Japan: The Home Stretch

Things often don’t turn out as planned, and this includes our stay in Japan. At the end of April we’ll be moving back to Singapore.

The month of April will be a busy one filled with traveling and being a tourist. This weekend my parents and sister are coming to Tokyo for a visit. We’ll be exploring all of Tokyo and also heading to Kyoto for a couple nights. It looks like they’ll arrive just as the cherries are blossoming in Tokyo. Here’s a couple pictures taken yesterday:

Sakura in Ichigaya

Sakura in Ichigaya

The last weekend in March was also quite busy. On Saturday we checked out the 36th annual Tokyo Motorcycle Show, and happened to visit Roppongi at night where Roppongi Art Night was happening. It was a busy day. On Sunday we joined some friends from my office and their friends for hanami at a park in Asagaya. It was our first hanami, a very pleasant afternoon. Pictures are here, here, and here.

Early Spring this Year?

Just popping up to say “Hi, spring is coming?”

We’ve been having some warm weather recently, and it looks like the cherry blossoms might be early this year. We’ve seen a few trees with pink flowers blooming already around our neighborhood:

Sakura in February?

With spring seemingly just around the corner, I’ve been doing some spring cleaning. Today I went through the pictures I took with my mobile and uploaded some to Zooomr.

I haven’t been blogging much lately, but I do post updates to Tiwtter (so I have been microblogging). Check it out!


Who is Sumiko? Mike finally gets to the bottom of it.

One Saturday in October Shux and I headed out of town a little ways to an American-style shopping mall. At one of the clothing stores two songs were being played on repeat over the loudspeakers. The songs were in Japanese, so I asked what it was, thinking I’ll go look for the CD later on. They said it was Sumiko, an anime (cartoon) character.

There’s tons of anime characters in Japan, and I assumed this was yet another one. But I couldn’t find anything on Sumiko on the net (as it turns out, I was looking for ใ‚นใƒŸใ‚ณ while her name is ใ‚นใƒŸๅญ). Even worse, I couldn’t find anything at the record stores either. I thought it’d be easy, given the amount of publicity the songs were getting at that clothing store.

This week I was at the Tower Records in Shinjuku and decided to get to the bottom of this matter. I asked at the information counter about this Japanese anime character named Sumiko… and after a few minutes of the lady Googling, we realized Sumiko was owned by that clothing store, and the merchandise was only available there.

Now that I know how to spell her name, though, I was able to find the music videos online. Enjoy!

My First Meme: How Many Top Books Have You Read?

There’s a meme running around on some blogs. I don’t usually participate in these kinds of things, but I found this one interesting enough.

Anyway, here’s what’s going on:

The Big Read posted a list of the top 100 books in the UK. I couldn’t find the source reference for this, but apparently the Big Read claims that most adults have read no more than 6 of those top 100 books.

On the list below I’ve highlighted the books I’ve read. The meme also says to indicate which books you loved and hated, but I won’t bother.

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch – George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
34 Emma – Jane Austen
35 Persuasion – Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne
41 Animal Farm – George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding
50 Atonement – Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel
52 Dune – Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
72 Dracula – Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses – James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal – Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession – AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
94 Watership Down – Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

A few notes:

I’ve read the first few books in the Harry Potter series, but I won’t finish it. I also haven’t read The Bible cover to cover, so it’s not highlighted.

When I was in elementary school, the library had these abridged versions of classic novels. I read many of them, “Great Expectations” and “A Tale of Two Cities” among them.

I’ve seen “Memoirs of a Geisha”, “Lord of the Flies” and “The Color Purple” as movies.

“Life of Pi” is sitting on the bookshelf right behind me, as is “The World According to Garp”. A certain used bookstore owner in Sunnyside told me it’s John Irving’s best work, and the others don’t quite measure up. I don’t plan to find out on my own.

Among the books listed, it’s interesting how many books (or movies) were worked through at school. I also wonder how much different this list of 100 would be for an (educated) American audience.

Heading Home for a Visit

Looking forward to a week in Singapore.

My home-in-law, that is. We’ll be arriving in Singapore a few minutes before midnight tonight.

Tomorrow is a friend’s wedding and we’ll be staying the rest of the week. I’m particularly looking forward to all the food that will get eaten! Often we reminisce about those delicious dishes we left behind.

I’ll also have a good opportunity to catch up with my fellow Kusu developers. Hopefully I’ll be able to wrap up some unfinished work while there.

I was looking forward to skipping a week of Tokyo’s rainy season, but the gorgeous 27 degree sunshine today and the rainy week forecast for Singapore indicates the exact opposite of that. Rats.

Fading Dreams

Have a look at today’s XKCD, in which our hero has an amazing dream filled with action, drama, and incredible experiences. By the time he has a chance to relay its happenings, it’s faded to only a tiny portion.

This has been happening to me almost every morning lately. I have an epic dream that I forget within seconds of waking up. All that’s left are a few short incoherent scenes. One of my aunts once told me, a sure way to forget one’s dream is to look out the window when you wake up. This is pretty tough for me, considering two of our bedroom walls are pretty much all glass.

More Everything!

Mike tells of more BMWs, more protests, more earthquakes, more paperwork and more traveling!

In this post we cover more BMWs, more protests, more earthquakes, more paperwork and more traveling!

