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 Now. 😉


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 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

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
Tags: , ,

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!