TOKYO POLICE

There are a LOT of police in Tokyo. I mean a LOT. Seems like every few blocks you run into a group of them. You don’t see many police cars and the one time that I was flagged down, it was the police officer stepping onto the road.

Perhaps one of the reasons why Tokyo is so safe (although I think it is more cultural, than due to police presence).

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I am always driving past these fellows and I have yet to figure out what they do. They just stare at the passing cars, sometimes a whistle in their mouth just waiting to be blown. At other times holding their walkie-talkie and watching the traffic drive by.

Always staring. Never moving. I don’t understand. (smile)

THINKS YOU WON’T SEE IN KANADA

A store in Tokyo is filled with unique finds .. most in Japanese and indecipherable to the gaijin.

Condensed milk in a tube. Purchased to make a Vietnamese coffee at home.

condensed milk

An individually wrapped prune goes well with your Cream Collon (tube cookies with a creamy center). You can’t make this stuff up.

prunes

I was speaking with someone about how healthy Japan is. But a fellow in pharmaceuticals said that the cholesterol and diabetes drug markets are growing rapidly in Tokyo. This is why; the only thing I will eat in McDonalds is an egg mcmuffin but I won’t eat that. Obesity on a bun. Hey McDonalds, “Big Canadian” could go there too (unfortunately).

cholesterol

In Tokyo there are safety men everywhere. I mean everywhere, with their hands waving to ensure you don’t crash into a truck or workmen or any of 1,000 other things going on near the roads.

But automation is on the way …. A bit hard to see, but the LED safety patrolman.

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A butcher skinning something on the street. What is it? No idea, but he had a big crowd.

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You never know what you will see next.

Update: adding one more. Sitting in the doctors office I saw an add for this brand of baby diapers.

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HOW TO BUY IN THE US or CANADA FROM ABROAD

 

Living abroad you face many challenges; such as accessing websites to maintain your subscriptions and being blocked because of where your IP address is (i.e Japan) and buying things in another country that are not available locally or way over priced (In Japan, most frequent is “not available”).

The simplest way to re-sign for subscriptions is through a VPN service like StrongVPN which make it look like your PC is in that country via a local IP address. Relatively simply and one I use all the time.

As for buying things, that really comes down to how often you travel home. In my case, going to Canada is an “almost never” scenario. But the US is more frequent due to a US based HQ. But that doesn’t fully solve the problem as many websites require a US billing address. A few examples:

  • Try to sign up for a on-line service out of the US (i.e. a music service ) and you will be out of luck unless you have a US credit card and billing address.
  • Several websites will require US billing and shipping address when buying goods due to fraud concerns.

Very difficult, or so I thought. Turns out that you can change your billing address on a Canadian credit card to another address for a period of time (30 days, 5 days). I did it with Amex, changing my billing address to the hotel I was staying in for 5 days to process the orders. Voila, order away and when I arrive at the hotel my goods will be waiting.

I will also use this trick to renew a few online subscriptions, opting to pay the entire years fee in one lump sum.

Neat trick.

HOW TO SPEND $1,000 AT A CONVENIENCE STORE

 

This weekend I had to pay a few bills for the first time. When I went into the Citibank they informed me that it is easier to pay at the local convenience store than at the bank (seriously).

At the convenience store they only take cash. $1,000 later, my bills were paid.

A first for me.

ONE BEEF TO RULE THEM ALL: WAGYU

 

If you love eating beef you have probably heard about Kobi beef and the mythology around it, especially around the way they are treated (relaxing music, daily combing, etc.).

Kobe beef (神戸ビーフ Kōbe bīfu?) refers to cuts of beef from the black Tajima-ushi breed of Wagyū cattle, raised according to strict tradition in Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan. The meat is generally considered to be a delicacy, renowned for its flavour, tenderness, and fatty, well-marbled texture. Kobe beef can be prepared as steak, sukiyaki, shabu shabu, sashimi, teppanyaki. and more.

On my first trip to Japan I had their beef, or Wagyu,  explained to me. From wikipedia:

Wagyu (和牛 Wagyū?, literally Japanese cow) refers to several breeds of cattle genetically predisposed to intense marbling and to producing a high percentage of oleaginous unsaturated fat. The meat from wagyu cattle is known worldwide for its marbling characteristics, increased eating quality through a naturally enhanced flavor, tenderness and juiciness, and a high market value. In several areas of Japan, beef is shipped with area names. Some examples are Kobe, Mishima, Matsusaka, Ōmi, and Sanda beef.

Wagyu cattle’s genetic predisposition yields a beef that contains a higher percentage of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids[1] than typical beef. The increased marbling also improves the ratio of monounsaturated fats to saturated fats.

As the above states, the name of the beef relates to the location, with Kobe beef only coming from the Hyogo prefecture (think province or state). My Japanese colleagues did not think of Kobe as overly special,  explaining that someone who loves Japanese beef knows their favourite region of Wagyu.

My first experience was at Acalli. It is an out of the way local restaurant with a great chef. We ordered a series of dishes with the finale being a beef and fish plate. It has to be a shared finale as 50 grams is JPN 2,200 (Roughly $28CDN/US).  It is meant to be savoured instead of served as main course, which is very different than the North American steakhouse where you get a giant slab of beef and surround it with trimmings. It was amazing, the flavour is like nothing I have ever tasted before, bursting seems the right word.

Having located a Costco and acquired a BBQ (another story) I meandered through the beef section and was surprised to see row after row of US beef with the Wagyu beef tucked into a small area. Upon reflection it seems logical, Japan isn’t an island with a lot of grazing room to mass produce cattle.

Below is the tray of Wagyu that I bought.

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Better yet, look at the price in the bottom right corner. 2572JPN for 461 grams, versus 2200JPN for 100 grams at the local grocery store …. Got to love Costco and it tastes fantastic on the new BBQ.

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A CLOSE CALL

 

When you enter a new country you are bombarded with new “norms”, how people do things will always be different. Part of assimilating into the new culture is a decision process of running through your own values, views and systems and determining where you will change.

In Tokyo, almost no one wears a bike helmet. In a city where biking is a primary form of transportation and hundreds upon hundreds of bikes line the streets, it is odd for me to see so few people without a helmet (usually only Gaijin wear helmets). It reminds me of the 1970’s when people had seatbelts in their car but no one bothered wearing them. I remember my parents buckling the seat belt together and tucking it into the seat to stop that annoying “Seatbelt not on” alarm bell. Scary.

Last night we had to run to the store and I wanted to bike. It was the first time we had ridden at night. There are not many street lamps in our area so it was quite dark. As I moved from the road to the sidewalk, to avoid a car, my front tire caught the cement edge and in a flash I slammed into the ground – hard.

What is still a bit nerve wracking is that only 30 minutes earlier I had debated not wearing my helmet as it was close and “no one bothers”. But I did and I feel very fortunate. Had I not, who knows what would have happened.  This is my helmet after the accident – cracked in 4 places.

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A close call. That could have been my bare head. As a side note, the eggs did not break.

GETTING A LICENSE IN JAPAN

 

Last week was “register in Tokyo, Japan” week. One of those actions; get a license. It is times like this where I am very happy to be a Canadian and feel bad for my American friends.

If you are Canadian (or one of a few other nationalities; UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Luxembourg, Norway … and a bunch of others) it is a relatively simple but bureaucratic process. You go to JAF (Japan Auto Federation) and have your license translated then head to the license bureau. You get in the international line, go through a few stations, have your picture taken, do an eye test and exit the license bureau 3-5 hours later. We were smart and arrived as the doors opened and were number 2 and 3 in line. Had we arrived an hour later, I think we would have been 5 hours.

We could have waited a year had I taken the time to get an international drivers license at CAA. We skipped the process and went straight for the license with a “get it out of the way” mentality.

If you are American it is dramatically different. You have to go through a full certification process which includes a written exam (easy) and a driving exam (not so easy). In speaking with a local Canadian, he mentioned an American friend who has failed 7 times as it is very rigorous and the instructor speaks zero English. Therefore you need to know the basics of the language (straight, left, right, etc.) and deal with the notorious Japanese driving instructor reputation built on an insane attention to detail. You better be turning your head to check the blind spot at an exact 45 degree angle or you are failing. It sounds like the same thing we heard from our American friends in the UK.

What I never understood is why this is the case; is it some type of anti-American persecution?  I finally found the answer; the US government is unable to negotiate a reciprocal treaty with countries like Japan and the UK as the US states do not have a uniform agreement on driving license policy that governs all of the states. The downside of their independent states. Oh yes, and one other element; the US is worse to foreigners. If you move to the US you can only use your international permit for a month (not a year) and then have to go through all of the same driving tests and hoops; what comes around goes around I guess.

That being said, there are strategies. A colleague mentioned that he turned the tables on his Japanese instructor and the attention to detail by following the rules to the letter of the law. Before starting the test he went through an exhaustive pre-driving checklist; lights, checking the seatbelts, tire pressure and on and on, to the exasperation of the instructor who kept telling him to go. He refused stating that “the safety of this car and all passengers is my responsibility and I need to make sure it is safe”. He then refused to get out of the car until the instructor had confirmed that he passed (Japanese do not like confrontation). On the 3rd or 4th refusal to get out of the car the instructor finally said “You passed – out”.

Good strategy (LOL).

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