Monday, March 29, 2010

Suntory. Makers of Everything.

Grafitti Osaka Style

Day 8

Woke up at nine after a strange nights sleep. Lot's of waking up and thinking i had to be somewhere, which won't be the case for quite some time. Rolled out of the hotel around eleven, and headed to the Kaiyukan, which was amazing. And crowded, very very crowded. Good thing i'm tall. Took a ridiculous number of pictures. Saw a whale shark for the first time, as well as a bunch of otters, seals, and sea lions.
I then headed to the waterfront to scout out my escape route for friday. That done it was back into the city to hit the Museum of Science. It was closed. So instead, I did what I like to do in most cities I visit, which is walk. I walked pretty much across the whole thing from north to south. It's big, and I think I need new shoes, or at least I will soon. So tired. Tomorrow I head to Takarazuka to see the Tezuka Museum, creator of Astro Boy. Got to get the most out of my JR pass after all, and tomorrow is the last day it is valid.

Vending Machine Madness

Tennoji Park

Day 7

Arrived in Osaka around 11:30 a.m. and navigated to my resting place, the Chuo Oasis. This is a nice place, with unlimited internet and key card security for the room. Also, it is right next to a subway station and the JR loop for the city, which is convenient as hell. Unpacked, showered, and hit the streets to explore my new neighborhood. Found a Japanese phrasebook, which is helping a bit. Also found Tenoji Park, where I walked around for a bit, and drained the battery of my camera. The best 150 yen i've spent so far.
Following this, I stopped off for a beer to rest my weary legs. The establishment was called You-A, and it run by a Phillipino woman named Amy, who was quite pleasant. She also taught me a valuable lesson, namely always ask how much a pint costs. Apparently, her joint is a "hostess" bar where the ladies sing the occassional karaoke tune and you pay extra for the experience. I don't even like karaoke, and especially not when i'm paying for it.
On the other hand, I did get to meet Kitadani-san. He is married to Amy, about 68 years old, and a real life Yakuza! He even had the yubitsume scar and tattoos to prove it, which he showed me after he saw my arm sleeve. Apparently he took a liking to me, because he went across the street and shortly thereafter a man delivered sushi to me, for which i paid nothing. So, unless i meet a ninja in the next couple of days, i would say i've covered the meeting interesting people angle of the Japan stage of my trip.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Engrish!

My New Digs

My Buddy

Drunk Story #1

After watching the extremely professional bartender at Orbite for a bit, i decided to head back to the neighborhood where the orange inn is located, which is at the ass end of nowhere as far as Kyoto is concerned. Listened to my ipod for the first time this trip, and i must say that DoMakeSayThink pulled me out of my funk. Went for more yakitori, which had a nice picture menu from which i generated a cheat sheet. Then i stopped off at the place i had eaten the night before for one last beer, only to find a couple guys from the hostel and a goup of japanese fellows. This turned into several beers and saki's, some tattoo comparisons, and a lot of laughter. Then it was off to play darts with a couple of the fellows. One of them really liked me. A lot. He kept hugging me and patting me on the ass. Finally called it a night at about 3 a.m.

Day 6

Sitting in the Orbite Bar of the swank hotel in Kyoto Station thinking about my day. Mentally, it's been a bit odd today. My first solo day, no real contact with anyone other than the strangers sharing my room. My inability to communicate, other than excuse me and thank you, is a bit frustrating. I need a phrase book pronto, and I definitely need one for China, for i know even less of that language. Physically, my head cold is lingering, as well as my cough. Maybe the fact that I walked around for two days in Tokyo rain without proper gear has something to do with that. I did finally procure a coat yesterday, so today it was bright and sunny.
It was a beautifull day in fact, which I started a little later then planned; but hey, you've gotta sleep sometime. Spent a few hours at the manga museum, which was a good experience. There was a whole group of cosplayers in the building, but I didn't work up the nerve to ask to take pictures. Payed a little extra to see the Saibara Rieko display, which i enjoyed. There was also a room for sci-fi based comics, so i was in heaven there, with it's spotlight on Valerian and a whole slew of French based comics (Delcourt, Humanoid, Dargaud, Glenat, Dupois).
then it was off to walk the Imperial Palace grounds, which were quite lovely, and too massive for me to see on a limited time frame. As i was walking back on my way to the shooping district, i was passed by a large motorcade of police and black cars, and i was waved at by this fellow.
In the hopes of finding said phrase books, i hit the Teramachi Shopping Arcade, which is a good sized outdoor shopping area. I never did find the english language bookstore supposedly located there, and no one i asked seemed to have heard of it. I did, however, find Ninja Kyoto, and i hope to locate a branch in Osaka, where i am off to tomorrow.
All in all, i think i like Kyoto, even if i can't figure out the intricacies of bikes on sidewalks and where the pedestrians are supposed to be in relation to them. Ah, well, such is life.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Day 5

Today I experienced two firsts, my first Japanese hangover, and a ride on the bullet train. The hangover wasn't that great. The train ride to Kyoto was. Spent most of it watching towns and countryside fly by at a rapid clip. Got a glimpse of the Sanyo Solar Ark, which was fairly amazing. Spoke a bit with the nice gentleman in the seat next to me as he chain smoked most of a pack. He was a nice fellow, said he had been to Seattle back in '62, and told me a story of how because it was so clean he thought all U.S. cities would be. Then he went to New York. He was even so kind as to make sure I made it to the proper platform once we hit Kyoto.
Found the International Manga Museum, but it was about to close, so I will head there tomorrow. Taking it easy for the rest of the night, so as to be rested for my attempt to hit as many sights as possible in my one full day in Kyoto.

Oh Yeah!



Just a sample of the fine shops of Shinjuku Station.

Ghibli Museum

Grey Goo For Your Lungs!

Nanotek cigarrettes.

Day 4

Retraced some steps from the day before so that everyone could get their train passes and seats for the following day. Shinjuku Station is one of my favorite spots in Tokyo, it's a crazy blend of shopping mall, food market, and hipster hangout, as well as being a massive transit waypoint. You could people watch for hours there with no problem. Afterwards we went out for food. Guess what I had? That's right, noodles!
Then it was time to play roadie again, so we hauled ass back to the hotel, grabbed the gear, and headed to the venue in Roppongi. Not wanting to hang around and watch sound check, I bailed and headed to Shibuya, which essentially similar to a mall on crack. Shopping highrises as far as the eye can see, with giant lcd screens flashing at you from all angles, and more people than you have ever seen in your life. And, because it's raining, they all have umbrellas! My original plan of trying to find a waterproof jacket and some shoes that actually have tread on them crumpled in the face of this overload. I wound up walking around aimlessly, watching people and trying not to get trampled. Sadly, I forgot to take any pictures.
After an hour or so of this, I headed back to Roppongi to meet up with the boy's. The show was a lot more energetic than the previous one, the bands were a rock/punk mix, and the crowd was much more excited. Many beers and a few whiskies later, we rolled back to Akasaka, ditched the stuff, and headed to G's to drop off some band schwag. Takuya the barman gave Lucas, Alex, and I a round of Jameson's on the house, and had one for himself. Just what we needed. Then it was off for late night noodles. Then sleepy time.

G's Bar

Day 3

Today, Lucas and I went off on our own adventure. First it was off to Shinjuku to activate our rail passes. This was not difficult, although it did require visiting a succession of desks and windows before finding the proper one. Then it was time for some high speed rail travel!
We then went out to Mitaka, where the Ghibli Museum makes it's home. This was awesome. And by awesome I mean I felt like a little kid going to Disney World for the first time. Sadly, no photos were permitted inside, or I would have drained my camera's battery dry. It was also the first place I have seen so far that takes credit cards, so I bought a few goodies.
We then went back in to Shinjuku and ate some yakatori. Why have I not been eating this on a daily basis? I do not know. Then it was back to Akasaka for jazz and drinks at G's Bar, which we had discovered the first night in town. Language barrier hilarity ensued when the singer began a bit of banter with Lucas, and later when she was singing “I Want To Be Loved You” and I was the first target for her journey around the room. Afterwards we chatted up a nice couple named Nao and Yuka, who are in gospel band called the Soulmatics, and at some point the owner had Lucas and I behind the bar shaking up a beverage for him. Then it was time for a snack run, and sleepy time.

Day 2

Woke up at seven after being up for more hours than I can remember. Not being able to sleep, Lucas, Andy, and I decided to venture out and see some sights. Wandered the streets of Akasaka for a few hours, discovering the TBS building, which is a large television company over here, but not related to Turner Broadcasting as far as I can tell. They make a program called Iris which looked quite exciting, and have a strange pig creature called boobo as their mascot. They also have two massive Ultamen standing guard nearby, and a jumbotron screen playing craziness that I can't even begin to describe.
Following this, we regrouped with the rest of Golden Robot Army and went for ramen, which was the best bowl of noodles I have had to date. Then it was time to gather up the bands gear and drag it through three different subway lines to Shinjuku to the club they were playing at. Having disposed of the gear, we wandered the streets till show time.
At this point let me bring up the subject of smoking. In some neighborhoods here it is forbidden to smoke outside on the streets, and you can only smoke indoors in bars and restaurants that allow it. On the other hand, these people can smoke! This I discovered at the show later in the evening, when every person in the room was smoking a cigarette at all times, and they had a smoke machine pumping out billowing clouds of the stuff during most of the five bands that played. My two personal favorites for the evening were S.H.E. and toitoitoi, whose singer was like a Japanese Bjork of sorts, and whose parting words to me as we left at the end of the night were “Goodbye, I love you.”
Then it was time to drag all the crap back across town before the last train, which was a bit of an adventure in itself, but we made it with minimal difficulties. Then a few of us were off to get some sushi and beer at about 1 a.m., and then sleepy time.

Monday, March 22, 2010

First Meal

Udon, I think, with pork and spicy ginger. So good I ordered a second plate.

And Away We Go

So. Barely made my connecting flight due to the beastliness and poor design of LAX. But made it I did. And I must say, Korean Air is great. Tall guy in the middle seat, plenty of leg room, slept off and on. Fed me salmon and rice, which was pretty good, and I don't even like salmon. And the nice lady in the seat next to me gave me some delicious herbal cough drops. Nothing like hacking away for ten hours to make people take pity on you.
Arrived in Tokyo, breezed through customs with no trouble, turned on my phone, and guess what? It works nice as an alarm clock and a watch, but that's about all it will do in Japan. Feels like I'm missing a limb! Found Lucas alright without it, so no big deal.
On a bus into the city as I write this, heading to our lodgings in Akasaka, then off to find some grub. Which seems like it will take a while, due to this traffic jam we appear to be stuck in.