January 29, 2005

Video Killed the Radio Star

Yukari, accomplished print journalist and veteran radio panelist, had her first TV appearance yesterday, providing commentary on the Japanese cell phone industry.

Screen capture below, but if you want to see the full spot, click here. For the record, Reuters makes it pretty freaking hard to steal video off their site.

Posted by pmk at 8:04 AM | Comments (0)

January 28, 2005

Fuji-san

Fuji-san1 (aka Mount Fuji) is probably the most famous Japanese photographic subject for natives and foreigners alike. A quick browse of flickr reveals 450+ photos tagged with the word fuji. Even the new 1,000 Yen bill is getting in on the act. It features a classic shot of Mt. Fuji reflected in one of the nearby mountain lakes, the mountain and its reflection forming an almost perfect diamond.

You can, of course, invest untold thousands of dollars in equipment then fight your way through throngs of Japanese with equally expensive gear to try and get the perfect shot. This is expensive, timeconsuming and requires going outside.

The approach I've taken is to only photograph Mt. Fuji with my cameraphone, when I'm inside, ideally moving at a high rate of speed. This means planes, trains2 and the occasional tall building3. Results below:

1 Not the same san as "Kane-san", apparently. Just another reading of 山, the kanji for mountain. Not that that stops me from calling it Mr. Fuji, mind you.

2 Interesting fact: When you are taking the bullet between Tokyo and Osaka, you can ask any conductor when you will be able to see Mt. Fuji. It's actually printed on the train schedule they carry with them.

3 Yes, I just figured out how to use Textile footnotes.

Fuji in summer, shot from a NRT-KIX ANA flight
Fuji from Roppongi Hills as the sun was setting
Winter Fuji, taken from a bullet train
Posted by pmk at 12:28 AM | Comments (0)

January 27, 2005

How's Your Socks Life?

Randall thought the double entendre in this store sign in Kobe was so funny, he wanted me to take a picture of it. After I explained to him that the joke was almost certainly lost on the Engrish-speaking auteur, he insisted I take a picture of it.

Posted by pmk at 12:20 AM | Comments (3)

January 26, 2005

Clock Store

The little shopping street near our apartment has a bunch of tiny mom and pop stores in it. Until yesterday, though, I didn't notice that we had a clock shop. The shop seems mostly focused on selling small alarm clocks and watches. Right now, the window is full of novelty alarm clocks. Who wouldn't want to get woken up by Hello Kitty every morning?

As an extra-special bonus, the photo is also an accidental neck-down self-portrait:

Posted by pmk at 12:01 AM | Comments (1)

January 25, 2005

Parasite Museum

Everyone's favorite cryptocommunist was in Japan last week, so I played tour guide to various Tokyo spots. At the advice of Randall's Lonely Planet guide, we made a stop at the Parasite Mueseum in Meguro.

The museum is, appropriately enough, chock full of parasites: preserved, modeled and photographed. Photos of the gory effects of parasitic infection on humans are also on display, including a fairly stunning photo of an elephantiasis victim.

One particularly disturbing, but simple, exhibit shows a preserved tapeworm, carefully folded to fit inside a small rectangular display case. Right next to the preserved specimen is a white cotton tape, over 30 feet long, which you can stretch out to experience, first hand, the terror of the tapeworm.

But, the coolest part of the museum has to be the gift "corner". In the back of the 2nd floor, they have all the parasite-related gear you could want: t-shirts, pens, pins, etc. But, mysteriously, no one to sell them to you. You have to pick up a phone that sits on the counter and push a magic button. A few seconds later, a real live parasite researcher comes out of a side door, replete in white lab coat.

I'm guessing that jobs researching parasites are not exactly a dime a dozen, but I still felt badly that some hard-working scientist needed to stop cutting open some tick so she could sell me a t-shirt.

Photos of the museum's founders (?) and a big ole mosquito model below:

Posted by pmk at 6:28 PM | Comments (1)

January 13, 2005

Being a Regular Redux

Yukari just wrote a bit about being a regular in Japan.

The day after we had the experience she describes, I went to our favorite tempura restaurant to make a reservation (my cello lesson is in the same neighborhood). The guy at the front desk, who I had never met before, asked me for all the pertinent details, except my name. Afraid that he might have forgotten, I asked him if he needed my name. "Arimasu" -- I've got it -- was his reply.

