Sunday, July 30, 2006

Really unexpected, really intense culture shock

Even before I left Tokyo for my weekend in the US I was expecting to run into some amount of culture shock, but I have to admit I was totally un-prepared for the amount of reverse culture shock that hit me when I got to the US. Coming back from India and Africa earlier this year was pretty tough, after only two weeks in both places it was a shock to come off the plane and see clean streets, drinkable water and “normal” life.

Coming back from Japan after five weeks was like returning from Mars, the reverse culture shock was unreal. After five weeks here, I got off the plane in New York and the first thing that shocked me was the blue sky, it's been rainy season here for my five week stint and it wasn't until I was standing under a blue sky that it hit me like a lightning bolt that I hadn't seen a blue sky since mid June. I can’t describe how much the blue sky bothered me, which sounds so odd, and really is odd.

I was also shocked to see tall people and the mix of non-Japanese people that you would expect to see in New York. I guess I didn’t fully appreciated how much of a melting pot New York is until I spent time in Japan where the majority of people are Japanese and thus there isn’t all that much diversity. The diversity of people in the US really jumped out in a way that it never has before, it made me appreciate the New York area a lot.

As many of my friends and family know, I like to eat, and because I am tall I eat a lot. That’s been a challenge here in Tokyo where the portions are small, so in Japan I am often hungry. I was shocked to discover that in only five weeks in Japan my stomach had adjusted to Japanese portions and I was literally unable to eat meals that I would have considered normal in the past.

By far the hardest culture shock was my first night home, I had been sleeping on hard Japanese beds so long that my own bed felt foreign and my clothes smelled odd because they didn't have Japanese detergents in them.

By far the highlight of the night however was when I almost got arrested at 4AM. Little did I know that earlier that week a storm had caused a mini-tornado that passed through the park in my neighborhood in New Jersey and made a mess of the park. Long story short, I couldn't sleep due to the time difference so at 4AM I went for a walk in the park, but it turns out the park was closed due to the storm damage (which I didn't know) and a sheriff confronted me and was really nasty, he made a lot of threats, didn't really believe me when I said I had just come from Tokyo, threatened to arrest me and then drove his SUV on the sidewalk three feet behind me for several hundred yards while I walked out of the park.

Besides the first night and the culture shock of the first day or so, the time at home was amazing, but I have to say that in some ways it was nice to come “home” to Tokyo to what I now consider “normal”. That is such an odd thing to say…..

Thursday, July 27, 2006

I’m back

I’m back in Tokyo after an amazing and yet very insane weekend trip back to the US. I left Tokyo last Thursday morning, all told the trip to the US involved a subway ride, a 2 hour bus ride, a 2 hour wait in the airport, a 13 hour plane flight and then another 1.5 hours in a taxi from JFK. It was a lot of travel and that was only the beginning, while in the US I drove a couple more hours to get to my friends wedding. And then of course coming back to Tokyo I did the whole thing over again, except that the flight is even longer (14 hours) coming back to Tokyo because of the winds. The really crazy thing about the flight back was that due to weather we flew REALLY far north. We were literally over the artic ocean north of Alaska, we didn’t even turn south until we were pretty deep into Siberia.

Despite traveling more than 40 hours to spend a little over four days in the US the trip was really worth it. I had a great chance to see a bunch of my friends and it was nice to be able to be home after five weeks even with the culture shock, more on that soon.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Insane Travel Weekend

I am leaving tomorrow for what is shaping up to be an insane travel weekend. I am returning to the US for a friends wedding. All told I will be traveling 30+ hours and spending only four days in the US, it’s gonna be insane, but I am looking forward to going back home and experiencing normal life again.

Tokyo Streets and Alley’s

Here’s a few random photo’s I took on the street here in Tokyo, nothing special about the street or the alley, I just like the way they turned out so I figured I would post them (Click on the image to see full size):

Tokyo Tower

One of the random things I did not know about until I got here is that the Japanese decided to build a replica of the Eiffel Tower in the 1950’s. They call it Tokyo Tower and it’s actually fairly close to my apartment.

