GETTING AROUND CHINA

From country to country the vehicle choice changes. In Vietnam it was the scooter. In China it is the 3 wheeler. Config: Canon 5D Mark III, 50mm f/1.2.

Here is a pic of the average family’s vehicle (note the his foot placement – there must be an engine in there somewhere). It was amazing to see just how much they could pile on one of these vehicles.

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The upscale family’s vehicle.

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The compact.

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Kicking it old style, human powered.

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Industrial. This guy was smiling awkwardly because he cut everyone off. (NOTE – no helmets!)

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A very different world.

TOKYO POLICE TRAP

In Canada (or the US or anywhere else in the world) a police speed trap involves a police person with a radar gun hidden to the side, someone to wave the victim down and a few chase cars just in case.

Not in Tokyo. This is what it looks like; one with a wand and the other standing to the side with white gloves. Yes, white gloves.

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On a personal note, this is how I got a $70 ticket for turning the wrong way on a stop sign. Seriously .. taken down by a police office on foot! Funny thing is that after being pulled over by the officer on foot, 9 additional officers showed up quickly to assist with the whole communication thing.

I am not too distraught over the ticket as the 1st time I got pulled over I played the language barrier card and after saying “No, sumimasen (apologies), no ticket, warning please, arigato (thank-you)” about 40 times over 10 minutes, multiple mystery conversations on the walkie-talkie,  I got let off by 2 very confused police officers.

Every day is an adventure.

A FEW SHOTS FROM AROUND KITCHEN TOWN, TOKYO

On a Saturday stroll. 2nd time there, interesting place.

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All of the restaurant statues were different. I do not know who would buy this paratrooper?

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I wonder how tall you have to be to see over the edge of these balconies?

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We are pretty selective on what we collect these days. I personally liked this fish plate, very unique and I thought distinctly Japanese.

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Kapabashi, good for a Saturday wander.

BEING AN EXPAT IN TOKYO: A VIEW

It is hard to describe why being a foreigner in Japan is so hard. The people are friendly, they mistake me for American all the time and Japan loves the US. English is more prevalent than I thought. Why so hard?

I am not talking about the business side. That is a different conversation and as a multi-cultural Canadian with a previous expat under my belt, that is going exactly as I expected.

I am talking about living in Japan as a person, as a family. Is it because it is such a busy city? Is it because the expat community is so much smaller due to people leaving after the earthquake; leaving only the semi-gaijin behind (ones who have localized or married a local)?

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As I took the subway the other morning, something happened that encapsulated the experience and perhaps, though a story, a point of view and an explanation.

I have been commuting to a new office for weeks now and tried a few different subway routes, settling on the quickest and easiest. 5 stops, up the stairs, 50m, down the stairs, 1 stop and 250m underground to our new office.

Simple.

I have found the Tokyo subway commute interesting. On this particular morning I stood on the packed train and took a good look around. Men reading manga .. I still find that odd, especially when you glance at one and notice how graphic they are. People on their phones. A man standing oddly trying to read a huge paper. An ad for whisky that made me laugh. Observing, learning, enjoying the "foreignness".

Stop 8 – Ginza (It is easier to identify by the number than the name). Time to change trains. Step out, head up the stairs and … what?

Everything is different.

Where is my next line 50m away? Where is the red circle to guide me? Where am I?

What has changed? (it starts dawning one me). This time instead of stepping on to the last car, which is busiest, I walked up 2 cars.

The smallest of changes. A tiny shift.

I am lost.

Wandering around I find signs and trudge what feels like 1000m around corners, up stairs, down stairs. How is this possible? The change between trains is a hop, skip and a jump. A long walk, it feels like my 2 minutes is now 20.

Finally, I get to my change over. Back on track. One stop, short walk, at the office.

That is the Japan expat foreigner experience.

Over that first, painful year of learning you build your cocoon of knowledge in this foreign country where everything is different, where there is a “way things are done” which allows 40 million people to live together and create the safest, cleanest and one of the most functional cities in the world.

The problem is that when you shift a millimeter right or left, that cocoon is torn asunder. Your understanding is blasted apart and you are left wondering, where am I? (This often happens when you are under a time pressure).

Drifting in an ocean where everyone understands, except you.

If you don’t believe me, rent a car and a GPS in Tokyo and try driving across town. GPS’s don’t understand 3 level freeways. One minute it will say go straight for 13km and the next, it thinks you are on the first level and is screaming “U-turn .. exit left in 150m .. recalculating .. Turn right!”

That being said, year two is about 200% easier and as always, fascinating.

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WHY THE LINE-UP IN SHIBUYA?

There is always a line around a stairwell near Shibuya in Tokyo. Why? Popcorn of course.

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It was a Saturday and the “feels like” temperature is 42. Perfect temperature to line up for an hour to get some hot popcorn right? The parasol helps.

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It is right around the corner from this incredibly quirky street, Takeshita Street.

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Costume shops, punk rock clothing and a hundred things in between including great outfits for your dog.

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Not sure marvel would appreciate the cross-dressing Spiderman.

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Crepes on the corner, ice cream and chocolate or tuna and lettuce? Would you like that in a cone?

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Absolutely must get to this place before we head back to NA. Stock up on Halloween costumes.

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(NOTE: EXPLETIVE AHEAD – FEEL FREE TO STOP READING).

I have thought about blogging about this before, and will instead make a simple reference. In Japan there are almost no t-shirts with the Japanese language on them, only English (which is an oddity). Furthermore, the Japanese use English words in odd ways and it is very clear that they do not understand the cultural implications of some words.

In an overly formal and polite society which does not have swear words in the language (In Japan, you swear through voice inflection – there literally are no swear words), it makes their prominent display of the f-word quite surprising. My son once pulled me aside to show me a 80 year old woman with the word prominently displayed on her shirt. I recently walked behind a young man who had it written all over his shorts.

It isn’t quite “everywhere”, but surprisingly common. Walking down this street, I counted it on 7 items of clothing including this young, well dressed girl’s hat as she strolled through a shop (I cropped the picture).

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I really do think someone needs to sit them down and explain the word. Stranger in a strange land.

RAP MUSIC IN YOYOGI PARK, JAPAN

Japan has reaffirmed my opinion, rap music is not to my taste regardless of language.

Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 70-200mm f/2.8.

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I enjoyed their enthusiasm and had a good chuckle at their creative intermingling of the f-word into the Japanese lyrics .. but the music hurt my ears. I stayed for a single Asahi super-dry under a nice Red Bull umbrella (thanks Red Bull, it was 42C)

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Keep on rocking in the free world, young Japanese …

TOKYO BREAKDANCING

Tokyo is a big city and there is always something new to find. I decided to head over to Yoyogi Park area for a wander and came across a break dancing competition under the bridge. People were crowded around as this fellow spun the tunes.

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Yes, breakdancing survived the 80’s. It started with 4 groups .. getting warmed up.

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Then they broke into a competition. I stood in the middle and couldn’t help but think that this looked like some kind of dance off … like you have seen in movies (that you turn off). In person it is very entertaining. They were extremely talented and agile. 

A few shots as the two sides (left and right) went at each other.

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A coordinated taunt.

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As each new dancer started they would usually face the crowd and make a taunt or two before they began throwing themselves into it.

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The crew on the right had a few kids in it. And the little batman took his turn.

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If you are wondering about athletic prowess .. check out the height.

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And then it was over, just as this fellow stepped out. He turned to the DJ and they all asked .. one more!

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He has the hat for it and they let him go. Good thing they did, he was the best and what a finish.

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Got to love Yoyogi Park .. even during Obon when half the city is empty.