Monday, July 28, 2008

Glowing Sky

Kasuga Dori at the End of the World
Another relaxed weekend. I logged a 9.6km jog on Friday night, my longest so far, the disembodied voice of Paula Radcliffe informed me. Saturday was spent relaxing, cleaning, and scouting for wedding supplies. Sunday was spent looking at some more invitations at Itoya's headquarters in Ginza, enjoying some choice an-pan, and then heading to Futago-shinchi for pickup. The IKU ladies' team has been practicing in a serious way already- they had been out there for three hours in the AM. Our men's squad has yet to begin drilling, which has me a little worried. The next tournament is the first weekend in September, men's nationals.

It has been hot and humid for the past couple weeks, and the cicadas are out screeching away in the cherry trees on our street. A cloudy sky and a little bit of rain helped cool things down during pickup on Sunday, and then led to a spectacular sunset. People were stopping in the street to gawk. Myself included. The sky in the east was a dark blue, changing to mauve overhead, and bright, glowing orange in the west. Some lightning was doing its thing to the north for good measure.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Earthquake in Iwate

Despite the high heat and humidity (currently 29C/74%) we had a good pickup ultimate game in Hiroo last night. Many of the normal handlers on our team were not there so I got a chance to pretend I was handler.

Afterward I made a quick dinner with miso soup, grilled aji (horse mackerel), rice, green salad, corn on the cob (JPY300 for two ears), and leftover okonomiyaki.

Just as I was getting ready to shower before bed last night the building began to shake, and continued to do so for about 30 seconds. Nothing fell over. The earthquake was centered in Iwate prefecture and although it struck when most people were already at home, some 90 people were taken to the hospital with injuries. NHK coverage showed lots of broken window glass, fallen brick, and cracked ceilings. As a result of watching the coverage I didn't get to bed until 2am.

These events are always good motivation to inspect the contents of my "evacuation" backpack. Time to restock as it turned out.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Too Many People In the Subway

The first line I ride in my morning commute is the Marunouchi line, one of the oldest subway lines in the city. Somehow they haven't yet lengthened the platform to handle more subway cars. In addition it travels to some of the places where office buildings are most highly concentrated here, such as Otemachi, Tokyo, and Shinjuku stations. As a result it's jam packed during morning rush hour. As I got on this morning carrying my gear for this evening's ultimate pickup, I couldn't squeeze into the car fully and my cleat bag got squished in the closing doors. The nice lady next to me helped me to pull it out when they briefly opened them again.

A few stations down the line some poor woman's sweater was hooked by the fastener on some guy's satchel. He dragged her out of the train car before he realized what had happened.

Now that the G8 Summit has concluded, the police presence is back to normal, the trash cans in the stations are back in use, and the vending machines are once again accessible. I can't say I understood the security risks posed by machines selling fizzy drinks in plastic bottles and canned coffee to start with.

I noticed a guy standing outside the small bookstore by Myogadani station this morning with a banner, making some sales pitch. When someone is doing this at 8am here in Tokyo, it usually means they are running for a political office, but then I noticed he was wearing a vivid, pointed turquoise cap and the banner informed passersby that the Japanese edition of the last Harry Potter book was now on sale. That's almost exactly one year later than the English language edition, by my estimate.

In other news, butter seems to be slowly returning to the stores. My local supermarket now has it taking up a tiny corner of the refrigerated case that is full of 30 different types of margarine. The cheapest price looked to be JPY480 for 200g (that's about USD4.50 for 7oz.).

Made hiyashi-chuuka again last night, leaving out the ham as usual. A simple, satisfying summer dish.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Kawasaki Frontare 3, Urawa Reds 1

Urawa Reds vs Kawasaki Frontare
It was a relatively quiet weekend, doing wedding planning and such. Got my hands on a demo iPhone for the first time, and later saw two teammates with their own. It seems demand has remained strong. My friend Doug had to wait in line from 7am until 10am (when the store opened) and then another hour+ inside the store to get his. I saw a sign on the door to a minor Softbank shop in Ikebukuro giving notice that they would receive a shipment of 20 more units the following day, but that no one would be allowed to line up before midnight. Furthermore they weren't taking reservations as they didn't know when the next shipment would arrive. So far Softbank is the only Japanese carrier offering the phones.

I also made a brief visit to Akihabara which was great as always. I went to buy some specific cables for our KVM setup at work, cables that I couldn't find at either of the huge mainstream shops I checked. After getting that taken care of and wishing I had some project in which I could utilize the myriad plastic gears, pulleys, and assorted bits and bobs, I happened upon the new Asus Eee 900 PC. I had been eagerly awaiting its release, and it met my expectations. Weighing less than 1kg it still showed decent speed and the keyboard wasn't unusably small. I also located a kit for replacing the battery in my old iPod, another project in the works. On my way out I also passed by the temporary memorial where people had left offerings to the victims of the deadly attack last month.

On Monday, a holiday (Marine Day) I went with seven teammates to watch the J-League soccer match between the Urawa Reds (top ranked in their division) and the Kawasaki Frontare (ranked 6th). This was the first time I had attended a professional soccer game and definitely enjoyed the experience. Our seats were JPY2,500 each and were located way in the back of the home side. The view still seemed fine. The Reds, who are known for their rowdy (by Japanese standards) fans, dominated the first 15 minutes of the game, capitalizing on a defensive slip by Frontare to score the first goal after a near miss off the crossbar. Frontare stepped up their offense after that and traded possession evenly with the Reds until tying the score at the end of the first half. The second half opened with Frontare dominating the field and scoring two more goals to crush their opponents.

It was good to watch soccer again, something I hadn't done since the last world cup. The temperature was lovely in the open air, half roofed stadium as the game began at 6pm. The highlight for me though was that they let you bring in your own food and drink! I've never heard of a venue like this in the US. The only wrinkle was that beer in cans had to be emptied into paper cups they provided. The also conducted a cursory search of our bags on the way in. I packed in freshly boiled edamame, home popped popcorn, and frozen grapes which were all consumed with gusto by my companions (and me).

After I returned home I discovered Minako freaking out over a large cockroach in our apartment. It has been brutally hot and humid here for the past two weeks, apparently bringing out the bugs. This was the first one I'd seen since moving in a couple months ago. I eradicated it, but managed to sprain the thumb on my throwing hand in the process. Hopefully it'll be less sore by the time pickup rolls around on Wednesday.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Increased Security For the Hokkaido Summit

The upcoming G8 summit meeting in Hokkaido has been on my radar for some time now. Large posters in Japanese and English are all over the subway system explaining the presence of the safety-orange vest wearing security guards on patrol. Starting this past week these have also been reinforced with uniformed police who are highly visible, batons drawn and ready, outside the ticket gates at every station I've used recently. Minako suggested that this could be explained because the diplomats might be flying in to Tokyo and then catching connecting flights to the summit venue in the far north.

When I went shopping yesterday near my workplace, I noticed three officers standing at attention next to three separate telescoping metal gates, ready to block off their respective roads. I had certainly seen these gates around town before, as they're a permanent fixture on the roads anywhere near the US embassy, but this was the first time I'd seen them on the way to the market. It turns out, according to Google Maps, that the German Embassy is directly behind National Azabu. There is a building marked as "Chinese People's Japanese Cooperation Building, Embassy Annex" close by, and the French, Norwegian, and Finnish embassies are each just a block away, in different directions. I knew this was a big embassy area, but I didn't realize how dense they really are on the ground here. I have to say all this security makes me uncomfortable. Maybe it's time to start seriously considering the move to someplace quiet, like Hokkaido. Oh, wait...where was that summit going on again?

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Butter Shortages

The first time I heard about this issue was in a brief mention in the blog of another foreigner living quite nearby me. Then I made a (delicious) quiche that exhausted all the butter in our fridge. When Minako went to get some more she found that our local supermarket Santoku, normally a veritable cornucopia of comestible delights from around Japan and overseas, had almost no butter on the shelves. Single stick packages of pre-sliced pats was all they had in stock.

I had some time to check out the situation yesterday and found that margarine has almost entirely replaced butter on the shelves of two high-end supermarkets near my office: National Azabu and Meidi-ya. What they did have was predominantly imported and they both had signs describing their policy of one package of butter per customer. Naturally the prices were higher than usual as well.

After being used to American and Japanese abundances, this was pretty shocking. Apparently increased costs for dairy food stocks as well as higher demand for dairy products is to blame.

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