Sunday, March 29, 2009

Different Views of the Sun

The annual Cherry Blossom Festival at Expo Park started yesterday, so we went to taker a look. The first day was chilly and sometimes overcast. Plus, most of the cherry trees were not in bloom yet. That would explain the sparse crowd. Also, Yuki said that since the blossoms were in full effect in Kyoto -- our destination for tomorrow -- everyone went to the ancient capital instead.

Here was the best blossom close-up I found:

Yuki went for the more distant composition:

I ended up taking a lot of pictures of the Tower of the Sun instead. Let's start with the backside view:

Yuki had visited the park when she was a really young so she didn't remember the view from the back. It looks like a really impressive tattoo.

How about some perspective on size? Take a look at 22 clumsy seconds of me walking around the right side of the huge dude.

Yeah, it's pretty big, but so is Yuki:

Walking around the western side of the park, we found pictures that showed what Expo 70 must have looked like. Yuki attended with her parents when she was a wee lass, so she doesn't remember a thing. Here's the German Exhibition Hall:

There are actually two parks to Expo Park. The second one is a Japanese Garden. Yeah, you have to imagine Yuki sneering and saying, "It's nothing like that cheap Japanese Garden in Golden Gate Park!"

I really like the pine trees:

And the bamboo trees:

Wanna see more? Click!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Good News & Bad News About the Cat

Good News -- The big cat stand arrived yesterday. It got Ponzu's seal of approval pretty quickly. Now she has something to scratch, something to climb, and something to help her see the traffic below. The new cat stand is an upgrade on the one we had in SF -- currently being enjoyed by Buster:

Bad News -- The damn cat stand takes up a big chunk of the kitchen. There's a never-ending battle being waged for space in our apartment.

Good News -- The cat likes living in the Ibaraki apartment. She kinda digs the tatami, although we're always keeping an eye on her to make sure she doesn't scratch it up. The apartment may be old but the tatami is new. Plus she really likes Japanese cat food. She was a semi-fan of the turkey&gravy or salmon&rice cat food she sometimes got in the States. But lemme tell you, she can't say no (actually, she can't say anything except...meow) to katsuo (かつお) aka bonito or maguro (マグロ) aka tuna.

Bad News -- Um, she's starting to gain weight. And that train may not be stopping anytime soon. It's a pretty hefty job just trying to hold the cat in my arms. If I were to drop her on your foot, you'd definitely feel it. But help is on the way. We get our second and final delivery from SF on Sunday and I packed the remainder of her diet cat food in one of those boxes.

Good News -- We're all done with the moving. She doesn't have to worry about another flight or long stay inside her pet carrier.

Bad News -- It's gonna be checkup time soon. Nobody likes the vet.
Plus, she's got the Osaka summer heat to contend with in a couple of months. Maybe she'll get shaved. At least that's what Yuki's promising.

Monday, March 23, 2009

...Beyond the Sea

For most of my adult life, I have lived near the sea. And just knowing that I was a bike ride away from hearing the sound of waves made me feel more at home. Last month, in Niigata, I got to go down to the shore and hear the waves just once. It was a gorgeous day.

Here, in Osaka, I am not landlocked. The beautiful port city of Kobe is only an hour away by train. But it's not the same. And knowing that a brutal summer is just months away, I need to find a beach or a shore.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Suburban Living

We've moved to Osaka. Actually, technically, we're in Osaka-fu (大阪府) and not in Osaka city (大阪市). The city we live in is called Ibaraki-shi (茨木市); don't confuse it with Ibaraki-ken (茨城県). Can you tell the importance of each place just by checking the quality of each website? You make the call.

Since the majority of people work in Osaka city, where we live and our neighboring cities are considered the suburbs. But it's not the American image of suburbs. Don't think cul-de-sacs and rows upon rows of houses that all look the same. We may be in the suburbs, but it feels bustling and crowded, just the same.

Our new home: third floor, fourth window from the right. We have a six-tatami room that serves as our bedroom. The place is already filled up with stuff and we're still waiting on our boxes (a lucky 13 of them) from San Francisco. Where will everything go?

How do you feel about city logos? Here's ours:

It looks like a bird with a diaper. Maybe it's a sumo pigeon. Perhaps the best thing about the city is its central location. We're north of Osaka city, right between Kyoto and Kobe. It's possible bike to Kyoto from where we live, if you feel like taking the scenic route:

By scenic route, I mean strip malls and factories. For instance, one of the major factories for Panasonic is about 10 minutes by bicycle from the spot my ass is taking up. I think they make the hi-def TVs here:

I've never lived near an industrial zone before. It's weird bicycling on the sidewalk with trucks whizzing by. Even weirder if you look past the factory and see a rice field about a quarter of a mile away.

The location is most important to Yuki, whose U. is also a bike ride away. We paid a visit to one of the two campuses she'll be studying at come April:

Her main campus has all the medical and science departments. The part of the school I like best are the busts of two old dudes guarding the department of medicine's building. Here's the more fun-loving of the two:

The most impressive element is the university hospital. It is huge:

And a 10-minute bike ride from her U. is Expo Park and Taro Okamoto's Tower of the Sun, which reminds me of a pissed-off Ultraman Jr.:

There are many things you can't do at this park:

...including, don't give piggy-back rides to campfires, don't picket, don't try to catch mid-sized fish with a mid-sized fish as bait, and don't make the water fountain cry. Sir, yes sir!

One (or two) more images of Osaka:

We had some really tasty takoyaki (たこ焼き) tonight from Ahoya (あほや). What's tako (蛸)?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Welcome, Schmuck

A condo being built on the banks of the Shinano River has this advertisement:

I understand the New York part; you want your high-rise to be associated with one of the most cosmopolitan and stylish cities in the world.

But hospitality?

douchebag! Would you like a middle finger with your welcome wagon?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

30kg of Sustenance

Rice is life. We keep 30kg of life in a big sack next to the rice cooker. This particular sack contained unhusked rice. Usually, we get husked rice, which is white. But Yuki's Mom -- our rice dealer -- gave her a bag of the unhusked type because she thought we'd bring it to Osaka. The husk keeps the rice fresh. But we're almost done with our old sack so we needed to take the husk off this new sack.

Niigata is the epicenter of rice in Japan. So, this might not be true of other parts of Japan, but here you can get your rice husked at machines by the road, like jumping into a photo booth or a pay phone...shit, do those things still exist? Yuki, her Mom, and I went to this one:

You need 300¥ to take care of 30kg. First, check the directions:

Notice the brown unhusked mascot explaining what to do. Mascots are always smiling in Japan. You go to the meat section of the supermarket and you'll see smiling pigs, cows and chickens. They're happy to die for you! Anyway, you put the unhusked rice into the pit on the left, listen to the machine make a lot of noise, and then collect the husked rice on the right. It takes about 5 minutes to do 30kg:

To see the machine in action, click...

A fun night out for all. How serious are people here about rice? A couple of weeks ago, walking around a big appliance store, I spotted this:

This rice cooker will set you back about $1200. Does your rice cooker really need to be pricier than your TV?