Saturday, July 29, 2006

new photos on flickr

Some of my favs .. more on the flickr account

digital cameras and kimonos

So you're passing from a pretty normal side street in Ueno after a good meal at 11pm, and all the doors seem either closed or on the verge of closing. Then out of nowhere you see 5 girls taking photos of each other and making a bit of a noise. Quite an attention grabber no? That's what happened to us. The girls were wearing kimonos and Brian thought of taking a picture with these girls. Not a bad idea at all - at the time it sounded a good way of showing our relatives and friends that "hey we're in japan!". So we ended up taking pictures with these girls, who turned out to be chinese actually. So that's not exactly a japanese experience..

At some point, I asked one of the girls (who seemed much better at communicating in english than the rest), about what they're doing around at this hour. After all, it seemed quite strange that these "students" were out at this hour partying. She told me that they were at this bar - and I asked about the bar - "any good?" - answered with "alcohol". Like hmm .. ok - that's always a good answer. Since they saw that we were interested, they asked us if we would like to join them inside and, not knowing what was in store for us, we agreed. They took us by the hand, and in a blink of an eye we were inside a small cosy bar sitting by a small table. A lady by the bar seemed to know the girls - in fact she spoke to them and the result was a whiskey bottle in the middle of the table. So it was Brian, I, a whiskey bottle and a few chinese girls ... in Japan of course.

But that's not the whole story - they asked us 10,000 yen (lm30), which is a bit more expensive than we were hoping. Ofcourse we protested that we only wanted one drink, not a whole bottle. That's when the truth emerged - the 10,000 yen is not for the alcohol, but for 1 hour of company. The 1 hour of company wouldn't have been as bad, if it wasn't the case that none of the girls could have a proper flowing conversation in english. In fact, trying to reach an agreement was very difficult due to constant communication breakdowns. After a lot of discussion, the girls agreed that we were not advised before that we'll have to pay for their company or that the price was 10,000 yen. We went out without paying nothing - not even for a glass of whiskey that they poured for us. That was pretty good actually.

As soon as we got out, we saw other girls in front of other bars taking photos of each other with either a mobile or a digital camera.. deja vu!

Friday, July 21, 2006

postcards from kyoto

Quick post - Below are a few of the photos taken at Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine, a beautiful and inspiring location. More photos can be found on flickr.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

When to use chin-chin and when to use kanpai

When you're at the other end of the earth, you're easily forgiven for making some remarks which can sound rude or plain offensive to the locals. "Chin-chin" for example, seems to have other meanings other than the plain old european drinking salute. So if you don't want to have reactions over the table, avoid using that word in Japan, and instead use "Kanpai" which is the Japanese equivalent to "Cheers!". If on the other hand, if you like the shock value of it all, then using "Chin-chin", especially loudly, will probably raise a few eyebrows because "chin-chin" in japanese stands for "penis".

Even though we learnt this through trial and error, I made some research and found this funny reference:
"Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin"

That's the same night that we tried the monjayaki dish. This is how it looks like on certain occasions:

self portrait

A photo on our way out after visiting the Mori Art musuem. The Tokyo City view is incredible,;today was rather foggy and the photos didn't come out well. We also went to an African art exhibition which was extensive, and finally the "Pixar: 20 Years of Animation" exhibition. Seeing the storyboards, a look at the process behind the work that goes into a Pixar animation and the genius of John Lasseter was eye-opening.

would you like some engrish with that green tea?

Engrish (broken english) is everywhere in Tokyo. I guess it's similar in the rest of Japan. I personally like it - it adds style in a way. Wikipedia has quite a neat introduction to the subject and the website Japundit has posts a pictures of engrish signs quite often.

Anyways, here's some of our captures featuring this phenomenon

uploaded new photos on flickr

I should be enjoying Roppongi life, but instead I'm in the hotel looking at my photos, fixing the colors and uploading away on flickr. These are some of my favourite posts:

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Sony DSC-T30 mini review

I admit, I have a weakness for well-designed, stylish gadgets: Apple, Sony, etc. The main reasons I bought the Sony DSC-T33 were the beautiful brushed aluminium case, large 2.5" LCD screen and the good picture quality. A nice bonus is the ability to record movies limited only by the free space left on the Memory Stick.

There is only one major problem - the DSC-T33 is frankly unuseable at night and low light conditions.

The recently released DSC-T30 loses the brushed aluminium, gets a plastic black/silver job, 7.2 megapixels, an amazing 3" LCD screen (brighter and crisper), an extended ISO range from 80 to 1000, longer battery life due to the bigger type-R battery and the handy ability to zoom while shooting movies.

All lovely but as useful as a chocolate teapot if the night time performance were to be as bad as the DSC-T33. Luckily it isn't. I don't know what Sony told their engineers (maybe to go out and get some night life?) but the night time performance is orders of magnitude better.

BTW, did I mention that awesome 3" screen?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

blog update - more content

So we're uploading images on a flickr account. Check out it out.
If you're into rss, subscribe to our feed (if that doesn't work try this one instead).

Some pictures from the flickr page:

Akihabara is dead...

at night, with only few people milling around. So Monday evening we headed for Okachimichi in search of The Wild Celt which had been mentioned in the Rough Guide. On Sunday and Monday eve most places close at midnight.

We did eventually find the place.

At 5 minutes to midnight.


On our way out a helpful Japanese directed us to another place close by which stayed open till 1. Called Hub - English Pub its got a nice atmosphere and even though the kitchen was closed our charm (ahem) was enough to convince the waitress to make an exception. Both pubs are foreigner-friendly, i.e., staff understand basic English.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Electric City

Akihabara - such a creative use of electricity and space I have yet to see. We woke up Monday morning, had a Japanese style breakfast (more on that in another post) and then walked down to Akihabara. The ryokan where we are staying is close to Akihabara being situated just two blocks away.

You will find any gadget you want. And you will find it at different prices. The big shops will invariably have charge a higher price. For example, I saw the Sony DSC-T30 priced ¥47,000, ¥49,000 and ¥53,0000. So our advice is to look around. Having said that, we found cosistently low prices at Sofmap. Sofmap have at least 2/3 stores scattered around Akihabara one of which is a Mac-only store :)

One interesting fact is that Mac prices are the same at all the shops we've seen. So if you're gonna buy a Mac (and we highly recommend you do; yes, even you Linux fans out there), just go to the Mac Store and do your bit for Apple's market share.

You need two things to visit Akihabara: money and your passport. Ask the shop if they have a duty-free price and show them your passport. The 5% saved can then be spent more usefully on sake or beer ;)

Be warned, the prices may be low but certain items may be in Japanese only. For a laptop that may not be a problem, a digital camera may be something else.

Lots of walking and the weather, which is hot and humid, took their toll and in the afternoon we stopped for some food and Asahi. So far, food has always been from good to excellent and prices are not expensive ranging from ¥1,000 ($8 / Lm3) to ¥2,000.

Monday, July 10, 2006

akihbara and the toilets

Even in the dull flat low-saturation light, Akihabara still manages to somehow look both colorful and lively. Full of electronic shops all trying to grab your attention, Brian and I got lost in loads of camera equipement, notebooks, mac shops and other goodies.

However after a long day in the humid warm weather, you'll feel the need for a refreshment, and probably will eventually need to dehydrate - i.e. go to the bathroom. That's what I did, and was welcomed by the sight of a high tech toilet such as the one below. Of especial fun is the spray button - I wonder what happens if you increase the pressure!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Tough look

Your friendly neighbours in Ueno. Saw this near the Ryokan where we're living for these 5 days. It's actually funny because it looks like a caricature of the local people trying to look brave. Graphic is everywhere in the area. Posted by Picasa

fresh and variety .. wouldnt you like some? Posted by Picasa

funky cars in japan! Posted by Picasa

wardrobe at the ryokan Posted by Picasa

Friday, July 07, 2006

preparing for a long flight (part 2)

Further advancements in the packing up business:

Thursday, July 06, 2006

gairaigo - borrowing words

While I've been trying to pick up words in japanese, I've also been noticing how many english words somehow end up as part of the japanese language. The name for these words is gairaigo - meaning "borrowed word". Here are some of the funnier sounding gairaigo:

Notice any others which sound funny? A nice list can be found on wikipedia.
You know that you've been on that wikipedia page for long enough, when people start giving you weird looks as you try to pronounce some of those words ;-)

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

cheap phone calls when you're abroad

The concept of communication, for most people over 40, tends to stop at phone calls. And at times, it really does. I mean - admit it - chatting on MSN or an email isn't anything near a phone call when you need to interact. Of course there's the video conference thingie - but that's a bit too intrusive if you know what I mean. Apart from the setup costs - you have another issue called privacy. For example - did you ever pick up a call while you're in your underwear? I do it on a daily basis.

So I decided to check out how mobile phone "roaming" would work. I did what anyone else would do - call Vodafone Malta customer care. They were very helpful - providing me with information on how to make a connection from Japanese Vodafone to Maltese phone numbers and so on. Basically it works by making use of the callback feature.
So you dial *121* then the number (in the case of maltese numbers it starts with 00356 the international calling code) followed by a #. Then you get disconnected and you wait for your mobile phone to start ringing. If you decide to answer the call, it should then (hopefully) connect you to the other party.

Then the customer care support went on to tell me about the tariffs:
That is expensive.

A few questions later, I found out that I'll need a 3G phone even though Vodafone Japan says that it supports GSM. *sigh* It's starting to sound too complicated. I don't have that.

So I've been reading about Skype and Gizmo and all that.A bit of price comparison:
Comparing phonecall prices
service providerlandline call to maltamobile call to maltalandline call to japanmobile call to japan

At this stage, I guess I know what I want to use ;) Besides, everyone's quite familiar with Skype. Of course, a laptop is not as handy as a mobile. The name says it all. So 10 Euros later (actually 11.50), and I'm testing it out. Sounds good - even literally - considering everything.
So .. what about these funky Windows mobile devices with wifi? Adding that to the "wanted" list.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

preparing for a long flight (part 1)

First things first - and in this case the first thing is a very long flight from Malta to Japan. Actually we'll be stopping at Heathrow London Airport because there is no direct flight to Japan. So that takes around:

Malta - Heathrow flight 3:30hrs
Standby time at Heathrow 4hrs
Heathrow - Narita flight 11:30hrs

A little bit of calculation .. 19hours; of which a good number of them we'll be bored, unless quite well prepared. So I've been stocking up my hardware with good software to fill up my time.

These are some of the things I've done:

What's left picking up ?

In the end, I guess sleep will prevail.

have ticket will travel

A ticket indeed... to geishas, kabuki theatre, Akihabara, Zen gardens and lots and lots of sushi!

We will, ofcourse, be going against a ton of advice and traveling to Japan in July when its hot and humid. Just like Malta in fact! We thought of postponing the trip but then madness took over :)

Regarding preparations: I still need to sort out my luggage and things to keep me occupied during the long flight to Narita. I am afraid that a laptop would turn out to be nuisance so it will have to either be a good, long book or sleep.

Or both.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

a week to go

A week to go for the Japan trip, and I'm finally realizing that I
should be preparing myself for some real world experiences. First step it seems, is to approach my room's door - with caution of course.

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