Lessons Learned

(all vacation entries)

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。

I've seen worse...

(all vacation entries)


  • Passport
  • Tickets, tour vouchers, limo and luggage-transfer coupons
  • Cash and traveler's checks in appropriate quantities
  • Comfortable walking shoes that are easy to slip on and off
  • Camera (20/2.8, 50/1.4, zoom, charger, mini-tripod, media, USB cable, GPS geotagger)
  • Laptop (also charger, ethernet cable)
  • Rented cellphone, in case the company gets really desperate
  • One set of nice clothes (well, better than my usual standard)
  • Enough clean clothes to get through several days, not so many that I can't fill the rest of the suitcase with souvenirs on the way home
  • Headphones, earplugs
  • Coat suitable for sightseeing at ~8,000 feet above sea level on the slopes of a dormant volcano
  • Sony Reader filled with Wikitravel dumps, subway and bus maps, and a whole bunch of stuff located through extensive use of Google Earth Plus
  • Sunglasses
  • Daypack
  • Compact umbrella
  • Sundries
  • Partner in crime
  • Eleven days

Soon. Soon.

Vegas, in short

Luxor Steakhouse: not what it was a few years ago. The meat isn’t as good, and with the loss of their pastry chef, dessert has descended to the ordinary.

Nobu: just say “omakase, traditional”, and you will be rewarded with something wonderful. The nigori sake was also quite tasty. Cover your ears when the American employees attempt to shout “irasshaimase”.

Mandalay Bay: the cocktail waitresses are now in dresses. If this is progress, I want no part of it.

Wynn: it seems there’s a second tier of cocktail-waitress outfit, reserved for special places and exceptionally well-formed employees. I enjoyed the brief exposure I received, but on a future trip, I’ll have to find out where they keep them. Perhaps the next time they send me a cheap room offer, they won’t have filled up by the time I’m able to accept it.

Other than that, the free suite room was nice, the scenery was reasonable, and I remain only lightly bound by the laws of probability.

On the way out, we once again were pleased to find the middle-of-nowhere bonsai dealer on highway 58. Sadly, he wasn’t there on the way back, possibly due to the ridiculous winds between hither and yon, so we didn’t buy any.

Also, in a moment of pure serendipity, we discovered that there’s a Jersey Mike’s on Paradise. Jersey native Dave was stunned by this, especially since he’d just finished saying “is there any chain that doesn’t have a restaurant around here?”. A quick check of the phone book dug the knife in even deeper: this place that is home to mysterious delights peculiar to the Jersey shore, and which cannot be found within 100 miles of the Bay Area, has six locations around Vegas.

Random cuteness

[update: to no surprise, the rights-holders in Japan have finally caught up with Youtube, and forced the removal thousands of video clips. I’m not upset with them about it, particularly for things available on DVD (I own import copies of all of the concert and PV footage I linked below); I just wish it were possible to legitimately watch the ephemera.]

This is just a placeholder for links to random videos on Youtube:


Must... Stop... Can't... Stop...

Lots of people upload videos to Youtube. Lots of people upload music videos to Youtube. Lots of people upload music videos from the 80s to Youtube. This guy cataloged a whole bunch of them. And for every one he’s got listed, there’s a half-dozen more linked to them. Days could pass before I escape this trap.

No-Wynn Situation

In the small pile of mail I found when I got back from Kublacon, there was a nice letter from the Wynn Las Vegas casino/hotel, inviting me out for three free nights in their shiny new place. Good only from 6/5 through 6/9.

As much as I’d enjoy giving the PM of my current project a heart attack by taking three days off next week, I just need a little more lead time for a road trip to Vegas. The artificial urgency created by the letter just doesn’t work on me; they’ll send me another offer later.

Cirque de Soleil: Kà

I kept waiting for something impressive to happen.

This is not a good sign when you’re dealing with a troupe whose reputation is built on delivering something impressive. is entertaining, but if you’ve seen any of the other three Cirque de Soleil shows in Las Vegas, it’s a bit of a letdown.

What’s wrong? First, the lack of any “wow” moments; they deliver a number of decent pieces, loosely strung together by a half-page of storytelling, but nothing that really stands out. Second, the attempt to pass off the usual acrobatics as stylized combat; half a dozen scenes were marred by dreadful “fight” choreography. Third, the balance between technical gimmicks and artistry was weighted heavily toward the former; it looks like the production was built around the hardware, not the other way around, and much of it seems to be used simply because it’s there.

It can’t be a coincidence that the director of O and Mystère was off working on a show for the new Wynn Las Vegas casino…

Did it suck? No, it’s just not worth planning a trip around yet. There are plenty of talented performers in the show, and the sets are technically impressive; once they arrange a proper marriage between the two, they’ll have something. Except for the combat scenes; those really did suck.

[other shows this trip? The reliably terrific Blue Man Group, and the mostly-amusing George Carlin; his political material has always been weak, but the farther the rest of us get away from the early Seventies, the harder he tries to drag us back there. “No thanks, Uncle Dave”]

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