The iPhone 6 frenzy in Fukuoka

TV camera crews filming the line a the Apple store, for the new iPhone 6TV camera crews filming the line a the Apple store, for the new iPhone 6
TV camera crews filming the line a the Apple store, for the new iPhone 619-Sep-2014 07:06, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 200
 

The morning news here yesterday was covering the crowds at the Apple stores in Japan, where some people had been waiting in line for days to buy the new iPhone 6. My post from a couple days ago showed the nascent line forming at the Fukuoka Apple store. So yesterday morning I took a walk down the block to see how it had grown. There were TV camera crews there covering the scene and interviewing people. The store is on a corner, and the line ran the full length of the block, wrapped at the next corner, and ran about one-third of the next side of the block. There were about half a dozen policemen there, to keep the line optimally organized, to minimize interference with the daily foot traffic on the sidewalk.

There were a couple guys out front with signs and suitcases, offering to buy iPhones at a good price. The iPhone 6 is not available yet in Korea and China. Shanghai and most of South Korea aren’t any further from Fukuoka than Tokyo, so these guys were probably planning to resell them in Korea or China at exorbitant prices.

These guys are offering to pay a good price to anyone willing to sell them a new iPhone 6These guys are offering to pay a good price to anyone willing to sell them a new iPhone 6
These guys are offering to pay a good price to anyone willing to sell them a new iPhone 619-Sep-2014 07:18, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 200
 
A man with his new iPhone being interviewedA man with his new iPhone being interviewed
A man with his new iPhone being interviewed19-Sep-2014 07:17, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 200
 
The line for buying a new iPhone at the Fukuoka Apple store wrapped around the blockThe line for buying a new iPhone at the Fukuoka Apple store wrapped around the block
The line for buying a new iPhone at the Fukuoka Apple store wrapped around the block19-Sep-2014 07:15, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.013 sec, ISO 200
 
Everyone who had been waiting in line for a day or two collected their trashEveryone who had been waiting in line for a day or two collected their trash
Everyone who had been waiting in line for a day or two collected their trash19-Sep-2014 07:17, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 100
 

Twitter weekly updates for 2014-09-10 – 2014-09-16

Today and yesterday

These are some pictures from today and yesterday, to give you an idea of what a typical day is like here for us in Fukuoka. I usually work in our apartment – the picture of the schoolgirls is from our deck on the 4th floor. Now that the boys have started school, Maria and I usually go out for lunch. There are lots of good places where we can eat for about $10 each, so it’s not too expensive. After we had lunch today, we spotted a line forming in front of the Apple store, for the iPhone 6 release in a couple of days. Yesterday after lunch, we stopped by one of the many wonderful bakeries here. The smell is so good when I walk in, it almost brings me to my knees every time. After the boys came home from school yesterday, I finished up my work, and then Eidan and I took the 3 minute walk to the small park in front of the Solaria Plaza shopping center, so he could drive around his new RC car, which is his current obsession. We usually have dinner at home, but tonight we went to a nearby tonkatsu restaurant, at Kai’s request. The picture of the tricked out van is actually from a few days ago, but I couldn’t resist adding it ;-)

Tricked out van, spotted in FukuokaTricked out van, spotted in Fukuoka
Tricked out van, spotted in Fukuoka11-Sep-2014 11:19, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 4.0, 7.766mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 200
 
Eidan with his new RC car, in Kego parkEidan with his new RC car, in Kego park
Eidan with his new RC car, in Kego park15-Sep-2014 16:23, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 200
 
When Kai wants tonkatsu for dinner, Kai gets tonkatsu for dinnerWhen Kai wants tonkatsu for dinner, Kai gets tonkatsu for dinner
When Kai wants tonkatsu for dinner, Kai gets tonkatsu for dinner17-Sep-2014 17:41, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.04 sec, ISO 800
 
The first campers at the Fukuoka Apple store for the iPhone 6 release, 2 days from nowThe first campers at the Fukuoka Apple store for the iPhone 6 release, 2 days from now
The first campers at the Fukuoka Apple store for the iPhone 6 release, 2 days from now17-Sep-2014 11:34, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 200
 
