The Brisbane conspiracy

Seen in Tokyo last weekend:

What could it mean? It’s the exact same font as they one they use for airport baggage stickers, right? Is there some sort of underground Brisbane cult that I’m not aware of, or more importantly, have not been invited to participate in?

Also on that topic, it feels a little bit odd to be writing about Japan when I’m back home on holidays, so this blog will be taking a holiday for a couple of weeks too.

“Yoi otoshi o”, as they say – Happy New Year.

Electric Gaudy Land

I’ve mentioned Akihabara here a few times before, and not just because it’s full of the geekiest stuff money can buy. But that’s the main, most important reason.

I just got home exhausted from a mid-week shopping expedition to Yodobashi Camera, which dominates the Akihabara skyline. Which is handy, because it’s a useful navigation beacon through the crowded back-alleys where you can buy just about anything that plugs into power.

Yodobashi Camera is nine massive stories of computers, mobile phones, ultra-portables, washing machines, light fittings, bicycles, music, games, cameras, peripherals…. you get the idea. As well as being enormous, it’s also quite fathomable to foreign shoppers, too, which is certainly not true of every shop around. Even in quiet times, the whole store is a blur of shoppers, staff shouting the sales pitch for the latest gimmicky gizmo, garish signs, and that really-quite-irritating Yodobashi Camera theme song playing on loop.

I bought a Wii recently (to study Japanese, honest), and I thought I’d drop in at around 8pm after work tonight to pick up a few bits and pieces. Sundays are normally pretty crazy in Akihabara, but being a Tuesday night, I thought I’d have no problems. Man was I wrong.

The queues for each of the eight registers stretched right back to the end of the room, crowding the display shelf corridors. I would estimate over 200 people lined up – at any given time – to buy. And most people were only after one thing – a Nintendo Wii with WiiFit.

I don’t think I’d be exaggerating to say that every fourth person I saw move through the checkouts was buying a Wii (including the two guys in the picture, if you look closely), and three quarters of those people were buying WiiFit too. WiiFit came out on December 1, and it’s currently the biggest selling software for any system in Japan. I bought my Wii on December 2. On the day I bought it, they were still wheeling literal pallet-loads of WiiFit boxes behind the counters. Six days later, they were sold out.

Actually, it’s a fascinating concept – but sadly, I haven’t snagged a copy yet. It’s an exercise training game that comes with a balance board that sits on the floor in front of your TV. You stand on the board, which can sensitively measure how much pressure you’re placing on different parts of the board. You run through training programs and games like yoga, snowboarding, pushups and hula-ing (!), and you can measure how you’re improving over time. At any rate, the trailer can explain it much better than I can. I don’t think I’ve met many people here who don’t know about WiiFit at the moment – it truly seems to be a mainstream hit.

At any rate – I’m not sure if it’s Christmas or that there are actually still people who don’t own Wiis, but make sure you have half an hour free to wait in line before venturing out for electronic goodies around this time of year. Hopefully, you can expect a WiiFit review in the new year.

The second circle of conjugation hell

A day in the life of a language learner. On Friday as I walking down the hallway at work, I walked passed one of the cleaning staff on the way out. I said “konnichiwa (good afternoon)”, as you do, but she must have been lost in a train of thought. She snapped out of it, realising I was talking to her, and said “Gomen nasai! (Sorry!) Wakaranakatta!”

Wakaranakatta? Oh that’s right, that’s one of those tricky conjugated verbs.  Conjugation is fairly regular in Japanese compared to English, but you still need to learn the rules.  To work out what it means, you have to:

  1. Determine that the base verb is wakaru (to understand, or to realize).
  2. To make the verb negative in this case, you change an “u” sound at the end to an “a” sound, then add “nai” to the end. So, you get wakaranai (I don’t understand).
  3. To make the negative verb in the past tense, you have to drop off the “i” sound at the end, and add “katta”. That gives you wakaranakatta (I didn’t understand).

Oi vey. Methodically working all this out in the middle of a conversation really does not cut it – you’ve just got to keep hearing words until you understand the word as one unit.  Over, and over, and over again.

Then, maybe I could have understood that she was trying to say that she didn’t understand.

They could have saved a lot of money if they built the last eight metres first

Tokyo Tower is 8.6 metres higher than the Eiffel Tower. And don’t you forget it. This will normally be the first thing you hear after “This is Tokyo Tower”.

It’s one of the most famous landmarks in Tokyo, and gives some great views of the city. Well worth a trip, though it’s a little pricey as such things normally are ($10 AUD to the centre platform, $20 to the top).

Please enjoy these pictures I took of and from it.

Robots are awesome part seven and the Ghibli Museum

In spite of my sumptuous visions of Japan as some sort of robotic wonderland, I have yet to be served a drink by anything resembling Dexter from Perfect Match. Until the weekend:

Yeah! Actually, he didn’t serve me any drinks. And since he’s a statue, he doesn’t actually do much at all. But I find all of this encouraging progress.

You can see him at the Ghibli Museum at Mitaka in Tokyo. It’s run by Studio Ghibli who make famous anime such as Spirited Away (which won an Oscar), Howl’s Moving Castle and Princess Mononoke. As a bonus, it’s in the middle of a forest, and the views in autumn are quite spectacular.

The museum itself is very enjoyable, even if you don’t know too much about the movies. Watch out though – because of the popularity, you have to buy tickets in advance. It gives a lot of detail about the animation process, with a recreation of Hayao Miyazaki‘s cluttered animation studio and his extremely eclectic taste in books. The standout is the 3d zoetrope, which uses carefully designed, sequentially-posed figurines on a spinning wheel, with carefully timed strobe lights to bring the figurines to life. It’s quite hard to explain, but maybe an awful quality video on Youtube will give you an idea. A phenomenal effect, though.

They also show a short film which only plays at the Museum, and definitely meets the Studio Ghibli standard. You might like to brush up on your Japanese first, but you won’t be able to escape the whimsy, regardless. It is inescapable.

Also, I should make mention of the fact that they have a giant robot.

Last chance to see – Rikugien Gardens

As the trees shed their leaves, it’s a good sign that autumn is just about done in Japan.  Last weekend was probably the last chance to brave the packed crowds of the popular viewing places as winter sets in.  There’s a great spot in Tokyo called Rikugien Gardens, which is over 300 years old, no less. During the autumn nights, they’re all artfully lit up in an absolutely stunning manner.

Of course, daytime is no slouch either:

This one is for people who like to get all poetic and use words like “juxtaposed”:

Lots more over at the autumn gallery too…