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Category: Japan

May 19, 2009

Important Japanese Terms

Today I learned some important Japanese terminology:

  • foo = hoge
  • bar = fuga, piyo

Now I can read Japanese code.

April 16, 2009

Muji US!

muji-logo.gifI may be going to Japan in May, but that probably won't stop me from stocking up on some items and the recently launched Muji Online Store. Muji, for the uninitiated, is a Japanese unbranded brand. Imagine going into a store where none of the items for sale have any logos. It's not necessarily top of the line, and most of the items are common items that Muji had the logos scrubbed from, but that's more than enough to hold my interest.

I was hoping to see some of their clothing for sale -- my jacket was about the only item in my size in their Tokyo shop. Maybe next year.

June 24, 2008

© Murakami @ Brooklyn Museum


murakami20080622_0019 murakami20080622_0006

I can never figure out whether Takashi Murakami is an "artist" or clever con. His study of otaku/manga/pop fetish commercialism looks an awful lot like otaku/manga/pop/fetish commercialism. But LIchtenstein got away with plagiarizing pages out of comic books and now hangs in nearly every modern art museum; at least Murakami does original work.

Brooklyn MuseumI was sad to miss Murakami's show in Los Angeles. I stayed at a hotel just two blocks away from the exhibit, but between New Years, the Rose Bowl, and the Moca's limited hours, I couldn't make it over. I must have some gravity towards Murakami: last weekend I found myself staying in Brooklyn just on the other side of Prospect Park, so I was not to be denied this time around.

The exhibit takes over a large swath of the Brooklyn Museum and spans two floors. The museum feels transformed with Murakami wallpaper covering many of the rooms to intense effect: imagine the effect of standing in a room covered with smiley flower wallpaper, smiley flower paintings, and smiley flower sculptures. If that doesn't seem intense to you, imagine another room with eyeballs on pink.

The biggest transformation was also Murakami's most brilliant stroke: a fully operational Louis Vitton store sits in the middle of the exhibit, offering some of Murakami's previous work for LV as well as an exhibition-exclusive design.

Murakami's exploration of otaku sexual fetishism setup the most disturbing twist: there was a large number of parents who brought children to the exhibit. I would have thought the naked female robot transforming into a spaceship would have deterred them from going further, sparing the parents from having to explain the life-size manga woman spraying milk from her breasts and the male counterpart just across. But no, deep into the exhibit, there were kids happily drawing smiley flowers on pieces of paper.

Photos aren't allowed inside the exhibition, but I tried my best anyway: photo gallery

May 10, 2007

Japanese eyes vs. American mouths

A study that dares to explain the cultural differences between :) and ^_^. Now that's real science.

Americans and Japanese Read Faces Differently

January 17, 2007

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

Toyko Metropolitan Government Building Toyko Metropolitan Government Building

I didn't even have to do a single bit of processing to capture how impressive oppressive the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building really is. Its huge size makes it seem as if it were responsible for the grayness around it, though I'm sure its better on a sunny day. Bulky angles dominate its bulky Kenzo Tange design, which until 2006 was the tallest building in Tokyo at 799 ft/48 stories. Building #1 towers over the Shinjuku skyline with its dual Neo-Gothic pillars, which are advantageous for tourists trying to getting a great (and free) view of Tokyo from above. My overall impression was that it was comedy: the Tokyo government headquartered in a building perfect for the set of a fascist movie.

Toyko Metropolitan Government Building Toyko Metropolitan Government Building Toyko Metropolitan Government Building Toyko Metropolitan Government Building

January 11, 2007

Getting to Ando's Church on the Water

Before my most recent trip to Japan I debated whether or not it would be possible to make it to Ando's Church on the Water. My Google skills failed me and my unfamiliarity with that part of Japan deterred me from attempting to make it to the site. Thankfully, ellen's attic has shared with me the crucial details of how to get there:

Church on the Water is located inside Alpha Resort Tomamu, the hotel provide free pick-up service at Tomamu JR station or you can simply walk for around 30 minutes. Room rate is reasonable, 12,000 yen for twin per night. Taking the fastest JR express train from Sapporo to Tomamu will take you around 82 minutes, 58 minutes from Chitose airport to Tomamu.

