September 18, 2005

Postcards from Japan

A few words to remind me of Japan:

"Bullet trains" - woosh, one of the trains we travelled on told us that it was going 285km/ hour. I think some of the newer, more expensive ones go at 400km/hour+ (but I worked that out from Japanese TV so am not exactly sure if I guessed right). The trains were always on time too - if only British Rail could take some efficiency tips (but not costing tips) from the Japanese.

"Toilets" - Really they go from one extreme to another. Public toilets away from tourist attractions are generally hole in the floor types and the toilets in hotels are usually western toilets with some electronic extravagance like a heated toilet seat or 5 ways to wash your bum.
"Sushi" - we did eat quite a bit of sushi, and ate out at a place with a sushi train one day which was quite an experience. Of the non-raw fish kind, strangely we found tuna mayo maki rolls in a corner shop, which is Rob's preferred sandwich flavour.
"Style" - wow, the Japanese are a noticibly sylish lot & Rob and I were very messy in comparison (more so than normal :) ).
"Safety" - never felt safer - no evil intimidating chavs running around causing chaos.
"Baths" - Japanese baths are about 2 thirds the length of a western bath and a little higher so there's no baths for two.
"Bright Lights" - you have to wonder what vast quantity of electricty Japan's neon lighting obsession uses up.
"Vending Machines" - 4 million of them selling drinks, beers and cigarettes. If you put stuff like that in vending machines at home, it wouldn't last 5 minutes before getting broken in to.
"Typhoon" - first time I have been in a country which was having a typhoon. We weren't near the typoon but we got the weather...
"Thin-ness" - everyone is sooo slim (apart from the Sumos who have to work very hard to get fat I'm sure), but Japanese people tend to have small frames so I guess that could explain it. I am sure the diet helps too and the fact that there is not much junk food in the shops.
"Pachincho/Games Parlours" - 5+ floor buildings jammed packed with game and slot machines. In the entertainment quarters, these are everywhere and pretty busy too.
"Temples & Shrines" - how many? wow we saw quite a few and we just scratched the surface.
"Slippers" - what a complex set of rules there are for slippers in Japan. I stopped wearing them when I was about 10 and all of a sudden we are within a whole society based around slippers.
"Service" - Even though we were staying in cheap hotels (these were very expensive by travellers standards for other countries), the rooms were always very clean, the service good and the staff polite & accomodating.
"Bikes" - people ride bikes on the pavements and not on the roads in Japan which is very confusing when you first arrive as you are constantly having to adjust your position on the pavement for passing bikes. I think Rob saved my from collision on a couple of occasions.
"Politeness" - its true, the Japanese are on the whole a very polite lot.
"Mobile phones" - mobiles phones are even more of an obsession here than at home. The phones are different, they are more of the clasp variety with internet and email
"Replicas" - not the Rolex variety, more the mini Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty.

Posted by deb at 08:50 AM | Comments (3)

Lost in Translation

This set of photos is from our last week or so around Tokyo, so its quite a large and varied set. It shows our adventures round Akihabara, the electronics district, Ginza, the swanky shopping district, Tokyo Bay and the Rainbow Bridge, Shinjuku, where all the bright lights can be found and Harajuku, the Camden Town of Tokyo. There's also lots of photos of the gadgets we have hunted out, mainly from our visits to the two Sony Centres and Apple store. Not sure if the Ipod Nano is out at home, but it's on sale here and available to play with. Ohh they are soo small.

We're off to China tomorrow for 11 days, where we'll be mostly hanging out in Beijing before heading off to Thailand. Not sure how restricted the internet will be but we're hoping out phones will work.

When we get home, I'd quite like to watch Lost in Translation again and compare it to the Tokyo we've seen.

[2 Tokyo galleries here and here]

Posted by deb at 07:51 AM | Comments (7)

Tokyo Game Show 2005 Roundup

We visited the Tokyo Game Show 2005 on Saturday, billed as being the first real viewings for the next gen consoles (PS3 and XBox 360). The show itself was a great mash up of Videogame and Japanese culture. The main points of interest (apart from the game show girls !) were the Sony and Microsoft stands. The XBox 360 stand was definately a big hit where there were about 10+ actual playable XBox 360 games whereas the Sony stand, whilst having a big presence, didn't actually have any playable hardware. The pre-renders on the big screens showing the next-gen graphics were expectedly impressive (but you have to take them with a pinch of salt !). Overall Microsoft won it for me just because they had everything ready to go and they are also heavily concentrating on the Japanese market where they failed last time with the XBox - we'll have to wait and see how being late to market for Sony affects the PS3 takeup.

The other stand that looked interesting was Sega (believe it or not) where they seem to have a good selection of upcoming games - Phantasy Star Universe was one we played and it was a third person RPG style game that was fun to play (coming to PS2 I believe).

Finally - the best swag of the show - it goes to Microsoft and N3 (Ninety Nine Nights) where if you played the game (and we did - it was really easy to pick up and contained lots of fun slash n kill style action) you recieved a mini maglite style torch which when you turn on has an N3 logo in the beam !

[2 Tokyo Game Show galleries here and here]

Posted by robl at 07:47 AM | Comments (2)

September 15, 2005

Picture Perfect

It might not suprise you that as we've been working our way around the world we've actually been working on a few little projects here and there. The first one that has come to fruition is my MMS::Mail::Parser library. They basically let you recieve MMS messages from people and manipulate them within Perl (so you can do things like the MMS strip above). Generally each network provider (e.g. Vodafone) encodes their message in a slightly different fashion so I've only got a Vodafone message as an example as thats the Network I'm on.

If you have a fancy MMS enabled phone and you're not on Vodafone then please, please, please send an MMS message with a picture and some text to and help me out so I can add support for other networks to the library.

Thanks !

Posted by robl at 10:24 AM | Comments (6)

It's a small small world

It's funny when you travel all the way round the world and you end up meeting someone who lives in Hyde Park. It's even funnier when you talk to them and find out they also work with computers. It's even funnier when you mention that you used to work for Energis that virtually the first thing they mention is the Planet Gateway (and not in an entirely complemntary tone funnily enough).

I suppose this one is for POL people only.

Posted by robl at 10:18 AM | Comments (4)

September 14, 2005

I think I'm turning Japanese

A few days ago we went for a wander around Kyoto. It was a very hot day but we persisted in our Temple spotting along with hundreds of others. We thought the crowds might scare the temples away but apparently they are very domesticated in their natural habitat and were happy to pose for pictures. Deb spent hours working out a walking tour and we faithfully followed it around the Sanjusangen-Do temple (where we weren't allowed to take any photos !), the Kiyonizu temple and the Nanzen-Ji temple.

The Sanjusangen-Do temple was probably the most impressive with 1001 statues of the 1000 armed Kanoon (the budhist Goddess of Mercy).

We've been in Tokyo for a few days now and we have been visiting the various districts within the city. We have elongated our stay in Tokyo so we can take in the Tokyo Games Show and take a peak at the new XBox 360 and maybe even some PS3 games. We'll now be leaving for China on Monday.

[2 Kyoto galleries here and here]

Posted by robl at 11:26 AM | Comments (0)

September 09, 2005


Yesterday we took the bullet train over to Hiroshima. The A-Bomb dome was really quite something to see, it was just metres from where the bomb hit. We also had a look round the Peace Memorial Museum which gave you a very good overview (if not quite gruesome at times) of how it all happened and the effects that the bomb had on the people and the area. Peace Memorial Park showed the Statue of the Children - quite heart wrenching, in memorial of one particular child who died of leukemia. The statue is surrounded by thousands of origami paper cranes made by the children.

[2 Hiroshima galleries here and here]

Posted by deb at 07:53 AM | Comments (0)

September 07, 2005

Culture Club

Japan, really has to have been one of the most amazing countries I have been to in terms of culture, social graces - in fact pretty much everything about it really. With it all being so different, primarily the language, it has meant that the simple day to day things like eating, finding accommodation, transport have been much more difficult; however I do think that this is what makes it all the more of an adventure. The main problem we have had is getting our mits on some nice hot take-away Japanese food (we decided to try and eat Japanese food where possible and not go for the easy option of Mc Donalds). With Japanese restaurants being very expensive for your average traveller, it is not possible for us to eat out (ok maybe once or twice during our stay) and so we've been on the hunt for a good take-away which has the added bonus that we can take back to our room and fumble with chop-sticks in private.

So after walking around for hours trying to find a Japanese take-away we realise that perhaps Japanese do not really have the concept of take-away, (the closest thing we found is ramen bars where you go in and eat at a bar) maybe because (we read in the lonely planet), the Japanese people do not like to eat food in the street and so perhaps there is little demand for it. So what about Sushi then? Well we've both been dining on sushi here and there, but sometimes you just want a nice hot meal. Bento boxes? we've only seen them in restaurants. So we discovered that you can walk into a seven-eleven type shop and pick up a nice looking boxed noodle meal (that you can almost guess what it is) that they warm up for you when you pay for it - winner, these are a very cheap way of eating and pretty tasty too.

Just as we thought we had mastered it, we picked up 2 of these boxed meal things and gestured to the lady behind the counter to warm them up as we had done previously and she seemed to understand what we meant and then proceeded to pack the un-warmed noodles into the bag along with the drinks we had picked up too. So we gestured again towards the microwave and she took the drinks out of the bag and put them next to the bag and handed us the bag of cold boxed noodles. So we took our noodles back to the Ryokan and ate them cold and left the lady behind the counter thinking that we were anal enough to make her take the drinks out of the bag for us. I really wish I had seven years to learn Japanese.

Just so as you don't think we are starving ourselves, yesterday we managed to locate a less intimidating noodle bar with at the train station and we managed just fine, and we've also re-mastered the boxed noodle buying. In fact our chop-stick skills are coming on in leaps and bounds. Really, it is just a matter of going for it and trying stuff, but with my lack of chicken eating and our general fear of getting something we might not like, we are taking it one step at a time, but we are getting there.

Toilet Training

Everywhere we have been so far we've been lucky enough to be blessed with western toilets, even in the Ryokan, you can choose between a Western and a Japanese hole in the floor affair. Yesterday, however, when I really needed to go, the only option was a hole in the floor toilet - not a pleasant experience when you are in a rush, however perhaps a good way of forcing you to learn how to use them.

BTW, many of the western toilets over here have heated toilet seats, even in the Ryokan, where you must put on a different pair of special designated "toilet slippers" to enter the toilet!

Hurricane Update

You may have read about Hurricane Nadi that has been striking destruction upon southern Japan over the last few days. Thankfully, we have avoided the turmoil, as we have been staying in Kyoto which is north of there, however we were told by the nice lady at the tourist information that we should expect "hurricane weather" (not something Rob or I have experienced before, so as you can imagine, a little worrying) and were to get back to Kyoto before dark last night and not to stray far from our accommodation today. So today we have been wandering round Kyoto town and the weather actually is better than it has been for the last few days, blue skys and scorching hot so it looks like we can go to Hiroshima tomorrow and all is ok once again, yippee!

Today we had fun exploring the department stores food halls, which is an experience in itself, plus we had a wander round one of the huge gaming/amusement arcade 6 floor building with a whole twenty or so machines dedicated to networked Counter Strike - Rob's dreams come true. Plus we won some pac-man soft toy things which are rather cool. The Japanese really seem to love the pokie machines, we saw loads of men queuing outside to get in at about 10 in the morning in Tokyo. There are gaming and pokie halls everywhere with lots of glowing lights, it really is something.

The Ryokan

Staying in a Ryokan isn't just about sleeping on a futon on the floor, it's more than that, there's a whole set of social graces you have to understand. Firstly, slipper wearing, which I touched on earlier.. you must take off your shoes and put on your designated slippers before going anywhere beyond the front step. You must not wear your slippers on the Tatami mats in your room (easy to do when you are used to walking round the house in shoes). You should really wear the special toilet slippers too. Also, there's bath time. Bath time is between 5pm and 11pm and you must tell them when you come in what time you want your bath so they can run it for you. You must wear your robe to the bathroom (left side over right side, as the other way is dressing the dead). You must wash yourself thoroughly before getting into the bath. It's like staying in someone's house I guess really, and, like many things, it doesn't exist just because of the foreign tourists.

Posted by deb at 07:15 AM | Comments (0)

Castles in the sky

In case you were wondering we seemed to have survived Typhoon Nabi. In Kyoto it meerly seemed to bring lots of rain and some gusty winds. We braved the elements yesterday and travelled to Himeji-Jo one of best (still standing) examples of a Japanese castle. Again, it was a huge piece of architecture with a gigantic wooden frame. It dates back to the 17th Century and the Shogun period and is seven stories tall.

[2 Himeji-Jo galleries here and here]

Posted by robl at 03:26 AM | Comments (6)

September 05, 2005

Singing in the rain

We had a nice day out in Nara today (with a huge number of UNESCO sites). We visited the amazing Todai-Ji temple and the worlds largest Buddha (the Daibutsu). It's a shame the pictures don't do it more justice but it was huge, no actually it was HUGE ! We also visited some other temples it the area including Kasuga Taisha which had loads of stone lanterns dotted around and was the embodiment of a Japanese temple. There were also loads of deer roaming the park area around the temples - very friendly too - one tried to eat my t-shirt (probably the soy sauce I spilt on it trying to use chop sticks ...)

As you'll notice from the pictures it was raining - we seem to be in the grip of typhoon Nabi. The only weather warnings appear to be for rain and gusts where we are so we should be okay now we have our trusty umbrellas.

[2 Nara galleries here and here]

Posted by robl at 12:46 PM | Comments (0)

September 04, 2005

Why does it always rain on me ?

I'm getting a little paranoid that I'm actually a rain god (see Dirk Gently for details) after our 3 weeks of rain in Auckland and now we're in Kyoto and it's started raining after the blistering sun in Tokyo. From what we've managed to gather from TV there seems to be some bad weather coming our way but hopefully it should blow over in the next few days.

Anyhow, we're staying in a lovely little Ryokan and we're out on the road for the next few days visiting some shrines/castles/big buddhas. Tokyo was fun but we only had a little taste so there is lots more to see and do there - I'm most excited about seeing the Godzilla statue ...

Oh and bullet trains really do lean and they go very very very fast !

[2 Tokyo galleries here and here]

[2 Ryokan galleries here and here]

Posted by robl at 11:11 AM | Comments (1)

September 03, 2005


Just a quick note to say we have made it to Japan. Our flight was delayed by three hours which meant the subway (the only practical way to get to Tokyo centre - a 1+ hr journey) was just closing - it actually shut down as we were riding to Hotel Sakura so we never made it there and ended up staying in a small hotel in Ueno. We are back on track now though however and we've been to a local park this morning and we're in downtown Tokyo now. We are jumping off to Kyoto tomorrow for 6 days for some temple and castle gazing and then we come back to Tokyo for the remaining 6 days. Our phones don't seem to work so it's contact by email only and the number of web cafes seems pretty thin so we're not sure how easy it's going to be to get the pictures up - but we'll try our hardest - my sign language is growing in leaps and bounds !

Posted by robl at 08:12 AM | Comments (0)