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Category: trips:Japan

May 29, 2009

Japan Observations

The elevator in the Ginza Apple Store has one button. The elevator stops on every floor.

I bought a stick from Tokyu Hands. They wrapped it very well. I didn't know how to explain that its stick-ness could not be harmed.

The lady at the Kobe beef place refused to serve anything to our vegetarian friends. In her defense, even the fried rice was cooked in Kobe beef.

May 26, 2009

Train Music Video, sans Music

With the aid of an iPod I've found moments in life that sync up to a particular song. I like playing Pavement's Frontwards as the BART train makes the turn into SFO. There's something about the lumbering movement of the BART as it curves around and the buzz of the cars on the highway versus the activity at the airport that matches the semi-tuned music of Pavement. Then, of course, there's Dark Side of the Moon and Wizard of Oz.

I took this HD video with my new Canon IXY/ELPH as I was going towards Narita airport (higher res here). It seemed to match the mood of Radiohead's "Reckoner" quite well until I had the idea of playing Moray McLaren's "We Got Time". Perhaps it was the nature of the music video that helped it match so well, but there's so many beats that the change in scenery match perfectly. View from a train in Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus.

Due to my desire to not get sued, I present the video sans soundtrack, but, if you happen to have "We Got Time" (the full version, not the edited music video version), press play six seconds in.

May 25, 2009

Tadao Ando's Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art

Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art  - Tadao Ando - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley
Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art  - Tadao Ando - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley

Click here for more Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art Photos

The Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art was a pleasant surprise. From the photos I had seen of the exterior, it wasn't high on my list of places to visit. It's rock fascade and bulky shape reminded me of the bulky and squat Pulitzer Foundation in St. Louis, which I haven't seen in person. But on approach, the Hyogo museum has plenty to offer. A pedestrian bridge offers you several approaches into the building: to the front, to a ramp that goes to the waterside entrance, and to the third-floor plaza.

The waterside entrance faces an industrial inlet of Osaka Bay and is the the bookend of a waterfront park that Ando also designed. The part is utilitarian and spare, but serves its purpose as a place for kids to play games and for people to have space to walk. It also has an amphitheater, a popular Ando construct. The waterside entrance itself features a very broad set of stairs. It's easy to imagine large swarms of people having a seat on these stairs and chatting, but on a weekday during work hours it was nearly vacant.

The museum is built around three nearly identical sections. The center of each section is a stairway, though each stairway is different. The first is a four-story tall atrium with stairs leading up the side and a giant celadon column in the middle. The second is just two stories tall, with a shorter celadon column off to the side, and the third, I don't know. It was close to closing time and the third required a ticket, so I opted to save something for another time.

Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art Photos

More Tadao Ando:

Tadao Ando's Awaji Yumebutai Part II

Awaji Yumebutai - Tadao Ando - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley
Awaji Yumebutai - Tadao Ando - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley
Awaji Yumebutai - Tadao Ando - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley

Click for more Awaji Yumebutai Photos (Part II)

Awaji Yumebutai Part I

The Yumebutai complex is sprawling with a variety of buildings and elements throughout, but one common signature that forms a distinctive pattern throughout is the use of scallop seashells. There is a lower Shell Garden area dedicated solely to the use of these shells to line large shallow pools of water and the Yumebutai literature boasts over 1 million such shells and 1,000 fountains.

Ando initially had trouble finding the shells as he discovered that restaurants imported the scallops without the shells, but he was able to finally track some down. It seems that they may have been conserving water that day as many of the pools were not filled that day and many fountains were not on. As striking as that many seashells is, there is not enough contrast on a cloudy day for them to keep my attention.

The Oval and Circular Forums tie the lower Shell Garden to the upper Hyakudanen botanical gardens. One common theme I've found in many of Ando's designs is the use of depth to create drama. Often you'll approach a low, flat building, only to discover stairs plunging downwards several stories. In the case of the Oval and Circular Forums, you find yourself staring down several large stories to the plaza below. The concrete, perpendicular walls enhance the sense of height.

Tacked onto the very end of the Yumebutai complex is an amphitheater. Semi-circle amphitheaters seem to be a common element of many of Ando's projects, which is most likely due to the influence of classical Roman architecture on his work. I've seen amphitheaters at his Aomori Contemporary Art Center, the park adjacent to the Hyogo Prefectural Art Museum, and here at Yumebutai. As some are tucked away, perhaps there are more that I have not noticed.

