Thursday, 31 May 2007

The long and the short of it

Now I’m fairly tall and I expected that the vast majority of the population would be pretty short here (no news there really). What I hadn’t really appreciated that the whole city is built for small people – i.e. I’m in constant danger of hitting my head on beams and doorways. However, the worst part of this is the office furniture. The tables and chairs are about the size of the stuff you would find in a primary school – not comfortable.


Since I moved to Tokyo the Blogger website has been appearing in Japanese – not easy for me to negotiate and post my updates. However, I managed to stumble across the link to change languages today so have managed to turn it to English. This has meant that I can now do a whole bunch of other updates to the website:

- I think I’ve amended the site so that the post time will be the actual date and time for me rather than about 13 hours earlier as it has been appearing;
- I’ve changed the setting so anyone can post a comment even if you don’t have an account (we’ll see how this works out – too much anonymous abuse from you lot and I’ll change it back);
- I can edit the look of this page and add a few new things (I’ll get round to this sometime); and
- I can now see the controls to post pictures.

So, on that note, here are a few catch ups:

The view form my hotel window which I said I’d post a couple of weeks ago:

The Sumo stadium (as close as I got anyway – couldn’t find a good angle to get the flags and stadium in):

Godzilla statue (I was hopeful this was going to be a lot bigger):

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Summer Sonic

I'm in a great mood today - check this out. This music festival will be on in Tokyo over the weekend of 11/12 August and I just got my ticket. Amazing line ups for both days with virtually every band I have ranted about in the last few years playing. To name but a few:

Saturday: Editors, Travis, Interpol, Maximo Park, Klaxons
Sunday: Arctic Monkeys, Bloc Party, Kasabian, The Fratellis

Damn that’s gonna be a good weekend. Before we get back to Tokyo life tomorrow, and because I’m in a good mood because of this festival, there have been quite a lot of good downloads available in the last few days so here’s a quick round up:

- Kaiser Chiefs cover “What time is love” by The KLF
- Editors cover “Feel Good Inc” by Gorrillaz
- Three acoustic songs by Maximo Park

Oh, and a classic song that has just popped up as I write this:
- "Love will tear us apart" by Joy Division

Monday, 28 May 2007

Yakult Swallows

The rather odd title of this post is actually the name of one of Tokyo’s baseball teams which I went to see last night. I was invited along by a friend of CK who lives in Tokyo – Brendan – as he and about 10 of his mates were going along.

Going to this game was a bit different to the Toronto Blue Jay games I used to regularly frequent. For a start there was a large away support which sat in one half of the ground with the Swallows fans in the other half. Each set of fans then took it in urns to sing, chant and dance around when their team was batting – they seemed to have a different chant for each batter. I thought this might only be for a couple of innings but no – they went right through to the 9th. Funniest chant had to be when someone scored a run as the crowd all pick up a miniature umbrella (which are left out around the seats on the way in along with various other items which were used in different chants) and start dancing and singing about raining baseballs. Didn’t see that coming – funny as.

Another bonus was the cheap price of beer – only ¥500 (~£2) a beer. Winner.

Hangover for work on Tuesday – not winner!

I got a team shirt too which has the player's name in Japanese characters on the back which is pretty smart. Almost all the shirts are in English and it was thanks to Brendan and his ability to speak Japanese that I managed to secure one of the few non-English shirts from the bottom of the stock pile. If I ever make it to NY then that shirt will look a bit different at a Yankees or Mets game.

Anyway, I expect I’ll be back at a Swallows game (or one of the other Tokyo clubs) as it’ll fill in a Saturday or Sunday afternoon nicely (only ¥1,500 a ticket).

Sunday, 27 May 2007

A (very) brief history of Tokyo

So by the time I made it to the Sumo arena on Saturday the place was sold out. Luckily next door was the Edo-Tokyo Museum which put my day in quite nicely.

So I don’t know how good your Japanese history is – mine was pretty much non-existent until Saturday when I went to the museum. So there now follows a very short brain dump of the more interesting things I learned today:

- up until the late 19th century Tokyo was called Edo;
- Edo was basically only a town until 15th century;
- having had major development which continued up until around 1640 Edu suffered massive fires in 1657 which destroyed 60% of the city and killed over 100,000 people;
- Japan cut ties with the rest of the world in 1638 (and I mean shut the shop entirely). These were only reopened in 1853 – over 200 years later!!!! I reckon this explains a lot of the cultural differences here;
- during the period of self imposed exile the only country which had any real contact with Japan was Korea who made occasional visits. Also, Japan continued to trade with two other countries - China and (bizarrely) the Dutch; and
- of course I’m in earthquake country here – the last two major ones were in 1855 and 1923. Apparently since the Yanks I’m working with have been here (~9 months) there have been 4 small ones…

The evening was spent back in the bars of Roppongi watching Wales 2nds stuff up a chance to beat the Convicts and England take a sore one against SA – no one else in the bar believed me when I called 50 points before the game but by half time it was all over.

