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Tag Archives: japan

  • The chilling stories behind Japan’s ‘evaporating people’
    I didn’t know about this, but now that I know, it’s not too surprising. There are certain people in Japan who, after suffering to much shame, ‘evaporate’. What that means is that they just disappear and go somewhere else (instead of committing suicide), leaving their family and friends to wonder where they are.

    Whatever shame motivates a Japanese citizen to vanish, it’s no less painful than the boomerang effect on their families — who, in turn, are so shamed by having a missing relative that they usually won’t report it to the police.

    Those families who do search turn to a private group called Support of Families of Missing People, which keeps all clients and details private. Its address is hard to find, and its headquarters consist of one small room with one desk and walls sooty with cigarette smoke.

    The organization is staffed with detectives — often with evaporations or suicides in their own family histories — who take on these cases pro bono. They average 300 cases a year, and their work is difficult: Unlike the United States, there is no national database for missing people in Japan. There are no documents or identifiers — such as our Social Security numbers — that can be used to track a person once they begin traveling within the country. It is against the law for police to access ATM transactions or financial records.

  • The Great A.I. Awakening
    The efficacy of Google Translate improved greatly since last November, and the reason behind it is that Google started using AI to power the translations. This article talks about why and how they did that, but most importantly, how the use of AI in this feed can affect AI in general

    In the 1980s, a robotics researcher at Carnegie Mellon pointed out that it was easy to get computers to do adult things but nearly impossible to get them to do things a 1-year-old could do, like hold a ball or identify a cat. By the 1990s, despite punishing advancements in computer chess, we still weren’t remotely close to artificial general intelligence.

    There has always been another vision for A.I. — a dissenting view — in which the computers would learn from the ground up (from data) rather than from the top down (from rules). This notion dates to the early 1940s, when it occurred to researchers that the best model for flexible automated intelligence was the brain itself. A brain, after all, is just a bunch of widgets, called neurons, that either pass along an electrical charge to their neighbors or don’t. What’s important are less the individual neurons themselves than the manifold connections among them. This structure, in its simplicity, has afforded the brain a wealth of adaptive advantages. The brain can operate in circumstances in which information is poor or missing; it can withstand significant damage without total loss of control; it can store a huge amount of knowledge in a very efficient way; it can isolate distinct patterns but retain the messiness necessary to handle ambiguity.

  • Meet the husbands who fly first class – while their wives travel in economy
    An almost incredulous article where various men and women justify why spouses travel in different classes of the plane.

    “We left home as a couple, checked in our luggage together and went hand-in-hand to departures. When we boarded the plane, we parted, saying: ‘I’ll see you when we get there.’ We had a lovely fortnight together in Barbados. John was especially attentive — perhaps he was a little guilty.”

    Since then, Michelle has preferred to travel as far away from her husband as possible. And John couldn’t be happier: “Do I feel guilty? Not at all! I get treated very well in business class. And if, one day, we can afford it then I’d love for the whole family to join me there.”

  • Silicon Valley’s Culture, Not Its Companies, Dominates in China
    This makes a lot of sense. Who wants to work a rigid and long schedule when you can just work flex hours?

    Last year, Facebook fired an enterprising Chinese employee who played to the unmet demand and charged one group of tourists $20 each to tour the campus and eat in the company’s cafeteria. Now, the only thing notable for tourists to see is its thumbs-up sign.

  • “Architecture saved my life”: Pablo Escobar’s son is a good architect now
    I like stories like these where there is a juxtaposition between lifestyles within two generations. In this case, the architect seems to be making a career for himself, although I don’t know how much of this is actually a puff piece.

    I believe that in a way my father was also an architect, he was very clever. He was just an architect for his own convenience. There was a Sunday my father took me to airplane fields and in the middle of the jungle, we were standing on the airfield and he asked me, “where is the airfield?” I couldn’t see it, and he said, “You are standing in it.” I couldn’t see it because I was looking at a house in the middle of the runway and there was no way the plane could land because it would crash against the house. He took a walkie-talkie and told one of his friends to move the house. It was on wheels. When the airplanes from the DEA (US Drug Enforcement Agency) were searching with satellites looking for hideouts, they couldn’t find anything because there was a house in the middle of what was a possible airfield. The planes can use it—just move the house.


I have never watched any Godzilla movie and everything I know about Godzilla comes from Rampage. In fact, I would have ignored this film, because I was on an Air Canada Rouge flight (with no seat back screen), if not for just coming across a thread on this movie on Reddit as I was waiting for my flight to Vegas. It was actually interesting and not what I thought a Godzilla movie would be about.

Sure, you saw the beast and it laid waste to Tokyo, but that is really a side-bar and raison d’être for the underlying commentary – namely a satire about how politics and government operates. The film begins with Godzilla causing mass (but minimal, only flying cars and boats) destruction while the government paralyzes and sends orders up and down the chain of command. I enjoyed that various politicians would inject with comments on how decisions would affect their own political career or the economy.

Eventually the film settles down into more familiar territory where they actually have to get rid of Godzilla, and work with foreign governments to do so. That made the film weaker as the plot just kept being driven forward without a lot of rationale. The first half of the film gets a 4 out of 5 but the latter half only a 3. I’ll be generous and give it 4 out of 5 overall.


I found this Japanese movie under “New Releases” and misunderstood the summary and ended up watching it. What I thought I would be getting into was a movie where they pluck a teenager from our era and drop him into historical Japan, where he happens to be a doppelganger of a warlord who is attempting to unite Japan. I thought the movie would be about how he adapts to historical times and convinces rival warlords to his cause.

It turns out that Nobunaga Concerto is actually based on a manga and the above plot is completed in a summary in a quick 5 minute introduction to the premise. I suppose the movie is based on some of the later books in the manga. Anyways, it turns out that this movie is about how his fellow warlords plot to kill him. That was not nearly as interesting to me.

The movie played out like a live action manga. There were lots of weird exclamations and scenes where the character would make faces with ominous music in the background. Actually, it was a lot like a Bollywood movie in that respect. Both the premise and plot are a bit crazy and intended to be a light-hearted fantasy. I was my mistake to try and watch this movie, but it still doesn’t make it any better. Two out of five stars for this concerto.


  • These Aren’t Wireless Headphones
    A look at Apple’s new wireless earbuds – if you’re like me and don’t really pay a lot of attention to Apple news, then you might know the ins and outs about this new product. Seems like it covers a lot of interesting use cases, but I’m not prepared to drop significant money on something that is so easy to lose (and only supports Apple devices)

    One more simple feature holds perhaps the most telling clue to what Apple has in mind for the future. Tap the AirPods twice while they’re in your ear and you’ll wake Siri, much like how you wake Amazon’s Echo by saying “Alexa.” Suddenly you’ll find yourself conversing with an A.I.–powered voice assistant via a tiny earpiece in your ear.

  • Hillary Clinton’s ‘Invisible Guiding Hand’
    It was surprising when I found out that analytics was such a big factor in a transient event such as an election, but after thinking about it, it makes a lot of sense. The data and analysis that has been accumulated can be reused for subsequent campaigns. However, I think it might be a waste that all the infrastructure might have to be recreated if the people are all new each time (I assume that there is a lot of custom analysis).

    The breakdown of the buy in Texas, powered by Kriegel’s modeling, shows how Clinton’s TV ads budget hunted for delegates, not votes. Texas is the rare state that used state legislative districts to award delegates, and Clinton spent $1.2 million on broadcast and cable ads even as she won the state by 32 percentage points. Sanders spent $0. She spent more on ads in tiny Brownsville ($127,000) and Waco ($142,000), ranked as the 86th and 87th largest media markets in the country, as she did in Houston ($105,000), the 10th largest, according to ad data provided by a media tracker.

    It paid off: In Texas alone, Clinton netted 72 delegates more than Sanders — a margin that more than offset all the Sanders’ primary and caucus wins through March 1.

  • Why Are Babies So Dumb If Humans Are So Smart?
    An interesting hypothesis as to why, when Humans are born, they’re so useless compared to other animals.

    And in modern humans, a few pieces of evidence appear to suggest that smarter parents are more likely to have offspring that survive. In one limited sample—two hundred and twenty-two Serbian Roma women—maternal I.Q. and child mortality were negatively correlated (that is, higher I.Q. meant lower mortality), even controlling for education, age, and a number of other factors. In a larger sample of Californian parents, in 1978, years of education were linked to infant-mortality rates. Global epidemiological studies suggest a decrease in mortality that equals between seven and nine per cent for each year of a mother’s education.

  • We might live in a computer program, but it may not matter
    I just blogged a similar article on this topic a few weeks ago, but this subject is so fascinating that I can’t get enough of it!

    Quantum mechanics, the theory of the very small, has thrown up all sorts of odd things. For instance, both matter and energy seem to be granular. What’s more, there are limits to the resolution with which we can observe the Universe, and if we try to study anything smaller, things just look “fuzzy”.

    Smoot says these perplexing features of quantum physics are just what we would expect in a simulation. They are like the pixellation of a screen when you look too closely.

  • The new science of cute
    Not surprisingly, this article is mostly about Japan – the epicentre of cute. There’s cute though, and there’s fame. This article tries to tackle both.

    But for a mascot to be successful, being cute is not always enough. For every popular yuru-kyara, there are a hundred Harajuku Miccolos – a 5ft-tall yellow-and-brown bee, who I met standing on the pavement outside the Colombin bakery and cafe, celebrating Honey Bee Day with three hours of loitering in front of the cafe, greeting passers-by, or trying to. Most barely glanced in his direction and did not break stride, though some did come over and pose for a photo. There was no queue.


Orange is a Japanese film and I guess the title of the film is something in lost in translation. It is a story about a 16 year old girl who discovers a letter from her 26 year old self. In the letter it describes what will happen with a new boy in school and the regret that she feels.

I’m a sucker for letter-from-the-future stories because it would be awesome to know how to live your life by making the correct decisions. Unfortunately, we won’t know if our decisions are correct without hindsight; something that an older version of you can provide. What complicates this movie is that the protagonist is a teenager so even if she knows what is the right thing to do, and wants to do it; she may not have the self esteem to carry it out.

I thought the actors portrayed the awkwardness of being a teen really well. Furthermore, the plot jumps between the past and “present day” (ten years in the future) and that adds further twists to the how the events played out, and how the older girl wants them to play out.

What was odd was the title. I think they referred to orange as the color the cherry blossoms made when they fell from the trees – which was also the time the future letter appeared. Seems like a weird thing to pick on to title the film. In any case, this was an enjoyable movie to watch and it gets 3 out of 5 stars.


We didn’t plan a lot on this trip to Japan since its our third trip in 5 years, but one thing we did plan was to go to a baseball game because we have heard that that experience is unlike what you get at North American parks.

I did some research beforehand and while the Tokyo Giants (Yankees of Japan) would not have a home game during our stay, the Yokohama DeNA Baystars across the Tokyo bay did, and they were playing the Hanshin Tigers (Red Sox of Japan). We couldn’t buy tickets online (cheaply) so we just went up to the gate and bought them – although this was difficult as we had a double handicap where we couldn’t speak or read the language and had a baby with stroller.

In the end, it wasn’t too hard as the random ticket office lady spoke English and we were able to check our stroller at the gate. There were actually a lot of babies at the game!

We sat on the first base (home team) side at the 200 level equivalents. It cost 3500 per ticket but I got a 1500 discount because the promotion that day was that men got a discount. We also arrived early enough for the tailgate party which featured cheerleaders and a power ranger (turns out he was one of 3 mascots for the team).

You’re allowed to bring your own food, drinks and booze into the game so we went to the local corner store to pick up some stuff. They only ask that you pour your beer into a cup. You could also buy a beer from one of the beer girls running around – there were a lot of them each selling a different brand. That would set you back 500 which is about double the price. You could also buy bento boxes, ice cream or ice coffee/tea – no peanuts though.

In the seventh inning, instead of stretching they blow up balloons in the team colors and then collectively let them go/deflate into the air. The visiting team got to do their colors at the top of the inning.

The other weird thing was that relief pitchers would come in on a convertible! They still have a walk of shame to the dugout though.

The seating is a bit different. They put seats in the foul line (where MLB TV cameras are) and there is an overhang so you can sit above the dugouts (and get things that players toss)

For all the hype about the the baseball experience in Japan, it wasn’t that incredible – they just do a lot of things differently than North America. After a while, the game is just as boring or interesting as it would be here because once you get past all the culture watching, it is still baseball. I would say that the experience is like going to see a Toronto FC match at BMO field. You have ardent supporters who bang on drums and cheer their team on. If you are a true fan, then you want to yell and cheer anyways regardless of where you are.


By chance, we ended up going to a bunch of Japanese places for food in NYC, although it was not the conventional sushi & ramen fare so was a bit more interesting!

The first place we found using Foursquare Explore function and was a place tucked upstairs in a little stretch of Japanese restaurants north of Times Square called Yakitori Totto. We arrived around 9PM on a weekday and had to wait for an hour before being seated, so it was quite popular! While waiting, we saw a bunch of people show up, and then leave because it was too packed. We also saw that they didn’t just pick the other Japanese restaurants nearby instead so that was a good sign for us!

We had some food beforehand (at Halal Guys) so weren’t that hungry, which bode well because the yakitori were like Tapas – you could go crazy and order a lot, but they were $3 a skewer so would quickly add up. We shared a bunch of them:

  • Chicken liver ($3) – meh
  • Chicken gizzard ($3) – meh
  • Asparagus wraped in bacon ($4) – good
  • Pork mustard with sauce ($3.5) – meh
  • Ginko beans ($2) – not that good
  • Skirt steak ($5) – good
  • Shiitake mushrooms ($3) – meh
  • Sukiyaki ($8) – meh

We wanted to get the Chickn Oyster (rare part of thigh) but they were out. I didn’t think the food was that great, but it was a fun experience and you can watch them grill the yakitori.

Later in our trip, we went to a fast-food Japanese burger place called Kobeyaki and tried their “kobe beef” burger ($9). It didn’t taste like kobe beef, but that was their only beef burger so maybe it was just a name. The burger had a chinese bun and was good overall, although not in the American burger way. they also had teriyaki ketchup and wasabi mayo which was pretty cool.

The same night, after some FroYo, we tried the pork katsu at Go Go Curry. Looks like this is a Japanese chain that opened locations in NYC. The katsu was really crisp and we finished it even though we were already full! The curry was not bad and the portion size for a “small” ($7) was pretty good too.


Before going to the TSO last Saturday, we stopped by Fusia Dog (pronounced Fuschia – it would have been MUCH easier to pronounce if they spelled it correctly!) for a gourmet hot dog. The hot dogs at this place is in the style of Japa Dog although it’s not specifically in a Japanese style. They use a variety of other trendy words like healthy, kosher, local, etc to describe their dogs.

There is a lot of choice, and all of them not too conventional so we tried the safe choice, the aptly named “Fusia Dog” for $6.95:

It was a hot dog in a wrap, with Horseradish sauce, daikon, and cucumber. It sounds strange but it works quite well! While waiting, we also received a sample of their Power Slaw. Although it looks weird with all sorts of different ingredients which might seem to taste bad (like cauliflower etc), it again worked well together and I wouldn’t mind eating it as a real salad. This is an interesting place and we’ll head down and try another one of their dogs next time.


I’ve been spending time lately playing Hot Springs Story on my phone. It’s by the same (Japanese) company that made Game Dev Story. Originally I started Pauline playing it because it was a more interesting topic for her than making games, but then I started playing too when I noticed it was on sale for $1.20!

I think it’s a better game than Game Dev Story mainly because the game mechanics are more refined (although the basic principles and flow are the same as Game Dev Story). Both of the games have a short build-wait-reward cycle which makes it addictive and time consuming. But thankfully there aren’t a ton of unlockables so you can be done with it and get on with your life after a week or two. Well worth for the small cost, unless you don’t have time for such things.


When I get lazy with blogging, I just post links to some neat stuff around the web:


When I get lazy with blogging, I just post links to some neat stuff around the web:


One thing that I noticed in Japan was the heavy usage of QR Codes on advertisements and what not. These scannable codes weren’t very common in North America but lately I’ve been seeing them used more and more (i.e., Blackberry).

The codes are a quick way to encode some text information, but mostly I see them used to encode a URL. Now that many more people in North America have data-enabled cell phones (but not necessary a good way to type, or are lazy); they can just take a picture of the code and have the page opened automatically. To the right is the QR code for http://www.orangefever.net/ (yay for Google for having an easy way to convert text into QR Code).

The idea itself is fascinating to me because, like a barcode, it is not human readable at all. It just looks like some noise, but you can fit 1000 phone numbers into one QR code!


I missed it last year because I was flying back from Japan, but this year I went to Fan Expo again. It was a lot like the first time, with the cosplay and lining up (strangely though, there wasn’t as much NDS action); so I won’t describe all that stuff again.

Peter and I went to a couple of events, the first one was a DC Universe Editorial Presentation by Dan DiDio (Senior VP / Executive Editor). I didn’t really have any expectations or idea what this event was about, and it turned out to just be a presentation on the key DC “franchises”. It was a bit surreal sitting in the room and hearing the talk. Dan would talk about how they were revitalizing the Green Lantern franchise with the Blackest Night DCU event and people would start clapping and wooting. I can’t imagine the same reaction if I went on a stage and started talking about the products I work on, or if the CEO of Walmart was up there announcing a new line of clothing for American people. Now I know what it’s like to sit in a Jobs keynote.

We also went to two sketch duels (which I kept calling sketch-offs and that confused a lot of people who were asking us what the line was for). The first one was between Ethan Van Sciver and Ivan Reis. Ivan is from Brazil (and the artist on Blackest Night) so his English was very poor. He couldn’t understand the questions well and so the Q/A part of the duel was mostly done by Ethan. Ethan drew Sinestro and Ivan drew Killowog. Other than that, this duel wasn’t very noteworthy.

The second sketch duel was between Marko Djurdjevic and Olivier Coipel. I though I recognized Olivier’s accent, and it turns out he was in the other sketch dual I saw two years ago! The highlight, for better or for worse, of this dual was Marko though. People would ask him questions like, if you could draw any book which would it be, and he would just say “I don’t know”. At one point he complained about the “philosophical questions” people kept asking him! I thought this was hilarious that he was rejecting the fandom that the audience was giving him. He really did only want to draw, and in the sketch dual he drew Thor and 2 bonus pieces: Dr. Doom and The Hulk. Later J. Michael Straczynski showed up to raffle off the 4 drawings but unfortunately I didn’t win anything.

The other awesome thing that I saw at Fan Expo (well I saw a lot of awesome things) was a 2D girlfriend! The little note is awesome “Perv Pillows – You know you want one – $30.00”. I didn’t see anyone carrying them around though.


Hey we know Japan is weird-o but this article on, how you put it, 2D girlfriends is pretty crazy.

Nisan told me that not long ago he had a real girlfriend, but that she dumped him. He carries Nemutan almost everywhere he goes, though he is more self-conscious about it than he may seem at first. “Some people don’t find this funny,” he said, “and it also takes up a lot of room.” He treats her the way any decent man would treat a girlfriend — he takes her out on the weekends to sing karaoke or take purikura, photo-booth pictures imprinted on a sheet of tiny stickers. In the few hours we spent together, I watched him position her gently in the restaurant booth and later in the back seat of his car, making sure to keep her upright and not to touch her private parts. He doesn’t take her to work, but he has a backup body pillow with the same Nemutan cover inside his desk drawer in case he has to work late at his tech-support job. “She’s great for falling asleep with on an office chair.”

I guess Akihabara would have been more interesting if I saw these people crawling around!


Ok, I’m finally on the last movie of this queue. I didn’t watch Letters from Iwo Jima for awhile because it was in Japanese (so I had to read subtitles), and it was a long movie. Now that I’ve watched it, neither of them are real issues.

Letters, the companion movie to Flags of our Fathers is about the defense of Iwo Jima during World War II. The island is important because with the air base, the Americans can bomb Japan; so the Japanese had to defend it with all their might. Their problem is that at that point, they were already out of troops and equipment, and the Japanese depending Iwo Jima were out numbered 5:1.

One day, I was bored and read a lot of the history surrounding this event. What was surprising about Letters was that it didn’t convey a lot of the history. Instead the movie centered around a couple of characters, the general, and a private. Through them, the stories of the Japanese people are told with a slightly different spin due to the cultural differences.

Letters is a very good movie, but it’s not a five star movie. The problem I have with Letters is that it just covers the same issues as other war movies; loss, sacrifice, integrity. Perhaps it was because I read about the history already. Not five out of five, but four out of five.


I have no idea who or what Morimoto is, but Pauline wanted to go (it’s a restaurant btw) and so we went. Morimoto is a restaurant opened by Masaharo Morimoto, one of the chefs from Iron Chef and Iron Chef America.

You can quite easily miss Morimoto because it looks like a begger’s hideout. It is in fact quite trendy being part of Chelsea Market (think of it as a hipper and more expensive version of St Lawrence Market). We showed up for lunch a little past 1, and it was pretty deserted.

With Masaharu being Japanese, this was a Japanese restaurant. I tried their Chirasi Don and it was pretty good. They cut up the fish in to smaller pieces, and distributed it around the bowl. They also had the larger sized salmon roe which I haven’t had outside of Japan. Although it was good, I don’t think it was really worth it since that cost > $40 CDN and then tax and tip on top of that.

They were also offering a prix fixe lunch menu, and Pauline got the black cod version. Compared to my Chirasi, I found the fish had too much flavour.

The meal came with a dessert, which was wagashi, which I had never had before.


We were at a stand-up sushi bar in Tokyo when the sushi chef there started making some funny hand symbols at us. We eventually figured out that he was telling us not to use our chopsticks, but to use our fingers instead – or at least that’s what we thought he was trying to tell us, because that was a bit odd. I mean it’s not like we were foreigners, and having sushi for the first time; we always used our chopsticks and was never laughed at before.

Now I know that we were wrong, having to read an article in The Star of all places to understand this sushi etiquette.

You are meant to pick the nigiri up with your fingers, turn it upside down, gently pass the fish through the sauce and place it on your tongue fish-side down. Assuming it’s not jumbo-sized, eat it all in one bite.

Oops, I also messed up the dipping part, but the chef probably thought we were lost causes and never tipped us over on that.


One fear in the current recession is that the unemployment and slowdown may cause a generation of Americans to be like the Japanese “lost generation”.

There’s an entire generation of people in their late 20s and early 30s who came of age during Japan’s so-called lost decade, a stretch of economic stagnation that started to ease in 2003. Through that period, with Japanese companies in retrenchment mode, young people faced what came to be known as a “hiring ice age.” Many settled for odd jobs or part-time work to make ends meet but hoped eventually to find their way into regular employment with the stars of corporate Japan. Instead, they’re being passed over in favor of new graduates—a serious problem in a country that still values lifetime employment and frowns on midcareer job-hopping.

It’s easy to think of the short term impact, but a lost generation also means fewer marriages, fewer children, and fewer spenders in coming generations.

These millions of young people face a life that’s vastly different from that of their parents. For Japan’s postwar baby boomers, jobs provided certainty, spurring them to partner and procreate. Faced with insecurity, many of Japan’s twenty- and thirtysomethings are doing neither. The number of marriages fell to 714,000 in 2005 from 1 million-plus in the 1970s. That could exacerbate a drop in Japan’s birthrate, already among the lowest in the developed world. “You don’t get maternity pay, and you have no job to return to—that makes it hard,” says Masako Ikeda, a 30-year-old who works at a video game company in Tokyo but is employed by a job agency.

You already see this problem in boom times if someone doesn’t get a job for a long time after graduating from University. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s more pronounced.


I think one of the things you have to do when in Tokyo is to go to the Tsukiji fish market in Ginza. This is where fish arrives early in the morning, and is then distributed to the various restaurants around the city. You’re supposed to go there at some ungodly hour like 5AM in the morning to really see what it was like. We kind of had plans to do that, but by the time we got there after walking the wrong way for awhile (it happens a lot in places that don’t have proper addressing or oriented maps) ended up arriving around 7AM.

Even though the fish market is a tourist attraction for some, it’s a real operating market and feels like it. There are motorized vehicles screaming past you, people yelling Japanese telling you to move because they’re pushing a huge slab of tuna on a wheelbarrow, turtles being weighed and frozen fish being cut. It’s an experience to see the enormity and throughput of the fishing industry.

The second thing to do at the fish market is to eat sushi. This is the place you can get the freshest sushi (unless you can find some small town where a fisherman plucks it out of the ocean and then prepares it for you) and there are quite a number of sushi restaurants there to cash in. Our friend Ed, recommended two to us, Sushi Dai or Daiwa and they were good recommendations because even at 7 in the morning, they were line ups outside the door.

We waited maybe 20 minutes and got a seat at the bar for Daiwa (well they only have bar seats). I’d love to say that this was the best sushi I’ve ever had, but really I don’t know how to classify “better”. It did taste different if that’s a good sign!


Here’s a bonus Japanese animal blog, except this time we ate it. Another one of our day trip’s from Kyoto was to Kobe, home of Kobe beef! Or is it really? I don’t remember eating French Fries in Paris?? Anyways, we didn’t do any research beforehand on where exactly to eat beef in Kobe, so we just kind of walked around.

We ended up at Kobe Meriken Park Oriental Hotel on Kobe’s port and the Oriental Steak House on the top floor. I actually brought jeans that day so they wouldn’t kick me out. We were seated at a teppan and a teppanyaki chef came out to cook for us. He did the usual tricks and sculpturing of vegetables, and I learned it’s not just a show in America (well he could have been showing off to Westeners like us).

We had a salad as an appetizer, then a fish plate where he wrapped the skin using his kitchen tools, which was more of a show of skill than utility. The beef was indeed soft, but I didn’t find that it was as melt-in-your-mouth as I thought it would be – but then I think I was expecting an ice cream texture which probably isn’t realistic. We did finish off with ice cream though, but it wasn’t that soft either.

The best part was that both 4-course meals cost us only ~¥8000 before drinks, tax, and tip! And it was a decent place too, the hotel is ranked #2 in Kobe on Trip Advisor. Although we were lucky and went for lunch, the dinner prices are at least 50% higher and I couldn’t really see any additional dishes.


The third in my trifecta on Japanese animals is about monkeys. For a country that is very dense and lacking space, there seem to be a lot of animals. In Kyoto, we went off the beaten path a bit and visited Arashiyama on the west side of the city. After a quick bus ride, we hiked up a mountain to Iwatayama Monkey Park – which was tough in such humid weather, I washed my shirt in sweat twice that day (well I had go down the mountain too)!

For not even $6, we African Lion Safari’d around a small park on top of a mountain overlooking Kyoto while various monkeys frolicked around us. I don’t think they’re actually monkeys though, but I’m not an animal expert.

The affordability of Japanese tourist attractions was surprising, and it’s not like they cheapen the experience. There was a park ranger at the top of the mountain, equipped with snacks, and he would lure a monkey and take pictures for you – for free!

Inside the air conditioned hut, older monkeys hung out because they knew this was where the real game was. We bought bags of peanuts or sweet potato for ¥200 each and were able to feed the monkeys through a screen. The older, more experienced ones would softly take your offerings from your palm, while the younger ones snatched it quickly – which was often quite necessary because a big fat monkey would climb over and push you away if you were slow.

I did spy a baby monkey too, but its parent was quite protective (and the baby was obedient) so it was difficult to get a nice shot. The babies are cute and adorable, but a bit too wrinky.


Doh

We stayed the first couple of days of our trip in Kyoto and used that as a base of operations; there were a lot of places that were only a day trip away, one of which was Nara. Nara is a lot like Kyoto in that it contained many historic buildings, one of which is the largest wooden building in the world. That was all well and good, but we actually showed up too late to enter the temple!

The reason we were so late was because in Nara Park, there were a lot of deer roaming around, African Lion Safari style. But no, these weren’t the deer of Bambi, these were ferocious, predatory deer with an excellent sense of smell, and a particular taste for rice cookies that were sold for a few hundred ¥. I still get the giggles thinking about it, because the deer have a one-track-mind when it came to crackers. If they saw, or caught a whiff of them, the would plod around, slowly, trying to track you down. They would even let you pet them for a few seconds once they’ve been fed. Japanese people might get all obsessed with cats, but I was entirely fascinated with how deer were allowed to roam freely in the middle of the city!

Later on in our trip, we went to Miyajima which is near Hiroshima. There were more wild deer on this island, but they were much more competitive and clever than normal. We didn’t see any rice cookies for sale, so the deer had adapter to eating food that was wrapped. If they heard a rustle of wrappers or paper, they would make a (quicker!) beeline directly towards the source of the sound. This made it bad to buy souvenirs since they would eat all the souvenir bags!

They even put up a sign about this, but I don’t think reverse psychology works well on deer.


This BBC article on a cat cafe in the Akihabara district of Japan spurred me to blog about our experiences last year. We didn’t go to a cat cafe (just the usual maid cafe), but we did go to Nekobukuro, at the Tokyu Hands in Ikebukuro.

I found out about this place from Leo and Adrienne’s Facebook photos of their trip earlier in the year. It’s a section on the top floor of the store where you can pay admission (we bought a ¥1000 couple’s pass – I guess it’s a popular destination for dates) to spend time with various cats. I guess the lack of space, and OCD cleanliness makes owning cats prohibitive for most Japanese; because this is either a intensely weird or stupid idea from a North American viewpoint.

The cats themselves weren’t particularly social or crowd friendly, and typically ignored the crowds of people petting and fawning over them – until the trainers bring out the catnip.

There isn’t much to do in Nekobukuro, you can walk through a couple of rooms where cats are sitting around, watch, and pet cats. How do Japanese people find that amazing is beyond me.


McDonalds is my bread and butter when travelling. It’s fast, convenient, predictable and cheap. Heck, those are the reasons why I eat it normally! It was thus surprising that I only had McDs 4 times during the 2+ weeks that we were in Japan! Although, a lot of McDonald opportunities were taken up by trying the other “American” fast food places in Japan, like MOS Burger and First Kitchen.

The purpose of two of those visits were to try out the Japanese specialty burgers, the Teriyaki McBurger and the Ebi burger. The teriyaki burger is as you would expect, with teriyaki flavoured meat (I forgot what meat it is now…).

The Ebi burger is like a fillet-o-fish, except the inside isn’t fish but actually shrimp.

There were also other variant things at McDonalds, there’s a McBakery that sold what looked like a Chinese pineapple bun (it wasn’t). And had a dollar menu that included items which you had to cook/assemble yourself (Shaka shaka chicken).

As for why I went there 4 instead of only 2 times? Well one time I went and they only had the breakfast menu, and the other time we couldn’t find food (because we were in Omotesando and in the late afternoon)!


One of the best things about Japan is that when you’re hungry, you can pop into a nearby convenience store (literally on the next street corner) to buy some grub. Even better, every store sells Onigiri, or rice balls. They are very simple, yet cheap – usually running from ¥1 to ¥2 (depends whether you want the gourmet variety). As the name describes, it’s a ball (or triangle) of rice with some savory ingredients (i.e., smoked salmon) or other flavoring agents (salt). Some are wrapped in seaweed, which is rather cool because they need to separate the rice and seaweed so that the seaweed doesn’t get soggy. Opening those packages were a challenge the first few times, especially when they’re breakfast and you’re not quite awake yet.

We saw Onigiri being made from a street vendor once, I think it was in Akihabara. They’re not as cost efficient, but they’re much more massive. And they’re actually made in ball shapes!