Nippon Express – 80 Days in Tokyo

happenings and experiences during my stay at RICOH Software R&D, Tokyo

Get Ready For Your Daily Dose Of Engrish March 2, 2008

Okay, I just came back from a shopping spree in Harajuku. I thought it was about time to get some fancy new clothes, and Harajuku is definitely one of the better places to shop for clothes in Tokyo. For one, there’s Omotesando, sometimes referred to as Tokyo’s Champs-Élysées. I don’t know, has been quite some time since I have been to Paris, but to my understanding, Omotesando has little in common with Champs-Élysées (apart from the expensive shops). Anyway, shopping in Omotesando kind of breaks my budget anyway, so I went to Takeshita-dōri, which is near Omotesando and is more catered towards cheap people like me who don’t drive Ferraris.

More pictures in my Shibuya picture gallery.

Yesterday I recovered from a bad hangover after a looooong Friday night. But I don’t want to bore you again with event diners and Hookah bars so let’s talk about something really funny: Use of foreign languages in Japan! Using English and German on signs, t-shirts, book covers and basically anything you can label somehow is really popular in Japan. The funny thing about this is that only few people can actually read it, so whoever writes these texts does not really care much about spelling and grammar, resulting in some pretty funny sights, like these:

Or how about these. The first one is a sign I found at a counter (I think it was at Kawaguchiko Station) and it reads (it’s a little blurry, sorry for that): “This is an exclusive cash register selling a thing.” The second one is maybe my favorite. It’s a power button I spotted in a ropeway in Kawaguchiko and its creator actually managed to misspell the word “power” (it reads “POEWR” instead). I mean, seriously, a button with a typo in its label?! Gimme a break!! 😀

Okay, you still think this is not that funny? Then take a deep breath and have a look at this gem (sorry, only for my friends from Germany — unless you’re not from Germany and speak German of course). This is the cover of a notebook (a college block) we found at a 100Yen shop…

Whoever wrote this apparently didn’t even try to make sense of this. Too funny!

For more entertainment of this kind, please go to Engrish.com. Now. 😉

 

Busted! February 24, 2008

Had a superb weekend again. This time the focus was on event bars. BUT FIRST! What’s a good weekend without a rollercoaster ride, so before going out we headed across the street (!) to Tokyo Dome City and rode the Thunder Dolphin rollercoaster (yes, we have an amusement park right next to our office; actually it is more of an entertainment venue, not a real amusement park. You can also go there for food or shopping. And baseball of course.). The rollercoaster isn’t just a normal rollcoaster, it is actually built on top of the building complex. In fact, at one point during the ride you will go right through a hole in the roof (which is probably a good 80 meters from the ground). You can take the virtual ride by watching the clip below (which I didn’t shoot by the way, found it on youtube).

Afterwards a Japanese friend of ours took us to a place called “Lock Up” in Ikebukuro. It’s a bar/diner which is modelled after a dungeon and where you eat and drink inside a prison cell! The waitresses are all dressed up rather naughty and at the front door they will hand-cuff you and take you to your cell. Cocktails are served in glasses from chemistry supplies, which is a pretty cool idea. During your stay, all kinds of weird things happen, like once in a while the lights will turn off and the music gets very loud and dark and funny people dressed up in halloween costumes will run around and scare you off! It’s really cool.

Funny drinks in “Lock Up”Scary guy in “Lock Up”

On Saturday I went to a similar diner called Ninja Akasaka. It is also some kind of event restaurant/bar but here, everything is done in Ninja-style. This place is really cool. Like when you enter, a Ninja will guide you through the only dimly lit and very confusing interior to your room (I think this place even has trap doors). Compared to Lock Up, it is slightly more pricey, but the food is really excellent and after your meal, a Ninja magician will come to your room and do cool tricks. Here’s another video I found on youtube, you should watch it all to the way to the magician. We had another one, but they are both really good.

 

Digitalism Rocking It Hard At Shibuya AX February 20, 2008

Filed under: events & nightlife — Matthias @ 9:22 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

As I said before, I’m really really lucky: Currently some of my favorite music acts are touring Japan! After seeing Justice and Busy P playing at Warehouse Club, now I also had the chance to see the famous German electro formation Digitalism perform live at the Shibuya AX venue. I went there with a guy from Orange County, California, whom I met on Last.FM. He’s really cool.

Their performance was simply terrific and the crowd went completely wild. But, see for yourself…

See more videos.

Unfortunately they only played for an hour or something, so at 9 pm we already found ourselves heading to Shibuya station. Since it was so early, we decided to catch the next train and go to a small, cozy Hookah bar to relax a little. We met another guy from the States there who is currently in Japan for writing a book about Japanese horror flicks or something. Weird!

Next week it’s Boys Noize @ WOMB! Can’t wait!

 

Pachinko Madness And Artificial Islands February 17, 2008

No post within one week, I’m sorry for that. However, you can take my word for it: This one will be as good as two! This weekend was one of the most exciting and funniest so far, so let me tell what happened.

First things first: We did not travel across Japan this time, actually we all feel that we have travelled enough for now. Instead, we will focus on the Tokyo area in the remaining weekends, because there is so much to see here, why travel thousands of kilometers? That being said, this weekend was as follows:

On Friday evening, we went to Akihabara. It was actually my third or fourth time to Akihabara, and since this special area of Tokyo is so famous and well-known, I actually wanted to dedicate an own post to it, but what gives. So let me tell you about Akihabara a bit. Akiba (that’s what most people here call it) is also known as the “Electric City”, because it is one of the biggest sites for all sorts of consumer electronics and related articles in the entire world. There are Apple stores, SEGA stores, SONY stores, and of course Yodobashi Akiba, an electronics mega-store expanding over nine floors — BIG floors. You can buy literally everything here which needs power to operate, and more. Akiba is also known as THE site to go for anything related to Manga (Japanese comics) and Anime (Japanese animation films), which is why it attracts a lot of nerds. Often you find them being dressed up like Manga characters doing crazy things on the streets (I think this is called “cosplay”, which is short for “costume play”). Weird.Blossoms in a park near Odaiba

Actually we went to Akiba this time to visit some Maiden Cafes — cafes and restaurants where the waiters are all female and dress up like Maidens… We visited two, but it wasn’t as cool as we thought. Instead of visiting more cafes, we thought it was about time to check out one of the Pachinko parlors. And then the fun really started! For your info, Pachinko is some form of gambling game similar to slot machines and is so popular in Japan that you find these parlors almost everywhere. So we went into one of the bigger parlors (“Big Apple”), and boy, I thought my ears were about to collapse. It is so freaking loud inside these things, you can hardly hear your own voice. I wonder how anyone can stay there longer than 30 minutes without getting some nervous breakdown or something?! So we sat down at one of the machines and being the completely clueless “Gaijins” we are, just randomly pressed buttons because noone had a clue how Pachinko worked… We only knew that you have to get as many metal balls as possible, and we got more balls… and more… and more… It seemed that Martin (who operated the machine) was on a winning streak! He filled like four canisters with metal balls until we just couldn’t cope with the terrible noise and left to trade in the balls for our prize. We received two packs of potato chips and a stack of gold. YES, GOLD! Now you think I’m crazy or something, but no. Gambling is in fact illegal in Japan, therefore the Pachinko parlors bend the rules by not paying out money if you win, but instead you get gold in various sizes (e.g. 1 gram) sealed in small plastic cards and have to visit special stores to trade them in for money. That way it stays legal…Statue of Liberty... NOT!

Okay, now we had a couple of gold stacks in our hands and had not only NO clue whatsoever where to trade them in, but also how much we actually won, because of course none of us had an idea what 1 gram of gold is actually worth. So we step outside the parlor, walk ten meters and suddenly some suspicious looking guy in a suit comes over and starts making us offers for our gold stacks! He had a LOT of money in his wallet but we had NO clue what it was actually worth, but Martin somehow managed to look not as clueless as we actually were and sold the gold to that guy for 16000 Yen — that’s almost 100 €! So let me summarize: We paid 6€ to play Pachinko, had NO idea how it works, and won 100€ at the first try. Now how cool is that! Of course we expected the guy completely ripped us off, but back at the apartment we checked the current gold price and it was only 10€ above what he paid us, so it was still a very good deal for us.

Rainbow Bridge

The next day we went to Odaiba, an artifical island in the Tokyo Bay. It is connected with the landside by the Rainbow Bridge but we used a “Water Bus” to get there. Odaiba has a lot of attractions and we didn’t have enough time to see them all, but the more notable ones we saw were the artificial beach, the Statue of Liberty (copied from the one you know from New York — Japanese love copying things), the Fuji TV building, and my personal favorite: Miraikan, the Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. It covers various topics such as robotics, space travel technology, micro electronics, but also biology and Earth’s eco systems. My three highlights in the museum were: First, a gigantic globe made of displays, where the Museum staff can show overlays of Earth’s climate development and global warming. Second, a small aquarium which was a completely autonomous eco system of its own. The water is never changed by the staff, instead millions of microbes keep the water clean. The fish in it are never fed; instead, they live off the plants which grow in the water. The third attraction, maybe my favorite, didn’t look very exciting at first: It was a small stage where two rather uninteresting spider-like robots could walk around by controlling them with PlayStation-controllers. But, if you stand in line, you will eventually enter a room with a huge display in front of you. You will get 3D-glasses and are being “beamed” into one of these robots on the stage! It works by projecting the image the eye-camera of the robot is recording to the display. The room will shake with every step you make with the controls and with the 3D effect, you really think you are sitting in this robot and are walking around! The staff (which is still outside) will meanwhile do funny things like putting small obstacles in the robot’s (your!) way, which of course look huge on the display. What’s even funnier is that you need two people to control the robot: One for the left legs, and one for the right. So you have to coordinate yourself. So much fun!

In the evening we went to Roppongi to see the Tokyo Tower, an ugly replica of the Eiffel Tower. We didn’t actually enter Tokyo Tower, because it’s rip-off, you get much better sights from other buildings. So we went to the Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills to the 52nd floor — that is so much better! You can also see Tokyo Tower from there (see picture). Plus, included in the entrance fee is a ticket for an art museum which is on the same floor and very worthwhile to see.

After that, we went to a bar and finally could rest our sore feet and have a drink. Three, actually.

Visit my Akihabara picture gallery
Visit my Odaiba picture gallery
Visit my Roppongi picture gallery

 

The Long Weekend: Hiroshima, Kyoto, Nara February 11, 2008

Today (Monday) is a holiday in Japan, so we (Martin and me) took the opportunity and used the long weekend for our biggest trip so far: We visited Hiroshima, Kyoto and Nara. I’ll try to recap what we experienced on these days, but we have seen so much, it’s hard to remember everything. I am here for only a month now, but I am already getting this weird sightseeing overdose where you can’t really remember anymore what you have seen where. But I’ll do my best.

On Friday evening (after work), we took a night bus to Hiroshima. In case you haven’t currently memorized the geography of Japan (how dare you!), Hiroshima is waaaaaay over to the south-west from Tokyo (I think it’s like 800 or 900 kilometers). Going by bus therefore means going by nightfall, because it takes you like 11 hours or something and you don’t want to waste a day for that. Luckily, we booked the “stylish bus” (no kidding). It had stylish seats which gave me the worst pain in the back ever (I really mean my back here). But they were stylish!! Anyway, arriving in Hiroshima, the weather was so bad, I think my mood couldn’t have been any worse after that night with much pain and few sleep. Luckily, the sky cleared out after a while. Anyway, our first target was to visit the island of Miyajima, according to my travel guide one of the three most beautiful places in all of Japan. I forgot what the other two are, but Miyajima is beautiful. We travelled there by Speed Boat from Hiroshima Port (takes about 50-something minutes). Our mood quickly got much better, and the sun finally started shining, giving us some impressive views of the island’s sightseeing spots. Its most famous one is o-torii, a very popular Torii which is actually built off-shore! Usually, Torii mark the entrance to Shinto shrines, which means they’re on solid ground. Another very remarkable thing about Miyajima is that it’s full of tame deer, and they roam the streets completely freely. I mean completely freely, you run into them at literally every corner. (See the Wikipedia article on Miyajima for more background info.) The island has a somewhat mediterranean flair, almost like the Greek islands, just that it has temples, shrines, … and deer.

After leaving Miyajima we went back to Hiroshima City for the rest of the day, to do some sightseeing of a completely different kind: See the A-Bomb Dome and the Peace Memorial Museum. This was tough. I don’t know, but actually standing in front of the dome made my blood freeze. It really lets you realize how terribly unhuman humans actually are. The museum is very good at providing the related historical and political background information surrounding this horrible event. If you actually see with your own eyes the tattered clothes of a child that has been killed by the atomic bomb attack, it becomes more than just something you read in a history book.

In the evening, we left for Kyoto with the Shinkansen.

We stayed at “Kyoto Cheapest Inn”, the cheapest hostel in Kyoto, or at least they claim it to be. It was really cool, we met a guy from Chile — his name is Juan — who was currently touring Japan. Because Juan also wanted to visit Nara the next day, we went together. I don’t know, there is not much to tell about Nara, it is really over-hyped in my opinion. It is a city near Kyoto (like 30 minutes by train) and is famous for its temples, but I think Kyoto delivers much more in that regard. Nara on the other hand has this temple with the biggest Buddha statue in all of Japan, which is really impressive, but that’s about it. The surrounding park area wasn’t particularly interesting either. Maybe, I even suspect some form of “conditioning” here. I have seen so many temples, shrines and pagodas here, it’s hard to get impressed anymore. In the evening, Juans and our ways parted (but we already plan to meet him again in Tokyo next week) because he hadn’t seen Miyajima yet and so he left for Hiroshima that evening (where we had already been).

The third and last day (today) we dedicated completely to Kyoto. Like Nara, Kyoto itself isn’t particularly interesting, let alone beautiful, but it has some very remarkable temples and shrines. I think Kyoto is like THE city in Japan for visiting shrines and temples. It actually has over 2000 of them! One of the more remarkable ones is a golden temple, which is a really beautiful sight, especially when hit by run rays. Another highlight is Kiyomizu-dera which is actually a really huge temple site located on the slopes of a small mountain. You have a very nice sight over Kyoto from there. In the evening, we left for Tokyo, again with Shinkansen. It’s so fast, it only took like 2.5 hours.

Now I’m kinda tired, and I think I’ll go to bed, if you excuse me. For all pictures, see below.

Hiroshima and Nara picture gallery
Miyajima picture gallery
Kyoto picture gallery

 

Mount Fuji And The Five Lakes District February 4, 2008

Volker, Martin, Rene and me spent the last weekend at Kawaguchiko Lake District, an area surrounding Mount Fuji, the famous volcano. Unfortunately, the weather (again!) turned somewhat against us. While we still got some impressive views of Fuji-san on Saturday, it started snowing on Sunday and the temperature dropped below zero. The sight on Fuji-san was therefore also dropping to zero. Moreover, we actually planned to ride the rollercoasters in the Fuji-Q Highland amusement park on Sunday, but due to the extreme weather conditions the rides were closed. Bugger!

Anyway, we tried to make the best of it and turned the weekend into a wellness weekend by visiting two Onsens, both located around Fuji Kawaguchiko. Onsens are Japanese bath areas of hot source water, often as hot as 60°! They can be best compared to our “Thermen” in Germany, just that everyone is naked! Therefore, no pictures, sorry 😉

The Retro Bus, yay! The boat we took

Besides hanging out in Onsens, we spent Saturday touring around the lakes in a cool sightseeing bus called the “Retro Bus”. Using the bus, we visited Blueberry Village, where you can buy everything related to blueberries! Cookies, jam, tea, pictures, T-Shirts, you name it. They even had blueberry Kit Kat for crying out loud! (In fact I meanwhile looked at a picture of it and realized that it was Grape KitKat, not Blueberry KitKat.) After that, we took a boat trip across Lake Kawaguchiko, but after a while it got so cold, we had to go inside. We also enjoyed some very nice fireworks on Saturday evening, but I couldn’t really manage to capture its beauty in pictures, so at some point I stopped trying and let me just tell you it was great. We spent the night in a very nice Japanese hotel. Everything was the way how you would expect it from a Japanese room: Tatami on the floor, Futons for beds, a low table with pillows for sitting/kneeling down, and of course the obligatory vending machine (okay, it was not in our room, but I wouldn’t have been surprised).

On Sunday we didn’t do much because of the terrible weather, except the second Onsen and a trip to the most unspectacular cave I have ever seen. It was called Wind Cave, I have no idea why. It took you roughly five minutes to see the entire cave, and its biggest attraction was some kind of ice formation, which actually looked suspiciously artificial. Oh well.

For seeing Fuji-san alone the trip was worth it, and the Onsens were also awesome. Too bad that I caught myself a nasty cold. Had to go for a drug store today and buy some cold medicine. I hope I’ll get rid of it until Friday, when we leave for Hiroshima and Kyoto.

All pictures from the trip — as always — on my Picasa account. UPDATE: Uploaded a couple more fotos where I am NOT behind the camera 😉

 

The Little Big Differences (Part II) January 29, 2008

Continuing “The Little Big Differences (Part I)“, here are some more interesting and noteworthy observations, again presented in no particular order and without any judgmental intentions. This time, less differences, but more pictures!Coca-Cola corn soup!This is the stuff!

  • Gas stations have a service staff as I only know from 1950s US-American Hollywood movies. If you drive into a gas station, several people will come by and service your car. Again, this shows how well customers are treated here in Japan.
  • The Coca-Cola company sells hot canned corn soup at vending machines (“Bistrone”).
  • Although such a busy city, subways will stop their service at around midnight.
  • There is a Japanese noodle dish which is served cold.
  • Shops like convenience stores, supermarkets and department stores are open on sundays and holidays.
  • Power outlets operate at 110 Volts.
  • Washing machines wash with cold water.This is what you wear in Tokyo!
  • The McDonalds here has the biggest burger I have ever seen — the Mega Mac! Seriously, it puts any Big Mac to shame. I heard Wendy’s has an even bigger one. Sheesh!
  • Every like tenth person or so wears a protective mask over his/her mouth, just like hospital staff does during surgery and stuff (see picture at the bottom). I heard this is either because people who are ill don’t want to spread their germs and potentially infect other people, or because they simply don’t want to catch anything themselves. Considering how crowded many places (subways!) are in Tokyo, I can see why they do that, although personally I wouldn’t want to wear it. So far, I didn’t catch anything (I guess? Whaaa! Let’s change the topic…)
  • If you thought hooded coats and jackets with fur collars are (were?) hip in Germany, then please, come to Tokyo! Literally everyone between 10 and 30 is wearing these here. Seriously, not having one of these really makes you feel like an outsider here!
Protective Masks