Thursday, 31 January 2008

Oh Mickey You So Fine

As if I needed an excuse.

I went to Akihabara to get a new battery for my Mickey Mouse watch and some blank DVDs to backup all the crap that I have accumulated in Japan filling my hard drive to the brink. Not that a laptop drive has a lot of space to start with anyway.

As my "fixed" watch is in the shop getting re-fixed, I've got a week to wait to get it back hopefully working much better than before.

Before I left the apartment, I looked up a shop on Google Earth and made it part of my mission to see if I could find it. It's a little outside of Akihabara, so I was relying on my net reference and a little help from my phone GPS.

It's a bit hit and miss. Sometimes it picks up the satellites, and sometimes I can't get it to fire up at all. Today, I was in luck. It got me within a block of the target so I found the place easily. Maybe I'm not going to be as lost as I thought.

Akihabara is an interesting place to wander around.

I searched in as many shops as possible to find the cheapest watch battery and discovered that Yodobashi Camera was the least costly at 390 yen. I was hoping to find the 397 battery in a 100 yen shop, but it looks like it isn't the most common battery around these parts.

I went into the closest Maccas with yet another expired coupon and.. success, another free coffee! Sugoi!

While I was there I used my swiss army knife to carefully remove the tiny screws of my watch. It's probably not the best place to change a battery, with a potentially watch destroying coffee close by.

Nearby I also picked up a pack of Tim Tams for 298 yen. It wouldn't be a bargain back home, but here that's a pretty good price.

It gets dark here early about 5pm, so I made my way back home to make nice din dins for the gf and myself. The salami and cheese are yet to finish, so on tonight's menu is a tasty combo with these tasty morsels. I got the oishii seal of approval.

She got her keitai back too. Looks like the japanese are honest enough to return a misplaced phone. That would NEVER happen back home.

Oh, eight months in Japan by the way. Bring it on!

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

What's The Time?

I could tell you, but it would probably be five to ten minutes behind.

Maybe I spoke too soon, but my "fixed" watch is anything but fixed.

For some reason the second hand decides to have a little break every now and then, and the chronograph is all over the place. (I admit that it did fall from the couch to the floor, but I doubt that is a hard fall).

This is not a good thing.

It has the potential of a) making me late to get to my school and b), making me run classes over their scheduled finish time.

Yesterday I woke up early to go to the watch repairer again to see if it might just be something simple. Say, a bad battery or something.

They said that I had to reset the watch which they did, which "sort of" worked. I thought maybe that reset thing would also fix the time problem.

So, with not a lot of time to get to work, and not much small talk in japanese I left and hoped everything was ok.

It wasn't.

Today I brought my alarm clock and used it as a backup. I don't like the idea of using it. I think it makes the students too conscious that this is a timed class.

To cut a long story a little bit shorter. I rushed from work in Yokohama to Shibuya to get there before they closed.

This time they said they'd check it and for me to come back in, in a week. So crossing my fingers. For now, I'm going to have to bring Mickey out of retirement for a while.

While I was in Shibuya I wandered around.

First, I went to the Ishibashi music store. I tried out the black L6-S guitar. This one sounded as good as the other one I tried. I MUST have had a bad one.

Moving on, I did go to the Adores UFO catcher here. They had a 100 yen per play. I couldn't resist and after too many tries, I got the blue "sister" of the other DOA doll that I already have.

Someone is going to need an intervention soon. This is possibly getting out of hand now. I'll stop.. er.. maybe.

I used another expired coffee coupon. With a Totoro smile, I was secretly hoping he wasn't going to turn it over and look at the date. He didn't.

A small american film crew with a video camera wanted to film me while I was using my wifi phone on the internet in the Shibuya street. I must of been in a good mood because I said yes.

I just hope footage of me is used for good, not evil.

I was hoping to find a Daiei supermarket or 100 yen shop to get some juice for my new shochu, but it somehow eluded me to where they were.

On the other side of the station (opposite side to Hachiko), I saw a long forgotten Taito. Yes, I went in and was tempted but I resisted.

I noticed earlier that I was over-charged for a trip from Shibuya to Yokohama.

