August 26, 2012
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.
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.
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 bus...in 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.
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.
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).
Now you just have to climb up 4 floors to get in line.
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 14:00...to START the 2 hour + line to the top. By the time I got up the haze had started rolling in.
The view of Mt Fuji would be awesome if there weren't a thunderstorm over the mountain.
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.
August 20, 2012
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.
August 16, 2012
August 11, 2012
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.
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.
Given its fate it would seem I was right...
The thing is that the town is quite picturesque...
...until you get up close and see that maybe half the buildings are abandoned.
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)
When I arrived in Omiya the other day I noted that I was not far from Washinomya...less than 40minutes by train and I decided to pop in and see if the Lucky Star stuff was still in evidence.
To my surprise, this was in the station...(It had not been on my previous visit) so my initial impression was yes...
The normal side of the prayer tree.
Here is a short shakey-cam video that gives some idea of the scale of the place.
But now it's called the Hiragi twins shrimp tempura...650 yen.
Top to bottom for increasing levels of despair...
I only have 185 e-mails to slog through now.
It is raining which cut short my day trip...which was then lengthened by some sort of accident on the rail line to my house.
My blisters are about healed and the ankle, while twitchy, is better. I may brave the last day of Comiket tomorrow, I may just bumble about Tokyo. Depending on how my ankle is, I may be far afield indeed by Wednesday.
August 10, 2012
However, I missed a station and ended up way out towards ( but not readily accessible to) Nagoya. I schlepped about on trains, got off, hiked, had a grand old time while I got sunburned, got blood blisters on the bottoms of both feet the size of silver dollars, and re-injured my ankle, all of which would have been fine except that I deleted ALL my pictures and video from the camera.
Auugh...auugh I say.
Anyway, I turned around, got back on the train and went back to make good on at least some of the pics.
As expected, the herd of deer I'd filmed earlier did not return...and the lighting was bad on the return trip...still...
note the rocks holding down some of the roofs.
Aside from loosing the pics it was a fairly successful and quite pleasant trip.
The return trip was via bullet train to Omiya at which point it got circuitous again...this time almost on purpose, but that's another post.
In the meantime, I had so much fun I need to heal for a bit. This is a scientific indicator of a successful vacation.
August 06, 2012
The ambiance, however, is vintage Shakeys. Be advised that this place has American sized drinks. I ordered my first coke since arriving and, being used to the Japanese sizes I ordered a large..I received a bladder burster that would have given Mayor Bloomberg a conniption.
I'd seen Shakeys for the first time in 20 years or more when my friend BOB! took me to Japan in 2007. I never found it on subsequent trips and had assumed it had faded into oblivion here too. Today...I wasn't actually looking for it, I was just doing some shopping, as it poured down rain all day.
My ankle is much better and I'm taking it easy and studying Japanese the rest of the evening, as it is still rainy. It's supposed to clear up tomorrow and if my ankle has continued to improve I'll go much farther afield.
So you can understand my trepidation when I ambled from the coin laundry up to my current maison and saw this...
That firetruck that passed me a few minutes earlier..it stopped in front of my apartment...
Oh dear oh dear...
Then other units arrived...this was getting worrisome.
A few minutes later one of the tenants came down..put on his shoes walked out and turned right around and took his shoes off ran into the building and emerged again.
I noted that the firefighter had taken off their boots before entering.
I was detecting a lack of urgency.
So..I walked in, switched into my 3" too short slippers and shuffled up the stairs to see my hallway blocked by 6 firemen and their female supervisor.
It turns out that the tenant next door to me had suffered a catastrophic failure of his door lock...and had been locked in for 3 days. He'd put a note under the door that morning...I'd thought it was a plea for quiet and made a note to look at it with my kanji dictionary after I got back.
Poor dude had to to go to the head real bad..so he called his mom...and mom called the fricking fire department.
Japanese locks are damned impressive. It took 40 minutes to get him out.
I was pleased as punch that there was no fire so I made a quick post about my computer woes and zipped out to catch the train. Later that aftternoon as I returned, I stopped at an Indian restaurant that was up a narrow staircase outside the station. I was impressed with how dimly lit and smoke filled it was. It was packed. This despite the dense smoke and lack of air conditioning. To me this indicated that the food must be damned good.
In fact, the restaurant was on fire...well, some of their nan bread had got away from them and ignited..I gather that the chef threw it into the tandoori oven, which in this place was an iron fire pit. This prevented the spread of flames but filled the whole place with smoke for about 15 minutes. No one left. I took this as a good sign.
The curry was indeed excellent BTW.
I've been taking it easy the last few days and not going on extended hikes because of this....
August 04, 2012
1:Swipe ones SUICA card as normal when entering the Tobu Tojo line.
2:Realize that you need to take the JR line instead and go to that platform, and use the JR rail pass for that train.
This breaks the system and the next time you try to get on any rail service using the SUICA card it flashes red, a loud buzzer sounds and you are blocked from entering the station.
It took over an hour to figure out what had happened and I think I ended up getting charged for the JR time ( despite the Rail Pass) in order to keep it from registering fraud.
As an aside: If you've sent me an E-mail, it may be 18-19 days before I can get back to you.
