Nippon Express – 80 Days in Tokyo

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

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

Gan-Ban Night feat. Justice + Busy P LIVE @ Warehouse Club, Tokyo January 27, 2008

Filed under: events & nightlife — Matthias @ 1:10 pm
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Et Justice pour tous!

Yay! Getting the chance to see Busy P and Justice of Paris based Ed Banger Records performing live in Tokyo I hadn’t expected. Music and crowd were awesome, the location was rather mediocre though, a small to mid-size club near Roppongi Hills without any noteworthy layout or deco. But hey, it’s about the music and the people, right.


I shot some videos, but the quality is terrible (what can you expect, it was dark and crowded of course). Watch the videos here. I heard Boys Noize is coming to Tokyo at the End of February, too. I’ll be there!

Busy P @ Last.FM

Justice @ Last.FM


Matsumoto – Crow Castle And Snow Festival January 21, 2008

Filed under: traveling & sightseeing — Matthias @ 10:34 pm
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Yesterday Volker and me went for a one-day-trip to Matsumoto in the Nagano prefecture. The city itself wouldn’t be particularly interesting if it wouldn’t house Japan’s oldest castle that is still in its original state (most castles in Japan today are reconstructions). The castle is also known as “Crow Castle”, according to Wikipedia due to its dark appearance, but having seen it myself I’d rather say it’s because of the droves of crows that constantly fly in circles around its roof (see picture).

Because Matsumoto hasn’t really much else to offer, we were even more pleased to be informed that this very weekend, a snow festival was taking place in Matsumoto. It was basically an exhibition of sculptures hand-crafted out of pure ice. I was amazed at what complex creations the artists had been able to realize. You should really go check out the complete picture gallery, it’s awe-inspiring.

We also visited a nearby museum, which was free once you paid the fee for the castle visit, but it didn’t really have anything of interest to offer (from my humble point of view at least). Yet, the castle and the ice sculptures were more than worth the 4 hour ride to Matsumoto.


A Short Trip To Asakusa And Tokyo’s Oldest Temple January 19, 2008

Today the weather was great, still pretty cold but very sunny. We took the opportunity and visited the Asakusa district of Tokyo’s Taito ward which houses Tokyo’s oldest temple, Senso-ji. Until now, it was the most tourist heavy area I have been to in my (few) days in Japan, but the ancient temple building and its pretty garden area are really worth a bath in the masses.

Nearby is Sumida River, which flows into Tokyo Bay. You can see all pictures of this trip in my Asakusa picture gallery.


Shinjuku – The First Night Out

So this evening we went to experience the night life in Tokyo, or more precisely Shinjuku, one of the 23 special wards that make up the metropolis of Tokyo. To the unaware reader I should mention at this point that there is no such thing as a city called Tokyo. Tokyo is rather a gigantic merge of several autonomous districts (actually cities in their own right) called special wards which make up the metropolis people call Tokyo. This “core” of Tokyo already has a population of over 8 million people. If you count in all “suburbs” of the Tokyo prefecture (suburbs is really an understatement, they can be really large, too), you already count some 12 million inhabitants.

Anyway, we first went to visit the Tokyo City Hall where the headquarters of the Tokyo government is located. The building is 48 stories high and along with its neighboring buildings (which are just as impressive) houses over 13,000 government employees. We took the elevator to the 45th level in the North Tower to get some impressive view over Tokyo’s skyline at night (see pictures). You could also buy lots of, well, stuff there.

We left for Shinjuku station (according to Wikipedia and several traveler’s guides the busiest train station in the entire world) at 9pm to meet with a Japanese guy called Rene, whom Volker knew from Shinden, the town where he lives. Together we went to a very nice and cozy (but busy!) Irish Pub and had a couple of drinks — I can really recommend “China Blue”, a very tasty cocktail.

Unfortunately we had to leave at around 11pm already because for some reason the subway in Tokyo stops its service at around midnight, and considering the one hour ride you’ll always either have to leave early or stay until the next morning, which we were too tired to do today…

Well, next time maybe.

Visit the complete Shinjuku picture gallery.


The Little Big Differences (Part I) January 16, 2008

It’s been a week now since I arrived in Tokyo, and I begin to notice all those little differences, which sometimes also aren’t so little after all. The following observations I made are listed in no particular order and should be read “as-is” without any judgmental intention whatsoever.

