Saturday, January 29, 2005

Fun...for kids of all ages

I dont't care what people say, it dosen't matter how old you are Disneyland is always fun.

As you may have guessed from the photos that is where Etsuko and I went yesterday. Luckily Etsuko chose to take me to Disneyland with the tickets she got as a Christmas present.

Tokyo Disney is about 20 minutes by train from my apartment. We hit the doors at opening time and inserted our ticket into the slot which then spat out a ‘Passport’. I think they call it a ‘Passport’ because like with a real Passport without it you are stuffed. I managed to keep a tight reign on it and only lose it a couple of times.

Now for those people who have been to Disneyland in Los Angeles you have basically been to Tokyo Disney. The layout is the same and there is no variation in the fixtures and buildings. There were only a couple of minor changes from the Disney that I knew in LA. The first was the temperature, as I recall it I was rather hot in LA Disneyland, but even in my woolly hat and jersey I was still rather cold. There were also a couple of new rides, which I would presume have also been included now in the LA park. Another was the signs being in both English and in Japanese. Also the food options are quite different and the helpings are smaller – not the prices though although compared to the rest of Tokyo actually quite similar. The biggest difference was the people probably 97% Japanese and a huge number of them came dressed in Mickey attire, not just the children either. It would appear that there is a large number of return business there, a number of people had year long passes which allow them entry every day if they want it!

The first stage of the day was watching a Parade called ‘Disney Princess Procession’ where, according to the Disney website “Minnie Mouse is transformed into a charming princess and throws a gorgeous garden party for the Disney princesses and Guests. The event's entertainment program features a colorful, flower-filled greeting by the Disney princesses and their retinues. The procession also makes three stops at points along the parade route and invites female guests to learn an elegant dance with their favorite Disney princesses.” A couple of points of information from this…firstly ‘retinue’ is “a body of people who travel with and attend an important person” and secondly even though I really wanted a dance with my favourite Disney Princess they are strict on the female aspect of the requirement, it didn’t matter that I was wearing a skirt.

After the show the little paper stars which are used in the parade were eagerly picked up by people after a cheap souvenir. Mine is pink.

We then managed to hit a few of the rides, a couple were closed and unfortunately I wasn’t able to go on the ‘Small World’ ride. Endless repetition of ‘It’s a small world after all….’ Was pretty bad in LA and bugger doing it in Tokyo when the song is in Japanese!! Unfortunately the Big Thunder Railroad was also closed, and Peter Pans flight. I imagine that due to the low crowd numbers (low in Disney terms, it felt like half of Tokyo was there) they decided to cut a few of the less popular or labour intensive rides out.

I managed to do a couple of things that I didn’t do in LA including the Mark Twain Steamboat and ‘Pooh’s Hunny Hunt’, actually I don’t think the Hunny Hunt was around in LA. The Hunny Hunt ride was rather fascinating as the ‘carts’ that you ride in aren’t on rails and they move freely in a preprogrammed choreographed flight with the other carts on the ride. A real marvel of technology. Also the new Buzz Light Year, Astro Blaster ride was very popular in terms of people queuing but mainly it was rather disappointing as it was one of those rides that you sit in and have to shoot the aliens. Incidentally I beat Etsuko in this feat by about 10000 points. I guess I know who they will ask to become a space ranger should the need ever arise!!

Of course we had to pay our respect to Mr. Mouse or Mickey as he is known.

We then watched Disney-Dreams on Parade, which is basically all the Disney characters together in a parade. It was pretty cool to see all the characters that I have grown up with and some new ones too.

We were lucky enough to win seats, via a free lottery, to Cinderella’s coronation presented in a mix of Japanese and English with all the important Disney couples represented, including Beauty and the Beast, the cartoon version not Zeta-Jones and Douglas. The setting of the show was in front of the Castle which was lit up beautifully, unfortunately the cold weather made the show slightly less engaging.

Then it was off to the gift shop along with about 20 000 other Tokyoites. Disney is amazing – especially at emptying your wallet!

Mickey took a break from his hectic filming schedule to chat with us

Goofy.....and one of the Disney Characters

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

My Plans

Greetings all!

Thanks for reading this blog, sorry I have probably gotten a bit carried away of late with the information on here but the good news is you dont have to read it!

