Japanese Highway Junctions

Highways allows us to travel long distances and interchanges, or junctions, connect those highways so that traffic can pass or change direction without interruption. And in Japan, where heavy mountainous terrain and dense cities create unique constraints, interchanges are, simply put, magnificent feats of structural engineering that we sometimes can’t appreciate through the typical vantage point of a car window.

Spoon & Tamago

Of course, go ahead and browse the highway system on Google Maps.

Michelin Guide Restaurants in Tokyo

You are likely aware of the existence of the “Michelin Guide“.

Michelin Guides are a series of guide books published by the French tyre company Michelin for more than a century. The term normally refers to the annually published Michelin Red Guide, the oldest European hotel and restaurant reference guide, which awards up to three Michelin stars for excellence to a select few establishments.

Wikipedia

You might also be aware that Tokyo is the city with the highest density of Michelin star rated restaurants. Nice, eh?

A purchase of this guide is recommended in any case but these days people also need something they can intuitively use and which integrates into already existing workflows.

These people, like myself, need a map and maybe more details in a machine readable, filterable spreadsheet.

And as time goes on it might be quite useful to have all the sources that lead to these great tables and maps. Sources that allow you to crawl and grab these information.

A script that crawls Tokyo-based michelin guide establishments and saves it into a JSON file. I personally did this project so I can plan my tokyo trip based on the cheapest and most-renowned restaurants,

Michelin Guide Crawler on GitHub

Pointing and Calling (指差喚呼)

When you are travelling Japan you will observe very interesting things while using public transport. In a train or a bus the driver is likely to talk and seemingly magically point with his finger and wave his hand.

You will very likely observe a behavior that might not make sense at first but is fascinating to see. And all is to ensure the safety of the vehicle and all it’s passengers.

It might look like this:

Pointing and calling is a method in occupational safety for avoiding mistakes by pointing at important indicators and calling out the status. It is common in Japan and railways of China. It is sometimes referred to by its Japanese terms, shisa kanko (指差喚呼), shisa kakunin kanko (指差確認喚呼) or yubisashi koshō (指差呼称).

Making large gestures and speaking out the status helps keeping focus and attention. The method was first used by train drivers and is now commonly used in Japanese industry.

It is recommended by the Japan Industrial Safety and Health Association (JISHA, 中央労働災害防止協会)

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Pointing and calling requires co-action and co-reaction among the operator’s brain, eyes, hands, mouth, and ears.

Wikipedia

“Kowloon Walled City” themed arcade in Kawasaki (あなたのウエアハウス)

While we were visiting Japan we usually stay quite close to Kawasaki. And with some hints we found that a replication of “Kowloon Walled City” had been put up as a video game arcade there.

Kowloon Walled City was a largely ungoverned, densely populated settlement in Kowloon City, Hong Kong. Originally a Chinese military fort, the Walled City became an enclave after the New Territories was leased to Britain by China in 1898. Its population increased dramatically following the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during World War II. By 1990, the walled city contained 50,000 residents within its 2.6-hectare (6.4-acre) borders. 

Wikipedia: Kowloon Walled City

A partial recreation of the Kowloon Walled City exists in the Anata No Warehouse, an amusement arcade that opened in 2009 in the Japanese suburb of Kawasaki, Kanagawa. The designer’s desire to accurately replicate the atmosphere of the Walled City is reflected in the arcade’s narrow corridors, electrical wires, pipes, postboxes, sign boards, neon lights, frayed posters, and various other small touches that 

Wikipedia: Anata No Warehouse

I did not know a lot about the Kowloon Walled City before we found this arcade. And it’s – as you can imagine – a very colorful reproduction of the ambiance that you – according to documentations and reports from the time – would have experienced. Especially in the entrance area, the theming of the rooms and some game cabinets as well as for example the rest-rooms.

Of course there is a full blown quite nice but – as it is good custom – extremely noisy arcade in there as well. We’ve easily ‘lost’ 3 hours in there. Be aware that smoking is allowed in these places in Japan.

The first floor contained the UFO catcher machines and a good portion of vintage and modern arcade cabinets. I’ve had a go and Gradius and greatly enjoyed it. There’s a battery of Mech-Pods as well as racing and rythm games.

The second floor had lots of pachinko and other medal and slot machines. Even more noise than any arcade cabinets could do.

The third floor finally contains Dart and Snooker / Billard tables.

All in all it was one of the nicer arcades. Much nicer than others because there was a lot more room. It did not feel half als claustrophobic as an arcade usually feels in Japan.

Super Urban Intelligent CArd

Suica (スイカ Suika) is a rechargeable contactless smart card, electronic money used as a fare card on train lines in Japan, launched on November 18, 2001. The card can be used interchangeably with JR West’s ICOCA in the Kansai region and San’yō region in Okayama, Hiroshima, and Yamaguchi Prefectures, and also with JR Central’s TOICA starting from spring of 2008, JR Kyushu’s SUGOCA, Nishitetsu’s Nimoca, and Fukuoka City Subway’s Hayakaken area in Fukuoka City and its suburb areas, starting from spring of 2010. The card is also increasingly being accepted as a form of electronic money for purchases at stores and kiosks, especially within train stations. As of October 2009, 30.01 million Suica are in circulation.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suica

This time around we really made use of electronic payment and got around using cash whenever possible.

There where only a few occasions when we needed the physical credit card. Of course on a number of tourist spots further away from Tokyo centre cash was still king.

From my first trip to Japan to today a lot has changed and electronic payment was adopted very quickly. Compared to Germany: Lightning fast adoption in Japan!

The single best thing that has happened recently in this regard was that Apple Pay got available in Germany earlier this year. With the iPhone and Watch supporting SUICA already (you can get a card on the phone/watch) the availability of Apple Pay bridged the gap to add money to the SUICA card on the go. As a visitor to Japan you would mostly top up the SUICA card in convenience stores and train stations and mostly by cash. With the Apple Pay method you simply transfer money in the app from your credit card to the SUICA in an instant.

This whole electronic money concept is working end-2-end in Japan. Almost every shop takes it. You wipe your SUICA and be done. And not only for small amounts. Everything up to 20.000 JPY will work (about 150 Euro).

And when you run through a train station gate to pay for your trip it you hold your phone/watch up to the gate while walking past and this is it in realtime screen recorded:

I wish Germany would adopt this faster.

Oh, important fact: This whole SUICA thing is 100% anonymous. You get a card without giving out any information. You can top it up with cash without any link to you.

Panoramic Images free (-hand)

I really like taking panoramic images whenever I can. They convey a much better impression of the situation I’ve experienced then a single image. At least for me. And because of the way they are made – stitched together from multiple images – they are most of the time very big. A lot of pixels to zoom into.

The process to take such a panoramic image is very straight forward:

  1. Take overlapping pictures of the scenery in multiple layers if possible. If necessary freehand.
  2. Make sure the pictures overlap enough but there’s not a lof of questionable movement in them (like a the same person appearing in multiple pictures…)
  3. Copy them to a PC.
  4. Run the free Microsoft Image Composite Editor.
  5. Pre-/Post process for color.

The tools used are all free. So my recommendation is the Microsoft Image Composite Editor. Which in itself was a Microsoft Research project.

Image Composite Editor (ICE) is an advanced panoramic image stitcher created by the Microsoft Research Computational Photography Group. Given a set of overlapping photographs of a scene shot from a single camera location, the app creates high-resolution panoramas that seamlessly combine original images. ICE can also create panoramas from a panning video, including stop-motion action overlaid on the background. Finished panoramas can be saved in a wide variety of image formats,

Image Composite Editor

Here’s how the stitching process of the Musashi-kosugi Park City towers night image looked like:

select images
choose projection method
crop the projection – maybe use “autocomplete”
export the final panoramic image
zoom in :-)

Only in Japan

When you are searching the internet for more information and things to learn about Japan you will inevitably also find John Daub and his “Only in Japan” productions. And that is a good thing!

ONLY in JAPAN is a series produced in Tokyo by one-man band John Daub.  

Only in Japan Patreon page

Back in 2018 we even where around when John announced that he is going to live-stream.

And so we met up with him and eventually even said “Hi”.

this is John in full gear

Of course it wasn’t just us who got a good picture. We were part of the live stream as well – involuntarily as we had tried very hard to not be in frame.

staying in Tokyo off-center (武蔵小杉)

Ever since I’ve first visited Tokyo in 2012 I fell in love with country, culture and the city. On average I was there 4 times a year to do business.

After leaving Rakuten I went back to Tokyo for a vacation together with my wife in October 2017. The idea was to show her what I was enthusiastically mumbling about all the time when I came back from Japan.

When staying in Tokyo I’ve stayed in different areas across the city. From very center to not-so-much-center. Given the great public transportation and taxi system in Tokyo it always was a great experience.

So after a couple of times I developed a preference for an area that was in walking distance to the Rakuten office, was well connected to the public transport system and offered all sorts of starting-points for daily life on a longer term. It ticked a lot of boxes.

You can follow my foot-steps from a route I had recorded in 2015 in preparation for a presentation I’ve held at the Rakuten Technology Conference on my pet project Miataru.

this is in real-time – from Hotel to Office

The areas name is Musashi-Kosugi (武蔵小杉). And it actually is in the city of Kawasaki in Kanagawa prefecture. Effectively just across the Tama river from Ota-city in Tokyo prefecture.

Like any great neighborhood everything is conveniently close and the service everywhere is spotless. The hotel of preference is fairly priced and extremely close to the two train stations. So you can get anywhere quick by train.

You can see the hotel location and the train tracks pretty well on this next map. The red portion shows the viewing direction of the night-picture below.

And like any great neighborhood there’s loads of current information available and lots of community activities around the year. In the case of Musashi-Kosugi you can have the more official website and the more up-to-date blog.

If you plan to visit Tokyo I can only recommend you take a look at more off center options of accomodation. I’ve always enjoyed being able to leave the center of buzz like Shibuya, Ropongi and get back into my bubble of quietness without compromising on everything else than party-and-entertainment options. Actual longer-term daily-life is much more enjoyable off-center – as you can imagine.

And for the end of this post: Let us enjoy a sunset with parts of the Musashi-Kosugi skyline:

something is coming up…

Since 2011 we’ve got this Boogie Board in the household. It’s simply a passive LCD panel on which you can write with a plastic pen. When you do you’re interacting with the liquid crytals and you switch their state. So what was black becomes white.

So we got this tablet and it’s magnetically pinned to our fridge. And whenever we’ve booked the next trip we’re crossing off days by coloring them in a grid.

How do you do such countdowns?

sakura season forecast

I am visiting Japan for almost 7 years now but I’ve never actually been there when the famous cherry blossom – or sakura – was in full force.

As every year there’s a forecast map for this years season and it gets updated frequently:

picture not showing japanese cherry blossoms

in case of emergency: spoof your MAC address

 

 

There have been several occasions in the past years that I had to quickly change the MAC address of my computer in order to get proper network connectivity. May it be a corporate network that does not allow me to use my notebook in a guest wifi because the original MAC address is “known” or any other possible reasons you can come up with…

Now this is relatively easy on Mac OS X – you can do it with just one line on the shell. But now there’s an App for that. It’s called Spoof:

img

“I made this because changing your MAC address in OS X is harder than it should be. The Wi-Fi card needs to be manually disassociated from any connected networks in order for the change to apply correctly – super annoying! Doing this manually each time is tedious and lame.

Instead, just run spoof and change your MAC address in one command. Now for Linux, too!”

Source: https://github.com/feross/spoof