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December 2008
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Tokyo Tower

I was reading the International Herald Tribune and found an interesting article on Tokyo Tower. In it, a professor emeritus of history at Tokyo’s Hitotsubashi University, Masanori Nakamura, states, “Tokyo Tower stood for a dream of the future, but that dream is gone. Tokyo Tower offers no more dreams, just as Japan has no more dreams.” Ouch! I’m not sure if I completely disagree, but I don’t completely agree either.

This article, coupled with a request to include more pictures, made me think about some Tokyo Tower pictures I’ve had sitting around in my archives.

A color shot of Tokyo Tower from the base


Climbing the tower to the first observatory level,

Inside the structure


The elevator is the very idea of modern,

The elevator to the next level


The view from the top is impressive,

The roads make a star shape



I also had some black and white pictures I shot on film (remember film?) last year.

An uninspired tower photo,

The tower, in black and white


A parking area under the tower for tour buses,

Bus parking


Resting quietly. Everyone else is inside,



There is a mini-amusement park on the way up. Why?

A very small merry-go-round


The elves are a little scary.



This character must be dangerous as it is fenced in. Is this Thomas?

Caution:  Character may bite


Of course, Pikachu is obligatory.

A very large Pikachu.



Finally, who can resist their lovable mascots? You be the judge of what they look like. I have my ideas. Visit the Tokyo Tower website here to learn about the hobbies of the Noppon twins (the mascots are twin brothers – who knows why).

Will children have long term issues after meeting these mascots?

Economic woes

I think I’ve complained a lot, both here and on Facebook, that I seem to spend money as if it is Monopoly money. I read today on the Telegraph website that Nagoya is the 4th most expensive city in the world for an expat, just behind Yokohama, then Tokyo, then Luanda in Angola. Yup, an African city tops the list, somewhat anomalously due to unavailability of western products used in the index calculation. I think one picture spells it out best (snapshot from the IHT business section).

The dollar versus yen, YTD

The yen is strong, the dollar is weak. The article quotes Lee Quane, general manager Asia at ECA International, “Global economic events mean that throughout the world exchange rates are fluctuating and, in many cases, dramatically. Depending on their salary calculation methodology, many companies will have to pay particularly close attention to these movements in order to apply appropriate cost of living indices to the remuneration packages of their international assignees.” I am fortunate that my remuneration (remuneration: money paid for work or a service) indeed accounts for goods and services differentials. So don’t feel bad for me. The prices I pay for things continue to shock me (although I numb pretty quickly) but I am not losing money. I am lucky that my company treats their expats fairly.

The world economy is pretty scary. I think I worry more now about job stability than I ever did in the past. It must be a sign of the times. Or of my age.

Beautiful juices from the body

I forgot I had this wonderful example of Engrish in iPhoto.

Wonderful body juices

Don’t you want to drink beautiful juices from the body? I know I do! What I find interesting is that in Japanese, it basically says, ‘beautiful juice from the body.” That’s an accurate translation. I am guessing that 体の内, which translates to inside the body, might mean inside the body of the FRUIT instead of, well, the human body. My dictionary doesn’t confirm that, but language can be subtle.

Happy Holidays Everyone!

I hope everyone is having a nice holiday. I’m relaxed right now – it was a tough week at work with nearly all the office gone. I stayed in Nagoya and it was work as usual for Japan but quiet in the States. I was kept hopping. I am off until January 5th and I will stay in Japan. I hope to recharge in this time, and I think that I will be able to do so. I have started to wind down quite successfully.

I am sorry that my blog hasn’t been updated for a while. I’ve had some good ideas that have entered my head and just as quickly exited. So just be aware that you are going to miss some great material!

Christmas in Japan

Christmas is a much different experience in Japan than in the US. For those who have spent much time in Japan, you know that Christmas is really a “date night.” The lights and decorations and shopping are all very romantic. The idea for Christmas is to have a nice dinner with your significant other on Christmas eve, go to a hotel, maybe exchange a gift, and, well, do whatever couples do when they go to a hotel together (what they do could be a function of the amount of alcohol consumed at dinner).

