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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.

SMAP FAIL and Utahiro heist

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I’m going to do something I rarely do on this blog, and talk about the news. Actually two stories! With links! What is going on? And no it’s not because I can’t think of anything else to write that actually has something to do with me. That’s just part of the reason.

image from JapanTodaySo first off, the big news of the day all over Japan is one of the SMAP guys, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi (left), getting arrested last night for running around totally drunk and totally naked in a park in Tokyo. HAHAHAHAHA. Yes that’s right. A member of SMAP, one of the most annoying “boy bands” on the planet got drunk and stripped down, running around in a park making weird noises described by a witness as roaring like “aaaa!” and “aaaaamou!” about 3AM this morning.

For those of you who don’t know SMAP, they’re this “boy band” in Japan that’s been around since 1988. Yes, that’s right. They have been a boy band for over 20 years and are still famous and active. According to Wikipedia, they started out as a group of backup dancers for another boy band and were promoted to their own group. They’re not good singers at all (at least one is actually terrible), they play no instruments, they write no songs, yet they’re one of the most famous bands in Japan. Odd, right? Oh and they’re also hosts of a bunch of TV shows, star in movies, and pretty much sell themselves out like every other famous person in Japan.

So anyway it’s personally been pretty awesome to see this all over the news, seeing that people are appalled that the “nice guy” of the group would do something like this. Sure I guess it’s not that big of a deal (he didn’t assault a police officer after a hit-and-run like fellow SMAP member Goro Inagaki did in 2001), but for a lot of the people I’ve seen on Japanese TV they’re acting like it’s the end of the world. This guy definitely has one of the tamest images of the SMAP guys. One time he played a mentally handicapped zookeeper on a TV show, which was believable because he looks kind of retarded. Kusanagi’s also one of the main spokesmen for the Japanese transition to all digital HD broadcasts, with a lot of lame commercials targeted at old people trying to get them to upgrade their sets in time. It looks like he totally lost that campaign, with the president of that group on the news earlier talking about how pissed he is about a man he can only think of as “a despicable human being.” Posters with Kusanagi are also being removed immediately. He also lost a Toyota commercial contract.

So take that SMAP! I’ve hated you all so long and it’s great to see one of you fail like this. I know in a few weeks you’ll be back like a horrible rash, but for this bit of time let’s enjoy everyone not freaking out about how cool a group of tone deaf 40 year olds are.

On to the next news article:

A karaoke place in Chiba city was the site for a big robbery earlier this morning, with a woman being robbed of 600,000 yen (about $6000 USD). It was early this morning around 4AM at the Utahiroba Karaoke, Keisei Chiba Chuo Ekimae location. Yes, that’s right. This is the karaoke place that me and my friends usually go to because it’s about 10 minutes from my apartment! That’s what caught my interest on the news earlier, because even though they had a lot of stuff blurred out (to protect the neighboring businesses, etc), I could tell exactly which karaoke place it was because I’ve been there dozens of times.

So according to the news, a 20-year old girl who works at a restaurant or bar went to karaoke with her friend after work. It was just two of them, and they had a small private room like most karaoke places in Japan have. At one point her friend went to the bathroom, and a man she didn’t recognize came into the room, sprayed her with mace or some kind of self-defense spray, and stole 600,000 yen out of her purse before running off. The karaoke place says they have him on the security camera, but I guess they haven’t caught him yet. The victim says that the money was her salary from work; Japanese companies often pay their employees in cash, so it’s not that strange.

Two things about this: first it’s weird because I go to this karaoke place all the time. I guess it is pretty easy for people to go in and out even without paying to karaoke there. I don’t really see security getting any better at this place though. OK and second, while of course it’s terrible that this girl got attacked and robbed, there is no reason for her to have had that much money on her. Japanese people do this all the time. They carry ridiculous amounts of cash on them because it’s still predominantly a cash society and yes it is overall very safe. But it’s still stupid to have that much money on you. Even if you just got paid, go to an ATM or something and deposit it. If you’re walking around with more than a few hundred dollars on you, you’re just asking for trouble.

It is kind of weird that the guy knew she had that much money on her, and found her karaoke room. I really doubt that it was just a random attack and she happened to be carrying that much on her. Either the guy saw her get paid at her work and followed her, or something even shadier is going on.

Mr. Popo Strikes Back

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Over a year ago I got stopped by a plainclothes police officer outside of Chiba station because my bike looked “suspicious.” The guy was real cool and didn’t even ask for ID. He just wanted to check some stuff out because I never use the built-in lock on my bike and I guess that looks weird to them. Well hey guess what? I got stopped again today for the exact same reason.

I was over at the Tsutaya near my apartment renting a DVD, and headed out to get on my old lady bike and go home. It was windy, cold, and raining, and it didn’t help at all when I got approached by 2 cops when I was getting ready to ride away. One was in plainclothes, the other was in the usual Japanese cop outfit complete with neon-yellow security vest. Just like last year they were both really nice, not hassling me or anything, but they wanted to ask me a few questions. The built-in lock that all Japanese old lady bikes (ママチャリ) have as standard-issue looks super weak, so I never use it. Instead, I have a wire lock that I usually string through my rear tire and seat. I also have a fairly new seat on my bike, which I guess makes it stand out also. Here’s a picture of the two locks on my bike for reference:

locks on my mama bike
The little black ring with the thin metal inside near the middle of the bike is the built-in lock.
The big blue thing is my real lock.

At first I think they wanted to make sure I hadn’t had my seat stolen by kids before, because that seems to be a growing problem in the area. Plainclothes guy asked me why I don’t use the built-in lock, and I told him pretty straight up that “it looks cheap and I don’t trust it.” He laughed a little bit and admitted that “yeah, to be honest those locks are pretty useless.” After that, partially as a formality, they wanted to check my bike registration number to make sure everything was clear. They looked at the number on my little orange sticker and called it in. We waited for a few minutes in the rain (they had let me open my umbrella at least) until the office called the plainclothes’ cell phone back. “OK, so you’re Mr. Aoyagi?” “Uhhhhh, no that’s not right.” So that was weird. I didn’t freak out or anything because I knew I bought this bike and registered everything properly. I told them they must have made a mistake, and he checked again. Yep, the guy at the station had checked the wrong number. So another check later and I was of course fine, 10 or 15 minutes down the drain for the whole encounter but that was it.

After the name Aoyagi popped up at first, I could tell the cop was a little surprised when I told him my name was Leong, because we had been speaking Japanese the whole time and I don’t really think he expected me to have a foreign name. Even with that, the cop or his partner (who had wandered off to look at other bikes at some point) never hassled me or made things difficult. No checks of my Gaijin Card or other IDs, nothing. I hear so many stories of foreigners getting hassled by cops during random ID checks or something, but with my few run-ins with the police I can’t say I’ve ever experienced any kind of discrimination, etc. Always makes me wonder what gets some people so worked up.

Mr. Popo

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By now I’m sure all of you back in the states are reeling in pain over how much turkey and stuffing you’re eaten over the past few hours. I am extremely jealous. It’s Friday afternoon here, and it’s also Thanksgiving! Well, kind of. It’s actually Labor Thanksgiving Day, a kind of Japanese Labor Day. Anyway, it’s a convenient coincidence and also a day off over here, so that’s a bonus. While it’s possible to get turkey here, it’s even more impossible to find a way to cook it, so we’re all going out tonight for Korean BBQ at Top Run, the super yakiniku buffet, to gorge ourselves properly.

A quick story to start the day. I had a private lesson scheduled at 1PM today, so I was sitting around at the station waiting for the guy to show up. He calls me at 1:01 to say he can’t make it. Come on! I haven’t decided if I’ll make him pay for the lesson, which I think I’m supposed to do. I probably will. Anyway, as I go back to the illegal bicycle parking area, where I had been towed from less than 2 weeks ago, I take the lock off my bike and throw it into the basket. (Yes, my bike has a basket and a bell. Shut up). I get tapped on the shoulder by this old guy in a windbreaker. Excuse me, can I talk to you for a minute? Great, I figure. There are a few different religious groups and cults who hang around Chiba station trying to recruit people, so I figured this guy was one of them. I was just about to pull the old Sorry I don’t speak Japanese line when the guy reaches into his jacket pocket, presumably to pull either a brochure or a gun on me. Either way I didn’t want it. I’m not a weirdo or anything, I’m actually with the Chuo-Ward Police Department, he explains as he shows me his ID and badge. Crap. I assumed he was going to give me grief for parking my bike illegally along with the other 100 people who had done the same. Not at all.

Turns out him and his partner, who was standing behind me without me previously noticing, were just going around to do checks and stuff. They noticed the built-in lock on my bike had a key in it and looked broken, and just wanted to check. They asked me where I lived and my name. After I said Leong, I think he also kind of assumed me being foreign was part of the reason I was so weirded out by their sudden approach. Sorry to scare you, just wanted to see if your bike was OK. I explained that I don’t use the built-in one so I leave the key in it while I keep the other on my key chain. I use a stronger lock, which I pointed to in the basket.

So that was my first ever stopped-by-the-police encounter here in Japan. They didn’t need to see my ID, didn’t give me any grief, nothing. They were just trying to make sure I knew my bike might have been broken. They were actually some of the nicest random people I’ve spoken to here, which is saying a lot for Japan. It was kind of weird though, because they weren’t just the bike cops, they were actually plain clothes officers. Maybe detectives? Who knows. I’m just glad I didn’t give them any lip or didn’t to ignore them as I rode away, assuming they were cult members. The day might have gotten a lot messier.

Does whatever a spider can…

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Fairly eventful day means a fairly long blog post. Endure through it and read if you like.

Started off going out to Kaihim to start working on the Spiderman movie for Jissen Nihongo class. We planned on meeting and starting at noon, but of course the time kept getting moved back and we really ended up meeting around 3. First thing we had to do? Why, create Captain Kougai’s (the villain) costume. Basically, he had a claw and helmet made out of aluminum foil, shoulder pads made of plastic bottles and duct tape, and a cape made of a bedsheet. He’s supposed to be a trash/pollution monster, after all. For the 20 minutes we spent on making the costume, it looked kind of cool. Kind of a backyard wrestler or something.

So we filmed most of the Spiderman movie. Derek’s Spidey costume definitely draws a crowd. I think we’re going to have to film at school on Monday to finish things up, and also to draw big crowds of girls again, haha. Taping and everything went pretty well for how unprepared and unorganized I was. The only problem with the late start was that, since it’s winter, the sun went down around 4 or 4:30. Meaning that we were filming the fight scene as the sun was setting. By the time we were done and packing up, it was dark. Hopefully it will look decent (maybe make it look like the fight took a long time?) Not like I’m going to re-do it.

After that, went to Sega Land for a bit, then Outback with everyone for dinner. Man those ribs were good. Also, since I had no money and couldn’t cash traveler’s cheques today (no ATM card yet after the whole Monday fiasco), it was a good chance for me to pay for everyone’s food with a credit card. Then I got the cash. Bingo.

That was about it I guess. This upcoming week is gonna be a lot of editing in the SALC.

BIG SIGH OF RELIEF

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Well, looks like earlier today, my wife used my credit card and tried wiring about 925 bucks to my friend Mohamed in Cairo, Egypt. …What’s that? Weird? Well that’s because some gonad tried stealing my money! Identity theft! It can happen to you.

Somehow they got my debit card number and used Western Union to send money to Egypt. Luckily, Western Union called my folks’ house to confirm, and Mom called me, and I got everything figured out. Had to wait until night to call Bank One and Western Union, since their customer service lines open in the morning back home. Well, after about 6 hours of worrying about losing all the money in my bank account, everything is good now. Transaction was canceled before it was complete. New debit card is being mailed to me.

I have a feeling the clerk at the Softmap in Akihabara stole my card number. I ran both of my Visa cards (including the Bank One card) and he said they weren’t approved. That’s weird. So, I ended up using another card. The twip must have taken those numbers and sold it to the Yakuza or something, I dunno.

I’ll call the Embassy or something tomorrow and tell them what happened. There’s probably some kind of thing against this. I suspect this is a scam used on foreign tourists. If I wouldn’t have been contact about this, and it would have been another day or two, the transfer would have gone through and I would have been broke.

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