Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Emergency vehicle drivers are either very polite or very indifferent in Japan

Well, for a fact, I know they're polite (or, at least, they seem to have extremely polite requests recorded in order to gently urge motorists to get the hell out of the way... please). Watching an ambulance go down the street can be interesting, as I do believe I've heard them switch on and off recordings asking people to move over and let them through.

Aside from that... it seems like unless they are using their sirens or Calm Japanese Woman Recordings, no one really cares. I frequently (as in daily) see pedestrians crossing the street in front of police cars and ambulances running their lights, as well as traffic not for a second considering yielding to these vehicles when they don't have the right of way.

I'm pretty sure I see these vehicles driving around normally without their lights on, so either I'm wrong about that (entirely possible), or there are very different rules/laws/expectations here about police and EMS.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Groceries, prepared food, discounted meat, and sales every day of the week

I imagine I've mentioned, more than once, that one of the most exciting things about moving here for me was the fact that the grocery stores generally tend towards fresh, seasonal ingredients. It's true, and fun! But there's another angle: There's a massive amount of prepared food ready. I don't mean bad convenience store donuts. I mean fresh sashimi and sushi, I mean recently-grilled chicken, I mean deep fried shrimp like something you'd get at a restaurant.

And at some point during the evening, guess what? The remaining stock goes on sale. Increasingly aggressive sale.

Of Laundry and Drag Queens

Our balconies, which are typical in Japan, have little brackets that are intended to host poles for hanging and drying laundry (clothes dryers are not normal here). The particular ones I bought have a name that uses an onomatopoeia meaning "sparkle" and a phonetic version of the word "pole."

Sparkle Pole is funny enough, but because of the way Western names are transliterated into Japanese, Google Translate decides it means... and I couldn't make this up, I'm not clever enough...

Twinkle Twinkle Little Paul.

Which makes me think RuPaul is going to be drying my laundry. And while I try to be an open-minded guy, I'm just not totally sure I'm comfortable with a black 6'4" 53-year-old drag queen waving my laundry about while Tokyo walks by and gawks from the street.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Tokyo Sakura House Higashi-Nagasaki B Review (tl;dr: Don't rent here)

First off, Sakura House building Higashi-Nagasaki B, conveniently located not far from Shinjuku, comes in between 65,000 and 76,000 yen (around 600-700 USD) per month. At least, if you believe the website, the advertising, and the employees (which I and many others did). Unfortunately, out of the 30,000 yen deposit, you are entitled to get at most 20,000 yen back. That's about 90 USD that's essentially extra rent, so these actually cost closer to 700-800 USD assuming a one-month stay, even if you leave everything spotless.

I'll go over my experience there point by point, in no particular order.

Bluetooth in OS X seems to suck, especially with Parallels. Also, Parallels sucks.

Background: I run OS X because I have a MacBook Pro. I have a MacBook Pro because there's just nothing that compares to it... but I work in Linux, so I run Parallels, which is a pretty nice virtualization software. Basically, this means I have Linux running as a program in OS X, the way you'd run Microsoft Word in Windows. Just... more useful.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Still no comments!

Just to put it out there: I think I've mentioned that I'm keeping this blog as a resource for other people who consider making or decide to make a move like the one I've made (from somewhere not-Japan to somewhere is-Japan), but this isn't a repository of facts. It's just me talking about my experiences.

I'm happy to talk to the internet, whether it talks back or not, but if any of you -- whether I know you or not -- have questions, comments, or contradictions to offer, please do feel free to throw them at me. I'm here to learn, and that learning can come from any number of sources; if I say something that's obviously stupid or even just slightly off base, the only way I'm going to correct that point of view and avoid encouraging other people to make the same mistakes I'm making is if someone points them out.

So if you just enjoy reading the blog, great! Please continue! But if you disagree, or if there are things I've missed and you think they're important, please do chime in. Anything from support to (constructive) criticism/correction is entirely welcome and appreciated.

Edit: And, of course, there was indeed a comment here that I hadn't seen because there doesn't appear to be way to get notifications unless you turn moderation on, which I've now done. Sorry!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Arashi (嵐): The Digitalian

My lovely girlfriend requested that I pick up a copy of this album today, as it was just released in Japan. I did so, despite a minor issue involving the fact that Tsutaya apparently runs stores that are entirely devoted to rentals (CD's, DVD's, and even manga) and does not feel like differentiating between them in their Google Maps or corporate entries.

Paying bills... at the convenience store?

Yes. "Convenience store," in the US at least, is a benign but constant misnomer: The only thing convenient about them is that you have to fill your vehicle with gas with some regularity and there's always one of these right there, so you can... I don't know, buy junk food and frozen pizza after you pay at the pump. Japan does things a little differently at the "kombini" (my transliteration to romaji is different, but neither is either correct or incorrect, and I'm set in my ways).

Recent cooking: Chicken curry, orange chicken, pork and bean sprouts

As I get used to the possibilities (and limitations) of using what's available locally here, I've put together a few familiar dishes with what's at hand as well as some that are new to me. It's fun working with what's at hand, and I think it'll end up making me a better cook.

Wok: Seasoned. Iron turner: ...oops.

I seasoned my (cast iron) wok! Well, I continue to season it. Mostly when I'm bored, but not just then, because my perverse kitchen fetish means I find it mesmerizing.

Don't judge me.

Ack! Delayed posts!

The lack of updates is largely due to school, lots of cooking, and the final phases of my address changes (in addition to getting a lot of work done) kind of pushing the blog away from the front of my mind. But it's back! I have several updates, so there should be a few posts coming.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

My first batch of gyoza in Japan!

I love gyoza! And I've been making them for so long that I'm really spoiled on them, so getting them at restaurants -- even in Japan -- has so far been a universal let-down. Fortunately, they're not all that complicated, and I finally outfitted my kitchen to the point where I can make them here.

More Kappabashi: Filling out the kitchen supplies

I hit up the Street of Happiness again with the intention of almost-entirely-stocking the kitchen; unlike most of my trips so far, I ended up coming back with everything I set out to get. Score!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Refrigerator! Kotatsu! Zafu! A great day for furniture!

Holy crap am I excited! I'm putting the picture above the cut. That's how excited I am.

Another interesting meal: Marinated "Bacon Block"

Last night I had intended to try out a recipe I found on Cookpad, but since I couldn't find pork belly at the grocery store I hit on the way home, I went with something called "bacon block."

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Apparently textbooks at Kai aren't included in tuition.

When I went to college this was the case as well... but this isn't college, and I don't remember reading or hearing anywhere that there'd be additional charges for books. Until yesterday, of course, when the teacher informed us we'd need to bring exactly 8,992 yen to class today.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Pedo-Meter Strikes!

Not sure if I mentioned it, but I picked up a pedometer at the end of last week. Today was the first day I took it to school, so here are the stats!

  • 7050 steps
  • 5.6 km
  • 369 calories burned
Granted, these are not going to be exact, but I did check the mileage against Google Maps, and it seems to be getting very close (both on this trip and another I tried it out on over the weekend). This is a typical trip from home to school and back again, including a very slight detour to hit the grocery store for a bit of chicken.

Not too bad. I like my intentionally-built-in daily exercise. :)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Spicy pork, onions, and mushrooms

It's Typhoon Week #2! Not that that's particularly relevant to this post, but it's kind of the big news here.

This week I picked up some mushrooms and an onion with the intention of getting some chicken to go with them; however, I didn't end up finding a really small portion of chicken, so it's a nice little 199 yen package of shabu shabu pork instead. Really can't wait until I can buy larger cuts and actually save them; the fridge should be here on Thursday!

Android phone review: Sharp Aquos Crystal from Softbank (tl;dr: Don't buy one)

Unfortunately, as with most Android handsets, this has to be taken in the context of the bastardized version of the operating system the carrier provides. Considering I know nothing about distribution in Japan, I also can't say for sure whether the faults in the OS as it's provided are Sharp's fault or Softbank's, though I strongly suspect the latter.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Two weeks in and already the police are after me!

Earlier today someone rang my doorbell (i.e. called me from downstairs, we actually have a dedicated phone on each floor so we can answer "calls" from the front door). They said "Bic Camera," among many other things I didn't understand; I was expecting a visit from them to check dimensions for a clothes washer I wanted to buy, so I let them in.

Just now, someone else -- whom I wasn't expecting -- rang it. So I inquired a little, in brief and poor Japanese, and managed to pick out the word "keisatsu." Police. Well I don't REMEMBER doing anything wrong, but I should probably let him in anyway...

Apartment update: New Wireless Router (also, major appliances)

I haven't exactly considered shopping around a viable option, so my purchases to this point have been almost entirely based on necessity and availability (I certainly didn't bother looking for reviews on the futon I bought; it came with everything you need to sleep on, and that was exactly my one criterion). My washer, fridge, and router purchases were no different... and while the former two were on the pricey side, the last was pretty inexpensive.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

First (partial) week of Japanese language study at Kai

I haven't said much about it, which shouldn't be interpreted as there not being much to say. There's just been so much else going on that it's hard to get everything down, and this works well as its own post.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Quick and dirty pork and mushroom stir fry

As I continue not having a refrigerator, I keep on buying single servings of meat to saute up in the wok. This came out pretty well despite my failure to pick up all the ingredients I wanted... but I think, in the medium term, remembering toilet paper and forgetting garlic may be OK.

KitKat (seasonal): Pumpkin Pudding

One of the many food-related things I enjoy about Japan is their obsession with KitKat. Part of it comes from the fact that the Japanese pronunciation sounds like a common motivational phrase, but part of it has to be the awesome creativity (and sometimes just plain strangeness) that goes into the flavors, ranging from tame green tea to... well, pumpkin pudding. There are many stranger ones, but this is where I'm starting.

Ceiling cat is watching you...

...attempt to acclimate to an unfamiliar culture.

One of the more pleasant parts of my Sakura House stay, this guy spent a few afternoons sunning himself on a shed behind the share house.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Kappabashi: A street full of culinary happiness

If you're not into cooking, Kappabashi probably has little to interest you. If you are, though, holy crap -- it's a gold mine.

Serious Wok is Serious! New cooking implements and their first adventure

This morning I strode the length of Kappabashi twice in the name of finding a few important things for the kitchen... the most important things, that is. And find them I did.

Japanese train track safety is no laughing matter

If you've been on an airplane... ever... you've probably seen those booklets they tell you to look at, with the drawings of placid people happily preparing to be mashed to bits on impact or thrown screaming smiling from a disintegrating aircraft seven miles in the air.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The unique challenges of dinner in a new apartment

After school orientation today (it was pretty good; not really anything worth writing home, or to the internet, about), my first scheduled stop was the Sakura House place to pick up my famed SoftBank Bluetooth speakers. With them comfortably transported to Shinjuku (which was not nearly as crappy as moving the suitcase will be), I turned to Part 2: Continuing to stock the apartment.

New apartment adventures: Furnishings, step 1: Futon (with bonus)

After acquiring the key to our shiny new accommodations yesterday, I meandered my way through three different subway lines to Nitori near Tokyo Bay, which is where a friend suggested I go to find a futon. It did work.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Disaster Preparedness: Typhoon Edition

I don't really know how consistent the weather in Japan tends to be; in Minnesota, a storm will often last much of a day, while in Florida it'll easily fly in and out in less than an hour. I'd expected Tokyo to be more like Florida in that respect, being so close to the ocean... which is why I was a little perplexed at this storm having lasted from the time I woke up until mid afternoon.

Cooking at Sakura House: Porkshroom Eggs

Since I couldn't wait any longer, I finally went ahead and threw something together, just for the sake of not eating another meal of frozen gyoza.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Online Banking with Shinsei (or: I got my Little Orphan Annie decoder ring!)

If you're familiar with the midwestern US classic A Christmas Story (or if you're just really old), you'll likely smile at the mention of a decoder ring. Because it's funny, right? It's a cute toy for kids to play with. Except it's also a major part of logging in to my online banking interface.

Nothing says "working hard" like happoshu, ika, and inutomodachi.

Happoshu is beer. Well, except that it's not taxed that way. Apparently, in Japan, beer and beer-like beverages are taxed differently based on the amount of malt in them. I never knew this; it's very convenient if you don't mind light beer (as in the color and flavor), because it's much cheaper than "real" beer.

Also, squid is an excellent snack when dried, and goes great with beer or sake.

Furthermore, PUPPYFRIENDS!

Yes, we are working. Just... not exceedingly hard; it is Saturday, after all.

I guess I live in Japan now.

It's pretty obviously different from living in the US. Mostly because, you know, I'm surrounded by Japanese people and their language. But when it comes right down to it, I don't feel any different.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Pole dancing! No, not me.

Last night I was invited by a friend to attend a "pole party" in Roppongi (Tokyo's largest foreigner/party district). She takes pole dancing as a class activity for fitness, which I have to say is a pretty inspired idea the entire world should take note of. There is simply no down side here.

Kaitenzushi (conveyor belt sushi), without the conveyor belt

These places actually aren't bad; I didn't expect much the first time I tried one, but the quality was high. This particular time (yesterday), I went with a couple friends of my girlfriend, one of whom is about to leave the country and was craving sushi before he left. Since they didn't have three adjacent seats at the conveyor belt bar, we ended up at a table.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Japanese elementary school: A little too endearing to be grating

At the share house (where I'll only be for another week, if things go well!), right across the street, there's an elementary school. I'm not a huge fan of children for the most part; noise, mess, and low attention span just usually aren't things I like. And there's a whole lot of noise going on at any elementary school; that's just how it is.

But... it's so hard to be a grouchy old bastard when they're so damn cute.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Our Japanese Apartment (or: Holy balls, that was fast, and it causes issues)

I arrived in Tokyo, wet behind the ears and squalling (for various reasons, read that how you will), on September 25. I met with my realtor, who had assumed I had no ongoing income and had to start his search over with the knowledge that I did (a good thing), on the 26th.

As of October 1: I have been cleared to rent a pretty damn nice place in Shinjuku.

Tasty, Tasty Responsibility: A most excellent lunch

What do you do when you're hungry and craving a beer but you're also not interested in going to a restaurant (and don't have the facilities to cook comfortably)?

Shinsei Bank, Outback Steakhouse, Izakaya, and Android connection sharing

Yesterday I decided I'd open a bank account, which I believe is the only major thing I have left to do aside from moving into a long-term apartment in Shinjuku, and the latter is temporarily out of my hands as the realtor deals with the application, guarantor company, and landlord.