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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!

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