Sunday, June 29, 2008


Excuse me while I gush about my PASMO! In my opinion, PASMO is the best thing to hit Japan since fried shrimp patty sandwiches found their way to McDonalds.

As anyone who has been to Tokyo can tell you, navigating all the separate commuter train and subway routes is hard stuff. It can be hard for Japanese people, not to mention “deer in the headlights” eyed gaijin who stare at the colorful matrix of squiggly route lines in utter confusion as grand central station swirls around them.

PASMO takes much of the confusion of having to stare at confusing route maps and buy exact fair tickets away. While transportation cards are nothing new in Japan, they were always with stipulations; such as, cardholders could only ride on the subway lines, or, cardholders could only ride within Tokyo proper, etc. Since many railways are owned by small private companies, oftentimes a pass wouldn’t work at smaller stations and with smaller independent lines.

PASMO (which was introduced last year…so it’s new to me) is standardized and can be used on virtually any line within the city big or small (as well as city busses and other modes of transport). You can buy a personalized pass with your name on it and recharge it with funds at nearly any ticketing machine. Plus, since the card is magnetized, it can be kept in your wallet when going through the ticket gate. All you have to do is hold your closed wallet up to the scan pad and within seconds you’re granted access, with the fare being automatically deducted from your account.

Needless to say, the PASMO is incredibly handy and it makes commuting in Tokyo as easy as I’ve ever known it. The only potential warning is that you have to be sure to keep track of your card balance by looking at the display screen as you leave the ticket gate. Since you’ll find yourself whizzing through any ticketing gate like it’s nobody’s business, money can drain quickly as you transfer from route to route.

Yay for technology! Yay for PASMO!


I was at the Sunshine City mall in Ikebukuro yesterday buying personal items when I stopped in the Toyota showroom to snap a few pictures. Here's a robot that plays the trumpet and performs shows twice daily. I hate to say it, but this robot seems like a blatant ripoff of Honda's ASIMO. I also think that this robot must have picked up the trumpet in an effort to compete with ASIMO, who recently conducted the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

Does it look like a female robot to you too?

I'm pretty sure this is the same single occupancy concept vehicle I took pictures of two years back. Oh well, it is still neat looking.

The Toyota concept vehicle up close. If you take a look back at science fiction, weren't we all supposed to be riding around in things like this in the year 2000? I'm still waiting...

Just like back home! They also have Seattle's Best coffee shops here in Japan in limited numbers as well.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Behold the coolest new phone on the planet! This robot phone is the Toshiba 815T PB (PB stands for Phone Braver). It is being sold exclusively by SoftBank and retails for around $300. Modeled after the character from the TV series K-tai Investigator 7, the phone makes many animated faces and talks in set phrases to convey its current emotion. The exoskeleton accessory shown in the picture lets you pose your phone in any position you'd like.

*Disclaimer: Please note that the 815T Phone Braver needs your assistance to move, dance, and play badminton. While incredibly lifelike, the 815T Phone Braver should not be used as a substitute for human companionship.

A neat display I passed for a trendy looking bar named "Sincerely." For some reason this reminded me of a high security vault from a spy movie.

Here's a closeup of one of the drinks, the "Negroni."

A temple I passed while walking somewhere in the Tokyo.

The koi in the pond outside a popular Asakusa restaurant have gotten so BIG! I guess that's what two years will do for you. They all wanted food. That much was clear. I love you P1 and P2!!!

Yesterday I saw lots of fellow white people around Asakusa. It's sad to say that my secret garden is fast being populated with filthy gaijin! Oh wait...I'm one of them too? In general I've seen lots of foreigners strolling around Tokyo (more so than I remember from before anyways). I think it must be a popular tourist time. Here's a boat that you can ride down the river on a sightseeing trip.

The famous Asahi Beer building in downtown Asakusa. Since I had never been up close and personal with the place I decided to take a stroll across the bridge and see it up close.

A closeup of the beer mug building itself.