In Japan, there really isn’t really as much public displays of affection as there can be in other countries. Couples, unless they are a foreigner and a native, tend to be very hands-off in public (mixed race couples – gaijin / nihonjin – tend to be much more touchy-feely as though one or the other is showing off the prize that they have found). Christmas eve, after an 11 hour day at work, I started heading home. At the train stations and during transitions to trains I noticed a LOT more hand holding than I’d normally see. Maybe I was just paying more attention and was sensitive to what I thought Christmas Eve should be in Japan, or maybe I was really seeing something. I mentioned it to a Japanese colleague the next day and she agreed with me. So that’s what Christmas means to couples in Japan.

There is also a gift giving tradition that has been introduced in Japan. It probably was a campaign instituted by the government to encourage people to spend money. Apparently it has worked since savings rates have toppled over the past years. In spite of the impending doom, all the shopping, expensive stores, and consumption in Japan, the approximately 25% savings rate on disposable income is still relatively high. Although it is hard to get a consistent story, and the number varies widely [UPDATE: I got a comment from the blog I referenced stating, "The 25% or so savings rate is for households with a salaried worker as head of household. With about 35% of the workforce now on contract employment status, such figures can be very misleading." Thanks for the explanation - that makes sense to me]. I guess I talked about the gift giving tradition earlier in my blog.

One thing that I didn’t know was that there is also an amazing tradition that is COMPLETELY FABRICATED for Japanese consumption. You see, it is a Christmas tradition to eat Kentucky Fried Chicken in Japan.

KFC in Japan

Honest to blogChristmas Kentucky Fried Chicken. My translator agreed that it is a tradition. Some KFCs here close so they can prepare enough chicken for Christmas. There are security guards directing traffic at popular stores. Who started this tradition? I don’t know. One “source” says it started soon after the first store was opened in Nagoya in 1970. Recall this is a blog, not a source of scholarly research. Anyway, the Colonel is loved for Christmas.

A sampling of KFC options

In doing my “research” I discovered that Harland Sanders (the Colonel) was born and raised in Henryville, Indiana. How is that for a Hoosier contribution to the entire world? I also heard a story growing up that my Dad met the Colonel when he (my Dad, that is) was a student at Purdue. The Colonel was giving a talk at the school. My Dad’s major was Home Economics – predating the Restaurant, Hotel, and Institutional Management school that now exists. My Dad was manning the cloak room. The Colonel offered him a tip and my Dad refused it, saying they were not allowed to be tipped. So the Colonel said he would just put the quarter (or dime or whatever the going rate was in the late 50s) and my Dad could watch it grow. Apparently by the end of the night my Dad had a good collection sitting on the counter. I guess the Colonel knew a thing or two about business. I don’t know if that story is the equivalent of a family urban legend, hyperbole grown into truth, or actually the truth. I’d like to believe it though, because it is a good story!

As I said, I worked on Christmas Day. My manager (who was back in the States and who I was covering for…) suggested that I should make Christmas Day a short day if I had to even go to work at all. I told him that if I have to stay in Japan to cover I’d much rather work and interact with people and do the job I was there to do than sit at home by myself and mope because I was alone and away from my family for the first time EVER in my life. I think he got the point. Christmas is just another day, trains run regular schedule, shops are open, restaurants areopen, and people go to work. So did I.

So what did I do? I worked – quite a bit actually. Things were busy in the office as I said, especially since I was covering for a lot of people. As part of our drive for service to the community here in Japan, we adopted an orphanage for Christmas. We got every child in the orphanage winter coats, and the kids made some pretty specific requests. It was a good thing to do. I chose to get coats for two high school boys. Although I have three nieces, I’m not good buying clothes for girls over the age of 2. The boys gave pictures of the type of coats they wanted and I thought I’d go to UNIQLO because they have good clothes for a cheap price (US site is here). It is the only store where I can get something that fits me. Luckily, the coats the kids picked out were from UNIQLO so I could get them exactly what they wanted. I wonder how often orphans actually get what they want? The orphanage is pretty small so only two representatives from each site went to distribute the coats. Also, pictures could not be taken because it would compromise the safety of some of the kids (that is really sad). Apparently one of the boys was extremely grateful to receive the coat that he got from me, and continually thanked the folks there representing our team.

