Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Passenger-related accident involving bodily injury

I was sitting on the train home from uni yesterday late afternoon (I sat in my lab for about two hours but couldn't settle or concentrate, partly due to hunger and partly to tiredness thanks to being woken three times last night: once by a series of texts, and twice by the couple next door who apparently can't decide whether they like fucking or fighting better, so do both in healthy amounts at max volume at all hours) and suddenly the train slammed to a halt between stations. Everyone glanced up briefly, looking mildly perturbed, but immediately went back to gazing at their smartphones.

And then this announcement:


O-kyakusama ni o-shirase desu. Jinshinjiko ga hassei shita tame kyuuteisha itashimashita. Osoreirimasu ga shibaraku o-machi kudasai.

 "This is a passenger announcement. Due to an accident causing bodily injury, we have made an emergency stop. We apologize for the delay."

And then, a few moments later, the dreaded follow-up announcement:

O-kyakusama ni o-shirase desu. Jinshinjiko ga hassei shita tame, tadaima unten o miawasete orimasu.

“This is a passenger announcement. Due to an accident causing bodily injury, operation is currently temporarily suspended.”

I, along with probably everyone else on the train, heaved a sigh of annoyance. People started gathering their belongings in preparation for abandoning ship. The general mood was one of pissed-off "why me, why now". And this is the only reaction I have ever seen in Tokyo. It may be a symptom of everyone's bubble-like self-absorption, but no one cares that someone felt desperate enough to fling themselves in front of an oncoming train. Everyone is pissed off at the selfishness of the person who chose the most dramatic suicide method possible, the one that inconveniences the greatest number of people possible.

人 身事故 literally means "accident causing bodily injury". It's not always a suicide - but as the older guy walking behind me in the swarm of people trekking from the Tobu Tojo line station to the corresponding Saikyo line station about 20 minutes' walk away, "Jinshinjiko just means jisatsu (suicide), you know? But they can't say that," he laughed.

I posted on Twitter my annoyance at my journey being interrupted and my happiness at getting my ticket refunded and a free ride to Ikebukuro on the Saikyo. My Twitter is linked to my Facebook, and this tweet was posted there. Then a friend, who lives in the countryside here and who has been here less than a year, commented with "poor dead person". And my initial reaction was: No! They're so selfish! Why should anyone feel sorry for them? They could have chosen any other means of offing themselves but they had to choose the one that inconveniences thousands of people and carries a crippling fine from the train company for their family to boot. No one seems to be sure how much this fine is, but there are rumours of 100 million yen (1.2 million US dollars). If anything you should feel sorry for the poor driver who had to be the involuntary tool of their demise.

The Japanese attitude to suicide, as it is to many things, is: if you're going to do it, do it unobtrusively and without bothering anyone else. Committing suicide by commuter train flagrantly disobeys this social expectation. It is the showiest, angriest way to kill yourself. It's a way of saying Fuck you, you drove me to this, it's all of your fault. One of the saddest of these suicides recently was a 14 year old girl who was wearing her school uniform when she jumped. Apparently she had been bullied.

Suicides are most frequent on Mondays, and on the Chuo line (leading to the term "Chuicide"). The reason for the former is self-evident; the latter because the Chuo line trains are all high-speed expresses and have a lot of cars, so it's hard if not impossible for a driver to stop in time.

What happens when someone commits suicide by train is this. 

1. All trains on that line are suspended immediately and cleanup begins (possibly the least enviable job in this entire city, if not the planet). 

2. Announcements are made of a "passenger-related bodily injury incident", and alternative routes of transport to major hubs are recommended "for those in a hurry", which everyone is, always. 

3. Everyone gets off the train and hurries to the station window at the ticket barriers. Here you hand over your electronic travel card (Suica or Pasmo) and the cost of the journey up until that point will be refunded (NB: this sometimes depends on the train company) as well as your card "voided" for that journey so it won't cause an error when you swipe through the next ticket barrier at the alternative station you're about to walk to. If you don't have a travel card, you're handed a little paper ticket which entitles you to a free journey.

4. You then follow the crowd streaming out of the station and enjoy a scenic walk through whichever commuter satellite suburb you happen to have ended up in to the nearest alternative line station.

5. Once there don't go through the barriers, but instead flash your travel card/hand over your paper ticket and go through the non-barriered route by the station window. You then enjoy a free ride to your destination.

6. Upon arrival, once again follow the crowd and line up at the station window to walk through without passing through the barriers.

Since this process is assumed to be understood by all, there are no explanations or announcements, even in Japanese. The first time this happened to me I had no idea what to do, and I think I ended up paying for my alternative journey as a result. All of the announcements for a suicide are made by the driver over loudspeaker rather than a pre-recorded message, so they're in Japanese only; I've seen so many confused tourists when this happens on one of the main lines, like the Yamanote. I once went over and explained to a family who was waiting on a deserted platform for a train that wouldn't be coming for at least an hour what was going on, and how they could get to where they were going, but JR really needs a standard pre-recorded English/Chinese message for this situation. I doubt they'll make one, though, since it's one of those things that's socially embarrassing and not exactly great for the city's image.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Tips & tricks for the game centre, or: the spoils of war

Long time no post! I'm writing my master's thesis at the moment (due in January) so my life is a whirlwind of no fun and sitting at my desk for 12 hours and producing 3 pages.

Anyway! My friend took the JLPT the other day and since she was passing through Yokohama, we met up for dinner. We went to the cheap & cheerful Chinese restaurant that I always end up going to in Yokohama. It was delicious. Then we went to the game centre to feed my addiction for UFO catchers (recently rekindled) and to take some purikura.

There was a period of my life (around 2009-2010) during which I had a serious addiction to UFO catchers. I've only just managed to start playing them again this year in moderation - it doesn't help though that I've been having a run of really good luck with them, though. Have to remember that THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS.

There are some tips I have for those of you who feel like going up against the might of the House in order to attempt to come home with an adorable and unneccessary stuffed toy/figurine/bag full o' sweets that'll just make you fat anyway, however.

uiggu's 10 tips for sticking it to the man and winning on UFO catchers

1. Go to big-name game centres. In my experience Taito Station, Sega, and Round One are the best. This seems counter-intuitutive, perhaps, but the reason is simple: the big chains have a reputation to keep up and want customers going home happy. Hence the staff are generally extremely helpful and will usually will re-set the prize to make it easier for you if you ask (see point 3). They also have huge revenues, which means they can afford to make it easier for you.

2. By the same token, avoid small, independent game centres. They're usually kind of shady and dirty, the arms of the grabbers in the UFO catchers are pathetically noodly and weak, and because they're up against the wall with the profit margins they often scalp you for 200 yen per try on the larger toy UFO catchers. The staff are usually also full of ennui and will not lift a finger to help you.

3. Time your visit. If you're serious about taking home some booty (heh), know when to go. The arm strength of the grabber, not to mention the price per play, change depending on the day and the time of day. Weekday mornings and afternoons (BEFORE the schools get let out at 3.30pm) are a good bet, as are Sunday nights after around 8pm.

4. Choose your area wisely. Even in the same chain of game centres, the area affects the difficulty of the machines. It is a truth universally acknowledged that the machines in famous geek-town Akihabara (I work there, I say this with love) are of insane difficulty levels, with weak grabber arms and fiendish positioning of prizes. The payoff is that the prizes are usually the newest, worth a lot in resale value, or limited edition. This is pro-level stuff.

In contrast, game centres in suburban centres (such as Center Kita in Yokohama, Tama Center, and so on) are usually a good bet, as are the following: Taito Station at Shinjuku Station West Exit, Round One in Yokohama, and Sega in Shibuya. These all cater to the "casual UFO catcher player" as well as to the high-school crowd, so the prizes are fairly easy to win.

5. Choose your machine wisely. Just as in pachinko parlours, machines near the door or actually outside the game centre are the easiest to win on. Why? To make you think that ALL the machines are as easy, and to draw you further inside, of course, as well as to create a happy tableau of people winning things for other passersby/potential customers. Generally the further inside it is, the harder the machine.

6. If ye ask, ye shall receive. ALWAYS ask before starting to play a UFO catcher for the toy to be re-set, unless you've come to a machine that someone else has obviously been playing and given up on and the toy is in a favourable position. The same goes for if there's colour variations of the same toy in the machine and you want a different one than the one currently set. Do this in advance, because most game centres will not allow you to exchange a toy for one of a different colour once you've actually won it. I don't know why. The most likely answer is "Japan".

7. The way you ask, and who does the asking, is very important. If you're a girl, find a male employee. If you're a guy with a girl, get the girl to do the asking, or you go and find a female employee and make it seem as if you HAVE to get this toy for your girlfriend/mother/little sister.

Ask as cutely and helplessly as possible. Be nice. Smile. Be winning. Be shameless. Remember, the goal is the toy. Nothing is too low in the pursuit of that goal.

Also, and this is important:

8. If you are foreign-looking, you will have an advantage. USE IT.

These game centre employees think you are a tourist. They want you to have a good time at their game centre. They want you to go home with the toy you want and tell everyone in "your country" how great and hospitable a nation Japan is, and that they should all come to Japan too and play at the game centre you played at and had such a great time at. With all this going on in their heads, watch them balance the toy on the very edge for you so that one push will knock it down. In the case of the Hello Kitty pillow below, when re-setting it for me, the guy did everything but hand me the damn thing; in the end he took a good 90 seconds to balance it perfectly because it kept actually falling into the chute.

The only time I "play the gaijin card" in Japan is in game centres.

Like I said: addiction.

9. Set a budget for how much you're going to spend BEFORE you start playing. Try not to fall into the cycle of "so close! I've come this far, I may as well see it through". That way madness (and bankruptcy) lies. So many times I've spent upwards of 1000 yen on a toy only to find it on Yahoo Auctions for half that later.

10. Use your first try to test the strength of the grabber arms. You can usually tell in the first try whether or not the machine is viable. If the arms just slide straight off the sides of the toy without gaining any traction, even if you get them in exactly the right place, you may as well give up now. There are some machines that cannot be won.

If there's interest, I'll do a post on actual techniques for UFO catchers.

Anyway, here are the spoils of my game centre binge of the last month as well as some other things I didn't actually try for but thought were cute. Enjoy!

The moment I saw this I had to have it. Dokodemo Issho's Toro-chan collaboration with Madoka Magica! (I realize this sentence will probably mean nothing to a large percentage of my readers.)

Great, just when I'm dieting THIS happens. Oh well, chocolate for breakfast for the next 3 months it is then.
I'm also severely addicted to these machines which work like those penny pushing machines, where you put in a coin and it falls down and a constantly pushing block then pushes everything slightly forward towards the open slot. In Japan "gambling" with actual money is illegal (and those penny-pushing machines count as gambling), so they do it with chocolate and sweets instead. There's usually a piled-up tower of chocolate bars teetering near the edge of the precipice, and the game is to make it collapse at the right moment into the slot before the time runs out and the slot closes. Take my word for it: the moment when the tower collapses is the greatest feeling ever.
Like I said: addiction.

Hello Kitty giant face pillow which I got in two tries, or 200 yen (!) at the Taito Station near Sanrio Puroland the other day. 

Back of the pillow ♡

しょぼ〜ん face characters in a machine. Love the one at bottom left. That's how I feel when writing my thesis.

The Christmas version. I was tempted, but I'm actually not technically allowed to bring home more soft toys (house rule), so I abstained.

D: D: ♡

Monday, 28 May 2012

Today's bento and supermarket reduction wars

The actual contents were pretty basic, but I thought the 彩り (irodori, "aesthetically pleasing arrangement of colours"? Hard to translate) worked out pretty well today, actually. Someone set the rice cooker timer to have the rice ready ten minutes after I leave the house, so rice-putting-in duty was left to said person who gets to sleep an hour and a half longer than I do in the mornings. (♯`∧´)

Also, here's what I had for breakfast. I would love to say I made them, but no, I just risked life and limb to seize them from under the grabby hands of a pushy old lady at the reduced section of the supermarket last night. According to Hide she gave me a serious 白い目 (shiroi me, literally "white eye", evil look), despite the fact she had just seized some chicken literally as my fingers touched the package. It's a war out there, ladies.

Anyway, how pretty are these sandwiches? I will never stop being in love with Japanese presentation of food.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Bunny man, Swedish snack and yuzu ramen

I slept in (i.e. I got up at 6:50 instead of 6:30) and what with making bento for Hide and myself - every single morning before 7am, two and a half months and counting! - I left it too late to get my usual 7:35 bus to Shibuya station, so for the first time in ages I braved the commuter crush on the Toyoko line and cycled to Gakugei-Daigaku station. I had put my bike in the parking area designed for this purpose and turned towards the ticket gates when I saw this.


Good reader, thine eyes deceive thee not. It's a middle-aged, ponytailed, plastic-sandalled man with two pet rabbits. One was on a leash while one lolloped gaily around its master's feet. I was more concerned with the fact that two primary school girls had been stopped in their tracks by the unexpected bunniful goodness (as well they might) and were now being talked to at close range by said ponytailed gentleman.

Now just to give you some background, I have seen this technique before. Old, weird man + cute furry animal = old weird man cancelled out and girls flock to pet cute furry animal. There's a guy in Shimokitazawa who sits at an outdoor cafe table with a giant fat cat spreadeagled on his lap. Girls queue up to pet the cat, and meanwhile he gets to inhale their scent at close range.

Anyway, I stayed until the little girls left unmolested. A world-weary salaryman walked past me, looked at the rabbits, did a massive double take, and said "びっくりしたぁ" (literal equivalent: "I was surprised"; rough equivalent: "Bloody hell"). I was already late, so I got on the train and did my 1.5 hour purgatorial commute which takes in the glorious sights of the major commuter hubs of Shibuya, Shinjuku, AND Ikebukuro! Lucky me.

This evening I went for drinks with my friend Saka at a (wait for it) Swedish-themed "snack bar" which is owned by a mama-san in her 60s and staffed by white girls. The mama-san (whom I instantly liked for her dark humour and straight-talking; example, to me, in Japanese, "If you worked here, you'd have to dress more like an obasan (frumpy old woman) - the customers like simply-dressed girls") gets around the law of employing foreigners in night work by calling her bat an "English conversation pub". Somehow she got me to write my phone number down so she could call me if she needed someone to cover a shift. Er...

After putting away most of a bottle of merlot, Saka and I went for ramen. Mine was shio-yuzu (salt-Japanese citron - yes, the translation for "yuzu"
sucks) and I feared it wouldn't be full of enough umami, but it exceeded my expectations. Yum.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

The most perfectly round cha-han ever

When I got home from a translation meeting at uni at around 8:30 last night, Hide had (unusually) managed to get home before me and make me dinner, including this miracle of cooking physics... the most perfectly round cha-han (fried rice) ever. Gaze upon it and tremble.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Encounters with old ladies at the deli and Patriotic Mushroom Hat Bowl Cat

I'm sorry there were no updates for April! In Japan, school (and everything else) starts in April, and I may have remembered when it did that I have to submit a master's thesis by November this year. I also started a new part-time job at an international patent office. Translating patents is neither fun nor particularly rewarding, but it does pay rather well.  I've also kept up making bento for Hide every single day (bar weekends and holidays, when we go for decadent ramen or something) for the past two months. I now have quite a library of artful lunchbox photographs which I bet you're just dying to see.

But instead, here's a picture of when my friend Chipii and I went to a cat cafe in Shimokitazawa the other week.

It's a cat in a bowl. With a football/mushroom hat. With a Japanese flag on the hat.

However, I believe cats are happiest when not adorned with random pieces of crap, so I made the executive decision to remove the ridiculous hat once Bowl Cat had given us the photo op. It neither awoke nor moved the entire time we were there (close to an hour).

Truly, that day no fucks were given by Bowl Cat.

I got back from uni really late this evening and went to to supermarket in order to pick up some stuff for said lunches, since Golden Week (the consecutive public holidays we had last week) depleted our fridge, at the cunning ninja time of after 9pm, which is when they start reducing stuff at the deli counter by 30%-50%.

I was debating over two types of fried chicken when a tiny old lady poked my arm, as old ladies of pretty much any race are wont to do.

Her: 'Is everything reduced yet?'
Me: 'Yes, it is.'
Her: 'Where does it say that?'
Me: 'On this sign here.' [points to large red sign saying 'Everything here half price!')
Her: [looks at me for first time, does a massive double take] 'Oh! I asked a foreigner!' (she said gaijin no kata, which is like a bizarre combination of the non-polite word for foreigner and the super-polite word for referring to a person)
Me: [laughs] 'It's fine.'
Her: 'You speak such good Japanese, how long have you been here?'
Me: 'About four years altogether.'
Her: 'And you're so fluent in only that time!' [to herself] 'I asked a foreigner... I must be going senile.'