Glass smoking boxes in the train stations

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It used to be that you could smoke anywhere in Japan. Now, if you’re a smoker, and you ride bullet train, you have to stand in this little glass box. I realize it’s glass so that they can see when the train is coming, but it has this wonderful zoo animal on display effect that I found deeply entertaining as I waited for the shinkansen to Sendai a few weeks ago.

Traveler to Japan measures radiation on planes, near Fukushima (news flash: planes are much worse!)

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A Silicon Valley exec recently traveled to Japan for business. He took a Geiger counter with him and measured radiation throughout the trip–including on his flights to and from Asia. Steve Jurvetson posted a graph on his Flickr stream. He writes:

One of his destinations was 50 miles from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. As a precaution, a colleague gave him a Geiger Counter so he could make sure it wasn’t getting dangerous as he approached the plant.

Maybe they assumed he would turn it on when he hit the ground… Instead, he logged the whole trip, and you can see the relative peaks of radioactivity.

jurvetson’s Flickr via Sean Bonner’s Twitter

Inspirational post-earthquake bullet train commercial goes viral

Joi tweeted about this yesterday: an inspirational bullet train commercial has been going viral.

It’s a 3-minute spot featuring a shinkansen making its debut trip across the southern island of Kyushu on March 12, just one day after the earthquake. The commercial was pulled from TV stations in the immediate aftermath, along with all other advertisements–the stations feared inundating people with commercialism after a tragedy would be inappropriate–and just appeared on air a couple of weeks ago. In it, you see school kids in uniforms, farmers, Power Rangers, cheerleaders, and costumed mascots all cheering the train on as it makes its way across the country.

I love this because it’s really representative of Japanese solidarity. It’s really unselfish, non-aggressive, and community-oriented. One of the YouTube comments points out that the conductor and the cameraperson were crying the whole time as people ran alongside the train.

Sushi and Harajuku girls in Portland, Oregon

I just got back from Portland, Oregon. If you’ve never been there, this will give you an idea of what it’s like. It’s a song from the hilarious new TV show Portlandia:

I spent the day with my college friend Naomi, who used to be a sushi chef and is now temporarily retired. As we walked into a bookstore a guy asked us to sign a petition to ban plastic bags, and then Naomi got in trouble with the bookstore owner because she had a Kindle. That night we went to a local Japanese-ish restaurant with really good burgers called Yakuza and then dropped by at a bar full of people who looked like they were straight out of the 90s.

My friend Jason Wishnow sent me this clip–also from Portlandia–featuring two shrinking Harajuku Girls obsessed with coffee and a dog named Hichiro. It’s amazing, watch!

Japan Airlines eliminates direct flights to Amsterdam, San Francisco

Bad news for frequent flyers on JAL: starting in September, the airline is cutting direct flights between Tokyo and Amsterdam, Rome, Milan and San Francisco, and between Osaka and Guam, Hong Kong and Beijing. It’s too bad, I really liked JAL and frequently fly between Tokyo and San Francisco.

Update: JAL will, however, be flying from Haneda to San Francisco. Which is actually better. Yay.

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Tokyo again, and what I like to do on planes

I’m heading back to Tokyo tomorrow to work on a radio show with the crew from PRI’s Studio360, so I probably won’t be blogging until I get there.

When are we going to have wi-fi on trans-Pacific flights? But then again, would I want that? I kinda cherish the offline time—nap, read a book, listen to podcasts, nap, watch a movie, eat, brush teeth, pee. Airplanes make me want to do not much more than all that.

Flying back to Tokyo today

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I’m flying back to Tokyo this afternoon after 10 days in the south of France and Amsterdam. Highlights from my agenda when I get back:

– Korean BBQ with the parents.
– Tokyo Game Show.
Muscle Park (again)!
– An otaku in Akiba symposium.

Stay tuned!

Fancy cars and Japanese tea garden in Monaco

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I’m in Monte Carlo right now, at the beginning of a one week trip in Provence/Cote d’Azur. Monaco is a gorgeous little principality surrounded by France and the Mediterranean Sea. Grace Kelly is the big royal local hero here—the Academy Award-winning actress became Princess Grace of Monaco in the 50s. I snapped this photo of Monaco’s Japanese tea garden today on my way back from the aquarium. Did you know Monaco is less than one square mile total? It’s tiny! Also, all the cars here are ridiculously expensive. I have never seen so many Ferrarris, Rolls Royces, Aston Martins, and Ferraris all on one block as I did today in front of the Hotel de Paris.

How to fight jet lag from US to Tokyo?

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I usually arrive at my parents’ house in Tokyo right before dinner. Flights arrive around 4, and it takes 2-3 hours to clear Narita and settle down at destination. I’m always starving. I eat, and immediately get sleepy. Last night we had a big feast—shabu shabu, sashimi, potato salad, white asparagus (in season!), sweet edamame, kimchee-and-squid, rice. Persimmons, figs, and nashi (Japanese pear) for dessert. I unpack/shower. Pass out at 10PM. And then, almost without fail, I wake up in the middle of the night and stay up and listen to the city sleep. In the dead of summer, you hear cicadas all night. Tonight, I heard some other critter chirping outside my window until about 5am.

