Saturday, December 1 2007

I’ve seen worse…

(all vacation entries)
Vacation

Monday, December 3 2007

Lessons Learned

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Culled from the blur of the last two weeks. Likely to be updated with pictures and additional commentary.

  • The reason there are frequent TV ads for Tadashii Kanji Kakitori-kun is because there’s a new release that includes all 1945 Jouyou kanji, including readings and meanings. Buy it if you have any interest in learning to read and write Japanese.
  • There’s surprisingly little anime on television.
  • Hotels don’t get the interesting TV channels.
  • Except for porn, with free previews. The first thing we saw on TV was a large-breasted woman squirting milk.
  • Much later, we found an iron-chef-style show best described as “real chefs with goofy assistants inventing novel dishes”.
  • 1-yen coins are indeed the correct tool for opening the battery compartment in older Japanese cameras.
  • Hello Kitty is everywhere. Everywhere.
  • So are schoolgirls in short skirts. Every day of the week. Mostly cute as buttons. Their legs looked cold.
  • Hello!Project isn’t quite everywhere, but random channel-surfing turned up Tsunku (hosting a catty-woman game show?), Tsuji (new mother announcement), Gal Sone (out-eating a sumo family), and a few others. And the abruptly-retired Maki Goto is still quite visible on a large Guess ad at the airport.
  • The downside of putting a lot of effort into learning to speak Japanese quickly and smoothly is that people respond at full speed. I really need a private conversation tutor.
  • Needing to use your Japanese dramatically improves your memory.
  • Haibane Renmei saved my friend from an allergic reaction.
  • When entering a comic book shop, the prominent sign reading “BL” means “wrong store”.
  • Any knowledge of Japanese helps. Being able to read hiragana and katakana helps a lot. Any ability with kanji is icing on the cake.
  • The easiest-to-understand person that I conversed with in Japanese was a little old lady in a Kyoto incense shop.
  • Strict censorship laws did not prevent me from finding an explicit hardcore Hanaukyou Maid Tai doujin collection. At a major retailer in Akihabara. Accidentally. Which had futanari Catholic school girls as the backup story.
  • Beautiful young women in kimonos are not everywhere. Except in Kyoto on weekends.
  • Opening a metal bottle of Pepsi Nex does not in fact summon a maiko, despite early evidence to the contrary. It only works when you’re using the vending machine outside of the Gion post office.
  • People in Kyoto are, on the whole, friendlier than those in Tokyo.
  • Shibuya may be home to Japan’s fashion victims, but the extensive public transportation network makes them visible everywhere.
  • A Suica or Pasmo card is the single most useful thing to have if you’re going to be in Tokyo for a few days.
  • Shinagawa has little to offer except the easy ability to go elsewhere. [update: that is, the area around Shinagawa Station, which isn’t really in Shinagawa-ku]
  • Tonki really does have great tonkatsu. And you want to get there when they open at 4pm.
  • Junsei has excellent kaiseki.
  • JALPAK does great work for a great price.
  • Habits acquired in a country where coins are chump change result in overstuffed pockets in a country with $5 coins.
  • The morning JAL flight from Osaka to Narita leaves you with an eight-hour layover before your flight home to San Francisco. This time is best spent around Narita-san, particularly Shinshou-ji.
  • On the way there, you’ll pass a small restaurant that serves fresh unagi, grilled over a wood fire. That’s fresh as in “they were still swimming a few minutes ago”.
  • I should have bought a second bag of Maiko-san no Ochobo-guchi. Now I’m going to have to hope they’re available somewhere in San Jose or San Francisco.
  • In addition to the popular maid cafes, Akihabara now has both nun cafes and little-sister cafes. [Update: Nun cafe, Little-sister cafe]
  • There’s a lot of used porn on the market. Used. Porn.
  • Aya Matsuura’s first DVD single collection does not include the most entertaining of her early videos, Momoiro no Kataomoi, so I didn’t buy it. [Update: Ah, there’s a different DVD that does include the song.]
  • The Hozugawa river trip is worth it. Sadly, I couldn’t keep up with the guide’s rapid-fire running commentary, but he was apparently hilarious. I did at least catch the joke about the 7-11 main office.
  • 富士山が見えたんです。

Kyoto Muzak

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There are some nice restaurants in the Kintetsu mall near Kyoto Station. While perusing the menu outside of one of them, the muzak system turned up a familiar-sounding tune. I just couldn’t place it. Dave didn’t recognize it at all, and then it hit the refrain, and was revealed to be this.

The next time we went by that place, they’d cranked the silliness higher, with a muzak version of this.

There’s a perfectly good reason why the Japanese cowboy is para-para dancing. If you were hanging out with these Shibuya gals, wouldn’t you?

Wednesday, December 5 2007

Sake to me

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When purchasing sake in a Japanese grocery store, read the label carefully, if you have any ability to read Japanese at all. If, for instance, the English label on the shelf reads “nigori”, check the Japanese label to make sure that it isn’t actually namazake (生酒).

Why? Because while most good sake should be served slightly chilled, namazake must be kept in the fridge right up until the moment you’re ready to drink it. It’s not pasteurized, and if it gets warm for even a few hours, the live yeasts turn it into basically-undrinkable carbonated mush.

Sunday, December 9 2007

Akihabara

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[Update: link added for the back of the map]

One thing I couldn’t find online before the trip was a good map of places to go in Akihabara. The ones I did find were either inaccurate, incomplete, not to scale, required local knowledge, and/or were drawn with complete disregard for the Western notion that North should either be at the top or clearly marked.

The time I spent marking things up in Google Earth did help me find a few places, but it doesn’t produce useful printouts, so I couldn’t bring it with me as PDFs.

Fortunately, less than ten seconds after we stepped out of the station, a pretty girl in a maid costume handed me this (3MB JPEG). The back side of it has more ads and a sorted list of shops and their block numbers.

This is apparently produced by the folks at Akiba Guide.

[Update: Oh, yes, North is to the right, and in Google Maps the area looks like this.]

[Update: just for fun, I dropped this map into Google Earth, and it’s very well-scaled. There’s some distortion around the south edge, most likely to get everything to fit, but most of the map overlays so well that you can easily locate individual shops.

Also, someone has made a set of Google Maps pushpins that covers some of the highlights of Akihabara in English. There are also two decent ones (1, 2) if you can read some Japanese. The first one is a collection of maid cafes, the other is more general.]

Wednesday, December 12 2007

Don’t fear the Washlet

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…just be sure to check its aim.

Toto Washlet with expert mode

…and I do mean everywhere

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Okay, admittedly Oowakudani is a popular tourist destination for both natives and foreigners, but come on. What’s she doing here?

