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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Odaiba: Urban Paradise

Harried life in the Tokyo metropolis could choke even true-blue urbanites. Recognizing this, city planners make sure that there is enough breathing space for everyone through parks and recreation areas.

But one place in Tokyo that will surely take the stress away is Odaiba, a huge artificial (yup. man-made!) island off the Bay of Tokyo initially built for defensive purposes during the 1800s. With billions of dollars poured into it particularly during Japan's extravagant 90's, it has been transformed into a breathtaking residential-commercial-tourism area. It has also become a sanctuary for people who wish to have respite from the bustle of the metropolis.

It also boasts of Marine Museums, theme parks and other crowd-drawing attractions.

(The Rainbow Bridge connecting the island to downtown Tokyo)

(Fuji TV Headquarters, a landmark in Odaiba)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Birthday Like No Other

I have had birthdays away from home, but I always managed to have a celebration, no matter how modest. But this time, I really intended it to be just like any other day. Being new in Japan, only a very few friends knew of it anyway. So the plan was to spend it just staying home.

But ABS-CBN TFCKo gave me four VVIP (Very Very Important Person! :-)) tickets to a concert they brought here. I haven’t seen one in a long while so I shelved my monastic plan and decided to treat myself and some close friends. It was free, in the first place. And the guests weren’t pushovers either: Vina Morales, Eric Santos, Tsokoleyt and Sam Milby. Needless to say, I had a great time. It was fun seeing our “kababayans” lose all inhibitions and go wild.

After the concert, a more intimate cocktail dinner with the guest stars was tendered. After the customary “besos”, word spread that there were five of us there who were celebrating birthdays within the week. Spontaneous greetings flew and the jesters that we were, we all acted like it was our own party. Posers, eh? He he.

The cocktails ended late. With no more trains going home, and of course, because we were all “bitin”, we decided to spend the night in the nearby Roppongi bars. As we entered one, guess who we found? The entire group of “artistas” who earlier left the party claiming they were supposed to fly home early morning the next day. Well, maybe they just wanted to have a glimpse of the nightlife in Tokyo’s club district. And from the looks of it, I am sure they had fun. I bet they slept the entire plane ride going home, as I did the entire next day’s morning.

So what made this birthday memorable? It was the first time I had a grand time without much damage to my pocket. He he he.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A City of Qs

From afar, we surmised there must have been a festival going on at the Ginza area. Ginza is Tokyo’s fashion mecca, Japan’s Beverly Hills or whatever you call those places where the outrageously expensive brands are sold.

Armed with our cameras, we ran towards the area for what could be a great photo event. But only to find this – a sea of people just standing in the middle of the avenue, the entire stretch of which was closed to vehicular traffic.

With nothing hinting us about the mysterious congregation, we asked the policemen controlling the crowd. In halting English they said: “line”, “discount” “H&M open”.

WTF!! Did we get it right? These people were lining up for a SALE???!

Imagine the entire stretch of EDSA, from Robinson’s Galleria to SM. Filled with people. Most of them going to just one shop.

And what was the shop again? H&M.

What again? Forgive the fashion moron that I am, but it doesn’t sound like Gucci, Armani, Prada, Hermes….

Apparently, H&M is the new kid on the block, now very popular in Europe. What we barged into was its opening sale.

Okay then. But still, lining up for hours under the heat of the sun just to buy stuff? That’s crazy, and that’s to put it mildly.

I was really amazed with I saw. But then again, I did know that the Japanese are just like that. They line up for everything. We Pinoys sometimes deride ourselves for being constant victims to the bandwagon effect, but now I realize we are still more rational than the Japanese when it comes to pushing ourselves to the in-crowd. For them, every thing patronized by many must be good, so everyone joins the mad rush there. From ramen, to rice cakes, to gadgets – you all see them joining kilometric lines. Patiently.

Maybe it’s not actually negative though. This cultural quirk simply showcases Japanese determination, their conviction to be ahead, to be where the best is. They tell us that they could humble themselves to fulfill their desire to obtain what their counterparts also aim for. But they don’t stop there. Oftentimes, after knowing what pleases the many, they produce things far better than what is on the table. And that’s probably why they’re among the world’s leading economies.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Altogether Now! "An-ko-ri! An-ko-ri!"

