My sister is a big pain.

So I may have mentioned what a pain it is to shop for my sister. Function doesn’t matter all the time, just whether things are “cute” or not. And then sometimes function does matter. Basically she’s a pain in my ass.

She sent me on another smaller pen quest (only two pens) and I bought a couple more address books for her. I doubt she’ll like either of the address books and one of the two pens doesn’t seem to exist in this part of Japan. Nobody had even heard of the company in two stores. Whatever. In any case, I also found out that her friend Carolyn, who was supposed to get one of these address books is ALSO a big pain in my ass for the exact same reasons as my sister.

Other than that, I have little to report. I bought myself a watch with a 24-hour hand because they don’t seem to exist in the US on watches less than $1000, and I found a Seiko here for $360-ish that had exactly what I was looking for. I can’t begin to tell you how long I was looking for a watch with the 2nd hour hand (usually set to GMT) which was yet another piece of my weird ham radio geekery.

The rest of the day was just a travel day. I got on my train on car 6 because it was about to leave the station with little notice and my seat was on car 12. I got to walk through the smoking car and wow that was awful. The whole car was blue with smoke. In any case, I made it back to Toyama with no surprises, and my mom seems fine. At least she seemed to like the two things I bought for her so she’s not as big a pain as my sister and Carolyn. Yeesh.

Oh, and I should have started doing some of the vacation workouts already. I’ve decided that since I’m on vacation and not near a gym, I’m going to be a fat lazy pig. The biggest workout I got was carrying 3 bags (one full of gifts) from Osaka to Toyama. These train stations need a lot more elevators.

Uh wuggah wuh, uh wuggah wuh.

There are a lot of things that make me wonder when I’m in Japan. Why was the hotel restaurant full of Germans yesterday and Koreans today? Why, for chrissake, do Japanese men wear tan shoes with black suits? How did my old co-worker’s son spend $2000 in two months on his cell phone bill? And why the hell was this girl reading a “CSI:Miami” paperback on the train this morning?

I may have forgotten to mention that I had them change my room last night. I’m now facing the train station instead of a wall and while I don’t watch the trains go by all the time, it’s fun to look out the window when I want to. And there’s that building that seems to be missing its middle.

In any case, I went to visit my friends the Maedas today. They run Maeda Cycle with their grandpa and we went out to sushi for lunch.

To get there I took the train and walked a couple of miles, probably, past my old apartment and to their store. I asked directions several times and people kept telling me, in Japanese, “Boy, that’s a long way from here.” I guess nobody walks in Japan any more. My apartment was on the top floor, second from the left, and was kind of a dump.

After I left the Maedas it was time for some serious shopping. I went into the middle of Osaka, to Shinsaibashi, to get my mom a Lesportsac backpack with little octopi on it. It took me about an hour to get there and I think I realized I’d never actually been there before. It’s a foreigner’s paradise, and I never particularly wanted to hang out with foreigners when I was living here. In any case, that wasn’t nearly as tiring as looking for my sister’s pen order. The bookstore has racks of pens and it’s kind of hard to figure out what’s where. And geez, she wanted a specific pens like a “Uni-Ball Signo DX 0.38mm in normal colors (black or navy).” Turns out that pen didn’t actually exist even though three guys were checking the shelves and one of them even called the manufacturer. All for a two-dollar pen. The pen ordeal took me about an hour, the same as going four subway exits and down the shopping district to Lesportsac and back.

I bought my mom a shortwave radio at her request (her old one broke) and then I took a break for dinner at Mos Burger. I can’t believe I used to eat this along with fries and only weighed 145 pounds.

I suppose it’s all OK because after doing a little shopping for myself (I bought a couple of t-shirts) I had mochi filled with ice cream.

Time for some sleep!

They sprung my ma.

My mom’s out of the hospital! Hooray! And since she sounded fine the first day, and even better on subsequent days, I’m thinking she’s fine. She probably just had poo-related problems. That’s my opinion and the opinion of at least 2 of the 3 Drs. Kawasaki.

I spent the day with my aunt and my pseudo-aunt and pseudo-uncle. I have pictures of most of the day in fuzzy iPhone style. It should have been multimegapixel sharpness since I bought a new digital camera, but it turns out that when they tell you that the battery isn’t pre-charged in Japan, they mean it.

In any case, I wasn’t bleary from the middle-of-the-night 3AM phone call from the burglar alarm company (the contractors disconnected the fire alarm again), nor was I too bad off from my friend’s SMS text message asking for my address soon afterwards. I boldly went forth to stand in front of the shiny camera display and bought another Panasonic Lumix, this time an DMC-FX37. As I mentioned earlier, it didn’t have any electrons in the battery, so it was a paperweight today. It would have done a much better job of the field of cosmos than my iPhone.

I probably would have taken a lot more pictures of the flora if I didn’t think that would turn me into my father. I’m already collecting cameras like he did.

My uncle has weird ideas of how I need to eat more meat or something, so he took me to the “Volks Family Restaurant” where he told me to order a lunch steak like he did. I had a doria instead. It’s sorta like a casserole. Volks was near his prize-winning garden (he won a prize last year and this year as well).

There’s both my pseudo-aunt and pseudo-uncle at the garden.

The garden and Volks are also close to the Minoo waterfall. I haven’t been there since my first date with my ex-fiancee about 20 years ago. Here’s my aunt (on the right) and my pseudo-aunt in front of the waterfall.

We hung around their house for a while and had dinner at the cafeteria near the garden. Today I had several of the things I wanted to eat last year all on the same day again: roasted Japanese sweet potatoes at the waterfall, and croquettes and roast mackerel at the cafeteria. Oh, and a co-worker from Mitsubishi who lives in my relatives’ neighborhood stopped by and we talked about old times for a while. Another uneventful but fun day in Japan.

Vacation is a time for dieting and exercise.


So I ditched my hospitalized mom and proceeded to Osaka on my own. I met my aunt here because that was the plan, but we both were here early and did different things to kill the time. Last year when I visited for the first time in 16 years, I had a list of things I wanted to eat. I think I ate most of them quickly. There was saba (mackerel), croquettes, tako-yaki (octopus dumplings), and most likely other things I can’t remember right now. I had most of the list finished on my first day with my pseudo-aunt and pseudo-uncle (for those who don’t remember, they’re my mom’s older sister’s in-laws, so not really related to me). This year I figured I should get a Big Man burger from Sasebo Burger, since I was eyeing it every time I went by last year.

This is a triple burger, whatever that is, but it has ham and egg and probably something else. All I can say is that it’s not all that large, and it’s not a cheeseburger.

The set also came with “jaga fry” which are like jo-jo’s with salt and pepper.

In case you were thinking all I ate today was unhealthy, I also went to Mr. Donut.

I also had time to go to a couple of camera stores to see if I could buy a charger for my digital camera. Apparently, they don’t stock chargers and they have to be ordered directly from the manufacturer. I thought this was a good chance to buy yet another new camera, but I haven’t quite decided if I want to risk spending all my cash on a camera since I may need it to pay my mom’s hospital bill. A nice Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 to replace my DMC-FX9, whatever the difference might be. Or you might just have to live with the fuzzy iPhone pictures.

Time to get some sleep in this room that faces an office building!

Exciting day in Japan.

Well, not really. The best part is that my mom looks a lot better and it seems like she had yet another misdiagnosis of pneumonia. She has no fever nor any other obvious symptoms and we (me and some real doctors) playing armchair quarterback think she just had volumetric shock.

All I did today, really, was go to the hospital a couple of times. I did have lunch at a Japanese all-you-can-eat restaurant and as you’d expect from an all-you-can-eat restaurant, it was so-so. I’m ditching my mom, leaving her in the capable hands of Dr. and Mrs. Kawasaki who we were visiting here in Toyama, and heading to Osaka tomorrow. For some reason, my aunt wants to meet me there and stay in the same hotel. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with my aunt but it’s probably not going to be quite as bad as sitting around in a hospital.

Second day on the island.

It was hard to sleep in the inn because of all the noise. Not from all the drunken revelry of the middle-aged Japanese men (which usually happens in these places) but from the wind hitting my side of the building. It rattled the windows and kept most of the people awake, but I had earplugs in. My camera is still dead, but here are some grainy iPhone pictures instead.

We went around the southern half of the island and saw lots more weird stuff. We finally ran into other traffic as we got close to the tourist spots like the gold mine and the bird refuge. We ate at a popular soba restaurant that only had seating for about 20 people and was about half-full but didn’t see hardly anyone else in the town. Like I said before, there’s a lot of historical things on Sado Island, but not that many people.

I was asleep as we got to the pagoda so I’m not sure what its significance is.

We almost got stuck on the island, like I did last time, because of high seas. We ended up not even delayed and everyone was on their way. Unfortunately, my mom got sick on the train and looked bad enough that we called an ambulance and I’ve already told that part of the story.

Stuck on the island.

Here’s day 2 of my trip to Japan, posted on day 4. I’m up early because we didn’t get back from the hospital until about 12:30AM but my aunt kept calling around 7. The people I’m staying with like to sleep in and I’m OK with that, but my jet lag makes me get up early. Right now my tentative plan is to ditch my mom here if it’s OK with the people I’m staying with and go meet my aunt in Osaka. She has my mom’s bank passbook (for people old enough to remember passbooks) and I need to get that anyway.

We took the “Jet Boat” to Sado Island today. The Jet Boat is a hydrofoil made by Boeing in Seattle and goes about 50mph, cutting the trip from 2 1/2 hours on the regular ferry to just 1 hour. We spent the rest of the day driving all the way around the northern half of the island. Sado Island is an interesting place. There aren’t many people but historically there were interesting people exiled there, like the founder of the Nichiren sect of Buddhism and former deposed emperors. There are a lot of historic sites but you don’t see many cars until you hit the touristy areas. The coast of the island is quite rocky, and you can barely see it in the picture of me horsing around (which was requested by the brains behind the gym). We never stopped down by the water, but if we did you’d see some pretty rough beach.

The picture is next to the “two turtles”. They’re next to another “turtle” that happens to be “One of Japan’s three Largest Rocks.” I’m not sure what that means. It wasn’t the season for the “Gregariousness of Yellow Day Lilies” either.

After we looped around the northern half of the island, we went to the highest point on the island. Just like most of Japan, Sado Island has a lot of steep volcanic hills. Here’s a picture of the plains that are located in the wasp-waist of the island.

We’re staying at a traditional Japanese minshuku tonight, which means no intarweb, sleeping on the floor, and a communal bath. We did get a spectacular dinner with more fish than I should eat in several meals. Crab, a dozen types of sashimi, tempura, zarusoba, shabu-shabu, turban shell, and the grossest thing was a pair of live abalone we grilled at the table. The worst part about it is that I don’t even like abalone that much.

I hope to have more pictures as well, but I forgot to bring a charger for my camera and it doesn’t seem to charge via USB. Phooey.

So much for my vacation.

We made it off the island and survived the traditional Japanese inn and the abalone being cooked alive on the table in front of us, but as soon as we hit the train my mom started having stomach pains. By the time we were off the train she was shivering uncontrollably and we had to call an ambulance. I have now experienced a Japanese ambulance (chaotic and 3rd world) and a Japanese ER waiting room. She’s now in a room with 3 other people while she recovers from pneumonia.

So I guess the rest of my vacation may be spent sitting around a hospital. And then figuring out how I’m going to pay for my mom’s hospital stay because we don’t have Japanese insurance. Hooray.

Finally in my hotel.

I’m pooped. The worst way to start the trip was to wake up repeatedly in the middle of the night having to rush to the bathroom, but I’m not the one who gets to decide these sorts of things. We left home at 10:30AM for a flight that turned out to be later than my mom thought, and we left Portland at 1:55PM. We arrived in Narita around 5PM Japan time, which makes it around 4AM Portland time. We boarded a train to Tokyo which took about an hour, and here’s a picture of my mom’s friend in the train. She came to meet us at the airport and is going north with us.

Here’s a picture of Tokyo’s train station which doesn’t look nearly as chaotic as it really is because you can’t see all the people rushing around. You also can’t see the sheer number of dark suits people are wearing. Probably because they’re all rushing around and hide from my camera.

The people rushing around Tokyo station on Friday night.

When we got to Tokyo, we waited for the bullet train for another hour, and then took four hour trip to Niigata. Or at least I think it took that long. It’s like 7AM Portland time right now and I’m beat. I’m recharging all the batteries on all my various crapola, and posting this nonsense when I really should be sleeping. It’s been over 24 hours since I rolled out of bed and brushed my teeth. What’s a geek to do?

Well, it’s off to Sado Island tomorrow. More later.

Man, I’m bad at packing.

So I’m leaving for Japan tomorrow and I haven’t started packing. In fact, I doubt I’ll do any packing at all tonight. I’m planning on going to bed early and doing it all at the last minute. Honestly, it’s the way I usually pack. It’s a vacation, after all, and last year I even packed a pair of slacks that just went to Japan and then came back with me without being worn. All I really need are a bunch of t-shirts and a couple pairs of jeans, I think. Long sleeve shirts for the days it’s colder. No big deal.

The hard part is deciding which laptop to take and backing it up before I go. Pretty geeky.

In any case, it’ll be different than the usual work-gym-Powell’s routine I usually write about. Andiamo.

Great, NOW I get sick.

First, I have a question: who’s the fat sleepy looking guy on the inside of my passport?

I had to leave work early today and even skipped out on the gym because I feel like doodie. Mainly it’s something that you could call the “stomach ‘flu” which means I really can’t get very far from a bathroom. This is even after all the weird concoctions I’ve been drinking to try and stop this. Seirogan, Pepto Bismol, etc. The worst part is that the bathroom next to my bedroom still isn’t finished.

And, of course, I’m supposed to leave for Japan in two days. Yeesh.

Speaking of bathrooms, I went out to look at medicine cabinets today. All I wanted was a nice recessed cabinet with a mirror in front of it. No frame, no wood, just mirror. I found one I like except it’s $1126. Yeah. It’s a mirror, opening up to a cabinet with mirrors inside. Electrical outlets inside, too, and a nightlight built in but I’m still not about to cough up a grand for medicine cabinet.

I really need to be making more money if I’m going to shop for house parts like that.