Hello Kitty

Thursday, December 13 2007

Mt. Fuji

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This late in the year, tour operators don’t make any promises about how high up Fuji you’ll be able to go, or how well you’ll be able to see it from a distance. Ice on the roads kept us from getting past the third station, but visibility was clear all day long.

See?

Mt. Fuji from Oowakudani

I will live until I die

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Well, that’s what they said at Oowakudani: “eat one, and you’ll live an extra seven years; eat two, and you’ll live an extra fourteen years; eat three, and you’ll live until you die”. Perhaps I should have stopped at two.

Oowakudani Black Eggs

This little guy, on the other hand, won’t add anything to your lifespan.

…but it did have a nice view

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The Shinagawa Prince hotel is…okay, with short, stiff beds (one crunchy pillow each), extremely small rooms, and over-priced restaurants. It does have a decent convenience store, and the 24-hour pizza/pasta place is reasonably priced and turns into a breakfast shop in the morning. Its real virtue is location: a short walk from Shinagawa Station, from which you can go pretty much anywhere in the country.

And, if your room is on the north side, the view is worthwhile.

Shinagawa Prince Hotel, Tokyo

Purification and Refreshment

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drink vending machines next to Shinto ablution basin

星をかった日

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One of the highlights of a visit to the Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka is the chance to see an original short animated film produced to their high standards. Currently, it’s Hoshi wo katta hi, a story that becomes only slightly less incomprehensible if you can pick out some of the Japanese dialog.

If you go there while it’s still running, there are two things you should know. First, it’s based on the surrealist paintings of Naohisa Inoue, specifically his Iblard fantasy world. It doesn’t make a lot of sense because it’s, well, surreal.

Second, in the final scene (spoiler warning):

(Continued on Page 2834)

Friday, December 14 2007

The perfect ginger candy

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We bought them in the Gion district in Kyoto. A little bag of ginger candies wrapped up in a label that read 「まいこさんのおちょぼ口」 (for the kana-impaired, that’s “Maiko-san no Ochobo-guchi”). It means “the maiko’s [apprentice geisha] tiny mouth”. They’re darn tasty, and the farther away we got from Gion, the more I wanted to go back and fill my suitcase with them. I didn’t.

But surely I can find them in Japantown in San Jose or San Francisco, or at least order them online! Or maybe not. It turns out that “Maiko-san no ochoboguchi” is a cliché, and 99% of the references you’ll find online are of the form “even a maiko’s tiny mouth could eat this”. Which is of course why they were called that in the first place.

This means that even explaining what I’m looking for will require visual aids. Better snap a photo of them before they’re all gone:

Maiko-san no ochobo-guchi

I’ll try to find them locally, but realistically, my best shot is finding someone who’ll be in Kyoto and giving them a copy of the photo and detailed instructions on how to find the shop. It looks like this, and it’s about a block and a half west of the main entrance to Yasaka Shrine, on the south side of the street [Google Maps].

What does autumn taste like?

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According to a stand at Kyoto Station, it tastes like this ekiben:

Ekiben!

Saturday, December 15 2007

Did someone mention Kyoto Station?

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Kyoto Station stairway
(Continued on Page 2838)

Sunday, December 16 2007

Cute girls in kimonos

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Okay, only one, and she’s a very little girl, but you have to start somewhere…

little girl in kimono at Meiji Shrine

Monday, December 17 2007

Retirement homes with style

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I’d want to add indoor plumbing, a good HVAC system, and do something to keep away the tourists, but yeah, I can see why one of the Ashikaga Shoguns thought that Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion would make a nice little retirement shack. Even 600+ years later, it’s got a nice view.

Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto

Mind you, it’s impossible to do something original with one of the most-photographed objects in Japan, but this wasn’t a serious-photography trip. I was a tourist, and I did what tourists do. :-)

The novelty of bread

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The Japanese still haven’t really figured out bread. They’re good at pastry, but rice is the grain that goes with meals, so breads tend to be snack foods, such as the ubiquitous melonpan, whose name comes from the melon-ish shape rather than the contents.

Speaking of shape, care to guess what kamelonpan looks like?

(Continued on Page 2842)

First thought that came to mind…

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“Hey, I can see Google Earth from here!”

Tokyo Tower

He ain’t so tough

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Laputa Robot Soldier at Studio Ghibli Museum, MitakaLaputa robot soldier at Studio Ghibli Museum, Mitaka

Tuesday, December 18 2007

Fake but accurate

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Tourist Maiko

These are “tourist maiko”, women dressed up as apprentice geisha to provide some local color. There was another pair walking around with a man who was holding up a multi-lingual sign reading “these are not real maiko”, and I believe they were members of a tour group who had paid for a makeover (among other things, they were a good fifteen years too old to be the real thing). These two were just strolling along the canal nearby.

The only real maiko we spotted was off-duty in a regular kimono, coming out of the Gion post office.

Wednesday, December 19 2007

Kawaii Tours, Inc.

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I don’t know what company operates this tour bus, but I think I’ll give them my business next time.

cute tour bus

Thursday, December 20 2007

Local color

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building detail, Shinshou-ji, Narita-san

Our 8-hour layover on the way home gave us time to take the train into Narita-san and see Shinshou-ji. Allegedly there was a temple fair going on, but it just looked like a few extra souvenir stands. The temple complex itself was much more interesting.

Hello, Buddha

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The world’s largest bronze buddha lives in the world’s largest wooden building, Toudai-ji. He’s an imposing fellow:

Daibutsu

In modern Japan, though, you’ve got to be cute to survive:

(Continued on Page 2851)

Sunday, December 23 2007

Make a wish

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絵馬 (ema) are small wooden plaques purchased at shrines. You buy one, write down a wish (health, fame, fortune, romance, entry into a good school, etc), and hope that the gods will grant it. Eventually they all get burned up as offerings.

Ema (votive plaques) at Shinto shrine

Monday, December 24 2007

Tofu: you can run but you can’t hide

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I’m not sure why this little guy is trying to escape. The food at Junsei is excellent.

detail from a plate used at Junsei

Fast, Wide, Ninja

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Temple guardian, Toudai-ji

A big problem with temples and shrines is that they’re generally pretty dark inside. In many cases, even an up-to-the-minute digicam that has optical anti-shake and can shoot at the equivalent of ISO 1600 film speed isn’t good enough to get a sharp picture. And even when the picture’s sharp, there’s so much noise that it looks like crap. Flash is useless unless you brought along a pro rig that has an external battery pack, and tripods are usually forbidden. So, what to do?

