Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Office Manners

I'm probably a little late with this, but this is my kind of humor.

Apologies if you've seen it before, but I'm sure you won't mind seeing it again.


Yokohama Baseball Stadium

View from the left field bleachers of Yokohama stadium. This was from a game in early April that we lost (9-6) because Rios was pitching. Three weeks later, actually, he's still in a bit of a slump. He often flirts with the 100-pitch mark by the beginning of the sixth inning, and he seems to have lost that knack for getting guys out that propelled him to the top of the Korean Baseball Organization last season.

Here's hoping that he finds it.

But this post is not meant to be a swipe at Rios. Adjustments take time. He'll find his groove again. The negative tone of my typing, however, is going to endure. For I found that I'm no longer as crazy about Yokohama stadium as I used to be.

On the plus-side, it's a short walk from either Kannai station (JR Negishi/Keihin Tohoku line or Yokohama Subway line) or Nihon Odori station (Minato Mirai subway line). If you're sitting in the outfield, though, there won't be many more pluses.

Yokohama has no control over the weather, so no blame can be assigned for the bitterly frigid wind that was sweeping around the inside of the bowl-shaped stadium. But very little was done to make us feel at home.

Ah! Open seating. There's another plus! Yokohama resembles Jingu in that regard. You can get your ticket and then wander around until you find something that you like. But don't sit too close to the center field scoreboard as the public address speakers are pointed directly at the fans. It's a lot like being crammed in a tiny bar that just got new floor-to-ceiling speakers and the owner insists on taking advantage of their potential. Deafening. Accordingly, sitting in left-center (or right-center, I would imagine) only allows you the privilege of viewing the scoreboard above home plate. It's a great view if your interest in the game starts and ends with ball/strike count.

Another oversight at Yokohama stadium, at least in left field, is the food. I had long ago dismissed all hopes of getting something decent to eat at Jingu stadium (although, admittedly, the selection did improve this year), but somehow I had tricked myself into believing that Yokohama stadium has more or less a similar selection of fare available for ticket-holders. It doesn't. Yokohama stadium makes Jingu look like the food section at Costco.

Alright, it's time to stop pissing and moaning about the stadium. At least the home fans there are friendly, the seating in left field is unassigned for most games, and the stadium has retained its intimacy.

I'll just have to keep packing my own picnic and sit a little further from the center field scoreboard from now on I guess. Or that would be the sensible thing to do anyway--not that I'm particularly prone to doing the sensible thing.

Tokyo plays Yokohama away on May 6th through the 8th.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Not Work Safe, But Good

I watched this clip over at The Marmot's Hole this morning.

Don't watch it at work, or if you have an intense aversion to the f-word, but director Uwe Boll has something to say, and you should listen.


Season Opener vs. Yomiuri at Meiji Jingu Stadium

It was kind of a wet weekend, that Friday, Saturday and Sunday when the 2008 season began for the teams of NPB's central league. The Tokyo derby was hosted at Jingu stadium and we were there for all three games.

The rain was particularly bad for the Sunday game after Tokyo had already beat Yomiuri easily in the first two games of the series. I had publicly stated before the series that Yomiuri was the team to beat this season, but they sure didn't look like it during that first series. Tokyo won all three games: 6-2 (Fri); 6-3 (Sat); 10-2 (Sun) leading to a central league table that looked very different from last year's.

Luke and Sally were back in town that weekend, so they were able to make it to the game on Sunday when the clouds emptied. Stephen, Miyoko and Reina were there as well (Stephen and Miyoko only like to come to games when it's raining), and we were able to have a bit of fun once it became obvious that the game was out of reach and the mighty Giants had all but given up.

The Swallows pitching is still a little shaky, but the upshot is that there are a lot of young arms in the rotation, so that can only mean good things for the future. Additionally, it looks like we may finally have a reliable closer in the bullpen. Chang-yong Im (last name sometimes romanized as Lim) throws really hard (94-95 mph) for a sidearm pitcher, and he has been fantastic thus far. I'm guardedly optimistic about him at this point. It's still early, so we'll see what happens when opposing teams have seen him a few times.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

New Translator Needed

I don't know where he snapped this shot, but my good friend, Scott Lawson, sent this one to me.

The kanji on the right can be approximately translated as "don't use", but apparently that wasn't the nuance they were going for.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Baseball Season and a Revamped Jingu Stadium

I can't believe that we're more than three weeks into April already and I haven't mentioned baseball yet. Well, I did, but not here.

I've been to seven games so far this season, which is kind of a weak tally for me. There have been a few rained out games so far, and I had planned to be at Jingu stadium for two of them, so mother nature is partly responsible for my slack attendance thus far.

Jingu stadium has been slightly revamped. There's new turf and new hi-tech scoreboards in both center-field and on top of the stands behind home plate. The turf looks gorgeous, but the scoreboards, which are the largest ones in use in Japan at this point, are still not being used to their full potential. The scorers sacrificed two columns of real estate on the left and right sides of the center-field scoreboard to advertising, so it is no longer possible to view the players' batting averages unless they're batting. That needs to change. Another problem with the scoreboards, or the people operating them really, is the fact that they still don't show replays of nice defensive plays. Much like during the former scoreboard's tenure, the only pieces of action worth replaying are home runs.

The corners of the outfield were moved out 10 meters at the foul poles as well. This means that it's now 101 meters to the left and right field poles which is about three feet further than the average professional ballpark in Japan. Straight-away center-field still sits 120 meters from home plate. Several rows of 1,900 yen seats were sacrificed for the expansion of the field, but the home team's pitching staff has breathed a collective sigh of relief that a few extra longballs will stay in the park this season.

As mentioned earlier, the new turf is beautiful, and it seems to absorb the momentum of the baseball a lot like natural grass does. The only thing that the players will have to be wary of is the fact that those artificial blades of grass are pretty slick when it rains. I've seen position players, and umpires, hit the deck on several occasions when making otherwise routine runs on the new surface.

Other than that, most stuff at the park are the same. The food's the same, the fans are the same, the team...is actually quite different, but I'll save that for another post.

Oh! One thing that is different is that there's a new t-shirt stand outside the stadium near where members of the fan club pick up their tickets. Grand Slam Sports Enterprises has begun producing a revolving line of unique t-shirts that are more in line with the thought patterns of the diehard Tokyo Swallows fan than what was previously available through the team's official catalog. I was fortunate enough to be able to chat with one of the main guys at Grand Slam before the game on Sunday, and he seems to have a lot of good ideas about promoting the team through a variety of well-designed and wearable t-shirts.

The t-shirt pictured here is a typical example of what they have to offer, and it cost me 2,500 yen. If it's not obvious, the "We are Tokyo" message is alluding to the fact that there are two teams located within the borders of the metropolis, but the claim to being Tokyo's team has been decided.

It sounds like Grand Slam is going to bring out some new designs every couple of weeks, so be sure to check back every so often and see if they have your favorite player's tee out there. It sounds like they will be offering a lot of limited edition t-shirts this season.

I'm hoping that they make an Iihara t-shirt soon because the team has been so slow to make shirts for some of their young stars (unless they're pitchers). Grand Slam Sports Enterprises is being billed as one of the official t-shirt outlets for the Tokyo Swallows fan club this year.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Fingerprinting and Photographing: Japanese Immigration

Just for fun, I thought I'd throw this pic in here.

This is from our return leg to Japan (from Korea). As most people know, the new fingerprinting regime has long since been in place, and unlike other nations with similar systems in place for documenting foreign tourists, Japan likes to book all foreigners every time they enter/re-enter the country (even if they already pay taxes here).

Anyway, we were given this piece of paper after we were told to stand in the wrong line. It's intended to help them figure out how long people are standing in line. The immigration officials that are in charge or shepherding the hundreds of people coming off the planes every half hour stay on the move and try not to stand in one place for very long. It's mostly an act of self-defense as they know that everyone is angry and they are trying not to become a target for verbal abuse. One annoying side effect, at least in our case, is that they tend not to listen very well when they are walking around, so we wasted about 15 minutes in the mile-long line for tourists.

Apparently they have set up another line for people with re-entry permits (people who live and work/study in Japan) in their passports in order to expedite the process, but it was quite a challenge for us to figure out where that line was located. The immigration officials spent a lot of time escorting VIP's through gaps in the line to avoid fingerprinting/mug shot taking. Quick question: everyone knows that politicians are criminals, so shouldn't they be prime suspects for post-landing booking?

Well, we finally got ourselves in the correct line, and after a computer failure and the requisite reshuffling of the lines of people, we made it through immigration at about 2:21 pm. That's 31 minutes after we started standing in line according to the sheet of paper pictured above left. I have no idea how their system of checking waiting time works, but our case probably skewed some of their results. We undoubtedly spent less time in line than the tourists did (by my estimates they were waiting for 45-60 minutes), so if they use our 31 minute wait as evidence that the system is getting faster, then this post is evidence that they need to double-check their methods.

Endnote: when the computer was restarted after it crashed, it was just hilarious/ironic to see the Windows OS screen appear on the monitor as it rebooted.

Check this website, Re-entry Japan, for more information on this topic.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Weird English at the Stationery Store

I make a point of visiting stationery stores when I go to Korea. It's a one stop shop for all of your study and souvenir needs.

It's also one of my favorite places to find wacky permutations of the English language, many of them worthy of admission at Engrish.com.

One such example is pictured to the right. This is a shopping/gift bag that was on sale at a shop in front of Busan National University.

Intending to spruce the text up with a little extra English, the designer of this bag unwisely opted for plagiarizing the first 22 words of an article in the JoongAng Daily English newspaper (which can be found here). The resulting creation is just plain weird.

On the plus side, at least this example is grammatically correct except for the fact that it's a sentence fragment.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Chicken and Beer

One of the staples of the Korean culinary landscape, at least if one heads out to eat, is chicken. And beer. There are shops everywhere that sell the two together. It's a wonderful thing.

The accompanying shot is of a shop near my brother-in-law's new apartment. Chicken in abundance. The place is called "Boor", but it should be spelled "bueo" when romanized. I'm being a bit nitpicky, but I think it's obvious why the proprietor chose the spelling that she did.

How else would they be able to borrow the Hooters logo that is the central part of the storefront advertising? Incidentally, Seoul got it's first Hooters last year.

Intellectual property rights aside, this type of advertising plagues the nation of Korea. It's no wonder that nobody seems to give a hoot about architecture because the building's facade is going to be plastered with these vinyl encased beds of fluorescent lights anyway.

Apparently there are moves afoot up in Seoul to cut down on this type of advertising. One can only hope that it catches on nationwide.

Until then, I'll try to get my brother-in-law to pop by this place and check what type of outfits the waitresses wear.


Saturday, April 12, 2008

Mitsui Outlet Park Iruma

**Although it's no longer new, this post continues to draw a lot of interest. I have therefore updated it slightly to remove some of the information that is no longer relevant. Updated July 7th, 2011.

A new outlet shopping center, Mitsui Outlet Park Iruma (三井アウトレットパーク 入間) opened in Saitama this week, and we paid the place a visit yesterday afternoon. It's big.

We found some good "opening" sales, but not every shop was providing shocking discounts.

I counted no less than 204 outlets in my facilities map. Important details that I discovered during my wanderings through the enormous two-floor mall: expensive coffee can be purchased at a few different places including the Tully's coffee shop on the second floor near the bus terminal exit, cheap coffee can be found near the register at the Family Mart convenience store on the first floor; in terms of sportswear, Puma had the coolest shoes and Nike the best prices; there's a food court on the second floor called "Forest Kitchen" if you're in search of slightly cheaper fare--bento (boxed lunches) and onigiri (rice balls) can, of course, be found in the Family Mart; kids with just a little too much energy can be brought to Club Yu Kids on the second floor next to Family Mart.


The closest train station is Iruma-shi on the Seibu-Ikebukuro line. But then it's a 20 minute bus ride from the station to the outlets (map in Japanese).

Or at least it would be on a normal weekend. As you can see from the picture to the right, there were lines to get into some of the shops, and the place was packed even though it was a weekday. The free shuttle bus from Musashino-fujisawa station was supposed to take only 15-20 minutes, but it ended up being about a one-hour-trip because of the traffic (shuttle bus service will cease after Golden Week 2008). Mitsui Outlet Park is equipped with six separate parking areas, so they're prepared for the onslaught, but the poor roads surrounding the place aren't. The shuttle bus approaches the outlets from a right turn lane on route 16 that doesn't have a protected green light, so a vehicle is able to squeeze through oncoming traffic about once every two to four minutes. It's ridiculous.

I recommend paying for a bus ticket from Iruma-shi station instead. It should cost between 190 and 300 yen per person (there are several buses that head toward Mitsui Outlet Park including the number 30 and 31), and the buses won't get as bogged down in traffic because they don't try to turn into the poorly governed entrance. Actually, I can't swear that the number 30 doesn't turn into the parking lot as it's a new line set up specifically for the shops and we didn't take it. We did, however, take the 31 back from the shops, and that took 20 minutes on the nose. That bus goes to Iruma-shi station as well. It cost 190 yen per person. The bus stop is across the street from the outlets to the left of the Eneos gas station.

Mitsui Outlet Park and Costco

This is Mitsui's fourth, and largest, outlet mall in the Kanto region. They also have shops in western Tokyo, Chiba and Kanagawa. While not the easiest to get to on busy days, the Iruma outlets carry the added bonus of sitting directly adjacent to a Costco wholesale market. For those who aren't familiar with the many wonders available at the giant wholesaler (membership required to shop there), you're missing out! Membership cards work at all 500+ Costco's worldwide, and the range of items sold there is shocking. Additionally, Costco's little dining area provides a cheap, albeit not very healthy, alternative to the pricier food in the restaurants in the outlet mall. Remember those huge slices of pizza and bottomless cups of cola? Yup, Costco in Japan is pretty much the same as back home. Membership for one person/family costs 4,200 yen (per year).

Anyway, the place is worth a visit, but I recommend waiting a week or two, or maybe until after Golden Week. There's something for everyone--from LEGO Clickbrick to Coach accessories, from Fred Perry to Bose, and from BCBGMAXAZRIA to Franc franc.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Changwon Starbucks has Smoking Lounge

Changwon city, South Korea, is a rapidly growing city. It sits about 50 minutes west of Busan by bus, and it's one of the only properly planned cities in the country. Canberra, Australia, apparently, was used as a template for the city.

The population is still rather small, but it's attracting jobs and development like few other municipalities. What that happens, the chains come flocking.

This is a picture from the inside of the city's first Starbucks. It's massive. The one thing that I found to be different about this particular shop was the fact that it is the first Starbucks I've seen with my own eyes that has a smoking room in it. I have no idea why Starbucks felt compelled to do that as the Korean citizenry is quite amenable to the idea that smoking should be done outside.

Starbucks outlets in Japan, by all accounts a much more tobacco-friendly nation, have ashtray-equipped tables outside their outlets.


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Busan Government Works to Improve Quality of Life by Giving Space Back to Citizens

The city of Busan did a nice job of cleaning up the filthy canal/river that stagnated under the elevated train tracks on line number one. The water now smells like, well, water, and much of the area was reclaimed for public use.

In many areas there are basketball courts and other public recreational facilities that now sit on the flat land beside the water. Additionally, a many-many-kilometers long rubberized-track path was laid so that people could get some exercise.

This picture was taken near the entrance to Jangjeon-dong train station (장전동 역) which is along an elevated portion of line one. The bridge spanning the gap sports a rather large sign informing people of how much exercise they need to do to burn off a certain number of calories.

In other train-related news, most of line number three has been completed and is open for public use. Line three (the red line in this map) connects Suyeong station, which is not far from the beach, with Daejeo station, which is a short cab ride from Gimhae International Airport. I'm pretty sure that train service should soon extend all the way to the airport, and my eyes confirmed as much when I saw all the construction there a few weeks ago, but this map doesn't have any information on that. Instead, it seems to indicate that line three will become a one line transfer station as it forks and intersects line one at Dongnae station and continues on until it reaches Bansong.

The official Busan Urban Transit Authority website, however, says that line three will terminate at Anpyeong which is a little bit further out than the Bansong region of Busan. Their map also has line three ending at Daejeo, so it seems that an outside company or authority is responsible for the line that will attach Gimhae airport to the rest of the city.

Anyway, it was nice to have extra commuting options when we were there last. I'm sure that the transportation system will have evolved even more the next time we visit.

Update 1 [April 9, 2008]:
The connection between Gimhae airport and downtown Busan will not be connected to line three. It seems that it will be a completely elevated line stretching from Sasang station on line two in western Busan, which also happens to be a large inter-city bus terminal, to the growing suburb of Gimhae city west of Busan. The line will travel through Gimhae International Airport on its way through.

All of the trains will be unmanned and the line is scheduled for completion in 2010. Capacity is projected at a maximum of 300,000 passengers per day.


Monday, April 07, 2008

2005 APEC Summit Facilities in Busan, South Korea

They went all out in the preparations for the 2005 APEC Summit which was held in Busan, South Korea.

This meeting hall is part of the complex that was set up on the waterfront at Haeundae beach. This is where the heads of state sat during the second (?) round of meetings during the summit. The building, the surrounding paths and gardens are absolutely gorgeous. The facilities are completely open to the public, and if I lived in Busan then I would probably go jogging there every day (all the walkways and roads are rubberized track).

I highly recommend it for anyone who is staying in Busan.
Step one: Busan aquarium.
Step two: hit Papa John's for lunch (see post below).
Step three: long leisurely walk along the beach in the direction of the Westin Chosun hotel.
Step four: 2005 APEC Summit village (entrance located on the other side of the hotel).


Sunday, April 06, 2008

Papa John's in South Korea!

Imagine my surprise and delight when we discovered a new Papa John's outlet in Haeundae when we were there a couple of weeks ago!

We quickly bundled ourselves up the stairs and sat down for some meat-covered pizza and a side of breadsticks.

Papa John's, my favorite pizza supplier when I was attending university in Ohio, is using former Korean national soccer team coach Guus Hiddink as the face of its movement into the Korean pizza market.

From what I can tell, South Korea has a far wider variety of sit-down pizza joints than Japan does. Most pizza places in Tokyo are delivery establishments led by big names such as Pizza Hut, Domino's and Pizza-La. Shakey's is the only major chain in Tokyo that I can think of that is primarily a pizza restaurant.

I think Papa John's could do well over here if they combine deliveries with a nice restaurant environment. Domino's just opened a shop near Hanakoganei train station that combines the two although I can't comment on how well or poorly the system is working for them.

Anyway, it was very nice to have a box of breadsticks again!


2008 Japanese Professional Baseball (NPB) Season Preview

Garrett and I recently finished our 2008 Season Preview for the Japanese Professional Baseball League (NPB) over at TPR.

It includes a 30 minute podcast and lots of prognostications about what might be expected this season.


Friday, April 04, 2008

Watering the Shrubs

Nothing special, just thought this was funny.

I took this photo while walking down the street in Busan. Whoever was in charge of watering the shrubs out in front of the building didn't feel like it was worth the effort to go outside and hose them down the way a custodian in Japan probably would.

Not that there's anything wrong with that; I applaud the creativity.


Thursday, April 03, 2008

Artsy South Korean Electrical Appliances

This captured my interest while I was browsing in an electronics store.

This isn't a photo of a picture frame. Well, it is a picture frame, but it's also something else.

It's an air conditioner.

South Korean appliances are leaning towards the floral these days with lots of companies opting for similar designs--lots of red appliances too.

In addition to this picture frame air conditioner, they had others that looked like paintings. It's a nice way to disguise that ugly unit hanging on the wall--especially if you can change the display.


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

New Seibu Line Trains (30,000 Series)

I risk being labeled a little bit of a nerd with this, but trains are how I get to and from everywhere around here, so I thought I'd share one of the new developments on the Seibu line where I live.

Seibu Railways (西武鉄道) will soon be introducing its 30,000 series of trains (pdf). I saw one pass through Kami-Shakujii station on a test run yesterday, and it looked comfy. It has double screens above the doors like the newer Yamanote and Chuo line trains, and the overall design looks much more modern.

The trains are probably also faster, but that won't become an issue unless more of the Seibu line is elevated. Hanakoganei station to Takadanobaba should still take 19 minutes.


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

South Korean Beer

This has been going on for quite some time, but I always find it amusing when I go to the supermarket to buy some beer.

My first reaction when I look in the cooler is that beer is much cheaper in Korea than it is in Japan. It has always driven me crazy that I have to pay about 200 yen (two dollars) for a beer brewed in Japan that is only marginally better than a Miller Lite. And it always comes in a can!

In Korea you can generally expect to pay a dollar (1,000 won) for a glass bottle of comparable low-quality beer. Imports, naturally, cost more.

And one way that they keep costs down is the packaging they use in South Korea: plastic bottles.

This is primarily the case if one is looking to buy a 1.6 liter bottle of cheap summer brew, but smaller sizes are also available. So if you’re just visiting Korea, and browsing the aisles of the local grocery store in search of some soft drinks, just remember that you can’t feed everything that comes in a plastic bottle to the kids.