Return to Sapporo, March 2007
High tech houses (20070302)
A friend has bought an apartment in this very high tech house. Perhaps the coolest apartment house I have seen so far. Everything speaks to you, and all locks and stuff are electronic etc. And it is in an area crowded with restaurants.
More Maids (20070303)
The staff at the maid cafe I visited with my brother said the best maid cafe in town is Primavaere. So, I dragged a Japanese with me (who thought the whole thing was very embarrassing, or at least pretended to) and went there. It is like a normal cafe, only more expensive and the staff consists only of young girls in French maid outfits. They serve berries that people don't know the names of in Japanese (but I know the names in Swedish, which did not really help).
Crowded festival? (20070303)
Evidently, the "Sapporo Festival for making a crowd" was today. Taking photos turned out to be very forbidden, so I only had time to take one before I was informed that I should stop. These people might be famous, and are at least very loud. Though it was not very crowded (perhaps because of the snow mixed with rain).
More "English" (20070303)
It was dark so the photo is unreadable. But actually seeing the letters does not make the message any clearer. And the place is called "Nuts cafe". Maybe people are trying to tell me something when they suggest I go there? It's not like these people never said anything rude to me before, but this is a little too subtle even for them, I think. Anyway, the stairs say "Exotic and excitin space to you. You can wipe daily noises here."
Partners in crime (20070307)
How to use chop sticks (20070309)
Adventuring family style (20070311)
Today I was called in as interpreter for the "information meeting" of the after school activity group Hiroppa Club. It turns out that despite taking three hours (starting in the middle of the night, 9.30, the day after I watch movies until 3 in the morning), the total information content coming my way was "you have to bring one more paper from your place of work for your daughter". I lost count of the number of times people assumed I was the father, which as far as I know, I am not. It was more of a "lets have lots of speeches" kind of thing. We spent the afternoon in the shopping mall around Sapporo station. Since the kid was kind of whiny, I tried to cheer her up by doing crazy things, like lugging her around on my shoulders while jumping or throwing her around. We were probably the most noticed people in the huge crowds by a large margin. The poor mother tried to pretend she did not know us, but probably no one bought that, since she too is blond. According to the mother who had time to watch people, many many girls looked at us and smiled. Which is good. But of course by now they all think I am married and have kids. Not as good. Best comment of the day was probably (in Japanese): "You have blue eyes too!", the kid (while pointing like crazy to my, her, her mother's and the guy's eyes) to some random foreigner who happened to sit down nearby. Made all Japanese people nearby laugh, though he did not seem to understand much Japanese. He got the gist from the gestures though. She has maybe stayed too long in Japan, that kid. Oh, and the latest fashion in bags in Japan is really weird.
Not so high tech, not so secure (20070312)
Since I get all my money sent to a bank that is only accessible from Hokkaido, and since I am going to Kansai on Friday I wanted to transfer money to my other account at the Postal Bank. The only possible way is to take the money in cash and walk to the post... So I walked with this stack of 10,000 yen notes, totaling one million yen. I like the "This is one million, please check for yourself that it really is". Yes, that would not create a long line of people waiting... Also great was the "Your signature does not match the signature of the account holder. His signature looks like this (showing photo of signature). Please sign one more time, more like this." Excellent security for signatures. Of course, in Japan everyone has a stamp instead. So if someone steals your bank book but forgets to take your stamp, you're safe. If they take both, you are of course even more lost than me with my signature. Luckily, Japan has no crime, so it works out (rumor has it that if crimes occur police arrest people and evidently never make mistakes since everyone confesses sooner or later, and can then be executed if the crime warrants it).
All kinds of strange food has been eaten lately: Soup Curry (only strange thing is the scale for spicyness, 1-100, with 5 being normal, and the fact that I was treated instead of treating (but by a guy)), "Crunky" candy, kangaroo meat, a fish with red meat, sliced ears from pigs, some kind of special Okinawa thing, the head (evidently the "best" part...).
Kobe, Kawasaki (20070316)
Today I went to Kobe further south in Japan to meet a Japanese girl I met in Stockholm. Since she is Japanese, she works almost constantly, so I went to a museum in the harbor first. You could test out Kawasaki motorcycles and see a robot solve Rubick's cube. At about nine the working day was over, so we had some light dinner together before she had to go home and sleep. Next day was Saturday, so she had to get up early for work...
A life of luxury (20070316)
Jonas x 2 (20070317)
Today I met up with another Swedish guy, also called Jonas, who lives in Kobe. He showed me the exciting "European style houses" in the hills. Perhaps not so very exotic for us Europeans. We also got to visit a teddy bear museum for free, since the owner wanted to practice English on us. She was very strange, but entertaining.
English, Kobe style (20070317)
Weird food (20070317)
The other Jonas had better things to do than hang out with me (mainly, hang out with his girlfriend), so he left. I met up with my friend from Stockholm and one of her friends, when they finally got of work. We had what they tell me is Chinese food.
Funny, if it would have been Swedish (20070317)
Free music (20070318)
Today was Sunday, miraculously a day when people do not have to work. I was taken to Himejijou, a very cool castle near Kobe. So I proceeded to block of the main street because that is the best spot to take pictures. I was there with a German French guy and my friend from Stockholm.
Ever since my guide book and my perhaps coolest research colleague mentioned that the best thing to see in Tokyo are the rockabilly Japanese guys dancing in Harajuku, I have tried to find some. There are none in Harajuku anymore I have been told. But there were two at Himeji Castle.
Me, in white (20070318)
Today I left Kobe to go to Biwako. This is mainly a polluted lake, that in some areas is beautiful, especially when the cherry trees blossom. Of course, the blossoming is about mid or late March, so when I got there it started snowing... Also great was the fact that the hotel had no bathroom, but a free radon spa (great! cancer for free!). I had a very vague idea of where the hotel was and got of the train about 30 minutes too early, which caused some interesting ticket problems. I then had a description of which bus to take to get to the hotel, which I failed to find. By chance, I happened to find a shuttle bus with the name of my hotel waiting at a red light, so I knocked on the window and got in. My colleague aiming for the same hotel had less luck and tried to walk there but got lost. Another colleague stayed at the other (there were two hotels in the whole city of Seta) hotel, which also had a shuttle bus, despite the hotel being on approximately 30 seconds walking distance from the station...
Today the conference started, and the main thing to do was wait for the dinner party for select pro researchers (I was invited! ... probably because I am a foreigner.) It was lots of food and drink, which caused the price to be 5000 for men and 4000 for women. I tried to bargain for 4500 since I won the Mr Princess competition before, but was cruelly denied. They laughed at least.
It didn't get better than this (20070321)
Vulgarities are funny (20070321)
Since my planned research presentation was about a program that creates vulgar jokes, me and an English speaking colleague had a field day with interpreting everything as vulgarities the whole day. It was impossible to stop. Sometimes it is just too easy. Why would you for instance call your girl sports team "Peewees cheer"? "Pi Po" is a very rude word in Polish, which is especially funny when people say things like "could you press the pi-po so the girl will come?". When our most serious colleague the unintentionally started spouting veiled vulgarities in Japanese, I was in pain from too much laughter. Of course, she, and some of the older teachers, got angry with me. Why was unclear, since it was not me saying these things!
Biwako English (20070322)
Kyouto fashion (20070322)
I managed to get the serious colleague to forgive me for the night before, and we went to meet up with some French guy in Kyouto (not so far from Biwako). I started stalking a guy with a very cool jacket and cool pants. He kept moving so taking a good picture was impossible. He was also going the wrong way compared to us, so I had to stop I was told.
English spoken staff (20070322)
Good food but disappointed (20070322)
The French guy took us to a fancy Japanese restaurant. A sign outside claimed that sometimes a real live Maiko visits the place! And today was such a day! And she left the place 10 minutes before we got there... I have never seen one of these rare creatures, despite trying. The food was however excellent. And I angered my colleague again, by eating half of the tasty aubergine that I ordered.
Back in Kobe (20070323)
I went back to Kobe today. I spent some time in the Kobe city museum, where they show a 3D movie about an Egyptian mummy at the British museum. And you get to keep the glasses. Then I met up with my friend in Kobe who introduced me to another Japanese girl who wants to go to Stockholm and learn Swedish and perhaps stay at my relatives house (since it is cheap). She was discouraged by me being weird, and didn't go this year, so I was trying to act normal this time. She ran away suddenly (to "catch a train") so I didn't even get a picture of her.
Osaka castle (20070324)
Since today was Saturday, everyone except me had to work. I went to Osaka, which is close to Kobe. The most touristy thing to see is the castle. It is however built in the 1970-ies, so the charm is nowhere near the Himeji castle. Here in Osaka you find a large elevator shaft and a pretty standard museum, encapsulated in a castle like exterior. Extremely plastic feeling.
International Osaka (20070324)
Weird Japanese way of thinking (20070325)
Today my friend had time to meet me, so we went to a famous tower in Osaka. There is a statue called "Billiken" there. This was made by an American woman who had a dream where she thought that this was the shape of (a) God, "Billiken, the God of things as they should be". If you pay some money and rub his feet, it has some religious significance for Japanese people, and lots of people do it. Of course, if you ask Japanese people if they are religious they say no (unless they belong to some weird minority church, mainly Christian, which is very rare). Yet they believe in this kind of story? In Sweden, people would likely react with a "oh, you had a dream?" and perhaps a "and you think it was real? nutjob".
Osaka fashion (20070325)
We met up with the German French guy again, and two other French guys and a French speaking Japanese girl. Sightseeing in the youngster areas of Osaka was planned. People in very very short skirts and with scars instead of tattoos (called scarification in Sweden) were there to be seen.
Famous things in Japan (20070325)
For unclear reasons, this sign is almost the most famous thing in Osaka. It is also traditional to jump into the river in front of it when Osaka does well in sports. As the river is so polluted so as to make this very hazardous, it is also forbidden to do so.
Ferris bi-wheel (20070325)
In Osaka they have a Ferris wheel with two wheels! I got to ride with the person in the company who is scared of Ferris wheels (strangely enough such people exist). Held up fine, though the conversation was a bit morbid.
No make-up, no photo (20070325)
I got to stay in the guest room in the family house in Kobe. I was not allowed to visit any other room, though, since they were considered too dirty or somesuch... When I entered the kitchen to say good morning I was quickly chased out by a panicked mother with words such as "no cleaning"... Seemed completely fine to me, what little I saw. Understanding Japanese people is somewhat difficult.
Baseball, I just don't get it (20070326)
Kobe has few famous things (mainly famous for a bad earthquake were many people died). It does however have a famous baseball stadium. We went there for a game today. Baseball is popular in Japan and nonexistent in Sweden. Since I am bored by almost all sports, a sport where nothing seems to happen is not top of my list. This was high school baseball, so mistakes are more common and things more exciting than normal. Still not very exciting though, it turns out. I quickly caught on to the game. It seems to be "wait until the change places again" until this has happened 10 times, then they only do it until someone scores a point, which never happens. after 14 rounds someone finally scored a point and it was over. It was very enjoyable though, since the company was good. Though hiding from the sun, to avoid the feared suntan which Japanese people consider detestable. I became very red from sunburn though. I was asked if I was not going to take pictures of the cheer leaders (that we could not see from where we were sitting). Since it would be too much like a pervert, I said no. Surprisingly, my friend borrowed the camera and went to take pictures for me, of her own accord. It was however forbidden to do so, it turned out, so the results was not so impressive.
Towards Nagoya (20070326)
I boarded the super fast and super expensive Shinkansen train for Nagoya. For once, I seemed popular. One old guy started speaking to me and kept asking questions about Sweden until we reached Nagoya. Then some lady followed me to the door, also asking questions all the time. Mainly about learning new languages, which her kids seemed to be disinclined to do. Turned out she was not actually getting off at Nagoya, she just wanted to talk to me.
Nagoya Meibutsu (20070326)
The main thing in Nagoya that my friends knew about was famous food. Since I got there late in the evening, I was lucky to find a hotel with a room. The nice policeman I asked for directions pointed me to an area where there were mainly Love Hotels (where you rent a room for one or a few hours). Across from my hotel was a Japanese izakaya (restaurant/bar) which was still open and that specialized in Nagoya Meibutsu (Nagoyan specialties). These two were the best. The one on the left is the most famous, Miso Katsu.
Other famous things (20070327)
Nagoya castle is also famous. It also rebuilt after the World Wars, after being flattened by the Americans. It is a little older than Osaka castle, being built in the 50-ies. It is not quite as plastic, but still far from genuine... I also visited Atsuta Shrine, the second largest Shinto shrine in Japan. Also harbors one of the three important religious artifacts (the sword), but you are not allowed to see it. It said 6.5 million people visit the shrine each year (thus averaging about 18,000 per day). It turns out most people go on special days, crowding in millions at a time, so I was almost alone today. I also saw some cherry trees and gardens near the Tokugawa artifacts museum and gardens.
When walking in Tokugawa park (which you pay an entrance fee for) I saw some kids climbing in from the nearby playground. They had managed to get their ball inside, in fact into a pond. Since they seemed to consider wading out to retrieve it I hung around to take pictures. They noticed me and started discussing amongst themselves who spoke enough English to ask the crazy man if he was American. One kid thought that I probably understood Japanese and asked me a few questions. He was considered very cool by his peers for this. Later, a park attendant came along with wading boots and tools and retrieved the ball for them.
Nagoya's top site! (20070327)
Nagoya has a very cool robot museum, where you can ride Segways (if you sign lots of papers saying you are not pregnant, and wear a silly helmet), watch old sci-fi movies and play with robots. They also have a huge store selling robots. I was more or less the only one there at the time, and got a reduced entrance fee for unknown reasons. I also got excellent service, since the staff outnumbered me 15 to one. They demoed most robots in the shop for me when I said we used robots in our lab for our research.
Nagoya by night (20070327)
I climbed the TV tower and got cool pictures of Nagoya by night.
More famous food (20070327)
I returned to the same restaurant as yesterday and ordered the remaining famous dishes. Turned out to be mostly deserts... The eel which you eat with tea drenched rice was good, as was the deep fried uirou with beans and whipped cream. I have no idea what it is, but it's not bad.
Today the second conference started. It had a very high tech toilet that detects you automatically and lifts lids etc. for you. Surprising everyone, some guy also got really really angry and started shouting "you idiot" to one of the presenters after his speech. I caught almost none of the words except "idiot", but the tone of voice was understandable. I did not expect this in Japan.
Work dinner (20070328)
At every conference, there is always a dinner party with all the people from our lab visiting the same conference. It is free or super cheap for students, since it is paid by the teachers. I am now a teacher... One of my colleagues, who now live in Toyota city, which is near Nagoya, claimed that one famous thing in Nagoya is Nagoya rolls. This is a hair-style, which the waitress at our place had. So he of course claimed that I wanted to take a picture of her hair style (true) with the two of us together (not true). When he was drunk enough, he proclaimed this to her, and we had to take a picture before he strangled me with my camera strap. He also claims that Nagoya is famous for the girls being extremely ugly. Japan, which has ranking lists for everything, puts Nagoya as number three from the bottom on the "pretty women" list. He was sad, because he now lives there instead of in Sapporo, which is in the top part of the list they tell me. The people I met in Kobe claimed Kobe was famous for pretty women. Of course, they were all women from Kobe... But having met them, I guess it could very likely be true.
My presentation (20070329)
I had my presentation about generating naughty puns in Japanese today. Only the foreigners in the audience laughed at the jokes, though they laughed a lot. My professor said that maybe Japanese people just do not have the tradition of laughing at jokes at times like this. Our secretary, being mean as always, said that it was more likely because my research results are so bad that no one laughs. The foreigners were laughing at the fact that no one laughed at the jokes, she claims... This was also the day when Swedish people celebrate the name day of "Jonas". The celebration was disappointing to say the least. I got an e-mail from my mom, and nothing else. All my colleagues left right after my presentation, and I had to wait 5 hours for my plane.
Shopping is an excursion (20070329)
To kill time until my flight should leave, I went to the "weird clothes" department store in Nagoya. There were kids camping in the stairways, eating their lunch... The plane trip seemed to be boring since I ended up next to a young couple who only spoke to each other, in Chinese. They had a brochure of vacations in Finland, though, so I spoke a little to them about Scandinavia. Things looked up when I in boredom decided that maybe I should start practicing card magic when I am bored (I know nothing so far). The old ladies across from me as well as two cute stewardesses thought I was some kind of pro and started speaking to me. They were shocked when I could pronounce a sentence with more than two Japanese words too. Turns out the pilot of the plane was a hobby magician and they had had a pro aboard yesterday.
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.