  • Garbage in Japan is separated into combustible and non-combustible trash (the latter of which basically boils down to cans and PET bottles to my understanding)
  • Concerning trash, there are literally no trash-cans in the public. You sometimes find them at train stations, but you have to look really hard. At the same time, despite the many people and the missing trash-cans, it is really really clean on the streets. I have yet to figure out how they do this, but it really shows how positive their attitude is towards keeping their environment clean. I like that.
  • At the same time, people in Japan love packing up things in foil and bags. It’s also fun to unpack things again. That way, you never have to buy trash bags, because I assure you, you’ll never run out of plastic bags here.
  • There are much less people here with weight problems (compared to Germany, that is). One clear indicator for the claim that Japanese food is much healthier than ours (lots of fish, rice, vegetables, not to forget the freshness factor).
  • There seem to be much less smokers here, although you will find cigarette vending machines at every corner. If Japan has as many smokers as Germany does, they are doing a pretty good job at not showing it in the public. I also think restaurants and most (or all) other public places have strict smoking prohibitions.
  • People here love all sorts of electronic handheld devices, particularly mobile phones.
  • There is — no — such thing as Yamba here in Japan. Everyone has rather plain ringtones. One of my favorite aspects I guess.
  • Faucets (water-taps) open downwards, if they are operated using a lever. I’m still having problems with that.
  • Door knobs and locks open counter-clockwise. Ditto.
  • Cars drive on the left in Japan. It’s easy to get run over by a car because you accidentally looked to the wrong side before crossing the street.
  • Pedestrians and bikers share the sidewalk, there is also no clear rule in which direction you have to go or drive, which makes walking on the sidewalk rather… interesting. Dangerous, sometimes, too.
  • At bigger crossroads, traffic lights for pedestrians have a countdown, so you know how long it takes for the traffic lights to turn green again. Oh and, yes, they also have a green and a red traffic-light-man. If the traffic light is about to turn from green to red, it will start to flash. Pretty cool.
  • Unlike in Germany, fast food here is really, really good. And I’m not speaking of Mc Donalds (which I have yet to visit — they have a burger of the size of my entire head).
  • There doesn’t seem to be what we call “H-Milch” (milk that is fresh for more than a week by using heat to conserve it).
  • Speaking of milk-based products, there are much less than in Germany. I think Milk has not had a long tradition in Japan, but it seems to become more popular.
  • You don’t give tips to waiters here. You just pay what’s on the bill.
  • Japan seems to have a tendency to be not very economical when it comes to electricity. Rooms are heated with air conditioning if it’s cold outside, and rooms are cooled with air conditioning if it’s hot outside. That means the air conditioning runs 24-7 (apart from the fact that air conditioners are not very effectice compared to classic heaters). Vending machines for beverages serve both hot and cold drinks, and both are always held on temperature. While I understand that this makes sense for cold drinks (it would be impossible to cool down a drink the second someone buys it), I think at least the hot beverages like canned soup or coffee could be heated on-demand when someone actually buys them (this fact becomes particularly irritating when you find a vending machine in the middle of nowhere — and you will, they are everywhere.). But I guess this just falls into the category “great service”, which is really true for Japan.

So, that’s it for now. More to come.


Save Your Dime – 100 Yen Stores January 15, 2008

Filed under: funny or noteworthy — Matthias @ 11:15 pm
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So yesterday we took off to buy some usual necessities for our households, like dishes and so forth. The only problem is, we won’t be able to take all that stuff back home to Germany, which basically means we will have to throw it all away when we’re going to leave in March. So I think it is needless to say that we tried to get all that stuff as cheap as possible, because there are better ways to spend your money.

Fortunately, this is very possible here! They have these stores called 100 YEN stores, where (almost) every item is… you guessed it, 100 YEN. That’s roughly 60 €-cents (!). Be it batteries, dishes, knives, towels, underwear, food, whatever; everything is 100 YEN (there are a few exceptions, like spices and other things though). I got my complete household set for only 2500 YEN — that’s 15 Euros!

100 YEN Store Stuff

A cooking pot for 60 cents? Try beating that! In case you’re wondering how this is possible… only three words: MADE IN CHINA!