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October 25, 2005

Monster Manor II

OK, definitely come check out the Haunt if you can. As I've done for the past few years, I'm volunteering as part of the Security crew for the Haunt. This gives me access to all areas of the Haunt, and having walked through it a few times, it's definitely well done again this year.

Each year the haunt gets bigger and bigger, and we need more and more volunteers to help out. If you can spare the time, come by and volunteer. More info is available on the website I listed in my previous entry.

As for this year, if I know who you are, we need a few more security people to help out with the big crowds.
You need to:
Be relatively responsible (or at least act like it for the duration of the haunt each night).
Be relatively mature (or at least act like it for the duration of the haunt each night.)
Dress warmly, in dark colored clothes. Be prepared to walk/stand alot.
Be available during the nights during any of the upcoming Haunt dates (10/27-10/31). The more nights the better. The haunt runs from 7:00pm until the last person is through (generally around 10:00 pm or so).
Show up by 6:00pm or so each night you're available to get instructions and to get geared up.

Even if you can't or don't want to volunteer, I hope you'll come by and check out the Haunt.

October 16, 2005

Monster Manor

While I'm thinking about it. For those of you in the San Diego area, head out one of these weekends to the Mira Mesa Monster Manor! It's a rocking good haunt that donates it's profits to help fund the Mira Mesa Fireworks shows each year. Each year it has gotten bigger and better, and this year promises to be excellent!

Check it out at www.monstermanor.org

October 15, 2005

We're home.

Well, after another long travel day we're home. It does feel good to be home, though the change in culture again will take some getting used to. The flight back was significantly faster due to the jet stream, only about 9 hours instead of 12. Still, economy class is not built for big people, though at least this time I didn't need a shoehorn to get into my seat.

I've already unpacked the suitcase, and am now going to try to stay awake until at least 9:00 pm or so to start adjusting back to PDT. I think it's gonna be a bit of a losing battle though....

October 14, 2005

Sayonnara, Japan...

Well, today was a shopping day, so no pictures. Sorry! Today we wandered the major shopping areas looking for various "omiyage" or gifts to take back home to friends and family, and then tried to figure out how to get it to fit in the suitcases without crushing everything. Ah well, we'll get it all packed away sooner or later. Tomorrow (Saturday) we will be checking out of the hotel, and be winging our way home overnight. We'll arrive in the US in the early afternoon of the same day! Talk about jet lag!

I think my favorite part is being able to bring people who have never been to Japan, and showing them around. To share the beauty of Japan, and to see the wonder and delight in their faces as they experience a very different culture is greatly satisfying and fun for me. There are so many more places that even I've never been, and many favorites that I will never grow tired of re-visiting. I hope you all enjoyed the blog of the trip, thank you for stopping by and visiting. I had a great time doing the blog, and sharing the photos and experiences with everyone. Perhaps next time you can join me on a trip and experience it firsthand.

The blog will continue, but obviously, it will be a tad more mundane for a while. Perhaps as I sort through the hundreds of photos I took, I'll find some more to post up for you all.

October 13, 2005

Day 11 Photos - Kyoto

Today I ended up staying at the hotel. My ankle and legs were just not up to a lot of walking today, but, Brian and Tim soldiered on and went to the Philosopher's walk, and visited Ginkakuji Temple, Nanzenji Temple, and Eikan-Do temple. I gave Brian my camera for the day so he could take some shots and here they are. Unfortunately he doesn't exactly remember which was which, but I can guess at a few of these:

I think these are on the grounds at Ginkakuji.
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This is the Philosopher's Walk itself. It's a fairly long (1Km+) walk that winds along a stream, and is lined with cherry trees. In the spring the cherry trees are in bloom, and the walkway is crowded with people enjoying the beauty of the trees.
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I'm guessing Nanzenji temple...

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Probably Eikan-do....
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October 12, 2005

Day 10 Photos - Tokyo

Well, the travel is definitely taking it's toll. We've been going more or less non-stop for the past 11 days and the wear and tear is becoming evident. Brian's cold has him a bit on the rocks, and the constant walking is certainly wearing the feet and legs out of all of us. I twisted my ankle a few days ago, and it's not getting any better with all the walking, but, opportunities like this don't come around all the time for most of us so, we're all simply bearing down and dealing with it.

We had a good time today heading to Shin-Yokohama on the way to Tokyo. At Shin-Yokohama is the Ramen Museum. I know, you're thinking "Why a Ramen Museum?" Well, Ramen is a very popular food here in Japan, and there are many different styles of ramen. Every town in Japan has at least 1 ramen shop in it.
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The first instant ramen package, the one that started it all...
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The Governator in his youth, selling ramen.
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The basement of the building was converted to a replica of the Tokyo streets circa 1958 or so, and 8 of the top ramen restaurants around Japan have a storefront here. This is a trip down memory lane for many of the older Japanese who come to this museum, and you can see it in their faces as they see and hear the sights and sounds from the past. This is the most popular feature of the museum, here you can buy full size or small sample size bowls of ramen from the various stores. We sampled a few, and all were quite tasty and unique. The museum is a very popular stop, even offering a montlhy pass to get in! When we arrived a little before 11:00AM when the museum opens, there was already a fairly significant line of people waiting to get in. Only a few of them were silly tourists like us who were looking around upstairs at the exhibits. The rest immediately rushed downstairs to get to the restaurants. Later on as we were headed out, we noticed some of the little shops had lines that would take an hour or more to clear!
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Who was that masked ramen eater?!?
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Once in Tokyo we went to see the Imperial Palace. Or what was left of it. The palace burned down 19 years after it was built, and was never rebuilt. However, of course, you guessed it...there are gardens around it.
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The base of the original palace.
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A look at the amazingly tight fit of the stones at one of the gates.
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We also went to Akihabara, the electronics Mecca of Japan. Not much in the way of pictures for here, just a bunch of stores, but it was fun to explore a 9 floor store full of electronics of different kinds. Prices aren't necessarily the best these days with the exchange rate, but there are many items that aren't available stateside, due to marketing or other issues.

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We also went to the Ginza area. This is Tokyo Shopping Central. Here's some shots of just one of the streets in the area.
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October 11, 2005

Day 9 Photos - Kyoto

We decided to hit some of the places in Kyoto that we did not get to earlier.

First stop was Ninna-Ji - Founded in 888, this was also formally called the Old Imperial Palace of Omuro. The grounds around this place are gorgeous. But, it occurred to me that I was primarily showing you the outside of places, rather than some of the insides. Part of this is because many of the temples and such don't allow pictures inside, and part of it is because the shots really don't do justice to the richness of color and texture, but, I thought I'd show at least a few shots of the insides.

Here's one of the rooms. This and subsequent rooms have the same painting of the pine tree, but in different seasons. This is a stitched image so the room is a bit distorted.
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Part of the covered walkway leading around the temple, with a glimpse of the gardens beyond...
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Another view of the gardens from the surrounding walkways.
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Heading down one of the walkways....
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To where you can see this:
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A small Pagoda hidden in another section of the gardens.
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We also went to Daikakuji Temple. This temple was originally the detached palace of Emperor Saga in the late 800's. Later he decreed that the palace would be converted to a Shingon Buddhist temple.

One of the gorgeous painted screens in the temple.
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One of the images in the main shrine.
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And of course, what Emperor's palace turned temple would be complete without an amazing garden.
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Last on today's trip was Ryoanji Temple.

The temple is most famous for the Zen rock garden in the central area. This stitched image has a little distortion across it, but it captures the garden for the most part.
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Also on the grounds is a large pond, that on this day was still and nearly mirror-like in it's reflection. Unfortunately it was late in the day and quite cloudy so the light was not good for many of the pictures of the path around the pond, and even some of the shots of the pond, but here's one of the better ones.
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I call this one: Reflections
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October 10, 2005

Day 8 Photos - Nagoya

Well, today is a National Holiday - Sports Day - here in Japan. It's a busy day with a lot of people travelling about. We decided that today would be a good day to head to Nagoya, where my Father's side of the family originated. We used to have land and a home out here, but a number of years ago, we sold it as we did not want to continue to pay taxes on it nor would my inheriting it make it any easier (the taxation on inheritance out here is pretty exorbitant.) I had spent many a summer here in my youth, and had many fond memories of the area. My Grandfather, Grandmother, and several other more distant relatives are all buried in plots in the area, so I decided to visit them while I had the time.

While we were there, we also went to the Atsuta Shrine. The shrine once held one of the three sacred relics that were required to crown a new Emperor. The Shrine held a sword called "Grasscutter". The rain kind of suprised us, as when we left Kyoto it was sunny, and the weather report said that it would only be partly cloudy today...guess weather prediction is the same the world over.

Unfortunately, you can't go into see the Sword, all you can do is look at the outside. There was also a wedding going on at the shrine, which closed off another section. But the grounds are still beautiful.
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Sorry for the massive updates, but I wanted to get caught up on everything. Hope you all are enjoying the pics. I'm actually having a lot of fun working the Blog.

Day 7 Photos - Okayama

Okayama is one major stop north of Hiroshima. Of note is Okayama Castle, sometimes known as Crow Castle due to it's coloration. This castle was actually owned by the government for a while, who couldn't afford the upkeep, and actually tore down portions of the castle (presumably to prevent people from being injured due to the buildings being in disrepair). Later it was mostly destroyed in WWII, then rebuilt using concrete, (they even put in an elevator). The exterior is faithful to the original, just the interior is modern. This castle also houses a small but impressive collection of arms and armor, but unfortunatley they do not allow pictures of the exhibits for the most part.

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The contrast with the gold colored accents is quite striking. Here is a closeup of one of the accents. It's a carp. It was believed that putting symbols of water and or carp on the buildings would help prevent fire.
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The view from the top of Okayama castle is quite nice. It overlooks the Korakuen gardens, which is considered to be one of the 3 most beautiful gardens in Japan. This is another stitched photo.
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Of course we went to the gardens, and they are quite beautiful. Again, given that it's early fall, there are no flowers. Unfortunately since we're very early in fall, the leaves have not begun to change color yet either. Still, it's a very relaxing and beautiful place.
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A beautiful teahouse set in the gardens.
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I wonder where this will lead me...
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Day 6 Photos - Tsuyama

Day 6 is the trip to Tsuyama in the Shimane Prefecture for the Dojo celebration. Tsuyama is a small town in the mountains to the west of Hiroshima. The 1.75 hour bus ride to Tsuyama winds through some amazing scenery along the hillsides. I only have a few shots through the bus window, so they don't really do justice to the landscape.

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The celebration took place in what was formerly a Samurai residence. The exterior is maintained as it originally was, including carp in the surrounding water which were used as food in times of siege.
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Inside has been changed to be a martial arts training area, and conference center.
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Hrm...now where have I seen this before?
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A beautiful garden in the center of the complex. I stitched 3 pictures together to give you an idea of what it looks like.
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Everyone waiting patiently while the various speeches are being given. (Note this is before the fidgeting begins about 20 minutes later...)
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The USA crew in action. They did a great job!
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Group shot! There was a professional photographer there...he took about 20 minutes to get everything set up to start taking pictures. Needless to say everyone was fidgeting a bit by the end. Hopefully in a month or so we should be able to get copies of the "professional" shot.
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I have some pictures of the after party, but, they all came out a bit blurry...

October 09, 2005

Day 5 Photos - Miyajima

I love going to Miyajima. It's a small island near Hiroshima, about 20-30 minutes by ferry. On the island is the Itsukushima Shrine. A beautiful shrine that is built out over the water. When the tide is in, the shrine appears to be floating on the water. A huge Torii gate out in the water marks where the shrine is. Unfortunately a recent typhoon had caused some significant damage to the shrine, though repairs seemed to be moving along at a good clip.


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At the top of the island is a colony of monkeys that I had never managed to see before. Each time I went up there, they were usually off in the trees feeding. Well, this time they were there! They are quite accustomed to the presence of humans, though they are not tame. You can get remarkably close to them without causing alarm.
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One of the trails up the side of Mt. Misen, the main mountain on the island, showing damage from the typhoon.
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Also on the island is the Daishoin Temple. Tucked up on the slopes of Mt. Misen, it's a Buddhist Temple of the Shingon Sect. The stairs up to the temple are lined with these small statues of Buddha.
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At the temple is the Henshokutsu Cave. I don't know if I can adequately describe the feeling of walking into this small underground grotto. Entering the cave, there are three major sections to the cave, and the ceiling is lined with lanterns. When I went in only the center section of lanterns was lit, so the two outer rows were dark, enhancing the lighting in the room. The Cave is filled with various images of Buddha, and what resemble giant abacus beads that are printed with prayers. An amazingly peaceful feeling washed over me as I gazed about the room. I could have spent an hour trying to photograph this room and still not have gotten it. The best I can give you is this...

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October 08, 2005

Update

Sorry for the lack of updates. We've had a very busy few days here and with the lack of internet access in the hotel room it was hard to do any updates.

Right now we're in the Hiroshima Train station headed for Okayama. After we do a quick stop in Okayama to tour around, we will be headed back to Kyoto, where I know I should have access and I'll post up some of the pictures from the past few days.

October 06, 2005

Change of Plans

Well, as travel plans are wont to do, we changed plans midstream and went straight to Hiroshima instead. We may try to visit Okayama at some point, but we decided that dragging our suitcases all over town was a bad idea, and by the time we got to the Hotel, we really didn't have time to go back to Okayama, so we went to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial instead.


This place is a very moving monument. My own words are inadequate to express the nature of the memorial, so instead I will leave you with a few pictures, and a link to the Hiroshima Peace Park's official site. If you ever get the chance to come to Hiroshima and see it, it is well worth it.


The "Genbaku Domu" or A-Bomb dome. The blast was almost straight overhead of this building, which through some twist of fate allowed part of the structure to remain intact.
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The Children's Memorial - A monument to Sadako Sasaki, a child who developed Leukemia after being exposed to the bomb at age 2. At age 10 she succumbed to the disease, but not before trying to fold 1000 cranes in hopes of a miracle cure.
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The Cenotaph where the names of all of the victims of the A-bomb are stored, the eternal flame - symbol of peace, and the A-bomb dome.
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October 05, 2005

Transfer Day

Today we transfer to Hiroshima for a few days. On the trip down we will try to stop at Okayama to visit the Okayama Castle, and Gardens there. We will be in Hiroshima for 2 nights, including the Dojo Celebration, and then we will transfer back to Kyoto.

Day 3 Pictures - Nara

Today we went to Nara. Nara was once the Capital of Japan, before it moved to Kyoto, and thence to Tokyo.

In Nara Park, there are a great many temples and shrines, far too many to show here even if I had great pictures of all of them, which I don't. Being another wet and rainy day the pictures are a bit gray, but here are some of the better ones.

Kasuga Grand Shrine is known for the thousands of stone lanterns that line the path approaching the temple, as well as the metal lanterns inside the temple grounds.
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On the grounds of Nara Park there are a lot of tame (and coincidentally fat) sacred deer. For a small fee you can purchase deer cookies to feed the deer with. Needless to say the deer more or less instantly recognize when a tourist steps up to one of the stores that sells the cookies and begin swarming...
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Also in the park is Todaiji Temple, the largest wooden structure in the world. To give you an idea of the scale, look at the people standing at the entrance if you can see them in the picture. Also note the big bronze lantern near the front. This building, rebuilt in 1692 after a fire, is 2/3 the size of the original building.
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Here's a closer shot of the bronze lantern. Note that those are kids about junior high school age, moving around in front of the lantern when I took the shot.
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Inside the immense wooden structure is the Daibutsudan, or Great Buddha Image. Again, note for scale, the worker in blue attending to the candlesticks in front of the Daibutsudan. The Daibutsudan is about 53 feet tall! Each hand is taller than a typical human.
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Of course a structure as large as Todaiji has a number of massive support pillars. I'm guessing somewhere during construction, the workers put a hole in the column intending it to be up top, did it wrong, and simply flipped the column over and used the other side. Somewhere along the way it the legend cropped up that if you can fit through the hole, your wishes will come true. Most children of course can fit through this with ease...
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October 04, 2005

Day 2 Photos

It was rainy and wet, but still worth the time. If you ever get to Himeji, just be prepared for a LOT of walking. As it stands now (or rather sits now) my feet are very sore, and my thighs were burning on the walk back. A large grounds, and lots of steep stairs inside the castle itself, and all of the walking from yesterday combined to beat my legs up pretty good. It's only gonna get worse from here on out though. Ah well...

Here's the photos from day 2:

Himeji Castle
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If I don't get some pictures up for the dojo crowd, I'll probably be in trouble when I get back so..

Swords once gifted from the Shogun to the Lord at Himeji. Unfortunately this and the armor were behind glass, so that forced me to shoot from the side so I wouldn't get a big flash spot in the middle of my picture, so some of the detail is lost.
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A suit of armor.
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Himeji Castle Nishi-Oyasiki-Ato Garden Koko-En - These gardens were established in 1992 on the 100th aniversary of the establishment of the Himeji municipality. There are 9 gardens within the bounds, and are all designed as per the Edo period of Japan. Unfortunately, being as it is early fall, and rainy, most of the flowers were not in bloom, however, the grounds themselves are still gorgeous and very peaceful.

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And here's Brian and Tim with Himeji in the background, on the grounds of the Koko-En gardens.
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October 03, 2005

Day 2

On tap for today is Himeji Castle. It is where they shot the movie: Shogun, though in the movie it was referred to as Osaka Castle. The castle incorporated all the latest technology of the time, but was built near the end of the warring period so it was never attacked. The grounds have been reduced in size over time, but the place is still huge. I hope I can get some good pictures, though the weather forcast is for rain today so we shall see...

Selected images from day 1

Here's a few of the better images from day 1.

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Kinkakuji - Covered in 0.05 micron thick 24K gold leaf.

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Heian Jingu Shrine

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Part of the gardens behind Heian Jingu Shrine

October 02, 2005

We've arrived!

It's currently the morning of the 3rd, local time around 6:45am. I would have updated sooner but I did not have time to locate a hookup point, so what I've done is combine the updates I was writing for the busy travel day into one big update. Hopefully I'll be able to do more consistent updates now that we're here. There is wired access in the room, so I think updates should not be too big of an issue.


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10/1

Well, I'm here at the San Diego Airport - Commuter Terminal, and there is a wireless signal that is designated for guests to access...only problem is that it requires a username and password which I obviously don't have. You'd think since they went to the trouble of offering guest access that they'd put up a webpage for information on how to log in. Even if it means you need to sign up and pay, that information is better than just a password login screen with no info.

Ah well. Not a big deal since I'm really just killing time until my flight is ready to board.
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A 45 minute noisy turboprop ride and we're at LAX. A quick bus ride, and a short walk and we're at the Bradley International Terminal. It's amazingly busy for some reason, I'm guessing there's a couple of major flights leaving at about the same time. We stop for a quick bite to eat, then head through security and onto the flight.
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10/2

Well, we arrived in Japan after a fairly nasty 12 hour flight. Apparently the jet stream was fairly strong this time, so instead of a 10.5-11 hour flight, ours was slowed, still for the most part it was a nice smooth flight. We got a decent set of seats along the bulkhead. Gives us extra leg room but, for people with a large rear-end (such as me) it was an extremely uncomfortable, more-narrow-than-normal seat that I needed a shoehorn to get in and out of. The food was decent, and the traditional inflight movies have been converted to several choices that loop continuously that you can choose from and view on a small personal LCD screen attached to your chair. I watched Batman Returns which I hadn't seen in the theatre. Once we hit the ground, it was more or less non-stop, quarantine, immigration, baggage (ok, long stop here waiting for our luggage to come out) one of us got their luggage right away, the rest of us had to wait until more or less the end for ours to appear), then customs. Off to the train station to get the rail-passes exchanged. The ticket agent gave us tickets for the next train...which leaves in 3 minutes...so run-run-run to the platform and hop on the train.
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After arriving at Kyoto Station, we walked through the station to the New Miyako Hotel out of the west exit. After checking in, we all struggled to stay awake until a little later just so we can start adjusting to the time shift, but, it was a losing battle, and soon we were all crashed out around 9:30pm local time, which puts us at around 5:30am PDT. Sorry no pictures yet, but with all of the running around we didn't really have time to stop for snapshots. I promise once we start the real touring, there will be pictures.

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10/3

Well, at 2:30 am local time, I popped awake which is about 7:30 am PDT, so my body clock is of course was telling me to wake up. I know the others also were having the same problems. We all had a bit of trouble trying to stay asleep at that point, but we all tried to sleep until morning local time.

October 01, 2005

Travel Day!

Whew! This day seemed at once so far off, yet so close not too long ago, but finally it's here!

We take a small turboprop airplane from San Diego to LA, and then hop aboard a big 'ol 747 for an 11 hour flight to Osaka's Kansai Airport.

The usual frenetic last minute packing was somewhat averted this time by...*gasp*...starting my packing early! What a concept! Still, there's always that nagging worry that you forgot something. I keep endlessly running through the list in my head....passport: check!...tickets: check!...rail pass voucher: check!...toiletries: check!...travellers checks: check!...suitcase: check!...backpack: check!...