Archive for the 'Travel' Category

Japan Trip #2 Details

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

I’ve got all the bookings done for my second trip to Japan; I went in the spring to photography Cherry Blossoms, now I’m going back to photograph Fall Colours.

This is my Itenerary:

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
Leave US
Tokyo (arr)
Tokyo (dep)
Nara (arr)
Nara (dep)
Kyoto (arr)
Kyoto (dep)
Tokyo (arr)
Tokyo (dep)
Fly home

And here it is on a map, along with my trip earlier this year.


Things/Places to see/go:


Takao san Mount Takao, Temple, Hiking, Foliage.
8:00 am to 5:00 pm. Keio Railways offer the cheapest and fastest connections to Takaosan. Direct semi-limited express trains, which take about 50 minutes and 370 yen, leave the underground Keio Shinjuku station every 20 minutes. Takaosanguchi Station, the train’s terminal station, is located at the foot of the mountain.The JR alternative is by Chuo Line from Shinjuku to Takao Station (540 yen, about 50 minutes), where you transfer to the Keio Line and ride one more station to Takaosanguchi Station (120 yen, 2 minutes).

Rikugi-en Gardens
9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is a short walk from Komagome Station on the JR Yamanote line and the Tokyo Metro Namboku Line.

Koishikawa Koen Gardens with good fall colours.
9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Koishikawa Korakuen is a 5-10 minute walk from Iidabashi Station (various JR and subway lines) or a 10 minute walk from Korakuen Station on the Marunouchi and Nanboku Subway Line.


Tofuku-ji Said to be the best place for fall in Kyoto.
9:00 to 4:00. Tofukuji is a 10-15 minute walk from Tofukuji Station on the Keihan Main Line and JR Nara Line. By JR, Tofukuji Station it is just one station from Kyoto Station (2 minutes, 140 Yen by local train).

Fushimi Inari-taisha The ten thousand tori.
24 hours! The shrine is a three-minute walk from JR Nara Line Inari Station, 10 minutes from Kyoto Station. It is a five-minute walk from Keihan Electric RailwayMain Line Fushimi-Inari station.

Kiyomizudera Temple The “balcony” temple.
Hours 6:00 am to 6:00 pm. Kiyomizudera can be reached from Kyoto Station in about 15 minutes by bus. Take bus number 100 or 206 and get off at Kiyomizu-michi or Gojo-zaka, from where it is a 10-15 minute uphill walk to the temple.

Eikando Temple The “Maple Leaf” Temple. Lit up at night!
Evening hours are 5:30 to 9:00. Due north of Nanzenji Temple. From Kyoto Station, take city bus #5, and get off at “Nanzen-ji Eikando-michi.”

Gots to Sleeps Some!

MTWR 16-19 Jimbocho Sakura Hotel, Tokyo.
2-21-4 Kanda-Jimbocho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 101-0051
Jimbocho Station, exit A6 (Been there before; don’t need directions ;) )

RFSU 19-22 Nara Ugaya, Nara
4-1 Okukomoricho, Nara City, Japan
From JR Nara station (5min): After coming out the station, go past a Lawson (a convenience store you can see on your right) and cross the street. Keep walking straight and you will find UGAYA guest house on your right just before the end of the street.

UMTWRF 22-27 Guest House Yahata, Kyoto
544 Yahata-cho, Gojo-agaru, Nishinotoin, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto-shi 600-8455
Take Kyoto city bus and alight at Gojo Nishinotoin.1 minute walk from any bus stops on Gojo Nishinotoin.

FS 27-28 Jimbocho Sakura Hotel, Tokyo


Narita -> 東京 Tokyo 1000 円
1. Take the Keisei express train.
2. At Oshiage station, change to the Hanzomon subway line.
3. Get off at Jinbocho Station Z07.

東京 -> 奈良 Nara 14050 円
1. Tokyo Station
2. JR Nara Station

奈良 -> 京都 Kyoto 610 円
1. JR Nara Station
2. Kyoto Station

京都 -> 東京 13520 円
Should be obvious ;)

Back to Japan

Saturday, October 24th, 2009

At the end of November, I’m heading back to Japan for two weeks to photograph the fall foliage.


On Japanese

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

One question everyone is asking me since I got back from Japan is “How well did you do with your two semesters of Japanese? Were you able to get by?”

The answer is yes and no… I have the vocabulary of your average three-year-old child, and grammatical structures to match. In English, I would be able to say “I would like to buy a ticket on the Shinkansen to Toyko,” in Japanese I could get the point across with “ときょに しんかんせんで いきます おねがいします”, which literally means “To Toyko using Shinkansen Go Please.”

In fact, “___ please” turned out to be quite a useful little phrase. Ordering in restaurants became a matter of looking around, seeing someone eating something that looked good, and saying “that please.” Of course, it didn’t always work out – Theoretically, if nobody was eating anything that I wanted to eat, I would have to leave, hang around outside for 10 minutes, then go back in and try again.

Another thing I wasn’t prepared for was all the kanji. You see, Japanese is written in a combination of two alphabets and thousands of Chinese characters called kanji. And my courses don’t teach any kanji.

Because of this, you find yourself left in situations such as arriving at the train station and wondering when the next train to your destination is leaving…


Then you have to find the station on a map and figure out how much the ticket will cost…


And, of course, once you figure it out and buy a ticket, you have to try and discover (a) which track the train is departing from, (b) which car you should be in (because sometimes the trains end up splitting and going in two directions), and (c) which seat you have to sit in.


By the way, awesome bokeh in the background on that picture!

Sometimes it didn’t matter that I couldn’t read kanji, because the meaning was completely obvious:


And other times, my lack of kanji-ability didn’t matter, because I doubt it would have helped me figure out what some things were:


The English on the box says “Flash Over: Here is the thing I have been longing for. Transformation of extra quality is now completed. Experience yourself with this satisfaction.” Given that this was on a shelf near the boob cream, my theory is that it’s either a herbal anti-depressant or a vibrator.

I had brought my Japanese textbook with me, and I decided to go back to the beginning and start looking up all the Kanji for words that I didn’t know. Of course, studying isn’t exactly barrels of fun while you’re on vacation, so I decided to force myself to learn – I decided I would only order things in restaurants if I could read the name of it (with the help of a dictionary, of course) off the menu. Of course, I was buying most of my meals at convenience or grocery stores – this was to save money, not an unintended consequence of not ordering food I couldn’t read. (yeah right, says the peanut gallery.)

I had some success and some failures. For example, I decided to have coffee and cake in Shibuya, and managed to figure out how to say the name of the one at the bottom right of this picture:


Of course, when the waitress came and asked for my order, I opened the menu and immediately mental-blocked on whether the ショート at the end was pronounced “shouto” or “tsuuto”, so I just said the first part. Which, of course, is the name of the dessert at the top of the menu. Incidently, it’s “shouto” for “shortcake.”

I also discovered that riding the train or bus became a free game of kanji-flash-cards, as they both would display on a screen the same of the next stop in both kanji and english. Sometimes I had no clue – Sometimes I had almost one part. And this was my great triumph; three weeks in, I successfully read the name of this bus stop.


Obviously, I’m easy to please – “His great transformation occurred when he read the name of the bus stop.” If my life was a novel and that was the back-cover copy, I don’t think I’d buy it.

Manga Cafe

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

Tonight, I had nowhere to stay. I couldn’t extend my stay at the hostel in Kyoto because they were full, and I couldn’t show up in Kanazawa a day early because they don’t have a room for me tonight. After much deliberation, I decided to just take an easy day, then spend the night in a manga cafe.

I took the bus from the hostel to the JR train station and put my bags into lockers (600 yen, about $6) and took only my Japanese textbook, dictionary, notebook, pens, and my camera with the 50mm/1.8 lens with me.

I spent most of the day hopping around between different coffee shops; studying for a few hours, then moving to try a different chain. Got a lot of studying done!

At 10:00 pm, I headed over to the Manga cafe, and between my basic Japanese and their broken English, managed to get everything arranged.

So here’s what I get for 2750 yen, or about $27 (350 yen membership + 2400 for 12 hours):

I get all the bizzare Japanese soft drinks and soft ice cream I can handle. I’m drinking a pepsi float I made right now – tastes pretty good, but could use some rum. Perhaps I’ll run down to the convenience store and pick up a $3 mickey of Captain Morgan’s rum; yes, booze is incredibly cheap here.

All the bizarre brands of Japanese Soda you can drink

More Manga (japanese comic books) than I could read in a dozen lifetimes, especially since my rate is about 15 minutes a page, what with having to look up all the kanji. Note this is just one of the rows of bookshelves.

Row of Manga

An eerie walk down the row of dimly lit cubicles with zen sand sculptures under the transparent floor and “relaxation” music quietly playing.

Row of cubicles

In my cubicle, I have a PC, a Playstation 2, a 24″ television (not shown) and a small safe for my valuables that I managed to lock without setting the combination – Did I mention about having to look up lots of kanji?

In my cube

I also have a sofa that’s long enough to lie down on, but not quite long enough to fully stretch out. Still, it’s far better than airplane seating.

the sofa

Not shown – washrooms, showers, beer vending machine, row of slot machines, &c.

Now, granted, there’s other people moving around, making noise, &c, but that was true at the hostel. I just wish I’d thought to bring my earplugs with me for tonight…


Friday, April 10th, 2009

I should have come to Kyoto first, rather than going to Tokyo first. Here in Kyoto, you can’t swing a dead panda without hitting three temples and two shrines, yet I’m beginning to show the dreaded signs of shrine-and-temple burnout.

Every day that I’ve been here, I’ve come up with a plan, and then ended up discarding it because I’ve become lost. I think I can safely say that Kyoto’s subway system is the worst one I’ve ever experienced.

To wit: There are different subway companies here, as seems to be normal in Japan. However, unlike Tokyo, they don’t share stations – they built stations a few blocks away from each other. And in many cases, they give the stations the same names. So, you think “I have to walk a few blocks to transfer to the Maratumatchi station,” but you walk in the wrong direction and find the other Maratumatchi station, then try to figure out where the heck you’re going.

Plus, add the fact that the closest station to the hostel had its name changed recently, and it doesn’t show up on most metro maps under either name, and you may judge my agony.

On the positive side, or negative, depending on your point of view, as of today I had to unfold the duffel bag that I brought to pack with stuff to bring home. I’ve been resisting buying anything that I couldn’t cart around in my backpack, but I finally found a few things that I’ve been searching for almost since I arrived, and I didn’t want to take the chance that I won’t find them again.

As of tomorrow, I have one week left… and as is becoming traditional, two photos…

Darren with cute girls, this time in kimonos.

Darren with cute girls, this time in kimonos.

Sakura and Building detail

Sakura and Building detail