Photos: Awaji Yumebutai Part II

More Tadao Ando:

May 19, 2009

Photos: Tadao Ando's Water Temple (Shingonshu Honpukuji)

honpukuji - (c) Ken Conley
Photo by Ken Conley

Click here for more Water Temple Photos

The Kobe region has many works by Tadao Ando, including several of my favorites. Water Temple (Shingonshu Honpukuji) is at the top of that list. It is a small and simple work, and perhaps that's why it rates so highly with me. The building holds up an elliptical pond filled with lily pads. Concrete walls fan out behind the pond to form a flower-like enclosure for the space and create a transition path as you enter the complex.

You descend down stairs through the center of the pond and enter the temple itself. At first you are cast into darkness as you walk into a circular hallway, but as you approach the shrine area, more daylight is able to pierce through and bounce off the walls to create a red glow. As you exit back out of the space, the circular hallway leads you into increasing daylight until you return back to the starting point.

Honpukuji is not too difficult to get to. I took a JR bus from Sannomiya station in Kobe to Awaji Yumebutai (bus stop 5 at Sannomiya, purchase tickets inside, 45-minute ride). There is a local bus that runs from Yumebutai to Honpukuji, but I opted to walk as the local bus is not very frequent. I turned right on the main road leaving Yumebutai, walked about 20 minutes, and turned right on the road where the police box was (Koban). From there, it's about a 5 minute walk up the hill.

The JR bus was full leaving Yumebutai, so I took a local bus to Maiko station instead. From there I was able to catch a JR train back to Kobe.

Click here for more Water Temple Photos

May 16, 2009

I'm on a Train

Bullet train-5

Bullet train-2

Bullet train-6

... well, soon enough. My time in Kobe, Japan is nearly up. Next stop, Tokyo. We're taking a bullet train out of here tomorrow night. These are some photos from my bullet train trip into Kobe. There hasn't been much sightseeing, though I did manage to squeeze in quick trips to four Tadao Ando sites: Rokko, Hyoto Prefectural Art Museum, Water Temple, and Awaji-Yumebutai. Beautiful stuff, though the grey skies today mean I have a reason to come back. I also managed to glimpse (from a bus) Frank Gehry's ridiculous Fishdance restaurant, which is only one step away from Weinermobile.

December 7, 2007

IREX 2007 Photos

Photos set (115 Photos)

Subaru Robots (1) Baby I am Robot Herby Dentist Bot Head

Servo bots playing soccer and laser tag:

Robo Soccer Robot Laser Tag

A concierge robots, including one with a virtual robot concierge on its chest:

Aro - Concierge Inside a Concierge Service Robot Enon

Tiny, tiny motors:

Tiny Namiki Motors


Squse Hand (1) Yaskawa Hand Hand with non-functional ultrasonic wrist (1) Hand

Freaky dentist bot and contemplative Rubics cube solver:

Dentist Bot 2 Motoman Rubics Cube Solver

Industrial arms:

Kuka 1000kg arm Fanuc candy packaging (1) Fast Toshiba arm Nachi

And more:

Ladybug (1) Kawasaki balancing bot Hexapod Flexpicker Furo Halluc II Comet IV

Photos set (115 Photos)

January 7, 2007

Collezione, Tadao Ando, Tokyo, 1989

Collezione - Tadao Ando - Tokyo-10 Collezione - Tadao Ando - Tokyo-09

Collezione - Tadao Ando - Tokyo-04 Collezione - Tadao Ando - Tokyo-03

Collezione - Tadao Ando - Tokyo-22 Collezione - Tadao Ando - Tokyo-23

Tadao Ando - Collezione - Tokyom and I explored Tadao Ando's Collezione building late one night in Tokyo. After one wanders to the far end of Omotesando, past the Prada Building and many other similar bauble-ly buildings, you stumble across the almost non-descript Collezione building -- you might even find yourself turning back before you even reach it.

It was nice to explore the building with no one else but me and m around -- it certainly made the photography easier. It is overpowered by the rest of the high-priced Omotesando shops and in isolation is lacking some of the natural elements that I enjoy in Ando's work. Nevertheless, the combination of a circular core and rectilinear surrounding structures made for some fun exploring.

I included both color and B&W comparisons above. One archetypal style of Ando building photos is high contrast B&W to show off the concrete, but I also wanted to document how the building is actually lit up. I'm no longer sure how accurate the color photos are, though, as the different types of lighting played havoc with my camera and I took these photos over a half a year ago.
Tadao Ando - Collezione - Tokyo

Collezione - Tadao Ando - Photoset (31 photos)

Collezione - Tadao Ando - Tokyo-30 Collezione - Tadao Ando - Tokyo-16 Collezione - Tadao Ando - Tokyo-17 Collezione - Tadao Ando - Tokyo-15 Collezione - Tadao Ando - Tokyo-13 Collezione - Tadao Ando - Tokyo-11

May 22, 2006


No time for full posts, but some random bits:

  • In a correction to my previous Japan trip log, I'd like to proudly state that I now have a DS Lite. ota, m, and I waited in line at the Ikebukuro Toys R' Us and were able to pick some up. I promptly bought a copy of old-school Dr. Mario, which doesn't use the capabilities of DS Lite in the least, but I'm looking forward to trying some other games out. I did pick up a copy of the 'America' travel assitant, which I will play around with to see if it is good enough for reverse English->Japanese usage.
  • Jangara Ramen in Akihabara/Omotesando makes me sad to eat ramen in the US again.
  • All-you-can-eat food in Japan is awesome. We had all-you-can-eat dessert at Sweets Paradise in Ginza for ~$13 and all-you-can-eat shabu shabu at Mo Mo Paradise in Shinjuku for ~$15. I suggest that you visit these places first when visiting Japan, as your stomach will start to shrink from the smaller Japanese food portions the longer you're there. I think I lost weight despite the constant consumption of highly sugared vending machine drinks.
  • I think I should have been using Japanese soap and shampoo my whole life. It's possible that it's the California desert climate, but my half-Japanese skin didn't feel the least bit itchy like it does with US products.
  • Is Karl Rove indicted, or no? I'm confused.
  • Lost is finally going somewhere, just in time for the season finale this week. It sure does make me think that the entire first half of the season was a waste.
  • TiVo let me down on recording the Giro di Italia. Bad TiVo!

May 15, 2006

Tokyo day 1+2

This post should actually go before the previous, but it's hard to tell which way time is running when you're in Tokyo. Mike had to remind me that today is Monday, not Tuesday. Instead of returning every night to Saitama, where we're staying, part of me thinks that I should just stay on the Yamanote line, get off whereever I wake up, and repeat as necessary as Tokyo is already a blur linked together by the Yamanote circle. But Saitama is actually quite nice as Neil's friend has lent us an apartment, which gives us tons of space to recharge ourselves and our camera batteries. The slightly less dense neighborhoods in Saitama also ensure that the awesomely gigantic feeling of Tokyo is fresh every morning when we arrive.

On our first day in Tokyo, we managed to walk through Harajuku, Omotesando, Roppongi Hills, and Shibuya. We had very good guides, without whom we wouldn't have been able to see so many sites spread across Tokyo. Each of these spots was overwhelming in it's own way. Roppongi Hills was architecturally ginormous, Shibuya was super dense, and Harajuku had an impressive level of dress-up.

We struck out on our own on our second day using y's notebook guide, which so far has led us to delicious ramen (Jangara Ramen in Akihabara) and all-you-can-eat dessert (Sweets Paradise in Ginza). I highly recommend y's guide for those of you that can ask her for a copy ;). The Akihabara/Ginza/Tokyo area was much easier for us to cover on our own as we took it 'easy,' but we still managed to walk a ton. Sitting down for 90-minute-all-you-can-eat dessert and a kabuki play helped a bit, but exploring all the nooks and crannies requires a bit of legwork. I almost felt bad for nearly nodding off during the kabuki play, but then I noticed that many of the other theater patrons had already passed out -- a warm theater at 4:30pm is probably not the best audience to perform to. Kabuki was interesting, but I think it's probably too difficult to appreciate from the nosebleed seats as even the theater binoculars I purchased didn't help me see the performer's faces very well. Next time I'll probably shell out for the closer seats. I also want to figure out the performer's stage names so i can give a hearty yell of encouragement to keep the blood flowing ("Yamatoya!").

Akihabara is awesome

... but if I lived there I would quickly spend all my money on every gadget and toy ever known. I visited both the old Akihabara with the various small shops with various specialties as well as Yodabashi Camera, which is pretty much Akibahara sanitized and compressed into a single giant building. My purchases were as varied as Akihabara: a SATA/IDE to USB converter, model Shinkansen trains, an LED light on a cellphone strap, a Godzilla toy out of a capsule machine, an R2-D2 bottle cap, and pixel blocks for recreating Nintendo sprites. Yes, a bunch of crap, but now I own it all. I would have bought a radio and hopups for my unfinished R/C car if only I had a bit more room and actually remembered what I needed.

One of the coolest things I saw was that they have video games where you use trading cards to control the action. In a military strategy game, you manuever and command your units by moving their cards across the table. In a soccer game, you control your lineup by positioning your player cards on the table. We tried one of the more boring card games that just involves sticking your cards into the machine, but we didn't get beyond the tutorial section -- that darn goblin just wouldnt die!

I also saw a Nintendo DS Lite for the first time. I would buy one if they weren't sold out everywhere. I didn't fully understand the coolness of that platform until y's sister showed me an America travel program that teaches American English. It fully utilizes the two screens of the DS. If you select a phrase to 'say' something in English, you can display that phrase upside down on the top screen so that the person you're talking to can read it. You can also use the touch screen to practice writing English phrases displayed on the top screen. There's currently programs for America, Germany and Thailand, among others, but that's not too helpful for me as they are all in Japanese. I wish that all of our Japan guides could be compressed onto a signle DS cartridge.

May 11, 2006



Sakura Sakura Sakura Goryukaku Park Sakura

The cherry blossoms in Hakodate are finally full bloom (mankai). I've uploaded this small selection of unprocessed photos to Flickr (top photo is actually from Matsumae).

May 8, 2006

In search of cherry blossoms

I'll be doing conference stuff the next couple of days but we are going to make a quick trip out to Matsumae to see how the 10,000 sakura (cherry blossom trees) are doing there. The sakura where we are staying in Hakodate are mostly closed still, but the blossoms aren't really the point. hanami (flowering viewing) is like the first day of spring at MIT: it's a good excuse to go out to a park with your friends and party. Even though the sakura weren't in full bloom in Hakodate, there were still tons of people partying and the grills and kegs were out in full force. We got invited over by a group to enjoy some kimchi ramen, rice, and lots of beer. One of the guys called himself "Japanese HG" (wikipedia entry on HG, aka Hard Gay) and there was even an HG costume in a bag. We played a gambling game where you stab swords into a barrel until a little HG doll springs out, but, alas, the HG costume stayed in the bag.

We're hoping for more sakura fun in Matsumae. The tourist office puts it at 50% right now, but they have more varieties of sakura there with different blooming periods. There probably won't be as much partying on a weekday, but who knows? I tried to find some news articles to find out how the blossoms are doing there, but this babelfish-ed article was all I could come up with:

Oshima inside of pipe Matsumae Cho on the fourth, declared the bloom of the Soviet May reed no inside the Matsumae park. On the fourth than the common year, three days than last year it was late, but inside the road it became the quickest declaration.

As for Matsumae park place of interest of cherry tree of road inflected finger.

May 5, 2006

Off to Japan

Stage 1: AAMAS Conference in Hakodate, Japan

Stage 2: Fun in Tokyo

Stage 3: ?

There probably won't be a stage 3 as I don't imagine I'll run out of things to do in Tokyo, though I do have a hankering to visit more of the Kansai region, seeing as I have spent most of my time in Japan either on Kyushu or Okinawa.

I have no plans to post from Japan, but I should hopefully get some photos of cherry blossoms from Hakodate. pqbon was generous enough to lend me a wide-angle lens, which will definitely help with some of the shots I'm planning on taking.

Final thought before leaving: I think I spent more time making sure my TiVo would be okay while I was gone than I did packing.

January 6, 2006

Photos: Sasebo Favorites

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4 5 6 7 IMG_1600_edited-1 IMG_1389_edited-1

I couldn't post all the photos I wanted to from Sasebo, so I'm limiting myself to two sets: one with my favorites and one from around the city center. I would have omitted the latter, but it wouldn't have been fair to the city to do so. When I first showed my mom the photos I was taking, she complained that I was taking "ugly photos." She wondered why I wasn't taking photos of the more beautiful areas of Sasebo, whereas my photos seemed to all contain rust stains and grime. This is a frequent interaction with my mom. Several years ago I was taking her around MIT, she made hardly a comment. Later in the day we visited Harvard and she immediately burst out with a, "This is so much prettier! Why didn't you go to school here!?!?"

It isn't that I find rust attractive. Sasebo is filled with so many textures and has such an overwhelming density of architecture. I can't help taking photos of parking lots on top of homes, rooftops that meet in anything but right angles, buildings that similarly lack right angles, a narrow sidestreet adjacent to bright shopping plaza, homes that rise up and up into the hillside, and stairways, stairways, stairways. Zen photos are fun, but it's just as fun to take a stroll around town.

Full photoset

Photos: Sasebo City Center

IMG_1367_edited-1 IMG_1387_edited-1 Toy store in Sasebo

I've already posted some photos from the area around Sasebo, Japan, including spiders (kumo), 99 islands, and Braille-encoded city, but it's taken me quite awhile to start putting up photos of the city itself. I took hundreds of photos and I just want to post all of them with detailed explanations so that I could try to convey all the interesting aspects that I strangely find fascinating, like a shopping mall that could be Anywhere, US, a train tunnel through a shopping mall, four-way overpasses, and more. Neither you nor I really have time for that.

Full photoset

November 26, 2005

Photos: Nagasaki Peace Memorial

Nagasaki Peace Memorial-21Nagasaki Peace Memorial-10The Nagasaki Peace Memorial in Japan is a newly built memorial to the atomic bomb victims and survivors in Japan. Much of the complex is underground, with the above-ground portion serving as a public space to walk around and explore. The actual memorial is at the heart of the underground complex. An antechamber with video screens lets you learn more about each of the individual victims before entering the main memorial hall, which has lighted pillars that lead to a skylight above. In a roped-off portion of the hall is a lone dark pillar that contains the registry of all the victims.

Nagasaki Peace Memorial-13I left with mixed impressions of the building. From an architectural point of view, it was disorienting for me. It looked much like a Tadao Ando building, including a staircase that emerges out of the center of an elliptical pool, yet enough elements were slightly different from Ando's style that I could tell that it probably wasn't. The exterior layout was somewhat haphazard with very little to draw the eye, the dome was oddly placed, and the grounds weren't very well kept. I was happy to learn it wasn't an Ando building because I have higher expectations. The one element of the building design I did like was the finish on the interior concrete: it was very porous, almost wood-like in feel.

Nagasaki Peace Memorial-14The memorial itself was pretty, but it felt lacking in humanity. The use of pillars was familiar from the Holocaust Memorial in Boston, but unlike the Boston memorial that allows you to read the names inscribed, the main pillar with the names is roped off from exploration. Rather than express the human loss, it conveyed the sense of a vault. The antechamber's tech-y video screens combined with the sterility of the hall made me think of scenes from tech thrillers where the hero must break into the vault to steal the McGuffin.

Flickr Photoset of Nagasaki Peace Memorial

Photos: Kumo (Spiders)


Mt. Yumihari, which overlooks the town of Sasebo, is covered in spiders. Between a pair of trees you might see up to a dozen spiders hanging in mid-air. The top of the mountain was formerly a World War II outpost, but now all that is keeping watch are thousands of spiders and some feral cats. The spiders have some great designs on their bodies, with underbellies often resembling a demon mask.

Flickr Photoset of Spiders

November 13, 2005

Braille-Encoded City

Braille Encoded City-1 Braille Encoded City-5

Braille Encoded City-2 Braille Encoded City-4 Braille Encoded City-3 Braille Encoded City-1-1

I noticed special tiles running along the sidewalks while I was wandering around the cities of Sasebo and Fukuoka in Japan. My mom explained that they help blind people navigate the city. With my mind now aware of these tiles and their purpose, they became a secret code for me to try and decode. Straight-lined tiles indicated a path to follow; dotted tiles could be arranged to flag a split in the path or a waiting point (e.g. crosswalk or bus stop). At the Fukuoka airport, the trail leads you through the automatic doors to a split: the side-branch takes you to a map of the airport. The secret codes also had their secret hiding places: tiny balled-headed pins were embedded in a railing, nearly invisible to the naked eye, which they are not meant for, but easily detected by anyone using the railing for assistance up the stairs. I wonder what the message is, something informative, "Ten paces to next set of stairs," or something cloak-and-dagger, "Secret meeting when the thunder whispers, follow the trail."

In the US, I've seen similar sorts of tiles to guide you from a Mountain View bus stop to the Caltrain station, but there is less code and the implementation is incomplete. I was able to wander most of downtown Sasebo by following the trail at my feet, though there are gaps and it will not get you far into the residential areas. At Fukuoka airport they lead you to a map, but inside the airport there is no guide on the floor to lead you; perhaps the map provided an answer I could not read.

October 31, 2005

Photos: 99 Islands

99 Islands-4 99 Islands-2

My cousins and aunt braved the cold for me so that I could snap some sunset photos of the 99 Islands from the top of Yumihari Mountain in Sasebo. The city of Sasebo is busily spread out around the harbor along one side of the mountain, while, on the other side, things are mostly green and blue with ony the occassional settlement dotting the view. I'm not sure how one counts the 99 Islands, as there are many formations barely larger than a boulder, but by the official metric it is actually closer to 218 or so. At night you can see a string of lights snaking across the water between the islands as the squid hunters go out and try to lure their prey.

99 Islands Photos (9 photos)

Japan trip index

Entries from my October trip to Japan:

October 29, 2005

2 more t-shirts

Two more purchases from my Japan trip:


Only one star
I wish you every happiness
Queenly heart


We'll go rain or shine

October 26, 2005

Photos: Dazaifu Station (Temple and Zen Garden)

Dazaifu Station-17 Dazaifu Station-21 Dazaifu Station-06

On my first full day in Japan my aunts took me to Dazaifu Station in Fukuoka. Dazaifu Station is home to Dazaifu Tenmangu, a Shinto shrine for Tenjin, as well as Komyozenji, a Buddhist temple with a Zen garden in back. Both are tourist attractions, i.e. they are not places for quiet contemplation, but they are very beautiful tourist attractions. In between our visit to the shrine and the temple we had lunch at Ume no Hana, a restaurant that specializes in tofu. Our lunch consisted of about fifteen courses, most of which I have photos of. Part of your meal price is the plates you choose to eat on, so thanks goes to my aunt for the nice plates you see pictured. I can't read our menu so I don't have proper names for most of the courses.

It was a little paranoia-inducing to see a photo of a bridge you just crossed at Dazaifu Tenmangu in a national newspaper the next day, but as it turns out the crown prince was in town.

All thirty photos from Dazazifu Station

Dazaifu Station-10 Dazaifu Station-05Dazaifu Station-08 Dazaifu Station-02 Dazaifu Station-16 Dazaifu Station-18 Dazaifu Station-13 Dazaifu Station-22 Dazaifu Station-28 Dazaifu Station-29 Dazaifu Station-27 Dazaifu Station-24

October 24, 2005

Four views of Mt Fuji

Four Views of Mt Fuji-4

Four Views of Mt Fuji-1 Four Views of Mt Fuji-3 Four Views of Mt Fuji-2

Our pilot was nice enough to fly us past Mt Fuji on our route back. I love how Mt Fuji completely stands out from the surrounding landscape, leaving no doubt about its iconic popularity.

Tea, lots of tea, lots of tea tea tea

teaI have returned from Japan with full suitcase. The suitcase was full because of the products pictured here: many packets of tea, multiple teapots, and a tea cup. I am a tea snob, expressing a strong desire for tea from the countryside near my grandma's home, and I've happily returned with much product to consume. It's also a medical necessity: I had a cup of hot green tea in front of me for nearly the entire ten days and I might go into frightful fits of withdrawal if I don't ween myself onto a more maintainable consumption cycle.

My Japanese has gotten a lot better over the past ten days. I'm now better conversationally than I was four years ago, though probably still not as good as I was about ten years ago. I'm still far from fluent. I was most comfortable conversationally when speaking to my eight-month-old cousin -- my shy three-year-old cousin ran verbal loops around me, leaving me too embarassed to continue speaking. I purchased a copy of The Wizard of Oz to translate but I've only managed six pages of partial translation in several hours of effort.

I credit much of my progress to Japanese: The Spoken Language by Jorden and Noda. I probably wouldn't have understood the textbook when I was studying in middle school, but despite it's strange romanization of Japanese characters I found that I understood the language constructs much better than before. However, my profession training has taken over the foreign language portion of my brain. I find that I'm comparing many of the language constructs to computer programming language constructs, with particles as defining transition states and verbs as stacks.

More later, but now back to clearing out my e-mail and blog reader.

October 19, 2005

Quick post from Japan

Japan goes well and I've found some US Internet here on a military base nearby. My mom is off buying pizza for my aunt and Popeye's Chicken for me, so I have a bit of time.

I'm having a great time with my family. My aunts have been teaching me more proper green tea preparation as well as curry-cooking technique. In between has been several visits to 100 yen shops as well as a bus tour of Nagasaki.

The layout of Sasebo is reminiscent of a European town with twisty, tiny roads in the center, though most of the buildings here are less than 50 years old. The outer perimeter of the city appears to be a fortress conglomerate of giant pachinko parlors. The inside of those parlors sound like a waterfall, but substitute little metal balls for water and add a bunch of Vegas blinging noises. Five minutes was enough to make my ears ring.

The culture here has plenty of American influence -- the city's most famous food export is the Sasebo Burger and they've added a Starbucks and Seattle's Best Coffee since I last visited. I'm still not used to seeing teenagers dressed like rappers and grunge rockers.

I just purchased some t-shirts that I wanted to share with you:

Fraud Tradition
Mount Sedge the Cobalt Blue Beard
disunion verbal

Usally Stomack as crunches are as appealing to you as pop quizzes
But not anymore.
This year you would-be couch potatoes are posed to become
very buff spuds.

As wonderful as these t-shirts are, I think the strangest thing is seeing how popular marijuana leaf (hemp) air fresheners are. It was a bit weird seeing them for sale in a kids store next to Minnie Mouse, but even weirder was seeing a Buddhist monk driving around with a marijuana leaf logo hanging from his rearview mirror.

That's all for now.

October 13, 2005

Off to Japan (soon)

I leave tomorrow morning for Japan to visit with family for ten days. I'm looking forward to spending time with my 100-year-old grandma and many aunts and cousins. My cousins are looking forward to spending time with me because it means that my aunts will break out the extra beer. My aunts may try to make up stage names for me; I believe that last one was a pun on poop, but not everything gets translated for me.

Four years is too long to have been away. Except for the fact that the country is designed for people a foot shorter than I, I am more comfortable with the streets, shops, and density there. There's always something to entertain and to explore (hidden stairways, alleys) and vending machines full of tasty refreshment are always just around the corner.

I'm not sure what the plan is just yet; most of the time I'll be in Sasebo but I'll probably make it over to Nagasaki for some sightseeing. There's a longshot chance I'll end up in Okinawa for a day or two to visit my old haunts and sit on the beach, but logistics make that one difficult.

February 24, 2004


Rosy posted an entry that records, in part, her visit to Hiroshima and the atomic bomb memorial there. This brought back a lot of memories of my visit to Nagasaki's memorial, and makes me wish that I hadn't lost all my materials from that visit when I moved from Japan. Luckily, parts of what Rosy wrote made me remember some of the similar things on display at Nagasaki.

One thing in particular that Rosy's entry brought back was the memorials of a thousand cranes. When sa got married and they told me that it was a Japanese Hawaiian tradition to make a thousand cranes before a marriage, I was confused. I had only heard of that tradition in the context of "Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes," which is the story of a girl with Hiroshima-bomb-caused leukemia who believes that if she is able to make a thousand paper cranes, the gods will grant her wish to be healed. While I guess a similar wish-making principle applies to marriage, the juxtaposition between terminal illness and marriage was a bit odd.

When I visited Nagasaki, cords of a thousand cranes where everywhere, honoring Sadako's spirit. Rosy managed to snap a photo of these at Hiroshima. You can compare that with this photo and this other photo from the wedding, which show a small number of the cranes.