Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category

Failure of Windows 7 and Japanese IME

My wife’s notebook PC recently died on us (luckily we had backups!) so we went shopping for a new computer.  We considered tablets, but in the end we ended up going with an ultrabook (thin notebook PC).  We had a coupon for the Microsoft store, and in the end I think we got a rather good deal.  If only we had a student in the house, we could have received an xbox for free…not that I ever have the time to play any games.

We had considered ordering a laptop from Japan so that it would come with the Japanese version of Windows and a Japanese keyboard.  But doing so was out of our budget, and instead we decided to buy a US laptop and just use the Japanese IME from Microsoft.

After a few days now, my wife is frustrated with the American English keyboard layout, just as I was when I lived in Japan and had to search hard for the quote mark key and the “@” mark on a Japanese keyboard.  With time though, that annoyance goes away as you modify your muscle memory.  To make her computer more Japan-like, I configured the tilde or accent grave key as the language switching key in the top-left corner of a Japanese keyboard.  I could not completely make it Japan-like, however, due to a lazy Microsoft design flaw.

Windows 7 has a major flaw that does not appear fixable.  When switching to the Japanese IME, even if you have set “Hiragana” mode as the default, the IME always starts in Direct Input English mode.  After much searching, a Microsoft support rep appears to have said, in summary, that it will only revert to Hiragana mode if you have a Japanese keyboard, and there is no fix for this.  This is highly frustrating for anyone who has to switch between English and Japanese input.  Prior versions of Windows did not have this issue (e.g. Vista, XP).

The alternative appears to be setting non-unicode language default of the computer to Japanese, and then installing ATOK, the widely popular Japanese IME program in Japan.  Hopefully this issue will be fixed in Windows 8 when it comes out (we have an upgrade coupon for that) if ATOK does not work.

Every once in awhile I wonder if I ought to get off of Apple platforms and go back to Microsoft, especially because Apple computers cost about 33% more than Windows computers.  Also, Apple’s drive to sell software through AppStore also is a bit unnerving.  I like to direct download from the vendor, or better yet, have a CD or DVD with the software on it.  Yet issues like the one described above remind me of why I enjoy my MacBook–things just work.  I have had my MacBook for 4 years now, and though it runs slower with the new apps, it is still usable for me.  My previous computer, and Apple iBook, lasted 5.5 years.  So while Apple products may cost more than a PC, I have had good luck with getting a long life out of them.  Perhaps I have just been lucky though?  We shall see where this AppStore thing goes, and whether or not Microsoft decides to follow the idea…


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Charlotte Japan Festival 2011

Back in July we visited Charlotte, NC for the Charlotte Japan Festival.  This was the third year in a row we attended, and while for my wife and I it was the same old event, it was the first time that my son was actually old enough to enjoy it.  He made off with a few books purchased at the book sale event as well as some Anpanman (アンパンマン) swag.


Imagine living across from the Wells Fargo building in such an upscale condo!  How nice not to have to operate a car…


No Japanese festival is complete without kingyo (goldfish) catching games


Matsuriza (祭座) mans their stations


Matsuriza in the heat of their action – the drums just roar in the large atrium of the Wells Fargo building


All ages and skill levels participate in the Bon Odori (盆踊り) dance.


I found it interesting that this dance is not typical across all of Japan — our friend from Okinawa let us know that the dance is quite different in Okinawa — it was her first time to see this dance, actually

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Things you just don’t see every day


I just had to post these to share with you a different side of Japan that you don’t see everyday.  Certainly not if you only hang out in the swanky parts of Tokyo.


Its not just the fundamentalist Christians of the southeastern USA who can make me turn my head.  This group was decked out in white (mostly) and following a monk (the guy at the very front) along the many shrines that exist on Takao-san (Mt. Takao) in Hachioji.  Besides the chanting and white headbands, what really stood out was …


…just in case it isn’t obvious, yes, those are animal pelts.  Let it never be said that one doesn’t have freedom of religion when it comes to democracies.


Have a problem with cats and birds getting in your garden?  This hairdresser’s solution was to put heads in her little garden.  Heads…the last time I saw this place the number of heads had increased…as has the creepy feeling about the place!

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Signs of modern life


Office building in Charlotte, NC – I like the glass window walls, and would love to see the view from the top


CATS (Charlotte Area Transit System) blue line that runs from Pineville into “Uptown” Charlotte.  I understand there have been some trouble with this above ground rail system, but I certainly hope they can continue with the project and improve it.  More cities need to take on projects like this.  Though the returns might not be immediate, with proper planning and the foresight to look beyond election cycles, more cities can provide better public transit systems.

A great place to start is by improving the bus systems–four dirty buses a day just will not cut it.  After all, do we all really like sitting on those parking lots called the interstate highway system around our cities in the mornings and evenings?


I always thought this would make a good cover photo for a math or engineering textbook – the bottom of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge in Charleston SC


The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge is the longest cable-stayed bridge in the Eastern USA.  To the left of the photo is the Port of Charleston.


Chinatown in Yokohama, Japan

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Yearning for autumn

In mid-summer when its too hot to want to do anything, I start to yearn for autumn.  Autumn is my favorite time of the year, the weather is not too cold or too hot, and the humidity that rears its ugly head in summer fades away day by day.  The brisk air of October and November are priceless, and of course the colors of the leaves remind us not everything is green.

So I turn back in my photo archives and found some pictures I had not yet shared from Taka0-san (Mt. Takao), just outside of Hachioji.


You’ll find natural beauty on Takao-san, as well as great hiking trails, some fabulous restaurants, a great summer beer garden, a monkey park (Takao-san Zaru-en), a Buddhist temple, and a handful of shrines


I’ve always been fascinated by the statues one finds at Buddhist temples, I just wish I knew more about them!  On the both sides of the guardian figure, you find little men with beaks and wings, as well as an 猪 (inoshishi – wild boar).  I wish I had spent less time at work and more time learning more about thing like this.



Takao-san is a great escape in the brutal heat of summer.  The humidity is gone at the top of the mountain, and on an overcast day it can get a bit chilly.  In the bottom left corner, you can see the national highway system diving through the base of the mountains.


I don’t know what type of temple this was, but based on the signs it was built by a group of Buddhists that are based in Thailand and popular in and around western Tokyo.  This architecture of this temple is quite different from typical Japanese Buddhist temples.



Nothing like a bowl of noodles after walking around all day from the famous ramen chain 万豚記 (Wanzhuji).   Each store in the chain is usually a little different from the other, but they have an awesome core menu of Chinese-style food, mixing in elements of Japanese and Korean cuisine as well.  The kim-chee fried rice is to die for, as is their 坦々麺 (Dandan noodles).  My absolute favorite–that I have only seen offered in two of the chains in Hachioji–is the Taiwan ramen.  They put a heaping topping of dried shredded pork on the top that complements the soup so well.

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Trip back home: Kawagoe 2010

I boarded the bus at Kawagoe station at 06:30 and was shortly on my way back to Narita.  Rather than going through Saitama and largely bypassing Tokyo, the bus dived straight into Ikebukuro and the northern wards of central Tokyo before crossing the Arakawa river and heading into Edogawa ward and Chiba prefecture.  The bus arrived around 08:30 and after quickly moving through the baggage check-in, I found myself with some time to kill before the flight.

20101219662I decided to have some breakfast before the flight.  While the Sichuan dan-dan noodles (担担麵) looked good, I decided to go with something a little more easy on the stomach.  I went with a bowl of kitsune udon with a small side of sashimi on rice. The warm udon sure hit the spot, and beats a plate of sausage and eggs any day!  Don’t even get me started on South Carolina grits…

20101219663Waiting to board the flight – ANA had good service and was only $100 more than Delta or United which are the most convenient for me to fly from the southeastern USA.  We primarily choose ANA because they have excellent support for traveling families and especially mothers traveling alone with a small child.


Peeling away from Narita I believe the building in the left side of the picture is the ANA Continental Hotel that I saw from the highway bus as well.


Blue Ridge Mountains and Dulles


I opened the window about forty minutes before touchdown and was delighted by the view outside.  In the distance through the clouds you can just make out the Blue Ridge Mountains.  I wasn’t sure if we were flying over Pennsylvania or Virginia at this point.


I love the way the clouds laid like carpet over the mountain range





The layers of clouds broke to reveal snow and ice on the ground below!  I loved the way the snow covered the hills with barren trees, and I loved the way the snow covered the small plots of farm land.  While some people just hate the idea of snow, I rather like it–everything covered in white, made clean again and not hidden by all of the green.




The temperature on the ground was -4*C around 09:00 – amazingly, most connecting flights were not delayed



I’ve always wondered it what it would be like to surf the clouds, and above northern South Carolina the Embraer jet surfed for about ten minutes before disappearing into the cloud layer.


Before long I was back in ol’ Boot – South Carolina.  I was worried that by going back to Japan I’d either really miss it and want to return, or really hate it and wonder why I ever bothered to go in the first place.  Luckily though, life is not so black and white.  I miss a lot about Japan, and I still long for an urban environment where I can just walk and walk and not have to worry about asshole SUV drivers yapping on their blackberries (if I were President of the USA I’d ban the production and sale of Chevrolet Suburbans).  But at the same time I do not miss Japanese corporate culture at all, and even though I’m stuck here in South Carolina…at least I have time to do what I like after work, learn things after work, and still have time to spend with the family.

When I left a stable job in Japan in May 2009, in the middle of the recession, I didn’t know whether I’d end up better of or not.  I managed to find a job (though it is in South Carolina), and its a pretty good job at that.  Who knows, I may return again one day, hopefully working for my current employer, but one cannot rule anything out.  Until that day comes though, I’ll look forward to the chance to return to Japan as a visitor again one day…I don’t know when that will be with airfare getting more expensive year after year…but one day…save me a bowl of miso ramen!

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Toward Narita: Kawagoe 2010

Toward Narita from Gaoshancha on Vimeo.

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