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.

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.

Earthquake!

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 😀

Fast & Award-winning Art & the City from on High

What do amazing city views, racing cars and controversial award-winning art have in common? They’re all in one building and we were there!

Yesterday Shux and I headed to the to check out the BMW Art Car exhibit. In line for tickets we discovered there’s also a Turner Prize exhibit, as well as an open-air observation deck on top of the building, so we decided to see it all.

Tokyo City View & Sky Deck

The observation deck on the 52nd floor of Mori Tower offers great views of almost all around (some parts are blocked by a restaurant). The weather wasn’t bad, but overcast with rain threatening, so some pictures look a little gloomy. In fact, the open-air Sky Deck was closed for the day due to inclement weather — it was re-opened though once we got upstairs.

The view was pretty impressive. On one hand everything seemed so close, but on the other you begin to understand how large and sprawling Tokyo is. Past Haneda Airport is a large building seemingly sitting alone on the water. I didn’t know what it was, but I managed to get a picture of it (with the terrible 16x digital zoom on my camera).

Umi Hotaru

I tried asking what it was, but one person didn’t know and the other spoke Japanese which I couldn’t understand. I looked it up on Google Maps where I learned it’s called 風の塔 (Kaze no tō). It’s the mid-point of the 9.6km tunnel portion of the Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line.

The towers blow fresh air into the tunnel. They are built on an artificial island which is also home to a rest stop with restaurants, shops & amusement facilities. I need to go check it out sometime!

See more pictures of Tokyo from the top of Mori Tower.

Transparent Speed: BMW Art Cars

I had heard about the BMW Art Cars some time ago. I only remembered that some old 70s BMWs were painted by some famous artists, Andy Warhol among them. Anyway, I was looking forward to looking at these unique cars.

There seems to be a total of 15 of these cars, however only 5 were on display:

A little disappointed that not all 15 were there to view. There’s still Alexander Calder’s 1975 BMW 3.0 CSL, the car that started it all, on display at the BMW Group Studio in Marunouchi. We’ll be taking it in today.

History in the Making: A Retrospective of the Turner Prize

Turner Prize Poster

I’m not much into art, but once in a while I can appreciate it. Some of the stuff on display was rather interesting. I guess the Turner Prize tends to evoke lots of controversy over the art nominated. For example, Damien Hirst‘s cow and calf, each split in half and put in separate boxes so one can view the inners of each beast (shown in the Turner Prize poster). Also refreshing was that the items on display weren’t only paintings and sculptures, but also photography, video and performance (of which video was displayed).

Today is Monday but it’s Children’s Day in Japan, part of Golden Week, so no work today. Instead, we slept in and we’ll be exploring more today and tomorrow!