I printed out the receipts and found they had in fact made me pay 240 yen extra. Lucky the train staff knew what I was talking about and gave me a refund without any problems.

A bit of a long day. Another bit of bad news is that the gf lost her phone in a taxi.

We're hoping that the reputation of japanese honesty brings it back home.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

The New 'Chu

I have a few ideas of new places to go in the near future, but today was not going to be one of those days.

After not fully waking up and getting out of the house until about 3pm, the choice was made to go to Roppongi.

The gf wanted to go to the National Art Museum to get a present for her friend at the museum shop there.

I thought it'd be a good time to get a new 4 litre bottle of Shochu, as my faithful bottle of Green is almost coming to a end.

The Museum is actually quite an interesting looking building. She bought a printed carry bag at the shop and then we made our way to Midtown.

We perused the international supermarket, Precce. "Sampleman", my alter ego, found some juicy beef samples and regained his power to fight evil once more.

I mentioned the azuki and butter rolls we had in Ginza to the gf, so we made a bee-line for the bakery area and got some. Lucky they had them here. It saved us a trip to Ginza.

We saw some Masuno Sushi so we bought that as well. We found a small seating area just outside the supermarket and ate them both there.

I am really getting a taste for raw fish. Who would've thought?

Once you get over the, "but it's not cooked" feeling, it's quite a tasty treat. Bring it on!

Finally we made our way to Don Quijote to get me that 'Chu!

Originally I had in mind to get another four litre bottle of Green, but there was a bottle of Suntory Shochu for 1880 yen saving about 500 yen, so I decided to give this one a try. Shochu is shochu right? I'll soon find out.

Leaving there I had in mind to try the expired coffee coupons, but the girl was too smart and turned them around to tell me they were overdue.

I did my best surprised look and shot out of there as quick as I could.

I have to go to bed early tonight. I have to get up at about 6am. That should be fun.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Valley Of The Hentai Dolls

Remember I said once that the staff make it so easy to sink some prizes in, that you could bump the machine and it'd fall in?

Well, tonight I saw another (um, schoolgirl) doll that looked like someone else tipped it into a bad position, but if adjusted would be an easy win. I asked the staff to right it up letting them think I knocked it down.

He put it practically falling in and it did, before I put any money in!

Lucky he left before it happened (and NO, I didn't bump the machine). I have to say, this is the first time I got it for nothing.

Well.. I guess we have to backtrack a little bit tonight.

Actually before that I spent an embarrassing amount of money (I think 2000 or so yen, but who counts when there's challenges to be fought and won?)

There was a sexy Dead Or Alive Doll at the Club Sega near work that I thought I'd have a go at. Eventually I got it, but I also thought to try the blue one, because they are like, a match and shouldn't be separated but I wasn't having much luck. Maybe some other time.

At this point feeling a little guilty and perhaps a little hentai-d out, I decided to try for a very cool Gundam robot figure.

Again, this took a while, but finally I brought it on home. Overall not a bad catch for one night. The gf is sure to be thrilled. At least I have the rent money (and I paid my keitai and health insurance for the month).

At Yotsuya, I saw a Pizza Hut boy looking for a place he had to deliver to. I don't know how they find the house. He actually did without too much trouble.

Oh, I noticed Mickey's battery has finally died. Good timing to get my other watch fixed huh? So far so good.What a day though.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Today I Had A Hard Off

It's not what you think. The gf didn't confuse the crap out of me, leaving me not in the mood again.

Hard Off is Japan's secondhand shop, not unlike good ol' Cash Converters back home.

Strange name? Well along with that, there's also Book Off, Garage Off, Off House, and Hobby Off!

You probably thought I went there just so I could come up with that title huh?


Most of the Hard Off stores are located in the sticks, suburban areas without a train station conveniently located nearby. What I suggest, and what I did was to copy the addresses from the net into Google Earth to see which is the closest.

To save anyone the time and frustration of doing this, if you live in Tokyo the closest one is in Oimachi on the JR Keihin Tohoku Line.

For the first time since I've arrived in Japan I managed to head in the wrong direction. This train was bound for Omiya, not Ofuna.

I realized this after twenty minutes from where I left, the landscape outside the train was becoming quite "rural". If I stayed on this train I would have made my way to Saitama, (Where there IS another Hard Off by the way).

I heard about these places from another teacher, and I was keen to check it out as I'd heard that japanese people throw out their old "outdated" technology once some slightly higher spec model comes out.

What I found out was, this is the place where old nintendo, Dreamcast and every other old game console comes to die.

Along with that, there were lots of old music gear and cameras.

I almost bought a Velbon CX440 camera tripod for 1050 yen. I'm kicking myself a little for not getting it. These things cost between $50-60 back home. What stopped me was in Labi ( a Yodobashi clone) they had a Slik SDV-550 tripod for 1980 yen with bubble levels, and besides, I don't really have the need for one of these just yet. But it was CHEAP!!

I somehow managed to stay in Oimachi until dark. There isn't much else to do there. Was it worth it? Probably not.

At least I did something today rather than stay home.

Just to leave you with another "off", this is the special discount promotion going on in the Porta complex in Yokohama.

A shopkeeper was watching me take this picture. "Dem gaijin makin' fun of our english!" It must've made him real angry. Grr.. Haha.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Snowing In Japan?

I knew it was cold, but this morning I looked out the frosty window and I thought I saw snow flakes falling outside.

Yes, it's true! After weather reports of 50-70% chance of snow it was actually happening right outside my front door.

It wasn't snowing heavily. With what was coming down, I couldn't collect enough of the white stuff to make a snowman. As much as I wanted to, I had to get ready for work anyhow.

As soon as I finished work I rushed to catch the first train to Shibuya.

It's one of the places in Tokyo where you come out of the station and get awestuck from the view looking from Hachiko square towards Center Gai in wonder, with all the pretty lights and tv screens.

Finally today I got to pick up my watch from Taga Watch Repair.

It looks like they did a great job. Everything seems to be working as it should. There was a loose bracelet pin that I asked them to look at and seems ok now. The last thing I want is the watch to come off my arm.

This is it. Isn't it real pretty?

In the store next to the foyer, there was Medicom Toy Project 1/6, a toy store selling collectible figures.

In the front window there is a Mickey Mouse smashing a guitar. I think this was a sign to point me in the right direction to find the watch repairer. I WANT!

After that I had a brief look around Shibuya. I saw a black L6-S (like my old one). Again, they ask way too much for it. Vintage? I don't think so. I didn't give this one a try. Maybe some other time.

The gf has been sick in bed lately, so my mission today is to get mineral water, Pocari sweat, yoghurt and a pizza.

I hope she gets better soon. I feel her pain.

Day off tomorrow. Woo HOOOo!

Monday, 21 January 2008

Blast From The Past

This is the exact black Gibson L6-S that was my very first electric guitar.

Why am I mentioning this in my Japan blog?

Well, after an early shift (getting up at 6am!), I had a little wander around Shinjuku and went into the Rock Inn primarily to get a guitar strap for my headless Steinberger Spirit GT-Pro.

I remember seeing a simple strap for 399 yen and since I looked around at other shops this was the cheapest I could find.

Looking at it again I noticed a better leather Fernandes strap for only 1050 yen. A little more yes, but still much cheaper than the equivalent with other brands.

While I was there I saw a natural finish L6-S, making me reminisce about my first guitar.

To tell you the truth I thought my black Gibson was a total piece of junk, with muddy sounding pickups and frets so low it felt like I was hugging a tree trunk. I traded it in for $800 towards my super Gibson Les Paul that still rocks my world.

Here, at the Rock Inn they were asking for the equivalent of about AUS $1600! I have read quite a few favourable reviews of this on Harmony Central, and it looks like it's increasing in value. Could I have been wrong?

Just to make sure, I asked if I could have a play on it.

To my surprise, it actually sounded a whole lot better than what I remember mine did. Even the frets were a lot faster to get around. Maybe mine was poorly set up. Still, I think my Les Paul sounds better than this. The L6-S has a vintage 70's sound, not very modern to my ears.