August 03, 2012
This morning I got up, showered and decided to head into Ikebukaro to pick up some supplies. I needed a pillow, house slippers that fit my 295mm feet, shower shoes that did the same, various supplies and most importantly a carrying bag for my rail pass. A JR rail pass is made of very flimsy unwaxed cardstock. It is also irreplaceable, and given its value must be protected. It is slightly larger than a passport and the new one is slightly larger still so it will not fit into the passport wallet I'd bought for the purpose. What I needed was something slightly larger than a passport wallet, preferably that could be attached to my belt and didn't require the rail pass be brought through a zippers teeth. I'd had such a case but it was really ragged looking so I left it at home in favor of the passport wallet, which as mentioned was just too small. I also needed a widget to get my blackberry to talk to my netbook as well as a data card for the camera I brought.
The trip into Ikebukaro was cut short by the fact that the Tobu-Tojo line broke today. When I arrived they were making an announcement that featured the word dekimasen prominantly. I gleaned from what I understood from the PA system that train travel would resume at 10:20. as it was 8:00 I decided to get breakfast.... 650 yen at a Gusto.
I ambled over too the nearby department store to look for stuff, but the non-grocery section was closed untill 10:30. Since shopping was a bust I wandered around a bit looking for a laundromat and when the trains restarted I ambled back to the station.
The backlog of people who needed to get to Ikebukaro was impressive. So impressive that faces were pressed against the glass as people were being crammed in. I decided....no.
Instead I went the other way following the line out into the countryside on an almost empty train.
I got off in a random station and wandered a bit.
I enjoyed the scenery and got chirped at by sparrows. Yes, the station was full of sparrow nests.
I started to head back, got off at a station with an attached shopping center where I found a few of the things I needed and...
Would YOU make a contract with this barber?
Some hairstyles come at too high a cost.
With storm clouds gathering and the umbrella back at the maison, I beat a retreat. Still, I got most of the things I needed except for indoor shoes and a working USB cable for my blackberry. I'll try Tokyu Hands ( which has some western sizes) tomorrow before setting off farther afield.
My foot still hurts so I turned in a bit early, only to be awakened by this...more...
The morning of the first I got up 3 and a half hours prior to my scheduled 7:30 departure. I figgured I'd shower, repack my gear and take the 15 minute cab ride to the airport and be at the head of the line. About a hundred other people had had the same idea and this swamped the 4:40 AM cab capacity to the point that I got there about when I would've if I'd slept in and waited for a shuttle. The line was impressive, but I've been to comiket so lines no longer phase me. What DID phase me was that the line did not move...It seems that the computer was convinced that we had all been happily delivered to our destination and refused to give us boarding passes. Now one might think that the old boarding pass was sufficient, but there's some TSA or FAA regulation involved, so sense is not a factor. Eventually, they got the thing straightened out and we began the long slow process of getting into the now very long line to be poked prodded de-shoed and x-rayed.
With only 10 minutes left before my departure I ran three quarters of the way to the gate, twisting my ankle on an escalator, and hopped the rest of the way. There at the gate I noted people coming OUT.
It seems our poor plane had twisted its ankle at the gate and needed to be taken out back and shot. This meant another plane had to be brought in from the plane farm, which took about an hour. Then they had to go to the glue factory and get our luggage off our dead plane, and they also decided to allow other stranded passengers to use our flight and then they had to refile with ATC...all of which which took about 2 additional hours.
The flight itself was pleasant. I was in seat 22A which is close to the bathroom and practically in the galley, so if one wishes to sleep there one is screwed. However, seat 22A is at the very front of steerage, so a person who is 6'1 can do this.....
legs straight out!
and I did too, until my legs got tired. Even better, the person next to me freaked because he got seat 22B which has a terrible rating as it is practically in the galley and is near the restroom. He demanded to get moved farther back in steerage, so I ended up essentially being in biddness class with cheap food.
The crew of DL9856 was very courteous and professional and handled the situation they'd inherited quite well. The replacement plane was an older model without individual screens or AC outlets but the flight itself was remarkably smooth.
I was scheduled to meet my landlord at 3pm JST and he'd made clear that his schedule was tight so if I was late I'd have to stay in a hotel aother night. The delay put me in at noon which was going to cut it close getting to Saitama from Narita. Fortunately there was only one minor delay...some young American woman went into such a flaming debutante frenzy in the JR office that it required the entire counter staff to deal with her. I'm not sure WHAT her childhood trauma was but I think that she had not believed that you REALLY couldn't purchase a rail pass in Japan. It was cringe inducing to see the rest of her party and their Japanese hosts so humilliated. A couple of them tried to apologize for her and she proceeded to chew them out. The young lady went into full harridan mode to the point that the JR staff actually had torun into their office and bring out their attack Russian...a six foot five Slavic dude who is apparantly one of the managers. The JR staff handled themselves quite well. They also sent someone out to hand out the JR Rail Pass paperwork to those of us that needed it in order to expedite our processing so the whole delay was probably only about 5 minutes but it seemed interminable.
I took the Narita express to Ikebukaro without incident and from there called the landlord with only about 15 minutes to spare. I hopped on an express train and glided into an instant transfer to a local train and met the landlord in time. By this time my ankle was throbbing. Anyway, I got the maison rented, got internet hooked up, got the trash schedule and unpacked. I'd been at a dead run since I'd left the airport and my ankle was killing me, so I turned in early. Before I did finally was able to go to the......OH NOES!
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