Monthly Archives: December 2005

Hong Kong Day 19-20

Day 19

It’s hard to be in Hong Kong without making comparisons to Japan.  People here also love their cell phones, but make calls incessantly.  Almost everyone is talking away in public, where in Japan, everyone is always quietly texting a message to someone.

People are less shy and more aggressive here.  When you ask for a discount at a local store in Japan, the sales person will apologize, and shy away, while the Chinese merchants here openly debate and cajole you into retracting your offer.  I almost had fun baiting the camera salespeople here.  I even managed to start bargaining in Chinese:

(in Cantonese)

Salesperson: What are you looking for?
Me: A Canon lens.  17-85. 
Salesperson: Ah…4800 HKD.
Me: Too much!  Your competitor is offering 4190 HKD.  You’ve got to at least match that.
Salesperson: (plays with calculator)  Okay 4190.
Me: Then I should just go back to his store!

None of our lips matched the above lines, by the way.

We started today’s outing in Central, where we walked to the Star Ferry and used our Octopus card to take the ferry across the harbour to Kowloon.  The area of Tsim Sha Tsui is the pier and peninsula on the other side, fronted by a number of museums and backed with a road of both high end boutiques and high pressure bargain stores.

The Ferry is a key element of Hong Kong’s history and tourism.  Aging ferries, not unlike the boats that steam to the Toronto Islands, used to take commuters back and forth from the Island to Kowloon.  Today, a fast subway tunnel does that more efficiently and the harbour crossing is really more for tourists.  But it’s nonetheless a beautiful perspective on the sea, watching ships and boats traverse these fragrant harbour waters.

As we got off the ferry, we walked by the landmark Peninsula Hotel.  The surrender of the colony during World War II was signed here with the Japanese, and years later, James Bond visited in the Man with the Golden Gun.  The stores along the next street, Nathan Road, alternated between some boutique labels and somewhat sleazy electronics vendors.

Along the way, peddlers very aggressively tried to hawk their fake watches, hand tailored suits and other wares directly into your face, often not taking no for an answer, which was really irritating.  I stopped into a few camera shops along the way, but it was obvious most didn’t have stock or weren’t trustable to buy from.  Thankfully with the Internet and friends, it’s much easier to spot a good deal from a bad one these days.  Whether it’s shady camera shops in New York, Toronto or Hong Kong, there’s always someone out to make a quick buck on an unsuspecting buyer.

I met back up with Nadine at the Hong Kong Museum of Art, which featured artwork from Hong Kong and Chinese artists, mostly painters.  I wasn’t a big fan of the landscape work that was so common in the galleries, but I did like the contemporary Asian art featured in one of the exhibits.

We went to the Science Museum as well, after lunch at the new TST Sogo department store. The Science Museum is similar to the Ontario Science Center.  Lots of hands on stuff.   Some of the exhibits were getting older but others were surprisingly up to date.  Of interest was a Vivid Group Mandala Soccer VR game, which brought back a lot of memories for me, as well as a a fantastic telecommunications exhibit.

The telecom exhibit included some really nifty displays, including a real working plugboard exchange, a functioning Strowger step by step frame, various sizes of transpacific cable, a fibre optic transmission demonstration, and a neat cellular demo where kids could try and catch a moving car using various cell towers.

We returned to Causeway Bay to have dinner with my family and later went to the Yacht Club to see the Hong Kong harbourfront from a fantastic vantage point.

Day 20

This morning Nadine came with me to visit the family grave site on Hong Kong Island.  We took the subway to Chai Wan, at the easternmost stop on the Island line, then grabbed a taxi up to the cemetery.   The cemetery is built up on the mountain, with terraced levels each holding a row of graves.

Finding the right lot on this hill of several different cemeteries was a challenge almost out of Amazing Race.  However, I had a photograph of my father and mother at the grave, which I used to line up the background of bushes and railings.

After paying my respects at the family plot, we walked back down the hill, finding a monument to Canadian, British and Indian soldiers who held the Island during the onslaught of Japanese forces during World War II.  There’s a Canadian History Minute video about it Canada’s contribution to defending this colony.

