Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sukiya / すき家

After the Narita Airport fiasco, the following day was spent shopping with Mikako in Shimokitazawa. I had a doctor's appointment in the morning, after that we had a light brunch at Sukiya, a fast food beef bowl restaurant. And even though the weather called for pouring rain, it was not going to stop Mikako from going shopping. But at least I get to choose where we go for lunch and I already have a place in mind but I will save that for another post.


Bon Appetit!


Friday, October 30, 2009

Ern's Monthly Page Turners (October 2009)


It's nearing the end of the month which means its time for my monthly book reviews. As there were no travels for me during this month, I managed to read a few more titles than last month. I've even managed to beat my deadline that always set for myself (being the end of the month, or at least the first week of the following month). I've been neglecting reading books in Japanese though, even though I bought a novel written by one of my favorite Japanese artists and am still in the middle of another. Don't let me bore you with details and check out what I read this month:

BELCHING OUT THE DEVIL: GLOBAL ADVENTURES WITH COCA-COLA by Mark Thomas – Do you remember the ‘90s in which multi-national corporations like Nike opened factories in Mexico and other third world nations in which their subsidiaries would hire cheap labor. So much for the freeness of NAFTA. Anyway, multinationals never learn their the lesson. Taking America’s favorite drink and world known brand – Coca-Cola. Now here’s a company that spends a lot of money on advertising and presents itself as a world-leading and fair-playing company. Yet, when an investigative reporter like Thomas is on the job, they cannot seem to answer any of his questions related to labor disputes in third world countries. Thomas starts his book with a trip to Atlanta, Georgia – home of Coca-Cola (although the company is registered in Rhode Island). Even I enjoy a coke every now and then but after reading this book, you may have second thoughts about how good a company Coca-Cola really is. I suppose its true for any multi-national corporation, who “couldn’t see past their bill-fold” (a little Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes reference). It’s all about profits. Take for instance, the opening of a bottling factory in a rain-scarce environment in India. Water being the main ingredient for coca-cola. And somehow they managed to not have to pay for the water where as the locals who used to get their water for free now have to pay for it. Also with the opening of the plant, the water levels have dropped drastically forcing the locals to walk even further from their homes just to find un-contaminated water. Or how about the bottle companies hiring para-militaries in Columbia who have killed employees who were part of a union (even though Coca-Cola says their employees are free to join them). When questioned on this, the Coca-Cola PR machine says, “It’s not us, it’s the bottlers”. Come on. It’s their product the bottlers are selling. You will read about more labor disputes in India, Turkey, and even Ireland or how the company uses child labor in El Salvador. And how the company was running a monopoly in Mexico – however they lost a court case to one stubborn woman who refused to stock their products. Then again, I suppose you can love the product and not really like the company. Just think of chocolate and the child laborers in Ghana who gather ingredients for one of our favorite snacks.

THE GOLLYWHOPPER GAMES by Jody Feldman – After reading something serious, I fall back on young adult novels to relax. This particular book is similar to Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”. However, instead of candy factory, the setting is a toy factory. Gil Goodson is hoping to win the games the company sponsors so he and his family can move out of town, away from the gossip and such ever since the “incident”. It appears Gil’s father was accused of embezzling. Even though his dad was acquitted in the trial, the people of Orchard Heights still look upon the Goodson’s with suspicion. Even the owner who first accused Gil’s father can’t believe the Gil has the nerve to participate in the games and tries his hardest to bribe Gil out of doing so to prevent negative press. Will Gil give into pressure? Will the people of Orchard Heights ever forget the “incident”? You will have to read this book to find out.

HECK: WHERE THE BAD KIDS GO by Dale E. Bayse – Sometimes I just get hooked on reading one young adult novel after another. This has an interesting concept as the two main characters die in the first chapter and find themselves in that place between – called “Heck”. To give you an idea of how twisted this book is, just take a gander at what’s written on the back cover: [When Milton and Marlo Fauster die in a marshmallow bear explosion, they get sent straight to Heck, an otherworldly reform school. Milton can understand why his kleptomaniac sister is here, but Milton is – or was – a model citizen. Has a mistake been made? Not according to Bea “Elsa” Bubb, the Principal of Darkness. She doesn’t make mistakes or tolerate them.] Little did I know that this was going to be a series. The second book, “Rapacia: The Second Circle of Heck” is available now and will be a book I will have to read as well.

