Wednesday, April 29, 2009

One Last Bit of Thailand

A few of my friends here in Ashikaga are going to Thailand in a day or two, which reminded me I had one last post waiting. It's a bit late, but the pictures are pretty good, I promise.

The last cool place that I went in Thailand was probably the most stylish. It's the Jim Thompson House, and it's awesome.

Jim Thompson was an American stationed in the Bangkok OSS office after World War II. He is credited with helping to revive the Thai silk industry. Thompson mysteriously disappeared in Malaysia in 1967. His house is now a museum showcasing his extensive art collection.

The house is actually constructed out of several Thai houses from different places that were disassembled and all combined together on Thompson's property.

The house was probably the most tourist friendly place I visited while in Bangkok. There were free guided tours in multiple languages, and I found the staff to be very friendly and helpful. The little cafe's food was great, and the classy gift shop was air conditioned. I wouldn't mind living in that house for a week or four.

Pictures aren't allowed inside the house, but there were several pieces outside that were enjoyable.

This was used to makes prints on silk. Parts of the wood are removable so that a different color could be added to them.

I think that's all I have to report on my trip. What a great country.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Odaiba With Angelica

Angelica and I bought day passes on the Yurikamome line and then spent a whole day cruising around Odaiba, the man-made island in Tokyo Bay. The line is new and it's pretty cool because it is fully automated. It runs on an elevated track, which provides some nice views while traveling.

View Larger Map
Daiba means fort or battery in Japanese, as this place was originally built in the 1800s to defend the bay.

I saw some Wicked ads and I inquired about show times. That interest was gone as soon as I realized the whole show was going to be in Japanese.

Me in front of the Fuji TV building. Wikitravel notes Odaiba's architecture as "hypermodern and just plain strange buildings memorably described as the result of an acid-soaked pre-schooler's architecture class". Zing!

We went up into the building to see the view. This shot came out pretty cool despite the windows. The bridge is the Rainbow Bridge. Its lights change color according to the season or something like that. Here you can see some of the smaller defensive islands, Tokyo Tower, and even a small blimp overhead.

This is Tokyo Big Sight, a convention center.

We discovered a pretty cool place on the second floor of the Decks Tokyo Beach mall. It was still a mall setup, but modeled on an old street with lots of thematic additions. It was a lesser version of the excellent Ramen Museum we saw a few days earlier. A highlight not present at the ramen place was an old school arcade.

This place was memorable. For a few bucks we tried our skill at knocking rotating prizes off their bases with a little gun that shot tiny corks. It was one of those games where you still got a bad deal even if you won something, but it was super fun. I knocked a couple of little toys down before it happened. The conveyor belt rotating the prizes began having some mechanical stutters, causing a ton of un-won prizes to fall. The crowd went wild, and the flustered game operator ran around trying to collect everything before anyone ran off. He went behind the machine to fix it and the same thing happened again. It was hilarious.

By this time it was starting to get dark, so we probably only had time for one last thing. I think we made a good choice. We stopped at Megaweb, a Toyota exhibition hall. A good portion of everything was probably more for people who care about cars, but I found plenty to keep me occupied.

I don't know why, but I thought the marketing on these were interesting. They seemed to be talking as if someones car is an extension of their living room.

My favorite part of the whole thing was the concept car area.

All I care to read about this one is that it was made in collaboration with Sony and it's named Pod.

This one is called the Fine-X. These names are pretty pukey but the cars look cool. The gull doors and swivelling chairs are something I don't think I've seen before.

Its even got this cool Flight of the Navigator steering wheel going on.

The concepts really started to get out of hand.

A futuristic concept video for the Toyota i-swing.

I tried to get conceptual with the Ferris wheel outside.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Capsule Inn Akihabara Closing

I got an email from the only capsule inn in Akihabara today.

Dear Mr.Milito John

Along with the real estate redevelopment project of the vicinity region,
Capsule Inn AKihabara has decided to cease operations as of Tuesday,April 21, 2009.

Thank you for your patronage for twenty years since 1989.

At Kyoto in December 2009,
Capsule Inn Akihabara is completely reborn to the hotel of the novel style.

Let's meet by all means in Kyoto next time.

「9h」nine hours

I was sorry to read that because I really enjoyed my stay there. I guess it's nice that they bothered to inform their customers, even if the email was authored by Yoda.

You know, I feel a bit strange when I watch the Daily Show. It is supposed to be a comedy show, right? Then why is it when I'm watching I feel like I've found a rare source of straight talk on television? Next are a couple of clips with Elizabeth Warren, chair of the congressional oversight panel on TARP.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Nice Rural Barbeque

Today was a nice sunny Sunday, and as it is finally starting to warm up around here, there have been quite a few outdoor activities. This time, a large part of the English teaching community in Sano and Ashikaga all went out and had a barbeque. We were somewhere north of Sano in a place called Tanuma, up in the mountains.

My good friend Gary offered me a ride to the remote recreational site, so I got to spend some quality time staring out the car window at the Japanese countryside.

Dead center in this picture are some carp flags in the wind. This time of year many families hoist these fish up, called koinobori. They are meant to honor the sons of the household.

The barbeque was pretty awesome. It consisted of vegetables and meat all thrown together on a big metal surface. Everyone sat around the food and picked the cooked things off with their chopsticks. One of our friends, Mitsuo, has a butcher in the family, so he brought some good meats for everyone.

Nearby the grills was this cool playground/ninja training camp.

We had a special amount of fun with this. You could pull a raft around on a rope. We did our best to tip each other over. A few of our friends have kids, so they were running about and enjoying themselves too. It was a great day.

This was an unexpected find. According to this sign, our little campground area is in the geographical center of Japan. Kind of interesting.

A large marker.. marking the center of Japan.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Sumo Star Asashoryu in Fanta Commercials

While I was exploring Tokyo, I spotted a large ad for Fanta near Shibuya Station.

The ad campaign's spokesman is the biggest name in professional sumo, Asashoryu. He is one of two wrestlers currently at the rank of yokozuna.

I saw this one a few days later at the shopping mall in Sano.

I'm especially interested in the ways that American companies adapt to local markets, and this instance is especially cool. Sure, it's just an ad campaign, but I think it's interesting for a foreign company to tap into something as traditional as sumo wrestling(my sumo experience here). According to a tiny article on JapanToday, Asasyoryu plays "the role of a 13-year-old exchange student from Mongolia "FanTaro"". The article is straightforward enough that there's not a lot of room for interpretation, but I learned a little bit from the snide comments from readers. Sumo wrestlers aren't supposed to be seen in public wearing western style clothes, but it seems that special permission was given by the Japan Sumo Association, most likely involving a dump truck full of money.

Here are a couple of the TV spots. They are actually pretty funny.

In this one the big guy introduces himself to the class and they all freak out and run away.

I think I understand what's going on in this one. The three kids all come home late, and the mom asks FanTaro where they have been. He replies "club", and the mom imagines them rockin' out on the dance floor. The kids drop trow to reveal their sumo clothes and say they were at their club at school.

They are talking too fast for me in this one, but it involves the underclassman FanTaro being bullied by some older guys. This one is funny for me because there are several of these punky crazy haired kids at my school too.

You might notice how tiny the can is in that last one. It's called a Fanta FuruFuru Charge. There's gelatin and carbonated liquid in the can that is mixed by shaking. I think it tastes nasty, but that might be because its so foreign to me. The first time I bought one I didn't realize that it wasn't a normal soda. I ended up having to throw it away because the chemistry of the whole thing is ruined if you don't shake it before opening. Very strange.

I had Angelica try one and she concurred: Nasty!

One of my most common Seven-Eleven purchases is Melon Soda Fanta. Its super good. I better stock up before I leave.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Night Time in Tokyo

The afternoon of the fish market trip was a good opportunity to show Angelica some of the parts of Tokyo that look cool at night. I think the first place we went to was Akihabara.

Angelica is semi-secretly a huge nerd, so she really enjoyed all the light-flashing and gadget-selling that goes down in Akihabara.

We checked out what is probably my favorite store in Akihabara: Super Potato!

Super Potato is so super and has so little to do with potatoes that it blows my mind. Its awesomeness is barely contained in the top three stories its building. The top floor is devoted to old school arcade games. The other two floors are packed with retro home video game stuff.

In addition to the games themselves, Super Potato sells lots of plush toys and other related merchandise.

They even had a store demo display of the Virtual Boy, also loving referred to as Permanent Retinal Damage Boy.

One of my few purchases was Popeye for the original Nintendo. Angelica is unnaturally good at it.

Sure, we went to other places, but it all feels downhill after the Potato.

Hallowed halls of Geekdom.

The next place that I thought would be nice for night time was Shibuya, so it was train ridin' time.

We discovered the milk that comes in cans is delicious.

I thought this ad at the station was pretty funny. It's hawking tea with a big fat white samurai. Golden.

The area just outside Shibuya Station is cool because it is so flashy and crowded. When the walk light comes on, every direction can walk at once. Pedestrian mayhem!

Outside the Hachiko Exit, there is a little statue of Hachiko, a dog that loyally waited for his dead master for a really long time. Touching. The spot is now a famous place to wait for things. I was just waiting to go back to Super Potato.

We had a nice dinner in Shibuya before retiring.

The place was notable because all ordering was done via touch screen. I had to focus my powers in order to find what I wanted.

The best food EVAR is edamame, steamed baby soybeans with salt. Now you know.