Came across “Heartbeats” by José González on my ipod while walking around this weekend – I’d forgotten what a stunning track this is (it was the song from the Sony TV ad last year with the balls bouncing down a street). Anyway you’ll find it here along with the original version by a band called The Knife.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Tokyo Police Club

There aren’t really that many Japanese/Tokyo themed songs around that are any good (other than “Turning Japanese” and I’ve already linked to that below). But I do have a back up plan, so ladies and gentleman I present to you “Tokyo Police Club” (for those of you who thought that the title of this post was going to lead to a story of drunken antics and a run in Tokyo’s finest I’m afraid not). OK, other than the name this is tenuous as they’re a Canadian indie band but I reckon they’re damn good, try they’re track “Cheer it On” (there are a couple of others on that site too). I’ve also found a couple of live sessions they have recorded for CBC Radio 3 and Daytrotter which you can download.

So if I was still in the UK today I would be at the beginning of Super John’s Stag Weekend at the test match in Manchester. If you see any of today’s play keep your eyes open for a group of about 30 guys dressed as Clark Kent and one Superman. I’ll have a look this evening as a few of the bars show the cricket.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Scotland v USA

So Scotland A beat USA 13 to 9 yesterday – what a complete shower. Luckily for me none of my Yank colleagues were willing to take me up on a bet on the game as I was offering USA a 10 point head start (the spread was 30 so I figured I would make a bit on this).

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Fire Water Burn

So I leave Jason in charge for one week and someone sets The Cutty Sark on Fire, wouldn’t have happened in my day I tell you. I was looking to post a link to a song by The Bloodhound Gang which I’m sure you would have heard - “Fire Water Burn” - even if you didn’t know the name but I can’t find a working link. So here’s a link to “Ring Of Fire” by Johnny Cash instead.

Monday, 21 May 2007

A Weekend In The City (Part 2)

Off to Roppongi for the Super 14 final on Saturday I ended up in an Irish bar (a lot of the bars in this area area English/Irish themed) with the cricket, FA Cup Final and Super 14 game on – there were only a few of us for the rugby and the bar staff kept changing the channel onto football to much abuse from our corner (curiously one of the other guys watching the game was also a Forensic Accountant on a secondment to Tokyo from London). Fairly exciting game I thought but the Sharks kicker will be having nightmares about the missed conversion at the end.

After the game I went to catch up with some of my Yankee colleagues who were down the road in another bar – I ended up drinking with one of the guys in a bar called Motown 2 for the rest of the night (about £4 a beer seems about right – still as I’m not paying rent at the moment that’s not a problem). Getting in at 6am however, was a problem (it didn’t even feel that late but it was like midday sunshine leaving). That basically wrote off me making it along to the Sumo so you’ll have to wait a while for a report on fat men in nappies.

So Sunday, not much of a day left to report on. Back to a bar in Roppongi for the Heineken Cup final and home at 1am. Just what you need to be sharp and alert for Monday morning…

Sunday, 20 May 2007

A Weekend In The City (Part 1)

So Friday I didn’t go out drinking but instead went out for a wander in the area near my hotel…without a map. Hey look at that, I got lost, their’s a shock. What was planned to be a quiet night getting a feel for the local area turned into a marathon hike as I vaguely tried to get home. Left at 9pm got home at 1am – I was adamant I wasn’t that far away and a taxi would have been a waste of money.

Still, at least on Saturday I had no reason to get up – so I didn’t. I woke up at 3pm and that was only when the hotel maids rang the bell. I decided I would go up to an area known as “Electric Town” which was about five underground stops. The Tokyo underground has thirteen lines run by two different companies – pretty much every street has a station on it. I managed to get myself a travel card without much difficulty and off we go. Electric Town is the techy gadget area of town. Now I’m sure you all know I’m rarely without my ipod and love gadgets but this place was overload. Whole department stores where the shelves are stocked with different circuit boards and wires. Neon everywhere – actually that pretty much is on every street.

So that put in the afternoon and I headed off back to the hotel to get ready for Saturday night on the town. Tune in tomorrow for what vague recollections I have from that…

Thursday, 17 May 2007

The morning after

Actually, for all it was another 3am finish in Roppungi (look it up - I'm not gonna link everything for you) I actually don't feel too bad this morning.

Hopefully I'll have a bit of time to look round the city this weekend and I'll have something more interesting to report than just telling you how hungover I am each morning. Its Sumo season in Japan so I may try and get in there. Unless I can be bothered to work out how to get the internet to work in the hotel I'll be back on Monday.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Happy Birthday to me

A night off last night has helped a bit but the relief is tempered by the knowledge that, as today is my birthday, I suspect a night in the bars is in order. A full ten hours sleep last night and I could easily have added a few more to that.

Roll on the weekend for a bit of recovery time.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

How to beat jetlag…

…get in from the bar at 4am, well its one option and I’m pretty sure it works. Ok, so I’m still gonna feel like falling asleep all day again but today that’s not gonna be because of the flight.

