Monday, September 26, 2011


From yesterday's New York Times:
After a long, hot and dark summer in Japan, the days are cooler and the nights are brighter. For this the Japanese can give thanks not just to September, but also to setsuden, or “energy saving,” an ambitious and strikingly successful campaign to conserve electricity after the March earthquake, tsunami and nuclear-plant disasters.
The destruction of the Fukushima Daiichi plant led Japan to shut down all but 15 of its 54 nuclear reactors. This was a huge blow to a country that depends heavily on nuclear power and has made scant investments in renewable energy. As summer approached, the only way to avoid a national energy emergency was through drastic conservation. And so the Japanese powered down.
And boy, power down they did.

One of the first things I noticed when I got into Tokyo was how dark everything seemed to be. Complete contrast from the sea of neon lights I was expecting. Other than the necessary street lights and a few lights in buildings here and there, everything else was shut off.

In my office building there's a bank of 4 elevators. Two had permanently been closed while next to the other two there was a sign politely asking you to take the stairs if you could help it. Generally if people had to go up 3 stories or less, they'd take the stairs. And on the way down almost everybody took the stairs. Since it's only a 6 story building, it didn't require that much effort.

The thermostat in the building was turned up and air conditioning hours were reduced.  To accommodate this the suit-and-tie dress code was relaxed. Most hallway lights were turned off. The kitchen light stayed off unless you needed to use it.  On the ceiling, alternate rows of tube lights had been turned off. In fact, not just turned off, in some areas building maintenance had come and physically removed them so that you couldn't even be tempted to turn them on. People were also asked to come in to work early and finish early, thereby reducing the need to have lights turned on in the evening.

In most train stations and department stores, down escalators had been turned off. If you wanted to you could still take the elevator in cases where you had a lot of bags to carry. This would usually involve a bit of a detour to get to the elevator, but I suppose on the list of inconveniences this would be pretty minor.

The diligence with which all this was done was simply amazing to observe. And it wasn't all just because there were government directives you had to follow or because people wanted to avoid having to go through blackouts or load-shedding. You got the feeling that Tokyoites were doing this because it was a way for them to show solidarity with their compatriots in the Tohoku region. Tokyo itself received very little damage from the earthquake and since it sits in a bay there were no tsunami fears either. So relatively speaking people's lives here had hardly been disrupted other than the initial shock and aftermath. Taking part in the setsuden campaign then was a way for them to sacrifice a little and share in the misfortune of millions of people in the northeast.

Most of these steps are things that would seem to be common sense. They don't really require one to give up all that much. But with everyone chipping in just a little bit, collectively it has had a huge impact.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Kurinto Iisutowuddo

There is a Korean restaurant near work where I go every now and then for lunch. I wasn't that familiar with Korean food before coming here so when I first went I was quite interested to check it out. And I liked it, so have kept going back for more.

My standard thing to get is bibimbap, which is rice served in a hot stone bowl, topped with sliced vegetables and meat and a fried egg. I remembered to take a picture this time.

It's served as part of a set. This includes a soup, salad and kimchi, which can come in many varieties but here is spicy pickled radish. There's coffee and and a small dessert at the end of the meal as well.

The main dish as you can see is served steaming hot, and you're actually supposed to stir and cook the food a little bit before you begin eating. If you want your sinuses cleared this is a great thing to have, especially if you also mix in the hot sauce they provide.

Anyway, usually this place is pretty crowded at lunch time. This time it was a latish lunch for me so I ended being the only one there, which allowed me to take in the ambiance a bit more. Until now really the only thing I had noticed about the place other than the food was the music. (They are really fond of playing 80s soft rock ballads, like Richard Marx, etc.) This time as I looked around I saw these movie posters up on the wall. All films starring the great Kurinto Iisutowuddo. You can click to enlarge to see the original titles in English but I've left the captions as they're written in Japanese.

Buronko Birii

Daati Harii 3


Daati Faitaa

Since they're borrowed from English, the titles are all in katakana, which makes it good reading practice for me. And actually I don't think I've seen any of these, other than maybe Dirty Harry 3: The Enforcer.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Inzamam and Run Outs

Inzamam-ul-Haq is widely acknowledged to be one of the worst runners between the wickets in One Day International cricket. With 40 run outs next to his name, he's joint 2nd on the list of most run outs along with Rahul Dravid, just one behind Marvan Atapattu's 41.

Australia vs Pakistan, Headingley, 1999. Source: ESPN Cricinfo

But is there more to his run out record than meets the eye? In this post I try and dig deeper in the stats to find out.

Below is a screen grab of the 11 players with the most run outs in ODIs, with a minimum qualification of 30 dismissals. You can access the direct query here.

Inzamam leads the Pakistani pack ahead of Mohammad Yousuf and Wasim Akram. In fact the list is dominated by batsmen from the subcontinent, with 9 out of the 11 players coming from Sri Lanka, India or Pakistan. This is not completely unexpected given the large number of ODIs these countries participate in every year. The idea being that if two batsmen get run out say 5% of the time, then on an aggregate basis the guy who plays 100 games will have more run outs than someone with 50 games.

So it might be more worthwhile to look at the above list rearranged in order of run outs as a percentage of total dismissals. This is not straightforward to do on Statsguru (or if there is a way then I don't know how) but with a bit of work one can come up with the following list:

Run out percentage is calculated as run outs divided by dismissals, while dismissals are simply innings less not outs.

As you can see, Inzamam - with 13.5% of his total ODI dismissals being run outs - comes in at #7, surprisingly behind guys like Dravid, Mark Waugh and Arjuna Ranatunga. Atapattu meanwhile maintains the top spot, while both Akram and Yousuf move well ahead of Inzamam to second and third, respectively. At the bottom of the list come Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting, and one can make the case based on their low percentages that it's simply a case of having played a lot of games that they make the list at all.

So already based on percentages one can argue that Inzamam wasn't as bad as some of the other guys on this list. (Note by the way that this list isn't of players with the highest percentage of run outs overall, just those with 30 run outs or more.)

Next, let's take a look at Inzamam's run out distribution, by way of a graph showing run outs per year. I have excluded 1991 since it only covers 2 matches and no run outs.

Here a curious pattern can immediately be seen. For the first 8 years, with the exception of 1995 there is a relatively high number of run outs each year. But then starting in 2000 all the way through to his retirement in 2007, they level off at 1 run out a year (2 in 2003). This picture suggests two distinct phases in Inzamam's career, namely the 1990s when he was getting run out a lot, and the 2000s with hardly any.

What could have caused this drop? A few explanations came to mind.
  • Inzamam didn't play as many games in the second half of his career.
  • Inzamam didn't run as much in the 2000s, scoring more runs in boundaries.
  • He grew wiser/more responsible (possibly as a result of being handed the captaincy).
  • He got faster.
As for the first two points, stats can show that this isn't the case at all.
The data above shows that the split between matches played in both decades is roughly the same. Inzamam played 53% of his matches in the 1990s and 47% in the 2000s. So the two groups are fairly comparable. The figures also confirm the dramatic drop in the 2000s both in total run outs as well as in percentage of run out dismissals. Total run outs and percentage of run outs in the 2000s are about a third of what they were in the 1990s, suggesting quite a dramatic improvement. For comparison's sake, Sachin Tendulkar over the same period in the 2000s had 10 run outs in 136 dismissals, compared to Inzamam's 9 in 133.

Next, we take a look at the percentage of non-boundary runs scored, i.e. runs that required actual running between the wickets. The idea here is simple: the more you run between the wickets, the more opportunities there are to get run out. And so conversely if you cut out these opportunities you won't get run out as much. In Inzamam's case, this figure stays pretty close to 60% throughout. There is a slight drop for sure in the latter half, but that difference equates to about 120 runs. It is hard to imagine that such a small difference in runs could account for run outs to decrease by a factor of 3.

The one caveat with measuring non-boundary runs is that the stats don't show what types of runs these were. It could be that as he went along, Inzamam cut out sharp singles entirely and was content with easy runs like pushes down the ground or to third man, etc. In this manner he'd still have plenty of non-boundary runs but with very little risk of getting run out. Unfortunately, this is not something that can be verified easily with the stats available, but if I were to guess I'd say these would average out across both samples.

For the third and fourth bullet points, there's no way to measure this statistically. Inzamam did captain the team for 90 out of the 178 games in the 2000s so there is a case to be made for him taking on more responsibility while batting and not being as reckless. But the low run out period had begun a couple of years before he became captain.

Regarding his speed, I was only joking. Hard to imagine that a guy who went from this:

Inzamam in 1992. Source: BBC Sports

to this:

Inzamam in late 2000. Source: ESPN Cricinfo

got faster over time.

Having said that, I don't think speed was really the issue with Inzamam. His first captain, Imran Khan, once while commentating during a game remarked how Inzamam early on was an extremely poor judge of when a run was on. A lot goes into when you decide to run, whether the fielder is quick, has a good throw, who your partner is, who's running towards the danger end (the end closest to the ball). With Inzamam, it seems it took a lot of time before he gained a sense of whether he should be going for a run or not.

This could potentially be one explanation for the lop-sided nature of his run out stats, that early on he had bad judgment, but then as he matured over time he gained this intuition and got the monkey off his back.

Finally, there's also the other side to run outs, which is how many times you run your partner out. If you're a really bad runner, then you'll involve your partner in a lot of mix-ups as well. Here again, stats are not easily available and to actually compile a list would take a lot of effort. However, some years ago the folks at Cricinfo did precisely this. What emerged from this study was quite surprising. If you count the number of run out dismissals plus the number of times you run your partner out i.e. total run out involvement, then it is actually Steve Waugh who's the biggest culprit (at least as of 2005).

So was Inzamam a bad runner, one of the worst ever? I would argue he definitely started out that way, and if his career were to have ended in 1999 he very well could have carried that tag on his own. However, he made a remarkable improvement to this facet of his game later on, and it is something that he doesn't really get credit for.

Monday, September 12, 2011

After Three Months in Tokyo (Part II)

Here's the second part to my three-month Tokyo recap. You can read Part I directly below or follow the link here.

On my first day at work, among other things like instructions on how to access my email etc, I found this sitting on my desk.

For a second I wondered if we were going on a build somewhere. But no, as it turned out this was for earthquake safety. Everybody keeps one of these hardhats under their desks. In the event of a major earthquake you're supposed to put this on and hide under your desk. So far we've had numerous tremors though luckily none that have required us to put our hats on. Still it's a constant reminder of the everpresent danger.

To get a sense of the size and number of earthquakes that happen in this part of the world, here's a time lapse map of every earthquake greater than 4.0M that's occurred since March 11. As of today, there have been over 1500 of these. Pay close attention at around 14.45 JST on March 11, that's when the big 9.0M quake struck.

Today (yesterday, technically) Japan marks the six-month anniversary of this earthquake - one of the five most powerful ever recorded, which lowered the coastline by a meter and pushed the island two meters closer to the US. The resulting tsunami - with waves in some areas reaching as high as 40m - was what caused most of the damage and loss of life. You can see some pictures of the devastation here and here.

Cleanup and rebuilding efforts are well underway and the speed at which things are progressing is quite impressive.

Fukushima and Radiation
Of course the third disaster after the earthquake and tsunami was the meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The situation in the area immediately surrounding the plant is not so great. Tens of thousands have been forced to evacuate their homes and it is feared the area will be uninhabitable for decades to come. The plant itself is scheduled for a complete shutdown by January.

Outside of a 15-20 mile radius of the plant, things while not completely normal are relatively under control. Tokyo for example is far enough away that there is no direct threat from radiation. The problem arises due to secondary causes, however. Fukushima is an agricultural area so a lot of produce comes from there, as well as dairy products and seafood. There have been cases of radiation being detected in Fukushima produce, enough to deter people - foreigners especially - from buying anything from that area. (Some are avoiding Japanese produce altogether, and instead only buying imported goods.) Another example of this secondary effect is that beef produced from cows outside Fukushima was found to be contaminated, because the feed they were given was from Fukushima. This led to a brief cattle shipment ban last month in the areas where this beef was found, though this has now been lifted.

This is not to scare any of you away from visiting. As I said there is no direct threat from radiation in Tokyo. One can take simple precautions when it comes to things like food. Water levels in the city are regularly monitored and so far there has been nothing to worry about.

The best time to bring up public safety is probably not immediately after talking about earthquakes and nuclear fallout. But anyway, in general Japan is very safe. There is virtually no petty crime. If you ever lose your wallet, for example, chances are pretty much 100% that it will be returned with everything intact. The perfect example of this comes from this recent report about how close to $50 million lost during the tsunami was recovered and returned. (The only thing I've heard is considered acceptable to 'borrow without permission' is umbrellas. It's raining constantly in Tokyo, and every establishment has an umbrella stand outside usually with a bunch of spares that you can use if you forgot to carry your own.)

On the subway every day I'll see little kids on their way to or returning from school completely unattended. Nobody bothers anybody, they're all extremely well-mannered and polite. This is something that matters a lot to some of the expats I've spoken to that have kids, because there are very few places where they can raise their children in such an environment.

The Japanese love rice, or gohan. So much so that the words in Japanese for breakfast, lunch and dinner literally mean morning-rice (asagohan), noon-rice (hirugohan) and evening-rice (bangohan), respectively.

While I can't say I have rice three times a day, it is definitely one of my favorite things to eat. I particularly enjoy going to this sushi-go-round restaurant near the office. You sit at a bar and either pick stuff directly off of a conveyor belt doing the rounds, or call out to the chef what you'd like to eat, which he'll make fresh, usually two rolls at a time.

Other food I enjoy is donburi, which is a bowl of rice served with food on top. 'Food' in my case means either seafood or vegetables. You can see pictures here, I'm not sure if I'm allowed to post them directly on the blog. I will try and do a better job of taking pictures as I go along.

On the desi food front I lucked out with having this place be directly in front of my office building:

While the sign says "Indo Restaurant" in Japanese, the place is actually run and owned by Pakistanis. You'll find me here every Friday tucking into the all-you-can-eat lunch buffet.

The best part though was being able to go for iftar during Ramzan.

The pakoray, dahi phulki, and fruit chaat were enough to make me feel right at home.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

After Three Months in Tokyo (Part I)

It's now been exactly three months since I came to Tokyo. Time to take stock. What's about to follow might seem disjointed but I think it's appropriate given the haphazard way my mind has been processing things. I'll just jump right into it.


Japan has more 7-Eleven stores than anywhere else in the world. They are everywhere. Within walking distance of virtually every train station you are bound to run into one of these. It turns out that 7-Eleven is now completely Japanese-owned, with the parent company 7 & I Holdings headquartered in Tokyo. Apparently when the chain first came to Japan from the US, it became hugely successful and popular, so much so that when the US company ran into financial trouble, it got bought out by the franchise in Japan.

In fact 7-Eleven isn't the only formerly-US-owned convenience store franchise in Japan. Almost equally ubiquitous are Lawson stores. These stores are used for many different things. Apart from buying food and groceries, you can use them to pay your utility bills, make photocopies, send faxes, buy tickets to concerts and plays, withdraw money from your bank account, transfer money to other people, etc. etc. In sum, they put the convenience in a convenience store. In Japanese they are known by their short form as konbini.


The above is a map of the Greater Tokyo train system. I think I read somewhere there are over 600 train stations in Tokyo. These are served by many different train lines criss-crossing the city, some state-owned and some private. On top of that, any one particular line can have as many as 5 or 6 different flavors of itself. A local train that hits all the stops, an express train that skips a few, a special express train that skips even more, etc. This detail is not reflected in the map above.

Trying to process all this information is daunting. There are a couple of websites, such as Hyperdia and Navitime, where if you enter in point A and point B they will give you route guidance. Though despite this, it took me around 2 weeks before I could get to work and back without getting lost on the subway.

The beauty of it all is of course how the system works like clockwork. You can without exaggeration set your watches by train schedules. Every platform has a display showing when the next train is arriving and there are rarely any delays. Coming from Boston, this was quite the contrast for me.

My only beef with the trains is that they shut down from around midnight till 5 am every day. Between those times you either walk or take a taxi. Or you can do like many Japanese which is pass out in front of the station and wait for the gates to open in the morning.

Japanese for Muppets

The biggest adjustment for me by far has been trying to learn the language. Initially, the difficulty of not being able to understand any of what was being spoken around me was compounded by the fact that I also couldn't read anything.

Now, you can Wikipedia all this to your heart's content, but very briefly, Japanese has three different writing systems. There's kanji, which is the character system borrowed from Chinese. If you want to be able to read a Japanese newspaper, you need to know at least 2,000 of these characters. Next comes hiragana, which is an alphabet system used to spell words for which there aren't any kanji characters. And finally there is katakana, which is another alphabet, used to spell loan words from other languages such as English (for example konbini above would be spelled using katakana).

When I first got here, I knew zero kanji, zero katakana, and about half of the 40 odd hiragana letters. So naturally I couldn't read to save my life. However, with some practice I was able to sort out the hiragana and katakana in about a month. That doesn't mean that I could read things easily, only that following a process much like that of the two-headed monster on Sesame Street, I could string words together.

To give an example of this process, a while ago I saw a sign that read:


Step 1 is recognizing which of the three writing systems this is in. In this case this is katakana. And the pronunciation key for this is sa-ma-a-gi-fu-to-se-n-ta-a, as in that is what the letters above spell out. So that's step 2, figuring out how to pronounce it. Step 3 is putting it together, so saying out loud "samaagifutosentaa". There are no spaces so you have to work those in yourself. Now, using the knowledge that since this is katakana it is probably something transliterated from English, I first am able to tell that the last part "sentaa" probably is "center". So it's some sort of a center. A "futo" center? Ah yes, a photo center! It's a sign for Samagi Photo Center!

But wait, what does Samagi mean? Sounds like a native Japanese word, so then it should have its own kanji character. Also, photo would be "foto" and not "futo". So that can't be right either. What is it then? At this point I try to sound it out in various different ways.

to-sentaa....    fu-to-sentaa....    gi-fu-to-sentaa....   

.... gifuto-sentaa.....

Ah. GIFT center! Samaa Gift Center. Summer Gift Center! Got it!

So the whole process of reading three words took about a minute and I was able to read something that ultimately was completely worthless. I had no need for a summer gift center. Anyway, those are the sorts of problems with reading that I encountered at the start. It is getting better now, but it still is a very slow process.

Spoken language on the other hand is relatively simpler. Pronunciation is almost exactly as it is in Urdu or Spanish so if you know either of those two the accent shouldn't be a problem. Grammar is much simpler than it is in English, so just by learning a few simple rules you can get by at a basic level.

What's helpful for me is that sentence structure is at times exactly like it is in Urdu. For instance, consider the phrase "chotto toi desu ne". This means the same thing as "thori duur hay na?" with the 4 words in the same order meaning the same thing in both languages. (In English, "it's a little far isn't it?")

I think I'll stop here and continue the rest in another post. If you've made it this far, thank you for reading. If you're still interested in more, check out my co-worker's blog. He's been pretty regular with the posting and has some really interesting stuff.

I'll leave you with this picture of a painting in Shibuya Station. This is a piece by Taro Okamoto called Asu no Shinwa (The Myth of Tomorrow). The whole thing is 30 meters long and depicts the moment the atomic bomb exploded in Hiroshima.