Monthly Archives: July 2009


Ding-dong, the wedding bells ring

Whew, it’s been a crazy the past few days and posting has kind of been pushed on to the back burner again.  The main reason of why it’s been so busy is because a friend of mine (Neal) got married!

Not only was it the first wedding I’ve ever attended, but I’d been asked to serve as “best man”, which, frankly, made me extremely nervous because I found out that the best man is also supposed to give a speech!

I spent the week before preparing for the speech, reserving a dinner jacket outfit (otherwise known as a “tuxedo” in the US), and also participating in the wedding rehearsal.  On Friday evening I picked up my outfit and headed over to Neal’s place.

We ended up staying awake till after 3AM to do last minute preparations such as going to convenience stores to print out programs, prepare the music selection, and go over the schedule…finally ending up crashing around 0330, and oversleeping a little till 10!

From that point on, it was madness, with everyone rushing about trying to get a million and one things done.  We kept coming up with schedules and discarding them as plans kept changing.  Finally though, the parents departed for the church, and Neal, Josh (another good friend who is a fantastic photographer), the bride, bride’s cousins, Sumiko, and myself were left to finalize preparations.

Neal suddenly found out that he couldn’t locate his belt.  Then his cummerbund went missing (we later found that one of the ushers had borrowed it, not knowing it was the groom’s!).  And all the while we kept rushing around with last minute preparations and calls to friends and guests.

Then worse disaster struck.  We got a phone call from Neal’s dad saying that Neal’s mother had fallen out of the car just as they were arriving at the church and she had landed on her wrist, breaking it.  He was calling from the hospital and at that point didn’t know what was going to happen.  This threw another wrench into the schedule since the dad was supposed to be coming to pick up the bride – and people were already waiting at the church since everything was supposed to be starting in an hour or so!

We ended up calling two taxis, and also delaying the start of the program by about an hour so that the mother could get her wrist in a cast and make it back in time.  In the end, it all worked out – and I didn’t forget the rings! (yay).  The wedding was actually really pretty and, despite the 80% humidity, things turned out ok.

Also gave my speech without freezing up, and just a little tremor in my voice (hopefully disguised with a bout of throat clearing :p

All in all, a very memorable day!  EXTREMELY exhausting, but memorable.  I don’t really have pictures myself since I had absolutely no time for picture-taking but will be putting some pictures up later that Josh took.

Hopefully things will be settling down and I can start writing more soon 🙂

Experiences News

The skies go dark on July 22nd

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On July 22nd, 2009, a solar eclipse will be viewable over the greater part of the Eastern hemisphere (unfortunately, this excludes our American friends and probably most of Australia as well 🙁 ).

In Tokyo, it looks like there will be a partial eclipse taking place from approximately 09:55!  I’m pretty excited about this since I’ve never had the chance to observe any kind of eclipse, and according to Wikipedia, this will be the longest lasting total eclipse this century, going up to 6mins and 39s.

Here is a link to the Japan information page

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Here is a link to the NASA information (a wealth of information is present there), and I’ve pasted some warnings that people should keep in mind:

It is never safe to look at a partial or
annular eclipse, or the partial phases of a total solar eclipse,
without the proper equipment and techniques. Even when 99%
of the Sun’s surface (the photosphere) is obscured during the
partial phases of a solar eclipse, the remaining crescent Sun
is still intense enough to cause a retinal burn, even though
illumination levels are comparable to twilight

It IS safe to look at the sun once it has been totally obscured (unfortunately, not happening in Tokyo).  As for me, I may try to see if I can find some “aluminized polyester” or (if I can get them small and cheap) #14 welder’s glasses.

To those of you that have the luck to see this incredible event, happy viewing! 🙂


From dollhouses to…meat houses!

Since mom wanted another post, here goes!  😀

Came across this site earlier today – and (disturbingly enough) it looks real: a “Build it Yourself Meat House Kit”!  Dollhouses?  Boring.  Lincoln Logs? Utterly passé.  What you need these days is something that combines creativity with fun – and is good enough to eat!  With this kit, you get over 10lbs of meat that you can use to sculpt the mansion of your dreams!

Now, who wants one?? 😀

My very own meat house!
My very own meat house!

What’s extra disturbing is that they state that the meat will remain edible for up to THREE weeks without refrigeration – can you imagine the amount of preservatives in this thing?


Would you eat this?

Deep fried Mars Bar
Deep fried Mars Bar

When I’m on early shifts I usually have time in the morning to browse the news briefly and today came across an article on how the swine flu appears to be affecting the overweight in particular.  That article mentioned a dish called the “deep fried Mars bar“, offered as an example of unhealthy food, and I went on to read up on it at Wikipedia.

This…sounds rather gross to be honest.  Deep friend chocolate candy bars?  Who thought about this in the first place??  Not only that, but I read that there’s also deep fried Twix, deep friend Snickers, deep fried pizza, deep friend Skittles… the list goes on.

To be honest, I have a somewhat morbid curiosity as to how it tastes, but… it’s somewhat worrisome to read that this is a popular item with young children.  It’s probably no worse than a lot of the other junk food out there these days, but seriously…people just keep on finding more and more ways to eat unhealthily…

Food & drinks

Making Umeshu/Plum liqueur

One thing most of my friends know is that I’m not a “hard” drinker.  Oh, I do imbibe the occasional cocktail or liqueur, and have tried the local Japanese shochu and other alcohols… but always in moderation.  I have never gotten drunk – and never intend to.

Friends I’ve spoken to say that I should try it sometime, that for them it’s a great way to relax and forget about stresses and cares, but… I’ll pass.  Everything I’ve seen about intoxication, whether it’s what I’ve read about the splitting hangovers, or hear friends tell me that they don’t remember anything that happened the night before, or watch salarymen puking their guts out in the streets… nah, no thanks, I do think I’ll pass. 😉

I don’t think I’m particularly “weak” to alcohol, I thankfully don’t experience the “instant red face” symptom that many Japanese seem to display when drinking even lightly (due to some missing enzyme I believe).  The most I’ve ever drunk was at a company gathering where co-workers were recommending various Japanese shochu, nihonshu, wine, and “sours”.  I did feel somewhat light-headed when it was time to go, but still didn’t have any issues getting back home (no wobbly legs, no blackouts, no hangover, etc).  So…it’s not really that I CAN’T drink – it’s more that I don’t really care for it – or more likely, don’t care for the idea of a loss of control.

That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy some drinking – as long as the drink is SWEET.  Hard-core drinkers may scoff, but… can’t help it.  Beer doesn’t appeal to me, and neither does stuff like whiskey or vodka (though I’m amenable for a taste if combined in a sweet cocktail).  Rather stuff like sweet wine (so usually red), Bailey’s, Kahlua (though that’s almost -note I say “almost”- too sweet), and… umeshu.

I think I’ve liked umeshu from the first time I tried it.  It’s a sweet plum (ume) liqueur that I especially enjoy over ice (on the rocks).  There are also various varieties including honey umeshu, green tea umeshu, brown sugar umeshu, and more, all quite delicious.

One of the things I’ve always wanted to try doing was making my own!  I’ve seen the ingredients and jars for sale every spring and always decided that whenever I had a place of my own,  I’d give it a try.  Well… I can now cross that off my to-do list!

I found a beautiful post at the Blue Lotus about making umeshu and followed that as best I could – it’s really quite simple!

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  • 1kg Rock sugar
  • 1kg Unripe, unblemished plums
  • Enough 35% “white liquor” to fill a jar (typically sold in 1.8liter cartons in Japan)

Other items you’ll need:

  • Large, fully sealable jar (typically sold in 2-4 liter sizes in Japan)
  • Toothpick(s)
  • Paper towels
  • Colandar

First thoroughly rinse off the ume and make sure there aren’t any with gashes or splits in the skin.  After rinsing them off and selecting the best ones, set them on a towel to dry off or if you’re in a hurry (as I was) use paper towels to dry off the ume thoroughly.

Also do the same for the jar, making sure that it’s very clean and dry.

Next, use the toothpick to extract any remnants of stem from the ume.  Even though some ume may already look de-stemmed, you’d be surprised at what can still be extracted!

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Again making sure that the ume are dry, start layering the ume and rock sugar in the large jar until you’ve gone through the entire batch of sugar and ume.  Finally, top the whole thing off with the white liquor, seal and store in a cool dry place.

After several hours, you can upend the jar to stir up the sugar, repeating this process every few days until the sugar has been fully dissolved.