I had a go of a heavily discounted Paul Reed Smith guitar. I don't get why these cost so much, but again better than the L6-S. I know, I DON'T need another guitar. The prices here are too irresistible though. A Ibanez Jem for $2000? (about $4000 in Australia). Amazing.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Hentai Girls & Otaku Boys

UH OH.. Houston we have a problem.

My new obsession has already made a turn for the worse.

As usual after work I made my way through the streets of Yokohama, stopping into the usual catcher arcades.

In front of the Club Sega there was (I believe a japanese person) in a very cool Rilakkuma suit.

I was going to ask for a photo, but I was let down by the staff when I asked them to move some items closer for me, but they only moved them a little.

In return I didn't give them anything, not even a yen.

I was thinking of heading home when I had an urge to go to the Taito UFO arcade near Minato Mirai.

There I saw some more hentai dolls that looked easier to sink than the other places.

I took my chances and put 500 yen in for three goes.

The machine only gave me two, so I told a girl staffer about it, so she fixed it, but gave me two extra tries instead of one! Sweet.

While she was at it, I asked her to move it into a more favourable position. So, after just 500 yen the first one was mine.

Maybe I should have left, but the staff here were much nicer so I asked them to move another one.

This time it only took 200 yen! That's the good news.

The bad news is that in my "crack-like" compulsion, I failed to notice I just won the same doll as last night! Shit!!

I pleaded with the staff, explaining I already had the same one and they exchanged it fairly easily.

So, another two to add to my hentai doll collection. Great huh?

Friday, 18 January 2008

Shabu-Shabu And A Haruhi Doll

Ok, the title says it all.

It was bound to happen sooner or later. After riding that vicious ufo catcher circle of stuffed toys and chocolate, I have finally turned to the dark side and I set my sights on the little talked about phenomenon of the hentai doll.

These manga dolls have various states of undress, costumes and suggestive poses.

Strangely enough it's the guys (the ones that hang out in Akihabara) who seek these out, jealously guarding their new prizes.

I want to say that in these politically correct times that men can play with dolls, I mean "action figures", if they want to. Just don't make me think what they might do with them once they get home. I guess there is always Gundam for the "real" men out there.

So, yes I found two undiscovered UFO catchers on the south side of Shinjuku station. There was a machine that had these for 100 yen a go and the one I saw was tantalisingly hovering over the edge of the chute.

After four goes I got it. It would have been three, but because there was an non-functioning third button I misunderstood how it worked on the first try. So yes, I jealously guarded it and put it in my backpack before anyone would yell out, "Hentai!!"

I can now see my mother and father rolling their eyes thinking that their son has finally lost it. Mi dispiace Mamma.

I walked over to Kabuki-cho. I was going to check out a few catchers that I haven't been to in a while. Yes that's right, just the catchers!

I moseyed into Macca's to use an expired free coffee coupon. Luckily they never check the date on the back unless you have it upside down. In these freezing nights even a hot coffee from Macdonalds is welcome.

I got the call from the gf saying she was in Shinjuku so my plans evaporated and we checked out accessories and dresses before heading on back.

Dinner was quickly decided once it was established neither of us wanted to cook. (I cooked an excellent salami and provelone cheese pasta last night by the way). The gf had a 1000 yen discount coupon to Onyasai, a Shabu-Shabu restaurant in Yotsuya.

Tonight is my first time to eat Shabu-Shabu. It's similar to a yakiniku except instead of frying the thin meat yourself, it magically cooks in boiling seaweed water and spicy tantan soup.

It's great to try something new, but I prefer yakiniku, mostly because the gf tried to stuff me with boiled veges and tofu rather than the meat I needed to grow big and strong!

Still, it was tremendously filling for about 2000 yen each of "all you can eat" goodness in two hours.

The only question now remaining is, "Is this the last of the Hentai dolls?" Stay tuned.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

OMG, I Think I Might Be Charisma Man

I couldn't really understand how going back to Australia would turn out to be mostly a let down.

Recently a fellow teacher brought in a comic book called "Charisma Man". It's story is basically how a back home loser becomes desirable to japanese women.

Going back home I guess I was just another face in the crowd. I have to say coming here has improved my confidence so much.

One great thing about women here is that they don't blow off guys as easily as western women do. Not all guys are looking to pick up. Sometimes conversation is just that.

Another teacher noted that the type of people they hired had similar characteristics. At the time I didn't think much of it, but there is a kind of otaku vibe to us.

Sure, one can say being geeky isn't the most appealing trait in a person, but the opposite can be as off-putting as well.

There is someone who, from my first impression came across as over confident. He walked the walk and talked the talk. Basically he had tickets on himself. Ha, there's an aussie idiom for you!

He talks how he's so great with women. Yet, the only gf he has had since coming here many months ago was a 19yr old girl working at some fast food restaurant.

He said he has TOO MUCH respect for women. I just think that the fish stinks from the head (Thanks papa for that one), and the girls know it.

Anyway enough about that little rant. I feel like I'm beginning to sound like Doogie Howser MD.

Monday, 14 January 2008

A Day Off With Panettone.

There was a public holiday today, so we just slept in.

Along with the salami and cheese, we also got stuck into the yummy italian panettone cake. I guess you could say it's to celebrate seven months together.

We didn't go anywhere except to the supermarket. On mondays they have a lot of 100 yen specials.

I've done a few mods on my phone. The best is a phone locker that looks similar to the iPhone screen that works great. It makes it easy to make sure I don't make any unwanted calls if I forget to lock it.

I tried putting an iPhone launcher screen on it as well. It looked pretty cool with all the buttons, but it wasn't the most stable thing, and it showed the wrong time.

I actually prefer the default today screen.

I put on an iPod skin player as well. This looks very cool, but it's a little gimmicky.

Last night we cleaned the air conditioner's filters. They were caked in dust. It runs much better now. I'm counting down the days till the end of this freezing weather.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Guitars, Cheese and Salami

Being a good a day as any, I have decided to start eating the massive salami and Pecorino cheese.

I wish I had an electric slicer. It'd be so much easier to cut some thin slices.

I was going to share it with the gf, but with the cold and the soothing glow from our new electric heater she fell asleep.

It won't be a problem though. There is still a LOT more to go to finish it.

Last night I looked up an old co-worker from a previous job.

He actually bought my very much missed Marshall stack. A few years ago he also packed up and left for Tokyo to teach english. That is one reason I was looking for him. The only problem now is that he is now studying visual arts in San Francisco!

Looking over his stuff on the internet made me realize that I have been wasting years not playing as much music as I should have.

Before I left Brisbane I took this picture of my favourite guitars.

My absolute best guitar is the once pristine white Les Paul with gold pickups and pink binding. This guitar has mojo. Shame I had to leave them back home.

In class I asked students their New Year's resolutions this week and I told them mine was to learn Japanese. Now, I think to add to that is to play more guitar and record those songs in my head once and for all.

Later today we're going to head to Harajuku.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Where The Streets Have No Name.. Literally

One of my little irritations about Japan is the confusion with finding how to get somewhere.

By that I mean that most streets in Japan don't have street names, and if you think that is bad, they are numbered when they were built, NOT consecutively or logically.

Now normally I don't have anywhere specific to go, or my route is pretty well mapped out, but today I had in mind to take a detour to Shibuya to get my old "un-repairable" Swiss Military watch to what may be regarded as the best swiss watch repairer in Japan.

I left the apartment about an hour earlier to account for any problems. Lucky that I did, because I was wandering up and down those streets in total bewilderment. I asked about five people for directions and while I was in the general vicinity, I wasn't having much luck.

Finally I found it. There wasn't any sign in romanji or english. There was a small foyer with some japanese for the floor I was after. After going up the elevator to the third level, the room didn't even have a sign! It looked like some temporary office space.

Thankfully the assistant knew enough english to tell me the watch would take two weeks to overhaul and cost 15,000 yen. Not too bad. I had thought I'd be prepared to pay up to 20,000 yen before giving up to buy a new one.

For anyone that happens to need a swiss watch repaired, this is who they are -

Taga Watch Service Centre, Mani Building 303, 37-10 Udagawa-cho, Shibuya-ku, TOKYO.

They are said to be the only watch repair technician in Japan approved by Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry.

I'll be happy to get my watch back home.

For now it's "Mickey Time", a watch that I've had for about twenty years only requiring the occasional battery change and strap replacement that I can do myself.

You'll notice that it's "old school" Mickey, not scary, modern "Michael Jackson" Mickey.

All I need now is time to get to work.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Raw Like Sushi

Last night I was reunited with the gf.

She had dinner with a classmate, so when I got back to Yotsuya I decided to make some curry risotto rice with vegetables and pork.

By the time I was almost done she came through the door and still had room for some of my dinner.

Today we slummed it, resting most of the day.

When we finally left the house we made our way to the Yotsuya library so I brought back those CDs I last had. In its place I borrowed Best of T-Rex and Nirvana, Nikka Costa (feat. Lenny Kravitz), and a Rolling Stone magazine.

We went into Shinjuku after that. There are a lot of clothing sales at the moment. The gf was looking for a new dress for a wedding she'll be going to in two weeks. I patiently tagged along.

On our way home we had sushi together for the first time.

Maybe it's strange after almost seven months in Japan for me to not have done it sooner. While none of the fish tasted bad, I still prefer to eat sushi in small doses. I'm just not used to eating fish raw.

This is some funny english from the menu.

"We recommend this tasty tuna with BIG CONFIDENT!" and "semi fatty tuna", "mostly fatty tuna". I didn't think fish had fat. Yes, it was tasty.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Osaka Aquarium, Osaka-jo and Namba

For what was going to be my relaxing last day in Osaka, I did more than I expected.

I checked out of the hotel at 10am but still managed to not get myself out of Shin-Osaka until about 11:30am.

First, the original lockers I was looking for were already taken so I had to look somewhere else. It didn't take too long to do that.

Next, I had to decide where to go first. Finally over a free Maccas coffee and mama's biscuits I thought the Osaka Aquarium should be first off the list.

It looked to be the furthest out. I wanted to be as close to Shin-Osaka at then end of the day in case of any delays. A young station helper offered some great advice for cheaper travel.

Because I was going to the Osaka Aquarium, there is a combined subway and entry ticket for 2400 yen (the normal entry fee is 2000 yen). The other 400 yen is UNLIMITED subway trains for the day. Seeing that one way to there was 270 yen, this is a steal.

Also, it trashed my plan to walk to Umeda again. If it's this cheap I'd be an idiot wasting precious little time that I have left to look around.

The Kaiyukan Aquarium as it's properly known, is in the Tempozan port area of Osaka.

It's other main attraction is (another) ferris wheel, claimed to be the largest one in the world.

With the rail pass it's possible to get a ticket on the wheel for 630 yen (as opposed to 700 yen), which almost tempted me to go for a spin, but again with not much time available to me, I passed on it.

The biggest surprise at the Aquarium was outside.

There were real penguins on show! It's a shame the gf wasn't here. She would have loved to see them. And yes, they all had happy feet.

The place was packed so it was hard at times to see all the exhibits clearly. There's something about Aquariums that I find really peaceful, watching fish go around in circles over and over again. Fish have uncomplicated lives.

I was probably there longer than I should, but I was well ahead of schedule still. I even managed to squeeze yet another Maccas coffee there while I MSN'd on my phone with my mama in Australia.

So, next on the itinerary I decided to check out Osaka-jo.

Up close the castle doesn't look too bad, but it's nowhere near as impressive as the majestic Himeji-jo. Still, it's possible to get into the castle grounds up real close for nothing. It's only charged on entry to the building.

After checking out the castle from every (outside) angle it started to get dark so I made my way back to the station in search of Den Den Town, Osaka's Akihabara.

I got out at Nipponbashi station, but for some reason I couldn't seem to locate it. I was getting disorientated somehow ending up in Doguya-suji arcade (not much there) and Namba.

Namba was interesting. I wish I had a bit more time to check it out properly. Lots of interesting shops.

With little time left and for something different (well, not really), I went to Yoshinoya for some Gyu-don (beef over rice).

After that I finally found the Namba subway station to go directly back to Shin-Osaka on the Mido-suji line. I say directly, but for some unknown reason the train's final stop was Nakatsu, two stops before mine.

I got off the train and waited patiently for the next train. After getting my luggage I was at the platform with an easy twenty minutes to spare.

The train left at 7:10pm and arrived at Tokyo station about 9:46pm. I watched "The Descent" on my laptop. It's not a bad film, a few genuine scares but only a rental I think. Good, not great.

Unloading my suitcase is taking a while. This holiday has been too good. It's going to be hard to go back to work tomorrow.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Himeji Castle And Kobe

Try as I might I couldn't leave the hotel before midday, even though I got up early once more. Maybe i set the aircon too high at 31 degrees and it was making me sleepy.

I caught the Special Rapid train at 12:39pm to Himeji to see what is regarded as Japan's finest castle, Himeji-jo (also known as Shirasagi "White Egret").

It's not the Shinkansen, but a local train. It cost 1450 yen one way. The bullet train is a bit more than double that.

It took a little over an hour but not worth the extra cost. It's a good thing to know, as the JR staff easily try to "up size" the ticket to people that don't know. You can trick me once, won't let you trick me twice.

The time went quick though. If you look out the left window not long after Kobe, you can see the longest, almost 4km, suspension bridge in the world, the Akashi Kaikyo bridge to Awaji-shima.

By the time I got there it was almost 2pm. I walked about 15 minutes from the station to get to Himeji Castle.

Apart from the Castle there doesn't look to be much else to go there for. There is a discount ticket for the adjoining Koko-en ticket if you purchase it at the same time.

I almost got it, but I soon remembered the last painful time I had in a japanese garden, so I gave it as miss. Arriving so late I didn't think I'd have time to see it anyway.

The entry to the castle is 600 yen and well worth it. I recommend it as a must see if you go to the Kansai area. I thought there wasn't entry to the actual castle building, but it's possible to go up all levels to the top. Do it, you know you want to.

The full tour around the castle is said to take one and a half hours, but I managed to take two hours.

By this time it started to get dark, so I caught the train to go back.

Next stop was to go check out Kobe. It's on the same line, so it's a good idea I think.

The darkness and neon transforms all japanese cities from moths to butterflies hiding the ugly concrete structures.

The harbour, with it's own Ferris Wheel reminded me of Yokohama. Being only about 30 minutes from Osaka, it's a fair comparison.

I made my way to Kobe's Chinatown, Nankinmachi.

There were a lot of stalls selling food. I was pretty hungry, so I bought a pork sauced bun, Nikuman for the nice price of 150 yen.

I was able to pick up a strong wi-fi signal from there, so I loaded up the GPS and internet on my phone.

I'm really liking my Tytn II. Nothing like getting Google satellite maps, MSN messenger, Skype and train timetables for nix. Very sweet.

From there I walked to JR Sannomiya for a good beef and rice combo at Sukiya, and to catch my quick train to Shin-Osaka (540 yen).

I arrived home at about 1030pm, so I decided to walk around the station here. There really is nothing around here except a few other hotels. Pretty dull.

I found some lockers that should be big enough for my suitcase for my last day here. Well, I hope so.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Umeda And Dotombori

Even though I woke up early, I didn't leave the hotel until midday.

At first I had planned to go to Himeji Castle. Starting so late I thought I may try it another day.

In my madness I thought it would be a good idea to walk across to Umeda. On Google Earth it looks like it's not that far.

In reality reaching the Shin Yodogawa bridge I wanted to cross revealed that there wasn't any pedestrian access.

Feeling defeated I sat on the hilly bank eating the remaining corn chips and watched quite a few japanese at leisure, exercising, walking their dogs, practising baseball bating and one was even flying a kite.

I decided to walk east along the river and try my luck at the Juso bridge further down.

Thankfully it was possible to cross on foot towards the Umeda Sky Building in Kita ("north"). This building stands out prominently in the Osaka skyline so I thought it good to go up to the Floating Garden lookout at the top.

The view is fantastic. Well worth the 700 yen entry. I actually stayed there for a few hours both to take in the view and to relax.
It's been said that Osaka people are very friendly. While checking out where places were on my map and looking at the view, a woman asked me what I was looking for. Very strange considering I was just getting my bearings and wasn't really lost.

I finally made my way back down and headed from Umeda to Shinsaibashi and Dotombori.

I was confident I was walking in the right direction, but there were hardly any people around between places and I thought that strange. It was the same thing walking from Shin-Osaka to Umeda.

The Shinsaibashi-suji is a long arcade area that reminds me a lot of the Hiroshima mall area.

As I got closer to Namba and Dotombori the crowds started to thicken.

Crossing the bridge from Shinsaibashi-suji into Dotombori was a revelation. It's amazing what sparkling neon can do to a place.

I really enjoyed the Dotombori area.

If there's any place to be in Osaka this is it. And no, it's not because it seems like there's a UFO catcher arcade every ten metres (I only played once and lost 300 yen on a big Totoro).

By this time I was feeling extremely hungry.

I saw an Okonomiyaki stall advertising 300 yen for a basic dish. I super sized it to the "Okonomiya Special" that had the works with added Kimchi, egg and spring onions for 550 yen. This was real good. Just what a growing boy needs.

After wandering around what seemed like an endless labyrinth and a record four Macca's coffees, I decided to make my way back from Shinsaibashi station to Shin-Osaka. (230 yen) There's no way I was going to walk all the way back.

In hindsight I think it may have been better (and cheaper) to sleep at the hotel I was thinking of in Tennoji. Still, I'm getting used to this place. I don't mind it so much. I just wish it was closer to the Minami ("south") action in Dotombori.

My legs are tired but I think I put in a fair effort on my first real day in Osaka.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

New Years Resolution

I was meaning to go to bed earlier so I'd be chipper to wake up at 6am for my flight home.

Probably for the first New Years Eve in a long time I stayed home.

The last few had been lacklustre. Everybody seemed to hug strangers lovingly, and half an hour later it felt like any other night getting pissed.

Best of all I was spared "Auld Lang Syne". Shame I can't say the same thing about "Last Christmas". I heard it a few days before the big day.

As midnight came around I could here the fireworks from the city and revelers cheering. I don't feel like I missed that much.

Let's just say that I hope that what I'm doing here in Japan is getting me closer to my resolution. Make of that what you will.

There was no problems getting the flight. I was there in plenty of time. Jetstar was surprisingly better than I expected.

The flight to Sydney was almost empty and the plane looked OLD inside. I wish it was direct from Brisbane, but I guess cheaper ticket beggars can't be choosers.

The Sydney-Osaka plane was more packed. I requested a window seat exit row. This is the best seat on a plane. First Class leg room and easy to go to the bathroom. Unfortunately I had a big sumo guy next to me which I was hoping was a seat free to lie down.

Compared to europe, flying to Japan takes no time at all. Normally a 8 hour flight.

I brought along quite a lot of food to eat on the plane - corn chips, bread sticks and ah.. mama's biscuits!

I thought I'd have to dump them at Quarantine, so I reluctantly ate as much as I could without feeling like throwing it all up.

The Customs at Osaka are pretty relaxed. I could have saved the food for my time while I am there as they let it all go through, even a monster salami and cheese that I have to go through sometime.

I caught the Limited Express Haruka train to Shin-Osaka where gf had booked my room at "Hotel Live Max" close to where my Shinkansen conveniently leaves for Toyko on friday.

I thought I was doing it on the cheap using my suica card, but an inspector said I had to pay 1150 yen supplement for being on the express. That sucked, but I'm so tired right now I'm glad to get here as quick as I could.

I found the hotel pretty easily. The desk clerk didn't speak any english so it was a little uncomfortable until he called gf to clarify a few things.

The hotel itself is pretty basic for 4500 yen a night. I have a fridge, microwave and even this open wifi connection that I suspect doesn't belong to the hotel.

Outside the weather is a balmy 5 degrees, so I'm thankful to work out how to turn the heat for the aircon.

I'm hoping for a big adventure tomorrow in big bad Osaka.