Friday, January 31, 2014


Despite there being very few public trash cans in Japan, there is almost no litter in the streets. This may be because, knowing there are few trash cans, Japanese people make a point of getting rid of trash before they leave stores, or maybe it is simply a common courtesy. In any case I was quite surprised to see while visiting a well-known temple that there is an old bridge where people often throw away large items like this bicycle here. There were several other bicycles as well as old tires, and traffic cones. Maybe Japanese people just need to get their littering fix in from time to time.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Stick some tank treads on it!

I saw an employee unloading packages from this device at a train station today. I can't imagine what sort of advantages this has over a traditional dolly, but it certainly looks cool.

A different time.

I went to the Japanese version of an antique store for the first time today. There were a lot of interesting trinkets and entertainment memorabilia, but a few objects stood out. Two cases held several pieces of Nazi-related memorabilia. Some were potentially made after the war, like this doll, but other pieces appeared to be original such as several medals featuring the swastika. I would imagine that during the America occupation after WWII, the allies wouldn't have been very supportive of the possession or production of such items so they are likely very rare. That could explain why this doll was going for around $580. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The real Gundam

In truth, the main reason I went to Odaiba was to see the 1:1 scale Gundam installed there. From 5pm-11pm, every 20 minutes, a custom scene plays from a projector behind the Gundam and the Gundam moves it's head, lights up, and smokes along with the scene.
Only the head moves, but I'm fairly certain that if Japan comes under attack, the Gundam will activate and defend it's homeland.

Monday, January 27, 2014

If you build a copy of it, they will come.

Apparently the original statue of liberty, (the one built in France before the one in the US was built) visited Odaiba in 1998. It was such a huge tourist attraction that when it left, the tourism department commissioned a copy to be made which has continued to attract visitors since. I think this is a good example of how Japanese people, in general, are not terribly concerned with authenticity when it comes to foreign imports. I can think of several other examples of things like this that I may blog about in the future, but in any case, It's a trend I've noticed.
I also think it's sort of funny that this copy is the first incarnation of the statue I've seen in person.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Fascination goes both ways

While one often hears about some Americans' fascination with Japan. This certainly goes in the other direction as well. Some larger anime goods stores have entire floors dedicated to American cultural icons such as Starwars, Aliens, and Mickey Mouse. This interest is not limited to fictional material. Here is a Michael Jordan figure for only $470. 

The Design of the Century

While most Japanese cars have what most would consider "futuristic" styling, some models are clear reflections of the past. This is the 2014 Toyota Century. It bears a striking resemblance to the original 1967 Century and unlike many retro-styled cars in the US that are recent re-makes, the Century has maintained it's styling consistently since it's introduction 47 years ago. The interior is also almost identical to the '60s model.
It would appear that this car is considered the pinnacle of luxury. This model cost around $150,000 and the emperor of Japan is shuttled around in a modified version of the Century.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Infuriatingly Cool

Since the first day I arrived in Japan I have envied the wide selection of cars available here many of which can not be purchased in the US. In addition, as if to add insult to injury, I see beautiful western classic cars all over the place here as well. It's a car lover's paradise if you're content with just looking :P. Now that I think about it, there are hardly any classic Japanese cars on the road here. This could be for a number of reasons including the fact that one must take their car in for servicing once a year in order to keep it on the road  here. In any case, this is just one more reason Japan is a feast for the eyes.

Arch Support

In the spirit of using every available space, the areas beneath the arches that support the rail lines are almost entirely filled with shops and warehouses. I've seen this in downtown Osaka as well as Tokyo. I've been inside such a shop and the atmosphere is interesting. The store owner didn't appear interested in hiding the fact that their store was built into a railway arch and there was a lot of exposed wiring and tubing. I suppose it's pretty useless to try to hide this as whenever a train goes by, the place shakes violently. In this picture a road goes through most of the arch, but that didn't stop someone from building a tiny two-story building into the remaining space. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Real Cutting Edge

While I have always been told that locations like Akihabara are the best places to find the latest technology, I always imagined that primarily referred to consumer goods like TVs and robot vacuum cleaners. After visiting several DIY electronics stores, however, I saw a different side of the district. The original attractions of Akihabara were these electronics hobby stores that catered to those who would later become the Anime fans that have made the location famous. That spirit lives on as technology continues to advance. At several of these shops I found 3D printers in action. Technology like this is the real cutting edge and upon reflection it should be no surprise that it would be found here.
I also got the chance to try an Oculus Rift for the first time. It was being used to simulate a 3D anime character stepping on the wearer's face. I think this is part of the long tradition of Japanese people taking technologies developed in the west and exploring every possible application of those technologies.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Vertical Garage

Though this isn't the most illustrative picture, this is a vertical parking garage of which I've seen several since arriving here. You drive your car into the stall and it is taken up inside the tall tower until you return to reclaim it. Only in such an incredibly cramped city does such a building make economic sense and I can only imagine how incredibly expensive parking your car here must be.

Style for Everyone

When it comes to style and practicality in Japan, you can have your cake and eat it too. This is a version of the Toyota Prius Hybrid only available in Japan that is aimed at a younger, more style-conscious audience than the traditional Prius. Many Japanese carmakers include models like this in their lineups and, of course, none of them are available in the US. It seems strange, but there must be market research to support the idea that American's don't actually want cool cars that are also practical.

Getting Low

Walking across a bridge near Akihabara I noticed a collection of interesting boats in the river. I had seen boats like this in Osaka, but I had never thought about the reason behind their design. It occurred to me that they have to be low to the water to get under the bridges which are clearly designed to be convenient for cars first and convenient for boats second.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Gyouza Kaikan

My first night in Tokyo I decided to hit up a local restaurant and avoid the more touristy places. I'm a big fan of gyouza, a traditional Chinese dumpling fried in a pan and I'm always looking for new varieties to try so I decided to try Gyouza Kaikan which translates to "the gyouza selling hall." I figured an establishment with such a title would most certainly have some tasty gyouza. 

In summary, the gyoza was twice as expensive as what I'm used to in Osaka and was extremely bland. They say the food is better in Osaka, but I won't give up on Tokyo just yet. 
More on this situation as it develops. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Crunch the Dew

Waiting at the airport in Osaka I went to the convenience store to get a snack and I saw the Mountain Dew logo for the first time since I got to Japan. It wan't on a drink though. I found Mountain Dew flavored corn snacks. They're basically Cheetos with Mountain Dew flavoring on them. They were actually pretty good. They were completely sweet and not at all salty. They tasted a lot like Trix cereal and the flavor powder fizzes in your mouth.

To Tokyo!

I'm in Tokyo for the week. It's not like I could be in Japan for a year and not visit the largest city in the world. Though it used to be regarded as the most expensive city in the world, I'm trying to save money where I can.
I'll be staying in a youth hostel that is 12 people to a room for $25 per night. I also found that the cheapest way to get to Tokyo from Osaka was actually to fly. The bullet train is $125 one way and the 8 hour night bus is $80, but a flight on the discount carrier Peach Airlines was only $50.
The flight was uneventful and took a little over an hour. Probably the most interesting thing was how we got on and off the plane. At KIX where I departed there are two terminals. Terminal 1 is for regular carriers and has the standard moveable walkways to board the planes. Terminal 2 is specifically for discount carriers and simply has doors to the tarmac where the planes are waiting. It was hardly inconvenient and I felt a little like a rockstar boarding his private jet. Though I certainly didn't have the opportunity, I thought about trying to recreate this photo with my roommate who is accompanying me on this adventure.

More Tokyo posts coming soon!

Saturday, January 18, 2014


Today I found a '60s Chevy Chevelle wagon. It was parked outside a custom car shop in Hirakata. I talked to the owner of the shop and he told me it belonged to a Japanese man who collected classic American cars. It must be a real pain to find parts and leaded gas for it, but I sure must stand out on Japanese streets.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


According to my host father, Japanese people love new things and can't wait to get rid of old things. It's uncommon to see people hoarding old things, but there are exceptions to every rule. With space at such a premium, it's strange that someone would fill up their balcony with junk.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The End of an Era

I walked down to the Mister Donut by the station for the first time in a month or so today. The current donut promotion featured a well known cross-dressing actor so I had to try it. I'm not sure if I've lost my sweet tooth, but the donuts were a bit much for me this time. I wasn't able to finish the last donut and had to throw it away. My Mister Donut days might be coming to an end. Maybe I've just gotten used to food with more substance.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Kids These Days

Before coming to Japan I remember seeing an anime where the main character grumbled about how people would throw empty cans into other's bicycle baskets. As silly as this may seem, the practice is somewhat widespread, especially for bikes that sit in the same place for a long time. This is especially strange as there are can recycling bins literally every 100 feet in downtown Hirakata.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Hang On Cafe

I went to a route 66 themed cafe today for lunch. I was curious how they would approach traditional American food.

A drink, burger, and fries was $7 and it was pretty tasty. I wonder where they find buns in Japan as I certainly haven't seen them at the supermarket. The burger was filling though it seemed like it wasn't pure beef. It tasted like it was cut with chicken or something like that. 
The fries were really good though I'm used to getting a few hundred more when I get a burger meal in the US. It was interesting to have 7up for the first time in forever. There are no free refills in Japan so I had to savor what I was given even though it was half ice. Just like in America!

In the front of the cafe there was a stage with several guitars, amps, and a drumset on display. The one pictured here is worth around $2000 and the other instruments were similarly valuable. They really don't worry about theft here. 

The shop was decorated with various pieces of American rock and car culture and just about anything else that seems vaguely American. Here someone made a light-up sign out of a garage sale sign. They don't have garage sales here so I guess this is pretty exotic.
Overall it really did remind me somewhat of an American cafe so it was a nice diversion from day-to-day life here in Japan.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Get it Delivered

Several stores you wouldn't expect offer delivery service in Japan. For example, McDonalds will deliver orders over $10 for a $3 service fee. 7 Eleven also delivers using these interesting vehicles. This car always seems to be parked here so I can't imagine the service is used frequently.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Bonsai Nursery

I happened to walk by a bonsai nursery today. There were around 50 miniature trees on display in several different styles. The trees were all winterized and didn't have any leaves, and there was a black, tar-like substance placed on the tips of the branches probably to protect the tree from the cold in some way. There didn't seem to be anyone watching over the trees despite the fact that the nursery was open to the street. Theft clearly isn't on anyone's mind here in Japan.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Cute Little Garbage Trucks

The garbage trucks in Japan are around the size of a large American SUV. Some of them are painted fun colors and some play happy music. They're pretty adorable.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Cabbage Flowers

I'm not sure exactly what these are, but they're a very popular decoration around this time of year. Average highs are around 50 degrees Fahrenheit these days so having living decorations like these is still feasible in January.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Bright Side

Two weeks into the break between semesters I haven't really done much in the way of traveling and at this point in my study abroad experience, it isn't terribly exciting just to walk around looking at things anymore as I've gotten rather used to city life in Japan and I'm currently putting a good amount of work into the game I'm developing. I often spend a large portion of the day in the world of programming and am surprised when I step outside and remember that I'm living in a foreign country. I try to find new things to appreciate and sometimes I am reminded of things that I have started to take for granted.

I was talking to a friend of mine on Skype who is a fan of Japanese animation and goes to great lengths to get merchandise from his favorite shows. Talking about his recent purchases and how expensive they were to import and to ship, it occurred to me how nice it is that I can pickup anime merchandise at local thrift stores and if I'm looking for something very specific or rare, I can take a $3 train ride to the heart of the 9th largest city in the world and visit nipponbashi, the largest concentration of anime goods outside of Tokyo.

Growing up I remember having a sense that everything even vaguely Japanese was instantly cool and this attitude was shared by many of my peers. Now many of those things that seemed so cool and exotic are parts of my daily routine or at the tips of my fingers if I so choose. Looking back, this has been an amazing opportunity and I intend to put considerable effort into re-instilling in myself the passion and excitement I felt before I got here.

Craving Satisfaction

Today I happened upon Oreos at the supermarket. It was $2 for 18 cookies which was rather steep, but I had a powerful craving for American snack food and I just couldn't resist. Eating these made me think about some of the little things I miss from the US.

I miss being able to buy large quantities of food items. Food in Japan is sold with the assumption that wives will visit the store every day to buy the fresh ingredients for today or tomorrow's meal though this assumption is behind current trends. For example, the largest package of bread you can buy is 6 slices and eggs come in packages of 6 or 10. Most snack bags of things like chips are single servings and even the "BIG" bags they sell are smaller than the average US bag. The way things are sold, it is rare to open a package, eat some of its contents and then seal it for later. Smaller quantities also mean the products are more expensive per unit meaning that there's no way to save by buying in large quantities. These sizes likely make a lot of sense for single people, but as I buy groceries with my roommate, we find ourselves returning to the store at least every other day to replenish something that has run out.

I also miss the taste of many American products. While I am a big fan of many Japanese dishes, I am sometimes disappointed when I can't find a certain taste that I miss from home. In general Japanese food tends towards subtlety which to me often translates to blandness. Most flavors are done in moderation meaning that even potato chips are not too salty or oily. Some American food goes overboard with these things, but I miss finding treats with masterfully decadent combinations of fat and salt that are absolutely delicious in moderation. There is also a tendency to make salty things a little bit sweet and sweet things a little bit salty which I am not a fan of.

Finally, though this is not Japan's fault, I miss knowing where to go when I need something. For food this is clear, but for things like housewares, sometimes I am not exactly sure. One day I stumbled upon essentially the Japanese equivalent of Mills Fleet Farm where they had just about every product a person could need though large department stores like that are few and far between.

On the whole, these things don't greatly diminish my enjoyment of Japan though it does make me appreciate a few little things about the US that I hadn't thought of before.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

El Camino

I'm often surprised by the variety of cars that somehow make it to Japan. Here is an '80s El Camino that someone decided to import. It had a chain-link steering wheel and custom red velvet seats so I think they were going for a very specific aesthetic associated with hispanic people in the US.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Strangely Familiar

I took a Photoshop class at UofM Morris the Spring 2013 semester and at one point I was looking for a cool picture of a Japanese street to repaint digitally. I found a picture I liked and set it as my desktop background though I ended up using a different picture for the project. I became well acquainted with the picture seeing it on my desktop every day.
Recently I was riding the train when I suddenly noticed that same scene out the window of the train. I got off at the next station and sure enough, it was the same place that was in the picture. It turned out that this place was only 15 minutes or so away from my host-family's house. I took this picture when I visited the place. Small world.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Day of Rest

I don't know why, but for some reason most stores in Japan are closed on Wednesday. That being said, there's nothing special about Sunday in Japan so I suppose Wednesday is as good a day as any.

The Japanese Post-War Economic Miracle

I saw this sign on a walk the other day. I wonder if Japanese people feel nostalgic for Japan's great period of growth when they see things like this. This sign was heavily faded so I increased the contrast in photoshop to make it more clear.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Discipline (Pt. 4)

Finally, I want to briefly mention the differing relations I noticed between the junior and senior members of the club. While at the party all of the club members acted as equals, during work time, the club was highly stratified. Junior members always used very respectful language and went about their work in a very serious way when in the presence of senior members. In contrast, the senior members seemed to be having fun with their work. The were working just as hard, but the didn't seem to feel the need to project an air of seriousness onto what they were doing.

The leaders are always 3rd year students and they are expected to step down for their 4th year to begin job hunting. Because of this, many 4th year ex-members are still on campus and around 10 such members attended the concert. At the end of each show, all the current members assembled in a half circle and all the 4th year ex-members filled the other half of the circle. Each ex-member was asked to give us inspiring words and after each of them had spoken, we bowed deeply and thanked them for their support. This practice seemed somewhat forced and it seemed to me at times, the respect that is supposed to be paid to seniors was more formally expected than actually felt. It seemed like a remnant of the previous generation being applied to the new generation that is otherwise much more affected by western ideas.

Though it was stressful for me at times, I'm glad I got the chance to participate in this club. I got tons of practice speaking Japanese and it is interesting to think that I was able to make what I consider real friends without ever speaking my native language. I feel that I have a more real understanding of the pressures faced by young members of Japanese society that I think most study abroad students miss as they typically only interact with Japanese students during fun times. I decided to leave the club at the end of this semester to pursue other things, but I intend to keep in contact with my friends in the Folk Song Club.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Discipline (Pt. 3)

Something that I noticed at the beginning of my club experience, but wasn't able to verbalize until recently is the strong division between work and fun in Japanese society and how quickly my Japanese friends can switch between these modes of being as the situation dictates. My first experience with this was at my first sub-committee meeting. For four hours everyone was working to make decorations for the show and they seemed unusually unfriendly compared to when I met them at the first club meeting. Then, when work time was over at 8, suddenly everyone was extremely friendly and i ended up having a great time eating and drinking with some members at a local ramen shop.

The experience that really clarified my understanding of this topic was the reflection meeting held the day after the concert. The meeting was held in a traditional Japanese room with tatami floor mats and wooden shutter doors. For two hours, we sat in a circle and members of the club listed off all the things that had been done poorly during the concert. These mistakes were enumerated with a very stern tone, and those responsible apologized very formally. The tone of this meeting seemed very strange to me and I was worried that everyone was somehow displeased with how the concert went despite the fact that it was certainly smoother than any concert I had attended in the US.

The real surprise came at the end of the 2 hours when the leaders said we will break for 15 minutes before returning to the meeting. Suddenly everyone became extremely silly and began joking around like good friends. Several members practiced doing the moonwalk on the tatami and many dirty jokes were exchanged between people who only minutes ago seemed to be harshly scolding each other. As quickly as the fun started, it stopped when the leaders returned to the room and the second half of the meeting began. This time everyone listed off how the concert could have gone better in a similarly somber tone. After the meeting was over, the entire club went to an all you can eat restaurant for a wild party.

At the party, everyone ate and drank to their hearts content and again everyone seemed to be extremely close. Towards the middle of the evening, several members who were leaving the club stood up and gave speeches, thanking the club for many good times. Most of these speeches resulted in the speaker breaking down crying causing many other members to cry. At some points the whole club appeared to be crying happy tears as they said goodbye to their club-mates. Even male members who had appeared extremely tough and somber during the concert were crying uncontrollably. After these speeches, the party returned to normal and got progressively wilder as the night went on. Everyone had pitched in and bought women's lingerie for the 3 male leaders of the club and towards the end of the evening, they were all wearing the revealing garments. At the beginning of the evening I was told not to take any pictures as most of the club members were underage and in general, what happens at the party should stay within the club. It seems that eating establishments are not terribly concerned about serving alcohol to minors.

In the end, this experience showed me a facet of Japanese society that is likely not often observed by foreigners. I imagine that many of the stern individuals I see in public act drastically different when among close friends outside the gaze of society at large.