February 2, 2018

Fighting game events in Tokyo, 2018 February and March

2018 January Fighting Game events, 2018 April and May Tokyo Fighting Game Events

It seemed like it was useful to track the fighting game events going on around the 2018 EVO Japan tournament, so I'm going to also keep track of things that are going on in February in the Tokyo area, to the extent that I know about. This isn't a comprehensive list, but feel free to contact me if you want me to add anything.

Very generally:

  • SFV event (Fighter's Crossover Akihabara – FCA) on Wednesdays at Akihabara ESports Square (the place) starting from 7pm.
  • On Friday there is usually a SFV event at Studio Sky.
  • On Sunday there is usually a SFV event at Studio Sky.
  • Shot Bar Lucy has different events on different days, and usually on Friday night is an all-night event featuring various games.
  • The Plaza Capcom at Kichijoji (Map) has the Capcom eSPORTS Club which has free SFV setups, and often runs events.
read more (1593 words)

February 1, 2018

Japan Pro Gaming License quick translation

Translated from http://chigesoku3.doorblog.jp/archives/52891378.html

It was announced 2018-02-01 that the "Japan ESports Union (herein-to JeSU)" was founded. This is the birth of a new union with cooperation of a variety of existing esports organizations and game maker organizations.

JeSU is involved in running the 2018 Japan Game Party that will be held on Feb. 10th and 11th at Makuhari Messe which will be the first of its kind to host tournaments where pro licenses will be issued.

The definitions and regulations for issuing a pro gamer license have also been announced. A pro license will last for two years, and one will need to attend a class to obtain or renew the license. For existing pro gamers they developed a system of "Issuing licenses to guaranteeing authorities", and it is believed that many fighting game pro players will be able to obtain a license in this manner.

  • Pro Gamer Definition
    • Has the consciousness of a Professional (tl note: Japanese way of saying "takes it seriously")
    • Follows the values of sportsmanship in their play
    • Devoted to improving their technical skills on a daily basis (tl note: Only lab monsters allowed? What about players with HEART?)
    • Contribute to the growth of e-Sports domestically
  • Persons Eligible for License

People fulfilling the qualifications below can be granted a license.

  • Those who pledge to uphold the conditions mentioned in the pro gamer definition above
  • Those who have obtained excellent results in tournaments that this association has officially recognized for game titles that this association officially recognizes (tl note: no clear definition of what placing is considered good enough)
  • Those who have taken the lecture that this association indicates
  • License categories (2 types)
    1. "Japan eSports Pro License"

    This license is applicable for those over 15 years old, who have completed their mandatory educational obligation. * People under 20 years old need their guardians' permission.

    1. "Japan eSports Junior License"

    This license is applicable to those between 13 and not yet 15 years of age to whom there would be value in having a license. * They are able to receive non-monetary prizes, but can not receive monetary prizes. * With the agreement of the licensee and their guardian upon reaching age 15 a Pro License can be issued.

  • About issuing licenses in non-regular conditions "Issuance of licenses to guarantors of results". To take into account past performance since license issuance begins, we will issue pro licenses or junior licenses to people who have shown exemplary performance in past tournaments for officially recognized titles. * The IP holder will need to agree to the license issuance.
  • Treatment of Teams
    • Team license issuance.

    If a team has an official legal entity, and the IP holder approves, a team license will be issued pending approval of this association. * However, additional rules and regulations along with paperwork will be required.

    • If a team has at least one person that holds a license, then that team will be able to participate in officially recognized tournaments. * However, the prize can only be rewarded to the license holder.
  • License expiry
    • Licenses last for two years. * License renewal will require an e-learning course.
  • Management of License Issuance
    • Licenses are issued on a per-title basis.
    • Based on the three items below, this association steering committee will play the games, and decide on what the eligible titles should be. (tl note: I'm not translating this wrong AFAIK, but man I hope I am wrong.)
      • The game itself must have competitive play
      • The game must have been on sale for and/or been operating for more than three months.
      • The title must be scheduled to appear in tournaments

https://www.inside-games.jp/article/2018/02/01/112492.html

As of Feb. 1st, 2018, there are the 6 titles for which pro licenses will be issued:

