Japan 2012 Travel Diary, Day 9

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The original plan for Hiroshima was to head to Miwajima in the morning before jumping on another Shinkansen to Osaka, but Wifey was still struggling with her cold/flu bug so we decided to have a bit of a sleep in to rest up, had the hotel hold our bags then went to spend some more time exploring around where we were staying in Hiroshima.

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It’s a pity we only stayed overnight as Hiroshima is a beautiful city that balances the new and the traditional sides of Japan, with an amazing social history and is super clean and pristine. We went for another wander down Hondori and a few other spots locally, stopping for lunch at a Doutor for a lunch of lettuce dogs (!), matcha cake (again) and some tea. While we were there an old lady wandered up to our table for a chat – turns out her son and his family live in Canada and we had a chat that intermingled between Japanese and English, and at the end of it she also passed along an English guide map of Hiroshima for us. It’s things like this that really make stints overseas memorable, and certainly solidified Hiroshima as a city we wish we had more time enjoy. If we have the opportunity to return to Japan in the future, I know we’ll be earmarking more time to spend here – the city and its people are wonderful, and the Book Off was well-stocked and full of awesome 🙂

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After lunch we picked up our luggage and jumped on the train back to Shin-Osaka and managed to get in by late-afternoon. Transferring from Shin-Osaka through to Osaka Station we had our first experience of Osaka people – people were actually having animated conversations on the train! In the other places we traveled, the advised maxim of being quiet on public transport (and in public in general) was shunned by a city’s occupants who seemed naturally more boisterous in public than we had noticed elsewhere. Was very interesting and certainly rides home the difference between east/west in Japan!

After arriving at Osaka Station we found our way to the JR Line to take us to our hotel, the Universal Port Hotel located near the Universal Studios amusement park and the adjoining Universal City Walk. Dodging the allure of the Universal City Walk, we exited the station and turned left to take a pedestrian road to get to our destination. The hotel was all sorts of awesome – a porter took our luggage up to our room (I helped her load the bags though, as by this stage our bags were hitting around the 20kg mark and the girl helping us looked like she was going to struggle!), showed us the amenities and complemented me on my command of Japanese; while I think she was only being polite, it was a nice gesture nonetheless!

The hotel room itself was also incredibly spacious – as we went from place to place In Japan the rooms seemed to be getting bigger, and what I loved about this room was that the bathroom was very Japanese – sink grate on the floor with a stool to sit on with the shower head mounted above to wash yourself, and then a full separate bath next to it to unwind and enjoy a furo Japanese style 🙂 Truth be told, I got a little carried away with the bath thing while we were in Japan – most nights after we got back to the hotel I ended up scrubbing down and then relaxing in the tub afterwards 😛

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But the real magic was the toilet – I’ll let the panel above espouse the majesty (and complexity) of the thing. It was even fitted with an infrared sensor that automatically opened the lid when you entered the separate toilet room. Very 2001/HAL. Oh Kubrick, you so visionary.

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Now being Australian, the whole Halloween thing isn’t much of a deal down our way, but in Osaka it was on. Probably due to where we were staying, we noticed when we were coming to the train station that the carriages soon became packed with teens and uni students dressed up and ready to have a good time. While Japanese girls generally show off a lot of leg here, everything was out there for Halloween – boobs and legs were equally at ease with some amazing and elaborate costumes.

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While the guys didn’t seem to get into it as much as the girls, we saw an amazing Edward Scissorhands there, and another dude looked like a stripper cop, complete with fake gun and smoking a cigarette, with his girlfriend also dressed like a stripper cop (the fake gun would also have been a faux pax back home considering how realistic it looked!).

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Universal City Walk is an amusingly Japanese take on the boardwalk – neon and LCD screens line the multi-story shops, and we checked out the Jump Store (Shounen Jump goodies therein), a collectables shop full of all sorts of Japanese and American paraphernalia (Batman, Superman, Ben 10, Garfield, Aliens, Back to the Future, Astro Boy, etc) which also housed a museum of classic Japanese and American properties. There were also clothes shops selling new and vintage clothing, and plenty of places to eat. After a stop at the awesome Takoyaki Museum (highly recommended!) we tucked into one of the local takoyaki places to dig in while the hilariawesome Takoyaki Museum theme song played over the mall’s PA system. We had saved ourselves for takoyaki until we got to Osaka and the wait was worth it – we picked up a mixed plate of takoyaki with different toppings and washed it down with melon Fanta (tasted just like Midori, but without the fun alcohol content!).

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After eating some food we ventured back out onto the street to continue checking out stores and go people-watching. There was a great Universal gift store with all sorts of gear – they had a pretty sizable collection of Peanuts goodies there, but that seemed to be common around the traps while we were in Japan, Snoopy & co were regulars on all sorts of gear, from bottled water to plushies. We ended up walking the length of the pedestrian street until we hit the Universal Studios Japan theme park entrance, but we had decided to skip visiting the park while we were in Osaka to occupy ourselves with other stuff. Still, it was cool to see that the theme park was also getting into the Halloween spirit!

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We grabbed a couple of drinks from the Starbucks at the train station end of the Universal City Walk (noting the crepe stand along the way for another evening when we weren’t stuffed full of takoyaki) to take back to the hotel and were fortunate to have wifi in our room again, so we were able to drop family and friends a quick hello before getting some sleep. Osaka certainly put up an amazing welcome for us after day one.

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Oh, and a quick update – the last couple of posts had the landscape shots a bit smaller than usual (500px wide vs 750px); I’ve re-uploaded them with slightly larger images and also re-uploaded some of the panorama shots from the Takao climb as well (1200px instead of the 750px versions added previously).

To view all posts on the Japan 2012 Travel Diary, just use the 2012 Japan Trip tag, as the whole series will be added to it over time.

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Japan 2012 Travel Diary, Day 8

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Kyoto wound down the temperature on the day we left, to the point where Wifey and I both rugged up in warm jackets as we made the trip from Karasuma-Oike to Kyoto Station. Once we had transferred we hopped onto the Shinkansen to make our way to Hiroshima. Since we were using the JR Rail Pass to cover the trip, we jumped on one of the Sakura trains to get from Kyoto to Osaka (technically Shin-Osaka since that’s the name of the station), then we caught another Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka to Hiroshima. The reason for the two-step process is because only selected Shinkansen travel directly between Kyoto and Hiroshima and these aren’t covered by the rail pass (e.g. the Nozomi train). Still, in total we spent less than two hours for the trip.

We were a little disappointed that Wifey and I weren’t able to get adjoining seats on the Shin-Osaka to Hiroshima part of the trip as all adjoining seats were all booked up, which saw my other half next to a Japanese woman who seemed inclined to partake in the great Japanese tradition of sleeping while on public transport, which left me next to salaryman enjoying some classic Golgo 13 manga. What eventuated was pretty unexpected though, as he started up a conversation on the way to practice his English, which was an unexpected but a really interesting experience. I asked him a few questions on where he was from, Japanese etiquette and the language, and he in turn asked about where I came from and what we’ve up to in Japan. Things took a nerdy turn when we got onto the topic of music and amplifiers, and it was awesome to have a chat to someone with a huge deal of enthusiasm for music and playback equipment, especially since he runs some amazing equipment (delicious tube amps and what-not) as part of his business in the music industry.

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We got into Hiroshima at around midday, and the temperature was noticeably warmer than Kyoto, once again throwing off any attempt we made to normalise to the weather patterns over here. We caught the number 1 street car (exit the Shinkansen area, turn right and follow the prompts to the bus and tram service) for ¥150 each to the station nearest our one-night stopover hotel, the ANA Crowne Plaza. After dumping our bags we wandered out back into the sunshine (stripping off jackets) and started the trek to the Peace Park. We stopped in at a Japanese restaurant on the way to grab a bite – I jumped aboard the udon train again and grabbed a set that consisted of delicious udon with some shredded pork and a pair of local onigiri; Wifey indulged in some mis-based udon with croquets and onigiri. We then continued the walk over to the museum and encountered a veritable small village of Japanese students that had arrived via a contingent of tour buses. We walked in alongside them, bought our tickets, then walked through the doors.

