Thursday, September 30, 2010

LS: An Accurate Summary...

Q. For a second there, I thought you were about to say Facebook was a good thing, the great democratic equalizer.

A. If Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest country in the world. If you’re asking me what I think about it personally—which doesn’t affect the movie—I think it’s an insincere form of socializing. Socializing on the Internet is to socializing what reality TV is to reality.

Q. So people rebrand themselves. It’s like digital cosmetic surgery.

From this Macleans interview with Aaron Sorkin about "The Social Network". His answer in the paragraph before this one is good too, showing how people do this kind of rebranding by tapping into well known cultural reference points, but also huge and I don't like taking quite that much of a quote. Go read it instead.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Thought of the Day: "Lucas converting ‘Star Wars’ movies to 3-D"



Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Thought of the Day: Because Everything Old is New Again

Spandex 2: The Glossy-ning

Now playing everywhere...

Monday, September 27, 2010

TyL: Answering a Summons for Jury Selection

Oooooooooohhhhhh... the dreaded letter in the mailbox has arrived (technically about a month ago). I'm summoned as a potential juror. This will be one roundup mega-post because I can't really say much until I'm not selected and I suspect Day 2 will be quiet.

Day 1:
Arriving at the Toronto Courthouse at 8:30 AM, I check in at a table where things are set up the same way you'd see arriving at an Election: goto your call number, they check your summons letter against the list and cross you off as present, then you go sit down to wait. A lot.

Speaking of your Summons Letter: treat this like gold. It's your hall pass and the Court Officers aren't going to let you out of the holding pen to run around the building at all (to hit the bathroom or cafe; you're not allowed to tour the building in general), without you being able to hand it to them because they've both the need to track who's there so you're available when called for selection and make sure you come back. Surgically attach it to your hip because they're not going to just let you leave or go home because you can't find it.

Oh god. There's a prototypical 20 year old: "Here's how awesome it is to be a Juror!!!" orientation video. Kill me now...

People are notified that we'll be required to stay the next two days for selection and, if this would be inconvenient, they should let the Court Officers know and we'll let you delay. Many people take this offer up. I don't believe that's wise: we've lucked into a two day selection window as end of the week filler for the jury pools that came in Monday and have been depleted over the course of the week. Those opting out now will still have to serve later - you can only delay once selected not eliminate the calling for the most part - and next time they could pull that Monday crew where you're both here longer and far more likely to actually end up serving because you'll be running the gauntlet for the whole week. We're also told later by a Court Officer that Friday is almost always a gimme; fewer cases fill Juries Fridays. So, to be honest, if you pull a Thursday call, roll the fricken dice and see if you can get it done...

I nap while they process that queue and wake up around 10:15. At 10:30 we're finally called up to the courtroom where the Court Clerk details the case (it will be criminal, I suspect that's all I can say), and then the Judge runs through a list of conditions that will potentially disqualify you from his case should he agree. They are, in rough order:

1) Do you know anything about the case beyond that which you might have read in the paper/on the Internet? (Based on the details described before this process begins)
2) Do you know the defendant; his lawyer; the crown lawyers? (Whom the Justice will name)
3) Do you know the witnesses for the prosecution? (Whom the Crown will stand and then name)
4) Do you have problems understanding written or spoken English. (The Justice will test you to his satisfaction on this one if you try and use it)
5) Do you have a medical condition that would preclude you sitting on the jury. (You must approach the judge and describe the condition in detail, loud enough for the lawyers to hear, and he must agree to excuse you from this case)
6) If serving on the jury would provide you unreasonable inconvenience due to the expected time involved (You may only play this card once selection starts. We'll get back to this in a sec).

It's at this point where Jury selection begins and it's kinda a three stage process. First, two Triars are selected via random ballot. Their job will be to judge the fitness of a Juror based on their answer to an agreed upon question posed by Defence Council believed relevant to the outcome of the verdict.

Next, the Court Clerk will begin drawing groups of 20 potential jurors - in our case it was 4 - from a ballot spinner ticket style to ensure a random selection from the available pool. These groups will be escorted away for now. I'll pull the 3rd group: this puts me a fairly limited risk of actually being selected by and large because ~40 people will be seen before me and they only need 12 - though I'm unfortunate enough to have to risk actually seeing the rest of the process today. Anyone not in the 4 groups will be sent back to the holding room to be available for selection in other trials for the remainder of the day.

Oh, side note, one of the lawyers is blind and their dog is both severely well trained and old enough to be completely jaded by this experience now - it's not until the first batch of jurors gets near 10 deep that it bothers to lift it's head from it's slumber and shift under the table: going back to sleep.

Now that the basics are sorted, the third stage begins. The groups will be processed in order one person at a time, so you'll be placed in another room to sit and wait for your group to be called or be collectively told the jury has filled, you're no longer required and to return to the holding room. When your group is called, you'll be filed into a Jury room to wait for your individual call. Upon being called, the first thing the Court Officer will ask you as you enter is if you wish to play the Inconvenience card. If not, you will then be sworn in by the Court Clerk. Now, the Defence Attorney will be able to ask his question. Upon answering, the Triars must now both agree that you are fit, at which point the either of the Legal Teams have a limited number of times to veto (challenge) the selection as well. If they don't, you are part of the jury and replace one of the Triars for the next selection (As far as I can tell, the initial Triars get to leave and then they simply cycle people into the Jury seats until done). Otherwise, if the Triars don't like your answer/how you give it or the Legal Teams reject you, the Justice will dismiss you from the case and you return to the holding room to wait again. In this way, both the Jury Pool and the Legal Teams build the final Jury.

I'm asked one of the questions I very much expected to be asked upon being introduced to the case and my "No" is either quick, simple, or seemingly insincere enough for the current Triars to eliminate me in about 10 seconds. So, I'm excused from serving on the case. I'm not particularly wounded: those two ladies just saved me a week's unpaid work. Because they've gone through about 50 people at this point and - having stopped for lunch from 12:45 to 2:15 - it's now around 3:30 in the afternoon, I'm informed by the Court Officer on the way out of the courtroom that I'm released for the day but need to be back for 9:30 tomorrow to see if I'm required then.

One more kick at the Gauntlet then.

Day 2

Report in at 9:30 and sit down to wait. And wait. And wait some more... I start amusing myself seeing how many Trivial Pursuit questions I can get on the cards.

Around 11:30 they finally call my group to a courtroom where we're up for selection for another criminal trial - this time one dealing with issues near or at the top of the list of those you'd likely never want to have to hear testimony on short of cases that would make the Hague.

This jury selection goes differently from the one yesterday: there's no question this time so we're not shifted out of the room by group. Instead, the Jurors are selected by groups of 20 in the same manor as before, asked to report any of the same 6 issues from day one to the Judge for consideration of removal when called forth individually, and then the Defence or Crown are free to reject anyone they want. Many people run off issues that would preclude them from serving - this ends up being the primary reason they're removed from consideration as neither lawyer ends up being all that picky about those who say they can serve.

Unlike yesterday, 12 Jurors are chosen in the first 35 and then those of us who remain are run up to another holding room where we wait out the day in case a Juror still needs to be replaced before being released as the trial begins.

Service done; no one can be called again for another 3 years minimum.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Thought of the Day: My Kryptonite...

Sarah's <-- insert/replace any variation thereof here. Seriously. If someone were particularly invested in getting me dating then pointing a cute one in my direction is effectively an Executive Decision to deploy WMD's.

Addendum: In retrospect, I probably shouldn't have suggested that name as an alternative English name to a former co-worker. Considering they were already reasonably cute on their own, that would've ended very badly....

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Things Left Unsaid: My Missed Wallace Wells Moment

Him: "So, yeah, she's been in a lot of relationships/trouble and I know the (14-16 year old girls) I keep dating are a mess but they have what I want..."

Me: "Non-existant Self-esteem, a willingness to put up with your bullshit 'cause "we're IN LOVE" so a breakup is the end of the world, and no idea what an adult penis is actually supposed to look like?"

For clarification, this one's in the ballpark of a decade and a half old before you start wondering.

God I wish I called him better on his shit at the time instead of just my usual 'why don't you try something more your age' passive aggressive posture; I'd find out through the grapevine away at college later that that one in particular cost him a large sum of money. Not just on booze and cigarettes either... This is one of the downsides to the teenaged "guy code" where you're not supposed to say jack to stress the group; just smile, wave, and then grumble behind their back as your friend continuously does something idiotic that's going to backfire on him sooner or later. Also, if you think I'm quiet, non-confrontational and shy by default now... yeah... you should've seen me 18-20 when I'd just spent 12 years trying to be invisible at school for various reasons. I must admit though, I was surprised at the number of Catholic parents who frequently just shrugged at the 18-20 year old "dating" their barely consent-legal at the time daughters or rolled over when they threw hissy fits about it or made silly little concessions - "Oh, yeah, I'll be in by curfew!!!". Mind you, it probably didn't hurt that he stood about 5'7 and could pass for 15.

The only "good" thing that came out of being around those "relationships" during my first couple of College summer breaks, if you want to call it that, was that the shit that went on on both sides taught me pretty much every reason why I'd no more interest in playing in that particular pool and weaned me completely off teenage girls in favour of something more... mature and less dramatic maybe? Seriously: I never, ever, again want to have to go get a girl's friends from the TV room to mop up after I've talked her down - one of the few times my being notoriously easy to talk to has been a blessing - 'cause they've been drinking, he's played the "Fine, it's over card" to try and trump the screaming fight she started when they went to bed because he was seen talking to an Ex the night before, and I'm the only one who spotted her running through the kitchen to the back deck while grabbing a knife from the block and pondering the end of the world after the GF's all just shrugged, said: "here we go again" and went back to the movie at the screamed "NOOOO" for apparently the 100'th time. Meanwhile, he's still laying in her bedroom for her to roll over on the issue and come back to bed - which she does once the GF's are done with her...

Yes, I did say "her bedroom". This is all happening at her house where the parents have left the establishment and her 10 year old sister in the hands of her and her one year older friends - one of whom is technically "babysitting" for the night while they're out of town.

Pick your own "kicker" in that story.

RftP: Wall Street- Money Never Sleeps

It's been years since I've seen the original film so I'll spare you the comparison process going on elsewhere and just cut to the brass tacks. Money Never Sleeps is a film that wants to be many things: a posthumous condemnation of the 08 Economic Meltdown, a love story, a revenge story, a family reunion/redemption story, a plea for investment in Alternative Energy, amongst other things...

In attempting to do all this, you end up with something that's watchable but doesn't really nail any one element so well that you can say this film is a classic or must see. In many ways, it frustrates you: there's one scene where Michael Douglas as Gecko "the book writer and unbelieved prophet" prognosticating the collapse that will take place over the course of the film is called on stage at a college as part of his book tour to deconstruct the entire financial crisis and you're left wishing someone had wrote/included the whole speech because the highlights are legitimately one of the best attempts to deconstruct what went wrong and Douglas is right in his element. Then he's dragged into the love plot between our male lead and Gecko's estranged daughter and the movie drags somewhat as we run through the numbers, chase a revenge subplot and watch a lot of bankers beg the fed to save their skins, and build towards his "redemption".

Sooo, decent film, not a bad spend of money, might be something else out there you want to see more this week.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Rant: On Beauty

Ok... this has been percolating in my head for a bit - largely as a potential answer to a question never asked - and it's time to execute the primary purpose of this blog and info dump it so I can stop playing around with it and move on.

Does Canada have the most beautiful women in the world?

Well, here's a great chance to kiss some ass but that's not really my thing. Sooooo, instead here comes a whole lot of theoretical rationalization...

The first big gotcha here is that, when it comes right down to it, unless you eliminate everything down to Native Canadians there is no such thing as a "Canadian woman"*. Unlike most of the old countries, we're a nation whose primary population base is entirely immigrant in origin; even if you have to go back a few hundred years with some of the older families. Therefore, if someone were to ask: "Are Canadian women more beautiful than <insert country here> women?", it's really easy to cheat and say: "Canadian-<ICH> Women are the hottest ;)", and carry on because the list of countries of the world not represented here is simply not all that exclusive at this point. So, we've got variety, sure, but does that equate with greater beauty? Not really. For most folks, that's just freedom of choice.

This variety also runs into the second gotcha which is this: beauty is both subjective and arguably a constant. It's very rare that someone finds everyone attractive without requiring penicillin for their late stage Syphilis infection. Instead, we all have our personal likes and dislikes and they don't appear constantly across the board. So, the number of people we find cute/hot/etc stays relatively static regardless because the features we like aren't available in every representative of the opposite sex. To a certain extent, you can see this in a beauty pageant lineup - especially on the international level - because you get the opinion of what's "beautiful" from a country or world-wide series of selectors and the features that stand out don't end up being all that common save two. We'll deal with those in sec, but at the end of the day even variety runs into the wall that is personal taste. This is why those things are total crap shoots in terms of who wins: you're facing the subjective opinion of a random selection of C-List celebrities who lost the most to the house in Vegas and need to pay off Trump somehow :)

Now, lets get back to those two commonalties. First, you'll often see busty contestants at these things; this is entirely down to base sex drive and the reality that the people judging these things need/tend to play to defined norms as to what guys are supposed to "want". That said, it's pretty readily apparent that this isn't necessarily a make/break thing for guys given the number of women who somehow manage to get married/dates without being a 38 DDDD; IIRC, "average" size is 34B.