I have a great view of the tower from the living room in my apartment, it’s especially cool looking on cloudy nights, which since it’s rainy season has been almost every night I’ve been here.

Here’s what it looks like at night from my apartment (click on the image to see a bigger version):

This is what it looks like from my place during the day, it's not quite as cool:

I actually jog to the tower fairly often and jog around the base of the tower. I haven’t yet taken the time to go inside to see the attractions at the base of tower or up the tower, I’m waiting for clear weather which still seems to be months away. The Japanese have a habit of mixing odd things together, which in the case of the tower means that there is a bizarre facility directly under the tower with an aquarium, a wax museum, an art gallery and something called the “Mysterious Walking Zone”.

The other thing that is a little odd is that unlike the real Eiffel Tower, the Tokyo Tower is painted orange and white for airplane safety which doesn’t make it quite as aesthetically pleasing. I recently took my camera when I passed through the area, here’s what the tower looks like up close and personal:

Monday, July 17, 2006

TV Remote

I have to say I am constantly amazed by the cool high tech gadgets here in Japan, just take a look at the remote for the TV in my apartment. It’s see through, the numbers are stickers on glass and there are no buttons. I can only assume that it is working off infrared via the outer edges which are plastic, but it’s pretty cool:

Front (click on the image to see it in more detail):


Front Again:

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Squid with Innards Wrapped in Foil

I am generally willing to try all the Japanese foods over here at least once, so I have eaten plenty of raw fish, octopus, squid and other things that don’t always look or sound appetizing. I generally find that most things here are pretty good. Occasionally I see things or taste things that I just can’t stomach.

For instance I was walking around the other day and I saw a sign in front of a restaurant that said in English that the special of the day was “Squid with Innards Wrapped in Foil”. I’m fine with the squid, but innards in foil? No thanks.

Pirates in Tokyo

I was walking to work on Monday the 10th and I was really surprised to come across a construction crew building a pirate ship. That definitely stopped me in my tracks, I mean it’s not everyday that you come across a pirate ship in the middle of Tokyo. It turned out it was being built for the Tokyo premiere of “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”, later in the day I went back down to the theater to take another look and the red carpet was all set up and a huge crowd of fans were all over the place. Apparently Johnny Depp and all the other stars later came and walked down the red carpet, by the time that happened there were so many fans around that you couldn’t even come near any of this, here’s what the set up for the premiere looked like:

The Pirate Ship (click on the images to see larger versions):

The Red Carpet:

More Pirate Ship:

The Tanabata Festival 7/7/06

Earlier this month Japan celebrated Tanabata, a festival that happens on 7/7 of the lunar month. Wikipedia explains the festival here One of the cool and interesting ways that Tanabata is celebrated is by writing wishes on decorative pieces of paper and hanging them from Bamboo, not all the decorations hung on the bamboo have wishes but most of them do. When I visited the Senso-JI temple it was during the lead up to Tanabata so I saw this Tanabata bamboo in one area of the temple:

The bamboo with decorations and wishes for Tanabata was not restricted to temples, for about a week before the night of 7/7 bamboo was (most of it cut ie not living) was placed all over Tokyo (and the rest of Japan) for people to hang wishes and decorations from, my apartment building had a bamboo shoot, as did my office, even my underground subway station had the bamboo shoot shown below, it made Tokyo look very festive to see all this throughout the city:

Thursday, July 13, 2006

One Month

Today marks the one month point for my stay here in Tokyo. I recently found out that I will be staying here longer than originally planned, it is looking like I will be here until at least the middle of the fall. So, for those of you considering visiting, it looks like there will be ample opportunity to come share in my Tokyo adventure, so come on down.

Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa

A week ago Sunday I visited Senso-ji Temple in the Asakusa area of Tokyo ( The temple and grounds are very beautiful as you can see from the photos below (as always please click on the image to view a bigger copy):

Unfortunately Thunder Gate which can be seen in wikipedia is currently under going some sort of work, it’s covered by a white shroud for painting or restoration? So, I didn’t get to see it, if you would like to see the full set of photo’s I took at the temple please click here

Thunder gate would be visible at the other end of this crowd, but it is covered in white as you can barely see:

Waiting for Mt. Fuji

I finally saw Mt. Fuji for the first time the other day, I had been waiting for more than three weeks to see it despite the fact that it should be plainly visible from where I live and work. Because its rainy season here it has always been cloud and hazy since I got here. I have to admit that my view of Mt. Fuji only lasted about 20 seconds when the clouds parted and it was so hazy that I mostly got an idea of what it looks like. I didn’t even bother to try taking a photo due to the haze.

