Vacation Miscellany

[pictures are mostly unrelated, but vacation-y]

I took a sterile laptop with me, with nothing on it but a handful of applications with no saved credentials and a copy of 1Password (including the new ssh-agent functionality).

The most useful application was Docker, with a single container running Pi-hole, so that I had ad-blocking on the hotel wi-fi. I still had to deal with ads when looking things up on my phone, but I didn’t spend a lot of time surfing the web anyway.

Our first Tokyo hotel was the Hyatt Regency in Shinjuku. Decent place, but not really convenient to anything, including train and subway stations. We stayed there because my sister got it free with points.

Our Kyoto hotel was the Miyako, just across the street from Kyoto Station. The location was relatively convenient, but it’s on the south side of the station, and the train and subway lines are more accessible from the north side, as are most of the decent restaurants. We spent a lot of time walking through the station to get anywhere. The biggest two flaws of the Miyako are the number of large tour groups that use it (lots of bus traffic, and don’t even try to get into the breakfast buffet), and the incredibly stiff mattresses.

Oddly, despite being a 600-room tourist hotel adjacent to the main train station, most cab drivers didn’t seem to know about it.

Our second Tokyo hotel was the Aloft in Ginza. Terrific location, with lots of good restaurants and convenient train/subway lines, and decent-sized comfortable rooms (with very comfortable beds). The two notable flaws are that it has no tubs (just excellent showers) and the chain is self-consciously hip, with dim mood lighting everywhere, including the elevators and the rooms. Seriously, if you wanted to see yourself in the bathroom mirror, you had to sit down on the supplied stool.

As usual, we flew in and out of Haneda, which is much more convenient than Narita. There’s not much to do outside the secure area, and mostly high-end duty-free shopping inside, but it’s only 30 minutes from most hotels in Tokyo.

We used the SmartEx app to purchase our Shinkansen tickets. It’s improved since we used it in 2019, with the ability to generate QR codes that are directly readable by the gates, so you don’t need to pick up paper tickets any more.

Japanese taxis are small, and even the largest van we could get through Uber for the trip home required a round of Luggage Tetris for my 3 checked bags and my sister’s 4. Why, yes, we did do some shopping. Including luggage shopping.

The A.L.I Edge suitcases are really nice, by the way. Made in Japan, nicely designed, strong and light. We each bought one, her at the Kyoto Yodobashi Camera, me at the Shinjuku Bic Camera. (they don’t have A.L.I luggage at all their stores, and we didn’t find them at any other stores, mostly because the majority of department-store luggage stores are single-brand)

A lot of places that had been on my planning page for 2+ years didn’t survive Covid, or did so in extremely reduced form. Basically, the more a place relied on tourist traffic, the worse off it was after more than two years of lockdown. In some cases, their web sites still made it look like they had a substantial retail presence, when they’d actually shifted most of the merchandise to their online stores.

This included one of the kumihimo suppliers on my list, who no longer had a real Kyoto location, just a small gift shop. Fortunately, I found one in Uji and another in Kyoto that had plenty of pre-cut silk bundles in stock, so I’m set for all sorts of braiding… when I finally set up the stands again. (they’re almost done with the interior work on the house)

The masks are slowly coming off. They’re held in place by social pressure rather than mandates, and it’s starting to fray. Subways will probably be the last place to maintain 100% compliance, but by the end of the trip we could see more faces than at the start.

We never got properly adjusted to Japan time. We were pretty much up by 3 AM every day and ready to crash by 9 PM. The masks did a lot to reduce our energy during the day, making it hard to stay up later; I went through three different types of mask, finally finding some on Amazon that were large enough to be relatively comfortable and that didn’t fog my glasses too badly. The “anti-fog” wipes for your glasses were useless, since the moisture that would have turned into fog instead collected on the inside as liquid, making things blurry.

Felbinac, elastic knee braces, and hot baths kept my knees mostly functional, but the constant stairs were a literal pain. Tokyo was a lot worse than Kyoto, because the subways are so much farther underground. By the end of the trip, pretty much anything that had stairs lost our business. Probably for the best, since otherwise we’d have spent even more money on our final visit to the Kappabashi kitchen/restaurant district.

The folks at Hanaroku were amused the first time we showed up and skipped the course meals to order just the A5 wagyu and the Kagura saké. By the third visit, they were giving us a private room. 😁 Sadly for our plan to show up early for our reservations, the first-floor bar hasn’t reopened yet. Sadly for our wallets, it’s currently being used to show off quality ceramics and other nice products.

We had dinner with two of my sister’s co-workers, both great people. She had tasked them with picking a good restaurant (because they were sick of taking people to the Kill Bill place), specifying “sushi or steak”. They chose an izakaya in Ginza that was easy for them to get to from work, but we arrived first, and were baffled by their choice. The main draw was their selection of saké, which was fine, but the English menu was full of squid balls and other weird shit. There was literally nothing that we were willing to eat… on the English menu. They had all kinds of normal izakaya food, but only on the Japanese menu, which really made it feel like they didn’t want foreigners there.

Closer to home, it turns out the first cable cut is free, so the landscapers won’t have to pay for reconnecting my Internet unless they cut it again. Which, given that it runs across an area they’re actively grading and planting, isn’t impossible. A least they’re now actively working with the cable company on getting the new line clearly marked when it’s buried later this week.

Please stand by...

Early in the week, the Internet went down at my house, which I knew about because my security cameras stopped being remotely accessible. I asked my stepdad to go over and check things out, since there had been some storm-related outages in the area. He reported that everything seemed fine, and that the landscapers had started work on the patio.

