Guinness, Japanese Style

I love Guinness. Unfortunately, here in Japan, a Guinness habit could bleed you dry of your hard earned yen. I’ve seen pints of Guinness selling for ¥900+ in bars, which probably is what turned me off bars in general in the country. A 330 milliliter can also sells for ¥300+ in supermarkets and convenience stores. Although it isn’t hard to find, I usually only indulge on special occasions or due to the generosity of others.

Luckily for me, my Japanese in-laws seem to think I require Guinness to make it through a day (not that bad, yet). So they habitually gift me a six pack on Christmas and birthdays, as well as provide it during other festivities. This year, the final year of my thirties, they dropped off a a Guinness “Winter Special Box”, featuring a rather unique “slim pint” glass.

I was a bit suspicious of this “slim pint”, but finding a traditional pint glass here has proved difficult so I’ll take what I can get. This particular glass is more accurately a narrow half pint glass, and one 330 milliliter can pours perfectly into this lovely compact vessel. It features a engraved harp on the back and the Guinness seal on the front. Somehow, in micro-loving Japan, this “slim pint” seems wildly appropriate.


Year of the Dog

If you aren’t aware, 2017 is the year of the dog. So let’s take a moment to revel in my dog Sunny’s ridiculous wardrobe. He has an outfit for every single situation, both real and imagined, so this is just a sample.

From top left clockwise: hand-knitted hat, flannel pajamas, chan-chan ko (wan-wan ko), summer sunglasses
Philadelphia Eagles jersey, walkabout hat, summer cooling tank-top (by ALPHAICON), o-pajama (by ALPHAICON), fall blanket
Philadelphia Flyers jersey, summer cooling parka (by ALPHAICON)
fall hoodie, Christmas hoodie (by Pinkaholic), winter down jacket, Halloween bandana
snow dog guard (by ALPHAICON), shima-shima pinstripes, lighted Christmas sweater, dog guard air (by ALPHAICON)

New Year, New Theme

Finally completed the arduous process of backing up and upgrading my server. For you Linux nerds that meant shuffling from Debian “Wheezy” to “Jessie”, giving me a couple more years of security updates until I have to do it all over again. Considering I did this without using the recommended fresh install method (instead I updated my repositories and hoped for no breakages), we were lucky to get the site back with minimal downtime. Just a few fixes to my apache2, php, and wordpress config files and things were back online. It was a learning process – mysqldump, tar, and a variety of Linux commands I needed a refresher on were implemented. (If none of that makes any sense, don’t worry, it was jibberish to me until a few years ago.)

The hard work done, I then set out to revamp my theme. The decode theme I have employed for several years doesn’t allow for background color changes, so I took that as a challenge to dig deep into the CSS code and do it manually. I love the retro green on black, plus it’s better on the eyes.

Hopefully this year I’ll be able to write more frequently. No topic is off limits, whatever strikes my fancy, so be prepared!

Semi-Urban Lightweight Angling

In the past year I have experimented with fly fishing via bicycle within the city limits of Sapporo. Slowly I began assembling the gear necessary to get me from apartment to stream as swiftly as possible. It has been a slow process, filled with trial and error.(See my previous post about what I started out with) Recently I pulled together some of the final elements of my kit that take me into an entirely new realm of fishing. Gone is my 9 foot 5 weight fly rod and reel. Instead, I made the plunge into Japanese angling and purchased a Nissen Pocket Mini. This is a 360 centimeter (11’8″) telescoping keiryu rod that can also be used as a tenkara rod. No reel, long rod, light line.

The Nissin Pocket Mini collapses down to an insane 25 cm and extends out to 3.60 meters. Usually retailing at ¥27,000 – I managed to snag one off for ¥17,000 !!

When I unfurled this 20 segment rod I was astounded! It weighs next to nothing, and is extremely delicate. I will be treating this piece with utmost care. Because it is technically a keiryu rod, I have the option of using it as such by rigging a very light monofilament line system with split shot and colored indicators. But that’s for another mid-life fishing crisis. For now, I’ll be rigging approximately 3.60 meters of #3.5 tenkara level line and about 3 feet of 7X tippet (as recommended by Nissin).

The Oni tenkara level line is an extremely light fluorocarbon that offers enough weight to get the fly moving. Much lighter than a 1 wt traditional fly line.

Before deciding to go with this particular rod, I researched heavily into tenkara and all the manufacturers currently on the scene. Tenkara is one of the rare instances of an element of Japanese culture being exported/discovered in the U.S. and re-imported back to Japan.(逆輸出, gyaku yushutsu – reverse export) Many Japanese tenkara anglers have taken advantage of this and can be found speaking on the American fly fishing lecture circuit and YouTube. U.S. companies like Tenkara USA and Tenkara Rod Co. make attractive kits with everything one needs to get started on the river. I considered a few such rods. Their easy to use websites with online forums make understanding the nuances of tenkara much simpler than having to parse my way through some Japanese text. The rods produced by these U.S. startups are much cheaper as well. But most of their rod manufacturing is simply farmed out to China and lack the quality control that I require from a fishing rod. So I started looking at the selection of fine telescoping rods made right here in old Nippon. Eventually I went with Nissin, a company with a long history of making rods in Japan.

No frills, just fine crafts.manship. Just some basic safety instructions and Nissin’s commitment to quality with a simple cloth case – Really, what else do you need?

Nissin’s Pocket Mini, and most telescoping rods made in Japan, usually come without any frills. Just the rod and some simple instructions. Everything else is up to the angler. And as you can see, the Pocket Mini lives up to its namesake:

The Pocket Mini can actually fit in your pocket!

Now I am ready to hit the stream via bike, subway, train, and/or bus. Of course this is a warm weather thing, and as soon as Autumn sets in I will have to go back to waders and a reliance on automobiles. Until then, I’ll be exploring Sapporo’s many waterways with a rather light ecological footprint.

Patagonia Sling Vest, Montbell shower trek boots (felt soled), and my 1.5 ounce rod – ready to hit the water


Micro Man Cave 2.1 

I’ve added some real depth to my micro man cave this past year. Two massive Nanoblock projects in particular really tied the shelf together: the T-Rex and Human Body skeletons!

This guy gave me some difficulty, but it finally got completed after a marathon 2 day session.

The paper models help mix things up a bit.

I’ve pretty much taken over all my wife’s space on this shelf, so my micro-man cave has kind of hit maximum threshold. Thank goodness Sapporo isn’t prone to many large earthquakes, this type of arrangement would have been next to impossible to maintain in Tokyo.

Pickle Potato Chips

Sometimes wading through Japan’s obsession with bizarrely flavored snacks, you come across a true gem. Today I present pickle flavored potato chips!

When I saw these I couldn’t believe my eyes. Dill pickles, like the ones featured on the package, aren’t exactly a staple of the Japanese diet. So I was a bit suspicious. But alas, Kaldi got this one right! The pickle taste isn’t overpowering, they still taste like proper bagged potato chips. But there is just a hint of dill, an aftertaste, that makes these one of the better chips I have tasted in the past couple years. Eat a bag of these and you’ll feel like you ate a sandwich(with some side pickles) at a Jewish deli in Flushing.

These are made by Kaldi and can only be found in their shops. If you haven’t been to Kaldi, get there. It is a great import foodstuff shop that specializes in coffee beans. They always have free coffee samples at the entrance, so it makes a good layover even if you are just window shopping.

Note – after some quick research I found that pickle flavor is now pretty commonplace amongst American chip manufacturers. But it is good to know that they are being produced locally here in Japan.

Financial Planning for English Language Teachers -Part 1 

This might hit some of you pretty hard, but it’s time I give some of you the lowdown on living in Japan as an English language teacher and how that relates to maintaining financial security. These words might hold true for most types of expats in Japan, but especially for those navigating the unlucrative ESL teaching waters.

First off, you are not rich, nor will you ever become rich in this racket. Don’t try to play “Keeping Up With the Takahashis” with your neighbors. Even if working six days a week, from 8 AM to 10 PM sounds alluring to you for some ungodly reason; the ESL marketplace is not a growth industry. So let’s work on some of the micro-economical things you can do to keep that balance sheet in the black.

#1 Never ever utter the words “house – own – my – mortgage”. Don’t buy a house. This isn’t something to aspire to. If you are a single dude living here long term, then owning a home isn’t really a legal reality in most cases. If you are like me and married, then it is a possibility – but one which should be never embraced. Even if your wife brings in a decent paycheck – please rent an apartment for the rest of your Japanese life. It will save you yen, hassle, and heartache.

#2 You can’t own a car, or really any vehicle. You’re a public transportation person now. You’re a bike person now. You shouldn’t even know how much gasoline costs. When you do use a car as a passenger (someone else’s, taxis), it should be such a rare experience that you literally forget that they drive on the left). If you live in the city then owning a car should be anathema to your core values. Aside from being environmentally unsustainable, it makes zero sense economically. You will have to pay extra for monthly parking (almost never included in the apartment that you will rent). More importantly, any job even remotely credible is going to pay your monthly public transportation fee. It would be utterly ridiculous to not take advantage of the one benefit that ESL jobs still provide.

If you live out in the countryside, away from buses and trains, good luck! Maybe your employer will provide a car. That’s all well and good, but not a job sweetener in my book.

#3 Japan is pricey, that’s no secret. But eating out regularly will set you back no matter what country you live in. Learn to love the supermarket. You should be stopping by 3-4 times a week, slowly replenishing your supply base. Same goes for bars. Your balcony is your new bar. If you have to drink to numb your brain to the robotic nature of society, then buy cheap happoshu, or one of these tall cocktail drinks with an obliterating amount of alcohol:

Grape, Apple, Plum, or Peach? A tall can with a 8% alcohol content is a great, cheap way to unwind.

So there it is. My top three tips on saving yen in Japan for ESL teachers looking to stay long term. Learn restraint. Learn how to live within yourself.

Super Strong Sour Plum Doritos

Japan, you finally did it. Congratulations! A sour plum infused Dorito. The world was waiting and you responded, with authority. Not just any sour plum flavour, super strong sour plum! Thank god! We all were wondering when Frito Lay would finally start to innovate.

Not exactly a snack you crave for.

To be honest, these weren’t half as bad as they sound. Nothing like some of the other crackpot flavours I have seen pop up over the years here in Japan. (Pepsi flavoured Cheetos anyone?) Then again, I didn’t really plow through the bag and run out to the store to get more. That pretty much should be the motto for most of these novelty snack flavours – “You won’t eat them all in one sitting!” 

Three Raspberry Pies Please!

Way back I wrote about how my disgust for Windows XP’s language region lock down, caused me to shun proprietary software, embrace GNU/Linux, and extend the life and capabilities of my low spec Toshiba netbook. This in turn got be further entrenched in the open source world, where I found the Raspberry Pi.
My first Raspberry Pi Model B became a nice tinkering box. I did numerous GPIO projects with that first Pi, LCD lights were fried, and much edutainment was had. It was then I decided to put my Model B to more practical use and transformed it into a modest but reliable web server. You’re using it right now. No, it’s not the quickest, but it does the job. It sits nestled on the plastic shelves next to the fridge. It’s been running three years with hardly a hiccup, except those caused by my own wrongdoing. At some point I might have to tack on some extra storage or update to a newer model. But if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I’m learning Apache and fiddling with style sheets.

Silently churning away on his little shelf, my Raspi Webserver still gets the job done – 3 years and counting!

Then another Pi Model B was gifted to me, leaving me free to continue exploring the wonders of DIY electronics. Sometimes I got carried away, lost in a collage of wires and resisters, figuring out Ohm’s Law, and generally being amazed at all interesting projects I could potentially make (potentially is the keyword). Eventually I turned this Pi into a retro gaming device using RetroPie. Basically, I use this for 16 / 8 bit system emulation (PC Engine, NES) and use a small disused LCD monitor from the early 2000s. I overclock the Pi to some recommended speeds and occasionally have a go at Bonk’s Adventure.

Fortunately the original Raspberry Pi still has composite video/audio.

Finally, last Christmas Santa came through with the latest Raspberry Pi 3. This powerful little guy blows my other two Pis out of the water. I have this guy plugged via HDMI on my big screen. Haven’t set it up for anything particular, but I suppose it will serve as a jack-of-all sorts, part do-it-yourself Roku, part hackers board. My most rewarding hack thus far is learning how to seamlessly use my Linux powered netbook as the remote keyboard using VNC and a great tool called x2vnc. If you ever wanted to use your laptop’s keyboard /mouse-pad remotely to control another screen, this might be the coolest workaround out there.

The Raspberry Pi has made the winters here in Sapporo a little brighter, and allowed me to explore all the joys and frustrations of Linux networking within the confines of my tiny Japanese apartment. It helped me passed the LPIC-1, with plans to take the LPIC-2 in the near future. All without paying a single course fee or working within the tech sector.

What has the Raspberry Pi done for you? Love to hear from you in the comments.

Japanese Beer Can Artwork

With only four primary brewers battling it out for supremacy amongst Japanese consumers, and a micobrew scene that remains straight jacketed by anachronistic laws, Japanese marketing has to really pull out all stops to distinguish themselves on the supermarket shelf.

Kirin Ichiban Shibori – Chitose River edition

Kirin decided to really turn on the Hokkaido charm by featuring the winding Chitose River, in obvious reference to their brewery in Chitose City. Sapporo Beer might still have the regional cachet, but Kirin is always nipping at their heels trying to win hearts and minds.