April 5, 2014

Family Trip to Ishigaki

Last weekend, the family went for a trip to Ishigaki, Okinawa. I had never been to Okinawa at all before, and was pretty excited for the trip. Our friend Mibe was getting married, so we flew out Saturday, the wedding was Sunday, and then we stayed through Wednesday.

Ishigaki is about as far South East from Tokyo that you can get and still be in Japan. It is super close to Taiwan. Maybe the embedded Google Map to the left shows that, but I was surprised at how far away it is - a three hour flight from Tokyo!

Alan was super excited to fly on the plane. He had a great time. The ANA flight attendant gave him a cute little airplane toy, which he played with the whole time we were there (and which now I can't find.) Unfortunately, we checked out stroller on as baggage, and it came out broken. Lisa talked with them, and they said they would fix it.

We rented a car and headed out to the hotel. I think you could drive around the entire island in about four hours, and mostly it takes that long because the majority of the island has a 40 km/hr speed limit. We were staying at a nice hotel where the wedding would take place, right on the ocean. They didn't really have a nice beach, but we could walk down to the water, going over a little seawall and down to some rocky shores.

We had some great food - Ishigaki is well known for Beef - and had a lot of Orion beer.

The wedding was outdoors, and beautiful. I'm sure if you know the couple you can find some pictures somewhere. Alan was a trooper and didn't make much of a fuss during the wedding, which was pretty quick as far as those things go. I got sunburned, since I of course forgot to put on sunscreen. As always.

The standouts from this trip include a Glass Boat ride, which Alan really loved. He loved all the boats really - including a ferry we took. On the glass boat ride Alan would point to a fish, and then pretend to eat it, along with the accompanying eating sound.

We had two really nice dinners, one early on at Hitoshi which specializes in Maguro. It was great. We also had a nice Yakiniku dinner, but I can't remember the name of the place.

Another memorable moment was when we took a ferry to Taketomi Island and went on an ox-cart ride. The island is tiny. It was lots of fun though.

We did safely make it back to Tokyo, exhausted. We survived a five day vacation with a two year old, and it was great! I would still like to check out Naha, Okinawa, and see how it compared to Hawaii. I don't know when we will get a chance to do that though.


November 15, 2012

2012 November Osaka and Kyoto family trip

This November, Lisa's father had a school reunion for the 50th anniversary of his school. Lisa's grandmother and father grew up in the Kyoto area, and have roots going back there very far back. Probably more than 500 years at least. Grandma also wanted to go back to hold a ceremony for Grandpa, who passed a few years back. So the whole family, Lisa, Alan, myself, Lisa's younger sister, her daughter, and her husband, Lisa's mom and dad, and Lisa's grandma all headed out to Kyoto on Friday morning, the 9th of November.

We got a Shinkansen at 8:00. The Shinkansen are a real treat to ride; since I've been living in Japan permanently I've only taken it once or twice in six years. They are fast, smooth, comfortable, and you don't have to go through any of the trouble that you do when you fly. No security. No X-ray scanning. No millimeter wave back-scattering devices. No pulling laptops out of bags. And the stations are right in the city center. We took a taxi from our house to Shinagawa station, it takes all of 15 minutes, and we board the train shortly after that. You can see on the left here a shot of Alan in front of the train. He's too young to really have an interest in trains yet, but I bet he will be one of those kids that like trains. I like trains anyway!

We arrived at Kyoto station at 10:30 and walked to our hotel, the New Miyako. That was only about a two or three minute walk (once you walk to the station exit, which can take a while since the station is pretty large.) Lisa's sister and her family were on a different train, they were coming from Shizuoka. After waiting a bit for Rie, Aki, and Yuzuna we went for lunch at a Chinese place in the hotel. Nice. We had some beer at lunch, and everyone got a kick of how Alan just passed out in front of one of the glasses. So don't take the picture the wrong way, you have to be at least 20 years old to drink alcohol in Japan.

We left our luggage at the hold and took two cabs to the shrine and they had a private ceremony for Lisa's grandpa. The temple was kensiin - I do not know the Japanese writing for that. It was a smaller place, not the kind that you see as a tourist. It had maybe four or five rooms, some in separate buildings with covered outdoor walkways between them. There were three monks, one older and two younger. I got the impression that they were family. They held a ceremony of about 40 minutes of chanting with some drums and other things to hit every once in a while. The Tanaka family seal was a few places there and in gold in the main chamber. I'll need to talk to Lisa's dad a bit more about it, but I don't know why the Tanaka family seal is displayed in the temple.

The cemetery is in a large nearby complex so we went to their graves - 7 for the Tanakas family. There are 500 years worth of Tanakas in there, according to Lisa's dad. Note that in Japan people are usually cremated, and the ashes are placed in family graves. We met with a caretaker who was talking about how they will need to repair some of the graves due to the tree roots nearby. I guess if you have a few hundred years to deal with, all sorts of things can happen. Mr. Tanaka is the 15th in the succession and likely will be the last buried in Kyoto. They also have a plot in Tokyo, near Ryokoku (the place where all the Sumo wrestling happens.)

On the way out of the cemetery, which was quite a ways up a the hill, and very large, we passed some interesting stuff. There was a temple at the top of the hill with trees whose leaves were starting to turn. Lisa took a great shot, which I've included. Also, Afro Buddha. Well, his actual name is 五劫思惟阿弥陀如来像, but I can't read that.

We went to the nearby Konkaikoumyouji temple (金戒光明寺 こんかいこうみょうじ.) They've got a website but it is only in Japanese. There is also an entry on Wikipedia but the English entry is almost bare compared to the Japanese entry. We toured around there for a bit, entering into the grounds and walking through the gardens. It was quite nice.


Dinner was from 5pm at Nijyou Fujita (二条ふじ田) a kaiseki (traditional long form multi-course) meal. I didn't find anything in English (there is a tabeblo link) but the place was very good. Unlike most kaiseki I've had, I didn't almost explode and feel sick from overeating this time. There were a bunch of dishes, some of which I took some quick notes on. しそうのこうせん hot shiso flavored water. The waitress made some jumping origami frogs for Yuzuna and Alan. The soup used water from a temple 60 meters away. The fish was Sawara さわら cooked by Yuuanyaki ゆうあんやき 幽庵焼き which is apparently like sukiyaki for fish with some sudachi and lemon. We had a very nice selection of Japanese sweets to choose from also.

After dinner we took cabs back to the hotel and checked in. We were staying in rooms 667 to 669. It was a close call - 666 was right next door!

Saturday.

An expensive buffet breakfast at the hotel and then a train to Osaka. We took the local so we could sit.

We made our way by subway to Namba where we hit up the main road and eventually arrived at Daruma, a kusiage place. The tomatoes were the best. The place was packed, with people shouting all the time. If you haven't had kushiage before, it is great. Basically, it is just fried stuff on a stick. There are big communal bowls of sauce, with instructions all over the place talking about how you can't double dip. No double dipping. There is also free lettuce. Or maybe it is cabbage. I don't know. That isn't really what I am focusing on. We had a bunch of thinks, like tomatoes, potatoes, fish - there was something on the menu called "kiss". I didn't know what that was, but was of course imagining the chef kissing the batch of frying oil and frying up that, lips in pain the whole time. Of course, it turns out it was just a type of small fish that you each whole, but whatever. I like my idea better. Another good one was fried pork cutlet. I don't know if they really take a regular pork cutlet, and then fry that, but that is what I like to think. These things are all quite small by the way. There were onions, eggplant, I had some cheese, and their fried ham was good. I'm sure I'm missing lots of good things, but anyway, if you go to Osaka, try their Kushiage. No double dipping though!

We wandered around a bit and went to Nanba bashi, where we got some pictures of the famous Glico sign. It's that guy holding his arms up. The whole time we were there people were taking their pictures in front of that thing. Then we headed for the taxi stand and Osaka castle.