A closeup of the Asahi Beer Hall. There was some sort of event going on so I wasn't let inside. The nearby Asahi Beer Garden Restaurant was also all booked up with patrons. The yellow squiggle ontop is supposed to be a flame that represents the "burning heart of Asahi Beer." Or the burning acid reflux you get when you down too many pitchers.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Great Cell Phone Caper

As I learned firsthand yesterday, these days it is hard to get a cell phone in Japan. It seems that a few years back the Japanese government, in a state of ever vigilant readiness against international terrorism, enacted a law that bars foreigners from purchasing cell phones of any type if they are unable to produce valid Japanese identification.

If my previous run in with the Asakusa police two years ago is anything to go by, the reasoning behind this is that foreigners will use said cell phones to order bomb making materials that they will then assemble and cart around in their backpacks while returning to the Asakusa Weekly Mansion in the dead of night.

But I digress.

In short, if you are staying in Japan for under 90 days and do not possess a government issued Alien Registration Card (外国人登録証明書), you’re fresh out of luck. My trip to Akihabara had me visiting stores for all three major cell phone distributors and being turned away at each.

As I had expected, I also learned that my old DoCoMo cell phone (neat as it is) is basically a glorified brick. Since DoCoMo doesn’t employ any prepaid cell technology, there is no way to resurrect my phone from the dead save for initiating a new contract, which presents even more logistical problems than trying to get the prepaid variety.

All set to write a Japanese friend with my tail between my legs, I decided to end my search with a trip to the local SoftBank shop in Asakusa just for kicks. SoftBank seemed like the better choice for a prepaid phone since I learned that AU (the other major distributor) denies customers purchasing prepaid phones both answering machine and text messaging services.

Here’s how the ultimate heist went down. Actually, that’s too dramatic of a setup for what follows. Since the visitor’s sticker posted in my passport shows the default of a full 90 days stay on it, I realized that there was no way to prove that I was only staying in the country for one month instead of three and thus ineligible to buy a phone. That is, until asked for the mandatory government issued registration card that long term residents must all carry.

When asked to produce it within minutes upon arrival, I basically had no option but to lie in Japanese. I told the kindhearted salesman that I had just arrived and was staying for 90 days but hadn’t yet received my ID from the ward office. I told him I was doing company interviews and wanted to buy the cell as soon as possible. Most of this stuff was actually true, except for the length of stay part.

He had to call headquarters and ask them if they could make an exception for the nice gaijin who can speak Japanese. Overhearing the conversation, the bigwigs on the other end told him to obtain every imaginable snippet of information from my passport that he could for identity verification purposes.

Here is when, once again, I was saved by my expired Japanese visa from two years past. Just like the customs officer, the cell phone store clerk Ishikawa-san stared at the passport page in confusion. Never mind the fact that the page clearly shows that the visa expired two years ago. I just kept quiet. He actually read the visa out loud to himself in both English and Japanese. He read over the expiration year of 2006 but it just didn’t register. This is likely because it was written in roman numerals and not using the Japanese calendar and Heisei year format.

This expired visa is like a skeleton key for the entire city. The next thing I’m planning to do is go to the Imperial Palace waving my expired visa around and claim to be a foreign dignitary.

Suffice it to say, within the hour I walked away with my new pre-paid cell phone (you can see pictures down below). The entire package (with the phone and prepaid card itself) was around 85 dollars, a steal compared to the multiple hundreds of dollars required for an extended rental.

In many respects this phone is nicer than my more expensive contract model from DoCoMo. Since it’s a 3G phone, it may be able to work in the U.S. with a new SIM Card (I’m unsure). The phone has lots of features including a camera, multimedia video, internet, etc., though I’m unsure if it charges your card for using these items.

In any event, I’m glad that I was able to put my Japanese to use as a liar. I’ve now broken the law. On the bright side, when the cops stop me with my backpack full of explosives, the cell phone will be the least of my worries.


Here's my new SoftBank phone in all its thin jet-black glory. I've named this phone Mentaiko after the pinkish spicy fish roe I love so much. This name would have made more sense were my phone the red color that I originally desired.

This phone is SUPER thin! I think it's slimmer than the Motorola RAZR.