If you are lucky, you can visit the Chapel on the water in one day with permission. However, the church will be blocked for wedding or special event sometimes, then you have to reschedule your visit time.

which means that it's an easy day trip from Sapporo Japan, but you should plan ahead. Thanks Ellen!

Web site:

January 9, 2007

Omotesando Hills, Tadao Ando, Tokyo, 2005

Omotesando Hills is one of Omotesando's latest forays into the world of luxury-eccentric architecture for retail shops (e.g. Herzog and de Meuron's Prada Building). It occupies a long stretch of Omotesando, partly obscured by trees, and with only a few retails shop on the outside. The repeating glass panels on the external facade aren't very exciting, though they are dressed up at night with a light display that emulates silhouettes of people's legs walking (video). There is also a small stream of water that flow adjacent to the building and flows along the slope of the street. One consequence of the sloped street is that the retail shops on the outside gradually climb up the facade of the building as you walk alongside.

Omotesando Hills - Ando Omotesando Hills - Ando Omotesando Hills - Ando Omotesando Hills - Ando

Ando connects the interior to the outside by echoing these external design elements: walking, slope, trees, and water. A odd speaker stick fills the mall with ambient water noises, flowing silhouettes of leaves are projected onto the floor, and images of stick-figure people walking adorn many of the walls. Slope is the connecting design of the interior in the form of continuously ascending ramps set around a thin triangular perimeter. The ramps create a series of convergence lines at the apex that are fun to photograph, though I must admit they aren't quite as impressive in person. A long stairway fills the apex of the triangle while escalators occupy the base. They, too, are fun to photograph.

Omotesando Hills - Ando Omotesando Hills - Ando

Omotesando Hills - AndoNothing can change the fact that the interior is ultimately a mall. Retail shops line the outside perimeter, though there position is made slightly more difficult because of the continuous slope. Like Ando's Collezione down the street, Omotesando Hills has a difficult problem: it's hard to transcend the nature of a shopping complex, even if you throw water and trees at it.

Not all have appreciated the new mall. Many of the rants I've read against it center on the fact it replaced the old Dojunkai Apartments. And by old, I mean 1927 old. Although there seems to be general agreement that the apartments were dilapated, some saw the apartments as a sign of an old cultural past of Omotesando that should be preserved. I only have the perspective of someone who has seen the new and I remain neutral: Ando's building fits in with the current luxury eccentric character and could even be called tame in comparison, but it is difficult to be enamored of a mall.

Ometesando Hills photos

January 8, 2007

Updated Ando entry

With the help and permission of Flickr users, I've been able to updated my old Talk: Tadao Ando entry with new photos. Back when I wrote the original entry, there weren't too many Ando photos on Flickr, so I was mostly left with low-quality scans that I found scattered on the 'Net. I also hadn't seen any Ando buildings in person.

A couple of days ago John Weiss left a comment to mention that he had used some of the text of the talk to document his photo of Ando's Times Building. After seeing his high-quality photo and seeing how many other high-quality Ando photos that are now on Flickr, I decided it was a good time for a revisit. The advantages of the Flickr photos are two-fold: they are of better quality and they usually come in sets. I've also been to four of Ando's sites now, which gave me more material to contribute.

Thanks John Weiss, stella/smine/bakoko/ellen's attic/SkylineGTR/Brandon Shigeta!

Talk: Tadao Ando entry

January 7, 2007

Collezione, Tadao Ando, Tokyo, 1989

Collezione - Tadao Ando - Tokyo-10 Collezione - Tadao Ando - Tokyo-09

Collezione - Tadao Ando - Tokyo-04 Collezione - Tadao Ando - Tokyo-03

Collezione - Tadao Ando - Tokyo-22 Collezione - Tadao Ando - Tokyo-23

Tadao Ando - Collezione - Tokyom and I explored Tadao Ando's Collezione building late one night in Tokyo. After one wanders to the far end of Omotesando, past the Prada Building and many other similar bauble-ly buildings, you stumble across the almost non-descript Collezione building -- you might even find yourself turning back before you even reach it.