I will be returning to NZ for a 2 week. YES 2 WEEK!!! Break (Not one as originally planned)

I arrive in Tauranga 17 February. I plan to head to Hamilton and Te Awamutu 18 February. I will have some kind of birthday celebration in Tauranga on 19 February probably a BBQ at my parents place (if they will let me (more details to follow)).

The now engaged (in a matrimonial sense) Dave and Pip are coming up from Christchuch.

So if your busy social schedules will allow it I'd love to see you in Tauranga on Saturday 19 February - don't worry if you can't make it I will be doing the rounds so we will be able to catch up at some point. (Birthday presnets can be forwarded to my parents house as usual)

The rest of my time will be spent warming up before retunring to the chiily Japanese spring. If you have any suggestions of exciting things that are on in those two weeks let me know.

I return to Nihon on 1 March.

Reflections....of the way life used to be

I made a few discoveries after being in The ROK. Compared to Japan it is a rougher and more gritty place. On the downside there is a major homeless and begging problem. At the time of writing this there was a riot at one of the subway stations in Seoul following the death of two homeless people in the subway under circumstances that led other homeless to believe that the men were killed following a beating by the subway station attendants.

While I was subject to some marvelous hospitality (including the great kindness of Mr Kang at the statue I was surprised at the rudeness of the majority of the Korean people. Using the word ‘rude’ is problematic as cultural differences can cause people to feel that others are being rude e.g. eating on the street in Japan is rude to the Japanese, however, compared to New Zealanders and especially Japanese the Koreans show much more disrespect to the people around them. For example they do not wait for people to alight from the train before pushing on. When we checked into the Itaewon Hotel the receptionist acted as though he would have rather spat on us than welcomed us to the Hotel (possibly be believed I was American who aren’t the flavor of the month after prolonged problems relating to US military discipline in killing children while drink driving and stabbing taxi drivers etc.) Also the taxi driver who didn’t go out of his way to offer us the ‘Free Translation’ service he was advertising. These things served to provide a real cultural insight into the Korean culture and my own, as to what I understand as normal and respectful to fellow humans and how these situational norms differ with culture.

Of course with every downside there is an upside. The Korean people are much more outgoing and willing to stand up and make themselves known. Possibly a biased example but the pub culture in Korea is similar to New Zealand, that of inclusion and an opportunity to meet new people, whereas in Japan it is an exclusive system where you don’t bother anyone and they won’t bother you. We also had more people approaching us when we looked lost (unfortunately no Taxi drivers).

For the first time in a very long time I felt uneasy while walking around the city. At one point we had ventured a little past the usual tourist route while finding some cheap markets and I felt that I was in some third world country. On one side of the road were cheap nasty street vendors selling, sex toys, ‘2nd Hand’ goods (off the back of a truck you could say) and pornography and on the other side of the street were large ugly ‘abandoned’ apartment building which had been burnt out, possibly by the unofficial tenants trying to keep warm during the winter. This type of thing is totally unheard of in Tokyo and came as a surprise to me especially in that Tokyo and Seoul have so much in common. (Kev - send me an email I’ll send you a map to find those cheap sex toys)

All in all the trip was totally fascinating both from a living history point of view and cultural interest. Although avoid the Itaewon Hotel!

Markets on the left and burnt out apartment buildings on the right.

...and sho-ju all of us...

Getting to Suwon from Seoul was rather easy. Only about 1 hour on the subway, cheap too. It cost about $2.00 NZ. In Tokyo the same distance would probably cost around $9.00. I managed to meet Kev at a bar called Beer and Joy. Not a bad place and their sausage creation was rather interesting.

We then spent the rest of the night visiting various establishments which coincidentally sold cold beverages including Sho-Ju (Spelling?) which is a kind of blended alcohol which apparently induces all the effects of drunkenness upon the drinker.

One of the more interesting establishments I went to was a place that Kev calls The Rock (because of the pebbles which serve as the ‘carpet’) this was a large tent with small tables cropped around kerosene heaters. The beverages were cheap as was the food. We were soon met by one of Kev’s Korean friends affectionately named ‘Yellow Kevin’ (no relation). While at the Rock the only other couple in the place at the time ordered a couple of drinks and some food, finished it quickly and then did a runner. Rather strange!

After about two hours sleep it was time to get up and catch the bus to the airport. After a further 40 minutes sleep it was time to get-up, panic and rush to catch the bus to the airport. In getting to the airport I had to catch a taxi and ask for ‘Hotel Cassel’ which is American for ‘Hotel Castle’. The only pronunciation understood in Korea is American…which much to my dismay Kev has picked up, more pronounced after a few beers strangely??

Rocking at The Rock

War Museum - Day 3

Another of the highlights of my trip was my visit to the War Memorial Museum. It took a little bit or organizing getting there as I had to make a visit to Seoul subway station to store my bag in the coin operated lockers. Of course upon arriving at the museum there were spacious lockers for use for free. Murphy’s law you could say.

The War Memorial is a truly awe inspiring place. It must have been built at one heck of a cost to the ROK. From the government website here is a bit about the place….

The construction of the War Memorial of Korea was completed in December 1993. Upon the completion of the interior the War Memorial of Korea opened officially on June 10, 1994, and became the largest landmark of its kind in the world. Located on the old site of Army Headquarters, the War Memorial of Korea accommodates four aboveground floors and two underground floors in the main building, which stands on an area of about 20,000 square meters. 13,000 items are displayed in its six halls under different themes: Memorial Hall, War History, Korean War, Expeditionary Forces Room, ROK Armed Forces Room, and Large Equipment Room, plus the outside exhibition area. It displays various weapons and equipment from prehistoric times to the modern period. About 100 large weapons are displayed in the outside exhibition area.

In the center of the plaza stands the Statue of Two Brothers, the elder a South Korean soldier and the younger a North Korean soldier, which symbolizes the tragic situation of Korea's ideological division.

It was this statue that I began my perusal of the museum. I am not a person that succumbs to emotion readily but upon seeing the statue it showed in a real way the emotion of a ‘fratricidal’ war and sent a few tingles down my body. I sure hope the sculpture(s) were praised for their work. It was amazing. While I was trying (in vain) to take a self timer picture of myself in front of the statue, a kind Korean man approached me and offered to take a picture. He then asked me if I knew the story behind the picture and I mumbled that I had heard that it was about two brothers that met on the battlefield.

It turns out that the man was Chang-kook Kang the Curator of the Korean War section of the museum and he then gave me a fascinating mini-lecture of the statue and the story behind it. He quoted the regiments the two soldiers were in and the exact place where the reunion took place. Due to the foreignness of the place I cant recall the name but nonetheless it was quite surreal to be given a lecture by probably the most qualified authority on the subject. When he found out that I was from NZ he told me that he hopes to go to Christchurch this June. It turned out that the reason that he was standing by the statute is he was waiting for a colleague to arrive. When his colleague arrived he took a picture of us in front of the statue.

The Nations that took part in the Korean war on the ROK’s side are given a special tribute by way of having their flag displayed at the entrance and having their own display within the museum (yep that’s the NZ flag). ((By the way I am in support of the NZ flag being changed. While I respect the flag that NZ has had it is time to move on and continue to assert our independence from the UK))

Inside the museum I was amazed at the scope of the exhibits, I assumed that it would only cover the Korean War in detail but it begins with prehistoric information and covers right up to the Korean Army/Navy and Marines today. Due to my time constraints I skipped the majority of the historical information and looked mainly at the information beginning circa 1945.

The place was truly fascinating and I would certainly not hesitate to go back for much longer (I spent about 2.5 hours and barely scratched the surface of the exhibits). While the Museum has a reasonably respectful attitude to War in a couple of places it glorifies it slightly. It would be very interesting to see what will become of the exhibits if reunification was to ever take place with the North. I noted that the ‘fixed’ things e.g. statues and monuments are completely neutral and honour the bravery and sacrifices of ‘The Korean People’ the moveable exhibits are somewhat more pro The ROK. I don’t know if this is deliberate or not.

After suffering from information overload I headed off to Suwon for the final chapter of my Korean journey.

The New Zealand exhibit in the War Museum, showing our uniform and a model of the Korean War memorial in NZ and one of the shells used by the NZ Arttillery batallion in the War. There is also a copy of the presedential citiation awarded to the NZ forces follwing 'a strategic withdrawal followed by joing other forces to conqure the enemy in a battle'.

