January 31, 2009

Confined by Windows

(Taken from the platform of Nishi-Funabashi station.)

January 30, 2009

Lampshades on Trees

(A park in Waseda.)

These laquer umbrella-like constructions are yukitsuri, bamboo poles erected and tied together to protect trees from snow. The snow is supposed to slide down the poles, thereby preventing the pine trees from being damaged. But this practice seems sweetly overbearing in Tokyo, where current high temperatures are around 10°C. Hardly a promise of snow.

January 29, 2009

The Road Paved in Bumps

A non-Japanese someone once brought up the topic of these yellow guide blocks, confessing that it was what he liked most about Japan. A sort of "follow the yellow brick road" interpreted for the blind, these bumps allow them to safely (and autonomously) make their way around the city, from sidewalks to subway platforms. About a month ago, extensive road construction was carried out on crosswalks in the Waseda area, resulting in these black-and-white bumps. What seems obvious now is startling in context. Imagine people carefully following the yellow line, then being abandoned as they embark the dangerous act of crossing the road. How did anyone not think of this before?

Wednesday, January 28th, 1942

(From my grandfather's diary in 1942.)

Wednesday, January 28.
Sunny, cloudy in the afternoon.
Day off
7 am woke up
Nurse Araki-san came to the house
Went to see a newsreel with Mother and Sister.
2.30 pm Left house 3 pm. Arrived at Shinjuku
Asahi News Theater (-4:30pm)
(news, violins)
Ate ice cream in Takano
Came home 6.pm
Got haircut at Tsuji on Koshin-dori
(7.30-9.30 pm)

I never had the chance to meet my grandfather, but ironically I'm now privy to the most intimate details of his life. I wish my own planner entries consisted of more than haphazard memos and scribbles; imagine posterity trying to piece my life together from that!

January 25, 2009

Glossing Things Over

The last time I used a disposable camera was around 7 years ago. They were called tsukaisute kamera back then; literally "disposable camera". Now they are sold under the much more diplomatic moniker, tsukaikiri kamera, or "single-use camera". Tsukaisute=thrown away after use=wasteful, tsukaikiri=purpose is fulfilled upon use=less wasteful.

This new tsukaikiri kamera takes great care to point out that it doesn't include any parts made of lead, the outside packaging doesn't include aluminum, and that all of it is recycled in the end. But still I roll my eyes. Just because it makes you feel better, doesn't mean that it is.

January 24, 2009

Me and Fish, We Just Don't Mix

Angler fish soup for dinner tonight. Covered in meat and slimy collagen, it wasn't until I bit into my portion of the fish that I discovered all the spikes beneath. They nearly embedded themselves onto the roof of my mouth.

January 23, 2009

Battle Lost

Today was not photo-taking weather.

Ergo, the answer.

The strips of cloth in the previous post are called tatamiheri, and are sewn on the borders of tatami mats. In the Heian period (794-1185), the tatamiheri would signify the householder's social rank. Nowadays, I'm guessing that the color and the material of the cloth vary only according to how much you are willing to pay.
I had romantic notions of an old man kneeling in a room and weaving the tatami mats by hand, but seeing this machine brought me back to reality. The bubble completely burst when I realized that the tatamiheri weren't being hung out to dry, they were simply thrown out.

January 22, 2009


Guess the image!

Otherwise known as, "I haven't taken any photos lately and I'm running out of things to post."

The answer will be revealed tomorrow, unless circumstances allow me to abandon this for more interesting material.

January 21, 2009

Sleuthing and Stereotyping

Propped up on someone's window in Tomigaya: "As this is in front of a parking space any illegally parked cars will be reported to the police."

The mix of kanji and katakana (as opposed to hiragana) denotes an older person, as does the old-ish wooden board and the penmanship. The pink hanky on the seat of the scooter narrows it down to old lady. I apologize if you are young and male with an anachronistic streak.

January 18, 2009

How to Dismantle a HDD

Owing to my father's paranoia, I spent this morning with a driver set, disassembling hard disk drives from three different computers and scratching them up so the information inside would be rendered unreadable. It was every bit as tedious as you would expect, but also unexpectedly complicated. (IBM, you should be proud of yourself. Your parts were the most meticulously put together.)
This whole process made me think of electronic waste, more specifically of the people whose jobs involve disassembling computers, cell phones, and other electronics. Most exported e-waste is sent to China, where people risk their health in so many different ways to collect the often toxic metals inside. This work is done by hand, and I can't imagine that they would have all the different-sized Phillips screwdrivers and Torx drivers that would make it a tiny bit easier.
When I finally managed to pry open the lid covering the HDD, I was startled to see this needle and disc, which clearly reminds one of a record player. It functions similarly, with the needle reading the memory in the disc. The disc rotates courtesy of a tiny motor, another major invention of the past. Though quite obvious in retrospect, it struck me that the computer is the distilled result of all the technology humans have accumulated thus far. I now have more empathy for science nerds.

January 16, 2009


The Ferris wheel at Kasairinkaikoen, with the view of Fuji-san (Mt. Fuji) behind. Damn those power lines! As I was standing on the train platform at Kasairinkaikoen station, striving to get a decent shot, people around me were similarly whipping out their camera phones to capture the surprisingly beautiful view.

January 15, 2009

Archive-The 3rd Annual Tokyo Refugee Film Festival: 38 Ways to Show the World

(Originally posted on June 14, 2008) 
Hear the words “film festival”, and you imagine the film industry in all its hype, glitz, and excess. Amid bidding wars, hobnobbing stars, and endless paparazzi, films are unveiled with the hope of garnering critical acclaim and a distribution deal. 
Then there is that other type of film festival. Generally smaller in scale and more modest in its aspirations, there are no prizes to win or deals to score. The films are merely presented to the general public with the hope of shedding new light on the human experience. 
Without a doubt, the upcoming Refugee Film Festival (RFF), held from June 20 to June 27, belongs in the latter group. Created under the aegis of UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and Japan for UNHCR, the festival aims “to raise awareness of the plight and triumphs of the world’s 33 million refugees and internally displaced persons.”
Now in its third year in Tokyo, the festival began as a pilot project in Cambodia in 2005. Kirill Konin, artistic director of the RFF, says that while Japan is not particularly well-known for its film festivals, “UNHCR in Japan had a particular interest in the project because of its very unconventional nature.” Drawing attention to the country’s status as a significant donor to the UNHCR but reputation of accepting few refugees, Kirill explains, “Here there’s quite a lot of involvement of the government in the issues of refugees, but there’s not so much understanding in the general public.” The RFF was seen as a way of bridging the gap. 
This year’s 38 films were assembled through open submission and partnerships with film studios such as Sony Pictures. The result is an eclectic lineup that showcases both the relatively well-known (The Kite Runner, Standard Operating Procedure, War/Dance), and films previously unreleased in Japan. Says Konin, “If we hear about a film that was shown, let’s say, at Sundance or Berlin Film Festival, we have some representation at different events, so we try to target those films and bring them to Japan.” 
The selection process is understandably complex, “based on hearing about good films and seeing whether they would be shown in Japan or not.” This year’s opening film is War/Dance, a documentary set in Uganda that follows the kids of Patongo refugee camp as they compete in a music and dance competition. The film rode a wave of critical and audience appreciation from numerous film festivals before being nominated for Best Feature Documentary at this year’s Oscars. Konin notes, “We’ve been trying actually, to get the film for a year and we eventually succeeded in getting it.” 
In telling the stories, the films utilize genres such as the short film, the documentary, and the docudrama, adopting a multitude of perspectives that range from those experiencing refugee life, child soldiers, relief workers, and people starting a new life after forced migration. Kakuma Camp Films was made by refugee filmmakers in the Kenyan refugee camp, while Heart of Fire, about a girl soldier in the Eritrean War of Independence (between the Ethiopean government and Eritrean separatists), features refugee actors. The participation of refugees in the filmmaking process adds to the films’ immediacy. 
Films take place in areas such as Algeria and Bhutan, countries that receive less media coverage in Japan compared to, say, Iraq or Africa. Comments Konin, “If you’re looking at films like Refusnik (a documentary about Soviet Jews) or The Promised Land (about the stateless Urdu-speaking community in Bangladesh), these are stories that are not usually getting media attention. But you know, the Iraq and various Africa stories, they are covered by the media but I think what is lacking in covering all the statistics and other things is (the) personal stories.”
For those who view cinema as escapist entertainment, the RFF may not be something they gravitate to naturally. In this sense, the film festival is both for “people who are curious to know more”, as Konin suggests, but also “people who don’t care about refugees.” Last year’s festival had over 7000 visitors, and the RFF’s success obviously hinges on the number of participants. But beyond that, for the festival to have any lasting influence, Konin says, there is a necessity for people to ask themselves what they can do. “Different people take different paths on that one. But we really hope people would become a little bit more engaged, not just in refugee issues but in things that are happening around them.”
The Refugee Film Festival is from June 20 to June 27. Admission is free. For more details, including venues, timetables, and synopses of films visit: http://www.refugeefilm.org/en/

January 13, 2009

Curiouser and Curiouser

A mom-and-pop shop in Tomigaya that purportedly sells footwear. The doors are open but there are no employees, rubber sandals are displayed in glass cases but there are no price tags. Old futons are piled in one corner, an empty bird cage stands in the other corner. The whole store is the size of a parking space.
In it, a pigeon resides.

January 12, 2009

Strawberries Know Your Name

The latest in responsible farming and, by extention, consumerism: making the identity of the farmer visible. These Tochiotome strawberries, strawberries from Tochigi prefecture that are known for their large berries, are from Nobuyuki Ninomiya-san's farm.