It was nice to explore the building with no one else but me and m around -- it certainly made the photography easier. It is overpowered by the rest of the high-priced Omotesando shops and in isolation is lacking some of the natural elements that I enjoy in Ando's work. Nevertheless, the combination of a circular core and rectilinear surrounding structures made for some fun exploring.

I included both color and B&W comparisons above. One archetypal style of Ando building photos is high contrast B&W to show off the concrete, but I also wanted to document how the building is actually lit up. I'm no longer sure how accurate the color photos are, though, as the different types of lighting played havoc with my camera and I took these photos over a half a year ago.
Tadao Ando - Collezione - Tokyo

Collezione - Tadao Ando - Photoset (31 photos)

Collezione - Tadao Ando - Tokyo-30 Collezione - Tadao Ando - Tokyo-16 Collezione - Tadao Ando - Tokyo-17 Collezione - Tadao Ando - Tokyo-15 Collezione - Tadao Ando - Tokyo-13 Collezione - Tadao Ando - Tokyo-11

January 4, 2007

Sasebo World

RooftopsMost links to information about Sasebo turn up military sites, but the Internet can make even small towns big. Glenn/pappaushi stumbled upon my my Sasebo photos, which lead me to stumble upon his Sasebo-related blog. He'll be moving there soon and he has many photos from around town, including this nice one of Albuquerque Bridge at Night. I look forward to being able to listen to a voice from my family's hometown.

August 6, 2006

Squid in Hakodate

I saw plenty of squid in Hakodate: squid swimming in tanks outside of restaurants, squid on manhole covers, squid in the morning fish market. I probably won't get the chance to visit Hakodate again, so I'll have to miss out on their great squid yet: a $250,000 giant robotic squid.

July 7, 2006

Comics and cartoons are educational

... especially those from WWII: Milton Caniff's How to Spot a Jap

Some quotes:

The Chinese has a smooth face .. the Jap runs to hair. Look at theirprofiles ant teeth. C usually has evenly set choppers -- J has buck teeth ... the Chinese smiles easily -- the Jap usually expects to be shot .. and is very unhappy about the wholething ... especially if he is an officer!


If you just slap a Jap's clothing to locate concealed weapons you may lose a prisoner -- and your life ... don't unscrew fountain pens or tinker with any object that could contain acid or an explosive. Watch out for sleeve guns and other comic strip gadgets ... The Japs are experts at such stuff ...

See also: Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips, and Tokio Jokio via BoingBoing

November 26, 2005

Photos: Nagasaki Peace Memorial

Nagasaki Peace Memorial-21Nagasaki Peace Memorial-10The Nagasaki Peace Memorial in Japan is a newly built memorial to the atomic bomb victims and survivors in Japan. Much of the complex is underground, with the above-ground portion serving as a public space to walk around and explore. The actual memorial is at the heart of the underground complex. An antechamber with video screens lets you learn more about each of the individual victims before entering the main memorial hall, which has lighted pillars that lead to a skylight above. In a roped-off portion of the hall is a lone dark pillar that contains the registry of all the victims.

Nagasaki Peace Memorial-13I left with mixed impressions of the building. From an architectural point of view, it was disorienting for me. It looked much like a Tadao Ando building, including a staircase that emerges out of the center of an elliptical pool, yet enough elements were slightly different from Ando's style that I could tell that it probably wasn't. The exterior layout was somewhat haphazard with very little to draw the eye, the dome was oddly placed, and the grounds weren't very well kept. I was happy to learn it wasn't an Ando building because I have higher expectations. The one element of the building design I did like was the finish on the interior concrete: it was very porous, almost wood-like in feel.

Nagasaki Peace Memorial-14The memorial itself was pretty, but it felt lacking in humanity. The use of pillars was familiar from the Holocaust Memorial in Boston, but unlike the Boston memorial that allows you to read the names inscribed, the main pillar with the names is roped off from exploration. Rather than express the human loss, it conveyed the sense of a vault. The antechamber's tech-y video screens combined with the sterility of the hall made me think of scenes from tech thrillers where the hero must break into the vault to steal the McGuffin.

Flickr Photoset of Nagasaki Peace Memorial

Photos: Kumo (Spiders)


Mt. Yumihari, which overlooks the town of Sasebo, is covered in spiders. Between a pair of trees you might see up to a dozen spiders hanging in mid-air. The top of the mountain was formerly a World War II outpost, but now all that is keeping watch are thousands of spiders and some feral cats. The spiders have some great designs on their bodies, with underbellies often resembling a demon mask.

Flickr Photoset of Spiders

November 13, 2005

Braille-Encoded City

Braille Encoded City-1 Braille Encoded City-5

Braille Encoded City-2 Braille Encoded City-4 Braille Encoded City-3 Braille Encoded City-1-1

I noticed special tiles running along the sidewalks while I was wandering around the cities of Sasebo and Fukuoka in Japan. My mom explained that they help blind people navigate the city. With my mind now aware of these tiles and their purpose, they became a secret code for me to try and decode. Straight-lined tiles indicated a path to follow; dotted tiles could be arranged to flag a split in the path or a waiting point (e.g. crosswalk or bus stop). At the Fukuoka airport, the trail leads you through the automatic doors to a split: the side-branch takes you to a map of the airport. The secret codes also had their secret hiding places: tiny balled-headed pins were embedded in a railing, nearly invisible to the naked eye, which they are not meant for, but easily detected by anyone using the railing for assistance up the stairs. I wonder what the message is, something informative, "Ten paces to next set of stairs," or something cloak-and-dagger, "Secret meeting when the thunder whispers, follow the trail."

In the US, I've seen similar sorts of tiles to guide you from a Mountain View bus stop to the Caltrain station, but there is less code and the implementation is incomplete. I was able to wander most of downtown Sasebo by following the trail at my feet, though there are gaps and it will not get you far into the residential areas. At Fukuoka airport they lead you to a map, but inside the airport there is no guide on the floor to lead you; perhaps the map provided an answer I could not read.

October 29, 2005

2 more t-shirts

Two more purchases from my Japan trip:


Only one star
I wish you every happiness
Queenly heart


We'll go rain or shine

November 23, 2004


beachmefi posted a bunch of Okinawa links, so if you're interested in the small island where I spent my formative middle school years, check out the mefi post or checkout my listing. I found the beach photo you see here on one of the linked pages, and I chose it for this entry because it most closely resembled what I remember the beaches being like.

October 1, 2004

Know any good Jappy stores

action figure

Anybody know where I can find some of these Kurosawa-movie action figures? When I was at Comic-Con, I had Scott Morse draw me a kick-ass Kikuchiyo and it would be pretty bad-ass to have a Yojimbo/Sanjuro action figure to go with it. If any of you know of any Jappy import places that might have it, lemme know. This site has a picture of the box.

May 26, 2004

Japanese postcards from the start of the 20th century

postcardI found this collection of postcards from early 20th century Japan interesting as they track the influence of Western cultural on Japan during a period in which Japan was rapidly industrializing and building diplomatic relationships with European nations.

There are examples of art nouveau and art deco, some with a purely Western feel, and some that mix Japanese and Western styles together. MFA - Exhibition - Art of the Japanese Postcard (via boingboing)

May 23, 2004

Deserted island

photoThis is a deserted island of a different sort. Gunkanjima is a very small island in Japan where coal was discovered. As with the discovery of any valuable natural resource, the land was quickly developed, and then abandoned once it was no longer viable. The pictures of this now-deserted island are eerily interesting.
- gun-thumbnail
(via boingboing)

April 5, 2004

Sweet candy

With meta posting about Japanese stationary, I felt this post on Japanese candy would be appropriate as well (click for full comic):

March 25, 2004

Bakumatus-Meiji period photos

samuraiNagasaki University has put up an online archive of photos from the Bakumatsu-Meiji Period. I like this archive a lot - the age has caused the colors to fade in a way that makes the photos appear to be paintings, and they provide a window to a period a hundred years ago.

