Apr 232010

Gion signSpent the evening walking around Gion district, an old geisha area now packed with restaurants and just a few bars.

The area we walked through is bisected by a canal, a canal on top of which cherry trees blossom. Definitely one of the postcard moments of the trip.

Had dinner at a no-name sushi restaurant some fifteen minutes walk away from the Gion center. The food was way cheaper, and the surroundings not posh at all.

TanukiAte a boxful of chirashi sushi and stupidly forgot to photograph the dish. A double fault, since this was my first ever such meal. Rice, fish, vegetables and some funky dry yellow noodles. Did photograph the Tanuki statue in the restaurant. In quite a few places there’s a non-trivial amount of floorspace given to a small shrine to a raccoon dog.

Cherry blossoms next to a canal in Gion

Apr 222010

Room in the ryokanBack in 2004 two nights in a traditional japanese inn, a ryokan got cancelled at the last moment.

Six years later the reservation of a room in one proved trickier than that of a conventional hotel, but succeeded on a fourth try.

Spent two nights at Ishicho, a rather large and modernized ryokan.

The inn was located some fifteen minutes from the Kyoto railway station, and easily reached with a cab.

The room was large and basic. Tatami mats covered the floor, and the only pieces of furniture were a low table and a small shelf for the television. The inn personnel took care of setting up and removing the futon beds at appropriate hours.

Apart from a wireless connection, the comforts of modern japanese hotels were all there. In a luxuriously different package.

Apr 222010

HatpickerFigured it’s easier to board a slow train at the Osaka station rather than to transfer to a shinkansen at Shin-Osaka. After all the journey’s so short that there’s no meaningful difference in journey length. The attached photograph is a warning sign on the railway platform – supposedly there’s a special tool to pick up stray hats from the rails. Useful indeed in a country where some of the trains reach speeds of 300+ kilometers per hour.

The ride was short indeed, and the arrival in the Kyoto station painless. Dropped by the the travel bureau familiar from the 2004 trip and picked up a brochure on daytrips in the city. A lot of Kyoto’s top sights are scattered around the city, and thus hopping on a tourbus is the easiest way of seeing them.

Apr 212010

Targets of Opportunity coverThe long-awaited Targets of Opportunity, the second ransomed Delta Green sourcebook has been published as a pdf, with the hardback book to follow in June.

The book is sizable, it clocks in at 300+ pages.

Based on a cursory browsing of some of the chapters and the list of contributors guarantees that the ransom money was well-spent.

And I’m certainly looking forward to future books from the Arc Dream / Pagan collective – the proposed release schedule is full of teh awesome.

Apr 212010

The eruption of Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland has pushed the jetsetting world to chaos.

Even 9/11 wasn’t this disruptive. The amount of canceled flights has been far greater in the last week.

Several friends and colleagues have been stranded in various spots of the world. And several have had their travel plans scuttled.

I made it back from Tokyo just in time – even though a prolonged stay would have been an interesting experience, the cost (which the airline companies are not willing to take on) would probably been prohibitive.

And an uncomfortable sidenote to this subsiding volcanic activity is the fact that all Eyjafjallajökull eruptions have been followed up by a far bigger volcano, Katla. A sub-ice eruption would spew a lot more ash into the air and cause even more widespread havoc.

Apr 212010

Floating gardenGave in and bought Canon’s 18-200mm objective from Yodobashi. Getting it tax-free mitigated the financial damage somewhat and anyway, I needed something longer than the 11-16mm and 50mm glasses I had with me. The purchase was not too easy – the procedures took at least three salespersons, and a lot of milling around. Some of it might have been just boredom, since the customers were vastly outnumbered early in the morning.

Took the lens to the task on a visit to two Osaka attractions.

The floating garden is a sightseeing platform at 173 meters. The view was appropriately nice, but all in all the experience was rather lame. The rapidly ascending glass elevator gave a sharp pointer to dormant acrophobia. The garden contained the second cache in Osaka.

Osaka castleOsaka castle is a rebuilt large fortress within city limits. The castle was nicely surrounded by cherry trees. The building is not the original castle, it has been reconstructed multiple times over. Hence the visitors are not subjected to same kind of protective requirements as is common in the rather more fabulous and original Himeji castle.

Rode a cab to and from the castle, while not cheap by any means, it’s quite a bit more affordable in Japan than back home.

Apr 192010

The first truly scifi-moment of the trip was the sight of a plastic lantern in front of a restaurant.

A lantern whose surface was a liquid crystal display that kept changing the image displayed.

Stupidly enough I thought they were commonplace and didn’t snap an immediate picture.

Of course the first such lantern was the only one seen.

Apr 192010

Crab legsFor dinner rode the subway to Namba – allegedly the entertainment-oriented area of the city.

Even on a rather chilly monday evening the first drunken salarimen got spotted only a few meters into the zone. Thankfully the black-clad guys kept to themselves.

Had a very crab-based dinner at JRI (the name of the chain remains a mystery): crab legs, crab sushi and crab bateria (carved rice topped with crab and kelp). The legs required some chopstick acrobatics, but all in all were pretty easy to eat. And delicious, utterly delicious. The entire menu was heavily crab-based – the oddest dish was a plate of unpleasantly darkish grey “crab guts sushi”. Concentrated on the white, pink and red bits instead.

The restaurant had just a couple of booths – after a long day walking it was quite a thrill to strip off the shoes and sit next to an almost floor-level table. A pint of well-chilled Asahi lager filled out the dinner nicely.

Apr 192010

Cherry blossom close upThe park neighboring the aquarium was the first full exposure to the cherry blossoms.

But the way there went through a big, but strangely empty mall. In a country with as little space as Japan, this was an odd discovery. Had lunch, and was quite impressed by the local addition to the subway menu: shrimp and avocado topping, with more than just a hint of wasabi built in.

The cherry blossoms were everywhere in the park, as were electric lanterns (sadly plastic as opposed to paper). And the beauty didn’t go unnoticed. The lawn was rather packed with picnickers, most of whom neaty sitting on bright blue plastic tarps.

Logged the first cache of the trip, and easy virtual in one corner of the park.

Some serious cherry action

Apr 182010

Batman logoOut of the top 25 Batman graphic novels, my tally is nine, with none of the honorable mentions covered.

The first Batman / Judge Dredd crossover is sadly absent from the list, whereas the top 4 is impeccably selected. And props for leaving out Frank Miller’s unfortunate return to Batman.