August 26, 2007

Train Travel Tips

While I can never be a shining example, I might be a warning to you all...

Case in point....the bullet train stop, Higashi-Hiroshima is not the stop for Higashi and Hiroshima....but for Higashi-Hiroshima....a completely different town.

Also, while it is on the right train line, the town of Fujino is over 2 hours from Mt Fuji.

In retrospect, the name should be a clue..


A pleasant enough town but trains only visit it once every hour and  45 minutes...

It's so far off the beaten path its got illiterate writing spiders....
...and on the outskirts of the town...the Love Letter of the Gargantuas (?!)

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Battleship Mikasa

His Imperial Japanese Majesty's Ship Mikasa is the last pre-dreadnought battleship anywhere on earth and one of the most storied ships in any navy.

Like virtually all of the Capital ships of the early Japanese Navy she was built in England.  The ship was a slightly improved version of the Shikishima and Asahi classes which were themselves very close copies of the excellent Formidable class battleships then being built for the British Royal Navy.

These 4 closely related ships differed from their British counterparts in  squeezing in 2 additional 6 inch guns and being built with the smaller stature of the average late 19th century Japanese sailor in mind. In Mikasa there were a few detail improvements over the preceding battleships including her improved boiler arrangement allowing for only 2 funnels but the most important was provision for an admiral and staff and other facilities for the ship to be used as a flagship....

   Mikasa was chosen as the flagship of Admiral Togo at the outset of the Russo-Japanese War and was heavily engaged throughout that conflict.
At the Battle of the Yellow Sea, Mikasa took most of the damage and casualties on the Japanese side but it is likely that it was one of her shells that hit the bridge of Tcharvitch, killing Admiral Vitgeft, which ensured the Russian retreat.

   The Russian Pacific fleet and the Japanese fleet were fairly evenly matched and both lost 2 battleships during the early part of the war. The Japanese ground forces in Korea were quite successful, but it was realized that they depended utterly upon supply by sea. 
    The Russians determined to decide the issue by sending their Baltic Fleet (which had the delightfully melodramatic designation of The Great Black Fleet) all the way around the world to reinforce the Pacific squadron and sweep the Japanese from the seas...

The IJN did not sweep easily....

By the time the Russians were in the Indian Ocean they received the dismaying news that their entire Pacific fleet was on the bottom of Port Arthur harbor. Admiral Rozhestvensky decided to make straight for Vladivostock. Togo intercepted him in the Tsushima strait.

Togo had his 4 surviving Battleships, 8 Armored Cruisers  and some light forces that included some scout cruisers and 65 torpedo boats. Against him was the entire remaining Russian Navy including 11 Battleships and nine cruisers, but relatively few TTBs.

The Russians had far more firepower, but the voyage had taken its toll on morale and Rozhestvensky had not made optimum use of the training time the voyage provided. Additionally, fouling of their hulls (and the presence of several older ships) reduced the Russians speed and mobility.

When Admiral Togo found the Russian Fleet, his course and position was not ideal for interception and he instituted a maneuver that has become known as the "Togo Turn" . This resulted in the flagship Mikasa bearing the brunt of the entire Russian battle line at one point but also enabled the Japanese to cross the Russians "T". Despite taking most of the shell hits the Japanese received at this battle Mikasa stayed in action throughout, sinking the Russian Battleship Oslyabya with a magazine hit. 

Admiral Rozhestvensky was rendered unconscious early on and the Japanese gunnery proved vastly superior to the Russians. 4 Russian Battlewagons were sunk in the early stages of the battle. When night fell the Japanese torpedo boats fell on the Russians like wolves. The next day the Mikasa and the other IJN battleships finished off the Russian Navy.

The Russian defeat was total. Nearly all of their few ships not sunk were captured.**

The Battle of Tsushima  was the biggest naval battle the world had seen since Trafalgar. The fact that Japan had defeated a European power (when that was considered an utterly surprising thing) secured Japans place as a world power and sent  Europhillic eugenicists scrambling for  excuses.

  Mikasa was badly damaged by a magazine explosion in 1905 shortly after Teddy Roosevelt helped negotiate the Treaty of Portsmouthending the war. Re-floated and fitted with Japanese guns she saw very little action in WW1 but was involved in the confused action against the Bolsheviks after WW1. She broke ice to lead  the American, Japanese and British ships into Vladavostock harbor. She served until decommissioned in 1922 and was thereafter used as a museum ship.

    After WW2 the ship was stripped of weapons by order of the occupation forces and the Russians demanded that she be destroyed. This was not done although a group of Russians is said to have vandalized the ship at one point.   After the occupation  Admiral Nimitz organized an effort to restore the vessel and pointed out that the ship was not really an effective warship anymore even if armed. The weapons were returned and the ships restoration was begun and continues to this day. The vessel is still not fully restored, neither turret is open to the public and the machinery spaces are still sealed off (though there is restoration work going on down there).

 Mikasa is the oldest true battleship in existence and the only representative of a type retroactively referred to as Pre-Dreadnoughts.

   Below the fold....more pictures... more...

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August 24, 2007

Just Plane Hell


delayed 5 hours in Tokyo

customs trouble

delayed 6 hours in Detroit

rerouted to Washington due to mishap at Norfolk

layover in DC for 4 hours

arrived 15 hours late

utterly beat...

Now the cybercafe computer is not allowing me to upload pics...

curse you cybercafe computer

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August 20, 2007

In Search of the Goldilocks Loo

3 weeks ago when when Bob and I arrived here, we had been on a plane for 12 hours, had traveled through the subways for 3 hours and were generally beat.

When we got to our boarding house, I for one, plopped my lugage down in my room and made a beeline for he head...only to be greeted by this connundrum...


Well....isn't that do you...I mean...

                                          h e l p

Anyway....I found out rather late that our boarding house,Casa Nova does have a western style commode in the other mens room. However, this began my search for  less primitive toilets.


At Shakeys Pizza in Shibuya, there is this techno marvel...note that it is rather at the other extreme. All those buttons...the ones labeles with Kanji? They controll various extra functions....only one of which is "flush"...these include but are not limited to: a bidet, heater and making a "flush" sound ??? the location  ensures that large people such as myself can hit the butons with their thigh at an awkward moment.....

Now one might expect the Shinkansen, or bullet trains to be equiped with modern toilettes, perhaps even drifting into the realm of diminishing returns as the one above..... would be wrong.

I did, however  find this behind the great Buddha of Kamakura....

...Buddah it seems, is wise...

 For those as confused by the first image as I was...Asahi. net has this barely helpful & NSFW diagram.

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August 19, 2007

It's not all Megalopolises

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No Matter How Sincere He May Be....

....this chipmunk simply cannot be dramatic...

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August 15, 2007

Back to Akibahara

  The Kyoto trip was delayed untill tomorrow in part because Bob (who feels he is not mentioned on the blog enough) wanted to rest his leg after having taken a fall in Kamakura, and in part because I needed to take care of some things at a bank. The latter took a LOT longer than anticipated because the directions that we got were missing cruicial datta points that had been replaced with bad data. (by we of course I mean Bob...who is scarcely ever mentioned on this blog, and me). After getting that sorted out, Bob and I went to Akibahara which was just two stops away by train.

At the station we were greeted by the usual entourage of french maids, catgirls, schoolgirls...or at least young ladies in school uniforms and nuns in dubious habits...all passing out flyers for some local biddness...

Now on the two previous visits to this station these young ladies did NOT want their picture taken and frankly I'm not going to press the issue, but today was a special treat as one of the young ladies was enthusiastically posing for photographs and not hiding her face in any way....

After that Bob suggested that we make use of my very limited Japanese to help him find an item that he (Bob) had been looking for. So we walked over to a store which, despite having ADULT TOY-STORE in front of it appeared to be a used electronics store.

 I asked Bob (did I mention I was with Bob?) what he was looking for and he replied...."Cat ears"

He then led me to the stairs in the back of the store ....stairs that lead to a whole different sort of store , one more in keeping with the sign outside...

Now I'm not exactly completely innocent with regards to this stuff, but this store sells....things...I mean...


This was a narrow crammped multifloor sex shop with fetishes roughly categorized by floor. Now in theory this is a place where healthy couples can get things to help tittilate and bring each other pleasure....but most floors seemed to involve equipment for rather more narcissistic fun.Even by the standards of such places this was a seedy, sketchy hole in the wall.

Literally, a hole in the wall in the back of an electronics store.


Bob is here in part on business and without the help of Bob I'd never have been able to swing this trip. I owe Bob big for a myriad of things over the years. He needs to get special order items for his store and evidently someone wanted cat ears....go figgure.

So looking both ways to ensure my entry into the den of shame was not observed. I marched into the dank place (after looking both ways yet again) and began crawling up the narrow staircase when I was startled by a loud noise behind me....ALL of the young ladies  from the station....they must work for this place because they ALL passed us on their way to what I assume was their dressing must have been shift change time...of course they muttered and giggled about the two gaijin pervs...


...saw us go into the perv store...

...laughed at us in said store... 

...and  me without a trenchcoat or  a fedora...

Oh the ignominy

Anyway after some false starts ("Cat ear fetish...not on those floors...but there are THINGS for sale") a " Sumemasen, nekomimi onegaishimasu?" and a bit of pantomime got the ears...just one pair....confirming that this was a special order.

As we left, I just had  to know....

"Bob" I asked (Bob is the fellow I came to Japan with...but never mention on this case you were wondering) "I've got to know....WHO at the store ordered the cat ears?"

Bob...Oh they're for you.

Me: "Doowha?"

Bob: So you can give them to Steven Den Beste

Me: naneeewhowha?

Bob: "I read your blog....he asked for a catgirl maid....send him this and a set of instructions `Just add girl..and maid outfit`"

Me: "You are serious?"

Bob: "Sure....just mention me on your blog OK?"

Me: (expletives deleted)

True story

Stephen..some assembly is required.

And now for something we hope you'll really like.....


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August 12, 2007

The Great Buddha of Kamakura

No photo can do justice to this imposing monument, though the people in the picture can give some idea of the scale.

Originally built in 1252 AD by the sculptors Ono-Goroen and Tanji-Hisatomo this huge statue was originally housed in a massive temple. The temple was washed away in a tsunami in 1498 but the big Buddha was unfazed. Eearthquakes did not bring down the engineering marvel, but the great quake of 1923 dammaged its platform. That was repaired in 1925. Unlike many monuments, which sometime have the quality of George Washingtons axe, this is the real is as it was built....sans temple.

For 20 yen, you can go inside the thing too.The ladder to the head is now closed to the public, but it is cool to stand in the belly of the Buddha heat notwithstanding.


I never found an explanation for these Big Buddha Birkenstocks...

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August 11, 2007

Ground Zero

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August 05, 2007

The Japanese equivalent of the chupacabra..... the catgirl maid, which I have seen no less than seven of, six going to and fro in various train stations, and one (unsurprisingly) in Akibahara. As I was sure some of my readers would have an intellectual interest in such culturally relevant things, I naturally tried to take pictures.  I discovered that they have the amazing ability to completely elude my camera...the only related photo I have gotten thus far is of an effete catboy waiter and a random maid.  

Lots of photos coming, but I'm on dial-up right now and leaving for Hiroshima in two hours. I'll most likely be offline for a day or 2.

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