Open All Night

28 02 2009

A full moon in Kyoto. And a streetlight.

A full moon in Kyoto. And a streetlight.

Here’s that convenience store post I promised. Convenience stores, called “conbini” in Japan, are quite similar to stores usually found connected to gas stations in America, except your chances of being shot are much lower. Conbini’s also usually include a fuller selection of items you might actually be able to eat for dinner and not feel ashamed, such as servings of sushi instead of powdered donuts. They usually have those too, though. Much like the ubiquitous Japanese vending machine, conbini are everywhere, in almost every mildly populated area. There are a few major chains pictured below, but there are also a number of privately owned ones that have a similar function.

There may or may not be an actual "Lawson".

According to Wikipedia, there is an actual "Lawson", and the chain originated in Ohio.

The most common chain in Kyoto is probably Lawson, which also has a number of permutations, such as Lawson Plus…

Lawson Plus, Osaka, 2/3/2009

The writing below the sign and the anthropomorphic can is actually a pun. "Genki ni narou" is Japanese for "let's get healthy", but in this case the "narou" is ending with a Katakana "son", so it becomes "narouson", similar to the pronunciation of Lawson in Japanese, "Ro-sun". Badum-pssh!

and the special one hundred yen Lawsons…

which I realized I don’t have a picture of. I’ll try and remedy that eventually. There’s also many of the same chains found in America, from 7-11…

Wikipedia also says that 7-11 is the largest convenience store chain in Japan. U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

Wikipedia also says that 7-11 is the largest convenience store chain in Japan. U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

and Circle K.

Circle K, Kyoto, ??/??/2009

Another large player in the area is Family Mart, the Kwik-E-Mart of the far East. Or not.

Family Mart, Kyoto, ??/??/2009

Other establishments include the Daily Yamazaki

Daily Yamazaki, Kyoto, ??/??/2009

and AM/PM.

AM/PM, Kyoto, ??/??/2009

There’s also this chain, which I’ve only seen in one place.

Coco!, Kyoto, ??/??/2009

Bonus: Can you tell the difference between these two pictures?

Boss Coffee Machine, Kyoto, ??/??/2009Tommy Lee Jones Boss Machine, Kyoto, ??/??/2009

Answer: only one of them is smoking a pipe. This is an example of the many weird forms of advertising American celebrities do in Japan to make a quick buck promoting items they would widely be mocked for using back in the States. Tommy Lee Jones representing Suntory Boss Coffee is a surprisingly good match, however.

Music I’m Listening to Now: Neko Case, “I’m an Animal”. This song is like two minutes long, and I’ve just been looping it while writing this post. It’s still catchy.

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Born On A Train

23 02 2009

Kobe Fountain, Kobe, 2/21/2009

Finally, a post with some substance. This weekend I went on a long (so long) daytrip to Kobe. I left around eight and got back close to ten, so the day was packed. Kobe is an interesting contrast to a traditional city like Kyoto. Long a major port in Japan, Kobe very early on developed into one of the more international cities in Japan, and features one of the larger populations of non-Japanese outside of cities like Yokohama. Additionally, a number of Europeans settled in the area, and some of their houses have been preserved.

Foreigner House, Kobe, 2/21/2009

It's hard to see in this picture, but these houses really stand out from their surroundings, and a number have been made into official historic landmarks. Some are still occupied by foreigners, but most are now owned by Japanese.

It's hard to see in this picture, but these houses really stand out from their surroundings, and a number have been made into official historic landmarks. Some are still occupied by foreigners, but most are now owned by Japanese.

That sort of international flavor has spread throughout Kobe; it has a sizeable Chinatown (whose Chinese food I can vouch for) and a number of Western-style buildings.

Column building, Kobe, 2/21/2009

My first goal when I got into the city was to see the Nurobiki Falls, supposedly one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Japan. Along the way I passed through the Shin-Kobe station and so a rather… odd display on the overhead monitors.

Shin-Kobe monitor, Kobe, 2/21/2009

It seems unusual and slightly gauche to be so specific as to indicate the reason for delay is that they’re scraping some guy off the front of the train. Perhaps worst of all (or best, depending if you were in a hurry) was that this was apparently only going to delay the train ten to thirty minutes. Efficiency!

Anyway, in my zeal to see the falls I managed to completely bypass them at first and climb to the top of one of the mountains surrounding Kobe. I made excellent time up the mountain and was feeling pretty good until I saw some women in at least their sixties coming down from the peak, breathing regularly.

Mountain View 1, Kobe, 2/21/2009

Unfortunately even the top was thickly forested, so I had a difficult time getting some good views of the city. At the highest I went I was at least a hundred feet or so above the blue skyscraper to the left.

Unfortunately even the top was thickly forested, so I had a difficult time getting some good views of the city. At the highest I went I was at least a hundred feet or so above the blue skyscraper to the left.

Speaking of the skyscraper, here's a better view. I think the color actually makes it look pretty attractive.

Speaking of the skyscraper, here's a better view. I think the color actually makes it look pretty attractive.

Paths extended even further into the mountains, but I finally saw a sign pointing in the correct direction towards the falls. I crossed several bridges…

Bridge 1, Kobe, 2/21/2009Bridge 2, Kobe, 2/21/2009

… and finally reached a wide plateau area that gave an excellent view of the city.

Kobe wide view 1, Kobe, 2/21/2009Kobe wide view 2, Kobe, 2/21/2009

Finally, about an hour after I entered the mountains, I circled around and found the falls about a hundred feet to the right of where I had originally taken a left. Unfortunately, it probably wasn’t worth all the wait. It’s pretty nice (you know, if you’re into waterfalls, or something) but it wasn’t exactly Niagra Falls.

Nurobiki Falls, Kobe, 2/21/2009

Eeeh, it's alright.

Eh, it's alright.

From there I ventured back into the city and wandered around the Chinatown for awhile (and sort of forgot to take pictures; just imagine an average Chinatown and you’ve probably got it). I also checked out some more of the foreign influenced buildings in the area, such as this French influenced structure that like most buildings in Japan has been repeatedly burned down and restored. Looks pretty good, though.

Frenchy building, Kobe, 2/21/2009

And entering the “why the hell did this make the transition to Asia?” file along with Denny’s is this:

Why are there Wendy'ses (I can't frigging pluralize it) in Japan? And is just me, or could you take out the yen sign in the lower right and you wouldn't be able to tell this was in Japan?

Why are there Wendy'ses (I can't frigging pluralize it) in Japan? And is just me, or could you take out the yen sign in the lower right and you wouldn't be able to tell this was in Japan?

Eventually I wandered down to the port and took some photos of the ocean (or more accurately, Osaka Bay).

Bay view, Kobe, 2/21/2009

Don't stare directly into this picture or you could burn your eyes out.

Don't stare directly into this picture or you could burn your eyes out.

While walking around I spotted a guy fishing in the bay, who also happened to have a luxury BMW directly behind him.

While walking around I spotted a guy fishing in the bay, who also happened to have a luxury BMW directly behind him.

Next week is Spring Break, and I’m currently planning on traveling around both the southern and northern coasts of Honshu. Hopefully I should be able to get some nice pictures, but I’m unsure of the status of internet out there, so I may be at best sporadically updating for a couple of weeks. I imagine you’re getting used to that, though. I’ll try and throw up a filler post at some point; maybe the convenience store one, or some more comic strips that I suspect no one but me finds funny.

Music I’m Listening to Now: Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Zero”.





Paper Tiger

18 02 2009

Sorry for the lack of posts here. I want to keep in the habit of posting, though, so I figure an off topic post is better than nothing. I’m planning on going to Kobe this weekend (if it doesn’t rain, or snow ridiculously hard like it did yesterday) and it’s supposed to be pretty beautiful, so I should have a new crop of photos this weekend. A while ago someone on the internet removed Garfield from the eponymous comic strip. Taking out Garfield and his “witty” punchlines turns the rather inane family strip into a depressing portrait of a man battling mental illness and loneliness. It also makes it actually funny.

Garfield w/o Garfield 1Garfield w/o Garfield 2Garfield w/o Garfield 3Garfield w/o Garfield 4

I think this is my favorite.

I think this is my favorite.

Next time I run out of things to post about I’ll do an actually published series of comic strips wherein Mickey Mouse contemplates suicide. Look forward to it. I also just remembered I was going to do a post on convenience stores…

Music I’m Listening to Now: Titus Andronicus, “No Future Part Two: The Day After No Future”





Buckets of Rain

14 02 2009

Kamogawa, Kyoto, 2/11/2009

Sorry for the lack of original content lately. I’m sure you’re sick of hearing this, but I’ve been really busy. Work isn’t the intense struggle it was last semester, but I have my fingers in a lot of pies lately, so sometimes I feel a little strained. Luckily, it’s been getting warmer lately, though that hasn’t stopped the rain, unfortunately, which has also contributed to the lack of photos. No matter how long I live in places like Philadelphia and Kyoto, I can’t get used to it raining all day.

I'm getting used to coming home soaked, even with an umbrella.

I'm getting used to coming home soaked, even with an umbrella.

When the rain occasionally lets up, I’ve been going on a lot of bike rides. You need fast reflexes here, but it usually get nice and relaxed at night. Also, night is when the animals comes out, as evinced by these pictures. This is for you, Mom.

Cats at Teramachi, Kyoto, 2/12/2009

There's actually four cats in both of these photos; can you see the fourth one?

There's actually four cats in both of these photos; can you see the fourth one?

Today is Valentine’s Day in Japan. The holiday works a little differently here- on Valentine’s Day proper, only women give chocolate, and they give it to many different people, including family members and people they’re socially obligated to (i.e., superiors) as well as romantic interests and in recent times female friends. On White Day, exactly one month later on March 14th, people who received chocolate (traditionally men) are supposed to pay back the giver with something sweet. I’ve honestly learned far more than I wanted to know about the damn thing due to a project I have for my Japanese class, but what can you do. It’s good practice- I do feel like I’m hearing speech a little better these days. I’m also throwing myself into translating, and I’m doing something right now that has a tough combination of being slightly above my level and having some hard-to-read kanji that only serves to further complicate matters.

Here's a random picture from the Kyodai campus. The banner is protesting the recent Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip.

Here's a random picture from the Kyodai campus. The banner is protesting the recent Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip.

Also, check out my friend David’s blog (it’s the first entry in my blogroll to the right). David’s in Prague right now and is taking some beautiful pictures of the incredible architecture there. Though the tower covered in babies still scares me.

Music I’m Listening to Now: “Bring It On Home To Me”, originally Sam Cooke, cover by Spoon. An excellent example of what Spoon does best (rhythmic, catchy songs without a ounce of fat on them), and a great song.





De Stijl

12 02 2009

A great White Stripes video. They’re going to be playing Conan’s last New York show, so hopefully that means they’ll get touring again.

Music I’m Listening to Now: The Notwist, “Neon Golden”.





Random Rules

9 02 2009

This probably doesn’t really deserve a post, but here’s a few things I’ve been meaning to mention:

– Part of our Japanese class is getting involved in the community in some way. I’ve been going to a church for dinner and will soon be attending a cooking class run by a local housewife. I’m continuously learning the limits of my speaking abilities, but it’s been fun, and everyone has been really nice so far. Ironically, I noticed I was looking up various types of demons and works of demonology on Wikipedia right before I left for the church. Hmm.

– On Friday I went to two restaurants (a little much for me). Eating in Kyoto has been quite good, and these were two of the best. For lunch I went to Raja, a local Indian food restaurant that offers quite a lot of bang for your buck. For eight hundred yen you get a multiple course meal that includes a salad, a portion of chicken and potatoes, a friggin’ huge piece of nan bread (as in torso sized), and a desert. Somehow, a few hours later, I managed to also go to an all-you-can-eat Korean restaurant and put away a fair portion of meat and a couple of salads as well. I basically rolled home.

– The rumors I heard of the extreme study habits of Japanese college hopefuls were apparently not groundless. In Japan, all of the best universities are public and consequently extremely competitive, so the elite universities, such as Tokyo University or Kyoto University administer incredibly difficult exams to determine who is selected. Imagine an SAT-like test, except each portion is equal to a college level final. The Japanese student I ate at the Korean barbecue restaurant with told me he used to study fifteen hours a day, and that his friend studied eighteen until he started to hallucinate. Crazy.

– New Handsome Furs CD = Good.

– I learned to be extremely careful about what I say when I’m in a language interview. I had a casual interview with a teacher here in Japanese and happened to mention that I read a book about the punk music movement (the excellent Please Kill Me). To my horror, my professor proceeded to ask me to explain, entirely in Japanese, the 1960’s and 1970’s New York pop movement. You don’t know truly know the limits of your vocabulary until you try to explain Nihilism and why CBGB was a popular club until you attempt to do so in a foreign language. Trying to explain that I have two half-sisters from different parents somehow went worse.

Music I’m Listening to Now: Delta Spirit, “People, Turn Around”





Radio City

9 02 2009

Osaka City View 1, Osaka, 2/4/2009

Last week I went to Osaka, one of the most populous cities in Japan. Osaka shares an interesting characteristic with Tokyo in that the population is drastically reduced after night falls and commuting workers return home, which in Osaka’s case 40% of them do. During the day, however, Osaka is a bustling metropolis and has a attitude surprisingly disparate from Kyoto. While Kyoto is also one of Japan’s larger metropolises, it took going to Osaka to make me realize how relatively subdued Kyoto with it’s numerous temples and shrines is in comparison. Osaka is often compared with New York for it’s slightly more relaxed and carefree approach to city living, helped by it’s location in the Kansai area, residents of which are said to be more feckless and prone to humor than their more stoic Kanto counterparts. Residents of the Kansai also often speak a dialect of Japanese, Kansai-ben, that’s said to be faster and more slangy than Tokyo Japanese, as well as including such a number of distinct phrases and vocabulary that it is almost a separate language (such as “ooki ni” for “argitou” and “yan” instead of “san”).

Obviously Osaka is the New York of the East- it even has its own Statue of Liberty.

Obviously Osaka is the New York of the East- it even has its own Statue of Liberty.

I also scoped out Osaka Castle while I was out. One of the larger and more visually impressive castles in Japan, if a slightly odd combination of the historic and the modern; behind the castle is a very anachronistic glass and steel elevator.

Osaka-jou, Osaka, 2/4/2009

A view of Osaka Castle's moat.

A view of Osaka Castle's moat.

Osaka really does seem like a more modern city than Kyoto, especially some of it’s striking skyscrapers, like the humongous police headquarters and equally large NHK building across the street from it.

Too big to be captured in one photograph.

Too big to be captured in one photograph.

Random city views.

Random city views.

Osaka City View 4, Osaka, 2/4/2009

Later I wandered into Den-Den Town, the sobriquet for the area of Kyoto renowned for it’s electronics and now otaku goods, especially manga and anime. All of the competition means prices are quite reasonable, but that’s not always the case.

I don't think this is what they meant.

I don't think this is what they meant.

Sadly (or weirdly, or frighteningly, or other such adjectives), where otaku gather is where certain specialty stores also congregate. I had the pleasure of seeing not one but two different maid cafes while I was looking for okonomiyaki for dinner in the area. Maid cafes, for those who don’t know, are cafes that cater to clientele who enjoy having women in maid costumes serving them overpriced tea and calling them “master” in wheedling voices. Bizarrely, they seemed to have flourished in areas such as Den-Den Town and Japan’s other otaku mecca, Akihabara.

Sorry for the bad picture, but this was as close as I could get. Once I passed by the cafe, glimpsed in the window, and saw women in maid uniforms manning the counter, I was laughing to badly to try for a better shot.

Sorry for the bad picture, but this was as close as I could get. Once I passed by the cafe, glimpsed in the window, and saw women in maid uniforms manning the counter, I was laughing too badly to try for a better shot.

Osaka was nice, and I’m looking forward to going again, especially after I got an awesome Disgaea artbook that goes for quite a bit more in the States. Perhaps I’ll even go to a maid cafe next time (though not alone- I can’t imagine anything sadder).

A view of Den-Den town at night.

A view of Den-Den town at night.

Music I’m Listening to Now: Deerhoof, “Vox Celeste”.