Rick, manager of Geronimo, left Japan recently and left behind his 50cc 2001 Yamaha Vino moped (actually Victoria’s moped which she hasn’t learned how to ride yet). I have been wanting to learn a bit about how to work on bikes, so I have taken over the moped and will work on it during the summer.

In general the bike seems to be in decent shape mechanically — the clutch is smooth, whereas the clutches on 50cc mopeds tend to go gravelly after a while. Also, the bike has no problem getting up to 60 km/h which suggests to me that the drive belt hasn’t worn down (or has been replaced). There may be a bit of a problem with the choke, since it’s hard to start when it’s cold.

There are a couple of “roadworthiness” issues that I need to address — the tail light is not firmly attached to the bike, the horn does not work, and the lenses are missing from the turn signals. After that, I can get cracking on the cosmetic issues, where I will learn how to repair body work and paint plastic motorcycle panels.

So, here is Part 1, where I reattached the tail light to the moped.

Here’s what we’re starting with.

I must say that the rear fairing made of duct tape is not very attractive, and it may be a bit of a safety issue, as the tail light is not secured to the bike and is moving freely.

I took off the duct tape and found that some of the plastic from the rear fairing is missing entirely. It seems to have been kicked in at some point.

Here is the bike with the side fairings and rear fairing removed. Scooters are not very attractive without fairings; I guess that’s why they’re so expensive.

I took as many of the pieces of plastic as I had and cleaned them off, and then held the jigsaw puzzle together with masking tape. It’s still missing a lot.

I used a fiberglass repair kit (which consists of some sheets of fiberglass cloth, some resin, and some hardener) to build up some fiberglass from the inside of the panel to give it some structural integrity and hold all of the existing plastic in place.

Here is the repaired panel from the outside. The panel still doesn’t look very good, but it is strong enough that it can hold the brake light in place. I have put about 100km on the bike since then and it seems to be holding up well. The next step, once I take care of more roadworthiness issues, will be to fill in the cracks and missing areas with Bondo, then sand and repaint the panel.

Big sister and little brother together in the parking lot!

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the project, where I will address the issue that the bike is insufficiently horny.

[This entry was written for The Japan Blog Matsuri]

About a week ago, I was walking west along Senkawa-dori on my way home from the new branch of my gym that’d just opened by Nerima Station.  I came across an Italian restaurant that, having lived in the neighbourhood for 4 years, I had often passed, but never actually gone into.  Deciding to depart from my usual dining out schedule, I went in and gave it a go.

The restaurant was certainly good at what they cooked, which was Italian food (mathematically, it was actually the subset of “Italian food” consisting of the union of “pizza” and “spaghetti”), but I spent the meal reading my book and feeling like something was very wrong, without being able to put my finger on it exactly.

Standing at the cash register, waiting to pay my bill, my answer finally came to me in a flash:

It was the decor.

The place was done up like a stone-walled cafe somewhere in Rome, which certainly fit the style of the food appropriately.  The problem was that someone had obviously gone to the “stick random crap on your walls” school of restaurant design, and decorated the walls with items including the following:

  • An advertisement for “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show starring Annie Oakley”
  • The sign from a cobbler’s shop somewhere in London
  • A wagon wheel and wood barrel as might have been found on a homestead on the prairie
  • A 1970s-era Heineken advertisement

Once I noticed what the problem was, it was impossible to avoid being bothered by it.  Oh, I’ll probably go back — the food was decent — but it did get me to thinking about “foreign restaurants” in general, and whether they’re really “authentic”.  In this case, I’m not talking about food whose taste has been altered to suit the local palate.  That happens almost everywhere.  I still have to remind the Indian shop down the street that when I say spicy, “I don’t mean spicy for a Japanese person, I mean spicy for a westerner.”  And I’m sure that we’ve all had “Japanese food” back in our home countries that’s not much more than strips of beef drenched in sweet teriyaki sauce.

What I am talking about is “atmosphere”.  Trying to decompile the thought process of the person who decorated that restaurant, I figured out where he was coming from:  “I have a Western restaurant, and here is all this authentic Western stuff to put on the walls!  It matches!”  And from the point of view of a lot of his customers, he’s right.  Hell, it took me a while to notice, and I’m familiar with the cuisines, languages, and geography and timelines involved.

This made me wonder how many restaurants there are back in Toronto that are analogous.  I wonder if some of the Vietnamese restaurants that I enjoyed on Spadina had random Chinese and Japanese stuff on the walls.  Who knows whether that Ethiopian restaurant on Bloor is full of Congolese flags and Sudanese knick-knacks?

Anybody have any interesting similar experiences to share?


Ramen truck by Ikebukuro Station

Ramen truck by Ikebukuro Station

I admit that I’ve always loved “ramen wagons”.  Like any other mobile food vending cart, it parks in areas of heavy foot traffic, and has stoves in there so that the owner can make up some fast food to serve his hungry customers.  Unlike most other mobile food carts, however, the food is not meant to be taken away, but eaten on the spot.  The walls of the wagon fold down to become the table that customers eat at. 

