Wednesday, November 30, 2005

 

Panasonic Lumix FX-8 review

Panasonic Lumix FX-8 photoSince my previous posting regarding purchasing said camera seems to be a popular article, I thought I better add a review of the camera as promised.

The first thing that struck me about the camera (well, second, after the pinkness!) was the size and feel, just right for slipping out of a pocket into my hand. The back LCD screen is very large - over 80% of the total area - and very clear, even on reasonably bright days. Since there is no optical viewfinder, anti-glare is an essential feature, and with Panasonic's patented anti-shake system built-in, worries about wobbly photos due to holding the thing at arm's length are negated. Start-up time from power-on is just over a second or two, and similarly - ahh, don't know the word, but the time to prepare for a shot: auto-focus, light balance, etc - is less than half a second, essential for many action shots.

One slight problem with the very generous back screen is that to compensate the configuration buttons are a bit small, which might be an issue for fat-fingered users! The setup menus are also a bit confusing, but that might be partially due to me having not read the manual and partially due to it all being in Japanese. For instance, one slight usability issue is that to change flash mode (auto, always on, always off, red-eye, etc) the down button must be pressed to cycle through the options, but it is all too easy to miss the correct setting and have to cycle round all six or so options again. Surely popping up a wee menu after the first press would be a better idea?

The Lumix FX-8, in common with most other new cameras, I suppose, is a bit memory-hungry in the default mode; 5 mega-pixels in fine mode creates images over 2 megabytes in size, meaning that 64 megabyte SD cards cannot even hold 30 pictures. I've set it to 3 mega-pixels in fine mode, which gives a more practical 1 megabyte file size. Similarly, the video mode records at 30 frames per second at 640x480, and since it stores files in Motion JPEG format (presumably) the same 64 megabyte SD card fills up in less than one minute!

I've not examined the software that comes with the Lumix, as I import files by popping out the SD card (located in the battery compartment, but no removal of the battery necessary) and putting it into a separate reader, and then use a third-party photo album software tool.

I also bought the official Lumix FX Series camera case at the same time, in colour-coordinated pink (more a muted burgundy) leather. They fit together well, but the case does not have a pocket for spare memory cards or batteries. Even though the specification claims 300 photos between recharges, a spare battery is always useful to have to hand. To recharge the battery it must be removed and put in an integrated wall plug charger unit. This is a multi-voltage device, so there are no worries when travelling abroad, other than the usual plug prong adapter issues.

Image quality is very good, although printed out photos are a bit blurry, although that might very well be more a problem with my printer (Pixus 550i with recycled ink cartridges) and software!

There are a whole bunch of features that I still have to read the manual to find out about, such as a baby feature - enter the date of birth, and when you select that mode the baby's age is stamped on the shop; and food mode, for the Japanese obsession with photographing their dinners.

Panasonic Lumix FX-8 Rating Score
Price★★★☆☆A free case would have been nice
Usability★★★★★No camera shake and excellent night-time performance
Image quality★★★★☆Perhaps I've just not learnt how to use it correctly yet?
Design and build quality★★★★★Everything looks well put together

Monday, November 28, 2005

 

Debito Arudou's tinfoil hat too tight again!

The Hokkaido Crusader had another article published in the Japan Times, which was well up to his usual standard. Let's have a look at what he says:

People are still reeling from September's LDP landslide election, realizing that Koizumi can essentially legislate whatever he wants. For foreigners, that brings some bad news.

Are they? What people? Anyway, Koizumi can't, as things still have to get past the upper house, where he needs the help of New Komeito to pass anything, and New Komeito are one of the most "foreigner-friendly" parties.

Koizumi's previous Cabinet bore no fewer than three ministers who mentioned, in their introductory speeches, the alleged foreign crime wave (even though the media, including this column on Oct. 7, 2003, has long debunked this).

There is some truth in the "foreign crime wave", if you look in detail.

Their plan: Issue "IC Cards," or credit card-sized identification cards, containing computer chips to track people.

IC cards cannot really be used to track people, especially people who don't want to be tracked.

One form of IC card (the "shutsu nyuu koku" card) will be issued to anyone (Japanese or not) crossing the Japanese border, upon request and at their expense.

At whose request? That sentence reads as if it is at the expense of the traveller! Who would want to pay for that?

