24 Sep 2005

tokyo review: food!

the major goal of being in tokyo was to eat as much as was financially possible. there's a huge variety of food available. i had a goal of eating some raw fish every day that i was there. i didn't quite make that goal, but i think out of the 10 days i was there, i succeeded on 6 of them. here's a list of some quick list of food we've seen or even tried around in japan.

japanese airplane meals

wow .. japanese soba noodles plus some rice on the virgin flight. not bad not bad. except that it was the only meal in the whole 12 hour flight, unless you include the "breakfast" they served right before we landed.

Meal on Virgin Flight LHR-NRT (After)

first proper meal in tokyo

first thing after getting off the plane and checking in is to check out the food. also we were starving when we got off the plane. we managed to go to a japanese fast food rice place. so in japan, fast food isn't your maccas or kfc (although these exists), but it is beef rice (gyudon) (牛丼), which is the one i'm having on the top. the one on the bottom is salmon patty rice, which is supposedly interesting too.

Gyudon and Salmon Rice

individually packed bananas

fruit is expensive here. although when we say expensive, we mean the same price as england. however, even though fruit is expensive, they're actually way way better than anything. it is like fruit deluxe - the grapes are really really juicey and big, the apples are huge!

Individually Packed Bananas

kirin and asahi

there are only three major beers in japan, asahi (and variations), kirin and another one. hehehe .. we managed to have large bottles of kirin at the ubicomp banquet:


we did spot a large can of asahi here in asakusa:


but it was a giant illuminated billboard. right opposite this sign was the headquarters for asahi brewery! not quite sure what that golden thing is on the top, but its sure impressive. designed by phillipe stark.



i had heaps of sushi, i think i had some on the second day in shibuya in a very famous kaiten sushi place. then again in harajuku, in shinjuku, and in kichojoji, then again in shinjuku. also got to down some sushi at the ubicomp banquet.

by far the best place for sushi was this kaiten sushi place in shinjuku. it is very close to the south exit of the JR shinjuku station:


although the place in harajuku has some interesting sushi that looked like a tissue box:

Egg Sushi 2

there were many places that we didn't eat at, but looked awfully tempting. including this place which had a massive tuna head on a table outside their shop. underneath the head was a sign saying there was a big tuna sale inside. everything tuna was half priced! the tuna head was real as well.

Giant Tuna Head

this was another interesting place for sushi in kitazawa. the kanji characters on that trolley are all types of fishes. notice the common left side of the character on all the characters, that is the kanji/chinese word for fish. if you notice, there is the price on the bottom right hand cordner, not particularly cheap, everything above 2000 yen,

Fish Kanji

starbucks presences


yes there are starbucks in japan. anil tried to meet us here and pointed his driver to go to a random shinuya junction. he believes the word "starbucks" means something like "i hate your family" in japanese, that is why the taxi driver decided to drop him off at a random place.

traditional japanese lunch

supposedly, japanese people don't have sushi and coffee every day. think of all that raw food everyday. but they have ramen (noodles), gyoza (dumplings) and yakitori (chicken skewers). so down this street here are lots of food bars. where you sit around a bar and the chef makes you yakitori, or grill anything you like, make you a nice hot bowl of noodles or whatever. we tried a place here which did sashimi rice (raw fish on rice) but there was a lot more of these. traditionally, near train stations are a bunch of these. this picture was taken in shinjuku, but there are equivalent places near every station.

Back Alley Food Paradise

delicious instant food

of course, the other main mission of going to japan was to buy as much food back as possible. the best way is to buy these prepackaged flavouring for rice or noodles to transform your bland rice/noodles into a flavour explosion.

Rice Sprinkles

yakitori and grilled things

yaki means grill or fried in japanese. and yakitori is grilled chicken skewers. we didn't always have sushi, so we checked out some grilled places where it seems alot of japanese people hung out. it seems like they like eating at these places and having a beer or two with their mates. this is kinda of like the english pub, except they serve decent food :)

here we had a very western corn, cheese and butter grill. looks yummy!


you can also grill eel, this is unagi! remember the episode of friends where ross keeps on insisting that unagi means inner peace? well, unagi does give you inner peace.

Unagi on a Stick!

we had some of this unagi. the rest of the shop sold deep fried things. basically, anything you would put in your mouth, these guys would deep fry it first. its a pity i didn't take a photo of that!

japanese sweet things

there were heaps of japanese sweets and snacks. the best was actually mister donut!


but we also had some crepes:

Plastic Crepe Display

and there were many shops just selling heaps of rice crackers in different flavours!

Rice Cracker Paradise

the delicious high class japanese doner kebabs

i wonder what their marketing strategy is in japan? maybe they'll be so sick of their fresh fish and delicious noodles, and settle for suspect quality meat in mayo and tomato sauce?

Doner Kebabs Invade Shinjuku

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24 Sep 2005

tokyo review : humorous tokyo

well, in japan, they speak another language. it's called japanese. and when japanese people try to use english, many funny things happen. here are things we spotted during our trip:

be cool instantly gel - in tokyu hands, shibuya

tokyu hand is a huge lifestyle department store. think of a department store that doesn't sell any clothes, perfumes or whatever, but only things that you need in your house. this is it. so amongst the miles of hair care products, i found this little gem here.

Be Cool! Instantly

use this hair gel and BE COOL INSTANTLY! not like in a couple of minutes time, or in an hour or so, but INSTANTLY!

animal rubber bands - 300 yen for 6

again, in tokyu hands. i don't think this is actually anything lost in translation, but these people really mean the jokes they have on the packet. this was featured once on boing boing as well.

Animal Rubber Bands

if you can't make out what it says, the 9 points are:

1. Don't overwork us. We can get tired if we work too much.
2. Please do not pull us too hard. We don't wanna die!
3. We can survive even at -40F (-10C)
4. We can withstand 374F (130C)
5. If we become tangled gently pull us a couple of times and we will return to out normal shape.
6. We animals love company. Collect all the animals and let us play together.
7. Use us to wrap gifts and your receiver will be pleasantly surprised when they untie us.
8. We are hand and useful. Take us wherever you go.
9. Don't eat us! We are your friends.

Pis for a bear named ...

unfortunately selection of font and punctuation. i'm pretty sure it reads better in japanese:

Piss for a bear ..

O2 can

yes, final thing in tokyu hands is the can of oxygen, for all those times when the atmosphere fails to ignite.

Can of Oxygen 2

Flesh Salad -- Little's Curry

we were tempted to order the flesh salad at a curry place in shibuya.


mylord - shopping mecca in shinjuku

mylord is a shopping centre in shinjuku. mylord its a great name.

My Lord

yogurt makes me feel like a natural women

inside the mylord shopping centre, i have some delicious mango frozen yogurt!


little did i know, after i enjoyed such delicious edible food stuffs, i wiped my mouth and the cruel practical joke become apparent

Goodberry's Napkin
a titty boo company - shibuya

a titty boo? i'm lost for words.

A Titty Boo Company

delicious water

because i nearly bought the "acceptable water". i love the straightforwardness of japanese market.

Delicious Water

bad interface design

there are so many problems with this watch. firstly, there is no watch face, but a phone interface. secondly, the phone interface is a pulse dialing interface. problem is that you then have to dial a particular number which then results in the watch "announcing" the time to you via a tiny speaker. great design.


Dial-a-Watch 2

welcomed by the flying multilingual ubiquitious penguin

i doubt anybody who is not from tokyo would understand this. but this ubiquitious penguin is taking over tokyo!

Mascot for SUICA

healthy is tasty?



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24 Sep 2005

back from japan

finally back from japan. although i've actually been back for around 3 or 4 days now, i've only just caught up with everything thats happened since i was away and managed to upload all my photos to my album. its still not ideal since i have 300 images on a single page. i'll figure something out later :)

anyway, there's heaps to talk about in japan, from food to geekying topics to just random funny engrish! so i'll take some time to blog about that slowly.

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18 Sep 2005

apple store in ginza

dude, im at the apple store in ginza. not as cool as the one in london, but the exterior looks great!

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16 Sep 2005

shinjuku arcades - ubicomp mecca

Being Late and in Shinjuku

Not a good day today because we were late checking out of the hotel in shinagawa AND checking in to the guest house we booked for a night in asakusa. but luckily we weren't charged anything extra and was able to rest our heads for the night.

made it to shinjuku today, and it was awesome. cheap food, lots of shopping and we checked out the arcades that are amazing! i won't talk much about the shopping because it is way obvious that there ware so many damn japanese things you can buy, so i'll talk about food and arcades.

there's a street near the train station near the keio side of the station where they sell lots of concert tickets and tickets for basically anything. down a very narrow street are packed with some authentic japanese eating houses that serve things from noodles to grilled chicken skewers and all sorts of japanese food you can think of. it is where you should go if you want authenic japanese food, not your posh hotel restaurant. we managed to have some sashimi rice there, was very nice, not particularly cheap, but very good nevertheless. i hope to go back there before i leave. apart from that, there's a lot of good places to have noodles and rice everywhere in shinjuku.

i managed to check out some arcades which i do religiously every time i'm in japan, because that is where the real ubicomp is happening. it isn't on the streets because no normal person is passionate about input interfaces but gamers.

so i was so surprised when i saw this, a normal video arcade game driven by RFID cards! this is pretty cool. the concept is that you buy some cards that is enough for you to start the game, in the war game in the first picture, you only need 5:

RPG RFID Card Game

but to better explain the concept you need to look at the football game. here, the guy has 11 cards, and basically he's laid out his formation of his team, including substutions, in true football manager style. now, he goes thru a series of cut screens about training them, and i suppose the usual football manager things, like injuries etc. when he starts playing, it is just like a normal game, he has some controls on the side to pass, control, shoot. and once the game ends, if he wins, there's a machine that spits out more cards for him in foil packets, just like those NBA collectors cards. and so he opens one of those up, and then places on an RFID card reader to register this new players he's just earned, or if he doesn't want it, then of course he could chuck it away.

Multiplayer RFID Soccer Game

if you finish with the game for the day, you can just pick up your cards and go home, come back another day. cool thing is though, during the game, he could move the cards on the RFID surface to change the formation during place. it is quite an interesting concept. bet you've never seen anything like that before.


other cool games include this coin rolling game. its kinda of like those games you get in arcades with a bunch of coins and you have to roll the coin onto a heap of coins and this coin pushing machine pushes the heap of coins and if you're lucky some might fall out for you to continue playing.

Coin Machine++

think of that game above, but in multiplayer mode. so what happens is that you're actually playing against an opponent, and if you win more coins than him, you get extra coins injected into your heap of coins. there are also more variations like its actually 2 player vs 2 player and there are slots in the coin pushing surface where if you manage to roll a coin into there, you get extra coins as well. its very fun to watch.

finally, there are some kick ass advance mahjong games with live commentary and virtual horse racing. of course, what visit to an arcade is complete without a go at the plushy toys crane?

PP Wins A Sony Cat

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16 Sep 2005

ubicomp final notes

Ubicomp reflections

Not having been to any of the other Ubicomps, I can't really compare them. But the highlight for me was actually seeing the sponsor demos. Actually seeing some of this stuff that Japanese companies are putting out there. I'm pretty sure it just tells all your ubicomp people that these Japanese companies are way in front of the curve. Location is probably the only thing that they haven't mastered yet, but I bet you they are very close to it. Either using visual tags or some other RFID system, they're going to achieve it before the western world.

There were a few talks that were quite impressive so I think the quality of the papers are actually quite good. What was actually missing was any interesting Japanese or Asian papers about ubicomp in their countries. It might be interesting to have a session about ubicomp adoption in those countries to really see whether there is impact in this field of research.

I for one would be most interested in the adoption of QR Codes in Japan. There are a bunch of them visible, either on geek magazines or even on packets of tissues that are handed out on the streets. It seems to me it is like the vCard standard because I can only see them encode URLs or physical addresses. But I wonder whether it would have the same effect in UK or US given that net access on GSM is still pretty poor. They all seem to rely on looking up the content from a URL encoded in the QR Code.

Another things I would really want to know are user studies about QR Codes and also about the Hong Kong Octopus RFID Payment System. The Octopus system has been around for at least 8 years, and it's really mind boggling to see that the same concept is only started being adopted here in Japan called Suica and also in London (called Oyster.) Japan is adopting Suica big time, very much like when it was initially deployed in HK, but you can see that at least 60% of people aren't using that card there. Where as in HK, given the 8 years lead time, i think nearly everyone except tourists are using the Octopus Card.

Next year it's going to be in Orange County, California. Wonder if I'll go, or maybe try submitting to UCS instead since it is going to be in Seoul, another place that I want to go to! Well, before I do, I have to get some work done and finish a thesis!

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16 Sep 2005

ubisumo - actually just sumo

so anil, sharpie, patricia and i went to watch the sumo wrestling at the kokuigan at ryogoku in tokyo. sumo wrestling only happens for a couple of weeks in the year, around 2 weeks at a time in march, july and september.

we were lucky enough to be in tokyo just as they were doing it here (otherwise they would have been doing it in other places like osaka.) so it was probably a once in a lifetime thing (unless i manage to land a job in japan after i graduate :)

to the skeptics out there, it is actually an amazingly fun thing to watch. nothing like a bunch of fat guys duking it out inside a tiny ring. with all the ceremony and tradition surrounding it, it is very interesting.

even before we get to the stadium, we already get out taste of whats to come. in the station itself are big posters of what were once sumo champions.

Sumo Portraits

and as the sumos finish for the day (they only have 1 match a day for 14 days straight) they just casually walk back to their hotels or stables down the busy street. normal japanese don't seem to be bothered or impressed by them, but the tourist are crazy about it. they stop them on the street to ask for photos, etc.

Kokugikan 22

we bought some unreserved tickets for ¥2100. we were lucky to get them at around 2:30pm when we finally got there, because i tried to get some tickets for sharpie at 3:30pm and they were all gone. however, it seems that on a weekday you can just rock up to the stadium and buy tickets on the day, no need to prebook anything. there are nearly 7 classes of tickets, 3 classes for the lower floor where you don't get a seat, but a long cushion where 2-3 people can sit and watch, and another 4 classes on the upper floor. the difference in distance isn't that big, but the price is. we got the unreserved tickets which is the cheapest one, but the class directly below is the class-c reserved tickets, which costs ¥3600.

if you have a radio, remember to bring it to the stadium. also, don't bother going at night because competition ends at 6pm. the most exciting competition is between 4 to 6pm, this is when the best sumo wrestlers are duking it out. at the other times, there are matches from the lower grades. however, they are just as entertaining to watch, but just that the guys are smaller and the difference in skill is very apparent. even the ref dresses differently for the bigger matches.

Kokugikan 8

we sneaked into the reserved seating because the upper level was practically empty and we managed not to get kicked out for the whole time we were there. oh yeah, there are also alot of ex-sumo wrestlers who are manning ticket booths and souvenir shops everywhere in the stadium. as the guide says, "you can probably see your one-time hero."

Huge Ticket Collectors

heaps of sumo photos and videos i took are on my tokyo photo album.

as with any sporting event, there were advertisment. but because of the tradition of the event, you can't have huge coca-cola banners everywhere, so advertisments were carried manually on flags:

Kokugikan 36

i don't know what they were advertising, but whatever it was, i wanted to buy it! they're probably diet pills.

after sumo, we managed to get on to a rush hour train (unfortunately, there was no small japanese man pushing us into the carriage at this station) to harajuku. this is where i carried out my goal of having raw fish every day. we had some sushi at a kaiten sushi place (eg. sushi train, sushi go round, etc..) the place wasn't that impressive, but we were starving and they were the only sushi place we found. turns out that alot of places here with kaiten sushi, you need to know a bit of japanese to order special sushi you want because otherwise you just get stuck with the limited choices on the conveyer belt.

anyway, by the time we finished, a lot of the shops had closed, but we're definitely going back to harajuku before we leave because there are some kick ass stores there, including the KDDI au exhibition tower where they show off their latest impressive phone designs. nevertheless, we did manage to walk 4 floors of the ´100 shops where everything in the shop is ´100. that is like 50p for UK folks and maybe $1.25 for aussies.

KDDI Design Studio

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16 Sep 2005

ubicomp banquet

After a gruelling session of Ubicomp, we head to the Banquet which is in the array of hotels in this one block in Shinagawa. I think there are like 3 hotels here in this single block, and Ubicomp has managed to utilise every single one of them for various functions.

The Banquet was held in the New Takanawa Prince Hotel, and their hall is amazing.


There was a promise of a proper sushi bar which turned out to be two manned mini sushi bars with two overworked sushi chefs. We were able to grab a seat near the sushi bar in anticipation of the rush. And lucky we did because the sushi ran out nearly 45 minutes into the banquet.


There was also some sake which you had to drink out of a wooden sake box. Oh yeah, I saw these sake boxes in the ¥100 shop as well. Ubicomp had their logo printed on these and was giving them out, which is a pretty cute non-techy present.

I also missed out on some tempura because that ran out not long after the sushi! Anil tells me that the Banquet is around ¥10000 of our ubicomp ticket. I was wondering whether that was the case because firstly it wasn't worth ¥10000 (dude, imagine how much sushi you could have) and also I never saw an option to not register for the Banquet.

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16 Sep 2005

ubicomp day 2

Second day of Ubicomp.

Our talk was the second talk of the day, and I pretty much was preparing it until the last minute we were supposed to go up there. I think it went alright, nobody stood up and said that this is all bullshit. Some interesting questions and comments afterwards as well, but I think we did a good job of deflecting a lot of potentially misguided questions.

It makes me think a bit about ubicomp, because the scope is so wide, there wasn't going to be many people who would be willing to stand up and ask questions in front of 200+ people.


Found an interesting and cool demo today. KDDI or some associated company "handed out" these QR Code capable phones that could be used to scan QR codes around the conference. Every exhibit and talk has a QR Code assigned to it which is supposed to point to some "ubicommunity" site which I don't really know whether it is being used much.

The cameraphones are really advanced here. They have fast network access using iMode and 3G, but the best thing is that their lenses are auto focus, so you can place the camera very close to the code and it won't be blurred. When will we have phones like that??

The application is a bit of a hack on though, it takes much longer to actually go click on the tag and then have to use your bloody phone to input ratings for demos and talks. It would be much beter if there were more qr codes printed to rate them by simply clicking on a tag rather than using a web form on a mobile phone.

Videos of Note

Cool video is the The Yellow Chair which is an arty bit, not technical, but very interesting to see how people think about free wifi and also location specific data. An art student setup a yellow chair outside her house and filmed people using free wifi from the chair. She talked to them and asked them what they think. From that point, there is also a shared folder that is only available at this point so people can drop files they like here and can only access them here.

Another cool one was the Ubiquitious Video that stiched together many photos from a moving video to generate an interactive environment using alpha blending.

Finally, an interesting video that I missed right at the start involving some Swiss guys who did the automatic GUI generation using minimisation of cost. They did a sensor application which calculated your "insurance cost per kilometre" for your driving by adding a bunch of sensors to an iPaq and then display a "tachometer" like dial and then got a professional driver to test it out to see how expensive he was to insure.


This was the start of a whole bunch of Intel talks which I believe involved Placelab. A quick impression of the talks: I liked the auto-calibrating, auto-orientating ultrasonic location system that was done by the University of Bristol and also the DigiDress talk. The other talks I weren't so impressed. Interestingly, this day had three Intel papers, and I believe all one the same system (Placelab.)

I missed the first talk about Self Surveying 802.11 in detail because I was busy preparing for our talk. But from the gist of what I heard, this was about using pre-surveyed knowledge of the environment to further enhance 802.11 positioning. The idea is to use a bunch of cell phone towers, mapped war driving open access points and others in the environment to narrow the location of a laptop. The experiment involved getting people to walk around with laptops for 3 days.

This was one of the first in 4 or 5 Intel research talks. I thought this one was very similar in backend to the second one which was a little "sliced". The one I'm talking about is "Learning the places we go." The idea is that people don't think in coordinates (eg, I'm going to -444.33, 24.22 today, you care to join me?) but that people use place names. So their argument is that, since we don't talk about coordinates, we can accept lower resolution in our applications and only use place names rather than coordinates. When you use place names, you have to infer a name of the place using various techniques. In this case, there is a bunch of sensors on a laptop such as GSM, GPS and WiFi, which 3 people carried around for a length of time (not specified.) Then they recorded the locations that they went to on a paper diary and the digitised their "places" after the experiment.

Things they noted were, home and work were the most frequently located places (heh, obviously) and that three quarters of the places were visited infrequently. I believe the talk went on to cover how to generate these place names. Interesting questions that arose was that these names were temporal, eg, what could one day be a home for you, might the next day be someone elses' home. So that might be an issue that needs to be solved. I thought that it was obvious ubi apps have place names rather than coordinates. The Active Bat System uses room names rather than coordinates in most of its applications. I thought it was an excuse to not work on a higher precision location system. Of course, you don't really need a high precision location system all the time, but sometimes, saying "home" don't really cut it if you want to have a smart home which knows where you are.

Now to the talk that impressed me, the talk by the University of Bristol people who built a self-surveying location system using ultrasonic tags. The tags themselves cost $100, uses relative distances just like Mike Hazas and James Scott's paper on auto-calibration. The calibration takes around 30 seconds and interestingly, also allows you to use an L shaped gesture to define the XYZ axis. The accuracy is the most surprising bit, these guys used around 4-6 sensors to get around 2.5cm accuracy. However, their update rates are quite slow. This could probably be the beginnings of a deployable system in ultrasonic. Their measurement of this is a little suspect, but as with all people who build location systems, they admit it is very hard to find the ground truth for these systems.

Finally, the only other talk of note is the DigiDress paper. That is basically Nokia Sensor (which I talked about one this blog a while ago) but apparently the idea was based on research these guys did in Finland. They built a prototype and was able to distribute it on their website just by word of mouth to around 280 people. They did some analysis of what people put on it (advertsiting themselves) and whether they saw other people using it, and in what mode the interaction was. Quite interesting to see something that grows from a research project into a full blown supported application by Nokia.

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13 Sep 2005

non-ubicomp things in tokyo

you can buy individually wrapped bananas from stores here. oh the freshness of plastic!

extra fresh banana

and of course, this is why japanese people are so cool

be cool

power in my hotel room is a little iffy, last night i was woken up by sounds of electrical sparks, which apparently was the socket that my powerbook was plugged into. dunno what is happening there, but the sounds don't sound very healthy :( pretty disappointed with the room i'm in but i really can't be bothered to move.

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