Monday May 14th: Sapporo

Falling behind on updates is easy when you end up overly tired and keep falling asleep while working on it. So finally I’m at least getting Sapporo up, over a day late.

From the station before Sapporo, you can see Isengard.

I arrived in Sapporo at a little after six in the morning after the 5 hour partial tour of Hokkaido in the dark. By the time I arrived at the hostel it was about seven, and thankfully the guy running it who goes by Jimmy is very friendly, and just lives next door, at least as far as he acted it didn’t seem like a hassle for him, which was nice.

My attempt to play online with some of my friends was almost a complete failure as I couldn’t stay awake long enough to do much. Alas. Around noon I finally finished napping and getting ready, it was time to start exploring the capital of the island.

Sapporo stands in a kind of middle ground between Kyoto and Tokyo, it has history, but much of it has been rebuilt. There is a core downtown that starts about 2km North of the train station, and goes to about 1km South of my hostel. The East West boundaries are the large river to the East, and pretty much the Western edge of the Sapporo University.

Even the size kind of reminds me of Seattle, though it’s much brighter and doesn’t go to sleep at 9PM. That and I found a few other things, like Kent, looking about as classy as it did in the early 90s.

King5 looks like it has seen better days though.

It became very clear as I walked to the East-West multi-block park in the middle of downtown, that the “Clock tower” on the map was actually a tower, not unlike the Tokyo Tower, it’s a bit shorter, and has a clock on it though, so… there’s that?

The trees, and flowers are more like home, tulips appear quite popular, that and a bunch of other flowers I don’t know the name of but have seen. The park itself has flowers in nearly every section, often in geometric arrangements.

A few tulips here and there.

The central park of Odori has 12 sections, ending in the West with a cultural and historical document center that didn’t look open, nor very inviting. Still along the way I saw many pretty things, including cherry blossoms, turns out they bloom later in colder climates, who would have guessed?

There were also two fountains, actually a few more, but only two were functioning. There were also a few statues, some of ballerinas, one of people fishing and gathering food, a group of animals looking to an owl, and two of what appeared to be scientists. Maybe they just really liked lab coats?

Not the last time I saw a bird drinking that day.

I discovered that the Botanical Garden organized by the university was closed on account of it being Monday. Students don’t like Mondays, big shock. On my way from the park to the gardens, I ran across the court building and one of the current government buildings. The sun was just at the wrong place making it difficult to read and take pictures of, being metal, but I was able to see that the building houses the Hokkaido branch of the Public Security Information Bureau, which is like the NSA, but you know, Japanese.

In Japan boring, nondescript buildings actually stand out.

I found myself pretty soon already back at the train station, as I took the subway to the hostel, I wasn’t quite sure how far it was. At this point I grew wary of having to borrow adapters in the future, especially in South Korea, so I went to Bic Camera to find one of my own. Here I thought Best Buy was bad about mark up. Or so I thought. I found my new 70-300mm lens, and it was actually about the same price, but batteries were insanely expensive. Still, after seeing lenses were about right I checked out the filters… *sigh*

Even the most basic, and cheapest UV filter was seven times more expensive than the one I currently have is listed at on Amazon. that is. Batteries and UV filters are far more expensive even at, though cheaper than at Bic Camera. The cheapest filter on is still over twice as expensive though. Swapping will just have to continue.

On the bright side, I found an adapter with a wire that can be used if you can actually get an external ground, and it was only 300 yen, so yay. Having acquired a headache because of noise of the store, I got out as quickly as I could.

Around the corner I saw a building I remembered from the morning, it looked like it had a giant screen depicting an under water scene, but it moved with the wind, I knew it was likely some sort of colored reflectors cleverly placed outside, and with the wonders of a 300mm zoom, I could confirm it.

Clever, and pretty.

Between my headache, and not doing much urban hiking, I decided to head back for a bit, if only to rest, I went back on the East side of the city, and decided to at least investigate the Sapporo Factory, sure it is a macro beer that is almost always boring and bland, but whatever, it’s within walking distance, and looking won’t kill me.

Pretty brick building at least, built in the early 1900s.

I started looking around, found signs I couldn’t read, and noticed something funny about the windows. They were bricked up on the inside. Almost all of them. Something was very wrong. Maybe it was closed, and just kept standing as an historical structure?


Something far stranger.

It was gutted, and turned into a mall, even the part across the street was turned into a mall, with new buildings constructed around them, and a sky bridge merging it all. It even has an IMAX. For a reasonable price, only 1000 yen, or $12.50 (+300 yen for 3D), not bad, especially if it is a real IMAX and not one of the crappy branded screens. Even if it is a crappy branded screen, it’s still about the same price as a regular screen back home.

Then again, the Boeing IMAX also has a pretty reasonable price of $13.75…

It was a much more sparse and actually quiet mall (even with the arcade), and it had a grocery store to look at, as well as a pet store. I ended up taking a few pictures before I noticed the “Please don’t take pictures” signs, but there wasn’t a crowd, and no one said anything. Would have been funnier if I noticed the sign in a picture, but it wasn’t on the ones I first saw.

Also a mushroom giraffe.

The grocery store was mostly disappointing, the bento boxes I had been living on in Kyoto were about 100 yen more expensive, and everything else was slightly more too. Still, I found what appeared to be a baguette of wheat bread, which was something I had never seen before. Turned out it was… sort of, it had a bit of cinnamon baked into it, but that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that the bag obscured the fact it was cut open on the side. It was then stuffed with cream. Not quite the bread I was looking for, but at least it was only 88 yen.

Approaching the hostel, I went through the North/South mini-park on the sides of a thin river. This was nice, and with it slightly too high for some of the stone steps, it made for neat pictures.

Conversing across the river.

During the last few blocks I found some rusted barrels and a few crushed… things tossed behind a small building. Discovered that the vine house, also houses four cats (though the fourth had gone back inside).

I rested and chatted with Jimmy for a bit. A new person arrived, but just for the night. As we talked, I discovered he spent time in California where he went to university. In Irvine. I apologized, and we both tried to explain to someone from Ohio why Irvine makes me shudder.

Meandering about searching for a place that serves a Sapporo special, miso ramen, I discovered that there was a Nikka Bar nearby. That sounds cool, right? A whiskey bar, sounds like a good…


At 1400 yen just to start with one drink, I decided to save my whiskey money for the Nikka distillery in Yoichi. Spoiler: I made the right call.

Eventually I found the place with “cheap” miso ramen, which starts at 900 yen. This appears to be about the standard for non-fast food in Sapporo as I would discover the next night. On the bright side, that includes tax, and you don’t tip in Japan, so… $11 isn’t horrible.

It’s not the most complex dish, but it is quite satisfying, the ramen was nice and fresh, and it had some sort of roots along with green onion slices, and a small bits of chicken and half a hard-boiled egg. Anyway, I plan on making this when I get back.

Stuffing myself with that, I headed back to the hostel, tried to get some work done but fell asleep sorting train pictures. It seems to be a theme that would continue at least another day.

Sunday: A Quick Update

Been a quiet few days while I just relaxed and figured out what I’m doing. I decided to go up to Hokkaido until Wednesday. So I have to finish packing this morning, get to the station, and then take 4 trains for a total of about 12.5 hours, and then get to the hostel.


Today and Wednesday should be interesting.

There’s a craft beer fest in Kyoto today. Didn’t know until late last night. Oops

Thursday: Jazz, Scotch, Sake, and Zen Buddhist Vegetarian

So, okay, no pictures of a jazz band, just the CD player and speakers. I forgot to get a picture of the piano that was there though, and clearly the owner prefers to be the primary instrument in the jazz she listens to.

This is actually going to be a pretty short entry as I didn’t do a whole lot. By that I mean I finished sorting 1200 pictures, wrote a 2282 word article, ate far too much food, and just relaxed for most of the day.

By too much food I mean, I ate the second carrot I purchased the other day, as well as an apple and a salmon rice ball. I found a Lawson 100 nearby, found some black thread, a two pack of thick carrots, an apple and a navel orange for 105 yen each. The 5 yen is the tax. I also found and ate some free crackers.

Now that would have been fine but an Enforcer by the name Asmer recommended a place by the name of Mikoan. It was a tiny vegetarian place with food done in a zen Buddhist style. Not only that, but the dinner set for 1000 yen was the most food I had seen for the price. To top it off, she has a cat that roams the floor of the restaurant/bar.

I found the location on Googlemaps, it didn’t seem too difficult to get to, heck, I thought I knew where it was. Turns out I didn’t, I was about 10 blocks west of the location. However  I did run into a shrine that features pigs, and thought that was new.

Lots of pigs.

I wasn’t too miffed, as I don’t mind walking around and exploring, it just took a while since most North/South streets aren’t marked and even when they are, often times there’s no romaji. I walked through a few parts of Kyoto I hadn’t seen, catering even more to international tourists, it was interesting, and some parts I wish I had more light, but I was lost, and not really in the mood to spend 3 hours sorting pictures again… so I didn’t even try.

Eventually I realized I needed to cross the river, and that it wasn’t a street. Sometimes lack of color on the Kindle is a hindrance. I found a McDonald’s on the other side, and thought, ah, that must be the one on the… no. Not it wasn’t, there was another in a similar location about what would be 4 blocks East, had there been any cross streets. Shoji street is a giant open air mall on both sides that goes for I don’t know how long, I didn’t stay with it. I did find a clothing store there, but the high end stores around it and quality of the garments scared me off. I’m sure the sign saying 1000 yen I saw in a mirror was probably for single pairs of socks.

Eventually I found another McDonald’s and everything else fell into place. I walked down, saw shrines surrounded on three sides by comparatively towering commercial buildings, by this point I just wanted to get there, and really, I would have needed a tripod to take any worthwhile pictures. Not that it stopped me from taking horrible pictures when I left showing how hidden this restaurant was, but…

I found it… well, this is leaving, but hey.

The place was packed. There is a single bar at which all patrons sit, room for about 15 people. A group of four that had finished eating was politely asked to move down one seat so I could sit. After that, I ordered the typical plate, the Vegetarian Dinner Set. There was also a vegetarian curry, but eh. The neat thing is had I one or more companions also ordering it, we would have received some different dishes to give a wider spread of sampling. Alas, I am more or less alone out here, but it was still quite tasty.

This was like a Thanksgiving feast for me.

It took quite a while for me to actually finish the food, and seriously, I still feel kind of full, over 12 hours (and an orange) later. Because of the time it took, I ended up chatting with a few people, the first two were from Kyoto, although the woman was from South Africa originally, but after 13 years started moving around quite a bit until currently settling in Kyoto. After mentioning I did techie sort of work in my normal life I was asked about the Adam tablet. However I wasn’t familiar with so I couldn’t make a recommendation. The specs seem respectable, but it is now over a year old, which in mobile can be ancient.

The second group came in a few minutes after the first two left which consisted of two travelers from Finland, one of which went to Western Washington in Bremerton, and their friend who grew up outside of the city of Kyoto. She helped me pick a sake, which is made locally called Tamanohikari.

Hah, here I was complaining to them about how memorization of horrible English spelling complicates my phonetic spelling in other languages and I actually spelled that correctly. I also apologized for English being a horrible language. I do that a lot. Why wasn’t Esperanto picked up? IT’S EASY AND MAKES SENSE.


Truth be told, even though it was sort of implied by the title, I didn’t have any scotch, it was available, and would have gone well with the jazz, but the sake was enough for me.

That’s pretty much the entire place.

I gave them all the link to this site, which I do frequently, though I have no way of knowing if anyone ever follows up on it (oh, sure I guess I can check the access logs, associate by location and assume, but I really don’t care to). I can hope.

After I got up from the bar, the cat seemed more willing to pay attention to me, or allow me to pay attention to it. Cats. Thankfully it was quite friendly, and actually used to people, go figure.

Finally another friendly cat.

After paying and stepping outside, I figured taking pictures of the place wouldn’t be the worst idea, and then I found a bunch of Totoro figures outside, to go with the hour listing hand-made cutout at the bar. Cats and Totoro.

After taking some horrible pictures that a tripod and external lights should have been used for, I wondered off back home.

It finally dawned on me though, why I was always creeped out in the hallways at this hostel though.

Hello Dave.

We’ll see if I make it to the Fox Shrine today, and I think I’m going extend another day here so I can figure out what the hell I’m doing after Kyoto, as I still don’t know. Leaning towards  Hokkaido, but accommodations are tricky/expensive.

Oh yes, and before anyone asks, the poster that mentions black money, is actually about a giant scam back in 2000, where black strips of paper were claimed to be 1000 yen notes. Yeah.

Wednesday: Tea, Monkeys, and the Yakuza

I decided to go visit the monkey park and maybe the bamboo forest. Realizing I hadn’t been in a tea ceremony, and that there was a place just East of the hostel, I would sign up for one Thursday. I went up there and tried to schedule the ceremony for noon. However as he checked with the tea master, it turned out noon wasn’t that good tomorrow.

“Tomorrow noon is not so good. How about right now?”

“Uhh, okay, sure.”

I should note, I may be wrong, but from the very beginning he seemed a little overly happy that I was there. I’m now not sure if it was because of the camera I had dangling off my neck, but it almost seemed like there was an air of desperation? The shop looked to be in good order, and I don’t think they were encountering difficulties I say that because another person came in for a ceremony just after mine.

Still, it was a little odd at first. Perhaps it was also that he got to practice his English, though it was quite good, especially for someone who has lived in Kyoto all his life, in 110 year-old house built by his grandparents. Later the tea master (his wife) seemed quite pleased that the reason I came in was the note on the sign outside. Perhaps it was her idea.

His mother painted these and two more (sorry for low light).

Getting back to it… I was in hiking clothes, not really prepared for a ceremony, but he assured me it was okay, as it was more about what was in my heart coming into the ceremony than anything else.

I was provided a sheet of paper describing Chado “The way of Tea”. I will say reading the wiki, what I encountered was not that complex or long, but I also didn’t pay a huge amount of money, and it was already quite a bit to take in.

This is matcha unlike what I have had before. It also includes an opening confectionery which is wagashi in Japanese. They were basically uncooked sweet azuki mochi with some hint of rose, as they were to celebrate the blooming of roses (Spoiler: I saw some roses later).

As formal as I had assumed it to be, the behaviors were much more strict. Positions on the tatami mats was important, as was the direction of the bowls… though as they are old bowls that were hand painted, I guess that makes sense. Keep mouths and fluids off the paint if you can.

The worst of it was that the traditional form of sitting is to have your legs folded directly under you, knees forward, and guess who scraped up his knee just 30 hours prior? That’s right. They said it was okay if I sat cross legged, but I eventually found a way to sit ‘correctly’ without angering my knee.

Most of the actions preformed were by the person learning to make the tea being instructed by the tea master, I just had to copy the woman acting as the recipient’s guide.

First thing was entry into the room, which I had to kind of skip due to my knee, but you start from a sitting position, outside the threshold, and then sort of lift and push yourself into position saying something at each point. The next bit was the confection, which you slice into smaller pieces using what looks like a tiny chopstick crossed with a toothpick (sadly I didn’t get a picture of that). After cutting a wedge, you take it using the took like a toothpick in a bit of cheese.

These are tasty, no joke.

This is done while the water is heating. Once both are complete, the maker opens the jar of matcha, adds the amount needed with a wooden tea scoop, which is a straight wooden tool with an upward curve at the end, and what looked like a groove cut into the center length wise, to better hold the powder.

Water is then added, using a wooden cup on a bamboo arm, but not a large amount, maybe 1/5th of the bowl. Finally with a bamboo wisk, it is mixed together into a smooth and very bright green liquid. The bowl is rotated in the maker’s hand to admire the bowl, and is then placed in front of the guest with the display prominently facing the guest. The guest then bows to the tea master, the tea maker, and the next guest.

Once bowing is complete the guest takes the bowl with their right hand, places it into their left, rotates about 90 degrees to the side containing no artwork, and then drinks the tea. Finally the bowl is set back down, and is admired from the left and right.

There is also a part where the tea container and scoop are displayed to each of the guests, however that part I only observed. After which thanks were exchanged, and we exited the tea room. I chatted a bit more with the owner while the tea master and maker started to prepare again. It was then I told him I wasn’t just traveling, I was taking pictures and writing about it. More so than ever, he lit up. Quickly he translated this discovery to the others, and they invited me to pretty much take pictures of anything and everything.

So I did.

Afterwards we thanked each other, and I went outside to get a picture of the exterior, as I was just about to head off, he came running out with a card for the store.

Why not? If you ever find yourself in Kyoto, they are on the North side on the Eastern part Gojo Street, just a block or so East of the Gojozaka bus stop. You can stop by on your way to Kiyomizu. They even have a meditation garden. Also also pottery.

Tou Tensei Kawasaki Pottery Shop

After this I headed Westward. I encountered a big and tall clothing store, and figured hey, comparatively, right? Well, turns out I’m at about the bottom of the scale, and their cheapest pants were about $60. Guess I can probably try elsewhere.

I decided to save 220 yen and use my JR pass which meant more walking, but hey, I’d see more. I’d also have to go back to the main train station. It wasn’t anywhere near as bad when I didn’t have my luggage and could actually move. Go figure. I hopped on the train to the Saga-Arashiyama station, which is, kind of a midway between Saga and Arashiyama mountian.

Roses on the way to the monkey park.

The monkeys were on the Arashiyama side, and both parks closed at about 17:00. Thankfully the Monkey Park was actually open until 17:30, and they’re kind of soft on that once you’re inside. That was really good because if you walk casually, it takes about 20 minutes just to get to the viewing area. I did kind of break the rules and took a few pictures on the way there, mostly of signage, no one was coming in so I wasn’t slowing people down. Probably because it was near closing time and it was raining and… oh yes. Let me get side tracked a moment.

As I got to the river just off of Arashiyama, a dark cloud rolled overhead. I heard rumblings. I’ve yet to see lighting even now, but this is the second time in a few days I’ve heard thunder. What the hell was I doing? I’m going to a park, on a mountain. Higher elevation, and trees. This goes against everything I learned as a child about lightning safety. Still, it’s a forest, and it seemed to be staying in the clouds. Real life isn’t Final Fantasy 10, you don’t have to dodge lightning, it goes after more attractive conductors, and really, in a forest of conductors, chances seemed pretty good. I would have been pissed though, as I would have lost my pictures. Well, that and I would have been struck by lightning. Had I survived though, loss of pictures would have been a major disappointment because I captured a few good ones.

Clearly I have my priorities straight.

Monkeys. Wow. Okay. So, the viewing area. As I approached I actually saw a monkey in the distance, I figured what better time? Turns out every minute up in the viewing area. The monkeys are wild, but very accustomed to people. I mean really used to us. They actually were sort of blocking the path and I didn’t really want to get closer lest I disturb them, not knowing yet how they react (or don’t), besides they were still good pictures.

Minimum focal length is 1.5 meters.

So yeah, I had seen monkeys before at zoos and the no longer named as such San Diego Wild Animal Park, but I had never been surrounded by monkeys before. Or been within a few meters of an infant monkey. These Japanese macaques sure don’t mind a whole lot though, as long as you follow the no staring in the eyes bit and the whole keeping food out of sight bit.

Always looking for mom’s attention.

There was also a fishpond and a warthog. I didn’t remember the sign mentioning warthogs, just birds and deer. I decided to wrap up about five minutes after closing, not that anyone had said a thing, but I didn’t want to make it an issue. I hiked back down the return path which was less paved and more slick clay than the way up, so I put the camera away. It already got one shock test this week, no need for a second one on rougher terrain.

I decided to walk further up the single lane path that nominally would lead to a zen temple, but it has been closed for it looks like quite some time. Everything beyond the signs looked pretty deserted, I’m not sure if it has been a few harsh seasons, or years. I saw another crane, making three for the day, but this one was less friendly. I just missed it going into flight twice, but that second time was it, as it had enough of me being within eyesight. There was also a tiny duck that I was about to take a picture of, when it dove under water and swam quite quickly, resurfaced about 30 feet away, saw that I could still be seen, and dove again swam beyond what I could see.

Not pleased I was taking pictures (270mm).

After the duck, I gave up on this side, and went over the other side of the river, discovering there was a hydroelectric dam there, which explained all the other bits along the river. I also discovered my shutter speed was too fast to capture all the numbers on the real time kw/hr output display.

The sun was really setting now and I was focused on getting some neat pictures (I just noticed the vertical images are not re-sized correctly, so this will be fun), not really paying a whole lot of attention. Turns out the people waxing their car were Yakuza. Didn’t really know they had a notable presence in Kyoto. They do. Also Seattle’s Sister City, Kobe, has the headquarters for the largest Yakuza gang in the world.

Anyway it turns out that they don’t really like people with big cameras anywhere near them, their nice car, nor their horrible fashion sense, and for the first time since arriving, I heard anger. I apologized profusely for daring to be on a public sidewalk with a camera, switched lenses to the 300, found a safe distance and grabbed a few for fun.

Don’t try this at home kids.

The reason the Yakuza are tolerated is because they don’t bring violence to innocents and typically ignore foreigners. Sure they extort money from companies big and small, sure they had a hand in about 10% of the bad loans during the bubble and crash. But I guess they responded faster than the government during the earthquake in Kobe 15 years ago. Still public favor is beginning to wane due to the increase in drug abuse and for a time an increase in open violence. This led to the large crackdowns in Akasaka during the last decade. They may still go out in an obviously public way there, but overt illegal behavior is supposedly rarely seen, at least in Tokyo.

I made my way towards the closed bamboo forest, and hiked a bit on the open paths, though so well walked I would hardly call it hiking. Still, there were some further beautiful vistas, and I think I saw the temple under reconstruction, as well as further dilapidated shops along the way. I did find a portion where it would have been true hiking, but it was too dense, and with the sun about down, I decided to head back home.

Just like leaving Kyoto, they waved me through before even really looking at my JR Pass. I can now see how a roommate in Tokyo accidentally (that was the word he used anyway) used his a day after it had expired. I actually managed to read a bit on the train back to Kyoto, for the second time now. I’m much busier than I had ever anticipated.

I supposed I shouldn’t be too shocked. When I’m not out adventuring, I’m turning this into a job that doesn’t pay, updating daily, sorting an increasing number of pictures a day. Yeah, I’m smart.

I still don’t know what I’m doing today, but it’s getting into the afternoon, it’s nearly 15:00. Maybe I’ll walk down South and see the really unassuming Nintendo headquarters.

Monday: Kyoto Take Two

I fear this post may be a bit shorter than the last, I already went through the accident at the end, and for a large part of my day there really wasn’t a whole lot to say.

For my second day in Kyoto I decided to set off further North to try to reach the Heian Jingu Shrine, which has some of the latest blooming Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto. It was also featured in Lost in Translation and the garden is one of the most famous. It’s also about 3-4 times larger than the garden I went to in Minato-ku Tokyo.

I covered much of the same ground I did in the late afternoon of Sunday, but I would have about 2km further to walk. I once again passed the Fire Station, which is required if I’m going pretty much anywhere, it appeared as though they were preparing for some sort of drill.

Also there was a dog tied to a fish tank display.

I made my way further down the street and noticed a sign pointing to a shrine I hadn’t noticed. Oddly it was a street I had been down, but came from the opposite direction. When I came across the garden with the statues I knew I was right, but somehow, I didn’t look the other direction.

Easy to miss, really.

I went a bit further up but it appeared closed off, so I went back to my mission only to be once again distracted once I made it past the furthest shrine I saw on Sunday. It appeared that there was a fairly long street through a gate, followed by another doored gate, followed by quite a few steps, and then temple grounds.

Yeah, like that.

There were signs indicating that a the central temple was closed off for construction. This is partially correct. The building is under construction, but it appears that they are far enough along that parts of it are actually open to the public. Large parts of the building were unpainted wood, and even the parts that were, looked like simple modern construction designed to vaguely resemble the traditional designs. I presume it is just a starting point, but it still looked a bit strange.

High contrast construction.

Finally, I worked my way around, followed a sort of canal bypass street which still had a partially open, granite drain for the water to flow down to a street that was a straight shot to the target shrine. Now I had heard that the gate in front of the shrine was big, but… they’re not kidding. Outside Kyoto’s National Museum of Modern Art there appeared to be some sort of small film production going on. Had I been smart I would have taken a picture of the back of the chairs, but I’m not.

No tricks of prospective, it’s just huge.

Finally arriving at my primary goal for the day, I found myself inside a large courtyard covered with a thin layer of off white gravel. The grounds themselves were quite interesting to look at, and the cougar and dragon guardians were quite photogenic.

Finding myself finally there, I did notice looking past the entrance to the garden, that the cherry trees, had not one blossom upon them, nor even any to be seen on the ground and the entry fee was 600 yen. I hemmed and hawed but eventually decided that it was probably going to be worth it regardless of cherry blossoms.

Avid readers will remember I mentioned two missteps when talking about my Monday night accident. This was the figurative one.

Don’t get me wrong, the garden is still quite beautiful, however it was, at least at the moment, not worth the price of entry. Unlike the garden in Minato, it is overly reliant upon cherry blossoms. It seemed the second largest arrangements are lilies, which have only just started to bloom, there are few parts that will be interesting the entire year.

Now pretend those lilies are blooming.

The worst of it is that the garden is quite linear, direction signs everywhere, back tracking is discouraged, every small island was closed. The steps in the image above, were closed off. And the entire last quarter of the garden was closed. None of this information was available even via pictograms or map updates. I’m not asking for English, but something would be nice.

I don’t want to come across as though I didn’t enjoy the garden. It was still quite pretty and the water was so clear you could see the turtles without issue. Regardless, I would have rather gone back to the one in Minato as it seemed so much more relaxing and they ensured something large was always in bloom.

Damnit, I really wanted to walk across the stone platform bridge thingy!

Hindsight appears to be harsher than I felt at the time, and I really do want to get across that probably most of my frustration is now amplified due to the accident later.

Though far too late to actually go inside, I decided to look at the Imperial Palace grounds, which are primarily giant parks, and is nearly 1.5km long. I would need to cross over a semi-dry riverbed, and past Japan’s first commercial hydroelectric plant.

Bricks were in back then.

I would also find a liquor store which had fairly decent prices, such as Lagavulin 16 for $68. Grocery stores also caught my eye, a more expensive Fresco, and one of two stores claiming to be co-ops but appearing to actually be brands, and are at best the same price as Fresco. This was the first time I looked at the price of rice. The largest bags are 5kg, and the cheapest I saw was 1980 yen. That’s about $25 for 11lbs. Rice. Potatoes are 38 yen per 100 grams, which puts them at about the same price as rice.

At least the booze is fairly reasonably priced.

Shockingly I eventually made it to the park, and began walking around, it was so vast you could completely forget the city and find a place thick enough with trees you could forget there was anything else.

In the middle of a city.

I decided to look at the front gate of the palace, and it was okay. Just prior to getting to them I was a little distracted by a giant white dog. Near the gates, out of the corner of my eye I saw a small cat running into the bushes, hiding from a man on a bike complete with a dog in the basket. At first I thought the cat to be overreacting, but the man was actually chasing the cat around.

A mean man, a dog staring at the cat, and Annie.

After he left, I tried to see if I could calm the cat down, I softly approached, attempting to mimic the meow the cat was making through my cold. While the cat continued to talk back, once again, like all but one cat, it remained distrustful of me. Later on another man on a bike came, and he bore food. That seemed to get the cat’s trust. Go figure.

Hiding from the bikedog.

I was always afraid meowing at cats would get me in trouble. Just as I was giving up on calming down the cat (or kitten or I don’t even know, so many of them are so small, I wonder if they get enough food to actually grow) I heard something like, “You have a pretty good meow.”

“Years of practice.”

“Where?” “Seattle” “Hawaii, Big Island” “Sean” “Annie”

Cleverly I take advantage of the conversation to actually sit down for the first time in six or seven hours.

Turns out she is studying abroad, majoring in English Lit and Linguistics focusing on Japanese, which she can speak a fair amount due to half of her family, but living in Hawaii, never really had much to practice reading with. During this conversation I also discovered that mosquitoes like this park, and me.

She had a test on kanji today. Hopefully she did well.

At this point all natural light had faded. I began walking home, thinking I might make a rectangle of my trip, but then I realized I didn’t want to walk all the way back to Fresco, so I would only venture so far before cutting back to know streets.

I found yet another liquor store, and it had even less of a selection of regular items, it was pretty much all alcohol. The selection was amazing, and unlike the last place it had better prices, and the scotch I was looking for.

Also the best in the world, the Yamazaki 25, for $1200.

I probably spent 30 minutes deciding if I would actually buy the Miyagikyo 12, but I eventually pulled the trigger. It was expensive, but still about $60 cheaper than you can get it in Canada… since it doesn’t come to the USA. I also picked up a can of stout from Japan’s first micro-brewery. It was okay.

On my way back, I investigated the subway, but I couldn’t find anything that would get me near the hostel, and the information guy wasn’t sure of anything that went near Gojo either. I didn’t think it would be a big deal, just would have been nice for the future.

I also investigated drug stores to check prices there on pain killers, which is when I found out how expensive those are. However I guess that takes us back to Failure Snatched From the Hands of Victory.

Right after the “shock test” to check for lens damage.

Which means I’m finally caught up, since the update for today will be to write, something like: “I processed photos and wrote the updates you’ve now read while I healed from my injuries. It took all day. I didn’t buy the sashimi because I wasn’t hungry after having the thing I purchased for lunch.”

Hooray! Done with my work that I technically don’t have to do, but feel compelled to do so anyway.

Sunday: Kyoto Wonderings

My first full day in Kyoto started off with trying the hostel breakfast. It was 15 yen cheaper, but far less comprehensive than the last hostel. Here, it’s just tea/coffee/juice and a thick slice of toast with some topping, rather than a buffet of toast tea/coffee/cocoa and home made soup.

As I was eating another guest and his female companion sat down for a similar breakfast. We chatted about Kubrick as it turns out he is a big fan, and while I am a fan as well, I am a bad one having seen but 5 of his 12 films.

It turns out they were both quite well traveled and while I could praise Tokyo, I’m not sure it would be vastly different from things they had already seen. Amusingly had I only heard the voice of this man, I probably would have wondered if he were Liam Neeson, I can only presume he too is from Northern Ireland, since I didn’t ask.

They are how I found out about the flea market that I ended up missing, but oh well. Not like I could have used new pants or anything.

After breakfast I decided to take a few pictures around the hostel as it was more interesting looking than the last, being all traditional and the like. The first few pictures from the photo dump are actually between buildings out the hostel “kitchen” window, the rusted decaying metals looked quite interesting and I couldn’t resist.

Less interesting is my dorm.

I had also found out that there was a temple just up the hill, about 10 minutes walk, which is more like 20, but with pictures, about 1.5 hours. The temple is where there is the magic water that would heal any bodily ailments with but three drops.

I made my way up the street, and quickly found a small shrine right there called the Wakamiya Hachimangu Shrine. I couldn’t really stop myself. Past the path which is now used for parking, there were three small buildings, the center was the main sanctuary, I’m not sure what the small structure on the left was, but the one on the right is a small shop which I presume helps with the upkeep beyond the donations.

They also had pretty flowers in the entryway.

I arrived back at the main intersection and noticed three people who appeared to be at the least special crossing guards, if not actual police in a traffic control uniform. It turns out the drivers in Kyoto are a bit less predictable than they are in Tokyo… that and not every intersection has well laid out traffic lights. The three officers ensured traffic and pedestrians stayed safe.

On that note, I will say I looked up a bit about the Japanese driving on the left after hypothesizing it may have something to do with tradition created by the Shogunate. Turns out I was actually pretty correct. Samurai always passed on the left due to sword usage, however Tokyo was in the past also special, as the gates of the city required you to enter and leave on your left. While driving on the left may have become law thanks in part to the trains from the UK, it appears walking on the left is mostly a Tokyo thing. In Kyoto it is pretty random.

All three officers on my way back.

I made my way across the street and encountered my first cat in Kyoto. It would be the first of many, unlike Tokyo where I only saw two. It seemed to be making it’s way up from a stream, very cautiously. Hiding behind plants when possible, but heading upward to the street. I moved back around to investigate, and it appears someone leaves out a handful of cat food just on the bottom of the concrete guard rail. As it got closer, I realized it didn’t appear to be fully mature, and it was not really happy I was close, but responsive to meows.

Tiny fearful little kitty.

I decided to leave the cat in peace. I walked up the hill a bit to what appeared to be a temple, thinking perhaps I had arrived. While it was a temple, it wasn’t the one I was looking for. Kyoto has many temples and shrines, and it’s easy to discover them. It appeared to be another location where remains were enshrined, and that people like to have their cremains near. There actually appeared to be a semi-modern church like building off to the side as well. I didn’t really investigate that, it didn’t seem open for such.

Working further up the hill a bit, and discovered why there was a grave marker shop at the intersection. There appeared to be a small graveyard with about 100 fairly densely placed shrine like markers.

Upward and onward, I went past the little site I figured was related to the large shrine/church, and a few more buildings, only to discover something else entirely.

And that’s just part of it.

Oh, and I’ll admit, I did listen to Alone in Kyoto when I was in the graveyard alone. So sue me, I already admitted to being cliché.

Part way up, I found yet another shrine, but what got me to stop was another cat. It turns out there were actually four cats at this particular shrine, though I didn’t know that until my way back. The first cat I found was much like the other, responsive to meowing, but fearful. The second cat however, was actually friendly, so that was nice. There was also a bit of a roofed balcony overlooking the city, each “room” sectioned off by ceiling had a few paintings mounted, only one was behind glass, the rest fading. Worst off were the black paint writings on wood, nearly completely gone.

Just a bit further up the hill and I finally arrived at the Kiyomizu-dera Temple. Clearly large parts were under reconstruction, but amusingly most of those parts were beyond the pay gate. I spent quite a bit of time investigating the free area, including a path no one seemed to take, which in theory I would discover would take me to a hiking trail, however the gate was locked. I turned back, grabbed a picture of the bridge, and lamented that one of the flowers kept photographing as blue instead of slightly purple. I would try again in another area, and face the same issue. Alas.

And no further shall you go.

I went back, and took the path that went upward to what looked liked a trinket sales area. Sure enough, that’s exactly what it was. There was also a mallet and a large rabbit holding a weapon? I was confused. About this time it decided to have a spring shower, starting slowly though.

I decided to go ahead and pay the entrance fee even though two of the three buldings were being rebuilt. Unlike gardens in Tokyo, it seems pay gates don’t really slow people down in Kyoto, as they’re the reason most people come to Kyoto. I guess I’m saying it was a bit crowded.

Once leaving the one building that could be investigated, I walked down the path brushing the edge of the mountain forest. I followed it around, once again ignoring the fact that no one was going that way. The only thing I saw was a gate listing when it closed. Since it was about 2 hours before the gate was locked, I didn’t think it would be an issue.

It turns out this was a path to hiking, as well as a few homes and further grave sites. Not being prepared for a hike, especially in comparison to the two people just coming out, I didn’t go far into the woods. It was also about this time that the shower stopped. The dark cloud passed by.

Last of the rain, but not the humidity.

I headed back to the Temple, though I’m unclear how they check for tickets if you come in this direction, as it is accessible from other roads. Perhaps it just isn’t a big deal?

I headed down to the magic fountain. I had thought about going through with it, but the line was about 20 minutes long, and I still had water in my water bottle. I’m sure I inhaled enough mist anyway.

Magic. I’m sorry, am I being dismissive?

Again I investigated a route that people seemed to be ignoring, which actually led to an alternate exit, albeit one you have to walk up hill for. Still, it was pretty down there, and I got a picture of a snail. On my way out something had attracted the attention of people around a small artificial pond. Okay. Why not.

I’m not entirely sure that’s how that works, but okay.

While I may not have felt like standing in a 20 minute line for water, I did decide to try the shave ice, which actually wasn’t something you could walk off with. I went with the matcha syrup shave ice, and really, it’s a good thing they don’t let you leave, because it doesn’t penetrate that far into the ice. They actually came around after a few minutes to add more syrup to the shave ice to ensure it got on the inside, which was nice. The first two bites were a bit weird, but after that the flavor really grew on me. It wasn’t like green tea ice cream, the flavor was much stronger, which makes sense, being matcha.

More syrup gets it to a darker green.

There was another step up that would add more, like whole azuki beans but I thought the matcha was enough, and was feeling a little cheap.

On my way down the hill, I revisited the “cat shrine” discovering a bob tailed black cat and another mutt, but unlike the first mutt, neither of them were friendly, preferring to hide under the maintenance shed rather than be bothered by a person.

Once back at the crazy intersection I decided to walk North. Along the way I discovered the fire station and police station both of which were larger than any I had seen in Tokyo, but I imagine they cover a larger area. I kept my eye on menus and prices, while also discovering Circle K is here.

However my highlight of that day was discovering Fresco, a “supermarket.” I use quotes because they really just have food and nothing else, but things aren’t at a convenience store price, and they’re open 24 hours a day. As it is just a block further than Circle K, it seemed fantastic. I took some pictures of prices in there to ensure it was clear just how expensive produce is. The great find was that their pre-made meals were cheaper than elsewhere and pretty good, I would find out on Monday an even better way of doing things there.

I decided to get some food, and was worried I would need chopsticks, but it seems they have chopsticks they give you at the register. How convenient. It sure beats the prices I saw along the way (though I’ve since seen some at a Lawson 100 store, one pair I may have to get, but that’s a spoiler).

My last stop for the day would be the Kennin-ji temple. Out in the garden there was a statue I could have sworn was the Team Fortress 2 Scout carrying the intelligence. I’m now beginning to understand how people can feel like they’ve seen one, seen them all in Kyoto, as there are dozens, many within walking distance of one another. Still, they all seem to have their own individual beauty. This particular one had quite a few guardian statues.

It also had a vintage camera or two.

Right, I guess I can’t get away without comment on that one, he and his wife like vintage cameras, but it seems that people like taking pictures of them taking pictures quite a bit. To such a degree she started laughing, which got him laughing. So that’s why he has the grin on his face.

And my crooked self-portrait via sunset from his position.

With my cold, I exhausted a bit earlier than usual and headed back to the hostel. I once again looked at the Police Station and now noticed something about their sign, it was… changing color?

Well, I also noticed a place that advertises a giant hamburger, and actually remembered to get a picture of the sign at the shrine just a two blocks from my hostel, but that was about it. No big fancy way to end the day, just slumping down, getting the nearly 900 pictures onto my laptop, and being happy my initial backup finally finished.

That and food. I ate some food quite a bit actually, it was nice having a filling meal under 500 yen.

Pictures are in the post below, and Dropbox is also right here.

Defeat Snatched from the Hands of Victory

Shock tests are not fun.

Today was a pretty successful day save for two missteps. I was walking the 5km back to the hostel, and investigating places along the way for painkillers ($0.30 per pill avg), a portable sewing kit as I had some things to fix and to worry about (still not located) and one of the world’s best single malt scotches.

Well, I found a liquor store with the best prices and selection I’ve seen. Not only did they have what I was after, but they even had “the best in the world” the Yamazaki 25 year single malt it was 98000 yen, or $1205.40. Yeaaaaaah I didn’t get that one.

I was bad, and got Nikka’s Miyagikyo 12 year, which is one of Japan’s best single malts under $1000 USD.

With about 1.5km to go (500m to the grocery store), and thankfully long after I transferred the scotch to my camera bag, I made my second (and only literal) misstep by slipping on uneven sidewalk. I twisted my back, tore the flesh and fabric of my left knee, and failed to fully protect my exposed camera.

I vividly remember the sound of the camera hitting lens first. The bottom of the kit lens’ hood impacted the pavement, and I saw something black fly outward from the point of impact.

It was just gravel. The lens appeared fine. The hood likely absorbed much of the impact, good old plastic.

Sadly my knee hit a raised corner of concrete and my black pants are now pretty much out of commission. When I arrived I had realized I had packed one fewer pair of pants than I had thought, I was worried I didn’t have enough. I discovered a small hole in my cargo pants’ knee, I wasn’t pleased. Now I’m really worried. Buying new pants in Japan would neither be easy nor cheap. I may not have much choice, but hey, easier than buying shoes!

Well, I’m going to clean up my knee, bandage it, get into my pajama pants, and gorge myself on food I got for 40% because it was getting late. I didn’t get the sashimi, but I also didn’t know it was 40% off. Tomorrow. Tomorrow.

Oh yes, and I know I’m behind on real updates. I still have most of yesterday’s pictures, and 700 from today. I was already thinking of taking tomorrow off from adventuring to catch up on things and relax, and after this injury, I think it’s really for the best.

I really wish I had remembered to fill up my painkiller bottle before I left. 3 Neproxin Sodium pills and about 5 Excedrin pills left. At least the camera bag has stopped bothering me as much.

Saturday: Pictures, a Mystery Panel, and a brief preview of my Sunday discoveries.

There aren’t many pictures from yesterday I care about, not that there were that many pictures at all. Still I said I would post them, so I am.

Also it turns out as long as you stay away from the “core” of Kyoto around the bullet train station, it’s actually a fairly old looking city, no where near as dense as even the most sparse parts of Tokyo I visited. The further you go the closer it gets to what I had imagined. I am happy to report that prices are lower here, things are about 10-20% cheaper, and I’m within walking distance of a proper supermarket, so that will be nice.

It also looks like the last of the cherry blossoms fell while I was in Tokyo. Damn.

Dropbox version.

Now I have 803 more pictures to go through. Though some are for an animation, so… still a lot.

Changing Plans

I always said I was winging this thing, and the more I look at it, the more it seems Taiwan will take the place of Vietnam in this leg of the adventure. For starters, its actually between South Korea and Vietnam, so that’s kind of important.

I can take the jet ferry (seriously) to South Korea, but I’d have to go China to continue with the ferry all the way to Taiwan. As such it looks like I’ll be flying more. I guess Vietnam can wait until after PAX when I can actually take the time to get all of that trip planned to reduce tension with the government. So very paranoid.

Come on people, I’m just trying to travel around the world without any real plans, time frames, or political agenda… well beyond the idea that I think for the most part people want to be helpful, even if communication is difficult. I’m not sure that’s dangerous ideology. But then again… who knows?

Now to go find an ATM that takes foreign cards, maybe grab a Suica pass, see if I can’t schedule a visit to the Ghibli Museum, and wonder around in the other direction, seeing more of Taito-ku, you know, the city I’m actually staying in.

Arrival/Good Morning Seattle

Well, I’ve arrived, commented a few times using a book instead of a computer, and it looks like the wifi may just be giving me a tiny break.

The people at the front were nice and understing

Got things semi-organized and stowable, made the bed, found the kitchen, etc.

It’s now midnight in Japan and with the weird almost sleep I had on the monsterous A380 my body isn’t really sure what time it is but could sleep right now given the chance.

So the A380? From the inside it looks like each wing is actually 3 wings welded together with two engines the size of small Cessnas (though far more massive) as the bridging point mostly due to sitting up and there being a child screaming the majority of the flight. Yay.

Well, I either need to wander a little looking at things and not being lost, or sleep.

01:32: Just got back from doing some night photography, which is interesting as my big lens has vibration reduction which is amazing, but it also starts much more zoomed, so I have be further back to capture it… which decreases available light.

Got a few I liked and learned a bit. Getting better at swapping lenses, though I do wish I purchased a second UV filter so I wouldn’t have to swap that over.

07:33 UTC+9: Woke up about 30 minutes ago. Realized about 10 minutes ago that I wasn’t just temporarily awake. The wireless appears quite stable now which is good. Oddly my phone will not get new email. It can open old email, but I have to actually go to to get anything (had to confirm that it is me, oh, security). Doesn’t even check the sean [at dealiemajig] address.

Working from the laptop right now, which was to make sure it could connect. Frustratingly, I’ve not yet found a grounded outlet I can use, which may be an issue if I want to keep my laptop running. Still have about 4.5 hours of run time, but…

Thunderbird gets email just fine. Whatever. Google now autoswitches to Hmm. Probably would work if I stayed signed into a google account. Of course the entire interface is in Japanese, so that makes changing settings easy. Found it.

Time to get ready I suppose. Yay daylight pictures! I can set the shutter to something faster than 5-40!