30 May, 2007


though Jill is not a huge fan of Japanese food, even she agreed that we had to try Nagoya's specialty gastronomic treat at least once. we finally did this on the eve of our departure for Europe, which also just happened to be our friend Kevin's birthday. his wife, Misty, had selected a very swanky restaurant which handily specializes not only in kishimen noodles but in shabu-shabu as well, which we had been recommending to them for months. shabu-shabu is a Japanese version of hot-pot, with vegetables and thinly sliced meats served raw so the diner can dip them briefly in a boiling broth to cook. supposedly, the proper cooking time is achieved as you hold the meat with your chopsticks and swish it through the water twice while saying "shabu, shabu". most likely an urban legend though, since even i like it done a little longer than that.

the luxuriant settings of our traditional Japanese meal, showing the sometimes scary food and our often scary methods of eating it, and our ultra-attentive and traditionally kimonoed server whom i'll call Chiyo-chan.

the place we went was very elegant, with traditional low table and tatami mat floor seating, all in our own private room with sliding screens for entry. we had this serving girl who kind of looked like the the young Chiyo character in the film Memoirs of a Geisha, and i felt badly that she always had to kneel down to slide open the door before shuffling through and kneeling to close it again, much as is depicted in the movie. this is very traditional too, and would constitute a great luxury--had we been fully able to appreciate it, anyway. she spoke very little English and we even less Japanese, and she seemed very embarrassed by us and quite flustered much of the time, but she did a wonderful job of demonstrating the correct protocols for us. the whole meal was very ritualized in many ways, and it certainly took a long time.

towards the end of it she brought in the kishimen, which are large, flat wheat-based noodles, a bit like chunky and chewy fettuccine. honestly they were mot much different from other udon-type noodles, but people seriously come from far and wide to try Nagoya's special dish in Nagoya. following the noodle service we suddenly became aware that our personal Chiyo-chan had served each of us some of the remaining broth from our hot pots, and was watching us intently to see how we would like it. i knew that i, for one, was not at all excited about sating her curiosity; this is water from which we had been scooping the frothy dregs of our cooking meat for the past two hours, and the others weren't looking too thrilled to try it either. but try it we did, for one does not wish to make their Japanese friends lose face. surprisingly, it was quite good and very tasty, though a little hard to finish on such full stomachs; perhaps more surprisingly still, nobody got sick from it afterwards.

Jill and Megumi bringing down the house with their version of Sukiyaki, while below, Kevin and Misty bring back up the classics with Hey Jude.

not surprising, however, was our after-dinner activity: karaoke. our friend Megumi joined us for this too-brief portion of the evening and punched out a couple of Japanese hits to get Misty and Kevin into the groove of their first experience. it was quite a time we had, and hopefully quite a birthday--so many firsts in one day. and the way they got into it, i'm sure it won't also be a day of lasts, as least for karaoke if not kishimen.

27 May, 2007


yes, theadvice. for a while now there's been a statement in the sidebar that advocates traveling with only a small bag. it's an idea that i came across in reading, that i've since tried and that lately i believe is critical. at first, it was about feeling free to enjoy one's travels, recently it became about enjoying one's travels for as close to free as possible.

when we took our vacation to Europe at the beginning of April, we weren't sure if we would end up using the return portion of our tickets to come back to Japan, so we were going to take most of our stuff with us. this shouldn't have been a problem since we'd acquired very little in relation to the amount we'd dumped, and we were going to pack the same bags we came with. however, somewhere in all our planning i had this bright idea that we should check what our baggage allowances would be with the airlines that were offering flights to London. we had all but chosen Emirates at this point, but when we found out their baggage limit was 20Kg per person, we began to look elsewhere. the only reasonable alternative was Cathay Pacific, but their limit turned out to be the same as well. to put this in context, most airlines in America will give each passenger an allowance of two checked bags, each weighing up to 32Kg, which is about 70lbs, and this for almost any flight. in my experience they are not terribly strict, but then it's pretty hard to exceed 70lbs in a single bag (and still want to take it with you, anyway).

the travel agent had given us a link to the baggage allowance page on the Emirates website, which showed that indeed, the 20Kg limit was not applicable to travel to or from North America, but pretty much everywhere else. inasmuch as it's difficult to put more that 70lbs worth of stuff in a bag (especially twice over), let me assure you that it is infinitely more difficult to travel internationally with less than 44lbs. and had we been thinking about doing the American thing and breaking the rules, the (Emirates) penalty was ¥7000, or about $60, for every kilo your bags were overweight!

at those prices, the only thing to do was mail a bunch of stuff. and i mean a bunch of stuff. it ended up being 12 boxes at a cost almost equivalent to another plane ticket, but at least we got it all back without having to haul it ourselves. so anyway, the point is, the world of flying is changing, so be careful and check the regulations before you go. most of you reading this won't encounter such problems flying to and from North America, but with fuel prices continuing to rise we may start getting restricted too.

a classic shot of our Arabic (and French) Capri-Sun drink, which somehow turned out to be our only picture from the Dubai airport in the United Arab Emirates.

at least we got to go on our vacation, details of which will be coming right up, but first a word on Dubai, our layover between Nagoya and London. we had about three hours there on the way over, just enough time to get some United Arab Emirates dirhams (1 AED=US$0.27) and spend them on ice cream and a small metal camel--our one souvenir from our time in the Middle East. it was a nice airport, and very busy, with people from literally every part of the globe, but it was a little hard to get too into it because we were halfway through about 22 hours of economy class flying. pretty rough. which leads me to my last piece of advice: when you're flying that far, regardless of how much luggage you have in the hold, make sure you have some ear plugs in your carry-on.

26 May, 2007


if there is such a thing as the collective unconscious, it probably conjures a picture of the Eiffel tower when Paris is mentioned, or the Houses of Parliament when London comes up. it doesn't really seem as though there is a particular landmark associated with the great city of Tokyo, however, so what is it you're thinking of as we continue to explore Japan's illustrious capital? buildings, right? scads and scads of tall buildings, spreading out as far as the eye can see, and more importantly, festooned with tonne upon metric tonne of neon lighting equipment. for some reason Tokyo has these associations with garish flashing buildings, and to a large degree it's a reasonable association. certain parts of the city are particularly impressive at night.

a little representative neon in the Kabukicho area of Shinjuku. this is known as the major red-light district in Tokyo, and is buzzing just about all night. below, a view of Shinjuku and some of its skyscrapers from the observation floor at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office Building.

we found much of this lightlife in Kabukicho, an area famed for for its bars and brothels--and hordes of more innocent tourists, like us. they certainly weren't about keeping their businesses secret, and many of them made Nagoya's soaplands look pretty minor league. though Nagoya is Japan's fourth-largest city, it all seems pretty minor league compared with Tokyo. there are only three or four true skyscrapers in Nagoya, but seemingly hundreds in the capital, and we went up one of them to get a better look at the rest. in a rare instance of the government being people-friendly, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has opened up the 45th floor of its North Office Building to anyone who wants to get a high-rise look at the city--for free. at 202 meters up you are still hemmed in by a few other buildings, but you can get a pretty decent look at much of Tokyo, if the weather cooperates. fortunately, it did for us, but it was already dark when we got up there and so all we could see were the many thousands of sparkling lights spreading out in all directions. the Government Office Building is also something of a sight in itself, the whole complex having been designed by Kenzo Tange, the same guy who designed the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

but what are folks to do, when feeling stuck in this massive concrete jungle? how do they let loose and relax? well with the nation's number one pastime, obviously: karaoke. that's what we did when we'd had enough of building hopping. it seems like there's a place on every corner, so we found one that charged us about eight bucks for a couple of hours for our own room and went to town on classic hits of the 70s, 80s and 90s. it's a little eerie how easy it is to do karaoke here, but i'm not altogether unsure it wouldn't be better to have it this way in the States; it would save bar audiences everywhere from having to listen to their favorite songs being murdered by drunken idiots. nobody really cares if you're terrible, and nobody seems to mind what you do in your karaoke room--the guy in the room next to ours had brought his saxophone along and was apparently trying to torture it.

Jill and i treating the mic to a little Engrish in our nice and secluded room at the Happy Karaoke.

as uplifting as karaoke is, for some real culture you must return with me to the daylight hours for a moment. we decided we couldn't further delay taking in a performance of Japan's traditional Kabuki theater. quite handily, there is a large theater called Kabuki-za near the Imperial Palace, right in the heart of the Ginza district. Kabuki-za has performances nearly every day, and sells tickets for individual acts, which is a relief to many tourists given that whole plays can last upwards of five hours. and not to be judgmental, but Kabuki is not theater as we know it. i understand it to be a bit more lively than the more traditional Noh style theater, for which the traditional masks you may have seen are worn, but after two hours of first act i was ready to crash hard. i'm sure it would have been a bit more entertaining were we able to understand Japanese, but maybe not by much. a great deal of the performance we saw involved characters giving long speeches, then wailing hysterically, then falling to the floor or briefly fighting, and then falling silent for minutes at a time, all shortly to be repeated again and again. the real entertainment came from the audience, many of whom were keen to join in with some shouting of their own. at first it seemed like heckling, but we soon learned that it's good form to yell out the name of the school where a particular actor was trained following a particularly moving wail from that actor. so, a lot of wailing, a lot of yelling. hey, it kept us awake.

one of the most "traditional" looking buildings in Tokyo, Kabuki-za is a famous landmark and apparently the best place to catch a Kabuki performance.

the performance we saw was not packed, despite it being opening day, though i don't blame people for not wanting to sit through so many hours of alternating silence and screaming. i'm being harsh of course; it was interesting, and like so many things in Japan i'm glad to say i've done it, though i may not rush to again. it's also a little strange that the performances are always held during the middle of the day, since the only people who seemed to be able to attend, other than curious tourists, were the inmates from the local old folk's home. but they need exercise, and i suppose all that yelling counts. so maybe Tokyo is best experienced at night. it's a clean city with plenty to do, and it's always going, just like the Kabuki show.

24 May, 2007


we weren't there long, but we did get to see quite a lot in Tokyo. one of our favorites was a visit to the LDS Temple, which is in a very nice area near the exclusive Roppongi Hills. just as with the Hong Kong Temple, this one is crammed in among other buildings and, more especially in this case, a lot of power and phone lines, making a good picture very hard to get. as usual, Jill did a great job, but it still makes you wonder how they come up with the official photographs:

about the best view we could get of the Tokyo, Japan LDS Temple, complete with enormous power lines and a couple of tiny tourists in the corner.

another big sight in town with a better, albeit only slightly, view for getting pictures is the Kōkyo, or Imperial Palace, where the Emperor still resides. it sits on enormous grounds, right in the heart of Tokyo, but is more or less closed off to visitors, except for a very few tours and a couple of days a year. about the best place to get a picture is from in front of the Nijubashi, or Double Bridge, which lies just within the main entrance. even with this positioning, you can still only see some of the defensive structures and part of the moat they sit on.

the best view of Tokyo's Imperial Palace, actually revealing nothing of the Palace itself. beyond the pineapple-shaped banister lies the Nijubashi, which spans a moat upon which rests the castle-like defensive tower that is a close as a regular lens can get to the Imperial residences.

while the Imperial Family seems a bit reclusive, one thing that hasn't been, at least in recent years, is Japan's very awkward nationalism. perhaps nowhere is this better realized, or at least displayed, than at the Yasukuni Shrine in Central Tokyo. built primarily to enshrine the spirits of and honor Japan's war dead of various conflicts, Yasukuni counts among those ranks at least 12 souls who have been designated Class A war criminals following the Second World War. though the current Emperor, Akihito, has not visited the shrine since taking the throne, former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi made heavily criticized yearly trips there on August 15th, the anniversary of Japan's WWII surrender.

views of Yasukuni, clockwise from top left: the sakura (cherry blossom) symbol embossed over an Imperial emblem on a door; me outside the main shrine building; the elaborate curtains and their decorations guarding entrance to the shrine; and Jill pondering a fairly inexplicable pile of coiled rope.

it is a beautiful shrine, with large grounds and an almost carnival atmosphere at its outer reaches, but the Prime Ministerial visits, which are continued by current PM Shinzo Abe, draw howls of protest from China and Korea, who see them as official approval of Japanese wartime aggression. we saw in Hiroshima that there are a few voices in Japan that recognize their past atrocities, but there is a different air around Yasukuni. there is a history museum on the property which propagates (so i understand; most of it is in Japanese) what may be fairly termed a revisionist history of Japan's role in the war, even claiming that they were on the defensive. even without English captions the Zero Fighter and Kaiten piloted torpedo on proud display, not to mention all the military-type kitsch in the gift shop, give some indication of the curators' attitudes.

the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane that stands at the entrance of the Yushukan museum at Yasukuni. this is the same type of plane that was used in Kamikaze attacks towards the end of the war.

in any case, Yasukuni draws a lot of visitors, both Japanese and foreigners; we went there mainly so i could see what all the fuss was about. outwardly there's not much different about it from other shrines, but what it represents causes all the consternation. i can't say that it was too much of a worry for me, but all the latent nationalism that came through may be. there are strong voices calling for a rewrite of Japan's pacifist constitution, and they are beginning to be heard. there is a real sense that Japan only really acts to defend itself, and a growing feeling that it will soon have to against a fast-rising China. there's also a distinct sense of superiority among several people we've encountered, and a bristling at the post-war restrictions that have been placed on Japan. i get the distinct feeling that there are a lot of people here who would be happy for their country to regain what they see as some of its lost international prestige. let's just hope they won't do anything to put their, and our, sacred spaces at risk again.

22 May, 2007


one of the other things that we (again read "i") had been wanting to do in Japan was to stay in a capsule inn. this desire was also finally realized during our Tokyo trip, and the results are in: we (or even i) will not be doing it again. not that we weren't glad for the experience, nor that it was considerably cheaper than many other hotels in the capital, but it just turned out to be a bit of a hassle.

capsule hotels are famed for making excellent use of space in a nation that doesn't seem to have much of it left, and they do provide a convenient place for late-working salarymen to crash while they await the morning trains. the one we stayed in was the Capsule Inn Akihabara in (oddly enough) Akihabara, the electronics mecca in the East of Tokyo. the capsules themselves were actually much more spacious than i had thought they would be, stacked only two high on each floor and about a meter by a meter by two meters (around 3x3x6 feet). they have their own lighting and cooling controls, and even their own TVs, though no cable or satellite so the only thing on was very crappy Japanese network stuff. of course, with a setup like this, couples don't sleep together; indeed, sexes are further separated into different floors of the building. many capsule hotels don't allow female guests at all, but this one put them on the top two floors, well away from all the men. they made a big deal about how this was for the security of women travelers, but we began to be suspicious of that idea when we saw that each capsule was sealed off with only the protection of a thin roll-down bamboo screen.

capsule views, clockwise from top left: the rows of green 1960s oven-like boxes that are capsules; Jill in hers; me in the provided yukata (a type of cotton robe) on yellow block of men's floor number 6; and a view from the inside, showing the TV and protective "doorway".

add to those discomforts the public bathing areas (very common in Japan) and the operating hours of the place and it became quite annoying. during the day the place was closed from 10am to 5pm, ostensibly to allow for cleaning, which wouldn't matter if you were only crashing there for a night. if, like us, you were there for two or more, however, their strictness on enforcing this rule could become very aggravating, as when we showed up at 4:30 wanting to get into our lockers and they made us sit not in the foyer, but outside the building until 5. oh well. we survived, as will you if you go. we had a place to sleep, which was the primary objective, and it was definitely a different way to stay, and a very Japanese one at that.

20 May, 2007


one of the biggest things i had wanted to do ever since coming to Japan was to go to the world famous Tsukiji fish market in Southern Tokyo. as a student of Economics you hear all about markets, but rarely anymore--especially in America--do you ever get to see an actual market at work. Europe has some pretty vibrant market scenes, but even there people are still much more familiar with the "super" variety. the most real-feeling market i have ever experienced was in Samoa, where the buyers and sellers bringing their wares to a central trading place were more than just hypothetical textbook examples; it was thriving and bustling and, moreover, was how the people there lived.

Tsukiji, more properly known as the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market, is indeed a wholesale market, and as such is one step removed from the everyday-ness of Samoa's variety (and Japan has a thriving supermarket industry). but it is huge--the largest of its kind anywhere--and it is operating almost every day. basically, what happens here is that the daily 2,000 tonnes of seafood from all over the world starts arriving here by land, sea and air at some ungodly hour of the morning for a bunch of auctioneers to start valuing and buyers to start evaluating. these buyers are often representatives of the supermarkets or restaurants, and sometimes the top sushi chefs will come and choose their fish themselves. the auctioning, which is now generally closed to the public, begins around 5am and goes for a couple of hours, after which the hive really gets buzzing moving all that food around:

outside the main buildings at Tsukiji at around 8am. there are so many of these "one man trucks" flying around everywhere that it's amazing more people don't join the fish in their fate. which looks something like these tuna below, which are so big they have to be quartered with industrial-size band saws (after being frozen).

i understand that the auctions themselves can be pretty intense, with certain big fish, like tuna, going for the equivalent of thousands of dollars apiece. but, as we shall see, that does make for some mighty fine sushi, even if it isn't so cheap. just as markets often formed the core of early cities, with support businesses springing up all around them, so all kinds of enterprises have taken the space around Tsukiji. the obvious ones are the hordes of restaurants that line the little streets of what could well be its own small city, but if you take a closer look you see places selling the wellington boots that so many fishmongers would need, and a few small places where the accountants hang out their shingles. it's really remarkable how all this growth is so synergistic and organic--the invisible hand at work, certainly. there's a chaos to it, but it all flows so well, even the hundreds of "one man trucks" that zoom around everywhere never seem to get in accidents or even cause traffic jams; it all just flows. this is definitely where the rubber meets the road on basic economic theory, you have to see a place like this for the basis of Economics to come alive.

me and the fish that changes lives: o-toro, or fatty tuna. there are few things better in all the world.

we weren't just there for that, of course. we (meaning i--Jill doesn't care much for Economics or fish) actually had to jump in and experience the fish itself. we found one of the few sushi places that didn't have an outrageous line (for breakfast, mind you) and plunked ourselves down to experience really fresh fish. and i treated myself to the famous o-toro, the fatty tuna. tuna is a favorite of mine anyway, but this stuff lived up to the hype. in the States sushi joints will often charge "market price" for o-toro, so i'd never tried it before, but it was worth the wait. one could never be the same after trying it, it just melts in the mouth and leaves you wanting only more. which is, alas, my current sad state, until next time.

19 May, 2007


though very impressive, the cherry blossoms weren't the only thing we saw in Tokyo, nor yet the most visually stunning. For that we had to go to Harajuku. just outside the large and famous Meiji Jingu (Shrine) in this Westside neighborhood is a fairly small pedestrian area that becomes clogged on the weekends with tourists watching the now-famous Harajuku Girls.

Jill with a vanguard member of the Harajuku welcoming committee, who seemed to be doing quite well on his quest for emotional growth. our friend below, on the other hand, had engaged in some serious mission creep and was reaping the lonely consequences...

thought to be girls who don't fit in and are bullied at school, the Harajuku Girls come from all over, leaving their parents each weekend to come and escape into a very public double life. they bring their costumes with them and change back into regular clothes before returning home, so nobody but the thousands of anonymous tourists who show up every Saturday and Sunday would ever know about their hobby. as you can see, there are several different styles, and some of the girls would be hard to recognize even if you did know them:

some of our favorite Harajuku Girls, including the one in full bondage gear at the top left and the strange facial contraption at top right. they pretty much stand around and pose for tourists all day.

a few of the girls are not really so friendly looking, but they all turned out to be very amenable to having their picture taken. that's pretty much all there is for them to do, other than chatting amongst themselves, because the area is literally crawling with camera-toting foreigners--it can be hard to even move around the areas where some of the more exotically dressed girls have stationed themselves.

probably the most impressive total outfit we saw, who didn't look too friendly until Jill plucked up the courage to ask for a picture. i'm not sure, but i think the costume is at least manga (Japanese graphic novel, comic or cartoon) inspired, if not lifted wholesale from a character.

there were also several professional photographers who were dedicated to taking cutesy pictures of the girls which were printed right away and placed into albums many of them had; i guess some of them come in different costumes and want to keep a record. or maybe they're hiring these guys to make a portfolio of themselves for work purposes, though i doubt it--there is just something of a national obsession with cuteness and getting dressed up in costume. remember Little World?

watching the watchers: above, an HG-free view of some of the many folks who came to see the the more worldly side of the Meiji Shrine, and below, these watchers went in front of the lens for some proof we were really there.

it's not hard to see why tourists flock here. the Harajuku Girls provide a spectacle that's hard to find anywhere else--at least in one place. Japan is known, and rightly so, for having some pretty wild fashions, but coming to Meiji-Jingumae is like finding a microcosm of Japan in many ways: a lot of alienated people trying to escape from their reality and portray themselves as that which they are not.

15 May, 2007


shortly before we went on our little European vacation, we got to experience one of Japan's most famous and impressive festivals, which is held all over the country. called hanami matsuri, it means flower watching festival, and the flower in question is one that has become among the most prominent symbols of Japan, the sakura, or cherry blossom.

sakura views, clockwise from top left: one of the blossoms itself, showing the famous shape that is often used as a symbol of Japan; the visual impact of a group of these trees in bloom, here at Kitanomaru Gardens in Tokyo; the blossoms fall quickly and thickly, as this couple's boat demonstrates; and Jill and i complement the beauty of the season...

the Japanese track the arrival of the sakura season with great interest, the national weather service issuing at least daily bulletins predicting when the petals will bloom. they don't last for long, usually about a week, and so they are comprehensively celebrated while they do linger, seemingly by everyone in the country. the weather service had some difficulty in their predictions this year, revising several times before people started to ignore them and just look out of the window, but the delay in arrival meant that we had perfect timing to see them in all their glory.

the drunken hordes sitting or weaving their way through the rest of the masses at Shinjuku Gyoen in West Tokyo. we've never seen such excitement caused by blossoming trees before.

to the Japanese, sakura season and the hanami festival are supposed to be a time to reflect on the ephemeral nature of life; to many however, this time of year is just an excuse to get very drunk in public. our good timing meant that we were in Tokyo at the height of the festival, and so got to visit some of the largest parks with the densest collections of trees--and drunks. the first thing we did after arriving at the Shinjuku station was to head for the nearby Shinjuku Gyoen, or park, which had about a half-hour line just to get in. and that was with a ¥200 per person admission fee. but there were a lot of trees, and, as in the rest of Japan, a lot of signs. all over the park there were examples written in Japanese and English explicitly enjoining the use of alcohol; all over the park there were large groups sitting on blue tarps with huge quantities of it. it was quite strange to see such lawlessness in straight-laced Japan, but i guess even they have to cut loose every once in a while. thank goodness for the sakura.

14 May, 2007


now that our European vacation is over and we have regular internet access again, i can do a little better on blogging. i'll get around to all those England and France pictures, but first something a little closer to home. Nagoya, as i may have mentioned, is pretty much home to what will soon be the largest car manufacturing company in the world, Toyota. there is even an eponymous city a few Kilometers Southeast of town where many of their operations center. Toyota is widely believed to have been the force that virtually recession-proofed Nagoya during Japan's turbulent 90s, and its presence seems to be felt quite strongly, so we decided to find out a little more about it.

the pleasant grounds and glorious weather we experienced on our recent trip to Noritake Gardens in central Nagoya.

close to our place near the center of Nagoya, both Toyota and Noritake China have museums showcasing their various wares. though the Noritake place boasts beautiful grounds and a pretty decent lineup of sandwiches in the cafe, the museum subject matter wasn't all that appealing to me, so we spent the bulk of our afternoon at the nearby Toyota place. i suppose most folks don't know that Toyota started out as a manufacturer of weaving looms in the early twentieth century, nor yet that it was actually called Toyoda. the inventor of all those looms and the founder of the company was named Sakichi Toyoda, whose family name consists of two characters--豊田--the last of which can be read da or ta (if your browser doesn't support Chinese characters, the one we're talking about looks like a box divided horizontally and vertically into four equal quadrants).

the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology is divided into a large section of working looms of all ages and another large sections for cars. i went having the cars in mind but was fascinated by all the demonstrations they had about textile manufacture. Mr Toyoda was quite the inventor, and developed numerous nifty devices for improving quality of production in weaving, many of which were demonstrated by the helpful uniformed hostesses that seemed to be everywhere. there were all kinds of machines there including fully automated entire production lines that are still being manufactured and sold by Toyota Industries.

just one of the many helpful hostesses who demonstrated the great variety of machinery in the textile area. below, the original badge of Toyoda's first passenger automobile, the AA, which cleverly incorporates the Toyoda characters into its design.

despite all of my Economics lectures being brought so vividly to life in this part of the museum, we did eventually make our way on to the vehicle section. this area, like its textile counterpart, had examples of all ages spread around the place, and even more hands-on demonstrations. there were numerous cutaways that showed how clutches, transmissions and four-wheel steering work; there working examples of the huge machines that stamp out body panels; there were production timeline presentations and prototypes and all kinds of things to keep a car person very busy. i could have spent much more than the three or four hours we did in there.

one of the cool demos in the kid's area that tells you your weight (unfortunately not in pounds) by balancing you on a lever against an engine.

but you can't spend your whole life in a museum, even one as good as this; it was really one of the most interesting i've ever been to. we did have to leave, but we made time to check out the area they have for kids, which they let us do i guess because they weren't sure how to tell us to leave in English. it was very cool and even more interactive than the rest of the museum, with a wind tunnel you could go in to get a feel for the principles of aerodynamics, a virtual-reality maze that you navigated by way of a computerized helmet and a huge treadwheel that made you feel just like a hamster. so for a good time in Nagoya i recommend a trip to the TCMIT; after all, this is Toyota's town.

03 May, 2007


so much for all the shrines and gates in Japan; probably no sight in the whole country is as iconic as Fuji-san (富士山), or Mount Fuji. just before our Tokyo trip, Jill and i were able to go with our friends the Johnsons to have a look at this very symmetrical cone-shaped volcanic mountain.

Fuji-san from the North. even on a gloomy day it's a pretty impressive sight.

it was a bit of a difficult look, with visibility down to virtually nothing on the South side we approached from. just getting there was about a three hour drive from Nagoya, but i'm glad we kept on going around to the North side so we could at least see something. we were hoping we'd be able to join the thousands of pilgrims who climb the mountain each year, but it's closed to trekkers for all but a couple of months of the year. nevertheless, it is possible to drive about halfway up the 3,776 meter high mountain, to the so-called "Fifth Station" from where most climbers begin. when we got there the winds were so intense that we could only be out of the car long enough to snap a picture with the very touristy sign you see below:

Jill and i at the "Fifth Station" about halfway up the mountain. it's a lot windier than it looks--i almost got blown over a couple of times and i'm holding onto the back of that sign just to stay upright!

so perhaps this visit was slightly underwhelming, but we did get to see the mighty Mount Fuji, and who can go to Japan without doing that? actually we had seen it from the plane on the way from Tokyo to Nagoya when we arrived in the country last year, but it felt a bit more real, being up close this way. and it wasn't all about the mountain, we got to take a pleasant-but-chilly boat ride on one of Fuji's five lakes, and of course we browsed some of the shops in the region that were stacked with, you guessed it, boxes of little Fuji red bean cakes to take back to the folks in the office. yum.

01 May, 2007


thejayfather is the only one who can take credit--or responsibility--for the prose on this site, but it's about time to give some recognition to someone who really deserves it. even if i owned a camera, my photographic skill wouldn't produce pictures of nearly the same caliber as the ones you have enjoyed seeing here since the birth of this blog. indeed, if it weren't for my wonderful wife Jill and her pictures, i probably wouldn't have a website at all.

she and i have been in five world capitals in the last six months, and so for want of a better way to organize a selection of her work to display, i've simply chosen one picture from the (many, many) she took in each city to display here. some you've seen before, others are new. one or two are iconic of the place they were taken, while more still are just generally representative of a location. there are best-of-the-bunch shots and pure favorites of mine. in any case, i hope you will enjoy.

from Beijing, People's Republic of China:

here Jill captures the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests at the Temple of Heaven reflected in my sweet aviator lenses. this is one of my favorites from China, and was taken on November 2nd of last year.

from Seoul, Republic of Korea:

Asia is known for the hustle and bustle of its many markets, and here Jill captures some of that never ending spectacle at the Namdaemun Market, one of Seoul's largest. taken on December 29th last year.

from Tokyo, Japan:

one of the largest cities on Earth, Tokyo is a vast urban sprawl, with concrete as far as the eye can see in any direction. at nighttime, however, the lights of town make it a sight to behold, especially from 45 stories up. Jill took this shot on April 3rd from the observation floor at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings in the heart of the city.

from London, United Kingdom:

a picture like this scarcely needs an explanation, but you're about to get one anyway: Big Ben is actually the name of the bell hanging inside the clock tower at the Houses of Parliament. we visited this elaborate housing on Jill's birthday, April 7th, and she was even able to capture the London Eye in the background.

from Paris, France:

the famous Moulin Rouge cabaret in Montmartre. shows were about $200 apiece, so we held back and settled for a shot of the exterior, which Jill took on the 19th of April.

and one more from Tokyo, Japan--a picture of the artist at work:

a personal favorite, this one, taken by yours truly, showing the organizational skill Jill has to muster to make many of these pictures happen. here she is caught marshaling the forces of her support staff who, in this case, didn't even speak English. for your many efforts, Jill, thank you from all of my readers and me.