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The Hiroshima Peace Park is an altogether sobering yet morbidly fascinating experience. It’s difficult to articulate what it means to walk through the museum, read the stories and watch the footage, but upon leaving you are surrounded by a revulsion for war and the indiscriminate power of atomic warfare. There are displays and scale models of Hiroshima before and after the blast, clothing and other household goods recovered in the aftermath, copies of letters from noted leaders in the sciences and politics that cover the call to action for research into atomic warfare and subsequent protestations of the way in which the research was utilised, the content of which is beyond the scope of this blog – having double-majored in history and Japanese studies at Uni with a general interest in the two World Wars last century, I could wax lyrical on this topic for ages!

What was particularly interesting was the museum’s specific notation of the gaps in Japan’s national education curriculum around the global conflict that resulted in World War 2, as while I was aware of this due to my prior studies, it was refreshing to see this publicly acknowledged in the museum. Again, discussion on how this should be addressed is definitely beyond the scope of this commentary (and to be honest, this discussion isn’t only pertinent to Japan – the US and Australian primary and secondary school curriculums are also lacking in many respects around World War 1 and 2, especially due to how the Cold War’s political environment has had a lasting effect on how different country’s contributions to the conflict are taught), but it was enlightening nonetheless.

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Outside the museum are extensive green areas and gardens, and while Wifey and I were walking around we were approached by a lot of young Japanese students so they could practice their English for us as part of what looked to be an assignment given to them by their teachers. Part of the questions that had been assigned to them included what we thought was the most impressive thing about Hiroshima – each time I answered by the Peace Park, but I was tempted to put down the big Book Off near Hondori but decided to answer honestly instead of being cheeky 🙂 We found they seemed to gravitate towards me, not too sure why – maybe it was the ranga beard or the nerdy t-shirt. The funny part was after they finished asking questions I’d thank them in Japanese or say some other quip as they left, and they all seemed quite surprised I could speak any of the language! There were a couple of instances where a couple of groups I swear were about to come up to us, but then giggled and ran off. All in all, it was pretty funny and good fun.

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Across one of the rivers nearby was the remains of one of the buildings that survived the blast, and it was awe-inspiring and humbling to walk past it. I’ve always advocated that anyone in favour of nuclear warfare should go and watch Isao Takahata’s powerful Hotaru no Haka (Grave of the Fireflies), but after visiting the Peace Park, I would also add that to the agenda.

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Once we had finished wandering through the parklands surrounding the museum we headed to Hondori, one of the more prominent shopping districts in Hiroshima. After checking out a couple of ¥100 shops and hobby stores we came across a Taito Game Station arcade, so of course we had to drop in 🙂

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Like most of the arcades in Japan, it was a multi-story affair with different games cropping up thematically on each floor. The first two floors were crane games, then after that it got interesting. I ended up settling on a round of Darius Burst, a 4-player cooperative horizontal shmup that runs over three screens for a massive panoramic playing field. After tanking pretty quickly, the allure of Super Street Fighter 4 AE caught me, so I inserted ¥100 and managed to get two credits off it owing to a special happening that week.

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Now I’ve probably mentioned it earlier, but I’m not very good at SSF4AE – I haven’t invested enough time into it to be any kind of reasonable, so I’ve settled into being comfortable with my status as a Ken scrub 🙂 That being said, at one stage a Japanese gamer sat on the opposite side to challenge me with Ryu, and I managed to actually win the match (as in both rounds)! After chatting with Hollo from Super Gaijin Ultra Gamer and finding out that Japanese players will often go easy on you for round 2 in fighting games only to take you down in the final round, it was pretty cool that I managed to actually win a full match (was very close though!!).

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However, it was short lived when he jumped in as Juri and tore me a new arsehole, but still, it was so much fun. Despite arcades in Japan having a no-photos policy, Wifey did it gaijin style and took a few snaps using her phone and a bit of footage of me losing, so that was also pretty awesome (even though I lost, because it was in a Japanese arcade) 🙂 On the way out I tried my hand at one of the crane games, but failed. Still, the awesomeness won out, absolutely!

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At this stage it was getting late in the afternoon and well after the 2pm check-in time for our room, so after walking the length of Hondori we unintentionally took the scenic route back to the hotel, only getting lost once or twice, before finding our way back there. After getting settled in I left Wifey to have some rest (her cold was still kicking pretty hard at this stage) and wondered up the road to visit the Super Bazaar Book Off near Hondori. This place was indeed massive, so this time I thought I’d look for some LDs in addition to games. While I didn’t find any, I did unintentionally walk into two different porn sections before finding the anime and game art books, eventually securing myself a You’re Under Arrest art book that focused purely on the OVAs, which was awesome. From there it was down to the game section, where I nabbed a handful of PSone titles for a pittance, as well as a couple of carts that were pretty inexpensive. After dropping back to the hotel to check on Wifey, it was comfort food time so back up the road to Hondori to drop into Lotteria for our first take on Japanese burgers. With some food and a couple of drinks from some vending machines on the way to the hotel (with a stop at a convenience store for some throat lozenges), we finished up the night tucking into our food and watching a movie before getting some sleep.

To view all posts on the Japan 2012 Travel Diary, just use the 2012 Japan Trip tag, as the whole series will be added to it over time.

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Japan 2012 Travel Diary, Day 7

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Day two in Kyoto continued the cultural expeditions. We started off by heading to Kyoto Station and jumping on the tourist bus to visit the Ginkakuji Temple – the place was absolutely mind-blowing and picturesque, and the grounds were much bigger than we had anticipated.

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At this stage in the trip my prosthesis had started causing me some grief due to all the walking/getting lost/exploring, so we decided to cut the walk around the temple grounds short and get started on the Philosopher’s Path. When my brother Tank and his wife visited earlier in the year during the cherry blossom viewing season the place looked beautiful, so it was awesome to get a chance to see it in autumn when the leaves were changing colour. As the rain and clouds had cleared up, it was also nice and sunny out (though a bit chilly since the humidity had gone with the cloud cover), so we made our way leisurely down the path, stopping to take photos, and at one point we dropped into a neighbourhood tea and coffee place for a couple of cake sets (Wifey has the cheesecake and coffee, while I enjoyed a green tea rolled cake with fresh cream and stuffed with red beans paste with a cup of tea).

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The real magic though happened at the end of the trail. As part of my Shenmue obsession I found a small deserted park with some play equipment at the end of the street, and so I asked myself – “What would Ryo Hazuki do in this situation?”. That’s right, he’d take the time to work on his moves. So, announcing to nobody in particular “Let’s get sweaty”, I decided to get my karate on and run through a couple of techniques, with the ever-patient Wifey indulging the experience by snapping some photos. Not having trained over the last 18+ months due to some health concerns my form was pretty rubbish, but the experience was worth it 🙂

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After making an arse of myself in public (again), we finished off the Philosopher’s Park walk to wander down along the backstreets of Kyoto to either grab a bus or walk to a nearby precinct some fellow martial artists had recommended I check out whilst in Kyoto. We ended up walking the whole way (probably about 40 minutes since we were taking our time), with Wifey’s iPhone (still on iOS5 and therefore still with the native Google Maps app) taking care of tracking our way thanks to a cached map of this area in Kyoto, because even with no mobile data, the GPS still kicked in. This eventually lead us to our next destination, the Kyoto Handicraft Centre.

On account of some renovations, the bottom floor of the building was unavailable, which meant the usually-extensive selection on the street level of this complex was not available (the bottom floor of the neighbouring building was the acting substitute, but it was much smaller than the original one). Unperturbed we headed up a few floors to check out things, and were greeted by a large range of regional crafts, including ceramics, lacquerware, dolls, display swords (not suitable for training in kenjutsu or iaido) and one large iaito. Since I had already picked up a small wakizashi-sized iaito in Suidobashi I wasn’t specifically looking for another one, but was curious to see what was there just in case 😉 Looking at the lovely iaoto, due to the size of the sword it wasn’t appropriate to bring back since it wouldn’t fit in the suitcase, but it did look nice 🙂 For those keen on bringing something back, the display sword sets started around ¥8,000 and topped out around ¥13,000; the iaito was around the ¥84,000 mark.

While we were down this end of Kyoto, we also wandered across the road (literally) to visit Tozando, a specialist store for iaito, kendo equipment (shinai and protective gear), kobudo equipment, general training garments (including protector pads and mitts) and on the second floor they had an array of stunning swords and armour, including original antiques from various eras in Japan’s history. For those interested in bringing back an antique sword, you’re looking at investing a huge chunk of cash (and apparently it can be tricky bringing them out of the country as antique swords are considered part of Japan’s history and are thus treated as national treasures), but for the rest of us, simply walking through this area is an amazing experience. Luckily for Wifey, they have the unintended presence of girlfriend/wife/”I dragged along my other half” seats in front of a TV playing a documentary on the second floor that houses their mini-museum of antique pieces, so she sat there while I gushed. Tozando did have some very nice wakizashi iaito, but at this stage I was happy with my purchase from Suidobashi and decided to leave it be. If ever I came back to Japan and was heading to Kyoto though, I suspect I’d probably hit Tozando for another iaito – they’ve had some great reviews amongst other iaido practitioners and the gear looked really nice.

After wandering to the end of the street and grabbing a subway train back to Karasuma-Oike, we stopped off for a quick bite at Caffe Excelsior – I grabbed a beef stew wrap (literally, beef stew goodies/gravy inside a wholemeal wrap lightly toasted) and Wifey enjoyed a Paris Sandwich, which was a delightful roll filled with chicken, a yummy white sauce with fresh mushrooms, and melted Camembert cheese. Next on the list for Day 2 was a short meander up Karasuma-dori to visit another spot of hallowed ground – the Kyoto Manga Museum.

Given anime and manga fanboyisms seem happy to collocate themselves in a gamer’s psyche (I was a gaming nerd before I jumped aboard the anime and manga nerd train in the early-mid 90s), it probably isn’t too surprising this visit was another unforgettable experience. The museum is actually housed within an old Kyoto primary school that was vacated in the mid-90s, and contains an enormous collection of manga in serialised book format, manga in magazine format, displays, artwork and miniature exhibitions. The cool thing is that almost all the manga in book format can be taken off the shelves and read, with the majority of the available books the resulting donation of a commercial manga library run for many years when the owner closed up his business. This means when you’re picking up a copy of Ranma 1/2 or Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon (which I did!), you’re enjoying the same book that was originally printed when the title was released, and the same book has also been through the hands of so many other readers. It’s not just a piece of cultural history, it’s equally a tangible piece of social history as well. The museum actually offers pre-paid passes during the year so if you want to drop in on a regular basis (such as after school or work) to have a read before going home, you can do so and treat it as a reference library of manga.

One of the permanent exhibitions is a room that houses manga in chronological order, from the 50s onwards. Walking around this meant you were also able to see how the magazines have changed, alongside the stylistic evolution of manga over the years. I held original copies of Ranma 1/2, 3×3 Eyes, Berserk, Urusei Yatsura, Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon, Kare Kano, Astro Boy, Ghost in the Shell, You’re Under Arrest, Rurouni Kenshin, the list goes on and on and on. As hyperbolic as this whole thing is, there was a bit of magic nerd in the air that day.

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As an extra bonus, the museum’s current special exhibition was one focused on acclaimed anime studio Gainax, who have carved a delightful spot in my nerd heart for the likes of Kare Kano, FLCL, Nadia, Abenobashi and of course, Eva. The exhibition ran over two of their gallery spaces, the focus being to recreate the working studio environment to give visitors an insight to how they create their anime productions from start to finish. This means we’re seeing representations of the staff brainstorming, going through concept phases, animation checks, keyframing, colouring and compositing (showing both the traditional cel methods and contemporary digital methods), recording (dialogue, music and foley) and celebrating the end product (with various members of the studio looking suitably drunk!). This meant I was able to walk through and look at original sketches, keyframes and cells from some of my favourite series’, which is an experience I never thought I would have.

The only disappointing thing was that the museum hadn’t produced a publication to coincide with the Gainax exhibition I could take home with me, but they did have some awesome Astro Boy memorial coins that I picked up 🙂

After finishing up at the museum we went back to Kyoto Station to sort out our Shinkansen tickets for the next leg(s) of the trip, then it was time to hit the tourist buses again to visit Gion!

