I’ve just put up my first post-vacation set of photos here on Flickr. The theme for this set is trains: photos of trains, photos taken from trains, photos of people near trains, etc. It’s probably a little difficult to understand my fascination with the Japanese shinkansen (bullet trains) are unless you’ve seen them in person. I won’t try to explain it; I’ll just say two things: first, they make every form of mass transportation in the US look like a hapless joke; second, even on our seventh visit to Japan, we like them so much that we spent an evening hanging out on a platform in Kyoto station watching them come and go (and taking pictures).
As I mentioned previously, I used a map and a video tour posted on the excellent Dangerous Prototypes blog to find my way around Akihabara during our recent visit to Japan. I left a comment on that post to thank the authors, which led to a brief email conversation, which resulted in this post. I’m happy to have contributed to Ian’s blog; maybe it will help some other visitors find their way around the rather dazzling conglomeration of shops.
Yes, I haven’t posted more photos yet. Sorry about that; I’m going to try to set aside a chunk of time this weekend to work on it. My plan is to put together sets organized by topic, rather than by day (as I’ve done in the past), e.g. trains, buildings, landscapes, etc.
We’re currently sitting at Gate 10 of the Kansai International Airport in Osaka, Japan. We always depart from Japan from this gate; fortunately it’s a relatively pleasant spot for an airport gate, with a good view of some planes rolling back and forth. A few years ago they installed a wi-fi access point which is handy for killing time before our flight.
It was, as always, a good trip. The sakura have been beautiful for the last few days–which is somewhat lucky, since for the first time we arrived in, and left, Tokyo before they opened. We spent a chunk of yesterday evening hanging out on one of the platforms in the train station, watching the shinkansen go too and fro. I took some photos specifically intended to measure the velocities of the trains as they left; we’ll see how that works out once I’m able to put them into Photoshop and make some measurements. I have a number of photos of more general interest which I’ll post in the near future.
We visted Uji yesterday. Uji is a small city on the edge of Kyoto and the site of several things of significance particularly to the Japanese and one particularly to me. The last ten chapters of The Tale of Genji take place in Uji, making it the setting for part of Japan’s most famous work of literature. Among many temples and shrines in Uji is the Byodoin temple, a World Heritage site and also the building which appears on the 10 yen coin.
To me, however, the important thing about Uji is tea. Most(? all?) of the best tea producers in Japan are located in or near Uji. Uji is to tea as Congac is to brandy: it’s not the only place it’s made, but the best stuff is made there. It’s a short train ride from Kyoto Station, so we decided to visit it and look around a bit. It’s next to a river and the cherry blossoms were blooming gloriously.
I had the best of intentions to do a blog entry today about attempting to learn and speak Japanese, but it’s not gonna happen–I don’t have the energy and I am, after all, on vacation. So, instead here’s a quickie post and a silly video.
We walked from the Yasaka Shrine to Kyo-Mizu Temple today. This is one of our now-traditional activities while in Japan. This time it was cold but we had a fine time nonetheless. The cherry blossoms are in abundance now and the weather was clear, so it was a lovely day for a walk.
When it comes to luxurious hotel accomodations, the ANA Crowne Plaza in Kobe pretty much takes the cake. The Asakusa View Hotel in Tokyo will always be dear to us, despite being slightly dated, because it was the first hotel we stayed in in Japan, and the Hotel Granvia in Kyoto will always seem like our home away from home. The Crowne Plaza, however, beats ’em both in the Gee, It’s Really Nice To Be Self-Indulgent Now And Then category. Nice views, too. In about 15 minutes we’re heading up to the 37th-floor lounge for cocktails with our friends Sid and Takako Makino.
It’s about 10:45AM here in Kobe. We’re having a leisurely morning with very little planned before meeting our friends at 2:00.
Japan got hit by a tropical storm yesterday. I say “Japan” as in “the whole country” because the storm did pretty much go right across most of the country. Kobe itself made national news because it received over 50mm of rain between 1:30 and 2:30PM. We were out in the shopping district for most of the day, but fortunately we were in one of the covered streets during the worst of the storm. We read in the paper today that there were a few injuries–mostly folks being blown right off their feet. Sadly, an elderly man was crushed to death when a warehouse next to his home collapsed. We’re fine, of course, but the walk back to the hotel was very windy.
We’re now in Kobe, having traveled here by shinkansen from Tokyo yesterday. Sorry for the lack of bloggage but our days have been busy and I haven’t been particularly feeling like typing. The quick summary of events since my last post is that we went back to Ginza the next day for more strolling and window-shopping. We arrived in Kobe yesterday afternoon and poked around Chinatown and the nearby shopping areas. I fulfilled one of the quests for this trip, which was to obtain a new handle-less teapot for brewing gyokuro. Shortly we’re heading for more or less the same area, since we kind of whipped through part of it on the mistaken assumption that we’d pass through it on the way back. It’s raining today so we’ll mostly stick to the covered shopping streets.
Today we visited Ginza, a district of Tokyo we haven’t been to before. Ginza is arguably the most famous shopping area on the planet, and it’s easy to see why. Every high-end clothing label is represented there, either in its own store or in one of the several posh department stores. Prada, for example, occupies four floors of a skyscraper. There is lots to buy besides clothing, though; there are also flagship stores for Sony and Yamaha’s musical-instruments division (complete with a concert hall that occupies three floors and a recording studio in the basement), a Mont Blanc store, and so on. We ended up spending most of the time in a six-storey toy store and the housewares floor of one of the department stores. A young saleswoman made my day by telling me, “your Japanese is beautiful!” (And no, she wasn’t trying to sell me anything at the time.)
Okay, yeah, not Mecca literally, since we’re in Japan. But for someone interested in electronics, or Japanese pop culture, or both, Akihabara in Tokyo is the holy city. We’ve been there before, but thanks to a lack of preparation and a foray in the wrong direction, we ended up seeing very little of it. This time, thanks to a great video on the Dangerous Prototypes site, I was better prepared.
The electronics shops are amazing. On the other hand, it made me realize how lucky I am to live near J B Saunders, an electronics shop in Boulder which I’ve frequented since my college days. Saunders doesn’t have either the breadth or the depth of the shops in Akihabara, but it does offer the same hands-on shopping experience described in the Dangerous Prototypes video.