Thursday, December 28, 2006

Can Tactics Save the PSP?

In October of 2006, Girlfriend and I were having lunch with one of her co-workers. We were talking about video games, and at some point in the conversation I said, "Square Enix needs to make a PSP version of Final Fantasy Tactics."

I'm not suggesting that my comment had anything to do with it (although I can't rule out the possibility that I am clairvoyant), but this month Square Enix announced their intention to do just that, in the form of a PSP title called Final Fantasy Tactics: Shishi Sensou, (Final Fantasy Tactics: The Lion War) which is scheduled for US release in autumn 2007.

FFT and its Gameboy Advance counterpart (Final Fantasy Tactics Advance) have the distinction of being the only games in the FF franchise since Final Fantasy VII to hold my interest. And hold my interest is exactly what the original FFT did....for an inexcuseable 80 hours (a personal record: the longest I ever took to finish an RPG). Try as they may, other FF titles failed to get their hooks in me for such a duration. After all, what is Final Fantasy but a lot of repetative monster encounters that always go like this?


Sure, once in a while you might throw in a "LIMIT BREAK" or a "SUMMON," or perhaps even the occasional "RUN AWAY," but that and a lot of sing-song Uematsu Nobuo music is basically all there is to Final Fantasy. And no matter how intriguing the matter how cute the matter how big the rack on Tifa Lockheart...tapping A (or circle, as it were) grows boring eventually. FF Tactics, however, capitalized on brand recognition -- arguably Square's greatest strength -- and provided an unprecedented level of depth to the genre created by titles like Konami's Vandal Hearts. (I'm not kidding about depth, either; The first time I played FF Tactics, I was so turned off by the game's complexity and steep learning curve that I set it aside for almost a year....until I picked it up again and it became one of my favorite games of all time.)

Final Fantasy Tactics is exactly what the PSP needs right now, especially in the midst of rumors that Sony is planning to abandon its handheld console soon.

FOND MEMORY OF FF TACTICS: The game allows players to recruit new soldiers and give them surprisingly long names, so I had a bunch of people in my party named after celebrities. There was Dustin Hoffman the summoner, Jack Nicholson the geomancer, Jenna Jameson the dancer and Leo DiCaprio the chocobo.

Technorati: Final Fantasy Tactics / Tifa Lockheart / chocobo

Christmas Anecdote

On Christmas Day Girlfriend dragged me (almost literally kicking and screaming) to Tokyo DisneySea in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture. Tokyo DisneySea opened five years ago right next-door to Tokyo DisneyLand, and I guess now it's only a matter of time before they open Tokyo DisneyEarthWind&Fire.

Anyway, the current ninki #1 attraction at Tokyo DisneySea is Tower of Terror (or, as I like to call it, "Tower of Homeland Security"). In this ride, patrons enjoy the rambunctious up-and-down movements of a cursed elevator from hell. I was under the impression that Tower of Terror was a ride that just drops you a few stories. Actually, it turns out that Tower of Terror shakes you up and down like a big tourist martini before flinging you down at an unnatural velocity.

Girlfriend and I had the following conversation before we went to experience the big martini shake for ourselves:

ME: We better go to the bathroom before we ride that thing.


ME: Otherwise it's going to be like the Tower of Pee-Your-Pants.

GIRLFRIEND: Yeah. Tower of Shit.

ME: That's gross.

If you're interested in the rambunctious up-and-down movements of real-life cursed elevators from hell, be sure to check out Schindler. One of their elevators, in a very Chakushin Ari/Final Destination moment, decapitated a Japanese teenager in June of 2006. They are also responsible for the chronically malfunctioning elevators in downtown Minneapolis's Foshay Tower, where I worked for almost a year before I moved to Japan. The running joke at Foshay was that the ghost of the building's financier and namesake, Wilbur Foshay, was haunting the elevators and causing them to make alarming movements while the doors were open.

Who ya gonna call?

Technorati: Tower of Terror / Schindler Elevator / Foshay Tower

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Nobody Cares Why You Tube

Go to and type "why do you tube" into the search field. Pick any of the resulting videos and get ready to be bored stiff by some idiot explaining why they make web videos of their own foreheads while they talk about what they ate for breakfast that day.

I swear to Lordy Gordy, everyone who posted a response to self-important cat owner "boh3m3" (who originally posed the question "Why Do You Tube?" and consequently felt really, really good about himself) delivered the exact same meaningless ramble about "putting myself out there" and "honing my video editing skills." They also consistently cite a desire to "interact with people"...even though I'm pretty sure their addiction to YouTube is a symptom of inability to interact with real-life, face-to-face human beings.

Boh3m3 takes credit for turning "tube" into a verb, but he's apparently too young to know that "toob" has been a verb at least since 1988.

Here it is: a real feel-the-burn exercise in internet-induced pain.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Let's Learn Japanese: Karuchaa Gyappu

Karuchaa Gyappu (noun; from English) Culture gap.

Like the all-powerful Japanese phrase "shikata nai" (roughly, "Whaddya gonna do?"), karuchaa gyappu is a tempting way to shrug off some of Japan's harder-to-explain differences with the West.

A: What's the big deal about Koyuki? She looks like a man. She's like seven feet tall and she has a big chin. Why do so many people think she's pretty?

B: [Shrug] I dunno. Culture gap.

I am tempted to use the same phrase to explain the often sizeable rift between opinions put forth by Japanese and Western video game critics. Recently I shrugged and said, "culture gap" when I read Japanese and non-Japanese reviews of Tecmo's girlie vacation simulator Dead or Alive Xtreme 2 for the Xbox 360. The game (although to call it a "game" is to test the tensile strength of the word, since it's more like an interactive Russ Meyer film) deals with the intricate subtleties of all-girl, all-bikini beach frollicking and the Newtonian physics connected therewith. Despite its sparkling water and realistic "tanline" system, however, the game was viscously skeletonized by critics in the US:

Gerald Villoria for Gamespy:
"Dead or Alive Xtreme 2 just isn't as relaxing [as the original Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball], with its frustrating mini-games and flawed core game mechanics."
(Review score: 50%)

Compare that with the Japanese reviews which have been generally more appreciative of DOAX2's decidedly mammalian brand of entertainment (translated to the very best of my ability):

Munetatsu Matsui for Famitsu:
"[It's a tropical game that caters to DOA fans in every way.]"
(Review score: 90%)

Are North American reviewers being pretentiously critical of this game because they're insecure about looking like "nerds?" Are the Japanese reviewers who applaud the game exactly the nerds for whom the North American critics are afraid of being mistaken?

[Shrug] I dunno. Culture gap.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

PGR3 vs. Reality

During her tenure at Microsoft, Girlfriend worked on the Japanese localization team for Project Gotham Racing 3 for the Xbox 360. It was her responsibility to translate dozens of car description blurbs and UI elements for the game, plus the instruction manual translation. If that sounds like a lot of work, imagine how busy she was a few months earlier, when she worked on the translation of one million words of English text (and I don't mean "Dude, it was like a million words!" I mean, literally, 1,000,000 words) for the Japanese version of Jade Empire.
PGR3 has race tracks that very accurately replicate real locations in cities such as London, Las Vegas, New York and Tokyo. In the summer of 2005, while the game was being put together, personnel from developer Bizarre Creations came to Tokyo to research the area that was to appear in PGR3's Shinjuku locale. They used a combination of city maps, sound recordings and an exhaustive amount of street photography to create the best possible in-game rendition of the real thing.
As it turned out, their work paid off and PGR3 blessed racing fans with a Tokyo driving experience almost as white-knuckled and competitive as actually driving through Shinjuku during one's daily commute. On top of that, they managed to accurately recreate a surprising percentage of Shinjuku's urban scenery with stunning attention to detail...right down to the last Yoshinoya. Because I was so impressed with the nice job they did making their in-game Shinjuku, I used the game's robust camera mode (in conjunction with my actual camera's own robust...uh, camera mode) to present this comparison of some of the area's most recognizable spots as they appear in the game versus their counterparts in reality.
Exhibit A: Bic Camera
It's hard not to notice the hulking, white monstrosity that is Odakyu Halc (Hulk). The same building is home to "Biku-Biku-Biku" Bic Camera, my preferred source for game-related wares. I actually bought my Xbox 360 here, but nobody on PGR3 voice chat believed me when I told them that.

