Tokyo resident living in Mexico City Airport

Nohara Hiroshi, a 41-year-old janitor from Tokyo, has been living at Benito Juarez International Airport in Mexico City for the past 85 days! Nohara has become quite the celebrity during recent weeks, having had his photo taken with hundreds of curious locals, many of whom offer him food and clothing. Although this story sounds like something you might expect from Shin-chan's father, Nohara Hiroshi, this guy is real! “I like the airport, I like Mexico,” he said. He could not be persuaded to leave, even by the Japanese embassy, and at this point has no plans for departure.

Check out the weird and interesting story on Bloomberg.com

There is also an MSNBC video (sorry-- an advertisement comes first).



I just discovered this band a couple of weeks ago. They aren't new but I've only just heard of them and I'm already really into their music. These guys are really kool and have a great melocore punk sound! I've heard of people comparing them to Ellegarden; I think their instrumentation is similar to that of Ken Yokoyama while their vocals seem to have the energy and power of the Stance Punks (although with a really different and unique sound).

Three weeks ago I picked up their latest CD, "Blooming Harvest." Most of the tracks on this release are full of energy and drive while there are a couple of others that balance out the CD with some real emotion and feeling at a slower tempo. In general the songs on this release are of the melocore genre, but some overlap into pop-punk and there's one that even has a heavy metal influence. This is an excellent CD -- I highly recommend it to all JRock and/or JPunk fans. It's well worth it. The CD is out now on Machine Records (a subdivision of Flying High Records, Japan).

Dustbox official website

Video for Spacewalk - from Blooming Harvest


Why Japan Kicks Ass

I came back to the U.S. from Japan a week ago tomorrow, and I'm still in the post-Japan afterglow to some extent. In fact, I am putting even greater effort into working with my employer to try and get a transfer to our Tokyo office. I would really much rather be there than here.

Now, I do have a disclaimer here, because of course Japan is not 100% perfect-- there is no country that's perfect, right? That's what I've been told, anyway. From my own personal point of view, however, the benefits of life in Japan are much more substantial than {a} the negatives associated with Japan and {b} the "benefits" of living in the U.S. The list I keep of Japan's positive qualities, also, has a small quantity of exceptions; Japanese people are humans, after all. For the most part, however, these things are true pretty much ALL of the time. Finally, many of the characteristics of Japan that I list are not "benefits" at all from some folks' perspectives; they are for me however, and this is why it is my own unique point of view.

So, without further ado, here is my list of reasons why Japan Kicks Ass!

[1] Customer Service
I have visited many places in the world, and in my opinion ALL of them have a lot to learn about customer service; businesses in Japan should be the role model here. There is no other place where I have had the experience of salespeople, civil servants, taxi drivers, *everyone* going out of their way to see that customers' go away satisfied, informed, comfortable and fairly-treated. All of this delivered with an interested, friendly demeanor that is free of bad-attitudes, arrogance and/or preferential treatment for select individuals.

[2] Common Courtesy
For the most part, people in Japan behave with common courtesy. This means interacting with other people and with one's surroundings with respect and honour. Actions like helping others, giving up one's seat on the train for the elderly, keeping one's speaking volume low, or picking up after oneself are routine and practiced without instruction. The Japanese language, itself, is constructed in such a way that respect for strangers, elders, superiours or new acquaintances is built right in. That said, this is one of the rules that is most often broken or omitted, but I believe it is very rare for such indiscretions to cross the line into rudeness or disrespect. One time a random security guard used his own mobile phone to call up a record shop in Shibuya that I couldn't find. He asked them for directions and showed me how to get there on a map!!

[3] Cell Phone Etiquette
Japan has one of the most cellphone-centric societies in the world. STILL, people talk on mobile phones at a low, private, non-irritating volume; not loudly or obnoxiously like people in America. The use of mobile phones on public transportation is illegal and this is a very respected law. People use text messaging quite a lot during their journeys, but despite being very crowded at times, buses and trains are nice and QUIET! Soooo nice! The use of mobile phones while driving is also illegal, and because of this drivers in Japan are 1000 times more attentive, careful and respectful than their north american counterparts. Additionally, a Japanese person would never be seen/heard talking on a mobile phone while trying to interact with a cashier, teller or salesperson, while inside of a cinema, or in public places in general. In fact, I saw several people receive phone calls while shopping or eating at restaurants; if the conversation could not be finished in a few seconds, the person went outside! This is so wonderful to me, having only super-rude, irritating and obnoxious phone behaviour as a basis for comparison.

[4] Public Transportation
Trains and buses in Japan are modern, very comfortable, convenient and arrive on-time. They are also CLEAN and do not smell of urine and feces. Additionally, train and bus stations are loaded with clean public bathrooms, convenience stores, shopping, good food and smoking areas. Awesome! There are overwhelming crowds at times, especially in Tokyo, but this is a small price to pay for the other benefits that come with public transport in Japan. While I certainly would not describe the trains as "cheap," I really do not mind since I am not poor and this seems to prevent people from using the trains as a hotel/bathroom. If you are unable to read Japanese and you happen to be at a station without a map in English, it can sometimes be a bit difficult to figure out where to go, but there will certainly be someone nearby who's happy to help.

[5] Good Food
Very few people need to be informed about the healthiness of Japanese food as this is legendary world-wide. What still amazes me, though, is the high quality of food in Japan. I'm not just talking about sushi, soup and noodles, either. All foods ranging from steaks, cuts of beef or chicken to snacks, candy, chocolate and ice cream are very high quality! I do believe that a trip to any department store food court or train station take-out cart would astound most outsiders as there is pretty much nothing of poor quality to eat there. The only low-quality food I have seen, in fact, is that available from the foreign fast-food franchises like McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken. I guess wouldn't actually know for sure, however, since I haven't eaten food from one of those restaurants for nearly 20 years. When in Japan, however, if you DO feel the urge to enjoy a delicious fast-food burger, I recommend MosBurger. This Japanese burger place blows away pretty much every burger and fries place I've ever tried previously.

[6] I guess I could probably keep going on and on. I haven't even mentioned the art, spirituality, beautiful scenery, high technology, amazing cars, etc, etc. I think, however, that I've already stopped being interesting and have probably pissed a few people off. With that I'll end this post here. I just hope I'll have the opportunity soon to continue my life in the surroundings that I love most. I miss Japan.

(Photo Above: Sendai Daikannon statue near Sendai, in Miyagi Prefecture)


あきやすみ 11 - 鎌倉

Aki yasumi pt. 11 - Kamakura (Autumn Vacation part 11 - Kamakura)

The last stage of our wonderful trip to Japan was spent in West Kamakura, in Hase (長谷). Rinko and I wanted to go back once more and connect with the very beautiful and peaceful land that was once the nation's capital city during the Kamakura Period, but which is now a surfer's and sightseer's paradise. We took the train from Shinjuku (新宿) to Fujisawa (藤沢) and rode the historical and lovely Enoden (江ノ電) train from there to Hase.

We spent a long time walking around and sitting at the site of Daibutsu (大仏), or the "Great Buddha of Kōtoku-in" (高徳院) (photo above). We spent a long time just basking in his calm serenity and tranquility. It was a very beautiful, sunny autumn day and the colourful autumn leaves surrounding him were soothing and delightful. It's a place I wouldn't mind just sitting for hours. We even saw a big, huge, loud-mouthed, irritating, arrogant American guy walking around, talking and laughing very loudly, disturbing the peaceful setting. We marveled at the fact that Buddha's unchanging tolerance and acceptance prevented his meditation from being disturbed. Of course, he is a 300-year-old statue, but there is no doubt that this is the way people are meant to exist. It's beautiful.

After spending some time with Daibutsu, we went out for some soba, and then walked to Hase-dera (長谷寺) with the magnificent and very large guilded wooden statue of Kannon that dates back to the 1st century. Gorgeous! We wandered around Hase-dera's beautiful grounds for a while and enjoyed the lovely views from high atop the hill where the temple is situated.

It was a very nice, relaxing and enjoyable day that seemed to be the perfect conclusion to a truly lovely time in Japan.


あきやすみ 10 - 沖縄県

Aki yasumi pt. 10 - Okinawa-ken (Autumn Vacation part 10 - Okinawa-ken)

Okinawa. Beautiful, tropical, peaceful, natural, tribal, Southeast Asian style Japan.

