dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
[livejournal.com profile] melishus_b and her boyfriend came to visit us this weekend! And I've written about it in detail below.

detail, with pictures )

Next weekend we should see them again, since we'll be in Seattle for a wedding! Just like old times, at least for a brief moment.
dorchadas: (Genbaku Park)
At 8:15 a.m., August 6th, 1945, the first atomic weapon exploded in the skies over Hiroshima.

This year is the 72nd anniversary, but the effects still remain. Our Japanese tutor had a black-and-white photo on her kamidana of a young man, maybe in his early teens, and when we asked who he was she said that he was her brother. I met a man in Heiwa Kōen who had seen the bombing with his own eyes, though from the comfortable distance of his parents' house miles outside the city. The mayor of Hiroshima is the president of Mayors for Peace, who work for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

There's a ceremony in the morning with speeches, but what I remember is the evening. People write messages on thousands of paper lanterns and set them adrift in the Otagawa, bearing their hopes and fears down to the sea.

Genbaku Dome ceremony

There are more pictures of this year's ceremony here.

戦争が恐ろしすぎるから、世界に平和が広がるように。佐々木禎子さんとか鉄谷伸一さんとかのような子供が誰もいないように。世界は核兵器が二度と使われない場所になるように。俺は希望だ。
dorchadas: (Chiyoda)

This weekend is the date of two of my favorite festivals in Hiroshima--Tōkasan in Hiroshima City and Mibu no Hanadaue in Chiyoda (とうかさん and 壬生の花田植, respectively). There's video of Mibu no Hanadaue here

It's really making me miss Japan. We went to both festivals all three years we lived in Hiroshima, because while we sometimes had a hard time knowing that any particular event was occurring, Tōkasan was the talk of the town for months, and our students invited us to Mibu no Hanadaue the first year we lived there. And now that social media is so big in disseminating information, I follow a bunch of Facebook pages like 北広島ほっと情報 (Kitahiroshima Town Hot News Updates) or the Tōkasan page. That means I have a constant stream of updates on festivals I went to, festivals I knew about but never got the chance to attend, and festivals I've never heard of but really wish I had. Plus pictures, of course. Get Hiroshima, the gaijin-run local events news source, posted this picture of Mibu no Hanadaue.


Source.

Re: my subject line, today's weather in Chiyoda was sunny and clear, with a 0% chance of precipitation.

Also, last night I installed Heroes of the Storm after my attempts to play an AI-enabled DotA Allstars in Warcraft III did not go well. It's the only map I've ever found that crashed WCIII, and some searching found that the map has problems with certain heroes' abilities. There's no way I'm playing DotA on Battle.net. Those days are done. I played DotA games for thousands of hours when I was a university student and have no desire to go back to the world of racist insults and people dropping the instance the other team scores first blood against them.

HotS seems to solve a lot of my problems with MOBA games. There's no items, so there's no need to memorize item combinations. There's no gold, so last-hitting isn't a thing. XP is team-wide, so jungling and people demanding solo mid don't exist. Also, it's free just like the original DotA Allstars was (WCIII was a sunk cost at that point), so there's no harm in trying it out. And you can play against AI so [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd might try it out with me and see if she likes it.

I don't know how long I'll stick with it, but I'm glad I tried it out. It's much more fun than I thought it would be.
dorchadas: (Slime)
Checking twitter this morning and I found out that there was a commercial for a new Dragon Quest game in Japan, and it's fantastic.



I don't really have any nostalgic attachment to Dragon Quest. I haven't even played any of them other than the original Dragon Warrior and, recently, Dragon Quest IV. But I got a little misty-eyed when the music started, and I know what it's like to huddle under a blanket in the night, to tell your family that you'll be done soon, just a little bit more.

My favorite moments:
  • 0:50: The girl saying 時には我慢も必要です。 ("Sometimes patience is required") and then the taped-up paper that says, "Until I get into college, Dragon Quest is prohibited!"
  • 0:55: The kid drawing a slime and saying 授業中も冒険してた "Even during class, we had adventures."
  • 01:10: The man and woman saying 勇者は挫けない "Heroes do not get discouraged" and then でも、余り[?]には勇者だって泣いていいでしょう "But it's okay for even heroes to cry sometimes."
  • 01:35: The bit at the end 僕らは、夢中で勇者だった。そして今、ふたたび「勇者の時」が動き出す。 "In our dreams, we were heroes. And now once again, the time of heroes has come."
This is how you make a commercial that banks on nostalgia.

ACEN 2017

2017-May-21, Sunday 11:08
dorchadas: (Enter the Samurai)
​I was incredibly nervous for basically all of Thursday and most of Friday before I went to ACEN and I still don't know the reason why. I've had a great time at the last there ACENs I went to. What did I think would happen?

Well, nothing went wrong, but here's my chronicle of what did happen:

At length, but with lots of pictures! )

This is the most actual convention-related stuff I've gone to in a long time, and we would have done even more if storytime hadn't been cancelled. I described it to friends as me scanning down the list and saying, "Alright, which of these panels at an anime convention aren't about anime" but that was...well, pretty much my thought process. Most of the cosplay pictures I took weren't from anime either. I don't go to anime conventions for the anime part. Emoji Chocobo

Looking forward to next year!
dorchadas: (Default)
For the first time in a long while, I actually added some icons into the pool I'm using!


I only had one Japan-related icon, and even that I only added after I moved back to America and then edited into some old posts. This provides more diversity I could have used then. The left one is a picture of the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima City that says "Peace to the world," the middle one a picture I took of 壬生の花田植 (Mibu no Hanadaue), a 500-year-old rice planting festival in Chiyoda. The text there is the Japanese version of "When in Rome"--gō ni itte wa, gō ni shitagae, "When you go to your ancestral village, follow their rules." The icon on the right says "Land of Eight Million Gods." It's from a picture I took of a shrine to Inari we stumbled on while wandering through the hills of Kamakura.

There's one more icon I have that was sitting in my icons folder. I didn't make it, but I don't have the source anymore:


That should come in handy when I post about studying Japanese. Emoji Smiling sweatdrop
dorchadas: (In America)
On a whim, I looked up my old student Erina on Facebook, figuring that I might be able to find her since I actually remember her last name--her parents got divorced halfway through the semester, and her name went from two kanji that were easy for me to write to one kanji that was impossible for me--and she popped up as the first result.

She's also memorable to me because when I did a lesson about music genres and played the song there under "I hear," she raised her hand after it was done and said, "Na...name please." I later found out she was in a punk band with some friends.

Most of her account is locked down or unused, as is proper, but it does say that she went on to school for graphic design and her profile picture has her sitting in kimono in a Japanese garden. Good for her.  photo la.gif
dorchadas: (Do Not Want)
There was a hashtag about gaijin confessions on Friday on twitter. My favorite is probably "Also told someone I wanted to buy a human instead of a carrot once" (Carrot is 人参 ninjin, human is 人間 ningen), but there's a lot of good stuff collected here.

It made me think of my own #gaijinconfessions, so here's a few of them:
  • To this day, my breakfast is miso soup, rice, salmon, and pickles while sitting on the floor at a low table. This despite that most of our students ate "bread and milk" for breakfast, including the kimono shop owner who met his wife through a 仲人 (nakōdo, "marriage broker").
  • I also took the trash out at night, because there's no way I was getting up at 8 a.m. on Saturday just to get the trash out by 8:30.
  • Japanese cheese is garbage and we happily paid $20 a pound for good cheese at the import foods store.
  • The first winter I was there I survived mostly off canned chicken soup from the Foreign Buyer's Club because we hadn't quite gotten used to proper shopping for our 3/4th size fridge yet.
  • We spent a week in Singapore in and I thought everyone was unconscionably rude because I was used to a Japanese level of service.
  • I got used to being able to talk about anything I wanted and would happy tell off-color stories secure that people around me almost certainly couldn't understand me.
  • Even though I'm American, I actually don't own a gun or eat hamburgers every day.
  • My favorite onigiri is the kimchi-ume one I bought while we were in Ōsaka for [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd to take the GRE. It was only sold in Ōsaka and the Japanese people we told about it thought we were making it up.
  • I was never sure whether to use Japanese or English with staff in Indian restaurants.
  • I once boarded a bus twice with the same ticket after I forgot my laptop. I disembarked and took the light rail back into Hiroshima, retrieved my laptop from the ramen shop, and got on the next bus on the same line using my same ticket. The attendant looked at me nervously, wondering why a gaijin was going to Innoshima, and I flashed the ticket and walked on. Saved me ¥4000.
dorchadas: (Nyarlathotep)
So the American government decided to send a carrier group to the Korean peninsula as a show of force against Korean nuclear ambitions, which prompted the representatives of the Eternal Lich President to issue its own response.

And then an hour ago, I saw that [twitter.com profile] nhk_kokusai had tweeted this out:



Here's my translation:
Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga [Yoshihide] highlighted that, in relation to President Trump's deployment of the military toward North Korea and refusal to lift sanctions, while America and South Korea maintain their cooperation, [Japan] must be prepared in case an evacuation of Japanese citizens living on the Korean Peninsula becomes necessary.
So, they're at least admitting the possibility of another war. Remember when people assumed that our Dear Leader would be an isolationist who wouldn't go around starting wars, unlike that hawk Clinton? Those takes, as they say, did not age well.

At least Twitter will keep us entertained in the 20 minutes after the missiles launch.
dorchadas: (Chiyoda)
Last week I saw an article about snake people moving to dying Japanese mountain towns. It seems a bit overstated--I mean, how many rural mountain towns can sustain an economy on brewpubs, artist communes, or drone testing--but I love the idea, especially in spring or fall, when the sakura or the momiji are in bloom and I really miss Japan.

I'd never consider moving to rural America if I can help it, and reading this made me think about the difference. Some of it is political, but I think a lot of it has to do with distance. Even in Chiyoda, we weren't that far from anything. It was a forty-five minute bus ride on the highway into Hiroshima City, but the important thing is that there was a bus and it came three times an hour. If we had lived in Miyoshi, we could have taken the train. There were towns further in the mountains that were more isolated like Takamiya or Geihoku, but even then it wouldn't have taken that long to get into the city. And crucially, the only thing we'd need a car for is driving to the train or bus station. There are very few places, if any, where that's true in America.

I never thought I was a country kid until I moved to Japan. Like most 80s suburbanites, I assumed that there was nothing to do and "out there"--i.e., anywhere more populated than where I lived--was where it's at. That's part of why I decided to go to university in the city, an experience which proved that I really did prefer urban areas. But those three years in Chiyoda were wonderful and there isn't a week that goes by that I don't want to move back. If there was some way to do so and still keep my job, and for [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd to not have to change her line of work entirely, I'd advocate for it in a heartbeat. But for some reason, the AMA considers working from home a perk of management-level employees rather than assigning it based on job duties, so even though everything I do is web-based now and could theoretically be done from anywhere, I still have to head down into the office every day. We'll see if that changes with the new database (more on that in a post next week, probably!), but I doubt it.

It wouldn't let me move back to Chiyoda, though. Probably nothing ever will.
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
Has it already been six years?

I wasn't affected at all by the Tōhoku earthquake, and neither really was anyone I knew personally. The worst that happened was an acquaintance in Tokyo at the time had to walk the twenty kilometers home in heels after the trains stopped running. In the western part of Japan, we weren't even affected by the power disruptions, because the different halves of Japan use different power standards due to buying equipment from different countries during the modernization of the Meiji Era.

I remember how others were affected, though. I still remember the Japanese word for "buried alive."

On Twitter earlier, I saw this photo of an advertisement of the Sony Building in Ginza.


It's all over Japanese news now, which gave me a clearer transcription of the Japanese, so now I can translate what it says:
3/11, every time that day comes, we think back on the things of that time. From the Great Tōhoku Earthquake, six years have quickly passed. Another such disaster will not happen again. We may think that way every year, but at some point, another disaster will certainly occur.

On that day, in Iwate Prefecture, Ōfunato City, the tsunami was observed at 16.7 meters (55.3 feet). If it came to the center of Ginza, it would be as high as this. Rather than imagine it, you can experience the height. But, rather than only knowing this height, action must change.

We, now, can prepare. We will retain the power of imagining for the victims of the disaster, and we can store up [their] wisdom. We will not forget that day. That is the greatest disaster prevention.
The last line is because it's a Yahoo advertisement, but it works best without that, I think.

頑張れ、日本。
dorchadas: (Dreams are older)
Yesterday I saw an article on Twitter about how video games are better than real life, and it got me thinking.

I'm lucky enough now to have a job with reasonable pay and excellent benefits, but something I'm always conscious of is that my job exists as a stop-gap. I do data quality curation, so my day is checking the results of machine algorithms and dealing with what they can't handle--since we get millions of records a month, there's no way they could all be checked by hand and no need to do it when well over 99% of the work can be automated. But automation keeps getting better, and that means the space for what I do now is continually shrinking. Eventually, it'll be gone. Not this year, probably not in the next five years, but almost certainly before I retire.

(Incidentally, this is one reason why I save so much of our income. I'm trying to get ahead of the curve while I can )

And then I think about the last year we were in Japan, after Suzugamine cancelled its contract with Lang due to a shrinking student body (shrinking so much that it later merged with another school and changed its name), when I was out of work. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd told me to treat it like a vacation, and that I could get a job when we got back to America and she was in grad school. We made an attempt to look for work closer to Chiyoda, but there wasn't much to be found, and in the end that's what I did. I taught the eikaiwa we had, but otherwise I studied Japanese, walked around the neighborhood, and played video games.

Like the article says, it was fine. I really enjoyed much of that year, though in the end I was having serious sleeping problems and it was clearly having an effect on me. But while I regret not doing more Japanese studying during that year, playing games was fun. It was interesting and challenging. The lack of a job didn't bother me at all. And why not? Unlike life, video games are fair. They have understandable rules that can be challenged and mastered, and predictable results from those rules. And if they don't fit those criteria, they're often bad games, and there are other games to play. There's no other lives to life.

That's one of the few things that provides me some hope about the automation apocalypse. Large groups of unemployed young men is usually a route to massive social unrest, if not outright revolution. If those young men are fine without work as long as they get to play video games, and if robots can do the work, well...why not let them? With some kind of basic income scheme rather than having people fight over increasingly dwindling jobs, which is what we're currently having people do? There will be massive social hurdles to overcome--"what do you mean, I'm working and my taxes are paying for him to play World of Warcraft 2?!"--but it seems like the only option that doesn't end in massive bloodshed or social unrest.

That part I'm less optimistic about. But at least I have a little hope.

Tamayura

2017-Feb-17, Friday 11:48
dorchadas: (Chiyoda)
Last night, [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I finished watching Tamayura: Hitotose. I gave it a nine. It's not super popular. The animation is fuzzy and obviously not particularly high quality, it's a slow slice-of-life anime shows about cute anime girls doing cute anime things, and the hook is that the main character likes photography and moved back to Takehara, in Hiroshima Prefecture, after her father died.

And that, of course, is the in for me. We watched the intro OVA when it first came out, while we lived in Chiyoda, so everything was familiar. I recognized the view from Mt. Asahi. They went to a shrine in neighboring Onomichi that I knew because an old man complimented [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd on the boots she was wearing, saying that boots with kimono was popular during the Meiji era but had completely fallen out of fashion nowadays. And because it's Takehara, there was an episode set during the Bamboo Festival, and we spent the whole time looking at the scenery of all the places we had been and the sights we had seen, like this bamboo and lights sculpture. There's a quote that's relevant here, I think:
“It is the curse of age, that all things are reflections of other things.”
-Neil Gaiman, The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains
Our love for Tamayura comes maybe half from what it's actually about, and half from our memories of living in Hiroshima, going to local festivals, eating okonomiyaki, living in a house with tatami floors, and standing on a mountain over the Setonaikai, watching the sunlight on the waves.

[livejournal.com profile] ping816 has an anime club he runs, and one of the shows we watched was 5 Centimeters per Second. [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I loved it and everyone else hated it. Some of that is differing tastes, but I think part of it is because we lived in Japan and the other people watching did not. We had at least some of the culture context for appreciating what it was trying to say. That's what I seek out in anime now, rather than moeblobs or hot-blooded anime pilots. I can get those from video games, whereas getting an experience anything like living in a small Japanese town is pretty rare in games (though Stardew Valley comes close).

Now I want to go back to the Bamboo Festival. Someday...

Tatami love

2017-Jan-09, Monday 09:22
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
While I was catching up on my news articles this weekend, I saw an article on the Japan Times about the popularity of tatami among foreigners. And while the article reads a lot like a press release from the tatami-promotion association mentioned in the article itself, it does remind me of how much I loved the tatami mats in our house in Chiyoda.

What it says there is true. Tatami does feel really nice to walk on, with a kind of springiness that neither wood nor carpet has, and while I'm not sure agree that it "has a comforting, therapeutic effect reminiscent of strolling in a forest," I do like the smell.

Of course, it also has problems that neither wood or carpet does. There's a reason that futons always get folded up and put away in wooden cabinets when not in use, and that reason is tatami mold. It never happened to us, but Wide Island View ran an article while we were living in Hiroshima about someone else who found the source of the rotten smell in her apartment was a gigantic patch of black mold under her futon. I think that's less likely to happen here, since unlike Japan Chicago isn't incredibly humid all year, but it's not impossible. There's also 壁蝨 (dani, "mites") that live in the tatami.

None of this even happened to us, though, which is why I have such a rosy opinion.

If we really committed in some future house, I'd probably get a platform bed for our futon to keep it off the floor, but still close enough that it's sleeping near the ground. Or something like this, though perhaps not that expensive--that's five times what we paid for our futon.

This is all assuming I get a free hand at decorating, admittedly. And something tells me that tatami doesn't come in black unless it's pre-molded.
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
I never used to care about the leaves changing or the flowers blooming. When we'd take trips to Oregon, my parents would go to a garden and I'd sit by the pond and watch the water striders because whatever, who cares about flowers. But I got into the mood of leaf-watching when we lived in Japan, both the cherry blossoms in the spring and the colors in the fall, and while there are no masses of cherry trees here, there are still colors.

I didn't get much of a chance to go leaf-viewing this year because the cold came so late--when we went out for the Scarecrow Festival, it was 25°C and sunny--but I've enjoyed looking at the trees in our neighborhood. And a couple weeks ago, we found a momiji tree only a few blocks away! Momiji are famous in Hiroshima, to the point where the local manjū are momiji-shaped, and we'd go every year to Miyajima to see the momiji change to that deep, uniform crimson color. It was a lovely touch of nostalgia to see.

Then last weekend, it snowed, and I took this picture:


Last month snow fell in Tokyo, and there were a ton of articles about it because everyone knows that Japan is Tokyo and Tokyo is Japan (and also it had been 54 years since the last time but whatever). The photos of snow on fall colors were amazing, though, and I'm glad I got to see a taste of it in Chicago.
dorchadas: (Cherry Blossoms)
Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] ping816, I found a gif that perfectly encapsulates my feelings about the deer on Miyajima:


It's from Nichijō (日常, "ordinary, everyday"), which I've never seen, but I recognize that building in the background. It's Miyarikyu, where [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd and I went for our fourth wedding anniversary. You can see the building here on Google street view.

You know, this makes me want to watch Nichijō.

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

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