Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Where I'm At

Many of you know I'm "in Tokyo." Perhaps some of you don't know where Tokyo is in Japan. It's here:

The city of Tokyo is about 844.4 square miles. Let's narrow it down a bit. I'm in the Shinjuku ward, a very famous, popular area.

I don't live in the center of Shinjuku. The closest Yamanote Line (the train line that loops around Tokyo) to me is Takadanobaba. Here it is on a map you can interact with:

View Untitled in a larger map

As an amateur photographer, I really should set about photographing the place I live. But I'm quite busy, you see, with all these words and things.

Yesterday, I met up with a new friend from Singapore. She is doing a tour of the stations around the Yamanote loop. Takadanobaba was third on her list. In spite of knowing hardly any big attractions in the area, I offered to take her around. In exchange, I am going to post her pictures of the place. A good deal for both.

Here is the Takadanobaba station's edifice on the Waseda exit side:

There is a rotary in front of this exit where I always meet people who come to the station:

In the manga/anime Atom Boy, Mr. Boy was born in Takadanobaba. Thanks to this, there are absurdly huge murals under the elevated train tracks on the street level of Atom Boy and other famous anime characters.

Atom Boy is on your left when you exit, but on your right you can see the architectural beauty of the place I go for 100¥ stuff, called descriptively "Big Box":

To get to my dorm or the main campus of Waseda, you go straight up Waseda Dori (Waseda Street), so that is what we did next. Here is a moderately-priced second-run theater:

Here is my favorite ramen place, Oita Ramen, where you can get a big bowl for 650 yen and still order free refills of noodles:

Here is another shot taken outside Oita Ramen, looking up the street in the direction of my dorm:

Across from the Lawson, one minute from my dorm, is this amazing building that I've never been in but been thinking that it's a photography museum:

Just next to my local Lawson, a bizarrely-named restaurant:

Further down Waseda Dori, between my dorm and the campus entrance, are an excess of used bookstores.

A great Engrish name for a clothing store:

This may look like a generic shot of Waseda Dori, but the yellow and red signage highlights an amazing store. Called "Picasso," it is an offshoot of a large chain of stores called "Don Quixote." At Picasso, I can find cheap milk, yogurt, bread, instant meals, and snacks. They also sell clothes, dishes, computer stuff, games, sex toys, and novelty gifts. And they have an absurd theme song playing all the time.

Finally we come to the crossing that I turn left at, from Waseda Dori, to go down the hill to campus.

Waseda's Nishiwaseda Campus. This is one of the ways to get into it.

And here are various shots of classroom buildings and grounds.

We made our way to the center of campus, where Shigenobu Okuma the founder stands, scowling at the auditorium named for him.

The view he has of his auditorium:

The auditorium, closer:

There is a cafe and souvenir shop to the left of the auditorium.

There, they sell stuffed bears. The bear is the mascot because of the founder's name, Okuma. It's a play on the Japanese word for bear, kuma. Of course, the bear is scowling.

From campus, it is a short walk to an interesting spot: the oldest and nearly last streetcar in Tokyo.

In the other cities in Japan, streetcars are much more common. Tokyo is so well-irrigated with subways and trains, though, that the streetcars have slowly died out, except for the Toden Arakawa line. Waseda is one of the terminals. Here is the station:

And here is the little guy that services it:

And a bit more north of the tram/streetcar is the Kandagawa, the Kanda River. These cherry trees are almost ready to burst. (Expect more colorful photos of these soon.)

And here I am, on the bridge over the river. Hi!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Friday Follow-Through

Thanks for responding, you guys. Good to know who's out there. I will try and tailor some posts to your interests. Look forward to posts about poker, biking trails, art, public health, baseball, and the movie industry here. The only wild cards are the Katies from DC; not sure what they would like to hear about.

Here's a round-up of my week.

Monday, March 8: It was International Women's Day, which we don't celebrate in America due to its communist roots. But it's a huge deal in Europe. It's now all about celebrating women, mothers, etc. In Italy men give women yellow mimosas (the flower, not the drink). In Russia, too, along with chocolate. My Russian friend had already given me a present for Boy's Day last month (another Russian holiday), and she told me she was upset that nobody here knew about Women's Day. So I got her flowers and Ferro Rocher chocolates, and she was overjoyed. I also picked up flowers for two other women in my dorm who were having a birthday soon. We threw a little party for them, even though one of them was feeling too sick to make it there.

