Feature Foto #2

Photo #2 is a shot of the famous temple Rokuon-ji, more commonly called "Kinkaku-ji," or the "Golden Pavillion Temple" in Kyoto. This site was originally constructed in 1397 during the Muromachi period, to be used as a retirement home for Yoshimitsu Ashikaga on his "Kitayama" estate. The Shogun's son converted the building into a Zen temple. In 1950 the temple was severely damaged in a fire that was started by a reckless monk's suicide-attempt gone wrong; as a result, the building we see in this photo is quite new, and dates from the 1950s. The temple houses Buddha's ashes and gets its stunning beauty from its coating of pure gold leaf.

If you have Google Earth, download Kinkaku-ji's placemarker.


"Bakunyū" Hyper-Battle Ikki Tōsen

This young lady's name is Chou'un Shiryuu (趙雲 子龍), and she joined my collection a few months ago. She's from Ikkitōsen (一騎当千), Watanabe Takashi's (渡部 高志) anime series, loosely based on the the manga by Shiozaki Yūji (雄二 塩崎). Unfortunately I am not familiar with the manga or the anime, although I would really like to be, considering the series is famous for its ecchi situations and battles fought by girls in short skirts!

The inspiration for the story is a Chinese historical novel that was named one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature, called "Romance of the Three Kingdoms," written by Luo Guanzhong. The modern manga and anime versions are quite different from the 14th century originals, of course, but I am quite confident that they must be extremely fun and entertaining. ^^

The anime series first aired in Japan back in 2003 and has subsequently completed 2 more seasons finally ending this past August with a grand total of 37 episodes. I'm definitely adding the series to my must-watch anime list, but in the meantime, I liked this character figure the moment I saw her and just had to have her. She made the long journey to my Chicago condominium courtesy of the Kid Nemo Company.


Feature Foto #1

Oftentimes I don't have a lot of time to work on new posts and I feel bad that you, my readers, have to keep coming back to look for new content. I have a couple of ideas that might be fun for everyone. For starters-- I would like to start posting one of my photos every week. I'll pick only my best photos, and I'll try to focus on a new topic each week.

Photo #1 is a shot of the roof detail at Ōsakihachiman Jinja in Sendai. Some of you probably remember that this is where my wife and I got married at the end of October. Ōsakihachimangu is one of my favourite places because of it's peacefulness, despite being in the middle of a big city, and also because of the intense beauty of the shrine and it's surroundings. The shrine is 401 years old now and has recently been named one of Japan's National Treasures.

If you have Google Earth, download Ōsakihachimangu's placemarker.


New Phone for Wormgear!

So....I got a new phone this past Tuesday! I decided to get the HTC Touch Pro. So far, I am really liking it. Mine has service from Sprint which is a PCS network, but is known for reliable service and high speed 3G data; and from my experiences so far, that does seem to hold true.

The HTCTP is a smartphone and comes pre-installed with Windows Mobile 6.1. Many of my readers might think this is a little strange considering I have become more of a Mac guy in the past few years, but unfortunately I do need to use my phone for work, and therefore it needs to be integrated with my company's communications network. This makes iPhone a poor choice for me, unfortunately. Windows Mobile 6.1 comes bundled together with MS Office Mobile, which gives me access to my company's outlook exchange server and all documentation maintained by my colleagues. Additionally, the phone comes equipped with a stylus, a slide-out qwerty keyboard, Sprint Navigation turn-by-turn GPS, a 3.2 MP camera w/ flash, a microSD slot, Sprint TV, WiFi, Bluetooth and plenty of nice software like Opera web browser, an accuweather.com widget, the most popular IM programs, and Sprint Music. The phone comes out-of-the box with loads of other goodies like an RSS reader and a streaming media player, as well as the usual suspects like SMS and Picture messaging and a comprehensive contact management system, all of which is very nicely compiled into the HTC TouchFlo touch-screen interface. In the box with the phone comes the manual and getting started guides, a case, the charger and USB cable, audio/video OUT connector, ear phones, a screen protector and a CD-ROM with MS ActiveSync and an electronic version of the manual. HTC has seemingly used some kind of proprietary USB connection. It looks like a rectangle with one corner cut off. Never fear, however, because despite it's exclusive-looking shape, standard mini-USB cables work just fine-- it's what use most of the time since it comes with only one cable and I need to connect it to many different devices.

What I like most about the phone is that it's quite simple to use with comfy controls, it's highly customisable, and is ready to operate as a complete, all-around communicator right out of the box that integrates seamlessly into any Microsoft-based network. Also, its dimensions are such that it's not so small that it's frustrating to use, and not so large that it's unwieldy. What I don't like so much is the fact that it is Windows Mobile which comes with its expected difficulties such as the fact that it's sometimes slow and sluggish in its responsiveness (though not too bad so far), it's a little bit heavy (5.3 ounces with battery) and the battery life is quite short (charging once per day is mandatory).

All-in-all this is a great product. If you're thinking about getting a new phone, I'd recommend stopping in to your local Sprint store and trying it out. I don't think the HTC Touch Pro is for everyone; it may be annoying to people with thicker fingers, for example. Although I wouldn't say it's totally amazing, it does what it sets out to do extremely well, and it may just suit your needs perfectly. Nice work, HTC!


Aira Mitsuki

Aira Mitsuki (アイラミツキ) is a Techno-pop singer from Saitama, born on 21-Sep-1988. In 2007 she signed up to audition for Mega Trance and came out the winner! Soon afterwards she performed at an MTV event promoting the Transformers film and then released her first single, “Colorful Tokyo Sounds NO.9,” which features the track being used as the official theme song of the "Transformers Café" in Roppongi, which is based on the movie. That first single was quickly followed by two more-- "China Discotech" and "Darling Wondering Staring / Star Fruits Surf Rider." Then, about one year after the release of her first single, she released her first full-length release, "COPY," on D-topia.