Exhibit B: First Kitchen
A major landmark of the Shinjuku Station South Exit district, First Kitchen's mighty red clock watches over us all. It sees you when you're sleeping. It knows when you're awake. It decides who lives and who dies. Look closely and you'll see accurate imitations of signs advertising loan brokers Honobono Lake, Promise and Acom. And don't forget adult manga dealer Comics Toranoana...they also see you when you're sleeping.

Exhibit C: Paloma
North of Halc there is this huge red, white and blue sign that says "PALOMA." Paloma is a water heater company that made headlines earlier this year when it was revealed more than 20 people living in homes with Paloma heaters had died of carbon monoxide poisoning. You can't see it in this shot, but there is also a sign here which incorrectly alludes to an office supply store called T-Zone. T-Zone has been gone for years, replaced by Office 24, but the sign remains wrong, both in the game and in reality.

Exhibit D: Yasukunidori
Below is the Ichibangai entrance to Kabukicho, as seen from across Yasukuni Street. Coffee shops Doutor and Pronto are faithfully reproduced on either side of the red Ichibangai gate. The game's so-called Kabukicho Loop track passes this very "colorful" section of town without actually entering the neighborhood which is its namesake. I shudder to imagine a street race through Kabukicho, anyway...the streets are way too narrow and you'd probably end up running over a guy who was trying to lure you into a strip club.

Exhibit E: Don Quixote
If you like "Biku-Biku-Biku" Bic Camera, you'll love "Don-Don-Don-Donkey" Don Quixote, fine retailer of beach furniture, cheap jewelry and novelty underwear. In the game the store looks closed. In real life Don Quixote stores don't close during the daytime unless they've fallen victim to an arson attack by some crazy lady. Incidentally, Don Quixote is the last place I'd want to be during a fire. The place is stacked floor-to-ceiling with sex toys and Sailor Moon costumes which, in the event of an actual emergency, would probably all come crashing down on me at once.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Portrait of a Badass: The Sphinxes

Character: The Sphinxes
Actor: N/A
Film: The Neverending Story (1984)
Badass Moment: The Sphinxes deny a "fancy" knight passage to the Southern Oracle by cooking him alive with their eye lasers. EYE LASERS.

My brother suggested that I honor "those statues that kill you if you're scared" from The Neverending Story with a spot in my hall of badass fame. Not a bad idea, I thought. But do I classify the Sphinxes, AKA the First of the Two Gates You Must Pass Through Before You Reach the Southern Oracle, as male or female? It was indeed a conundrum, for what are these Sphinxes but sentient statues with EYE LASERS. But, recalling that each Sphinx is also equipped with breasts that would coax jealousy from most of the statues in a Thai restaurant, I decided to go with female.

The Neverending Story, which clocks in at a neverending 94 minutes in length, is the story of Atreyu (Bastien), a warrior (wimp) who hunts the purple buffalo (draws unicorns) and struggles to defeat the ultimate destructive power of The Nothing (skips an entire day of school and hides in the attic overnight). While on his quest he travels across the Swamp of Sadness (gets thrown in a Dumpster), talks to a diminutive scientist (talks to his sandwich) and is stalked by a scary wolf thing (is scared of his humorless, mustachioed father).

In the scene featuring our badasses, Atreyu is challenged to walk between the two giant Sphinxes on his way to the Southern Oracle. The Sphinxes are meant to destroy him if he doubts his worth, which Atreyu obviously does (as evidenced by several shots of him looking doubtful). The lesson to be gained from this scene is unclear, as it clearly demonstrates that, even without the level of self-confidence required to pass through the gate, Atreyu manages to squeak by with some fancy footwork. So remember, kids: Even if your self-esteem is a ghastly wreck, sometimes you get lucky!

The hero Atreyu is arguably the badder badass of this story, and a more obvious candidate for my badass hall of fame. This youngster gets dragged through mud, dropped into the ocean, sneezed on by a giant reptile and hit with debris of all types. As badass as Atreyu himself is, however, he didn't have EYE LASERS. Tough luck, kid.

Sphinxes, you are statuesque badasses. We salute you.

FUN FACT! My sister and I used to have a hard time remembering the name of Atreyu's horse Artax. Without seeing the name in print, it could easily be misheard as Ortex, Ortez, Cortez, Cortex, Vortex or Hortense.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Go, Cheap Racer, Go

Now that it's being rendered "obsolete" by the release of Ridge Racer 7 for the PS3, Namco's Ridge Racer 6 for the Xbox 360 is selling at Bic Camera for ¥980 (about US $8.30).

This is not a "Best Hits" re-release. And Ridge Racer 6 is a completely decent arcade-style racing title (even with questionable physics, endless Namco self-glorification and over-enthusiastic announcer who babbles a bit too much about "crazy nitrous"). Yet, for some reason, it's now cheaper than lunch at Excelsior Cafe.

I picked up a copy and felt good about my shopping prowess all weekend.

Technorati: Ridge Racer, crazy nitrous

Friday, November 10, 2006

Nobody Cares About the PS3

The PlayStation 3 will be released tomorrow in Japan and, incredibly, nobody seems to give a flying Egyptian rat shit.

Even in Japan, the "Land of Video Games," there is a distinct lack of hype, advertising and general awareness of the new console's existence. There are only five launch titles and I can only name four of them. The two I've seen in playable form (Ridge Racer and Gundam) are not exemplary of the kind of excitement I would normally associate with the launch of a major game console. They are exemplary of two games I don't need so badly that I would dump more than $500 on Sony's new machine.

Maybe everyone in Japan has already resigned to the notion that Sony is deliberately limiting supply and there will never be enough PS3s to go around. That, or Japan is holding its breath until Nintendo launches its goofy, quirky Wii console next month. My lungs must not be what they used to be, because I started to turn blue last month and bought an Xbox 360 to prevent my own asphixiation.

ADDENDUM, November 12, 2006:

Apparently some people care about the PS3. It completely sold out of most dealers on the first day it was available. Furthermore, Sony finally started running some commercials showing in-game footage after the launch. I don't know why they didn't go the usual route of pre-launch hype that has become the status quo in the game industry.

Upon being interveiwed, many of yesterday's buyers said they planned to sell their new PS3 online for double the price they paid for it.

Technorati: PlayStation 3, nobody cares

Thursday, November 09, 2006

How Dead Rising Could Have Been 100% Better

I'm beginning to feel like a curmudgeony gamer. Almost every time I play a video game, I find myself thinking, Why didn't they just make it THIS way? It would have been so much better!

Dead Rising, Capcom's shopping mall zombie survival game for the Xbox 360, is a good game. It's really good. It's as good as a game can be without being full-on wicked awesome. While it's admitedly hard to find fault with a game that lets you run zombies over with shopping carts, throw pies in their faces and smash guitars over their heads, the developers dropped the ball when they designed the game's survival mode.