Does this blog seem rambling to you today? Why would I go tell the orphanage story? To show our team’s humanitarian spirit to inspire you to do the same? To show what a great and giving guy I am? Probably a little of both. But really, because I liked the coat one of the kids picked out so much that I wanted it for myself too! So on Christmas Day I hightailed it to UNIQLO and bought a new winter coat (on sale for 33% off I might add). Here’s the cool coat below.

My new coat

I haven’t had a coat with fur on the hood since I was about 7 years old. The fur is removable, by the way, as is the hood. It is a down coat, but I think quite honestly that my wool coat is warmer because the wool itself doesn’t feel as cold to the touch as the polyester / nylon outer shell of this coat. Maybe it just seems colder because it has gotten a lot colder lately in Japan.

After shopping I had a bowl of traditional Christmas Chili Con Carne at Soup Stock Tokyo.

It tastes better than it looks

I promise you, Christmas chili will be the next big Christmas tradition after KFC becomes passé. I had to run back to Nagoya Station, get a shinkansen ticket to come to Tokyo for the weekend, and then go home. Unfortunately, I spent the rest of the night wrestling with my Mac, Photoshop, and printer because printing stopped working. I was unsuccessful – that’s a project for another day.


There is another tradition in Japan that I experienced – that is to have a “forget the year party”, (bounenkai, 忘年会). Basically, it is a go out and eat izakaya and get plastered with your colleagues. My japanese got very good by the end of the night and I think my Japanese colleague’s english got a lot better too. Funny how that works. It was fun.

Let there be light

Tomo came down to Nagoya for a short weekend and we decided to go to the Kobe ルミナリエ (illumination, or Christmas lights). Tomo has been before, and we thought it would be fun to run down there on the train, catch the lights, and head back to Nagoya because we had some things we were trying to accomplish. It seems everyone else was trying to visit the illumination as well because the queue was incredibly long.

Here the crowd sweeps back on itself.

Oh, the humanity.

And here it just seems to go on, and on, and on.

Oh, the humanity.

And the sign really says about 90 minutes from here. And I do believe it was close to 90 minutes from that point.

Only 90 minutes from here


Fortunately, along the way, there was a little bit of a pre-show with well lit streets and department stores.

Daimaru department store in Motomachi


Only 90 minutes from here

We were fortunate to even get a little bit of Engrish along the way. Maybe Flench is a more appropriate title instead of English. I’ve never been to a place called “Tooth Tooth” in France. Tomo noted that it looked more like a “Salon Dethe” instead of “Salon de The.” I guess you have to watch your spaces.

What kind of Patisserie?  What kind of Cafe?


We finally got there though, and the show was pretty spectacular.


The view is better up high

I found the glow from all the cameras to be a show itself. And it seems most of those are from cell phones. Japanese LOVE cell phone cameras!

The electronic glow


Tomo didn’t mind taking pictures, nor did other visitors.

Tomo taking a picture


Just the right picture


I enjoyed the reflection off the Louis Vuitton shop.

Louis Vuitton


Here is what everyone came for:








A pedestrian day

I needed a haircut today. Since I am not confident enough in my Japanese to make an appointment, I just wander in the day I want to get it cut and take my chances that at some point in the day I’ll be able to get in. I left the house around 11:15 am. As always, I was able to get in and we are converging on a style. Although I still look a little manga/anime-ish when I leave, I can handle it.

I still don’t have a car, and I live in an urban area. I get my hair cut in the main shopping area of Nagoya. Since I walk to the salon, while I walk I have time to conjure up ways to spend money, and then I have time to actually spend the money on the way back. Since I know various shops, I am getting quite efficient at it.

After my haircut, lunch was overdue, so had some good soup and bread. It is quite refreshing on a brisk (cold?) winter day. Between 2 weeks ago and today the weather has changed significantly. It is much colder, the ginko trees have shed all their leaves, the sun is low on the horizon, and it feels like winter.

Anyway, after lunch, I decided that I needed a new pair of shoes. I decided months ago that I needed a new pair of shoes. I’m still in a Dr. Martens kind of mindset. The only problem is, DMs are about $200 a pair here. Remarkable, considering they are $80 on Zappos.com. I had been avoiding buy shoes because they were just too expensive. Once again, brand loyalty is killing my wallet. I went to the store that I had seen Docs before, found exactly the shoe I wanted, so I bought them. All the while I was reminding myself that I have a cost of living adjustment to account for such price differences. Sort of.

