Results tagged “Japan” from kwc blog

Japan Observations


The elevator in the Ginza Apple Store has one button. The elevator stops on every floor.

I bought a stick from Tokyu Hands. They wrapped it very well. I didn't know how to explain that its stick-ness could not be harmed.

The lady at the Kobe beef place refused to serve anything to our vegetarian friends. In her defense, even the fried rice was cooked in Kobe beef.

Train Music Video, sans Music


With the aid of an iPod I've found moments in life that sync up to a particular song. I like playing Pavement's Frontwards as the BART train makes the turn into SFO. There's something about the lumbering movement of the BART as it curves around and the buzz of the cars on the highway versus the activity at the airport that matches the semi-tuned music of Pavement. Then, of course, there's Dark Side of the Moon and Wizard of Oz.

I took this HD video with my new Canon IXY/ELPH as I was going towards Narita airport (higher res here). It seemed to match the mood of Radiohead's "Reckoner" quite well until I had the idea of playing Moray McLaren's "We Got Time". Perhaps it was the nature of the music video that helped it match so well, but there's so many beats that the change in scenery match perfectly. View from a train in Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus.

Due to my desire to not get sued, I present the video sans soundtrack, but, if you happen to have "We Got Time" (the full version, not the edited music video version), press play six seconds in.

Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art  - Tadao Ando - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley
Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art  - Tadao Ando - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley

Click here for more Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art Photos

The Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art was a pleasant surprise. From the photos I had seen of the exterior, it wasn't high on my list of places to visit. It's rock fascade and bulky shape reminded me of the bulky and squat Pulitzer Foundation in St. Louis, which I haven't seen in person. But on approach, the Hyogo museum has plenty to offer. A pedestrian bridge offers you several approaches into the building: to the front, to a ramp that goes to the waterside entrance, and to the third-floor plaza.

The waterside entrance faces an industrial inlet of Osaka Bay and is the the bookend of a waterfront park that Ando also designed. The part is utilitarian and spare, but serves its purpose as a place for kids to play games and for people to have space to walk. It also has an amphitheater, a popular Ando construct. The waterside entrance itself features a very broad set of stairs. It's easy to imagine large swarms of people having a seat on these stairs and chatting, but on a weekday during work hours it was nearly vacant.

The museum is built around three nearly identical sections. The center of each section is a stairway, though each stairway is different. The first is a four-story tall atrium with stairs leading up the side and a giant celadon column in the middle. The second is just two stories tall, with a shorter celadon column off to the side, and the third, I don't know. It was close to closing time and the third required a ticket, so I opted to save something for another time.

Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art Photos

More Tadao Ando:

Tadao Ando's Awaji Yumebutai Part II

Awaji Yumebutai - Tadao Ando - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley
Awaji Yumebutai - Tadao Ando - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley
Awaji Yumebutai - Tadao Ando - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley

Click for more Awaji Yumebutai Photos (Part II)

Awaji Yumebutai Part I

The Yumebutai complex is sprawling with a variety of buildings and elements throughout, but one common signature that forms a distinctive pattern throughout is the use of scallop seashells. There is a lower Shell Garden area dedicated solely to the use of these shells to line large shallow pools of water and the Yumebutai literature boasts over 1 million such shells and 1,000 fountains.

Ando initially had trouble finding the shells as he discovered that restaurants imported the scallops without the shells, but he was able to finally track some down. It seems that they may have been conserving water that day as many of the pools were not filled that day and many fountains were not on. As striking as that many seashells is, there is not enough contrast on a cloudy day for them to keep my attention.

The Oval and Circular Forums tie the lower Shell Garden to the upper Hyakudanen botanical gardens. One common theme I've found in many of Ando's designs is the use of depth to create drama. Often you'll approach a low, flat building, only to discover stairs plunging downwards several stories. In the case of the Oval and Circular Forums, you find yourself staring down several large stories to the plaza below. The concrete, perpendicular walls enhance the sense of height.

