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Browsing Posts published in November, 2006

Gun-Damn Pod People

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Very rarely does stuff here in Japan really stick out to me as “futuristic.” I think I’ve just become desensitized to it all, although I suppose in general things here are pretty technologically advanced when compared to back home in the States. That is, for the most part, because a lot of times, simple things (ie, anything that requires a form) generally take about 2 months on average to complete But anyways, Japan still has stuff like cell phones with video conferencing and voice-activated GPS, cars that parallel park automatically, and even toilets that play music and give your butt a shower. None of this is all that surprising to me. For the first time in a long while, however, this past weekend, I saw something that reminded me how advanced this small island nation really is.

It was a video game, although it wasn’t the PS3, DS, Wii, and of course not the X-Box 360. It was a game at the arcade from the popular Gundam series, this one called ガンダム:戦場の絆 (Gundam: Senjou no Kizuna), or something like Gundam: The Ties of the Battlefield. Oh, but this isn’t your average arcade came; no, not at all. attack of the POD peopleThis game lets you sit in a little pod and actually pretend you’re steering a giant combat robot. Sure there are a lot of games like this, right? Well, this pod brings on a whole new experience. First off, the place looks awesome. One of the arcades near Chiba station had the Gundam pods set up, and it was the most impressive set up I’ve seen in an arcade in a very long while. See the picture on the right? I nabbed it from the official website of this game. (For those of you who can’t read Japanese, it’s still worth looking at. Look at the main page and click on GAME to see some pictures of the pod machines and the actual gameplay.)
You can see on the right here the exterior of the p.o.d. (panoramic optical display) unit. There were 8 of these machines all in one section of the arcade, shiny and brand new. As you can see in the pictures, you sit in the pod, which is like the cockpit of a giant robot, and use the foot pedals and two control-sticks to move around in your Gundam and fight the enemies. The game is a bit like capture the flag, although it really is just running around shooting and slashing the enemies. It sounds basic, but the wrap-around screen and the controls really make you feel like you’re piloting a huge robot. Also, there is a headset in the pod that you put on, and you can talk with the other players on your team. You can plan your strategies and tactics this way, or yell obscenities when you get killed. Or maybe sing a song.

Bridge controlsThe game is about the same price as other high-end arcade games here, which is expensive by American standards, but the game is so fun it’s worth it. You also buy a Pilot Card which keeps track of your name, score, past battles, records, and points, so that you can keep playing to earn enough points to access more weapons, stages, and Gundam robots to play with. The card has some kind of re-printable surface on it, so everytime you update your card, the printed data on it changes. Really cool. Up to 8 people can play at once, in 4-vs-4 matches. Of course, if you just want to play with a few friends, then the computer players will fill in the rest.

This is seriously one of the coolest arcade games I’ve played in a while, and I don’t even usually like robot/run-around-and-shoot games. Also some sweet extras are the two consoles outside of the pod area, which let you insert your card to purchase new weapons, check our your scores, etc. The thing just looks really cool, with the most futuristic touch-screen interface I’ve ever seen. It seriously looks like something out of Star Trek. That’s it on the left there. There are also two huge plasma TV’s where you can watch people playing and also watch your battles after you’re done. Since you’re playing from the point of view of the cockpit, it’s really cool (and nerdy, I know) to watch the battle afterwards from a bird’s-eye view, and get to see yourself get slaughtered by the enemy, or maybe vice-versa.

So yeah, it is way nerdy to write an entire blog entry about an arcade game, but this Gundam pod game rocks and really reminds me that Japan is the world of tomorrow. I don’t know that much about Gundam, but it’s still fun to run around, jump on buildings, and shoot at the enemy robots. Also, it’s funny how into this game some people already are. There are teams of people who come to play this together, and they have maps of the stages beforehand, all scribbled on with their battle plans, etc. And no, these dedicated players (huge nerds) aren’t really college or high school kids. Most of the ones I’ve seen are salaryman looking guys still in their suits and ties, hanging around in the arcade at night living our their fantasies as Mobile Suit Pilots. I know I am.

Feast fit for a Colonel

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Ah, delicious

Happy Thanksgiving to all you Americans, either in the states or somewhere else in the world. I had my feast today, although I didn’t want to bother trying to hunt down turkey in Japan. I’m sure it’s around, but I’m far too lazy to hunt for a food that is bound to be way expensive here. To compensate, I had a feast at KFC in Chiba. While they don’t have mashed potatoes and they biscuits aren’t the same as in the US (they tasted more like donuts without sugar), it was still a good meal.

Last week at work, the other foreign teacher got really sick and was out of commission for a few days. While this didn’t really affect my schedule too much, save for having to teach 3 extra classes over 3 days, and changing my schedule around on Saturday, it was very interesting to see how things operate at AEON and at my relatively small school in general. Since there are so few teachers at my school; 4 full-timers and 3 part-timers, when one person is sick or takes a day off or something, it really screws things around. That being said, it’s nearly impossible to take vacation days or anything, unless you want to royally bone your co-workers. This is an example of a situation at AEON, and in Japanese culture in general, where you’re not explicitly not allowed to do something, but doing so is so socially unacceptable or otherwise frowned upon that there is no way you could even consider doing it. It would be like meeting your boss’s wife, and instead of shaking her hand you German suplex her to the ground and do the Rocky victory dance. No one told you explicitly not to do that, but you just can’t do it. That being said, I doubt I’ll be taking any extra days off this winter break. Might be heading down to Kansai either way, although if I thought it would be possible to take off 2 extra days before Christmas, I’d be able to hang out with Nick in Kobe before he heads back to the States for break. This, my friends, is a prime example of giri.

Anyways, I had a great weekend. Saturday night after work I bolted to Soga and saw Death Note: The Last Name, the sequel and conclusion to the first Death Note movie. To quickly explain, the movie is based on a comic series that I read this past summer. A prodigy named Light finds a notebook that kills people when you write their name in it. He starts killing criminals, and the world-famous mastermind detective “L” is put on the case. It’s not an action movie, it’s not horror….it’s a little hard to describe. It’s like a really good drama with detective elements added. Either way, I highly recommend you download the first movie via your preferred illegal downloading methods, and enjoy. I’m pretty sure that there is an English subtitled version up somewhere. The first movie was really good, and pretty accurate to the original comics. The second movie, though, was even better, and had some really good plot twists that weren’t in the comic. The concept of this story is just amazing, and the movies did a really good job. You pretty much have two geniuses trying to outwit each other, one with a magic notebook and the other with the Japanese police force behind him. It might sound really hokey and stuff, but trust me, this is a damn good set of movies. Also, Takeshi Kaga, the guy who played the Chairman on Iron Chef, plays the police investigation chief (who happens to be Light’s father). Believe it or not, he’s a really good actor. Also many hot chicks in the movie, so you have a little bit of everything.

Here are the trailers for the first and second Death Note movies. I found them on YouTube.

Hit up Costco on Sunday, which was everything I hoped it would be. Met up with Blanchard and waited for the Costco bus outside of Kaihim Makuhari station. The bus was really late or something, and I think we were waiting in the rain and cold for almost an hour, but it was totally worth it. First we ate a ton of food, mainly the giant Costco pizza which we couldn’t finish. We then went shopping and I bought some of the stuff that is near impossible to buy anywhere else in Japan. Namely, a jug of Picante salsa and 3 bags of Tostitos. The great thing about Costco is that they have a ton of American stuff, but to make that even better, it’s all super cheap and pretty much the same as it would be in the states. It was also funny that when we entered, I showed my Dad’s old Costco card, but the lady checking cards noticed that there was no picture on the back of “my” card. So I had to go to the customer service desk, where I thought I had been caught. No, not at all. I gave him my ID, which obviously doesn’t have my Dad’s name on it, but they must have thought “oh well, foreigners must have weird names,” and he took my picture and put it on the card. I’ll now never have problems getting into Costco. Also, I’m pretty sure that the American and Japanese Costco systems are not connected, so they can’t tell that I’m using an old (and probably expired) membership card. Woo-hoo!

And, since they have so many American products there, they also had this monstrosity. The signature of Mr. Patrick Ellison:

gross

My, how convenient!

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I just returned not too long ago from 7-Eleven, my third trip there today. But it’s probably nothing like what you’re thinking. 7-Eleven here, as are all convenience stores (or conbini/convini for short), is a lot different from the shady, dimly-lit, hippie or foreigner-staffed shacks that we all know and love in the US. Conbinis here really earn the “convenient” part of their name, since they provide a lot of the services that Target, ATMs, grocery stores, and fast food restaurants handle when living in the states. They are also literally everywhere. The 7-Eleven, which is closest to my apartment, take approximately 120 steps to get to from my apartment building. And yes, I actually half-counted those steps because I knew I was going to write it here. For how small these places are, you can get and do a lot there. The first two times I went to 7-Eleven today, for example, was for meals. Lunch and dinner were both at 7-Eleven today, believe it or not. And while this might sound horribly pathetic, and my Mom might be reading this cringing at the thought that I am surviving on slurpees and rotisserie-bred hot dogs, it is not the case at all. Yes, it might be a bit pathetic still, but what I am getting at is that the food available at convenience stores is more comparable to what you can get at a grocery store’s pre-packaged deli section, or perhaps a fast food joint. In addition to a few small aisles of snacks and drinks, the outer walls of most conbinis are full of pre-packaged meals and side dishes, ranging from hamburgers to salads to rice balls to sushi to even stuff like bacon macaroni gratin (which is delicious). Sure it’s still microwave food (they do that for you too if you want), but it’s a heck of a lot better than heading to an American gas station convenience store and picking up some Slim Jims and a pack of corn nuts.

The third trip to 7-Eleven today was to pay my electric bills from October. You can pay most of your bills here by taking them to a conbini and paying cash. They get stamped and you get a receipt. No having to write checks, no having to mail anything in. Of course you have to pay with cash, but since Japan is pretty much a cash society, that’s not a big deal. And that also leads in very well to some of the other services that conbinis here provide. Almost all of them have ATMs that support almost every (Japanese) bank, so you can get money pretty much anytime. You can also buy stuff like magazines, DVDs, concert tickets, stationary/paper, light bulbs, get digital photos printed, and even reserve video games and movies. It’s a lot more than what you could expect from the VP back in Bloomington.

Anyways, I’ve noticed that I am enjoying and looking forward to my free time much more nowadays, since it isn’t quite as abundant as it was last year when I was in college and spending maybe 10 hours a day sitting in my apartment with nothing I really had to do. I miss being able to sit around, surf the net, watch TV whenever I want, play video games, and in general being a complete bump on a log except for IUSTV work or the whole concept of “finding a job.” This summer was even worse at fueling my laziness, because I really had no job for most of it, and thus there was nothing wrong with waking up in the late afternoon, then sitting on the web or lounging on my sofa for hours on end until I deemed it was time to shower and leave my apartment, usually for the first time around 7PM. Nowadays, I wake up everyday, shower, get dressed, and go to work. I sit at my job and do stuff like teach classes, then come home at 9:30ish exhausted and just wanting to watch TV or play some DS before falling asleep to do it all over again. The job is not bad, my coworkers are all cool, and I don’t usually have to be at work until around 1PM, but still, these constraints on my relaxation time are not cool. I enjoy my days off more than any college student will ever know.

I am far too lazy to write much more tonight, although I seriously should try and update everyone more on stuff I’ve been doing. I’ll do it sometime, maybe this weekend when I spend most of the day sitting in my apartment doing nothing but relaxing. I also should upload some pictures of Japan and Goi specifically. I can’t explain how much nicer things are having internet at home. I don’t have to worry about finding (and paying for) and internet cafe, and I don’t need to feel like the world is going on without me. I installed Skype, and figured out a way to make free calls to any number in the US, so if you want me to give you a ring sometime, let me know. I am about to go to sleep, so that I can wake up tomorrow around 11 and get ready for another fun day of being a foreign English teacher who wishes all day that it was the weekend.

Triumphant Return

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I am online again, here in my apartment! It’s been exactly 2 months since leaving home and having a normal internet connection, but thankfully this morning the NTT guy called and came to install a fiber line in my apartment. I’ll update more tonight after work, as I’m likely to sit online all night.

I missed you Internet!

…like molasses

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I’m at Hot One Breath again. Yep, no internet at home yet. What in the world is taking so long, you might be wondering (I know I am). Well after the fiasco and long time it took to finally get my Gaijin Card (over a month after moving into Ichihara), I was then able to apply for internet. I did so, and had to wait about 2 weeks for them to send an NTT (phone company) guy to my apartment for the “initial inspection.” This took about 10 minutes, and it just involved the guy running a guide wire from my apartment’s phone jack area to somewhere else in the building. Then another week, and they call me and tell me they’re ready to make an appointment for the actual installation. But of course, the soonest they can do this is a week after that call. I am scheduled to have internet installed on Thursday morning, FINALLY. It will be exactly 2 months since I moved out of the US and it’s about time. I miss having the internet at home. For Japan supposedly being so technologically advanced and efficient, it’s amazing how simple things like this can take forever. Yes, a lot of things here are advanced, but you would be amazed at how much stuff is weighted down in this country because of meaningless paperwork and plain old bureaucracy.

Once this works, you will see me online Thursday night I hope. I am also planning on installing Skype sometime very soon, so I think I will be able to actually call people from my computer. Who wants to get called? It’s apparently super cheap.

By the way, even though the Wii comes out here about 2 weeks later than in the US, I am reserved at the Goi Laox to buy one. I’m number 7 on the list at the Goi store. Wii Sports will be the first game I play!

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