Fuji Rock 2011

Fuji Rock 2011 has come and gone. As was expected, it was a very good time. Last year I wrote an extensive blog entry so I will try to minimize the repeat content. But I will not over-edit what I write.

Last year I only knew two people at Fuji Rock – Tomo and Kanamori-san. Our schedules meant I could spend Friday with Tomo, Sunday with Kanamori-san, and was completely on my own on Saturday. But as a result of meeting people through people from last year’s Fuji Rock I had an entire network of people I knew and that it made it cool. In the end I probably spent as much time alone this year as I did last year. Oh well.

Haru-san was kind enough to arrange rooms for people and also organize the various ride shares to and from Nagoya. On Wednesday night, Tomo called and said, “Haru-san is too devastated to try to explain in English, but we lost our hotel room.” One call by Tomo and we were in the same place as last year, with one additional person sharing a 7 person room. No problem.

I arranged to ride up with Kanamori-san, and we left together with Hi-chan at 11:00 pm from Nagoya. Wow, that was late after a full day of work. I drank a coffee on the road (very rare for me to have caffeine) so I was wired and probably could have driven to Hokkaido.

 
Friday

Since we drove all night, we arrived in to Naeba as the sun was starting to rise. Here’s a nice picture from probably about 4:30 am on Friday morning as the sky brightened briefly on the day.

Sunrise

 

We arrived very early at our final desitnation. There’s no better way to celebrate the arrival than going to the local convenience store and buying some celebratory beers. Since Kanamori-san and I did not sleep these are still associated with the night before.

What time is it?

 

Fortunately the convenince store was open …

Hungry and thirsty

 

Goofy

 

So we could get the party started!

Pop

 

Cheers

 

Drink

 

We took a power nap and woke up with it … raining. Since we had the experience of last year, we knew it would be better to get our wristbands early and our merchandise early. By this time it was really starting to rain.

Really wet

 

Really wet

 

Waiting in line for merchandise before it opens (and before it sells out).

Really wet

 

Tomo met us at the merchandise area and then we all headed back to the hotel for a bit of an unwind before the day began. We confused the Obaa-chan who runs the show there with more people than were checking in, but no harm / no foul.

Planning the day

 

We met up with other friends and headed to the site. In the rain.

Welcome!

 

We stopped to have breakfast though (except Tomo was eager to see the Vaccines so he ate quickly).

Breakfast place

 

Breakfast was a beer and a pickle for one of the crew. True it was closer to lunch time and he already had eaten breakfast.

Beer and a pickle for breakfast.

 

This year I tried to take notes as the the performances happened so I would not forget, knowing that it would take WAY to long to get the blog entry written. True to form, I’m almost 3 weeks late and my memory is fading.

The Vaccines – Good rocky / punky band but nothing about them made me think, “Wow, I want to buy their album.”

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart – Do they remind me too much of Imperial Teen? I am familiar with them, and have two of their albums. The live show was a little louder and more driving than I expected. Enjoyed their show.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart in the Red Marquee

 

Gruff Rhys – The first song drew me in. I had no idea who he was, only got a bit of a recommendation from Tomo as he went off to watch Noah and the Whale. For me, it was one of the finds of this year’s Fuji Rock. I’ve never heard any pop music in Welsh. But there you go. Now I have his album. I also learned he was the lead singer in Super Furry Animals.

Mano Chao – Exactly as I expected. Not as ethnic as Mano Negra – just a tight, small band. But it’s still jump, jump, jump, marijuana.

The Birthday – Japanese meets Nirvana meets Oasis. Very tight group and had the predominately Japanese crowd moving, moving, moving. On recommendation of Kanamori-san, and somehow I found him in the crowd.

Artic Monkeys – For some reason they did not connect much with the audience. I was rather bored. The lead singer sensed the disconnection of the crowd as well and didn’t seem very happy. Playing to a Japanese audience is difficult. They are very respectful. I took a nice nap during their performance.

After driving all night, I was really tired. There were times that I thought I was going to pass out while standing. Luckily, I had a little chair with me and I was able to nap between bands in the Red Marquee as well as during Artic Monkeys.

Coldplay – Coldplay is Coldplay. Always a good show, and often bordering on over the top. The last show I saw in London was over the top. This was just under. I think the new album is going to be huge. Chris Martin has buffed up a little bit. With Gwenyth working with all these hunky singers, he probably felt like he needed to beef up a little.

Coldplay and their damn balloons

 

Big crowds

 

Unfortunately, I missed Big Audio Dynamite. We were pretty tired and decided to head back to the ryokan.

Thank goodness for the rubber boots and rain gear. Better equipped this year.

