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Kozo's Thoughts
Random, Weird, and 100% 石黒光司
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Welcome to Kozo's Thoughts! As the name suggests, this blog is dedicated to my thoughts. This blog is basically a publicly available personal blog. It exists to amuse me in the future when I look back on things that I wrote. I generally write when I feel like, which is not often. I write about things that interest me at the moment, but I also I pander to my single digit audience to let them know how I'm doing. The open nature of this blog keeps me from being too personal, but I think there is a lot of value in keeping my (boring and self-serving) posts open for all. I'm open to all comments and criticisms, but please remember that I'm not really writing this thing to change the world.

Please feel free to a leave comment on any post. Also, please sign my guestbook.

Kozo's Thoughtsブログへようこそ!このブログは名前の通り僕のいい加減な考えを適当にまとめたものです。一応このブログは未来の自分が読んで楽しんでもらうために書いています。後は数少ない読者のために僕のアップデートをしています。あまりアップデートしていませんがせめて一ヶ月に一回は何か書こうとしています。エントリーのほとんどは誰でも読めるようになっています。なので、あまりプライベートなことは書いてありません。このブログは基本的には英語で書かせていただいています。日本語のはいっているエントリーはすべて日本語タッグがつています。このブログは僕のミクシィプロフィールの日記へシンディケートされています。

Saturday September 20th, 2014 2:08 - On Independence and Sovereignty
canada moose
The recent Scottish referendum has brought back my own memories of living through the 1995 referendum on Quebec independence. While I was too young at the time to understand the actual nuances of issues, I do vividly remember the emotions and tensions that were running through the Anglo Montreal community in which I was situated. Looking at the Scottish referendum results, I see parallels to the results of the 1980 Quebec referendum results. The results are clear but still close, and I wonder where things will move from here. Contrasting Lévesque's "concession" speech ("Si j'ai bien compris, vous êtes en train de dire, à la prochaine fois.") to Parizeau's "concession" speech ("On va parler de nous : à 60 pour cent, on a voté pour. [...] C'est vrai, c'est vrai qu'on a été battus, au fond, par quoi? Par l'argent puis des votes ethniques, essentiellement.") the intervening years were tough and ultimately pushed people further apart. I sincerely hope Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom can work though their differences without leading to the animosity I felt in 1995.
Wednesday September 3rd, 2014 18:37 - Hello again LiveJournal!
Ohta Kouzou
Just to expand further on my last post, I want a forum in which to write out some of my thoughts developed over the last few years. It would be nice to have a place to record my thoughts so I can look back onto them later. I think this journal is probably the best place since it has essentially served that function in the past. Also, based on the response to my last post my posts won't be thrown completely into the void and might be read by people I think are smart. All that being said, I'm an extremely lazy writer and I'm agonizingly slow at putting my thoughts into readable words. Even my current creative writing outlet, Tsubamegun, which has a fairly low bar in terms of expectations and quality takes me more time than I'd like to finish. But I've come to the point where I'd like to gather my thoughts and get them out of my head. So hopefully I'll actually start on this exercise and it'll benefit me. If it benefits anyone else, that's gravy.
Friday August 22nd, 2014 2:43 - Hello LiveJournal!
Ohta Kouzou
I should write in you more.
Wednesday July 11th, 2012 13:16 - Surprise!!! Year 4 Starts Today
hello moose
Thought this space was abandoned, dead, and forgotten?

You'd be wrong. I still log on here regularly to read other people's stuff, and I'm always thinking of things to write here. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, I've never taken the time to commit my thoughts to digital ink.

But I take time today to celebrate my successful survival of 3 years in Japan, and look ahead to to year four and beyond. Three years ago today, I stepped out of Air Canada flight 001with the intention of finding work and living in Japan. In my 3 years here, I have only spent a couple of weeks outside of the islands of Japan and haven't been back home. If I were to quickly give titles to each of my three years in Japan it would look something like;

Year 1: Exploration and Excitement
Year 2: Earthquake and Uncertainty
Year 3: Stability and Introspection

After a couple of years of freelancing, I'm now employed full-time to a single company. After coming to the country with few friends, I now have a group of people with whom I can regularly and comfortably hang out. But now that I'm comfortable with where I am in life, Year 4 will have to be about stepping out of that comfort zone and aim for more. Staying stuck in a routine has never worked well for me, as I tend to get lazy and complacent. I'm already feeling that funk creeping in and part of writing this post is about letting my (super limited) reading public know I want to run wild.

I'm also going back to Canada for a few weeks later this summer, so Year 4 will also be a chance to reflect about where I want to be the next couple of years. Looking back at my initial posts on coming to Japan, I can see I thought this adventure would be a 2-3 year affair. But I feel I've just now gotten to the point where I can seriously consider what I want to do next with my life and where I want to go both literally and metaphorically.

We'll see what happens next! Join me if you'd like. :D

Stay sexy, y'all!

A Complete AsideCollapse )
Thursday January 27th, 2011 21:14 - The Long Walk
Ohta Kouzou
At noon on December 31, 2009, I set out from my home in Nakano to my uncle's house in Kunitachi, on foot. The plan was to walk the approximately 25 km and arrive in time for New Year's Eve dinner and celebrations. I figured it would be a good way to end the year, and would afford me a good chance to reflect on my first months in Japan. Unfortunately weighed down my laptop, and misjudging my walking speed I decided to give up around Musashi-Koganei so I would not be too late. The next day I did walk the Musashi-Koganei to Kunitachi path to symbolically complete my journey, but the fact that I didn't I actually complete the walk in one shot was a bit of a bummer. I also spent most of 2010 claiming I had walked from Nakano to Kunitachi which, in light of the facts, wasn't quite true. (Although Nakano to Musashi-Koganei is plenty crazy.)

All that changed today, and I can now claim to have walked from my house in Nakano to Hitotsubashi University in Kunitachi. Thursdays are when Hitotsubashi Debate has their weekly practices, so I figured I might use that as an opportunity to walk to Kunitachi. I left the house at 10:30 and ducked through the back gate of Hitotsubashi's East campus at 15:32. The walk to Hitotsubashi is a couple of kilometers shorter than the walk to my uncle's house, but still measures at a robust 22 km according to Google Maps. I took a couple of short breaks to stretch and drink some water, but I was outside the whole time.

I had gotten on campus in plenty of time to catch the 16:30 start time of the practice, but after sitting and resting my legs for an hour I found out that practice had been cancelled. So I took my tired legs and rode the Chuo line to Koenji, where I decided to reward myself with a bowl of Kururi ramen at the Koenji Ramen Street. Then I tacked on an extra 3 km to my odometer by walking home from there. All in all, not a bad day.
Friday December 31st, 2010 1:21 - Post-Round 6 Scores for Japanese Teams
Ohta Kouzou
The points of all the Japanese teams, except Tokyo C, after the open rounds. 3 more closed rounds will follow.

Waseda A - 5
Waseda B - 4
TiTech - 7
Tokyo A - 7
Tokyo B - 8
Tokyo C - ?
ICU - 8
Hitotsubashi A - 4
Hitotsubashi B - 4
Sophia A - 5
Sophia B - 4
TMU - 6
Tuesday December 28th, 2010 17:32 - 40 Hours of Travel
Ohta Kouzou
The longest trip I've taken is the semi-regular trip I take to Tokyo from Montreal. The estimated door-to-door time from my parent's house in Montreal, to my grandmother's house in Kunitachi is around 24 hours. My trip to Botswana shattered this record by a fair bit, but it was a pretty good time.

The fun began when I left my house at around 13:00 to get to Nippori station. I was to meet the rest of my traveling gang (4 students from Hitotsubashi) at the station at 14:40. I got to Nippori early, so I decided to have a final Japanese meal at the local Tenya. I also took the opportunity to convert my yen into some good ole'USD. I must say that the US dollar is a mighty ugly currency from an aesthetic point of view. Nothing like the African currencies I'd get my hands on later.

