Sunday, May 31, 2009


"No matter the man, we all wear masks. Whether it be over our faces or over our hearts.", Godot, "Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney - Trials and Tribulations"

So we visited the Nissan plant in Oppama on Monday (which meant we had to leave Echo Base at an ungodly hour). It was quite interesting. First we got to see a presentation which brainwashed us into believing in the fabulous wonders of 同期生産 ("douki seisan", simultaneous production, a production system that initiates when a customer orders a car). Actually, I don't know if it is written like that, because they never ever explained what it meant (because you don't ask questions when you're being brainwashed), but I'd like to think I am right.

Afterwards, we were shown a gigantic cargo ship bound for somewhere abroad and we actually entered the manufacturing factory, where the ugliest car ever was being produced at grand scale. Even the magnificence of douki seisan can't save Nissan if they really intend to sell this. It was interesting to see how the cars were being manufactured though with robots and stuff.

Memories of the rest of the week are kinda vague, but I remember karaoke. Karaoke and crucifixions.

On Saturday, Benjamin 2 号, Jimmy and I went to the Edo Tokyo Museum to visit the special Tezuka Osamu exhibition. In the West, people reading manga (Japanese comic books) usually know the name of Tezuka, but have almost never read any works by him and even then, it's usually stuff like Astro Boy. Which is not a bad manga, far from it, but people just don't know he has drawn everything. There would be no manga without him. In Japan though, he is still very popular, as many people were visiting the exhibition. What was interesting was the public. Like with my visit to the movie Detective Conan: The Raven Chaser, the public was so diverse, ranging from very young children with their parents, to elderly people who probably read the manga as they were released years ago to young couples on a date. Just to visit an exhibition of a cartoonist. Pretty sure it would attract a different public abroad. Another common point with the Conan experience was the sale of merchandise, which is pretty evil. I wisely decided to not buy the Black Jack toilet paper in the end.

This whole week, Benjamin 2 号 and I were planning to eat crab (because we are so easily influenced by television programs), but Yanagizawa-san told us it was not the season for it, which resulted in a sad duo. Instead though, she took us (and Els) to a sushi-ya in Ginza, which served a huge (I mean huuuuuuuge) plate of sushi for a very neat price. I'll be back. Many times. Ginza is not as expensive as one might think.

Right before coming to Japan, I realized two things: I would be in Japan when the Detective Conan movie would be released. I would be in Japan when the DS game Gyakuten Kenji ("Turnabout Prosecutor") would be released (yes, it's a detective game. Yes, it's awesome). And I was very happy.

So after the sushi, we went to Akihabara, where I finally picked up Gyakuten Kenji (seeing the commercials EVERY DAY in the train certainly made me excited). And I was very happy. I have a tradition of finishing the games in the Gyakuten series in just a few days and at the current rate, the prospects of upholding that tradition are looking just fine. And I claim it's all in the sake of studying Japanese.

(Writing that last sentence made me realize I study Japanese to read Japanese detectives and that I read Japanese detectives to study Japanese. )

Sunday, May 24, 2009

"He went out and hanged himself and then there were none..."

"People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it's more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey... stuff.", The Doctor, Doctor Who, "Blink"

Yes, the H1N1 influenza is here, in Tokyo and yes, everybody wears masks. But now for something completely different.

Went birdwatching today in the Tokyo Harbor Wild Bird Park. For me, birdwatching shall forever be associated with Pokémon now, for not only is similar to Pokémon Snap, we actually went in a Pokémon Monorail to the park. The inside, the outside, it was all Pokémon. There was no escape possible from the cute critters. It was the best of times.

In the park, the critters of the flying type were to be found quite easily (and relatively comfortably, as you could sit in birdwatching cottages) and there was some kind of bird festival going on, which meant that besides the fanatic birdwatchers in full get-up, there were also lots of kids taking their first steps into the field, the kids who shall be the birdwatchers of tomorrow. Or something like that. We went back in the cute Pokémon Monorail.

Footnote: I am not turning into a birdwatcher.

Earlier this week, we went bowling with the group of salarymen who stayed at the same Weekly Mansion. They were pretty fanatic, with good scores. My group was just saved from the disgrace of being the ones with the lowest average score (as the losing team had to buy the winning team drinks), but it certainly wasn't thanks to me. Even calling out dramatic quotes like 『ジッチャンの名にかけて!』 before you throw won't help if you just suck at it. Afterwards, we went for food and drinks and learned me some Japanese drinking games which are oh-so useful when you don't drink.

After the salarymen-bowling-drinking-stuff, but before the Pokémon-birdwatching-stuff (everything gets kinda wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey when you're studying Classical Japanese), we went on an excursion to the Naganuma Language School. We are taught at the Japan-Netherlands Institute by teachers from Naganuma, but this time we went to the school itself, where we had a chance to chat with a class consisting of people from Taiwan, Korea, England etcetera about things and stuff. In Japanese.

