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AWOL Keitai

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AAARRRRRRGGGGHHHHHHH

My cell phone has disappeared.

Last night went out with B and A – pretty usual for a Friday. After that we hit up the arcade nearby for some Street Fighter IV, and were there for like an hour or so before they closed. I was using my cell phone most of the night on and off, e-mailing and stuff like that. There was only about a 20 minute window between the last e-mail I sent and when we were leaving, which is when I noticed my phone was gone. We looked around the SF machines and didn’t see it anywhere. I stayed in the same area the whole time we were there, so it should have been nearby. Either I dropped it and it got kicked under some distant machine, or someone stole it from on top of a cabinet or off the floor. Japan is usually a pretty honest and safe place, but I’m starting to think it did get lifted.

After we finally left the arcade, we tried calling it a few times and it went to voicemail, so either the battery got detached during a fall or the thief turned it off pretty quickly. More than being angry about this whole thing, it’s just weird that it went missing because I was using it almost constantly and it seemingly vanished from my pocket. Strange indeed.

The arcade opened at 9AM this morning so I got up early and headed down at opening time to ask if the staff had found it. No luck. I grabbed an Egg McMuffin while waiting for the au Shop (cell phone company) to open at 10, and asked what they could do for me. They’re unable to check from the shop if anyone’s used the phone to make calls, but they helped me suspend the phone line to prevent people from making calls. They also helped me activate some service called Safety Lock where they can remotely lock the keys and features of the phone. That should also lock the ic chip on my phone which has my train pass and other digital money/wallet services. I was pretty impressed by the au Shop’s lady who helped me get that all sorted out. At the very least if someone stole my phone they won’t be able to call or hopefully access my data, etc.

After the au Shop I went to the Police Box to report the phone as missing and to check if someone had brought it there. That was pretty painless. Usually I hate this kind of thing, but having the officer tell me he was impressed with my (Japanese) handwriting was kind of nice. After the koban I went back to the arcade, where of course they hadn’t found the phone, before going home to finally get some sleep. It’s now been a full day since I lost my phone and so far no luck – I even checked at the train station although the arcade is definitely the most likely place for it to be found provided it wasn’t stolen.

It’s strange not having my phone – obviously for stuff like e-mailing and making calls, but also for the other things I used it for like calendar, alarm clock, train pass, memo pad, mobile web browser, etc. Went out with some friends for dinner tonight and just coordinating and meeting up with everyone was a lot tougher than it should be. It’s a huge pain to be without a phone, and the possible loss of over a year’s worth of address book contacts, downloaded ringtones/sounds, and cell phone pics is going to be a big hassle. There’s of course the chance that it will turn up while I’m away this coming week in China, but at this point it’s looking like a long shot. I get back on Friday, and if my phone hasn’t been found by then I’m going to have to cough up the yens for a new phone next weekend.

It also pisses me off that the au catalog I got at the store today has the J-boy band Arashi on the cover. HATE Arashi.

Hadouken

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This guy has spend at least $1,100 playing Street Fighter IV

Recently I’ve been re-getting into Street Fighter IV at arcades here, even though it came out last summer in Japan, and even though I suck. Coincidentally, the home version on X-Box 360 and PS3 just came out last week, but I own neither so that didn’t really have anything to do with it. Actually it’s probably because I started playing Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom in arcades and on Wii.

Anyway, you guys know Street Fighter: Rye-ooh and the Ha-doo-ken, etc. So I’m not going to write about the game so much as the players you see here. As expected, Japanese arcade players are insane. They know the games they like and they play them a lot. I don’t mean like every day they’ll throw in a few coins to play a few rounds. These guys spend their entire evenings (maybe days too) at the arcade, huddled around their weapons of choice, endlessly pouring coins into the games and being a major cause of Japan’s population decline. Normal arcade games here cost 100 yen, but the more expensive ones can go up to even 500 yen for the battlepod-esque Gundam game. Occasionally they’ll be there with a friend or two, but a lot of the ones I’ve seen are just there by themselves. OK, so they can socialize with the other people playing the same game, right? NOPE. With the exception of people who already know each other, I have never seen someone talk to another player. Not even something like “hey, nice game,” “wow, close one there,” or “TATSUMAKISENPUUKYAKU!!!!” Only silence. It’s kind of weird. At least that’s what I’ve seen.

