Saturday, November 22, 2003

International comparisons

I watched the World Cup final in a pub in Balham, London. I had three pints of beer. These cost £1.59 each, and together they cost the equivalent of A$12. I watched the semi-final in a faux Irish pub in Shibuya. During this I had two pints of beer, each of which cost about as much as all three put together did here in London. (They were ¥800 each).

This isn't a fair comparison between Tokyo and London, of course. I know London well, and that includes knowledge of where to get a cheap beer. And although I was in a perfectly nice part of London, it was not central and not all that upmarket, whereas I watched the match in Tokyo in a neighbourhood that was both these things. If I had watched the game in a theme pub in an expensive part of London, my pints of beer would have cost about £2.80 ($A7.00) or so each, still less than Tokyo, but not by so huge a margin

Friday, November 21, 2003

My laptop is working. Yay. But I am still in the market for a new one

This looks like a sunrise or a sunset, but it isn't. It is actually mid afternoon, and the 747 is actually inside the arctic circle, so it is dark below us, but it is possible to see the light of day to the south if you are 36000 feet above the ground. In fact, the view out the plane window looked like that for three or four hours.

Thursday, November 20, 2003


I have a lot on my plate at the moment, and as a consequence I am blogging short pieces about fairly lighthearted stuff. This is not so much due to time constraints as due to the fact that I don't feel like putting intense mental effort into it.
More good things

I had never flown Japan Airlines before, and I have to say I was rather impressed. On the (day) flight back from Tokyo to London, they had a "self serve corner", where passengers could just walk up and help themselves to chocolate bars, other snacks, and non-alcoholic drinks without having to ask a flight attendant.

All that said, one thing that regular fliers learn is that one should never be shy about asking cabin attendents for things. If you want another drink, just ask and they will give you one. Still, the self serve option is nice, and I have never seen it in economy class before. It was interesting to see just how fast the stuff went, too. People genuinely do seem bashful about pressing the "call flight attendant" button.

I have seen it in business class, but there it is almost redundant, as business class cabin attendants are pretty much constantly bringing you stuff without your having to ask for it. (Amongst other things, this means that getting drunk in business class requires no conscious effort).

I have never flown first class, so I can't comment on that. Presumably that will have to wait until my Hollywood career really gets going.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003


A technical problem (to do with my laptop - not the camera) is preventing me from posting pictures right now. Hopefully this will be fixed soon.
More Japanese details

On Monday morning I went to Shinjuku station and purchased a ticket for the bus to Narita airport. There was about ten minutes to wait before the bus left, and I put my suitcase into the care of a staff member of the bus company (who gave me a luggage receipt) and I went off to a vending machine to buy a drink. When I came back, the man in charge of my suitcase was holding a wooden mallet and he grabbed my attention, pointing to the bottom of my suitcase. My suitcase is rather old and has been handled roughly at times, and one of the little legs on the case designed to allow it to stand on its side had come partially off. This had been noticed, and my permission was being asked for him to attempt to fix it. He promptly did so, hitting the little rivet that held the leg back into its appropriate position.

Little things like this happen all the time when you are in Japan. The Japanese care about details.

I have a piece on the rugby World Cup final over at Samizdata.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003


It's always nice to actually talk to readers, and see what people get out of this blog. Comments are a help, but they only give you one side of it. Often you get a lot of comments when people disagree with something that you wrote, or in which people want to add something. Pieces on stuff that people don't know anything about will usually not get many comments, which does not mean that the post was not appreciated or liked. At the recent blogger gathering in Sydney, two people gave me nice pieces of feedback. One person commented that he liked my stuff on architecture and urban design. Another commented that he had enjoyed my writing about my visit to the Basque country earlier this year (much of which was about architecture and urban design, although he didn't say if that was the particular bit he liked). It was nice to get this feedback, as that aspect of my blogging does not usually get as many comments as some other aspects do, and because these are some of the subjects I enjoy writing about the most. So thanks.
Back in London

After a door to door journey of about 19 hours, I arrived back in London yesterday evening. Of course, my memory card was waiting for me in a package beside the door. My camera now tells me that it has space in memory for 347 pictures, which would have been useful when I was in Tokyo. Memory capacity was less of an issue in Australia, as I was able to connect to a PC and save to disk every evening. As it was, I took a fair few analogue pictures in Tokyo using the SLR, so readers may have to wait a few days for some of those. I have a few digital pictures as well, so some of those soon. The 347 pictures is for 1.2 Mpixel mode. Alternately I can have 208 pictures at 2.0 Mpixels, 138 at 3.0 Mpixels, or 69 at 4.0 Mpixels. That should be plenty, I think.

Sunday, November 16, 2003


The busiest airport in Asia (by far) is Tokyo Haneda airport. This carries around the same number of passengers per year as London Heathrow, but few people who have not lived in Japan have ever heard of it. The reason for this is that it is a purely domestic airport (the one exception being that flights to Taiwan used to depart from it, although I am not sure if this is still the case). Haneda is right next to Tokyo bay, and to get to it you go on a monorail that goes along the edge of Tokyo Bay through a landscape of smelters and other industrial artifacts. And when you get there, you find that it is indeed a major airport.

If, however, you wish to fly to anywhere outside Japan, you depart from Narita airport, which in terms of passenger movements is about half the size of Haneda, which is similar to London Gatwick. (For many years attempts to expand the airport were held up by rice farmers who refused to sell the land on which the extensions were to be built. Farmers are an incredibly powerful political lobby group in Japan, probably even more so than in France). And it is an immensely long way out of the city, being about 100km north. This means that getting to and from the airport is time consuming and expensive, which is extremely annoying.

But this morning it wasn't so bad. I caught the bus from Shinjuku station to Narita, and we went along the edge of Tokyo Bay, and then across the Rainbow Bridge, and across a few other bridge and causeway connected islands from the south of central Tokyo to the north. The weather was beautiful and the bay sparkled and the city was beautiful. (Beautiful is not a word you would always connect with this city). Then we went north through the industrial landscape of Chiba - somewhat lighter industry than nearer Haneda, but not especially light in absolute terms. I suppose I could have stopped off in Chiba to get some Zeiss Ikon eyes installed, but time was short. So on to the airport, where I am now.

Tokyo is of course a maritime city and a great port, but people who visit do not always fully appreciate this. The city is an immense mass of concrete, to put it bluntly, and the major attractions do not have anything to do with the water. However, a walk along the waterfront is a fine thing to do, as everywhere. Like everywhere else, Tokyo has had waterfront redevelopment since the retreat of container shipping. (Something I promised to write about previously but have not yet gotten around to). And, perhaps amazingly, one finds a little evidence of the past on sections of the waterfront. There is even a few remnants of World War 2 if you look carefully - gun emplacements and that kind of thing.

But I have a plane to board. To London.

And yes, the atrocity in Istanbul fills me with rage. I don't think the barbarians who do things like this can be argued or reasoned with. You just have to fight.
A great afternoon

The same sorts of people who go to Camden markets in London on a Sunday afternoon go to Harajuku on a Sunday afternoon in Tokyo. The two places contain the same sorts of shops full of iconic popular culture, and the same mixture of (very) independent stores, multinationals, cool definers, and cool hunters, feeding on and spitting out something close to ground zero in street culture. This is recognised by lots of people, and one consequence of this is that you see many Japanese in Camden Town in London. Possibly the British do not recognise this in the same way - there are plenty of westerners in Harajuku on a Sunday, but they do not seem to be British dominated in the same way Asians in Camden are Japanese dominated. Or maybe they do, and Harajuku is full of Londoners but my senses are not intense.

I find this cultural ground zero quality of certain places fascinating. I am not of it myself - I am about the least cool person in existence - but as an observer I am drawn to it. I don't quite know why.

More on this, and photos, when I return to London.

I have a piece on watching the Australian Rugby team's magnificent victory over New Zealand from Tokyo over at ubersportingpundit.

I spent the morning in Akihabara, the section of Tokyo devoted to selling the latest products of the Japanese consumer electronics industry, many of them not available and never to be seen in the rest of the world. I am in the market for a new laptop (and my travails so far in attempting to get one would fill a small and very funny book), and I utterly fell in love with a gorgeous little widescreen model that was in my price range and had all the features I wanted. All the features, that is, except the England version of Microsoft Windows. You see, this was a Japan only model. Grrrrr.

As a place, though, Tokyo blows the mind. There is nowhere else remotely like it.

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