  • Winning Eleven 2018 (PS4/PS3 Konami Digital Entertainment)
  • Call of Duty World War II (PS4 Sony Interactive Entertainment)
  • Street Fighter V Arcade Edition (PS4/PC Capcom)
  • Tekken 7 (PS4, Xbox One, PC Bandai Namco Entertainment)
  • Puzzle and Dragons (ios/Android Gung Ho Online Entertainment)
  • Monster Strike (ios/Android Mixi)

January 30, 2018

Thoughts on EVO Japan 2018 from a volunteer

The crowd watching losers pools SFV Day 2
Ultra David
James Chen
Sajam and Tasty Steve
With Skisonic
SNK King of Fighters cosplayers
With Yumesuke2016 as Laura
MissShinoBee as Elphelt
MissShinoBee as Elphelt
Marn
Justin Wong
Oil King
Oil King
EVO Japan 2018
With FightingGameESL
HiFightTH
Fubarduck
Cory Bell and junjunmjgirly play an intense set in SFV Day 1 Pools.
Akihabara Esports Square setup
Preparing Takoyaki at Akihabara Esports Square
Preparing Takoyaki at Akihabara Esports Square
Making Takoyaki at Akihabara Esports Square

I've been playing Street Fighter for a long time. I first encountered it in probably 1991, in the back of Aljon's Pizza in West Windsor, New Jersey. I didn't know what was going on, but I loved it. At one point, I figured out how to do Guile's flash kick: you had to block down for a bit, then wiggle the joystick from the back corner to the front corner, then back to the back corner, the up and a kick. In those early days, if you knew how to do a move, you didn't tell anybody and you kept that tech to yourself. Ever since then, I've been playing some version of Street Fighter, or Darkstalkers, or some fighting game.

Ten years ago when I moved to Japan, I was pretty busy with post-doc research, and then I joined a company, and threw a lot of my energy into that, then I got married, we had a kid, and while I was playing online matches (THawk in all the SF4 versions, Zangief in SFV) at some point I wanted to get back into the Street Fighter community. So I started to look around, and found out that Twitter is where all the information is now. So I set up an account and started looking around. I actually first found out about the Tokyo FGC from the Jump In Podcast when Kim 1234 mentioned that there is a weekly gathering at Akihabara Esports Square. I've been going ever since.

When I saw on Twitter that EVO Japan would be a thing, I knew that I couldn't miss it. So I signed up when that opened, and then I also volunteered to help out as volunteer staff. I was pretty sure I wouldn't get out of pools, and since I know Japanese well enough I thought I could contribute to making the event better in some way if I joined as staff. I was pretty excited when they accepted my application, and I was in.

I took two days off of work – there was an organizational meeting on Thursday the day before EVO that I had to attend, and of course I needed to be free all Friday. I had to work out childcare arrangements for my son, and did that. So what are my thoughts overall?

1 The Good

Overall, I had a great time at EVO Japan. It was exhausting - I had two 12-14 hour days on my feet the whole time, didn't have time for lunch either day, and was running around like crazy. It was really fun though. I really enjoyed meeting with and talking to other fighting game fan enthusiasts, and the atmosphere in general. I loved that there were side tournaments, some of which were run on arcade cabinets. I wish I had time to watch some of the USFIV tournament. Writing this up, I'm a bit sad that my list of good things is much shorter than my list of things that can be improved, but that is not a reflection of my overall experience. I had a great time, and would absolutely do it over again in a second.

  • A huge turnout for lots of games. I primarily play and watch Street Fighter, and there was immense turnout for that game.
  • For the number of people, and how much reliance there was on volunteer staff, things ran well. I don't think there were major mix-ups, and things went smoothly for the most part. Almost all the volunteer staff were themselves FGC players, and it really showed in how the community pulled together to pull of this logistically intimidating event.
  • Lots of people from all over the world came, and I think really enjoyed Tokyo.
  • Lots of places to eat / shop near the venue. Some 24 hour places too.
  • The event was streamed on Twitch with English commentary. Also, a second stream from Capcom Fighters covered most of the Street Fighter matches with English commentary.
  • I liked the exhibitor booths that were there, and the preview of Soul Caliber was great.
  • A really great atmosphere for all players involved - people were friendly and approachable.
  • Entry was free. Free. Are you serious!?

2 The Bad

While I really enjoyed EVO Japan 2018, and have nothing but good feelings about it, there are some things that can be improved. I really think that these are improvement opportunities, and in no way do I buy into the theories that the event was run for advertisers or media (I've been reading things like that on twitter). I'm not hooked into the world of the TOs and runners for this, but I know that some of the people involved on both the US and Japan sides are themselves home-grown FGC veterans and enthusiasts.

One thing you need to keep in mind about EVO Japan is that Japan is a country that loves their laws. In particular, there are laws about gambling that make it impossible to collect an entry fee and also have a pot to payout to the winners. I'm sure there is some way around this, but Tokyo Cup didn't have a prize because of those laws. EVO Japan was free to enter - which is amazing - but I think because of that, they had to gather most of their capital from advertising and exclusive streaming agreements with e.g., OpenRec TV and AbemaTV. I think the overall size of the venue was due to the overall expense, and also since this was the first EVO Japan, an underestimation of interest. (The Sai tournament did happen last year, but I feel like that wasn't a proper estimator for the interest of an EVO Japan event).

So here are some things that I think could use some improvement.

  • The venue was a bit difficult to find. I'm more or less fluent in Japanese, and I had some trouble finding the venue. Once you make it to Sunshine City, getting to the Convention Halls is still quite a hike through the shopping complex. You get dumped out onto the first floor, and you have to know that Hall A and B are on floors 3 and 4 (I think). I should have talked to someone about putting up signs in English telling people where to go.
  • The venue was too small. Running pools on the first day - about 2500 SFV entrants - was tough. We had one machine for each pool (this is ok) with about 8-10 people per pool. There was nowhere near enough room for 8-10 people to stand around the machine, since we had eight stations on a table, and another table not too far behind that. It was very hard to get to your pool if it was in the middle of the table.
  • There weren't enough seats in the venue to sit down. As a volunteer I was on my feet 14 hours a day, and that is expected, but there wasn't enough seating for people in general.
  • Overall, I don't think the organizers did a good job of communicating in general, and in specific communicating in English. When I volunteered I thought I would be involved from a much earlier stage crafting signs, information, templates, things like that, but I didn't hear anything about organization at all until the day before the event.
  • Confusion over pool numbers. On the first day, the stations were numbered with three digit numbers, but pools were denoted as (A|B|C)##. It took me a while to understand what the relationship between the pool numbers and station numbers was. A future run should have a simpler to understand system, like "Morning XX", "Afternoon XX", "Evening XX" where XX is the same as the number on the station.
  • Confusion over where pools were for people that made it out. There was a lot of confusion over where players should go once they made it out of their pools. As someone running one of those pools, I didn't know until about 10 minutes before I ran the pool. The best advice I had to give people was to wait by their station for someone to call your name. This is something that was addressed on the second day where with Tekken people got cards that said what pool they would be in, so I'm glad to see that an adjustment was made.
  • Confusion about what time players would play. This is something that generally happens I think, but I wasn't able to tell people when they would play. I just ran the pool in Winners up to Winners Final, and then ran the Losers. I'm not sure what could be done here. I think it would be great if Smash.gg could integrate a notification system to call players when they are up or when they would be the next match.
  • Volunteers were not organized in any way. I expected that a few days before the event, I would be told that I am running pools XX and YY, and where and when they were. That didn't happen. We gathered in the morning right before the tournament started, and were told to just go stand in front of a station. Confusion was the order of the day. That said, I think we did manage to run all the pools and there weren't many problems with it, but it was not what I could call planned or organized.
  • No breaks for Volunteers. Since we didn't have a schedule, we just were left on our own. I had to leave early one day and couldn't run an evening pool, so I just informed the blue shirted guy and took off. I hope things went well. It would have been better if we had volunteer schedules, so I would have had time to eat.
  • Not enough exhibitor booths. I liked the booths that they had. There just were not very many. I wanted to buy some of the specialty stuff, like the nice Sanwa stick, but it sold out pretty quick. Also, as a volunteer I had no time at all to actually look at what they had.
  • No artists alley? I can't believe they didn't have a big artists alley to feature all the great anime and manga art in Japan. The crossover potential is huge. It boggles the mind. There was one booth selling a manga which I bought (and got signed!) If there is another EVO Japan I really think they should think about getting a much larger space for exhibits and artists.
  • No organized after-parties? I've always wanted to go to Bar Fights. I didn't see any Gooteks out there setting up fun stuff to do. I know BAS was setting some stuff up, but that is more or less personal connections and friends going out. I would not have the stamina to go out and do something, but I'm sure many other people would be interested. Especially because the tournament ended early for a US tournament. Why did it end early? The last train! So events have to run on time or people might get stuck far away from home or hotels.
  • Talking about hotels, was there a venue hotel with a discount rate? Another missed opportunity.
  • Not nearly enough planning for who does what for the volunteers. I mentioned this before, but I'm shocked that we were able to pull this off with the lack of planning we had. In the morning of the first day, the volunteers were asked "What game do you know?" and then they went and ran those pools. This is something that can be determined ahead of time.
  • Not enough casual setups. I saw this complaint on twitter a bit. I know that it was possible to play casuals, but all the setups were used in official capacity at one time or another (aside from the BYOC area - which I was glad they had space for).
  • Not enough sticks to lend out. In most of the events in Japan, they are either held at an arcade (so you don't need to bring a stick) or setups are provided with sticks (because who wants to lug that stuff on a super crowded train to work just so you can go play a bit on the way home?) We had some people who didn't have sticks, and I think there were only about 6 or so available to lend out. There wasn't a system for that either. Of course, I think some good can come of that, because that forces people to talk to others in their pool and see if they can find a stick to borrow. In Japan, having an excuse to talk to someone is often necessary to start conversation, so that might have helped start some friendships. I know when I went to WNF last year, I didn't have a stick, and since Salilou let me borrow his stick I've really wanted to pay back that favor, and we've become friendly since. I suspect many Japanese were expecting that they wouldn't need to bring a stick though, and I certainly didn't see any official communication about that.
  • Really hard to watch matches. If you wanted to spectate pool matches, or later on streamed matches on Day 2, there was just no good way to do that. At some point a projector was set and that helped a bit, but the place was jam packed.
  • Lack of coordination between the EN streamers and TOs. I ended up being the intermediary between the stream station for US Twitch on Day 2 and the TO. I only did that because I wanted to be involved in the SFV stuff day 2, and when I went to talk to the stream staff, they didn't have any plan for how to move forward. So I stepped in and tried to help out. This is also something that really should have been worked out far in advance.
  • On the second day, since I noticed that there was confusing over who to talk to if you only spoke English, I recommended that we put on tags or stickers or something on people who were bilingual. We then split our group up (all eight of us!!) over all the games that were running. Those were some ghetto tags too. I hope it helped a bit.
  • Not enough tickets for the finals. Not much more to say about that.

3 The Personal

The rest of this post is probably not interesting to people, but please do read on if you want to hear about things that just got me super excited.

I'm not particularly good at Street Fighter. I've got a Platinum/Gold Zangief, and a Silver Rashid. I really enjoy spectating Street Fighter though, and am familiar with most of the players and commentators. I love living in Japan, but I'm married to a Japanese woman who doesn't really care for games, so I can't talk to her about those things. It is very easy to get homesick and miss things from America (Pizza is one of them - hit me up if you want to know the best NYC style Pizza places in Tokyo). I really enjoy listening to UltraChenTV, The Gauntlet, and The Jump In on my commute to work. So meeting some of the people behind those things is something I was really looking forward to. While I also would like to meet players, I worry that top players are going to be preoccupied with preparing for their games, so I don't really want to bother them.

