December 19, 2008

FIFA Club World Cup

The Club World Cup takes place every year in December, usually in Japan. I have always wanted to go, but never took the opportunity until now. Last night's game featured Asian champs Gamba Osaka versus European champs Manchester United at Yokohama International Stadium. (That's right, Preyash...if you still read this...I went and watched your boys at work. And for a change they won while I was watching. You should have been there!)

It was a sort of close game for the first 75 minutes. Then Rooney came in for United and Osaka fell apart. I mean, they just had no answer for him. Osaka had scored to bring themselves within one goal just as Rooney came on, but United reeled off three goals in the next five minutes to put it out of reach. That was pretty amazing. The final score was 5-3 but it was not even that close and it looked like United held back a bit in the last fifteen minutes. That is a lot of goals!! I am American, so I need that to stay interested, ha ha.

The announced attendance was over 67,000. The crowd cheered when that was posted on the scoreboard, but I was crying silent tears as I wondered how I would possibly get back to the station and on a train at a reasonable hour. It only took two and a half hours to get home, so I suppose I was lucky! Despite that, I had a great time and I am glad I went.

Posted by Kirk at 09:36 AM | Comments (0)

September 28, 2008


After eight years in Japan, I finally made it to a sumo tournament. It was really amazing!


Actually, I have had a very busy weekend! I met Glenn on Friday night for what was supposed to be a glorious, two-hour, all-you-can-eat Brazilian Steak feast, but the restaurant was booked, so we settled for Tony Roma's (another first for me in Japan, by the way). Afterward, we had a few drinks at Legends in Roppongi before I rushed to make my last train.

Saturday morning I woke up early and was back on the train to go to Mito-san's barbecue in Izumi Tamagawa by 10am. If you time the journey right, it is about an hour and a half trip. At Fujisawa, If you accidently get on the local train instead of the express it is closer to two hours. Unfortunately, I wasn't exactly in the best condition for making judgement calls. In any case, I made it. I wish I could have stayed longer, but Max had invited me to the sumo tournament so after a short stay I was off to ride the rails some more.

The Tokyo-based sumo tournaments are held at the arena in Ryougoku. It is my first visit to the area and I would like to go back and explore some more. The Tokyo-Edo museum is also there and seems to be worth a visit. Anyway, we had amazing seats courtesy of Max's friend Takako. In the left-hand picture below, she is on the left and that is Max in the middle.

We were in row six, which is in the "sunakaburi" seats and basically means that you are in range of the salt that the wrestlers throw around to purify the ring. In practical terms, it means that you cannot eat anything there. On the other hand, we all got these giant bags of food when we left to make up for it. The right-hand side picture is advertising...they would circle the ring on an irregular basis.

IMG_1815.JPG IMG_1797.JPG

Sumo is very complicated so I am not even going to try and explain it. But, I will leave you one more picture of the sumo wrestlers lining up before the start of their matches.


After it finished, Max and I went to Hub in Korakuen for a few drinks and once again I ended up on a late night train home. Today...I have nothing planned. Woo!

Posted by Kirk at 11:22 AM | Comments (0)

June 25, 2008

EIGHT YEARS! unbelieveable!

So, like I mentioned in the last post, I just realised that I have been in Japan for eight years as of today! I cannot believe how quickly it has gone. I am practically 40 years old now, so I have been having a lot of these weird, life-perspective thoughts recently. I really should get a job so I do not have time to think of these things!

I am trying to recall the most memorable times I have had here, but I keep getting stuck on the last two years. Really, my life has changed so much since I stopped working and all those hours in the office, airports and meetings that made up my first six years have kind of blurred together.

Anyway, no fancy pictures or amazing insights this time around.

Posted by Kirk at 12:52 PM | Comments (0)

December 06, 2007

Lovely Fall day

Some people might be surprised to hear me say that Fall is my favorite time of year. I know that probably half of the posts on this blog are about the beach, which is a summer place, but nothing beats a sunny fall day when the temperature is crisp and cool with the leaves changing colors and lots of them on the ground so that you can run through them and make a real mess.

Today was a day like that and it was absolutely lovely.

We went to Meiji Shrine in the morning and also walked around Yoyogi Park a bit. Did I ever mention that one of the coffee places I like to go is at the entrace to Meiji Shrine. In Fall and Winter, they close off part of the patio and warm it up with this giant heater. I should have taken a picture of is very cool.

Anyway, here is some fall colors for you:


Those guys standing around look to have spent the night there. Great view when you wake up, but probably it is a bit TOO cold to make sleeping there worth while.

This picture is by the fountains in the middle of the park. I was surprised to realise that it had been three months since I headed over there. I remember sitting on one of the benches sweating like crazy. Weird.


I have a lot on my mind recently. For example, where am I going to take my next holiday. Or even more acute...what am I going to do tomorrow afternoon while the rest of you are working! Hmmm, I won't go into too much detail. In any case, it was great to get out today.

Posted by Kirk at 09:30 PM | Comments (0)

November 30, 2007

Yum! Salt!

If you visit the blog regularly, you have probably noticed that I am making more of an effort to write something these days. Most be the terrible guilt I felt for not posting anything for a month.

Anyway, I am in Zushi tonight and while I was walking from the station to my apartment I saw the Japanese kanji for "salt" on a sign and that reminded me that I took a picture last year of a salt shop in a small village on Sado Island.

So, I found the picture and here it is.

0806 075.jpg

Of course, it is probably not a real salt shop. Or a real village for that matter. I mean people live there, but it is more of a tourist attraction - everything is maintained as it was in the Meiji era (I am making a lot of assumptions has been over a year since I snapped the photo!).

In any case, the most important thing is that I liked the photo and I am finally publishing it. The other thing to keep in mind is that I have a very strange memory. I usually can't remember what day it is, but I could remember one photo among the thousands I took over the last couple years.

Posted by Kirk at 08:25 PM | Comments (0)

November 28, 2007

Tokyo Tower

This is a picture of Tokyo Tower. Actually, it is a few weeks old, but probably it has not changed very much since then, so I thought I would post it.


If you live in the Minato area, it is pretty hard to get away from Tokyo Tower. In fact, I can see it now as I am typing this. There are all sorts of cool facts about it, which I do not remember, except that it is very tall. There is also shops at the bottom, which are really fun to shop at if you like cheesy souvenirs. And I do!

It was cloudy in Tokyo today and I was thinking about sunny weather so I looked through my recent pictures and found this one. Woo!

Posted by Kirk at 05:23 PM | Comments (0)

September 25, 2007

OK, is an update

Well, it is probably safe to say that the worst of summer is over. It can get pretty warm during the day but it is always cooling down at night. So, no more air conditioning for this year, I hope.

Here is a picture of Zushi Beach taken from the rooftop of the building. Just because I can! It's nice, right?


I have not been up to anything much recently...kind of boring, but that is good. School is over (ya-y!) and I think I will be slowing down a bit next term: three days a week at most instead of every day. And that should give me some time to get things done. Like, getting the Zushi place in order, for example. I will be happy when that is all finished. I did get some furniture, however...


That is not the best picture, but the delivery guys came at the last possible moment and I really had to rush out of there because I was going to the baseball game with some of the students. I suppose I could have been late, but I was the one holding the tickets. Whoops.

Anyway, that was kind of a disaster in itself because we had 10 tickets but 11 people arrived. I gave one to everybody and went off to buy one more as close to them as possible. Unfortunately, it was standing room only. Instead, I went to the beer garden and watched the game on TV.


There is a 1,800 yen all-you-can-drink special, it lasts from 6pm until the game is finished. I did not notice last time, but we are all going back on Wednesday. There are even "beer girls"! Well, they do not carry 15kgs of beer on their back, but everything else is the same.

Well, I should make an effort to update this more as I was told today that a lot of people depend on reading this so that they know what I am doing without talking to me. Or something like that.

Posted by Kirk at 07:36 PM | Comments (0)

September 10, 2007

whoops...been awhile

Well, the apartment is finished. In fact, it has been such a long time since I wrote that in the interim, I have spent five nights there. Pretty cool, right? Unfortunately, I haven't done much in the way of furnishing it, although I do have some things being delivered over the next week.

Anyway, it has been a really busy three weeks. There was an end-of-summer beach get-together (no pics), two (2!) beach bar closing nights (Zushi and Hayama), and a typhoon. Since all of this has happened down in Shonan, that is usually when I am fired up to write about it...but I do not have an Internet connection down there. So, that is my lame excuse.

Anyway, here are some post-construction, pre-furnished pictures. If you look closely, you will notice that I have all the basics...pillows, iPod speakers and booze.

IMG_0819.JPG IMG_0824.JPG

I did order a rug, some tables, and a couch/day bed thingy and they will all be delievered over the next week. I am making progress...its slow, but steady.

Goodbye bars on the beach!
So, the beach houses on Zushi Beach closed on August 26th, which is a Sunday. My first two nights in the apartment were the Friday and Saturday and I had planned to head back to Tokyo in the morning. When I found out that Sunday was the last night, I stayed a bit longer. It was really nice...there were so many people out just enjoying the beach and having a good time. Me too.

On the following Friday, Hayama Isshiki Beach also closed. I really HAD TO GO. So, I did. And it was crowded! I was the last to order a beer at the Blue Moon (woo!), so that was good. I spent some time on the beach, leaning back, listening to the waves and drinking my beer. That was also good. On the bus to Zushi, I chatted a bit with these two women that had come down to see the musician that was playing at the bar. Supposedly, he is rather famous. It was kind of embarassing to admit that I had no idea there was a live show going on. Ooops.

Here are a few pictures of Zushi (left) and Hayama (right).

IMG_0760.JPG IMG_0779.JPG

So, a lot of people ask why the beach houses and bars do not stay open longer as summer lasts as good three-six weeks after the arbitrary August 31st closing. Locals will tell you it has to do with the jellyfish, which tend to hang around a lot in September, and typhoons. Well, we had a typhoon last week, and if the pictures are any is a good reason to close up. I imagine the bar owners who have been slow about taking their buildings down wish they had not procrastinated.

First, here is a look at Zushi Beach. The picture on the left was taken on 4 Sept...the one on the right on 7 Sept.

IMG_0816.JPG IMG_0840.JPG

The tide really surged on the back of the storm, taking a lot of the loose sand of the beach and undermining the foundation of some of the remaining buildings. I imagine 120kph hour winds did not help much.

I could not help but take the picture of the leaning bar and the fake roman statue. Very strange.

IMG_0851.JPG IMG_0865.JPG

I really like these pictures for some reason. On the left, you can see a trap and buoy that has been washed in to shore. That is OK, its the surfer in the background that makes it look cool, I think. I like the one on the right because of the lighting and the wind blowing the mist off the waves. It was much more surreal in real life.

IMG_0847.JPG IMG_0873.JPG

In summary, the bad news is that the beach is torn apart and the beach houses that had yet to be taken down were damaged. But, the wind and waves were good if you like surfing!


Posted by Kirk at 08:54 AM | Comments (0)

August 08, 2007

Enoshima Fireworks 2007

I met up with Laura yesterday in Enoshima for the fireworks. It was excellent, but more on that in a minute. It was actually a full Shonan day but I will get to that in the next post.

As for the fireworks show, this is the second year in a row that I went and it was really good. This year, we went to Katase Enoshima Beach, which is the one right in front of where the fireworks are set off. It was crowded and we paid 5,000 yen for the right to sit on the beach, but it was still well worth it.

While we waited for the sun to set, we were treated to a rare summer view of Mt. Fuji...looks good, right?


Just watching everyone was a lot of fun!

IMG_0486.JPG IMG_0493.JPG IMG_0494.JPG IMG_0498.JPG

And as I mentioned a few times before, the fireworks were very cool. As one would expect, the pictures do not do the show justice, but here they are anyway.


The downside came afterwards. They expected 140,000 people, which is fun until everyone tries to get on the train at the same time. I thought waiting an hour would be enough, but it was more like two and we did not actually get on a train until after 1030pm. Fortunately for me it was the Shonan that train! I got home around 1am.

Posted by Kirk at 11:05 PM | Comments (0)

July 29, 2007

Zushi Fireworks

Like I mentioned below, on Friuday I went to Zushi to watch the fireworks from the roof of the building my apartment is in. It was absolutely awesome! It was fantastic!

I tried to get pictures, but they did not really come out so well...this one looks good enough for the blog, however, and gives you a good idea of what we could see.


I met up with Laura, the Ishiwatas )from the real estate agency and construction company) and Toshi for the show and required after firework drinks. Here are some others...I will save the drinking photos for another time.

IMG_0345.JPG IMG_0325.JPG

Posted by Kirk at 05:46 PM | Comments (0)

Summer is here (Enoshima and Kamakura)

Well, I was lazy on Friday and skipped school. Instead, I went to the beach. Surprised? Actually, the plan was to watch Zushi fireworks from my the roof of my new apartment block, but I went early...about seven hours early.

So, I got off the train in Ofuna on a whim and ended up taking the Shonan Monorail to Enoshima. That is such a cool train. I imagine it looks pretty ugly from the ground, but you do not really see the skyline-destroying metal track from inside the train. It is VERY quick...13 minutes. Enoshima never seemed so close.

Anyway, it was crowded as you can see from the picture below.


I spent an hour or so there before moving on to Kamakura. I took the train part of the way...actually, I love the Enoden Line, but more for the sightseeing then the trasport...I got off at Inamuragaseki and walked the rest of the way. The bars on these two beachs are absolutely incredible...I can't believe they are only there two months out of the year. Here is a convenience you can see it is not a stand at all!


There is also West Park Cafe and China Quick Resort, as well as the MTV Cafe. Quite fancy...

Posted by Kirk at 05:35 PM | Comments (0)

July 08, 2007

Back to Japan (and Hayama)

So, I am back home. The flight was miserable, but never mind that. I have not done very much since I got back. It is also weird, because I have not really met up with anyone either. The same thing used to happen when I was working, but I always assumed it was because I was away for six weeks, not six days.

Anyway, I went down to the beach to check on the apartment (more on that next entry) and to see if I could squeeze come beach time in if the weather was good. And it was.

So, here are some pictures, including the obligatory one of the Blue Moon, first of the year!


As you can see it was very crowded, even though the beach itself was absolutely empty. I found out later that it is because most of the guests were there for a wedding party. Despite that, I got a table in front so that I could sit back, drink a beer and enjoy the ocean. And like always, I intended to have just one, but stayed for four.

Here are some other shots, starting with my first view of the beach coming in, a view from my seat, a tanabata tree and also some hula lessons on the beach. It was fun.

IMG_0229.JPG IMG_0232.JPG IMG_0233.JPG IMG_0234.JPG

I still left at a reasonable hour and was home by 10pm. Not sure why, since I had nothing to do. Maybe I should have stayed longer. I am really looking forward to my apartment being done, so I can skip the two-hour train ride home!

