Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Back in Seattle

I'm back in Seattle now, got a ton of stuff to sort through and clean up. The return flight from Narita to Seattle was pretty short, under 8 hrs cruising at around 680 mph with a 110 mph tailwind. If only getting to Japan was that short though.

I think I have some more car related updates soon.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Touristy Stuff #7 (Final)

Today we went to the Tokyo Game Show which is an annual event held in Tokyo as the name suggests. We were pretty hyped up for it after seeing coverage from previous years events. We arrived around half an hour after the gates opened and had to wait in line for over an hour in a massive queue before being able to get to the ticket area. Once passed this point... MASS AFTER MASS of people.

The place was flooded with people, we tried to navigate around and at one point there was a blockage so bad there were people (sweaty nerds) crushing us from behind by constantly ramming to try to get people to move forward. It was literally body pressed against body trying to move anywhere with absolutely nowhere to go or escape. If there was a fire or something of that sort at that moment, there was a pretty certain chance we would have died--not if I could help it though!

The crowding got a little better later in the day but it was still impossible to see anything due to the massive queues. All the games and everything else was in Japanese as well with very little that was presented having the chance of coming stateside either. So all in all TGS wasn't that great. It was a good experience in that we got to experience the craziness of TGS and see some cool stuff, but the crowds killed it. I'm sure TGS is a completely different story with a press pass when the event is completely quiet.

However, one of the bonuses to the event was all the cosplayers (Costume Play) that were dressed up. There are a lot of cosplayers in America that try to emulate the Japanese but nearly all the costumes / cosplay at TGS was of a completely different caliber. There were some ridiculous looking people at the event as well, but I'll let the pictures do the talking.


Friday, September 17, 2010

Touristy Stuff #6

Today we tried to get to Mount Tsukuba by bicycle which is around 20km each way, but my friend tired out on the last hill climb so we turned back and headed home before it got too late. Some fairly picturesque views along the way though.

Tomorrow we'll be going to the Tokyo Game Show so expect an update related to that.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Touristy Stuff #5

Today it was pouring rain pretty much all day, so I decided that we should go to Odaiba, which is a large completely man-made island which is still part of Tokyo. Odaiba is connected to the rest of Tokyo via the very famous and picturesque Rainbow bridge which is often photographed at night--which is what I did as well. Anyway, there are a few different potential activities to do at Odaiba such as visit the Fuji TV building, walk around, etc. However, the reason we went was to check out one of Sega's last remaining "parks" known as Joypolis.

We both bought all-day passport passes and went on most of the attractions. Joypolis consists of 3 stories of interactive / virtual madness. One thing that I noticed though was that pretty much all the other people that were there were couples and most of the attractions were for couples as well. The first and last "rides" we did were pretty cool--playing the Initial D arcade game within an actual car with fully functional controls, the entire car (and screen) even rotates and banks during turns which makes the experience feel pretty realistic.

Another attraction we did which was worth noting was called Storm-G, which was an 8 person, 4-"ship" racing game. Two people ride in a single "ship," have 2 joystick controls for each hand and both drivers need to match their control inputs with each other in order to navigate the course. There's another component to the game in that when both players simultaneously press the buttons at the top of the joysticks, the ship will do a rapid 360 degree barrel roll which is used to avoid obstacles and seemingly increase mayhem. I thought the ride would be ok and it was, but I don't think I'm fit to ride in an actual jet fighter as all the spinning from just the game made me feel like poo.

There was an interesting half-pipe simulator as well but I opted not to ride on anymore forceful spinning rides after the poo feelings from Storm-G. We played a few crazy virtual games and rode in a few adventure simulators which were surprisingly good (similar to the Back to the Future ride at Universal Studios)--there were several times where the jeep / boat we were riding in actually felt like it was freefalling.

After Joypolis, we explored the shopping mall that it was in and found a floor of cool shops selling very retro Japanese stuff, food, toys, junk, etc. There was a Muscle Park in the mall as well, complete with a cheezy mini Sasuke mock-up course. Following the adventures we headed back home--more later.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Touristy Stuff #4

Another busy day in Tokyo, today we went to Ryogoku which is basically sumo city, of course to watch some sumo. The 15-day seasonal sumo championship started a few days ago so we were fortunately able to experience the sport firsthand. Once we arrive in Ryogoku there were tons of sumo everywhere dressed in traditional Japanese attire--it's hard to believe that sumo are still normal people that play games on their cell phone, have fun, etc. like you and me.

The sport of sumo is full of rituals which we didn't quite fully understand. I understood the basics such as all the elaborate purification rituals the sumo perform when they spit out water and throw salt into the ring, along with the feet clapping moves, etc. The matches were fairly entertaining and the experience was pretty cool. There were a few times when some sumo were thrown into the audience which sit just outside of the main ring--creaming a few old people. Tickets to watch sumo are pretty expensive if you don't buy the cheapy general admission tickets that we got which were 2100 yen. Tickets close to the ring run at over $200 each. The Japanese are very enthusiast about the sport and cheer quite a lot--there was even something like a cheerleading squad of old people in one section of the audience, big time sumo fans I guess. The sumo come from various cities throughout Japan so it's common for Japanese people to root for certain wrestlers as their representatives.

In Akihabara we went and explored more shops and arcades and finally hit the jackpot after finding a floor filled with the latest Gundam simulator. We each got pilot cards and played a few games. The simulator screen in panoramic and is equipped with a headset so that you can communicate with your teammates during the 6v6 online matches. It was pretty fun, but requires a huge investment to work your way up to a decent Gundam mech. However, on the next floor we played another mech combat game called Border Break which is pure amazingness. It's hard to express how fun this game is and how sad it is that the game will probably never come to America. The game format runs as a 10v10 with headset capabilities and has a pilot card as well with amazing mech class unlocks and mech customizability. The matches play somewhat similar to a point capture format with the objective being to destroy some kind of reactor core thing in the enemy's base. What makes the game so amazingly fun is the controls which consist of a fixed joystick on the left and a mouse on the right as well as a touchscreen display which is seemlessly integrated. The game is very smooth and fast paced, I'm going to miss it.

We also went to a maid cafe in Akihabara called The Granvania. The experience was as expected, it's just a regular cafe aside from the fact that all the waitresses are dressed up to a certain theme. It was an interesting experience though, shame that pictures weren't allowed.

More to come most likely.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Touristy stuff #2-3

It's been an insanely busy time exploring / showing Tokyo to a friend, we probably walked something like 30-40km each day. My feet felt / feel like death. We went to Asakusa which is a really popular tourist location, even for Japanese people. There was a massive open arcade-style market area with tons after tons of souvenir type items ranging from paper fans to samurai swords and associated cutlery, stationary, wood-block prints, traditional toys, dolls, statues, etc. so much cool stuff. The temple at the end of market is pretty massive albeit a bit boring as well.

Following a thorough exploration of Asakusa we walked to Ueno to check out a large toy store by the station. Then we went over to Shibuya at night to see the usual populous insanity and explore the Seibu Loft and Tokyu Hands--both containing tons of gift-like and generally awesome items.

The next day we were insanely tired after waking up at noon and decided to take the time to explore Tsukuba a little more. We checked out the wares at Up Garage and spotted a nice Nissan S15 (all S15s are amazingly nice, I want to get one if I can come back to Japan). Later in the day we rode our bicycles to a giant pet shop and saw some amazing / rare animals (I mentioned this shop previously, however, I never explored the fish / water creatures section).

There were some insanely rare fish at this shop which are illegal / banned in America.

There was a tank filled with 5-6 asian arowanas which were being sold for around $8000 each--a really prized fish. I managed to take some pictures of a couple beetles at the shop and snapped a picture of the amazing falcon that was for sale--it's too cool.

As we were leaving the shop we were surprised by a huge Arapaima gigas fish which was probably 5 feet long or more.

Tomorrow should bring further adventures.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Touristy Stuff #1

A friend (bff) came to visit me in Japan for a week or so. So starting today we did a bunch of touristy stuff, mostly redid most of the stuff that I've already done previously. Retracing steps can get pretty tiring. Tokyo is big.

Today we started off in Akihabara, explored tons of electronics shops, went arcade hopping, etc. then walked to Ueno and through Ameyayokocho which used to be a black market for American / military goods a while back. Right now it's just a big market area with tons of people and nearly anything you want / need.

Following that, we went to Harajuku to see crazy dressed people and the youth of Japan. Then went to Shinjuku to get a view of Tokyo from the Metropolitan government building--this time at night to get a view of all the fancy lights. The view is much nicer at night.

We ate dinner at an izekaya (Japanese bar) and my friend suggested one food item pictured in the menu which apparently looked like fried (golden) rings of squid to him. I read the food name and didn't see anything squid related and noted that but couldn't figure out what it was. We ordered it anyway to check it out--maybe it could be good. Sooooo... when it arrived the food didn't even look like rings, they were like balls of something. I ate one and there was something squishy and "juicy" in the center of the material and the rest was super chewy like gum. I can't really describe the taste of the squishy center parts as being pleasant, it tasted a bit like poop or tires or something like that (neither of which is good). We were both a bit disappointed and wondering what we were going to do with this stuff. I was disappointed because I hadn't encountered this stuff before and didn't know what it was although I had seen the name before. This time I would research what this stuff was when I got home--it's called horumon and wikipedia basically describes the material as beef or pork "offals," which to me means bits of stuff that shouldn't be eaten. I guess it's a learning experience.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

No more pupas

Found maggots in some of the pupas this morning and destroyed / tossed them all out. I was afraid of this as I had seen some baby caterpillars with large egg cases laid onto their backside. I can only assume that the giant caterpillars I collected had been infected at some point by predatory wasps. I thought the wasp larva infection would prevent the caterpillars from pupating but I guess not.

Really gross.