August 30, 2010
Using my laptop at a Toyoko Inn in Sendai, I found a simple fix online (remove, then replace the battery). Now that the cameraphone was again working, I was determined to get some more pictures.
With only three days left on my rail pass and less than 200 dollars available, I hopped off the train from Sendai and onto a random bullet train not headed back to Tokyo. Around 10PM JST I got off at Sakurandai, and got a hotel. The next morning. I got up early, wandered around a bit and explored the station.
Sakurandai station is unusual for a Shinkansen station in that it is in a relativity small town.
A little research showed that the terminus of the Koumi line (Kobuchizawa) was also the terminus for the Chuo line. A little more research confirmed that this was the same Chuo line that begins at Tokyo station. So I took the Koumi line to the end keeping my eye out for anything interesting.
Note, Aonuma station is not equipped with even a single western style toilet.
Or it could be a thundercloud, but that would be foreshadowing.
Nope...No Idea. It looked like a turret off a European castle...if not for the windows it could be a silo.
I figured I'd try to get to it and hopefully see cool stuff along the way.
Volcanic Research Institute?
"AHHAHAHA...I found the....wait what?"
I did not expect this.
As to why there is a rocket on this hill, well there is this display case facing the entrance in one of the "stabilizer fins".
Not pictured...me...stuck ~ 15 minutes later.
I walked downhill a ways and came to this bridge, which is interesting as the arches appear to be water mains (well they sound like it...).
Mud over bamboo thatch, covered in what looks like a thin layer sheetrock, but is probably closer to stucco.
Behind the little shrine there was another set of steps, but these petered out in a glade, where I found a rather large cage trap perhaps for boar or even bear...neither of which I particularly wanted to meet.
Not pictured, the smell of freshly cut cypress.
The station in this little town is graced with this fellow, who is IIRC a traveling monk from the Kamakura period, but I can't find his name.
After a 3 and a half hour trip into Tokyo, I did manage to get to Ueno in time to get on the last train to Yotsugi and so even got to sleep that night. The mark of a successful day!
There is a way around this unpleasantness which I availed myself of on the way back from Sendai, and again as I took the Nagoya line from Omyia.....
Previously on this trip, I'd assumed these new double decker bullet trains were, like the Nozomi, not open to users of the JR rail pass.
The JR Rail pass works just fine and the second deck is available in the non-reserved cars as well. If you can get a second deck seat, go for it!
August 22, 2010
This is not entirely correct as a walk through Kuki will attest.
There is a city map at the city center which does not include Washinomiya. I gather that Washinomiya was annexed by Kuki, not renamed, and is some miles distant. I got on the train and got off at Higashi-Washinomya...which is NOT the station one wants to get off at if one wants to see this shrine. Washinomiya Station is on the Tobu line and one should transfer to it at the station in Kuki. However, it is not covered by the JR rail pass and as I was able to get directions to the shrine I decided to hoof it.
Two tigers, a penguin and a Texan polar bear from Hawaii...Just don't make eye contact...
If you look back and see this...YOU'RE GOING THE WRONG WAY!
I was completely unprepared for the scale of the place.
It is also very important to the Shinto religion and gets well over a hundred thousand visitors on New Years.
I spoke to a shrine maiden who was selling fortunes and asked her some questions to the best of my ability. She was very patient and helpful despite the language barrier.
She was adamant that this is THE oldest Shinto shrine in the Kanto region. I gathered that this place honors most types of spirits hence the large number of shrines (and the little garden in the courtyard...with a shrine beside it.) There was a lot I did not get, but she got out a pamphlet and circled certain headings that I can look up in my Kanji dictionary. She seemed quite happy that a fat ugly American was asking her questions...that pertained to the shrine.
This may seem odd, what else would one ask?
Well there is one other thing about this place, (scarcely worth mentioning of course).
This, you see, is the view from just outside the front gate...
One result: I belatedly realized at one point day before yesterday that I was on the wrong train, going the wrong way. I began looking for an interesting looking stop to get off at and was soon obliged by the appearance of a most atypical Japanese train station.
The phone booths are new but have the same look.
There is also, in the park adjoining the station, a monument...
To a man of some considerable substance...
I feel really inadequate right now.
There is a helpful map by the Keisei Line train station.
Yeah...That random encounter table can be a beeotch.
(It's a Godzilla dear....get in the Taxi)
The pictures are not the best as I disabled the flash on the Blackberry out of courtesy. I was the only westerner present and there was no other flash photography happening, I was also concerned I might dazle the drummers on the tower who were in tight, highly elevated quarters.
...and the smells of all the fried and shaved ice concessions.
One interesting thing I noted as I left, there is this shed next to the Lawsons with a chrysanthemum emblem and red spinny lights kind of like on a police box, but it is always locked. Last night it was opened and I found out what it was.
It's a little fire station manned by the local VFD, just to deal with the potential of a fire during a shrine festival.
The moral of the story? ALWAYS bring a camera anywhere you go around here as even a trip to a convenience store can become something really cool....or, as in Lilly's case, something entirely 'other'.
Moleskin...Yay! (Thx Bob!)
August 17, 2010
I Could not log on yesterday as the Japanese internet said the blog did not exist.
I overslept today...by a wide margin...In fact I slept almost 17 hours.
Funk was due in part to dehydration, sunburn and blisters and also due to bad news from school that is unrelated and therefore is hidden behind spoiler the spoiler tag.
Tomorrow I plan to be leaving early for Kurihana, and Kamakura. Wednesday or Thursday I'll be hitting the bullet trains on a two day bumble, though I'm still undecided as to which way I'm headed, north or south. I've got 11 more rail pass days, and the Typhoon and its associated rains are now quite cleared up. Money is tight but hotels in Japan are pretty cheap.
Next week I'm going to try to get my Fuji pole.
It turns out that I'm staying in Sadao Saitos' old room. He left the week before I arrived.
Here is a picture looking into room 8....
Views of my office...
This picture, taken by holding the phone against the wall, over the desk while standing outside the room, gives a good sense of scale, via the shirts, slippers and suitcase.
Bedtime sees the computer migrate to the desk of course. The folded up dungarees are my pillow and the bare linoleum is about as luxuriously soft as one would expect, but I'm too broke to justify buying a futon and besides, the heat would make any bedding really rank really quickly. If you choose this place bring a sleeping bag, which can be washed in the futon washer at the coin laundry around the corner.
The heat ensures no sheet is needed and the fan even keeps it from being too unpleasant.
The common area is tiny and used by both sides as there are 15 people living in the two units and kitchen/refrigerator space is at a premium.
There are 4 showers each with a tiny changing room slightly larger than a phone booth. Remarkably, the shower stalls themselves are very roomy American sized showers with powerful vent fans and glorious waterpressure. These are the biggest shower stalls I've seen at any hostel in Japan.
Yotsugi Crib is super Spartan but perfectly livable, especially if one is a tourist on a budget or a student. In either case one will not be in ones room that often as one will be out seeing and doing stuff. For 28,000 yen it is about the cheapest room one can find. Even 18,000 yen for one of the 'Rukia specials'...er..shelves...
The only places I've seen cheaper are shared rooms and barracks type accommodations. This is to my mind a rather better option.
Just remember when following the directions given that Yotsugi Crib is not a stand alone guest house but is located in rooms 104 and 105 of Crest Plaza Apartments. This is important.
August 15, 2010
UPDATE: This is the banner I was talking about.
Image used for fact finding purposes only.
After some thought, I decided to once again brave the river of fandom I had navigated last year. Instead of queuing up before the gates opened at 10. I arrived a bit before noon. I also took a different route which had the benefit of being simpler. It only involved transferring from JRs Yamanote line the Yurikamome, at Shimbashi station. This line runs near the Tokyo Bay waterfront and has spectacular views of the harbor. Additionally, Kokusai-tenjijō-seimon station is much closer to the Tokyo Big Sight than the other stations, this being the view from the station entrance...
Click Here For Supah size
It was also hot, incredibly hot. Be advised if you go that the air-conditioning system gets pretty much overwhelmed by the combination of Tokyo in August, all doors being open and the body heat of nearly half a million people. I understand that people did pass out from the heat, one seemed to be receiving first aid as I walked by. I was sweating so profusely that one of my concerns as I browsed was sweating on the product ( another reason, that a man should always have his towel!). I noted many people dramatically holding cloths over their noses in response to the smell, but I'm pretty sure that drama was the actual motivator there.
An enjoyable if exhausting day. I even made a few purchases and still got away for under 40 bucks.Unfortunately, this left me holding an inconvinient pile of damningly geeky items. Therefore I astutely purchased a 350 yen bag in which to carry them securely and ride home on the Tokyo train system at rush hour without any of the embarrassment of being considered an otaku or something...
August 09, 2010
August 07, 2010
Plans today called for rest, studying and doing laundry.
It's 10:40 PM and none of those have been acomplished yet.
I went this afternoon to try to find an ATM machine that would work. My plan was to hit the big post office in Tokyo but on the way I noticed a huge post office outside , and, never having gotten off at this stop, I hopped off, ambled over to the post office and found that I am having some larger issue with my acount, which is worrisome, I may not have gotten my vacation pay on time. Nevertheless, the post office ATM machines do indeed seem to work with most US cards including my Visa and Cirrus. I did get 10,000 yen out ( about 83 dollars.....yes the exchange rate sucks this trip )and spent a fraction of my loot at a CoCo's Curry.
I dallied before returning to the station and wandered around the area near the station, getting quite thourougly lost, in part because I walked the wron way after hitting my head on an underpass for a road....yes the clearance was 1.4 meters for an underpass used by cars.
I bought a tomato from an old lady in an open air grocery and got directions back to the station. The directions took me to another, smaller station near Sekiya Station. I noted that there was no english on any of their schedules, indeed the stops were written in Kanji with no furigana so I decided to see where the line went, confident that I could get off again at the current station with no problem.
The second to last stop was within a thousand feet of the new Tokyo Tower construction site so I had to get off and get pictures. This is one impressive structure. It is already over 400 meters high (it will be 600m when finished). I can't see at this stage of construction what precautions, if any are being taken to deal with the posibility of attack by collassal caterpillers, winged reptiles or giant apes (mechanical or otherwise). Still it is a supremly awesome site. From there I wandered down the creek that runs adjacent to the structure and eventually ended up on a bridge overlooking the Samuda RiverFrom there I followed the road signs to Ueno, taking a detour in Asakura to take pictures of a big temple and pagoda, where I was able to confirm via an area map that Ueno was only 1.7 more kilometers distant. "whew!" Anyway I'm in Ueno as I type this about to hit the train for home...where I still must do laundry.
...gotta leave before the trains shut down!
August 06, 2010
August 04, 2010
Yesterday I got a text from Verizon informing me that I'd incurred over a hundred dollars in roaming charges.
I shut the phone down and called Verizon...and got put on hold. Since my total phone time in Japan has been under 6 minutes and 4 texts time on hold was really disturbing, so I turned off the phone, then called my folks to have them go to the Verizon store and find out what was up. 2 dollars a minute and 50 cents for texts does not =100 bucks. It turns out that although I'd gotten the phone switched over to an overseas plan, this did not cover internet or E-mail. Everytime I recieved an E-Mail I was incurring large roaming fees. I did get my plan changed but later in the day I recieved a text to the effect that I had exceeded 200 dollars in roaming fees before the new plan kicked in.
I'm currently in a ManBoo Internet cafe in Ueno, charging my Blackberry via USB and trying (in vain thus far) to get at its pictures.
While purchasing the time, I was informed that Tokyo has passed a new law covering internet cafes. All internet cafe customers must now get membership cards and provide contact information to be turned over to the government. I'd missed this at N-Cafe because it was one of the few that had always required a membership and ID. I had a membership already and when they asked for ID to issue me a new card I'd just assumed it as because my 4 year old card was ragged.
All foreigners using internet cafes now have to provide their passport number!
Internet cafes used to be a neat way to travel on the cheap as you could get a 6 or 8 hour time block and sleep, for far cheaper than you could a hotel room. Now, I'm just going to avoid them as my passport# is not something I wasnt floating around in multiple sketchy establishments.
This is a large hassle aside from the privacy issues, one used to be able to duck into i-cafes to avoid rain, upload pictures or make quick blog posts, now one has to deal with filling out a rather intrusive form for each one, even though one may never visit there again. I gather that this card will not be good at any other ManBoo.
I also note that several internet websites are blocked at both cafes I've been to on this trip are blocked and this is particularly true of thumbnail links, that is you can look at an art site but clicking on the thumbnail gives you the BLOCKED SITE page.
I assume this is in preparation for a crackdown on pirates, but given Japans sliding obcenity scale of late, the potential for abuse is great. The potential for identity related woes is really worrisome as well.
In other news, I made sure that my ATM Visa would work in Japan before I left. Yet every time I've attempted to use it I get "SERVICE TEMPORARILY UNAVAILABLE". This is also worrisome but on a personal level only.
Finally, the inscrutable apostrophe problem seems to have been limited to those two keyboards at N-Cafe. (Seats 33 and 6) I have no apostrophe problems on this machine as shift+7 works just like the Japanese keyboard says it should.
Food wise I had a Sailsbury steak and salad at a Jonathans and I ordered a 450 yen tempura bowl from a tempura shack outside Taiteshi station.
I'm back to trying to get my Blackberry to let go of its photos.
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