Return to Sapporo, December 2006
Swedish food (20061201)
Techno adventures (20061202)
My Swedish friend had found a baby sitter for tonight and wanted to go clubbing. Techno music, no hip hop. Luckily, a colleague of hers knew of a great techno club. Though "know of" did not include knowing the name or address of the club. The four people showing up for Swedish food (at least claimed to) had never been out to a club ever in Sapporo (where they live). One had a brother who sometimes went to clubs though. He refused to tell his sister about where good clubs could be found though. Armed with basically zero help from the natives, we went out on the ice coated streets on my poor bicycle (not enough air in the tires for carrying two persons). We more or less got to Susukino (the red light and entertainment area) without falling. By randomly walking around, we stumbled upon a place were i had been before. Being the only place not playing exclusively hip hop I had ever seen, we checked it out. Tonight was some trance techno special event. So we stayed there until 5.30 or so. Walking back in the ice and snow wearing very very wet (from sweat) clothes was a bit unpleasant. I got home and into bed around 7. At 10 I got a call saying the plans for the birthday party had been rescheduled to be several hours earlier. Get up, buy a cake and hurry over there.
Strange appearances (20061202)
The club going fashion in Japan includes strange accessories such as puffy things hanging like a tail and hair cuts from the fifties house wife style (no picture here though). Also, you can see girls with tattoos, which is very rare in Japan. Only the yakuza (Mafia) use tattoos.
Today I went to a student orchestra concert, where they played musical songs. There were also two dancers for some of the songs. And some crying at the end, evidently it was the last concert for the people who graduate this year.
Birthday customs (20061202)
Today was the birthday of one of my Japanese friends. When it is my birthday, I am supposed to give everyone cake. When it is someone else's birthday, I am supposed to give everyone cake. It is a simple system to remember, but the reasoning is somewhat unclear. But it seems the saying that "money can't buy friends" is not true, because now that I am rich (compared to before at least) I was at least invited, last year no one ever told me about any birthdays. Except one Bulgarian girl who has her birthday just a few days before me and my Polish friend who is exactly one week older than me.
Japanese Christmas (20061203)
Snow removal, why streets are bad (20061203)
I have now found out why it is so hard to get anywhere in Sapporo in the winter. A lot of snow falls. There is a system for removing it, but it seems to consist of sending teenagers out with a brush and a hammer... no wonder it works poorly. The streets here are now caked with snow pressed together by enormous amounts of cars sliding by (no spike tires allowed, so no traction when accelerating or braking) and turned to ice. For once, it is faster to ride on the sidewalk.
My brother has asked me to look fat when I get to Tokyo, so his girlfriend will not complain even more about the extra kilos he has gained in Japan (how that is even possible is beyond me, but each to his own). I have also received an invitation to participate in a sumo match in a real sumo ring in Tokyo. So gaining weight seems to be the thing to do. This is somewhat difficult with all the snow under the bicycle this time of the year, but I try. The excellent slogans of the chocolate makers help. A luscious cake has come into the world in a rich harmony of chocolates and castella sponge. Please enjoy a great tea time with it.
Tokyo (20061208 - 1213)
I went to Tokyo for various reasons. I took about one gigabyte of pictures there (and killed the battery in both my phone and camera). Here are some of them.
Practicing Swedish with the family (20061209)
On Friday night I got to Tokyo, in the company of another of the wedding guests. She managed to forget to bring her dress for the wedding, also known as "the only thing she had to bring"... I stayed the first night in my brother's room, which was not very pleasant. The day after, a friend from Kobe who taught me Japanese and who tried to make sense of my explanations of the Swedish language met up with the two crazy brothers in Tokyo. We wandered around and had food. To my disappointment, the ruling is: Olof (younger brother) looks and acts most mature, dresses the most appropriately and in general is the least crazy. I think it is because of the glasses? I won the "worst sense when it comes to clothes" award, "most likely to be really really insane" and similar. But at least I am believed to be kashikoi (wise/clver/smart according to my dictionary). For sure.
Staying in the fancy Ginza (20061209)
Since staying with my brother consisted of me trying to balance on the very tiny edge of the bed he was not using, falling of, dropping the blanket every ten minutes and listening to his snoring, it was considered best if I stayed somewhere else. Since the wedding next day was in Ginza, I went there and searched for a hotel. Japanese maps having strange scale compared to Swedish ones (i.e. in Japan no one evidently walks more than five minutes in one direction) I overshot my intended location by a huge margin (though not that much by Swedish standards) before I realized I was not where I was supposed to be. I walked from Yuurakuchou to Tsukiji instead of Kyobashi... But I found an expensive hotel (4500 yen) with bad service. Close to the wedding location.
Almost like in Sweden (20061210)
Tokyo winter (20061210)
The wedding was very nice. I had to drink some alcohol (which I normally avoid) and was taunted for my lack of tying necktie skills (this was the first time I tied a necktie, so not a huge surprise). Afterwards, there were many comments about my clothes too, but according to at least several sources there is nothing wrong with: a) my tie, b) my trousers, c) my jacket, d) my shoes and e) my shirt. Since I do not believe I was showing my underwear (or wearing anything inappropriate), what could they be referring to? Of course, I do not believe anyone was OK with all of them, but for each part, there were some people who were OK with it.
The after wedding party (20061210)
After the wedding there was another party, where one more of my previous acquaintances showed up. I had to drink beer, which tastes very unpleasantly (for those who have never tried it themselves). People often tell me you get used to it after a while, but what is the point? Probably I can get used to smoking, cutting myself with a knife or eating tree bark too. The party was very nice, with lots of strange pictures being taken. Though not with my camera, so I have yet to receive them. Lesson taught to me: saying "if you ever get rich, get in touch with me again" to girls is considered "hidoi" (i.e. not a positive thing). People never get it when I make a joke...
The after the after wedding party (20061210)
Three people, one of them me, went on to see the new Bond movie. It was expensive, which is common for movies in Japan but rare in general for stuff here. My phone ran out of battery because I received too many mail during the movie. Getting it recharged in Tokyo is surprisingly hard. Which is especially annoying when you know there are plenty of mail for you to read...
Staying in ayashii Shinbashi (20061210)
In Japan, people will tell you "no there are no capsule hotels around here" if you have to walk more than five minutes to get to the closest one. In Shinbashi they told me there would be some, though. Shinbashi is not far from Ginza. It is however ayashii (which means something like giving off strange vibes). I was offered massage and probably more (some Japanese words I did not understand were involved) on the street outside the hotel, and the whole place is full of adult video shops, expensive clubs with free alcohol, drinking places and pictures of naked women. The hotel was excellent however, for 3000 yen the service was great, including recharging of mobile phones. And free porn on the TV for anyone interested.
Mistakenly almost in heaven (20061211)
I was in a hurry to catch the subway and managed to jump in just before the doors closed. When I looked around, the whole car was full of only cute women. Being a realist (sometimes) I gathered something was probably strange. Of course, looking around a little more I spotted the signs saying "this car is only for women". So I kind of tried to change to another car. The signs are also put on the platforms, so you are not supposed to be able to miss them. But no one expects foreigners to understand subtle things anyway, so no problem. Always nice to live up to the stereotype of the stupid foreigner.
The source of the money flow (20061211)
Family of the emperor? (20061211)
Three black big cars with four policemen on motorcycles passed me today. Even more surprisingly, the whole (very wide) street outside of the Imperial Palace was completely blocked off for them, and the roadblocks in to the palace grounds were removed. They entered the palace grounds and returned a few minutes later (again blocking of the street etc.). Maybe the daughter of the emperor swung by to pick something up? On a vaguely related note, I learned that one of the reasons no one makes jokes about the imperial family (which is very common and popular in Sweden; of course about our own royal family though), is that right wing nuts tend to kill you (or your maid for some reason) if you do. Dampens the joy I guess.
Cyber toilets (20061211)
When someone else was finally footing the hotel bill, the quality of the interior went up. This is a very cyber toilet, which even has motion (or similar) detection that notices when you approach and then opens the lid automatically! Also has massage settings and other strange options.
O brother again (20061211)
I met my brother again. His girlfriend also participated. They wanted to eat Okinawan food (and mostly drink Okinawan booze). Since I just came from a "eat all you can in an hour"-party, I was somewhat behind on the eating. Before meeting me, she was first afraid (too strange big brother), then worried that her politeness level of speech would not be high enough for meeting a real life doctor (true, true). She seemed to calm down when I showed up in t-shirt in December, though the verdict was as usual "big brother, very strange". And evidently I speak about 10 times more (or faster?) than my brother. This was evidently deemed to be caused by me being somewhat insane, instead of the obvious conclusion that my life is about ten times more exciting than my brother's, haha. Why would we want to hear about his latest excursion in the realm of physics study literature when we instead can discuss the strangeness of Japanese wedding ceremonies?
Strange choice of breakfast (20061212)
Today we got to go to Kokugikan and have a guided tour. We also got to try out sumo in the loincloth (mawashi) against real sumo wrestlers. They had however trained for 13 and 10 years respectively. And they were big. And strong. And limber. So I lost. But I had no problems in lifting one of them when I tried. He could lift me without breaking a sweat though... Of course, women are not allowed on the sumo ground (and there seems to be little chance of this tradition changing in the near future) so there was a special spectator place for the girls. A very nice bunch of people gave us a very kind reception. Last picture is the injuries sustained; trying to stand our ground when a sumo rikishi pushes us out of the dirtpatch ruins our soles (but it is good for our souls, I hear).
What Japan should look like (20061212)
Survival training (20061213)
Being laughed at in a historical setting (20061213)
At the Edo-Tokyo museum, I mostly entertained the locals by doing strange things (I like the museum very much, but I have been there several times before). For instance, these old ladies laughed a lot when two crazy foreigners descended the escalator while taking pictures.
The temple of Mammon? Kannon? (20061213)
Another place I have visited many times before is the oldest temple in Tokyo. It is dedicated to the goddess Kannon, but looks like it belongs to Mammon with its 263 meters long shopping arcade inside the temple area.
Whales. For research purposes. (20061213)
Work to make you tired (20061214)
Computer science for the brave (20061214)
A moment before this picture was taken, there was also a knife near the main veins in the poor girls arm. And she is strapped into some kind of bio monitor. What kind of strange computer science are these other people doing?
Strange Japanese customs (20061214)
Today there was a special event of dancing and I was shanghaied into attending. Not sure if you were supposed to be dressed like this. Another strange thing was that the DJs did not really seem to care about the customers' likes and dislikes, since the hours I were there consisted of different DJs playing music they themselves enjoyed. Some of the other DJs were dancing, but most of the time everyone else was just standing by waiting for something that it was possible to dance too. The customer is usually king in Japan, but evidently not on the dance floor. There was free food though. While the music was not great, it was still an entertaining evening.
Today I finally took photos of my presents. On the left we have Sjöbergh ramen! Since my brother's colleagues think his (and thus mine too) last name sounds like "beef from Kobe" (pronounced in Japanese, though), my friend from Kobe brought me the Kobe specialty Sjöbergh flavored ramen as a gift! The best gift ever? On the right is a cake set included in the wedding gifts. See also below.
Flexible gifts (20061215)
From the wedding I also received a catalogue of stuff. Select any one piece you like. Ranges from knives, china, food, cakes, clothes, bags, microscopes, training equipment to furniture. My brother says to go for the "make your butt look nice"-underwear for women, but I am thinking maybe not... The star gazing thing seems better. I will have to go and check our local Mitukosi to see what it is actually like first though.
Tokyo shopping (20061215)
Antonio Banderas, my nemesis (20061215)
When my luggage got lost on the way to Sapporo I received deodorant from a colleague (it is pretty difficult to find in stores in Japan, evidently Japanese people do not sweat (apart from when eating spicy food)). Stuff is written in Polish on the bottle, but you can see the name Antonio Banderas. Very manly. Does not help. If you use it, people will complain.
High tech (20061217)
Swedish food (20061217)
More wedding photos (20061217)
I copied some wedding photos from another camera today. Photos with the jacket on are from the wedding, those without the jacket are from the party afterwards. People have asked me why I always (almost) do the peace sign. Originally it was because "everyone" in Japan does so, but today there was a better theory presented, so lets go with that: it is because my names (Dove, the bird symbolizing peace, and King of peace) both make me such a peace loving person. Of course. Also, I have been asked why I never smile on camera, so here are photos of me smiling. The very nice pants and shirt can also be seen clearly in the last shot.
Light control (20061219)
Why do Japanese lights always come with four different settings: on, off, halfway off and porno lighting (my brothers term)? And why is there always a plastic mat on the floor that vaguely looks like wood?
Clubbing again (20061219)
Another birthday spawned another club adventure. As usual, Japanese people do not so much dance, as stand there looking at the DJ and sometimes shaking a little. There was one crazy Swedish guy dancing though, so I was photographed by a guy who was there rapping live for the audience. He then came and shook my hand. After he did a completely insane (in a good way) a capella rendition of the Darth Vader theme in a techno version, he came out and shook my hand again, and took a picture of us both together. Since it is more or less impossible to dance to rap music (unless you are insane and do not care if you look stupid, like me), we went to another place. They had a huge dance floor, and free donuts. No one was dancing though. Being the foreigner around, I was elected to be the one to go and ask the DJ to change to music someone apart from the DJ would like to hear. This was a no go though, explained the DJ. After a few donuts I could here the sounds of Bob Marley, and went back to dance. This spawned the enthusiasm of two other people. Unfortunately, both were men... We gave up and went home, but on the way out I snapped a photo of the jet set of the Sapporo party people. The thing to do seems to be sleeping.
In our cafeteria... (20061221)
In Japan there are endless amounts of bounenkai at the end of the year. It means "forget the year (that passed) party". According to my brother who has lived in Japan for quite some time, the meaning is that Japanese people live such boring lives that they would rather forget what happened during this year, so they will be able to face one more year of boredom. This is generally done by eating a lot of food and drinking huge amounts of alcohol. The people at my table kept ordering "kamikaze" (vodka and something) non-stop for two hours, except the girl of the table. She alternately ordered vodka, wine and sake. She also laughed a lot every time I ordered something (since I drink only girly stuff like uuroncha (tea)). At my table was also a poor new student who will start in our lab soon. As junior as they come. He was surrounded by three crazy Europeans, a very very senior professor and a girl, so he did not dare say very much...
The second party (20061222)
The eating and drinking party is normally followed by party number two, with two more hours of free drinks, but less food. New people had to introduce themselves. Using a megaphone. I managed to order some SPAM, which was kind of funny. Tastes better than the electronic version.
Everything is small here (20061222)
There was quite bad reception for DoCoMo cell phone users in this bar, so there was a sign saying "cell coverage here". This is a spot that is just large enough to accommodate one cell phone. On this exact spot you have full coverage, everywhere else the coverage is 0. Very strange. I do not use DoCoMo though, so no problem for me.
Famous friends (20061222)
My Polish assistant professor (and personal slave for bureaucratic procedures) is known by everyone in Sapporo it seems. This girls was trying to get people to go to karaoke, and evidently knew him from somewhere (Polish studies or something like this). This happens all the time.
The third party (20061222)
On top of one of the buildings in Susukino there is a Ferris wheel. There you can have your picture taken by people in reindeer clothes, look out over the city and see crazy Polish people in the car after yours...
The fourth party (20061222)
We were supposed to go bowling, but since everyone else seemed to be doing this too, we ended up in a karaoke room instead. After an earlier discussion about why one of the guys in our lab has earrings in one ear (gay seemed to be the Japanese conclusion) and the same guy singing a love duet with another guy, there was suddenly a Polish frenzy to input gay related music into the karaoke machine. Less J-pop, more gay-pop. There was also some Swedish ABBA music, though the Japanese "English" text seems to be slightly different from the English text used in Sweden. "must be FANNY in the rich mans world"?
Swedish Christmas party (20061223)
Swedish people celebrate Christmas on the 24th, but since I am busy then, I celebrated with two other Swedes on the 23rd. There was lots of Swedish food (traditionally you over eat), and we made a ginger cookie house, some people stood on their heads while I made a paper angel.
Christmas presents! (20061224)
I got a Christmas present this year! Usually, you give and receive lots of presents on the 24th if you are Swedish, but lacking friends and having moved away from my relatives, I had a fairly relaxed time with no need to buy lots of presents (on more advantage to being a nerd, no one requires presents if you have no friends!).
Bloody white Christmas (20061224)
When I parked my bicycle in the middle of the night, there was a clear road between it and the door. When I woke up today, someone had dropped three decimeters (or one foot for the metrically impaired) of snow there. And since the Japanese snow removal system seems to be a question of volunteers, no one seemed to be about to clear it away. Also, the other people around here have stopped riding their bicycles. Have they gone home for the holidays perhaps? So I had to dig my bicycle out myself. Too much like Christmas at home...
One of my stalkers was in Sapporo today. While still worried about meeting crazy people who you only know over the Internet (compounded by the fact they there seem totally insane, evidently), the lure of Swedish chocolate was too strong. So after I bought a new microphone (old one busted by too much bicycle riding), I met up with the stalker. Being worried about having her picture end up on some strange web page, she did not want to be photographed. What on Earth could she mean?
Pot luck (20061224)
Today there was a pot luck party. I made two cakes (deemed "very good") and also gave out Swedish pea soup, sounds disgusting in English and looks about as well. The taste is not that bad though. But it is not very good either. In Sweden, it is served on Thursdays, every week, in most restaurants with Swedish food. Also, if you are in the army, it is very common to eat this. Some young Japanese girls thought it was disgusting, but the rest of the people figured it was not very good, but neither was it very bad. Apart from my stuff, there was pizza (bought more or less finished), some chicken, a chocolate cake, some Japanese thing which was boiled egg and daikon (big radish), garlic and apple salad, some kind of pasta, Swedish herring mixed with weird things (ham?) and baked potatoes. Bringing two baked potatoes was not deemed much of a cooking feeling (but the pizza?), but the same person also brought excellent origami of the Totoro movie cast! In the last photo, one person is missing, because she was too slow setting up the timer of her own camera... Objectively speaking, my cakes were the best, by far, haha. Possibly the chocolate cake was close. And they tell me girls/women know how to cook?
The second party (20061224)
After the food, people thought they had to exercise away some of the Calories. So the first floor sports room was occupied and a dance party was started. This room is supervised from the lobby by a camera, so many people returning home saw the weird people bouncing around in a non sporty fashion (extra crazy looking since there is no sound reaching the lobby) and came by to see what on Earth was going on.
The competition (20061224)
The only one who actually seemed to know how to dance decided that a dancing competition was necessary. It became a pair dance competition where the goal was to produce the sexiest dance in front of five harsh judges (last picture). Me and my (randomly allotted) partner lost the janken (paper-rock-scissors) for starting position and had to go first. Our plan was simple do something vaguely dance like and bet everything on the finale. Where I (why me, though?) threw open my shirt showing my mighty muscles, or whatever you might see. The second pair did more of a play, with a shy girl running away from a perverted guy, or something along those lines. The third pair did some hip hop inspired pornographic show or something like that (picture taken just after some interesting moves, since the flash was too slow). The play was deemed funniest, the last thing most sexually related, but too beastiality-like to be good. So we won! Despite two points removed for the finale... A very poor competition indeed. After the dancing, which was so tiring that the doorman (who saw this on the security camera) even came by with tea and cookies, I was left to ride my bicycle for over an hour to get home. The 30 centimeters of snow had still not been removed, so it was a pain with tired legs.
Potato circus (20061225)
Today I went out with my Bulgarian colleague and some of his crazy (restaurants with Russian midget pole dancers? Why?) foreigner friends. We went to a restaurant called "Potato Circus", which is evidently a place for "meet". Also, you can see waitresses with Swedish flags in their pockets. We had two hours of free order of drinks and food, with a quite large selection, for very little money. Cooking is indeed pointless in this country.
Winter fashion (20061225)
The poor girl in McDonald's (a customer, the staff wears normal clothes) had evidently got the wrong size for her Santa skirt, because she kept adjusting it to look shorter when it kept slipping down almost to mid thigh. Outside temperature was a comfortable -1 C though, so a short skirt is probably for the best.
Japanese pillows (20061225)
A friend of mine selected a pillow as her gift from the wedding (see above). Japanese pillows are always weird though. Traditionally, they are made by taking a tree and cutting out a small pillow shaped part. A bit hard by European standards. This one has a more modern design. The one I own came pre-mended with duct tape.
Karaoke again (20061225)
Karaoke in Japan means (if anyone has missed it) that you lock yourself away in a tiny sound proof room and drink free alcohol (or other things) for a few hours. For ten Euro you get two hours of free drinks from the list here (the red part costs extra), and a room with a karaoke machine. It comes with thousands (literally) of English songs and much much more in Japanese. Spanish, Chinese and Korean is also available in large amounts.
Cute nurses (20061226)
Today I tagged along a fellow Swede to the oral surgeon, since she said there were many cute nurses there. There were also very many chairs for dental work lined up. Here is the few that were unused (since it might be rude to photograph the poor people with a dentist digging in their mouths).
Today we canceled the English Tea Time we normally have on Wednesdays and instead had not so English Wii time. Wii is a new console from Nintendo, which features a controller that you wave around so you get tired instead of a normal controller. Quite entertaining.
It turns out there is a store selling licorice right in the Sapporo station. Unfortunately it is the not very good German sweet licorice, not the tasty salty Swedish licorice (or even the Finish salmiak). They also sell Swedish caramels, and the bag says one of the four kinds included tastes of licorice. Unfortunately, only three other tastes were included in my bag... When asking the staff if they sell salty candy too, they said "Since that sounds disgusting, no".
Dance (?) again (20061229)
For some reason, people here believe I can dance (which is not true). They invited me for one more try of the Christmas dance event. This time supplemented by large amounts of alcohol. Which unfortunately meant people mostly sat around drinking, instead of dancing. And I was kicked out about an hour after the start, since only residents are allowed to be in the building later.
... and again (20061229)
I managed to get one of the other people to go with me to a real dance club (first time for him). This was quite nice, though my feet blistered and riding the bicycle home after jumping around until four in the morning was not that enjoyable. Otherwise, the plan was for a large group to go to some dance club the next day. This was canceled though, because someone found out you have to pay. (?) A huge disappointment, which led to some progress in my research work, since I spent the Saturday evening working instead.
New Year countdown (20061231)
Spending also new years eve doing research became boring after awhile, so I searched around for someone to plague with my presence. Most people, maybe sensing this beforehand, had escaped from Sapporo. It looked like one more lonely night of research, but I finally found some people who also had nothing to do. We watched some Japanese (presumably famous) singers counting down the seconds to the new year in front of the TV tower together with thousands of other Japanese, all of whom were gone again 10 minutes later.
A long line (20061231)
Most of the people from the TV tower probably went to the temple, which is traditional this time of the year. There was a huge line (tens of thousands) of people at the temple were we went. Since we were not so interested in the actual praying and paying, we side-stepped the line and made a special deal with the police that we could take pictures. They provided a platform under some lights, to help.
Japanese traditional clothing (20061231)
Complaints should likely be sent to Jonas. If you would like to have a high resolution copy of one of these images (or some other you suspect I have), please feel free to let me know.