April 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]

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 Use Google if you need street-level data and searching, although the store locations may be several years out of date or just plain wrong; best to cut-and-paste from a store's web site, preferably the Japanese version.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


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

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


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

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.

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)

More blossoms in Arashiyama...

Spring blossoms in Arashiyama

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.


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

Specialized vocabulary

This is a hakama, most commonly seen today on martial artists and miko:


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

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…


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

The iPhone/Washlet convergence

I do not want this. Using a smartphone app to remotely control a high-tech Japanese toilet is carrying things just a bit too far.

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

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

Good cutlery shops in Kyoto

If you’re in Kyoto and looking for good Japanese-style kitchen knives, pocket knives, or woodworking tools, Minamoto no Hisahide has excellent stuff and reasonable prices. They’re in the Teramachi shopping arcade off of Shijo-dori, right around the corner from Nishiki Tenmangu shrine (which, by the way, is why the food/kitchen street that runs west from here is called Nishiki Market).

Aritsugu, not far away, is a high-end shop with excellent handmade knives and hammered-copper pots and pans. I don’t like anyone enough to buy gifts there, and I really couldn’t justify filling my luggage with heavy copper that would never get used, so I only window-shopped there.

[Update: I found the receipt, and the third knife shop not only wasn’t in the Teramachi arcade, it wasn’t even in Kyoto! No wonder I never found it again. It was actually the Ichimonji outlet on the Doguyasuji kitchen street in Osaka’s Namba district. We’d stopped in there the first day we were in town, so my memories were quite blurred by the end of the trip.] There’s another knife shop on Teramachi, where I picked up a very nice (and quite affordable!) damascus nakiri for a friend, as well as some of the standard-grade Higo no Kami pocket knives, but at the moment, I can’t find the name. I’ll have to hunt through my receipts.

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

Baffling Japanese spam

Recently, I’ve been getting a lot more infected-Excel Chinese spam than usual, and the majority of the Japanese spam has been bland one-liners with a link to a pay site, so I haven’t mentioned any of it.

This one stuck out for two reasons. First, there’s no URL at all, so no easy payoff for the spammer. Second, well, see for yourself:

From: 栄村良子 【BBガルダン 企画部】
Subject: 読むだけ簡単、貴方の脳の不思議発見

こんちには みさなん おんげき ですか?
わしたは げんき です。
この ぶんょしう は いりぎす の
ケブンッリジ だがいく の けゅきんう の けっか
にんんげは たごんを にしんき する ときに
その さしいょ と さいご の もさじえ あいてっれば
じばんゅん は めくちちゃゃ でも
ちんゃと よめる という けゅきんう に もづいとて
わざと もじの じんばゅん を いかれえて あまりす。
どでうす? ちんゃと よゃちめう でしょ?

Not only is it all written phonetically in hiragana, most words are scrambled, so that the first body line reads “konchini wa, misanan ongeki desu ka?”

It does not appear to be written by assistoroids, so I don’t think the alien catgirls have found my email address.

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

Reflections in the dark

Cherry blossoms at night, Nijo Castle, Kyoto, Japan

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

Important NTP safety tip

When the clocks on internal hosts are drifting out of sync despite the fact that everything runs NTP, make sure that the server everything is pointed at isn’t pointed at itself.

(unless it has an attached GPS or other source of correct time, of course, which this one didn’t)

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

Do the models know?

At the creepy end of the Japanese photobook/DVD market, you can be pretty sure that the very young models don’t really know that being photographed in perfectly ordinary school outfits is fetish bait for middle-aged men, and that the photographers, editors, and stylists feel no urge to enlighten them. Ditto when they set up a scene in the kitchen and carefully adjust her string bikini to emulate the “naked apron” fetish.

But what about the ones who are all grown up?


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)

When in doubt, more blossoms

Kyoto Botanical Garden, Kyoto, Japan

Fun with automatic translation, AsoIku edition

Some days, Google auto-translation just charms me. Eris’ race is キャーティア, “Kyaatia”. Google reliably translates it as “aiiieee tear” or “aiiieee tier”.

…and now I need to read Cat Tail Output!, because it turns out to be a spinoff series where the schoolgirl heroine’s deep dark secret is that she’s Melwin.

Seal of Approval

Zettai Ryouiki

(or, “fun with obscure fonts that are hard to buy outside of Japan”)

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