July 31, 2009

A Freezer on a Subway Platform

At the very end of the subway platform at Yoyogikoen station, a freezer has been set up. For the life of me, I can't guess why. At first I thought they were trying to prevent overheating of the trains (...by opening the freezer doors and letting cool air flow out?), but I wondered if that would cause a short circuit. Surely that would be something to avoid after yesterday's Keiyo Line short circuit debacle. (500 passengers trapped inside a train for up to two hours without functioning air conditioning.)

Even more puzzling, the inside of the freezer was empty, dashing my hopes of a secret midnight mini-party on the train platform.

July 30, 2009

Onwards to Past Cinema

The trailer for Toy Story 1 and 2, to be shown in 3D version in October as a double bill. (In Japan, Toy Story 1 in 3D will be released in October, and Toy Story 2, in February 2010.) 3D in cinema seems to be gathering steam these days, with kiddie CGI films and re-releases being unveiled in 3D format. Baby steps are being taken towards more mainstream fare, such as Tim Burton's upcoming Alice in Wonderland. Beyond cinema, the world's first 3D digital camera, Fujifilm's FinePix Real 3D System, will be released in the fall.

The buzz surrounding 3D is in some ways baffling. After all, 3D films aren't stictly new, when considering its previous lives in 1950s horror films. And in re-releasing the Toy Story films (which I'm sure will still be a fresh and crowd-pleasing experience as ever), we're effectively getting excited about a 15-year-old film. Are we sufficiently removed from the 3D generation, and is technology advanced to the point that 3D looks like a brand spaking novelty again? Will it take root this time, revolutionizing cinema, or will it be another fad, gradually faded away in 10 years' time? Only one way to find out...

July 27, 2009


A rainbow begins to appear over Yoyogi Park, but is no match for ampm's technicolor sign.

July 21, 2009

Welcomed with Bared Teeth

Tokyo International Exhibition Center, or as it is more generally known, Tokyo Big Sight, is used for forums and conventions and draws participants from all over the world.

Nothing like a serrated blade to foster international exchange...

July 20, 2009

Paid to Watch

Car counting, one of the more curious part-time jobs. As far as casual observers are concerned, you're paid to sit in a chair all day, staring into space and occasionally clicking a counter. Car counters are actually recording the number of cars and passers-by to determine the flow of traffic -- whether traffic signals, road signs, and roads are all being utilized to their greatest efficiency. Workers are hired on a per-day basis, receiving around 10,000 yen (105 dollars) for 12 hours on the site, with about 7-9 hours of actual work time. The downside is that you have to brave rain, the sun, and suspicious looks from paranoid people.

What's in a Name?

A "bookstore" in Waseda, with the kanji for "book" nearly fallen off.

You say "bookstore", I say "dumping ground for unwanted reading articles".

July 18, 2009

Dog Neck Cone

A dog wearing the tiniest Elizabethan collar I've ever seen. To get an idea of just how minuscule the dog's head was, compare it to the cat sticker on the pole next to him.

July 16, 2009

Zoom Zoom

(Taken in Azamino.)

A flower most likely in the hydrangea family. The layered 3-D blossoms are quite dizzying.

From Book to Film: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

What they got right in the transition from mammoth book to film, with unavoidable spoilers:

-Expanding Malfoy's character
In the books, we see Malfoy filtered through Harry's hatred and suspicion of him. The film, however, allows a far more sympathetic portrayal. Being tasked to kill Dumbledore is serious business, after all. At his core, we see that Malfoy is just a scared little boy trying to fulfill a duty, which makes him all the more dangerous.

-Setting things up for the Deathly Hallows films
As the generous reshaping of the Half-Blood Prince storyline shows us, for the films to be coherent and at a reasonable length, some things must go. But the special emphasis on Mr. Ollivander's disappearance, and the pointed introduction of RAB indicates that they will play crucial roles in the upcoming two-part Deathly Hallows films.

-Slughorn's big reveal
Screenwriter Steve Kloves one-ups J.K. Rowling by providing a compelling new backstory for Professor Horace Slughorn. His story of a certain present Harry's mother presented him with as a student is one of the loveliest, most tender scenes in the film. That director David Yates provides no flashback scene, allowing the viewer to imagine in it their heads, only adds to the magic.

