Sep 292004

Indeed, what I bought from Narita was not Sake, but something distilled further (to 45% strength). Authenticity police probably won’t mind consuming it from the sushi-picture covered ceramic sake-set, I’m sure.

Burnout 3 is fun in multiplayer as well. Not so much the races (the screen is necessarily squished to half the normal area), but the crash-competitions shine…

And my sister’s new laptop is indeed an Apple.

Sep 272004

Helping my sister buy a laptop turned out to be more problematic than expected (doesn’t it always).

Started with “an IBM x40 (or maybe x31) would be good”, but no shops in Helsinki seem to stock actual physical copies that you can poke and otherwise try out.

Ended with a “this iBook does not look half bad”. And a promise that I don’t have to be present during the final transaction.

Declined a free dinner – something’s definitely wrong…

Sep 242004

Mr. Jetlag has not raised his head. Been able to get things done without the usual post-travel wooziness-quota being filled.

But still, cutting home early on friday night probably turns out to be a wise move… The O’Malley’s has had a shocking renovation, the classic Guinness-marinated tables have been replaced by ones carved from lighter wood – there’s actually some well-lit spots in the establishments, surely the authenticity experts will have a hissy fit about this one.

Sep 232004

Stockmann had its bi-annual everything at -10% day.

Jeans are damn expensive these days. And it took almost a minute to buy them – I’m losing my touch…

Bought also Burnout 3 – an innocent-looking car game, that turns out to be anything but. Missing pedestrians, but contains otherwise enough vehicular carnage and eye candy to satisfy any speed freaks in the audience.

As well as the Star Wars trilogy on dvd. Finally available in the worthiest movie format thus far. Have heard worrisome reports about “further” artistic changes by Mr. Lucas, hope not all of them are true. If Jar-Jar appears in one of the classics, there shall be black chickens sacrificed and fatwas read.

Sep 222004

Upgrade was worth it easily… One less seat sideways, and much more legroom. Decent food (chicken with soy-related sauce). Mostly bad movies (decided to leave Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind for a real movie theatre). Angelina Jolie’s Taking Lives bores me from the start and repeated tries (personal screens, once again) do not help – it’s a bog-standard seven clone.

Read Barry Eisler’s Hard Rain. A novel that revels in the author’s intimate knowledge of Tokyo (sentence upon sentence of train related description). Not bad, but the telltale eagerness and ambition of a debut novel shine through. And in the end, the scale of things becomes too large for the author to finish comfortably. Not bad, indeed, and will look for the second novel with some interest.

Bought Tom Peters new book (oooh! shiny) and the newest issue of National Geographic while waiting for gate-information to be updated in Kastrup.

Luggage arrived safe and sound, weather was cold as advertised (from +30 to +10 hurts, at least on mental level). Taxi driver is very talkative, and discussions of lack of NHL players invasion into the finnish league after the owners’ lockout in America keep me from nodding off.

Sep 212004

Got upgraded! Hooray. Not to business class, but “economy extra” sounds good too… And didn’t even have to beg and grovel for a better seat – that’s what six intercontinental flights in two months net you. Or I just got lucky, who knows.

Narita has most of its shops prior to security. And a big selection of shops there are indeed. Bought candy, cookies and eel. As well as sake.

Now, on to the plane, it’s only eleven and half hours before touchdown in Copenhagen.

Sep 202004

Took a long shower before going out to dinner. Good.

Took a look at the TV before going out to dinner. Bad.

NFL on tv (funkily bilingual broadcast), which glued me to the chair. Atlanta-St. Louis, a good enough game, thus prevents me from having dinner in decent time.

In the end decided to be frugal and bought a cup of noodles from hotel vending machine during an intermission. Cheapest self-paid meal by far on this trip…

Sep 202004

Shop in Makuhari’s Carrefour for groceries (and to get rid of as much coinage as possible). A couple of varieties of green tea, weird snacks (fully dried small octopuses), seaweed, candy and cookies. The store is huge, and I fail to locate wasabi. No worry, that is available in Helsinki’s Tokyokan as well – just wanted to see how many variants there exist.

Ate at a Yakitori Garden Club restaurant, some of the skewers have distressing contents (chicked gizzards and other occidentally thought inedibles), and decide to stick to safe alternatives.

Packing takes quite a few moments longer than I thought – too many fragile items to trust SAS to fly ‘em home safely in the hold. End up transferring most of them to carryon luggage, apart from the sake set that has a formidably thick cardboard box.

Sep 202004

Decided to jump on a “Kyoto Morning”-sightseeing bus, since the biggest attractions are not all easily reachable via municipal traffic.

Especially the most famous one – the Golden Pavillion – seems to be located out in the boonies. After a couple of quite warm palaces and temples, it’s actually quite a big relief to be able to walk unguided around the Pavillion’s area, which is in surprisingly good shape, considering the zillions of tourists visiting it daily. Experienced first-ever wholesale dissing of travellers by the tour guide – some folks were late from one of the stops, and they got a real earful from the guide. Surprisngly strong behavior in a maximally repressed country.

Tour ends at Kyoto Handcraft Center. An unashamed tourist trap filled with more or less authentic Nipponiana. Did most of souvernir shopping within: lucky cats, headbands, katana-paperknife, books on various subjects. The complimentary taxi ride back to the hotel turns out to be not private – a couple of schoolgirls fill the back seat. Conversation is halting despite being aided by a machine translation thingy, but some tidbits do emerge (no earthquakes in Finland; yes, aurora borealis are a nifty sight; Nokia is indeed a finnish company; everybody should know Santa lives in Korvatunturi, not the north pole).

Quick hop to the hotel recovers the remaining luggage and then it’s onto the train and back to Tokyo. This time there are no reserved seats available and the platforms are just packed with people. Fortunately quite a few are just milling around and do not board the same train. Manage to find a seat in a smoking car – but that’s way better than sitting on the floor as some people are forced to do.

The half-hour trip to Makuhari on a local train is very sleep-inducing, but manage not to miss the station and get a new room at the hotel. Same floor, same view, still without a net connection.

Sep 202004

Took a ten hour trip to Tokyo.

Visited Akihabara first. The famous electronics quarter did not disappoint. Filled with both big flashy shops all hawking similar wares as well as hole-in-the-wall shops that sell the weirdest things. Bought a couple of CDs (Final Fantasy soundtracks), a very collectible Radiant Silvergun for Lemmy, a single DVD (Innocence, it’s very hard to decipher whether disks have english subtitles). The place’s not crowded, it’s before noon on a weekday – so shops are very easily browseable. The Star Wars trilogy is released today, so most shops have a very familiar soundtrack playing at top volume.

Visited Ueno park, just a hop away from the concrete jungle of Akihabara. Stretches out quite a bit, walked around and visited a temple (no-shoe-zone, once again), an overgrown lake with weird buildings around it, and a governmental culture-related building whose function I didn’t understand. Local zoo was closed, unfortunately (always on tuesdays, it appears) – was looking forward to seeing my first panda, but not this time.

The semi-underground Yamanote-line is convenient – it circles the whole of Tokyo, and the JR-pass means that travel is free.

Walked a bit in Shinjuku – not especially thirsty, hungry, in need of a pachinko experience or anything like, there just isn’t enough to keep me here.

Visited Harajuku – no schoolgirls in funky clothes. Guess the dress parade only happens on sundays, or later in the day. Walked to the huge adjoining Meiji Shinto shrine (really big gates are imposing on gaijin visitors), visited a pretty much abandoned garden (only one other visitor) and was unable to find anything substantial to eat.

Final stop was Shibuya – revisited Tower Records (this time not bumping into unexpected friends there) to buy a couple of records and some books: my first Murakami-novel ever as well as prominently displayed Barry Ellis’ techno-thriller (with a glowing endorsement from James Ellroy, just had to buy it).

Train rides to Tokyo Central and Makuhari do not differ much – crowded trains, no seats available. Tokyo’s Disneyland is visible from the train to Makuhari – in a country with the most expensive land, such a big site in such close proximity to the capital cannot have been cheap.

Sep 192004

On the way to Kyoto, decide to stop in Himeji, where the most famous Japanese castle is.

A good twenty minute walk from the station, the imposing castle on a hill looms. Used by Kurosawa in Ran (with careful camera positioning), the castle is indeed a magnificent six story structure. Inside, the place is full of tourists, and walking is not helped by altogether too small loafers (no shoes are allowed inside). A couple of hours well-spent.

A couple of hours on the train takes me directly to Kyoto, surprisingly do not have to change trains in Osaka this time around. Getting a hotel room proves a lot more problematic than in Hiroshima. Turns out monday is a national holiday and the city is just packed with tourists. However, a couple of minutes of persistence by a friendly tourist-info girl nets me a room from a hotel right next to the train station.

Walk a couple of hours in Kyoto evening before dinner. Broiled eel on rice – in a restaurant without english- speaking waiters it seems like a safe choice.

Sep 192004

After a brief visit to Hiroshima castle (nice, has a funky shrine next to it, and a big moat filled with koi and turtles) return to the peace park.

The Eternal Flame (to be shut down once nuclear weapons are eradicated) is much less flashy in daylight but otherwise the park is much more approachable now. There’s some weird theatre-performance next to the monuments, but it’s all in japanese, so no idea what’s going on. Decide to take a brief look in the museum before walking back to the hotel. Brief does no justice to the installation – should have given it at least an hour. It’s a very sombre, quiet museum that depicts the horrors of the nuclear attack. Have to walk through much too quickly and thus miss out the details. The models depicting the state of the city after the attack are disquieting – there were around half a dozen buildings left in somewhat stable condition, the rest utterly reduced to rubble. Artifacts from the era (stopped watches, a twisted tricycle, semi-molten bottles) fill out the picture. Shaken, walk back to the hotel – and onwards to the east.

Sep 182004

Converting the Japan Rail Pass voucher into an actual ticket proves problematic the next morning. There’s only one counter, and the guy in front of the line takes almost an hour to process…

After that, it’s plain sailing. The Shinkansen trains travel fast indeed, and after a brief train change in Osaka, the second leg (to Hiroshima proper) goes rapidly. A hotel room (ANA hotel, close to the peace park) is available upon quick consultation in the train station information counter.

A couple of hours walking in the post-sunset Hiroshima is still a hot and humid experience. The peace park is almost deserted, but the apparent entertainment district isn’t. There are extremely few caucasians about – during the three hours I spotted one five-strong party, and that’s it. A couple of night shots of the Atom Bomb Dome (the only structure kept from the pre-bomb days) turn out between OK and very shaky.

Sep 182004

After the conference, spent an evening in Tokyo with a couple of colleagues.

Train out to Shibuya, brief visit to Tower Records and then it’s time for sushi. A hole in the wall-place, where very little english is spoken (apart from “seven dish – ten minutes”), but the food is sublimely good. And cheap. Turns out that the mandatory seven plates are less than a thousand yen altogether. Temptation to return to the conveyor belt is high, but good sense prevails… Visited a pachinko-den, but the noise is just too loud and the game itself incomprehensible.

And it turns out my inn-reservations in Kyoto and Hiroshima are now cancelled. Which means that a room in each has to be acquired on site. And also that I won’t be sleeping in the traditional inns, but normal hotels instead. Too bad, was looking forward to feeling what sleeping on tatami is like.

Sep 172004

NTT has a very good cafeteria. No less than sixteen different dishes every day. All shown in full 3-D plastic form outside the cafeteria. End up eating weird and unknown stuff every day.

Had my second ever Australian meal. Ate in Outback Steakhouse, which is probably more australian than the food I once had in Helsinki. Excellent appetizers (blooming onion is huge), and the steaks are not bad either.

Other than that, it’s japanese food all around. Tempura. Sushi. Sashimi. Shabu-shabu. And many many others whose name I was not exposed to.

Sep 152004

Finland lost to Canada in the ice hockey world cup final.

Did not see the game. Daytime in Japan, and it’s not really a televised event here. Got goal-by-goal-updates from Ile over SMS, but unfortunately no additional updates were forthcoming after Canada took 3-2 lead in the very beginning of the third period.

Anyway, a great achievemnent – nobody thought we’d go this far.

Sep 142004

Caught the newest Potter-franchise movie in the plane. A personal screen and better-than-usual headphones make it a less than painful experience.

Movie’s good, and manages to do away with the mandatory Potteria (quidditch matches, guild competition etc) and concentrates on the story. Some liberties are taken – don’t recall a choir in Hogwarts, but the presence of one is only natural and the rendition of Something Wicked This Way Comes sets the scene for the action on screen.

The child actors still succeed in being non-irritating, and some of the guest stars Timothy Spall and Gary Oldman pretty much dominate the proceedings. Alan Rickman is his old trusty self as the slightly over-acting Professor Snape.

A valid rendition of the book, but at the rate subplots and pages were chopped out to make this fit into two-odd hours, I worry about the next film (Goblet of Fire – whose book is good couple of hundred pages thicker than this).

Sep 142004

Smooth ride to Narita via Copenhagen. In Japan for a NTT-hosted industry forum meeting.

Brand (or at least relatively) new Airbus. Trivial transfer in Copenhagen, which is so much better than the main hubs (Frankfurt and especially Heathrow) that I’ll make a note in the future to use as much SAS services as possible.

Bus to Makuhari (about thirty kilometers from both Tokyo and the Narita airport) has a screen displaying the route and stops, which is good, since the information output in japanese is unusable.

Makuhari turns out to be almost exactly like Pasila – big fairground, elevated walkways, big sports stadium (though here it’s for baseball) and deserted in the evening.

A couple of hours of walking around the area proves the point told by colleagues – there are very few shops here. A visit to Tokyo proper must thus be planned.

Hotel turns out to be rather poorly equipped when it comes to connectivity. No WiFi, and no broadband in my room, even the traditional phone cable turns out to be defective and I’m utterly unable to get a carrier on it. Too bad, have to rely on the ability to catch up on mail in other people’s rooms…

Weather is on the oppressive side. Around +30C, with a high degree of humidity. Locals are not keen on shorts, it seems – the sarariman look is used by the vast majority.

Sep 122004

Went to Kari’s (my cousin) and Merja’s wedding in Nivala, about 500 klicks north of Helsinki.

Uneventful train ride, which began way too early.

First wedding outside of Helsinki metroplex in pretty much two decades. And only very dim recollections of the previous: dismantling a gingerbread house and seeing the aurora borealis for the first time.

Anyway, the ceremony was mercifully short, and completely painless. Having been exposed to church-related events in the town previously, I had bad feelings which quickly dissipated.

Reception was long, and no-one left hungry. No placing in the tables, so sat where it was convenient (apart from relatives, knew less than ten people in the place).

The nachspiel was in the (I guess only) nightclub in the town: hotel Puustelli’s bar. Which was quite convenient, since was staying at the very hotel and got in for free. My first ever VIP card that weighed more than 100 grams (the keychain was hefty, indeed). Place was on the entertaining side. Age limit 18. No knife fights, but a couple of decent shoving contests nonetheless. Saw Jore Marjaranta play, for the 45 seconds that I spent in the same room. Was much more sensible to have meaningful discussions with relatives seen too rarely.

Sep 072004

Had sushi at Eatz’s kaiten. First time not actually at the belt, only picking up things and carrying them to table. Felt weird, but got accustomed to it fast.

The makis were fine, nigiris were not. Rice was at times dry and decidedly non-sticky, and the toppings surprisingly tasteless. Apart from tuna. No reverse rolls (California and friends) in sight, all in all the food on offer was basic indeed.

An even worse omission on the menu was the deletion of unagi. My favorite dish gone. And not even properly gone, just struck off the menu with a garish red label-thingy.

Time to give Zen and Ichiban a good second look, this place had gone downhill.

Sep 072004

Meme-fodder, once again. But a good one… Only albums that have really struck a chord at the first listen (was a late arrival with eg. Gn’R's Appetite for Destruction).

Death Angel: the Ultra-Violence
Surprisingly melodic speed metal from out of nowhere. Bought the LP on a chance encounter, and it stuck on the turntable forever. Rediscovered on cd late this spring, and the classics still spin well… Still going strong (albeit after a ten-odd years’ hiatus).

Kingston Wall: I
A long-awaited debut from the kings of finnish prog rock. Their finest hour would come on the sophomore album, but this record made my christmas in 1991. Disbanded after Petri Walli’s suicide in 1995.

Kula Shaker: K
Intelligent post-prog rock from UK. With a frontman who tended to talk more than inteviewers would listen, songs that had mostly nonsensical lyrics (in the golden era of brit-pop this was a sin). Faded after a less than shiny second album.

Stone: I
The first ever finnish metal album I ever bought. Filled with youthful energy, not-yet-too-technical songs and all in all just the right thing to have in the summer of ’88. Disbanded in early nineties – most of the members still active in finnish music scene.

Andrew W.K.: I Get Wet
Truly regressive rock’n'roll from a guy who saw fit to combine the styles of Abba and Judas Priest. Fell for this the first time, and there was nothing to stop me on the way to the record store. Probably still active, even after a lacklustre second album.

Nypykät: Kanuunaralli
Folk-pop with punk overtones, weird instruments and altogether too many men on stage. Has to be heard to be believed. Either you love it, or you hate it – no real middleground exists. Disbanded after a second album.

Bubbling under: Garbage, Skyclad, Pearl Jam, Type O Negative. And many more.

Velvet Revolver firmly holds the lead on the debut album of ’04.

EDIT 6.8.2008: The original link is long gone.

Sep 072004

Noticed that tix are still available for the world cup quarterfinal. Figured this’s be the last chance to see Koivu, Selänne, Numminen and other national heroes play together on home ice. Decided to go. Expensive, but not unreasonably so. And hadn’t been to a hockey game in ages, so figured it’s time to go, indeed.

Or so I thought. Turns out that the roiling Summanen-scandal had taken its toll on the finnish team. Playing slow, playing without control. Finland was lucky to come out first, lucky to have a good goalkeeper to keep them in the game when outshot by an obviously inferior opponent.

Two billiards-type goals do not bode well for the the semifinal, but there’s a lot of time to heal the wounds before the game commences.