Beijing Olympics Protest

Shux and I finally made our way to check out Alexander Calder’s BMW Art Car on Tuesday. As we walked through Tokyo Station toward Yaesu and the BMW Group Studio, we heard some sort of noise in the distance. Soon we saw a parade walking down the street.

At its head was a black van with loudspeakers (a common sight in Japan; these trawl the city spewing some sort of propaganda regularly, often on Sunday mornings in residential areas). This time an angry Japanese man was manning the mic, each of his chants repeated by those marching. The group consisted mainly of men in some sort of uniform, pseudo-police or military or something. They carried flags, one large rising sun, a Tibetan flag, an upside-down Chinese flag with a turd drawn on it and other banners with slogans. We figured out pretty quickly they were supporting Tibet and wanted the Beijing Olympics boycotted by Japan.

Olympic Boycott Protest

The whole protest was rather small. The police presence was not. Cops walked along either side of the march, every few meters. Cops on motorcycles were there blocking off traffic, cop vans helping out, and so on. But that wasn’t all. A few minutes after we first started watching, there seemed to be a disagreement brewing between some of the protesters and an officer or two. Before we knew it, there were more cops there than protesters. Or at least that’s how it seemed. Fortified buses that transport riot police were there, cops with those big shields showed up… things looked just a little tense for a moment.

Olympic Boycott Protest

Soon we found ourselves in front of the BMW Group Studio, our destination, so we let the protesters march on.

The First BMW Art Car

On display at BMW’s location next to Tokyo Station was Alexander Calder’s 1975 BMW 3.0 CSL (there was also a new BMW M3 Coupe). Here we were allowed to take some photos.

Alexander Calder's BMW Art Car

One of the attendants was pretty informative, talking about the car a little and about the other 5 on display at the Mori Art Gallery. She also showed us the 16th BMW Art Car by Olafur Eliasson in a magazine. Given that you can’t even tell that it’s a car, I give this a thumbs down. I totally don’t get it.

New Visa

I have found work and this partly meant I need to change my visa. My previous visa allowed me to work but only for my previous employer. I submitted all the paperwork a little over 3 weeks ago, and Wednesday was the day to go pick it up.

I decided to get an early start and arrived at the immigration office by 8:15am. The building wasn’t open yet, so there was a queue of about 50 people in front of the door. Another 50 or so were just hanging around here and there. At 8:30 the doors opened and everyone stormed in. What’s the point of the queue? I guess all the newbies (like me) line up! The scene was amusing, like a flood of little children rushing in the opening gates of Disneyland.

(When I came to submit my papers in April it was raining. As I was walking up to the entrance, a bus pulled up and some women went sprinting from the bus. One of them had a wicked wipe-out on the slick floor inside! It was amusing.)

After waiting in a couple more queues and watching live coverage of the Chinese President’s visit to Tokyo for an hour, I became the proud owner of a brand new 3-year Engineering work visa. Sweet! This also means I will start work on Monday. That’s good news!

Driver’s License

I thought I’d take advantage of my day out and about settling paperwork to get a Japanese driver’s license. The process for those holding a Canadian issued license is pretty straightforward: get your license translated at JAF (the local version of the AMA or CAA), then take that to the driver’s license center and hang out there a while.

Everything went smooth until I got to the driver’s license center and discovered the window I needed to go to was closed from 11:00-13:00. I got a number, then got my lunch and a solid siesta, at which point it was time to produce all the documents they needed. Turns out I was short a letter from the registry stating when my license was first issued.

I was a bit miffed at this; nowhere had I read that I needed such a document… but I guess that’s my own fault. The fact that all these places I visited were a 30+ minute commute away from each other, and I live an hour away made it seem like a waste.

Anyway, that night I asked my parents to drop by the registry and get these letters, which they scanned and emailed me right away. Today, with printed letters in hand I headed back, and after 90 minutes was holding my new Japanese driver’s license. I can drive a car or ride a motorcycle up to 400cc.


We had a bunch of earthquakes last night right around 2am (there were more later in the night). The biggest struck at 1:54am, it was around magnitude 3 where we live. Shux woke up to lots of rattling outside, the bed shaking, noise… she gives me a shove and I wake up.

“There’s an earthquake!” she says. I remember noticing it myself, the bed was definitely not still. But I must have been tired ’cause I just said something like “uh-huh” and went back to sleep. I only remember that snippet. Meanwhile, Shux is laying in bed terrified, until all of a sudden everything stops and there’s this eerie silence. She found it difficult to fall back asleep.

It’s kind of strange, I wonder why I just fell right back asleep? It’s not like I’ve experienced earthquakes all my life or anything. And I guess this one was about the strongest that I have experienced (though I can’t confirm that as I wasn’t really awake!). Poor Shux, lay there in terror waiting for sleep to come, getting no rest for the coming day.

This Weekend: Nikko

We’ll have a good chance to relax this weekend though, as we’re heading to Nikko. We’re leaving Friday morning and staying until Saturday night. Nikko is famous for its temples and shrines and cool weather, but there’s also a lake and mountains, so we’ll have some nature to experience. At any rate, it will be nice and relaxing — hopefully the earthquakes will let Shux sleep ๐Ÿ˜€