Tacked onto the very end of the Yumebutai complex is an amphitheater. Semi-circle amphitheaters seem to be a common element of many of Ando's projects, which is most likely due to the influence of classical Roman architecture on his work. I've seen amphitheaters at his Aomori Contemporary Art Center, the park adjacent to the Hyogo Prefectural Art Museum, and here at Yumebutai. As some are tucked away, perhaps there are more that I have not noticed.

Photos: Awaji Yumebutai Part II

More Tadao Ando:

Tadao Ando's Awaji Yumebutai Part I

Awaji Yumebutai - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley
Awaji Yumebutai - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley

Click for more photos of the Awaji Yumebutai Botanical Gardens

Awaji Yumebutai is a sprawling complex of buildings by Tadao Ando. It was originally meant to be a golf course built on the site of a former land quarry used to provide earth for the Kansai airport. Ando helped convince the prefecture to purchase the surrounding land (100 hectares) and turn it into a park. Somewhere in the development process that all got changed, and instead of a golf course and park, it ended up as a hotel, conference center, and gardens. At first they were worried that it would be difficult to get people to stay in such a remote spot, but a visit by David Beckham secured them future bookings and taught Ando the power of celebrity.

Attached to a Hilton hotel, the complex includes both indoor and outdoor gardens, a conference center, tea ceremony building, fancy restaurants, and a small amphitheater. Each building has it's own distinct geometric shape, lending itself to an easy iconography that I wished I snapped some photos of. The complex is so sprawling that, even after a couple of hours, there was still much to see. Unfortunately I could not stay longer, but I wanted to leave a little left unexplored so that I might have a reason to come back (when the weather was better).

The Hyakudanen botanical gardens are the star of the complex, in my opinion. While there are some interesting spots in the complex to visit, much of it seems filler in comparison. The gardens were designed as a memorial to those who died in the Great Hanshin Earthquake in the Kobe area. They are a like a giant Q-bert style grid of square flower boxes connected by stairs. An elevator helps you get half-way up the grid, but for the rest it's up to your own fitness as to how many stairs you wish to go up and down.

I'll have more photos of my visit from the rest of the complex in a later entry.

Update: Awaji Yumebutai Part II

Photo Gallery: Awaji Yumebutai Botanical Gardens

More Tadao Ando:

honpukuji - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley

Click here for more Water Temple Photos

The Kobe region has many works by Tadao Ando, including several of my favorites. Water Temple (Shingonshu Honpukuji) is at the top of that list. It is a small and simple work, and perhaps that's why it rates so highly with me. The building holds up an elliptical pond filled with lily pads. Concrete walls fan out behind the pond to form a flower-like enclosure for the space and create a transition path as you enter the complex.

You descend down stairs through the center of the pond and enter the temple itself. At first you are cast into darkness as you walk into a circular hallway, but as you approach the shrine area, more daylight is able to pierce through and bounce off the walls to create a red glow. As you exit back out of the space, the circular hallway leads you into increasing daylight until you return back to the starting point.

Honpukuji is not too difficult to get to. I took a JR bus from Sannomiya station in Kobe to Awaji Yumebutai (bus stop 5 at Sannomiya, purchase tickets inside, 45-minute ride). There is a local bus that runs from Yumebutai to Honpukuji, but I opted to walk as the local bus is not very frequent. I turned right on the main road leaving Yumebutai, walked about 20 minutes, and turned right on the road where the police box was (Koban). From there, it's about a 5 minute walk up the hill.

The JR bus was full leaving Yumebutai, so I took a local bus to Maiko station instead. From there I was able to catch a JR train back to Kobe.

Click here for more Water Temple Photos

Important Japanese Terms


Today I learned some important Japanese terminology:

  • foo = hoge
  • bar = fuga, piyo

Now I can read Japanese code.

