THINGS I WOULD NOT BUY IN TOKYO

A bear I would never buy. The warning is very clear about language.

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I believe this golf visor was in the men’s section.

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The below translates into roughly $60USD per melon.

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And Tokyo is the 6th most expensive city currently!

CALM DOWN

A sign in Azabu Juban that made me laugh.

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TUCKED BEHIND

An old set of buildings, jammed between new ones in Tokyo, Japan.

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SAKURA CROWDS

Part of the sakura season in Tokyo is the celebration; gathering friends, throwing down a blanket on the grass and hanging out. This usually involves food and of course – drink.

It gets very crowded under those trees.

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I cannot see what the sign on the left says but I think it says that you are not allowed to have food there.

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Public alcohol is not a problem in Tokyo, it would appear. This shot (above) was taken at Arisugawa park. A beautiful park near Hiroo station in the heart of Tokyo.

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STIHL SAW

Study after study suggest that memories are heavily linked to the senses; sight, smell and sound. According to this study it is because of where memories are stored:

Sights, sounds and smells can all evoke emotionally charged memories. A new study in rats suggests why: The same part of the brain that’s in charge of processing our senses is also responsible, at least in part, for storing emotional memories.

Spring has sprung in Tokyo and as in so many other four season cities around the world, that means construction. As I walked to the subway the other day I passed a construction site with a large safety wall blocking my view. It was early so the crews were just starting up … and in this case one of the crew was starting up a Stihl saw. I could not see it, but I instantly recognized the sound.

The ‘almost flooded’ coughing as the single stroke engine caught, followed by the high pitch whine as the operator revved the engine. It has been more than two decades since I put myself through university on summer construction sites – driving heavy equipment, lugging blocks and spending hour and hours bent over a Stihl saw with a diamond blade. At that moment, the memories felt like they were from yesterday.

STIHL_Cut-off_Saw_TS_410__Toronto_Ontario___Kooy_Brothers

FLOWERS DOWN A BACK STREET

Last Saturday the sakura were still out – although fading fast. It is such a short season and after two full bloom, “peak” days, it rained for 3 days straight with wind. Down came the sakura.

The sun was out Saturday afternoon so I decided to take a quick walk – a last walk to enjoy the season. From our balcony I could see a few big trees in bloom. As we made our way down the alleys, we came across these huge bushes, in full bloom with perfect, pink flowers.

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It never ceases to amaze me to be in these temperate climates where flowers abound. In Canada, flowers are a concerted effort.

Around the corner, in a small park (5 trees wide), the last of the bloom.

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The local baseball field is surrounded with blooming trees.

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An entire city turns pink.

THE IMPERIAL PALACE, TOKYO

As we wandered around Tokyo seeking the sakura we came across the Imperial palace and the gardens, in bloom.

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The blooming sakura stand out among the greenery.

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I loved the view.

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A great afternoon – finally enjoyed the sakura.

UENO PARK, TOKYO

Last year we missed the blooming sakura, Tokyo’s famous cherry trees. One of the most famous is Ueno park, truly breathtaking in the middle of a city of 40M.

Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/2.5 USM.

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Down the main path – the sky was filled with blossoms.

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As with everywhere in Tokyo, there were large crowds. Everyone enjoying Hanami;

is the Japanese traditional custom of enjoying the transient beauty of flowers, "flower" in this case almost always meaning cherry blossoms ("sakura") or (less often) plum blossoms ("ume").[1] From the end of March to early May, sakura bloom all over Japan,[2]

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Truly spectacular. Should have brought some sake to sit with the crowds …

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TREE TRIMMING AND CONES, TOKYO

As I wandered around Chofu I started to get lost. Fortunately I had my iPhone and used it to locate where I was and where I had left the car. Somehow I had gotten quite far off track so I cut through a park to get closer.

I came across these gents heading out for work. They were trimming trees in their tiny little truck. There seems to be a lot of little specialty vehicles in Japan.

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You are not allowed to do a lot of things in the park. The “no golfing” was the one that caught my eye.

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I do not know why, but apparently this guy is a lucky man. Why does his poster have English on it? You have got me.

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I wandered past a train station. It seemed like everyone on the platform was looking at their phone.