“An-ko-rii! An-ko–rii!”

This the energized crowd chanted as the German brass band descended from the stage. That was to be the signal that the festival has come to an end, and it was just about 10:30 in the evening! The fun has just reached it peak, the effects of the draft beer have just began sinking in. No one wanted to leave yet. Super bitin!

“An ko riiii! An ko riiiii!”

We joined the chorus which just went louder and wilder. After a while the band and the girls went back up stage. The crowd jumped for joy. Only then did we realize that we were actually shouting “Encore!”.

Wait, did I tell you that last night was the kick-off for the Oktoberfest here?

Yup, it was. But it was tame compared to Manila’s version (I heard it there was pandemonium in Ortigas). But theirs here was more authentic. Why? Because it was really a celebration of everything German: German beer (produced in Japan by Asahi), German music (there were lyrics sheets on the tables), German food, German dance, German men and women.

We joked that if the Oktoberfest were to done that way in the Philippines, there will inevitably be a rumble. Hotheads will have a grand day. Corny e.

But admittedly we had fun. We had fun laughing at the way the crowd was having fun. We had fun laughing at ourselves, unable to believe that we were having fun that way.


And I did get a little tipsy. Since bitin, sinundot pa naming ng shochu (korean wine). Ayun tuloy.

I was able to catch the last train bound for home. But unfortunately, my ipod music lulled me to sleep. I woke up about 6 stations away from my destination. There was no more train going back. Left with other no other choice (except of course sleeping at the station), I took a taxi. The distance must be just like a Makati to Cubao cruise, but the cost? Almost 2,500 pesos! Darn!

(more pics from the Oktoberfest)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Feeling Japanese

As I was about to step out of the house this morning for the office ride, rain fell.

I grabbed an umbrella and headed towards the train station. On my bike.

You see, the station is quite far from my new apartment and for the past week, I’ve been regularly biking to the station parking lot. There I leave the bike for the entire day’s safekeeping, for a fee.

It’s the first time I’m biking on a downpour. So, with one hand on the handlebar, the umbrella on the other and office bag on my back, I cruised the half-kilometer distance savoring the fresh breath of autumn. There were many bikers on the road: mothers with schoolchildren back-riding, kids in groups, old folks, and of course, salarymen like me.

As our wheels glided and crisscrossed through the streets (which by the way have reserved bike lanes), I just felt so …. Japanese! This with the realization that they who produce most of the world’s cars and motorcycles, would prefer riding the lowly bicycle for the daily grind.

And yup, just like many of the other bikers, I was donning a suit.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Right Message, Wrong Messenger

I saw the above passage in an establishment. Nice eh? It reminds people of the value of self determination, the personal resolve to pursue the things that to them mean success.

But take a second look at the purveyor of the message….

Pachinko parlors are establishments featuring slot machines, pinballs and other mechanical amusements. They are a-dime-a-dozen in Japan, with their loud music and flamboyant lights dominating areas near train stations and city centers. They share reputation with casinos, which are supposedly banned in Japan. But just the same, people spend money here, and there’s no denying that the activity here is not amusement but pure and simple gambling. I even know of many Filipinos who have confessed to being addicts to the game.

Right message. But obviously, wrong messenger.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Konnichiwa! Watashiwa R-yo Desu!

After months of procrastination, I finally decided to get formal education on Nihonggo. But it’s still not the rigid type – just a “pa-cute” once a week three-hour lecture. I don’t know where this will bring me, but it’s better than relying on my own pace. After about 5 months of lackadaisical self-study, I still can’t compose a decent Japanese sentence. This means I haven’t really taken things seriously. Or maybe, my brain just can’t tolerate serious learning anymore.

The class, sponsored by a city-based international organization and primarily aimed at foreigners, started last Saturday. On attendance were a Columbian, Ethiopian, Romanian and Turkish neophytes to Japan. Of course, there were Filipinos. Five of us (he he, di talaga patatalo).

Gambatte to me, ne!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Good Luck, 2008 Bar Examinees!

It’s hard to believe it’s been two years. How could that be, when the memories lodged in my brain are as fresh as yesterday’s? Well, maybe indeed, much of the most challenging times of our lives leave mementos not even time can diminish.

For it was a Saturday like no other. It was a prelude to D-day, the penultimate call to the marks. At stake were lots of invested precious time, money, effort and lost social lives.

I still remember everything I did that interesting day: I went to the hotel room just about after lunch. I brought a bagful of books and notes, like it were it still possible to read them all. I joined the last minute brush-ups with anxious mentors and cackled with the rest of the guillotine gang in discussing answers to supposed tips. Our juniors were all over the place, doing errands that would shame the household help.

The tension caused me a budding headache that I know would only be aborted if I were to get a massage. I went out of the hotel to have a quick one. But while in the middle of the soothing caresses, I was jolted. What if one of my brain nerves get wrongly pressed and would erase everything I have so far learned? The realization brought me to my feet to run back to the hotel.

There it was hell unleashed – on the façade come the comforts of the room, but inside me was a mad rush to grasp every legal tidbit that would still find space in my overcrowded brain.

I remember not having any decent sleep that night. I tried, but the mindless crackling of liquored voices from the nearby bar wasn’t much help. It did fire-up my inner Rambo, but it was a good thing I realized I was studying to uphold the majesty of the law. I retreated to the CR where I read the Constitution until dawn.

From there of course were events that others would call history. I prefer to call everything, my fate. After all, many twists have since unfolded and life for me has gone to extents I never thought still possible.

Today, the Saturday before the first Bar Sunday, is the most critical day for the “baristas”. How the student composes himself now, will matter a lot during the rest of the entire month-long ordeal. And having been there before, I can only sympathize.

Many of my schoolmates whose mettle will be tested beginning tomorrow are still my classmates (there was a time I had 1st, 2nd and 3rd year subjects in a semester). And for one who is not easily impressed, I am convinced that these guys have the makings of good lawyers. I do hope they will make the cut, or better yet, lead the pack.

For the first time in six years, I will not be in Taft Avenue for the traditional send-offs and festive rituals. Much as I would want to show my personal support, I am helplessly constrained by more pressing concerns far from where the action is.

But through this blog, I convey my best wishes to all those who will march into La Salle tomorrow. And with the rest of their friends, relatives and schoolmates, I am hopeful that they will all emerged triumphant in this battle of wits and personal resolve.


Monday, September 1, 2008

Sour Grapes, Anyone?

When told that we were going grape-picking, I imagined the scenes from the movies, of vast fields with grand vistas, where giggling girls fill their baskets with grapes ready for crushing. And I admit, that lovely scene in “A Walk in the Clouds” of grapes de-juiced using the feet, did play slow-mo in my mind and the last frame I saw placed me right there in the middle of the raucous fun.

But all that vanished when we reached the region where grapes are grown. Apparently, grape culture is yet a backyard industry in Japan despite a long history of production. While the produce is relatively huge, the average individual farm areas are still small.

The vineyard we visited still used the traditional Japanese method where the vines are trellised overhead (about 2 to 3 meters from the ground) to avoid excess humidity from soil and get good spray precipitation. This allows the farmers to grow the vines anywhere – even in the dining area or the parking spaces!

After having our fill of grapes (all-you-can-eat for Yen 2,000), we proceeded to the winery where there was free wine tasting. Yes, you heard it right, FREE! Samples of the wines produced by Mercian winery (the second biggest winery in Japan) were lined up and the tourists may drink all that their bellies can take.

When we arrived, there was already a long queue on the starting block. Hoping to outwit the others, I joined a group of “makulits” who decided to start at the end of the demo stalls where there were still less people. With a toast, we drank. Just one big gulp and then .. everyone finished with contorted faces. “They call this wine?!”, we chorused.

One of our companions came to us and checked the bottle. Then she announced, “This is vinegar.”