Commuter walking briskly by the Shinjuku Eye

A selection of photos from four trips to Tokyo taken between April 2005 and December 2007.

  • Tokyo []

March 27, 2008 | Filed Under: Announcements , Photos , Travel |
Tags: figureground, japan, tokyo, travel

Imperial Hotel Entrance Hall

Imperial Hotel Lobby

Surprise, surprise, another update to Figure/Ground! Hot on the heels of the Indonesia travelogue, here's a small update featuring a few shots of Frank Lloyd Wright's Imperial Hotel entrance (yes, just the entrance), moved from Tokyo and planted in an architectural history theme park near Nagoya.

I thought it looked extremely sad, having been torn not just from its location, but from the rest of the building as well. It's architecture without context.

The photos of the truncated building set against a lush mountain backdrop and overlooking a lake look just so ridiculously incongruous and wrong, so you won't see those here. Some of you are probably curious to see them, but I simply cannot do that to FLW.

March 19, 2008 | Filed Under: Announcements , Architecture & Design , Photos , Travel |
Tags: architecture, figureground, franklloydwright, imperialhotel, japan, travel


Misty Morning at Borobudur

Photos from a short trip to Indonesia last May:

I can't believe it's been ten months since I last updated It's frightening how time flies. I've introduced a couple of minor tweaks to the site's look as well.

See also the Indonesia (May 2007) photoset on Flickr.

March 16, 2008 | Filed Under: Announcements , Photos , Travel |
Tags: figureground, indonesia, travel

One More Reason Why Japanese People Are So Cute

I was looking out the window of the plane as it started to taxi away from the gate when I noticed that the airport grounds crew not only bows to the planes as they taxi away (this is to be expected, Japanese people bow all the time), but they also—get this—wave goodbye to the planes until they are out of sight as if each and every one is full of their closest and dearest friends. Tell me that isn't adorable.

December 7, 2007 | Filed Under: Travel |
Tags: airport, japan, travel

Visiting Japan Isn't as Hassle-Free as It Used to Be

When did Japan get so paranoid about visitors? At some point between now and when I last visited in July, they've instituted American-style immigration check-point, with photo taking and fingerprint scanning (in fact, they've gone one-step further and scan both of your index fingers).

Plus, their customs is now almost as invasive as Customs Canada. It used to be you could just breeze through customs, you didn't even need to fill out a declaration. Now, they are carefully searching through nearly everyone's luggages. They even took my tripod for an x-ray and asked me a ton of questions about where I'm from, where I'm going, what I'm doing, etc, etc. Even padded me down for good measure.

What the hell are they so afraid of?? Customs Canada's excuse is that they want to soak every last cent of every poor Canadian who travels, but what about Japan? Do they have such a huge smuggling problem that they need to do this to every visitor? Or are they just targeting us Taiwanese?

Anyway, perhaps because of their unfailing politeness or my unfailing love of everything Japanese, all these added invasions of privacy didn't really seem all that unwelcoming. You get the sense that the people doing the searching are just following new bureaucratic rules versus a lot of the U.S. immigration officers sorry, I meant Homeland Security officers who seem to be on power trips over all their expanded powers to keep you out. A few smiles and "thank yous" go a long way.

December 7, 2007 | Filed Under: Travel |
Tags: japan, travel

Kappa Restaurant

salmon-wrapped egg-yolk

My brother Yutai suggested that we go try something nice while I was in town visiting him in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago so he picked Kappa based on some glowing Yelp reviews. (We wanted to go to the French Laundry but I didn't know I was coming for sure until it was too late to attempt to make the two-months-ahead reservation).

I have never used Yelp so I don't know how accurate it is in general, but at least with this restaurant, I can tell it is reviewed by easily-impressed neophyte Japanese food eaters.

The tiny 10-bar-seat restaurant is located in Japantown, hidden in a dark entryway above a Denny's. The sign by the door is small and only in Japanese. So you're thinking: "Wow, just like one of those fabled hidden Tokyo eateries where only regulars are allowed inside! This must be good!"

While Kappa has a small regular menu, they pride themselves on their seasonal omakase menu, starting at $85 per person. The omakase menu has to be ordered ahead of time when you make the reservation, which is what we did.

Continue reading "Kappa Restaurant"

December 1, 2007 | Filed Under: Food & Drink , Travel |
Tags: food, review, sanfrancisco

eBay + iPhones = $$$

If you are in the U.S., you should totally get into the unlocked iPhone ebay business while you can. I decided I wanted to get an iPhone now before it's locked back down with the next firmware update so I've been watching iPhone auctions on eBay very closely for the past 2 days and man, people are making a killing selling them.

Just as an example, between 10:00 pm and 12:06 am last night/this morning (US pacific time), there were 35 completed auctions for 8gb iPhones on eBay, 8 didn't sell because those sellers were dumb enough not to ship internationally (that's where the demand is, people!). Out of the 18 who do ship internationally, only 1 did not sell (most likely because the seller was too greedy and wanted $648, including shipping, for the phone). The other 17 sold at an average price of around $560 (high of $607 and low of $507, again, including shipping). That's about $70 in profit after you subtract eBay/PayPal fees and shipping cost. Do that 10 times a day and you have made $700 (and believe me, you can easily sell 10 a day). The only problem I could see would be getting enough phones to sell. I wonder if Apple Stores frown on people who come in and buy 10 phones a day, every day.

And it's nearly risk free. Like I said, except for a couple of sellers who wanted too much, every auction I've watched (that ships internationally) in the past 2 days sold. Aim for about $70 to $80 in profit and you can probably sell as many iPhones as you can get your hands on. Even in the unlikely event the iPhone eBay market suddenly collapses for whatever reason, you can always bring them back and get a full refund (don't open them to unlock until they've sold, obviously).

So go after work tomorrow and buy 15 phones. Spend half-an-hour when you get home to make the listings on eBay. Do one day listings and you'll sell them out by the following day. Another hour or so to unlock the phones and to pack them in boxes for shipping. Bam! A thousand bucks. Not bad for a few hours of work.

Wash, repeat and go buy yourself something pretty (or better yet, buy me something pretty). And if you put the phones on a credit card with mileage rewards, you'll rack up major miles for this racket.

By the way, who wants to help me buy an iPhone???

September 23, 2007 | Filed Under: Technology |
Tags: apple, ebay, iphone, money

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon (Tokyo)

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon

I will just come right out and say it: start-to-finish, it was the best meal I've ever had.

If you are reading this review, chances are, you know all about Robuchon and his Ateliers popping up all over the world (Tokyo, Paris, Vegas, New York, London, Hong Kong at last count), so I won't get into who he is (a legend in French cuisine) and what his Ateliers are all about (fancy French food in informal settings inspired by sushi bars). What better place to try his Atelier concept than at the original location, the one in Tokyo?

Continue reading "L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon (Tokyo)"

September 19, 2007 | Filed Under: Food & Drink , Travel |
Tags: food, frenchfood, japan, joelrobuchon, latelier, review, tokyo, travel

Ginza Kyubey

Sushi @ Ginza Kyubey

In all my trips to Tokyo over the past few years (this was my 8th trip in 8 years), I've never tried a high-end sushi restaurant (I went to Nobu Tokyo once, but I don't think that really counts). Not having a reliable local guide
to take me, I've always thought the mysteries of haute sushi dining is most likely out of my reach because at that level, the interaction between the sushi chef and the customer is so important (and as it turned out, it did prove to be a problem this time). Plus, I am more than satisfied simply trying the multitude of affordable dining options in Tokyo. The relief on my wallet (in an otherwise expensive city) is a welcomed side benefit.

I still don't know any local foodie (or anyone, period, who lives in Tokyo, actually), but I decided it's time for me to dip my toes into the realm of fancy Tokyo sushi joints. For my first foray into this world, I decided upon Kyubey (久兵衛), supposedly one of the most famous sushi restaurants in all of Japan. Incidentally, they are the inventor of gunkan-maki ("battleship wrap")—the technique of wrapping sushi with a loose topping like ikura or uni with a strip of nori. I figured since they are that well known, they are likely as equipped as anyone to deal with foreigners.

Continue reading "Ginza Kyubey"

July 20, 2007 | Filed Under: Food & Drink , Travel |
Tags: japan, review, sushi, tokyo, travel

Tadao Ando Is a Total Rock Star

Tadao Ando at Taipei Arena

11,000 people attended a lecture by Tadao Ando today in Taipei, held at the Taipei Arena.


That is just insane.

I know there's nothing to do in Taipei and the herd mentality of the Taiwanese cannot be underestimated (this is, after all, a country of people who would wait in line for 6 hours to buy donuts just because it was the hot new thing[1]), but this is mind boggling. 11,000 to hear an architecture lecture? I'm willing to wager that 80% of the people who attended would not be able to ID an Ando building.

The lecture was free, sponsored by Toto (the Japanese toilet company). As many as 30,000 applied for the ticket drawing. Those who did not get one were supposedly paying upwards of NT$2,400/US$72.65 in online auctions.

Those who paid for the tickets got to hear one crappy lecture. Ando talked about nothing substantive nor insightful. The talk started with Ando striding the length of the arena floor onto the stage to thunderous applause, accompanied by the the theme of Rocky (I'm serious). And it was all downhill after that. For about 90 minutes, he talked superficially about his early life and career, then glossed over a few of his projects (Rokko Housing, Naoshima, his own office in Osaka). If you factor in the fact that he spoke in Japanese and had to be translated after every sentence, he spoke for no more than 50 minutes. After that, some Tokyo Univeristy professor and some Taiwanese dude joined him on stage for a 45 minute discussion/Q&A session, which was more fluff. A few softball questions and answers later, it was over. This is a far cry from the architecture lectures I used to attend at Cooper's Great Hall. Even conceding the fact that he probably had to shoot for the lowest common denominator with such a ridiculously large audience, it was still an extremely disappointing lecture.

[1] When Mister Donuts opened its first store in Taipei a few years ago.

Tadao Ando at Taipei Arena

Ando works I've photographed:

June 9, 2007 | Filed Under: Architecture & Design |
Tags: architect, architecture, lecture, starchitect, tadaoando, taipei

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