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It never stops amazing me how many bikes there are in Tokyo. Probably one of the reasons why there are very few obese people in Japan, they all ride bikes (and don’t eat western fast food). The bikes are everywhere on the streets and at certain train stations, they even have their own parking lot.

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A friend of mine is constantly writing about the cone culture in Japan. They are literally everywhere and often, head scratchers. Cone madness.

The “this is a sidewalk” coning.

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The “garden in waiting” coning.

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The “please don’t walk into my air conditioner that is closely tucked away and you would never hit it anyway” coning.

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My final shots of Chofu. As you walk through Tokyo, a land of 40 million, you will also come across random plots of land that have remained farm land. This “farm land” is often crammed in between apartment buildings and 2 story houses that are 500 square feet per level (including land).

And like so many farmers that I know, they have a tough time throwing things out. You never know when you will need it …

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A greenhouse waiting for spring.

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Love the look of this building. I cannot begin to guess the age.

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A good wander.

OBVIOUS

Wandering around Chofu (a district of Tokyo) I came across this place. I am not sure what is going on, is it a shop?

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There was a very helpful sign in English. If anyone could help me out with the translation, that would be great.

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Foreigner in a foreign land.

SHOTS AROUND A TEMPLE, TOKYO

A small temple, tucked off the road in Chofu, Tokyo, Japan. As seen by one of the many mirrors on the road. The mirrors are in place as the buildings are so close to the roads that it is almost impossible to see around corners.

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No one was around .. just a pair of boots.

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The temple was across from the tracks. Everything in Japan (and Tokyo) is so tightly packed in and usually close to some type of train track.

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Being Canadian, seeing lemon trees like this in January when it is 6C is a bit baffling.

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Near the temple was a workshop of some type. Odd seeing what appears to be a machine shop in the middle of what feels like a residential area.

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As always, Tokyo is filled with random English.

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People often refer to India as “Incredible India”. Seems like Tokyo needs a adjective inserted.

CARS, TOKYO

No matter where you are in the world, people love old cars. Japan is no different. I happened on these while killing time in Chofu.

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There was a shop restoring them.

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All good junkyard like shops have vicious guard dogs. This one was not happy that I was lurking near the cars.

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Remember, always look up. When I was a kid I did a lot of Japanese Tamiya models. It would appear that the owner likes working on all sizes of cars.

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One more car. I wonder what is under the tarp?

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And the config, as you might guess:  Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/3.5 USM. Might need to blow the dust off the other lenses soon.

GUESS THE WEATHERCOCK

The use of English in Japan can be interesting. Take a guess at what this company’s business is?

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The definition of weathercock:

A wind vane (or weathercock) is an instrument for showing the direction of the wind. They are typically used as an architectural ornament to the highest point of a building.

I only figured it out by looking in the window (smile) and noticing the colors that are inside of the lamp by the door.

BUILDING REFLECTIONS, TOKYO

 

Buildings reflecting buildings. Config: Canon 5D Mark III with a Canon 28-300mm f/3.5 USM.

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I took this shot for two reasons. First, the reflection caught my eye. Second, the slogan. This is a grocery store – if anyone knows what their slogan means, let me know. A Jenglish head-scratcher for sure.

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Still scratching my head …

I add this building not due to the reflections, but because it is doing a great impersonation of a haunted house.

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Last shot. A side street. For some reason even though there are a lot of cables, they look more orderly than India.

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Thanks for dropping by.

DOWN THE STREET, TOKYO, HIROO

Through the gate .. down the street .. as shot from a shrine’s parking lot.

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Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/3.5 USM.

FISHERMEN, DOWNTOWN TOKYO

In Arisugawa park on a chilly but clear Saturday. I would expect they practice catch and release.

Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/3.5 USM.

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A great spot.

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TOKYO MOON, JAPAN

Especially bright a few weeks ago. My first shots with the new Canon 28-300mm f/3.5 USM of the Tokyo sky. I have been reading about night shots. These were shot at f/22 with a long exposure to get the Tokyo Tower as clear as possible.

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On this night the moon rose from the buildings to a crisp, clear sky.

TOKYO SNOW

I do not miss snow. Not a very Canadian thing to say but it is true. Snow is highly over rated. Great for winter sports, a nuisance for everyday life.

The winter has been mild in Tokyo – quite warm, in the 10C range until a few weeks ago when the city was hammered with two storms and a chill. The chill meant that the snow stayed around.

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I arrived home from a long business trip to the snow and a traveler’s flu – unfortunately an all too common incident this year despite a regime of face masks, Cold FX, Zinc, hand sanitizer and vitamin water.

I looked out the window, the snow was falling and the trees looked beautiful but I was not up for venturing out (unfortunately). I did pull out the Canon 28-300mm and snap a few shots. It would have been magical clomping around in the night with a 50mm – an opportunity missed.

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Snow can be beautiful.

THE SAKURA ARE COMING, TOKYO

Last year due to a late cold snap the traditional plum and sakura seasons were shorter and a little different on their timing. We happened to miss the best flowering as we were away on holiday. Hopefully the same will not happen this year.

The weather in Tokyo remains cold, but the trees have begun to flower – in this case the plum blossoms. Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/3.5 USM.

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On Saturday I walked through Arisugawa park, a hidden treasure of Tokyo. The green was starting to peak through. The families were out, enjoying the sun.

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I will not miss the blooms this year!

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THE MAD LINE, HIROO, TOKYO

Tokyo is a busy city. Everywhere is always busy. Despite being busy, it always feels orderly and most of the time – the crowds are not overwhelming.

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But one thing is for sure. The crowds are always there – it goes hand in hand with a population of 40 million. At times, those crowds are inexplicable to a foreigner. The popcorn stand being one of those ‘scratch my head’ examples.

I have found another in Hiroo. This line was a couple hundred meters long – which I estimate as a two hour wait (minimum – it was not moving fast).

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Why? Three guesses.

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“AND THE FRIET”

Yes. A tiny little French fry shop. Seriously.

THREE GUESSES IN TOKYO

What is this? As seen in Tokyo Japan.

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It took me that many attempts to figure out how to use it. It is a paper towel dispenser .. somehow the towels come out the top.

Always an adventure.

ENGLISH

Reading this sign I could not help but a) smile and b) think that it should be accompanied by a few other phrases, such as “sure you do” at your clinic that is ‘post office opposite”.

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THE COST OF TOKYO

According to the latest indexes, the drop in the Yen means that Tokyo has gone from most expensive place in the world (when we first moved here) to number 13 .. not even in the top 10!

It sure does not feel that way (100 yen is roughly $1).

An expensive pancake (Y280)

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2 pieces of fruit (individually wrapped for your pleasure).image

12 slices of bread.

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I think these prices are the reason why Japanese stay so thin.

A PRECIDENT BASED WAY OF THINKING

There is a famous Japanese saying:

出る釘は打たれる。

Deru kugi wa utareru or in English: the nail that sticks out gets hammered down. In other words, follow the rules and in Japan, there is a big rule book.

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Rules are an interesting thing with cultures treating them very differently. I have come to believe that rules are like our legal system – precedent based. Over time, precedent changes as culture and thinking changes. No better example is what you see happening in North and South American around marijuana with some contemporary thought leaders like Bill Gates coming out with opinions you would not have expected. Our world is changing and will keep changing as views, economies, politics and opinions change. That is why slavery is banned and women can vote.

In Japan it is encouraging to see Prime Minister Abe taking the cultural challenges head on with plans such as his push to get women into the workforce, but there is a long road ahead. This is a very old culture with 3000 years of history (unlike my home country).

In the same article on Abe’s efforts, the Prime Minister makes an interesting observation on Japan which explains the conservative mindset:

Japan, he said, had been like a golfer, stuck in a bunker for 15 years, but reluctant to reach for the sand wedge, in case they over-hit the ball and shoot out-of-bounds. Now, he said, Japan had finally had the courage to use the sand-wedge.

The rules centric culture of Japan has benefits. Orderly, clean, safe and if you can figure out how it works – efficient. There is no city in the world that runs like Tokyo. You simply need to take a train in Japan and then compare the experience to a train in India to understand the power of structure and rules.

But it also has interesting drawbacks in the form of risk aversion and the creation of some very odd situations. My recent experience at Haneda is a good example of the danger of rules, in this case at the taxi stand.

The "rule" for the taxi stand is that the attendant must take the next taxi in line for passengers – no exceptions. That means that if you are in line with a family that will not fit into a small sedan, he is not allowed to call a van out of line or from where they queue to assist you.

I learned this after a very difficult conversation with an attendant around why he would not call up a van.

After the back and forth (due to my lack of Japanese language skills), he also figured out how to communicate to me that there is another rule; “the customer is always right”.

In other words, he could not call up a van. but if I decided to walk down the line and call a van to the front, he could do nothing about it.

I wonder how many years will go by before someone decides to fix this rule? Or will the nail just get pounded down every time serving the status quo?

 

And on a related note with regard to precedent, the evolution of rules often has unintended consequences. This one caught my attention and made me laugh.

Kicking habit

OLD ENGLAND, PARIS IN TOKYO, JAPAN

Near my office in Tokyo. Confusing.

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RANDOM JAPANESE ODDITY EXPLAINED

Every time that I buy something (no matter how large or small) and use a credit card in Japan I get asked “1 or 2 payments”. I know this because of the hand signals that accompany the clerk speaking rapidly to me in Japanese.

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I always thought this was some form of affordability thing – do I want to split my payment across two credit cards? After all, my cards might struggle with $30 of cat litter and random bits from the D2.

Turns out I was halfway right. An oddity of the Japanese credit card market is that you can take two payments at the till. The second half of the payment will be processed at a later date (15 or 30 days I was told) and you pay the credit card interest for the period (As obnoxious as in Canada – 19.99%).

Mystery explained.

As a random aside, I just ordered the Amazon Visa. Why? Unlike my AMEX, no currency transaction fees – which is a surprising 2.9%. While researching this I also found some interesting information on bank transaction fees::

An analysis by Cardhub showed that using credit cards with no currency conversion fees save consumers an average of 7.9 percent when compared to exchange rates offered at banks and 14.7 percent when compared to airport exchange services. Even if you are stuck with a card that charges the fee, you’ll still come out ahead using plastic, the survey found: You’ll save 4.9 percent on average and 11.7 percent, compared to banks and airport currency exchange services, respectively.

Those fees add up.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ANA and THAI AIRWAYS

I have pontificated on how safe, clean and orderly Japan is many times. It is unlike anywhere in the world.

Over the holiday we lost an iPhone on Thai Airways. We were in Bangkok and as we went to fly out we stopped at lost and found to find out if it was turned in. The answer was a no. Therefore one of the cleaning staff or attendants found it (as a fellow passenger would not have seen it) and decided to keep it .. in other words, steal it.

Unfortunately, this is no different than many airlines around the world. It still bugs me 8 years later when I walked off a plane and was not allowed to go back on the Air Canada flight, leaving behind a bottle of Scotch that I had picked up for my father-in-law in England. It “disappeared”.

I would wager with 95% confidence that had we lost that iPhone on a ANA flight the staff would have turned it in and we would be using it right now.

Like nowhere else in the world.

I am sure that if you are reading this and have lived in Japan, that you could share a similar experience.

WHY MR. JACKSON?

So this weekend I thought to take the family to catch the new Hobbit flick in Tokyo. To my surprise, it is not here.

A quick look on the interweb found the opening dates of the Hobbit across the world. It is EVERYWHERE in December except for ….. Japan. Latvia .. Columbia … Estonia … United Arab Emirates .. Egypt .. no problem.

Japan? No. It opens here a few weeks before the DVD comes out. Why? No idea.

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SALARYMAN

It seems the Japanese can sleep anywhere, anytime. I cannot fathom how you do not miss your stop.

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A FEW MORE OBSERVATIONS

Via my iPhone.

A very fast train (In China)

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Excuse me .. I was looking for the Vitamin C aisle?

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A friend told me it was –26C and snowing like mad in Calgary. I do not miss snow. I never need to see snow again. We had one day of snow in Tokyo last year, I did not like it. Shut the city down.

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Just say “NO” to snow.

TOKYO FASHION

I forgot to post this photo. This fellow was out front at Sensoji temple entertaining the locals and tourists. Love the earrings. 

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JAPANESE-ENGLISH SIGNS

I am often perplexed by the way that English is used in Japan. A couple cases in point.

Why is the title of the car wash in English and the content in Japanese?

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Why is this Crunky bar advertised in English? (Yes .. Crunky bar)

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Why does is this sign in Japanese have only a few English words? (Most people will not understand that this means that the entire city is smoke free – it is illegal to smoke in public (awesome)).

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This is just funny (At the entrance to the big Buddha)

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This just makes me wonder, what were they thinking? (although this is not Japan – this is in Singapore)

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And last but not least, I point the finger squarely at the Canadian consulate in Japan. Really? English and French hand-washing instructions .. but nothing in Japanese. Figures.

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A FEW JAPAN OBSERVATIONS

From around town.

“The quality sleep”. Japan has a different definition of what constitutes a quality mattress than North America.

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I was grabbing a bottle of Sake at a local shop and this wine advertisement (among others) caught my eye for the unique use of English in the marketing – specifically the “desire for being drunk” phrase. Quite the sales pitch.

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I am glad this guy caught up with my taxi. Look closely … (from my iPhone). He is in the rain, holding an umbrella, in a suit, riding a bike, with no helmet while talking on the phone. I don’t understand why no one wears a helmet …

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Another interesting use of English in the ANA line at Narita. I laughed at the sign giving us an update on when we will board.

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Living in Japan is a little like a Monty Python movie. There are some obvious things that make you laugh, but the best laughs require that you pay close attention or you will miss them.

NICE BOOTS, TSUKIJI MARKET

How the business man conducts business at Tsukiji market.

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How the tourist conducts themselves at the market, wandering in the crowds. A couple black and whites (Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-70mm f/2.8)

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Welcome to the “Relax lounge”. Feel free to smoke away – because you are not allowed to smoke anywhere in public (nowhere – when the Japanese get it right, they really get it right!)

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A couple handheld HDRs. That is a great color for tuna.

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Japan is known for their knives .. amazing.

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Head anyone?

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I have yet to try it, but I hear it is quite the delicacy.

REVISITING SENSO-JI

With a friend from Canada, on a very busy weekend. Config: Canon 5D Mark III with my Canon 28-70mm f/2.8.

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Many were saying their prayers.

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A few HDRs.

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Many were selling their wares. If you ever see this chocolate coated banana – don’t stop. Opinion based on experience … more pleasing to the eye than the palate (by about 50 miles)

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I still find the swastikas as a temple symbol disconcerting.

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But the temples are spectacular.

RED TOWER, GREEN TOWER

The Tokyo Tower, changing colors for the upcoming Christmas season.

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And a few moments before the lights come on.

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GARRETT POPCORN, TOKYO

I do not know Garret Popcorn. I do not know if it is good, I do not know if it is bad.

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All I do know is that the store in Shibuya must be the highest sales per square foot in their chain. It is ALWAYS lined up around the block. I tried to capture the size of the line, but is hard.

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Do you see the end to the line? Hard.

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Crazy. I will be unable to form an opinion on Garrett popcorn as the chances of me standing in a line for 2 hours for popcorn are somewhere between 0 and none.

A side note, the advanced encoded security with digits that moved around on the pad for this bathroom gave me a chuckle.

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It wasn’t even that fancy of a bathroom (smile).

A JAPANESE WEDDING, TOKYO

We were with a friend at Meiji Shrine on the weekend and there were a few things going on – weddings and children coming of age celebrations.

I enjoyed watching the posing of this wedding party, the photographer and his staff must have adjusted an arm here – a leg there, for 10 minutes.

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The bride is wearing the head covering that is traditionally worn to cover her “horns”.

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Perhaps this bride is happy because she does not have anything to hide (smile).

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Everywhere you looked were children in colorful traditional dress, to celebrate their coming of age. Of course, parents were being parents, primping and preening – that is the same in every culture.

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The path to the shrine was lined with ornate flower arrangements. No idea what they were for, but I have not seen daisies arranged like Japanese trees before. Very pretty.

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As always, lots to see at Meiji shrine.

A TOKYO RAINBOW

Well, 1/3rd of a rainbow. Brilliant colors though.

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CAREFUL

Danger lurks above.

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RETIRED KAYAKS

As we walked along the river running through Mitake gorge we passed racks and racks of old kayaks, waiting for their owners to realize … they are obsolete.

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MITAKE GORGE, JAPAN

The fall is arriving in Japan, the trees are turning. A good day for a wander around the town that sits at the base of Mt. Mitake, Tama-Gawa.

A few mixed shot of the hike. Config Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-70mm f/2.8.

The view of the “rapids”. You can take a whitewater ride down the river, although they didn’t seem all that “rapid”. Config: Canon 5D Mark III with 28-70mm f/2.8.

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The region is also known for kayaking. There were a lot of groups along the banks of the river.

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Gnomes along the trail.

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Local farmers (or what I would call gardeners) were selling their wares along the trail.

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Beautiful time of year.

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12 MINUTES

I got off of a red-eye from LAX in Haneda, Japan this week and the total time from plane to taxi was 12 minutes. I love Japanese efficiency and Haneda is my favorite airport in the world. Close to downtown Tokyo and so efficient.

The "special re-entry" line also helps as it is often empty (smile).

EVEN I AM TALL IN JAPAN

We have a friend coming over from Canada this weekend and he is very tall – 6’ 4ish. He will probably have a tough time with the doors in Japan … This is a not-uncommon door frame height in older buildings.

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SAKE WITH FISH, JAPAN

Grilled. Shot with a Canon 5D Mark III and a Canon 28-70mm f/2.8.

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I have been playing around with black and white lately. Not sure if I like sake in green or B&W?

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RANDOM NAKED MAN, JAPAN

Hidden behind some trees, near the river at the base of Mt. Mitake and looking quite Anglo-Saxon in origin.

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Why? Your guess is as good as mine. Japan remains a mystery.

After 16 months here I still cannot figure out why every single shirt in Japan is imprinted with some form of English brand, wording or English slogan.

We live on Mars (smile)

ORDER UP, JAPAN

More than a year has gone by and things in Japan do not feel so confusing. Walking into a Japanese restaurant that does not have a English menu or the more common “picture menu” is no longer a big deal … just start spurting out “grilled-fish” or “tempura” and there is a high probability of getting a good lunch.

I still remember my first time with a machine like this. It was in a park and the no-English speaking lady at the counter was a great help trying to figure things out.

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In a culture that is crazy for automation and vending machines, this is a logical next step. It is a restaurant ordering machine. You pick what you want, the meal or drink – including choices such as sake (bottom left), and out pops your chit. Walk over to the window and a few moments later, your meal is served.

I like the process because it has pictures.

JAPANESE BASEBALL

The Japanese love baseball. They are crazy about baseball. In Canada you go from town to town and see a hockey rink, in Japan it is a ball diamond.

We did our first ballgame a few months ago and it was a lot of fun due to the crowds. Did I mention that the Japanese love their baseball? We went to see the Swallows at Jingu stadium. Config: Canon G12 … in the rain.

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It was raining … better cover that bullhorn!

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As you would expect, the food is much more ‘Japanese’. Including some form of octopus looking dish that they deep fry.

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And of course, beer.

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A Japanese ball game reminded me of an NBA game. Whenever there was a pause in the play, up popped some form of entertainment. Cheerleaders ….

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Fireworks!

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And of course, there was the safety angle. They had this sign behind every seat and every few innings a young man carrying the same sign would walk down the aisles warning us .. watch for balls! (smile)

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A lot of activity. The Swallows were playing the Giants and they lost badly. I would think that it was due to the enthusiasm of the Giant’s fans. They occupied an area behind left field and were insane … cheering, chanting, singing and yelling.

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One last shot. It seemed like every batter raised his leg to hit the ball. It isn’t how I learned to hit a baseball …. no torque.

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Great night out.

INCREDIBLE INDIA, YOYOGI PARK

It is festival time at Yoyogi Park which means a different theme every week. A few weeks ago they had India as the theme; entertainment, shops and food galore.

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And what festival would be complete without a nan bread mascot?

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AFTER THE STORM

There have been a number of typhoons hitting Tokyo this year. Last week was our 2nd of note, involving closed schools and public transportation.

After the storm, the sky cleared. A few shots. Config: Canon 5D Mark III, 28-70mm f/2.8. The moon was very bright.

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As the sun set, the sky went pink.

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