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Milestones

I just wanted to note that my blog is now over 1 year old and I posted my 100th entry sometime near the one year anniversary.

Wow.

100 entries, 1 year. That is an average of 3.65 days between entries. That doesn’t seem right. As I suspected, the blog has changed over time. At first I concentrated on the shock of being in Japan, and then the trials and tribulations of settling in to my place. I had a full year of matsuri to report on, and the seasons to experience. I mixed in a couple of vacations.

So now what? I assume I’ll continue to find amusement in Japan and I’ll report on it. Plus, folks always like vacation pictures, so I’ll include those as well. I like the blog as a tool to communicate with friends and family, so I’ll continue to update it as best I can.

I’ve been quiet lately because I’ve been in the States and have been able to communicate directly with folks. Provided swine flu doesn’t change my plans, I am soon on my way back to Japan, ready for interesting reportage.

Economic stimulator

Hey! I’ve done over 100 posts now. Do I think my life is really that interesting?

Well, although the posting will say 16 April, it is still the 15th of April for me. I’ve been back in the US for about 7 hours now. In that time, I’ve

  • Rented a car
  • Unpacked
  • Showered
  • Made two Doctor’s appointments
  • Bought a suit and tie at Macy’s
  • Bought a jacket and shirt at Ben Sherman
  • Purchased product for my hair
  • Purchased new glasses and ordered lens
  • Visited one of my favorite independent book stores only to learn that it had closed.

If the economy turns around in a day you can thank me. This was not a cheap day.

Train strategy

April 1 is the beginning of the new fiscal year in Japan. It is also the time that the incoming “class,” or “new faces,” begins at major Japanese companies. The company where I work is no different. On April 1, I noticed a new crop of black-suited manga-character-resembling wakamono (young people). As a result, my usual somewhat manageable train ride was becoming quite crowded. As a matter of fact, it was becoming somewhat frustrating. My frustration started when everyone was queuing up for the little spur train we have to take to get closer to the office. The regulars know the rules – you come up the stairs and then form two single file queues behind the wicket and calmly progress through the wicket, down the stairs, and queue for the next train.

The trouble began when the new faces decided an orderly queue was not appropriate. Instead they lined up in blobs of black suits around the queue and clogged the normal flow through the wicket. How dare they not pay attention to the implied rules of the area. If they are late off the train, then they should go to the back of the line and pay the price for their poor planning. They can’t just CUT.

In the past, the car that I took to the spur train station would be crowded, but not that crowded. I had ample time to get from the train, up the stairs, through the wicket, down the stairs and queued for the next train without worry of getting in the doorway smash zone. We’ve all seen pictures of the people getting smashed into the train. Strangely, this usually happens only around the doors in Nagoya. The aisle between the bench seats, while crowded, is not smashingly cramped. I could almost always be guaranteed to get a seat or a aisle standing position. That is, until the new faces. In the past two weeks I’ve gotten smashed, opted for the next train to avoid the smash, and even walked the 25 minutes to work instead of taking the spur train.

Tuesday I had a meeting that required me to stay on my usual schedule. Knowing the problems of late, I ended up modifying my train ritual. Instead of sitting or standing in the aisle during my first train ride, I positioned myself in the standing area right by the door so that I would be able to quickly leave the car, rush up the stairs, and get in the queue behind the wicket before it got too ling. I HAD to get the next train. It worked, but I resented the fact that I had to “compete” for my spot on the train.

The new faces are getting better – they have begun to understand the unwritten rules associated with the spur train station. Eventually, as they are spread to different locations or have different start times their numbers will dwindle. In the meantime though, I have to be vigilant!

Tokyo randomness

Over the weekend, I went up to Tokyo to hang out with Ben and Carrie, and also with Tomo when he wasn’t working. It was sort of a random weekend with no real initial plans. Ben and Carrie wanted to check out Asakusa and Kappabashidori. Asakusa is famous for the sensoji temple, and Kappabashidori is famous for excellent cooking supplies including famous knife shops. It had been a while since I had been to Asakusa, but it never fails to interest me. It is the most “touristy” place in Tokyo that I know. The approach to the temple is lined with souvenir shops with some rather interesting things available. The temple was under renovation – is this THE year for temple renovation? I have never seen so many temples under renovation. Kappabashidori was interesting as well – lots of cookware shops, knives, and plastic food shops. I find the plastic food fascinating. We had a delicious lunch at Freshness Burger, and then went to Akihabara.