The other, the "zairyuu card," is obligatory and replaces the Gaijin Card. All resident aliens (except the generational "Zainichi" ethnic "foreigners," who remain unchipped) must still carry it 24/7 or face arrest.

Just the same as the existing gaijin card. Oh, and the comma there should be outside the quote, as it's not quoted speech.

This "Gaijin Chip" will contain data such as: "name, nationality, birthday, passport information, visa status, address, workplace, educational institution if student etc."

Just the same as the existing gaijin card.

But just in case, fingerprinting will be reinstated to imprint foreigners both entering and leaving the country.

Like in the USA.

They mention benefits to both foreigners and society by tracking alien visits to, quote, "museums, consultative government bodies, national art museums . . ."

I don't know where this quote comes from, and is he trying to get a cheap laugh with the word "museums" twice?

It still amounts to central control of untrustworthy elements, and treating foreigners like criminal suspects.

How? The card seems to be voluntary for tourists as suggested above. Also, demographic information about tourists (I wonder if there is a discount scheme involved?) is invaluable.

All data will be stored for a vague amount of time (perhaps indefinitely) in a bureau called (in katakana) the "Intelligence Center."

Indefinitely isn't a vague amount of time - perhaps it's just that the length of data retention hasn't been decided yet?

Orwellian overtones aside, consider the policy in practice: Workplaces, schools, hotels, etc. will be legally required to report any changes in foreigner employment, domicile, visa, etc., through swipes of IC Cards at strategically-positioned machines.

That is very similar to the current situation. Who is going to be issued with the card readers though? The infrastructure will not be cheap, so I wonder if they really will be placed in locations outwith government or police offices.

This means foreigners will now find it difficult to, say, make an anonymous inquiry at a ward office without having their data swiped.

Are public phones also going to need the card to work?

The proposal specifically considers swiping stations for apartments, weekly mansions, and other categories of lodgings, essentially expanding Japanese prison conditions nationwide.

Spoken like someone who has never been in prison!

There is a pattern here. We already know the Foreign Registry Law was set up in 1947 specifically to track the alien in our midst.

Well, that's a surprise! That's like tut-tutting about how Building Codes were set up specifically to track how houses were being constructed.

However, as this column discussed (Oct. 18), it is being applied to all foreigners. This is not only against the law, but also a breach of trust.

No it's not. I and a number of other foreign residents have not been asked when we have stayed at hotels.

My point is that no matter how sweet the LDP may make its Gaijin Chip proposal sound, there is no telling what will happen when bureaucrats get their hands on it.

Ahh, the slippery slope argument, the favourite of the tinfoil hat crowd!

Their enforcement has been most unscrupulous this year, and given the urgency of the policy putsch (and the vulnerability of foreigners), I foresee great potential for further enforcement abuse.

Now, the favourite word of Mr Arudou's, putsch! It does mean "thrust" in the original German, but he is writing in English, so the English meaning must be used, namely coup d'état.

Now, let's slide down the slippery slope...

For example, look what happened to Japan's lifetime employment system, where full-time work (especially in academia) meant lifetime work. That was replaced, after a century of guinea-pigging the foreigners, with contract employment, in the form of laws like 1997's "Sentaku Ninkisei Hou."

Ignoring his verbification of an undenounable word, I wonder if he has any actual evidence of this bizarre claim, other than his own fevered imagination?

According to the National Union of General Workers, contract labor now makes up [...] 90 percent of foreign labor in the Japanese workforce.

Considering that over 75% (I can't find a reference to the exact figure) of foreigners don't stay longer than three years, I don't really see that as a surprising figure.

Foreign residents cannot vote and thus mean little to politicians.

Read up about New Komeito.


Saturday, November 26, 2005

 

Hamsters City!

For some reason I find the Hamsters City web comic fascinating. It seems surreal, as if the mistakes are deliberately inserted in order to hook the reader.


 

Restaurant review: Pizza Patio, Motomachi, Kobe

Pizza Patio interior Pizza Patio is a nice wee Italian in Motomachi shopping street - find it by entering the big arcade that starts across the road from the west side of Daimaru, then walk less than a minute down there until you see a sign on the right for the restaurant on the second floor. Opposite is a small independent record shop, a massage parlour and Familiar children's clothing store. If you can, be sure to pick up a copy of Hot Pepper before you go as there are usually discount tickets to be found there, although it's usually for their cheese fondue. It claims some sort of Canadian heritage according to signs inside the shop, but exactly why, I just do not know!

The main selling point for this place is the cheap sets - weekday lunchtimes they have pasta sets for 800 yen to catch the office crowd, and weekends their lunch is a starter, main pasta, pizza or risotto, and a drink (including beer or wine!) for 1,150 yen, served until a very generous 5pm, after which the same menu goes up a mere 100 yen. Adding an extra 200 yen gives you a choice of three desserts.

I chose the tomato mozzarella starter, which featured some still slightly green and suspiciously crunchy tomato and what I suspect was Hokkaido mozzarella, thickly cut. It was closer to a cheddar in texture although the taste was mostly mozzarella. The oil, though, was good quality olive and delicately flavoured. If I'd not been expecting authentic mozzarella, I'd have not been as disappointed. My wife had the octopus starter, which she enjoyed, although there was just half a dozen rather thin-sliced pieces on the plate. The main course for me was a margarita pizza; they bake quite a deep-pan pizza with lots of juicy tomato to seep though into the base. Excellent stuff, although from their a la carte menu their ratatouille pizza is even better! Dessert was supposed to be cheesecake, but they were sold out, so I chose ice cream instead; my wife selected the panacota. Last time we had had a dessert set from them the pannacotta turned out to be a single bite-sized blob, so we didn't hold out much hope, but this time it was full-sized, extremely creamy serving. The ice cream, too, was not just a couple of scoops but a wee parfait topped with cream and pistachios, bottomed with cornflakes, and even a couple of small cubes of fruit thrown in for good measure.

The shop itself usually plays a lot of 80s US and UK pop (there must be a huge marketplace for supplying piped music to restaurants in Japan!) and taking a seat by the window gives a nice view onto the arcade for people watching. However, smoking and non-smoking is not segregated at all, and there is little effective ventilation, so it can get very smoky, though fortunately not this time. Also, be sure to pick up a stamp card when you pay - one stamp per 500 yen spent, and 10 stamps for a 500 yen discount, making it roughly 10% off. Service is efficient and flawless, but missing any extra effort, either sincere or fake, that most other places manage.

Food★★★★☆
Atmosphere★★★☆☆
Service★★☆☆☆
Value for money★★★★★

Thursday, November 24, 2005

 

These dramatised reconstructions

One of the more popular genre of Japanese TV involves a bunch of Z-list celebs sitting around watching a reconstruction of some nasty crime (if the subject matter is foreign) or heartwarming tale (if Japanese). Most of these reconstructions are shot on a budget of about 5000 yen, and often feature foreign faces that crop up in every other show. I have in fact once seen one guy play two roles in the same skit. I'm sure there must be a blog or web site chronicling the life and times of them, or if there isn't, perhaps I should start one.

My all-time classic bad reconstruction was one of Charles and Diana, where Diana was bulemic down a very Japanese electric toilet, followed by the royal family celebrating Christmas gathered round a totally bare table, bar a very Japanese strawberry cake.


 

Kobe harbour

My wife took this rather nice photo of some random bloke feeding seagulls at Kobe harbour today. The harbour area is where we spent a lot of time when dating, and visit quite often these days too.


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

 

Forgive the recent hiatus!

Last weekend I had an MRI scan - just a preventitive one, but the doc, considering my age, non-smoking and minimal drinking, extremely low blood pressure, etc, seemed rather confused as to why I was bothering!

Next, we had a funeral to go to, or at least a small meeting at the house of the dead afterwards. My first Japanese funeral, and when the conversation go on to the picking through the ashes for nice bits of bone - apparently, playing UFO Catcher with the skull is most auspicious - I pulled a bit of a funny face which did annoy the wife a bit. They also talked about piling up the bits of bone, and how there were no black bits left, which shows she didn't have cancer, or something like that.

Fortunately for the closest family involved, even though they are not particularly religious (but not that that stops the need for priests) the deceased aunt was Soka Gakkai, one of the selling points of this religion being that there are only laiety, so no need to get in the local money-grabbers (one million yen per priest is the norm) to do the honours.


Thursday, November 17, 2005

 

Where are all the English beggars?

Get together any group of embittered gaijin, and no doubt the conversation will soon turn to language beggars, those Japanese who approach you in the street just to practise English on you. However, the strange thing for me is that I have never once in about eight years have anyone approach me in a fashion that might resemble the stereotype we all know and hate.

I have had exactly two people randomly speak to me in the train - once was in English, but he was from and a native of Sri Lanka, and the second, the typical oyaji salaryman conversed purely in Japanese! I had one other encounter at Suzuka one year, where a couple came to chat in English and Japanese with me, but it was more due to the common interest in F1 than a burning need to practice English. Maybe it's different up in Tokyo, but Osaka seems fortunately free of these beggars.

Funnily enough, the one person who came closest to being written off as a language beggar was my wife on our very first date!


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

 

"Vee haf vays ov makink you talk"

Found this rather entertaining article on Japundit about some sort of bonkers corporate English training school.

The teachers had to wear uniformed white smocks with the company’s imperial Nazi-looking eagle symbol emblazoned upon them. When it came to moving about, neither the teachers nor students could just casually stroll to class or the chow hall. We had to move quickly and with purpose even if we were lacking one. Half-remembered dirty cadences from my army training days began popping out of my mouth as I marched about the camp with a look of stern concentration to mask my utter confusion.

For two hours everyday we had Question Training, which consisted of the instructors screaming questions like drill sergeants at their frightened students. We used stopwatches to give each student an exact one-minute barrage of rapid-fire questions. I’m sure we were using a mix of techniques left over from the Cold War for flushing out North Korean spies and World War II POW interrogation procedures.

I would like to think that this sort of training had died a death, but as uncovered by the JR Amagasaki accident, these methods are still in use. The worst our company does, though, is send everyone who wants promotion to senior status off to work for a month at Joshin to experience trying to sell our tat fine products.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

 

Takarazuka Light Festival

yume - dream - tea candles It's rather annoying, but since we moved away from Takarazuka this Spring (our new location is just on the wrong side of a road defining the city limits!), there's been so many special events that we feel quite slighted that they waited until we'd gone before improving the environs!

This weekend was a Festival of Light and Water, which consisted mainly of a large display of tea candles arranged along the banks of the Mukogawa (river), and an LED thing in the middle of river, placed on an island of rocks that was formed just last year after an exceptionally heavy rainfall deposited by Typhoon Number 19 (Japan doesn't use the international typhoon names when reporting weather locally). The thing resembled some sort of luminous jellyfish, slowely pusling through various colours, with spots of light inside the skin suggesting brain synapses firing.

Of course, the artist probably has some completely different image in mind when creating it, but that's what it looked like to me anyway.


Monday, November 14, 2005

 

French curry

Watching telly this morning, there was a segment on a breakfast show about posh curry. One thing that has always puzzled me about Japan is that they usually associate curry with France. As a European, France is the last country that comes to mind when thinking about curry, especially Japanese curry, which is more often than not rather unappetising-looking white rice with lumps of beef in a vaguely spicy brown sauce. Perhaps there is some association between the curry base and French-style demi-glace sauce?

Anyway, this segment introduced posh curries from around the Ginza area - first up was a 2,000 yen lunchtime curry (the usual price for curry lunch is under 1,000 yen); next up was a 3,000 yen one, where the roux was made from a huge 5.5 kilo slab of prime Matsusaka beef (probably a good few tens of thousands of yen's worth); and finally they had a 5,000 yen tuna curry, featuring a tuna katsu (breadcrumb battered deep-fry) made from 100 grammes of prime tuna, the sort of tuna that would sell at a sushi shop for 10,000 yen. Actually, maybe they get their tuna as left-overs from a sushi shop once it passes its expiry date?

This wee piece quite nicely sums up a lot of Japanese people's attitudes, I'm afraid. Curry to me is at its most basic a way of using up poor quality meat and veggies, especially coming from India where stuff will go off at a moment's notice. I refuse to believe that anyone could really tell the difference between a 10,000 yen slab of tuna deep-fried and drenched in curry sauce and a 100 yen offcut prepared in the same way. However, one is seen to be consuming, which is the raison-d'etre for not just many people, but also many television shows here in Japan. Much like that survey on Beaujolais Nouveau, being in on the trend is what gives people enjoyment, not the actual product itself.


Saturday, November 12, 2005

 

Review: Bom Dia, all over the place, this one in Kawanishi

This restaurant chain is a bit of a strange fish. The feel is very Family Restaurant-like, but unlike most of them, it isn't a huge barn filled with noisy families with father puffing and boozing away. The background music is usually chanson, even though "Bom Dia" is apparently Portuguese for "Good Day". The decor is a bit tatty in places, but at least it's clean. The cooking style is "Western Dining style", which typically means hamburgers of sizzling hot stoneware, and this place is no exception. The staff have an excessively obsequious script to follow, including a wee bow after everything they do. They also have badges with the logo "SMILE! GO! GO! キープスマイリング (ki-pu sumairingu, keep smiling)", but why they needed not one, but two Engrish slogans is anyone's guess! Och, but they're awfie cute wee things, so I'll let them off with it.

The nicest thing about the place is the value pair set - two slices of smoked salmon, a sizeable radish salad, two small sticks of garlic bread, two from eight possible main courses (two ome-rices, three spaghettis, three hamburger) and ice cream and tea, coffee or a soft drink to finish, all for just under 2600 yen for the two of us. Portions are sizeable, and the tomato sauce in their cheese ome-rice is particularly tasty, made with lots of tomato bits left in, not some non-descript sauce. However, the rice is rather heavily laced with chicken, which is tedious to extract. Their current Autumn menu has a warm vegetable salad full of potato, aubergine, broccoli and shimeji mushrooms, a bargain at 420 yen.

Credit cards accepted, and the smoking area (about 20% of the total size) is well fenced-off, in fact the best fenced-off area I have seen anywhere in Japan - an almost full-height partition and a heavy-duty extractor fan near the entrance to it. Make sure you pick up a stamp card, as at one stamp per 500 yen and only 15 stamps to fill up the book, it is well worthwhile.

Taste★★★☆☆
Ambiance★★☆☆☆
Service★★★☆☆
Value for money★★★★★

Thursday, November 10, 2005

 

Bought a Panasonic Lumix FX-8

As my old Kyocera FineCam unceremoniously decided to die a death last weekend - something broke in the lens retraction/extension system - I had to go out and buy a new one. Although the latest Lumix is the FX-9, I succumbed to the Japanese female shopping instinct of my wife, namely anything in pink is intrinsically more desirable. The FX-9 only has a burgundy red option, so that was quickly passed over for the pink FX-8. It also saved 6000 yen, which was the most important factor for me.

The key feature we wanted from the new camera was the anti camera shake system, but after a session trying to photograph kittie, what we actually want is an anti kittie shake feature. There must be a fast focus and fast shutter setting somewhere, but we haven't worked out how to use the thing yet.

A full review will be forthcoming once we get used to the camera.


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

 

Earthquake alert!

OMG we're all going to die! Work is having an earthquake preparedness drill tonight from 6pm, simulating a Shindo 6 Minus. We have a new system to allow us to send emails to some mailing list to say if we are OK or not and what damage we might have suffered. I'm sending one in to say I've died...

UPDATE: I wrote this post offline earlier, and just as I was about to commit it to Blogger I remembered I forgot to send my email...


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

 

UN rapporteur misses the point

According to an article on Japan Today, the UN special rapporteur Doudou Diene, who recently visited Japan to report on racism has made a public statement. However, I find his remarks totally unacceptable, as he has completely failed to address the real issues that confront us all in Japan every day. It was reported:

In his presentation, Diene highlighted the situation in Japan where the Ainu, an indigenous people from Hokkaido and those who were originally outcasts from the feudal era continue to face problems.

Also of concern to Diene is the treatment of Korean and Chinese minorities living in Japan, as well as the new immigrants originating from Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

I am extremely upset and angry about how he could focus on the problems of the darkies and those from other backward nations living in Japan (no doubt most of them illegally), whilst completely overlooking the burning issues such as no-one sitting next to the gaijin on the train, or random bicycle checks, or fare-dodging, or playing no-speakie-japanesie to avoid speeding tickets, or - err, no wait...


Monday, November 07, 2005

 

Restaurant review: Afternoon Tea, Umeda

lunch!Afternoon Tea is a chain of rather posh (and rather overpriced!) bric-a-brac, but many of their shops have a wee cafe on site. I recently visited their cafe in Umeda Whitey Mall (number 77, although if you can understand that map you're doing better than me!), sort-of close to the main entrance to Higashi Umeda subway station. Sorry I can't be any more precise than that, but the Umeda subterranean shopping system is a nightmare to navigate!

At lunchtimes they have a pasta set, with optional cake: round about 1200 yen for pasta and tea or coffee, 1600 yen to add in a cake. The normal prices for pot service and a cake is round about 1400 yen, so the set is pretty good relative value-for-money. The menu has three pasta dishes to choose from; I chose a bacon and aubergine pasta, my wife chicken and vegetables; she chose tea, I coffee; she rare cheesecake, I a pink strawberry sponge cake. After a short wait (they are very popular at lunchtime amongst the female set; around thirty tables, mostly for two, and only three other men in the place) we got our table, and after a moderately long wait along came our food. I picked out the bacon (being a veggie in Japan means never being too proud to fish meat out of dishes) and got a few of the wife's vegetables in return. Everything was cooked extremely well, with the complex flavours that one would expect in the more upmarket of restaurants. That's one thing Japan is excellent for, food preparation; even in the cheapest of places, the food is usually flawlessly served. The pasta was accompanied by perhaps freshly shop-baked rolls of a vaguely Italian style topped with rock salt.

Tea and cake soon followed; my pink sponge was not as poisonously sweet as I had feared; instead a very subtle strawberry flavour with a generous quantity of real strawberries mixed into the icing. The cheesecake had the tart after-taste I really love, accented by the biscuit base. Tea was a standard good-quality Ceylon tea, and the coffee tasted as if it was from a proper professional Italian coffee maker, but not the most skilfully prepared, but still very, very drinkable.

If you visit outside lunchtimes, the Muscat green tea is strongly recommended for the lovely strong grape aroma, although the tea itself doesn't quite live up to the promise of the nose. The menu has correct English names of all the items. Watch out as sometimes the background music is a bit intrusively loud and twice has featured rather annoying experimental Jazz. All non-smoking, credit cards accepted.

Taste:★★★★☆
Atmosphere:★★★☆☆
Value for Money:★★★★☆

Sunday, November 06, 2005

 

Japanese lesson: start of the seasons

Watching TV a couple of days ago, I caught a wee Japanese learner's program on NHK after the lunchtime English show. Here I learnt four new related words: 立春, りっしゅん, risshun; 立夏, りっか, rikka; 立秋, りっしゅう, risshuu; 立冬, りっとう, rittou. These are the names for the first day of spring, summer, autumn and winter, according to the ancient solar calendar that divided the year into 24 segments. The approximate dates are, respectively, 4th of February, 6th of May, 8th of August, and 7th of November. The exact date they fall on varies year on year depending on the exact mapping of solar time to the Gregorian calendar; for instance, this year Spring and Summer both started a day earlier than listed above.

In daily life, the most important date (probably the only significant date, perhaps?) is that of 立秋. In Japan, there is the tradition of sending summer greetings cards and presents is called お中元, おちゅうげん, ochuugen, but fortunately I can avoid participating in it on the whole. However, the お中元 card or gift must be sent before 立秋, otherwise... well, otherwise nothing really, except horrendous societal shame for failing to do one's duty of observing custom.


Thursday, November 03, 2005

 

Today is Culture Day in Japan

And the blog is on holiday too. Have a kittie instead:


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

 

Seven deadly sins of Japan blogging

Looking around the blogosphere (I feel dirty just typing that word!) there seems to be a lot of common blogging lazinesses doing the rounds of Japan-related blogs. Here's my seven pet hates that gets me rolling my eyes every time I encounter them:

1. J-List affiliate links

If you are running an adult-themed blog, or even just one with a lot of swearing and the like, you can get away with it, but in a standard navel-gazing blog J-List's Pocky'n'Hentai (but, what about Pocky Hentai? Now there's a genre that needs probing...) adverts just punch me in the face.

2. Cityscape keitai photos

An escalator yesterdayA snatched snap from inside a train or of a lot of people walking down a street is nothing special. I suppose for those who have never been to Japan it is novel the first time one sees it, but everyone's doing it. Take some time to frame a decent picture with a decent camera (or upgrade your mobile!) as there is no shortage of interesting shots; alternatively spend some time writing up why we should be excited by generic_shot_40382.jpg.

3. Clichés

Avoid clichés like the plague. It's too easy use a cliché instead of actually forming an opinion; that's just the sort of thing a bad-breathed bar-coded Salaryman would do. Some of the clichés may actually be true, but try some original phrasing instead or add an "in my opinion/experience" disclaimer.

4. The Japanese wife

Gratuitously mentioning your J-wife is pretty pathetic. I know mine rolls her eyes whenever she reads that sort of blog entry, and she tells me that a lot of her friends do too. She says that's true, and since she's Japanese she must be correct, and her opinion trumps any view I might have. She tells me you all should stop it!

5. Shagging J-birds

Even worse than the above, my wife hates all these people who boast of their conquests. In my experience (which is not much, it must be said!) the average gaijin hang-out is oft frequented by women after a quick knee-trembler with some exotic man, for suitable values of exotic and man. Back in one of the places I worked at back in my home country, there was a woman there who would frequent the local naval base looking for seamen (I hope I spelt that correctly), and neither she nor her "clients" commanded much respect for such activities.

6. Gratuitous Japanese

So many people try to fake genkiness, or just show off their vocabulary by randomly sprinkling nihongo into their posts, with one of the worst offenders being the Hokkaido Crusader. It grates badly and creates an 内・外 atmosphere that alienates the casual reader.

7. Pulling rank

I've been here longer than most foreigners (this is true, 95% don't last three years) and I've experienced the world outside of the Engrish chain schools, so I know that the little guys starting a blog fresh off the boat for NOVA can easily fall into these traps I've listed above, so they should all listen to me and take the advice I've offered.


Tuesday, November 01, 2005

 

Pocky zombies

Everyone loves Pocky. The lastest Halloween advert (sorry, I'm a day late!) is pretty good, as are most of the current series based around the catchphrase... oops, I can't quite catch it, but a web search suggests it's あなたは私のポッキー anata ha watashi no pokkii which is roughly, depending on context, intonation, day of the week, etc "You want my Pocky?!?"

Pocky zombie CM

Click the picture to view the CM video, or view the archives on the official Glico web site.


 

Spill my pint, win a British passport!

british passport Looking at the Scotsman's web site, I see a story about the new British citizenship test, costing £34 (6800 yen) to sit, in addition to a £286 (57,200 yen) citizenship fee and a £9.99 exam preparation book. One of the more strange questions is:

If you spill somebody's pint in a pub, should you: (a) Offer to buy the person another pint (b) Dry their shirt with your own (c) Challenge them to a fight in the pub car park (d) Run off

Others are vague, like:

Do many children live in single-parent families or step-families?

What percentage is many? If you come from a country with few single parents, like Japan, the answer may be Yes, but from another point of view it might seem like not as many.

Yet more are rather tricky, like:

Almost 60 million people live in the UK. By what factor do the English-born outnumber their Scots or Welsh neighbours? (a) By nine to one (b) By seven to one (c) By six to one (d) By 100 to one

The or seems strange. As far as I can remember, Scotland has just over five million inhabitants and Wales has less than two million, so that's perhaps 6 or 7 million versus 53 or 54 million, which makes the answer just over eight to one, so (a) is closer. However, what about Northern Ireland? That's another million to remove, and what about internal migration, since it mentions English-born; where does Tony Blair stand, for instance. So, we could easily be at 7 million versus 52 million, which is getting closer to (b) seven to one. Now, checking UK Gov official statistics, in mid 2004 the population was as follows:

England50,093,800
Wales2,952,500
Scotland5,078,400
Northern Ireland1,710,300
Total59,834,900

Oops, I was wrong on both Wales and Northern Ireland, both by close on a million. So we have now 50,093,800 versus 2,952,500 + 5,078,400, which gives us a ratio of 6.238 to one, so the answer is in fact (c)!

The BBC has a sample test here and I scored a mere 7 out of 14. Damn, I'll have to hand back my passport! Also note the answer to the population question above.

UPDATE: I just thought - the question is about native-born people. The only data I can find about this is in a paper by the government on this - it says that there was only 4,865,600 non-UK born people, so to get a ratio of even just eight to one, we'd need to place over 3 million, nearly two-thirds into Scotland and Wales, making over a third of the populations of both countries born overseas. I don't think so!


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