Monday, March 05, 2007

TsukuBlog has moved

A new and improved TsukuBlog is available here.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Moving from Blogger to WordPress

Google updated Blogger a while ago, but many of the new features are not available to blogs that are published by ftp (like TsukuBlog). So, if we want to use all of the new Blogger features on this site, we either have to move the blog to BlogSpot or set up a "custom domain" that is still kind of controlled by Google.

I would rather be able to keep some control over the blog (i.e. I want to be able to decide how much space I am able to use for photos, etc.), so I have decided to try to move TsukuBlog to a WordPress-based system.

A Blogger-WordPress import tool was recently developed for the updated version of Blogger, so I think it is time to start working on the changeover. I am not sure how long it will take to move everything over, but I am going to start the process this weekend. If you notice the blog doing weird things, that is why.

I will post again when it looks like the job has been completed.


Ecoshop System

They sure do use a lot of plastic bags here in Japan, eh?

When I first came here, I didn't know how to say "I don't need a bag", so I ended up with a bag collection that threatened to take over my whole apartment. In case some of you are in the same position, here are some expressions that might help.

fukuro wa iranai desu
I don't need a bag.

sono mama de ii desu
It's fine like that (implying that I don't need a bag).

I usually use the "it's fine" one, but some shop clerks don't get the hint (the bakery staff are THE WORST) and still try to stick me with the plastic, so I am then forced to use the more direct "I don't need a bag" one. When I first started using these expressions (a few years ago), the clerk would almost invariably start to fight with me about it. Recently, awareness of the garbage problem has become more prevalent, so I can usually get away without having to pick up my things and run out of the store while being chased by well-meaning (although not environmentally-friendly) clerks. I have, however, had some problems with people not accepting the very nice bag that I bring with me when I shop and insisting on putting a little piece of tape on everything that I buy. I don't mind that sort of thing if I am only buying one or two things, but I nearly had a fit the other day when I did a "big shop" at Gran Stage (buying about 25 items) and one of the clerks actually stood there and put little pieces of tape on EVERY SINGLE ITEM before I picked the item up and put it inside my bag and zipped up the bag. Unnecessary.

Anyway, the reason for today's post is not to talk about tape and being chased out of stores. No, today I want to tell you about the Ecoshop System and how we should all make a concerted effort to back this system.

Tsukuba City has started accrediting certain shops in the city as Ecoshops. Ecoshops are stores that are making efforts to decrease their environmental loads by engaging in activities such as...

1. Making an effort to sell products that are environmentally friendly (e.g. product that carry the "ecomark", products made from recycled materials, products sold in returnable containers).

2. Dedicating a spot in the store to ecological products.

3. Simplifying or eradicating their wrapping practices.

4. Promoting the use of shopping baskets and the customers' use of their own bags.

5. Repairing their own products.

6. Using recycled paper for their publicity.

7. Recycling empty cans.

8. Recycling empty bottles.

9. Recycling empty milk cartons.

10. Recycling produce trays.

11. Recycling plastic (PET) bottles.

12. Making other efforts to reduce the amount of garbage they produce.

As of January 2007, the following stores have been accredited as Ecoshops.

Ishimaru (Tsukuba)
Kasumi (Asse, Technopark Sakura, Gakuen, Tsukuba, Oho, Umezono, Grand Plechef, Midorino Eki Mae)
Gakuseifuku no Uchiya (Inarimae, Takezono)
Masuda (Kukizaki)
山三硝子 (I'm not sure how to read this... can anyone help?)
Uematsu Information Service

For this scheme to succeed, the public has to start modifying its behaviour by choosing to do business with stores like this, so I hope the foreign community can put its buying power behind this idea.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

KEK Communication Plaza

KEK Communication Plaza is a science-related tourist attraction at the High Energy Accelerato Research Organization (also known as KEK, which comes from the initials of the organization's name in Japanese -- 高エネルギー加速器研究機構: kou enerugi kasokuki kenkyuu kikou). At the Plaza, you can learn how the accelerator works, discover subatomic particles, observe cosmic rays from space, see the cubic structure of proteins with your own eyes, and measure the amount of radiation in everyday objects, amongst other fun science-y things. You can also watch videos in the theatre corner. Some images of the Plaza can be seen on the KEK website.

The Plaza is open from 9:30am to 4:30pm every day, including Saturdays, Sundays, and national holidays. There is no admission fee.

KEK is located in the Oho area of Tsukuba. Take Nishi Odori or Higashi Odori all the way to the northern end of Tsukuba where the two streets meet. (East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet... except in Tsukuba.) That intersection is called Nishi Odori Iriguchi. If you take Nishi Odori, turn left at that intersection (there is a McDonalds on the right). If you take Higashi Odori, keep going straight through the intersection past the McDonalds, which is on your left. KEK is just up that street a bit on your left. Address: Oho 1-1.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

If You See Only One Show This Year...

Cirque du Soleil (which means "circus of the sun" in French) is an acrobatic performance team like no other. They have a number of shows with different themes (Delerium, Love, Dralion, La Nouba, etc.), so even if you have seen them perform before, you will probably enjoy seeing them again. The original team was from Quebec, Canada, but now they have several teams performing all over the world.

The Tokyo team performs at "Shin Big Top" in Harajuku. Their latest show is called "Dralion" and it runs from February 7, 2007 to May 6, 2007. The ticket site is all in Japanese, so you may need help to make the reservations if you can't read kanji.

I highly recommend going to a Cirque du Soleil performance at least once in your life. The tickets are quite expensive, but they are definitely worth it.

This site has some information in English about the Dralion theme and there is an article on the Alien Times website that gives the ticket prices.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Mount Tsukuba Plum Festival

The Mount Tsukuba Plum Festival runs from February 17 to March 21. This is the 34th time the festival is being held. The plum orchard is 4.5 hectares in size and it has a thousand plum trees. You can enjoy the lovely fragrance of the plum trees while taking in a scenic view of Tsukuba. Tsukuba's famous toad oil will be on sale on Sundays and you can drink plum tea and participate in a stamp rally every day during the festival. The city-run parking lots cost 500 yen for cars and motorcycles. There is also a shuttle bus available.

On February 18, 24, 25, and March 3, there is an express bus from Tsukuba Shrine to Makabe Doll Festival (Makabe Station) leaving at 12:00 and 13:30. You can catch a return bus at 12:45 (to Tsukuba Shrine), 14:05 (to Tx Tsukuba Station), 15:10 (to Tx Tsukuba Station), 16:00 (to Tsukuba Shrine), 17:15 (to Tx Tsukuba Station), 18:27 (departs from Makabe Gym and goes to Tx Tsukuba Station). The fare from Tsukuba Shrine to and from Makabe is 200 yen. The fare from Makabe to Tx Tsukuba Station is 800 yen. The bus stop at Tsukuba Shrine is at 筑波山神社大鳥居下 and it is a five minute walk from the plum orchard. (Official schedule)

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Doll's festival in Tsuchiura!

Okay, so there are “hinamatsuris” in Tsukuba, Makabe, and in Kasama…. How about the one in Tsuchiura?

I didn’t know about this until today, but the Hina Doll’s Festival in Tsuchiura has started last Saturday. The dolls are on display in 45 businesses along the streets in front of the Tsuchiura Station, Kamitakatsu Kaizuka Furusato Rekishi Hiroba(historical park), and in Komachi no Yakata (park dedicated to the legends of Ono no Komachi).

Tsuchiura Hinamatsuri
Feb.17(Sat) to March 4(Sun)

The participating businesses besides Rekishi Hiroba and Komachi no Yakata are all within walking distance of JR Tsuchiura Station. There are only two free temporary parking lots, one with room for 20 cars (available only on weekdays) and the other with room for 15 cars (available only on weekends) during the festival, so try to get there extra early if you want to go there by car!

Tsuchiura Tourist Association
3rd Tsuchiura Hinamatsuri flyer/map(pdf)

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Ume in Umezono Park

Last Saturday was the first day of Ume (Japanese plum/apricot or ume apricot) Festival at Ume grove park in Mt. Tsukuba(34th Mt.Tsukuba Ume Festival), but I went to the nearby park called Umezono Park instead. Umezono literally means Ume Garden, and there are many beautiful Ume trees in Umezono Park. The ume blossoms weren't in full bloom yet, but I enjoyed the sweet smell of ume a lot!

If you visit this park on Sunday, you might also want to check out the thrift shop called "Umezono House" since it's open only on Sundays now. Please read my blog entry about Umezono House below if you are interested.
Umezono House's new store hours

Please note that there is no parking space for this park, but TsukuBus5 stops in front of Umezono Park/Umezono House!

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Doll's Festivals taking place in Tsukuba

It's Hinamatsuri (Doll's Festival) season!

As RrFish and Shaney posted, big events are being held in Kasama and Makabe. If you feel they are a little bit far from Tsukuba, you have another option.

There is an old-fashioned Japanese house named "Sakura Minkaen" in Chuo park in the Tsukuba center area. Tsukuba city is displaying old traditional Hina dolls made from about 80 years ago at the Sakura Minkaen.

Period: From February 16(Fri) to March 4 (Sun) , 2007
Time: From 9:30 to 16:30
Closed: Wednesdays, National holidays
Website (in Japanese)

Sakura Minkaen is located behind the rest house in Chuo Park, near Azuma Elementary School. They hold tea ceremony events and exhibitions there sometimes.

Tsukuba Wiki
Google Map

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Breakfast Restaurant

One thing I really miss about Canada is breakfast restaurants. On Saturday or Sunday mornings, I really hanker for a breakfast that includes bacon and eggs -- and it is even better if someone else cooks it for me.

I have only found one restaurant in Tsukuba that has a breakfast menu that satisfies my weekend needs. Gusto, on the corner of Tsuchiura Gakuen Sen and Nishi Odori, offers a cheap (under 500 yen) breakfast until 10am on the weekends that includes eggs (scrambled or fried), bacon or sausages, toast or a roll, some lettuce with Japanese style dressing (okay, that part isn't very traditional, but nevermind), and access to free drink refills. Occasionally, if I can get myself sorted out before 9:30am (I like my weekends lazy), I like to saunter over to Gusto for a nice weekend breakfast.

I'm sure I am not the only person who hankers for this sort of breakfast, but I never see any other foreign people at the restaurant. I wonder if people know about it.

Are there any other decent breakfast places in Tsukuba? If you find one, please let me know!