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Osaka: July 9

Went back to Sushiro for an early dinner, because I'll eat infinite sushi at 100 yen per plate.

Went toward Qanat for groceries, then kept going south to explore that part of the area. I heard religious procession music and followed it to a Shinto shrine, where three boys were in a building playing drum and bell and whatnot, while three younger children watched and an older man watched in the back. I'm guessing they were practicing for a procession, while friends listened. It was kind of like a drum circle, catchy and dance-inspiring despite slow change in anything like a melody.

Thought on religious spaces: Churches are generally buildings. Sometimes there's a yard or labyrinth or cemetery but at core they're buildings. These days typically locked outside of service times, too.

Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples here are enclosed spaces. Actually the smallest ones are boxes, like the Little Free Libraries that have been popping up around Boston or Berkeley. But when they're bigger there's a gate and walls enclosing a space in which are those boxes, or when even bigger, actual buildings. In larger temples you often do go inside the buildings, but that hardly ever seems to case for shrines. And being in that space creates a psychological and maybe even acoustic calm, surprisingly quiet given the busy city just outside.

Temples with gates tend to lock them around 5:30 or so, but I don't think I've seen a single lockable shrine; being an *open* gate seems inherent to torii. Of course, before Buddhist influence, shrines were apparently simply a demarcated sacred space, no buildings whatsoever.

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Osaka: catchup and Kyoto, kind of

Wow, I really bailed on Japan blogging.

Hmm, looking at my journal, I'm not sure I left out that much. Met up with W a bunch of times for anime or dinner. Went to the Rose Garden, which was pretty lame, no blooms. Walked around that area for a while, got to Ogimachi Park. Been doing a lot of reading and hiding from humidity and cooking more at home.

Yesterday, though, I headed to Kyoto. But as I approached I looked at the map, and decided to ride one station further, to Yamashina. This was on an express train -- I think it made one stop between Osaka and Kyoto! so even at a lower speed, one stop was 8-9 km away. It looked nestled in mountains, and I spent 2-3 hours trying to get up into them. Mostly failing: there's a park to the NE, but I couldn't find a trail, and Google's help was useless. I did get right up to the forest, thanks to a cluster of Buddhist temples and their cemetery. Houses nearby had yards, and goats. Well, one goat, but that's infinitely more goats than I usually see in an urban area.

There was a tiny park area adjacent to the hill forest, with two cats visible, and a sign with 'neko' on it. Don't know if it was saying "don't bother the cats" or "don't feed the cats" or what.

Went to another temple to the norht, Bishamon-dō, rather large, and with several associated shrines.

Roads NW of there looked like they did go further up into the mountains, but I was getting tired of hiking. I found this tiny cluster of houses, on the other side of a canal from everything else. First you hit this communal dirt parking area, then go over a bridge, then there's not even a street, just a foot lane, with houses and yards along it (plus a couple of teeny tiny shrines, basically a sacred rock at foot level.) Felt like a taste of 'rural' Japan. Google claimed it was a cul-de-sac but was wrong, I kept heading south and eventually hooked up with real streets again.

Yamashina back to Kyoto was 7 minutes by express train, 15 by subway, or 25 by car! Nice to be somewhere where the trains are just better.

Oh, yesterway was Tanabata, which seems to be more of a private thing than a big festival. Though as I left home, I heard and found a small procession carrying a god? relic? through the streets of Osaka. I'd wondered if I'd run into more in Kyoto, but I got there after 5pm so things would probably have been running down anyway. Kyoto Station area is full of modern tall buildings and such -- also a post office open on Sunday! With lots of ATMs because Japan has postal banking.

Kyoto also had lots of white people. Yeah, I'm one to talk. But staying in an outer part of Osaka I tend to be the freak gaijin, not one tourist of many, and Yamashina was definitely off the beaten path.

Perhaps related to a high tourist content, the first shrine I found had signs announcing that 24 hour security cameras were present.

Some buses seem to be every 10 minutes, other 20-40. This sort of thing inhibits my "get on a bus and view the city" behavior. At least the stops have schedules, so I can know.

Mosquitoes seem to love me here more than in Boston. That or I'm more often near open water so there are more of them.

Took a Keihan train back to Osaka. Like Kintetsu, there are a confusing variety of express levels. Car would have been 49 minutes, 51 km; train was 40 minutes. And 400 yen, under $4!

Why are trains cheap? Density high enough to fill the seats of a train slung every 10 minutes helps, as does slinging trains every 10 minutes so people are happy to take trains. But I'm reminded of another factor: when I got off at Kyobashi station in Osaka, I immediately found Hotel Keihan and Keihan Mall. IIRC the private railways in Japan own a lot of land around their station, so get a lot of money in rents, which are high from the land value created by their own trains. It's like privatized land value tax. This might be why JR Loop is cheaper than the Osaka subways.

Man, a bit over three weeks left. I don't wanna go! Though I need to worry about actual income.

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crusades through Arab Eyes

By Amin Maalouf. I finished this book last night. It's been highly recommended, and I liked it. Not too long, and fairly simple in structure: chronological, with Crusades arriving, getting fought, and finally kicked out. I found it an engaging read. Some surprises or sociological points:

Mercy cut for your reading pageCollapse )

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Osaka: June 26, Nara

I finally made a 'big' trip, taking the train to Nara, 20 miles or so east of me. The best line is the Kintetsu, a different private train than the JR Line, and confusing in its overlapping lines; I found I was on the wrong train and transferred further down, though I didn't really lose time.

Nara is an old imperial capital, from the 700s AD, before the emperor moved to Kyoto. A lot of Buddhist temples were built then and remain today. Deer have been revered/protected since then, I think; at any rate there are like 1,200 sika deer roaming Nara, especially Nara Park. (I didn't actually see any in the rest of the city, in my brief time in it.) Lots of people sell packets of deer crackers so you can feed them to the deer.

Before I got to the park I passed a one-room seismic isolation museum, with some information on earthquakes and building coping strategies, and some models, including a motion chair you can sit in. Simulation of a 9.0 quake was pretty damn violent.

Top temple of the park is Toudaiji, meaning "eastern big temple". I didn't pay for the museum and great Buddha hall, figuring there would be enough things to do in the area without that. Which was true, though I find I don't have much to say about my experience. I found some elevated spot away from the crowds, which was nice. Walked through various bits, past a hill with more deer, ate some soba, found Kasugataisha (Kasuga grand shrine) (huh, the Fujiwara family shrine) which was closed for the admission area by the time I got there but might be worth another visit.

Walked back outside the park, past houses with actual yards, not sure if "land is cheap" or "rich houses". Then some pavilion island, Ukimi-do hall.

I discovered that Google Maps has no idea about buses in Nara, but searching elsewhere found a pretty frequent loop line that took me back to a train station. Very nice, actually: the bus stop had electronic displays showing where the buses were, the bus had bilingual announcements.

Lots of photos. Still haven't curated or uploaded them.

Since then it's been raining or extremely humid, so I've been reading at home, or venturing out just for food and socializing. I did read some explanations of oddities: public trash cans removed after the Aum Shinrikyo attacks, and have been only slowly moving back (before getting spooked again by the G20 summit.) No paper towels in public bathrooms because it doesn't make sense to give you things you won't be able to throw away. (Doesn't explain the lack of *soap*.) I've also been reading about Japanese nutrition labels. I keep buying drinkable yogurt that turns out to be sweetened and that needs to stop.

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Osaka: June 25, more kaitenzushi

I craved more. Went to Ganko sushi in the Abeno Harukas basement. Was tricky to find, behind a giant supermarket with varieties of cherry tomatoes and varities of more-than-whole milk (like 5% fat) and more.

Spent twice as much for half the food. The base plates are more expensive -- 120 and 180 yen -- but the real killer is having many more (or any) plates that are more expensive. Like toro. And more toro.

Read about the Crusades in the park, and looked up more parks to visit.

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sushi score!

Despite buying all those groceries last night, I decided to look for floating (conveyor belt) sushi, or kaitenzushi places. A couple west of me in the mall, one 10 minutes east of me. I tried that, figuring the more boonie it was the cheaper it would be.

Spoiler: I had like 29 pieces of sushi for under $18.

Spoiler: that was too much sushi. I walked it off for 45 minutes and still felt bloated.

The place was Sushiro, apparently a chain. People were waiting but as a solitary person I got seated at the counter right away, in front of the belt. Also had a touchscreen, with English option, for ordering stuff if I wanted, or calling someone at the end to tally up. Three tiers of plates: 100 yen, 150 yen, and I never saw the last one so whatever. 100 yen for a pair of tamago, but also for a pair of tuna. I think a plate of 3 different pieces of salmon was 150. 2 pieces of eel were I think 100, one dark piece of presumably 'better' eel was 150. I ended up having 11 100 yen plates and 4 150 yen plates. Apart from the egg plate, all were fishy (or meaty: one seemed to be beef nigiri.) And decent size pieces, not tiny, like a couple of my thumb widths in width. Recall that 100 yen is basically a dollar.

I'm not that unfamiliar with kaitenzushi being cheap: a floating place in Portland Oregon had $1 for egg and maybe $3 for salmon, when in restaurants elsewhere it would often be $3-4 just for egg. But still, dang!

Some other things took me a while to figure out. Hand wipes were hiding above my head. There's a jar of green tea powder -- like matcha, but presumably not actually high quality matcha -- to mix with hot water from a tap. No little soy sauce/wasabi mixing tray, I had to re-use an empty plate. Jar of pickled ginger and bottles of soy sauce at my spot, but little wasabi packets go by in a bowl on the belt. Not to be confused with the little packets of red pepper going by in a bowl on the belt. Fortunately I now know to look for wasabi (in hiragana).

In other things... I was walking along a main street, noting how dead it was. I saw the tall apartment buildings, and wondered how much ground level retail there was, and tried to pay more attention. It's mixed: many just have a lobby, or some private parking (that was actually for a fairly short and setback row of apartments.) Others do have businesses, restaurants or even paid public parking! But yeah, it could be more ubiquitous, especially given that you'd think some 12 story building provides lots of its own customers.

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Osaka: -June 23

Friday I finally got to Shitennouji temple, which is huuuuuuge. The inner walls/arcade enclose an area like a football field. They were surrounded on all sides by market stalls -- yes, there was a flea market going on in the outer ward of the temple. Which also includes a cemetery, various subbuildings, and judging from a map later, I think a whole sub-complex I missed.

In the inner ward is a 5 story or so pagoda, that you can climb up to the top. Very tight spiral staircases (actually, two of them; I was proud of myself for realizing signs said to take one up and the other down.) There's a hall in the middle of the ward where the interior walls are covered in murals of the life of Buddha. Originally I would have said Indian-style art, but I'm more certain simply that the art depicted Indians. Then at the north end is another hall, where the murals show Chinese/Tibetans/Mongols in high mountains; I think I made out the words Bamiyan and Hindo Kush (which I would call Hindu Kush, but whatever.)

The market provided me some unexceptional peanuts and some excellent tangelos for cheap (500 yen for 13, I think that would be decent even by California prices, let alone Japanese supermarket ones.)

I wandered over to Shinsekai, had okonomiyaki at the English-friendly Usagiya, and found a flaw in the transit system. My feet hurt a lot by then, for the second day in a row, and I wanted to go home with a minimum of walking, but there weren't any great routes. I was right on top of a subway station and a streetcar line, but they didn't connect directly with anything useful, and I balked at a 3-leg trip. I ended up taking the subway to Tengachaya to explore another part of town, which wasn't too exciting, though I found a sort of walled residential area. Then headed home, and found that the JR Loop, going to the closest station by me, was running only every 15 minutes, so I had to wait 10 at the station.

There are buses too, but Google seemed to be showing 20-30 minute headways.

Some time before I'd found a Horai store, selling a few kinds of dumpling: gyoza, siu mai, pork bun (butanman). W had said they were meaty and dull, but W prefers Chinese potstickers to gyoza, so I figured I should make my own judgement. I like the gyoza, but the siu mai weren't so much meaty as gelatinous, would not buy again. I don't particularly like pork buns, especially steamed ones, at the best of times -- too doughy -- so didn't try.

At some point I switched from wearing my new hat to using my umbrella as a parasol. It's somewhat translucent but still helped keep the sun off my body. Hat just keeps my face from burning, head still gets sweaty.

After two days of achy feet I decided to stay in most of the weekend, studying Japanese or reading things. Made a shopping trip yesterday, armed with the names of things, including garlic and ginger; I thought I bought a jar each of minced stuff, but got home with two jars of ginger.

I was getting self-conscious about eating lots of white rice, non-calorie nutritional value zilch, or white bread, and was happy to read that soba is made from buckwheat, which isn't even a cereal, and has a more complete protein profile. So I got some of that, prepared and not. I see pork-vegetable-soba-ginger-sesame oil stirfries in my "cooking at home" future.

(And if you're in a restaurant facing the choice of udon vs. soba, "abused and maybe enriched wheat" vs. "whole seed buckwheat" might help you decide.)

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Osaka: June 20, local exploration

I accidentally bought cooked duck at the supermarket. I regret nothing. $3 for I couldn't find a weight, but a decent amount.

Saw my first bike helmet here today -- two of them! One on the only road bike I've seen in two weeks, one on a toddler.

Some bikers brave the multi-lane road, but most stick to the sidewalks.

As mentioned, Japan's tallest building, Abeno Harukas 300 (for 300 meters) is near me. There's an observatory on top for 1500 yen, plus more if you want to go outside and even more if you want to walk the edge on a lifeline. The 16th floor is free though and has a decent view in a couple of angles, and has a small outdoor parklet too. With solid windows, so it wasn't breezy. The 16th floor also has a museum, currently featuring Winnie the Pooh. It's another 1500 yen or so, so I didn't go in.

W oriented me to all the malls around the Tennouji intersection, so I've been exploring them somewhat. Mostly an anime store and some of the restaurants and cafes. I found a bread store.

I extended my stay to my departure date. I'll live in the same place for seven whole weeks, :gasp: unless I take any side trips. Actually I've thought of trying some of the cheaper (less than $30) hotels around here for research, but if so it'll be an experiment with a safe place to retreat to if they're icky or noisy.

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Osaka: June 18: Koreatown, shrines

"Let's go to Nara... nah, I spent too long on the computer, it's late."

"Let's go to a museum! ... oops, they're all closed on Tuesday."

"Let's go to Koreatown!" That worked.

Ate some store sandwiches in a shitty park near the station. Small park, small playground. Looked grungy, I guess partly the litter, even more so all the cigarette butts when I noticed them (no trash can, but there was a butt can clearly not used enough,), and the ground under the play equipment being part grass part dirt.

Found a Buddhist temple along a residential alley, one big enough to have two caretakers and at least two rooms. I looked inside but felt uncomfortable as they looked at me.

Found Koreatown, it has an official entrance. And right away I found a sizable Shinto temple, Mizukimori-tenjingu. Uhhh, Koreans aren't Shinto... actually the main entrance is outside Koreatown, but a side entrance opens to it. I ended up spending a fair bit of time and phone battery reading up on Shinto shrine structures, so I would have a better idea of what I was looking at and what the things were called. One thing is that they often contain auxiliary shrines, to related kami; this one had three different shrines/altars, or at least structures with bell ropes. I saw one woman ring and pray at each one. Plus a fourth little thing that looked altar-ish but didn't have a rope. The shrine also had trash cans. Look, when you carry your garbage for multiple blocks, you'll start noticing these things too.

I followed the "main street" of Koreatown to its end, though I later found there are lots of other Korean businesses (or businesses with Korean writing, anyway) in the area. Lots of places selling raw meat, or corn dogs(!), or kimchi, or things that looked like meat marinated in kimchi or some other red sauce. Wasn't hungry enough to buy anything then. Not a single conbini along multiple blocks.

Along the way I found a much nicer park, with trash can and water fountain (one faucet aiming straight up, which is how drinking fountains here work, one straight down for filling things.) Less litter, less scruffy (ironically perhaps because a big area was *just* dirt, so didn't have the "trying to grow grass but failing" thing), a lot more people hanging out. Tidy trees, maybe neater than the first park.

Looping back toward the train station, I found another Buddhist temple, Shukyo Hojin Minshuhotokekyo Kanon Temple. I was able to get much closer to the altar, which had a big bag of Pocky and a big can of pineapple, among other offerings. A priest had me light and plant an incense stick. Statues outside of Budai and Kannon.

Also I found that you can copy place names out of Google Maps on the phone (long press on the full page). So I never had to type "Shukyo Hojin Minshuhotokekyo Kanon Temple".

Google Maps on my phone also has a working compass. YAY.

Nearly stepped into a moving motorcycle, I need to pay more attention.

Some woman was biking on a somewhat busy street while looking at her phone.

Many bikes here have a symmetrical kickstand, one that goes over the back of the rear wheel so the bike stands upright.

Wandered through the Tsuruhashi arcades (arcade seems a better name for the 'covered shopping streets' like the one I first stayed on.) Found a Korean restaurant and had bibimbap for 800 yen (actually 860 after tax, I would like better indication of when sales tax is going to be applied -- in 2008 it seemed always included in the price, but a lot of conbini products now have two prices printed on them, before and after tax.) Turned out to be vegetarian (egg, no meat). The proprietor mashed up the bowl's contents for me ("this is Korean food!" -- Japanese generally don't mix food like that, I think.) She provided metal chopsticks with odd shape and weight, then standard disposable wooden ones when I seemed to be struggling. Was good. Lots of side dishes as seems common for Korean food. One looked like a tiny bit of cheesecake but was actually tofu with a red sauce on it.

Another store in the arcade was selling churros. I spelled out the katakana on the sign, went "really?", and looked inside. Yep, churros.

Then home.

Observation: despite warm temperatures, most women here wear more covering clothing than I'd be used to around hot weather Boston, say. Almost all have trousers or below-knee skirts. I've seen some above-knee skirts or even miniskirts, but they're a lot rarer. Something like tank top and shorts is very rare, and tends to come with indicators of foreignness: speaking fluent English to a white boyfriend, looking Chinese (not that I'd bet a lot on my judgement), looking Chinese in a group and I think talking in non-Japanese (I didn't get to hear much).

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analysis of the Siege of Gondor

A medieval historian looks at the siege of Minas Tirith, in the movies and books. Long but worth it. Link is to the final part, which has links to the other five parts.

What I got out of it was that Tolkien's portrayal was quite good, even in subtle details I hadn't picked up before. Opposed landings are hard, and despite inferior numbers Faramir might have held Osgiliath but for the Nazgul. Denethor lights the beacons (summoning vassals, not Rohan) before troops even leave Minas Morgul; foresight or the palantir at work. Also learn a fair bit about medieval warfare considerations.

Jackson's version... not so good.

(He also looks at how medieval Game of Thrones is: not very. Lots of things are more like the Early Modern period: large armies with regular kit, weak religion (okay, that's more like *late* modern), nationalism.)

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Osaka: June 16

Just stayed in yesterday, ducking the alleged storm, though it wasn't that bad in the end. Some rain and thunder. Re-read a lot of Gunnerkrigg Court, read about hyperpolyglots and curbside management.

Today W and I had ramen, then came back to watch the latest anime version of Legend of the Galactic Heroes. So fun for me but not a lot to tell y'all about. Our table condiments included a jar of garlic paste and a jar of something that looked like green onion kimchee -- green onions and red bits and a fermented look to it all.

One thing about Japan is lots of tiny shrines you'll run across. I wondered if one was Shinto or Buddhist, and W pointed out the swastika -- excuse me, manji -- marking it as Buddhist.

I'm apparently in walking distance of the tallest building in Japan, so that's a thing to check out.

I found Camembert in Japan! I was surprised. If it's an import it was thoroughly re-labled. It's also triple-wrapped: you open the cardboard box, and there's a plastic tub; you open the plastic tub, and the mini-wheel of cheese is wrapped in clingy plastic.

I have a bag of "candy-style cheese". It had looked like a bag of cheese curds. Kind of, but more regular in shape -- a bit like a small Reese's cup -- and *each one* is wrapped in twisty plastic, like hard candy. Japan is a terrible country for pursuing a minimal-packaging lifestyle.

(These cheese itself seems normal, not sweet; some semi-soft white cheese like cheddar.)

I have cooked! Well, I boiled pasta and put sauce and cheese on it. But assembling a meal and putting it on a plate, rather than just eating supermarket packages, is a step toward feeling at home in a kitchen. Oh, and there was a sieve after all. No can opener in either kitchen, though.

I passed a Denny's on the walk home. I did not expect that.

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A guy says standard poster sessions are terrible, especially for walking around and hoping for serendipity, because the posters are walls of text with some obscure question as a title. But they can be better! Make your interesting *result* prominent and easy to see, with simple details on one side and crunchier details on the other. Video jumping to the good bit (the first 11 minutes set the context).

NPR article.

Some critique and riffing.

Even those of us who will likely never make a poster can still benefit from thoughts on clarity.

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can rideshare reduce driving?

I've seen reports that Uber/Lyft (rideshare) increase congestion. This surprised me, I thought they would reduce driving. Someone pointed out a flaw in my thinking: single passenger rideshare CANNOT reduce driving.

Say Alice would drive from A to B. She calls a Lyft instead. The car takes her for exactly the same trip, PLUS having to drive to pick her up at A, and to pick someone else after B (or to take the driver home.) It's strictly MORE driving than before. It can, however, reduce parking demand.

A group of people who would have carpooled are the same.

A group of people who would have individually driven DOES reduce driving if they take one rideshare vehicle instead.

The biggest potential is probably in arranged shared rides, Lyft Line or UberPool. If Alice would drive from A to C, and Bob would drive from B to D, and the routes overlap or parallel a lot, then driving to pick up Alice at A, driving to B for Bob, driving to D, and then C, might be a reduction. Depends on how much endpoint driving (including backtracking to pick up Bob after already going part way to C) there is compared to the shared component. Picking up two people at the airport who live half a mile apart five miles away is a clear win. Picking up people five blocks apart who are going to places ten blocks away and five blocks apart themselves would not be a win. (10+10 vs. 5+10+5.)

So the shared rides can reduce driving, and we'd need actual data on algorithms and trip patterns to evaluate that. But it's more likely for longer trips than short ones within a squarish area.

And of course all this ignores taking trips from transit, or stimulating new trips that wouldn't have happened.

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Osaka: June 14: new home

Found a Hainanese chicken and rice place, tried it. Couldn't read much of the menu but it had pictures, so I pointed at something that looked tasty, and it was. Better luck than yesterday's teishoku (which I forgot to mention) which came with some gross vegetables (though good fried chicken.) The menu also had some bizarre manga in the back (or maybe the front? Have I been reading menus in the wrong order? Must pay attention.)

My previous place was right on a shopping street, practically in a mall. This area is quieter. I have to walk seven whole minutes to get to a supermarket. Tragedy!

(Actually it might not be that long, might not even be further than the old one. But I've gone from "go down the street" to "follow twisty path" so it feels more taxing.)

Tomorrow predicts a storm, like wind gusts of 75 kph, so I was stocking up on food. Three weeks in one place also means I can do things like buy groceries such as olive oil without feeling like a chump... and yes, they have alleged olive oil here. I got some basic pasta ingredients, though realized later I don't think I have a sieve. Oops.

Went back out to explore my nearby train station area, and stared at the JR map for a while. I learned something! The shinkansen doesn't stop at Osaka station, big and busy though it is, but at Shin-Osaka. Which Google says is a 50 minute walk from Osaka -- or a 4 minute train ride. I croggle at both numbers. For Kobe and Shin-Kobe, it's 50 and 13. Now I wonder if the Shin means "new" as I thought, or "shinkansen stops here". Or, likely, they had to build a new station to accommodate the needs of the bullet train. Wiki says the 'shin' in shinkansen does mean new, or at least the whole word means "new trunkline".

While I was there, I saw a woman in clothing whose color and drape made me think "yukata" but whose material made me think "ankle-length sweater dress". I did not stare enough to resolve the matter.

I found a store apparently specializing in beauty and cleaning goods; at any rate, I got to buy paper towels there, so I am no longer drying my hands with fucking kleenex. While I was there, the blaring radio or PA system or whatever started up with a version of the Battle-Hymn of the Republic, in high pitched anime girl voice. I don't know what it was saying, but imagined "My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the sale / These discounts will turn your shopping into an epic tale".

I got more snacky food at Lawson, and milk because I can read their carton and not accidentally get skim or 0.5% milk. They also had drinkable yogurt! I got it, anticipating something like ayran or kefir. I got something sweet with no fat and 28 grams sugar instead of 9 (or so I guess based on comparative nutrition labels). :(

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fanfic author: Unpretty

I mentioned reading a cool Korra fanfic: that's Icarus and the Sea, by Unpretty on AO3. This fic is Varrick/Zhu Li, long (a short novel) but quite good. Has both of their POVs. Sex scenes near the end, after they finally hook up, if that bothers you. [Oh, I've been reading the EPUB version, which apparently has more sex than what's on AO3.]

I'd discovered her via her Sorrowful and Immaculate Hearts, a whole bunch of DCU fics (mostly Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman.) That's a series set in chronological order but each work is standalone; someone had recommended Empty Graves, which I liked, and then I picked out lots of shorter works until I trusted her enough to read her longer works. I'm not a particular DC fan, but I enjoyed them a lot. If you know the basic 'facts' about the characters then I think that suffices, though there'll be the occasional minor character detail you don't fully appreciate. They're mostly 'human interest' stories, rather than drama with fights and such.

Some out of context quotes:

"Is Superman from Texas?"
"For that to be true," Batman said, "it would need to be possible for a man to be from Texas without telling anyone about it for years."

"Maybe you could give people tips to be successful?" Danny suggested.
"Based on personal experience you should try being born a white billionaire with a Type A personality and a need for external validation that can never be satisfied because your parents are dead."

"Look at this thing. Baguette toasts. What is a baguette toast? I want to shove myself in a locker for this."
(A new Robin has an identify crisis with Alfred's idea of Lunchables.)

Robin-1 to Robin-2:
"Your job is to take care of the genius whose solution to gun violence was to put himself in front of all the guns."

"What, ya just throw rubbers at randos tryin' to fuck in alleys?"
Harley laughed loud and hard at the thought of someone getting hit in the head with a condom like a batarang.

"If I see any scenery worth pissing on, I'll be sure to let you know."
"That won't be necessary."
A crudely made wooden sign came into view in the field beside the road. It had a lot of opinions about what constituted sin and what happened to sinners.
"I see some scenery," Bruce said.

"I do not brood."
"Based on the number of birds you've raised, you must."
Bruce groaned audibly.

"I'm imagining the worst fight," he admitted.
"Hawkman and a mirror."

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Osaka: June 13. The Move

Lots of minor annoyance today.

So the big thing was moving from my 1-week place to my 3-week place. Hallelujah, I've been moving every 1-1.5 weeks since early April and its not my favorite mode of travel. But, unlike most US Airbnb, these places are hardnosed about checking out at 10. But Japan has a solution: coin lockers! in or near many train stations.

But my nearest station didn't have big lockers, and the next one didn't have available big ones. It also had an elevator to the mezzanine but no elevator or escalator to the platform, whyyyy... But I got to Tennouji station, which did have available large lockers. Which I messed up using -- it's single-use, not use for a day -- so it cost me 1400 yen instead of 700. At least I was able to stuff both bags into one.

Then I had to decided what to do with the rest of my day. Thing is, this particular new home makes you go somewhere *else* to check in and get the passcode. A NYC place did that but the key locker was right around the corner, not a couple miles away. So I had that to look forward to. I thought about taking a day trip to Nara, but I also had my laptop in my backpack, weighing me down. So I ended up exploring the mall at Tennouji -- not my usual thing, but it's a huge chunk of the local commercial activity, also air conditioned. I found a Lindt! though at around $1 per chocolate ball, I'll pass. Found a supermarket with olive oil, butter (from Hokkaido), and various cheeses (including Brie) -- though no instant rice that I could find. Finally I hung out in a cafe reading Korra fanfic, which deserves its own post.

Then it was time to go get my entrance code. I found the kiosk and checked in... and didn't get a code. Got a success message, but the fields were blank. I complained. 5-10 minutes later I got a message with a code. So now I went to the home -- directly, because I didn't want to be stuck outside with my bags if this didn't work.

But it did, and then I discovered the home is like 12 minutes from Tennouji, so that was looking up. (There's a closer train station, but it's only a JR Loop station; being able to walk to Tennouji gives me more flexibility.)

Speaking of up, the stairs to my bedroom are very nearly a ladder. Nothing is up there except my bedroom, so going to the bathroom will be fun. OTOH, I might as well leave my bags downstairs, and just shower and change in the living room.

And yeah, I did go back for my bags, got food, brought the bags home, and here I am. Hopefully I'll sleep well (also, not fall and kill myself); the last few places all had the virtue of being quiet, but street noise penetrates this room easily. It's people street noise rather than cars, but that's maybe worse.

Other things:

* The house guide had the WiFi ID and password as the same. It is wrong, which is good for security; I tried the password in the strongest WiFi and that worked.

* I haven't seen anyone wearing a bicycle helmet in Japan. Maybe some small kid, I'm not sure, but pretty much no teen or adult. It's Dutch style biking -- in more ways than one: the usual posture is either fully upright or mountain (bent forward somewhat); I don't think I've seen a single road bike hunch. And everyone's biking in their regular street clothes.

* Japan drives on the left, but mostly stands on escalators on the right, like the British. As for walking or taking stairs, I'm not sure there's a strong pattern. Many station stairs are marked with up and down arrows, but they different ones put you on the left or the right. I wonder if in a country with less pervasive driving, "imitate what cars do" is less of a Schelling point.

* While waiting for a reply by the key locker kiosk, I looked at the magazine in the conbini. Lots of the big manga magazines like Shounen Jump. Mostly with sexy girls on the cover, you have to look inside to see it's not an adult magazine. (The actual porn ones are taped so you can't look inside... though I peeked at one and saw even more manga, presumably hentai.) I did find one with furigana by all the kanji, so I bought it in a fit of optimism about my studies.

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Osaka: June 12

Quiet day, still catching up on sleep. Did some shinkansen and other travel research. Re-reading Gunnerkrigg or Schlock Mercenary, or reading Squirrel Girl and Batman fanfics. Went for a walk, discovered a nearby red light district, girls in booths like the Amsterdam street of windows.

Belka is Russian for 'squirrel'.

W came over for a co-working session in the evening, then we went out for dinner, at a sort of Indian restaurant. Actually a real mix: Japanese food, Indian (tandooring chicken, naan), Chinese (soup dumplings, chow mein), Thai (things I hadn't heard of.) It was decent, not the best place for soup dumplings.

She noticed that my street had mosaics of animal heads in it: goat, bear, elephant, bunny, pig... I'll post photos later.

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Osaka: June 11

I didn't get nearly enough sleep, and gave up at noon, so it wasn't a day for big adventures like Nara or Kyoto.

(One benefit of being in Osaka is that I can allegedly just day trip to a bunch of other places, with having to juggle more housing.)

I realized that I have my own place, sandwiched between karaoke places. As long as it's before 2300, I can practice singing full volume and no one can complain. HAH. Actually there's another apartment below me, so I still tried to stay in the front, or sing in the bathroom, in case some other traveler was trying to sleep late. But still, cool.

Eventually I wandered out to hunt down a Sukiya branch east of me in Abeno; this is a chain of cheap and English-friendly gyuudon (beef bowl, like Yoshinoya) places. I'd seen some in Namba and near the aquarium but hadn't eaten at one yet. Cheap as in a basic bowl is 400-500 yen. Took me a while to actually find it, all while trying not to get run over by bicyclists, but I did. It was okay; greatly enhanced by the pepper-thing I sprinkled on, and the mass of pickled ginger I mixed in. Oh, and extras of green onion. But there are big bins of pickled ginger at your seat, so I helped myself generously. No tea though; when went to Yoshinoya in Tokyo there were huge bins of free genmaicha to serve myself from. Sukiya had paper napkins.

I saw signs against biking on the sidewalk, nearby. The people seemed to have decided this is one rule they won't obey.

Parking garage! 1000 yen for 3 hours, 2000 for a day (I think), 35000 for a month. It's roughly 100 yen to the dollar (108 yesterday), so that's $3 for an hour, or $350 for a month.

Across the street from Sukiya was Q's mall. I didn't explore it much, but the first thing I saw was, in katakana, "chi chi ka ka". I thought a moment and wondered if that was "Titicaca". Yep, it was. Some store devoted to Latin American clothing and other products. A name from an Andean lake, signs about Day of the Dead and Lucha Libre, coin purses from Guatemala (the only tag of origin I could find or at least read.)

Then I wandered north into Tennouji Park. Too late for any of the attractions, but I figured, park, could be fun to walk around, right? Right. Lots of greenery, some bright red bridge, a small steep hill Chausuyama that wikipedia tells me is a kofun, good lord. I think I need to go back and pay more attention.

Tried some Buddhist temples but they were all closed.

Wasn't hungry enough for any of the tempting restaurants (including one called Usagiya, which I wanted to parse as Rabbit Store, but selling okonomiyaki), so got some food to go at Lawson's, including my first pork tongue (smoked slices in a bag) and cooked quail eggs (not my first, but first from what's basically a 7/11.)

I got deceived by packaging, though: there was something I thought would be a chunk of grilled salmon, based on the picture and english label, but it was onigiri with salmon inside. I would have seen that if I'd looked more closely, but didn't. Might have bought it anyway, but I opened it thinking it was salmon to put on my instant rice, but no, it had its own rice.


Other thoughts:

All bathrooms have been the "futuristic toilets", with heated seats and water jets and such. Except for one squat toilet I saw in a stall in the aquarium; the other stall had a future toilet, with instructions on the wall about how to use this Western-style toilet. (Don't squat on it; do put your toilet paper in the toilet to flush. This raises questions...)

Given that they've been around for decades they're hardly future toilets anymore, except that I'm from the US. https://www.theonion.com/earthquake-sets-japan-back-to-2147-1819569216

I haven't said much about the trains because I so quickly slipped into taking them for granted as how Things Should Be In A Civilized Country, but they're awesome. I think they run every 5 minutes or less? Except coming home last night from the aquarium, 9 pm in some semi-distant part of town, they were every 10 minutes. TRAGEDY. Oh, and if you take a rapid train to Nara that might be 15 minutes. They're clean. The stations are clean. They line up with line-up points. (BART does that too, but not as quickly.) People haven't been playing loud music on them. The trains are more bilingual than I recall Tokyo 2008 trains reliably being, which is helpful for yours truly. The one flaw is that the A/C is sometimes weak for my taste.

Despite high density and narrow alley-streets, my neighborhood has been quiet. I can hear some noise in my bedroom but I am literally squished between karaoke places and even then just sticking earbuds in my ears mostly helps, without even playing anything. If I were in the front of my apartment I would hear a lot more but my bedroom is sensibly in the back.

Well, there's been some daytime construction or such noise -- manual, not Big Equipment -- but that's hardly a sin.

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Osaka: June 10 (Aquarium)

W had said that a good option for a rainy day was the Osaka Aquarium. Not a casual or cheap option -- 30 minutes away and 2300 yen admission -- but Wikipedia said it was one of the largest aquariums in the world, and reviews were good, so I went today.

Lots of different exhibits, some trivial (the first one, "Japanese forest", with a couple of sleeping otters and a bunch of plants), some huge (the Pacific ocean tank.) A highlight of this aquarium is that it's very deep: you go up to the top, and the top of various exhibits -- e.g. penguins, seals, and dolphins -- and then you spiral down, and see underwater levels of those exhibits, going down quite a ways. Some aren't too exciting, like the giant kelp of the Aleutian islands (still, informative), while for others you see diving penguins, seals, and dolphins...

There are a couple of odd ones, like the ring-tailed coati, which I don't think is even aquatic at all, or the capybara, which does eat riverside grass but still.

The penguin one had king penguins, gentoos, and Adelie penguins. The kings stood around looking big and yellow-stained, while a couple of Adelies were playing quite energetically in the water, or jumping out and diving in again. Their exhibit was full of actual ice, including ice bits continually dropping from a hole in the ceiling; some kings stood under it and apparently didn't mind ice whacking them on the head.

There were a couple of Pacific whitesided dolphins, quite active, without many people around; the Japanese seem to prefer penguins to dolphins.

The Pacific tank is Big and has Many Animals, in particular two whale sharks, I'd guess around 6 meters long (based largely on a painting in a shopping area later). Quite impressive. Also hammerheads and various others, large manta or sting rays, schools of mackerel, etc.

A cafeteria sold me a fishcake sandwich, and provided actual paper napkins, contradicting my experience and testimony so far.

A deeper tank had giant spider crabs. Lots of them, very large. Very creepy.

I grew up hearing that sharks and rays had to keep moving in order to breathe. There were a whole bunch of bamboo sharks resting at the bottom of the Pacific tank, gills moving without their bodies going anywhere, so I guess not. They weren't just scattered around, but there was a whole cluster of sharks and other fish in a corner. I have no idea if they were being social or if there's something attractive about that corner of the tank.

(AMNH says some sharks do have to keep moving, others don't; all do have to keep moving to avoid sinking to the bottom.)

I'd gotten there at 14:48, and made a second pass starting around 18:00. The puffins seemed more active, swimming around, while six sea lions had all gone to sleep on wooden platforms, and cuddling; one seal was resting elsewhere, while another was still frolicking. I had previously no idea there were more than one seal and two sea lions.

The "Seto inland sea" tank had lots of things, including a cluster of one fish species all resting together, and octopi mostly in pots. One was moving around, apparently trying pots, which were occupied.

There's a room of jellyfish that's pretty cool. Some are small and plain, some are elaborately pretty.

I had a couple of train mishaps. One on the way, which I don't recall -- I think I got on the wrong line for the route I'd planned or someting. And on the way back, I got off at Hommachi, when I needed to get off at Saikasuji Hommachi. Happily, a different line also went from there to my home stop. Less happily, it took 2-3 minutes of walking, probably why Google suggested the other route.

Osaka has some sort of free municipal wifi portal. I haven't tried using it yet.

Photo album

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Osaka: June 9

Met up with W near Osaka castle park, and got up to the entrance of Osaka castle. Where there was a line, and W realized she didn't want to do that again, and I should go on my own on a weekday. So we walked around the park a lot.

Castle construction and moat reminded me a lot of the Tokyo one, unsurprisingly.

Had my first takoyaki. It was okay.

Part of travel is finding what another culture does better (trains, safety) or worse/alien (no soap in park public bathrooms, hardly any paper towels anywhere, few public trash cans apart from conbini or train stations, few drinking fountains (true of all non-US countries, in my experience), wall maps have random orientation.

She headed home, I figured I would finish riding the JR Loop to see more of the city by day -- it's an elevated train. I found myself on a train that would turn into a rapid train to Nara, an hour away. I mean to go, but figured 5pm wasn't the best time, so switched and ended up at Namba, another busy downtownish area. Including a little river, so that was nice to see and smell, and see tour boats on.

Went to Sushizanmai, a staple of my time in Tokyo in 2008, but it's more expensive either now or here.

Right in the middle of all this shopping is a little Buddhist temple, Hozeni I think, with what I would think is an attached Shinto shrine (row of orange torii, water ladle, wish placards.) Symbiosis at work: people were pumping water at the presumed shrine, to throw onto the moss-covered Buddhist statue.

We'd dropped by a shrine at the castle; W snarked that having someone sell you charms was a key part of a shrine or temple.

Hmm, wiki says many Japanese temples also have a https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%C5%8Dzuya not just shrines, and no one mentions a shrine, so maybe that was a false positive.

Had a skewer (yakitori) of "chicken skin" from Family Mart. It did in fact seem like skin. There was "chicken tail", too.

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Damien Sullivan

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