Saturday, December 3, 2016

For the modern Buddhist.

I see this rather large sign every day on my way to work. The main text translates to "A life with a Buddhist altar" It's common for Japanese households to have a 仏壇, a household altar. This company is advertising altars with a modern design. In fact the text in the red square reads "Modern 仏壇" Where there's a need, someone is bound to fill it.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

My Favorite View

One of the most noticeable landmarks in Amemura is a scale replica of the statue of liberty set atop a 10 story building. Though a meetup I was fortunate to meet a guy from Australia who rents out the top floor of that building. I get to hang out there sometimes. From his balcony you can see the main gathering spot in Amemura where I sometimes go to photograph interesting people. It would be nice if I could move to this area someday. This area is also fairly close to where I work. I really don't care for having a long commute.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Seeing a fat bike again.

Walking around Amemura the other day I came across a well-used fatbike. I remember they were popular the last time I was here 3 years ago. For that reason I bought my own fatbike  when I got back to the US. It was a real pain to use and eventually it got stolen, but even seeing one now, I must admit I think they look pretty cool.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Making Video Games for a Living

It's really happening. I'm getting paid to work on a video game while living in Japan. I must admit it feels good when I tell people what I do for a living and they immediately want to know more. It's definitely the most interesting work I have done so far. The sorts of problems I encounter on a daily basis are much more satisfying to solve than what I encountered working as a web developer. The other day I had to use calculus to solve a programming problem. This would never occur working on a web site.
The work schedule is a bit harsh. I typically leave for work at 9am and get home around 9pm. This won't always be the case. We have a major deadline coming up in the next few weeks and if we can make it, the chances of our game succeeding increase dramatically. I feel motivated like never before to push hard and do a good job. I have a sense that a little bit of struggle now could result in a lot of cool things happening to my career in the future. This certainly isn't the life for everyone. I'm currently making about 1/6th of what I was making in the US, but my daily life is much more enjoyable than it was back then. It kind of feels like I switched my life from easy to hard mode, but it's really thrilling.
I haven't been photographing much recently, but after the big deadline I should have a chance to catch my breath and spend some time on my hobbies.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Stay within the lines.

Recently I was in need of some blank paper for an art project. I decided to walk down to the nearest convenience store as they seem to have everything. I found they had an impressive selection of stationary, but what they didn't have was paper without any lines on it. They had all kinds of lined paper for various casual and official purposes, but not a single piece of free-form blank paper.
I went to another, slightly farther convenience store and found the same thing. I'm sure I'll be able to find blank paper somewhere, but I thought this was humorously symbolic of Japanese culture as a whole. Why would you need to draw outside the lines?

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Adjusting to real life in Japan

Hello everyone.
I'm continuing to settle into my new life working in Japan. At the moment working on the game takes about 10 hours out of my day and when I get home I have various freelance projects I need to work on so my free time is rather limited. I'm really enjoying this change of pace though. While I sometimes wish I could take things a bit slower, a friend of mine once told me. "Everyone just wants to be left alone to underachieve in peace" My current situation is forcing me to really push the limits of what I am capable of and I enjoy the feeling. My hope is that I will be able to produce a body of work that I can be proud of. Because I am at work for most daylight hours I don't get many opportunities to photograph on weekdays. Previously I would go out photographing whenever the spirit moved me. Now I will have to schedule specific times to go out photographing. With any luck I will find a good work/life balance and make the most of my time here in this wonderful country.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Unique Pets in Public

In my free time I like to hang out around Sankaku Koen. It's a meeting place for a lot of Japanese people who don't fit the typical straight edge image of this country. Even there, this guy stood out. He came with a bright red leather bag and produced from it two snakes and a lizard. They were just hanging out taking in the sun until a policeman showed up and started talking to them. I'm not sure what they said, but shortly after then man packed up his reptiles and left. I can't imagine there's a specific law against displaying reptiles in public, but the police appear to be sensitive to anything that could disturb the peace. I'm glad I was able to find this place where people escape the crushing normalcy of daily life even if it's just for a while.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Ice in a cup, or something more?

I've started to see shelves of ice cups like this at many convenience stores. I wasn't sure what they were for a while, but upon closer inspection I figured out that they are for iced coffee. You take the sealed cup of ice and pay for it at the register, the cashier then takes it and fills it up with room-temperature coffee and in a few minutes you've got a cup of iced coffee. In the US I remember being able to mix the iced coffee myself with ice from the soda fountain, but I suppose here they want to control your ice/coffee ratio.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Denny's in Japan

While I was in Tokyo I happened upon a Denny's. I didn't think Denny's of all restaurants would have stores in Japan. It's clearly owned by the same company, but they couldn't be more different. The menu consisted entirely of Japanese style dishes. Only the sign outside had a sort of '50s American vibe. I ordered a spicy Ramen and it came with a side of white rice and kara age. It was very good though it certainly didn't remind me of home. Of course the best part came at the end. Being in Japan, you don't have to leave a tip!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Old Nintendo Building

I was riding the train in Kyoto recently and in the distance I saw a large white building that reminded me of pictures I had seen of Nintendo headquarters. To confirm I pulled out my phone and searched "Nintendo" in my maps application. Sure enough there was a dot on that building for Nintendo headquarters, but what really got my attention was the second dot that appeared which read "Old Nintendo Building". This dot was near the train station I was going to and since I had some free time I decided to check it out. Tucked away in a very quiet neighborhood was this rather unique building.

This building was Nintendo headquarters from 1933 until they moved to the large white building I saw from the train. It's amazing how much history is but a short train ride away in Kyoto. You could argue that all of the temples and shrines have more historical significance than Nintendo, but it's cool to be able to see origin of the company behind many of my favorite games growing up.

For more info:

Monday, October 17, 2016

Working on games again. (for real this time)

Hello everyone. I haven't been updating the blog lately as I adjust to my new life working in Japan. I got a job programming at a small video game company and my first day was today. It looks like it's going to be a lot of work, but it looks like really interesting work and I'm really excited. My team consists of two designers from England and another programmer from the US. I'm not sure yet what all I can say at this point about the project we're working on, but I think it's a cool one. Regular updates should resume as I get me new living/working/commuting arrangements sorted out. Stay tuned!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Uncommon rudeness

I'm currently living in a rather quiet part of Kyoto. I live next to a little shopping arcade mostly frequented by older people. So I was surprised to see this lime green Lamborghini revving it's engine loudly at an intersection. The driver was a young Japanese man. After the car in front of him moved out of the way he floored it down this narrow 1 lane road. People had to rush to get out of the way and I could still hear him accelerating far off in the distance. This is not something you see very often anywhere in Japan.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

old man clothing

The neighborhood I'm currently living in has a relatively old population. Most of the shops cater to older people including the clothing stores. I find it interesting that the sort of clothing worn by older menhere is very similar to the sort of clothing old men in America wear. I could easily imagine my grandfather wearing most of the clothing pictured above. Feel free to comment if you have any thoughts on why this might be.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Pepsi Strong

I've been seeing Pepsi strong for sale in many convenience stores. Apparently, before it came out there were a series of epic commercials featuring Jude Law relating the drink to a strong demon. [ link] Today I decided to try it. I did a little research, supposedly the main difference between this and regular Pepsi is that Pepsi strong has 5X the gas volume (GV). To contain the gas they had to design a new, reinforced bottle. After all this hype I was expecting this Pepsi to be pretty impressive. I was expecting the bottle to depressurize violently when I opened it. It did not. The taste was also pretty much identical to regular Pepsi, it might have been a little be more fizzy, but not by much.

I should probably make a playlist of all the products I've been disappointed by in Japan. :) There's tons of great food to be found here, but I often gravitate towards things with flashy advertising. I will probably never learn my lesson, they're just so good at making products seem interesting here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Non-controversial sign

The sign reads "lower back stress began when we started walking on two feet" It's an advertisement for an orthopedic surgeon. It would appear that belief in evolution is not controversial in Japan.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Construction for the Curious

Since I arrived here, the pillars at Shinsaibashi station in Osaka have been under construction. They do a good job keeping the work out of people's way. I was wondering what they could be doing to be under construction for this long. I didn't have to wonder for long. On the side of the scaffolding they provide a description of the work being performed, it's purpose, and how long the work will take.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Questionable Health Claims

A lot of advertising is aimed at Japan's aging population and a lot of it addresses health concerns. Some of these ads make claims I have a hard time believing. This sign reads: "21st century futon, manages your health while you sleep." Could it be that simple?

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Mixing east and west for decades

Far before World War II Japan had already begun integrating western-style architectural designs into its buildings. This old factory is an interesting example. The wooden building on the left is somewhat western-inspired, but has a traditional Japanese tiled roof. The dark wood siding with a white border on top is a common architectural motif I've only seen in Japan.

The brick building on the right looks like it could have come directly from my hometown in America, but if you look closely you can the roof, especially the top, is very traditional Japanese.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Train track escape methods.

With so many people using the train system in Japan, it's inevitable that at some point someone is going to fall of the platform and land on the train tracks. Assuming this happens there are several structures in place to keep you safe. 

First is a row of steps going along the platform to help you climb back up before the train comes.

Second, if you can't make it to one of the steps, there are alcoves marked in yellow along the platform where you can get out of the way of the train.

I hope I never have to use either of these, but it's good to know they're there just in case.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Holy Barrier

While walking home from the train station the other day I came across this tiny torii [link]
on a path going under a bridge. There were 6 similar torri lining both sides of the path. I assumed they were for good luck or something similarly vague until I came across a sign describing their purpose. The sign had a picture of a torii and said "Peeing standing up forbidden" Apparently the torri are supposed to discourage people from peeing under this bridge. I mean, you wouldn't pee on a holy symbol would you?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Tall Thin Architecture

I came across another amazingly tall and thin building. This building isn't located in a particularly dense part of the city. They've built what looks like a 3 unit apartment building in a space about the size of a large shed. Creative designs like this can be found in the most unassuming places. There are certainly many cookie cutter designs as well, but there is a good balance. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

They finally fixed the sign.

The last time I was in Japan, I took a picture of this handmade street sign meant to warn drivers that there are potentially children playing in the area. I remarked on the irony of the fact that the sign appeared to have been hit by a car.

3 years later I walked down the same street and it appears that they have replaced the sign. I'm not sure how I feel about the art direction on this new sign, but at least the child is in one piece.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Retro Japanese Restaurant

I went out with a group of friends to what my friend called a "Retro Japanese" restaurant. I was imagining it would be a Japanese interpretation of a '50s American diner, but I was quite wrong. It was a recreation of a restaurant from 1950s Japan.

The menu consisted of many small items between $1-$4. To order you would get the attention of the cooks in the center of the restaurant and they would call out to one of the servers to come and take your order. Our bill climbed pretty fast as we tried all sorts of uncommon dishes, but it wasn't too bad considering that there is no tipping in Japan. Probably the most interesting dish was grilled sting ray fin. It came as a plate of uncooked fins and a stone vessel containing hot coals. We each took turns cooking our own fins. They were surprisingly tasty. I will probably have to go back sometime to try more of the interesting things on the menu.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

There's more to getting home than making the last train.

In Japan most of the train systems shut down around midnight. When I was living halfway between Osaka and Kyoto, if I made the last train leaving Osaka I could make it home. Though I am currently living in Kyoto, I assumed that if I caught the last train I could still get home. When I got on the last train and listened to the announcements it became clear that there was going to be a problem. The train I was on only went 80% of the way home before stopping for the night. I arrived at Yodo station, 3.5 miles away from home and the conductor kindly informed us that this was the end of the line for the night.

When I got out of the station I saw a line of taxis waiting to take people to where they actually needed to go. I could have  taken one of those, but I was feeling adventurous and considering this is Japan, I felt safe walking home alone.

As I started walking I came across a trusty combini (convenience store). Like all combini, this one is open 24/7. Because I was saving ~$30 by not taking a taxi I decided to treat myself and bought two rice balls with filling, a bag of chips and a carton of orange juice. I was ready to complete my journey.

It was a relaxing walk. I only ran into a handful of other people. It was interesting to see a typically busy street completely empty.

I made it home in about an hour. It was a fun experience, but in the future I will be more aware of when the last train TO KYOTO leaves Osaka.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Uncommon Ramen

When I went to Ramen Kazama (the Minneapolis ramen shop) with Japanese people, most of them said they did not like the ramen because it was too oily. Because of this I assumed Japanese ramen would be much thinner and more refined. For the most part this is true, but I recently went with a Japanese friend to a ramen shop in Namba that breaks all the rules. [link] When you order ramen there you have to make 3 choices: how hard you want the noodles, how thick you want the broth, and how many onions you want. At the suggestion of my friend I got regular noodles, the thickest broth and the regular amount of onions. The ramen I received was unbelievable. The thick soup was delicious and super filling. It was almost like eating stew with noodles. When we finished the solid portions of our ramen, there was still a lot of broth left in the bowl. When eating ramen this is a common occurrence so many restaurants, including this one, allow you to order a second helping of noodles, meat and onions. At this point I was completely stuffed but my friend ordered a second helping and was able to make use of the rest of his broth. Next time I am in Namba and very hungry I will definitely visit this shop again.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Still not feeling the donuts.

Long time readers of this blog may remember that I used to be a big fan of Mister Donut. Long time readers may also remember that about half way through my previous time in Japan I got sick of Mister Donut and stopped going. I came across another Mister Donut recently and decided to go in for some nostalgia. I got two regular donuts and the donut hole sampler. About half way through my second donut I started to remember why I had gotten sick of the place. The donuts are just too sweet. This may also be a sign that my metabolism is change as I grow older. Unless I go for a long run and get my blood sugar lower I just can't enjoy super sweet things anymore. Honestly, this is probably for the better. No hard feelings Mister Donut.Maybe if you come up with a protein donut I'll stop by again.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Burger King in Japan

I got hungry wandering around downtown Osaka and was looking for something familiar. I was happy to come across a Burger King. The prices were similar to those in the US and the food tasted about the same. I asked for a water and it was clear they expect you to order a drink. I got a tiny 4oz water cup I had to go and refill over and over to complete my meal. 

Unlike in America where the sauce usually comes in a sealed plastic dish for dipping, here the sauce came in a separate packet and they provided an empty plastic dish to serve it.

The eating area at the Burger King was relatively large, but the bathroom was tiny. The door was so tiny I wasn't sure if it was a bathroom for a single person. Behind the door was a single urinal and a tiny hallway leading to another tiny door with a lock to a tiny room with a toilet. Very Interesting.

I enjoyed the novelty of this Japanese Burger King, but I probably won't be frequenting it. I've got so many more Japanese restaurants I need to visit first!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Back to Japan

A few weeks after the 3 year anniversary of my first trip to Japan I've come back!

I found an amazing deal on a ticket. Last time I payed $1200 for a one way ticket with two layovers.
This time I was able to get a similar ticket for $650. In the end it took 35 hours to get from Minneapolis to Osaka with a 12 hour layover in Taipei, Taiwan. When I arrived in Osaka I was absolutely exhausted, but I feel like in a way the grueling journey made my arrival that much more exciting. I feel like if my flight had be a normal 13 hour nonstop it wouldn't have felt so cathartic when I finally got through immigration and was released into the main terminal of Kansai International Airport, free to go anywhere I want I Japan.

My friend and soon to be roommate Natalie was waiting for me at the airport. I figured I could have made it to her apartment by myself, but I hadn't factored in how exhausted I would be. I am extremely grateful to her for coming to pick me up and allowing me to stay at her apartment until I get my situation here figured out.

After getting some much needed rest, I planned out my next day visiting many of the spots I frequented last time I was here. That day I ended up walking around 20 miles. Even though I was getting tired I felt compelled to see how everything had changed and also stayed the same. So far I've only found one person who knew me from my last time here: Levy, the owner of L&L Bar in downtown Osaka. It felt good to be recognized and I got to chat with him about all that's happened in the last two years.

I also visited several chain restaurants I used to frequent with friends. The food was somewhat nostalgic, but I realize now that it was mostly the people I was with at the time that made these places fun. I still love a good plate of gyoza, but it's not quite the same without my friend TJ.

Now that I have gotten a lot of the nostalgia out of the way, I look forward to making new memories as an adult living in Japan. Stay tuned!