Unsurprisingly that’s your lot today (and lets be honest one post a day was never gonna be realistic), so I’ll send you off in the direction of a Kaiser Chiefs track I found. Generally I find them distinctly average but here they are covering Golden Skans by the Klaxons. The Klaxons debut (Myths of the Near Future) is my favourite album of the year so far by a long way so go buy it!

Monday, 14 May 2007

Starting work

I’m not too bad at jetlag but I’m not the best either so even though I was absolutely shattered at 10pm I still couldn’t get to sleep first night in. I did get a few hours through the night but was awake and staying awake by 5am.

I was doing fine in the office until after lunch on day one at which time I got a severe case of nodding dog syndrome. Still a resurgence in the evening and we were out at a Japanese restaurant and a couple of beers saw day one off nicely.

I should be fully adjusted in a couple of days time. Cracking day outside though, just the right temperature and not nearly as humid as I though it would be – rainy season starts in June though.

But to more important things, I reckon I’ve found a bar which will show the rugby this weekend – with the Super 14 final and Heineken Cup that should put the nights in nicely. Hopefully I’ll have time to have a bit of a look around this weekend as well. Incidentally, if anyone has been to Tokyo before and has any suggestions please send them in as I’m relying on a guide book.

Hotel hyperlink

Ok I forgot the hyperlink for the hotel, but c'mon I'm pretty jet-lagged. Anyway, here it is.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Flight issues

This trip started badly at the airport where I hit a couple of problems at check-in:

1. the airline wouldn’t check me in as I had no flight booked to leave from Japan – solution to this was to buy a cheap ticket from Tokyo to Seoul for three months from now and cancel it at a later date for a refund; and
2. my large bag weighed in at 35kg but the maximum for any one bag is 32kg – solution to this was to remove ~3kg from my large bag and repack it into my smaller rolling luggage in place of my shoulder bag.

Unfortunately the solution to 2 above created a third problem, I now had three bags and would need to check in two which weighed a total of 55kg – the limit for a passenger being 30kg on this flight (apparently when I fly from Tokyo to New York this won’t be a problem as there are different baggage allowances on that flight). How much does excess baggage cost – a whopping £40 per kg so the starting bid was to charge me an additional £1,000 on top of my already very expensive ticket price. I managed to haggle down to only putting through 8kg excess which I thought wasn’t bad but still left me £320 out of pocket.

So lets recap, I haven’t even finished check-in at Heathrow and I’m already more than £600 out of pocket – not good.

The flight itself was fine and I think I managed to sleep for about 4 of the 11 hours. Tokyo airport immigration was very well organised and I was only held up here for about half an hour which considering the size of the queue I joined was pretty good. A half hour wait for the hotel bus (Y3,000 rather than about Y20,000 for a taxi and considering the hit I’ve already been caught for above I’ll take the cheap option thanks – about Y250 to £1 seems to be the easiest way to quickly convert).

There was trouble again at the hotel where the stupid travel agent had booked me into the “diamond” package which included breakfast and dinner every day and was for a suite. The drawback being that it was Y112,000 per night (~£450 – so quite steep). After a rather long discussion I managed to get myself down to a rate about one third of that in a cracking room – check out the hotel ­here. Amazing view from my window which I’ll try and post a picture of when the weather is better.

Oh, and rather unsurprisingly my UK mobile phone doesn’t work here. If you want my Tokyo mobile number drop me an e-mail and I’ll send it through when I get one.

Saturday, 12 May 2007

The last day

All packed up, the flat is clean, the taxi is ordered. Nearly time to go...and it still doesn't feel like I'm leaving for a couple of years. Maybe when I land.

One thing I've decided is that everyone should be made to pack up their belongings every couple of years as it makes you throw out so much stuff you don't need. Here's the test I've been using:

Q1 - do I need this in the next two years? If the answer is no then...
Q2 - do I need this at all?

I've cut it down so that I am taking two bags with me. Doesn't seem much really.

Anyway, next post will come from Tokyo. Sayonara.

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Turning Japanese

Welcome to an ongoing log of my adventures as I head off to New York for a couple of years or so. You might even get some pictures if I work out how to post them.

Anyway, problem number one has already landed (unlike me who is yet to take off) - although I should have been moving to New York this weekend I am being diverted in completely the opposite direction to Tokyo instead. This is only a temporary assignment and I should be arriving in New York around August-ish...well hopefully around about then...we'll see.

Its not so bad really as Tokyo is probably top of my list of places to visit which I have never been to. OK I hadn't planned on three months but what the hell, lets see how I go.

For those of you who are part of the ipod generation I may occasionally send you off in the direction of a song or band I'm particularly keen on or seems apt to my mood. So to kick off, you'll find the classic "Turning Japanese" by The Vapors halfway down this page (how long these links will work for I can't say but they will work when I post them).

Right back to my packing and cleaning.