Sunday, April 29, 2012

An exciting night!

Yesterday was a day full of excitement. At lunch, a system I built at my last place of work was presented on national TV. It is a system that creates word play jokes (of a low quality, but still) in Japanese. You tell the system what you want it to joke about, and it outputs some joke vaguely related to that. Sadly, the part were my name was mentioned was cut (it was my previous boss that was showing the system on TV). The system worked so-so when they tried it live (reportedly, it worked even better before they started taping). Well, I guess if the system becomes famous that is good :-) The explanation of how the system works was not correct, though...

In the afternoon I was visiting our local magic shop to talk to the owner, and then the most famous magician in Sapporo (probably) came to the shop (he is called Birdie Koyama). We did not talk though. I left when he came.

Last night in our magic bar, we had a night of great customers coming in large numbers. Every magician had great reactions over and over again! Then, at around midnight, all the customers left and no new customers seemed to be coming either. After an hour or so, we drew cards to decide who would have to go (me) and I went out to buy hamburgers from our closest McDonald's in the middle of the night.

The bar was really really empty. We ate huge amounts of hamburgers in our bar, cleaned up, and then started watching clips on YouTube etc. Our boss fell asleep on a sofa.

Then, the phone rang and someone who was very impolite and very drunk asked where our bar was located and said they were coming. When I got back from the toilet, two men were sitting at the counter, and one of them was a typical "Oh, no, this is going to be difficult" customer, haha. He was pretty drunk, and kept shouting that "everyone needs to be more fun now!" and talking about how they had come from Tokyo just to have fun in our magic bar (at 3:30 in the morning :-)

We usually do magic one at a time for the customers, and our youngest magician started performing for them first. One of them was quiet and a very nice spectator, the other was fairly loud, kept talking about other things, or saying things like "No, not that trick, I want to see something else." or "Call in the next magician"...

I went to take out some stuff from my bag of tools, and another colleague went to fetch something too. I did not notice anything, but my colleague came back and said in a very quiet voice: "Isn't the closest guy <name of VERY famous magician>?" Taking a closer look, it could very well be him... And when he turned to me and asked if I was American, there was no doubt. One of the Gods of magic had showed up unannounced in our magic bar, haha.

I started thinking furiously to find some tricks I could show that he would be likely to a) enjoy, b) not have seen a million times before, and c) not be able to figure out where they were going even before the trick started... That did not leave so many tricks, since he likely has seen most magic tricks ever invented.

Our young magician performed all his magic without noticing who he was doing magic for. He did things like hand over the most standard coin used by magicians and say: "This is an American half dollar. It is slightly bigger than a Japanese 500 yen coin. Please check it see what it feels like." That guy has been touching coins like that since before you were born! Haha. But not knowing may be the best. Then you do not feel nervous, at least. Even if he felt a little embarrassed afterwards of having explained really basic stuff to a magic legend, haha.

Next up, my other colleague went to perform for them, but they loud guy said he did not want to see his magic, so he came back and I went instead. I first hammered a nail into my nose to use as an antenna when mindreading what card the famous magician might have picked. Then I tried my true and trusted "lighter turns into a box of matches" trick that I did not invent but that I at least built myself from scratch and which is so easy a beginner can do it without fail after a few minutes of practice and which I have used over and over for two years. During those two years, I have only screwed up the trick once, but yesterday of course turned into my second, and largest to date, haha, failure during these two years... nice timing there. Maybe my hands were shaking too much?

The loud guy (who was the producer of the famous magician, and who has invented several very famous and popular tricks) said he was only interested in original tricks. I tried performing an original, but not that hard to understand for magicians, card trick that I think has a funny presentation, but the loud guy just took one card at an inopportune time and said: "This is the kicker, yes? This is how the trick ends?" and was uninterested. He was right, too, of course, but still a very difficult type of customer to perform for...

The two of them were very very funny together though. Whenever the loud guy said something rude, not necessarily to us but about some magician on TV or something like that, the famous magician would slap him or hit him over the head with the menu, etc. They were like a stand up comedy duo, and a funny one at that. After awhile, the loud guy who had seemed like a very very annoying type of customer turned into a very funny customer (still very annoying to try to perform magic for, but still). In the end, I liked him very much. The famous guy was a great customer from start, throughout the whole time, and seemed like a super nice person. Still a bit hard to perform for, because of nerves and the fact that he probably knows so very much about magic. And that they both are rarely fooled by magic so you have zero feedback when performing since they are never surprised or applauding etc.

Anyway, I did another mental type trick where the loud guy picked a card, put it back somewhere in the deck, and I shuffled in a very fair way. I delt cards and one of them said stop, and of course the next card in the deck was the selected card. I also showed a stack of pictures of famous people (Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise, etc.) and had the famous magician say stop and he stopped on a card with a picture of me every time. A trick I made last week. Finally, I also did a card trick with my hiragana practice cards, and I produced a salmon sushi from my t-shirt. The famous magician at least seemed to like it when I hammered a nail into my nose to figure out his card, and when I produced the sushi from my t-shirt showing a salmon eating salmon sushi.

Then my colleague that was first sent back did some magic too. He did mainly tricks that you would expect serious magicians to know, and the loud guy was complaining a lot ("Ah, not a Maya Issey trick, show us something we don't know...") while the famous guy was a very kind spectator.

Finally, our boss did a fairly standard trick in a way presented on a DVD that is recently popular but very difficult. Both of them suddenly seemed very interested, and they were impressed. Our boss is of course very good at what he does, but making people like those two impressed is quite a feat I think.

We all talked for awhile, which was very nice and a lot of fun. The two of them also wanted to do some magic for us, and borrowed some cards. The loud guy went first, but it was a little unclear what exactly he tried to show (he was by then very very drunk). The famous magician then did a card effect where it turned out that a card mentally selected by one of us was located in the famous magician's pocket.

Then they left, and we sat down to talk a bit and calm our nerves.

A very exciting night! It was very nice to have met him in real life, though thinking back now there are some other tricks I do that would probably be more fun for him to watch, and it was a bit embarrassing to manage to fail with my lighter... But he was a very nice person. The loud guy at first seemed like quite the opposite of a nice person, but turned out to be a lot of fun, and was probably not serious about all of the bad stuff he said, haha. I liked them both.

Their timing was not the greatest. Everyone had been doing lots of magic, and with really high tension, so we were all super tired. Then there was about three hours of nothing to do in the middle of the night, making everything worse. So if they had showed up some other day, we might have been even more fun to watch. But at least they did not show up right when we were eating hamburgers. Considering this magician is famously connected to hamburgers, that would have been weird but really funny :-)

Here is a video of one of the tricks the famous guy seemed to like:

And here is a video of me when the lighter thing actually works (which it does 364 days per year :-)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Birthday party magic

A very nice "banana bread stuffed with all kinds of things"-cake
Yesterday I did a short magic show at a friend's place. It was the birthday party of a five year old kid, so the audience was split into one group of 4 or 5 year olds, and a group of parents. Everyone seemed to enjoy my little magic show, and afterwards there was food, wine, cake, etc. so I had a great time too.


There were geography practice cards, with Sweden.

A baby turtle called Pickles 

Another cake!


A crazy straw

Free food!

Saturday was a nice day. I went to a soup curry place and managed to fill my stamp card there, so next time I go there I will get dinner for free.

Garbanzo appetizers
Then I had some time to kill before it was time to go to our magic bar, so I stopped by Garbanzo, an Italian place run by a friend of mine. I ordered ukon tea (which normally tastes horrible, by the way, but this time it was ukon tea that tasted OK), but I also got some very nice appetizers for free!

Gyoza and spring rolls
Then, in our magic bar, a girl who comes quite a lot and I guess really really likes magic (the same girl who was the jury in our magic contest last week), brought food with her too. She works as a chef in a Chinese restaurant, so she brought gyoza and spring rolls she made herself. Very good.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Hedonistic night

Yesterday at work, an acquaintance e-mailed me and asked if I was free to go drinking with him in the evening. I had nothing planned except work, so I said I could show up around 21:00. This acquaintance goes to around 14 bars in one night when he goes out drinking, so I usually cannot keep up for even half his spending spree (and I had to work today too, unlike him), but he knows many many interesting places so it is usually nice to tag along for awhile.
Kani-shuumai, crab dumplings

A bikini made out of candy
Yesterday, I gave up after 5 places. But by then we had had Japanese food and drinks (plum wine, lots of traditional Japanese food like sashimi), visited a small Northern European style bar (the owner has visited at least 15 countries in Europe, including Sweden), had Hawaiian drinks with umbrellas and flowers together with a pineapple carved out to be an ice cream dessert, had Chinese food and drinks with some comedians, and a frozen raspberry cocktail in a fancy bar. Of these, I had only been to the Hawaiian place before.

An ice cream dessert with a banana, half a pineapple, and lots of cake and whipped cream
Chinese food
He also has a tendency to strike up conversations with other random customers, no matter how uninterested they seem to be, and then tell everyone that I am a famous international magician, super famous from TV, etc. etc. Which is if not lying, at least a very strong exaggeration. It usually ends with me doing some magic for the other guests, and yesterday I ran out of business cards already in the second or third bar. There were some women who seemed absolutely floored by magic, that may later show up in our magic bar.

Raspberry Angel (?) Lemon, raspberry liqueur, yogurt liqueur, and shredded ice.
The owner said she was a big Evangelion fan, and they had lots of Evangelion figures on the shelves 

Our "Grobal" university

Our university has a touch screen system for finding people and rooms in the computer science buildings. Apparently our efforts to become more global are paying off, and the system supports English. So you can find the "Grobal COE scretariat"easily...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Weird product names series: Angel French Balls

The coop does not seem to be bringing in that many products with funny names this year, so me and my friend had to resort to things that are not obviously weird but still a little bit strange, just to have something to put on the blog. Today's picture is Angel French Balls from Koeda. Last year we had Crunky Nude Balls, which was funnier, but still...

Saturday, April 14, 2012


This year, there is a surprising lack of products with strange names. Usually around this time of the year, or coop puts up lots of things with weird names on the shelves. We still have the French "little penis" chocolate but that is not really new.

The latest addition that is at least slightly suggestive is Pocky (kind of like a stick dipped in chocolate) with the new taste "nutcream" (which apparently means "almond taste").

Turkish food

On Thursday I went out to have dinner, and since I had to go back to the university to work late after that I tried some restaurants just outside the campus. They were all full. It is the start of the Japanese school year now (it starts in April) and all the student clubs and circles are trying to get new students to join them. This means taking first year students to restaurants around the campus area, every night...

I tried three different restaurants that all sent me away, but at a Turkish place I used to go to a lot a few years ago had space for me. The food is very nice, and the owner is fun to talk to. He is from Turkey but has lived something like 15 years in Japan.

Then I went back to our lab and worked until 1:30 a.m. writing a paper that my professor will publish as his paper (for funding related technical reasons, I am told), manually redoing lots of calculations for a program that another colleague wrote but that he though "would take too much time" if he had to fix his program to do the calculations etc. properly himself... Not a great evening. But I worked a lot of overtime every evening this week, so it was not a big surprise.

Since there are no more trains after midnight, I went home by jogging (about 35 minutes), which at least sounds healthy :-) There was a storm brewing, and a few signs and similar things that had been ripped away were flying around, so it was a bit exciting to dodge stuff like that too.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Spicy Thai food

Today I had dinner at the Thai restaurant Jitlada (ジッラダ), which I have not been to in ages. They have very nice food. The picture shows a piece of fish covered in very spicy sauce. We also had lots of other types of food.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Party on the tram!

"Reserved", in Japanese
The inside looked a bit different from during normal traffic.
Today I rode the Sapporo City Tramway for the first time, despite living here for almost six years. It was a special event, where one tramway car was rented, and there was food and alcohol available. So we rode from one end of the line to a train yard (short toilet break) to the other end of the line, and then back again. The whole trip took about two hours.

Our tram, looking a bit lonely in the dark.
It was quite fun, though the space was very crowded so it was impossible to move around. There was plenty of alcohol, but not so much food.

Some of the food was less than plentiful. This boat had food that was delicious but there was only this one boat for 34 people to share.

Two comedians were talking through pretty much the whole trip, trying to ensure everyone had a good time. They were quite funny a lot of the time, and a bit annoying some of the time. There was a woman who made some really funny comments towards them, and after that they were pretty mean to her the rest of the trip, which was a bit strange, though she was quite capable of returning the favor (she was funnier than they were, a lot of the time).

I liked the break at the train yard. There were lots of trams parked there, and it was something you would not normally get to see.

The train yard had lots of trams.
Snow plowing tram?
Another tram with a big brush.
Is it really a good idea to let drunk citizens wander around in places like this? What happens if someone decides to flip around a lot of this things?

Near the end of the line, some of us waved to some people waiting outside, and two girl waved back. Very nice of them. I wonder what they thought of this tram, lit up like a brothel and full of drunk people, haha.

For the first time, I learnt the standard fare for using the tramway.

Really small cell phone

Today a guy showed me his cell phone, which was really really tiny. The only thing you can do with it is make calls (no e-mail etc. that all other Japanese phones let you do).

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Cannibal Animals in Tokyo (again)

Today I went to our magic bar to return some DVDs that a friend handed over to me yesterday to give to our boss. In the magic bar, there were lots of people, and in the end I was asked if I wanted to show something to a group of four young women who were a great audience since they seemed to love any magic anyone showed them. So I did some magic tricks for them, and they were very happy.

Later, when I was about to go home, one regular customer showed up really drunk. He talked about all kinds of things, but also started talking to me. He said he recently went to Tokyo and then went out of his way and went to Harajuku just to look for t-shirts with cannibalistic animals. I usually wear t-shirts from this series when I perform in our magic bar, and he once asked me where I had bought them. I said Harajuku, and he asked for very detailed directions. He bought three t-shirts himself, because his girlfriend thinks they are very cute (if I understood correctly). He gave one to his girlfriend's (or his own?) mom, who did not like it at all, so now he was slightly upset with me, haha.

Here is a video (that I put on the blog before too) with me in one of these t-shirts; a shirt with a salmon eating salmon sushi (the others have things like a chicken eating fried eggs, a family of pigs eating fried pork, etc.):

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Taco rice shop

Today I noticed a restaurant that is not that far from our magic bar but that I have never noticed before. They sell only "taco rice" and Japanese pancakes. Taco rice is a dish that Japanese people consider to be Okinawa style food, and it is like Tex-Mex tacos, except with rice instead of bread.

This place was really tiny, with three small counters to sit at. They also do take-out, though some of the upgrade options for the pancakes and taco rice are then no longer available. I tried taco rice with bacon topping, which was good. I also plan to go back and try the cheese version and the chili oil (ラー油) version.

The prices are extremely cheap. 380 yen for a basic normal sized taco rice, with options of large and super large for 100 yen extra each.

Monday, April 2, 2012

New job!

I was unsure if anyone had found any money to hire me from April 1 or not this year, and since the university is not very quick in giving you your new contract, I came to work today not knowing if I actually had a job or not. Last year my contract showed up on April 6, but this year they were much faster. Already in the afternoon today (April 2) they gave me my new contract. So I still have a job.

Of course, the contract is not that great. It is exactly the same contract as last year (so, I am absolutely forbidden from earning money on other activities, meaning I am not allowed to be paid for doing children's magic shows on Saturdays or teaching Swedish in the evenings (which I do for free instead)), with two changes. The lowered my salary by 25%, and the contract is not for one year but instead runs only to May 24. In Japan, there is some form of law saying that if you work for more than three years at one place, you have the right to some benefits, so Hokkaido University, where I work, generally fires everyone after three years. This of course means that once your secretary gets used to doing what you need her to do, you have to fire her and start training a new secretary, which seems very inefficient. Apparently, my three years are up on May 25, so my contract runs only to May 24.

There is some process where a professor can fill out lots of papers and ask to hire you even though you already worked three years, by claiming that you job cannot in fact be done by any random person but you have some skill or knowledge of the project that other people do not have so you have to stay longer in the project. If you promise not to ask for whatever benefits you have the right to, you have a chance of staying longer (though it is not up to your professor to decide, so sometimes the decision is "no", and you get fired anyway). My professor tells me that the paperwork for having me stay longer is already done and I can stay (if we find money to pay me with), but apparently you are not allowed to see these papers yourself.

Anyway, today was the first day of my new job, so I had to go stamp my private name stamp in a new book for the new project that is paying me these 1.5 months. So here is another photo series of me stamping.

Last day at work! And stamping.

In Japan, people do not sign their names. Instead we have stamps with our names that we stamp where in other countries you would sign. This means that if you opened a bank account with your signature (some banks allow that), they expect your signature to look exactly the same every time you want to do something with your account, since a stamp always looks the same.

This can be funny (or annoying, depending on your personality) when banking, since I usually have to sign my name and they say "No, it does not look like the sign in our system, can you try again?" a few times, and after some time they even show me the picture in the system and say: "No, like this." (not the best security measure...) Usually, after seven tries or so, they give up and tell me to hand over my foreigner registration card (ID card), and they make a copy of that and stamp that they swear I was hear but I was not able to write my name...

So having a stamp simplifies things. It is also convenient when our professor is away but he needs to sign things here, as he leaves his stamp with our secretary so she stamps things with his name even when he is not here...

Anyway, I have to go to a special building far away and stamp with my private stamp every day that I am here today and working (otherwise I will not be paid for that day). It seems like a waste of time, and most professors apparently send their secretaries to stamp for them.

Since my contract ran out on March 31, this was my last day of stamping this book. My friend suggested I take a picture to commemorate this huge event. It would have been nice if the university could give you your new contract in time, so you could plan your future and now if you have a job next week or not, but our university is very slow in giving out contracts. Last year I got my contract (for my job that started April 1) on April 6... This year, it is also quite unclear if they are actually going to rehire me or not, so Monday will be exiting I guess.

Orangina and White Wonda

The Japanese school year starts on April 1 (which is in itself a bit strange, since they do celebrate April Fools here). This means that around now, there are lots of new products in the coop shop. Usually, some of them have really weird names.

This year, there are not so many products with funny names yet. The two most interesting so far are "Orangina" and "White Wonda" ("wonderful white au lait").