Thursday, February 28, 2013


When I finally stopped puking and got better, one of my friends came back to Sapporo from a trip to Kyushu. I got some Kyushu noodles as a souvenir!

Back in Sapporo

No mountains visible in this weather
Back in Sapporo, it is snowing. It is snowing unbelievable amounts almost every day. Surprisingly much even for being Sapporo.

In this weather, even the very large and bright Prince Hotel is gone.
When I got back home I spent the weekend sleeping and vomiting. I apparently managed to catch some Norovirus from some of the thousands of people I ran into in Tokyo.

It had finally started melting, and then it started snowing even more...

Capsule hotels

In Japan, there is a type of hotels called "capsule hotels". They do not give you a room, they give you a plastic tube to sleep in. It is about the size of a small bed and if you are not too tall you can probably sit upright inside the capsule. The capsule usually has a small TV, a radio, and an alarm clock. The hotel itself also has either a public bath style bathing facility or showers. Sometimes there is also a sauna. You can lock your stuff away in a small locker (but a suitcase would not fit).

Some capsule hotels allow women to stay, and then there are usually separate floors for men and women, and separate times for the shared bath. Most capsule hotels are for men only.

Capsule hotels are usually cheap (by Tokyo standards) and located in popular entertainment areas. The main target audience is drunk sarariman (office workers) who missed the last train home and need somewhere to sleep until morning when it is time to go to work again.

Capsule hotels are not for people who are claustrophobic  though the capsule is not actually that small. It is also not recommended for people who need it to be quiet when they sleep, since there are usually two or three layers of capsules stacked on top of each other with a total of around 50 capsules in each room. The capsule walls are very thin plastic, so you can hear everyone else snoring. Also, the capsule opening through which you enter is usually only closed with a curtain (i.e. not sound proof). Sometimes drunk men who mistake your capsule for their capsule in the middle of the night might try climbing into your capsule too.

In the morning, everyone has their alarm clock go off at different times, since some people need to go to work early and leave at 5:30, some get up at around 6, other around 7 etc. So there will be the sound of alarm clocks beeping more or less constantly from 5:30 to 10:00 (when you have to check out). Some people leave their capsule before their alarm goes off, so no one is there to turn off the alarm in their capsules once they go off either...

I stayed in a capsule hotel after having been in the magic bar but before I had to get up and go to the airport to fly home. It is fun to try, but not recommended for longer trips.

Magic bar Toto's Bar

In Tokyo there are many magic bars. Many of them are very good. Which magic bar is the best magic bar is difficult to say, but it is either "Half Moon" or "Toto's Bar". Both are great.

Magician Yamato produced a fish out of thin air.
During this Tokyo trip, I managed to visit Toto's Bar twice... Magician Toto does superb magic, and is excellent at getting people to have a good time. Toto's bar is also very relaxing to visit. When I visit I just drop in and sit at the counter talking to all the people working there. Sometimes they show me close up magic, and from time to time they do a big show (when there are enough customers) which is always great.

This looks like a candle with a moving flame but is actually an electric light.

 They also serve food, though I usually end up there very late and thus have normally already eaten too much. This time they kept giving me small portions of food to try out for free, and all of it was very good. Having dinner there would probably be good dinner wise too.

Toto's bar have their own playing card design. I have a deck of cards (or two?) at home in their design, but they said they had changed the design a bit and gave me one more deck. Very high quality cards.

I got to see magician Yamato do both close up magic for me and parlor magic on their small stage. I met Yamato once in Sapporo when he was here helping out with Toto's dinner show at one of the APA hotels in Sapporo.

I spoke quite a lot to magician Yuuto, who turned out to have watched my YouTube videos a lot. He had even figured out one magic thing that I used in one of the YouTube clips and practiced it a lot. He asked me to show it to him live, and to check if what he practiced is in fact what I did. He also did parlor magic, and I watched him do close up magic to some people sitting close to me at the counter.

I also got to see Toto doing his big show, and just talking to him is also a lot of fun. The chef, the bartender, some other customers, other people also helped out in keeping up interesting conversations. I also got to pet some of their pigeons and canaries.

Magic bar Surprise

Magician Susumu
After my work related duties finished, around 21:30, I took the subway to Akasaka. There is a nice magic bar there called "Surprise". I have been there twice before, and the owner is both funny and nice. There are many other magicians working there too, and this time I got to see a female magician (quite rare!) called Alice, a magician I had not seen before called Susumu, and a magician called Akimoto who turned out to know a guy I know.

Magicians Alice and Akimoto
When I entered the place, there were no other customers there. Later some other people also showed up, but first I had a private show. All three magicians came to my table one at a time and showed me magic.

When I mentioned that we had met once before, Alice remembered me as "that guy from Hokkaido who was here two years ago" so I guess even though there are plenty of foreigners in Tokyo, I am still easy enough to remember (in Sapporo, I am usually the first ever foreigner people have spoken to, so everyone remembers me). She also complimented me on my "I am not Japanese" (written in Japanese) t-shirt. She had a lot of funny ironic presentations for her tricks, which I like. For instance, she asked me for some money so I gave her a 100 yen coin which she then had me sign. She asked me if I had signed any other "100 yen coins from 2003" with my name, which I had not. She then made that coin disappear and that was the end of that magic. Much later in an unrelated trick, a very similar 100 yen coin, also with my sign, mysteriously turned up. She also later told me that since today was a very special day and there were no other customers there, she would give me a very special present. Something they almost never did, she said. She gave me a 100 yen coin, with my signature, which they probably had never given to anyone at all before...

Magician Akimoto told me that a magician he used to work with a long time ago nowadays lives in Sapporo and makes udon noodles. I know one such magician but it turned out to be a different noodle making magician. We talked a bit more about his friend, and it turned out to be a magician I too know, who makes noodles but not in Sapporo. His noodle shop is in Asahikawa, the second largest city on Hokkaido.

They all showed me interesting magic, and they also talked to me about Hokkaido and Sweden for quite a while. They also told me stories about such things as visiting a magic shop in America and having a hard time convincing the store owner to show anything other than magic props for kids. Either Japanese women look way too young (true) or their English is not good enough to explain things such as "I work in a bar" and other things that may hint at being grown up, haha.

Kanda, Tokyo

This time we had a meeting in the Belle Salle building in Kanda, Tokyo. The meeting went on for many hours, in which various project members gave long and detailed explanations of what each group in our project has done. I already knew most of that, and my Japanese is not that good when it comes to administrative or technical stuff (since I learned Japanese by talking to my friends, who rarely strike up conversations about project budgets in their free time) so it was not that exciting. Also, the meeting room did not have any electrical outlets for me to recharge my phone or laptop. My laptop can go for many hours without recharging, even when heavily using the WiFi, so that was still OK, though.

I did run into a Canadian professor I did not know was in Japan. Last time I saw him we were eating crepes together in southern France. I also ran into a Japanese girl who graduated from our lab about a year ago. Another fun point was running into a Finnish guy who had lived in Tokyo for 18 years and who talked to me for about an hour or so about snow removal (Finland gets a lot of snow, just like Sweden and Sapporo).

There was also a dinner, which was quite nice (though expensive for me).

Tokyo fashion

I wanted to buy a funny t-shirt, but the shop in Tokyo where I usually do that did not have anything interesting. Instead I ended up buying 10 decks of cards, which I later regretted. I bought all the decks a shop had when I saw that they had the model I like to use (which recently is hard to find), but carrying around 10 decks of cards for two days turned out to be heavier than I had hoped. Especially since I had to lug around my work laptop etc. too.

The photo is from a clothing store for young women located near the t-shirt shop I like. I guess bright colors are "in".

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Tokyo station

Our meeting in the end turned out to start after lunch, but when I booked my plane tickets no one knew when it would start (usually it is so early in the morning so we have to fly in the night before) so I arrived the evening before. That meant I had the morning free, but there is not much to do in the morning. Most shops open at 10 or 11, and by then I would have to start going to the rather boring district our meeting was in.

In the end I went to see the new Tokyo station. They renovated the station recently and lots of Japanese people go there to take pictures of the new station building exterior. Our secretary had warned me that this is a very fancy part of Tokyo where everyone dresses properly. Unlike me, she strongly pointed out. I said: "I am even wearing a shirt and a jacket today" but she did not think that made me look proper at all anyway. She said I was still welcome to go to Tokyo station but I should be aware that I would look very much out of place there (she does not think highly of my way of dressing). I look out of place anywhere in Japan because I am blond, so it does not matter much how I dress, I still always look out of place.

When looking at the other people around Tokyo station, they looked like typical Japanese tourists, so I was not that far off with my clothes. There were no other blond people there, though. Which is a bit surprising, since there are so many foreigners in Tokyo. In Sapporo I may see zero or one foreigner outside of work during a normal day. In Tokyo you are likely to see more than one foreigner each time you take the train.

Something else that was also good with the modernized Tokyo Station was that there was free WiFi in some areas of the station. I stayed in a very cheap hotel during the night, and while it was warm and had nice showers, it did not have Internet access. So I had to check my e-mail and send some work stuff using the WiFi of the station. Standing in the middle of the station with your laptop doing half an hour of work is good for your "looking like a weirdo foreigner" points, but then again I have never been low on such points...

Other people taking photos.

Magic Bar Issey

The first night in Tokyo, I had the evening free so I went to Roppongi (the party and prostitution district for foreigners in Tokyo) to visit the quite excellent magic bar "Magic bar Issey". I had been there once before and enjoyed it a lot.

They have a shark swimming around behind the counter.
Magic bar Issey has four different magicians, with two working each night. This time there was one magician I had seen before, and one I had not seen. They come to your table and do close up magic, but unlike most magic bars they also have a small stage and at set times they do a very nice stage show (mostly parlor magic, but also some illusions).

This time I came there alone, so the close up magic was probably not that fun for them to do. A lone spectator is usually the most difficult audience. Many of the more interesting routines include several spectators doing different things and are not suitable for a single spectator. They did a nice enough job, though, and I later looked at one table magic performance at another table close to me after the stage show was over but before I left.

Leaving the snow

Streets lose one or two lanes of traffic to snow in the winter.
On Thursday I had to go to Tokyo for a meeting, so I left our piles of snow behind. It had even snowed so much so the trains to the airport were not on time. Trains not being on time is very rare in Japan, and is normally only caused by natural disasters like big earthquakes, hurricanes, or tsunamis. Which, admittedly, we have quite a lot of. But still.

Extreme snowfall is also a form of natural disaster, and they said on the news that some city nearby had received over one meter of snow over night.

A fighter jet taking off.

On my quite late train, which took 65 minutes instead of the normal 38 to reach the airport, I spent time watching fighter jets take off.

Presents from Hakodate!

Last week, an acquaintance from Hakodate was in Sapporo and she and her friend stopped by our magic bar. It was Wednesday (so not one of the days I would normally be working) but I happened to be in the magic bar anyway since our other magic bar was super booked and one magician from my bar was their helping out (and I was in our bar helping out since one guy was gone).

I tried a "Chinese chicken" burger, which was pretty good
Anyway, they brought hamburgers from the famous Hakodate hamburger chain "Lucky Pierrot" and chocolate of the well known but also very much available in Sapporo brand "Big Thunder". I also got a bag of Valentine's chocolates!

Valentine's chocolate box
Heart shaped senbei covered in four types of chocolate (maccha taste, strawberry taste, normal chocolate, and white chocolate).

Snow snow snow

Last week it kept snowing. We now have a lot of snow, and despite large amounts of snow having been removed from the streets before, the new snow has still managed to pile up to impressive heights, blocking the view of the cars from people trying to cross the streets, for instance.

Work dinner

Entrees, a small octopus, a sea snail (because Japanese people are adamant that they do not eat snails, that would be disgusting, so this is absolutely nothing at all like a snail), tofu based dishes, and more.
We had a guest professor here from Italy last week. He came here in the morning, had a meeting with us, had dinner, and left the next morning. Seemed a bit wasteful to come all the way here for that, but why not? He was supposed to come the evening before, but the airport was closed due to heavy snowfall so he spent one night in Tokyo instead.

This thing was artfully arranged before I tried taking the lid off. Then all the nice things fell off the floating thing.

The dinner was quite nice. Very Japanese. That means very many dishes, but all of them tiny. The beef steak was for instance very good, but it cannot have weighed more than 30 grams.

Raw sea food

Steamed egg based food with chicken hidden inside.

A very tiny steak, grilled clams, mushrooms, and vegetables.
Tempura fried vegetables hidden behind something pink.
Three small pieces of sushi.