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Exclusive(ish): Plaid playing tonight in Nishi Azabu

Urgent clubbing alert: Are you free tonight (Monday October 31st)? Get down to Bullet's in Nishi Azabu to see Plaid, everybody's favourite British minimal techno duo they've never heard of.

Seriously, though, these guys are ace. I saw them at Electraglide a few years ago and they were awesome. The music's great, actually very dancy at times, and their visuals were fantastic. Not sure what kind of set they'll be doing tonight, but I plan to find out.

Starting from 9ish, a little bird tells me. See you there... Thanks to skab/t for the tip!

Posted by chris at 06:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

When nine hundred years old you reach, dance as well you will not

I was going to post my photos from our recent trip to Hakone this afternoon, but got sidetracked by a number of things, not least of which is this little music video from everyone's favourite 800-year-old Jedi master. Excellent stuff, and far more convincing than all that preposterous lightsaber-somersaulting.

[Link via geisha asobi]

Posted by chris at 07:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Asimov's 4th law: A robot must serve a mean cuppa

When you think of Japanese robots, you probably think of Asimo, Honda's cutesy dancing-and-soccer robot, or Qrio, Sony's jogging robot. Or perhaps you think of Transformers, or Gundam, or Neon Genesis Evangelion.

But either way, you probably *don't* think of 18th-century Edo-period tea-serving robots:

This Kabuki-styled doll approaches surprised guests with a full teacup on a tray; it stops walking when the teacup is taken, waits quietly, bows, then slowly turns around, smoothly scooting away with the empty teacup on its tray...

How does it work? When a tea cup is placed on the tray, the stopper is released by the whale spring attached to the doll’s arms; the spring forces the stopper to engage again when the cup is lifted from the tray.

As soon as they produce a version that can also draw a miniature katana and whirl smoothly around to slice off the fingers of the unsuspecting teacup profferer, I'm buying. (Glowing red eyes and laser cannon would be fine too.)

Further reading: Robotics timeline, featuring similar contraptions.

[Link via Boing Boing]

Posted by chris at 06:31 PM | Permalink

Wipeout Pure Coca-Cola Expansion Pack 5 Available

The next Coke expansion pack is now available for Wipeout Pure; the password is circle-x-circle-x.

However, I really wouldn't bother. You get (and I'm not making this up) a craft shaped like a Coke bottle - and with lousy stats, too (speed 2, handling 3, shield 4, thrust 3). Yawn. Please let the final Coke pack (due in November) contain something worthwhile.

Oh, and I worked out what I was missing with the previous pack. There was no original craft; it was Coke craft skins for the eight starting ships. So now all my opponents are sponsored by Coke. In every race. Think I'll be uninstalling that little f**ker next chance I get.

Progress report: 217 golds (62+ to go).

(Damn - e-mail from Lik-Sang saying my copy of GTA is on the way... what to do, what to do...)

Posted by chris at 02:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Japan Times interview with Alex Kerr, Dogs and Demons author

Dogs and Demons: The Fall of Modern Japan, Alex Kerr's tough-love analysis of how Japanese bureaucrats have worked tirelessly over the past few decades to destroy their own country, is one of those books that qualifies unambiguously as essential reading for anyone who's spent time in Japan.

That said, you have to time it right. Don't do what I did: read it on holiday in the UK, finish it on the plane back to Narita, and then spend the entire train ride back into Tokyo staring glumly out of the window, watching the seemingly endless stream of cramped apartment buildings, ugly concrete and all-pervasive advertising hoardings sprawl past you, thinking, "Shit, he's absolutely right. This place is fucked."

I recovered from that, obviously, else I wouldn't still be here, but it was a bad month or two. Every street corner I turned, every news report about corrupt politicians and shiny new concrete mountains I saw, resonated with what I'd read in the book. To this day, I won't let my girlfriend read it, as I know it'll depress her too much. Planning to save it for a leaving present.

Anyway, the Japan Times has a recent interview with Kerr where he talks about September's election and postal reform (promising), the Aichi Expo (pointless), Hello Kitty (distressing) and Debito Arudou (too combative).

His comments about Arudou in particular are worth reading, I think:

Well, somebody has to do it. I'm glad that there is a whistle-blower out there. But, I am doubtful whether in the long run it really helps. One would hope that he could do it another way. He's not doing it the Japanese way. He's being very gaijin in his openly combative attitude, and usually in Japan that approach fails.

I fear that his activities might tend to just confirm conservative Japanese in their belief that gaijin are difficult to deal with.

It's a good point, and he may be right, but I'd like to think that Arudou's directly confrontational methods might eventually bear at least some fruit, even if it's only disabusing Japan-panglossists of their misplaced notions that this place is some kind of postmodern paradise. Perhaps Japan needs both approaches, the Kerr manifestos and the Arudou exposés?

Anyway, Kerr's consistently got interesting things to say about Japan, so go check it out. More Debito Arudou at the Japan Times here.

