a The Transit Lounge: May 2010

Back in the Day: I had a quarter life crisis, headed to Osaka, Japan for the unknown–only to discover that a passport plane ride are not necessarily a ticket to escape. Some Years Later: Settled back in Oz, the man of my dreams ended up in Tokyo for work–which is how a passport and plane ride showed me home is where the heart is. And Now: Well as luck would have it, we are about to embark on Japan Mark 3, with a baby in tow and another on the way...

Monday, May 31

Hey Yuu!

My parents often host Japanese exchange students for home stay experiences associated with the University of Melbourne. We love having visitors and certainly make the most of their time in Melbourne. In fact, we often have friends of the student staying with us ask if they can swap home stay families or at least come stay with us for a nice or two.

About 2 years ago, we had a lovely young girl from just near Nara come stay with us. Her name was Yuu. You - and Yuu too - can probably imagine the mix ups we had when dealing with the English and Japanese languages.

Yuu, not you, became a dear friend to our whole family. In fact, last Christmas, my parents and I found ourselves in Osaka and invited Yuu to dinner. Yuu has a great sense of humour so the confusion her name can create in the English language is not lost on her, and probably not lost on you either.

So we put it to her. "Why Yuu?" She didn't miss a beat. "My mother wanted something that was easy to pronounce in English." She said this as she shrugged her shoulders with a "What can YOU do?" expression of resignation on her face.

Out of all the simple Japanese names...it had to be Yuu.

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Friday, May 28

Move Over Disney

One of the many places to visit at Ikspiari in Maihama:


Duff Beer for you, Duff beer for me..

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Thursday, May 27

Wining & Dining

In Tokyo, where the majority of restaurants and bars merely offer generic red and white wine by the glass or bottle, discovering Arossa put my troubled palate at ease. A small but cozy wine bar that overlooks a glistening Ginza from its eighth story setting, Arossa boasts a phenomenal wine selection, with over 150 different labels on the menu. With a New Zealand flag adorning the entrance and a stuffed-toy kiwi bird taking pride of place on the bar, it is no surprise to learn that all but a select few wines available at Arossa come from New Zealand.

Read more here...

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Tuesday, May 25

Haikyo Hunting

Ben and I are just starting to get into haikyo. That is, the exploration of abandoned sites in Japan, more commonly known as urban exploration. I was lucky enough to be able to write an article on Haikyo for the most recent edition of Weekender magazine.

The article can be found here: Haikyo: Abandoned Treasure. I spoke to two haikyo-ists, who have a number of expeditions under their belts, and the stuff they have seen is amazing. For more info, check out the article and also the websites of Michael John Grist and Florian's Abandoned Kansai.

Happy Haikyo-ing!

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Friday, May 21

Hachiko

Last night my husband and I watched the movie Hachiko, starring Richard Gere. In terms of storyline, it was probably one of the worst films I have ever seen. But is was also one of the most heart wrenching movies.

Based on the Japanese tale of Hachiko, an Akita dog born in 1923 who was owned by Professor Ueno. Hachiko and Ueno would walk together everyday to Shibuya station, where the professor would catch a train to work. Hachiko would then return at the end of the day to meet the professor's train so that they could go home together.

Professor Ueno died in 1925. Although his master was gone, Hachiko continued to wait for his him at Shibuya Station until his own death in 1935. That's 9 long, lonely years without his best friend.

A while back, a statue of Hachiko was erected at Shibuya Station in memory of Hachiko and Prof. Ueno. It is now one of the most popular meeting points in Tokyo, if not Japan.

The movie remained true to this part, except it was set in the mid-90s, with Richard Gere dying in 1998. Hachi waited another 10 years, refusing to go home. He slept at the rail station and was fed by the kindness of those people working at and using the station. By the end, it didn't matter that the story line was non-existent. I could barely see the TV through my tears!

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Thursday, May 20

The Strains of Softbank

Japan loves a mascot. Especially when it has an element of kawaii. This explains the national obsession with Shiroi, Softbank's mutt mascott. It does not explain what Shiroi is doing on a toilet paper roll though. Softbank is a keitai (mobile/cell phone) company afterall.


And if you press the orange sticker on his paw (see above photo), Shiroi will talk you to you as you go about your toilet business.

I think Shiroi would give me stage fright.

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Wednesday, May 19

Holy Moly!

I spotted this bar in Roppongi on Saturday night:

I am not entirely sure I have seen these two words put together in the English language before but I like it.

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Tuesday, May 18

Pet Paradise

Next to Oedo-Onsen in Odaiba is this little doggy day spa: "Dog Petit Resort".


Just because you are off getting hot sand treatments having spa baths with your mates doesn't mean your pets should miss out! Note the sake bottle in the top photo. What a couple of booze hounds!

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Monday, May 17

Tokyo Night Cruising

Last night, Ben and I cruised above Tokyo, with Helicopter Night Cruising. Lucky us, Ben won 2 tickets in a competition at work. We opted for the "Diamond Course", which left from Minatomirai Heliport near Maihama Station, and took us on a 20 minute, breath-taking flight over this vast, neon capital. The helicopter itself was a comfortable 8-seater and the pilot spoke both Japanese and English. In fact all of the staff spoke great English and the 10-minute safety video we had to watch before boarding included English subtitles to tell us to stay away from the blades...

The best part was picking out and identifying what we saw below us before the pilot actually told us. We saw Disneyland, Akihabara, Tokyo Dome, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Roppongi, Tokyo Tower, Rainbow Bridge and...our very own apartment, which was a nice surprise. You could see it very clearly because Ben had left all the lights on...joke.

I haven't attempted to edit any photos yet, so here they are RAW.

The edge of Tokyo Bay, with Kasai Rinkai Koen Ferris Wheel in the back ground, and Disneyland in the foreground.

Boo-ya...Shibuya!

Tokyo Dome, lined with electric blue lights.

Sumida River (I think!).

Back at the heliport.

It was amazing, and a great opportunity for me to test out my Canon Eos 550D. As I am very new to this camera, I didn't dare change the settings once we were up and away, so all pics shown above were taken RAW with the following settings: ISO: 6400, aperture: f/3.5, shutter speed: 1/15.

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Friday, May 14

Feeding Time

It was time to feed the fish at Odeo Onsen Monogatari...



It tickled so much. Dad, you would not like this at all!

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Thursday, May 13

Hands Off My...

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Wednesday, May 12

Finding Flipper

About 2 weeks ago, there was a Hawaiian Fair at Odaiba. And this is what they had welcoming people at the train station:

Don't they understand that any dolphins found in Hawaiian theme parks probably came from "The Cove" town of Taiji anyway?

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Monday, May 10

Bar What?

Just another bar in Shinsaibashi, Osaka...


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Friday, May 7

Saving Face


In recent weeks I have been a part of a number of specific instances in Japan where "saving face" has taken precedence (for the Japanese person involved) over common sense, logic and simply being nice.

I will talk about the one example I am able to: SMBC - our bank - losing our ATM card.

Talk about going around in circles. We handed both our bank book and ATM card to the teller after she told us we had to do our transaction with her at the ATM. She got up from her desk, walked around the bank getting the relevant forms (yes to do ATM transactions here you still need to fill out forms!) and 90 seconds later when she returned, it was minus the ATM card.

So I asked her where it was. She looked at me blankly. I asked her again. Blank stare number 2. I explained that I gave her both the bank book and ATM card. She said "Really?" and implied I should check my things and Ben should check his. I implied she should check where she walked, under her desk, under her computer...all the logical places. Instead she starts opening up her drawers and checking them when she never even opened them to begin with. Finally we convince her to re-trace her steps. I then picked up her computer, began checking under her piles of paper and generally started doing what she should have been doing.

This just kept going round and round and round. The bank manager got involved and implied to my husband that he should go home and check for the card because the bank teller was too scared to tell him she had lost it and chose to blame the foreigners. My husband insisted she lost it. The manager looked at him like he was crazy and then said we would have to pay to order a new one. My husband refused to pay for it, seeing as the bank lost it. All this while the teller sat silently not actually ever saying that yes, she was at fault. If she had have said this, then we would not have minded the inconvenience so much. It was just that she let it get to the stage where the manager blamed it on us and was convinced we were the idiots.

Finally my husband convinced them to issue us a new card without us having to pay.

It is these sorts of things that I will not miss about Japan. I come from a working background that would prefer you to own up to your mistakes and start working on a resolution rather than try and hide behind an excuse. And generally, the people you deal with prefer this type also. It is viewed as a strength, not a weakness.

Yet the Japanese not taking responsibility for their actions or roles and instead becoming indignant - to the point of being rude about it - until I/we give them an "out" so that they can save face, absolves them from any wrong doing which I don't necessarily think it always the best business practice.

At least with the bank, I can understand a bit better as to why they responded as they did to losing our card - the majority of time they are dealing with the Japanese community who will reciprocate in the correct Japanese manner. But for those Japanese who operate within an international field/market, I believe they must work on adopting a more liberal approach because in the end, as well all know, it will only work against them.

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Thursday, May 6

Oooooooh Saka!


"Cause I'm leaving on a jet plane,
Don't know when I'll be back again..."

Saying goodbye to Osaka for the second time in my life. As I have said to others previously, I could find my way around this city blindfolded. Being here is just as comfortable to me as wearing my pajamas around the house. To me, Japan is Osaka. Osaka is Japan. I love Tokyo to pieces but her Kansai connection is really at the heart of it all. I know it isn't the last time I will ever see the electric life of the Dotonbori but it is hard when you don't have any time indication of when that will be.

The Big O. See you around like a fruit loop.

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