Blog - September 2007 Archives
September 2007 Archives
.30 SIN/KUL #1: Singapore, 1st day
.27 SIN/KUL #0: Singapore and Kuala Lumpur
.19 Osaka #5: Osaka castle
.19 Osaka #4: Tsūtenkaku
.18 Hosaka Akane at Enban: live report
.18 Osaka #3: Expo Park / Tower of the Sun
.17 Osaka #2: Nanba
.17 Osaka #1: StarFlyer
.08 Fukushima #6: kominka and soba field
.06 Fukushima #5: Guesthouse Dalarna
.03 humming is coming 3: report
.03 The Shūetsu font
September 30, 2007
SIN/KUL #1: Singapore, 1st day
Thursday, September 20
We arrived in Singapore around 1am on September 20. As we wanted to get some sleep in a bed, we had looked around for a cheap hotel, and ended up staying at a Hotel 81 (cheap chain) in Bugis which we chose for both price and location. It was clean but the room was very small considering that one night was ¥10000, this is on the cheap side by Singapore standards. The bedroom was approx. 2m x 2m, and the bathroom about 1m2, the latter which combined both shower and toilet in the same space with no separation. We were only there for a few hours though so it was ok. The staff was fine.
We checked out late in the morning and left our backpacks for the day. We started by going a few blocks down to the famous Raffles Hotel and getting some ice cream (for breakfast, yes) at the Raffles Creamery. They offer Cold Stone Creamery-like ice cream mixed with stuff on a cold marble plate. However being that it just opened recently, the very nice staff didn't seem too trained. They didn't do the mix thing but just dumped the ice cream and toppings in the bowl. I also got probably 5 times more macadamia nuts than I paid for. :)
After just a bit of looking around in a nearby mall, we took the MRT and headed down to Raffles Place station where is located Singapore's symbol, the Merlion, said to be one of the world's top 3 most disappointing sightseeing spots. This time it was even more disappointing than usual because it was being repaired and water didn't flow from his mouth. :) Nevertheless it's something to see in Singapore. Just behind the real Merlion, which faces the sea, there's also a smaller one that can be used to take a photo together.
Then we walked towards Chinatown station, meanwhile passing by Telok Ayer St. and Amok St. where are located some mosques and temples. Continuing towards the station, we stopped on Bridge street to view the impressive Sri Mariamman Hindu temple, on which stand hundreds of sculpted idols.
We did some shopping on the tourist street that leads to the station, and while there we stopped at the Chinatown Heritage Center, just because it looked a bit more trusty than the other shops, and asked how to get to our next destination. There we had incredible luck because the sister of the person who helped us lives on the same block as Fook Seng Goldenhill Chicken Rice, a 20-minute bus ride away in a residential area. It's even the last stop of bus 63 (which can be caught in front of a CK department store just south of Chinatown station on New Bridge Road), so it was really easy to get there. It was already 14:00 and we were getting hungry, but we knew that's where we wanted to have chicken rice.
Fook Seng Goldenhill Chicken Rice had been selected by blogger Liao Yusheng as the best chicken rice in Singapore, and picked up by Gridskipper. I had printed a coupon for a free plate of vegetables from the site, which the owner redeemed looking very happy that someone had found them through their web site. All the other people at the small restaurant seemed to be locals. Oh, and the chicken was as delicious as advertised, so tender and of course no hint of a bone.
Taking the bus back to the city, this time riding up to Bugis (back near our hotel). These bus rides only cost S$0.90 one way (that's about 70yen). From Bugis we walked towards the west, finding some legal graffiti wall advertising Converse. It was now about 17:00. We stopped on the way at a building called The Bencoolen to have a Taiwan-style shaved ice dessert at Ice Monster, and also to look at the strange design of what seemed to be an art school. Along the way we also saw some lady doing I don't know what with some snakes. I didn't stare for too long.
Then we walked to Little India and up Serangoon Rd. where the sidewalks are thin and crowded with goods from the shops, many selling Indian scarves and garments. Up the street was the Sri Veeramakaliamman temple in which we took turns entering, as you have to take off your shoes and we didn't want to risk our sandals disappearing.
It was 18:30, we walked back down Serangoon Rd. we stopped at Indian restaurant Saravanaa Bhavan to have masala dosa and spicy dosa(?) for dinner.
As the day was pretty much over, we went back around Bugis and did a little bit of shopping in nearby malls before picking up our luggage at Hotel 81. Then we walked up Queen St. Terminal for our next adventure.
Larger sizes and more photos at Flickr
Gmaps Pedometer GPS route from Merlion to Little India (may take a few minutes to render, and make your computer run slowly meanwhile)
September 27, 2007
SIN/KUL #0: Singapore and Kuala Lumpur
Yesterday we just got back from a one-week trip to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), from September 20 to 25, and I will be reporting with some stories here shortly!
Meanwhile, I've already put up my 200+ photos at Flickr, all complete with titles and descriptions while I remember half of the details. You can view all of those here:
And for those who won't click, here's a sample of a few photos.
September 19, 2007
Osaka #5: Osaka castle
On our last day, we went to visit Osaka castle. The castle was beautiful, much larger than the Fukushima castle that we visited the other day. It felt very new though, even with elevators and a special elevator outside for disabled people.
Inside were exhibited some goods retrieved from the original castle, the type of stuff that I like to check out. There were also dozens of 3D videos projected behind windows in the walls of the museum, showing acted scenes of the old times. These were well done but we didn't have time and will to look at each of them.
After that, we went to the Hanshin department store to have lunch. There's a nice food court area where you can buy food from several stands and eat on tables. It was lunch time and the place was quite crowded. Many people were eating in the stairways too. The ikayaki (cooked squid) shop is famous and had a long line-up, service was fast though! It looked like they will be rising prices in October.
Then, we went to do some shopping around in the four Osakaekimae buildings. These felt a lot like Nakano Broadway, as over half the shops were closed with shutters and the rest were either a bit otaku-oriented or old coffee shops. There were several record shops there, many with a large collection of records, some was good-priced but some shops were just expensive.
Then it was time to head back to the airport. We bought some chou à la crème at Takatora in Nanba station, and that was it!
I feel like we did pretty much all the tourism there is to do in Osaka, but we'll definitely have to go again some time if only for the great food!
And now I'm out the door for more adventures, so be looking forward to more reports. :)
Osaka #4: Tsūtenkaku
After checking out the Expo park, it was still around noon and we got a bit hungry. We went down to Tenōji station and had some delicious takoyaki at Yamachan, recommended by friend Tsugumi. They were very cheap too at 10 for ¥350! People kept coming to the shop non-stop, and ate just across the street.
Then it was time to head towards Tsūtenkaku, Osaka's tower that contains the Billiken statue that I had previously seen in Shibuya two years ago. I had also just watched the "Billiken" movie again a few days before, a funny take on Tsūtenkaku about how its owners desperately try to get it some popularity, and how Billiken makes people's wishes come true, so Tsūtenkaku was very fresh in my memory.
Tsūtenkaku is located in an area called Shinsekai, part of the lower class area Nishinari. There are plenty of Billiken replicas (pictured above) to be found in the streets that lead to Tsūtenkaku. It seems that Shinsekai also used to be a place to avoid, but lately it's safer and popular with younger people. Nevertheless, there was a moment when we were there when some old guy ran after us (well, in terms of speed he walked) yelling. We met our friend Mizuki who came to visit with us.
Some interesting facts:
- Tsūtenkaku has the oldest round-shaped elevator in the world.
- At night, Tsūtenkaku is lit up, and its top-most part uses a color code to tell the weather forecast for the next day.
So after visiting Tsūtenkaku and saying hi to the real Billiken, and me buying a big pile of souvenirs (I spent like ¥3000!) for myself of course, we went to eat some kushikatsu (deep-fried sticks of meat, fish, vegetables, etc.) at the Daruma in Janjan-yokochō. There are so many kushikatsu shops in Shinsekai, but only Daruma's shops had long lines of people. It must have taken us close to an hour to get in there, but we only ate a few sticks because we had a dinner waiting for us elsewhere.
Oh, and we also played a game of "smart ball", a now uncommon game that's a mix between pinball and pachinko, where you can accumulate balls by landing those in target pockets. Accumulating enough balls can get you prizes. One game with about 15 balls to start with was ¥100.
Then our friend guided us to a very weird place. There's this restaurant in Nishinari called Taiyoshi Hyakuban (鯛よし 百番) where we had first intended to eat on that night but couldn't get a reservation. We went to see the restaurant anyway as it's quite a unique sight. If you've seen the movie Sakuran, it's exactly that kind of bordell0-type of house. The surrounding area is also a real red-l1ght district like I've never seen in Japan. Quite surreal.
That was it for our Saturday tourism. We headed back to Nanba and had some great okonomiyaki with p&art sasanoooha (Junko cooked for us like a real Osaka girl!) at a famous restaurant called Hatsuse.
Next up: Osaka castle, the last installment left to wrap up this Osaka weekend.
September 18, 2007
Hosaka Akane at Enban: live report
I spent yesterday evening at Enban to check out Hosaka Akane, and had a fun time watching all the artists which seemed to be related by pico-pico beat-box sounds.
First up was Matsui Shigehiko (松井繁彦). Whether he's acting or not, his set was one of a nervous guy singing songs accompanied with his computer, guitar or midi pedals, last of which in the photo below he holds like a guitar to plays guitar samples. As he began his set, he opened a box of Meiji chocolates and ate two while hiding behind his laptop's screen, but then he walked to the audience and shared with the public generously.
Just don't try him to add him as a friend on MySpace, or rather don't take it personally when he rejects your add, it's his style. A good old bookmark works.
Next up was cottonioo (pronounced "cotton ee-oh-oh"), two young girls with influences like Cibo Matto and Plastics. The girls play bass and guitar accompanied by an old beat-box. They also use a Casio sound effect mat and a bunch of pedal effects. Check them out.
Hosaka Akane then set up her stuff and gave a good show, playing her happy melodies with a set list similar as last time. She ended her set with an unreleased slow song that almost had me nodding off to sleep. Check out her MySpace sooner than later.
Last was MIR (MySpace), an interesting Casio trio, at least so they were at first. For the first few songs all three members played sampler Casios, and it was all quite good. Later their leader turned a bit scary though, getting upset at the other two who did not seem to have mastered the Casios as the leader wished they would. I thought they generally could all have smiled a bit more too. But the show ended in harmony with the bunny girl and hat guy dancing in sync.
Osaka #3: Expo Park / Tower of the Sun
On Saturday morning we woke up early. The plan was to head down to Nishinari, the bad area of town, and check out dorobōichi (泥棒市, thief market), a flea market held early morning until about 9am. Some people say it's all stolen stuff. Although it looked like a normal flea market, the people selling were most probably all homeless, the whole place didn't smell very good, and there were some unleashed dogs around. It could have been okay if we weren't about the only shoppers that didn't look anything like the sellers. We were in and out in a few minutes without looking back. No photos, of course.
We took the train to the north of the city where a more enjoyable tourist spot was waiting for us, the Expo 70 commemorative park! We went there just to check out Okamoto Tarō's famous taiyō no tō (太陽の塔, Tower of the Sun). The giant sculpture (65m) is taller than the Statue of Liberty (47m), and despite its eccentric looks it seems to blend seamlessly with the surrounding nature.
September 17, 2007
Osaka #2: Nanba
After a short flight of about an hour, we arrived at Kansai International Airport on Friday mid-afternoon and then took the Rapi:t express train to Nanba, downtown Osaka. Announcements in the train actually said it's "Rapi:t β"... as a programmer I don't find it very reassuring to ride on a beta train. :)
We went to check-in at our hotel located in Kita-Horie, near Yotsubashi station, and then headed to Boulangerie P & B (2-6-15 Kita-Horie, 06-6534-2601), a small bakery with just a handful of different breads. The cream cheese bagel (baked with cream cheese inside) was very good! I'm not saying that just because the shop has my initials. :)
A little further we found an Osaka grocery store called Tamade. This chain has daily ¥1 sales in every store! Anyway what got my interest is that it looked like a pachinko with all the neons and mirrors. After some more walking we also bought some cakes at Mon chou chou.K (Minami-Horie 3-1-24), famous for its Dōjima roll cake which was sold out.
After a quick stop at the hotel to drop the bread, we were starting to get hungry and headed back to Dōtonbori, a shopping street in Nanba, for some food. There we had our first takoyaki of the trip at Kukuru (1-10-7 Dōtonbori), after which we went for some udon at Imai (1-7-22 Dōtonbori) located nearby the famous Kuidaore-ningyō. This one was recommended to us by friends p&art sasanoooha.
Still having a bit of room for more, we had more takoyaki at the nearby Honke Ōtako (1-5-11 Dōtonbori) whose sign claims that they have the best (of course they all do). Dōtonbori has also a bunch of essential tourists spots, such as the Glico neon running man, Kani-dōraku's huge crab and the Kuidaore ningyō.
For some reason, Glico's giant animated ad was turned off the night we got there. Perhaps it's only on on weekend or something? At least there was a smaller version to be found in the arcade.
On the way back towards the hotel, we strolled through Nanba's large underground shopping network and ate some delicious mango mixed shaved ice at 9988, a famous shop from Taiwan. The shop is located in Nanba Walk 1 North.
I took this short video of the Kuidaore ningyō to show its not-so-smooth movement. One drumstick had also fallen out of place.
And here are some photos of the Glico neon ad which I could finally catch on the next day.
Osaka #1: StarFlyer
We spent the weekend in Osaka! It was my first time there, I was very excited about it and had a great time!
StarFlyer, a still very small domestic airline in Japan, just started a new service between Tokyo and Osaka, and they have an introductory rate of ¥8000 (one way) until the end of the month! So we headed to Osaka on the first day of service, taking the line's 2nd ever public flight from Tokyo to Osaka.
StarFlyer has a quite classy image, black planes with black interior, all seats in leather and a good entertainment system. They also serve Tully's coffee that comes with a complementary chocolate square, yum.
But to top it all, would you believe that they had hired Nomiya Maki to do the safety video on board!? I mean, isn't that a perfect match? Well unfortunately it seems that the video didn't feel serious enough, they were afraid that passengers wouldn't be attentive to the guidelines or something, and she replaced by some boring guy. :( I'd sure love to see the Maki version though. Oh well.
At Haneda airport, it seems that they weren't able to allocate the plane to a normal gate, and instead passengers have to board buses to get to the plane that's waiting in the distance. That's a bit of a bummer, but it does give a small tour of the airport and some good views of the planes. Also just before boarding passengers are given a chance (no, wait, they just take it anyway) to take a photo or two of the plane which is quite nice!
There's a lot more to come about this Osaka trip, you can check my Flickr for a sneak peek (though not even half is uploaded at this moment), but there's some more adventures to come in the following days so I might be a bit slow to update.
September 8, 2007
Fukushima #6: kominka and soba field
The morning after our stay at Guesthouse Dalarna, along with the other guests we went just across the street to visit an old-style Japanese home (kominka (古民家)) being renovated.
The owners have been doing most of the hard work themselves, picking up parts here and there from old buildings just before they're demolished, and because of that almost every part of the house seems to have a story of its own. They actually write an extensive blog about their proceedings. Oh, and we made it on there without even knowing. :)
They welcomed us inside and told us about the house and also served everyone coffee at their large kitchen counter facing a big window with a nice view of the vegetation.
Then we got back to Dalarna and the owner guided everyone by car to 30+ minutes from there to show us a large field of soba (buckwheat) in flowers (Google map). The soba stays in that state for only a short time every year, and this year it happened to be about 2 weeks earlier than normal, so we were very lucky to be there at the right time.
This ends the Fukushima series.
September 6, 2007
Fukushima #5: Guesthouse Dalarna
(Ok, gotta wrap-up Fukushima!... and then Canada, ouch!)
After checking out Tō no hetsuri in the end of the afternoon, we headed to our shelter for the night where dinner was waiting.
We stayed in a quite unique place. While being located quite deep in the Japanese countryside, Guesthouse Dalarna offers somewhat of a Swedish experience, with home-style Swedish meals and a lot of Swedish-style decoration. Dalarna horses of all colors and sizes are also present everywhere inside and outside.
Meanwhile also very Japanese, the house is 160-year old with kayabuki roof, making this place even more uncommon. The hosts were very friendly, and they're happy to tell about the building's history and the chef's years spent in Sweden.
The price is nice and includes both dinner and breakfast, both sure to make you full (we were already completely full when we were told that if we wanted they could also grill some meat... impossible!). I was really hoping to have some good meatballs though and none had showed up for dinner, and when asking I was told "Oh, we don't usually serve meatballs for dinner, but sometimes for breakfast. I'll see what we can do!" Sure enough the next morning we had my plate of delicious meatballs! Yum!
Also an uncommon experience is that after dinner all guests gathered around an indoor fireplace where we talked until midnight.
Certainly a recommended stop if you drop by the neighborhood.
September 3, 2007
humming is coming 3: report
On Saturday my friend Miwa and I went to Shibuya Cyclone mainly to see solange et delphine in their new incarnation. They usually always perform as a jazz combo with live piano, drums, wood bass and violin, but this time they were a trio with a pre-recorded house backtrack. Hase-san, who usually plays piano, instead strummed an electric guitar or sometimes just danced. They also had a secret weapon 3rd member, Yoshida Tetsuto (Readymade, Hair, Fantastic Explosion, Orangers, Sports Cut, 8-bits, etc.), who did the DJ and also played some samplers and a theremin!
Singer Yumi was beautiful as usual and the unit as a whole seemed to be glittering, or maybe it was Hase-san's LED marquee display on his white polo shirt always scrolling "SOLANGE ET DELPHINE".
They played five of their most recent songs, all in new arrangements with house beats. While this may sound like a popular girl-boy unit, their arrangements do have real strings and also all vocals were live (no lip-sync here). And let's not forget Yoshida-san, after all this is a trio, who surely broke all Pizzicato Five records of number of times the "A new stereophonic..." and "This recording..." samples can be played within 30 minutes. Indeed he kept hitting those sampler buttons until we were all close to crying from laughter.
The rest of the evening was a bit on a different note, with guitar pop bands, none of which I had heard before. They were all pretty good though. I was impressed with all the good vocals, in particular ghq (who I often couldn't tell what language the singer was using, though). Caraway, a side-project of Swinging Popsicle's guitarist, played without their keyboardist. They had good songs and their girl drummer was great. And last was the event's organizers, humming parlour, again guitar pop but with quite distinctive vocals, maybe reminding of Yano Akiko. The lead singer sometimes played pianica or a synth.
The Shūetsu font
Last night we went to Kōenji to catch a live performance by Satō Shūetsu (佐藤修悦). His famous font, Shūetsu-tai (修悦体), has been seen by over a million people everyday in Shinjuku station, where he wrote temporary guidance and signs on the construction walls in 2004 using rubber tape, which I admired every morning myself.
Beyond the obvious utility, such as telling the way to platforms 5 and 6 through a temporary passage that might not exist a week later, his font is a precise art of tape sticking and cutting, with obviously quite a bit of planning before being executed.
At first the aligned tape didn't look anything like Japanese characters, but in the end it was a very cool 「感謝」 ("gratitude")... for being recognized as a unique font designer maybe?
Lately Satō Shūetsu's work can be seen in the wild at Nippori station. Also check out YouTube which has some documentaries about him.