Feature Foto #2

Photo #2 is a shot of the famous temple Rokuon-ji, more commonly called "Kinkaku-ji," or the "Golden Pavillion Temple" in Kyoto. This site was originally constructed in 1397 during the Muromachi period, to be used as a retirement home for Yoshimitsu Ashikaga on his "Kitayama" estate. The Shogun's son converted the building into a Zen temple. In 1950 the temple was severely damaged in a fire that was started by a reckless monk's suicide-attempt gone wrong; as a result, the building we see in this photo is quite new, and dates from the 1950s. The temple houses Buddha's ashes and gets its stunning beauty from its coating of pure gold leaf.

If you have Google Earth, download Kinkaku-ji's placemarker.


"Bakunyū" Hyper-Battle Ikki Tōsen

This young lady's name is Chou'un Shiryuu (趙雲 子龍), and she joined my collection a few months ago. She's from Ikkitōsen (一騎当千), Watanabe Takashi's (渡部 高志) anime series, loosely based on the the manga by Shiozaki Yūji (雄二 塩崎). Unfortunately I am not familiar with the manga or the anime, although I would really like to be, considering the series is famous for its ecchi situations and battles fought by girls in short skirts!

The inspiration for the story is a Chinese historical novel that was named one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature, called "Romance of the Three Kingdoms," written by Luo Guanzhong. The modern manga and anime versions are quite different from the 14th century originals, of course, but I am quite confident that they must be extremely fun and entertaining. ^^

The anime series first aired in Japan back in 2003 and has subsequently completed 2 more seasons finally ending this past August with a grand total of 37 episodes. I'm definitely adding the series to my must-watch anime list, but in the meantime, I liked this character figure the moment I saw her and just had to have her. She made the long journey to my Chicago condominium courtesy of the Kid Nemo Company.


Feature Foto #1

Oftentimes I don't have a lot of time to work on new posts and I feel bad that you, my readers, have to keep coming back to look for new content. I have a couple of ideas that might be fun for everyone. For starters-- I would like to start posting one of my photos every week. I'll pick only my best photos, and I'll try to focus on a new topic each week.

Photo #1 is a shot of the roof detail at Ōsakihachiman Jinja in Sendai. Some of you probably remember that this is where my wife and I got married at the end of October. Ōsakihachimangu is one of my favourite places because of it's peacefulness, despite being in the middle of a big city, and also because of the intense beauty of the shrine and it's surroundings. The shrine is 401 years old now and has recently been named one of Japan's National Treasures.

If you have Google Earth, download Ōsakihachimangu's placemarker.


New Phone for Wormgear!

So....I got a new phone this past Tuesday! I decided to get the HTC Touch Pro. So far, I am really liking it. Mine has service from Sprint which is a PCS network, but is known for reliable service and high speed 3G data; and from my experiences so far, that does seem to hold true.

The HTCTP is a smartphone and comes pre-installed with Windows Mobile 6.1. Many of my readers might think this is a little strange considering I have become more of a Mac guy in the past few years, but unfortunately I do need to use my phone for work, and therefore it needs to be integrated with my company's communications network. This makes iPhone a poor choice for me, unfortunately. Windows Mobile 6.1 comes bundled together with MS Office Mobile, which gives me access to my company's outlook exchange server and all documentation maintained by my colleagues. Additionally, the phone comes equipped with a stylus, a slide-out qwerty keyboard, Sprint Navigation turn-by-turn GPS, a 3.2 MP camera w/ flash, a microSD slot, Sprint TV, WiFi, Bluetooth and plenty of nice software like Opera web browser, an accuweather.com widget, the most popular IM programs, and Sprint Music. The phone comes out-of-the box with loads of other goodies like an RSS reader and a streaming media player, as well as the usual suspects like SMS and Picture messaging and a comprehensive contact management system, all of which is very nicely compiled into the HTC TouchFlo touch-screen interface. In the box with the phone comes the manual and getting started guides, a case, the charger and USB cable, audio/video OUT connector, ear phones, a screen protector and a CD-ROM with MS ActiveSync and an electronic version of the manual. HTC has seemingly used some kind of proprietary USB connection. It looks like a rectangle with one corner cut off. Never fear, however, because despite it's exclusive-looking shape, standard mini-USB cables work just fine-- it's what use most of the time since it comes with only one cable and I need to connect it to many different devices.

What I like most about the phone is that it's quite simple to use with comfy controls, it's highly customisable, and is ready to operate as a complete, all-around communicator right out of the box that integrates seamlessly into any Microsoft-based network. Also, its dimensions are such that it's not so small that it's frustrating to use, and not so large that it's unwieldy. What I don't like so much is the fact that it is Windows Mobile which comes with its expected difficulties such as the fact that it's sometimes slow and sluggish in its responsiveness (though not too bad so far), it's a little bit heavy (5.3 ounces with battery) and the battery life is quite short (charging once per day is mandatory).

All-in-all this is a great product. If you're thinking about getting a new phone, I'd recommend stopping in to your local Sprint store and trying it out. I don't think the HTC Touch Pro is for everyone; it may be annoying to people with thicker fingers, for example. Although I wouldn't say it's totally amazing, it does what it sets out to do extremely well, and it may just suit your needs perfectly. Nice work, HTC!


Aira Mitsuki

Aira Mitsuki (アイラミツキ) is a Techno-pop singer from Saitama, born on 21-Sep-1988. In 2007 she signed up to audition for Mega Trance and came out the winner! Soon afterwards she performed at an MTV event promoting the Transformers film and then released her first single, “Colorful Tokyo Sounds NO.9,” which features the track being used as the official theme song of the "Transformers Café" in Roppongi, which is based on the movie. That first single was quickly followed by two more-- "China Discotech" and "Darling Wondering Staring / Star Fruits Surf Rider." Then, about one year after the release of her first single, she released her first full-length release, "COPY," on D-topia.

Aira Mitsuki is typically compared to Perfume and Capsule and certainly one cannot argue that her sound is similar, especially since she's working with producer Terukado Oonishi. Her music has sci-fi and technology as common themes and her heavily-vocoded vocals complete the robotic, bit-pop sound. Unlike the aforementioned pop stars, Aira Mitsuki does bring something unique to her fans-- her music dips much more heavily into the techno and techno-trance genres. Because of this, her tracks are perfect for DJ mixologists and remix artists, or anyone who wants to blow up the dance floor.

On 29-Oct-2008, Aira Mitsuki's second major single, "Robot Honey" was released, also on the D-topia label. This release is a real treat-- with high-energy beats and more of her trademark cute-yet-robotic vocals. The sounds on this CD are at times reminiscent of recent Daft Punk releases and also remind listeners of Tei Towa's danceable collaborations with mega-pop stars. While I can't honestly say that every track is a work of art, this CD is wonderful and is a great production that showcases Aira's talent beautifully. It seems to me that Aira Mitsuki may be at the start of a really exciting music career, as long as she can manage to keep her sound fresh with the infusion of new sounds and musical innovation. In the meantime, go out and treat yourself to a copy of "Robot Honey," It's totally fun!

Her website
Her profile on Last.fm



Wormgear's Latest Movie Pick

I recently saw an excellent documentary entitled Mardi Gras Made in China. As most people know, drunken Americans line the streets of the Mardi Gras parade route every year exchanging exposure of their private parts for cheap, plastic beads. Very few people take the time to think about where those beads originate, however. Conversely, most of the factory-workers in China know little or nothing about where the beads will go once they finish making them. This film provides a first-hand, in-depth look at the sweat shops in China that produce the Mardi Gras beads, and the abusive and dangerous conditions that the workers endure.

The film follows the lives of several Chinese factory workers and gives the audience insight into their daily lives and their experiences both on the job and in what little free time they have. Watching the movie, we learn about the long hours, inhumane and dangerous working conditions and the extremely low pay that is earned from completing a day's work. Viewers get the opportunity to see the workers' personal perspectives on their situation, and in some cases their family members' impressions of their jobs. The film also provides a detailed look at the managers and owners of these factories and illustrates the level of oppression to which they are willing to expose their own employees.

While learning about the lives of Mardi Gras Bead factory workers, the film simultaneously explores the other side of the Mardi Gras Bead trade-- the business owners who buy/distribute them and the Mardi Gras Party-goers who consume them. These two groups of people have one thing in common-- Mardi Grad Beads, but that is really the extent of their commonalities. One group works their lives away for mere pennies so that they might contribute, financially, to their families back home. The other group lives in excess-- drinking, partying and throwing beads into the crowds, oftentimes throwing the equivalent of one Chinese factory worker's monthly pay in a single toss.

What really makes the film something special is that the director, David Redmon, manages to give each group a bit of insight into the other side of the trade, and gives his audience the opportunity to witness this unusual event. We see the impressions of the workers in China as they watch film footage of Mardi Gras party-goers recklessly exposing themselves and throwing the beads into the streets. We see the Mardi Gras patrons having their first look at the workers in action, working very hard to produce the beads that are little more than a cheap party favour for one night of celebration and debauchery.

The two juxtaposed elements of this docu-dichotomy are expertly woven together into a fascinating unity via the use of actual footage from both China and Louisiana, and a witty narration that expertly blends tragedy and comedy. This is an amazing and enlightening film that provides a fresh and unique point of view on the issue of globalisation and the abuse of cheap labour in China; an issue that's explored and over-analised to the point of public de-sensitisation. This is on my list of recommendations for people everywhere. Kudos to David Redmon-- this is an excellent documentary.

View the film's trailer here:


I *really* miss Japan.

Sorry Everyone-- this post is of a much more personal nature. I don't typically post this kind of content, but as my current thoughts and state of mind are quite overwhelming, it's the only thing fit for me to write about right now.

My readers don't need to look through many of my posts to understand that I really love Japan. Recently, however, something seems to have changed. During my first few visits to that wonderful place, I knew instantly that it could easily become my favourite place on Earth, and I thought that I might enjoy living there some day. Still, I was always more or less happy to get home and get back to my routine.

On 21-Oct I left the U.S. to begin my 5th trip over there. During the third week of my trip, an unexpected feeling came over me-- I stopped feeling like an outsider and felt very much "at home;" like I belong there. I have lots of wonderful friends in Japan, and now family, too. I miss them all. I miss being surrounded by the culture that I love so much. Since coming back to the U.S., I feel....well, homesick! Yeah. I know that it's kind of unrealistic-- after all I did not grow up in Japan. Regardless, however, homesick is definitely what I feel and it's depressing.

After my company opened an office in Tokyo almost 2 years ago, I started to fantasise about my dreams turning into reality, and thought it might be relatively simple to re-locate. I think I was a bit too eager and recently met with the CTO of my company to discuss the matter. I learned that his expectations are very high and that simply moving overseas to continue doing the same job I already do is not what he has in mind. Now I'm feeling very unsure of my future and my possibilities for living in the place that I feel to be my home.

All of these experiences have compounded into a depressing feeling of inadequacy and desperation. These are feelings to which I am unaccustomed, and I can't remember having any experiences that were even similar to this since I was 18 and found myself on a U.S. Navy ship, in the middle of the Indian Ocean, en route to the Persian Gulf to help free Kuwait from Saddam Hussein (or whatever it was that we were really doing over there).

I still can't figure out why my wife decided to leave Japan and move over here to the U.S., although I am happy that she did. I'm just trying to figure out what to do next.


Tokyo resident living in Mexico City Airport

Nohara Hiroshi, a 41-year-old janitor from Tokyo, has been living at Benito Juarez International Airport in Mexico City for the past 85 days! Nohara has become quite the celebrity during recent weeks, having had his photo taken with hundreds of curious locals, many of whom offer him food and clothing. Although this story sounds like something you might expect from Shin-chan's father, Nohara Hiroshi, this guy is real! “I like the airport, I like Mexico,” he said. He could not be persuaded to leave, even by the Japanese embassy, and at this point has no plans for departure.

Check out the weird and interesting story on Bloomberg.com

There is also an MSNBC video (sorry-- an advertisement comes first).



I just discovered this band a couple of weeks ago. They aren't new but I've only just heard of them and I'm already really into their music. These guys are really kool and have a great melocore punk sound! I've heard of people comparing them to Ellegarden; I think their instrumentation is similar to that of Ken Yokoyama while their vocals seem to have the energy and power of the Stance Punks (although with a really different and unique sound).

