Friday, August 27, 2010

We are SMAP!

We are SMAP!
Every Day Love Tomorrow.

Found this gem at a convenience store awhile back. Couldn't resist.

It's actually a promotion/sports drink for a new album from the group SMAP, aptly named, We are SMAP! The reason they're advertising it on a sports drink like this is probably because they've done alot of commercials and other promotions for Pocari Sweat in the past. Like this:

Pocari Sweat is basically... clear/white Gatorade without any fruity flavoring. I think it might be an acquired taste if you're not from Japan, but maybe thats just because its different from anything we have in the US. Meh, I enjoy it. Not sure who's idea it was to put 'sweat' in a product name, but at least it doesn't sound so bad in Japanese - pocari suetto (poh-kah-ree soo-eh-tto).

SMAP by the way, is a group of 5 guys that started back in the 90's. They're all in their 30s now if I'm not mistaken. Sounds kinda like a boy band doesn't it? Cause that's basically what they are, but... they're still cool. All 5 of them are basically super veterans in the celebrity scene over here now. They've all got acting careers that have, I'm assuming, sprung off of their popularity with SMAP.

They also have a show that's been running for almost 15 years now called SMAPxSMAP. The first portion of that show, Bistro Smap, is where they have a guest celebrity who chooses a favorite dish, and 4 of the 5 members of SMAP split into 2 teams of 2 and cook their own version of that dish. While they're cooking, the remaining member interviews the guest. Then the guest tries both meals from the 2 teams, decides a winner, and gives them a present. If the celebrity happens to be a girl, they get a kiss on the cheek (a counter of how many kisses they have is on their chef hats). Apparently they weren't necessarily cooks or anything when they started, but now they're practically master chefs. Then the second half of the show is variety, where they can do anything from SNL-type sketches to musical performances and other games. Yes I record it every Monday night on Fuji TV. ^^

Anyways, this particular We are SMAP! drink of course tasted exactly like I expected it to. So... 10/10 for tasting like I thought it would? I'll buy a sports drink like this every once in awhile when I don't want super sweet cafe au le or bitter tea. Also random side note - supposedly SMAP is an acronym for Sports Music Assemble People... so I'm guessing they were going for a group of athletic singers? I suppose that explains why they've done so many promotions with Pocari Sweat, but they've individually and as a group done plenty for lots of other brands including Panasonic, Softbank (cell phone), Dole, Nikon, Gatsby (hair products), etc. Here's a good collection of my favorite with KimuTaku (Kimura Takuya), the hands down coolest Japanese guy out there. The song in these commercials is super catchy for some reason (good job Gatsby marketing).

Any finally I have to show my favorite that's airing on TV right now (hope you don't mind all these youtube videos):

For the facial wash one, the first guy is just some other celebrity (not a member of SMAP), and then he turns into KimuTaku after washing his face. At the end you see him and the director talking,
"So this is what it will look like."
"That's so cool..."

Get's me every time.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Foreigner = Awesome

You know whats awesome about being a foreigner in Japan?

I can say a word like "bird" with a bunch of Japanese friends, and everyone goes "wooaaahhh, baaado, baarrd, buuurd" trying to repeat my pronunciation.

You know what else is awesome? These:

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Went to the dentist the other day... and NO CAVITIES!!! Turns out my the gum above one of my teeth is a bit loose, so when hot/cold water or air gets up there it stings my nerve. The 'line' I felt on the inside of my tooth ended up being a bit of an uneven meeting of my original tooth and a previous filling. So it was actually just freak coincidence that the tooth with that 'line' was right next to the tooth with a weak gum. Anyways, woo hoo!!!! All I have to do is snack less and take a bit more time when brushing my teeth. No fillings!

That aside, the Japanese dentist didn't let me down. When I sat in the dentist's chair, they set down a paper cup next to me under a little water faucet which filled up the cup. Then they let the chair down, checked my teeth, and put the chair back up so I could rinse. I took a few sips, rinsed my mouth out, and put the cup back down where I got it. Then without anyone pressing anything, it filled the cup back up. I say, "wait a minute... noooooo," pick up the cup again, took a small drink, and set it back down again. Oh yes. It filled it back to the same level again. Seriously Japan? Automatic water dispenser at the dentist? I love this country.

By the way I had them clean my top teeth, and smooth down that 'line' on my tooth. Here I was expecting a 'first visit' fee, a cleaning fee, and maybe something for smoothing down my tooth, but no. $15. Thats all it cost me. So at the end of the day, I found out that I didn't have any cavities, they complimented me on the fact that my teeth were strong, I only need to change a few of my eating habits to heal my gum, and it only cost me $15!

Oh and I couldn't find (nor did I take) pictures of the dentist or that automatic water dispenser, but I'm going back in a couple weeks for a re-check. I'll see if I can't bring my camera with then and take a video of that thing :D

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Hot! Too... Hot!

Is it hot there? Cause its been CRAZY hot here, yeesh. Fortunately I haven't been paying attention to the Fahrenheit temperatures but Celsius, so 34C doesn't... sound as hot as 94F... but now that I've looked it up I'm doomed aren't I? Crap. Regardless, I. cannot. wait. for. winter. It's been 30-36C for the last, as long as I can remember, and I've not seen any hint of it cooling on any weather report either :(

Maybe I have thick Minnesota deep freeze winter blood or something, cause after a 10 min walk from the station to home/work I'm in a full body sweat. Recently I've even been power drying myself down with one of our air hoses (good idea Khing!). I think my electric bill is 3x higher than it usually is too. At least my apartment is smaller so it doesn't take much to cool down.

Anyways, my daily battle with heat exhaustion aside, I think the 3 days off last week finally gave me a bit of time to sit back and fully let the idea that I'm permanently living in Japan sink in. I had been exploring multiple ways to come back to Japan, each met with failure or delay, so when things finally came together it kind of felt too good to be true. Even after I got here I've been keeping too busy with work for it to sink in, so the experience has been different from when I studied abroad.

But here I am, living in my own apartment in Atsugi, Kanagawa. I frequent the ItoyoKado supermarket nearby, but I really like to go to the super cheap Gyomu Supermarket too. I've also found that Japanese clothes fit me better since they're cut slimmer, but unfortunately my feet are 3 cm larger than the biggest standard sizes they sell. I LOVE Japanese TV, and thanks to Torne with my ps3 I can record most of them too (also hooray for my $50 500GB upgrade!). It takes me 30 min to get to work and an hour to get to Tokyo (curse you Sagami line and your once every 15 min trains!!). And if I do go to Tokyo there's pretty much anything and everything I would want to do there. Its been over 4 months since I've moved here now. I've done enough things in enough local places that I'm no longer a visitor but a resident.

Wow, I'm really living in Japan. Very cool.

Apparently I need to complain about the weather more often. It's 26C (78F) out this morning. This is the first time in months I've not had to jet dry w/the air compressor or deep freeze in the server room after getting to work!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dentist Get!

Hooray! Found a dentist!

Kana's mom's friend lives in or knows someone that lives in the Ebina area... or something. Basically I have some legitimate connection to a dentist in Ebina, which is 100 times more valuable (and reassuring) than trying to find one at random on the internet. Actually from what I'm told this guy is supposedly really good, and doesn't do any extra unnecessary and expensive treatments and such. I'm just thanking my stars I found someone! The place is called 国分歯科クリニック (Kokubun Dentistry Clinic).

Anyways, just called and made an appointment for Saturday afternoon. Nervous!!

Monday, August 16, 2010

7up Clear Dry

I found the 12oz can version of this in a vending machine a few weeks ago, and recently found it at the supermarket. It's pretty good (which is why I bought it twice I guess). It actually kinda tastes like a mix of ginger ale and 7up. It's got the lemon/lime 7up flavor with a bit of ginger ale dry to it. Also its... clear? So there you have it, 7up Clear Dry. If I had a choice between 7up and 7up Clear Dry I'd probably take the latter.

Let's go with an 8/10.

A Nice Break

**By the way, this is my 101st post! Wow!**

It's Obon season in Japan right now, which is basically a holiday to honor your ancestors who have passed away. Many people go to their home towns to spend time with family, but... well I don't really have a 'back home' in Japan, so I thoroughly enjoyed my 'summer vacation' by spending a bunch of time in Tokyo. Which by the way, Tokyo was unusually quiet probably because most people were away in their home towns. And by 'quiet' I mean Tokyo was busy, and not a mass of people insanity like it usually is.

On Wednesday I went to see Kana off as she went back to her home town in Kyushuu (the southern most island of Japan, same island Nagasaki is on). So since I came into Tokyo (specifically Hamamatsucho) I decided to do some sightseeing as I've been slacking a bit these past few months.

Not too far to Hamamatsucho is Zojoji temple, from which there's a very nice view of Tokyo Tower right behind it (as if you couldn't see Tokyo Tower from anywhere else though. Its kinda big. Can't miss it.) The temple itself was one of the larger ones I've seen in the Tokyo area, so it was rather impressive. There was also a tree planted by President Grant back in 1879, which was kind of interesting to see some 'American' history in a heavy Japanese cultured place. One thing I really fond interesting about this temple was the contrast between the old cultural temple and the new modern Tokyo Tower just behind it. Both are very Japan in their own respects, just from different time periods. More pictures here.

