A Geek in Japan | 2007 August
Adventures of a geek living in Japan
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Hamarikyu flowers

“Hamarikyu” is one of my favorite parks in Tokyo (It’s located five minutes walking from Hamamatsucho station north exit). Today I was checking Mainichi and found this picture taken in Hamarikyu park:

hamarikyu flores
Picture source

I thought: “Hey! I have the same picture! I know the woman who is hiding in the middle of those flowers!. I searched in my pictures folder from last month and this is what I found:

hamarikyu flores

I was wrong!, I had the same picture (same place and same woman) but no blossom yet. I took that picture at the end of July. One week ago I came back to the park and could see how splendorous the flower field is when flowers blossom. I could not find “the woman” last time, but I found zillions of bugs eating from those healthy blossomed flowers.

hamarikyu flores

hamarikyu flores

hamarikyu flores

4

Yakuza – ヤクザ

Japan, is one of the safest places in the world, there is almost no crime but it is the place where one of the hugest criminal gangs operates, they are the Yakuza. Yazuka is almost a synonym of “organized crime”, it could be translated also as “the Japanese mafia”.

The Yakuza beginnings were during the Edo period (300-400 years ago) when many samurai where not really needed by their daimyo(lord) and were ignored by their people. Those samurai without home, where known as ronin. Some ronin started doing some dirty jobs for high class people, and other where just plain criminals. After some time they started organizing ronin gangs, and offering their services as protectors of little villages. In exchange for the protection they asked for food and a roof, but after some time some groups started asking for money and more things. Other problems were fights between ronin bands trying to “protect” the same village or city area. That’s how the first organized criminal organizations operating in a similar way to nowadays Yakuza appeared in Japan.

The term “Yakuza” appeared at the beginning of the XIX century, when some “bakuto” who liked dirty illegal game businesses were playing a card game where the worst cards you can get are 8, 9 and 3. If you read 8, 9 and 3 using traditional Japanese it’s YA, KU, ZA. The people who managed to win a game having a YA-KU-ZA were considered the best players. Those “bakuto” people had a pretty bad reputation, and who knows how YAKUZA end up being the name for organized Japanese criminals.

During many years gangs trying to make money appeared, but Yakuzas as we know them today started after the WWII when they managed to control prostitution, illegal game business, drugs, illegal commerce etc. Furthermore, some of them started to operate inside political circles.


Picture from Okinawan-shorinryu

Yakuzas are organized in a very strict way, their gangs seem like a company, where everyone belongs to the same “family”. They follow the traditional samurai honor code, if someone fails he would cut his little finger. If you see a Japanese guy without a finger, maybe he is or he was a Yakuza.

The biggest Yakuza gang is called Yamaguchi-gumi, it has 40.000 active members. They have the “honor” of being the biggest criminal band in the world not only because of the number of member but also because of their economical power. They are like a big corporation, they control pachinko companies, restaurants everywhere in the country, pornography production companies, drugs and prostitution.

Yakuza are a big problem in Japan, they keep police and politicians away using their power so they have “space” to do their dirty businesses. This freedom, allows them to act as companies, for example in wikipedia you can read how the Yamaguchi are expanding their business in the Tokyo area and they just absorbed the clan Kokusui-kai last year. It seems like a big company buying a little company, they make it public and everyone knows!


Yamaguchi-gumi logo, it seems they are not into the 2.0 trend yet.

By the way, the Yamaguchi’s boss is a guy called Shinoda and he is now in prison but still controlling the biggest criminal band in the world, he will be free in 2010. Shinoda controls more criminals than Bin Laden but he will be free! And it seems nobody cares.

A “good” thing about Yakuza is that they don’t usually bother “normal” people, they just do their dirty businesses among them and many times they bother companies menacing them. That’s why they don’t have a very bad reputation, I have the impression that Japanese people don’t really care, they know there are Yakuza and that’s all. Not many complains here in Japan; I come from Spain where everyone complains A LOT, and I think it’s one of the keys that allowed us to reduce the power of terrorist groups in Spain.

7

My new camera, Nikon D40

One month ago I bought a Nikon D40, my first SLR. Before I used compact cameras, with them I learn basic photography concepts but after some years I felt like I should go to the next level. I decided to buy the Nikon D40 because it’s incredibly cheap, the body’s price is 47.000 yens (Less than 300 euros). I don’t need anything fancy, just something that is SLR so I can learn more than with a compact one.

I got a cheap camera, but decided to buy average lenses. Bought a Nikkor VR 55-200m with image stabilization, and the pics I take using it are totally different to the ones I take with my default lenses; it seems a different camera. I’m starting to understand how important lenses are. What I would do in the future is to keep my “good” lenses while I upgrade with better cameras.

After 5.000 pictures with my new D40 what I liked is: the LCD screen is big and you can clearly see the pics you take, it’s VERY easy to use, it’s very light, the colors are really vivid (I was used to boring compact camera colors) and the battery longs forever. What I didn’t like: the camera is so cheap that it has not a focus motor (You can only use lenses with focusing motor), it has not a CCD cleaning system.

I really recommend this camera to everyone who wants to buy his first SLR. If you travel to Japan you can find it for 350 euros with a simple 18-55mm. In Europe or USA the price is double. Here are some pictures I took with my Nikon D40 so you can have your own opinion.

Nikon D40

Nikon D40

Nikon D40

Nikon D40

Nikon D40

Nikon D40

Nikon D40

Nikon D40

Nikon D40

Nikon D40

Nikon D40

Nikon D40

Nikon D40

Nikon D40

Nikon D40

Nikon D40

16

Post-apocalyptic Tokyo

Found an article reading Pinktentacle where I discovered an artist expert in lithographies called Motoda Hisaharu. His works are really good, the level of detail is just impressive. He made a series of lithographies based on the hypothesis that Tokyo would be destroyed by a natural catastrophe. I took some of those lithographies and tried to find pictures I’ve taken from similar places.

Ginza
Ginza 4-Chome crossing.

Ginza
Ginza 4-Chome nowadays. The picture is taken a little bit “nearer” than the previous representation.

Ginza
Shibuya crossing.

Ginza
Taken farther away, but still you can find the Samsung and the 109 ads that are also in the previous lithography.

Ginza
Ameyoko.

Ginza
Entrance to the left street in the previous drawing.

Ginza
Main Ginza street.

Ginza
Same street, more or less the same place but you can only see the left side buildings.

6

Akira Kurosawa drawings

Akira Kurosawa is one of the best directors in history. What I didn’t know is that when he was young he wanted to become a painter, but he ended up being a film director. He didn’t stop dedicating time to his passion, he draw every scene of his films by hand; he made colored/artistic storyboards. For example, in order to start filming the movie Ran he was 10 years drawing!

I went to an exposition where I could see some of the art he made for the films Ran and Dreams.

Some pictures from Akirakurosawa.info so you can grasp the essence of Kurosawa’s unique style.

kurosawa

kurosawa

kurosawa

kurosawa

kurosawa

If you’ve never seen a Kurosawa film you can start watching Rashomon for free using Google Video

2

Shells, Kanjis and Money

There are many places where in the old times shells were used as currency. India and China used them during thousands of years and their shell-coins gradually entered the Japanese islands. It is interesting that even nowadays there is a Japanese and Chinese character that means “shell” but if you add strokes to it the meaning changes to “money”.

The Japanese character is 貝(kai) and the simplified Chinese is 贝 (bei / bu). Both are pictographs (They are supposed to look like a shell) and evolvee from and original character that you can see in the next picture:

Concha
Picture from Shirakawa.

The character evolved during thousands of years and it became this:

Concha

It doesn’t really look like a shell, but if we look at the shape of some money created from shells:

Concha
Picture from Shirakawa.

Look at the toothed hole in the middle, it looks like the lines that divide the body of the character 貝.

Concha
Picture from Shirakawa.

The character 貝 means “shell”, for example, 二枚貝, a word composed by three kanjis (two, thin things, shell) and it means bivalve, if you change the first character with 1 it becomes 一枚貝 that means univalve… Sometimes I’m amazed with the Japanese language “simplicity”, “intuitiveness” and representative power.

If you add extra strokes to the 貝 it looses the “shell” meaning and acquires the “money/exchange/commerce” meaning. Look at next kanjis where you can easily identify the “shell” part inside them and they all have meanings related with money:

Shell

There are many kanjis created from “shell” and they are used to build hundreds of words related with value/money. For the people who is studying Japanese here there is a list of some of the most common words constructed with kanjis with “shell” radical. For Chinese students from this link you have all the derived characters.

: savings, store / 貯まる: saving money, 貯金: savings.
: fortune
: sells / 販売: to sell, marketing
: freight, property
: to lend
貿: trade, exchange / 貿易 foreign trade
: buy
: precious, prize
: rent, fare, fee / 家賃 rent payment
: cost, expense
: poor, insubstantial / 貧しい : poor 貧乳: insubstantial breasts :)
: data, materials / 資料: data, documents 投資: investment
Other characters I can remind: 貼, 側, 測, 賄, 賂… If you want more info about these words and kanjis I recommend using JDic

5

Ocean's 13 promotion

Here in Japan we are the last ones to be able to watch Hollywood movies, for example, just some days after we started having 300 in Japanese cinemas in the US the DVD version was released. Right now, Ocean’s 13 and Harry Potter are the main movies being promoted here. Last weekend Shibuya was full of Ocean’s 13 ads, there is even more noise than when the last Star Wars movie was released.

Oceans

Oceans

Oceans

Oceans

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