Friday, November 30, 2007

Tokyo Roundup

I sit here at Narita airport, waiting to board my flight. The Red Carpet Club has beer dispensing machines that automatically tilt your glass to reduce the foam while filling. Genius. Almost as genius as my hotel room toilet that had heated seats. I don't know why those aren't standard issue in cold states like Colorado.

A few nights ago Adrian took us to Shibuya, a ward in Tokyo that is best described as being likes Times Square. Lots of shops and restaurants, and big tall electronic screens. You might recognize one of the intersections from my photos as being in "Lost in Translation". There are cross walks coming from multiple angles and the intersection is just full of people when it is time to cross the street. We had a really great Korean BBQ dinner, where they just have raw meat sitting out and you pick what you want and cook it on the grill that is built into your table. We had a great time at that dinner, and wandering around Shibuya afterwards.

On our last night in town NEC hosted a Chinese style banquet for all the SCOPE attendees. The food was good, and then we went out for drinks afterwards. We started off at a standard beer joint near the restaurant, and then headed down to a 50s rock and roll bar in Roppongi. This place was made to look just like a post WW2 japanese bar, and the dudes in the band had Elvis style hair. Pretty good singing, and you could request just about any song from the 50s. We had a great time closing this place down.

All in all, I had a great time in Japan. I hope I get to come back and explore things some more when I'm not working during the day. Check out the Full Photo Set.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Why are hotel rooms designed by people who don't stay in hotels?

I mean, seriously. How hard is it to have a couple (or even just one) power plugs near the desk. They expect you to use your computer because there's an ethernet cable there.

One thing I love about Japanese culture is this focus on specialization. The main idea is that "businesses that focus on many things do nothing well". You don't go into a japanese restaurant and order some tempura, some sushi, some sukiyaki, and some grilled teriyaki chicken. You go to a place that specializes in sushi, or a place that specializes in tempura, or a place that specializes in sukiyaki. We went to a coffee shop where the owner personally flies to south america to inspect the beans himself and negotiate with the farmers directly. I was not able to order regular hot green tea at this coffee shop, as they didn't specialize in it. Are you getting the picture yet?

We went to Akihabara yesterday, which is a mecca for geeks. It is just electronics shops, one right after another. The ones on the main street seem to focus on big name products like cameras or PCs. But if you go off the main street, there are just tiny proprietors who specialize in certain things. One just sold old NES games from 20 years ago. Old sold only old PC components, like 3.5" floppy drives. When was the last time anybody used one of those? But if you need something hard to find, chances are somebody in Akihabara has it.

Another thing about this area is the Maid Bars. This is where the women are dressed up in maid outfits, and each one caters to some sort of specific desire (fetish). The first one we saw was catering to men who like women in glasses. It looked like a Sunglasses hut up front, but with regular prescription glasses. You could pick out the glasses you liked, and then the maid who was serving you would wear them while you were there. Not really my thing, so we kept looking. We ended up going into one that catered to people who like darts called Little PSX. You could sign up to play a game of darts against the waitresses. The list was too long so I didn't play, as we didn't have all night to hang out here (these other guys did, apparently). But it was fun watching, as these geeky guys would get their egos handed to them by these cute girls, who apparently do nothing but play darts all day because they were pros. It was not uncommon for them to nail 1 or 2 bullseyes on every round!

After we finished up there, we headed back to Adrian's neighborhood and had a traditional Japanese dinner, served in 8 courses. There was a steaming box built right into our table, so they just kept bringing food to us and it would cook in there. I got some pictures of some of the courses, but not all of them. It was a great feast. It turns out I like good sake more than I like fine wine. Ordering sake here is like ordering wine in the US... the menus tell you which part of the country the rice came from, as the rice tastes different depending on the climate. I could easily see myself wanting to take sake tasting classes and learning all about it if I ever lived here, which is something I've never wanted to do with wine.

More Pictures Posted.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Yokohama Amusement

I spent the day with Adrian, Mami (his wife), and Erica (his daughter) going to the Yokohama Sea Paradise amusement park. It's been a long time since I was at an amusement park... probably my sister's birthday 4 years ago when I was still living in Santa Clara. It was a total blast.

Apparently Japan is known for its aquariums (who knew?) and the aquarium at Sea Paradise is extremely impressive. They have a polar bear swimming around, penguins swimming, sea turtles, rays of all kinds, and tons of colorful fish! After the aquarium we saw a dolphin show, and then we went riding on the rides. There is a ride called Blue Drop, very similar to Drop Zone at Great America. The Great America version is 224 feet tall and the Blue Drop is 351 feet tall. Apparently the Japanese also take their thrill rides very seriously!

I also got a chance to play a video game called Taiko no Tatsujin ("Taiko: Drum Master", which is like Guitar Hero but with Taiko drums. Totally fun, and I could see this being nearly as addictive as Guitar Hero. Of course, I've finished with school now so my self-imposed limitation on buying video game consoles has been lifted. I'll probably be getting a PS3 when I get home so I can play Rock Band.

At the end of the day we had some dinner near Shinagawa station. Mostly sushi, but we also had some fried oysters. I also got a chance to eat Scorpion Fish, which is something I've only ever seen on night dives. It's a menacing fish you don't want to mess with, but it wasn't particularly impressive as a meal. Better to just leave them alive for SCUBA divers to look at.

Check out my Tokyo Photo Set.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving in Tokyo

I arrived in Tokyo last night (Friday), which turned out to be Japanese Thanksgiving Day, which is something more akin to the American Labor Day. I took the Narita Express straight from the airport to Shinjuku Station, an absolutely huge train station which services more than one million people each day. It was a bit overwhelming, and I'm glad he met me there as it would have taken me a while to figure things out.

His wife had reserved us a table at a restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner, and it turned out to be a very traditional American Thanksgiving meal. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, even pumpkin pie! Turkey is not indigenous to Japan so it had to be imported. I was kind of expecting to have Japanese food, so this was a welcome surprise since I had flown out early Thursday morning and didn't have a chance for a Turkey dinner back home. The one funny part was that the waiter put down a plate of food in front of me, and I kept waiting for him to come back with plates for the others before digging in. It turned out that plate was the food for all of us! So the portions were Japanese-sized, even if the food was traditional American. :) We were all having such a good time that we forgot to get a picture.

Today we will take a day trip to Yokohama, which is a harbor town just south of Tokyo. Several people had told me they wanted to see it, and apparently there's a big aquarium there that my hosts had been wanting to visit so it works out perfectly. Hopefully I'll have some good pictures to post at the end of the day!