I am grateful for this warm summer night in Roppongi full of drunken eyes and empty taxicabs and sidewalks that audibly warn you to watch your step. I love that the lady at the Korean BBQ restaurant leaned over me and tied a bib around my neck like a baby. The one place I hope I don’t go to on this trip is the bar Heartland; still, I enjoyed watching the sleazy white men flirt with sexy Japanese women as I strolled up the escalator to the train station. When I was a kid growing up in Roppongi twenty-some years ago, this was just a small residential neighborhood with single-family homes and small community parks. Even with all the change, the air still smells like home.

Lady police officers show off their motorcycle skillz

Only .05% of police officers in Japan are female, and some of them wear cool red uniforms and be badass motorcyclists. Here’s a video of the Metropolitan Police Female Motorcycle Officers Squad doing a demo. Yes, it’s kind of messed up and sexist that the female motorcycle officers have their own squad and that they have to wear red. We still have a long way to go.

via (Thanks, Len!)

Divorce ceremonies are on the rise among unhappy married couples

Over on Boing Boing, I wrote about divorce ceremonies — a new type of ritual that has been quite popular among couples seeking a permanent break. A former businessman charges about $600 to perform a ritual of wedding ring-smashing in front of friends and family; those who have undergone the ceremony say they feel much better afterwards.

This actually came up in conversation with Jake Adelstein this past weekend, and Reuters just came out with an article about it.

Japanese, Korean, and Chinese massages are very different

There are many similarities across East Asian cultures, but one thing that I have found to be very different is how massages are given. This is strictly from personal experience, but I have favorite Korean, Chinese, and Japanese massage places in San Francisco (one each), and each experience is unique.

At the Japanese massage place, I don’t take off all my clothes — in fact, they give me baggy sweatpants and a t-shirt to wear. The masseuse hardly ever touches my skin (she uses towels over the parts she’s working on) and never goes even remotely close to my genitals or breasts.

The Chinese massage place is a bit different. The first time I went there, I kept my underwear on, only to discover that the lady massaging me would pull them down and rub massage oil over my butt. It was a bit uncomfortable the first time, but now I know to strip down and expect that.

The Korean place, which I tried for the first time this weekend, offered an oil massage and scrub package. An older woman in a black lace bikini scrubbed my entire body as if I was a car that needed washing, including my breasts and inner thighs. There was nothing sexy about it, but I never felt so shiny and smooth.

I have gone to several massage places in Japan, and have consistently found that they are more conservative about touching the wrong way than their Chinese and Korean counterparts. I wonder if this has something to do with the lines we draw between public and private, sexual and non-sexual.

Real estate company rents out cute-ified apartments in Shibuya


The Japan Times has a fun story today about a duo of young women decorators who refurbish apartments with super-cute colorful furnishings. The properties they work with are pseudo-apartments where residents get their own room but share a kitchen, living space, and bathroom. The one condo mentioned in the article is in the trendy Aoyama district and once belonged to a famous novelist; they refurbished it to have a giant mirror and paintings of carp on the wall. The condos are occupied mostly by young women in their 30s, who rent rooms for $7-800. Sounds kind of like a fun way to live!

Gyaku gire, a great Japanese word you should know

Often, when I’m trying to explain things to people, I end up trying to translate Japanese words that just don’t exist in English. One that came up in conversation today is gyaku gire. It’s when you get mad at someone for a legitimate reason — say they broke a promise, or breached your trust, or forgot to do something they promised to do — and they in turn get mad at you for bringing up the fact that they did something wrong. The other person’s anger is unjustified, irrational, and often of a greater degree than your own. Gyaku gire a technique often employed by those who are overly defensive or have anger problems, but I think we have all encountered it at some point in our lives. I remember in school, if two kids got in a fight a third party would often say “Hey, don’t do gyaku gire!” and that would shut the person who is doing gyaku gire up because they realize they’ve exposed a weakness. Try using it sometime!

Video: 80s Momotaro jazz opera

You must watch this crazy jazz version of the classic Japanese folk tale, Momotaro. In it, a team of comedians tells the story of the heroic boy who was born from a peach via a series of American jazz tunes. PRI’s The World called up Roland Kelts and analyzed it on air recently. Apparently it was a segment on Tamori’s show, which makes a lot of sense.


Setsubun festival at Toyokawa Inari

Today was Setsubun no Hi, so I went to Toyokawa Inari to score some good luck in the form of soybeans. There were a couple dozen celebrities there — each one was introduced to the crowd and gave a short greeting (some even played shamisen and sang songs), and then they started throwing beans at us. For more on Setsubun, check out my post on Boing Boing.

How Zoff is taking over the eyeglasses market

Screen shot 2010-01-26 at 9.20.15 AM

Last time I was in Tokyo, I spent a couple hundred bucks on a really nice pair of glasses at a boutique shop in Harajuku. A few months later, my puppy Malcolm chewed them to bits — to be exact, he cracked one of the lenses and gnawed on the earhooks. So when I came back to Tokyo this time, I went back to the store to see if they could either fix them or order me another pair. But the store was gone. “That store went out of business,” a neighborhood cop told me. “They couldn’t compete, the rent was too high and they weren’t making enough money.”

You know what I think happened? Zoff happened. I’m not sure exactly when the first Zoff glasses store was launched, but on my last few trips back I have noticed that they are now everywhere. There is one each Ebisu station, Meguro station, Shibuya station, and Harajuku station. Basically, Zoff brings the fast food model to eyeglasses. They have a very basic recipe — two or three lens shapes that fit into a variety of frames that they claim are custom-made to look good on a Japanese person’s face. They guarantee new glasses to be made for 5000 yen ($50) within half an hour. The process of purchasing glasses is basic assembly line style: pick a frame, get your eyes checked, make a payment, find out availability, wait 30 minutes. It’s so cheap and fast that you could even just get one made for the day if you forget to bring yours to work. After browsing several glasses stores near my house, I too was sucked into a pair at Zoff because of how cheap and easy it was &mdash and also because the cheap plastic purple frame was kind of cute.

Shop for real estate at Shibuya station


It’s amazing how businesses can pop up and do well on train platforms where people only wait maybe 2-3 minutes at a time. On the Yamanote line platform at Shibuya station, there’s this little red shack when you can buy or sell a home. I was planning on finding out more, but by the time I finished taking this picture my train had arrived and I had to leave.

Please take your trash home


Brian and I took the train to Odaiba this past weekend. Perhaps for safety reasons, all the trash cans at the station were sealed. (In fact, I noticed in recent years that there are hardly any trash cans anywhere in the city. It’s kind of a pain in the butt; there are signs everywhere telling you to take your trash home with you.) Right when we got out of the station we saw this lineup of empty drink containers, probably left by someone who got fed up with looking for a trash can and decided to neatly litter instead.

Man selling New Years postcards at Omotesando


Happy New Year everybody!

As you all know, it is a tradition to send nengajyo, or New Years postcards, in Japan. It’s the busiest time of year for the national post office, and also an opportunity for them to make a few extra bucks to compensate for the lack of business that things like email and text messaging has bestowed upon them. At Omotesando station the other day, I encountered this dutiful post office employee selling blank new years postcards in front of the cool bathroom sign. I love the contrast between old Japan and new Japan, the busy modern Tokyoites stopping at this neon-lit bathroom wall to buy these archaic 500 yen-a-pack postcard sets with coins from this balding, determined government worker. This photo was taken by the talented photographer Mr. Tetsuya Miura.

Video: Girls taking cell phone pics of boy band drama ad campaign

At Omotesando station last night, dozens of women were lined up taking photos of these giant posters featuring five topless pretty boys. It appeared to be an ad for an upcoming drama series called The Last Promise, but I still didn’t understand why everybody was taking photos. I finally asked one of the women, who told me that this was a limited edition ad campaign that ran only from 12/28/09->1/3/10. For that period of time, FujiTV had bought out all(?) the ad space at Omotesando station and pasted these provocative photos of the five guys — who, by the way, are from the popular boy band Arashi and are making an appearance together for the first time in a decade — on all the walls and poles. I don’t know for sure, but it looked like some of the women had come all the way from out of town to take pictures of it.

Crowd control ruins Christmas illumination ambiance… or does it?


We had dinner at Tokyo’s Midtown on Christmas Day; the complex was covered in beautiful Christmas lights that included a vast field of blue and trees that had raindrop-like lights cascading down its branches. What ruined it for me, though, was the massive crowd control operation that accompanied the illuminations — instead of letting visitors enjoy the ambiance peacefully on their own time, Midtown had employed dozens of men in blue uniforms and megaphones to stand at every single street corner and doorway, shouting instructions to passersby to proceed to the garden through designated pathways. I just didn’t understand why the hell they would spend a shit ton of money putting together this elaborate Christmas spectacle and then destroy the mood with over-policing. It seemed overly paranoid and counterproductive to me.

The next day, I went to get a long-needed massage, and my masseuse asked me what I did for Christmas. When I told her I went to Midtown, she started ooh-ing and aah-ing. “I went there too! Wasn’t it so magical?” I realized then that the crowd control bureaucracy hadn’t ruined her visit at all. I think people here are used to and okay with having rules within which they can enjoy an experience; I think that’s a wonderful skill to have, to be able to block out the unpleasant stuff and enjoy the good things despite it.