Thursday, April 4 2013

Random vacation notes, 1 of N

In no particular order:

  • When you ask a cab driver to take you to Nunobiki Falls, he takes you to the hiking trail at the top, not the station that’s a relatively-gentle 10-20 minute walk from the bottom. Starting at the top is more of a half-day thing than a photo op.
  • I knew that over-the-counter drugs containing pseudoephedrine are illegal to bring into Japan. I didn’t know, however, that they’re available in any drug store, if you can read katakana; perhaps the concentration is significantly lower, but they seemed to work well. I also didn’t know that bringing a CPAP into Japan requires a special import certificate, but fortunately that one didn’t matter for us this trip.
  • Still not sure why we automatically got same-day luggage delivery from Osaka to Kyoto, but could only get next-day-by-noon delivery from Kyoto to Osaka. I expected the bags to show up ~5-6AM, but it was closer to 10:30.
  • Offline map apps for iOS: Galileo has better bookmark organization, but MOBAC is a painful way to gather the data; MapsWithMe had better searching and it was easier to just say “download Japan”. Both import/export Google Maps KML files, which is good, since I had all sorts of likely destinations neatly categorized over there.
  • Apple Maps is rather useless in Japan, as expected. I don’t think it ever found anything I searched for, romanized or kanji, and the maps were incomplete outside of major areas. Use Google if you need street-level data and searching, although the store locations may be several years out of date or just plain wrong; best to cut-and-paste from a store’s web site, preferably the Japanese version.
  • I was very careful with my cellular data use, but it looks like they’ve significantly reduced the excessive data consumption required to navigate on foot; I never came close to my 800MB limit.
  • Cab drivers often can’t figure out addresses from Romanized/translated versions (especially auto-translated), but most of them have GPS units that support lookup by phone number.
  • So do many rental cars.
  • Filling your phone with screenshots of your destination addresseses written with kanji, as well as the phone number, works very nicely for getting around by cab.
  • Screw bringing significant cash; the best exchange rates I saw were for traveler’s checks at the bank kiosks just after you exit Immigration. At Kansai Airport, there were two different banks maybe 50 feet apart, with different rates, so YMMV.
  • Also, changing dollars at a normal bank takes a lot longer, even when the rate is decent. The experience was odd in other respects, as well. Take a number and sit down untill called to a teller, fill out the form and hand over the cash, and then go sit down again and wait until they call your name, without any paper trail linking you to your money.
  • Finishing AsoIku book 11 left me with little except the sight of Kuune and Melwin in school uniforms, calling themselves Kio and Aoi. It was goofy to the end, with no explanation for some of the rather surprising things that happened early on. Next up, the exchange program finally begins, with catgirls going to high school under the watchful eye of Manami, and the Catian ship hosting a wide assortment of international agents in very thin disguises, and in the case of Jack, no disguise at all, and not much clothing. She’ll fit right in.
  • You know how some stores have really annoying music and/or ads playing constantly, so that you feel the need for earplugs or headphones? I had forgotten that Yodobashi Camera is one of those stores, with endless variations of one damn song. (and I just discovered that there are store-specific versions as well…)
  • Sanshuu Udon is conveniently located and extremely tasty; I think if we’d found them earlier, my sister would have eaten their katsu curry udon at least once a day.
  • Speaking of Sanshuu, on one visit, there wasn’t a free table large enough for four, so an older woman who was sitting alone politely moved to a smaller table. The next day, we went back for lunch, and were waiting outside the door when they opened at 11:30. We sat at the same table, and about fifteen minutes later, the same woman walked in and saw us there, and we all started laughing.
  • We’ve now sampled a second location in the Katsukura Tonkatsu chain, and it was just as delicious, and a nicer location that didn’t require testing my mother’s knee with stairs.
  • Cutlery shops are dangerous places. Not because of the damage that sharp pointy things might do to you, but rather the damage they can do to your wallet. Even the humble Higo No Kami pocket knife ranges from the small and utilitarian to the giant and artistic.
  • Speaking of knives, that TSA thing about not confiscating small pocket knives any more? None of the stories I saw mentioned that it wasn’t going to start right away. Fortunately, non-TSA security people who are treated like human beings are willing to apply common sense, and my itsy-bitsy little Swiss Army Knife (which I had thought was safely in the checked bag to begin with) was quietly passed through.
  • The cherry blossoms were a bit early, which worked out nicely for us. Most of Kyoto didn’t really hit full bloom until the day before we left, but there was plenty of action the moment we hit town, and our little side trip to Kobe produced some pretty impressive views.
  • Next trip: bass fishing with Kenji.