dorchadas: (Kirby Walk)
I don't really like being the center of attention at an event. I don't even like being the soft center, which is why I haven't had a party for myself in years--not since high school, I think. I thought about having a birthday party this year, but eventually decided against it. Maybe next year when I turn 35, since that's more of a milestone.

Which isn't to say that I'm one of those people who hates birthdays. I celebrate every year, just quietly, and this year was no different on that score. [ profile] softlykarou met me on Friday after work and we walked the two blocks from my office to Benny's Chop House for the first of two birthday dinners. It wasn't my birthday, but August 19th (until sundown) was Tu b'Av, an ancient festival that died with the Second Temple and was forgotten until the Israelis revived it as a kind of Jewish Valentine's Day. I only know about it because of the Jewish holidays calendar addon I have in my phone calendar, but it's as good a reason for a fancy dinner as any, even if half of Benny's menu is an abomination before Hashem.

The parts that are good are really good, though:

Filet mignon with a red wine reduction and black truffle on top.

[ profile] softlykarou told me that my whole face changed when I took a bite. It was probably the best steak I've ever had in my life.

The next day, I woke up to a thunderstorm just like I had on Friday, which is probably the best weather I could have wanted on my birthday. My parents came into down and met my sister, who was already here meeting up with high school friends before her flight to Costa Rica today, and we went out to breakfast at a French-Vietnamese restaurant nearby. I got duck curry, because curry for breakfast sounds amazing to me at all times, and then we went back to [ profile] softlykarou and my apartment until they all left to avoid the traffic. Then we mostly stayed at home until dinner time, when [ profile] softlykarou made me even more duck:

Crispy duck with mango-cilantro salsa, roasted cauliflower, and asparagus.

Not visible there is the flourless chocolate cake she also made, this time with real vanilla extract. It's in the recipe, but [ profile] softlykarou usually left it out because we don't use vanilla for that much and it would just sit around otherwise. But my parents gave me a bottle of it for my birthday along with a few other spices, so why not use it? And I think I could taste the difference, too.  photo getin.001.gif

I was feeling a bit off for most of my birthday, and I think it's because while I wanted to have a quiet weekend I still ended up with a lot of stuff to do--yesterday I woke up at 8:30 and it still seemed like it was dinnertime before I had even blinked. Today has gone a bit slower, though I still haven't gotten as much time as I'd liked. But we never have enough, do we?  photo darksouls.001.gif

I got to read more The Lord of the Rings to [ profile] softlykarou today and have a quiet breakfast inside with her, and even though it's taking place today instead of yesterday, it's one of the best birthday presents I could have asked for. I don't mind getting older as long as those are the opportunities that it will bring.
dorchadas: (Darker than Black)
Last week I made a point that despite how seemingly apropos our chocolate choice was, we selected it by chance. This time, I make no such claim. When our latest Raaka chocolate shipment arrived on Wednesday and [ profile] softlykarou told me what the bars inside were, I knew we had to pick this one. I mean, my last food blog series was about curry, and this one is about chocolate. A combination of the two? Well, that was definitely our next target.
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dorchadas: (Baldur's Gate II)
The party comes to in an air pocket in the depths of the sea, in the city of the sahuagin.

Sahuagin are kind of odd. D&D has a bunch of underwater fish-like humanoids--the sahuagin, of course, but also the locathah, kuo-toa, skum (note K), and some underwater variants of dryland monsters like merrow (aquatic ogres) and scrags (aquatic trolls). But for some reason, it's the sahuagin that have taken most of the popular D&D consciousness. They got their own book for AD&D 2e, called The Sea Devils, and even showed up in the first Final Fantasy game as SAHAG. As a child I thought it stood for "Sea hag," but the Japanese is サハギン, so the source is pretty obvious. Looking at Wikipedia tells me the sahuagin originally date from Blackmoor, so maybe they get first billing simply by virtue of being the oldest.
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dorchadas: (Not the Tale)
Last week was the 30th anniversary of the original Metroid, and I wrote about it. But this weekend I was looking to play something short as a break from the multiple sprawling dozens-of-hours RPGs that I'm working my way through, and while I originally was deciding between Kirby's Adventure, Super Mario Brothers III, and Slain: Escape from Hell, I realized that I hadn't yet played Zero Mission. I've heard multiple times that it's good enough to make the original Metroid completely obsolete and I've been meaning to play it for years at this point. What better time than in honor of the 30th anniversary? And now that AM2R is out--DMCAed, but the internet never forgets and it very specifically did not get C&Ded, so the author is still updating--I Wanted to play the first game before I played that.

I don't want to bury the lede, so I'll say that everything I heard about Zero Mission is right. It really does make the original obsolete.


What I was most worried about was the developers going back and adding more story to a game where the lack of story is what allowed it to work. Metroid doesn't need an intricate backstory and compelling character motivations and in-depth conversations with secondary characters. Down that road lies Other M and Samus refusing to use her suit abilities until a man authorizes them or panicking when Ridley shows up even though she's fought him multiple times before. Just drop Samus alone on a planet filled with hostile alien life and a few Metroids and that's all I need.

And other than a bare handful of text interludes, none of which is more than a single screen, that's all Zero Mission gives you. The original Metroid manual had more story, including really cute drawings of alien congress members and space cops. And also details the powers including the Long Beam, which I completely forgot was in the original Metroid and thought was put in Zero Mission to lengthen the playtime. They were even more faithful to the original than I thought.

Honestly, I liked the minimal story that the splash screens and text provided. There was a quick cutscene introducing Kraid, another one showing Ridley arriving on the planet, and then a few more with the added section that takes place after the original NES Metroid. None of them are longer than about 30 seconds and none of them detract from the game. Except maybe the Chozodia one showing baby Samus, but that's only because it's the source in the games of Samus Aran as the magical alien chosen one with alien DNA instead of just a really good bounty hunter, and I prefer the latter story. And looking this up, I learned all this came from a manga. Some things are better left unexplained.

Baby Samus is really cute, though.

The controls were a little strange, though coming from Super Metroid it was going to seem strange no matter what. The jumping was a little off and the inability to shoot across the screen threw me at the beginning, though you pick up Long Beam before too long. The hi-jump took longer, but once I picked that up the controls felt a lot more familiar, and then I realized the problem--the game was designed for a GameBoy Advance screen, so it doesn't even have the resolution of an old CRT TV, and the jump height was adjusted for the screen size. Everything felt cramped because it was.

Once I collected all the upgrades, though, I didn't notice at all. I was space jumping and leaping and running all over the place without much of a care. Shinesparking took more effort to get into, but I've never been very good at it, so that's not Zero Mission's fault. Blame my aged fingers or my lack of practice, whichever you find to be the most believable.

Note to evil overlords--make sure your maintenance tunnels are not accessible to infiltrating super soldiers.

The part I was most worried about was the post-game content, or what would be the post-game content when compared to the original Metroid. I knew it was a stealth section, and stealth sections are almost universally terrible in every game that doesn't build its mechanics around sneaking. It turns out that I needn't have worried, because Zero Mission's stealth sequence--Samus is infiltrating the space pirate mothership after her own ship is shot down while escaping Zebes--is the kind of stealth sequence that should have Yakity Sax playing in the background.

Samus doesn't have her suit for it, but she's still a superhuman bounty hunter who can jump 10 yards straight up from a standing start, survive multiple laser blasts while unarmored, and run faster than an Olympic sprinter. Zero Mission fulfills the most basic requirement of a stealth game--it makes getting caught fun. Samus is sneaking around through air ducts or running through corridors and hits a tripwire or jumps onto a platform where a space pirate is hiding, and then it's a madcap dash away as space pirates start coming out of the walls. Samus only has her zero suit--this is the first game where it appears--and a stun gun, so no matter how skilled you are, the only choice is to run away.

You can't see me.

Fortunately, Zero Mission has the most stealth game AI I've ever seen for the space pirates. There were multiple times where I'd shoot a space pirate in the face, run past them into a room with no exits but with a tiny crawlspace, and Samus would hide there. The space pirate would look around for a few seconds, then leave and turn the alarm off. One time, there was a room with a collapsing floor, which I shot while the space pirate was walking on it. It fell out of sight and the alarm deactivated a couple seconds later. Suddenly, I understand the Metroid Prime space pirates "I shall do science upon it!" approach to research.

And then at the end, you're rewarded with an upgraded power suit and the activation of the mysterious unusable powerups you collected back on Zebes--the plasma beam, the space jump, and the gravity suit, the three powers in Super Metroid that Metroid didn't have--and become an unstoppable titan, blasting your way through all the space pirates you had to run from before. Even after a stealth sequence as non-aggravating as Zero Mission's, it still feels amazing to turn the tables in such an over-the-top fashion. This may be one of the best implementations of stealth I've seen in something that wasn't a Thief or a Metal Gear, so hats off to Nintendo.

And it's not Zero Mission, but imagine the escape sequences as a bit like this.

Trusty Brinster E-tank, I'll always remember you.

There's a bunch of quality of life improvements that I appreciate. Diagonal aiming, chozo statues that turn into health/missiles replenishment points after you activate them, wave beam and ice beam stack instead of being exclusive, an in-game map and minimap along with minimal guidance as to where to go next. To my mind, all of that just fixes things that were limitations of the technology at the time. I mean, would you want to try to navigate around the full NES map just by memory? I've done it, and I might be able to do it again, but I'm happy not to have to.

Other than that and the stealth section, and a brief excursion into the "Chozo Ruins" aboveground to pick up an upgrade that lets Samus hang from ledges, Zero Mission is Metroid with better graphics--some of the places I went I even recognized from my memories of playing the original. Most of it didn't particularly stand out to me, though I did really like the way that the Metroids zoomed in from the background in Tourian rather than just coming in from offscreen. And the bossfights with Kraid and Ridley have been redone to their Super Metroid versions, but I like those a lot better anyway. Kraid is a multi-screen-high nightmare in Zero Mission, and in the original he looks like this.

Wow, listen to those bleeps and bloops. I like the original Metroid soundtrack a lot, but the sound effects leave something to be desired.

Oh. Hi.

This is what remakes should aspire too. All the fun of the original game, and the additions don't take away anything or ruin what was already there. The only real addition to the main game was the mantling powerup and the jumps that it enabled, but it was well-integrated enough that it felt natural after just a few minutes. The story didn't detract from the game either, and though now I have questions about how Ridley shows up again in Super Metroid after so obviously exploding in Zero Mission. But considering how well Metroid has done with trying to answer questions about the characters' pasts (the baby the baby the baby the baby the baby the baby), I think it's better off unexplained.

I beat it in just over three hours, quickly enough that Samus took off her helmet at the end, which is the same ending I got in Super Metroid and, assuming I remember correctly, the same ending I got the last time I finished Metroid. And the same ending I would have gotten if I ever finished Metroid Prime, though that's kind of cheating because all the endings there have helmetless Samus. It was a lovely diversion for a Sunday and a great palate-cleanser before I dove back into the sixty-hour JRPG I'm playing.

And now I feel like I'm ready for AM2R, which was the selfish reason for playing Zero Mission. But play it anyway, if you haven't played the original. This is the definitive version.

And once you win, you gain access to the original NES version on the same cart. So there's really nothing to lose.
dorchadas: (Darker than Black)
You might think that I've rigged the choice here, with me just writing about tea, but I swear to you that this was done entirely at random. [ profile] softlykarou reached into the plastic bag we've put all of our Darker than Black chocolate choices and pulled this one. I was even tempted to ask for a redo, but then I realized that was pointless. What difference does it make whether the chocolate is related to something that we've done recently? Surely that makes it more appropriate, not less? It's not like there's a chance of collusion here or that I need to disclose our chocolate sponsorship, because this is entirely an excuse to eat more chocolate. And such chocolate have we eaten, dear reader.
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dorchadas: (Default)
One of the benefits I get from my job is an extra day off during the summer, taken in two half-day increments, and since last Friday was the last Friday that [ profile] softlykarou would be free before she returns to work next week, I cashed in the second and last of my half-days and we went out to lunch. And after lunch, we followed a suggestion from [ profile] drydem and went to the Art Museum to check out an exhibit of Japanese period maps on display.

I've actually known about this for a couple weeks since [ profile] drydem first sent us the email, but we didn't get around to going until now. And it was great, especially so since we just got back from Japan! My favorite parts were the maps of Kyōto, which is where we spent the majority of our time, poring over them and looking for all the temples that we had visited. We didn't find all of them, or maybe it's just that I can't read some of the pre-Meiji kanji and didn't know what I was looking for, but I did find some. Including [ profile] softlykarou's favorite temple:

North is to the left.

Look at that detail. That's the layout of Sanjūsangendō--our recent visit to which you can read about here--with the long hall in front and other buildings in back where the garden is. The river at the bottom of the picture is still there too, and I remember crossing it when we walked from Kyōto Station to the temple. The whole map was like that, obviously made by someone who had been to the temples or had excellent descriptions from people who had been there, with relief maps of the mountains all around Kyōto. Mountains filled with temples because of course they are.

That turned out to be the only thing we saw at the art museum and it was worth the price of admission. There was an exhibit of 1930s American art called "After the Fall," but it was a special exhibit that required a ticket, so we didn't go.

We also went to get more tea to replace the enormous amount we drink, and while we were there I finally bought a 茶碗 (chawan, "tea bowl") so I can stop making tea in our rice bowls. And today, I got the chance to use it to make tea:

Tea and sweet!

It was much easier. The depth allowed me to whisk without having to worry as much about spilling tea everywhere, and the bowl is just the right shape to make gripping it to drink without spilling easy. Basically I don't have to worry about spilling it anymore. I think that's why it took me so long to get the proper amount of foam, because the vigorous whisking necessary for it is pretty hard to do when you're concentrating mostly on not launching tea all around your kitchen.

And it was delicious. Yum.  photo emot-qfg.gif
dorchadas: (Warlords of the Mushroom Kingdom)
Dramatis Personae:
  • Shining Star, mandragora sorcerer-priestess of Nyarhé.
  • The Green Knight, mandragora briarwitch.
  • Bonnie, kong Auspicious Orator.
  • Amos Burnham, a human from Earth.
  • Elaphe, a chuzan junior member of the Black Rose.
Woken up early by the river dragon and under a cloudy sky with a steady rain, the group decided to set out early rather than try to get more sleep, so they saddled their mounts, ate a quick breakfast, and set out on the road. They spent hours on the road with sparse mushroom trees on either side, seeing no one, though Amos did see a few camome dancing among the rainclouds. The Green Knight does pause and use his sorcery to contact a tree and ask it if it saw their quarry pass by, and it confirms that it saw them "recently," but is unable to provide further details and the party moved on. It wasn't until almost lunch that they saw two amanita on horses heavily laden with baggage, riding slowly through the rain.

Bonnie hailed them as they drew near and asked them where they were going. With much glancing at each other, the amanita explained that they came from Greenwall, the village in the middle of the mushroom forest that the hollow one's serpent of smoke and fire seems to be directing the party toward, and left because a kappa warlock arrived and corrupted the town council to his will. Shining Star perked up at that and asked if the warlock has any distinguishing marks, and the amanita said that he was missing an eye--as is Kurome, one of the Dragon Emperor's former generals, since disgraced and fled into exile. They added that they hadn't seen him up close, since they had avoided him as much as they could and got out of town as quickly as possible.

This starts a brief argument among the group over way to do. Shining Star has heard of Kurome and pointed out that he's a former general of the Dragon Empire, not some two-bit hedge cultist. Bonnie was a bit star-struck by the knowledge she could gain from a master warlock, but kept it under wraps in the face of Shining Star's vehemence. Shining Star wavered, but Nyahré's dictates to destroy the unholy win out over her caution against facing a warlock, and the group decided to continue on to the village.

The amanita also confirmed that they saw Summer Rain's murderers staying at a tea house near the western gate, but didn't speak to them. With no further information, the party bids the amanita fairwell and Elaphe spurs his claw strider to a trot.

As they rode down the road and the mushroom forest gets less and less sparse, Amos noticed that there were many more forest spirits watching them silently, and when he mentioned this, Bonnie stopped and brewed up a dose of spirit-flower tea for her and Shining Star. Both of them drank the hallucinogenic tea and their vision swirled with colors, but also revealed the shapes of fushigibana perched on the caps of mushroom trees, watching with them brilliant green eyes. The Green Knight consulted the voices of the forest and received a strong sense that the spirits wanted him in Greenwall to confront the warlock.

Just around a bend in the road were several vines hanging from the caps of the mushroom trees that Elaphe managed to see in time and rear his claw strider to avoid. The rest of the group followed his example, and the Green Knight grabbed a stick and threw it at one of the vines, which wrapped around it and whipped up into the forest canopy. When it didn't immediately come back down, the party started throwing more things, including Elaphe hurling his bob-omb, which sadly went wide and exploded harmlessly in the road. Eventually they were able to trigger enough of the stranglevines that they cleared a path for them to take that won't pass too close to any of them, and Elaphe led them through in single file.

Close to dinnertime they found a path leading north off the road that had been deliberately obscured, but merely marked it on their map and continued going. They settled in for the night at a somewhat secluded campsite under a cluster of mushroom trees, the rain having not let up for the entire day, and went to sleep.

That night, Shining Star prayed for guidance, but felt no answer from Nyahré.

Close to morning on Shining Star's watch, she heard the distant crashing sound that every child in Agarica has drilled into them from childhood--a walking tree. She woke the Green Knight and asked his opinion. The Green Knight said that walking trees do not hunt by sight or sound, and as long as they remain in their camp and do not bleed they should be safe, but he opened himself to the voices of the forest to be sure. He received a strong message to stay where they were, and conveyed it to Shining Star before he went back to sleep.

The next morning it was raining even harder than it previous day, something the party hadn't thought possible, but without any option than to go forward they saddled their mounts, ate some cold rations, and set out on the road. They were soaked almost the instant they left the cover of the mushroom trees.

Around mid-morning, Amos's attention was caught by a small pond on the side of the road that sparkled alluringly. Bonnie took a sample of the water and drank it, and it was some of the most refreshing water she had ever tasted. As she drank, she heard the faint sound of musical laughter. A few winged motes of light appeared, dancing over the water, and they whirled round and round until they coalesced into a woman in diaphanous garments with flowing hair and great wings beating in the air behind her. A great faerie!

Shining Star took the lead her as the faerie asked them if they were willing to stay a while and listen. The faerie waved a hand and the rain stopped a few inches above their heads, as a sign of her good will, but Shining Star said that they were on a quest that could not be delayed, but when it was finished they would come back to her. The faerie asked if she promised, and Shining Star did not do so, but she did offer up a ring with the seal of Nyahré as sureity. The faerie took it and spun it around her fingers, and it vanished in a flash of light. And moments later the faerie did as well, falling apart into winged motes and leaving soft laughter ringing in the party's ears.

As they moved back onto the road, the party noticed that the rain was still stopping above their heads, and gratefully they continued eastward.

Somewhat shorter session this time, but we still managed to fit some stuff in! This is all from random tables and provided a bunch of hooks that they'll get to...later. Elaphe's player pointed out that there's a good half-dozen things the party can investigate when they've finished their current goal, though who knows in what condition some of them will be in by the time they get back there.

This is the first session where I really started to keep track of time with the aid of an in-game calendar. I consulted the players about how esoteric they wanted the calendar to be and the answer was "not," so it has the standard seven-day weeks and twelve months. I changed the names with some inspiration from Japanese naming, though, so in-game we ended on Fireday, the ninth day of the Month of Falling Leaves. The 15th and 30th of each month (Silverday and Spiritday) aren't part of a week, but otherwise it's easily trackable. I even populated it with weather and celestial events like moon phases and comets, so I don't have to roll for any of that and can plan for it in-game! It allows some events that I couldn't otherwise track or would have to leave up to randomness, like other groups' plans being based around certain days or certain astronomical events. I did that in my WFRP game where there's a detailed calendar as well, and I like how it worked out.
dorchadas: (Great Old Ones)
Dramatis Personae
  • Demir Sadik, Turkish Revolutionary/Field Medic
  • Gianni Abbadelli, Italian Vatican Parapsychologist
  • Luc Durand, French Professor of Linguistics
  • Rosaline St. Clair, American Antiquities Dealer
  • Valentina Durnovo, Russian Countess/Gentlewoman
Over breakfast the next morning, the investigators checked the paper for news of the previous night's murder. There was a small item without much information--a woman's fiance had been found impaled on an iron spike in a certain district, and the police had detained the woman for questioning. The group decided that it might be a good idea to check it out...later.

A messenger delivered an invitation at breakfast to the funeral of Maria Stagliani's father, as well as offering her thanks for the group's companionship so far and inviting them to visit her at her home. The professor took out some stationary and wrote a quick note accepting her invitation and had to sent immediately. The messenger also noticed the seal on the letter they had found San Marco Basilica and asked what business they had with the Gremanci family, noted dollmakers and creators of wondrous automata. The group asked the front desk where the Gremanci's shop was, and, finding that they no longer had one, where the workshop was as well as the best place to buy a doll. The clerk said he would find out the information after the professor slipped him a large tip, and then the investigators began their day.

First, they went to the naval engineering school that now occupied the convent attached to the former Church of San Marie Celeste seeking the Devil's Simulare. The secretary at the front disinterestedly waved them toward the library, and when the professor asked the library what had happened to the manuscripts kept at the church, the librarian told a tale of a line of nuns saving as much as they could from the fire and that he was sure that the results of their courage were all now at the Biblioteca Marciana. The professor asked leave to look around the library, which the librarian happily granted. There were no ancient manuscripts there, secret and abhorred or otherwise, but there was a book on carpentry that Demir borrowed in the hope of determining how to build secret compartments in luggage, a task at which he had previously been unsuccessful.

While Demir studied, the others went to the doll shop. The professor commissioned a doll for his daughter and the countess and Rosaline both bought dolls as well, and the group asked the location of the Gremanci's workshop but the shop clerk did not know. Then it was off to lunch, where they met up with Demir again and resolved to go to the police station near where the murder had occurred.

Gianni took the lead when they arrived, saying he had heard that there were some strange circumstances around the killing and the church was investigating. The police were very brusque, but the investigators were eventually able to speak with a detective who told them that there were no buildings around so the unfortunate man couldn't have fallen. He was thrown high enough to be impaled on impact, and furthermore, the body was drained of blood and there was no blood at the scene. Gianni managed to get them five minutes with the woman, but she was unresponsive and a quick interview determined that it would take hours by a trained alienist to learn anything from her. With nothing further to be learned, the group left for the Biblioteca Marciana.
Gianni's player: "Maybe it's an automaton? The corpse?"
[ profile] mutantur: "I'm sure the police would have noticed."
Gianni's player: "A meat automaton."
Me: "Or the killer was an automaton!"
Gianni's player: "A vampire meat automaton."
Me: "I think I listened to that band in high school."
On the way, they noticed that the canals had risen strangely and the water was foul and sludge-like.

Asking directly for the Church of San Marie Celeste had better results than their previous unaided browsing, and the librarian brought them a sheaf of unsorted papers that Gianni looked through. He quickly found the Devil's Simulare as an unbound manuscript, and Rosaline worked her magic to get it out of the library. She borrowed the professor's briefcase and sat down, and then shuffled papers around until all of the Devil's Simulare just happened to end up in the briefcase, snapped it shut, and handed it back. The manuscript was in Latin, and while the professor spoke fluent Latin (seriously, he has Latin 75%), it would still take some hours to look through and he determined to save it for a later time.

After they left, the investigators decided that there wasn't enough time to visit the Gremanci workshop and still eat dinner and make their invitation to the Stagliani household, so they went back to the hotel and variously read or napped until dinner, and after dinner went on to Maria's father's estate. Maria was somber and distracted for obvious reasons, and after the short visit the investigators left and went back to their hotel, where everyone was abuzz with news that the statues at the San Marco Basilica had wept blood during evening mass. Gianni was very interested in this news, but a quick look around couldn't find anyone who had actually seen it, just people who had heard it from someone who was there, but never a real name. With nothing else to show for it, the group went back to the hotel and went to sleep.

The next morning at breakfast they saw in the paper that there had been another murder, this time of a gondolier who was torn to bits. The paper even referred to his lack of blood, and when the waiter noticed them reading the article he told them that his brother-in-law had seen Death himself poling a gondola in the canals. So the first thing the group did was go talk to the brother-in-law, but neither Gianni or Demir could get much out of him other than that it totally happened and also they were very drunk at the time.

The professor did not mention to the others his suspicions about the grisly murders which were seemingly following them across the continent.

Then it was time for Signore Stagliani's funeral, which took place on a small island in one of the canals, and featured many strange knocking sounds from the coffin. This was followed by a reception at the Stagliani's house with Giorgio and Rossini glaring at each other the whole time. The investigators and Giorgio left early to avoid any further trouble, but on the way back, Gianni noticed that the gondolier was very nervous and the countess realized that he was poling them directly away from their hotel. The group demanded to know where they were headed, and the gondolier eventually stopped answering, so Demir grabbed the pole. Further questioning revealed that the fascists were looking for them, so Demir pushed the gondolier into the canal and the investigators made their escape. As they moved away, they could see blackshirts lurking in the canal entranceway they had been heading toward.

After lunch at the hotel, the investigators went to the Gremanci workshop. Feeling that they had been too discrete thus far, they showed the elder Gremanci the letter they had found in the San Marco Basilica:
God forgive me, God help me, I had great need of it, so I took it with much trembling and sense of sacrilege. That I, a true Venetian, should violate our most sacred place! Yet surely some needs stand above all others. He was weeping, and begging for help. His statue was broken, and I had no material to repair it, for this cursed war makes everything scarce. I remembered the old story at last. What else could I do? His grandson died on Monte Grappa, alongside my dear Marco, and his figures are the only things that comfort him. God forgive me, God trust that I only seek to do my best.
and the professor explained they were looking for a statue and that a piece had been removed by a Gremanci previously, though he did not reveal why they were looking or that they had already found two pieces previously.

The elder Gremanci seemed very surprised by this and revealed that his father had died five years previously, but that they were welcome to check the heavy leather-bound record books that filled shelf after shelf. With the younger Sebastiano Gremanci's help, they quickly found the information they were looking for, which was maddeningly incomplete. The late Gremanci seemed to have been an indifferent bookkeeper, referring obliquely to a Mr. Rezzoniani and
During the storm, friends tell me, an odd freak of lightning struck the campanile of the Palazzo Rezzoniani. I must go and see my old friends in the clock tower to see if they are all still hale and well.
A clocktower with friends? Statues? Perhaps one that had been missing a leg?

The investigators decided that climbing around a clocktower in the dark would be unwise, and so they accepted a tour of the Gremanci workshop, was was exactly as charming and cute as a tour of any building filled with half-completed dolls would be. Then Demir and Sebastiano, both veterans of the First World War, went out drinking as the others went back to their hotel and settled in for the evening. The professor attempted to translate more of the Sedefkar Scrolls, and heard shouting later in the evening. He looked out the window toward the canal and saw a large fish with human-like hands, splashing about in the befouled waters, but not being a naturalist he turned his attention back to the book and eventually went to sleep.

There's only a bit left of Venice according to [ profile] mutantur, but it was just long enough that staying overtime would have been too long. So next up is going to the clocktower (which I had forgotten about until I saw it mentioned in the Gremanci records), then on to the train and reading the Devil's Simulare, which [ profile] mutantur has confirmed leads to a Cthulhu Dark Ages side-story.

I'm really excited for that! The 1920s setting is fun, but my favorite Cthulhu games are put into other contexts. One of my favorite Lovecraft stories is The Very Old Folk, about a disaster that befalls a Roman legion, and I've always wanted to run a game of Call of Cthulhu set in the far past (though probably with a different system). Horror on the Silk Road? Horror on the Appian Way? Horror on the Nile?

I was a bit surprised there were no doll-related monsters. Maybe we'll have to fight crazed automata in the clocktower, the assumption of which is exactly why we didn't go there at night. Fighting crazed automata isn't really in anyone's skillset except Demir, though Rosaline is a quick study. We're still in the "old academic" phase of characters, before we have too many deaths and start bringing in the ex-military special forces, criminals, and arms dealers.
dorchadas: (Darker than Black)
Yes, I realize that this isn't dark chocolate, but that's why it's a combo breaker! It is from Japan where I just spent two weeks, and that's why we're doing it now.

[ profile] softlykarou and I get a shipment of Japanese food every month called Skoshbox with candy and snacks. Some of it is more famous foods like matcha kitkats, some of it is food we loved like pretz or BAKE crème brûlée bites, and every once in a while, we get some chocolate. Despite there being dark chocolate in Japan--dark chocolate is marketed as men's dessert, in contrast to the giant sugary parfaits that are the domain of women--we haven't gotten any of it in our monthly box yet, but we did get a chocolate bar that was distinctly Japanese a couple months ago, so I set it aside to use it in a future Darker than Black, and the time has come.
Read more... )
dorchadas: (Awake in the Night)
Did you know that Metroid is a girl?!

(I used that joke on [ profile] softlykarou earlier. If looks could kill...)

My first exposure to Metroid was the original game, which I sadly seem to have lost somewhere over the years. It's also one of the original NES games that I beat on the original system, after hours of wandering around through Zebes, using JUSTIN BAILEY to get a preview of later areas with an overpowered Samus build. JUSTIN BAILEY also meant that I was spoiled on the secret of Samus Aran's real identity. I heard it on the playground, as you did in those days, went home and tried it out, and my mind was blown. I mean, the wave beam? What madness was this?

Oh right, also Samus Aran was a woman. I don't remember having strong feelings about it at the time, but memory is fallible.

My strongest memory of the original Metroid is actually the time I ruined a game through idiocy. There's a part of Norfair that has a series of one-block pillars over lava pits that you have to navigate to progress:

It was somewhere around here.

While I was jumping over them, I wondered if I would be able to get out if I fell in, so I deliberately fell in. And then I spent a while trying to bomb-jump my way out and continuously failing over and over again. No matter how hard I tried, at times getting within a block or two of the top, I would fall back down into the lava again. Eventually I gave up, turned the game off, and went to go do something else.

"But [ profile] dorchadas!" you say, "Metroid had a password system! If you had died in the lava, you could have put in the password and just restarted that way!" And you are absolutely right, but let me direct your attention above to the word "idiocy."

The next time through, I ended up falling down into the lava accidentally, but that time I managed to get out and go on to beat the game. Not under the time limit, of course, but a win is a win. And then I didn't play another Metroid game for over a decade until my roommate in Ireland lent me his GBA and copy of Metroid Fusion, which I barely remember except that I wasn't a fan of the constant AI companion. Metroid is space horror at its roots, and that's always been a thorn in the side of any attempt to make it more narrative-based. The point of space horror is that you are alone and there is no one out there to save you. Adding companions and commanding officers and so on works against that in a way that I don't like.

Even adding extra info is a problem. Take Metroid Prime's Space Pirate scan data:
Phazon mining is under way. Several garrisons have been established, and terraforming of the Chozo Ruins is under way. Security systems are operational, and Science Team continues to make progress in their biotech research. The Phendrana Drifts have proven to be an optimal location for Research Headquarters, and soon it will be joined by a fully operational Combat base and starport. If Command's predictions are half true, we shall rise to dominance in this sector within a deca-cycle. Truly, these are glorious times.
Blah blah blah blah. All the additional information is like that, and you have to scan all the time. My main memory of Metroid Prime is entering a new room and immediately switching to the scan visor and scanning every available surface. Compelling gameplay!

I didn't come to Super Metroid until 2009, two decades after my first Metroid game, but even then I didn't beat it until later. I wrote about that already here.

Other M and the fan reception to Federation Hunters seem to have killed Metroid at this point, but it was always a lot more popular in the west than it was in Japan. And Sakamoto doesn't seem to understand what bothered people about Other M and isn't that interested in doing another Metroid game anyway, so who knows if it'll come back any time soon. In the meantime, though, the fans are stepping up to the plate: Another Metroid 2 Remake finally came out today after eight years of development! Get it before it gets C&Ded!

Also, this fan film is pretty neat:

And while Nintendo might not care, and Sakamoto might not care, Hirokazu Tanaka (the composer) does:

dorchadas: (Awake in the Night)
I almost slept through the night! Yesterday I was almost completely wiped out from about noon on, to the point that it felt like it did during the dark times in Japan when my sleep schedule was completely off-kilter. Now I feel okay after sleeping from 10:30 p.m. to 6 a.m., with a brief bathroom break around 2:30. [ profile] softlykarou is not quite so lucky, but at least is sleeping better now than she did last night. And she gets two weeks to recover before she has to go to work, too.

Going there was just being tired in the evening and going to bed early but not actually having disrupted sleep. Not the case coming back. I've always found going west easier than going east.  photo Emot-chocobo.gif

I'm also readjusting to a non-traveling diet. My meals in Japan were a lot more bread- and rice-based than my meals here, because that's what's available to travelers. That and pickles. I'm pretty sure the 2% body weight I lost in the few days since I got back is just my body purging itself of excess pickle salt. The first day I was back, even my usual miso soup and pickles at breakfast tasted a bit off to me, which was probably my body telling me that enough was quite enough, thank you. Today it tasted lovely again, so maybe drinking all those pots of tea helped.  photo emot-11tea.gif

If you're curious, jetlag in Japanese is 時差惚け (jisaboke, "Time difference stupidity"). Perfect.
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
The first thing we did this morning after showering, before we packed and before we even ate breakfast, was to finally eat the sakura manjū we bought on Miyajima in the Hello Kitty store.

I'm as tasty as four apples.

They were delicious.  photo WOOT__Emoticon_by_CaptianAwesome.gif

Then we packed, checked out, ate toast and tea/coffee because the soup had pork again--I don't understand how Sakura Hotel offers halal ramen and then has pork in seemingly every soup they make--and walked to the train station. On the way, I learned about this exhibition which I'm now really sad I didn't know about a couple days ago, when we were over near Sunshine Mall and could have gone.  photo emot-nyoron.gif Yōkai are one of the parts of Japanese culture that doesn't get much play abroad, like kagura or foods that aren't sushi or ramen, and this would have been a great chance to see them. Sigh.

We stopped at Chocoholic so a friend could get a present for her roommate and then got on the Yamanote Line heading for Tōkyō Station, where we got off, went outside the gates, got tickets for the Narita Express, went back through the gates, and waited for the train. While we were on the platform, I got one last onigiri for the road. Fatty tuna and spring onions. Then the train started moving, and I said goodbye to Tokyo.


The train ride was an hour and the only problem were two businessmen sitting ride in front of us who randomly picked seats until they found an occupied one and then loudly spent the train ride discussing business. But that was short, and then we got off the train and made for our terminal. [ profile] softlykarou had some お土産 (omiyage, "gift souvenirs") she needed to buy, and as long as she was doing that, I picked up some for my Japanese tutor as well. I hope she likes green tea. I've met Japanese people who don't. I've also met Japanese people who don't like fish or rice, which strikes me as almost debilitating. You know, like how I'm an American who doesn't like pizza or hot dogs.

Then we went to the food court and had our last bowl of reasonably-priced ramen.

¥880. About $8.25.

We went to go check into our flight but accidentally went to the wrong wing of the terminal, and then when we did go to the right wing, found our airline, and got in line, we got an attendant who must have been new. Her English wasn't that great (and my flight-related Japanese isn't either) and had some trouble finding our reservations and boarding passes. But she did eventually find us with some help from her co-workers, print out our boarding passes, and send us on our way.

We got through security in three minutes because Japan isn't invested in stupid security theatre that just wastes everyone's time and money, went through immigration in about the same amount of time, and proceeded to the gate.

Hopefully!  photo japan001.gif

We went through the airport, stopping to say goodbye to [ profile] tastee_wheat and [ profile] tropicanaomega at their gates, and then made it to our gate. [ profile] softlykarou went to buy some sakura-flavored kitkats to use up the last of our yen and we settled down to wait, along a few Buddhist monks and a giant horde of schoolgirls probably going on a school trip. No wonder the flight was full.

Fun fact: kitkats are popular in Japan partially because the name sounds like 屹度勝つ (kitto katsu, "I will surely win").

The flight boarded slightly late and we were sitting across the aisle from each other, but as soon as we got on [ profile] softlykarou asked the man sitting in the middle seat to move to my aisle seat and he happily did so, so we got to sit together again!

We also sat next to the monks, but didn't talk with them. There was also a kid who thought having to put on his seatbelt when we hit turbulence was worse than being tortured to death and decided to shriek his head off for a while until, presumably, he tired himself out and fell asleep.

About a third of the way through the flight, I started to feel really cramped. I don't usually have problems with claustrophobia, but airlines are the exception. It wasn't until I compared seatbacks with [ profile] softlykarou that I realized the problem--the man in front of me had lowered his seat by about 15 cm and I really was dealing with less space. So I immediately rammed my knees into the back of his seat--by which I mean "sat normally, thanks airlines!"--and was rewarded by him shifting repeatedly as I did. And eventually, after enough shoving, he moved his seat back upright. I am not above petty revenge against people being inconsiderate.

We also flew above a lightning storm, but I was not sitting by a window.

Breakfast was pretty tasty:

No pork to pick out this time either!

We landed in Toronto to the news that they didn't actually have a gate for us and we'd have to take a bus to the terminal. Then we went through customs and I was all set to get annoyed until I realized that this wasn't bullshit Canadian security theater, it was bullshit American security theatre because we're going to America. The highlight was the customs agent saying he could tell we were married because we answered all his questions in unison.

Then we got to the gate and our flight was delayed an hour.  photo c9a2ed93dbfb11e324f5b3e281e5e1b2.gif

And then it was cancelled! So we had to go out through Canadian customs and pick up our baggage and hope we got another flight. Except our baggage wasn't showing up, and when [ profile] softlykarou went to ask about it, they told her that our flight wasn't canceled and they were loading our luggage onto the plane, so we ran back through US customs and back to our terminal to find our flight was delayed due

Ah yes, weather. Oh Chicago.

Ignorant Air Canada employees aside, after a two-hour weather delay we got on the plane. Then we sat there while they loaded in some extra luggage, and while I'm normally contemptuous of people who check carry-ons on the plane, I think it makes sense in this case. Then we taxied away and sat again on the runway. Then finally, finally, we took off at 8:35 p.m. Eastern.

Then we flew through turbulence pretty much the entire trip.

The sun and the storm.

We landed, taxied to our gate, and got our luggage in much less time than I was expecting because we went through customs in Canada. And now I'm posting this from the ride home, and unless our apartment has burned down in our absence, there's nothing further to report.

Thus ends the Japan Trip 2016. What a wonderful time! I'm so glad I got to go back and visit our old students and show all the places we came to love to our friends. The only problem I want to move back.  photo emot-sweatdrop.gif

Maybe someday.

Steps taken: 13245
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
After a delicious and cheap breakfast of toast and butter and tea and no soup because it had pork and shellfish despite being beet soup, we left the hotel at 10:15 in order to have enough time to make our 11:30 Sailor Moon Cafe reservations in Shibuya. But we had more time than I thought, so when we passed by Ozz On and [ profile] softlykarou saw a blue and black dress in the same style as the previous skirt/shirt combo she had bought, we stopped in. That turned out to be a dud--it was a skirt and shirt just like the other set, but they didn't have the skirt in--but she did find a black vest and skirt combo that made her look like a vampire hunter. Just needed black boots and a ruffled top. And stakes.

Also, Ozz On takes Discover. Japan really is prepping for Olympics-related foreign tourism.

The train to Shibuya was only about fifteen minutes, leaving us plenty of time to walk to the cafe without having to rush. Except we did have to rush because we went out the wrong exit, and then we arrived at Q Cafe and got into line, so it was a case of hurry up and wait. The line ended one person behind us, too. But it moved quickly, and after a few minutes...

Fighting evil by moonlight.

Sugary desserts are a feminine thing in Japan--there's all kinds of sweet parfaits filled with ice cream and whipped cream and berries and so on for women. And this was the Sailor Moon Cafe, so they turned the sugar up to 11. When I ordered the Moon Faeries' Tea (upper left), I was expecting actual tea, not a blueberry smoothie with fresh cream and white chocolate on top. At least with Sailor Neptune's Praline ([ profile] softlykarou would like to clarify that it is called the  photo Emot-loveheart.gif Elegant and Sweet Neptune Set  photo Emot-loveheart.gif) , I knew what I was getting. And it was pretty good, mostly dark chocolate and a matcha base.

[ profile] softlykarou also got the tea and the Cosmic Heart Macaroon, which wasn't actually a macaroon. It was more like a layer cake, and it was also loaded down with an enormous amount of sugar. I guess Sailor Moon is powered by love and also sugar rush.

My stomach hurt when we were done eating. I am not cut out for fighting evil by moonlight.

We ducked into the main store across the street after we ate to look around. The company running the cafe is famous for making jewelry inspired by desserts, so they had a lot of really cute necklaces that looked like macaroons but also like the warriors' regalia. I didn't get any pictures of those, but I did take one of the wall mural:

Senshi, assemble!

[ profile] softlykarou was extremely tempted by some of the jewelry but realized that she wouldn't really have any opportunity to wear it, so we left and decided to walk to our next destination--Roppongi Hills Mori Tower for the Ghibli Exhibit. Plus, then we could stop at CoCo's for curry, which we did.

The walk was peasant mostly because we were in the shade of tall buildings and managed to go out in the open when the scattered clouds covered the sun. Mori Tower was a bit of a maze, the kind of place where a corporate espionage film would be set, but after going up, then down, then around, we bought tickets for the exhibit and took the elevator up to the 52nd floor.

Welcome to the sprawl.

The exhibit mostly didn't allow photographs or I would have taken a ton. Walking in was a hallway with posters from all the movies they've done, then a small section with storyboards and production stills from the next movie coming out this year (Red Turtle, I think?). Then a giant Totoro, a reproduction of Miyazaki's office, some soot spirits creeping through a corner, a full-size reproduction of the catbus, and a floating airship from Castle in the Sky, which I've never seen but know about because Sky Castle and Ancient Robots and Girl With Mysterious Pendant are all in it, and from there entered the top tier of JRPG tropes.

They didn't have that much from my favorite Ghibli movie (千と千尋の神隠し/Spirited Away), sadly, other than the Oscar that they won for it. And while I loved the Nausicaa manga, I've never seen the film.

I did find this article that has a lot of press pictures in it if you'd like to know what it looked like. And they allowed pictures later, so I got this picture of [ profile] softlykarou where she has always truly wanted to be.

All aboard the nekobus.

There were a couple people over in Akihabara, so we decided to go there next. Originally we were going to walk, but the map said it was four miles away, so we hopped on the Hibiya Line and rode straight to Akihabara. Then we alighted, went up the stairs, and walked over to Super Potato.

As soon as I walked in, I went like  photo wheeeeee_emote_by_seiorai.gif, because this is what it looked like:

It's Kirby season.

There were three floors: one floor of 16-bit and earlier games, one of Playstation and later games, and a retro arcade. I didn't end up buying any games, because I've realized that just about every game I play from now on is going to be on the computer one way or another. I did buy more plushies, though--a bob-omb and a winged goomba that we're going to hang from one of the pre-existing hooks into our kitchen ceiling.

After twenty minutes wandering through the promised land of retro gaming and meeting up with everyone after most of a day spent apart, we went across the street to the Akihabara branch of Animate so [ profile] softlykarou could look for Sailor Moon items. She found a small figure of Usagi sitting on a cake, bought it, and we went on to the Yellow Submarine hobby shop in search of tabletop RPGs. They had them--there was even a copy of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay translated into Japanese--but not Call of Cthulhu or Alshard. Sword World made a strong appearance, but I don't like the rules.

We left and I checked into our flight, getting [ profile] softlykarou and I seats across from each other, and then we headed back to the station to meet up with [ profile] tropicanaomega and her friend, who came down from Aomori to see her, coming back from Mandarake.

We took the Yamanote Line to Yūrakuchō to walk to Ginza, but arrived a bit early to meet the friend of a friend we were looking for, since his workday ends at 7 p.m. After trying a cafe and being told there were no seats ([ profile] tastee_wheat checked it out later and found plenty of seats. Probably another case of being too foreign), we walked to Hibiya Park and sat on benches overlooking the water.

Green space? In Tokyo?

After about half an hour of resting, it was close to the time when we were supposed to meet the friend of a friend we had come here to find, so we went back toward Yūrakuchō Station and waited until he appeared. After introductions, we all walked to Ginza to find a restaurant, since our friend wanted to see Ginza at night and his friend knew where to go eat.

If you're not familiar, Ginza is a glitzy part of Tokyo, all neon at night and no vending machines. I figured that meant we'd have a hard time finding a place to eat, but the second sushi place we went had plenty of space and good food. We stayed there for two hours until the chef came out and started clearing glasses in a universal "get the hell out of my restaurant" gesture. [ profile] tropicanaomega did manage to pull off an awesome party trick, though!

That's a ¥1 coin suspended on water by surface tension.

And then we walked back to the train station and went back to our hotels to prep for the journey home. But it was lovely to have a last dinner together as a group!

Wonderful dinner with wonderful people.

Steps taken: 19942
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
I woke up at 7:30 a.m. and decided not to go back to sleep, since we would be traveling today back to Tokyo for to last phase of our trip. [ profile] softlykarou and I lay around in bed for a couple hours, packed up our souvenirs and clothes, and headed out to find some breakfast. [ profile] softlykarou's initial idea of Cafe du Monde turned out to be a dud because the one in Kyoto Station only sold drinks, but we found a small Italian restaurant in the dining area that had a morning set with panini and coffee or tea. Mozzarella, tomato, and pesto panini is exactly what I wanted to start the day.

After that, everyone assembled, we reserved our Shinkansen tickets, [ profile] softlykarou and I bought ekiben from a small shop in the station, and we got on the bullet train for Tokyo.

On the inside. My knees are a foot from the seat in front!

I spent the Shinkansen ride catching up on RSS feeds and listening to podcasts, and after two-and-a-half hours we were back in Tokyo. We got on the Yamanote Line and all got off at our destinations--this time, we were staying near separate stops--and walked back to the Sakura Hotel, arriving about five minutes after check-in time. We got our rooms, out some laundry in the provided laundry machines, and settled down to let it run, though we did go to the conbini to get some snacks since several other people had gotten food and we probably weren't going to eat until later.

Once out laundry was done, we put it away or hung it as befit its level of dryness and wandered out to find Otome Road. "Otome" (乙女, "little girl, maiden") is slang for female anime and manga fans, and there's a part of Ikebukuro dedicated to them the way that Akibahara is dedicated to male fans.

Well, more to tourists looking for electronics now, but the historical connection is there.  photo emot-awesomelon.gif

We went east through Ikebukuro Station and into the shopping streets past it, and after navigating past a few pachinko parlors and under an overpass, we found it:

Not visible: rows of capsule machines.

[ profile] softlykarou dived into the capsule machine and won a Sailor Moon keychain on her first try, and then we entered the shop. It turned out that the main Animate shop had moved and this was the cosplay annex, for all your costuming needs. Cosplay in Japan doesn't have the same do-it-yourself impetus that it does in America, so there were pre-made costumes for a variety of characters. And pre-styled Sailor Moon wigs. Imagine a market big enough to support that niche.

The store was pretty neat but there was basically no way for us to get anything back to America without ruining it, so after a quick look, we checked the internet for where the main store had moved to--about 300 meters away--and walked there. It was a gigantic shrine to all things nerd, with a correspondingly large population of shoppers which [ profile] softlykarou was happy to see were indeed mostly women, and we looked a bit around the first floor.

Uh, I'm not hungry, thanks.

Unfortunately, the crowds also meant there was a giant line for the elevator, and we pledged to come back during a less busy time and went back to Ikebukuro Station.

During Tokyo rush hour. Oops.  photo darksouls.001.gif

Actually, it wasn't that bad. The station was packed and so was the incoming train, but nearly everyone got off at Ikebukuro. We even got seats! And then fifteen minutes later, we arrived in Akihabara and met up with the others.

Neon and moe.

[ profile] tastee_wheat wanted to check out a hobby shop called TamTam a bit off the main drag and, hoping for Japanese tabletop RPGs, I went with her. It had an extensive collection of model kits, model trains, replica military gear, and basically everything I'm not really interested in. After casing the joint, I told [ profile] tastee_wheat that I was going to head back and went off to find the others.

After dodging the maids and "schoolgirls" handing out fliers, I found everyone else at Kotobukiya, a hobby shop closer to Akihabara Station. It wasn't just entirely animu and mango stuff, though--there was an entire floor devoted to superheroes and Star Wars. [ profile] softlykarou bought a Captain America towel, and would have bought a Black Widow statue if she hadn't been worried about transporting it back to America.

We were going to go to Super Potato, famous retro game store, afterward, but Google lied to us and it actually closed at 8 p.m., so instead we wandered around in search of dinner. After a couple of false starts, including one restaurant I'm almost positive turned us away for being foreign, we found a place called Tsuki no Shizuku with izakaya-style small dishes and a touchscreen ordering system. They also had green tea tiramisu.


Full of food for only ¥1919 each, we went on to the Sega Arcade building, which in the way of modern Japanese arcades had almost no racing or fighting games and was overly full of UFO catchers, card-based games, and Gundam battle pods. Okay, admittedly the last one there is pretty amazing, but at ¥500 a play it's not super practical for more than a play or two.

Instead, I challenged a friend to Taikō no Tatsujin:

Locked in combat.

Unfortunately I ended up with battle damage on my hand, because the "1812 Overture" on hard is many more drum strikes than someone who doesn't actually play the drums at all is used to. That didn't prevent me from coming within 2% of my friend's score, though!

Despite a thorough search I hadn't found any danmaku games and some of the others were getting tired, so we called an early night. Early for Tokyo, anyway. We got back at 11:30 and it looked like the part of Ikebukuro we're staying in was just coming alive. But not us.

Steps taken: 14669
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
Late night, late morning, and the rain that had been predicted nearly every day in the weather report finally arrived. [ profile] softlykarou went out with a friend to fetch breakfast, and then came back, ate, and we left just under the buzzer to allow the hotel staff to clean our room.

Everyone else wanted to go over to Arashiyama on the west side of Kyoto, their various original plans having been scuppered by the rain. They decided this when we were already on the bus toward Ginkakuji, though, so we stayed on and alighted in northeastern Kyoto in a light rain. We walked hand-in-hand for about five minutes through houses and small shops and, next to a children's park made of dirt with a single swing and slide, we found the entrance to Hōnen-in.

Shadows and light.

I read about Hōnen-in this morning, and while the website I read said the central building was only open for two weeks a year, in April and November, but that the grounds had a lovely moss covering and were little-visited. Both of those sounded like huge bonuses, so I asked [ profile] softlykarou about it and she was all in favor. And it was exactly as advertised. I did have to wait for a couple other tourists to move out of the way to take that picture, but with the rain and Hōnen-in not really being famous for anything specific, we had it mostly to ourselves.

We couldn't go into the main hall, but it didn't matter. The advertised moss was there, as was a lovely fish pond, a few outbuildings, a stone stupa, and a statue tucked into a corner:

Watching over the moss.

After a few minutes' wandering around, we went back down toward the park and further north, where we realized we were on the 哲学の道 (Tetsugaku no Michi, "Philosopher's Walk"), which we've walked before the last time we were in Kyoto when my parents came to visit. After a brief diversion over to Anraku-ji only to find it was closed, we walked about five minutes north to the end of the road and Ginkakuji.

Ginkakuji is my favorite temple in Kyoto, but I think a lot of that has to do with my introduction to it. The first time we went, it was the end of December close to the new year, and almost no one was there other than us. The grounds were deserted other than one man raking the sand and us.

That was not the case here. The road from the Philosopher's Walk was absolutely packed full of people and the shrine was the same. It was still beautiful, but it fell victim to the typical problem with tourism--you want places to be easily accessible but no one to be there except you. Still, when I could ignore the people around, it was lovely.

One of many small ponds on the grounds.

The name means "Silver Pavilion" to match with Kinkakuji's "Golden Pavilion," but there's no actual silver on the buildings. The story is that they planned to cover it with silver but never got around to it, but no one really knows. I don't really care much for the buildings anyway. It's the gardens that I love.

I also got this picture of the grounds and the city.

Doesn't look that modern from this viewpoint.

On the way down, we popped into the gift shop. While we were tempted by the Kitty-chan tea mugs, we eventually decided not to get them, but did go for matcha and a sweet, the real reason we had entered in the first place. The sweets were soybean flour cakes formed in the shape of the mon of Ashikaga Yoshimasa, who ordered its construction. It was good--better than the matcha I can make, but not so much better than I feel like making matcha is a waste of time for me. I just need more practice, and I can do it.

After that, we took the bus back toward Kyoto Station but got off at Gion for lunch. Unfortunately, it was already 2:30 p.m. when we arrived and most places were closed or closing, and the places that weren't were serving noodles that I didn't want. We found one compromise place that had duck udon, but when we got inside, the duck udon was scratched out, so we left. We were running out of patience when [ profile] softlykarou found a restaurant called Izumoya, where we got a seat upstairs overlooking the Kamogawa. ¥2000 set with dashimaki, miso soup, pickles, rice, sashimi, tofu, tempura, seaweed salad, salt was delicious. That link had some bad reviews, but I'm really happy we went.

The dashimaki wasn't as good as [ profile] softlykarou's, though.

Next was the kanji museum, which I had seen a few days ago and wanted to go to for a while. Right after entering we saw a video about the origin of kanji in China from ideographic representation to the more stylized images in use currently, which made the point that emoji are very similar to the origin of kanji. And just outside was a display that demonstrated it the progression of kanji from ancient to modern:

Touch interactive--press a modern kanji and it would transform into the older turtle-shell-carved form in the center.

After that was a display where you could write the syllables of your name and see what kanji were used to derive the hiragana and katakana to pronounce it. While doing the katakana, two women noticed our writing and we got into a brief chat with them about how we used to teach English in Hiroshima and were from Chicago, and it turned out that one of them was an exchange student in Detroit! She said she had a lot of fun, but it was extremely cold, which, well, can't argue with that.

We couldn't read a lot of the information there and the kanji library was definitely beyond our ability, so we took a quick look into the gift shop and then left to get some anmitsu and, after that, to look at kanzashi for [ profile] softlykarou's hair. After a bit of browsing, she found a black and green one and then we took the bus back to Kyoto Station, browsed around the shops there, and then headed back to the room to rest a bit before dinner.

Due to a miscommunication, we ended up not meeting up for dinner, so four people went to Chojiro again and, due to long lines, [ profile] softlykarou, another friend, and I took the bus to Gion and found a hole-in-the-walk yakitori place called Torin (鳥ん). No pictures of the inside because they requested no photos, but I did take this picture of the outside:

The inside decor was rubber-chicken-themed.

There was a ¥300 table,charge and one-drink minimum order, so initially I was set to hate the place. But they won me over with the food. I ordered the set meal and got a hamburg (ハンバーグ, more like Salisbury steak than hamburger) with egg, salad, chicken skin appetizer, ice cream, and three yakitori skewers. The yakitori was excellent. Crunchy on the outside, juicy on the inside, flavorful without being overwhelming, just fantastic. The table charge was actually worth it. And with only twelve seats in the place, I can kind of see why they charge it.

We left and met up with the others, bought some conbini sake and umeshu, and headed back to a friend's Air BnB to chat. That lasted about an hour before [ profile] softlykarou and said friend were falling asleep, so the rest of us said our goodbyes and conducted a Pokéwalk back to our respective places of rest.

I evolved an イーブイ into シャワーズ, and I learned that Showers is called "Vaporeon" in English.

Steps taken: 18226
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
You can tell Japan is a high-trust society with good social cohesion because the elevators hang around forever but close instantly when you press the 閉める button.

I woke up late, so after showers and breakfast again at Lotteria, [ profile] softlykarou and decided to go to Sanjūsangendō again. But apparently everyone else had the same idea, because when we got to the 206 bus there were roughly a hundred people waiting in line to use it. Faced with that, we figured walking would be better, so we set out east. Fortunately, the rain that's been forecast nearly every day of our visit but that never materialized finally arrived, so it was completely overcast during the walk and thus not that hot.

Sanjūsangendō does not allow pictures inside the hall and since it's still an actively-used temple--there are spots for praying and priests inside taking prayer requests--I didn't try to sneak a picture. But I did get this image of the exterior:

With artistic tree in foreground.

Sanjūsangendō is [ profile] softlykarou's favorite temple in Kyoto, because it's the temple of 観音 (Kannon), and because it feels like an actual temple. Even though it's also a tourist space, it's quiet, it's dimly lit, the whole hall smells of incense and sounds of dimly-ringing bells, and stacked in row on row in front of you as you enter are a thousand and one statues of Kannon, five hundred on each side of a giant seated Kannon almost four meters high.

We walked the circuit of the temple, in front of the statues and then the back hallway where they held the 通し矢 (tōshiya) archery competitions. There's even a wooden beam exhibited that has dozens of arrowshafts sticking out of it, the remnants of ancient contests.

After a brief foray onto the grounds to take some pictures of the garden:

I love this gardening style.

...we went back to the hotel room to get ready for the Tenjin Matsuri in Ōsaka. That took a bit longer than I was expecting because when we got back our room was still being cleaned, but eventually we were all ready. "We" being [ profile] softlykarou, another friend, and myself, since everyone else had already gone ahead to Ōsaka to visit the castle. We walked to the train station, got on the next Shinkansen bound for Shin-Ōsaka station, and we were off. After a tasty チキン南蛮お弁当 (chikin nanban obentō, "Boxed chicken lunch of the southern barbarians") scarfed down in ten minutes because Kyoto and Ōsaka are really close together, we arrived in Ōsaka.

I've only been to Ōsaka once before because [ profile] softlykarou had to take her GRE here, so I went with her for moral support. I remember the Human Rights Museum, that the conbini had kimchi-ume onigiri, and that's about it, so unlike the other cities we've been to I really had no idea where to go. Fortunately, as we were looking at a map, an English-speaking train station attendant came over and asked where we wanted to go, and we got on the train with a helpfully labeled map of our destination.

I then promptly ignored it, because we had a bit of time before the parade and I wanted to go to check out 四天王寺 (shitennōji, "Temple of the Four Heavenly Kings") first, after reading that it was one of the oldest temples in Japan (built 593) and the first known temple to be built officially by the state. So we walked there, against the flood of schoolgirls leaving school that had just let out, and arrived in mid-afternoon.

Here's the gate to the inner temple:

Fūjin and Raijin, guardians of wind and storm.

I did not actually go into the inner temple, because they charged admission and also because it was heavily under construction. I thought there was some kind of ceremony taking place with pounding drums until I looked into the inner compound and saw the heavy machinery.

There were a lot of smaller buildings scattered around the grounds, and I would have liked to spend more time looking around except we were on a schedule and also construction, so we left after a bit and walked to the subway, where we hopped on and came up near 大坂天満宮 (Ōsaka Tenmangu) into giant crowds of people in yukata, festival booths, a guy handing out fans, and, of course, the parade:

This is right after they put the mikoshi down and then picked it up again.

We watched the parade long enough for a couple mikoshi and one extremely-upset horse to pass by, and then the other group told us that they had found a place by the river to watch the later boat procession, so we left and worked our way through the crowd, across the parade route, over the bridge across the water, and over to the stone steps where the others were sitting. Then the boats came out on the water.

One of about thirty boats.

The boats were mostly dragged by tugboats, but a few of them, like the foreground of that picture, were muscle-powered, prompting feats of oarsmanship and [ profile] tastee_wheat to say:
"I've never seen a boat do doughnuts before."
We watched the boats for about an hour and a half while the boat with the shamisen player, the boat with the bunraku performers, the boat with the dancers, and the various boats with oars doing doughnuts passed by. We were waiting for the fireworks to start, and they did start...further up the river and low enough that they were behind some buildings and we basically couldn't see anything at all other than some flashes on the clouds. After ten minutes of fruitlessly hoping they would move closer, we decided to give up and head home.

[ profile] tastee_wheat and [ profile] tropicanaomega split off while the rest of us wandered around looking for takoyaki. We eventually found some, as well as kara-age, pineapple on a stick, and chocolate-covered pineapple on a stick, and fortified with those we took the subway to Ōsaka Station, the train to Shin-Ōsaka station, and the Shinkansen to Kyoto. Hurray for the JR Pass.

Once we got back, we headed back to the hotel so [ profile] softlykarou and another friend could change out of their yukatas, and then there was only one thing left to do:

I don't know why they have Nightwish, but I won't complain that they do.

One hour turned into two, then into three, as is the way with karaoke. Finally, we ended with the traditional "Bohemian Rhapsody," all said our good nights, and went back to our separate places of rest.

Steps taken: 19430
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
It's not just that our hotel is owned by a right-wing revisionist who thinks that comfort women were voluntary workers employed to help quell the desires of the barbarian Koreans, although he totally does and I read it in the propaganda in our hotel room desk. It's that the shower is terrible. And that's not just because its two settings are "off" and "sandblaster," although they are, or that the ceiling is too low, although it is. It's that there's piping or something in the shower area ceiling that drops half of it about 10 cm lower than the rest so what head space I have, I can't really use.

Somehow, I managed to shower and wash my hair and [ profile] softlykarou and I went to the train station to find some breakfast, since among its many sins, our hotel also doesn't have breakfast of any kind. After a while wandering around trying to find a place that didn't have a bunch of ham or bacon, the hip modern breakfast foods of Japan, we settled on Lotteria Burger, a fast food joint I willingly admit I only really like because it's Japanese. I got the 絶品チーズバーガーワイド ("Perfect cheeseburger wide"), which didn't quite live up to its name but was worth the ¥600 I paid for it.

Then we took the subway, came up at Kyoto City Hall and, well...

The tree is what really got me.

When we came on the lion dance last night, I went online to figure out what was going on. It turns out that I had read the banners at the entrance of Yasaka-Jinja correctly. The entire month of July is the Gion Matsuri, and while a major portion of the festival is the parade that's takes place on the 17th, dating back to 869, there's another parade on the 24th that's a few centuries old. This is that parade. It's ten floats that aren't used in the main parade and a few smaller groups walking by, and what floats they are.

Japanese Vikings.

Some floats--actually 神輿 (mikoshi, "portable shrines") were wheeled, but several we saw were carried by dozens of men (everyone actually marching in the parade was a man), and when they reached the intersection, they would spin the float around a few times before continuing on in the new directions. If it was one of the gigantic floats like the ones I have pictured above, the people riding it would coordinate the movements of the people pulling the ropes to turn it without it tipping over, and all the while musicians played flutes and cymbals and drums. It was amazing.

After the last float passed us by, we went back down into the shipping arcade connected to the station to get a chocolate-covered croissant that [ profile] softlykarou had seen on the way in and some medicine for [ profile] softlykarou's stomach. That accomplished, we walked south a bit to the private train line that led down to Fushimi-Inari Shrine, though not before taking a quick detour along the Kamogawa.

Ducks on Duck River.

You probably know about Fushimi-Inari even if you've never heard the name. If you've ever seen those pictures of rows and rows of shrine gates going up the mountain, spaced so closely that they're almost like walking into a tunnel, well, that's Fushimi-Inari.

We got there before our friend who was joining us, so we ducked into Kanoko Cafe across the tracks and bought an overpriced matcha float and waffle for the right to sit in the air conditioning while we waited. Unfortunately, said friend accidentally got on an express train and was carried off into parts unknown, so after an assurance from him not to wait, [ profile] softlykarou paid and started our walk down the streets leading to the shrine.

The street up was a bit like ninenzaka outside of Kiyomizu-dera crossed with a festival, with a lot of tiny shops selling traditional tourist kitsch plus festival foods. Then we passed through a giant orange torī and saw red lanterns everywhere, a stone staircase, and beyond that, the rows of torī leading up Mount Inari.

So cute!

At the bottom things were pretty bustling and crowded, but as we walked further and further up the mountain, the crowds thinned out a bit, and where they didn't thin out, they got quiet. People would occasionally stop and take pictures, or say something to their friends, but mostly it was just climbing a mountain to the sound of crows and cicadas, surrounded by the orange of the torī and an endless green beyond.

About a third of the way up, we came to a mountain lake:


There was a map here of the entire mountain, showing all the gates, the smaller shrines, and how much we had left to go, which was quite a lot. If we had more time, and if [ profile] softlykarou hadn't been feeling kind of sick, we might have tried to hike all the way to the stop of the mountain. But she is feeling sick, and anyway, we already hiked one mountain this trip. There's no need to do another one.

We also saw a guy wearing a t-shirt that said:
"My soul has been corrected. I have what I need."
...which I would love to get for myself if I knew where he found it. But more directly relevant, there were a ton of tiny shrines scattered about the mountain:

Shrines all around

On the way down we bought a small kitsunemikuji, a good-luck fox, and some amazake from a shop that was almost certainly also someone's home--小森由夫, the nameplate said, "Komori Yoshio"--right on the edge of where Kyoto ends and the mountain begins. They served it cold for ¥50 more, which we gladly paid, and then when they brought it out, it came with a tiny spoon and crushed ginger to mix in before drinking. After climbing up a third of a mountain, it was exactly what we needed.

I haven't had this in years. Delicious.

You can buy amazake starter kits for the rice online, and now that I'm reminded how good it is, we're absolutely going to try that.

At the base of the mountain we met our friend, who had gone halfway to Ōsaka and come all the way back, but had an injured knee and didn't want to climb too much of Mount Inari. We hopped on the JR train coming back from Nara, taking advantage again of our JR passes, and went back to Kyoto Station for lunch, where another friend who had stayed behind to do laundry met us for lunch at Katsukura, which I didn't realize was so amazing when we went there, but which was definitely worth the ¥2980 I paid for the beef filet katsu set meal.

Lunch done, we tried to walk over to Sanjūsangendō, but because we had gotten started so late after a late lunch, by the time we got there, it was 4:45 p.m. and the gates had been closed to visitors for 45 minutes, so we split off--three of us heading back to the train station and one heading back to his Air BnB. After a stop at 7/11 to get cash, and another stop at a currency exchange, we went back to the hotel so [ profile] softlykarou could rest a bit before her birthday dinner and I could hand-wash some laundry.

Around 7 p.m., we met up at Kyoto Station to take the bus to Gion and Maharajah, and after a brief adventure where we accidentally took the bus going the wrong way and had to switch to the other bus, we did make it and not too late. We ate delicious Indian food, talked about music, the economic plight of snake peoplesnake people, movies, and politics, and came up after dinner to find the final part of the Gion Matsuri parade--returning the mikoshi to Yasaka-Jinja.

Lots of chanting not evident in this photograph.

We stayed and watched it long enough for it to pass by--[ profile] tropicanaomega even got a hachimaki from one of the marchers--then we went to go find a karaoke place that was open. Right as we did, the one friend who hadn't been able to make it to dinner asked said she was available and asked what we were doing, so we left the place we were about to check in and headed back toward the station. One person peeled off there because he was staying closer to Yasaka-Jinja, and that caused a bit of a chain reaction, coupled with [ profile] softlykarou's stomach hurting. Eventually we decided to try again tomorrow, after the Tenjin Matsuri, and headed off for our respective beds.

Steps taken: 20296
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
Finally we had a day where we didn't really have a plan or a schedule that required we be somewhere on time, so we lounged around in the morning, had a leisurely breakfast at the Toyoko Inn--better than Sakura Hotel, not as good as Hotel Active--and then left right at checkout time to head to the train station. Due to the heat and various injuries sustained while walking, we went west along Heiwa-Ōdōri to the nearest streetcar stop and took the streetcar to the station, then jumped on the next Shinkansen heading for Kyoto, which left in ten minutes.

The train was pretty low-key, because between Hiroshima it's mostly tunnels with no internet connection and everyone was trying to get Pokemon Go to work during the trip. We did have to change trains in Himeji, after which we had assigned seats, but it arrived right after our old train did and we arrived in Kyoto around 1 p.m.

And suddenly, shrine. Like you do.

We split at the station, since [ profile] tastee_wheat and [ profile] tropicanaomega were staying in an Air BnB and didn't have a checking time until 3 p.m. We didn't either, but we were staying in a hotel, so we walked around Kyoto Station and found the wrong hotel in the same chain--there's two of them about two blocks from each other--and then dropped off our luggage and went back to the train station, since almost every major train station in Japan is a giant retail and eating hub as well as a place where trains run. If everyone is going to be there already, might as well take advantage of it, right?  photo latest.gif

After lunch at a noodle place called めん、いるんな ("Noodles, various kinds") in the Porta Dining center, we wandered around a bit try into find more water for one of our friends who was feeling very dehydrated, but by the time we actually found a place selling some that didn't have too long of a line, it was time to check in and she figured that she'd get water in the hotel. [ profile] softlykarou and I bought some yatsuhashi, a local delicacy, as gagaku played from the speakers in the train station, and we all went back to the hotel, picked up our bags, and checked in. Though not before stopping to take a picture of this guy:

Cute mascots are mandatory.

In the hotel, one person discovered that the desk was filled with right-wing propaganda, and apparently the leader of the APA Group is a uyoku dantai. If I had known that, I would never have booked a room here, but we've already paid, so...  photo c9a2ed93dbfb11e324f5b3e281e5e1b2.gif

After we'd had a bit to settle in and the one person who had taken a detour to Okayama had time to arrive, we went back to Kyoto Station and took the express bus to Shijo-Kawaramachi and the Takashimaya department store, wherein was the pilgrimage central of nerddom, especially lately:

Gotta catch them all.

This was [ profile] tropicanaomega's idea, but I'm really glad we went with it. [ profile] softlykarou and I wandered around and found a pikachu dressed as a maiko and another pikachu in summer festival clothes, so we bought a pair of them to display in our apartment since you can literally only get them in Kyoto, and then got a fan, a frisbee kind of thing, extra bags, and several fliers for buying the pair of pikachus and spending over ¥5000 total on them. We thought about buying a few other things, including a pair of pikachu tea cups, but decided against it since we'd just end up displaying them and we already had two plushies to do that with.

After we had all gotten our fill of Pokemon, we went up to the restaurant floor of Takashimaya to look for restaurants, but everything up there was a bit expensive and not super appetizing, so I looked to Google and found a kaitenzushi restaurant called Chojiri, which someone else in line waiting with us mentioned was a good choice since it's apparently considered amazing. And it was really good--I loaded down with a ton of salmon and the seasonal specialty, fried founder. Once we had all stuffed ourselves for about ¥2100 a person, we left and headed east toward Gion across the Kamogawa.

A good place for a sunset stroll. Just ask [ profile] softlykarou.

Where Kawaramachi is full of glitz and glow, Gion is much more down-to-earth. Fewer designer goods, more traditional clothing and cobblestone streets lit by paper lanterns. We did a bit of walking, passing Maharajah, where we've eaten every time we've been in Kyoto so far and plan to do so again, and then [ profile] tropicanaomega decided to head back to their Air BnB to prevent her ankle from getting too strained. [ profile] tastee_wheat joined her, but the rest of us kept going into Yasaka-Jinja at the end of the street. Following the sound of the flute, we came on a performance:

Lion dance!

We came in about halfway through and watched the rest of it until the finale, after which the performers took off their costumes to stop sweating so much, the crowd dispersed, and the action ended. We looked a bit around the park, and seeing nothing else there, decided to go home, though not until after a quick look down a scenic cobblestone alleyway, made somewhat less scenic by the constant taxis driving down the road to pick people up from restaurants.

One of us was staying near Gion and split off, but one other person, [ profile] softlykarou, and I took the subway back, including one transfer and a bit of confusion. But we made it back to the hotel, and after long showers, it was time for bed.

Also, we spent a ton of time playing Pokemon Go. We caught a カモネギ, which is apparently only available in Asia. Lucky!

Steps taken: 14603
dorchadas: (Broken Dream)
One benefit of staying in a ryokan is that you get both dinner and breakfast, so after sleeping in almost until the last minute, I was awakened by [ profile] softlykarou with exactly enough time to make it to breakfast after a quick shower. And such a breakfast:

Get in my mouth.

We had to eat a bit quickly in order to make the ferry, and originally I thought we were going to miss the shuttle from the ryokan to the port and would have to walk. What was I thinking? This is Glorious Nippon, after all. They held the bus for us, loaded our luggage into it while we paid for the room, and then drove us down in time to catch the 8:25 ferry and the street car that was just leaving after all.

We didn't try to make the 9:40 bus after arriving at 9:35, so we popped into a 7-11 to withdraw cash and get snacks--I got a melon pan, om nom nom--and then up to the bus center, where we bought tickets and asked for the proper platform to board the bus. I thought it was eight, but I was misremembering. It was nine, like it's always been.

Also, [ profile] softlykarou accidentally bought us children's tickets instead of adult tickets and we were worried for a moment, but we were being silly. This is Japan, and the ticket counter exchanged them for free. They were actually the same price, so I'm not sure why the 北部 line even offers separate tickets.

On the bus, a friend alerted us that Pokemon Go had finally gone live in Japan, causing a frantic burst of activity as [ profile] tropicanaomega captured every unclaimed gym in sight.

And then, we arrived in Chiyoda.

From the highway. That building with wings is the community center.

Kaminaka-san, Hattori-san, and Sunada-san were all waiting to meet us at the bus center, and after a round of hugs (hugs! In Japan!) we started on our short tour. First we went to the Geihoku Cultural Center, new since we lived here, that had exhibits about local folk crafts like weaving and rice growing, about kagura performance, and about the festival of Mibu no Hanadaue. Then we went to Mibu itself, walking down the shōtengai where the person festival takes place and ending at Mibu Jinja, where we went for hatsumōde our last year in Japan.

Not as impressive now, without the snow and lanterns and crowds of people. I wish I had a picture of that night...

After that, we drove up to a viewpoint on top of a hill, and after a short walking path, we found our way to 壬生城跡 (Mibu shiroato, "the ruins of Mibu Castle"). I didn't see anything that looked remotely like a castle had ever been there, but there was a spectacular view:

Facing toward Ōsaka.

After that, we went to look at our old house, still pretty nice looking and still sitting next to the abandoned twin house next to it, and and then off to Chiyoda High School! Unfortunately, due to the Japanese policy of transferring teachers after only a few years, very few of the people that [ profile] softlykarou taught with we still there. There were a couple, though. Umeki-sensei, who teaches math, and Nishihara-sensei, who teaches science, and the school nurse were all there. We also ran into Koyama-san, mother of Kazu, who I wrote about in this post and who is now a high school student. We didn't talk for very long because Kaminaka-san had set us a schedule, but we looked around for a bit in the school and then continued on to the Yae-sogo Communtiy Center for lunch, where we were met by Nakamura-san, the other Hattori-san, and Bōno-san.

Lunch was amazing. They had remembered I liked sake a lot and brought two small bottles for me, one of local sake from Chiyoda and one from Saijō, where the sake festival is held every year in late August. We had conbini bentō and okonomiyaki, as well as dessert jello from somewhere. I got a grape and aloe jelly that tasted exactly like the drinks I used to get from vending machines. We chatted, and I did a lot of translating to and from Japanese, and there were only a couple times where I just brought the conversation to a halt because I couldn't think of how to express an idea. It was amazing. Why did we leave?

Oh yes. So [ profile] softlykarou could go to school and fulfill her dreams. It's a good reason! And yet, when I'm here, walking around Chiyoda, speaking in Japanese in a way that I was very uncomfortable doing when I lived here the first time...

If I had moved here before knowing as much Japanese as I know now, I'd be conversationally fluent. But, well, there's nothing to do about that now. I just have to keep trying and keep studying.

また今度, I said as we left. "Until next time..."

And we will be back, someday. Sooner than five years.

After a three-hour meal, we had to catch the bus back to Hiroshima, so we took the taxi Kaminaka-San had chartered and packed away the hand-made pottery pieces he had made for each member of our group, including the one friend who wasn't there due to having not been in Hiroshima with us, and we got on the highway bus and started the trip back. After the trip, we walked to our hotel--not Hotel Active, sadly, because there was a weekend price spike that made it not worth staying in--but in Toyoko Inn on Heiwa-Ōdōri, which was further but not significantly so. We were scheduled to meet some old friends from our Japan days, who happened to all be here at the same time in a weird serendipity, and after we checked in that's what we set out to do, though [ profile] tropicanaomega and [ profile] tastee_wheat stayed behind because they were still incredibly full from lunch.

The tabe・nomihōdai was at Sōgo, not Mitsukoshi like we originally expected it would be, so it took a bit longer to get there than we thought it would. Not too long, though, and once we made our way through Sōgo to the special beer garden elevator and went up, we had a couple hours of drinks and food with friends. The food wasn't that great, but I got some nice use out of the bottle of sake that it didn't seem like anyone else was drinking from, and a lovely time talking to people I hadn't seen in years. And some Japanese practice with an acquaintance, though I think because of the beer, she forgot that I'm not that great and just launched into full native speed and I followed along as best as I could.

At ten they threw everyone out. Some people were going on to a bar called Koba and originally I was planning on joining them, but on the walk there I started getting more and more twitchy in a way that told me that it was time to go back to the hotel. So I said my goodbyes, walked back to the hotel with a friend, and read until [ profile] softlykarou came back and then went to bed.

Steps taken: 14050.

Note: If you're interested in more about Chiyoda, I did a whole blog series about it here.
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
After a delicious breakfast of broccoli, rice, pickles, hamburger, sweetened omelet, salted mackerel, burdock root, breaded fish paste (がんす, a local dish), tea, and pudding with caramel sauce (Hotel Active, for all your Hiroshima visits!), I went back to the room, got my suitcase, and [ profile] softlykarou and I headed down to check out right on the dot of our requested 9 a.m. departure time. Then we walked out onto Aioi-dōri and set to wait for the streetcar.

Hiroshima's street cars are a local institution. They've been running since before the war--there's actually at least one car that's been in service since before the war and survived the bombing--and Hiroshima actually turned down proposals for a subway network in favor of an underground mall because, well, they already had the streets cars. I've spent uncounted hours of my life on them, what with my incredibly long commute to and from Suzugamine every day, and sitting on them was kind of like stepping back into the past.

I had forgotten the little chime they play when the car starts moving after a stop, though...

We rode the streetcar to the end, past the stop where I used to get off for work, though now renamed to 修大附属鈴峯前駅 (Shudaifuzoku-Suzugaminemae Eki) since the school combined with a boys' school due to low enrollment. Even the old ramen shop, おじいちゃんの作ったラーメン (Ojiichan no Tsukutta Ramen, "Grandpa-Made Ramen"), was still there, though we didn't have time to go.

Then at Miyajima-guchi, we took the ferry across to the island.

At high tide, too.

After dropping our luggage off in the coin lockers and showing our friends the asshole deer of Miyajima--[ profile] softlykarou has a video of me leading a deer around using a wrapper from an ice cream cone, but it just looks like I'm using elf magic--we headed straight over to Itsukushima Shrine to take advantage of the high tide for some nice views. It was all set up like the aftermath of a festival, maybe Tanabata, with a floating stage. There was even a priest in the actual shrine conducting a ceremony, which I've never seen before. And that also means that I had no idea what the ceremony was for, either. Shrug photo shrug001.gif

After we went through the shrine, everyone was pretty hungry and one friend wanted oysters, so we stopped into the first restaurant we saw that was serving them. I got anago-don, fried conger eel over rice, because while I've made some effort to stick to kashrut during this trip, I'm willing to make an exception for Miyajima eel. And one of the waitresses wanted to touch my hair when we left and said it was soft.

After lunch we headed into the shōtengai to do some shopping and snacks in preparation for [ profile] softlykarou and I climbing the mountain. We bought a set of tea cups and a wooden case for putting matcha in, and I drank a "banana milk" (basically a smoothie). After heading down to the other end of the shōtengai, we walked back and went to the rope way stop. Originally it was going to be four climbers, but by the time we got there the group had been whittled down to just [ profile] softlykarou and me, so we dropped off our excess gear with the people going up the ropeway and took our first steps on the trail up Misen.

Mossy rocks, my favorite.

The climb up Misen isn't the hardest climb in the world. Most of it is worn stone steps like those shown in the picture, and even though the heat and humidity were brutal at sea level they weren't as bad under the tree canopy. Of course, we were climbing a mountain, so we were sweating buckets in any case.

We saw quite a few people coming down the mountain, and there was a work crew fixing one of streams that run underneath the steps in some places. There was also an old Japanese man who gave [ profile] softlykarou his fan when he met her, saying that he no longer needed it since he was coming down the mountain. That occurred near the bottom, which I'm glad of because that fan came in pretty handy on the climb up. I'm not sure I've ever been as disgusting as when I reached the top, except for the last time I climbed Misen.

[ profile] tropicanaomega and one friend were waiting for us at the railway station near the summit, another friend and [ profile] tastee_wheat having gone to make the climb to the top. I went over to buy some ice cream, only to have the woman working the food desk ask me in pretty good English if I had been at the kagura performance the previous night. I recognized her, since she had been there with an American guy and she said that she knew us because he talked to us. That was the basis of our interactions though, so I ordered my ice cream, ate it, then waited for everyone to assemble.

We took the rope way back down and then the shuttle to the Miyajima Seaside Hotel, where I've stayed with my parents before and where our friend who went ahead to Matsumoto had arrived first and asked them to send the shuttle to us. We went to the hotel, checked in, and the showered to get slightly less utterly disgusting and changed into our yukata for dinner:

I'm a little surprised it actually fits.

Dinner was, of course, amazing:

This was about 60% of it.

We ate pretty much until near exploding, though slowly, which helped prevent any actual explosions. It was a little under two hours total for dinner, between the different courses, the talking, and the slow eating of many tiny portions, and WA the best meal I've had yet in a trip full of great meals. When we were done, we all got dressed up in our yukata except for one of us who wanted a bit more opportunity to,rest and went down to the front desk to ask the shuttle to take us back near the shrine.

Itsukushima isn't lit up at night, but it wasn't as pretty as I remember it being this time. Or maybe it was just that even though the sun had gone down it was still incredibly sticky. We walked from the pier to the shrine, past it a little until the houses started and the streets started to remind us of Fatal Frame, and then back to the pier, where I successfully called the hotel to ask them to come pick us up. Back at the hotel a bunch of people wen pt to the onsen, but I took advantage of the facilities in a different fashion--I took a bath in the huge bathtub. When I started to feel a little cramped, I drained out the water, dried off, and went to bed.

Steps taken: 17538


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