died in the wool ______

To have no set purpose in one's life is the harlotry of the will -Stephen Mackenna-

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Death of an Architect

In my state of self pit yesterday, I forgot to mention that Kenzo Tange died.tocho01

Kenzo Tange was one of the Japan's first post World WarII architects. He was a major player in the metabolist movement, and educated other architects like Arata Isozaki, Kisho Kurokawa, and Fumihiko Maki. He designed famous buildings like the Hiroshima Peace Center and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building.hiroshima peace tange

I do think that Tange has made some really great buildings. His addition to the Minneapolis Institute of Art was always one of my favorite spaces growing up, and is a very nice contrast to the heavy classical architecture that the western half of the museum consists of.minneapolis01

But I criticize the contribution his group of metabolists made domestically to Japan. Tokyo, like many other parts of Japan, was devastated from the American fire bombings. They had a completely blank slate to start from, theoretically, and could develop tokyo in any direction. Many people saw the development of Japan as a way of creating a non-western modernism, and the metabolists chose an 'organic' method of growth as opposed to a strong structural one in the west. But 'organic' is simple a way of creating a euphemistic nomenclature for 'sprawl', and Tokyo's standard of living has suffered as a result in my opinion. Many architects, such as Frank Lloyd Wright, praised the different approach to development during the 1960's.

In retrospect, however, I think most would agree that the organic approach to development has caused more problems than solutions. I wrote a paper in a college archtiecture class about Kisho Kurokawa and one of his landmark buildings the Nakagin Capsule Tower. Whatever the purpose of this building, the aesthetic of the building strips away any humanity or sensitivity of architecture creating, as Le Corbusier would have wanted, a 'machine for living'.

At a recent architecture exhibit, I bought a fascinating book was for sale by the developer Mori, discussing the problems of Tokyo's post war developments. Roads are narrow, so delivery of goods and services is stunted and difficult. Expressways were built over rivers to leave room for other development, etc.

Architecturally, I do think Japan has refined the use of concrete as a material, and gone from the brutalism of the 60's to an beautiful at times seemingly religious in its minimalism.
Thank you Kenzo Tange, you left us with a mixture of architectural gems and fuctional urban chaos.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2005


Not in a very good mood today. A mystery loan payment sucked out the money I had saved for my labtop I was planning to by next month. Called parents, but wouldn't answer the phone, most likely screening their calls for solicitors old school style (the funny thing is I think they have caller ID). That and I really miss someone who I often feel like has forgotten I exist (I suppose that goes for most people on the North American continent that I know). I actually thought about uploading one of his friendster photos, but that is certainly crossing lines I think.

Today is one of those days where I want to go back to the US, and leave this country behind forever. In a different life, I'm in graduate school right now.

I consider myself an optimist (at least as far as my future is concerened), but even the optimist gets lonely, homesick, and culture shocked. Even sometimes all at the same time.


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Tuesday, March 22, 2005


I'll never forget right before I came over here the first time I was getting a haircut. The conversation turned to Japan of course, and he said 'well, hope you're ready to eat a lot of rice'.

Which is kind of true. You cannot, however, forget about the diversity of rice...products avaliable here. Let's begin.

Osenbe: Rice crackers, and no, as most educated people are already aware of, not those styrofome circles that your parents gave you when you were sick. These are crispy and come in such an array of flavors. Some of them are salty, some of them are sweet, some of them are spicy, some of them have soybeans in them. A great snack.

Mochi: Essentially pounded rice. Mochi is the centerpiece for assembly activities in schools. Kids pound the rice until it becomes a huge white ball. Then they often grill cubes of mochi in a brasier. One person fans the flame while someone else turns the cubes and slathers them with soy sauce. Recently my roommate and I have been making them in our fish grill, and they are also wonderful in Nabe.

Frying mochi is also wonderful.You would think this would taste just like osembe, but it is reasonably different. I've found the kind with soy sauce on it to be one of my favorite snacks.

Mochi is also used in the skin of Manju and Daifuku. Kyoto has a special traingular manju which is great, and around the streets of Kiyomizu temple, in the attempts this contry takes to automate everything, there are little machines that fold and cut the manju for sale. They are my favorite of all the manju avaliable.

another great traditional candy that is rice paper on the outside is botan-ame. They come in a box where all the cubes of the gummy candy are smooshed together, but don't stick because they are individually wrapped with edible rice paper. They're very mild, and a great snack to pick up.

Rice is also more than just a white staple here. In the west we have rice pilaf, in Japan they have maze gohan or chirashi zushi. They take seasonal vegetables (such as chestnuts, bamboo shoots, even edamame) and mix them in the rice. Japanese would NEVER put soy sauce on rice. If they aren't eating one of the two above, you have two options. The first is furikake; dried seaweed, fish flakes etc made in tons of combinations.Vegetarian ones are hard to find besides the plum ones. The second option is tsukemono, or pickles. If you ever order a bento, there will always be a small section for pickeled vegetables. My favorite is shibazuke, which is a mixture of many different vegetables and is purplish.

Yeay Rice!

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Saturday, March 19, 2005


What flavor are you?

what flavor pocky are you?

[c] sugardew

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Wednesday, March 16, 2005


I am experiencing my first bout with Hay Fever, Japanese Cedar style this year. Growing up I always had allergies to all sorts of things; dust, pollen, animal dander, and my worst, tabacco (this one was a blessing actually, I have a legitimate excuse for not being around smokers).

This would mean I'm used to what allergies do to you. But this hay fever was like nothing I've experienced. My sinuses hurt, and I had trouble breathing. Strange thing, I wasn't even sneezing.

There is supposedly many times more cedar pollen in the air this year, and even those who don't normally react (which I haven't the past 3 springs that I've been here) are being effected it seems. There's been all these images of cedar forests billowing clouds of pollen and folks with surgical masks on to keep the pollen out.

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Monday, March 14, 2005


I made the mistake of going to Akihabara this weekend (to see if there are macs for sale cheaper than at the mac store in ginza). On the way, I decided to pick something cheap for lunch.

The strange thing about this country is that genres of food I never eat in America are palatable here. American fast food is anathema to me (mostly because there's nothing I can eat there except french fries). Japan has a plethora of good fast food options, if that's your thing, and it isn't even grossly unhealthy (although it will cut into your budget a little bit).

Mos Burger
: The high end fast food joint. I was once told that Mos was supposed to a translation of the word 'moth'. They have great things like rice burgers. Last year they had a special that was, for fast food, amazing. It was a grilled katsu fish burger that was topped with a tomato sauce and bamboo shoots (takenoko). They often have very japanese flavored, fun seasonal specials like this. At around $9 dollars for the set (which includes a small fries and iced tea) and waiting for about 15 minutes, it kind of verges on being NOT fast food.

First Kitchen: First kitchen is good. they have lots of interesting choices for a fast food resturant. pasta, pizza, and as well as other 'burger' fare. My favorite is the fried shimp burger (ebikatsu). They also have great flavored fries (teriyaki, onion gratin, tomato chili, etc) and a wide variety of sauces that are more than just boring ketchup and mustard.

Lotteria: Originally a Korean company I believe (based on the Lotte group), they also have similar things to First Kitchen. One great thing I had there was a burdock root salad burger. so good.

Finally reached Akihabara, and forgot what a zoo of foreigner tourists and otaku it is. So many non-native speakers of English all trying to speak English and too much anime soft porn and people pushing used video games.The only thing mac I could find was ipods, and I've got one of those. Looks like it's Ginza for me.

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Friday, March 11, 2005

OO 10

Sure there's some screwed up English over here. Lots of us know about Engrish. One thing I've found to be quite strange is the use of Western names in the most bizarre places.  For example Nissan came pretty close to naming a car after me, and so did Subaru. This bike company finally got it right

There's also some screwed up Japanese/Chinese over there. Hanzi matter talks a lot about this. I bought a shirt like this when I was young and studying Japanese. Even after I found out what it meant, I still continued to wear it

Both sides see both languages as having a cool cache, and neither can understand why the other thinks their language is cool even when it's not used 100% correctly.

A lot of times I think they shouldn't even bother translating somethings. When I was visiting someone in Kyoto years ago, we were coming out of an underground bike garage. At the top of the steps was a sign that said 'please be careful on your way home'. There are so many times when simple formalities are just being said that there's often no point in putting them into English.

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Thursday, March 10, 2005


Wow, this blog is so aggresively funny it's funny. Caution, some parts are not office-safe viewing material (as I was scrolling down something 'unsafe' came up, and one of my coworkers was like 'woah, cool!')

This post is about Brigham Young University's one and only student protest. Can you guess what it is?

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I took the sex id test over at the bbc website. Apparently I have a female mind, which I think is bogus. First the test says I have a big vocabulary (meaning I could think of a couple synonymns for grey), which is apparently feminine. Frankly I think the test saw (man that likes men) and dumped me over in the ladies pile. Trying to instill the 'women do the cookin' and men do the fixin'' stereotype in today's world seems rediculous to me.

I'm also growing irritated with the International Herald Tribune. I know that it is pretty much a rehash of other newspapers, mainly the NYT and over here the Asahi Shinbun. But couldn't they use NEW news? I read the times online (which everybody has access to), and then not the next day, but SEVERAL DAYS later, the article pops up in the IHT. Some article about Jane Fonda's comeback even had huge color photos in it that took up half a page, which probably set them back a fair amount of cash. Can't they come out with things more timely?

One thing they can repeat forever, is the Calvin and Hobbes part of the comics. Very few things can make me laugh out loud, and this is one of them. Here's todays conversation:

Calvin: Most people don't know what it's like to be a child prodigy, so that's why . I'm writing my autobiography.
Hobbes: Does your magnanimity know no bounds?

Calvin: Genius has its obligations.

Watch out Mr. Watterson, using that many words must mean you have a feminine mind. Quick! Go tinker with your car to get some man points!

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Wednesday, March 09, 2005


Started taking this quiz for real, but then went back and answered all the pie questions.

This is the real one.

To be, or not to be?

What is Your Shakespearian Tragic Flaw?
brought to you by Quizilla

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Eating company bento everyday gets palatably exhausting after a month or so, and I find myself craving tomatoes, wheat, and cheese. Luckily, everyone can eat pasta. and over here Arrabiata is pretty much the standard (actually meat sauce is the standard, but I won't eat that. 

Now strangely growing up, my family never encouraged making one's own pasta sauce. what with the plethora of Muir Glenn and the like at my co-op why would you bother.

Pasta choices are somewhat less here (read meat sauce) and expensive (not paying $4 dollars for an 8oz jar of ragu) I started making my own. For best results, use the vacuum sealed boxes of tomatoes.

My Arrabiata:

1 can of whole peeled tomatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 (asian) eggplant
2 shitake mushrooms
1 dried red pepper
red wine, to taste
seasoned sea salt, to taste
thyme, to taste
basil (fresh if you've got it), to taste

drain tomatoes, saving juice in a seperate container, set aside.Cut eggplant into long thins cubes about 1cm wide. chop mushrooms.

In a frypan,heat olive oil, crush one clove of garlic. Immediately add eggplant, and saute until the eggplant becomes evenly saturated. Add mushrooms. There should be some residual oil in the pan

Add tomatoes crushing until sauce consistancy. crush remaining clove of garlic in sauce, and add salt, wine, thyme, and basil. With a scissors cut the red pepper and seeds into thin strips, and directly into the pan.

Put sauce into blender and pulse until the sauce is consistant but still chunky, return to pan. Add tomato juice until sauce is desired consistancy. Add 2 cups of pasta dirctly to pan combining sauce and pasta. serve.

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Tuesday, March 08, 2005


Japan is well known for taking existing things, changing them, and making them better.

Unfortunately not every thing they change is a change for the better.

For example,外来語 gairaigo or loan words. These are words that are foreign based and usually written in katakana.

A simple one would be テストtesuto, or test. Very little change has been made from the original meaning of the word.

Where everybody gets into trouble is when Japanese people take a seemingly English word and start changing the meaning.

A word that became popular recently is アイドリングストップ aidoringustoppu or idling stop. This is essentially a term which describes parking your car with the engine on, and sitting inside with the ac/heat cranked and watching tv in your car, rampant in Japan where houses are not much bigger than some cars with no central heating.

Some words that are quite popular among my coworkers right now are フォロー(forou, follow) and プラスアルファ (purasu arufa, plus alpha)

they usually use 'follow' as a verb. For example if I ask someone if a press release is ready, they will 'follow' and contact the appropriate person for me to see if the release is ready or not.

Plus alpha, although not immediately obvious when used in context, means an addition of a unnamed variable of an unassigned amount. The person who runs our weekly departmental meetings said it in a meeting yesterday. I've heard it used so many times, that I just didn't know exactly what it meant.

Many Japanese people think that gairaigo is interchangable with english (and many ugly foreigners think the opposite is true by putting english words in their speech assuming that the Japanese person will understand what they are saying. . This can be a problem because when written and spoken, gairaigo is much longer than most Japanese words.(for example 試験 shiken is test in Japanese and is only two characters, while テスト is 3. To accomodate this they often abbreviate gairaigo by using the first two katakana of each word. for example playstation us プレーステーション , but it can be abbreviated to just プレステ (puresute)

Somewhat similar is company's internal acronymns. Western companies are probably the same, but when a company division has a long name they abbreviate. For example, the R&D lab in Japanese's full name is 先端総合研究所  but internally it's abbreviated to 先端総研 , which to me at first meant absolutely nothing. Also a translator has to be concerned about the official English title of all these departments. the R&D lab is not simply the R&D lab, you must translate it corrently, otherwise it will really complicate things.

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Friday, March 04, 2005

snow and city senden

The buzz at the office before going home yesterday was

'be careful on the way to work tomorrow, it's supposed to snow'

Now, being from a place where winter closes schools and bursts pipes, I tend to take most peoples comments on winter with a grain of salt.

But when I woke up this morning, it was like I was in Minneapolis in January. On the way to my station, as Japan has no snow removing municipalities, there were taxi's with snow tires, and people futily trying to move the snow with various different non-shovel things like dust pans and push brooms. I've never seen snowtires except for in the mountains of Nagano and Kumamoto.

Also, to follow on somewhatatlanticpacifics's comments on subway ads There is a great poster series in the subway (sorry the only stuff I could find is in Japanese and has no images) encouraging Japanese people to end their notorious overseas vacations, and spend some time in their fair city of Tokyo. For example one poster says 'I quit going to New York' (ニューヨーク行くのは止めた)and it shows a picture of Shinjuku Gyoen in what is supposed to be a comparison to Central Park. Another one reads 'London pubs are 'cool' (simple and refined?), but Yurakucho's underguard bars are hard to dismiss (ロンドンのパブも渋いが有楽町のガード下も捨てがたい).

I really enjoy this ad campaign. While not all of it genuinely reflects the reality of the quality of the two things in compairson (I really don't think the Ginza clock tower is comparable to Big Ben, but I do admire them for making the comparison). I can attest to yurakucho underguard. This part of tokyo is mostly patronized by old businessmen, but in an attempt to find a bar that wasn't closed last week, we found a great yakitori resturant, and it's all based on Miyazaki! As one of my American friends who is still in Miyazaki was here, we had a great time! They have fresh grapefruit hi's.

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Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Birthday: Mayonaise & Ando Tadao

I took the day off from work on Monday, it being my birthday and all, and decided to go snowboarding up in Niigata again. Same shinkansen stop, but this time we went to a local train three stops from there to a place called the Joetsu International Ski Area (上越国際スキー場)

Like the last place, this ski area was relatively huge. it had a chain of lifts that all connected to an observation point. All of the buildings had a strange german architecture that stood out so much it was hard not to notice.

The ski area did not rent step in boards, so we went to a place just under the other side of the train tracks. Things did not start out so well there. Getting the owner to help us was like trying to get a sack of sugar to dance. He adjusted the settings, and didn't even bother to tell us whose board was which. Normally even people you meet at rental places are really attentive. Last time they invited us to sit by the stove and have takoyaki and tea.

Then a more chipper young guy came in to help us out. I noticed he had what looked like a small bottle of mayonaise hanging from the belt of his snowboarding pants. A lot of young folks are into having fake, small versions of products here that they hang from there cell phones school bags(ランドセル), so I assumed that this was the same. I asked him if it was fake, and he said no. I said to him 'Oh, so sometimes when your skiing, sitting on the lift, you just really want some mayonaise?' and was like 'yeah, that's right'. Can't help but think he was pulling my leg, but as we were taking the lift up, we bumped into him at the top, and there hanging from his belt was that mayonaise.

One thing I think it's easy to assume is that chalet food here would be pretty much the same as that, well, anywhere. Not true. Some of the most popular foods at the chalet here is curry and ramen. I had a tuna corn crepe (oozing with mayonaise, bleah)

The afternoon turned foggy and snowy, and while really getting down using both my edges, I had a tumble, landed on my neck, and there were stars and a crushing headache for the rest of the day.

In our hurry to get back to Tokyo for a Ando Tadao lecture, I forget to return my pants to the grumpy renter. He called on the three stop train ride to the shinkansen. The nice thing about train culture, is sometimes they will be your postman. I had a friend once in Tokyo who left his camera at one train station, and the attendants on the next coming train delivered it to him. In that vein, and the rental shop being only about 20 meters from the station, I asked if they wouldn't made taking them back for me. They kindly did. I wolfed down some crab soup and some agemochi and we were on our way.

I met another friend of mine in Ikebukuro for the Ando lecture. Seeing him in person was fascinating. When he did walk on stage, it really was like seeing a star. His voice is so raspy, and the way he talks makes it very evident that he is from Osaka. He talks in a somewhat humorous narrative that I find lacking from most people born in the Tokyo area.

So it was an enjoyable lecture. Still I couldn't help but feel that the lecture was a little too anecdotal and directionless. He posted pictures of his dog, and kind of thumbed his nose about how he was right about how japan should develop showing buildings he proposed in the 60's. Still, I find the elements of his buildings, like the rest of the world does, so beautiful in their minimalism. I feel he has made a rich and beautiful beton brute that most of Le Corbusier's buildings always lacked. The slides he showed of the neighborhoods with his buildings in them made me project a whole neighborhood of what ando buildings would look like. Probably tedious, but his buildings do have a place in the urban fabric of countries around the world, and should continue to be a permanant fixture and style around the world.

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One of the misunderstandings I think a lot of people I know (like my American friends who never actually say it, but think I sold my soul to work at a fortune 500 company) is that a company like mine pretty much ravages the planet, abuses employees and poor people around the world, and in general is a symbol of the enemy.

I guess in some ways this is true. Apparently someone who worked in my position a few years ago, stomped out the door never to come back after the bucho of our department kept calling him 毛唐 (ketoh). For those that don't know, this was a pejorative term for europeans and americans from the edo period but was also used during the war. Somewhat like the term 'jap' but much much worse. That bucho isn't here anymore, but I would probably also go postal (or leave anyway) if my supervisor was like 'ya finish that press release yet, whitey?'

But all that aside, my company does indeed do some very positive things. Speaking only of products, most of the power semiconductors that power the hybrid engine of the Toyota Prius are almost all made by Mitsubishi Electric. We also are a global leader in solar panel production. We have also recently created a process that eliminates VOC's, which aids in the reduction of green house gasses.

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