I know it’s 5am because the first trains hit the tracks, and I hear them speeding across town and the house shakes just a little bit. It’s also right around the crack of dawn, so the room starts to light up. Then the mean crows start cawing and the newspaper guy comes around in his little moped and I hear him doing the stop-and-go around the neighborhood. Then my dad wakes up. And I start to get sleepy again, but I usually eat breakfast and stay up til about 4PM, when I take a super power nap, and stay sleepy throughout the night until about 2-3AM the next morning when I wake up and do the same thing.

After all these years of going back and forth, I still don’t have a good strategy to fight the brutal California-to-Tokyo jet lag. I’m open to tips!

Where’s Lisa? Surfing and Chasing Whale Sharks on Maui

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If you’re wondering why I haven’t been updating TokyoMango, it’s because I’m on vacation in Hawaii with the family. Yesterday, I learned how to surf. (I’m JUMPING off, not falling off, in this photo.) Today, we went on a little 2-hour snorkeling trip to Molokini, and were lucky enough to encounter a 30-foot whale shark! Whale sharks are the largest fish in the world. They don’t eat people, just algae and stuff. The captain of the ship—he grew up on Maui had never seen one before—told us to jump in and grab his fin, so I did. There’s something inexplicably amazing about chasing a giant creature through the middle of the ocean. I crave to do it again but I know it was a chance of a lifetime. Check out the video after the jump!

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10 Reasons Why Japanese People Should Emigrate to Brazil

I’m back home after a week in South America. What did I think? I think all Japanese should become Japanese-Brazilians. Here are 10 reasons why (in no particular order):

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1. The sunset in Rio kicks the sunset in Tokyo’s ass.

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2. Brazil has some of the coolest night clubs in the world. This
one, called Rio Scenarium, is a giant three-story building on the
oldest residential street in Rio. It’s filled with antiques, giant
comfy couches, live music, and porcelain dolls.

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A Quick Photo Tour of Sao Paulo’s Japanese District

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Hello from Sao Paulo! This is a great city. Eclectic food, awesome graffiti everywhere, soccer fans, lots of PDA, and a big-city vibe comparable to the kind you feel in Tokyo, Paris, and New York. Yesterday, our gracious hosts from Mouses took us to Liberdade, the biggest Japanese district outside of Japan. Very cool. I took lots of pics. Keep reading for a short photo tour.

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Where’s Lisa? I’m in São Paulo Looking for Lovefoxxx

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Yep, I’m off to São Paulo for a week—and hopefully taking a side trip to Rio and some jungly rain forests. Look! São Paulo kinda looks like Tokyo. Did you know it also has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan? There are about 1.5 million Japanese immigrants and descendants living in Brazil—more than in the US. And some of them are hot and talented! My two favorite Japanese-Brazilians are supermodel Juliana Imai and Lovefoxxx of CSS. CSS is a kickass indie-electro girl band from Sao Paolo that I’ve seen in concert a couple times in San Francisco. Pics after the jump.

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My Favorite Japanese Restaurant in the US

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I went back to Boston this weekend for the first time in years, and ate at my favorite Japanese restaurant in the country, Cafe Mami. I was surprised to read a bunch of mediocre reviews on Yelp, because I really think this is the best Japanese food outside of Japan. Maybe I’m biased because back in my college days, this was where I went when I was homesick. (It’s also where I got my inspiration on how to make karaage—fried chicken.)

But, whatever, Yelpers! I have my own blog where I get to profess whatever opinions I want and give it as many stars as I want, and I’m giving Cafe Mami 10 stars! I love it! The hamburger steak, the ginger lemon chicken, the green tea milkshake…it’s all perfecto.

Plus, I heard a rumor that it might be closing soon due to the owner’s personal reasons. So I’m really really glad I went to Boston this weekend, if only to get my last fix.

Where is Lisa? In NYC

If you’re wondering why the hell I’m not updating my blog as often as I should, it’s because I’m in NYC for the week. I am traveling with the family and working remotely, and running around town trying all the different new ramen joints that have opened up here since I left 3 years ago. I promise a roundup when I return from my urban scramble this weekend, plus a review of the 70s gay sex scene photography exhibit in Chelsea, more crazy new products that will make your life much easier, and my two cents on the prime minister’s resignation.

So stay tuned!

China Airlines Update: They Repainted the Plane

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Look! They painted the plane! Embarrassed and shamed by the negative media coverage that has been bombarding the brand since the post-landing explosion yesterday, China Airlines hired some painters to paint over the plane’s logo to make it a generic white aircraft. I don’t know why it makes a difference, since pics of the original wreckage are all over the news already anyway. But whatever. The airline’s official stance is this: "We followed international procedures. We do not have detailed information."

Smart.

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Related article: China Airlines Plane Explodes in Okinawa

Tokyo Beach Guide

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Dying from the scorching sweaty heat yet? Last summer, I wrote a feature for Metropolis showcasing some of the best beaches accessible from Tokyo. The Kanto area actually has some cool beaches despite the pollution and gray sand.

P.S. News today reports that over the last two days, 18 people drowned to death across the nation at beaches and rivers. Be careful!

Read Life’s a Beach