2007 Japan Vacation

I've seen worse...

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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?

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.


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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.]

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

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.


Mt. Fuji from Oowakudani

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