Posted by Kirk at 02:14 PM | Comments (0)

March 24, 2007

I got my driver's license! 免許証を受けました!

I should have posted this sooner, but I haven't spent anytime at home this week. Anyway, I went to the driving license center in Samezu on Tuesday to take my final exam and I passed!

I was so pleased...I really did not know how many times I would have to go to this place and take the test before I was lucky enough to get a passing score...turned it I only needed to go once. I did not have a good feeling after the test was finished, but an hour later when they sent me to get my picture taken I realised for sure I had done it. Woo hoo!

In a way, it was anti-climatic...after two months of classes and driving practice, I got a small piece of paper and put it in my wallet. And that was it. It is nice to have, however.

Posted by Kirk at 10:21 AM | Comments (0)

Hiroshima/Miyajima again (も一度広島と宮島へ行きました)

I took a few days to head off to Hiroshima and Miyajima - a repeat of a trip I took last year at the same time. I really like it down there - it is super relaxing compared to Tokyo and Miyajima is one of the three best sights in Japan, so how can you go wrong.

Here is O-torii gate in front of Itsukushima Shrine at sunset...

mar07 048.jpg

This time I stayed at Ryoso Kawaguchi, which is just off the Omotesando Shotengai and close to the Five-Story pagoda. It is a small place, but the people are very nice and the food was absolutely incredible. Really! They also have the bath with the HOTTEST water, which means Japanese people should especially love it. I felt like a lobster, but I could ease myself in without embarassment, because the baths are all private.

As one does, I spent a lot of time walking around the main part of town taking are a few more of the torii and also a wedding party that was at the shrine when I entered. There was also a documentary crew doing some filming...that was strange - even more strange was to see them two hours later in front of my hotel in Hiroshima. They may have been doing a documentary about me?

mar07 009.jpg mar07 093.jpg mar07 102.jpg mar07 092.jpg

The highest point on Miyajima is Mt. Misen at 550m...more importantly, there is a monkey park at the top. I really need to catalogue all these monkey places someday. In any case, they have some new warning signs that are worthy of being shown - so cool! - and I saw a prayer/plaque that was so sad, I have to post it. The last picture is a monkey trying to escape from me - he does not know there is no where to go.

mar07 073.jpg mar07 074.jpg mar07 084.jpg mar07 077.jpg

From Miyajima, I took a high-speed boat directly to the A-bomb dome (原爆ドーム), that is a picture I took as we were arriving. I did not really spend much time sightseeing in Hiroshima - I walked over to the castle, but it was late in the afternoon and I decided I would save going in for some other time. One place I do have to mention is the Choco-cro/St. Mark's Cafe at the end of Hondori...because really this is the coolest branch they have. I went there last year also, but did not realise that there is a second floor that you reach by escalator or that there is a woman playing a grand piano when you get up there. I love that place.

mar07 111.jpg

Again, I stayed at the Hiroshima Aioi Ryokan. It is super convenient to everything and very quiet. Well, except for the company puting on the floor below mine and the whole "saying good night after drinking loads of sake" seemed to go on forever.

Posted by Kirk at 09:46 AM | Comments (0)

February 22, 2007

Jimbocho (神保町) - book stores and coffee

I met Alex for yesterday - he works in Awajicho and there is not much there. I take that back...we went to a very good Italian place for lunch, but that is about it.

However, it is really close to some cool places. One of those is Jimbocho, and after lunch I walked around there for awhile. Here is one of the main intersections and it is quite a contrast to some of the newer parts of the city.


This area of Tokyo is well-known for all the bookstores. I walked by a lot of them, but maybe I will have to learn Japanese before I ever stop in and buy something. Having said that, I love book stores and no matter where you are or what language you speak, a certain level of comfort always exists. So, I really enjoyed "just walking around".

With lots of bookshops, there is inevitable a lot of coffee shops as well. I wandered down a small alley that had a couple that looked very cool. One was a jazz cafe, which is on the left below. The other cafe (on the right) is just kind of funky and I stopped in there. I loved it, except that fitting the chair, table and my apparently too tall frame together wasn't working. Still, very cool place and it is a bar at night, so maybe I need to go back and drink something a little more fortifying.


I finished up by heading over to Suidobashi to catch the JR train home. I would have wandered a bit more, but I had to go to the driving school last night - I will write all about that soon. It is interesting. Here is the "waterfont":


Oh, Alex...happy birthday.

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

February 11, 2007

A stroll around Tokyo, I mean Okutama (奥多摩)

Well, actually, both are correct.

I took the train up to Okutama (奥多摩) this morning, mostly because it is probably the farthest you can go by train from the center of the city and still be in Tokyo. took two hours to get there. Check out the link if you want more info on what is there.

Here is a picture of the town taken from a trail on the south side of the valley. I walked up this way for about 30 minutes before I realised that I had no idea where I was going or what I would see.


So, Okutama is a lot like most places in the countryside: very quiet and peaceful, but everything seems to be old and a bit run down. It is nice to get away too, but I am not so sure I would want to live out there. Well, if I gave up drinking and talking it might be a good place to go.

Having said that, it was lovely. At one point I was walking along the road next to the Tama River and I thought to myself this place is really like Hakone...but farther away...and with fewer onsens.

Well, I suppose it makes sense that it is quiet.

Anyway, after I walked up the side of a mountain for 30 minutes, I walked back down and had a coffee at the first coffee shop I found, the strangely named "Hemlock", not a name that inspires confidence. And when I walked in at 11am the only other customers were banging back cup after cup of sake). After that, I went to an onsen for a bath, had soba near the station and came home. Whew...

Here are some pictures of the town. On the left you see the train station, on the right, part of the commercial district, heh heh.

And a few more...the picture on the left looks like a gravestone/headstone carving shop. I was walking up the trail and all of the sudden I popped around a curve and all this was laying out in front of me. On the right, some random building with the mountains in the background. I also took a few pictures of temple stuff, but I figure I have 100s of those already, so no need to add more.


I really enjoyed it, but it is a bit long for a day trip, unless you leave really early. The onsen was very nice, if not a bit crowded. I spent 20-30 minutes in the outside bath and felt absolutely refreshed. It is called Moegi-no-yu (もえぎの湯) and is only ten minutes walk from the station. There are other places, but this seemed to be the most popular.

You should check it out sometime.

Posted by Kirk at 07:59 PM | Comments (0)

February 07, 2007

Kurihama and the Black Ships (久里浜の黒船)

I went down to Shonan again yesterday...still looking for that elusive apartment by the beach. Really, this would be impossible to do if I was working!

Anyway, I decided to do a bit of exploring afterward and headed off to Kurihama, which is about 20 minutes by train and at the end of the Yokosuka Line. There is really not too much there.

Kurihama sits on the entrance to Tokyo Bay, however, and is one of the places where US Admiral (Commodore) Perry and his so-called "Black Ships" landed on their way to Tokyo. There is a small park and museum just across the street from the beach. It is free, but there was not much to look at. This is a monument erected in the early 1900s to commemorate the landing.

0207 026.jpg

And here is the rest of Kurihama...the beachfront road is named Perry Street as you can see. Also a picture of the entrance to Black Ship Shopping Street. There were also a ton of restaurants named "Black Ship...".

I imagine it could get difficult to meet people in this town:

"I'll meet you at the Black Ship restaurant!"
"Wait! Which one!"

and so on...

0207 022.jpg 0207 019.jpg

In any case, the weather was really nice. I could sit out and read my book with my jacket off and the sun beaming down - really it felt like Spring to me.

Kurihama is also where you catch the Tokyo Bay Ferry if you are headed over to Chiba and I have wanted to make that trip for awhile. On the other side of the bay is Nokogiriyama (鋸山), where you can find a buddhist temple, some good views and a lot of onsens. Unfortunately, I really did not prepare myself for an overnight trip (i.e. make a reservation to stay somewhere), so I was not sure I would cross over.

I opted to let the ferry schedule decide for me. If I got to the ferry terminal and a boat was waiting, I would go. If not, I would get back on the train and go home. This is a picture of the ferry leaving without me. I arrived at the terminal at 2:28pm - the ferry left at 2:30pm. Oh well. I also added a picture of pristine Kurihama Beach to balance things out. I really hope to make it to Nokogiriyama next time.

0207 028.jpg 0207 023.jpg

As for an apartment down at the beach...I am still looking.

Posted by Kirk at 09:32 AM | Comments (0)

January 10, 2007

Enoshima sunset

Today was one of those absolutely stunning winter days in Japan. It is getting colder here, but the sky was clear and one could be forgiven for thinking it was least in the sun. The picture below is Enoshima and Mt. Fuji from the road above Inamura Beach.

eno 077.JPG

To take advantage of this, Laura and I headed down to Shonan and walked from Kamakura to Enoshima. Make sure to check out her blog, which should have much better pictures! It was warm enough that we could sit outside at the Sundish Cafe across from Inamuragasaki Park and admire the view. We hung out around there until sunset, snapped a few pictures and walked the rest of the way to Enoshima.

On the left below is the Zushi/Hayama coastline taken from the road between Kamakura and Inamuragasaki Park. On the right you can see everyone lining up to take pictures of the sunset. This is one of the things I love about the beach in Japan...seeing people make an effort to watch the sunset everyday. I grew up in California and this makes sense to me, but it is easy to lose touch with simple pleasures like that when living in the big city.

eno 010.jpg eno 037.jpg

And here are a couple of sunset pictures. The colors at sunset were amazing and lasted well into twilight. It was so nice walking down the road with that kind of visual pleasure (too cheesy??). I really liked it.

eno 023.jpg eno 056.jpg

Posted by Kirk at 07:51 PM | Comments (0)

January 09, 2007

Zushi beach sunset

This is one of those pictures that seems so great on the camera, but loses its appeal when you download it. I was terrible excited on my way home from Zushi yesterday because the beach was so lovely. Still, it is blog-worthy, so here you go. But you should know it was much better in person.

meiji 043.jpg

Anyway, I went down to Zushi/Hayama for the first time this year to look at apartments to buy. I arrived early for my appointment, but instead of walking to the beach I went to Starbucks and read my book...I figured I would hit the beach afterward.

The quick rainstorm did not figure into my plans at all. As I finished up with the real estate agent I could hear this "plink...plink" sound but was totally baffled at what it could be. But, it was rain at all when I got out and walked. Just the ominous clouds. Mt. Fuji was visible barely, but none of this snaps turned out. Did I ever mention how much I like Zushi and Hayama?

Posted by Kirk at 08:44 AM | Comments (0)

January 02, 2007

Meiji Jingu (明治神具)

Well, Laura and I did make it back to Meiji Shrine for some pictures. And we also went all the way through, which we may have reconsidered if we had known how long it would take! But the pictures are generally good and this is a not-to-be-missed chance to see the shrine at night, when it is very lovely.

meiji 075.jpg

We were in line for over two hours before we finally made it in, which was probably about one hour too long. It is incredible how many people were there. Laura tells me that over 3 million people visit Meiji Jingu over the new year's holiday, making it the most popular in Japan. It seemed like most of them were in line in front of us!

meiji 022.jpg meiji 031.jpg meiji 033.jpg meiji 042.jpg

One thing that surprised me is how few locals were wearing traditional clothes. There were a few, however, and when I could, I took a picture. The picture on the left is at the entrance to the shrine. The one on the right is inside the temple grounds. They are both lovely, right?

meiji 018.jpg meiji 135.jpg

Like I mentioned before, Meiji Jingu at night is absolutely lovely. This is sort of what it looked like, although the pictures do not really do it justice. The pictures below with the wide spaces covered in tarps show where people are expected to make their offerings. Really...that tarp is covered in coins!

meiji 097.jpg meiji 105.jpg meiji 112.jpg meiji 114.jpg

After making an offering, people go to make wishes. Now that I think about it, it makes good sense to pay upfront. I didn'y make any, but this is where you go to do it...

meiji 123.jpg meiji 129.jpg meiji 127.jpg meiji 133.jpg

And here is one last picture of the crowds inside the temple.

meiji 101.jpg

Posted by Kirk at 01:42 PM | Comments (0)

January 01, 2007

Happy New Year

Well, after 18 months of writing a blog you would think I could come up with a better title for this entry! But, we were out until 4am last night, so you have to cut me a little slack.

I met up with Nuala and Laura and we had a fantastic time.

Things kicked off around 9pm with a few snacks and drinks at my new place. I was a bit worried that Japanese TV would let me down, but we found a countdown show that featured Japanese men wearing loinclothes being chased down so that tails could be pinned to them. Absolutely brilliant and in line with my expectations for quality TV.

At midnight, we went over to the local shrine (Tenshin Jinja) and rang the bell. It was very cool and I wish I had some pictures, but my camera battery died as soon as we left the apartment. Ugh. Anyway, there was hardly a line at all and we reckon our turn at the bell rang in the new year, so that was very cool. It was surprisingly personal, with maybe ten people in line or watching and two priests there to watch over things.

We celebrated that by spending some time near the kerosene heater drinking champagne and taking pictures with various groups of locals that came by.

All of that was merely a prelude to the real plan: a visit to Meiji Shrine in Harajuku. This is the most visited shrine in Japan over the holiday period (or one of the top three...Laura told me twice, but my brain was soaked with alcohol), so it is a major undertaking. BUT WELL WORTH IT!!!

First of all, the streets around the entrance are all closed down...and with all the neighbourhood stores closed to, it seemed like a completely different place. The road from Meiji Dori to the temple entrance was lined with stands selling the typical holiday fare and there was already quite a crowd of people walking around.

Having taken care of our bell-ringing duties in my neighbourhood, we did not need to wait in line to see the actual shrine itself (for those of you familiar with Meiji Shrine, it was already back to the sake wall at 1am). Instead, we detoured to all the stands, shops and boothes catering to the post-prayer crowd, drank a bottle of rose, and watched everyone enjoying themselves.

Sometime around 3am, sanity prevailed and we headed home. Well, after a brief stop at Choco Cro, possibly the best place in Tokyo to drink your first coffee of the year. Then again, I love Choco Cro, so I might be a bit biased.

I have charged up my camera and I will call Laura soon to see if she wants to brave the crowds one more time so I can get some pictures.

Posted by Kirk at 12:39 PM | Comments (0)

December 14, 2006

Kappabashi - all your kitchen needs and a big giant head

Kappabashi is the area in Tokyo dedicated to kitchen and restaurant supply stores. I always hear of it mentioned in reference to "plastic food", which is sometimes displayed in front of Japanese restaurants. On a side note, when I first came to Japan, this did not seem strange as I could not red any Japanese and a handy visual display was welcome. As I am writing this, I wonder why Japanese people would need plastic food displays.

In any case, it has to come from somewhere and Kappabashi is the place. It is not just plastic food, however, as some of the pictures below show. There are also shops for furnishings, signage, uniforms and kitchen supplies.

So, how do you find Kappabashi? Head West from Asakusa towards Ueno on Asakusa Dori. When you see the giant chef's head on the Niimi Building, you are there.

1206 042.jpg

I spent fifteen minutes walking around after my language school's end of semester outing to Hamarikyu and Asakusa. If I am feeling motivated later, I will post some photos of that, but I probably have a million on the website somewhere already.

In the meantime, these are shops that sell the signboards, giant plastic pigs, red lanterns...and the latter is where you can go when you have lost your appreciation for things that are new. No indication on whether they sell to cats.

1206 044.jpg 1206 045.jpg 1206 047.jpg 1206 048.jpg

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

December 06, 2006

Lovely winter days in Tokyo

I have been carrying my camera around with me for the first time in a long while, so I took some pictures. This time of year is really nice in Tokyo - it's very bright, although the trade off is that is not very warm. (If you are in London - ha ha).

Anyway, I walked through Azabu Juban with one of my classmates Sharan after school today and ended up on a road that I had never been on before. This is right behind Roppongi Hills, which really seems to stand out against a cloudless sky. Here are a few pictures:

1106 101.jpg 1106 105.jpg

To balance the old and the new, I also got pictures of a sake shop and a temple entrance. These have no signifcance to me whatsoever, except that I happened to walk by them for the first time today. It seems like a nice street.

1106 102.jpg 1106 103.jpg

Japanese class - arggghhhh

There was a passing reference to school up there, so let me follow up. The semester is ending next week, which is good because I am really burned out on studying. I feel like I am not learning anything, but someone told me that is when you are learning the most. (or did I just make that up to feel better about the whole situation?).

I felt like this at the end of the last two semesters and later noticed the improvement, but it is not much comfort when I am in class flailing away without understanding.

On a positive note, the Japanese Language Proficiency Test was last Sunday and I feel fairly confident that I passed Level 3. We find out in February.

I have to decide whether to keep going or school is 40 minutes away and it seems a bit too far for three hours a day and there are a lot of schools around here. Fortunately, I do not have to decide today.

I am off to Echigo Yuzawa for a quick overnight trip tomorrow (woo hoo!). You might remember that I went last April and it was fantastic. Yuzawa had its first snow this last weekend, so I am looking forward to seeing that.

And I will head over to my sister Terri's in the US in two weeks and stay through Christmas. That should also be fun. (It better be fun Terri, heh heh)

Posted by Kirk at 03:45 PM | Comments (0)

October 09, 2006

Fuji-san from Hayama/Zushi

I woke up entirely TOO early on Sunday (6ish), especially as I had nothing to do. Sometime around 10am, with the sun shining and the sky looking brilliant, I headed down to the beach.

Thanks to the huge storm that blew through late last week taking all the pollution with it, the sky was incredibly clear. And that means Mt. Fuji is easy to see: this is what it looked like at sunset from Morito Beach in Hayama.

1006 108.jpg

When I got to Zushi, I walked over to the beach. There were lots of people out enjoying the weather, but not so much that it felt crowded. Very cool. Here are some more Fuji pics.

1006 045.jpg 1006 062.jpg

My real destination was Hayama however, so I headed that way. I usually take a bus or taxi, but this I time I walked. It did not take as long as I thought it would. A real estate agent told me that you could bike from the south end of Hayama to Zushi Station in 30 minutes. That seems about right.

I spent a little time on the beach reading, but mostly I walked around town trying to get a better feel for things. You know, what the stores and restuarants are like and how far away places are from each other. Highlights include Morito Jinja, which is absolutely brilliant and I already know that is where I want to be at New Year's. It is right on the water, with a small waterfront park on one side and a beach on the other.

1006 076.jpg 1006 077.jpg

I had coffee at Mells Cafe, right on the waterfront. One of the pictures below is taken from there. The other one was taken just after sunset at Morito Beach. It's lovely, right?

1006 092.jpg 1006 116.jpg

The reason I want to get a feel for Hayama is that I am wondering whether I should move down there. I looked at a place near the beach a few weeks ago and really liked it. It is also less than half the cost of what I would pay in central Tokyo for an apartment.

Unfortunately, it is a two hour commute EACH WAY, making it supremely impractical for work/school. And I do not know anyone down there.

But it is the BEACH.

I have to decide tomorrow. I wonder what I will do...

Posted by Kirk at 10:10 PM | Comments (1)

October 07, 2006

Yamagata and Zao Onsen (山形・蔵王温泉)

Surprise! I am back after a month of not writing. I have been really lazy about it recently - mostly because I have been looking for an apartment and that has been boring AND tiring. Hopefully, that is finished.

Anyway, I went up to Yamagata and Zao Onsen this week. It was a very quick trip, just over 24 hours, mostly because the weather was awful. I had hoped to do a bit of hiking, but instead it rained like crazy and I ended up coming home early.

I stayed at Hotel Oak Hill in Zao Onsen, which I highly recommend. The staff is super friendly, the food is excellent (well, except for the steak fried in butter, which was not exactly the healthy food I was looking for!), and the baths were first rate.

This is the view from my room and also the room itself. Very nice.
1006 006.jpg 1006 008.jpg

Like most places outside of Tokyo, people are very helpful if you stand around and look confused. Fortunately, I am really good at that. But, Zao Onsen was very, very quiet. It was kind of spooky. There were people at the bus terminal and at my hotel, but that was about it.

The hotel was very busy thanks to a busload of people going to see the leaves changing colours. Apparently, this is a very good time to go see that in the surrounding mountains, so I was looking forward to it. Here is what it looked like in town.

1006 009.jpg 1006 015.jpg

Unfortunately, that is all I got to see because it started pouring rain over night and in the morning conditions were awful. Too wet to hike and too windy to take the cable car. The hotel staff recommended I check out Yama-dera (山寺) instead, which is closer to Yamagata. I considered it, but after 40 minutes on the bus back to Yamagata I opted to hop on the train back home instead.

I killed some time waiting for my train by walking over to the remains of Yamagata Castle. Kind of cool, but 45 minutes in a cold drizzle without an umbrella means I am sick as a dog today. Here are the pictures my suffering produced:

1006 025.jpg 1006 034.jpg

I am glad I finally got to Zao, although I wish I could have spent some time on the mountain itself. The hotel was brilliant, which made up for it, but four hours each way makes it unlikely I will be going again soon (2h45m - Yamagata Shinkansen; 45m - bus to Zao).

Posted by Kirk at 12:15 PM | Comments (0)

September 04, 2006

Sorry! I have been busy...

I cannot believe that it has been so long since I wrote something. It is not for a lack of things to write about. I have been to Hayama a few times more (once for the 10th anniversary party on the 26th and again for the last day of the season on August 31st) - there are some pictures down below. And not to mention the Sado Island trip on the 19th that will probably never be written about. Oops. That was good fun.

I have been super busy. Now that I am not working, I had to go around to a bunch of different offices so the government and other similar agencies know what I am up to. That took two days, but I managed to do it all myself despite my limited Japanese language ability. In that sense I am proud of myself. Well, we will see if I did it right or not.

And I am still taking Japanese language classes everyday. It is really tough right now and I feel like I am regressing...too much grammar and not enough practice. I am in one of those spots where I feel like I am not making progress no matter how much I study. Arrgghh, not much to do but keep my head down and grind it out.

My big challenge now is to find a new apartment. I am hoping to find something in Shirogane or Azabu Juban, but eight trips to Hayama in August has me thinking a move to that area could be a good idea. It is tempting...I love the beach lifestyle. But a 90 minute commute into Tokyo everyday is less appealing and I will have to start working again at some point. In any case, I have to be moved by the end of October, which does not give me too much time.

Anyway, enough of the small talk. Here are the last pictures of the summer from Hayama. Well, assuming I do not go down next week. Heh heh.

Hayama - August 26th
The weather was not so nice in Tokyo, so a few people decided it was not worth the trip down. As you can see, it was beautiful on the beach. Since a lot of time has passed, I will not go into too much detail. Altogether, there were 10-15 of us down there.

0806 002.jpg

I think Yoko invited about half of them. Glenn came down with his lovely daughter Alex and we had a few walks down the beach - that was cool. My former assistant Ikuko also came, which is a surprise...she does not seem to be much of a beach person, but maybe I will change her by next summer. Then again, she got stung by a jellyfish, so she might never want to go back.

This is me, drinking my beer. See how tan I am. Very cool.

0806 006.jpg

Hayama - August 31
What an awesome time. I went down with Laura...our second trip down to the beach this summer. No swimming becaise of the jellyfish problem of the previous week, but we hung out on the beach for awhile before heading up to the Blue Moon for some well-deserved drinks.

It was really an eventful day. There was an earthquake (!)...much less scary on the beach with a beer in your hand until I remembered they sometimes cause tsunamis. More importantly, it was the last day of the season for the bars and beach houses. And the lifeguards. You can see them here talking to the staff at the Blue Moon. They went to all the bars to say sayonara.

0806 046.jpg

Back at the BLue Moon, drinks were 500 yen and it seemed to be a mostly local crowd...we left at 1015pm, but a lot of people looked to be staying on for the after party. I wish I could have stayed a bit longer.

On the left, this woman was sitting in front of the bar at one point and she was so lovely, I had to take her picture. And here is some footie on the beach. They played until it was almost dark - looked like fun. Not nearly as much fun as I was having, but better than getting your arm broken. Or being stuck in Tokyo all day because you have a job, ha ha!

0806 040.jpg 0806 052.jpg

Anyway, here are some sayonara pictures as the sun set. No more Blue Moon for ten months. How will I survive?

0806 062.jpg 0806 070.jpg

Posted by Kirk at 11:40 PM | Comments (0)

August 23, 2006





0806 202.jpg


0806 207.jpg

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

August 16, 2006



0806 127.jpg


0806 078.jpg0806 092.jpg


0806 099.jpg0806 100.jpg


0806 102.jpg0806 105.jpg


0806 173.jpg0806 176.jpg


Posted by Kirk at 10:36 AM | Comments (1)

August 08, 2006





0806 032.jpg0806 033.jpg

0806 034.jpgあとで海岸を散歩しました。左の写真を南の方からとりました。葉山一色海岸はあまり大きくないですね。平日はこんでいないで気持ちがいいです。みんなは仕事があると行けないと思います。それに、葉山で駅がないから不便です。込んでいないことが好きだから、大丈夫です。


0806 044.JPG


Posted by Kirk at 07:39 PM | Comments (4)

August 05, 2006

葉山のブルームーン・Blue Moon Hayama


I have finally made it to the beach. Actually, it is my third time this summer, but the first time I went back to Hayama. It was so nice, I wish I could go everyday!

0806 002a.JPG

The benefits of not working are starting to appear. I finished school at 1230pm, went home, grabbed a bag and hopped on the train. Well, actually I sat around my apartment for thirty minutes in a mindless stupor too, but never mind that. I was on the beach at 330pm!

I went to Hayama Isshiki Beach. The weather was perfect. Sunny, beautiful blue skies and a gentle breeze blowing in from the ocean. The only surprise is how empty the beach was. I have never been on a weekday so I did not know what to expect. Unbelieveable.

0806 001.jpg 0806 005.JPG

0806 009.jpg
I spent a few hours swimming and reading my book. After that I walked down the beach and saw this wedding party. I wanted to take more pictures but my camera appears to be dying. More on that some other time.

After that, it was up to the Blue Moon for a few drinks and dinner before heading back. Again, it was not very crowded despite it being a BAR on the BEACH on FRIDAY night. Not that I am complaining. It seemed to be a lot of locals as people would stop by for a drink and walk off again. And the man at the bar seemed surprised when I said I lived in Tokyo. I told him I was not working anymore and he said I should come down more often. I could not agree more.

The sunset was nice. Later, there was a half moon over the water and you could see the reflections off the breaking waves and the calm water of Sagami Bay behind it was glorious. I wish I could have taken a better picture.

0806 021.jpg 0806 025.jpg

Anyway, I dragged myself away at 8pm and was home by 10pm. Much better than sitting around at home all day. Hayama is so lovely.


Posted by Kirk at 10:29 AM | Comments (0)

August 02, 2006

江ノ島花火大会・Enoshima Fireworks








2006 江ノ島花火大会


Posted by Kirk at 10:08 PM | Comments (0)

July 17, 2006

猿島: 赤くなりました



友達は毎年この週末にバーバーキュをします。(去年も行きました) 楽しました!いい食べ物を食べたり、ビールを飲んだり、喋ったりしました。およぎたかったけど、海がつっめたでした。みんなは日本人だから、たくさん日本語を話しました。よかったです、でも私は日本語をまだ話しやすないから、恥ずかしいです。(ともこ、春子:すみません)。



0706 056.jpg0706 058.jpg



0706 060.jpg0706 068.jpg


Sarushima sunburn
I went back to Sarushima yesterday. Thank you Tomoko and Haruko for inviting me again...I really enjoyed it. The weather was cloudy, but I managed to get a nice sunburn. Ot is it a tan? I am not sure what to say in my dictionary, it says the same thing (hiyakesuru). Anyway...

There are still not any monkeys on monkey island, which I find very confusing. We did not do any exploring this time, so I cannot be sure.

We had some good food, a few drinks and I even swam a little, but the water was so cold, I did not stay in very long. It was refreshing, however. If you are an intense reader of this blog, you may remember that I did this last year. In fact, it was the very same barbecue, Tomoko, Haruko and their university friends go there every year on the sunday before Marine Day (海の日), followed by a trip to the Yokohama Sky Spa to clean up, and then to watch the Yokohama fireworks.

It was good fun and we chatted a lot, mostly in Japanese...a real test for me. After awhile, my brain switched off and I found it harder to concentrate. That is a little embarassing, but I will get better next time, I hope. And one of the guys I met is also a student at Nichibei in Yotsuya, which was a big surprise. We agreed that it is a good school, mostly because the teachers are very strict. And the child of one of the couples kept calling me "paaata", which we eventually figured out must mean Harry Potter. That is a first for me.

The spa was very cool - basically an onsen on the 14th floor of the Yokohama Sky Building. I bathed and went to the relaxation room and spent my time staring out the window thinking about nothing at all. Lovely!

And afterwards, we headed off to watch the fireworks, which were very close by. I love to watch the fireworks in Japan. It is usually very crowded, but it is a nice tradition. Many people go out wearing their yukata and kimono. Last night was no different and it makes Yokohama seem like a small town. Good fun.


Sarushima information
Yokohama Sky Spa
Yokohama City fireworks homepage

Posted by Kirk at 03:16 PM | Comments (0)

July 09, 2006

Does this really happen in Tokyo?

I almost never have problems with taxis in Japan. The drivers are usually very honest and will take you wherever you need to go with no fuss or unnecessarily long detours. This stands in stark contrast to New York, where it seems they are always trying to chisel an extra buck or two out of you.

I say usually, because tonight I got one of the dishonest ones.

I was on my way home from Shibuya to Akasaka. This is usually a simple drive - you take Roppongi Dori all the way. It is also kind of long, so I started browsing the Internet on my mobile phone to pass the time. When I looked up, we were in Omotesando, which (if you live in Tokyo, you know) is not the right way.

I asked the driver if he knew where we were going, which he said he did. Then I said that this seemed to be the very long way to go, to which he did not reply.

If you live here you already have figured out he was taking me for a ride (no pun intended). If you do not live here, it is explanation enough to tell you that instead of the straight line between where I got in and home he figured a big giant loop was better and about half again as expensive.

Needless to say I was not happy.

When we got to my building I asked him how much it would have cost if we went the direct route instead of the long way. When he started to explain, I interrupted him and asked him the same question again. I did not want any answer that did not include "X" yen (and that being substantially less than what was on the meter). He started to say something else, and again I told him I did not want to go sightseeing and that I wanted to know how much it cost to go the regular way.

He gave in. Now I am happy. Thank you Nichibei.

Posted by Kirk at 11:50 PM | Comments (0)

June 11, 2006

Good vegetarian place in Shinjuku

Did I just write that? Unbelievable!

Anyway, it is true. The restaurant is called Piman (ぴーまん) and it is right in front of Shinjuku-gyoen. That is the restaurant on the left...the other picture is Shinjuku-gyoen from the restaurant.

0606 006.JPG 0606 005.JPG

I was talking to Satomi this weekend and mentioned to her that I was trying to eat healthier, including more vegetables. She recommended this restaurant, so we headed over there today.

The restaurant takes nutrition seriously, well, as far as I could tell with my limited Japanese. There is a wide range of vegetarian dishes and an incredible number of fruit and vegetable drinks/yogurts. The menu is designed so that you can order a drink that addresses various health issues. I ordered the one for people that smoke.

I usually do not write about restaurants here, but this one really stood out. I hope to go back regularly.

Preyash, if you are reading this...sorry I did not know about this when you lived here. It is much healthier that an order of chips at the pub.

Posted by Kirk at 09:52 PM | Comments (0)

June 04, 2006

I hate crows

crow.jpg Why can't crows take Sunday off? I do not like them. They are big, ugly and make a mess by tearing open garbage bags on the street. Did I mention they are loud? Despite all that, I usually do not pay them much attention other than a silent curse when I see them.

I was out for a walk this morning when a crow swooped down on a girl walking in front of me. I had almost reached her so when it flew by I also ducked. She must have thought I was a bit strange for about a second, but she rightly hurried off.

My initial reaction was that the crow must have its nest nearby, because they have been known to attack people when the think the nest is threatened. Then I thought if that is true I should see where that crow went because it might attack again.

Because it was first thing in the morning all that thinking took longer than it should, which is annoying as the damn thing did swoop down on me me next. No contact, but it did wake me up a bit.

I hate crows.

Picture from

Posted by Kirk at 10:00 AM | Comments (1)

June 02, 2006

Kusunoki Masashige statue

Last weekend, I met Christine and we walked around the area near Tokyo Station. At one point, we saw this. It is a statue of Kusunoki Masashige and you can find it in Kokyo-gaien between the Imperial Palace and Tokyo Station. This is one of the first places I went when I came to Japan six years ago, so it has some personal significance. For a long time, I had a similar picture in my cubicle at work. I am not sure where it is now.

0506 120.jpg

Kusunoki Masashige (楠正成) was a 14th-century samurai that fought for the emperor against the Kamakura shogunate. He is one of the great heroes of Japanese history, with a reputation for great cunning and bravery matched by unswerving loyalty to the emperor, even in the face of certain death. There is all you could ever want to know on this website. And the statue is very cool.

I know there is a rule about statues that has something to do with the horse. If one leg is up in the air, the person died in battle or something like that. If anyone remembers, let me know. And probably you should do it quick before I forget that there is a rule in the first place. I wish my brain was bigger so I could remember more.

Posted by Kirk at 06:29 PM | Comments (0)

May 14, 2006

Meiji Jingu and Harajuku

Another weekend, another small trip. Yesterday, I went with Phurba, Hannah and Christine to Harajuku. The weather was not really very good, but we managed to do quite a bit.

We started off with a quick trip to Meiji Shrine. I am sure anyone who has been to Tokyo already knows all about this place so I will not go into detail. Because of the rain, it was not too crowded, which was nice.

After that, we walked over to Harajuku and went through Takeshita Street, which is well-known for being the style capital for young Japanese. I spent most of my time dodging umbrellas (see picture below), so I do not have much to report on the latest fashions. Fortunately, this also left us close to Spyros, a very nice Greek restaurant with good food at amazingly low prices. The service is also very good. I really like that place.

After lunch we went to the Ota Memorial Museum to look at this month's exhibition from its collection of ukiyo-e. They have the largest collection in Tokyo (and probably Japan?). I am not an expert by any means, but they are very beautiful and worth a visit - if you live in Tokyo and have not been there, you should go.

We finished up with a coffee and chocolate croissant at Choco Cro, which I have mentioned before. Despite the crap weather, it was a very good day.



0506 058.jpg0506 060.jpg


0506 062.jpg



Posted by Kirk at 07:29 PM | Comments (0)

May 09, 2006

Subway stylish

I almost forgot: when I hopped on the subway at 8am this morning I saw the strangest thing. As we waited for the doors to close, a man slipped onto the train.

At first, I noticed the maroon trousers, leather jacket and the most atrocious perm I have seen in awhile. It was so bad, it took a minute to realise he had rounded out the outfit with a large can of beer. I suppose I would drink to if I looked like that in the morning.

I wish I had a picture, but you should be glad that I do not.

Posted by Kirk at 09:23 PM | Comments (0)

May 06, 2006

Crowded Yokohama

Have you been wondering where all the Japanese go on Golden Week? I know where: Yokohama.

We went down there yesterday to check out the Ramen Museum near Shin-Yokohama station. Unfortunately, a lot of other people had the same idea. When we arrived at noon, there was a line down the block to get in. That is the line of yellow umbrellas in the picture on the left below. It was not raining - the umbrellas were to provide some relief for the mid-day sun.

The attendant told us it would be thirty minutes to get in, but that was only the beginning. Once inside, there were waits of 45-60 minutes at the individual shops (the picture on the right shows the sign board). I like ramen. I love ramen. But an hour and a half was too much.

0506 042.jpg 0506 044.jpg

We headed to Chinatown instead. It was also insanely crowded...most restaurants had lines out the door and along the sidewalk and you did not walk down the street as much as shuffle along in a chaotic queue. Satomi knew a few places that were good and we eventually found one, served our time in line and ate lunch. I thought it was very good, but I could have eaten cardboard and thought the same thing.

0506 046.jpg 0506 047.jpg

Fortified by lunch, we walked over to the waterfront and over to the Landmark Tower/Minato Mirai shopping area. It was nice to be outside, but there were too many people out. And I still want a ramen.



駅からラーメン博物館に7分ごろ歩いて行きました。おおぜいいました!一番上の左の写真で、多くれつにならっているの人がみえます。れつのかかりは「30分ぐらい待って入ります」と行きました。そして博物館の中に45-60分のれつがありました (一番上の右の写真)。おなかがすいたから、横浜中華街(ちゅかがい)に行きました。


Posted by Kirk at 02:35 PM | Comments (1)

May 02, 2006

Asakusa and Odaiba (浅草とお台場)

This week is Golden Week in Japan, which means I am on a week-long holiday! I met up yesterday with some of my Japanese classmates to go to Asakusa and Odaiba. The weather was great, so it was good fun.

As I have to write a journal in Japanese for what I did this week, I posted this entry in Japanese...killing two birds with one stone, so to speak. The pictures are self-explanatory, so take a look.


11時ぐらい浅草駅であいまして、なかみせどりでゆめのせんそじへ行きました。写真をとって、ひるご飯をたべました。左の下の写真で雷門の前にいました。右の下ので(five-story pagoda*)です。
0506 003.jpg0506 013.jpg0506 013.jpg


0506 015.JPG0506 017.JPG 


0506 035.jpg0506 039.jpg

トヨタショーカースをみて、Venus Fortでぶらぶらして、晩ご飯を食べました。9時にお台場でゆりかもめせんにのって、新橋へ行きました。あこでいろいろの電車にのりかえって、かえりました。


* すみません..."five-story pagoda" は日本語で何ですか。

UPDATE: ありがとう!えとさんは ”five-story pagodaは五重塔(ごじゅうのとう)です。”とこたえました。

Posted by Kirk at 11:44 AM | Comments (2)

April 29, 2006

Ninja madness!

When I was growing up, I thought ninjas were cool. They were samurai on steroids (not that anyone talked about steroids then, but you know what I mean). And mysterious as they were, you knew enough about them to know they were extremely scary.

* They dressed in black
* They were silent (and probably invisible)
* They used exotic weapons like throwing stars and nunchuks (sp?)
* They could fly, or at the very least jump 20 feet in the air
* They were mystical

In other words, ninjas were great for video games and comic books.

So, are there any ninjas (still) around? This article, on Grand Master Masaaki Hatsumi of the Bujinkan Dojo, says there are. Hatsumi-sensei is also the only living student of the last fighting ninja, who earned his spurs as a bodyguard in Japanese-controlled Manchuria before World War II, reputedly killing one Chinese bandit by taking his eye out of his head. Which is exactly the kind of story that makes ninjas so menacing.

As a result, when Nuala said she had tickets to see the last ninja himself make a presentation at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan last week, there was no way to say no. (Thanks Nuala!)

On the plus side, a man came in wearing some pretty cool looking samurai armour so that people could take pictures. Unfortunately, I did not have my camera, but Kevin did and if he ever sends me a picture I will post it. Also, Elton John and Mick Jaggers' bodyguards were there (not sure why that is cool, but it gives me the chance to do a little name dropping).

But the downside had to be the presentation itself - there was nothing on "ninjitsu" (ninja art of war) and instead of stories on silent infiltration and battle, we heard that the ninja's role is to protect nature and a host of other simple platitudes. Have ninjas become PC? There was also something about training in San Francisco and Cleveland, but I might have got that part wrong. In any case, listening to him answer questions was like trying to grab smoke: there was nothing to get a handle on.

At one point, Laura said the art of ninja is avoiding questions by slapping yourself on the back. I had to laugh, but not too loudly. If you are interested in ninjas, there are a couple of things you can do.

If you believe in the stereotype, you should head over to the Ninja restaurant in Akasaka. Not only do you get served by these secretive warriors, the food is better than what is served at FCCJ.

For more information on the real last ninja, you can visit his website here. In James Clavell's Shogun, ninjas were contacted by whispering your request in a certain temple at a certain hour. Using the website is probably easier.

Posted by Kirk at 05:26 PM | Comments (0)

April 23, 2006

Mt. Fuji (富士山) - a much better picture

Laura sent me her photo of Mt. Fuji from Inamuragasaki Park. It gives you a much better idea of how impressive it looked.

Thanks Laura!


Posted by Kirk at 06:51 PM | Comments (2)

Kamakura and Enoshima (鎌倉 と 江ノ島)

Thanks to an early morning call from Nuala, I was more active than I usually am on a Saturday. You see, Nuala was calling to invite me along for a beach stroll from Kamakura to Enoshima with her, the Lauras, Kevin and Paul. Despite the modest hangover and lack of quality time sitting on my couch recently, I was easily convinced.

And with good reason, because it was an excellent day.

We walked along the beach from Kamakura to Enoshima. That is about 7 kilometres, but the weather was excellent, so it was very nice. It was also good to be reminded how close Shonan is, especially with summer almost here!

We walked the first leg from Kamakura to Inamuragasaki Park (follow this link for a description of some of the local beaches), where we stopped for a glass of bubbly to celebrate Laura's birthday.

0406 025.jpg 0406 038.jpg 0406 041.jpg 0406 049.jpg

It was unbelievable warm and lots of people were there to enjoy the good weather and views of Mt. Fuji (!). Unfortunately, it did not come out so well in the pictures - in person, it really was awe-inspiring. It is rare to get a clear view of Mt. Fuji, when you do it is always a suprise at how big it is.

0406 031.JPG

After that, we went across the street to the Sundish restaurant for lunch. Coming down from the park, it seemed too good to be true: outdoor seating on a sunny day at the beach - especially because this stretch of coastline is impossibly crowded in summer.

Well, it was too good to be true. The wind was much stronger there and it clouded up a little - instead of a balmy 20 degrees it seemed more like 10 degrees (or less?). We bundled up, finished our lunch and moved on. This could be a good spot for afternoon drinks in the summer, but it was still too early in the season yesterday.

0406 048.JPG 0406 043.jpg

After walking farther down the beach (and past the fishing village), we eventually ended up at Enoshima (Omiyage Island), where we spent an hour poking around. It is a nice place to go, but it seemed a bit over-the-top...then again, we were all fairly tired by that point.

0406 061.jpg 0406 063.jpg
0406 074.jpg 0406 085.jpg




Posted by Kirk at 11:58 AM | Comments (1)

April 05, 2006

Miyajima - one of the three most beautiful views in Japan

I am in Miyakjma now, which is just outside Hiroshima and about 600 miles from Tokyo. I took an early train from Tokyo (733am!) so I had all afternoon to look around. It is amazing here. So much that I took 170 pictures. As a result, it will take me awhile to go through all of them, including some prime photos from the monkey park at the top of the mountain (can't swing a cat in Japan without hitting one of these apparently).

I did not think I would have access to the Internet, but there is a free wi-fi hotspot in my ryokan for some reason - very weird as they have a fixed-line connection you can pay to use. Anyway, I should make this quick in case they catch on.

I thought these would be a good start, however. This is O-Torii gate and since every advertisement for Miyajima has a picture of this, I thought I would show you some of mine. I took the first one from the ferry on the way to the island (about 1pm)...the second one, I took at 6pm. Notice that the tide has gone out so much that you can walk up to it. Which I did...very cool.

hiro 017.JPG hiro 133.jpg

I will post some more pictures tomorrow when I get to Hiroshima, including monkeys and more cherry blossoms.

Posted by Kirk at 08:54 PM | Comments (0)

April 04, 2006

Yotsuya cherry blossoms last look at cherry blossoms for this year. I had to go to Yotsuya this morning for a regulatory seminar, which meant three hours of sitting in front of a computer in a windowless room - ugh. After that, I was more than ready to spend some time outside.

Fortunately, there is a very nice walk between Yotsuya Station and Kioi-cho and the cherry trees there still had their blossoms. In fact, this seems to be prime property for o-hanami and the path was lined with groups out for one last look. You can see some of that on the left. On the right, is one of the late bloomers, apparently.

hanami 069.jpg hanami 081.jpg

The path is an embankment with Sophia University on one side and sports fields on the other. It ended at the Hotel New Otani in Kioi-cho, just north of Akasaka. I found out that Kioi-cho is derived from the first syllable of two people and the Ii family, which had a residence there at the start of the Meiji Restoration. I do not remember the first two names...but they obviously start with "Ki" and "O". There is a sign next to the entrance of the Hotel's Japanese garden if you are interested...

And that should do it for cherry blossoms.

I am off to Hiroshima and Miyajima for the rest of the week.

Posted by Kirk at 12:37 PM | Comments (0)

April 01, 2006

Shinjukugyoen and cherry blossoms

Shinjukugyoen (新宿御苑) is one of the best places to see cherry blossoms in Tokyo. I went on Friday morning with Laura. It was excellent!

Here are some pictures of the cherry blossoms...these are nice, but they only give you an idea of how beautiful it was.

hanami 034.JPG hanami 037.JPG hanami 039.JPG hanami 050.JPG

There were lots of people in the park. You have to pay ¥200 to get in, but that did not seem to matter. It was very festive, like being on holiday. They seem to be having fun!

hanami 058.JPG hanami 059.JPG

Posted by Kirk at 01:18 PM | Comments (1)

March 31, 2006

Imperial Palace - Tokyo

Nuala somehow convinced me an early morning stroll around the Imperial Palace would be a good idea...and I am so glad that she did. This is one of the most popular jogging spots in Tokyo. And it is also a beautiful walk if you look at the palace instead of the road. If you are really focused, you can forget that you are in the middle of one of the world's largest cities.

We met at 7am at the Palace Hotel and started off. You should always go counter-clockwise when doing this. I am not sure why, but this is what most people do. It does help that you get the uphill part of the walk out of the way first, I guess. Here are a few shots of the moat and palace walls from the Kudanshita side...

hs 103.jpg hs 104.jpg

As you can see, it was a beautiful morning...a bit chilly, but not a cloud in the sky and the cherry blossoms along the way were in full bloom. And at 7am, there was not much traffic, so it was very quiet.

hs 106.jpg hs 111.jpg

This could be one of my favourite cherry blossom pictures...I cannot believe that it turned out so well. Too bad it was so early, as this would have been a good place to celebrate o-hanami with beer or sake. Maybe I will go back later...

hs 114.jpg

hs 119.jpg hs 121.jpg

It only took an hour to walk around and that includes walking back from the palace to Akasaka/Roppongi. That is Nuala on the left below...I am on the right - not quite sure what I am doing in that picture, but it does prove I was there and not making it all up.

hs 116.jpg hs 120.jpg

Thanks Nuala!

Posted by Kirk at 08:39 AM | Comments (0)

March 30, 2006

Well, that's not so bad then...

More earthquake news!

The latest study on the potential impact of a major earthquake in Tokyo estimates 5,600 people would die in a 7.3 magnitude quake. This estimate, from the Tokyo Metropolitan government, is less than the 13,000 fatalities forecast by the central government.

Of course, a healthy dose of skepticism is probably required as the new lower estimate has been published even though we know now that some supposedly earthquake-resistant buildings have not been built to code. And the expected fatalities is less than the number that died in tiny Kobe when that city was hit in 1996.

The study also estimates 9,500 of the 14,500 high-rise elevators would be out of commission. Only 9,500??? Probably the last place I would want to be after an earthquake is geting into an elevator anyway, but I am lad to know that the option will be there.

Posted by Kirk at 02:37 PM | Comments (0)

March 28, 2006

A sunny afternoon in Odaiba

What better way to spend a sunny (pre-) spring day then go to Odaiba? Actually, no need to answer that.

Odaiba is a funny place. It is an island built on reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay, which means that there is nothing old or historical to get in the way of development. As a result, it does not have the crowded feel of other parts of Tokyo. The downside, of course, is that it is the last place you want to be if there is a major earthquake!

You can get to Odaiba on the Yurikamome Monorail (¥370 from Shimbashi Station) or by water taxi from Hinode Pier. We took the monorail in both directions - you get nice views, especially when you are going over the Rainbow Bridge. You can also access Odaiba on the subway using the Rinkai Line, but I have no idea where that is just sort of there.

The prime attractions are the Palette Town/Venus Fort shopping center, which made a huge splash when it opened. It was positioned as an upscale shopping area at the time, but seems to be moving downmarket in the face of competition from new more easily accessible developments like Roppongi Hills, Marunouchi Building and Omotesando Hills. But, still good fun to walk around in.

We walked around the bayfront park (nice day for a stroll and not crowded at all!) first and had lunch at Kua'Aina, a Hawaiian hanmburger place (it is very good!). On the way, I got my first close-up view of the Statue of Liberty. The Tokyo version, I mean (see below). There is also a pictures of the Fuji TV building, which is easily identifiable from the rest of Tokyo (assuming the wall of new skyscrapers in Shiodome does not block your view).

hs 084.jpg hs 085.jpg

These are pictures of Tokyo from Odaiba (left) and a ship at Tokyo Port (right) taken from the Aomi Station.

hs 082.jpg hs 086.jpg

Posted by Kirk at 10:33 AM | Comments (0)

Cherry blossoms update

I am sure that a lot of bloggers are putting more effort into this than I am, but here is an update on the cherry blossoms anyway. Actually, I just liked these pictures and wanted to put them online.

These were taken on Sunday on Sakurazaka behind Ark Hills and the ANA Hotel. It looks like 40% of the blossoms had opened. Not many had fallen off the trees yet and with no rain so far, it should look pretty impressive when the trees reach full bloom.

The picture on the left is a close up of one of the branches, which gives you a good idea how far along we are. On the right, is an actual tree (!) will look even better as the week progresses.

hs 076.jpg hs 079.jpg

More to come...

Posted by Kirk at 10:26 AM | Comments (0)

March 24, 2006

Early o-hanami this year?

It looks like an early start to the cherry blossoms this year. After lunch in Ark Hills today, we saw that the cherry trees on sakurazaka (cherry blossom slope) were well on their way to full bloom. It is amazing how these kind of things sneak up on you.

There has been a lot of controversy on the accuracy of forecasts over the last few years (for morer detail check the link below). It is important because convenience stores need to stock up on beer and sake (and food too, I guess) for the numerous cherry blossom viewing parties. And that means this guy's job can be very stressful. If you are in Japan, I hope you have made your plans already.

Posted by Kirk at 12:56 PM | Comments (0)

March 06, 2006

Coffemaker success?

I finally have a coffeemaker!

Of course, I made it more difficult than it should have been, including three trips to the electonics store over two months (two this weekend). But I have one.

I went shopping with Yoko on Saturday morning in Akihabara and bought a Delonghi espresso maker. I was quite excited about that. But I could not figure out how it worked - maybe I should learn Japanese and I could read the instructions?

But having the useless (to me) machine in my kitchen made me realise that I only bought an espresso machine because that is what I was using before. So, I went today and bought a regular drip coffeemaker. Why didn't I do that in the first place? Good question.

Posted by Kirk at 02:12 PM | Comments (0)

March 03, 2006

Ochanomizu, Yushima and Ueno

The weather in Tokyo has been truly miserable this week. It was not what I was hoping for after spending a week in cold, wet England.

I did manage to get out a bit yesterday, however, and the rain held off long enough for me to wander from Ochanomizu to Sendagi, pick up some senbei and get back home.

This is a picture from Ochanomizu looking east along the train tracks to Akihabara. The water on the bottom left is Kandagawa, although it looks more like a canal. It is a small example of how crowded Tokyo seems sometimes.

zz 061.jpg

From there, I walked north towards the old part of town (shitamachi)...I really have been spending too much time exploring this part of town, but it was very close and I had nothing better to do. Just across the river from Ochanomizu is Yushima and I walked by this temple. Not being someone who can resist a picture of yet another temple, I had to stop and get this shot. It was very colorful and well maintained...I imagine it would look fantastic if it was sunny!

zz 069.jpg

I also walked a bit through Ueno Park, but what really caught my eye was this building, the Hotel Sofitel, which I assume is not related in any way to the European chain. It struck me as being the one sure place I would NOT want to be when the big earthquake finally comes. I got vertigo just imagining what it would be like up there. Scary.

zz 085.JPG

I took a bunch of other pictures, but they did not seem blog-worthy. I may put them in the photo album later. Maybe.

Posted by Kirk at 03:33 PM | Comments (1)

February 11, 2006

More English TV in Japan?

I guess someone told the prime minister that I am not paying my NHK fee. Why else would he say this:

TOKYO — Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Friday that Japan Broadcasting Corp (NHK) should offer more English-language programming in Japan for the benefit of foreign residents, according to Administrative Reform Minister Koki Chuma and Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe.

At Friday's cabinet meeting, the prime minister said more programs in English could be aired, "considering that NHK possesses a good number of channels including the main channel, another one for educational programs, satellite TV and FM and AM radio channels."

Koizumi told reporters Friday that more foreign-language programming should be offered to people outside Japan to let them learn more about the country. He said he has instructed Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Heizo Takenaka to study the matter.

Koizumi's comment followed his talks Thursday night with well-known foreigners working in Japan, in which they said NHK, the public broadcaster, should dedicate at least one of its channels to programming designed specifically for foreign residents, instead of the simultaneous translations of Japanese-language broadcasts, Chuma said.

Koizumi responded positively to the idea, the minister said.

At the cabinet meeting, other ministers also said NHK should do more to inform foreigners about Japan.

Science and technology minister Iwao Matsuda said, "Japanese who take part in international conferences are not disseminating sufficient information about Japan."

Foreign Minister Taro Aso said, "The British Broadcasting Corp receives advertisers' sponsorships for its overseas programs and NHK should do so if necessary."

At present, bilingual NHK news and other programs offered in Japanese and a foreign language total 11 hours a week on the broadcaster's main channel and the figure is 81 hours for its satellite BS1 channel. English- and Spanish-language news programs are also available on NHK's No. 2 radio channel.

Posted by Kirk at 01:57 PM | Comments (0)

January 08, 2006

The BEST English language book selection in Tokyo (and other matters)

Maruzen in the Oazo building near Tokyo Station.

I haven't been getting out enough. I know that because I had absolutely no books to read this morning. That meant a trip to the bookstore. I used to go to Kinokuniya in Shinjuku, which was widely regarded as having the largest selection of books in Tokyo. And they may still, but Maruzen is good competition.

Their English section is like a store-within-a-store, with almost anything you would need. For example, I got a few fiction titles, a travel guide to Seoul (leaving next Friday), and a Spanish food cookbook. I could have been in London or New York. Very cool, especially as I had Spanish Omelet for dinner. I really like that place.

Shopping has its downside
After my book-buying spree I was feeling so good, I thought I would try my luck at getting a coffee maker. With Bic Camera in Yurakucho an easy fifteen-minute walk, it seemed like a great idea.

The store was absolutely packed, but I figured a mundane appliance like a coffeemaker would attract little notice. Hmmm...not exactly. I fought my way through the crowds around the humidifiers, washing machines and vacuum cleaners only to find that there was no oasis of calm or let up in the shopping frenzy.

There must have been thirty people jostling for position in the one aisle I need to be in. After fifteen minutes of looking over shoulders or squeezing between manic housewives to get a look, I gave up. I love coffee, but it was just not worth it.

Posted by Kirk at 09:02 PM | Comments (1)

January 02, 2006

Hie Jinja - Akasaka

Well, I managed to finish one thing I said I would do this year! I went over to Hie Jinja this afternoon to have a look around. It was not the ideal day - it is very cold and a touch wet - enough so that my fingers are still numb (and that is my excuse for any typing errors you find below).

This is the first thing you see when you come up the escalator.

kb 002.jpg

That's right, I said escalators. Hie Jinja is on a hill, but more importantly it has generous corporate neighbours and that allows them to upgrade the facilities quite often. There is a woman in my office who used to work in the building next door to the shrine and she told me that employees in her office always went on the first day of the working year and made a donation. So, thanks to her, I could ride in comfort and avoid walking up all the steps. I like this shrine.

I did not stay very long - it was very cold. But I did get myself a calendar (year of the dog!) and a frankfurter for lunch. I know it is not very Japanese, but it was the last stall as I was walking out and I could not resist. Earlier, I was tempted to sit down in the food tent (see below) with some yakitori, but the drinks were so cheap I was worried I would never leave...

This is a picture of the main event - praying. Those long, white/red streamers are attached to bells. You are supposed to ring one, clap your hands and pray. I may have got the order any event it did not stop raining, so my requests were not going through.

kb 009.jpg

And that is pretty much it...except for the food tent (looks good, right?), the bonfire (this is the first year they have blocked it used to be a fire pit), the wall of sake barrels, and the girls selling crepes in cow costumes.

I am pretty sure that last one is not traditional, but I may be wrong. I wish I had a better picture...maybe I DO need to get back to Hie Jinja again. In any case, it was a nice change of pace after the hours I have spent in my apartment this weekend.

kb 011.jpg kb 007.jpg kb 014.jpg kb 015.jpg

Posted by Kirk at 03:02 PM | Comments (0)

December 30, 2005

A cruel twist of fate

I realised that fate has not been on my side very much lately. For a short-time in 2003-4, Peet's Coffee & Tea, one of the very good US coffee chains, had opened stores in Tokyo. So good, that I was happy to go out of my way, sometimes adding 10-15m to my morning commute so I could have that prized first cup of the day.

Of course, all good things come to an end and Peet's eventually closed its Tokyo locations and moved on. What hurts is that in the time since then, my company moved office to the same building that Peet's was in. It has been replaced by a "cafe" that sells curry, hot dogs and coffee...(I would not go in there if it was the last thing open/at gunpoint etc - you get the idea).

It has been over a year since the office move, but it was only today when I went out to get a coffee that I finally realised what I have been missing. I could have been having it every day!

If you live in the Bay Area, you are spoiled for choice! If you have not been there recently, you should make an effort to try it again. Do it for me.

My life is all about bad timing.

Posted by Kirk at 04:11 PM | Comments (1)

December 25, 2005

Happy Christmas

Happy holidays everyone. I got back to Japan this is cold, but sunny. It is so good to be back!

I will write more once I have settled in a bit.

Posted by Kirk at 11:51 AM | 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:

meiji 006.jpg meiji 015.jpg

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 15, 2005

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

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.

about banner.JPG

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.

13nov 013.jpg

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.

13nov 002.jpg

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

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)

October 30, 2005

Happo-en Shirogane

Happo-en in Shirogane...what a great place! We went over there today for a coffee and walked around the gardens a bit. It is all still very green as you can see, but a few weeks from now there should be some fantastic colours as the leaves change. Mark it in your calendars. They have a nice restaurant with a terrace that overlooks the garden (well-heated), and it was so quiet and peaceful sitting there. They also had some surprisingly good scones, which was a bonus.

This was my second visit to Happo-en...the first time was last March/April when the cherry blossoms were blooming. It was also very nice then. They certainly know how to show themselves off! Anyway, you have two good reasons for going now.

30oct 001.jpg

And if you do not like trees and the like, there is also big pond, which is full of carp (koi). I think they are supremely ugly fish, but you might like them so here are a few pictures. They seemed to think I would have some food for them. That or they were hoping I would fall in! Scary...

30oct 005.jpg 30oct 007.jpg

Posted by Kirk at 07:12 PM | Comments (0)

October 29, 2005


Yikes! What a long week. After work last night, I barely had the energy to make it home, let alone go out and be sociable (or what I consider sociable, which is sometimes different).

I woke up this morning to a real dilemma. No coffee or milk in the apartment. Vaguely, I remember making a note to myself that I would need to take care of this, but like many of these notes it had disappeared under the flurry of other things that grab my attention.

The problem is that I usually need a coffee to be functional in the morning. And on some mornings, like Saturdays, i really do not want to talk to anyone until I have had my dose of caffeine that makes conversations possible. And that is the catch-22. Because I needed a coffee before I could talk to anyone, but I had to talk to someone before I could have that coffee. Having to speak Japanese just makes this worse.

This all rambled through my head as I walked over to Cafe de Crie, the closest coffee shop to my apartment. The initial order went fine...I have memorised these important rituals in my mind, so that I do not have to think. But there seemed to be a problem. The man behind the counter came back with a non-standard reply! I had a feeling that whatever he had said was something I had heard before, but I could not quite grasp the meaning. There were words I knew when considered in isolation, but the coherent whole was elusive. Finally, he pointed at his watch and at the coffee machine.

"...wait a minute..." whew! I can do that. The panic subsided.

I better get coffee/milk for the apartment so this doesn't happen again tomorrow.

Posted by Kirk at 09:32 AM | Comments (0)

October 23, 2005

Now this is more like it

I woke up this morning to sunlight streaming through the windows. Is this odd? Yes, if you are me. If you have been reading this blog regularly over the last four months, then you know that I have been surrounded by fog and rain pretty much all the time (alright, I did go to London, where it is like that for everyone). When I went to sleep last night, it had been raining, so I was very surprised.

Anyway, this is not just is "deep blue sky, not a cloud to be seen" sunny. This kind of weather is one of the things I like best about Tokyo. In the Fall and winter, the sky always looks like this.

If you are in Tokyo, you probably already know this. If not, I took a picture so that you would believe me. And here it is. This is near my apartment in Akasaka, looking north to the Hotel New Otani. Looks like a nice day, doesn't it? I am going to go outside now and enjoy some of it.
20oct 008.jpg

Posted by Kirk at 10:52 AM | Comments (0)

October 22, 2005

A frustrating morning

Tickets to the next Japan football match went on sale today. Japan will host Angola on 16 November at National Stadium. On the surface, it does not seem to be the most exciting match, but Angola has just qualified for their first world cup (!) and it is very close to home and office, so it should be good.

Unfortunately, getting tickets is not so easy, no matter who Japan is playing.

Japan games are always sold out, so it is a case of being the early bird to give yourself a chance. The tickets were on sale from 10am, so I was at my computer at 9:59am ready to give them my cash. I used the Rakuten JFA site, and it was obviously very busy (slow downloading, lots of error messages when you click through to the next step etc). I was at a disadvantage to the other on-line buyers I am sure, having to work in a second, not-very-well-known language to get through the system. And, of course, when I finally finished I was told there are no tickets available, but that I was on the waiting list.

I tried again with category four tickets that were still available, but it would not let me buy them because I already had a reservation for category one. I can understand that as they would not want one person to place multiple orders while others go without..

I might not have been successful with the tickets, but I am very pleased that I could use a Japanese language site, understand what I needed to do and actually do it. I hope that makes me feel better when I am watching the match on television.

Posted by Kirk at 10:36 AM | Comments (0)

October 19, 2005

Another earthquake!! Stop it!

I will eventually get back to you on the magnitude, but it was scary enough. Could somebody tell me why I am working on the fifteenth floor of an all glass building!

There was a lot of fact, it still feels like it three minutes later, which could be...
* something like that sea-sicky feeling you get when you first walk on land after being on a boat
* the building's way of handling a quake by re-distributing the energy
* aftershocks

If it is the latter, we are all probably massively screwed. There was definitely an earthquake on Sunday, and I thought there was one Monday night. Now this one. Time for a business trip!

UPDATE: Most of the press reports calling it a 6.2-magnitude quake, but not centered in Tokyo. No injuries, everything is working fine. (except my head...I still feel like the building is shaking! I better lay off the sauce). This article seems to have the most information!

Posted by Kirk at 08:48 PM | Comments (0)

October 18, 2005

Earthquake? Or was that just me...

I think there was an earthquake around 12:50am last night. Something woke me up...although it is hard for me to tell in the middle of the night. It seemed like I was asleep one minute and shaking the next.

Unfortunately, I could not go to sleep for awhile after that. I checked some of the English language news this morning, but there is no mention of it and now I am wondering if maybe I imagined the whole thing.

Posted by Kirk at 07:55 AM | Comments (0)

October 16, 2005

Some old friends stop by

I managed to get out of the apartment today. I met Satomi for lunch in Omotesando...that was the good part. It was the far right black vans, earthquakes and mad Japanese men I could do without.

15oct 002.jpg After a good lunch at Cafe Madu, we walked through Omotesando a little bit...usually this is very nice, but as you can see on the left, the "far right" black vans were driving around blaring their slogans for the benefit of the Sunday shoppers. It is not a very good picture - it seems I could still improve on my photography.

As a result, we decided to get off the street and have have a coffee at the small cafe near the Burberry store. While we were there, Satomi started looking around...obviously something was bothering her. Actually, it was the earthquake! After a month in Europe I had forgotten all about that particular Tokyo amusement. I didn't notice until there was a fairly big shock, which also got everyone else's attention. Satomi must have a built-in earthquake sensor - which would be handy if it kicked in earlier than two seconds before. I am also wondering if there is a connection between the black vans and the earthquakes as I saw/felt both within fifteen minutes. In any case, the building did not collapse and we could finish our coffee and make a respectable exit.

But that is not all! On my way home, there was an absolute nutter on the train. He was a fairly big guy and he walked through our carriage yelling "WAAAH WAAAH" over and over. Fortunately, he kept going. But, he was so loud it really caught your attention, especially because you never expect that kind of behavior in Japan. I was already thinking I would get off one stop early and leisurely walk home, and that clinched it.

And, of course, so did this guy. I step off the train and it is normally quiet like you would expect and all of the sudden "WAAAH WAAAH", but this time he was running down the platform. On the train it startled me. On the platform, I wondered if he was going to doing something stupid and hurt himself. Strange. I headed home before anything else could happen.

Posted by Kirk at 05:41 PM | Comments (0)

September 10, 2005

Shinjuku neon madness

17aug 001.jpg
This is for me, not you. Sorry about that. I am off to Europe again (more on that later) and figured I would need some very Japanese looking picture on the blog to keep me entertained.

It's funny because this kind of scene was what I expected of Tokyo when I first moved here, but the reality is much different. Having said that, I guess I am perpetuating the myth by publishing this.

Posted by Kirk at 10:48 AM | Comments (1)

September 06, 2005

Typhoon Nabi...yep, another storm

20050906p2a00m0na010000p_size6.jpg It seems like the relentless march of mother nature is...well, relentless. Typhoon Nabi has hit Kyushu and it is a big enough storm to prompt evacuations. There are also casualties. Fortunately, it is nowhere near as big or dangerous as Katrina, but it is still pretty wicked. Good thing it is not headed towards Tokyo. There have been too many earthquakes this year, and it seems like we are in for a second year of unusually numerous typhoons. I guess it makes life interesting...if you like shaking a lot and being wet.

Posted by Kirk at 11:30 PM | Comments (0)

Roppongi Hills at dusk

0907 005.jpg
I took this picture from my office as night was falling. One of the guys who was leaving had been standing by the window and said to the rest of the group that we should remember to take our umbrellas.

That was much more interesting than what I was working on, so I wandered over and took a few photos. Looking out of a green-tinted window is not the best vantage point, but we are 15 stories up, so it didn't look like I was going outside!

The neon lights mark the main Roppongi district. I hear that some people go there and drink, but I would not know anything about that!

Posted by Kirk at 11:17 PM | Comments (0)

September 03, 2005

FIT for Charity Run in Tokyo

Am I absolutely mad?

Today was the first FIT (Financial Institutions in Tokyo) for Charity Run at the Imperial Palace. The actual event kicked off at 10am, but with over 1,000 participants from a number of banks/brokers everyone met at 9am to ensure no one got lost. I will let you do the math...yep, up at 7am on a Saturday.

Anyway, it was insanely hot and the sun seemed to be particularly intense (thank God I did not have a hangover!), but despite that it was surprisingly good to be out this early. And all for a good cause of course.

Tomoko and Mineka were the organisers for our company and they did a fantastic job. That is them "organising" and again with Chiaki.
fit 007.jpg fit 009.jpg

I was one of the walkers, meaning I was not going to exert myself in 90 degree weather, when I could do a pleasant 5K walk instead. Tom, Jan, Chiaki, Emiko and Michika were my walking partners. Not much else to say about it. Here are some of the pictures we took on the way. Notice the beer truck...we had walked 2-3 kilometres by then and it looked inviting.
fit 019.jpg fit 025.jpg fit 028a.JPG fit 034.jpg

And here are some pictures of the group...notice our cool caps and shirts.
fit 005.jpg fit 004.jpg

Proceeds from the event will be donated to Second Harvest Japan, Special Olympics, FTC Shelter, Japan HIV Center and the Nishiwaki Fund

Posted by Kirk at 12:46 PM | Comments (0)

September 01, 2005

National Disaster Drill Day

Every year on 1 September, the government runs disaster drills across Japan. This year, over 1 million people took part, spurred in part by the increase in major earthquakes we saw over the summer. Hopefully, its never more than a drill!

Posted by Kirk at 10:05 PM | Comments (1)

August 25, 2005

Another damn typhoon

I remember being at a loss for things to write about a few weeks ago, but maybe I should have been thankful. Between the earthquakes and the typhoons, I have plenty of things to go on about. The second typhoon of the season to hit Tokyo is expected tonight. This seems to be worse than the one we had last month, but that would not be too difficult. In any case, I am trying to figure out how to navigate my evening plans with a major storm bearing in. Should be interesting.

I cannot seem to get rid of this bad weather!

Posted by Kirk at 07:02 PM | Comments (0)

August 24, 2005

A quick trip to shitamachi

I made my return to shitamachi today. I started in Ginza with the intention of shopping, but I am not really good at that and my heart certainly wasn't into it. Actually, I think I just needed to get out of the apartment for awhile. Once I realised the futility of my being in one of the world's best-known shopping districts with no intention of buying anything, I moved on.

y 002.jpgIn fact, I decided I would go to one of my favourite little shops - a rice cracker (senbei) stand in Sendagi (that is it on the left). I am not some senbei expert or anything, so maybe there are far better places to go. But these senbei are square instead of round, and the green tea/sugar/seaweed toppings are really tasty. And it is easy to find.

After that, I walked up to Yanaka Ginza Street to take a look around. The first time I was there, we went to a fantastic coffee shop that had just opened. The second time I went I could not find it, but I figured I was just lazy. This was the third time...I am pretty sure it is already gone. That was too bad, because I really wanted a coffee. This is the entrance to Yanaka Ginza street from the Yanaka side. It is quite small, actually. And the picture in the right is the shop that sells the most delicious lunch boxes (bento) in Yanaka. At least that is what they say.
y 016.jpg y 033.jpg
The only sad thing is that it looks like I missed the neighborhood festival this year. If this picture is any indication, they have already had a fantastically good party. And the picture on the right is for Tomoko (are you reading this?). It says "Red Eye"...I do not know if this is a bar or not, but its also the name of one of the world's most awful drinks, namely beer and tomato juice. And Tomoko likes those for some reason.
y 009.jpg y 037.jpg

I put a few pictures in the photo album "Tokyo"

Posted by Kirk at 02:32 PM | Comments (3)

August 16, 2005

Another earthquake!

Hey, this is starting to get a little old! There was another earthquake today. I was having lunch downstairs on the first floor (probably better than being at my desk on the 15F!) and the ground started rolling. It probably lasted about 20 seconds at most, but it seemed longer because all the hanging lamps continued to sway. And have you ever noticed that you feel like the ground is still shaking when it has stopped. Anyway, I would be happy if the quakes stopped for awhile.

It was a "4" on the shindo scale here, but the center was apparently in Miyagi near Sendai...that is pretty far away (300-400km) so they were probably shaking pretty good. It was strong enough to halt the elevators in our building temporarily and stop some train service (Yokosuka Line and the Shinkansen). There is a tsunami warning too, which is much scarier I think.

UPDATE: Bloomberg News reports the earthquake was a 7 on the richter scale and that there are numerous injuries in Sendai. NHK and Kyodo News are also reporting injuries, but there are no specifics as of yet. Here is an article from the Daily Mainichi with some pictures and initial comments.

Posted by Kirk at 12:35 PM | Comments (0)

Does he eat between contests?

Remember the Japanese guy who keeps winning the hot dog eating contests on the Fourth of July in the US? Well, he is back in the news, this time as a champion dumpling eater in Hong Kong.

He ate 83 dumplings to hold off his local amatuer challenger, despite this being his first dumpling contest. There was actually one more contest (pork buns), but I did not see if he had won that one too.

I wonder if he ever eats between contests. He only weighs 65kg, so there must be some type of weight management system. Anyway, I suppose if you have a talent for something you should exploit it.

UPDATE: he DID win the pork bun contest yesterday, good for a 280,000 yen prize. That is certainly better than a year's supply of hot dogs.

Posted by Kirk at 08:59 AM | Comments (0)

August 11, 2005

Endless Summer

Do you remember how summer seemed to last forever when you were young? There was that sense of anticipation as you counted down the days until the end of the school year, knowing there were three months with no classes, homework, responsibility etc. And you really felt like you deserved it. I grew up in San Diego and everyday was perfect (well, that is how I remember it).

As you got older, time started to move faster. That three months did not seem like such a long time. And, inevitably, new reponsibilities started to claim that previously free time. And then one day, the magic of summer had gone. It was just another time of year when the weather was a bit nicer. You would look back and think "I wish it could be like it used to be".

I think I have managed to re-capture that endless feeling. Because it seems like it has been muggy and hot for months already. And there is no relief in sight. Ugh

Posted by Kirk at 09:05 AM | Comments (1)


I was going through my mail recently when an advertising circular caught my attention. What I noticed was the logo in 96-type font: WOFF. I think every foreigner in Japan has seen so many variations of inexplicable English that you tend to filter it out automatically. So, I ignored it and moved on.

A few days later, I was given a scratch for some sort of lottery game. If you did not win, you could turn it over and fill in the back with your name and address and send it in for a second try. The title was WCHANCE.

Seems W is making a comeback in Japan.

Or is there more to it? I went back to the first advertisement and read further. Below the logo it had a description of WOFF in Japanese: "double-ru" OFF. You do not really pronounce the last bit. So, WOFF means "double off". Mystery solved! And it is time to start putting this into daily usage. I will think of a few phrases after I have my WLATTE.

Posted by Kirk at 08:52 AM | Comments (0)

August 09, 2005

Show us your spirit!

Sixty years ago today, at the end of World War II, the Russians took over the northern islands in Japan, which they have never given back. This is a terrible thing, of course, but not the sort of stuff I would usually mention here. However, it is also one of the anniversaries that the far-right Japanese nationalists really get worked up about.

Unfortunately, when that happens, they put down their fishing magazines, put on their camoflauge kit and drive around in customised black vans protesting. They certainly put the Japanese flair for technology to good use as the public address systems are the loudest I have ever heard. You may laugh at them, but there is little chance you can ignore them.

And I am sure that one of their goals is to drive the Russians absolutely ape-shit by passing by every ten-fifteen minutes all day with the martial music and nationalistic chants playing full-blast.

I know this because I work in one of the buildings they pass by to reach the Russian embassy. And I know how loud they are because I am on the 15th floor and it sounds like they are right here next to me. The first time they drove by was kind of funny, in a "aren't they wacky sort of way". The second, less so. The third, fourth...tenth time (and counting) - not so amusing anymore.

Why don’t the Russians just give them back? There is nothing there anyway. We could all get some peace and quiet and the far right nutcases can get back to their magazines. I will go down and get some pictures later...I am sure they will be back.

Makes the title of the post just below this kind of ironic, doesn't it?

Posted by Kirk at 02:31 PM | Comments (1)

August 07, 2005

Hayama Isshiki Beach - Yikes!


For more photos, click here and select the photo album "Hayama"

We went down to Hayama yesterday and it was exceptionally cool. I hope I can capture here just how good it was. I have been before at night (that is a story for next time) and I have heard this is the best beach in Shonan...we were not disappointed.

The beach itself is nice and it is not as crowded as some of the other places. Even better, it is much easier to get to than we thought it would be. Not that I will tell you how...if everyone knew we would have to find another place to hang out.

It was hot, but there was enough of a breeze to make it comfortable and the water was the perfect temperature for swimming. Throw in good friends, a few drinks, a great bar on the beach, and the Taiko "trance" band and it was pretty much a perfect day.

a2edit.JPGActually, Tim, Go and Go's parents were the ambitious ones and got down to the beach at 9am (!) so they had already staked out some prime beach real estate for the rest of us that arrived later. That is them on the left. Yoko and I were the next to arrive, just after 1pm. They were all enjoying a mid-day siesta, well deserved after four hours of sun and drinks, so we had a quick lunch at the Blue Moon, which was our home for the day. If you are going to Hayama, you should not miss this place.

After a while, the rest of the group finally showed up. That is Howie on the left...he came with Emi, but I did not catch her in this picture - you will see more of her later. On the right is Nuala, Leigh and Laura. I think they said something about having to work and/or run errands in the morning, but I was too busy playing to really make it out.

a3edit.JPG a4edit.JPG

Once everyone had arrived, we could get down to the serious work of not doing anything. As the tide was coming in, we had moved our chairs up the beach next to the bars. This made it easier to have a few drinks. We also swam a bit more and ran around a lot.

a5edit.JPGThis was definitely a good thing for Nuala...she has been feeling poorly recently and I think she needed the fresh beach air, soothing sounds of the waves, and a beer in her hand. There is something about the beach that influences your core being - you can relax like nowhere else. I would like to take credit for that observation, especially as I grew up going to the beach everyday, but Leigh is the one who pointed that out. In any case, it must be true: don't you think she is looking better already?

We spent an hour or two on the beach itself, drinking and chatting. This is what it looked like...the picture on the top left is Howie and Emi, that is Laura in the top right, on the bottom left, Leigh and Nuala are buying drinks. I told him he should stick to non-alcoholic drinks himself to keep his temper in check. I wonder why he is looking at me like that? That is Yoko on the bottom right - I told her that she would have to take a nap or she would be cranky later, but she wanted to stay up and play.

a6edit.JPG A 026.jpg A 029.jpg A 034.jpg

After a while, I walked down the beach with Yoko and Emi. I like beach walking because I completely lose myself in the sights, sounds etc. Yoko says it is healthy...but maybe not healthy enough for me to offset all the drinks I was having. Ha ha - she is funny, isn't she? I was going to throw her in the water, but she says she could have her foot amputated if that happens, so I didn't.

b2edit.JPG On the way, we saw a group of Japanese guys covering their friend with seaweed and other assorted things that had washed up on the beach. He seemed to be so calm about it. When I took a picture, one of the guys who had been decorating his friend said this is "Japanese Jackass". Those in the US may be aware of a show on MTV where the star does stupid things like skateboarding off a cliff or setting himself on fire. The Japanese version we saw seems less damaging. Then again it was live. And here is the picture to prove it.

Anyway, we walked the full length of the beach and when we were on the other side, I made them take pictures of me on this rock (I had to wade over there - lots of work). In return, I got this picture of them. I really like this one for some reason. Then we headed back.

a13edit.JPG a8edit.JPG

On the way, we stopped at the bathrooms and Yoko tried to set me up with this Japanese woman (Junko) by telling her I spoke French. Her accent was fanatstic, but I did not understand a word of what she ws saying. After a few minutes, I asked her if she would speak Japanese because I could not understand...why I thought that would be much of an improvement is a good question.

I think she said that we could meet next year and dance together on the beach. Not quite understanding, I said how about next week. She was very sweet, but also very inebriated...once she went into the toilet I told Emi and Yoko that we needed to get back. But Emi had given Junko her sandals. So, we had to wait for her to come back out again. Oops.

In the meantime, the rest of the group had moved up to the Blue Moon and secured a table. We spent the rest of the evening hanging out, talking, watching everyone go by, and listening to to the music. Here is Nuala again, looking even more relaxed...she said I would have to pay for the privelege of putting these pictures up. Looks like I owe you a few hundred pounds Nuala.

A 082.jpg A 109.jpg A 125.jpg a11edit.JPG

As the sun went down, it cooled off. I could have stayed all night. I had an absolutely great you think it is obvious from the picture? The beach bars close in three weeks - I am definitely going back before then. If anyone wants to join me, please let me know.


Posted by Kirk at 12:14 PM | Comments (1)

August 05, 2005

Taking the easy route

I have been in a creative funk for the last week (month?) or so, relying on numerous photos and a bit of drinking to keep you entertained. Eventually, I knew using my camera as a crutch would catch up with me and this morning it has.

Of course, one should always have a back-up plan and I do. Today, I will write a little about the cicadas (actually this has been my Plan B for a few weeks as they first appeared in late July, but if you do not live here, you could not possibly know that). Anyway, in Japan, the cicadas are the definitive sign that rainy season is over and that summer (meaning 30 degrees and 90% humidity) has arrived. Here is the weather you can see there is no relief in sight.

You do not see the cicadas - you hear them. They stay in the trees and make this awful buzzing sound. The Japanese I know like this. Some even say it makes them think it is cooler. In contrast, I find this sound to be more akin to fingernails on a chalkboard. I grew up in San Diego. There were no cicadas and no massive heat or humidity.

By the way, the Japanese for this weather is "mushi atsui" and humid - with my limited language skills I find I say this a lot in August. In fact, I will probably end up being known as the Mushi Atsui man in Tokyo.

(pretend this is in Japanses)

"look, there he is!"
"who? you mean that foreigner over there?"
"yes, exactly. he is very strange! whenever he talks the only thing he says is mushi atsui>"
" is the Mushi Atsui man. Why is he taking all those pictures?"
"apparently, his English is very bad too"

Posted by Kirk at 07:49 AM | Comments (0)

July 30, 2005

Culture exchange

Have you ever wondered why US fast food chains seem to do so well in Japan, but the opopsite is not true? Of course, a few Japanese chains have made it - there is a Mos Burger in Waikiki (the Japanese menu says: careful American size portions served) and a Yoshinoya in Times Square, for example, but I think that is more for Japanese traveling overseas.

24july 028 edited.JPG
Maybe this is the answer - I saw this sign in front of a fast food place in my neighborhood called Hokka Hokka. The attractive little fella at the front is a Rhinoceros Bettle. From what I can understand, this is not the meal itself, but rather an appeal to nostalgia and childhood memories as some Japanese children would collect beetles. This is apparently one of the cool ones.

By the way, a Rhinoceros Beetle can carry 750 times its own weight, making it the strongest creature in the world as measured by proportional strength. Come to think of it, maybe that is the point: if you eat at Hokka Hokka you will get stronger too.

Of course, I can't read the sign, so I might have this completely backwards (anyone out there that speaks Japanese willing to help out?) No matter what it says, however, I am pretty sure this is an advertising campaign that does not travel well. But I do like the poster.

Posted by Kirk at 01:25 PM | Comments (2)

July 23, 2005

That's a bit scary

Yikes...there was just an earthquake! No damage, but it did move some of the things in my apartment around. Fortunately, I was already in my designated earthquake protective zone (the couch) so I did not have to do much more than ride it out and hope it stopped soon. That got my heart rate up at least.

UPDATE: It was kind of big...enough to stop the bullet trains. It measured 5.7 on the Richter scale, but it was centered outside of Tokyo (in northwestern Chiba...hey are the girls from yesterday ok?).

Posted by Kirk at 04:38 PM | Comments (2)

July 19, 2005

Rainy season is officially over...let the fun begin

Well, all good things must come to an end. The Meteorogical Agency says that rainy season is now over. Of course, it will still be raining every now and then. But we will all be surprised and caught away from home without umbrellas.

For the record, it should be about thirty degrees every day for the next week. The thunderstorms forecast for the end of that week must be a fluke.

Posted by Kirk at 08:38 AM | Comments (0)

July 17, 2005

Sarushima (again!) and the 4th of July barbecue

17july 018.jpg 17july 019.jpg
Well, maybe not 4th of July, but it is summer and a three-day weekend. Actually, tomnorrow is Marine Day, which I mentioned in a previous post. And like America, it is not the holiday that is important, it is the barbecue.

Anyway, I was surprised to make it at all. I had agreed to meet everyone at Yokosuka-Chuo Station at 930am. Needless to say, when my phone rang at 945am and woke me up, that was a problem.
17july 025.jpg

I managed to spend the maximum time waiting on every subway/train platform and when I finally made it to the boat dock at Yokosuka, i discovered I would have another 40 minutes before the next boat.

So, instead of being on the beach at 1030-1100. I got there at 130pm. But it was worth it. Being at the beach is always very good fun and Sarushima is very comfortable compared to Tokyo. I had the opportunity to embarass myself with my bad Japanese (again...I really should take some lessons), but everyone was very polite about it, so I did not mind.

Too many people to do introductions know who you are. But I did want to point out that Mitsuyo (top left picture, on the left) is really leaving to Hong Kong (this Friday) and that Tomoko is even more tan, I mean suntan, than she was last time we met.

And Sarushima had its monkey back. At least for a day.

Posted by Kirk at 08:10 PM | Comments (0)

Uh oh...this can't be good news

This story has been gathered a lot of attention in Tokyo and with good reason. It seems that the deadly fault line under Tokyo is up to 17km shallower than previously expected. In short:

"A shallower earthquake source fault means that shaking in the event of a quake will be stronger," said Hiroshi Sato, a geology professor at the Earthquake Research Institute who led the study. "So estimates of anticipated damage in the metropolitan area should be reviewed."

In a way, I am glad that the story came out this week. In my very unscientific opinion it would be too much of a conicidence that the major earthquake expected to hit Tokyo would come so soon on the heels of a news story like this. That is also why I keep writing about earthquakes here. I am doing my part to keep Tokyo safe.

Posted by Kirk at 08:04 PM | Comments (0)

July 15, 2005

Friends in high places

Obviously, someone at the Japan Times is an avid reader of my blog. On Monday, I listed the things I wanted to do (re-read it here) now that I am settled again in Tokyo.

And sure enough, today's Japan Times provides an overview of beach bars in Shonan, including Hayama. Hayama is the most difficult of the beach communities to get to because it does not have its own train service, but as the article says, it is worth the hassle. Zushi or Enoshima are much easier, but not as good.

Thanks to the Japan Times, I can map out some options. Anyone up for a trip to the beach?

Thanks to Jeremy for pointing that out! By the way, it's his fault I am obsessed with the beach here. A few years ago he called me at 2am and asked if I wanted to go to the beach. Of course, I said yes. It was one of my all-time favourite Japan experiences. We drove down with the dogs, swam in the ocean and as dawn broke, clearly saw Mt. Fuji across the bay. One quick ramen later, we were back in Tokyo (by 7am!)

Posted by Kirk at 02:57 PM | Comments (0)

July 12, 2005

Duvet shopping...plan B

Sorry - I meant to write something Sunday about this. So, I made my long-awaited foray into the world of Japanese bed linens, but I have come across some early obstacles.

Laura Ashley in Japan has a fine selection of duvet covers - it is truly impressive - but no duvets. Not at any store. Really.

Plan B is to go the department stores and poke around - I have asked some of my Japanese friends if the single size corresponds to that in Europe. So far, the best answer has been..."you should go check". So, I will.

And yes Sandy...your ISP still thinks I am a spammer!

Posted by Kirk at 11:50 PM | Comments (0)

July 11, 2005

Gearing up for summer (finally!)

One of the difficult things about my job is all the traveling. I know I have complained about this before, so I will skip most of the details. But I do have to say that it wreaks havoc on my attempts to get out and see more of Japan.

It has been two weeks since I got back to Tokyo and I am finally settled back in. Throw in the five weeks I was gone and that is almost two months that I have been out of action!!

Sometime before the end of the year, I want to do these things. It is in no particular order, and any one of these may be replaced by a suddenly "cooler" plan,

* Visit Kasama for pottery
* Go to Hayama and have a few drinks at a bar on the beach
* See a baseball game
* Walk the Yamamote Line
* Watch the fireworks
* Spend the afternoon at a matsuri
* Get out to a ryokan for the weekend (or at least an onsen)
* Return to Sado Island for the music festival (maybe...have been twice)

And that does not include going to Hokkaido for a late Summer tour (already planned) or any other place in Japan that I mean to go to but keep putting off (Okinawa, Mt Fuji, Kyoto etc).

Obviously, most of these are summer activities, so it looks like I will be busy! My next business trip is in September and it probably will be another long one. So, why do I always think about things like this on a Monday morning?

Posted by Kirk at 09:04 AM | Comments (0)

July 07, 2005

Happy fifth anniversary!

asakusa 002.jpg asakusa 062.jpg Picture 017.jpg Picture 004.jpg

Wow...I completely forgot in all the chaos surrounding my return from the last trip that it has now been FIVE years since I came to Japan (28 June 2000 for anyone who is keeping score).

The pictures above are some random photos I took in the Spring and have nothing to do with that, but they are of Japan. It will have to do.

When I arrived, I thought it would be a three-week trip. Then the local office offered me a permanent position. And I figured I would be here two years more. That just goes to highlights the power of inertia in our daily lives.

I guess the question now is how much longer I will stay. And the answer is I do not know. Moving internationally requires a lot of adjustments. Never mind having to ship your things halfway around the world, saying goodbye to good friends etc. What about this website? I mean how appropriate is "Sarukoen" if I am not in Japan?

Posted by Kirk at 08:45 AM | Comments (0)

July 05, 2005

As American as apple pie

hotdog contest.jpg
Every year, there is a hot dog eating championship at Coney Island (Brooklyn, NY) on the Fourth of July. In terms of holiday celebrations, this kind of contest is as traditional as you could get. But, here's the kicker. In recent years, the Japanese have been the hot-dog eating champions. And this year, they have done it again.

Takeru Kobayashi ate 49 hot dogs, easily outpacing his competitors but falling short of his personal best of 53.5 hot dogs (set last year). Needless to say he was disappointed. The closest was an American woman who runs a fast food restaurant, who ate 37 - good enough for the American record, but, in context, not even close.

The prize is a year's supply of Nathan's hot dogs. I wonder how they determine that. Because 50 would be more than a year's supply for me. But he managed to get that down in 12 minutes. They have opened a Nathan's in Tokyo's Harajuku district. I would love to see their faces when he comes in to collect his prize.

Posted by Kirk at 08:21 AM | Comments (0)

July 03, 2005

This is not a disaster...

Everyday at 5pm in Japan, you will hear a recording of chimes played on the country's public warning system. I hear this is because they want to make sure it is working, but it is very useful on letting you know the time (if only once a day).

This morning, however, the system powered to life. This happens every so often, mostly to warn people that they should not exert themselves if it is too smoggy etc. I find it frustrating because I do not always understand what they are saying (is it benign or are we on the verge of being wiped out by a tsunami, North Korean missiles etc.)

Today's announcement was followed by an English translation. And they kicked off by saying "this is not a disaster". Actually, it was just a reminder it is election day. For 45 seconds though, I was kind of worried.

Posted by Kirk at 10:50 AM | Comments (1)

June 30, 2005

Its art! I am an artist!

This is near Daimon on the way to Shimbashi. I was hoping to get a good picture of all the neon lights etc, but instead I got this blurry picture. So, that makes it artistic. Later, I am going to make up some fancy poem about how everything in Tokyo is so fast-paced. Then you will be impressed.

Posted by Kirk at 10:22 PM | Comments (3)

June 28, 2005

Speaking of the it is

tokyo 005.jpg tokyo 003.jpg

This is my experiment in putting multiple pictures into an entry. The one to the left is my living room, including the infamous couch.

I have written about my couch a few times, and as you may have gathered, it is generally comfortable. But when you sit on it for awhile (you know, for six-seven hours), the cushions start to slip forward. As a result, I have wanted to get a new couch for awhile - something MORE comfortable and with less cushion slippage. But I am useless when it comes to shopping...I cannot make any decisions (or is that jet lag?).

Anyway, the picture on the right is part of the view from my apartment and is only there to see how two pictures look when I put them in the same entry. For the record, it is Hie Jinja, which is the coolest shrine in Japan and where I like to go at the new year. Since that is six months away, we will leave it for now.

Posted by Kirk at 09:36 AM | Comments (5)

June 21, 2005

Tokyo/London - highly-ranked cities

Considering I split my time between Tokyo and London, this article is not very good news.

Tokyo has been ranked the world's most expensive city for expats, followed by Osaka (2nd) and London (3rd).

Then again, looking at my bank account, I should not be too surprised.

Posted by Kirk at 05:15 PM | Comments (0)

May 22, 2005

More earthquake news for Tokyo...

See what I mean about constant news flow? Here is another 'reassuring' article on earthquakes in Tokyo... I do not know what this quote is all about:

If Toda's findings are confirmed, Japan "may need to review its earthquake-related policies around Tokyo" since such polices are made on the assumption the Philippine plate is a single tectonic plate, Kyodo said.

Since Tokyo is already overdue for a big quake, how (or why) would earthquake-related policies change?

Posted by Kirk at 07:58 PM | Comments (0)

May 19, 2005

Hey, what's all that shaking?

One facet of living in Tokyo is the idea that it could all end in 90 seconds. I am talking about earthquakes and they happen much too often here for my comfort. These kind of news stories are fairly common.

I should be used to it...I grew up in California, which has its fair share of quakes. But I am not. If I was, I might not work and live in high rise buildings (15th floor for both).

The building I live in is supposedly built to withstand earthquakes, so I should rest assured I will survive when the "big one" comes (more on that in a minute). So far, it is still standing, which is a good sign. But it groans and creaks as it shakes - that could be the worst part. And it continues to rock back and forth for a good 30 seconds afterwards (that's the second worst part).

Anyway, a major earthquake strikes Tokyo every 65-70 years and the last one was in do the math: we are overdue. So, everytime the earth starts shaking, you have to wonder if our time is up. The government says a major quake in Tokyo would kill 13,000 people. I hope that's the worst case, but I think most people assume it would be more. As you can see, every day is an adventure here.

Posted by Kirk at 06:42 PM | Comments (0)

May 16, 2005

And here he is...

kaz 003.JPG
As you can see, Kaz is in fine form. I like to have a few drinks with Kaz because I always get a fresh perspective and good ideas for my job. Unfortunately, I can never remember any of these in the morning. But at least I know I have them.

Kaz has also agreed to go with me to see a Chiba Lotte Marines game sometime after I get back to Japan. In return, I promised to try to write something funny. I do not know if I can keep up my end of the bargain by writing, but I am hoping the picture is worth a few laughs!

Posted by Kirk at 11:47 PM | Comments (0)

May 14, 2005

Have a patriotic beer with your navy curry

sarushima 036 edited.JPG
Are you a patriotic Japanese? If you are, then you should probably be drinking this commemorates the 100-yr anniversary of winning the war against Russia. I have a can in my refrigerator, which I will save for a special occassion. If I had more, I could find some of the right-wing protestors and share with them.

In Japan, there is a VERY vocal minority on the far right of the political spectrum. As opposed to the US, where they get elected president and cause all sorts of international mayhem, the right wingers here simply drive around in big black vans with loudspeakers on the top. I have been thinking about them recently because they drive around near my neighborhood on Saturday mornings. EARLY saturday mornings.

Anyway, even if I do not drink with them, I hope to get some pictures of them soon. Maybe we can pose with my Monkey Island shirt. Or, maybe we will go down to Yokosuka and have some "Mr. Navy Curry" with our patriotic beer.

Posted by Kirk at 10:47 AM | Comments (0)


sarushima 027 edited.JPG
This is me at Monkey Island near Yokosuka. The island itself is not much...for one there are no monkeys! And it is very small. But, it is also the place where I got the coolest T-shirt I have. It says "猿島人" on the front, which means Monkey Island Person. The only thing cooler would be to find a shirt that says "Sarukoen Person". Wait! I have an idea: maybe i should make those t-shirts and sell them to you???

Posted by Kirk at 10:38 AM | Comments (0)

I've been neglecting this recently

I think my job is standing in the way of the important things in life, like updating this web site. Would anyone out there like to volunteer to pay me for writing this?

Actually, I hear some bloggers have been fairly successful using Google advertisements and the like to generate income from their web sites. The very first e-mail I received in relation to this blog was someone in California who said he could help me 'make massive money' on the Internet. Maybe I should have taken him up on his offer!

I will make up for not writing earlier by posting some pictures from last weekend. Thanks for being patient with me!

Posted by Kirk at 10:26 AM | Comments (0)

May 10, 2005

They're everywhere

gordon 001.jpg I have an abundance of former colleagues. I do not know if that is because I work in Asia, or for an investment bank, or both. It just is.

I was reminded of that twice this week. THe first time was last night, when a couple of the guys from the office invited me out to meet a guy we had worked with in my early days in Tokyo. (he's the relaxed guy in the blue shirt).

I did not know him that well, but he always seemed like a good bloke, so I was happy to go along. He went to London almost four years ago, intending to leave Asia and banking behind him. Inevitably, his plans have changed and he is back in Asia (HK this time) working for a broker. Anyway, to close the circle he made the trip up to Tokyo, hence the night out.

We did the usual thing - a few drinks in the pub (Hobgoblin), a quick ramen, and more drinks at Geronimo's. The operative word is "usual" because this is the blessing and curse of former colleagues: they are always around and seemingly always thirsty. It was a quiet night for me, home by midnight etc. The others were out until 4am...someone has to do it.

The second reminder came earlier today as I was in the office trying to think of something to write here. Another former colleague turned up, this one from my time in NY, in Tokyo to meet with clients. Maybe this does not count as we still work for the same company, but I had not seen him in five years so I am assuming it does. We had a quick chat about people we had in common and it was good to see him again. Just as important, it gave me something to write about.

Posted by Kirk at 10:30 PM | Comments (1)

May 08, 2005

Mr. Naval Forces Curry

sarushima 044 edited.JPG
The panel on the left is is an advertisement for the very popular Mr. Navy Curry, which I am sure you have already heard of. I have included the link to the website so you can order some today.

Yokosuka is a naval base about one hour south of Tokyo. Right now, the city is celebrating the 100-year anniversary of Japan's victory over the Russian Navy (25 May 1905). That has to rank as one of the most embarassing incidents in foreign affairs for Russia ever. Japan started things off by smashing the Russian fleet stationed in the Pacific. In response, the Russians sent their Baltic Fleet halfway across the world so that the Japanese could sink that one too.

US President Teddy Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace Prize for getting Japan and Russia to stop fighting. And, Ensign Isoroku Yamamoto was seriously injured while serving aboard the Nisshin. He is better known as Admiral Yamamoto of World War II fame.

One of the battleships from that fight, the Mikasa, is permanently on display in the aptly-named Mikasa Park. Unfortunately, we opted to skip the battleship tour and go to Monkey Island instead.

What are you doing on May 25th? Maybe you should be celebrating with some 100-yr old curry. Or something like that.

By the way, you could wash that fine curry down with a special beer commemorating the victory 100 years ago. The can says it has a "European Taste" and you will be able to see it in the picture gallery when I get around to updating that later.

Posted by Kirk at 04:50 PM | Comments (0)

Yokosuka Cactus Club

sarushima 042 edited.JPG
We were lucky enough to see these people in the park next to the boat to Sarushima (more on that bit later!). The sign says this is the Yokosuka Cactus Club and they are having a sale for charity (I think that's what it says!)

Anyway - this is good news for cactus fans as there is finally a place to go for your cactus needs. And if Yokosuka has a cactus club, there must be hundreds of others around Japan!

Posted by Kirk at 04:44 PM | Comments (0)

May 05, 2005

An afternoon in Asakusa

I did get out after all. I went up to Asakusa for the afternoon. This is also part of shitamachi, which I wrote about earlier in the week, and is about a 30-minute subway ride from my home.

The temple here, Senso-ji, is very famous and people come from all over Japan to see it. And foreigners come because all the guidebooks say this is a must-see. And it really is. There are shopping streets all around the temple, which are good fun to browse through. There are more pictures in the photo album if you want to have a look (The album is Tokyo 5 May 2005).

After Asakusa, I took the Sumida River Cruise down to Hinode pier, which is relatively close to where I live. I did not take any pictures worth saving, however. But this is a good way to spend a hot day...and it only costs ¥660!

After today, I think I have reached my limit on taking pictures of Tokyo (at least for the time being!). I am pleased with the results and hope you are too.

And Terri (that's my sister) more rude comments in the photo gallery!

Posted by Kirk at 07:57 PM | Comments (1)

May 03, 2005

More pictures are in the archives

I have uploaded some more pictures into the archives, including more of Tokyo and some from cherry blossom season. I will have to organise these better at some point, but there are only 5-15 pictures in each section so it should be manageable.

I am trying to figure out the theme of my pictures - it seems to be something like "I had my camera out when i saw that". It is certainly not artistic...good photographers will talk about having an eye for pictures. i am more of the 'keeping snapping photos until you get one you like' type. In any case, you can leave comments on each picture - please do when you have time.

Posted by Kirk at 09:43 AM | Comments (0)

May 02, 2005


Well, I actually did something today. I spent the afternoon in shitamachi, which is the neighborhoods making up the old part of Tokyo. It is a nice change from the city I am usually exposed to.

My original plan was to pick up some senbei (rice crackers) at a shop near Sendagi Station (If you live in Japan, you need to go here - they are very good!), but I did not even get 20 meteres from the station before seeing it was closed. Needless to say i was disappointed. As I had no plan, I walked around a bit making my way towards Ueno. The back streets can be full of surprises, which you will see if you check out the pictures I took today (go to the directory Nezu). The surprise is not Winnie the Pooh (did you look at all the pictures?), but the festival at Nezu Shrine. It was very crowded, but everyone seemed to be having a good time.

While I was in the neighborhood, I also bought a wood block print (of an old house) and some postcards that the artist signed (actually he signed the envelope they came in), but I am happy because they look very cool. Before you think I went off and got artistically sensible, I can tell you the print was 500 yen and the postcards were 1,000 yen.

After that, I made a side trip to Marunouchi, where I met my friend Aiko for a lemonade. She works for Bloomberg and writes about telecom stocks. I am glad that she was the one who had to work today and not me. She gave me a "Docomodake" and bought me a green tea/white choco muffin. (thanks Aiko - docomodake will be up on this site soon!).

I finished my trip with a visit to the Maruzen in the Oazo Building. It probably has the largest selection of English language books in Japan. I love that place.

Posted by Kirk at 05:41 PM | Comments (0)


nezu 071.jpg
One of the best things about Japan is the amazing number and variety of vending machines. I know this is a cliche, but everytime I see one like this, I am reminded again. But I have to wonder whether anyone has actually purchased a bottle of wine this way.

I have been told the reason there are so many is that it is a much more efficient use of retail space (rents are high, etc). That sounds good to me, but it is probably not that simple. All I know for sure is that they are convenient and reliable. ...and before the questions comes up, this is about the dodgiest I have seen.

Posted by Kirk at 05:31 PM | Comments (0)