Saturday, October 13, 2007

Website and blog changes

If you haven't noticed yet, this blog is now hosted on my domain, which is where my main site is as well (check it out).
You can access it by going to although the old will still redirect here.

That's all for now!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Last night in town

Last night was unusual, to say the least. Being my last real night (not counting tonight, since I leave early tomorrow) in Tokyo for some time, I wanted to make it count. So, equipped with ¥30,000 (which I ended up no spending more than a few thousand of... a pleasant surprise) I hopped on the train(s) to Shinjuku, and made my way to the fabled Golden Gai. I must admit I was a bit intimidated, as Golden Gai has the (justified) reputation of housing some amazing little (the term "little" is an understatement) hole-in-the-wall (literally) bars, quite a few of which are not too friendly to foreigners, some of which are not too friendly even to Japanese people whose face they don't recognise. In short, it's more the sort of area where you need to be introduced to be welcome.

However, a few of these establishments came recommended to the cultured visitor by the Lonely Planet guide, and the one I made my way for, "La Jetée" (which can be seen in the 1982 film "La Truite" by Joseph Losey, or in the info-jacket in the new DVD release of the 1962 film "La Jetée" by Chris Marker), was reputed to be the destination of choice of directors and producers of films both foreign (one can spot bottles by Francis Ford Coppola – I'm told Sofia has dropped by too, Quentin Tarantino, Chris Marker, etc...) and indigenous, and also for having a tradition of only speaking French (alongside Japanese, of course). The bar itself was about the size of your average mini-bus, and could seat a physical maximum of eight people (crammed in), but nonetheless one does not feel claustrophobic (I think the tight space forces conviviality and socialising, and one forgets about the negative aspects). The mama-san, by the name of Kawai (no second 'i') spoke very good French, and was very welcoming; the drinks were reasonably priced, and quite good; and the company was exceptional. During the course of the evening I met a host of people (pretty much everyone in the bar... which isn't that hard) counting amongst them some documentary journalists from NHK, some Swiss press and a swiss director, and some folks from the Japanese film industry, including a rather well known producer by the name of Hiroaki Fujii, whom had been friends with and worked with the Japanese author Yukio Mishima. Everyone was extremely friendly, and we all shared a few drinks.

I missed the last train (as I had intended to... they're only at midnight). I had brought money for the taxi, as a last resort, but was reluctant to use it as it would cost me an arm and a leg, so I planned to spend the night hopping around bars and moseying around Shinjuku, reputed for its 'interesting' nightlife. The plan sort of fell through when I started being approached every few metres by hustlers and yappers and shady-looking black guys trying to drag me to the nearest (certainly overpriced and probably dodgy) strip-club, or asking me if I wanted company (hopefully not theirs!). Not too much later, it was even more direct, as it became impossible to go a minute without being approached by some pimp with dyed-hair and sunglasses, or simply by prostitutes themselves (some of them so old and unattractive I wondered why they even bothered – then again, this being Japan, there's a market for anything I suppose), at which point I thought it best to seek refuge in a nearby manga/internet café. These institutions offer you a private "booth" (more like a cubicle) with an internet-connected PC, a table and a computer chair, or a more comfy lounge chair and PS2 if you're willing to pay extra (which I wasn't), as well as free drinks (score!) and access to an enormous library of Japanese comic books, for a mere ¥900 for 5 hours (night rate). During the day, people come to read and use these places as a cyber-cafe. However, during the evening it's mostly used as a cheap place to crash. I can't say it was the most comfortable place to get some rest (should have gone for the lounge chairs), but the price was very good (I certainly drank more that ¥900 of soda before leaving), and it did the trick.

Nearing 6am, I left to see the fish market at Tsukiji. Fate would have it that today was a "Regular Holiday" and it was closed (same thing happened to be when I went to the Asakusa Kannon Onsen yesterday!), so I settled for breakfast at a nearby fish shop which doubled as a small restaurant serving very fresh sushi (ie. you sometimes get to take a look at the fish which'll be in your tummy soon, swimming around the tank). Not being that hungry, I opted for quality over quantity and sampled a bit of the famed fatty-tuna (the most expensive sushi on the menu, generally not available in your average sushi restaurant), which went for ¥400 a piece (compared with somewhere in the ¥100-200 range for two sushi, for most of the other types of sushi on offer). The flesh as very tender, and had quite a subtle but pleasant taste. While it would probably cost a small fortune to have a serious meal out of it, the experience was thoroughly enjoyable.

So after a pleasant day in the Eastern Imperial Gardens, the evening was an interesting sandwich of sophistication, sleaziness, bizarre new experiences when it comes to sleeping arrangements, and a gourmet breakfast in an area smelling very fishy (in a good way). That's a pretty good way to end a trip.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Exponential girls bands

In the idle hours of morning, have been browsing the web. This is what I have discovered about Japanese music...

Morning Musume's recipe for (musical/other...) success:
1. Get loads of young girls to form a band.
2. Keep adding girls.
3. PROFIT!!!

Seriously, as the video (in the full post) below demonstrates, you're definitely taking it too far if you can make a song that lasts over six minutes just by introducing each band member...

Wrapping up the tourist life

What a(n expensive) day! I toured around the most controversial Yasukuni shrine (very beautiful), visited the possibly equally controversial Yushukan museum (ie. "We didn't actually start any of these wars and behaved in a just and civilised manner at all times"... then again, most of our history – or at least most people's perception of it – is quite similar in terms of "We're the good guys. We occasionally screw up, but overall our cause is glorious and good"). A most entertaining afternoon. I also picked up a copy of "I am a cat" by Sōseki Natsume, which I read on the train. I'm just 47 pages in, and it's been very enjoyable thus far. It makes me wonder why I didn't get a book to read on the train when I got here, given how much train-riding I've been doing. Actually, I have been dragging a copy of Stewart Shapiro's "Thinking about Mathematics". It's a very good read as well, but not exactly the ideal book for short bursts of reading on the train (not many philosophy books are... except the Tractatus, perhaps?).

After that, I went to an onsen/o-sentō (not sure how "mineral" the water was) in Kabukichō (in/near Shinjuku), of all places. The baths were nice (until I accidentally stepped into the electric one – again. They're relaxing, but you have to be mentally prepared for the weird sensation, and the even stranger feel in your limbs afterwards). And I had the pleasure (?) of having a hot bath in an o-furo shaped like a swastika. These symbols are very common in Japan, in the counter-clockwise form, to indicate Buddhist temples on maps (and on the temples themselves). However, this bath's shape was in the clockwise form, which an modern-german-history-aficionado friend of mine might be more familiar with. I wish I could have taken a picture, but – the place being full of naked people (as is generally the case in onsen and o-sentō) – that was unfortunately quite impossible.

I also had a 40-minute massage, which varied between interestingly pleasant and surprisingly painful, but in the end it left me feeling very relaxed (success!). Also, I think this place is probably the only place (or one of the few places) in Shinjuku where you can get the sort of massage your mother wouldn't disapprove of (unless she's very liberal minded about these things).

Anyway, got some nice photos and pictures of the Yasukuni-jinja experience, and a few random shots from around Shinjuku. I've been really lazy about posting these on the blog, but seeing as how I have nearly 400 high-res photos and a few hours of film, it's becoming a bit hard to cope. I'll upload the galleries onto my web page eventually, but I fear a lot of these (especially all the photos of my class) are going to remain for private use (and friends and family – those whom care to watch, anyway). If I get a more powerful computer (maaaybe... I have been bleeding money left and right these days, so that plan's on hold) and/or another external hard-drive (a bit short on storage these days – yeah... I probably shouldn't have spent another ¥2500 on pachinko this evening) I might patch all the footage together and upload it (at a lower res) onto the site (seeing how youtube probably won't accept a 3hr video, and it would be a pain in the behind to splice it up).

New Website!

With the purchase of iLife '08 and a .Mac account, I'm happy to announce that I finally have a website and the tools to make it non-fugly (or at least, not too much). Currently, you can visit it by following this link:, but soon (by the end of the week) it should be accessible from my own domain,

Thanks to the magic of embedded HTML, this blog will remain my main blog and be included on the site, since it's easier to update when I'm travelling or don't have access to my computer. So you will be able to continue accessing this blog (assuming anyone actually does) at the usual address, as well as through the main site.

The site itself is under (heavy) construction, but please don't hesitate to go over and browse around (if you want to).

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The end...

... of Eiken (for this year), at least. I can't believe four weeks have gone by already. Only a month ago, I arrived in Japan, and now all the teaching is over. It was really fun, especially the summer camp, where I got to teach the older kids (something I feel more complicated to do), while getting to have fun with the younger ones (nursery rhymes, pranks at lunch, playing chicken-fight in the pool, and spending every waking hour running after the little buggers to make sure they don't bowl someone over). Best of both worlds, really. And the food this past week was so amazing... gonna be hard to go back to the 7-11 routine for the next few days, and then cook for myself again (ugh). Anyway, just a few more days, including a quick trip to Osaka and Kyoto, and some omiyage shopping for the folks and family, and then it's back off to France. Time sure flies when you're having fun... I wish I could stay. Well actually, I could stay and teach English, or even try and get a real teaching job at the international schools (eventually). However, as fun as that'd be, I'm fairly certain I'm more into the whole academic thing these days. Maybe later (ie. when I've barely scraped or perhaps even failed a PhD, and am looking for a job, while having a huge debt to mop up).

Friday, August 10, 2007

Ending Eiken, and Tokyo Tower

I just got back from visiting Tokyo Tower, after a dinner with my friend Junko (one of the students from my 2003 Eiken spell, whom I've kept in touch with), in Hiroo. Dinner was good, and Tokyo Tower was arguably even better. It was a nice way to end off a busy week (class of twenty). I have a hard time believing it's all over already, with just a few days of summer camp to go. While keeping a group of eighteen kids in check is quite a task, I sure am going to miss it, or certainly some of them. There was a group of returnees doing all three weeks (or the latter two) that was particularly energetic an friendly, so it was a bit sad to see them go. Oh well, it's all further incentive to try and make time for some more Eiken next year, if I can find the time during a dissertation summer.

Monday, August 06, 2007

PGP for muppets such as myself

As you may recall from on of my previous posts on the matter of encryption, I've suited up for system for PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) goodness, by installing GNU's implementation of PGP, which goes by the name of GPG (GNU Privacy Guard). Acronyms galore...
The basic gist of it all is that GPG offers you a "pretty good" way of signing, encrypting, validating and decrypting pretty much anything a computer can read and store (files, email, text, etc). You generate a key-pair: a private key, and a public key, alongside an associated pass-phrase. You then stash the private key somewhere safe (presumably on your computer, although a thumb-drive or other removable media is ideal if you're very paranoid), and disseminate your public key to the public (duh) via email, your website, a blog post and/or a public key server (most of which sync their data every few minutes).

Your public key allows anyone to encrypt any file bound for your eyes only, as only your private key (used with your secret pass-phrase, it's fairly useless on its own, even if someone got their hands on it) will be capable of decrypting it. On the other hand, your private key (used with your secret pass-phrase), allows you to sign any text, which will allow anyone possessing your public key (or simply the capacity to connect to a public key server, provided your public key is on one), to verify both the integrity and origin of the data. The public key will not allow anyone to decrypt any files intended for your eyes only, nor will it provide malicious users with a way of forging your digital signature. Because of the asymmetric nature of this key-pair system, PGP gives your friends and contacts and easy way of communicating with you in a secure manner, without giving middle-men a chance to intercept information. You can even send encrypted data in plain text (it will appear as a large block of garbled characters), it won't make a difference. And in the worst case scenario, where someone gets a hold of your private key, they still need your pass-phrase. If you've used a non-dictionary pass-phrase, and generated a 2048 or 4096-bit key, it'll probably take them a loooong while to guess.

The OS X implementation of GPG is pretty swish. There's a very good walk-through of the set-up process, and how to use it, as well as links to required (free) software here: Configuring GnuPG (Mac OS X). You may want to (and probably should, unless you have a good reason), skip the "Key Generation" step, and simply use the "GPG Keychain Access" program – discussed in the article – to generate one for you. The graphical step-by-step interface for doing so is quite friendly (especially compared to the terminal).

Once you're sorted out with a key-pair, and perhaps have uploaded your public key on a server (which is doable through the "GPG Keychain Access" app) or shared it with your friends, then you can simply start using the power of PGP. For files, there's a great little app called GPGFileTool which is – surprisingly – not discussed in the Zeitform article. It has a welcoming graphical user interface, and you need do little more than drag and drop the file you wish to encrypt/decrypt/sign/validate onto the program icon in your dock, and follow the instructions. Pretty easy, eh?
Email security is just a few steps away as well, with the GPG plugins available for, and other common mail clients. I use the one, and it's quite simple and straightforward. An extra menu bar appears above all mail messages, offering you – through the use of checkboxes – to encrypt and/or sign your outgoing messages. It will decrypt incoming messages on-the-fly, simply prompting your for your pass-phrase (which can be stored in the Mac OS X keychain, although I wouldn't risk it). Very simply stuff, and all the details you know are in the Zeitform article.

I hope this blog post has been of some use to someone out there. The use of this is quite evident on an every day basis: when sending sensitive information, bank details or simply contact info you wouldn't want someone other than the recipient of the message to stumble upon, PGP's the thing to use. And thankfully, the tools available for OS X make that possible without having to use the command-line-interface even once, making the whole enterprise approachable to the slightly-tech-illiterate amongst us (myself included).

On Japanese mosquitoes

The following may come across as no surprise for anyone who hasn't had their rationality glands removed, but for some crazy reason, I think that – deep down – I expected Japanese mosquitoes would show some deference or consideration for a crazy gaijin who left his window open during a hot Tokyo night. But no, instead, those mosquitoes (or whatever the hell spent the night trying to get a piece of me) chose to sting the #*%&ing hell out of me all night long. What happened to all the goodwill, discretion and politeness one comes to expect here? On the other hand, maybe they were crazy radioactive mosquitoes or some magical bug of sorts (this is Japan, after all... I figure the odds are pretty good in my favour). Maybe I'll have cool superpowers by tomorrow. In the meantime, all I've got a damn itchy back/arm/face/argh/everything!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Views from Tokyo Part IV

On Saturday, I went for a stroll in the area around Ueno and Asakusa. It's quite an enjoyable part of Tokyo, with quite a few temples and a huge park, as well as more love hotels than you can shake a stick at (religion, nature and sex, huh? Only in Japan...). Here are a few pictures of it all, although I've got more views of the area in the form of footage. When (and if) I make it back to France, I'll compile all my Tokyo footage into one film, reduce it to a more server-friendly size, and upload it here. In the meantime, photos...

I love this building. It literally seems like they built the staircase and added the apartments as an afterthought.

A statue near Asakusa. Don't ask who it represents or why it has a red cloth... I'm not that interested in Buddhism, and couldn't really be asked to find out.

The main gate to the main shrine in Asakusa. Cultural, eh? I've been here before, about five years ago. Wow... time flies.

A tower-thingy in Asakusa. I'm going to refrain from further commentary until I have something vaguely interesting to say.

Aaah, your leafy escape from the hustle-and-bustle of the metropolis: Ueno-koen park.

Urban contrasts: a small shrine in Ueno-koen sits surrounded by an enormous lake, framed by the buildings and Tokyo University, seen in the distance.

A closer view at that shrine...

A salad field? No, that's actually one big-ass lake. Very refreshing, in the summer heat.

There's probably some story behind this stone, but I don't know it. Right next to the small shrine in the pictures above.

A more luminous shot of that stone.

The famous main auditorium of equally famous University of Tokyo. I'm not quite sure the whole place was open to visitors, so I sort of blagged my way in by simply entering through the main gate, looking like I knew what I was doing. Gaijin-license...

Another shot at this building. It's a shame that I didn't have time to take pictures of the other, more pleasantly designed (but less famous) buildings, but they're all on the video footage.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Ofuro time...

The apartment's hot-water boiler is broken, so I headed down to the local Sentō for a bath. Sentō are 'traditional' (well, I suppose this one is, although a lot are modernising to attract the increasing number of Japanese with baths in their homes) bathhouses where one essentially strips naked (sexes are segregated in virtually every Sentō these days), proceeds to thoroughly washing oneself in a designated area (a large row of taps and shower-heads; stools and buckets are provided) before heading for the baths themselves – having rinsed several times. The bath-water is hot enough to peel the skin off a rhino, and I don't fully understand how old Japanese men manage to stay in them for over twenty minutes, whereas I feel quite cooked after three or four. This may sound uncomfortable, but after two or three sessions of dipping into the boiling water, it's amazing how muscular tension seems to fade away. Afterwards, you can cool off in the lounge, where an archaic (but effective!) massage chair finishes the job off with a three-minute back-rub for a mere ¥20 (less than €0.15, or 10 pence). Entry to these fine establishments costs little more than ¥500 (5 bucks), so all in all, it's a pretty good deal. Feeling very relaxed...

Halt, PGPzeit!

I've finally gone the extra geek-mile and got myself all suited up for PGP (including my client), meaning that the paranoid security-conscious amongst you can now send me signed or encrypted email, files, etc...

I've generated two key-pairs for your pleasure use, for which you'll find the public keys below.

For (2048 bit encryption): (download key)
Version: GnuPG v1.4.7 (Darwin)


And the higher security version...
For (4096 bit encryption): (download key)
Version: GnuPG v1.4.7 (Darwin)


Of course, either key can be used to send messages to either email, or to encrypt any file coming my way. A copy of them should be on most public key servers anyway, in case you're too lazy to save these, or have software that manages all this just fine for you.

Speaking of which, if you're an OS X user, this stuff is actually incredible easy to set up on your system (aaah, the joys of UNIX-like systems), and to integrate to, etc... I'll make a post with some links in the near future.

That said, I don't think I ever plan on doing anything which really requires using PGP on a regular basis, but I'm sure it'll come in handy now and then.

On teaching English

I suppose it wouldn't be much a blog record of my time teaching in Japan if I didn't talk about the teaching a bit yet. In a nutshell, it's a fairly straightforward an easy job. I'm teaching Junior High, that's grades 7-8 (making the average age around 14-15ish, I guess). I teach five days a week, three 45 minute sessions a day (yeah, that's all) although I need to be at work from 9am (and start teaching at 9.30am) to roundabouts 3pm (although I typically get there around 8am-ish – don't ask why), and must eat lunch with the lovely bambinos. So all in all it breaks down to about 2h15 teaching, 2h30 break (including 1h30 where I don't need to supervise anyone or anything), and if you throw in the 15 minutes homeroom at the beginning and end of the day, and all the 5 minute breaks between classes, and the 30 minutes of prep and briefing at the beginning of the day, it all rounds up to a healthy 6 hours of "work". Effectively, preparing a day's worth of activities take 30 minutes, and out of the 135 minutes of teaching, I'm only talking for about 20-30 minutes and the rest is supervising assistants and group activities, so it's about an hour of what I'd actually call "work" per day. With a salary of ¥75,500 a week, that technically works out to the rate of a salary of ¥15,100 (about $150 or £75) per hour of honest work. If I wasn't such a nut for crazy academic topics, so bad at Japanese, and inapt (and rather unwilling) at fitting into a rigorous and formal society like that of Japan, I could totally see myself doing this sort of thing full time (that's a damn big 'if' though, so fat chance...).

The teaching itself is fun. The programme is more based on principles of encouraging English conversation and immersion into the language, rather than juku-like cramming for tests, so essentially I simply need to put the kids into a context where they can make conversation with one another (as well as with the assistants and me), and teach them some new vocabulary and sentence structures. Typically, this will involve demonstrating a model conversation or two between the assistants, then have the students ask each other questions based on the topic, and/or form original conversations of their own based on the vocabulary and sentence structure presented in the model conversation. Other activities include more action based activities (i.e. there's a cool sheet of weird challenges such as "Can you say 'thank you' in four languages?" or "Can you roll your tongue?", and the kids – having been introduced to the vocabulary, and well as expressions for asking someone to do something – must go around the school and harass the staff to have them perform the action for them and whatnot), a few short stories with question-and-answer sessions, and typically the day is wrapped up with a language-training board-game of sorts that either introduces some new vocabulary, or helps them revise the topical vocabulary covered during earlier sessions. To make all this even easier, I have an extremely small class (compared to previous years), with just eight kids for two assistants (and myself).

The true "challenge" is keeping everyone entertained and happy (I'm working for a commercial programme, after all – they want happy students, aka "potential future returnees"). It's always difficult to gauge how good some of the students are, since they're all fairly shy at first blush (pun intended) – a mix of being Japanese and, more importantly, being teenagers. Some of them have only been studying English at school for a few months, while others have either lived abroad, or been doing Eiken (this programme) for a few years, or had private English tuition or classes for few years. Fortunately, after a day or two (or, with this week's group, after about an hour), the ice is broken and (much) conversation ensues, making it easier to evaluate individual levels of comfort with the ol' English.

The kids also have 45 minutes of music class (in English), as well as sports (ditto). We have lunch with them, which is a great time for them to plague you with indiscreet questions about just about anything. Apparently, being French and American is sufficient for me to be qualified as a "hafu" (literally short for "half-breed"... ain't Japan great?). I thought the term was reserved for people that are genuinely of mixed ethnicity (I mean, you can't exactly call American a well-defined monolithic cultural heritage, being quite a melting-pot of ethnic groups). So far, I've managed to dodge the questions about my age, which may be the cause for some surprise for them. Some of the assistants thought I was in my mid-to-late 20s, which is a bit depressing (well, not that much, but ouch nonetheless).

Anyway, today (Tuesday) will be the 2nd day of my 2nd week of teaching. Still a bit under two weeks of teaching at ISSH to go, and then it's off to god-knows-where for a four-day summer-camp-type-thing, followed by a week of laid-back tourism around Tokyo. Maybe I'll finally get a chance to climb Mt. Fuji. Screw it... maybe I'll simply get a chance to finally see Mt. Fuji. Who knows?

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Views from Tokyo Part III

Yet another set of photos from places 'round Tokyo...

A shot from Shibuya. In a city seemingly designed with grey-lovers in mind, the most colour you can expect to find is in the leaves of a few trees, here and there, and in the flurry of advertisements and corporate banners/logos/digiscreens/etc... I like the contrast, here, between the naked white/grey building on the right, and the multi-coloured façades everywhere else.

Just your average glass-pane fronted building. I thought the idea of taking a picture of the reflected building, while using the windows as an alignment grid, sounded interesting enough to justify a snapshot. Artsy-fartsy, eh?

Now, don't ask me what this is. According to this:
it's a "fossil of the time". What time? Perhaps that oft'-talked-about "that time", or perhaps it's "the time" as in "THE time". You know, the one... you don't know? I don't know...

Another shot of it, for good measure.

Who said Tokyo wasn't green? I thought it looked good, how the buildings in the back seem to peek out from the trees.

A familiar view when coming from Shibuya station. Yes, the whole surface (including the side) is a big-ass screen. You've seen "Lost In Translation", right? Right?

More Shibs. Interesting visual mix of a broad, square building next to a thin, curvy one. But then again, a lot of Tokyoite architecture is interesting in a contrastive way.

Parliamentary elections tomorrow (Sunday 29th). Last-ditch effort on the part of this candidate to garner some attention. I guess he's running for a greener Tokyo (or was high when suggesting the van design). Errr... Aloha?

People meeting in front of Hachiko. Let's get a better shot of him...

Aaah, Hachiko. The meeting place in front of Shibuya station. I think the story goes something along these lines: Hachiko was some dude's dog. Dude leaves, tells dog to wait, dude never comes back, dog waits, dog dies, people build statue in honour of this allegoric instantiation of the virtues of persistence and faithfulness, much valued in Japanese society. Now serves as an easily spotted meeting place for locals and gaijin alike. Somewhere along the line, the message got lost, I suppose.

The (in)famous big 'X' crosswalk in Shibs, quite busy on this fine Saturday.

Yup. Very busy... Anyway, after taking these fine shots, and grabbing some lunch, I headed down to Akihabara for some nice snapshots of Akihabara Electric Town.

Only in Japan, ladies and gentlemen...
Well, actually I heard they had 'air guitar aerobics' in Germany. I'm not sure which is more disturbing.

You can buy just about anything electronics-related, in Akihabara. This stall specialises in surveillance equipment. If you look closely, you'll spot me taking the picture on one of the screens.

Initially, I took this picture to illustrate how the Japanese will build just about anywhere (earthquakes == instant death, in this shop, no?), but I now also realise how freaky that sign is. Would you go in?

This looks like Shibuya, but the EXIF data for this photo assures me I took this Akihabara (a computer wouldn't lie, would it now. Eh, Hal?). I guess everything really does look the same, around here. Anyway, just more of me being artsy by taking reflected buildings.

The pedestrian area around Akihabara Electric Town.

Man, that's a lot of a geeks. Although I guess I can't really say that in good faith...

Haha, I thought this was lovely. In Europe/US/etc, celebrities will plug products. Here, cartoon characters do the job just as well.

I know it looks like I took this picture because there was a Peugeot in it, but I honestly just wanted a broad shot of the road. Seriously!

In contrast with the above, more pedestrian roads in Akihabara. Load to buy here, if you want to build a computer, or indulge in weird adult fetishes...

A vertical view of the above.

"The Computer", eh? Now we know who really runs the country.

