a The Transit Lounge: September 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...

Tuesday, September 28

Baby Fat

It's not over 'til the fat baby sings...

(Image found on

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Tuesday, September 21

Celebs Above the Law

Celebrity FAIL!

Steve Jobs, you may be "Mr Apple", but in Japan, you're just presumed to be a dirty, evil doing, law-breaking foreigner like the rest of us! Only, you actually took it a step further than the rest of us, by turning that presumption into a reality.

While on vacation in Japan this past July, Steve decided to pick himself up some Shuriken, Japanese Ninja throwing stars. When heading home via Kansai International Airport, instead of packing these stars into checked in luggage, Steve decided to keep these deadly weapons in his carry on.

Awesome decision.

Apparently, he then threw the hissy fits of all hissy fits at airport security and said he would never return to the country. Apple at first said nothing and then, upon realising how much of their market lies in Japan, issued a statement saying this never happened, and that Steve loves Japan and he can't wait to get back - to presumably collect his stars and throw them at airport security.

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Friday, September 17

Homesick for Japan

This time lapse video of Japan is very, very cool - and makes me wish I was there right now...

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Wednesday, September 15

Food For Noosa Thought

With only about six weeks to go until the Noosa Tri, it's all about food...

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Tuesday, September 14

Rugby, Australia, Japan and Inbetween

Woohoo - the Melbourne Rebels will be doing a playing tour of Japan in November, as reported by Fox Sports. They will come up against Suntory Sun Goliaths, one of the best teams in the Japanese Top League division.

And did I mention I had an article titled Kamikaze Rugby published in this month's edition of Inside Sport? (It's in the red circle below...). It's clearly a "must buy" issue.

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Friday, September 10


I can identify with the image below:

Sometimes taking out the trash in Japan is all too much.

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Wednesday, September 8

Odd Spot

Todays "Odd Spot", courtesy of The Age.

"Japanese police have arrested a robber who wore a nappy on his head as a makeshift balaclava. He was identified when he took off to breathe while running away."


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Monday, September 6

Rugby Rag

I know every man, lady and their Tweets are commenting on this at the moment...but so am I.

Not only did Stephanie Rice's comments shock me, I can't believe that as a professional athlete she would say something like this. Would she say that to a person she beat in the pool?

You speak to any professional footballer, and both on and off-field, they all have the highest respect for each other, as I am sure swimmers do too. And this is always evidenced in their behaviour as soon as a match is over. After the game in question, between the Wallabies and The Springboks this past weekend, Victor Matfield was one of the first to congratulate the winning team and it's always handshakes and hugs as the teams leave the field.

I am just super-surprised that an elite athlete would behave in this way, when Ms. Rice of all people would know that ragging on the loser - and in such an offensive manner - is not what sport's about.

There is such a thing as being a bad winner.

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Wednesday, September 1

Real Men in Hotel Trysts with Virtual Girlfriends

As my husband would say this is a real "That's Japan, Baby!' moment. The following article appeared in the online Wall Street Journal today...no wonder the Japanese birth rate is down.

ATAMI, Japan—This resort town, once popular with honeymooners, is turning to a new breed of romance seekers—virtual sweethearts. Since the marriage rate among Japan's shrinking population is falling and with many of the country's remaining lovebirds heading for Hawaii or Australia's Gold Coast, Atami had to do something. It is trying to attract single men—and their handheld devices.

In the first month of the city's promotional campaign launched July 10, more than 1,500 male fans of the Japanese dating-simulation game LovePlus+ have flocked to Atami for a romantic date with their videogame character girlfriends.

The men are real. The girls are cartoon characters on a screen. The trips are actual, can be expensive and aim to re-create the virtual weekend outing featured in the game, a product of Konami Corp. played on Nintendo Co.'s DS videogame system.

"Atami has always been a romantic place, but it is now a romantic place for a modern generation," says Sakae Saito, Atami's mayor.

Love Plus+ re-creates the experience of an adolescent romance. The goal isn't just to get the girl but to maintain a relationship with her.

After choosing one of three female characters—goodie-goodie Manaka, sassy Rinko or big-sister type Nene—to be a steady girlfriend, the player taps a stylus on the DS touch-screen in order to walk hand-in-hand to school, exchange flirtatious text messages and even meet in the school courtyard for a little afternoon kiss. Using the device's built-in microphone, the player can carry on sweet, albeit mundane, conversations.

If the real-life Romeo earns enough "boyfriend power" points—by completing game tasks like homework or exercise to become smarter and more buff—the reward is a virtual trip to Atami.

In the game, the couple tours the local landmarks. The girlfriend changes into a yukata, a casual summer kimono, to go see the fireworks, and then they stay overnight at the Hotel Ohnoya. It is known for its cavernous, white-columned baths in the style of Ancient Rome.

In his first visit to the real-life Atami, Love Plus+ gamer Shunsuke Kato planned to walk around the city and see the sights familiar to him from playing the game. One small hitch: his girlfriend, Manaka, was giving him the silent treatment.

She was upset that he had been so busy at work that he had been playing the game only 10 minutes a day. "On days off, I spend one to two hours with her. I guess, compared to the people who come here, our relationship is a bit lukewarm," said Mr. Kato.

Located at the bend of the Japanese archipelago and a one-hour train ride from Tokyo, Atami has definitely seen better days.

The number of overnight visitors has dropped by half from the peak in the late 1960s. The main shopping area has many boarded-up storefronts—a lot of them defunct bars, clubs and other remnants of the city's heyday as an entertainment mecca.

The city is going all-out to indulge ardent Love Plus+ fans.

At the real Hotel Ohnoya, which opened its doors in 1937, the staff is trained to check in Love Plus+ customers as couples even if there is only one actual guest. Says Atsurou Ohno, the hotel's managing director, "We try not to ask too many questions because we want them to be able to remain immersed in that game world."

Some devoted fans will go so far as to pay twice the rate—most hotels in Japan charge per guest not per room—to indulge the fantasy that they are not there alone. A night's stay, at most, can cost $500 though many rooms are cheaper.

In Atami, the Love Plus+ fans—mostly men in their twenties and thirties—stand out. Unlike the deeply tanned beach crowd wearing very little, they are often pasty and overdressed for the heat in heavy jeans and button-down shirts.

Tatsuya Fukazawa, a 19-year-old college student, was visiting Atami for the first time on a recent weekend. In a small waist bag, he carried his Nintendo DS. Once he turned on the device, his virtual girlfriend Manaka Takane—a Libra who enjoys making pastries—greeted him in a syrupy sweet voice.

"There isn't a lot of romance in my life and this helps me cope with some of the loneliness," said Mr. Fukazawa with a chuckle.

Adding real elements to the virtual relationships is central to the Love Plus+ series. The games can be synched up to an actual calendar and clock, which means playing the game too late at night might mean that the virtual girlfriend is already asleep. Players are expected to remember important dates like birthdays and holidays.

Local businesses are feeling the love.

Yamadaya, a shop selling processed fish cakes on Atami's main shopping street, started offering special Love Plus+ fish cakes at the end of July. On top of a rubbery square white cake about the size of piece of toast, Yamadaya draws the characters' faces using black squid ink. At 450 yen ($5.30), the store has been selling out its daily allotment of 150 cakes—50 for each girl.

Korean barbecue-inspired restaurant Hien says a quarter of its customers are currently game-related. For 5,000 yen, customers get a special Love Plus+ menu of Japanese beef and side dishes.

Kanji Nagasawa, Hien's owner, says he is accustomed to making small talk with customers, but the Love Plus+ crowd often sits in silence and plays the game while eating.

"We've been stunned," Mr. Nagasawa said, "how happy this makes those customers."

Alas, the boom ends this month, when the imaginary characters have to go back to school.

Write to Daisuke Wakabayashi at Daisuke.Wakabayashi@wsj.com

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