Tokyo Off Time!

Tokyo Off Time - Part 2 - Tokyo Survival Skills

Copyright (c) 1994-1996 James C. Liu

Copyright notice: This article may be freely copied and distributed provided that the header and authorship remains unchanged. No part of any of the Tokyo Off Time! series may be commercialized without the author's permission (address given at the end of the article). This work is non-fiction. Any similarities to other characters, fictitious or real is purely coincidental. Opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not reflect the opinion of any institution, company or corporation.

Gaijin Immigration at The Ward Office

One of the first things that any gaijin has to face when he or she arrives in Japan is to register at the local Ward office and obtain a Foreigner Registration Card otherwise known as a "Gaijin Torokushou." This applies only to foreign residents intending to stay more than 3 months within Japan. Gaijin must register within the Ward they reside in, and when they move, they have to re-register in at the new Ward Office.

I went to the Kuyakushou (Ward office) yesterday and got registered as an Alien. You might invision that I suddenly had teeth start sprouting on my tongue and my head elongating, with a shiny black exoskeleton forming over the outside of my 6 arms. My body fluid PH turned a bit low suddenly dripping to the floor and melting through layers of flooring... Well, it almost felt like the guy at the counter was Sigourney Weaver with armor piercing rounds. Not warm and friendly in the least bit.

It's funny. The guy spoke perfect English at the Kuyakushou. But he spoke nothing but Japanese to me. I thought at first he was unable speak English, but when suddenly, a Caucasian guy walked in with baby, the next thing you know,...the dude behind the counter starts spoutin' English, southern California style. I believe the difference in treatment was due to my Chinese complexion. Somehow, Japanese government personnel seem to be unable to dissociate a persons genetic appearance from cultural background. I've noticed in just the last two weeks that I'm rarely referred to as "GAIJIN" but rather as "CHOUGOKUJIN" or "CHUOGOKU-KEI" which means "Chinese person" or "Chinese American." Gaijin has a distinctively caucasian flavour when Japanese use it between themselves. The fact that I have a US passport doesn't make any difference. Japanese seem to spend less effort speaking English in my presence than when a non-Asian is present. It doesn't really bother me. In fact, the difference in treatment is actually a benefit. I may learn Nihongo faster.

Getting to the Ward office was somewhat of a challenge for me. Officially, I live in Ota Ku (O=Big, Ta=field, Ku=Ward). The office is located smack between four various stations. Two on the JR line, and two between the Toukyuu private lines. I eventually road my bicycle there, about 20 minutes from my Tokyo Tech apartment. In America, sometimes looking for parking in your car is a problem. Well, in Japan, parking is hard for bicycles too. And yes, bikes DO get stolen, although the natives haven't seemed to figure out how to break Kryptonite U-locks yet.

Registration is pretty straightforward. Bring two color passport photos (the kind you can get in those photo-booths in many train stations and public places for Y700). Fill out the form, with English instructions, and then take a few fingerprints.

Many of you may notice while you're at the Kuyakushou that apparently Japanese people who look and sound native are also taking their fingerprints and registering as Aliens. These people are usually Korean-Japanese who are 3rd or 4th generation inside Japan. But the Japanese government refuses to grant them citizenship without having them give up their family names and adopting some other conditions. This has been a point of human rights debate in Japan for a long time, and at the time of this writing, the issue of fingerprinting Korean-Japanese who are actually Japanese in every way culturally has not been resolved.

Nonetheless, I received a receipt for filling out the forms and was told to come back in approximately two weeks to pick up my card. The card would be held for one week after becoming available and if I didn't pick it up, I'd be forfeit, and have to write an apology letter and re-register. Foreigners usually must register within the first 90 days of entry into Japan. They must always carry their passports or Gaikokujin Torokushou cards on their person, although in practice, one rarely gets checked. However, I've already bumped into a couple of guys who said they were checked twice in the last month. I'll note here, that these guys had beards, long hair with pony-tails and were caucasian. They didn't wear suits either. The moral of this story is to, "Get a hair cut, and dress like you got a real job." :-)

Managing an Earthquake

Note: The Great Kansai Quake of 1995 occurred a while after the original writing of this section. Over 5500 people died in this massive earthquake. A small group of UC Berkeley Alumni in Tokyo attempted to provide temporary housing to those willing to travel up to Tokyo and stay there for a short time. However, due to inefficiencies in the Japanese government as well as NHK, our offer was never actually distributed to the people of Kobe. This disaster underscores the need for all people, Gaijin especially to prepare to be completely isolated when disaster hits in Japan. One can not depend on Japanese disaster relief to provide timely support services. In this light, I've re-written this section to provide more earthquake preparedness tips.