"Infinity Mode," as it's called, challenges the player to survive as long as possible with a draining health meter and limited food supply. This mode, which gives the player a level of freedom very much missing from the main story mode that must be completed to unlock it, should have been so much more fun. After all, it lets the player do whatever he wants for as long as he can, so long as he can find enough food to keep from collapsing. No responsibilities toward the stupid AI characters who need to be rescued in the story mode. No need to be at the Security Room at 3:00 PM on the dot to start the next case. It should have been the best mode ever.

The unfortunate thing is that, in Infinity Mode, the developers failed to create any incentive to do the thing players most want to do, which is kill zombies. How difficult would it have been to give the player a useful bonus item for every hundredth zombie killed? How about the game automatically snapping a still of every fiftieth kill from a random angle (the camera is disabled in Inifinity Mode, for some reason) and offering you the chance to keep it in your photo album if it turns out nicely? How about ANYTHING besides challenging the player not to starve to death?

I don't mean to complain. Dead Rising is an important step forward in the evolution of the zombie game genre. But man. If I had been on the creative team, there would never be a need for another zombie game ever again.

Capcom, you can contact me directly for my resume.

Ladies & Gentlemen, We Got Him

It's about goddamn time.

Donald Rumsfeld resigns as defense secretary

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Piss Me Off: Abbreviated Service Japanese

Traditional Japanese courtesy and western capitalism: Two great tastes that don't go together. If you don't believe me, just visit any of Tokyo's thousands of bustling commercial establishments, where a new incarnation of the Japanese language has emerged. It's faster, louder, cheaper, better, MORE. I call it "abbreviated service Japanese" (ASJ). And it sucks.

I first noticed one of the most common examples of ASJ nearly three years ago at a second-hand books and music store in Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture. It is common for Japanese store clerks to say, irasshaimase konnichiwa, meaning "welcome and hello," each time a customer enters the premises. The final syallable -wa is often lengthened and uttered with a slight gradual rise in pitch. In Japanese, it looks like this (provided you have a Japanese font installed on your computer):


In the Japanese "alphabet" this phrase is eleven or twelve syllables long, depending on whether you count the "stop" in irasshaimase, which is often not pronounced. Either way, it's a mouthful...especially when you consider that the corporate office has mandated that it must be said every time a customer crosses the shop's threshhold. It should be no surprise, then, that customer service employees, faced with pressure to operate with speed and efficiency uncharacteristic of a once slow and graceful Japan, have started to cut corners. What I heard at the Matsudo bookstore (at almost robotic five-second intervals) was not the above irasshaimase konnichiwa, but this:


No irasshaimase. No konnichi. Just that elongated, rising wa! The store clerk doing the greeting, recognizing that the final wa was the most audible component of the phrase, decided to omit all the mumbo-jumbo preceding it.

More recently, at a convenience store in Tokyo's Minato Ward, I saw a cashier who looked like an invisible man was pointing an invisible gun at him and telling him to work faster. What you usually hear from a cashier after making a purchase is arigatou gozaimashita, which is like a past-tense "thank you." In Japanese, that looks like this:


Eleven syllables, or ten if you shorten the o at the end of arigatou, which most people do. But once again, whether it was impatience, the threat of losing his job or just the irresistable allure of netting the Employee of the Month award, this cashier was out of control. What he was saying sounded more like this:


That spells ariyarosshita. Much shorter, yes...but sadly, gibberish. I heard the cashier say it three or four times before I left the store.

This kind of thing is going on in stores all over Japan all the time. It's not something that gets to me all the time, but when I do notice it, whoa baby. Recipe for exasperation.

Lest I sound insensitive to the plight of the lowly customer service employee, let me assure you that I know how hard it is to say the same thing over and over again for an entire work shift. When I was in college I worked at the campus textbook store, which experienced a two-week rush period at the start of every semester. Endless streams of confused freshmen and their equally inept parents would come through my checkout line and, to every single one of them, I had to ask the question:

Are you familiar with our return policy?

For the most part I managed to get that question out in an intelligible form 99% of the time. I do remember one time, however, when I finished scanning the barcodes of a student's textbooks, printed out his receipt and then had a terrifying moment of complete mental nothingness. I stood there holding the receipt, my mouth open, for a few seconds...and then, inexplicably, all I managed to say was the word, "UNIVERSE." The funniest part of the story is that the customer, without even noticing my little moment of zen, grabbed his receipt and said, "Yeah, I know the return policy."

Would it kill us all to slow down a bit? At least enough so that we have the time to utter the words we need to say? Efficiency is cool and everything but if Tokyo doesn't put the brakes on there will be a day of reckoning when thousands of employees of Lotteria, AM/PM, Lawson, McDonald's and Book-Off all over the city suddenly overload, freeze up and say "UNIVERSE." And then their heads will explode. And with my luck, I'll be standing right in front of one of them in my nicest shirt and tie when they do.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

I Still Know What You Didn't Blog About This Summer

Alternate title:
Summer 2006: A Photographic Retrospective To Make You Laugh and Cry

I did a bunch of things this summer that didn't get covered in Chorus, Isolate, Confirm. Naturally, with those previously un-blogged events go some previously un-blogged photos. There are quite a lot of pictures I meant to post but never did because I was too busy writing important stuff like that world-shaking article where I blew the lid off Chronicle of Dungeon Maker. So here's a look back at the last few months, distilled down to five of the best photos I took during that time.

August 7, 2006

In August it was so hot, I became a cooking pot. Cooking soup, of course. Why not?

Maurice Sendak. Chicken Soup With Rice. Had you no childhood?

My mate and I (see, he's Australian, so I call him "mate," see?) hiked to the tops of Mt. Mitake and Mt. Otake, located near Ome City in Tokyo. It was a most excellent adventure, ending with some good Korean food and beers in Shin-Okubo and resulting in much leg pain the next day.

I took a lot of nice shots on the hike, but decided to show off this waterfall shot above all else. There were a number of spots like this on the way to the peak.

August 10, 2006

It wouldn't be summer in Tokyo if I didn't experience the agoraphobic thrill of attending a fireworks display. Watching fireworks in Tokyo invariably entails riding a capacity train to a capacity station, not to mention jostling through streets that are also packed to capacity. The upside to all this is that about 50% of that capacity crowd is made up of cute girls dolled up in their nicest summer kimono. Girlfriend and I donned our festival clothes (she looks nice in hers...I look like an Edo Period sleepwalker in mine) and witnessed the hanabi on the Tama River in Seiseki-Sakuragaoka.

August 31, 2006

At the end of August, Girlfriend and I flew to the American midwest for a short visit. We made stops in Oshkosh, WI (my hometown, and shut up already about the overalls) and the lovely Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN.

Downtown Minneapolis was my home for two years before I moved overseas and I still have a soft spot for its signature skyline. Here are the IDS Building and Wells Fargo Tower in Minneapolis, as seen from the historic Foshay Tower's open-air observation deck. I used to work for the owner of Foshay Tower but was disappointed to hear, upon visiting Foshay on this trip, that the entire building was under purchase agreement and in the process of kicking out all its tenants in preparation for a conversion to a high-class hotel. Memo to self: Steal a whole bunch of towels from that hotel.

October 15, 2006

Okay, so now we're kind of leaving the realm of "summer pictures," but whatever. I'm a blogger. I can do what I want.

