Around the office, Tokyo Edition

Longtime readers of my blog know that I don’t really talk about my employment here.  However, my primary reason for being in Japan was to work in the Tokyo office for five weeks.  As a result, I spent a lot of time around this view:


Our office is in the Otemachi financial district.  There are lots of very, very tall buildings here.


Any series of posts about being in Japan should touch on the older style of floor-toilets.  This is what they look like.  In train stations, there are markings on the stall doors to tell you whether you have a floor toilet or a Western-style toilet.  I managed to go through most of my five weeks in Japan without having to use one of these logistically crazy floor squatters.   I was doing fine, until I got to a train station on the outskirts of Osaka.   When you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go.

The problem with floor toilets for a Westerner like me, is that there’s no easy way to balance over the thing unless you take one leg entirely out of your jeans.  Even with partial disrobing, I had to rest a tiny part of my weight on the lip of the raised portion.  I’m just not built that way.  Don’t even get me started about how much taking my shoes off in a public restroom squicks me out.

I can tick the floor-squat toilet experience off my bucket list now.  I don’t ever need to do that again.


This pop-up beer garden showed up near the office, but I never got a chance to stop in.  I also didn’t ever see people inside until my very last week.  Sapporo is pretty tasty though, so I’m sure that woulda been tasty good fun.


One of the buildings near the office has a traditional smoker’s aquarium.  These never fail to make me laugh.  The ventilation system is top notch, though-  I walked past this thing almost every day, and I never smelled smoke from inside.


Inside the office, there’s a Shinto altar to wish for good business, complete with an English explanation.  I thought this was fascinating.



Also in the office:  Complimentary hot and cold running water, green tea, barley tea, and (terrible) coffee.   I had a cup of the hot barley tea nearly every day-  I had never been exposed to barley tea before this trip, and I really enjoyed it.


On days that I was in the office during normal business hours, we usually ate lunch in the cafeteria at the basement level.  The value is excellent-  I usually got a tremendous amount of food for no more than about five Yen.   For example, this meat dish, with rice, vegetable, miso soup, and a beverage was 4.90 yen.



Similarly this plate with what I thought was three chicken nugget type things.  Imagine my surprise when the third one turned out to be fish instead of chicken!


I can’t really remember what this one was, but it seems to be a basic noodle-meat-veggie dish.   The little pasta salad at the bottom was tasty.


This one was a sort of pho-like noodle bowl, with a rice piece that had a seaweed wrap.


Of all the cafeteria dishes I had, this one was my absolute favorite-  I love eggs like crazy, and the other parts were delicious, including the rice hidden beneath the top layer.  This is the only dish that I completely finished-  most of the others had some leftover food when I was done.  I noticed that my colleagues from the Tokyo office did not have this problem-  they all ate significantly faster than me, and they all cleared their plates entirely.  I suspect there’s a cultural thing where not clearing your plate is seen as wasting food, but I have to stop eating when I’m full or I feel absolutely terrible.


Most of my time in the office was evening shifts, which meant that my food breaks had to use restaurants in the immediate vicinity.    Near the office, I found a delicious Thai resturant, for some great Pad Thai.


There’s also any number of Italian restaurants.   This one in the Otemachi Financial Center has pasta over a stunningly delicious meat sauce.


That same food court area contains a Gyoza (dumpling) shop named New York New York.  They were one of the few restaurants I visited which had an English menu, even if the translation might need a little bit of work.  What the hell is hairy crab meat?!


Gyoza are damned tasty, don’t you think?


My colleague liked this flavor packet quite a lot.  I tried it on my rice, and was disturbed to learn that it tasted like miso and seaweed, not like chicken.


New York New York had a fun little photo opportunity.  Yup, the Statue of Liberty has chopsticks holding a Gyoza.  Why not?


This is actually ramen noodles.   Everything I thought I knew about ramen was challenged in Japan, because the ramen there is amazing and flavorful and nothing whatsoever like the freeze-dried instant noodles I was familiar with.  This dish tasted fantastic.


Sometimes, after a few days of unfamiliar (and often unidentifiable) food, it’s nice to just have something familiar.    Most of the places I ate alone involved a lot of pointing to get the desired food.  Subway had helpful visual choices, so it was more or less the same assembly-line approach to food that I was used to.


This is a tuna-fish sub with a cookie and soft-drink.  This was almost identical to the meal I periodically ate in German Subway restaurants for the last few years.  Subway really doesn’t change that much from continent to continent.


That’s enough food for right now, though.   Let’s take a little detour to meet this adorable pup, a little dog named Gran.


