August 06, 2010

Tell Me a Scary Story

If anyone has any horror stories to tell on any of the following subjects:

Aeon, ECC, Berlitz, Geos and related....

....please relate them in the comments. 

(Happy stories are good too.)

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Still No Pictures

  I'm taking it easy today and tomorrow, mostly studying Japanese, and trying not to exacerbate my sunburn, which, as it peels on my bald head looks like mutant dandruff...or something and seems to be scaring people. The intertubes went out at the guest house so I'm again at the sublime geek heaven that is N-Cafe in Akihabara, where I took care of some online stuff for the university (and I took a few moments to kill some Zombjas)  I note that in seven days, I've been to Akihabara twice and haven' gone to any of the anime, CD or manga stores....hmmm.

  My Blackberry is still stubbornly refusing to give up its pictures, even on my laptop, which has the Blackberry ap. I suspect the USB connector I bought here the other day is slightly 'off'. I may have a work the form of having my camera and blackberry cables mailed to me. 

Assuming I can get my ATM card to work I hope to be in Nagasaki on the 9th and possibly wait in the hell line at Comiket sometime during the weekend of the 12th. If I can't then I'll be down to one meal a day and be limited to day trips, ( no hotels) though the Shinkansen and rail pass still mean I can journey pretty far afield. I'm going to try and purchase a used bike in the next few days. 

  Finally, Reeces cups notwithstanding, sometimes good things do not go together. Case in point:
Hamburger curry.
Hamburger curry is is unfair to the hamburger, unfair to the curry and unfair to me. 

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August 03, 2010

Technical Difficulties

  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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August 01, 2010

No Fires, No Earthquakes, No ATM Snafus, Yay!

 Anyone who has any idea how to type an apostrophe on a Japanese keyboard please chime in in the comments. SHIFT plus 7 gives me the & symbol for some reason.

 Earlier this year I pondered the wisdom of going overseas again. I decided that IF tuition was paid up and IF classes were proceeding in line with my graduating next year and IF I had enough money to not be in a constant state of worry that a Japan trip was at least defenseable.

I had lost all my Japan pics when my camera memory cards were lost in the destruction of the trailer. Rather more importantly, last semester I had been forced to drop all my classes including Japanese. The next Japanese class in sequence is only offered in the fall and I will have to wait another YEAR to take it if I can(insert apostrophe here)t test into it this fall. My teacher said she would let me take the placement test this fall, so imersion training seemed like a good idea. Adding to this is the fact that I have had to drop that same class because of familly illness, trailer destruction, mobilization or a work schedule change...I am getting REALLY tired of this course and I REALLY want to move forward...of course we just switched to a new book, which is rather different, which means that its not REALLY the same course, so immersion study is an even better idea. Of course shortly after I bought the ticket, I ended up in the hospital accruing hospital type bills while simultaneously missing over a week of work. This hit to my cash flow was too much so, as I had purchased trip insurance, I attempted to cancel the trip....alas, it was too late to do so.

My friend BOBtm was most helpful in getting an expedited Rail Pass through his travel agent, and I nixed the plans for staying in the Fujimino guest house and instead am staying in the Yotsugi Crib.

Yotsugi Crib is only about 10 minutes by foot from Taiteishi station. Note that this increases dramatically if one leaves the from the wrong station exit and dutifully follows the instructions on ones map ( which will put one approximately 30 degrees off course, but provide one with many of the same sorts of landmarks that are on ones map ie: gas station, police box, bank, post office....just the wrong ones). This is further increased if ones 74 pound suitcase has its towing handle break and then has its wheel seize up, and then its carrying handle break and one has to carry it on ones shoulder in 98 degree heat while going in the wrong direction. A good way to add further to ones time in transit would be to knock ones own glasses off with ones suitcase breaking then and then taking time ti dig out an eyeglass repair kit. Actually, this travel time can be increased to over 4 hours if one has not been informed as to the nature of the Yotsugi Crib and naively think it is an apartment with a name on the outside....

I finally realized that the train tracks on the map were on the wrong side of me. I backtracked, crossed the tracks and after a bit had gotten my bearings. However, I could not find the guest house despite thinking I was at precisely the right place, so I went to a police box and asked directions. The officer did not recall a guest house in the area but everything else on the map was legit so he gave me directions that took me through an alley, down a side road and put me exactly where I had been. So I quartered the area looking for the words Yotsugi and Crib (or Clib even). At this point a young man riding by on a scooter took note of the fat bald man carrying a briefcase half his size and asked if he could help, I asked him for directions and received a blank stare, but he ran over to a local Cannibal Cat warehouse and asked for directions. He also graciously let me rest my suitcase on his scooter. The directions put us.....exactly where I had been earlier. After some perplexidness the young man ran up to the Crest Star Apartments and looked in the window. Sure enough Yotsigi Crib is actually two single family apartments that have each been divided up into 9 rooms and sublet. None of the rooms have windows. 6 of the rooms are 'Rukia Specials'.....that, is they are a shelf in a closet that has been fitted with bedding, over or under another

I am living high on the hog. I have a room I can stand in. It is about 6 and a half feet long and around 4 feet wide, windowless & un-airconditioned it has a wooden bed over a desk and chair and just enough room to put a the carcass of my suitcase and have it open.

A slim majority of the tenants seem to be 20 something European tourists, the rest are Ethiopian and Philippine guest workers, a few   Japanese tenants and, of course, there is now one American.

As spartan as the place is, its price cannot be beat and it has 2  full sized showers with changing rooms. This latter is important as the place is coed... which I discovered when a really attractive French woman named Clementine popped out of the shower. There is a single window AC  that cools the communal kitchen but this does not affect my room in the least. My only complaint aside from the heat is the fact that I did not bring bedding which means I am sleeping on bare linoleum, however, as it gets over a hundred degrees in the top of my room I would end up wringing  out and washing the bedthings every day. I am going to pick up a pillow and a fan this afternoon. Aside from studying, I am not going to be in the apt. much as I am going to be out doing things, so this is not a bad place to stay.

If anyone chooses to use this place remember: As one exits the train station exit so that the tracks are on ones left as you face the station stairs at the main entrance...also bring a fan, and some bedding...and one might consider not coming in August. Yotsugi Crib is very austere and one of the refrigerators smells like a bait locker (so use the other one) but +-300 dollars a month in Tokyo is astoundingly cheap and it is only a few minutes by train from Ueno, which is a major transfer point for the Tokyo train system and the home station of the bullet trains.  There is a laundromat 5 minutes away and a really impressive looking bath house right down the street, which I hope to partake of tonight.

My big gripe is that I left my camera and my adapter for my blackberry. Earlier today I scuttled out to buy an adapter and left early to beat the rush hour and the "pushers" but the stores don't open till later.

As for food, I had breakfast yesterday at the Hotel in Ueno which consisted of toast, a salad and a soup that appeared to be chicken broth with fish in it. My first attempt at lunch was a blind purchase of the 450 yen special at a bento box store. It turned out to be steak, the first bite of which was delicious, all subsequent bites were canceled when a kids tennis ball removed the bento box from play ( I thought the poor kid was going to have a heart attack.). Second attempt was a piece of fried chicken from a Lawsons. Dinner was a Teriyaki Burger from McDonalds which always begs the question WHY DONT WE HAVE THESE HERE? 

Today, as I type this I am at I-Cafe in Akihabara eating vending machine fried rice while waiting for Electric town to open up so I can try to buy an adapter for my now dead Blackberry as well as my laptop.. If I draw a blank there I will head out to Shibuya this afternoon and pick up some supplies from Tokyu Hands.

My 21 day rail pass kicks in on the 8th and I will head out into the wilds of Japan then. In the meantime I am studying, interacting with the locals and trying to uncover the mystery of the apostrophe.


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July 30, 2010

Laid over in Newark blogging via blackberry. Post title field OK but main post field not visible or useable via blackberry. Have recovered but failed to cancel Japan tickets in time, so am on way 2 Tokyo. NO MISSHAPS WILL HAPPEN!