The Roll of Honour from the Korean War, listed by American state and Country for other partcipating countries.The table (centre) holds the paper based version.

The lower clock on this memorial represents the time and date the Korean war started, separating millions of Korea families. The clocks are on a collection of broken weapons.

Chang-kook Kang and me at the 2 Brothers Statue

War museum foreground - Seoul Tower background. (NZ's flag is in there somewhere)

Monday, January 24, 2005


Abbreviations, our life is full of them. TAB, VCR, DVD, KFC, USA, GWB etc. but on Tuesday 18 January I saw a place where abbreviations run rife that is the DMZ.

The DMZ is an area between North and South Korea. It is an area which both and neither country really control. Most of the territory is separated by two fences about 2 near the MDL or Military Demarkation Line or ‘border’ if you like.

There is a very strange part of the DMZ called the JSA or Joint Security Area. This is a place where both armies (well technically the UN are on the southern side but in reality it is mainly the USA and South Korean Army) face off 24 hours a day. There are a number of meeting rooms between the two sides that actually straddles the MDL, possibly the most hostile ‘neutral’ meeting room in the planet (provided you don’t include the FGC room at DCYFS).

Meetings are held in the JSA between the two sides especially in respect of the cease-fire agreement which serves as the peace agreement between the two sides (technically they are still at war) and also Red Cross meetings.

Our tour (a USO tour open to civilians) there began at Camp Casey at 0715 which in civilian time is…very early! The temp was around zero. We got a on the bus and headed off to the DMZ with out Korea Tour Guide speaking in passable English. Oddly his name was Joseph. I was worried when some of his commentary went like this “I will tell you a bit about Seoul…Seoul is an interesting city with a long history….ok now I need to take your lunch order”. How inciteful, A city with a long history, imagine that. Even though we got more detail in the lunch menu than we really needed the rest of his commentary wasn’t too bad. He had oviously done the trip a few times.

At about 0830 we reached ‘reunification’ bridge where we were required to show our passport to an American solider touting an M16. Etsuko gave me a look to say ‘what have you gotten me into?!’ The bridge is very close to the DMZ area. A ban on photography came into effect in case we were to share the Amercian bunker positions with the communists.

We then arrived at Camp Bonifas, named after an officer killed at Camp Bonifas when it was called Camp Kitty-Hawk. We had to sign a piece of paper which said we consented to going into an area which could result in our capture or death ‘due to enemy action’. At this point I gave Etsuko a ‘what have I gotten us into’ look. We were giving a briefing and slide show by Corporal Fassel, who rattled off a 7 minute speech in 4 minutes (totally verbatim from his traning). There was to be no pointing or gesturing or talking to any of the North Korean soldiers, or to do anything which they could use as propaganda. I thought it prudent to put my pants on at this stage.

Off we went to the JSA. On the way we saw the worlds most dangerous golf course. I always thought it was the Te Teko course but this is a golf course surrounded on 3 sides by live mine fields.

The JSA was quite surreal. It is a very picturesque area from the southern side with lovely gardens and very impressive buildings. One of these building s was built to hold meetings between families separated by the Korean War however we were told this has never happened because the ‘North hasn’t allowed it’.

We then went on to the famous area where the UN meeting rooms are and the soldiers face off at each other and stand so they are half behind the building to ‘present less of a target in case of enemy fire’. At this point we could see a NK solider watching us from the Northern side.

You will see the photos have the soldiers standing in a rather strange stance. This is supposedly a Taekwondo ready stance. The US soldiers call it the ‘ROK Ready’ stance (Republic of Korea). This along with the Ray Ban sunglasses is supposed to intimidate the enemy.

We then went into the UN meeting room. We were able to pose with a ROK solider who was symbolically protecting the UN flag (which gets removed when we leave the room in any event). Strangely they posted a guard on the door which leads to the North Korean side in case we decided to defect. By walking from one end of the room to the other we were actually crossing from the Northern to Southern side of the MDL. Everyone spoke in whispers in this room.

A each point on the JSA we were being observed by NK soldiers and I probably had my photo taken a few times.

We then saw some of the places that the Corporal had mentioned in his briefing, including the monument to the fallen soldiers in the JSA including Capt. Bonifas one of the victims of the infamous Axe murder. This occurred in 1968 when a tree that was blocking the view between two observation posts was to be trimmed by the Americans. they were confronted and attacked by the NK’s and two American soldiers were killed. 72 Hours later the US went to DEFCON 2, pre-war state and undertook the most highly organized and largest tree-felling operation in history. There was a carrier and bombers on stand-by and the entire US and ROK forces at Camp Kitty-Hawk involved + extras. – The tree didn’t stand a chance.

We then went on to the ‘3rd Tunnel’. This is one of the four tunnels discovered by the South coming from the North. Prior to going into the tunnel we watched a movie which said how great it will be when the two nations are reunited. Full of happiness and joy. – In the tunnel (where we weren’t allowed to take pictures there was a sign which read –You can see that the walls have been painted black in an attempt by the North to claim that this was an abandoned mine shaft, once again showing the double sidedness of the North.) It seemed stage that they were talking peace in the movie and in the tunnel it was still strongly worded propaganda.

We then went to the Dorasan observatory which is a very big military post on a large hill which NK can be seen easily. We could look though binoculars but were not allowed to take pictures, except behind a yellow photo line….from which you could see nothing)
Then it was on to Dorasan station which will eventually link NK with South. It was very strange seeing a sign for the train to Pyongyang (capital of NK).

Corporal Fassel - The blue buildings are on the MDL and the large grey building is in North Korea - with a NK soldier standing on the steps.

Behind door number 1.....oh dear a trip to North Korea...for ever!!

At the 3rd Tunnel these people are trying to heal a broken Korea...well it Etsuko would stop getting in their way!. The metal over it represents the train track which will link South Korea with the North and Europe

Dorasan Observatory - you might not be able to see it...its camouflaged.

I'll take the last train to Pyongyang and I'll meet you at the jail

Terror - Taxis - Towers

More on day 1…After checking in at the hotel we had some good old Mexican food and then headed off to the quite impressive Seoul Tower.

You would think that finding your way to a Tower that can be seen anywhere in the city would be easy…and it was, but the cable car to the Tower is another matter. I adopted a fairly gung-ho attitude and as long as we are heading toward it we would make it. Etsuko had slightly less faith in this approach especially when we ended up in a dark alley where even the shadows were afraid to come out. We decided to take a cab. Unfortunately the cab driver wasn’t interested in taking us anywhere despite his cab company offering a Free Translation service by telephone. This was unfortunately another instance of the Korean people not being terribly helpful to us.

Although in a rather redeeming manner a bystander that realized that we were lost told us that we were only 200m away from out target. Bother Etsuko and I took away a small victory here.

After a short ride up the cable car we are at Seoul Tower, which is 333m tall from its base. Inside there was a thing called the ‘333m Club’ that you could join for a fee. I am not sure of the nature of this club or its link to the (in)famous mile high club?

The view from here was pretty spectacular, although the ‘fog’ (smog more likely) limited the view a bit.

Now thats a mighty erection


SOLEMNITY and Strategy

On day 1 of the Korean experience we went into Seoul and picked up a ‘buddy’. Her name was Rosemary or Rosemarie or some kinda floral related name. She was going home to Aussie after a 9 month stint in the UK via Seoul and she needed to kill about 8 hours or so so she decided that she would tag along with Etsuko and I.

I almost picked up another ‘’buddy’’ at Seoul station who politely asked me for money, when I refused he became rather insistent that I give him money and then grabbed a hold of me as I walked for about 10m. A gentle shove and he was on his way, but it was rather disappointing that my first impression of Seoul was being assaulted by a beggar.

After organising the DMZ tour and have some lunch (below) we headed off to a place called Jongmyo. This place is quite important in a historical sense. It is actually a World Heritage site which is kinda impressive. Apparently …it is the oldest and most authentic of the Confucian royal shrines to have been preserved. It was dedicated to the forefathers of the Choson dynasty (1392–1910), the shrine has existed in its present form since the 16th century and houses tablets bearing the teachings of members of the former royal family. Ritual ceremonies linking music, song and dance still take place there, perpetuating a tradition that goes back to the 14th century.

Actually it is just a place for oldies to hang out. They get in free and provides a place for then to stand around talking. There were large signs everywhere declaring in Korean and English ‘SOLEMNITY’. So I put my pants on for the rest of the tour there.

Outside the shrine there is a public area that more people congregate and have arguments over traffic disputes. Also people play a game called ‘Go’. The Chinese name for this roughly translates to the "Board Game of Surrounding (One's Opponent)", or, less literally, the "Enclosing Game". It was apparently very popular as many games of this were being played with many more hangers on having a good geeze.

GO you good thing GO!

ah the Solemnity

The Mess Tent

The Japanese seem to have a preoccupation with food. As soon as I mention Korea the subject of food is immeadiately raised. Therefore I will deal with Korea cusine here.

The food was really good!

I managed to have the dishes that are pretty well known (in Japan anyway) for example Bulgogi, bahbinbap, Korean sausages and nachos. (ok the nachos aren’t really Korean, they’re authentic American).

As you can see in the picture within 12 hours of being in Korea we stumbled upon a restruarant where they cook the food on the table right before your eyes. It was pretty good stuff and the price wasn’t too bad either about $10 NZD per head or so.

And yes the kimchi did flow freely! However I still reckon the ‘No. 5 extra hot’ from the Korean café in Hamilton is the best meal money can buy (because you cant buy mum and grandmas cooking….well give me $20 and I’ll see what I can do).

Them some spicy meatballs

Sunday, January 23, 2005

What a work of art...nice tower too.


Just a quickie. I survived Korea despite the cold, the rude Koreans, myself and copius amounts of Shoju.

Went to Tokyo Tower tonight...two capitals Towers in one!

More on Korea shortly.

The City at Night

Monday, January 17, 2005

Grenfell of the 4077th reporting in

Well the plane didn't crash and no terrorist actions caused any problems. I am now in Korea. Which so far has been the second hottest place I have ever been to (under floor heating that is).

Have spent the night at the backpackers on Incheon Island and are just killing 30 minutes before the shuttle bus takes us back to the airport for a connecting bus in to Seoul. The ever resourceful Etsuko has already spent 36 hours in Seoul and has already sussed out the good shopping spots! I imagine I will be relieved of my cash in record time.

Today`s plan is to get into Seoul and basically explore the city. There is a cheap bus tour that we will take which is one of those hop on and hop off affairs (most affairs are I suppose!!). After taking care of the hotel and tours payments we will probably hit some of the markets and go on a rather romantic trip on the city cable car up Namsan Mountain to Seoul tower which is almost an exact replica of the Sky Tower (replica? chicken/egg?) The temperature was actually a lot warmer than I was anticipating here and there is only a little snow on the ground, although it is due to rain tomorrow the weather today is perfect, no clouds and no wind.

OK time to get touristy.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Attention all Personnel....Incoming Wounded

Just updating on where things are at.

My preparations for South Korea are nearing completion, just the travel insurance to sort out. I have organized to stay at a
backpackers near the airport on the first night (16 January).

The next two nights will be in the Itaewon area in Seoul staying at the 5 Star
Itaewon Hotel. This is conveniently close to the US Army base that we will be going to as part of our visit to the DMZ and North Korea. It is also close to the lovely Namsam Park, which will probably the lovely and freezing Namsan Park!

On the Wednesday after Etsuko’s departure (she leaves a day before me) I intend to check out the War Memorial Museum which looks like it will be fantastic. Somehow I don’t think it will be as humorous as M*A*S*H but should be enjoyable all the same.

On the Wednesday afternoon I am going to catch up with Kev and maybe have a beer or two (only out of politeness), before heading home the next morning. I doubt that I will update this blog before then so if I am taken hostage by the North Koreans….well I suppose that they will rue the day.

If there are any emergencies then I am sure you can track me down via the above links or just use the Bat Signal as usual.

This is the 4077th signing out

The Best Fortune 10 Yen Can Buy

On January 4, Etsuko and I went to the closest shrine we could find to my apartment. It just so happens that I live about 10 minutes away from a relatively ‘famous’ shrine called Kanda Myojin. This is a rebuild of a very old shrine. The original one was destroyed by fire following the great Kanto (Tokyo Region) Earthquake in 1923.

My first mission upon arriving at the shrine was to exorcise the ‘Ramen’ demons from the night before. Just managing to make the squat toilet before I had an out-of-body experience. I still don’t appreciate the design of the squat toilet, I am amazed that they are so popular in this part of the world.

After being able to walk without appearing that I was riding an imaginary horse we made our way to the main forecourt of the shrine. I should have realized something was afoot when we noticed that a small army of black suited businessmen were following us to the shrine. It turned out that January 4 is the traditional first day of business in the New Year and it is traditional for all good company men (mostly men) to go to the shrine and inter alia pray for great economics success for their company in the coming year. I didn’t see many other NOVA employees.

The media was even there recording this strange mix of capitalism and religion. Some people were queuing to get into the shrine proper to get the really good prayers in. Etsuko and I were content to cast our money into the gargantuan collection plate in the outer part of the shrine. I have two causes for concern in casting money into this collection plate while praying. Firstly I only threw 10 yen (about 15 cents) into the collection plate. Does this mean that I will only get the budget version of what I prayed for? Secondly the money I cast was borrowed from Etsuko does this mean that if my prayers are answered she has a first mortgage on them?

In the pics below you can see the good luck trinkets for sale. Interestingly all the good luck charms from the previous year are all collected and burned, it is supposedly bad luck to hang on to them (especially bad luck for the people who make and sell them!). Also in the pics if you look carefully you will see me – hands clenched feeling guilty about sconing a person in the head with a 10 yen piece.

Thats a big Collection Plate

Good luck for only 450 Yen

Careful What you Pray for

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Robots? What could possibly go wrong...

Big chance for NZ in Japanese expo

Kiwi businesses offering innovative, top-end products should be looking to springboard into Japan as New Zealand gears up for the Aichi world expo in March, former ambassador to Japan Phillip Gibson says.

Mr Gibson, who is commissioner-general at the New Zealand pavilion, said there were already plans to explore opportunities in areas such as biotechnology as part of a concerted effort to capitalise on New Zealand's $10 million investment in the expo in Aichi, Japan. Twenty-five per cent of the world's research and development is carried out in Japan and it has an acknowledged interest in biotechnology.

Talks for research collaboration in the Kansai region, which has an economy the same size as Canada, are already underway particularly in areas of greenhouse gases and nanotechnology.
Work would also be done to identify the next generation of New Zealand exporters to Japan which could include service industries, fashion and software development, already gaining a foothold.

"What's important now is that the economic news coming out of Japan over the last year to 18 months is that it's on the move again. It's not going to grow at the rate it did in the 1970s and 80s... but does now seem to have entered a sustained period of economic growth."

Japan is New Zealand's third biggest export market and in the year to October 2004, exports to Japan rose almost 8 per cent to $3.4 billion. In turn, we imported $3.8 billion worth of goods, an increase of 3.5 per cent. Japan is our single biggest market for aluminium, vegetables, cheese and kiwifruit and the second-largest market for forest and fisheries products and petroleum.

"Japan is not just a big market for us but a very profitable market for us... It tends to be a premium market and people will pay high prices for quality products and I think where there is particular potential for New Zealand is increasingly in value added products," Mr Gibson said.
The Aichi Expo starts on March 25 and runs for 185 days, until September 25. There are 130 countries exhibiting. Up to 20 million people are expected to visit the expo, which has a theme of "Nature's Wisdom".

The project has been 10 years in the planning and developing the 160 hectare site has cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

A new hybrid mobile phone and personal computer communications system - the Ai-Mate - has been commissioned for the expo. One version has been designed for use by overseas visitors to help them better understand the exhibition.

Newly developed robots will also be on hand, cleaning, patrolling the ground, guiding visitors and entertaining children.

New Zealand's pavilion has been designed by Wellington company Story! Inc. At its centre will be a 1.8 tonne pounamu (greenstone) boulder from the Waitaiki creek on the West Coast. It will also have a 12-metre curved screen showing a six-minute bird's eye film flying across New Zealand. There will also be smaller interactive screens.

"We are presenting the traditional views of New Zealand, the themes, the beauty and all of those magnificent things which make us what we are. But we do it in such a way that it also conveys we are smart and innovative," Mr Gibson said.

Dairy giant Fonterra, ANZCO Foods, Air New Zealand, kiwi fruit company Zespri and Toyota New Zealand are helping to sponsor the pavilion which is being project-managed by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise.

On New Zealand Day, June 3, it is hoped that singer Hayley Westenra will perform at the pavilion along with dance group Black Grace, the New Zealand String Quartet and singer Hinewehi Mohi.

Monday, January 03, 2005

So thats what he said...

Emperor Akihito briefly addressed the estimated crowd of 19,000 people, which responded with shouts of "Banzai" -- or long life -- while waving flags.

"I am sincerely delighted to be able to celebrate the new year with you," the Emperor told the crowd. "I hope for your happiness and pray for world peace."

Sunday, January 02, 2005

The non palatial palace...

Today was a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky and just a few remnants of the snowfall from two days ago on the ground. January 2nd is one of two days in the year that you are able to enter the Imperial Palace. On January 2 the Emperor gives an address to all the people who wish to hear him outside his Palace.

I decided today, to become one of those many thousands of people to go and see the Emperor speak. I arrived at the Palace of approximately 1:30 p.m. I was subjected to a body search along with everybody else on the way into the Palace. Fortunately the policeman who patted me down did not discover the weapon of mass destruction I had hidden in my trousers.

Luckily I arrived in the forecourt of the Palace about one minute before the Emperor gave his speech. It was quite impressive as apparently on one of the routes to be Palace Japanese flags were distributed to all the people. The Emperor and some other members of the Royal family stood on a large glass balcony. Upon seeing the Emperor everyone duly waved their flags making a strange rustling noise. The Emperor spoke for about 20 to 30 seconds and I was unable to understand anything that he said although he did sound very distinguished.

Then it was expected that all people in the forecourt were to move on to make room for the next group of people. The
Royal Family makes a number of speeches throughout the day.

Upon leaving the Palace I took a long way round to view some of the parts of the Palace which are normally off limits to the general public. I was somewhat unimpressed with the grandeur of the buildings as it looked as though it was an administrative government office. It was a rather humble place for the Emperor to live (although I’m not sure that the Emperor does in fact live there, I’ve heard rumours that he lives in a hotel and there is also another Palace which the Emperor resides from time to time).

I would imagine that just about every policeman Tokyo was in the Palace grounds that the only trouble I saw was one person who while speaking on cellphone decided to walk against the flow of traffic he was quickly told that he had to follow everyone else on the way out. I don’t know if the palace guards have gastronomic nicknames like their counterparts in England?

While walking back home I took the photo of part of the Tokyo business area. The water in the foreground is the moat for the palace.

What a day

Red spot special...

A....'sushi eater'??

Two Thousand and Five

I might as well start with a cliché….well another year has passed! I would have to say it was duly celebrated in style. Etsuko and I went to Tachikawa to see the New Year in with Adam, Peter, Chris, Junko, Naomi and Yuko. You can see them in the picture below aptly named the ‘munch bunch.’

Speaking of munching, Peter, chef extraordinaire provided one of the best meals I’ve ever had (outside of course my mothers and grandmothers cooking!). We were treated to smoked salmon, pasta, chicken and even some delectable items which I am unable to adequately describe. You can see a photo of this food below.

Following the champagne popping at midnight we proceeded to play a game of monopoly. Fortunately the parties are still on speaking terms, but only just. Ultimately I don’t believe that the game was decided as it became a battle between Chris and Peter with neither side willing to back down.

The next morning when I awoke felt as though someone was banging a drum next to my head. In actual fact someone was banging a drum just outside the building. It is apparently some type of new year tradition to walk around the neighbourhood making as much noise as possible. Of course in New Zealand this would be dealt with in a rather harsh manner but in Japan news years has a slightly different symbolic function and accordingly early-morning drum bangers are welcomed.

I think that this year was the most sophisticated celebration which I have partaken in at New Years, of course I think it would be impossible to top some of the years I’ve had at Turangi. This one came pretty close. I just hope the rest of year will be as enjoyable!

It feels like there is a drum beating in my head


The munch bunch.