A comparison shot with my new SoftBank phone (left) and old DoCoMo phone (right). They actually look fairly similar. The prepaid phone also came in my desired color of red, but it was out of stock. Since I was breaking the law to begin with, I decided not to push my luck on the colors.

The breakfast of champions!

"I love the smell of natto in the morning!"

Akiba Snapshots

Here are a few snapshots taken in Akihabara. I visited the electronics district yesterday as part of my "Great Cellphone Caper" (you can read about it up above). Since my priority was obtaining a cellphone, I didn't really look around a lot and check out the new items. I plan to do that on a return trip.



Here is a generic shot of Akihabara (or Akiba), Tokyo's world famous electronics district. I saw many tourists snapping similar pictures while looking around in awe. It's shots like these that capture the cramped, vibrant, overstimulating views for which Tokyo is famous.

Pretty much the greatest piece of electronic entertainment ever forged by human hands.

Yodobashi Camera in Akiba is one of the largest and most famous electronics stores in the city. One thing that caught my eye while wandering through the floors was this! I present to you the world's largest plasma screen television. This Panasonic VIERA measures a whopping 103 inches! I've already ordered two for my room.

In U.S. dollars the price comes to around $52,765.

Here is some sort of theme cafe straight out of Miyazaki's "Heidi: Girl of the Alps." I didn't have a chance to go inside and sample a sweet glass of mountain goat milk.

Asakusa Pics

Here is a random collection of pics I snapped while wandering around Asakusa's main drag. Please to maybe enjoy by honorably setting your eyes on them?

Thank you so much.


How much is that doggy in the window? One thing that has stayed the same in the area around my housing complex is the shop across the street that keeps their pair of pugs in the window for all the world to see. Sometimes our furry friends also like having special doggy relations for all the world to see.

Here are some origami rats for the year 2008. This is from a store that specializes in handmade paper decorations of various types.

Here are some origami Hello Kitty on display.

Another type of feline; a giant "Show me the money" cat.

In a fortuitous turn of events, I found myself walking in front of the Kaminarimon gate at the exact time the animatronic clock show was starting in front of the Asakusa tourism center. Look at how many people were waiting to enjoy the show. They should charge admission.

Here is the clock in front of the tourist center with the door already shut. This picture was actually taken after the show finished. Evidently the show lasted around 4 minutes.

The duo on the left-hand side are sporting a neat getup. I want a swan hat! Are those available in the gift shop?

Here is the main animatronic diorama making up the center of the Asakusa tourist center clock show. The group is shown hoisting up a mikoshi (portable shinto shrine) in true festival fashion.

Here's a closeup of the center diorama. Look, I'm represented! I'm the gaijin lifting the mikoshi with the blond hair!

The dolls to the right-hand side are holding up some sort of dragon kite thingy.

Here is my application and event information packet from Capcom. I love that the Japanese can predict when the mail will arrive to the exact minute. Japanese postmen must practice clairvoyance. Despite the comedy of errors that was me incorrectly reporting the housing complex's zip code, and the mailing person at Capcom jumping the gun and sending me the packet without first obtaining my room number, I still received the materials safe and sound. Again, it must be the clairvoyance thing.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Since I have to temporarily sit in my room and wait for my delivery from Capcom to arrive, here are a few pictures I snapped this morning while walking around trying to find a dry cleaners (which I was ultimately successful at!).

You may remember that my housing complex is located within walking distance from Ban-Dai's headquarters. I love taking pictures of the different character statues they have on display. Seems like they have added a bunch from their popular Tamagotchi (たまごっち) electronic key chain toys.

This flagship yellow Tamagotchi welcomes you to the company!


Here is the main display out front of Ban-Dai, featuring the dude from One Piece and a new arcade game just put into production.

Mario, the dog from Animal Crossing, and Keroro! Ban-Dai makes a wide variety of toys and figures for many companies including Nintendo.

The first of three Tamagotchi critters on display at Ban-Dai.

Tamagotchi number two! This guy (girl?) was my favorite of the bunch.

A cute flowery Tamagotchi.

Some things have changed in the area surrounding my beloved Asakusa Weekly Mansion since I have been here last. One new addition is this store dedicated entirely to selling different types of ribbons.

Or...this giant new Karaoke parlor directly across the street for instance. Guess this will be the place to go when I want to roll out of bed and get my song on.

The Adventure Begins...

Hi all! Just a quick post to say that I arrived safe and sound at my Asakusa Weekly Mansion in Tokyo, Japan. It is a little after 10 PM here. The good news is that I succeeded in staying up relatively late so as to counteract some of the effects of jetlag. The bad news is that my brain is literally mush.

Aside from some lukewarm coffee being spilled on my pants by an apologetic flight attendant, my trip from Seattle went without a hitch. They have a new machine at Narita Airport now that fingerprints you and takes your picture for immigration and counter-terrorist purposes if you are a non-citizen. The best part is that when it takes your picture it superimposes it over what looked to be a psychedelic colored Hello-Kitty background, so it effectively kills all the seriousness of the anti-terrorism measure.

Was I getting my mug shot taken or posing for one of those picture sets you’re asked to buy after finishing Splash Mountain?

My customs officer was super nice. He nearly waved me thru on my two year old expired VISA since he wasn’t really paying attention. After he stared at the thing for about two minutes he realized it was no good and mumbled some inaudible comments before giving me the high sign.

Rode the train to my apartment complex, which was definitely economical but also slow as snails. From the minute I stepped off the plane until now, I’ve pretty much been in a sort of fog. I think it’s because my internal clock is out of wack and I spent like 12 hours in transport today. I have just sort of been on autopilot.

I ran some errands tonight and ate some cheap soba, since they fed us three meals on the plane plus snacks. It finally became clear how tired I was as I found myself totally blanking out in front of a row of shampoos in the Japanese dollar store. I couldn’t tell them apart; my brain was so tired that it didn’t even want to process Japanese.

I’m going to get some rest.

Tomorrow is cell phone hunting.

More to come soon.

You can bet on that!


Thursday, June 19, 2008

One Week and Counting...

In one week's time I will be back in Japan, re-experiencing the luxurious comfort that only a broom closet-style room at Asakusa's Weekly Mansion can provide. If you are asking yourself why I would choose to return to such lodging after narrowly escaping with my sanity two years ago, the answer is simple...IT'S CHEAP!!!

In other news, I just found out by checking my online reservation that there was an inability to book me a window seat on my United flight to Tokyo. Thus, I'll be confined to the middle of one of those super long rows near the back of the plane for 11 hours straight. I hope for comical purposes that two immensely obese people sit on either side of me, while a screaming baby kicks my seat from behind.

Finally, I recently added a new poll feature in the right-hand column. I plan to periodically add new poll questions, so feel free to click an answer and participate. The current poll asks you to name your favorite film from master Japanese animation director Hayao Miyazaki.

Miyazaki's newest film "Ponyo on the Cliff" (崖の上のポニョ) opens this July in Japan. I very much hope to see it in my free time.

Till next time, my preparations for job interviews must continue!


Thursday, June 05, 2008


Replace the beard growth with 9 months of uncut jewfro and up until recently I bore a strikingly eerie resemblance to LOST’s Jack Shepard, rambling and screaming wildly about how I must return to the “island” I never should have left. At least I haven’t picked up my alcoholism and pill addiction yet.

After close to a year of meandering and indecisively dragging my feet on the Japan front since my college graduation, I have decided to return to Japan…well, for a little while at least.

I will be heading overseas at the end of June (the 25th to be precise) and will be staying in Japan for approximately one month. This trip for me is a decidedly different affair from my previous cultural-exchange visits, as this time I will be heading to Tokyo with the specific goal of securing a fulltime job.

(Cue dramatic music!!!)

I have my tickets for a Japanese career fair, have recently submitted my videogame music demo to Nintendo in Kyoto, and even have an interview lined up with my favorite Japanese porn company.

It should be an interesting trip.

I certainly hope you’ll join me on the blog for whatever stories and adventures happen along the way.

More to come soon!