iPhone FaceTime Hype

I saw the promo video for Apple’s forthcoming iPhone 4 today. One of the new features they’re touting is FaceTime, a video conferencing application made possible by the iPhone 4’s front-facing camera. I have to say I’m a little dumbfounded at the hype they’re spinning into this “new” feature.

Way back in 2006 I lived in Japan and owned a Sony SO702i, a tiny cell phone with both forward- and rear-facing cameras. (Here is a Japanese-language Web page with some nice pictures of the phone.) Apple says they’re “bringing video calling to the world,” but my little Sony had virtually the exact same video conferencing features as the new iPhone. In fact, the Sony had a feature that made it significantly better than iPhone’s FaceTime: It could video conference over the cellular network. The iPhone only does it via WiFi.

When talking about the video conferencing features of the iPhone 4, one narrator in the Apple video says, “the very first time I had a FaceTime call I was blown away,” and another exclaims, “I can’t believe this is real, this is actually happening.” Have these people never heard of webcams?

This all reminds me of another hyped-up product, the Dyson Airblade. Dyson claims to have invented new technology that drys your hands faster than conventional air dryers by shooting tiny jets of air at your wet hands when you insert them into the machine. I’m not clear how they can claim to have invented this type of hand dryer; I used a nearly identical device the first time I visited Japan in 1994.

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Haagen-Dazs Green Tea: Take Two

In a previous post I talked about my excitement to discover that Haazen-Dazs had released a green tea ice cream in the USA, and my subsequent disillusionment when I discovered the contents were not the same as the Japanese version.

I have continued to eat—and enjoy—my stash of green tea ice cream. I am disappointed it’s not the same as the Japanese version, but I still maintain that it’s the best mainstream green tea ice cream you can buy in the USA. Apparently I’m not the only one that thinks that way, because Haagen-Dazs has decided to make it a permanent addition to their lineup—no more “Limited Edition” on the package.

BETRAYED!

I love ice cream. My favorite ice cream is Haagen-Dazs Green Tea.

You may have tried green tea ice cream at a Japanese restaurant and found it a curiosity but not something you’d want to keep in your freezer. Haagen-Dazs takes green tea ice cream it to a completely different level. It is luxuriously creamy with the perfect balance of sweetness and the bite of green tea. The only problem is that they don’t sell it in North America.

A few weeks ago I was browsing the ice cream case at my local Albertson’s and I spotted it: Haagen-Dazs Green Tea! I was elated—I swear I started to become emotional. But wait—emblazoned on the rim of the lid were the words, “Limited Edition.” I had to buy every carton in the freezer, 11 total. I abandoned the rest of my shopping to get home as quickly as possible; I could not wait another minute to taste my beloved ice cream.

As soon as I opened the lid and pulled back the protective plastic I knew something was wrong. The color was not as it should be; the Japanese version was a rich green color, like the color of tea leaves. This was a light green color, like the color of supermarket brand mint chocolate chip. One taste confirmed my fears: this was not the same ice cream sold in Japan. The taste was sweeter, the green tea flavor much less pronounced. It had been dumbed down for the American audience. I had been betrayed by Haagen-Dazs.

I thought about returning the plethora of pints, but after I ate a little more it grew on me. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t what I was expecting. When it came down to it, it was still better than any of the other green tea ice creams you can buy in the USA. I decided to keep it. When they restocked the shelves at Albertson’s however, I didn’t buy any more.

Although I can’t enjoy my favorite ice cream in the USA, unique tastes are one of the nice things about travel. There are so many foods that you can get in Japan that you either can’t get in the USA or when you can they just don’t taste the same. I’ve never found rice crackers or takoyaki that tastes like it does in Japan. The same with green tea ice cream; you can buy it here, it’s just not the same and probably never will be.

American Airlines: Thumbs Up

I recently flew round trip from Las Vegas to Tokyo. I chose American Airlines because they had the lowest fare. I had a bit of trepidation because I’d never flown American internationally (and only a few times domestically, none of which I can remember). However, despite a couple of delays the travel was an overall positive experience.

I liked flying American because:

  • Flying a single airline meant not having to deal with transferring baggage at Los Angeles. On the return flight I did have to claim my baggage in Los Angeles because I had to go through customs; however, there was a “recheck” kiosk just outside customs minimizing the hassle.
  • In Los Angeles, American’s domestic and international flights leave from the same terminal. This meant I didn’t have to hike over to the Tom Bradley International Terminal. In fact, it was only about a 5 minute walk from one gate to the other.
  • American uses Boeing 777s. I prefer these over 747s for a couple of reasons: 1) They are smaller, which means less time deplaning. 2) Each seat has its own video screen, and you can individually select what movie you want to watch.
  • I was treated well by American’s employees.

The only glitches were a couple of delays. On my outbound leg from Los Angeles to Tokyo, the plane had an avionics problem which took 1.5 hours to fix. On my return leg from Los Angeles to Las Vegas there had been a sick passenger and the carpet in the aircraft needed to be steam cleaned. To American’s credit, rather than make us wait an inordinate amount of time they put us on a different aircraft. However, it still took about an hour to make the switch. I consider both of these glitches bad luck and not the fault of American Airlines.

Overall it was a very positive experience, and I saved about $250 over my first-choice airline, Japan Airlines. Next time American will be my first-choice airline.

American Airlines Boeing 777

Japanese Game Shows

Japan has some crazy game shows. They tend to be part game show, part talk show, and part slapstick comedy. Many times they involve some kind of physical stunt that designed not only to challenge the contestant, but also provide belly laughs for the home viewer.

I found one of the funniest I’ve ever seen on YouTube here. The clip is called “Human Tetris,” although I think that’s an English pseudonym. Understanding the language is not required to enjoy the clip.

Also be sure to catch this hilarious Japanese game show parody from Saturday Night Live.

More Nat “King” Cole in Japanese

In a previous post I talked about the shock of finding a recording of Nat “King” Cole singing “L-O-V-E” in Japanese. A friend of mine from Tokyo, Shimada-San, recently sent me the other item I had been searching for—a recording of Nat singing “Autumn Leaves” in Japanese. Thank you Shimada-San!

The interesting difference between the Japanese versions of “L-O-V-E” and “Autumn Leaves” is that “Autumn Leaves” uses a different instrumental background than the original English-language recording. The original contains an orchestral horn solo in the middle of the song; in the Japanese version that is replaced with a guitar solo. I’m guessing this is to appeal to Japanese tastes, as the guitar emulates a shamisen, a Japanese stringed instrument similar to a guitar.

If you’re interested you can listen to a 30-second sample. According to my research, this is the only other recording of Nat Cole singing in Japanese. Please let me know if I’m wrong!

Foam Soap

When I was young we used bar soap. It was time-consuming to use—let’s face it, it’s just plain boring—but at least you felt like you were getting your hands clean.

Then liquid soap came out. I have never been a fan of liquid soap. It’s slimy and runny and it just doesn’t feel like it’s doing anything. It feels like I’m washing my hands with egg whites. It’s really not that much quicker than using bar soap, and you can’t bathe with it, so what’s the point?

Not long ago I discovered some fancy hotels and restaurants were using foam soap. It’s something like shaving lather, but much less dense. I immediately fell in love with the foam soap. It’s light and fluffy and disperses easily over your hands. It gives the same feeling of clean as bar soap, but it’s pre-lathered so you save time. What’s not to love?

Japanese Foam SoapI thought foam soap was something reserved for swanky establishments and not available to commoners like me (you know like how you can never get meat in the supermarket that’s as good as the kind you get in a nice restaurant?). Then when I was in Japan last year I discovered you could buy foam soap in any supermarket! And several different brands no less. This further confirmed to me what I always knew: that Japan is ahead of the USA in technology that consumers can actually get their hands on.

I don’t have anything else to say, I just like foam soap.

Nat “King” Cole Sings Japanese

I’m a big fan of Nat “King” Cole. He was a class act, an influential and ground-breaking pianist, and a vocalist whose smoothness, swing, and sensitivity few can match.

Toshiba J-Pop Oldies CollectionI am also a fan of Japanese music, everything from traditional kabuki to modern-day J-pop. On my last visit to Japan I purchased several J-pop “oldies” CD collections. One gem I found was a 4-CD collection of 100 hits from the 1950s and 60s. Most of these are remakes of American rock and pop songs, everything from “Jailhouse Rock” to “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.” Nearly all of these were recorded by Japanese performers—all except for one. The song “L-O-V-E” was a pop hit for Nat Cole in the 1960s, and I nearly fell off my seat when I heard the man himself singing this tune in Japanese! I knew he had recorded an album in Spanish, but I had no idea he had recorded anything in Japanese. After a little Web searching I discovered he also recorded “Autumn Leaves” in Japanese (my guess is this pair of songs was originally released on a 45), but I have not yet been able to find a copy of this recording.

So how is Nat’s Japanese? It’s obvious someone wrote out the Japanese lyrics phonetically, and Nat sang them as written with no attempt at a natural-sounding accent. You can hear for yourself in a 30-second sample. Enjoy.