I was up around 1 am last night when the earthquake hit. Golly Gee. It was a long temblor. I counted 69 seconds out loud. The emergency loudspeakers in the neighbourhood went off. I figured that the energy release was really big because of the duration. The quake felt deep though, not near the surface. It rattled for about the first 10 to 15 seconds. Not strong. Just a weak rattle. You know, the kind you think someone creates when they run by your office or when they shake your dinner table...only this time no one was doing it. Then it began a slow periodic rolling motion that lasted about 40 seconds. About 3 seconds into the quake the rolling motion began to increase in g-force. It peaked at 50 seconds at what I perceive to be about 0.05 g and then it slowly subsided. FEN radio announced it was located in the Tokyo-Yokohama area and registered 6.6 on the Richter Scale. It was felt as far away as Hokkaido. Nothing broken. All my Asahi and Malts biiru glasses in my china cabinet are intact. But, it reminded me a lot of California in late 1989 when the Oakland Athletics and SF Giants were about to start Game 3 of the World Series.

As it is in California and Japan, it's not whether or not there will be a strong quake, but WHEN the quake is going to hit. At these times, it's important to be prepared. For gaijin in Japan, this may be especially important. Having lived through the Loma Prieta quake (SF 1989), I recall that communications, power, water, and gas were unavailable for many people in the first weeks of the disaster. Also, many freeways, tunnels, and overpasses were closed for long times because they had to be inspected for damage.

Well, a city like Tokyo is perfect for disaster. The population density is the highest in the world. And although many buildings are new and built according to seismic standards, one can never foresee all stresses and ground motions. If the big one were to hit Tokyo, there may be huge fires, collapsed subways and rail lines, complete loss of power and communications lines. Add to this the fact that all services will be in Japanese, and the weather will be a lot worse than in California.

How can one prepare for an earthquake in Tokyo? I can think of some smart things to do right off hand. Store 4 liters of bottled water, some candy bars, toiletries, change of clothes, and Y100,000 in a backpack in your closet. A Swiss army knife or Leatherman tool will also come in handy. Also, keep a list of phone numbers and addresses of other friends nearby in the same bag. Keep photocopies of your passport gaijin card and health insurance documents. And all those free tissue packs you get handed at stations? Don't throw them away. You'll need toilet paper. Also keep a couple of Y1,000 phone cards handy. Most likely, if a big one hits, residential structures won't collapse. You should have a fair chance of getting to your emergency supplies.

If the big one hits, you'll need a plan to inform others that you're okay and that you want to meet. In previous earthquakes, what was the most reliable communications systems? Internet Email was first and then cellular phones. Most likely, the phone systems will be clogged for 72 hours following a big disaster. But if you are near a major university, a good idea is to ask if you might use email to send and and receive messages. Most likely, they won't mind.

A good idea in a disaster, might be to head back to the US. To do that, you'll need to get to the airport. If the roads are closed, the chances are rare that you'll be able to make it to Chiba. One option is to bike there. A competent cyclist can cover the distance in about 5 hours. Keep map books around if you intend to fly out of town. Another option is to fly out of Haneda to Taiwan or Osaka and then fly out of Osaka. Ask if the airline has an "emergency fare". United Airlines has these fares with round trip prices around Y110,000 to SFO. They have ticket counters at Narita. Make sure you have a credit card. Gaijin have a good chance of getting a card if they bank with Citibank. The main branch is located in Aoyama, close to Omotesando.

Gomi Wars - Garbage Protocols

It's gotta be my luck to be in Tokyo while they implement a new garbage policy. Another moronic, idiotic, politically-corrupt-kick-back-scheme that isn't flying. The Japanese have been discussing it in the news and debating what this all means. They tried this about 10 years ago from what I hear. Basically, the "new" policy is to use transparent bags for non-combustible garbage and semi-transparent bags for combustible. The manufacturers of plastic bags must love this law. Out with all those solid, color coordinated bags and in with translucent and clear. Plus, the bags must be labelled with the resident's name and address or the garbage dudes won't pick it up. The law was passed overnight. No referendum. Nothing. Somebody paid some politician and I bet Hosokawa didn't even know he signed it. Maybe it's a city wide thing. But I bet Hosokawa's okusan is gonna complain about it.

