September 02, 2012

Bachelor Chow: Cheapass Japan Tourist Version

This is not a travel suggestion.

So I picked up several cup o' noodles type ramen cups from a Lawson 100. I knew I'd be schlepping around the apartment for several days while my ankle healed.  One thing I did NOT have was a pot or teakettle, but this was of no concern to me because there was a microwave in both the communal kitchens back at the maison.

However, upon  putting the cup in the microwave I discovered that I had not stared at the hieroglyphics on the side of the cup long enough. You see, in Japan, Nissins' noodle cups are foil lined, resulting in an electrical storm in the microwave.

I didn't want to buy a 30 dollar pot to cook 7 noodle cups over 18 days, so I improvised. Fortunately, I'd also decided to try out the Japanese equivalent to Jiffy-Pop.

This left me with a flimsy aluminum pan on which I was able to fashion into a spout and voila...

Note the paper handle cover, a major technology improvement over the bare scaldy wire of the Jiffy-Pop pan
I'm pretty sure this is not healthy for the long term and I wouldn't use the pan for frying or anything, but for boiling water it worked fine.

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September 01, 2012

A Log Cabin in Tokyo

The Maison I was staying in was was only 7 kilometers outside  of Ikebukaro. I decided one evening that rather than taking the train in I'd hoof it. In addition to any cool sights on the way in, this would give me my bearings in case I ever missed the last train in the evening, 3 miles is only a short walk if you know where you are going.

To my great dismay, despite walking all the way there, I saw no headless motorcyclists, flying vending machines, Black Russian sushi chefs,  sword wielding meganekos, teeny-boppers wearing the wrong heads or technicolor gangbangers. But I did amble across a log cabin deep in the wilds of Tokyo.

The interior is decorated in early log, with a few cigar store Indians for good measure.

...and there were awesome steaks to be had for 2500 yen. Heavily peppered, marinated, and, inexplicably, buttered (!?). After debuttering it was perfect.

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Less Than 2 Weeks

That's how long it took these shoes I bought just before the trip to have their heels degenerate into this....

Which is why there is frequent mention of my feet in the posts on my recent Japan trip.

It's worse than that. The first week I did very little walking because I had a sprained ankle, so the shoes wore out in a remarkably short time. Now, it's true that there were days that I walked 14 miles or more but by the second weekend this had started to happen. The shoes left blood blisters on my heels which I shan't post here out of respect for my audience. Walking the last week was exceedingly painful, but unlike the sprain, bruises and blisters don't threaten long term debilitation, so I was able to hobble about with three pairs of socks to keep the trip from being a bust.

Shorter version of this post:
Spot Bilt sneakers: Don't buy them.

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August 26, 2012

Sendai and Kurihara

In the previous post, I mentioned the "Sendai fiasco".

I was originally going to head up to Hokkaido, but a series of delays meant I'd missed the last train to Aomori from whence one gets on the night train to Sapporo. I took the Shinkansen back to Fukushima and decided to get a hotel, but none were to be had. All the hotels were packed because of a festival or something. It was pouring rain so couldn't really take pictures and I got back on the last train to Sendai. I could not help but note that for a radioactive wasteland Fukushima sure looks busy.
Hotels were hard to come by in Sendai as well, I ended up spending 140 bucks because no single rooms were available. The next day I ambled back to the station.

 I decided to head out to Kurihara and get some pictures of, the earthquake recovery, which I'm told is spectacular. Additionally nearby Matsushima is supposed to be quite scenic and Ishinomaki is the town where that beached whaling ship was turned into a museum.

Of course there is the matter of scale, and the fact that the local rail line was shut down a few years ago due to the improvement of the roads. There is a bus service however, so I took that.

I got off in Kurihara next to the town hall and started hoofing it to the next bus stop. One thing that interested me is how much this area reminds me of semi-rural parts of Virginia. There are lots of strip malls and stand alone stores with big parking lots.

Over here we have Manny Moe and Jack..In Japan it seems to be Laurel and Hardy.

Sticking to the areas around the train stations gives one a skewed view of the country.

Eventually, I got farther out into the countryside and followed the road towards Ishinomaki.

Coming to a fork in the road, I spied a sign that actually had the distance on it....24K.
Well 15 miles wasn't necessarily a deal breaker, especially since it was downhill, but I'd been hiking with determination for nearly 4 hours, so it was demoralizing. Furthermore, I needed to ensure I could secure transportation from there. Finally, I hadn't eaten all day and was becoming quite aware of being in the sun. I decided to find a place to eat and get my bearings. This turned out to be a noodle shop a bit down the street.
I ordered some ramen and asked for directions. I asked about nearby train stations and was told that there weren't any. I asked about bus stops and was told that there weren't any. This I found perplexing as I'd gotten off a bus to get there, so I pulled out my bus schedule and asked for assistance in finding the stops. The waitresses were incredulous, 'that bus stop was over 15 clicks up the mountain'....'Hey Mr. You're really sunburned!'

None of the bus-stops on the schedule was in Ishinomaki and all were farther than the one I had gotten off at. If I proceeded to Ishinomaki I'd be getting there only a little before dusk and then have to secure transportation out that might not be available, for one thing I'd have to hunt for train stations. I reluctantly decided to head back to the bus stop.

The return trip was longer, not only because it was uphill but also because my feet began to hurt mightily. It turned out that the insoles in my 3 week old hiking shoes were disintegrating, leaving my heels on spiky hard plastic things...this grates after a while.

This was bad.

There are NO size 11 and a half (wide) shoes in Japan, certainly none out there.

I hobbled back to the bus stop, and at the convenience store across the street I purchased a pint of Pocari's peculiar perspiration. I crossed the street, sat in the shade and rejoiced in my timing as the bus was due in mere moments. As I sat there I noted a bus pull up on the other side of the street.
The neuron smouldered.
I drank a swig of the drink.
The neuron fired.
"At bus stops the bus will stop on whichever side of the street it's going..that is the opposite side that it put you out on"
The bus pulled away...
Profanities were uttered.
There would be another 2 hours.

I ambled around the area and looked at this scenic little pond behind the convenience store. It evidently was a dug to get material for the road but was deepened made part of the drainage system and stocked with fish.

I went into the store twice more. There was a nice old lady there who finally asked what I was doing in the area. I told her I was waiting for a bus. She then revealed that this store had seats for people waiting for the bus...right across the room concealed behind the asparagus crates.

And I was all like " Why are there crates and crates of medicine for Aspergers!?"

I was able to sit down next to a fan...for the last 20 minutes of my wait.

The bus arrived and, being on the right side of the street this time, I got on it and returned to Sendai Station. I'd planned to get a hotel and make good on the trip the next day, but, upon noticing that there was a bit of blood coming through my socks, I instead hopped on the bullet train and beat a hasty retreat to my maison near Ikebukarou via Utsunomiya and Omiya. That's when I realized the full gravity of the issue I was having with my shoes. I decided to wear 3 pairs of socks on my next forray, but I rested for a day , elevating my feet and giving my sunburned hide a respite.  I went to the SKYTREE the next night.

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Well, the next day I decided to head back to the Tokyo SKYTREE and see the view during daylight. SKYTREE opens at 08:00 so my initial plan was to be there at eight, but after getting up at six and going to the station it occoured to me that this would involve being on the Tokyo mass transit system during rush hour.

I left a bit after 8:30.

Although the Tobu Line runs the train to the Tokyo SKYTREE, the Tobu-Tojo Line is a spur line from Ikebukaro and does not connect to the rest of the Tobu network. Thus several transfers were involved.

It's important to note that the wondrous and magical JR Railpass does not work on the Tobu Line, (or the Tokyo Subway for that matter) so if one wants to go to see the SKYTREE one must actually pay to ride the train. The JR Yamanote line is railpass friendly and is generally the go-to transportation method for tourists in Tokyo as it circles the city and hits all the biggest train stations, so directions to the SKYTREE are best given from there. Take the Yamanote line to either Ueno or Nippori and transfer to the Keisei Line. Ueno is an awesome stop in its own right with the museums and park, but the transfer in Nippori is much easier as the JR and Keisei lines are right next to each other, whereas in Ueno they are separate stations about two blocks apart. Anyway, from Nippori, or Ueno, get on the Keisei main line and then get off at the Sekiya station. If you see a post office you are using the wrong exit, instead you should see a train station across the street (yes it is a street, not a bikepath, you can get run over so look both ways) handicapped access is on the other side around the block to your left. This is the Tobu Railways' Ushida Station. It's not Sekiya, which might be important to remember on the way back (derp).

Go through the underpass to the other side (or stay on that side if you used the handicapped access) and get on the train going to Asakusa. The second to last stop is the super-modern SKYTREE Station (also sometimes referred to by its old name Osihage).

Now you just have to climb up 4 floors to get in line.

Or not....

You see, during the daytime, even though the line is shorter one doesn't simply walk into Mordor, the line to SKYTREE. One does get in line. However, this is not the line to get into the tower but rather the line to get a time-stamped ticket that allows one to queue up 2-3 hours later to get into the line to get tickets so that one can get into the line to get into the tower.   

The reason for this has nothing to do with flow control, it's so people suddenly have 2 to three hours to kill wandering around the super expensive shops under the SKYTREE.

I walked across the canal and got some fried chicken at a Lawsons.

My relatively early arrival was for naught. I got a ticket to get into line between 13:30 and START the 2 hour + line to the top. By the time I got up the haze had started rolling in.

 I should have braved the pushers.

The view of Mt Fuji would be awesome if there weren't a thunderstorm over the mountain.

I should note that the glass floors are much more impressive by day.

By the end of this my feet were really hurting as my 3 week old shoes shoes had started to disintegrate during the Sendai fiasco over the weekend, so instead of walking the 6 miles to Ueno as had been my plan, I limped down to the train and went home, taking a rather spectacular detour due to the fact that I forgot that Sekiya Station is where you get off going to SKYTREE, but Ushida is where you get off going back.

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August 20, 2012

On observation deck of SkyTree.. MY GOD I CAN SEE FOREVER!

UPDATE: Well, I'm not sure why that posted 4 times from my Blackberry....It appears that reception at the TOKYO SKY TREE is 4 times as good as normal! (There...fixed...)

This is the best of a series of terrible pics. The pictures from the observation decks do not do justice to the view at night. I was looking at a train pass below and thought to myself "golly, that looks fake!"

Then I realized that Tsuburaya and the guys at Toho were GENIUSES!

I ordred ice crean at the sky tree cafe, it was rather pricey and is the only time I've ordered a dessert on this trip. However, it gave me a chance to sit by the window. The ice cream was soft serve vanilla over corn flakes. This was bizarre but it begs the question "Why has no one here thought of this!?"

The view from the top is truly awe inspiring. It's a far different effect than, say, the Empire State Building, because Sky Tree has no nearby peers, at night one can see as far as the big Ferris Wheel and out into the inland sea. The rivers with their tour barges are especially neat.

Note that I arrived at 10 minutes to 6 and got to the top at 8 pm...on a weeknight. The line for tickets was almost as impressive as the view.

No video that I took was any good but I did take this which flashes on one of the windows of the upper observation deck periodically.

That little Eiffel Tower looking thing in the background...that's Tokyo Tower.

I note a startling lack of MASER cannons around the facillity. Given the trouble the previous "highest tower in Tokyo" had with giant caterpillars, moths, pterodactyls, giant apes (both mechanical and organic) and sundry other assailants, I can only see this as a major oversight.

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August 16, 2012

Yeah, That TOTALLY Looks Like a Destroyer to Me

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August 11, 2012

Time to See What All the Fuss is About

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I've been drawing blanks in conversations here.
Basic stuff like expressing aspirations, have me utterly muddling.
Part of this may be that I'm more aware of this now and part of this is because I hadn't cracked a Japanese book since I dropped out of school in April. Still, basic first semester stuff has given me trouble, I was so bewildered by some katakana the other day I was momentarily afraid I'd had a stroke. This is why I was so inordinately pleased by the conversation with the lady at the retirement home. It wasn't any great feat, just very basic greetings and back and forth questions, but I didn't seem to bollox it.

Then this evening I went into a Nepalese restaurant and was utterly flummoxed by the waiters greeting.

He'd addressed me in English.

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Less Than Ghostly, But Still Quite Strange

I'd read all about how the town of Kiosato was an abandoned ghost town. I'd just missed it on my previous trip and this tasked me immensely. So I went down the Koumi Line again, from Sakuradai and got off in Kiyosato.

My first indication that a Japanese Detroit did not await me was the huge number of people that got off the train with me (who had got on at the previous station). However, most of them didn't linger...they got on buses and departed, no doubt for the many interesting tourist attractions that are around the town. This actually IS a working town....and it seems to be a major tourist area, but there are a LOT of abandoned businesses here.

The view from the station

I gather that part of the problem is that the buses take people directly to their destinations now and the new highway (interprefectural?) allows it to be bypassed altogether.

Just outside the station was what appeared to be a maid cafe which specialized in sweets...I would have thought that this would have a very real marketing problem as maid cafe's seem to be mainly aimed at men, and sweets cafes are aimed primarily at women here in Japan.

Given its fate it would seem I was right...

But it still has chairs on the deck
Or perhaps their mascot scared everyone away...

Lots of abandoned buildings and a few businesses, some of which seem to be doing well, especially the souvenir shops near the train station and a sweets shop that has a very art deco  design...and no scary EGLs with pointy things painted on the door...

The thing is that the town is quite picturesque...

...until you get up close and see that maybe half the buildings are abandoned.

One of the business models that seem to be thriving here....retirement homes.

The lady in the doorway asked me to come up and we had a friendly conversation in which I did not actually make a fool of myself....something of a first on this trip for anything beyond simple purchases.

It's not exactly a ghost town and there is a lot of activity around it, but its damned peculiar especially since the non abandoned bits are fully functional and pleasant. It's like Detroit without the blight, a very surreal experience.

(I understand that there is a much more fully abandoned area on the other side of the tracks near the highway. I could not go that far afield due in part to the rather ominous shift in tone the sky was taking)

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