I’ve never really understood Akihabara – perhaps I just don’t go to the correct place. We checked out a manga shop featuring dojin comics. Carrie felt a little out of place as we looked at book covers with a wide assortment of big-breasted semi naked cat-eared girls. There were only 7 floors of books, but the building was skinny. We also hit a few electronics shops as well, which can be almost as visually shocking as the manga shop.

For dinner, we met Jin and had a good visit.

Souvenir shops in Asakusa

Souvenir shops in Aksakusa

 

Yes we can! Obama-mania has not sold out yet in Japan.

Yes we still can

The area around senjo temple

Sensoji

 

Ben and Carrie look like they are having fun.

Ben and Carrie in Asakusa

 

We noticed some funny things around Akasuka and Kappabashidori. I am extremely curious what the heart farting character represents. Oh, such pretty farts. It is noce that I can maintain my juvenile humor after all these years.

What is this about?

 

Also, I think this gas cassette is definitely not a good idea to try to carry on to a plane.

Not for carry-on luggage

 

And where exactly does cowgel come from?

Does cowgel get the blues?

 

The symbol for kappabashidori is a frogman. I thought it was strange.

Frogman

 

I was fascinated by the plastic food. There were several cases of plastic beer. Don’t the ice covered cans look great?

Frosty beer

 

Loads and loads of beer

 

There was case after case of sample food.

Fake plastic food

 

Sunday we had no real plan either. We waked from Shidome to Tokyo Station to meet Kevin for lunch. We hit Ginza and the Sony showroom. The Sony showroom is not the technological showplace it once was. I think Sony has not found the next new thing and is suffering. After lunch, I remembered the JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) showroom was nearby, so what better place to take two space geeks? Carrie bought an H2A rocket pen and some spacefood!

Can’t you see them as astronauts?

Astronaut Ben

 

Astronaut Carrie

 

We also visited a display celebrating Japan’s World Baseball Classic championship win. I had to photograph Ichiro and Matsuzaka’s actual jerseys.

Ichiro's jersey

 

Matsusaka's jersey

A well timed visit for sakura

Gosh, has it been so long since my last blog entry?  Time does fly, and I’m pretty sure it is going to take a couple of days to actually get this entry posted.  I’ve been very busy the past few weekends. 

Two weeks ago, Tomo was visiting and we visited Joel Robuchon’s La Table again.  It was very good.  Tomo took really nice pictures and I was going to do the whole foodie thing and narrate the meal.  But I realize that I am not really a foodie.  I can say that we enjoyed the meal and the wine course very much. 

On April 1, Ben and Carrie arrived from LA for a visit to Japan.  Tomo came down to Nagoya again on Thursday, I took Friday and Monday off, and I got to go sightseeing with friends.

Aichi-ken, the prefecture that Nagoya is in, is home to Toyota.  Mondays through Fridays, Toyota offers a plant tour.  I have always wanted to go, and thought this was a perfect opportunity to visit the factory.  You have to reserve months in advance, and there is only one English tour a day.  Cameras are not allowed inside the factory so I don’t have any pictures of interest.  It was interesting to see the Toyota factory in operation, especially for geeks like us who have all studied the Toyota Production System in one way or another (three engineers and Tomo worked briefly at Hino).  We were all impressed by the welding robots.  They looked like animals!  We were also impressed by the parts kit carts and their automatic delivery from the stock room to the assembly position.  The more I think about it, the more interesting it is.

We went to dinner at an Okinawan izakaya called Nanpu with a colleague from work.  She is well known at the restaurant and I am somewhat known, so we always have a good meal and a good time there.  The group picture is fuzzy, so unfortunately no picture of that as well.

Tomo had to leave on Saturday, and the weather was icky, so there’s not much to report.  I think we wandered around a little bit and watched a movie (Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist) on AppleTV.  Basically we hit department stores in the afternoon and did something in the morning that I cannot recall.

Sunday though was an absolutely gorgeous day.  The temperature was warming up, and the sky was blue.  We, or I guess more correctly, I, decided that we would go to Seto and visit a ceramics town.  Seto is still in Aichi-ken but is a little bit out in the country.  It turns out a lot of places, but not all places, are closed on Sunday.

Ben and Carrie enjoy the fine ceramics in a shop.

Ben and Carrie in Seto

 

We wandered around, and discovered an older Japan compared to Nagoya.  We found a shop where you can buy gakuran.

Gakuran shop

 

And we saw a restaurant (I think) with some precariously stacked empty crates.  This is NOT an optical illusion, the crates were nearly defying gravity.

Precarious crates

 

I saw something that I had not seen in a long time in Japan, an alcohol vending machine, jidohanbaiki ,自動販売機.  I’m not sure why the machine is so poorly framed, I promise I did not sample its wares.

Alcohol from a vending machine

 

Luckily, Ben and Carrie timed their trip just in time for さくら (sakura  - cherry blossoms).  Here’s a nice shot from a temple in Seto.

Sakura in Seto

 

We left Seto in time to go to Tsurumai park in Nagoya to see the さくら and enjoy 花見 (hanami – the tradition of enjoying the blooming of the blossoms).  People celebrate hanami mostly by putting out blue tarps, bringing in food and alcohol, and getting rippingly drunk.

Hanami in Tsurumai Park, Nagoya

 

Of course, hanami is open to all ages to enjoy, year after year after year.

Hanami in Tsurumai Park, Nagoya

 

Monday we went to Kyoto.  The weather was fantastic, and the cherry blossoms were great.  We visited Ryoanji, Kinkakuji, Ginkakuji, The Philosopher’s Walk, and Kiyomizudera.  It was a very full day.  I’d love to share some pictures from Ryoanji, but unfortunately I discovered shortly after our visit to Ryoanji that I was shooting without a CF card in my camera.  In other words, a camera with no film.  What is the biggest shame though is that it was the first day of school in Japan for the new year.   We passed a kindergarten just as the students were released when we were walking from Ryoanji to Kinkakuji.  The mothers were very dressed up as were the kids.  I took a picture of a mother in a a kimono and her child.  I was interested to see how it turned out, to I tried to review it on my camera.  At that point I realized the photo was not recorded.  That’s too bad!  Oh well.  I reconfigured my camera so it would not shoot without a card now.  What follows is a fairly traditional set of tourist pictures in Kyoto.  But since this is a blog, I see absolutely nothing wrong with tourist pictures.  After all, we were tourists.

A look at Kinkakuji, or The Temple of the Golden Pavilion.  This was the setting for a famous Yukio Mishima book titled, you guessed it, “The Temple of the Golden Pavilion.”

Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Kyoto

 

We then took a taxi across town to the area of the Ginkakuji, or the silver pavilion.  We ate lunch at a famous udon restaurant named Omen (which always makes me think of the movie series).  From there, we went down Philosopher’s Walk which was surrounded by sakura.  We continued to walk to Kiyomizudera.  It was quite a haul.

The ginkakuji was also undergoing renovation, so I took more pictures of the grounds.  The gardens at the ginkakuji are beautiful.  Here are a couple of shots of the rock gardens.

Ginkakuji zen garden

 

Ginkakuji zen garden

 

Ginkakuji zen garden

 

There are also luscious moss fields on the hillsides.

Ginkakuji hillside

 

Ginkakuji hillside

 

 

What is interesting is to see the variety of clothes people will wear to the temple.  The shoe choices always get me.  I don’t think there is any such thing as “sensible shoes in Japan.  But are heels really the right idea for such a rough road?

The right shoes at the right time

 

It is always nice to see people out walking in traditional clothes, although the practicality can be debated as well (photo cropped).

Kimonos at Ginkakuji

 

The Philosopher’s Walk, or 哲学の道, is lined with cherry trees.  I have megabits of sakura photos.  That can get a little, well, boring after a few pictures of white-pink blossoms.  So I sampled just a few.

Sakura on Philosopher's Walk

 

Sakura on Philosopher's Walk

 

We finished up the evening in Higashiyama where I took a picture of a shrine near kiyomizudera.

 

Night light up on Higashiyama