Tuesday, March 9: I spent the day with one of my best friends here and her boyfriend, going around to see ume (plum) blossoms at a shrine (picture above). Then we went to karaoke. Then it was poker night, and I lost. I have to resist the temptation to be flashy with my betting. It has not worked out for me this month.

Wednesday, March 10: It was a get-things-done kind of a day. I even made a to-do list. I cleaned my room after months of neglecting to do so, sent emails I really had to send, did laundry, made up my calendar for the month, and worked on my Japanese. Then in the evening I went for dinner at Eat More Greens, a fantastic vegetarian restaurant in Azabu-Juuban.

Thursday, March 11: It was supposed to be a get-things-done kind of day, too, but I didn't cross off all the things on my list. Gym in the morning, then cleaned my bathroom (also after months of neglect), then went to the school office for info about registration, then the doctor's office to schedule another appointment, and then I met up with a classmate to play Go. Then I chatted online for 6 hours, which really ate up my plans.

Today (March 12) I'm going to a museum in Roppongi that is supposedly pretty cool, and you can go up to the top at sunset and see Tokyo in all its splendor. Then I'm going to read more of the Japanese novel I'm reading for our little book club.

By the way, is it normal to lose 6 pounds in 3 days? Because um, that's kind of what happened. I'm working out most of the week, and skipping breakfast when I do, so that means I have been eating my first meal at around 1 or 2. I'm doing this because I don't like working out right after eating and because I read somewhere that the digestive process hinders fat burn. But 6 pounds in three days is kind of shocking. It can't all be fat; it must be some muscle loss, too.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Breaking the Silence

To all those who thought I had fallen off the face of the Earth: you were right. But I've climbed back up now, with hardly anything else broken.

I'm finding that action generates more of the same action. Confusion begets more confusion. Work begets more work. Interest in Japanese begets more interest in Japanese. And writing begets more writing.

These days I am keeping a private diary on http://750words.com/. Why keep a private diary online? Well, I can access it anywhere, and it gives me points and data. It analyzes my writing speed, my topics, even if I am using more I's than he's or she's (obviously I use WAY more I's). Why keep one at all? I read somewhere that it's good to get a few pages out of you every day, and if no one sees it it doesn't have to be spectacular.

Not that I'm writing Pulitzer-prize-winning stuff at the moment here...

It's still spring break here. In the first two weeks or so in February, I mainly stayed in my room, watching anime (Utena, Skip Beat, Chobits, Bakemonogatari) and J-dramas (Liar Game, Kurosagi, Nobuta wo Produce) and Mad Men. At some point I got sick of just staying in my room, so I started going out with friends. I also started online dating again and found some really interesting people.

Eventually I started going to the school gym, too. It's super cheap: about 22 bucks for the year. Well worth it. I'm going about 5-6 days a week. I do cardio on the bike for half an hour, then either upper-body and back or legs and abs, in a Body-for-Life kind of way. I'm starting to use the bike in a High Intensity Interval Training kind of way, which is really exhausting. I feel much better. Activity begets activity. I'm much more active now, full of energy for going out in Tokyo and checking out markets, temples, plum blossoms which are blooming now (which means that cherries are on their way).

I'm still working on Japanese through the break. I'm writing a Japanese diary (writing begets more writing) on Lang-8. There's an RSS feed on there if you are interested, which Google Reader can auto-translate for you.

Today I'm going to a friend's concert. She's in an amateur orchestra. I'm very excited to see it.

That's all for this morning; I still have to eat breakfast (natto and rice and mushroom soup, for your information). If you're still aware of this blog's existence, please leave a comment, so I know who my audience is.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Nutrition Diary (for project) day 4

instant miso soup
white rice

mabo dofu
white rice
salad (w/wakame & imitation crab)
spinach and egg
green tea

chocolate twists (4)

masuzushi onigiri

matsuya's pork & eggplant in spicy miso
salad (corn, etc)
white rice
oolong tea

Friday, November 27, 2009

Nutrition Diary (for project) day 3 (Thanksgiving!)

two pieces of white bread
yogurt drink
Vinegar & Milk drink
omrice onigiri

green tea

Okuma lunch
(beef bowl, salad, sesame carrots and root veg, hamburger, croquette, white rice)
green tea

oolong tea
little stuffing
little chicken
mashed potatoes w/chicken gravy
carrots & onions
Russian salad
1/4 nikuman
1/2 ear of corn
5 slices of Spanish ham with white bread
chocolate chip vanilla cookie
anko-filled doughnuts (2)
cheesecake (1.5 slices)
vanilla ice cream (too much)
chocolate-covered almond
small Chinese fruit/nut stuffed cake (1/2)
chocolate salty chips

chocolate cookies

(It was an awesome Thanksgiving, thanks to everybody showing up, and especially to the Russian girl who ended up making almost everything.)

Nutrition Diary (for project) day 2

no breakfast

hard-boiled egg
spicy chinese nabe (pork, veggies, cell.noodles)
half spring roll
tiny salad w/chicken
tiny bit of tofu in fermented sauce
bowl of white rice

small salad
two pieces of fried chicken
three large flat french fries
1/4 pepperoni pizza
1/4 habanero pizza (with pork)
1/8 beef/mushroom pizza
1/8 salami/onion pizza
1/8 chicken teriyaki pizza
1/8 dessert pizza (marshmallows)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Nutrition Diary (for project) day 1

two thick pieces of bread
plain yogurt

apple (biggish)

chai tea latte, grande

3/4 of savory "French" toast

five gyoza with sauce
white/brown rice with furikake (egg & seaweed)
one mikan (clementine)

14 small doughnuts filled with anko

(And how are you guys doing?)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

need to sleep

I didn't do enough studying today. But I did do some. I might be in okay shape for the coming week. Maybe.

Instead of studying, I did laundry, picked up my dry cleaning, went grocery shopping, and learned how to make a new dish: nikujaga.

I did not successfully finish making stuff for my bento box lunch for tomorrow's picnic. Have to get up early tomorrow. Great.

Saturday's Meals:

plain yogurt
granolaish cereal

scrambled eggs with mushrooms, green onions
last of the curry
white rice
little bit of kimchee

a small amt. of yakisoba
two small bowls of nikujaga
half a container of peaches in yogurt

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Cats and Dogs

We had a death in our dorm family last night; a one-eyed cat who loved us gaijin despite our differences. She was always friendly, although sometimes too playful (bitingly). She liked our front terrace, even though it had no shelter from rain or any comfy places to curl up. Yesterday, she saw me and rolled upside down. I didn't pet her because this action usually meant she'd be up for biting (playfully). Now I wish I had. She was run over last night. I'm not sure if her remains have been taken care of, I don't know how to request that sort of thing, and I am trying not to think about it.

So, now that I've ruined your mood, let me tell you about the good things about yesterday.
  1. I didn't fall asleep (at least not all the way) in my classes on Friday. Three hours of conversation in the morning, three hours of moderately easy grammar in the afternoon. It's hard to take that on inadequate sleep.
  2. I registered for (most of) my classes, finally.
  3. I dressed up for the Welcome Party. My suits were stilll at the cleaners, so I had to make due with brown pants and a bluish-black sportscoat. It went together better than it sounds like it did. (For those interested, I wore my white with-invisible-green bespoke shirt with my yellow dogstooth Tyrwhitt tie with Italian glass cufflinks. Let's not talk about my shoes.)
  4. The party was okay. I ate too much of the free and quite good food, as you may note below if you ever get that far.*
  5. After the offical welcome party, I went to the steps of the auditorium for kumanomi, where a lot of other students were drinking. (Drinking outdoors is legal.)
  6. We got chased away by a policeman around 10pm. (Being loud is not legal.)
  7. We went to the park, which is often the drinking place of choice.
  8. A German girl almost beat me in arm wrestling.
  9. I went home and had hot water with lemon with some good people.
Friday's Meals:

natto with tomatoes and shirasu
on top of white/brown rice

the rest of the mabo-dofu
brown/white rice
the last bit of spinach/mushroom stuff

slice of grapefruit
three french fries
three cocktail wieners
two shumai
four eggrolls (small)
two tuna roll pieces
a cucumber roll piece
one big maki roll piece (egg, crab, cuke, ???)
a small triangular egg salad sandwich
a scoop of yakisoba
three fried chicken nuggets
two broiled chunks of chicken
a slice of ham
a small cup of apple juice
a small cup of sweetened iced tea
half a cream puff filled with ice cream (vanilla)

Late Night:
hot water with lemon
a handful of sweet crackers

*why I ate so much: it had been too long since lunch, it was free, it was MEAT (which is expensive here), and I had to fight with Chinese people for a clear shot to the food, which made me go into competition mode.

Friday, October 9, 2009


Today we ended up having no classes on account of a typhoon. The typhoon's main effect on the campus's area was to make it sunny, warm, and breezy: a perfect indian summer day.

(Why close school? So the teachers and students who live in neighboring prefectures wouldn't have to ride the trains. The trains can easily get disrupted in typhoons.)

I went with a group of other students to go get my Alien Registration Card. I know, I know, "alien?" But that's what they call us, officially, at least on that card.

After we got our cards, we went to a nearby ice cream shop, where I had some amazing Italian ice cream. Grom, in Shinjuku. Very nice.

Well, that was around 5pm, and a big meal was to come later, so, as you will soon see, I strayed from the ideal nutrition path today very much in the afternoon and evening.

Today's meals:

plain yogurt
granolaesque cereal

Spinach enoki green onions garlic olive oil
leftover mabo-dofu (homemade)
brown/white rice combo
sauteed spinach, mushrooms, green onions, garlic


Grom ice cream cone.
Blueberry-raspberry on top.
The Italiana's recommended "Grom di creme" on the bottom.
(only 490 for the small cone.)
(yeah, not very frugal.)
(but worth it.)


Goulash with dumplings (amazing)
too much cheetara (cheese strips in strips of cod), kaki no tane (crackers), and senbei (more crackers)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Eiyou (栄養) Means "Nutrition"

The past two weeks: registration. First, a level test. Then pick, within whatever level they give you, from among very similar classes which ones to register for. The descriptions of said classes are all in Japanese. Then, attend each class you registered for as well as the class you actually want. Then you may or may not be able to register for the class you actually want.

Gotta love the Japanese bureaucracy.

I was lucky enough to ascend a level in my core class. Most of my classmates are more fluent than me, but I feel that they're within reach. The core class I chose is a textbookless class. We're going to talk about our own topic, write essays on our topic, read each other's essays, discuss them, interview people, write more essays, and finally produce a final report to be bound in a book. Yes, all in Japanese.

The important thing is to pick a topic that is important enough to you to hold your own interest for four months. So what to pick. I at first thought about linguistics. Too abstract, and, without a specific focus, people might not know how to discuss it with me. Then, over the weekend, it came to me: nutrition!

As some of you may know, when I was [redacted] this summer, I was in the middle of a summer-term nutrition class. I wasn't able to finish the class due to being [redacted], so I worked out a deal with the teacher. If I can get a proctor over here to give me the exams, I can get the credit.

Taking 13 Japanese classes (1.5 hours each) doesn't leave many hours for studying an unrelated subject on my own. But, if it's tied to one of my courses, I might make the time. So I picked nutrition as my topic for the core class.

Specifically, I'm interested in the idea of nutrition in Japan as compared to the idea of nutrition in America, and how the statistics work out. It's common knowledge that the Japanese are very long-lived, and many have tried to claim that the Japanese diet is responsible. Yet the Japanese eat little meat, lots of rice, and very little insoluble fiber. What's the recommended dietary intake here? What's the average intake of those nutrients? How do those figures compare to America's? What's considered a "balanced diet" here? What do people think makes a healthy meal?

Another reason nutrition is on my mind may be because of the health check I went through last Friday. I, like almost all the other foreigners, was told that I should lose weight. I reacted a little strongly to that. I was told to lose about 20 pounds (9 kilos). I happen to know that, for my height, by American standards I would be in acceptable range with a loss of 5 pounds.

While weight has little to do with nutrition per se, this encounter has made me keep more of an eye on my serving sizes. (At the health check, I told the doctor how much rice I ate with my nattou, how much curry-rice I have for lunch, etc. She asked if I drink, and I said never. She asked if I drank water. I said "A lot." She asked, "No-Calorie water?" I said of course. She had nothing to say after that, except that, once my [redacted] gets better, I might exercise a bit more. She did not know who she was dealing with, obviously.)

All of this is to explain that, from now on, I would like to start documenting my meals once again. Long-time readers may recall February of this year I reported my food intake daily. That was partly to lose wintergut, partly to irritate G., and partly to get over a blogging slump. I risk alienating my readership here if I indulge in such self-metrics, but, well, I don't really think anyone reads this anyway. Also, it fits in with the original theme of this blog: how to eat on the cheap in Tokyo. (Mainly: eat rice.)

Perhaps for my final project I will get some Japanese people to record their meals for a week or two and then we can compare. Do you think any Japanese people would be into that?

Today's Meals:

45g of natto with chopped green onion, cherry tomatoes, and whole shirasu (little white fishies)
white rice
instant miso soup (wakame seaweed and fried tofu)

small bowl of Japanese curry on white rice
small portion of sauteed spinach (olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, hot pepper)
one hardboiled egg
iced green tea

five big gyoza (at a brand-new restaurant, only 290 yen)

Second Dinner:
two grabs of spinach mixed with a bit of kimchee
a small amount of curry with a small amount of rice

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Language Learning

(Ma) Vaffancuulo : Go fuck yourself.

Ymen no iisa [name] : My name is [name]

Ai yak te? : And yours?

Tezhimin : Nice to meet you.

Dobreedden : Hello (formal)

Ahoy : Hi (informal)

And not one of the above phrases is Japanese.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Broken Japanese: the Placement Test

The test was about as difficult as I'd imagined it'd be. I doubt I can go into details here, but I can at least tell you that it was not multiple choice. Either you knew it or you didn't.

Waseda's Japanese classes are split up into 8 levels, 1 being for beginners and 8 being for near-fluent folks. I got level 3, which is the low end of the intermediate level.

Level 3 is pretty disappointing for me, but I'm willing to admit it's probably right for me in some skillsets. My kanji is probably at level 3. My speaking ability might be 3, too, although I'm doing pretty well day-to-day. Writing (self-expressively) is also probably 3. But Listening, Grammar, and Reading should probably be higher. Luckily, I can go up one level, if the teachers see I'm doing very well in the first week.

(I feel a cram coming on...)

Many people also feel that the test results were not accurate. Some feel that they just got lucky with the test and are scared of the high level they are in. Others are below me, when I know for certain that their speaking is on par with if not better than mine.

We'll just have to see how this pans out. Registration is tomorrow afternoon, and the first week of classes starts on September 28. (Class details to follow in another post, after I've taken a few.)

Broken Orchestra: Karaoke Outings 1 & 2

So glad to be back in the land of good karaoke. Songs I picked:
  • I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues, by Elton John
  • Can't Stop, by Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • Under the Sea, Disney
  • Lean on Me, by Bill Withers
  • Come Undone, by Duran Duran
  • The Scientist, by Coldplay
Lean on Me is beyond me, clearly. It's not a song you should be screaming to hit the notes. After attempting Withers, Come Undone was also beyond. I got it back together for The Scientist, so that was good.

With all of us being from different countries, you struggle to find songs that everyone knows. I ought to make a list for international karaoke groups. Here is the beginning.
  • Bad Beatles songs. Everybody knows Yellow Submarine.
  • Johnny Cash, Ring of Fire.
  • Edith Piaf, La Vie En Rose.* (In the words of a Frenchman, she is their Johnny Cash.)
  • Spice Girls, Wannabe.
  • Britney Spears, Hit Me Baby One More Time.
  • Aqua, Barbie Girl.
  • Louis Armstrong, What a Wonderful World.
Any more that you think are universal?

*You know, the song that plays in the background whenever any characters in any (non-French) movie go to a French restaurant. I didn't know the words except for soem of the refrain, but I knew the melody enough to join in. Fun was had, and an earworm was caught.

Third Post of the Night Has No Broken Pun

I am envious of people with serious language chops. Always have been, as far as I can remember.

I'm envious of the Europeans here, who speak near perfect English but who say they are glad of the opportunity to improve it. I think that they have a serious advantage over me. They already are in the habit of thinking in another language. It's not that much of a jump, then, to start thinking in Japanese.

I'm envious of the Europeans in other ways, as well. I see now the extreme advantage of living in Europe (for those who would like to be polyglots or to be culturally-well-versed.) Their countries are small and close together in comparison to the US. Travel is not really a big deal. Maybe it is a hassle, I don't know.

I'm envious, now, of everyone who went abroad in college. What a great idea that would have been. Not just for the experience of another country, but also for meeting different exchange students from all over. I've met some amazing, brilliant, funny, and very kind people here already, and I'm not even counting the Japanese students I've been talking with.

In short, I'm filled with envy. So don't envy me, whatever you do, even if I got an iPhone two days ago.

(Where did that come from? What's in this green tea stuff, anyway?)