Thursday, December 29, 2011

Let's get social : mixi

mixi is the largest social networking site in Japan. Unfortunately I see some dark clouds over the horizon for them.

I was on this site almost as soon as it was launched in 2004. But it's restrictive features have always kept me from being a addict (or at least a frequent user). Of course this site is only meant for Japanese users from beginning, but again that is one of the policy I find very narrow minded.

The fact that you need to have a registered mobile mail address in Japan to get an account is most baffling of all. (See 'mixi hates foreigners'). Mixi has been adamant to change this policy even after other social networks like MySpace and Facebook have really became viral and spreading like wild fire even in Japan.

This site is a classic example of what I call restrictive business mentality of Japanese. I have always maintained that Japanese businesses which deal with the service industry or people (Personal banking, insurance, Airlines, retail and now social networking etc) are unfortunately too much focused on doing things 'The Japanese Way'.

That is another topic but the point is mixi was way ahead of other social networks in a sense of opportunity and timing to take of as a global network. But it missed the bus by self imposing restrictive policies and not thinking in more global way.

When Facebook took off in west, there were even critics saying that Facebook will fail remarkably in Japan. The trend seems to have gone other way. I myself know that almost all of my Japanese friends are now on Facebook. No language or culture barrier! And unfortunately for mixi, it's share is declining every day.

Declining fortune? (Source: 2011 Social Network Analysis Report)

Being here in Japan for more than a decade now, it's sad to see that except for very few, most Japanese corporations failed to have wider vision of their future. As a sliver lining, strong Japanese Yen has literally forced many companies to look outside Japan. Let's hope it is a beginning of a new chapter in Japanese corporate world.

Canon EOS 60D from

Finally it was delivered yesterday.

I ordered my first Digital SLR last week from After much deliberation, research, comparisons and reading many reviews, I settled for Canon EOS 60D. In my opinion this particular model is a very good mix of close to professional features and ease of operations needed by beginners for a reasonable cost.

This was my first purchase through and for those who can read Japanese or get help, I suggest that is a great site which can save you around 20% to 30% on most of the items. For those who would rather touch and feel the purchase they are making, you still have an option of going to any big electronics shop like Yodobashi Camera or Biccamera and see the gadget there. Then you can come back to kakaku and choose the best deal. I have seen some foreigner painstakingly noting down prices of things they want at Akihabara but this site will save you a lot of time for sure.

I found that some of the nice features of are ease of use (if you know Japanese of course), wide range of products (almost any consumer goods) and wide range of dealers (from amazon to your local electronic shop). You can compare the products easily and can navigate to the purchase form right there.

Paying is easy too, most of the shops have online order forms and have option of Cash on Delivery. Although the dealer may charge nominal fees (somewhere around 1% of the purchase) if you choose COD.

By the way, this is the first photo I took!

My first experiment with panning. Not too great and had to take almost 15 shots to get that one right, but I found some of the points I need to improve already!

Look forward to some armature clicks.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Shochu Ads

Last month, I was with my colleagues in a Tachinomiya (立飲み屋:A standing bar). And I saw these posters.

All these posters are mainly advertisements for Shochu but most Izakaya (居酒屋: Traditional Japanese bars) and Japanese restaurants (especially old ones) have these type of posters for Sake and Beer too.

I find it intriguing that there is similarity among these pictures, wherever you go in Japan. As if all these posters  belong to particular class of art or as if they are work of a single artist!

Faces of the models, their hairstyles and typical clothing, fuzzy colors and borderlines, specific font for text all are similar. I wonder if these posters have kind of history as well...

Saturday, December 24, 2011

You know you are here for long time...

I was going through my old stuff  as a part of year-end routine of massive house cleaning ritual in Japan and found these. Wow! I thought. It really made me feel the flow of time.

My first mobile in Japan.
J-Phone(later transformed to vodafone) sanyo model:

My second phone by Sharp.
Larger screens and 3-4 Mbps mobile camera were in vogue; The name 'J-Phone' is history but Vodafone is still hanging in.

Next similar, but more powerful from Toshiba.
Softbank has taken over and Vodafone is out of Japan. Looking at this now, I wonder why I carried such monsters.

Shifted to iPhone 3G; One Button Revolution!!
Proud to be among first users of iPhone in Japan. Thanks Mr. Son and Steve!

And my current phone is iPhone 4S. I find no reason to run away from Apple. Just that looking back, I feel how mobile users have come long way...

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Slow life

Life Philosophy T-Shirt found in one of the supermarkets in Tokyo

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Nomikai topics - Your blood type

If you go for nomikai (飲み会:Literally 'drinking party') often with your Japanese friends/colleagues, there are  so called 'FAQ's you will certainly come across.

What is Your Blood Type?

Blood group based fortune telling(血液型占い) is a national pastime in Japan. Initially I thought how can there be only 4 types of people in the world, but it is not about 4 types. It is more about attributing certain traits to the people with certain blood type. Here are some of those traits

Type A:
  • Very particular, meticulous and with sense of responsibility about any thing they do.
  • Do not take much risks.
  • As a shortcoming, these types may get too much involved and think in too many details.
  • Takes time to convey his/her romantic feelings. So forming relationship may take time.
Author's comments: Since you are in Japan, if you are guessed to be A, take it as a compliment.

Type B:
  • Easily interested in many things and gets into action but easily gets bored too.
  • Fickle. Not a great team player. Individualistic and creative.
  • Easily falls in or out of love.
Author's comments: Most looked down upon type to be in relationship with. If you are B, you have lot of 'damage control' to do.

Type AB:
  • Obviously mix of AB. 'Dedication' from A and 'Quick Action' from B makes them successful in most of their tasks.
  • Even while in relationship, tends to keep certain distance with boyfriend/girlfriend.
  • Sometimes gives a deep thought to own actions but sometimes dives into action straightway (Mix of A and B?).
Author's comments: I still don't see how a person can be self contradictory,

Type O:
  • Is dependable and has leadership qualities.
  • Does not give a thorough thought before actions. Sometimes regrets for his actions later.
  • Tends to be in more romantic or dramatic relationship.
  • Makes clear differences between 'them' and 'us'.
Author's comments: Seriously??

So, that was about the 'blood type talk' that you may hear a lot over Japanese dinners with young and middle-aged people. Although in Japanese, there are even books on this type of fortune telling.

Disclaimer: This post is under 'Humor' label since author thinks about any type of fortune telling as a waste of time. No offense! Sometimes I waste my time too, but in other ways.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Dragon Quest

I am not a great fan of video games but recently, I was intrigued to find this crowd at Akihabara enjoying the free wireless range for Dragon Quest players. It was late afternoon and still quite hot outside, but these hard core fans won't let it go!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Try at least once: Fish overies

This wasn't that bad. In fact my overly pampered taste buds could not register any taste at all. You may feel awkward by its slimy touch though.

This dish is offered in many places (fish may be different) as shown in this picture.

You can see the yellow bunch in the center. That's what you eat. Of course you can have the fish too and at least for me, the fish had great taste compared to ovaries. You can take out the overies  in separate dish and put some soy sauce (Shoyu - 醤油)on the top.

Name: I forgot the fish name but these are the ovaries of fish, uncooked.
Place: An Izakaya (Japanese restaurant) near Atami station.
I would appriciate if someone can tell me about the fish.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mount Fuji

I am sure there are many blogs, articles on this topic but since the official season of climbing has started I just want to share my experiences when I climbed it last year.

It was my second time climbing Mt. Fuji. There is a saying in Japan that "If you haven't climbed Mt Fuji even once, you are fool. If you are climbing it twice, you are a fool". Well, I decided to be a fool and prepared for the climb based on my first experience.

There are loads of articles on internet on how to prepare for the climb. You can find some useful information here.

Me and my friends started climbing at 8 PM on a Friday and except for few minutes break to catch our breaths we reached till 8th station smoothly. The top of the mountain was in sight and I thought we will easily make it before sunrise. But after 8th station, situation was worse than a crowded escalator in any metro station in Tokyo. It wasn't moving at all. Somehow we crossed 9th station and the sky turned deep blue from black and then orange towards east. We could almost see faces of people lining up at the top to watch sunrise but I decided to take a good spot right there and watch the sunrise. It was a good decision because ever after watching sunrise it took us another 45 minutes to cover 10 minutes distance. Anyway the crowd was all calm and orderly as usual unlike any place in world.

Eventually it paid off since I could click amazing sunrise and moonset pictures from the same spot.

After enjoying some more hours at the top of Japan and enjoying extraordinarily pricy curry rice and noodles we decided to call it a day and get down. The descent is the worst part of this. It feels like forever. Something like a mirage. You see the end of the trail till your eyes can reach and once you reach there, the trail still goes on and on.

A word of caution: One of my friend and his wife nearly got stranded on their way back because they reached late and started their descent too late. Fortunately they met a Japanese person who helped them get back to nearest city and stay there overnight. Their first climb became a horror story to tell instead of a good memory. Study the routes well and call it quits if you can't make it within planned time. People have died here. Not to mention the horrible Aokigahara forest at the mountain base.

If you take basic precautions and read the instructions very well, Mt. Fuji is certainly a place to visit while in Japan.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Summer gifts

Rainy season is officially over! Hot and humid summer is here to stay for couple of months.
Summer is the period of various festivals. It is also the time when you send gift packs to your friends, family and colleagues. Since I first came to Japan, wonderful gift packets and the whole range of items presented as gifts have  always amazed me.

Assorted beer cans, cooking oils, soya sauce (shoyu) in summer gift packages

 High quality meat is also a  nice summer gift.
These are very few examples of what is available in summer gift packs. Of course wine, sake, coffee, green tea, cold drinks, dried fish, cookies are also available from wide choices of other gifts.

For me, when I see these in the super markets it's the feeling that time for hanabi (firework) is close!!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Time to go digital

For those with analogue TV sets, they will lose the TV transmission from 24th July

We bought our digital TV last year when Japan government was offering certain points as a way to promote more eco-friendly products and revive the economy.

Eco points were going to be halved after December 2010. So we rushed to Yodobashi camera in early November and decided on 40 inches Sharp AQUOS. Eco points + Yodobashi camera discount got me almost 50% off. It has proved a good choice so far.

For those who missed on the digitalization wave or have just arrived in Japan, here are some tips:

  • Don't go for any second hand TV set unless you are certain that the TV is capable of digital transmission. You will notice a mark on right hand top of the screen saying アナログ  meaning Analogue.
  • For most of the mansion the antenna for digital transmission should be taken care by building management company.

  • If you are not sure about what will happen with your current TV set, first talk to your mansion superintendent or if you live in a single story house refer to this.

By the way here is the comparison in digital and analogue quality for those interested.

Analogue Transmission

And the digital transmission
You may not notice the difference immediately but if you click and enlarge the pictures and compare them overlapping you will know what I mean.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Google plus

Google+ is here!! Eventually a social networking site from Google, as expected!!

I am on facebook. Not that I am going to move to Google+ immediately but I certainly want to have a look at what GOOGLE has come up with.

I immediately took a demo. Here are 2 features I found interesting.

Google Plus tour screen

Circles (You can group your contacts using circles)
Well this is exactly I found Facebook lacked in clarity during its initial days. In real life, you don’t share everything about you with everyone you know. There are circles and circles within circles! With facebook, you can do that eventually by using groups but it wasn’t intuitive took me little time figuring it out.

Huddle (You can start a SMS conversation with a group)
Although many smart phones allow you to do it already, I haven’t seen this functionality in any social networking yet.

On the contrary “Hangouts” is something I felt not good from a point of view of keeping your users interested. I said that because as in real life, if these hangouts are public, and someone you really don’t want in, tries to jump in then the spirit of hangout gets killed. I am really interested in how this feature is received.

Although the site is not open it for everyone yet, you can register your email address to be kept posted.

Facebook is certainly picking up in Japan against some local social networking sites. Will be interesting to see how Google plus performs here.

I am looking forward to it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Longest summer ever for Japan

Because of the March Tohoku earthquake and loss of Fukushima nuclear reactor and damage to its supply lines, Tokyo Electricity Power Company (TEPCO) is in very difficult situation this year.

And so are most of its customers.

It has asked all it's customers to cut 15% electricity consumption this summer. If you have been to Japan during peak summer (July, August) you know that how much torture it is to be here during this period. Maximum temperature rises up to 40 degree Celsius and humidity never allows you to go anywhere.

Companies and businesses already have started saving electricity from March. They are undertaking many steps including

  • Dimmed lighting. Removing tube lights and bulbs from their sockets.
  • Stopping some of the elevators.
  • No overtime policy.
  • Merging their staff on single floor and shutting off empty floors entirely.
  • Work from home.
  • Less or no electric displays for advertising.
  • Shortened business hours.
And the most painful...
  • Setting air conditioner temperatures at around  26 to 28 degrees.

My own company is following most of the above and has decided to shut down entire offices across Tokyo region for couple of weeks by giving extended summer vacation to the employees.

Yahoo and many major news sites have live feeds for electricity consumption monitoring like below.

Live feeds on electricity consumption (Actual and projection). Source:
Upper part of the graph is the graph for today and projected peak for coming week.
Lower part is the actual and projected peak timings for entire week.

As you can see, today (28th June) maximum usage peaked at 99%. Today's maximum temperature was ONLY 31 degrees and yet consumption reached 99% of TEPCO capacity!! Imagine what will happen when the temperatures cross 35 or reaches near to 40 degrees. If this graph crosses 100% then there are certain blackouts!!

Everything is not bleak for everyone though. Many companies are making good business on this too. Like Toshiba. LED bulbs similar as shown here which consume up to 90% less electricity than conventional bulbs are making sales like never before.

We started switching off lights, stop using AC and use the fan instead since April this year. Our reduced electricity bill was the only "consolation prize". But it seems clear now that even all these steps are not going to be sufficient to provide stable electricity supply in Tokyo region this year.

Hospitals, nursing homes, families with newborns, sick or disabled people in their homes are going to be at the highest risk. For a city once ranked 3rd in the world for its livability, this summer is going to test limits of some of its capabilities. It has been a year of strange weather in Japan since winter. Let's hope the summer is also *strange* and does not cross 35 degrees.

I am really praying that TEPCO succeeds in avoiding blackouts. But I am not going to take risk and preparing for darker nights and hotter days is what I am going to do this weekend!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tokyo is safe

There has been lot of misinformation spreading in and outside Japan.

People who are already afraid and want to justify their fears are simply looking for reasons to support their beliefs and calling on so called conspiracies to hide the facts from people. Recently some of the people around me became illogical enough to claim that Fukushima nuclear waste is being treated in Tokyo.

To stay or to leave is individual decision. Just let it be an informed one not a *contracted* one.

Independent Geiger counter readings from across the Japan:

Data from government labs taking daily readings on fallout and water radiation levels:

Updates from IAEA:

By the way, before you decide that you are taking too much radiation (which you are not if you are outside Fukushima prefecture) consider following.

  • Anywhere on earth, there is a constant  radiation called as natural background radiation. It differs from place to place. My home country has a place called Kerla where radiation is higher than even Fukushima surroundings. Japan is among those places where natural radiation is half of global average. So you are taking less radiation anyway by living here.
  • Even in your daily life if you use old PC monitors, if you have a smoke detector right above your head where you work, if you work in hospitals, labs or near electronics shop you take high radiation anyway.
  • If you smoke, drink too much, follow a unhealthy life style you may as well lose one of these habits and still able to avoid *ill* effects of this radiation whatsoever.
  • Despite all this if you decide to leave, consider where you are going. If the place you are going has more natural pollution, social or economic factors causing overall health degradation then you are achieving nothing.
Again, Tokyo is safe from radiation and the situation is not worsening. So spread the correct information not the fear.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Who is next?

Japan has had 5 prime ministers in last 5 years. And the current PM seems to be his way out too.

I first came to Japan just when PM Mori Yoshiro was about to leave. Looking back now, only Koizumi Junichiro seemed capable of driving this country with his charismatic influence.

My wife generally is quite blasé about politics unlike me. But the other day she asked me “How long does Japanese parliament is supposed to last? 2 Years” with very straight face. Since she is only here from the last term of Koizumi, it was obvious for a person not following politics to imagine that 2 years is the maximum for any Japanese prime minister.

In fact last 4 prime ministers could barely complete their 1st year in the office. One of them did not manage even that.

First from this list is Shinzo Abe.

His tenure as PM was uneventful overall and troubled by his agricultural ministers. His first agricultural minister committed suicide, second and third were center of financial scandals. He eventually passed his reign to Yasuo Fukuda after falling popularity. But before he left one important thing he started was opening active diplomacy with India which has continued till today.

Yasuo Fukuda

As suddenly as he became the prime minister, he left the office in a flash too. Especially after his tenure I started to get a feeling that why do all these high ranking politicians lack a simple common sense of staying out of controversy. After series of failures at parliament and controversies, again he decided to resign out of the blue.

Taro Aso

Born in the family of politicians and related to royal family it seemed that there is finally someone who can complete his tenure in the office. But was in the office when his party, Liberal Democratic Party was already loosing popularity. Their ousting was unavoidable.

Yukio Hatoyama

Well. He was the last person I thought would be PM of Japan. In fact even he himself had a look on face as if the surprise of becoming PM never went away. He became PM on the loads of high promises made by his party, Democratic Party of Japan, which obviously were too much to deliver. In Japan this was unforgivable.
His fashion sense was impeccable!! I mean a PM can wear THAT?? And nobody even advised him against it?

Hatoyama with his amazing fashion sense
Naoto Kan

As his predecessors, he also looked promising until the disaster struck. He made the disaster look lot worse. He even cried on live broadcast. He has been anything but inspiration for people suffering under such a great disaster.


I would certainly want to see Yukio Edano. He has been the face of defiance in the event of great Tohoku earthquake and while PM Kan was never to be seen, Edano was alone handling everything, including angry press, incompetent TEPCO and the relief operations. In my opinion, no one other than Koizumi has shown such a promise.

Anyway, whoever it may be, he/she (am I expecting too much?) should just complete the term!!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Identify yourself

You are allowed to shop only if you are human! 

A gift wrapping paper in Tokyo shop saying "I am a bear, who are you".

Blooming Tokyo metro

A friendly notice on how to transfer to another line

Friday, April 15, 2011

Izu peninsula from the Sky

Taken from the plane while I was travelling back from a business trip
You can see Mt. Fuji in the background.

In case of earthquake..

After the 11th March earthquake, the emergency goods (防災グッズ - pronounced 'bosai gootz' ) started to disappear fast from all over the Japan.

It was a natural reaction by everybody experiencing never before aftershocks. I also did some shopping and here are some tips to stay prepared.

Things you will need to keep ready in the emergency bag (In the order of priority):

1. Helmets. For kids, you will get a 'safety cushion' to wear on the top of head which looks kind of extended version of inverted pyramid.
2. Food & water: This you will get in lot of variety. Be careful about the expiry dates.
3. A whistle: To attract attention if you are trapped somewhere.
4. Thin sheets to protect you from wind and chill.
5. Shoes which can protect you from broken glasses and rubble.
6. Rope.
7. Lighter/Match sticks/Candles.
8. Plastic bags.
9. Baby food. If you have a breastfeeding baby, this should go top of the list.
10. Any medication which you must have daily.

This is the top of the list. I have found that many kits these days come with innovative new items like small radio sets, hygiene kits, basic medicines etc. It all depends on where you live and how much time you expect for help to arrive in case of emergency. Do the assessment of your own community, consult with your local emergency response teams if necessary and choose the best suitable kit for you.

Stay safe.

Mayday 4 Person Deluxe Emergency Backpack Kit
Survivor Emergency Kit-4 Person, Emergency Zone brand, Disaster Survival Kit, 72 Hour Kit

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


March 11th 2011.. 2:45 PM

I was in a conference at a hotel near Shinagawa, Tokyo and overhead chandelier started to shake. Slightly at first...First thoughts were 'ah another quake..should stop within few seconds..just wait it out'..Speaker stopped talking. Ready to resume once shaking stops..But after just 3-4 seconds the movement just went on increasing and soon it was shaking as if we were sitting in a freight train..Shaking sounds of chandelier, walls, glass windows together is permanently burned into my memory now.

'This is big'..'Calm down..calm down'..were the voices around..My first reaction was to get away from the chandelier and move closer to walls..taking out my mobile to call my wife sitting..Our being a high rise mansion I was deeply concerned..Before I could call I had a missed call from her and then every cell line went dead..not getting through at all..This is bad..Still shaking..Is this 'the big one' expected around Tokyo region? All kinds of doubts and fears were popping in our minds.

Someone opened the blinds facing Tokyo bay, and immediately we could see the huge fire near Odaiba. High rise mansions around Tokyo were still standing. That was somewhat assuring. Tokyo fire departments helicopters were immediately airborne.

After a couple of huge aftershocks within 10 min of the main shock, hotel staff decided to evacuate. Phones were still down. Meanwhile,  someone turned on a TV on their mobile. It was working. Center was in Tohoku. North Japan. So this was not the one expected around Tokyo. But one thing was clear. Wherever this quake was centered, sizable damages and casualties were certain. But nothing had prepared me to what really was coming.

I decided to walk home immediately. Now thinking back, this decision was well timed.

During my 3 hours walk back home, what I saw proved the real character of Japanese society.

People walking back home. You can see the counterweight of one of the high rise has come to rest in odd position after violent shaking.
No panic - at least not that you can see, no pushing around, everybody walking in line and even waiting for pedestrian signals, office staff circling around a building to navigate people around broken glass and apologizing for 'the inconvenience' caused.

Hard to see in this picture but many window glasses are broken
I reached near our mansion expecting a hike to our twenty something floor. Fortunately elevator had started. My wife was preparing to leave to stay with our friend, on much lower floor to avoid elevator outages. I was more than elated to see my family. But after I looked outside of my house I saw this.

Fire at the Chiba oil refinery (See wikipedia)

Immediately I turned my attention to TV and soon realized that this all is far from over. But I never realized that it would be the most turbulent one month of our lives.