Archive for July, 2005

Trouble in Roppongi

Every month I receive an update from the American Embassy about Visa info, security situations, etc. I usually never read it since the visa info doesn’t apply to me and the rest just tells us that the rest of the world is still unhappy with America and it is in our best interest to lay low. However, the “Incident in Roppongi” caught my eye and I just couldn’t resist reading to see what happened. I had imagined that some young drunk American got in a fight or something like that but this one was a little different. Here is the report:

Incident in Roppongi
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The US Embassy has received another report of an incident in Roppongi. An American citizen recently reported that he was drugged at a Roppongi area bar and his credit card charged $7,000 for drinks he has no recollection of ordering.

As always, persons are strongly advised to exercise caution and common sense when frequenting Roppongi at night.

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Now for us long term Nippon residents, we most often do not go to Roppongi as it is really does not reflect Japanese culture and we have integrated enough with the culture that we don’t need to go there for fun. However, I have been there quite a few times and have noticed a disturbing trend. It seems that there are now much more aggressive scouts (most likely of African origin) trying to pursuade passers-by to go into the sex and strip clubs or buy drugs. When I first arrived in Japan I could actually walk to where I was going without being bothered once. But now, these guys will walk with you and refuse to leave you alone after you have already declined their offer countless times. The last time I was there, I felt a little uncomfortable with all these guys harrassing me, that I really have no desire to go back there again.

With these repeated incidents being reported, it seems that Roppongi is actually becoming a little dangerous which is extremely uncommon for Japan being the safest country I have ever visited. Also, some of the popular bars such as gas-panic have come up with ridiculous rules like you must always have a beer in your hand and be drinking or else you get kicked out. A further annoyance is a few bars are charging outrageous entry fees for their crappy little venues such as Lexington Queen. This bar has a reputation for attracting East European Models which is partly true but the fact of the matter is it is just a small dirty little bar trying to charge too much.

Anyway, for those of you who are new to Japan, Roppongi is worth one look around and then should be forgotten as it does not reflect Japanese culture what so ever. If you read a little bit about this history of the place, it used to be a barracks for American military personel during WWII. The bars spung up to cater to them and it has remained a night spot for mainly foreigners.

For those of us who really love Japanese culture, Roppoingi is quite an annoyance since there are quite a few bad foreigners there, and when they act up it reflects poorly on the rest of us.

Climbing Mt. Fuji

fujiopto.jpg

Perhaps one of the most exciting, yet least attempted things to do while visiting Japan is climbing Mt. Fuji. It is quite close to Tokyo and only takes about an hour and a half to the fifth station of Mt. Fuji by bus from Shinjuku Station.

I attempted the climb and succeded in the summer of 2003, and it is something I will never forget. We started the climb at 10pm and made it to the summit in six and a half hours but had gotten there too early and were exposed to the freezing winds at the top which we were totally unprepared for. I also caught the chills and couldn’t stop from shaking violently until we were half way down the mountain. Unfortunately, we were only able to catch about a minute of the sunrise before it clouded over for the rest of the morning (picture is not mine but of my cousin).

At the summit there are three areas of interest: the temple, the crater, and the vending machines. The vending machines sell hot coffee but the cost is a dollar fifty to four dollars for a very small can. The reason for this is that it must be transported on foot since no vehicles can reach the top. There is also a small restaurant which sells expensive, mediocre ramen but is really good for warming up.

Suprisingly, many of the climbers are older Japanese folk who see the climb as a religious experience since Fuji-San has played a deeply symbolic part in Japanese history. These seniors are pretty in shape but still must book one of the small hostels about midway up for a nap and then continue the rest of the way. There are also some young hung over tourists who make it about an hour into the climb before they give up and start heading back down.

In total, our trip took 6 and a half hours up and just over four back down. If your thinking about climbing the mountain, make sure to take plenty of cash, warm clothing (even if it’s hot down below, it will be freezing on top) a headlamp and a ton of stamina. Also, be sure to not leave any trash on the mountain to keep it beautiful.

I’m turning left. Be careful. I’m turning left. Be careful…

truck-small.jpg Imagine waking up every morning to the sound of a talking truck. Or several talking trucks, loudly saying, over and over again, I’m turning left. Be careful. I’m turning left. Be careful… (左に曲がります。ご注意ください。)

My apartment is on a busy corner, and that sound is the first thing I hear every morning, because in Tokyo (and the rest of Japan too, I guess), trucks talk. Their vocabulary appears to be really limited, but from what I’ve been able to ascertain so far, they seem to have perfectly mastered this one I’m turning left. Be careful… phrase and really like to say it. A lot. Especially as they round the corner outside the window of my apartment. At 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning.

Some know-it-all friends of mine have told me that the reason so many trucks have decided to say this all the time is so that visually impaired people can realize there is a truck turning left directly in front of them, thereby preventing the people from wandering straight into the blind-side danger zone of the truck’s path while it’s in the middle of making a left turn. (Remember that vehicles travel on the left-hand side of the road in Japan, for some reason. And on top of that, drivers sit on the right — the side which the steering wheels in vehicles here all seem to have been moved over to. Yeah, I know it all sounds crazy, but it’s true.)

