July 17, 2022

October 23, 2021

Trip to Angel Forest Shiobara in Nasu

We decided a few months back to take another trip domestically in Japan, since we were not going to do any international travel this year. We rented a house for three days and two nights in the Nasu Angel Forest that is dog friendly. They have dog runs, allow dogs to stay with you, there is a hot springs, pool, and some other stuff. It's up in the mountains, about a three hour drive from Tokyo.

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July 8, 2021

2021-06-21 Hoshino Risonare Yatsugatake

We've been in the pandemic, working from home, since February 2020. We went once to a cabin in 2020 September, out in Nasu, which was nice. We haven't had a chance to get vaccinated yet, and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics held in 2021 during a pandemic when Japan has about 12.5% of the population vaccinated, which isn't going to be good for anyone. We decided a few months back to take a vacation, and Lisa reserved 3 nights and 4 days at Hoshino Risonare Yatsugatake Resort in Yamanashi.

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September 16, 2020

Weekend trip to Nasu

We usually go to America in the summer for a month or three, but this year due to Corona Virus we didn't go. So we spent a bit of time thinking about safe vacations, and settled on renting a cabin in Nasu, a vacation spot about a three hours drive from Tokyo. A friend of mine is originally from Nasu, and ever since I've met him he's been talking about how nice Nasu is. There are really a lot of "vacation homes" (or maybe timeshares - hard for me to tell) out here, and there are a surprising (for me!) number of large and nice looking restaurants off of the main road. Many places are dog friendly, and have large parking lots, both rarities for people from Tokyo. I could definitely see coming back here on a regular basis, though the drive is a bit far from the part of Tokyo that we are in. We (my family and Lisa's parents, along with their two year old miniature Schnauzer Sakura) piled into our mini-van and drove out there on Saturday. Before checking in to the cabin, we went to a Soba place, "Seiryu no Sato", which has a stocked fishing pond, allows for dogs, has lots of outdoor seating, and is generally quite nice. I had an excellent Curry Soba. It was raining a bit, so we skipped on the fishing - that was the main thing that Alan wanted to do on the trip - and instead went shopping for some vegetables and bread for the morning breakfast.

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March 7, 2020

"Camping" at the deepest underground station in Japan: Doai

On the Shinkansen We were on the Tanigawa Max two story Shinkansen Sledding at Norn Ski resort Sledding at Norn Ski resort Octone Brewing Nice local beers! Nice view on the walk to the brewery


We took the Tanigawa Max Shinkansen from Tokyo to Jyomokougen (上毛高原). The trip was about an hour from Tokyo station. Our seats were on the second floor of the Tanigawa Max Shinkansen. I don’t think they are making more of the two story trains, so getting to ride one is pretty nice. The station we stopped at is only for the Shinkansen, the area itself is called Minakami-Machi (みなかみ町) and there is a separate station (Minakami station) for the local trains.

Then we took a bus about 20 to the nearby Norn Ski Resort where we played at the Kid’s sledding slope for about two hours.

A bit before 1pm we headed inside for lunch.

Took the 3pm shuttle bus to Minakami Station.

Then a 15 minute walk to the Octone Brewery. The town was small and the Main Street bear the station was full of abandoned shops. It reminded me of small country towns in rural Washington state. Walking for a while we started to come across some run down hotels, and what was obviously 30 years ago a very nice hot springs resort but now only just holding on as the star of a dying town. The brewery was really live and we filled up our growler after trying 2 tasting flights. We filled it up (1.9 liters of beer) and went back to the station. There was a 3:40pm train or a 4:40pm train. That was it.

We made it to the station with about 5 minutes to spare. We were headed to Doai station, two stops away.

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April 6, 2018

The Garcia Girls visit Japan

1 Arrival, 2018-03-27, Tokyo

Sunrise Express

On Tuesday, March 25th our cousins, the Garcia Girls, came for a visit to Japan. We often stay at their parents' place in Washington state when we visit, so we are super excited to show their kids around Japan. Their flight was supposed to arrive at about 5pm, but it was delayed by an hour and didn't get in until 6pm. When I asked them for the reason of the delay, I was pretty surprised: they had been in the air for almost an hour, then turned around. The airline said that they let off a sick passenger before they got going again. I've never seen such a thing happen myself.

I was happy that I recognized the girls, and they seemed to know who I was, so there's that. We headed down to the train station and waited in line to change in the vouchers for the JR Rail Pass. Anyone coming to Japan to visit should at least look into getting a JR Rail Pass. For about the price of a round trip Shinkansen ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto you can get a ticket that lets you ride JR trains for free, even including the Shinkansen (except for the fastest service, "Nozomi" trains, which sadly are also the most frequent). It is an amazing deal, which probably explains why we had to wait for about an hour to exchange the voucher. Once we did though, we were able to go to the Narita express and they could ride that for free.

We met up with Lisa and Alan, and then had Ramen for dinner.

We had a busy evening planned, although that was, to some degree, an accident. I knew that they left on the 24th, and told Lisa that is when they would get here, but of course the flight lands a day after it arrives. Since we were going to travel with them, we thought it would be fun to make it unique, and also do some things that we would enjoy. Alan really loves trains, so we made a reservation on the Izumo Sunrise Express, which is an overnight sleeper car train. They have various classes of service, and we reserved four individual berths. Each berth was super tiny - I could only stand up in the doorway, the rest of the berth was the bed, and my shoulder could almost touch each wall when in bed. It was longer than I was though, for which I was grateful. Lisa and Alan slept together - and the mechanics to get that to work must have been pretty difficult. She said she didn't get much sleep with all his moving around.

The Sunrise Express does have a shower on it, but you have to pre-purchase tickets for the shower from a vending machine. By the time we had settled in the tickets were sold out. Too bad. I hear that the showers are only six minutes long, but I'm sure the girls would have appreciated a shower after the long flight from Seattle. Sadly, they didn't get one.

I changed into the Yukata provided with the berth, prepared for bed, and then laid down. It was a strange feeling, trying to sleep on a moving train. We stopped every once in a while, and I realized that, but I feel like I got some refreshing sleep all the same.

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December 17, 2017

Alan's 6th Birthday

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Today, 2017-12-16, is Alan’s sixth birthday. This year, instead of getting lots of presents, Lisa’s planned a nice trip for him. Since Alan really loves trains (what six year old in Japan doesn’t?) this trip is a train-focused trip. His birthday conveniently fell on a Saturday, so we were able to take an overnight trip to a Onsen.

We had an 8:24 Max Toki Shinkansen on the Joetsu line. The Max Toki E4 series of trains is amazing - two floors of seating, carrying about 1634 people when two eight car trains are connected together. I have always wanted to ride in one of those trains up on the second floor. Lisa got us reserved seats in the upper floor - the upper floor are all reserved, and the lower floor is open seating - and we were off. The trains are actually on the way out, and will probably be withdrawn from service sometime in 2018. Right now these monster E4 trains are only in use on the Joetsu line, and all the previous lines that had used them are using newer trains that can go faster. These trains can only go 240 km/h (150 mph) which isn’t fast enough for Japan I guess. The fastest Shinkansen run at about 200 mph now, and around 175 mph is pretty common. I wonder if the newer trains will also be double decker; I somehow doubt it because so far I haven’t seen any plans for those, and they are likely to re-use existing designs I think. Who knows though? The Shinkansen are really popular in Japan, and a lot of effort is put into them, so maybe they will make another really high passenger capacity train.

We took the Shinkansen to Takasaki, which was about an hour out of Tokyo. From there we took a special weekend-only Steam Engine train. It ran from Takasaki (a reasonably large city I think - population of about 370,000 people) to the end of the line at Yokokawa. That place has a population of about 600 people unless I am reading the PDF that I found on the web somewhere wrong. At any rate, it was a small little town.

When we pulled into the station there was a local high school Taiko group playing Taiko as we came in. It was super cool. Even though it was cold outside, they were out there in short sleeves banging up a storm. We watched them for a while, and got lots of pictures of the train and the local mascots (Silky-chan and the Gunma-ken mascot) and then we went out to a local train attraction: The Usui Pass Railway Park. I couldn’t find any English information about it, but it was a large park (or maybe museum - you had to pay a fee to get in) that had lots of train related stuff. Lots of older trains, you could go inside some of them, and lots of small trains and other things for kids to ride. Which all cost money, but that is to be expected I guess. We walked around and saw some cool old trains, and even rode on their gear-toothed rail car. There is a local track that goes up into the mountains that uses a gear toothed rail apparently - there is a long hiking path that takes you to some scenic spots on it - and the place is a bit famous for that I think.

After our time in the train park, we went to get lunch at a place that has been doing Station lunch boxes for the longest amount of time in Japan - 150 years or so. They have a special lunch box called the "Kamomeshi" that was pretty good! The place was called Onogiya I think.

We took the steam engine back to Takasaki, but before the train left there was another performance by a local high school Taiko group. The steam train only runs on weekends, and each time it comes there are different groups doing things. The ones that were announced on the board were all Taiko groups, and sometimes there would be those local characters, or maybe not.

From Takasaki we took a local train back to Isobe. Apparently Isobe is the place where the Onsen mark was popularized. We had a nice dip in the Onsen before dinner, and played some card cames (Sushi Go and Uno) before having dinner and retiring for the night.

In the morning, we had a nice breakfast at the Onsen, and then took the train back to Tokyo. That means catching the once-an-hour local train from Isobe, and then transfering at Takasaki to the Shinkansen for Tokyo. We again rode on the E4 series, but this time it was a single eight car train instead of two of them connected together. We had non-reserved seating this time, which meant that we sat on the bottom floor of the train. You have very little view from the bottom floor - you mostly just see the wall of the Shinkansen track, and when you pull into the station you are literally at level with the platform. It is a bit surreal watching people’s shoes walk by.

We then took the usual train route home from Tokyo station, made it back in time for a leisurely afternoon at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, and had a nice dinner with them. I got a cake at the local cake shop, and we did the Happy Birthday thing. All things considered, quite a success!

December 9, 2017

2017.11 Trip to Korea

Alan at a gate
Lisa, Alan, and Dave at Gyeongbokgung Palace
Lisa, Alan, and Dave at Gyeongbokgung Palace
Guards at Gyeongbokgung Palace
Changing of the guards at Gyeongbokgung Palace
Guards at Gyeongbokgung Palace
When we were visiting New York over the summer, I met with lots of friends. While we were having dinner with Lena, a good friend of mine from grad school, she mentioned that she and her family would be going to Korea in November for a kind of Thanksgiving. Since Korea is so close to Japan - it is less than a three hour flight - and we haven't done much travel close to Japan, I made tentative plans to fly out to Korea so we could meet then.

We actually did make the plans, and spent about four days in Korea. We had lots of great food, although not many food pictures made the cut here. The first free day we had - a full Sunday - we headed out to Gyeongbokgung Palace. It was really nice. There were volunteer college students (I think? Maybe they were high school students?) giving tours in English, and our guide was very nice. She gave us some of the historical background on the palace, which of course I have promptly forgotten. The grounds of the palace are really nice.

After the tour and walking around, we went to a local place for lunch that has well-known dumplings of some kind. It was very nice. On the walk back to the subway we passed the Palace again, and were just in time for the changing of the guard, so we got some pictures and videos of that too. Very colorful, super neat.

Adventureland at a clothing store
Chicken in a pot
Great Congee for breakfast
We went to see a play called "Nanta" while we were there. It is a kind of action comedy play where the cast uses physicality to convey things to the audience, and they don't have many lines so you can enjoy the play without regards to language. The play was very funny. I enjoyed it a lot, and our five year old son thought it was hilarious. I definitely recommend checking this play out if you have kids.

We were able to meet my friends Lena, Ben, and their newborn for lunch, which was great. We had a really delicious Korean BBQ lunch at a relaxed pace. Afterwards, we headed to the North Seoul Tower. I think it probably has a more official name, but it is a tower overlooking the city, and has great views. They were doing a collaboration with Disney for Mickey Mouse's birthday apparently, which Lisa liked. We bought some postcards at the shop, and were able to mail them off from the tower itself, which was fun. We rode a cable car to and from the tower, which Alan enjoyed. There was also a strange elevator that traveled on a rail more like a train than an elevator which was also pretty cool. Otherwise we spent a lot of time eating lots of different Korean food. It was really good! I wasn't a big fan of the squid that was still moving around while you are it, but otherwise quite nice. For some reason there are coffee shops all over the place in Seoul. I couldn't believe how many Starbucks there were. It was really fun taking a short trip to a nearby country though, so I'll see if we can't try to do more of that kind of travel in the future.

Alan and Dave at North Seoul Tower
Alan and Lisa at North Seoul Tower
Lisa, Alan, and Dave at North Korea Tower
Alan sent a postcard from the North Seoul Tower
Lisa and Alan at North Seoul Tower

November 26, 2017

2017.10 October (work) trip to Taiwan

Dave in Taiwan
Alan eats some dumplings in Taiwan
Alan stands in front of some art
<Taiwan cityscape in the rain
Alan on a hippo statue
Alan at a Zoo
The Family at a fancy Beni-hana's restaurant
Alan and Lisa make and launch a hot air balloon
In mid-October, 2017, I took a trip to Taiwan for work. We left on a Friday afternoon, I worked Saturday through Monday, and we left on a Tuesday. While I was doing work stuff, Lisa and Alan went around Taiwan and did some fun sightseeing stuff. I got to look at the pictures afterwards - I wanted to back them up on a machine locally, and then upload them to Amazon Drive Photos, which is where I back up all out pictures. So I'm seeing a lot of these things for the first time myself.

Basically, while we were there we ate some good food - I really enjoyed the dumplings and the fried rice, I'm not as sure what else Lisa and Alan were eating - and Lisa and Alan took some trains and went around to different places. They found a Zoo, and had a fun time putting together a paper lantern that they launched into the air. It was raining almost the entire time that we were there unfortunately, but Lisa and Alan made a go of it. I think they had a good time, and it was interesting visiting another country for a short period of time. I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't been working the whole time!

September 12, 2016

Family trip to Kobe

Friday, 2016-09-09: Arrival in Japan

Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle

On September 9th, my father, sister, and her two children arrived in Tokyo for a two week visit. It is rare for family to come all the way to Tokyo, but my dad is going to the International Semiconductor Laser Conference and it is held in Kobe, Japan. Alana and her kids were able to come with him, so we're having a kind of family reunion in Japan!

Since dad is going to Kobe, the whole family will come with him for the first few days. They arrived on Friday night, and L. graciously went to pick them up in our mini van. By the time they arrived back at our place, I had picked up Alan and finished with the day care parent-teacher conference. We all sat down at about 18:30 and I re-heated some Costco pizza. I had also ordered two rental futons, and we were able to lay out half of the living room as a large sleeping area. Our visitors fell asleep almost immediately, which was great, because the following day would be a big travel day.

Saturday, 2016-09-10: From Tokyo to Kobe

We planned to take the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kobe. Alana and Dad both bought JR Rail Passes for a week, and our kids (Alan 4, Aurelia 2, and Scout 5) are young enough to not need a seat; they can ride on an adult's lap. There was a 9:10 train that we could ride. We did have one complication: the plan was to stop in Nagoya for lunch to meet family friends. I had arranged all of that, and purchased non-reserved tickets for my wife and I, so all we had to do was get to Shinagawa station sufficiently early to exchange our JR rail passes and catch the train.

There is a bus stop right near our house that takes us to Shinagawa station, so we caught that at about 8:10, and got to Shinagawa station at about 8:25 or so. Unfortunately, the JR Rail Pass voucher exchange doesn't open until 9am at Shinagawa station! So after all our planning to get there early, we did a lot of waiting. Also, I didn't remember, but the JR Rail Pass only allows you access to the Hikari and Kodama trains, not the fastest (and most frequent!) Nozomi trains. The Hikari train that would get us to Nagoya in time for our lunch was sold out of reserved seats, so we just had to take our luck on non-reserved seating.

We were able to make it to the platform in time for the 9:11 Hikari train, so that was fine. But the train was at capacity, and the seven of us had to stand! And it was literally standing room only! The kids were able to find a little cubby hole in between two sets of seats, so that was great, but the rest of us stood. Luckily, about and hour and a bit after departure at Shizuoka station many people got off, and we secured seats. The Shinkansen is a really great travel experience. I highly recommend it.

We arrived at Nagoya in time for lunch, and had a very nice lunch with the Maeda family, Mr., Ms., and their daughter Ryoko were able to make it. After a relaxed lunch, we caught another Shinkansen on to Kobe, where there was a complimentary shuttle bus to our hotel, the Kobe Meriken Park Oriental Hotel. Interestingly, my dad came to this hotel in 1983 for the same conference with mom just when the hotel had first opened - they were still apparently finishing a few things up at the time! Thirty years later it is still a nice hotel.

We were all pretty tired, so we took a walk to the nearby mall and got dinner there. The complex there has a ferris wheel, and from the hotel you get a very nice view of it. The ferris wheel has a neat lighting system which they use to put on little shows every once in a while.

I also snuck out after Alan fell asleep and got a drink with my Twin Sister at the View Bar which has, as expected, a nice view. (Keep going down to see more text. And pictures.)

Sunday, 2016-09-11: Himeji Castle

Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle shrine
Himeji Castle Plaza
Himeji Castle
Sleepy cousin
Hello Kitty Inari-zushi
Steak House / Meriken Park Oriental Hotel
Meriken Park Oriental Hotel Steak House
300 grams of Kobe Beef
Some vegetables and salt for the beef
Flame cooked Kobe Beef
Flame cooked Kobe Beef
Delicious Kobe Beef

On Sunday, we took an organized trip to Himeji Castle. It is about an hour away from Kobe by bus. We stopped first for lunch at a hotel, and did the standard Japanese buffet lunch thing. They had an ice cream machine, and real ice cream too, so everyone left happy.

The castle itself was great. The grounds of the castle is quite large, and we had a long walk to get there from the parking lot, but it was a very pretty walk. The castle itself has six levels, and very steep stairs up each level. The interior itself doesn't have much in the way of exhibits or history to see, but it is all very old. The wood is worn completely smooth. Alan really enjoyed having us pull him along the floor, skiing style. There is a nice model of the grounds on the first floor, and a few other things scattered around, but as you ascend the floors get smaller and smaller. I'm actually really curious about how the castle was itself used on a day to day basis back three hundred years ago. Did the Shogun live at the top? It is fairly difficult to access!

The crowd was pretty heavily, and we actually got split up into a few groups as we went. Lisa, Alan, and I arrived at the top and there is a small temple there. We made a small donation and then headed down. Going down takes a while too - the stairs are no less steep.

On the bus ride home, Alan fell asleep on his cousin's shoulder. Lisa and I went to the Sogo department store and got some Onigiri for dinner. Not the super cute Hello Kitty inari-zushi! Alana and dad at the stuff we got them, and then Lisa, Alan, and I decided to try the super fancy restaurant at the top of the hotel that specializes in Steak. In particular, Kobe Beef. The three of us went up, and had a very nice dinner on the Teppan-yaki grill with a personal chef. The dinner was cooked in front of us, and our Chef was very nice. He was kind to Alan, and made a special large fire presentation for him. The vegetables were great, and the beef was delicious. It was very tender, and just melted in my mouth. It was great with the salts, and there were also some sauces (Ponzu, Soy Sauce, and Wasabi) if you preferred those. The view from the restaurant was very nice, with a nice view of the bay and boats. After cooking the meat, the chef cooked up some delicious garlic rice. I was super stuffed from the earlier lunch buffet, but I finished all the meat. And a good portion of the garlic rice, but not all of it. I was sad to leave it, but thought that was the smarter choice for the evening.

February 10, 2016

2016-02-06 Trip to Sapporo.

Kiraito Ramen at Kiraito Modeled after the ruins of St. Paul at Macau Sapporo Shinkansen Sapporo Snow Festival Sapporo Snow Festival Art igloos Sapporo Snow Festival Shinkansen Sapporo Snow Festival Attack of the Titans Sapporo Snow Festival Ski Slope

A long time ago, back in October of 2015, I heard that a new Shinkansen was being built that would connect Tokyo to Sapporo. Good news! Actually, reading the information in Wikipedia (hopefully that stays about the same as when I read it) what is opening in March this year is the Shinkansen up to Shin-Hakodate, and the extension all the way to Sapporo isn’t supposed to be complete until 2030!

At any rate, that also means though that a luxury train that goes from Ueno to Sapporo overnight called the Cassiopeia, would be discontinued. That is too bad. Two or three years back another overnight train (I believe from Kyoto to Tokyo, and then maybe on to Saporro) was discontinued. When I saw that on TV I thought it would be super cool to take the family on a trip on a train like that. So once I heard that the Cassiopeia would be discontinued, I really wanted to get a reservation on the train for the family.

So I looked into it. Turns out a lot of people had the same idea as I did. So JR instituted a lottery system for reservations. I looked at the schedule, and thought about what would be fun to do. Since I also have always wanted to go to the Snow Festival in Sapporo I arranged for a two day (or three depending on how you looked at it) three night stay (including the train, if we got that) in Sapporo. I figured it would be easier to get train tickets on the way back to Tokyo instead of on the way there, so I decided to fly there, and take the train back. JR takes reservations a month before the actual date, so I had to wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Until I heard back in January at some time that we didn’t get the reservation on the Cassiopia train. Well, we did still have the airline reservation and the hotel reservation, and the JR travel agent could help me set up a train trip back to Tokyo, so I arranged for that. I was a bit rushed on the phone, and later realized that I should have done something a bit different - instead of flying there on Saturday morning, then taking the train back to Tokyo on Monday as I would have with the Cassiopia schedule, I should have taken a train to Hakodate and stayed overnight there before completing the train journey back to Tokyo. As it is now, we will have three trains: Sapporo to Hakodate, Hakodate to Shin Aomori, and Shin Aomori to Tokyo, taking a total of about 10 hours! Still, Alan likes trains, and so do I, so I think we’ll still have a great time.

So on Saturday morning, we got up at about 6am, and started to get ready to go. We had a 9:30am flight from Haneda airport to Shin-Chitose airport. There is a bus that goes from basically right in front of our house to Haneda airport (the Keikyuu Limosine) so we caught that at 7:39am, and got to the airport at about 8:00am. We exchanged our vouchers for the flight, and hung out at Haneda airport for about 40 minutes before boarding. The flight to Shin-Chitose took all of an hour and a half (compare this to the ten hours or so it will take for us to return on five different trains!) and from Shin-Chitose we could take an express airport train to Sapporo that takes about 39 minutes. Normally we could, but there were so many people with the same idea that we had that the first train departing was already full, and reserved seats for the next one were sold out. We lined up and waited the 15 minutes it took for the next train to come, and somehow managed to real seats for all three of us.

Of course, Alan left his bag back at the airport. I knew we should have made him take his backpack instead. (We called the airport later and they were kind enough to mail it back to our house, so we should see it again at some point.)

We got in to Sapporo and checked in to the hotel - it was only a few minutes walk from the station. A very cold walk. We then went out in search of lunch. Alan wanted to try some Ramen, and Lisa had some recommendations from friends who had lived in Sapporo. We went to a place called “Kiraito” ramen, in a neat shopping arcade two stops away from Sapporo station. It was really good! It was a small Ramen place that had only four things on the menu: Miso Ramen, Salt Ramen, Soy Sauce Ramen, and rice. The rice is just normal white rice, so it probably shouldn’t even count as a menu item. It was really good Ramen though. I’m not a professional ramen eater, so I couldn’t give you a review of the place, but it was good. I’m sure people more familiar with Ramen would be able to tell you the difference between a typical Ramen you would get in Tokyo compared to this, but I certainly can’t. I’m not even sure if that was typical Sapporo ramen, or what that would be.

After lunch, we headed over to Oodori park, where the Snow Festival is held. They have a lot of stands selling things, and every block or so there is a big snow sculpture. There were lots of people. You can only walk in one direction, so be careful about that. If you see a thousand people walking in the opposite direction that you are going, you should cut through the park and go to the other side. We got our picture taken at the big Church modeled after some church in Macao, and saw a few more sculptures. I wanted to check out the Shinkansen sculpture, and that was pretty cool. We were getting really cold though, so we walked back to the hotel, and picked up some pocket hand-warmers and foot warmers for the second try in the afternoon. On the way back we cut through a park that had a whole bunch of igloos with art installations inside. It was really neat! They were also passing out hot conbuchya (conbu tea - basically salty seaweed tea, not my thing) and hot Calpis (hot water mixed with Calpis - surprisingly good!)

After a bit of break, we headed back out. It was dark out now, and a bit colder, but with a whole bunch of hand and foot warmers and a back warmer strapped on, it wasn’t as bad as the first time out. Since it was dark now, many of the larger sculptures were using projection-mapped projectors to add color and animation to the sculpture. The one for the Shinkansen was really cool! There were lots of people though, and I was getting mad at people who would push by my while I’m holding up Alan so he could see.

We planned for dinner at a fresh fish Izakaya, and headed out that way. One the way we stopped at the exhibit near the start of the park sponsored by the White Lovers confectionary group. It was a huge ramp and they have a snowboard exhibition. A whole bunch of snowboarders were doing tricks off the jumps and stuff there. What was really amazing is that the first kid down was 10 years old, and he did a back flip in the air. A ten year old kid. That is just crazy. Apparently, kids can start (and often do!) snowboard or skiing lessons here from age 4. Wow.

We were getting pretty cold again, but instead of walking to the restaurant above ground, we decided to pop down into the Sapporo underground. The underground is really amazing, about the length of two train stops, from Sapporo station to Oodori station. It goes all over the place. We were able to walk about 95% of the way from the park to the restaurant.

Dinner was at a small Izakaya with a real local vibe. I wish people hadn’t been smoking there though. That is unfortunately a common complaint in Japan though. I discovered a new Japanese food that is totally disgusting and that I will avoid in the future. イカワタのルイベ. It is basically taking the guts of a squid, and freezing it, and then slicing it thin. Maybe they do some other things. It is disgusting. The rest of the food was good though, very nice Sashimi, and some good fried chicken and fish. I ate too much, truth be told. We took the underground back to the hotel and rolled into bed.

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January 30, 2016

2016 January trip to Nagano

HiSE 1000 On the way to Yudanaka A small shrine in Yudanaka Rising moon in Yudanaka shopping street Breakfast Breakfast
2016-01-22 Today I took half a day off to pick up Alan early from Daycare so we could meet up with Eric and Claire at Tokyo station. The plan was to go to Nagano, and more specifically Yudanaka. We are staying at the Yamazakiya Ryokan, which is near the Shibu Onsen area. In fact, the right across from the Ryokan there is an onsen run by the town that is free to enter.

To get there we had an adventure! We took the Shinkansen from Tokyo station to Nagano, and from there we took the Yukemuri express train on the Nagano Dentetsu to Yudanaka station. The Yukemuri train is very interesting - I thought that I had seen a train similar to it before. After some investigation, it turns out that the Yukemuri train is actually the old Romance Car 1000 HiSE trains from the Odakyu line. They apparently sent these older trains to the Nagano Dentetsu railway back in the early 90s. Nice to see them still getting some use! This particular train, the HiSE 1000, was built in 1986 and stayed in service until about 2012. The Japanese wikipedia entry on them is unsurprisingly much more detailed than the English one. I really like that these older trains (but not as old as I thought! I was guessing late 70s!) are still being used on a smaller rail line.

From Yudanaka station it was a quick 5 minute ride to the Yamazakiya Ryokan. The owner Akira is really nice, and came to meet us in his van. It is a nice two story Ryokan, pretty small with the family that runs it living in it. They have two (or three?) cute kids that are running around and look like they would like to play with Alan.

Across the street is an onsen. They warned us that it was pretty hot, 42 or 43 degrees C. That is what we keep our bath set to at home, so I figured it would be fine, but wow, either their thermometer is broken or ours is. That onsen was HOT. After a dip in the Onsen we went out to dinner. Just up the road was a Ramen place, run by an older woman. We were the only customers and she seemed a bit worried at first, but once we spoke some Japanese she was a bit relieved, and we got some ramen, fried rice, and gyoza. Pretty nice! We had a nice dinner, and chatted with the owner for a bit. She was very friendly and happy to talk. As we left she gave Alan two little cookies and a huge Fuji apple. We got back to the Ryokan a bit late, near 9pm. Alan really wanted to eat the apple, so he went at that for about 30 or 40 minutes, and at that point I forced him into the bath. The Ryokan has onsen too, and the temperature there was much more reasonable. It was great actually. Alan enjoyed it a bunch too. We got back to the room and did the standard bed routine, but when I turned on the TV “Kiki’s Delivery Service” was just starting and Alan was super interested in it. We watched for just a little bit before bedding down at 10pm.

Alan slept soundly until I woke him at 7:15am. We agreed at breakfast at that time because the plan for Saturday was to go to a nearby Ski park and play in the snow. We had a nice breakfast at 7:30am consisting of standard Ryokan fare: some fish, rice, a nice soup, maybe some pickled vegetables, a nice mountain yam, a small vegetable salad, and some tea. It was nice quite nice. The grilled fish was Salmon I think, and also great.
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February 28, 2015

2015 Austin and Dallas trip

Love and War in Texas Lisa and Alan Austin Guacamole sampler Texas State Capital Alan and Austin Mounted Police Texas Capital specific door hinges Texas State Capital Rotunda Texas State Capital Rotunda Texas State Capital
At the end of January, I attended the AAAI conference in Austin, TX. Since my father lives in Dallas, it was a great chance to bring the family and take a bit of a vacation. So, we all flew out from Tokyo to Dallas, about a 12 hour flight. That is quite a bit longer than the 9 or so that we are used to when going to the West coast, but because the flight we were on was direct NRT -> DFW, and the plane left late Alan slept most of the way, and it wasn't really all that bad.

We arrived at Dallas, rented a car, and drove to my dad's place. That first night we had dinner at Love and War in Texas. Lisa got the large beer, and it was very, very large. The steaks were also quite large. That turned out to be a theme all through our stay at Texas, lots of food. Lots of good food.

On Monday we drove down to Austin, a nice four hour drive. We stopped at one of the nice rest areas on the way, and it had a really nice park with a neat playground for Alan to play on. We were on a relaxed schedule and didn't get in to Austin until the evening. I'm not going to talk about the conference - it was a nice conference, and had a lot of NLP that was relevant to work. Interestingly it also had a few robots on display, and Alan really liked watching them. There was a robocup soccer game that Alan thought was great. Robots! Playing soccer!

The next day for lunch I met up with Lisa and Alan, and we walked across the river to 2nd street. We had lunch at La Condessa who had a great guacamole sampler. Lisa and Alan went to Zilker Park once when I was at the conference, and I have photographic evidence that they also went to the Capital building.

One evening we went out and visited from friends who live down by the Whole Foods. We stopped there once or twice over the week, and got some snacks / dinner / breakfast. It is a nice Whole Foods.

Another evening we went out for Ramen. That was certainly and experience. The ramen was pretty good, but the atmosphere was very different from what you get in Tokyo. More like a club with upbeat music and lots of open seating, as opposed to the small, cramped counter-only seating you usually get in Tokyo. It was also a very Austin college crowd. It made me feel old. The ramen was good though.

Midway Food Park Midway Food Park Louie Mueller Barbecue Louie Mueller Barbecue Louie Mueller Barbecue
Another day for lunch we all went out to Midway Food Park, a neat little place where there are a bunch of food trucks hanging out in a park. It was pretty cool. They also had a nice playground that Alan spent some time at.

On the drive back to Texas we detoured a bit and swung by Taylor, Texas to eat a late lunch at Louie Mueller BBQ. That was a great meal - paper for plates, great sauce, really good bbq, nice pickles, really great pulled pork (excellent when you made a little sandwich with the pickles and bread.) The place has had some great reviews, and makes the Texas Monthly list of top 10 BBQs in the state. It was definitely worth the extra 40 minutes or so to head off the highway. The town it is in is also a small, cute country town. Lots of open country on the drive around there too.

TV is corrupting our youth Space Pirates Welcome to America, Texas Style Welcome to Texas Doggy facilities at DFW
Once we got back to Dallas things started to get interesting. Both my twin and younger sisters flew out, and my twin brought her two kids with her. Also, a friend of ours came with her child, and two of Lisa's friends from Japan came for a week. Two of Dad's friends came as well, so there were lots of people in the house. Usually there is only one person there, but at one point there were 14 people staying there!

Alan and his cousin really get along well - his cousin is about a year older, and very active. Alan always enjoys running around with him. On this trip they had lots of fun playing in a spaceship (cardboard box) with their Space Ninja helmets (modified cardboard boxes.) Alan's cousin doesn't watch too much TV at his house (because they don't have a TV) so we probably exposed him to too much of that.

On Superbowl Sunday Lisa's friends arrived. We drove out to DFW and welcomed them to the USA in an appropriate way - with balloons and a US Flag. DFW has an interesting doggy potty facility in the parking garage. We also had a party at Dad's place. I think only one person watched the superbowl - which is probably a record for Texas parties on Superbowl Sunday.

DART to Downtown Mavs Express American Airlines Center Mavs Games Alan and Dave at the Game Three Generations of Evans at the Mavs game Lisa and Alan at the Mavs Game Alan and Lisa at Mavs Game Alan, Lisa, and Dave at the Mavs Game
On Monday February 2nd, I took cousin Scout, Lisa, Alan, Lisa's two friends, and dad to the Mavericks game. They were playing the Minnesota Timberwolves. We took the DART from Plano down into downtown Dallas, and before the game had dinner at the West End Hoffbrau Steak House. I used to really like the place back when they had the Cow Bus that ran from the Steak House over to Reunion Area for the games. I would take mom there every once in a while and we would go to a game together. Anyway, we all went out to the Steak House, and it was good, but unfortunately one of their specialties was out for the night. Still, good food, and they had nice play mats for Scout and Alan to draw on while the adult ate.

We had to quickly catch the DART for one or two stops to get from the West End to Victory Station, but that wasn't too tough. I was really excited to meet Dad at the American Airlines Center because then we had three generations of Evans men watching basketball together! That was great! Alan was excited to watch because I often watch the Mavs back at home, so he recognized the floor there. I was a bit worried that the area would be too loud for Scout, but he had a good time.

The Mavs won, but I don't think that was what was important to Alan and Scout. I think they enjoyed the timeout entertainment as much as anything else, and walking around the arena was fun too. A month later Alan still talks about it - we were up high, "like a tree". They also really liked the popcorn. I'm surprised anyone could eat anything after the large dinner, but we somehow finished off an order of popcorn. I think Lisa's friends enjoyed it too, although I doubt they had ever watched a basketball game before. By the time we got home, Alan and Scout were both exhausted, which made things a bit difficult, but we all managed. It was lots of fun, and I'm sure I'll remember that night for a long time.

Kids at the piano Perot Museum of Nature and Science Perot Museum of Nature and Science Downtown Dallas El Fenix
The next day we took a trip out to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. It is a really interesting building downtown. The museum was nice. They had an interactive exhibit / ride about shale gas drilling, which was interesting, although it really seemed like they have an agenda to promote there.

After the museum we stopped off at the El Fenix across the street for lunch. Which was great. And there was too much of it.

Panda Nigiri
For dinner Lisa's friends made a vegetarian soup and lots of sushi. One of the cute ones was this panda.
Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar B Que Fort Worth Stockyars Lots of strollers Buggy ride Buggy ride Buggy ride Cattle drive Cattle drive Cattle drive Cattle drive Cattle drive Cowboy Cowboy
The next day was a long drive out to Fort Worth for the Stockyards and the Cattle Drive. It was very nice. I think the weekends would be better, but weekdays there aren't many people so there are benefits either way. The vintage steam railroad wasn't running unfortunately, because Alan would really have loved that. That only runs on the weekend.

This highlight was certainly the cattle drive. Alan and Scout both liked that. I was amazed at how large the horns were on the Texas Longhorns. They are called that for a reason. There are a lot of cattle too. I wonder how much cattle business still goes on there - I know it isn't a small amount.

We didn't have dinner there, but we did have lunch before heading to the Stockyards. We had BBQ at Cooper's Old Time BBQ. It was pretty good, not the best I've had, but pretty good for sure. You could tell that there were a lot of locals there too, just from how they dressed. Seemed like a nice working class place with a bit of a tourist crowd, so more legit that straight up tourist places.

Japanese Facial masks Japanese facial masks Japanese facial masks
Watch the above video first. Then watch the one below. The video below is of us watching the video above and trying to do the Youkai Watch dance.
One evening Lisa's friends passed out some facial masks, which had a bunch of strange patterns on them. Actually, I think Lisa might have picked those up at Tokyo Hands come to think of it. We all put on those. I think they made us more beautiful. One of the things we did with the crazy masks on (besides taking crazy face pictures - it was very late at night) was to do the dance to the Youkai Watch "Youkai Exercise" video. I linked to a video of an English translation of the Youkai Watch exercise video. Youkai Watch is a kid's TV show, basically an updated version of Pokemon with a kid who can see Japanese monsters that are invisible to everyone else in Tokyo. The kid goes around and battles them or something and somehow his watch is involved, I don't really know. It is very popular here. With kids. Anyway, there is a song called "Monster Exercise" and it has an associated dance with it. We tried the dance. There are all sorts of crazy videos on Youtube if you search for "youkai taisou" so try it out some time. Also, try the translation of the video I posted, it is really funny. We had a blast trying to dance to it with monster facial masks on.
Clean Room Alan SMU Cafeteria SMU Wave SMU Meadows Museum

Group photo Family Photo Family Photo Funny photo Group Photo Family Dinner Lots of guests Going back to Japan
Finally, on one of our last days we stopped by Southern Methodist University where I went as an undergrad (along with both my sisters) and where my father still teaches. We stopped by his building, and did a quick tour of the clean room. We also met up with a photographer who took our pictures. Unfortunately, it was raining, but she was great and we came away with some really nice group shots. Since we only get together maybe once every few years i really like that the last time or two we have had professional photo shoots done.

We met up with even more family at the Red Lobster for dinner, and had a great time there. On our last day we all headed to the airport and started the long trek back home to Japan. It was a really great trip to Dallas, and lots of fun to see family. Alan is still talking about all the fun he had with cousin Scout and his Aunts, as well as Lisa's friends who were just great with the kids. We try to facetime with family on the weekends, but nothing replaces actually being there.

November 16, 2014

A trip to Nikko with the family

Toshogu temple
Toushougu Shrine
Toshogu temple
Dad, Dave, Lisa, and Alan at Nikko Toushougu Shrine
Sleeping cat at Toshogu temple
The carved sleeping cat up there is famous for some reason.
Toshogu temple
Alan was enjoying himself, even if I did have to carry him a bit.
Toshogu temple
We saw some of the beautiful fall colors as well.
Toshogu temple
Alan also ran around a lot on his own.
Evans family at Kegon falls
The four of us at Kegon falls
It is a bit messy, but we enjoyed the stay at a traditional Onsen. I do find sleeping on the tatami mat with the thin futon a bit tough, but for one night, no problem!
My dad came to Japan on his way to China for a three day layover. He's headed to China to give a talk at a conference (and based on my recent experience I had some advice for him!) We thought it might be fun to go on a trip, so we did an overnight trip up to Nikko. We piled all four of us into our tiny Mini Cooper (reinforcing the idea that we will need a bigger car if we want to do things like this more often with more people) and took off. Nikko was a nice two and half hour drive from Tokyo.

We made our first stop at Nikko Toushougu Shrine, where we walked up many, many stairs (still, no comparison to the Great Wall of China!) to see the grave of Ieyasu Tokugawa. It was a very impressive temple complex. We walked all over the place, and went to a nice yudofu restaurant for a late lunch. It was all tofu, so dad was able to get along just fine. Actually, now I'm not so sure that what we saw was the grave of Ieyasu Tokugawa. Based on the wiki article, it sounds like there are many shines in which he is enshrined (hah!) So perhaps there is some amount of his ash there, since cremation is very common in Japan. Actually, based on what my father-in-law was saying, burial is now illegal, so cremation sounds like the only reasonable option to me.

After lunch, we piled back into the car and headed up to Kegon falls. It was an amazing waterfall! Lots of water falling from the crater lake of a volcano that formed about 1000 years back or so. I think. Lisa said that it was well known for suicides. I think there are many places in Japan that might be well known for suicides, like the train tracks.

We had reserved an overnight stay at a hot springs resort on the Chuzenji lake. On the drive up, we took a famous road called the Irohazaka road. After the drive and settling in at the hotel we took a dip in the super-sulfurous baths. They were a bit too hot for Alan, but it was quite nice, and dad seemed to enjoy it as well. Afterwards we had a nice dinner, provided in the package (all the Onsen are like this, and include breakfast as well.) The only problem was that it was in the traditional Japanese style, and involved a lot of sitting on the floor. That is a bit tough for dad and I, but we managed. They even provided an all-vegetarian option for him, which was really nice. We all bedded down in a large room in four futons, with a super satisfying sleep given all the walking that we did.

I chatted with the staff to make sure that we could have western seating for the breakfast, which we got. So the next morning was a nice breakfast (assuming, of course, that you don't mind fish and rice for breakfast) before a leisurely check-out. On the drive back to Tokyo we stopped for some gifts (you usually buy some kind of local food / snack for people at home and work when you go somewhere, so we had to load up on those.) The drive was also pretty nice, and we didn't hit much traffic (surprisingly!) The next day Dad flew out to China - but it was great while he was here. Alan is still talking about Grandpa Gary. We'll see everyone again in July 2015 when we go to America (and probably a big road trip there too!)

November 15, 2014

A Business Trip to China

The CCTV building in Beijing
The CCTV building in Beijing. Can you see the air? You normally shouldn't be able to see air.
Tiananmen Square
I really liked the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.
Forbidden City
The Chinese Army have some hoops set up in the Forbidden City.
Forbidden City
The Forbidden City is amazing: huge, old, awesome architecture, and better history. Also, crowds! And look at the neutral gray sky; that is what I saw in Beijing for the first week of my visit.
Forbidden City
This long stone dragon carving is from a contiguous stone. I think.
Forbidden City
Upkeep costs on a multi-thousand year old property must be killer.
Forbidden City
This was in the gardens, and she was up on top of some strange stone looking object that had to have been created over a very long period of time in a very manual process. She had to climb over many "do not touch" signs to get up to the top.
Forbidden City
These nine dragons are probably important. I get the feeling that it might be nice to go here on a tour where someone speaks English. Or go here having studied some Chinese history.
The Great Wall of China in Badaling
Up to the Great Wall at Badaling! I highly recommend taking the cable cars, because you are in for a long stair climb otherwise.
The Great Wall of China in Badaling
The Great Wall was amazing.
The Great Wall of China in Badaling
Proof that I was at the Great Wall. (Overlooking the fact that Photoshop now makes pictures almost worthless as far as proving things go.)
The Great Wall of China in Badaling
Narrow stairs within the wall.
The Great Wall of China in Badaling
One last shot of the Great Wall. It really was amazing. I'll just note though that their wall didn't work: I was a dirty foreigner on the wrong side!
I went to China for work a while back. I spent four days at the China office working with our local team there, and then spent the next week in a training session in Beijing. Many of the participants in the training session were from Japan, which was kind of funny. Still, Beijing is only a short flight away from Tokyo (about four hours - almost nothing compared to flying to America!) so it wasn't all that bad. I was excited to go to China, since I had never been there before. I had to jump through some hoops to get a Visa, but it wasn't difficult at all.

What did I think of China? I had a really tough time there. The Kanji looks similar enough to Japanese kanji that I feel like I should understand it, but I don't. At all. The simplified characters make me feel a bit uncomfortable, and they often had characters in n-gram sequences that I just don't understand. I don't know any Chinese at all, and I couldn't communicate one bit. English wasn't super useful either; it was useful at one hotel, but not so much the other. Taxi drivers didn't understand English at all. Before I went to Japan I printed out a little sheet with the possible places that I might want to go (two hotels, work, and the airport) and used that. If it wasn't for that I wouldn't have been able to go anywhere. I actually took the bus to work mostly, and the second week of training was all located at the hotel, so I didn't do much traveling at all there. We did go out as a group a few times to dinner, and we had to take taxis then. That was a real experience. It probably took about 40 minutes to get three taxis. They each took different routes and got caught up in crazy traffic. When we tried to get taxis going back, they wouldn't always stop to pick us up. Or, once we told them where we wanted to go, the driver didn't want to go there, and wouldn't take us. I was amazed. Something like that would never happen in Tokyo.

The air was unbelievable in Beijing. The first week I was there, I didn't see the sky at all. It looked gray and overcast every day. The air was kind of dusty, and I had to constantly clean my glasses. I started to get a persistent cough. I can understand why people would not like the air quality there. On the second week it cleared up a bit, and I was amazed at how many skyscrapers Beijing seemed to have. I thought that if it was a videogame, I would have said that they have terrible pop-in and too much fog turned on. It was really amazing to me. I know that Los Angeles used to have a problem with Smog when we lived there in the early 80s, but they managed to clear it up. I don't know if Beijing is going to be able to make as much improvement because they already have cars with good emissions standards (I assume) and I believe a lot of their pollution comes from factories, which drive a large percentage of their GDP, which makes it difficult to try to cut back on emissions there without having an impact on global competitiveness.

Over the weekend that I was there, one of my friends from work was kind enough to show me around Beijing. We took one day and went to the Forbidden City and Tianeman Square. They were both amazing. The Forbidden City was huge. Unbelievably so. It had some really amazing architecture. You could spend hours walking around there and not see everything. Days probably. One thing I wanted to do was find the Starbucks in the Forbidden City. I never found it. It turns out that it was shut down a few years back by the Chinese government because of concerns about the image. I can understand that. I still really wanted to go to a Starbucks in the Forbidden City. They have some tea shops now, but it just isn't the same.

I really liked Tianamen Square too, but probably for the wrong reasons. The big picture of Mao, all the people, the China Dream, all that stuff is great. But I just kept seeing Chun-Li's stage. No bicycles though, just a bunch of cars. Too bad. Now that I am back and have done some internet searching though, it turns out that Chun-Li's stage never had a picture of the Forbidden City and Mao in the background. I thought I remembered a picture of Chun-Li in front of that exact backdrop, but I was wrong!

Security to get into Tianamen Square was really tight. We had to wait maybe an hour and a half to go through security. There was a person who once immolated himself in the square in protest of something, and the government really doesn't like that. So now they check for people bringing in fuel or something like that.

On Sunday we went to the Great Wall. I don't know if can say much about the Great Wall that hasn't been said anywhere else; it is an amazing wall. We walked up and down it. We actually took a cable car up the wall. I highly recommend that. If you don't take a cable car, you will have to walk up more steps than you can easily imagine. We actually had to walk down those same steps because the cable car shut down at some point for maintenance (and does so daily - watch the schedules!) but going down was bad enough. I am very glad we didn't have to climb up all those steps. I can't imagine trying to breach that wall without steps (or cable cars) and instead arrows coming down at you. Unbelievable.

All that said, the wall didn't work. I was on the wrong side!

Based on my experience at the Great Wall, I think if America builds a huge wall between Mexico and America all that will happen is that we get massive crowds of people taking buses out to the wall to climb around on it. I don't know if that would address the problem that people have with the US-Mexico border. It might be good for tourism though.

The drive back was slow - we hit traffic in Beijing and the two hour drive out turned into a four hour drive back. Crazy.

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.

August 2, 2013

On the road: Seattle to Dallas in a 1951 Pontiac

My dad has two cars that are in Washington state: a 1951 Pontiac, and a 1954 Hudson Hornet. The Pontiac is a car that his dad (my grandfather, Chet Evans) took delivery of when he owned the garage part of the Pontiac dealership (McGillvrae Pontiac, Omak, WA), and he drove it to the dealership from Oregon before it was passed on to the original owner, after Chet installed accessories: seat covers, backup lights and possibly the heater.

My dad then bought that very same car from the original owner (who lived in Okanogan, WA) in 1978 and used it while he was teaching at the UW in Seattle. When we moved back to California in 1979, the Pontiacc was left with Grandpa in Omak, and he drove it with some regularity until the late 1990s, at which time the engine was getting low on compression and the car sat in my grandparents’ garage.

Last year after she passed, we had the Pontiac and Hudson moved to a place near Spokane, where we had work done on them to make them mechanically safe for the trip to Dallas.

The Pontiac has had a lot of work, the engine was rebuilt, the pistons cylinders were bored out, the transmission was re-built, the brakes were re-done, the front suspension was rebuilt, seatbelts were added to the seats, and so on. This summer it was ready, and timing worked out such that I would be in Seattle for work in late July.

So dad and I decided to drive the Pontiac down to Dallas, TX from Seattle, WA to get it where it needed to go.

1 2013-07-23 Getting Started

I checked out of the hotel at 7:00am, and dad and I loaded up the car. We got on the road, and took I-90 out of town. We made a quick stop in Issaquah and took a few pictures of the Pontiac in front of an old Shell station that we saw there when we met some cousins for dinner once. Things went pretty well on the road, although going over Blewett pass the Pontiac had some trouble, slowing down to maybe 45mph or so. I think that's a pretty good pace for a car that is 62 years old.

We wanted to get some shopping done, but stopped for lunch first at Perkins in Ellensburg, WA.

We had wanted to find a grocery store or something, but got turned around and just ended up back on the highway. We decided to go through to Moses Lake where there was a Walmart super-center, which we thought would have just about everything we wanted.

We got an ice chest, and some ice. Some grapes, bananas, M&Ms, and water. We also got clip-on sunglasses (useful on the road!) some paper towels, mechanic's hand cleaning grease, a bunch of wrenches and a tool set, and a seat cushion for the driver. The seat cushion seemed to help Dad, but seems about the same to me. With the ice chest on the bench seat between us, we were set up pretty good.

Dad also had the radio fixed on the Pontiac. It is still the original vacuum tube radio, but there is also an ipod input on it – although the input works by connecting to the antenna input and not directly to the amplifier section. Line in didn't exist in 1951! The ipod to radio interface works pretty well, so we've been listening to some podcasts as well. The one problem is that if you have the air vents, both side windows, and both windows open, it is a bit noisy in the car and hard to hear. It is still possible though.

From Moses Lake we drove on to Spokane, and then continued on I-90 through Idaho, and into Montana. In Montana we started up another pass, but this time in the later afternoon. We slowed down a bit again, but seemed to be going ok. On the road there were a whole bunch (maybe six!) hot rodded custom model-As and model-Ts. They were from Spring Creek, TX. We'll have to check when we get internet access to see where that is, and whether we can stop there on our trip to Dallas.

On the final ascent of the pass, the temperature shot up. Generally the temperature climbs pretty high when we were going up the pass, so we would turn on the heater to max and turn on the fan to help cool down the engine. I didn't really notice a difference when the heater was on; the car was already hot, and we already had hot air blowing around, but it did seem to help the engine temperature a bit.

Probably about a mile away from the top of the pass, the engine started cutting out, and our speed fell down to about 20mph. I pulled over to the side of the highway, and shortly after the engine died.

We got out and popped the hood - the engine had definitely overheated, and the coolant blew out the overflow system's cap. It didn't look like we had an oil leak, which was good. Dad spent some time looking at some stuff, he removed the air filter and confirmed that the choke was set appropriately. (The Pontiac has an automatic choke, but it makes sense to check it.) We were also running low on gas, but verified that gas was being pumped into the carburetor. Potentially the fuel pump is a bit weak, and Dad was talking about maybe putting an electric fuel pump in once he gets the thing to Texas. Other things that might be a problem include: a clogged fuel pump, a bad coil, vapor lock (maybe related to the fuel pump, but also just because it ran hot.)

We took some time off, dad got in a quick run, I read some stuff on the kindle, and after an hour or two of a nice break – we had a chance to eat some fruit and other stuff – the car started up again. We were able to get going again, but did have another fifteen minute break when the engine quit for a second time on a second uphill portion. We pulled into a station and picked up some 50/50 antifreeze and water, filled up the gas tank, and took off again.

We pulled in to Missoula at about 22:00, and we visited with a friend of dad's before heading to a hotel.

Tomorrow we plan to change the oil, change the potentially clogged up fuel filter, and replace the coil. Then we head back out.

So today was pretty good: from 07:00 to 22:00 on the road, with a nice break on the side of the road in the middle, from Seattle, WA to Missoula, MN.

2 2013-07-24 Missoula to Ennis

In the morning Dad took the Pontiac to a shop and got the oil changed, changed the oil filter, and he changed the electrical coil. The first time he changed the coil, the car wouldn't start, but then he pulled it and put it on again and it worked. Seems a lot like debugging a program.

We got on the road, and things were good. We had lunch, and then had some trouble starting the car. Dad bought some starting fluid, and that helped a lot. So we drove some more but got stopped on an uphill climb. We did the same things we've done before (waited) and got back on the road after two hours or so.

Not too much after that the engine died again. This time dad pulled apart the carburetor, and there was a piece of the accelerator pump in the carburetor bowl. While we were working on this, a guy stopped on the road behind us. He has a '51 Pontiac as well, and he and his wife gave us some tips on stopping in Ennis. They have a NAPA auto parts store with a guy there that knows a lot about old cars, so maybe there will be some help there.

We have a few other ideas about what we can do to help the car. Insulate the metal fuel line since it seems like we are vapor locking when it gets too hot. We can also try to put some wooden clothespins on that fuel line to help radiate the heat, which is apparently a well known (but likely totally ineffective) solution as well. Also, we can try higher grade fuel. Older cars weren't designed to work with the high ethanol levels in modern fuel, and maybe higher grade fuel will help with that.

We did make it to Ennis, and stopped at the hotel that was recommended to us, ate at the restaurant that was recommended to us, and checked on when the NAPA auto parts that was recommended to us opens.

Things aren't looking too great, because the Pontiac has also now started stalling when you idle it. Maybe the idle is too low for some reason, although it is hard to figure out why.

Anyway, we'll see what happens tomorrow!

3 2013-07-25 Ennis to Yellowstone, with a lot of luck in between

We went to the Napa Auto Parts store at 8:00am when they opened up, and asked about parts for the Pontiac. We wanted to get a rebuild kit for the carburetor and an electric pump. They didn't have anything for the carburetor (we would have been shocked if they did) but they did have some electric fuel pumps. 12 volt ones. The Pontiac runs on 6 volts, but dad thought that a 12 volt pump would work, it would just work at about half capacity. We had some discussion with one of the guys at the shop who was pretty adamant that it would not work, and quoted Ohm's law. Dad knows that law pretty well, and tried to talk a bit about it, but in the end we didn't get in to any arguments and I was happy that nobody trotted out whatever degrees they might have (I think between the two of us we have 2 undergraduate Electrical Engineering degrees, and one PhD in Electrical Engineering, as well as a few other degrees not worth mentioning.) We didn't get anything at the Napa store, and headed out to the other store in town.

The other place didn't have anything that was helpful either, although they could have had a 6 volt fuel pump sent overnight. It wasn't clear whether they would be able to install it the next day. Installing the fuel pump (in line with the existing mechanical one) is a bit of a job: you have to mount it, maybe move some hoses or lines around, run electrical power to it, maybe mount a switch for it, drill some holes to get wires where they need to go, and so on. Maybe a 1-3 hour job on a good day.

While we were at the shop, we picked up some insulating wrap used to wrap exhaust headers. We thought that would help keep the fuel line cool. One of the guys there also told us that he had problems with vapor locking, and one thing that worked was to put some transmission fluid in the gas – that raises the density of the gas and raises the flash point so it is a bit harder to vaporize it. We put the wrap on the fuel line (with the help of some duct tape – and I actually did the wrapping myself) in the parking lot of the parts store. Hopefully that was helpful. It couldn't hurt anyway.

We went back to the hotel and made a few calls to parts stores in Bozeman, which is the nearest large city, and was recommended as a place that might have a 6 volt fuel pump. One place actually did have a 6 volt fuel pump in stock, and we asked about whether they knew a place that would install it. It turns out they did, and the guy could do it the same day! We told them we would be there in about an hour (it was 50 miles away) and we packed up.

After we got some gas (premium) we headed down the road to Bozeman. And the car stalled. On a straightaway. Actually, I should mention that yesterday, after putting the carburetor back together, I thought something was funny with the gas pedal. It seemed like it wouldn't go down as far as it used to, like something was stopping it about halfway down. Dad took a try at driving, and agreed that it felt strange, but after stomping on it a few times it was back to normal. That was yesterday, when basically we just limped up a bit of a hill and then went downhill from there.

Well, after the car pulled over about 800 meters from the hotel that we started at, we popped the hood and took a look. Part of the accelerator linkage was bent, and that is when Dad noticed that the previous day he had installed the linkage that sets the idle and fast idle (and is part of the automatic choke system) improperly when he put the carburetor back together! That explains why the pedal wouldn't go all the way down - until it was forced and bent the linkage. And explains why the car wouldn’t idle…

Dad used some duct tape to secure the automatic choke linkage out of the way and we were able to just barely limp up the mountain, then coast down to the flats. Bozeman was about 50 miles away, and we had a few more mountains in the way. There were some close calls where I didn't think we would make it, but in the end we were just able to clear the final uphill parts of the road, and we got to Bozeman probably at about 11:00am.

The parts store there did have a 6 volt fuel pump. We also picked up some other miscellaneous stuff, and then headed over to the shop (next door) run by a guy out of his garage. He had a truck up and had pulled the rear end on it. He took a look at the Pontiac, but was a bit negative when he realized that the job wasn't to swap out an electric fuel pump, but to install one where we never had one in the first place. That is a significantly harder job. He wasn't sure he would be able to get the car done since he had other business to finish, but after hearing out story he said he would take a look at it.

The mechanic's name was Jason, and he was just great. He was a younger guy, but really knew his stuff when talking about these older engines. He grew up working on cars apparently, and managed to move around his schedule so he could start on the pump installation right then. While he did that dad I did some work on the accelerator linkage—basically repairing the damage that we had self inflicted the previous day. We had bought some parts previously that we needed to properly reconnect the linkage, so after bending it back into place, we checked back in with Jason. He said he need an hour or two more, so we went off to lunch.

When we got back Jason was done! The pump was in, he had a switch installed nicely under the dash, and it worked great. We paid him (and gave a nice tip for all the trouble we caused him) and took off, headed for Yellowstone National Park.

I cannot stress just how amazing Jason was. He was fun to chat with, really knew his stuff, worked very quickly, and went out of his way to get us on the road again. It was really just amazing when you consider that there is no reason that any parts store really should have a 6 volt fuel pump. Those are just rare. We were very lucky that there was one near us, at a place that we could limp to in the Pontiac. Then we were super lucky that there was someone that could install it for us. That isn't the kind of job that you can do (or would want to do) easily on the roadside. You need a shop with a lift or at least a jack, power tools to cut some holes, wiring, all sorts of stuff. It is really amazing that we were able to find the right combination of parts and labor to get the Pontiac back on the road.

And it was really back on the road. We had a few hills in between us and Yellowstone, and it took them like a champ. Before, you could only give the car a little bit of gas. If you gave it too much it would cough, act like it wasn't getting any gas (which is wasn’t), and start to die. It would do that too if you just gave it a little bit of gas, it would still do that, but you could get a lot further. A bit further.

Now, if you put the pedal to the floor it would downshift and give you all it got. The engine is about 90 horsepower, so if you are used to a modern musclecar, or even just a modern* car, that isn't really much, but with the electric fuel pump (and our additional ad-hoc modifications like a wrapped fuel line, transmission fluid in the gas (only once), and premium gas) it would now power up the mountain and only lose a bit of speed. Down to about 50 instead of 20mph (or stalled.) We had lots of ups and downs, but the Pontiac took them all like a champ. We probably crossed the Continental Divide about 10 times.

Clearly this is what was giving us our problems. Before when you climbed a hill, the car would slow down, and the engine temperature would rise. Now the temperature stays pretty constant and you can go at a reasonable speed up the hill. That fits in well with what we suspect: the mechanical fuel pump wasn't able to supply enough fuel, making the engine run lean, raising the temperature, causing misfires, reducing the engine speed causing the fuel pump to pump less, reducing the fuel supply, etc. Now, we have enough fuel and the engine temperature doesn't rise.

It was just an amazing feeling. It took a while, but it even got to the point where we didn't start to worry at approaching mountains.

We made it to the Yellowstone entrance, and dad got a 65+ lifetime pass to all national parks for $10. That is cheaper than normal admission. He has no excuse not to come back. We drove around and stopped at a few places. There was one really neat geyser, and we met some nice people. Everyone seemed to like the car.

We decided that there isn't anyway way we could stay at the Old Faithful Inn (they book up in advance pretty quick) but we wanted to check at the lodge for some souvenirs and ask about a room anyway. It was about 17:30 when we pulled in to the parking lot. The place is just beautiful, old wood, huge. We asked at the registration desk whether there were any rooms open, and they said no, they had just turned some people away right before us. We asked if there were any other places to stay in the park – as young kids we stayed with the family in some cabins, and there are other places to stay here. They checked, and while they were doing that, a room at the Old Faithful Inn opened up! There was a cancellation, so we took it right away. Amazing! Our luck today has been unbelievable. Perhaps it is some sort of karmic payback for the vapor locking and hours that we have spent on the side of the road (about 6 over two days and three "stops".)

So we decided to go for a loop around the park. There is a highway that circles the park. Going by the map I guess that the full loop is about 160 miles or so. There is also a road that cuts the park in half, for about a 80 mile loop. We thought we could do that and get back by 21:00 or so. The restaurant in the Inn closes at 22:00, so we thought we would try to look around the park and come back for dinner.

We headed out and the car was great. A champ on the mountains. We saw some Bison, got out and looked at some geysers, saw an old bus (it was actually on a new chassis and engine, maybe a modern bus but made to look like the old ones) and stopped for a picture at one of the Continental Divide signs. We had crossed the Continental Divide a few times already, but didn't stop because we were going to fast. This time we were able to stop. While there we met some guys riding their bikes from Oregon to Vermont. Crazy! Two more guys cycled up and they were riding from Washington state to Argentina. Or something impossible like that (isn't there an ocean in the way?) They were all really great guys, and took some pictures of us, and then were interested in the Pontiac so we took some pictures of them. Lots of fun.

We finally did make it back to the hotel at 21:20, almost exactly three hours after we left. You could easily take a lot longer than that if you wanted to stop to get out and look at things. A full loop of the park would probably take 6 or 7 hours just driving, much longer if you actually stopped to look at stuff.

We're in the hotel room now, and while there isn't any tv or internet access, that is just about how a place like this should be.

The plan tomorrow is to get up and go for a run, then take some pictures at Old Faithful, hopefully with the Pontiac in them. Then we'll head south and see how far we can get.

Things are looking up!

4 2013-07-26 Buffaloed by buffalo

This morning dad and I got up at about 6:30am and went out for a "run". We went at dad's pace, so a brisk walk. We did about 5km out around Old Faithful and the surrounding geyser area. It was a really nice walk, with lots of interesting things to look at and some interesting signs about the geysers. It was a bit chilly, but we had enough to talk about and look at to keep our minds off of the cold.

On the way back to the hotel, within sight of it actually, we saw a strangely shaped rock in the distance. Getting closer, it turns out it was a statue of a buffalo. Getting closer, it was a buffalo. A real buffalo. That was looking at us funny. We probably should not have worn bright yellow and red shirts. A park ranger was there and yelled at us to keep at least 25 yards away. I have no idea what that distance is. We took some pictures and edged around behind the buffalo. Amazing. Just amazing.

We then packed up the Pontiac and headed out. The trip down to the South exit was very pretty. We weren't always even the slowest car on the uphills (but probably we usually were.) We drove out through the exit, and then went through the Grand Teton national park. Those mountains were amazing. There was nothing on the road until we hit Jackson Hole, where we got some gas and lunch from the Albertson's supermarket. Then we headed on to Pasoga Springs, Colorado, where a friend of dad's lives.

We were doing great, until somewhere around Utah I noticed that there was a burning smell - I had noticed it a bit before, but thought it was a forest fire off in the distance or something. Dad also noticed that the battery charge gauge indicated that we were pulling current from the battery! We pulled over in a gas station and popped the hood. The generator was not generating. That is a problem. You need to have a generator, because in order for an engine to run, you need a few things. One of them is gas (which we had some major problems with, until we got that electric fuel pump installed!) another is air, and another is a spark to ignite the fuel and cause the explosion that pushes the pistons. The spark is generated by the spark plug, which needs electricity to run it. That comes from the battery. You can't just use the battery though, it will eventually run down. So cars have generators (or alternators more likely if you have a car that is anywhere near modern) that use power from the engine to generate electricity and re-charge the battery while the engine is running. Nice. So we didn't have a generator. That was a problem.

Dad removed the generator from the battery circuit so it wouldn’t short out the voltage regulator and leave us with two broken parts. We couldn't remove it entirely because the belt that it was driven off of also drives the water pump for the cooling system. So we needed the belt to be tight to drive that, which means the generator needs to be in the belt loop. Dad actually has an older generator in the trunk, but that needs some work before we can try it (mostly it needs to be cleaned out since it was sitting outdoors since the 1960s.) What we decided to do was to buy a battery and a battery charger so that we could charge the battery overnight, and swap out for a new one if we needed during the day.

We went to a Walmart, but they didn't have anyone to help us in the automotive section. They did have a battery charger that would work for 6 volts, so we got that, and then headed out. By chance we spotted an AutoZone, so we stopped there and got a spare 6 volt battery. And some bungie cords to tighten it down, since it is the wrong shape for the battery shelf in the Pontiac, but we can probably shoe-horn it in there if we need to. Then we drove another 60 miles. In the dark. With the lights on. Which are a huge drain on the battery. The battery that is in there is a really good one though, and seemed to be fine. We decided to stop at about 10:30pm since we could get up at sunrise and drive without the lights which would be less drain on the battery (it has to power the spark plugs, remember) and would be safer to boot. So now we are charging one battery in the room and Dad is cleaning up the spare generator outside.

(A few hours later.) It is now 1:30am, and I can't believe it, but we managed to fix the car. The spare generator, an old one from Uncle Jay's Pontiac engine, actually worked. Dad cleaned it up, especially where the brushes contacted the commutator, we removed the installed generator, and put the old one in. That should have taken about 20 minutes (I guess if you are a practicing mechanic, in a shop with the right tools, and it isn't pitch black outside) but took us about two. Maybe. I'm not sure. We both thought there was no way that this would work - at worst we were back where we started - but when we started up the engine, it showed the battery being charged. Truly amazing.

I can't believe how we have had such great luck and managed to fix all these problems that have popped up. What an adventure.

Next time we do this though, the car will have a 12 volt system. This 6 volt system has made a hard task even harder!

5 2013-07-27 From Price, Utah to Tucumcari, New Mexico

There isn't much to say about today. We got up and were driving by 8am. The plan was to get going earlier, but we got some extra sleep in the interests of safety. I did most of the driving since I had a few hours more sleep than dad.

We drove, and drove, and drove. The generator generated. The fuel pump pumped. The car went. It was a great feeling. Not much happened on the road. We went on the smaller backroads, which was a lot of fun. We went through a few small towns. There was very, very little in Utah. It seemed like a sage-brush filled wasteland.

Entering into Colorado the scenery greened up a bit, and it really looked like nice country. It was a very sparse country though, and at one point I was worried that we would run out of gas since it was sometimes an hour or almost two between gas stations.

We stopped off at Pagosa Springs to visit with Sue, a friend of dad's from when he was working at JPL as a grad student and post doc. Sue and her sons Eric and Phil were the first to babysit Alana and me. They were quite nice, and had a lot of cats and dogs.

After that we headed back out. We had eaten lunch in the car earlier (Subway - a really good meal and easy to do in the car!) and didn't stop for dinner either, although we did have a lot of fruit. And Peanuts in M&M form.

We drove down into New Mexico, and parts of that place look like another planet. At one point we crested a hill and were directed to the other side of the road to detour around a helicopter that was there to (presumably) airlift someone out to the hospital. We didn't see any wrecks, so they must have been hiking or something.

We didn't run the radio at all since we were worried about the generator giving out. It was fine. Once night fell we turned on the lights, and while the generator wasn't able to give a surplus of electricity with the lights on, it was able to keep the lights from drawing from the battery.

We figure that we can use the radio tomorrow if we want, just because we were able to get the remaining distance down to about 470 miles, or about eight hours. We can probably get back on the battery alone during daytime if the generator gives out.

Anyway, we drove until about 10:45pm, and checked in to a hotel at Tucumcari, New Mexico. Tomorrow morning we'll get an early start and check out Amarillo, TX and Route 66. After that we'll head back to Dallas, and if all goes well will arrive in the late afternoon, with a whole day to spare!

6 2013-07-28 From Tucumcari to Plano

We got an early start and were on the road by 7:00am. We forgot about the time zone change, so once we entered into Texas we lost an hour. There wasn't too much going on from New Mexico into Texas. Once we got into Texas we took an exit for Historic Route 66. We road along that for quite a while, but at some point it turned into a gravel road! And then a dirt road! We had to get back onto I-40, and we stayed on until we found an exit for Cadillac Ranch.

Cadillac Ranch is an art installation that has been around since the sixties. It is basically a bunch (10) of older Cadillacs that have been jammed nose-first into the ground at a 45 degree angle or so. People are encouraged to spray paint the bodies of the cars, and they are very colorful. It is a really interesting project. There were lots of people visiting, from all over the place. We had wanted to drive the Pontiac up close to the installation but that wasn't possible. We did get some shots with the Cadillacs standing in the distance though.

We got back on the highway and drove through Amarillo. We didn't find too much Historic Route 66 stuff, unfortunately. It was just a normal city, so we got some gas and drove on. There wasn't really too much interesting out of Amarillo; we just were on some big roads for a while. Eventually we made out way to 286, which headed West pretty much across Texas until we hit I-35, and we know our way home from there.

We pulled into the house in Plano at about 5pm that evening.

Can you believe it? According to the Odometer we had come about 2700 miles, in a car that is 62 years old. We had two major failures: fuel pump not strong enough, requiring the installation of an electric fuel pump, and the generator failing, requiring replacement with an old one that was in the trunk. The chances of that old generator working were tiny, but it actually worked. Dad didn't bring it along as a back-up, but as something that he would have rebuilt once we arrived. So that was just very lucky. We were both kind of curious how far we would have been able to go just on the battery alone; we think we could have made it in about the same time with two batteries and a charger, but we never had to test that theory.

It was a really great trip. Part of the adventure of driving a classic car is dealing with the adversity that it presents: no modern conveniences (no air conditioning, power anything, comfort), very high likelihood of some sort of break down or problem, and a change of mindset to a more slow-paced, relaxed trip where we could see the sights.

Dad still has a 1954 Hudson Hornet in Washington state that he will need to get to Texas at some point. It is also being mechanically restored, and he will have the electrical system switched out to a 12 volt system since he's having the wiring redone anyway. There is a chance that we can have another adventure like this next year.

I'm looking forward to it!

*Dad’s definition of a modern car: hydraulic brakes, 12 volts and overhead valves. His definition of a luxury car: a modern car with air conditioning.

December 23, 2012

Disneyland in December

Lisa, Alan, and I flew to San Diego last week and will stay here at my sister's place through the new year. Last week we also decided to go up to Disneyland for three days (THREE DAYS!) to get a taste of the American Disneyland park. We had come here together before Alan was born a few years ago, but that was just for one day with a park hopper ticket, which didn't leave us enough time to really experience what both parks (Disneyland and California Adventure) had to offer. So this time we booked the Grand Californian Hotel for two nights.

The hotel was quite nice, a very large room, and had two queen sized beds. On our first night there, Alan (for the first time ever) got a bad fever, so we had a real tough time. After a bunch of calls to the front desk, who were super helpful, they were able to provide us with disposable thermometers, baby advil, additional towels, and some bags for ice. This was all between 2am and 4am, and the Disney staff was really great. Of course, since Alan got sick, that eventually got passed on to me, and I am now feeling terrible, but I guess you have to expect that when you have kids.

I've stuck a bunch of pictures over there to the left. We decided to get the Disney Photopass plus on our second day. I really should have pre-ordered that thing, since it costs $70 if you pre-order, and $100 if you don't, but at any rate it was worth it. The photopass plus basically lets you get your picture taken by the disney photographs that are all over the parks, and after your trip, you can download all of those pictures. The flat fee gives you access to all the pictures, which is great because you don't have to pick and choose and then pay for each one. We got about 100 pictures, so that comes out to about a dollar a picture. Not bad. The photographers will also take a picture with your camera, which is really great, but their equipment is better and they have it set up to get really great shots. Particularly the shots of Snow White's castle at night turned out well, whereas with my camera the white balance wasn't quite right, and the flash exposed our faces well, but the background was more washed out.

We were lucky that my younger sister Jana and her husband Marco were able to join us for the three days, and on the last day my dad, Alana, her husband, and her son Scout were able to join the five of us. We got a whole bunch of group shots in that time, which is great, since it is very rare for the whole family to get together.

Going to Disneyland with a kid (a one year old in our case) is a lot different than when you are alone. I'm not really a big disney fan, and in fact I get very sick on most rides, so I don't really ride many things, but since we had Alan we didn't ride much at all. Disney does have this one feature which is great though: parent swap. You can get in line, and ask for a parent swap card, which lets one parent wait in line while the other takes the child off to do something. The cards are good for two people, so in our case Marco and Jana waited in lines, which Lisa and I fed Alan lunch or whatever. We did that with a few rides, most notable being Radiator Springs Racers and I think also California Adventure. That system makes it much easier to take care of a young child, and makes it really convenient if you have some friends who will wait in line with you. When your friends are done waiting in line, they pass the ticket back to you, and you essentially get to join the fastpass line for the ride. So you don't have to wait very long.

I was super excited to see Cars Land in California adventure, which is based on the Pixar movie Cars. The only ride I wanted to try was Radiator Springs Racers and it was the first thing we rode (I think.) It was great. I really like the whole feel of Cars Land, it looks just like it came right out of the movie. I get motion sick very easily, but as long as the rides are smooth and don't make sudden jumps or drops, I am ok. Radiator Springs Racers does have one or two quick drops and jumps, but I was generally fine with it. It was a lot of fun. We went through the path that has you go through Ramone's Body Shop, although apparently you can also go through Luigi's tire shop as well. It was lots of fun. It looked like the line had a lot of neat stuff in it too (we skipped that with the parent swap thing) so that might have been neat to see also. Highly recommended.

We ate at Flo's V8 cafe, which was ok, but expensive for what it was. Since we planned to spend 3 days at Disneyland, I expected that we would spend a lot more money than reasonable and eat a lot of food that was just average. The decor was great though.

I don't really remember too much what we did in the afternoon, we had to drop Jana and Marco back off at their hotel, and then we took the monorail over to Disneyland. I was really surprised that they made us fold our stroller on the monorail. The monorail is really small compared to the one at Tokyo Disneyland, which is more or less a normal form of transportation compared to the one at Disneyland, which is like a small scale toy monorail. I think we rode the Buzz Lightyear ride, did some shopping, and then headed to dinner at Goofy's Kitchen.

I reserved one "Character Dining" experience which we used as dinner at Goofy's Kitchen. It was a buffet with a pretty reasonable selection, where a bunch of disney characters would come to your table while you eat. It was very popular with the kids. Alan was a bit too young to really appreciate it, but we got a few good pictures with some of the characters. The food wasn't bad, and I did certainly eat a bit too much. If you don't like loud kids though, this probably isn't the place for you (but then, is Disneyland at all?)

That evening, unfortunately, Alan started to sound a bit sick so we went back to the hotel after dinner. He napped for a bit, but was burning up and couldn't sleep. Like I already said, the Disney staff was great in getting us stuff that we needed to make sure that Alan had as comfortable a night as he could. The baby advil seemed to work and brought down his fever enough that he could sleep. We caught a few hours of sleep as well, but it was probably on the order of two to four hours of sleep for the parents.

We got a bit of a late start on Wednesday due to the sickness, but were able to meet up with Jana and Marco. We split our time between the two parks. We met Jana and Marco at Cathay Circle and rode the Soarin' over California ride (again with the parent swap thing.) I normally get pretty motion sick, but Soarin' was smooth enough that I didn't have much trouble. After that we tried to meet back up with Jana and Marco, but we got stopped by a parade. A parade! Those are great fun. So we watched that for a while. Then we met up with Jana and Marco and probably wandered around a bit more. I don't really remember. At some point in the first or second day we rode the Ariel ride, and Lisa and some other people rode the roller coaster on the Paradise Pier which I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole if the pole operated by telemetry from an undisclosed bunker location multiple states away. I do remember that we left the park early in the afternoon (like at 4pm or so) to go back to the hotel because Alan was coughing and seemed to be sick again.

Alan slept a lot on on Wednesday night, so that was good. He was pretty clearly sick though.

Thursday was our last day, so we checked out and had the front desk store our luggage. Then we headed out to the Disneyland gates and met the rest of the family. The plan was to have lunch at 11:30am at the Cafe Orleans (it was the only place we could reserve for a party of 10.) We went to Small World before lunch, and rode the carousel. At lunch we got some birthday celebration stuff (Alan turned 1!)

After lunch some of the big kids rode on Big Thunder Mountain (yet another I passed on.) Then we tried Matterhorn. That is one that I did try, and it was a little rough, but I came out of it ok. Then I bought some popcorn (which was delicious) and everyone ate it up in quick order. We went to the line for the Casey Jr. Circus Train (which was probably the longest line we waited in!) and by the time we rode that, we were hungry so got dinner and some people left. Lisa, Alan, and I made one more pass through the park (hitting Cars land at night) then returned to the hotel to pick up our luggage and drive back to San Diego.

Aside from the people getting sick, it was a very successful and fun trip.

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!


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.


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.

August 17, 2012

The Wedding of Jana Evans and Marco Rosichelli

So, as I mentioned in my last posting, my younger sister Jana Evans got married! Jana's been amazing since I knew her. It must have been tough growing up five years behind a pair of rambunctious twins, but she managed it. She also moved at about the start of high school from New Jersey to Texas, just to ensure that she would end up with a ridiculous accent. Or maybe because her older siblings and father all moved en-masse to Southern Methodist University. It was one or the other, I forget.

Well, she was always a kind younger sister, and never caused any problems. That I knew about. And now she's marrying a exemplar gentleman, Mr. Marco Rosichelli. Lisa, Alan, and I flew out from Tokyo for their Wedding in Helena. I had never spent much time in Montana (if at all!) so it sounded like a lot of fun to me. I was also excited to introduce Lisa to a new state and location, since we always seem to only go to one of a few pre-determined locations: San Francisco (really, Palo Alto, for work); San Diego (for my twin sister); Dallas, Texas (for my father); Seattle (for work); various small towns in Washington state (for family); or New York (for my friends.) So Montana is new to us. I also thought it would be fun to do an old-fashioned road trip.

I looked it up, and we could have flown from Seattle to Helena, but with a kid flying is tough, and I also wanted to stop along the way and visit with family. Since that would mean way too many flights to some tiny airports, instead we rented a car. And drove it 1,400 miles in a week and half. All told, it was fun. Alan slept very well in the car seat, and when he wasn't sleeping he is at the age that it is pretty clear what the problem is (bottle or diaper basically.)

We were able to stay with family and friends of family along the way, so didn't incur much in the way of hotel costs. I enjoy driving in the US, which is a change from driving in Japan, and after a good day on the road, we arrived in Helena (after staying overnight with family in Wenatchee.)

We spent some time with Jana and the family in Helena, taking a tour, hitting a Carousel, and things like that. The day of the wedding, which started at about 8pm in the evening, we dressed up and took off. (After a great steak dinner at Chubby's bar.)

The wedding was a the home of one of Jana's friends, up in the hills surrounding Helena, Montana. It was a beautiful home built into the side of the hill. Of course, all sorts of family was in attendance, as well as many friends of Marco and Jana. They both have been at the Archie Bray Foundation for Ceramic Arts and have made many good friends there. A friend of their officiated the wedding, which included a traditional (of some tradition) binding using a large rope. It looked like it was pretty permanent.

Our Aunt, Laura Kirk, made the wedding cake. The cake was a quirky as Jana; a standard seeming cake on the outside, on the inside were brightly colored polka-dots of cake. It was apparently quite a trick to figure out how to do that. I don't really know the technical secrets behind it, but I think it involved cooking multiple small polka-dot shaped multi-colored cakes into a large cake.

The dancing went on into the night, and I think we just made it home before midnight. It was a great wedding, and I wish the best to the newlyweds!

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