Confessions of a Terrible Eater

I’m not going to lie; when left to my own cooking abilities I am a terrible eater. It was bad enough in America with fast food everywhere, but at least in the United States I could go to the grocery store and get healthy food that I was familiar with and knew how to cook. When I moved to Japan my cooking skills went from abysmal to borderline inedible.

The first reason is that I have no idea what’s going on at the supermarket. From what I’ve heard many Japanese people hold a sense of fear when confronting foreigners. I can attest that for me this is completely the opposite. I am more afraid that they are going to speak in crazy fast Japanese. I suppose you can compare it to the whole “the snake is more afraid of you” saying (not to say I am a snake :-(). But anyways when I go to Kimisawa (the local grocery store) my whole objective is to go in and out as fast as possible with as little interaction as I can get by with.

The whole problem though is that most everything I knew about cooking in the United States is rendered useless in Japan. Let me play out a typical scenario I have when I go grocery shopping:

*Walking through the meat section*
– “Oooh, steak, I know how to cook that… 800 yen is expensive, but at least it is a safe bet, I just fire up the grill- shit, I don’t have a grill. Oh well, at least I can just put my oven on broil- CRAP, I don’t even have an oven. Can I fry a steak? I have no idea… wouldn’t it still be raw in the middle? I don’t want food poisoning. Oh well, looks like tonight I am having spaghetti with tomato sauce drenched in tabasco.”

And boom goes the dynamite. Yes, I’ve had more spaghetti/pasta here than I did in America… and that tabasco reference was no joke. You may remember my earlier post where I made mobu tofu, but other than that I really have nothing that I can make. Sometimes I just get bentos (lunch boxes) from 7-11, but there are only so many times I can have the salsbury steak soba combination.

For lunch at work I normally go out and get a bento from the street cars, and to be honest that is usually my best meal. Every now and then I will go to the cafeteria, but for some reason I prefer getting the bento and being able to sit down while relaxing.

But anyways, back to Kimisawa, another problem is I am not quite sure how to get some of the food. In the United States, there were bags next to all the vegetables where you put your fruits/vegtables in the bag and then they will ring it up at the cash register. These bags don’t exist in Japan. Do I just grab the vegtables and they ring it up at the register? What happens if that isn’t what you’re suppose to do and the clerk starts speaking to me in Japanese very fastly when I get to the register? Oh well, looks like I am eating spaghetti with tomato sauce drenched in tabasco tonight.

I talked to one of my friends from college about this and he suggested the best solution is to get a Japanese girlfriend. While I would love to have a Japanese girlfriend, not having to cook isn’t a good reason. Besides, it’s easier said than done to “get a Japanese girlfriend”.

Before I came to Japan I bought a Japanese cookbook. I think during my free time I am going to read through that and try to find recipes that are easy and fast to make. I am also going to make a pact right here not to buy anymore tabasco… that stuff may taste good but it is evil!

Pattaya and Trip Overview

Well I am back in Japan. I didn’t have a chance to talk about Pattaya when I was there as it was just too crazy, but I am going to sumarize it right here.

In short, Pattaya is crazy. The beach there is very nice to just sit around and chill and the nightlife is almost surreal. The first day we got to Pattaya we took a cab from our hostel in Bangkok to Pattaya that cost about 1800 baht. Once there we checked into our hotel. The hotel in Pattaya was something else. King sized bed, fully stocked kitchen, emaculate bathroom… by far the best hotel I have ever stayed at.

After we checked in we just ate at this local restaraunt (which we ended up eating at for the next three days) and then proceeded to walk around. Pattaya is crazy in the sense that so many “ladies of the night” will just be out in the open trying to get you to go to their bar. Just walking down the sea street you have to be careful. There are many shops in Pattaya along the sea and you can find some pretty decent souveniers.

The next day we decided to go jetsking. After taking the free hotel taxi to the beach we decided to shop around. Eventually we found a place that offered jetsking for 650 baht per half hour. It was really dun and the jetskis went very very fast. Afterwards we all just sat by the beach and had a beer. Many people came by selling stuff and we even had a cheap massage. That night again we walked around quite a bit enjoying the night life before going back to the hotel.

The last day was pretty uneventful. We went to the mall to look around (I tried to find shoes my size, but couldn’t), and then just walked around Pattaya again. We went to a amateur Thai boxing match which was really fun. A few American stepped in the ring to challenge the Thai guy and everyone had a good time.

The next day we caught an early cab back to Bangkok, hung out with our friends from before for a while, and then went to the airport. We had to wait about 7 hours for our plane and just walked around the airport. After passing out on the flight we went straight from the airport in Japan to Atsugi via bus and the straight to work via cab. All in all the trip was very fun but I am glad to get back to Japan. Thailand is a great country but nowhere near as developed as Japan or the US. I would definitely recommend anyone to go.

Picture Highlights:

It Started When:

Our first day in Thailand eating at some random restaraunt.

Defining Moment:

Relaxing by the beach.

Most Fun:

Me before jetsking.

Most Embarrassing Thing I Will Admit:


Picture of me with a ladyboy.

It Was Over When:


Sitting at the bus terminal at Nari

Facebook Albums:
https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.596467347658.2270092.16720765&type=1&l=5e7d816efb

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.596765071018.2270363.16720765&type=1&l=84196dd824

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.596766353448.2270364.16720765&type=1&l=7e49f44a21

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.596767431288.2270365.16720765&type=1&l=bc10c8ae53

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.596768109928.2270366.16720765&type=1&l=556f757e4e

Thailand Part 2 – Weekend Market, MBK, and more Nightlife

Well today was a very interesting day. Juan and I woke up around nine or so and took a quick shower. After that we had breakfast at the hostel which proved to be very disappointing. We had a croissant, toast, and a boiled egg. I don’t know how you mess up a boiled egg, but somehow they did. It also came with tea and coffee which was pretty decent, although it came with a shot glass of what I thought was milk but turned out to be cream (I learned the hard way).

After breakfast we went to the station and took the sky to meet two of Juan’s friends that he had met online. The friends turned out to be very nice and one spoke very good English. We proceeded to go to the weekend market which was a few stations and one transfer down. At the weekend market we had some more “dirty” food which was delicious. We had some crab stir fry, some Thai fried chicken, and some other spicy Thai noodle.

After we ate we just walked around the market and bought random things. The market was all outdoors and was huge. There were so many things to buy and you could always bargain down the price. The first thing I got was this VERY nice bag that I paid 800 baht for. In the US, that bag would be well over $100. I bought a Ralph Lauren (probably fake) polo that looked very nice for about 300 baht. I also bought a pair of shorts that were pretty decent. We walked around the market some more and evenutally had coffee at a cafe in a department store.

After the market we met Pui and again and went for some more shopping at a huge department store called MBK. It was a little bit closer to a mall and a lot more legitimate. I bought a Thai reggae CD and a few nick-nacks. I also bought a Thai beer T-Shirt for a souvenier.

At one point we walked through this huge electronics section. In the electronics section there were tons of bootleg DVD, CDs, and a lot of signs advertising unlocked iPhones. The prices seemed a little cheaper than the US and even Akihabara.

Afterwards we said our farewells to Pui and met the girls that we has met earlier. Juan and I went to the hostel to drop off our loot and then took a cab straight to the university where we met the girls. It was a very nice location, seemed to be a lot of Thai college students. The bar we went to had a very nice atmosphere. We were the only westerners there but everyone was very nice and drinks were cheap. There was Thai rap music blasting out the speakers and a soccer game on the big screen.

After a few hours we went outside and walked around for a while before catching a cab to the hostel. At the hostel we met a few other foreigners sitting outside. One was from the USA, one from Switzerland, and one from Australia. After talking a little we all decided to go to this notorious go-go girl bar. According to Trevor (the American), EVERY girl there was a prostitute. We just went there to mess around and I had absolutely no intention of actually going home with a girl. It was really neat though, however once you made eye contact with a girl god help you. They come over and really try to get you to go home. After a couple of hours we all left the bar to find something to eat. We eventually just got some dirty food from a street vendor. It was some type of kabob which was very tasty.

We got back to the hostel around 3 am and after checking my mail I went to sleep. We are going to catch a cab to Pattaya beach today. So far Thailand has been a blast and I have had a ton of fun.

Thailand Part 1 – Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and Bangkok Nightlife

Well the first day went pretty well. We woke up around nine, took a nice shower and were on our way. Just walking around Bangkok in the morning really brought to reality that I was in another country.

In Thailand there are not pedestrian street lights, you more or less just have to use your best judgement when to go.

Anyways we walked around a while and then ate breakfast at some western cafe. I just had a beef/pastrami sandwich and some water (bottled, tap water is not safe). After that we just walked around a little and made our way to a station. On the streets of Bangkok there are a lot of street carts that sell various food such as fruits, fried food, and traditional Thai food. The street food is a little bit more down the earth, and we called it “dirty food”. It is really really good, but just very modestly made.