The castle was really nice. They let us ride the elevator since we had kids in a stroller. We wandered around a bit and went up to the observation deck. They have an entire museum in there. The place was packed, and the castle is on a huge park ground. It is really worth going to see.

Dinner was at FuguYoshi, a fugu place. Sadly, I've had fugu a few times now, and despite the domain name of this website, I'm not really a fan. A meal entirely of fugu is … not particularly a great meal, but you should at least try it once.

First up was Fugu skin with ponzu and nikogori. Next up was fugu sashimi with ponzu.

We also ordered fugu-hire, which is hot sake with two fugu fins in it. As you open the cup (it comes covered with a wooden cap) you light a match to burn off the excess alcohol. Even after doing that the sake tastes quite strong, smells terrible, and frankly just isn't that good.

After that was fugu nabe. And then egg, rice, and water is added to that leftover broth and simmered. Top off your bowl with either salt or nori and onion. That is the bit at the end that fills you up.

Desert was a grape, persimmon slice, and small ball of matcha ice cream.

We walked to Osaka station and caught a train back to the hotel. Well, everyone else did. I had a bathroom emergency (I don't think the fugu agreed with me) and caught a later train. I did eventually make it back though, and thankfully the express train did have a bathroom on board.

Sunday.


I skipped breakfast since I didn't want to deal with fish. We rented a minibus for the day and headed out first for Kiyomizudera, which is one of my favorite temples. It has a great view of Kyoto from up on the mountain, and has a super famous balcony. It is an all wooden balcony constructed without any nails that is very high off the ground. It is really amazing. The temple is really great in fall when the trees start to turn red.

Then we took a ride to see a 750ton bell at Chion-in (知恩院神社 ちおんいん。) It isn't something that people go to all that often, but since we had a whole minivan the driver was taking us all over the place. The bell is really big. They ring it every new year, and usually it shows up on NHK TV.

After that we went way up into the mountains where few people go (we were the only ones) with a nice view of Kyoto. Too bad about the rain. The place was Shogun Dzuka's garden (将軍塚庭園 しょうぐんづかていえん.) It was a really nice garden, had some great views (or would have if it wasn't so foggy due to the rain) and would have been great to walk around at more. We had an appointment for lunch though.

Lunch was at a fancy looking yuudofu (boiled tofu) place. It had a nice garden between the multiples buildings with a koi pond. The place is called 順正 じゅんせい。They do have an English website. I took a bunch of pictures, but didn't post them here. They are on Flickr if you really want to look at more food. Alan really enjoyed watching the Koi in the pond. I'm really excited about when he gets a bit older and we can go to Zoos and stuff. He doesn't really know animal names yet, but we do read a book every night with some animals in it.

Tea and tounyuu to start with a small goma tofu. Some ginnan and miso flavored tofu kushi. Lots of tofu. Some tempura, rice, pickles, and other vegetables.

After lunch we went to kinkakuji, the Golden Temple. It was nice. There was a group of French people in kimono. You definitely should go at least once if you haven't been. I prefer some of the other temples (Kiyomizudera primarily) but this place is so famous you just can't pass it up. It is always insanely crowded though. Still, that is one impressive temple they have there.

After that we picked up our luggage from the hotel and hopped on a train back home. On the way Alan and I spent some time reading. Well, he didn't actually read with me for all that long before he started throwing his magazine around the train, but still. Cute picture I think.


September 29, 2012

"That traditional walk"

A bit after lunch today, Lisa mentioned that there was a festival not too far from our house today and tomorrow. I asked her what the festival was for, and she said it was a festival for the local area, and specifically the Shinagawa Toukaidou area that used to be a stop on the tranditional road from old Tokyo (Edo) to Kyoto. We used to be about a (very) easy day's walk out of the Edo capital, so people would stay here.

Anyway, I didn't really know what the festival was about, but the timing was right: we could walk there, and have dinner. Dinner at a Japanese Festival is a super inefficient thing, but useful for one or two reasons: there are lots of types of food, so everyone can find something to eat, and you can drink while you walk around. Also, it is a great chance to walk around the area that the festival is in. It is not really the best in terms of actually eating though: the food is usually expensive (single appetizer type things only for about $5 each, basically carnival or county fair kinds of food) and the quality isn't that great.

We walked over to the place (a bit of a hike actually, maybe about three quarters of a mile away) and grabbed some food at a section that is sponsored by some local hotels. The food there is actually pretty good. Then we walked on down the road (the festival spanned the distance of three train stops, so quite a long route) closer to where the parade was going to start.

I didn't know there was going to be a parade so I asked Lisa about it. It actually wasn't a parade as much as just some people walking. Walking in the "traditional Oiran style". I didn't know what an Oiran is, or how they tradiationally walked. So I tried to clear that up. I asked Lisa what is an Oiran. She said that they are prostitutes, and they traditionally walk in a distinctive style where they kick their legs out. I was pretty sure that I didn't understand some of those words, so I asked her again, particularly to clarify on the prostitute part. She looked it up, and told me in English "You know, prostitute." Two surprises: huh, I knew the word for prostitute (I figured I was wrong, but the word comes up in history a bit.) Second, prostitues have a particular distinctive style of walking where they kick their legs out.

I told her I was pretty surprised that they would have a parade for prostitutes, and that we definitely wouldn't do that in America. Lisa said that she was surprised because America has prositutes everywhere, and they are held in high regard! They have them in the windows in the parts of town where prostitution is allowed! I'm pretty sure she is thinking of Amsterdam, since as far as I know prostitution is illegal in the US (outside of parts of Nevada.) So hopefully I cleared up her understanding of that.

Talking a bit more about it, Oiran are actually courtesans, similar to Geisha, with years of training in entertainment. It seems like they might also be open to some additional entertainment options, but this is all back a ways in history. The culture of the Oiran has been preserved up to today, and we got a chance to see them today.

The parade started in the evening, and was opened by some priests (their sashes read "Overnight staying place festival".) Three small girls were walking in front of every Oiran, but I don't know if they are actually in training or just cute local girls. They looked like they were having fun though. And some crazy make up.

The Oiran had amazing hair. I don't know how long it took to make up, but it must have taken a while. I don't know if I could actually tell the difference between the different type of courtesans in Japan. I know of Geisha, Maiko, and now Oiran.

I did take a video, so check that out. You can see the distinctive walking style of the Oiran. Look at that sexy walking! I don't know how I managed to resist. It must really take skill to walk in those shoes though - they are like a foot high! Amazing.

All in all, it was lots of fun. We walked way too far, and I'm exhausted from carrying around Alan all night in the Baby Ergo, but it was total worth it.


June 10, 2012

Shinagawa Tennousai

On Friday, the Shinagawa Tennou Festival began. It runs through Sunday. Lisa and I took Alan out this morning for a walk through the local neighborhood and headed down to where the festival is going on. Alan's still a bit young for these things, but probably when he is three or four I think he's really going to enjoy the festival atmosphere. A lot of kids are always running around at these things buying food and playing some games at the different stalls, trying to win goldfish or candy or little trinkets. The adults are usually eating (overpriced) street food and drinking beer. The closest thing to these kinds of festivals in the US would probably be a street fair, but you mix in some real traditional sorts of elements.

The Japanese page linked here: Shingawa Tennou Festival page (Japanese) says that the festival is held primarily between two temples, Shinagawa Shrine (I can't find any English pages for that) and Ebara Shrine (Japanese). Some portable shrines are carried between the two temples, accompanied by priests, drums, and flutes playing a special Shinagawa-themed tune apparently.

