Sunday, April 26, 2015

More Fun

It's been too long since that last post. Not to worry, though, I have some fun stuff you show you.

This Saturday we packed up the family and headed down to Sea Paradise. They had some awesome aquariums and some fun rides. I haven't ridden a roller coaster in years and today I had a chance to. Among other things.

First we checked out the aquariums. Jerry always loves watching fish.

After the aquariums we had to get our seat for the mammal show. This was a lot of fun. Dolphins, Beluga Whales, Seals, penguins, it was all fun.

The dolphins are particularly talented.

In the same tank as the mammal show, this guy was swimming around. He's a whale shark and he's not small. It was cool to see this big guy.

 After the mammal show it was time for food. They had Korean Barbeque. We've recently learned of the virtues of Korean Barbeque, so we decided this was the best choice. A mixture of sea food and meat. Very delicious.

This was one of the options we didn't choose.

After lunch, Jerry took pity on us and crashed in the stroller for about an hour. We took advantage of the time to hit the roller coaster.

They had a pretty cool roller coaster called Leviathan. There weren't any major drops or loops, but this one was FAST. Also, it's cool because it's built half over the water and half on land.

The other ride I did was Blue Fall, which is one of those tall towers that lets you experience free fall. That was something I've never experienced, and I hate to admit that I wasn't prepared for it. I survived, though.

We finished out the day with some of the tamer rides for Jerry. I'm a big fan of Courage the Cowardly Dog. Gotta love that Cartoon Network.

Red Baron, Powerpuff Style!

Peter Pan.

So you know those obnoxious parents at amusement parks? You know the ones. One of them is sitting by an empty stroller looking like they're enjoying the bench a little more than they should be enjoying an ordinary bench. The other is crammed into a ride that is clearly made for people smaller than them.

No? Yeah, I don't know what that's like either.

Finally, after the merry-go-round we'd had enough and headed out. Fun times.

Friday, March 20, 2015

50% Review

At work we have a 50% review when we're halfway done with the project. I thought I would do my own 50% review since now we're a little over half done with out trip.

So far it's been just like normal life in that there are things you'll take and things you'll leave. So here goes, some things I'll miss and some things I won't miss.

1. Wrangling Jerry in a two bedroom apartment - Won't Miss

Just look at that face. How could you think that there is treachery behind those eyes? No, that's not the right word. He really doesn't have malicious intent, but he is an energetic kiddo. I don't wish for him to be less energetic because I think it's a great part of his personality. We just need more space to express it.

2. Japanese Grocery Stores - Miss & Won't Miss

I go both ways on this. I like the Japanese treats (they have excellent snacks) and the ready to eat food section. The produce is usually really good quality, although, if it's out of season you're out of luck. But I'll be glad to be back in the states where I can go to Albertson's or Fred Meyer and get all the stuff I'm used to, then take it to the parking lot and throw it in my car, and drive it home. We have the commissary here, but I have to do all the shopping and I have to schlep it all home on my bike. (That's really something to see, by the way, my bike with front and back baskets full to the brim with groceries.)

3. Trains - Miss

I haven't talked to Jerry about this specifically, but I'm sure he would agree that riding the trains has been a very fun part of our experience. The picture above is from our balcony. When the weather is nice sometimes Jerry and I will watch the trains pull in and out. This is the JR Yokosuka Station.

4. The Balcony - Miss

Honestly we don't spend enough time out here. In our defense, though, we have been here in the winter. I'm sure we'll be out there more over the next few weeks. Part of the problem is also that there is nowhere to sit out there and I'm not interested in buying patio furniture.

That metal lid that Jerry is standing on (which I'm not supposed to let him stand on) is in both pictures. It can give you an idea of the balcony layout. The lid is a fire escape. You open it and a ladder drops down to the level below.

5. The Couch - WON'T MISS (all caps on purpose)

Yeah. It's a 3/4 scale Ikea couch. By that I mean it's 3/4 the size of even an Ikea couch. It helps cut down on TV watching and video game playing by making your butt fall asleep and your back hurt. I think this is the secret of Japanese fitness. If all Americans had couches like this, we would look like the Japanese. Sometimes I come home in the early morning and I don't want to wake Chelsea and Jerry so I'll just lie down on the couch. I'm not tall, and I still have to hand my legs over the end.

I also don't like the rug on the floor. It has about zero grip on the floor so it's always moving around and if you're not careful, you'll end up on your butt. When you're trying to stand up from the unusually low couch, the rug waits until you're almost up and then slips. It is sentient. I swear.

6. The Bed - Won't Miss

When it comes to softness, the bed takes cues from the couch. I'm sure they meet about it when we leave. The comforter is not quilted so  it's not long before it's just a wad of batting wrapped in cloth. See the two pillows on the floor to the left? Those are the Japanese pillows that were in the room. They have rice pillows here. Did you know that? Neither did I. Anyway, after a week of sleeping on those we couldn't take it anymore and we bought new ones at the NEX. Ironically, I will miss my new NEX pillow.

Just like the couch, this bed is unusually low. It's easily half the height of our bed at home. I don't know about you, but in the morning I'm not usually ready to be standing up. I prefer more of a sliding motion into a standing position.

7. The View - Miss

I really enjoy the view. It's mostly ships and shipyard, but I like the industrial beauty of it. The view is especially pretty at night.

8. Putting Jerry to bed in this room - Won't Miss

This is really challenging about living here. Jerry doesn't sleep well in here so it takes him a long time to fall asleep and he usually wakes up in the early morning and wants to come into our bed. The doors can't be latched and provide almost no protection from the light and sound of the rest of the house. Basically, when Jerry is sleeping (yes we have a noisemaker) you have to be really quiet in the house and you can't turn on the living room lights. In order for Chelsea and I to watch a movie or TV show we plug in an audio extension cord with a splitter and we both wear earbuds.

9. Riding the elevator - Won't Miss

I'm pretty sure Jerry will miss it, but I won't miss his demands to push the button himself. In this picture Jerry and I were on our way to the 17th floor to take the next picture.

10. Apartment Life - Won't Miss

This is our building from the inside. 

As Homer Simpson put it, let's go back to that place where our beds and TV is. I look forward to getting back home and back to life. This has been enjoyable so far, but there's still a lot to do before we head back. It will be nice to get back to my dog, my cars, and my mountain bike.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

JR East Railway Museum

Trains are a major part of life here in Japan. I mean, they shaped the country decades ago, just like they did in the US, but even today they are the main source of people moving. Riding the trains is one of the fun things about coming to Japan.

So this weekend I talked Chelsea into going to the JR East Railway Museum in Saitama. You access it from the Omiya station on the JR Keihin Tohoku line, north of Tokyo. It's the same line you would use to access Ueno and Akihabara. Since I take pictures, also like to share them. Here are some of the better ones from this weekend.

It was fitting that we had to spend two hours on a train to get to the Railway Museum.

This is the New Shuttle from Omiya to the Railway Museum. It looks like a train, but if you look close, you can see that there are no rails. It has tires. 

Just in case you're wondering, that french fries being dipped in orange juice. My favorite.

Classic steam locomotive.

Early bullet train. They call them the Shinkansen. I think this was  came from about 1980 or so. It was very high-tech.

The inside of the shinkansen looks more like an airplane than a train.

They also had this cutaway of a steam locomotive. I thought it was great.

Cool stained glass.

Here's a bird's eye view.

Model trains everywhere. That would be fun.

Check out for a copy of the video of Jerry chasing a model train.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Ramen Noodles and Slot Cars, A Winning Combination

Since it's been a while since I had a free Saturday, I was raring to visit something. We decided to check out this Ramen Museum in Shinyokohama. I didn't know much about it, but it was something to check out and it satisfied Jerry's requirement that we take a train wherever we were going. We couldn't even get out of the lobby without Jerry hiding behind the couches.

We had to change trains a couple of times (or waste our lives on the local train that stops EVERYWHERE) and it was always an adventure making sure Jerry navigates the platform safely.

The second train was packed, but a nice young woman let Chelsea have her seat since Jerry was having a hard time keeping his balance on the moving train.

So we walked in the front door at the Ramen Museum and the first thing I spotted was the slot car track in the back. More on that later. Then I saw the displays that were requisite for calling this place a museum. (By the way, it says "museum" in the title and the website calls it an "amusement park", but we decided that "elaborate food court" was more accurate.)

There were interesting displays all about Ramen. Apparently there is something special about ramen bowls because there was this display that showed some of them cut in half. There were also displays that showed all different types of noodles. Of course, I'm just guessing that these displays were interesting as they were completely Japanese.

Next there was the directory. We had walked in on the top level, so the rest of everything was in the basement. The slot car track wasn't open yet and purchasing ramen was a condition of admittance, so we decided to head down and check it out.

Here it is. I actually thought it was pretty cool. The idea is that they wanted to recreate a street scene from 1950's Japan. Since I've never been to 1950's Japan, as far as I'm concerned, they nailed it. You can sort of make out the different ramen shops in the picture. Each one is distinct for different reasons. You can get a sample of that from the directory picture above.

Being that we're not respecters of ramen, we found the shortest line and headed in. The experience did make me a little curious of different kinds of ramen and I may seek them out closer by. The one we had claimed to be a fusion of some kind of Japanese broth with French broth. I'm sure the chef responsible for it will read this and come and find me while I'm sleeping....

It seems to me that the basic components of the ramen are the noodles, the broth, and some kind of meat and/or vegetables. These bowls of ramen cost around 80 to 100 times what I'm used to paying, but I think they're worth it. Very tasty. You can tell that much more goes into them than a tiny spice packet that is mostly salt. I'm pretty sure they used actual fresh vegetables. Also, they only use a small amount of meat, but it is very tender and tasty.

Jerry almost has those chopsticks figured out. Thursday at dinner he almost blinded me.

Now for the good stuff. I couldn't wait to drive the slot cars. When I was a kid, my dad had some large scale slot cars. I remember setting them up a couple of times in our basement and running them until the cars broke, or quit working, or something. I'm not sure what became of them. Periodically, I see a track or see a set in a hobby shop and think, one day I'll have a basement and on that day....

It was fun for Jerry. They had cars that were for kids so that the kid could just hold the controller at full-throttle and the car would meander its way around the track. But when I stepped up, the guy pulled this blue car halfway from his pocket and grinned as if to say, come on man, you know you want to. Well, I did. It was great.

Here's a little video of some of the other people running cars around the track. Good times. Now I'm jonesing for a slot car set. They've come a long way since the set we had. Now there are some digital sets that allow you to run two cars in the same slot (with lane changers so you're not stuck all the time). Now a two lane track can race four cars. Pretty cool.


Just as we were getting back to the hotel, we were passed by this cool Land Rover Defender. I told Chelsea that she was lucky it wasn't parked or I would be stopping to take a picture. Luckily as we got closer to the hotel, I saw that it had stopped at the train station. So I snapped it.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Where's the Double Pane Glass?

Before I really get going with my rant about windows, here are a couple of nice pictures.

Chelsea and Jerry enjoying a nice Sunday afternoon.

I finally put my long lens on the new camera for some pictures. The new camera doesn't support the autofocus on the older telephoto lens, but I got it close. Here is a picture of some stuff off in the distance as seen from our balcony. The bridge is in Yokohama at 35.454667, 139.674008. Just to the right of center, you can see what looks like a tall white tower. This is actually two towers that we are viewing from an angle. They are at 35.476885, 139.679168. I can't tell what it is. My first guess would be some kind of power plant. Fee free to hazard your own guess. The last major feature is two cranes shown, both red and white. One is the tall one right in the middle and you can only see part of the second one at left. These are part of Sumitomo Heavy Industries at 35.323026, 139.660472. This is a shipyard that builds some pretty large commercial ships.

Now, about these windows.

Our hotel room/apartment is awesome. The view is gorgeous, there is tons of ambient light, and there's plenty of space (although Jerry would disagree with that last part). Part of what I like is that we have tons of balcony and with that balcony, lots of sliding doors. We only have two fixed windows and 4 sliding doors. It's great and it's only going to get better when the weather warms up. (However, there is an unfortunate building policy of NO BBQs on the balcony which is strictly enforced.)

The doors are great except for one thing... single pane glass.

I didn't even know that single pane glass was still made for new construction. Here in Japan you hear more noise about energy conservation than even in the states. They're always going off about how expensive energy is and how they don't have enough of it. The apartment does have all LED lighting and small appliances, so it's energy friendly there, but this.....

Not only is single pane better for insulation, it's also better for sound deadening. Double pane glass would spare me from the 6:30 am daily wake-up call from the Japanese Navy.

Not only are the windows single pane, but the frames are uninsulated aluminum. It's almost as if the designers were worried about not having enough heat transfer.

So they cheaped out during construction and are now sticking it to the tenants for energy costs. Here's to cold feet.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Quick Trip to Kamakura

This morning Jerry was bouncing off the walls. I'm not going to lie, it was driving me crazy. To make matters worse, the weather wasn't cooperating. It was pretty blustery and outside so our usual strategy of going to the park to look at the ships didn't work out well.

As a substitute we decided to head up to Kamakura. It's only a few stops away and there's lots to do within a very short walking distance. Also, the train station on our end is about 100 yards from our hotel. Minimal outside time, and a train ride to (hopefully) get some wiggles out. Jerry had to hold the straps just like the grown-ups. He's ready to start commuting.

As we left the train station in Kamakura the first thing we saw was some little snow flurries. We thought our outing might be even shorter than we thought, but we kept on going anyway. A little ways down the road, I noticed this hawk perched on a building. I didn't expect to see a hawk in an urban area.

This is the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. It's a beautiful place. This is a Shinto shrine and was originally built in 1063. Japanese history is divided up into many periods, one of which is called the Kamakura Period which was 1185-1333. During this period the first Shogun, Minamoto no Yoritomo, established the government of Japan here. It's neat to have so much history so close by.

Nearby, there was this little shrine. Or it could have been a tomb, I'm not sure. I didn't feel like I could accurately identify it on the map. The woodwork was also very cool. You can't see it in this picture, but I took a detail shot (below) to highlight the eaves.

We passed a daycare and I couldn't resist snapping a pic of these cool bikes. Battery assist, seating for three, and a sweet paint job. All it needs is some tunes.