007

Yuck! Picking up a French Fry?

The other day I stopped to grab a light lunch that included French Fries. I was using the time to get in a little gesture drawing, so I wasn't thinking about eating much, and about halfway through I realized I was carefully eating my French Fries with a fork. That's a little odd, since I've always eaten them by hand, but I found I couldn't bring myself to actually start picking them up anymore!

Here in Japan it's quite rare to touch your food. While there are a few exceptions (pastry, for instance), it's very different from European attitudes. Even in cases like Pocky (the candy) or Yakitori, you touch only a specially designated part of the food. It's because of this that the concept of a napkin is largely absent here -- a few types of restaurants have napkin dispensers, but on average you just don't get a napkin with meals. You're expected not to touch your food, and to eat neatly, such that you don't require a large napkin for either hands or mouth.

And so, after months of habit, I find I'm now quite reluctant to pick up a French Fry!

21 March 2007

Elements (Lehrer)

Flash used for purposes of good:


Day Off Part 3: Normal Park Things

Of course, lots of people do normal park things here. Below was a charming little lake with birds and paddle boats (quite popular, even though it's still kind of wintry here) in a park called Senzoku-Koen (洗足公園).

When I got down to the Tamagawa (多摩川), there were lots of folks doing outdoorsy things. This being Japan, that included lots of baseball... lots of baseball. I must have seen 40 baseball fields between Shimomaruko (下丸子) and Noborito (登戸).

Day Off Part 2: Get Certified on Your Delivery Scooter

Everywhere in Japan you see scooters with a box on the back delivering food (or, if it's a Chinese restaurant delivery, an ingenious hanging platform that can successfully deliver soup!).

While I was riding down the Tamagawa I saw this huge group of scooter riders going around and around between cones. As I got closer, I saw that they were following a motorcycle policeman (left edge of left photo below), and that they all had the delivery boxes on the back.

There was a car parked on a little hill in the middle with the supervisor in it. These folks were all getting certified as delivery scooter riders... I don't think we have certification for that in the states. Amusingly, despite the officiousness of it all, pretty much every cone on the testing grounds was knocked over!