But I think there is some other hidden purpose to this “truck talk” — similar perhaps to the purpose of those shortwave radio frequencies where all you hear is the voice of a woman with a Spanish accent repeating the same letter of the alphabet over and over again: f f f f f f f f…

Ah, Lemme Have *MY* Way!

An article I found lurking on The Japan Times Online, discusses parental indulgence in Japan. An excerpt:

Such parental indulgence apparently runs rampant. Some allow their children to stay home from school on rainy days. When a teacher telephoned to ask about an absence, the parent responded, “I don’t want you to make my kid do things he doesn’t like.”

Ready for this? A teacher was requested to change the box at the school entrance into which a child stored his shoes. The one assigned, his mother insisted, was not aligned to give the proper fengshui.

Hey parents! Ain’t it time you grew up?

Hoka hoka bento

Hokka Hokka tei

About “Bento”, please visit Wikipedia.

Hoka hoka bento is one of the food you have to try while staying in Japan. Lot of Japanese love Hoka-ben (We often call Hoka-hoka-tei which is major bento chain). A lot of visitors from overseas love Hoka-ben once they have.

Hoka-ben is very different from “lunchbox”. You have many different food in one box. You can feel Japan in it!

Technorati: Hoka hoka bento

Blogging Live8, Part 2

On the day of the concert, I still hadn’t gotten any information on how I would pick up my press badge and was starting to get a bit nervous that I wouldn’t get in at all.

To be honest, I was more interested in the whole “how do I blog an event” than I was interested in going to the event itself. In fact, Björk was the only one of the lineup that I was familiar with, though I did see “Dreams Come True” play at a small club years ago.

I sent frantic emails to whoever I could, my girlfriend was on the phone with the press desk at the venue up to and past 2:00, when the show started and I began to give up hope. Fumi from Technorati had actually taken the train out to the event to see what she could negotiate for the ten bloggers. I think it was around 4:00 when I finally gave up and said “screw it.” It was quite a disappointment, and there was no where I could find to place the blame; Technorati had done everything they could, especially Fumi-san, who should be sainted for her efforts and I had no idea who the local agency was that had dropped the ball.

Just then, Fumi called back, elated. “We got the passes and you guys are getting in.” The passes she got weren’t the ones that were supposed to have been arranged, she had gotten them to issue new ones. I grabbed my cameras and got on the train for the hour long ride to Makuhari.

When I got to the venue, I was surprised at how big it was — Makuhari Messe’s web page showed the layout of the space and it looked to be about the size of a high school gymnasium. There were several spaces that could be combined by opening sliding walls, but this concert was just in one of them. Seeing it though, it was huge, like an airplane hangar in which you could park a dozen jumbo jets. I went to the press desk, gave my name and they handed me the badge without hesitation. “The press room is over there” the woman told me, pointing to the first of a series of uniformed young women who politely guided me on my way. I was in. Now what?

Pressroom

I got to the press room which was large and had about fifty people in it, some working on laptops, others watching the concert on a television monitor and some sitting around just reading or talking. I’d thought about bringing a laptop, but decided against it, thinking it would be too geeky and thinking there wouldn’t be wireless internet, neither of which were correct.

At this point, I was at a loss as to what to do. I sat around for a few minutes, wondering if this was the only place I was allowed, then went to the hallway and talked to one of the guide women and asked “So, with this pass, where can I go? Can I go backstage? (No.) Can I go to the concert floor? (Yes.) Can I take pictures there? (No.)”

I left my cameras in the press room and headed down to the concert press area on the concert floor, up front and off to the right. The concert goers were in these penned-in areas, so it did feel pretty cool to be able to walk pretty freely around the areas where they couldn’t. Björk was playing.

I went to the press area which had a very good view of the stage where there were a lot of the press standing around listening. They weren’t really doing much of anything, not taking pictures or making notes or anything, not even tapping their feet to the music.

The show was great. Björk, of course, is a unique and strange and wonderful creature, but I hadn’t anticipated how totally powerful she is. When she sings, it feels like she’s ad-libbing everything or perhaps channeling some vocal energy from a distant Nordic planet. The songs were ones I knew, but I was now hearing them for the first time. She moved around the stage as if pushing against an unseen force, a wind that only she could feel, appropriately enough in an outfit that seemed a re-interpretation of a kimono on a butterfly theme. Here eyes were thickly outlined in black and her hair done up in two buns on the sides of her head. The songs were peppered with her signature wails that sent shivers down my spine. She certainly wasn’t screaming or yelling though, every sound was perfectly controlled. I don’t think there’s a word for how she sings, nor do I think there should be — it’s just Björk.

After she went offstage, I made my way through the cavernous space, the adjoining space, this one equal in size, but nearly empty, except for a hundred or so people resting, leaning against the wall and a row of matsuri style food stalls running down the center of the space, selling beer and takoyaki, surreal and seeming out of context in this huge dark misty space echoing with the music.

Next up, the press conference…

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