August 13, 2008

Penguins are you friends

While it may seem redundant if you have a rail pass, the Suica card is a surprisingly useful bit of kit if you are staying in Tokyo. It is good on the subways and the few non JR line rail lines in Tokyo which the rail pass doesn't cover. It also gives a modest discount on those lines.This is importamt if. like me you are located on a private line. Also, most JR line stations have restraunts and even convinience stores that accept the little penguin card in lieu of cash and it has all the convinience of a card swipe as opposed to fretting with a ticket and rummagfing through your change at a ticket dispenser.

Finally, it allows you to....quite on the fly....provided theres a SUICA machine available...upgrade to a green car (first class). This may seem decadent and silly and it is not something I'd be likely to do often even if I had a reasonable budget , but, if one finds oneself,  arriving in Tokyo...during rush hour...the prospect of a comfortable quiet seat on your 86 minute train ride from Yokuska is most appealing....

As I initially arived in Yokuska, I noted that there is now, on the outside wall of the US Naval base main entrance, an ATM machine that takes virtually all US ATM cards! This is important since such machines are very rare in Japan and generally quite selective about what cards they will take. The machine will also dispense yen from your avings account albiet only in 5000 yen incriments (+-50 bucks). This may be of considerable use to those of you not in the military who have an oddball ATM card.

To get to the Naval base from Yokuska station cross to and stay on the left (water) side of the main drag as you exit the station...This will take you through a park that is a small Japanese naval memorial (dont be loud rude or skate)...There will be one set of stairs up and down over a parking lot that is afiliated with a mall...the second set of steps is a pedestrian walkway over the main entrance....the ATM machine is just before hat on your left, sort of hiding behind a live oak.

To see the main Japanese naval memorial and the Battleship Mikasa, procede over the pedestrian skyway ...staying on the left side of the street keep walking about 2 blocks then turn left....this will put you in a brick paved park with bronze mermaids and ducks.... IJNS Mikasa is at the far end.

The ATM machiine and main gate of the Naval base is directly across from a sketchy looking taco joint named the Honey Bee. As I'd arrived...again...too late to partake of Yokuska Curry so I figgured what the hell....I'll try a Japanese Taco...it might make for a funny story.

While the comedy was lacking, to my considerable surprise the tacos were top notch! I ordered a regular taco and a steak taco...the steak taco consisted of lettuce tomato onions and a new yourk strip in a taco shell. The taco taco was filled with texas chilli rather than mystery meat.

The little shop has a large menu ranging from corn dogs to fried rice to taco pizzas to pizzas and curry. The menu is bilingual and I suspect they get a lot of US sailors in there.

Yeah....could be....

A.. the seats are counter seats...but you can get Coke and Coffee!

 

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Why?

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What the Hey!?!

Wha!!?...I....Who is spreading there awful rumors about me!!!!?

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August 11, 2008

Toyoko Inn has Free Internet

Toyoko Inns are pretty ubiquitous here in Japan in my limited experience.They are not the cheapest place I've spent the night at but they are fairly easy to find,  have laundry service, free internet and are clean. 

Actually,I must say that all in all on both my trips to Japan, the hotels here have been a generally good experience. There is one just outside of Hiroshima station called...ummm...Kanji Kanji...something Hotel that was 40 bucks and was perfectly fine.

Toyoko currently starts a roughly 60 bucks a night which is astoundingly reasonable if you are not in super-oh my-God-my-budget-exploded-parsimony-mode and are making use of the verrrrry sketchy cyber cafe option. Even then, when you're in Kyushu, burned out, a little sick and have popped your hip out of joint, the blue Toyoko sign is a welcome one indeed and 60-120 bucks is money very, very well spent.

 

A note on Japanese hotel lights....

Note that this may be universal now, but I'm a homebody, so, if this is redundant information,  bear with me.

When you enter the room...there is a keyhole or little notch in a lightswitch panel next to the door. If it is a keyhole use the room key on it to turn on the lights...if it is a little square (at a Toyoko for instance) put the square keyfob in the opening.

This will turn on the lights.

Do not close the door, plunging yourself into stygian blackness, then trip, become utterly disoriented and wander around vainly flipping switches while whacking your legs and feet painfully in the dark.

This course of action will not have the desired result.

I hope this helps somebody.....

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August 10, 2008

The End of the Line

I arrived close to midnight at my destination and found that it was litterally at the end of the train line. To proceed any farther would result in being very wet.

Ambling across the street, I jumped up on the streetcar stand to get my bearings via its map and found I was less than 300m from one of the places I wanted to visit. With this happy news, I decided to forgo the streetcar and instead look for a hotel in the immediate area. There was a hotel less than a block away and its prices were reasonable indeed. However I decided to echew the place with the pay by the hour option in favor of a slightly more expensive hotel down the street.

The next morning was a glorious, sunny, August day just as it had been 63 years ago, when for an awful instant the bright sky became thousands of times brighter and  hell came to to the town of Nagasaki.

The second and hopefully last city destroyed by an atomic blast, Nagasaki seems sometimes to be forgotten. It is very out of the way at the end of a paenensula on the tip of Kyushu. However this is a powerful place, in some ways more moving and in some wasys more significant than Hiroshima.

I was there for the ceremonies at 11:02 and had wandered the museums in the preceding hours. I had accumulated at this point a drink, a bag with all the museum spam and all the flyers that had been handed to me by everyone from the red brigade asshats to schoolchildren....so naturally when a lady asked me where I was from, and I answered, I was suddenly surrounded by people who wanted to take a picture of the fat ass white boy with all manner of brochures falling all over the place....

I was asked to sing...no really...they wanted one representative from each country present to sing a little short 4 second song for peace and place their countries flag in the display. I did, and as I left I got interviewed by an American freelance journalist who wanted to see what a fellow American thought of this whole thing., and as there seemed to be a near dearth of Americans hecame to me....he left suitably appalled

 

 No doubt there would be no ceremony for these people if this major shipyard and munitions producing city had been destroyed with more conventional weapons. Indeed, it seems odd that the people who died in the non-nuclear fires that leveled Osaka and Tokyo are not memorialized with the same fervor that the late inhabitants of these two cities are. It is bitterly ironic that no such annual outcry is heard for the citizens of Manilla, Wake or...Nanking (where the death toll was higher than Nagasaki and Hiroshima combined....and was perpetrated with bayonettes) However, these people did die quite cruel deaths and whatever memorials might be denied others are not their concern. They deserve to be remembered.

 The sad fact is that the use of these terrible weapons was likely the least terrible of a set of truly wretched options the allies had at the end of WW2. The only card that didn't involve mass death was in Japanese hands, and they chose not to play that card until after this, about their last major industrial city, was imolated. Thus the suffering in this city was what finally tipped the balance and ended a horrible war, one that had been raging since 1931. The deaths of these people were, therefore, unusual in that conflict. They were not yet more mileposts on the long grim path of that horrid war, but the end of the line for that terrible chapter in history.  

There is not much to say about the effects the bomb had on the people here. That has been well documented, but the displays here, the artifacts, and the dwindling number of first person accounts have a power that no words can convey. I strongly encourage anybody who can to visit this place....or Hiroshima which is much more accessable.

In these days when proliferation issues are quite real and many who covet these weapons consider them anything but a last resort, it is very important to remind ourselves of what happened so many years ago to ordinary people in a midsized town going about there buisness when hell came down upon them.

The scars still remain....next to the memorial is this remnant of an early church. Nagasaki was where Japan made contact with the west and some of the oldest churches in the far east were here. Check out the base of the church...being locally built, it has Japanese style gargoyles.

Another church, built in the 1800s, is represented by this fallen bell tower...

One interesting thing about the Nagasaki memorial as opposed to its more famous sister city, is that there are plaques like this...

There is also this....a memorial to the Allied POWs who were killed here on that day.

Nagasaki was a very large POW camp. The POWs ( about half from the UK) were used as slave labor in the shipyard. The bomb went off close to the prison camp and the shockwave devastated the shipyard.

Nearly 70% of the casualties aside from POWs were women and children. This was not some sinister plot, but a byproduct of the fact that a huge number of men had been conscripted and of those that were left many were either inside at the time, working on expanding air raid shelters under ground or at a big civil defense meeting in a bunker...ironically going over a report from Hiroshima to gain lessons from that recent calamity.  

The actual memorial is a masterpiece of gently falling water. No pictures can do it justice.

The grounds outside include this ravine paved with stones.

Many of these have an odd sheen, they were glazed by the blast. When you walk down this stream you are walking on trinitite amongst other things.

 Not all of the memorials are as sublime, I was unable to get a photo of the official peace statue due to a dais being erected over it....and I found Fabio the Peace God to be unbecoming of the solemnity of the ocassion....

...but that is in keeping with the spirit of the town because Nagasaki is a really interesting and neat place to visit!

more...

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Bullet Train Bumble

3 days ago I hopped on the bullet train and headed south...wayyyy south.

I should mention that the Shinkansen has the sexiest voice in the whole world.

How fast is the shinkansen?

About this fast.

While we see how well that works, here is some vintage girls manga.

Click here for supah size.

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August 07, 2008

Picture Dump

Tuesday, despite weather delays and train derailments that put me 5 hours behind, I went to Yokouska to use the base ATM machine and collect my last pre-vacation paycheck ...

...which saved my arse....

I also purchaced some new shoes as my steel toes were cutting into my feet...

I attempted to eat dinner at Yokuska Curry, but found out that the famous curry place (which advertises via a Duck In a Sailor Suit...at Yokuska Station...keeps bankers hours.

Also, they turn on the Mikasa`s running lights at night....

Yesterday, when the rain cleared, I went to Akihabara to exchange my dollars for yen. Along the way I noted a few things....

Everything old is new....I saw a Pervert Frog reference in an on train ad....

I think Gamers has moved closer to the station, or perhaps I was turned around. The interior certainly seemed different.

However, there are still enough Roman Albums in there to flatten Carthage.

A few months ago, in one of the articles regards the Akihabara stabbing, some wag blamed it in part on the utter lack of sitdown restraunts in Akihabara, which is typical of the depersonalized Otaku culture....I`ll post some pics when I can link the article and have time, but damn, they hadnt moved them...there were still sit-down curry houses french restraunts, pizza parlors and...this....

....Cleverly hidden beneath this maid cafe is the Heroes Steak House...one of the best steaks I have ever had.

Today I wandered down the stream behind the apt....I was...not alone...

The bike paths on either side follow it untill disrupted by RR tracks...

not even Japan is going to provide a RR crossing for a bike path....

...oh...

Eventually the bike paths sort of merge and morph into this park about 2 miles down.A place for a kid to have all sorts of fun......

 

...with the usual caveats....

And the suddenly it ended at a storm drain....

And I have used up my hour of computer time.....

Update: edited for spelling/clarity and added links as post was originally made in great haste.

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August 04, 2008

A Few Quick Pics

I woke up around 5AM. Rather than interfere with the toilet\shower cycles of 20 families with 2 showers and 4 toilets I waited until 8 by which time I figgured that most people would be done. In the meantime I finished arrainging /cleaning the room and watched the NHK morning news.

I understood very little except that some people here are upset that the USS Houston is in port, there was either another mass stabbing or a serial killer was caught, there was an awful escalator accident (!?) yesterday, a big rig drove off an elevated highway and caused mass pandemonium for the morning commute and....shocker...it is hot in a nothern subtropical region in August.

After dealing with the shower I went shopping for a few more sundry items, came back, studied Japanese a bit...practiced my Kanji a bit and then headed out and wandered the neighborhood.

 

I noted that the streets were, if anything even more narrow in this part of town.....traffic volume is much higher here so the lack of sidewalks is downright harrowing.

This boys and girls, is a 2 way street...

I discovered Kaiju Begonias...

 

...and a bit of information that must be kept from Wonderduck at all costs...

I was shocked to stumble upon this, right next to what appeared to be a cement plant....

 

....Holstiens! 2 dozen of them! It`s a working dairy .

The walk was cut short by a thunderstorm...that is lasting rather longer than it ought to.. It is still pouring as I type this in a fortuitously located webcafe (just outside the train station) which is why I`m blogging at all.

Tomorrow I continue my neighborhood wanderings and in the afternoon  start making use of this rail pass. Day after tomorrow or thereabouts, I`m going rather farther afield...posting will be light.

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August 03, 2008

Brickmuppet in Japan II: The Emergency Backup Flophouse

 

I almost didn't`t come.

After medical bills, missed work, being put on convalescent leave from the Coast Guard and thereby loosing not only that income but my tuition assistance as well, my finances were extremely tight. The need  to purchase a $279 textbook was very nearly the final straw However, I got a tuition deferment pending my GI bill application and while my credit rating took a hell of a hit this past few months all non-tuition related debts were eventually caught up. Given the money that had been sunk into the trip in the halcyon days before my finances experienced a fit of FUBAR and the fact that  said money sinkage had paid for the ticket, the apt, and the rail pass...the trip seemed less irresponsible than it perhaps should have. I figured it would give me a fine chance to practice Japanese in full immersion, network and examine the job field for English teacher/tutor jobs that might be open in 18 months. and, given that I lost 17 pounds on the last trip, loose weight. Of course the prospect a real vacation  after what had been a hard and painful year was welcome too....of course there was also a very strong argument to be made about not throwing good money after bad, cutting ones losses and building up ones savings.

All of this was running through my head as I stood in the alley looking at the vast emptiness that was supposed to be filled with the Boarding House I was  to be staying in.   

After several walks around the block to confirm that the weedy vacant lot with the charred timbers was indeed the grave of CASA NOVA, I set about trying to find some other accommodations for the evening. By the time I got back to the station It was nearly midnight and the trains were about to shut down. It was JUST BARELY possible to make it to Shinjuku or Shibuya and hope against hope  that I could find a webcafe with vacancies at that late hour. As there was a train switch in Chofu I found myself standing on the platform looking at the various light signs in the town. One caught my eye, for it contained the hiragana for manga, and the katakana for internet...indicating that there was an internet cafe right there. I dashed out to it and missed the last train to Shinjuku.

It was not in fact an internet cafe, but rather seemed to be a sort of maid cafe that caters to men who have a fetish for nerd girls. This was dismaying not only because I had missed the last train out for nothing, it indicates that the devil has my number and is actively pursuing me.

I eventually grew weary of carrying 65 pounds of stuff around the Tokyo in the wee ( and humid) hours of the morning, I finally threw in the towel and got a rather overpriced room in a hotel for the evening. The next day I went to Shinjuku and zipped into a MangaBoo, checked my E-mail and then looked up Green Forest. Their website was out of date and the numbers were wrong which filled me with all sorts of dread. I did finally get a hold  of the manager, who put me in touch with one of his non-incinerated guest houses. The phone conversation did not go well, I was tired having had 4 hours of sleep in the last 36 which was playing havoc with my already poor Japanese and the person on he other end of the line did not speak much English...nevertheless I did get name of the guest house which allowed me to look it up.

GREEN HOUSE is slightly more expensive than CASA NOVA was and it is rather out of the way from Shinjuku. I`m rather proud of the fact that I was able to negotiate the Seibu Train Line to get there with no mishaps...particularly since the Seibu line dos not have english on their station maps (they do have  place names in English on some of  their on-train charts). None of the station signs are in English..in fact, there is far less English labeling here than most other places I`ve been and less English comprehension still. I had not fully realized how much of a crutch the English recordings and subtitles on the JR and Keio Lines had been for me. I had patted myself on the back about being able to negotiate the rail system here but I am vastly more sucky in Japanese than I realized. This is an important reality check.

I finally got to GREEN HOUSE, which is about a click and a half from the station. I was initially taken aback by its outwardly dilapidated appearance. Casa Nova had looked somewhat run down too but was very nice on the inside...this structure however has a face that matches its inner beauty.

The showers look like a set from "The Thing" and are coin operated to boot, the floor sags unnwervingly in places and  the house creaks like an old sailboat with every step, the toilets are the Japanese conundrum type and the place is haunted by one of those horrible hopping one legged umbrella cyclopses.... (OK I made that last part up).

The room I got was the last one and was actually not generally rented out. It came with an old mattress...not a futon..a mattress...with some foeted bedsheets and a spread on it that had been there since he last tenant had been in the room...a long time ago...the refrigerator  had been unplugged to save current...and contained whatever the last tenants foodstuffs had evolved into. There is a kitchenette with no vent.

On the other hand I can afford it, I`m not going to be staying there much except to sleep as I plan to be doing much sightseeing, the neighborhood is nice and there is an awesome bathouse about 74 steps away.  Unlike a lot of these places living here is quite casual...there is no curfew, one can have food or guests in ones room. I am also one of only a few non Japanese people in the place....which is full. This is interesting too, although thee hasn`t been much interaction thus far its interesting to observe the ebb and flow of the apt life of over a dozen Japanese families. These sorts of places are not seen much any more as they are being replaced by more western style accommodations which are, admittedly, rather an improvement. These types of semi comunal apts however,were, I am told, very much the norm for most of postwar Japan. you can see them portrayed (sans showers of horror) in shows like Chobbits and Maison Ikkoku.

 My biggest complaint is not with the guest house, but rather the fact that the local coin laundry has.....hours...meaning that my old trick of washing clothes at 3AM and avoiding the heat and the crowds in not feasible.

Lunch was tankatsu curry from an automat.

Anyway,the day was spent washing bedthings, cleaning the room and doing my laundry.

One final bit...the room had been used for storage of late and amongst the things that I found were several pillows from Sams Club....indicating that Bob has been here before me.

I may explain that last bit at some point.

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August 01, 2008

A Few Words of Advice for Travellers

When ones flight is delayed 5 inutes and you have a 15 minute layover in a huge airport like O`Hare...one really needs to look at the schedule screen rather than take the stewardesses word for where your next plane will be.

When one is booking a seat on a rather later flight than the one you are SUPPOSED to be on and one is asked `Would you prefer a window or aisle seat?` the correct answer is AISLE because you might be seated next to an old lady who wants to sleep the whole trip ....and you won`t want to have to step over her and wake her up in the unlikely event you might ever want to stretch or relieve yourself at some point during an 11 hour plane ride. 

Words you do not want to hear the pilot on ones  plane say:

"Ladies and gentlemen: We are in for a VERY rough ride..obey the fasten seatbelt sign and try to secure any loose objects...Hang on"

Before one leaves....even if one recently exchanged e-mails with the guest house company one is dealing with,  make SURE that the place one is staying in is still in existance when one leaves. Otherwise one could find oneself standing in front of the charred remains of CASA NOVA at 11:00pm, all alone, in Tokyo, with ones mouth hanging open while contemplating just how completely fracked one is.

Good Grief!

I`m currently in a Shinjuku cyber cafe where I tried to get contact info for other GREEN FOREST guest houses...but the phone numbers are invalid. Now I`m trying to find accomodations that will allow me to stay within my remaining budget.

 That`s my current situation for those that care....

....for everyone else...posting will be ....light.

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