July 14, 2009

Reliably Beautiful

(In Azamino.)

Morning glories, cicadas, tiny green frogs -- just three of the things I associate with summer in Japan. The latter two have seen a rapid decrease in the past two decades, but thankfully, morning glories remain as abundant as ever.

July 12, 2009

What Light

Hōzuki, or Chinese lantern plant, sold in bushels at a flower shop in Tsukishima.

A smart business move would be to sell the fallen fruits at 20 yen a pop, instead of simply discarding them.

July 9, 2009

Enmeshed in Style

(Florist shop Habana in Tomigaya.)

Trust a flower and plant shop to come up with an original twist on vine netting.

July 8, 2009


Chacha Koubou, a cafe specializing in Japanese tea. Run by a man who seems to have a contempt for all his customers, one of their specialities is moffles, rice cakes (mochi) baked like waffles. This particular type had kimchi in the middle. They were not particularly tasty. Were it not for the sheer novelty of such a creation, they would hardly be worth keeping on the menu.

July 7, 2009


A bamboo tree decorated with paper chains to celebrate Tanabata (July 7th), on display in a Shibuya preschool. The custom is to write your wishes on pieces of rectangular paper called tanzaku and tie them onto the branches. I guess the teachers were too busy to take dictation from dozens of three-year-olds. A celebration of literally star-crossed lovers (a couple live on opposite sides of the Milky Way, and are allowed to meet only once a year, on July 7th), Tanabata has managed to escape the vast commercialization of that other romantic day, St. Valentine's. It has retained its traditional origins, becoming an occasion for communities to come together. A town may line its streets with bamboo branches and streamers decorated by nearby elementary schools, a shrine will have paper and pens ready for passers-by to write down their hopes and dreams, and a train station may erect a large bamboo tree so commuters can take some time out to write on a tanzaku, and fasten them onto its branches themselves.

July 6, 2009

Maruyama Geisha

Maruyamacho in Shibuya. The area was famous for its geishas in the 1950s -- not the earnest, "What we do is art" Memoirs of a Geisha women, but the straight-up prostitutes. The area has definitely retained its seediness throughout the years. Walk a minute off the main road, and you're surrounded by the gaudiest, tackiest love hotels. But stylish cafes dot the area, and there is also a greengrocer's nearby, as well as houses. Here, the most rudimentary of parks is squeezed in next to yet another love hotel. Not my kids...

July 5, 2009

Apartment Life

A notice in my apartment building: "On _____, (Sunday) we recieved a report from an inhabitant on the __th floor that a piece of fried chicken and some laundry (a pair of pants) fell onto their balcony from one of the above floors."

A photo of the incriminating pants. But what of the chicken?

July 4, 2009

Shilling an Ad Shilling Denial

An ad for Seibu Department Stores' annual summer sales. The slogan on the bottom half reads, "Shopping is what will make Japan's future bright." The blatant materialism would be refreshing if such an awareness existed in the first place.

July 2, 2009

Sidewalk Plot

A luffa fruit growing in a modest garden alongside a Waseda sidewalk. It's the season for morning glories, luffas, bitter melons, and other plants with tenacious vines that snake up anything taller than them. Posts are erected and nets draped, anticipating the greenery that will soon invade.

July 1, 2009

Green Tea Paper Napkins

(Mogura Cafe in Takatanobaba.)

This paper napkin contains recycled tea leaves from Itoen's Ooi-ocha, a popular line of bottled green tea. It is yet another development in the tea company's quest to effectively re-use its tea leaves. The napkins, which began to be sold commercially only last month, join the likes of ballpoint pens, cardboard boxes, tatami mats that the company has already produced -- all containing recyled tea leaves.

According to the company, by using tea leaves, they are able to cut down on paper material. And since the leaves are used wet, drying the leaves after their use is no longer necessary. Tea leaves are also reputed for their sterility, and their ability to absorb smells. 1,000 of these paper napkins contain roughly the amount of tea leaves used to produce 36 500ml bottles of tea.

And here I thought this was just a publicity stunt.