3.1 Commentators *

I was very excited to have met some real luminaries from the commentary world. UltraDavid from the UltraChenTV show and commentary fame took the time to chat and take a photo. I ran into James Chen on Day 1, but was in a real rush to get home so I could pick my son up from daycare. I actually butted in to his conversation with MajinObama (sorry about that!) to get a picture. I also met Sajam and Tasty Steve together. Last year I went to WNF in July and met Sajam there, and he was a really nice guy then. Steve is the most excited and hype person I have ever met. Both great guys. By the way, if you are interested in learning more about a variety of fighting games, check out The Recipe on CrossCounterTV. They talk about a bunch of different fighting games in an easy and accessible way. I also ran into skisonic who is another commentator that I enjoy.

There are lots of other commentators that I would have liked to chat with - Logan-sama, Jiyuna, MajinObama, Rynge, Rip, Zhi, etc. I was just super busy and didn't have a chance to wander around.

I sometimes hear people talking about who the best commentators are, and I just don't get that entire conversation. There is such a wide range of information and ways to express yourself that I can always find something to appreciate with the different commentators out there. I absolutely love when Zhi and MajinObama are on the mic because of just how "inside baseball" their discussion of Japan can be. I'm actually watching the Twitch replays of the Jump Off right now, and having a desk of 4 people talking about a variety of games is just so much fun.

What was a unifying theme about all the people I interacted with at the event is that everyone was kind, and we all have a shared passion about fighting games. You just can't under-sell how important that is.

3.2 Cosplayers *

I met some commentators, that was cool. I also met some cosplayers! That was cool too! First up, I snuck by the SNK booth before the event opened and got a picture with some of the cosplayers there. When I was running pools on Day 1, there was a Laura cosplayer in a pool behind me, and we chatted a bit. Very friendly. I was worried she might give me a knee to the groin. I also ran in MissShinoBee as Elphelt. I have GGRxd but I am just terrible at that game. It is beautiful though, and it is really nice to see that brought to life. Finally, I got a shot with Cory Bell in Sakura cross-play. That outfit is amazing. I think he could have gone into a Konami arcade and actually worked there for a bit before anyone figured it out.

3.3 Game players *

I met some players! Marn was in my pool, and had I won my first match I would have had to play him. Of course, I didn't. Still, Marn was really nice. If he has a bad rap, I don't know that would be. I met Justin Wong! He has been writing up a lot of cool stuff about his adventures in Japan, and he has got some great information. I always like to see people who appreciate Japan come out here. I met Oil King! His fashion is on point. I took a picture with Infiltration (the EVO Japan winner!) and Gllty! I didn't talk to either of them much, but Gllty is a regular at various Tokyo events and puts in real work. She's great. Infiltration seems like a nice guy too. I met up with Cory Bell, a Zangief that I've been following for a while. He's a fun guy.

I met Powell - this is a relatively unknown guy outside of Japan, but he's a Master Ranked Cammy from Nagoya. He came by the Esports Square event on Sunday and I got to chat with him a lot. He is a hilarious guy. He was talking about how he wanted Tokido to win so he could say he was the only one to have beat him. He also talked about how he was able to pull the ladies after his tremendous performance, but when I asked him how many he said "Uh, I took like, 3 back to my hotel!" I don't buy it, but this is one fun guy to hang out with.

3.4 People I didn't expect to meet *

One thing that surprised me is that some people came up to me and introduced themselves. There is absolutely no reason anyone should be interested in me, but I guess because of my Twitter Account some people know who I am. My goal with that twitter account is to make information about fighting game events in Japan more accessible. If I had known earlier about what was going on in Tokyo, I would have been much more involved from the beginning. The way things used to work though is that players hung out in specific arcades, and you just had to know what they were. E.g., everyone knows about the Shinjuku East Gate Namco, but how did you learn about that? I also think it can be very intimidating to approach famous players when you are just some random Joe Donuts in the silver league. So what I'm trying to do is put out information about FGC events in English as I see it fly by on Twitter.

Which also makes me want to mention that I think Twitter sucks as a general communication and archival medium. I've been running this blog of mine since 1999, and if I ever want to find anything on it, it is indexed and I can get back to it. I can write more than 100 or 200 characters or whatever. I can put cogent thoughts together to form a cohesive argument. Twitter is not good at any of that. But Twitter is where everyone is at. That said, check out Burning Meter for archiving and adding your own FGC tech. I'm much more optimistic about that kind of approach. Sadly, once it gets popular hosting will cost too much and it will probably die (unless they go the advertising route, which I am fine with).

So, I use twitter, but I'm not an ardent fan. I was surprised then when Jun-ichi of Fighting Games ESL fame came up to me and introduced himself! I've been following him for ages and his tweets are an invaluable resource for people looking to learn Fighting Game Japanese. That said, man, I should put a webpage together of all his tweets or something.

I also met HiFightTH who puts out amazing clips for fighting game action all the time. I can't believe he does all of that himself. I met The Sentimental Typhoon who also translates interesting stuff every now and again. I met FubarDuck who made me think that maybe I can make some positive contribution to the FGC. These were all unexpected meetings, and I really enjoyed chatting with these guys. There are also other people I follow that do interesting translation on twitter, and I hope I get a chance to meet them in the future too!

3.5 I met Seth Killian *

Finally, I know I made a separate section for this, but I met Seth Killian! I've known of this guy (and Bob Painter, and Graehm Wolfe, and …) and a whole bunch of other since I started with street fighter from the venerable days of alt.games.sf2. What a nice guy.

I also ran into one of the Cannon brothers, and I'm ashamed to admit that I don't know if it was Tom or Tony. He even told me, but I've since forgotten. These guys (well, Tony I guess) single-handedly developed GGPO, the best online fighting games latency hiding system out there. Super crazy.

That said, I'm terrible with names. One day, HDJammerz stopped by Akihabara Esports Square, and I asked him if he was Infectious. Ugh.

3.6 Super Hype Games *

I saw some great games. One that sticks in my mind was on the first day, when I saw Cory Bell's Zangief take on junjunmjgirly's Ken. junjunmjgirly is the bassist in a super-popular rock band who is into fighting games. That match was super fun, because everyone watching was totally into it. While I was doing my volunteer duties, I didn't get to see many matches, but I'm watching stuff slowly later on in the archives. Just being around all these great games was lots of fun though.

3.7 Sunday casuals at Esports Square *

On Sunday, since I couldn't get tickets for the finals (who could!?) I helped Kagechi set up for a casual session at Akihabara Esports Square. He set the place up so you could relax and watch what was going on the big screen easily, and also planned to do 500 yen all you can eat takoyaki. A lot of people stopped by. In fact, a record setting number, and we actually had to turn people away so we didn't run foul of fire hazard regulations. Kagecchi was super bummed when James Chen and UltraDavid stopped by but had to be turned away. About 170 people came by, when on a usual night it is closer to 60. It was lots of fun, and the Takoyaki was great. I had a great time chatting with players from around the world and Japan. Verloren and Powell ran some pretty intense mirror match Cammy sets, and it was generally just a fun time all around.

If you are even in Tokyo and have time on a Wednesday night, drop by Akihabara Esports Square from 7pm. It is always lots of fun, and they are happy to see new people there.

3.8 Final words *

I had a great time at EVO Japan, and really hope there is another one. I think there are many things that can be improved, and if I'm in any position to do so I will work to the best of my abilities to help. I think overall people had a great time, and I'm convinced that Japan is a great destination for major tournaments because it is a great tourist destination in its own right, and has a long connection to fighting game history.

Some of the problems I think stem from the lack of really large tournaments in Japan because of the gambling laws, and also because traditionally people have just run their own tournaments in arcades in a kind of off-the-cuff manner. Events like EVO really need a lot more forethought and planning - and I'm not saying that didn't happen for EVO Japan 2018, but I think there could be a bit more.

I had a great time, and I hope you did too. If you ever come to Japan, feel free to hit me up on twitter or otherwise. Have fun, and watch out for overheads.


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!

October 31, 2017

Tokyo's Fighter's Crossover -Akihabara- 100th Anniversary Team Ratio Tournament

-Fighter's Crossover- Akihabara is a weekly gathering, usually on Wednesday, at Akihabara's E-sports Square for Street Fighter V players. It is organized by Kagechhi, and this weekend he ran two tournaments celebrating having held 100 of these locals. The second event on October 29th was a "Ratio" Tournament. You build a team of 2-3 people, and can spent a total of 11 points on your team. Each character costs a certain number of points:
  • 6: Ibuki, Akuma, Rashid
  • 5: Guile, Karin, Cammy, Zangief, Necali, Boxer
  • 4: Birdie, Dictator, Urien, Lara, R. Mika
  • 3: Abigail, Ken, Dhalsim, Chun-Li, Nash, Claw, F.A.N.G., Menat, Ryu
  • 2: Alex, Ed, Kolin, Juri
You need to have at least 2 people on your team, and no more than 3. You can see the results and teams here.

The winning team was Noguchi's Guile, Yossan's Juri, and Crusher's Birdie. I have no idea what their team name means. ("Demanding receding hair" - it looks like there is a twitter account with that name.)

There were two teams with two people, the other 30 had three people. The top 8 teams were:

  • 1: "Demanding Receding Hair": Noguchi (Guile) Yossan (Juri), Crusher (Birdie)
  • 2: "displeasure120%": Kichi pa-mu (Zangief), Hagejin (Abigail), GAMEtoHITO (Dhalsim)
  • 4: "We have all 5!": Azuma (Urien), MON (F.A.N.G.), Yukimayu (Laura)
  • 4: "Bison Line": Vanao (Boxer), Reiketsu (Menat), yuba (Nash)
  • 8: "Your opposition is all snacks": Kinoko Boxer (Boxer), Takenoko no Sato (Chun-Li), Gafuro (Nash).
  • 8: Ratio 9: DNG Tachikawa (Dhalsim), Rolling (Ed), AW Nemo (Urien)
  • 8: Team Tachikawa Parasite: Ikahara (Cammy), Takeuchi John (Rashid)
  • 8: Torikizoku F Pro Group: Willy (Dictator), EmuEmu (Zangief), Gerand (Kolin). Torikizoku is a chain of bars.

Other interesting teams: "It's Ryu! Ryu!" with three Ryus. "Low Cost" with a 7 point team of Ryu, Kolin, and Alex.

You can watch the entire five hour tournament here.

I really enjoy how Kagecchi tries different things - different formats, sets up different tournaments (beginner tournaments < 7500 LP, platinum and up tournaments, completely open tournaments) and works to foster a sense of community. If you are ever in Tokyo and looking for some Street Fighter, stop by sometime. Check the schedule and drop by. If you see an old American with a beard, say hi!

Tokyo's Fighter's Crossover -Akihabara- 100th Anniversary 2-2 Team Tournament

-Fighter's Crossover- Akihabara is a weekly gathering, usually on Wednesday, at Akihabara's E-sports Square for Street Fighter V players. It is organized by Kagechhi, and this weekend he ran two tournaments celebrating having held 100 of these locals.

While most people are watching Canada Cup, I thought it would be fun to write up a little about this more local street fighter action.

First, an overall summary of what happened. On Saturday, Kagecchi ran a 2-2 team tournament. There were 48 teams for a total of 96 people. It was a single elimination tournament, Waseda-style, 6 pools. Winner of each pool goes to the top 8, with two more teams coming from a playoff between the remaining 42 teams. The overall winner was the "Million God" team of Kin-devu's Zeku and Suiha's Chun-Li.

If you want to check out all the teams check Kagecchi's blog post.
This highlight from team Power Harrassment and the 3rd Generation E-sports brothers is pretty cool (<1 minute.) You can watch the entire 6 hour team tournament here.

I'll call our a few teams I thought were interesting.

UltimateJohn: Vanau (Boxer) and Takeuchi John (Rashid) lost in round 2 of pool 2.
The "Anti-Nauman team" had Fumity (Akuma) and Anman (Urien) come out of Pool 1.
Pool 5 had "Team Guilty" with Yossan (Juri) and Machbo (Necali) lose out in round 2 to pool winner "Power Harrassment" Noguchi (Guile) and Nanai (Dictator).
Pool 6 had team "All 1 Ed" with DNG Tachikawa (Ed) and tool (Ed).
It also had team "New Skills" with Kichi pa-mu (Zangief) and EmuEmu (Zangief).

September 25, 2017

2017 November 23 Red Bull Tower of Pride SFV Tournament in Tokyo, Japan

This November, Red Bull is running a very interesting Street Fighter V tournament in Tokyo. The format is unique, and looks like a lot of fun. You can find the website here: https://www.redbull.com/jp-ja/events/red-bull-tower-of-pride but all the information is in Japanese. I've translated the details page, and rules and regulations in case anyone is interested.

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January 14, 2017

Tokyo Offline Party 4, and a bit Itabashi Zangief commentary

Last weekend I went to the Tokyo Offline Party 4 event at Haruimi Passenger Terminal. I didn't have a team, so joined two others who needed someone to fill out the 3 vs 3 Street Fighter V team event. I was matched with Eleichi and Ryo, two nice young gentlemen. I had played with Ryo once or twice at the Akihabara e-square events, so that was nice.

I had a lot of fun at the event. Our team (満足) lost in our first match, but we had a good time, so no problem.

I really enjoyed watching some of the Zangief play. Kichi pa-mu in particular was lots of fun to watch. I've been going through the stream a bit, and thought it would be neat to see what Itabashi Zangief had to say while he was on commentary.

https://www.twitch.tv/momochoco/v/113487600?t=05h38m01s Itabashi Zangief hops on the mike to talk about Zangief. Tokido shares commentary with him. I'd like to give a loose translation of what they are saying. Someone asked Itazan to hop on the mike because "Kichi pa-mu", a Zangief player, is currently on. Kichi pa-mu was super fun to watch - his Zangief play was a bit crazy, and was super exciting. Where this clip starts, he just beat Oosu's Karin and Fuudo's Mika from Fuudo's team (World of Tanks.)

I didn't get permission from anyone, and this is just a loose translation. I'm no fubarduck and don't translate in any professional capacity, so any mistakes are my own.

Tokido: I'm commenting now, but our other commentator, Kazunoko, has changed.
Itazan: I was summoned.
Tokido: Yeah, there's a Zangief match now. Just how strong do you think Zangief is now?
Itazan: (Laughing.) You think so?
Tokido: Just how strong do you think he is now?
Itazan: I've been using Zangief for a long time now. So. I think we might have an argument about this.
Tokido: I think he's super strong now.
Itazan: I've heard a lot of people think that. But yeah. A big thing is that Ryu, Ken, and Chun-Li got weaker. It's important that he can beat them now.
Tokido: It wasn't all that bad before but, on the other hand, now I think Guile is a real problem.
Itazan: Yeah, there are some new problems.
[The match with Chun-Li starts here.]
Tokido: I think he can do ok against Chun-Li.
Itazan: If he gets close. Ah, he got close. Yeah, that's it.
[Zangief won the round. There isn't any substantive commentary. Kichi pa-mu wins, and Tokido is called out to his match. Another person comes to do commentary.]
Person: Zangief's really strong.
Itazan: [Itazan smiles] Well, you know, he's ok. Kichi pa-mu was strong so he won. You should praise him.

Itazan had a few other things to say, but mostly just joking around. It's really fun listening to all these players (Tokido, Itabashi Zangief, Kazunoko, just seems like whoever is around that Momochi and Choco can press into service for a bit) comment. I've got to watch the final four with commentary - it was lots of fun in person but I want to hear what Momochi and Choco have to say.

Anyway, lots of fun. If you are a street fighter fan in Tokyo, definitely check out the Tokyo Offline Party when they run the next one.

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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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
PB091847
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!)

April 5, 2014

Family Trip to Ishigaki

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


November 15, 2012

2012 November Osaka and Kyoto family trip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Saturday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


September 29, 2012

"That traditional walk"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


June 10, 2012

Shinagawa Tennousai

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

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

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


April 9, 2012

Cherry blossoms and Saitama Shrines over the weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Cherry Blossom viewing to all of you!

March 4, 2012

A visit to the limited-time Koyama Sweets shop

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

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

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

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

Professional Family photos

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

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

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

March 2, 2012

A trip to Hakone with the family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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