Tuesday, November 23, 2010

North-South Korean Border Bombing September 2010

I recently traveled to the tranquil, river-delineated border between North and South Korea. More often than not, my travels take me in search of praiseworthy drink and amenable grub, and this journey was no different.

Very little is known about North Korea's next leader.
It was a beautiful, blue-skied, quiet, uneventful day on the thickly armored 38th parallel. Quite unlike today, the 23rd of November, 2010, when bombs rained on a South Korean island.

But let us not forget that just like the last time something like this happened, the unnecessary yet mostly comfortable stalemate between the increasingly distant Korean brethren will continue for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, the Japanese media is freaking out, much to North Korea's delight. The South, on the other hand, is predictably beside itself with restraint. The Chinese are patiently awaiting a request for comment.

Once again, let us remember that, first and foremost, a war is not about to break out.

The North would never wish for such an outcome. They know that they would lose handily inside of two or three days (read O'Hanlon and Mochizuki, 2003 for more on this).

And the South won't retaliate with anything resembling real force because they know that downtown Seoul would crumble inside of 180 minutes if the North felt that the end was near.

In other words, your sons and daughters serving in the military on the Korean peninsula, Korean or non, are in very little danger--especially when compared (fairly or otherwise) with the other hot-zones of the world. [Our thoughts and hearts go out to the family of the South Korean soldier that was killed by the most recent North Korean provocation.]

The North Korean dictatorial family is in the midst of a leadership baton-pass, and an international scuffle or two helps to shore up the military credentials of the most recent successor from the Kim family.

Daedonggang Beer with
N. Korea in the background.
Jong-un Kim (should be translated as Jeong-eun in English, by the way) is currently being ushered through the ranks of the People's Party so that he is well-positioned if and when his father's health forces him to step aside.

During my recent visit to the border--calmer times which will soon return, then lapse, then return once again--I enjoyed a couple bottles of North Korean beer not even half of a mile from the country where it was produced. And to my surprise, and delight, the beer was definitely worth a second sip.

It was an odd feeling to drink a "Daedonggang" (also spelled Taedonggang) beer while being able to actually see a small, nearly inactive, village where the people had likely never even seen the beverage that I was enjoying. Not that they would be able to afford it if they had. Soju is reportedly far cheaper and domestically preferable anyway, no matter how appetizing the local beer is.

From my vantage point, the North Korean landscape was bizarrely naked. Very little of the lush vegetation waving to the south was present just across the thin river to the north, and the skeletal, gulag-esque buildings were nearly the only insinuations of life available to the southernly eye. All the better to spot people who are trying to escape, apparently. The lifeless shade of brown of the crops to the north contrasted unfavorably with their irrigated neighbors just across the river to the southwest.

It was perhaps a miracle that the beer I was enjoying was as good as it was. Maybe I just benefited from a good batch. At any rate, a blind tasting would likely find three out of four South Korean beer fans choosing it over the local swill.

Let's hope the fresh-blooded North Korean leadership understands that North Korea's future can be secured by a deescalation of tensions and the emergence of a North Korean economy that doesn't depend on or extort outside goodwill. While "Daedonggang" beer isn't going to win any rice lager awards, it may just be a hint of where the time-locked half of the Korean Peninsula could go.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Good Dentist in Tokyo

When was the last time you
had your teeth checked?
Update: (February 25th, 2012) A couple of people in the comments section have been to the clinic mentioned in this article since it was published, and it appears that the place now has new ownership. 

Lots of people are scared half to death of going to the dentist. The language barrier, the alleged tendency to draw treatments out over several visits, old school techniques (metal fillings)--all of these help ramp up the panic quotient when a non-Japanese feels that it's time to have a cleaning or a crown replaced.

But many expats in Japan wait until it's too late and the throbbing pain has spread from the lower hinge of the jaw to the upper. Count me as one of those people. I needed a root canal and quick, and I'm happy to report that I guessed correctly the first time on my choice of surgeon.

Dr. Naoko Freeman runs a dental clinic near Nishieifuku station on the Inokashira line between Meidaimae and Kichijoji stations.

The bit about treatments being drawn out over several treatments appears to be true, at least when Japanese health insurance is involved. But worries about communication (English and Japanese) and prehistoric equipment do not come into play.

The clinic is clean, modern,
simple and comfortable.
Here's how my treatment went:

Visit number one was on short notice. I was x-rayed, had my molar hollowed out and temporarily sealed, and sent on my way within 40 minutes.

The second visit was to check to make sure that the infection was completely gone and to replace the temporary filling with a slightly more robust cap. On my way in less than 30 minutes.

My third visit to see Dr. Freeman was over in about 15 minutes. More x-rays were included in this visit to make sure that the bottom part of the filling wasn't going to cause any problems. An impression was taken so the good folks at the lab could fashion a filling for me.

The fourth visit was when the ceramic filling was put into place and I was given the all-clear to eat hard food on the right side of my mouth again. The ceramic filling, which looks quite natural I must say, was not covered by national health insurance and the fourth visit cost me about ¥30,000. I actually paid for it ahead of time (at the end of my third visit), so I didn't pay anything when I went in for the fourth time.

I also went back a fifth time to have a couple of far smaller problem areas treated, but this was not related to the tooth that brought me there in the first place. This took about 30 minutes and cost less than ¥2,500 with insurance. Some of the visits cost less than ¥1,500.

Overall, I was impressed with the speed and professionalism of the dental services provided by Dr. Freeman and her staff. Communication is not an issue as the secretary can handle emergency calls, appointments and administration quite easily in English. Dr. Freeman herself spent part of her dentistry training in Australia, and is quite fluent in the English language.

Dr. Freeman's clinic can handle all of the regular cleaning, crown and filling procedures as well as root canals and other more invasive treatments. Her clinic also administers teeth-whitening procedures.

My one quibble is with the drawn-out nature of the treatment for my primary dental issue. I'm pretty sure that it would have been completed in fewer than four visits in other parts of the world although I do appreciate Dr. Freeman's desire to make sure that no bacteria from the root-hugging cavity had managed to survive the initial stages of treatment.

And I can't complain too much about the price. I've heard that it's possible to get a lot more dental work done at a clinic if you don't use national health insurance, but you pay heftily for such efficiency. As mentioned earlier, my most recent treatment in which two small areas of concern were drilled and sealed cost less than ¥2,500. Personally, I'm reasonably content to take the slow approach to dental therapy if the cost is going to be so low. I have no idea what such a treatment would cost in the states, but I imagine it's several times what I paid.

For those with easy access to the Inokashira Line in western Tokyo (Shibuya, Shinjuku, Meidaimae and Kichijoji stations are the major transfer stations in that area), Dr. Freeman's Nisheifuku clinic is recommended.

The clinic is the second door on the left after
reaching the second floor of the building.
Call 03-5378-2228 for an appointment.

Website here.

Tips: Nishieifuku is a local train stop. In other words, if you take a train from Kichijoji or transfer at Meidaimae, make sure that you catch a local (kakuekiteisha).

The map (scraped from the clinic's website) mentions a photo shop as a landmark (across the street from Lawson). However, that building has been demolished. Accurate as of November 2010.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ray Pellegrini "Reach for the Stars Scholarship" Golf Tourney Fundraiser

It's time for a Vermont reunion. We're headed back to the green mountains in the first half of August, and the fam has put together a golf tournament to help raise money for dad's scholarship.

If you're going to be in that part of the states, please come play a round with us (it's OK, I suck at golf, too). If you're really not into that sort of thing, then how about coming out for the BBQ that will accompany the sloppy golf?

All proceeds go to dad's scholarship which aims to send Vermont high school graduates to college (especially if they're the first in their family to go). So it's for a good cause, and there should be plenty of old faces there.

August 13th is the day, and my brother, Scott, is the point-man on this. Should be a good time! Please check the entry form for more details.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Map Mix-up on the Seibu-Shinjuku Line

For whatever reason, one of the people who changes the ads in the cars on the Seibu-Shinjuku line goofed and put a station map up for the Seibu-Ikebukuro line instead.

I wonder how many old people freaked out, got off the train and had 20-30 minutes added to their commute.

And how many others simply stayed on the train, pleasantly surprised that the Seibu-Ikebukuro now magically extends to Takadanobaba station?


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Shigeru Takada (finally) resigns as Tokyo manager

I'm very happy to report that Takada will be spending more time with his wife from now on.

Former Tokyo manager, Shigeru Takada, formally ended his tenure after tonight's 3-2 home loss to the Tohoku Eagles. The farewell press conference was co-hosted by Tokyo's other prized knucklehead, team president Tadashi Suzuki (right).

Let us all remember that May 26th is a very special day. Let us never forget.

This picture captures the part of the press conference when he says that he doesn't want to be annoying or a hindrance to the team by not taking responsibility for the current state of affairs.

I think I speak for everyone when I say: Mr. Takada, you're more than two full seasons late.

Anyway, read the post over at Tokyo Swallows and feel free to join in the rejoicing.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Frum on Republican Party's Waterloo

An interesting post by former Bush speech-writer, David Frum, on what the Republican party's posturing in the healthcare reform debate means heading forward.

A quick selection:

At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo – just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994.
Read the rest here.

And while you're at it, read Karl Miller's dissection, culinary-style, of Krauthammer's thoughts on 'Obamacare'.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Business Names

I walk by this shop all the time when I'm in the area, but it's usually at night when I'm on my way to a restaurant in the area. I finally walked by during the day when there was enough time to take a picture of this business's name. Translation: POS System Register.

This makes me chuckle every time I walk by. And what makes it even funnier is the rest of the stuff, old school cash registers and the like, displayed in the window. The various devices look like they were made in the 70s or 80s and haven't been touched since then.

So I guess the company's name is apt. Hopefully everyone knows what "POS" stands for. If not, click here.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

USA Passport Renewal

Updated! [3/26/10--see bottom of post]

Updated again! [4/6/10--see bottom of post]

The good news about passport renewals is that many people can do so through the mail. Get the right-sized photos (currently 2 inches by 2 inches for American passports), fill out the forms online, print everything up, and then head off to the post office.

But that's where it gets a little tricky.

I personally found that he information on the US Embassy of Japan's website was a little misleading and could be simplified in several ways. It seems rather obvious that whoever typed up the guide on this site has not tried to renew their passport through the mail in Japan before. Or at least not recently at any rate.

Here's what I learned about the process.

Even though the website linked to above states that an Expack 500 should be used, I was informed that you are not allowed to send passports using them. I don't know who's correct on this one, but the people at the post office are generally pretty knowledgeable about sending valuable items. Instead I was directed to stick a registered S.A.S.E. envelope inside of a larger registered envelope addressed to the US Embassy in Minato Ward, Tokyo. I assume that the US Embassy in Tokyo plays the middleman on this exchange, but I have yet to receive my new passport in the mail. I'll update this post when I have the new passport in my hands.

Another thing to pay close attention to is who the 'payee' for this transaction is. For those of us living in and around Tokyo, the US Embassy Tokyo is the payee. Their address, if I'm not mistaken, is: 
Unit 9800 Box 114 APO AP 96303-0114 USA.

The above information is necessary when filling out the required paperwork for an international payment and declaration. 

This is confusing because the payee appears to be residing in two countries at the same time. No explanation is given for this on the US Embassy of Japan website. The important thing, however, is that you don't actually send the parcel with your soon-to-expire passport to the payee's address as written above. Or at least that is how I was advised in an e-mail from someone at the embassy.

Instead, you must send your registered parcel to the following address:
American Embassy Passport Unit 1-10-5 Akasaka Minato-ku Tokyo 107-8420

I'm interested to see whether my passports (one new and one old) will be returned to me in the registered envelope I sent, or if the US Embassy will break the rules and use Expack 500. 

Hopefully what I've written here will help someone else who is having a hard time deciphering the information on the US Embassy of Japan website. It would be really helpful if there was a step-by-step guide--one for military personnel and a completely separate one for civilians. And both of those guides should be completely separated from information guiding current American residents who also wish to renew their passports. 

Unfortunately, in some cases, the information overlaps or is presented side-by-side. I guess the bottom line is that you need to read everything on that website carefully. 

Additional notes for American citizens (civilians) residing in Japan:

  • an international postal money order is called a kokusai yubin kawase in Japanese.
  • there is a 2,000 yen fee for this service.
  • the passport renewal fee (US$75) plus the optional quick service fee (US$60) works out to a little over 12,300 yen by today's exchange rate (91.39 yen to the dollar). That's just a bit under 15,000 yen all together. [updated 3/26/10]
  • make sure that your photos are taken on a white background.
  • don't staple your photos to the application form even though it clearly says to do so.
  • write your name very lightly on the back of the photos so that you don't put grooves that show through on the picture side.

Update 3/26/10: My passport application was returned yesterday. The problem was that my postal money order was rejected on account of being for too much money. "Expedited" service is apparently not available for non-US addresses.

This is annoying, to say the least, because this fact is not mentioned anywhere on the embassy's website. Furthermore, you are allowed to select the expedited service option while filling out your documents online, and the $60 fee is tacked onto your bill.

More annoying still is the fact that I had to repay the 2,000 yen processing fee for having a second postal money order issued, this time in the amount of $75 dollars.

The US Embassy in Japan would do well to indicate this important point on its passport renewal instructions page.

Oh, and the two photos I sent were returned to me not in their small envelope, but rather paper-clipped to my application. That left a nice crease down the left side. I'm now predicting that my application gets returned to me next week due to this new problem (I opted to use the same photos again as it costs 700 yen to get new ones).

Update 4/6/10: I just received my new passport in the mail. That was fast--basically a week and a half from the second time I shipped my passport. All told, including the misstep in the first update to this post, the process took less than three weeks. That's still much faster than the four to six commonly cited on the embassy website.

And I can confirm that NOT using an Expack 500 will still get your documents back to you in one piece. Just make sure that you register the S.A.S.E. envelope that you tuck in the original package with your soon-to-expire passport. Also, make sure that you put enough postage on the return envelope to carry the weight of both your old and new passports.

Oh, and they returned one of my two passport photos. Not sure why they needed two in the first place...


Sunday, March 07, 2010

Hot Music Videos

I'm still on a pretty strong Grizzly Bear kick at the moment (click here for my last post about them). I just love it when bands (and their labels) make it easy for you to obsess over them by posting lots of freely viewable and embeddable videos online.

And Grizzly Bear is a good example of this. You can find their music videos and other random performances on video sites such as YouTube and Vimeo. By the way, after you watch the official Grizzly Bear video for their hit "Two Weeks", go ahead and watch this fan video as well. Ho. Lee. Crap.

On to my newest discovery, this time from a band called OK Go. They just released an absolutely ridiculous video for their song "This Too Shall Pass" that simply entertains, amazes, and brings you back to your high school science class days all at the same time.

Without further ado:

Most of the videos mentioned above are available in HD (high definition), so if you'd like to see better quality versions, they shouldn't be hard to find.

And a quick hint for any record label execs who happen across this blog for some strange reason: this type of thing makes me buy CDs, write about what I paid money for, and generally become passionate about your product. If I can't embed the videos that I like in my own site and share my interests with others, guess what? I'm not going to pay money for the stuff that you're flogging.


Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Cheap Red Wine

Drinking wine from a box is something that a lot of people do. Myself included. I clearly recall the days (read: college) when many small get-togethers with friends involved at least one three liter box of the stuff. The wine wasn't phenomenal, but at that stage of my life I didn't really care. I believe my style of thinking was more along the lines of 'Three liters of wine for under fifteen dollars? OK, I'll take four, please.'

And that style of thinking is still with me to some extent, although I'm sure it resurfaces less frequently than my wallet would like.

One such instance was this past weekend when I picked up a 600 yen bottle of red wine housed in a plastic bottle. Apparently beverage behemoth, Suntory, has teamed up with a winery or two in France to produce a red and white Cocovin. They both come packaged in plastic.

Yes, plastic.

Big deal, right? Haven't we already gotten used to screw-top caps due to the cork shortage? Aren't we destined for packaging techniques that reduce shipping costs? Hell, some of the Beaujolais Nouveau sold this year in Japan hit the shelves in plastic. Not that the stuff was great wine or anything, but you get the picture. And I believe that was a pretty faithful rendition of what was going through my mind at the time.

Well...I guess I should have known better. As you probably guessed, the wine was a little bit...interesting. I'm now slightly suspicious that the wine shipped under the Cocovin brand has leftover Beaujolais Nouveau mixed in with it. It has that same kind of brash floral aroma that vaults out of the bottle as soon as it's uncorked unscrewed. And it's just as floral on the palate, but coming from me that's not a compliment. I started to get the feeling that I was sucking on a lilac bush. And the taste lingered for quite a while after I had gulped. Yikes.

White wines are the ones that have more acidity; it defines them, gives them a presence and a backbone that is expected and appreciated. However, the Cocovin red, for whatever reason, is light on tannins but heavy on acidity, especially in the finish. The result is a rather flowery-sour aftertaste.

That said, you get what you pay for, and I certainly did. For those who wish to head down this route, I would highly recommend putting the red in the fridge for at least an hour before opening. After the mercury drops, the aroma calms down and the aftertaste diminishes noticeably. At that temperature, you could argue that it's worth 600 yen.

Oh woe is us. Is this what we're in for? It seems fairly obvious that in order to sell people on the whole 'wine in a plastic bottle' thing, even if it's going to make our hooch cheaper, a lot of said wine better be pretty damned good. Otherwise we're not going to buy it. We'll be headed straight down the whole rosé path again (nobody would buy it until it was renamed blush, remember?). Anyway, message to Suntory: please try again.

But I digress. Come to think of it, two extra seconds of brain usage and I would have realized that I haven't bought wine in anything other than a glass bottle for a good 10 years. There's obviously a reason for that.

Lesson learned. I guess I actually care about what I drink now. The extra 300 yen per bottle is well worth it.


Monday, March 01, 2010

How to donate to the relief effort in Chile

Typing from a part of the world that experiences earthquakes on a regular basis, I think I can say with confidence that Chile just got rocked by something that the world rarely sees. For those who reside in locales not prone to major shakes, let me assure you that even the small ones, threes or fours on the Richter scale, can be downright terrifying. Add to that crumbling bridges and tumbling buildings, and what you have is perhaps the most destructive 60 seconds that nature is capable of.

It's time to help out. The mess in Haiti isn't even close to being straightened out, but we can, indeed we must, donate to the relief efforts in both countries.

Mobile Giving is again making it easy for people in the United States to use their mobile phones to donate:

Text the word “CHILE” to 25383 to donate $10
On behalf of the Habitat for Humanity

Text the word “CHILE” to 20222 to donate $10
On behalf of World Vision

Text the word “CHILE” to 52000 to donate $10
On behalf of the Salvation Army

Text the word “YOUTH” to 20222 to donate $10
On behalf of UNICEF

Online donations
It is also possible, and very easy, to donate online. Here is a short list of links if you want to use your credit/debit card to make a difference:

American Red Cross
Doctors Without Borders
Google Crisis Response
Oxfam (UK)
Unicef (Australia)

So let's get to it. The five links above are sometimes aimed at a specific country, but you can often navigate to the international site and then make your way to the page that is dedicated to your country of residence. And of course, if you know any other portals for making donations, please list them in the comments section below.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Things that I'm excited about right now

Update [Mar. 25, 2010]

  • The kichigai promotional site is up and running and can be found here.
  • Another short film that I worked on last year, "Banki", is a nominee at the Tokyo Short Shorts Film Festival taking place later this spring!


It's been a very enjoyable month thus far even if I haven't been lucky enough to win an Olympic medal. I've been busy meeting friends, both old and new, and working on a pretty large swath of projects that will hopefully make waves later in 2010.

Here are some of the big things that are making me smile:

Script. I'm currently working on the spec script for a film that we'll probably start filming in late March or April. I'm very stoked about this because we're exploring a new genre and looking to build on what we learned from the production of Little Tokyo (more info on that later).

Pre-production. Not exactly film-related, but in the prep-stages nonetheless, a couple of new web projects look like they may be getting off the ground soon. One is an information portal related to living in Japan and the other is a site about celebrity fashion. My role in both projects is mostly on the developer side which is probably hard for some of you to believe--especially regarding the fashion site.

Filming. Japan Booze Blind continues to grow within the Japan Eats network. The word 'network' is apt here as we've been experimenting with live tapings of the show, and the next one is scheduled for March 28th at 3pm (Tokyo time). Live tapings via Livestream are a blast because I can interact with the audience in (nearly) real-time. The show on the 28th will deal with my favorite spring pastime, hanami. This post over at Tokyo Terrace will give you a good idea of what we've been up to.

Post-production. A film that I worked on last fall, Kichigai (Japanese title: Wasted), is in post production now and will hopefully be screened at a film festival later in 2010. There's a website being developed to help promote the film, but I've been advised that it's not ready to go live, so I'll hold off on posting a link just yet.

Promotion.  We'll be hearing back next month about whether or not Little Tokyo will be screened at the 2010 Short Shorts Film Festival. Please keep your fingers crossed  for us. Another film that I had a leading role in, Banki, will also hopefully get screened. Fortunately (for me, anyway), Little Tokyo and Banki are not entered in the same category.

Of course, there's also the redesign of the Tokyo Swallows website to be excited about. That took quite a bit of hair-pulling and face-slapping (my own) to get under control, but I think that it was definitely worth it. There are still several things to get sorted out, but I think that we'll have a better feel for what we need to do once more content gets posted within the new framework of the site.

And as many of you know, I've jumped face-first into the world of social networking sites (SNS). Facebook, Mixi, Twitter, and Disqus to name a few. I've actually hooked this site up with Disqus, a service that aggregates the social aspects of several SNS platforms, so make sure to leave a comment at the end of this post and see how it all works. I'm very interested in seeing how it helps users keep track of the ongoing dialogue as it moves and changes across the web.

Anyway, one thing that I'm very grateful for is that I've been able to easily reconnect with a bunch of people that I didn't have any idea how to contact, and that includes both family and friends.

So those are some of the things that I've been thinking about, stressing over, and working on recently. Just need to stay motivated and keep working with the talented people around me. Hopefully I can keep up.


Thursday, February 04, 2010

I'm just the translator, so I don't pull a commission on this

A couple of close friends will be headed out this way in a couple of months, and of couse that thrust my mind into tour guide mode.

What are we going to do for fun? Where are we going to eat? Who are we going to hang out with? Day trips?

And then I remembered that a little language ability can go a long way for travelers in these here parts. Then I remembered that I translated a Japanese phrasebook for novices last year called, Konnichiwa, Nihongo! (basically: Hello, Japanese!).
It's mostly aimed at anyone who has just arrived and is planning to stay for a bit (ie. they have a work visa), so it's only available on the Japanese version of Amazon at this point. However, I'd venture to say that it would be very helpful for anyone staying in Japan for more than a couple of days.
Anyway, just thought I'd throw that out there for anyone planning a trip to Japan.
*Embarrassing note: they must have run out of space because they forgot the last 'i' on my surname (you can see for yourself if you flip through the pages (virtually) at the Amazon link above).


Monday, February 01, 2010

Tokyo First Snow

The snowflakes are so large you can nearly hear them hit the ground tonight.

It always makes me happy to this kind of thing--especially over here. I suppose I wouldn't be quite so pleased if I owned a car, but it'll all burn off in the morning anyway.

Makes me a little nostalgic for home, I must say. Time to throw the mock fireplace disc on the DVD player and crack open a couple Capri Suns.


Sunday, January 31, 2010

Japan Booze Blind: Third type beer

Japan Eats is steadily building up content, and the feedback that we're getting from friends and followers on Twitter and Facebook has been been fantastic!

There are now four JBB videos loaded on the site, and our food show, Tokyo Bites, should make its debut in February. We're definitely very excited about this--especially since the title of the site does not currently match up with the majority of the content that we've produced thus far.

If you have any suggestions for what we should do a future show on, whether it's Japan's interpretation of Korean soups such as sundubu or something as standard as sushi, please feel free to either comment on this site, over at Japan Eats, or on Twitter.

Or you can also e-mail me at pellegrini [at] japaneats [dot] tv.

And while you're at it, please drop by Japan Eats and watch the latest JBB episode which covers three beers produced by brewing-behemoth Kirin. My two guests on the show are Rachael White, food-blogger extraordinaire over at Tokyo Terrace, and Joe Nakamura, an actor that I met while filming last year's Hagetaka.


Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Mike Salinetti's tour

My cousin, Mike, left for Iraq (via Kuwait) a little bit before Christmas, and he's posted a set of photos here.

Sounds like he's planning to upload more photos in the future, so check back again soon.


Sunday, January 03, 2010

Product flying off the shelves

Happy New Year!

Looks like someone is going to be getting a nice, belated Christmas gift.

Tenshodo, an upscale and storied jewelry shop in Ginza, was relieved of more than three million dollars worth of luxury watches during the New Year's break. Thieves drilled a hole in the concrete wall of the building, went down into the basement of the building, and absconded with some 200 timepieces.

Elsewhere, this time at the Shinjuku branch of Tiffany's, an English-speaking Asian man rushed out of the store with four engagement rings in his possession. He was not immediately apprehended.

It seems looks like some people have created their own version of "lucky bag" in the midst of the economic downturn. With nearly one-third of Japan's largest companies considering cutbacks in hiring, it is perhaps not very surprising that petty theft is on the rise.

Meanwhile, Joshua "Jake" Adelstein, a former crime beat reporter in Japan and author of the briskly selling Tokyo Vice, sat down for a very intriguing interview with the Japan Times in which he explained some of his views on what makes the underbelly of Japan (as well as the rest of the country, for that matter) tick. Japanese publishers reportedly won't go near the book at this point, so an English version is the only option for interested parties.

And concurrently, in Kobe, one of the subjects of Adelstein's book, the Yamaguchi-gumi of Japan's inimitable yakuza, went into overdrive in an attempt to appease the local population by handing out cash to children at the annual mochi-making (rice cake) event that takes place at the end of December.

Local police believe that more than 1,000 people attended the event last week during which some lucky children made off with as much as three hundred dollars.

'Tis the season!