The Toire Exorcism

Toire Monster

The Ghost of the Toire

The team was hunkered down in our hyper classified bunker located somewhere in the Tokyo metropolis. The second shift, in the form of Fred and George, had just arrived to take over for Tony and I. Fred looked much the worse for wear, with red-rimmed eyes, a sloppy shave, and a general air of defeat.

“Are you sure you can work today?” I asked, “You look like you haven’t slept in days.”

“I haven’t,” said Fred, “My girlfriend is convinced my apartment is haunted. She wakes me up ten times per night to check on the noises. Hell, when a small quake comes, she screams like a baby.”

“Haunted? What makes her think the apartment is haunted?”

“It started when the toilet went crazy; it started raising and lowering the lid randomly. I tried to tell her that it was probably broken, but ever since that night every little noise or shake sets her off.”

For those not familiar with Japan, the high-technology toilets are a common item here. They range from simple heated seat models to bum washing machines that blow dry your privates. If anything was ripe for haunting, it would be a Japanese toilet. Add in the fact that Japanese folklore has many types of ghosts associated with toilets, and you have a recipe for terror.

“So,” I said, “It looks like you have an Onryo in your Toire.”

“What’s an Onryo?” asked Fred.

“An Onryo is a vengeful ghost,” I said. “There are several types, from Hanako-san, to the Akaname monster, to Aka

Manto, to Reiko Kashima. Those are just the most popular.”

“I don’t believe in that crap,” said Fred.

“It doesn’t matter what you believe,” I replied, “What matters is what she believes. I believe that you won’t get a decent night’s sleep until you solve this problem.”

“How can I get rid of an imaginary ghost?” asked Fred.

“With an imaginary exorcism, of course!” I replied. “We can perform a Toire Exorcism to rid your home of this vengeful spirit.”

“What’s a Toire Exorcism?” asked Fred.

“Toire is the Japanese word for toilet and exorcism is the casting out of spirits. This’ll be great!”

Whether it was due to his sleep addled mind, or the conviction in my voice, Fred reluctantly agreed to invite us over to perform the exorcism.

“Now to prepare for the exorcism, you need to make a shopping trip,” I said.

“Shopping? What do I need to shop for?” said Fred.

“We have to sell this to your girlfriend,” I replied. “We have to show you went to a lot of trouble to cleanse the apartment of evil spirits.”

“OK,” said Fred, pulling out a clipboard, “Tell me what you need.”

“Twelve beers to start, better get the Yebisu tall boys. Hell, make it 24. Then you’ll have to get some Holy Water…”

“Wait,” interrupted Fred, “Where am I supposed to get Holy Water in Tokyo?”

“There are lots of churches in Tokyo,” I said. “Ride the Marunouchi line to Yotsuya, exit the station and turn right. You’ll see St. Ignatius Church. There are Holy Water bowls. Take a bit of Holy Water for the ceremony. While you’re at it, try to get the priest to bless the beer.”

Later that night, Tony and I congregated at Fred’s apartment. George couldn’t make it, but he wished us the best in our endeavors.

Fred had a standard Japanese style apartment, tiny but well appointed. Fred had added western style furniture, meaning he didn’t have to sit on the floor to eat, watch TV, or sleep. Instead of tatami mats, it had wood patterned linoleum strips for the flooring in the common areas and carpeting in the bedrooms.

Fred introduced us to his current girlfriend, Joy. She was an Aussie ex-pat working as an English teacher at one of the innumerable English schools located in Tokyo.

“I’m glad to finally meet Fred’s co-workers,” Joy said. “He’s so secretive about his work. Won’t tell me where he works, or who he works with. Do you all really work for a Top Secret government project?”

“Not at all,” I replied. Tony gave Fred the stinkeye behind Joy’s back. We don’t talk about work, ever.

“We don’t have any secrets,” I said, “You can visit us any time.” Fred looked like he was about to interrupt as I continued, “Fred didn’t want you to meet us because we’re assholes. We chased away his previous three girlfriends. Naturally, he’s reluctant to have us mingle.”

“Fred,” she said, looking back and forth between Fred and us, “I didn’t know you had other girlfriends here before me.” It looked like Fred and Joy were going to have a “talk” after we left.

“Fred,” I said, anxious to change the subject, “Did you obtain the blessed beer and Holy Water?”

“I got the Holy Water,” Fred said, “but getting the priest to bless the beer was impossible. I never thought a man of God would lose his temper like that. If I were Catholic, he would have excommunicated me. I was lucky to get out of there intact. Luckily, I got the Holy Water before asking for the beer blessing.”