UPDATE: I had a fairly clear view of the top 20% of Mt. Fuji earlier today, so maybe I will have to see the mountain in pieces. The locals have been telling me that I should have a great view of the mountain in November, I’m kind of hoping I don’t have to wait that long.

Life with Gas

Pretty often on the streets of Tokyo you see Japanese advertising that has literal translations of Japanese to English, a lot of them are pretty funny. One of the funniest that I see on a regular basis is for a business in my neighborhood that I jog past when I run in the evenings that has this ad (click on the image to see a larger version which will make it easier to read):

The guy on the couch is what really kills me. I always laugh when I pass that place, I’m sure the locals on the street must thing I am nuts, from their point of view they just see me running down the street and all of the sudden I start laughing for what must appear to them to be absolutely no reason.

The ad has a whole series of cartoons that show why life with gas is good, clearly they mean life with natural gas in the home is good, but if you take it to have the other meaning most of these cartoons are pretty funny

Here’s the rest of the “Life with Gas” ads:

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Tokyo’s Narrow Streets, Short People and My Lunch

Did you ever wonder what it would be like to wake up in a land full of little people who put octopus and squid in your lunch? No? Neither did I, but that pretty much sums up my life at this point. There was definitely a lot of squid and octopus in my lunch yesterday, I wasn’t expecting that but it wasn’t all that bad either.

As for the short people, my family and friends know I’m pretty tall and as anyone who’s been to Japan knows a lot of the people here are not all that tall. So my view when I walk down the street tends to be something like the photo below, notice the photo looks like it was taken above the crowd, that’s my normal view on the street:

One of the charming things about walking around Tokyo is that it’s got tons of side streets and alleys, and often if you walk down the alley you’ll discover that there are even more alleys and side streets jutting off the first alley. Often there’s little restaurants and shops hidden in the maze of side streets, here’s what a couple of the side streets look like:

Robot Man:

On the way back to my subway train from the park I ran into this guy, randomly enough, he's inside a three legged robot on wheels as some sort of promotion for a department store, I'll let the photo's and the video speak for themselves.

Sorry that the video is sideways, it’s a pain to rotate videos, so all I can recommend is turning your laptop on its side or if you have a desktop try pulling some funky Yoga to look at the monitor sideways:

A Song and Dance Saturday in Tokyo (Part 2)

After the parade I decided to go to Shibuya (, which is a very trendy area of Tokyo to explore. Shibuya Crossing, the main intersection outside the train station is very famous for the extremely intense crowds. When you see videos on TV of huge numbers of Japanese people crossing the street in huge numbers going every which way chances are that you are seeing Shibuya Crossing. I took a video of Shibuya Crossing again sorry that part of it is sideways:

I eventually continued on to Yoyogi Park (, which is where the singing and dancing fun continued. First I ran into a group of people in a drum circle, so I guess drum circles in major parks aren't just restricted to Central Park in New York, nor are they restricted to the tarmac of third world airports (more on that one when I get my Africa trip written up).

Things got more interesting as I continued on through the park, first I ran into the group shown in these video:

They had basically set up a DJ on the sidewalk at the edge of the park and they were having a mini rave. Some of the people there were sketchy and clearly had some good drugs in them, so I didn't spend too much time taking video.

I wandered on and saw the highlight of the day, this guy:

He was a DJ, dancer and painter all in one. I won't even try to describe him, just watch the video, it's long but really really worth it, the one thing I will say is that the reason he dances off to the right from time to time is that he is dancing over to the woman in the audience he's painting. The other really interesting and random thing is that he wasn’t accepting money for his paintings, only food and drinks that the audience (25+ people) were buying him from street vendors in the park.