And voila!  Now to wait for at least 3 months… 🙁

I learned one thing while making my batch, and that was to make sure next time that I really clean and de-stem the ume well!  As I look now, I see some (minor) sediment when shaking up the jar.  I don’t think this will detract too much from the final product, but it doesn’t look quite as beautiful as it could.  Trust me, a cold, crystal clear glass of umeshu is…just beautiful.

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Another thing – I also added a few squeezes of HONEY.  This is something I just “felt like doing” and I have no idea if I’ve made a terrible mistake or not (ie it might make the whole concoction rancid, or spoil somehow… I don’t know).  I guess I’ll find out in 3 months! (though I plan on keeping some for a full year to try and see what the difference in taste is like. 🙂

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Post-Apartment Hunting (the application process)

Post-Apartment Hunting (the application process)

You didn’t think I’d actually finished the Apartment-Hunting series of posts did you?  Good, because I haven’t! 😉

As mentioned in part 4 of the series, there is still alot to do once you’ve settled on a place.  The main difference is that you can pretty much take your own time in finding your ideal home/apartment (at least in my situation – others may have a deadline of some sort and hence don’t have the luxury I did of taking almost a YEAR in my search).  Once you’ve decided on a place though, things start going fast.

Once you’ve decided on a place, your agent will then start the paperwork involved.  You’re going to be required to give information about your income, current residence, phone numbers, company information/contact info…and most importantly, guarantor.

The guarantor is basically the one your landlord is going to fall back on if you default on your rent.  Hence, they typically require that your guarantor be someone in your immediate family, such as parents, grandparents, in-laws, or siblings.  Most traditional landlords require a guarantor.  However, if you’re staying in a guesthouse (like Sakura House) or other hotel/motel/hostel, or other foreigner-friendly accommodation, you probably won’t need one.

For those who prefer not to involve family members, or simply don’t have Japanese relatives, there are also companies that offer guarantor services.  Typically, they charge one month’s rent for the duration of the lease.  One month’s rent may not sound like too much, but believe me, the costs add up!

In my case, I’m applying for an older apartment, one whose owners are more traditional – meaning I was required to have a guarantor.  Being a dual citizen, I do have relatives in Japan… but they are not “immediate” relatives (great-uncle/great-aunt) so I was still told that I needed to use a guarantor company.  I was lucky though, that I was able to get a 50% discount by asking my relatives to be my “co-guarantors”.

Aside from the initial flurry of gathering all the necessary information (copy of ID’s, personal phone numbers, guarantor information, company information, etc.), there’s not much to do after that except wait.  After you’ve given them all that info, they will proceed to review it to determine whether or not one is a suitable candidate for renting their  property.  During this period is also a good time to request any changes, or make any negotiations if you haven’t already done so.

For example, I was able to knock off 2,000 yen off the rent (woohoo, big deal you might say, but that still translates to 24,000 yen a year/48,000 yen for 2 years!).  I also requested that they fix the entrance door (which had a tendency to stick), and (based on S’s suggestion), request that they install screens on the balcony doors.  Other things one can possibly request are the installation of air conditioners (this place already had one), and if you’re really lucky, a gas countertop cooker (my place doesn’t have one, and they were not willing to install it for me).

Negotiations notwithstanding, it took about 2 weeks from the time I decided on the place to the day I actually put the final stamp (literally – they’re called “hanko“) on the paperwork.

And… here I am!  I’ve been in my place for almost a month and a half (already!!), and though it’s still messy, it’s very slowly starting to get organized.  I’ve been going out after work almost daily to search for furniture and appliances and I think that by this weekend, I should be about 90% done.

Pictures will be forthcoming eventually, and I may also do a write-up on the furniture/appliance hunting process. 🙂

Tweaks & Tech

DIY – window screen

My new place doesn’t have any real windows.  Rather, the 2 rooms have glass sliding doors that open up onto a small balcony.  The kitchen has a tiny little window that’s more to help the air circulate than to let in any light.  It’s certainly not intended to be used as window to look out onto any kind of scenery – it doesn’t open far enough!

Ideally I would want to leave this little “window” open all day.  Since I keep the balcony doors closed and locked (Japan may be a safe country compared to most other countries, but I’m just not that trusting), my place is always more than a little stuffy when I get home.  Having that little window left open would help circulate the air a little.  The problem?  It doesn’t have a screen!  The window may not be big enough to open up to any kind of scenery – but it’s more than big enough to let the “skeeters” (mosquitos) in.  So… leaving it open is a definite no-no, especially since summer is coming around.