“That’s OK,” I said, “We’ll just have to double up on the amount of beer we drink to complete the exorcism. That’s why I asked for the tallboy cans.”

“So,” interjected Tony, “did someone mention beer?”

A few minutes’ later, chilled cans (well, a “tinny” in Joy’s case) of Yebisu beer in hand, we inspected the door of the haunted toire. I flipped on the light switch that was mounted on the outside of the toilet room. Japanese homes keep the bathing room separate from the toilet, a much better design in my mind. As the light switch clicked, we could hear the spectral sounds of the toilet activating. Motioning for everybody to step back, I quickly pulled the door open. The toilet lid was cycling itself up and down.

“OK,” I said, “This might take a while; it looks like you have a severe spirit infestation.

“First, we need to replenish our beer supply. Joy! Fresh beers all around.”

Joy, who had backed into the farthest corner of the hallway, raced with alacrity to the kitchen to get fresh beers. I closed the door to the toilet to keep the spirits locked in.

A few steps down the hallway brought me to the bag of tools I had brought. As I pulled out equipment, Joy handed me a beer. “What’s that?” she asked, pointing to a yellow electronic device.

“Electronic spirit level,” I responded, channeling my best Ghostbusters voice. I continued pulling out a Fluke Multimeter, some hand tools, and various other items.

We gathered outside the toilet door again as Joy handed fresh beers to Fred and Tony. Fred tried to demure, but at my insistence that drinking beer was part of the cleansing ritual, he accepted another.

Holding the level in front of me as if warding off a vampire, I opened the door again. The toilet seat was still cycling up and down. Motioning the others back, I slipped inside the toilet room and examined the setup. The toilet seat was one of those high tech devices common in Japanese homes. The seat, heated, of course, was plugged into a wall outlet. An electronic panel mounted on the wall controlled the various functions of the toilet.

Reaching down to the outlet, I unplugged the toilet seat. This halted the random cycling of the seat. I tried plugging it in again to see if a reset cleared the glitch, but the seat immediately started cycling again. I pulled the plug again. Leaving the meter on the top of the toilet tank, I backed out of the toilet room.

“Well,” I said, “I’ve managed to get the spirit to quiet down by blocking it with the spirit level. But the exorcism isn’t complete.” I drained the last of my second beer and handed the empty to Joy.

Joy had crept closer, encouraged by the silence of the toilet. “What else do you need to do?” she asked.

“Fred,” I responded, “I’m going to need the Holy Water and a fresh beer. I will have to step into that devil’s den and complete the exorcism.”

“Are you sure you’ll be safe?” asked Tony in his best afraid-for-a-friend voice. I thought he was laying it on too thick, but a glance at Joy showed she was eating up the performance. Tony has the kind of face that lets him get away with huge lies.

“Fear has never stopped me before,” I replied.

Fred arrived with the small vial of Holy Water and a fresh beer. Cracking the top of the beer, I pretended to examine the Holy Water. Beer in left hand, Holy Water in my right, I made the sign of the cross with the Holy Water and muttered the only Latin phrase I could recall from a misspent youth, “Omnia Vincent Amore!”

I entered the toilet, shutting the door behind me and took a seat on the closed toilet lid. Draining half the beer in a gulp, I popped the control panel off the wall. As I suspected, the remote was a wireless device. It contained a multitude of buttons, as well as a small LCD screen. The screen was blank, indicating a lack of power. Examining the back revealed a small panel locked down with a Philips screw. Unscrewing the panel revealed a pair of AA batteries. Removing the batteries took only seconds. I pulled a fresh set of batteries from my shirt pocket and inserted them into the remote. The old batteries went back into my pocket.

I examined the front of the remote as I sipped my beer. The LCD panel was now active. Unfortunately, my lack of Japanese skills made me feel like a chimpanzee in the pilot’s seat of the Space Shuttle. A few tentative pokes showed the remote was responding to the controls, but I had no idea of what settings I was changing. Hopefully, Fred would be spared a boiling water douche.

I put the remote back on the wall holder, ensuring it was firmly mounted. Plugging in the toilet seat showed no unusual movements.

Standing up as I finished the beer, I decided to bless the newly cleansed (spiritually speaking) toilet with my urine. Pressing the open button on the remote caused the lid and seat to lift normally. After a three (or was it four?) beer piss, the flushing button on the remote was also tested. I thoughtfully pressed the button to lower the lid and seat again.

Needing a strong finish, I decided to amp up my performance. Gathering all the tools up, I unlocked the door. Still facing the toilet, I backed out of the toilet while intoning in my deepest voice, “My Father plays Domino’s better than your Father!” I finished off with a flourish, spraying the Holy Water around.

“This house is clean,” I whispered, channeling my best Poltergeist imitation.

Fred stuck his head into the toilet. Encouraged by the lack of strange phenomena, he announced, “It’s stopped making those noises! Joy come and check it out.”

Joy was closer than before, encouraged by our performance. She was also obviously in need of a bathroom; legs squeezed together and dancing up and down. I guess the beer went through her faster than expected.

Joy quickly entered the toilet lifted the lid, and turned around. Her hands were on her slacks’ waistband when she noticed us watching her. “Shut the damned door!” she shouted, “I have to pee.”

“Sorry,” I replied, “It’s a necessary part of the process. We will now intone the Lord’s Prayer while you use the facilities. This will ensure the spirit won’t come back.”

Lips pursed together tightly; Joy considered her options. She could give us a quick glimpse or pee her pants. She jerked her pants down and sat as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, the lid had closed behind her before she could sit. She had to stand again, pants around her ankles, turn around, bend over, and lift the lid. She sat back down quickly as we recited the prayer.

“..forgive us our trespasses,” I couldn’t continue despite my best efforts to control the laughter. We finished the prayer in a cascade of giggles and laughs as Joy’s face got redder and redder.

As Fred shut the door, we could hear her mumbling, “He’s right, they are assholes.”

We gathered in the living room and graciously accepted the last of the beer from Fred. As we drank, I put my tools and accouterments away. We heard the bathroom door open, but Joy did not rejoin us. Fred exited and went to the bedroom. When he came back, he said simply, “Joy’s packing.”

Tony and I finished our beers and stood to leave. It looked like Fred would soon be looking for girlfriend number four. Oh well, nobody ever said exorcisms were easy.

“Sorry, Fred,” I said, “Once she started asking about our work, she had to go. It was either this or exile to Monster Island. Look at the bright side,” I said as we exited the door, “This exorcism was great. We got rid of two demons for the price of one!”


Golden Week Holidays

This year, 2015, the schedule of the Golden Week Holidays will be Wednesday, April 29; Sunday, May 3; Monday, May 4; Tuesday, May 5; and Wednesday, May 6. That includes the the four official holidays (Showa Day, Constitution Memorial Day, Greenery Day, and Children’s Day), plus an extra “filler” holiday.

The extra holiday is generated when one of the official holidays falls on a Sunday. This gives the Japanese workers the same amount of holidays each year.

We Americans made a similar adjustment to many holidays by moving them from their original, fixed, date to the closest Monday. This was called the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. This gave American workers more three-day weekends.

For most Japanese, this is the longest holiday period that they can get for the entire year. By using a minimum of vacation time to bridge between the Wednesday and Saturday, a Japanese worker can get over a week off to visit family.

Many employers encourage this, as can be seen by the number of businesses that shut down completely during this period.

What does this mean for the average Tokyo expat? Well, don’t expect to get any banking done, as these are also bank holidays. If you want to travel outside of Tokyo, reservations will be hard to get, as well as being more expensive than other times of the year.

However, the important things, restaurants and bars, will still be open for business.


Tanabata Star Festival in Japan

Update for 2014


Tanabata, also known as the Star Festival of Japan, is typically held on July 7, the seventh day of the seventh month. In some areas, where the lunar calendar is still used to calculate this holiday, it occurs on August 7. Our recent trip to Fussa showed the festival taking place on 7 – 10 August.

The festival is based on a Chinese legend, with some Japanese twists.

In one popular form of the legend (there are over a dozen different versions); Vega, known in Japanese as Orihime (the Weaving Princess) is the daughter of the Sky King. She works for her father weaving beautiful cloth on the shores of the river formed by the Milky Way. Since her father loved her cloth very much, she worked very hard every day weaving to please him. However, in her heart she was sad because the time spent at her work was keeping her from finding her soul mate.

Orihime’s father noticed her sadness and arranged for her to meet Altair (known in Japanese as Hikoboshi, the cow herder). Hikoboshi lived on the other side of the Milky Way.

The match was a hit, the two fell instantly in love, and were married soon after.

Trouble quicky arose as, due to their intense love, they each neglected their duties. Vega no longer wove her magic cloth and Altair let his cows wander all over the sky. Darn love-struck kids!

As punishment, the Sky Father separated the two lovers, one on each side of the river Milky Way. They each reluctantly returned to their duties.

However, Vega was so despondent that her constant sorrow touched the Sky Father’s heart. When she pleaded to let them meet again, he consented to allow them to meet once a year, if she worked hard and finished her weaving. Her deadline for completing her work was the Seventh day of the Seventh month. Vega returned to work with a passion and was able to complete her tasks before the appointed day.

On the date if their first reunion, they were still blocked by the river Milky Way. The Sky Father had only given them the time off to meet, not the means to meet. There was no bridge to cross the river. Separated by the impassable river, Vega cried so loudly that a flock of magpies took pity on her and promised to make a bridge of their wings so that she could cross the river. With the aid of the magpies, Vega crossed the river and had her long awaited reunion with her husband.

Because magpies don’t fly when it is raining, the legend says that if it rains on the day of the Tanabata, the two lovers have to wait another year to meet. So rain on Tanabata is considered bad luck.

festival in JapanIn modern Japan, Tanabata is a festival where children write their wishes on strips of fancy paper, called a tanzaku, which are then put on displays made of the branches of bamboo trees.

The Japanese twist is that instead of wishing for presents or candy, the industrious Japanese child (possibly emulating the hard working Vega), makes wishes for better handwriting or study skills. Other wishes can be for good sewing, safety and health for the family, good fishing and harvests, and even cleanliness.

You may also want to check another well celebrated Festival in Japan, the Hanami Party in Tokyo.

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Fast and Economical Haircuts in Tokyo

Tokyo Barber

Caution: Your barber may not look this good.

I was forced to update this old post as the pricing at QB House has changed. Due to a recent consumption tax increase, haircuts now cost 1080 Yen. My regular QB House has updated their ticket machine to accept coins. While the fumbling for correct change is a pain, the service is still quick and professional.

After several months in Tokyo, I tired of paying upwards of $50.00 per haircut. When I started feeling envious of my bald friends, I decided it was time to find a more economical solution.

A bit of research showed that the cheapest haircuts in Tokyo are to be found at QB House . The English language version of their website did not have a handy locator map. A bit more research (this time with a translator) showed the Japanese language version had a locator map. You can view the map page here (Japanese language only).

The process is pretty simple. Walk in, buy a ticket at the vending machine for 1000 Yen, and wait in line. When it is your turn, you take the next available barber. Sorry, no picking and choosing. I have not yet had a bad barber.

Since the shops are small, only clients are allowed inside, so don’t bring the wife or kids. I also noted a sign that stated they reserve the right to refuse service if you don’t speak Japanese. However, despite my linguistic limitations, I have never had a problem with getting served.

Once in the chair, the barber will ask how you want your hair cut. This is where it gets difficult. My barbers always ask how many centimeters to cut (note that when they ask how many centimeters, they mean how many centimeters to cut, not how many to leave). I usually go with two centimeters (about 3/4 inches, for the metrically challenged) for my twice monthly cut. You can use sign language to show how you want your sideburns cut.

Once your cut is complete, the barber will vacuum up loose hairs, hold up a mirror to show the back, and give you a free comb.

I am usually in and out in 20 to 25 minutes, including the waiting time.

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Big Bird Raped by Godzilla

A recent news article in The Wall Street Journal (linked here) made me realize that the Main Stream Media is always seven years behind the real story.

As I have a seven-degree above Top Secret job in the T.H.U.M.B inverse skyscraper here in Tokyo, I have access to information that is not available to the casual reader. After several glasses of the very finest (cheapest) wine found in Maruetsu petit, I have decided to share my knowledge with you.

As the article mentions, Japanese scientists have been able to create Lab-Made Eggs In Vitro. What the article doesn’t mention is that this breakthrough occurred seven years ago. And (no surprise to the cognoscenti) the eggs being fertilized are not leading to mere human embryos, but to Godzilla embryos.Why waste time on human embryos, don’t we have enough humans already?

While I can’t say that these embryos have been brought to fruition, I might note that recent revelations about dinosaurs with feathers show that the most attractive mate for an adolescent Godzilla clone would look remarkably like Big Bird.

Poor Fred, he had no idea what he was in for, he really thought it was for an office Halloween party with designated costumes. In any case, we managed to bag several liters of Godzilla sperm for our lab. Fred is out on Workmen’s Compensation for the next seven months. He is healing up nicely and we will welcome him back with open arms. Any rumors that pain-killers were withheld until he signed a non-disclosure agreement are absolute nonsense.

Why did we need a new sample of Godzilla sperm, you might ask? Well, according to our mad scientists, to breed a real Godzilla we will need to iterate the DNA sequences many times to regress the germ line back to the original fire-breathing Godzilla. Luckily for Fred, his close encounter of the fourth kind was with a hybrid Godzilla made from a Komodo dragon and our sample extracted from fossils. The Godzilla Mini-Me was only seven feet tall and his Atomic Breath was barely above the normal rad score at Fukishima.

Our next generation is much larger, and we have hopes that they will be able to consume the waste from Fukishima. In fact, they seem hungry for that type of food. That is the real reason we are working feverishly to complete this project. Any rumors that the Godzilla clones will be housed on the disputed islands between Japan and China are relentlessly disavowed.

Of course, with all of these experiments, we have a lot of failures. The team has had Godzilla eggs for breakfast for the last month. One egg makes an omelet for 47 people. Dr. Seuss would have loved our (gamma irradiated) green eggs and ham.

Oh, and about the recent US President race and the debates; the guy who promised to kill off Big Bird will lose. We will let no one stand in the way of our progress and we need continued access to the only aphrodisiac known for Godzilla.

Remember, you read it here first.

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Comiket in Tokyo – Summer 2012

Dear TJL fans,
We are re-publishing our account of last year’s Comiket, which has proven to be one of our most popular articles. Hope some of you can make it to this year’s show.
In the midst of the sweltering summer, the TJL team decided to brave heat, humidity, and hordes of manga fans to bring you a report on the famous Comiket 2011. We went on the third day of the convention. We were warned the first day is overcrowded and the second day most of the team was working.
Comiket, stands for “Comic Market”. It is a Japanese practice to shorten words and phrases, sometimes making it difficult for non-native speakers to understand. But Comiket is so well known that it needs no explanation. It is a festival for manga creators, collectors, cosplayers (costumed players – see what I meant about the short phrases?), and fans to get together in a huge area.
Comiket takes place twice a year in Tokyo, once in August and again in December. This summer the three day festival took place on 12, 13, and 14 August. The location of the comic fair is the Tokyo Big Site convention center. The Tokyo Big Site convention center has a unique design of four inverted pyramids (called the Conference Tower) that make it a great landmark. There are two huge halls, called the East and West Exhibition Halls. The thousands of vendors filled up both the East and West Exhibition Halls.
Tokyo Big Site - AKA Tokyo Biggu Saito
Travel to Comiket
As advised by their site, the best way to get to Comiket is by using public transportation. If you are staying in Tokyo, the subway (Tokyo Metro) can be confusing. The TJL team disdains the use of expensive taxis (except for those nights at the Karaoke bars when the pleas of our fans force us to stay past the closing of the Metro), so we arranged our trip via the Metro. I was recently shown the best way to plan a Metro trip is through the travel site Hyperdia. Using the site is simple, but you need to know the exact name of the closest Metro station to your departure point and destination to use the site effectively. For example, Tokyo Big Site is not shown in the Hyperdia drop down menu because it is not a Metro station. You need to know the name of the closest Metro station. In this case the closest station is Kokusai-Tenjijo (which shows up in Hyperdia’s menus as “KOKUSAITENJIJO”).
After inputting the departure and destination points, Hyperdia generates several alternative routes. It also shows how much the fares will be and gives a pretty good idea of how long the trip will take. Printing out the route will ensure you have no trouble getting to the site.
Beating the Heat
As this is the summer convention, we were prepared for the worst. I brought my roll around carryon with a couple of bottles of water and a towel. I later learned that a hat would have also been nice as the sun was very bright in the garden area where the cosplayers roamed.
I saw three people who fainted from the heat while at the convention.
The towel is a necessary accessory for the Tokyo native. It is used in the summer to wipe sweat, shade the neck, and splashed with water from a bottle, can be used to cool the brow. The towel is also used year round to dry your hands as the public bathrooms don’t normally have paper towels or dryers. This is due to severe restrictions on litter in Tokyo. You will rarely find a public trash can.
Of course, there are vendors on site that sell snacks, drinks, and cooling ice cream. If you bring your own, you won’t have to wait in line. Late in the afternoon, I did fall prey to the temptation of a snow plate. The snow plate is a loosely packed snowball of ice shavings on a plate, with various flavors poured on.
I dutifully stood in line, paid my 300 Yen, and ordered by pointing. My problem was that the list of flavors spoken by the clerk was unintelligible to me. At my quizzical look, she slowly repeated the flavors (in Japanese, of course). The only flavor I understood was “LEMON”, which is the same in English or Japanese. Wanting to avoid fish flavored ice cream, I ordered the Lemon flavor. Minutes later, I was served.
Just as I was about to spoon up my first cooling taste of snow, my TJL teammate George asked, “What’s the first thing they teach Eskimo children?”
“What?” I responded with the spoon halfway to my mouth.
“Don’t eat the yellow snow!”
George thinks he is a wit. He is half-right.
That might have ruined the appetite of a lesser man, but didn’t faze me. However, I made it a point to learn more flavors for my next excursion.
Roaming the Halls
A pleasant surprise was that the convention required no entry fee for fans. The fees are paid by the exhibitors, who are there to sell their wares.
We spent several hours roaming the aisles and only managed to view a small portion of the available merchandise. An English map would have been nice. I have heard that one is available, but couldn’t easily find one. In any case, the TJL team scoffs at those who over-plan, over-organize, and over-agonize every trip.
I purchased several copies of comics from the distributors. However, examination showed that these were all “Adult” comics. I searched in vain for the non-“Adult” section, hoping to get a copy of “Sailor Moon” in the original language for my children.
Besides the comics, there were booths selling figurines and other items of interest to the ardent Otaku (Nerd).
The Cosplay Exhibition
The high point of the trip was the viewing of the gaudily dressed cosplayers. This took place in a garden area of the site. The cosplayers each staked out their area of the garden and posed for the photographers and viewers. The costumes displayed amazing attention to detail. Unfortunately, my knowledge of manga was too limited to guess which character the cosplayers were imitating. Still, it was a great show and I managed to get some good photos.
Note the attention to detail in the costumes. The girl on the left has even dyed her eyebrows to match the hair.
The cosplay exhibition ended promptly at 3:00 p.m.; which left a couple of hours to tour the halls. We noted that this year the moving sidewalks were turned off, probably as a way to conserve power. Japan is still suffering from the effects of the loss of the Fukushima reactor and will be in power conservation mode for the foreseeable future.
Heading Home
 After the tour through the various displays, the team headed back to our home turf in the Akasaka area. A vote was held and we decided to visit the awesome Authentic Burger restaurant to revive with a few quick beers and one of their famous burgers. Note that the link above is to Google Maps and it is a little bit off. The actual entrance to the restaurant is around the corner. Look for the awning with “Authentic” printed on it.
We all chose the standard draft to replenish precious bodily fluids. Then we had hamburgers and fries to replenish precious nutrients.
Over the dessert course (more beers, of course), we discussed the day’s adventures.
“Show me your loot,” George said.
I gave him my copies of manga (all adult titles, as I never managed to find the kid’s section).
“Go ahead and keep them for souvenirs,” I said.
George made appreciative noises as he thumbed through the mangas.
“Why don’t you keep them?” he asked.
“I wanted souvenirs for my kids. These are not appropriate. I thought I was getting Sailor Moon comics. It wasn’t until later I found out I had purchased the adult version.”
“Well, this sure looks like Sailor Moon. Thanks for the comics. Now I finally have the answer to a question I have had since I was a kid,” said George.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“I always wondered; where the hell does Sailor Moon hide that big magic wand?”

Tokyo WiFi Options

On my most recent return to Tokyo via Narita airport, I was surprised at the number of Tokyo WiFi options that have become available.


tokyo wifi options

At Narita Airport, Japan

To start, there is free WiFi available at the airport. I logged on using my iPad. What stops most from using the service is the login screen that comes up on the first use. The screen is in Japanese and has spaces for two entries, which appear to be a login and password requirement. However, a look at the upper right hand corner of the Safari screen shows a link to the English page. On that page, you see that the two fields are used for requesting and verifying an email address. I entered my email address twice, and was able to use the free WiFi service. Due to lack of time, I didn’t do a lot of surfing, but the speed appeared to be fast enough for checking schedules and other lite surfing.


Another option that is now available is the WiFi device rental from SoftBank. I saw this as a new offering at the SoftBank counter in the Narita Terminal. SoftBank now offers a portable WiFi device with a flat-rate data plan.

Their rental plans include two WiFi router options, as well as a USB modem option. I would avoid the USB modem option, as the fine print states, “Japanese OS required”.  The mobile routers don’t have that limitation. However, the Mobile routers do require re-charging the battery periodically.

The stated speed of 7.2Mbps download and 5.8Mbps upload is below my recommended minimum for streaming video or Skype calling, but it is fast enough for light web browsing.

The price quoted is 1,890 Yen (1,575 Yen Rental Fee plus 315 Yen Administrative fee). Note that the minimum rental period is three days.

The beauty of these plans is the flat rate. SoftBank has been criticized in the past for excessive charges of per byte users. With the flat rate plan, there will be no huge surprises at the end of the rental period.

Softbank also offers iPhone SIM card rentals, 3G SIM card rentals, and Smartphone rentals. The drawback to those options is that many of us have all of our information (phone numbers, call lists, even passwords, etc.) in their current device. I don’t feel comfortable putting an unknown SIM card in my phone, and feel even less comfortable giving that SIM back to SoftBank to be used by the next tourist.

Tokyo Wifi Options #3 – BOINGO

I really wanted to give this service a chance in Tokyo. As an intermittent Boingo user, I wanted to get a chance to use my existing account. I downloaded the App for my iPad, using my apartment’s WiFi signal. The Boingo App has a fancy map that indicates supposed Boingo WiFi hotspots available. It would appear from the map that dozens of spots are available a short distance from my apartment. However, when I tried to use these hotspots, I could not use my Boingo account to login to the hotspots. Also, opening the Boingo App gave me a message that I needed to log on to a WiFi network to use the App.

If the only thing the App provides is a list of hotspots, which it in no way helps in connecting to the networks, it is not very useful. The built in WiFi finder on the iPad provides the same function for free. The only thing missing is the fancy map, but I can live without the map

Unfortunately, since I was unable to get either the App or the Boingo service to work, I cannot recommend this service.


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Streaming Video on Your iPad While Visiting Japan


I have received some questions recently about how to stream US video to an iPad while travelling overseas. I discussed some options in a previous post; but there have been many changes in the last year.
Streaming audio and video requires a high speed connection. In my Tokyo apartment, I can use my home based network and WiFi to connect my iPad to the Internet. Of course, once I leave the apartment, I lose my WiFi.
One of the biggest improvements in the last year is that there are now more options for portable WiFi access in Tokyo. While public access WiFi is still rare, it is now possible to rent a portable WiFi Hotspot. This will allow you to take your WiFi with you, allowing you to move around the city using your iPad, iPhone, or laptop just as if you were in the US.
The drawbacks include expense, battery life, and signal loss in certain areas. However, for the short term traveler, who does not have the option of setting up a home network, the router rental plans are a good option. They will allow an iPad, iPhone, or any WiFi device to access the Internet. You could even stream videos if the router speed is high enough to allow that.
Note that many of the WiFi rental plans come in two tiers, a low speed suitable for checking email, and a higher speed suitable for streaming video and Skype calling.
Two tier service is available from the following companies:
I haven’t used these services and therefore cannot vouch for the claimed speed or coverage. Their claims include a 10 to 40 Mb/second speed for the highest tier. I have found 10 Mb/second speed to be the minimum for streaming video.
A Google search will certainly show more options. I would pick one that will let me pick up at the airport or get the device delivered prior to arriving. That will ensure you have access as soon as you hit the ground.
Any discussion of streaming video in Japan always brings up the problem of geographic blocking. Many US video sources are blocked in Japan. Hulu, for example, blocks access to its services for overseas users. Even if you are a US citizen traveling overseas and have a Hulu Plus account on your iPad.
Discussion at other sites shows several ways to view streaming video in Japan. These include setting up a Private VPN and purchasing a subscription to a paid VPN service.
The Private VPN service would require an “always on” computer at your home in the US and a fast Internet connection. This would be the cheapest option, assuming you already have a home computer and Internet connection.
The paid VPN service would require a subscription to a VPN service provider, such as StrongVPN or the quirkily named Hide My Ass!
Note that using a VPN service to view Hulu in blocked areas is against Hulu’s Terms of Service. Other providers, such as Netflix, have similar rules. I have never heard of anyone getting an account blocked due to streaming video through a VPN service, but it is a possibility. So under no circumstances should you perform the following to view streaming videos on your iPad in Tokyo:

1.       Rent a high speed portable router from one of the above providers.

2.       Set up your iPad to use the portable router’s WiFi network.

3.       Purchase a VPN account from a VPN service such as StrongVPN or Hide My Ass! That service will route your Internet connection through a server in the US, making it appear to the provider (Hulu, for example) that you are in the US.

4.       Use the login information provided by your VPN service provider to set up a VPN connection on your iPad.

5.       View streaming videos on your iPad in defiance of the Terms of Service you agreed to when you purchased your Hulu Plus or Netflix account.

You have been warned! No matter how much your kids want to see Netflix films or your wife wants to see the latest episode of “Gray’s Anatomy” on Hulu Plus, you should not ignore the rules outlined in miniscule fine print in the Terms of Service you clicked.
Authorized uses of the VPN services include enhancing security while using public WiFi Hotspots, protecting your online identity, and privacy.
The cheapest option would be to set up a private VPN network. This would require a permanently on computer and a high speed internet connection at your home in the US. The setup and administration would be a pain. Even though I have all of the equipment and technical know-how to set this up, I avoided this solution.
I currently use StrongVPN while traveling. I have set up and tested Hide My Ass! on my laptop and iPad. They both work fine, with some minor differences in speed and ease of use.  Advantages and disadvantages of each provider are discussed below.
So you wamt to purchase a paid VPN service; carefully avoiding streaming video from services that frown on unauthorized access (even though you have paid for that access). What else should you look for? If you’re like me and my wife, we both would want to connect our iPads at the same time. With StrongVPN, simultaneous connections are not allowed. However, StrongVPN does have a big discount for a second account. A second account can be had for an additional $2.00 per month. I chose this option, making my monthly VPN bill $17.00 per month. This gives both my wife and I our own VPN accounts. On the minus side; StrongVPN does bill in three month increments, increasing the size of your bill. Hide My Ass!, on the other hand, allows two simultaneous connections on the same login. They also have a 30 day trial period and a lower monthly cost and monthly billing.
I have loaded both VPN’s on my laptop and iPad and run tests on them. My test used to check performance. My results showed that StrongVPN was generally faster. However, Hide My Ass! was still fast enough to reliably stream video. Just like buying a car; it is a tradeoff between speed and price.
Note that these tests are not definitive; they were the results of my quick and dirty setup of each provider. From previous experience, I know that the choice of server has a great impact on the speed of the connection. A different user, choosing different servers, might find StrongVPN the loser in the speed test. I believe that StrongVPN is generally faster, but am willing to believe that, under certain conditions, Hide My Ass!, will be faster.
According to my testing, StrongVPN wins for the number of servers available and the speed of their connections. Hide My Ass!, on the other hand, is more user friendly, easy to set up, lower priced, and has a thirty day trial period. StrongVPN has a seven day trial period.
A more sophisticated setup that would allow multiple connections, no matter which service you use, would be to set up the VPN service on the WiFi router itself. Then any device connecting to the WiFi router does not need to be set up for VPN because the router has VPN enabled. This would allow laptops, iPhones, and iPads (for example) to share a single VPN connection. Both StrongVPN and Hide My Ass! have instructions on setting up a router for VPN access. This would allow a user with a single StrongVPN account to operate more than one device at the same time and the Hide My Ass! use to have more than two simultaneous connections.
Unfortunately, I don’t believe this will be possible with a rental WiFi device, as it would require Admin access to change the network settings. The best thing to do would be to use one of the VPN service providers; either Hide My Ass!, for the simultaneous connections, or StrongVPN, with the second account activated.
I hope this overview will answer some of the reader’s questions. As noted in the first paragraph, mobile Hotspots and portable communications are a fast changing field. I expect to have to update these articles within the next year.

Lesson I: Hiragana ひらがな


Japan’s Manga Future Is Here

Two recent news items, both centered on new developments in Japan, show that the Japanese are working hard to create the future they have dreamed of.

The first item concerns a breakthrough in causing hair growth in bald mice. It is documented in this highly technical article located at:

Reviewing the article shows two important points.

First, they are going to get rich!

Next, the stem cell rejuvenation process can be used to change the color of the patient's hair. That means the market is not only limited to balding males, but can include every woman who wishes she could get rid of the gray.

Oh sure, it will start out as an expensive treatment for middle aged men with comb overs or toupees, but will soon expand to include almost everyone. That's seven billion potential customers. I fear those poor researchers are already on the hit list of the Clairol Assassination Squad.

Why stop at merely natural hair colors? A few tweaks of the genes will allow hair colors not normally found in nature. Can Anime style hair be far behind? 

Will the process be extended to include all body hair? The sign of a dedicated Cosplayer (who now takes pains to match eyebrow to hair color) might soon be matching carpet and drapes.

 Note the matching hair and eyebrows


The TJL team is monitoring this situation closely.


The next item as explained in a New Scientist article located at:

This shows the development of a power assist suit by Japanese engineering students that can be used to increase human capabilities. Yes, exoskeletons and Mecha suits are being developed in downtown Tokyo as we speak. Suppa Robotto (Super Robot) is on the way!

Now put these two developments together and what do we have?

In the near future, Japanese warriors with multi-hued hair will be wearing, working, and fighting in Mazinger Z suits!

To all of you who scoffed at us Manga fans; watch out, we are coming!



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