Since it is the Christmas season, I needed a few more Christmas gifts and some wrapping paper. I never shop this early, but then again I’ve never had to ship things across the ocean. 1 “roll” of wrapping paper in Japan is less than 1 meter long. Every wrapped gift is a labor of love I guess.

Since it is chilly out, I thought I’d pick up a throw at BoConcept, otherwise known as a blanket. I found a really nice one that I liked. Of course, it was WAY too much. At least I think it was way too much. That one I had to walk away from.

My haircut trip ended up taking 4 hours and emptied my wallet, without a single fossil fuel consumed by me in the process.

A Japanese haircut

As much as I might fret the prices in Japan, especially when considering where the dollar is against the yen, I still find a haircut to be quite economical. I’m sure some of my colleagues would disagree, but they are the Supercuts type. I’m only paying $15 more than in the States when I go to my salon (Toni&Guy) here in Japan. How does that make it economical? During the first shampoo, I get a nice scalp massage. I get a haircut that is meticulously executed, especially today. Then the fun begins. I get another shampoo to get rid of the loose hairs and another quick scalp massage during the washing. I taken back to my chair, and there I get a scalp treatment followed by a much deeper scalp, neck, shoulders and partial back massage. Finally I get my hair dried and styled (aka anime’d). There’s no upsell on the massage, there’s no extra tip. As a matter of fact, there is no tip at all. It is just the service. I wish I could get my hair cut once a week.

A normal day

I am strangely content tonight. That’s especially strange since I just got home at about 8:30 pm after leaving for work at 6:45 am. I worked at full day, had some dinner, went shopping, and now I am doing laundry. Always and forever laundry.

Working today actually was not that bad. I knew I had to go in, so my mind was already prepared. I also knew few people would be in, so I had a chance to do some things I needed to do. And I did. I crossed some things off my list that had been on there way too long. Unfortunately, I barely got to the list but I’ll think about that later.

The weather has turned really cold here – well not REALLY cold but compared to LA it is cold. I’ve been searching for a knit cap / beanie / stocking cap / sock cap whatever you want to call it thingy. Conveniently, underground near the subway station, there is a row of outdoor geared shops (Columbia, The North Face, etc). I just bopped back and forth to find the acceptable cap. I found an adequate one and bought it. Of course, I forgot that there is a Patagonia shop just down the street and a Gap nearby as well. I guess you can never have too many knit caps / beanies / stocking caps / sock caps whatever you want to call it thingies.

I also did some Christmas shopping, successfully I might add. Tonight felt good because I was able to use Japanese well enough while shopping that my questions were understood, that my needs were met, and no one laughed and I didn’t get frustrated.

Now, as the hour approaches 9:00 pm, I am quite happy to be sitting at home. I’ve got the floor turned on, sitting in a hoodie, doing laundry, and working on my blog. Pretty soon I’ll stare at my monitor and watch Ugly Betty courtesy of iTunes. What more can an ex-pat wish for?

Tomorrow my big plans are to rest, relax, get my hair cut, and check out the sale at Bo Concept. I wonder if they have blankets? I need something for the couch in the cold.

That’s it. No photos, no stories bordering on hyperbole. Just life.

Cleaning stuffs

I’m always a fan of Engrish, and I couldn’t help noticing the English in my hotel room this weekend.

“Window cleaning for guest rooms is scheduled from 11:00AM to 2:30 PM. During this hour, cleaning stuffs may pass in front of the window of your room.”

First of all, that is a long, long hour, from 11:00AM to 2:30AM. It makes working an 8 hour day impossible.

And what exactly is “cleaning stuffs?” Is it soap running down your window? A surprise sponge? Or maybe, it is actually cleaning STAFF. According to the Japanese text, it is the cleaning staff.

What will pass in front of your window?

Shina Ringo

The primary reason for me to go to Tokyo, other than to see Tomo of course, was to go to a Shina Ringo concert. Wow. It was an amazing show. She had several costume changes plus a full orchestra. They will make a DVD of the three night stand, and since I was one of three white people that I saw in the audience, if they do a pan of the audience I stand a good chance of being noticed. I guess I could have been more fashionable.