[Link via - thanks, Gen]

Posted by chris at 08:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

EVA Air Launches Hello Kitty Jet; Fails To Explode Into Ball of Kitsch on Take-off

I love planes, me. They're great. Flying too, no problem, love it. However. I think even I might balk at having to get on one of these: Taiwan's EVA Air Launches Hallo Kitty-themed Airbus 330. If one of those fleabag Kitty-besuited cabin crew came anywhere near me, I'd lamp them, I swear, such is my hatred of the Mouthless One. Air rage charges and sobbing children be damned.

Pokemon-themed jets, however, are a completely different matter. We actually flew on one of the ANA Pokemon jets on a trip up to Hokkaido earlier this year, and it was in fact rather cool. They were handing out goodie bags and postcards to all the kids on board; although not exactly children ourselves, we managed to blag a couple of the hagaki by playing the we-gaijin-love-your-crazy-japanese-pop-culture card. You can see a scan of one of the postcards here.

So, just to clarify: Hello Kitty bad, Pokemon good. If you have to ask why, you don't deserve to be told.

[Link via Boing Boing]

Posted by chris at 08:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Attack of the Giant Japanese Killer Hornets 2: Revenge of the Bees

Courtesy of National Geographic (and via Boing Boing, again) comes this great piece of wildlife documentary footage, giving an up-close look at the battle between Japanese giant hornets (fearsome scary great pincer-wielding assassin things) and honeybees (cutesy fluffy little wuvs who are totally going to get their arses kicked). Be sure to watch to the end to see the fascinating defense mechanism that the bees have evolved...

Posted by chris at 12:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Powerbook tattoos

I've flirted with the idea of getting a tattoo for ages, but never taken the plunge. Ultimately I know that no matter how cool the Wipeout 3 Pirhana logo would look emblazoned on my taut, muscled, twenty-mumble-yr-old shoulder (and I think we can all agree that "not terribly cool at all" is the answer), one day I will be a saggy old bastard with skin droopier than a lappet-faced vulture's wattle.

But now, courtesy of Boing Boing, I think I have the answer... get my PowerBook tattooed instead. There are only a few designs on the site so far, but it looks like they can put pretty much anything you want onto the lid.

If $200 is a bit steep, then $30 will get you a text-only etching on the back of your iPod. Mine would say, "I need recharging already."

Posted by chris at 08:04 PM | Permalink

Wikipedia in "not always 100% accurate - yet" shocker

I'm a big fan of Wikipedia; I know better than to rely on it as a sole source for anything, sure, but in general it's an excellent resource, especially when you want an introduction to, or overview of, a particular topic. I find myself pointing people towards it all the time.

So I was interested to read this Guardian article, entitled Can you trust Wikipedia? They have experts from a number of fields give their analysis of the respective Wikipedia entries for their specialist subjects. It's an interesting piece, and as you'd expect, some entries do better than others (8/10 for Bob Dylan, 5/10 for the article on encyclopedias) but with mainly sixes and sevens out of ten. The guy reviewing the encyclopedia entry is particularly sniffy, in fact, calling it "a school essay, sketchy and poorly balanced". Mee-ow! Saucer of milk, table five. Possibly this is something to do with the fact that he's a former editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Now of course, yes, a suitably qualified expert will often be able to pick holes in any given Wikipedia article, or find something to disagree with. But all of the criticisms implied in the Guardian's critique are missing one very obvious point, completely aside from the "well it's only written by amateurs, so what do you expect" argument. And that point is, Mr. Robert McHenry, that if you find something inaccurate, poorly written, or otherwise unhelpful, you can fucking well log in and fix it yourself. Prick.

The point of Wikipedia is not so much that it's written by amateurs, but rather that it's written by anyone who wants to contribute. And that includes slumming professionals as much as zealous but imperfectly resourced amateurs. Furthermore, the fact that anyone can create an account and make changes to the page means that, broadly speaking, over time it's just going to get more and more accurate - not less.

To test this, I performed a simple check. I picked an error highlighted by one of the experts (in the Samuel Pepys article, the name of his wife is misspelt), and checked the corresponding Wikipedia entry. Oh - look at that: fixed already. Another one (a typo in the publication date of the Encyclopédie): fixed. The muddled intro to the Steve Reich entry: rewritten. And another. And another. I got bored after my first half dozen random picks all turned out to have been addressed already, but I'm willing to bet that each article on that list has already been given a good going over, if not by the Guardian experts themselves, then by other interested parties who took it upon themselves to contribute.

And that's. The whole. Point.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not possessed of some messianic fervour when it comes to all things Web 2.0. But it struck me as highly ironic that the Guardian experts, via their list of nitpicks, have inadvertently highlighted Wikipedia's greatest strength instead: it will take those nitpicks, assimilate them, and be all the better for it. It may not be perfect, but it's surely just going to keep getting better and better.

[link via Blackbeltjones]

Posted by chris at 05:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

East meets West; complains about the food

The Guardian has an interesting piece on Asian footballers playing in Europe, and some of the difficulties they face when adapting to western cultures. Hidetoshi Nakata, probably the most high-profile Japanese player outside of Asia at the moment, has some interesting things to say about the linguistic differences:

Nakata has had plenty of time for cultural reflection, having spent seven years in Italy. He thinks back to his arrival, in 1999, when he signed a £2 million deal with Perugia. 'The most difficult part of communicating was having to put your own opinion forward, not hold everything back as we do in Japan. Self-assertion is very important in Italy. Everyone is, "Me! Me! Hi!" So I had to change. I think now I am more Italian than Japanese, you can see that when I talk - now I use my hands to be more expressive. That is very un-Japanese.'

But Nakata expresses his frustration at the western way of communicating, especially in a formal encounter. 'So, it's hot today...?' he says, waiting for a response. 'You see how difficult it is to answer? I get this kind of question all the time in football, like 'So, you drew 2-2 today...?' We ask these questions in Japan, but only between people who know each other very well. How am I supposed to know what you are talking about when I have only just met you?

[emphasis mine]

It's an interesting point; context is all-important in Japanese, in no small part because the bare language itself is often so unspecific (few verbs have explicit subjects, no articles, etc.) and so much is implied instead of directly stated. So if you find yourself having to communicate in an unfamiliar language, and with strangers, to boot, deprived of the contextual and linguistic cues that you usually expect to pick up... well, it doesn't make things any easier.

As a non-native Japanese speaker, I'm always trying very hard to listen out for these cues, because they're sure as hell not in the spoken language half the time. Presentations given by colleagues in Japanese can quickly become impenetrable if you're not following them absolutely from the outset; I often find it much harder to come in halfway through a Japanese conversation than I would an English one. But

One slight pickup in the article: tatemae (建前) and honne (本音) aren't quite "inside" and "outside"; those would be uchi (内) and soto (外). The tatemae/honne distinction, which is what Nakata is talking about, is more about the discrepancy between your private, true feelings (honne), which in Japan are typically kept strictly to yourself or only shared with very close acquaintances, and the public face that you present to the outside world (tatemae, literally "facade"). As Nakata notes, this exists to some extent in probably all cultures; the Japanese just seem to be famous for it.

But uchi/soto is certainly a closely related topic. Jeremy Antipixel has an interesting explanation of uchi/soto here, and I guarantee that it's one of the few times you'll see Japanese cultural values referenced by way of a John Ford western.

Here's a brief Wikipedia page on tatemae/honne, and another on uchi/soto.

Oh - and I liked the bit in the article about the Korean player who mistakenly became captain of Manchester United for seven minutes. Although I'm a little puzzled how anyone can say "I'm a good cook - especially miso soup...", which is surely a little like saying you make a mean instant coffee?

[many thanks to Dave for the link]

Posted by chris at 03:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wipeout Pure Classic Pack 2 Available for Download (Japan)

Oops, was going to mention this yesterday, but got sidetracked with a trip to the doctor and an experience with a large blood-sucking syringe. But that's another story. What you really need to know is that the second Wipeout Pure Classic Pack is now available for Japanese editions of the game.

The second pack features another classic circuit — Odessa Keys from Wipeout 2097 / XL — a new ship — Goteki 45 — and a Goteki menu skin. Having played the Odessa Keys circuit, it isn't quite how I remember it from XL... I mean I know it's been re-engineered, but I have memories of large jumps over crested ramps and down into cavernous tunnel sections... this version seems a lot tamer by comparison.

But I'll have to break out the PlayStation and see how faithful my memory is being some other time; it's late and I'm off to Hakone tomorrow morning. Personally, I'm a disciple of the "packing is for wimps" school of thought, but my girlfriend is an adherent of the rival "I'm not sharing a single train with you all weekend unless you take at least a change of underwear" sect. So pack I must.

Oh - I was wondering in an earlier post about the Classic packs whether the circuits contained therein would be rendered in lo-fi or not. Well, the circuits themselves are coloured more like a mix of the zone tracks with the delta pack tracks. Altima VII in particular is largely a gorgeous luminescent cherry red colour. (Odessa Keys seems a bit pedestrain in comparison.) The ships are full-resolution, but the weapons are all 8-bit pixellated lo-fi, like on the pre-loaded Classic tracks. Not sure why, but it's not like it detracts from the gameplay.

No further info on Japanese release dates for Classic Packs 3 and 4 yet, by the way. Though the final Coke pack ought to be out by the end of the month - i.e. within a week or so.

(Progress report: currently riding high on 208 golds.)

Posted by chris at 01:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Get Do Some Exercise

As seen on the back of a football manager-style long anorak coat thing on the train one day:

Japlish scribe 1: "So which is it: 'get' or 'do'?"
Japlish scribe 2: "Oh, I don't know; let's use have write try both."
Japlish scribe 1: "Okay, next: what about 'some' or 'a little'...?"

Originally from the Tokyo Tales v2.0 Japlish archives. First posted 2000/06.

Posted by chris at 12:35 AM | Permalink

Feline Japlish Miscellany

As seen on a pencilcase:

This ominous warning is made all the more sinister by the capitals.

Originally from the Tokyo Tales v2.0 Japlish archives. First posted 2000/07.

Posted by chris at 12:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Crocodile Profusion

Really can't remember where I saw this one... presumably another sweatshirt:

Crocodile Profusion
I like it. Rather like a cryptic weather forecast: "Sunny followed by scattered showers; light easterly winds; crocodile profusion later in the evening."

Originally from the Tokyo Tales v2.0 Japlish archives. First posted 2000/10.

Posted by chris at 11:57 PM | Permalink

Clever uses for Flickr #1: Business card archive

The excellent Lifehacker (my new new favourite - apologies, Hanzi Smatter) pointed me towards this innovative method of indexing your business cards using Flickr. This could be really useful, especially here in Japan where meishi (名刺) are proffered upon you at the slightest opportunity.

Now if only there was some way to have each card appear automatically on Flickr, complete with accurate meta data, no matter how drunk you were when you were given it. That would be something worth seeing.

Posted by chris at 06:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Beijing building boom

The Grauniad has a long piece on Beijing's (latest) construction boom, with particular mention made of the new Norman Foster airport and Rem Koolhaas's Central China TV headquarters.

Beijing is the capital of the world's fastest-growing economy, provoking a titanic struggle between a totalitarian political system and the liberalisation that is the presumed product of its economic transformation. By some estimates, half the world's annual production of concrete and one-third of its steel output is being consumed by China's construction boom. The second ring road that marked the city limits until the Eighties has been followed by the building of a third, fourth and fifth ring. The sixth is under construction. Cars move around disconnected clumps of newly completed towers. There are now more than 2m cars in the city - already enough to wipe out all the improvements in air quality achieved by the expulsion of heavy industry from Beijing's centre. The city map looks like a dartboard, with the void of the Forbidden City as its empty bull's-eye. And with the abruptness of a randomly aimed dart, entire new districts appear arbitrarily as if from nowhere. A city that, until 1990, had no central business district, and little need of it, now has a cluster of glass towers that look like rejects from Singapore or Rotterdam. And these, in turn, are now being replaced and overshadowed by a new crop of taller, slicker towers, the product of the international caravan of architectural gunslingers that has arrived in town to take part in this construction free-fire zone. Rem Koolhaas, Jacques Herzog, Zaha Hadid, Jean Nouvel and Will Alsop are all building, or trying to build here.

I went to Beijing a few years ago, just for four days or so. The contrast between the rundown, dusty hutongs and the rapidly rising steel and glass skyscrapers couldn't have been more pronounced. The main roads were insane, too: extra-wide boulevards that reminded me of Eastern Europe, built to accommodate all those military processions of truck-mounted ICBM launchers, I think I assumed at the time. And all thronged with the most reckless taxi drivers I have ever had the misfortune of hailing. How we didn't die squashed between a careless bus and the unforgiving concrete of the central reservation, I shall never know.

I'm a fan of cities, really, but despite the excellent sightseeing (Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, yada yada yada) Beijing would be way down my list of places to visit again. Dirty, dusty, polluted, filled with insistent street hawkers. Still, let's just hope that the city planners, with all their shiny new steel skyscrapers, don't repeat the same mistakes that were made with Shanghai's Pudong district, which is slowly sinking into the swamp it was built on. I don't think Beijing's very swampy, so they should be just fine.

Oh - and the article mentions that the Chinese government is rushing to get Beijing's latest crop of towers and sports venues ready by the end of 2007 for the 2008 Olympics. Some other things they might want to sort out by then include:

Wow, don't know where that came from. Blame it on my weakened state; I'm still here on the couch with the duvet.

[Link via Blackbeltjones]

Posted by chris at 06:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Laughing lawmaker laps up lolly

Bleargh. I'm off sick from work and have been sedentary on the couch all day, wrapped in a blanket, eating waitrose peanut butter-smeared crackers and moaning gently to myself. I don't do ill very well.

Fortunately there's always WaiWai to raise my spirits: Effusive freshman lets politicians' pretty-sitting kitty out of the bag reports on newly elected LDP lawmaker Taizo Sugimura, who made the news recently for his effusive exposé of the plush perks granted to pampered politicos picked at the polls (sorry):

"I looked up how much a Dietman makes a year - 25 million yen!! And on top of that they give you another million yen a month to pay for communication fees!! I thought it was a million a year, but it's a million a month! I wouldn't know how to use a million a month."

The young man, Taizo Sugimura, may have been a total unknown and arguably the Liberal Democratic Party's biggest surprise winner in the Sept. 11 House of Representatives. But in the weeks since winning, he's made himself one of the country's best known politicos, mainly because of the sheer excitement he's showed while rattling off the list of perks he picks up as a member of the Diet.

"They say I get a three-bedroom apartment in the Diet members lodge," Shukan Shincho quotes the 26-year-old newly minted politician as saying. "I can't wait!!"

There's more: "I've heard that Diet members can ride Japan Railways trains for free as much as they want. And it's all first class travel. First class travel!! I've never traveled first class in my life."...

Bunshun says that Sugimura was surfing the Net at work one day a few months back and noticed that the LDP was advertising for candidates to run in upcoming elections.

"Oh wow. Oh boy. They're looking for candidates. Oh wow, wow, wow. Jeepers," Sugimura recalls his reaction for Shukan Bunshun.

I swear, the guys who do the translations for these articles have the best job in the world. It must be like writing for The Onion but, like, for real.

What I find quite amazing is that this guy was able to apply to become an official candidate just by filling in a form and writing a short "Why I shud B a politishun" essay. Thanks to the marvels of proportional representation, he got in - literally just to make up the numbers. With rigorous candidacy requirements like this, it's no wonder that many Japanese are so thoroughly disillusioned with politics.

Here are some other jobs that I think should be made available via postal ballot:

  • Astronaut
  • President of the United States (c'mon, we all know we could do a better job of it than the current guy)
  • Air traffic controller, preferably somewhere really busy
  • Nuclear submarine commander
  • WaiWai editor
  • Steve Jobs

Time to dust off the CV, methinks.

Posted by chris at 04:58 PM | Permalink

Bar review: Office, Gaienmae

On the evening of Friday September 30th, a little over two weeks ago, I was in a bit of a pinch. I had put up my bold October 1st relaunch announcement a week earlier, but still had a number of things to do before the site was ready to go live the next day. I needed somewhere I could break out the laptop, grab some food, maybe with a drink or two to unwind, and thrash out the final few posts. Oh, and free WiFi, a nice view and some cool background tunes wouldn't hurt, either. So as soon as I left work, I knew exactly where to go: Office.

For those that have never been, Office is a trendy little bar in Gaienmae. It occupies the fifth floor of the building right above Gaienmae station, with a commanding view that stretches all the way down Aoyama-dori towards Shibuya in the distance. There's no cover charge, it's rarely so crowded you can't get a seat, and it has to be one of my favourite places for a good-old-fashioned, drink-in-hand, watching-the-traffic-go-by chillout.

It was originally conceived as a bar where creative types could meet and socialise - but also get work done. The main table resembles a great big green-topped draughtsman's desk, with anglepoise lamps rising out of recessed cubby holes. Desk drawers contain pens and A4 legal pads for those impromptu doodle sessions. Chairs are styled as filing cabinets, recessed into the wall when not in use. And yes, there's even a photocopier next to the DJ booth, and a phone/fax recessed into the end of the large table.

The bookshelves are worth a couple of hours of anyone's time, too, with volumes ranging from 1930s Superman compendiums to Lego annuals to classic airline design coffee-table albums.

The food is good, the drinks are great, the staff are friendly, the vibe is relaxed, the tunes are laid back, and yes, there's free wireless and no shortage of places to plug your PowerBook into the mains, should you really need to, but mainly... it's the view. On paper, there's not much to it: there's a road (Aoyama-dori) leading off into the distance; cars drive up and down it; ocasionally they stop to let other cars cross; neon signs illuminate various buildings.

But there's something about the way it all flows; traffic lights phase on and off every couple of hundred metres, checking and releasing the taxis (for they are nearly all taxis, once you get past about midnight) in rythmical waves of headlights and taillights. It's just beautiful.

So, Office. My favourite bar. It's a bit out of the way, but nothing that a ten minute taxi ride from Shibuya can't fix. I urge you to check it out. Take exit 3 from Gaienmae station on the Ginza line. The entrance is round to the left of the Sign cafe (operated by the same company) on the ground floor. In the meantime, here's a Japan Times interview with Office owner Sadahiro Nakamura, and a more recent interview with the designer responsible for Office's minimal aesthetic, Myeong-Hee Lee.

Office (Gaienmae)
Yamazaki Bldg. 5F
Kita Aoyama 2-7-18
Tel: 03-5786-1052
Fax: 03-5786-1053

Posted by chris at 01:09 AM | Permalink

Quake? What quake?

Apparently we had a largish earthquake at 4:05 this afternoon... anyone?

I think I was sat in Benugo in Ebisu Garden Place around then, but didn't notice anything wobble. Mind you, I was probably tucking into my sandwich a bit too ravenously. I'm not supposed to eat for two hours before my yoga class, which means breakfast, if it were to happen at all, would have to be before 11:30am - hah! Like I'm going to get out of bed before midday on a Sunday for "breakfast". Hence the first meal of the day at 4pm.

Anyway, let me take this opportunity to tell you about the excellent earthquake page at Tenki (天気) is Japanese for "weather", and while I think you'd be hard-pressed to classify earthquakes as strictly meteorological events, I'm not going to argue with this very groovy little tool.

Use the drop-down menu just above and to the right of the main map image to navigate back through previous earthquakes; they redesigned recently and the new interface is definitely an improvement. The previous version listed not the earthquakes themselves but rather all the earthquake reports... so a single quake could be listed a dozen times as various different reporting stations around the country called in their data. Muy confusing.

Dots on the map represent the severity of the quake according to the Japanese seismic intensity scale, which ranges from 1 (Mild Flatulence) to 7 (Godzilla grabs rucksack of bottled water and Calorie Mate and makes beeline for nearest sturdy doorframe).

This is not to be confused with the Richter Scale, which measures magnitude (マグニチュード in the info table) and not intensity. The difference, if I remember correctly, is that the magnitude of a quake is a measure of the amount of energy released, full stop. So a magnitude 5 quake is a magnitude 5 quake is a magnitude 5 quake, no matter where you measure it from. The Japanese scale (shindo) is a measure of how strongly the quake is felt at the place where the measurement is taken. So a magnitude 5.1 quake (Richter scale) in Ibaraki might be a shindo 4 near the epicenter, a shindo 3 in Tokyo, shindo 2 in Yokohama, but a shindo 0 if you're sitting on a high stool in Ebisu, greedily wolfing down a gourmet sandwich.

By the way, I love the haiku-esque nature of the JMA scale explanations:

5+: In many cases, unreinforced concrete-block walls collapse and tombstones overturn. Many automobiles stop due to difficulty in driving. Occasionally, poorly installed vending machines fall.
The neglected parking meter beeps;
Odaiba slides into Tokyo Bay;
Melancholy tremblor.

Posted by chris at 11:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wipeout Pure Coca-Cola Expansion Pack 4 Available

Today saw the release of the fourth Coca-Cola-themed expansion pack for Wipeout Pure (Japan only). You know the drill by now - sneak onto your next-door neighbour's WiFi network and connect via the game's Online feature. The password for number four is triangle-circle-x-square.

I'm really not sure if I'm doing something wrong here, because I've downloaded the pack (which comes in two parts, for some reason) and although it appears to have successfully installed the next Coke skin (another skin! I just don't care!), there's no sign of the "Coca-Cola Colour Craft" that is supposed to accompany it. Any ideas? Me neither.

Progress report... I broke the elusive 200 barrier. Currently sitting pretty at 202 golds, although there's still another 67 to go. And that's not counting the additional tracks due on the next Classic packs.

I've got to finish before Grand Theft Auto is released, though, as otherwise I'll be in the unfamiliar position of having to choose which game to play... How odd.

Posted by chris at 11:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

How to avoid being (mis-)typecast

You know the kind of person who spends entire movies pointing out anachronistic period detail or other "goofs"? Gems such as, "that kind of hat wasn't produced until the 1930's" or "pah! no hacker would ever use a microsoft ergonomic keyboard!" Of course you do. In fact, if you'd been sat next to me during Die Another Day, you would have heard me muttering all the way through the "fencing" scenes.

Well, anyway, do I have a site for you. Mark Simonson's Son of Typecasting is a page dedicated to pointing out anachronistic font usage in movies and TV shows. The most recent post details font misuse in the Scorcese epic Gangs of New York, which, despite being set exclusively in the 1860's, features a number of twentieth-century typefaces:

Here we see Bernhard Antique (1937) with two overly-distressed-looking 19th century wood types. Notice the straight apostrophe in the bottom line. Straight apostrophes and quote marks did not exist in typefaces until the advent of digital type in the 1980s. It’s a computer thing, not a typographic thing... This one is set in URW Egyptienne (1950s) and ITC Benguiat (1977). Benguiat is a particularly poor choice since it is based on the Art Nouveau style of around 1900.
URW Egyptienne! The fools!

Seriously, though, I'm actually really quite taken by Mr. Simonson's webpage. I'm always impressed when someone is able to display such complete mastery of their chosen field, and I suspect I'd be extremely hard pressed to come up with an area in which I was able to expound at such length and with such obvious authority. (For the 15-year-old me it would be Soviet and NATO military aircraft, which I was all over like a cheap suit for a while there... but that was some time ago now.)

So do check it out, and its predecessor, Typecasting, which is more of the glorious same.

Oh - and props to him for his praise of Wes Anderson's Futura obsession in The Royal Tenenbaums, which was indeed a joy to behold.

[Link via]

Posted by chris at 01:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Xbox 360 Lounge in Aoyama: shiny, white

We walked past this a couple of nights ago, on our way from Las Chicas up to Office in Gaienmae: the Xbox 360 Lounge in Aoyama. It's on the west side of Aoyama-dori, right where the Kinokuniya supermarket used to be, I think - just opposite the Max Mara building and Kotto-dori.

It's all wrapped in white, with conspicuous Xbox logos and according to the press release will open at the beginning of November, featuring "Touch and Try" Xbox stations - though it doesn't say how many - and a 70-seat cafe.

As Kotaku notes, it is in a "fashionable neighbourhood", but at the same time, it's a little out of the way... certainly when compared with Apple's Ginza and Shibuya stores, for example. Also worth noting is that the site has played host to a succession of temporary structures over the last couple of years, and this one is perhaps no different - destined to be torn down a month or so after launch.

So it's not some permanent sales location in the heart of, say, Shibuya or Akihabara. But still, this is obviously a sign of a strong marketing offensive from Microsoft, who are clearly determined that the second Xbox won't tank in Japan like the first one did. By targeting the kind of people who are likely to be strolling along Aoyama-dori, they're presumably hoping to push the "digital entertainment hub" message to non-gamers. (The press release specifically mentions that there will be a) gaming stations, yes, but also b) a "digital lifestyle lounge".)

However, I can't help but think that more and better games would be a far tastier selling point than a War of the Worlds DVD tie-up (which is what they're actually pushing). In Japan, after all, surely gamers outnumber people looking for a DVD-and-hard-drive-based home entertainment center that isn't made by Sony, Panasonic, NEC or a host of other Japanese home electronics firms whose products they already know and trust? Don't you think?

[link via Kotaku]

Posted by chris at 04:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


Surely it makes more sense to disguise your computer as a bento box than to disguise your bento box as a computer? I am of course missing the point; it's not some kind of anti-theft device, just a piece of custom laquerware.

"Download" is dedicated to the individuals whose dining companions are often their computers. The monitor, a shallow plate that reminds us there is more to life than work. The keyboard, a shallow box for holding food items, a CD to serve as a small plate or coaster, a mouse which is a two sided spice dispenser and a mouse pad napkin.

I can't get one of these, though, as then I'd have three computers on my desk, not just two. Plus the PowerBook would get jealous, even though she's much sleeker.

Not she, "it". I meant "it".

[via Gizmodo]

Posted by chris at 01:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Reasons to exclaim "Motherf**ker!" on a crowded train, #1

When you're in the middle of the tenth race in a twelve-race series on Wipeout Pure, and your PSP chooses to crash for no apparent reason, freezing the screen and then dumping you out of the game altogether.

I got a few looks for that one.

Posted by chris at 12:19 AM | Permalink

Wipeout Pure Classic Packs - Japan release schedule updated

よ〜しゅ! The Japanese Wipeout Pure website has announced release dates for the next two expansion packs. Classic Pack 1 will be available from 1pm tomorrow, October 7th, and Classic Pack 2 will be available from October 21st. If they stick to that, it will represent a significant speeding-up of the Japan releases, which have been pootling along at not-quite-one-a-month since launch.

Classic Pack 1 contains a menu skin (Tigron), two music tracks (Cairodrome and Canada, both by Cold Fusion and already featured in previous games in the series) and a new circuit, Altima VII. Altima VII is actually a circuit from the original Wipeout (1995! "Ten years, man!" </Grosse Point Blank>), but I don't know if they've included it here as a full circuit, or as one of the blocky lo-fi simulations that was used for the four classic circuits that came pre-loaded on Pure. The former, I hope. We shall see.

Progress report... kind of stalled on 190 golds. Need to switch some leisure time away from non-essential activities (sleeping, eating, girlfriend) and back to where it belongs... that frikkin' series of esses on Citta Nuova.

Oh - and I found a Wikipedia page for Wipeout, which is detailed and authoritive in much the same way that Antarctica is white and cold.

Posted by chris at 01:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


I saw this a couple of days ago and immediately wanted one - a sledgehammer-operated keyboard.

It's an art installation, sadly, not a working product, but there have been a couple of e-mails I've sent this year that could have benefitted from being pounded out letter by letter with a 14lb tempered-steel Wilton. D! E! A! R! Space! M! O! R! O! N! ,! Carriage return!

Actually, that's a point, how do you shift? And I guess you'd need a couple of similarly armed mates to help you reboot. But cool nonetheless.

[link via Boing Boing]

Posted by chris at 01:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Forever Protector of Old Ladies

Tokyo Tales is proud to be the first result on Google for Japlish, the misappropriation of English words and phrases for use on t-shirts here in Japan. Or adverts, or song lyrics, or whatever; but t-shirts tend to provide the most fertile ground.

The inverse of Japlish would, I suppose, be 英本語 (eihongo), but knowing how Japanese works, 英和語 (eiwago) would probably make more sense. (Eiwa is at least a word, meaning "England and Japan", or "English-Japanese", whereas I don't think eihon is. Or if it is, it probably means "English book". The final "go" is the suffix for language. But maybe I should deliberately pick a word that isn't a word... aaaanyway.)

If Japlish's natural habitat is Japanese people wearing badly written t-shirts they don't understand, then the inverse's natural habitat is surely... westerners getting kanji tattoos.

