The Home of the REAL Central Park

Nagoya may boast of its Central Park, and indeed, like the New York Central Park, it is a strip of land between two streets. The thing is, the distance between those two streets varies a lot between Nagoya and New York City, and does the length.

A couple of weeks ago, I took a trip back to the US with Tomo to go to a wedding in LA, fun in New York City, and to visit my brother in Boston. What does that have to do with life in Japan? Nothing, but it is my blog and I make the rules. So I will write about it.

LA is home, so I basically went to the Dentist, caught up with friends, shopped, and went to a wedding. Nothing touristy in LA.

We decided to visit New York as well, since we were going to see my brother on the East Coast. I was reluctant at first, because New York is expensive, somewhat of a hassle, and seemed little more than a diversion. I was just being a curmudgeon. I’m really glad we went. Perhaps getting upgraded to first class between LA and NY made the transition a little easier. That was the shortest cross country flight I think I’ve ever taken.

We got in late on a Tuesday, and it was raining. That was the only rain the entire time. We checked into our hotel on Times Square (not my favorite place to stay but quite practical), went to the concierge for an umbrella, and they informed us, “We don’t have any umbrellas.” What? That was a shocker to me. Anyway, I guess I’ve gotten too accustomed to Asian service. After a nice Indian dinner, we called it a night.

Wednesday the weather was very nice, so we decided we’d take a walk through Central Park. The real Central Park. We wandered past Rockefeller Center, past the Apple Store, and on to Central Park. We took a nice leisurely stroll, and surprising were able to enjoy some of the fall colors.

30 Rock during the day, and a very excited Tomo.

A statue at 30 Rockefeller

 

Tomo looking for Liz Lemon

 

A LEGO version of 30 Rockefeller (at the LEGO shop AT 30 Rockefeller).

LEGO NYC

 

A big Apple in the Big Apple

A big Apple in the Big Apple

 

Central Park

Fall in Central Park

 

Fall in Central Park

 

Fall in Central Park

 

Fall in Central Park

 

Fall in Central Park

 

We emerged out of the park in the lower 70s, so we had a hot dog at a hot dog stand (meh, wasn’t so good) and wandered around Madison for a while. Since we were on the Upper East Side, we decided to hit the Guggenheim. We didn’t make it all the way up to the Whitney though.

A quick snack.

Waiting for our hot dogs

 

The Guggenheim

The Guggenheim

 

Classic Guggenheim lettering

 

Is a giant cone art, or just an optical illusion?

Cone in front of the Guggenheim

 

Of course, from the Upper East Side we decided to head to SoHo. Well, actually, that was Tomo’s plan. It was fairly convenient, and the subway has definitely been upgraded since the last time I took it. I could actually figure out which subway to take! SoHo is completely different than when I first started going to New York. At that time, my brother worked in a photo studio on Broadway in SoHo. There was no Chanel. No Gucci. Just artist lofts. Those days are gone. We successfully shopped and then headed back to Times Square to meet a friend of mine for dinner. After dinner we went to a bar and that was it.

Some subway etiquette

 

NYC Subway

 

Japanese featured in subway ads

 

Thursday we were graced with another nice morning, so we decided to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. I’m not sure if I had walked across it before even when my brother lived in Brooklyn. I think I did, but I can’t recall. What a great way to see New York. We walked down to Brooklyn Heights, and the last time I had been to Brooklyn Heights the World Trade Center was still standing. It is strange to see the view now.

Before heading out we stopped at Juniors for a huge breakfast.

Junior's Deli

 

And wandered through Bryant Park. “Designers?” “Make it work.”

Bryant Park subway station

 

The Brooklyn Bridge in color.

Brooklyn Bridge, color

 

Brooklyn Bridge, color

 

But it always looks better in black and white.

Brooklyn Bridge, black and white

 

Brooklyn Bridge, black and white

 

Manhattan from Brooklyn Bridge.

Manhattan

 

Around Brooklyn Heights

Brooklyn Heights, heading towards the Promenade

 

Manhattan, from Brooklyn Heights

 

From Brooklyn, we went back to Soho and the back to the hotel because we had to get ready to meet a friend at 30 Rock to go to a taping of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Cool, huh? Tomo knows the house band, so we got tickets that way and even had a chance to go back stage and hang with the band for a bit. Very fun to do. The taping was very entertaining, and Anne Hathaway was the first guest and she and Jimmy just geeked out a little bit. They did a segment where they went into the audience, so we were on TV. Yeah. We went BACK to SoHo for dinner (yes, three times) with Tomo’s friend Soon and his girlfriend, Stephanie.

30 Rock at Night

 

Waiting for Stephanie

 

And of course a picture of Times Square.

Times Square

 

Friday we decided to return, once again, to 30 Rock and enjoy the view from the “Top of the Rock.” We did enjoy the view, but unfortunately, my camera battery preferred to stay in the hotel room alone. The view was really nice, but you’ll have to take my word for it.

We had a bit of a snafu going to Boston from New York related to luggage on the train. We worked around it though and the trip to Boston was peaceful.

Amtrak to Boston

 

We had a great time in Boston, enjoying my brother and his family (including 4 dogs and 4 cats), a birthday party, Newbury Street, Boston Commons, Beacon Hill, Jamaica Plain, and Harvard before heading back to Japan on Monday.

Harvard.

Harvard

 

The Natural History Museum at Harvard. Very “old school.”

Natural History Museum

 

A very nice trip, for sure.

Fuji Rock 2010

For quite a while, Tomo has been trying to convince me to attend the Fuji Rock Festival, held every year at the Naeba ski area in Niigata-ken north of Tokyo. While I love a good live show, and the open mountain space seemed cool, I never made it there. Music festivals sometimes seem like more work than fun: I’ve been to two Coachella festivals, and one Summer Sonic. Both of them were extremely hot, multi-day draining experiences. Of course, I saw some good acts, at those festivals, but I will admit I was looking forward to the end of the festival.

Entering the festival

 

Since I feel like I am living a little bit on borrowed time here in Japan, I decided I would attend Fuji Rock this year. And I’m really, really glad that I did and will most likely go next year if I am still here. There are still plenty of excuses I could make not to go, and they are all true. There is no convenient way to get from Nagoya to Naeba – if you go by train you still need to go to Tokyo, if you go by car it is a 6 hour drive that is fairly inefficient, and if you take a night bus, well, that’s just hell. Also, it ALWAYS rains at Fuji Rock. Always. Plus, late July, early August in Japan is super hot and humid, even in the mountains. Each one of those excuses came true (well, no night bus), but I overcame them and my age and had a blast.

One additional problem is that Tomo almost always has some commitment for Fuji Rock as well, so he doesn’t really get to see the entire three days as a concertgoer. This year was no different, as he had obligations for Saturday and Sunday of the event. I really wasn’t that keen on spending two of the three days at the festival alone, but I cajoled one of my young Japanese colleagues to go to Fuji as well. Thanks Kanamori-san for joining on Sunday. It made the experience that much better.

Prior to the festival, I did my necessary scholarly research and learned of some new bands. Many already had a buzz about them, so picking up a few albums on iTunes was a welcomed expense. The way the lineups were shaping up, Friday and Sunday were looking amazing and Saturday was looking, um, well, not that interesting. Sorry John Fogerty, I’ve never really liked your voice or your solo work.

In order to get to the festival for the first band, we decided that I should come up to Tokyo on Thursday night so we could catch a 7:00 am train from Tokyo Station on Friday morning. Of course, I had a full day of work, on a really hot day as well so finally getting on the train felt great. Vacation.

By the time we were buying our shinkansen tickets to the nearest train station to Naeba, all the reserved seats were sold out. Uh oh. This was not to plan – I had expected the tickets would have been purchased already. But, no biggie, we got seats on the train no problem. Once we got to Yuzawa, the line to catch the shuttle bus to Naeba ski area was probably 1 hour long.

Arriving at Yuzawa

 

It was about 8:30 am and the first band was at 11:00 am. We were already pushing the schedule. Hey, things take time. Tomo did some scouting and discovered a taxi ride would be about 7000 yen. But split 4 ways, it was only about 2000 yen each. Definitely affordable. It took about two seconds to find two people to share the taxi and away we went. We arrived and started schlepping our luggage to the area where Tomo thought was the drop off point. Except it wasn’t. I felt a little silly dragging my over-nighter around with me while other more rough-and-tumble festival types were camping.

Camping on the hill side

 

Others went for tiny car camping.

Miniature car camping

 

We got almost to the ticket area and merchandise area and then Tomo realized that the left luggage area was the other way. Oops. At that time, we decided to get our wristbands since we were nearly there. Already the line for wristbands was really long, and definitely was going to get much longer. Fortunately, we were on the guest list for that day thanks to Tomo’s connections (thanks to The Cribs!) so it was really easy for us. No wait, just our special red wristband.

thanks to the Cribs

 

The merchandise line

 

The merchandise line was really long but we decided we could come back for that later. We started against the crowd to drop our luggage. As we were heading in the general direction, I suggested to check with our “ryokan” to see if we could just drop off our bag even though check in was at 3:00 pm. The answer was basically, “Sure, no problem.” So we had a plan – everything would be taken care of. We would have checked in, our bags would be were they needed to be, and all we had to do was enjoy the show. At this point, it was getting hot already and I was wondering if boots with wool socks was a smart idea. Short answer – the weather is very changeable and it was a great idea.

Room for 4?

 

I’ll summarize all the bands we saw at the end of this entry. But the opening band was, “Superfly,” a pretty popular Japanese band. We made it for the start and enjoyed it a lot. FRF has about 5 main stages spread throughout the valley, with about 3 or 4 small DJ stages elsewhere. On the first day, we didn’t make it beyond the first two stages – the Green Stage (headliner stage) and the Red Marquee. I would call Red Marquee the stages for up and coming bands (although Fishbone laid down a set full of hate towards an ex there).

Superfly on the Green Stage

Superfly

 

Even the young enjoy the show

Fans of all ages

 

And the crowd behind.

Looking back from the Green Stage

 

And the Red Marquee

The Red Marquee stage

 

Tomo had raved about the food and he was not wrong. The food was excellent. We immediately enjoyed とろろめし (tororomeshi) for breakfast on Friday. I actually enjoyed it EVERY morning. Basically, it is rice, soupy ground Chinese potatoes, and a little soy sauce. That’s it. Kanamori-san told me that the rice from Niigata is the best rice in all of Japan. Maybe that was the secret. I don’t know. I just know the food was great. We also enjoyed miso soup, pizza, ramen, tacos (as in Mexican soft tacos, not taco like octopus), corn on the cob with soy sauce, and of course beer. We were lucky for the most part because the oft promised rain came without fail. There’s basically only one covered stage – the Red Marquee – and we were in it when the rain came. We weren’t so lucky when we were eating dinner, but soon were able to move inside the tent and stay dryish.

The place for great local food

 

A dry food court

 

A wet food court

 

We were able to enjoy MUSE together. Unfortunately, the beginning of the show was somewhat impacted by a totally obnoxious, totally drunk Brit. Imagine a rude Brit? So out of character. Once the crowd started surging when the music really got going, we decided to beat a hasty retreat and enjoy the full spectacle of the show without injury or burns from the Brit smoking in the no smoking area.

MUSE

 

We headed back to the ryokan and soaked our tired bodies in the public bath in our ryokan. Tiny bath, and not very clean but the water was hot and it felt good.

Japan is very conscious of manners, or マナー (mana-) as it is called here. It is such a crowded country, manners go a long way. What was absolutely amazing about this festival is that the grounds are so clean and so respected. People bring their trash to the trash area and sort it very specifically. I think that’s great. I think it is amazing. Coachella becomes a big trash can by the end of the night and it all has to be cleaned up for the next day. But in Japan, the grounds, although muddy, are very clean.

Keep Naeba clean!

 

Even the mud is clean

 

Even the mud is clean

 

Saturday

From early Saturday morning, I was solo due to Tomo’s commitments. There was still so much I had not seen though I could spend the whole day alone and just wander the site. In the morning I did decide to get some merchandise. Unfortunately, by the second day, the shirt that I really wanted was already sold out. So was my second choice. Not to be deterred, I bought something anyway. That’s good marketing – settling for your third choice because you just want something.

I caught some bands in the morning and then took the “Dragondola” to one of the local peaks where people were decidedly more “chill.” If this was Coachella, I’m sure the smell of pot would be everywhere. The whole weekend I caught one strong whiff only.

Through a river valley on the Dragondola

 

Enjoying the fresh mountain air

 

Enjoying the fresh mountain air

 

Of course there was a shop dedicated to THC

Chronic!

 

Actually, I am quite amazed at the ability for Japanese to sleep anywhere, anytime. True, alcohol could have something to do with it as could a difficult night of sleep in the rain in a tent, but every at every stage there where people totally crashed in their chairs, on a tarp, on the grass, wherever.

Japanese can sleep anywhere, anytime

 

Japanese can sleep anywhere, anytime

 

Japanese can sleep anywhere, anytime

 

The Day Dreaming and Silent Breeze stage had a clearly chill groove to it, and was very relaxed.

Mountain top

 

Mountain top

 

Mountain top

 

I returned and ducked down below the gondola to hit a REAL bathroom, and as I came out, so came the rain. Lucky again, sheltered in an otherwise wide open festival. I watched the rain fall down around me and enjoyed the boots of the kid hanging out with me (well, actually with his parents).

Waiting for the rain to end

 

You'd never get me out of my boots

 

Actually, as I said before, the fashion was very interesting, very much just wearing what was necessary to battle the elements. I saw a lot of shorts and leggings on guys and girls, and the variety of rain boots astounded me.

Boots everywhere

 

Boots everywhere

 

Cool boots

 

I wandered around the various stages and saw each of the areas, including a Dog Park, a drumming area, Orange Court, Field of Heaven, the NGO Village, and the White Stage. I encountered some surprising bands like a bluegrass band from the UK, and a New Orleans group that sounded like any one of 1000 house or show bands, complete with a cover of, “Shout.”

Dog Park

Dog park

 

Stone Circle drumming

Drumming stage

 

Orange Court

Orange Court

 

Acoustic stage

Acoustic stage

 

Field of Heaven

Field of Heaven

 

NGO Village

NGO VIllage

 

Kidsland

KIdsland

 

White Stage

White Stage

 

The ski area has a nice walk through the woods that revealed an acoustic stage and lots of interesting light art. I actually walked the boardwalk twice, once in the day light and once as the sky darkened so I could get the full effect of the mirror balls.

Boardwalk art

 

Boardwalk art

 

Boardwalk art

 

Boardwalk art

 

Boardwalk art

 

Boardwalk art

 

Boardwalk art

 

I caught a little of Fishbone as I ate some food but the rain started coming down. I decided that it would be better to get a restful evening since Sunday was a big day, so I headed back to the ryokan in the rain so I could get dry and relax.

 
Sunday

Kanamori-san was going to drive up from Nagoya on Saturday, but he arranged some people to share the ride and share the cost, so his 6 hour drive started at about 10:30 pm on Saturday night. Poor guy, I had been sending him tons of advice from the festival, “Rain boots, camp stool, rain gear, rain boots, muddy” and so on. He probably was ready to kill me. He found rain boots, and we both determined that no rain would happen since he had them.

We had a last minute back and forth as Kanamori-san was bringing people with him, and those folks might be looking for a place to stay. I had room for two more on Saturday night, but Sunday was full with me, Kanamori-san, Tomo’s friend, and the friend’s friend. The logistics was seeming to work out, and I told Kanamori-san to call when he got to the ryokan and everyone could crash for a few hours of sleep. Like clockwork, at 5:00 am, the phone rain and Kanamori-san was there, drinking a celebratory beer with … 3 other people.

Late night or early morning beer?

 

Uh oh. Definitely only room for a total of 4 people and now we had 5. No problem though, as one had another place to stay.

We slept a little bit more, 4 very cozy in a 6 tatami room. The Kanamori crew got past the logistics pretty easily and then we went to have とろろめし again for breakfast. At that point, Kanamori-san said, “I’m already happy,” which made me happy as well. After all, when you feel somewhat responsible for someone spending a bunch of money and traveling 6 hours by car, you hope they don’t say, “Well, this really sucks.”

Kanamori-san enjoying a beer during Vampire Weekend

 

Me, looking happy as always

 

We wandered from stage to stage, and met up with Tomo for a little bit as well as he had some down time. Tomo sought out Thom Yorke for an autograph, found him, but was DENIED! He was able to see Flea and have a chat with Jake Shears though.

We met up with Haru-san, one of the travel companions, and her crew at the Green Stage. It was nice of the crew to welcome us into the fold. I hung with the over 30 crowd while the young ones fought their way towards the front for Atoms for Peace. We were all given flashing rings to celebrate.

Flashy rings

 

The day was remaining relatively rain-free, and the curse of the rain boots seemed to be doing its job, and also quite a job on Kanamori-san’s feet as huge blisters were developing. Then, during Belle and Sebastian, the drizzle started. By the time we made it to Scissor Sistors, it was a full fledged downpour. At that point though, I was caught up in the music and the festival, and danced, danced, danced. What a great way to end the festival.

Here comes the rain again

 

Belle and Sebastian

 

We made it back to the ryokan to meet Yaya and her friend, and then the various members of the crew showed up as well. Ichikawa-san ended up sleeping in the car. Sorry dude. But he’s young. He continued to sleep on the way home too.

Ichikawa-san

 

It was Grand Central Station at 1:30 am in the ryokan and a bit confusing, but things settled down and we went next door to an onsen, stood in line for about 15 minutes waiting to use the shower, and then had a very nice soak in the hot spring water. So nice.

 
Monday

Monday morning we woke up as planned, loaded up, and headed back to Nagoya. The roads were clear and the weather was fine, and we made the journey in about 6 hours. The time flew by for me.

On the road

 

Saito-san

 

Kanamori-san

 

On the road

 

The festival was fantastic, and I want to go again. I hope I’m around for it next year.

 
Bands

 
Friday

Superfly (Green Stage) – Japanese band to kick off the festival. They were the NHK theme song for World Cup this year, so I was familiar with the sound. The lead singer could really sing, and she did a cover of, “Natural Woman.” The pronunciation was a little questionable at times, but the voice was amazing.

Jamaica-Live (Red Marquee) – French band, singing in French and English. The were good. It was early and I forget most everything about them.

The Cribs (Green Stage) – Thanks for the guest list. And now I’ve seen Johnny Marr perform. We were way back in the back and they had a hard time reaching the audience back there.

Miike Snow (Red Marquee) – Excellent. I’ve heard mixed reviews about them live but they were very fine. Are they orthodox?

Broken Bells (Red Marquee) – I remember nothing.

The XX (Red Marquee) – Very art school. I think they may be too cool for school, or maybe really interesting to talk to. There’s such a fine line between brilliant and stupid.

MUSE (Green Stage) – Getting bigger and bigger every show. Heading towards arena rock self importance. Still a good show.

 
Saturday

Dirty Projectors (Red Marquee) – I kept calling them DIrty Professors, maybe because I’m still scarred by my EE professor getting a little too close for comfort. Anyway, had the misfortune of having the same drunk Brit from Muse stand next to me eating and getting in a food fight with his mate. Classy. The band was fine.

Kula Shakar (Green Stage) – Just heard them passing through the Green Stage area.

Third Eye Blind (White Stage) – By mistake. Wrong place at the wrong time.

Kitty Daisy & Lewis (Field of Heaven) – After hearing their bluegrassy sound I didn’t expect them to be Brits. But they were. They brought on a Jamaican trumpet player as well. Anytime you bring on a trumpet player I’ll perk up. Very entertaining.

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue (Field of Heaven) – I had NO plans to see this band. I didn’t even know who they were. But Mr. Shorty wasn’t so short, could sing, could dance, played trombone, and played trumpet. How in the HECK did he switch from Trombone to trumpet? I’m guessing he plays from two different positions so he’s got his trumpet embouchure and his trombone embouchure. Felt like a Vegas house band, but the crowd was really in to it.

Fishbone (Red Marquee) – Caught a little bit of their vitriol as I was trying to have some dinner and escape the rain

 
Sunday

Matt and Kim (White Stage) – Like watching a kids TV show with expletives. Really energetic, really goofy, really fun, but bordered on gimmicky.

Ocean Colour Scene (Green Stage) – Guitarist plays with Paul Weller now. Rocked out. The crowd enjoyed them.

Akihiro Namba (White Stage) – Another band I had not planned to see. Japanese, kind of punk. Apparently were really big about 10 years ago. Kanamori-san wanted to see them. They started to play “Stay Gold” as I was fiddling with my phone or something. Everyone rushed the stage and I ended up taking refuge in front of Kanamori-san. High energy, fun show.

Rockin' out

 

Ozomatli (Field of Heaven) – Everything I miss about multiculti Los Angeles. Hispanic, White, African-American, Asian all represented in this band, with lyrics in English and Spanish. It felt so LA, and even the songs are about LA. The crowd enjoyed them as did I.

Vampire Weekend (Green Stage) – I was really excited to see them, but watched them from far away. As the show went on, their energy seemed to dwindle. Actually, I was disappointed in their live performance. Still love their album though.

Boom Boom Satellites (Green Stage) – This was another Kanamori pick. I was blown away – electronica meets rock. A Japanese duo who seemed to hit it big in Europe first. After watching them, I didn’t even bother to see Hot Chip or LCD Soundsystem.

Atoms for Peace (Green Stage) – Although Thom refused an autograph to Tomo, I still allowed myself to watch. AFP seemed to be generating the biggest buzz. They were great as I expected. I am not as familiar with the music as I am Radiohead, so I didn’t connect as much. Thom was looking really bad, but sounding really good.

Belle and Sebastian (White Stage) – Belle and Sebastian are always good. Maybe it is the trumpet that brings me back. I really enjoyed their show even as the rain started falling. They even did a sing-a-long for a song that hasn’t been released. It will be soon.

Scissor Sisters (Green Stage) – Last gig, pouring rain, and I danced my pants off. Jake sounded great and was loving showing off his new body. I really did dance a lot to this show.
 

And now for some pictures that don’t really go anywhere else.

Along the way

 

Along the river

Along the river

 

Along the river

 

Along the river

 

Along the river

 

Along the river

 

General scene around the Green Stage

Hanging out

 

Some Engrish. Not sure I want to drink from the Womb Bar.

The Womb Bar

 

Words don’t mean the same in Japan

Is that Einstein?

 

And to leave with the youthful enthusiasm of a young kid drumming his Dad’s head.

A young musician

 

Ishigaki

When I posted “Ishigaki!” as a subject on Facebook, people were puzzled. The thought I was counting something, sneezed, and my brother went as far as to say it was the sound his cat made when trying to expel a furball. Thanks for the comments everyone. No, Ishigaki is an island in the Ryukyus (琉球), better known as Okinawa.

Japan, including all of Okinawa

Ishigaki and surrounding islands

 

When most people think of Okinawa these days, they think of the controversy over the US bases on the main island of Okinawa. However, there are many islands that are part of the island chain. I wanted to go where there weren’t so many Americans to minimize the potential for hostility. We decided on the ANA Intercontinental in Ishigaki and a day trip to Iriomote. Ishigaki and Iriomote are part of the Yaeyama group of islands within Okinawa.

ANA Intercontinental, Ishigaki

 

Unfortunately, the dates we chose were right in the middle of rainy season, or tsuyu (梅雨, つゆ), and the weather did not let us down. Somewhat surprisingly, it didn’t really impact our plans at all. It rained every day we were there, but the heaviest rain was conveniently timed when we were moving from one location to another, or in some sort of protected situation. Even when we were stuck in the rain, it wasn’t bad since the air temperature ranged from 24 degC to 29 degC the whole time (77 degF to 84 degF).

Tomo flew in from Tokyo, and I flew in from Nagoya and we met in Naha before continuing to Ishigaki. What amazed me is that I flew a 777 from Nagoya and Tomo flew a 747. His was cool too. I’ve never flown such a big airplane for a domestic flight, and for such a short flight. Well, a few times I’ve taken a 747 from Singapore to Jakarta, but I was amazed that there was such a demand that a jumbo jet is standard.

A small domestic airplane

 

As I learned in Kyoto, it is school trip season and the airport in Naha was filled with packs of junior high school kids.

We got to Ishigaki fairly late on a Friday, but early enough that we could find a place for dinner. Tomo had a few ideas from a book, but the taxi driver made our final decision for us. The restaurant was fantastic, clearly a local place, and appeared to have a mix of locals and visitors.

Dining in Ishigaki

 

We had decided to go to Iriomote for a day trip and actually booked a tour. I’m not a big fan of tours, but they can be convenient. By booking the tour, we didn’t have to worry about renting a car, or being tired as we drove from location to location, and we can get a little bit of local description. Of course, like any tour, each place we went conveniently had some shop associated with it where we could buy souvenirs, ice cream, etc. One our itinerary was a boat ride along a river and through a mangrove, a 2 hour hike to a from a waterfall, lunch, a visit to a beach where the sand is shaped like a star, and then a water-buffalo cart ride to another island.

To get from Ishigaki to Iriomote required a ride in a ferry. The only time I rode a ferry consistently was in Sydney, often taking the ferry between Manly Beach and Sydney Harbor. When I was there, you could choose between a big boat or, for a premium, the hydrofoil. So when I saw our “ferry” I thought, “Uh oh.” I’m not a great sailor and I worried about the 35 minute ride. The boat seemed so small and so claustrophobic. I was expecting to hang out on the deck, letting the fresh wind buffet me as we meandered to the next location. Instead, I walked down a few steps into a single aisle, 3 x 3 seat configuration with a ceiling lower than a 737. I was afraid this was going to be bad. Once we started though, I realized why we weren’t on deck – this boat was a speedboat! We were sitting right at water level, and the boat was flying across the sea. There was no rocking of the boat – any waves we encountered were either destroyed by us or pounded us in a slightly different direction. In true Japanese and transportation form, most everyone slept.

The ferry to Iriomote

 

Inside the boat

Tight quarters in the ferry

 

Once we arrived, we found our tour bus, and had a total of 5 people in a full size tour bus. I was thinking perhaps we picked a lame tour, but I realized that there just weren’t that many people visiting. Cool. Iriomote has two stoplights on the entire island, and we encountered one of them.

Iriomote has two main rivers sending water from the mountains to the sea, and we took a boat ride through a mangrove. Pretty scenery, that’s about all to say about that. We were dropped off upstream, where we started a hike to an upstream waterfall. The hike took us through a rainforest, and the path was a mixed of pavers, prepared stairs, and roots. We were both wearing sandals and realized afterwards that we were really sore from trying to maintain balance. Since we had no ankle support our legs were doing a lot of work. We saw many interesting things along the way, including multiple spider webs with a mean looking master. The waterfall was nice although I guess I was expecting a 200 foot tumbling spectacular instead of a stretch of rough water.

The boat dock

The dock on the river

 

Tomo, looking 1960s Italian in his Ben Sherman shades

Tomo channels his internal Italian

 

In the rain forest

The rainforest

 

The spider

A spider that was all along our path

 

The spider in detail

 

Waterfalls along the river

Waterfalls along the river

 

Lunch was provided at a nearby resort. It was a set course, and very good. It was very colorful as well.

A great lunch

 

Next up was the hoshinosuna (星の砂, ほしのすな) beach. Basically, the sand contains many star shaped “grains” which are actually shells. It is interesting though to run your hand through the sand to find the star shaped grains. Both Tomo and I found a grain immediately, so we spent the rest of the time enjoying the scenery and checking out the tidal pools.

Starry sand

Starry sand

 

Trapped in a tide pool

Stuck in a tide pool

 

The beach

星の砂

 

星の砂

 

After that, it was around the island to a place where you can ride a cart drawn by a water buffalo to another island (Yubu Island). I was not really keen on this part of the tour, but apparently it was made famous by a commercial in Japan, and also by a television show. So it has become a part of the Iriomote circuit. My thoughts didn’t really change when we reached the location and the wind was whipping and the tide was low. But we rode the buffalo to the island. It turns out the island used to have residents but during one particularly strong typhoon they left the island and decided (or most likely it was decided for them) that they would not return. There are still a few buildings left over from that time, including a school. It was very LOSTesque and I was afraid Ben or the Smoke Monster might show up. Instead, it seems an eccentric couple turned it in to a kind of horticulture park.

Water buffalo and riding over on the cart

The water buffalo cart

 

The water buffalo cart

 

The water buffalo cart

 

The scary things on the island including a falling-down school, some strange fish thingys, and Doraemon

An empty school building on Yubu Island

 

An old playground

 

Doraemon on a rope

 

Some of the interesting flora on the island

Yubu Island flora

 

Yubu Island flora

 

Iriomote is also famous for the Iriomote Mountain Cat, a nocturnal cat that no one ever sees. I didn’t see it either, but found a few signs that made me think I didn’t want to encounter it!

About the Iriomote Mountain Cat

 

We then zoomed back to Ishigaki, got cleaned up, and went to a yakiniku (焼き肉, やきにく) restaurant for some famous Ishigaki beef. Our reservation was for 7:30 pm and we were warned that they may be sold out of some items by then. Island life is early! And so ended our first full day in Okinawa.

Ishigaki Island

The next day, the weather wasn’t very promising, so we decided to do an Ishigaki tour. This time we had a full sized tour bus for just the two of us. Yikes! I wish we had a minivan. The tour started off rather ominously, visiting a memorial to Chinese that were killed by the British and Americans after their ship wrecked on the island. Hmmmm. But then we headed to Kabira Beach. Our guide offered us a glass bottom boat ride for a little extra money. Since we didn’t have anything else going on, we decided, why not? I’m glad we did. We visited the beach and were told that it was one of the top view points in Japan. And it was indeed. It is beautiful in bad weather and I can’t imagine what it would be in bright sunny skies.

The scenes around Kabira Beach

Kabira Beach

 

Kabira Beach

 

Interesting things on shore

Interestingly shaped and textured fruit

 

A shell collection

 

Low tide around Kabira Beach

Low tide at Kabira

 

Low tide at Kabira Beach

 

The glass bottom boat, after an initial tangle with other anchors, was pretty amazing. The water is so alive so close to the shore. Most islands in Okinawa are surrounded by reefs, so there is lots to see. Certainly Kabira Beach was the highlight of the Ishigaki tour.

Trying to capture the view from the boat

 

Riding in the glass bottom boat

 

Naha

On the way back to Nagoya and Tokyo, we had a long layover in Naha and spent some time on Kokusai Street. It was raining a ton and chocked full of junior high school kids. We had some good タコス, or tacos. We wandered through the shopping area and then headed back to the airport.

The shopping area at Kokusai Street

Kokusai Street and the market

 

Kokusai Street and the market

 

Dried fish to make fish flakes that dance on okonomiyaki

 

Along Kokusai Street

 

It was a great time, even if it was just for a long weekend. I wonder what it looks like when the weather is nice?

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.