A bakery on the lower level of the Parco department storeA bakery on the lower level of the Parco department store
A bakery on the lower level of the Parco department store16-Sep-2014 11:29, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.025 sec, ISO 200
 
Schoolgirls headed down our streetSchoolgirls headed down our street
Schoolgirls headed down our street16-Sep-2014 09:13, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 5.6, 15.893mm, 0.013 sec, ISO 200
 

Japan’s Respect for the Aged Day, and demographic collapse

Today is a national holiday in Japan: Respect for the Aged Day. And there are a lot of elderly citizens to be respectful to. 26% of Japan’s population is now 65 or older. In the US, it’s 13%.

There’s also a record number over 100:

Reaching the century mark remains a relative rarity for humans, but it is increasingly less so, and perhaps nowhere more than in rapidly aging Japan. The number of Japanese who are at least 100 years old, known as centenarians, has reached 58,820, according to the latest government estimate… A Japanese woman is the oldest person in the world, 116-year-old Misao Okawa, according to Guinness World Records. The oldest man is also Japanese, 111-year-old Sakari Momoi… Advances in health care are contributing to increased longevity in Japan and elsewhere. Japan now has 46.21 centenarians for every 100,000 people. [Compared to 17.28 per 100,000 people in the US]

Chart of births and deaths in Japan
Chart of births and deaths in Japan16-Sep-2014 18:54
 

Japan is a rapidly aging society, and is suffering a massive demographic collapse:

Japan’s population began falling in 2004 and is now ageing faster than any other on the planet… [B]y 2060 the number of Japanese will have fallen from 127m to about 87m, of whom almost 40% will be 65 or older…

The government is pointedly not denying newspaper reports that ran earlier this month, claiming that it is considering a solution it has so far shunned: mass immigration. The reports say the figure being mooted is 200,000 foreigners a year. An advisory body to Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, said opening the immigration drawbridge to that number would help stabilise Japan’s population—at around 100m (from its current 126.7m).

But even then there’s a big catch. To hit that target the government would also have to raise the fertility rate from its current 1.39, one of the lowest in the world, up to 2.07. Experts say that a change on that scale would require major surgery to the country’s entire social architecture…

Roughly 2% of Japan’s population is foreign. And even this figure includes large numbers of permanent residents — mostly Chinese and Koreans — who have been here for generations. Tellingly, the recent story about the government’s discussion of immigration broke in the right-wing Sankei newspaper, which is especially unlikely to embrace the idea of a Chinese family living on every Japanese street.

A curious aspect of all this is the population of Japan’s largest cities is actually going up. There are fewer people each year, but the ones who remain are moving to Japan’s 3 biggest cities, resulting in an even more rapid collapse of population in most of the rest of country:

People continue to migrate from around the country to the three major metropolises, Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya, where around half of the nation’s population is now concentrated… [There are] municipalities in danger of disappearing altogether.

There are plans being made for Fukuoka and other regional cities, to stem the tide:

Since the late 1970s, Sapporo, Sendai, Hiroshima, and Fukuoka have been viewed as key regional hubs. Despite depopulation elsewhere, these four cities, known collectively as “Sas-Sen-Hiro-Fuku,” have either maintained their size or continued to grow. The prefectures of which they are the capitals—Hokkaidō, Miyagi, Hiroshima, and Fukuoka, respectively—account for roughly 10% of Japan’s gross domestic product and are home to about 12% of the national population. Each of these cities is an academic center hosting a major national university, and all four also have professional baseball and soccer franchises, providing each with a firm local identity. Some people in the national government see these cities as a potential breakwater to stop the flow of migrants to Tokyo.

Earlier this year Fukuoka was designed one of six special economic zones:

…The idea is that in the tokku, as the zones are known in Japan, firms will be able to take steps that are too controversial for the country as a whole, such as hiring and firing workers more easily. The rules are later to be extended nationwide. The brand-new tokku cover a vast swathe of ground. Greater Tokyo is included, as are the region of Kansai, Narita City in Chiba prefecture and Fukuoka. In total, an area producing nearly two-fifths of Japan’s GDP will fall inside the zones…

If you read the articles linked above, you’ll see that these attempts at changes routinely get watered down in their actual implementation, so the big changes that are needed to reverse Japan’s population decline just aren’t happening on a sufficient scale. A likely long-term outcome is that Japan will lose its position as a country with one of the highest GDP’s in the world, and end up being similar to Switzerland: a country with a small but relatively wealthy population.

Going to the movies in Fukuoka

Eidan, all set to watch a movie at the Toho cinema in FukuokaEidan, all set to watch a movie at the Toho cinema in Fukuoka
Eidan, all set to watch a movie at the Toho cinema in Fukuoka23-Jul-2014 10:51, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.1 sec, ISO 1600
 

We’ve been to the movies a few times since we arrived here this summer. There are a couple cinemas within a 10 minute walk of our apartment, which makes it easy. But what makes it hard, of course, is the language barrier. A few weeks ago I took the boys to see the Japanese movie Eight Rangers 2, which is a sort of comedy version of Power Rangers. It was a gamble: there were no English subtitles, but the comedy seemed broad enough in the trailer that I thought we might enjoy it anyway. Unfortunately it turned out to be a dialog driven film, and mostly incomprehensible to me and the boys. Kai and I both fell asleep, but Eidan said he enjoyed it.

At any given time, about a quarter of the movies being shown here are Hollywood films. They usually open here a few months after their release in the US. You have to pay attention when buying tickets, as you sometimes can have up to 4 options: 2D or 3D, and subtitled or dubbed. Today we saw Guardians of the Galaxy on its opening day here (2D and subtitled, meaning that it has the original English dialog and Japanese subtitles). We all enjoyed it, but I felt the intensity of some of the violence made it hard to sit back and enjoy the comedy of the film (go ahead, call me old).

The theaters here are nicer than your average theater in the US, mainly because they don’t have to worry about people breaking stuff. So Eidan had a nice soft booster seat instead of a hard plastic one, and the seat arms each have an extension that swings, which can hold your popcorn and drink. Perhaps the best feature is that all the seats are assigned (and people actually sit where they’re supposed to), so you don’t have to worry getting there early to find seats together.

There are some really posh theaters in Japan too, although I don’t know if Fukuoka has any. Here are some pictures of the sleek and immaculate Toyosu theater that Maria and I went to in Tokyo, back in 2007.

The movie trailers also show more variety in how they’re put together than the strict formula followed by US movie trailers. Here’s one of the ads for Guardians of the Galaxy (there are actually 3 in this clip – I’ve set it to start on the most interesting one). The narrator’s saying something along these lines at the beginning: “Has life got you down? Are your daily life and chores becoming painful? Have you fallen out of your groove at work? Then you’re in need of a little break…”

Twitter weekly updates for 2014-09-03 – 2014-09-09

Fukuoka City Hall, Part 2: why fight city hall when they have good beer?

The Kyushu Beer Festival, at Fukuoka City Hall
The Kyushu Beer Festival, at Fukuoka City Hall04-Sep-2014 16:52, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 200
 

Not long after the water park was taken down in front of city hall, the Kyushu beer festival took its place. Craft beer is probably as popular in Japan as the US, and the festival featured over 50 beers from Kyushu breweries (Kyushu is the third largest island in Japan, and Fukuoka is its largest city). The entrance fee of about $30 gets you a festival beer glass and 6 tickets, good for beer or food. The festival lasted 5 days, so you didn’t have to drink 6 beers in one visit!

The heat and humidity of the summer is gone now, and Maria and I walked over on a perfect Fall evening last Thursday. We met my Japanese tutor and her boyfriend there, and hung out for a while. And, of course, we enjoyed the beer! Of the breweries that were there, the only one I was familiar with in the US was Hitachi No Nest, which Maria likes more than I do. The beer I liked most that I tried was from Far Yeast, which I’ll also give points for having the best name. They had live music each night as well, but we went early, and left before any of the performances started.

If you’re a beer nerd and want to know about all about the Japanese beer industry, check out Brewed in Japan (Maria knows the author). And if you like looking at pictures of beer, and pictures of people drinking beer, the Kyushu Beer Festival website is now displaying a bunch of event photos collected from Instragram (just scroll down their home page a bit to see them).

04-Sep-2014 16:01, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 4.0, 6.732mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 400
 
The Kyushu Beer Festival, at Fukuoka City Hall
The Kyushu Beer Festival, at Fukuoka City Hall04-Sep-2014 16:08, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.003 sec, ISO 200
 

Fukuoka City Hall, Part 1: why fight city hall when they have water slides?

Tenjin Children's Wonderland at Fukuoka City Hall
Tenjin Children's Wonderland at Fukuoka City Hall17-Aug-2014 13:28, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 200
 

For most of the month of August, a small water park called Tenjin Children’s Wonderland was set up in front of Fukuoka City Hall. Tenjin is our neighborhood in Fukuoka, and the city hall is about a 8 minute walk from our apartment. The city hall has a big area in front of it, probably about 70 meters square, covered in astroturf, and they have various events and activities using that space over the course of the year.

The weather here in the summer is hot and humid, like most of the northeast US, so having a way for kids in the city to cool off is great. Fukuoka is a port city, but it takes about an hour to get to any of the beaches via public transportation, so the water park was a great option for Eidan to cool off, without us having to make a full day trip to a beach. The setup was geared towards little kids, so Kai was too old for it (and too cool to admit he might want to go anyway).

The two big slides cost a couple hundred yen each (about $2), and the other half dozen or so activities were free. I’m not sure how it’s funded, but assuming it’s at least partly supported by the city, if I were a Fukuoka city tax payer, I would approve of this use of my tax dollars. And if I were a city worker, I’d definitely want the job of squirting the kids with the miniature water cannon!

Tenjin Children's Wonderland at Fukuoka City Hall
Tenjin Children's Wonderland at Fukuoka City Hall17-Aug-2014 13:26, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 160
 
Beware the water cannon, at Tenjin Children's Wonderland
Beware the water cannon, at Tenjin Children's Wonderland17-Aug-2014 13:30, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 4.0, 7.766mm, 0.005 sec, ISO 100
 
Tenjin Children's Wonderland at Fukuoka City Hall
Tenjin Children's Wonderland at Fukuoka City Hall17-Aug-2014 13:33, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 4.5, 9.845mm, 0.013 sec, ISO 100
 
Tenjin Children's Wonderland at Fukuoka City Hall
Tenjin Children's Wonderland at Fukuoka City Hall17-Aug-2014 13:31, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 5.0, 11.151mm, 0.005 sec, ISO 125
 

The boys start at the Fukuoka International School, and not a moment too soon

The boys are attending the Fukuoka International SchoolThe boys are attending the Fukuoka International School
The boys are attending the Fukuoka International School29-Aug-2014 14:33, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 200
 

“Everyone on the internet – they’re not having as great a time as you think they are.”

Portlandia: cropping out all the sadness

While we are definitely enjoying our time in Fukuoka, our first couple months here were very challenging in some ways. The boys were out of school, but they didn’t know anyone here to spend time with, and Maria and I are both working full time. Japanese public schools don’t have a long summer break like US schools, so there aren’t the same options for summer camps here. Given that we’re in Japan, and far from Tokyo (which is where most Western expats are), there also isn’t much in the way of kids activities that are available in English. So Maria and I have been juggling taking the kids out and squeezing in our work hours. Nonetheless, the boys logged many hours of video gaming this summer, cooped up in our tiny apartment alongside Maria and I while we worked.