I'm on a Train


Bullet train-5

Bullet train-2

Bullet train-6

... well, soon enough. My time in Kobe, Japan is nearly up. Next stop, Tokyo. We're taking a bullet train out of here tomorrow night. These are some photos from my bullet train trip into Kobe. There hasn't been much sightseeing, though I did manage to squeeze in quick trips to four Tadao Ando sites: Rokko, Hyoto Prefectural Art Museum, Water Temple, and Awaji-Yumebutai. Beautiful stuff, though the grey skies today mean I have a reason to come back. I also managed to glimpse (from a bus) Frank Gehry's ridiculous Fishdance restaurant, which is only one step away from Weinermobile.



jetpens_logo.gifI like Japanese pens. A lot. Last time I was in Tokyo, the Sekaido stationary store was at the top of my list of places to visit. I can't help it -- fascination for pens is the sort of thing that's ingrained in you growing up in Japan as half of your gifts are ultra-fancy pens. You come back to the United States and you feel impoverished in the land of Bic.

So, imagine my excitement when I found out that there is an importer of Japanese pens right here in United States. Mountain View, in fact. They have a Web site so I don't have to drive down the street and offer with free shipping on orders over $25. It even has tutorials on how to modify your pens. JetPens, how could you have eluded me for so long?

I received my care package today courtesy of Lily containing some of their top products. I haven't had much time to try them out but I'm already over the moon. Here's the rundown.


  • Uni Jetstream Alpha Gel: the cool metal body meets a squishy grip for some of the comfiest, silky smooth writing I've experienced. It may not be the prettiest ink, but this is the sort of pen that's with you for the long haul, keeping that writer's cramp at bay.
  • Pilot Hi-Tec C 0.5: popular and precise, fine and finesse. The Hi-Tec C's aren't the most comfortable pens to write with, but performance requires sacrifice. I got an 0.5 but these puppies go all the way down to 0.25. If you've been wondering where you can find these in the United States, you have your answer: JetPens.
  • signobit.rice.jpgUniball Signo Bit 0.18: Uniball is just showing off here. I'm already a fan of the Signo line, but this is just ridiculously awesome. I was told it can write on a grain of rice -- long-grain/short-grain not specified -- so I tried it out on some Japanese short-grain. I was able to scribble out a 'kwc' before I ran out of room on the grain.
  • Hinodewashi Electric Eraser: I can decide if I like enough to overcome the embarrassment of using this in public. I mean, being too lazy to wave my hand to erase pencil marks? Oh Japan, what will you automate next? I was a bit surprised to examine its guts and find the same little electric motor that powers the Tamiya Mini 4WD cars. I'm tempted to purchase a more powerful motor to give it more oomph.
  • Uniball Signo DX 0.38: this is another pen I can see using on a regular basis. It puts out a solid, clean, dark black line and feels comfortable in the hand due to its rubber grip. It does offer a little bit of resistance due to the relatively small 0.38 tip -- you can get an even smaller 0.28 version.
  • Pilot Fure Fure Shaker Pencil: Shaker mechanical pencils rock. Instead of clicking a button on top, you just shake it to get more pencil lead. It's oddly satisfying. I was fascinated as a kid when I received my first shaker pencil. It was large and solid black, so the secrets of its mechanism had to be worked out by carefully listening as I shook it back and forth. The Pilot Fure Fure is much more compact and clear so you can be visually fascinated by the weight moving up and down.


© 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

IREX 2007 Photos


Photos set (115 Photos)

Subaru Robots (1) Baby I am Robot Herby Dentist Bot Head

Servo bots playing soccer and laser tag:

Robo Soccer Robot Laser Tag

A concierge robots, including one with a virtual robot concierge on its chest:

Aro - Concierge Inside a Concierge Service Robot Enon

Tiny, tiny motors:

Tiny Namiki Motors


Squse Hand (1) Yaskawa Hand Hand with non-functional ultrasonic wrist (1) Hand

Freaky dentist bot and contemplative Rubics cube solver:

Dentist Bot 2 Motoman Rubics Cube Solver

Industrial arms:

Kuka 1000kg arm Fanuc candy packaging (1) Fast Toshiba arm Nachi

And more:

Ladybug (1) Kawasaki balancing bot Hexapod Flexpicker Furo Halluc II Comet IV

Photos set (115 Photos)

IREX Robo-One Grand Championship


I skipped out on the championship to have some delicious teppanyaki. From what I can see of the video of the final battle above, Robo-ONE has really come a long way. I'm not used to the fights actually resembling fights -- this one actually has the feel of an old video game, where your character has a dodge and attack that must be carefully timed to your opponent.

Robot-y Tokyo recommendations


We're off on a company field trip to Japan next week. Most of the time will be taken up with a giant robot expo there, but they'll also be time to explore Akihabara and the surrounding Tokyo area. Places that have already caught my interest include:

Any other robot-y places that people can recommend?

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

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:

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

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

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

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.

The Giant Squids Are Coming


squidIf they were pissed when we ripped off one of their tentacles, imagine how angry they'll be now that we caught and killed one of them. And if you're not afraid yet, let me quote the article:

[Researcher Kubodera] also said that, judging by the number of whales that feed on them, there may be many more giant squid than previously thought.

They're Pissed, and there's lots of them.

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.

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



No time for full posts, but some random bits:

  • In a correction to my previous Japan trip log, I'd like to proudly state that I now have a DS Lite. ota, m, and I waited in line at the Ikebukuro Toys R' Us and were able to pick some up. I promptly bought a copy of old-school Dr. Mario, which doesn't use the capabilities of DS Lite in the least, but I'm looking forward to trying some other games out. I did pick up a copy of the 'America' travel assitant, which I will play around with to see if it is good enough for reverse English->Japanese usage.
  • Jangara Ramen in Akihabara/Omotesando makes me sad to eat ramen in the US again.
  • All-you-can-eat food in Japan is awesome. We had all-you-can-eat dessert at Sweets Paradise in Ginza for ~$13 and all-you-can-eat shabu shabu at Mo Mo Paradise in Shinjuku for ~$15. I suggest that you visit these places first when visiting Japan, as your stomach will start to shrink from the smaller Japanese food portions the longer you're there. I think I lost weight despite the constant consumption of highly sugared vending machine drinks.
  • I think I should have been using Japanese soap and shampoo my whole life. It's possible that it's the California desert climate, but my half-Japanese skin didn't feel the least bit itchy like it does with US products.
  • Is Karl Rove indicted, or no? I'm confused.
  • Lost is finally going somewhere, just in time for the season finale this week. It sure does make me think that the entire first half of the season was a waste.
  • TiVo let me down on recording the Giro di Italia. Bad TiVo!

Tokyo day 1+2


This post should actually go before the previous, but it's hard to tell which way time is running when you're in Tokyo. Mike had to remind me that today is Monday, not Tuesday. Instead of returning every night to Saitama, where we're staying, part of me thinks that I should just stay on the Yamanote line, get off whereever I wake up, and repeat as necessary as Tokyo is already a blur linked together by the Yamanote circle. But Saitama is actually quite nice as Neil's friend has lent us an apartment, which gives us tons of space to recharge ourselves and our camera batteries. The slightly less dense neighborhoods in Saitama also ensure that the awesomely gigantic feeling of Tokyo is fresh every morning when we arrive.

On our first day in Tokyo, we managed to walk through Harajuku, Omotesando, Roppongi Hills, and Shibuya. We had very good guides, without whom we wouldn't have been able to see so many sites spread across Tokyo. Each of these spots was overwhelming in it's own way. Roppongi Hills was architecturally ginormous, Shibuya was super dense, and Harajuku had an impressive level of dress-up.

We struck out on our own on our second day using y's notebook guide, which so far has led us to delicious ramen (Jangara Ramen in Akihabara) and all-you-can-eat dessert (Sweets Paradise in Ginza). I highly recommend y's guide for those of you that can ask her for a copy ;). The Akihabara/Ginza/Tokyo area was much easier for us to cover on our own as we took it 'easy,' but we still managed to walk a ton. Sitting down for 90-minute-all-you-can-eat dessert and a kabuki play helped a bit, but exploring all the nooks and crannies requires a bit of legwork. I almost felt bad for nearly nodding off during the kabuki play, but then I noticed that many of the other theater patrons had already passed out -- a warm theater at 4:30pm is probably not the best audience to perform to. Kabuki was interesting, but I think it's probably too difficult to appreciate from the nosebleed seats as even the theater binoculars I purchased didn't help me see the performer's faces very well. Next time I'll probably shell out for the closer seats. I also want to figure out the performer's stage names so i can give a hearty yell of encouragement to keep the blood flowing ("Yamatoya!").

