Stuff I want to eat: Frijoles, a Chipotle knockoff in Azabu Juban


When I lived in Washington, DC, one of my favorite places to eat was Chipotle, the formerly McDonald’s-owned seller of giant burritos. The combination of spicy salsa, sour cream, guacamole, and seared meat all wrapped in an overstuffed tortilla made for a reasonably priced explosion of flavor, guaranteed every time.

Accordingly, a complete lack of anything comparable in Japan (or any decent Mexican food, for that matter) has been a source of considerable homesickness for me.

Until now.

Joe has pointed me to Frijoles, a restaurant in Azabu Juban with a menu essentially identical to Chipotle. I have not eaten there yet, but it has so far received some positive word of mouth. I’ll be sure to report once I’ve had the chance to try it out.

Hiking in Hannou-shi, Saitama

Hannou-shi in Saitama Prefecture is located along the Seibu Ikebukuro line outside Tokyo. Closer to outlying Chichibu than urban Tokyo, the town’s look and feel are like a scene out of the recent Oscar-winning film Departures (which I highly recommend!). Mrs. Adamu and I decided to hike there after finding the town randomly on a web search. It was an extremely convenient trip – after an hour and a half train ride it was just a 10 minute walk to reach the trail. We followed this route on the Hiking Map website.

Anyway, here is what we saw!

This is a monument to local deaths from industrial accidents. Not sure why they died or when.

Going up Tenranzan mountain we came across these oddly shaped Buddhas. The fifth Tokugawa shogun apparently called a monk from a temple near this mountain to heal him with chanting, and it worked. The statues are somehow related to this.
Continue reading Hiking in Hannou-shi, Saitama

Typing on the itouch

I just got one of the new iPod touch models. It’s pretty amazing so far though it’s clear that apple has engineeredamy of the features to try and get you to pay for apps especially in the games department. Still it is a great little machine and I am slot but surely acclimating myself to typing on a glass touch screen.

One disappoinment so far has been ワイヤレスゲート aka wireless gate, a service that let’s you connect to wireless hotspots at mcdonalds and some other areas like the bullet train. so far I have tried it at a few mcds with no luck whatsoever. At just 380 yen a month it’s a steal but only if it actually freaking works.

Open House New York

Next weekend, October 10 and 11, New York City will have its 7th annual Open House weekend, in which hundreds of normally closed-off sites, both public and privately owned, will be open to the masses for tours. I absolutely love this concept, and wish both that it existed in other cities, but even more that I had heard of it while I was home during that weekend in past years!

New York Times has an article on the event.

Official website, with details and schedules, is here.

I hope that every single reader in the NYC area takes advantage of this special opportunity, and if any of you do so, please drop a comment to say what you managed to visit.

Reminder: the US has yet to make a profit on its bailout investments

Just wanted to pass on this very salient point from Bloomberg columnist Jonathan Weil:

President Barack Obama did Americans a great service yesterday. He boiled down what’s wrong with his administration’s approach to the financial crisis into a single, symbolic statistic.

Striking a hopeful tone during a speech on the first anniversary of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.’s collapse, the president said banks have repaid more than $70 billion of taxpayer money that they had accepted from the government. “And in those cases where the government stakes have been sold completely,” he said, “taxpayers have actually earned a 17 percent return on their investment.”

This is the kind of math that helped get Lehman into so much trouble. It’s called cherry-picking.

Let’s be clear: Taxpayers have not earned a 17 percent return on their investment in companies that have accepted federal bailout money. Real-life investors don’t count only their winners. They count their losers, too, including investments that have declined in value and remain unsold.

A few minutes after that bit of bravado, the president identified the “simple principle” in which all his proposed reforms of the financial regulatory system are rooted: “We ought to set clear rules of the road that promote transparency and accountability.” He’s right. We should. A good place to start would be with the people who crunch numbers for the president’s speeches.

Trumpeting the 17% gain on bailout funds returned so far is like saying I invested 90% of my money into a company that’s probably bankrupt, but I must be doing OK because I made a 17% return on the remaining 10%.

Max Blumenthal at the 9-12 rally in DC

Just thought I’d pass this amazing video along.

Some of the interviews are unfair “gotcha” material, but it’s great to see people get confused when he asked them why they’re so opposed to health care reform and what exactly will happen when the “Obama revolution” goes down. These people really should stop and ask themselves what they’re getting so paranoid about.

Buy two teiki and save money, legal and perfect for budget-conscious salarymen

(Updated with note; corrected)

A lot of new stuff going on in my life prevents me from posting much, but I felt I should weigh in with this tip for fellow commuters in Japan:

Business weekly Shukan Diamond President has an article that explains how you could potentially save around 9,000 yen a year by buying two commuter passes  — one that goes most of the way, and another that covers the rest of the ground. Because of the oddities of Japan’s train pricing system, your commuter pass might go up or down if you split your commute into two separate passes.

But it’s not as simple as buying two train passes along the same route. If you do that, generally you’ll have to either get off and on again halfway through your commute, or explain to the station attendant every time you get off the train. Not practical.

But one successful example they give is this: If you live in Omiya and commute to Tokyo Omori station, you could save 9,060 yen a year by buying one pass from Omiya to Ochanomizu, and the second from Ochanomizu to Tokyo Akihabara to Omori. This will let you ride all the way to Tokyo Omori (and let you stop at Ochanomizu at no charge if you want).

As you can see, it can get kind of complicated. To help sort things out, someone has developed an application that determines the most advantageous route for any given individual. Sadly, it’s already gone viral and is thus unavailable.Those who don’t want to wait for them to add server space and Google ads can try experimenting with Yahoo’s train route finder in the meantime (if you’re desperate, try waiting until late late at night when most others are sleeping. If you do, open a mirror site for the rest of us!).

The article states that this practice is hardly new and has been used by train-savvy salarymen for some time now.When some of Tokyo’s planned new routes come online it should create whole new levels of complexity to exploit.

(Diamond article found on Yahoo Japan front page)

Note: This practice is not the same as a train scam known as kiseru in which the rider has a ticket for the beginning and end of the trip but skips out on the rest of the fare.

Using a cell phone as visitor to the States

One of the perennial annoyances of world travel in the early 21st century is the difficulty inherent in having the wireless connectivity abroad upon which one has become dependent in one’s country of residence. To say, having operable cell phone service. Yes, the entire world now generally recognizes GSM and unless you are foolish enough to travel abroad with a CDMA only provider like America’s Verizon or Sprint, or Japan’s AU, then your foreign phone shall operate locally, but with the combination of using a foreign phone number and operating said number in a foreign land under a roaming agreement, which produces a particularly usurious fee schedule, wherein a simple text message or phone call of greetings is so expensive as to chill the blood and whiten the face.

The solution to this problem is inherent in the same GSM specification that allows phones and service provider accounts of most nations and varieties to operate worldwide – the SIM card. In most countries, a traveler may simply peruse a local vendor of inexpensive SIM cards offering a reasonably priced prepaid service, whether said vendor be official company store, or marketplace stall, or even automated machine, and after completing the local procedure shall simply replace their existing SIM card, being extremely careful not to lose it, whereupon he or she then has a local phone number.

The difficulty of obtaining such a prepaid SIM card varies greatly by nation. In my experience, the most difficult of all is Japan, where they are simply not sold; the only options for the foreign traveler is to cavort without a cell phone, in the manner of a twentieth century hobo, or to pay a truly outrageous fee for a rental phone or the aforementioned international roaming service. The easiest of all may be The Philippines, where there is a SIM card vending machine located in the lobby of the international airport, allowing one to purchase the chip without providing any personal identifying information, or even to interact with a human being. Someone higher on the scale is Taiwan, where the item may be purchased cheaply and readily at any of the innumerable vendors dotting the market-places, but where the traveler is required by law to show both one’s passport and a supplemental form of identification, quite a burden for a thing so small.

And this brings me to today. Here I am, in my country of citizenship and birth, but only for a short time. Far too short a time to obtain the ongoing contractual wireless service of a resident, and yet far too long, and with far too busy a calendar of engagements to vainly search for working examples of the antiquated coin-phone, or to scurry from doorway to doorway, in search of an unprotected WiFi signal, like a starved and lonely rat trapped out in a storm, trying to sniff its way home before the scent fades.

Here in the US we have two providers of GSM service. AT&T and T-Mobile. Yesterday I was in Manhattan, I believe at 6th Avenue and 17th Street, where stores of these competing firms stared down each other across the Avenue (increasingly full of bicyclists, in these recessionary days). I first inquired at AT&T, the original provider of my retired Samsung Blackjack, now being asked to come out of retirement for one more short campaign. Absurdly, they told me that the fee for a SIM card was $100, with $100 worth of service included. So, there is no base fee but I would be required to spend far more money than I will actually use. And across the way, loquacious Dennis of the T-Mobile store, resident of The Bronx, informs me that their basic fee is a mere $10, with service structure that becomes increasingly favorable (to both parties) the more credit one purchases, in the grand mercantile tradition of the bulk discount.

In fact, it turns out that my old Blackjack was still SIM-card locked to AT&T (meaning that it would not work with any other provider), but either a law of congress or regulation of the FCC now requires that providers of services provide the code needed to unlock said lock, which AT&T (relevant tech support # is 1-800-331-0500 ) did most readily upon request. And now, here I sit, surrounded by phones and computers of divers sizes and capabilities, but amidst them is a single unit, made in Korea, purchased in New Jersey some years ago, containing within itself an accurate and complete record of the telephone numbers of family, friends, associates and acquaintances domiciled in these United States, and once again with the capacity and license to contact them.


Must-see video on Youtube and the American quest for authenticity

Thanks to Gen Kanai for passing on this landmark lecture on Youtube culture and how it’s turning all Americans into attention whores who can only find validation through media exposure:

This appears to be on the same page as J Smooth’s observations about how even as the Youtube generation mourns Michael Jackson’s death, now that everyone is a media star they must deal with the same pressures of public exposure that Jackson faced: