Category Archives: japan

The Book of Tea

As part of my decluttering effort, I’m trying to read books that I’ve wanted to read for a while but haven’t managed to.  One of these, a likely candidate due to its brevity, was the Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura.

Okakura’s premise is that “teaism” is Taoism, encapsulated in a single ritual.  His book is an interesting look at the worldview of an enlightened Japanese at the outset of the 20th century.  Although Okakura can be commended for preserving a good amount of Japanese art forms, his elevation of Japanese culture above everything else sometimes feels dated.  It’s clear he’s preaching against a current evil of his time, though a number of statements still ring true today.  I’ll summarize the book with a few quotes and some fun facts. Continue reading

Izakaya Gentaro (居酒屋源太郎)

While I was at the Nichibei Kaiwa Gakuin back in the summer of 2007, I discovered the Izakaya Gentaro for its reasonably priced but very tasty lunches (particularly the Satsuma-age / 薩摩揚げ).  While I was decluttering today, I found the business card of the Izakaya Gentaro, and decided I’d post the information and chuck the card.

The Nichibei Gakuin has since moved, but in 2007 it was temporarily in a location between Iidabashi station and Kagurazaka.  The Izakaya Gentaro is across the large intersection by Iidabashi station with the following address: Miyako Building B1, 1-13 Agebacho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo (東京都新宿区揚場町1-13ミヤコビルB1).  Should you want to call: +81 (0)3 3267 9599.  Open 10:30-14:00 and 17:00-24:00, closed Saturdays and Sundays.  It’s all in Japanese, but just pick something at random and it’ll be tasty.  The chef, 田代正夫 (read Masao Tashiro, most likely), appears a little moody at first, but he’s not nearly that bad.

If I put this much effort into every old business card, I’d be in trouble, but this restaurant deserves to be remembered.

Funk the Peanuts!

I bought these CDs for their covers, so posting the covers should let me get rid of the CDs just like I got rid of the Bojenmi tea slip.  Here they are – they are 8cm singles in a 16×8 case, scanned side by side.  The Funk the Peanuts member on the right is a well-known singer in her own right, the voice of Dreams Come True; the other seems to have made a career as a background singer for J-Pop bands.  Speed is, according to Wikipedia, the best-selling Asian girl group to date.  Success doesn’t always look pretty.

If you want to know what it sounds like to funk a peanut or go go heaven, let me know.  Soon, before the trash gets taken out.

Perfect device for an election year: SpeechJammer

The folks at the Annals of Improbable Research sure got the timing right in announcing the 2012 Ig Nobel prize winners in acoustics, Kazutaka Kurihara and Koji Tsukada, who won it for their SpeechJammer device.  Awesome for stump speeches and debates!  Brilliant for that obnoxious drunk in the subway!  Combine it with face recognition and motion tracking, and you can silence those Occupy folks in a hurry.  Or… bring it to David Letterman’s show… the possibilities are nearly endless.

And how about turning it into an app for cell phones and VoIP systems to thwart telemarketers?  Kurihara-sanTsukada-san!  There’s more work to be done!


Selling Japanese pottery

Sometimes it’s hard to declutter.  The six earthenware cups – Japanese kutani – that I’ve put on are locally made from Kanazawa (where I spent three months) and practically unused.  If the sale doesn’t happen, they’ll be up for grabs for friends and family.  It would be nice for them to go to a good home!

It’s like monkey!

I don’t get to visit Japan anymore, and that’s a shame, because I miss all the fun Engrish.  But friends bringing back Engrish and the byproducts of decluttering occasionally still provide me with some entertainment.  Here, thematically well-aligned with my new book and CD giveaway page, are three nice images.

First, Pocari Sweat for babies (with lots of sugar):
Pocari Sweat for Babies

Then, an intriguing CD cover by Roboshop Mania:
This is a real CD cover.

And finally, the only English-language song from that album.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you believe the one-star ranking and my recollection), I have turned the CD into a wall clock, which has fallen off the wall, breaking the CD.
It's like monkey!  Now, understand!

Oh yeah.

Supernova and Milky Way

I’m in Japan again, and it’s another short trip, where the total travel time isn’t much less than the time spent in the country.  I neither slept much on the planes (Zürich-Bangkok-Tokyo) nor last night in the hotel, but I was surprisingly awake this morning when I got up for church.  I went to Tokyo Union Church this time, instead of out to Chiba, because I hoped to meet Mindy and her fabulous engagement ring – I mean, her fabulous Ryotaro. 

I got there with some time to spare, even though a film crew stopped pedestrian traffic for a while just in front of the toy store, where I encountered the Rubix 360°, which is like a cross between the Rubix cube and those annoying put-the-ball-in-the-hole coordination games.  From the film crew I learned that (a) the crowded street scenes are shot with a telephoto lens, with the crowds removed where the actors are, and using the background crowds down the street for the crowd effect, and that (b) one need not be a good actor to make it on TV. 