Why is this bad? First of all, enforcement. Garbage isn't picked up door-to-door like in the US. Instead, you gotta haul it out to the corner. Somebody lives at the house on the corner. What's to stop someone from just leaving gomi there without a name? Basically, it forces the OKUSAN living on the corner to play gomi-police...really FUBEN. Like, people already just leave trash in front of the corner spot anyway... I wonder if the Hosokawa's live at a dump site? (Hosokawa is currently the Prime Minister of Japan in case you didn't know).

The second is the bags and the markers. You gotta buy special semi- and fully and burnable plastic bags plus the markers to write on plastic. This has got to be a special-interest lobby to artificially increase demand for these bags and therefore put the manufacturers in the money. I wonder which politicians got paid off?

As things go though, the outcry has been heard. First of all, none of the stores carry enough stock of these bags so that they're sold out in many places. So the law has been put on hold for another 3 months. Then there's the old complaint by the ladies that other people will know what garbage they throw away...a privacy issue. Well, as long as some of the rich okusan and politician's wives don't like others knowing what's in their gomi, well I don't think the law will fly in 3 or 300 months. The same law got killed for the same reason 10 years ago, is what I heard.

This whole issue of GOMI is part of the "pseudo-environmentalism" the Japanese have been pursuing. Americans have been quite cynical of their own corporations spouting out "green" propaganda. Well, if American's think US companies are bad...the Japanese are worse. Rather than reduce the amount of packaging or using more environmentally friendly packaging, the Japanese have pretended to do something about their garbage by changing the way it gets picked up off the corner...i.e. they've changed to semi-transparent and fully transparent bags...i.e. more packaging.

Before, people used old shopping bags...and thus recycled these bags one time by using them to hold that is going to disappear under the new law. What to do with the shopping bags...I guess throw them out as "non-combustible."

I've thought of several ways that Tokyo can reduce its garbage problem.

I haven't figured out where to send my suggestions, but it seems that the Japanese are basically apathetic except for the privacy issues. (I think people are afraid perhaps the news media will start sifting through garbage for condoms and needles to make news stories out of famous people...)

As for me, I've so far reduced my total garbage mass by shopping for loose fresh veggies. Large packs of stuff like bonito flakes, pickles, tea, etc.., Calpis concentrate in the large bottle instead of cans, large cans of beer :-), large packs of pasta, etc...

Still, everything is "CHOTTO" this and "CHOTTO" that in Japan and it's very hard not to fill up the small trash bin with packaging. Even my receipts are packaged.

Dealing with other GAIJIN Neighbours

My apartment at Tokyo Tech is in a complex called the International House. All of the residents are either graduate students or visiting researchers from foreign countries. Mainland Chinese represent a big faction, and the management apparently arrange people according to race. Chinese on the 3rd floor of the South wing, and 2nd floor of the north wing. Germans on the 3rd floor of the North wing, and the 1st floor of the West wing; Africans on the 2nd floor of the south wing, and so on. Americans are mostly on the 1st floor South wing.

Because of my last name, somehow, I've ended up in the apartment at the end of the corner on the South wind 3rd floor and my immediate neighbour is a mainland Chinese gal. And the neighbour next to her is a mainland Chinese guy. Relatively quiet folks, they don't participate much in any I-House events with us other gaijin. But they both have a problem. They leave their smelly garbage out on the hallway for several days when the rules in the manual clearly state that garbage needs to be put into a protected shed. On more than one occasion, the big black crows have gotten to the garbage and tore the bags up spreading it all over the hallway.

Last Sunday evening, I finally made peace with my Communist, nextdoor neighbour. She might be cute if not for her "MINIKUI" personality. She's been pounding on the wall whenever I play my stereo after 9pm. I apologized to her about the loud stereo. She tried to be understanding while I tried to hint that her garbage on the main hallway was starting to stink and perhaps I could voluteer to throw it out for her. It kinda embarassed her. But not for long. Her first question to me was what program I was here in Japan on. I told her I was on a Japanese government sponsored program. I tried to be vague because I didn't want her to know what I receiving as a stipend. I couldn't help but wonder why Chinese always seem to want to know how much you're making.

Her first instinct was to conclude I was here on a MONBUSHO scholarship eeking it out. She didn't hesistate to try confirming that. I told her it wasn't the Monbusho scholarship but rather a different one. She went down the list of sponsors. I shook my head at all of them. She seemed utterly confused. She tried to explain that those were all the Japanese government she'd ever known about for the standard international grad student. I shook my head a little. I hesistated and informed her I wasn't a grad student. Then I let the cat out of the bag that I was a JSPS Post-Doc. from Berkeley.

She did a pretty good imitation of a Japanese OL doing the 'Eeeeeeeee?' expression. She had heard about JSPS and was aware that we got a stipend almost 3 times what she was getting, which is still nothing compared to ex-pat salaries, but it does provide a fair amount of disposable income, especially with rent subsidization. Well, to make a long story short, she let me know in no subtle terms that because I was making more, I should be more generous to her. She was one brazen gal who let me know that with my kind of stipend, she could afford the Louis Vuitton bag, Italian shoes, and designer clothes that makes the class distinction. I thought what nerve. A girl who thinks she can "buy" class. But at the same time, she leaves her garbage outside and is too lazy to bring it downstairs to the shed. Perhaps she can change. I don't know her well enough. Maybe that's just the way mainlanders come off. Perhaps she's capable of being a more perceptive person inside. I'm just disappointed that she and other Chinese I've met can't see how gauche they behave by western standards. They only have an interest in how they stack up financially against others, and when told what they should do, they get defensive and claim that you're attacking their 5000 years of culture. Heck, I'm just trying to reduce the stinking, potentially disease infested garbage in the hallway. What's this got to do with how pitiful my post-Doc stipend is?

Free Kleenex - What do you mean Free?

I've been scoring free packs of Kleenex lately. Both Monday and Wednesday at Shibuya, they were giving out packs of Kleenex that usually have an advertisement on the back. The most common is from various loan shark organizations that will loan money for any purpose at between 22% and 25% annual interest. Gee, I wonder what happens to people when they can't pay? But, needless to say, they do come in handy. I've scored 6 packs so far. Not bad. I hope I can score some more today when I go for Nihongo lessons. The kleenex are really useful as far as wiping my mouth and blowing my nose is concerned. You see, a lot of restaurants in Japan don't provide napkins. You're stuck wiping your mouth or blowing your nose on your sleeve or on your hanky. This is a pain in the SHIRI. I don't like getting my hankies grimy with CHIKINKARAAGE grease, because when I wash my hands, I have to dry them on my hanky...which only transfers the grease to my hands... The tissue packs solve lots of problems. Who says nothing is free?

Tokyo Tech Cafeteria Food

I went to the main Tokyo Tech Cafeteria for the first time yesterday. I had my favourite...KATSU KARE Rice...but now I'm not so sure it's my favourite. In a pinch, I'd eat it since it was sorta tasty, and yeah, it was only Y390, but the katsu really lacked in the meat department. We're talking about a super-thin slab of fatty pork with lots o' batter. Something in the sauce also gave me lots of intestinal gas the rest of the day. I thought I was going to have to take some SEIRO-GAN :-). I went with the guys in our lab. A really friendly lot. They showed me how to stick my money in the machine and hit the right buttons and what line to get in. Nice guys. They even described the kanji on the sauce bottles.

It's not true that Japan doesn't have wholesale because at Toukoudai, they have salad dressing and tonkatsu sauce that would fit perfectly on the shelves at Price Club...we're talking major institutional size. Anyway, I learned the meaning of the kanji for "viscosity" or "density." It's pronouced "no" as in "Chuu-NO." For example, "Tonkatsu sauce wa, chuu-no deshita" (the Tonkatsu sauce was medium viscosity.) Leave it to these Mechanical Engineers to teach me the kanji for viscosity!

The cafeteria is quite efficient at Toukoudai. They only have 5 obasan feeding the entire school of 7000 people...of course the majority (90%) probably don't eat there, but having 700 people over for lunch on a daily basis is no small matter. You buy your ticket, then you get in the right line, then you give it to one of the OBASANs, and presto change-O, you're food materializes...+ or - 30 seconds of course. When you're done, you bus your own table. There's a sorting area...spoons in one bin, chopsticks in another, bowls in a third. Dishes float down the small "OSARA-GAWA." I coined that phrase, because it's like a gushing creek of soapy water and you float the dishes down the weir and into a stainless steel basin where one of the obasans is madly washing away. I didn't notice too many left overs being thrown away in the trash bins. Considering the food quality at was a little surprising but then again, for the small portion wasn't all that unexpected.

How to watch Japanese TV

All foreigners should and must get a TV. (I recommend a stereo unit with bilingual option). It's not only necessary, but it's the fastest way to teach yourself about what Japanese watch and give you something you can relate to the culture. Plus there's a surprising number of recent US movie hits that only appear on pay cable TV in America. These movies are a great way to enjoy time without spending a tonne of money going out somewhere. As part my regimen, I watch at least 30 minutes a day.

Recently, there's been battery of block buster Total Recall and Aliens 2 last week. My favourite movie host appears every Sunday. He's cute old man named Yodogawa-san. His "Sayonara...Sayonara...Sayonara" or "Kowai...Kowai...Kowai" (Scary...scary...scary) are extremely memorable. But sometimes the editors cut the best parts out of the movies, like for example,

Japanese commercials are pretty good. I'd rank them higher in entertainment value than most Japanese dramas. I remember certain commercials vividly. For you Yasuda Narumi fans out there (the Kikkoman - manjo mirin gal and the IDO cellular phone gal) there's talk of her impending but secret marriage to someone who is still unnamed. Truly ZANNEN. Narumi-chan would rank pretty close to the ICHIBAN gal I wouldn't mind getting stranded on a life-raft with, sans anything else except 9 other Jpop idols and my collection of puripuri and K2C CD's. :-) For you Moritaka fans, Chisato is now the All Nippon Airways gal. Her teeth are not only whiter, but straighter than just 9 months ago. Definitely the hand of some orthadontist has been at work in Chisato's mouth. Plus she's had a nose job. Her cuteness factor is up, but credibility is way down. I just don't like gals who get nose jobs. So shoot me. :-)

To add some spice and some social commentary to Tokyo Off Time!, I now switch to the topic of "Butt-Shows" or "Shiri-Bangumi" as I call them. The Video airwaves are populated with these shows almost any night of the week now. It's somewhat disturbing. I don't recall so many of these type of shows in the previous years I was in Japan on vacation. I asked my lab buddies and they agree that these shows are more common now than just a year ago.

Basically, these shows feature scantily clad ladies in varying degrees of tasteless underwear from crotchless and buttless underwear to no underwear at all. Honestly, at first, all this freely available pornography was somewhat welcome to my thirsty eyes, but after about 3 weeks of this stuff, I've found the frequency and the degree of "grotesque-ness" to be disturbing. I guess the Saturday night show was what turned me off the most. I was channel surfing when I came upon a show featuring the "Sexy Girls," the "Giri Giri Girls" and the "CC gals." They also had one gal dressed in an apron. The show is called "Girugameshu Nai-to" (Gilgamesh Night). And the gal with the apron had nothing on underneath and the whole premise of the show seemed to focus on how to place secret cameras in places (below waist level) such that they could zero in on her if she didn't know.

The female hostess of the show, Iijima Ai, even went as far as to strip into a T-back, after which her smiles and laughs seemed very forced and ingenuine. It was an exercise in female denigration and the ladies on the show all appeared uncomfortable to the delight of the male hosts. Bro. Korn of the Bubble Gum brothers was the featured guest of the show.

It's hard to avoid these "butt" shows when you don't have cable and 2 out of the 6 channels are off the air and 2 have butt shows, and the other 2 have J-league soccer. Needless to say, I'm becoming a fast fan of Soccer and the trials and tribulations of Yomiuri's Ramos...a gaijin J-leaguer who has a real passion for the game and speaks excellent Japanese. From the sexist, pornographic MANGA to the butt-shows on TV, the majority of society seems to be geared to keep women oppressed. It's somewhat depressing to see an economically successful nation such as Japan to have these type of problems and yet, not recognize them. It's no surprise why I've seen NHK reports that over half of all housewives surveyed said they were unhappy in marriage, why 55% of SHUJIN cheat on their okusan, why Tokyo has so many CHIKANS, flashers, etc...there's something majorly warped in the sexual psyche of Japanese youths who've grown or are growing up with this kind of media environment. More depressing perhaps is that Japanese women cater to this culture by going out to night clubs like Juliana's and Maharajah to strip off their clothes and writhe in front of a bunch of perverted men.

