December 2011

But what does one do...

…with two Hoihoi-san figures…


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.


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

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

One common place you'll hear -sama used outside of set expressions

At the airport, when airline employees are calling customers up to the counter for checkins and upgrades.

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.


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

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

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

The only piece of camera gear I bought in Japan

The Ninja Reflector, which can be used either to keep room light and your reflection from appearing in a photo, or bounce a bit of extra light onto the front of the subject. They also have a full-body version.

Sadly, while it’s available at Amazon Japan, it’s flagged in the database as “can’t be shipped internationally”. The same thing happens to items like hand coffee grinders, which get treated as kitchen appliances.

On a side note, it was a real struggle to get out of Yodobashi Camera without a suitcase full of new gear. If the dollar had been where it was four years ago against the yen, I’d have been pulling out the reserve credit card…

Kyoto Tower

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

Kyoto Tower

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

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 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.

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

They bought crackers

Nara deer in hot pursuit

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

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.

Stratos 4 Advance

One of the things I discovered on my recent trip was that there were ten OVA episodes for Stratos 4, continuing the story. They were subbed by SS-Eclipse, whose torrent is still seeded, but since I discovered this by finding the DVD box set at a decent price, I only needed the softsubs, which were also floating around out there.

"Leaves are for tourists..."

“​…I’ve got work to do.”

Pollination at Kyoto Botanical Garden

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

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

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)

In Beards We Trust

The Trustworthiness of Beards. The creator’s site is toast right now, but it’s by Matt McInerney.

Our Best And Brightest

Or, well, not:

"You know, this is what happens with communism. It’s a great concept. On paper it makes perfect sense. But once you put a human being in power, it shifts. We saw it in Russia, we’ve seen it all around the world. It’s nuts. But, I keep my fingers crossed."

--- Whoopi Goldberg, lamenting that the late Kim Jong-il's legacy was just an implementation problem

Shortest JW visit ever

There are frequent discussions online about how to end an unwanted visit by Jehovah’s Witnesses. The general consensus is that the sure-fire “stop bugging me forever” technique is to quietly, sincerely say, “I’m sorry, I’ve been disfellowshipped”, which means you’ve been kicked out of the Witnesses, and talking to you can send them to hell, too.

I seem to have found an even better way. I was working from home on Thursday, when I got the knock on my door. I answered it to find a stunning young hispanic woman leading a troop of Watchtower-holders, whose face fell the moment she saw me.

In halting English, she asked, “do you know if your neighbors speak Spanish?”

“Need a clue, take a clue,
 got a clue, leave a clue”