So when school started for the boys last week, it wasn’t a moment too soon. They are attending the Fukuoka International School (FIS), which is a K-12 school, with instruction in English. This is the first time they’ve attended the same school, at the same time. To get there, the boys have a 7 or so minute walk to the nearest subway stop, then they ride for 4 stations, and then ride bikes for about 5 minutes to the school, as it’s too far to walk from the station every day. We bought them a couple of cheap bikes, which they keep near the station.

Like everyone else in Japan, they leave their bikes unlocked, because petty crime here is very rare (most bikes here have a built-in lock that prevents the rear wheel from moving, but it’s actually not permitted to lock your bike to anything). Eidan was very unhappy with his bike at first: he was unsteady on it, and it wasn’t sufficiently masculine for his tastes (it’s robin’s egg blue). So I went to school with the boys for the first couple of days, to make sure they knew the route, and to help Eidan keep his bike steady while he got used to it (I jogged alongside with one hand on the bike). After a couple days, they knew the way, and Eidan was comfortable on his bike. So they go back and forth to school on their own now.

When we lived in Tokyo 2007, Kai attended 1st grade in our neighborhood’s public school, and walked there every morning on his own. This is not only allowed, but is actively encouraged: back then we got a letter from the school, telling us we would only embarrass him if we went to school with him. Even though I understand this is how things are done here, as an American, I instinctively still find it worrying to see little elementary school kids routinely walking down the sidewalks of a busy city, all by themselves.

A price of this safety is a more intrusive society. In 2007, we had to invite Kai’s kindergarten teacher over to our apartment for tea, so she could ask us about his home life, and see for herself what our home was like. We don’t have to do that now with FIS, since it’s a private school, but Kai told me that once they started going to school without me, they were stopped and peppered with questions multiple times by crossing guards and old ladies: What’s your name? What school do you go to? Do you know the way? Is that your brother? (that’s Kai’s best guess at what they were asking him anyway, since they were speaking Japanese).

Maria came home with them at the end of their first day, and when I asked Eidan how his first day went, he proclaimed it was “AWESOME.” Kai said it was “ok” in the way that teens do, when something is great but it wouldn’t be cool to admit to your parents how great it was. We’re now at the end of the second week, and they both have a circle of friends already. Eidan even went to a classmate’s birthday party after the second day of school, and had a playdate today.

The boys are the only Americans in their classes. The school seems to be about one-third Japanese students, one-third Korean, and the rest are mostly a mix of Indians, Australians, and New Zealanders. At the birthday party Eidan went to, I got into a conversation with some of the moms about schools in their countries, and how they compared to FIS (there were no dads at the party besides me, but that’s another story…). I told them my initial impression was that FIS is academically about the same as the Haverford public schools, where the boys were before we arrived, which I think are pretty good. The Japanese and Korean moms said that for their kids, attending FIS feels like being on vacation, compared to the public schools they attended previously. So there’s a telling comparison for you (but, of course, an anecdotal one).

The school has a great location, right next to the Muromi river. The school has a decent sized indoor gym, but very little outdoor space, so when the weather is good, they have gym class on the beach.

As for me, I’m thrilled I can now have a regular workday. Most days now I can finish my work by the time they get home from school, instead of often having to work late a night like I was this summer. So, we are all happy school has started :-)

View of the Muromi river, right next to the Fukuoka International SchoolView of the Muromi river, right next to the Fukuoka International School
View of the Muromi river, right next to the Fukuoka International School29-Aug-2014 16:39, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 5.0, 10.628mm, 0.02 sec, ISO 250
 
A home-made shark piñata, at Eidan's new friend's birthday partyA home-made shark piñata, at Eidan's new friend's birthday party
A home-made shark piñata, at Eidan's new friend's birthday party29-Aug-2014 14:43, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 400
 
The slide in the park across the street from the Fukuoka International SchoolThe slide in the park across the street from the Fukuoka International School
The slide in the park across the street from the Fukuoka International School29-Aug-2014 16:52, Canon Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS, 2.7, 4.3mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 200
 

Twitter weekly updates for 2014-08-27 – 2014-09-02

Older Entries »