No Internet...

The wireless network I've been using isn't there anymore, so now I'm in an internet cafe writing up my week. =P

I subscribed to Yahoo! BB but that's going to take a month or so. Bah. Anyways, in my boredom I bought a Japanese RPG made by Falcom. It should improve my reading speed of Japanese text, right? :P

Another co-op student working in Matsumoto showed me a great site for learning Japanese. It covers mostly elementary topics but some advanced stuff is there as well. I sent in my application to go for JLPT level 1 by December. It's going to be real difficult (>.<) 何とかなるさ...

I've been enjoying the night life in Tokyo this past week. I went to Ebisu, Meguro, and Shibuya - some of the most fashionable districts in Tokyo - on Tuesday and Wednesday. I tried expensive Thai cuisine in Ebisu, and some good ol' cheap (but tasty!) Yoshinoya Gyu-don in Shibuya. On the way back to my humble abode on Tuesday, I fell asleep on the train and arrived in Hashimoto, which was like going to North York from Mississauga by way of QEW.

Friday was my welcome party, an all-you-can drink kind of thing. =P I met this Japanese guy who has a deep interest in Hong Kong and Shanghai. Me being from Shanghai might have perked his interest, since after the welcome party he treated me to some nice Cantonese food at a nearby mall-like building. The whole floor was full of Chinese restaurants of many kinds, about 12 stores.

I was astonished when he took me to a Japanese restaurant after the Chinese restaurant and the welcome party. We ate some sea urchin there among other common dishes. By the time we finished, it was 2:10 am. He sent me home by taxi. What a nice guy! He spent like 18,000 yen that day compared with my 0 yen. I feel kind of bad.

So on Friday, I drank domestic beer, plum wine, oolong tea, green tea, milk tea, white wine, sake, and Tsingtao beer, and ate sea urchin, sushi, sashimi, Caesar salad, garlic bread, Italian pizza, yakitori (Japanese-style barbeque chicken), Cantonese cashew (that's how they spell it here, I dunno..), and a host of other foods I either don't remember or can't describe without writing a whole lot more.

Hmm, what else... I got my paycheck on Friday. Today, I met up with my grandpa from Shanghai. He's here to see the Expo in Aichi (see previous post). I can't wait to go... I wish September 18th is nowwww... =P

Time to go buy some groceries.


Expo 2005 Aichi

I'm going to take a one week vacation in September to go to the Expo in Aichi. My relatives here are visiting the Expo this week, and might go again with me and my parents in September.

The theme of this Universal Expo is basically "Harmony with Nature"; in Japanese it is 愛・地球博 (Love the Earth Expo). I hope it's fun!

I've been spoiling myself lately with expensive fruits - like grapes today - but I really should start making a monthly budget. I've already borrowed 40,000 yen from my aunt =P Payday is 4 days away! =D

As I'm typing this, I'm watching a fun Japanese show about women and their thoughts on the opposite sex. Just now, two warning signs of "bad" men were mentioned. They are:

Translation: "a man that brings his mother (to lunch, was the example) is no good"

Translation: "a man that believes in superstition is no good"

That's it for now!



I spent half a day in Ikebukuro with a penpal, shopping around and what not. It was fun but tiring. Now I know a famous meeting spot, 池フクロウ, which is an owl statue in Ikebukuro station.

I brought home the Lord of the Rings trilogy on DVD, so it's time to relax and watch some good ol' action from Gandalf and friends, in English! English means understanding without thinking - oh yeaaaaah! Ah, there doesn't exist anything more refreshing right now. =D

As for studying Japanese, that can wait another day... =P


First Principles

In a perhaps vain attempt to gain a clear sense of direction in my life, I've been thinking of ways that might shed some enlightenment. Specifically, I have been seeking some fundamental, guiding principles. Reading philosophy came to mind.

I began with some Descartes. His method axiomatic and his reasoning deductive and terse, I quickly came to respect his work. I especially admire the argument he made to establish his famous statement "Je pense, donc je suis".

I'm thinking Greek is next, maybe Socrates.


Work, work.

Meeting. Another meeting. Real work is delegated to overtime. Skipping dinner for another meeting. Meeting goes into overtime. Get off work at 21:30. Eat and drink at some restaurant. Get home, check e-mail, and sleep.

That pretty much sums up life recently.

As you might've guessed, I'm in a semi-melancholic semi-"just tired" mood. I have a bunch of penpals here but I haven't had a chance to meet any of them yet. I'm hoping to make some friends who can hang out with me. It's not easy however, and my work schedule isn't helping either. To my family and friends back in Canada: I miss you guys!

Tommorow, one of the big honchos in Epson is coming to visit our lab.



I was reluctant to put disturbing pictures of my sunburn on this blog, but now I've decided that I should, since it's part of my experiences here (not a pleasant one at all, I can assure you)..

So here they are, enjoy! =P

(L) Watch saved my skin! (R) Peeling skin - eww! (Peeling it is a cool feeling though.. :P)

So what happens after being sunburned?
-about 3-4 hours after you've actually been sunburned, you will start to notice it
-pain starts 4 hours after being sunburned and is worst 2-3 days later
-if you've been burned badly, your skin will start to peel about 5 days later, however, by that time it doesn't hurt

It's not an experience I'd want to have again, but yet, it was great as a conversation opener. Here's a typical conversation, HK-47 style:
[exclamation] "Hey, look at this!"
[shock and mild disgust] "Eww! Doesn't that hurt?"
[assuring reply] "Not anymore."
[question] "Where and when?"
(long conversation ensues)

At the moment, skin peeling is nearly complete, so I expect to be fully healed in a few days.

On a less disgusting note, here are two pictures from yesterday's hill climbing trek. Very tiring it was.. some of the slopes were about 16.3 degrees from horizontal!

(L) Mountain pass. Drifty drifty! =P (R) Interesting irrigation system...


Exploring the surroundings

This long weekend will be the first weekend I spend in Hino. I thought I should start exploring the area. I found a church that is within 5 minutes walk. In the afternoon, I climbed a nearby hill range, and got a pretty good look at what my neighbourhood looks like from above. I also went to Chuo University (中央大学), but apparently they have a guarded gate and only students and faculty can enter T_T. I passed by a nearby theme park, Tama Tech. I will keep it in mind; it'll be a good place to spend a day with friends. There's also an expensive looking Cantonese restaurant and a hot springs spa nearby, but I think those cost too much o(T_T)o

On a side note, at first I found typing Japanese on the cell phone to be extremely tedious. The first few times I exchanged cell phone mail, I took about 10 minutes to reply and the other person would take like 30 seconds! I was discouraged - I mean it's pretty embarassing to make the other person wait 10 minutes when everyone else responds in under a minute. Anyhow, I'm still relatively slow at it but I'm amazed how fast these things can be picked up. Typing English on the cell phone however, is a separate skill.

Most people use cell phones primarily for e-mail. I find that a neat and maybe welcome change. I think the main reason is the high cost of actually talking on the phone.

Hmm, and I need to start saving money now, at least until payday comes. I have about 12,000 yen or $140 left and still 2 weeks to go. D'oh! =P


Mizuho bank and cell phone!

Today I finally got my bank account with Mizuho! Woohoo... money!
I also picked up a cell phone for one yen (no contract) :D
It has a free TV service and a free interactive navigation/map service to help me when I'm hopelessly lost. I can also use it to find nearby restaurants and places of interest.

Two funny Engrish quotes from the company:

1. Especially, it is not. ←when trying to express 'nothing in particular' (Yoda-speak!)
2. ...now judgement failure... ←when trying to express 'cannot decide yet' (I pictured a robot breaking down when I heard this, hehee :P)


Nikka Differences

It can be said that I started working on this post in my head when I was in Japan 2 years ago. I was asked to and so I'm going to post some differences between Japan and Canada (nikka). Limitations include but are not limited to my unbalanced scope of knowledge (I know more about Canada than Japan) and the following...

Disclaimer: These 'differences' are intrinsically flawed as they are generalizations of behaviours of groups of people - there are almost always, and probably many, exceptions to each of the points posted below. Please keep this in mind to avoid stereotyping; it is not my intention to offend any Japanese or Canadians. For example, if a medical study lists the mean IQ of African Americans at 87, that does not mean that a given African American is 'dumb'. Use the same kind of thinking when reading the post.

Language must also be clearly defined. By 'many' (or 'frequently') I do not necessarily mean a majority. 'Many' may even applied to describe a small percentage of the population, such as 1%. However, 'many' still carries meaning because it emphasizes a difference. For example, if the rate of 'such and such property in the general population' is 0.4% in Canada and it is 1.1% in Japan, that is a significant difference - almost 3 times! Yet, it is still a tiny minority of the population. When I say "Men here have more..." I mean that "Japanese men have more..." - this is the point of reference when using 'here'.

Japanese culture is changing quite rapidly, so there are some generational differences. There is an aging population that is creating a significant change in the structure of Japanese society, the implications of which will be felt from now until decades later. Some of the points below may only apply to one age group. Younger generations tend to be more Westernized, and so there is probably less of a difference between Japan and Canada in these cases.

I don't know if this is very enjoyable to read, but some have been waiting for this, so here it is!

And so, without further blah-blah...

⇒Men here have more prominence in all high-level positions, especially in companies and the government. The second point is related.
⇒Compared with Canada, a higher proportion of women in Japan fulfill traditional roles in society (e.g. housewife, receptionist) and a much lower proportion are in the technology sector (e.g. areas such as software engineering).
⇒The use of personalized stamps (not the postal kind) is required in Japan; signatures alone are, generally speaking, insufficient.
⇒The main modes of transportation are train, bus, and taxi. However, many if not most Japanese families do have a car. Still, the percentage of Japanese owning a car is much lower than that of Canadians, owing to their excellent public transportation system.
⇒People are almost always polite here, in other words you'll be hard pressed to bump into a rude person. Many people, especially company employees here, are very busy and so may seem to be rude but really they just have no time (i.e. if you ask for directions to a temple).
⇒Service is basically without exception, exceptional here. When I come back to Canada I'll be in for a huge reverse culture-shock. "Whaddya want??"
⇒There is a much greater emphasis on cuteness here. Many commercials, books, even cars and electronics are essentially made to be cuter than their competitors. This is known as the 'cuteness factor' by foreigners like me studying cultural differences.

⇒Many Japanese may form closer bonds with their co-workers and high school friends than with their immediate family. Due to this, it is frequently the case that husband and wife are not 'close' or affectionate. Stemming from this and weak anti-prostitution law enforcement, we have the booming love hotel/soap spa business.
⇒A mother usually bonds much more closely with her child(ren) than with her husband.
⇒Guys usually hang out with guys and vice versa for girls. They tend to form large cliques. Consequently, even when married, it is common for men and women to form separate groups, like for instance, when dining, partying, and shopping.

⇒Most employees work long hours. What I mean is 9:00 to 21:00 is not really considered overtime.
⇒Company events here are held more frequently and on a larger scale (we had over 1500 people at our summer festival last Friday)
⇒The bureaucratic procedures here, although created with the intention to help boost productivity, is practiced to the point where it hurts productivity instead.
⇒People are almost always courteous and helpful here. In the company it's even harder to find a rude person since you won't be asking for directions to a temple or something while they're running to the company.
⇒Bonds between company employees are quite strong. It's almost family-like.
⇒Beer and sake are the agents that keep strong these bonds. Sure, many people in Canada drink beer and have a great time after work/school. But no, not nearly as prominent as it is here - here it is almost guaranteed that you'll go out a few times a week drinking.

⇒There are many private schools here. In fact, most high school students go to private high schools.
⇒There are dozens of books that just describe and compare the 300-odd high schools around Tokyo.
⇒Primary school is 6 years long, junior high is 3 years long as is high school.
⇒There are many 塾, or cram schools that supposedly help you into universities and high schools.

⇒Sorting the trash into 11 different piles is something that Epson does (ISO 14001), but even in everyday life, garbage is sorted in a specific manner.

Sources of information include many 25-50 year old Japanese colleagues, penpals, Canadians working here, my relatives and their friends, and lastly of course, my experiences here.

This is a working list, and so even if a few months pass, expect this page to be updated again. Items may be removed and/or added without notice at my sole discretion.

And yes, I've been reading too many software licenses. =P



I went to Ginza today with a few distant relatives from China. Ginza's the kind of place that makes you feel poor. At first, you tend to think that the extra few 0's at the end were added by accident.

I can't afford any of the stuff there nor do I wish to buy them if I had the money; I'm not into fashion. What surprised me is that these relatives from China are rich. A better term might be nouveau riche. The tendency to spend, and especially display wealth is typical of the newly rich, and it is an epidemic here (referring to Japan, China, and Korea). People here have to realize that wearing $6,000 worth of Burberry and Louis Vuitton doesn't make you a better person. I think that if one is indeed blessed with fortune, one should use discretion and show a little subtlety. Conspicuous consumption is a social problem with implications that may be difficult to see.

Over-consumption is a social norm here. It's basically expected that one has at least a few brand names on their person. This is doesn't apply to guys as much, but the girls here certainly feel pressure. Sure, there are many wealthy people, and yes, they buy many brand name goods. The sad part is that the average Joe - probably Jane in this case - is expected to do the same. What happens? They wear a few grand, looking like they are the daughter or wife of a multi-millionaire, and have basically nothing in savings.

It's a fact that many girls (and some guys too) in Tokyo are very materialistic. This is why I'm very glad to have met a few girls here that do not prioritize making and spending money.

So there goes my anti-materialism rant. I'm not against great brands, rather I'm against the notion that one must wear brand names to fit into society.


Nagano, summer festival, medical exam, Shinjuku, Star Wars: Episode 3, O-bon

I'm going on a business trip to Nagano next week (update: actually I don't know when but it's 'soon').

Work is tough but since I'm working on some very new technology, I'm happy. I can't reveal much, but it's to do with the next version of Windows, Windows Vista (formerly codenamed Longhorn). Research is in the form of reading 400+ page Microsoft confidential documents that have like 8 pages or so of legal blah-blah before the real material. Company policy dictates that we read the legal stuff =P.

Let's look at some differences between the work environment in a software company here and in Canada (using Roxio as the reference):

-almost everyone here works crazy hours. Like 9:00 to 21:00.
-no games room here =(
-more company events here (tommorow we have a summer festival! I bought some raffle tickets.. I hope to win a PSP hehe)
-bureaucracy is rampant here
-the reception ladies are quite cute :P

I'll add more differences as they come to me, but other than these, it's pretty much the same. Oh, and we speak Japanese here, but that's obvious, right? =P

Due to popular demand, (actually just one person so far, but eh.. :P) I'll be posting more differences in the near future, about everyday life though, not work. Although do keep in mind that many points are generalizations, and as there is inherent danger in generalizing, be careful not to infer too much.

All new employees must undergo a thorough medical examination, which I think shows a bit of the extent of bureaucracy here. I went to a nearby hospital today (the building I'm in has a small hospital too, but it's too limited to perform such an exhaustive medical exam). Among the things performed were:

-measuring height, weight, chest, hip, waist
-urine sample, blood sample (4 tubes!)
-x-ray scans
-blood pressure
-vision tests, hearing tests
-reflex exam

Yesterday, us 3 Canadians in the office (me, John, and Sachin) went to Shinjuku to meet Sachin's Japanese friend. She's pretty and studies law - wow, go Sachin! =P We had fun eating Shabu-shabu buffet. We had plans to watch Star Wars: Episode 3 so we had to leave her in the middle of Shinjuku (one of the busiest cities in Tokyo).

I'll take some pictures of my colleagues soon, and with their permission post them here =D.
I also want to watch the O-bon festival. I'll try to take pictures but it's a nighttime festival I think, so they might not turn out well.

以上。(the end)