Wednesday, November 30, 2005

depositing a check at the bank

Today I had an interesting experience at the bank. I finally received my GST rebate check in the mail from all the shopping I did in Canada. They nicely sent me a check in Japanese yen, which is totally NOT what I wanted. Oh well, most Japanese people wouldn't want a check in Canadian funds if they had claimed a rebate, so nothing to complain about.

Anyway, originally I had planned on sending it back to Canada to be cashed, but since the check was in yen I didn't want to get burned twice on exchange. So I ran down to the bank to see if they would cash it. My previous experience with cashing a check in Japan (a society that rarely uses credit cards - it is cash only here) was that it would cost more to process the thing than the check was worth. Albeit that was a Canadian funds check drawn on a Canadian bank, whereas the GST rebate was Japanese yen drawn on a Japanese bank.

So I arrived at the bank and went up to ask someone to help me. An interesting thing about Japanese banks - there are always people standing around, whose sole job is to welcome you to the bank, help you fill out forms or help you use the ATM. Seriously. So I asked one of these people for help and that was an interesting experience involving mime because I don't know the words for deposit, bank book, check, or "can I do this?". I guess she understood though because she took my passbook and the check and went dashing upstairs. Of course upstairs is the foreign exchange desk, so I'm not sure why she went up there, but who knows.

Eventually she came running back down and raced around talking to everyone working on the main floor... clearly depositing a check is not something they do every day. Finally I guess they figured it out, and the woman came back with this huge form to fill in. After doing that I just sat down while the helper woman grabbed a number (another difference - you don't wait in line at Japanese banks, you take a number from a number dispensing machine and relax on couches until it is your turn) and then ran my stuff up to the counter when it was my turn. Several minutes later I was called up to the counter and ta-da my check had been processed. Of course they put a hold on the funds until it would clear... and they knew exactly when this would be. Instead of the deposit code in my bankbook, there was the date... and the time!... when the funds would be available. How's that for Japanese efficiency?

Monday, November 28, 2005

beautiful leaves

All the cherry trees along the river near my apartment have changed colour over the past few days. They are a beautiful, rich orange colour. Apparently because it is getting so cold at night this year (despite being unseasonably warm during the day) the leaves have more vibrant colours. It feels like fall! Of course it is almost December and one would think it should feel more like winter, but I'll take fall! I like fall! Especially when I see minus temperatures back in Canada and ... the evil word... snow.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Mr. Miyagi died

How sad - Pat Morita, Mr. Miyagi of 'The Karate Kid,' died. Those movies were so great - the 80s were my decade of youth, and these movies are classics. Karate Kid (and sequels), Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Weird Science, War Games, Some Kind of Wonderful ... oh, I'm getting nostalgic.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Yippee! I'm going to Kyoto

Hiroshi and I decided to take a weekend trip to Kyoto for Christmas weekend. The 23rd is a holiday here, so we can go for three days. I'm so excited because despite living here for almost 7 years, I have never been there yet. I found a really good deal that has combined shinkansen (bullet train) tickets and hotel for two nights for 35,000 yen per person. This is a great deal because the shinkansen tickets alone cost 27,000 yen to and from Kyoto... and we're staying at a 4-star hotel. So that is cool. 8000 yen for two nights in a hotel is cheap by Japanese standards - usually it costs 8000 yen per night for a business hotel. So that is cool.

Getting the package booked took forever though. I figured it would take 15 minutes and that would be it. Well, today was a holiday so the travel office in our station was closed, so we had to go to Shinagawa. Then we had to wait for more than an hour to be served... and then like and hour and a half to book the tour. At least Hiroshi and I went together so we had a chance to talk with each other (been busy lately).

Part of the problem was that I had my heart set on the Westin, but it was booked on the 23rd, so we couldn't stay there. So we are staying at a different hotel - but anyone who knows me, knows I am spaz about hotels. It has to be nice and in a good location for example. And to further complicate things we wanted a non-smoking room and a double bed. For some reason, two twin beds are standard in Japan... I guess couples don't sleep together when they travel. We narrowed the hotels down to two, but neither of them had double beds or non-smoking rooms. Oh well. I wasn't going to pay another 15,000 yen each to try to find a better hotel.

Then we had to decide when to take the shinkansen... only I didn't realize that the tour is so cheap because you have to take the shinkansen during slow hours. This means before 7am, between 11 and 3 or after 8 pm. So, we're leaving at 6:30 am! That is *early*! We can sleep on the train though. Unfortunately, we have seats that are separated - there weren't any other seats available. Again, not worth the extra 15,000 yen - I'm cheap. Also, 30,000 yen will get us an awesome kaiseki dinner while we are there. I've never had it and have always wanted to, so it will be a nice birthday dinner for Hiroshi.

So, the trip is definitely something to look forward to. We haven't been on a trip together for two years... I've been jetsetting by myself recently... so it will be nice to get away. I just hope the weather isn't too cold (despite being 500 km south of Tokyo, Kyoto is in a valley and is therefore colder in winter than Tokyo is) - I want to sit outside and admire zen gardens!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Track your packages with an RSS feed

If you are like me, you are superspaz about checking the tracking sites for packages that are on their way to your doorstep via UPS or whatever. Well, now, you can get updates on your package status via RSS feeds. This is an awesome idea - it means you don't have to enter your tracking number fifty million times, or go to the site fifty million times only to be disappointed that your package hasn't moved from some package depot in a city you've never heard of before. Anyway, check it out if some nice person is send you stuff or if you are treating yourself to a nice x-mas present from an online store.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Add one second this year

To keep time in line with the spinning of the universe, we are supposed to add one second to this year. It is explained in detail here but unless you must have the exact time down to the second, I guess it doesn't really matter. I figure this is much easier to understand than when DST starts in North America LOL

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Harry Potter movie

Ok, tonight was the big night - the movie that I have been waiting for for weeks. And the rating is: so-so. The CG are awesome, and the film has a great dark feel to it. However, the characters do not have much dialogue and there doesn't really seem to be any character development. The catty 'not talking to each other directly' stuff was done for a matter of 30 seconds. There was very little angst between Ron and Hermione and I seem to remember there being quite a lot in the novel. And, even though the preview shows a very awesome stadium for the World Quidditch Cup, they don't actually show any footage of it! Which makes you wonder what exactly was the point of showing it in the first place. And when the Death Eaters show up in the first scene, well, it just seemed lacking. I think the beginning of the movie could have been a lot better.

That said, it was still enjoyable. The movie had a good feel to it. I guess they have to balance special FX, character development and story. Definitely worth a see in the theater. I think the preview over-sells you though.

Friday, November 18, 2005

talk about dedicated

There is a special preview of Harry Potter at the theater near my house tomorrow. I don't know why Japan is releasing it on the 26th when the rest of the world gets it on the 19th. Anyway, I remember from the last Harry Potter movie that the first showing was totally sold out, so I figured I would make a special trip to the cinema to get my tickets early. And, as luck would have it, I snagged two seats in the center of the theater. Excellent! :)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

everything is Christmas-y

All the decorations are going up around the office complex around my train station. I've also seen several Christmas trees up, and the carols are in full force in shopping center ambient musak. I find it really funny that Japan does all this decorating when they don't even celebrate the holiday. Wouldn't it be more appropriate to pull out the Japanese New Year decorations? I would love to see bamboo and the paper decorations they make.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

big earthquakes but not near me

There were two big quakes in Japan today. There was a 7.0 one this morning in northern Japan off the coast that created small tsunami waves. I didn't feel it, even though the news said it could be felt in Tokyo. Maybe because I was walking to work at the time. There was another 6.1 quake in the Japan Sea, but didn't feel that one either. That's fine. Actually, we haven't had any quakes around Tokyo recently (knock on wood).

Sunday, November 13, 2005

off to the show

We went to see the movie In Her Shoes last night. We tried to use our customer card which gives us $2 off, but they had expired! That totally sucked because I had a free premium seating ticket and Hiroshi had a free Imax ticket on his, and they are expired. Oh well. We'll have to reapply next time.... like for Harry Potter next week!

The movie we saw wasn't that great. It dragged and the characters were pretty shallow. Save it for video... and only if you have nothing else you want to see.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Nov 13 - have a pillow fight in TO!

This sounds like so much fun! Apparently there will be apillow fight in Toronto tomorrow. If I were in Canada, I would totally be there. Someone please go and tell me how much fun it was!

Friday, November 11, 2005

ex-Christmas tree day

I noticed that my supermarket is playing Christmas music today. My basic response was, "oh, for crying out loud, it is only November". This is actually kind of funny, because November 11th has always been my Christmas tree day. Part of the reason I'm not into it, is because the weather is still nice here in Tokyo - it is hard to think about Christmas when it is still 20C outside.

The other part of it is that I just don't celebrate it any more. They don't celebrate x-mas in Japan (well, they eat shortcake and KFC traditionally - I know that's aweful) and since I am not going home or anything, you just kind of get into the groove of not celebrating. Not being overly religious, the holiday has always had a family meaning to me rather than a religious one anyway. I find it interesting though that something that is such a big part of culture in North America, is something I am not really interested in anymore. I'm just looking forward to having a few days off around the New Year.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Hungry Planet

I listened to this story on my NPR podcast. I went to the NPR site to look at the pictures. Basically it looks at what families eat during a week - and there are pictures of all their groceries for the week laid out in front of them. The pictures are quite interesting. You can easily see why North Americans are overweight and get a sense of how hard life is in countries where you depend on aid for food. I wish there was a place to look at more pictures without buying the book.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

send yourself an email in the future

Need to remind yourself of something? Want to send yourself a motivational letter? Interested in doing an email time capsule? Check out where you can postdate emails to yourself. Of course, postdating it 3 years from now kinda means you need to keep the same email address.

I'm going to write some to myself with diet goals / motivation. Just those friendly reminders to keep at it!

Sunday, November 06, 2005


We went to Dean and Deluca again today for coffee. By the time we got there it was late in the day though, and there were no good yummies left :( (Today is the one day a week I am allowed to eat anything I want (dieting again) so I was hoping for a donut or something).

I wandered around the store for a bit and found some spices - they were on sale (40% off) so the price was acceptable, rather than outrageous. I got some dill and a rub for pork. I'll try the rub on my pork tenderloin ... in my new oven :)

What I found really interesting is that they have a whole salt section with chunky salt for your salt grinder. I thought salt was salt, but there are gourmet kinds LOL There has to be 10 to 15 different types, from your standard sea salt, to Turkish salt, to pink salt. Pretty cool. I was hoping they had some interesting peppers, but they only had the standard peppercorns over in the spice section. Anyway, who knew there was gourmet salt. I surely didn't. There were even little dishes set out, I assume for taste testing, but who wants to eat salt straight? If I had a salt mill, I would have probably bought some just to try it, but I just use the standard stuff in the shaker.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

another holiday :)

Today is another holiday - I love holidays! I'm not sure exactly what holiday it is, but I'll take it. I just wish it was one of the holidays that the government allowed to move so it would make a long weekend. It isn't so I have to work tomorrow (Friday).

Being a holiday, the number one agenda was sleeping. I woke up and looked at the alarm clock and thought 6:15 was too early to get up ... until I realized it was really 3:30 in the afternoon! I haven't slept that long in ages! Hiroshi is sick though so maybe I am fighting off his cold... which I don't want, so maybe sleeping is good :)

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Stuff On My Cat

This has to be the funniest site I have seen in a long time. I was laughing my butt off - basically it is a collection of pictures of cats with things piled on them. It shouldn't be funny because sometimes the poor cat looks really unhappy or squashed, but for some reason it just made me giggle.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

my first roast ever

So my new oven has been eventful. I had carefully measured it in the store to make sure it would fit in the place I have for it... well, it fit exactly... until I got home and the manual told me I needed 10cm clearance on either side and 20 cm clearance at the back! Oops! That meant I had to totally rearrange all my shelves to find a place for it.

Anyway, I finally got everything organized and my oven is set up and ready to roll. And... drumroll, please... I made a roast! This is very exciting for me because I have never made a roast in my life and it turned out awesome. I put it on the rotisserie and let it go and now have juicy, yummy meat - it wasn't even a good cut, because I didn't want to waste 4000 yen on a roast that I would ruin, and it still turned out really well.

Actually, I have never cooked much meat at all in my life because I was pretty much vegetarian in Canada. I would make fish occasionally, but not meat. I have never cooked a chicken, a roast or anything so I'm quite pleased with myself. Hopefully I'll be able to find a nice chicken to rotisserie up next!