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July 28, 2008

Japan 2008 - Day 4

No pictures for today, sorry. The first major rain of the season hit, and it was quite the downpour, complete with thunder and lightning. It was actually quite refreshing. It caused the temperature to drop significantly, and of course walking around all wet from the rain helps as well. Today we went to Nagoya for some personal business. Visiting some of my ancestor's gravesites, and some distant relatives. Tomorrow we head to Hiroshima to visit some more relatives and do some sightseeing. We'll be staying at their house so I probably won't have internet there as well, but if I can find a connection I'll do some updates. If not, I'll just do updates later.

July 27, 2008

Japan 2008 - Day 3

Day 3 and we’re off to Himeji. Himeji is also sometimes called the White Crane castle, and has been the backdrop for several movies including James Clavell’s Shogun, and Ian Flemming’s You Only Live Twice. It’s a beautiful castle, and the Koko-en gardens nearby are phenomenal to visit. On this day, it happened to be one of the hottest days out here so far, and it was pretty brutal. The 1 KM walk from the station to the castle is normally not a problem, but when the temp climbs, it can be pretty nasty. The only saving factor today was there was a nice breeze, but still, hot is hot. Apparently there was some kind of record set today near here, of 39C. That's the equivalent of 102F, plus the humidity. Ouch!

Looks like they’ve rebuilt the bridge recently.

Himeji Castle.

The west bailey is an interesting area. Mainly built inside the wall, it served a few functions. Housing for the women, storage of various goods, and defensive fortification, to name a few. The area is divided into a number of rooms and long corridors. Here’s some attempts at artistic shots. It’s actually hard to get some of these shots because of the number of people running about, but a little patience eventually results in a cleaner shot.

Japan 2008 - Day 2

Day 2 saw us taking an easy morning exploring the JR Kyoto Station. This is the major train station here in Kyoto, and boy is it big. The station not only serves the bullet train system, but also serves several local trains connecting the nearby cities, and also serves the Kyoto subway system, and is the major bus hub as well. On top of that it holds the Kyoto Granvia Hotel (a fairly swanky hotel), connects to 2 underground malls (The Cube, and Porta), contains its own mall (Asty Road), as well as the Isetan department store, and numerous other small shops.

Department stores in Japan are a bit different than in the US. In Japan, the department stores tend to be several floors in size, with the top one or two floors housing some fancy restaurants. The middle floors down to the first floor, house all of the usual departments: Men’s clothes, Women’s clothes, Housewares, etc. The basement or even sub-basement houses some less expensive restaurants (more like the pre-made food section at your local supermarket, only with each stall or section housing a different kind of food), as well as a grocery store. Isetan has 11 floors and 2 basement floors.

My recommendation whenever you come to Japan is to get your meals and such in the department store basement. It’s much cheaper then eating at the hotel, or the local restaurants, and there’s usually quite a variety so you can pick and choose whatever you’d like to have. Next on the list would be eating at the mall or train station restaurants, as they’re the next cheapest, then eating at the top of the department store or at the hotel.

The station itself is quite the architectural marvel. It stretches up on either side about 12 stories from the central section. The front is a glass affair that is supported on the inside by quite the architectural grid. On the top of each side is a small garden and several vantage points where you can look out over the city.

This shot is from about halfway up the west side, looking up towards the top. The big group of people to the left is a tour group waiting to go into the museum. (Did I mention the station also houses a museum?)

And back down towards the bottom. You can see the amazing gridwork that is in place to hold up the front glass façade.

Here’s the Happy Terrace at the top.

And the garden on the other side.

Along the rooftop is what’s called the Skyway, running along the upper framework. I imagine at night it offers some nifty views.

Also on tap for Day 2 was a trip to Nara (yet another of Japan’s ancient capitals.) The Nara tour consists of Todaiji Temple, the world’s largest wooden building, which houses the world’s largest bronze statue of Buddha, and Kasuga Grand Shrine, which houses some 2000+ stone lanterns, and 1000+ bronze lanterns.

It’s really hard to get a sense of the scale of Todaiji unless you go there and see it for yourself. My challenge has always been to try to get a decent picture of the Buddha inside, when you can’t use a tripod, and the inside only lit through candles, the main doorway, and a few windows here and there. Well, as technology has marched on, it’s become easier, and I managed to get some decent shots, including some reasonable shots of his 2 assistants, and 2 guardians.

My niece wanted to feed the sacred deer despite my warnings regarding them. The sacred deer may look tame and cute, but, they’re really pretty aggressive. Supposedly if you hold the crackers up out of the way you can get them to “bow” for the crackers, but, they pretty much recognize the instant someone buys the crackers from the vendors, then start swarming.

Unless you’re significantly taller than my niece, this swarming doesn’t give you much of a chance to get the crackers above your head. They’re not content to wait for you to decide to feed them, and some will start nipping, as she found out the hard way. No blood, just a little bruising to both her ego and her skin.

Some of the lanterns at Kasuga Shrine. The lanterns are lit twice a year during special festivals. Before they used to use candles, but now I believe they use kerosene so they’ll burn longer. The lanterns represent donations to the temple from various families.

Didn’t seem as hot today, though we did take it easy.

July 25, 2008

Japan 2008 - Part 1

Well, we arrived in Japan more or less on schedule. Two plane transfers and a bus ride later, we arrived at the Rihga Royal Hotel. It’s a nice hotel. The rooms are reasonably spacious, it’s clean and neat, if a bit conservative in it’s décor. There’s a shuttle bus that runs from the front of the hotel to the train station a few minutes away, which is very convenient. Some minor nitpick points, they charge you ¥1050 / 24hours of internet access per computer. A bit inconvenient if you have multiple computers and no router. Given this fact, the updates are going to be fewer, but larger, so I’m not always paying for the connection.

Also, you can’t really crank the AC down, which is good for the environment but sucks when you’re hot and sweaty and want to cool down NOW. The AC has 4 modes, off, low, med, high. No degree setting or anything. High is adequate to get and keep the room cool eventually, but it’s not really strong enough to crank the temp down in a hurry or give you that quick chill-down mode after you come in from outside.

Speaking of hot and sweaty. Yes, it’s very hot and humid. I estimate it was about 33-35C yesterday which translates to about 91-95F plus the humidity. I went through about 6L of water/fluids yesterday on tour and I was still dehydrated before the end of it. When the sun isn’t out it’s not too bad, but when the sun pops out from behind the clouds…Wow. Just…Wow. On a side note, I’ve been experimenting with some “travel” clothing. Light weight, quick drying, breathable, wicking, etc. the stuff is typically made of nylon or nylon derivatives. I’ve got some shirts and pants from REI, and T-shirts and underwear from TravelSmith.com, though the t-shirts appear to be made by Ex-Officio. The idea is that you pack two sets of clothes (thus not having to lug giant suitcases about if you’re on a long trip), and that you just wash one set in the sink or bathtub and let it dry overnight while you wear the other set. I wasn’t sure how the stuff would work so I bought 3 sets in case stuff wouldn’t dry properly. Well, I can honestly say the stuff works. It breathes, and wicks very well, and washing it in the bathtub then hanging it to dry in the hotel room has worked very well, much better than expected, actually. I probably could have done the 2 sets route, but having the 3 sets gives me a little flexibility. Now, if I was off in the jungle somewhere, they probably wouldn’t dry overnight, but, it’s working well for me here.

Anyway, we did the Kyoto 1-day tour yesterday. Those of you who remember, or went with me on my last trip will recognize the list of locations we went to. Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji Temple, Imperial Palace, Heian Jingu Shrine, Sanjusangendo Temple, and Kiyomizu Temple. I have fewer pictures this time, because I’ve been to these places repeatedly, and by the end I was definitely in the early stages of heat exhaustion.

To change things up a bit, I’m going to try to show some other shots of the areas we went to rather than just the typical images. Anyways, here are the pics:

Here's one of the entry ways to Nijo Castle. Nijo Castle was one of the ancient capitals of Japan. Something I noticed about the old capitals of Japan...they moved around...alot. For a few centuries it's here, for a few centuries it's there...Guess that's what happens when you have a culture that is over 2000 years old.

Here's a closeup of the detail work under the top of the gate:

The gardens on the castle grounds:

The moat surrounding the castle:

My niece, Kaelyn, and my nephew, Dale, in front of Kinkakji:

Postcard shot:

Heian Jingu Shrine:

Being as Heian Jingu is a Shinto shrine, if you are a follower of the Shinto religion, you wash your hands and rinse out your mouth before approaching to speak to the spirits. Here are two of the fountains for that, I thought the figures were interesting.

Some of the amazing detail work on the railings that segregate the area:

Kaelyn and Dale in the gardens behind Heian Jingu.

The bridge that crosses the pond in the gardens behind Heian Jingu

No new/interesting pictures for Sanjusangendo, or Kiyomizu.

July 21, 2008

Japan - 2008

Well, the trip is in 2 days. I'm leaving on July 23, returning August 3. This is my nephew's HS graduation gift from his parents, and I get to be his (and my Niece's) tour guide/chaperone while we're there.

The basic itinerary is:
7/23 - Travel Day - SAN to LAX, LAX to NRT (that's San Diego to Los Angeles, and Los Angeles to Narita airport in Tokyo) Leave San Diego around 10:00am
7/24 - Arrive at NRT, then NRT to ITM - after arriving Tokyo we transfer to Osaka. Then we take a bus from Itami Airport, Osaka, to Kyoto. Should arrive at the hotel around 9:30pm Japan time. Japan is +16 hours from PDT.
7/25-7/28 - Kyoto and day trips to nearby areas.
728-7/31 - Hiroshima and nearby day trips.
8/1-8/2 - Tokyo and nearby day trips.
8/3 - NRT to LAX, LAX to SAN. Leave Tokyo around 4:00pm, arrive in San Diego around 3:00pm

Some potential highlights of the trip (aside from the usual places I've already been):

  • Manga Museum in Kyoto

  • Iwakuni - Cool ribbon bridge, made of wood, with no nails.

  • Japanese Baseball - We'll see the Hiroshima Carp on 7/29 - for those of you who are not baseball fans, Japanese Baseball is a whole different crowd experience than US baseball...

  • Studio Ghibli Museum - I really hope we can get in. I'm a big Miyazaki fan.

Anyways, if I can, I'll be updating the blog with pics and such while I'm over there, but there's no guarantees I'll have a connection (or be willing to fork over the costs for an internet cafe!)

The big drawback will be the weather. Japan in the summer time is miserable hot. It's the typhoon season, so temperatures are usually in the high 80-s to 90's, plus high humidity and lots of rain. You can see the weather over on Weather.com or whatever weather site you care to use.
Here is a link to the weather.com site for Kyoto. Then again, maybe I'll manage to sweat off a few pounds while I'm there...;)

100 Pushups - Week 2

Well, week 2 went without any issues. As in week 1, the rest periods for me seemed longer than necessary, but, I can tell things are getting just a little easier each time. Unfortunately I'll be off for the next 2 weeks so I may end up starting over, but we'll see what I can do.

July 08, 2008

100 Pushups - Week 1

Ok, so I didn't get started on this as soon as I would have liked, but I've officially started now.

My initial test was pathetic, and only served to reinforce the fact that, yes, I am pathetically out of shape. Definitely a rank 1 starter.

I'm finding that the hardest thing to do is to maintain good form throughout the push-up. Like most people I suspect, my butt either wants to lag or lead. I have a harder time keeping everything lined up, but, I'm still working at it. The first day went surprisingly easily, with the rest periods longer than I needed for recovery. Day 2 went easier than expected, given how my body felt, but again, the rest periods seemed longer than I needed. I also found that for whatever reason, it was a little easier to hold form (though by no means is it perfect). Day Three is coming up.

I'll have more updates as I progress.