From out point of view we just walked around, got some food, and watched some people walk by. On the way home we also took some pictures of the parked portable shrines. I always enjoy these kinds of festivals, even thought he stall food is too expensive, you see lots of people, there are people in Yukata and Jinbei (kind of traditional summer clothes) and it is just fun walking around. I'm looking forward to going to some of these things in the future when Alan Yoshiyuki gets older!


April 9, 2012

Cherry blossoms and Saitama Shrines over the weekend

Last week I was in the US after a business trip and had a day to visit with family. Due to the international dateline, coming back to Japan you lose and entire day, so I had two days at work (and groggy ones at that) and then the weekend hit. What a weekend it was!

During the weekend the Cherry Blossoms around Tokyo are just starting to come into full bloom. They aren't there yet, but it is really close. Usually, due to the timing of my twice-yearly business trips to America, I miss the Cherry Blossom season in Japan. This year though, due to the weather and trip timing, I'm here for the Cherry Blossoms! Hooray! The Japanese love the Cherry Blossoms. Something about the transience of time and impermanence of beauty, the passing of seasons. So people love to go out and sit in under the Cherry trees and watch the blossoms fall. Whatever your reasons, it is very pretty. So we decided to take Alan out to a nearby park, Eastern Shinagawa Seaside Park, a good ten minute walk from our house. The weather was very nice, a little bit chilly but comfortable in a t-shirt and hoodie.

The park was playing host to a Cherry Blossom festival, so there were lots of people around and nice little stands selling food, candy, and of course beer. You can't have a proper Cherry Blossom viewing party without alcohol, and you can't have a proper festival without beer. That means a Cherry Blossom festival definitely has beer on the menu.

We wandered around a bit, found ourselves a spot under a tree, and had some nice food. Overpriced for what it is - in our case some fried chicken, yakisoba, and grilled clams, but super good. The clams were so good we bought a bag of them to use in the next night's dinner (kim-chi hot pot, which was delicious.)

It was Alan's first trip to a park, and first time to see Cherry Blossoms. I'm not sure that he noticed, but we had a good time. I know that Alan likes taking trips in the baby carriage, so I think he enjoyed that at least. We had a really nice time at the park, and I'm really glad I had a chance to see the Cherry Blossoms with the family. I know Alan won't remember this, but we got a few pictures and at some point we'll be able to line up pictures of Cherry Blossom parties every year. Maybe.

On Sunday we had a plan to visit some friends in Saitama. We decided to drive. It has been ages since I've been to Saitama (perhaps only once?) so it was a bit of an adventure. It was also Lisa and Alan's first time! The trip took about an hour (I drove on the way there - on the way back it was about 40 minutes, but I wasn't driving...) We stopped by our friend's place, and visited for a while. Alan was sleeping almost the entire time. The purpose of the visit was interesting; my friend's younger brother is in grad school for biology, and has to give a talk (in English!) at a conference coming up in two months. I've given talks before, so his sister thought I could help out with the translation. The talk itself wasn't ready, but I did get a chance to listen to his research work, give some pointers on research presentations, and learn a bit about high fat diets and mouse pregnancy. Pretty cool actually!

After a delicious homemade lunch, we went out of a walk to the nearby Hikawa Shrine. It was a nice walk away, maybe twenty minutes or so. Alan was a good kid on the way there, and we walked around the temple for a bit before heading back. On the way back Alan started to cry because it was about time for his milk, but we weren't prepared to walk and feed him at the same time, so it had to wait until he got back to the car. Alan's actually had a cold or something so his voice sounds funny, and just sounds so painful for him. I hope he gets better soon. He isn't crying or anything because of it, but when he does he sounds like a confused chicken.

So, in two days we had two firsts for Alan: first Cherry Blossom viewing, and first Shrine visit (along with a trip to Saitama to visit some friends!) It was a great, but busy weekend. I was really happy with how it turned out, even though I think both Lisa and I are tired from all the prep work it takes to travel with little Alan. Still, lots of fun!

Happy Cherry Blossom viewing to all of you!

March 4, 2012

A visit to the limited-time Koyama Sweets shop

My friend Akihiro Oyama's family has run the Koyama Western Sweets shop in Kessennuma for 120 years. His older brother is the 5th Oyama to run the Koyama sweets shop. Last year in the March 11th Earthquake and Tsunami, their town and shop was completely wiped out. Since then Akihiro has been involved in various charity and other efforts to bring attention to the Kessennuma area.

On Saturday and Sunday his older brother opened up, for two days only, the Koyama shop in the Takanawa Prince Hotel in Shinagawa. Since we were out and about for the day, and Shinagawa isn't all that far, we took a trip out there. We all bought a bunch of stuff - prominent among things the "Kizuna" (bonds / community) Sponge Cake. The box for the cake has messages from all their supporters, a delicious honey flavor, and appreciative feelings for all who have supported them (and other recovery efforts in Japan.)

Alana's friends Wendy and Lizette also bought a few goods from the store and between the three of them we will be spreading the word about the Koyama Western Sweets shop throughout Austin and San Diego. Probably not much further than that, but I'll tell you what: the stuff is delicious, they deliver from their website (linked above) throughout Japan, and you can't go wrong trying to support recovery efforts in Eastern Japan by eating cake.

Aside from France, when has eating cake every gone wrong?

Professional Family photos

As my loyal readers know (all one of them - myself, potentially twenty or thirty years down the road when I start to forget things) that my sister, my father, and two friends have been in town for the Tokyo Marathon. Well, back before Lisa and I had our son Alan Yoshiyuki Tanaka-Evans, we went to Happy Birth Photo studio to take some professional Maternity photos. We thought that went really well and we liked the studio so we decided to go back when my sister and father were in town. This time we had a lot of people - Myself, Lisa, Alana, Gary, and our son Alan Yoshiyuki as well as Alana's son Scout.

I think the pictures turned out great. Initially our son was tired and most of his pictures show him crying, but by the end of the session he started to cheer up a bit, and we got some nice photos throughout the shoot. We have a bunch of photos with my sister, father, and I with out medals we received for finishing the Tokyo Marathon - those are great! We also have a few pictures with me and my twin sister as well as our sons. They all turned out great.

Growing up we never really took too many professional photos, but these have really turned out great so far, and I think that we will treasure them for a long time to come. Assuming our digital data storage strategy keeps them from being deleted at some point or other. I'll have to get started on setting up some sort of secure backup for the important data, but for now at least I have them on two machines with one backed up nightly.

March 2, 2012

A trip to Hakone with the family

After running the Tokyo Marathon, I was a wreck. My legs were shot, and I was just barely able to hobble home with the rest of the group. When we decided to actually run this marathon, I thought it would be a lot of fun for us to go to Hakone, a traditional Japanese hot springs resort.

It is about an hour and twenty minutes from Shinjuku via the Odakyu (private railway) Romance Car train (which has nothing to do with romance.) The ride up to Hakone from Shinjuku is quite nice; you get a nice view of Mt. Fuji, and also Odawara castle near the end of the trip. You end up in Hakone Yumoto, and from there can take a very small train further up the mountains.

Before continuing on the trip, we went to get lunch at a soba shop that we often go to. Hakone Yumoto is a small little town with a nice shopping street aimed heavily at tourists. On the walk up, we stopped at a little shop that outside lets you grill some of the fish that they sell. For free. I don't know how they make money because every time I have gone to Hakone I have stopped there and had some fish (it is delicious) but I have never bought anything from that store.

The soba shop is just up the road and across the river. We ended up going to the "new" building of the same shop, around the corner and a bit further down the river, but as always the soba was great. We then took a walk back down the shopping street and headed to the train station, where we were able to get on the small mountain train that takes us up to the small station closest to the onsen we were going to, The sound of Water (水の音.) I've been there a few times with Lisa's family before and it is a nice onsen. They've got I think five different hot springs (ten really, since they are segregated by sex, and switch who goes where each day) both inside and outside. We got there in the afternoon, and had time for a trip to the onsen before dinner. I stayed in the room and looked after little Alan, and dressed him up in the cute Yukata that everyone wears there.

Dinner was a great 12 course meal that is half cooked at your table. Our bunch took over two tables in the place, and with Scout walking around, and sometimes Lisa or I would take Alan for a walk (it was a long dinner) the people at the tables near us struck up some conversations about how our kids were cute. I agree! But they were probably only getting that because our kids are double American and Asian mixes. I won't turn down a compliment though.

After dinner, we entered the hot springs again. Of course, it is a little strange getting naked with your dad and father-in-law and hanging out in a bath for a while, but once you do that, it does help break the tension and make things more informal. It is a pretty good way to build up personal relationships and break down barriers actually.

The next day we left and headed up the mountain more. We took the train to one of the stops, and then from there took a special cable car train. The cable car climbs up a steep mountain, so the car itself is canted and has stairs in the car. Neat.

At the end of the cable car ride, you can take a ropeway ride to another station where they make black onsen eggs. You eat one of those and your life is extended by 7 years. The eggs are black because they are cooked in a sulfur pool. A bunch of us hiked up to some place where they made the eggs - which was really tough because my legs were still jelly from the Marathon. The eggs are pretty good. We also had some awesome sweet potatoes. It was pretty cold though, so we hurried back and caught the ropeway down the mountain to Lake Ashinoko (or really just Lake Ashi, since no ko just means it is a lake.)

At Ashinoko we rode a boat. A pirate boat. They were announcing stuff that was on the lake, but we were just taking it easy after all the hiking and various modes of transportation. When we got off of the boat - and why there are fake pirate boats in a lake up in the mountains I will never know - we just took a bus back to Hakone Yumoto, did a little shopping, and hopped back on the train back to Tokyo.

It was a great trip with great food, and we saw a bit of natural Japan. We road all sorts of different types of transportation, and had some eggs that increased our lives by seven years. If you want a nice relaxing getaway from the city, Hakone is always our go-to place.

February 29, 2012

Tokyo Marathon

About a year ago my father made a joking suggestion that we run the Tokyo marathon together. My twin sister ran the new York marathon in 2010 so she wanted to run her second marathon. So we planned to run the marathon. By early October our application results were in and all three of us made the lottery. We were committed. I had never ran a marathon before - the closest I got was a half we ran as training in high school cross country once. I started training.

I initially started daily 5km runs and worked up to 10km per day. Up until the end my standard run was a 60 minute 10km run at 6am before work. On the weekend I would run longer distances, usually between 20km and 35km.

I started training in October, and it just started getting colder and colder in Tokyo. It was hard to get up at 6am and go for a run, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought that I really needed to complete this marathon. I was expecting a son in December, and I thought it made a lot of sense to try to show him that you can accomplish difficult tasks if you set your mind to it, make a plan, work hard, and stick to the plan. That is the main thing that kept getting me up and out into the cold to train for this marathon.

During training, I usually listen to a bunch of podcasts. Mainly some NPR Cartalk, APM Marketplace, This American Life, Marc Maron's WTF podcast, Freakonomics, NPR Planet Money, and a few Japanese podcasts (news and economics.) I was on target through most runs for a four hour time. My longest training run was about 35km, and through the first 30km I ran it in 3 hours, but then the last five kilometers went a lot slower. I estimated based on that run that my final time should be around 5:30, since basically I would end up walking the last few kilometers. Still, my goal was to finish, and beat the Tokyo Marathon mandated 7 hour (gun time, not chip time) limit.

The day of the race, we woke up early (I believe 5:30am) and headed down to Shinjuku, where the start is at. We went through all the procedures (drop off the bag, line up) and probably had about an hour until the 9:10am gun. Alana and Dad said the process went very smoothly, at least compared to the New York marathon, and the line up went well. We chatted with some of the people around us, and before you knew it, the gun went off. It was cold, but we had enough people around us that it wasn't too bad. Alana and Dad were amazed at how quickly we proceeded through to the start line after the gun. I think we were about fifteen minutes behind the start, despite being very far back. They made us line up in order of how long we thought we would take, and I entered the slowest time of 6 hours, so we were in the six hour block.

I don't have much to say about the Marathon, aside from how much fun it was to run with Dad and my sister. We went through some really interesting parts of Tokyo that I know well, and it is very strange to have the whole road to yourself without any car traffic. The first twenty or so Kilometers went pretty well. The time between twenty and thirty is about when Alana and I went a bit ahead of Dad. After about thirty five kilometers it was very tough. Perhaps the last three kilometers or so we ended walking at a fast pace, but that was ok.

Oh, I will note one amazing thing that happened during the race. Alana's husband (coincidentally named David) didn't come to Japan because he was very busy at work. But secretly he flew in at 5am on the day of the race and surprised Alana at the 11km point. It was amazing. There is video proof of how amazing it is.

Near the very end, with a kilometer left to go we started running again. The crowds the whole way along the route were great with supporting us. They thinned out a little bit near the end, but were still there and trying. At the very, very end Alana took off like someone had lit a flame under her. I took off after her. Later, she told me that her husband was always telling her during training: "You're at the very end! It is you, Twin A, and Twin B. Who is going to win? You can't let Twin B win!"

She beat me by 2 seconds. So I need to run another marathon so I can run it three seconds faster than this one.

For posterity sake, here are out times:

  • Alana Evans: 5:34:22
  • David Evans: 5:34:24
  • Gary Evans: 5:41:09

February 3, 2012

Setsubun - throw beans around for good luck!

Today is Setsubun, a day that marks the traditional start of Spring. Well, I hope it does because it is super cold out here, and getting up and running every morning has been a challenge.

What Setsubun really means is that you buy a bunch of beans of some kind, and throw them outside your house, chanting "Demons go out, good luck come on in!" Or something to the effect. I took a look around our house, and oh no! We had a demon infestation!

We corrected that with the traditional bean throwing, and even little Alan Yoshiyuki helped out (although he does look suspiciously similar to one of the crying demons I caught on digital film just a little bit earlier.)

Anyway, happy Setsubun to you all, and I hope that all the demons in your house flee your violently flung beans and make room to let in all the good luck for 2012!

March 19, 2011

Dinner and a Movie in Tokyo after the Earthquake

For the past week, R. and I have been at home. I have been working from home (it is great that I work at a company where this is possible) while R. has been off of work because Tokyo Disneyland is currently closed. I have not been getting out and about the city much, I really have only been visiting the local supermarket and a few stores around where we live. We have generally been eating stuff that we have on hand - I've made a bunch of omelets since we were able to find eggs. We cooked up a batch of Curry on Monday, and have had that for dinner and lunch quite a few days. Curry is great because you can make a lot of it at once, it keeps for a long time, and you just need rice to go with it.

On Saturday, I wanted to take R. out to do something, and coincidentally the movie Tangled just opened in Japan on Saturday. She wants to see Tangled, I'm interested in getting out, and so we had a plan. A normal sort of thing that people do everywhere: a movie and then dinner.

Note that actually this isn't something we do a lot here in Tokyo. I used to see two to four movies a month (hi Carl!) but since moving to Japan I have not seen many movies at all. Tickets here cost about $30 (given the current crazy exchange rate) and just are not as common of an activity as they are in the US. Still, it is still a pretty normal thing to do. So R. reserved us some tickets for a 3:30pm showing over in Roppongi Hills.

That got me to thinking about dinner. One thing I want to do is to support the Japanese economy and get things back to normal. Sitting around at home eating curry for a week (while it is economical on our end) is just not going to do that. I've been hearing good things about Union Square Tokyo for the past few years since it opened in 2007, so I wondered if they would have an opening for us. This place is a nice restaurant, not say Michelin three star or anything, but it is a nice place where a main dish will run from $40-$60 or so. Normally I would try to get a reservation a week or so in advance just to be sure, but I called them up Saturday afternoon and they took our reservation for that evening.

So, here are my main reasons for trying to get out and go do dinner:

  • A week after the earthquake, I think it is time to get back to normal life (not that we are always going out to high class restaurants) and stop sitting around at home.
  • I wanted to see how well mass transit could serve us. Roppongi Hills is usually about 30-45 minute trip from our place on a train and a bus.
  • I thought after a week of sitting around, Risa and I deserved a bit of a treat after surviving the largest Earthquake in Japanese history. If anything deserves a bit of a celebration, that is it.
  • I love curry. But I love me a good steak a bit more, if I can get an excuse to put out the money they cost in Tokyo.

Click the "read more" link to see how well we fared.


read more (3240 words)

March 16, 2011

Why I am not worried about Earthquakes or Radiation in Tokyo

In the past few days there has been a lot of confusion about what has been going on. I wrote a bit about my experience in the big earthquake and then later a bit about food shortages, and strange things I am eating. I touched a bit there on the supply problems and issues with nuclear reactors in the north east, but I'll focus a bit more on that in this post.

So first, initially I was wearing my anti-earthquake hat (+1 for saving throws vs. falling rocks.) Friday was crazy with earthquakes. The first was very scary, but Tokyo pulled through very well. Friday night there were many earthquakes, but none as powerful as the first one. Saturday there were also lots of earthquakes. Sunday there were fewer. I started noticing more in the news about the nuclear power plants in Fukushima. There were still tremors, and Tokyo is feeling the side-effects of the earthquake. Really the problems we have faced are with transportation and electricity. Trains are running at reduced capacity. There are scheduled blackouts for much of Northern Japan. Areas around Tokyo have also seen blackouts but the main center of Tokyo, the "23 wards" have been spared. That would be like all of New York state having scheduled blackouts, but Manhattan being spared due likely to concerns about business and population density. In fact, we are going to reverse evacuate my sister-in-law to Tokyo from a place that is about an hour and a half out of Tokyo further away from the North East because they have been having two blackouts a day and we have had none. Trains are pretty much running now, although at slightly reduced capacity, and at least the major parts of Tokyo have regular electric, gas, and water service. Our elevators are even back at home, although the escalators and elevators at the local shopping center are off to conserve energy.

The other issue is food and gas. Gas is tight right now. Mostly people were panicked and trying to get fuel to get out of Tokyo. That has made it hard for the emergency workers to get fuel to go help out where there is real trouble - up near Sendai and further north east. I think that has taken care of itself now though since people are less worried about radiation and are just staying in Tokyo trying to get back to business as usual. Most companies still have people going to work. Amazon is a bit rare in that we can work from home (that it is allowed, and that we have a kind of job where that actually works well.) I have seen some other email from other friends in Japan saying that if they want to work from home, they can, but they will need to fill in a form and get it stamped by one or two people. That sounds like Japan to me. Everything here needs to be stamped to be official. So yay for Amazon Japan, they have just been really amazing throughout this whole thing.

So I can attest that while we might be a bit inconvenienced and eating strange foods, day to day life is fine. My wife is home because Disneyland (where she is a nurse) is closed for an indeterminate amount of time. What has been more concerning is people over-reacting to the fear of radioactivity from the explosions at the Fukushima nuclear power plants, about 300km away from Tokyo. The news here has been pretty good about getting information out. As of right now (2011-03-17 10:40am JST) I do not think there is any danger to Tokyo from the Nuclear power plants.

Here are some resources I have been using to get information:

  • MIT NSE Nuclear Information Hub. A curated blog by MIT students and professors with a lot of information. I trust MIT, and their stuff seems to be very informative with a science (not fear) bent.
  • As of the 15th, this post by Paul Atkinson makes it seem like Britain has no fears of radiation.
  • As of the 16th the US Embassy also says there is no danger to Tokyo. They also say that TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Corp.) has been upfront about the disaster and their information accurate. This reassures me that there are international orgs watching the situation and that we are getting good information.
  • The Australian Government has some advice for Australians in Japan. They suggest expanding the exclusion zone from 30km to 50km. Tokyo is 300km from the power plant sites.
I've kept an eye out on Facebook where friends in Japan are posting up relevant information as they see it. I like this pictures showing radiation readings in Tokyo. Right now the level is at about 0.2 microsieverts per hour. Eating one banana is 0.1 microsieverts (assuming you eat one banana a day for a year.) Andy Heather has a good blog post about this.

I am convinced that unless there are disastrous changes in the situation, Tokyo will be fine. We are getting good information on the situation on the news, but even a worst-case scenario, a meltdown like at Three Mile Island, we should not see any negative effects in Tokyo. Of course, if you are within the 30km exclusion zone around Fukushima, there is danger. It isn't going to instantly kill you, but the professionals are on the situation and taking care of it.

There is no way there will be problems in the US from this. As long as we are careful about not eating food from the surrounding area - which is what I gather a lot of the problem from Chernobyl was from - there should be no problems. Chernobyl did not even have the external containment vessel that these power plants have. Lots of eyes are on this, and the professionals are doing their best to keep the radiation contained. I have my tv on, and am watching a few sources, but I think things will be fine.

On to another major subject. Why am I not worried about earthquakes in Japan? First, read this blog post by an engineer in Japan. It is a really good description of how things went right. I totally agree. We have an earthquake warning system. I usually see a warning about 10 seconds before an earthquake hits, assuming I have my TV on. Realistically, this isn't too helpful, but it has helped me get on my hard hat or put down a bowl of burning soup before the shaking starts. That is really impressive though: advance warning for a natural disaster.

The other thing that makes me feel safe is the building engineering. I'll use the building that we live in. It was built two years ago, just about. This website lists the safety features of our building. You can run it through Google's translation service. Actually that doesn't really help, but we've got 56 230cm diameter pylons driven very deep (28 meters) into the bedrock, and the whole building is made to sway with earthquakes. Why does our small two bedroom apartment cost half a million dollars? Because the entire building can dance with an earthquake. This video shows skyscrapers swaying in the earthquake. By design. It feels very, very strange when you are in one, but they do this by design and Japan has poured lots of research and effort into building design. This site has some general information on earthquake and building design. I should see if my architect friends have more information. I know most skyscrapers in Japan use base isolators.

At any rate, Tokyo is doing pretty well. The north east is horribly devastated and could really use more of the focus an attention that is currently being spent on the Nuclear power plant. It seems like that is not as big a problem as people fear. I'll still keep my anti-radiation hat handy though, so please don't worry. I can make all sorts of hats as necessary, and possibly radiation-proof my earthquake hat as well.

March 15, 2011

You know it is bad when you are eating Nude Crunky Balls

With a city of over 15 million people, food can run out fast. I just wen to the local supermarket and they still don't have any staple foods (but they have had deliveries of other non-staple foods.) It could be that there was just a buying run, but since we don't have much rice and pasta at home, I'm waiting to buy myself. The government now is telling people that we have enough stock of food, and not to panic and hoard food. I think that has happened to some extent - we ran out of rice last week and just put off buying new rice (5kg bags are heavy - almost 5kg!!) and now we don't have a major staple food. We are also almost out of pasta. So I would like to stock up, but there is nothing in the store. See my previous post.

So we go to the store, and they do have some things, but the selection is strange. They still have lots of beer and wine, which we also have plenty of at home, but those don't really help when you need hydration. Could be worse though I suppose. But you know things must be getting back when you are reduced to eating Nude Crunky Balls.

Ah, who am I kidding? Nude Crunky Balls are chocolately and delicious. I love them.

Yesterday (Tuesday JST) I went to work for the first time since the earthquake. Transport was not running reliably, but I've been biking to work for a few months, so that wasn't a problem for me. On the ride in to work I noticed about three times as many people as normal were on bikes. I think other people were worried about getting stuck somewhere without transportation, so busted out their infrequently used bikes to get around the city. None of them were as cool as my bike though, a nice Raleigh that I put some clip-in pedals on (thanks Dave S.!) and have been commuting on for a few months. I got some work done, but as things developed with the Fukushima nuclear power plant (more on that later if I have time - the big take away is that things are working as designed and we are all safe, as long as no small turtles named Gamera snuck into the containment vessel) we were told to go home by 2pm. Today (Wednesday JST) was declared a work from home day, which I can do as a computer professional. Kind of. I'm glued to the tv, and trying to find rice. And eating Nude Crunky Balls.

The interesting thing though is that on my ride home yesterday I saw massive lines at the pump on my bike ride home. I passed 3 gas stations. One was sold out of gas, the other two had lines of 60-100 cars. I'm more afraid that if there is a panic, people won't be able to get out of Tokyo easily and there will be large traffic jams. Trains work great, but right now trains are on irregular schedules, and were very crowded today (according to friends who took the train into work.) So I worry that there might be a panic in Tokyo with people trying to get out of town because of unfounded fears of nuclear radioactivity. If you have the time, please read this take from an MIT engineer on why things are not as bad as the media might lead you to believe. 日本語版もあります。

I am joking around a bit here: we do have enough food for a few days, and supplies are getting better. I don't think we will have a problem in Tokyo. But if I am forced to eat delicious nude crunky chocolate balls, be sure that I will not let my blog go uninformed. Also, we are running out of truffles and foie gras. Please send more forthwith.

March 13, 2011

I hope you like broccoli, because that is what is for dinner

So this evening my wife and I stopped by the local (very large) supermarket to pick up some toilet paper and something for dinner tomorrow night. Turns out, we could get neither because almost everything was sold out. We did get a few snacks and some beer (of which there was plenty) but there was nothing, absolutely nothing, in the way of staples and easy to make food. No potatoes. No rice. Few vegetables, few fruits. No meat. Few fish. Really the place was running out of just about everything.

I kind of thought that might be the case; on Friday evening just after the earthquake when I stopped by it looked like they were starting to run out of things. I don't think they had seen any replenishment since then, and of course a lot of people were trying to stock up on stuff. I anticipate that pretty soon, in the next day or two, they will get deliveries of what they need to continue business, but it really strikes home that in a city of about 16 million people, without consistent and reliable transportation and supply chains, things can dry up very fast.

Also, the Japan Electric is announcing that they might have rolling blackouts in Tokyo starting tomorrow due to the shutdown of two nuclear power plants in the northeast. More than just a shutdown actually, one of the reactors went critical and there was a minor explosion and later intentional venting of mildly radioactive gasses. It sounds like it isn't a very dangerous situation, but it certainly reduces capacity and it isn't like Japan was rolling in capacity before this (although I haven't had blackouts here, like I did a few times in New York.)

Anyway, I'll be headed to work tomorrow where I expect to spend a lot of time cleaning up, and probably not much time getting quality work done - this situation is just so abnormal that I'm pretty sure the whole city is a bit on edge, and still trying to come to terms with things. Risa and I donated to the Red Cross, but there isn't much we can do to help those in the North East, which is really in a horrific situation. Still, I'm a happy pessimist; I expect the worst and I'm very happy when things turn out to be not that bad. I mean the worst that we are facing is maybe a lack of tasty food (we've got canned and frozen stuff that we can last on for a while) and while we were facing a lack of toilet paper (visiting Alana while she was in Morocco taught me a few ways to deal with that situation, not that Risa is willing to accept them as viable alternatives) we were able to get a bunch from Risa's family who had stocked up a while back. So things are looking pretty good from where I sit. In a chair that sometimes shakes, and makes me wonder whether it is an earthquake, or just me.

Lately it has just been me. Unlike Saturday, when it was earthquakes. ;-)

March 12, 2011

The Great Miyagi Earthquake of 2011

On Friday, as usual, a group of us from work went out to Beacon, a favorite lunch place. Lunch was great, a nice filling burger, as usual. Then back to work for the afternoon. At about three o'clock sometime (amazingly, I feel like I should know exactly when this started, but I do not) I started to feel some minor tremors. We have those frequently in Tokyo, and had had a few in the previous days. I checked with my co-workers to make sure it wasn't just me (when a loaded-down cart goes down the nearby hallway, it can shake the floor in a way that feel similar to a very minor earthquake) and they commented that they felt it too. Usually we would just sit and wait things out, but this one kept building. Usually these things start out as small vertical fluxuations as the ground moves up and down. This time, the vertical bumps started to get larger, and then started to change into a swaying motion. That is when we knew it was getting bad. We got under our desks - which I am not really sure would help in a ceiling collapse, but would probably be better than not being under the desk - and started to wait. The earthquake now was clearly a swaying motion. Perhaps the ground was moving up and down, but the building itself started to sway. We are on the 16th floor. The shaking went on for maybe five minutes. I really don't have a good sense of the time, but it went on for a very long time.

The building itself felt like a boat, swaying forward about three meters, then back, then perhaps to the left, then to the right. It literally felt like we were on a boat in rough seas. I didn't see out the window, so I had no real frame of reference, but the movement was amazing, and very unsettling. Our friends who have a very wide window view said the movement was sickening, you could see the entire building move, and move a lot. Our shelves fell. Other things fell. I was glad to be under my desk, in case the shelving fell my way. It didn't.

The swaying finally started to slow down. I checked my laptop, grabbed my stuff together, and led some of the guys down the stairwell. The stairs were littered with plaster, I assume from the walls of the swaying building. Our building was completed sometime in the 70's, very old by Japanese standards. I think it is rated for a stronger earthquake, but it was still unsettling. I would have preferred to be in a newer building. I'm curious to see how my friend at Google in Mori Tower faired.

We exited the building to the area around the tower. There were some small aftershocks. We were warned to stay away from the building in case of falling glass. That is a good warning, until you realize that there are skyscrapers all over Tokyo. Smaller building are likely less well designed for earthquakes. We were probably safer inside the tower than outside if another large earthquake struck, but that swaying feeling is just so unsettling that I think a lot of people just wanted to get outside, myself included. There was a lot of checking around, trying to see who was still inside, who was outside. Everyone was ok, and after a while the company president announced that people who could go home should go home.

That itself was quite a difficulty. You see, none of the mass transit systems were running. Everyone here uses mass transit. I live about 10km from work, and usually bike to work. Today, of all days, I decided not to bike since I was sore from playing basketball the previous night. I decided instead to take the train. That means I had no easy way home, except 10km isn't really all that far. So I started to walk home. I had my GPS watch, and also unusually decided to bring in my camera today (perhaps thought I would walk around Shibuya at night and take some pictures.) Looking back, I really should have headed into the Shibuya city center to see what things looked like, but I was more concerned with getting home and making sure that Risa was safe. I sent her an email earlier, but knew that networks would be overloaded. I did eventually hear from her, she was fine, but still at work (at Disneyland.) Satisfied that my family was ok, I set out to head home. Before doing that though, I snapped a few pictures of the people around the office. I was also wearing my Amazon Japan hard hat the entire time, and asked a group from the Merchant@ team to model their beautiful headgear for me.

I set up my GPS watch and headed home. All told, it took 1:54 minutes, 9km, and 620 calories. On the way though, I took a few pictures. First, let me just say that for the most part, the Tokyo that I know did not suffer major damage. I heard that one building, the Kudan Kaikan, close to where I used to work, had a portion of the roof collapse and there were some injuries. Otherwise there was nothing major that I knew of (I learned of some other things later) - I was listening to one-seg TV for a lot of the time I was waiting outside the building trying to get in touch with Risa. On the walk home, there was no major structural damage either. This is Tokyo though, up north near the epicenter the damage was horrific, and on the news they were talking about a Tsunami that was coming.

So, I set out walking. See the link for the map of where I walked, but basically it was a two hour walk that I knew fairly well from riding it on a bike every day. On the here are some interesting things I saw.


Very close to work there is a small temple hidden off the beaten path. There were lots of people there taking refuge. When you think about it, one of the few places in Tokyo that isn't high density living, working, or shopping spaces are temples. They have small buildings and some open grounds. A good place to go when you want to get away from large buildings. You can just see a whole bunch of blue hard hats in the background of people all from the same company presumably.

Walking on, you started to see people lining up for pay phones. The cell infrastructure was overwhelmed of course. I got a few emails out, but voice calls were just impossible. I also started to see people lining up for buses. Note that these early lines are short. An hour later the lines for phones and bus stops were huge.

Near Ebisu station there was a group of girls in Kimono for a Graduation Ceremony. That must have been a rude interruption to their ceremony. They were waiting for a friend who was apparently across the street near Ebisu station. I was curious what the mass transit situation was (my cell phone tv was telling me that no trains were running) so I swung by the station. Indeed, no trains were running.


The station was full of people, but the gates were close and the signs all said "Under Preparation". Walking out towards home there were some stores with tvs, and those got a lot of attention. People were intent on finding news, but all the news was saying is that there was an earthquake, a tsunami is coming, and where people should be evacuating. My cell phone has a digital tv tuner, so I would check occasionally with what was going on. Tokyo at least didn't come out of it too bad.


Over closer to Gotanda, much later, there were massive crowds at Gotanda station waiting for buses. I don't think they are going to get anywhere anytime soon. I kept walking, only about 3 kilometers from home now. I passed some large apartment complexes which had set up temporary chairs for people that lived there who I presume didn't like being up high in the building. I could understand their feelings. I think they probably are safer inside the building that outside, but maybe the ground floor would sway less than the higher floors. That is probably a good idea, and I might take that route in the future myself. There is one tunnel I have to take that looked a bit damaged. As I walked up to it, it made a horrible noise. Still, seemed ok, so I went through. I'm curious whether that will be repaired in coming days. There were also some construction workers taking down scaffolding. I would not have wanted to be in their shoes; there were still aftershocks and that scaffolding did not look very safe.

Closer to home near Aomono Yokocho, I finally started seeing buses with people in them. Lots of people in them. Going slowly. Traffic was just jammed by this time. Anyone that could drive was. I bet taxis were charging extra.

Walking by Aomono Yokocho more people were waiting for the trains to start running. The station was also closed. By this point, I was pretty close to home. My feet were killing me, my shoulders were sore from carrying my heavy backpack and laptop, and it was getting cold. On the way home I stopped by Aeon, the local supermarket. They were starting to run out of stuff. I bought some simple things for dinner, and headed home. At home, things were fine, but the elevators were out of action. So I had a 14 floor hike up the stairs before getting back to the apartment. The most amazing thing is that I only noticed one or two things fallen over in our place. Our building was built two years ago, and is supposed to be very safe in earthquakes. The place was a mess, but that is just because I haven't cleaned recently; you would not have known that there was an earthquake just looking at the place.

At home, I turned on the TV and spent the next few hours trying to get in touch with friends (everyone is ok) and sending out some email and facebook updates. I didn't feel tired, so I started playing Mass Effect (1, a game I've been playing lately.) There were lots of small aftershock earthquakes. I lost count. More than ten. More than twenty probably. They kept happening, although our building handled them like a champ. None of this crazy boat stuff (I am really curious how the main earthquake moved the building, but I'm happy not to find out.) I watched a lot of tv. I tried to find out what my wife was doing. She said she was ok, but that she would not be able to come home. I stayed up until 6am. I also finished Mass Effect - very good game. I think that kept me up, but I also just was still unsettled, and didn't feel like sleeping.

I finally got to sleep at 6am, and now on Saturday have written this us. Right now Risa came home. Here is how her day played out: after the earthquake at Disneyland lots of people were motion sick from the earthquake, and there were people that were scared and with minor injuries. She works as a nurse there, and all the nurses were busy. They worked through the night and she got off at 11am Saturday morning (after starting a 10am shift on Friday morning) and then had to walk to the Rinkai line Shinkiba station, about 6km. She is going to hop on the computer for a bit and then go to sleep.

So to sum up: we are safe, our house is fine. We have enough food for today and tomorrow, and I anticipate that most of Tokyo will be relatively back to normal by then. I'm worried and concerned about northern Japan, and I have a few friends that are stuck outside of Tokyo due to the transit system shutdown, but everything seems fine. It should be an interesting few days. All sorts of things are coming out now, the major one being concern over some nuclear reactors and possible problems there, but I think Japan will be able to get through this.


January 23, 2011

Monjya-yaki and the Lion King's Simba

Last night my wife and I went to the house warming party of some friends of ours. They had just moved back from New York, where the husband was studying law at Columbia University. They rented out the lounge on the 37th floor of their building near Tsukishima. It had an excellent view of Tokyo Tower, which I forgot to take pictures of. We hung out for a few hours, and later one those of us that remained went out for Monjya-yaki (the Tokyo specific version of Okonomi-yaki that is more soupy and has less flour) in nearby Tsukishima, which is well known for Monjya-yaki shops.

It was only the second time I've ever had Monjya-yaki, but was quite nice. We had a lot of fun. The most unusual aspect of the night is that one of the people at the party is an actor in "The Lion King" - he plays Simba. Just by chance when my friend was in New York, he sat down next to this guy who was also in New York at the time, and they became friends. So we had a good time talking about plays and musicals and the like.

R. and I actually had tickets to see the Lion King, but due to a comedy of booking errors, ended up giving the tickets away to other friends. So we're going to have to try again to see it in Tokyo. It will be a lot more fun thinking that an acquaintance of ours might be in the show!

October 3, 2010

Fukuroda Falls

Last weekend R. and I took a day trip out to see Fukuroda Falls. It is about three hours by car to the North of Tokyo. We took the car out (for the first time in months) and I drove. It was supposed to be about three hours, but I think the way there took about three and half hours. I'm not a big fan of driving in Tokyo, but I have to admit that the highways in Tokyo are pretty interesting. Some of the central highways through the city are elevated to about the third or fifth story of the surrounding buildings. If I wasn't in such a panic while driving I would like to enjoy the scenery a bit more.

Anyway, once out of Tokyo, we headed through the country-side of Ibaraki prefecture. By country-side R. means that you are on smaller roads and only pass through a town or population center every twenty minutes. Or that there are only five or six cars within site at all times. Compare that to our trip through Eastern Washington state when we went two or three hours at a time without seeing cars or signs of civilization.

We had a nice trip, and got up to the waterfall. Like all things in Japan there is a fee to enter the waterfall attraction. A very reasonable fee, like $3. It was a nice waterfall, and pretty large. I haven't seen many large waterfalls, and this is apparently the third largest in Japan. So now I'm a bit curious about the other two larger ones. It is a pretty nice waterfall and the surrounding area is a bit nice too. There is a nice bridge and lots of hiking paths in the area, but our plan was to get lunch and then head home, because that will take a few hours. We really just hung out near the waterfall, but if we had more time we could have done some hiking. It would have been nice if we had the time to stay overnight and maybe try the hot springs there. It is apparently the only one in Ibaraki. I like the idea of taking a day trip though, and just getting out and doing a bit of driving - it is nice to take that car out if we are going to pay for parking it in this crazy city.

Lunch was a special type of hot pot native to the area. And pretty good. Then we headed home. Of course, on the way home there was an accident or two, and the roads into Tokyo were very busy. I think it took five hours to get home. Still, a nice day trip and fun. The most important thing is that there was this crazy road sign showing the traffic status on the major Tokyo highways. It isn't that bad, but still at speed that thing is tough to take in.


August 15, 2010

Summer Comic Market 78 in Tokyo

On Saturday, I decided to take a trip out to Tokyo Big Sight to stop by the 78th Summer Comic Market. I've never been to one of the comic markets before, and have always been interested. They are a large forum for the amateur (although quality can be extremely high) clubs to sell their work. Usually they write comics (同人誌, fan comics) that use characters from popular series, or sometimes their own creations entirely.

Since I've never been to one of these things before, I just kind of winged it. I left the house at about 8:10am, and arrived at Tokyo Big Site at about 8:30am. We live pretty close. The first thing I didn't expect were the crowds. There were lots of people. The first thing I noticed were the staff out there to direct the crowds. I followed the signs for "general admission" (一般参加) and eventually got herded into a large parking lot. A very large parking lot. With other people. Lots of other people. While we were lining up I stopped and bought one of the Comic Market Catalogs. It is about the size of a phone book. It cost 2000 yen. Apparently there are also CD-ROM versions of that thing, which would probably be even more useful for people preparing a strategy for the comic market. We were herded into the parking lot and then told to hurry up and wait. That was at about 8:45am or so.

Checking the Catalog, I learned that the comic market opens up at 10:00am. Crap. I didn't bring a long sleeve shirt or sunblock. I didn't bring much of anything. All I brought was a book (Haruki Murakami's Kafka by the Sea, which I've been reading for two years now) and a camera. I am terrible at sitting on the ground. The line didn't start moving until about 10:30am. I didn't get in to the venue until about 11:00am. I think this was a bit harder to handle than Fuji Rock, because I just was not prepared for it, and also the attendees didn't seem to be as well groomed as your standard Fuji Rock attendee (just joking. Kind of.)

Once inside, Tokyo Big Site was crowded. Very crowded. I kind of went with the flow of the crowd and ended up in East Hall 1-2-3, which isn't where I wanted to go. I had studied the catalog a bit before going in, and that hall had a lot of stuff that I'm not into (mostly groups focusing on Full Metal Alchemist, Naruto, and women's comics.) I wanted to go to East Hall 4-5-6, which had some stuff from Ultra Jump. I was hoping to find some Tenjo Tenge and Dogs: Bullets and Carnage stuff, which are two manga series that I enjoy. I just had a hard time fighting the crowds, and figured I would come back a bit later. On the way, I picked up a sports drink. I was interested in getting "Comic Cure" - a kind of special drink for the Comic Market I guess - but passed on it. A normal Aquarius was 50 yen cheaper.

First, I wanted to check out the Cosplay portion of the Comic Market, which it is pretty well-known for. What is Cosplay? It is generally people dressing up as characters from manga or anime series, and people taking pictures of them. Since I didn't really know what I was looking for, I thought it would be most fun to go and check out the costumes and take some pictures. So I headed over to the cosplay area.

The cosplay area was out in the garden of Tokyo Big Site, outside. Apparently when it is rainy sometimes they cancel it altogether. The weather was nice, but started to get a bit hot. There was an incredible number of cosplayers and probably more photographers with varying degrees of pro-sumer DSL cameras. Some of the people had really incredible gear. I took a bunch of pictures, and some of my favorites are listed below:

You can see the full set here on Flickr, which includes a few women in skimpy outfits.

After the cosplay, I wanted to get something to eat and head back to the East 4-5-6 hall. All the restaurants were packed. So I just grabbed something quick, and tried to go to the East Exhibition hall. The place was jam packed. The hallway to get there looked like it wasn't moving at all. Since it was about 1:30pm, and I needed to get home to prepare for the fireworks in the evening (which I had somehow been roped into providing pizza for) I just decided to call it quits and head home. Without ever seeing any of the main Comic Market that I originally intended!!

So, based on my first foray into the Comic Market, what do I think I need to do to improve the experience?

  1. Find someone who knows what they are doing. Since I don't really have any Japanese friends that are into manga, this might be hard to do. I would like to make more friends though, so maybe I can look into the communities for this and do a more organized outing.
  2. If I can't get a guide, the next best thing to do would be to prepare beforehand. Decide what groups I would like to see, and find out where they are. That means buying a catalog in advance, and doing a lot more preparation work learning about the different circles and what they do.
  3. Prepare for longer lines better. Bring a small portable stool to sit on. Sunblock. A fan. Some snacks.
  4. Buy a bigger zoom lens. I was starting to feel inadequate next to all these people with large DSLR setups!
  5. Or, forget about it and just play it by ear again.

Overall it was a pretty fun day. Took a lot more time than I expected, and was more tiring than I expected, but I think I will give the Winter Comic Market a try too. Probably do a bit more up-front prep work and might just go later to avoid the long lines, but it isn't that far from home and was pretty interesting.


May 17, 2010

A small bar in Ikebukuro

Last Friday, R. and I went to a small bar in Ikebukuro. Our aim was to find the small bar Afiya, run by a friend of a friend. It is a really small wine bar that has a focus on food from Senegal. The place has maybe room for 8, so a very cozy atmosphere. We actually headed down a bit early (because I am an early to bed, early to rise kind of guy) but the place wasn't open yet. We called the proprietress and it turns out she wasn't planning on opening until 8pm, so we had about an hour to spend.

Luckily, right around the corner was Ete, another wine bar. It was a themed night. The place is actually very nice. I highly recommend it. They had some nice French food, some nice French wine, and the staff was great. The chef was a pretty taciturn guy, but the waitress / bartender was a very friendly young lady, who I later learned was much later younger than I thought! (23. Why does age always come up in conversations in Japan so often? I don't know.)

Anyway, a glass of wine and some appetizers later, we headed down to Afiya and met up with Kei, the owner. Then we had more wine, and some great Yassa chicken. Highly recommended. The regulars were also really nice and fun to chat with. Ben, one of the regulars, beat out a mean rhythm on the drum.

And we had a bit much to drink, but did make it back home eventually. If you are in Ikebukuro sometime, check Afiya out!

March 27, 2010

Tokyo Anime Fair and Hanami

Last weeked, R. and I had tickets to go to the Tokyo International Anime Fair. Why did we have tickets to go? That's a good question. It turns out that the President of Mushi Productions is a relative of Risa's father, and he passed on two tickets to the show. So we decided to go. We didn't have too much time there, but it was interesting. I would like to go back when I have more time. We checked out a few of the studios, I was interested in the China productions booth. They had a large booth, but not too many visitors. The big anime players were very popular, but I don't really know too much about anime, so it I didn't really know what was what. Risa and I had an appointment later in the afternoon so we didn't hang around for too long.

There were lots of foreigners there. They seemed to be pretty into anime. Maybe I won't go next year. Maybe I will. Hard to say.

After the anime fair, we headed out to Ueno park for a hanami party with our friends. Not much of a party really, only the four of us, but it is the time for cherry blossoms. Unfortunately, it is unseasonably cold. I was freezing. There were plenty of people out at Ueno park though, never let it be said that the Japanese are put off by a bit of cold. The party next to us actually seemed to be workers from construction, because they had industrial strength lighting (which the park cops had them turn off three times,) three generators, electric grills, all sorts of stuff.

Mibe and his girlfriend cooked up some great food, and there was plenty of drink to go around. That didn't stave off the cold though. Anyway, I'm glad that Risa and I got out for a hanami at least once this year - right now the cherries are at full bloom, and I doubt we'll get out again even though it warmed up. I might go for a walk tomorrow in the nearby park though. That might be fun.

I'll probably just clean though.


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