After church I stayed on for the young adults group, where I wasn’t the only newcomer.  I don’t know how I would have dealt with a newcomers group for a small group study – I found it somewhat awkward to answer personal questions in front of total strangers – but it seemed to work alright for most participants.  At least one person wasn’t a Christian, which surprised me a little.  Maybe Asians are more likely to actively explore another faith than Westerners. 

I went shopping afterwards.  Harajuku was crowded, and a store opening with the attendant lines at the entrance didn’t help.  Although my Harajuku source was out of black toe socks, the girl there pointed me to their Ikebukuro branch, which I found without too much difficulty.  They had the right socks, and that’s where the galactic references begin.  I suppose it’s appropriate that in the Sunshine city complex I came across the band ChoShinSung (Supernova) greeting fans, and snuck in a photo before some frantic guy came to tell me it wasn’t allowed. 

From there I went across the street to a supermarket to purchase a number of Japanese food items.  I’d been asked to buy green tea, which brought me to the second floor, where to my surprise I found a couple cans of Ginga Kogen beer, which translates into Milky Way Plateau beer.  It’s the only Japanese wheat beer I can think of and probably my favorite Japanese beer.  I support good quality, so I bought a few.  (I drink responsibly, so I don’t expect to see stars…) 

In closing, a few pictures of Tokyo, and one from the Munich airport from my last Asian trip. 

ADHD airplane
Here’s hoping the pilot isn’t what the plane ID says. 

Mydentity Converse Ad
I thought the ad was clever – and subtly frightening. 

10 Fashion rules, contradicted
Note how the rules (where they make quantifiable sense) are contravened by the mannequin’s garb. 

Fashion Rules in Harajuku
Standing in line to shop for clothes. 

No Smorking
Harajuku cracks down on crime – and smorking. 

ChoShinSung greet their fans
The girl in red got in line about five times, to the amusement of the bystanders. 

Krispy Kreme Tokyo
Oh, look, another person who must have stood in line today. 

The view from the Grand Prince Hotel Takanawa
I don’t know of many other places with as clear a view of the Tokyo tower.  I can also see a part of the Rainbow Bridge (not on the picture). 


Three weeks of separation


Only Brisbane this time.  Arrival at about 11pm.  The taxi driver who took me to my hotel said his business was down about 30% due to people travelling less.  One thing’s for sure: the economic crisis provides a universal topic of conversation.  The Grand Chancellor is overrated and overpriced.  Never have I written as many critical comments on the comment card.  Good thing I only stayed there two nights and then moved to Mark’s house.

I spent two days with our distributors getting to know new people, showing them our system, and visiting customers with it.  They had organized two presentations at the main universities in Brisbane – a good start and an efficient use of time.

The weekend at Mark’s consisted of a fabulous outing to the Noosa headlands, a church service at the Sherwood Uniting Church where his mother preached, and noontime in the city and South Bank with Mark’s sister.  Brisbane was hot, but not as hot as I had feared, and I feel like with a little more time there would have been plenty more to do.

Flat Stanley in Noosa
Flat Stanley digs Noosa.

New Zealand:

We flew into Auckland on Sunday evening and spent the night near the airport.  Monday we drove down to Rotorua and set up our booth.  The drive and its vistas made me want to see more of the country, but a visit every other year is about as much as is reasonable given the market size.  If only we could sell microscopes to sheep!  One of the little towns we passed, Tirau, seemed to be the corrugated sheet capital of the country, with most signs and several domestic fixtures made of corrugated iron.

Rotorua announces itself by gentle wafts of sulphurous (IUPAC: sulfurous) odors.  Your eggs could go off in this town and you’d put it down to the local air.  The upside is a plethora of spas and baths, of which I tried the Polynesian Spa, a bit expensive indeed but ever so enjoyable late at night after a day at the booth and a big dinner.  Of course, it’s not Japanese style, so now my bathing suit reeks of sulfur.

The conference once again distinguished itself by its aura of familiarity.  This is indeed a small, tight, and friendly microscopy community, a group of people excited about microscopy and happy to hang out with fellow microscopists, wherever they may be from.  As usual, I have a photo of dancing microscopists.

Dancing Microscopists
Dancing Microscopists in Rotorua.

On Thursday we had the afternoon off and headed down to Wai-o-tapu, where the local geological instabilities reminded me of just how fragile our earthly existence is and what a mercy it is to be sustained day by day.

Mud splat
The mud pots.

The Champagne Pool
The Champagne Pool.

Rock brain
Wai-o-tapu has a mind of its own.

Champagne Pool Wai-o-tapu
More from the Champagne Pool.

The next day it was up early and off to the Rotorua airport.  This is an airport where the planes taxi up the runway, u-turn at the end, and then take off along the same runway.  My plane was a 19-seat Beechcraft 1900D, and I was seated in the second row and therefore got to watch the pilots all the way.  Here’s a picture of us landing.

Landing at Auckland Airport
Landing at Auckland Airport with a Beech 1900D.

See how the plane’s longitudinal axis is not at all parallel to the runway?

I haven’t yet transferred many pictures from Japan to my computer – most are still on my camera – but here’s one that also is the quiz of this post: What is in the below bag?

Mystery Accessory - Please Use
Mystery Accessory.

More later – going home now.  It’s about time.