Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Focus on da Lotus....

So, after getting in late from Seoul (post in progress), I decide to get up at the crack of dawn to go see some lotus blossoms with some great women that I met through my rice cake volunteering.  We met at 5:45 (yes, you can be properly impressed), which was very difficult.  I have to say though, it was most definitely worth it.  

There is this sea of huge lily pads in Ueno Koen and hidden amidst all the green are these gorgeous pink blossoms.  It was beautiful and I  wanted to share it with you.  

Until next time...Jenn


is worst than a broken shoe - a broken shoe while on the subway midway to my destination.  Let's just say that there was no flip but a lot of flop.  It was an experience to say the least.  Unlike home, you can't just hop into a store and grab some new shoes....they don't have my size.  As you can see, some repair was attempted, but to no avail.  

Until next time...Jenn

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Baseball is the same everywhere, right?

I've been meaning to post this for a while now, but it can round out my blogging trifecta tonight...

We went to a Yakult Swallows baseball game a few weeks ago.  There are two teams in Tokyo - the Swallows and the Yomiuri Giants.  I think the Giants could best be compared to the Yankees - biggest payroll, big name stars, play in the Tokyo Dome, etc.  I think the Swallows are probably more like the Cubs or the Rangers.  I think there are about 16 teams in Japan and generally each one has at least one foreigner - either a hot, up and coming rookie or some fading star.  Bobby Valentine is GM for one of the teams.  I think my favorite named team (we didn't see a game when we were there) is the Hiroshima Carp.  They play in Zoom Zoom Stadium (Mazda's HQ is near there).

The Swallows play in a smaller, outdoor ballpark in the middle of the city not too far from where we live.  We went to a Sunday evening game with some friends, paid about $15/seat to sit in the general admission bleachers and took it all in.

So how is it different...
  1. The only real difference in the game is that it moves much faster.  There is much less jacking around by the pitcher, batter, catcher, etc.  US MLB could learn something here.
  2. Much like planes, trains, festivals, etc. people tend to bring their own food.
  3. Unlike at home, where each stadium will normally have an "official" beer, you can pretty much get any brand here.  And it is frequently distributed by a young girl in some kind of brand-related outfit (see the pics).  Many of them are carrying little kegs on their backs and distribute a draft beer to you on the spot.  It's probably cheaper here than at home.  No tipping - it's Japan after all.
  4. No chipwichs that I saw.
  5. Fans are into it.  The crowd could best be compared to European soccer.  Most people are there to watch the game.
  6. Songs.  When the home team is at bat, the partisans break out into each player's song and each one is different.  They are in Japanese of course, but there is a guy on the Swallows from Canada (I also learned the play baseball in Canada).  His song starts with "Oh Canada..." and goes from there.
  7. The road team's fans travel.  There was a huge section supporting the visiting team (can't recall who they are, but does it really matter?) but there were a bunch of them there.  They sang their team's songs when they were batting.  Our friends were saying it is huge when the Giants play the Swallows.
  8. In the game listings, the home team is listed first (opposite of the US).
  9. They have a dance team that goes out and dances during batting changes.  They are not cheerleaders (certainly by US standards).  They reminded me more of the ice girls at Dallas Stars games... something nobody is really going to complain about, but not really part of the game.
  10. Condiment distribution is different here... take a look at the slideshow.  And the mustard is different (I dare say better)... it has wasabi or horse radish in it so it has a kick.
  11. The 7th inning stretch is a bit different.  Each team's fans break out some sort of prop (for the Swallows, they are umbrellas that seemed to come from nowhere) and sing some special song.  It's kind of a "what is going on" moment.
So all in all, a very fun experience.  

It's not hot here, it's just you.

I think we've posted some items here regarding how formal things are here and how dressed up people generally are around here.  It's not uncommon to see guys wearing suits on the weekend, women very well put together even on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, etc.  We generally feel (or felt - we've gotten over it) conspicuous wearing our shorts an t-shirts when it's 85 degrees out.  As part of that, I have to wear a suit to work October through May.  In between, we go business casual (i.e., no ties and jackets).

So what happens in June you ask?  Well that is when "CoolBiz" kicks in.   Here is a quick article from Newsweek regarding this phenomenon referred to as "CoolBiz."  The gist of it is that companies set the air conditioning at 82.4 degrees during the summer to reduce electric usage and save a salamander somewhere.  I think 82.4 might be bearable if a) you were wearing shorts and t-shirts and b) you didn't have to walk from you apartment to the metro, or the metro was even well air-conditioned, or from the metro to your office/desk or c) you have a cold beer in your hand.  But you don't, so by the time you get to your seat you're pretty much sweating and you get to sit at your desk and continue to do so.  There is a big market for desk fans and small towels to dab your brow here... you would think that would be an indication that most people think 82.4 is too warm.

The other solution being marketed here is CoolBiz clothing... clothing made from special fabrics designed to make you feel cooler (or maybe not show pit stains as much, I don't know).  I think it's primarily a lot of synthetic, very thin fabrics.  For the guys you seeing wearing suits, the jackets are just the outer fabric with no lining at all.

Another article I saw said thousands of companies have signed on to the CoolBiz philosophy.  Not to be a cynic, but most companies that could justify turning the AC up to save some money would do so (electricity is much more expensive here than back home).  If you get to say you're reducing your carbon footprint by doing so, that's just a bonus.  I think that whatever the total savings are from going CoolBiz are more than offset by special CooBiz clothing, desk fans, little towels and lost productivity (lots of breaks to go buy ice coffee here - probably a separate blog entry).  I'm happy to be at a client right now that has a more reasonable temperature in the office because our office is just downright uncomfortable.

One more temperature note... I think Japanese generally prefer it warmer than Americans do, particularly Americans from Texas used to a comfortably cool chill in the summer.  Case in point - We flew Japan Airlines to/from Malaysia.  The flight back (overnight while you would really like to be sleeping) was by far the warmest flight I have ever been on.  I couldn't use the blanket because I would get hot with it.  Needless to say, I didn't sleep very well on the flight (normally not a problem).  But when you look around the cabin, there would be Japanese people bundled up like we would normally see on a flight in the US.  It's just kind of interesting how people perceive something so basic as temperature differently.

Worst recession since WWII...

Found that out from this CNN story.  Great time to be in Tokyo.  Anyway, I thought everyone might enjoy this:

Friday, July 3, 2009

A Return To Nature...

Okay, so yes for those of you that know me well camping is so not part of my vacation genre.  I am not into bugs or sharing a community shower or sleeping on the hard ground.  Luckily, our Japanese camping experience held little resemblance to what comes to mind when one mentions "camping".  

Tokyo is rainy and hot nowadays, so when one of our friends suggested that we get out of town to discover nature we were totally on board even though "camping" was mentioned.  Luckily, so called camping included these amazing cabins that had bathrooms and futon mats and pillows.  Needless to say, we weren't exactly roughing it.  It was a really fun weekend....we hiked and played board games and wii and beer pong.  Perfectly normal for a bunch of 30-something's.  Anyway, thought I'd let you know what we've been up to.  I hope that everyone is having a wonderful summer so far!

Until next time...Jenn