As I was doing a bit of browsing this afternoon, I tripped across the excellent Hanzi Smatter, a weblog devoted to critiquing badly done (and often just plain wrong) kanji (hanzi in Chinese) tattoos. Not just tattoos actually, but also t-shirts, rugs, bumper stickers, and so on, but the tattoos are clearly the best part. I can't put my finger on it, but there's just something... schadenfreudelicious about the idea of someone getting "small penis" forever etched into their forearm, when they thought they'd asked for "wild man".

This is going to be my new favourite blog, I can just tell.

The author is a Chinese-American chap with a keen eye for a misplaced radical. I share his amazement that people will happily scar themselves for life with ideograms, the meaning of which they have no hope of understanding. I run (though I haven't checked in on it for a while) The Kanji SITE, which is a resource for people studying Japanese kanji and I am ALWAYS getting e-mail from two kinds of people:

1) American teenagers who want to know the kanji for carburettor, so they can get it tattooed on the back of their neck; and
2) American teenagers who have already gotten what they were told was the kanji for carburettor tattooed on the back of their neck, and just want to check that that's actually what it means. (Sadly, it never means carburettor. It usually means princess. Or tofu. But never carburettor.)

I never reply. Recently I just haven't had time, but more fundamentally there's just no way I'm comfortable with telling people "Hell yes, tattoo this on the back of your neck. Of course it means carburettor!" because... I'm... not... Japanese. Or Chinese. Or anywhere good enough at either language to be an authority on the subject.

If someone mails me a request for the Japanese kanji for the Japanese word "budo", which they know means "martial art", then I can do it (武道), because I can't really get that wrong. But I'm not about to offer a translation of my own. Nuh-huh. Perhaps I'll set up a proper tattoo service on the site when I finally overhaul it, but I'm making damn sure it's plastered with more comprehensive disclaimers than those waivers you have to sign when you volunteer for medical trials: "Warning! You may end up with 'princess' tattooed on the back of your neck!".

Let me say it again: I will not take responsibility for your tofu carburettor. Thank you.

Posted by chris at 12:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

iPod Subway Maps

Heh - this won't work on mine as it doesn't have the photo feature, but any city-dwellers amongst you with a photo-displaying iPod should check out these downloadable subway maps - very smart. I would install the Tokyo and London ones, if I could. But I can't.

Thanks to Dave for the link.

Posted by chris at 01:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Welcome back

Aaaaaaand.... we're back. Miss me? Thought not. It's okay, I don't blame you. I've got some 'splaining to do, so here's what you need to know.

Tokyo Tales is back, after a three-year hiatus. I mothballed the blog in October 2002, as I didn't have time to update it any more. It sat unmolested all that time, with nothing but a simple holding page hinting at an eventual return. This is that return.

You should go and read the September 2005 posts. Although I've announced this relaunch for October 1st 2005, I've actually been going since the beginning of September. The blog has been hidden from the general public all that time, of course, so I've just been talking to myself for the last month, but it's been useful nonetheless. I wanted a bit of a head start, needed a bit of time to get up to speed with Movable Type, which is what I'm using this time around, and, quite frankly, needed to get used to typing daily thoughts into a keyboard again.

All the old posts from the previous incarnation of Tokyo Tales have been imported into this new version. This is, by my reckoning, the fourth version of Tokyo Tales. (In Doctor Who terms, this means we're up to Tom Baker.) The posts from v3.0 have survived the migration, but I haven't re-posted the original e-mails that comprised v1.0 and v2.0. I may go back and plunder these anew in the near future, but we'll see if I can be arsed.

If you want to leave a comment on any of the old posts, feel free. The v3.0 posts (March 2001 to October 2002) didn't have comments enabled when they were created, mainly because I never got around to finding a decent comments system that would work well with Blogger, which is what I was using at the time.

Happily, MT has built-in comments and thus, lo and behold, all the old posts now come with comments. Or rather they don't. But that's where you come in. It might feel odd commenting on something that's at least three years old, but don't worry, I'll hear you. And so will the other (I'm anticipating literally several) readers.

There might be the odd broken link. The oldest posts on here now date from over four years ago, so it's inevitable that some of the pages they point to will have disappeared. In particular I was distraught to note the passing of my beloved Swedish cockatoo scalextric game; I'm afraid that particular parrot has indeed run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. So if you find a broken external link, feel free to let me know via the comments, but I can't promise I'll be able to fix it. But I will join you in a brief but respectful period of mourning.

Also, this website here is quite a different shape from v3.0; there's no webcam page any more, and I haven't rebuilt the gallery yet, for instance. So if you find a broken link to somewhere that no longer exists inside, then please let me know via the comments and I'll definitely try to patch it up the best I can.


I think that's everything you need to know (might have actually wanted to know is a different matter). If you want to catch up, check the September posts for details of what I've been up to since you last heard from me. If you'd like to get in touch, then please use the blog comments for now (just put "confidential" in the body of the comment if you don't want it made public, and I'll catch it before it goes live). I'll add a dedicated contact form to the About page in the near future, too.

And finally... welcome back.

Posted by chris at 08:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

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