Once we all got together at Nippori we took the fastest route we could take without paying express charges, Which meant we were on the train for around an hour and a quarter. Still not quite believing that we were headed to Africa we talked about stuff and the time just flew by. So for those keeping track, the trip to Narita airport took a good 3+ hours. Once we got to Narita, we checked in smoothly, and had some time to kill prior to boarding at 18:30. Everyone did some last minute shopping for some odds and ends. I got some instant soba for potential Japanese New Year tradition purposes, and got some extra mosquito repellent.

We boarded our flight as scheduled and we were on our way to Singapore! At this time I'd like to give big shout out to Singapore Airlines. I'm a patient traveller, a point that becomes important later, so I'm one of the few people I know that doesn't vocally complain about Air Canada at every opportunity. But I will give props when they are due, and I think I can easily say that Singapore Airlines provided the most pleasant air travel experience in my life. I watched 2 films on the video-on-demand player during the 7 hour flight, Hot Fuzz and Hanamizuki. Both good fun, although I find the limited but slightly more arty selections of Air Canada to be more up my ally. But time was well wasted as a certain Canadian cable station likes to say, and we got to Singapore right on time. Which was very important, as we only had a 30 minute window to transfer to our flight to Johannesburg. We took a short series of rides on the airport shuttle to a nearly deserted boarding gate. We got on the plane and saw some familiar faces as we made our way to our seats near the back of the plane. So after surviving a 7 hour flight we made our way onto a 10 hour flight with only a short 30 minute scramble to the gate in between. But again the Singapore Airline service made it a very comfortable 17+ hours. On the flight to Joburg I caught some sleep, watched some random episodes of How I Met Your Mother and Big Bang Theory, and spent the rest of my time starting Ffyona Campbell's On Foot Through Africa.

We touched down at Joburg around 6:30, and after fairly smooth immigration proceedings we were out on the arrivals floor at around 7:10. We were supposed to take a OrgComm chartered bus from Joburg to Gabarone, but we couldn't find any trace of the bus. But while we wouldn't get any official confirmation that the bus was indeed coming until much later, my worries subsided quite quickly as I found some familiar faces in the crowd. After we had made up a significant crowd of debaters we were finally greeted by a tournament organizer around 8:30ish. Unfortunately this didn't mean we'd be getting on a bus at 9:00 as we'd sort of assumed. What follows was a LOOOONG wait at the airport for busses that never seemed to arrive, all the while the number of debaters grew and people's nerves were starting to fray. I decided to mentally check out in order to save my sanity, I figure we'd have strength in numbers and that we wouldn't be trapped or be in any danger. We ended up in the final row in an old Isuzu bus packed to the seams with luggage at around 13:30. The bus probably didn't start moving until around 14:00.

I had been refraining from using my iPod to save batteries for this trip. I listened to music while I watched the scene outside change from suburb, to rural farmland, to land devoid of humans beyond the road we were on. The greenery almost made it look like scenes from the rural section of the 401, the major difference being the color of the ground, which was a red clay. A caught some nap time here and there, but compared to my travelmates I didn't sleep all that much. Watching the expansive nature along the road made me think of driving along Ontario and how much I missed such scenes in Canada. Luckily I'm a person that can be lost in such thoughts for a long time and enjoy such a new experience, even after loads of travel and endless waiting. Which bode well for me as the trip that was advertised as being 4 hours (I thought I had read 6 hours on the website) turned out to be more like 8.

We stopped a couple of times for gas and snacks, crawling over peoples' luggage and the seats to get out. We might have also gotten lost somewhere, but that might just have been rumors. When we finally reached the Botswana border the sun had just set over the hills. The border, which was nothing more than some fences and some house-like buildings made the US-Canada border look like a fortress. As Japanese passport holders we were able to get processed fairly quickly, but some of our busmates were not as fortunate as there was some mixup with their paperwork. So by the time we left the border it was quite dark. By the time we made it to the University of Botswana where we were to stay, it was almost 22:00. Registration had its own hitches and were really weren't settled until midnight, but I can honestly say I'd do it again. (Although if a similar thing happens during the return trip we might be screwed, as airlines are less lenient than tournament organizers.)

I've already talked to and seen a lot of old faces and I look forward to the next few days bringing even more excitement and stories for the old folks at home.
Tuesday December 28th, 2010 8:21 - Arrived Safely
Ohta Kouzou
I have arrived safely along with four students from Hitotsubashi University. I will write a more detailed post tomorrow after I get some sleep.
Friday December 24th, 2010 23:52 - It's Back!!!
hello moose
This LiveJournal (which is re-aggregated to FB and Mixi) is back!

This multi-purpose blog space will be, for the next little while, a travelogue dedicated to my travels to Botswana for the World University Debating Championships. That's right! The Moose and I, armed with nothing more than our wits and a 5 year old iBook G4 will be headed to the Southern hemisphere. Pretty big trip for a guy that's never been further South of Kumamoto. (I haven't even been down to Florida.)

Keep your eyes glued to this space for travel updates and thoughts. For all you debaters, I'll try to keep you updated on the status of your favourite teams. I'll be on a plane in less than 48 hours, but before I leave I still have tons of stuff to do.
Tuesday May 25th, 2010 12:18 - My Latest Post on Tsubamegun
Ohta Kouzou
Even if you have no interest in baseball, you might be interested in my latest post on my trip to Meiji Shrine. It is essentially a photo post on howe to pay respects at a Shinto shrine. Check it out @ http://tokyoswallows.com/2010/05/25/in-search-of-help-from-a-higher-power/
Tuesday May 11th, 2010 1:25 - What I've Been Up To
Ohta Kouzou
Howdy blog readers! I haven't really had anything to write here recently, my life has boiled down to work, debate, and Tokyo Swallows baseball. There's other stuff, and I'm having a lot of fun, but nothing interesting enough to write on this public journal.

I've been going to Jingu stadium and catching baseball games whenever I can. I've met some great people, and despite some gut wrenchingly painful losses, I've been having a good time getting out of the house. In the course of going to games and running my mouth about baseball, I was asked to become a contributor at Tsubamegun, an English website dedicated to the Swallows. I hope that I can reach an audience with my thoughts on baseball, and to further hone my writing skills. My first post is rather auto-biographical, and may be of some interest to some of you.

I wasn't doing a very good job updating this thing before, and I don't expect it to get any better now. If you're dying to read words produced by me, go check out Tsubamegun!
Saturday March 13th, 2010 22:58 - A Place to Reflect
Ohta Kouzou

Sunset over Sayama-ko

Those of you who follow me on various social networking tools probably know that I had a busy February. What started as a 3 day interpreting gig at a trade show turned into a full time 3 week interpreter/sales gig. Over 3 weeks I found myself all over Tokyo, and I even found my way to Osaka and Nagoya. (BTW if anyone is doing any Nanotube research out there, I would recommend you check out NanoIntegris' line of separated single wall carbon nanotubes!) On my days off, I managed to fill my schedule by judging at a debate tournament. Needless to say getting back to a normal routine has taken a few days. In an effort to return to my care-free happy-go-lucky ways I decided to head over to Seibu Dome to watch an exhibition game between the Saitama Seibu Lions and the Chunichi Dragons of Nagoya. Actually, the ball game was somewhat secondary to taking another reflective trip to Lake Sayama which is right by the stadium. The quiet and varied scenery gave me a chance to reflect on the last few weeks. Lake Sayama is now officially on my list of my favorite places to think. (A somewhat nebulous list that includes places like the Jesus statue in the woods behind the old Marianopolis campus.) Check out the other pictures I took, and compare them with the last set.
Sunday January 31st, 2010 16:16 - The Super Late 2009 Ramen Roundup
Ohta Kouzou
At the 115 day point in my stay in Japan I compiled all the ramen joints I had eaten at in this post. Obviously I didn't stop going to ramen shops at that point. In the end, to the best of my recollection, I visited 49 different ramen shops in 2009. All the shops were in Japan, except for one bowl of Dandanmian I had in Beijing.

The full list is under the cut, feel free to ask me of my opinion on any of the shops.

Kozo"s 2009 Ramen ListCollapse )
Wednesday January 20th, 2010 23:58 - Missing the white stuff... Not cocaine.
Ohta Kouzou
I realize my last post promised an end to my China saga. Unfortunately when I went to post that at the end of the year, a crash ate most of the post. I currently still have the opening third but end-of-year busyness, new year's busyness, and general disappointment of losing the post in the first place has lead me to writing this short instead. I promise to get something on China up at a later date, but I figured not having a new post this far into 2010 was not good.

So instead of ruminating on China, I'm going to wish everyone a Happy New Year and get a bit nostalgic about Canadian winter. As someone who never lived farther than a 30 minute walk from any school or job site, snow was never a big problem for me. Sure I'd complain about slush and wet socks like everyone else, but I enjoyed the silence and brightness brought on by a heavy snowfall. There's a peacefulness brought on by snow that I miss and haven't been able to experience here in Tokyo. Instead I've been forced to look over some old photos of Canadian winter. So to that end, I point you all to this post I made almost two years ago, aptly titled "Behold!!! Canadian Winter!"

Behold!!! Canadian Winter! (Posted on February 3, 2008)
Thursday December 17th, 2009 23:33 - A trip to (a very small block of) the PRC (Part 2 of ?)
Ohta Kouzou
When we last left off I was still (relatively) fresh off the plane and in a taxi supposedly heading towards our hotel. The time is close to midnight, and we're travelling 120 km/h (unthinkable in Japan) on a massive highway. There a lots of big building on either side of the highway, but save for a few exceptions the only lights come from the street lights. The lights reflect off the smog/dust and give off an orange glow sort of like when street lights reflect off fine falling snow back home. The dark buildings along the highway, combined with the orange glow sort of reminded me on stretches near the Decarie in the winter. The darkened buildings are somewhat unnerving since they look abandoned, but there are just too many of them to imagine that they're not filled with people.

While contemplating the similarities to Montreal and Tokyo, our taxi made its way off the highway and onto a major road. The driver pulled over and seemed to indicate that we had gotten to the place on the map, but there was nothing resembling a hotel nearby. After some awkward pantomime, the driver started moving again. After some back tracking we pulled up to some sort of guard station. The driver exchanged some words with a uniformed guard and we were let into the premises. We figured it out later, but the hotel is on the grounds of a university.

The there was a sign welcoming us to NEAO 2009, so we knew we were in the right place. Since this was the tournament hotel, we assumed that the staff would understand some English.... Oh how wrong we were, With no tournament staff to greet us, we were left to fend with the hotel's front desk staff who spoke minimal English. The three of us were eventually issued 3 rooms keys, 2 for one room and 1 for another. Two of us retired to one room, while the other went to the other room. However, after a few minutes of settling in, the person who got the single key came back to tell us the room seemed to be already occupied by two people. I use the word seemed because there was no one in the room. Not wanting to split a double occupancy room three ways with complete strangers, we tried contacting the tournament staff to see if they could resolve the situation. While we managed to get someone on the phone, they promised to raise the proper authority and call us back. We never heard back from them again. At this point it was getting late, and I decided the easiest thing to do was to volunteer to sleep on the floor in the ICU guy's room. While this solution was met with some protest my insistence that I did this all the time at debate tournaments, and unlike everyone else I hadn't actually paid reg eventually lead everyone to agree. So I found myself at my first debate tournament in Asia in a familiar position, sleeping on the floor.

There we have my first few hours in China! I'm going to wrap this series up in a much less detailed post tat will cover the actual debating and tell one quick story about "hentai chicken" and the scariness of the Japanese concept of 年功序列. Expect that post shortly.
Ohta Kouzou
Last week I had the opportunity to spend 4 nights in Beijing. As with many of my travels in life, the reason for my trip was debate related. Beijing Foreign Studies University was playing host to the 5th annual Northeast Asian Open Debate Championships (NEAO for short). The trip was a first for me in many respects, but there was a lot of familiarity as well.

It all started when I attended a BP training seminar here in Tokyo. Despite BP debating's growing popularity, the style has not caught on in Japan. There are only two major domestic tournaments in the style, and beyond a small cadre of schools that travel to foreign tournaments, the only other time Japanese debate teams compete in BP is if the attend Worlds. As such my BP debate experience is quite valuable here, as there are very few people in the country that can match my BP resume. As it so happened the Japanese DCA for NEAO was at the seminar and he offered me a spot as an invited judge. I was being offered meals and accommodations, so all I had to do was find a cheap flight to/from Beijing and clear my work schedule for a few days. I managed to do both, and I found myself agreeing to go to Beijing in less than two weeks time. I saw this as a good opportunity to travel to China (obviously) and to get to know some Japanese debaters better.

It was at this point I realized that I hadn't judged at a competitive BP tournament in over a year (Guindon 2008 having been my BP swan song). In an effort to get back into shape I was able to join the ICU team's BP training seminars. Over two days I judged and debated in a whole bunch of BP debates, and managed to strengthen some relationships along the way. However, even though ICU was fun and rewarding, it didn't change the fact that I hadn't judged seriously with a proper briefing and scoring range. My judgement was deferred to, and I was a bit concerned that my judging standards were not up to snuff. But I figured any questions/concerns I had could be dealt with in the briefings and the judging package.

With those questions still in my mind, I made my way to Narita Airport on Thursday afternoon. I took the cheapest possible route from my house, taking a couple of local trains to get to Terminal 1. I sailed through check-in and security and got into my gate. If there's anything my 20+ trans-pacific flights have taught me, is how to get through security quickly and painlessly. I met up with the ICU guys near their gate (they were flying out at the same time, but on a different flight), and arranged to meet up again at the Beijing Airport. The flight itself was uneventful, I watched Up! on the personal video system, and ate an OK chicken dinner (for airline standards). I was flying United which meant the crew was mostly American which meant I could stick with English through the whole flight. My secret to uneventful flying is to have low expectations and not to piss off the flight attendants. These simple rules keep me quite content on flights and stop me from wasting time complaining about flights.

Our flight arrived ahead of time, and we were greeted by a near empty shiny new airport. I was fearing going through customs more than usual since I had no idea what to expect. I generally fear customs officials since, as one comedian put it succinctly, they have the power to look up your butt. This fear, coupled with the distrust I had for the Chinese government, meant I was going through the various scenarios that may befall me, and had me wondering whether I had the means to pay for a flight back home to Japan if I was refused entry in the country. I was slightly worried that the purpose of my visit, NEAO, would be classified as an "event" which would've required me to get a visa beforehand. As is usual with me and customs, I sailed through without any problem. Looking back on it now I'm not even sure if I ever exchanged words with the customs officer. After I cleared customs I made my way to the baggage claim, and in a moment of perfect timing I saw my suitcase turning the corner of the carousel just as I was approaching it. I managed to grab my suitcase without breaking a stride, and I made my way out to the arrival lobby.

After a 20-30 minute wait, the team from Seikei University came out. Apparently we were on the same flight. I had seen them briefly when they peeked in the back of the plane, where I was sitting, when we boarded in Tokyo but they disappeared back front before I could say a word. I had assumed they'd got out before me and I wasn't expecting to see them. We then proceeded to wait for the guys from ICU. Little did we know we were waiting for people who would never appear. It turns out the ICU guys arrived in a different terminal and when I didn't appear they headed out to the hotel. Those of us in the other terminal only realized our mistake when I realized that each party had a cellphone that functioned in China, and we were able to send an email message. So after 40-50 minutes of Waiting for Godot, which took us close to midnight, we were on our way.

Luckily my intrepid friends from Seikei had the foresight to ask the organizing committee for directions to the hotel, and they were armed with a map to the hotel. This little revaluation was a big relief for me, as I was armed with only the English name of the hotel, which based on my Google search for the name, I was fairly sure was useless. Lo and behold, once we got into a cab my hunch was correct, our taxi driver spoke not a lick on English and we managed to make our way to the hotel by giving the driver Seikei's map and letting him make sense of it.

I'm going to leave it here for now, keep your eyes peeled for part 2 and beyond soon!
Monday November 23rd, 2009 21:50 - The Japan Factor
Ohta Kouzou
(I wrote most of this entry earlier this month. I couldn't think of any deeper insights or anecdotes to make it a better post. I've given up and I'm posting it as is. Basically it's a short post on the convenience of life in central Tokyo.)

Whenever you do any reading on China you inevitably come across what I like to call the China Factor. Given the sheer greatness of China's population, things back home are often inflated by a factor of at least 100. Therefore a "small" Chinese village would have a population of 1 million. Moving to Nakano, the most densely populated of Tokyo's 23 special wards (with 20,097 people/km^2), makes me think of similar matters of scale. Nakano is very residential, which means that there are multiple businesses that have set up to cater to the needs of all these people, all in a very compact piece of land. What this means for me, a resident of this fine ward, is that I have choice. Need dry cleaning? No problem, there are 3-4 choices within a 5 minute walk. Ditto for ramen, convenience stores, Indian food, video rental shops, super markets, public baths, and a whole bunch of other things I could think to want. If I'm willing to walk a bit further my options become even greater. Needless to say, I'm not in Canada anymore.
Wednesday November 11th, 2009 2:50 - On seeing a UFO... (Not really)
Ohta Kouzou
One of the neater aspects of living in Japan, particularly in Tokyo, is that if you see someplace on TV or in a movie there's a fair chance you can go there yourself. So when I learned that the lake scenes in Otonari (you can see some production stills of the location in this video) were filmed not too far from Tokyo, I hopped on a (few) train(s) to make my way to Seibu Stadium station in Saitama. The lake scenes were filmed at Lake Sayama, which is part of the Yamaguchi reservoir. The scenes take place on the 600m pedestrian path built on the embankment. The path is beautifully straight and has the lake on one side, and a little park and residences on the other side. Besides some joggers and elderly walkers the place was very quiet and peaceful. If it was a little closer to where I lived it would make the ideal contemplation spot for me. The day was cloudy and not sunny as I had hoped it would be, but it was nice place none the less. I slowly walked the path and took a bunch of pictures, and on my return leg I saw this...

It almost does look like a UFO in the still shot. But really it's the sunset peeking out of a gash in the clouds. It was interesting watching it get more intense, and finally becoming more diffuse. Check out all my pics from my mini-excursion here.
Thursday November 5th, 2009 1:15 - A Short Story About Fraud in Japan
Ohta Kouzou
So I was taking a walk near the station this evening, when a guy in a small sedan starts talking to me. I couldn't hear what he was saying since I had my headphones on, but I assumed he wanted to ask me for directions. Being the nice guy that I am, I took off my headphones to hear the man out. The man wasn't asking for directions after all, he was offering to give me a watch for free. His story went something along the lines of... He and his partner, the driver of the car, were promoters of some kind and they had just finished an event unveiling this new watch. Apparently due to some mix up they ended up with an extra watch, and if they took it back to their company they would get in trouble. So rather than throwing it away to avoid trouble, they figured they'd give it to some lucky passerby. While he was telling me this story, the guy took the watch out its gift bag and box to show me. He went on to say that the watch was worth around $5800, and he showed me a handmade booklet with a bunch of watches with pictures and their prices. I suppose this booklet was supposed to look like some sort of insider catalogue. I must have been making a surprised/confused face since the guy kept telling me how surprising this must be for me and how it was my lucky day. The guy kept repeating the short version of the story, adding things like how he didn't want to exchange information, and that I could do whatever I want with the watch, but if I wanted to sell it to wait a few days since the watch had not been officially launched yet.

This guy was speaking fast and I can't say that I understood everything this guy was telling me, but I was fairly certain that this story didn't add up and that these guys were trying to con me. But being the kind of guy I am, I decided to play along and see how far I could take this little con. I should add that we were in a fairly well trafficked area, and there was a guardrail between me and the car, so I was fairly confident I wouldn't be jumped. So I played the whole, "who am I too turn down this great offer" act, and that's when the guy showed his cards. Instead of handing me the watch and wishing me a good evening, he starts telling me that he's going to go out drinking with his boss (or someone important) later tonight. So as a token of appreciation for giving me such a great watch, would I give him some money for drinks tonight. I told him I wasn't carrying the kind of money to finance anyone's drinking. He relented and said surely I had some money, and asked for the amount of money in my wallet. I told him I really didn't have any money in my wallet, and that I had about 500 yen and obviously no bills. The guy seemed genuinely surprised and asked me if I could go get some money from an ATM. Sensing that there was no place to take this conversation any further, I shrugged my shoulders and I said I COULD but I wasn't willing to go through the trouble for a watch, and that I'm sure they could find someone else to "give" the watch. The guy didn't even respond he just looked away and rolled up the window, and I walked away.

When I got home I looked up watch and fraud (腕時計 and 詐欺 for those of you compiling vocabulary lists) on Google. Sure enough, I got plenty of hits of people who had similar experiences to mine, except most of the posts were by people who handed over money. The basic gist was the same, two guys in a car want to give you an expensive watch, or pair of watches, because if they keep it they somehow get into trouble, afterward they start asking for some money for an unrelated expense. Victims ended up paying between ¥4500 and ¥50,000 for a cheap gaudy quartz watch, obviously not worth the claimed amount. What was surprising was that some people claimed they were pretty certain the watch wasn't worth anything but they paid the money anyway since saying no was a hassle, and figured it was worth it for the story. Obviously the people making that claim were paying out in the lower end of the scale. The other interesting thing was that many of the threads I found were dated in the early 2000's. Looking further in these threads people there were people explaining how this is a very old con and in the 50's involved suits. I saw someone claim that an Italian attempted this con on them in France. Apparently, the "trick" behind this fraud is that since you're actually conducting two separate transactions, and you're not actually paying for the watch it's harder to make a claim of fraud. I have no idea how true that claim is, but I'd like to think that readers of this blog are smart enough to not fall for this con to have to find out. So that's my short story about a specific kind fraud in Japan.
Tuesday November 3rd, 2009 0:08 - Kozo's 115 days of Ramen
Ohta Kouzou
I've now been in Japan for 115 days, and I took the time to reflect on all the ramen I've eaten over those days. By my count, I've eaten at 33 different shops (37 if you count branch shops separately). Since I've visited a few of these shops two or more times, I think it would be fair to say I've had around 50 bowls in 115 days (not including some instant noodles I've made at home). I've compiled a list of all the shops I've been to in the last 115 days. With the exception of one shop in Saga, all the shops are in Tokyo. The shops vary in styles, although Kyushu-style tonkotsu is probably over-represented in the list. I've found these shops various ways including ramen blogs, television, and just plain wandering in for lunch. I've also gone out of my way to visit some of these shops. The full list is available after the cut.

Kozo"s 115 days of RamenCollapse )

Rest assured this list will grow. I have a separate list of shops I'd like to visit. (^_-)

I had to go back and edit this post to add shops #30-33.
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