Secondly, yes these contestants are frequently statuesque but this gets back to modelling expectations and people really need to start accepting the reality that models aren't chosen for their looks; they're chosen for how they make the designer's clothes look and because they're more lifelike than throwing some mannequins on a movator and running them around the stage; somewhat. This is why you end up with Amazonian stick figures prancing around the catwalk - so some perfectionist fabric artiste can get their "nice clean lines" on stage. If they're pretty, bonus. It's also worth noting the other pretty obvious counterpoint that a huge number of performers/actresses are in the 5'1 -> 5'4 range; including some rather large Maxim bait like Christina Aguilera, Alison Brie, and Megan Fox. Hell, to an entire generation Madonna was sex so, obviously, height isn't a universal either.

We could go on spinning around the issue here but I think the subjectivity of the question has been firmly established. As such, it becomes increasingly obvious that any answer I could give on this question would be entirely my own because the opinion of the guy sitting to your left on the subway is going to be completely different. So, I guess the more important questions to be posed are: "Are you really that invested in whether or not I find you attractive?" and, if so and I do: "Are you free Friday night?"

* There's a legitimate argument to be made that Canadian cultural norms (ie: "acceptable" behaviour), define a "Canadian" woman but that would be both a) an entirely other discussion and b) assume that no one elsewhere is capable of/already is operating against their own; especially in those occasions where they're now increasingly more stereotypical than fact.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

TyL: Reading a Fall Anime Preview

Own up: how much lobbying did this take?

Reviews from the Pad: The Town, Easy A

We now return from our travelogue for a little catch up RftP time.

Directed and staring Ben Affleck, The Town is your basic criminal vs cop caper film that hits all the notes decently enough though doesn't really leave much of a lasting impression. The primary twist on the theme is the replacement of the wife/hooker/general love interest for the criminal lead with the primary victim of their last crime: the female bank manager a member of the crew takes hostage as they flee the scene and then becomes worried that she will come across them and alert the police. So, it falls to Affleck's character to intervene and monitor her in order to try and keep this from happening and/or his partner deciding to kill her instead.

If you like these types of things, it's worth your time but not really special or noteworthy otherwise.

Easy A is less "totally original high school movie" and more the obvious result of a writer who watched a few thousand 80's teen movies/after school specials and went: "that supporting character... you know... the one the whole school thinks is a slut... who teaches the lead something important in act 4 while privately revealing they're not... yeah... that's gonna be my lead..."

While as realistic as one can expect from a comedy about a fake school slut and the consequences of being such when you're aiming for a PG-13 rating (and, lets be honest, if you want the "sad reality" about teens trying to rationalize their peers sex lives - particularly when it involves the unwanted kind - you should probably be over here or here...), the main strengths of the film are both it's lead, Emma Stone, who nails the character and the fact that the script is damned smart; setting up jokes in act one & two that it won't get back to until acts three or four. It's a legitimately funny little movie and good fun but the "originality" here is largely the shift in focus and the films willingness to attack it full bore; everything else follows your teen flick script outline. Given the number of direct references to John Hughes' and John Cusack's cumulative resume of "definitive" 80's teen flicks within the film itself, this isn't surprising for some reason.

That out of the way, good film. Go see it if you need a laugh.

PS: Can "us old folks" stop treating Hughes/Cusack as if they were the only people who've made good Teen flicks? Ever. There's acknowledging your influences, wearing them on your sleeve, and being that "up hill both ways!!!" guy. When you're making a character who's supposed to be in HS in 2010 run off a list of films as the entirety of what she always hoped/thought her relationships/high school experience would be like and every... single.... one... was made the decade before she would have been born and while her parents would've been in college... well, you're starting to push the latter on the old fuddy-duddy meter...

Monday, September 20, 2010

8 Days in Japan: Epilogue

Just some random thoughts on the trip in general:

Food: Didn't help that I was sick the first two days but I really didn't get to experiment as much as I wanted. Realistically, there's a few random elements and a reality that tend to get in your way. Sometimes you're just standing beside something and tired of looking, others you can't find what you're in the mood for/want/afford (which often feeds back into point 1), and the killer is that there's so much of it in so many different variations that if, like me, you're just trying to hit your three squares there's no way you can get to it all without gorging. Often the best you can do is hit the highlights if you know what they are. One thing I found was that, while Wasabi there definitely hits like a truck, the thing I like about it is that it does it's damage and then it's gone. It doesn't sit there forever like most mexican pepper based hot sauces in common use here. One thing I should've done though was tried some stuff here first or asked more how you eat specific dishes; in the proper combination sense, not the "with chopsticks stupid" sense. I'm gonna teach myself how to cook some of the things I ate there too; they reacted really well with my system.

Anime: while I didn't build my schedule around catching some I didn't really see much on TV here before the morning kids block on my last day there. Really, just one; a high school horror drama from the looks of it. This likely comes down to channel selection by the hotels and timing 'cause I know damned well there's more airing here than that but you may find what's available on your room's 12 channel TV system is not what you hoped. Unless you like to take your Columbo nightly or you're willing to schedule everything else around your Anime urges.

Bring water with you or be prepared to buy some on the go from the many vending machines. Especially in Tokyo where it can be overwhelmingly humid and you are going to wake up in a hospital on fluids if you don't drink - a lot. I know a lot of people argue Japanese, and Asians in general, are skinny 'cause of diet - certainly the number I saw running around town who'd be considered "fat" in the North American sense... well, I saw more you could legitimately make the "big boned" argument about and even they were handful in number. But, I'd personally argue they're skinny as the penultimate proof of Natural Selection at work: 'cause if you were genetically predisposed to being 200-300 pounds of pure blubber, got that big, and then actually had to do any outside work in this climate, you'd die from heat exhaustion.

Don't litter. There are places, particularly cultural areas, with posted fines of up to 30000 yen that they have every intention of collecting. Understand though that, unlike Toronto where they're every 30', garbage bins are typically concentrated around vending machines. So, be prepared to walk a good distance without seeing someplace to offload if you're not prepared to sit there and drink it all - Fromers makes a big deal out of how that's a cultural norm - though you likely won't want to do this with a bottle of water out on a stroll.

Speaking of vending machines: there used to be a claim you could find anything there. These days, you're likely to only find drinks and cigarettes; the later of which, judging from signage, are only now starting to see the kinds of restrictions on public use you'd find here in Canada. Be prepared to deal with smokers if you've become accustomed to them being locked in a cupboard somewhere private with a big fan to keep them all from choking to death on their own collective output.

Even though lockers are frequently readily available every time you get off a subway and at many museums/malls, you probably want a good side bag too to free up your hands as you wander if you're going to bring anything - like bottled water. The less weight you carry in the humidity and heat the better and backpacks are massive sweat traps. One thing I'd suggest though is that, if you don't have one already, you should just wait until you get here and make an open-air mall/general shopping district your first stop once you've settled in. It's damned easy to find a functional one for 1000->2000 yen: even more so if you're female and don't have to pick through the gender neutral stuff.

It's easy to spend a lot of money if you're not careful because 1000 yen is like $15 but the illusion that you're not spending much kicks in especially when you're dealing in coins. You don't need to get Traveler's Cheques - there's ample places in town, at the air port, or occasionally in store all converting at the same rate as well as 7/11's to pull local money from your Credit Cards - but they do get about a 7 cent conversion rate bonus (cash was ~72 TC's were ~79 yen/$1cdn), because the house won't need to deal with getting rid of your physical cash.

Grabbed a very useful tip to set my watch ahead at the terminal to help avoid Jet Lag that was really effective. Once on the plane, a look at my watch told me it was approaching midnight and I should probably be asleep so I just forced myself to nap and from that point on, save some grumbling by my internal clock the first night here, I was running Tokyo time and largely hit the ground running.

Where in Toronto you're likely to see folks fiddling with their iPods/Music Player on the subway (and some phones, sure), in Japan you're far more likely to see someone playing games or texting on their Cell Phone. Usually some brand/model of flip phone that looks to be almost ubiquitous or has billions of knockoffs; likely because it certainly doesn't look particularly expensive from it's build.

Done again, I'm torn between bringing someone along to join the adventure and bounce ideas off of and the reality that my willingness and ability to travel by foot rivals that of some speed walkers and that's not a common attribute these days back home. That said, one of the bigger problems is finding things to do with yourself past 5 or 7 o'clock when you don't know the nightlife or speak the language other than shopping or eating because many of the sights, museums or temples you might otherwise want to see close early in the day.

Speaking of the Language, yes, you can get away with visiting Japan and not knowing a word of of it. The currency (except the 5 yen coin as near as I can tell), and prices are all labeled or displayed in roman numerals, there are some really good free guides to help you get around, and Train/Subway stations signage and announcements on the trains are all frequently bilingual and so are much of the local signage and area maps so you'll have no problem being able to purchase, find, or get to what you need. What you will have problems with is knowing what you're purchasing unless, of course, it's blatantly obvious. Although, you can be fooled there too. Mostly with food because some things - like sliced cow's tongue - look like other things when recreated in plastic/imagery. Also, I personally began to feel like a bit of a douche regularly forcing people to repeat what they just said to me in their default language in my own.

The transportation system in Tokyo, while I'm sure Locals might know of some flaws, is preposterously good. I don't think there's a section of the city you can't get within walking distance of via Subway or Train. Now that I've seen how an adjustable fare system works in practice, I wouldn't necessarily be against it being used in Toronto either. All that said, I'm honestly not sure how you'd get something that complete done in Toronto because, to a certain degree, the driving force behind it is just how car unfriendly Tokyo is itself. From the narrow streets that result from a failure/refusal to demo old buildings just to make room for roads and the associated maintenance of historical block layouts to the lack of parking it's a situation that just doesn't exist here where we've gone out of the way to make our cities car friendly - particularly out into the suburbs - and keep them that way.

All that said, I had fun. Would definitely do again. Might take some language lessons first though :)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

8 Days in Japan Day 8: Heading for the Exit...

I pondered getting up early today and trying to wrangle in another couple sights but it would've required some serious schedule wrangling and timing to get it right. Also, with the way the humidity has been in Tokyo and without knowing what facilities are at Narita I'd have hated to force someone to sit beside me for 12 hours flying out without a shower. Instead, I run the clock out watching TV - finally catching some Anime in the form of Dragonball Kai and One Piece - and then hop the metro to Tokyo station where I grab some fresh cut cantaloupe for a quick snack before boarding the Narita Express to the airport; catching a pic of the Tokyo Sky Tree under construction on my way out.

Arriving at Narita well early of my flight and in no hurry to get inside, I collect my boarding pass and begin wandering the terminal. Already, this airport makes Pearson look sad and dated despite Terminal 1 being just a few years old now. In the outer terminal area there's a small mall with about 30 shops and another 15 or so restaurants serving damned near everything you could think of: full service places too not a bunch of Cara/McD's fast food joints. You can also head up to the top level and look out over the runways as flights come in and out to watch.

I grab a sushi plate from one of the restaurants for lunch and then browse the stores for a bit to see if there's anything I still might want.

Finishing up with that, I head through screening and immigration, who kindly mark me absent, and into the inner area where comparing things with Pearson just gets sad. When I finally got inside back home, I was funnelled down into the lower platform where there were a few duty free places selling liquor, perfume, and a couple restaurants. You get through security at Narita and you're in the god damned third floor of the Eaton Centre with top end brand stores selling duty free goods on top of various other stores selling just about anything you could find in Japan to take back home with you - there was a place selling Rice Cookers for Pete's sake - before you start looking at a whole other list of restaurants on top of what was outside.

Even better, you're free to roam all three wings and browse the place at will. You could easily spend your entire trip in Japan just seeing the sights and then lose a few hours shopping the two malls at Narita on your way out for gifts. Also: there's a day-inn/shower room service on site for future reference. The other thing that stands out is how much of the waiting area, though particularly the shopping zones, isn't sterile white; instead vibrant woodgrains, pleasant lighting, and generally the kind of hospitality environment one would more expect from a high end mall or hotel lobby.

This, folks, is an airport run by people who understand it's their job to get every last penny out of you before you get on the plane where Pearson is run by people who apparently have never overseen anything more complex than a Conklin queue at the Ex.

Dear Air Canada: if you're going to use touch screens, please provide a (re)calibration tool for them. I shouldn't have to sit there figuring out just how much up and to the left I need to hit your screen to have the cursor land on the button.

PS: plz also find digital copies of your films that don't have the audio drop in and out - and I know it's a media issue because it only happened on one of the films I watched.

Inflight mini RftP:

This Movie is Broken- want the raw concert footage; the rest of this nonsensical mess can go off into a dark alley and die.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo- why must our "strong female heroines" get raped... be bisexual... have relationship issues... and generally be nerd wish fulfillment? No, it doesn't matter in the first case that she gets her revenge- it's still fucking tired.

A quick nap later - and 3 meals that somehow manage to be worse than what they slid in front of me the first time - we're landing in Toronto and our ~20000 KM excursion is done. One more roundup post tomorrow.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

8 Days in Japan Day 7: Little Bit of Column A, Little Bit of Column B...

It's my last full day in Japan, so it's gonna be kinda random as I run around a bit.

Gonna start off the day kicking back to Ueno Park for the Tokyo National Museum which I'm told is high on the list of places to see here. The museum itself is a large complex spread across multiple buildings on the north side of the park - though one is closed for renovations; a euphemism for earthquake proofing around here - and there's a good bit to see here. Starting with the main building, you come across displays on Buddhism, traditional Japanese Arts, and crafting; primarily of the sword, armour smithing, and pottery areas in the later case.

I move on from there to the Hyoeikan building which is home to small galleries of relics from other Asian countries as well as Egypt and the Middle East.

My next stop is The Gallery of Horyuji Treasures where I find a building that could give Toronto lessons in how to do interesting, or at least tranquil, modern architecture. Stop for Brunch here at a fancy sit down restaurant and point order a beef and rice dish that, when it arrives, is probably best described as tasting like Chef Boyardee... only with actual meat and mushrooms in it... oh, and with rice and 3 green pea pods. The gallery itself is home to an archive of relics from the Horyuji Temple, many of which date back 1200-1300 years.

I'll finish up here at the Heseikan gallery where I grab an ice cream from a vending machine and wander through the ancient Japanese relics. Normally there would be a special exhibition here as well, but the museum is currently between hosting events.

Checking my guide, I find a place to get some high point pictures of the city and head off to Shinjuku since that's on the way to Harajuku where I planned to do some shopping later anyways.

About 30 minutes later I find myself at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings where I'm able to take an elevator the the observatory on the 45th floor of one and grab some pictures of the area.

On a "clear" day it's supposedly possible to see Mt Fuji from here but the summer haze that hovers over most large cities these days whites out the horizon and makes seeing anything in the distance impossible. I considered going out there to do the climb; unfortunately I'd arrived out of season though. Moving on, I get some gift shopping done here; finding a toy Nozomi train for my nephew at one of the large department stores near the train station.

That done, I head off to Harajuku to finish off the rest of my shopping list and find an area quite clearly in transition.

I start off by hitting Takeshita Dori which is full of small shops and brand locations where all the teenagers and young adults - primarily girls - like to hit for the current trends to try and find something neat for my niece. Wandering a bit, I finally come across a bag for her and pick it up. Where you start to get the feeling that things are changing is as you head down the street and get closer to the main cross street back to Omotesando Boulevard. Here, new construction is underway on the street and areas are being cleared for modern buildings as what's happening over there begins migrating it's way here. What's happening there? The big brands, as usual, want to be where the kids are and the entire boulevard is covered in buildings and storefronts that look almost brand new and are slowly turning it into new-Ginza. It wouldn't shock me if I were to return in 10-20 years and, baring economic collapse, find the "cool kids" are somewhere else and this is where the "old folks" are shopping for high end goods.

Wandering the Boulevard I find two things of interest. First, the Oriental Bazaar; a long established home to antiques and crafted japanese goods where I grab a wood carved/hand painted doll for my Grandmother who's into collecting such things. Second place is Omotesando Hills; a boutique mall whose design I wonder just how far would fly here because, instead of distinct levels, the entire interior is built around a central atrium and one long open ended uphill ramp you walk around the edges of to proceed upwards. While there are escalators to take you between landings at one end, part of me wonders just how many people here would whine about how getting around the place was too much work because doing so essentially involves climbing up and down a hill.

The day is coming to an end, so I hop the train back to Tokyo station and purchase my Train Ticket to Narita for tomorrow and begin looking for dinner. It's here where I get a reminder of how not being able to read the language can have it's downside. Seeing what looks like a roast beef dish on the menu at a steak place, I'm about to head into the restaurant when I spot the English menu and find out what caught my eye was beef tongue; which was not really on my short list of things to try...

Instead I move down a place and grab some Tonkatsu - a traditional breaded pork dish - which is really good and I'd recommend to anyone (even if you're half awake and pour green tea on it instead of the sauce).

That done, I hop the train back to my Hotel, pack up for tomorrow, and call it a night.

Friday, September 17, 2010

8 Days in Japan Day 6: Here, There, Everywhere...

It's getaway day outta Kyoto. After throwing my luggage in a locker and grabbing breakfast I head over to the Museum of Kyoto. Dedicated to the history of Kyoto itself, I just get a gallery ticket and skip the exhibition to save some cash and end up regretting it. With really only one gallery floor on the second and an small display on the third dedicated to the history of film production - the Toei Studio outside town being the primary Japanese production lot going back to the start - the main collection is small on it's own though interesting at least. I spend about an hour here before wandering off to find the local open air fresh food market.

Overshooting it by a mile and having to double back, finding one of the local elevator style parking garages on the way, I finally find my way to to the Nishiki Food Market. A modern open air covered mall occupying the location of a former street market, it's like St. Lawrence Market if it were a street. Everything here is fresh, but frequently also vac-packed to avoid air contamination to compensate for the open air environment.

It's an implementation that's simple, clean and effective at keeping it's roots given the area's been the street market almost as long as the city has existed. Yet, looking at it, I suspect that if you tried to do this in Toronto then Public Health would still go apeshit given how hard it's been to get something other than Hot Dog vendors licensed as concession stands despite that reality just because it doesn't fit the "norms".

I browse the market a bit, then weave my way back through the area to my luggage and jump the subway to Kyoto Station in order to catch a train back to Tokyo. If I had to do things again, I probably would've left myself less of a buffer getting out and spent another day here: there's simply so much historical to see and do and I barely touch a 10th of it, if that.

Arriving back in Tokyo, I check back into my hotel and decide to go see if I can catch a baseball game. One catch to doing this is that, while there's a two teams in Tokyo, there's so few teams in the league overall that you can't be guaranteed to have one in town at any given time. Not only that, but one of those teams - the Giants - are the equivalent of the NY Yankees here and your odds of getting tickets on short notice lay somewhere between nil and none. Grabbing a local english language mag called Metropolis - their rough equivalent to our Now or Eye papers here - on my way out to the trains I'm faced with the unfortunate reality that that's the only team playing locally over the next couple days so I make my way to Suidobashi on the JR line and find myself outside the Tokyo Dome City complex and see if I can roll the dice.

While the Dome is it's centre point, the complex itself is huge consisting of multiple restaurants, some towers, a mall, a seriously huge roller coaster, and an entire section of kids stores to try and make it an entertainment complex for everyone. This stands in distinct contrast to the comparative dead zone around the Rogers Centre in terms of shopping or entertainment here in that there's more than enough reason to be in the area other than just to see a game. Sadly, all the games for my last two days here are sold out so I settle for browsing the area a bit - wandering through a "Jump" store full of One Piece, Bleach, Dragonball, and similar paraphernalia - before deciding to shift Akihabara from tomorrow to today and hit it at night.

