Disney Hallowe'en

It’s the time of the year when Tokyo Disneyland becomes more like Harajuku, when the streets are full of people in costumes, and the crowds are taught how to dance along to the Disney Hallowe’en songs.

Posing Guests

Posing Guests

Marty loves the Hallowe’en parades as he gets so amused watching the audience try to dance along.  The song started with a chant of the letters O-B-A-K-E and cast members then spent about 10 minutes teaching the audience the actions. This year, Marty attempted to learn the hand movements, but they were a bit complicated.  And although it was possible to follow along when we were being taught, the song played during the actual parade was a lot faster.

Dancing Skeletons at the Halloween Parade

Dancing Skeletons at the Halloween Parade

We don’t own Disney costumes and I’ve no idea where the adults got their costumes as I’ve only really seen Disney outfits for children.  We should investigate this for next year as I quite fancy spending the day dressed as a Disney villain.  I saw some great villains during the day but I thought it would be rude to try taking pictures of strangers who weren’t standing around posing.  One of my favourites was a mother dressed as Cruella de Vil with her children dressed as Dalmatians.

Marty at Disney

Marty at Disney

The Haunted Mansion has also be refurbished and turned into the Nightmare Before Christmas. The queues throughout the whole park were long and I didn’t really want to wait for 90 minutes to see the Haunted Mansion so we waited until the Electric Parade had started and then tried to make our way to the Mansion. We finally found a gap in the crowds and only had to wait 20 minutes for the ride.

Nightmare Before Christmas

Nightmare Before Christmas

YAPC::Asia 2011

Lestrrat wrote recently that “YAPC ain’t over until you blog about it“.   At the start of every conference I convince myself that I’ll write at least one blog post a day, but my plans often go awry.  I have started writing this post many times but keep stalling because I can only think of so many ways to say the word “great”.  It would be such a boring post if I just kept saying that everything was great, the registration process, the venue, the organisation, the speakers, but in reality all these things were great.

I will admit that I attended one conference this year where I didn’t actually register.  The queue was just so long and I knew that I could always come back and do it later, I just never got round to it.  But at YAPC::Asia the registration process was very efficient.  I arrived about 30 minutes before the start of the conference and it only took a few minutes for me to register.  I have been to the venue, so had no trouble finding out where to go, but there were beautiful signs at the entrance to the campus with a map to make it easy to find the main room.

I’m having difficulty in thinking of anything that was overlooked.  I’ve been to conferences that forgot to put up signs to let you know where the rooms were, that forgot to hand out wifi information, that didn’t print out the schedule because they assumed everyone would be online, but not at this conference.  I’m not saying that everything worked perfectly for them, as I remember that there were problems with the projectors on the first morning, but that everything was well thought out and any problems that did come up were handled well.  I received a printed copy of the schedule in my conference bag as well as details of the wifi and a map of the venue.  The main handout also contained useful information such as a section on how to get the most of the conference, bios of the keynote speakers, information on the IRC channels, and the tags to use on social media.

The conference had more attendees than any other YAPC, I believe about 670 of them, but it was only at the closing event that you noticed just how many people were there.  For the most part the venue easily coped with that number of people.  It also had more people helping out than I’ve even seen at a YAPC: 42 volunteers really did mean that there was someone around to handle any problem.

There were couple of quirky things about the venue.  The shutters in the main hall seemed to have a mind of their own and would occasionally pitch the room into darkness.   I did watch a few people stumble on the stairs in the dark.  The main hall  is also near the part of the university where musicians come to warm-up and practice. Not as a group, but as a bunch of individuals all trying to play brass instruments louder than each other.  This racket could occasionally be heard in the main hall, and was certainly noticeable when I was trying to work in the hallway, but I don’t think it caused much of a problem for the conference.

There are also some other differences from the YAPCs I attend in Europe and America.  This conference didn’t use the ACT system that is used by most of the grass-roots Perl conferences in the world. (Maki-san has written about his reasons for using something different.)  The only thing I missed about it is the ability to see who else is attending the conference.  I’m not great at remembering names and have often used ACT to go and look up a person after I’ve spoken to them in the hope that it will help me remember who I was talking to.

There was a professional photographer at the conference.  I quite liked this.  I know that lots of people carry cameras but it’s still nice to have a set of pictures of the speakers and the main events at the conference.

There were prizes for the top three speakers based on votes from the audience.  From memory I think that these were an ergonomic chair, an iPad, and a MacMini.  The keynotes speakers weren’t eligible to win, which makes sense, and I believe that a draw was taken and one of the voters also won a prize.

As for things I would change?  There weren’t that many talks in English this year, around 7 I believe.  I would like there to have been more but I know that since the conference is in Tokyo that the main language will be Japanese.  I also know that fewer foreigners are coming to Tokyo this year.  I would also have liked Larry Wall to have been there, I find it strange being at a YAPC without him.

I’m at the end of my post so finally my YAPC::Asia is over, and now I can prepare myself for the London Perl Workshop!

One Response to “YAPC::Asia 2011”

  1. Michael Wallace Says:

    Oh hey I wanted to take a moment to say i love reading your Site!

Fish Market

I went to Tsukiji fish market this morning for breakfast.  This was my first visit though I’ve been living in Japan for nearly 5 years.  I’ve considered it before but always liked the idea of sleeping more than fish eating.  Since it is a friend’s last day in the city I decided to make the effort and got out of bed at 6am.

The sushi was scrumptious.  We ordered the chef’s recommendation and I ended up with more than I could eat.  That worked well as I was able to leave a couple of pieces that I’m not overly fond of.  When I first moved to Japan I didn’t eat sushi at all.  Now I like sushi enough that I eat it for lunch three days a week but there are still some types of sushi that I avoid.  This morning I was served sea urchin, which I find it hard to look at never mind eat.  I’m also not fond of fish eggs, but I did manage to eat one roll that contained these.

I would consider going back as the fresh sushi was certainly worth getting up for, and given how often I travel, it may be the perfect breakfast treat when I’m jet lagged.


4 Responses to “Fish Market”

  1. Norwin Says:

    Mmmm. That sounds lovely. Other than the part about getting up at 6:00 to do it. Will have to try it next time I’m there…

  2. karen Says:

    The getting up early part wasn’t great, but the market is fascinating and the food well worth the effort.

  3. Leon Brocard Says:

    Sounds great. It’s definitely my favourite thing to do when first arriving in Japan and horribly jetlagged.

  4. karen Says:

    I’ll have to get into the habit of doing it more often. We do live quite close to Tsukiji, but I’m not great in the mornings.

José at YAPC

Being at YAPC::Asia has reminded me that I never got round to writing about YAPC::EU.  I don’t have time to write today so instead I’m going to post one of the pictures I took at YAPC::EU.

José Castro: Man of Magic

José Castro: Man of Magic



Something Fishy

I’ve seen ducks swim towards people in the hope of getting food, but today was the first time I’ve seen carp do this.

Hungry Carp

Hungry Carp


Today I saw a great use for all those umbrellas that get left behind on the street car.  Instead of storing them in a lost items’ room they are put in a box at the stop.  If it’s raining when you get off you can take one with you.

Everyone's Umbrellas

Everyone's Umbrellas


Weekly Shopping

I spent hours yesterday afternoon chatting to friends.  None of us smoke and someone made a comment on how ridiculous it was to spend money on cigarettes when you could practically afford to go on an extra holiday a year if you stopped smoking.  I laughed and said that the same was true if you stopped buying coffee on the way to work. My friends looked sceptical, yet if you buy a grande latte from Starbucks in Tokyo every weekday of the year it costs more than 100,000 Yen (834 GBP, 1300 USD).

This lead to a more general conversation on the cost of living and how we don’t always know exactly how much money we spend on things.  (One person at the table had detailed financial records on every penny he spends, but he only started to do that when he realised that he wasn’t sure what he was spending his money on.)

When I was in Europe in August and September I was surprised at the price of food.  I believe that I spend a lot more money grocery shopping in Tokyo than I would if I lived in the UK, but I could be completely wrong.  If I had to guess I would say that I spend 4,000 Yen (33 GBP, 52 USD) a day on groceries.  28,000 Yen (231 GBP, 364 USD) a week seems like a lot of money to spend on feeding two people.  I imagine that we spend more money on food than the average Japanese couple, as I still buy some Western ingredients.  I know it would be cheaper to eat Japanese food every day but I haven’t adapted enough to eat Japanese food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Of course my grocery shopping also contains non-food products, but then we also eat dinner out maybe once a week and Marty buys lunch every day.

I know that Tokyo is one of the world’s most expensive cities (Mercer’s 2011 Cost of Living Survey ranks it as number 2), which does mean that I expect to spend more money on food than if I lived in another city.  The Yen has also strengthened substantially over the past couple of years making everything feel expensive when I covert it to another currency.  But now I want to know exactly how much I do spend.  This will mean keeping records but maybe I’ll find out what I’m buying that’s equivalent to the grande latte or packet of cigarettes.

Boxes, boxes, every where...

We have visitors arriving this week and for the first time this year we are planning on using two guest rooms.  We have a guest bedroom which shouldn’t take much sorting out.   The other room isn’t actually a guest room.  It’s my study and it contains my electronic piano, bookcases, and my desk. The last time I decided to use the printer I had to attempt to find a path through the surprisingly large piles of stuff that’s managed to accumulate in there during the year.  I hate that and love the thought of having an apartment where you could open any door without worrying about the lurking mess that’s waiting to embarrass you in front of your friends, but I don’t appear to have found a way to transfer my thoughts into actions.

I did peek in last week and the room has been breeding boxes.  I don’t use the room that often and when I do it’s mostly to play the piano.  Given how little space I actually need to do that the room ends up being used as a dumping ground for boxes and other items that need to be recycled.  We really do mean to recycle the cardboard once a month but the door to the room stays closed and the boxes get to stay for another while.  I love the convenience of being able to buy things like bottled water and rice online, but it really does use an alarming amount of packaging.  Mind you, instead of writing about the packaging I should really go and start recycling.


Japanese Lessons

I haven’t had a Japanese lesson this year.  I’ve been away from Japan more than I’ve been in it making it difficult to keep a teacher or to attend a language school.  I may have tried harder to resolve that issue if I had been enjoying the language, but when I thought about Japanese I was filled with feelings of dislike.  And although I have the ability to force myself to learn I was worried that I would never enjoy the language again.

This morning I was sorting through some of my things when I came across a box of kanji flashcards.  Instead of putting these to the side I felt curiosity, I wanted to know how many kanji I could still remember.  I started to sort them into order and went through the first 100 cards.  I could read 99 of the 100 cards and I made a silly mistake with the one I got wrong.  I’m now curious about the rest of the box.  It’s a great feeling, long may it continue!

One Response to “Japanese Lessons”

  1. Skype Japanese Lessons Says:

    Konnichiwa! Learn more about Japanese lessons at! The Skype Japanese lessons offered by give Japanese students the chance to have affordable Japanese lessons on Skype from native Japanese speaking teachers from the comfort of their own home or office.Yoi ichi-nichi o!

Lazy Saturday

I haven’t been feeling overly well so we decided to have a lazy Saturday at home.  I read, watched Fringe, and ordered in food.  We also decided to play Mario Kart.  Every now and then Marty and I play a 32 round tournament against each other.  Today I won!


Cartoon by xkcd

Chicken Tonight

I like trying out new recipes.  This week I’ve been craving pastry and I thought I would attempt to make savoury pies.  I have a limited supply of recipe books, most of which focus on desserts, so I spent quite a bit of time researching recipes on the Internet.  In the end I went with a Delia Smith recipe for Chicken Feuilletes.  I’m not sure what a feuillete is but it looks like a pastry parcel.

I had planned to make the pastry but I actually found frozen puff pastry in my local grocery store.  I was delighted as it meant I could experiment with making pies without spending hours folding pastry.  Making the filling was easy.  I let Marty put the filling in the pastry as he enjoys playing and was keen to try making the little parcels.  Watching him looking into the oven and saying things like “oh pants” did make me wonder if I’d made a mistake.  But although the finished pies don’t look as good as the ones in the original recipe they certainly taste like the comfort food I was hoping for.

Chicken Parcels

Chicken Parcels


Marty and I spent a couple of days at Ashford Castle during September. One of our planned activities was archery with “cupid in mind”. I don’t find the concept of being hit by an arrow a romantic one but thankfully the arrows flew mostly in the direction of the targets.

Archery Practice

Archery Practice

Cold Prevention

We received information today from our medical insurance company listing medication that they supply once a year.  This included a set of things for cold prevention.

Japanese Cold Prevention

I’ve gotten used to the Japanese wearing masks in the winter but I hadn’t heard about Isodine Gargle until one of my doctors asked me if I was using it. She was concerned that my thyroid function was being affected by me gargling too often with products that contained iodine. For me it was an incredibly strange question but it seems that lots of people in Japan gargle with a mouth wash when they arrive home.

I’m not sure what a medical company in the UK would suggest for cold prevention. Maybe a medicated hand-wash, as there was much talk about these after the swine flu scare, but I can’t think of anything else.  All the other things for cold prevention that come to my mind aren’t backed up with much science.  My mother would encourage me to take echinacea which used to make me laugh as she pronounced it like “itchy kneea”.  There was a time when Vitamin C was considered to be the best thing to take to prevent a cold.  And now I hear people talking about Zinc.

When I was younger I spent more time arguing about these things.  But I was never persuasive enough to convince my grandmother that I wouldn’t “catch me death” by going out in the winter with wet hair.


DVD Hatred

I used to think that our new DVD player only hated me. I would try to watch an episode of something like “Grey’s Anatomy” at lunchtime and it would refuse to play.  Or it would play the first couple of minutes, making me think it was finally behaving, and then stop without explanation.  Put in something like “Gossip Girl” and it would start to make alarming noises making me fear that the disk would be spat out scratched beyond use. Yet in the evenings, when Marty wanted to watch something, it would have no problem playing “Dexter” or some other violent show that Marty was into.  Marty liked to say that the player had taste, unlike me.

But last night it was devious.  Instead of refusing to play the film or stopping every five minutes it managed to skip whole chapters.  We were watching “Thor” which had a predicable plot, so it took us a while to work out that this was happening.

It is a cheap player as we wanted something that was multi-region and our only choices were badly hacked together machines.  When we first moved to Japan I wasn’t expecting this problem as both the UK and Japan are in region 2.  But our Japanese region 2 player wouldn’t play UK DVDs.  Something to do with having a player that wanted NTSC DVDs and not PAL DVDs.

Today it’s sitting sadly in the corner, no longer plugged in, as having to guess if the DVD is playing all of the movie was the last straw.  In its place is our XBox 360 which appears to be capable of playing Japanese and UK Region 2 DVDs.  Not quite sure yet what we are going to do with our Region 1 disks, but for now I’m happy that I can watch “Mad Men” over lunch and don’t have to venture near that scary thing the Japanese call T.V.


3 Responses to “DVD Hatred”

  1. Alan in Belfast Says:

    I’m with you on how bad many multi-region DVD players are. My £20 one from Amazon is poor and sometimes switches off in a sulk mid-DVD. I’m coming to the conclusion that buying 2 (or in your case 3) cheap DVD players and stacking them is probably an easier (more cluttered) solution.

  2. Andrew Gallagher Says:

    Buy a Philips and an all-in-one remote control and use the Philips Unlock Trick:

  3. karen Says:

    You may well be right, Alan. I’d prefer the clutter over the wasted time.

London in November

I’ve travelled a lot this year and I’m not finished yet.  I plan to stay in Tokyo during October and December but I’m going to attend the London Perl Workshop in November.  I believe the last one I attended was in 2004.  Living in Asia has made it more difficult for me to attend European conferences but I do love catching up with my friends in Europe.  I should go and register now as I’m still feeling stupid for forgetting to register for YAPC::Asia.

After the workshop I will go to Belfast.  I haven’t booked my flights yet, but soon I should know what I’m doing.  Well, as much as I ever know what I’m doing.

Unexpected Learning

There are times when learning creeps up on me.  Tonight I was sitting in my favourite tonkatsu restaurant when I realised that things have changed.  It’s the same chain of restaurant that we went to when we first moved to Tokyo, but the experience is somewhat different.  I don’t smile as much.  I still love the food but I can now understand what the staff are saying to me.  I no longer have to go with my “if in doubt smile” approach to compensate for my lack of understanding.  We can read the menu, though we do tend to order the same thing every time we go.  And I can name the pickles.

When we moved there were so many things that we didn’t recognise and the pickles in Tonkatsu Heaven were on that list.  We had no idea what vegetables they had pickled so we named them after their colours.  My favourite were the white ones, which turned out to be daikon.  They served us pink, purple, white, and various greens.  But tonight I could name the pickles in English and Japanese.  I wonder what else I’ve learned without noticing?

Delusions of a Packhorse

Do you think that you have a superpower?   I do.  It’s not amazing: I can’t shoot fireballs from my hands, or turn invisible, but I believe that I can carry anything I can lift.  I’ve never really comprehended that lifting is different than carrying.  If I can lift something off the ground how much harder could walking with it be?  Yesterday I decided that I could travel across Tokyo with a suitcase, a grip, and my hand luggage.  In total they weighed just over 40 kilograms (88 pounds; 6 stone 4).

Now you may be reading this and thinking, “I could easily carry that”.  But I’m just under 5 foot 2, female, and not a weight lifter.  Of course I also thought that I could carry it, though it would be a stretch to say that I thought I could carry it easily.  I know that I can lift a suitcase that weighs up to 23 kilograms in one hand and I know that I can carry my hand luggage along with that.  How hard could it be to add an extra bag?

My delusions concerning carrying things started when I was a small child helping my Dad with his pigeon baskets. I have no idea how heavy a basket full of pigeons is, but I remember that it was tiring carrying those baskets from our house to my grandfather’s house.  But I also remember how pleased I was when the task was finished and the pride I felt because I’d been able to do it.

This continued throughout my childhood with superhuman feats of carrying things to and from school.  I didn’t live that close to school (google maps shows me that it was a mile away) and I always had too much stuff.  I can still remember walking home from school during a snow storm.  I was carrying my guitar, clarinet, school bag, and gym bag.  I didn’t have a spare hand to brush the snow away so I arrived home looking like a snowman as the snow clung to the wool of my duffel coat.  But I did manage to make it home.

I was very glad that it wasn’t snowing yesterday.  It was a bit warm, but I took my time with the luggage.  I still arrived home ready to collapse in a heap.  The problem though, and this is always the problem, is that I did succeed in getting the bags home.  Do you think that next time I’ll remember that it left me tired and sore?  Do you think I’ll remember the bruises from almost knocking myself over as I lifted the awkward shaped things onto the train?  No, I’ll just remember that I was successful.