Also participated in a shortened version of the Japanese tea ceremony. Something else that feels wibbly-wobbly are your feet when you've lost all feeling in them, because you're sitting too long in seiza, the proper sitting position. It is a nasty sensation, to be able to poke with all might in your feet and realizing you don't feel anything at all. Just wibbly-wobbly stuff.

In the not too distant future, we're going to pay a visit to a Nissan factory. And have a Classical Japanese exam. On the same day. Which should be kinda busy. Sometimes, a time travelling blue police box to change whatever you did wrong or to create more time for stuff can be so convenient...


"This is my timey-wimey detector. Goes 'ding' when there's stuff.", The Doctor, Doctor Who, "Blink"

Between said not too distant future and when I first made this post in the past, I also went to a soccer game in Saitama, the Urawa Red Diamonds vs. the Omiya Ardijya. Once again, I am not really a fan of the sport, and strangely enough, once again the last few years the most direct interaction I had with the sport was through detective fiction. And once again, I was amused.

This match was just like with the yakyuu game a derby and while the baseball fans were quite civil, the soccer fans, while certainly nowhere near European standards, were a lot more vocal about the other team. Insert orchestrated animation made with gigantic flags, people with flags who make motions of the stabbing kind towards the rival team and of course lots of yelling and singing. Too bad it ended in a draw, especially as the Urawa Reds had like 6 chances to break through the 1-1 score in the end. No sudden victories like the yakyuu game.

The game does raise the question of why-for-heavens-sake so many sport teams in Japan use anthromorphic squirrel-wannabees as their macottes. It's disturbing.

Friday, May 15, 2009


「多分それは一種の精神病ででもあったのでしょう。」, 『屋根裏の散歩者』

"It probably was some sort of mental illness.", "The Wanderer in the Attic"

While I very actively use my room at the Weekly Mansion to sleep, to actually be productive in any way in this room is pretty much impossible. At least, for me it is. Which is a problem as I have a deadline tomorrow.

This small room would make a great decor for a locked room murder, but the walls certainly aren't preventing my thoughts from escaping to the farthest regions of my mind. While this room, this world has its boundaries, the locked room of the mind is limitless. Even if you come across a closed door, you just gotta knock a little harder and break through it. Whether I am entertaining myself or agonizing myself with ideas and fantasies, as I am an intellectual pack rat there is enough to see while strolling around the attic of my mind. A radical dreamer. As I close my eyes, I see an isle of panoramas bringing me hope, a hell of mirrors bringing me torment and I see myself, frantically following a stream of formless thoughts.

I see myself running to a place far, far away. Far away from the deadline.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


Wednesday was the last day of the Golden Week and we went to a yakyuu (baseball) game in the Tokyo Dome (Yomiuri Giants vs. Yokohama BayStars). While I personally don't have that much interest in baseball, actually, I think in these last few years the most "interaction" I had with the sport was through detective fiction which used baseball as its background, in the end the game was fun. Well, the first two innings and the last inning. What was between was very boring.

But there were plenty of fun things to notice besides the game. For example the ice flavor names. Love Struck Cheesecake? Baseball Park? Don't know what they were thinking, but the icecream sure was tasty. And plenty of beer-girls (girls with beer tanks on their back) walking up and down the stairs. I think the people who got the most physical strain in the whole stadium that night were those girls, moving all around the stadium with litres of liquids on their back. And don't forget the strain on their faces, because they had to smile happyhappybigsmiles all the time.

When we left the stadium, some freak phenomena appeared, where the built up high pressure inside the stadium, low pressure outside and only a handful of open doors resulted in a gigantic vacuum with people getting sucked out the building with incredible force. It was awesome. If this was a manga, it would make a great The Accidents accident. It would also make an awesome amusement park ride.

Yesterday, we went to eat okomoniyaki with about ten young (most of them were even younger than I am) salarymen who also stay in the our Weekly Mansion. We always see them leave clad in their suits on the way to the office every morning busy with work and stuff, but it's like a switch goes off when they're casual, because they were very crazy. The amusing kind of crazy.

We had the whole restaurant to ourselves (because of practical reasons: more people couldn't possibly enter) and at my table, we had Yutaka-san who was originally from Osaka and taught us the Osaka-style of eating okonomiyaki directly with the spatulas and copious amounts of mayonaise, but we also tried stuff like hotate (scallops) and yakisoba.

It would be foolish to even attempt to accurately describe the night, but for a small impression, it included great food, Johnny's impersonations, great food, pacemakers, great food, Doraemon's Jaian, great food, Furuhata Ninzaburou impersonations, great food, Natalie Portman, great food, lots of semi-English and great food.


totally unrelated to the stuff above, but this makes a nice read on the origins of my favorite store in Japan, the second hand bookstore Book-Off.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


「えー、火事の時は119番。どうして最後が「9」かご存じですか。ダイヤル式の電話の場合、大きな数字の方がダイ ヤルが元に戻る時間が長い、それだけ心が落ち着くという事です。つまり、プッシュホンの時代にはほとんど意味な いんです」
『古畑任三郎: 最後のあいさつ』

”Uuhm, when there's fire, call 119. Do you know why the last number is a "9"? When using a dial-type phone, the time it takes for the dial to return is longer with a larger number and because of that, you'll calm down. Ergo, in this period of push button phones, it's pretty much meaningless..."
"Furuhata Ninzaburou: The Final Greeting"

Uuuhm, every culture has it own quirks. Some things, you'll get used to quite quickly. Sometimes, you just can't seem to understand why. And then it stays in your head for years.

Luckily, I finally solved two Japanese mysteries today that have been bugging me for two years now. Because when you're lying in bed all day because weeks of not getting enough sleep are finally getting to you, you have some time to think about the most random things. The first one is also for Els. The name of that song is 通りゃんせ (Tooryanse). This song is a widely used song for crossings, for example at the crossing across of Kyoto Station and in front of Ikebukero Station. We both wondered what the heck the song was, as you'll hear it at the most random places. And it's very catchy, you'll hear us hum it alongst the alarm everytime.

The second mystery is the PET bottle mystery. In Japan, you'll see randomly placed PET bottles filled with water near the road. We have some here around Ekota and I saw them in Kamakura too, but I mostly remember them from Kyoto, where they were present in pretty much every street. It seems that people place those bottles in the hopes of scaring away cats. They call them 猫よけペットボトル (nekoyoke (cat warding) PET bottles) and it is thought that cats are scared of the sunlight that refracts through the water in the bottles. However, it also seems that there have been cases that houses went up in flames because of the sunlight, with the bottles functioning like a big magnifying glass. Of course, anyone who'd have read Maurice Leblanc's 'Les Huit Coups de L'Horloge' would have foreseen this...

And now to find new mysteries to solve in Japan...

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Canary Murder Case

To connect right to the previous post, no, I didn't let birds fight the second time I went bird watching. This time, we went to Meiji Jinguu, next to the Harajuku JR Station.

They might as well have written 'Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate' on the gate, because as soon as you enter, you are welcomed by countless of crows. Gigantic killer Japanese crows. From hell. Feeding on carcasses. If you are lucky enough to survive this death path, you'll get to a nice park though.

I don't have any special interest in bird watching per se, but I did enjoy sneaking up on those dang birds with my camera to simulate Pokémon Snap . Minus the ratings by Professor Oak. Sneaking up on those birds was actually the only way for me to get any good sight on those birds, as even though Marit's binoculars are transmutated through some kind of crazy alchemy to allow people with glasses to use them, I still just get highly disorientated when using them.

As it is the Golden Week in Japan, we also decided to go to a baseball game (the no.1 sport in Japan) this Wednesday. Right next to the Tokyo Dome, where the game is to be held, was the Tokyo Dome Hotel with a Sky Restaurant and an amazing view (and amazingly expensive drinks which gave you entrance to the Sky Restaurant).

That Jet Coaster you see in the picture? It's awesome. You actually go around the building and through the Ferris Wheel. Words can not describe that first dive it makes. Suffice to say I was very worried during the ride whether my glasses wouldn't fall off.

Today, we went to Kamakura for our cultural education. And I guess some went to visit the beach. Afterwards, Jimmy and I went to Yokohama, with as main goal to visit its China Town, which is the biggest in Japan. Guess we both miss our Chinese foodstuffs. Stuff like gyouza and ramen can be found everywhere in our neighborhood, but it's hard to find restaurants that actually serve stuff like dim sum. But they do have it in Yokohama.Yokohama also offered us a nice bay area with greenery parks, amusement parks, walking killer spider robots (disclaimer: do not actually walk. Nor do they kill) and blisters.

Yokohama's China Town is gigantic. We got lost several times, but it was also a lot of fun, as there were tons of little interesting shops with familiar foods and candies. And smells. Especially the smells. And I am kinda regretting now I didn't get me the salted duck eggs. The area was packed with restaurants, which all had a long queue waiting in front of them. In the end we just joined a queue, which ended in an half hour wait before we got seats. First time I joined a mystery queue in Japan (there are a lot of them here).

Final note: Timothy, guess what I saw in a Yokohama mall?

They have Portals in Japan.