A Song and Dance Saturday in Tokyo (Part 1)

I had just finished up my Saturday afternoon Japanese tutoring lesson and was sitting in my apartment trying to decide where in Tokyo I should go explore when I heard what I thought was a marching band coming down my street. I have to admit at first I thought it had to be a neighbor playing music really loud, but it got loud enough that it was clear it was a real live marching band. So, I stepped out on my balcony and I was surprised to see a police excort leading a convertible with a few VIP's followed by a marching band from the Japanese Defense Forces (the army). I put the video on YouTube:

What made it more odd was that the parade continued with a group of 10 year old girls twirling battons, a high school marching band, some middle aged women dressed in traditional garb pounding on drums, a little league team, some random people and finally a third marching band.

Needless to say I grabbed my digital camera and took some video, and as soon as the group passed my apartment I threw on my shoes and went down to the street to follow the group. If you look at the video you'll notice that I wasn't the only one who was surprised by the parade, for the most part everyone on the street was going about their business and ignoring the parade. I followed the parade four blocks where it came to a major intersection, the parade was split in half by a red light, I was with the back half of the parade. It was clear that the parade was ending in a little park on the far side of the street and I kid you not in a great example of Japanese efficiency by the time the light was changed the army band had already loaded their instruments and left, they weren't even there when I got to that side of the street. The rest of the groups did pretty much the same thing they took a group picture and then either walked straight into the subway station or got onto busses and left, the whole parade was gone in less than five minutes.

I asked a local why on earth there was a parade and she told me they had a "cheerleader gathering", though we had some trouble communicating because of the language barrier it was clear that she meant that the neighborhood was having a civic pride day. They had met at Roppongi Hills, which is about 10 mins up the street and paraded down the street, so all told the parade lasted 15 to 20 minutes, 25 mins tops.

How do you show your civic pride in Japan? Well you gather everything you have to be proud of, so you start with this elderly gentleman he’s somehow important

You grab this guy who apparently won a silver medal at Athens in 2004 (The elderly gentleman and the Olympian where in the VIP car)

Throw in a little league team

some baton twirling 10 year olds

a few marching bands,

And some random people, and BAM you've got a parade!!! You have to love this place:

Language Classes and What They're For

This past week I started taking language classes from a private tutor who was recommended by a friend who lived here for a few years. The instructor is great, I'm hoping to pick up some basic conversational Japanese, I have no illusions about learning the written language here I just want to learn enough to get by in day to day interactions.

I'm hoping that the language classes will help lower the cultural barrier, just tonight I had one of the experiences that wasn't so nice. As has happened before, the restaurant I picked for dinner had no English menus, no photo menus and no English speaking staff. To make it even worse, the table was so short I couldn't fit my legs under the table without stretching my legs out in front of me. I don't really find eating alone at restaurants all that entertaining no matter what, under those circumstances where I had to order a random item, which in this case wasn't all that tasty, and was too small to really feed me, it makes for a downright depressing way to end a day after 11+ hours in the office. It's that sort of thing that gives me pause before I agree to stick around six months. This is the sort of experience I wish I could share with all the people who tell me how moving to Tokyo is an Amazing opportunity, while it is, it can also be pretty unpleasant. Don't get me wrong, I am not complaining about being over here, I'm just illustrating the day to day challenges that can make life here pretty tough.

My Mailman, My Pimp?

I just checked my mailbox for my apartment here in Japan for the first time, it was all junk mail except for one random photocopy of a photo of a beautiful topless blond white woman with a phone number. I either managed to pick up an incredibly beautiful woman without meeting her, in which case I have skills I never knew I had, or there is a shaddy mail based pimp in my neighborhood. The odd thing is that the mail box requires a key to access it, so theoretically the mailman and I are the only people who can get into the box, so I guess that means my mailman is also a pimp?

