Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Violet Hill

Paul sent me today's title, it is a new song from Coldplay called Violet Hill. Available for free this week. I am not sure whether I like it or not yet, I feel it might be a grower rather than a stand out track.
Today the "credit crunch" (I hate that name) took victim another of our customers, this leaves us in a really weak position, basically according to the boss we are losing money and there will be no pay rises this year. Which given we have 3% inflation amounts to a pay cut in real terms, given this and the fact I am now working with a micro managing mega-lo-maniac got my CV out last night and gave it a polish. I think sometime soon that will come in handy. I quiet enjoy most of the work, but I never enjoy being micromanaged especially about stupid things, if I am 5 minutes late but sometimes spend whole evenings working on projects its all events out, I don't feel a need to justify this I always felt my works speaks for itself. It seems like now rather than care about outcomes the only are is conforming to some corporate ideal, well that dosn't fit well with me I prefer to be measured on results than the time I am sat behind my desk.

This evening I went to Japanese, hijacking the second half of the lesson to show off my photos. It was quiet funny really given I was so clueless when people quizzed me. I really need to practise a lot more. The photos went down really well though, people loved the Japanese gardens (even though my pictures hardly did them justice).

This evening I went for a drink with Phil, Nick and Bruce. Becky had initially said she wanted to catch up but she bailed. Hopefully I will catch her sooner or later. We all had a chat about the credit crunch and then road traffic accidents. Bruce made Nick turn green talking about the guy he saw get hit by a truck. He had finally received a reply to his transcript months after the accident. The guy luckily survived but there are lots of legal hoops to be jumped though yet.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Koop Island Blues

Tonight I went to the Buxton Opera house to see the Yamato Drummers of Japan. They were really amazing, I cant believe how much energy they had and wow drumming must be really good exercise because they had the sort of muscle definition most gym goers can only dream of.

Other than watch drummers, I have spent part of today trying to integrate this authentication system into the comments program I did for Phil. It had progressed well I just need to write a deletion function and tidy everything up, need to be done before next weekend though so Ill have to get a move on.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

"Do androids dream of elecric sheep?"

I had to get up early this morning as I had agreed to help Phil out on a Webcasting job. It ended up being a long day what with loading gear.

I had difficulty sleeping last night, I went to see Sandbox at Moho Live last night. I was a very loud and hot gig, I stayed to watch them and drank one can of Red Stripe (£3.50) and two cans of Red Bull (£2.50 each!) by the time I left I felt wired on the loud music and Red Bull, sweaty and vaguely ripped off by the stupid bar prices.

Sandbox were good, they looked and sounded relaxed, I loved Million Marlboro lights, shame neither Ian, Nick, Phil or Bruce could come as they were all either busy or tired, or both.

After driving about for a while I found a space in Picadilly Basin; the area behind the train station. I remember walking around there when I was at uni, the place has totally changed. Gone are the dodgy back street enterprises replaced with flats apartments. As I got out and started walking I was staggered how much has changed in the last few years. I saw people in the windows of their apartments crowded round little tables, is it the future? There were certainly plenty of people milling around the Northern Quarter, I always think how great it would be to live there, yet its prohibitively expensive.

A while ago I read this Wired Article about how the contextual web is enslaving people as they become "memes for the machines". Slavishly adding context to pictures, maps and all manor of things. A few times recently I have felt myself being a machine meme, after Japan I uploaded most of the photos to Flickr and I was poised to add titles and geo-reference (add to the map).
Today however was much worse, a program malfunction causing slides not to upload to the website automatically. I had became a meme for the machine, manually uploading slides to the internet as they changed.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Gone Are the Days

Today was a strange day, on the way into work I was collared by my boss. He looked tired and stressed, and he detailed how the credit crunch is affecting us. Basically we are suffering, and to emphasize the point the customer I work at has cut back the support days from 5 to 3. So from next week I will be going somewhere else (T.B.A.) Thursday Friday, scary stuff.
This uncertainty and the cost of the car has really put me off searching for a house, I am really worried it might be a really bad time to make the plunge.
This evening was surreal, I went to the gym then helped Phil work on his Webcasts. I actually only tried to help we failed to do what we wanted because there was an issue with remote access, its all too last minute.
That wasn't the surreal part though, the unreality came with a visit to the Thieves for a couple of drinks. Phil and I met Ian, Nick and Faye. It was the first time I have seen her for years thought strangely it felt like old times. Lot of talk about Japan, from my point of view and Phil's, including a strange but not unwelcome reminiscing about the first time I was there; on a stopover with with Ian, Faye and Danny, it seems like a lifetime ago now.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


For anyone following the sad story of my car, its been in the garage since it broke down on the 1st March.
Yesterday I got it back, and today it goes back to the garage. My dad picked it up and in the heavy traffic he failed to notice that the turbo wasn't working so it slow as a snail, more of a tractor than a turbo diesel.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Whiskey & Green Tea

I had ment to spend this weekend uploading my photos, and blogging up the trip. Somehow its not happening, to be honest I felt tired and low. Post holiday depression has set in, and I feel awful.
After Tokyo life here feels grey and lifeless devoid of colour and sound.
I went into work on Friday, and thanks to Jet lag felt mentally tired and unable to concentrate. I had hoped to feel more human by now but I am finding it realy hard to rejoin the human race.
Last night I went out for a drink at the John Millington with Nick and Bruce. Sitting in the crowded bar drinking Gin and Tonic, after eating a take away curry, I felt joyless. I was happy to see them both I just miss Japan.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Weird Japanese Sign

I saw this at Maibara station, I particularly love the bit about reading a newspaper, XD

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Japan Day 10 (Hikone)

We felt tired after all the walking around Kobe so had a lie in cuddling in bed before heading out.

Today we headed to Hikone to see the castle there. It was one of the few castle stops survive unaffected by the war and is mostly original construction. We took the Shinkansen to Miabara then changed trains to Hikone. Hikone city is on the shores of Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan.

We followed the crowds of people which led us first to a temple so we had a Quick Look around then headed to the castle on the top of the hill. Constructed in the 17th century Hikone castle is a good example of the style and gives suburbs views out from its high vantage point. 

Like Osaka the castle is best viewed from outside inside it was crowd and cramped build for people in a different age. The grounds were well worth spending some time in though we enjoyed the woods.

I grabbed a fried squid from a stand in the grounds and we met the mascot a cute rabbet with a horned helmet. 

Next we stumbled upon a garden in all its Zen glory it was very beautiful. It was starting to grow cold and dark so we left Hikone heading for Kyoto.

Arriving in Kyoto late, we managed to grab a map a from the tourist information place. It had all the local subway and tourist places marked. Kasia fancied a pizza so we found an Italian restaurant on the 10th floor of a shopping centre connected to the railway station. 

The food was really good (if a little expensive) and we got a great view of Kyoto.

The station complex itself is a marvel of steel and glass. Saint lead up from the ground to the top. It had been a long day so we headed to our hostel for a snooze.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Japan Day 9 (Osaka Castle and Kobe)

Finally we reached the part of the trip where neither of us had clean clothes to wear fortunately the hostel had some laundry facilities. Afterwards we grabbed a breakfast at a nearby store then hopped on the train to Osaka castle. The weather was much better today.

Osaka castle grounds are a lovely the castle itself like many in Japan is a reconstruction the original having been destroyed in the war. It's tourist central with a lot of food halls and convenience stands. The outside of the castle is rather magnificent the inside is a little bit more like a hotel.

It was full of exhibits and stories which were interesting unfortunately a lot of the English translations were not well done. I came away a little disappointed.

After the castle we took the Shinkansen to Kobe. I sent to a card back home to my parents. We wondered around and found one of the best examples of a Japanese Garden of the whole trip. We were also fortunate that it was very quiet we had the place nearly to ourselves.  

Kobe is a small city it took only 40 minutes to cross from the garden through China town to the port area. The town was very pretty and well kept which was a marked difference to Osaka. 

Next we attempted to visit the memorial grandees getting quite lost in the process. So lost in fact that a local girl asked if we were lost and did we need any help, certainly we did. Her name was Aki and she was so kind walking with use chatting about Kobe.

The memorial gardens were for the 1995 earthquake which had a bad impact on the city. We walked around, its seems to be a place for couple as we saw several cuddling up on secluded benches. I really enjoyed Kobe but we had to leave on the train back to our hostel in Osaka.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Japan Day 9 (Osaka)

We awoke late again and went out to see that Bay Area. It was a cold grey day and Osaka was proving to be less full on than Tokyo. It isn't as vibrant here everything seems a bit cheaper dirtier and less exciting. 

The bay proved difficult to get to, we attempted to walk but got lost on the anonymous streets finally finding ourselves back where we started so decided to break for lunch before continuing. We eat at the complex, Japans is full of complexes with department stores and restaurants spanning several floors usually with pedestrian art and underground walkways to the station or subway.

There was a hotel with a sky view resultant which we tried to get a view but only one window had a view.

Defeated we took the railway out past universal studios to get a view of baseball sports island. We made it to the end of the line it felt like the end of the earth. We couldn't find where to cross and it started raining so we headed back. Taking the subway which was not covered by the JR Rail pass to the bay where the Maritime museum was. It was lovely here it even stopped raining so we had a great view.

Heading back two stops we found a park and the Osaka port, though the rain came back. We had planned to go to the castle but the rain put us off, we headed to the aquarium.

Despite the rain we walked to the Aquarium to save the subway fare. It turned out to be a bit stupid as it was further away than we expected.

The aquarium was fantastic spiralling down around a huge tank sectioned into different areas. Beginning as sea level you descend down. Passing through the ring of fire and the pacific. There was even a whale shark in the central tank.

Behind the aquarium was a museum we decided to pass on as it looked a little dull after the wonders of the sea. Instead we found a 9th floor restaurant which was too expensive and had a lovely view.

Returning to the centre we browsed the shops a little then went to Starbucks for a coffee, and to make a plan to get out of Osaka!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Japan Day 7

The end of the road for our stay at Ryokan Fuji. It had been a nice home for our stay in Tokyo, as we checked out the owner gave us some souvenir chopsticks.

We planned to head to Tokyo proper but the weather was still bad so we mooched around Koiwa finding a park and a shopping centre that we had previously missed.

We took the Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo to Osaka. I have never seen such an organised train. On arrival with 15 minutes an army of pink suited cleaners jumped on board to clean and swap the seats around. Leaving 5 minutes to get on board the train leaving exactly on schedule. The journey to Osaka took 3 hours, flying past Japanese towns.

Arriving in Osaka we found it even more confusing than Tokyo. The subway signs were mostly in Kanji, so it was difficult to find our hostel in Fukushima. After some searching we finally found the J-Hoppers Osaka Central Guesthouse. It was a bit basic and small, very disappointing in comparison to the Ryokan. Even the view from the fourth floor was only of other buildings.

In the afternoon we walked around the shops eat dinner in a Japanese India restaurant, I had a pizza naan! We decided to try and get an aerial view of the city however not as many of these seemed to exist as Tokyo. Eventually the lonely planet guide lead us to the rather crazy sky garden. This was a twin tower with a bridge / observation deck running in between. The views were really good unfortunately it had begun to rain heavily so 3we didn't stay too long.

Below the sky garden was a love. themed area! There were people getting married and doing wedding shoots.

We had a bit more of a walk round then headed for home.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Japan Day 6

Rain and wind battered us from the moment we stepped out of the Ryokan. Today we had planned to go to Kanubura but the weather forbade this so instead we decided to go and see the bar from "Lost in translation" then head to a photographic museum. 

Taking the tram to Shinjuku attempted a quick round of the shops (I still needed a coat) it was to windy even to use the umbrella mine nearly snapped when I tried.

Riding the Toca line we made the walk to the Park Hyatt hotel battling the wind and cold. The hotel is part of a commercial building occupying floors 37-52 with the bar and restaurant at the top. Taking the lift to the lobby we walked past the rather grand dining hall and lounge to another lift which went to the top restaurant bar "New York". Unfortunately at this point we were greeted by a rather zealous concierge who informed us that the bar would not be open until 5pm and no we were not allow to go see the view.

The nearest subway station was located in the opera house complex with some shops and restaurants. After all the battles with the elements and hotel staff were a little tired and hungry. Finding a nice looking Japanese restaurant in the basement. Unfortunately after having some language barriers ordering they gave us the food to take away. With the bad weather that posed a bit of an issue, as all the places outside were soaking. The inside space is all corporate and we weren't allowed to eat! After failing to find somewhere  to sit we headed to the museum defeated.

Located in a "Garden" complex near to where the Yebisu beer museum.  Finally we could grab a bite to eat. I had seafood noodles and Kasia grabbed a pizza. Unfortunately they had set an early closing time because of the weather so we only had 35 minutes to whip around. There was an exhibition of surrealist photographs including some famous artists including Man Ray and Andre Kertesz. It was a really good exhibition Kasia really enjoyed it being somewhat a fan of surrealist art.

It had been a bit of a crappy day with the weather so to cheer ourselves up we headed back to Ginza up to the top of the Denska building which unlike the Hyatt don't mind about visitors who come for the view.

The wind (which at one point had been strong enough to stop at least one and delay several trains) had finally died down, the rain along with it. So we took the opportunity to walk from Ginza to Tokyo station. We stopped for a coffee en route just to people watch everybody in the Tokyo evening. You might think in a Starbucks you could be in any city of the world, but these scene was unruly Japanese.

Taking the train back to Koiwa we bought some drinks and had the food we bought earlier. It was actually pretty nice breaded chicken beansprouts rice and shrimp.

It had been an up and down day but we ended it on a high, happy.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Free umbrellas

We woke up both feeling unwell, it was a struggle to get out of bed. When we eventually made it to leave the Ryokan the manage ran out and said "Do you have umbrella", I did not so he said, "Today is very rainy here take these" and handed us too umbrellas what a nice fellow!

As it was raining we appreciated how many of the walkways in Koiwa (and Tokyo in general) are covered. Pretty sure they could not do this in the UK as they would be immediately vandalised. 

We headed to Ginza, it turned out that museums are shut on Mondays so we decided to go shopping. The first stop was the Sony centre. The home of Sony has a whole building dedicated to the TV's stereos and other electronics produced by the Sony corporation. They had an amazing TV hooked unto blu ray looked stunning. I bought myself a pair of noise cancelling headphones in the hope that I'll be able to hear some music on the flight home.

Exiting Sony we walked around two buildings with restraints on the 42nd floor, then with a. viewing platform on the 46/47th flloor. There were spectacular views over the city. We decided to splash out and eat there, however we had missed lunch as it was 2pm so we decided to grab a drink and return later.

Ginza is one of the most expensive and exclusive shopping areas in the world. Think Kensington in London or The Champ-Elysees in Paris. There were a lot of awesome clothes. I had borrowed a bag from Ian but the zipper on it broke so I got myself a little "man-bag" to cart around my bits and pieces. It looks great in red leather. K found a wonderful top in the sale but decided it was still a bit too pricy so after a lot of thought put it back.

Dinner was held at the Oregon diner on the 41st floor sat next to the window looking out onto Tokyo below. The food was excellent, life doesn't get much better than this.

K & J in the elevator up to the top

Building in Ginza

Tokyo Views

Dinner on the 41st floor

Day 5 in Japan Ginza

 Woke up both feeling unwell, it was a struggle to get out of bed.

As I was putting on my shoes to leave the Ryokan the owner ran out exclaiming, "Do you have an umbrella?", "Nope" I responded. "Today is very rainy here have these" and handed us two umbrellas. What a really nice fellow.

As it was raining we appreciated Koiwa covered pavements. The walkways actually had roofs with complete lighting for the evening. I don't know how long something like that would last in Manchester. Its like the number of vending machines out on the street, they would be vandalised back home.

We headed first to Ginza. The art gallery and museums don't open on Monday so we decided to go and check out the shops. First stop was the Sony Building. The Sony building is part museum part showcase of the various offering of the Sony Corporation. From TV's too Stereos and Computers. As a self confessed geek this was very exciting to see. There was an amazing TV setup playing from blu-ray which looked amazing.

I bought myself a pair of noise cancelling headphones from the shop. Hopefully this will enable me to listen to music on the flight home over the drone of the engines.

Following the geek fest we walked around enjoying the cityscape eventually finding two large buildings with sky restaurants 42 in the Shoa, 46/47 in the Durai. We went up for a look at the view from both so got some magnificent views of the city. We decided to eat there but by the time we finished viewing it was already past 2 so they were closed. We made a reservation for later.

Ginza is one of the most expensive parts of Tokyo home to major brands, labels and upmarket stores. It is certainly an interesting place to walk around. Lots of clothes and accessories. I had borrowed a bag off Ian but the zipper broke so I treated myself to a man bag to carts my bits and pieces around int. It looks great in red leather. I was a bit worried it might make me seem camp but Kasia said it looked great. Kasia found a beautiful top in the sale but it was still close to £200 which on balance seemed a bit too much so we put it back. 

For dinner we went to the Oregon diner not he 41st floor, sat next to the window looking out across Tokyo eating grommet food life doesn't really get much better!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Japan day 4 Imperial Gardens and Mori building

Finally made it to the Imperial East Gardens on the 3rd attempt. Walked over from Tokyo station to the gardens. They are really nice but quite reserved.

Afterwards we gave in an bought subway cards as the train stations are not always near the places we wanted to visit. 1000 Yen for the Tokyo metro excluding the Toie lines (which is a separate subway system because Tokyo is so massive it needs more than one underground system!).

After the gardens we went for a walk around visiting the Mori are museum. Grabbing a great view of Tokyo at night and eating some rice balls.

Tokyo Skyline with Tokyo tower in view
Tokyo Skyline

Spider Statue Mori Building Tokyo

Rice balls
Rice balls

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Tokyo international forum

We woke up late after forgetting to set the alarm. I'd slept for 14 hours which is the longest I have slept in years, at least it cleared my jet lag headache.

We attempted to visit the Imperial Palace again, but while walking from the metro we noticed the international forum.

An amazing building in steel and glass, rising majestically from the street. The design is an oval shape with a huge expanse of atrium surrounded by a walkway rising around the edge.

We made it to the gardens at 3pm and there were closing at 4pm, there is a 45 minute stroll to the entrance so we gave up on the palace and instead headed to Asakusa. 

Our tickets were only for the railway not the subway so we had a long walk from the garden to the station then from the Ueno station to Asakusa. It was a pleasant stroll though, Asakusa is a bit less full on that Shinjuko. There were a lot of nice shops and restaurants. We stopped for dinner in one of the Japanese restaurants. I had the breaded squid and green tea. It was another point and choose affair. 

After the dinner we wondered around and found a shrine. Like the Baddest shrines in Shanghai outside there was a large market. Kasia bought a fortune cokie, she will have good fortune. The light was failing and it was getting chilly so we headed back tot eh train station and Koiwa. We sat in the Ryokan chatting and enjoying the evening.

Friday, April 04, 2008


Tokyo tower
Tokyo Tower

Breakfast was fun. We walked into a Japanese diner near to the Ryokan. They did not speak English and my Japanese is not great so it ended up being a point and choose affair.

I took a bento box with rice pork some sort of tofu and beansprouts. We weren't sure how to pay so I looked up the eating etiquette in the lonely planet guide and it turned out we had broken all the rules, oops.

We took the train into Tokyo centre, walked around the Imperial Gardens then strolled from grand to garden in the direction of Tokyo tower.

Near to the tower we found some steps that we followed down, finding a wonderful garden at the bottom.

After that we went out to the Bay Area which is mostly commercial but you get a good view of the skyline. Next stop was Ikiburi, then finally the evening in Shinjuku. A wild place!

View from Tokyo bay

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Arrival in Japan

Ryokan Fugi
We arrived in Tokyo. Wow that was a long flight, I managed to have a sleep and watch 2 films, Kite Runner and I am Legend. We nearly fell asleep on the train out to Koiwa where our traditional Ryokan was located. 

It's quite overwhelming getting across Tokyo for a Westerner, its so colourful and bright. The scene from Lost in Transalation is about right the senses are assaulted, the sights the sounds and smells.

Tatami mat floor and low table

The Ryokan Fugi is a small lodging house with a. traditional Japanese room, and bath.

Ueno park cherry blossom
We managed to have a round of the Cherry Blossom in Ueno it was late in the day but it was very beautiful. Many people were picnicking under the trees enjoying the outside.