We made our way to the sky train station and bought a ticket to the Central Station. From the central station we bought a boat ticket to the Grand Palace pier. In Bangkok it seems that everyone is out to get your money. You can’t let your guard down. While finding out the right boat to take we were approached by at least four “private” boat owners that wanted to charge us 150 baht for the same service. The official boat that we took ended up being 17 baht.

The boat ride was pretty enjoyable. We managed to get a seat near the front. The river looked pretty dirty though and I would hate to fall in, but seeing Bangkok from the riverside was pretty cool.

Once we got to the Palace pier we actually had to walk to the Grand Palace. Coming out of the pier there were a ton of dirty food stands with delicious looking fruit and interesting looking food. We walked down the road ignoring all the offers we got for taxis and made our way to the grand palace within ten minutes. The grand palace was beautiful. All the architecture looked very traditional and the colors were very vibrant. We had to have pants on (which I did), and there were a ton of foreigners there. At one point I had to take off my shoes to go in and look at the temple. It was very very pretty, but I was not able to take any picutres as photography was prohibited.

After the Grand Palace we made our way to What Pho. Wat Pho is famous for the traditiona Thai massages. Again we were more or less harrased by the taxi drivers as we made our five minute walk. Wat Pho is also famous for the reclining Buddha, a huge statute of a Buddha laying down. We had to take our shoes off again for this but it was really a sight. The statue was HUGE and you had to wonder how it was made.

We asked the guy working at the Reclining Buddha where the massages were. He took us outside to a shady looking establishment, so knowing that it was a scam, we went back to the temple and found the official massage place.

We decided to both get one hour massages with “herb” treatment. It came out to about 400 baht and was well worth it. First we went to a changing room where I put on some massage pants. Next I went to the massage bed and the massage began. I had never had a professional massage but it was really nice. I got a full body massage by a true professional. The massage girl pressed hard on a bunch of muscles and pressure points and I left feeling very relaxed and refreshed. As I left we were also handed a drink that seemed like water, tea, and milk. It was very nice.

After the massage we were both hungry so we looked for a dirty food place. We found a pretty decent one that served this spicy udon-looking soup. I bought a coke and Juan bought a water and we ate. It was very good and it only came out to about 30 baht.

After the food we just walked around the street vendors and looked at all the different goods. Tomorrow we are going to the weekend market, so we didn’t want to get too crazy. Eventually we made our way back to the pier. At the pier we were approached by 3 Thai university students that had to do an assignment for their college. It consisted of them asking us different things in English like why we came to Thailand, where we wanted to go, etc. They seemed pretty nice and we took a few pictures with them. They even helped us get on the right boat.

Next wek took the boat to the central station and then the sky tram to the station by our hostel. We just chilled at the hostel for a couple of hours, took a shower to clean off the abnormal amount of sweat, and then headed out to meet one of Juan’s friends at the station.

Juan’s friend (who he just told me he is in love with), Pui, met us at that station. She was really kind and spoke English very well. We all took a cab from the station to this authentic Thai restaraunt. It should be noted that since Pui spoke fluent Thai, we were charged about 10% for the cab of what we normally would be charged. ๐Ÿ™‚

Anyways, the restaraunt’s food was really delicious. We ordered three entrees and also had a couple of Heinikens. For the first entree we had this sort of seafood curry that had a very distinct Thai spice taste. The second entree was crab with shredded mango, and the last dish was catfish with this very very flavorful spice. Did I mention that I love Thai food?

After the restaraunt we went to this Irish pub together. I just had a pint of Guinness (which was delicious), and a Long Island Ice Tea. It was a pretty nice bar and there was a nice band playing that performed western songs (such as No Woman No Cry). After the pub we bid our farewells to Pui and Juan and I decided to walk around the market/bar area of Bangkok.

This proved to be a very interesting experience. I don’t think I’ve ever been aproached so much (even in Shinjuku) to go to strip clubs/hostess bars. Almost all bars that we passed by had bikini clad girls dancing. We went down this very interesting “Japanese” street also. All the signs were in katakana which through us off, and during this time Juan and I only spoke in Japanese.

At the end of the Japanese street we walked down another main road a little bit and then turned down a market road. There were tons of street vendors on this road selling everything from sunglasses to tasers. At one point Juan was in an engaging converstation to one of the vendors about buying some sunglasses, but after about five minutes we just left without buying anything (they were overpriced). If I am dead tomorrow please send condolences to my family. (joking)

At this point we had a little bit of liqour in us. We passed through this “gay” street which was just screaming “gay” and “ladyboy”. Being a little bit buzzed we decided to go on this street. Let me assure you, Juan and I are 100% straight and love women, but it was hilarious going down this street and having tons and tons of guys trying to usher you to go to their lady boy club. At one point we even got a picture with a few of the bouncers that I will post later.

At the end of this street there was very chill bar which Juan and I got a beer and a tequilla shot. It was really relaxed and not crowded at all. Behind the bar was a ladyboy club with a few ladyboys out front (which I couldn’t help but periodically stare at), but the bar was pretty nice relatively inexpensive. Aftwards we decided to head back to the hostel. We passed through the Japanese road again (and again we spoke in Japanese). After passing through another market road and dodging some cars at intersections we got to the hostel and I imediately got on the internet where I am writing this message now.

Tomorrow is our main shopping day in Bangkok. I want to buy a nice bag and perhaps some sandals. I bought some postcards at Wat Pho for family and friends, but I really want to buy something unique. Anyways, the first full day in Thailand was amazing and I am eager to write about new experiences.

Arrival in Thailand

Well I have arrived in Thailand. I am writing this post from the free internet in the hostel that I am staying at.

We caught the plane just in time. We took the wrong train from Niigata and ended up in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE in Japan, but somehow managed to get to Narita Airport just in time to get on our plane (we had to go through the staff security checkpoint because we were late). We took a taxi from Narita station to the airport, but unfortunately we were dropped off at Terminal 1. We departed from Terminal 2. At this time it was mass chaos as we more or less ran to catch the bus to Terminal 2.

The flight itself was pretty uneventful. I sat in the back row far away from Juan and watched Ironman and the new Indiana Jones. Towards the end I talked in Japanese to the guy sitting next to me and we talked about Thailand. He seems to work for a civil engineering firm and said that Thailand is actually pretty safe for foreigners. Whenever they made an announcement on the PA they said it in Japanese, English, and Thai. I don’t know any Thai.

I have the weirdest habit in Thailand also. I tend to try to speak in Japanese. I suppose it is the fact that I have never been to a foreign country other than Japan, so my default foreign language is Japanese, but I can only say “Hello” in Thai. Juan and I have something going where if we are saying something that we don’t want anyone around us to understand, we speak in Japanese. That way the only people that would understand us are Japanese people (it is very rare for a Thai person to speak Japanese).

Anyways, after we arrived we passed through customs with no problems and then proceded to exchange currency. I only traded 20000 yen at the airport (63000 baht) and will probably trade the rest in as I go along. We went out to the Taxi line and Juan showed the driver the hostel that we were staying at. At first, the Taxi driver tried to rip us off. He said 500 baht, which is way more than it should be. Juan, being attentive as ever, said just to use the meter. After about a 20 minute drive during which we saw a nice view of the Bangkok skyline, we arrived at the hostel. Again, the Taxi driver tried to charge us significantly more than what the meter said, but we were able to bargain it down to 385 baht.

The hostel is really nice. The AC is huge and Juan and I share our own rooms (bunk beds). The bathrooms/showers are also suspiciously clean. Well worth the $10 a night we paid.

Anyways Juan and I decided to go out to eat. We walked around a little while and then it started pouring rain. After a while we made our way to a 7-11 where we both bought an umbrella for 99 baht. You see some pretty interesting stuff on the street. There were a lot of beggars, suspiciously looking “massage” parlors, and even an elephant on the street next to the swanky looking hotel.

After walking around a little bit we decided to eat at this upscale looking restaurant called “Sillom Village”. It was a little bit more expensive than Juan wanted, but in the end we spend about 800 baht total for both of us (1 entree and 2 beers each). I had this very spicy Thai beef and Juan had this Duck curry. We shared our food and it was really good. The beef definitely had authentic Thai spice.

Anyways that leaves me where I am now. Going to go to sleep soon so I can rest up for tomorrow. I will definitely keep this blog updated though.

Tidbits Part 2

Since writing my last post I have thought of a few new things to say. Here are some more mini-rants.

Japan has so much coin currency
Talking with European friends this seems to be true for the euro also, but for some reason I find myself with a alarmingly large amount of change. In the USA, the smallest bill that we have is the one dollar bill (~100ish yen). In Japan, the smallest bill they have is the 1000 yen bill (10ish dollars). This leads to me getting an assload of change. The thing is that 100 yen coins look very similar to quarters so I don’t really affix too high of a value to them. However they do have a considerable value. Yesterday I counted all the change I have in my room, I had over 100 dollars in purely change alone. If you ever come to Japan be careful on this.

Another thing is the 1 yen coin. These are useless… they are a mix between plastic and metal. The thing is you never use them. They are such a nuisance to carry around and you never want to dig around when you are paying at the conbini for exact change.

Cook-Your-Own/Uncooked Food is Popular
There are many different restaurants in Japan. Many of them require you to cook your own food or even not cook your food at all. Yakiniku, shabu shabu, sushi all are like that. In yakiniku you just grill raw meat brought to you while in shabu shabu you boil it. Don’t get me wrong, it is delicious either way, just a bit of an adjustment. I have also realized that there are a lot more raw/half-cooked eggs in Japan. At Sukiya (Japanese fast food chain) they give you a raw egg and you crack the yolk over your food. Many other places give you a half-boiled egg with a runny yolk. I tend to like the half-cooked eggs.

Japan is Safe
I’ve been saying negative stuff up to this point, but here is something very positive; Japan is safe. I never felt like I’ve been in danger in Japan. Even when walking around downtown Tokyo at 3am in the morning I feel so safe. Maybe it is because of the difficulty of getting a gun or just the Japanese mindset but I really love it. Another thing on this note is that most bicycles only have the lock which goes around the back wheel. In the US this would never fly as the person would just pick the bike up and throw it in their truck, but I find it quite amazing that people don’t have to purchase more heavy duty locks to prevent their bike from being stolen.

Age Requirements are Ignored
The minimum age for drinking and smoking in Japan is 20. This is completely ignored. You can be 16 and still buy alcohol or cigarettes in a convenience store with no problem. Hell, skip the convenience store and go straight to the vending machines that dispense alcohol and cigarettes. As far as the age of consent goes it is also not enforced. From what I hear older guys will take 15-17 year old girls to love hotels and it will be perfectly acceptable. Kind of sad really, but just shows the difference in cultures.

Vending Machines are Everywhere
I’m sure most people who studied Japanese culture are aware of this but let me reiterate. Japan is FULL of vending machines. It seems that there are at least three of them every 25 feet, and no that is not an exaggeration. I love because it tends to give some variety and also whenever I go out for a run or trip I can always get something if I am thirsty. There are a few weird things though that you can get in vending machines. I’ve heard of vending machines in Akihabara that dispenses used panties, but have yet to actually see them. That kind of makes me wonder where the used panties factory is and how they make them.

That’s it for now. I get to go to Thailand next week so that should be pretty fun. If I have any new material to write about I will before then, but I am still recovering from that nasty cold ๐Ÿ™

Tidbits

There are a few small things that I have found interesting in my month and a half here in Japan. Most of them don’t warrant an entire blogpost so I am dedicating this post to all the small things.

Soap in Japan Sucks
It is really kind of funny. Many Japanese people walk around with masks on to prevent catching a cold, but at the same time many Japanese people (more so than the United States) don’t wash their hands. I can’t really blame them, because the soap is terrible. To me soap should have some texture and smell like, well smell like soap. Most of the soap that I have encountered in public bathrooms has the fluidity of water… cold water at that. It also smells like fish. I cringe everytime I go to wash my hands and keep telling myself it is for the greater good of killing bacteria.

Japanese Toilets are Crazy
I’m sure many people have heard of this, but many Japanese toilets (western ones, not the pits) have electronic controls on them. The ones at work have features such as seat warming, ass cleaners, and bidets. The seat warmer I never could come to like. To me a toilet seat should be cold, if it is warm you get that sensation that you came in JUST as the other person left. In Akihabara there is even a department store which has toilets that will make flushing noises? Why just noises? Well, say that you have a bad case of mudbutt and the bathroom is pretty crowded. Do you want other people to hear your embarrassing sounds? I

Over-the-counter Medicine Sucks in Japan
If you come to Japan long term chances are you are going to get sick at some point. When you do I hope to god that you brought medicine from your native country. I am writing this post while recovering from a nasty cold, and I can say that the cold medicine that you buy in Japan is REALLY weak. To put it in perspective my friend Juan gave me some leftover American medicine (Tylenol PM). I had been using Japanese medicine before that, and 3 of them at a time (1.5 doses). Just ONE Tylenol PM (0.5 dose) worked infinitely better than the Japanese counterpart.


That’s all that I can think of right now. Maybe down the line I will think of more
to post, but right now I have to rest and recover from this cold.

Maid Cafe and Brazilian Festival

So yesterday I went with Juan (American), Levi (American), Marco (Italian), and Pedro (Portuguese) to a Brazilian festival that was taking place in Yoyogi park in Harajuku. We all got to the station at about 12:30 and took the Odakyuu line straight to Tokyo and then the Yamanote line to Harajuku. The station at Harajuku was packed. There was some fashion show also going on nearby so there were tons of girls everywhere, which is a good thing ๐Ÿ™‚ . Anyways, we went on a bridge towards the direction of the park and somehow we were some of the only guys around. After we passed the fashion show and went into the direction of the festival it started to thin out.

The festival itself was pretty interesting. It was the only place in Japan that I truly felt that I was not in Japan. There were so many foreigners… not just from Brazil either. There seemed to be tons of Americans and Europeans there also.

When we first went there was some sort of Brazilian martial arts demonstration going on. I got a couple of pictures.


Afterwards we just walked around and listened to the music at the festival. It was Brazilian music and it seemed pretty neat. I was impressed.

There was tons of food there also. The Brazilian food was really expensive though and the line was huge, so all I got was a Brazilian beer. I went to the American booth and got some strange looking sausage that was pretty tasty. We took a picture with all the Americans.

Afterwards we just walked around Harajuku. There is this one strip on Harajuku right by the park where bands come regularly and just perform freely. Here are a few pictures of what we saw.

This band kind of seemed weird. The music wasn’t terrible but I thought the hair looked strange.


This is some sort of band that uses those drum/bell instruments. It was pretty neat.

 

There was also a guy doing Japanese calligraphy in some weird suit.


Next we just walked around the main part of Harajuku. There is this one narrow street that is really famous for buying all sorts of clothing items. Harajuku is also known as the “Fashion City” of Tokyo. I bought a T-Shirt that doesn’t fit. I’ll probably just send it to my Brother or someone.

After that we went to Akihabara to the maid cafe. A maid cafe is where you go in, all the girls are dressed as French maids, and they call you things like “Master” and play kid’s games with you. From a western perspective it is really weird, but it is something that you do for the experience.

We tried walking around Akihabara first to scout out the different cafes and find one with the cutest girls, but this ended up to be no use. We got there pretty late (around 7), so we decided to talk to a few by the station. At first we were going to go to a NUN cafe. Yeah, I know, a NUN cafe. What type of messed up fetishes are we getting ourselves into here? Anyways, when we got to the nun cafe it turned out to be just a bar where the girls were dressed as “sexy” nuns. Nothing really special and not something we were looking for. Instead we went to Donkyote at a pretty well known maid cafe on the 6th floor (ironically on the same floor as all the sex toys).

Anyways, after about a 40 minute wait the maid took us to the big table where we had to take off our shoes and sit down. A maid came to our table and started explaining to us the cafe. One thing though, she was speaking in fluent English. I mean fluent. She spoke better English than either of my Japanese professors back in the states. A few sentences in she just stopped and looked at us and said something to the effect of “What’s wrong? I’m getting a bunch of blank stares here.” Mark finally managed to spit something out to the effect of “I think we are just a little shocked.” Apparently she grew up abroad.

Anyways I ordered a ginger ale and some of the other guys ordered an ice cream and a drink. Levi I think ordered an iced coffee and when the maid came to put milk in it, she told Levi to say “Nyaa Nyaa” (the sound a cat makes in Japan) when there was enough. Before we all drank we also had to put “love” in our drinks with the maid. We made our hands into hearts, said something like “go mune kyuu!” (go heart kyuu!) and then we made our heart hands go from our chest, to our drink. It was pretty funny. Anyways none of the guys at the table could hold a legitimate conversation. Everyone was just staring at the Maids.

Anyways, I don’t have a ton of pictures of this as they did not allow you to take your own picture. You had to pay 500 yen for a picture with the maid, and they just used their own Polaroid camera. I did pay and get a picture with the maid. It was worth it in my mind ๐Ÿ™‚

Rough Translation:

MOE (term used in otaku world, means cuuteee or something to that effect)
Master Tim! <3<3
Mirufu

More pictures of the entire festival can be seen at the picasa album below:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.592458521378.2265043.16720765&type=1&l=9045978cb4

My Job

I get asked a lot what I do at work. I was hired on to help the Tools team develop internal tools to be used with voice recognition software. I am also going to help the US Modeling team develop models for US English voice recognition.

There are certain limitations to what I can say about what I do, but I’ll try my best. As far as programming, I program in Java mainly. There are bits and pieces of other code that I have to read, but I program entirely in Java. Now anyone I knew at university may have known my hatred for Java, but to be honest for this type of application it is acceptable.

The tool that I am programming now will import certain information about a voice recognition corpus and allow employees to work with it in a GUI. It will always be used internally, so a fast and flexible way to deploy the program to customers isn’t really necessary.

I have to say though that it is like I am still in University. I am learning all the kinks and niches of Java and how to work with it. It is a lot higher level than what I am used to, and in my honest opinion I think that the API is overly complicated. For some reason just the way to work with it does not seem as straight forward as C# did. This could be because I am working with Swing, and Java isn’t really made to be a powerhouse for GUI building, but it seems to even to the simplest thing in Java requires an unnecessary amount of programming.

Overall though, speaking strictly from a technical standpoint this internship is really great. I am learning so much about Computer Science and a lot more than I would’ve learned in a class. Everyone at work is very helpful and always willing to answer any questions that I have. I feel a little guilty though because it doesn’t appear that I am getting a lot done, but in reality I am researching/learning about a new language.

I wish I could post some screen shots of the program I am working on, but taking the advice of a co-worker I decided that it probably wouldn’t be the best idea. I have more than enough to keep me busy (which is more than could be said about my last job) and the fact that I am also in Japan only multiplies the experience.

As far as modeling goes, I have yet to do anything past the training material. I’m sure as the internship progresses I will learn a lot more about how to work with models, but for right now it seems that my job is mainly focused on programming.

One other minor thing that I do is lend the company my voice. Since it is voice recognition they want to get native speakers of the language they are working with. I’ve only gone once, but I when I did I went to this big recording room with Tanaka-san. The recording room was completely sealed off from outside noise and I even had to take off my shoes before entering. There was a computer in the middle of the room and I just had to recite the words that appeared on the screen. I think I remember Randy calling it something like slave labor, but I didn’t really mind it that much.

Anyways, yesterday we had a farewell party at Shabu Shabu that I will talk about probably tomorrow. I also have gone on a couple of dates that I will also talk about, but right now I need to rest.

Bicycle and Cell Phone

So after being in Japan a little more than a month I have picked up a few material possessions. First of which is a cell phone. In Japan, cell phones are essential. I heard it was because regular PCs aren’t as available to the Japanese teenager, but it seems that everyone uses their cellphone to email. Every girl that I’ve met with always asks me for my keitai mail (cell-mail), and I get way more messages than I did on my US phone.

A couple weeks ago I went with Shieri and Levi to pick up a cellphone. The first place we went to sold cellphones from all carriers. Talking to the other interns, it appeared that Softbank was the best value. However, when I went to the store, I was told that I would have to pay 70,000 yen up front for even the cheapest phone, and the monthly bill would be quite high. Asking the sales clerk, AU seemed to be the best bet as far as costs went. I didn’t have to pay for the phone up front and I could split it up over 12 months.

We actually decided to go to the AU-only store, as it had a better selection. One thing to note, cell phones in Japan are expensive. I think I am paying about 5000 yen a month for 120 minutes and a moderate amount of packets. Granted, that is probably just the right amount, I remember paying about $40 a month in the US for 400 minutes.

The application for the phone was fairly painless. I got to practice my Japanese quite a bit while Shieri helped the less Japanese-savvy Levi. A few signatures and hanko stamps later I was the proud new owner of a Sanyo Passport for AU. The cellphone is very nice. The screen is a lot longer than most US phones and there is even an antenna that can pick up broadcast TV specifically for phones (for free). The Japanese smileys are also very crazy.

Last weekend during the concert Marco secretly took a picture of my phone while I was on the train, and it actually came out quite well.


Marco caught me writing a mail. I feel like such a teenage girl.

The second thing that I have bought is a bicycle. A bicycle is by far the best investment that I have made in Japan. Everyone rides a bicycle. I decided to buy one at SATY (Walmart of Japan) so that I would no longer be a stinky pile of sweat when I went to work every morning. So anyways I went to the bicycle department and the Japanese sales clerk greeted me in broken English. I then started to talk in Japanese and asked him which the biggest bike was. (ใ„ใกใฐใ‚“ๅคงใใชใ˜ใฆใ‚“ใ—ใ‚ƒใฏใชใ‚“ใงใ™ใ‹๏ผ‰. He referred me to a bike that was about 14000 yen, so I decided to buy it. This is where SATY differs from Walmart. He then proceeded to assemble the bike for me, made sure the tires were full of air, and even told me to ride the bike down the isle to make sure it was satisfactory (service in Japan is so great).

He also asked me where I was from in America and I decided to say Texas this time around (where I go to university). When I said this his eyes seemed to have lit up. He aparently was a big fan of US Western movies. He mentioned something about Billy the Kid and Clint Eastwood, and I kind of felt almost at home while he was talking to me about this. Anyways, after I paid for the bike I took it down the elevator and rode it home. It has been worth every penny so far. On Monday we went to a sushi restaurant for Lunch, and it would have been hell to walk there in the dead afternoon while it was so hot outside. A lot of people at work are also into Cycling. I like to cycle, but fear that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with them. In any case I look forward to going.


My bitchin’ bike.

The bike is plenty big for me (I am pretty tall). One thing that was new to me was that the lock was ON the bike actually. There is a mechanism on the back wheel that makes a bar go through the back spokes and make it so it won’t turn. I guess this wouldn’t really work in America as people would just pick up the entire bike and throw it in their truck, but according to Randy it is fairly common in Europe. Anyways it is great and I ride it everyone. To anyone coming to Japan long term it is a must buy.

Mobu Tofu

**Update** (Read if you got here from google)
Now (some six month after living in Japan) I realize that I got the name of the dish and even how to make it wrong. First off, you are probably looking for mapo tofu I messed up the name. Also, you aren’t suppose to smash the tofu. You are just suppose to cut it into squares but not actually blend it in. *shrugs*, you live you learn.

Sometimes I get asked what I eat in Japan. Most of the times I reply with the generic bentou (Japanese lunchbox) or Onigiri(riceball), but sometimes I cook. I went to Kimisawa the other day with Juan and Levi and I picked up a few things. Tonight I made Mobu Tofu, which is ground beef with tofu, rice, and some seasoning. Anyways here is how I made it.


The tofu. Not used to cooking with it, but it is pretty cheap and very easy to find in Japan

Ground beef. Pretty much the same portion that you can get in the USA.

The mobu tofu mix. Again pretty cheap, it was right next to the tofu in Kimisawa.

And of course some white rice, the epitome of Japanese diet.

First we put our rice and water in the rice cooker to get the rice cooking.

First start cooking the ground beef in a frying pan and cook it until there is no pink left.
Next add the tofu to the ground beef. Mash it up and mix it evenly into the ground beef.

Make sure it is evenly distributed within the ground beef.

Now stir in the mix and make sure it is evenly distributed.

Serve next to rice ( like curry) and mix it as you eat. ใŠใ„ใ—ใ„

It was actually quite good. I added some tabasco sauce to give it an extra kick, but overall it was fast, easy, and cheap to make. It didn’t require much work at all. Well, I guess that concludes part 1 of cooking with Tim.

Guys Night Out & Concert

On Friday I went out with Juan (American), Levi (American), and Mark (Scottish) for a mini “guys night out” deal.

First we just went to the “Cheap Cheap” yakiniku place that is very popular among interns. Didn’t get anything crazy this time around. Last time I got a shrimp which was questionably still alive, but this time all I had was some beef/vegetables, a few beers, oh and yeah, some squid. Afterwards we went to the arcade/game center. It was really fun actually… and really cheap; only about 250 yen for 15 minutes of unlimited play.

My favorite was Windjammers, they had an old school machine that had a bunch of CPS2 and NeoGeo games on it. I also really enjoyed the 4 player arcade Mario Kart. Juan had a big mouth but most of the times we came in neck in neck, and I also beat him once I got the hang of it.

Side Note: I stole this picture from Mark’s Blog.

After that we went to this American bar. It was actually quite American, despite the only American beer they had on tap was Budweiser (shiver). We just had a few beers and then I rode my bike back home through the rain.

On Saturday I went to Maiko’s (a former co-worker) concert. It was a classical music concert and Maiko played violin. It was really refreshing. I hadn’t been to a classical concert in so long, but to be honest I really really enjoyed it. Maiko was of course fantastic and it was really interesting. The concert was out near Odowara which I really enjoyed. It was really rural compared to Atsugi and had a river that went through it that looked perfect for cycling/running.

A group of interns and I are planning to go to Akihabara this weekend to a maid cafe. I’ll definitely take a lot of pictures. ๐Ÿ™‚