What can I say -- being a weird foreigner has its advantages.

Posted by pmk at 12:19 AM | Comments (1)

January 12, 2005

Cool Fugu Pictoid

Marc Phu, creator of the awesome Tragically Obfuscated knocked-over-walker and whose meta keywords include "beigeoatmeal", "philpotts" and "chair", just emailed me with a Fugu Diaries-inspired graphic. I think it's excellent. When I get a big 'ole conversion van, this will be airbrushed on the side of it:

Posted by pmk at 3:41 AM | Comments (0)

January 11, 2005

Seven Weed Porridge

I opened my refrigerator a few days ago and found one of our pots sitting inside. The pot had apparently been the victim of a drive-by boiling. Weird white streaks ran down the sides of the thing.

With more than a little trepidation, I took the lid off and peeked inside. White mash with long greens streaks. I quickly closed the lid, skulked away and hoped that I hadn't just discovered the evening's dinner.

A few days went by and no radioactive mush appeared on my plate, so I more or less forgot about it. Then, Yukari and I went out to dinner at a nearby restaurant. They served us a clam and on top of it was a sprig of some herb.

"Do you know what this?" Yukari asked. Having long since learned that she's better off not waiting for a response, she continued, "This is one of the seven...errr...weeds that you are supposed to eat on the 7th of January for good luck and good health."

"Oh, so that's what that disgusting gruel in the refrigerator was," I replied, "If it's supposed to be for good luck and good health, how come you didn't share any with me?".

"Well, you're eating one of them now. That probably counts."

As it turned out, we saw many of the seven "weeds" throughout our meal. Not surprising, since the restaurant was clearly still on a New Years theme. Red and white foods, red and white are auspicious colors in Japan, and flecks of gold leaf appeared throughout the meal.

But now I know: I can't trust my wife to tell me when I'm supposed to eat the appropriate foods to keep me in good health for another year. Word to the wise: when you find weird green gruel in your refrigerator, eat some. Just in case.

PS - This rule should be applied with some care by college students and bachelors.

Posted by pmk at 11:23 PM | Comments (0)

January 10, 2005

FuguDiaries.com

A few months ago, I mentioned my interest in boosting the amount of Japanese restaurant/food-related content on patrick.com and possibly spinning some of it off to a separate site.

My plans for a separate site are slowly coming together. It will be called FuguDiaries.com and will feature restaurant reviews and tasty food tidbits. I got an exciting bit of news a few days ago when the Officer Snookie (aka Andy O'Donnell) checked in with a snippet of the typelogo:

More to come...

Posted by pmk at 4:57 AM | Comments (2)

January 9, 2005

Happy Bags

Celebrating the New Year is a big deal in Japan. The whole country shuts down for almost a week. Your house has to be super clean. There are special foods you need to eat. You have to fly a kite and play badminton. Oh, and watch really bad TV.

But, given the crazy consumerism that Japan is famous for, I like to think of the arrival of the fukubukuro. These "lucky bags" (for some reason, almost universally mistranslated by the Japanese themselves as "happy bags") are simply grab bags -- various items thrown in a sealed bag and sold, sight unseen, to the customer. In theory, the bag contains items worth, together, significantly more than the bag's price tag. Of course, since the items are sold sight unseen (peeking inside of a fukubukuro is verboten), they tend to be full of junk that you don't need.

Almost everyone gets into the fukubukuro act. Clothing stores, book stores, music stores, even our local grocery store is selling happy bags. Some pictures of various fukubukuro:

Posted by pmk at 11:25 PM | Comments (2)

January 3, 2005

More Steampunk Fun

Happy 2005!

Patrick.com reader Adam, who was recently in Japan, sent in a picture of another steampunk kasutera machine. He writes:

This is probably the same kind of steampunk cookie machine you saw but a different variety--rather than rings that the operator manually removes, the mold was attached to the machine and split in half, so one half is filled with dough, red bean paste, and more dough, then the other half flips over the top, it cooks and the whole thing flips over halfway through, then the operator empties it at the end. Oh, and the cakes were shaped like ducks. On the same street (in front of Senso-Ji) we saw people making the same duck cookies by hand in little molds.

Duck-shaped cookies!

Posted by pmk at 8:58 PM | Comments (1)