Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Japan 2011 The Food: Teas' Tea New York

I have a lot of little food-related posts to make about my recent trip - my wife and I are the kind of people that take pictures of everything we eat.  So I'll just sprinkle a few of these in with the rest.  I'll start with...

This tea does not exist in New York.  I repeat: it does not exist in New York.  We were pretty annoyed by this, actually, because the ads for this tea run on TV about once every five minutes, and they feature a woman slowly sipping this tea in what's supposed to be a penthouse apartment in New York City.  We have never heard of this tea in New York City.

It's honestly pretty good tea, though.  Uses stevia as a sweetener.  Also has 90% less caffeine.  Just call it something else!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Tokyo area earthquake damage

I wrote earlier that while the Great Tohoku Earthquake of 3/11 wasn't really the knockout blow in Tokyo that some westerners still seem to think it was, there was still some damage that's visible even today. Here are a few more photos of that - I actually can't be 100% sure that this is all earthquake damage, but in some cases I know it is.

First, here's a reprise of the damaged houses I posted earlier:

A little different photo, but you see all the blue tarps covering the damaged roofs. This was in Ibaraki prefecture. I also passed by a building that had collapsed completely and where one person had died, but I didn't take a photo of it. Mostly the area is intact, but you do see a few things like this here and there.

This is one of the gates to the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. We asked the security guard and he said yes, this is earthquake damage. There was actually a lot of this around the palace, which isn't really too surprising given that many of the buildings on the grounds were built around 400 years ago. (Well, I guess that makes it surprising in one way, if they've survived that long.)

This may or may not be earthquake damage - we didn't ask - but it's weird if it isn't. I'm not sure what else they could be doing here other than fixing a giant hole that opened up in the stone palace garden walls.

This is a random patch in the walls of the subway. Not a common sight in the Tokyo subway, and it looks fresh. I'm assuming there was a minor collapse here that's been fixed.

And of course, the most oddly disturbing and symbolic visual - the tip of Tokyo Tower is bent. This was easily visible from our hotel. (I shot this photo from our hotel window.) Last I heard, there are no immediate plans to fix this. I don't know - it seems a little dangerous to me to leave a big piece of metal that high up bent like this - but apparently they don't really know what to do about it.

Well, that's all I saw. That's all I saw. I know from experience that it's easy to look at photos like this and get an idea that the whole city is a shambles, but only a tiny percentage even has so much as a crack. Up north is a different story, but Tokyo was mostly spared.

I also mentioned before that I hadn't experienced an aftershock yet by my second day - well, now I can say I didn't feel a single one the entire time I was there.  There was one, but it was up north and you couldn't feel it in Tokyo.  My stay for the week I was there was peaceful.  Things seem to be calming down a lot.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

AKB48: they finally got me. Also, home.

As I mentioned before, Japan is currently being overrun by AKB48. You can't get away from them. Flip around on the TV and you will find them. Walk on any commercial street and you'll hear their music blaring from somewhere, and probably see a poster or two (sometimes a hundred feet tall). They are, by far, the biggest musical act in Japan right now. And there's nothing equivalent in the US - I've never seen anything like this. Lady Gaga does not come close to this level of popularity, or maybe just promotion. And I'm embarrassed to admit that their marketing finally worked on me.

On our last day in Japan - literally at the Narita Airport Tsutaya store - I bought their Blu-Ray disc that was released this week, "AKB ga Ippai" ("Lots of AKB"). There was no way not to. My defenses are only so strong, and I can only hold out so long against this kind of assault.

That's a pretty big box for a Blu-Ray disc.

I don't think I'm going to become a fan - this is obviously not music to take seriously. But every trip to Japan I take ends up having a soundtrack. I always buy some CD or DVD that puts a backing track to my memories. Once it was Kimura Kaela's "Scratch". Another time it was Utada Hikaru's "Kiss and Cry" CD single. This year I figured it may as well be AKB48, considering they were pretty much in the background of every single photo I took anyway. This is the soundtrack to Japan right now, for better or worse.

Their marketing is pretty impressive, though. In addition to just saturating all the traditional media, they do things like putting one of three different sets of postcards in each DVD, so that if you want to collect them all, you need to buy at least three DVD's. They just had an "election" for the first leader of the group, and to vote you had to buy a CD to get a ticket. You could vote as many times as you wanted, but there was only one vote per ticket. Obviously, this meant that a lot of their fans bought multiple CD's just to vote more times. My wife heard about one guy who bought ten of the same CD just to get ten tickets, then he gave the CD's away to kids.

My Blu-Ray disc set came with three postcards plus one big plastic thing that's like a little laminated mini-poster (complete with fake signature). I had to pick this at random - you could get one of any of the girls on the front cover (I don't know how they picked who is on the front, they have 58 members!). That also means that if someone wants a specific girl, he/she would have to buy multiples. And people do it! Not me, though.

btw, this is not my first brush with AKB48 - despite not really being a fan, I seem to cross paths with them pretty often. They were at the Tokyo Game Show when I was there in 2007, and here they are walking by my store's booth at the New York Anime Festival a couple of years ago (they're the blurry mess wearing school uniform-ish jackets in the middle of the photo):

Oh, also? I'm back home. I've got a lot of other little posts I want to write about the trip, so watch for that this week!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

It's HOT in Japan

I took this video from our hotel this morning. Keep in mind this was about 8:30AM, and half the kids here are already fanning themselves!

