Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Survival of the Fittest

So I made it through my first day at Amazon... alive! :) Seriously, I loved it, but I am too tired to write anything now. Maybe an end-of-week omnibus post.

--Glover out

Monday, November 28, 2005

Mr. Nose, meet Mr. Grindstone

So it looks like Amazon got all of my materials assembled two days early, and I will be starting tomorrow (Tuesday, 29 November) instead of Thursday! So I have to catch a train tomorrow morning at 07:30 at my friendly neighbourhood train station, Ishikawa-cho. For those of you who can read Japanese, you might be interested to see the exact route I will take tomorrow (scroll down to 経路2).

A steaming bowl of ramenI learned this news just this morning, at about 10:00, right after I had scheduled my 入社前検診 (nyusha-zen kenshin, pre-employment health checkout) at the Tokyu Clinic (yes, that is the same Tokyu that owns the department store of the same name, the Tokyu Toyoku train line that connects Yokohama and Shibuya, and about a gajillion yen (roughly a zillion dollars) of real estate in Tokyo) in Shibuya. This sent me into a flurry of activity. First, I called Ota and arranged to meet him at 13:00 for lunch at a cool little ramen-ya (ramen shop, but this ain't your five-for-a-dollar instant crap ramen that college students know so well--no, this is the real thing) by his office in Naka-Meguro (a district in Tokyo). Then, I spent a good 45 minutes compiling a history of the musical guests on "Chappelle's Show" (good use of time there--idiot). Add 30 minutes for doing my typical morning Internetting, 20 minutes to shower and dress, 15 minutes to assemble everything I would need for my day in the Big City, and you would get me running for my life to catch a train that would get me to Naka-Meguro in time to meet Ota for lunch.

As luck would have it, I did make my appointment, but forgot my digital camera, so no nifty slideshow of my trip this time. Sorry 'bout that. ;)

Retro Gaming HacksOta and I had a good time, what with the wonderful ramen (I had miso ramen, and he had kimchi ramen) and the conversation. He is headed back to the States for most of December, so I came up with a crafty plan to send Kohler a copy of "Retro Gaming Hacks", which he and several contributers will sign, then he will mail it to Ota's parents' house in DC, then Ota will bring it back to me in Japan when he returns at the end of December. He will, of course, sign it at some point while it is in his possession. Then, at the next TLUG technical meeting, we will put this collector's gem up for auction.

I am also trying to sell O'Reilly on a book idea--if I can get them to bite, you might just see my name on the cover of a published book this time! :) Details to follow if I am successful. If not, well, we never had this conversation. In fact, I don't even know you. I have no recollection of that fact. Etc.

So anyway, back to my story--I got sidetracked because if I do end up writing this book, Ota will be heavily involved, being a professional video game programmer and all--we finished our tasty lunch, exchanged some chit-chat with 高橋さん (Takahashi-san), the proprietor of the ramen-ya, then walked back to Ota's office. So now I know where it is. :) Ota and I parted company at that point, and I returned to Naka-Meguro Station to catch a Tokyu-Toyoku Line train for Shibuya.

I arrived at Shibuya Station at about 14:15, and spent the better part of 45 minutes trying to find the Tokyu Clinic, which was supposed to be in the Tokyu Plaza, which was supposed to be right next to the station. Rule Number One for finding places in Tokyo: allow at least an hour to find a place you have never been to before. Rule Number Two: ask for directions at every convenience store and koban (police box) you encounter.

Seeing as how my appointment wasn't until 16:00, I went to a nearby Starbucks, ordered a Tall Cappucino (yeah, I'm a coffee wuss every now and again), and kicked up my heels with my copy of "Firefox Hacks". For all of five minutes, until I remembered that I had to buy plane tickets for Lyani and I so that we could attend my sister Rachel's wedding in January! I called up two different travel agencies that had given me quotes last week, got the best price (from GM Travel, if you must know--though No. 1 Travel was also excellent--both agencies have English-speaking staff), and placed my reservation. ANA direct from Narita to Dulles, flying in style. Er, flying in economy class, that is--unless any of my lovely, generous readers want to give me frequent flyer miles for a business- or first-class upgrade! ;)

And then I finished my coffee (if you can actually call cappucino coffee), read a couple more hacks, and then went up to the Tokyu Clinic. (It is on the eighth floor of the Tokyu Plaza building, so it really is up! Great views of Shibuya from up there, by the by.) I had to fill out some health history in Japanese, which was fine except for the part where they asked me about various diseases running in the family--not only could I not read the kanji (except for the dreaded 癌: gan, cancer), but when I asked the receptionist to read them for me, I had no bloody idea what any of them were, anyway. Luckily, the receptionist had pity on me and exempted me from filling out that section. Then I waited until my appointment. Sitting in the waiting room, I was treated to a revue of the most popular Japanese family names: a Suzuki was called, two Satos, a Yamada, a Watanabe, a Takahashi, and so on. And then, a Glover. I was thinking how I had never heard of that family name when I realised that it was actually mine ("Glover" is pronounced "Gurabaa" in Japanese--グラバー for those of you who can read katakana).

Screwing my courage to the sticking point, I followed the diminutive nurse into Exam Room 1. Where I was promptly instructed to remove my shoes, empty my pockets, etc. so that my height (176cm) and weight (76.8kg--I've lost weight!) could be measured. Oh yeah, she was nice enough to ask me if I spoke Japanese first. To which I replied, "A little, maybe." Then it was onward to another room, where I was ushered into a soundproof booth and given headphones and a thumb-button to press when I heard a sound in the aforementioned headphones. I passed the hearing test with flying colours (according to the exam sheet, I could hear perfectly in the 1000Hz - 4000Hz range), then received a vision test, at which I did less well. The vision test was not like the American ones where you have to read lines of letters, each one smaller than the last; no, it featured only one letter, a capital "E". All one had to do was report whether the "E" was pointing to the right (a normal "E"), the left (reversed), up, or down. So there were 12 "E"s in various orientations, each one smaller than the last. With my left eye covered, I could read the first 10 of the little buggers. With my right eye covered, I think I got four of them. :) This gave me a score of 1.2 for my right eye and 0.4 for my left. I am guessing that a score of 1.0 corresponds to the American 20/20, and scores above 1.0 are good and ones below are bad. The last time I had an eye exam in the States, my right eye was 20/15 (great) and my left eye was 20/80 (terrible).