Some “ramen enthusiasts” (this is Japan — of course there are “enthusiasts” dedicated to ramen) will tell you that the only true ramen is that which comes from the back of a truck.  I won’t go that far, but I will say that I do really enjoy these trucks.  There’s something about sitting at the oasis in the middle of the heavy foot traffic in front of the station, warming yourself up with a nice bowl of pork ramen, and chatting away with the other customers, most of whom are..  well-lubricated.. after a night on the town.  For some reason, eating at one of these ramen trucks comes with the expectation of joining in whatever conversation is happening around the tables — each truck turns into a sort of “mini party”, so there is almost always some fascinating conversation to be had, such as the following that happened last Friday night:

Drunk Guy #1: So where are you from?

Drew: [usual smart-ass answer] Nerima.

Drunk Guy #1: No, before then.

Drew: [pointing to "Canada" hat] Canada.

Drunk Guy #1: And you’ve been living here for…

Drew:  The better part of 5 years now.

Drunk Guy #1: Oh, you must be on a tourist visa then.

Drew: No, I have a job, I work.

Drunk Guy #1: [to Drunk Guy #2] Hey, this guy here is from Canada and he has a job here!

Drunk Guy #2: [comes over] You’re from Canada?  That’s great!  I know a lot about Canada!  I have one thing to tell you, a catchphrase from your home country.  Are you ready?  [puts his hand on my shoulder, looks me in the eyes]  ”Yes we can!”

Shane Sakata from The Nihon Sun recently put out a call to Japan Bloggers to take a snapshot out their window and post it along with some narrative. I did this same thing a couple days ago as the inaugural entry in my new incarnation of Picture of the Day, but I thought I’d post a higher-resolution photo and longer narrative here.

This view is from the window directly behind my desk in my 6th-floor office by Higashi-Nakano Station. The view looks Northbound at the construction on Yamate-dori, which has been ongoing since I came to Tokyo and probably for a while before then. The main result of the construction was the (so far) 6-kilometer Yamate Tunnel on the C2 Loop of the Tokyo Metro Highway. Now that the tunnel has been open for a year, they’re going through and refinishing all the roads that they tore up, as well as building interlocking brick sidewalks and a row of trees on each side of the road.

Having this bird’s eye view has not only given me something to look at when I need to take my eyes away from the computer (my coworkers are now all convinced that I should have been a civil engineer), but it’s also given me great insight into the road construction process. Great care is taken to minimize interruptions to traffic flow. In the attached picture, you’ll notice that the 2 northbound lanes have been shifted onto the sidewalk (rather than simply reduced to 1 lane) to allow for the construction on the island in the centre of the road. You should also be able to see in the right-hand side of the picture, some leftover lines in the road from where the southbound lanes were similarly shifted to allow for the construction there.

This construction (at least on the section of Yamate-dori that I can see from my window) will be ongoing until October, 2009. After that, I guess I’ll have to find something else to look at.

Years ago, I had a feature on this web site called the Picture of the Day; it was one album in my online photo gallery where I’d send a single snapshot from my mobile phone’s camera every day.  Problem was that it was costing about 6,000 yen/month just to mail the photos from my phone to the blog, and I wasn’t disciplined enough to update it every day if I couldn’t do it from my mobile phone.

Now that Softbank has finally included email traffic in its unlimited data transfer fee, I can finally start up the Picture of the Day again, and I won’t have to worry about going broke doing so!  Note that we’re not talking about high quality photos here, just a quick mobile-phone snapshot of something interesting that I saw that day, along with a couple sentences of explanation.

The Picture of the Day will be posted on this blog, but so as to not take over the whole blog, the entries are hidden from the main page and do not show up in the main RSS feed, and will not be automatically forwarded to LiveJournal or Facebook.   You can see the Picture of the Day by selecting that category in the category list to the right, or if you would like, you can sign up for the Picture of the Day RSS feed.

It was a depressing, horrible, bleak building, and I always felt like I might end up sicker than I started after a visit there. Just two years ago (in 2006!) they finally removed the asbestos from the building.

Still, no matter how dingy it was, no matter how out-of-date the equipment, it was comforting to have a hospital right there, only 500 meters away from my apartment. If I got sick, my plan was always to eschew the largely-useless ambulance and take a taxi to the local hospital instead.

But. I hurt my foot a couple weeks back and limped down the street to the hospital, only to find a “we’ve closed forever” sign on it. So instead I went to the shiny new modern hospital a couple stops away on the train… Sure, they had good equipment and good doctors, and I didn’t feel like a good earthquake could shake the place apart, but it didn’t have any of the character of the 45-year-old Marumo Hospital building.

Marumo is on the route that I take when I have my weekend morning walk, and I went by the other day to see the demolition already underway… A bit sad that 45 years of serving my neighbourhood has been replaced with piles of wood and rubble, but progress marches on I guess…

I found this in the supermarket the other day. As far as I can tell, the English translation is “Audible Cheese”, so of course it was necessary for me to buy a pack.

Well, the cheese was visible, and tangible, and it was certainly smellable (side note: I checked — “smellable” is just as good a word as any) but I was disappointed that it was not the least bit audible.

Hrmph, truth in advertising!

The Tokyo Sewage Commission operates two weather radars to allow them to dynamically open and close drainage pipes in response to heavy rainfall. They provide this data to the public in the form of a very useful website which shows updated rainfall maps every 10 minutes.

I happened to see the following notice on the site this morning:

If you can’t read Japanese, it says “This is accident prevention month! Our goal is to have zero accidents!”

Thank You, Tokyo Government! I had been planning on having several accidents this month; I’m glad that someone warned me about this month’s goal before this morning’s planned blindfolded drive to work…

I had never heard about Angela Aki or her new hit song Tegami~Haikei Juugo no Kimi he until Nick Ramsay blogged about it a couple weeks back. Now no matter how many times I read this song, I can’t stop the lump from forming at the back of my throat.. Somehow the lyrics and music join together to make this a really powerful song.

I figured that there are likely dozens of translations out there, but I didn’t look because I wanted to take a crack at translating it myself without being influenced by any of the others. Feel free to offer suggestions; this was a quickie 10-minute job, so I may have misunderstood something…

[As always, if you're going to post this translation somewhere else, I would really appreciate your linking back to this blog, or at the very least, not removing my name. I'm sick of seeing my translation of Robinson posted everywhere without my name on it.]

手紙 ~ 拝啓十五の君へ
Letter ~ To 15-year-old you

Lyrics and Music: Angela Aki
English Translation: Drew Hamilton <awh@awh.org>

拝啓 この手紙読んでいるあなたは どこで何をしているのだろう

Dear you who are reading this letter: I wonder where you are and what you’re doing.

十五の僕には誰にも話せない 悩みの種があるのです

15-year-old me has worries that I can’t talk to anyone else about.


If I write this letter to my future self, surely I will be able to honestly and openly express myself.

今 負けそうで 泣きそうで 消えてしまいそうな僕は

Whose words should I believe now, when I’m on the edge of losing, on the brink of tears, and on the verge of disappearing? When this heart that I only have one of is constantly being broken to pieces? When I’m living through these difficult years?

拝啓 ありがとう 十五のあなたに伝えたい事があるのです

Dear 15-year-old you, thank you for you letter. I have some things that I’d like to say to you.

自分とは何でどこへ向かうべきか 問い続ければ見えてくる

If you keep asking yourself “in which direction should I head?” the answer will come to you

明日の岸辺へと 夢の舟よ進め

The rough seas of adolescence are harsh, but the ship of your dreams will continue to the riverbank of tomorrow

今 負けないで 泣かないで 消えてしまいそうな時は

And when you don’t want to lose, to cry, when you don’t want to disappear, believe in your own voice. And even the adult me has times when I get hurt, even has sleepless nights, but life is bittersweet.

人生の全てに意味があるから 恐れずにあなたの夢を育てて
Keep on believing

There is meaning to the entirety of one’s life, so follow your dreams without unease; keep on believing.

負けそうで 泣きそうで 消えてしまいそうな僕は
ああ 負けないで 泣かないで 消えてしまいそうな時は
笑顔を見せて 今を生きていこう

Whose words should I believe now, when I’m on the edge of losing, on the brink of tears, and on the verge of disappearing? When you don’t want to lose, to cry, when you don’t want to disappear, believe in your own voice. And whatever your age, sorrow can’t always be avoided, but I now try to live my life showing my smiling face.

拝啓 この手紙読んでいるあなたが

Dear you who are reading this letter,
I wish good things for you.

I’ve been a bit too busy to post much of anything lately, so I thought that I’d be lazy instead and just post a few snapshots that I’ve taken over the past little bit…

This is how you have to travel if you are planning on taking a suitcase anywhere by motorcycle. Coincidentally, this was also how I got a monitor home from Omiya just a week before…

I must admit that this is something that I never expected to see at a concession stand: Turkey Drumsticks

I was on my way home from the Grand Prix motorcycle race in Motegi, Japan, which as you might expect is a pretty testosterone-filled day. Luckily this car pulled into the 7-11 that I was stopped for a rest at, which balanced out the day nicely.

I really hate that the post office requires you to write “Small Package” right under your name and address like that. IT’S NOT TRUE, DAMNIT!

If I’d known that “Foreigner with Glasses” was an acceptable Hallowe’en costume, I could have saved myself so much time and effort!