Okinawa is a very special and unique experience all its own-- so much so that it's almost difficult for visitors to believe we're still in Japan! While Honshu (本州, the main island of Japan) and the smaller, nearby islands are very much a part of Northeast Asia, Okinawa fits in much more with the style of tropical Southeast Asia. Previously known as the separate country of Ryukyu Kingdom, a tributary state of the Chinese Ming Dynasty, the region became incorporated into Japan as Okinawa-ken in 1879. The rich Ryukyu history and influence from China blended with Japanese heritage to create a unique culture that Okinawans can proudly call their own.

Okinawa's warm, moist climate yields an abundance of fresh tropical fruits and vegetables such as sugar cane, pineapple, guava, passionfruit, banana, papaya and mango, as well as a something that is exclusive only to Okinawa-- the benimo (紅いも), which is a dark-purple sweet potato with a firm-yet-smooth, creamy texture. The benimo is prized as a local product so much so that it is not even permitted to be shipped to the rest of Japan, let alone any other place in the world. They are truly a joy to eat and are consumed by themselves and also used as ingredients in a wide variety of sweet and savory foods. Gorgeous and colourful tropical and sub-tropical trees, plants and flowers also flourish here and come together to create Okinawa-ken's breath-taking scenery.

As one might expect, there is also a wonderful and very delicious array of special Okinawan cuisine that arises from the prefecture's unique culture and topography. The local ingredients available here have been used for a *very* long time in the region and have been infused into a very exclusive type of cookery that combines the tropical-tribal history of the Ryukyu Kingdom with the tastes and traditions of Japan. I had the pleasure of enjoying an Okinawa Kaiseki -- a course meal featuring dishes and ingredients unique to Okinawa. This was an unforgettable experience that challenged and thrilled my tastebuds in a new and exciting way; I certainly hope it won't be the last time.

Okinawa's rich and distinct cultural climate offers a *lot* of beautiful handmade crafts. Many of these are exclusive only to Okinawa and as such new apprentices cannot be trained in these arts anywhere else. Japanese people from all over the country relocate to Okinawa so that they can become a part of these creative communities. Especially well-known are Okinawan textile producers who use local materials to create traditionally and beautifully-dyed all-natural thread, and Okinawan weavers who use the thread to produce very beautiful kimono and fine fabric goods of all kinds. There are also Ryukyu Glass-blowers who use vast store-houses of glass bottles carelessly discarded by the U.S. Military forces and recycle them into beautiful handmade glassware. Communities of pottery-makers are also numerous and well-known for their beautiful and high-quality goods produced, coloured and glazed using local materials. The preservation of these traditional crafts is held very dear in Okinawa and they are kept here on these islands in order to maintain the rare Okinawan/Ryukyu culture.

Okinawa has many, many things to offer her visitors, of course, but one attraction that I highly recommend is the Churaumi Aquarium. It's certainly not the first Aquarium I've visited, but it's definitely the best! The Aquarium grounds are enormous and have a LOT to see. The layout of the space is well-designed, as well, maximising each visitor's experience. Whale Sharks, Sea Turtles, Rays, Manatees, Anemones, starfish you can touch, fish that glow, fish that sting.... Churaumi has *everything*; it's incredible!

If there's anything I didn't really enjoy thoroughly in Okinawa, it was the timing of our trip. Unfortunately, it became cloudy on the day that we arrived, and then was cloudy, cool and raining for several days afterward. Finally, the skies cleared and the sun came out to make everything feel warm; too bad that was the morning that we had to leave! Ugh! Rinko and I definitely made the most of it, though, and we had a truly wonderful, memorable time-- we simply didn't experience the hot, summery weather we had anticipated. Additionally, it seems that at least one fifth of the main island is dominated by the huge U.S. Military bases. I don't care much for the U.S. military presence in Japan-- I personally think those bases should be shut down. It's not too difficult to get away from them, though, so it's fine. I know we are definitely going to go back again sometime; it's a very wonderful place.


あきやすみ 9 - 原宿

Aki yasumi pt. 9 - Harajuku (Autumn Vacation part 9 - Harajuku)

Harajuku (原宿) is the centre of the world when it comes hip, fresh fashion and style. This has got to be the place where new trends in clothing, accessories, hairstyles and lifestyle are born! If you're young and fashionable, Harajuku is the place to be; coincidentally, it is also the place for any of you that have a weakness for cute schoolgirls. ^^

The streets of Harajuku are lined with shops selling everything you need for bring your wardrobe up-to-date, including shops that specialise in the hottest new brands as well as those that sell recycled, gently-worn versions of everything else. Since it's also a known-fact that hardcore shoppers can easily build up a hardcore appetite, there is no shortage of cafes, restaurants and sweetshops.

The other aspect of Harajuku that's very famous is the cosplay scene. While teens dressed in their favourite uniforms, maid outfits and gothic/victorian dress can be seen throughout Japan, Harajuku is where kids who are into the scene go to hang out and be seen. Many of the shops in the area specialise in these clothes as well.

Harajuku is a worthwhile trip if you want to check out what's fresh in fashion. If you're ever in Tokyo for only a short time, I'd recommend adding this to your list. While you're in the area, the legendary and very beautiful Meiji Shrine is right up the street from the Yamanote Line Harajuku Station.


あきやすみ 8 - 江戸東京博物館

Aki yasumi pt. 8 - Edo Tōkyō Hakubutsukan (Autumn Vacation part 8 - Edo-Tokyo Museum)

The day after arriving in Shinjuku (新宿), Rinko and I spent a day in Ryogoku (aka. "Sumo Town"). There we went to the Edo-Tokyo Museum (photo above courtesy of panoramio.com) to see an exquisitely beautiful exhibit of Ukiyo-e (浮世絵) prints, paintings and drawings. Some of the most accomplished artists' works are displayed there including Hishikawa Moronobu (菱川師宣), Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾北斎) and Utagawa Hiroshige (歌川広重). The exhibit is a collection of works that live at the MFA in Boston, and gives a very nice historical overview of Ukiyo-e and it's impact on Japan and on art in general. Very moving! In my opinion, these wonderful works of art really belong in Japan, but due to the decline in popularity of Ukiyo-e during the Meiji period and the subsequent surge in "Japonism" in the U.S., it isn't surprising that so many of these works were lost to Western Civilsation. This means, however, that many of you have a chance to go see them for yourself! I *highly* recommend having a look and letting their incredible beauty, subtle simbolism and rich history inspire you. The Boston MFA exhibit will be on display in Tokyo until 30-Nov.

After the museum, we had dinner at a Chanko (ちゃんこ) restaurant. Chanko, or "Sumo wrestlers' hot pot" is similar in many ways to regular nabe, but contains some different ingredients, like spicy kim-chi, noodles, thinly-sliced pork, tsukune, and seafood. All of these ingredients are very tasty together and also contribute to a delicious broth! Chanko is a very satisfying meal-- do try it when you have time.

After a peaceful and stimulating day in Ryōgoku, it was back to Shinjuku for us for more hanging out and eating sweets at cafes. ^^ Be sure to check out the Edo Tōkyō Hakubutsukan if you're into art and/or history, and you're going to be in Tokyo for a few days; this is a wonderful place!


あきやすみ 7 - 新宿区

Aki yasumi pt. 7 - Shinjuku-ku (Autumn Vacation part 7 - Shinjuku-ku)

After spending a few comfortable days in Asakusa, walking around, eating good food, doing some shopping, and hanging out with friends, we moved on to Shinjuku (新宿). Shinjuku has always been one of my favourite parts of Tokyo and I guess it always will be. At seemingly any time of day or night, on any day of the week, something fun and exciting happens there.

Rinko and I spent some time wandering around Nishi-Shinjuku (西新宿 / "skyscraper district"), checking out the craziness in Kabukichō (歌舞伎町), buying kool stuph and finding delicious food. In Nishi-Shinjuku, we were surprised to find an astounding new building! It's called the Cocoon Tower (top photo) and really looks quite amazing. We did manage to go inside, as there is a large Book 1st shop in the lower levels. It's really clean and pristine. Very kool indeed!

Shinjuku is one of the koolest parts of Tokyo, IMHO. There is something there for literally everyone-- from the most discriminating food connoisseurs and art-lovers to the heaviest drinkers and most perverted fetishists, and everyone in between. From name brand designer to street, Shinjuku has everything. This is a spot that should never be skipped during a visit to Tokyo. Some of the most well-known photos and movie footage of Tokyo were shot here. If you're looking for the high-tech, neon imagery that so many folks have in mind when thinking about Tokyo, this is where you want to go. It's also a very centralised location with easy access to all parts of Tokyo and other destinations in Japan. Shinjuku Station is the busiest transportation in the world! Check it out for yourself!


あきやすみ 6 - 秋葉原

Aki yasumi pt. 6 - Akihabara (Autumn Vacation part 6 - Akihabara)

I'm starting to fall behind a little bit on my postings, so this news is a couple of days old. Sorry!
The other day was spent, in its entirety, in Akihabara (秋葉原)! Ya-taaah! This time I was less focused on electronics and gadgets and spent more time shopping for items related to my hobbies! I spent most of the time in Asobit City, Kotobukiya (コトブキヤ) and the 6th Floor of Yodobashi Camera (ヨドバシカメラ). ^^

I enjoyed looking at lots and lots of figures, manga, books, CDs, DVDs and other little gems. It was definitely a lot of fun and I brought back quite a haul as you can see here! Not surprisingly, there is still a lot more I would like to have. I'm wondering if maybe I'll back again for more. heh!

I was extremely tempted to pick up a new Canon EOS Kiss X2 camera. I was worried, though, that I might have buyer's remorse afterward, however, so I didn't get it (although I did find out which shop has the best price, just in case). The exchange rate is particularly horrible right now and the Yen has risen sharply against the Dollar recently. Because of this, some of the electronics I normally enjoy buying are not as good a deal as usual. Without the substantial savings I typically find in Akiba, my consumption of electronics has been suppressed.

One thing I definitely noticed is that the activities in the streets are a little bit more reserved as compared to when I was there last year. I didn't see any street performers at all, and there is a lot more security on patrol. Maybe there is more happening during the weekends...I'm not sure. I know that activities in Akiba have been slight more conservative ever since the Akihabara Massacre in June of this year that claimed the lives of 7 people and left others hositalised.

To finish up the day I had an incredible dinner at Sushizanmen (this means "sushi everyday"). It's the sushi restaurant just outside the Tsukuba Express-side exit of Yodobashi Camera. I highly recommend this place if you're going to Akiba. The food is incredibly fresh, delicious and expertly-prepared. The atmosphere in there is also very lively and welcoming. I had some sashimi and also some nigiri sushi. All of it was very, very good.


あきやすみ 5 - 浅草

Aki yasumi pt. 5 - Asakusa (Autumn Vacation part 5 - Asakusa)

Every time I visit Tokyo (東京), I almost always begin my stay in Asakusa (浅草). This is because Asakusa is totally KOOL and really interesting. Even though it's in the middle of Tokyo, it's got a really old-school, Edo (江戸) Japan kind of feel to it. The area also has plenty of shady characters going in and out of some questionable places (many of which may or may not be affiliated with gokudō (極道) syndicates). During my life I have always been drawn to this element and that goes for Tokyo as well.

One of the main attractions in Asakusa is one which makes a significant contribution to this old-school Japan feel-- Sensō-ji (浅草寺). On the site of Sensō-ji is Sensō-ji Temple (Buddhist) and Sensō-ji Shrine (Shinto); they are the oldest in Tokyo. The site was originally constructed back in 628 around a small temple erected to venerate Kannon, but since the originals we almost completely destroyed when Americans bombed the crap out of it during World War II, the buildings we see today were built about 50 years ago. The Nakamise market leading up to the temple from the main gate is very famous and draws in lots of people. Sensō-ji Temple is also the place where, last year, my wife stopped being my girlfriend and became my fiancée. ^^

Asakusa also contains Sadachiyo (貞千代) which is the place where I sit right now as I write this. Ryokans (旅館), or traditional Japanese Inns, first became widely available during the Edo period. The Sadachiyo ryokan is a beautiful facility that definitely puts effort into "keeping it real" with tastefully and traditionally-decorated guest rooms, dining/meeting rooms and lounge. The Edo Kaiseki (懐石), or Edo-style cuisine, that is served at Sadachiyo is absolutely delicious and satisfying, and is one of the aspects that I look forward to most. The other thing that makes Sadachiyo very pleasant is the quality and comfort of the o-furo (お風呂). There is an all-wood bath as well as an all-stone bath and the two change daily between male and female so all guests have a chance to enjoy both. Above and beyond all of this is the extremely high-quality and gracefully courteous service provided by the ryokan staff members. Every guest is made to feel welcome and special due to the incredible skill of the staff. This is my third time to stay here and it will not be my last.

Asakusa has tonnes and tonnes of other stuff to do as well, including access to the Sumida River (Sumida gawa - 隅田川) and the nearby Kappabashi (合羽橋) which is lined with outlet shops for restaurant owners and professional foodservice workers/employers (*awesome*). Asakusa has lots of bars, restaurants, shops and izakaya ((居酒屋) of course (just watch out for the shady ones ^^ ). There are plenty of shops here selling goods that friends and family back home will love-- things that fit into most foreigners' mental picture of Japan. Get tour fill-- I always do!


あきやすみ 4 - 七五三

Aki yasumi pt. 4 - Shichigosan (Autumn Vacation part 4 - Coming of Age Celebration)

Shichigosan (七五三) is actually the words 3,5 and 7 joined together. The reason it's called this is because it's a celebration for children's coming of age, in hopes of ensuring they have long and happy lives. As such, the years 3,5 and 7 are significant not only because of the auspicious nature of odd numbers, but also because of some very old Samurai traditions associated with these ages. For Shichigosan, boys who are aged three or five and girls who are aged three or seven are dressed in kimono (for the first time, at age 3) and are accompanied by family to visit shrines. 3 yr. old girls typically wear hifu (a thick, padded vest) over their kimono. Boys wear hakama and haori, of course. Both genders' Shichigosan kimono are very colourful and cheerfully-patterned.

Children celebrating Shichigosan are given Chitoseame (千歳飴), or "thousand year candy." It's a long, thin, chewy candy, which simbolises longevity. It is presented to the children in a long bags that are decorated with a crane and a turtle since these also represent a long, healthy life. The candy is really similar to what's known as "taffy" in the west, except it's not quite as sugary-sweet and doesn't glue itself to one's teeth. The markets outside the shrines are all selling this and are all competing with eachother for business. At some of them, there is even some element of show as the candy makers publicly display their skills.

The children go to the shrine or temple with their families and their chitoseame candy and are blessed by the priests. The rest of the day is usually spent with the family. Nowadays some families take the children to professional photo studios, as well. In my photo is my 3-year-old niece, Riko. Is she totally sweet and adorable or what!? In Japan I'm not known as Chris, but am usually called Kurisu (くりす), or just "Kuri," so Riko calls me "Kuri Ooji-chan," or Uncle Chris. So cute!! Today my wife and I went to Kawasaki to get together with my sister and brother in-law and celebrate Riko's special day with her. It was fun! Kawasaki is a kool place-- definitely, and the shrine was overflowing with cuteness.


あきやすみ 3 - 仙台から東京

Aki yasumi pt. 3 - Sendai kara Tokyo (Autumn Vacation part 3 - Sendai to Tokyo)

Yesterday was our sad departure from the family home in Sendai (仙台). It was sad but also exciting since we're now in Tokyo (東京), and that means more adventures for us! We traveled the long distance on the Shinkasen (新幹線), of course. In the photo above you can see our train pulling into Sendai Station.

We were hungry after getting on-board so we decided to have ekiben (Eki Bento - Eki = Station, Bento = lunchbox). This particular ekiben was totally incredible! Inside the box were tender and delicious slices of beef tongue on top of a bowl of fluffy rice with some pickles on the side. It was very good! What made this bento so amazing, though, is the fact that it heated itself up!!! As you can see from the instructions, you just pull the string from the bottom of the box and it starts working. Within about 3 seconds, there was steam shooting out the corners of the box-- it got so hot that a little bit of the price tag started to turn black (you can see that in the lower corner there). After letting the bento sit for about 5 minutes, there's a nice, hot lunch ready to eat!! I have never seen anything like it-- it's amazing. I can never visit Japan and not find something that's small and ordinary here, but that is totally amazing to me.