I decided I needed a screen.

Obviously it would have to cover the entire window, and for a while I toyed with the idea of getting a big sheet of netting and wrapping it around the bars outside (the reason the window can’t open up very wide is because of the bars – they do make the outside of my place look a little like a prison, I have to say…).

However, I decided that was impractical.  I needed something on the inside, something that would allow me to open or close the window as needed.  This meant that I couldn’t just stick a netting on the front and leave it (unless I planned on taking down the netting each time I wanted to open/close the window).  I decided to try sewing a zipper onto the screen.

There’s a large sewing/arts/crafts/knitting shop 10 minutes away from my place and I got a zipper, thread, and needles for about 600 yen.  I got the netting and some magnets from Tokyu Hands for about 500 yen.  It took me a good hour/hour and a half to put it all together… but I did it!

I measured out the size of the netting to match the dimensions of the window and cut it just a little bigger.  Then I took a pair of scissors and made a half-centimeter-thick cut up the middle the netting, just long enough to match the length of the zipper.  Finally, I painstakingly sewed the zipper on (only pricking myself once I might add!).

Once all that was finished, I decided to strengthen the sides of the netting by stapling on some discarded polypropylene strapping I had lying around, and voila – my own homemade screen! 🙂

I hung in in place with a few thumbtacks and now my little window stays open all day! (It does let in more noise, but I can live with it).

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P.S. You can barely see them in the 4th and 6th pictures, but the little magnets also serve their purpose – I glued them onto the window sill and the staples (that I had used on the strapping) hang on just strongly enough to prevent the bottom of the screen from flapping around and letting bugs in. 🙂


I think they’re just having fun in these commercials

These are rather old, but thought I’d post them for those who might not have seen them before.  Nicholas Cage in particular looks like he just took a couple of insanity pills, but I’m sure he’s just having fun 😛


I’m still around!

It’s been a little over a week since my last post, but there simply hasn’t been enough time in the day to do everything…

Work in particular has been particularly crazy, even requiring me to work on the weekend when something got hosed during a systems upgrade and we needed to make sure all was good before people came back into the office on Monday morning.

Heck, even today has been a full day with 2.5 hrs of taichi in the morning.  Then I spent most of my afternoon hunting around Tokyo for a rental tuxedo (I’ll post more about that later), then going to the supermarket for groceries, and dry cleaning!

I hope, hope, hope that work will be a little less crazy this week…

My busyness hasn’t all been completely work-related though.  I’ve (still) been searching for furniture and only as of yesterday can I say that I’m pretty much finished.  I’ve been to so many different places to look for a table, chairs, a bed, and a sofa, but simply wasn’t having any luck getting things at the size I needed (the dimensions of my place are rather quirky).  Finally turned to the interwebs and lo and behold, I found some items that sound decent (though I really do wish I could have seen them first).  As of now, all my bookshelves have arrived and I’ve completed building them as well as putting my books away.  Next weekend will see the arrival of my bed, table, chairs, and sofa.  Then I’ll pretty much be done!

I’ve also been doing some “crafts”/DIY projects for my place, and will post pictures of those shortly (which reminds… I think I need to get a new camera…).  I actually have a fair amount of material to put up – I’m just too tired and fall asleep too quickly once I get home!

For now, I’ll just leave you with pictures of my dinner – very spur-of-the-moment with no particular organization.  It was basically “toss all ingredients together and hope for the best” since I didn’t even taste test what I made before eating it!  😛

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For the curious, it’s simply frying a quarter of an onion (hey, it’s for 1 person, so don’t need more than that!) in sesame oil till golden, adding chopped ginger, mushrooms, and garlic a few minutes later, followed by 1 chicken thigh cut in 3 pieces, and finally dousing the mixture in some soy sauce.  Cover and let sit on the lowest heat for several minutes, uncover, turn, stir, and let sit for another 4-5 minutes or till the meat comes apart easily without showing pink.  No measurements provided because I didn’t bother looking up a recipe – but I’m happy to say it turned out tastily enough (for me anyway!) 😀 (though there is a regrettable lack of veggies…)

That’s all for tonight folks!