Gran keeps watch over the Granpark building, which is where we had to go once during my trip for a meeting.


The highlight of taking this meeting at Granpark was this pretty spectacular view from the eleventh floor.  Once more, you can see Tokyo Tower in the distance.  I promise I’ll get back to that in another post.


This was another fun moment-  when we were on our way out, the building was having some sort of earthquake drill.  There’s a school in the vicinity, and all the children had been dressed in these little yellow hoods.  I’m not positive of their function, but if I had to guess, I would say that the hoods are to provide padding and protection in case an earthquake generates falling masonry.

Either that, or the children are all being trained to stand in for garden gnomes in their off time.


Have you ever eaten at a Subway restaurant away from your home country?  Did you find it to be similar or different to your expectations?


Sleeping and Eating In Kanda

My base of operations while I was in Japan was a MyStays hotel near Kanda station.  My room was thirteen square meters, with a very basic kitchenette.  I had a tiny refrigerator, some cookware, a microwave/conduction oven, a hot plate, and a regular sink.  Pots, pans, knives, plates, chopsticks, and so forth were all provided.

The hotel had a service in which they brought you new towels and such every day.  They also brought a new kimono-esque bathrobe every day, which I never wore.  By the end of my trip, I was fairly annoyed with this part of the service, because I really don’t need new towels more than every second or third day.  Still, it was good service.

The bed is a fairly typical hard Japanese bed with a futon-style mattress.  I actually learned to enjoy it pretty quickly, and I slept very well while I was in the country.


When I arrived, I spent the first twenty minutes or so deciding where I was going to keep everything for the five weeks of my stay.  There are rolling drawers under the bed, which helped enormously. I used the desk drawers as underwear and sock drawers.


I traveled to Japan with a backpack which held my laptops, a rolling small suitcase which could be used as carry-on luggage, and a wheeled Skullcandy bag which could be used as a duffel with a shoulder strap or as a wheelie bag.   The handle on the Skullcandy bag was terribly weak, and it because clear very quickly that using it as a wheeled bag was terribly ineffective.  Lesson learned:  If you need multiple suitcases for a long trip, always go for the four-wheeled variety.  They’re significantly easier to navigate up the street when you have a lot of walking between your train station and your hotel.  After this trip, I gave the Skullcandy bag to a colleague and streamlined my personal luggage collection quite a bit.


The room had a built-in desk, along with a television, a little device which allowed you to stream movies for a small fee, and a combination vcr/dvd player.  There was ample power as well as a direct Ethernet plug.    The little fridge on the right side of the photo was incredibly cold, which left me with bottles of water that were frozen solid.  This was helpful, though, because it got very hot outside as we nudged into June.


The bathroom in the hotel room was a step up from the rest of the room, and I mean that quite literally.  The floor level of the bathroom was about seven or eight inches taller than the rest of the room.  It’s rather a miracle that I didn’t injure myself while stepping down from the bathroom.

The hotel provided basic soap, shampoo, body lotion, and conditioner, as well as a variety of other useful things.   There’s a valve on the bathroom sink which directs the water either to the sink or to the bathtub/shower, depending on your needs.


The tub is tall enough for even someone of my height to submerge rather nicely, and the water spigot has clasps at both bath and shower height, so you can choose to do either one. This is a pretty nifty design, for such limited space.


The toilet is western-style, as opposed to the older trench style toilets that I’ll talk about in a future post.   This is a very simple one, compared to some of the higher end toilets I ran into while I was in Japan.  I did try the water spout a few times, but don’t see the appeal.  I never found it to be more effective than regular toilet paper.  It didn’t really clean me, it just made my butt wet.


It took me a few days to figure out what the heck the toilet flush mechanism meant-  one way is half a flush for when you’ve only deposited liquid.  The other direction is a full flush for more solid waste.  I just think the thing is grinning at me, secure in the knowledge that I can never remember which is which.


But that’s enough about the hotel room.  I wanted to talk about three restaurants in the vicinity of Kanda station.  There were dozens of restaurants within walking distance of my hotel, and the variety of food I ate while in Japan was actually kind of amazing.

The first restaurant I experienced in the area was Bar Beco 2.


I think the full name of the  place is actually “Pizza and Steak Bar Bec 02,” but we just called it Bec 02 for simplicity.


Bec 02 is a tiny little slip of a restaurant at the intersection in front of Kanda station’s south entrance.  The entire downstairs of the restaurant is walled by these old wine crate sides.


They have tiny amazingly delicious steaks.   The meats I ate in Japan were often delicious, which is stark direct contrast to the lackluster steaks I encountered throughout most of Europe.

The name of the place says Pizza and Steak, though, and I stopped here several times during my stay for these adorable tiny pizzas.


Another delicious restaurant near Kanda station is Hiroshima Okonomiaki Big Pig.  We stopped here for lunch one day in my first week before heading into the office.


The restaurant is a tiny affair with room for about a dozen people.  You have a small wooden bar in front of the cooking surface, and your food is served on the cooktop.


Okonomiaki is a savory pancake filled with other stuff.  It’s not unlike a savory crepe.  There’s a lot of different varieties and they’re very tasty.


I cannot for the life of me remember what all went into this one, but it was delicious.  The brown glaze on top is cooked soy sauce, I believe.  There are noodles and the pancake portion itself.  The portion was fairly large, and I did not succeed in finishing it.   Very tasty!


The third restaurant I’m going to talk about in this post is actually a chain of fast-food restaurants which can be found all over Japan.  This is Matsuya.


Specials on offer are frequently posted outside the door.


You make your selection by putting coins in this machine and pressing a button.  You are then given a little card which the counter-person will take from you when you sit down.


The decor is more or less what you’d expect from a fast food restaurant in Japan.  Bright lights, plenty of places to sit, and fast, efficient food.


At each table, there’s a selection of spices and sauces, along with a tray of chopsticks.


I chose a sort of beef over rice dish.  The brown sauce was spicier than I expected, and the rice was delicious.  The miso soup was just miso soup.  I don’t really like miso soup, so I left that alone.


I had no earthly idea what this little device was during my meal, but I found out later from a colleague in the local office that it contains spices.  I’m glad I didn’t try it!  I’m kind of a wimp when it comes to burning-hot spice.


This was another 23 of the original 489 photos from Japan.  There’s lots more to come!

Have you dined near Kanda station?  What sort of food did you have?


Drinking Soylent

I’ve been drinking Soylent for a few months now, and I’ve been meaning to write about it because many of my friends have expressed curiosity about it.  After the breakfast talk in last week’s post, I think this is a good time to post about my Soylent experience.

Let me start by saying that the first person to make a Charlton Heston “It’s made of people!” joke will get a swift kick to the shins.  I’ve heard it before, and it wasn’t funny the first, third, or eighth times.

Soylent, for those of you who are unfamiliar with it, is a meal replacement product.  It was created by software engineer Rob Rhinehart, because he hated how much time he was losing to the preparation and consumption of food.  He decided to try to put all the nutrients the human body needs into a single liquid product, and when his initial trials worked out pretty well, he crowdfunded a larger run.    That was back in 2013.

Much like a software release, Soylent has had versions, with the number incrementing as the formula changes.  By the time I got into Soylent, it was at version 1.3.  The instruction booklet that comes with your shipment is labeled “Release Notes,” which made me chuckle.

Some people use Soylent to replace most of their meals, but I simply use it to fill in for breakfast.  Before this product, I almost never had breakfast.  I’m not a morning person, and my tendency has always been to crawl out of bed, throw on the next outfit in line in the closet, and crawl into the office.  Eating breakfast is something that takes time, and I will always choose more sleep over a full stomach.  This is a terribly unhealthy way to go, so I was very happy to find a way to include a breakfast that I could do without losing more than a minute or so.

My first few shipments of Soylent came this way- a single pouch is supposed to be three servings.  The little bottle of oil blend has to be mixed in to complete the nutrition profile-  there are some things included which the body won’t absorb without oil added.


Inside the pouch, the Soylent is a very fine powder which gets everywhere if you’re not careful.


So the basic instructions, without getting into too much detail are that you mix water and powder, shake for a bit, add the oil, add more water, shake it a bit more, chill the whole shebang, and enjoy.   This photo is halfway through the mixing, just before I added the oil.


The fully mixed thing looks pretty decent.  It will separate a little bit over time, but shake it again before you drink it and it’s all good.


The flavor is very neutral, and the release notes even provide suggestions for ways to change up the flavor by mixing in peanut butter or Hershey’s chocolate syrup or bananas.   Drinking a glass of this is the equivalent to a full meal, and it’s quite effective at squashing my hunger.

Some people find it a little bit gritty-  version 1.3 tends to leave a little on the sides of the glass, as you can see here.  It’s not unpleasant, and I’ve gotten used to it.  You just have to remember to rinse your glass as soon as possible after you finish your drink.


The next iteration of Soylent, Soylent 1.4, was just announced.  They have changed from the liquid oil to a powdered oil form, so there are no more oil bottles included.  I haven’t had 1.4 yet, but those who have generally say that it’s a little bit sweeter, smoother, and more like a nutrition shake in consistency.  One reviewer called the texture of 1.4 “velvety,” which is kind of intriguing.  Apparently the 1.0 version tasted a little bit like cake batter.  I’m kind of sorry I missed that one.  Still, they strive for a neutral flavor profile, and I’m all for that.   I think that any strong flavor would get old really fast.

There are critics of Soylent’s nutritional balance.  I agree that it’s not necessarily the best nutrition out there.  Soylent will never replace a meal out with friends or family.  It’s better than going without breakfast, though, and that’s good enough for me right now.

Have you tried Soylent?  Would you?  What do you think about meal replacement drinks?


`Twas The Weekend Before Thanksgiving…

The weekend before Thanksgiving was a most eventful one for me.  I spent most of the day on Saturday at the car dealership with my brother, going through the motions of the dance that is car salesmanship.   After nearly four hours, a deal was struck for a car which had to be retrieved from another dealership.  We confirmed the theoretical arrival date was sometime Monday or Tuesday, and I went on my way.

That night, Amelie and I went to the Mardi Gras Casino to see Air Supply play a live show.  They basically played their greatest hits album, but they sounded fantastic.


After the concert, there were delicious pancakes and eggs at the local IHOP restaurant.  I really missed IHOP in Germany. Check out Amelie’s pancakes- they look pretty happy they’re about to get eaten, don’t they?


Cut to Sunday, and I got a call from the sales manager that my car was already here, minus the tint (which will be installed in a week or so) and the backup sensor, which will probably be installed after thanksgiving. The car has a backup camera, but I wanted the doo-dad that beeps when you’re approaching an object too.

For the first time since 2011, I own a car.  It feels damn good to get that purchase ticked off of my repatriation to-do list.  This is what I looked like right after I drove the car off the lot.  The car is a Mazda 3 hatchback in a nice light blue color, and I’m very very pleased.


To cap off the weekend, we quite literally rode off into the sunset.  Ok, so we actually drove away from this, but it’s a really pretty sky, don’t you think?



All I need is a pith helmet.

The more time I spend in South Florida, the more I feel like Uncle Travelling Matt.  So much of life here is just a little bit alien to me now.  Take this, for example-  the weird flavors that are appearing on things are just strange to me.  I’m pretty sure this is a Thanksgiving holiday flavor:


Speaking of flavors, I’m trying something I’ve wanted to try for months: Naturebox.  Naturebox is a subscription service that delivers healthy snacks right to your door. I first heard about this on a podcast while I was still in Germany, and I wanted to try it then, but I held off until I got back to the US because it’s not really an international service as far as I know.  (Administrative note:  I am not being reimbursed or compensated in any way for talking about Naturebox.  However, if any of you want to try it, let me know because I can give you a code that will give you ten bucks off your first shipment.)


So far, I’ve only opened a few of my snacks.  The guacamole bites are delicious, but wickedly salty.  I won’t be getting these again because I can only eat a few before I need to rehydrate.


The salted caramel pretzel pops are sweetly delicious, however.


And now for some random stuff… I’ve been having trouble this week coming up with a coherent blog post topic, so I’m just going with random stuff from my last seven days.  For example, Amelie and I went to the South Florida Ikea.  It’s a little different than Regensburg’s Ikea, but it’s similar enough in most ways to actually make me breathe a tiny sigh of relief at the sameness.

Neither of us can pass a display of stuffed animals without playing with them, by the way.  This is her with some bears.


Every time I passed a bin of stuffed animals in the store, I tried to give them all better vantage points.  This one was a joint effort.  We are roughly twelve years old.


I commented on one of my last posts about all the super nice cars in South Florida-  not a day goes by that I don’t see a Maserati or a Lamborghini or a Ferrari.    But not everyone in South Florida is rich, and sometimes you see the opposite end of the spectrum also.  For example, this clever usage of custom duck tape was spotted in the parking lot at Target.


Most of the time, it’s relaxing being back in the land of everyone speaking English.  However, speaking English doesn’t mean you can type it.  I promise, my name has never actually been spelled “STEVN” before, and I’ve no idea where the H came from.


In my search for a new tagline, I came up with the idea a few nights ago to use “Whimsy is my resting state.”  That wasn’t quite it, though, and so I decided today to rename the tagline at the top of the blog with “Sunshine.  Whimsy.  Tacos.”  I really couldn’t leave the tacos out.

As for the sunshine, it’s this-  it’s all to easy to forget during my day to day grind that in this part of Florida, I’m never more than a few minute’s drive away from this view: