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Sleep and Photos

Finally was able to start to catch up on sleep - slept from 10 PM to 9 AM, although I first got up at 6...

Anyway, some people have been requesting photos.

This Link:

Flickr Japan Trip

Should bring you to the Japan Trip set so you can look at them.

Remember, I took almost 1500 photos. All will not be up, as not all came out well, and I don't really have time to process 1500 photos. LOL

More will show up as I have time.

Japan Thoughts

What I've learned from this trip:

Food in Japan is great, and has spoiled me forever.

The US needs to take a page out of the Japanese book about how to be nice to foreigners. I did not encounter a single Japanese person who was not nice to us.

The Japanese culture overall is one based on politeness, for the reason of - there's a lot of people, in a small space. veryone needs to be nice to each other, or else they'd drive each other nuts.

Japan needs to learn how to integrate foreigners better - every single time Leon spoke som e Japanese (which he picked up a lot in the time we were here), he got an almost astonished look. That's because they are completely surprised that someone could understand their language or their culture. As it turns out, while they are very nice to visitors, if living in Japan, it's very hard to get anywhere as a non-Japanese person.

Plan out your day, and stick to it - it's hard to get around here sometimes without really good maps.

Make sure you have an up to date guidebook - the Lonely Planet guide for Tokyo was way too old, though the Japan book was reasonably accurate.

Japan is a beautiful country, but the Mountains make everyone live in small areas.

The Japan Rail Pass is definitely worth it if you take the Shinkansen at least once. You NEED to use JR all the time. We didn't use the subway nearly as much as I thought, and even when we did, it was cheap.

There are a LOT of people in Japan. It was a huge sea of people leaving each train at the JR station.

There's a dollar store everywhere in the world.

Don Quijote is the place to buy ANYTHING in a pinch.

Tokyo is not as advanced as everyone thinks - they're a little ahead of things, but not so out-there any more.

It's nice to have trains which tell you how long to each destination, and make it there at that time.

Japan loves little musical jingles to go before any announcement. The trains are the best.

There are vending machines EVERYWHERE.

I intend on going back, not sure where to go next time.

Japan Day 10 - May 29

Leaving for home. :-( I will miss Japan.

Checked out at around 11 AM from the hotel, then did the thing we will be doing a lot today - waiting. Waiting until 12 PM to go to the MCDonalds outside so that we can sit outside with our luggage for a while waiting to get on the train, the Narita Express.

Had lunch at McDonalds, found the train easy enough. An hour later, arrived at the airport, and as expected, the Boken Leon bought is already causing trouble. The security staff from the train wanted to wrap it in newspaper, so of course we oblidge them. Up 4 escalators to departures. The staff were helpful in getting us checked in. Had to have the boken boxed up in a "sporting accessory" box from ANA, and then X-rayed. Went through security and immigration without too much incident. Now we're in the ANA lounge, which is HUGE. Easily 10-20 times the size of the US one. Anything you can think of, it's here. Beer, coffee, soda, sushi, soba noodles, wine, sandwiches, soup....

On the flight now from Japan to LA. It's getting dark, and fast. Take-off was delayed due to a storm approaching Narita Airport. Once we were getting ready for take-off, something cool happened - they turned on a camera! They have three screens in the cabin, and displayed it on them. For the first time, I saw what was happening as we took off. It was very cool. As soon as we got in the air, it switched to a birds-eye view, and it's been on since then.They switched it to a map of our flight, and also showed some news on it, but it's back to the flight map. However, on the screens at the seat, you can still turn on the camera, which is seemingly in IR mode now, so it can be seen even in the dark. Right now, we're over a bunch of water.

This is definitely a weird day - starting off in the afternoon, coming in at 11 AM to LA, then back in NY around 10 PM. What a ride.

Wired internet isn't working on this flight it seems. :-( I get an IP address, but nothing pings or resolves. Oh well.

Now enjoying my plum wine. Better then what I've had the US. Notice a trend here?

I'm being a pig. I ate the whole snack in two bites. Tiny bread thing, cheddar cheese, peperoni and sundried tomato.

There's a game show called "Big Time Spender." Apparently the Chinese are taking a play from the Japanese book for this one - it's a Chinese game show.

6:30 PM JST - Time for main meal, have to move the laptop.

Watched Intolerable Cruelty, which was funny but stupid ending.

Tried to get some sleep, but someone in a few rows up has on their seat light and their overhead one on. Highly annoying. In a cabin that's completely dark so that everyone can sleep, it's kinda rude. What's weird is this goes against the Japanese philosophy of not annoyint anothers, but the person in that row looks Japanese. The seat is still kinda annoying for tall people to sleep in. Finally, it's freaking hot in the cabin. The guy next to where Leon's bag was is wafting himself with paper as it's so hot. That's the other reason neither myself or Leon can sleep. It's starting to get light out, it's 7:20 AM in California, and we're still over the Pacific ocean.

Three hours left.

This is going to be a long day.

As predicted, it was a long day. Next up was the JetBlue flight, which of course, as predicted, gave us issues with the Boken. $30 to check it, but otherwise wasn't that big of a deal I suppose. Just inconvenient. We got the "even more legroom" seats, which at $50 extra / seat, weren't really worth it. The main issue was the seats are not wide enough, and on the A320 they stuff 6 across. Who cares about leg room when you can barely wiggle around.

Anyway, once that was over, we got in to JFK, got our stuff, and went to get some food. Then went to Leon's and finally got to bed.

Japan Day 9 - May 28

Need to get things to bring back today, as well as money to buy said items.

We ended up going to Akasuksa to get souvenirs. Tried Mos Burger for lunch. Was the first not-too-impressive food we've had here. Again though, not-too-impressive is still good. Not sure what it is about the food here, it's just that good.

Came back to the hotel and tried to pack everything up..Didn't work. Went to get another bag. Tried the concierge, who led us to a place, but extremely expensive - like $450 and up, which was way too expensive. So we came back, got some ramen, and tried looking up stuff online. Leon found a place called "Don Quijote" literally, like the character...but nobody online can spell it right. In any case, this store has pretty much everything. We went back out, found a suitcase for $100, and came back. It was surprising to see the amount of people on the train, a good portion of which were drunk.

The Leica: Noticed a spot of dust on the sensor. Kinda sucks, but only in a few pics is it noticeable.

Japan Day 8 - May 27

Up @ 9:45 AM.

Not sure what we're going to do today. Have to be checked-out of the hotel by 12. Train back is at 6 PM. Going to go to Nijo Castle at minimum. We're going to take our stuff with us, so not sure what we're going to do.

We went to Nijo castle, which I kept calling Ninjo castle. Thankfully, I found ways around having to take the bus again in Kyoto. We ended up taking the subway up, which was pretty easy. Twice today we were stopped by older women making sure we knew how to get where we were going. The second lady spent a few minutes talking with us, commenting to Leon that his pronunciation of Japanese was very good.

The castle itself was kinda interesting, although, they clearly signed every 10 feet, no photos, no drawings of anything in the interior. The other interesting thing was that the floor boards were designed to creak so as to alert the Shogun's guards of intruders.

We also met Julia from Germany at the castle. She had gotten lost from the rest of her group, and also wanted us to take a picture of her. She was part of a musical group traveling Japan. We had a fun time talking with her, and she stayed with us until we left the castle. She will be in NY in June, and we are going to meet up with her and probably show her around Manhattan.

We also got to go to the Arashiyama Monkey park, which was a lot of fun. It was quite a trek up the mountain, but well worth it. Leon and I fed the monkeys, and we got to watch them in their habitat. I also got quite a few good shots of the city of Kyoto as well. I will be able to put together a nice Panaroma. We also rode a JR express line as well as the Shinkansen.

Stopped at "Log Kit" which was a burger joint. We both got cheeseburgers, and in the end, it wasn't THAT much more expensive then other things we got. However, the burger was 1/8" thick, but kinda big. It was pretty tasty - it had mayo, ketchup, and mustard on it. As with all things in Japan, it had it's spin on it, and it was tasty.

We took the Shinkansen back from Kyoto to Shinagawa. This time we were in the green cars. The seats were even bigger, had foot rests, and reclined a little more. Other then that, we got a wet towel when we first got in the car. Otherwise, it was pretty much the same as non-Green cars.

Money: Still broke. Leon is also almost out of cash, thanks to me.

The Leica: I noticed this at the aquarium, and thought it was because of IR issues, but the Leica does not render purple correctly. Purple shows up as blue.

Japan Day 7 - May 26

Took the Shinkansen to Kyoto. The trip was fine, and at an OK pace. It was almost a 2:40 ride.

Kyoto is beautiful. The weather has been better then expected. Leon is complaining that I don't write about him. So there. Leon has been a very good sport. His feet have been bothering him. We checked into the hotel, which is right above the JR station. It's the Hotel Granvia Kyoto. Very cool place. I'm not sure if it's the standard line, but as with our main hotel, it seems that the rooms are "full" and we got an upgrade. However, this time, it seems accurate, as we are again on the top floor. It IS extra for the top floor, so yay! The view is awesome from here too.

We saw two shrines today. They were both very exquisite. The architecture is most interesting to me, and it's definitely a good contrast to the urban city of Tokyo and Kyoto. We ran into these kids when going to the second shrine / temple, and they were adorable. They asked us if we spoke English, they told us their names, and asked us ours. They then asked if we were enjoying Japan, and where we were from. Everyone is very friendly here.

The buses, on the other hand, were not fun. They are backwards - you enter in the rear, and exit in the front. You also pay when you leave, instead of when you board. This leads to quite a bit of foot traffic through the middle of the bus. The bus is also skinnier then a US bus, so this is not a matter to be taken lightly.

I have officially run out of money. I got some gifts, but not for everyone.

went to anoter katsu place for dinner. not as good as first. different sacues then usual, which made for an intersting mea. Had sake. Matt is happy. Leon is unnfacted. Had moch and parfait for dssert. bck in hotel roomj. Not ewatching as I type, this is bound to have lots of mistakes. Ha ha ha.

Kyoto seems like a place to come back to, and have Tokyo be a satellite trip, instead of the other way around. This is not to mean that Tokyo is not worthy of a second trip - the next time we should come for like two weeks, and allow time for both.

Everyone is very nice in Kyoto, and we had a very warm welcome here. We seem to stand out a little bit more then in Tokyo, but that's not to say we are the only foreigners here.

It's almost 10 PM, time to get ready for bed.

Money: 0.

The Leica: Metering still sucks. I tend to see how it meters it and if I know it's going to be wrong, I take a guess at the correct shutter speed, test, and take another if necessary. I like on the Canon and even Nikons for that matter you can specify where you want the metering to be from - a spot, center average, or multi-point. Leica is center only, and it's not that great in my experience.

Japan Day 6 - May 25

Went to the Ueno Zoo today. That was fun. Leica got some 50mm lens action today. Forgot to charge the Canon battery, so that was out after only a few shots. The IS stabilzation eats up the battery, which I had on most of the time yesterday at the Sea Lion and Dolphin shows.

Ate dinner at the Isetan building in Shinjuku. Good, but not as good as the place in Roppongi. Going to Kyoto tomorrow, got our seats all set on the Shinkansen.

Money: After going to 7-11 - 7000 Yen. Paid for dinner, half of breakfast (4300 + 1000). Ouch. We still haven't gotten gifts yet.

The Leica: Shutter fault, again. Power cycle fixed, but not good. 50mm lens good in low light. High contrast makes it difficult to get good low light shots without seemingly blowing out the highlights. Thankfully Lightroom fixes that up.

Japan Day 5 - May 24

Had issue with laptop not starting. That was not fun.
Today is going to be a very quiet day - Leon didn't sleep well, and most attractions are closed on Monday. Not sure what we're going to do. We ate at the combination Western / Japanese buffet for breakfast at the hotel. The Japanese breakfast stuff I can do without, otherwise it was good. Leon's been resting since then. I haven't been doing all that much myself, either. I'm going to throw up a few photos on flickr, of the past few days..

Ended up going to the Aquarium and saw the sea lion and dolphin shows. Unfortunately, we found out that there was a discount for hotel guests, but we didn't get it when we bought the tickets. We didn't get it back, either. Oh well, live and learn.

We went back to the ramen place for dinner. Easy and cheap.

Money: 12000 Yen.

The Lecia: Nothing new to report. Low light performance was not good for aquarium. Color shift apparent in certain cases - some purple colors come out blue. Hard to do action with the Leica, the Canon got a lot of use.

Japan Day 4 - May 23

Couldn't really decide what to do today, so just decided to get some good food. It was raining out, and the day was kind of annoying weather wise. Got umbrellas from the 7-11. We were going to go to a place near the Ginza, but I kind of forgot where it was. Stupid me didn't mark it on the map. No matter, as near the end of the Ginza walk, we found a little place there which looked good. It was the first time we went anywhere that we had to take off our shoes. No big deal, there were lockers for that. We also put our umbrellas in the locker - Japan has a idea of - don't make a mess inside. So there are two things for umbrellas: Umbrella storage, which you lock your umbrella in, and take a key, or if you're keeping it with you, the umbrella is placed in a plastic wrapper to prevent water from getting all over the place. Smart, but the down side is increased plastic usage. I think they make up for this by recycling pretty much all the plastic bottles here.

Anyway, after being led to our table / area, the woman in the Kimono asked "can you read Japanese?" We said no, and got the "English" menu...After trying to understand what I was reading for 10 minutes, I realized there were 5 languages aside from Japanese for each item. Then Leon and I found what we wanted, and it was good! I ate pretty much everything on my plate - I had sushi with Udon noodles / soup. There was Salmon, Tuna, Tomago (egg), Squid, and Eel. I didn't care for the texture of squid too much - too chewy, but the eel was better then expected.

Everything we've eaten so far in Japan has been very good, and this was no exception. We had some Sake with lunch. Then we both had desert, and were very satisfied. It was about 2950 Yen, which was pretty good for what we got.

We then went to Harajuku to look around a bit. This is where the "hip" Japanese go...people selling stuff everywhere, lots of people, though not as much as the Ginza, and decidedly down-market from that area.

Then we went back to the hotel. We had dinner at this local grill, Tsumabe?, which was a western style grill - hamburger steak, sausage, etc. We both had hamburger steaks - Leon had his wrapped in bacon, I had mine Japanese style with Soy sauce. Sorry, no pictures, we were hungry. :-)

Time for bed. Not sure what we're going to do tomorrow, most items are closed on Mondays.

Money: 22000 Yen.

Leica: Nothing to note. Outdoor pictures came out well. Lens is very contrasty - light sources make everything too bright in indoor shots, instead of illuminating the subject.

Japan Day 3 - May 22

We got up around 8 AM. Had an incredibly late start at about 1 PM. It's hard to map out where you're going sometimes. We decided to go to the Imperial Palace and other things around Central Tokyo again.

We ended up going to the east garden, not the palace proper, as it's closed to the public anyway for all but 2 days of the year.

The garden was very nice, though after a while was all the same. It was nice to stroll around in, but after 25 minutes of walking, there wasn't much else to do.

We then decided to go over to Roppongi. So we got on the JR to Daimon, and got off to transfer - where Leon saw the Pokemon Center..So we went there. It's kinda huge in Japan. After looking around in the store, we got on the subway, and went to Roppongi. We went to Roppongi Hills, becuase that's pretty much all there is to do here unles you're looking to get drunk and attempt to make it with Japanese women. Needeless to say, we were not the intednded audeince. So we had a great Tonkatsu dinner at some place in the hills. Afterwards had coffee at Tulley's Coffe, then went back to hotel.

The Leica: Still terrible in the dark. Used the canon at garden too.

Japan Day 2 - May 21

Today we tried to get an earlier start, and did so. We still didn't make it anywhere for breakfast though.

Had brunch at the JR station at some Japanese place. Bought a set lunch which was Tonkatsu (Pork Katsu), miso soup, pickles, salad, potatoe salad, and rice. Was very good, and about 1200 Yen each.

We looked at some things to do - Leon wanted to see what the Gay-friendly district looked like inside of Shinjuku, and we found that there was a sword musuem and a huge park in the area as well. So that was the plan. Museum, park, gay district.

Went to JR station, talked to person at information desk to find out how to get to the closest railway line to sword museum. Had to go from Shinagawa to Shinjuku, transfer to other company's railway, and go 1 stop. One thing to mention here is that Japan has like 13 different companies providing the various railways and subways. So it can be a little confusing sometimes on who serves what area.

We got out of the JR station and got a little lost. Google maps to the rescue. We got lost in some side streets (we were going the right direction), but a nice Jpanese man who was the owner of a shop showed us the way and gave us a paper with directions.

We went into the museum, and got a drink. It was hot. This was not the rainy day of yesterday. We proceeded upstairs and spent our 525 Yen each to enter. We were told no photography. :-( Frankly, while interesting, it was a bit underwhelming as well. As Leon pointed out, if someone took photos, there'd be no reason to go to the museum. There was only about 30-40 swords out of the 120 in their collection on display. They gave us a guide to sword types and strike patterns of it being made. It was informative and inteesting. I wish the Lonely Planet guide was a bit more upfront about was not on the must-see list.

Then we tried to have a detour into the Pentax Forum, which according to Lonely Planet guide was a gallery and a lot of hands-on equiment and lenses. Well, it had the wrong address, it was not in the Shinjuku Mitsui buiding, but the Central Building. It also wasn't big. Waste of time and effort. So 2/2 for the guide today. I have to give them a little break however, as the edition I had was older then I thought. Even still, the newest Japan guide had both items listed, with almost the exact same descriptions, and guess what - still the wrong address for the Pentax Forum.

Then by that time we tried to get to the Park, but it was just about closing @ 4:27 PM. So we tried to find some of the bars in the gay area...didn't find what we were looking for, AGAIN LP guide was wrong, as was another one. So we had some Indian food which was not out of this world, but still good. Then tried again to find stuff, failed, and went back to the hotel.

Took the Tokyo Metro subway, which was a little bit different then the railways, but nothing spectacular. We took the Maranouichi line, which apparently is the busiest line in the Shinjuku station, which was one station away. Indeed, there were quite a few people packed in the train coming from that direction. Thankfully, we were going in the opposite direction. We then got back on JR Yamanote line. One cool thing we noticed was that, unlike in the US, where you have no idea how long till your stop, each stop has a number next to it, representing the time until that destination. Very cool.

We made it back, and then went to 7-11 after a rest, which was more packed then I expected. Now, it's time to relax.

Money: 25000 remaining (6000 spent, I think).

The Leica: Nothing major to report - again, portrait shots aren't the easiest. Sometimes the "set" button which pulls up the picture settings (ISO, Exposure Compensation, etc) isn't responsive - what needs to be done is to take a picture and then hit the button. As I learned later, this was due to power timeout, and all you had to do was half-press the shutter. I'm either having a hard time focusing, either because of my eye, or the 28mm lens just isn't as sharp as I'd expect for something so expensive.

Japan Day 1 - May 20

We caught up on much needed rest today, so as a result we got up kind of late.
Had M&Ms for breakfast.

We then decided to get going - but we weren't exactly sure where we were going. We went to the JR Railway station, Shinagawa station, which is near us.
We got on the JR Yamanote line, and headed for Tokyo. We thought this would get us to central tokyo. This wasn't the case. It took us to the financial district and near the Imperial Palace.

The weather was an issue for us; It was foggy and rainy all day. We walked quite a bit and ended up in the _ mall, and found a place which we had pizza for lunch, which was pretty good.

There we decided we should try and go on a tour; we walked to the place that did the tours and found they weren't doing any more English ones for the day. So we decided to go to Akhiabara, as we needed to pick up a power adapter (forgot mine).

There was a lot to do there. We looked around, then went to a McDonalds. That was mostly the same, but menu items were different. It was also different in that items were not available immediately. This was because everything was made fresh after you ordered it. Leon had a burger, I only had fries and a drink, as I wasn't as hungry at that point.

Went to a couple of places like "Club Sega" which had every Sega game machine imaginiable. Then we went looking around to see if they had any lenses for my Canon camera cheap, but nope. Did find a good deal on the Nikon version of the Sigma 50 f/1.4, but no Canon mount in site. :-(

Even in the rain, it's still hot and nasty weather so far. Ended up putting coat in backpack. Should have brought my other one, not the one mom suggested I take, as it's too hot to use.

We had Ramen noodles for dinner - really tasty, and really cheap! Close to the hotel. Will go back again.

Money: Down like 11000 yen. Looking back, I'm not sure where I spent it all! That's about $110 US. Lunch was about $20, dinner was like $10. So not sure where the other $80 went.

The Leica: Got a "shutter fault" on the Leica. Fixed itself after a power cycle or two. Not confidence inspiring. Getting a little better at focusing. I'm finding it difficult to focus when doing a portrait shot, just because of the handling of the camera. I flipped it around, and it was a little easier, but the ergonomics are not the greatest. Low-light performance continues to be disappointing. Anything over 160 (the base ISO) noiser then I would like. 320 is ok but a little grainy. 640 is the end of usable. 1250 is very noisy. So far, seems like this is not the camera for me. Took 4 or 5 shots today with the lens cover on due to the fact there's no easy way to tell that it's the case. I did get some good shots I think though.

Japan Day 0 - May 18-19

Today was the first day of my vacation, which was spent traveling.

My initial itinerary had us (Leon and I) traveling on ANA airlines round trip from JFK to Narita Airport in Japan. However, due to issues with upgrades from economy to business, I changed it at the last minute to:

JetBlue from JFK to Dulles International Airport in Washington DC
ANA from Dulles to Narita in Japan.

Coming back will be:

ANA from Narita to Los Angeles International in California
JetBlue from LAX to JFK

The JetBlue flight wasn't too bad. Smaller jet used for the short flight (little over an hour). Luggage wasn't too big of a deal.

Then we had a much longer flight on ANA airlines (about 12 hours). Check in was easy. Tagged the luggage with "Star Alliance Priority," dropped it, and was on our way. Also got entry to the "lounge" for before the flight. Complimentry fruit, ramen noodles, WiFi internet, private bathrooms, and plenty of tables with power to use. Flight was delayed for 50 minutes. Still made it to Narita on time though, amazingly. Crazily, the first class and business class people get on the plane with their own entrance. The "commoners" get on in the back of the plane, lol. (Just kidding, I think it's good to have parallelism to allow more people to board at once, but some people on forums complained certain airports only had 1 gate. Seriously, get over yourself.) It was not the newest planes, as we had the old-style business-class seats. Still very comfortable, except in the "bed" position, as they're too short. Food was very good. Service was excellent. IFE was OK. There was a program called Delicious Nippon, which was about Japanese food. There was a woman in it which was a terrible actress, her surprises were really just made it funny.

After that, we took the Narita Express to our station, Shinagawa. Our hotel was a short walk from the station, we didn't have too much trouble finding it, thankfully. We ate in the Cafe24 on the lobby floor, which wasn't too bad, but nothing exciting.

I took a Leica M8.2 with me on the trip, to get an idea of what the "Leica experience" was that everyone talked about. I took a 28mm f/2.8 and a 50mm f/2 lens with me. I will be adding info at the bottom of each post detailing my experiences with it.

The Leica: Took shots at Dulles airport, camera held up fine. Have been using the 28mm most of the time. In the plane, there were some shots which didnt come out as expected due to the parallax error in the viewfinder. Focusing can be a hassle some times.