Vertical Parking – The Car Jukebox

By Asian American in Tokyo | September 14, 2006

In the US, parking lots are barren seas of black pavement and white lines. Thoughts of Costco and the Disney theme parks come to mind. In Japan, there’s no space for that, so vertical parking towers are used. Basically, you drive into a building housing a ferris-wheel-like apparatus that carries cars. Drive onto an open platform, and up goes your car for safe and space-efficient storage. When you pick up your car, the wheel spins until your car is at the bottom allowing you to back out, rotate on the turntable, then drive away. In some places an attendant helps you. In others, the whole process is automated by a computer. Here are some examples.

The entrance typically looks like this:

Other forms of vertical parking:

In many office buildings, you’ll find a hybrid where the parking area is pretty normal, but they store 2 cars in each spot. Here’s a photo of the parking lot under the office building I work in. There’s a control panel to raise/lower the lifts and open the gates.

Topics: Culture, Technology, Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

The Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum

By Asian American in Tokyo | July 16, 2006

The ramen museum was a short walk away from the station. The inside is pretty neat, designed “Disney-like” to look like 1940s Japan. 10 famous ramen shops were chosen from all over Japan to represent different regional tastes and styles. There are signs to indicate the wait time for each shop, just like a theme park. Here's an excerpt from and some photos I took.

Japan is a country filled with ramen fans, ramen connoisseurs, and certifiable ramen maniacs, and now the city of Yokohama has opened an entire museum devoted to the ubiquitous Chinese noodle. More than just an ordinary museum, it's also part historical theme park and part hyper-specialized restaurant mall. And, unlike your usual dusty museum, it stays open till 11pm to accommodate hungry concertgoers returning from the nearby Yokohama Arena.

Once you're past the entrance turnstiles, the first floor is devoted to numerous museum exhibits and a well-stocked souvenir shop. Clearly the museum's organizers racked their brains to come up with every imaginable ramen-related display they could think of, and the results are here to see — ramen-making utensils, ramen bowls (over 300), ramen shop matchbooks, chopstick wrappers, curtains and aprons. The historical development of instant ramen is painstakingly chronicled, and the invention of cup ramen (the kind where you pour boiling water directly into a styrofoam cup) is celebrated as the dramatic technological achievement it most certainly was.

Instant ramen packets from around the world adorn the walls, and overhead TV monitors broadcast a continuous stream of ramen commercials from the past 25 years. Ramen history buffs will be delighted (and the rest of us merely mystified) by a replica of the first ramen dish ever eaten by a 17th-century samurai named Mito Komon. Two life-size dioramas show the operation of an instant ramen factory, and since this is a modern museum (it opened in March 1994), there are also banks of interactive video panels. Ramen-themed video games are provided for younger visitors; the one I saw seemed to involve eating as many noodles as quickly as possible (yet more proof of the bad influence video games have on the young).

But the fun is only beginning, since the remainder of the museum (on two underground levels) is a miniature historical theme park. The date is 1958, and the place is shitamachi, a typically bustling working-class neighborhood crowded with tiny shops, houses and restaurants. The time is just 40 years ago, but it's definitely a different era, just before the rapid modernization that changed the face of Japanese cities. As a theme park, "Ramen Town" is not quite Disneyland, but it includes several nostalgic attractions — vendors selling cotton candy and old-fashioned pastries, weathered storefronts and fifties-era billboards. Behind the storefronts are a time-capsule candy shop, two old-style bars dispensing regional brands of sake, and the main attraction — eight ramen shops from around Japan, each serving its own distinctive variety of noodles.

This is ramen for serious connoisseurs, with the eight shops chosen carefully from among the tens of thousands of stores throughout the country. The major ramen capitals — Sapporo, Hakata, Kumamoto and Kitakata — are all represented, along with four legendary shops from the Tokyo/Yokohama area. The two Kyushu shops (Hakata and Kumamoto) serve their noodles in a salty whitish broth, made by slow-cooking pork and chicken bones. The Sapporo shop serves its ramen in a miso-flavored soup, a Hokkaido specialty, while the rest of the shops feature soy sauce-based soups made with various combinations of pork and chicken bones and seafood. Each shop has its own distinctive noodles and its own selection of toppings, ranging from the standard chaa-shuu (roast pork) and bean sprouts to kikurage ("wood ear") and garlic chips.

After you've had your fill of ramen, sake, and numbingly sweet old-fashioned candies, you're ready for the souvenir shop back on the ground floor. Take-out packages of noodles from each of the shops are available, along with goods sporting the Ramen Museum's logo (a squiggly spiral line representing a slice of naruto fishcake). Logo merchandise includes plates, pencil holders, tote bags and much more; there are also postcards, cookbooks, and a full range of chopsticks for sale.

Admission to the museum is Y300, or Y1,000 for a three-month pass, and ramen averages around Y900 per bowl. Sunday evenings seem to be the most crowded, with a 20-minute wait at the most popular noodle shops; other times of the week are far less congested. Parking is available, and it's only a 3-minute walk from the JR Shin-Yokohama bullet train station. Shin-Yokohama can be reached from central Tokyo in about 45 minutes, or a very comfortable 15 minutes if you splurge and take the bullet train for an extra Y800. 

Topics: Culture, Food, Places | 1 Comment »

The Mysterious Sound Princess In Japanese Women’s Restrooms

By Asian American in Tokyo | June 8, 2006

Take a look at the photos below. Have you ever seen these devices? All Japanese women have.



This device is called the "sound princess" and comes in various models. What does it do? That takes some explanation.

Japanese women are well-known for their modesty. Despite the fact that Japan often has restroom stalls with floor-to-ceiling walls and doors, they still don't want anyone in the area knowing they are sitting on the toilet doing their "business". Up until the 1980s, Japanese women using public restrooms would continuously flush the toilet to cover up sounds of their… well, urination noises. Tokyo alone is home to more than 10 million people, so let's say that's roughly 5 million women. That's a lot of continuous flushing and a lot of wasted water! To address this problem, toilet companies created a device that makes an electronically-generated flushing noise, so the "sound cover" effect is accomplished without wasting water. It's activated by a motion sensor, though I'm not exactly sure how this works because I've never been in a Japanese womens' restroom.

Hmm, I'm at the office late tonight and nobody's around, so maybe I'll do some investigation…

It must be really weird for non-Japanese women to see this when using Japanese restrooms for the first time. Talk about a crazy solution to a problem that needs a lot of explanation! But hey, it works. Check out the savings below.


Topics: Culture, Technology | 8 Comments »

How To Load A 747-400 In 4 Minutes, 35 Seconds

By Asian American in Tokyo | June 4, 2006

I’m writing this entry aboard an ANA 747-400 on my way back to Tokyo from Sapporo (short overnight business trip). It’s been almost a year since I moved to Japan (albeit with a 5 month Seoul interruption) but I still can’t help but be impressed at some things native Japanese take for granted in daily routine life. At Sapporo’s Shin-Chitose Airport, they loaded this 747-400 from zero to full capacity in 4 minutes and 35 seconds (yes, i timed it). Granted, they used 2 jetways in parallel but the passengers behaved perfectly on their own and it was totally natural. 20 seconds after that, the jetways had been pulled back and the plane was backing out for departure, and the flight attendants didn’t need to tell people “sit down so we can push back from the gate” or run around closing the overhead bins bursting at the seams. If I didn’t know better, I’d say it was a fully rehearsed and perfected military operation. (What a difference from my recent experience in Europe, which was a nightmare with people entering the nose and tail and colliding in the aisles trying to get to their seats.) Before I knew it, we were speeding down the runway taking flight. Color me impressed.

Another cool thing is that Japanese airlines use a camera mounted on the plane’s nose to display exciting views of take-off and landing. When the plane is airborne, they switch to a belly-mounted camera facing down for dramatic landscape shots. A couple of years ago I mentioned this to a Boeing employee sitting next to me on a flight who said the Japanese airline companies are the only ones who ask for this feature – leave it to them to pay more for equipment just for “coolness factor”. Another thing I noticed recently is how clean the planes are – especially the exterior. Every time I’ve flown ANA, the plane’s metal body looks like a freshly washed and waxed automobile, unlike most airlines where you can see oil streaks and other signs of use. I think ANA’s workers must clean their entire fleet every night! Even the coffee is well-designed, with the sugar and cream packed in a hand-out kit, complete with coffee stir that clips on the inside of your cup so you don’t stab yourself when drinking. Some things in Japan are far too focused on the “how” rather than the “actual results”, but their airline industry certainly has their act together.

Note: A co-worker of mine just got back from China where he says boarding a plane is a mad elbow-jabbing stampede once the jetway gates swing open. He said the constrast with the orderly and efficient loading of Japanese planes was incredibly striking.

Technorati : Japan 747 777 ANA airliner

Topics: Culture, Places | 1 Comment »

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