Going back to how much these guys spend. Usually it would be impossible to know or even guess how much someone’s spent on playing a game. Luckily, SF4 has, like a lot of Japanese arcade games these days, a special card to keep track of your player information. When you’re playing at the arcade with your card, you accumulate points which can be used to get extra costumes, special content on the mobile site, babies, etc. Since this card also makes you commit to a character, a lot of people didn’t use the cards initially while they got a feel for which character they liked the best, etc. But when you do use your card, it’s all recorded. Your opponent during link matches can see your stats, like your ranking and win percentage*. This is where it gets scary. The other day when Brian and I were at one of the local arcades getting absolutely destroyed in SF4, we noticed the stats of some guy who was playing as C. Viper, jumping all over the place and embarrassing us horribly. Of course he had a fairly decent winning percentage, maybe 60 or 70%, but the shocker was the number of games he’d played on his card. The number was over 1,100. He has played a lot.

Let’s do some veeerrrrryyyy rough math. This might be wrong because it’s 2AM and I’m not wanting to think too much into this. Feel free to do some real thinking and correct me. So in SF4, each time you start playing, you pay 100 yen. If you win a link match, you get to play the next one for free, and so on until you lose. For today’s estimate, let’s say that the Player in question has spent 100 yen for every loss he’s had. If he had 1,100 games with around a 65% winning percentage, he lost 385 times. So right there he spent 38,500 yen. Of course we don’t know how many consecutive times he won on average, but let’s be generous and say he averaged 3 wins every time he played. So from the 715 matches he’s won, he only had to pay for a third of them, about 238 or 28,800 yen. That’s a total estimate of 62,300 yen (about $645 USD) he’s spent on this card alone. That is crazy. He could have just bought a new PS3 and the home version for that much. Again, this is just on the one card. It doesn’t include matches he plays on no card or with a different card. He could very well have it at home too. By the way, yes, that is him up in the picture.

The sad thing is that this is mainly just about arcades I go to here in Chiba, which I’m sure aren’t nearly as intense as the ones in super nerd districts in nearby Tokyo. And thus concludes our fuzzy math lesson about nerds.

*I am currently ranked “Rookie” with a “0%” winning ratio.

Sweet and Spicy

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2SPICYI was in Tokyo this past weekend for the first time in a long while. In Shinjuku’s Sega arcade, they had a location test (sort of like a beta test) for a new arcade shooting game called “2 Spicy.” Despite the somewhat tooly sounding name, this game was really awesome. It was a bit like Time Crisis, with an improved gun controller and foot pedals. You choose your character out of about 7 or 8, each with different attributes for attack, defense, speed, and zoom (for shooting). The characters all looked pretty cool, but seemed somewhat unoriginal. From what I can remember, there was a fat guy, a crazy Chinese girl, a skinny psycho guy who looked like Marylin Manson, average white guy with a super hairdo, and the guy that I played as, Alexander, a Russian guy with scars. And of course he was wearing a wife beater and cargo pants. I don’t even need to tell you their different attributes and I’ll bet you can guess them from the character descriptions.

Anyway, there is story mode and versus mode. VS mode was only 100 yen as opposed to the 200 yen for story mode, so I played VS. There were 2 machines set up together, and you can battle the other player. The setup seems smaller than you would expect, but each player has a sweet HD monitor that’s really close to your face. With the really colorful art style and the awesome next-gen graphics, playing this game was fun to just look at. Luckily though, the visuals weren’t all that this game had going for it. The play was actually pretty fun in VS mode; you are ducking behind some kind of obstacle like a car or a box or a neon light. You hold the gun up to the screen to stand up and you can then shoot. You use the left and right pedals to move, and when you point the gun away from the screen you duck back down again and also reload. The game was really fast paced and fun. You can either shoot the opponent directly, or aim for the stuff around them. When, for example, the car that your opponent is hiding behind takes enough damage, it blows up and does major “crush damage” to them. Since everyone has robot eyes or scopes on their guns, if you hold the gun in place for long enough, you zoom in and are able to shoot more accurately. You have to be careful though because when you’re waiting to zoom or are trying to aim for their head, they might hit you instead.

Apparently the story is set in the year 20XX, as all sweet futuristic things are. There is some kind of war going on with androids or cyborgs or something. Either way, you have a bunch of bad dudes shooting each other, blowing each other up, and jumping around all over the place. It was a fun game and I hope this game makes it to more arcades soon. It will give me even more reason to waste money at arcades in Goi and in Chiba. I ended up spending maybe 500 yen on the game in Shinjuku, playing through VS mode myself, killing some random Japanese guy who challenged me at the other machine, then again when he came back with a vengeance and neither I nor Blanchard could beat him when he used the fat guy with the shotgun. I will be back, guy with trenchcoat..

Official Sega 2 Spicy website

Donovan

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Although my job isn’t bad, I would like to take some time to ramble on about how absolutely horrible Saturdays are for me. I suppose not necessarily because of the teaching or working part, but because I have to wake up so freaking early. As a rule of thumb, I generally try to set my alarm clock for 2 hours before I need to be at work. Almost every day, I have to be at work at 1PM, so I set my alarm clock for a healthy 11AM. This usually means I hit the snooze button a few times, and generally wake up “for real” by noon. I then check any AIM messages, e-mail, Facebook, mixi, all in that order. My routine is then to get in the shower by 12:15, out of the shower by 12:25, do post shower things (contacts, deodorant, hair gel) by 12:30, be dressed by 12:40, and out the door shortly after that. It takes approximately 3 minutes for me to get from my apartment to my school, and I am supposed to be at work at least 10 minutes early when students might be waiting, which is almost all the time. As you can see, I have my mornings finely tuned to near-OCD-levels of routine. My body likes this. I like this. I do not like surprises. I go to bed on average at 3AM, meaning I get around 8 hours of sleep every night. So nothing really goes and screws things up quite like…

THE DREADED SATURDAY MORNING WAKE UP ALARM

Since AEON has more students who want to come in on Saturdays, and I guess students are too preoccupied with the Japanese habit of maintaining social relationships (meaning they go out and get plastered) on weekend nights, AEON decided long ago that instead of the comfortable 12-9PM hours they keep every other day of the week, Saturdays are open from 10AM-7. My perfect system of waking up at 11 and snoozing in until almost noon is ruined by this once a week 8AM alarm clock. It seriously feels like death every Saturday morning, especially since after 5 days or more of sleeping at 3AM-ish, it is pretty hard to fall asleep early on Friday nights. And now that the new season of Tadano Hitoshi has started, I’m guaranteed to be up at least until 1ish. It is pretty inevitable that I will get around 5 hours of sleep on Friday nights, then feel like a zombie all Saturday.

I woke up this morning, feeling in pain as usual, but forced myself through my morning routine that is shifted 3 hours earlier than the rest of the week. Instead of the normal news, cooking, or Tamori shows on TV while I’m getting ready, I was greeted by Saturday morning cartoons. There was a crazy Megaman show where his arm talks to him, and then the gayest show I have ever seen, even for Japan. It was called Fairy Musketeers, and had a bunch of little anime kids running around and fighitng with +7 swords and maces and stuff like that. After getting out the door a little bit early, I decided to grab some Matsuya, the gyudon place, for breakfast. They have a 390 yen breakfast set, which has rice, miso soup, seaweed, an egg, a sausage, some cabbage salad, and your choice of a side. Although the natto was tempting because it is so delicious and doesn’t smell like a dead body, I decided to go with a small bowl of pork and onions as my side. Overall, it was a ton of food for way cheap, but I had to scarf it all down in about 5 minutes or so. Then I went to school and taught on a full stomach. I don’t really feel like going much into the actual details of school, but I probably will talk about AEON school in general at some point eventually.

Met up with Mike today, a fellow IES-alum but from the Fall semester after me, since he has recently moved into Goi and will be working at a Nova school up near Chiba somewhere. After work ended at 7, I went with him and Blanchard to JJ Club 100, this arcade/amusement place 2 stations away from Goi that one of my high school students had told me about. It is a pretty big place, with lots of random stuff to do. Kind of like a ghetto arcade/carnival/amusement park all rolled into 1 big building with a character mascot who looks like a cartoon sperm, or the mascot from the old Quisp cereal. You get a membership card, then are charged by the time you are in the facilities. It’s 105 yen per 15 minutes, so about a buck. After that you can pretty much do everything for free. The only things that seemed to cost money were some crane games and vending machines. They had a decent amount of arcade games, although nothing brand new (and some that were right ancient), miniature golf, ping pong, batting cages, billiards, karaoke, darts, slot machines that you don’t win anything on, and other random stuff. It was fun just because you could do a bunch of random activities that you probably wouldn’t do otherwise. For the record, I am the world’s worst batter, possibly equally terrible at DDR, but surprisingly not too bad at the shameful Para-Para Dancing motion sensing game. The horse racing game was also pretty fun, although tiring. I rode that horse hard.

They also had these ropes hooked up to zip lines, and you fly across a little alley into some padding. Although it looks stupid, it was way fun and I laughed like a little kid. JJ’s did provide some pretty good entertainment for the night, and it was good to do anything of entertainment value after waking up early to teach pretty much straight classes from 10-7. Tomorrow I think I am going to hit up the World Hobby Fair, a free games and stuff convention at Makuhari, and will likely blog about that at some point. I will also then fit in the Tokyo Auto Salon, which was a convention I went to at the Messe last week. It’s convenient that all these shows happen only 30 minutes away from me. I suspect there will be much ranting about nerds, because even at a car show there was a seriously high percentage of nerds taking pictures of booth girls.

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.

After getting settled in the room and trying to coordinate with people on the computer with IM and e-mail, I met up with Bryan and we headed out to explore Shinjuku. This won’t be the last time I say it, but trying to plan things with people in Japan without a cell phone is one of the biggest hassles ever. You’re usually out for the entire day or night without coming home to use a computer, so cell phones make communication not only convenient, but possible.

Kabukicho at nightWe met up with Yuji at the Shinjuku East exit, after we waited at the East-South Exit for about 15 minutes. We’ve both been out of kanji-reading practice, so I say that mistake wasn’t really our fault. Anyway, we goofed around Shinjuku and Kabukicho a bit, which of course is the red-light district in Japan. That’s what it’s famous for. I totally forgot all about what is what in Shinjuku, so it wasn’t until we were already on our way that I realized Yuji had made us meet there, haha. We grabbed food, my first meal after coming back to Japan, at Yoshinoya, and oh man was it delicious. I think US beef is legal in Japan again, but they still don’t have just regular gyuudon. They had gyuuyakinikudon, which is pretty much the same though, so I had it and it was delicious. We went back to the station to meet up with Sunny and Joel. No one else really made it. Yuji ended up having to go back to his work, since he apparently kept the key to the entire building of where he worked. His boss was pissed. But either way, the 4 IES alumni walked around and we just decided to go into some bar to hang out since Joel had to catch a 2 hour train back to the other side of Chiba. We ended up going into some place downstairs in a building called the Hibiya Bar, which ended up being way swankier than what we were looking for. I guess it was just kind of fake nice, because there wasn’t much in it, and not a lot of customers either. The waitress seemed to be waaaaay to excited about this “invisible ink pen” that the used to write on a coaster. The pen had a light on it that let you see the message, and she was seriously about to pee her pants she was giggling so much. I guess she thought invisible ink pens were something gaijin never have. Well she’s wrong, since after paying 1500 yen to just sit and have 1 drink in addition to the mandatory appetizer Japanese bars love making you pay for, I stole her invisible ink pen. Oops.

After Joel and Sunny left, me and Bryan figured Yuji wasn’t coming back so we went to go walk around Kabukicho. We had no intentions of going to anywhere sleazy, but Bryan had never walked through it at night so we decided to see what was going on. This turned into us looking at buildings and laughing, at stuff like the building appropriately labeled “Crab.” The Nigerian street pimps were also out in full force. I think we had at least 5 approach us just as we walked around the street. The best part about these guys is that you can mess with them and they’re pretty harmless seeming, although I’m sure they’ve got ties to the yakuza who run these sorts of establishments. The last one we talked to approached us near an intersection and was like “Hey brothers! Final answer! I am the problem solver!” He was trying to get us to go to his bar, which was 10000 yen for an hour, all you can drink and all you can touch. Classy joint, right? Well since he liked us so much he was willing to cut the price down. All you can touch, you say? Yes, I asked him what you were all thinking. “Can you touch the girls ears?” and then Bryan asked if we could stick our fingers up their noses. I don’t think the Nigerian guy had any idea what we were talking about, but he probably assumed it was something more sexual than it was, and was just like “yeah, yeah, all you want!” You mean we can pick this girls nose all we want? Oh man that’s great. We asked him to wait at that intersection for 20 minutes while we went across the street to eat. He actually started following us across the street! Somewhere in there he asked where we were from, and Bryan said Germany. I wanted to see how far this guy was going to follow us in hopes of saving his commission, but when we were almost across the double street intersection, Bryan told him to buzz off. Fun times, messing with street pimps.

On the way back, we stopped in several arcades, the best find of which was an arcade version of Mario Kart! I’d never seen anything like it, it was great. Like the racing games you see in arcades, but it had awesome Mario Kart graphics, characters from Pac-Man, a camera on top to put your face in the game, and a big “ITEM” button on the middle of the steering wheel. This is what Mario Kart should always be like.
I want one

That was the end of the night. I got back to the hotel and was so tired, I went almost immediately to sleep. I’ll write the entry for Day 2 (today, Wednesday) later tonight. Now you’re all caught up on my Tokyo trip. I’m sorry these are so long, I guess I’m in writing mode.

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