Akihabara is awesome


... but if I lived there I would quickly spend all my money on every gadget and toy ever known. I visited both the old Akihabara with the various small shops with various specialties as well as Yodabashi Camera, which is pretty much Akibahara sanitized and compressed into a single giant building. My purchases were as varied as Akihabara: a SATA/IDE to USB converter, model Shinkansen trains, an LED light on a cellphone strap, a Godzilla toy out of a capsule machine, an R2-D2 bottle cap, and pixel blocks for recreating Nintendo sprites. Yes, a bunch of crap, but now I own it all. I would have bought a radio and hopups for my unfinished R/C car if only I had a bit more room and actually remembered what I needed.

One of the coolest things I saw was that they have video games where you use trading cards to control the action. In a military strategy game, you manuever and command your units by moving their cards across the table. In a soccer game, you control your lineup by positioning your player cards on the table. We tried one of the more boring card games that just involves sticking your cards into the machine, but we didn't get beyond the tutorial section -- that darn goblin just wouldnt die!

I also saw a Nintendo DS Lite for the first time. I would buy one if they weren't sold out everywhere. I didn't fully understand the coolness of that platform until y's sister showed me an America travel program that teaches American English. It fully utilizes the two screens of the DS. If you select a phrase to 'say' something in English, you can display that phrase upside down on the top screen so that the person you're talking to can read it. You can also use the touch screen to practice writing English phrases displayed on the top screen. There's currently programs for America, Germany and Thailand, among others, but that's not too helpful for me as they are all in Japanese. I wish that all of our Japan guides could be compressed onto a signle DS cartridge.




Sakura Sakura Sakura Goryukaku Park Sakura

The cherry blossoms in Hakodate are finally full bloom (mankai). I've uploaded this small selection of unprocessed photos to Flickr (top photo is actually from Matsumae).

In search of cherry blossoms


I'll be doing conference stuff the next couple of days but we are going to make a quick trip out to Matsumae to see how the 10,000 sakura (cherry blossom trees) are doing there. The sakura where we are staying in Hakodate are mostly closed still, but the blossoms aren't really the point. hanami (flowering viewing) is like the first day of spring at MIT: it's a good excuse to go out to a park with your friends and party. Even though the sakura weren't in full bloom in Hakodate, there were still tons of people partying and the grills and kegs were out in full force. We got invited over by a group to enjoy some kimchi ramen, rice, and lots of beer. One of the guys called himself "Japanese HG" (wikipedia entry on HG, aka Hard Gay) and there was even an HG costume in a bag. We played a gambling game where you stab swords into a barrel until a little HG doll springs out, but, alas, the HG costume stayed in the bag.

We're hoping for more sakura fun in Matsumae. The tourist office puts it at 50% right now, but they have more varieties of sakura there with different blooming periods. There probably won't be as much partying on a weekday, but who knows? I tried to find some news articles to find out how the blossoms are doing there, but this babelfish-ed article was all I could come up with:

Oshima inside of pipe Matsumae Cho on the fourth, declared the bloom of the Soviet May reed no inside the Matsumae park. On the fourth than the common year, three days than last year it was late, but inside the road it became the quickest declaration.

As for Matsumae park place of interest of cherry tree of road inflected finger.

Off to Japan


Stage 1: AAMAS Conference in Hakodate, Japan

Stage 2: Fun in Tokyo

Stage 3: ?

There probably won't be a stage 3 as I don't imagine I'll run out of things to do in Tokyo, though I do have a hankering to visit more of the Kansai region, seeing as I have spent most of my time in Japan either on Kyushu or Okinawa.

I have no plans to post from Japan, but I should hopefully get some photos of cherry blossoms from Hakodate. pqbon was generous enough to lend me a wide-angle lens, which will definitely help with some of the shots I'm planning on taking.

Final thought before leaving: I think I spent more time making sure my TiVo would be okay while I was gone than I did packing.