Three weeks ago I picked up their latest CD, "Blooming Harvest." Most of the tracks on this release are full of energy and drive while there are a couple of others that balance out the CD with some real emotion and feeling at a slower tempo. In general the songs on this release are of the melocore genre, but some overlap into pop-punk and there's one that even has a heavy metal influence. This is an excellent CD -- I highly recommend it to all JRock and/or JPunk fans. It's well worth it. The CD is out now on Machine Records (a subdivision of Flying High Records, Japan).

Dustbox official website

Video for Spacewalk - from Blooming Harvest


Why Japan Kicks Ass

I came back to the U.S. from Japan a week ago tomorrow, and I'm still in the post-Japan afterglow to some extent. In fact, I am putting even greater effort into working with my employer to try and get a transfer to our Tokyo office. I would really much rather be there than here.

Now, I do have a disclaimer here, because of course Japan is not 100% perfect-- there is no country that's perfect, right? That's what I've been told, anyway. From my own personal point of view, however, the benefits of life in Japan are much more substantial than {a} the negatives associated with Japan and {b} the "benefits" of living in the U.S. The list I keep of Japan's positive qualities, also, has a small quantity of exceptions; Japanese people are humans, after all. For the most part, however, these things are true pretty much ALL of the time. Finally, many of the characteristics of Japan that I list are not "benefits" at all from some folks' perspectives; they are for me however, and this is why it is my own unique point of view.

So, without further ado, here is my list of reasons why Japan Kicks Ass!

[1] Customer Service
I have visited many places in the world, and in my opinion ALL of them have a lot to learn about customer service; businesses in Japan should be the role model here. There is no other place where I have had the experience of salespeople, civil servants, taxi drivers, *everyone* going out of their way to see that customers' go away satisfied, informed, comfortable and fairly-treated. All of this delivered with an interested, friendly demeanor that is free of bad-attitudes, arrogance and/or preferential treatment for select individuals.

[2] Common Courtesy
For the most part, people in Japan behave with common courtesy. This means interacting with other people and with one's surroundings with respect and honour. Actions like helping others, giving up one's seat on the train for the elderly, keeping one's speaking volume low, or picking up after oneself are routine and practiced without instruction. The Japanese language, itself, is constructed in such a way that respect for strangers, elders, superiours or new acquaintances is built right in. That said, this is one of the rules that is most often broken or omitted, but I believe it is very rare for such indiscretions to cross the line into rudeness or disrespect. One time a random security guard used his own mobile phone to call up a record shop in Shibuya that I couldn't find. He asked them for directions and showed me how to get there on a map!!

[3] Cell Phone Etiquette
Japan has one of the most cellphone-centric societies in the world. STILL, people talk on mobile phones at a low, private, non-irritating volume; not loudly or obnoxiously like people in America. The use of mobile phones on public transportation is illegal and this is a very respected law. People use text messaging quite a lot during their journeys, but despite being very crowded at times, buses and trains are nice and QUIET! Soooo nice! The use of mobile phones while driving is also illegal, and because of this drivers in Japan are 1000 times more attentive, careful and respectful than their north american counterparts. Additionally, a Japanese person would never be seen/heard talking on a mobile phone while trying to interact with a cashier, teller or salesperson, while inside of a cinema, or in public places in general. In fact, I saw several people receive phone calls while shopping or eating at restaurants; if the conversation could not be finished in a few seconds, the person went outside! This is so wonderful to me, having only super-rude, irritating and obnoxious phone behaviour as a basis for comparison.

[4] Public Transportation
Trains and buses in Japan are modern, very comfortable, convenient and arrive on-time. They are also CLEAN and do not smell of urine and feces. Additionally, train and bus stations are loaded with clean public bathrooms, convenience stores, shopping, good food and smoking areas. Awesome! There are overwhelming crowds at times, especially in Tokyo, but this is a small price to pay for the other benefits that come with public transport in Japan. While I certainly would not describe the trains as "cheap," I really do not mind since I am not poor and this seems to prevent people from using the trains as a hotel/bathroom. If you are unable to read Japanese and you happen to be at a station without a map in English, it can sometimes be a bit difficult to figure out where to go, but there will certainly be someone nearby who's happy to help.

[5] Good Food
Very few people need to be informed about the healthiness of Japanese food as this is legendary world-wide. What still amazes me, though, is the high quality of food in Japan. I'm not just talking about sushi, soup and noodles, either. All foods ranging from steaks, cuts of beef or chicken to snacks, candy, chocolate and ice cream are very high quality! I do believe that a trip to any department store food court or train station take-out cart would astound most outsiders as there is pretty much nothing of poor quality to eat there. The only low-quality food I have seen, in fact, is that available from the foreign fast-food franchises like McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken. I guess wouldn't actually know for sure, however, since I haven't eaten food from one of those restaurants for nearly 20 years. When in Japan, however, if you DO feel the urge to enjoy a delicious fast-food burger, I recommend MosBurger. This Japanese burger place blows away pretty much every burger and fries place I've ever tried previously.

[6] I guess I could probably keep going on and on. I haven't even mentioned the art, spirituality, beautiful scenery, high technology, amazing cars, etc, etc. I think, however, that I've already stopped being interesting and have probably pissed a few people off. With that I'll end this post here. I just hope I'll have the opportunity soon to continue my life in the surroundings that I love most. I miss Japan.

(Photo Above: Sendai Daikannon statue near Sendai, in Miyagi Prefecture)


あきやすみ 11 - 鎌倉

Aki yasumi pt. 11 - Kamakura (Autumn Vacation part 11 - Kamakura)

The last stage of our wonderful trip to Japan was spent in West Kamakura, in Hase (長谷). Rinko and I wanted to go back once more and connect with the very beautiful and peaceful land that was once the nation's capital city during the Kamakura Period, but which is now a surfer's and sightseer's paradise. We took the train from Shinjuku (新宿) to Fujisawa (藤沢) and rode the historical and lovely Enoden (江ノ電) train from there to Hase.

We spent a long time walking around and sitting at the site of Daibutsu (大仏), or the "Great Buddha of Kōtoku-in" (高徳院) (photo above). We spent a long time just basking in his calm serenity and tranquility. It was a very beautiful, sunny autumn day and the colourful autumn leaves surrounding him were soothing and delightful. It's a place I wouldn't mind just sitting for hours. We even saw a big, huge, loud-mouthed, irritating, arrogant American guy walking around, talking and laughing very loudly, disturbing the peaceful setting. We marveled at the fact that Buddha's unchanging tolerance and acceptance prevented his meditation from being disturbed. Of course, he is a 300-year-old statue, but there is no doubt that this is the way people are meant to exist. It's beautiful.

After spending some time with Daibutsu, we went out for some soba, and then walked to Hase-dera (長谷寺) with the magnificent and very large guilded wooden statue of Kannon that dates back to the 1st century. Gorgeous! We wandered around Hase-dera's beautiful grounds for a while and enjoyed the lovely views from high atop the hill where the temple is situated.

It was a very nice, relaxing and enjoyable day that seemed to be the perfect conclusion to a truly lovely time in Japan.


あきやすみ 10 - 沖縄県

Aki yasumi pt. 10 - Okinawa-ken (Autumn Vacation part 10 - Okinawa-ken)

Okinawa. Beautiful, tropical, peaceful, natural, tribal, Southeast Asian style Japan.

Okinawa is a very special and unique experience all its own-- so much so that it's almost difficult for visitors to believe we're still in Japan! While Honshu (本州, the main island of Japan) and the smaller, nearby islands are very much a part of Northeast Asia, Okinawa fits in much more with the style of tropical Southeast Asia. Previously known as the separate country of Ryukyu Kingdom, a tributary state of the Chinese Ming Dynasty, the region became incorporated into Japan as Okinawa-ken in 1879. The rich Ryukyu history and influence from China blended with Japanese heritage to create a unique culture that Okinawans can proudly call their own.

Okinawa's warm, moist climate yields an abundance of fresh tropical fruits and vegetables such as sugar cane, pineapple, guava, passionfruit, banana, papaya and mango, as well as a something that is exclusive only to Okinawa-- the benimo (紅いも), which is a dark-purple sweet potato with a firm-yet-smooth, creamy texture. The benimo is prized as a local product so much so that it is not even permitted to be shipped to the rest of Japan, let alone any other place in the world. They are truly a joy to eat and are consumed by themselves and also used as ingredients in a wide variety of sweet and savory foods. Gorgeous and colourful tropical and sub-tropical trees, plants and flowers also flourish here and come together to create Okinawa-ken's breath-taking scenery.

As one might expect, there is also a wonderful and very delicious array of special Okinawan cuisine that arises from the prefecture's unique culture and topography. The local ingredients available here have been used for a *very* long time in the region and have been infused into a very exclusive type of cookery that combines the tropical-tribal history of the Ryukyu Kingdom with the tastes and traditions of Japan. I had the pleasure of enjoying an Okinawa Kaiseki -- a course meal featuring dishes and ingredients unique to Okinawa. This was an unforgettable experience that challenged and thrilled my tastebuds in a new and exciting way; I certainly hope it won't be the last time.

Okinawa's rich and distinct cultural climate offers a *lot* of beautiful handmade crafts. Many of these are exclusive only to Okinawa and as such new apprentices cannot be trained in these arts anywhere else. Japanese people from all over the country relocate to Okinawa so that they can become a part of these creative communities. Especially well-known are Okinawan textile producers who use local materials to create traditionally and beautifully-dyed all-natural thread, and Okinawan weavers who use the thread to produce very beautiful kimono and fine fabric goods of all kinds. There are also Ryukyu Glass-blowers who use vast store-houses of glass bottles carelessly discarded by the U.S. Military forces and recycle them into beautiful handmade glassware. Communities of pottery-makers are also numerous and well-known for their beautiful and high-quality goods produced, coloured and glazed using local materials. The preservation of these traditional crafts is held very dear in Okinawa and they are kept here on these islands in order to maintain the rare Okinawan/Ryukyu culture.

Okinawa has many, many things to offer her visitors, of course, but one attraction that I highly recommend is the Churaumi Aquarium. It's certainly not the first Aquarium I've visited, but it's definitely the best! The Aquarium grounds are enormous and have a LOT to see. The layout of the space is well-designed, as well, maximising each visitor's experience. Whale Sharks, Sea Turtles, Rays, Manatees, Anemones, starfish you can touch, fish that glow, fish that sting.... Churaumi has *everything*; it's incredible!

If there's anything I didn't really enjoy thoroughly in Okinawa, it was the timing of our trip. Unfortunately, it became cloudy on the day that we arrived, and then was cloudy, cool and raining for several days afterward. Finally, the skies cleared and the sun came out to make everything feel warm; too bad that was the morning that we had to leave! Ugh! Rinko and I definitely made the most of it, though, and we had a truly wonderful, memorable time-- we simply didn't experience the hot, summery weather we had anticipated. Additionally, it seems that at least one fifth of the main island is dominated by the huge U.S. Military bases. I don't care much for the U.S. military presence in Japan-- I personally think those bases should be shut down. It's not too difficult to get away from them, though, so it's fine. I know we are definitely going to go back again sometime; it's a very wonderful place.


あきやすみ 9 - 原宿

Aki yasumi pt. 9 - Harajuku (Autumn Vacation part 9 - Harajuku)

Harajuku (原宿) is the centre of the world when it comes hip, fresh fashion and style. This has got to be the place where new trends in clothing, accessories, hairstyles and lifestyle are born! If you're young and fashionable, Harajuku is the place to be; coincidentally, it is also the place for any of you that have a weakness for cute schoolgirls. ^^

The streets of Harajuku are lined with shops selling everything you need for bring your wardrobe up-to-date, including shops that specialise in the hottest new brands as well as those that sell recycled, gently-worn versions of everything else. Since it's also a known-fact that hardcore shoppers can easily build up a hardcore appetite, there is no shortage of cafes, restaurants and sweetshops.

The other aspect of Harajuku that's very famous is the cosplay scene. While teens dressed in their favourite uniforms, maid outfits and gothic/victorian dress can be seen throughout Japan, Harajuku is where kids who are into the scene go to hang out and be seen. Many of the shops in the area specialise in these clothes as well.

Harajuku is a worthwhile trip if you want to check out what's fresh in fashion. If you're ever in Tokyo for only a short time, I'd recommend adding this to your list. While you're in the area, the legendary and very beautiful Meiji Shrine is right up the street from the Yamanote Line Harajuku Station.


あきやすみ 8 - 江戸東京博物館

Aki yasumi pt. 8 - Edo Tōkyō Hakubutsukan (Autumn Vacation part 8 - Edo-Tokyo Museum)

The day after arriving in Shinjuku (新宿), Rinko and I spent a day in Ryogoku (aka. "Sumo Town"). There we went to the Edo-Tokyo Museum (photo above courtesy of panoramio.com) to see an exquisitely beautiful exhibit of Ukiyo-e (浮世絵) prints, paintings and drawings. Some of the most accomplished artists' works are displayed there including Hishikawa Moronobu (菱川師宣), Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾北斎) and Utagawa Hiroshige (歌川広重). The exhibit is a collection of works that live at the MFA in Boston, and gives a very nice historical overview of Ukiyo-e and it's impact on Japan and on art in general. Very moving! In my opinion, these wonderful works of art really belong in Japan, but due to the decline in popularity of Ukiyo-e during the Meiji period and the subsequent surge in "Japonism" in the U.S., it isn't surprising that so many of these works were lost to Western Civilsation. This means, however, that many of you have a chance to go see them for yourself! I *highly* recommend having a look and letting their incredible beauty, subtle simbolism and rich history inspire you. The Boston MFA exhibit will be on display in Tokyo until 30-Nov.

After the museum, we had dinner at a Chanko (ちゃんこ) restaurant. Chanko, or "Sumo wrestlers' hot pot" is similar in many ways to regular nabe, but contains some different ingredients, like spicy kim-chi, noodles, thinly-sliced pork, tsukune, and seafood. All of these ingredients are very tasty together and also contribute to a delicious broth! Chanko is a very satisfying meal-- do try it when you have time.

After a peaceful and stimulating day in Ryōgoku, it was back to Shinjuku for us for more hanging out and eating sweets at cafes. ^^ Be sure to check out the Edo Tōkyō Hakubutsukan if you're into art and/or history, and you're going to be in Tokyo for a few days; this is a wonderful place!


あきやすみ 7 - 新宿区

Aki yasumi pt. 7 - Shinjuku-ku (Autumn Vacation part 7 - Shinjuku-ku)

After spending a few comfortable days in Asakusa, walking around, eating good food, doing some shopping, and hanging out with friends, we moved on to Shinjuku (新宿). Shinjuku has always been one of my favourite parts of Tokyo and I guess it always will be. At seemingly any time of day or night, on any day of the week, something fun and exciting happens there.

Rinko and I spent some time wandering around Nishi-Shinjuku (西新宿 / "skyscraper district"), checking out the craziness in Kabukichō (歌舞伎町), buying kool stuph and finding delicious food. In Nishi-Shinjuku, we were surprised to find an astounding new building! It's called the Cocoon Tower (top photo) and really looks quite amazing. We did manage to go inside, as there is a large Book 1st shop in the lower levels. It's really clean and pristine. Very kool indeed!

Shinjuku is one of the koolest parts of Tokyo, IMHO. There is something there for literally everyone-- from the most discriminating food connoisseurs and art-lovers to the heaviest drinkers and most perverted fetishists, and everyone in between. From name brand designer to street, Shinjuku has everything. This is a spot that should never be skipped during a visit to Tokyo. Some of the most well-known photos and movie footage of Tokyo were shot here. If you're looking for the high-tech, neon imagery that so many folks have in mind when thinking about Tokyo, this is where you want to go. It's also a very centralised location with easy access to all parts of Tokyo and other destinations in Japan. Shinjuku Station is the busiest transportation in the world! Check it out for yourself!


あきやすみ 6 - 秋葉原

Aki yasumi pt. 6 - Akihabara (Autumn Vacation part 6 - Akihabara)

I'm starting to fall behind a little bit on my postings, so this news is a couple of days old. Sorry!
The other day was spent, in its entirety, in Akihabara (秋葉原)! Ya-taaah! This time I was less focused on electronics and gadgets and spent more time shopping for items related to my hobbies! I spent most of the time in Asobit City, Kotobukiya (コトブキヤ) and the 6th Floor of Yodobashi Camera (ヨドバシカメラ). ^^

I enjoyed looking at lots and lots of figures, manga, books, CDs, DVDs and other little gems. It was definitely a lot of fun and I brought back quite a haul as you can see here! Not surprisingly, there is still a lot more I would like to have. I'm wondering if maybe I'll back again for more. heh!

I was extremely tempted to pick up a new Canon EOS Kiss X2 camera. I was worried, though, that I might have buyer's remorse afterward, however, so I didn't get it (although I did find out which shop has the best price, just in case). The exchange rate is particularly horrible right now and the Yen has risen sharply against the Dollar recently. Because of this, some of the electronics I normally enjoy buying are not as good a deal as usual. Without the substantial savings I typically find in Akiba, my consumption of electronics has been suppressed.

One thing I definitely noticed is that the activities in the streets are a little bit more reserved as compared to when I was there last year. I didn't see any street performers at all, and there is a lot more security on patrol. Maybe there is more happening during the weekends...I'm not sure. I know that activities in Akiba have been slight more conservative ever since the Akihabara Massacre in June of this year that claimed the lives of 7 people and left others hositalised.

To finish up the day I had an incredible dinner at Sushizanmen (this means "sushi everyday"). It's the sushi restaurant just outside the Tsukuba Express-side exit of Yodobashi Camera. I highly recommend this place if you're going to Akiba. The food is incredibly fresh, delicious and expertly-prepared. The atmosphere in there is also very lively and welcoming. I had some sashimi and also some nigiri sushi. All of it was very, very good.


あきやすみ 5 - 浅草

Aki yasumi pt. 5 - Asakusa (Autumn Vacation part 5 - Asakusa)

Every time I visit Tokyo (東京), I almost always begin my stay in Asakusa (浅草). This is because Asakusa is totally KOOL and really interesting. Even though it's in the middle of Tokyo, it's got a really old-school, Edo (江戸) Japan kind of feel to it. The area also has plenty of shady characters going in and out of some questionable places (many of which may or may not be affiliated with gokudō (極道) syndicates). During my life I have always been drawn to this element and that goes for Tokyo as well.

One of the main attractions in Asakusa is one which makes a significant contribution to this old-school Japan feel-- Sensō-ji (浅草寺). On the site of Sensō-ji is Sensō-ji Temple (Buddhist) and Sensō-ji Shrine (Shinto); they are the oldest in Tokyo. The site was originally constructed back in 628 around a small temple erected to venerate Kannon, but since the originals we almost completely destroyed when Americans bombed the crap out of it during World War II, the buildings we see today were built about 50 years ago. The Nakamise market leading up to the temple from the main gate is very famous and draws in lots of people. Sensō-ji Temple is also the place where, last year, my wife stopped being my girlfriend and became my fiancée. ^^

Asakusa also contains Sadachiyo (貞千代) which is the place where I sit right now as I write this. Ryokans (旅館), or traditional Japanese Inns, first became widely available during the Edo period. The Sadachiyo ryokan is a beautiful facility that definitely puts effort into "keeping it real" with tastefully and traditionally-decorated guest rooms, dining/meeting rooms and lounge. The Edo Kaiseki (懐石), or Edo-style cuisine, that is served at Sadachiyo is absolutely delicious and satisfying, and is one of the aspects that I look forward to most. The other thing that makes Sadachiyo very pleasant is the quality and comfort of the o-furo (お風呂). There is an all-wood bath as well as an all-stone bath and the two change daily between male and female so all guests have a chance to enjoy both. Above and beyond all of this is the extremely high-quality and gracefully courteous service provided by the ryokan staff members. Every guest is made to feel welcome and special due to the incredible skill of the staff. This is my third time to stay here and it will not be my last.

Asakusa has tonnes and tonnes of other stuff to do as well, including access to the Sumida River (Sumida gawa - 隅田川) and the nearby Kappabashi (合羽橋) which is lined with outlet shops for restaurant owners and professional foodservice workers/employers (*awesome*). Asakusa has lots of bars, restaurants, shops and izakaya ((居酒屋) of course (just watch out for the shady ones ^^ ). There are plenty of shops here selling goods that friends and family back home will love-- things that fit into most foreigners' mental picture of Japan. Get tour fill-- I always do!