Akihabara is a shopping district unlike anything we have in Toronto to be honest and probably best described as a massive multi-block shopping zone for geeks and nerds of all types. Chock full of multi-level stores catering to electronics, hobbyists, entertainment (of all types), and restaurants designed to appeal to those who'd come to such a place... well, if Comic Con is the West's "Nerd Mecca", Akihabara is probably the East's only it runs daily. I mostly end up browsing the area here; electronics are, by and large, no cheaper to purchase once you start doing the math while the movies and games are very rarely region free so, unlike Toronto's "Asian" malls, I'd have to end up getting a second machine to use them. So, I mainly look around for some Macross/Robotech models and browse the DVD/Blu-Ray sections in vain. I do, however, find myself an iPod cable for like 500 yen, or about 1/4 of what Apple wanted for it, and the perfect "gift" for my mom:

I'm totally sneaking this onto the foot or headboard of her bed the next time she's in the hospital.



Embarrassment is walking into what looks like a DVD/Video store on the outside... quickly realizing from what's on the racks and walls inside that you've walked into a 6 story porn shop... then having to turn and wander out while looking like that's what you really intended to do...

At one point Akihabara had a reputation for being the crown of cosplay as well and the area still has the stores to back it. But, wandering the area I found there's very little of that going on these days- this may have something to do with the cyclical downturn in interest towards anime lately or I simply showed up at the wrong day/time - save for the girls in maid costumes advertising the various Maid Cafe's in the area - food establishments where the customers are served food/drinks master/servant style by pretty young things in variations on the stereotypical french maid's outfit.

One location heavily pitches that the Backstreet Boys shot a video at their establishment and you can pay to sit in their booth. "Master/Servant" role-play isn't really my thing, even if it's all an act intended in good fun, so I move on.

I do a bit more browsing of the area trying to get some gift shopping done - unlike some other areas the arcades and many large stores are open really late here - and poke my head into an Arcade where all the adults head to the back while I grab the escalator up. We'll get back to this later. Heading upstairs past about 3 floors of machines I end up on the non-smoking floor looking for the GUNDAM pods again.

Finding them blocked off, I settle into another game alongside them that doesn't require the same amount of setup in the form of getting a combat card called Border Break that makes me regret the death of the arcade here.

Fully multiplayer on a national scale, you're driving Mechs with a slightly odd combination of stick and mouse to control movement and targeting yet, once you get used to it, it's really functional. I play a round dying once while racking up multiple kills mainly on the reality that, being slotted into the "newb" bracket to start, no one else in my game seems to understand the concept of flanking... yet. While I'm using terrain to sneak around get free shots in on them from side angles and the rear and taking no damage many of the opposing players are just trying to power down the middle shooting what's in front of them like the Alliance in Alterac Valley and then wondering why they died at Galv. When I run out of game time, with my side basically spawn camping the enemy base at this point, I watch the player beside me for a while who's higher level and the game becomes very different as more tools and weapons open up to you and the players are more familiar with their maps and controls. Heading down the stairs to get out I find out why all the guys were headed for the back on my way in: the basement is home to an adult manga/magazine store.

I meander for a bit further, coming across a 7 story adult and general cosplay megastore in the process with the kind of "insert your face" photo standees outside you could probably only get away with having out on the street in Akihabara, before hitting one last Electronics/Hobbyist department store, then grab some dinner and head back to the Hotel for the night.

Lazy Friday: Excuse us While we Break for a Special Announcement

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming

Thursday, September 16, 2010

8 Days in Japan Day 5: Kyoto Walking GT...

Kicking out a bit later than I hoped, I grab breakfast from a little coffee shop just down the road and around the corner I spotted while wandering the open air mall yesterday and head down the road on foot for Nijo Castle.

Designed by the Shogun as his personal castle, the main building of this fortress is famous for it's so called "nightingale" floors which were added by the Shogun as a security measure out of paranoia. They cause "squeaks" as people walk across them to alert guards to uninvited intruders. It's a large complex with inner/outer walls and moats to secure the Government and an inner Keep in which the Shogun could retreat to if attacked. The outer walls are interesting for being covered with steps on the inside, so archers and defending forces could attain the top of the wall quickly, and sheer rock faces towards the outside. At one lookout point, I'm able to grab a nice half-panorama of the mountains/hills surrounding Kyoto and pictures of the buildings and gardens but no images of the building interiors themselves as photography is banned.

One thing that's nice here as I move on and make my way to the Kyoto International Manga Museum is being inland and having less overall humidity. I decide to skip transit entirely and just keep walking. Arriving at the Museum, I find a rather interesting depository of just about anything you'd want to read - if you could read Japanese. There are some good side displays though and it's worth walking through just to say you've been there and maintain geek cred. A good amount of the collection comes from private collector who operated a rental library of books until he retired in 2005 and there's a stated 300000 manga on site though only 50000 are available on shelves to be read at any given time.

I spend about an hour wandering the place and checking out a few exhibitions on site before heading north to go to the Kyoto Imperial Palace. I stop at a McDonalds on the way 'cause I'm in a hurry and grab a Salt and Lemon Chicken Sandwich then head off to find the Imperial Household Agency information centre to get "permission" to visit the Palace proper - a process that involves them verifying your passport and likely pulling up your name to see if any red flags go off. That done, I get a pass to go on a 1 hour tour of the grounds. This is only possible because, unlike the Palace in Tokyo, the residences have not been occupied by the family since the chair was moved.

The castle itself is a large complex with containing multiple buildings which all feature cypress bark roofs that require replacement every 30 years and take 25 years to all replace across the entire selection - at huge expense. There's an area where one part of the building has just been completely replaced and another is due for replacement where the contrast between the two states is quite evident:

There's also a display of a cross section showing how these roofs are constructed - 10 layers deep connected with bamboo nails which won't rust:

The tour continues on past multiple buildings and gates until you reach an inner Japanese garden: which focuses more on landscaping and water features as a means to reflect the beauty of the islands or specific areas than flower arrangement.

An hour later, as I move on I realize I've cocked this up a bit and probably could have had time to hit some of the outer shrines today that require train travel and still done the core buildings on my get away day. The simple reality is that it would be quite easy to leave your bags at Kyoto Station or Karasuma Oike subway station in the core, grab a subway day pass, and jump quickly between those first three in a few hours in the morning/early afternoon because, even walking, they're all about 20-30 minutes apart. Just remember that, to make the 10 AM Palace tour, you need to get there 40-30 mins ahead of time for clearance. Adjusting a bit, I decide to move the Kyoto History Museum to tomorrow since it's 2 blocks from my hotel and I want to burn some time here before heading back to Tokyo right away since check out is 10, check in is 4, and there's only 2:30 hours needed for the train trip. Instead, I take off for the Kyoto Crafts centre where I grab a gift for... someone to be determined depending on what else I find and move on to some of the Eastern shrines. Though, to be honest here for a sec... Kyoto is full of temples and shrines. If you seriously, absolutely, without a doubt have a craving to OD on Temples and Shrines... Kyoto. There's so many, they don't even all make the tourist map and you'll be wondering if you've gotten where you were going early until you read the sign telling you you've tripped over something you weren't even looking for.

That said, I make my way to Ginkakuji Temple, grabbing another panoramic video of the east side of town as a cross the main viaduct that divides it, and find it sadly closed for the day after 5. So, I proceed down the Philosopher's Path trail (so named because of it's winding path alongside a particularly tranquil riverside surrounded by Cherry Blossom Trees between multiple eastern temples and shrines where individuals would go to be alone with their thoughts), for a bit scavenging shots of a few more temples and shrines that aren't walled off along the way. Come across a small playground that's made of metal and has some rust on it... Quick - someone call the community parent's association and also find out from our city insurer's how much this is costing us!!! Think of the Children!!!

Yes, I am mocking our local tendency to destroy the same playgrounds we grew up on because they're suddenly no longer "safe" for this generation of kids.

Once I had enough wandering, I made my way south east, back to the area where the Sushi place I wanted to hit was supposed to be hiding with better directions this time, passing a museum for a former canal system and the remainder of the construction along the way.

Further on, I poke my head inside a book store to find... the entire place full of Manga compilations and people reading. Heading on and finding my way into the Sushi place this time, I grab a set dinner with a variety of Sushi, some Tempura, and fresh fish sampler and see what there is to see. It's all pretty good, though what I take home from it is that Squid/Octopus is far too spongy/rubbery for my liking and the wasabi here is like taking one quick jet of drano up your sinuses. It's not bad to start, then it just hammers your nostrils/back of your throat with how strong it is once wet and exposed to air in your mouth. It's all good though.

That done, a little wandering through the shops gets followed by me calling it a day...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

8 Days in Japan Day 4: Chugga-Chugga... Chugga-Chugga... Choo-Choo...

Find the iPod hiding exactly where it was supposed to be though somehow tucked inside the leather. Packed and good to go I head out of the hotel - almost walking off with the ethernet cable they provided and also being chased to the door by a helpful owner bringing me back for an umbrella who I had to disappoint by getting the one I had from my bag.

Hitting the JR Line to head to Tokyo during rush hour for the first time I begin to realize that the crowding reputation might be tied to the trains more than the metro as they move more commuters in from the equivalent of the suburbs there. It's pretty packed, though not OMGWTF packed, and people are basically filing out just to see their spots replaced. Upon arriving at Tokyo Station again I grab a sandwich - they like to chop their bread into nice squares and remove the crust - find out which track my train is at, and head up to wait.

I'll be taking a Shinkansen to Kyoto but not the Shinkansen. The newer Nozomi lines - which are the newest trains and express lines - aren't covered under my Rail Pass so I'll be travelling on the older Hikari lines. 15-16 cars long with plenty of seats (13 aisles, 5 seats wide), these critters are designed to move people and move them fast. If you can, watch one of these trains coming into the station as it's last stop. Crews will be waiting there for them to speed clean the cars- they move from one end of the car to the other wiping down all the seats, changing the head rest coverings, and rotating the chairs to face the new direction in teams of two to three. Anyways, once these trains get going they move along at a good clip - I tried to get a video of two trains passing and in the time I was able to see the other train, hit the button, and record the passing I only grabbed like 1-2 seconds of film.

The train trip from Tokyo to Kyoto these days is like driving from Toronto to Hamilton on the QEW only with tunnels through the hillsides and occasional rice paddies in place of farms separating housing and factory space that's now Japanese in construction and/or signage. There's some nice background scenery as the hills are covered in wisps of the overcast but it's hard to shoot with posts and buildings nearby flying into view as you shoot past - damned Newtonian Physics.

Arriving in Kyoto, I grab a beef and rice dish for lunch which is pretty good. I then hop the subway to my Hotel here and find I made a much better choice the second time through - I'm smack dab in the middle of Kyoto's entertainment and shopping district, one stop from the Subway line hub, and there's no shortage of places to eat just about anything you'd want to grab here. I spend some time walking through the Open Air mall here and receive another reminder as to why they're awesome...

Seriously, I want to open a store in the Eaton Centre selling these shirts. Wait, the "It Store" went bankrupt so I probably shouldn't...

I browse through there until a little after check-in at the hotel and then grab my room. It's nicer than my one in Tokyo, with a view of the Buddhist Graveyard for the temple out my window. They also do this little trick I'm torn between calling annoying and cute and make you use your key to turn on power to the room proper so you'll never lose it - it's in the wall by the door. No free internet in my room here though.

After a little foot rest, I head out for the Gion district - one of the last remaining Geisha districts in Japan.

The thing you notice upon entering is how all the all the buildings on the street have bamboo curtains over their windows for privacy. You can't actually visit these buildings because Geisha are a combination of entertainers in the artistic sense, and professional hostesses in actual practice; not prostitutes. Because of this, trying to get into a Geisha house uninvited or without proper introduction "to see the show" is a good way to get your ass kicked and tossed in jail for trespass because it's profoundly rude. I do manage to see a couple Geisha, or perhaps Maino trainees, traversing the street to their buildings though am leery of taking photos less I violate personal space.

In the back of the street there's an Art House called Gion Corner dedicated to Japanese arts with a subset focus on those that are of interest to actual Geisha work. It's a bit expensive to see the show there but it's a nice little set whose only real problem is the opening act where the Tea Ceremony, Flower Arrangement, and traditional instrument segments overlap each other and force you to choose between watching either the Flower Arrangement or Tea Ceremony in full. Also, people, really... you don't need flash when shooting performers working on a 360 lit stage. Turn it off. Especially you in the first row 2' away...

Heading back, I wander up a riverside walking corridor past ultra-expensive fusion restaurants and fine eateries looking for a Sushi place I saw in the guide. Failing entirely after a while I stumble upon a TGIF, listen to my stomach, and just go "Fuck It". That actually turned out really well 'cause I had what was probably the best, if a bit expensive at ~1500 yen, Cheeseburger I've ever had anywhere. Thick beef patty cooked to perfection, and with huge slices of red onion, lettuce, and tomato as toppings it makes me want to see if there's one in Toronto and they're just as good there.

With dinner out of the way at about 9, I head back to the hotel and call it a day.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

8 Days in Japan Day 3: Ueno Park and Shop

Throat's feeling better after a good night's sleep but I've somehow managed to misplace my iPod in the process of turning the alarm off this morning. I'll find it when it starts blaring Arcade Fire tomorrow morning - or else a ninja managed to sneak into my room and lift it, and only it, while leaving the Laptop and Camera behind when I was in the shower. They must've really wanted my collection of CBC Radio 3 podcasts if that's the case. Applying lessons learned yesterday, today I head out with just a tiny notebook to write down things that amuse me and my camera.

Stop at a little subway cafe called "Vie De France" where the air is full of "french" elevator music and the smell of baked bread. Grab a surprisingly good pastrami sub for breakfast. One thing I have to get used to is the "automatic" doors here - many stores, such as this one, have installed pressure pads in place of handles and instead of movement sensors to trigger them which is rather unique and makes sense for the high traffic areas they're used.

Hop the JR Line and take the train to Ueno Park - a large site in north Tokyo with a Zoo, multiple museums, and shrines/temples galore - and hit the National Museum of Western Art to start. They've an exhibition of art on loan from the Museum of Capodimonte in Naples which is largely Italian in nature and, thus, alternates between Christian and Roman themes. The one thing you really note from it is how, in all the depictions of Venus, Goddess of Beauty, she's kinda... full figured and flat chested; which stands out in contrast to how she'd likely be depicted today. The remainder of the collection - including a large selection of Rodin's work - suffers from it's apparent origination as someone's private hoard. There's a certain sameness to themes and craftsmanship of the work that runs throughout until you get into some of the smaller or newer collections driven by recent purchases - like the Monets and the modern art collection where this one piece by Albert Gleizes stands out for being the largest Mad Magazine fold in ever. It's a really impressive piece of work to see how he's managed to fit farmers into the painting while also making it look like one giant overhead view of farmland.

Outside the building is also where I first come across, or at least notice, umbrella lockers; a place to chain up your umbrella so you don't bring it dripping into the building and a common sense development for a country where it can be either rainy or sunny in spades.

From there, we hop next door to the National Museum of Nature and Science. It's exactly what you'd expect it to be, only subdivided into a Japan specific building and a "Global" building. The Global building is the newer of the two and the thing that really stands out about it is how they don't waste any time on the whole creationism/evolution debate in the nature sections: it's simply "here's a shit ton of evidence for the later, deal with it" which is kinda refreshing. While pretty much all of the text descriptions here are in Japanese, there's a good percentage of it available translated on touch screen machines near the displays so you won't be completely lost as to what's in front of you or why it's important. One thing I didn't like was how stale the air within the building was and it was frequently almost as muggy inside as out. Over in the Japan building - which is the original Museum Building - you get the feeling someone was drawing inspiration for it's construction from the same place as the ROM was. While definitely having local touches to it's design, the building itself is very much laid out like the original ROM building - wings to right and left, central atrium open to all floors in the the middle, stairs to the back of the atrium opposite the main entrance, stairs at the end of each wing - and the stonework construction feels very familiar.

Finishing up there, I head out and start Wandering Ueno Park proper looking for lunch - new rule: since I'm not going to lug the book, write some of the restaurant suggestion addresses from the guide out onto the notepad for the area's you'll be visiting dummy. In the process of doing this, I stumble upon Toshogu Shrine... which is covered entirely by construction scaffolding draped in white cloth and has a picture of the Shrine itself hanging from the front facing.

Moving on, I wander the park until I come across a small pizza place outside the Zoo entrance proper and decide: "What the hell, let's see what Japanese Pizza tastes like." This theme will continue later, but for the moment the answer is: "Kinda like Pizza Hut pizza, only on really thin crust (save the ends), and with better toppings." Having enough of museums, and you could really spend the whole day here seeing just that 'cause there's another 4 or so on site, I pop into the Zoo 'cause I want to see the polar bears. Murphy's law wins out and it's the only part of the zoo that's under the construction but the other bears range from "are you sure those aren't cubs?" too "yeah, now that's a real bear". To be honest though, the one downside to this zoo is that, being cramped into a section of the park, it doesn't have large pastures or fields you're used to seeing lavished on the bigger animals at the Toronto Zoo. So, the Elephant Pen is literally a pen; big enough to let them get around a bit and have some personal space but not much more.

By now it's getting late in the day so I wander out though the south side of the park - finding one of the only vending machines in Tokyo with Canada Dry in stock in the process - and loop around the Pond surrounding the Benzaitan Temple to see the Yushima Tenmangu Shrine. It's a really nice piece of woodwork.

From here we hop the metro and kick over to Asakusa where there's a huge open air shopping district - apparently the original merchant's quarter in Tokyo and Sensoji Temple.

Wandering through the vendors, I grab an "Italian Leather" belt for ~1900 yen, 'cause my jeans are getting loose over here and do some browsing for a small tote bag to throw my notepad in so I don't have to hold it in my hand all the time. While not finding exactly what I want there, I do stumble upon an Arcade with Gundam Combat pods set up with a VR sphere and controls straight out of Virtual ON you can play multiplayer Mech battles in against players from across Japan. I'll have to try that later this week while I'm here but move on 'cause I don't want to take the time to set it up at the moment. Also worth noting - the arcade is mostly filled with older people chain smoking and playing gambling machines.

Heading on, I find my way to Sensoji temple which is another really nice piece of craftsmanship, though perhaps too crowded/touristy/now within the city for it's own good. There's also a goldfish/koi pond on site.

I move on from there to do a bit more browsing through the district - there's a really large section here depicted to cooking tools but bringing a nice set of knives back when I've only got carry-on baggage would be... problematic. I wander through a couple department stores: the Rox where I find Greenday's latest CD - for ~2600 yen, obscene when you also see Harry Potter DVD's for 870 - and Matsuya Asakusa where the department store depression you see in North America has throughly set in - it's 8 above ground floors now a mere three, one of which a train station, and the basement filled with a grocery store. Speaking of which, where in Canada the grocery stores going 24 hours basically ran off the major Convenience store chains, franchises like 7/11 are vibrant and plentiful here. Also: your best chance for an ATM that will talk to your credit/debit card.

Time for dinner, I stumble across two places. First, a doughnut shop called Mister Donut where I get one of my favourite kinds: double chocolate with whipped cream filling which is really good and hard to find since Timmies ran off all competition back home. I'm also given what I hope is my final reminder that ordering unflavoured ice tea means ordering exactly that: cold tea. Not recommended. Moving on, I bypass all the McDonalds and the like and run into a local Hamburger place to see what that's like. From the taste of it, they take the Ham part of Hamburger a bit literally and make their patties from pork but it's pretty good and they have excellent potato cut fries that are really nice.

Feeling less tired than yesterday, I shoot down to south Tokyo and get an... underwhelming picture of the Rainbow Bridge after dark.

Giving up on trying to get closer or make my camera take a picture it just doesn't want to, I wind my way back to Daikon station; stumbling across Pokemon Central Tokyo - the Pokemon Store - in the process. Filled with toys, various Pokemon branded paraphernalia, stuffed animals, and a "Customer Service" desk for fixing your game/providing help, I know at least one person whose bank card would jump screaming from their wallet and run for the hills if they got within spitting distance of the place.

There you go, day down, train to Kyoto in the morning. From the looks of the weather forecast, I've fluked into the perfect trip- when it's been raining in Kyoto, it's been dry in Tokyo. As I head into Kyoto tomorrow, it's about to get sunny there and the rain is coming to Tokyo...