There are a lot of photos of shrines and scenary, but I think the most interesting photos are those of people, including those of the geisha and samurai. I've included a sampling of some of these photos in the extended entry, but if you like them you should check out the whole site.

(via mefi)

Continue reading "Bakumatus-Meiji period photos" »

March 14, 2004

Black Ships and Samurai

My Japanese culture/history professors at MIT have put together an oline exhibit showing some of the Japanese artwork depicting the initial encounter between the Japanese and Commodore Perry. I saw some of this artwork when I took the class, and it will be nice to be able to go through some of the imagery once more.
- Black Ships & Samurai

February 24, 2004


Rosy posted an entry that records, in part, her visit to Hiroshima and the atomic bomb memorial there. This brought back a lot of memories of my visit to Nagasaki's memorial, and makes me wish that I hadn't lost all my materials from that visit when I moved from Japan. Luckily, parts of what Rosy wrote made me remember some of the similar things on display at Nagasaki.

One thing in particular that Rosy's entry brought back was the memorials of a thousand cranes. When sa got married and they told me that it was a Japanese Hawaiian tradition to make a thousand cranes before a marriage, I was confused. I had only heard of that tradition in the context of "Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes," which is the story of a girl with Hiroshima-bomb-caused leukemia who believes that if she is able to make a thousand paper cranes, the gods will grant her wish to be healed. While I guess a similar wish-making principle applies to marriage, the juxtaposition between terminal illness and marriage was a bit odd.

When I visited Nagasaki, cords of a thousand cranes where everywhere, honoring Sadako's spirit. Rosy managed to snap a photo of these at Hiroshima. You can compare that with this photo and this other photo from the wedding, which show a small number of the cranes.

February 22, 2004

Notes on the Tale of Genji translation

Posting this to refer to, as meta's copy of Tale of Genji is sitting on the shelf.
- Gen Kanai weblog: translating the Tale of Genji

January 4, 2004

Japan theme

Japan at NightI'm still refusing to watch the Last Samurai, partly because it's a rergurgitated flick clothed in samurai armor, and also because the phrase "Last Samurai" should never be associated with Tom Cruise. I have, however, watched Lost in Translation and Kill Bill, which I think were fun, good movies, though in very, very different ways.

The New York Times has used these three films to write an article on Japan in Hollywood, which is a nice casual read. It's difficult to see Kill Bill as a movie portraying Japan... it seems more accurate to describe it as a movie portraying Japanese cinema, a caricature of a caricature, though I did like the brief visit to Okinawa. Lost in Translation, on the other hand, I thought was an excellent portrayal of being immersed in Japanese culture for the first time. The article delves into the complaints about the movie being racist, but, to me at least, the movie hits far too close to home and lacks the condescending tone for that category.

One of the funniest parts of the movie for me was when Bill Murray does the celebrity commercial for the whisky. It still surprises me everytime I see one of the celebrity commercials on Japanese TV, and watching Murray act out this scene I can't help but wonder if the actors for the actual commercials suffer as much as he is. Speaking of which, I found a link to Japander on evhead today. You can check out all the silly Harrison Ford et al commercials there if you like.

I'll leave you with one final Japan-related link which I managed to spot today. It's the source of the image accompanying this article: Japan Nighttime Skylines (via Gen Kanai via MetaFilter)

December 10, 2003

Japan sending troops to Iraq

One of the good things America did when it occupied Japan after WWII was impose a Constitution that made it unconstitutional for Japan to raise an army. Ever since that, however, America, as well as conservatives in Japan, have been trying to undo that clause, first by allowing "defensive" military to help the US build up a front against China, and now, for the first time, allowing Japanese troops to head overseas into a combat zone. Even if they are "noncombatant," it crosses an invisible line that will be hard to jump back across.
Allies: Japan Commits Itself to Sending Up to 600 Ground Troops to Iraq

October 2, 2003

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

LACMA has a permanent exhibit of Japanese art that is rather cool. They built a building specifically for it that uses fiberglass filters on the windows and running water to create the effect that you are in a Japanese country-side home surrounded by shoji screens. One thing that I thought was cool is they had a tiger/dragon scroll. You can click on the image to see a larger version that shows some of the brush detail - I think the dragon is particularly cool. In the extended entry I also posted some pictures of Bishamonten, the Guardian of the North, squashing a demon beneath his feet, and the Carefree Hotei, painted by Zen Monk Fugai Ekun.
this entry contains a photo, click to view

Continue reading "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" »

August 25, 2003


The Library of Congress (with the help of Merrill Lynch) has put up The Floating World of Ukiyo-E (Library of Congress Exhibition), which collects three centuries of Japanese woodblock prints. There's a couple of Hiroshige and Hokusai prints, but the really interesting ones I thought were the surreal :
Oiwa-san - Lantern head Kohada Koheiji Laughing Hannya - demon woman

There's also this print of frogs dressed up as Kabuki actors dressed up as samurai.

Looking at these prints it's easy to see understand the aesthetic used in many anime (like Spirited Away).

(via Making Light)

August 6, 2003

Japs are cool, this article says so

Foreign Policy -- Japan's Gross National Cool, By Douglas McGray

July 30, 2003

New Category: Japan Class Notes

I was going through my memorylane section of the main site and discovered a bunch of class notes lying around from a couple of Japanese history classes that I had taken. There's interesting stuff about Samurai, World War II, Feudalism and other cool stuff. The notes are all transcribed from lectures, so the organization and flow is a bit rough.
- Japan: Class Notes

Update: category renamed to 'Japan'

July 10, 2003

Bunraku Ping-pong

Toons sent this to a list that I'm on: super ping-pong

This reminded me a lot of Japanese bunraku, which is a traditional puppet theater. Three puppeteers work the doll, clad in black. The chief puppeteer manipulates the face and the right hand and is the only puppeteer that is allowed to show his face. It takes 20 years (!) of apprenticeship to reach this level.
- Bunraku * Tonda Traditional Japanese Bunraku Puppets, Shiga, Japan

June 3, 2003

I see hapa people...everywhere

After making the half-asian badge I felt the urge to go out on the Web and find out how much of a footprint we were leaving, and man, now I'm scared. There's more hapas sites out there than I ever imagined.

Famous hapas (the ones I recognized from other lists):
Kristin Kreuk (Smallville), Dean Cain, Kelly Hu (X-Men 2), Paul Kariya, Apolo Ohno, Tiger Woods, Brandon Lee, Keanu Reeves, Michelle Branch, Rob Schneider (WTF?), Russell Wong, Ann Curry (Today Show), Phoebe Cates (Fast Times at Ridgemont High), Malia Jones (surfer), Johnny Damon (Red Sox), Lou Diamond Phillips, Tia Carrere, Mark-Paul Gossaler (WTF?) | Biracial Hapa Amerasian Multiracial Mixed

Halvsie: a site for the half-jap

Hapa Issues Forum, which has chapters at UCSD, Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA, Cornell, and UCI among others

February 28, 2001

Book: Embracing Defeat

book image

John Dower taught several of the classes I took on Japanese history. This is my outline of his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Embracing Defeat:
- Embracing Defeat

Note:These are notes are not much use to anyone who does not actually own this book, and I have only put these online so that those who do own the book might find them useful in remembering some of the salient points. Actually, I posted them online so that I could lookup my notes whenever I need them, but it sounds nice to be so generous to others. With that said:

If you don't own the book: Why don't you go buy the book on Amazon?

If you do own the book, but are using these notes in lieu of actually reading the book, shame on you, as it is a fine book that you should read. Dower's a great teacher, and a great writer. If you have a chance to take one of his classes, do.