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For those unaware, Gion is the traditional quarter of Kyoto and houses some (ultra expensive) restaurants serving up some amazing cuisine among a variety of traditionally-styled houses and buildings. It’s also the spot where most Westerners would look at and associate with “traditional” conceptions of Japan. One of the reason’s it’s also popular is because it is where you can often spot geisha walking to and from businesses and occasions where their expertise and skills are requested. On the night we were there, Wifey and I happened to catch a glimpse of someone coasting along in their full attire – I think she was a maiko, but I’m not knowledgeable enough to discern from appearance alone if they were an apprentice or a qualified geisha. Regardless, I’ve never seen anyone in traditional geta move across the slippery surface with such poise and speed, so that was cool to see in motion.

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Given the cost of eating (and not being as comfortable in my spoken Japanese as I would have liked), the trip to Gion was more about getting a glimpse of the area and walking around. By far my favourite part of the evening though was walking past a middle aged Japanese man having a heated conversation with the person he was standing with about foreigners visiting Gion. Given this was the first and only time I heard a local grumble about foreigners, I was pretty surprised – while a lot of the tourists we saw were reasonably well behaved, there were plenty who could do with brushing up on their manners and learning how to go with the flow a bit better, especially when the human sea phenomenon kicks in.

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After enjoying the wander, we went back up the hill to catch the bus back to Kyoto Station, where we grabbed a delicious meal of tonkatsu in all its delightful glory. Bellies full, it was back to the hotel to consolidate our luggage and get ready for the next step of the journey – Hiroshima.

To view all posts on the Japan 2012 Travel Diary, just use the 2012 Japan Trip tag, as the whole series will be added to it over time.

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Japan 2012 Travel Diary, Day 6

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After an early night, we hit the streets relatively early to get started on our first culture day in Kyoto. After grabbing a pair of 2-day passes at the hotel’s reception desk that covered most of the local public transport we’d planned to use in Kyoto (only selected lines were covered by JR services, so this made it easy to use the Karasuma and Touzai lines, as well as the city bus services), we jumped aboard the subway to the main Kyoto Station and then transferred to the JR Nara local line to head to the beautiful Fushimi Inari Shrine. By the time we got to the station the rain had started coming down pretty hard, so I dashed out to the nearby convenience store to grab a pair of clear plastic umbrellas (¥550 each, and they were much more robust then equivalent-selling umbrellas back home!).

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To some people the rain may have been an inconvenience, but for us it made the experience that much more amazing as going through the temple and taking the scenic route back to the train station in the rain was so awesome. While going down a couple of the back streets filled with residential houses, the whole thing seemed reminiscent of walking through the streets in Sakuragaoka in Shenmue, especially since it was raining (Japan Is Shenmue was/will continue to be a big part of this holiday :)).

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Once we made it back to the station we headed out to the bus terminal to catch the 101 Raku bus (can’t remember which terminal, but I think it was either D2 or D1) to the Kinkakuji Temple, helping a young Italian couple struggling with the maps and instructions who were also going to the same location. Their confusion was understandable given the Englsh language maps can be a bit tricky on their own, but adding into that another layer of translation (i.e. Japanese – English – Italian), and I think they were doing an amazing job, not helped by my terrible command of Italian either (haven’t spoken it in years!).

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The bus ride through Kyoto city proper was really interesting – the streets aren’t anywhere near as congested as Tokyo, which suggests that using a taxi service would actually be useful if needed. In comparison, it seemed like it wouldn’t be all that cost/time effective in Tokyo compared to hopping between subway stations.

Anywho, we hopped off and took a short walk up to the temple, and it was absolutely beautiful. What was interesting for me is that my impressions (or expectations?) of the temples in Kyoto are that you’d walk through a gate, and see the temple or shrine, and that’s about it. In reality the temples and shrines in the city seem to be situated on extensive land holdings with immaculate gardens and beautiful architectural companion buildings that make for a nice walk around the place. While there we also picked up a good luck charm for Wifey, made an offering to the local deity and also picked up a fortune each, both of which were favourable 🙂

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From here we weren’t sure how to knock out the rest of the day as it was starting to get a bit later than we anticipated, so we opted to jump back on the bus service to visit Nijo Castle instead of visiting Ginkakuji and treading down the Philosopher’s Path. Nijo Castle was amazing and awe-inspiring. Not only are the grounds massive and immaculately cared for, you also have the opportunity of walking through the main castle and view all the rooms and what-not that have been preserved over the years.

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Having watched, read and studied texts around Japan’s history over the years, the tangible experience of walking through the hallowed halls of dynasties past was incredible. After exiting the castle we followed the route around to the inner castle within the grounds, and to celebrate I picked up my umbrella and ran along one of the paths while trying to look like a ninja, much to the chagrin of my wife and to the bemusement of the Japanese tourists walking through the grounds wondering why another crazy gaijin was making an arse of himself in public.

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With Nijo Castle sorted we exited to head back to the bus stop while walking past a group of middle school students who I swear commented that we looked like a cute couple, unawares my terrible command of Japanese could actually pick up on what was being said (yay for eavesdropping!). Cramming into the bus, we eventually found ourselves back at Kyoto Station at sunset and figured we’d have a look around, starting at the department store attached to the station itself. While the luxury prices reflected the fancy surroundings, it proved to be a worthwhile experience to get an idea of the price of adding another piece to our luggage as we had been quickly filling up our bags with stuff (especially video games :P), with the realisation that the price of bags in the department store was obviously going to be at a premium compared to going somewhere else since most of the gear was at the more pricier end of the spectrum.

We ended up jumping up to the 10th floor of the building for dinner, as the entire floor was dedicated solely to ramen restaurants! We picked a place that offered a choice of different broths, so I went for a miso-based ramen with some sliced barbecued pork on top, while Wifey settled on a soy-based broth, also with some extra sliced pork on top, accompanied with some chilled oolong tea to drink. After polishing off the amazing meal we were originally planning on heading back to the hotel, but given we’d has an early dinner on account of not eating a proper lunch, we decided to explore a bit more around Kyoto Station.

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We began by heading out the main entrance and walked towards where the big Kyoto Tower Hotel stood lit up like a Christmas Tree, then decided to poke out way through some of the streets directly in front of the sightseeing bus terminals out the front of the station. The glowing love of gatchapon machines attracted us like moths to a flame, so we decided to grab some assorted stuff from the 50-odd machines lined up in a row, then figured we’d follow them to the entrance to the department store they were sitting outside. This store in question was actually a multi-story Yodobashi, and having never been in one since arriving in Japan, we thought we’d give it a whirl.

Like many department stores, the place was an assault in the senses with glowing lights and TV screens complementing the running commentary advertising all the goods and specials in the store. We decided to hit the place one floor at a time, and I think it was the second floor that absolutely made our day, because it was the toy floor 🙂

I’m pretty comfortable being a big kid, so this was like a crazy trip back in time when toy sections in department stores used to be chock full of interesting stuff, with amazing displays and what-not to enjoy. There were sections dedicated to Transformers, One Piece, Gundam, Kingdom Hearts, Naruto, Hello Kitty, Godzilla and all sorts of other paraphernalia I didn’t recognise. We also found an entire subsection of the floor dedicated to gatchapon machines, so we got a little carried away there too! We walked away with a couple of goodies, but didn’t go too crazy since we were being conscious of our luggage size and weight at this stage of the trip.

While we there we also jumped to the basement floor to have a look at their supermarket section, where we were able to pickup a strawberry flavoured corn flakes/Special K thingie that would suffice for some brekkie for those hotels where we didn’t secure breakfast as part of the package.

At this point it was starting to get late, so we slipped past Mister Donut to grab an aperitif and head back to our hotel. Thus ended the first culture day in Kyoto.

To view all posts on the Japan 2012 Travel Diary, just use the 2012 Japan Trip tag, as the whole series will be added to it over time.

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Well, it’s 2013 and stuff

A belated happy new year to everyone ?

This post has been inspired by a couple of other blog posts I read earlier this month, specifically <a href="http://oldschoolgameblog viagra prix officiel.com/2012/12/31/2012-in-review/” onclick=”__gaTracker(‘send’, ‘event’, ‘outbound-article’, ‘http://oldschoolgameblog.com/2012/12/31/2012-in-review/’, ‘this post’);”>this post from Old School Game Blog, and this post from Insert Disk 2. So, I’ll start off with a year in review, gaming style!

2012 was notable for being a year where I caught up on some modding, took advantage of the high Australian dollar to start filling in some of the premium gaps in games I wanted to pick up and went to Japan. Over the years I’ve gone through and culled the volume of games on the shelves a number of times, and last year I went through and trimmed the last of the fat. Almost all of the games and hardware sitting in the nerd room are titles I actually want to play, if not today then some day, rather than owning them for the sake of owning them. There’s nothing wrong with the latter, but physical storage space dictates pragmatism, and as James points out on his post on Insert Disk 2, games are meant to be played, and so the cull has been made with this key thought I’ve held for a while now (but hadn’t necessarily acted on). I’ll still hold onto some interesting curios, like my C128D complete with keyboard and matching C= RGB monitor, but most of the duplicate hardware has been jettisoned.

However, it was also a year where I spent more time reading and writing about games rather than actually playing them.

Last weekend I did something I hadn’t done in ages – whiled away a Saturday afternoon playing through a random selection of titles I picked up in Japan on my Twin Famicom (thanks to Frank and Hollo for getting me on the Twin Fami bandwagon!), then went on to some Saturn games before the afternoon gave way to evening and the time came to switch off the nerd and get started on being domestic (or in other words, get cracking on cooking dinner).

This habit of thought and not action is not just centered on gaming – the house and the garden are both in serious need of attention, and as always in life it’s all about striking that balance so there’s also plenty of time to spend with Wifey.

So, 2013 is about change. Wanky I know, but stick with me for a moment.

First up, there will be less consumption of gaming info and more time actually playing games. I’ve taken a handful of sites off my RSS feeds (though I’ve kept most of the independent gaming blogs, like those linked to above) and am trying to spend less time getting distracted online, and therefore should spend more down time playing games rather than looking up esoteric information that feeds the addiction for more information (such as the fruitless hunt for info around, say, Virtua Fighter 3 on the Saturn).

As an extension of this, I’ll also catch up on a couple of modding projects so that gaming downtime is the best it can be. This includes chipping my PSone with a stealth chip so that I can play US and Japanese games without any hassles, fixing my DC following its recent interest in resetting all the time and replacing its dead battery, finally adding an AV mod to my A2600 (thanks to fellow modder Mamejay for the info from a while back) and getting a new RGB cable for my 32X that eliminates the jailbar effect that is killing the quality of its video output.

Beyond this, I’ve had two projects in the wings for the last few years I’d like to get a start on at some stage – a late-70s Japanese Space Invaders cocktail cab common in Australia back in the early 80s that has been gutted but needs to be actually rebuilt, as well as putting together a massive switchbox for all the hardware in the nerd room.

Outside of gaming, the house needs work with renovations and painting, and the neglected gardens need a stack of work to being them back to normal again so we can get the veggie patches happening for next spring, with hopefully some winter crops in there if we make it!

So, with this in mind and the important tenet of balance at the fore, I’ll be winding back my sporadic blogging output to something a bit more realistic, such as a monthly update, rather than the current intermittent schedule. Before that kicks in I’ll aim at finishing up posting the daily travel diary I kept when we were in Japan throughout February though, so don’t worry – that’ll still be sorted!

So, what kind of content can you expect this year then? I’d like to continue to playing around with our DSLR and get some more wallpapers up (Hollo’s also got me onto some fun lenses to try out to play with some depth of field effects), and there are a couple of projects I have in mind around writing about how we consumed and partook in gaming in Australia in the 90s as a point of difference to where we are today.

I also have a lot of photos and details around a stack of repair work and console mods over the last couple of years that could do with a write-up too, but realistically they take a bit of time and effort to document so I’m not sure how likely it is they’ll get done, especially when there are such a variety of excellent resources probably already out there on the topics I’d document on the blog.

I’ll also document the process used for restoring the old cocktail cab and the switchbox too, as I really enjoyed doing that for my Astro City overhaul a couple of years back. Time will decide which (if either) gets finished this year, as the switchbox is looking to be pretty complicated, and the cocktail cab will be a bit fiddly to restore.

… so I think that’s it. Long-winded as usual, but it’s a start to the new year, and hopefully a new outlook that will make it a great year ?

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