I got a few decent indoor shots with my pocket digicam (a Canon IXY 2000IS purchased in Akihabara; domestically, it’s known as the PowerShot SD950 IS), but it was a crap shoot. If we hadn’t been with a group, I’d have taken several shots of everything and braced myself against something, but there wasn’t enough time.

Fortunately, I had my Sony a100 DSLR along, with a 50mm f/1.4 lens. It made the above shot easy, and the below shot possible:

World's largest bronze buddha, Toudai-ji

The first picture was shot at ISO 1600, 1/80th second, f/2. When zoomed to the equivalent focal length, the little Canon can shoot at f/4, which would have yielded a 1/20th second exposure. Not too bad, with anti-shake.

The second one was much harder: 1/8th second, f/1.4, right at the edge of the Sony’s anti-shake ability. The little Canon would have needed a full one-second exposure, which means a tripod. Even then, there were so many people walking around on the wooden floor that the vibration might have introduced some fuzziness. The Canon has an ISO 3200 mode that doubles the speed but cuts the resolution to 1600x1200, but half a second is still too long for hand-held, even with anti-shake.

You can extend your range by bracing the camera against a sturdy object, using a monopod, or finding someplace that you can set up a mini-tripod, but the most important things to have are fast exposures, wide-aperture lenses, and Noise Ninja; these pictures were a lot grainier before I turned NN loose on them.

I had brought a mini-tripod with me, but rarely had a chance to use it. Next trip, I’ll bring along my REI collapsible carbon fiber walking staff and a Bogen mini-ballhead, which makes a better monopod than most of the ones you’ll find in camera shops. It’s a bit shorter than I’d like, especially when used properly as the third leg of your human tripod, but it doesn’t scream “camera stand” when you’re entering a no-tripod zone.

And, to be honest, there are places where I wouldn’t mind having a walking staff…

紅葉

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autumn colors at Arashiyama

For Will’s benefit, here’s where I was when I took the picture. Take the train from Kyoto to Arashiyama, then head south to the river. Or go a few more stops to Kameoka, and ask for directions to the Hozugawa Kudari boat ride, which drops you off at that spot in Arashiyama.

Christmas Wishes

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Malaysian tourists

It’s Christmas Eve, so as a present to myself, I’ve finally posted a “babe” picture from my trip to Japan. I didn’t take pictures of most of the good-looking women I saw, mostly because I saw them under circumstances where whipping out the camera would have been rude. As it is, my best shots are of the two Malaysian tourists who were with us on the trip to Fuji; they have pictures of me, too (shudder).

Tuesday, December 25 2007

“Rebuilding-fund donations accepted here”

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More or less. I had to infer the meaning of some of the words that aren’t in Edict or my other J-E dictionaries.

Donation sign at Kasuga Shrine, Nara

Here’s a transcription of the text:

第六十次式年遷宮の
ご奉賛のお願い

当社では、平成二十七年に
六十回日のご社殿修理工事
を執り行います。
伝統文化の継承である式年
(二十年ごと)の造替(修理)
工事に皆様のご寄進をお願
しておりますので、お近くの
援与所にお申し出ください。

春日大社

I’ll do a full translation when my lingering cold stops lingering.

Wednesday, December 26 2007

Stairs at Shinshou-ji

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Stairs at Shinshou-ji, Narita-san

Teenspotting

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Everywhere:

schoolkids at Kasuga Shrine, Kyoto

Not everywhere:

Miko at Meiji Shrine, Tokyo

Just wanted to make that clear.

Thursday, December 27 2007

Going up?

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When I took this picture, I was just trying to capture the cable cars that got us up to Oowakudani. Now I kind of wish they weren’t in the frame…

cable cars at Oowakudani

Friday, December 28 2007

Smoke gets in your eyes…

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Incense burner at Toudai-ji

Saturday, December 29 2007

Koi Pirates Deer

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Koi at Imperial Palace East Gardens, Tokyo
Lake Ashi Pirate Ship Cruise, Hakone
Nara Deer Park

Okay, I couldn’t really think of any way to tie these pictures together.

Tuesday, January 1 2008

Palace School Station

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Another set of random pictures from the trip.

Kyoto Imperial Palace
School trip to Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto
view from the tracks, Shinbashi Station, Tokyo

Wednesday, January 2 2008

Failsafe Fuji

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[Update: Just spotted an older version of the same scene on Google Earth. The pretty picture replaced real information.]

“Hello, and welcome to the third station. We know you all paid for the chance to see Mt. Fuji, but just in case the weather didn’t cooperate, here’s what you should be able to see from here. More pictures are available in the gift shop, along with snacks, film, and batteries.”

Fuji from Third Station

Monday, January 7 2008

Avoiding confusion

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Men's Esute

One of the first pictures I took with the new camera was a view from the tracks at Shinbashi Station. Unfortunately, the context was sufficiently involved that nobody I showed it to got the joke. When I take the print to my Japanese conversation teacher tonight, though, she’ll get a good laugh out of it.

Why? Because a number of the younger Japanese women associated with the department are into Esute, which is a style of beauty parlor in Japan. They love to talk about this stuff, but students who Google “esute” in English will find a lot of sites that are about something very different: massage parlors for men.

It turns out that the sex trade was looking for another euphemism a while back, to compete with “soaplands”, “fashion massage”, “delivery health services”, and the rest, and since massage was one of the services offered at women’s esute parlors, they adopted the name.

As a result, potential customers have to make sure they know what kind of esute a particular shop offers. Both of them will have pictures of fashionable young women out front, and attractive young women working inside. So, when I looked up from the tracks and saw a big sign reading “Otoko no Esute”, I knew what Dandy House was offering.

Noise Ninja

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I finally got around to making a proper noise profile of my little Canon camera, so here’s a quick sample of how well Noise Ninja cleans up an ISO 1600 image. Note that this is just using the default settings; it’s capable of more aggressive noise reduction, but that can eliminate too much detail in some images.

Before:

the view from Decks, Odaiba

After:

[noise-reduced] the view from Decks, Odaiba

Thursday, January 10 2008

Big Hell

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Oowakudani

Oowakudani is the source of the sulfurous waters piped down to the Hakone hot springs resorts. It’s also a popular destination in its own right, due to the terrific views (1, 2, 3, 4 ) and novel cuisine.

The current name for the place translates as “great boiling valley” (大湧谷). This was an early example of tourist marketing, since until they heard that the Shogun was going to come up and take a look, the locals just called it “the big hell”.

Sunday, January 13 2008

Two-car garage, Kyoto-style

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private parking in Kyoto

Friday, January 18 2008

Google Vacation

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I didn’t geotag my vacation photos before importing them into Aperture, and it turns out that it treats those fields as read-only, so that the only way to add that data after the fact is by hacking the underlying SQLite database. What I’ll do is export a bunch of small thumbnail images, tag them with HoudahGeo, and then knock together a small script to insert the tags into Aperture’s database.

Meanwhile, here’s a sample (8MB KMZ file) containing most of the images I’ve posted so far, along with some new ones, exported for Google Earth. You can load KMZ files into Google Maps, but the built-in image links don’t work.

Sunday, January 20 2008

Tonari no Totoro no Kippu Uriba

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This is the entrance to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka.

False entrance to Ghibli Museum, Mitaka

The false entrance, that is. The real one’s over here:

Entrance to Ghibli Museum, Mitaka

Sadly, not only can’t you buy a ticket from Totoro, you can’t get one at the real entrance, either. Domestically, they’re only available at Lawsons convenience stores, and they sell out weeks or even months in advance. There’s a block reserved for foreign tourists, fortunately, but you have to order them through specific travel agencies.

Pennies For Heaven

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This is one of the doors leading into Meiji Jingu.

Main door leading into Meiji Jingu

When praying at a shrine, you throw a coin into the offering box and clap, to get the attention of the kami. On New Years Day, half of Tokyo comes to Meiji Shrine to pray, and the crowd is so thick that most people can’t reach the offering boxes. So they throw their coins towards the shrine.

Some throw with more enthusiasm than skill, so the surfaces facing the courtyard are pockmarked as high as you can see.

Monday, January 21 2008

Ninomaru Palace, Kyoto

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With a name like 二の丸, it deserves two pictures. Sadly, neither of them really show off the actual palace. I’m still sorting through the shots to find one I like. Meanwhile:

Garden at Ninomaru Palace, Kyoto
Building detail at Ninomaru Palace, Kyoto

[Note: the carving is completely different when viewed from the other side, but photography was forbidden inside, so I can’t show you.]

Tuesday, January 22 2008

Fine dining

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Junsei is a traditional resturant chain in Kyoto, with three locations. The main one (near Nanzen-ji) is built around a traditional garden that is listed as a historical site. Translation: show up well before your reservation so you have time to look around. You’ll have a decent view from your private dining room, but it’s worth a closer look.

Historical garden at Junsei

Thursday, January 24 2008

Petty Pewter Gods

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Statue at Shinshou-ji, Narita-san

Actually, I don’t know what this statue at Shinshou-ji is supposed to be, or what it’s made of. I like it, though, which is more than I can say for the Glen Cook novel I used as the title (or pretty much any of his novels since then).

Friday, January 25 2008

Oasis with a moat

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One way to keep a public park clean, safe, and beautiful in the middle of a major city with a homeless problem is to surround it with a moat and post armed guards at the entrances. The Imperial Palace East Garden is open to the public, but it’s not a commons, and therefore not subject to the tragedy thereof.

Moat outside Imperial Palace, Tokyo

Saturday, January 26 2008

Hozugawa Kudari

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Boats on the Hozu River

Apparently the only thing that’s better than being poled down the Hozu River in late autumn is being there when the cherry blossoms are blooming.

Sunday, January 27 2008

Giving Light

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Lanterns donated to Kasuga Taisha, Nara

The heavily-wooded path leading up to the Shinto shrine Kasuga Taisha is lined with stone lanterns, each engraved with the name of the donor. Some of them have been there for centuries, but new ones keep arriving. I’d love to be there when they’re all lit.

Lanterns at Kasuga Taisha, Nara

Tuesday, January 29 2008

Gion Ishi

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Like the sign by the front door says, this interesting-looking building in the Gion District of Kyoto is all about rocks (石). The first floor sells crystals and polished stones at prices ranging from reasonable to insane. We never got upstairs, but apparently there’s another floor for custom-carved stones, an excellent tea shop, and an ishiyaki (stone grill) restaurant.

Gion Ishi Building

The single most expensive item I purchased during the trip came from here, and I’m not forgetting about the digital camera. Some time when I can set up my lights, I’ll try to get a decent picture of it.

Tonkatsu Tonki

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Most guidebooks will tell you that Tonki has the best tonkatsu in Tokyo. After eating there, I’m willing to believe them.

The trick is finding the place. These pictures are descriptive rather than scenic, so they go below the fold:

(Continued on Page 2900)

Backstreet Girls

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Just to be clear, the web site listed in this picture of a Gion nightclub is Not Safe For Work.

Sex-club sign in Gion, Kyoto, Japan

Tuesday, March 25 2008

Autumn-colored canal in Kyoto

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I was playing with the new version of Aperture today, flipping through the pictures from my Japan trip, and noticed something unusual. See if you can spot it.

Autumn colors spreading across a canal in the Gion district, Kyoto, Japan

Monday, November 3 2008

I’m tired of election “news”, so here’s Tokyo

Tokyo Tower from the Shinagawa Prince Hotel

For quite a while now, I’ve been meaning to go back and do some cleanup work on the small number of photos I shot out of our hotel room window. The one I originally posted just never looked right to me. This one is the result of some careful Levels work, combined with the updated version of Noise Ninja that works as an Aperture plug-in.

Wednesday, November 5 2008

Offerings to Heaven

Coincidence, really. I just liked this picture.

Prayer plaques at Meiji Shrine

“Help Wanted”

“Long hours, unsafe working conditions, no benefits. Must supply own uniform.”

Tokyo construction worker

“Batteries not included. Not a union job.”

Wednesday, November 12 2008

A little Ghibli to start the day

Rooftop view at the Studio Ghibli Museum

If you like anime, and you plan to visit Tokyo, you’d be a fool not to visit the Studio Ghibli Museum. Just make sure to buy your ticket before you get to Japan, to avoid the weeks-to-months waiting list.

Wednesday, May 11 2011

Souvenirs of Fortune

This morning, I stumbled across one of the small things I bought in Japan, a souvenir keychain from Toudaiji.

Toudaiji souvenir keychain

Turns out this little fellow has a secret.

(Continued on Page 3783)

Thursday, June 9 2011

Vacation update

Unpleasant surprise with a happy ending: yesterday morning, Interplanet Janet was looking at her upcoming flight itineraries, and discovered that our November round-trip flight to Kyoto had somehow become a one-way trip from Japan back to San Francisco.

There were vestigial traces of the actual to-Japan departure date associated with the itinerary, but no flight, and no hints on the site or email notifications. You couldn’t even tell when it had happened. To make sure it wasn’t just her account being messed up, I logged into mine and double-checked. Same thing.

On the phone, they told her that they’d canceled the flight for that day, but they could put us on the previous day’s flight instead, and also adjust her connecting flight from Chicago at no charge.

So, while I’m disturbed that this happened silently and could have horribly screwed up our trip if she hadn’t noticed it, we end up with an extra day in Japan, which doesn’t suck. I couldn’t change the existing hotel reservation, so I booked us for one night right by the airport. We can get our bags shipped from there to the Kyoto hotel, leaving us free to spend the day in Osaka.

Additional bonus: no lengthy train ride after the long flight. If things go smoothly, we can be relaxing in the hotel less than an hour after the plane touches down, with time to unwind before hunting dinner.

The one thing I need to research is what we want to do on our extra day, because it happens to be a national holiday, Labor Thanksgiving Day. My impression is that stores, restaurants, and tourist sites are going to be open but packed. I don’t know if stores that are usually closed on Wednesdays (like much of DenDen Town) will be open, but it’s probably not a good day to try for Osaka Castle or the Duck Tour. Maybe just a day of souvenir-hunting in Namba, Dotombori, and DenDen Town?

Friday, August 12 2011

Fear of not flying

It’s hard to look forward to a relaxing vacation when the airline keeps silently canceling your outgoing flight. This is the second time my sister has checked her upcoming itineraries and discovered that our flight from San Franciso to Osaka was missing. No notification email, no refund, no hint on the site that we ever booked such a flight, and not much concern from the folks who answer the phones. If the higher-level support rep doesn’t sweeten the deal for us after the second screw, I will be “less than polite” about it.

Our new flight connects through Tokyo, adding three hours to the day. The good news is that a flight to Tokyo is less likely to be canceled, and the domestic leg is JAL.

Grumble. Clearly I should stop using the Brickmuppet Travel Agency, before we get to Kyoto and find our hotel burned down.

Sunday, September 25 2011

Japan photos

For fun, I’ve been playing with Google+ recently. I remain invisible on Facebook, but the Circles design makes organized sharing more practical, and the various Google services also integrate nicely with my shiny new Android device, the Sony Tablet.

(oh, did I forget to mention the new toy? Full review soon, but the short version is that the most negative thing I can say about it is that you need tiny little fingers to retrieve the full-sized SD card; otherwise, it’s great)

Anyway, I ended up copying a bunch of the pictures from my 2007 Japan trip into Picasa, for when I get the urge to share a random picture.

Japan, November 2007

This version was exported directly from Aperture, so it didn’t pick up the geotagging I did before Apple supported that properly. I still haven’t tinkered with merging existing geolocation data into existing albums, but maybe soon.

Monday, November 14 2011

This should be fun

By royal request, I have secured reservations for a nice tea ceremony, traditional lunch, and kimono dress-up lesson, after stumbling across the web site of Tondaya. This will be a nice way to relax on our first full day in Kyoto. I can’t trust the extended weather forecasts this far out, but at the moment it looks like there’s only one day with a chance of occasional showers, and “mostly sunny” for the rest of the trip.

Sunday, December 4 2011

In case you were wondering…

…at the present time, One Piece is inescapable in Japan. I was honestly surprised not to run into crossover merchandise of Luffy with Hello Kitty. I’m sure I just missed it in the blur.

One Piece, Two-ply

This was the toilet paper display outside the grocery store near our hotel (Best. Tie-in. Ever). When you get into actual nerdy parts of Kyoto and Osaka, 90% of the merchandise is tied to One Piece, and even otherwise unrelated stores in DenDen Town have a rack or two of the stuff mixed in with the refilled printer cartridges, hand tools, used suits, spy cameras, robot parts, and porn.

Ridiculously good gyoza

Tenka Gyoza, located here in the Dotonbori neighborhood of Osaka. If you can’t read hiragana, it’s basically impossible to find without a picture of the sign and the knowledge that the entrance is in a narrow alley. A restaurant employee less than 60 feet away claimed she’d never heard of the place, but perhaps she was just jealous.

They’re open from 5:30pm to 11:30pm, and serve gyoza, beer, and shochu. It looks like the sort of tiny hole-in-the-wall place that fills up with businessmen who drink heavily, but we were the first customers of the day, and had the place to ourselves. The gyoza are bite-sized, nicely crisped, and incredibly tasty. I think we each had around 50. The woman running the place spoke no English, and the menu was in hand-written kanji that I couldn’t make out reliably, but all you need are three words: “gyoza, omakase, beer”. Oh, and “mo hitotsu” when you realize that you need more.

Their location on Google Maps is precise, but even if you’re using a smartphone with GPS, there’s enough interference to make you unsure of your location. Nellie and I had been shopping separately all day, and navigated separately to the right location, but since she couldn’t read the sign, she circled the block three times until I showed up.

So, assuming that most people I know will be coming up from shops in DenDen Town, let’s start at the Bic Camera on Sennichimae-dori. Cross the street to the north and enter the shopping arcade. Turn left at the third alley, walk about halfway down, and look up for this sign:

Tenka Gyoza entrance

Go in, and take the elevator to the third floor.

“Had a great time, wish we were there.”

I’ve barely started looking at the pictures we took, but this makes a decent vacation postcard.

Kinkakuji

Monday, December 5 2011

A walk in the park

Toei Studio Park is a very strange place.

Cosplayers at Toei Studio Park, Kyoto

Cherry blossoms in November

Nikizaki Sakura (二季咲桜) trees at the Kyoto Botanical Garden.

Twice-blooming cherry trees at Kyoto Botanical Garden

Tuesday, December 6 2011

The road less traveled

There were a lot of people at Hikone Castle (more on that later…), but when we came down the hill after seeing it, there were two paths, and the lady at the booth tried to dissuade us from heading off to the right. Not because of a problem with our tickets, or because it was off limits, or even just a longer walk, but because the other way was more popular. I’m glad we didn’t listen, because we ended up having the place to ourselves, making this the only popular tourist site where we didn’t have to worry about people getting in our pictures.

Around the back side of Hikone Castle

Down the Hozu again!

I still want to take this trip in the Spring, with white-water and cherry blossoms, but I was not the least bit unhappy to see it again in Autumn, especially since this time we took the scenic train up-river first.

Boatman on the Hozu River

A touch of class

Not all of our adventures were outdoors. One wonderful evening was spent at Gion Hatanaka, with a Geiko and a Maiko. Great fun, and I absolutely smoked the maiko in a traditional drinking game. Sadly, while the customers had to drink a beer if they lost, the maiko merely handed over a pair of souvenir chopsticks.

Maiko dance at Gion Hatanaka

Wednesday, December 7 2011

Just because it’s sacred…

…doesn’t mean you can’t have fun.

Kids playing at Kitano Tenmangu shrine

Katsukura tonkatsu

Katsukura is a chain of tonkatsu restaurants. Good tonkatsu. We only tried the one in the Teramachi shopping arcade just off of Shijo-dori, but it was so good that we went back another day and paid extra for a higher grade of pork. The restaurant itself is an oasis of calm in a busy shopping area.

They have a number of locations around the country, including Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, and several in Tokyo.

Katsukura Tonkatsu

Nostalgic Kyoto

Sometimes, you need to escape from the pressures of 21st Century life and retreat to an earlier, simpler time.

(Continued on Page 3936)

The leaves are always redder…

…right next to the men’s room. Which is why this lovely tree in the lovely park at the lovely Hikone castle is cropped so tightly.

Hikone's most colorful tree

Cosplay Queen

I hereby nominate her for Empress of Toei Studio Park.

Cosplay gunslinger at Toei Studio Park, Kyoto

Thursday, December 8 2011

Hikone Castle

Worth the trip.

Hikone Castle

We had originally planned to go to Himeji, until we discovered that the castle there is in the middle of extensive renovation, and will be for quite a while. Hikone, despite being close to Kyoto and highly-recommended, had few non-Asian tourists. Not only did a group of old men eagerly photograph my tall, blonde sister, one of the many schoolboys marched up and read his report to us.

Hikone school report

He was so earnest that we tried hard to get a picture of him, but not only was he shy, the report was written on the back of the poster.

Hikone school report

Kappa Country

The second sake brewery we briefly visited was Kizakura Kappa Country. We just took a quick walk through the public areas and made it to their restaurant in time for lunch. With their sake, of course.

Drinking at Kizakura Kappa Country

We just had a glass each, but when the waiter saw us taking pictures, he brought the bottle over.

“Aw, man, the dude in the hat took my spot.”

I love the look on the deer’s face. They were surprisingly well-behaved this time, perhaps because we weren’t in a tour group, and stayed far away from the cracker vendors.

Monk and Deer, on the way to Toudaiji in Nara

Friday, December 9 2011

Kamigamo market

As we were finishing up the tea ceremony and lunch at Tondaya (which was just as cool as expected), Nellie was chatting with our cute little Polish guide about kimonos, and she mentioned that she’d bought the one she was wearing for only ¥1000 (~$13) at the monthly flea market at a nearby shrine.

“It’s on the 25th of each month”.

“Oh, you mean tomorrow. I think we’re going to need directions.”

So off we went to Kitano-Tenmangu. The flea market itself wasn’t terribly photogenic, but it was full of bargains of all sorts, and the shrine was quite nice (see the earlier picture of kids playing, and probably a few more soon).

The next evening, we were sitting in our hotel room planning our upcoming adventures.

“It would be really cool if we could find another flea market like that one.”

“Well, according to this, there’s a monthly craft and food market at Kamigamo shrine. Tomorrow.”

This market was in a slightly more scenic location.

Kamigamo Craft/Food Market

Kyoto Tower

…looks less hideous at night, especially with the base hidden.

Kyoto Tower

Saturday, December 10 2011

Kasuga Taisha shrine

I could spend a few days wandering around this place. Not just because there are several days each year when they light all the lanterns, but there’s apparently a lot more to see.

Kasuga Taisha shrine through the trees

Sunday, December 11 2011

Patience: not always rewarded

Nellie really wanted to get a shot of the doors, the leaves, and the temple behind, but there was an old guy standing in the middle of it, and every time it seemed like he was about to walk out of the frame, he’d turn around, pull out his phone, or wander right back into the middle.

When he finally started to walk away, Young Mother And Adorable Little Girls walked in, and of course the girls wanted to play in the leaves, and of course mom wanted pictures.

Unknown temple on a back street near our hotel

Know your Miko!

Fake Miko, Toei Studio Park:

Staff cosplay at Toei Studio Park

Real Miko, Kasuga Taisha shrine:

Miko at Kasuga Taisha

Still no miko magic on display, sadly…

NASA?

Nasa Building in Kyoto

I took this picture for two reasons. Because “BuilDing” struck me as an unusual romanization choice, and because I was curious what the place actually was. Turns out it rents 460-square-foot apartments for $840/month. So, not an expansive vision of Space.

Still no idea what it’s supposed to stand for, though, unlike the one in Osaka.

Monday, December 12 2011

Beyond the obvious

One of my goals for this trip was to revisit places without the time pressure of a tour group. The tours are worth doing once, especially if you’re short on time, but you miss more than you see.

Kinkakuji pond

Play space

Just in case the kids don’t have the patience for a lengthy visit to the Kyoto Botanical Garden.

Play area at Kyoto Botanical Garden

Tuesday, December 13 2011

They bought crackers

Nara deer in hot pursuit

Wednesday, December 14 2011

Moats aren’t just for duckies

Black swan at Hikone Castle

Life on the river

As always, the boatmen on the Hozugawa Kudari river-boat ride are cheerful and funny. I just wish I could keep up with their jokes.

Hozugawa Kudari boatman

Thursday, December 15 2011

Hills on fire

I’ve been trying to space out the insane-fall-colors pictures, because it’s so easy to overdose. And this was on a cloudy day.

Fall foliage on the Hozu River

I think if you set your camera to “vivid”, you’d crack the lens after a while.

“Leaves are for tourists…”

“…I’ve got work to do.”

Pollination at Kyoto Botanical Garden

Friday, December 16 2011

Nothing says purity like a dragon

Higashi Honganji is a large temple just north of Kyoto Station. This is the place Fledge was referring to in a comment to my pictures from four years ago, where the purification basin has a dragon fountain.

Purification basin at Higashi Honganji, Kyoto

Tricky to get a decent exposure of a shaded object with bright white tents behind it (they were celebrating the 750th anniversary of their founder), but I think I managed.

Crow’s Nest

Time for another look at Kinkakuji, this time with a well-placed observer.

Kinkakuji roof, with crow

Saturday, December 17 2011

Ear rental optional

Surprisingly few of the cosplayers at Toei Studio Park had animal ears. Out of season, or out of stock?

Cosplay at Toei Studio Park

Monday, December 19 2011

Other sources of color

The autumn leaves weren’t the only thing brightening up the Kyoto Botanical Garden.

Kyoto Botanical Garden

(no pictures yesterday? I blame it on Star Wars: The Old Republic)

Thursday, November 22 2012

Back to Japan!

My sister and I have managed to align our schedules for another trip to Japan. Bad news: four months from now. Good news: four months from now, which means cherry blossoms.

Saturday, November 24 2012

Flying in Japan

If you search Expedia for a round-trip flight from Osaka to Naha, the cheapest is $895. If you search JAL’s site, $335. In other words, while it’s fine to use sites like Expedia for your international flights, they’re (coughcough) “suboptimal” for domestic.

And, before you ask, the purpose of this tentative side trip is not to search for busty alien catgirls, but if any show up, I’ll be sure to get pictures.

Friday, March 15 2013

Bloom, you magnificent bastards, bloom!

Official cherry blossom predictions.

The extended forecasts have been getting warmer and sunnier over the past few days, so we may get lucky.

Friday, March 22 2013

Mini Trip Report #1: Doesn’t suck

Early blossoms at Shoseien

Straight from the camera at full size here.

Sunday, March 24 2013

My biggest fan…

Saturday, we did some shopping on Teramachi-dori, and one of my stops was at a shop that sold hand-painted fans. The girl working the counter was very happy with me, because when I picked one and she pulled out slightly different renditions of the same design, I usually said “yeah, I’ll take both”. I significantly increased her sales for the day.

Sunday, we went to the craft market at Kamigamo shrine, and as I was walking past a booth of glass jewelry, the vendor ran out and greeted me, and, sure enough, it was my fan girl.

Thursday, March 28 2013

Not on the menu

Perfectly normal cafe in Kyoto

Full size phone-cam shot here.

[trip report update: some rain, some colds, and some knee problems for my mom have adjusted our plans a few times, but still having lots of fun, and my sister was delighted to belatedly discover that there was a place with delicious katsu curry udon a few blocks from the hotel (one more reason the Citadines is the perfect hotel…). Katsukura Tonkatsu was a big hit with the folks, as expected, and now we need to search the kitchen district in Osaka for the really cool sake pitchers they had (the store they buy them from had only one in stock, and couldn’t order more for us). Lattonzolo D’oro was decent Italian, the dinner at Gion Hatanaka featured two pretty maiko, and my winning streak at their drinking games continues. Cherry blossoms are ranging from barely-budded to overflowing (or, in terms more familiar to anime fans, from DFC to Kyonyuu), making for lovely scenery. Kimono-clad cuties also provide lovely scenery, of course, although the rain cut down on that a bit.

I haven’t been into Osaka Denden Town at all yet, but finding out that book 17 of AsoIku includes all the short stories from the BD releases means that I don’t have to go looking for used copies. Other shopping means that it’s a good thing I didn’t load up on figures, etc. There’s one small item I still hope to acquire in Osaka, though; I doubt I’ll have time to search for a figure of Rio in a duck suit, but perhaps I can at least persuade the Duck Tour folks to sell me a Kappa-chan as a consolation prize.

Saturday, March 30 2013

Spring Happy Steak Viking

No energy to transfer pictures of the sun setting on the bay tonight, but the cruise was quite pleasant, and the Spring Happy Steak Viking was delicious.

Sadly, Nunobiki Falls did not work out, because when the cab driver said it was near where he was dropping us off, he kind of left out the 3/4-mile hike down steep trails that Mom’s knees wouldn’t even attempt. However, it was quite lovely up there, and he did come back for us as promised. And it meant that we got to drive by Even More Cherry Blossoms, since Kobe was in full bloom.

Tuesday, April 2 2013

Anyone in Kyoto right now?

Oh, damn; it seems that part of my Amazon order didn’t ship right away, and I bought so much stuff that I didn’t notice. It arrived today, at the Lawson Karasuma-Gojo, and is being held for pickup.

[Update: got a volunteer. Also, it looks like the package arrived while I was still in Kyoto, but my ISP had a hiccup that kept me from getting the notification in time; now that I have all my email, I see multiple “hey, it’s waiting for you” messages]

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.

Portrait of a happy man…

Why is this photographer smiling?

Happy photographer on Togetsukyou, Arashiyama, Kyoto, Japan
(Continued on Page 4190)

Jiggling the snake

Not a euphemism.

When we opened the carefully-packed bottle of snake booze that we’d ordered through Amazon Japan, the damn thing was upside down in the bottle. I just got email from her reporting that she’d managed to coax it upright before wrapping it back up for delivery.

Habu-shu closeup

Friday, April 5 2013

Our last night in Kyoto

The grounds of Nijo Castle are lit up at night for cherry-blossom viewing. It draws a bit of a crowd.

Night viewing at Nijo Castle, Kyoto, Japan

Saturday, April 6 2013

Sublimation

I took a picture of this cherry tree simply as an alternative to entering the sword shop behind it.

Cherry tree outside Tozando sword shop

Sunday, April 7 2013

Random vacation notes, 2 of N

  • Blu-ray releases are still pretty rare for teen and adult bikini idols, but relatively common for tween bikini idols. Squick.
  • Stores that shelve all Blu-ray titles together really make this stand out.
  • Not that it’s just about lolis and pseudo-lolis; adult video stores have substantial sections devoted to 熱女 (“mature women”, generally older than those featured in the 人妻 (“married women”) section). Also an array of neatly-categorized fetishes that likely prosper because of censorship.
  • The typical pattern in adult videos has an older, dominant partner and a younger, possibly-willing, crying partner (girl-girl is rare, but works the same way). Honestly, if you think sex is supposed to involve consenting adults providing mutual pleasure, you’ll find adult video stores in Japan pretty depressing.
  • The Kyoto Visitors Guide map has prominently marked areas where public smoking is now banned. Apparently the locals haven’t gotten the word yet, though. On the bright side, non-smoking sections in restaurants are gaining in popularity, and some of them even have sensible placement.
  • By the way, the Visitors Guide is possibly the single most important item to pick up when you visit Kyoto; up-to-date listings of events and markets, ads and coupons for tourist shopping, and clear, useful maps for getting around by foot, bus, or subway. (note that their web site doesn’t include the actual maps)
  • The Lonely Planet book has some frustrating omissions. One poor lost soul wandered into the restaurant we were eating at, and the woman running the place asked if I’d help him out. He was trying to get to one of the Noh theatres mentioned in his LP book, and the directions were vague, confusing, and at least partially wrong. They were clearly marked on the Visitors Guide map, along with the closest subway stations.
  • Men who smoke, smoke everywhere; women who smoke, particularly the younger ones, tend to do it in restaurants and cafés. And presumably bars, but I never went into any this time.
  • Explaining the concept of a couple who met through personal ads in a newspaper was difficult without the proper vocabulary. The best part, though, was when the interpreter at Gion Hatanaka finally understood, and attempted to explain it to the maiko. She looked quite thoroughly baffled, demonstrating that her profession keeps her far away from the mainstream dating scene. Sleeping with your head in a box will do that, I suppose.
  • The staff at kimono shops are convinced that if they keep showing you gorgeous expensive things that you don’t really want, eventually they’ll wear you down. I suspect they’re often correct, but we once again managed to escape with our wallets intact.
  • The Nishijin Textile Center has a kimono fashion show several times a day; no pictures from me, since by the time I knew it was starting, I would have had to run downstairs and fight to the front of the crowd, but definitely something to keep in mind for a future trip. Pretty girls, pretty kimonos, and no worries about getting permission to take pictures.
  • They’ve also got a well-stocked souvenir shop that can take care of a lot of your gift shopping.
  • Morita Washi is a paper and crafting shop that’s very cool, and potentially very hard on your wallet. They do some reasonably affordable custom business cards on their papers, but the 10-day turnaround made it something for another trip.
  • Ditto for carved stone hanko, which take about a week at most shops. Bamboo you can get next-day, and horn can be done in an hour or so if you’re in a hurry.
  • There is a guy who’s set up shop outside the gift shop at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum who’ll carve stone seals quickly, but it’s up to you to provide him with a design.
  • Most flavors of Mintia taste horrible. Even worse, almost every convenience store stocks a different subset of flavors, so that when you do find one that’s palatable, you’ll have a hard time finding it again. Juicy Apple, Juicy Grape, and Juicy Navel are good; Lemon-Lime is awful, but seems to be more widely distributed.
  • I couldn’t resist picking up the first two volumes of Nareru! SE, both light novel and manga. Tee-hee.

The hidden cost of cherry blossoms

Shoseien warning sign, Kyoto, Japan

Fortunately, there’s only the one.

Monday, April 8 2013

Not all blossoms grow on trees…

Signs of Spring at Gion Hatanaka

The Maiko dinner at Gion Hatanaka is not cheap, but is definitely worth it. If you’re not a fan of traditional Kyoto cuisine, however, plan on stopping somewhere for more modern fare later.

(I believe that the girl in white has graduated to full geiko status, having reached age 20; the other is still a maiko)

Tuesday, April 9 2013

More blossoms in Arashiyama…

Spring blossoms in Arashiyama

Wednesday, April 10 2013

Not a cherry blossom picture

Sometimes all those white and pink blossoms filling the trees get a bit overwhelming, and you need to turn away, look down, and relax your eyes.

(Continued on Page 4199)

Thursday, April 11 2013

Take one drink if you picked “tiger”

One of the drinking games at the maiko dinner is “Tora tora”, a variant of rock-paper-scissors where the players are hidden from each other by a screen, and step out miming a character: samurai beats tiger, tiger beats grandmother, grandmother beats samurai. We had a large group, but every time someone picked tiger, the other person had picked samurai.

Playing 'Tora tora' at Gion Hatanaka, Kyoto, Japan

Fortunately, they had non-alcoholic drinks available for when the kids lost.

Loser takes a drink (non-alcoholic) at Gion Hatanaka, Kyoto, Japan

When an even-smaller little girl lost a round, the honorable samurai who’d slain her tiger generously gave her the winner’s prize and took the drink instead.

Too cute to lose at Gion Hatanaka, Kyoto, Japan

Friday, April 12 2013

Culture for its own sake

Just in case you plan to set up a backyard saké brewery, here’s how you go about it, courtesy of the folks at Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum.

Step-by-step sake-making at Gekkeikan Museum, Fushimi, Japan

Readable full-size version here. The museum is a fun little side trip, by the way, with a gift shop and tasting bar. The “retro” saké they only sell there is sweeter than most current products; several bottles made it into our luggage, along with their plum wine.

Next trip, we’ll have to visit the Suntory Yamazaki beer and whisky museums, as Jeffrey Friedl did here and here.

One more cherry blossom

Shoseien, Kyoto, Japan

Saturday, April 13 2013

Other blossoms

The Kyoto Botanical Garden had all sorts of blooms. Here’s one of the non-cherry blossoms:

Kyoto Botanical Garden, Kyoto, Japan

Just don’t ask me what this thing is…

(Continued on Page 4204)

Sunday, April 14 2013

Obligatory Golden Pavilion Photo

It’s one of the laws of tourism.

Kinkakuji, Kyoto, Japan

Occupy Nara!

They just want their fair share of the crackers.

Sacred deer, Nara Park, Japan

Monday, April 15 2013

Osaka Castle blossoms

We only had time for a brief visit to Osaka Castle. That still took nearly two hours, since the place was filled with cherry blossoms and their fans.

Osaka Castle, Osaka, Japan

Tuesday, April 16 2013

Luminous Kobe

To be honest, the Luminous Kobe dinner cruise is a great experience, but not much of a photo-op. If you spend some time in Kobe, though, there’s plenty to see; next trip.

View from the top, Luminous Kobe cruise, Kobe, Japan

Wednesday, April 17 2013

Photo-shoot prep at Osaka Castle

I spotted this couple being moved around the scenic spots at Osaka Castle by a camera crew that included some pro video gear; they were likely shooting for a TV show (thanks, Jonathon) newlyweds.

photo shoot at Osaka Castle, Osaka, Japan

Thursday, April 18 2013

There’s always a way

Just because she’s short doesn’t mean she’s willing to miss out on the scenery.

Little girl checking out the scenery in Arashiyama, Japan

Friday, April 19 2013

Reflections in the dark

Cherry blossoms at night, Nijo Castle, Kyoto, Japan

Sunday, April 21 2013

Sakura Mankai

A quick crop of cherry trees in full bloom in a back street in Kyoto.

Full bloom on the backstreets of Kyoto, Japan

Full frame, with an older couple getting their picture taken among the blossoms.

Old couple getting their picture taken under the cherry blossoms, Kyoto, Japan

Tuesday, April 23 2013

Of Japan, but not in Japan

Small detail from a statue in the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. He has a certain “my new social-media avatar” look to him, I think.

Statue detail, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco

Wednesday, April 24 2013

Finding my fan-girl

All the hand-painted fans I bought at the little shop in Kyoto went over well as gifts, so naturally I wanted to make sure I could find the place again. I knew the name, Kyoto Eshi no Mise (京都絵師の店), and the exact street address, (京都市中京区寺町錦小路西入東大文字町288), but Google Maps couldn’t find it, even with the right kanji. (the address was particularly useless, because Japan)

Fortunately, I had backup. First, an old Sony GPS tracker that I carried almost every day, which would give reasonably-useful approximations of where I’d been at the time the receipt was printed; the accuracy would be low in a covered shopping arcade, but I’d have been able to use Street View from there. I didn’t need to do that much work, though, since I also snapped a geo-located picture with my iPhone, and that put me within 20 feet of the shop.

(“京都絵師の店” does find it in a regular Google search , but unless you put quotes around it, the store is buried under irrelevant results; with quotes, there are foursquare checkins, blog reviews, etc)

Friday, April 26 2013

When in doubt, more blossoms

Kyoto Botanical Garden, Kyoto, Japan