Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

I thought I'd end the year with some photos of traditional Japanese New Year decorations.

The Kadomatsu are placed in pairs outside gates to homes and offices starting after Christmas until January 7. They are temporary housing for Kami (ancestral spirits in shinto).

Single kadomatsu (bamboo, pine and straw). Japanese new Year decoration. Outside a shop in Tokyo

Made of bamboo, pine and sometimes Ume (plum) sticks, the construction is placed on a straw mat and wrapped with woven straw rope. The opening of the bamboo must remain free and open to allow the spirits to enter. The cuts are made at a slant to allow the largest open surface area. Fern leaves and fruit can also be added. More details on building your own here and here.

Two Kadomatsu outside an imposing door in Tokyo

To the loyal readers of the blog (all 87 of you): I thank you for your continued support and readership throughout the year. I wish you, and all those that you care about, all the very best for 2009 The year of the Ox (or Cow depending on how you translate it.)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

Some New Korean Blogs

Long term readers know I've always been a big fan of Alan's Korean Blog List. The site had a bit a problem recently after the hosting company upgraded php on the server, but it's back in business again so I thought I share some links.

I'm probably the last to have noticed, but FatManSeoul is blogging again. Posting in English and Korean they claim We’re committed to searching high and lo, from the poshest cuisine of Kangnam to the most humble, jeong-laden jjigae of the halmoni-jip in the countryside for the best food in the country.

Korea Sparkle the blog, Not to be confused with the KNTO's international marketing campaign, most recently seen here on a Yamanote line train in Tokyo:

Korea sparkling advert on Yamanote line train Tokyo.
has contributions from a number of contributors including well known K-bloggers Mr Dokdo Breeze Stafford, Mr New Design ZenKimchi , Mr Flaming Mad Roboseyo and Mr Obama supporter Metropolitican.

Another multi author blog is Naked In the Sauna who are: Bilingual, multicultural women bloggers in Korea. We're wearing our lamb towel hats and letting it all hang out.

One site in the Korea Blog List that's not a blog but may be of interest is Animal Rescue Korea. It's a website gathering English language information useful for helping animals in South Korea, based around a forum run by Korea resident Karen.

Here are some of the more recent additions to the list that I will be keeping an eye on :

Keep Suwon Weird : Alexi from Texas has landed.

Discovering Korea a very professionall looking site. It is the blog version of "Discovering Korea", a weekly travel and culture show hosted by Matt Kelley and produced by Sophia Hong. You can listen to it Saturdays on KBS World Radio.

When I started writing this post last week George Goes Korean was the very latest blog on the list. He's moving to Busan to teach English next month. I look forward to reading about his adventures. But, now I've finally got round to completing the post, I find another eleven have just been added including : Drifting thru Korea , Seoul Snapper a fellow Brit taking daily photos of life in Korea, and Tim Wilkinson who maybe "Just another waygook living in Seoul" but has already figured out most of the things they didn't tell you before you come.

Subscribe to the site feed here to catch up with all the newest blogs on Korea. Oh, and while you're surfing the current list of 526 blogs, if you spot any broken links or sites that have stopped update do let Alan know so that he can keep the database up to date.

Some blogs I've discovered not from the Korean Blog List include a couple of technology blogs:

Vaiguoren Is well written annonymous blog providing links and extracts from news items regarding Korean technology.

KoreaCrunch by Channy who works for DAUM and has restarted blogging about Korean internet developments.

and finally here's a blog I found on facebook with regular cartoons on life in Korea called ROKetShip. To all K-Bloggers everywhere, keep on blogging.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Jimmy Choo. Shoes from the Exhibition

I don't want to tread on Feet Man Seoul's territory here, but I thought I'd post one photo of the twelve shoes on display today at the Education UK Exhibition.

Jimmy Choo. Shoe 5

Jimmy gave a very upbeat talk about what a positive experience he had had as a young shoe maker from Malaysia, coming to London to study shoe design 25 years ago. The college principal was initially reluctant to enroll Jimmy, but once he saw some examples of his work he was persuaded to give Jimmy a chance, inspite of his poor English skills.

For those readers of the blog in Korea: The Education UK Exhibition, run by the British Council will be coming to Seoul on the weekend of November 1st and 2nd.

Saturday 1 November 2008
Time: 1300–1800

Sunday 2 November 2008
Time: 1300–1800

Venue: Seoul Plaza Hotel

And, for anyone interested, the exhibition will also be on in Taiwan on the same weekend.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Jimmy Choo at the Education UK Exhibition Japan

If you are interesting in studying in the UK and live in Japan come to the Education UK Exhibition Japan 2008 this weekend. It's on in Tokyo at the International Forum near Tokyo Station on Saturday and in Osaka on Sunday.

Over 60 UK universities and colleges be at the fair, part of the Education UK initiative led by the British government.

World-famous shoe designer Professor Jimmy Choo (Professor Emeritus, University of the Arts London) will give a talk show about "UK Creativity", as well as exhibiting 12 pairs of shoes designed specially for this event. There will also be several other presenters who have been influenced by UK creativity, including Anne Suzuki, an actress who studied in the UK.

I will be at there on Saturday on the stand of my Alma Mater Southampton University.

Dates, times and venues:

Tokyo: Saturday 18 October 11:00 - 17:00
Tokyo International Forum (Yurakucho)
Entrance is free

Osaka: Sunday 19 October 13:00 - 18:00
Umeda Sky Building 10F Aura Hall
Entrance is free

If you've thought of studying in the UK, come to exhibition to meet people who can tell you what it's like, and what's on offer from the wide variety of institutions that will be there.

Or, if you just like shoes, come and hear Jimmy Choo talk at 1pm.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Yoga Weekend with Nirmal at Alishan

Yoga teacher Nirmal, standing on his assistant Naresh, demonstrating yogic massage
Nirmal and Naresh, originally uploaded by jonallen01966.

We just got back from a yoga weekend with Nirmal.

We stayed at Alishan which is an organic cafe and food shop run by Jack Bayles and his wife Fay. They have an 'Event space' which was our base for the weekend.

Here is Nirmal, demonstrating Yogic Massage on his assistant Naresh.

We also enjoyed Laughing Yoga, which with a small group of Japanese young ladies, was very amusing.

Thursday, October 09, 2008


Boat cruise round Tokyo bay.
An interesting way to see the sights at night and enjoy a meal.

We went with a company called funasei. Their package includes an excellent tempura meal with non stop drinks and a karaoke machine. Address : 1-16-8 北品川, 品川区, 東京140-0001. 1-16-8 Kita-Shinagawa, Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo, 140-0001. 15 mins walk from Shinagawa station.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Feet Man Seoul in Japan Times

A quick shout out for Mike Hurt AKA The Metropolitician AKA Feet Man Seoul. Not only is he appearing on Arirang TV these days, but I was delighted to see his fashion photos this morning in the Japan Times.

On my way to work I spotted the half page spread by Shawn Despres entitled "Spicy Food, sexy idols and now fashion." including no less than five photos all from Some quotes include:

"A few years ago, any self-respecting Japanese young woman would have died of shame rather than be caught in the same outfit her Korean cousin was flaunting in Myeongdong. Now, vacationing Japanese populate those shopping corridors on clothing hunts."

"Until very recently, suits or other formal wear were requirements for men, as were dresses, high heels and makeup for women," explains Michael Hurt, the editor in chief of Feet Man Seoul, South Korea's first street-fashion magazine.

"As any Korean knows, a man walking the streets in the '90s in shorts and sandals would be stared at, or a woman without makeup in an office situation would be thought of as rude or lazy."

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Korean Olympic Athletes had Secret Weapon

South Korea won a very respectable 13 gold medals in the recent Olympics. But did they partake in any special performance enhancing chemicals? Was Kimchi perhaps the secret of their success or did Bosingtang give them the stamina to last the race? No the truth behind their strong performance is unveiled:

The state-run Korea Ginseng Corp admitted to AFP that Archers and weightlifters received a regular supply of Korean red ginseng.

The herb known as "the root of life" has been cultivated in Korea for 1,500 years and is steadily adding to its fan club overseas.

While it is especially popular among athletes, Koreans in general attribute a variety of powers including stress relief, anti-ageing and even better sexual performance to its light yellow-coloured fleshy roots.

I leave you to draw your own conclusions. Should the Koreans be stripped of their medals? or left to their own delusions.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Geronimo Roppongi

Drink 15 different shots in one night to get a plaque on the wall of fame and also receive a free t-shirt. Ask your bartender for details.

It's been a rough old day. This was how we celebrated this evening.

For those that would like to try the challenge more details
Location: 7-14-10, Roppongi, Minato-ku. Tokyo, 106-0032, Japan.

Right outside Roppongi Subway exit 5.

And, if you are on facebook there's an "I did the 15 shot challenge at Geronimos" group.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

42: Life the Universe and Everything

My blog does not usually contain many personal details, but for a change I thought I'd share with you the celebration of my 42nd birthday today.

One year ago I had just arrived in Japan. Everything was new and different and I did not mark the event. Two years ago I was in Korea eating Bosintang (A search term that still brings a number of visitors to the blog) on my 40th birthday.

This afternoon I got off early from work with strict instructions from my wife : "No snacking". Here's the dining room setting that greeted me on getting home:

Here's the starter, two large crustaceans, in the steamer.

Starting with a glass of Bollinger.

On to the main course, chicken in white wine sauce, my favourite.

The fruit course.

The cheese course.

The first dessert, a tiramisu, made from fresh ingredients.

The second dessert, a delicious chocolate mousse.

There's plenty of that left. I'll be taking it to the office tomorrow.

Today I am celebrating 42 years on the planet, and as a friend pointed out, a lot of people regard "42" as "The Answer to Life the Universe and Everything" (Douglas Adams). By coincidence, today is also the day when the biggest physics experiment in the world is starting. Scientists at the LHC in Geneva are recreating events immediately after the "Big Bang", looking at the behaviour of the fundamental universal particles. It seems to me we already have the answer. It's 42 !

This blog has been a little thin recently. My hope is that I will continue, I have plenty of ideas that would make interesting posts but I don't make time to write them up. I make no promises as to what I post but I hope you will stay with me for the next 42 years.

Monday, September 01, 2008


See no evil.Hear no evil. Speak no evil.Carving on sacred stable for the sacred horse. Toshogu shrine Nikko.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Google Street View of Tokyo

This is just amazing. Check out a street level view of thousands of streets in Tokyo from Google Maps.

It's hard to know where to start. Here's a random example of the Tokyo International Forum building near Tokyo station.

Screen shot of Google Maps shoing Tokto International forum building

The interface allows you to rotate the viewpoint for a full 360 degree view of the street. Click on the arrows to continue along the road.

Judging by the state of one building site very near my office, some of the photos are very new and have been taken in the past month or two. However some streeets are lined with cheery blossom from the springtime. It's a shame they don't put the date on them because in a few years so much will have changed.

This is the famous Shibuya crossing. The station is behind you in this view.

Where's your favorite place in Tokyo?

Update: Google are going to redo all the street view images with the camera at a reduced height to counter privacy complaints from people with low walls.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Japanese Squirrel

Japanese Squirrel in the heatwave
Japanese Squirrel, originally uploaded by jonallen01966.

We went to the Inokashira park at the weekend. Most of the park is given over to a small zoo. There is a squirrel enclosure where hundreds of these cute little creatures are free to run around. There were record high temperatures and it was just too hot for this one!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Hokkaido Photos

I finally got around to uploading some higher quality photos from our holiday in Hokkaido.
This one, of the open road sums it up quite nicely.
Hokkaido road
This is Mt Rausu on the Shiretoko peninsula

Mt Rausu

Oshinkoshin waterfall on the Shiretoko peninsula
Oshinkoshin waterfall

This is one of several very beautiful butterflies we saw

And this was the huge octopus we saw when diving off the coast of Shiretoko, Sea of Ohkotsk.
Diving off the coast of Shiretoko penisula
(My thanks to our very able instructor for taking the photo of us)

If you'd like to pop over to Flickr you can see some more of the photos we took.

It was quite a shock to come back to Tokyo and see more people on the subway on the way back from the airport than we had seen for the whole two weeks previously.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Seoul Ranks 9th in Centres of Commerce Index

I've just got back from holiday and I've read that MasterCard have rated Seoul 9th in their index of Worldwide Centres of Commerce published earlier this month.

London, New York and Tokyo take the top three slots, Singapore Chicago and Hong Kong follow them and Seoul rates just behind Frankfurt and Paris. The survey, prepared by a panel of experts, rates 75 cities on seven categories: Legal and political framework, Economic stability, Ease of doing business, Financial flow, Business centre, Knowledge creation and information flow, Livability.

Surprisingly Seoul ranks 4th in the Financial flow category, ahead of Tokyo, based on the number of transactions in Banking, Insurance, Financial services, Equity, Derivatives and Commodities. That could be related to the fact that Seoul is the major city in South Korea, while in Japan, Osaka, Nagoya, Sapporo and Fukuoka have stock exchanges which were counted separately from Tokyo.

One thing they do not seem to have taken into account are the laws relating to the location of computers for processing banking transactions. These must be physically located in South Korea, which for a multinational bank can be a bit of a hindrance. Switzerland used to have similar laws, but these were relaxed about five years ago. It's another reason Seoul will continue to rank behind the main three centres in Asia and struggle to stay ahead of the burgeoning cities of China and India.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Blakiston's Fish Owl

OK. So this is a photo on the wall, but this magnificent bird's favourite fishing perch is right outside the hotel dining room and it is completely unfazed by the excited guests eager to watch it deftly snatch it's prey from the river.

Yuyado Daiichi Spa Resort

Very high standard hotel.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Blog Posts from my Mobile Phone

The post below, with the small map of the island of Hokkaido, was sent direct from my phone. It's an example of the posts coming up in the next two weeks. Here's a better map.

We leave on Saturday, heading for Shiretoko National Park on the North Eastern coast of the large island in the north of Japan. The plan is to take the train there and then fly back to Tokyo. I'll be taking mini photos as we go and emailing them from the phone to the blog so you can see where we go on our trip.

Hokkaido Holiday

We are off

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Car Called FREED

I was intrigued by the large number of signs and preparation this week in Ebisu for something called FREED from Honda. A little bit of research let me to the Honda Blog and that fact that it's a new minivan.

I thought there would be huge fanfare and lots of people at the launch at 1pm today, but when I arrived it seemed to already over. Maybe this wasn't the main event ?

Here's a low res photo, from my phone, of the new car :

Shame about the rain.

Well I guess I was in the right place. The Japan Times had a brief story on it this morning.

Maybe the fact that car sales in Japan declined for three years in a row means cars are getting less important these days.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

East West Discussion Group : Trains of the World

I have recently starting going to the "East West Discussion Group" in Tokyo. I saw an announcement in the Japan Times about one of the discussions which was of interest to my wife. She went the first time and persuaded me to come to subsequent meetings.

It's a small group of mostly elderly but knowlegable and interesting Japanese Ladies and Gentlemen with some Americans. The weekly meetings take the form of a presentation by one the members on a subject of interest, followed by a discussion on the topic.

On my second visit, when the future meetings were being discussed, I was persuaded to do a presentation. I am a bit of a 'railway enthusiast' so I chose to do a talk about 'Trains of the World'. A rather wide subject area I know! I will be showing some photos of trains from around the world and we will be discussing transport related issues.

The talk is on this Thursday 22nd of May, 2008. If anyone in the Tokyo area would like to come along you will be made most welcome . There is no membership requirement or fees, just pay 500 yen on arrival.

The venue is the Hongo Satellite of Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, 7th Floor, 2-14-10 Hongo, Bunkyo Ku, Tokyo. It's less than five minutes walk from exit 1 of Hango Sanchome subway station and looks like this when you get there. The meeting starts at 6:30pm, the presentation usually starts at 6:45 and the meeting finishes at 8:30pm.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Korean Blogs Ranking

Phil at London Korea links has started an amusing little series of posts about "who's who" in the world of Korean blogs. The Marmot's Hole was described as "Undoubtedly the original and best general-purpose blog about Korea" which Brian of Jellonam Do had a few issues with. It even prompted Robert to defend himself and explain how over 5 years of blogging have left him jaded and tired of the same old issues.

Mark at Korea Pop Wars was delighted to be listed and has written up his own summary of the blogs he likes. Joe at ZenKimchi has given everyone he knows a blog-juice boost with his own list of over a hundred blogs on Korea.

It's interesting to see Elyse Sewell, an American model who moved to Seoul recently, get such a high rating. Judging by the number of comments her journal gets she attracts a very wide audience for her refreshing and honest look at the working life of a model.

I thought I would complete the project I suggested last time I visited the subject of Top 30 Ranked Korean Websites using data from the site Quantcast. Which offers :
a media measurement service that lets advertisers view audience reports on millions of websites and services. Only Quantcast combines directly measured audience data with panel-based estimates to deliver accurate third-party metrics and easy-to-read profiles on digital media properties
I took all the blogs on my blogroll and searched for their ranking, to come up with list below. Bear in mind that the site is almost totally focused on US data, so I don't want to hear any complaints.

BlogRank 10,546 119,095 140,446 247,670 480,187 516,780 625,425 667,267 805,518 808,853 986,470 1,983,322 2,734,719

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Beer Festival in Tokyo

I am looking forward to the Great Japan Beer Festival. From the Japantimes:

The Great Japan Beer Festival is the biggest beer event of the year in Japan, with more than 120 microbrews and craft beers available to taste.The festival is organized by the Japan Craft Beer Association, and this year the Tokyo event will be held May 5 and 6 at the tail end of the Golden Week holidays.

Hours are from 2:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. on May 5 (Mon.), and from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on May 6 (Tue.). Admission is ¥4,800 (¥4,300 for advance tickets), which includes unlimited tastings; food will be sold separately.The venue is the Garden Hall at Ebisu Garden Place, 1-13-2 Mita, Meguro-ku, Tokyo. Tickets are available from Lawson, Pia and other outlets.

Check the Web site at for more details or e-mail english [at]

The event moves to Osaka a few weeks later on the weekend of May 31 and June 1, at the Kyocera Dome; check the same Web site for more details. (Listing courtesy of

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Videos from Japan

There's been a couple of videos of life in Japan on other blogs that I feel worth a mention.

One from Stafford which shows what I'm like in the morning on a Japanese train trying to read my newspaper. It turns out to be from an improv comedy group in Osaka called Pirates of the Dotombori. I look forward to seeing them in Tokyo some time.

Another one from Annie at Going Underground on how crowded trains used to be back in 1991. I'd like to point out that, while it does get very busy on the trains here, I have never seen it that bad.

And finally, one of Yi So-yeon on her return to earth after a rather hard landing. (H/T RokDrop)

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

First Korean in Space

Since Mike hasn't blogged about it yet, I thought I would get the word out that his favourite astronaut Yi So-yeon blasted off from the Baikonur space centre in Kazakhstan at 11:16 GMT.

I like the way the BBC comment how South Korea paid $20m for the mission.

Update at 12:15 AM:
CNN has the most detailed coverage and notes that she is also the youngest female astronaut.
Yonhap makes Korea the 36th Country to send an astronaut into space and KBS agrees with that count while Korea Times make it the 37th country.

Arirang mentions her plans to introduce her country's traditional food and beverages such as kimchi specially developed and packaged for space to the crew aboard the ISS.
The Joong Ang has not confirmed the launch yet.
The Korea Herald has the story, but it's not easy to give a direct links to the page.
The Chosun Ilbo just has her photo.
The Hankyoreh has a column from a Professor of Sogang University about the subject.
The Dong-A-Ilbo has an editorial proclaiming "Korea needs strong policies to catch up with space powers".

Monday, March 31, 2008

Punchline Comedy Club, Tokyo

The Punchline Comedy club is presenting another line up of three stand up comedians on Friday 18th April.

Flyer for the Punchline Comedy Club standup comedy show. April 18th, 2008 Tokyo.
I'll be going along for sure. Tickets sold out for the previous show in Februrary, so book your tickets soon and don't miss out!

I exchanged emails with John Moorhead, the promoter, about running a show in Seoul and he was definitely interested, but he has no contacts there at the moment. If you are in Seoul and would like to get a chance to see stand-up comedy, please contact John directly from the contact pages on The greater the response the more likely he is to put on a show.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Akihabara, Mobile Phones and Rabbits

I went to Akihabara this weekend. My original intention had been to visit the transport museum that I had seen direction signs for on a previous visit. Foolishly I had not checked further into this institution, so when I followed the signs I was dismayed to see a large "Closed" sign and an explanation (in English) that the museum had shut in 2006. It has moved to a brand new site in Omiya, and it's the museum I'd already visited!

The day was not wasted as there a street festival on. The main road was blocked off to allow various artistes to perform. Hanger Man was very entertaining juggling on a unicycle and doing tricks with a tennis racket :

I've just discovered he's was at the Seoul Buskers Festival in 2007 and he was popular at the Edinburgh Fringe festival.

This gentleman wasn't part of the entertainment, as far as I could tell, but I had to take a second glance to make sure I wasn't seeing things. Man and rabbit moved as one :

It's still not as good as Mike's Lady with an Iguana on her head though.

Akihabara is full of boys and men interested in all the technology available, so what better way of getting their attention than some scantily clad girls:

As you can see they were very popular, but I've got no idea what they were promoting. Does anyone recognise the figure in the middle?

There were a lot of small groups singing and dancing, but in general the quality of the entertainment was not as good as last week in Yoyogi park.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Rock Bands of Yoyogi Park

Spring has finally arrived in Tokyo and the parks are now very popular places to be. On Sunday while walking round Yoyogi park, the sounds of loud music caught my attention. Along the path from Shibuya gate there were plenty of bands playing some really great music.

This group Majellyca were cranking out some heavy rock tracks.

H.U.T. were playing their heart out just a few meters further up the path:

This was my favourite band. The Chocolate Chip Cookies . I couldn't understand the lyrics, but the tunes were very catchy.
Benchmark Cafe put their heart and soul into their performance.
This is Hyper Kitty Hyper:
All the bands put on some great performances for those passing by. If you are interested in live Rock music, I recommend a walk along this path on a Sunday afternoon.