When I got home from Japan last night, my connection was still down, but all the gear seemed functional, so I called for service. This morning, I took a look outside, and I think I see the problem: the buried cable isn’t completely buried any more, and the service box on the side of the house is open. Apparently someone on the landscaping crew fucked things up, so this will not be a free service, and will have to come out of their bill.

Catching up on anime and uploading some vacation pictures will have to wait until I’m connected through something better than my phone.

Otaku No Hosomichi

This was aligned with my interests:

Despite the enticingly-bound Cutie Honey just inside the entrance, let’s just say that the reality of Nakano Broadway is not as exciting or interesting as the version in Asobi Ni Iku Yo!. A lot of storefronts are empty, a lot of the rest are Mandarake specialty shops these days, and nothing really opens until noon.

I bought some collected capsule-toy cats, a Girls Und Panzer tank with the girls riding it, and an Onsa-chan with bike. I was strongly tempted by the large Rory Mercury figure, but it didn’t have a box to protect her polearm, so it would have been “fun” to pack.

Also, it was over $150.

Most of the figures were from recent shows I don’t follow; nothing was as old as the Happy Lesson figure I found earlier, except for some major collectibles with matching prices. Lots of raunchy porn, including a sex-toy shop.

This, also, was aligned with my interests:

I was quite surprised to see a framed print of the cover of one of the original Dirty Pair novels displayed in a bookstore that was half art gallery in Ginza Six. “Oh, that would be cool”, I said, and then saw that it was signed, from a limited edition of 30, and cost ¥880,000.

This was not the most expensive artsy thing on display, by several orders of magnitude…

There you are!

I did not buy Rem & Ram capsule toys.

I did, however, buy a light-up duckie and a few onsen duckies.

I searched a lot of machines in different malls, and the only place I found these was in Akihabara Station on the way to the exit.

I didn’t actually buy anything in Akihabara. The ground floors were full of the latest interests, and the upstairs were up stairs. Perhaps if I’d gone there at the start of the trip…

(I did, however, buy a whole bunch of used stuff on Amazon Japan using a free trial of Prime; useful to be in the same hotel for 12 nights)

I did not go into this pachinko parlor in Akihabara to try out the new Tanya slot machine.


People generally are surprised by my Japanese, assuming I’m much more fluent than I am, like tonight’s waiter who was failing to come up with enough English to explain that it would take a while to prepare our orders, and said “jikan ga kakarimasu”. I translated for my sister, and he was pleased that I’d understood, leading him to treat me as fluent when I went up to pay the bill.

Last week, however, we ran into a waiter who managed to hear “diet cola” as daikon oroshi. We were a bit puzzled when our dinners came out with one drink and a side of cold grated radish. We Did Not Know This Was A Thing.

Ultimate Burger...

Someone at a plastic food sample store on Kappabashi Street immortalized the American Dream:

Our last few days in Tokyo will mostly be shopping, since we didn’t want to ship it all to Kyoto and back, so I might not break out the big camera again this trip. Also, our current hotel just has showers, so I won’t be able to give my aching knees a long hot soak every night to recover from all the walking.

I really need to prioritize getting my knees worked on before the next trip. When’s the next trip? No idea; my sister’s planned next year around the upcoming Springsteen tour, so I’m seriously considering finding a good time to “work from home” out of an extended-stay hotel somewhere in Japan for a month or so. It would be very good for my rusty Japanese, which still gets me in trouble when I speak rapidly and smoothly and then can’t keep up with the responses.

In other news, this guy’s everywhere:

Literally; there’s a whole ad campaign photoshopping him into various backgrounds.

Owlcat Café

The Shinkyogoku shopping arcade in Kyoto (next street past Teramachi) now has a Bengal Cat Café and an Owl Forest, across the street from a Mameshiba Café. As far as I can tell, none of them wear maid costumes. Although, it is Japan…

Next stop, Tokyo!

Up for adoption...

This little fella was hanging out at the Toji Antique Market, looking for a home. He’s got some miles on him, but that just means he’s got stories to tell.

Kitagawa Craft Garden was small, but had a few vendors with interesting stuff. Toji was a different mix of items than their monthly flea market, but just as huge. If I were willing to pack and ship things home, I could have spent a few grand there. As it is, I got out pretty cheap.

More money left for Akihabara and Nakano Broadway, I suppose…

Kagura-tan desu!

My sister and I were wandering around Shimogamo Shrine yesterday carrying big shopping bags plastered with an anime-style store mascot, not something I ever expected to be able to get her to do.

It worked because they were full of premium booze we’d just picked up at Matsui Shuzo. Sadly, for a sake brewery that’s been around since 1726, you’d think they’d include at least a small callback to the classic poster girl who was hanging in their store. (the poster, that is, not the girl…)

In other news, my sister’s habit of wanting to take long walks on concrete above Perfectly Good Subway Lines has taken its toll on one of my toes; no blisters, just a subungual hematoma that I need to baby for a few days. Seriously, I don’t need to walk 9 miles a day on vacation, and if I’m going to, I want it to be a slow ramble around a scenic destination with a camera in my hand, not a power-walk from A to B on a city sidewalk.

Anyway, I now have an excuse to cut back on that nonsense. Also, it’s just above freezing out there this morning, so we’re taking a train one stop to go directly to the Umikoji Park Handicraft Market instead of walking.

For the rest of the day, I’ll stick to shopping near the station, and get all my purchases carefully packed for sending to our Tokyo hotel in a few days. The pre-cut braiding silk packets will neatly fill in the gaps. Tomorrow, two markets with possible rain.

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