Sunday, November 15, 2009

Efficiency or excess?

Trains in Japan are frankly pretty amazing. They're efficient, punctual (usually) and pretty much all around a great resource to have, especially in Tokyo. When I get around to thinking about it, the trains here and a marvel. At the time I'm writing this I'm sitting on a morning train. My morning trains are usually the ones leaving Tokyo so there's lots of space but the ones going into Tokyo in the morning are packed like sardines. A couple of minutes ago I saw the station staff pushing people into the train to get the doors closed (no photos but I'm working on that...). Crazy, right? What I find especially crazy is most of the population here has never experienced life without these amazing, usually punctual trains. The first line in Tokyo opened in 1872 (between Shimbashi--later Shiodome station--and Yokohama--present Sakuragichō station, but the line had no name). Holy crap.



What brought this to my attention was a recent set of advertisements. In September the Yamanote Line--the circular line that connects the main stations in Tokyo--celebrated 100 years of operations (and made a deal to allow one train to be completely wrapped in Meiji chocolate ads between 9/7 and 12/4/2009, apparently because the original trains were brown). I'm pretty sure it wasn't exactly as it is now but that's still light years ahead of most other places. When I think of trains I usually imagine Victorian people and steam engines. Now of course I think of Japanese commuter trains, but being from Michigan there's no public transportation in most places and shoddy transportation at best in a few places. And they're usually buses in college towns anyway.


(not my video)


In any case, these people have been using trains since their parents' or grandparents' times while Michiganders were getting into using cars...

Trains aren't always the fastest way to travel if there isn't a good route, but they usually beat the hell out of local traffic. I remember once in Shiga prefecture it took two hours to go to a place that took less than 30 minutes by train. But people still seem to love their cars here. Lots of my students have boasted about driving to work. From my view, the horrible Tokyo traffic combined with the exorbitant cost of getting a license (and then getting/maintaining a car) plus parking, toll roads, etc. make driving here completely not worth the effort. But I digress.

So, trains. They're quite handy and reliable and it's too bad most of Michigan [and most of the US] isn't structured in any way that could benefit from the installation of a train system like this. Any which way, I'm glad I have access to the Japanese train system now.


(photos courtesy of wikipedia since I lack my own at the moment...)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

My trip to Michigan Hokkaido

Traveling is always fun and traveling in Japan is no exception. This time I headed a bit more north than my summer travels and went up to Hokkaido.



Since you can't take the train to Hokkaido directly--you'll need to go to Aomori and then take the ferry--we decided to fly, which was cool because it was my first domestic flight here. For the most part domestic travel in Japan is the same as everywhere else I've been with a few minor differences. For starters, the captain of the plane won't usually talk on the intercom. He can, of course, but I guess they opt not to. Apparently they just don't. For two, this is JAPAN we're talking about! There are even TVs in the toilets at the airport!



Upon arrival I noticed something strange. Apparently the plane went through a space/time warp and landed us in Michigan! The weather was the same, the plants were the same, even the--oh wait, nope. The Japanese text everywhere was a dead giveaway. But it was surprisingly similar and I couldn't stop saying it, much to the chagrin of my companion, Sushi.



But never fear, Hokkaido is a bit more interesting than Michigan. Or at least I think it is. Anyway, after getting a rental car we headed to Sapporo, home of a happy place known as the Sapporo Brewery. You can buy Sapporo beer in the US but now it's bottled in Canada (check the "Today" part of the history here to find out, or here) so it doesn't really count. We went there for dinner the first night because the one thing I wanted to do in Hokkaido was go to the beer garden, er, Bier Garten. At the restaurant you can have famous Jingisu Kan, a type of Hokkaido-style Mongolian Barbecue named after the historic fearless leader (Jingisu Kan is the Japanese pronunciation of Chingis Khan. Chingis Khan and Genghis Khan are both acceptable names for him, but the dish is called Jingisu Kan). Hokkaido is so well-known for this dish that even the pans were shaped like Hokkaido.



We ended up having mutton and lamb and sausage, obviously washed down with beer. It was cool. For souvenirs there's a large gift shop where you can buy the official beer mugs in many varieties; I got the Classic one and a Sapporo Bier Garten edition. And of course a strap for my phone too. Being female I'm practically obligated to have more charms hanging from my phone than actual phone.


These keychains have a story. The Bier Garten one is because I of course I've loved Sapporo since before I came to Japan. The bunny is something my faithful readers will recognize. The green thing is Marimokkori. He's a personified version of a ball algae famously from Hokkaido (marimo), and yes he always has that bulge no matter what he's dressed as. Sushi and I were looking for this at every shop because I wanted to show it to him. Finally after looking at every shop we passed in Sapporo and Otaru we happened upon them at the airport just as we were leaving. We were both so happy we each bought one. I'm amused because Sushi's a [drunk] businessman and so is this Marimokkori.



Another thing Hokkaido is known for is soup curry. Soup curry is pretty much exactly what it sounds like--a soup that tastes like curry. It's really quite delicious and incidentally it's also a trendy food in Tokyo right now. If you tell people you had soup curry you automatically go up a notch on the Cool Scale. Off, right? Anyway, since Sushi went to school there he knew most of the restaurants and chose an old haunt. The place looked exactly like any college town restaurant should so it furthered my "I'm in Michigan!" feeling. The food was tasty and reasonable so I was happy. Here's a snip from the lunch menu...I had the first soup (ぐゎらチキ天).



While most of what I focus on is food, there's more than just that to Hokkaido. They also have their very own tower, much akin to Tokyo Tower, including the red and white paint job. This one's a bit smaller and had a clock on it though. And admittedly, the fountain programmed to frame it was cooler than Tokyo Tower. But since I have an oil painting of Tokyo Tower in my apartment I thought it a good idea to snap some photos.








Sapporo is also home to Hokkaido University, a strangely Western university started by a guy from Massachusetts for some obscure reason though he claimed it was for the advancement of Japan. Sushi and I compared notes about going to Agricultural universities while looking around. Walking around felt a lot like my time at MSU except there were notably fewer squirrels. And fewer students. It was nice too see and have a moment to reminisce a little. It even smelled like Michigan, which is a bit strange...



But you don't care about my silly-girl nostalgia, so let's get back to the hospitality! Two major natural-type things that Hokkaido boasts are great seafood and dairy. Both are shipped all over Japan, particularly dairy products. Before leaving we had milk floats, which were essentially unmixed milkshakes. If you don't like full-fat milk you'd have a hard time but they were amazing!

For the second day we went to Otaru, which isn't particularly special but has a canal that's kind of charming and several music box and glass companies. More interestingly, there are hot springs as well. We stayed at a ryokan (Japanese-style hotel) for our night there. And the grounds were beautiful--to see some more images click here, here and here. I have tattoos so I'm not allowed into public hot springs so we got a room with a private hot spring bath (click the first link "momiji" to see the room). It was way awesome! And our dinner was served in the room.



I can't begin to explain everything there but the sea urchin was fabulous! What isn't shown here is the corn ice cream for dessert and the extra sides that came a little after we started eating. Apparently if you want you can also catch sea urchin along the coasts and the quality definitely reflected that. I've never had seafood melt in my mouth before.



If you've never experienced a hot spring bath I'd highly recommend it. This was my first time and I intend to seize every opportunity I have to go to one from now on. Something I said after the bath was things like this are enough to keep me in Japan forever. And I guess it's true. Hot springs and unworldly food could keep me almost anywhere.

And let's face it, the silly Pokémon jets (my ride back to Tokyo) don't hurt either.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Busy Trains

The trains in Tokyo are busy. Here are what the wickets look like around 8:30am on a Monday. And this isn't even one of the busier stations on the Yamanote line (it's Tamachi station). I couldn't get a video of Shinjuku if I wanted to because it's the busiest station in the world volume-wise. And it has something like 200 exits, all-told. So you can live with this version.

Trains in Japan are used much more than most places because of crowding. Also, the trains are exceptionally punctual. And reparations if you hit someone while driving or riding a bike is extremely expensive, as I found out when I was hit by a car back in May. Anyway, this little video explains it better than I could...



I haven't managed to get photos of the station employees pushing people to fit into the trains with their white gloves. Working on it. You'll get to see once I do.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Summer Fireworks


A little while ago I went to a fireworks show in Tokyo. Mind you I missed all the big ones for various reasons (mostly work) so I went to a rather small one to get my fix. It only lasted about 30 minutes which was a slight let-down, since most Japanese fireworks shows span over an hour or often two. These were in southern Saitama, near west Tokyo and were done every weekend in August. No wonder they were small.


Most Japanese fireworks festivals are during the summer, so fireworks are synonymous with summer. You'll see lots of people in yukata (cotton summer kimono) and happi coats (cotton jackets) wandering around long before scoping out seats, buying kaki goori (flavored shaved ice), takoyaki, yakisoba or ringo ame (candy apples) and fanning themselves with uchiwa (flat Japanese fans) while grumbling about the hear.


The fireworks themselves are quite lovely and unique at times. Sometimes you'll spot a well-known character like Hello Kitty or Doraemon among the typical round fireworks. It's a good reminder that they're much better at fireworks than we are in the US.





Anyway, this spryte approves of Japanese fireworks, no matter how long or short the show.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Nikko (Really Itaga)

My vacation was awesome! One of the places I went was Itaga, which is quite close to Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture. One of my friends has a hostel he recently opened so I went up for a lovely weekend.

The trains to get to Nikko from Tokyo suck. A lot. At least the one I took was no good. It took the JR Utsunomiya and JR Nikko lines. I guess if you take the Tobu lines it's better but I was able to cheat the trains without any trouble and the whole fare was a staggering 290 yen (as compared to the cheapest fare, 4420). I don't normally recommend cheating the trains but in this case it took me about six hours to do a 2.5 hour (including travel to/from the stations) trip. There were heavy rains due to a typhoon that hi Okinawa and spiraled some rains our way. The trains were crowded, late and generally miserable. It sucked. On the plus side, because of this I didn't feel bad cheating on my train fare. My already light pocketbook (from moving) thanked me.

In any case it was beautiful up there. In my mind it was a lot like Michigan all over again. Lots of pretty scenery and lots of mosquitoes! I got no fewer than 30 bites over the few days I was there. It was worth it though. Check out the view from my bedroom window!



There was a nice little river nearby as well that we went swimming in. The river was quite chilly however, so we also took time to follow a rivulet up the side of the mountain. Mountain climbing in your swimsuit is awesome, haha. My camera isn't waterproof so I didn't take it with me. Sorry.

Most of the time we just lounged and did nothing, which was good for a lazy vacation outside of Tokyo. It rained on the first day but it was mostly just a mist so it didn't prevent us from having a nice lunch at an amazing little shop next door. In retrospect I wish I'd tried the udon but the soba was also awesome (and also handmade). No idea what the broth was but it was tasty. Some mushroom, beef something. No idea. We also had some sort of grilled fish that we liked so much we had seconds. And in all it was very reasonably priced (don't say cheap in Japan; it has negative connotations).

The day after we had our lovely excursion into the wild (swimming and climbing) another typhoon must've rolled in because we had some crazy rains. The runoff from the mountains caused the river to swell so much it almost flooded over the barrier wall that kept it out of the hostel. The clear, cool crisp river became a raging, murky brown torrent that ate all the trees and most things besides. The rain also caused the trains to stop and put my return trip on indefinite hold. Although they did resume a bit later I waited a while to let the congestion clear up some. Once I was on my way it only took three hours to get home. Another example of the JR sucking again.



All told the trip was great but I'd recommend taking the Tobu Nikko line instead if you value your time. Also, if you're looking for a nice hostel during peak times that's got reasonable prices, check out the Zen Hostel. But don't go if you don't like dogs; they have two pugs named Kowboy and Dune.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Cicada Power

Holy crap the cicadas are loud in Japan!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Roses!

A quick video from Monday.

Friday, July 31, 2009

I now lives in Ikebukuro!

Moved in. And now to continue unpacking and reorganizing...

Friday, July 17, 2009

Tokyo side streets

Walking through some not-so-crowded area of Tokyo.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Sony Building (Ginza)

In a large city there are a lot of famous things. There are traditional cultural places, local foods and celebrities, historic sites and more. Tokyo is of course no exception to this. I work twice a week in Ginza, a well-known and hyper-expensive shopping district. There are several awesome places in Ginza (I'll discuss this later when I start to outline some great places in Tokyo), but perhaps the most famous is the Sony building. Inside it's a great place to visit as a tourist or to kill some time if you're around and have a little, but my favorite is the outdoor display.

It's actually only a few buildings down from my work. Next to the building on the corner of a massive intersection is a display area where they set up all kinds of interesting outdoor stuff. It seems wholly incongruent that an electronics company would put nature displays up but I think that's part of the charm of Japanese culture. Here it isn't a mismatch.

In winter they imported a lot of snow from Hokkaido for the display. As I'm from Michigan it was unremarkable and I didn't take a photo, but the Tokyo-ites were all around the snow like they'd never seen it before. As a matter of fact, it does snow in Tokyo but the more recent increases in population have been affecting the local weather and snow has become infrequent. There's rarely any snow buildup anymore. Still, it was nice to see some imported snow.

Before the re-release of Final Fantasy VII Advent Children there were huge billboards in various places. I snapped a photo with my phone because I thought it was interesting.
That was over ten feet tall. I think I got a photo on one of the last days. ^_^;

Over the next few months there were several displays there, ranging from live performers, advertisements for new product campaigns, a Christmas tree and others. I didn't take photos of them but they were exceptionally well-crafted.

In May there was a nice surprise waiting for me. When I turned the corner I saw a spray of sunflowers. I forget where they came from, but it was awesome.

It's nice to see a little nature in the midst of the concrete sometimes.

And I think they believe so too. For June they brought in a garden complete with signs to please come up and enjoy it by walking through it.
I didn't have the courage to go up an walk through since nobody else was, plus I was in a hurry to head somewhere.

Monday before work I noticed a UNICEF ad. Apparently there'll be people there this weekend, but this is the stage.

Most of the displays are imported from somewhere kind of far away. It's almost gimmicky but I think it's great. Haven't figured out the schedule yet, but I think the displays are up for a week or two usually. The snow may have been around for less, but as I don't usually walk past the Sony building on a normal day I don't know. In any case it's a fun little addition when I do walk over there.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Peachy Goodness

Ever since the first time I came here I knew the fruit in Japan wasn't like most fruit in the US. What you find at almost every market are super-ripe juicy specimens. Coming from the US and buying bargain items whenever possible to this is a huge change. Granted the difference is also apparent in price, but it's still a welcome change too.

Earlier this week Moo Cow and I bought some peaches. There was a guy who'd set up his booth at Moo Cow's station and on the way home we decided to pick them up because they were cheap...1000 yen ($10 or so) for 6 large peaches. The guy threw in a smaller--read: average size in the US--one as a thank you bonus. The glorious thing about peaches in Japan is most of them are white peaches; the yellow ones are much less common. And I love white peaches. And peaches here are HUGE. And they're so ripe that the pits inside are already split. It's crazy. Anyway, Moo Cow said he hadn't had fresh peaches in forever. He didn't know what a treat peaches are here though.

When we got them home I decided I wanted to nom one so I picked a large one to share. When I gave Moo Cow a bite the juice ran down his chin. It was that juicy. His exclamation made the purchase totally worth it. I was going to make a video but I don't think the camera quality can capture the awesomeness. So instead I took some photos this morning before I left for work. Here are the surviving two:


Those peaches are each about the size of a softball. And when I sliced another one to serve with the toast and *amazing* tofu I bought it was just perfect.

Maybe I'll make a video about the tofu I got later. Like, sometime in the next week. Be jealous of all the amazing food here. We have to pay for it, for sure, but it's still awesome.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Consciousness

I live in Tokyo. This is nothing new. Well, at the moment I don't actually live in Tokyo, but very close to it. In about two months I'll be living in Tokyo itself. But that's neither here nor there. This morning I looked out the window at Moo Cow's apartment and realized once again that yes, I live in Tokyo. This is the stuff dreams are made of and I'm doing it. There are people who would kill to be here (why aren't they here then?) and here I am. Granted, I worked to be here and I know it.

Last week I had two people comment on my YouTube that I'm so lucky to be here. Luck doesn't factor into it. I wanted to be here so I worked towards it and eventually achieved it. Not sure why people would call that lucky.

So as I looked out Moo Cow's window I decided to take a photo. This is what I see:

From here it looks quite peaceful, don't you think? This is a residential street so there isn't much in the way of shops, but that's not important here. But if you need to know, the shops are on the other side of these buildings...the main street is just to the left of this photo behind the buildings. ;o)

And now I have to get to work. On my list for the next few days is to write up blog posts for all of the stuff I haven't blogged yet. You may be getting posts every couple days for a while until I catch up. Sorry for my absence. v(^_~);

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Japan overreacts. A lot.

In Japan people need to stay healthy because you don't get many sick days. So people often wear masks to keep from getting sick and/or spreading germs. It's a nice system that I'm not really allowed to partake in as a foreigner. That's okay with me...I bet they're horribly uncomfortable.

That all being said... The public or media or whomever decides that people are going to panic is a bit crazy here. I think this article sums up my feelings on the precautions against the swine flu.

The bottom line: I love Japan. Some things confuse the hell out of me. This is one of them.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Smattering of Japanese Sauces

A little discussion of the sauces I have in my apartment. For some reason I find this a fascinating subject.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Spryte and Moo Cow Backpack in Kyoto! Day 1: Restaurant Review

After a long trek around town we figured we'd earned a nice dinner. Aside from transportation, this was the largest expense during the trip. I figured it was a worthy expense, since I wanted to share this restaurant with Moo Cow.

梅の花 (Ume no Hana)

A restaurant that specializes in tofu, this chain is a great find. When you walk in, the friendly staff will greet you and direct you towards a private room where you'll be eating. It's a traditional Japanese-style interior so you'll be expected to take off your shoes at the door. Keep that in mind when choosing your footwear. Some of the rooms will have traditional setups without the sunken floor beneath the table, while others have it. It appears to depend on the restaurant, as each has slightly different decor.


First they'll offer you warm hand towels and ask what you'd like to order. The courses begin at ¥3600 for dinner and go up to ¥7000 or a little more if you choose from the seasonal courses. You can also order items a la carte, but the course menus are always the best deal in terms of variety for price.


We tried the nagomi, a standard course menu that costs ¥3600 and has 12 courses. Once you order, they bring you a small sheet copy of the menu. Again, this is only in Japanese, but it's still a fun little souvenir if you like food. They also explain each course as it comes to your table. From here on out I'll only be talking about the nagomi, since it's the course we had.


The first course was a trio of tofus. We were so hungry we forgot to take a photo before devouring it. Oops. One in particular caught my interest though, which was a ribbon-like tofu that tasted smoother than any tofu I've had anywhere else. As a whole the presentation was fantastic, with all three in small dishes served inside a presentation box. Beautiful and delicious.

Much to my excitement, the "ribbon-tofu" made a reappearance for our second course. As you can see, it was served in a lovely fan-shaped dish. The dipping sauce was soy-based and suited it perfectly.


At this point they brought one of our next courses early so it could simmer. It was mineral water and tofu simmered together to make a soup. Moo Cow noticed that the mineral water caused a breakdown of the tofu that would never happen with tap or bottled water. They placed this pot on the burner in the center of the table. I'd imagine some restaurants also bring burners because they aren't equipped with built-in ones.


The third course was one of my favorite Japanese dishes...茶碗蒸し (chawanmushi), or steamed egg pudding. It's a savory pudding with seafood, mushrooms and other items in it. This one of course had some kind of dumpling in the middle. The dumpling was no doubt made of soy, but it had the texture of the dango I love so much. Despite the hot weather I ate this with much happiness.



Following that was another course we forgot to photograph: 名物とうふしゅうまい(tofu shumai), or tofu dumpling. If you're familiar with gyoza, it's kind of like that but usually round and made with shrimp. These were served in wicker baskets usually used for Dim Sum. They contained shrimp (read: NOT vegetarian) and I believe the tofu was in the noodle wrapping, which was different from the usual because instead of being a large sheet noodle wrapped around the meaty center, it had shredded noodle pieces, as if the dumpling was rolled in it instead. Because of this it has a nice aesthetic. Fabulous dumplings, they were. I wish we'd remembered to take photos.

When they came to collect the plates from that course, they told us the soup was ready to eat. It was delicious. They told us we'd know when it was ready because the soup would become milky white. When they'd initially brought the soup they also gave us instructions that were in both Japanese and I believe English as well, although if I remember correctly the English was questionable. Nonetheless it was understandable and helpful. The soup was eaten mixed with soy sauce.

Next came a fish tempura. The batter was light, crunchy and not oily, while the fish was perfectly cooked so it fell apart in our mouths. We suspect the tofu in this course was in the tempura batter. Although at this point I was starting to question the use of tofu in every course. The tempura sauce for dipping also came with ground daikon to be mixed in, which you can see in the photo.


Perhaps the whole reason I remembered the restaurant from my previous trip was because of the next course. It also influenced my menu decision, as it involved this course. I don't know what these are, but Moo Cow said they're a common Chinese food I could buy in the US at an Asian market, although I wouldn't find the sauce. As you can see, I was too impatient to wait for the photo before nibbling on the corner of one...


A Japanese course menu wouldn't be complete without some kind of salad, so next was the tofu salad. It came stacked as in the photos and with instructions to mix it well before eating (we thought that was kind of obvious). The sauce was an interesting tangy sauce, although not an unfamiliar one. I'm pretty sure I've had it on salads in Japanese restaurants in the US before.


The final three non-dessert courses were served together. Most traditional Japanese course menus will end with a rice course. This one also served miso and an array of what are called pickles here. Pickles in Japan include anything that's been pickled and cut into pieces; the name is not just reserved for pickled cucumbers. I think I liked the dark purple ones the best.


Finally, we had our choice of three desserts. The first was strawberry ice cream, the second was a soy ice cream with kinako (soy powder) and molasses on it, and we didn't hear the third one because we emphatically chose the second choice. We'd had this dessert before at an "American Sushi" restaurant (called California Roll Sushi in Azabu Juban) and it was phenomenal. It was worth trying a soy-based ice cream as well. It was served with a pot of hot tea. It wasn't green tea or barley tea, but we aren't sure *what* kind of tea it was.


And here's a better photos of the ice cream itself...


At this point you can sit and chat over tea for as long as you like. Since we hadn't made a reservation we didn't have the luxury of hours, but we enjoyed our food thoroughly. Here's a little proof, I suppose...


And Moo Cow enjoyed his ice cream. Not sure if this was before or after I told him it wasn't dairy.


As you leave, if you particularly enjoyed any part of your meal, you can pick up some "souvenirs" or just munchies from a display near the register to take home with you. My first trip we got a tofu cheesecake that was to die for. Keep in mind these will be nominally priced, yet they are completely worth the cost.

All in all, this restaurant has a great atmosphere, friendly staff and fabulous food. The presentations are well-thought out and take the flavor into consideration; I'd expect nothing less from a nice Japanese restaurant. The price-to-quality ratio is great. I think this restaurant falls into low-key business meals, inexpensive dates and family special occasions (my first trip was for Grandma's birthday). It is a tofu restaurant, however, it is not vegetarian in nature. Perhaps the courses aren't even pescetarian, I'm not sure. If you like tofu I recommend trying this restaurant, but if you're vegetarian you'll be a bit limited. Overall, I hope you try it if you have the chance.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Spryte and Moo Cow Backpack in Kyoto! Day 1: The Botanical Gardens and Shopping District

Day 1: The Botanical Gardens and Shopping District

**note: all images (as well as additional ones) are also at flickr, with additional commentary, click on any photo to go to its flickr page if you want to make comments**

After leaving the Imperial Palace we headed towards the botanical gardens. We decided to cover the general central Kyoto area on the first day.It's a little bit north so we hiked up until we found some bridges crossing the river. But before we got there, I couldn't help but notice some nice plants people had on their doorsteps.


The botanical gardens. Entry fee: ¥200

The tickets at the botanical garden rotate monthly, meaning they have a different photo on them every month. Very cool.



And as we went in, they handed us a map also. Pretty nice maps, I must say.


Some shots from the trellis right by the entrance. I think Moo Cow took these while I was in the bathroom. They're so pretty!!!


As we continued, we noticed a bamboo garden. Hooray for bamboo! Moo Cow wanted to find the bamboo forest in Arashiyama, but he loves bamboo so we stopped here for a while to have lunch.


Bamboo shoots. Bamboo can grow up to 36" or so in a day in its natural habitat. We didn't stay long enough to watch this grow.


The tulip garden was fantastic. I loved the patchwork layout of it.


This fountain reminds me of a photo I took at MSU.


We took a goofy photo break. I don't usually do these kinds of photos but I enjoy seeing them when people post them.


After taking a nap in the grass under some shady trees we continued. Then we found these. Are there supposed to be palm trees here? I realized Okinawa is tropical, but Kyoto isn't. But then, maybe it has something to do with the fact that Okinawa *is* tropical. People don't usually realize that part of Japan is indeed tropical. Hmmm... We didn't see the tropical climate, although it was indeed pretty hot.


There was a lovely little area with a hut and a pond. There was a sign that said no photos so I had to snap them quickly. Unfortunately the water was a little dark. And then I tried again when we went around the way, but didn't have much more success. But you can see the white koi if you look hard.


The neat footbridges were scattered throughout. They remind me of Monet's Japanese footbridges. And well they should, I suppose.


There was a cool watermill near one of the footbridges. A photographer was on the other side of it, but I'm pretty sure my photo of the watermill turned out better. ^_~


And one more shot of the pavilion overlooking the koi pond. I really liked that place but there were too many people crowding in for my taste...and for my photo-taking rule-breaking...


I truly don't understand why anyone would sacrifice so many trees to support another one. This one in particular had a lot of trees sacrificed for it. There are others with very large, long trees that couldn't have been salvaged from deadwood. Makes me wonder.


Huh?


And some cool red clay tiles at the bottom of a stream. It's really quite interesting to observe the different solutions to "problems" that the Japanese as a whole come up with as opposed to "Western" solutions. It seems the Japanese solutions are usually more concerned with aesthetic, while American ones are based on costs, beauty be damned. Granted, this was a national garden so it might have made a difference...I've seen some pretty ugly solutions here too. And...*gasp* a tree stump. Looks like things do die in Japan. Don't be too shocked, heh.


As we left we saw a mountain with the kanji for big on it. We didn't know at the time that it was significant. We also saw it up close later but forgot to take photos. Oops.


While wandering towards our next destination, we found Moo Cow's shrine. Or at least it was a shrine to his brethren. Bwahaha. I made him pose with it.


Afterwards we went to dinner at a nice tofu restaurant, but that'll be covered in the restaurant review I'll be posting next. Once our bellies were full we meandered around town in hopes of finding something interesting before crashing. We then stumbled upon a (the?) shopping district.


There were shrines there too though. So many all over the place, but it's part of the charm in Kyoto.


And some more interesting English. This one's just an odd name for a shop.


The buildings aren't as tall as Tokyo, but that's to be expected.


And of course I found the arcades. They sold cute little fugu (blowfish) there, but oh man, I didn't wanna have to carry one around for the trip. Was so tired! Here's how one of them showed some of the walking prizes off...


And then we found what may have been the red light district. Lots of clubs and shady places. We later found out it was near Gion, but we didn't know that at the time. Not exactly, anyway.


Moo Cow was more interested in the waterways everywhere. We think they may have been a waste removal system a long time ago.


And then Kani Doraku. Not something special to Kyoto, but the signs don't usually move like this in Tokyo.


And here's a video of it!