Japan Day 6 – Wandering around Umeda

Today was a day to wander around Umeda with my mom, sister, aunt, and aunt’s sister-in-law. It always involves eating and shopping for odd things. First was my failure to pick a decent place to eat. We went for omurice, or rice omlettes, and there was a good place at the top of Yodobashi Camera but the place we went was in the basement of the Hankyu Sanbangai.

That’s my mom, my aunt, and my not-really-my-aunt.

It just wasn’t all that tasty. Not awful, but not great.

Afterwards we went wandering around shopping at Yodobashi Camera at first, getting hats for my mom and my aunt. My mom kept telling my aunt to throw away her hat since it’s 30 years old, but you know how little a younger sister’s opinion can mean at times. My favorite t-shirt shop is gone (!) because of remodeling to Yodobashi Camera and so I really haven’t bought that many things for myself. I bought a gift for Dr. Kawasaki, who was given some sort of award by the Emperor of Japan, and I bought my mom a calendar. I suppose I bought myself a LAN cable that I didn’t really need and some batteries, but those hardly count as anything interesting. I’ve tried to buy things at Uniqlo, but they’re out of my size in the colors I want and there’s always another Uniqlo down the street from wherever I’m going.

In any case, we were tired and we went back to Hankyu Sanbangai to get our yearly green tea and dumplings. This is probably the third picture of the same thing on my blog. Or maybe it’s the fourth. In any case, it’s delicious.

I think my aunt, my mom, and my not-really-my-aunt would agree.

After that we went looking for the new rooftop garden that was designed, in part somehow, by my sister’s old piano teacher’s niece. My sister’s old piano teacher still calls my mom for hours at a time several times a week (and sometimes several times a day) and would never let her hear the end of it if we hadn’t gone to see the rooftop garden. If we found the right one, it’s at the top of the fancy Isetan department store. But you know what’s also at the top of the fancy Isetan department store, at the entrance to the garden? A convenience store!

The garden itself is a work in progress and not completely interesting, but I did take some pictures.

A panorama looking north-ish, where I lived-ish. Even if you click on the picture and expand it, the place I lived is a microspeck on the image.

The trip down was more interesting than the elevator up to floor 10, the escalator to floor 11, and the the climb up the stairs to floor 14. There are a set of escalators in the covered atrium that go from floor 10 to floor 7, floor 7 to floor 4, and floor 4 to floor 1. It was just short of being spectacular. Very interesting, though.

We said goodbye to Mrs. Takanaka (my not-really-my-aunt) and my sister and I continued shopping at Hanshin where I did buy myself a plastic Hanshin Tiger’s card. Later we went to dinner at Daimaru and even more shopping at Tokyu Hands, a Japanese drug store (for yet more Japanese fingernail polish for my sister), and Sofmap (a computer/camera chain). And yet I still didn’t buy myself anything more than that plastic card. I’m failing at this consumerism thing, but it’s still more fun than being at work.

Japan Day 5 – Travel to Osaka

We left Toyama today around noon and, fortunately, I wasn’t as hung over as everyone else thought I’d be. That’s because I hid from the drinkers and went to Baskin-Robbins instead but I still didn’t sleep worth a darn last night.

We got into Osaka in a rain storm to the hotel that we had so much trouble booking. And wouldn’t you know it, they put us in a couple of smoking rooms. Fortunately, that was easily fixed. In the evening I got to meet my old co-worker’s family. He’s remarried and now he has three boys. They seem like good kids, though.

Oh, and I googled it and it looks like Sodick is a real company, not just a bad sign on a building.

Japan Day 4 – More Toyama

We were joined in Toyama by more of the Kawasaki clan and on our travels through town we made a short trip to Koffe, a specialty coffee roaster south of the train station. The owner even made a trip to Ventura to demonstrate the Japanese method of making single cups of drip coffee. My sister and I also got a cappuccino and I’d recommend looking up the coffee shop if you’re in Toyama.

The coffee was delicious!

Japan Day 3

We were in Toyama for day 3, going to a hot springs and shopping at the local mall. Not many pictures, though, because there’s really no reason to take pictures of a bunch of old naked dudes or of the inside of a mall. The most confusing thing to me at the hot springs was when I was looking for the toilet. There was a sign for the “Rest Room” which turned out to be a room full of lounging chairs for after you soak and there was a sign for the “Bath Room” which turned out to be the way to get to the actual baths. I finally found it, along with a sign for the “Rocker Room” where they disappointingly kept all the lockers.

I did get a picture of a barber shop with more than a normal allotment of barber poles.

Japan Day 2 – Road Trip

Our usual second day in Japan. We drove from Maebashi with my mom’s friend Mieko to Toyama to see our friends the Kawasakis. It was a beautiful day in Maebashi.

We headed towards the expressway and saw some things I found interesting, including a zinc factory built on a hill. Most structures I see nowadays are built on flat land.

As we headed towards Nagano, there were some interesting hills and I think one of them is the one that the writer of Crayon Shin-chan fell from.

We got on the Japanese expressway (with a speed limit of 70-80kph – a non-speedy 44-50MPH) and headed towards Nagano Prefecture.

On the way we went to Obuse which is famous for chestnuts and the Hokusai museum. I don’t think it was worth waiting 1 1/2 hours for the chestnut rice lunch, but it was pretty good. That’s my mom on the right.

The Hokusai museum was also on the same level of interesting but I’m not sure if I’d go out of my way to get there. There was a sign that was worth the price of entrance. I”m not sure why it was so funny at the time, but my sister and I were laughing so hard I thought I was going to pass out.

We made it to Toyama and I passed out immediately after dinner. I’m getting old.

Japan Day 1

Not much to say about the first day in Japan because we got to Narita at 5PM (1AM Portland time) and after getting our rail passes and my rental cell phone, we got on a bus for Maebashi. Four hours later, we arrived at the train station in Maebashi and went out for dinner with our friends. The big surprise is that we were met by Dr. Kobayashi who is generally too busy to see us. It’s always around 10:30PM by the time we get to dinner but the okonomiyaki restaurant is open at that time.

I passed out soon afterwards. I saw an interestingly tiny car, on the way home, though.

Tired and stressed?

I’ve been tired at the gym before and today was quite special. I’m thinking it might have been a good idea to take a nap instead, but I often think that when I go to the gym. But now that I look at it in retrospect, I probably do need a rest. Good thing I’m going to be eating instead of exercising for two weeks.

I usually don’t get very stressed out about my trips to Japan. I think it takes me about 10 minutes to pack, if you don’t count the time I spend deciding what sorts of electronic entertainment I’m going to pack in my carry-on. That takes another 10 minutes at least. Once in a while I can get nervous about traveling and sometimes it’s subconscious, keeping me from sleeping well the night before, but I know that as soon as the plane leaves the ground I just need my ID and my credit card and I’m OK. Other than that I don’t worry too much. This year I might be getting more stressed than usual because I had a couple of weird dreams. One I was in an airport transferring to my Japan flight, wondering why I wasn’t on my direct flight from Portland to Narita. Second I was buying Japanese potato chips with two co-workers, wondering why I was in Japan working stuck eating junk food instead of being on vacation eating something better.

I also remember some sort of dream where I was in a graveyard watching ghosts hover over their gravestones. I’m missing Halloween, but I’m not missing Halloween I guess.

Crankity cranky.

Sometimes after going to the gym I feel kind of cranky. I figure this may be because of low blood sugar, or maybe it’s because I spent over an hour in a doctor’s waiting room for the second time in a week. Last time it was worse and closer to two hours, but it was in a specialist’s office where the news for the person before me could have been really, really bad. Today the doctor was pretty thorough and nice, so I wasn’t mad after all the waiting but my feelings of discontent might have just built up over the day. Or maybe it’s just because I’m tired and my blood sugar really was low.

The countdown for Japan continues. It’s an extra $120 for “Economy Plus” seating and for 11+ hours of flying I think it may actually be worth it. That’s x3 because I’m going with my sister and my mom, but why not? They have to sit for 11+ hours as well. And I don’t want my mom getting blood clots in her legs again. That’s worth a lot more than $120.

Getting ready for Japan.

It’s almost time for my yearly trip to Japan. I was thinking about all the silly things I’ve bought there, like a knit/fleece and gloves with the iPhone touchscreen-capable fingertips. Those things are probably sold here (I saw North Face had similar gloves), but I realized every time I use them I think about my trips to Japan.

Other than that there’s nothing new except being kind of tired lately. Might be psychological or the weather dropping 20°F but I’m not the only one who has felt tired lately. I figure it might just be the seasons changing. Now if only I could sleep better (or have the sense to get to bed at some normal time), the tiredness might help out.

Busy and tired.

Honestly, I tried posting earlier in the week and it was, well, weak. I can summarize in a few words, tired, gym, up too late. Rinse, later, repeat. I didn’t actually get it put up onto the intarwebs for the three people who read it because MY COMPUTER LOCKED UP. Actually, it sort of locks up every time I reboot. It’s friendly that way.

We’re getting ready for our trip to Japan and it’s been pretty easy to get hotels in the past. The sites we’re used to let us reserve without pre-paying, and then we pay cash with whatever money we might have in Japan. I have some left with relatives, for example, from when I worked there back in the late 80’s. With the huge Japanese interest rates, I probably have 50 cents more than I started with. It’s just there because it’s a pain to transfer money back and forth and watch the exchange rates and much more fun just to decouple the finances in two countries to avoid frustration. My dad made himself miserable during vacations thinking about the exchange rate.

Today’s frustration was the new way one of the hotels (the Hearton in Osaka) deals with reservations. They require prepayment now, and so we had to call my aunt and the hotel multiple times to finally decide we would need her credit card to get the rooms in Osaka. After several more calls to Japan, we finally found out that the site allowed you to select VISA, MasterCard, Diners Club, AMEX, and JCB but only really took VISA and MasterCard. The error message was vague and told you that it was an invalid AMEX number, for example, rather than saying that they just didn’t take AMEX. We finally used my cousin’s credit card and we’re going to pay her back later. It’s nice that google voice is still allowing cheap calls to Japan because we made a lot of calls tonight.

Oh, and I punted the gym because of earlier stomach issues. Good thing, too, since I spent a lot of the evening trying to get hotel rooms in Osaka for three nights. What a hassle, but I figured it’s worth it because it’s vacation after all. And I love going to Osaka. I still have fantasies about living there again some day.

Every year I say I’m not doing this any more.

I stood out in the cold AGAIN, volunteering for the Portland Marathon. Got to call for one ride for a guy that didn’t look as well as the guy who had the ambulance called for him. I sure hope they’re both OK. But it was a complete mess this year. Ambulances weren’t being routed properly and medical staff were getting angry.

And I was pushing for AID06 to stay open longer. We’re supposed to be there until the sweep vehicle comes through to signal the official tail end of the marathon — or at least close to that time — but they were torn down 45 minutes early, an hour before the sweep. Turns out the truck driver read his schedule wrong and came to the wrong aid station, telling everyone to pack up 45 minutes before it should have been torn down.

So, basically, we could have killed people, and we insulted the slower walkers who need the aid stations more than the fast people. Hell, if you can finish the marathon in 2:27, then you don’t need any water. Get it after you’re finished. But if you’re out there for 8 hours, you’re going to need something to drink. Oh, and I didn’t get my instructions until two days before the marathon. What a mess.

Still tired.

An exciting Friday night was spent watching TV shows, some through closed eyes, while trying to stay awake. But I did finally give in to a week of little sleep and hit the hay at a sane time. When I got up I still felt like sleeping and I went to the gym and walked around like a zombie. I’d like to sleep in tomorrow but I volunteered for the Portland Marathon again and that means I get to set my alarm for EARLIER than a normal day and stand around in the rain for a few hours while waiting to see if anyone needs a ride back to the start point. Honestly, I hope everyone gets to finish the marathon safely but if they need a ride back, no biggie. There’s always another marathon.

And I’m sure there are many, many people who are looking for Steve Jobs news on my blog. I heard (through 3 degrees of Steve Jobs) that his family is doing well and I’m glad. I’m still surprised that I’m so upset about the whole thing. I don’t know if he cared, but he meant a lot more to a lot of unrelated people than I would have thought. I’ve heard several stories of other people, non fanboy people, who never met him who are broken up because of his death. Positive or negative, he did affect my life. Thanks Steve.