dorchadas: (Blue Rose)
Last weekend [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I took a vacation, sort of! We went out to Portland for [twitter.com profile] faylynne and [twitter.com profile] ntcomplete's wedding, and unlike the last time we were there in 2015, the weather cooperated. For Portland, anyway. It was cool and cloudy--just the way I liked it--and being next to the Willamette meant that sometimes there were passing boaters, though at least they cut the motor when they noticed that there was a ceremony happening. But everything else was lovely. I especially liked the sling that the maid of honor, [twitter.com profile] faylynne's eldest sister, had rigged up to allow her new baby to participate in the ceremony.


I also loved how most of the wedding party entered to the main hobbit theme from The Fellowship of the Ring, while the bride and groom entered to an instrumental cover of the Legend of Zelda fairy fountain theme. Link smilie

The ceremony was extremely short and to the point. After a brief opening, the couple gave their vows--almost inaudible to us sitting in the back, but from what I could tell a variation on the traditional ones--and then exchanged rings, soldiering through [twitter.com profile] ntcomplete dropping them when the best man handed them to him and [twitter.com profile] faylynne initially trying to put the ring on his right hand. Then they kissed, the ceremony was over, and the guests all went back to the hall for drinks and snacks before the reception. I drank red wine and gin, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd drank white wine and cider, and our friend [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek does not drink, but we were all united in our love for the snacks. Caprese skewers and grilled cheese shooters, with a tiny bit of grilled-cheese sandwich stuck in the top of an ounce or so of tomato-basil soup in a shotglass. It was delicious and I'm amazed that I haven't seen it anywhere else.

Inside, we took our seat at the labeled tables, each themed after a specific fantasy setting. The three of us were seated at the Tortall table, which immediately made [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek text his girlfriend. She was unable to attend due to a family emergency, but despite not really being geeky at all, she's read the Song of the Lioness books and would have instantly recognized the table title.

Then was a buffet dinner and dancing. I was initially a bit worried that no dinner preference had been specified, but [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd correctly pointed out that it was almost certainly a buffet. And it was, with nothing that we can't eat. The salmon and asparagus were especially tasty. Weeee smiling happy face

We did not dance, at least for my part because none of the songs being played are the kind I like to dance to, but the dance floor wasn't particularly well attended. There were a lot of people chatting and eating, and then speeches and cake.


I don't like most cakes, but they did look wonderful. And they were made by the maid of honor. I heard a couple people asking [twitter.com profile] faylynne if her sister was a chef, and her reply was that her sister had taken a pastry class one summer.

As we left, we got a bit of a chance to chat with both of them. [twitter.com profile] ntcomplete tried to sell [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek on attending PAX and mostly succeeded and both of them told us about their honeymoon in Japan and how they wanted us all to go back in 2020 when the new Ghibli Theme Park will be opened. I mentioned that was also when the Nintendo Theme Park would be open and that's in Ōsaka, far away from the Tokyo crowds. [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek suggested making the Japan trip a biannual thing and you know, that sounds like a great idea. Walking chocobo

[twitter.com profile] faylynne also mentioned that she had been practicing Japanese on DuoLingo and how shocked she was when the writing suddenly changed and she realized she had to learn another syllabary. All I could do was nod, half sagely, half sympathetically. I've been there.

She wants to get to conversational Japanese in time for 2020. I wish her good luck. She will need it. Sad pikachu flag

Other things I did in Portland!:
  • Stayed with my sister, who kindly put us up in her apartment's spare room!
  • Went to House of Ramen, which featured build-your-own ramen so [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I could have porkless ramen. We got a small size bowl, also known as "the size ramen is served in Japan." My sister and her boyfriend split a regular.
  • Went to the farmer's market and bought a bunch of cheese and smoked salmon. They also had delicious macaroon cookies but we were too full to eat them.
  • Bought some Edo Jidai-era lacquerware at the going-out-of-business sale at Shogun's Gallery.
  • Went to Moonstruck chocolate, which I obliquely wrote about here.
It was a lovely way to spend a weekend.
dorchadas: (Darker than Black)
This weekend [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I are in Portland for a wedding! I'm sure I'll be writing all about that tomorrow when I have more time to write, but at the moment we're sitting in my sister's apartment, where she kindly offered to put us up for the weekend, and eating chocolate. We walked downtown yesterday to one of Portland's farmers' markets, and after buying smoked salmon and a load of spiced cheese curds, my sister said that she and her boyfriend were going to go to Moonstruck Chocolate for dessert, so we tagged along. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd jokingly said that we should do a Darker than Black about the truffles we are, but then I noticed they had chocolate bars.
Read more... )
dorchadas: (JCDenton)
Came in to work an hour and a half early today, since I fortunately have a flexible schedule if necessary. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I are flying out to Portland tonight for [twitter.com profile] faylynne and [twitter.com profile] ntcomplete's wedding on the least annoying flight I could find, which still doesn't get us into Portland until almost eleven. Fortunately, my sister lives in Portland and has generously offered to pick us up from the airport and house us for the duration of our stay.

Of course, my stomach is tying itself in knots because that's always what happens with travel. What if the rain gets worse, what if we can't get to the airport on time, what if we can't fit everything in the bag. What if what if what if. Panic flailing At least we have an external battery, tablets, and a Switch, so we'll have plenty to do. We can be that annoying young hipster couple playing the Switch on a plane.

At least the problems mentioned in my last post were fixed. Without warning, of course--I just came in on Wednesday and it worked fine, and then on Thursday around lunch I got an email asking if it worked. Great response time, everyone. A+. Would use again because I don't have any other choice.

Alright, back to work.

Early May update

2017-May-10, Wednesday 09:37
dorchadas: (Link and Zelda sitting together)
So what am I doing in these, the last days of the American republic?

This Friday is another of [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's and my Shabbat dinners. After the turning of the year, we decided that once a month we'd invite a handful of people over, eat dinner, and then discuss whatever that week's parshah is. This week it's Emor, Leviticus 21:1-24:23. We've tended to get really good discussion out of even the more "the lamps shall be made of beaten gold" parashot, and Emor has a lot of material in it. Some of it especially discussion-worthy, like the ban on people with disfiguring injuries from giving offerings to G-d. I don't find this to be as jarring as some people, because I don't have a universalist concept of G-d, but there's good commentary on it out there I've found that I'll try to bring up during he discussion.

I just went and found a bunch of Legend of Zelda icons and added them. Since I'm only using half my icon space, and since I'm on a quest to play through every Legend of Zelda game, I might as well. And maybe I need a Legend of Zelda tag, too... Hmm.

(done)

Speaking of which, I ordered a copy of the Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time manga in Japanese! I've learned that the best way to get me to actually study is to make it an accompaniment to something I already want do--hence playing all these video games in Japanese--and when I idly posted about whether I should read it, [facebook.com profile] kelley.christensen1 mentioned that she had fond memories of reading it as a teenager. That's enough of a recommendation for something I already wanted to do anyway, and now it's in the to-read pile.

We bought tickets for [twitter.com profile] faylynne's wedding next month. Due to waiting so long because we needed to figure out [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's summer program schedule, they were more expensive than I was hoping. I was expecting $750 and it was closer to $900. Fortunately, my sister lives in Portland and has offered to put us up, so we don't need to also pay for a hotel. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd promised to cook for her to pay for our keep. Delicious!

We didn't do much of anything last weekend, or at least I didn't, and I'm looking forward to more of the same next weekend. Majora's Mask is longer than I thought, especially since I'm trying to get all the masks, so while I thought I would be finished already I won't be done until tomorrow at the absolute earliest. Probably more like Saturday.

I hope everyone else's weeks are going well!

Edit: It turns out that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd has strep! The doctor said she's cleared for Friday, though, so she'll stay home from work tomorrow and then Shabbat dinner will continue as scheduled.
dorchadas: (Default)
Nearly every year since we moved back from Japan, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I have made time to go out to visit my parents in October because in addition to seeing them and getting to eat my mother's delicious food, St. Charles's Scarecrow Festival is held that month. We last went two years ago, noting that the scarecrows were better than when we went three years ago, and last year we didn't go because I kickstarted tickets for the H. P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast live show and it turned out that was the same weekend. But this time we didn't have to worry about that and so after work on Friday, we took the train out to the suburbs.

We originally thought about going out to Kuiper Farms to go pick apples, where we went with [livejournal.com profile] uriany two years ago, but my mother mentioned that my father couldn't come because he was playing in the community band at Batavia Octoberfest. I asked her what else was going on there and she said that she had no idea, because it was the festival's first year, so we decided to go there instead. After walking from my parents' house to downtown and being disappointed that the leaves were mostly still green, lunch at East China Inn, the Chinese food that I grew up eating which I'm pretty sure hasn't updated the prices since I was a child either, we walked over to River Street just in time to see the band performance.

When we got there, I was in for a surprise:

Mr Heath band performance

That's Mr. Heath on the right, directing the community band. He was the band director at Batavia High School when I was a student there and played euphonium in the band, like my father before me. And speaking of that, my father is in the band, though out of the shot to the left, sitting next to my middle school band director Mr. Stiers who is playing the tuba.

They played several songs, most of which I didn't know because they were by a local composer, and then struck the set to clear it for the next performance. While they were cleaning, my father pointed me out to Mr. Heath, so I got to talk with him for a bit, introduce [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, tell me about how we lived in Chicago and had taught English in Japan. And then on the way out, we had almost the same conversation with Mr. Stiers, who looks like he hasn't aged in the last twenty years, though my father later mentioned that he's had some health troubles. I only got to stay about twenty minutes at the Oktoberfest, but it was a great twenty minutes. Weeee smiling happy face

After a stop into a tea shop that had just opened called The Tea Tree where we bought some banana tea (which was delicious), we all piled into the car and drove to St. Charles to see the Scarecrow Festival. Unlike previous years, and unlike the weather forecast had suggested, it was cloudless and sunny, with little wind, so the relative temperature was probably around 25°C and it was much more crowded than I've ever seen it in the past.

There were some good scarecrows, though:

Scarecrowfest 2016 Pumpkinmon

That was one of three Pokemon-themed scarecrows. My parents are of the opinion that the scarecrows' quality has been progressively going down over time, and while I sort of agree, I thought this year was pretty good. In addition to that one, there was a giant headless horseman, and a Calvin and Hobbes on a sled, and, in a major surprise to me, a R.O.B. scarecrow, which is a real deep nerd dive. I think I liked this year's scarecrows just because of that one, though the various Pokemon scarecrows showed me that pokemon translate very well to painted spherical objects.

Then we bought some fudge at the craft fair and before returning, we took a detour out to Gould Cider and Apple Pressing to get some apple cider. Kawaii heart emoji I've been drinking it for years, ever since my parents found out about it sometime when when I was in university, but this is the first time I've ever been to the actual location. I'm still a bit amazed how abruptly rural the countryside gets just by crossing Randall Road. Only a couple mintues of driving and it was farmhouses with barns and fields of corn, and then the cider farm with a goat wandering around outside. Inside was the operating cider press, a wooden frame with wooden boxes covered with cheesecloth and filled with apples being pressed. It probably violates any number of FDA regulations, but damn if it doesn't churn out some delicious cider.

Then we went back to my parents' house, ate their barbecue, and then took the train home to avoid the Chicago Marathon crowds.

Jetlag recovery

2016-Aug-01, Monday 15:15
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. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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.

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.

If you're curious, jetlag in Japanese is 時差惚け (jisaboke, "Time difference stupidity"). Perfect.
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
Here's a backdated index for all the posts I wrote about [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and my trip to Japan with friends!
  • Friday, July 15 to Saturday, July 16 - Chicago to Tokyo - Mostly on airplanes.
  • Sunday, July 17 - Tokyo - Meiji Jingu, shopping, and Shinjuku park.
  • Monday, July 18 - Tokyo - National Museum, Clothes shopping, meeting a friend of [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd for dinner in Shinjuku, and the Final Fantasy cafe.
  • Tuesday, July 19 - Himeji and Hiroshima - Himeji Castle and a drinks truck in Hiroshima.
  • Wednesday, July 20 - Hiroshima - The Peace Memorial Museum, shopping, and a kagura performance.
  • Thursday, July 21 - Miyajima - Itukushima Shrine, climbing Mount Misen, and staying in a ryokan.
  • Friday, July 22 - Chiyoda! - Visiting and having dinner with our old students in the town we lived in!
  • Saturday, July 23 - Kyoto - Racist hotel, Pokemon center, and surprise festival performance.
  • Sunday, July 24 - Kyoto - Gion Matsuri parade, Fushimi-Inari, and parade at Yasaka-Jinja.
  • Monday, July 25 - Kyoto and Ōsaka - Sanjūsangendō, Shitennōji in Ōsaka, and the Tenjin Matsuri in Ōsaka.
  • Tuesday, July 26 - Kyoto - Hōnen-in in the rain, lunch in Gion, the Kanji Museum, and Torin yakitori restaurant.
  • Wednesday, July 27 - Tokyo - Otome Road, Akihabara, and gaming in an arcade.
  • Thursday, July 28 - Tokyo - Sailor Moon Cafe, the Ghibli exhibition in Roppongi, Super Potato, and dinner in Ginza.
  • Friday, July 29 - Tokyo and Toronto - Sakura manjū, one last ramen, and a flight home that worked out in the end.
What a wonderful trip!
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.

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. 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 [twitter.com profile] xoDrVenture 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.


また今度ね.

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. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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!

We went through the airport, stopping to say goodbye to [livejournal.com profile] tastee_wheat and [livejournal.com profile] tropicanaomega at their gates, and then made it to our gate. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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 [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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 [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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.

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 [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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 to...weather.

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 is...now I want to move back.

Maybe someday.

Steps taken: 13245

Tokyo: Thursday

2016-Jul-29, Friday 00:51
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 [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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 ([personal profile] schoolpsychnerd would like to clarify that it is called the Elegant and Sweet Neptune Set ) , I knew what I was getting. And it was pretty good, mostly dark chocolate and a matcha base.

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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!

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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 [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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 , 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 [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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 [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I seats across from each other, and then we headed back to the station to meet up with [livejournal.com 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 [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek's friend, since his workday ends at 7 p.m. After trying a cafe and being told there were no seats ([livejournal.com 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 [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek's friend, so we went back toward Yūrakuchō Station and waited until he appeared. After introductions, we all walked to Ginza to find a restaurant, since [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek 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. [livejournal.com 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

Tokyo: Wednesday

2016-Jul-27, Wednesday 23:54
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. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I lay around in bed for a couple hours, packed up our souvenirs and clothes, and headed out to find some breakfast. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd'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, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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, put 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.

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.

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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 [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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.

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.

[livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com 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. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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.


Amazing.

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 [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek 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

Kyoto: Tuesday

2016-Jul-27, Wednesday 00:56
dorchadas: (Eight Million Gods)
Late night, late morning, and the rain that had been predicted nearly every day in the weather report finally arrived. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd went out with [twitter.com profile] xoDrVenture 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, it also said that the grounds had a lovely moss covering and were little-visited. Both of those sounded like huge bonuses, so I asked [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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 [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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 mackerel...it was delicious. That link had some bad reviews, but I'm really happy we went.


The dashimaki wasn't as good as [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd'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 [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd'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, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, 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 [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek's Air BnB to chat. That lasted about an hour before [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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: (Eight Million Gods)
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, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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 [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd'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 [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, [twitter.com profile] xoDrVenture, 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 [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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 [livejournal.com 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.

[livejournal.com profile] tastee_wheat and [livejournal.com 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 [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and [twitter.com profile] xoDrVenture 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

Kyoto: Sunday

2016-Jul-25, Monday 00:33
dorchadas: (Eight Million Gods)
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 [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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 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 [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd had seen on the way in and some medicine for [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd'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 [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek, who was planning on 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, [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek accidentally got on an express train and was carried off into parts unknown, so after an assurance from him not to wait, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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:


Serene.

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 [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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 [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek, 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 [twitter.com profile] xoDrVenture, 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 [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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--[livejournal.com 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 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 [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's stomach hurting. Eventually we decided to try again tomorrow, after the Tenjin Matsuri, and headed off for our respective beds.

Steps taken: 20296

Kyoto: Saturday

2016-Jul-23, Saturday 23:51
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 east 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 [livejournal.com profile] tastee_wheat and [livejournal.com profile] tropicanaomega were staying in an Air BnB and didn't have a check-in 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?

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 [twitter.com profile] xoDrVenture, 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. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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...

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 [livejournal.com profile] tropicanaomega's idea, but I'm really glad we went with it. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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 [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd.

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 [livejournal.com profile] tropicanaomega decided to head back to her Air BnB to prevent her ankle from getting too strained. [livejournal.com 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!

All those signs advertising the Gion Matsuri that I had seen but not really registered actually meant something. 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, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, 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

Chiyoda!: Friday

2016-Jul-22, Friday 23:29
dorchadas: (Chiyoda)
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 [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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 that.

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, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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, we learned that Pokemon Go had finally gone live in Japan, causing a frantic burst of activity as [livejournal.com 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 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 [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd taught with were 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 [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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 [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek, 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 [livejournal.com profile] tropicanaomega and [livejournal.com 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 [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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.

Miyajima: Thursday

2016-Jul-21, Thursday 22:53
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 [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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--[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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.

After we went through the shrine, everyone was pretty hungry and [twitter.com profile] xoDrVenture 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 [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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 [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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 [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd 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.

[livejournal.com profile] tropicanaomega and [twitter.com profile] xoDrVenture were waiting for us at the railway station near the summit, another friend and [livejournal.com 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 [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek, 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 was 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 is 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 went to the onsen, but I took advantage of the facilities in a different fashion--I took a bath in the huge bathtub, which was actually large enough for the water to cover my knees. When I started to feel a little cramped, I drained out the water, dried off, and went to bed.

Steps taken: 17538

Hiroshima: Wednesday

2016-Jul-20, Wednesday 23:50
dorchadas: (Genbaku Park)
We woke up at 7:10 today, and so hopefully this is the last time I have to make note of our wake up time. Maybe it's because we're in Hiroshima, and like I said, it feels like home. Maybe it's the drinks we had before we went to bed calming us down enough that we were able to sleep through. Maybe it's just that all that walking and travel tired us out--I know that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd basically fell asleep the instant her head hit the pillow, before I had gotten more than a few words into the last writing session on yesterday's blog post.

Or maybe it's because Hotel Active has the most effective blackout curtains I've ever seen. Seriously, it's like being in an oubliette.

Sakura Hotel was a good price, especially for Tokyo lodgings, and double especially after we got that discount. ¥9300 a night. And ¥350 for all-you-can-eat coffee, tea, toast, and soup is nice too. But, Hotel Active cost us ¥8900 a night, breakfast is also all you can eat, it's included in the price, and it's a buffet that looks like this:


Rice and miso soup in the background.

This is actually my second plate of food. They have a full buffet with Western and Japanese breakfast, so I absolutely loaded myself to take advantage of it. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I still hadn't showered, so we went back to do that and everyone lounged around for an hour or so until we were all ready to face the day.

We headed out toward the Peace Park, walking down the covered Hondōri for all of its length and watching the shops start to prepare to open. When we got to the Peace Park, the sun was shining brightly and it was incredibly hot and humid, with absolutely no sign of the storms that were supposed to show up later. Just another Japanese summer.

I don't really like visiting the Peace Memorial Museum. It's not the sort of thing that one likes. I keep going because it's important, and because the museum does a great job of focusing on the horrors of the bombing while not falling to the Japanese tendency to cast themselves as the victims who always suffer at others' hands. The displays admit that Japan invaded Manchuria, for example, which is more than some of their history books do. But of course, there were innocent victims:


Shinichi Tetsutani. Born 1942, died August 6th, 1945.

We went through the museum in silence, and when we were done and people had bought souvenirs, mostly made of recycled paper from the cranes sent in from around the world, we headed out to lunch. Our original choice had a line waiting in the sun, so we walked back down Hondōri to Okonomimura, a multi-story bundling stuffed full of okonomiyaki restaurants. It's not somewhere we often went when we lived here, but that's because our neighborhood had an okonomiyaki restaurant run out of someone's house, so we wanted different food when we came into the city. Here, though, I figured that there'd be at least one restaurant in there that didn't have a line, and I was right. We went to Chichan and stuffed ourselves with okonomiyaki (I got negiyaki, which leaves out the noodles), and then split apart.

One friend went off to Hiroshima-jō to look at the grounds and castle, and [livejournal.com profile] tropicanaomega went back to the hotel. [twitter.com profile] xoDrVenture, [livejournal.com profile] tastee_wheat, and I wanted dessert, so we walked over to the Polar Bear Cafe for gelato. ¥380 for a double, murasaki imo and rum raisin. [livejournal.com profile] tastee_wheat ordered a double after we did but before the workers put any ice cream on ours, so she got a giant stack of matcha and mango. We all ate our gelato together, I surprised a pair of obāchans with how huge I am, and then we went our separate ways.

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I headed back out to Hondōri, now looking more like I remember:


That covering is really nice right about now.

...and did some shopping. Now that I overhauled my personal style and would actually wear some of the clothes here, I figured that I should look and see if I found anything I liked. And I did. A black button-down shirt with wine-red cuffs but a black collar, so I don't look like a total asshole, and an incredibly pretentious shirt with white birds and vines and swirls of mist that says: "We are born, so to speak, twice. Once into existence, and once into life." It's perfect for me.

We went up and down Hondōri, into Parco and Sunmall, up to the new Andersen's location and down to Bookoff, where I got another Neko Atsume souvenir and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd got a Sailor Moon brooch charm. This was a three hours of shopping, and by this point it was 5:30 and we needed to use the laundry machines at Hotel Active, so as it started to rain, we walked back to the hotel.

Unfortunately, all the laundry machines were full, so we took showers to wash the Japanese humidity off while we waited. Eventually [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd went down to physically wait at the machines while I headed over to the cultural center to check and see if the kagura performance we had gotten a flier for was still on, since it said that it might be canceled due to storms and there was a thunderstorm outside. When I got there, though, the rain had basically died, there were red banners placed all outside the building, and:


The archers confront the demon.

Kagura is one of [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's and my favorite memories of Hiroshima. It's an old art form that's not super common in the rest of the country anymore, though it used to be a thousand years ago when kagura was a ritual form used at shrines--it literally means "god music." Nowadays it's mostly for entertainment (though it still occurs in its original capacity in the Imperial household), and in Hiroshima especially there are kagura performances at most major festivals.

In another bit of serendipity, the specific show they performed tonight was Akkoden, which along with its sequel Sesshoseki was performed almost every time there was an event with kagura in Chiyoda. To happen to be here on a Wednesday, the night of the kagura performances, and then to have the specific performance be this one...

Also, at the end, they invited people up to the stage to take picture with the actors and, well:


Roar.

One other person came with us, and after the performance let out and we had gone out to dinner at an Indian restaurant, we took stock of the situation. It turned out most people wanted to stay in for the night, so our friend went back to the hotel and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I went to check out a bar we knew. Unfortunately, it had closed in the meantime and been replaced by one with a ¥500 table charge, so we headed back up Nakimi-dōri toward the hotel and stopped in at a sake bar called いいお酒 一彩 (ii osake issai).

That turned out to be a great idea. It was small, seating maybe a dozen people, with smooth jazz playing on a low volume, and other than us there was no one in there but a single salaryman in the corner. The bartender asked us if we knew Japanese, and then handed us a menu and asked if we wanted oolong tea or beer as our free drink. We both picked tea and looked at the menu before asking the bartender for his recommendation--I couldn't read most of it, and even what I could read didn't mean anything to me because while I like sake a lot, I don't know that much about it.

He gave us a very dry sake that wasn't super strong, at least in taste. It got a bit much toward the end of the glass, but it was delightful before then, and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I drank our sake, ate our complementary fried tofu, listened to the music, and chatted. When our glass was done, we went back to the hotel, waited for our laundry to finish--it took close to five hours for a single load; good thing it was free--and then went to bed.

Steps taken: 21042
dorchadas: (Genbaku Park)
Woke up early again, though not as early as [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, who woke up in a panic at 1 a.m. worrying that she had somehow screwed up the hotel reservations and then couldn't get back to sleep. I woke up at 5:30 when she came back in from her morning run and then likewise couldn't get back to sleep, so after trying a failing for a while, I got up and met the others at breakfast. After toast and a bit of [livejournal.com profile] tropicanaomega's leftover chicken curry, everyone went back to their rooms to pack up and get ready for the trip to Himeji to see the castle.

We got a later start than I liked and went the slightly longer way around the Yamanote Line to stick [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek, who was getting off at Shibuya in preparation for going on to Matsumoto and walking through the mountains there. When we did get to Tokyo Station and the Shinkansen stop, we took the second train out west because it went straight through to Himeji rather than requiring us to change trains in Shin-Ōsaka, so we waited for a bit, bought train station bentō, and boarded the 11:03 for Okayama.


Shinkanselfie.

Riding the Shinkansen again reminds me how much of an embarrassing pile of trash every single American attempt at mass transit is. It's true that Amtrak was designed to kill passenger rail, but even with all its failures it's still running because mass transit is part of a civilized society and it's something that Japan has absolutely got down. The average Shinkansen arrives within six seconds of the posted time and is roomier, and far more pleasant to ride than an airplane, so it's all we took for intra-country travel when we lived in Japan.

Also, Japan is clearly gearing up for the olympics, or perhaps they realized that Malaysia is very close, majority Muslim, and has 500 million people. I doubt I could find kosher food anywhere in Japan, but I found a halal bentō for the train ride:


"Kebab Bentō." Super good.

The ride from Tokyo to Himeji is almost three hours long, and while there are a few interesting views along the way, large portions of it take place in tunnels because Japan is full of mountains. I spent the time listening to podcasts and catching up on my RSS feeds while [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd tried to sleep, and around 2:45, we arrived at Himeji.

The weather in Himeji was typical Japanese summer--33°C, why, how do people live like this--but we were able to walk on the shady side of the street on the road to the castle and once inside the walls, it was actually pretty cool. The baileys were shaded with enough windows that there was almost always a cool breeze blowing through, and the main problem became that we hadn't actually officially stopped for lunch coupled with climbing a bunch of stairs and walking through wooden halls, as well as the occasional foray out into the sun and the heat.

Autocorrect almost wrote "the sauna and the heat" there, which is pretty accurate.

The last time I was here, Himeji-jō was under renovation, but this time the main keep was finished and the renovations had moved on to one of the walls not that far from the front gate, well out of the way of the view from the castle keep or most of the outbuildings. And what a view:


Also called 白鷺城, "white heron castle."

Matsue-jō, the other intact castle I've been to, has more interesting inside, with the armor displays and full storerooms and so on, while Himeji is mostly empty rooms with the occasional small display. Despite that, I like Himeji-jō better because it's more awe-inspiring. From seeing it when you exit the train station at the end of the road ahead, to climbing up all the wooden stairs and through the walls, to the way the darkened interior halls look and smell, it has a grandeur that Matsue-jō lacks.

Hiroshima-jō looks impressive from the outside, but it's a replica built of concrete, for obvious reasons.

It took a little over an hour to see the castle, and afterwards we stopped in the gift shop where I bought a sake cup to supplement our collection, some of ours having broken over the years. It was there that we learned the real name for the round mascot of Himeji that we've been calling Himeji-tan: しろまるひめ (shiromaruhime, "white round princess"). Then we went back outside the castle and down the street, stopping briefly, at a shop for [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, another friend, and I to get ほうじ茶 (hōjicha, "barley tea") soft serve ice cream. It was amazingly tasty, though of course, the heat may have had something to do with that.

Then we bought Shinkansen tickets with our JR Rail Passes and got on a bullet train ten minutes later. I love Japan's transit system.

I forgot how many tunnels there are close to Hiroshima, so I mostly just read during the trip since the Internet was constantly cutting out. And then we arrived.


ただいま。

It was really like...coming home, when I stepped out of the station and saw the train cars, and walked down Aioi-dōri and saw all the stores I remembered and the skyline. Hondōri with Parco at the end, looking down Chūōdōri and remembering Tōkasans past... I'm not from here, and at this point I've spent longer in Chicago than I did in Chiyoda, but even so, this almost feels more like home to me.

We walked from the train station to Hotel Active, our old haunt, and checked in. Yumi-san isn't working here anymore, or at least wasn't working today, though I did recognize one of the staff who checked our friends in. He didn't seem to recognize us, though, and we had never really talked with him before so I didn't bother to do so now. All the reservations checked out okay, and after we paid and dropped our stuff off in our rooms, we reassembled in the lobby for dinner. I had suggested kaitenzushi, specifically Nonta-sushi, over in the Pacela building next to the bus terminal. One person wasn't too interested in fish and headed off to find different food, but the rest of us made the trek only to find that it was near closing time and there wasn't actually any sushi on the conveyor. We ordered by hand, though, and people seemed to enjoy the food. I talked up fatty tuna a bunch and that came through for me, at least!

After that, we went down into Shareo and over to Stick Sweets for dessert, where I think I surprised the shop attendant. She was cleaning and I came in and asked if they were still open, and she kind of nervously nodded, and asked if we wanted to eat in. I asked if it was okay and she said yes, but I'm not sure if it was just Japanese customer service or not...

Regardless, we ate our sweets (gateau chocolate and strawberry mousse for me!), and headed back. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I split off about halfway through to go check out if one of the bars we liked was still there while the others went back to the hotel, and on the way we found a fooddrink truck:


Sponsored by Bacardi. All mojitos, all the time.

The bar we remembered did exist and was open, but we were pretty tired, sore, and sweaty, so we bought mojitos and drank them while reminiscing about days gone by as we watched the crowds on Hondōri. Then, tired, sore, and sweaty, we went back to the hotel.

Steps taken: 18856

Tokyo: Monday

2016-Jul-19, Tuesday 06:59
dorchadas: (Green Sky)
Woke up early but at least this time I managed to sleep through the whole night. After leisurely getting ready and heading down to the attached cafe to eat--[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I had the sakura pancakes, which had a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top and a bit of cherry blossom flavor in it--some of us went back to the hotel to finish getting ready while [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, [twitter.com profile] xoDrVenture, and I went to Ikebukuro Station to do a bit of shopping. Except we forgot that this is Tokyo and there's a reason that when Gibson wrote about Tokyo in Neuromancer, he called the part of it where the story took place "Night City"--almost nothing is open before 10 a.m., and even the bakeries don't open until 7:30 or so. We went to Andersen and got a bit of bread and sat around until the rest of the stores opened, and then went to look. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd found a shirt at a store called Ozz On, bought it, and around then everyone else showed up and we got on the train for Ueno.

Multiple people had suggested a lower-activity day after all the walking there was yesterday, so we went to the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Kōen. It's a Japan-focused art museum, though there was a Greek art exhibit that was hilariously advertised as "Land of the Immortals." There was a statue gallery that banned photography, but most of the rest of the museum was fine with pictures:


Look at this detailing!

The museum was roughly ten times as big as the part we saw, but after statues, clay works, Jōmon and Yayoi crafts, and Ainu and Ryūkyū art, it was after noon and everyone was getting really hungry and the sun had come out so we didn't want to do that much walking or eating at the food carts in the museum courtyard. We waited around for a bit while [livejournal.com profile] tastee_wheat looked at the general Asian art building, and then we headed over to a building in the south of the park and split up between a Japanese restaurant on the middle floor and a Chinese restaurant on the bottom. I went for Japanese food, and after a steak bentō I had to get dessert because it looked like this:


I'm tempted to make a stupid panda joke, but it's not bread.

After the museum we split up. [livejournal.com profile] tastee_wheat and a couple of the others headed off to Tokyo Tower to try and see the city from the top while [livejournal.com profile] tropicanaomega, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, and I headed back to the hotel, though we stopped on the way back to Ozz On to get a skirt that matched [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's new top. They ended up going out again before dinner, to a bunny cafe called Usabibi and met Bibi, Mikan, and Purin the rabbits. I tried to read for a bit, but pretty soon I got extremely tired and ended up napping for a bit, and again after [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd came back. At 6 p.m., I asked for three more minutes of sleep, and after that the two of us and [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek headed out to meet one of [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's old friends, who neither of us had seen since we got married.

We met up in Shinjuku outside a sukiyaki restaurant, and after [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd glomped her friend, we took the elevator up. Unfortunately, without a reservation the earliest they could fit us in was 8:30, so we left and went up to the top floor and another restaurant called Nanairo Temariuta, which had giant wicker balls built around tables in the center of the main dining space, all of which were occupied (手毬 is a traditional handball game). Instead they stuck us in the back room with the other group of gaijin, but that's the only (minor) complaint I had. It was great food otherwise, through the pictures were a little deceiving and we ordered way more food than we had the stomachs to eat. Two pots of nabe was probably one two many, though in our defense, the waitress did say each one feeds two people. Two sumo wrestlers, maybe.

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's friend had to run to catch a show at the robot restaurant, but we didn't leave Shinjuku quite yet. We wanted check out the Square Enix cafe first, so after briefly checking out the lights of Shinjuku:


Night City.

...we followed google maps and two streets over, the crowds and lights pretty much vanished. We walked through darkened streets, deserted by almost everyone but a few people going about their business, and in maybe ten minutes of walking we arrived at the weird dome of Artnia, the Square-Enix cafe.

Well, sort of cafe, sort of bar, sort of gift shop. When we got there it was almost closing time and they didn't seem to have a menu out at all, so we looked at the gifts. Most of it was Dragon Quest oriented in honor of DQ's thirtieth anniversary, but there was a room in the back done up for Final Fantasy:



Not visible here is the way that the water appeared to be moving up into the ceiling.

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd bought a keychain because she felt bad looking without buying anything, and then we made our way back to the train station and headed back to Ikebukuro. A quick poll of our friends determined that nearly everyone was ready for bed, except for one unfortunate who had taken a five-hour nap, so we went back to the room and went to sleep. I didn't even get halfway through writing this before I fell asleep, and so I post it now.

Steps taken: 15565

Tokyo: Sunday

2016-Jul-17, Sunday 22:40
dorchadas: (Eight Million Gods)
We woke up at various points from "before dawn" to "early morning" and eventually all made our way down to the cafe across the street from the hotel, where we took advantage of the ¥350 all-you-can-eat breakfast. It was super simple--coffee and tea, bread and butter, and soup of the day--but six of us ate it and the seventh got beef curry while we talked about what to do. The attendant came over and asked us in halting English if we were all friends, and I explained in Japanese that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I had lived in Japan and were showing friends around. She asked if she could take our picture, we agreed, and now I wonder if it'll be up on the cafe wall eventually

Food done, and with a brief stop at Lawson to get some more snacks including the first store-bought onigiri I've had in five years, we headed off to Meiji Jingu, past the line of billboards with Password-senpai and User-kōhai encouraging people to strengthen their computer security.


Back again.

Meiji Jingu is the first place I went my first day in Japan, so it has a special place in my heart. But the other reason we went there is that nothing else was open, so we didn't hurry too much, even paying to get into the Treasure Museum and look around at the articles of the Meiji Emperor and taking the long--and much less crowded--route through the forest to get back to the main gate. Then it was time for lunch.

After wandering up and down Omotesandō and finding several restaurants that looked good but had lines out the door, we went to our old standard of Chaiyaphum, a Thai restaurant on the fourth floor of 原宿八角館, at the south corner of the 神宮前 intersection. It was still open and still delicious, and while I apparently confused the waitress when I asked for a dessert menu, we managed to order dessert too. Coconut ice cream with toasted coconut in coconut milk for me and durian ice cream for [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd, which pretty much was like using chemical weapons on the table.

[twitter.com profile] xoDrVenture also had a quote after using the bathroom in the building:
"Toilets here are either holes in the floor or robots."
After a quick stop at Baby, the Stars Shine Bright, where [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd bought a set of hair ribbons on sale--as cute as most of it is, it doesn't have much practical utility or opportunities to wear it elsewhere--and then we set out to walk to Shinjuku Gyōen, since it wasn't that far and we'd get to see some of Tokyo along the way. And we did, working our way through the crowds until we passed a shōtengai and the crowds thinned out like they had been cut off by a knife. The rest of the walk was just us and a few people out and about, as well as a sizable police presence by the Turkish Embassy.

Shinjuku Gyōen has a lot of amazing trees:


It's like someone twisted a couple trees around each other.

We got turned around a few times and walked probably more than we had to, but we checked out the Japanese garden and the lakes before the fact that we had been walking for nearly ten hours finally caught up with most of the group, and we headed back to the hotel to rest before dinner.

Dinner was at Seikōan, a yakiniku restaurant that we found after a bit of wandering around and having our original choice be totally full. Filled with meat, we went to Penguin Bar to see if we could get in and see the penguins, but an ¥800 cover and a two-drink minimum drove us off. Instead, we headed to Taito Arcade, where two people split off to play a game called Gunslinger Stratos, where about all I could tell from a quick watch is that one of the characters (the schoolgirl, of course) exists only to provide panty shots. [livejournal.com profile] tastee_wheat and [livejournal.com profile] tropicanaomega found a Pokkén Tournament head to head setup, and [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd played Taikō no Tatsujin a bit. Then another friend challenged me to a game, and while that was going on, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd snuck off and won me a Neko Atsume plushie from a crane game!


I'm a real-life kitty collector!

After a quick stop at Mister Donut for dessert, several people expressed the desire to go back to the hotel and get some water, because it turns out that constantly seeping a thin film of sweat due to gigantic humidity and walking all day requires extra water to avoid dehydration!

And all that walking and dehydration kind of caught up to us, and we went to sleep pretty soon after.

Steps taken: 21704
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
今池袋で投稿してる!

Two weeks off five years after we said our goodbyes and left, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I are back in Japan! And this time with friends! [livejournal.com profile] tropicanaomega, [livejournal.com profile] tastee_wheat, [twitter.com profile] xoDrVenture, [facebook.com profile] aaron.hosek, and one more person all signed on when we said that we were going to go back to Japan and would anyone like to come, and, well:


The view from the Narita express.

We woke up at five a.m. to make sure that we could shower, eat a leisurely breakfast, finish our remaining travel checklist items, and still make it to the airport on time. And we did. Even though Midway had a three-hour-long line at 6:45 a.m. Wednesday for no reason, we sailed through O'Hare's security in five minutes, got to our gate, and then I wandered around for a while, because I was going to be sitting for almost twelve hours on an international flight and there's no reason to do too much sitting before then if I didn't have to. We boarded our Air Canada flight to Toronto, went through the perfunctory customs screening given to those making international connections, and then settled down to wait.

While we were waiting, we sat across from an elderly East Asian couple talking to each other, and I got a bit discouraged when I couldn't understand a word they were saying. All was explained when a tour guide came by and handed them a map that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd could see was clearly in Korean, though. Oops.

[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's nationalist former co-worker is probably fuming to himself right now and doesn't know why.

The flight boarded late, but once on board we were pleased to see that the projected flight time was an hour shorter than we had thought. Which isn't that much when it's already over twelve hours long, but I'll take it. There's not much else to say about the flight. It was long, it was cramped, the food was tolerable (beef yakiniku, then omelets we picked the sausage off of), someone's toddler kept making a break for business class, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd watched Batman vs. Superman and made a lot of faces, and I played a lot of Dragon Quest IV on my iPad. There was a USB charge port on the back of the seat just under the touchscreen menu, which was a nice surprise.

I especially liked the part where we arrived forty minutes early and then sat on the runway because our gate was still occupied. No good deed goes unpunished.

Japan's customs form was a bit more elaborate:


As the birthplace of the katana, Japan is well aware of the destructive power of swords.

But customs didn't take any real time at all. After maybe an hour we were through, had picked up our wifi (where speaking Japanese prevented a misunderstanding, so hurray me), and were waiting for [twitter.com profile] xoDrVenture to eat something before picking up our JR Passes and getting on the train to Ikebukuro.

We made it to the hotel, checked in without any trouble, and eventually went out looking for food with 5/7ths of our group, two of them having crashed out in the meantime. We ate ramen from a ticket machine ramen joint, came back to the hotel, and then everyone went to bed.

I'm not going to keep a super exhaustive account of everything I do this trip (Edit: That's a lie, I wrote down everything), because I'll be here for two weeks and writing takes time. But I had a lot of down time on the flight to write in between killing slimes in DQIV. And now, it's time for bed, because for my body it's 8 a.m. and I've been up for 27 hours.

Tomorrow, Japan!
dorchadas: (Broken Dream)
I'm pretty sure that I've finished everything that I need to do before we leave. Our passports are sitting next to me, we bought our JR Rail Passes and know to make sure to get a Temporary Visitor stamp on our passports so we can exchange them when we arrive, we arranged for portable wi-fi so that we'll be able to check Google maps to find anywhere we want to go / look up train directions (Japanese addressing...leaves something to be desired), we bought a portable charger for our phones and a cord that'll connect our DSes to it too (and hopefully the wifi if it uses a minUSB for its charger), checked necessary visa status (none for our connecting flight in Canada, none for Japan), booked hotels including a ryokan on Miyajima, changed our money before the yen took off, alerted everyone important that we would be abroad, put a hold on our mail, bought new shoes and sandals, got some clothes that will stand up to Japanese weather (think "incredibly hot and humid" and you'll be right. Though apparently the rainy season isn't over yet...)...

But this is travel, so of course I'm running through lists trying to figure out what I've missed. The last post I made on this I thought we had finished everything, but there were some items on the list above--wifi, phone battery, shoes--that weren't still done and which I hadn't seriously considered before. What else am I going to want that I haven't thought of before now?

I made a couple lists on the app that [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I use to coordinate chores and paying bills that'll cover everything we need to do before we leave and everything we need to make sure we pack. It's not enough to really make me stop worrying, but at least I can assure myself I've done as much as I can to prepare.
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
At least, I hope so!

We bought our plane tickets back in March, and while they would have been a lot cheaper if we bought them a month later and we would have gotten a direct flight--right now we're flying Air Canada to Toronto and then Toronto to Tokyo--but there's no use complaining about that now. We reserved our hotels in May and got pretty good prices (~$110 a night on average) and close to shinkansen and transit lines. On Monday, I ordered our JR Passes from JTB, and yesterday they arrived. On Tuesday, I went to the bank and got new debit cards sent out. Chipped versions, so we can use them in 7Bank ATMs.

Then there was trading our currency. I asked about it at our bank and the banker told me not to do it there, do it somewhere else, but I asked for a quote to compare. Then I checked against the place she suggested and the rate was worse, so I looked around and found a third place and asked [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd to go there and make the trade. Then that place didn't allow credit card payments over $500 and slapped a surcharge on top of them to prevent fraud, didn't take her debit card for some reason, and didn't take checks, so at the end of the day yesterday I asked her to go back to the bank and just do it there, since they can easily accept payment since they already hold our money. So that went through.

Then the Brexit vote happened and the yen took off like a rocket. When we did our trade, it was 104.5円 to the dollar minus fees and so on, so we got something like 99円 to the dollar. Today the yen is already trading around 99円 to the dollar (though up to 102円 at the time of writing). The Nikkei is down over 1300 points and when I went to sleep, they had suspended trading when it lost 1000 points in an hour. Who knows what the Bank of Japan is going to do--Kuroda is already trying negative interest rates and it didn't help at all.

I just got a phone call that our yen is waiting for us at the bank. This is pretty much terrible news all around, but at least we managed to get lucky on something small.
dorchadas: (JCDenton)
Some of these will be pretty similar to [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's list, but you know, we're married. It kind of makes sense.

In no particular order:

  • Family Vacations!: We took two trips last year that I've been wanting to take for a while--one to Oregon, where I've spent over a year of my life when you count all the summer trips I took as a child, and to Philadelphia, where I lived when I was at university. Both of those were obviously huge parts of my life, and I'm really happy that I got the chance to share them with [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd. Now, maybe it's her turn. I hear she really likes New Orleans...

  • Fifty Weeks, Fifty Curries: We did it. It was more like 60 weeks, counting the time that we had to take off and the few extra curries we threw in, which meant that it wasn't 50 curries either, but I was amazed by the response I got to my writing. Many people telling me that they looked forward to it every week, inviting themselves to dinner (jokingly or otherwise) and asking [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd to make a particular food, asking what the next food project was going to be... It was really surprising for me, since I never realize how many people read my writing. Maybe we will do another food project! Any suggestions?

  • We Went to Alinea: That was something we were planning to do for years, but we never really made the time until a friend suggested it and we took her up on the offer. It lived up to the hype. If you can find a reason, go.

  • Japanese Lessons: This is something I've been putting off for the longest time, for financial reasons and because I was nervous about the process of learning. But I finally bit the bullet, started going to classes, and I think it's helped a lot. I can get practice reading anywhere on the internet, I can practice listening by watching anime or JDramas, but I can't practice speaking without a speaking partner. This was gearing up to the trip we're planning to take in 2016, but I think I'll keep going after that. I will be able to speak conversational Japanese by the time I die.

  • Warlords of the Mushroom Kingdom: I worked on this, on and off, for about two years, from the initial idea to statting things up in Novus to switching to Exalted to really nailing everything down, and in 2015 I started running a brief test game to see if it all works. And it does! I have a bit of a difficult time balancing combat encounters, but my contention that mortal- or god-blooded level Exalted produces a fun game has some support now. My players actually asked for another game after the current one finishes, so I'll be running a longer game with different characters in the future. They may yet trample the jeweled thrones of Agarica under their sandaled feet!

  • Saving Money: I did it! I had a goal of every month, putting some money into savings, some money into investments, and some money into our retirement accounts, and I managed to do that every single month in 2015. Sometimes I couldn't put in as much as I wanted in one of those categories, but I'd always make up for it in subsequent months.

  • Writing: Throughout 2015, I wrote a review of every book I read and video game I beat, I kept up Fifty Weeks, Fifty Curries, developed Warlords of the Mushroom Kingdom into something workable and functional as a game, and wrote a bunch of other blog posts as well. Even though I didn't work more on The Lamplighters Guild, I still did a lot of writing work.

  • Fashion: I finally realized that maybe I should get rid of some of those old clothes and that, now that we have money, I can afford to dress the way that I've always wanted to rather than wearing clothes forever until they fall apart. Thanks to PlastikWrap, Demobaza, Zolnar, H2H, and a couple other places I can't remember. Sadly, trawling thrift shops is usually not that helpful for me--it's hard enough for me to find clothes from clothes shops. I wrote more about this here.


Traditionally, I post the lyrics to "Long December" on New Year's to express my hope for a good new year, but this year I have something a bit different. While looking around for something for a friend's birthday, I found a poem from the 小倉百人一首 that I think fits pretty well:
ながらへば
またこの頃や
しのばれむ
憂しと見し世ぞ
今は恋しき
And here's my translation of it:
If I should live long
will these days again
Be brought to mind?
That world that I grieved to see,
Now, it is dear to me
明けましておめでとう!今年もよろしく!

Happy New Year, everyone.

Oregon Vacation

2015-Jul-19, Sunday 14:58
dorchadas: (In America)
I tend to write pretty detailed posts about my vacations because even though they're mostly only of interest to me, I like to have a record for when I go back and reread old posts. But this time I was gone for two weeks and, taking into account how verbose my blog posts tend to be, a detailed account of everything I did would run for 10,000 words and be exhausting to write, so I'm going to do what I did when we first moved to Japan and didn't have any internet and write a series of smaller segments and put them all in one post.
Read more... )

Profile

dorchadas: (Default)
dorchadas

August 2017

M T W T F S S
  12 3 45 6
7 89 10 11 12 13
1415 1617 1819 20
21 222324252627
28293031   

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags