Day Five — Two Geeks Find Mecca
6:00 AM – Wake up and blog Day 4
9:30 AM – Check for E-mail from Peter Galante of JapanesePod101.com
Peter-san (as he’s called on the podcast) had e-mailed me back let let me know that he had to take care of some business back in the US, but would be back in Japan today around 4PM, and to give him a call then so we can solidify possible plans. It’ll be so awesome to finally meet Peter and the great people of JapanesePod101.com Michael reminds me that I need to get ready if we’re going to see if we can see ASIMO, Honda’s robot.
10:45 AM – HONDA: WORLDWIDE HEADQUARTERS
Well-rested, and eager to see the remaining places and things I had on my mental list, Michael and I got dressed, went across the street to the metro station, and took the Marinochi line (the red one), one stop to Aoyama-chome. Home to Honda Worldwide Headquarters, and a project that has 20 years worth of work to bring to it’s current realization. ASIMO. (pronounced: AH-shee-mo)
Once we got there, we asked the lovely lady at the counter when ASIMO was going to be demonstrated. She gestured to a sign on her counter, and then motioned to a stage where you could sit and wait for the show to begin. And wait we did. The reward was well worth it too.
11:00 AM – MEET ASIMO
There are times that you’re happy for a reason. Times that when you see something you only heard about, or maybe even read or saw a picture of, or maybe even video of, and at this moment, you finally get to see it for yourself in person. Such was the case with ASIMO. Thanks to my Dad, I am a fan of science fiction. And with robots being a part of science fiction for so long, this is something I get to tell my kids about someday. I wish Dad was here to see this with us. I think he’d say “Well, I guess I have now seen everything.” ASIMO comes on stage, and proceeds to tell us more about how he came to be, does a run, a dance, and allows us to have our photo taken with him. I was so excited, I asked – in Japanese – the lady who was in charge of ASIMO’s shows throughout the day if I cold take her photo. She blushed immediately, and nodded yes. I quickly adjusted the camera, and took three photos. We thanked her for the opportunity, she blushed slightly and all three of us bowed. After so much robot goodness, it was time to seek out more geekery. Shibuya was next on our list.
12:00 PM – SHIBUYA — THE WORLD’S BUSIEST INTERSECTION
If you are like my brother and myself, you like cities. Especially ones where there’s a lot of people, and a lot of different things to see, in a relatively close area. Shibuya was just what the doctor ordered. This is also where you’ll find that large intersection found in “Lost In Translation” and in the third installment of “The Fast And The Furious”. I’m speaking of none other than the Shibuya Scramble Crossing. Listed as the world’s busiest intersection, and at having 3,000,000 people cross here every day which works out to be 10,000 people EVERY FIVE MINUTES, I believe it. Being a tourist, I wanted to experience it for myself. We can now safely say, we’ve been there, and crossed it. We went to the Starbuck’s across the street from Shibuya Station to see this chaotic crosswalk from a better vantage point.
The above photo was taken from the 2nd floor of Starbucks at Shibuya Crossing (the first floor is where you go to get your coffee and snacks only), and there were many others who had cameras and camcorders recording everyone outside crossing the street. It's something you'll want to see when you visit. You can head over to YouTube.com and find tons of videos there showing the amount of people that cross this five-point intersection every day. My advice? Get to Japan, and walk across it yourself. Everyone who saw my brother and I either nodded and smiled or said "Ohayo gozaimasu!" — which is "Good Morning" in Japanese. Everyone was so polite and nice, and when we spoke back in Japanese, it made them smile too. Not once did I feel like I was being treated like an outsider, even though I'm not a native of Japan. When I asked questions in either English or Japanese, the answers came back in Japanese. They would use their best English if I looked puzzled, or I didn't understand.
Didn't have one problem the entire trip.
FUN - FACT:
Did you know, that the Shibuya Crossing Starbuck’s, is the busiest Starbuck’s in the world?
After buying a large coffee (which was cheaper than back home in the States at ¥125 (roughly $1.25) we went upstairs to sit and watch the intersection. Just like many before us, we took photos, and I shot some video too. I’ll probably add it to YouTube as well.
We were beginning to feel hungry, and we knew that Starbuck’s wasn’t going to cut it. So we looked around, and saw lots of ramen, soba and udon shops. But, we were looking for more of a quick bite. Our next stop was one we weren’t going to do originally, but decided “what the hell”.
1:30 PM – A JAPANESE MCDONALD’S
Now, before we left the States, we made a pact, to NOT eat food we could get back home. Meaning burgers, fries, sandwiches, or pizza, italian food and the like. Well, we had to break that pact… and I’m actually quite glad we did. In fact, this is how ALL McDonald’s should be the world over. Let’s make a list of the biggest differences, outside of the menu:
THE STAFF: Not ONE disgruntled employee, and the MANAGER brings you your food!
AMBIENCE: Not one screaming kid, you can hear the person your with, WHILE it’s busy!
CLEANLINESS: This has got to be the CLEANEST McDonald’s we’ve EVER been in!
PRICES: The combo meal I had was tasty, filling, not any salt on the fries, all for ¥650 ($6.50)!
PEOPLE: Not one person stared at us, and everyone who did look at us, graciously bowed!
DEALING WITH TRASH: Japan is on point with different receptacles for recycling trash!!
Now, the menu is the same for the most part, but with some awesome additions.
THE MEGA MAC
This 4-burger patty monster version of the Big Mac is something I wish we had back home. It was tastier, and it was built. Not made, BUILT. I watched the guy do it, and he did it faster, and more accurately than GM builds a car. And since when has anything you’ve ordered from a McDonald’s in America (let alone anywhere) looked like the picture in any of their promotional materials, up to and including the menu?!? Not in any other McD’s I’ve ever been in!
Here are the others that are different than what we see back home in the States:
Teriyaki McBurger (steak teriyaki on a bun!)
Ebi Filet-O (shrimp burger)
McPork (yeah, yeah I know… but that is what it’s called)
THE GURAKORO SANDWICH
Now, just when you thought this was going to be it, they also have seasonal foods. So, luckily for us to get to see something this special by being in Japan in November! This product only comes to their menu line-up in the fall. The McDonald’s in Japan has a sandwich called Gurakoro (gue-rah-ko-ro). It’s a mix of two words borrowed from French cuisine: Gratin (which the Japanese call: guraten), and Croquettes (which the Japanese call: kuroketsu). What’s is it? Well, think of a chicken croquette minus the chicken, and instead have hot pasta and cheese. I even found a video from YouTube on it. Here’s the Japanese McD’s website if you’re interested (or you want to practice your Japanese character recognition skills). Just so you know, yes they did have the classic “Big Mac” on the menu, but I didn’t hear anyone order it. This experience to McDonald’s is the one I’ll have to use to measure the rest by, I guess.
Full of good McDonald’s grub, it’s time to (finally) go shopping! So we head to Sakuraya Electronics Store.
2:20 PM – SAKURAYA ELECTRONICS
Japan wouldn’t be Japan if there wasn’t at least one place where you can get your gadget fix, and not far from the McD’s is Sakuraya. I had seen their neon sign in at least three different movies, and now, here I am standing right across the street from it. It’s nothing overly grand, unless your a games, gadgets and gear geek like my brother and I.
Now THIS is how you sell video games! I would love it if there was a store in the US that looked like this! We saw games here that won’t ever make it to the US market, or if it does it’ll be 6 months to a year before we see them. There are so many games for the Nintendo Wii and PlayStation. XBox is here too, but it’s not even making a dent here in the Japanese market. Good. Good I say. My good friend Shaun had told me about there being a game cart for the Nintendo DS that’ll help you learn Japanese. Well, I’d like to get both the cart and the DS today, but what I did end up with, was SO unexpected.
THE NINTENDO DSi
Okay. I originally went to get a DS Lite, and THIS is what i got. How? Well, they were out of DS Lite, and from what I had read online or had heard about, that the DSi’s were only available in Japan, and won’t show up in the US market for almost another whole year. Wow. Just to geek out a bit, this unit costs only ¥180,000 (about $180), and games are ¥3,000 ($30) or so. It has TWO video cameras. One on the top, and one on it’s inside hinge. Instead of a GBA slot, it has an SDHC slot for downloads (more on this in a moment), and photos and music. It has two 3.25 inch screens and it’s 12% THINNER than the DS Lite. If that wasn’t enough, this thing has Wi-Fi too, complete with WPA and WPA2 support! You can shop the DSiWare Shop the same way you do on the Wii, where there’s downloads, firmware updates (the first for a Nintendo handheld game device) and more. Plus, I recieved 1000 points to spend in the DSiWare Shop because I bought one!!
Man, Japan has ALL the hookup!
I also bought the cart for learning Japanese, so I was all set! Next stop: Akihabara!
3:30 PM – AKIHABARA (AKA: Electric Town)
Now I would be kicking myself if I didn’t play some (or at least look for some) video games. Arcade style, that is. From what I have read, Shinjuku and Akihabara are the places to go for that. Right out of the Akihabara train station is the first place we see. We go down a flight of stairs to a super noisy dungeon-like room where there are nothing but games. No skee-ball (I love skee-ball, but don’t think they should be lumped in with video game arcades), no plush toy grabber games or counter to cash tickets in, just state of the art, loud, thumb-breaking, wrist-wrenching- eye-glazing video games. To make matters even better, NO TOKENS OR CHARGE CARDS! The games take standard Japanese money. Only ¥100 (roughly $1.00) to play. Now, yes that’s more than in the States, but in Japan, ¥100 is nearly the same size as our quarter AND it’s worth more! The games are open and there’s PLENTY of them. I would have taken a photo of this, but I was in complete awe at the fact that everything my brother and I hold on to memory-wise about what a TRUE arcade is suppose to be like, this place met and well exceeded everything we thought we were going to see.
They even gave out copies of the instructions on how to play the games, directly from the companies who made them?!? Okay… I’m going to have to look into a work visa or something, this is just too good to be true!
THE VESTAX VCI-300 USB DJ CONTROLLER
Being a DJ, you’re always looking for equipment or gear to help you in making that mix sound even better, a way for you take all the gear to the gig without breaking you back or your budget. Vestax, known throughout the DJ world as a leader in DJ friendly, and DJ specific equipment has released a controller called the VCI-300. It comes with a special version of Serato software, aptly named: “Serato Itch”, which is where you do your music selection from. It’s ¥79,800 (which is about $800) which is close to what it costs in the States. I was looking at getting one, and figured on getting later. I’m in no rush to own one. Maybe later. We saw this unit at a music store nearby. I got to play with it briefly, and I know it would take some getting used to. The platters are smaller than the normal sized turntables and everything is a bit more condensed. I am SO used to a real pair of 1200’s and a normal sized mixer. Anyway, it’ll be fun when I do get it. Maybe cheaper too.
4:00 PM – PETER-SAN IS BACK!
Realizing it’s getting closer to the time we should call Peter, we head for a public phone (that’s koshu denwa in Japanese). When I reached him he was at Narita Airport, just getting in. We agreed to meet at 8:30 at the office (which is down the street from our hotel), but he wanted us to call at 7:30 to get an update if the meet-up time needed to be changed. So now that we have even more time than we thought, time to shop some more!
4:10 PM – YODOBASHI CAMERA STORE
I wanted to find a Bic Camera Store (one of the largest electronics store chains in Japan), but what I did find was their competitor: Yodobashi Camera. The above photo is NOT one I took, as I wasn’t sure that you could take photos in the store (some places don’t allow photos to be taken). All I can say is WOW. This is heaven for geeks like us! Every floor (and there’s EIGHT of them) has something different. We found the computer floor, and saw how well Apple was represented. No problems there. Dell boxes were there too. But one thing stood out from all of this: Everyone was busy. ALL cash registers were bring manned, every customer was being helped or asked if they needed assistance, and those of us who were wandering were NOT pestered by every employee who walked by. There wasn’t anyone following my brother an I through the store making sure we didn’t steal anything, and I had a BIG bag on my back! This is called TRUST and RESPECT. You don’t see THIS much of it back in the States, that’s for sure. Apple is the closest.
Anyhow, we found the software section of the store, when something from way back in my past had hit me square in the back of the head. Quite some time ago, I was lucky enough to meet a really cool Japanese guy named Masa Nicon. We became friends, and hung out when we could. Masa was into VJing, which is like DJing, but with visuals instead of music. I’d see him at the various rave parties I had gone to, and now I was going over his house to hang out. One day I asked him, “what was that software he was using at that party we were at last weekend?”
“Motion Dive” he said. He proceeded to show me, and I was mesmerized. I had to have it. I didn’t care how, I just knew I had to have it.
Masa did give me a copy of it, but he told me it would only run under the Japanese version of the OS. And that was when Mac OS 9 was out! Well, after downloading the demo app for the last couple years, I’m now here… in Japan. Time to find that software. Guess what? I did.
After SEVEN years of wanting this software I have finally bought it. I’ve played with this software enough to know just what to use it for. And, I finally have my own video clips I can use with it! Big shout out to Masa (who was in L.A. last I heard) for introducing me to this wonderful piece of software, and to Digital Stage for creating it. It will get a LOT of use.
We decide to head back and get ready to meet Peter-san and then go get some dinner.
8:30PM – MEETING PETER-SAN FROM JAPANESEPOD101.COM
When I first heard about JapanesePod101.com, it was because I was looking to find traditional Japanese music for a project I was working on. I had opened up iTunes, and went looking for the music I needed, and in the search results was JapanesePod101.com podcasts. I made a note to come back to see just what that was. So when the project went belly-up (the client decided to cancel the project), I went back, and took a look at they were about. What I found, was someone who was about making people understand that Japanese is not as difficult as it seems, and it CAN BE (and IS) fun to learn. I immediately subscribed to he podcasts, and downloaded them all, and later on signed up for a premium account. I know I didn't use the website as much as I should (or could) have, but listening to them in the car everyday, to and from work for the last two years, and every time I went to a Japanese restaurant, I would use it. Fast forward to the present. Here I am two and a half years later, in Japan, and walking down the street, on my way to meeting the man who is responsible for making Japanese so much fun to learn and to use, Peter Galante. I am so excited, and from what I could tell, so was Peter.
We finally got to the office, and Peter came to the door and greeted us. I got a great hug from him, and we both laughed quite a bit. He wanted to hear about our trip, and how well the lessons he and the crew (who sadly were not present for this meet up) created worked. I began to tell him about how Mom was trying to learn Japanese for work, and with Dad introducing me to “The Mysterians” movie, and Godzilla when I was a kid. From there, it was “Speed Racer” “AstroBoy” “Johnny Socko”, “Eight Man”, “Ultraman”, “Robotech (called: “Macross” or “Megazone 23” in Japan), “ And I became interested in learning it because of these influences.
Peter then asked us if we had eaten, and we told him that we hadn’t. He wanted to takes us to one of two places. Either a Japanese curry place or the Kaiten sushi place. We chose the Kaiten sushi place. The food was fresh, and Peter told us some really interesting things about Japanese Kaiten sushi places that Americans most likely don’t know:
When in a Kaiten sushi place, You can shout out your order as long as you say “sumimasen” first.
Now, while this isn’t a secret of National levels, what is interesting is when I was in San Jose for business, I went to a Kaiten sushi place with a friend, and ALL the Japanese people were doing just that. Shouting their orders. While the Americans read menus, and waited for the food to be brought TO THEM. What I really liked was when it was time to pay the bill, all they had to do was count the plates, and figure out the prices based on the COLOR of the plates! Like a Plain plate was ¥100 (100 yen = 1.00), and a Red Plate would be ¥500, and so on.
When all was said and done, we had eaten what would have been EASILY $200 (back home) worth of sushi for ¥1200 - ¥1500 (roughly $12 to $15). And we were FULL too. As the evening was winding down, Peter had to get home, because HIS day starts early, and we didn’t want to delay any of those wonderful podcasts, now would we? Before we parted company, we took a photo together (shown above).
TO THOSE WHO ALSO LISTEN TO JAPANESEPOD101.COM:
Peter is just like he is on the podcast. He’s funny, he always finding ways to help others learn more about Japan and it’s culture. And he is a man of his word. Early on, he had stated that if you DO make it to Japan, to look him up, so he can meet you. He wants to know that the lessons he’s putting out are being received, but he really wants to know how well they work for you too. So, before you go, make sure you e-mail him and let him know you’re coming, and go meet him. You’ll have a BLAST, just like I did!
The only unfortunate part, was not getting to meet the other people from the podcast (Natsuko, Sakura, Yoshii, Takase, Takei, Kazinori, Megumi, Jun, Sachiko, Chigusa and others (in case I left anyone out). Hopefully, I will get to meet them on the next time I go visit Japan.
Oh yes, there WILL be another trip…