Sprint Japan

A couple of weekends ago a friend of mine from LA came to visit me for the weekend. Yes, for the weekend. We were IMing one day and I asked him when he was coming to visit. At that time I thought my days here were numbered (now, I think I have gotten extended again but I have no paperwork to support that) and he was going to the East Coast for work in the Fall, so he hopped on line and bought a ticket. For a weekend. Cool, I say, always glad to hace visitors.

So what do you do in a weekend in Nagoya? Go other places! Hey, if you only have from 8:00 pm on a Friday until Noon on a Monday, why should we just hang out in my apartment / cave in Nagoya. If you had two days what would you do? We went to Kyoto on Saturday and Tokyo on Sunday. The old, the new, and some expensive transportation costs.

For Nagoya-ites, of course the first night I had to take him to Yamachan. Nagoya tebaski, it doesn’t get any more Nagoya than that other than maybe kishimen. It was a hit.

Saturday morning we hopped on the shinkasen and went to Kyoto. I have several variations on the same itinerary. We checked out Kyoto Station, then visited Ryoanji, Kinkakuji, and Gingakuji (with a stop at Omen restaurant). Instead of Higashiyama and Kiyomizudera, with took the Gion option. That turned out to be very interesting. Back to the train station, Nagoya, dinner (my favorite ramen) and then crashing hard.

Kyoto Station –

Cavernous Kyoto Station

The taxi stand outside the station

 

What makes a terrace happy?

Everyone wants a happy terrace

 

I’ve described Kyoto many times before, here, and here, and here. I’m not going to describe it all again. I will say though that this is the first time I’ve ever been here in the late Spring. I’ve been here for sakura and fall colors, but never this time. I think Kyoto is beautiful in all seasons, except for maybe the dog days of summer. Well, even then it is probably beautiful but the heat is likely too oppressive to remotely enjoy it. I was carrying two cameras, so I decided to use my “big” camera and shoot only black and white. I used my soon-to-be-deceased point and shoot for color. That’s what I thought anyway. The leaves were remarkable.

Fresh leaves at Ryoanji

Lush green-ness in Kyoto

 

To get a little off topic, I have been shooting in RAW with the option to save a JPG of the image as well. I shot RAW because it is the pure sensor output – no processing by the camera. Well, when I loaded my images in to Aperture, I only saw color. I guess Aperture, although it had both the RAW and JPG, only chose to display the RAW so everything was in color! I went searching for the black and white, found them, but it was harder to preview them. The cool thing is that there are a few pictures I shot that are more interesting in color so I never lost that data. But now editing and browsing in Aperture is a little difficult. I haven’t fallen in love with Aperture and don’t know what it actually gives me. Even the directory structure got all messed up.

So, as I said, I shot in black and white mostly, and for this blog entry I’ll try to remain true to my assignment. However, I did shoot some in color and there might be a few that I will allow myself to start with the RAW image because, well, color was better.

Ryoanji

 

Ryoanji

 

Ryoanji

 

Ryoanji carving

 

Which way? The usual route, but please do not touch the trees.

The usual route

 

Do NOT touch the trees

 

As Aaron is just a child and a triathlete at that, I figured we could walk from Ryoanji to Kinkakuji. It was swarming with folks of course. I’ve saturated on Kinkakuji quite honestly but it is a must stop for first time visitors. It was school trip time, so the place was crawling with junior high students. We were “interviewed” by some students and that was pretty funny. When they asked where I was from and I answered, “Nagoya” I think they were a little confused. Heh heh.

A few pictures from Kinkakuji –

Kinkakuji

 

Kinkakuji

 

And the swarming students at Kinkakuji (and Ginkakuji) –

Kinkakuji

 

Ginkakuji

 

We caught a taxi to Ginkakuji, and stopped for udon at Omen. Stull yummy, the first restaurant I ever went to in Kyoto. Thanks Kevin. Ginkakuji was really nice this time. The renovation was complete and the grounds were beautiful. We did a little of the Philosopher’s Walk as well.

Ginkakuji

 

Ginkakuji

 

Ginkakuji detail

 

The curtain of the udon shop.

Omen oden shop

 

I thought we’d go to Gion next. I’ve never really wandered around the Geisha district. When I was in Kyoto with my family, a taxi driver took us through that area. We decided to walk through andenjoyed the old school flavor. How much was old and how much was made to look old I’m not sure. While we were walking around we say a Maiko walking down the street. I felt a little guilty but I snapped a picture. There was a westerner basically just running in front, taking a load of pictures, running in front, taking pictures, and so on. I thought it was a little bit rude. We wandered around a little more and kept bumping into Maiko. We saw an old すけべ Japanese guy chasing Maikos as well so I didn’t feel so bad.

Street scenes in Gion,

Gion

 

Gion

 

Gion

 

Gion

 

It's my museum, I'll do what I want

 

A high school archery club, possibly post event,

Archery team

 

And finally a Maiko,

Maiko in Kyoto

 

We decided to walk to Kyoto Station from Gion. We came across another beer vending machine, and this time Aaron could not pass it up. When we got to Kyoto Station, the light was fantastic so I snapped a few pictures there as well.

Aaron buys a beer,

Aaron buys beer from a vending machine

 

Kyoto station as darkness falls,

Kyoto Station

 

… and in color.

Kyoto Station at night

 

We ended the night with a very satisfying Sapporo ramen at the Nagoya train station. We got home and Aaron passed out. Not bad for day 1.

And on to Tokyo

After a great day in Kyoto, Tokyo promised to be even better. We were planning on meeting Tomo and then running around the city together. Except Tomo was too tired to get out of bed so I rearranged our plan – better known as making it up as you go along. We got to our first cool place, I pulled my “big” camera out of the bag and turned it on. Except it didn’t turn on. Drat. The battery was fully charged, and snuggly in the charger in my apartment. Well, luckily I have two cameras. I pulled out my year old point and shoot and powered it on. Except it didn’t power on either. It had its battery. So Tokyo was captured on the iPhone camera. Oh well. The bad thing is I ended buying a new battery for the point and shoot, and the problem still existed. So I bought a new charger. Still won’t power on. So I guess the camera is just dead. I really don’t want to buy a new one here because they are more expensive (yeah, go figure) but I’ve paid for half a camera just trying to get the broken one working.

We first went to Harajuku / Meiji shrine and looked at the Goth. Where did everyone go? I guess I’m 15 years behind the times. Aaron declared he was temple / shrine saturated. That didn’t take long. We wanted to check out a bicycle shop nearby so we walked through Yoyogi Park. I had never been there before, and its HUGE. We checked out the remarkably tiny bike shop and walked down Kitayama to Shibuya. We found conveyor belt sushi so lunch was solved. We were meeting Tomo at Shibuya Station and ran across a festival in the central part of Shibuya. With bon odori and everything. What the heck? It was a strange site.

Once we met up with Tomo we ran some errands and wandered up to Omotesando / Aoyama. We did the usual Prada building gander, and walked through A Bathing Ape. At that point, we all declared it was time to sit and chill. Aaron and I had been walking for days on end. We went to the Paris priced Anniversaire café / wedding factory and had some drinks. It was nice actually to sit and watch the people go by while chatting. I love the European café feel and they are few and far between.

We then went to Tsukishima to enjoy monja and okonomiyake. Yum. Tomo is an expert monja and okonomiyake chef, so we had a great meal. And Aaron wasn’t grossed out at all by it. We headed to the Oedo onsen in Odaiba and had a nice soak before catching the last train to Nagoya. What a weekend. Busy, and fun filled.

Don’t forget your indoor shoes

This weekend I was able to take advantage of my Christmas present for 2009. Long time readers of this blog, especially my one trusty reader, may recall that I had a gas leak in my home in the US and spent much of my Christmas vacation back in the States getting it repaired. And of course I was gasless, heatless, dryerless, hot waterless and so on. Part of the plan at Christmas was my gift – a stay at The Ritz-Carlton Marina Del Rey. Nice. With all that was going on though, it was just too much to try to do. Part of the experience was to get away, enjoy the “hotel within the hotel” of the club lounge where “ladies and gentlemen serve ladies and gentlemen.” If I was running back and forth to home checking up on the plumber and using The Ritz-Carlton as a shower and a heated room only, the intent of the gift would surely be missed. So instead, we canceled and vowed to hit some place here in Asia, perhaps Hong Kong.

This weekend was a 東京事変 (Tokyo Jihen) concert in Osaka. It is fronted by Shiina Ringo, who put on an excellent show in 2008. Since we were going to the show, this was a great weekend to take advantage of The Ritz-Carlton Osaka. We could stay there, enjoy all the presentations of the Club Lounge (including way too much champagne and other alcohol), and see the concert.

The Ritz-Carlton Osaka

The trip started rather ominously as Tomo forgot the concert tickets at home, and had to cancel his flight to Osaka to go back home and pick up the tickets. Oops. Thankfully, he caught the bullet train, I met up with him in Nagoya, and we headed to Osaka. We were only a few hours behind schedule.

The Ritz-Carlton Osaka is very nice, but it has an almost over-the-top “English charm” feel to it. They managed to pull it off though, and it didn’t feel too heavy.

The Ritz-Carlton Osaka

The service was impeccable, and the staff very friendly. When we were showed to the room, the hostess broke out of character with excitement when we said we were seeing 東京事変. It was really very cute. She said she was so excited in gave her goosebumps.

We were able to get late checkout today, shifting from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm. That makes a big difference as we wanted to use all of the facilities the hotel had to offer, including the gym and the pool. We donned our “workout clothes” and headed to the gym. We were intercepted at the door and questioned whether we had “indoor shoes” on. Uh oh. No, we didn’t bring our indoor shoes so we were not allowed entrance to the workout equipment. Yes, this is a particularly Japanese custom. Remember when you couldn’t wear “street shoes” on your wooden gym floor in junior high school or high school? At least I couldn’t. Well, imagine the same rules in a carpeted workout area full of robust equipment. That’s Japan! It made me so frustrated – I just wanted to work up a really good sweat on a nice exercise bike. I currently do not OWN a pair of indoor exercise shoes, so it looks like the next time we stay at a nice hotel we’ll have to call ahead to see if the gym requires indoor shoes or not. When we stayed at the Ritz-Carlton Tokyo, THEY let us wear our outdoor shoes. Maybe they just didn’t catch us in time.

They gave me a swim cap (swim caps are required at almost all pools in Japan), made us take off our shoes, and allowed us to swim. I’m a really bad swimmer, so I did some laps in a 20 meter pool and called it a day. Tomo, who is a swimmer, got in a kilometer. I wish I enjoyed swimming. At least they let me swim in my board shorts and didn’t require a Speedo. Not that there’s anything wrong with a Speedo, I just didn’t have one.

Japan travel hint – if you are traveling in Japan and staying in nice hotels with fitness centers, don’t forget your swim cap and your indoor shoes! Of course, tattoos are grounds for denying service. But I knew that.
 

And now, after a rather long hiatus from Japanese class, I have homework hanging over me that I haven’t begun to even think about. Sigh.

The mother lode of gakuran

The new school started in April in Japan. In March, I was wandering through the upper reaches of a Nagoya department store (and in May I finally got around to actually posting it) and discovered where a lot of students buy their gakuran. Here, every person can live their Cosplay [LINK] fantasy and get JUST the Japanese school uniform they want.

Gakuran for the 2010 school year

Actually, I don’t know if you can really buy one without a specific reason or not. Perhaps they have rules to keep people from posing as students. These pictures though show the variety in the various school uniforms. Notice there is a theme to the uniform – dark. There is one school though that sports a tan coat and gray plaid pants. I’m not sure why this school is not represented.

Gakuran for the 2010 school year

My interpreter has a son that just started high school. She told me multiple department stores sell uniforms for the same schools, and that you can get varying degrees of quality of gakuran depending on where you buy it. I wonder if, even though the uniform is supposed to make everyone the same, perhaps the quality of the uniform causes differentiation among the students?

I’ve written about gakuran before, both at this link and this link, and I get a LOT of search hits as well for gakuran. Perhaps I’ll increase my traffic of 助平 (すけべえ – sukebe – lecherous) lurkers now.

3000+

I’ve had over 3000 visitors to my blog since January 1, 2010. That’s not bad over a 4 month period. OK, I know friends who get that kind of traffic in a day, but still…

Although a lot of my hits are for really icky searches that need not be repeated here, I’ve had almost 2000 unique page views. Coupled with the 3000+ views, that means I do have some people coming back. Thanks all, for the continued support. I’ll try to post more consistently.

It is nice being back in my apartment in Nagoya where all my “stuff” is. Maybe that inspired me to blog. Or maybe blogging from LA about Japan just seems strange.

A snapshot of my stats

iGot an iPad

The one reader of my blog knows that I’m a big fan of Apple products. I’m usually not an early adopter but I knew that I was not going to back in the States for a little while after this trip and I was jonesing for a iPad. Although the exchange rate is improving, it is still more economical to buy the unit is the US. So I did. I wanted to buy the 32GB model with WiFi only, but they only had the 64GB model in the Apple Store. So I got the MaxiPad (a worn out joke of course).

The 1st Generation iPad

So what do I think? In the long run, I think this thing could have serious educational and industrial applications. I know immediately how I could use it at work. With the right Apps it could be a great tool for our team. Enough said about my work. I also see immediate medical applications as well. Can you imagine pulling up X-rays or lab results on the screen and sharing it with a patient? It would be like a typical chart, only much more versatile (with the right App).

I haven’t really gone all in yet, as my main computer is in Nagoya and I didn’t want to get a bunch of Apps that I had to buy on my laptop while traveling. I had the patience to wait until I got back to Japan. So I don’t know the full extent of the iPad yet. I found it very convenient though for some things. I wanted to review some lab work that my Doctor emailed to me without any explanation. I was sitting in an airport waiting to board, so I accessed my email, pulled up the PDF of my lab work, then went to a couple different internet sites to do a little research. Very convenient. I could have used my iPhone as well, but the screen area just doesn’t compare.

Sheesh!I checked out the iBookstore as well and I give it a so-so, or as Aunt Linda would say, “I give it a, “Are you kidding me?” and three, “My DOG could design a better site.” Sheesh.” I think Apple needs to make browsing the bookstore and movie store as easy as it is to find a book or DVD on amazon.com. For some reason I have trouble browsing the iBookstore for books and iTunes for movies. They just are not well organized. And the genres are too narrow.

The iBookstore interfaceI downloaded a couple of sample books. I think it will take a while to get accustomed to the backlit screen. Nothing will ever be able to replace a physical book, or so I say now, but it does show promise as a reader. I have never used a Kindle, so I can’t make a direct comparison. Turning a page is easy, highlighting text is a breeze as is bookmarking.

One thing that articles (sorry, can’t recall my source) have stated and I discussed with others is that the iPad is more like TV than a computer. In other words, it is not a device where you do a lot of creative work. I think it is more than a TV because you can actively seek information, but it is primary a one direction flow of data and content. The iPad brings content to you. You will still, in general, need to give content back through a computer. I am NOT writing this on my iPad, I’m using my computer. It is much easier.

I found I could not find a comfortable position initially to hold the iPad. I wanted to buy the Apple iPad Case when I originally got the iPad but of course they were sold out. I was chatting with a friend of mine who works at Apple and has been using an iPad a LOT longer than any of us regular consumers and he said the case really helps. I finally bought a case and agree. It made it easier to handle. The profile is thin enough that it doesn’t seem obtrusive. However, a word of caution, with the case on the iPad, it is hard to fit into a protective sleeve (in my case, the Incase sleeve). Also, it will not fit on the docking station with the Apple iPad Case. There are a lot of disgruntled notes about this on the review page for the dock.

Not all products are compatible

 

I rented a movie in HD to watch on the airplane flying back from the States. Interestingly, I rented, “Up in the Air.” I was, gasp, flying coach on Delta, so my entertainment choices were limited. As a matter of fact, very limited since some Delta Executive’s tweener kid got to pick two-thirds of the movies and chose “Twilight – New Moon” and “17 Again.” Lots of eye candy but I didn’t listen. Anyway, on the way to the US I watched a movie on my iPhone. It was definitely small. Watching a movie on a plane on the iPad was great. I rented in HD and the colors and resolution were fantastic. Really clear image, and quite appropriately sized. And best of all, no moving parts like a DVD drive in a computer, and no bulky keyboard to get in the way. The case converted into a stand was very useful.

I haven’t been to the App Store in a few days, so I would imagine the number of iPad Apps are increasing every day. Some of the Apps that I love on my iPhone that would benefit from the additional real estate of the iPad are not available yet. I’m sure they will be soon. If there are any students of Japanese reading this deep into my blog, I strongly recommend the App called, “Japanese.” It is a great reference.

Finally, like the iPhone, the interface is intuitive. This really became obvious as my 3 year 8 month old niece picked it up and was able to use it immediately. Of course, she uses her Mom’s iPhone – so much so in fact that her Mom had to password lock her out!

I think I will like it in the long run. All my Apple Geek friends love theirs, of course. And yes, in the interest of full disclosure, I do own Apple stock.

The 1st Generation iPad