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Street performers

| japan

dagbrown and I spent an afternoon watching street performers in Ueno
Park. We caught two performers. The first did juggling, hat juggling,
diabolo, and acrobatics on rickety chairs. The second did devilsticks
and cup juggling. They were really cool, _and_ really funny! (My
Japanese is getting better, too. I actually got the jokes… =))

I’m a big fan of street performers, and one of my life-goals is to be
good enough to draw crowds. Street performers are masters at getting
and keeping a crowd’s attention. They’re really, really fun. A flair
for theater will help me in teaching, too.

Kathy and I don’t really have patter or comedy going, but that’s
something I’d like to explore—perhaps when I have a few more tricks
up my sleeve. I should buy a diabolo set before I go home, as they’re
cooler than devilsticks.

Anyway, that was way cool.

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Weekend with dds and Ben

| geek, japan

dds and his friend Ben came
up to Tokyo last weekend, and I had tons of fun hanging out with them.
We met at the Edo-Tokyo Museum in Ryogaku at 10:00 last Saturday morning. There was a bit of
a mixup; I thought I was supposed to meet Sebastian Duval then as
well, but it turned out that was supposed to be Sunday. Whoops.

The Edo-Tokyo Museum was a fascinating glimpse of Tokyo before it was
Tokyo. I particularly liked the intricately carved minatures showing
the architecture of Japanese houses. The splendid portable shrines
were also remarkable, as was the elaborate kabuki display. Pity I’d
forgotten my camera then! I hope Ben will post pictures soon.

After the museum, we headed over to Akihabara, a must-see spot for all
electronics geeks. We had lunch at a little noodle shop near the
station. It took me a while to slurp down my hot tanuki udon ( dds
teased me about having a cat’s tongue), so Ben went off to browse
through the bewildering array of electronic devices. Splitting up is
normally a Very Bad Idea because Akihabara’s just so big, but dds
reassured him that we’d be able to find him.

Yeah, right.

Hours later and still no sight of Ben. I started panicking. Poor guy
didn’t know Japanese. He knew Ben’s cellphone number, but I wasn’t
sure if he knew how to use the phones. We waited by the noodle shop
just in case he decided to retrace his steps; no Ben. We made a number
of circuits of Akihabara; no Ben. We finally found him near a
telephone booth on the far side of a wide street, looking very lost and
rather tired.

He didn’t get much sleep on the night train, and he really needed to
take a nap. We took the train to Shinjuku and started looking for the
capsule hotel dds found on the Net. We trudged through a red light /
love hotel district, which was a rather strange experience.
(Fortunately, it was still early afternoon.) Not a capsule hotel in
sight. Eventually we gave up and decided to look for an Internet cafe
or a karaoke box we could leave Ben in; those places have relatively
cheap hourly rates and a karaoke box is soundproof as well. After a
lot of backtracking, we found a reasonable karaoke place that had a
promo until 7:00. We left Ben there and started looking for that
capsule hotel.

dds was well-prepared. He had a GPS phone with a map that tracked his
current position _and_ a watch with a built-in compass, so we
confidently set off to find the capsule hotel that was top on his
list. We crossed to the other side of Shinjuku station… wandered
through a winding alley of little restaurants… wandered around some
more… and realized we were well and truly lost, although we knew
exactly where we were.

So I popped into a store and asked for directions. (It’s fun being a girl.)

… and asked another store for directions…

… and then looked at a map near an underground walkway—they always have
maps of the vicinity, which are very handy…

… and then found the capsule hotel…

… right beside the karaoke place.

At least we didn’t have to walk very far to get back.

Ben was still sleeping, so dds and I chatted in the cafe first. Had my
first hot chocolate of the weekend.

After that, we picked up Ben, showed him the capsule hotel next door,
and had a good laugh about the exercise. Heh.

I wasn’t quite sure what to do in Tokyo at night—I’m not a nightlife
person, you know—but I took them to Harajuku anyway to show them some
costume shops and other weird things. That was okay, although not
particularly impressive.

After that, we had a somewhat unsatisfying dinner at a small Japanese
restaurant. There’s a first time for everything, I guess, so that was
more of a learning experience than dinner. Not that I was hungry
afterwards, but anyway… =)

We walked around a little bit, then they decided to turn in; they were
tired from the trip and they wanted to get a good start tomorrow. So I
went back to the dorm, looked up nice places to go on the Net, and
e-mailed dds an itinerary that included some of the architectural
stuff he wanted to see.

After a good night’s sleep, I met them at the corner in front of their
capsule hotel. We ate breakfast at Matsuya, a 24h store that offers
(among other things) a natto combo set. ‘Natto’ is a dish of fermented
soybeans, which most people find a little odd. dds is addicted to the
thing. I was thinking of trying it out again, but between my ham and
egg meal and the salad Ben passed to me, I got quite full.

We went to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office after breakfast.
The building complex is majestic and the view from the twin
observatories is not only spectacular but also free, so it’s a
must-stop for Tokyo visitors. Mt. Fuji rose above the mass of
buildings glinting in the clear, sunny day; great view.

We picked up a few pamphlets from the tourist information office on
the first floor. I needed a map of Odaiba, the artificial island we
were going to visit next. Thus prepared, we took the train to
Shinbashi and transferred to the monorail, squeezing into the front of
the car so that we could see the view.

The Fuji TV building was first on our list, as it boasted a spherical
observatory. It would’ve been cooler if the observatory was mostly
glass, but the view was still good. A few old machines were being
exhibited—a telegraph machine, some elaborate mechanical dolls—and I
was completely fascinated by them. I love looking at minature
automata. I am intrigued by the gears and other mechanisms that
combine in strange ways to make the models move…

After the observatory, we headed for lunch in Little Hongkong. A
delicious ramen meal later, we went to the
science museum. That was so, so, so
cool. There was an Asimo demonstration, a hands-on model of the
Internet using marble drops, lots of information on various
technologies, and a really cool spherical display several meters in
diameter. The display showed the Earth. It had several modes:
satellite images, temperature, prediction, time-lapse… You could
also get it to display other bodies in the solar system. What fun!
That was really, really cool. Check out the Miraikan (National Museum
of Emerging Science and Innovation) if you ever find yourself in

We also went to Venus Fort, a shopping mall whose interiors resemble a
grand 18th century Italian city. A painted sky with changing lights
made us feel like we were outside. Columns and drapes stretched from
floor to ceiling. An elaborate fountain with marble nymphs and gold
decor completed the look. Beautiful place.

We capped our trip by speculating about the techniques used in the
color-changing Ferris wheel in Odaiba (must be some kind of LED thing).
It was hypnotic. =) After that, we took the boat back to Tokyo.

We had curry at a nearby 24-hour shop and then went to an Internet
cafe to relax. Ben needed to transfer photos off his camera and dds
needed to do some online banking. After they were done, we walked
around. dds remembered a beautiful temple near the Daimon station and
he showed me the neat little rows of Jizo statues. (I have a soft spot
for Jizo statues; they’re so cute…) We also walked through a
graveyard and a park before heading in the direction of the next train
station, frequently stopping at cafes for a quick coffee / hot
chocolate fix.

We still had time to spare when we reached the next train station, so
we signed up for 30 minutes of karaoke. That was fun. It was Ben’s
first time, and he did quite well—particularly when, ummm, he did
“Barbie Girl” in this deep voice. I have video. MWAHAHAHA! We did two
songs each, then headed to Tokyo station. I kept them company until
the train was about to leave. <grin>

I had tons of fun this weekend, and definitely look forward to meeting
other geeks. =)

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A weekend in Kansai

| japan

I had a relaxing weekend in Kansai, hopping from Kobe to Kyoto and
then to Osaka. Tita Cora is also fond of creature comforts, so instead
of a set tour, I took her to a 100 yen shop to buy 32 (!) miso soup
bowls and then to a hot spring some 15 minutes away from the train
station. There, on the 7th floor of a building nestled among
apartments, hotels, and curio shops, we indulged in a bewildering
array of baths, including another wine bath.

She left early the next day, so I decided to make the most of my
Sunday by going to Kyoto. I went to the Kyomizudera temple, a
beautiful set of cedar structures set over a cliff. I rented a PDA
audio guide (how could I not patronize such excellent use of
technology?) and made my way around the temple complex listening to
interesting audio snippets and looking at pictures of things not on
public display. Although there were many tourists, the place felt
serene, sublime.

On the way to Kyomizudera and back, I ducked into lots of little curio
shops. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but I found all
the different shapes and colors fascinating. There were shops with
folding fans in a multitude of designs, parasols sold side-by-side
with fancy yukata and slippers, pottery in every shape and style. I
wandered until I felt myself no longer distinguishing new and
interesting things, then I headed back to Kyoto station.

I had friends in Osaka, so I decided to go there instead of heading
all the way back to Kobe. I called the night bus service to move my
departure to Osaka instead, and asked them to e-mail me a map of the
bus stop. I tried to get in touch with my friends, but none of them
replied (that’s the problem when you’re such an impulsive person that
you do everything on short notice), so I just wandered around looking
for an Internet cafe. Yahoo! BB (broadband) had a free Internet cafe
in Yodobashi Camera, and I checked my mail for the map before heading
to the 8th floor of the same building for a wonderful tonkatsu dinner.
Then I wandered through the shops some more. Nearly went for a facial
(only 1000 yen!) but it was already too late by the time I found out
about the offer. Got sucked into a toy shop and couldn’t resist buying
a Rubik’s cube-like thing in the shape of a pyramid.

Then I headed back down to the cybercafe for a quick check. So now
it’s back to Tokyo, and work, and and the rest of life. Just one more

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Umeda bus stop

Posted: - Modified: | japan

Parking lot across the street from the front entrance of HOTEL HANKYU
rectangular plate and is lit up at night. The bus stop is between a
LAWSON convenience store and the PIAS TOWER SQUARE. PIAS TOWER is
easily visible from far away because of its height and greenish glass.
Our staff will be there doing the check in with a table that has a
sign written STAR EXPRESS on it. Please check in with our staff by
telling them your name. They will tell you which bus to take when you
check in. Please find your seat by looking up your name (KATAKANA) on
the seating chart or ask one of our drivers to show you your seat. The
bus is leaving Umeda at 22:50 PM, so please be there no later than
22:30PM. The bus will stop 2-3 times at service areas for break. It
will arrive in Shinjuku Station at around 6:30 AM on January 25, 2005
if there is no heavy traffic.

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I will be in Kobe this weekend…

Posted: - Modified: | japan

… so don’t panic if you don’t see updates from me. =)

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Geek-out weekend

| geek, japan

Had a fantastic weekend geeking out. Saturday’s TLUG technical
presentation introduced me to the joys of Squeak, and I stayed as late
as I could for the karaoke and stuff. Sunday was cold, dreary, and
rainy. This turned out to be a very good thing, although it was gloomy
in the beginning. Rain makes street performers scarce, so I decided to
skip Yoyogi. Thought about going to the Edo-Tokyo Museum, but couldn’t
get in touch with Sebastien (a museum buff who mentioned wanting to go
to the falconry exhibition). Decided to put that off instead. Got in
touch with Dave Brown who invited me up to Saitama for DDR. Aaron
Chmielowiec is a wizard at that thing. Asked him about Dance Maniax.
Apparently, there are no more Dance Maniax machines in normal arcades.

Had tons of fun practicing some songs with the two, as they’re both
better than I am. Browsed through Bic Camera afterwards. Lots of
amusing commentary. Had dinner at an izakaya. Learned so many things
about the Japan IT industry from the conversation. <laugh> Their
college stories were also hilarious. They had such characters in their
university! We talked about many other things, but I’m too sleepy to
record them.

Wonderful weekend. =D

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Posted: - Modified: | japan

The onsen had a wine bath. Wine! With that and the different kinds of
saunas, my head feels finda fuzzy… But yeah, today was lots of fun.

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