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August 30, 2009

Procedures Must Be Followed

When one is sore, lost, all alone and in the rain in Tokyo at 3:00AM and one finds a vending machine that sells Ultraman Soda, one can certainly be forgiven for deciding to sample said soda. However, while there are things that one feels one simply MUST do, there is a procedure to follow.

BEFORE saying in an ultra-deep Baltan type voice "BAH!!! HA!! HA!! YOU ARE DEFEATED!!NOW I SHALL CONSUME YOU ULTRAMAN!!! it is highly adviseable that you check to confirm that you are in fact all alone....and not actually scaring the locals. know...sayin'.

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August 29, 2009

2 Days Left

As Japan Battens down for the incoming typhoon, I spent the day in Ofuna and Akihabara. It's the first time I've spent an extended time just browsng in Akihabara since I arrived except to vist Gamers or go to the Cyber cafe. With a budget of only 90 bucks there was a lot of longing and little buying but I ambled through lots of places, ate some curry and was interviewd for a commercial.

Kotobukyia in Electric Town has  several staff members who speak good English and as I was , it seems, the first person they approached with a camera who did not flee, they interviwed me and filmed me gleefully and apreciatively interacting with their English. I also talked to the interviewer and a fellow staffer about various fannish things ranging from Endless 8, to the difference between Super Robots and Mechs...They were perplexed that I liked Lucky Star as it is "old" and they couldnt see how I could possibly "get it". I pointed out that I'd seen many of the old shows it referenced. The two were also quite surprised that I liked Spice+Wolf , which they both seemed to regard very highly. I ended up with the first volume of the light novel, the translation of which which will be one of my two projects over the next few months.

Kotobukyia is a truly awesome shop with a huge and ever changing display of models, figures and whatnot. They get something of a short shrift as they are literally in the Shadow of Gamers and they dont have their own TV show...but inside they do have things like this.

 I returned to the apt and am now at the cybercafe in Narimasu where I banged out my summer homework...a "What I did on my sumer vacation" E-mail to my instructor. Now I must try to catch a train or I'll have a two stop walk.

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August 21, 2009

Worrisome Rumble

Very mild tremor this morning.

Now all the cats seem to have left.

So....any readers in Tokyo notice anything wierd about the cats?

Update page is off...I can't post pics yet, I suspect weirdness with this I-cafes set up.


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August 20, 2009

Trainline Bumble

Today I got on the train to go to Ikebukaro...then got off and ambled over to the local train that was going the other way.

I got off in a place called Narimasu. Stopping in a fast food joint, I ordered something that appeared to be called "beef egg StrangeKanji rice Big". I was presented with a bowl of scallions and beef on a bed of rice with a rwa egg on the side. I was presented with a tool...presumably to use with the egg. I ASSUME the thing is to avoid an ungodly mess with the egg...The exact method to be used with this device is unknown to me, but I was able to narrow the possibilities by eliminating one technique that produced a demonstrably ungodly mess.

Afterwards I got back on the train and went, via 3 transfers, to  what appears to be the very end of the Tobu line, a farming community called Ogose. I got off and made a perfect turon of myself as I went from shrine to shrine and, not having brought my Kanji dictionary today, followed the mile markers that helpfully indicated that several "things" were 0.6, 1.2, 3.1 and 6.8 kilometers away. One Bhuddist temple, one Shinto shrine and a senic overlook later I began hiking up a huge array of steps...that ended in more steps and arrived at what appeared to be a very modern tomb...and a trail off to the side marked with a sign that said "Kanji Kanji Mountain Up 5.4 KM" I decided to hike up to the top of Kanji Kanji mountain. (I THINK the name of the mountain is actually Kuro). Anyway, a couple of hours, 2 senic overlooks,  a bit of washed out trail that required using cypress roots like a ladder and some precarious rocks later...I was at the bright orange marker at the top of the mountain. Which by the way is covered in a cypress forest that doesn't afford much of a view from the very top. But I took the last pic my battery would allow of the marker at the top of Kanji Kanji mountain. Anyway,,,realizing I was not going DOWN the root ladder I chose one of other 2 paths from the top.

Thats where I found the orb weavers...BIG orb weavers. At least in Mirkwood the giant spiders stay off the path, in Japan they use the path as their casting area...and my camera with a dead battery. The cypress forest was wierd. I'm from the US South so cypress means swamp, but here they grow like pine trees. Their branches are arrainged different and they have really really interesting acoustics. The light wood creaks in the breeze and sounds like the sound effect of creaking timbers in an old wooden ship.

Anyway, despite spiders and some bits of the trail being washed out,  I got down without mishap (unless one counts rolling/sliding part of the way). I arrived at the station just before dark and made my way back to Narimasu where I found a cybercafe...but no USB port that will fit my oddball camera widget. I`ll post the pics later in an update.

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August 18, 2009

Blegging 4 Halp

I thought I might have solved my aformentioned money problem on this vacation.

But my cunning plan resulted in me being in possession of possibly the most useless item in all of Japan.

A Western Union Money Order.

Does ANYONE out there know where a black and yellow money order can be cashed? (Preferably in the Tokyo area)

In return...

Fundage aside, things are good....

...except for the fact that even on this side of the Pacific, the malevolent creatures that eat one sock at a time are lurking about the dryers.

UPDATE: Thanks to everyone but Western Union is just not spoken in Japan. There USED to be Western Union services through Suruga Bank but no more. No one I talked to in the banking district would deal with the thing. Roman albums or Super Robot Wars game for Ken. Oh well.

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August 16, 2009

Oddly, I am in Agreement with Tsukasa on This Matter

Comiket!!? Are you NUTS!?

Comeket 76, day 3. The line from hell, 300,000 people being herded into the God Emperor of huckster rooms. I arrived around 8:30 AM expecting a monumental line, but nothing prepared me for this.

Note that this is not the line...this is the line to get in the line.

The brochure (~20 bucks at Gamers) says that photos of cosplayers are not allowed except at a prepared event nor are any photos allowed of the interior. As often happens, the English rules are wrong. No photos are allowed at all. I took these before a very corpulent gentleman threatened to relieve me of my camera.This long picture of the Tokyo Big Sight does not do justice to the size of the structure.

After only about 2 and a half hours I made it to the east wing and went through every one of the 6 bays, each footnall field sized. I started to leave  having had my fill of huckster rooms and I was still a bit weak from the bug I was getting over....but I knew I could not face any of my friends if I did not make the trek from the east wing to the west wing.

So I wandered over and found myself in a river of humanity moving irresistably,,, I mean down...around...aiee! up again. There was a brief respite at an outdoor exibition area where some photos of cosplayers are allowed if permission is obtained. Given the language barrier and the somewhat confusing setup, I begged off and reentered the flow of fandom as it poured like a cataract  down the stairs into the exibition hall below. From a hundred fifty feet up the view of the west wing atrium looked like nothing so much as footage of the great animal migrations of the Serengeti.

Although I think it's a bit smaller, the west wing is even more impressive than the east in some respects as there are quite a few very elaborate displays.

One thing I saw that was mildly amusing was that there are now a number of comfort pillows for girls. Also, in contrast to most of their male counterparts, the female doujin artists tended to be impeccably dressed and made up as they hocked their slashy fare.

I'm not likely to go back, at least until I am very proficient in Kanji. Finding anything in that sea of dealers is challenging for the locals let alone someone who can't read the map. OTOH, the place opened at 10 AM and I was out by 1:30...That’s less than some waits I've had at the DMV so the staff certainly did a fine job with a third of a million people.

Oh...and for the person who asked (you know who you are)...I'm  6 foot one and weigh over 270 pounds. I could not have gotten out. Thus there is no way Tsukasa could have POSSIBLY made it back once she got in the wrong line. So was not contrived. (Sheesh!)

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August 13, 2009

Missing Komiket

I've been laid up sick the last 2 days so I am begging off the first day of Komiket 76. I dearly wanted to see the opening ceremonies but it would be downright rude to bring such gifts as coughs, aches and post nasal drip to 300,000 other fans.

This is the last Komeket before the censorship/doujinshi crackdown this October, so this may be the end of an era. Therefore IF I'm feeling better I'll  go tomorrow or Sunday. However, I understand from the brochure that photos are highly restricted..

I'll be buying a bike this weekend. Then heading farther afield.

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August 11, 2009

Another quick note

I'm at N-Cafe in Akihabara, avoiding the "pushers".

The guest house is excellent. It's spartan but quite clean, has US/UK style toilets, is a very short walk from a train station that's only 15 minutes from Ikebukaro, has US/UK style toilets, has a coin operated dryer that is a laundromat model meaning that it REALLY dries your clothes fast! A big surprise...all rooms come with kitchenettes. It has a roof that is accessable for tenants. It is devoid of holes in inappropriate places. It has US/UK style toilets and it is made out of reinforced concrete, (which, I should note, does not burn easily). If I had a laptop I'd have high speed internet. All this and US/UK style toilets for more than a hundred less than either place I stayed in previously. The only demerit I can come up with is mind numbingly minor: Instead of a regular futon it has a western style bed that doesn't fold and therefore takes up a large swath of the tiny room...a necessity with its tiled floor. Yes kids, the fact that it has a bed is what I'm reduced to complaining about!.Now put away the tiny violins and make a note of the company. If you want to stay in That thar'ole Jaypan for 3 weeks or more one of these is hard to beat.

I'll post pics of the trip later, I managed to choose a computer that doesn't have an accessable USB port.

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Arrived- Am Alive

I'm on a coin operated computer so this will be brief.

I arrived yesterday but only a little bit ago did I get situated in my guest house. It is really quite nice.

Flooding and mudslides from Typhoon Etau closed the Narita Express and caused delay on the other lines sufficient to keep me from ariving at my guest house during office hours. I ended up spending the night at a hotel in Ueno that is equipped with a very comprehensive and somewhat ill-thought out fire protection system. Around 5 AM I woke up and noted that we had encountered some moderately heavy heavy seas. I woke completely up and sat bolt upright when I realized I was not actually on a boat.

Even given my limited Japanese I'm pretty confident of my ability to get by with basic requests and to comunicate. However, the phone takes away all pantomime from a conversation making breadth of vocabulary and listening comprehension even more important. For example..... The words Fire Escape, Jammed, Firedoor and Trapped would have been quite useful to know about 12 hours ago.


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August 08, 2009

Light Posting

I'm off in 11 hours. Posting is going to be very light, though I'll try to post from Japan towards the end of next week.
As compensation here is something to ponder....

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Today, while at ODU to meet with my Japanese tutor, I used the Bank of America ATM in Webb Center. I got my 30 dollars, and my receipt and the machine ejected my card. I stared at the receipt rather ruefully for a moment. The balance was smaller than it ought to have been...WAY smaller. My vacation check does not seem to have been deposited. I should get this cleared up tomorrow morning. After pondering this for one too many moments I reached for my card...which then disapeared into the machine.

I tried to no avail to get the angry machine overlord to give me my card and then called BofA to find out how to go about getting it out, if that was possible on a Friday afternoon.
 It was not.
You see, as a security feature, Bank of America ATM machines shred cards that aren't removed with sufficient alacrity.

So I called the Credit Union and was presented with a phone tree which required my pin and account number...and was told by a robot that my account had been frozen...the robot then hung up on me.

SO..I cancelled my tutor session...drove across town in Friday afternoon traffic to show my IDs and (thank GOD) get my account unfrozen. Of course I now am going overseas without any ATM card, and a payroll discrepency that can be charitably described as [expletives deleted by standards and practices]. Said discrepancy will most likely be resolved soon but without an ATM card I can't get at the money overseas, and the new ATM card won't arrive for a week or more...I leave Sunday morning.

Of course I'm about to fly to Japan for 21 it's very poor form to be griping...and I'm nowhere NEAR  the situation I was in last year when my apt burned down, but damn this is a big chunk of my funds.

Oh well...there will be no fires, broken heels or dislocated hip on this trip.
That is my itinerary and I am sticking to it!

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October 16, 2008


Aha! I found my widget for transferring pics to the computer!

I'd been laid up a few days with a cold, a foot injury and there had been days of rain from a typhoon that hovered offshore. As my entire discretionary budget after various fiascoes had ended up being <$400...for a month in Tokyo...I was coming to the end of my financial tether. Nevertheless I was determined to see something else not in the Tokyo area and as I was blessed with a rail pass transportation costs were not an issue. The problem was that  touristy places tend to require money, so with 3 days and ~
70 bucks left, I looked for something off the beaten path and cheap.
Kanazawa is unusual in that it is one of the few large cities that was outside the range of the B29s in World War Two. Reportedly much of the Edo period architecture remains unscathed. It is not on a bullet train line and can only be reached from Tokyo via a 6 hour overnight trip from Ueno station...either via a sleeper car or a normal the rail pass is no good on sleeper cars I took the sitter car.

In stark contrast to the shinkansen and other trains I saw on the east coast, the train to Kanazawa was a retro special.

....So much so that I was one of several who wanted a picture of it.....

Unlike the non-bullet trains on Kyushu that I took to Nagasaki (but like the Shinkansen) this one was electric, but it was far less gracefully appointed. Like most older facilities I encountered in Japan, it was well maintained to the point that it appeared to have been dropped almost new out of the 1950s.

Arriving in Kanazawa station, the retro sort of feel was reinforced by the old style commuter trains that were stopping there. The stations embarking area was quite old apart from what appeared to be a recently redone floor....

Beneath the station and the whole city I later found out is a network of underground walkways, similar to those at the big stations in Tokyo, but without any shops. Very stark, modern and utilitarian, they look like sets from Logans Run or something

The locations in this series of tubes were, shall we say,  unimaginatively named

Up the stairs! There was a wheelchair transporter available if needed...the platform was retracted into the wall, but it would have ridden on this geared assembly.

Emerging into Kanazawa station proper, the retro feel was....well...lost.

Holy frickking crap! The train station in Kanazawa is huge, ultra modern, and seriously impressive. This gate is made of cypress like a shrine gate, but is of massive size (and steel reinforced). It appears to be over 80 feet high and is surrounded by fountains. The trees, though large, are, in fact, bonsai trees!

Oh look...modern art...carefully designed to create maximum loss of life in the event of an earthquake....

The food court in the station is huge, and aside from a McDonalds seems to consist entirely of local restaurants serving Chinese, Korean or the local (known as Kaga) cuisine. It is unbelievably diverse and surprisingly cheap. I hit a Kaga (mainly seafood) place shortly after arriving and a Chinese joint before I left. I did not spend more than 10 bucks either time....and despite being a food court in a train station, it was not mall food at all. It was excellent.

Adjoining the station is a bathouse...with washing machines and comfy chairs. It is only 120 yen for 3 hours, so, after a bath, doing my laundry and a 2.5 hour nap I was pale, rested and ready to see this historic city.

The Kanazawa tour bus costs 500 yen and in the US would be a children s bus at a kiddie park. I was the first on the bus and got a seat, however as the company uses the clown car method of bus packing, and because there was an elderly lady standing, I spent the ride standing up, hunched over and contemplating how short its interior was. The only non Japanese on the bus were a young Russian couple and they, like me, were too small for the hobbit when the conductor announced that "We are about to stop at a tourist trap." (!) ..the three of us extracted ourselves with some difficulty.

Looking at the map, I saw that the whole bus route was a bit less than 10 miles.  We decided that we were not getting on that hobbit bus again.

Kanazawa has an interesting history, from 1488-1580 it was ruled more or less democratically by the peasants, as opposed to the more traditional feudal arrangement. This "peasants kingdom" was conquered after a hundred years but Kanazawa continued to have a somewhat independent flavor and because of its position on the west coast have contacts  (often quite unofficial) with Korea and China.The city has been unusually spared the sort of disasters that have hit other cities, very few earthquakes (though here was very minor damage from last years Niigata quake) no major fires (outside of he castle), being on the west coast it is spared the brunt of typhoons, and as mentioned, it was beyond the range of the B29s. The result of this is that outside the banking district the city is astoundingly old.....

The city is designated a historic area, but it is a working town...these are, by and large, homes, shops, restaurants and offices, in buildings that are 400 years or more old....

A few newer buildings are interspersed in the older areas and a few had stucco and such added before the building codes were enacted to preserve the area, but a remarkably large swath of the city is composed of the same buildings that were there centuries ago!

The roads of course, have been paved and there have been utilities added (particularly power, water and sewers) so its not a living museum or anything, but its all the more remarkable that it is a perfectly functional city.

It seems that major repairs to pre Taisho period buildings are now required to use traditional techniques for things not involving plumbing or electrical repairs. At least one home was open to the public so these could be observed. The Russian couple and I went in and we guys began discussing the fact that it looked like they had standard sized boards and cuts of wood in feudal japan as well as the different techniques for running floor supports...


At which point the Russian lass broke morale and, determined that there were going to be no Tim Allen moments on her trip, drug her husband/boyfriend away from the bad influence American and I never saw them again.

Brickmuppet....awful diplomacy since 2008.

Where the facades were not traditional, hey were often corrugated. Like many other places I had observed  in Japan, (and like most of the US south) there are very wild differences in income level from door to door. Which makes for a more eclectic neighborhood

A 500 year old Konbinri...(convinience store) where I bought batteries for my camera. You might be surprised to learn that they carried Coca-Cola too....

In the historic areas most signs are less garish. I assume there are local ordinances that require they be traditional in appearance.

I came across a garden with half a dozen women taking pictures of Yoruichi here. So I took one too...

This is a statue of a famous female magician, or witch, or something...I'm not entirely sure. The statue is on the edge of what was once the Geisha quarter, so I assume she was an entertainer of some sort.

Unlike the rest of the city and the other castles I visited, Kanazawa Castle has suffered from fires, earthquakes and even wars. It is not in the best shape though it is undergoing meticulous repairs.

One of the wall has collapsed and is being rebuilt....

This has its advantages, since the tour is unsupervised and admission is only charged for part of the day.

Parts of the castle have been either very well preserved or very well restored....

And parts haven't.... Note too that the story that Kudzu is not a destructive force for chaos in its native environment is a lie....

This is the uppermost parapet, which was destroyed by fire in the 1880s. The castle suffered several fires, and was restored several times, but was not rebuilt to a great degree after the 1880s until recently.

Kanazawa is full of shrines....LOTS AND LOTS OF SHRINES. There are literally hundreds of them and they are active.

The girl is taking a picture of this....stained glass in a Shinto Shrine.


There are gardens in the shrines..lots and lots of gardens.

As one approaches the station again the architecture becomes more contemporary culminating in the spectacular modern edifices in and around the station...near there was this...a branch of Gamers.

I ambled inside to discover hat they were apparently either having a big seasonal clearance sale or were going out of business, everything was 25-75% off.

I of course, was broke.....

Kanazawa is a remarkable place. If I ever go again it is going to be high on my return list and I'll spend 2 or three days there as opposed to the day I spent on this trip.

I'll also likely spend more than 33 dollars..... which is what I spent on 2 meals, a bathouse a coke and some batteries.

Even more remarkable I never encountered any....OH NOES!!!1!

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September 20, 2008

In Japan the Gideons are...Different

In a Hotel in Nagasaki


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Budget Domicile

Upon arriving in that thar ole' Jaypan I suddenly discovered that my accommodation arrangements were FUBAR'd due to an apparent oxidation mishap. I took no pictures of the grave of Casa Nova on that rainy night but I snapped this one 22 days later...
this old promo photo was taken from almost the same angle as the one below it.



The Tokyo boarding house I found was rough around the edges, but it was a surprise expense that fit within my budget. Green House cost about 500 dollars for a month. with a roughly 250 dollar deposit for utilities. It is less than a click from the train station and is only two stops on the express ( 9 minutes) from the big station in Ikebukaro.

The building known as Green House is old and was initially quite off-putting but the place is very casual, reasonably watertight and had,  at the time I was there, 18 other occupied rooms (out of 19), about a third of which were families as large as 5. This was really interesting to watch and I was able to interact with some of the tenants from time to time.

The rooms are in fact rooms, single rooms, but they come with a kitchenette which is a step above the late, lamented Casa Nova. On the debit side the place was in materially worse condition than the other place had been in August of '07.

On the bonus side it was in vastly better condition than that apartment was in August of '08.

The postit note speaks the truth...take my word for it.

The coin operated showers were nearly a foot shorter than me on the inside.
I quickly learned that in Japan the most valuable thing on earth is a 100 yen coin. This shower, phones, laundromats, some vending machines and even one automat would take nothing else!

The two big utility sinks in the halls are the traditional Japanese type...The upstairs one was no longer in commission. One of the tenants intended to turn that one into a planter for vegetables which I thought was a cool idea, but then, I am a nerd. I gather the landlord did not object as he was stacking bags of potting soil in it the day I left.

I realized early on what the problem was with the seems that due to a miscomunication, right was frequently disabled by the tenants, and, as nature abhors a vacuum, the restrooms would then fill up with wrong.

Restroom wrongness aside, the building was, while dilapidated, not actually unclean. I never saw a roach for instance. On the other hand there were a lot of jumping spiders (which I did not molest...and reciprocated the behavior).

Despite the rustic touches there are a few things to be said for places like this. First the place is cheap.
500 a month in Tokyo is pretty damned good. You are unlikely to get better private accommodations for that without a 6 month lease. Gas is cheap, the 250 dollar utility deposit was 80% refunded.
Second the place is casual.
"What does he mean?"
Other, newer places, like this that actually cater to foreigners frequently cost twice as much and have a ton of restrictions. No guests, a curfew, no food in the rooms...its like dorm life without D&D. This place allows you to cook in your room, go and come at 3 AM and as long as you observe shoe discipline and aren't loud..they don't care.
As an aside, when I told my friend  Bob Mitchell about the pillows* that were in the closet he asked about the layout and the nearby bathouse. We realized that by bizarre coincidence he had stayed here before. In fact he had brought some friends, who balked at the place got another, better maintained place that cost more than twice as much and were miserable in the "prison" whereas Bob stayed here and had a fine time, being able to come and go as he pleased with no fear of being locked out.

 The purpose of accommodations when on a vacation is to give you a place to sleep and put your stuff. This served that purpose well. I was not in Japan to see the inside of an apartment but to see the many sights of that strange land. Particularly given that this was found quite on the fly I think I did pretty well. For that reason I actually don't recommend against this place.

* Pillows in Japan are constructed to an utterly different standard of softness, more appropriate for a beanbag. Bob informed me of this in '07, and mentioned that he always bought several pillows from Sams Club before going to Japan. On the way back, the luggage space used for pillows was taken up with the stuff he'd purchased. When I discovered several Sams Club pillows in the closet I laughed and  mentioned it to Bob...after a bit of exchanging notes we realized he had stayed in this place. I asked the landlord and sure enough he remembered Bob as  "that really nice polite American".
Bob Mitchell ...legendary Gaijin.

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August 21, 2008

Back in Tokyo : Banality Minus One

Kanazawa is awesome. It is a bit out of the way, but I highly recommend it.  Like Nagasaki, I would have stayed a day or two longer if possible. There are literally hundreds of temples and dozens of gardens. The castle is undergoing restoration but even in its damaged state is impressive. The most remarkable thing is the parts of the town that consists of buildings that are literally hundreds of years old, and yet are still active shops and homes. There are  very few non-Japanese tourists due to its not being on the bullet train line. More later with pics when I am on a computer that has the appropriate port to load said pictures.

I stepped into this cybercafe to avoid the pusher/stuffer brigade as the return train put me out into Tokyo rush hour. Aside from the fact that this row of computers has no flash drive ports open, I am typing from what is the most elegant cybercafe I've ever found. Besides the drinks they have free rice, curry (as available) and miso spotless showers. All for 12 bucks.

 I've been up for almost 56 hours now and I realize I just misspelled the word "few".

UPDATE: Yes...I am fully aware that there is a monkey on the loose in Shibuya...I'll bet there's a racoon loose in Brooklyn too.

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