THE BEST AMERICAN TRAVEL WRITING 2009 edited by Simon Winchester – It’s that time of year again when Mariner Books publishes their “Best American” series and I never miss out on purchasing “The Best American Travel Writing” as it features one of my life’s passions – travel. For those of you who are not familiar with this series, the book collects the best travel articles from a variety of periodicals, newspapers, and online magazines. This year’s collection feature articles from Outside Magazine, Harper’s Magazine, The Oxford American,, the Virginia Quarterly Review, just to name a few. And the places this book will take you to. You will read about the incompetency of the military junta in Myanmar as it failed to deal with Cyclone Nargis in any effective way and refused or hampered any humanitarian aid into the country. Be fascinated by the magical penis loss in Nigeria. Take a trip down the river that the movie “Deliverance” made famous which was written by the son of the author. Float down the Mississippi River on a homemade raft with a homeless man and some other free spirits as they head towards New Orleans. Check out the cholitas of Bolivia. The frustration of building a cabin in the countryside of Argentina. Visit the mountain gorillas in the once dreaded land of genocide – Rwanda. Swim the seas of Greenland and the Arctic with the woman who once swam across the English Channel. Check out the best barbecue in Texas. And much, much more. I can’t recommend this series enough for the armchair traveler or others who suffer from wanderlust.

THE FRACTURE ZONE: MY RETURN TO THE BALKANS by Simon Winchester – Having just read the collection of travel essays picked by this year’s guest editor, Simon Winchester, I decided to read one of this books as well. Some of you may be familiar with his other books such as “The Professor and the Madman” or “The Map That Changed the World”, but I picked this one out because I find that crimes against humanity are too fascinating although a bit macabre to ignore. It seems there was no lessons learned from the Rwandan genocide of 1994 in which the Western world turned their backs and ignored the Tutsis who were being hacked to death with machetes by extremists Hutus who also incited other Hutus to “chop down the tall trees” and “rid ourselves of the cockroaches!”. With the fall of communism and ending of the Cold War, it seems the world was headed for peace. But then there was Rwanda. And less than five years down the road, the former Yugoslavia became the focus of world attention. Starting with an ultra-nationalist named Slobodan Milosovic. The White House once again shirked their responsibility by not insisting on using the term “genocide”. As a signatory nation to the Genocide Convention of 1948, it means our country would be required to help. But no – a term was coined. Bosnian Serbs were not committing genocide – they were committing acts of ethnic cleansing. Tell me what the difference is? But this being Europe, did the world ignore this blight like Rwanda? No, of course not. This is a nation of White Europeans – God know we gotta help them. The US played down their role as well insisting that the operations in the Balkans would be headed by NATO forces. And where was Simon Winchester when this was happening? He was right in the thick of things. Wondering why the area is so volatile he looks back on the history of the Hapsburgs and the Ottomons. He starts his journey from Vienna, Austria and travels to the trouble spots by going through Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania, and to the tragic land of Kosovo. When he wrote this, Milosovic was still in power and not imprisoned at the Hague. Although the area is somewhat stabilized, the future of Kosovo is uncertain. And damn that Milosovic – although he was caught and was being tried for crimes against humanity, he, like Pol Pot before managed to die without having to deal with a long trial (heart attack as I recall). Why isn’t the evilest of men get away with the evil they spread and yet not suffer as they made others suffer. It’s just not right. And there are still those war criminals who are leading pleasant lives while being protected by the government of Serbia. A very intense book. I may have to read Robert Kaplan’s “Balkan Ghosts” as well.

FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury – A classic. First published as a novel in 1953. It started out as a short story called “The Fireman” which appeared in Galaxy Science Fiction in 1950. This book was also made into a film in 1966 and directed by Francois Truffaut. A lot of you may have read in this in school. So why now? I don’t know. I just felt compelled to read it. If you remember what the title refers to, it’s the temperature at which books burn. In the near future, reading books or even owning them is against the law. Anything which may cause an individual to have original thoughts is suspect. And so the firemen of the future do not put out fires. They start them. But one fireman who meets a teenage girl who questions the status quo. Which gets the fireman Montag, to re-thing his current life. And speaking of a future, where people no longer read or are allowed to write, I had just read my friend’s blog and learned about the uncertain plight of a Seattle institution – The Elliot Bay Book Company. It seems there are plans about to either close or move the place. I know in this age of the internet, buying books is only a keypunch away. But there’s nothing I like more than actually taking a book in my hand and reading the back cover or thumbing through a potential purchase. So let’s not let the Elliot Bay Book Company end up as a tragic outcome such as Bradbury’s tale.

I hope you enjoyed my choices for this month. Right now I'm between books (if I don't include that Japanese title) and am not sure what I want to read next. The Dan Brown is enticing. The companion volume to the Bon Jovi documentary film "When We Were Beautiful" (of course I will buy it), my friend's suggestion of "Three Cups of Tea" sounds good as well. Until I decide, I guess I will go back to reading the Japanese title I'm in the middle of.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sai Thai / サイ・タイ

The Narita Airport / Bon Jovi episode wasn't a complete lost. At least we had a nice lunch at this Thai restaurant in the Skyview Food Court. The green curry was calling to me as Mikako enjoyed a Tom Yam Ramen.


Green Curry / グリーンカレー

Served with Rice / ご飯と一緒

Spicy, but not painful spicy.


Tom Yam Ramen / トムヤムラーメン

Mikako said it was good but not as delicious as the tom yam ramen from Ali Baba in our neighborhood.


Bon Appetit!


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Day at the Airport / 成田空港の一日

Oh my, you know how you see those people on television waiting for their favorite stars at the airport? I was forced to become one of those people. Mikako being the big Bon Jovi fan read on a fan site that Bon Jovi would be coming to Japan on Sunday (which happens to be our day off). Being the good hubby, I said okay, we will go to Narita Airport and wait with the hundreds of other fans there to see Jon and company. So, on my day off, I woke up early and we headed out to the airport. Once there though, we didn't see anybody who looked like Bon Jovi fans. We went from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2 checking the Arrival board for flights from New York. Not seeing any fans or any members of the press, we went to the Airport Mall and had lunch. After lunch, we went back to the arrivals lobby but still nothing. I was getting a little bored so suggested watching the planes take off and land before the next flight from New York. By this time is was nearing dinnertime. We waited for one last flight with one last hope. Alas. Can it be? Jon Bon Jovi? No, it was Koji Yakusho (popular Japanese television and movie star). We finally gave up and went home. However, the next day, it appears that Bon Jovi did come to Japan, and they were at Narita. The thing is at Terminal 1, there is a North Arrivals Gate and a South Arrivals Gate. For some reason, we didn't check the South Arrivals Gate until sometime after 4pm. It appears Bon Jovi and company appeared sometime around 2:45pm and 3:00 (probably when we were either at the North Arrivals Gate or at the View Square watching the planes). Needless to say, Mikako was blue for the rest of the day.


It was time to make the long trip home but some friends insisted on meeting them at a mutual friend's restaurant in Ushigome Kagurazaka where we had a light dinner. It was about 10pm when we finally got home. What a day!


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Lunch Break Walk / ランチの散歩

It seems there are still hidden treasures in my work neighborhood that I have yet to explore. This time I stumbled across the Higashi Shinagawa Kaijo Park.


Airu Bridge connecting Higashi Shinagawa Kaijo Park and Tennoz Park.


Another view of Airu Bridge.


But the hour is short and its back to the office.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Ern's Monthly Visual Victuals (September 2009)


A couple of months ago, I decided to make my movie reviews bilingual as well but found that it was more work than it was worth. So, I decided to write the movie reviews only in English. I will write them in Japanese on MIXI (Japan's answer to MySpace and Facebook). Anyone is more than welcome to check out the reviews in Japanese there. Just look for somebody with the name 「弟なのに兄」. Anyway, with October almost being over and not wanting to write about what I saw in September on October's film review, I finally got around to playing "catch up". To tell you the truth, the only films I rented from the titles listed below were "Chocolate Fighter" (released as "Chocolate" in the US) and "D-Wars" (released as "Dragon Wars" in the US). The first four films I reviewed, I watched on my flight from Seattle going back to Tokyo. I decided to add them because 1) I did watch them and 2) it makes for a better blog note than just writing about two films. One other title was a US only release of a documentary taken in 1986. And the last title in this month's review isn't a movie at all, but a series from the SciFi Channel that a friend of mine got me hooked on.

THE PROPOSAL (2009) – A Sandra Bullock rom-com. This time we find her starring as a Canadian hard-nosed career woman working as the Editor-in-Chief for some big name publishing house in New York City. Unfortunately, she hasn’t renewed her visa and is about to be deported. So, while thinking on her feet, she says that she’s getting married (to her assistant, which is news to him). But there is this immigration official who believes her marriage is a scam and is keeping a close watch on her. Meanwhile, her assistant agrees only if she accompanies him to his home town in Alaska. Okay – you know the standard story after this. Hard-nosed city woman hates the wilderness and finds her assistant’s relatives a bit quirky. Assistant doesn’t like being back in his home town for the simple fact that he doesn’t get along with his father, who wants him to take over the family business, while said son wants to follow his dream of becoming a novelist. We all know how this ends but it’s still fun to watch.

THE SOLOIST (2009) – Based on the book by L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez and starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jamie Foxx. has been starring in some fine films of late. Downey portrays the journalist who stumbles upon a homeless man, Nathaniel Ayers (Foxx) playing beautiful music on violin with two strings. He delves deeper into this homeless man’s life and finds that he was once a student at New York’s prestigious art and music school, Julliard but had to drop out because he was suffering from some type of schizophrenia. The more he writes about this gifted musician, the more he becomes a part of his life and tries to help him get off the streets and lead a more normal life. A beautiful story.

STAR TREK (2009) – Being a fan of the original series with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, I had my doubts about enjoying this film. But I decided to give it a chance and had a great time watching it. Probably because I was imagining the characters growing into the ones we love and know. In this flick, Kirk and Spock just do not get along. And it if it wasn’t for Bones, Kirk would never be in the predicament he finds himself in. Watching this film makes you want to watch all your favorite episodes from the original television series.

THE HANGOVER (2009) – Very silly, but what the hell. New soon to be brother-in-law and some pals go to Vegas for one last bachelor bash. Everybody wakes up to a really bad hangover and can’t remember what happened, and they also can’t find the new groom. And one person discovers he’s gotten married as well. Throw in a Chinese gangster boss, Michael Tyson, and tiger and you have one heck of a goofy flick. Of course, when you have a group of guys, it seems standard to have one hen-pecked husband who can’t face up to his wife (until the end of the flick) and this one was no different. If you don’t believe, just check out “City Slickers” or “Wild Hogs” and you will know I am right.

CHOCOLATE FIGHTER (2008) – From the director who brought us “Ong-Bak” and “Tom Yam Koon” comes another action packed flick without use of any wires or CG and doesn’t star Tony Ja. No, what makes this action flick different from his previous two films is that the main character is a woman. An autistic woman at that portrayed by the most awesome JeeJa Yanin. Japanese fans will be surprised to see Hiroshi Abe in the flick as well. Move over Jackie Chan, retire already Steven Segal, find better scripts Van Damme, the new age of action is with Tony Ja and JeeJa!!

HEAVY METAL PARKING LOT (1986) – I’ve been wanting to see this documentary ever since it came out. I finally asked my sister to purchase the DVD for me and got a chance to see it. The original film was only 15 minutes or so, but with the age of the internet, it has become a cult favorite. Back in the days (before the internet and when metal rules), two guys borrowed some video gear and did some guerilla filming at the Capitol Centre parking lot in Landover, Maryland during a Judas Priest concert. This is just too damn hilarious. The directors, John Heyn and Jeff Krulik, found some of the old master tapes and decided to release a DVD version of the film along with some various extras. Ten years after the famous Priest show, Heyn went back to the Capitol Centre and filmed “Neil Diamond Parking Lot”. Also included is *Monster Truck Parking Lot” and “Harry Potter Parking Lot”. This is a film every metalhead should be required to see!

D-WAR (2007) – Korean production of some science-fiction/fantasy story dealing with a Korean legend about some creature called an imoogi which has returned to earth after 500 years and is wreaking havoc while searching for some woman to devour (or something like that). The film was released as “Dragon Wars” in the US.

EUREKA (Season 3.0) - The third season of one of television's most quirkiest towns - Eureka. The program is like "Star Trek" without going into space or "The X-Files" without any paranormal activities, even though there are hints of alien encounters and such.

Hope you enjoyed reading about the films as shows as much as I enjoyed watching them. I still have quite a few films lying about just waiting to be watched - "Red Cliff: Part 1", "Born into Brothels", "The Heartbreak Kid" and "Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern: Collection 2". I think I might a couple episodes of "Bizarre Foods", it being about one of my favorite subjects. Either that, or I shall finish reading my current book, or better yet, I may even take a nap. So until next month (and I have watched at least three films so far) enjoy some popcorn while Mikako and I record some Korean dramas for my mother.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Pepsi Azuki / ペプシ あずき

Pepsi created another novelty soda. This time with Azuki (the red bean used to make anko) It didn't taste as bad as the Shiso flavored Pepsi but this just add to the sweetness factor.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Kyushu Festival in Yoyogi Park 2009 / 九州フェスティバル in 代々木公園

A week after the Hokkaido Fair, we found ourselves in Yoyogi Park once again. This time for the Kyushu Fair. We weren't really planning on going but our friends invited us and I can't pass up an opportunity to eat great food.


After hooking up with our friends, it was time to venture into the world of Kyushu. This wasn't specifically a food fair, it was fair promoting all of Kyushu.

友達と合流して、早速どうゆう屋台が出てるかみに行った。今回のフェスィバルの正式のタイトルは「来て 見て 食べて 感動! 九州!観光・物産フェア」。

This was the first food stall we went to. Although their product seems to be chicken wings, we opted for the chicken-wrapped rolls on the left side of the table. We also bought a boneless chicken skewer here as well.


Chicken Roll / チキン・ロール

Chicken Skewer / 骨無しチキン串

Kyushu is known for its tonkotsu ramen so of course we had to eat some of those. We ordered the Oita Shinise Tonkotsu ramen.


Oita Shinise Tonkotsu Ramen / 大分老舗とんこつらーめん

Wandering back to our little base camp, our friends shared with us some yaki-udon (a little too sweet for my taste) and some shellfish.


Yaki-udon & Turbos / 焼きうどんとサザエ

And some steamed rice with pork.


We also had some tripe as well.


And sardines filled with pollock roe.


How much more chicken are we going to eat anyway?


And we mustn't forget dessert.


Along with cider I bought for Mikako, there was a stall selling a variety of puddings. There was pumpkin, chestnut, green-tea, and of course regular pudding as well. I picked the pumpkin and chestnut.


Back to more food - how about some squid (I refrained from this particular item).


Cuteness Break


Rino / 梨乃ちゃん

Now back to more food.


Chicken-wing Gyoza / 手羽先餃子

Ankake Yakisoba / あんかけ焼きそば

Pork / 角煮

Aside from all the food, there were characters from the Kyushu Prefectures as well.


There was the Sasebo Burger on the left, but unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), there was no Sasebo Burger for sell. If you eat one of those, you probably wouldn't have room for anything else.


And there were also a couple of Ryoma Sakamotos (famous Japanese historical figure), although he was born in Shikoku, he also made a bit of history in Kagoshima Prefecture as well.


How can you not try microbrews from far off Prefectures. On the left, I tried two from Fukuoka, Mango Ale (which was mind-boggling sweet and quite awful) and the Blond Dry from The Brewmaster. Miyazaki Prefecture's Hideji Beer also introduced a new flavor - a lager which wond the gold medal at the Japan Asia Beer Cup 2009.


Just giving you a little taste of the atmosphere.


Service snacks when you by a glass of Hideji Beer.


Well hey, we started the day with chicken and ended with chicken as well.


Needless to say, we had no need for dinner in the evening. I love festivals!!