Sunday, October 14, 2007

On arriving back home

An amazing trip and a wonderful experience as a first step off of North American soil for foreign travel, but I am happy to be home.

What was scheduled as a nine-hour flight left Narita airport right on schedule and arrived into Vancouver close to an hour early without any problems enroute. I departed Tokyo at 6 pm on Sunday evening, arriving to Vancouver at 9 am on Sunday morning fueled by two in-flight meals that are best described as odd food combinations - both included soft salami and a scoop of potato salad (curried for dinner, plain for brekkie). For dinner, chicken in a sauce on rice and some pickled vegetables. For breakfast, a danish and yogurt.

On getting lost in translation

(Bottom right) Do not feel the animals. (Do not fly kites.)

Final Day: Ueno Park

I visited Ueno Park (Ueno Koen) earlier to tour the Tokyo National Museum, but on this day I spent more time to check out the many other attractions within this park. This was Tokyo's first park, opened in 1873, but just five years earlier, it was the site for the Battle of Ueno, a bloody fight between the Meiji government and the warriors of the traditional Tokugawa shogun.

Inside the park are the many museums (Western Art, Science, Metropolitan Art, University Art, and Ueno Royal), Ueno Zoo, Shinobazu Pond, Toshugu Shrine, kids' amusement park, and many monuments and statues representing significant moments in the nation's history.

It was a short day with needing to leave time to catch trains to Tokyo station connecting to the Narita Aiport express train, then the flight home, but a nice low-key way to finish visiting Tokyo.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Back in Tokyo

Returned to Tokyo today with the end of the conference being yesterday evening. Staying very close to the Ueno station because of its easy access to Tokyo station, where I will board the train for the airport tomorrow. Though my visit to Japan has been an amazing experience and a wonderful chance to do some foreign travel, I am ready to return home. I have lost a lot of the excitement I had earlier to explore new areas, see new things, and eat different things. A bit of familiar and the comforts of home, friends, and family will be appreciated.

This afternoon, while we waited to check into our hotel (which door frames that make you feel as though you're staying at a hobbit hotel), we checked out the Ameyoko area. This short stretch of side roads and alleys is filled with 500 stalls with vendors selling foods (fish, fruit, and vegetables), and huge amounts of cheap jeans and t-shirts. We did find some Canadian content with Blenz and the Body Shop stores, and a bite at Moz Burger (recommended to us to try while in Japan, but the recommendation is not forwarded on by myself). The Ameyoko area was loud and full of people.

Closer to evening, we took the train to Asakusa and explored again the market. We stayed in Asakusa through to the evening, which allowed us to see Sensoji temple in the wonderful shadows of night, and to enjoy a nice outdoor table for our last dinner for this trip to Japan.

Day Eight: Matsushima, Japan

On this mid-conference day, the organizing committee had arranged an excursion and banquet for the attendees. Without anyone knowing too many of the details of the afternoon trip, about 350 guests boarded eight or so tour buses, leaving for Matsushima.

Matsushima is a gorgeous town approximately one hour from Sendai, driving north east. A tale of the area describes haiku poet Matsuo Basho unable to compose a haiku about the place because he was so awed by its beauty that he could not find words to adequately describe it. Here, we visited Zuiganji, a Zen temple founded in the Heian period, 828. A ten-year project to restore and preserve the temple was completed in 1995, which also saw the opening of a wonderful art museum on the site.

The banquet followed in the nearby ritzy Hotel Taikanso. A many-course meal was served. Some traditional Japanese musicians and singers provided the entertainment. Beer, wine, and sake were freely flowing. My favourite dish of the night was the chowan mushi.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Day Six: Sendai, Japan

Conference started today; however, I think that I'm starting to feel the effects of my body not knowing what time zone I'm in. I have started to wake up at 3 or 4 am local time, and have trouble getting back to sleep. It doesn't make much sense because I don't know when the last time that I slept in until 11 am or 12 pm (noon) was, but I did felt the effects of being up so early during the less energy-packed moments of today's symposia.

At the end of the day, I was included for an invitation to a private evening party being held at Sendai castle.

Sendai Castle was built an elevation of 12 m on a natural forest created by cliffs to the east and south. All that remains of the original site are the stone walls and the "sumi-yagura" (guard house).

This is a company-sponsored party that I've been lucky enough to enjoy on a couple previous occasions (Vancouver and Maui, Hawaii) because of my boss's relationship with the company members. It is a fantastic catered affair where I have been able to taste a number of single-malt scotch whiskeys. Tonight's six bottle tier (age when bottled, nose, taste, comments):

Glenkinchie (10 year): Light, fragrant sweetness. Round flavour, slightly dry with a lingering malty smoothness. An excellent pre-dinner dram, available as part of United Distillers' classic malt range.
Dalwhinnie (15 year): Clean, clear, fresh with a subtle hint of smoke. Light, sweet, heather, mellow and lasting. Dalwhinnie in the local Gaelic language means - 'meeting place.' However, this distillery is in a harsh environment. The highest of Scottish distillers, but produces the softest of highland malts.
Macallan (10 year): Complex , with hints of fruit and heather honey. Soft, with a maltiness, balanced with oak and fruit. Matured in oak casks that have contained sherry. No other whisky distillery uses casks. The casks are imported from Jerez in Spain.
Scapa (14 year): Peaty and fresh. Malty, sweet and full. The distillery is perched on a cliff overlooking Scapa Flow, the channel where the German Navy was scuttled in 1919.
Talisker (10 year): Heavy, sweet and full aroma. Unique full flavour which explodes on the palate, lingering with an element of sweetness. Distilled central heating! Superb after-dinner malt from United Distillers' classic malt range. One of the greatest whiskies in the world.
Laphroaig (10 year): Huge smoke, seaweedy, a hint of sweetness. Surprising sweetness, with hints of salt and peatiness. Malted barley is dried over a peat fire. The smoke from this peat, found only on Islay, gives Laphraoaig its particularly rich flavour.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

On the efficient use of land area

A parking elevator. Drive your car into the lift, get out, and pay the parking attendant. Your car will be moved from the ground floor to somewhere in the parking tower, and when you return, will return to the ground where you can drive it off the lift.

I thought that I read that Vancouver was supposed to get a parking garage like this in the downtown.

Day Five: Sendai, Japan

Because I will spend the rest of my time in Sendai at the conference, I used today to explore the city.

Sendai is a city that was demolished by Allied bombing during WWII and then rebuilt. This has left few cultural sights left. It seems that unless you have the time and transportation methods to get outside the city limits, the major centres of activity are the departments stores, banks and hotels that line the streets of Aoba-dori, Chuo-dori, and Ichibancho-dori.

I visited these shopping areas, Sendai Morning Market Place, and the small stores and galleries of some of the local artists.

On riding your bike to work, to school, and to play

Bikes are everywhere. There are also a lot of scooters.

There are rows and rows of bikes parked outside of major centres, many of them not locked up. Everyone trusts that their bike will be there when they return.

Domino's pizza even uses scooters for their deliveries here, complete with heated pizza compartments.

On paying the listed price

For everything that I've purchased in Japan, I have paid the marked price. Taxes were included in this price, so mental math to figure out what the final bill was going to be was not necessary. Also, tipping is not required, as this has also been calculated into the final bill.

So, when I purchased a sweet bean filled pancake sandwich that had its price marked as 136 yen, I paid 136 yen for this mid-afternoon snack.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Arrival to Sendai, Japan

The purpose of my trip to Japan is to attend an international conference being held in the city of Sendai. Wayne and I traveled from Tokyo to Sendai via the Shinkansen (bullet train). An incredible ride, we were here in about 1.5 hours. Our best guess was that the train was traveling at ~250 kph in the less populated regions.

Once we arrived, we opted to walk an expected eight blocks from the train station to our hotel (on my suggestion). Some dark clouds abovehead had looked menacing earlier, but appeared to being holding off from heavy showers. Unfortunately, this did not last. We arrived to the hotel looking like a pair of drowned rats. A hot bowl of udon warmed us back up and let us dry up while we waited to check into the hotel. (Incredibly, the hotel would not allow us into our rooms an hour before their 2 pm check-in time, even though I was certain that they were made up and ready.)

My final note for this post is that I was wrong when I suggested that the hotel room in Tokyo was small. It had room to move, not like the tiny (and stale smoke-smelling) room I have for five nights in Sendai.