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November 30, 2005

Fujisan (富士山) and off to Korea

We flew to Seoul this morning...had to wake up terribly early to get to the airport and catch the flight, but it was worth it to catch this shot of Mt. Fuji from the airplane as we headed off to Korea.

We left from Haneda Airport instead of making the long trek out to Narita, which was good in terms of saving time traveling to the airport, but it is pretty clear that renovation is a low priority at the International terminal!

Anyway, this is the sunrise from my balcony this morning. This picture does not do it justice...it was very nice. And that is Mt. Fuji on the right, with considerably fewer clouds than usual.

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It is colder here than in Tokyo...the low tonight will be below freezing. I went for a walk just after sunset and it seemed like you could feel the temperature falling! It's a good thing I like cold weather!

Posted by Kirk at 06:14 PM | Comments (0)

November 27, 2005

Meiji shrine

My colleague arrived in Japan this morning in preparation for a two-week Asia tour with our clients. It is all a lot of work, so you won't hear anything else about it here, but we did get out to Meiji shrine this morning for a look around before the hard work started.

This is a great time of year to go there...there are always weddings, which means lots of super-traditional outfits and ceremonies. It is really fun to watch. This is actually the second time in two weeks that I have been there - I am not some sort of wedding freak, it just turned out that way. Anyway - this should give you a brief glimpse into what it was like:

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The one on the left is a wedding procession. I noticed two things...first, no one seems to be smiling. They take it all very seriously. My colleague said it seemed like a funeral, which seemed an appropriately male opinion (ha...I have never been married, so I cannot comment on that first hand). Second, the groom gets to wear a much more comfortable outfit than the bride. Then again, she is much more impressive.

The second picture is some of the women in the wedding party talking with each other while the official wedding portraits were being taken. Don't they look fantastic in their kimonos?

One person I did not see was another Tokyo blogger, Tokyo Rosa, who was also on day tour duty out at Meiji Shrine. Unless she went to get married, in which case, we can pretend that is her on the top left.

Posted by Kirk at 11:04 PM | Comments (0)

The amazing Kobayashi does it again

I knew he was the hot dog and dumpling eating champion, but now I see that he is the mini-hamburger eating champion too. Takeru Kobayashi ate 67 hamburgers in eight minutes to retain the title in Chatanooga, Tennesse last week.

I wondered how he was able to do all this and not gain weight, but that is the wrong question because he says he has put on 20 pounds (8kg) in the last year. No surprises there.

I learned a few things more this time. First, that there is decent money involved (how won $10,000!), although I suppose a lot of that is eaten up (no pun intended) by travel costs. Second, that there is a International Federation of Competitive Eating. No idea how that one came about.

Posted by Kirk at 09:07 AM | Comments (0)

November 26, 2005

Thanks for the tequila shot Thomas

Another week, another sayonara party. This was a spontaneous, last-minute sort of thing, but a lot of people came and that was good. Fortunately, one of my colleagues Thomas bought a few rounds of shots (one was tequila...not sure what the other one was), so that I could feel extra good today. Thanks for that. And there are no pictures...I thought I had left my camera at home, but when I checked this morning it was in my backpack all along. Of course, that is probably best.

I was up at 7am this morning, which is baffling. Why does that happen?

Posted by Kirk at 10:11 AM | Comments (1)

November 25, 2005

My last normal day of the year?

There is one month left in 2005 and I will spend most of it traveling. That is good for you! In the next two weeks, I will be off to Asia: Seoul, Singapore, Hong Kong and Beijing. I will come back to Tokyo for a day and then head off to London to close out the year (this is all work, mind you, not a bit of holiday to speak of).

Anyway, that means this will be my last normal working day in the Tokyo office, unless I come in the week between Christmas and New Year, which is not the same anyway as all the expats will have fled home and it will be empty.

I have no meetings planned for the day, not even a lunch plan. So,it should be relatively quiet. Maybe I will take the time to write something interesting here...guess, you will have to come back to find out!

Posted by Kirk at 08:18 AM | Comments (0)

November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving Day

Today is Thanksgiving Day...well, in America at least. Some people thing this is a time for reflection...to think of everything you have to be thankful for. Which makes sense when you think that the first "thanksgiving" was all about a bunch of unskilled Europeans who could not feed themselves being treated to a feast by the natives. You would say thank you too.

Of course, these days the holiday is more about turkey, mashed potatoes and American football. As a result, it still does not travel well. There is no holiday in Japan today. In fact, there is not even much turkey around once you get away from the expat grocery stores, although I suppose I could find mashed potatoes if I looked hard enough.

Anyway, I just wanted to say hello to everyone back in the US. And do not forget to say thank you for all the turkey you have as not everyone (that would be me) can have it today! If you are feeling bad about that, you can always make up fot it tomorrow, which happens to be the biggest shopping day of the year! Happy thanksgiving!

Posted by Kirk at 10:05 PM | Comments (0)

Hey...nice morning!

Like most mornings, the first thought on my mind upon waking up was finding myself a cup of coffee. That's right...the coffeemaker has not been replaced yet.

I was pleasantly surprised when I walked outside at just how nice it was. The temperature was cold, but not too much. Just enough to put a little color in your cheeks. And the air seemed so clean - maybe because it was a holiday yesterday and there was much less traffic to foul the air. In any case, it was a pleasure to be outside.

I found my coffee (Tully's this time, not the usual Cafe de Crie...why would a coffee shop not be open at 7am???) and am getting ready to go to work. Without the latter, it would be a GREAT morning, instead of just a nice one.

Posted by Kirk at 07:43 AM | Comments (1)

November 23, 2005

Kagurazaka rocks!

I added a few pictures to the photo gallery. Click here (nightlife) to see them.

On Monday night, a few of us headed off to Kagurazaka for dinner and drinks. For those of you who are familiar with Tokyo, you will know that this area is well known for its concentration of good bars and restaurants. We had a fantastic dinner and ended the night at a super cool bar. In between, there was an expensive disappointment. All-in-all, it was a really good night.

We started off at Seigetsu, a sake bar/izakaya just off the main street. The food was superb, although we did not try the sake (I foolishly thought I would be taking it easy - more on that later). Plus, it is a very nice setting with semi private rooms so you are not distracted by the other guests. Unless they are loudly yelling "ROPPONGI!" or "AKASAKA".

We actually had dinner twice as our first group (me, Yoko, wataru and Markus) had finished by the time the second group (Jan and Masa) had arrived. After that, we decided to check out Nonki, which had a nice picture on their website and I had seen a decent review of it on the Internet. I am not going to link to either, because you might be fooled like we were. I am tempted to find the blog of the guy who said it was good and let him know what a complete idiot he must be, but I should have known better. We spent Y12,000 for six drinks and some dodgy snack food. And it was cold and a little musty. We all told ourselves it was a good experience, but than we quickly moved on.

We finished the evening off at Tagore (ターゴル) on Kagurazaka near Iidabashi station. How cool is this place? Well, there was a giant monkey mural in front (!), big comfortable tables inside (!!) and they also have Denki Bran (!!!). I was quite happy...at least until Tuesday morning when I had to ask myself why I was waking up to go to work with a Denki Bran hangover for the second time in two weeks.

That is us in front of Tagore Bar below (except Yoko...she was taking the picture). On the right...the entrance to Seigetsu.

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Kagurazaka is on my list of cool places to go...I hope we get back there soon. And I hope if I drink Denki Bran it is not on a weekday night.

Posted by Kirk at 11:54 AM | Comments (0)

November 19, 2005

Hanezawa Garden - closing soon

We went to Hanezawa Garden on Thursday. It is an amazing place, occupying 10,000m of prime property between Ebisu and Hiroo (which also makes it very inconvenient to get to...adds to the exclusivity!). I read somewhere that it was built for the head of the Japanese railways during World War II. They did a good job, it is a beautiful place. There are both indoor and outdoor restaurants and all of it is very well done.

We sat outside on the terrace, which was very nice (well, maybe it was a little cold), among the trees and the torches. It was easy to forget you were smack in the middle of one of the world's largest cities.

The occassion was bittersweet - saying goodbye after five years to some of my original colleagues in Japan. I will not post any pictures this time, my poor photography skills were not helped at all by the drinking we did.

I am glad we went, because Hanezawa Garden will close down next month. If you have a chance, you should head over there before it goes. There are not many places like that left in Tokyo. I will miss it.

Posted by Kirk at 10:22 AM | Comments (0)

November 17, 2005

Football: Japan 1 Angola 0

Wow...what a great ending! Japan scored in the 90th minute with the only goal of the match. Sixty seconds later it was all over and Japan walked away with a win. It was a friendly match, but as this is the last time that the team will play together in 2005, it was good to end on a high note.

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The stadium was absolutely packed (as should be expected) and the organisers had a huge surprise as Matsuura Aya, a famous singer, belted out the national anthem. A Japanese man sang the Angolan anthem, which seemed a bit odd until I was told there were only 11 Angolans living in Tokyo and only 18 in all of Japan! So, I guess the Angolan population more than doubled when the team arrived here.

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That is Aya in the picture to the left. We were too far away for an actual picture, but they showed here on the video screen, which made her close enough. Actually, the first time I went to the national stadium was to watch Japan play Belgium in one of its world cup matches on that very same screen...they were actually in Nagoya or something. It was amazingly crowded that day too.

I should mention something about the game. Japan had more than a few chances early on but hit the woodwork...it easily could have been 2-0 at halftime. The ball just would not go in. And Angola was playing a cautious game, keeping their back five near midfield even when on the attack. They never really threatened. And it looked like it would end 0-0 until Matsui headed the ball in at the 90th minute.

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Amazing...as you can see, we were really happy afterwards. That is my colleague Urasaki-san...and again with me. Kaz was also there, but he was not nearly as exuberant. And Ryo joined us for the second half, but he watched from the tunnel where it was warmer!

Also Australia beat Uruguay and will be going to Germany next summer. I wanted to watch that match but could not get away from work for the 530pm start time. How cool will that be if they are drawn into the same group as England? Should be interesting...we'll know in December.

Posted by Kirk at 12:15 AM | Comments (3)

November 16, 2005

Ugh...that was too much

I do not usually talk about work on this blog, but this has been a long day and I need to vent.

WHAT AN UNBELIEVABLY CRAP DAY (terrible...horrible)

OK...finished venting.

Actually, I spent about 10 minutes writing and deleting entries before I realised I could not go into any detail without breaking my #1 and only blog rule of not mentioning the office.

Since most of you work with me, you are probably better off that way.

Posted by Kirk at 12:40 AM | Comments (1)

November 15, 2005

Silly me...did I say the day could get better?

940pm...still at work and there does not appear to be a light at the end of the tunnel. That's what I get for being optimistic!

Posted by Kirk at 09:38 PM | Comments (0)

Back to normal - more earthquakes

There are news reports of a 7.2 magnitude earthquake this morning, but off the northern coast of Japan. It must have been a big one as that is not close to Tokyo, but was strong enough to wake me up (it was a '3' on the intensity scale in some parts of Kanto).

I am not sure how I feel about that. On one hand, I hate the experience so I would rather be sleeping through at least part of it. Then again, it is disorienting to wake up to a shaky room and creaky walls. I suppose the day can only get better.

Posted by Kirk at 07:38 AM | Comments (0)

November 13, 2005

Thanks...5,000 and counting

Thank you everyone for coming back. I hope I can keep it interesting for you.

Posted by Kirk at 09:51 PM | Comments (0)

Takao-san (高尾山) and a disturbing development

I went to Takao-san this morning. I took tons of pictures, which I will put in here eventually, but I have had a huge shock that I need to talk through.

You see, Takao-san is the place where I first went to a monkey park (and therefore the inspiration for the name of this blog). I have not been back to the monkey park in a while, so I thought I should stop by today. I knew things would be bad when I saw that you are no longer allowed into the monkey pen and instead must stand on an observation platform and watch the monkeys from a distance! Terrible!

kaku1.JPG Even worse, "カク" (kaku) - my almost namesake and early introduction to how easy it is to embarass yourself in Japan (see the ABOUT section for more on that), is NO LONGER THE OLDEST MONKEY IN THE PARK. He has moved beyond old, to put it lightly, although I am happy to say that he has earned a place on the Monkey Boss Wall of Fame, as you can see in the picture on the left. Rest in peace, Kaku, you will always be the oldest monkey as far as I am concerned.

Anyway, I can handle all that, but what happened next is the clincher. As I walked in, I caught sight of a blue jacket that said "Saru..." with "staff" written underneath it. I thought...what could be more perfect? While everyone else went running off to watch the monkeys, I waited for one of the workers to turn completely around so I could snap a picture and have "Sarukoen Staff" immortalised for all time. Imagine my surprise when I see that it says "SARUEN", not "SARUKOEN". As the sign below indicates...I have had it wrong all along.

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I am living a lie. I am absolutely gutted.

Posted by Kirk at 04:19 PM | Comments (0)

November 12, 2005

Shinjuku at dusk

I spent a few hours in Shinjuku today. I didn't actually get around to what I had went there for, but I was able to spend some quality time in Kinokuniya's DVD shop looking for old Japanese movies (might work out better if I knew how to read) and got this decent dusky picture of the Sakuraya Camera shop near Shinjuku sanchome.

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It was a bit cold today, but very clear...I love days like this, especially because the forecast was for rain. This is a major reason why I like Japan in winter (I am not saying it is as nice as a warm day on a tropical beach...but you get the idea). I took this picture from my balcony. It is a fab view if you like buildings.

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Posted by Kirk at 05:41 PM | Comments (2)

November 11, 2005

Kamiya Bar - Asakusa

I have added some pictures in the photo album. Go here and click on nightlife.

We tried a different night out for a change, heading to Asakusa for dinner and drinks. Our first stop was the famous Kamiya Bar at Asakusa 1-1-1. Here are some representative photos...

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The Kamiya Bar has been there for over one hundred years and I read that it was the first Western-style Bar in Tokyo (not sure about that, but read on). Besides its great location (for Asakusa, not for people coming from Roppongi/Akasaka), it is best known for its signature drink, Denki Bran (that is what you see on the right above).

What I found out the morning after is that this is a mix of gin, rum and brandy with some herbs thrown in. If I had known that before, I might not have been so eager to keep ordering them!

But that is what we did.

The bar itself looks like a cafeteria and you had to buy tickets for your first order at the register. And the place was well-lit...this is where I am at odds with the Western-style comments above.

As pictures are worth a thousand words, I will let them tell the story. That is Chiaki, Yoko and Ikuko in the first picture. Yoko has bought a digital camera, but she uses it as a weapon waiting for people (me) to do something embarassing and recording it for posterity. I do not like the competition. The next picture is Take and Wataru enjoying some of that fine Denki Bran. After that, an idealised view of the bar with the boys in front.

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We actually arrived in three groups. The first six of us were the early birds and we built up a substantial (and insurmountable) head start in drinking. Jan (that is him below in the new advertising campaign we designed), Mineka and Michika arrived later, and Tomoko and Nuala were so late they missed last call!

Of course, that meant another bar so that their trip to Asakusa was not in vain. I am not sure what that place was, but it did have a food vendor in front, which seemed pretty cool...that's Chiaki and Ikuko taking advantage.

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It was a fantastically good night. I even slept on the train on the way home!

Posted by Kirk at 08:24 AM | Comments (0)

November 08, 2005

I am cursed...

You won't believe this...my coffee maker blew up this morning. I am being a little dramatic, but not by much because I have one of those ones that is pressurized for making cappucino etc. And something must have broken or come unstuck.

As I am puttering around the apartment, looking for things I need to take to work, I hear this weird wet whooshing sound. Not being fully awake, I am completely at a loss at what it could be. I poke my head into the kitchen and see a fountain of brown sludge erupting out of my machine onto the counter and floor. It took 20 minutes just to clean it up.

So, my computer on Saturday and my coffee maker today. In both cases, I can see how older things run out and you have to get new ones (I have had the coffeemaker for six-seven years, so it has done its duty!). But why did both have to break in the same week!? I am afraid to turn anything else on now.

Posted by Kirk at 08:39 AM | Comments (3)

November 07, 2005

There is some good news

With everything going on, I forgot to mention that my hopeful punt for tickets to the Japan friendly match against Angola next week came through! A very pleasant surprise, especially as I had missed the e-mail telling me about it.

In case you forgot, Japan will be playing at the National Stadium, so it is super easy to get over there after work. And I have nothing on my schedule that day, so I should be able to avoid a mad rush to get out and get over there. I am looking forward to it...

Posted by Kirk at 07:52 PM | Comments (1)

November 06, 2005

Almost back on track

Whew! I have learned a few things this weekend, the most important being that all those nagging messages to back-up your files should not be ignored. In hindsight, there is probably not much I could have done about the previous computer...it took a lot of abuse and has been all over the world multiple times...I should have replaced it sooner.

Anyway, absent all the pictures (I am SO GLAD I uploaded the ones I liked from Hokkaido and France onto this site), there was not too much that I will miss. Let's see what I will say about that in a few weeks. And I can use this as an opportunity to better organise myself. How is that for optimistic?

I also spent most of the weekend getting myself sorted out again. Between a visit to the IT guys, computer shopping and setting the new laptop up, I used up two days (and I am still not done). I feel like I need a day off now!

Posted by Kirk at 10:53 PM | Comments (0)

Disaster strikes

I woke up Saturday morning to a dead computer...well, sort of. There was an endless cycle of Windows booting up, error messages, etc. I took it in to to get it checked and the verdict came back last night - the hard drive is physically damaged and unretreivable.

That seemed pretty strange to me since the laptop had been sitting on a shelf for the past 24 hours and it did not look like it had got up to much on its own. After a few questions back and forth, the technician figures that it was age. In his words, most hard drives live about three years. Well, that's brilliant. And Y200K later, I am starting to understand the business rationale behind it.

I spent the day in Akihabara and Bic Camera Yurakucho before making my purchase. I even took a few pictures that I will eventually download once I have re-installed all the software necessary.

In the meantime, if any of you can help me find a place that will salvage some of the data (as in 500-600 pictures) from my previous computer, I would be grateful!

Posted by Kirk at 02:35 PM | Comments (0)

November 03, 2005

Happy Culture Day

Today is Culture Day in Japan, which I celebrated by going to the grocery store and spending the rest of the time sleeping and reading. All day I had this nagging feeling I should go out and do something, but I could not really decide what so I didn't.

The sad thing is that I had an early night last night (asleep by 1130pm) and woke up early today. Maybe I just needed to recharge my batteries. I figure another early night and I will be ready for the weekend. Only one day to go...I wish they had Culture Day every week.

Posted by Kirk at 04:47 PM | Comments (1)