While on the temple grounds I heard some chanting coming from inside the temple itself. I went to take a look, and sure enough some monks were doing a ceremony of some kind, and there were seats set up to watch/listen. There were a number of people there, foreigners and Japanese. Specifically I noticed one group of 4 foreigners sitting not too far from where I was standing. As I got a bit closer I seemed to recognize one of them. To my utter disbelief and amazement, turns out it was Bill (my boss) with his family that had come to visit. Of all places in the massive megalopolis that is Tokyo, what were the chances that I would run into them inside Zozoji temple in Hamamatsucho. I had just run into a friend of mine in Tokyo station from when I studied abroad 3 years ago too. Crazy.

After that I decided to hike over to Odaiba, the artificial island in Tokyo Bay, where Fuji TV is running a theme park in June and July. And as this is a Fuji TV event, of course all the exhibits and games and everything were themed around the different shows that they have, and quite frankly I think Fuji TV has the best shows on TV over here, so I quite enjoyed myself. The interesting thing about it though, was because this is a limited time event, and as its related to Japanese TV, there was no English at all, anywhere. Even if they made English pamphlets and signs, everything is related to a TV show somehow or another, and they don't exactly have running subtitles for them. Which means, no English, no foreigners (except for me). Meh, I'm used to it I guess. It's so weird to catch a look in a mirror cause my gut reaction is 'WOAH! Who is that forei-oh... right... me."

On Thursday I spent some time in walking around Roppongi Hills, which is a large high-class mall not too far from Tokyo Tower. Basically I found chopsticks that were selling for $80 a pair in this place. Good ol' Roppongi Hills (of course I didn't buy them though!). Here's a few pictures I snapped there.

Finally I spent Saturday and Sunday in Harajuku, Hamamatsucho, and Shinjuku. I met Bill and his family for dinner in Harajuku, at an Izakaya called Samukawa, where we'd gone to before when someone from the US came to visit. This place has a little wall in front of its very subtle front door, and inside it has half Japanese decor, but also these large wooden beams on the other half which felt "American" for some reason. They were playing Star Wars on a big projector screen the first time we went, and this time Kiki's Delivery Service (a famous anime by Hayao Miyazaki). And to top it off they had 40's jazz music playing in the background. What a place.

After dinner I met my friend at "one of his many homes" out in Hamamatsucho where he and some friends were hanging out after fireworks they went to earlier. I had a lot of fun as usual blowing the other Japanese friends there away with my Japanese. That never gets old. It works really well too when you introduce yourself in English or in Japanese with terrible pronunciation, and then start talking normally. Man that never gets old.

Anyways, it turned out to be a rather busy but very fun vacation. Spending time in Tokyo made me miss the place though. I really enjoy where I'm living now (especially the price out here), but there's definitely something special about the atmosphere in the city. The skyscrapers encompass you completely, folding you into the city where you can't really see the horizon. The trains and subway are so convenient, you can hop back and forth anywhere across the city itself in 30 min to an hour as well. Just being there, being a part of the city is something special. Hopefully sometime in the future I'll have the chance to live in Tokyo again. That or I'll also have to make many friends in Tokyo so I can have "many homes" of my own. :)

Friday, August 13, 2010

The 64th Annual Atsugi Ayu Matsuri

I've been in Japan for 4 months now, and I still haven't gone to a festival or fireworks yet! For the past few weekends I've gone out and have heard/seen fireworks off in the distance, even from the train, but I haven't had the chance to actually go to one. Last week there was even a festival just across the river in Ebina, but it didn't quite work out for me to go. But no longer! This past weekend there was finally a festival in my town, so how could I not go?

The 64th Annual Atsugi Ayu Matsuri

Atsugi is the name of my city, Ayu is a fish... apparently called sweetfish in English, and Matsuri means festival. So the 64th annual Atsugi Sweetfish Festival, yea. Pictures here.

Anyways, the atmosphere in the city was definitely different from usual. Aside from 10x as many people than usual, there were people setting up concession stands like... inside the station. Most of the restaurants had little stands setup just outside selling food and drinks. Plus half of the people were wearing Kimono. So to fit better into the atmosphere, I decided this was a good chance to wear my Jinbei.

Quick lesson on Kimono. The word Kimono (着物) literally means something you wear, and (by my understanding) it kind of refers to Japanese clothing in general. So there are many varieties of Kimono for men and especially women, probably of which the most 'internationally' popular is the Furisode (振袖), which is a woman's formal kimono with long sleeves. I hear they can cost as much as a car, yikes. But we can't be wearing something restricting and heavy like that in the hot summer, so there's a much lighter variety called a Yukata. This is generally the festive attire of choice for matsuri, so there were a LOT of people in Yukata. Another, simpler substitute is the Jinbei which, well simply explained is kind of like the tops and bottoms to pajamas. I actually have both a yukata and a jinbei, but went for the jinbei since it is REALLY HOT OUT lately.


Yea... that about sums that up. As you can imagine I got plenty of stares from practically, well, EVERYONE. As uncommon as it is to have foreigners out in these parts, its even more rare to see one wearing a Jinbei. I completed the look in style with some sunglasses too, haha.

Anyways, included in the festivities were a variety of events, lots of which took place in the various parks scattered throughout the city. In fact, one of the parks not too far from my apartment had some hip hop dancing, which was really interesting because the dancers were wearing Japanese styled hip hop attire. Too bad I didn't take any pictures, oh well.

So first we stopped by Atsugi central park since thats where a lot of the main events were. The place was (of course) packed, lined with booths selling food and drinks, and there was also a stage with some live performances. I took a picture of the stage, and then some random dude ran up to me, said "no pictures please," and ran away... so I took one more picture, and then we got some food. We tried a number of different things including some yakisoba, hot dog, friend chicken, beer, and also bacon. Mmm bacon. On a stick.

Then we made our way to the river side to watch the fireworks. Boy were the streets packed. Pretty much every shop on every street had some sort of stand set up selling food and drinks. When we finally got to the river though, then it REALLLY got back. A few years ago I had gone to the fireworks festival in Sumidagawa in Tokyo, which was basically a massive gathering of the most ridiculous amount of people you could ever imagine all in one area, and afterwords everyone headed toward the same direction jamming the streets. Now take what you're thinking of and multiply that number of people by 10, and thats what Sumidagawa was like. Ayu Matsuri on the other hand out here in Atsugi has lots of people, but when I was told it gets packed, in my mind I'm thinking the insanity that is Sumidagawa, but it was of course nothing like that. So even though it was SUPER packed, it felt pretty spacious considering what I had to compare it with.

Anyways, we found a spot to sit and watch the fireworks, and they sure didn't let us down. I'm told they launched 10,000 fireworks off this year. Wow. Each 'set' of fireworks was sponsored by different companies including Sony, Nissan, Odakyu (train), and NTT East Japan (Internet). My favorite was Sony where they literally launched a couple series of 4 fireworks that spelled out S-O-N-Y one after another. Other pretty cool ones included smilie faces, hearts, saturn, and butterflies. I was able to snap some cool shots of some fireworks too.

So there you have it. Finally got to a Matsuri and saw some fireworks. I'll have to see if I can't make it to a couple more before summer's up. I'm already planning on going to the Matsuri out in Oyama (where Kana lives) at the end of the month where they're supposedly firing off 20,000 fireworks. Next time I think I might go for the Yukata too. Should be fun.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Been busy

The last couple weeks have been rather busy since we had a couple visitors from the US at work. On the bright side, I drove some more and got to go out for lunch and dinner alot, which was a lot of fun. Thank you Larry!! You're a good cook!! :D

I had my faith renewed in Dell this past week as well. A laptop from the US died Tuesday morning, so I looked up Dell support online to see what I could do. After lots of testing, we determined the motherboard was dead, so I filed a support case to have someone come and fix it. I figured, maybe we'd have to ship the laptop to the US, or if we're lucky we could have someone here fix it in a few days or something... nope. Dell called that afternoon, and an engineer called that evening to setup an appointment for the next day. Sure enough, the following morning a package arrived with the new motherboard, and someone stopped by to fix it that afternoon. He literally took the laptop apart to PIECES; it was pretty amazing. And then when he was all done, he took the time to neatly and preciously clean the thing too, as only Japanese service could do. Well met Dell, well met. ::golf clap::

Actually on that note, the visitor we had last week told me that the maid at her hotel neatly folded all her clothes that she had laid out to keep from getting wrinkled. Man, next time I go to a hotel I'll have to bring a bag of clean laundry and dump it on the bed or something, haha.

Anyways, this past weekend was Ayu Matsuri here in my city, Atsugi. It was pretty awesome to have a festival in your own town, mostly for the fact that you can just, you know, walk home. I didn't have to battle the crowds like when I went to Sumidagawa in Tokyo 3 years ago. Plus I didn't run into old dude who kept going on and on about how he hates the atom bomb... (by the way today is the 45th anniversary of Hiroshima) although I did run into some... South American guy who purposely bumped into my back, asked if I was American (he was drunk), and then started cursing at me in Japanese when I said no and tried to get away from him. Hmm.

Well I took plenty of pictures of the festival that I'll post later (its Obon season in Japan, so we've got 3 days off coming up this week, yay!). I also finally got some pictures off Kana's camera from Odawara too, so I'll be putting those up as well. Until then!

P.S. I need to find a dentist, I've got a super sensitive tooth. So I'm sure I'll have plenty of adventure to write about finding and going to a dentist in Japan. T_T