Light blogging cont'd + hiatus


I'm heading off to Japan on Friday for work + play. I've been catching up on my lessons, which I think is an excellent language resource for those of you with iPods. You get beginner- and intermediate-level spoken courses and you also get an English/romaji/kanji/hiragana/katakana transcription if you press you press the center wheel on your iPod a couple times. I didn't even know that you could store note tracks with podcasts until they explained this feature and I've loved it ever since.

I'm hoping my RSI cools down a bit while in Japan, but for now the light blogging continues...

On a separate note, the episode guide for Myths Reopened is now up. The arrow-splitting myth was the only true revisit; the salami rocket and bullets fired underwater were variations of the original myth.

Cultural Uncanny Valley


Read on for an semi-complete essay written in the spirit of silliness. It's an old draft I wanted to wrap up now that we are in the final countdown to entry 2000 (three to go).

I'm going to Japan!


I've just sent in my registration for aamas-06: Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems as there is a paper that I wrote some paragraphs and did some UI designs for. The conference is in Hakodate, Japan, on the big island of Hokkaido. This will be my first trip to Hokkaido, so if you have any suggestions/recommendations, please send them along. We're currently figuring out how to make our way up to the Daisetsuzan national park.

I always comment on how I seem to visit the parts of Japan that no one else seems to visit (e.g. Sasebo, Okinawa, and now Hakodate), so I think I'm also going to take some time off and cruise down to Tokyo to experience the tourists' Japan. Suggestions for Tokyo are also welcome.

Photos: Sasebo Favorites


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I couldn't post all the photos I wanted to from Sasebo, so I'm limiting myself to two sets: one with my favorites and one from around the city center. I would have omitted the latter, but it wouldn't have been fair to the city to do so. When I first showed my mom the photos I was taking, she complained that I was taking "ugly photos." She wondered why I wasn't taking photos of the more beautiful areas of Sasebo, whereas my photos seemed to all contain rust stains and grime. This is a frequent interaction with my mom. Several years ago I was taking her around MIT, she made hardly a comment. Later in the day we visited Harvard and she immediately burst out with a, "This is so much prettier! Why didn't you go to school here!?!?"

It isn't that I find rust attractive. Sasebo is filled with so many textures and has such an overwhelming density of architecture. I can't help taking photos of parking lots on top of homes, rooftops that meet in anything but right angles, buildings that similarly lack right angles, a narrow sidestreet adjacent to bright shopping plaza, homes that rise up and up into the hillside, and stairways, stairways, stairways. Zen photos are fun, but it's just as fun to take a stroll around town.

Full photoset

Photos: Sasebo City Center


IMG_1367_edited-1 IMG_1387_edited-1 Toy store in Sasebo

I've already posted some photos from the area around Sasebo, Japan, including spiders (kumo), 99 islands, and Braille-encoded city, but it's taken me quite awhile to start putting up photos of the city itself. I took hundreds of photos and I just want to post all of them with detailed explanations so that I could try to convey all the interesting aspects that I strangely find fascinating, like a shopping mall that could be Anywhere, US, a train tunnel through a shopping mall, four-way overpasses, and more. Neither you nor I really have time for that.

Full photoset

Old links to clear out 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

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.

Photos: 99 Islands


99 Islands-4 99 Islands-2

My cousins and aunt braved the cold for me so that I could snap some sunset photos of the 99 Islands from the top of Yumihari Mountain in Sasebo. The city of Sasebo is busily spread out around the harbor along one side of the mountain, while, on the other side, things are mostly green and blue with ony the occassional settlement dotting the view. I'm not sure how one counts the 99 Islands, as there are many formations barely larger than a boulder, but by the official metric it is actually closer to 218 or so. At night you can see a string of lights snaking across the water between the islands as the squid hunters go out and try to lure their prey.

99 Islands Photos (9 photos)

Japan trip index


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

Curry variations


If you're preparing Japanese curry, my aunts recommend the following variations: * grate an entire apple into the mix * toss in a bit of coffee grounds * mix multiple brands of curry * add in worchestire sauce * add in soy sauce

I'll have to experiment to figure out which variations I like best.

Dazaifu Station-17 Dazaifu Station-21 Dazaifu Station-06

On my first full day in Japan my aunts took me to Dazaifu Station in Fukuoka. Dazaifu Station is home to Dazaifu Tenmangu, a Shinto shrine for Tenjin, as well as Komyozenji, a Buddhist temple with a Zen garden in back. Both are tourist attractions, i.e. they are not places for quiet contemplation, but they are very beautiful tourist attractions. In between our visit to the shrine and the temple we had lunch at Ume no Hana, a restaurant that specializes in tofu. Our lunch consisted of about fifteen courses, most of which I have photos of. Part of your meal price is the plates you choose to eat on, so thanks goes to my aunt for the nice plates you see pictured. I can't read our menu so I don't have proper names for most of the courses.

It was a little paranoia-inducing to see a photo of a bridge you just crossed at Dazaifu Tenmangu in a national newspaper the next day, but as it turns out the crown prince was in town.

All thirty photos from Dazazifu Station

Dazaifu Station-10 Dazaifu Station-05Dazaifu Station-08 Dazaifu Station-02 Dazaifu Station-16 Dazaifu Station-18 Dazaifu Station-13 Dazaifu Station-22 Dazaifu Station-28 Dazaifu Station-29 Dazaifu Station-27 Dazaifu Station-24

Tea preparation


According to my family, these are the important lessons in green tea preparation:

  • Use about 1 tablespoon of green tea
  • Never use boiling water or even water directly from a hot pot. My family often uses two tea pots: one to let the hot water cool down in and one for the tea.
  • When pouring tea for multiple people, never pour an entire cup at once. Keep pouring a little into each cup until they are full. Everyone will get better tea that way.
  • Good tea should be reusable multiple times. Some of the tea I got in Japan is rated for seven uses.
  • The tea should be a pleasant green color, not yellow. Yellow may mean that the tea has steeped too long or the tea is used up.
  • After the inital batch, you shouldn't have to wait for subsequent batches to steep. Pour a little into a tea cup and see how it looks. If looks too light, let it steep a little longer.
  • Tea has an expiration date but you can get past that by putting your tea in the refrigerator.

Four views of Mt Fuji


Four Views of Mt Fuji-4

Four Views of Mt Fuji-1 Four Views of Mt Fuji-3 Four Views of Mt Fuji-2

Our pilot was nice enough to fly us past Mt Fuji on our route back. I love how Mt Fuji completely stands out from the surrounding landscape, leaving no doubt about its iconic popularity.

Tea, lots of tea, lots of tea tea tea


teaI have returned from Japan with full suitcase. The suitcase was full because of the products pictured here: many packets of tea, multiple teapots, and a tea cup. I am a tea snob, expressing a strong desire for tea from the countryside near my grandma's home, and I've happily returned with much product to consume. It's also a medical necessity: I had a cup of hot green tea in front of me for nearly the entire ten days and I might go into frightful fits of withdrawal if I don't ween myself onto a more maintainable consumption cycle.

My Japanese has gotten a lot better over the past ten days. I'm now better conversationally than I was four years ago, though probably still not as good as I was about ten years ago. I'm still far from fluent. I was most comfortable conversationally when speaking to my eight-month-old cousin -- my shy three-year-old cousin ran verbal loops around me, leaving me too embarassed to continue speaking. I purchased a copy of The Wizard of Oz to translate but I've only managed six pages of partial translation in several hours of effort.

I credit much of my progress to Japanese: The Spoken Language by Jorden and Noda. I probably wouldn't have understood the textbook when I was studying in middle school, but despite it's strange romanization of Japanese characters I found that I understood the language constructs much better than before. However, my profession training has taken over the foreign language portion of my brain. I find that I'm comparing many of the language constructs to computer programming language constructs, with particles as defining transition states and verbs as stacks.

More later, but now back to clearing out my e-mail and blog reader.

Quick post from Japan


Japan goes well and I've found some US Internet here on a military base nearby. My mom is off buying pizza for my aunt and Popeye's Chicken for me, so I have a bit of time.

I'm having a great time with my family. My aunts have been teaching me more proper green tea preparation as well as curry-cooking technique. In between has been several visits to 100 yen shops as well as a bus tour of Nagasaki.

The layout of Sasebo is reminiscent of a European town with twisty, tiny roads in the center, though most of the buildings here are less than 50 years old. The outer perimeter of the city appears to be a fortress conglomerate of giant pachinko parlors. The inside of those parlors sound like a waterfall, but substitute little metal balls for water and add a bunch of Vegas blinging noises. Five minutes was enough to make my ears ring.

The culture here has plenty of American influence -- the city's most famous food export is the Sasebo Burger and they've added a Starbucks and Seattle's Best Coffee since I last visited. I'm still not used to seeing teenagers dressed like rappers and grunge rockers.

I just purchased some t-shirts that I wanted to share with you:

Fraud Tradition
Mount Sedge the Cobalt Blue Beard
disunion verbal

Usally Stomack as crunches are as appealing to you as pop quizzes
But not anymore.
This year you would-be couch potatoes are posed to become
very buff spuds.

As wonderful as these t-shirts are, I think the strangest thing is seeing how popular marijuana leaf (hemp) air fresheners are. It was a bit weird seeing them for sale in a kids store next to Minnie Mouse, but even weirder was seeing a Buddhist monk driving around with a marijuana leaf logo hanging from his rearview mirror.

That's all for now.

Off to Japan (soon)


I leave tomorrow morning for Japan to visit with family for ten days. I'm looking forward to spending time with my 100-year-old grandma and many aunts and cousins. My cousins are looking forward to spending time with me because it means that my aunts will break out the extra beer. My aunts may try to make up stage names for me; I believe that last one was a pun on poop, but not everything gets translated for me.

Four years is too long to have been away. Except for the fact that the country is designed for people a foot shorter than I, I am more comfortable with the streets, shops, and density there. There's always something to entertain and to explore (hidden stairways, alleys) and vending machines full of tasty refreshment are always just around the corner.

I'm not sure what the plan is just yet; most of the time I'll be in Sasebo but I'll probably make it over to Nagasaki for some sightseeing. There's a longshot chance I'll end up in Okinawa for a day or two to visit my old haunts and sit on the beach, but logistics make that one difficult.

Conference naming


The Jap in me finds this amusing. The poster for this conference has "NIPS" in nice big letters.


FYI: The 2005 conference will be held in Vancouver.

Nuclear Contact


France is going to be the site first nuclear fusion reactor, with Japan picked as the site of the second reactor. This is a major $10B+ undertaking by a six-nation consortium of the US, Japan, EU, China, Russia, and South Korea, and many scientific and engineering challenges will have be solved before the reactor is scheduled to come online in 2015.

This news reminds me of Carl Sagan's Contact. Beyond the similarities of Japan being picked as a second site for a major, international building effort, this paragraph from the article could have come straight out of a faux Contact news report:

Many experts also predict that construction could take much longer than currently foreseen, given the difficulty of coordinating multiple suppliers of costly and highly technical components in many countries. Today's agreement leaves open the possibility that still more countries may participate in the project. India, for example, has expressed interest in getting involved.

Talk: Tadao Ando


Tadao Ando, Aomori Contemporary Art Centerd and I managed to sneak into an Ando talk at Berkeley, tiptoeing in through the sidedoor and sitting on the floor when the lights went out because all seats were gone over an hour before the talk started. I am thankful for the location of the Men's Room at Dwinelle Hall; I might not have noticed the unguarded entrance otherwise (easy to spot, given that ten-or-so people were already waiting there to sneak in).

photo: Ando's Aomori Contemporary Art Center. Photo by kwc

I really enjoy Tadao Ando's work. I'm not a fan of his most noted signature element -- concrete -- but I love the simplicity of his forms and the ways in which his buildings play with light. This talk gave a fuller survey of some of his works over the past decades, and also gave a lot of insight into his amusingly persistent mentality that guides his projects.

My notes are in the extended entry. There are a lot of large photos of his works that I've culled of the Internet to go with some of the talk notes, so the notes may load very slowly. It took a little longer than normal to put these notes together, but it was worth it, as I now have my own mini-Ando book to browse through and reflect upon.

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)

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)

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

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.



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)

Book: Embracing Defeat


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.