As a man, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I'm moved by my hormones once in a while. Yes, a part of me takes pleasure at the occasional exposure to female anatomy. But there's the rational part of me tells me that there is a line which has been crossed and what was somewhat innocent "sexual" entertainment has become a big business and the business end of the entertainment and pleasure has headed down the road to perversion.

Tokyo Discount Shopping Spree

Imagine a gorgeous day. A few clouds in the sky but you could actually see rich blue patches. Wow. The air is clean and fresh. A light breeze is blowing about providing natural cooling everywhere. You feel warm, but the humidity is non-existent. It felt as if Tokyo finally sighed relief after the summer and rainy season. The Japanese call this AKIBARE, which is short for Autumn (aki) and Sunshine (hare). This is perfect weather for shopping! And what are the three top department stores that every budget minded gaijin in Tokyo should know about? Well, the first is Daishin in Oomori-Sanno, the second is the Akihabara Department Store and the third is a cheap meat place called Hanamasa.

Would you believe at Daishin I scored on some very nice ceramics? Yes, Y98 tea cups, Y98 small sauce dishes, a Y480 tea pot...etc. Incredible. Then they had Tanuki and Kitsune instant ramens. Y98!!! Incredible. Gourmet UFO's for Y139 each with the small pack of MISO included. Wow! I found 4 packs of those super sweet, super juicy Japanese pears for only Y300!!! Wow. Fruit! And they had the Obasan's out with frying pan cooking up sausages, gyoza, and shumei, FREE!, for the tasting. I thought I was strolling through Price Club on this Sunday morning...But really...this was Japan at it's best.

Yes. I scored on Y50/can iced KO-HI-. Yes, the tall cans. Dude, the frige is really going to get loaded. I scored on more ceramic dinnerware, like sushi plates, matching tsukemono plates, matching tea cups, matching soy sauce and wasabi dishes, and some killer "TANUKI" sake cups. They have a cute tanuki figure glazed on the side of the cup. Way cheap. Just Y198 each. I even have rice and soup bowls that sorta match too. I scored on a killer kitchen knife with an 18 cm blade, 1/2 tange handle, light weight, regularly Y3500, on sale Y980! What a bargain. Oh yeah, a free sharpener is included.

Okay. Noon rolls around on this sunshiny day and I'm tired and laden with groceries. Pop-quiz: What do Japanese shoppers do? They go up to the 6th floor of Daishin. This place is incredible. It's like a cafeteria. Only the food is damn good. Katsu-Kare Rice for Y450 in a massive, repeat, massive bowl. Miso Ramen, Y280 in a massive bowl. Asahi biiru, OOKII size, Y320. Cold SOBA, in a big dish, Y200! A SASHIMI platter bursting with colour and variety, Y680! A complete TEN-DON SETTO, Y480!!! What a bargain. They have countless combo's and items on their menu all at super cheap prices. They have self-serve hot tea, cold tea, and ice water. They have large portions on everything. Stuff yourself for less than Y1000!!!

Daishin is located on Ikegami Dori. The closest station is O-mori station on the JR Keihin-Touhoku line. Head south about 0.5 km on Ikegami Dori which parallels the JR tracks. Daishin will be on the left hand side and they also have limited free parking.

Well, needless to say, I went back and stuffed my frige with more fruits and veggies and sausages and salisbury steaks and gyoza. Gee, suddenly things aren't looking so bad. I'm equipped! I could survive a one month seige now with all the stuff in my cupboards. But not only survive, but I could do it in style. Those tea cups must have been mis-labelled. They look great. They feel great too and boy, they add little touch of class to an otherwise, bland bachelor's apartment.

But that's not enough right? I could always use more. For example, I might like to buy some red sangria and keep it chilled. Or serve pasta in a large bowl for that someone special I invite over for dinner. I don't have any plum wine either. Plum wine makes for a great dessert wine, especially with some rich Haagen-Daz chocolate ice cream.

This leads me to the second kick-shiri place to shop for sundries and groceries. I found...or rather was shown another great place to shop. This time in Akihabara, which is famous more for its electronics.