Aira Mitsuki is typically compared to Perfume and Capsule and certainly one cannot argue that her sound is similar, especially since she's working with producer Terukado Oonishi. Her music has sci-fi and technology as common themes and her heavily-vocoded vocals complete the robotic, bit-pop sound. Unlike the aforementioned pop stars, Aira Mitsuki does bring something unique to her fans-- her music dips much more heavily into the techno and techno-trance genres. Because of this, her tracks are perfect for DJ mixologists and remix artists, or anyone who wants to blow up the dance floor.

On 29-Oct-2008, Aira Mitsuki's second major single, "Robot Honey" was released, also on the D-topia label. This release is a real treat-- with high-energy beats and more of her trademark cute-yet-robotic vocals. The sounds on this CD are at times reminiscent of recent Daft Punk releases and also remind listeners of Tei Towa's danceable collaborations with mega-pop stars. While I can't honestly say that every track is a work of art, this CD is wonderful and is a great production that showcases Aira's talent beautifully. It seems to me that Aira Mitsuki may be at the start of a really exciting music career, as long as she can manage to keep her sound fresh with the infusion of new sounds and musical innovation. In the meantime, go out and treat yourself to a copy of "Robot Honey," It's totally fun!

Her website
Her profile on Last.fm



Wormgear's Latest Movie Pick

I recently saw an excellent documentary entitled Mardi Gras Made in China. As most people know, drunken Americans line the streets of the Mardi Gras parade route every year exchanging exposure of their private parts for cheap, plastic beads. Very few people take the time to think about where those beads originate, however. Conversely, most of the factory-workers in China know little or nothing about where the beads will go once they finish making them. This film provides a first-hand, in-depth look at the sweat shops in China that produce the Mardi Gras beads, and the abusive and dangerous conditions that the workers endure.

The film follows the lives of several Chinese factory workers and gives the audience insight into their daily lives and their experiences both on the job and in what little free time they have. Watching the movie, we learn about the long hours, inhumane and dangerous working conditions and the extremely low pay that is earned from completing a day's work. Viewers get the opportunity to see the workers' personal perspectives on their situation, and in some cases their family members' impressions of their jobs. The film also provides a detailed look at the managers and owners of these factories and illustrates the level of oppression to which they are willing to expose their own employees.

While learning about the lives of Mardi Gras Bead factory workers, the film simultaneously explores the other side of the Mardi Gras Bead trade-- the business owners who buy/distribute them and the Mardi Gras Party-goers who consume them. These two groups of people have one thing in common-- Mardi Grad Beads, but that is really the extent of their commonalities. One group works their lives away for mere pennies so that they might contribute, financially, to their families back home. The other group lives in excess-- drinking, partying and throwing beads into the crowds, oftentimes throwing the equivalent of one Chinese factory worker's monthly pay in a single toss.

What really makes the film something special is that the director, David Redmon, manages to give each group a bit of insight into the other side of the trade, and gives his audience the opportunity to witness this unusual event. We see the impressions of the workers in China as they watch film footage of Mardi Gras party-goers recklessly exposing themselves and throwing the beads into the streets. We see the Mardi Gras patrons having their first look at the workers in action, working very hard to produce the beads that are little more than a cheap party favour for one night of celebration and debauchery.

The two juxtaposed elements of this docu-dichotomy are expertly woven together into a fascinating unity via the use of actual footage from both China and Louisiana, and a witty narration that expertly blends tragedy and comedy. This is an amazing and enlightening film that provides a fresh and unique point of view on the issue of globalisation and the abuse of cheap labour in China; an issue that's explored and over-analised to the point of public de-sensitisation. This is on my list of recommendations for people everywhere. Kudos to David Redmon-- this is an excellent documentary.

View the film's trailer here:


I *really* miss Japan.

Sorry Everyone-- this post is of a much more personal nature. I don't typically post this kind of content, but as my current thoughts and state of mind are quite overwhelming, it's the only thing fit for me to write about right now.

My readers don't need to look through many of my posts to understand that I really love Japan. Recently, however, something seems to have changed. During my first few visits to that wonderful place, I knew instantly that it could easily become my favourite place on Earth, and I thought that I might enjoy living there some day. Still, I was always more or less happy to get home and get back to my routine.

On 21-Oct I left the U.S. to begin my 5th trip over there. During the third week of my trip, an unexpected feeling came over me-- I stopped feeling like an outsider and felt very much "at home;" like I belong there. I have lots of wonderful friends in Japan, and now family, too. I miss them all. I miss being surrounded by the culture that I love so much. Since coming back to the U.S., I feel....well, homesick! Yeah. I know that it's kind of unrealistic-- after all I did not grow up in Japan. Regardless, however, homesick is definitely what I feel and it's depressing.

After my company opened an office in Tokyo almost 2 years ago, I started to fantasise about my dreams turning into reality, and thought it might be relatively simple to re-locate. I think I was a bit too eager and recently met with the CTO of my company to discuss the matter. I learned that his expectations are very high and that simply moving overseas to continue doing the same job I already do is not what he has in mind. Now I'm feeling very unsure of my future and my possibilities for living in the place that I feel to be my home.

All of these experiences have compounded into a depressing feeling of inadequacy and desperation. These are feelings to which I am unaccustomed, and I can't remember having any experiences that were even similar to this since I was 18 and found myself on a U.S. Navy ship, in the middle of the Indian Ocean, en route to the Persian Gulf to help free Kuwait from Saddam Hussein (or whatever it was that we were really doing over there).

I still can't figure out why my wife decided to leave Japan and move over here to the U.S., although I am happy that she did. I'm just trying to figure out what to do next.