Nadine went to inquire about church services for Sunday, while I went back to the Mid-Levels near the elevator and bought the Canon 17-85 IS USM telephoto lens.  I shot with it the rest of the day and I found I could hold stable shots at full extension at 85mm (135mm on full frame) at 1/25 sec.  I like the new lens a lot.

We met with my family for dim sum, at the Hong Kong Jockey Club and later, my uncle drove us around the New Territories and Shatin, which are towards the north of Kowloon, just before China.

We had dinner in Hong Kong at a fantastic seafood restaurant where live stock was brought in from the street market out front and cooked for us immediately.

Hong Kong Day 17-18

Day 17

Our last day in Japan started out rainy and got rainier, unfortunately.  As the flight left 6PM, we needed to be leaving for the airport around 2PM, given an hour and a half long trip on the Keisei train line from Asakusa.  Hence, we’d have to figure out what to do in the morning only.

Both of us went to Roppongi, the hip and happening place for foreigners in Tokyo.  First, we got out a stop ahead and saw Tokyo Tower.  This steel tower is reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower in Paris getting spraypainted red and white so that planes could land easier.  Admittedly, given the overcast sky and the rain, the Tower didn’t live up to it’s cousin in France.

We walked up the soggy streets of Roppongi, with it’s expensive restaurants and boutiques finally finding the Axis Building.  The building holds a design and graphics company, but also features a gallery space and several boutique stores which sell design oriented products such as Danish stereomaker Bang and Olufsen.  There’s also a very small one room gallery of the Japanese Industrial Designers Association.

Nadine left to see the Tokyo Museum of Modern Art, while I waited for the Braun industrial design exposition presented in the Gallery.  This was an extension of the materials we saw in Gion Corner in Kyoto and featured extensive history on Braun’s corporate identity and design involvement.  What’s really fantastic is a Braun juicer from 1955 looks as perfect as an iPod today.  Most of my guesses as to when a product hit market were off by 10-20 years late.

I spent till about noon at the Gallery, then headed back to Asakusa where I met up with Nadine to get to the Airport.  We took the Keisei railway back to Narita and onto a 747 bound for Hong Kong.  On the plane, they introduced the meals as Asian style chicken and ‘flat pasta’, better known as lasagna.  I didn’t realize how much I didn’t want anything remotely Eastern after 17 days.

I spent a good portion of the time listening to the ATC channel they put on the entertainment system:  You can listen to the tower and other planes being given permission to take off, land and taxi and the controllers directing planes to get in line and follow each other.

Kinda weird, but I also liked the John Cusack movie about Air Traffic Controllers too.

Four hours later, we were cleared on runway 24R at Hong Kong’s new airport and descended into the city, bathed in lights.  On to the MTR with a Tourist Octopus card, a far reaching RFID ID card that gets you on buses, subways and pays for food too, and we were off for Hong Kong Island.

Day 18

Today we embarked on our first day in Hong Kong after 17 in Japan.  The first task at hand was to see the Peak, the top of the mountain of Hong Kong Island.  Sweltering uphill in 29 degree heat, we got to the Peak Tram station in the Central district and rode it uphill to the Victoria Peak.  The view was interesting, but we continued along a route called the Morning Path, favoured by locals as early exercise to start the day.  We went downhill, rounding around the peak on a twisty path, meeting oncoming locals going uphill, walking their dogs or getting their morning workout.   Each successive turn seemed to reveal an even better vista of the Island’s skyscrapers and apartments below, all bunched up as if they had slid down the side of the mountain and were keeping from slipping into the water by bunching up at the harbourfront.  On the other side was Kowloon and Tsim Sha Tsui, where we’ll be visiting tomorrow.

As I snapped a number of photos for a panorama, I saw a Canon 1DsMkII shooter doing the same thing.  It’ll make for a great printout at Costco on 12×18’s!

It took most of the morning to navigate the route down to Hong Kong University, where we grabbed a bus using our Octopus card back to Central district.  After finding something to eat, we continued to Sheung Wan by subway, where we started our second walking tour of the day, going to the Western Market, then looping around to see many of the stores and trading streets of the city, selling goods as diverse as sea cucumbers, old antiques and shark fins.

We also took the world’s longest escalator uphill to find the area of Soho, with it’s trendy bars and restaurants, and back down to find the camera shops of Stanley Street where I started price shopping on a Canon 17-85 IS USM telephoto lens.

One of the trendy places in Soho is a conveyor belt sushi restaurant.  Unfortunately, it’s Westerner maitre’d and expensive looking interior decoration suggests it’s upscale for something that is considered fast food in Japan.

We eventually made it back down to Central, where, walking under the aluminum clad British High Tech Hong Kong Shanghai Bank building, designed by Sir Norman Foster in 1985, we went to the newer Bank of China building, a towering spire of geometric shapes rising above the city.  On the 43st floor, we could see out again onto Hong Kong.

Nadine and I had dinner in Soho, at a Mexican place with fajitas, and went back to Causeway Bay after.  My favourite apple drink commands a fair price at the Japanese Sogo department store, I’ve found.  I will buy a bottle to commemorate the trip for the way home.  I have tried some other drinks today, most notably the MJ Pear Juice, which features Korean Pear Puree as a key ingredient.

I walked around alone in Causeway Bay, amidst the heat and the noise of Hong Kong.  It’s bright neon surrounded me, bright stores selling cellular phones and fashions, signs and lights as high as I could see.  It’s like an artificial sky of signage grows over the streets, a tent city cover over the asphalt of this busy metropolis.

Tomorrow it’s off to see the other side of Hong Kong, Kowloon.

Japan Day 15-16

Day 15

This morning we took the Akita Shinkansen out Utsunomiya, then transferred to Nikko, the home of a very large World Heritage site of temples and shrines.  We started in Ueno, a hub of activity in Tokyo and waited as train after train of commuters were dispatched briskly by the platform conductors.  The JR East lines have colourful trains, while the Central Tokaido trains are white with blue striping, the East have pink, yellow and other more extravagant colour schemes.  Almost all of them were running in multiple trainset consists, two power cars nose to nose, their fibreglass fairings left open.

As we bumbled into Nikko on a local train, we started up the long path uphill towards the site.  Just at the edge of the Nikko National Park, we saw the Shinkyo Bridge, a sacred structure running over a rushing river rapids with the beautiful mountains behind it.

The site itself consists of four major buildings, the Rinnoji Temple, the Toshugu Shrine (the tomb of the first Tokugawa Shogun, a key figure in Japanese history), the Futarasan Shrine (not a big deal from what I could tell),  and the Taiyun Temple (the tomb of the third Shogun).  The Toshogu Shrine featured a ceiling and floor which echoed the monk’s loud beat of two pieces of wood together.  Most impressive was the settings of the buildings, which were often nestled in age-old trees and terraced staircases.

We had lunch in a small Korean place along the way back to the station.  It was covered in testimonials written by tourists, both from around Japan and the world. As a cleverly written note from a American traveler stated, Korean food is to Japanese food as Mexican food is to American food.  Cucumbers dressed in kimchee like peppers and spices made me fear what this kitchen could cook up, but the beef tail (their words, not mine) and ramen I had was just fine.

The trip to Nikko took up most of a day, so when we got back, we headed to the Ikebukuro Station, to find the large department stores the Japanese are for.  Even when I visited Hong Kong as a teenager, the best shopping was done at the large Japanese department stores,
reminiscent of Eatons or Simpsons in Toronto or better yet, the big names like Macy’s in New York or Harrods in London. It turns out the Tobu Department store, filled with expensive items, is just like the latter too–designer goods and expensive wines and pastries filling out the 11 floors it holds, not to mention the self-described ‘excellent restaurants’ on the floors above.

I decided to go back to the hostel early tonight, to rest for an early morning tomorrow as well as to check out the roundabout sushi place down the street.

Day 16

We woke up really early today to see the Tsukiji Fish Market, also known as the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market.  Unlike many of the places we’ve gone to which are very clearly for foreigners to visit as tourists, complete with gift shops and photo ready vantage points, the fish market was really authentic and busy with it’s regular duties.  This huge, sprawling facility is where all the restaurants and shops go to get their fish from major wholesalers and other distributors.

It’s hard to describe the commotion and frenzy that was at this market so early in the morning:  It’s said the market opens at 4AM, but even at 7AM, it was still jumping with activity.  Hundreds of small truck-lifts sped around us, as if out of a scene from ‘the Fifth Element’: These little forklift like vehicles were basically a small platform to put boxes of fish with a turret like motor which the operator could spin around 360 degrees to make the vehicle turn. This allowed for very tight turning circles in this very crowded space.

While it wasn’t the pristine hills of Nikko, the Fish Market, with it’s dirty floors and fish guts everywhere, brimmed with energy. Everyone around us was involved with selling, auctioning, inspecting or preparing fish.  As one man gutted an eel in front of me, another pair were cutting frozen fish with band saws and a fourth was flinging slabs of ice for packing.

Visually, it was incredible, with dynamic light, lots of movement, and quick moves needed to get the shots in.  I’d fling around the camera, powered up, focus in, then snap before the guts of a fish came flying around or worse, a truck or forklift hit me, walking from aisle to aisle.

We split up at that point to go visit different things: Nadine went to see some of the museums around Ueno, while I headed to the Shinjuku area to look at cameras and to Akihabara to see the Electric Town of electronic goods.

The Shinjuku area was quiet when I got there around 9AM, as most of the places would open about an hour later.  There were many large, multifloored electronics stores, one of which was Yodabashi Camera.  Inside, on every floor, over and over again, played a jingle based on the Battle Hymn of the Republic, except both in English and Japanese, the words of Glory, Glory Hallelujah were replaced with some variant of Yodabashi Camera.

By lunch, I made it Akihabara, the location of the famous giant electronics arcade. Some of the stores are very small:  Just nooks in inner streets and hallways.  One store sold only old remote
controls, CD players and manuals to ten year old LD players.  Others had the latest.  The largest stores had very bright fluorescent lighting, which caused a bit of a headache for me.

One building was dedicated to nothing but toys and models.  I will sum up some of the floors with useful descriptions:

  • Wow, that’s a lot of guns
  • All the limbs you’ll ever need
  • Giant robots by the dozen
  • Amply endowed doll eats Pocky

As in Den Den Town, most surprising is the recycling of old computers, accessories and cameras.  Entire stores of used machines exist,which makes me feel at least stuff is being put back into use. After an afternoon of endless stores, which can weave in and out of various sides of buildings, up and down stairs, I was getting a little beat.

At Sacha’s recommendation, I went to find the puzzle vendor outside the JR Station gate.  An old man explained his wares to me, handcrafted Japanese wooden boxes which appear to have no latches or joints.  Careful sliding of intricately patterned surfaces in a specific way allow for the box to open only after a series of careful moves.  He was very eager to show how the boxes scaled from simple to extremely difficult and while I tend to hate mindbenders, aiming for a low brow approach to pretty well everything in life, I did appreciate his candor and earnest interest in his products.  He left me with a business card sized piece of paper with a greyscale gradient on it.  Put your finger in the middle, and the difference between the two sides of the top disappear: Your finger casts a shadow, which your brain matches to the gradient.  Pretty neat.

Japan Day 14

Day 14
Quality Sushi

There was no joy for baseball this morning in Hiroshima, the home team here being the Toyo Carp and not the Tigers.  Though Carp banners hung from the shopping arcade ceilings, it was drab this morning as rain came down lightly this morning, cool yet moist in the air on a Sunday. We took a streetcar up to the main station, and from there, hopped on a Shinkansen headed northbound towards Shin-Osaka.

Along the way I purchased some omiyage–gifts for coworkers.  My manager at work mentioned this custom, where employees consider it a dishonour and an impediment to the team to take a vacation, hence, they bring back gifts when they return. I picked up some in the form of maple leaf shaped cookies.  Maple leaves, it appears, seems to celebrate the autumn season here in Japan and the gift and bento stands were decorated by bright orange, yellow and red leaves.

The afternoon was pretty pedestrian: At Shin-Osaka we interchanged onto our second bullet train of the day, onwards to Tokyo proper.  After another three hours, we were at Tokyo Station, where we interchanged to another local loop and onto the subway, returning us to Asakusa.

Tonight we went to the Shimbuya district of Tokyo, along Takeshita Street with it’s crazy post-punk fashion stores and youngsters all around.  Some were dressed up in goth outfits, others in Kelly Osborne-esque getups.  One girl had so much bronzer on, she looked  like Beyonce Knowles, complete with teased out blonde hair.

In summary, all I can say is, it’s hard to top a sushi restaurant with ISO9001 certification. Tonight, the place we went to literally had their document of certification hung right up on the wall.  If you can certify software development for quality process, you can certainly do it for raw fish and rice.

Japan Day 13

Day 13

We left the bustling city of Osaka today and headed for Hiroshima, further west and south on the central island of Japan.  As the JR West Japan RailStar 700 came up to speed at 270km/h, we found ourselves at this important city only about an hour and a half later.

Our first goal was to get to Miyajimaguchi, a small town on Itsukushima Island, which features a beautiful gate, or ‘torii’ out in the water just beyond it’s shrine.  The idea was that commoners had to go through the gate out the water, as the island is scared in the Shinto religion.

Once we got to Hiroshima’s main train station by Shinkansen, we left our bags in a very large locker and proceeded to go by local train to Miyajimaguchi.  From that station, we could take a ferry boat,across the short hop to the island.

Built in 1168, the torii’s bright orange was set off from the blues, greys and greens of the mountains and sea in the background and made for great photos, as hundreds of others found out.  As we walked around, we heard a band, rehearsing in a large temple space up above on a hill.

Returning to Hiroshima, we took one of the many streetcars to our hotel.  We got on the wrong one, but with a bit of luck and a transfer card, we got to the right one after a few stops and a change over.  We checked into a ‘business’ hotel, which is a hotel with small rooms and few amenities.  It’s pretty desolate but just fine for the night we’ll spend here until returning to Tokyo.

After leaving our bags at the hotel, we went onwards to see the heart of Hiroshima’s historic past: The Peace Park and Museum.  The museum, which features many exhibits about the nuclear bomb dropped on this city, highlighted the tragedy that ended World War II in the Pacific.  The museum doesn’t really frame the context of the entire World War, but instead focuses on what happened in Hiroshima and the rebuilding of the city afterwards.  It’s goal, is to inform and discourage the use of atomic weapons.

When we entered, a large digital clock at the entrance counted the number of days since the dropping of the bomb in Hiroshima as well as the number of days since the last atomic test which was only about 460 days ago.  I instantly thought of some newcomer to the nuclear club, such as India or Pakistan.  Instead, as I found out later, it was Russia.  Every known test is petitioned by telegram by the mayor of the city, being one of two in the world to have actually experienced such an event.  Reading the language of the telegrams from the Cold War to the language used now to leaders such as Putin and Bush, you can tell attitudes have changed in the world.

The museum features many displays and artifacts, from personal belongings to scale models of the epicenter of the explosion.  In the center of the park outside, is a cenotaph dedicated to those who died.  Further along is a monument to all the children who perished, including the famous Sadako and her thousand paper cranes.  There are several large glass boxes in which paper cranes from around the world, folded by children in school or elsewhere, are mailed to and kept.

I caught up with Nadine at the bombed out remains of the old Genbaku Dome, a building formerly known as the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, now only a skeleton of it’s past structure. Today, most recognize it as the last standing building closest to the hypocenter or ground zero of the explosion.   As I looked up and down the river, you could see youngsters playing the guitar, an old man paddling his boat and families gathered around.  Hiroshima had rebuilt and prospered, as will other cities that suffered similar tragedies.

Even more obvious proof was evident when we walked into town, looking at the various stores and restaurants.  We had dinner at a restaurant with mostly counter seating, where you picked what you wanted, paid your money to a vending machine which printed you a ticket, then put the ticket on the counter for the cook take and prepare your meal.  I had the heart stopping combination of bacon, corn, egg, seaweed and ramen noodle.

Nadine found a used English book store, run by foreigners who called themselves ‘the Outsiders Book Nook’ while I managed to visit one of the larger electronics stores.  It was, undoutably, very bright and very well stocked.   I also, found the exact opposite of the 90 degree USB cable:  It was the wrong end, the flat end, not the square end.

Tomorrow we return to Tokyo on a four hour Shinkansen ride.  We’ve been systematically making our way down the coastline and now are returning up to the beginning.

Japan Day 12

Day 12

Many things happened today, including the fact I nearly had to buy an EOS20D DSLR, but more on that later.

Tiger fever is all around us here in Osaka, as the city celebrated it’s victory.  As I type this, the Tigers rally song is playing through a tinny speaker in the shopping arcade behind me.  The Hanshin department store is having a sale, as are many other places nearby.  Everyone is wearing their favourite Tiger clothing, men and women, young and old.  On my way back to the hotel tonight, I got a Tigers cardboard loudhailer, except the girl who gave it to me motioned that I had to wear it on my head.  Everyone else was, so here I was, standing in the middle of Kita/Umeda in bustling Osaka, with a cardboard cone on my head, with several other folks, sararimen in suits, teenagers, and the like, all wearing these silly cones.

We took a Shinkansen out from Osaka to Himeji this morning, bright and early. Himeji is about 30 minutes or so by train and features a beautiful white castle, finished in 1609.   About 15 minutes away from the train station, the outer moat was actually where the JR tracks are today.

Nadine and I walked up through the castle, wearing slippers to avoid damage of these cultural heritage sites.  I already have trouble wearing slippers, but climbing 50 degree staircases made of creaking wood adds a certain amount of difficulty. From the sixth floor, you can see around Himeji, a relatively small town.  In the distance are graceful rolling hills.

This is where, coincidentally, I forgot my camera on a park bench.

Around the time we were walking to the track for the return train, I was thinking about lining up a shot of a JR Series 500 Shinkansen streaking by with it’s characteristic pencil sharp nose and grey and silver livery colours.  This was also the time I realized I my Lowepro backpack was a bit lighter than usual and that I didn’t have my EOS300D slung around my shoulder.

I was contemplating how much ‘idiot coverage’ my travel insurance covered and if I could afford a EOS20D with 17-85 IS USM lens package with it as we walked by to the castle.  There a professional shooter doing tourist group shots had found the camera and was keeping it safe.  I was really thankful he had found it.  He asked to see my photos and mentioned he figured it was a traveler instead of a local because all of my menus were set to English.

Overall, I’ve found Japan is a very safe and trusting place.  As a fellow tourist from a British group we’ve been running into here and there says, ‘it’s strange to leave your rucksack and not have it nicked’.

We headed back to the bustling metropolis of Osaka, where, now expert in the configuration of the Osaka JR Loop Line, a circular railway which encircles the city, we went to see Osaka Castle, situated not far from Den Den Town.  This building from the outside looks pretty similar to Himeji’s castle.  However, this one was only built in 1931, a reproduction from the same period.

The original Osaka Castle was started in 1583, but was completely burn down in the 1615 after a significant siege.  The new one built in it’s place features elevators, a museum, and air conditioning.  The view from the eight floor of this structure is startling, when you see the
skyscrapers of the city surrounding it.

The last time I was in Montreal, I found this strange hand dryer in a bar which was so powerful, it blew your skin around.  Today we found a Mitsubishi hand dryer which was shaped like a U.   As you put your hands in the top of the dryer, a thin curtain of fast moving air dried your hands in an instant.  I was suitably impressed.

After Osaka Castle, Nadine planned to visit the Osaka Museum, which I decided to opt out of, instead, needing some time to rest, the few days of nothing but noodles, sushi, and traveling catching up with me.  I eventually headed back to Den Den Town, Osaka’s electric goods avenue.  On my way, I saw the NHK Osaka building, the national broadcaster.  As if a matte painting out of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, this gleaming arc of a building shot up from the ground, it’s technofuturistic shape only punctuated by a small NHK logo and an array of microwave domes on the very top.

Named after the first syllable of the Japanese word for electricity, Den Den Town warranted a return trip.  The prices weren’t anything to write home about, but the variety is surprising.  I particularly liked the stores of used computers, which I mentioned last night.   Unlike our used computer shops, which are mostly populated with corporate lease returns of old Dells and Compaqs, these stores have a spread of very small and compact computers, usually the size of a small phonebook, or sometimes, built right into the LCD panel display.   The staff are seen in the background, scrambling to unscrew hard disks and wipe the drives of personal information, putting them back out on display.

Speaking of science fiction, William Gibson’s seminal novel, Neuromancer, speaks of a market street where ‘softs’ are traded and sold, in a bazaar.  Just like the book in Den Den Town–neon signs proclaim softs for sale–used and new software–and even lavender MemorySticks can be found, loose in a bright red plastic basket for 940 yen a piece.

I also found a number of hobby shops which sold all sorts of anime and manga related items like models, figures and videos.  Though I’m not really into anime, I did recognize a few of the Japanese names like Gundam, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Macross.  Macross Plus, Seven, Zero and Do You Remember Love? to be exact.

I ended up buying something, yes, the great Ebbro 1/43th scale Honda JDM Inspire, also known as the Honda North American Accord.  Going for about $55 Canadian in Toronto (once talked down to $35 plus tax), I found it for 2900 yen, which was a sale due to Hanshin Tiger mania today.  The Ebbro model is a highly detailed model of the Inspire, which is the same body style as my Accord.  The clerk behind the sales desk couldn’t really figure out why I would want this model–apparently the Inspire isn’t very popular here.

I also got a strange USB cable extender for 300 yen made of weighted rubber.  Sadly, and I did spend a lot of time looking for it, no 90 degree USB cables were to be found.

The breadth and depth of the items stocked at these stores, is staggering. Want a plastic model of a Nissan Skyline?  A JR Series 100 shinkansen train?  In N or HO?  The computer stores stock rows upon rows of motherboards, memory chips and hard disks, more varied than any store at home, though not at any better of a price.  A regular Chinese computer store in Toronto might have five or six keyboards. The keyboard section here has about thirty–including an all black Happy Hacker Keyboard, which has a fantastic tactile response and an Sun Type4/Amiga style Control key placement.

We met back at the hotel and headed out for dinner in Kita.  I had seen an ad for another conveyor belt sushi place, which I think Nadine humoured me in going to.  After dinner, we walked back through on the elevated pedestrian walkway, where bands were playing in the humid night sky to passerbys.

One band playing underneath the walkways was Trick Star Jump, a U2-esque quartet rocking out on the streets of Osaka.  I snapped a few photos of them, their faces dripping with sweat in the evening heat as they entertained the crowd of Japanese city dwellers.  As they finished their set, the lead singer rushed to give out photocopied handouts for their upcoming gigs.

All in all, a pretty full day.  Two castles, a Osaka rock band, more conveyor belt sushi, all the MiniDisc players you could ever want, a scale model of Ohio’s pride and joy, and I nearly lost my EOS300D.

Your comments, by the way, are encouraging and fun to read.  Tomorrow we are headed south to Hiroshima, then a day later, back to Tokyo and onwards to Hong Kong after that.

Japan Day 11

Day 11
From Monastery to Madness

We woke up early today at the Sekishoin temple, which is the home of several Buddhist monks.  These monks have seen fit to equip their guest rooms with the best freakin’ shower and toilet ever invented.  The space is so large it’s like I’m in Canada again.

At 7AM, we filed downstairs to the main hall, where we sat, quietly, at the back of the room as monks came in, dressed in their robes and sashes, and started prayer.  After about fifteen minutes, we were invited to come up, receiving a bracelet in kind gesture, to bow and pray at the various shrines.  Apart from us, there was a young European couple, an elderly Japanese husband and wife, and a sole older Japanese lady.

About half an hour later, we were welcomed into the dining hall, where breakfast had been set up for us.  Sitting across from Nadine, I sat on a pillow, and ate the breakfast presented, which included rice, seaweed, a tofu mixture, several pickled vegetables and miso soup.  The highlight was a ridiculously sour Japanese plum, which I had tried before in Udon noodle soup at Nara.  We had our tea, bade farewell to our monk hosts, and went off to see Koyasan in the morning.

Our first direction was westward, to see the cemetery, called Okunoin.  Amongst huge old trees, were old shrines, headstones and markers.   Thousands of them lined the pathway to a shrine, Kobodaishi Gobyo, where visitors could check on one of thousands of lanterns.  These lanterns, powered constantly with an electric bulb inside, must represent someone who has passed, or at least I surmised, as each had a unique identification number and maps of their numeric layout for visitors were all over.

The highlight of the cemetery for us was a rock, which pilgrims were supposed to lift to a higher shelf about six inches away.  The heavier the rock, the greater your sins were. I couldn’t lift the rock, nor could Nadine.  I suspect it’s a ploy to make people feel guilty about themselves.

We also visited the central monastery for the region, the Kongobuji Temple.  This is the headquarters for a specific type of Buddhism, that of the Shingon school.  While visiting temples is de rigeur for us on this trip, this one, built in 1863, had a pleasant surprise at the far end for us:  We were ushered to sit down and have tea with a biscuit in the new annex hall, built in 1984 as part of a celebration of the 1150th anniversary of the founder’s death.

Finally, we walked over to the giant pagoda we saw last night, called Gayan.  However, it is apparently called a stupa, not a pagoda, and was built in 1937.  Few things do not fit in the 18mm wideangle of my camera.  This huge structure required me to step back three times. Mount Koya was actually quite chilly this time of year and for the first time since the airplane from Canada, I had put on my fleece jacket.  We took the bus back to the cable car, then back out towards Osaka.

The rest of the afternoon was a long and convoluted trip, probably of interest only to railfans.  Started at the cable car at Koyasan, got onto a DMU going downwards to Hashimoto on the Nankai line, then exchanged to a JR line train to Wayakata, which from there, transferred to another JR train to Osaka, where we got lost for about half an hour and eventually found our hotel in the Kita area of town.

We went to the Minami area of Osaka, near Namba station after checking in and got promptly lost in it’s dark streets, punctuated by very bright stores here and there.  After walking around for a while, we stumbled into Den Den Town, the Osaka equivalent of Akihabara.  Huge superstores of brightly lit consumer electronics greeted us.

Some strange items in these stores are not common to westerners.  First, there are used laptops for sale, in pretty good condition, including a very small Thinkpad model I had never seen before.  Also, second hand digital cameras are present.  You can get a Coolpix 885 3.2MP camera for only 4800 yen, or about $50.   Pretty neat.  Next door was a store which sold electronic parts.  Not parts like heat sinks and RAM for your PC, but real parts like DIP sockets, headers, and discretes.  It even had items you’d normally have to scrounge through surplus junk for, such as Noritake VFDs, brand new for your experimentation.  It was like a new, clean, retail Active Surplus.

On our way to find the bridge over Dotomborigawa River, we turned in to some shopping arcades, huge brightly lit outdoor streets, with hundreds of stores.   In one, we found thousands of people, cheering.

What for?  The home team, the Hanshin Tigers, had won, entering them into the playoffs with another Japanese league team, the Dragons.  The mob, under the watchful eye of hundreds of policemen, were cheering, waving inflatable bats and noisemakers, letting go of balloons when
runs were scored.  It was joyous pandemonium and we were right inside of it, not sure what was happening or why these people were so eager.