The challenge in finding English Language entertainment:

This past weekend, I decided to see if I could get my hands on a copy of the DVD of Syriana since it just came out on DVD and I've been wanting to see it. First I tried visiting a Japanese movie rental place, which I found mostly carried cartoons that cause children to have seizures and it was clear that without residency papers and a local credit card that I would never be able to set up a rental account. (see my cell phone post)

There is a book store/music store/movie store in the shopping complex attached to our office that caters to expats, so I decided to go there to see if I could buy syriana. First thing I forgot that hollywood doesn't use the same title around the world and second thing I can't read the title anyway because it's often written in Japanese characters. So, I asked a staff member who of course couldn't understand what I was saying so she had me write down "SYRIANA" on a hello kitty note pad that she pulled out of her pocket (it really was hello kitty), and of course Syriana is not the name used for the movie, so we tried talking back and forth until I said it stars George Clooney at which point she said "George Clooney-san!!!!!" and got all excited and pulled up a list of all his movies, and of course the DVD is not out in Japan yet, although Amazon will deliver it here for the small price of 10 billion yen or something like that.

Vending Machines in Restaurants:

One of the more random things you run into in restaurants here is that there are places where you order your food from a vending machine. You literally put money in the machine, push a button over a picture of the food you'd like and the machine prints a ticket out. You hand the ticket to the server or cook, which in some places is the same person, and they make the food and serve it to you. It's an odd way to handle food, pre-paying a machine, I've bought both lunch and dinner in restaurants this way, I took a camera phone picture of the vending machine at a lunch place:

Moving Day:

I moved into my apartment on my second Saturday here in Tokyo, it's nice to be out of the hotel. It's nice having a kitchen and being able to unpack, I had been living out of luggage for the last week and a half which gets old fast. I'm now living in Azabujyuban, a nice neighborhood in Tokyo, when I get settled into the apartment I’ll throw some photo’s up on the web.

Running in the Dark:

I went for a run after work on Thursday night, it was a nice night so I looked up on the map how to run to the Imperial garden perimeter, I got a little lost on the way but eventually got there. I was running the perimeter of the Imperial grounds when I saw the lights on the horizon of what I later learned was Ginza. Ginza is a lot like Times Square in New York, it's full of neon lights, compared to the Imperial Garden area which is very dark at night Ginza looked like the lights of Las Vegas rising out of the desert. Needless to say I was drawn to the lights like a moth to a bug lamp, I ran into Ginza and eventually had to just walk because of the crowds.

Ginza is really cool and has all sorts of side streets and alleys, I wandered into a number of them and eventually it became clear that I didn't know how to get back out of Ginza and to my hotel. The fact that only some of the street signs have English didn't help nor does the way that the city and it's addresses are laid out, I’ll let wikipedia explain the street layout:

When it came time to run home I only knew the approximate direction I needed to go in so I started running that way, eventually I was able to see the building I work in and it was a long way off. I ran towards it, which was tricky because I often lost sight of it and the streets don't follow a grid here. As I got closer to the building I work in I could see the hotel so I started running towards it, I was approaching the hotel from a direction I had never been in before, that tells you how lost I was. When I was about three blocks from the hotel, I started to run across the street and up a small street when an armed man in a uniform yelled at me and told me to stop, I looked up and realized I was right on the perimeter of the US Embassy and sadly the Embassy has such stringent security you can't even walk on the sidewalk outside. It was a little odd to be turned away from the Embassy of my own country, but you can't argue with a guy who's got a machine gun. So, I detoured and eventually got to the hotel. All told my planned 45 minute run took 3 hours.

High Tech Lunch

Thursday I went to lunch with a co-worker and it was by far the most high tech lunch I've ever had in my life. We were in a Sushi place where the chefs made a large assortment of options that fly by on a conveyor belt. The Japanese call this sort of sushi restaurant Kaiten Sushi. You take what you would like to eat off the conveyor belt and the pricing is based on the color of the plate. When it came time to get our bill the waiter waved a wand with an electronic eye over the plates we had eaten from, it beeped and said how much we needed to pay. I have no idea how it worked but it was pretty cool.

More Random Things About Life in Tokyo

I was woken up in my hotel on Tuesday at 6:47AM by an earthquake that measured 4.8 on the Richter scale. I grew up near San Francisco so I'm fairly used to having minor earthquakes on a regular basis, it's almost like a small piece of home. I've been living in the New York area for the last few years, so it's been a while since I experienced an earthquake. A 4.8 is on the larger size of small earthquakes, this one came as a single large jolt, definitely a unique way to wake up in the morning.

The restaurant I went to the night before last for dinner had no English speakers so I ended up ordering at random again, the food was fantastic, the beer on the other hand was some really strange and shitty dark Chinese beer. I've never had dark Chinese beer before and I have to say I will probably try to avoid it in the future.

I went out with co-workers last night and they convinced me to eat octopus, squid and some other uniquely Japanese seafood, I drew the line at sea anemone. Squid (raw) tasted much better than octopus (raw), the food that got me the worst was I went to eat what I thought was beef and it turned out to be liver.

High Tech Taxi’s

The taxi's in Tokyo are the most high tech cars I have ever been in, they pull up and the driver picks up a remote control (similar to a TV remote), with the press of a button on the remote the passenger door opens. When you get in the driver hits another button and the door closes. I gave the driver the address of the office I needed to go to, he picked up another remote and used it to input the address into the small flat panel display on his dashboard which put up a GPS map that told him how to get where we were headed. At the other end when I gave the driver my credit card he pulled out a cell phone like device and wirelessly took care of the charge. The door then opened via remote control to let me out. I am going to have to figure out a way to get some photo's and video of all this, it's pretty impressive.

5 Random Funny Things about Tokyo from my first full week:

So during the week I don't have a ton to write about since I avoid discussing work, but here's five random things from the first half and my first full week in Tokyo:

1) The toilet seat in my hotel room has a heater and a lot of electric and moving parts, it definitely scares me because the heater is motion detector based, if I go near the toilet a small electric motor in the toilet starts making noises. I am especially afraid of the toilet because I noticed today that there is a sign in the men's room in the building I work in that says "warn children and the elderly not to sit too long on the toilet as burns can occur." Apparently the toilet seat warmer is a dangerous weapon.

2) I have already been given three pairs of slippers to wear since you aren't supposed to wear shoes in a lot of places, I'm sure there will be a ton more

3) You really have to wonder why CNN Japan switches to CNN in Spanish at 4AM, for those wondering why I know what's on CNN at 4AM, it's all about the jet lag

4) I love in the middle of the day here in Tokyo if I'm reading a website for a US based newspaper, for instance the NYtimes, the day will change in the US and all the content switches to the next edition, this happens about one in the afternoon here. The even stranger thing is that I will go home and come back to work and the US newspapers will still be on the same day.

5) I discovered last night that I have a couple more English language TV channels on my TV, Fox and National Geographic, you have no idea how big that is to me. This literally doubled my TV English language channels. The Japanese channels are entertaining for wackiness but you can't watch them for any real length of time, now I can watch Fox teenage girl drama and Cops. Oddly national geographic randomly switched to Japanese in the middle of a show about piranha’s the narration swapped to Japanese while the piranha’s were eating a bird, not sure why that was. But I guess if CNN can be in Spanish, then piranha’s eating birds can be in Japanese.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

A Rainy Sunday in Tokyo

My first Sunday in Tokyo was rainy like pretty much every other day I've had here. Unfortunately it's rainy season here and will be for at least a month. So, I went out exploring and looked for things I could do while staying dry. Before I get into the day’s adventures, I had to share a story from breakfast this morning that perfectly illustrates all the small cultural and language challenges built into day to day life. I found this bakery in the neighborhood near my hotel so I ordered some breakfast pastries, the place had a café as part of the bakery. I was planning to take my order and sit in the café while I ate my breakfast. But I grabbed a bottle of water from a cooler in the café while waiting for my pastries from the guy behind the counter. The moment I did the guy behind the counter started packaging my food to go. I asked him what the deal was and he told me bottled water was only for "outside food" and that since I had taken a bottle I had to take my food to go, he was resolute, so I took my food to go.

Once I'd finished eating my breakfast outside, I decided to go out and explore, I first found my way to the Imperial Gardens, and spent some time touring the part that's open to the public. Sorry I don't have any photos, the weather was pretty dark so I decided to wait for a sunny day to go back and take photos. It eventually got pretty rainy, so I decided to see what I could do that wouldn't involve going outside.

I couldn't find much entertaining indoors so eventually out of curiosity I decided to take one of the subway lines all the way to the end just to see what outer Tokyo looked like. It was a pretty long ride, so I passed the time by reading a book, when I got to the end I was definitely in the suburbs of Tokyo. I walked out of the train station, the end point of the subway intersected with a longer distance railroad, and saw that there was a huge Pachinko ( parlor right across the street.

I walked into the Pachinko joint just to see what it was like, first thing there was literally about 110 decibels of noise in there and second there was like 200 Japanese men in a smoke filled room in a trance staring at the balls moving through the machine, it was about as depressing to look at as the Atlantic City slots old people section. I took a few photo's of the parlor and the goods you can win using my camera phone, sorry for the low quality but my AMAZING YELLOW PHONE doesn’t have a great camera (see my earlier post on the phone).

I wandered out of the Pachinko place, mostly to save my hearing and walked around the neighborhood in the rain. My main comment about greater Tokyo is that there are a lot of people crammed into not a lot of space. Eventually I decided to get out of the weather so first I walked through a super market, I always make it a point to visit super markets in every country I visit, looking at the food people eat and the household products they use is an amazing way to learn about a country, its people and its culture. The Japanese store was pretty cool, there was definitely eel, octopus, squid and other uniquely Japanese food in the store, as for the packaged goods I couldn’t read the labels on almost everything so it was tough to figure out was some things were.

I decided to wander around the neighborhood some more and look for a place to grab food. I eventually walked into a restaurant and ran into a problem that happens here fairly often, no one there spoke English and they didn't have an English menu or a picture menu. So, I literally ordered at random, I just pointed my finger at the menu and hoped for the best. This was made even more entertaining because my waiter was oddly wearing a baseball uniform, the place was not baseball themed, there were no sports posters, paraphernalia or TV's in the place. It was a normal small restaurant, and all the waiters except for mine were in normal clothing. The guy acted totally normal and was normal in all respects except for the baseball uniform. I almost couldn't keep a straight face in talking to the guy, not that we spoke each other's language so I suppose it didn't really matter. I ended up with some pretty tasty chicken so I can't complain, but I will always wonder why the guy was in a baseball uniform.

It was still raining when I finished lunch so I decided to walk back to the train station to head back to the hotel. On the way to the station I walked into a Portuguese wine shop (no idea why Portugal since it was run by an old Japanese couple) to get a bottle of wine, I figured I would get some wine to drink in my hotel this evening while I ponder why the guy who brought me lunch was wearing a baseball uniform. I think that's how alcoholism starts, but hey I have nothing better to do on a rainy Sunday evening in this place.

Apartment Hunting:

I spent part of my first weekend hunting for an apartment, my employer arranged for a real estate agent who did most of the leg work, my main comment is that Tokyo apartments are very small. I ended up touring three apartments:

Apartment option one is the apartment I will be moving into, more on that apartment in a later post. For now I wanted to use the other two as examples of how small the apartments here are.

Here's apartment number two (about 35 square meters), on the upside it has a deck with the view you can see in the pics, it's not a bad view of the neighborhood and skyline.

Unfortunately that's about the only good thing about this apartment. It's all one room (the two photos below are showing the entire apartment), with the closet in the living room, the bed is next to a desk, across from the one sitting chair and the kitchen (very small) is on one of the walls of the room. The entry way has three break off rooms for the bathroom, shower and sink/laundry (all the apartments have a combined washer and dryer, European style where it's the same thing not two units). There's no couch or table, and the TV has to be watched while sitting on the bed. This place seems very small to say the least.

Here’s apartment number three (a little less than 35 square meters), on the upside it’s in one of the trendiest new buildings in the city and it’s less than 100 yards from my work. On the downside it too is very small, as you can see in this photo it is made up of a long entry hallway and one room, that’s the entire apartment you are looking at there:

The idea of having the bed take up most of the main room is a bit odd and again shows how small the place is:

Besides the bed, there is one chair:

A hallway which sadly takes up half of the square footage of the place:

A tiny kitchen

And a TV, Fax Machine and desk conveniently less than a foot from bed, how efficient!!!! How tiny!!!!: