NTT DoCoMo rates

I am aghast with sheer envy. Not just at the rates, but also at the concise use of descriptive graphs to assist you in choosing a cell phone plan:

NTT DoCoMo handy chart for cellphone plan rates
NTT DoCoMo handy chart for cellphone plan rates

the rates top out at 14,600 yen, equal to $133/month. Thats really not bad, considering you also get a handset that is superior to the best of the US-based handsets in just about every way. Can you buy a coke with your iphone?

unchi! (うんち)

In Dennou Coil, Kyoko (age 3) has a penchant for running about, pointing at things, and exclaiming, “unchi!” (poop):

dennou coil 2

This is fairly accurate as far as a characterization of 3-year old humor goes. By that logic, the Himeji City Museum of Literature, in Himeji, Japan (near Osaka) was until May of this year the funniest place in the universe. This is because the museum, inexplicably, had an exhibit devoted to poop:


Everybody come and play! Come and look! We have poop books!

Rabbit: It’s poop time!

Gorilla: Come and see my poop too!

Elephant: Animal poop is here yo!

See it. Touch it! Smell it! Explore!

Can you guess what animals made this poop? (3 pictures)

Himeji Museum Of Literature, Special Exhibit. April 1st-May 18th

Head over to thomas’s post at Babelhut and see for yourself. It is in fact not only exactly what it seems to be, but in fact even more so than you think it would be. Fear the Japanese, indeed. Though it must be admitted that were this exhibit to come to any children’s museum in the United States, it would make more money than the mind can comfortably comprehend.

(It should be noted that I have blogged about poop before. I also have on occasion been fascinated with toilets. Insert bad joke about straining too hard here…)

a japanese muslim speaks

Over at Talk Islam, I started a somewhat speculative discussion thread about parallels to the samurai code and islamic values. To be perfectly frank, the idea came to me from watching Samurai 7 – not exactly a divine fount of inspiration, admittedly. What surprised me however was a response in thread by a Japanese muslim, who left a lengthy and quite insightful comment about his perception of what Japanese society has lost since WWII and how Japan as a society has strayed from the ideals of Bushido and how Shintoism has become emptied of meaning. His castigation of superficial pursuits in Japanese culture which in his opinion have dislodged the traditional beliefs is quite moving. It’s worth a read, for a truly unique perspective. I share it with you, not to promote my religion but more for the insights into Japanese culture that I think it provides.

Here’s the full text of the comment: Continue reading “a japanese muslim speaks”

amazing earthset/earthrise videos

Kaguya mission logoThe Japanese spacecraft Kaguya, on a mission to the moon in what is described as the most significant moon exploration since Apollo, has delivered incredible HDTV-quality videos of the Earth rising and setting over the lunar horizon. These are unbelievable, like special effects in some movie, but they are real.

Earthrise from the moon

Earthset from the moon

The (english-language) homepage for the Kaguya mission is here. Kaguya is named for a princess in the Japanese folk tale, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.

Sayonara, Ling Ling

Japan’s giant panda, Ling Ling, has died of natural causes:

TOKYO – Japan’s prime minister said Thursday he has asked to borrow some giant pandas from China after Ling Ling, one of the best-loved animals at Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo, died of old age this week.

Ling Ling, the only giant panda owned by Japan, died Wednesday at the age of 22 — the equivalent of 70 in human years.

His death came just days ahead of a landmark visit to Tokyo by Chinese President Hu Jintao during which zoo officials are hoping for an agreement that will bring another panda to Japan.

China has a long tradition of offering giant pandas as gifts to foreign governments to improve ties, but now only leases the animals abroad as they are an endangered species.

I’ve only seen a panda once, at the San Diego Zoo. I wanted to visit Ling Ling that one day I had in Tokyo a few years back but just never got around to it.

genma saotome in panda mode

Lost in translation

I saw Lost in Translation yesterday via Netflix. This movie was really a surprise, I think I was just expecting a light comedic drama without any real heft to it. The premise of the movie seems like a setup for comedy: an old actor and a young newlywed both arrive in Tokyo, stay at the same hotel, and experience culture shock together. But there’s so much more to this movie, especially as a commentary on marriage and relationships, that it transcends the level of ordinary pseudo-romantic comedy and enters into Artistic territory.

I haven’t seen Rushmore so this was my first exposure to Bill Murray playing a complex lead, and his performance was just .. well, there was no Bill Murray, there was only Bob Harris. You get inside his head and really, really understand him and who he is, even though 90% of his lines are wisecracks, and the lines themselves are only 50% of his acting. His expression, as he sees the elevator doors close on Charlotte at the end… I don’t think there are many actors who can communicate that kind of emotion with just a look, but you read it on his face like it was printed there.

The other half of this film is Scarlett Johansson, and she probably ranks as my favorite actress right now on the strength of her performance in this movie alone. Not just because she spends a few scenes sitting around in her underwear, though this helps. She has that kind of vulnerable courage in this film that I used to associate with Sandra Bullock. Again, with her performance, you simply understand her as Charlotte, like an open book – one which none of the other characters except Bob even bother to read, least of all her husband John (played with remarkable restraint[1] by Giovanni Ribsi).

Tokyo itself, and the hotel in particular, are vibrant and fleshed out and almost characters in their own right. The movie does a masterful job of exposing the characters to all the wierd and wonderful, but unlike some critics I did not find it disrespectful. In fact there was an odd beauty to it, like the teenager simultaneously dancing while playing a video game, or the crazy talk show host, or even the hysterical scene in Bob’s hotel room with the call girl[2].

I think I’ll take another run through this movie and grab some screenshots later. It was really one of the best movies I have ever seen. This film isn’t one that is content to play by the rules of romantic comedy. The two characters don’t do what you would expect them to do, which actually is how it would be in reality. And the two characters don’t keep up the facade about themselves that you expect them to, and which you yourself might maintain as well. And that too is more real, particularly in the context of the isolation that they both share, one exacerbated by being in a place so foreign, but still primarily deriving from their spouses’ neglect. I won’t spoil the ending but then again, the ending is almost impossible to spoil.

[1] Dude, you’re married to Scarlett Johansson sitting there in her underwear and all you can look at is your camera?? ahem.
[2] “lip my stocking!” omfg rofl. I laughed so hard I choked.


After a lot of reading about the Pacific Theater in World War II, I’d come to roughly this conclusion, succinctly stated by Steven (whose expertise exceeds anyone else’s I’ve yet met):

The point is that WWII was a war of attrition, not really a war of maneuver. Even the Pacific campaign was more of a war of attrition, and what mainly was subject to attrition was equipment and trained personnel.

This is why I remain conflicted about the decision to use the atomic bomb. I know there’s a healthy debate about it to this day, and unhelpfully the debate tends to mirror the left-right political divide in America, adding to the murkiness.

I think I have to admit that it’s ok not to have a dogmatic opinion about it, but rather to see the decision to drop the bomb as just that, a strategic decision. We can assess the morality, strategy, and potential influence upon modern policy quite separately from the question of whether it should have been dropped or not.

Next time I go to Japan, I will visit Hiroshima. No running away this time.