Tuesday, January 29, 2008


School started 2 weeks ago today, and 2 weeks ago today I started feeling ill. What started out as a common flu has branched out into a bronchial infection. In reality, this isn't that abnormal, and I've had bronchitis before, which I think is the same thing. The only problem now is I've missed so much school and I'm afraid of missing any more.
I went to the doctor on Friday and again today (Tuesday). The first doctor gave me some flu medicine and sent me on my way. The second doctor tested my blood and took some chest X-rays to determine that I did have something else wrong. The second doctor also spoke decent English. I am feeling significantly better than Friday, but it seems like after TWO WEEKS I should be healthy!

Oh well. I have no interesting updates because I haven't done anything. For now, I'm going to rest and maybe I'll be healthy enough to go take a Japanese quiz tomorrow. Time to study.

Edit: And another thing... Do they seriously not have anything like TUMS in this country? I went to go buy some heartburn medicine at a pharmacy and they had plenty of pills, but no chewable tablets. But seriously, nothing? All I want is a bottle of something for nights when I eat too much spicy food. Am I going to have to import heartburn medicine? This sucks.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Robots and friends

Today I made my 'triumphant' return to school. Classes started on the 16th and I got a terrible case of the flu that evening. After the most boring, painful, frustrating and all around worst week since I've moved here, I couldn't miss anymore class, so I dragged myself out of bed and headed to class. I'm still not over my flu, but I survived today okay. My hope is that tomorrow I'll be even better.

But, I'm not writing about being sick. I'm writing about Ueno and robots.
On January 8th, my Japanese friend who lives in America stopped into Tokyo to visit. Previously she'd been spending time with her family in Japan, but on the 8th, it was me and her and robots!

I'd never actually been to Ueno, so I didn't know what to expect. All I knew was that there was a museum with robots in it, and honestly, what else did I need to know? I took this picture while changing trains at Akihabara. I find it quite disturbing and beautiful simultaneously.

I pulled out my regular camera and took one picture and it shut off. Either my camera has problems or the batteries do. I'm hoping it's the batteries.

Anyways, robots.

They really liked Gundam here.
Here's a piano playing robot.

That crazy silver thing in front is supposed to be a new type of wheelchair. It's more than just a wheelchair, but I can't remember exactly what it does. I read about it online a while ago.

This cute little guy was about 2 feet tall. I'd seen him somewhere before too. I like how he has a smile in his stomach.

I wasn't supposed to take this picture. There was a lot of Astro Boy (Mighty Atom) stuff such as hand drawn comic pages, early renderings, and just all sorts of stuff.

I'd heard about this robot too. Apparently his looks were designed by a Gundam comic writer. I don't know what was special about him besides that. I think he can climb stairs. He was shorter than I had expected.

And of course you have Doraemon on the front and that other thing I think actually is avaliable to buy somewhere. Or at least was. I don't know what it did, though.

I'd read about this ballroom dancing robot. Apparently she can teach someone to properly ballroom dance. She was also shorter than I had imagined.

Here was an automatic feeder robot on the right. Handy for those who can't feed themselves.

Didn't quite get this guy.

This was a kit to build your own robot. Once built, you can train them to do flips, handstands, crazy tricks, and if you get a bunch, they can play soccer.

After meandering for a bit, I heard about a show going on, so we got ourselves situated and waited.

That cool thing, sadly, did nothing. Nothing at all.

What I did get to see is a Toyota robot give a long winded speech about itself and it's friend in Japanese. The other robot did a fairly good job of playing the trumpet while awkwardly dancing to it's own music.

Now I know the revolution begins with "I just called to say I love you" on trumpet.

The exhibit was also there to remind us that robots weren't new. In fact, they'd been around for quite some time, just not the same ways.

These were some amazingly old robots.

And yet another Gundam. The red armor-like suit on the right is supposed to be an extra skeletal system, to allow people to lift more than they normally could, or to give someone who's almost paralyzed the ability to walk. Yet again, it was smaller than I expected.

Random flying things:

Nothing says awesome like a very old school robot playing on a very old school synth. I really wanted to hear those sounds.

But he was just for decoration.

Here are some little programmable camera robots.

Don't know what that red one does, but he looked cool.

These robots were pretty small. Not quite sure their purpose, though.

Here was en example of an industrial robot doing it's thing. It was pretty fast and efficient at organizing those tiles. Too bad for the robot, but those tiles just got dumped onto a conveyor belt. Kind of a sad existence, if you ask me.

After part 1 of the robot exhibit, we got a chance to meet Asimo. Asimo is Honda's robot. I may sound like a broken record, but yet again, I thought he was bigger. Asimo looks like a kid with a backpack. And he can kick a soccer ball.

He can also serve drinks, or at least take a tray of drinks across the room and not spill them. He apparently is also the only robot that can technically run. By that, they mean have both feet off the ground at the same time.

There was a cheesy demo where he emailed people he kicked soccer balls, he helped someone remember dance routines, and he 'served' drinks by bringing a tray to the table. None of it was all too impressive, but one must remember, this is a robot. It's entirely man-made, and isn't run by internal thought processes. It is just a box of electronics. And for that, the things it could do are quite impressive.

The day when helper robots in the home are commonplace isn't any time soon, but it looks like people are actually trying.

And here are the older models.

And at this point I said bye to Asimo and all the other robots.

Bye! See you in the future!!!

Attached to Ueno station is this MASSIVE platform. I'm not really sure what it's there for, but it was just huge.

There were some houseless people living there and some people resting on benches, but it was so incredibly wide, I couldn't fathom why. I'm sure it gets busier than a weekday afternoon, but even so, it was so gigantic, I can't imagine it ever being full or even crowded.

My friend took me to this area called Ameyayokocho, which is supposed to mean American village. It was one of the most un-American places I've seen in Tokyo.

Ueno had a much dirtier feel than what I'm used to. I guess that Shinjuku, Shibuya, Kichijoji, these are the newer, nice parts of Tokyo. Ueno seemed a bit seedy and very very old. Things were worn down from use. Buildings were selling everything from dried fish to fake designer wallets. There were a few stores that were only selling one or two name brand's products, but selling them for significantly cheaper than seemed logical.

It was an unusual experience, and I'm going to go back eventually. It was so terribly chaotic.

There also is a massive park in Ueno. Much of the park felt like what I described. Not new by any standards and not in the best condition. Not disheveled based on lack of care, but on age alone.

It was really different than what I was used to. We went in this one building and got to walk on a tatami mat that was quite old. It was amazing to not just see how people lived a few hundred years ago, but to walk around in it. I couldn't take any pictures, but it was amazing to feel.

It was quite a lovely place, despite it's obvious flaws.

They have a crazy police box, though.

So, then my friend and I went to Akihabara for a bit. Nothing truly amazing to speak of, but I did see this:

Yeah, I didn't quite get that display.

Anyways, my friend and I were going to meet up with another mutual friend in Shinjuku. It's the first time I've spent with both of them and it was a delightful experience.

I only wish we could have spent more time together. But, that's how life goes.

I will see everyone over the summer, it seems so I have that to look forward to.

The food at this place was amazing.

So, that was my day. After dropping my friend off at the train station, everyone went home. I can't wait to be reunited with everyone again.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Chuo line fun.

After a few days of new year's action, I decided to lay low for a while. The 4th, while peaceful and relaxing, was rather unremarkable. With almost every one of my friends out of town, Friday nights don't mean as much.

Saturday, however, I got the itch and had to leave my home in fear of going crazy. I spent some time the day before fooling around on the internet, and I came across this website that talked about a few apparently amazing vintage game stores right in my neighborhood. So, I contacted my friend and we headed out once again to Kichijoji.

In Mitaka, there is some shop that I believe is associated with the Japan national soccer team. This isn't a normal gift shop, as they have fliers down the street and a lot of fanfare devoted to this place. It's something I pass by every day, but as I'm not a soccer fan, I've never really cared. However this time, they had mats out and a soccer game playing on a TV. Maybe they do this often and I've never noticed, but it was kind of an unusual site.

You might notice that there are significantly more people standing on the sidewalk than sitting on the mats. There are a few people sitting down, but the view is obstructed in this picture.

So, on to Kichijoji. While waiting for my friend at a train station, I took a look at the map available. While I don't make it a habit to post Engrish very often, as there are whole websites to that and it's something I see very often, I found this one particularly odd.

I guess they mean "Public Organization", but there is a significant difference between what is written and what is meant. While I'm at it, here's one more.

Besides the lacking of a much needed "a", this isn't so bad, but what is mysterious about Japanese paper? How is it that different from other papers from around the world? I guess I'll have to go sometime to find that out, if I really care.

Having previously ranted and raved to my friend about the hamburgers at Village Vanguard Diner, and feeling hungry, we headed out there. It was PACKED! We had to wait to get in, but in the end it was worth it.

I ordered the "pepper bacon cheeseburger", and I was impressed with the monster that arrived.

I've said before that high-quality burgers in Japan tend to run on the small side of things unless I get a massive two or three patty beast. This was no exception, however that 'bacon' was massive, and far beyond my expectations. That is the thickest-cut bacon I've ever eaten in a burger. It was amazing.

Anyways, off to find this game store. After a while walking around and going places I've never been before, I found it...

But it was closed. Don't let the picture fool you. This wasn't that late at night, and I actually found it an hour or two before this. I just couldn't believe it was closed on a Saturday afternoon. But, then like I said earlier, most mom and pop shops are closed around New Years, and it most certainly still was around New Years.
Damn. Oh well. As we've both been walking around for a long amount of time, we headed home. Time to try the other store tomorrow.
The day wasn't a total loss. We found this awesome tiny record store and thumbing through their rather bizarre 7" collection, I found Brainiac and Rage Against The Machine for 105 yen. The Brainiac record was the exact one I paid about $6 before I move, and the Rage Against the Machine was a numbered, limited edition vinyl that I'm sure is worth way more than what I paid.

After a nice rest, I woke up Sunday morning and bugged my friend to meet me in Nishi-Ogikubo to try to find this other game store. It was a gorgeous day.

If you squint just right, you can see one of the many bored security guards in the center of the road. On the weekends they block off part of the main street for a few hours. It's a great time to walk around comfortably and go shopping, get exercise, or just stand in the middle of the road taking pictures. There's my local convenience store, Sunkus, on the right.

So, off I went to Nishi-Ogikubo. I've never been there and I had no idea what to expect. All I knew about the place is they had a supposedly good vintage game store and a quality Mexican restaurant. Quality Mexican food is something that I ate a lot of in California and for some reason is almost impossible to find here.

Anyways, I liked Nishi-Ogikubo. It was a cute little neighborhood. Not nearly as big as Kichijoji or even Mitaka, but it had a charm of it's own.

Unfortunately, like I had feared, the game store was closed for the day. According to the sign on the door, it was going to reopen the next day. Damn.

It sure looked interesting, though. On the same street as this game shop was a few really interesting vintage goods shops. In America, stores like that have American goods, with the occasional leak from another country. In Japan, they seem to have stuff from all over the world. This one had several American items and a really odd (and Expensive) lamp from a posh hotel in Luxembourg in the 60's. How they get this stuff is beyond me.

There was also an international grocery store run by two really really old people. There was an old Chinese man there who was happy to tell us how much he liked seeing Americans in his neighborhood and that he really wants to go to America to visit, so he's studying English. It was a bit of a surprise, but quite delightful.

So, the good news is I DID find the Mexican restaurant despite more than one map showing me it was next to a phantom 7/11. Although, to my dismay, it opens for dinner only at 6 PM and it was closer to 2:30 when we were hungry. It seems I mixed up the hours for the game shop and the Mexican place, so it was time to forage for other food.

After a bit of walking, we found this incredible Thai place.

The staff was not Japanese and they weren't speaking Chinese or Korean, so I can only assume they were Thai. Nothing makes me more pleased when I find a tiny ethnic restaurant run by people who are from where the style of food is.

I had their lunch special, and man, it was amazing.

It was just the right spicy to make me sweat but not hurt. Everything was great, including the shrimp inside my soup, which is not something I normally liked. If I lived in Nishi-Ogikubo, I'm sure by now we'd be on a first-name basis.

Since Nishi-Ogikubo was only one stop from Kichijoji, my friend and I decided to go on an adventure and walk. Normally I stick to the train stations and major areas, as most of the places in between are just residential areas. This was no exception, however there were two things that caught my eye.
First was a vending machine selling all alcohol from a single beer to whole bottles of wine, whiskey, and sake.

From talking to my friends, these vending machines are a dying breed, as laws are making it harder to put them up (If they still go up), and the few I've seen have usually been quite old and weathered. This was of course no exception.

Another thing that took me by surprise is an old-style continence store. It was quite a shack.

It seemed like I had stepped in to the past, to a time when Sunkus, 7/11, or any of the other dozen or so chains weren't around every corner. I'm not quite sure how this place is still around, but my guess is it's in the middle of a residential area, and I'm sure everyone around knows this place well. It's kind of humbling to see a convenience store that has most likely been around significantly longer than I've been alive.

Well, that was my adventure on the Chuo line. I have much more to write, but as school started today, I now have to go to sleep in order to make it up on time. Thanks to everyone for reading and stay tuned for more robots.