The two pictures below are from a visit to Tokyo Tower, which stands majestically...defiantly...very, very bigly...over the office buildings of Minato Ward. This was my second visit to the Tower, and my first time to pay the money to go all the way to the top (it's cheaper just to go half-way, and just about as scenic).

The gaudy, colorful letters you see on the Tower's mid-level observation deck are part of an attempt to promote Tokyo as the host of the 2016 Olympic Games. Tokyo and Fukuoka fought bitterly for the title of Japan's nominee city, and it's my estimation that Fukuoka lost the nomination because they failed to slap colorful letters on one of their landmarks. That, or maybe somebody pointed out how badly American commentators would butcher the pronunciation of "Fukuoka."

The bottommost picture shows the Tower's view of the Ginza district, which is more fun to look at than to actually visit.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


On Tuesdays I work with fellow ESL blogger Sleiman. Every Tuesday for the past month our downtime at the workplace is dominated by discussion of the Transformers.

The Transformers franchise was, in its many incarnations, an integral part of my childhood. I watched avidly as Starscream tried to usurp power from Megatron every week on the cartoon show. I worked hard on my impersonation of Soundwave's voice. I ran around pretending to transform, saying, "ee-er-ar-ur." It was a simpler day.

What first comes to my mind when I think of the Transformers today is Prowl. Prowl was a police car that could transform into a robot with twin rocket launchers mounted on his shoulders. He was a hallmark of the Transformers' awesomeness, until the franchise spiralled into madness (characterized by nonsense such as Astrotrain, a foolishly designed robot/locomotive/shace shuttle).

There is much buzz about the new Transformers movie coming out next year, and if Prowl doesn't get a cinamtic treatment worthy of Portrait of a Badass in that movie, I'll be disappointed...especially after his lackluster role and unceremonious, one-hit death at the hand of some lame Constructicon in Transformers: The Movie (1986).

Technorati: Transformers / Portrait of a Badass

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Oh Yama Gata

Last night two things happened:

1) I spotted "Powerful" Kana Oyama, remarkably tall star player of the Japan Women's Volleyball Team, outside Shimokitazawa Station. It was my first time to see a famous person "on the street" in Tokyo (something I'm sure would happen more often if I could recognize more Japanese celebrities). I might have had a chance to speak to her if it hadn't taken me so long to figure out why she looked so familiar.

2) Yamagata, my beloved betta, submitted to a terminal case of swim bladder disorder. At least that's what I, Dr. Jesse Jace Fish MD, think it was. He was found dead at the bottom of his aquarium around 9:30 Saturday morning. The memorial service was solemn and respectful, with a reverent toilet flush replacing the usual 21-gun salute.

Technorati: Oyama Kana / 大山加奈 / betta care

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

North Korea

The US government's refusal to pursue any meaningful action against North Korea's nuclear proliferation proves that "weapons of mass destruction" were never the objective in the US invasion of Iraq.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Technorati: North Korea

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

What Is My DJ Name?

I was asked a couple weeks ago what my DJ name is. I answered, "I'm not a DJ." Nonetheless, my interrogator persisted with, "Yeah, but you have to have a DJ name anyway."

How do I determine my DJ name? Is it anything like figuring out your porn name (out of the question, by the way, since my porn name sounds distinctly female)?

I'm under the impression that about one out of every four people on earth is a DJ now (or at least claims to be), so all the cool DJ names must be taken. I'm going to have to stretch the limits of my creativity. Help me brainstorm, will you?

DJ Parking Meter
DJ Lasagna
DJ Broken Hip
DJ Pocari Sweat
DJ Sabre-Tooth Marmoset Deathtrap
DJ Magazine Subscription Card
DJ Ham Sandwich
DJ Transmission Fluid
DJ Leonard Nimoy

I'm off to a terrific start.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

PSP Review: Chronicle of Dungeon Maker

Japanese customers of are showering Taito's ill-titled PSP game Chronicle of Dungeon Maker with praise. They love building their own dungeons room-by-room, and running through the dungeon hundreds of times over to exterminate all the monsters that loiter inside. The game follows a rather suspect premise: the player, as a generic knight-in-armor type, must build a dungeon (a gulag, if you will) outside the town. As soon as the first rooms are completed, however, a group (perhaps I should say "an insurgency") of monsters start to appear and the player must fight them over there so that he doesn't have to fight them over here. Before you know it, the player is bogged down in a seemingly inescapeable quagmire of extremist goblins and slime-o-fascists.

As fun as it should be to clean out the same slowly growing dungeon over and over again, hoarding valuable items (like, for example -- oooh! -- yet another pair of fur pants!) so that you can sell them to the funny-looking weapons shop owner and use the money to buy more dungeon parts, I can't help but feel that dungeons, by their very nature, are boring. The dungeons in this game are no exception. Sure, the player can build his own "dream dungeon," but he is limited by rigid adherence to right angles and a selection of room and hallway types that is far more limited than it should be.

In writing this review, however, I face a dilemma because, while the dungeons are boring, the music is stupid and the monsters are not much more imaginative then the standard RPG rabble of skeletons and bats, I keep playing. The same ultramagnetic draw that keeps audiences coming back for Animal Crossing, The Sims and other "games" that seem more like work than play seems to be at work in Chronicle of Dungeon Maker. I am probably a fool for playing this game as much as I have.

Technorati: Chronicle of Dungeon Maker, The Sims, Animal Crossing

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Video Game Music Is Music, Too

In university I wrote a thesis entitled "Video Game Music is Music, Too" on the inherent appeal and marketability of video game soundtracks. I was reminded of that paper today when I bought Portable Disco: 8bit Edition, an album of original dance and electronic tracks featuring prominent use of 8bit waveform generators like the one made popular by recording artists YMCK.

As 8bit waveform generation is the well-tempered clavier of an entire generation of Transformers-watching, Bubble-Tape-chewing NES/Famicom players to which I claim proud membership, it's hard to listen to these tunes and not feel a satisfying rush of pixelated nostalgia. The music, while completely fresh and new, is loaded with enough square, triangle and pulse waves to make your thumbs twitch UP UP DOWN DOWN LEFT RIGHT LEFT RIGHT B A START involuntarily in loving memory of the games whose strident beeps used to make your parents grind their teeth.

Technorati: YMCK, Portable Disco

Thursday, September 28, 2006

What I Did Today

My friend Monica recently recommended that I join yet another online journal community, citing the fact that Chorus, Isolate, Confirm does not offer enough insight into the details of my daily existence. But membership in another community website is the last thing I need. I'm already an active member of, and, to say nothing of my inactive account over at My online needs are pretty much filled. So, for Monica, here's a very mundane (and all-too bloggy) story about what I did today:

Today was the scheduled date for the midterm make-up exams for two of my university classes. I went to the campus and hung around for two hours. Nobody showed up, so I wrote "cellar door" on the board and went home.

There. Now, hopefully, Monica understands why I don't make a blog entry for every day of my life.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Portrait of a Badass: Ren

Character: Ren
Actor: Kevin Bacon
Film: Footloose (1984)
Badass Moment: Ren's anger surpasses the threshhold of smoking, quickly escalating to drinking, then dancing and finally gymnastics

A younger Kevin Bacon once taught us all a few important things. He taught us that we as humans should be able to dance where and when ever we want, and in what ever dippy style we choose. He taught us the value of freedom of expression...and of freedom from persecution by John Lithgow. He taught us all this and more in his role as a big city misfit teen called Ren (you eediot!) in the movie Footloose.

Poor Ren. His parents drag him away from home sweet Chicago and make him attend school in some unidentified rural town (I like to think it exists in the mythical state of South Oklaginiakotah). There Ren finds, to his shock and dismay, the town has an ordinance outlawing dance*. Furthermore, the locals don't take kindly to fancy-pants strangers who come into town with their Sting hairstyles and their skinny neckties and their black and white checkered loafers and think they can just cut the rug any old time they want.

Life in South Oklaginiakotah would get anybody down, to be sure. And sure enough, Ren's frustrations do come to a boiling point in the famous "dancing mad" scene. Through a carefully choreographed campaign of terpsichorean subversion, however, Ren manages to win a tractor race, teach a developmentally stunted farmboy a few "gnarly moves" AND get the town to repeal its despotic anti-dancing statute in time for the senior prom. Thank god for that because, as we all know, prom minus dancing equals nothing but a lot of underage sex.

Ren, you are a badass who doesn't fuse Flashdance with MC Hammer shit. We salute you.

*The town's anti-dancing regulations most likely cite the following obscure Bible excerpt:

"For thus saith the Lord God; In dancing ye shall be damned; And in having an abortion ye shall not necessarilly be damned per se, but be perhaps slightly shunned at My annual Big Heavenly Backyard Barbecue." - Proverbs 10:23

Saturday, September 16, 2006


Asahara Shoko, leader of the Aum Shinrikyo cult (and coordinator of the 1995 sarin gas attack on Tokyo's Hibiya, Marunouchi and Chiyoda subway lines) lost his final appeal against a death sentence this week.

This event provides us a convenient opportunity to appreciate the superiority of science over religion. Why waste your days in a dead-end cult or stupid, stupid church when you could be splitting beer atoms or genetically engineering spider-gremlins? I believe that, within my lifetime, science will bless us with at least three of the five following amenities:

1) Bread that gets you drunk

2) An elevator that gains speed with each press of the call button

3) Convincing sex robots that don't go berserk and kill their owners (am I right, people?)

4) Self-neutering dogs

5) A dessert topping that is also a floor wax

Technorati: Aum Shinrikyo, death penalty, sex robots

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Me, I'm Afraid of Heights

My cousin the rapper recommended that I watch the 2004 BBC documentary The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear.

My cousin the rapper was right. I watched it and it was excellent.

It's a very adequate three-part explanation of the the American neoconservative movement's dependence on invented enemies and phantom threats. Most importantly, it seeks to drive home what I feel is one of the most important ideas of our day: that our current administration has re-labeled paranoia as "vigilance" and cowardice as "strength."

Each part is one hour long. Please find time to watch all three. Then tell your friends to watch all three. People need to realize that constant, irrational fear of terrorism went out of style with fluorescent pink Trapper Keepers and the Texas Instruments TI-99/4A Home Computer.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

My Judgement Cometh

And that right soon.

I had a nice week-long vacation in Wisconsin and Minnesota, but as soon as it was over there was business to be taken care of in Tokyo. Specifically, the business of me buying Guilty Gear Judgement for the PSP, the newest embodiment of what is probably the most stylish fighting game franchise in history. I would reserve such praise for the Shibuya-looking girls and boys of the King of Fighters series if it weren't for the fact that Guilty Gear blows any and all competition out of the water on the basis of its heavy metal soundtrack alone.

Even without the epic "I Whupped Joe Satriani's Ass" soundtrack, Guilty Gear enjoys the advantage of a too-cool cast of characters, most of whom would deserve their own Portrait of a Badass if I hadn't made the rule that only film characters would be so honored. How cool are the Guilty Gear characters? Cool enough that, if you were to show up at Otacon dressed as one of them, God would express his ultimate disdain for your charlatanism by giving you a new nipple in the middle of your left cheek, you nerd.

Now the people who see me sitting on the train with my PSP are likely to notice a stiff, awkward look on my face; this is the look of a severely jet-lagged man who wants to air guitar and headbang to the VS. Screen music but can't because it's not socially acceptable to act like the superintendent of the Rock and Roll High School district on the train in Tokyo.

Guilty Gear Judgement includes, in addition to its side-scrolling beat-em-up main attraction, a solid port of Guilty Gear XX Slash, complete with its new final boss Order Sol, who is a super-cheap addition to the lineup (already formidable thanks to the also super-cheap boss version of I-No, the dirty-talking rock-and-roll witch). To my most excellent delight, the game also came with a free UMD video called Guilty Gear Fragment. I haven't watched it yet, but hey. Free video.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Bait and Switch

I was doing some research this evening about carry-on luggage restrictions (just a few days left before my first visit to the US in more than 18 months) and Google returned this amusing news hit:

As you can see, the headline regarding snakes on a plane is purple because I immediately clicked on it, hoping for a humorous attempt at shock journalism. I could hear the over-dynamic news reporter voice in my head saying, "Snakes On a Plane. You've seen the movie. But could it really happen? Don't miss our special report. It could save your life!"

Unfortunately, the link led to this article about snacks on a plane, not snakes.

It was a lesson in disappointment.

Technorati: carry-on, Snakes On a Plane

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Resurrect Pod?

"Lord! It's a miracle!" - Warden Samuel Norton, The Shawshank Redemption

My iPod, like so many moody iPods before it, has abruptly shown signs of life again. I got up to check my email because I couldn't sleep, and just on a whim I decided to give the old "lock, unlock, reset" sequence one more try. What do you know? Now it suddenly wants to be charged up for old times' sake.

Its battery is probably knocking on death's door, but at least now I have one more chance to back up my music collection before it finally buys the farm, or the iPod spontaneously combusts like that guy's heart in Temple of Doom, which ever comes first.

Imaginary conversation:

A: See? Your iPod wasn't dead after all.

B: You're right.

A: I bet you'll never rush to make a diagnosis like that again.

B: You mean my diagnosis that the iPod was fried for good?

A: Yeah. Or, to put it another way, like the diagnosis that led to the euthanization of Terri Schiavo.

B: Let's not compare apples to oranges. My entire music collection wasn't trapped inside Terri Schiavo.

Technorati: iPod, resurrection, Terri Schiavo

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Die Pod

Following the example set a few months ago by my feeble, old PlayStation 2, my iPod decided today that its own day-to-day existence was unjustifiably troublesome and redirected all its energy into a new hobby: Not working.

I mean, really not working. It won't turn on, doesn't charge up when plugged in, can't be reset, won't recognize or be recognized by my doesn't even show the "sad iPod" icon. It has apparently become a $400 doorstop.

The loss of the iPod itself isn't what bothers me. I do feel I got my $400 worth of use out of the thing; in its heyday it accompanied me on many a boring Ginza Line subway commute. It was, as iPods go, a dependable little bundle of musical happiness. The disappointment lies in the 2200 songs trapped on its hard drive, henceforth inaccessible.

If I buy another MP3 player, which I certainly will, I can't help but feel that buying another iPod would be a violation of principle. As machines go, iPods seem overrated, overpriced and overly difficult to have repaired. At any rate, I've already decided that my next MP3 player will be Flash memory-based. I have far too many bad memories of holding my stunned iPod up to my ear and hearing its hard drive going, "zzzzz, click...zzzzz, click." I never want to hear my MP3 player of choice emit a "zzzzz" or a "click" ever again.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Let's Learn Japanese: Taru-Doru

Taru-doru (noun) Chunky model.
I should take a minute to say that, when I make a Let's Learn Japanese post, there is about a 50% chance that the I am presenting some very obscure, less-than-useful Japanese. I may very well be teaching you some Japanese that, should you try to use it in front of an actual Japanese person, might prompt a puzzled "ha?" response.
This word, taru-doru, is one such word. A combination of the word taru (meaning "barrel") and the last two syllables of the Japanese-English loan word aidoru ("idol"), the word taru-doru has appeared on the internet out of necessity; until taru-doru, there was no convenient word for "slightly overweight female gurabia models." But after searching for the term on Japanese Google, I get the impression that the word has yet to catch on in typical circles.
The girl in the picture is self-described taru-doru Ruike Asuka. Her blog, entitled Ruike Asuka: From Barrel-Idol to Idol...My Diet Has Begun, consists mainly of pictures of Ms. Ruike worrying about her tummy, pictures of Ms. Ruike eating and pictures of Ms. Ruike worrying about her tummy all over again. The heartbreaker is that it's very difficult to see any progress in her alleged weight loss efforts from her first post (14 months ago) to now.
I'd like to be supportive of anybody's honest attempts to lose weight, but the fact that Ms. Ruike refers to herself as a taru-doru on her own blog makes me wonder if she really wants to stop being a "chunky idol."
Technorati: , Ruike Asuka
テクノラティ: 樽ドル, 類家明日香

Monday, August 14, 2006

Star Wars Mash-Up Report

I refuse to apologize for not posting lately because I have been enjoying a glorious summer vacation and am therefore not sorry.

More than a year ago (wow, really?) I posted this entry about the Star Wars mash-up I was working on. Since then, after much procrastinating, postponitrating and lacadaisicaliflating, I finished the mash-up itself and have begun work on a video for it this weekend.

It's going well; I've finished the first twenty seconds of video for the two-and-a-half-minute mash-up and, so far, it's quite amusing (in regard to both content and the fact that the whole project has become a crash course in creating Flash animations, something I have been meaning to teach myself for some time).

Technorati: , flash

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Portrait of a Badass: Audrey II

Character: Audrey II
Actor: Levi Stubbs (voice)
Film: Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
Badass Moment: Twoie sings "Feed Me"

I saw Roger Corman's original 1960 B-horror film The Little Shop of Horrors for the first time when I was a kindergartener. Or most of it, anyway; it was being projected in a park in Minneapolis and I think I fell asleep and was taken home by my parents before the ending. Kind of a gruesome film for a little tyke, in retrospect. Fast forward to the VHS release of Frank Oz's film based on the stage musical based on the Roger Corman film, and one would see a nine-year-old me singing along with one of very few musicals I would ever deem "un-stupid." The damage was done. At a very tender age I had been inundated with images of sadistic dentists and man-eating plants.

The plant in question is Audrey II (affectionately called Twoie), whose soulful singing voice serves to convince geeky flower shop employee Seymour Krelborn (Rick Moranis) to feed her as many unfortunate humans as possible. Over the course of the film, viewers witness Audrey II's gradual transformation from a cute little flytrap, to an obnoxious, man-sized adolescent, to a bellicose, room-sized threat to humanity. And all to the tune of one of the catchiest soundtracks ever to deal with the topic of horticultural manslaughter.

Fans of the Corman film and the stage play with their tragic/comic endings might have taken issue with the remake's radically different climax, in which Seymour and Twoie face off in an explosive (literally, explosive) battle to the finish. The way I see it, the ending of the 1986 version is a prime example of the disasters that can come of market research. The remake originally called for a final scene in which giant flytraps run amok, destroying New York City, crawling up the Statue of Liberty, etc. This scene was shown to test audiences in an unfinished state; it was black and white with rudimentary visual effects. I'm willing to bet money that the test audiences saw this and, completely missing the point of the test screening, said "I didn't like the ending," because it looked crappy.

People are stupid that way. I used to work for a market research group that showed movie trailers, sometimes with unfinished effects, and no matter how many times you tell the test audience that the film is not yet finished, they ignore you and say dumb things like, "Why does Lara Croft look like a computer-generated wireframe?" The studio, in turn, misinterprets the test audience's gripe and makes radical changes to the film. Stupid, stupid market research.

Audrey II, you are a mean, green badass from outer space. We salute you.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Soy Loco Roco, Ese

With the release of Sony Computer Entertainment Japan's Loco Roco, Japan has added one more item to its seemingly endless list of cute contributions to the world. This PSP game, which borrows elements from Garage Games' Gish, puts the player in charge of a character that looks like a tropical fruit, but behaves like a rolling saline breast implant. Using only the L, R, and circle buttons, one must tilt and bump the earth in order to guide the breast implant through each level.

This game, much like Namco's Katamari Damashii is a triumph of audio engineering. Each "species" of Loco Roco sings the game's infectious theme song and background tracks in its own unique language. There is a Roco that sounds French, but is not. There is a Roco that sounds Italian, but is not. I'd be tempted to sing along with the game's goofy Oompa Loompa-sounding tunes if the lyrics weren't gibberish (and therefore very hard to remember).

The game also has "Loco House Mode," which is kind of like an editable video game version of those "liquid lava hourglass" relaxation devices you sometimes see on desks. Only this liquid lava smiles, jumps and sings. And is cute.

Technorati: , ロコロコ

"Tote Tote" Update

In Let's Learn Japanese: Sukkiri! (February 19, 2006) I told the triumphant story of my endeavors to discover the identity of a Bollywood pop song called "Dil Tote Tote Ho Gaya." This week I enjoyed a new level of sukkiri with the discovery of that song's exuberant video clip on YouTube. Enjoy the spoils of my many mouseclicks:

Monday, July 24, 2006

Paging Doctor Fish

At the bath-related theme park Yunessun in Hakone until September 30, 2006 there is a special attraction called the Doctor Fish Bath. Apparently, doctor fish are friendly little algae eaters that clean the dead skin off your feet. I hope they don't accidentally stock the bath with the doctor fish's less famous cousin, the skeletonizer fish.

Don't believe me? You will, Dr. Jones. We will make you a true posting this link to yet another Japanese website touting the advantages of having a pool full of insatiable fishies at your disposal. Plus, that website has this image of a woman encircled by a Saturn's ring of doctor fish. Did you know? If you could find a doctor fish bathtub large enough, Saturn would float in it.

Technorati: , doctor fish, , ドクターフィッシュ

Friday, July 21, 2006

Let's Learn Japanese: Tsuyu

Tsuyu (noun) The rainy season. The kanji used to write tsuyu mean "plum rain."

I wrote about it last year, but the Japanese rainy season is a reliable source of exasperation every June and July. It's like a cruel joke whose punchline is "Ha ha ha, you showed up to work looking like a water balloon attack victim."

This year tsuyu started normally, then fooled us all by giving way to about three days of oppressive heat last week, then came back with a vengeance. Yahoo! Weather has given the forcast of "RAIN" in Tokyo for eleven out of the twelve days from this Monday to next Thursday. And yes, it's raining right now as I type this.

Tokyo residents are unanimously anxious for tsuyu to end so that they can stop complaining about the rain and start complaining about the heat.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Arson is Hot

20-year-old web idol/video blogger Hirata Erika has been trying just a bit too hard to set the world on fire.
She's been connected to a string of serial arsons in Nagano Prefecture. The funny part of the story is that Ms. Hirata, who calls herself Kuma-eri (due to the fact that she has had cosmetic surgery to make herself look like Acom "image girl" Kumada Yoko, with remarkable G-cup* results), had been blogging about all the mysterious fires happening in her neighborhood, without letting on that she was the perpetrator.
In addition to burning up everything in sight, Kuma-eri had been vying for a contract with an idol talent agency until her careless pyromania landed her squarely under arrest; her fingerprints were lifted from one of the plastic molotov cocktails used to light up the six cars that fell victim to her fiery rampage. I can only assume that her blog has already been taken down, but I did find a Japanese news video about the story on YouTube. Just so you know I'm not making this crazy stuff up.
An intersting side note: On an idol talent agency interview form, Kuma-eri cited keisatsu ("police") as one of her favorite words.
* That's a Japanese G-cup. Everything is smaller in Japan.

Technorati: , , , ,

Monday, July 10, 2006

Portrait of a Badass: Pyramid Head

Character: Pyramid Head*
Actor: Roberto Campanella
Film: Silent Hill (2006)
Badass Moment: Pyramid Head puts an end to Anna and her mopey nonsense.

*I know he's called The Red Pyramid in the movie, but I've been calling him Pyramid Head ever since he scared me out of playing all the way through Silent Hill 2.

The film Silent Hill was released in Japan on Saturday, so after work today I hightailed it to the theater complex in Shinjuku Kabukicho to buy myself ¥1800 worth of big-screen trepidation. As a sometime lover of Konami's Silent Hill games ("lover" may not be the best word...our relationship was complicated), I was sceptical about its cinematic adaptation. I had decided that, in a best-case scenario, the movie would either be A) really scary, or B) faithful to the games. Imagine my delight/horror when it turned out to be C) both A and B.

The appearance of the sword-dragging, mannequin-humping executioner called Pyramid Head was only one of many sources of glee/terror to impress/startle me during the course of this spooky/freaky movie. It is, after all, hard to ignore crucial Silent Hill elements like the rusty chainlink locales, faceless nurses, killer children and, of course, Akira Yamaoka's Portishead-meets-Trent-Reznor's-washing-machine soundtrack. But Pyramid Head is one of the great video game villains, now standing among the likes of Gannon (The Legend of Zelda), Nemesis (Resident Evil 3) and Evil Otto (Berserk).

When his ugly mug (which, despite being a pyramid, is still somehow ugly) shows up on the big screen, a Silent Hill veteran like me can scarcely contain his enthusiasm/revulsion.

Pyramid Head, you are a geometrical badass. We salute/abhor you.

Friday, July 07, 2006

This is Really Stoopid

Article: Push For Simpler Spelling Persists

On the one hand, I'm excited about taking steps to make English less cerebral and more accessible to foreign speakers. On the other hand, get a load of this foolishness:

Eether wae, the consept has yet to capcher th publix imajinaeshun.

Yeah, my "imajinaeshun" has yet to be "capcherd." I take particular issue with the fact that this "simplification" seems taylored only to accommodate the pronunciation patterns of North American English which, contrary to what the worst spellers in the English speaking world would have you think, is not the world's most prevalent form of English. Therefore, any "simplification" that does not simultaneously address all earthly forms of spoken English is no simplification at all. It's like blowing up the garage to get the lawn mower outside.

It's ideas like this that make me think Americans want to be known as the idiots of the world.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

King of Iron Thumbs Tournament

Tekken: Dark Resurrection for PSP came out today in Japan and my masochistic tendencies pooled their money together to buy a copy for me. Nice bunch, my masochistic tendencies. Only my masochistic tendencies would chip in so generously to buy me a game that allows me to get my ass kicked by Tekken virtuosi from all corners of the earth.

Crap as I am at the game, it's super-fun and super-thumb-pain-inducing. Whether you're in it to climb the online ranks, learn all the ten-hit combos or just save up enough in-game money to buy the dumbest possible combination of costume accessories for your characters of choice, Tekken: Dark Resurrection is candy for the proverbial kid that is every gamer's masochistic tendencies. Watch out for my Lei Wu-Long ghost...he attacks with a relentless repetition of my patented "LP+LK; charging shoulder block" combo that works so well against the AI opponents.

Monday, July 03, 2006

I'm a Bad Blogger

You know what would make this blog nicer? Some actual blogging.

The bottom half of June slipped through my fingers with little to talk about other than Yamagata, my vendetta against Doom 3 for Xbox and my race against time to finish an entry for an illustration contest which I saw advertised on a placemat at First Kitchen. Well, Yamagata's doing fine, the Cyberdemon is trying my patience and my contest entry is finished, so I guess it's time to post some posts, huh.

Okay. Soon.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Say Hello to My Little Friend

This week my apartment became just a shade brighter...just a tad happier...just the slightest bit fishier...with the arrival of Yamagata, a dark blue Siamese fighting fish I won from a UFO catcher in Shimokitazawa. A true survivor, Yamagata has made a harrowing journey from his place of birth (where ever that was...let's say Thailand to make the story interesting) to a tiny plastic jar inside a skill crane machine in Tokyo where he was tormented mercilessly by a mechanical claw, to a lightly furnished fishbowl in my living room.

Yamagata enjoys eating pulverized brine shrimp, dragging his decorative finnage around and snapping his jaws menacingly. I like to think that his new life is pretty sweet in comparison to the horror that must have been life inside a UFO catcher. Just the thought of feeling the vibrations of UFO catcher music all day long is horrendous. If fish get post traumatic stress syndrome, this little guy may very well have it.

Friday, June 16, 2006


This week I uploaded a new MP3 to my MySpace account. It's an arrangement of the Norfair theme from Metroid. Go there immediately and listen to it fifty times.

The Norfair theme has long been one of my favorite video game tunes of the 8-bit era. It does as good a job as it can of conveying the feeling of being the only human on the planet with its jilted waltz feel and dissonance. It also does a good job of suggesting that Metroid music composer Hip Tanaka was a fan of Erik Satie.

Of course, like most 8-bit soundtracks, Metroid's was doomed to become repetitive and end up getting turned down on TV sets across America. Even I grew tired of the jaunty "Hey! Let's Explore Brinstar" march, the mysterious ambiance of "Annoying Beeps and Boops in the Elevator Room" and the psychological horror of "Miniboss Hideout II: Descent Into Insanity." Of course I got tired of the music. It's hardly surprising when you consider the fact that I was the only kid I knew who didn't have the game's layout and item locations memorized. It took me so long to finish the game, I should have gotten some tragic ending where Samus takes off her suit and turns out to be a genetic hybrid of Regis Philbin and a kangaroo.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Big Walk 2006: Results

Start time: 10:45 AM

Finish time: 10:45 PM

Total time: 12 hours

Percentage of time spent walking: Less than 50%

Distance traveled: 16 km

Wards traversed:

Fluids consumed:
Green tea . . . 1 L
Aquarius/Pocari Sweat . . . 1 L
Mango juice . . . ??? L
Fosters/Corona . . . 1.4 L

Money gained by selling PS2 games: ¥15300

Money spent on arcade games: ¥800

Video arcades visited: 2

Convenience stores visited: 5

Photos taken: 24

Fosters is Australian for Corona

It's dark by the time we leave Club Sega (around 7:30, I'm guessing, but I have not taken any milestone notes since Ochanomizu). We decide, based on the time, that we will walk from Akihabara to Ueno, have a beer and call it a day. We take Chuo-dori northward past Suehirocho and Ueno-Hirokoji Stations, already talking of plans for the next Big Walk.

We stop at Hub in Ueno to drink some beer, eat fish and chips and watch the first half of Japan's World Cup warmup game against Malta. Then it's time for me to head home because I have university classes to teach the next morning. Big Walk II comes to a close.

Next Distraction: Akihabara

After a brief perusal of Ochanomizu's musical wares, the Kanda River shows us the way to festive (noisy) Akihabara, a colorful (gaudy) town catering (pandering) to Tokyo's elusive (antisocial) masses of otaku (scum). Once again, Craig and I are pulled by forces unknown into a video arcade (Club Sega this time), where more of our money finds its way out of our pockets and into House of the Dead 4, Taiko no Tatsujin and Under Defeat.

Let me take this opportunity to make a recommendation. If you ever find yourself in the same room as a Taiko no Tatsujin 8 machine, do yourself a favor: drop in some money, choose the highest difficulty level and play the "Super Mario Brothers Theme." That's some good taiko.

Kanda River to Ochanomizu

I know this is the worst photo on my entire blog, but it's the only one I have for this post.

Soon after Iidabashi, near Suidobashi Station and the Tokyo Dome, the Outer Moat disappears underground and magically reappears as the Kanda River, one of my favorite Tokyo features. It's a well-vegetated, steep-walled channel of dark green water feeding into the much bigger Sumida River, and is one several tributaries created out of water supply needs during the development of Edo. The Kanda River began as a means to carry water from the Inokashira Spring in present-day Kichijoji (Inokashira literally means "Head of the Well") to low-lying Kanda, just north of the site of Edo Castle. Despite being obviously manmade, its "banks" are home to quite a few popular cherry blossom viewing spots in the springtime.

(Right now you are saying, "Jesse, you should have taken a picture of this Kanda River, if it's as awesome as you say." And you know what? You are right.)

With the river as our guide, we are led to Ochanomizu, Tokyo's focal point for musical instrument shops. The area is called Ochanomizu ("Tea Water") because the shogun used to drink tea around here on the way home from a hawk hunt, making the local water famous...and early form of celebrity endorsement, I guess.

Fighting in Iidabashi

We follow the Outer Moat and the adjacent Chuo Line to the northeast. Near Iidabashi Station, we find ourselves sucked inexorably into a game center, where we experience approximately 45 minutes of Final Fight and Tekken 5. Urban hiking is cool and everything, but sometimes you need to sit down and let your fingers do the walking. Or in this case, the ass-kicking.

Urban Fishing

At Ichigaya Station Yasukuni-dori jogs over most mercurially and continues on the opposite side of the Outer Moat. We stay on the north side, now following Sotobori-dori. Next to the Ichigaya Bridge is a designated fishing area packed with people enjoying the "great outdoors." I half expect two fishermen opposite each other to simultaneously stand up and yell, "I got a bite!" and then try to reel each other into the water.

Cutting Across the Middle

After 3:00 we are ready to leave the stench and squalor of Shinjuku Station's higashiguchi district behind and continue the journey. We follow Yasukuni-dori east past Akebonobashi Station. You may remember last year's Big Walk having a "boring zone" in the middle, between Shinjuku and the Imperial Palace. Similarly, this particular stretch of road has nothing particularly photogenic or memorable. Plus, after leaving the familiarity of Shinjuku, we don't really know anything about our surroundings that we can't learn from my Tokyo mini-atlas. We push forward, however, knowing that we'll eventually contact the Chuo Line.

Ah, Mango Juice

At noon I reach the Shinjuku South Exit district, home of a second-hand video games shop called Trader. In the wake of the tragic death of my PlayStation 2 I have about ten games to sell, and Trader is unique in that they buy and sell foreign games as well as domestic ones. I empty my backpack of PS2 games for the happy sum of ¥15,300.

While waiting for the Trader guy to total up my goods I get a call from my ex-roommate Craig, who will meet me in Shinjuku for lunch and join the Big Walk from Shinjuku onward. Ehhhh-xcellent.

Lunch is Vietnamese food and several glasses of mango juice.

Good Enough for German Opera

Tokyo Opera City marks the spot where it starts to feel like you're actually in Shinjuku. Seeing the sign makes me want to belt out a resounding tenor line from Götterdämmerung which, in turn, makes me wish I knew a tenor line from Götterdämmerung, which I do not.

After Tokyo Opera City I pass the triplet stair-step spires of Shinjuku Park Tower, one of the most recognizable skyscrapers in Tokyo. It's 235 meters of "intelligent building," the top 14 floors which compose the Park Hyatt Tokyo (the hotel where Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray are seen moping, skulking and wondering, "Why do they mix up their L's and R's?" in Lost In Translation).

Kannana to Koshuu

At 11:02 I cross Inokashira-dori and at 11:08 I turn right on Koshuu-kaido, the road that will take me all the way to Shinjuku Station. (Thus far the only plan existing in my head is that I'll begin by going to Shinjuku because I have errands to do there.) Koshuu-kaido is to Chinese restaurants what Kannana-dori is to ramen shops: a seemingly endless chain of grease-smelling exhaust vents. I hold my breath passing each one because I'm not feeling hungry just yet. Snickers really satisfies, after all.

Sasazuka Station. Hatagaya Station. At 11:35, right before Hatsudai Station, I spy something I've never seen before: A vending machine on the sidewalk stocked with two-liter bottles. Obviously a two-liter bottle would be cumbersome regardless of its contents, so I take a picture and walk on by.

Big Walk 2006: START!

I know how much you love surprises, so SURPRISE! Here's the first installment of the story of "Big Walk 2006," my second trans-metropolitan pedestrian pilgrimage from one end of central Tokyo to the other. Sunday, June 4 was a cool, mostly cloudy day with no precipitation in the Tokyo area and I seized the opportunity to get a second Big Walk under my belt, even if it meant doing so with virtually no planned route or goal.

So, just like last April's Big Walk, I started at the entrance to Setagaya-Daita Station (the station with the with an all-new super inconvenient upstairs-downstairs approach to the train platform!) and marked the occasion with a hasty keitai photo.

The time is 10:45 AM. I am ready to ambulate. I switch tenses in mid-blog.

If there's something strangely familiar about this, it's probably because my clothes are nearly identical to the ones I wore on last year's Big Walk. Refer to the April 2005 archive for proof of this.

I make a quick stop at the Daily Yamazaki for some green tea and a Snickers (my first Snickers bar in about two years, in fact) and start north on Kannana-dori.

FUN FACT! If you do a Google search for "Kannana-dori," Google will incorrectly ask you if you meant to type "Kanana-dori." Congratulations, Jesse. I guess you know more than Google.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Stay Gold, Pony Boy

When I modified my PlayStation 2 last year I heard a little voice in my head saying, "Don't do it! It's not worth it! Nyooooo!" But I ignored the voice and went ahead with the mod, installing a new top-loading drive cover for using my swap-discs. It gave my white PS2 console a new black-and-white color scheme and allowed me to play the ghostly copies of games I had earlier decided weren't quite worth owning anymore. A sound investment, I thought, ignoring the rattling noise coming from my console with ever-increasing frequency. But after months of smacking the top of my PlayStation 2 to stop it from going "ratatatatatat," it finally looked at me today and said, "You know what? Screw you, I'm outta here."

I'll get over it, but my PS2 died while I was in the middle of Monster Hunter 2, a game I had been playing for months and hadn't yet gotten tired of. Now the little voice in my head is telling me to just hold my horses until the PlayStation 3 comes out this November. And this time I'm going to obey the little voice.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Feels Like I'm Rockin' At Heaven's Door

click to enlarge

Last night I played a five-song "mini set" at Shimokitazawa "mini pub" Heaven's Door, ending a three-year stint of intending to play a show in Tokyo. My guitar playing only moderately sucked. The setlist, for those to whom it matters:

"Shimokitazawa" (working title)
"King of Fighters"
"Red Balloon"
"Jenna Jameson"

Hear MP3s of "King of Fighters" and "Monica" at MySpace.