Posts Tagged ‘Japan Trip’

My third trip to Japan: Lessons Learned and Recommendations

October 1, 2017

Not much that is new this trip. Mostly a reaffirmation of what the previous two trips had taught me.

  1. Japan Rail Pass is your friend. As I write this, it’s $250 for a 7-day pass, or $35 per day. Given that a two-hour trip across the width of the country is about $100, you can see that it’s a bargain. You have to order it while in the US, and they FedEx an authorization you can use to get the pass at your first major JR station.
  2. You don’t have to activate your JR Pass when when you pick it up. I spent the first part of the trip upcountry, where the pass was invaluable in getting around. It ran out on the last two days, but by then I was in Tokyo, and could use the PASMO. PASMO or Suica don’t save you any money, but sure save hassle. On the other hand, if I was going to spend the first part of the trip in Tokyo, and leave from Kansai or somewhere, then I’d hold off on activating the pass
  3. In Tokyo, use a PASMO, or Suica card to get around. They are cash cards — you put cash on them at any kombini, and then just flash the card to ride the metro or buy lunch. This keeps you from having to fumble with the JR ticket machines or ending up with pockets full of change.
  4. Bring money. As in, cash. All my hotel charges were paid for through online booking, and my major purchases in Tokyo were on the credit card, but almost everything else was at places where it was easier to pay cash (or put cash on your PASMO card). I left home with $1000 in yen and a PASMO with $18 on it, and came home with $30 in yen and $14 on the PASMO.
  5. Get a pocket wifi hotspot. The same company that does the JR Pass will rent you a hotspot for for less than $10 a day. Turn it on, stick it in a pocket of your cargo pants, and hook up your tablet. You have on-line map and translation service all day, if you pay attention to your batteries. Send it back before you go through outbound security at the airport, because there are no mailboxes past them.
  6. Smaller hotels are nice. And they’re cheap. All my hotel rooms were smaller than cruise ship staterooms. There was room for the bed and the desk and the TV, but you couldn’t do your radio taiso exercises in them. This is fine, assuming you don’t plan to spend a lot of time in the room, and since you are in Japan, why would you?
  7. In Tokyo, you don’t have to stay in the center of town, but you should stay next to a train station. Off-rush hour prices were only about $3 per trip to get three stops away from Tokyo Station, and it did wonders for hotel pricing. Of course, in the provinces, the train station is the center of town.
  8. Early September is still too hot to walk around most of Japan. Say, anything south of Sendai. And the humidity numbers match the temperature. My next trip I’m going to shoot for early October.
  9. My experience is that ramen restaurants are usually the take-a-ticket kind, that what we would call family style restaurants expect you to pay the cashier, and that real, formal, sit-down restaurants expect you to call for the check.
  10. Here’s a link to portable trash bags

My third trip to Japan: Day 06

September 23, 2017

The room is a little bit bigger, and it has a double bed. Where my last hotel had one skimpy pillow this has 5 pillows: two regular pillows, two of the memory foam types, and one that’s kind of a log which looks like it would be useful in keeping my femur straight.

Decided that my plans for the rest of the trip were to take brother John’s advice and go down to the Kamakura shrine in the morning and then come back and do something interesting and local in the afternoon. Tomorrow I will go to Niigata on the northern coast, just because I can, and because that’s my last day for using Japan Rail. And then Thursday will be spent wandering around downtown Tokyo and Akihabara and buying anime souvenirs.

The trip down to Kamakura was about an hour, and rather than take the local train and then walk a half mile uphill, I did the better part of valor and took a cab right to the entrance.

Tokyo to Kamakura

Walked around there a bit, by which time once again the heat had gotten too much for me (upper 80’s with upper 80’s humidity). (click pix to embiggen)

Big Buddha

So I bought some marron-flavored  ice cream (marron is a French culinary name for chestnut) and some souvenirs, and took a taxi back to the rail station. This time I rode the train all the way into Tokyo Station to buy the shinkansen tickets for tomorrow. Japanese local trains are nothing like the shinkansen — they rattle, they creak, they rock back and forth, like an old (but clean) city bus. They are moderately uncomfortable but they are cheap and convenient and everywhere.

Got back a little after noon or maybe one, and just as I got home the hotel staff and couple of workers came up to run a roto rooter in the drain spout on the floor of my bathroom. This is a typical Japanese bathroom with a drain in the floor because you shower out in the middle of the floor in the bathroom, and once you are washed and clean, you get into the tub full of hot water. So it’s like the Japanese have a hot tub in every home.

Sorry, sir, planned maintenance

After they left, I napped for a couple of hours. Went out and found an eyeglass place that would fix my reading glasses lens; it just needed tightening on the screw. This was in the local World Trade Center building, which on the 39th floor has a sky view section with two expensive restaurants and then above that a place you go in and pay $2 and walk around for a panoramic view of the whole city. You can see the Tokyo Skytree (tallest building in Tokyo), Tokyo Tower (former tallest building), and Roppongi Hills, which is a expensive upscale shopping district.

Tokyo Tower and Toranomon Hills

I bought some souvenirs at the top of the tower including a JAXA baseball cap. JAXA is the Japanese Aerospace eXploration Agency, like NASA.

Good view of the shinkansen tracks

Came back down, went to a local curry place called Coco Curry, near the hotel. Bar seating. English menu. Build your own off the menu . I had a chicken curry a little spicier than I like, with a sauce that was not as thick as I make it.  They had canned Kirin beer only.

CoCo’s chicken curry

My third trip to Japan: Day 05 (revised)

September 19, 2017

Up and breakfast (click pix to embiggen)

Fewer but bigger

then pedestrian bridge across the rail yard and onto the subway.

Oops. Not that car.

When I got off the train, Osaka Castle was still far away.

It’s a long way, but there’s a Mos Burger right behind me

It’s laid out a lot like Himeji Castle

I started in the lower right hand corner

I passed the outer moat,

Outer moat

and got as far as the inner moat before my legs, hips, and heat control system failed.

Inner moat

I had taken a Bufferin before I left, and that seemed to help, except there were a couple of long stretches of multiple steps to get up to the castle and that kind of did them in; the legs don’t want to do stairs anymore. Plus the right hip started hurting and then after a while the left hip started hurting and then the heat started. So like many invaders beforehand, I made it across the outer moat and up to the gates on the inner moat and then gave up.

The Great Gate of Osaka

Unlike other invaders I was able to take a taxi back to downtown Osaka about noon. Napped until 2PM, which is a shame because I’m paying $20 an hour for that extension on the room. Ah, well, it gave me a chance for a late lunch

Late lunch

Off on the shinkansen, into the early dusk (the Japanese for dusk is purple yellow dark).

The rice grows right up to the factory fences

It will be a three hour ride to go 500km — just over 100mph, including time for stops at Kyoto, Nagoya, Yokohama, and Shinagawa.

Osaka to Tokyo

We shall see what the temperature and my legs are like there. It would be a shame if I spent the whole 4 days laying on my back in the hotel room.

Had a nice bento on the train.

Kansai regional specialities

It was relatively easy to find the train from Tokyo Station to Hamamatsucho Station. And then it all went pear-shaped. First of all I managed to pop the lens out of my reading glasses . Then, I couldn’t get a reliable GPS signal in the Hamamatsucho Station labyrinth, so it had me walking South and insisting that that was North and it took me about half an hour to find my way out of the train station. Oh well it could be worse. It could be raining.

Damn.

So three blocks in the rain and I finally found my hotel. It has a typical third-tier Japanese hotel entrance, which is to say it could be confused with a decorative feature on the building. Right next door was a nice little pizzaria, where I had a late night pizza. And so to bed.

My first meal in Tokyo

My third trip to Japan: Day 04

September 15, 2017

After another interesting Japanese breakfast (click pix to embiggen),

No natto

I walked over to the railway station, took one last look at the castle,

Last look at the castle

and got on the shinkansen for Osaka. Half an hour later I was there. 92km in 29 minutes, including a stop at Kobe — not quite 120mph. The shinkansen are absolutely tremendous. I will have a whole esay on them later.

At the Himeji Shinkansen

Met my former student Ayumi with no problems. Like all Japanese women she dresses like she just stepped off the cover of Glamour magazine. We took the train from Shin Osaka to plain old Osaka Osaka station and went to a nearby electronics store where I spent about $100 on games and manga. We then had lunch at a place that served the traditional Kansai cabbage and egg pancake called Okonomiyaki.

Cooked at your table.

Got back to Shin-Osaka about noon and of course I was dragging; not just hip pain but back pain and heat exhaustion as well. We picked up my backpack at the train station where they have coin lockers all over the place. They are not like the US, but they do have rules.

Forbidden articles in paragraph 5

We then headed over to the MyStays hotel, about a quarter of a mile. In typical Mario fashion, we found that my reservation was in the other hotel. I am booked into the MyStays hotel in Tokyo but here I am booked into the Shin-Osaka Station Hotel. After that bit of embarrassment we turned around and walk back another half-mile to the new hotel, tucked out of the way down a side street and hidden well enough that they had to put up a sign.

Go back! You missed it!

Here it is!

The room is about the same as all the other rooms. They have free water and a little jacket and such for you to wear around the room, with a note that you should not wear it outside of the room; interesting, because in Himeji they had the same sort of thing only they encouraged you to wear it outside the room. Since I was about four sizes too large for the Japanese clothing I just wore my regular stuff.

Yet another typical Japanese travel hotel room

Towards sunset I went back over to the Shin-Osaka station for dinner. On the way out, I talked to the front desk about extending my stay four hours tomorrow, which they were glad to do — at the rate of $20 an hour. Since I was likely going to be exhausted by that time I thought it was a pretty good deal.

It was still warm out — lower 80s– and humid. I ate at a nice little restaurant called Tamago to Watashi, which is Japanese for The Egg and I.

Tomago to Watashi

Their speciality was Omurice (omelet over rice) and it wasn’t bad, but not as good as the ones in the Gourmet Girls anime.

Omurice Curry

It came with a tasty custard, and a small jar of what looked like cream for the custard, but was actually ranch dressing for the salad. Consider yourself warned.

My third trip to Japan: Day 03

September 14, 2017

Today is the main Conference day. I had a presentation at noon (well, in the 10-12 slot) and the welcome is at 9 or so. Up early and another typical Japanese breakfast, this time with natto — fermented soybeans — and also the Japanese equivalent of hushpuppies, miso soup with fat noodles, rice with natto, lotus root, fish, cabbage, and cabbage rolls. (click pix to embiggen)

Breakfast, Day 3 Chopsticks pointing to natto.

They look like standard baked beans, but have an earthy, chemical taste to them. They came with two packets of sauce, that the serving lady said should go on the natto. Unfortunately, they were soy and mustard, which somewhat masked the flavor. So I still don’t have a good idea of what natto tastes like by itself. Having said that, I’m not partial to it.

Natto and rice

Taxi to the Con, because I don’t trust me on the bus. Of course, the driver had no idea of how to get to the place, even with help from Google Maps. Plus, he drove with the apparently typical disregard for cyclists. Still, I got a look at a part of Himeji I probably would not have otherwise. The city appears to be mostly suburbs, with no major arterials. At least, none that he could find.

The Hyogo University Engineering School has a nice facility, with that overgrown look that all subtropical schools seem to have. Even in the rainy NW, when you cut the grass, it stays cut, for a while, at least. I can understand why all those post-apocalyptic anime show downtown Tokyo overgrown just weeks after the disaster.

Convention venue, with banner

Inside smells brand new, as if some furniture still has the bubble-wrap on it. Chairs are the auto-stow variety, and horribly uncomfortable.

The very clean poster session room

Self-stowing chairs

 

The Mie University contingent was there. Good to see some familiar faces. Asami Yonekura gave a presentation that extended the one she gave at Mie last year. My presentation went over well, as well, judging by the number of questions.

Our friends from Mie

Best pic I could get. She moved around too much.

Rode the bus home. Didn’t take any longer than the taxi did.

Himeji bus. Much like busses in the US. I hogged the elderly seat

Afterwards, we went to the Con dinner, in an old, traditional, saki brewery. Really interesting ancient wooden building and a fascinating production process. Too bad it was too dark for pictures, and the process descriptions were all in Japanese.

Big dining hall.

Walked home, which was probably a mistake. First, I missed Asami Yonekura getting a finalist certificate for her presentation, and second, it was a longer walk than I thought.

Asami shows off

I got just over 10,000 steps, including about 2,200 that night.

My third trip to Japan: Day 02

September 11, 2017

This was a free day (the Con reception started that night). I decided, because of how hot it was the previous day, that I would not try something adventurous like taking the train down to Hiroshima but instead I went up to Himeji Castle. That was a good idea poorly executed. (Click pix to embiggen).

Yonder lies the castle…

Up about 6:00, rode down in the first elevator I’ve ever seen that had its own toilet.

Stop and sit a while

and had a typical Japanese breakfast — lots of small plates with egg and salmon and mackerel and squash and dashi-with-noodles and … you get the idea.

Breakfast: everything from soup to fish

I started walking to the castle just as the Sun was rising. The start point is a nice little garden on the North side of the Japan Rail station.

From the station crossover, you can watch the morning rush hour unfold, as the castle keeps watch.

It’s about a 30 minute walk in the cool of the morning. Everything was closed of course. In Japan they seem to keep banker’s hours. Things don’t open too early and if they’re not restaurants they don’t stay open too late. The main street leads right to the castle. It’s wide, and tree-lined. Some of the ambiance was ruined by extensive roadworks that dug up the sidewalk, tore out the hedges, and left the local dryads with nowhere to live for a while.

Nowhere to hide

The castle grounds are very very large — a 1.5km perimeter, and a 600m walk from the Sakuramon Gate to the foot of the central keep.

You enter at the Sakuramon Gate, near the bottom, and walk to the castle, near the top

Looking off the bridge at the gate, I saw what looked like a ninja attack. It was actually members of the JSDF who volunteered to help trim the tangled vegetation on the walls of the moat.

Ninja attack!

The castle opened at 9AM, and a volunteer guide took me around. Actually, she took me around the outside. One problem was my bad hip — I had walked a couple of kilometers to get there, and another kilometer or so around the grounds, and my hip didn’t like it.  The second problem was the castle construction.

No, not the rocks

This is a castle that was designed to be hard to get into and so everything around it is steep steep ramps steep stairways you walk up a steep ramp and then you get on a steep stairway and then, you’re in the basement.

By the time I got out of the castle, it was 90F, and I was in no shape to walk another two kilometers home, so I got a taxi, went home, and took a three hour nap.

I woke up hungry and found that the temperature was down to a more bearable 85 degrees. It was humid and breezy and felt like a storm was coming in (but it never did). I walked over to the Japan Rail Mall for dinner.

I considered buying some omurice — omelet over rice, a Japanese favorite — but it was being made for the bento boxes they sell in the grocery store, and I wanted to eat out, not in the room

Bit of a production line here.

I ended up in a restaurant that served traditional Japanese food like dim sum and bin-bin bap and sweet and sour pork.

Dark and sweet

Had a nice glass of Asahi beer to go with it and stopped off at the company to buy another couple cans to take to bed with me

While I was in the shopping mall, I came across a bakery that sold, among other things, melonpan. Pan is the Japanese word for bread which they stole from the French. Melonpan is essentially a big sugar cookie with a a softball sized lump of soft white bread covered with a sugary coating on top with criss cross network pattern carved on it. It looks like a melon and so that’s why it’s called a melon pan. I bought a couple to have with the beer.

Soft bread on a sugar cookie

Real melons, real pricey

By the way, real Japanese melons are extremely pricey. The photo is of a pair in the vegetable aisle of the shopping mall grocery. Keep in mind that a yen is roughly equivalent to one US penny, depending on the current trade balance.

My pedometer shows I got exactly 15000 steps in today. 8000 was the walk to the castle 3000 was the walk around the castle, and the rest was wandering around the JR shopping mall

 

My third trip to Japan: Day 01

September 10, 2017

We start with disaster. A week before the trip, I bought a brand new Samsung Galaxy Tab S2, with an 8″ screen and 32GB of storage. The 8″ was important, because it fit exactly into my over-the-shoulder carrying case. I spent hours configuring it the way I wanted to. The morning of the trip I put it in the case, slung it over my shoulder, and off we went.

When we got to the airport, this is what we found

It seems I had let the bag slip off my shoulder, get caught in the door, and bounce along the freeway at 70mph. No sign of the tablet. MJ went back later and walked/drove the entire route. No luck. I’m pretty sure there wasn’t anything on there that would present security issues, even if the tablet did survive the impact and bouncing and 18-wheeler driving-over experience

On that happy note, I left. The flight from Spokane to San Francisco was not bad, as far as I know. Because of the time differential it was night in Japan so I deliberately slept. The layover in San Francisco was about two and a half hours which was about an hour longer than it needed to be. The flight to Japan was as good as any of the others. The overseas airline aircraft have lots more leg room than the domestic aircraft do and so I was able to kind of stretch out and I went the full 10 hours with no particular hip pain which is important to me.

A minor comedy of errors happened when we landed at Kansai. The process through Immigration and Customs and that sort of thing went fast, the way it normally does when entering any country other than the US, and then I had to go up onto the second floor to find the post office (which was easy to do) and pick up my wireless hotspot (which was not). You see, I was planning on having my tablet. Of course I didn’t have the tablet and the all of the paperwork stuff for the package was on the tablet or buried three levels deep in my phone with a lousy user interface so I had to call MJ at 11:30 at night her time and ask her to sit in my computer and search Gmail for the email confirming wifi hotspot transaction.

Two hours, block-to-block, plus half an hour wandering around

With that done, picking up the Japan Rail Pass was easy. The nice young lady, who was actually from Taiwan, not Japan, got me a reserved seat on both trains — the one from the airport to Shin-Osaka station, and the shinkansen from there to Himeji.  We landed at 3:30, and despite all my travails, I got to Himeji (130km away) about 6PM.

This is the unglamorous local shuttle

Like all major Japanese Railway stations Himeji is also a major shopping arcade, with multiple floors. It is the equivalent I guess of a mall, only you get there by train rather than by driving and parking — there’s not much parking around. I then spent half an hour trying to find my way block-and-a-half from the railroad station to my hotel the Dormy Inn. That was because the GPS mapping app on the phone is not all that good and it is particularly not that good when you are in a crowded building situation where it keeps losing the signal or picking up reflections. It quite literally kept telling me that North was South.

Dormy Inn

After a while I finally found the hotel, and the front looked like it was closed. Not closed for the night, but an actual closed building. So I walked around the corner and found their parking garage was open and there was a nice man who showed me how to get into the hotel. It turns out that the actual opening for the hotel is just to the right of where the GPS had taken me.

Dormy Room

The room is typical Japanese hotel room. Small, that is to say it’s smaller than steerage class on a cruise ship, but it has a bed it has a TV it has a refrigerator and a thing for making coffee. On the other hand, it does not seem to have towels or washcloths.

 

 

It looks better at night

There are a whole bunch of izakiya (like a tappas bar) around the hotel, and I went into one that was just across the street.

 

My dinner included my first taste of a full slice of burdock root. It had a texture something like french fries and it had a flavor something like not french fries, maybe parsnips, and it wasn’t bad but it wasn’t all that good, so it looks like I’m not going to start raising them in the garden at home.

Fried burdock looks better than it tastes

My third trip to Japan: Day 0

August 26, 2017

Off on another adventure! It’s another conference, the 6th International Conference on Informatics, Electronics & Vision (ICIEV) & 7th International Symposium in Computational Medical and Health Technology (ISCMHT) in Himeji, on the south coast of the Harima Nada, the eastern part of the Inland Sea. Flying into Kansai International, and out from Haneda. It will be an interesting trip, weather-wise, since I’m doing almost no north-south travel. Right now, the forecast is for highs in the mid 80s, with humidity in the ….. mid 80’s.

 

Ten hours by car, six hours by train, including transfer times

The flight over takes longer than the travel time inside Japan. I take off from Spokane at 6AM, and land in Kansai at 3PM, the next day. Something, something, Date Line.

The plan is to fly into Kansai, and Shinkansen to Himeji, 150km to the west. I’ll have a totally free day (maybe visit Hiroshima, 250km), then half a day at the presentation (also visit Himeji Castle), then another free day (maybe visit Kyoto, 130km). Japan Rail pass all the way. Spend another day in Osaka, and three days in Tokyo, flying out from Haneda.

I leave next week, and will update this as I go along.

Japan Trip Update

December 15, 2012

I promised to add pictures and backfill with detail when I had a chance and a useful keyboard. I have now done that for days Three and Four. Next up, Day Five, parts 1 and 2!

Japan Trip Update

December 8, 2012

I promised to add pictures and backfill with detail when I had a chance and a useful keyboard. I have now done that for days One and Two, and this is my way of letting those who care, know. Start here. I will post another of these when I am done with days Three and Four.