Finally, I had my blood pressure measured (112/66, not bad at all), then it was in to see the 先生 (sensei, "doctor" in this context; sensei can also mean "teacher", "mentor", or it can be used simply as a title showing respect for someone you consider your better) so that she could listen to my lungs. I am happy to report that I at least understand when someone says, "take a deep breath" in Japanese. :)

After passing the exam, I walked back across the street (or, more accurately, over the street--hurrah for elevated crosswalks) to Shibuya Station and took a Commuter Express train on the Tokyu-Toyoku Line back to Yokohama. I went home, collected Lyani's ATM card (she is currently the main breadwinner in the family, so I use her money! ;) and commuter pass (hers is for Ishikawa-cho Station to Sakuragi-cho Station--exactly the route I needed to take), then caught a train back to Sakuragi-cho, so I could use the Tokyo-Mitsubishi Bank ATM that is located in the basement of the Landmark Tower. (For more information on Japanese ATMs, take a look at this entry in Ota's blog.)

And why, you might ask, did I need to visit the ATM? To pay for my plane tickets, of course! You see, credit cards have not really caught on in Japan. GM Travel would actually accept them, but for a 5% service charge. And when you are spending $1500 on plane tickets, 5% is actually real money. So, when you buy stuff in Japan over the phone, you typically pay for it by transfer the cash directly from your bank account to theirs. And that is what I did. Unfortunately for me, the English language help for these ATMs covered only deposits and withdrawls, not transfers. So I took a deep breath and bravely pushed the 振込 (furikomi, transfer) button on the ATM. Luckily, I had done this once before, with a bank employee helping me, so I was able to slog my way through it. I probably took ten minutes to do what should have been a one- or two-minute transaction, but when you are transferring ¥175,940 ($1,468.86 / €1,253.46 as of markets' close today) out of your bank account and into somebody else's, you want to make right sure you don't bollocks things up.

Hopefully I did not. In any case, I returned to Sakuragi-cho Station and took a train to Kannai, where I got off so I could walk down the Isezaki pedestrian shopping street to the ¥99 store and pick up more bags of mikan--basically the Japanese version of a tangerine. From there, I walked home, stopping off at a little noodle shop that Lyani and I like to pick up some カツ丼 (katsudon--fried pork cutlets over rice) and 天ぷらうどん (tempura udon--a battered and fried prawn in a bowl of tasty soup and thick noodles) on the 持ち帰り tip (mochi-kaeri is the Japanese version of "to go"--which reminds me of a funny story).

So here's the funny story, courtesy of Lyani's university classmate Misho (a Bulgarian who grew up in Central London). He was in a McDonald's shortly after he had come to Japan, and was trying to explain that he wanted his food to go. He did not know the word "mochi-kaeri", so he had quite a time of it. Finally, the Japanese guy behind the counter understood him, and said, "a, omochi-kaeri desuka?" ("ah, you want that to go, oh honoured customer?"). Misho, overjoyed at the prospect of being allowed to purchase his food, said "hai". Upon which the McDonald's employee turns around and yells, "tsu go purizu" (say it out loud, I think you will understand what it means). You see, at McDonald's the employees are trained to use "English" to make a "more international atmosphere". Of course, this being Japan, no-one can actually understand the "English" they are "using". And that is enough sarcastic use of quotation marks for one night.

And I should probably go to sleep soon, as I have a long train ride to look forward to too early tomorrow morning! :)

--Glover out

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Amazon Start Date

My first day at Amazon will be Thursday, December 1! I can't hardly wait!

I am off to the train station today to buy a six-month commuter pass, which will cost a mint, but will allow me unlimited travel between my neighbourhood station, Ishikawa-cho, and Ichikawa-Shiohama Station, which is right next to the Amazon distribution centre where I will be working. Luckily, Amazon, like most employers here in Japan, pays a commuting allowance, so I will get reimbursed for the several-hundred-dollar commuter pass. I'll be sure to post an update with the extent of the damage here once I get the pass! :)

Update: As promised, here is the amount I had to pay for my commuter pass: ¥121,220. That is, at the current rate of exchange, $1,013.21 (or €864.36 for those of you in Europe)! Holy gold-plated Suica card, Batman!

And that is why Japanese companies pay their employee's commuting costs. :)

When I was out buying my commuter pass, I saw a fire-juggling and -eating gaijin entertaining a huge crowd over by the Landmark Tower. I am not sure what was more impressive, his juggling skills or his perfect Japanese! Colour me green with envy!

A Very Japanese Thanksgiving

A belated Happy Thanksgiving to all of my American readers!

You may be wondering about Thanksgiving in Japan, whether it is celebrated at all, and if so, how? Luckily for you, when you got questions, I got answers. Just call me Radio Shack!

As it turns out, there is a Japanese version of Thanksgiving: November 23 is "Labour Thanksgiving Day", a national holiday for honouring labour. So think of it as a socialist thanksgiving! ;)

The Japanese do not eat turkey on their Thanksgiving, or on the American one (well, Japanese who have spent time in America might, but it is not a popular thing). Luckily for Americans in Japan, I found that import grocery stores do stock a few frozen birds around our Thanksgiving.

So how did Lyani and I celebrate Thanksgiving? Well, we actually felt up to a turkey dinner, but I could not find pre-cooked turkey meat at any of the grocery stores in our area, and we had neither the time nor the oven to roast a frozen bird. So we ended up having a somewhat non-traditional feast: grilled-cheese sandwiches (with imported red cheddar cheese from New Zealand!), Campbell's tomato soup, and Lay's Sour Cream & Onion potato chips. While we enjoyed these fixin's, we watched an episode of "The X-Files" from Season Nine. Spooky!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Yatsu Update

By a strange twist of fate, Yatsu has achieved some limited fame from his appearances in this humble blog. First, he was contacted by FTD Florists, who were interested in having him appear in a "Delivered by us from you with love to her" advertisement. Then, a Japanese travel agency contracted him to do a series of spots advertising various romantic vacation destinations in Europe. Click here to see these features and a few of Yatsu's latest adventures.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Happy Happy Happy Happy Anniversary!

Today is Lyani's and my second third anniversary! Allow me to explain.

You see, Lyani and I have two wedding anniversaries a year. September 6 is the anniversary of our legal marriage (we were married by a Justice of the Peace in Williamsburg in 2002), and November 23 is the anniversary of our marriage ceremony in Harrisonburg in 2002. We tend to celebrate only the first one, but we remember to say "Happy Anniversary!" on the second, as well.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Street Legal

Street Legal: view slideshow
As of Tuesday, November 22, I am legally authorised to work in Japan! I got an email Tuesday morning from Price Waterhouse Coopers--who were handling my visa application for Amazon--telling me that I had the visa, and to let them know how I wanted to get my passport back. I decided to waste no time, but to go into Tokyo myself that very afternoon to pick it up.

Instead of a traditional blog entry, I have put together a slideshow over at KodakGallery.com that will show you my trip at the same time the captions tell you about it. So click this link to get started. You can click the "Play" button at the top right to start an automatic slideshow, or use the right arrow button to move ahead a picture at a time. If you are in slideshow mode, and it moves to the next picture before you have time to read the caption, despair not! Just click on the "Pause" button that replaced the "Play" button at the top right, then use the back arrow to move back to the picture with the long caption. Once you have finished reading the caption, you can resume the slideshow by clicking the "Play" button again.

Also, if any of the pictures strike your fancy, you can purchase a print or two by using the drop box at the top left (the one that says: 4 x 6" - $0.15) and the "Add to Cart" button.


Monday, November 21, 2005


Fellow TLUGger Ion Mudreac pointed me to Robert X. Cringley's latest "i, cringley" column, entitled "Google-Mart". While I admit to suspecting at times that Cringley is a bit too fond of the sound of his own voice, he often makes sense, and this column is a stellar example of a damned clever bit of reasoning. Time will tell if he is right.

I for one would welcome our new Google overlords. I like a company that has made bucketloads of money by giving consumers what they want, and you've gotta love their motto: "Don't be evil."

Thursday, November 17, 2005


Last night, Lyani and I were heading down the block for some お持ち帰り (omochi-kaeri: take-out) when what to our wondering eyes should appear but a man passed out on the street corner! The guy was sprawled on his stomach at full-length, and two chaps were standing there by his prone form. One of these chaps looked suspiciously like a certain friend of Lyani's from the IUC. We walked downstairs, and sure enough, it was Lyani's friend. He gave us the low-down.

"The guy just collapsed there," said he.
"Drunk?" I asked.
"Almost certainly," he answered.
"In our upscale neighbourhood?" I enquired sarcastically.
He chortled. "Yeah, he must have just gotten fired from his job as a high-powered stockbroker on the Japanese equivalent of Wall Street." (The drunk man was certainly not wearing a suit.)
"So is he alright?" Lyani, ever the humanist, inquires.
"Yeah, do you want us to send the keisatsu (po-po, 5-0, cops) up this way?" I asked.
"Um," said he, "actually, the guy seems to think he is alright just lying there, on the corner of the street."
"He was talking?" Lyani was amazed.
"Yeah, more like mumbling, but he is conscious."
I laughed and said, "OK, I guess we'll be on our way, then. Good night."

Just another day in the life of a resident of Kotobuki-cho.

I am a CatI just finished reading NATSUME Souseki's "I am a Cat" (Three Volumes in One) (夏目漱石著吾輩は猫である) a few days ago. It is absolutely hilarious, funnier even than "Botchan", about which I wrote in a previous blog entry. The only drawback is that I read all three volumes at once, something that I would actually not recommend. There is only so much one can take of intricate social commentary from the viewpoint of a cat; in fact, this is most likely why NATSUME killed off his feline hero at the end of Volume III, Chapter IV, despite the fact that the stories ("I am a Cat" was originally published as a serial in Hotoguisu (Cuckoo), the leading literary magazine of the late Meiji period). So by all means, read this book. Just do it a volume at a time!

Finally, several of you have asked me questions about foreigners in Japan recently. And I have given you answers which turned out to be less-than-accurate. So let me set the record straight!

This page has a wealth of data, current as of 2003. It turns out that there are just under two million registered foreigners (i.e. legal aliens, Englishmen in New York, etc.) living in Japan, comprising 1.5% of Japan's population (127 million people). The highest concentration of said gaijin is found in Tokyo, unsurprisingly. Of these foreigners, 74% are Asians (32% Koreans, 24% Chinese). South Americans weigh in next, at 18% (mostly Brazilians), and a goodly number of these are Nikkei, second-generation Japanese who have returned to Japan after their parents emigrated to South American following World War II. Now we get to Westerners, who make up just 7% of the total number of foreigners. Of this 7%, 3% are North Americans (2.5% US citizens) and 2.6% are non-Russian Europeans.

Of these non-Russian Europeans, a full 35% (of the 2.6% of the total foreign population) are Brits. 13% are French, 9.5% are German, about 5% are Italian, 5% Irish, 5% Spanish, 5% Beneluxian (Benelux is Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg), and 5% Scandinavian. This leaves about 17% for others, meaning, in this case, mostly Eastern Europeans. Let us assume that one-fifth of this 17% are Bulgarian (a ridiculously high estimate). That would translate into roughly 1700 Bulgarians living in Japan, versus 48,000 Americans. This would mean that about 0.005% of Bulgaria's population of 7.5 million live in Japan, versus 0.01% of America's population of 300 million. So it is not possible that there are more Bulgarians, per-capita, in Japan than there are Americas, as I erroneously stated there might be.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Web Comics Review

I think that User Friendly has gone downhill in recent years, but today's comic was quite wonderful!

User Friendly

Which is as good excuse as any to introduce you to the webcomics that I read on a daily basis!

Alpha-Shade - an online graphic novel that starts out in a slightly anacronistic fantasy kingdom, than after nearly 100 pages, jumps forward in time to a world very much like ours. But populated with cats with mystical powers. Just read the comic, you will understand. If you have about an hour, start at the beginning (follow my link, then click on the button labelled "First" right below the comic) and get current. Otherwise, only the wonderful art will make sense to you. :) My only complaint with Alpha-Shade is that it is only updated twice a week or so, on average. Still, the art and story are top-drawer, so I am patient!

Ctrl+Alt+DelCtrl+Alt+Del - a webcomic that mixes many of the different flavours of geekdom together, with splendid results. It is about video games, computers, and Linux, features exquisite art, more continuity than its fellow gaming comic Penny Arcade, and a large dose of The Funny. I would recommend that you start at the beginning if you have not read Ctrl+Alt+Del before, just so you can meet all of the characters and catch up on the story. If you don't feel like doing that, just jump right in with today's comic and start reading from there. The jokes still work, you will just be missing some background. Ctrl+Alt+Del gets new comics every couple of days; there does not seem to be a set schedule.

DilbertDilbert - not really a webcomic, as it is published in pretty much every daily newspaper in the US through the miracle of syndication. However, any discussion of webcomics will mention Dilbert, because its author, Scott Adams, understood the power of the Internet back in 1996, when no-one else knew what to make of it, Bill Gates included. As such, Dilbert.com has been around for a long time, and has offered lots more than simply reprinting the daily strips. Some people say that Dilbert is getting stale; I have not seen that. I continue to read it every day, and it is rare that it fails to get at least a chuckle. Dilbert is updated daily (with the same strip that hits the newspapers--they stopped that week-long delay a few years back), but the archive only gives you a month's worth of older strips. I suppose it is Amazon to the rescue.

FoxtrotFoxtrot - again, not a webcomic, but Bill Amend's grasp of technology and even Linux leaves nothing to be desired. Foxtrot is consistently funny, and is updated daily. The only downside is that the archive only ponies up the previous two weeks' worth of comic strips, so I suppose you must buy the dead trees if you want to start reading Foxtrot from the beginning of time.

MegaTokyo - this used to be my favourite webcomic of them all, mainly because the artist captures the essence of living in Japan so perfectly. Unfortunately, while his art has improved (not that it was bad to start with), the comic itself has taken a noticable hit in quality in the past two years, mainly due to over-the-top melodrama. Still, it is probably worth reading. It is definitely funny, and can be quite moving at times to boot. MegaTokyo is theoretically updated every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but that rarely happens on any two consecutive weeks. So it might be best to read MegaTokyo every few months from the archive, so you can read more strips at once, and not lose the thread of the storyline.

Penny ArcadePenny Arcade - the 900 pound gorilla of webcomics. Penny Arcade is hugely popular (something like four million different people hit the site every day!), and for good reason. It is about gaming, mainly the electronic variety, but Tycho has been known to roll twenties. It is also beautifully drawn and coloured. It is funny, it is witty, and it is quite profane, so readers of this site that don't dig the F-bomb should probably steer clear. If you have never heard of Penny Arcade, shame on you! Get over there right now and start reading! If you have heard of Penny Arcade, but think it is not for you because you don't game, shame on you! If you like funny stuff, get over there right now and start reading!

User FriendlyUser Friendly - the webcomic that started this whole entry. If you are a Unix geek, head over there right now and start reading! Others should not even bother. The art has improved from those early days, but it has only gone from absolutely repulsive to just bad. The jokes are only funny to Unix geeks, and as of late, they are often not even funny to us. I blame this on the fact that the creator is Canadian.

Yet Another Earthquake

This was the biggest quake that has hit Japan since we have been here, but it was also the farthest away, so it felt like all the others here. It looks like it shook up some half-metre tsunamis on the northern coast, but no damage and no casualties have been reported.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

TLUG Technical Meeting, November 2005

Yesterday afternoon (or Saturday, November 12, 2005, for those of you who like to use an absolute time scale), I gave a presentation on Subversion, an Open Source revision-control tool, at the November 2005 Technical Meeting of TLUG, the Tokyo Linux Users Group.

I convinced Ota and Nikolay to come to the meeting (for morale support), so I met Nikolay at 12:45 at Yokohama Station, where we caught a Tokaido Line train up to Shinbashi Station. From there, we transferred to the Tokyo Metro Ginza Subway Line, and rode up one stop to Ginza Station, where we met Ota at the A-3 exit, and walked down a few blocks to Wall Street Associates Japan, which is kind enough to host the TLUG technical meetings.

I set up my laptop, a lengthy process that involved connecting my mic, webcam, mouse, power, and finally plugging into the projector. Then, of course, I had to move the whole setup, since it was in the way of the projector, and we had to move the projector back to make the picture bigger, etc. By the time the meeting actually got underway, it was 14:15 or so. TLUG technical meetings officially start at 14:00, but this has not actually happened at either of the two meetings I have been to thus far.

I gave my talk, which took about an hour and 20 minutes, or a good 20 minutes too long, but it was pretty well-received. I was recording the presentation with my webcam, so I have video! (Now I just need a place to put it up on the web, so you can watch it. Stay posted.) I have watched some of the video, and I looked relaxed and knowledgeable. Which is how I felt while giving the talk, but you never know. :)

After the intermission, I gave a quick demo of Virtual BookShelf, a piece of library software that Ed Beranek, a colleague of mine at TFCC wrote and I have been hacking on for the past few weeks to make it useful for TLUG's purposes. Hopefully, we will have that live in a couple of weeks.

Then, the second presenter, Martin Parm, gave a talk on Portage, which is the package system for the Gentoo Linux distribution (my favourite distro, for those of you who are in the know). I found his talk quite interesting and well-done.

After the meeting, a good many of us went over to a nearby izakaya (the Japanese version of a pub: you sit around a low table, drink beer, and eat tiny plates of food) for a nomikai. The nomikai is one of my favourite parts of Japanese culture. The characters that make up the word 飲み会 mean "drink" (飲み) and "meeting" (会). So a nomikai is a "drinking meeting", something that we had on a quite regular basis back in Kanazawa. In fact, when you asked someone if they had plans for the evening, they were likely to respond, "nomikai on the go-kai", or "drinking meeting on the fifth floor". Ah, those heady days of complete irresponsibility, how I miss them!

Anyway, back to yesterday's nomikai. About 16 of us made it over from the meeting (about half of the people who came), proving just how important beer is to geeks. We got seated by around 17:45, and discovered that drinks were half price until 19:00 (not that it mattered to me, since speakers are treated!). Wasting no time, a waiter was displached with the orders, "keep the beer coming!".

We split up into two groups and sat down at adjoining tables. I was with Nikolay, Zev (the current president of TLUG), Allen (a chap who, like my good friend Ryan O'Neil, went to RIT), a chap from the Philippines whose name I did not catch, a chap from Finland whose name I also did not catch, but who went to Kanazawa-daigaku for five years at the School of Engineering, and Ion, a Moldovian who has also lived in Romania for quite some time. So we were quite the international group. Conversation was lively and profane, as you might expect from geeks who are trying to down as many half-price beers as possible before the 19:00 deadline.

And the food! We had edamame (boiled green soybeans), yakitori (grilled chicken bits on a skewer), karaage (fried chicken bits), lots of different varieties of fried potatoes, flash-fried salmon, and so on. Yummy!

Mauro Sauco, my boss from Amazon, also showed up. He is a fun guy, and he and Ota and I got in a deep conversation about a topic which now completely escapes me. He and Ota started out speaking Spanish (Mauro is Argentinean, and Ota is the son of a diplomat and thus spent his childhood in El Salvador, Mexico, etc.), then switched to Japanese, at which point I could participate. Again, I have no idea what I actually said, but I am sure it was some insightful, meaningful shit. So there!

At some point, I realised that I was going to be late getting home, so I said a hasty round of good-byes and bolted back to Ginza Station, where I went back to Shinbashi to catch a Tokaido Line train back to Yokohama. I got back to Yokohama alright, but then managed to get on a train going the wrong direction. Twice. Wow, what a moron. I finally made it home, at which point I told Lyanka that she had to come to the next TLUG nomikai, homework or no homework!

Nikolay emailed me today and told me that he convinced a few hardy souls to go clubbing in Roppongi, and after that, a few truly hardcore chaps watched the Australia - Eruguay football (soccer) match. Damn!

Blogs Everywhere

Everyone has a blog these days, and Chris Kohler (a friend of mine from Kanazawa, for those who do not know him) is no exception! He had been blogging over at Pitas.com for a while, then content there petered out. He managed to avoid telling me about his new blog, Game|Life, but I have ways of finding out. Everybody talks.

So the discovery of Kohler's new blog has given me a good excuse to give the readers of my humble ranting a treat. Here is a run-down of other good blogs (see how I make assumptions?).

Game|LifeGame|Life - OK, I have mentioned this blog, but unless you know Kohler, you don't know what the blog is about. So allow me to bless you with that knowledge, my babies! Kohler writes about video games. He is a Video Game Journalist. Older readers of this blog may be shaking your heads in amazement that such an occupation exists. But exist it does, and Kohler makes a living at it! Then again, I make my living by programming, which is as much fun for me as eating chocolate cookies is for little kids. That aside aside, Kohler's writing is engaging and amusing. Even if video games are not your raison d'etre, you will probably enjoy Kohler's blog if you are even a casual player of games. If you are interested in a more scholarly treatment of video games, try Kohler's "Power Up: How Japanese Video Games Gave the World an Extra Life" (which I am sure I have mentioned on this blog before). If you miss the good old days of gaming, perhaps Kohler and friends (including Ota and I) can help; to wit: "Retro Gaming Hacks".

Nobunaga OtaNobunaga Ota - my university roommate, Robert Ota Dieterich's blog. He is currently living in Japan and working for iNiS, a Tokyo-based video game developer. His blog is interesting reading if you a) know Ota, b) are interested in Japan, or c) like video games. Since I am d) all of the above, I read his blog on a daily basis.

Gaweeka - Sean Steele's blog, wherein he forths forth on all manner of topics, from his daily life to adventures with the vast and powerful Steele clan to the 5-3 Washington Redskins. If you know Sean but did not know he had a blog, check it out! And while we are talking about Sean, let's hit his other blogs!

Politics Schmolitics - a group of friends and acquaintances -- a merry band of pranksters indeed -- who have been arguing about politics on-and-off, then really on, then a little off... since 1998. On email. But that meant literally thousands of emails a year. That was too many. So here's the blog dedicated to carrying on that spirit of political and pop culture argument and dialogue. You might think of us as "schmoliticians", because while we take politics seriously, we try not to take ourselves quite so. I am one of the Schmoliticians.

Rude Boy, Rude Girl - a blog devoted to music. A "rude boy", in case you did not know, is a fan of ska music, which Sean, Adam, Harris and I all decidedly are. A "rude girl", then, is a female ska fan, which Carolyn (a fellow RBRG collaborator) is. There is a lot of crappy music in the world, so on RBRG, we try to talk about the good stuff.

Wil Wheaton dot Net in eXileWil Wheaton dot Net in eXile (AKA WWdNiX) - Wil Wheaton played Wesley Crusher on "Star Trek: the Next Generation", and did some movies too, most notably "Stand by Me" and "Toy Soldiers". Aside from being an actor, however, he is also "Just a Geek". He started a blog way back when, called "Where's My Burrito", in honour of a famous quote from "The Simpsons. This blog grew and mutated into Wil Wheaton dot Net, also known as WWdN. About a month and a half ago, during a routine software upgrade, Wil managed to hose his database, so he started a temporary blog over at TypePad so he could continue to blog while he fixed WWdN. The new blog became known as Wil Wheaton dot Net in Exile, or WWdNiX, for short (geeks love acronyms!). Wil has become a great writer, and he is a very interesting fellow. Read his blog. You will thank me later.

And those are the blogs that I read. Enjoy!

Friday, November 11, 2005

Those Bright Red Footprints...

...will always give you away.

I am warning you, gentle reader, that what I am about to say is far from my usual fare. No genteel strolls through the green and rolling hills of Naka-ku will be recounted in this entry. My mind is on darker things. I am about to talk about the "War on Drugs", and what I think about it. I am about to say some things that might bother you. I am about to accuse myself, and probably you too, of crimes against humanity. If you would rather not read this stuff, I will think no less of you. Hell, this isn't what you signed up for. But if you want to know what is on my mind, and are willing to pardon a little anger and probably some strong language, if you are willing to listen to what I have to say before forming your conclusions, by all means, read on.

You have been warned. The shit-storm begins now:

The WireI am nearing the end of Season One of "The Wire", an HBO police drama set in Baltimore. For readers of this blog who have not yet seen it, I advise you to check your local Blockbuster, NetFlix.com, your public library, or my employer, Amazon.com.

"The Wire" is gritty, violent, and profane; i.e. "The Wire" is real. I was lucky enough not to grow up in the P.J.s, but I spent one short summer in a bad neighbourhood in Charlottesville. I know the life depicted in "The Wire", not intimately (thank goodness), but I know that life. And knowing that life is the only way to understand how things cannot be done. In the words of a great poet, "they got a war on drugs / so the police can bother me". The "War on Drugs" is a joke, albeit an expensive one. Even some of the police are admitting this, and suggesting changes. But I think the best change is the one suggested by "The Wire": follow the money. If you follow the drugs, you get drug dealers and drug addicts. If you follow the money, you get dirty politicians, dirty cops, dirty judges: the pillars of the communities. And those are the people who are perpetuating this pointless war. Those are the people whose pockets are being lined while crackheads die, unlamented.

In short, those people are The Man that is holding us down. And when I say us, I mean all of us. Humanity. Because when some addict takes his last hit in some filthy alley in the part of town that no respectable member of society will even acknowledge the existence of, that is on me. And that is on you. Why do we let our brothers die like this, saying that they are criminals and not worthy of our compassion? Why, when we are living relatively high on the hog, why then do we feel that we can pass judgement on them? I think that the reason "thou shalt not judge" was put forth is that no man can understand all the reasons someone has for doing something. If we do understand everything, we might have more compassion.

I am not saying that criminals should not be punished. But for drug-related charges, I think we as a people need to acknowledge that drug abuse is a social problem as well as a crime. And when I say it is a social problem, I am not just talking about the addicts. I am talking about the dealers too. While I have a hard time being sympathetic, I understand that the drug game is the only game in town for some of these people. If you dropped out of high school because you were going to a impoverished school where everyone treated you with disdain, if you got tired of working at Burger King eight hours a day just to make ends meet on a minimum wage salary, if you were treated like a criminal by the cops anyway, and if you saw your friends rolling by in Mercedes SUVs with rims that don't stop spinnin' while your broke ass is peddling your bike to work, are you saying you would not be tempted? Social problem. We have a culture that perpetuates this bullshit, and that is what Tupac meant when he said that "[i]t's time for us as a people to start makin' some changes". He might have been talking to his people, but I warrant that we are all his people. It is time for all of us, from the shorties in the projects to the CEOs in the corner offices on the 50th floor of glass-and-steel office towers, to make some changes.

How? That is complicated. Start by just cutting people some slack, giving them the benefit of the doubt. Don't look down on people for how they choose to live their life, because maybe, just maybe, they were not given a choice. And that is not how it is supposed to go in the United States of America. Everybody is supposed to be able to make a choice.

And that is what I get from "The Wire". Entertainment it may be, but it is also something better. It is a stimulus, a wake-up call. It paints a picture, and challenges the viewer to decide who is good and bad. What right and wrong mean in a world that is decidedly not black and white. "The Shield" does the same thing, but to a lesser extent; it shows the problem, it shows who is mixed up in it, it shows how politics inform good police work, and it shows that "good" and "evil" are subjective concepts. "The Wire", however, offers us a way forward. Not a solution, but a direction: follow the money. Forget the drugs. Follow the money, and do something about where it leads. Even flawed men can take this direction.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

We All Live in a Yellow Submarine

As an avowed Rolling Stones fan, it is my sacred duty to hate The Beatles. And verily do I relish this duty and keep it conscientiously. So why, you might ask, am I quoting said Flab Four in the title of this entry? Be patient, dear reader, and all shall be revealed.

Apparently all one must do is complain about the weather to get a change, because the weather today was perfect: sunny and warm, with a slight breeze.

While hanging out with Ota the other day, he mentioned that O'Reilly had mailed his promo copy of "Retro Gaming Hacks" to his parents. So my first order of business this morning was to call up my dear old dad and inquire as to whether my promo copy had arrived yet. And indeed it had!

"Retro Gaming Hacks", in case you have forgotten, is the book about old-school video games (e.g. Atari, NES, etc.) that my friend from Kanazawa, the Right Honourable Chris Kohler, wrote. Ota and I were both contributors. I represented for the Linux / Unix / Open Source scene, as you may have guessed!

I walked Lyani to school (well, actually, we took the train from Ishikawa-cho to Sakuragi-cho, so I only actually walked her through Landmark Plaza and Queen's Mall. After dropping Lyani off at the IUC, I headed back to the Landmark Plaza McDonald's, where I devoured an extremely ill-advised Egg McMuffin combo. Ugh.

My stomach still queasy from the McGrease, I walked down to Minato Mirai Station, which is situated under Queen's Mall. From there, I caught a commuter express (急行--kyuko) to Shibuya, then hopped on a Yamanote Line train for Shinjuku Station. Shinjuku Station, as I just learned on Sunday, is the world's busiest train station, with one million people going through it every day! Though Tokyo Station beats it in sheer land area, Shinjuku is quite the impressive (and thus confusing) station.

As you might have guessed from all of the foreshadowing, I got lost. You see, I was looking for the south exit, but could not find it. I could, however, find the east and west exits, and I knew how to get to where I was going (I'm coming to that, relax!) from the east exit, or so I thought. After heading out the east exit and walking for a little while, it became obvious that I really wanted to take the west exit, but had mixed things up. I place the blame for this cock-up squarely on the fact that there are Yodobashi Camera stores on both bloody sides of the station!

Well, since I had actually wanted the south exit to begin with, I simply recited "Never Eat Shredded Wheat", and headed off in the proper direction. Fifteen minutes later, I still had not found the south exit, but I had figured out how to get around the south end of the station and get back to the west exit, where I would be able to regain my bearings. Luckily, I stumbled across a Citibank that I remembered being right by the south exit before I had to walk all the way back to the west exit. I say "luckily" because it took me a solid half an hour just to reach the south exit! Yeah, Shinjuku is a big station. Those exits might look close together on the map, but the circumference of that station ain't no joke, and that's real.

So, what was the target of my travails? Hobby Base Yellow Submarine, of course. Hobby Base Yellow Submarine is a gaming shop that I had stumbled upon in a previous stumble about Shinjuku. As the map indicates, they have table-top games in the basement (last time I was there, two chaps were facing off in a new Lord of the Rings miniatures game), pen-and-paper RPGs (e.g. Dungeons & Dragons, Shadowrun, all the White Wolf stuff, etc.) on the second floor, and collectible card games (meaning Magic: The Gathering and whatever else you crazy kids are playing these days) on the third. On this trip, I visited only the second floor. I poked around for a while before settling on a copy of the D&D Players Handbook, edition 3.5. I have not seen the 3.5 rules yet, and I am hoping that I can put together a game with Ota before too long. It has been far too long since I have felt the reassuring heft of dice in my hand!

With my mission accomplished in Shinjuku, I went back into the station by way of the elusive south entrance (I can always find the bloody thing from the outside!) and got on a Chuo Line express to Nakano Station. For you see, Nakano Station is right by Nakano Broadway, home of the original Mandarake store! Why the exclamation mark, you ask? Well, according to Chris Kohler:

Mandarake outlets are the Mecca of anime fans; anything and everything can be found within these massive superstores, usually at a reasonable price. A few years ago, 'anything and everything' expanded to include classic video games. Now, most Mandarake outlets have a wide variety of rare and unusual video games of all kinds, stored and sold with the same high standard of care as the stores' array of collectible manga.

And it was a piece of "rare and unusual" video game equipment that I was after. You see, a certain co-worker of mine from TFCC who will remain nameless (happy, Chall?), had picked up a Neo Geo CD system during one of his trips to Japan. However, in his words, actually playing the thing "is a perfect way to train yourself to have the patience of a Boddhisatva", since the machine has to load the entire stage into main memory from its single-speed CD-ROM drive before each new stage! This means that you might be waiting for two minutes or so between each fight in Street Fighter. So this chap (and by that I mean Chall) wanted me to pick him up a Neo Geo cartridge system, which is lightning-fast since carts run at the same speed as main memory (solid-state, bitches!). I was able to find one in the Mandarake (the same store where you bought that Famicon Disk System, Kohler), and headed back to Nakano Station, my mission accomplished.

From Nakano Station, I took the Chuo Line back to Shinjuku, then decided to try a new route home, that Hiroshi had mentioned Sunday night. So I caught a Shinjuku Shonan Line train back to Yokohama, which turned out to just be another name for the Tokaido Line, which I took out to Chiba that day I was trying to see how long it would take to get to work. It was a pleasant ride, with only one stop between Shinjuku and Yokohama. From Yokohama Station, I caught a train back to Kannai Station, where I got off and headed down to Daiso, the four floor ¥100 store that I have mentioned before. After a bit of light shopping, I went back home, for to do the laundry. When you do not have a dryer, and must thus rely on the fickle weather to dry your clothes, you learn to take advantage of a sunny, breezy day!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Media Review

Since my book and movie reviews have been rather dominating this blog recently (both in terms of length and of number), I have decided to shorten my commentary and combine it into one omnibus entry, as it were. US Senators, take note!

Though I have been reading mainly fiction as of late, I also like my non-fiction. One must have one's food for thought, n'est ce pas? With that in mind, my second load of books from the library included Robert M. March's "Reading the Japanese Mind: The Realities Behind Their Thoughts and Actions". This book attempts to explain why the Japanese act like they do, and what they really mean when they say hai and mean "yes", "no", "maybe", "I see", "I hate you", "I love you", etc. This basically boils down to 本音 and 建前 (hon'ne and tatemae, or "true feeling" and "external presentation"), and March does an excellent job of explaining these concepts and how they inform Japanese behaviour. All in all, this is an excellent book, which is worth a read for anyone who is starting what could be a long relationship with the Japanese. Businesspeople will especially appreciate the read. The book's only weak point, in my opinion, is when March tries to spew some academic language to justify his opinions, which is not really necessary, as this is not an anthropological tome (and all the better for it). My opinion? Thumbs up.

I have also consumed two more John le Carré novels, the first of which was "A Perfect Spy". "A Perfect Spy" is about, strangely enough, a British spy who might just be perfect at what he does, namely: spying. Got that? The plot can be summed up rather easily: a spy goes missing. Has he left the reservation? Is he a double agent, working for the Sinister Forces of Communism? Is he insane? I have claimed before that le Carré is a slightly literary chap, and I offer "A Perfect Spy" as further proof thereof. A good bit of of the action takes place within the mind of Magnus Pym, the main character, presented to the reader as his writing. The rapidly switching pronouns are confusing at first, but soon start to make sense, and offer interesting clues into the psyche of the character. My opinion? Thumbs up!

The second le Carré novel that I read was "The Russia House", which is the closest that le Carré has yet come to your standard Cold War pulp fiction. Which is not at all an insult, since I love that sort of thing. "The Russia House" opens with a beautiful, enigmatic Russian woman slipping a manuscript to a British publisher. The manuscript finds its way to the British secret service, and turns out to be priceless intel. Upon which the secret service (AKA the MI6, the SIS, etc.) drafts the publisher as a spy. Said newly minted spy returns to Russia, falls in love with enigmatic woman, and then the big plot twist. Which I will not reveal, even unto pain of death. My opinion? Thumbs up!

Now that I have read two of le Carré's spy novels (I need to find a copy of "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold"!), I feel qualified to offer the following opinion: le Carré is not what you should read when you are looking for a thrilling spy yarn. Why? Because le Carré gives you far too much to think about. Consider le Carré Tolkien as opposed to Tom Clancy / Weis and Hickman; the latter pair are great authors and very entertaining, but their writing cannot be called literature, as such. Which is not to say that le Carré and Tolkien are not entertaining and worth reading, just that they make you think whilst entertaining. So there!

The final book to be reviewed in this review is "Ninja Justice: Six Tales of Murder and Revenge", by IKENAMI Shotaro and translated by Gavin Frew. This is complete candy: just the guilty pleasure that I expected when I snatched it off the shelf at the library. (I thought immediately of Chall, of course!) The book is a collection of six short stories concerning the exploits of Baian, a master assassin, and Hikojiro, his best friend and fellow assassin. Baian, of course, is also a master acupuncturist who works as a doctor between contracts. Just call the duo assassins with hearts of gold... This book is pure entertainment, and at a mere 184 pages, can be digested in a single sitting. So put a pot of tea on already and check this book out of your local library! My opinion: thumbs up!

And now for a movie review. Let's choose a recent movie at random, say, "Wedding Crashers". And let's say that this movie can be summed up as follows: a vehicle for Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn. Which makes the movie, of course, funny. Which is not to say that it is in any way comparable to the brilliance of "The Royal Tenenbaums" (on which Owen Wilson actually shares the writing credit with the immortal Wes Anderson) or "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" or "Swingers". It has more in common with the Owen Wilson / Ben Stiller vehicle that was "Starsky & Hutch": funny yet forgettable. My opinion? Thumbs up if you are in the mood for a dumb comedy. Thumbs down if you are looking for something especially witty. Try one of the above movies that I have linked if your mood craves intelligent comedy.

It's Raining in Baltimore

The rain continues, a stalwart and dreary companion to this balmy fall weather. Temperatures continue to flirt with 20° C (70° F or so for my American audience), allowing the summer scourge of mosquitos to continue unabated. If you had told me six months ago that one must sleep under netting in bloody November in Japan, I would have called you crazy. Now, I just want to be able to sleep in peace without having to fear for my blood being drained during the REM cycle.

Yesterday, Lyani and I decided to thumb our noses at the weather forecast (17 - 19° with PM showers, as ever) and have a little fun. We met Ota at Jiyugaoka Station, one of the main stops on the Tokyu-Toyoku Line (which is how one gets from YOKUhama to TOkyou--hence the latter part of the name). We were joined there by two William and Mary students who are currently doing a year abroad at Keio University in Tokyo. I had met one of them before, a six-foot-tall nisei (second-generation Japanese-American) named Yuki (and no, for you "Junken Do" fans out there, this is not Yuki "No it's not a girl's name, the kanji are different damnit!" Ishibashi), but the other chap, Ed, a friend of Ota's from the J-House, was new to me. The five of us descended like avenging devils on Mo-mo Palace (did I remember the name of the joint correctly, Ota?), a tabehodai (all-you-can-eat) shabu-shabu place right by Jiyugaoko's main entrance (正面口, for those of you keeping score at home), determined to put the fear of gaijin into their hearts. (Note to readers: for some reason, Americans (and Canadians, Matthew) feel that it is our sacred duty to eat any all-you-can-eat establishment that dares open its doors in Japan out of business. Ask not why, for verily, I know not!)

90 minutes (Japanese all-you-can-eat places wisely have a time limit) and six-ish plates of beef later, we emerged once again into the daylight, blinking and holding our gorged stomachs in pleasure-yet-pain. Yuki set off to meet his cousin for yaki-niku, a promise made days before but certainly one that young Yuki would come to regret! The rest of us made for Hachiko, a statue of a dog outside Shibuya Station that is one of the most popular meeting places for young people in all of Tokyo. And we were, in fact, planning to meet someone: namely, Ota and Ed's friend Kami.

After connecting with the aforementioned Kami, we trudged out to Ota's place, which is not far (and by "not far", I mean "a miserable 15-minute walk in the goddamn pouring rain") from Komazawa-daigaku Station on the Den-en-toshi Line. His apartment (mansion?) is a 1DK with a loft and a giant television. The five of us removed our shoes, stowed our dripping umbrellae, and packed in. Some "Osu! Tatakae! Ooendan!" was played, fireballs were thrown, intestines were ripped out, and Ed's nipples may be sore. I will reveal nothing else.

We left Ota's before too long because Lyani and I had to meet some people in Shibuya, and Ed actually had to meet someone in Yokohama. Lyani and I arrived at Shibuya at around 17:00, and managed to locate "The Garlic Restaurant", where Lyani's friends were waiting.

These friends were two of Lyani's colleagues from Japanese Studies at Sofia University, Misho and Ani, and Ani's boyfriend Hiroshi. We had a smashing time at Garlic, despite the 30-minute wait for a bloody cup of coffee!!!! After a couple of hours, we decided to re-locate, and Hiroshi knew just the spot: "The Dubliners" Irish pub, just up the street from Garlic. Hot teas, pints, and chicken-and-chips were procured, and much merriment was had whilst watching the All-Blacks hand the Welsh their collective arses in a rugby fixture. After the rugby mercifully ended (I think the final score was 40-something to 3 in favour of New Zealand), Austin Powers 2 came on, sparking a heated discussion of the James Bond films, mostly fixated on the pros and cons of the various actors who have played 007. It is the calculated opinion of Misho that the next Bond is a "bloody git". As Misho grew up in Central London (yes, he is a Bulgarian who is at the same time a native English speaker, a great advantage in Japan, where 英会話--ei-kaiwa, or English conversation--is a sure-fire way to remain financially solvent), I'd say he is more than entitled to his opinion.

Hiroshi and I discovered that we had a rampant, out-of-control lust for soccer AKA football AKA サッカー (sakka-, the Japanese word for the sport) in common--both the playing and the watching. Ani, Misho, and Lyani exchanged news about Sofia University and The Bulgarian Connexion, which pervades modern Japan. Truly, you cannot seem to throw a rock in the Tokyo area without hitting someone who has: a) been to Bulgaria, b) knows a Bulgarian, or c) is themselves Bulgarian! To wit: one of Lyani's teachers at the IUC went to Tokyo -daigaku (AKA 東大--todai--one of the most prestigious universities in Japan), where one of her Japanese literature professors was none other than Tsvetana Krusteva, a Bulgarian. Another of Lyani's teachers had a good friend who went to Bulgaria to teach Japanese language--Hatakeyama-sensei, whom Lyani had at Sofia University for a year. When Lyani and I were married, a friend of mine announced this fact on the Tokyo Linux Users Group mailing list, and I immediately received an email, congratulating us, from Nikolay Elenkov, a Bulgarian chap that had gone to Sofia University with Lyani for a year. And he is not even the only Bulgarian on the list; there is also the illustrious Stoyan Zhekov! And while the examples I could offer you do not end here, suffice it to say that I ain' lyin': the Bulgarians are everywhere in Japan!

Anyway, we had a lovely time with Ani, Hiroshi, and Misho, and the hour of our parting came far too soon. Misho had to bugger off in a different direction, but we rode as far as Jiyugaoka (where the day's adventures began, remember?) with Ani and Hiroshi, before they had to transfer to another train line, bound for home. Lyani and I got back to good 'ol Ishikawa-cho just before 22:00, quite pleased that, in contrast with Ota, we lived just around the corner from the train station!

And this morning, I watched a couple episodes of "The Wire", a HBO police drama set in Baltimore. It comes highly recommended by Joe Zarick, my old boss from TFCC, and it is looking good after the first three episodes!

So while the weather outside is frightful, life in Yokohama is good.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Sick Boy

I have not blogged in quite a few days. Sorry about that.

Unfortunately, I came down with a severe cold / flu / nasty virus last Friday, just in time for Lyani's week-long respite from her school. (Yes, I will be showing off the latest additions to my Google Maps technology throughout this blentry.)

So instead of a week of sightseeing, we have instead been hanging around the apartment, with me getting plenty of bed-rest, fluids, etc. (happy, Mom?). However, by Tuesday, I was feeling up to having a stroll, so Lyani and I, encouraged by the warm, sunny weather (it was hovering around 20° C that day--in severe contrast with Lyani's family in Sofia, who were facing 0° C temperatures!), set out for Yamate, armed with my new pamphlet, "A Stroll Through the Green and Pleasant Hills of Naka Ward, Yokohama". We took a slew of pictures, if you want to follow along on our journey.

Lyani in Italian Hill GardenWe set out from our apartment and walked southwest down Shin-Yokohama-dori (the big street in front of our apartment that Lyani takes to school), crossed the river, and then climbed a long stair to Italian Hill Garden, a nice garden on the grounds of the home of a Meiji Era diplomat. The garden is high on a hill, and offers great views of central Yokohama.

Barrik HallFrom there, we followed Yamate-hon-dori, a main road in Yamate, past the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, and onward to Barrik Hall, which was the residence of a Finnish trader, one B.R. Berrik. It is quite interesting visually, a Spanish-style casa that would look more at home in Southern California than Japan. Barrik Hall is on the edge of Motomachi Park, one of many nice, wooded parks in Yamate. Motomachi Park also has a public pool, which is closed for the season, of course, but has a nice little garden just below it and offers great views of the Motomachi shopping district, Chinatown, and the harbourfront.

Lyani and I in Harbourview ParkFrom Motomachi-koen, we climbed up another of the ubiquitous stairs in Yamate, past the Catholic Cemetary, and then re-aquired Yamate-hon-dori, walking past the Foreign Cemetary and to Harbourview Park. We spent a few minutes there, looking down at Yamashita-koen, Osanbashi Pier, and Minato Mirai.

We walked south through the lovely Harbourview Park, encountering one of Japan's terrier-sized crows en route, past the Kanagawa Museum of Modern Literature, and then wandered down a little road that meandered along the edge of the bluffs, looking down into the port facilities of Shin-Yamashita. After a good half an hour walk, we finally came to Honmoku-hara, where I previously went to visit the Naka Ward branch of the Yokohama Public Library (and described in a previous blog entry).

If health allows, we hope to make it to Tokyo and Kamakura this week-end, before Lyani has to go back to school on Monday.