Muddy

 

Last year, I discovered that the ryokan and many of the portable toilets were squat style and not “Western” style. Not growing up with squat style toilets, it is very hard to adjust to them as an adult. Fortunately this year I discovered a special section of western style portable toilets. And they were AMAZINGLY clean, all things considered. I never thought I’d prefer a portable toilet over a hotel toilet. But I did.
 

Saturday

I didn’t need an alarm clock – I woke up to the sounds of rain pounding down outside. Due to the hotel room problem, Kanamori-san ended up sleeping in his car (he was the only one that didn’t end up in a room so it all worked out in the end – he chose to sleep in his car) and I asked him if the rain woke him up pounding on the car. He said, “Yes, and I almost gave up.” Luckily for us, the rain relented and it wasn’t too bad most of the day. We saw images on the news in the morning that there was a lot of flooding in Niigata-ken. I think over 200,000 people were evacuated. So a little rain on our parade wasn’t that big of a deal.

A break in the rain

 

Clouds and cars clog the valley

 

Medi – Tomo had heard good things and so he wanted to start the day off in the Red Marquee. That was fine, I didn’t really have a Saturday plan. I was surprised – Medi is a French singer (Medhi Parisot) and his songs are mostly if not entirely in English. He was rocking out at 11:30 am. A lot of respect. He could have mailed in a performance but they really gave it their all. Chapeau! It worked, I bought his album. He ended the show with Michael Jackson’s “Working Day and Night.”

Like many of the foreign artists, Medi expressed his joy to be in Japan and acknowledged the hardships Japan has endured since March. This year’s lineup was a lot more Japanese than last year, and I think the promoters were having difficulty getting foreign acts to come to the country. Certainly that’s the case for some promoters that I know.

Tomo wanted to stay in the Red Marquee for multiple artists, but I wanted to check out the site. So I went for a walk. I passed the the Green Stage and saw Fountains of Wayne. Who are they? Why is their name familiar? I stopped by The White Stage and Funeral Party were playing (Prince meets John Leguizano). After looking them up just now, it turns out they are from East LA. That makes sense.

Silhouettes in the Red Marquee tent

 

The river through the site was especially swollen when compared to last year.

Swollen river

 

This year’s disco ball installation, inspired by Paul Smith?

Mirror ball installation

 

On my way back I passed by Patrick Stump. Another who? where? reaction from me. Very 80’s looking. Is that ironic, or are they out of the 80’s. The bow tie, high tops, and half gloves didn’t really work for me. OK, a little research and it seems he was / is the lead singer of Fall Out Boy. I am not a Fall Out Boy fan, so it makes perfect sense I had no idea who he was.

Lonesome Strings and Mari Nakamura – American country and bluegrass. Seriously, and seriously twangy. They’ve done their homework. It made me a bit nostalgic (懐かしい)

Lonesome Strings and Mari Nakamura

 

The Naked and the Famous – At first my notes were a little negative. But Tomo and I kept bumping into them during the festival and they were really nice. They were genuinely have a good time at the festival. I now have their album and it will make the post FRF mix I’m putting together. So shame on me.

加藤登紀子 – Atomic Café. Kato Tokiko is a Japanese Chanson singer (b. 1943). Wikipedia reports that she’s a Tokyo University graduate as well. Kanamori-san had recommended her, so I met him at this small stage to see her perform. It turned out that the main purpose of the activities on the stage that day was to promote a “No Nukes” policy. If any country can advocate a nuclear free society, it’s Japan. It was good to hear her perform a bit though, and gave me inspiration to see her the next day.

Power to the People

 

Todd Rundgren – We went to the Field of Heaven to eat and Todd Rundgren was playing in the background. He couldn’t quite figure out the attitude of the Japanese audience. I’m not sure if he had fun.

This restaurant had good wraps, but they need to buy a vowel. We helped some of The Naked and the Famous with the menu here.

Time to buy a vowel

 

Battles – Most everyone was interested in seeing Battles at the Green Stage. We caught the end of ハナレグミ before Battles. My notes say – crowd loved them and they were good. For Battles, Tomo had seen them at The Troubadour, so the Green Stage just before a major Japanese band was a big deal. Kanamori-san went to the pit, most of us stayed back. They did a really good set.

Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra – Japanese and Ska. What can I say? The whole audience was moving. Very enjoyable set.

The weather was basically clear, and we were not that interested in seeing the Faces, so we headed back to the room to change clothes, shoes, clean up, and then go out for more. Which we did. We went back to the Crystal Palace, had some food, ran into the Naked and the Famous again, and then danced a little before heading back to the ryokan. All the time the weather held out. We bumped into a lot of our Fuji Rock friends on their way to one place or another. Sadly, I rarely spot folks, I’m more the spotted one. Maybe because I’m foreign.

If you want to be green should you really deface a tree?

Eco terrorism?

 

Hanging out around the green stage on Saturday.

Time to eat

 

Mariko-san

 

Sleep approaches

 

Enjoying the music

 

Tomo in a towel

 

Sleep is always around the corner.

Cigarette in hand

 

A quick nap

 

This is what happens when you finger blocks the flash. Oh well, what was I going to say?

Me and Kanamori-san

 

Sunday

The day started out looking wet, and I wasn’t in the mood for another full day of rain. However, the overcast skies were somewhat refreshing as the temperature stayed relatively manageable. Last year was hot, rainy, hot rainy, and got really pretty tiring.

No trip would be complete without a hand help picture of me and Tomo. First take!

Ready for the day

 

Ringo Deathstarr – Started out with this band at the White Stage. What do I remember most? The guitar / singer had a shirt that said, “DRUGS SUCK” in big Helvetia Bold font ala Wham! circa 1984 (which apparently was a Katharine Hammet [http://www.katharinehamnett.com/] design) and on the back it said “NKOTB DONNIE WAHLBERG.” Vintage? I don’t know, but definitely intended to be ironic.

Glasvegas – This was one band I was looking forward to seeing. And like Vampire Weekend last year, I am probably a bigger fan of their album than their live performance. Sounded great, but Tomo summed it up well saying, “Is he trying to be Liam Gallagher?”

British Sea Power – Working man’s band with a cornet. I’ll support any band with a cornet.

Mirror balls again on the way to Orange Court.

Mirror balls

 

Blue skies make a rare appearance …

Sunshine

 

… and Tomo seems a bit stunned.

What’s this?

 

Food was good at all areas. That’s all seafood.

Seafood

 

なぎら健壱 & Own Risk – Japanese American style country and western. Really. Just caught the end of it, but it was very enjoyable. Orange Court has a very eclectic sound.

加藤登紀子 – Kato Tokiko. The full version of what we previewed at Atomic Café the day before. We heard songs in Japanese, French, and English, including John Lennon’s “Imagine.” It was a very enjoyable performance. Just before it ended I headed out to catch the end of ….

Some crazy fans looking for attention,

Interesting outfit

 

and some young fans having fun.

Young fans

 

Cornershop – With an sitar in the mix, it’s going to be good. Of course, everyone knows “Brimful of Asha.” It is a catchy tune, and will remain so always. What surprised me is that it was released in 1997. And also it was a Fatboy Slim remix that broke the song. Hey, I bought the album afterwards so I’d say I liked the show.

Passing by the White Stage it was packed with Saito Kazuyoshi fans.

Packed with fans

 

YMO – Yellow Magic Orchestra – A set of particularly accomplished Japanese musicians in the group core- Ryuichi Sakamoto, Yukihiro Takahashi, Haruomi Hosono. According to Wikipedia,

They are often considered influential innovators in the field of popular electronic music. They helped pioneer synthpop and ambient house, helped usher in electronica, anticipated the beats and sounds of electro music, laid the foundations for contemporary J-pop, and contributed to the development of house, techno, and hip hop. More broadly, their influence is evident across many genres of popular music, including electronic dance, ambient music, chiptune, game music, pop, rock, and melodic music.

Oh, is that all? Check out the Wikipedia link, it is very informative. Pretty cool stuff, and I’m really glad I had the chance to see them. In addition, one of the guest musicians was Cornelius (Wikipedia link here). I didn’t find that out until later.

Chemical Brothers – We watched Chemical Brothers from a distance, because we were going on to see Wilco. It is always strange to me that an act like Chemical Brothers can headline a festival. But clearly they can as the site was packed. They didn’t miss a single note. In a show like that, what is live and what is programmed, and what is spontaneous? I don’t know. Acts like Coldplay always have something unique in their performance, whether it is Chris screwing up and starting over (yes, it happens), goofy banter, lyrics or whatever. It is live and unpredictable. Perhaps I’m not sophisticated enough to understand the spontaneity of bands like Chemical Brothers.

Wilco – First time I have ever seen them live. Tomo has worked with the drummer on several occasions so he has a lot of respect for the drummer so I definitely wanted to see them. A friend commented on Facebook that the first time he saw them he expected this kind of countrified rock but they really kicked it. As they did. Very good.

The Music – As the special guest closer, The Music performed. Who? The previous two years were Basement Jaxx and Scissor Sisters. Anyway, The Music is big in Japan. I was tired and didn’t know their music, so everything just kind of sounded the same. Sorry guys. They are breaking up as well, so they probably don’t care what I think.
 

Monday

It was a late night, and I caught a ride back to Nagoya with Hirokata-san, Shogo-san, Go-san, and Erine-san. It was a fun, uneventful ride back, after we got everything jammed into the van. 5 people in a van was fine. Kanamori-san had 5 people in his little car the day before.

Let’s go!

 

Souvenir shop

 

Roadside fresh corn

 

Once again, another fantastic Fuji Rock experience and I’m planning on next year already, even though I will be living in the US.

I hope so

 

The Fuji Rock Crew!

Thanks everyone!!!!!

Good times!

(Photo by Shogo Taguchi)

THE スナフキンズ

As I mentioned earlier, when I went to Kyushu I stayed at THE スナフキンズ (Snufkinz), in Kumamoto, 中十町 (Nakajicho).

THE スナフキンズ

 

Where the heck is that you ask?

Japan,

Japan

 

Kyushu,

Kyushu

 

Kumamoto,

Kumamoto

 

Nakajicho,

Nakajicho

 

I wanted to take a vacation to a really country place, and as I previously described, my friend was going there. I tagged along.

The guesthouse is owned by Dai-san and Mika-san, and they were great hosts. The guest house is very simple, with a couple dorms, a kitchen, and dining area, a living room, a bathroom, shower, and nice wood deck. I swiped the layout from their webpage.

THE スナフキンズ layout

 

What did we do? We basically used it as a base during the day for travel around the area, and hung out together all night until bedtime. The Japanese was flowing pretty fast and furiously, so I probably only caught about 10 percent of the conversation, but I knew when to smile and when to frown.

Hanging out in the evening

 

If you are ever traveling around Kumamoto, make sure you spend a night at THE スナフキンズ, I’m sure you will enjoy it.

Some exterior shots of the house and surroundings.

The guest house

 

Looking towards the local village

 

Looking towards the entrance by car

 

Looking towards the barn

 

The kitchen entrance

 

Kitchen entrance to barn

 

The big gate in front

 

Stairs leading to a temple

 

Rice fields

 

Details inside and outside.

Indoor light

 

Outdoor lantern

 

Table and chairs

 

Locally grown vegetables

 

Wood planks

 

Natural spring water

 

Enjoying breakfast together.

Good times ...

 

... and good food

 

Hammock

 

Ongoing barn renovations.

Plastering

 

Thanks again to Dai-san, Mika-san, and momo-chan. I had a terrific time. I even made their blog here, here, and here.

Happy family

 

momo-chan

 

Goodbye

 

THE スナフキンズ

 

Kumamoto

I had a week off and really wanted to see a part of Japan that I had not yet seen. I thought Kyushu or Hokkaido made sense and I was prepared to go it alone. Fortunately a friend of mine from work, Kanamori-san, was also going to Kyushu so I kind of invited myself along. Thanks for letting me tag along.

Kanamori

 

Unfortunately it looked like the weather was going to be somewhat uncooperative with us even going. A typhoon was heading towards Japan and although it was not going to be too strong in Fukuoka and Kumamoto where we were going, it was looking like it was going to get pretty bad in Nagoya. Kanamori-San found a cheap (10000 yen) to Fukuoka on Fuji Dream Airlines so instead of taking the train, we were flying. It really saved him a lot of money. The rain was pretty strong when we got to the airport and a flight from Kumamoto was cancelled so I was a little bit worried. We loaded about on time and the flight was remarkably smooth considering we were on the edge of a typhoon.

Kanamori

 

Kanamori-san is a BIG ramen fan, so a trip to Fukuoaka isn’t complete with Hakata ramen (website of my favorite Hakata ramen shop in LA). We went to Nagahama’s Nagahamaya restaurant for our ramen. The shop looked like we could eat there AND get our oil changed.

Ramen

 

The beautiful exterior of our ramen shop.

Ramen Service Station

 

Other ramen shops in the area.

Nagahama

 

Kanamori-san spent a year on working holiday in New Zealand and one of his Japanese friends from New Zealand runs a backpackers in a very remote part of Kumamoto called THE スナフキンズ (snufkinz). We were the only guests there the first, but they had a friend staying there and helping them. Dai-san and Mika-san are great hosts and I was immediately comfortable. Of course I’ve stayed at some really nice hotels, but there is still a time and place for a nice backpackers. This was the time and place. More on THE スナフキンズ in a different entry all to itself.

 THE スナフキンズ

 

We stayed up pretty late the first night. Kanamori-san was catching up with his Dai-san and I was just happy to listen and be on vacation. Some alcohol was consumed.

Relaxing in the evening

 

The door frames in this country house are definitely lower than US or modern Japanese houses. I had to duck every time I went through a door frame. In the morning, I forgot that that I had to duck and smacked my head really hard as I was walking to the bathroom. So, no, it wasn’t me just thinking I had to duck. I really had to.

 
Day 1

I rented a car in Fukuoka to give us the opportunity to see various places. We decided to go to Kumamoto-shi in Kumamoto and visit the castle there. We walked around the castle grounds. We quicky learned that the castle was of a mostly modern construction, but the castle walls were still from old days, and the castle was beautiful from the outside. The weather was fine, and we weren’t suffering from rain, or high heat.

The architect of Kumamoto castle.

The castle architect

 

The castle tower

 

The meeting rooms

 

An interesting, if not a little bit intimidating, tour guide.

The tour guide

 

The Lord’s House

 

We also went in search of a special library that was supposed to be architecturally interesting, but alas it was not be found. We did go to a library though, and I tried to make it interesting (but it really wasn’t). I guess I didn’t try too hard because I have no pictures!

After three years in Japan, and over a year with an perfectly valid driver’s license, I drove on the streets of Japan for the first time since 2004. I drove in both the countryside, and the “big city.” Pretty cool. I think I did fine, but from that point forward Kanamori-san drove everywhere.

Swift!

 

We headed back to 中十町 (Nakajicho) to THE スナフキンズ and picked up Dai-san and Nobu-san to go to an onsen. We ran some errands at first though, and went to a butcher shop where we picked up some 馬刺 (basashi), or horse sashimi. That’s right, horse sashimi.

Butcher shop

 

Butcher shop

 

Butcher shop

 

raw horse preparation

 

Raw horse

 

The white stuff is basically neck fat, and really does melt in your mouth like butter. Believe it or not, this wasn’t the first time I had horse sashimi to eat. It’s not bad, especially when you throw in some wasabi and soy sauce. Alcohol tends to help as well.

The onsen we went to was great in its kitchiness. It did not have a rotenburo (outdoor bath) but did have many different pools. We enjoyed the various temperatures, went back home, and made dinner.

I slept really well on a futon on the floor. The room was comfortable and the air had cooled significantly.

guest house

 

guest house

 
 
Day 2

Our plan for the next day was to drive to Mt. Aso. We were surprised by a visitor (チェックイン) sitting on the deck in the morning. Hey! It turns out he owns a guest house around Aso, so he gave us some good tips. Dai-san and Mika-san always baked bread overnight, so we always had a good breakfast ready for us.

Breakfast

 

Nobu

 

We drove towards Mt. Aso and Kanamori-san ignored the somewhat annoying voice of the navigation system and instead listened to the advice of チェックイン and instead took the Kikuchi Skyline. A very good choice. I felt a like a little kid because there was a sign for the Kikuchi Gorge and I thought it looked interesting (See Rock City! See Ruby Falls!). We parked, and went on a short hike along the flowing river and all the rapids. I tried various shots, and of course tried to get the streaming water look. I succeeded a little bit.

Kukuji Gorge

 

By the water

 

By the water

 

This squirrel is nervous about failing rocks. Uh oh!

Nervous squirrel

 

Waterfall

 

An added bonus was stumbling across 焼きとうもろこし (yakitomorokoshi), or grilled corn on the cob. Growing up in Indiana, corn on the cob was a summer staple, so I was happy.

Corn on the cob

 

Corn on the cob

 

Mt. Aso is basically a HUGE active volcano. The caldera is a a valley, with some active areas along the edge. The Kikuchi Skyline terminates at the Milk Road (not the Silk Road, but the Milk Road. This was another suggestion by チェックイン. The view was outstanding, and I took a lot of pictures of the same green areas.

The rim of Mt. Aso

 

The rim of Mt. Aso

 

We started down this small road, in spite of the cones in front of the entrance. We learned the cones were there for a reason, but no damage was done so all was fine.

The rim of Mt. Aso

 

The rim of Mt. Aso

 

On the rim of Mt. Aso

 

On the rim of Mt. Aso

 

We continued down and across the valley to the active area on the other side. There, in the clouds, it was almost cold! We got a few more pictures and then left Aso.

This picture is actually an older dome, komezuka. But the next two show how active it is.

Komezuka

 

Warning!

 

Active venting

 

On the way home, I wanted to go to an onsen, and Kanamori-san wanted to visit a shop that specialized in fans. The shop in 山鹿市 (Yamaga-shi) closed at 5:30 pm, and the Navi said we would arrive at 5:35 pm. That meant no onsen around Aso. That was OK. We made it to the shop, 栗川商店, in time and were able to shop for fans. I didn’t even know I wanted one, and bought four! I’ve given away three already, and kept the fourth for myself. We went to a local onsen, that was more like a Super Sento but were able to soak away our day. Thanks to Dai-san, Mika-san, Nobu-san, and チェックイン for waiting for us for dinner. You didn’t have to wait! We tried to eat dinner outside, but the mosquitoes were just too heavy. So in we went.

An attempt to eat outside

 

Dinner moves inside

 

The next morning we were able to share a nice breakfast outside, and I was grateful to have the chance to have spent a few days in the countryside. I had one panic driving alone to the airport because the Navi was clearly giving me the wrong directions. Was that a cruel practical joke from Kanamori-san, or just a by product of turning of the car? Fortunately, Kanamori-san showed me how to enter the rental car location into the navigation system, so a quick reset and I was off. To the airport in plenty of time.

Breakfast

 

Thanks so much to Kanamori-san, Dai-san, Mika-san, Nobu-san, and チェックイン for making my vacation exactly what I wanted. Especially though to Kanamori-san for allowing me to come along, meet his friends, and show me around. My Japanese isn’t good enough to understand everything and when we are together just the two of us, I mostly speak in English. Speaking in a second language is hard work – I appreciate the effort made.

Me and Kanamori-san

 

Hong Kong

While living in Asia, I certainly want to take advantage of the proximity to major Asian cities. I had the chance to visit many places in Japan and Bangkok and Koh Samui, Shanghai, Taipei, Bali, and most recently Hong Kong. When you can take a long weekend and visit a place that is otherwise so far away from the US, you have to take advantage of it. Unfortunately, the airfare doesn’t seem to mirror the relative proximity, but oh well.

Tomo and I decided to visit Hong Kong before summer and while our schedules kind of allowed a trip there. I was very busy prior to going so I had little time to do research. Luckily Tomo had some time. I had been to Hong Kong before, so I had a general idea of what to see and where to go. Tomo had the restaurants picked out. And the sites. As a side note, if you can read Japanese, ALWAYS get a Japanese guide book. They seem to be done so differently than an English language book and their recommendations have rarely been a letdown.

Tomo flew in from Tokyo and I flew in from Nagoya and we met at the Hong Kong airport. And for those of you that remember the amazing approach into the airport – that’s no longer the case. The airport moved a while ago, and so now it is a pretty mundane approach to Lantau Island, and then a train into the center of Hong Kong.

Pacific Place

 

Our hotel was centrally located at Pacific Place near Admiralty metro station, so we were in good shape location wise. Also, our flights arrived early enough that check in was timed perfectly and we had an afternoon and evening ahead of us. We planned a skeleton of an itinerary that included walking to Man Mo Temple, around SoHo (South of Hollywood) for some good local food, and then back to The Peak Tram for a night view of the city. Haven’t I said that the journey is more interesting than the destination? Well, we never quite made it to the temple on the first day.

As soon as we left the hotel I was reminded how Hong Kong Island is a maze of multilevel walkways, roadways, and people movers. Of course, there is an entire area known as the mid-levels which are halfway up to Victoria Peak. So we were a little bit up and down for awhile, incidently passing many of the places I had visited before.

Which level do I take?

 

The towering mid-levels

 

I was quite happy, because these were areas I wanted to see again. We wandered through the edge of Hong Kong Park, past the High Court, along Queen’s Road Central, then kind of accidently to Hong Kong Station (where, quite honestly, we had a bit on an air-conditioned respite from the heat). We played on the mid-levels tramway for a bit, riding up to somewhere close to Hollywood Road, and then we wandered through the markets, looked at Pottinger Street, and found some delicious food as had been Tomo’s real reason for going to Hong Kong! We never actually made it to the temple.

Modern Hong Kong.

Not all architecture can be beautiful

 

Packed skyscrapers

 

Central

 

Mixing the old with the new, bamboo scaffolding on modern buildings.

Bamboo scaffolding

 

Taking the tmid-levels tramway up to Hollywood Road with some of the fading buildings of previous modernity.

The mid-levels tramway

 

Seen better days

 

Hollywood Road

 

Hong Kong still mixes in images that seem unchanged in 40 years.

Butcher shop in Soho

 

Workers in Central

 

Shopping in SoHo

 

Just like in Shanghai, our first day food choices were excellent. Unlike Shanghai, I had no stomach problems. Our first highly recommended (from the Japanese guide book) stop was a shop specializing in Won Ton soups. It is amazing to me that, only through a map in a book, we could find this one specific restaurant in a country where we don’t speak the language. It shouldn’t be that amazing, really, but it is. The soup was excellent.

Tomo admiring the soup

 

Preparing the special soup

 

While we were wandering around the markets, Tomo stumbled across another of our destinations. I have no idea of the name of the shop, but after we had our soup we headed to this shop for some pork. It wasn’t hard to forget that we were eating pork because we had dead pigs hanging all around us.

Our pork treat

 

Hanging pigs

 

The prep area

 

The pork was delicious, although the skin was a little too crispy for me. The hotel club lounge concierge that we saw a couple of times was shocked that we “really went local.” I enjoy eating good, local cuisine. Is it any different than eating at El Terasco in downtown El Segundo? Probably not.

Finally, Tomo wanted an egg tart and so we went there as well. It was good as well. Of course. I only had a bite, but it was a delicious bite.

Egg tarts for sale

 

We meandered along Hollywood Road and somehow I knew it would take us to The Peak Tram. Or at least the general direction. Hollywood Road is full of Expat bars, so there were a lot of loud, drunk, expats along the way. I did notice so many more foreigners than in Japan. It seems of course that there are many in Japan, but not like Hong Kong. Even Tokyo doesn’t compare.

Last time I was in Hong Kong, I went up to Victoria Peak via the Peak Tram. It is a must-do in Hong Kong as far as I’m concerned, although of course it has been tacky-fied with a wax museum at the top. I guess I have a thing against wax, museums… I’ve never been to one. The tram track can be amazingly steep, and the car or seats are leveled. So before you know it, you see these buildings towering next to you in the mid-levels that are at a completely unbelieveable angle. The buildings, of course, are straight up, but the tram is at an amazing angle.

It seems they’ve built the world’s largest giftshop at the top of the tram, known as the “Sky Terrace.” The Sky Terrace was built in 2007, so it wasn’t around the first time I was in Hong Kong. I prefer the area without the Sky Terrace, but I guess there is money to be made. The view though, did not disappoint, and we could look out over Hong Kong Island over to Kowloon. Interestingly, looking across the harbor to Kowloon, it seemed that the new 118 story International Commerce Center was actually taller than The Peak. I wonder…

View from The Peak

 

There was quite a queue to go back on the tram, so we lounged a bit in a very expensive bar. But, since we were used to Japanese prices, it didn’t seem so expensive! We made it back to the hotel with a full day behind us.

 

The next day I wanted to do a little shopping. I had discovered what so many foreigners learn – my clothes were becoming rags. All the walking back and forth to trains had started to rub worn spots on my pants. And I noticed that my pockets were starting to fray as well. Not very cool. We went to the shopping area below our hotel, but the brands were all a little too pricey for me. Tomo thought we could go to Times Square, but when we got there found out that the Ben Sherman, which is always a good bet for me, had closed. That was basically a bust. We had Dim Sum reservations, so we decided to take the subway because it seemed that it was just below the mall. Except … it wasn’t. Beware in Hong Kong of signs that point you to the subway. You could have a hike ahead.

After the relative failure in the morning, Dim Sum was a hit. I negated the Shark Fin’s Soup on morale grounds. That was unpopular but the only real point of contention during lunch.

Dim Sum in Hong Kong

 

Dumplings

 

After Dim Sum, we decided to take the tram, or Ting-Ting. Tomo knew from his guide that the fare was $2 HK, or about 0.25 USD. We had exact change. Except, three days prior the fare had gone up to $2.30. We didn’t have exact change. The Octopus Card works on the tram, so we went to the subway station and paid $300 HK for two Octopus Cards. That’s an expensive tram ride. The Octopus Card would cause some discord by the end of the trip, but it all worked out, except for $14 HK.

Tram stop

 

Oops, the price just went up

 

Inside the tram

 

We took the tram almost as far as we thought it could go. We were expecting it to round a corner, but an old man yelled at us, basically telling us it was the end of the line. It was. We walked around the dried food area like in Taipei except this time Tomo went away empty handed. Apparently we passed the scrap metal area as well.

Dried food area

 

Dried food area

 

Salvage center

 

We knew we were close to the Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road, so we started heading in the general direction. I had been to a similar temple in Kowloon and have the picture hanging in my house.

Tin Hau Temple, Hong Kong, 2004

 

I know we are not supposed to take pictures in the temple but I saw some other guy doing it and he was Asian so I figured it was OK. I’m going to have some karma point withdrawals now. I hope I had enough in reserve.

Man Ho Temple, Hollywood Road

 

Man Ho Temple, Hollywood Road

 

We did a little more shopping, or more appropriately we failed in our shopping attempt and then headed back to the hotel to rest a bit before embarking on a harbor cruise. The harbor was a bit of a tourist trap, but an enjoyable one. Hong Kong has a light show at 8:00 pm, and it was amazingly underwhelming. But we watched it from the boat. We got to cruise, drink, and enjoy the lights of Hong Kong. I was able to get some pictures from it.

Hong Kong Island from Victoria Harbor

 

Tomo has turned into a hotel snob. I can be partially blamed for it, but his work has also introduced him to nice hotels. So when we got off the boat in Kowloon and headed to the Peninsula Hotel. Not bad. We wandered up Nathan Road deep into the heart of Kowloon. Our destination was a restaurant off of Canton Road, and we probably went a little too far because someone’s feet got a little cranky. Not mine. The restaurant was OK, probably the only disappointing food in Hong Kong. We probably ordered poorly. Interestingly the same restaurant is in Tokyo and very expensive. Hopefully the food is better. At 10 pm though, the place was packed with people of all ages.

Kowloon, Nathan Road

 

Kowloon Restaurant, around 10:00 pm

 

As part of Tomo’s hotel snobbery, he really wanted to stay at the brand new Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong. Not only the Ritz-Carlton, but the club floor of the Ritz-Carlton. That basically meant a total relaxation day would be in store. Through a special offer, we were even able to get an upgrade to a Junior Suite. Sweet.

International Commerce Centre, Hong Kong

 

The hotel is atop the brand new International Commerce Centre. And by atop, I mean floors 103 to 118 of a 118 story building. For those of you keeping track of tall buildings, that’s tall! We’ve now been toTaipei 101, the Shanghai World Financial Center, Rockefeller Center, and the Empire State Building. But I’ve never fallen asleep so high. Ha ha. The room was great on the 117th, and Herve took very good care of us at the club lounge. The weather was rather rainy and that was just fine – even a better excuse to stay in the hotel. Of course, having to go down 117 floors does discourage you from freely coming and going.

The 117th

 

Restaurant Chandelier

 

The pool and fitness center were on the 118th floor, and the view from the pool was spectacular. Plus, they had an outdoor heated Jacuzzi. It was not unconformtable to sit outside in the rain on the 118th floor enjoying a bath of hot water. Sort of like a mountain top rotenburo.

Swimming on the 118th

 

Fitness Center with a view

 

I was able to find some summer pants that fit me. Thanks to Calvin Klein for suggesting that I have a 30 inch waist. That’s the size of pants I was able to buy, and amazing that all their pants were 34 length. I guess a tailor is cheap in Hong Kong. They fit me quite well though.

The next day, we checked out around 12:30 pm, headed to the airport, and then back to the grind.

It was a nice vacation, a great mix of hustling and relaxing.

Graffiti

 

Himeji and The Davids

For a normal weekend, a Saturday trip to Kanazawa would have been the single plan for the weekend. But not the weekend of the 1st and 2nd of June. Nope, I also planned a trip to Himeji the same weekend.

It turned out that David and David were in Japan again, this time hanging out a little South and West of Tokyo. I had a really good time last time we got together so I wanted to make sure we were able to meet again.

Once again, I had to be at Nagoya Station before 8:00 am. This time the mode of transportation was by train. I had to switch trains in Osaka, and apparently I hopped on the party train. The man next to me was eating a McDonalds hamburger at 8:53 am. Just the smell made my stomach hurt. The four おばあちゃん (middle aged women) in front of me though had a much more direct method of enjoying the train ride. They each popped open a beer and did a kanpai! (cheers!) before we got started. Party on ladies!

Party on!

 

We knew before we got to Himeji that it would be under renovation so the few would be obscured by structure. It did not disappoint, it really was obscured. I had been to Himeji before, so my main purpose was just to hang out with Dave and David. Conveniently we crossed paths (literally) in Shin-Osaka station, although our seats were in different reserved sections.

We had an excellent tour guide who provides free English guided tours. It was probably good with the current conditions of the castle to have the guided tour. Unfortunately, the discussion I remember the most was here absolute enthusiasm when I mentioned “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” It turns out she is a HUGE Chow Yun Fat fan.

I was able to get some pictures, but not as many as the last time The Davids and I got together. Still, it was nice catching up with them and I look forward to seeing them in San Francisco one of these days.

Himeji Castle

 

Himeji Castle

 

Himeji Castle

 

Himeji Castle

 

Himeji Castle

 

Himeji Castle

 

Himeji Castle

 

Himeji Castle

 

I left Himeji around 3:00 pm. I was pretty tired. It had been a rather long weekend and in just 4 days I was heading to Hong Kong.

Himeji Castle

 

And don’t forget – no scribbles.

Himeji Castle