Perhaps because I've been reading one of Stewart Shapiro's books on mathematics recently, but the geometrical relations between the building's lines and the electric wires struck me as worthy of some attention.

That's one hell of a view from the first floor.

Back in Setagaya, more general geometrical artsy-ness....

What can I say? That's a really sweet design.

A house for those who really want to escape the fact that there are multi-storey buildings about 10 meters down the road, to the left and right.

They sure know how to handle gardens here. Or certainly, a lot better than I can handle taking pictures with longer exposures. The blurring makes the picture look a bit strange, so I kept it.

Ditto here. Between day and nightfall, this path seems a bit surreal.

I took this while frustratingly (and unsuccessfully) trying to set the exposure settings to capture the foreground as well. Despite not achieving this goal, I liked the outcome enough to keep the photo.

That's all for now...

Saturday, July 28, 2007

On bad coffee

Coffee in Japan is easy to come by. They love the stuff here. Well... mostly ice coffee. The problem, is that this coffee is american-grade weak, whereas I'm more of an espresso guy. So while the cans of ice coffee you find in vending machines (conveniently located every 10 meters, anywhere and everywhere in Tokyo) are cheap, at ¥120 (about a 0.80€, or 0.50£), I need a few during the day to get my dose. It's also hard to guess what you're getting based on the label... apparently, based on how "European bitter blend" tastes, europeans like their coffee week, milky, and super-sweet (they must be thinking of the british...); "quality roast" basically means "sh*t"; and "deluxe espresso" means "sugarwater + eau de brown crayon"...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Not so friendly ATMs

Goddamn... Today, I managed to misplace the remaining ¥6000 (roughly $60) of cash I had in my pocket, probably while rushing for a train to Shibuya. This really bites, since no Japanese ATM seems to want to accept my bloody PNC card, which means I'm completely moneyless until friday's pay... This really sucks.

Update: If ever I become famous in any function, this will be one for the history books. In the meantime (or more likely in lieu of this improbable eventuality), you can simply colour me stupid. It turns out, I had simply misunderstood the instructions, was putting my card in the wrong way, and can actually take cash out of the ATM at the 7-11 just down the road.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Views from Tokyo Part II

A few more photos of my strolling around Harajuku and Shibuya, yesterday. Took a lot of video footage. I'll look into getting a website of sorts to host them, when I have time...

I wanted to start a collection of crazy signs and shop names (of which there is an endless supply in this wonderful country). I'm not sure if "Candy Stripper" is the name of the shop, the name of a brand, a genuine advertisement for a candy-clad stripper, or simply some random English. Frankly, all options are very plausible.

More shop fronts. Seriously ill... Is that word still in fashion?

Errrr... yes? That's one seriously freaky rabbit. Why there's a shrine-like construct dedicated to its glory (or whatever) in the middle of a shopping district, I don't know.

Frank from Donnie Darko, anyone?

"Tornadoes, fresh from Kansas. Trip to Oz not guaranteed (see local head shop for further assistance)."

So, are they going to release all those balloons onto traffic or something? This is one rather unattractive building... I don't know why I took a picture. Maybe the balloons...

You've got some pretty interesting characters making the rounds, in Harajuku. Seriously, apparently these girls sometimes design these whole costumes themselves. The make-up must take some time too. As you can see, this one is going for the "bicentennial witch" look, very en vogue since the spring collection hit the stores. (If you're American and perhaps don't quite get sarcasm: yes, I'm joking).

There's something very disturbing about a shop called "Nudy Boy" advertising "SALE SALE SALE SALE"... I gotta submit this to

I'm not quite sure if this is the place where the well-to-do-and-slightly-arrogant shop, or whether the shop name seeks to evoke the poetic imagery of colourful berries resting on a blanket of freshly fallen snow. Maybe both...

The weird architecture geek in me comes out again. This Audi building has an exceptional design, as the pictures above and below hopefully show. It sort of reminds me of glitches on 3D engines, when some vertices get messed up and the surfaces go all funky like this. Maybe the architect played a lot of Half-Life.

(See above).

"The Royal Milk"... need we say more?

Quest Hall! The shop that caters to ye olde dragon-slaying, wizard-defeating, princess-saving princely crowd.

Gödel's incompleteness theorem, as illustrated by Japanese smoking regulations. Or maybe the signs on the side define the boundaries of a meter-wide smoking area, which automagically stop the cigarette smoke from travelling further.

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