Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Your Japanese word of the week is...

"shou". It means "award". Although I'm sorry about being late, it's time for the Tokyo Auto Salon awards.

But before that, this past weekend I went to a Wadokai training camp at the Tokyo Agricultural University in the SE part of Tokyo. It was a pretty good work out although the dojo was pretty darn cold. The Japanese National Team is getting in gear for the World Wadokai Championships this August in Vancouver, so it'll get pretty interesting pretty quick. There's another camp (and qualifier, I believe) for the National Team next month in Nagano.

Anyways....... on with the awards-

Worst Colour Combination
We might as well start with the bad and work our way up. In this case, I think the picture is worth more than a thousand words. I know being "different" is important, but really, when is Regurgitated Eggplant Purple and Kangaroo Hide Brown a good mix??

Most Under-Appreciated Car

The Top Secret RA25 Celica 2000GT. It's hard to tell from the picture, but this car simply oozes quality. But the most surprising part was that there were so few people around it that I could take a picture from rather far away. There was a 240Z that was rather well built next to it and it was drawing quite a crowd though. Really, for all the mega-buck supercars and high dollar mods at the show, it's really easy to overlook this simple, clean, subtle, and pragmatic approach to car building.

Best Booth

Mitsubishi, without a doubt. The Lancer Evo X was one of the most anticipated cars of the year and they were out in force at the Auto Salon. Nearly any shop worth its weight in horsepower had an Evo X. But Mitsubishi wins because it managed to essentially create near darkness within its booth (in a fully lit convention centre!) and had 15min long music/song/dance shows running round the clock. They had the biggest stage, the biggest screen, the most smoke, the brightest lasers, the most dancers, and lots of Evo X's. In fact, it could've passed for a night club if your replaced all the people taking pictures with club-goers.

Best Model

These shows are as much about the cars as they are about the girls next to them. But models need to be paid. And fed. And given breaks. But not this one! I will admit it's not going to fool anyone with its lack of arms........ and legs........ and head..... but hey, if you're a struggling tuning shop with a limited budget, you make do with what you got.

The "What The Deuce" Award

I think it started life as a Daihatsu Midget. And then I have no idea what the hell happened to it. The "frog's hand" fenders look like sleeping slugs and the "mouth" makes it look like Darth Vader's pet. But I give points for the guy dressed up to match (with dress shoes!) as well as the lily pad underneath. It's all about the details......

Most Unbalanced Ratio Award

Let's see............. that's one person interested in Tein's brand new coilover suspension for the Evo X and a billion people who are interested in Tein's brand new spandex clad model........ She was actually very attractive though......

Coolest Detail Award

This is the Mugen Civic RR Experimental Spec. It's got pretty big power for its engine and tons of carbon fibre. The best part are the pieces of carbon fibre they've put along the bottom of the door frames. It says "Monocoque Reinforcement" on it and it works by basically bracing the entire lower door area and acts the same way as a roll cage would in a race car. But race car cages cut across the door frame, which they should ideally, but makes getting in and out a pain. This one, however, is integrated with the bodyshell and low in profile which should be almost as strong yet be as easy to get in and out of as a regular car.

And finally...

Car Of The Show Award

This one isn't easy. It's not easy partly because of the number of great cars present. I mean, it's easy to pick a car with massive global importance like the Nissan GT-R. Or pick a Lamborghini or Ferrari simply because. Or even the Mach 5 for the upcoming Speed Racer movie in Yokohama's booth. Then again, even if I picked a car, the modified nature of the show means some versions of the same car are better than others, even if that is subjective.

I will be honest and admit that I really want to give it to the Lancer Evolution X. Every single Evo X I saw looked nice (including the Blitz one above), I love the entire Evo line way back to the mid-90's, and there were some really wild older generations of Evos there, too (see two posts before for a wicked dark grey one). But this time, they only get an honourable mention. All of them.

Instead, I'm going to give it to the Nismo Skyline GT-R Z-Tune in Brembo's booth.

Why?? Because this is beyond just some company tuning a car. Nissan Motorsports (Nismo) actually purchased 30 used Skylines with less than 15,000km on them. They stripped them bare and rebuilt them from the ground up with tons of exotic hardware. Things like a 500+bhp engine nearly identical to one that won them 24hr endurance races; lots of titanium and carbon fibre bits; re-calibrated electronics for its AWD and new brake system; and lots of subtle but functional aerodynamic tweaks.

But the most important thing about the Z-Tune is that this is the Skyline's swan song. It's a car I grew up idolizing and as great as the new one is (and it is very VERY good), I think it's a more than fitting culmination of the past three generations of Skyline.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Your Japanese word of the week is...

"yuki". It means snow. It is, however, not "yuuki", which means courage. But, considering it's snowing right now, it does require some amount of courage to escape the warmth of my small heater to bike myself around to all the places I need to be. Though one consolation is that, like Vancouver where the temperatures dip in and out of the minuses, it doesn't tend to stick for very long and soon melts. Then again, slush causes a whole other set of problems.

However, winter in Japan has been pretty mild, I've found. Sure it gets cold at night, especially with paper thin walls. It also doesn't help that 3 of my 4 walls are exposed to the cold AND 50% of the total wall surface is single pane glass. But it's easy to deal with since it's not like I have to heat the whole room, and most days are sunny, so being outside in the afternoon is quite comforable. In my room I have my small electric heater and, when I'm sleeping, an electric blanket! That is probably my single best purchase in my time here in Japan.

Luckily, however, most places outside have effective space heaters or central heating. Like the community room at a nearby Hasuda city. See, Hasuda's community centre runs a free weekly Japanese class that I've been attending since about August. It's taught by volunteers from around the area and the students range from immigrants to exchange students to business people transferred from their home countries. And some really interesting people roll through sometimes. Like a Kenyan nearly fluent in Japanese or a Kazakh Japanese teacher.

Last week though, was their "New Year Party". The normal 10am-12pm class time was spent preparing food (well, I spent it standing on a table stringing up flags of different countries without falling off =-P) and from 12-2 was the actual party. The food was rather good and we played bingo! They also had some people give small performances so some people played the guitar or sang a song. They also asked me to do a karate demo which was rather nerve wracking haha......

That night, I went to Richard Sensei's house for dinner and we watched "The Bridge", which is a documentary on the Golden Gate Bridge and some of the people who ended their lives off it. And one man who tried and failed.

The most intense shots were when they were filming the whole bridge and a few seconds later, a splash erupts from the water below. It's shocking. Suicides on the bridge average nearly one every two weeks. It's probably distinctly high since the bridge is so famous for its size and infamous for its suicides, that some people are probably swayed by that fact to travel there to take the leap. But still..................... freaky........ check it out when you have a chance.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Your Japanese word of the week is...

"kagami biraki". Translated literally, it means "the unveiling of a round-shaped mirror". In actuality, it's a ceremony dating back to the 15th century where samurai, having made a two-layer mochi (rice) cake offering to the gods for the New Year, break the mochi to share with their family and clan members for spiritual reasons and to strengthen family and clan bonds. It usually takes place between the 11th and 20th of January and so, for the past 40 years, the Nippon Budokan has held a "kagami biraki" and this year, they included martial arts demonstrations from 9 different styles as well as holding a large one hour practice after the demos. I went with Shiramizu as part of a 3 dojo group representing the karate world during the practice session.

But all that was just the end of my 3 day long weekend thrash.

It started (as do most weekends) on Saturday with the Tokyo Auto Salon. It's like the Tokyo Motor Show except it's dedicated to modified cars and the whole culture. And culture it is, because the thing is like a giant, lit night club with DJ's, flashing lights, and dancers. Cars are still the main point, but trust me when I say not everyone there with a telephoto lens is interested in cars...... Regardless, it was awesome just to wander around and take in all the cool cars and cool parts and cool (as well as uncool) ideas that people have come up with. Just as with the Tokyo Motor Show, I'll put awards for some of the more interesting sights I saw but for the sake of brevity, that'll be for another post.

After that, it was karate practice in the evening before heading back out to Tokyo to meet my friend Kay. He's a German engineering intern who lives about an hour or so west of where I am in a place his intern friends have dubbed "Bosch town" because of the engineering firm's large presense there. He does the same style of karate and I met him at the dojo, which he found because he wanted to train while was here in Japan. He had some friends who were finishing their term in Japan and they were all going out to party in Tokyo and he invited me along. I must say, those Germans really like having a good time haha.......

After some (brief) sleep, I went back to Tokyo to meet another friend for dim sum on Sunday. Well, at least, the Japanese take on dim sum, which is all-you-can-eat. But it's not like dim sum as we know it. It's mostly a self-serve buffet affair with one waitress pushing a cart around with food that changes everytime. They also have signs telling you what food they have instead of yelling. But the food wasn't too bad and certainly a welcome taste after 6 months of no dim sum haha.....

Monday was the "kagami biraki" I mentioned above. It was pretty awesome to be in the middle of the Nippon Budokan arena practicing among all the other martial arts. It was also a lot of work to be heard above the kendo group, who were easily the loudest group there. At the end of the practice, they served the mochi in sweet red bean soup. Well, I don't really consider it a soup, but it's identical to the red bean dessert served in Chinese restaurants. I'm not normally a huge fan of it but this time around it tasted great, perhaps because, again, it's been months since I've had it. Natsukashii na~..... (nostalgic)

So there you have it. I don't really know why all those things decided to happen within those 3 days, but it all worked out. I guess all I can say is sleeping on the train is a great way to maintain your alertness, especially with those one hour train rides in and out of Tokyo haha......

Thursday, 10 January 2008

I don't get it........

No really. I don't sometimes. I've been here for a (brief) 5 months and there are some things I understand. Some cultural bits and pieces. Some work ethic bits and pieces. Some bits and pieces about bits and pieces. I get some of it, I really do......

But then there are days when I'm just totally lost. Fortunately, it's usually rather trivial and, in the end, is good for a few laughs......

What's the point?

Here's the deal- if you can read Japanese, you might know that the words in the black area say "goma kurimi doreshingu". Or "creamy dressing" for goma, which is sesame. First off, who eats sesame in such amounts that require (and justify) a creamy dressing to go with it?? I was given a bunch of these various flavoured dressings to use on salads, so that's fine.

But then the word in quotations in that orange circle say "retasu", or "lettuce". You might have picked that up from the picture. I dunno what the rest of it says, but the other ones I've eaten taste similar to what the picture show.

So........ it's lettuce flavoured salad dressing??....... I'm speechless......

Do the Japanese shuffle.

There's no way around it- many Japanese shuffle everywhere they go. Half the reason is, I honestly believe, that they think it's cool to go everywhere looking slightly sulky. It's a bit of that "I'm too cool for school" with how some people carry themselves. And that's fine. To each their own.

The other half of the problem is that the Japanese put on and take off their shoes a lot. Houses, restaurants, community centres, etc. So, and you see this with school students a lot, the backs of their shoes are destroyed from the constant jamming of their feet into it. It's also why most people buy shoes a touch larger than their foot size because it's easy to slide in and out of.

And that just makes the shuffling problem worse........

Can you tell me how to get, how to get to...

Sesame Street. I went to karaoke with some friends a few weeks ago. They had (seriously) the Sesame Street Theme song. It was awesome.............. that's all =P

Monday, 7 January 2008

Your Japanese word of the week is...

"otoshidama". It's a small pocket of money given to Japanese children at the start of the new year. Sound familiar?? =-)...... it's not entirely identical to Chinese red envelopes though, despite being decended from the same Chinese tradition according to Wikipedia. The envelopes are a much wider variety of colours and I've seen light blue or red and white envelopes handed out to children.

One other thing that the Japanese do at the start of the new year is "hatsumode" where they visit a temple to rid themselves of bad spirits and to pay their respects for a good year. This year, I joined the Shiramizu dojo which has their own hatsumode.

We walk from where the dojo is to a nearby temple in Satte city, which is right next to Sugito where I live. It's about a two hour walk and all 100 or so people that showed up this year wore their karate dogis......... over top at least a few layers of normal clothes. But still, it's fun to walk down one of the main roads of a big-ish city with everyone in their dogis and belts.

After going through the ritual and a short 10min practice, we headed off to the huge Asukaru Satte community centre. The same one where I played Santa just a few weeks earlier at the Shiramizu year-end training.

We had a short lunch and at 1pm, the actual practice started which, despite being pretty routine, was a touch on the rough side as it takes a bit longer than normal to work these joints back to speed after two weeks of....... non-speedy-ness.

At night, I headed off with Arakawa Sensei and his family to Richard Sensei's new house for a house warming potluck party. With his new baby, Ema!! She's wickedly cute and, at least for now, is the only mixed child I have ever seen with eyes that aren't brown. They're sort of grey-green. We always joke that Arakawa Sensei's sons and me and all the interns will have to fend off all the boys when she grows up and, if her eyes stay that colour, I think we'll have our work cut out for us.

But it was a fun night with lots of food and laughs. I don't want to always be "borrowing" pictures from Arakawa Sensei's blog so instead, you can find more pictures of the fun on his page. It is Japanese only though.....

Anyways, til next time.........

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Your Japanese word of the week is...

"oshougatsu". Actually, the word is "shougatsu" but the "o" ahead of it is added on to signify that it's important. "shougatsu" itself means New Year's but the kanji for "shou" is the same as the kanji for "tadashii" which means correct, while the kanji for "gatsu" is same as the one that means month so...... I really don't know what exactly it means, just that the two words together means New Year's.

And, as it probably expect from a culture found halfway across the world, the way it's celebrated is slightly different. In fact, the whole idea of Christmas and New Year's doesn't really work the same way. As I said before, Christmas is mostly commercial and it's not uncommon for people to be going to work. In the Western world, it's rather family oriented.

Conversely, New Year's has a "go out and party" feel where in Japan, mostly everyone travels back to their hometown (which is, for all intents and purposes, where their mother is from/still lives) to spend the New Year with their family.

So it stands to think that going out on New Year's should be a night out with a bunch of foreigners. And that's exactly what it is.

I should say, first off, that I had no plan. Nor did I go with anyone for most of the people I know either are "too old to go out", "have families", or went back to their hometown. I just got myself a list of clubs/bars/lounges, found the areas which have the most (that would be Shibuya and Roppongi- youth party culture central), and decided to just go, meet some people, and play it by ear.

10:00pm- I decided to go to Shibuya because one club I picked at random was there. The only problem is that Tokyo is a place of limited space, so many clubs are, literally, underground with small signs telling you where they are. But, as luck with have it, some Americans (who thought I was Japanese........... sigh) were asking about the same place. And we all went looking for it.

10:30pm- It turns out they're all US Navy sailors stationed in Japan- what're the odds. The club we went to was called Club Pure and it was smalled and packed. You also get a plastic cup when you go in because the drinks are free!

2:00am- I left to go to another place I saw in my search earlier that night and halfway down the street, some girl (named Mariko........ what're the odds haha) asked me if she knew me and we were just at the same bar together.

"Hmm........ I don't think so haha......"

I thought that walking in the total opposite direction would've tipped her off but oh well........

2:01am- Her boyfriend then came up, professed his love for me, hugged me, and then ran off to hug someone else.......

2:02am- She then invited me to join her group which was a mix of half Japanese half umm........ not Japanese university students, musicians, artists, and probably other things I didn't find out. We went on a search for food but it mostly ended up as loitering and chatting as everyone was calling everyone else to find out what to do.

3:15am- We ended up in Roppongi, loitering some more. It was at this point that it struck me just how Western an idea it is to celebrate New Year's out on the town because Roppongi had more foreigners than Japanese people. To be honest, most of the Japanese people there were working the places serving all the partying foreigners.

5:00am- After hanging out at a Starbucks (where we met some Brazilians), we wandered into a bar right as they were closing........ at 5am. It was around now that people started falling asleep so, slowly, the party started to break up and we all went home.

Apparently, if you wish to do so, you could party like this every night since all the places are open til 5am. But if you do so, I might recommend not hanging around as it gets light outside, especially on New Year's. It's great fun to stand outside in the growing sunlight laughing about all the crazy things that happened just a few hours ago, and watching the sky turn blue behind a fully lit Tokyo Tower is awesome, but when you turn to walk away, the dirtiness of the street is just digusting.

It looks like landfill exploded over the city partly because drunk people tend not to think and also because garbage cans are actually rather few and far between in Japan. The latter point is really annoying........ unless you're a pigeon, then New Year's day is quite the feast.

Aside from that though, it was a great night out. People are friendly on New Year's Eve but being in a foreign country, I think it bands people together much more so which is probably why it was so easy to make new friends. So thank you "oshougatsu".

And Happy New Year to everyone too!! Let's make the best of 2008!

PS- Sorry, no pictures though haha...... I didn't bring my camera.