When I lived in Dublin during the bird flu scare a couple years ago, I saw similar practices. Supermarket chickens were labeled with stickers informing the buyer of the farmer's name and address, the kind that people use on Christmas card envelopes.

But oh, to be immortalized in clear plastic!

January 11, 2009

Obscure/Obscured Japanese History

1908-The first group of Japanese people travel to Brazil by boat, seeking work in coffee plantations. The Japanese government promoted emigration as a solution to overpopulation and poverty in rural areas, and an estimated 190,000 people relocated to Brazil between 1908 and 1941, when diplomatic ties between Japan and Brazil were suspended.

(In the next hundred years, Japanese Brazilians will find themselves heading to Japan to find work, and then once again heading back to Brazil as the economy crumbles.)

1926-The Japanese National Health Insurance Law of 1922 becomes operative.

1927-Amateur radio service (ham radio) is internationally recognized.

1969-Japan Sea Cable (JASC) begins operation, connecting Japan's Naoetsu to Russia's Nakhodka. Operations end in 1995, after a new fiber-optic telephone cable is installed, after which JASC is used by Japanese and Russian scientists to carry out joint experiments.

1979-Automated telephone systems go nationwide. Telephone operators become obsolete, and listening in on people's phone conversations becomes a whole lot harder.

January 10, 2009


A friend and her socks:

("I'm going to tan myself to a crisp!")

("Oops, too dark.")

I say it was an inspired fashion choice.

January 8, 2009

Aesthetic Appeal Ignored or Taken into Account?

(A socks store in Ikspiari, Maihama.)

Down feather leg warmers. Never thought they'd come up with this.

If you wore these in Tokyo, I would pretend not to know you. However, if I ever found myself in -15°C weather, I would reach for them in a heartbeat.

January 7, 2009

Prompted by Macaron Bunnies

(Théobroma, a chocolate shop in Tomigaya.)

Walking past the store, I was suddenly reminded of The Runaway Bunny, one of my favorite books as a child.

(From Margaret Wise Brown's The Runaway Bunny.)

I can barely remember the story (a bunny ran away?), but I remember being both charmed and unnerved by the bizareness of the pictures.
My six-year-old mind imploded a bit when I realized that bunnies didn't have to always be cute, they could be other things as well.

January 6, 2009

Three Bulbs and a Bust

(Homspun, a clothing shop in Tomigaya)

The hyancith bulbs in water remind me of science class in elementary school. If I tweaked the truth a bit, I guess I could say the random head bust reminds me of art class, although my memories are more about watercolor paints in tubes and steel mini-chisels for woodworking. I like to think that the people who work here use the rest of her body for a dressmaker's dummy.

January 5, 2009

From Micro to Macro

(In Shibuya.)

From postage stamp-size to billboard proportions: the latest in QR Codes. This is an ad for Transcosmos Group, a company that specializes in IT marketing.

If, like me, you held your cell phone up in the air to see if that code was truly readable, then you are a chump.

Incidentally, it was perfectly scannable, but you have to be far enough away from the billboard so that it fits into your phone screen.

The Sum of Diligence

My brother, dutifully peeling off the stickers from every can of Georgia coffee he buys. Each sticker is one point, and once you amass a certain number of points, you can enter a sweepstakes for a chance to win a "mystery prize". Over the years, he has gone out of his way to gather stickers, drinking the same soda and buying the same bread for days on end. This is not to be laughed at. He once won a set of dishes, and most recently, an USB flash drive commemorating the new James Bond film. (Is there any correlation between an USB and Quantum of Solace?) I only hope that he hasn't burned a hole through his stomach with all the coffee-drinking.

January 3, 2009

Mom and Pop Dinner

Mom's New Year's dinner, clockwise from the top: tazukuri (dried sardines cooked in soy sauce, mirin, and sugar); namasu (Japanese radish and Korean carrot marinated in rice vinegar); kohada (small herring, pickled), kazunoko (herring roe); kuromame (black soybeans, simmered on the stove for hours); datemaki and kamaboko (sweet rolled omelette, left, and steamed fish paste, right). Also homemade roast beef.

Dad's contribution: sea bream and rice, cooked in an earthenware pot. To his credit, he spent over 20 minutes painstakingly pulling out all the bones with a tweezer.

I suspect that many people believe that their mothers are the best cooks ever.

January 2, 2009

Obscure and Not-So-Obscure Japanese History

From my grandmother's stamp collection:

1922-Boy Scouts of Japan is established

1927-The first subway line begins operations in Japan, a private company enterprise running from Ueno to Asakusa

1928-Radio physical exercises (rajio taiso) begin, a series of exercise routines accompanied to music aired several times a day on the radio

1946-Women's suffrage granted

January 1, 2009


23:15 (11:15 pm), December 31st, 2008.

At Ikspiari in Maihama, waiting to ring in the new year. Spending the last moments of the old year asleep, waking up only to prove to yourself that you were there when the clock hit 0:00--so much for living in the moment.