Driving in Tokyo

A friend of mine received his new car last weekend and we went driving around town all saturday night and sunday afternoon.

Fun thing to do with a car in Tokyo: drive to Yokohama's 中華街 to eat chinese food for lunch a Sunday afternoon after partying.

It really got me into thinking I need to get off my lazy ass and finally get my license. I never bothered getting it while a student living in Paris and now that I'm 27 years old living in Japan, I realize my mistake.

So I've been looking at driving schools around my place and found a nice one not to far. Prices are ¥291.000 for manual, ¥278.000 for automatic. I should have no problem taking the driving courses and test in Japanese and the written test is available in English in Saitama prefecture, but studying for the written test in Japanese might be a bit out of my league.

I'm going to see with the school if they can waiver the fees for the non-driving classes and let me study at home on my own with whatever english materials I can find.

Internet is almost void of any accounts of foreigners passing their driving license from scratch in Japan so I have no real idea of what I'm in for...

Daddy’s gift

Yesterday we received a Christmas present / New Year's gift from 愛子's father.

Around a Kg of 和牛 - Japanese beef from Yamanashi prefecture. If you're thinking "meh, it's just meat...", stop right there, retail price must be over ¥30.000 (almost 300€).

Straight in the frying pan with some delicious garlic. Look at those beautiful nervings of fat permeating through the meat... *drool*

And a nice bottle of wine to complement the meal. You can't eat meat like this with any little cheap bordeaux from the supermarket downstairs so we picked this up at Isetan Shinjuku.

All set (except the forks and knives, forgot to put them in before the photo...), thanks dad! The taste was incredible and you barely need to chew, it almost melts on your tongue.

PS: so that my parents don't get jealous, I also received a huge pack full of foie gras, paté, rillettes, cassoulet, cuisses de canard confites from them and will post about it when I will eat it.

Train accident on my way to work

This morning, on my way to work, my train stopped one express station after mine. Some accident had happened on the line and the traffic was stopped for 2-3 hours. No way I could get to work, and once the train would start running again there'd be no bus left to bring me from the station to my office (it sucks working in a factory out in the middle of nowhere).

So I startend to head back home. Trains were out, I decided to give the bus a try: no bus connection from this station back to my home. Taxis? The line in front of the taxi stop climbed back up the stairs all the way to the ticket gates... All that's left was to hoof it up along the tracks.

It took me 45 minutes to get back home for a 5 minutes ride of express train. On my way I passed by the place of the accident and caught some shots of the train's broken windshield. There were 5 or 6 TV helicopters circling above.

UPDATE: Jeff, over at JapanProbe.com, fished out the news article related to this accident along with a picture of the K-car that was crushed and the throngs of salarymen walking along the tracks like I did.

Continue reading Train accident on my way to work

3-day weekend in Karuizawa

I spent last weekend, which was a 3-day holiday with 文化の日 on monday, in 軽井沢, which could be compared to the Gstaad or Courchevel of Japan. Of course, it's a pretty far-fetched comparison: the ski-station could barely be called a hill, but anyways that's where all the rich CEO's buy fabulous chalets and come chill out in the weekends playing golf, tennis and splurging on designer clothes at the gigantic outlet mall that sits next to the Shinkansen station. That's the Japanese way...

I was invited by a friend to his company's country house. That's one of the perks of working for a company that makes profits, unlike me and the automotive industry.

We spent the weekend contemplating the 紅葉 (and manically taking pictures) that has started already in the mountains of Nagano prefecture. Pictures are trickling down on my flickr photostream as I get to treat them from the RAW format of my new camera through Aperture. It's a lot tougher than what I'm used to on my Ricoh GR Digital but the result is worth the effort.

Ricoh GR Digital II – Best Seller

Still haven't decided if I'm going to get me a new GRD or not, my finances look bleak so it's probably going to be a no-no. But according to the sales ranking of cameras in Japan for the month of November, many people don't have the same qualms as me:

Ricoh GR Digital II

It shot straight to 1st rank right out of the drawing board. Impressive for such a special camera, definitely not aimed at the basic consumer. But as a friend of mine always tells me: "Don't under-estimate the power of the Japanese otaku..."

GR Digital 2 – it’s official

After my post 2 weeks ago about rumors of a new GR Digital coming out, Ricoh has now officially announced the GR Digital II for Christmas 2007.

Ricoh GR Digital II

It looks like a nice evolution over the older model: the same body with the addition of just one button on the side for manually popping up the flash, the same focus on lens quality over anything else, much faster RAW capture, a better screen and a ton of little features to make your life easier (horizontal/vertical level meter, fast shortcut buttons, focus helper, etc.) while keeping the full control of manual mode and no hand-holding.

In these conditions, I think I might be forced to buy it when it comes out... :)

New GR Digital possibly coming soon

GR Digital - no moreAccording to the official Ricoh website, the GR Digital is now out of production. It had a good life, now it's over.

As you may know, I bought this camera last year after reading raving reviews and a friend of mine recommended it. A lot of photography enthusiasts own this camera in Japan and you can see that from the GR Digital photos on Flickr.

Its killer points were, among others:

  • a wide angle 28mm lens (convertible to 21mm with an extra adapter)
  • old school film-like grain with higher ISO
  • full manual mode
  • double clicker wheels for ultra-fast, one-handed option settings

All in a snazzy black magnesium body for a professional look&feel.

Now from the different rumors running around photography forums and camera shops of Shinjuku, it seems there might be a new version coming to replace my favorite camera in November/December of this year. I can't wait...

Shiodome Park Hotel – 33rd floor

Since my girlfriend is in town and I have tons of vacations to take before the end of my contract, I organized a special night out in Tokyo with her last week. I'm such a romantic guy...

First we went for drinks and dinner at her favorite restaurant: T.Y. Harbor Brewery in 天王洲アイル. It's a Californian cuisine restaurant in a sort of hangar (not the old crummy ones, the cool ones that they transform in loft apartments and hype designer offices) right on the canals of Shinagawa. The place also brews it's own beer in big vats behind the bar. Dinner is a bit expensive at 5-8,000¥ per person but the food is really delicious and the portions are big.

33rd floor view of Tokyo Tower from Shiodome

Then we headed to our hotel: the Park Hotel Tokyo in 汐留メディアタワー. I had booked a room with a special plan guaranteeing a window facing straight on the Tokyo Tower. We had a little scare as we came in the room at 12:05am and as I opened the curtains I couldn't find the tower: they had turned off the lights! I was really pissed... As my girlfriend had forgotten some cosmectics at home, we headed down to the combini at B2 level and as we came back we had the good surprise to see the Tokyo Tower had been lit back on. I took some cool shots of the view, check them out on my flickr page.

Watching the fireworks from the roof

Last weekend I went to 熊谷, the bigger town close to where I live, to watch the city's 花火大会 from my friend's roof.

fireworks from the roof

Firework shows in Japan last very very long compared to anything I knew in France, over 2 hours. That's because in between every 2 minutes sets they make a 3 minutes break. Why, you ask? My theory is that it's all to encourage consumerism, so that you have time to get up and go buy a beer or some たこ焼き from the closest 屋台... What do you think?