A Geek in Japan | 2009 January
Adventures of a geek living in Japan
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Cute condoms

In Japan there are mascot characters everywhere and people love cute stuff. There are even condoms who became cute mascot characters!

condon condones

condon condones

condon condones

condon condones

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Tongue-twister 早口言葉

Japanese is a language with tons of homophone words. Having many homophones makes it easier to write poems, jokes and tongue-twisters than using other languages. Tong-twisters (早口言葉) are easy to create but some of them are extremely difficult to pronounce without twisting your tongue :)

If you are learning Japanese these are some basic 早口言葉:

バスガス爆発(ばすがすばくはつ)(basu gasu bakuhatsu)
赤パジャマ青パジャマ黄パジャマ (あかぱじゃまあおぱじゃまきぱじゃま)(aka pajama ao pajama ki bajama)
生麦生米生卵(なまむぎなまごめなまたまご)(nama mugi nama gome nama tamago)
東京都特許許可局局長(とうきょうととっきょきょかきょくきょくちょう)(toukyouto tokkyo kyoka kyoku kyokuchou)

And in this video you can try to learn one much more complicated :)

Chinese has even more homophones. For example this is a poem with 92 syllables, all variations of “shi”. The title of the poem is “Shī Shì shí shī shǐ” and it means (Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den).

« Shī Shì shí shī shǐ »
Shíshì shīshì Shī Shì, shì shī, shì shí shí shī.
Shì shíshí shì shì shì shī.
Shí shí, shì shí shī shì shì.
Shì shí, shì Shī Shì shì shì.
Shì shì shì shí shī, shì shǐ shì, shǐ shì shí shī shìshì.
Shì shí shì shí shī shī, shì shíshì.
Shíshì shī, Shì shǐ shì shì shíshì.
Shíshì shì, Shì shǐ shì shí shì shí shī.
Shí shí, shǐ shí shì shí shī, shí shí shí shī shī.
Shì shì shì shì.
What this all means

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Where do Japanese engineers want to work

Toyota is the dream company where Japanese engineers want to work. The next most desired companies are Honda, Panasonic, Nintendo and Canon. Sony and Canon lost positions compared with last year. On the other hand Nissan moved from the 20th to the 9th position and NEC from the 29th to the 10th!

Ingenieros japoneses
Companies ranked by Japanese engineers.

In order to build the final ranking the engineers were asked to reply different questions about reliability, stability, innovativeness and future potential of the company. Panasonic was first in reliability, Toyota in stability, Intel in innovativeness and Nintendo in future potential.

Ingenieros japoneses

What Japanese company would you like to work for? And if you are an engineer for what company would you like to work in your company?

Data from Nikkeibp.

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Manga rental

In Japan you can rent manga in some places, for example in some Tsutaya shops. It is interesting the Tsutaya strategy, they showcase manga in shelves looking like DVDs. Look at the pictures, it looks like it is all full of rental DVDs but it is not, it is manga!

manga alquiler tsutaya

manga alquiler tsutaya

manga alquiler tsutaya

manga alquiler tsutaya

manga alquiler tsutaya

manga alquiler tsutaya
One volume, three days (70 yen). One volume, during one week (90 yen). If you rent more than 10 volumes the prices are even lower.

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Nissan GTR vs Bullet train

A Nissan GTR racing against a Japanese Bullet Train (Shinkansen). Well, it is not exactly like that, it is a race between a GTR and doing the same route with public transportt. Usually in Japan you arrive almost everywhere faster using trains and not cars.

I found very interesting the video because it shows the rural Japan, beautiful landscapes, big highways and also mountain roads. I also found interesting the car control panel (Minute 8 in the first video). The panel is designed by the same company that designs the cars UI for the Gran Turismo video game series. A video game company designing a real world car user interface, isn’t it awesome? But I think it is natural, sometimes things we find in video games are much better than in the real world. For instance, the United States Army is “studying and learning” from UIs from games like WOW or Starcraft.

Enjoy the ride!

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Otoshidama and money inside envelopes

Last month was the second time I have spent the end of the year in Japan (The other years I traveled overseas), and my conclusion is that nothing really “exciting” happens in Japan during the end or the beginning of the year. Celebrations are pretty calm and traditional. The common pattern I found with Europe is that Japanese also eat tons of food during the end of the year and the beginning of the year. I guess eating a lot is a common “tradition” all over the world.

During my first year I learned about the Hatsuyume, the 108 times bell hitting tradition and the beginning of the year traditional decorations..

This year I learned more about Otoshidama お年玉. It is basically money that is given by adults to kids, this is also common to many countries. But what I find interesting is the way the money is handed. It is given inside and envelope, and there are many different envelopes and designs made only to be used for Otoshidama. These are some designs I saw:

Otoshidama

Otoshidama

Otoshidama

Otoshidama

Giving money inside envelopes is not only an Otoshidama thing, it is a Japanese thing. When giving money in marriages, in special celebrations, when receiving money from various expenses in the company etc the money is always given inside a “noshi” (An special type of envelope designed specially for money, it has just the perfect size to fit 1,000, 5,000 and 10,000 yen bills). There are standard “noshi” envelopes, but there are also special “noshi” envelopes designed each one depending on what it is going to be used for. For example, one of the most common “noshi” envelopes are the ones used for marriages that can be found almost in any stationary shop.

In the old times when samurai received their stipend from their retainers they always received it inside and envelope. The money was considered as something “impure” and “dirty”, money was considered bad for society. And not only samurai, the society in general tried always to interchange money in the most subtle way the could. It seems that it was considered rude to talk about money, or to talk about having more money than others, or simply looking like you want to have more money (Even without reaching the level of greediness). When not having envelopes some people would also interchange money with chopsticks (I have seen this in some movies and Japanese novels).

It is interesting how the tradition of hiding “the dirty staff that corrupt our society” (the money) inside envelopes when giving money for presents or celebrations is still alive. But, on the other side Japan became one of the most savage-capitalist countries in the world, specially Tokyo, a city where one of the most common conversation subjects is money, money, money!

6

US military bases in Okinawa

I spent a week in Okinawa and I had the opportunity to drive around the main island, I realized how little it is but also I realized how most of the territory is still owned by the US. Okinawa was officially US land until 1972 when it was returned to Japan, but until now they keep tons of territory and bases to maintain their military control in Asia:

Okinawa
I guess around 30% is US territory. Some people consider Okinawa as the biggest “aircraft carrier” en the world. Map from wikipedia.

The most important base in Okinawa is Kadena, it is located in the area that was first invaded by the US at the end of the WWII. In Kadena there are almost 20.000 US citizens living; their is a school, a high school, supermarkets, beautiful beaches with white sand and they even have a golf course inside the base. In fact, it seems that some of the best beaches in Japan are located inside the Kadena base! But the local people don’t really care about the beaches, what they complain more is about not having enough land, about the noise made by planes and also about the problems that US soldiers sometimes cause nearby the bases (rapes).

Okinawa
Kadena base entrance.

Okinawa
They are playing golf.

Okinawa

Okinawa
They island is full of fences like this one.

Okinawa

Okinawa

Okinawa
Communications antenna.

Okinawa

From time to time, the US returns some land to Japan, for example, the Elephant cage is already Japanese territory. But it seems the US is not really willing to give to much land, the situation is very strategic to control Asia. For example, Okinawa was a key during the Vietnam and also Korean war.

A video I took at Kadena entrance:

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