I am burned to a crisp right now. Yesterday was 95 degrees and the humidity... the humidity in Japan is like being in the tropics. NO ONE in New York can understand this feeling unless they've been out of the region - there just is no equivalent in the northeast, I don't care what the thermometer says even on the hottest day of the year. The soup you walk through in Tokyo makes it feel like it's about 140 when it's this hot out. I was drenched with sweat when we made it back to our hotel - my pants were literally soaking wet. I had to pay $15 to have the hotel wash them. And today wasn't much better. I'm going through at least two changes of clothes per day.

It's supposed to be like this until we leave. Ugh.

I've been taking lots of pictures - I actually do have some more things to post soon.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I'm in Japan!

Well, my pre-trip post appears to have bitten the dust (probably a victim of an errant auto-save from an outdated tab), but my wife and I are in Japan!

This is the view from our hotel window.  (That's a stitched panorama with about a 170 degree field of view; the original's huge.)  We're staying at the Grand Arc Hanzomon, which is a really nice hotel for a pretty cheap price.  I gotta say, I know how to pick hotels, and I always pick based on the view.

I know that the first question people are going to ask me when they find out I'm here is "but what about the earthquake??" or some variation thereof.  Is there any electricity?  Are there aftershocks all the time?  Are there rubble and bodies in the streets?  Is Tokyo a ghost town as everyone flees nuclear disaster?  Is anything open??

The answer is pretty much what I expected before I got here: a few things are different, most things are the same as always.  Obviously that's not completely true further north, but down here in Tokyo not a whole lot has changed.  Japanese TV is as insipid as always, for example.

There are a few reminders of what happened/is happening, however.  Enough so that a western news outlet hellbent on telling a dramatic story could find enough material if they looked.  To whit:

This is a roof covered in blue tarp.  (You can see a second one in the left side background.)  Traditional houses like this dot the landscape; the blue tarps are covering roof damage.  There's not enough roofing material to fix them all, so they sit like this.

This, however, is not earthquake damage.  This is just an interesting building.  It is important to note the difference.

This ticket machine in the Tokyo subway is out of service to conserve electricity, given that the Fukushima nuclear plant #1, which supplies power to Tokyo, is out of commission permanently.  You do see signs like this in various places either talking about things that are out of service or asking people to conserve.

But I was kind of expecting to see lights out everywhere, no air conditioning and maybe even rolling blackouts, and there is just none of that.  Tokyo's never had very good air conditioning so it's hard to know whether they're conserving or it's just generally crappy climate control, but I don't really detect much difference in a/c use versus any normal year.  As I look out my hotel window right now at 8:40PM, I see lights on all over the city (including Tokyo Tower being lit up like a Christmas tree).  And there hasn't been a rolling blackout since I've been here.

I also haven't experienced an aftershock yet, although my wife says there was a 4.0 before I got here.  Still, the ground doesn't seem to be shaking much anymore.

Mostly, everything is normal, including Tokyo's questionable taste in music:

That's just one of the many thousands of displays for the all-girl pop group AKB48 dotting the landscape right now - they apparently have a new album out and everyone needs to know this.

A little hard to see (sorry), but that's Don Quixote, a sort of mecca for geeks in Akihabara, where AKB48 is ostensibly "from" - they've got a wrap all around the building, and signs all over it.

Also intact is Japan's vending machine research and development.  They are decades ahead of us in vending machine technology.  This is a full touch-screen LCD vending machine - first time I've seen one of these here. I personally like the machines where you can see the actual can or bottle of the thing you're ordering, but I know that touch-screens are all the rage with the kids these days.

And let's not forget Japan's often unfortunate incorporation of English slang, which is intact as always.  (Obviously this has nothing to do with surviving an earthquake; I'm just looking for an excuse to post this picture.)  Oddly enough, this is not the only questionable use of the term "titty" that I have seen on this trip.

This is Omotesando, one of the main streets in Harajuku - looks like a pretty normal, functioning city, doesn't it?

One thing we did notice, and this is kind of a sad self-fulfilling prophecy, is that there are almost no other westerners around right now.  Usually about half the people milling around Harajuku are western; today we saw maybe three or four.  Hopefully as reports from regular people like me trickle out, more westerners will realize that Japan is open for business and is not a big panic-filled mess of debris and nuclear fallout.

As for any potential radiation issues, I actually brought my goddamn Geiger counter (that is its official name, according to me), and it's not registering anything out of the ordinary.

One sign of normalcy, and this will bring me back to my earlier post that got nuked (for anyone who read it): we simply could not get a reservation on either of the overnight trains we wanted.  They were booked solid.  Oh well, we'll try again next year.  Seems like the kind of thing where you have to know someone who works for JR.  But we'll be staying in Tokyo for the entire trip.

Well, I'll post more tomorrow!  I think I'm probably past the point where I can or even want to post every little thing about Japan anymore, but I will definitely have some more updates while I'm here!  Right now, though, jet lag has caught up with me again and I'm about to let my head fall into the keyboard here and sleep.

About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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