Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Ueno Park (Part 2)

After I’d been wandering round the park for a while it started to rain on and off (no great surprise as this was the forecast for the day) so I headed off in to the Tokyo National Museum which is one of the many museums beside Ueno Park:

This is a big place with five separate buildings housing loads of stuff including archaeological exhibits, historic Asian art and Buddhist antiquities. Being honest this place was of limited interest to me and not nearly as good as the Edo Museum I went to a few weeks ago – there they told you the history with the exhibits whereas here it was just the exhibits without the story which I didn’t find too interesting. I’d much rather have learnt a bit more history.

However, it was hammering down outside and I didn't have an umbrella (although I think we were somewhere past the level of rain where that would have helped) so I wasn’t going outside:


Monday, 30 July 2007

Ueno Park (Part 1)

So I intentionally had a quiet Saturday night and went in after the baseball finished at 9pm. This meant that, for a change, I wasn’t waking up on Sunday middle of the afternoon with a stinking hangover. So I headed off to go and have a look at a new area of Tokyo – this week Ueno Park which is North-East of the centre of town.

Ueno was the site of the last stand of about 2,000 of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1868 which was just as Japan was reopening its borders to the outside world after about 250 years of self imposed exile. You can take it that these Shogun weren’t really keen on the change.

This park is full of monuments, shrines and museums – so here we go with a quickfire tour.

The statue of samurai Saigo Takamori walking his dog (not sure why this guy is famous):

One of the more impressive shrines is Tosho-gu jinja which dates back to 1651 (impressive considering the earthquakes, fires and bombings suffered by Tokyo):

Finally, Benten-do is a memorial to the patron goddess of the arts:

There are dozens of other shrines and monuments but these were the better pictures I have. Tomorrow, what to do in Ueno park when it starts to bucket down.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

15 Shot Challenge

Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt (literally, as you get a Geronimo t-shirt at the end).

But just in case you don’t know what I’m talking about let me back up a bit. A couple of weeks ago I was in a bar which advertised that you get an engraved plaque on the wall of the bar if you drink 15 shots in one sitting (see my Geronimos post from a couple of weeks back).

Well Friday night I headed off to this bar to take up the challenge. Mistake number one may have been letting the girl behind the bar choose the 15 shots – but seriously, look at her:

They were provided in three groups of five shots and here they are (in all their multicoloured glory):

I knocked them off in about 45 minutes which was probably mistake number two.

The remainder of the evening is somewhat of a blur but my colleague who had come along to watch recounted the following to me the next day:

- I was dancing with some American girl who turned out to be married to a rather unhappy Canadian guy in the bar (I say married – he said that, she apparently said she wasn’t);
- there was going to be a Toga party in the bar the next night and I tried to barter free shots if I went to the baseball game in a Toga advertising the bar; and
- I made a horrendous (and fruitless) attempt at trying to chat up the barmaid (see picture above).

I have limited to no memory of any of these events.

Now I have to wait three weeks which is apparently how long it will be before my plaque is up on the wall with my name, the date and the legend “SIT DOWN!”.

Friday, 27 July 2007

Weekend Plans

I'm gonna have to do something this weekend as I'm running out of random rubbish to comment on. So, to that end, here's the weekend plan:

Friday Night: 15 Shot Challenge in Geronimos (this time I'm serious)
Saturday day: Work I'm afraid but deadlines aren't getting any further away (should be fun after Geronimos the night before)
Saturday evening: Yakult Swallows v Chunichi Dragons, haven't been to the baseball in a while and the weather is supposed to be good.
Saturday Night: ?????
Sunday: Culture, don't know what yet but something.

Right, to round out this uninteresting week of letters from Japan I'll stick some links to the better mp3s I've seen posted:

"Stay" by Bernard Butler
"My Favourite Game" by The Cardigans
"Danger! High Voltage" by Electric Six

and finally "Heinrich Maneuver (Phones Remix)" of the Interpol single.

Right back next week when hopefully I'll have something to write about.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Got milk?

It only really occurred to me this week that milk is something its pretty difficult to get hold of over here. No-one ever drinks coffee or tea with milk in it (in fact they generally drink them both cold which is weird in itself). I was thinking about this as I walked back to the hotel one night and somewhere in the back of mind I had the idea that virtually the whole country was lactose intolerant.

I looked this up today and I seem to be right – apparently about 90% of the Japanese population is lactose intolerant. Not only that, but when reading about this I found out that pretty much every part of the world (other than Northern Europeans) seem to be the same:

Things I did not know.

Does it show that I’ve not got much interesting to write about this week?.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Blog views

A few weeks ago I managed to rig up my Blog so that I can see how many people are visiting each day and curiously where they are from. Obviously the majority are in London but I’ve had some odd hits such as:

- Porte Alegre in Brazil

- Makati in the Philippines

- Santiago in Chile

Anyway, thanks to those of you who have sent me e-mails telling me how much you’re enjoying the Blog (seriously, there have been a fair number). It’s good to know that someone is out there reading this - I think I went through 650 visits yesterday. After two years this should make for an interesting diary of my trip.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Japanese imports

In HMV or Virgin in the UK you sometimes see Japanese import versions of albums and they typically have a couple of extra songs on them (and cost a hell of a lot more). Well almost every album released in Japan seems to have a couple of extra tracks. For example, my copies of the new Editors and Interpol albums both have two extra tracks on them. I had no idea why this was so I’ve looked into it – apparently:

“For economic reasons, it is common to add one or more bonus tracks to Japanese releases, in order to avoid Japanese retailers trying to sell import releases purchased from outside Japan. Japanese retailers can get import releases for a lower price, so they can make more money if they actually sell these for the regular sales price. Fans are more interested in the Japanese releases, which have more tracks, so they will not be more interested in the imports. If the import releases would sell more than the Japanese releases, it could cause a catastrophe for the Japanese economy.”

"Catastrophe" might be a bit strong but there you go, you’ve learned something today.

This also reminds me that I haven't pointed out any music downloads for a while. So, I'll send you off to a new track from Athlete (first album great, second album average at best) called Tokyo.

Choice of evenings out

On Saturday I had a choice of what to do in the evening, I could either:

- go with my colleagues to the Park Hyatt Hotel in Shinjuku (where Lost in Translation was set) for a meal and some drinks there; or

- go and watch the Tri-Nations in a bar in Roppongi with the Tokyo Crusaders rugby team who I know through CK’s mate Brendan (they’d organised a ¥4,000 per head all you can eat and drink for 3 hours in a bar there).

Go on take a guess…if you didn’t pick the rugby match then get off my website now!

I got to the bar (Paddy Foleys) around 4pm and it was a cracking night with the OZ v Japan football match on after the rugby. I won a prize in the raffle they ran too which was a ¥9,000 kit bag from Canterbury – not too useful for someone in terminal retirement but I got the receipt too and have since swapped it at the Canterbury store.

I went on to a couple of clubs at about 10pm with a few of the guys but decided to try and get off home at about 1pm. I went back to Paddy Foleys to pick up the kit bag but ran into Brendan who dragged me (ok suggested) another club so we headed off in that direction only to be told that we couldn’t get in as we were wearing shorts. Another bar it was then where we got chatting to a group of Japanese girls – Brendan headed off home soon after and I headed back to the same club we’d been refused entry to earlier with the girls. An interesting lesson in life here as this time the bouncer let me in: two drunken rugby players in shorts, no entry; one drunken rugby player in shorts and three Japanese girls, in you go.

I left there about 4.30am which basically wrote off Sunday so no culture reports this week (I was working Saturday morning so no time then either). Still, with the Tri-Nations now over I should have a bit more time to do something different at the weekends now.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Lost in Translation

C’mon, you knew one of these posts would have this title sooner or later. If you haven’t seen this film I’ll sum it up in one sentence. Two strangers (Yanks) are in Tokyo with time to kill and spend almost all their time in their hotel feeling alienated and bored.

What a complete pile of crap! I am at a complete loss to understand how anyone thought that storyline up and decided that it fitted Tokyo. There are a million things to do, places to see and the people are great. Screw you Sofia Coppola– have you even been here! Scarlett Johansson was in it though so it isn’t all bad.

If you can’t tell from today’s tone I’m a bit worse for wear after a late finish in a bar called Xex last night. At least its Friday.

To finish up the week, seeing as I started one day late with beer girl week due to the earthquake, today’s beer girls are brought to you by Yebisu:

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Swimming

One of the few exercises I’ve managed over the last few years without injury has been swimming and I could generally be found in the pool in Greenwich two or three times most weeks so I’ve missed out on this since I’ve moved away.

I think I mentioned that the hotel has a pool but they wanted ¥1,200 each swim. However, I’m now a Diamond member of the Hilton Club after only one (admittedly two month) stay and this gets me into the pool for free. Next problem was trying to find a pair of swimming shorts that fitted in a country of people the same size as Hutch and Jones. Even the XL didn’t look too big and indeed they aren’t but they were the biggest that the Adidas sold and they’ll do.

The pool itself is pretty nice, three 25m lanes on the 29th floor with a good view out over the Tokyo skyline. But it is about the temperature of a sauna in there. Still good to be back swimming.

Now for today’s beer girl we’re moving on the Asahi:

Weekend beers

Late in the week it may be but here’s an update on last weekends more interesting bar activity. Friday night we were at an excellent Spanish tapas bar called “Cicada”. Now this place had a pretty good micro brewery but this stuff was rather strong as I was feeling the effects after only about three or four glasses (and we’re talking glasses here – not pints).

After Cicada most people were heading off to First Bar (a place I’ve really developed a dislike of). As an alternative one of the other guys was meeting a few Japanese girls he knows at a club called “Feria” – well I’d like to think it is obvious that I headed of to Feria. This place was actually a pretty good club and that’s pretty high praise from a guy who generally hates all clubs. Somehow we ended up in the VIP area – I’m still unclear as to how that happened and I’m also unsure who was paying for beers in this area but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t me. Still good night and a phone number to follow up on.

To sum up, today’s beer girl is brought to you by Suntory:

Monday, 16 July 2007

Kabuki (歌舞伎)

Well that was a bit exciting yesterday wasn’t it. I’m pretty bad with travel sickness at the best of times and after yesterdays second quake I felt terrible all day.

However, back to your normally scheduled programming (and the post I was going to put up yesterday before the world started to shake). Kabuki is a form of traditional Japanese theatre – the individual kanji characters, from left to right, mean sing (), dance (), and skill (). On Sunday night (after the Typhoon had passed) five of us went to the Kabuki-ca theatre in Ginza which is just 15 minutes walk from the hotel.

You can get a ticket for one act for ¥1,000 which lasts about 40 minutes. Probably enough given that it is all in Japanese. It is possible to get headphones with the English translation but only if you go for the full show and these things go on for a good few hours.

Oddly, the current show is a Kabuki version of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Although that was no help to me as my knowledge of Shakespeare is only slightly better than my knowledge of Kabuki. Unfortunately no pictures were allowed in the theatre so here’s the flyer for the show:

A bit of culture there eh? But before this gets too unnerving for you let me drag the tone back down to the normal level by declaring this week Baseball Beer Girl week on my website – today’s beer girl is brought to you by Kirin:

Second quake of the day

More shaking going on here although nowhere near as much as the one earlier today:


Same dizzy feeling but this time I knew exactly what to expect. Haven't been able to get any good footage on the video function of my camera yet annoyingly.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Typhoon Man-yi

Apparently Typhoon Man-yi was the worst storm to hit Japan since records began in 1951 with a few people killed and injured in Southern Japan. In Tokyo it rained solidly the whole of Saturday. Sunday, when it got closest to Tokyo, it was v wet and v windy until about 3pm and then completely clear. In fact today is the clearest day for about the last month.


BREAKING NEWS:

Sitting on the 34th floor at work I thought I was just feeling dizzy (as did everyone else). But we just had a reasonable earthquake where you could feel and see the whole place shaking. It was v weird and the closest I can think to compare it to would be like being on a boat (EXCEPT buildings as a rule should not rock! – I suppose that’s how they’re designed here). Not a fan of being stuck on the 34th floor when it happens though.

Here’s the report from the Japan Meteorological Agency which shows that the quake was fairly far North of Tokyo (a 6.6 on the scale) but that we felt about a 3 here – OK GOD THAT’S ENOUGH, I’VE FELT ONE. YOU DON’T NEED TO DO IT AGAIN!


Quite a weekend for natural disasters here!

Friday, 13 July 2007

Bundy and the Kittyhawk

Sounds a bit like a kids cartoon series I think. Anyway, last post covering my Sydney trip and just a couple of things left to mention.

First up, for those of you familiar with Sydney CK is currently staying on George St about 50 yards from the “Scruffy Murphys” bar which we ended up in Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Incidentally it is also next to a rather excellent kebab stand which we also frequented every night (actually I abstained on Saturday as I’d had a curry on the way out of Telstra earlier in the evening).

Now for those of you who know CK you’ll also know that drinking with him involves a significant quantity of Bundaberg Rum…and wasn’t he happy that at the Aus v Safa game you could get your picture taken with the Bundy girls (can’t say I was too annoyed myself):



Unfortunately we didn’t manage to get into the Bundy hospitality tent although this picture came out rather well:
Also in Sydney over the weekend was the USS Kitthawk – apparently the last US aircraft carrier not to run on nuclear power (you may have noticed it in yesterdays picture from Sydney tower). Anyway, here’s a better picture I got of it from the tower:


Back to Tokyo stuff next week.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Tourist time

After yesterday’s sport overload I’ll run through a few of the more touristy things I got up to over the weekend in Sydney. The weather on Friday and Saturday was excellent considering it’s the middle of winter there which made our trip down to Bondi all the better.


CK explaining that the waves were a bit high for his surfing skills at present.

Saturday we went for a cruise around the harbour which took about an hour and a half. Here’s a few of the postcard type pictures from that trip:

OK, maybe most postcards don't have a bloke in a rugby shirt in them but I'll get complaints from my mother if I don't appear in any pictures I post.

Finally, after the weather deteriorated, on Monday we went up the Sydney tower (apparently higher than the Eiffel tower):

Last few bits of stuff from Sydney tomorrow.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Rugby of varying types

If you looked in yesterday you’d know that over the weekend I went to NRL, Tri-Nations and AFL games over the weekend. Here’s a quick run down of the games:

1. Wests Tigers 43 – 26 Penrith Panthers (Telstra Stadium – Attendance ~13,000)



What a cracking game. Penrith looked to be cruising at the half having run up a 20 – 10 lead at the half but the Tigers absolutely blitzed them in the 2nd half to run out winners. The star was an 18 year old called Chris Lawrence who scored a hat-trick including one solo effort from 95 metres – a name I expect you’ll hear more of. So 11 tries in total, you can’t ask for much more than that.


2. Australia 25 – 17 South Africa (Telstra Stadium – Attendance ~52,000)

What was a Bok second team ran out to a 17-0 lead in the first 15 minutes but rarely did they look like scoring after that bar a couple of missed penalties from Hougaard. Not that the Convicts were exactly convincing in their comeback. Not a great game and I had hoped for a few tries with the Bok players playing for World Cup places and the Convicts looking for a big win prior to the Tri-Nations decider in a couple of weeks.


3. Sydney Swans 89 – 61 Freemantle Dockers (Sydney Cricket Ground – Attendance ~ 26,000)


I knew very little about AFL (or gAy-FL as CK refers to it) prior to the game – I vaguely remember watching it on Channel 4 about 20 years ago but that was about it. Can’t say I understand much more now as the penalties being called seemed pretty random and rules seem to be made up on the spot. Still quite an enjoyable spectacle even if it does go on a bit (4 quarters of 20 minutes plus stoppage time and the breaks in between quarters).


If you hadn’t seen any of Rugby League, Rugby Union or Aussie Rules and were judging the merits of each sport on these games you’d probably be a League fan. You’d be wrong, but you’d be a League fan.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Quick review

I just flew back into Tokyo today landing at 6.30am and coming straight into the office so today will just be a quick run down on what I got up to in Sydney and I’ll fill up the rest of this weeks posts with a bit more detail and some pics:

Thursday – got a haircut (not too interesting I’ll grant you but really needed after almost two months without – only AUS$10 as well) and out on the beers/Bundy Rum with CK - you can add that to the end of all the other days below;

Friday – a nice day so we went down to Bondi beach in the afternoon and went to see Wests Tigers play Penrith Panthers in the NRL);

Saturday – went for a cruise round Sydney harbour in the afternoon before heading out to Telstra stadium for the Tri-Nations match between the Convicts and the Safas);

Sunday – spent the afternoon at the AFL game between the Sydney Swans and Freemantle Dockers at the Sydney Cricket Ground before an evening out in Darling Harbour; and

Monday – went up Sydney tower before packing up and heading for the airport.

Plenty of sport and plenty of beer – good weekend away.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Weirdness Part II: Cos-play-zoku

I’m off to Sydney tonight to visit CK so this is the last post until Tuesday next week. But I’ve saved a good one.

Cos-play-zoku translates as Costume Play Gang. Each weekend groups of what are mainly teenage girls dress up in pretty ridiculous goth fancy dress outfits and hang around Harajuku. Here’s a selection for you:








Now a disclaimer: I WAS NOT THE ONLY PERSON TAKING PICTURES! My guide book tells me that this is the point of what they’re doing.

Also in the same area were this bunch:


Just too weird.

Right, I’m off to Sydney – back next week.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Weirdness Part I: In the Park

I really enjoy walking round Tokyo – you can go round any corner and walk into some really odd stuff. For example, a couple of weeks ago I was walking around Shinjuku. Coming the other way was a cute Japanese girl and her fat mate on a bike. Before I’d finished thinking “where’s Dan Keogh when you need him” I realised that the fat mate was actually a fat bloke, in a dress. This was about lunchtime. Odd.

However, this weekend I hit the motherload. I went to Harajuku for a walk and came across a full festival of weirdness in a park. So here we go, quick style:

1 . a whole bunch of guys dressed as rockers dancing in the street:



2. a street of bands all playing different music about 10 yards apart:



3. half a dozen people playing bagpipes in the middle of the park (no pic of this I’m afraid).

Now that was enough for one day but the absolute peak of weirdness was still to come. Tune in tomorrow for the Cos-play-zoku.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Tokyo Tower

If you looked at the picture I posted a couple of weeks ago looking from Odaiba back to central Tokyo you might have seen a rather familiar sight a bit to the left of centre. In Tokyo there is a replica of the Eiffel tower which is apparently taller than the original and took less metal to construct.

Apparently it is 332.6 m tall, making it the tallest man-made structure in Japan. Despite being 8.6 meters taller than the Eiffel Tower (32.6 if the tower's TV antenna is included), Tokyo Tower only weighs about 4,000 tons, whereas the Eiffel Tower weighs about 7,300 tons.

I’m unconvinced that its taller although this may be because its surrounded by pretty tall buildings and the Paris tower isn’t. Anyway, here’s a pic of the tower which I pass on the days is cool enough to or from work: