A Modern Christmas Carol by Mitch

Twas the night before Christmas in faraway Japan

Christmas in Shibuya

Christmas in Shibuya (Photo credit: jpellgen)

One Jewish boy was still working with aplomb and elan.

He tried to clear his dashboard of servers of red,

While visions of sashimi swum round in his head.

He raised his head up from his screen on occasion,

To see some of his colleagues showing true dedication.

There were no reindeer atop Rakuten’s roof,

But our hero knew later he’d enjoy 80 proof.

An eighteen year old would bring great delight,

Which is odd, as alone he would spend this here night.

And then, the thought did enter into his mind

Of a place where likeminded company he’d find.

His carriage would not be pulled by eight reindeer,

But the Japan Rail train out of the station so near.

From Shinagawa Seaside he would go forth,

All the way to Shibuya, no pole but points north.

Where bars and restaurants filled with the cheer

Of dozens or scores of patrons with beer!

Izakaya is where he will make his own way,

To imbibe with his tribe after a helluva day.

A night of good food and good drink lay alee,

He thought to himself with more than slight glee.

Or maybe, he thought, as his head he did knock,

I should follow my diet, and go for a walk.

The streets of Tokyo, aglow with festive light

Held many a vision for his sheer delight.

Still and all, though enjoy himself this night he would,

His mind was focused on back home – where his family stood.

Theresa and Aaron, Gilad, Gingit, and Jake

Danced in his mind as a pause he did take.

Before going out for food and for drink,

He’d head to the hotel for a Skype he did think.

But alas, the time zone didn’t work in his favour,

And let the fam sleep as their rest they should savour.

But after his food, a drink or two and a walk

He’d head back to his room, with his family to talk.

And so we can end this Christmas tale, which rings true and not tall,

To you all a good night, and Merry Christmas to all!

Mayor Ford: It’s time to go.

Rob Ford, mayor of Toronto, greeting a nun at ...

Rob Ford, mayor of Toronto, greeting a nun at the Mayor’s 2011 Levee at City Hall. Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over the past eighteen months I have written a couple of articles about Toronto Mayor (and News Talk 1010 radio host) Rob Ford.  In the first one (Leave Mayor Ford Alone!) I came to his defense when people took a video of him leaving a fast food restaurant and made fun of him (he was trying to diet).  The next one I wrote on June 3rd of this year expressing my opinion that it was time for him to either leave or be relieved of his duties as a member of the media – I did not feel that he had any business as a talk show host (You can read the article here).

For those of you who do not know the story: Earlier this year two media outlets – www.gawker.com and the Toronto Star – reported that they had both been offered a video of Mayor Ford smoking crack cocaine, and making a bunch of stupid remarks.  Unfortunately neither of these media outlets purchased the video so while there was a whole lot of speculation, there was never any proof.

Over the past few days (from what I have been able to glean from various reports on the Internet, as I am overseas) the following has been determined:

  1. Toronto Police are now in possession of a video that Chief Bill Blair confirms is exactly what Gawker and the Toronto Sun reported: Mayor Ford smoking crack cocaine.
  2. Close associates of Mayor Ford have been arrested and charged with several Class A Felonies.
  3. Mayor Ford used his Sunday afternoon radio show to make a brief statement, saying that he is not perfect, and that he has made mistakes, but he cannot change the past.

Now here’s the problem that I have: Mayor Ford made several mistakes that caused the video to be made – and the mayor smoking crack is certainly in that category.  I am ready to accept that he made some terrible mistakes, and could even forgive them.  What happened after the video allegations were made are completely inexcusable, and are not mistakes: they are absolutely lies, and there are allegations that there is criminal activity in the attempt to cover up the video.

  1. He told reporters that he never smoked crack. lies.
  2. His brother, Councillor  Doug Ford, acting in several situations as the Mayor’s unofficial spokesman, confirmed that Mayor Ford never smoked crack. lies.
  3. Mayor Ford, after several weeks, told the media that the ‘alleged video’ did not exist. lies.
  4. One of Mayor Ford’s close associates (who is currently under arrest) is alleged by Toronto Police Services to have acted in the interest of the Mayor to the end of ensuring that the video be completely destroyed. criminal.

While the list likely goes on, I don’t need to kick a man when he is down.  The Mayor says in his apology that ‘…I love the work I do, and I am going to continue doing it.  I want to keep working for the people of this city’ Well Mr. Mayor, from what I have read there may be no legal obligation for you to do so, but there is certainly an overwhelming moral obligation for you to resign as mayor.

He keeps talking about ‘the right thing to do.’ He asks Chief Bill Blair to release the video to the public, because it is the right thing to do, and that people deserver to see it…’  If that is the case Mr. Mayor, then why have you been lying about it for six months?  That was the absolute wrong thing to do.

‘All I can do right now is apologize for my mistakes.’

No Mr. Mayor, you are wrong.  You can resign.  That is the right thing to do,  You claim that you can and will learn from the past.

If the lesson you plan to learn is that it is a bad idea to hang out with drug dealers smoking crack, I am curious to know how you did not learn that lesson in high school.  You and I are close to the same age, and Just Say No was as much a part of your upbringing as it was mine.

If the lesson you plan to learn is that it is wrong to lie to the media and to the citizens of the city that you represent, then that ship has sailed.  Your credibility is shot, and anyone who believes you will change, or will continue to support you, must have head trauma.  You have made Toronto the laughing stock of every major city in the world.  Yes Mayor Ford, Tokyo is laughing at you.

If the lesson you plan to learn is to learn how to lie better, then when you have learned that lesson you can run for office again.  I assure you that the voters are just stupid enough to consider voting for you again, be it municipal or provincial.  Not me – you have lost any chance of my ever voting for you for anything as important as assistant head dog catcher – but others will still vote for you.

I do not have a vote in Toronto.  I live in Oakville and have voted for Mayor Rob Burton and will do so again.  However if he were to be embroiled in a scandal where he lied about something this important for six months until video proof was released, then no… he would lose my vote.  Fortunately I know Mayor Burton, and expect there is less a chance of that happening that there would be of my getting elected to replace Mayor Ford.

By the way Mayor Ford, there is one more thing that you can do: In the last six months several of your staff have either resigned or been fired.  You owe each one of them an apology, and not as a group – in front of the entire media pool that you continuously chase off your driveway you should name each one and give a detailed account of how you screwed them.

Goodbye Mayor Ford… You may not be stepping down, but until you do, I am tuning out.  I will not listen to another word that you have to say, because I do not listen to lying, insulting, crack addicts.  Step down, go to rehab, I’ll consider giving you another chance.

Thank you readers and Happy Halloween!!

The calendar has turned in Tokyo.  Although there are a few hours left in North America, here it is now Friday, and more importantly it is November.  I got in late from a Halloween party in Shibuya… the whole city was a crazy place tonight, and I have the pictures to prove it (they come later in the post).

In the meantime, despite there being several hours left on the East Coast, October (2013) has been guaranteed the top month ever for The World According to Mitch.  I hope it is a combination of on-point technical articles, and my life experience (currently in Japan) that has drawn so many of you here, and so many of you keep coming back.  Thank you!image

As always I want to hear from you… tell me what you want to see more of, what you like and don’t like.  I read all of your comments, and try to adjust as I can.  In the meantime I promised some of you more wild Tokyo Halloween costumes, so here they are!

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I thought these were some of the wildest costumes I’d seen… as were most people they were only too happy to pose with me,  However the costumes get even more interesting when you look close… I am not a pervert, and would never take and post dirty pictures, but this next photo of one of the girls sitting down underscored the detail put into the costume… namely, their skivvies are also lighting up and flashing!  The people I was with couldn’t help but wonder how well insulated the costumes were, because moisture and electrical charges are a bad mix… Talk about fiery sex!  (Also when they turned their costumes off you could see that their undergarments had been coordinated as well as the rest of their costumes…)

DSCN4403 I thought this next costume was quite clever, and proves that I am not only taking pictures of sexy girls in scantily clad costumes.  I also got to take a picture of two gentlemen wearing naked women’s bodies 😉

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This gentleman was at the bar where I spent the evening, but by coincidence is also from Toronto!  He’s spending some time in Japan just like I am, but wasn’t careful because with all of the zombies out it looks like one of them tried to eat his brains!

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Wow….

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I am not sure what these girls are dressed as, but don’t they look so cute?  (Notice the McDonald’s Golden Arches in the background…)

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I told you they coordinate their costumes, right>

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I wonder if he can predict going home alone tonight?

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It is good to see religion and Disney come together at last…

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Anyone care for some of these guys grilled up with some balsamic vinegar?

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…and finally some truly Japanese costumes… worn by some NOT SO JAPANESE guys…

DSCN4438 All in all it was a crazy night.  You wouldn’t think that dressed as I was (golf shirt and my leather jacket) that I would win a costume contest, would you?  Alas, I did… until it was proven that I cheated.  When I entered I told them that my name was Mariko, and that i was a 22 year old short Japanese girl in full makeup.  When I was announced as the winner the girls in the Red Army/Stewardess costumes (see the photo in front of Cafe Miyama) Attacked me and stripped me naked trying to prove I wasn’t who I said I was.  The trophy was taken away from me, but I think I still came out ahead!

Happy Halloween, Happy November, and thanks again for reading!

American Express: Leave home without them, because they don’t care.

Amex I have been a customer of American Express for six years.  Because it is not my primary credit card (I know, they are a charge card) they have TERRIBLE customer service.  I have paid down my balance every month, but because my average spending on their card is lower, they refuse to let me buy an airline ticket that exceeds a certain amount unless I prepay that amount on my card.  The difference between what they are willing to let me spend in a month and the value of the ticket is not huge – a quarter of the total value of the ticket – but it doesn’t matter.  Oh and by the way, unless I sign up for another service of theirs it will take two days for them to receive my payment, and just proving that I have made the payment is not good enough for them, they actually have to receive the money.

Really Amex, for a company that makes as many billions of dollars a year as you, not to mention the fact that I do close to $50,000 worth of business with you per year, don’t you think that it would be showing a little faith to move just a little?  Show your customers that you DO want their business, and that you are willing to go the extra mile so that they WILL consider making you their primary card?  I guess not.

I am happy to write positive articles when companies surprise me … I seldom bad-mouth companies in this space.  However this time the American Express Centurion has put aside his halyard and shown me the middle finger of his gauntlet.  No problem, I have several other cards to work with… I am very seriously going to reconsider renewing my Amex card next year because frankly I’d rather deal with companies that use common sense.

For the record, if my credit score was in the toilet I would have a much easier time understanding their position… but right now they don’t care about me so I am going to stop caring about them.

Relative to nothing at all, I took this picture of a girl at a Halloween party in Tokyo yesterday.  I thought the good people at American Express Canada would enjoy the picture.  Don’t read too much into it Amex… after all, it’s not about the people (or the panda, or the words written on the panda), it’s only about the numbers on the page.

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A Real Trip… Happy Halloween from Japan!

Saturday night was Halloween.  Okay, no it wasn’t, but obviously all of the great parties for that occasion are on the week-end.  If you can imagine that in Tokyo people seem to dress up in costumes on a regular basis for no good reason, they you will believe that Halloween in Tokyo (and especially in Shibuya) is something you gotta see.

With that being said, I had no idea that it was going to be like that.  The company where I am working in Tokyo hosted a technology conference Saturday, and there are several people from different divisions around the world who came into town for it.  At lunch I met one such person, who is in town for three days from California.  She hadn’t had a decent Japanese meal yet, nor had she seen anything in the country aside from the taxi from the airport.  I asked her if she wanted to change that this evening, and she agreed.  Before the day was out we had collected a couple of other people who wanted to join us, and we headed to Shibuya.

Shibuya Crossing 1For the uninitiated, Shibuya Crossing is something you have to experience if you come to Tokyo.  It is possibly the busiest intersection anywhere in the world.  The picture you see here is everybody crossing in every direction, as seen from the Starbucks second floor window.  This was not taken at a particularly busy time.  However I am told that there was a documentary that set up a camera to check, and at no point in a 48 hour period was nobody crossing the street when the lights permitted.  It is across from Shibuya Station, and if you have ever seen a picture of Tokyo where it is BUSY AND HOPPING, this is likely where that picture was taken (although the entire city is pretty busy and hopping).

After a wonderful dinner (we just picked any old sushi restaurant and had an amazing meal – the best that either Joseline or Damien had ever had, although it was only just as good as every other sushi dinner I have had here) we SwedenJapanSingaporewalked around Shibuya watching people for a while, and then decided to drop into a standing bar that I was introduced to last week.  It’s a nice place with a mix of locals and foreigners, and usually has sports on the large screen TV (tonight it was Manchester United over Stoke, although we didn’t stay to see the end of the match).

We met a bunch of interesting people… at first we were chatting with an eclectic group in costume – the guys were from Sweden and Japan, the woman from Singapore.  I thought it was strange to run into three people together from three different countries… until i realized I was a Canadian hanging out with an American and a Frenchman.  How appropriate indeed 🙂  Later we were joined by a priest and his friend (she refused to don her costume, although I have it on good authority that she had a cape in her bag).  The priest was actually an architecture student from Austria, and his friend (the smallest full-grown woman I have ever had a conversation with) was from Spain.  Again, really nice people.  In fact now that I think of it, everyone that I met there was pretty nice 🙂

DSCN4136 I discovered that here a LOT of people… not just the occasional one or two, seem to like pose for pictures.  This group of girls (and the guy with the hood over his face) saw that I had a camera and they all struck a pose.  I hadn’t (and didn’t speak to any of them, but they wanted me to take their picture, and I was happy to oblige them.  As well there were SCORES of groups and individuals on the street were just posing everywhere to let others – complete strangers! – pose with them for pictures.  I took a picture of Mario and Luigi (yes, THE Mario and Luigi of video game fame… ) because I I thought is was a clever and unique costume… until I realized that there were several dozen Luigis and even more Marios!  What can you do, at least these two were the ORIGINALS 🙂

Shibuya Mario & LuigiThere were a lot of themes to the costumes.  Firstly I should mention that it seems that the order of the day is SKIMPY for women of all ages here.  Zombies, Brides (and especially zombie brides) were all around – as you can see from the picture.  There were super heroes everywhere, a few ninjas and samurai, lots of Power Rangers, naughty nurses, and of course sexy maids.  Speaking of sexy, there was no shortage of women and men in all manner of what could only be described as Bondage Wear, and frankly I saw some of the shortest skirts I have ever seen, as well as one woman who decided to leave the skirt at home and was simply walking around in a pair of panties that were milimetres from being a pure thong.  I confess that the three of us were so surprised by that outfit that by the time we started discussing it we all realized that none of us had seen what the top of her costume was.

I was surprised by how many groups (gropes?) obviously coordinated their costumes, as the group of slain zombie brides who posed for this picture.  They were far from the exception, there were hundreds such groups.  I was truly amazed.

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Now here’s the weird part about it, and what makes Tokyo one of the wildest cities that I’ve ever been to… I was in Shibuya a week ago, and while there weren’t quite as many or as varied costumes as there were tonight, there were still lots of people dressed up – I saw someone wearing a full Star Wars Storm Trouper outfit (complete helmet, not just a mask) last week dancing on one of the corners.  I couldn’t get past Princess Leia’s line: ‘You’re a little short to be a Storm Trouper, aren’t you?’  He was about 5’5, but he was dancing and moving and having a grand old time… as was everyone!

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Have a great week folks, and remember… as this IS the week of Halloween you will be seeing some strange things out there… but I’ll be seeing a lot of them here too, and I’ll try to photograph and blog about as many of them as I can.  Stay tuned, and thanks for reading! -M

Altitude Dashboard

Okay I admit it… it seems I have not been paying attention, because I just found a personalized dashboard on Air Canada’s Aeroplan page that seems really helpful.  I wish I would have known about it sooner, because it really does appear quite useful! In fact, I have used it today to prove that fact!

https://altitude.aircanada.com/mystatus/dashboard

imageI woke up in the middle of the night tonight because the drugs I am taking to fight my cold/chest infection are screwing with my wake/sleep schedule.  After doing everything else I had to do, I started chatting with my friend Jessica who is points-obsessed.  That is to say, she and her husband have found every way imaginable to get Aeroplan points from contests, challenges, and even flying.  I started wondering what status I would have for next year, seeing as I do travel quite a bit.

I went to the Aeroplan page (which I am quite familiar with) and saw where I was… and then started doing math in my head… I was trying to figure out how many more miles I would be flying this year… and although I know that I am a shoe-in for Altitude 75K, I started to wonder if I had a chance of hitting the elusive Altitude 100K…

…and then I saw a button that said ‘check your dashboard.’  I don’t remember having seen it before,so I clicked on it.  Behold, the page that opened has some really helpful information on it – not just on what you have, but on what you need in order to achieve the next level, including threshold gifts.

image I started doing the math… I am flying home from Tokyo next month – my dashboard clearly showed (I had to scroll down) that my flight from Toronto to Tokyo (via Vancouver) was 6,742 miles… but because I flew Executive First Class I got a 50% bonus of Status Miles… rounding it off to 10,115.  Logically my flight back in November will give me the same number of miles, seeing as I am taking the same flights in reverse.  That is another 10,115 miles.

Of course, the following week I am turning around and flying right back to Japan.  Assuming the same flight path, and a return flight at the end of December, that is another 20,230 miles.  Assuming my math is right, that brings me to 79,559 Altitude Qualifying Miles (AQM) for the year.  Right there, I am at Altitude 75K… the next level up.

But wait… I have one more trip in December… flying from Tokyo to Sydney, Australia for ten days.  Flying direct is 4,757 miles… which means 9,514 miles, plus another 4,757 bonus for flying First Class.  However if I fly either through Wellington, NZ or through Singapore then it bumps to 7,100 miles (plus or minus) each way, which means 10,650 miles each way, which would give me a little over 100,800 miles for the year, and the Altitude 100K (formerly Super Elite) status that I am hoping for.

(I have to admit it, one of the main reasons I would rather fly through Singapore is that I would get to fly on the Airbus A380, which I have not been on yet!)

(For those of you wondering what the benefits are, check out the site.)

Don’t get me wrong.  I have told many people before that they should not be jealous of the status of frequent fliers because it means that we have to be away from home as often as we are.  I stand by that.  However if you are going to be away from home that often, it is nice to get the benefits that go alone with it… and yes, among frequent fliers there are certain bragging rights that go with it.

One of my favorite benefits, by the way, is being able to bypass the long lines for checking in, security, and boarding.  A friend of mine on Facebook (whose name I will not mention, but if he is reading this is welcome to chime in) once told me that this is elitist, and I should not be so proud that I skip the lines.  It is not a question of elitist (although I think I replied at the time that his thinking was not a little socialist), but the truth is those lines may be an hour long.  For an occasional traveler that is an annoyance, even an inconvenience.  If I had to wait in each of those lines for an hour every time I flied this year it would not be an inconvenience, it would be well in excess of a work week.  So call me elitist if you will, I do appreciate bypassing the lines.

I did notice by the by that one of the benefits of Altitude 100K is that you can award Altitude 50K (the status I currently hold) for a friend.  That might be huge, and if you are interested I am absolutely willing to consider bribes 🙂

I know the slogan came from another brand, but membership has its privileges.  I have held Elite Status with Aeroplan (Air Canada) since 2007, and it has made my life as a road warrior an easier and more comfortable one.  The Dashboard is probably available to anyone, but it will come in much handier for people who fly a lot.

…and sorry Jessica, most of those benefits rely on AQM, not simply miles accumulated 🙂

Big in Japan: The Week That Was…

For those of you who follow not only my blog but my Twitter as well (@MGarvis) you will likely know that I have been walking a lot since I got to Japan, and my FitBit (www.fitbit.com) has all the proof you need.  You may also have noticed that Tuesday and Wednesday this week my daily steps dropped from an average of 15,000 steps per day to about 2000 steps for those two days.  That is because I caught a bad chest cold and spent two days in bed – which is to say I was working from my hotel room, but once my actual work was done I did not have much energy for blogging.  Sorry fans… but I’m back!

I have now been in Japan just over three weeks, and have on several occasions mentioned how clean I have been finding it.  Listening in on a conversation yesterday between two people with more experience here than I do I think some of the reasons became clear.  One of them described Tokyo as ‘shared space’ – a country that is two small and too populated to allow for much privacy, and so when you are out and about the honourable thing to do is to show everybody the respect of their shared space by keeping it clean.  That is why almost nobody litters, spits, or any other impolite behaviour that we might consider commonplace in the west (and most other parts of Asia)… out of respect for each other.

In ancient Japan – really not that long ago – most walls were made of rice paper.  As such there was no real privacy – it was easy enough for your neighbour to know your business.  I have heard it told that because of that it is commonplace in Japanese culture to always maintain a completely polite exterior, even when your feelings are very impolite.  Maybe that is one of the reasons that there are few PDAs (Public Displays of Affection) in Japan.  It is also likely one of the reasons why everybody at my office seems to like me – whether they do or they do not, it is customary to show outwardly that you do.

DSCN4019 Last Monday I was walking around an area called Osaki when I noticed these tiles in the ground.  It was interesting to see just how far I am from home – if we are 10,350 kilometers from Ottawa, we are not that much closer to Oakville – say, 9,950km to be conservative.  There is no question that I miss it (especially the people), but at the same time I am really enjoying life here.  It would be nice if I was not stuck living in a shoebox hotel (please don’t misunderstand, it is a really nice and clean hotel, but the rooms are extremely small) but other than that, life here is good.  I am seeing a lot of cultural differences both at work and out and about, but that is not a bad thing.  I have never been one to poo-poo cultural diversity.

DSCN4049 My friend and Master Dimitrios Beis spends a lot of time at different industry shows and fairs in and around Toronto – wedding shows, food and drink shows, and the like.  It is part of his business, and he has on several occasions invited Theresa and I to join him there.  When I stumbled upon a similar type of fair in Osaki on Monday I thought of him as I walked around, sampled some of the foods (I had aDSCN4065 wonderful fried chicken dish for lunch, followed by a couple of sesame balls for dessert… scrumptious!) and took some pictures of the people and booths.

There were several ‘cartoon characters’ in costume walking around, and the kids were flocking to meet them.  There was also a booth sponsored by the Tokyo Fire Department, where kids were invited to try on their gear (sized down of course) complete with the helmets.  The kids were having a ball, and the parents were taking pictures of them with their ear-to-ear smiles.

DSCN4044 Just as they would in Canada, some people brought their dogs along.  This was, after all, and outdoor fair, and as long as the dogs are well behaved they are a welcome addition to any setting as far as I am concerned.  This gorgeous girl was very happily sitting in a pram, and seemed content to smile at people who wanted to pay any attention to her, as I certainly did.  Her owner was working one of the booths, but she obviously knew that puppy was well behaved enough to not try to escape.

DSCN4056 When I say there were all sorts of booths, I am serious – there were crafts (both pre-made, and ones for the kids to participate in) ranging from Japanese pottery to drawing to flower arrangements). There were dancers, there were plants – this tree pictured is actually less than a foot tall, and an amazing sight to see.  It struck me as very… Japanese.  I could imagine Mr. Miyagi having trees like this if he had fruit trees.

All in all everyone seemed to be having a good time, which I suppose is the entire point both of a fair and of a holiday Monday.  The kids were laughing, smiling, dancing, playing, and eating.  The parents did not need to chase after them – the perception I have is that they are much safer in general in Japan than they might be in Canada, with no threat of kidnapping.  The vendors were sharing their wares – as soon as they realized I spoke no Japanese the majority of them knew there was no sale to be made, and yet they convinced me to try different teas, finger foods, and breads.  I did buy my lunch of fried chicken and sesame balls (the two dishes, from two separate vendors, cost a staggering 600 yen, or about $6).

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This was only one bit of my walking for the last week, but it was a very memorable part.  I have seen so many wonderful places and people that it would be impossible to tell you about all of them… but trust me, if you have never been to Japan you should definitely get down here!

My Japanese Diet

With two notable and disappointing exceptions, I have eaten only Japanese food since I arrived in Tokyo.  I have tried the Chinese restaurant one more time – it may taste good, but the food has not agreed with me so I will not be trying it again.  Other than that, really I have stuck to local cuisine.

I started trying to lose weight – that is to say, truly changing my eating habits – about a month before I left Canada.  One of the things I had been doing is logging everything that I ate.  I used a tool called My Fitness Tracker (www.myfitnesstracker.com).  It helped me to not only track but also be aware of what I was eating, including fat, sugar, protein, and carbohydrates.  It allowed me to enter everything into my Smart Phone, and even had a barcode scanner so that I could just scan the code of what I was eating and be done with it.  If you spent any time with me at all in September you probably saw me use it.

DSCN3962It is a lot easier to keep track of what you eat in North America for several reasons.  In Japan I can’t figure out the food labels, and anyways I am hardly eating any pre-packaged foods.  However my typical breakfast looks a lot like this picture, and for good reason… that is a picture I took of my breakfast this morning.

My hotel includes a buffet breakfast which in the past would have meant my gorging myself, but I am trying to change my habits so that is out.  Yes, those are corn flakes in the top left corner, but add to that a bowl of miso soup, a couple of pieces of grilled fish (I am not quite sure what it was today… maybe mackerel), some Japanese omelet (tamago), and some grapefruit slices.  You may have noticed the glass of water in place of either tea or coffee… I have not had a cup of coffee in nearly six weeks, and I am really trying to minimize my tea/caffeine intake.  I am, however, trying to maximize my water intake, and this is a great opportunity to do so!

Incidentally there is a decent salad available with breakfast; some days I partake, others I do not.  Today I was running late so I skipped the salad course.

Lunch is served every day in the cafeteria at Rakuten.  There are several choices, and I usually opt for something rather healthy… although truth be told I am not always certain of what I am eating.  I am not eating a lot of beef, although Tuesday I opted for the beef dish because the others did not seem as appetizing.  It was good, and as with every meal at Rakuten it was accompanied by a bowl of soup, two side dishes (salads of some sort), and a dessert – yesterday it was a black bean and sesame pudding that was outstanding.

DSCN3875There is a restaurant down the way – maybe five hundred metres from the hotel – that I found out recently is called Sakura.  I have eaten most of my dinners there.  It is quite good and reasonably priced.  For the fist few nights my fare was the same: an order of sashimi, a plate of edamame, and a bowl of miso soup (see a pattern forming with the soup?  I thought so…) but I have started to change that up a little now that I am a little more comfortable.  While I had given up white rice entirely in Canada I have come to realize that it is a futile battle in Japan, and so I have caved.  Some evenings I will opt for the sushi (nigiri) instead of the sashimi.  As well I have tried the fried chicken (it is wonderful, and does not seem as greasy as in North America, the seafood pizza, and a few other dishes.  I had dinner with a colleague last week and he ordered for us… including deep fried chicken cartilage, and a plate of squid jerky (I am not making that up).  Oh, and the deep-fried octopus was also wonderful.

If it seems odd or boring that I am going to the same restaurant every evening let me assure you that a) I am not bored, b) I am not on vacation, and c) it really is wonderful food.  The most expensive meal I have eaten there was under $20 per person (remember I am not drinking alcohol).  It is very convenient though, as it is just a quick walk from the hotel.  It is also a few doors down to the gym where I have started training – more on that later.

On the weekends I am venturing further out.  Last weekend I had lunch at a restaurant in Asakusa which served a soup dish which wasn’t bad but wasn’t my favorite.  This week-end I will probably end up downtown for at least one evening, and will experiment somewhere new.  As for weekdays, I am more concerned with getting my work done, working out on the nights that I do, and walking on the nights that I do not.  I am also trying to get to bed at a reasonable hour which means getting onto a train and exploring Tokyo may not be a great idea.  On the weekends though… Oh, I will explore!

An interesting note about lunch at the cafeteria: it is free, but they are very observant about what you take – there are signs at every station telling you how much of which you are allowed, down to the number of cherry tomatoes you can take for your salad.  I suppose it makes sense – the company is paying for lunch for over ten thousand employees, and letting people go free could cause cost overruns… and when they saw me coming they must have freaked 🙂

Incidentally, if you are wondering how well it is working, I am probably down 5lbs since I got here.  I didn’t mention all of the fruit I am eating, but that is part of the diet too (and counted.. when I figure out how to input the rest of my food).  Tonight I’m heading to the gym again, followed by Sakura (which by the way means Cherry Blossom).  See you tomorrow!

Back to Japan!

I got a nasty email today from a friend who is angry that I have been writing about PowerShell.  Actually to be completely accurate he doesn’t care that I blog about PowerShell, he is just upset that it has been several days (a week?) since I last wrote about my travels in Japan.  I am sorry about that, and I will try to keep the balance for both audiences 🙂

It has been an interesting week; firstly I was thrilled that on Thursday afternoon I was finally able to charge my FitBit, meaning I was able to start tracking my steps, et cetera. That may not seem relevant to you, but on a weekend when I can either go walk around and be a tourist, or I can stay in my hotel and watch movies, when there is incentive to get that 20,000 step day can be the difference (and it was on Saturday).

I am staying in an area of Tokyo called Shinagawa Seaside.  It is a very nice area – not downtown, but there are still a lot of businesses around here – the office towers of Rakuten where I am working are both within a block of the hotel, and Microsoft Japan is a ten minute taxi ride away.  I am getting to know the area very well, because even when I am not out and about exploring Tokyo, I am walking around Shinagawa every day or evening.

DSCN3910I found out the other day that Shinagawa is built on reclaimed land, which means that by all rights there should be plankton here and not offices.  Nevertheless here we are.  However there are several signs within a few blocks that point out our elevation – I have seen them ranging from 1.8m above sea level (right outside my hotel) to 2.8m above sea level (about three km by foot from the hotel).  In a land recently hit by typhoons, tsunamis, monsoons, and earthquakes this is a bit unsettling to be sure, but I assume that if nobody else is particularly frightened by it then I can live with it too.  The 2.1m picture to the right of this paragraph is just outside the office tower where I am working.

DSCN3916 I think I mentioned in a recent post that the Rakuten Eagles, the baseball team owned by the company where I am working, won their first pennant ever last week.  The lobby of Rakuten Tower 1 has been completely filled with flowers since, and one day last week there was a celebratory meal in the cafeteria – complete with a very nicely decorated cake.  I am glad that I was able to take a picture before everyone dug in, because I ended up getting the last piece of the last cake that the had.  I should have asked how many cakes they actually baked so that all 12,000 employees could have a piece.  I will tell you this… victory tastes good!

DSCN3917 Saturday I opened my tourist book and decided to take the train to Akasuka, an area that is not only bustling with commercial activity (spoiler alert: the entire city is like that) but also has some amazing sights to see.  The Sensoji Temple is said to have been built in 628.  It was a rainy day, but it didn’t matter… I had an umbrella, and I walked the five minutes from Akasuka Station to the holy site.

It’s funny, but when you are in a strange land where you can’t understand a word that anyone is saying it is even easier to pick up familiar tones.  Just outside of the train station I did a double-take when I heard an older couple (Reuven and Eilat) speaking Hebrew.  I introduced myself and they invited me to join them.  We walked through the throngs of people carrying umbrellas toward the temple.

DSCN3926  While it was great to be able to speak to people in a familiar language for a while, their idea of interesting and mine did not seem to connect.  They wanted to see the temple, but as soon as they saw it they wanted to leave and head to the next subway station to see something else.  I understand, because they are in country for a few days and want to see as much as they can.  I, on the other hand, will be spending a lot of time here over the next few months, and I wanted to look around the grounds, which it turns out are amazing.  There is a Five Story Pagoda, and the gardens are magnificent.  I am glad that I came back and strolled around after splitting with the Israelis… there was just too much to see to only spend five minutes in the temple and then turn around and go home.  Below is a picture of the ancient bridge, with signs asking people not to feed the carp (which are huge).

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I finally stopped for lunch, but that mission was a failure.  As I was alone I was told to sit at the counter with my back to the room… not my favorite position my wife will attest.  Before I could even order I was actually hit (hard!) on my back… although not with any malicious intent.  An older gentleman did not realize there was a step, and he swung his arm trying to break his fall.  Look, I know he didn’t mean anything by it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it hurt!  I decided that it was a bad omen and removed myself from that restaurant.  I ended up eating a bowl of fish and chicken soup with noodles with a side order of gyozo (dumplings).  The soup wasn’t great… the dumplings were good.  What was spectacular though was the dessert that I had at a market stand a few blocks away… If you have ever had the sesame balls in a Chinese restaurant, imagine those, but not fried, and wonderfully prepared… for about the equivalent of $.80 it was like a taste of heaven… and I am glad that I had the willpower to stop at one!

There is so much more to tell, but I will save it for another day – tomorrow, don’t worry!  Thanks for reading!

Memory Triggers

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The forecast in Tokyo called for light rain this morning, and as I looked out the window the weatherman got it right.  No problem, I noticed that the convenience store downstairs from the hotel sells umbrellas, so I would stop there before waking to work.  For about $10 I got a collapsible umbrella.

Have you ever done something completely inconsequential that triggers a powerful memory in you?  It can be something completely silly, but all of a sudden…

I was telling someone the other day that I used to be a very boorish, brash individual (some of you may remember those days).  I was confrontational and always needed to be right, and even when I wasn’t right I was usually the loudest voice.  However I have made a conscious concerted effort to change those ways, and am (I think) a lot more respected now, both as an IT Professional and as a person.

Some fifteen years ago I was visiting with my Zaide (grandfather).  It was raining, and he loaned me his umbrella.  It was a nice collapsible model with a leather handle.  Back then I tended to wield any item I held as a weapon; I was not gentle to say the least.  He knew this, and asked me to take special care with the umbrella, and to return it to him when I could.

Of course, I broke it.  I regretted it, and tried to find a replacement that was identical to the one I broke.  I was unsuccessful in my attempts, and decided to just hide it and plead ignorance.  Zaide never said a word about it… but knowing the man he was, I suspect he knew.

Victorinox Going back much further I remember going through his drawers as a child (I was probably eleven or twelve) and finding his Swiss Army knife.  I pilfered it, always planning to return it.  I took it to the wooded area not far from where we lived at the time and tried to use it to cut… something, I don’t remember what.  I do remember being horrified when I chipped the blade.  I put it away, and brought it back to put it back into the drawer where I found it.  Again, Zaide never said a word… it was just another way that I disappointed that great man over the course of the years.

I wish I would have been honest with him, both about the umbrella and the knife.  I wish I could say to him ‘Zaide, I am sorry; I was not careful with your umbrella, and I broke it.  I took your Swiss Army knife without telling you, and it broke so I returned it.  I was going to return it anyways, but I am sorry both for taking it without permission, and for breaking it.’  Zaide would have been terribly disappointed in me, and would have given me a stern lecture on respecting other peoples’ property.  Of course, he would have been right.

In truth, If I were the man then that I am today, I would likely not have broken his umbrella, and I would not have taken his Swiss Army knife without permission… so I would not have had to apologize.  I expect my Zaide would have been proud of the man I have become; I only wish he were alive to see it.

After his passing a little more than a decade ago we were cleaning out his apartment and I found the old Swiss Army knife.  I  opened it up to look for the chip.  Zaide had fixed it by grinding it down.  The blade was that much smaller than it had been, but extremely sharp and perfectly functional.  Leave it to my grandfather to fix a problem that to the twelve year old me seemed unsolvable.  I still have that Swiss Army knife.  I don’t use it or carry it around… I don’t carry my own newer Swiss knife either.  However you can be sure that I know exactly where my Zaide’s knife is, and treat it with respect.

I think when I am home next I will pull it out, clean it, and oil it.  Just for Zaide.

MCT Regional Lead

It was a great honour to be selected as the MCT Regional Lead for Canada for the inaugural year of that program (See article).  I like to say that the MCT Regional Lead program spent the first year figuring out what it was going to be.  I was thrilled to be a part of that.

MCT(rgb)The year was a tumultuous one for MCTs… the retirement of the TechNet Subscription program (article), the retirement of the Microsoft Certified Masters (MCM) program, and all along people learning the ropes of the new certifications (article 1, article 2).  It was a thrilling ride, and I am glad that I was able to answer so many questions.

As the term came to a close, I was asked to stay on for the next year but I declined.  I did not decline to shirk the community, but rather because I have accepted a long term contract overseas, and am now spending most of my time in Tokyo, Japan.

As such I am happy to announce that Microsoft Learning Experiences (MS LEX) has opted this year to have five MCT Regional Leads for Canada.  Myungjin Jeong, Steve Jones, Benjamin Niaulin, Marcos Nogueira, and Paul Twigg will be the RLs this year.  For Benjamin and Paul it will be their second year; for Marcos as well, although only in Canada – he was the RL for Portugal last year.  I want to welcome Myungjin and Steve to the team – know the five of you will all do a great job.

I want to thank you all for your support over the past year, and look forward to working with you again sometime soon.

I also want to thank Veronica Sopher and Melissa Bathum for the year, and wish Karen Juhl all the best in the new hot seat 🙂

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Maid Cafes and Gaming…

maid-cafe-22814399As you know from my last article I spent several hours on Sunday in the Akihabara section of Tokyo.  There seems to be an abundance of what are called ‘Maid Cafes’ here.  While I did not go into any of them, I was confronted by several of these maids on the street handing out fliers and beckoning patrons into their ‘Best Maid Cafe in Tokyo’. 

From what I can tell these cafes cater to men (and women I suppose) with a maid fetish… and from what I am told they go all out.  The patron is welcomed into the cafe as if he is the master of the house, with WELCOME HOME MASTER! (Okaerinasaimase, goshujinsama).  They may be offered face cloths and a menu, which I am told would be similar to any cafe (except for the prices).

I admit that the picture I have posted here was found on Bing… I asked several of these maids if I could take their picture, but none of them were willing.  I am told that inside the cafes you can take pictures with your maid… for $20 a pop.  Should any of you be that obsessed that you need me to take that picture, I will gladly put your donations toward the cause.  Otherwise I am saving my money for … well, I don’t know what I am saving it for, but not for this.

Tokyo seems to be a city obsessed with fetishes… from these maid cafes to the anime porn I discussed in my previous article.  To each his or her own I say, I am content to just watching the people in the street.

DSCN3909Moving on: The loudest place you are ever likely to find yourself is not a rock concert or a night club; it is a pachinko parlour in Tokyo.  I would love to describe Pachinko to you, but I admit I do not understand it.  It is a gambling device as I understand it, where you pour little metal balls into the top of the machine, and they cascade down through a maze that seems to all lead to them coming out the bottom… but there has to be more to it.  I walked into one parlour in Akihabara that seemed to be themed after the immensely popular AKB48 – a Japanese girl group with eighty-odd members.  They are apparently one of the highest earning musical acts in the world, and they are truly a social phenomenon here.

If I understand correctly, the girls sign a contract that prohibits all sorts of unacceptable behaviour.  With that being said it seems that a number of them have moved on to break that contract, with a number of them finding their calling in the world of pornographic movies… and not the anime variety.  Power to them, those starlet/idols are immediately excommunicated from the group who seem to portray themselves and extremely sexy but purely wholesome.

More tomorrow… stay tuned!

Akihabara

I hadn’t planned to get up particularly early, but I suppose i am still a little jet lagged; I left the room at 8:30, had breakfast downstairs, and headed to the subway.  While I grew up a master of the Metro system in Montreal, I am still not particularly familiar with the Toronto subway system, with the exception of the five or so stops I have taken on a regular basis.  Let’s assume that if I were to stay in Tokyo for a hundred years I would not get to know all of this system…

Tokyo-Metro-Map

So to answer your question, yes I did accidentally get a little lost… but not terribly so, and only on the way back to my hotel.  It wasn’t a big deal though – the line I was on is a loop, and I got on going in the wrong direction.  Once I figured it out I realized it was just as easy to stay put and get off when my stop does come around 🙂

DSCN3907I opted to visit the Akihabara area first because everyone told me to… it is an incredible collection of electronic retailers and more… on a scale that puts New York City’s to shame.  I had no interest in buying anything, but I did want to walk around and see what was on offer.  The simple answer is… everything… and more.

The building pictured (Akiba Zone) is not nearly the only one of its kind, and I am not entirely sure how to describe it.  It seems to be a vertical shopping centre that focuses primarily on anime-type goods, but there is also an army surplus store in it, and a cafe at the top.  The bottom line is that it is a shopping complex that you would think was devoted to kids, except that there are areas of some of the stores that are 18+ only… and for good reason.

I have been here four days and I have yet to figure out if in Japan the porn is anime, or if anime is their pornography.  I think might actually be a little of both.  I will say that there seems to be an unhealthy focus on these characters – they are everywhere – and some of them are not things that children should be exposed to.  However it is not simply animated movies… there are DSCN3879comic books and figurines (shown) on a massive scale that can be overwhelming to the feint of heart.  Heck, it can be overwhelming to anyone!

Why are they disturbing?  The first store I walked into had a hundred displays like the one pictured here.  The figurines have prices that start at about $20… and some of them are in extremely disturbing poses!

I am not entirely sure which scares me most… that people think these up and create them, or that there is a market sufficiently large that there are stores dedicated entirely to this… genre!

DSCN3881Incidentally there was another block (this one only 4 stories tall) that was dedicated to adult entertainment.  There was an interesting twist to it… Each floor was dedicated to a specific theme (for example, Floor 2 was toys for women).  The 3rd floor was for men… and while men were allowed on the 2nd floor, women were forbidden on the third floor!  I thought this was weird… but hey, I am learning.  No, I did not take pictures! 🙂

I turned down an alleyway in the Electric Jungle and came across this scene… a very traditional Japanese dwelling, complete with the garden.  I am not sure if this is a private home or a memorial or something, but it was certainly anachronistic in this setting… and a welcome change 🙂

Speaking of anachronisms, The Yushima Seido is a shrine to Confucius, and  is an amazing structure just a few blocks from the hustle and bustle of Akihabara.  It cost me 200 Yen to get in (about $2) and it was well worth it.  here are a few pictures…

DSCN3887DSCN3893 DSCN3888 DSCN3892 DSCN3894 DSCN3890DSCN3900

…it is amazing to think that all of that beauty is right behind the trees on the other side of this roadway pictured:

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I must have done five miles of walking, so I am glad that I wore my sneakers.  I came back to the hotel to write (I haven’t forgotten my faithful readers!) and to rest up a little… Tonight is another adventure!

Pictures from Day 2…

I have been in Japan since Wednesday evening, and it is now Saturday morning.  For my readers in North America the time shift is simple… this morning in Japan is yesterday evening for you, and this evening in Japan will be this morning for you.  I think…

I have been promising that I would start taking pictures, and I am true to my word.  Here are just a few from yesterday.

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The sashimi was absolutely wonderful, and as the night before much fresher than I had ever had.  However I also love the elegance with which it was served.  I am not entirely sure what fish I was eating, but it was all scrumptious.

 

 

 

 

 

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I have eaten tempura in many Japanese restaurants in North America, and it is always the same… some is better than others, but the concept is almost always identical, as is the batter and the sauce.  This was my first Asian Tempura plate, and I was amazed.  The batter was completely different, and notice that in lieu of sauce they gave me a plate of salt.  It was a new way for me to eat it, and it was delicious.  As with the sashimi, I did not recognize a few of t he pieces… especially the thing with tentacles (which i suspect may be squid).

DSCN3847I do not know if this is the Japanese equivalent of a hot dog stand, but as I walked along the street at 11pm I came across this cart.  The man in the white shirt appeared to be a regular Japanese salaryman who had stepped out for a bowl of fast food noodles on a street corner.  In contrast to so much bling and neon ads, I loved the elegance of this vendor’s cart, with only the lantern advertising what he is selling, and what I assume is a menu posted at the top on a sheet of plain white paper.

 

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In contrast to the next photo, this was quite obviously an eatery… people were enjoying themselves after a hard day at work.  There was food and beer on the tables (which appeared to be beer barrels with a table top).  The beer was not in tiny elegant glasses by the way… these were very generous sized steins.  I do not know what the lanterns and signs say, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they read ‘You want to be where everybody knows your name.’

 

DSCN3851 It is hard for me to identify what a lot of businesses are unless they have the pictures in the window.  It was late and I was exhausted, but I thought the staircase leading to this business stood out; I would have had to step into traffic to photograph it as well as I would have liked, but I hope this is okay.  I assume that it is either a restaurant or a bar, but in truth I do not know.  Maybe the next time I walk by (it is only a few blocks from my hotel) I will venture upstairs and see what wonders await… or will I be disappointed after setting my expectations too high?  We’ll see…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today I am venturing out for lunch at a colleague’s house, which means I am getting onto the subway for the first time since I arrived.  After lunch I will probably hit downtown Tokyo… tomorrow’s pictures will be plentiful I promise!

My (Second) First Full Day…

Today (Friday) was my first full day of work at Rakuten… or at least it was supposed to be.  I went to bed at a reasonable hour in order to be well rested for my morning presentation to many of the stakeholders of my upcoming project.  Things do not always go according to plans, and I was awakened (for good) at 4:00am by a phone call from my wife who needed help.  It seems we have a sick child back home, and she had to cut short her road trip to go back to take care of him.  I do not fault her one bit… she needed help on a time sensitive matter, and the extra two hours of sleep would have cost a great deal.

I think my presentation went well despite my fatigue, and was well received.  I have delivered hundreds of presentations to tens of thousands of IT Pros, but this was the first time I was doing it as the lead architect of a major project for a large organization in a foreign land.  Fortunately I was well prepared, and covered almost all of the bases.

Following the meeting – and a great Q&A session where Mark and I were able to answer a lot of questions and allay a lot of peoples’ fears – I arranged to have lunch with one of the key players.  He is a huge proponent of the project, and of Microsoft technologies, making him a breed apart from many of his colleagues.  Fortunately I was able to convey the message I have always emphasized, that IT shouldn’t be about religion, but rather about the best tools for the job.  He and I had another great lunch in the cafeteria – I am again not quite sure what I ate, but this time I am reasonably sure it was vegetarian, possibly a grilled squash variety.

That is one of the problems I am having here, albeit I do not consider it a difficult one.  You see, I have been on a weight management program for the past month, during which I have religiously recorded in a tool called MyFitnessPal.com everything that I ate so that I could keep track, know what I am eating, and of course know when to stop.  It is simple to do in North America where I know what everything is (or can ask), but here where some things are just foreign to me, and many of the people cannot explain what I am ordering in English, it is a challenge.  With that being said I am reasonably sure that i am eating far fewer calories throughout the course of the day than I did even during the first month of the diet – during which I lost 14lbs – and what I am eating is almost entirely healthy and in smaller portions.  I look forward to stepping onto a scale in six weeks and seeing if I am right or not…

English: View of Shinjuku skyscrapers and Moun...Today is the first sunny day since I arrived, which is to say that it rained the day I got here and the following day.  It is an amazingly bright and clear day, which afforded me a wonderful and unexpected surprise.  As we dined in the cafeteria on the 13th floor (yes, I know) of Rakuten Tower 1, my lunch companion pointed out that we were very clearly able to see Mount Fuji in the distance.  It was truly an amazing sight… one of the world’s most famous mountains, and being able to see where it poked above the clouds was a true delight.  I hope during my stay to make the journey to Fuji, which is apparently a little over two hours from Tokyo by public transportation.

The last meeting I attended today was a division-wide monthly meeting, which had hundreds of people attending.  I was amazed that they invited several team members from across the business unit to present in English about what they are working on and why it is exciting and important.  It was not only impressive because of what I was learning about the company, but I could not imagine a company in Canada deciding one day that the primary language of the company would be Japanese, and three years later having a meeting of hundreds of people entirely in Japanese.

The company where I am working – Rakuten – owns a baseball team.  They did not simply go out and buy a team; several years ago the company formed a team which now plays in the Japanese Pacific League.  It is based in Tohoku Rakuten Golden EaglesSendai, in the Miyagi Prefecture.  I am not entirely sure what that means, but it sounds to me like it is where the team is located.  Anyhow the Eagles won a huge game yesterday – they clinched the team’s first ever Pacific League Pennant… and only two years after their stadium was devastated by the earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

I bring up the baseball team because today was a great day of jubilation at the company – many of the presenters included pictures of the team celebrating, and even of the CEO (Hiroshi Mikitani-san) being lofted high by fans.  In my experience while corporations do own franchises in North American sports, it would be unlikely that the Montreal Canadians would ever be renamed the Bell Canada Canadians… or the Toronto Blue Jays being renamed the Rogers/BCE Blue Jays.  However it seemed today at Rakuten that everyone was an Eagles fan… if only for the day, and only for the corporate spirit and camaraderie of it.  Rest assured I will be bringing my kids shirts or hats with the Eagles logo on it!

So the weekend is here, and I found out at 4:00 that it is actually a long week-end, with Monday a national holiday.  While I have a quasi-work commitment tomorrow (in the guise of a wonderful social lunch at a colleague’s house) I will still be exploring… a lot.  This evening (Friday) I will likely not venture far from my hotel… I will probably try another quaint little restaurant along the way as I did last night.

Aside from my lunch tomorrow I will probably be exploring Tokyo.  As for Sunday, I am quite tempted to venture outside of the city… maybe my trip to Fuji, possibly a bullet train to… I don’t know where.  There is so much to see and do that I am not quite sure where to start, and I think my best bet is to broach the subject over lunch tomorrow.  So stay tuned, but I promise you this… I am charging my camera batteries this evening, and starting tomorrow the pictures on the blog will be my own!

Thanks for reading… and keep your comments coming! -MDG