On the second floor of the Akihabara Department Store (that's what it's called), which is just outside/above/next to the station, there's the Akihabara 100 shop. It's a 100 yen shop. Everything in there is 100 yen, sometimes, 2 for 100 yen. One hundred yen shops are becoming popular in Tokyo and business is very brisk. This one is well stocked with all sorts of goodies. Any type of sundries one can think of are available here for a good price. Of course, it costs around Y400 round trip to Akihabara so it isn't really economic to just go and pick up some Y100 gloves or laundry detergent, etc...but if I've got a lot of stocking up to do, this is a good place. I picked up cream stew sauce mix and ONIGIRI mix for Y100 per pack. About Y40 cheaper than at the discount supermarkets. Cutlery is also available. Surprisingly heavy duty stainless forks, spoons, etc...for Y100 a two-pack and sometimes even 3 pack. Truly remarkable. Comparable to the best prices in the states.

There are two necessities of life that are extremely cheap and available here. The first item is the sink strainer net. In Japan, the sinks tend not to have a "garberator." You know, a food grinder thingamajig. Instead, there's a metal strainer basket that must be cleaned once in a-frequent-while. To reduce the grodiness of doing this cleaning, it's best to use a disposable strainer net. Well the 100 yen shop has these in a deluxe 10 pack for 100 yen. The second thing is Tea packs. It's a real pain to clean a tea pot with loose tea leaves stuck on the inside of the pot. It's better and much more convenient to use a tea pack that you pour the tea leaves into (when dry) and then just drop into the pot and add hot water...instant tea bag. Clean up is now simple.

The third and final place I recommend shopping at is Hanamasa. Located also in O-mori, it's actually just outside of the north exit of the station. Hanamasa is a chain of grocery stores and YAKINIKU restaurants specializing in meats. Hanamasa is in the basement of the Ra-Ra building. If you're going to throw a party, like a BBQ, or you just wanna stock up on bulk food, Hanamasa has the sizes and prices for you.

For example, soft tofu, 3 paks for 100 yen? Fresh! I had HIYAYAKKO this morning. A little chopped green onions, some bonito flakes and soy sauce. Oishikatta! 3 for 100 yen. Two kilo bag of sausages, Y980! Salad oil, 2 liters, Y397. 60 packs of pre-skewered YAKITORI, Y1350. 1.5 kg of sliced lamb, pork, or beef (for stir fry or other uses) Y1000. Coconut milk 400 ml, Y239. Sesame oil, 500 ml, Y600. ... I think you get the picture.

Long Weekend Leisure

It's not often in Japan when you get a long weekend, and rarer still is to have one with great weather. The question every foreigner should ask him- or herself is why he or she is not enjoying this rare occasion. It's easy to overwork oneself, in fact, the Japanese have a specific term for death from over-work: KAROUSHI. Tip of the weekend is: Don't let it happen to you! Blow off work. tell your boss: "Yamate yaru!" (It means "I quit!").

So what are some fun ways to enjoy a lovely weekend?

Well, playing tourist is fun. Many Japanese like to just stroll through a certain part of town. It doesn't cost a lot of money to do it, and you learn a lot about that part of town. Strolling through Ginza is a very popular pastime. In fact, the Japanese close off the streets of Ginza on weekends and allow only foot traffic. Strolling through Ginza even has it's own term: "GINBURA".

While doing the "ginbura" during the Saturday of this weekend, I was privileged to conversed intelligently with some Nihon Sun folks. One guy was giving me the low-down on doing sys-admin or financial modeling for Tokyo securities companies. Quite lucrative he told me.

We shared a splendid Y4,200/person Italian dinner, which included a white fruity wine from Italy with very good bouquet that promised much to the nose and delivered in part enough flavour to tantalize the tongue. :-). (okay, enough wine snobbery...) We also had an delicious appetizer with a baked tart and exotic salad made of mushrooms and flowers. Next was the pasta with shrimp, chives and garlic in a white sauce. All that was followed by a course of veal topped with ham and parmesan. The dessert was berries and cheesecake which although soft in the Japanese style, was lighter and more appropriate considering the hefty meal already consumed.

To top off the evening, we ventured out to the theatres and caught the 10 O'clock showing of Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones in the "Fugitive." It wasn't crowded at all and the seats were plent comfy for even my large frame. We even managed to catch the last train back to our respective homes.

On the following Sunday, there was a national holiday known as "Sports Day." People are supposed to be "Health Consious" on this day. The city government closed the road along the eastern side of Hibiya Park (near Masako and the Prince Hironomiya's pad) and people were actually exercising in family groups or having picnics. I hardly smelled any tobacco smoke at all. Amazing. we strolled through parts of the imperial garden and checked out some gigantic spiders that could give you arachnaphobia big time if someone were to stick one down your shirt. We're talking massive size...8 cm across for some of the bloated females.

The Imperial Garden has a pretty wide and well developed moat. By walking around to the north western side of the park, you can see other landmarks, such as an onion shaped temple (the TAMANEGI or Boudokan) on top of some pavilion. The place is close to Kudanshita Eki (just like in the Bakafu-Slump song).

Part of the imperial moat has rowing facilities. For 400 yen per hour, this is one of the cheapest sources of romantic entertainment I've found in Japan. Bring a camera to photograph the occasion. I got a pleasant upper body workout and enjoyed SHINSETSU-na company and was able to relax on the water. Lots of couples do the boat thing and the skillful rowers usually find a nice cozy place (under a bridge maybe) and do some semi-public PDA (public display of affection - i.e. kissing). However, unless you've mastered the art of rowing, you might not want to take a date out. We were out on the water until closing time 4:30 pm, and heading back to the docks. Another couple ahead of us was trying to head in as well, but he was having control difficulties and she was letting him have a piece of her mind...(i.e. you nincompoop! he's beating us....nag nag nag) I felt kinda sorry for this guy. The nagging only served to propell him even faster on a collision course, but I managed with a few quick strokes and maneuvers to slip ahead of him and park along the dock. Mission accomplished.

I spent most of Monday visiting a couple in Yokohama. They are such nice people. Generous and big in heart. The husband is a MS grad from Berkeley's NE department which is where I met him and his wife was my Japanese tutor for about 9 months. We met at Sakuragi-Cho Station which is the first station after Yokohama on the Keihin-Tohoku/Negishi sen. We shopped and strolled around in the new Landmark Plaza bldg. Think of it as the Transamerica pyramid, minus the top 3rd of the building. The lower floors are filled with small shops and restaurants. There's even a used clothing store. We had lunch at the Sizzler. Brand new. Just opened in July 1993. Dude. Why do I keep finding these Sizzler's? :-) I must have a homing device or something. The salad bar was better than home. They had curry and rice and more low-viscosity soups with more Japanese prefered taste...definitely a good localization step that improved the popularity. The steak and salad bar lunch was only Y2,800 and the service was excellent.

Afterwards, a stroll helped the food settle, but I definitely wouldn't recommend riding some of the high-G rides in the Yokohama fairgrounds. Instead, we took a leisurely ride on the world's largest Ferris Wheel. Only 600 yen per person, another cheap ride for someone looking for a nice, enjoyable time...and as the day before, the weather was gorgeous. We hiked around Yokohama, first to the harbour front park and then the Chinatown and then Moto-machi. We took in a sunset at the gaijin cemetary in Yamate. It was beautiful. I strained my eyes to the south and could just make out the nearly perfect cone of Mt. Fuji. I should have brought a camera. Pinatubo's dust was still making for gorgeously red sunsets from atop Yokohama's hills.

Jaa, James


okusan wife, (polite form, other person's wife, Mrs.); kanai = my wife
fuben inconvienient (adj.); benri = convenient
chotto a little bit; a little of
OL Office Lady - literally "Oh Ell"
gomi garbage, refuse, waste; gomi-bako = garbage can
minikui ugly, plain, homely
katsu kare katsu = breaded and fried pork cutlet; kare = curry (phonetic)
seiro-gan brand name of stomach medicine, looks like black balls
obasan aunt; generic term for middle aged lady
osara a plate or dish used for eating
gawa a small river, stream or creek
chikin karaage deep fried, coated chicken nuggets
shiri butt, derriere, posterior
ichiban Number one, best, first
zannen a disappointment
manga Japanese comic strips which come in thick bounded volumes
shujin husband; go-shujin = honorific form, someone else's husband
chikan a groper, usually male, who feels up passengers on trains
miso fermented Japanese bean paste
ookii big (adj.); chiisai = small
soba Japanese buckwheat noodles
sashimi sliced raw fish (without rice)
tendon setto ten = tempura; don = donburi (rice casserole), setto = set
ko-hi- coffee (phonetic)
tanuki badger
onigiri seasoned rice ball wrapped in seaweed
hiyayakko cold tofu served with sprinkle of chopped green onion and bonito fish flakes
shinsetsu kind; considerate