Thursday, June 26, 2008

Falha na Criação...

Gastamos um tempo enorme e desnecessário todos os dias tentando achar um lugar que a nossa pimpolha comesse algo. Infelizmente deixamos ela se acostumar com sua rotina de hamburguer sem molho, chicken tenders e outras porcarias e o resultado é que o cardápio dela é muito limitado.

Num desses dias, encontramos um restaurante italiano em Kyoto e pedimos uma pizza tamanho médio (para os padrões brasileiros) e ela comeu sozinha. O japa que estava sentado na mesa de trás não tirava os olhos da performance da nossa glutona. Acho que finalmente ela achou algo que podia comer de olhos fechados e mandou ver.

O que foi mais gozado foi na Disney Sea. Entrei num restaurante italiano tb e fui pedir a bendita pizza. Só que as opções eram pizza de salmão e algum outro fruto do mar e a pizza com salami e italian sausage. Cheguei no caixa e perguntei se dava pra fazer uma pizza só de queijo. A menina entrou em pânico. Chamou a supervisora. A caixa explicou a situação e a supervisora perguntou se era por problema de alergia. Respondi que não e ela passou um rádio pro gerente do restaurante. Conferência a três entre eles e finalmente o gerente me explicou que poderiam fazer a pizza mas ia demorar um pouco. Falei que não tinha problema e esperei um pouco. Uns 10 minutos depois o próprio gerente veio com a pizza direto da cozinha. Fico imaginando se eles não fizeram a pizza com o salami e o italian sausage e depois alguém foi lá com um palitinho e tirou a cobertura uma por uma...

Not your normal flight...

All too rarely, airline attendants make an effort to make the in-flight
"safety lecture" and their other announcements a bit more entertaining.
Here are some real examples that have been heard or reported:

On a Continental Flight with a very "senior" flight attendant crew, the
pilot said, "Ladies and gentlemen, we've reached cruising altitude and
will be turning down the cabin lights. This is for your comfort and to
enhance the appearance of your flight attendants."

On landing the stewardess said, "Please be sure to take all your
belongings. If you're going to leave anything, please make sure it's
something we'd like to have."

"Thank you for flying Delta Business Express. We hope you enjoyed giving
us the business as much as we enjoyed taking you for a ride."

"Weather at our destination is 50 degrees with some broken clouds, but
we'll try to have them fixed before we arrive. Thank you, and remember,
nobody loves you, or your money, more than Southwest Airlines."

"Your seat cushions can be used for flotation; and, in the event of an
emergency water landing, please paddle to shore and take them with our

"Should the cabin lose pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the
overhead area. Please place the bag over your own mouth and nose before
assisting children ... or other adults acting like children."

"As you exit the plane, make sure to gather all of your belongings.
Anything left behind will be distributed evenly among the flight
attendants. Please do not leave children or spouses."
Enjoy your flight!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Depoimento honesto...

Minha digníssima, sobre o hotel econômico que pegamos em Hiroshima e Osaka:

-Vc acha que eu dormi agarrada em vc pq te amo tanto assim? Que nada! Eu estava é com medo de cair da cama!

O que não fazem 10 anos de casamento...

Day 8 - Osaka / Otaue Festival (Saturday)

We started the day with some alternatives to fill up our morning before attending the Otaue Shinji Matsuri which was scheduled from 1 to 3PM. My wife decided to visit the Kuromon Ichiba Market (Nipponbashi district), one of those covered shopping streets for pedestrians where she wanted to photograph seafood and whatever else they had to sell there. Again, one of those things that would not be a good match for me or our daughter. So, I considered the Museum of Oriental Ceramics but thought it would be boring for my daughter. Instead we went to the Hello Kitty store near Shinsaibashi subway station. Ok, not necessarily a great Osaka attraction but those parents out there with young daughters will agree with me that from time to time you need to satisfy their urges... Unfortunately we got there too early (the store opens at 11AM), a major disappointment. Plan B? Damn, didn't have one.

We then went to the Umeda Sky Building which was supposed to provide an excellent view of the city from the floating garden observatory. So we took the Midosuji subway line to Umeda. It is a major station as it connects with Osaka station. When we got out to the ground level to find where we were, my daughter spotted the big ferris wheel that is sitting on top of the Hankyu Entertainment Park (HEP Five). Well, forget about the Umeda Sky Building. We had to go ride on the ferris wheel. Even that area was still closed and only opened at 11AM (I found that kind of late but who am I to discuss their working hours...).

After taking a good view of the city from various angles, it was already time to meet my wife at the Hankai tramway station as we did not want to miss the beginning of the festival. The Hankai company has two tramway lines in that area. The Uemachi line which stopped at Sumiyoshikoen and the Hankai line which stopped at Sumiyoshi Taisha where the event actually was taking place. The first one departed from Tennoji while the latter departed from Dobutsuenmae/Minami-Kasumicho (they are not technically connected but they are right in front of each other). We took the latter and when we got there we found my wife asking for help apparently with no success.

The Otaue Shinji festival
We got to the grounds of the Sumiyoshi temple way ahead of schedule and had the chance to study the festival area before setting camp. There were actually some premium seats being sold at 1000 Yen which gave front view of the little stage set-up for the more formal ceremony part of the event. We skipped those and went to the opposite end of the grounds where there were a lot of visitors/photographers already positioned. (coincidentally that area was for free!) The Otaue Shinji is supposed to mean rice planting and symbolizes the wish for a good harvest (which in Japan is very important since they eat a lot, and I do mean a lot, of rice). My wife took lots of picture of the ceremony and posted some in her blog. It started with a cow being pulled for two "victory laps" in the track surrounding the paddy field (Japan traditionally uses the flooded technique to grow rice). It was funny to see the cow balking a few times during those laps. After that, monks, children in costumes, planters (?), a gentleman dressed as a samurai and others went into a procession around the same track and finally the rice planting ritual began. They basically had to cover the whole paddy with seedlings. Then there some more rituals and ceremonies taking place at the "center" stage to which we did not have a good view.
Well, after almost two hours for the first time during the trip I heard my wife say that she was tired of taking pictures. Of course, standing in the sun does not help. My daughter kept herself busy taking pictures with our backup camera.
I was tired myself of holding the camcorder, the event was not very upbeat like others we have seen in TV shows, so we all decided we had seen enough.

Since my wife talked wonders about the Kuromon Ichiba market, we went back there and bought some different types of tempura and headed to shitennoji. When we got off from the subway station we saw a very funny (for us) scene. A Mercedes-Benz got involved in an accident and climbed a 1 meter median and stayed like that. I hope I can post a picture later.

Apart from the historical importance of shitennoji, being the oldest temple in Japan (founded in 593), we did not find it particularly exciting. Without any disrespect, we sat down in a bench in front of the main entrance and ate our tempuras there. It was a good way to meditate while re-energizing (feed you body, mind and spirit,as the saying goes).

A few things caught my attention while we were there:
-Lots of people use the temple grounds to walk their dogs.
-Saw a little girl strolling with a couple of grandpas (my assumption, of course). At one point, one of the grandpas gave her a couple of coins to buy a soda from a vending machine. She grabbed the can and started to shake it like there was no tomorrow and I was thinking to myself "This smells disaster". She was not able to open the can by herself so she handed the can to grandpa and I am thinking "it is going to explode in his face". He opened it... and nothing happened. Days later I found out that she chose a new drink launched by Coke in Japan called Fanta Furufuru Shaker (orange in this case). It seems to have a jelly element inside so you are supposed to shake the jelly so that you can actually drink the content. The little girl knew better...
-There was a medium water concrete tank within the grounds that held the most amount of turtles (or possibly terrapins) per square inch I have ever seen (other than preservation areas where they protect recently hatched turtles).

After returning to our hotel, we stopped at a drugstore to buy some emergency items for my wife who had some blisters in her feet. We actually didn't recognize the drugstore at first since it looked more like a dollar store with a bunch of trinkets being displayed right outside of the store. With that taken care of, we set our sails to the Hard Rock Cafe. Yep, cheesy, nothing to do with Japan but over the years we developed this tradition to stop by the HRC to collect their shot glasses. The food was as expected, they had an in-house DJ with decent gear but the service... Oh Lord. It was horrible. We sat down and no waiter/ress came to take our order for 10 min. I had to complain to the hostess. When the food came, the drinks had not arrived yet (it was the only place that served a diet coke. Our perception was that Japanese are not obese people even though there is lots of fried food in their diet). Then someone who seemed like a manager or a supervisor came to apologize and mentioned that they would not charge for the service. Well, from all the restaurants that we ate in Japan, that was the first place that had a service charge. So much for service. But I can attest that it was the only black spot in all customer service we got in Japan. They really do a good job trying to please the customer. Anyway, no one is perfect... Next day: Nara.

Forgot to mention: Even though the Toyoko-Inn did not charge for my daughter (which was good), they did charge 100 Yen for an extra towel (per night), which under the circumstances was a bargain...

Estamos de volta, e o Jetchi Legui veio junto.

Essa coisa é uma porcaria... Fiz um esforço tremendo pra dormir pouco no avião e desmaiar ao chegar em casa. Mesmo assim, ainda fiquei um tempão acordado até mais tarde e pra piorar as coisas, minha filha, que dormiu durante todo o vôo de volta, acordou às 6 da manhã com fome e está devorando o que encontra pela frente na geladeira.

Acordei meio mal acordado e a minha primeira inclinação foi dizer pra minha filha "Aguenta um pouco que vamos comprar alguma coisa na estação de trem". Acho que vou sofrer síndrome de abstinência. É uma ótima sensação estar de volta à sua cama e tudo mais mas vejo que vou sentir falta dessa rotina de bater perna e visitar lugares novos.

PS: No caso da digníssima, o sangue baiano bateu mais forte. Dormiu que é uma beleza!

My findings about trains/subways in Japan

-It is amazing how people in Japan have developed the ability to sleep during their commute to their destination, even standing. Not that I don't feel asleep myself, but it seems that they go into a deep coma and then automatically snap out of it in their stop.

-If they are not sleeping, they are either reading something of texting on their cell phones. It is requested that they do not speak on the cell phones as a polite gesture to others and, with very rare exceptions, they do follow this rule. On the shinkansens, I usually saw people going to the phone booths located in between cars (where they can actually have some privacy). On the subway, I have seen people leaving the car to make phone calls (and assume they jumped back on the next car after finishing the call)

-While the Japanese tend to be very respectful of the rules, this is really not the case in the stations. Normally people make lines to hop on trains but on many occasions I have seen opportunists quickly jumping the lines when the train arrived. Sometimes even while forming the lines I have seen some not so old ladies passing in front of me like I was not standing there. Also, even though there are preferential seats for elderly, expecting mothers, etc. I did not see people giving up on their seats as often as I expected.

Day 7 - Osaka (Friday)

The day before we made the decision to send 2 pieces of luggage straight to Kyoto thus making it easier for us to travel from Hiroshima to Osaka. My wife was a little reluctant to do it but after hearing positive comments from my cousin and the friends from Tokyo about their accuracy and reliability, she agreed to do it. We paid 1790 Yen for the shipment. The hotel receptionist tied the two pieces together making them one large piece (the weight is not so important, the dimensions/volume is what counts) which made it more even more cost effective.

We started developing the habit of stopping by the convenience stores located at stations to buy our breakfast and eat it during our Shinkansen commute. Lots of people do that. You will find traditional bento boxes and onigiris all the way to more western-like pastries which suited more our taste. Other alternatives are the little udon/soba kiosks where people can quickly slurp their way into those dishes before jumping on a train. From Shin-Osaka where the Shinkansen stopped we took the subway all the way to the Tanimachi-Yonchome station where unfortunately there was no elevator to go up to the street level so I had to carry the remaining two pieces of luggage through the stairs. Quite a fatiguing job.

In Osaka, we stayed at yet another Toyoko-Inn which was located right by Exit 8 of the subway, a selection made on purpose. Since we arrived before the check in time, we left our luggage at the lobby (they don’t have a storage area per se, instead they just put a net over your luggage and give you stubs to retrieve your luggage later), and went to the Tennoji station (still using the same Midosuji line) to get some info at the tourist information center.

Our main purpose for staying in Osaka was to attend the Otaue Shinji Matsuri, or the rice planting festival, the only event that we found that would coincide with our travel schedule. They were very helpful at the information center (keep in mind that there is train information desk right before you reach the tourist information center if you walk towards the exit. Of course, I stopped at the train information desk asking for information just to realize that I was at the wrong place). The Otaue Shinji Matsuri was going to be from 1PM to 3PM the next day at the Sumiyoshitaisha Shrine (I actually thought it was going to be held at the Shitennoji shrine which would have been a big mistake). We got some maps, ate something at the train station and went to visit the Osaka Castle (Osaka Jo), which happened to be 15-min away on foot from our hotel.

The Osaka castle was much more impressive than the one in Hiroshima. It definitely had a richer history and its main tower is an important landmark in Osaka’s horizon. On the inside, the exhibits are well structured and they feature an elevator for those who are not in the greatest shape (or for the handicapped). We spent a good amount of time going through the different exhibits (they even have a multimedia exhibit with some sort of re-enactment of life in the old days of the castle). This is a visit that I highly recommend. We also found our first coin souvenir machine (more details in this link: and got our first coin there (even though the machine in the castle didn’t allow you to engrave your name like others that we found later did). We tried to visit more of the Castle grounds but many locations were off-limits due to the G8 summit that was held there ( So we decided to go back to our hotel, chill out and prepare for the festival on the following day.

Escadas rolantes: Esquerda ou Direita?

Quando chegamos ao Japão, tivemos que nos acostumar ao fato de que o pessoal dirige do outro lado da rua (como na Inglaterra), e obviamente por isso os carros tem o volante do lado oposto. Outra coisa que acaba sendo afetado por esta diferença é o fato de que nas escadas rolantes o pessoal fica parado do lado esquerdo deixando o lado direito livre para quem quer subir ou descer as escadas mais rápido.

Pelo menos era isso que imaginávamos.

Chegando à Osaka, nos demos conta que o pessoal lá fica parado do lado direito e sobe ou desce pelo lado esquerdo. Como tinham me falado que o pessoal de lá é meio diferente (têm um vocabulário todo diferente por exemplo) achamos que era uma particularidade deles.

Aí fomos para Kyoto. Lá o pessoal não sabe o que quer da vida. Tem gente que fica do lado esquerdo, outros ficam do lado direito. Depois dessa experiência, decidimos seguir o que a maioria ou pelo menos o que a pessoa da frente estava fazendo.

Em Roma, faça como os baianos!

PS: Qdo fui pegar carona no carro do meu irmão, coloquei as malas no carro dele e fui contente pro lado direito do carro para subir no banco do passageiro. Não é que tinha um volante lá ?!? Volto pro outro lado com o meu irmão e a minha família tirando um barato da minha cara. Mas eu mereci!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Day 6 - Hiroshima - Miyajima (Thursday)

Since we were not able to thoroughly enjoy our experience at the Peace Memorial Park due to the rain, we decided to go back there on Thursday especially because the weather turned out great that day. We spent a lot of time taking nice pictures of the A-Bomb Dome, the cenotaph and the memorial for Sadako Sasaki (the girl I mentioned in the day 5 post).

From there we walked North to visit the Hiroshima castle. It was really hot and we took our time to get there. Little side comment: There are vending machines spread everywhere (throughout Japan) and we spent our share in sodas, juices and waters. If you are a smoker you will find plenty to choose from (I didn't check what brands were on sale though). Once you enter the main entrance (the castle is surrounded by a moat), you need to cross the grounds towards the northwest corner to reach the castle itself. We climbed all the way up which gives you a good view of the whole city. The displays were interesting but not very impressive.

Miyajima Island

We walked back to the a-bomb dome where we caught tram #2 heading towards Miyajima. It is a very long ride (the a-bomb dome tram stop is M10 and the Miyajima Guchi is M39 - the last one). Probably it would have made more sense to go back to Hiroshima station and take the JR train from there. There are two companies providing ferry services from there to Miyajima island. They are side-by-side and we took advantage of our JR pass to ride "for free" on the JR Ferry to Miyajima.

Right outside of the Miyajima pier, you start seeing deers in the park nearby. They roam freely and are part of the Miyajima scene. Some of these deers are not shy to approach you searching for food (be careful as they eat paper too - meaning: watch out for your map). Following the map that we got at the pier, we went to the Ometesando shopping street which is parallel to the one coasting the water. There are many souvenir shops and restaurants to choose from. We chose Tachibana for our much needed lunch break and my wife tried deep fried Oyster while I went for the more conservative fried shrimp with curry rice.

With our appetite satisfied, we decided to skip the Itusukushima shrine and went straight to the ropeway. There is a free shuttle service that takes you to the ropeway station. It picks you up from a bus stop in front of a hotel, just past a couple of souvenir shops - a 5 min walk past the shrine. The ropeway gets you close to the top of Mt. Misen in two steps. You need to reserve at least a couple of hours to explore the sites once you get to the end of the ropeway since you need to follow a trail that requires 30-45 min to reach the final point.

Back down from the ropeway we waited for the sunset to take those postcard pictures from the Itsukushima shrine facing the famous "floating" torii. You need to time your visit so that you have mid-to-high tide and enough water to give the floating impression to the torii. For this task, you don't need to be inside the shrine as there is a little sandy area between the shrine and the daiganji temple where you can set up your tripod and wait for the right moment for the perfect picture.

This was the first time we noticed that Japanese students take lots of field trips around the country as they were flocking the souvenir shops of Ometesando. They are loud and "spacious" as other kids around the world and we would find them many times again during our trip.

On our way back, we had to take the Matsudai Kisen Ferry (170/80 Yen - Adult/Child One way) as we would have to wait for 40 min for the next JR ferry. From there we made the right decision to take the JR train back from to Hiroshima station (the JR station is just one block futher away from the tram station).

For the amount of activities available in this island and the charm of its streets, I strongly recommend that you stay overnight in Miyajima to fully explore it. Unfortunately I had prepaid my two nights in Hiroshima so I could not change my plans.

Once again we ate at one of many restaurants available at the ASSE department store ("depato"), attached to the Hiroshima station.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Da série "Só no Japão..." 2

Ficamos impressionadíssimos com a independência da criançada. Vimos várias crianças de 7-8 anos de idade pelas estações de trem e metrô andando sozinhas com suas mochilas e lancheiras indo e voltando para seus destinos. A maioria possuía seu celular. Sendo pai de uma menina de 9 anos, não me enxergo dizendo pra ela se virar desse jeito. Realmente é uma questão cultural... Meu irmão, que mora no Japão há mais de 10 anos, confirmou que depois que as crianças saem do prézinho (não sei mais como se chamam os estágios no Brasil, véio é fogo...) elas já são treinadas pra isso. Tb falou que os celulares possuem GPS e com isso os pais podem localizar as crianças se necessário. Mas fica difícil achar seu pimpolho andando no metrô com GPS, né?

Da série "Só no Japão..."

Outro dia, minha digníssima saiu dando risadas sem parar do banheiro do lobby do hotel (naquele estilo que não consegue nem explicar pq está rindo). Depois de algum tempo para retomar o fôlego, veio a explicação:

Os lavabos no Japão (quando são do estilo ocidental), vem equipados com alguns botões na lateral. São do tipo bidet (!) e vc pode controlar temperatura da água, e direção (lavagem frontal e traseira - OK, detalhes demais...). Mas ela notou que tinha um botão adicional e obviamente foi lá e apertou. O assento começou a fazer uns sons esquisitos e bem alto. O objetivo é para fazer uma "trilha sonora" de fundo enquanto o usuário emite seus próprios ruídos.

Obviamente todo mundo no banheiro sabe do que se trata. E qdo a digníssima se deu conta do que se tratava, tentou desligar mas parece que esta função não existe e ao invés disso ficou prolongando a duração do som de background. Se havia mais alguém no banheiro naquela hora devia ter achado que alguém havia comido chucrute com feijoada regada a muita batata frita e cerveja!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Day 5 - Hiroshima - The A Bomb Experience (Wednesday)

Half the day was a travel day. We had reservations at 7:40AM headed to Shin-Osaka and from there to Hiroshima arriving at 12:30PM.

This was the first time we took the Shinkansen (bullet train). It is amazing how precise things are in the train stations. The train does not stop for more than a few minutes so everyone is ready to jump in or out as soon as it stops. We realized that the trains do not have any special compartment for large luggage and it was somewhat of a hassle to drag the luggage across platforms. We are seriously considering to ship some of our luggage from one city to another (maybe skipping cities) and travelling lighter since we were told that the courier service (Takyubin) is very reliable and inexpensive. We also noticed that the reservation ticket does not say from which track your train departs so you either have to ask one of the staff members or find the information in a monitor.

Upon arriving, I met with my cousin who lives in a town 3h away from Hiroshima and headed to our hotel, which was about a 100m from the station (Toyoko-Inn Hiroshimaeki Shinkasenguchi). The checkin time was only at 4PM (the hotel asks you to vacate the room between 10AM and 4PM for cleaning purposes), so we had to drop our bags at the lobby and went for a tour.

We took the tram which departs from the south side of the station. The shinkansen tracks are on the north side so you need to use an underpassage to cross from one side to another. At the tram stop, there are machines that you can you use to buy a 1-day ticket (600/300 Yen - Adult/child). Since we only anticipated going to the A-Bomb site and return we decided not to buy it (a single trip costs 150/80 Yen - Adult/Child)

My other major objective in this trip was to visit the A-Bomb museum and because we read that some of the displays were too graphic, we thought that it was not appropriate for my daughter to visit it, so my wife took her to do some window shopping nearby the Peace Memorial Park. Unfortunately it was raining so taking pictures was not an much an option that day which is almost a disaster scenario for my wife. Anyway, window shopping is a 'sport' that she enjoys as well.

The A-Bomb Museum
I got an audio tour guide for an additional 250 Yen to make sure I would not miss any detail from the exhibit but noticed that it did not add much to the explanation offered in each of the displays (text is available both in Japanese and English). It starts with the history of the city and focus on its military roots as it grew and became more important (at one point the emperor and the parliament/diet set their temporary headquarters in Hiroshima). That was probably the main reason why Hiroshima was in almost all lists of target cities prepared by the US intelligence. It also tried to explain the rationale for the bombing as there were other alternatives discussed to end the war. But in the end it seems that the threat posed by Stalin convinced the US that the bombing would be the best solution from a political strategy stand point. While the population in Hiroshima participated in many drills to prepare for air strikes, the US decided to spare Hiroshima from those strikes so that they could carefully determine the impact that the A-bomb would cause.

The exhibit shows the city in miniature scale before and after the A-bomb exploded to show the magnitude of the devastation. After that, there is a wall with copies of letters sent by the mayor of Hiroshima to foreign authorities asking that they stop nuclear development, tests and eliminate nuclear weapons altogether. On the second floor of the first building there is a display of measures taken to rebuild the city of Hiroshima throughout the years with a few buildings in miniature scale and a copy of the A-bomb dome hanging. The exhibit up to this point was informative but not shocking, so I felt like the rest of my family could have joined me. I think that visitors can choose to end the tour at this point (not sure though).

From there you go through a passage that connects to the next building where the real exhibit is located. Here you will find the objects recovered and donated to the museum, which included clothing, personal belongings and even parts of buildings. But I guess the real disturbing part of the exhibit are the photos and a small scene (with wax models) showing the horror of the survivors right after the explosion. This area also has a section dedicated to the girl who survived the bombing but years later developed leukemia and hoped that by making 1000 paper cranes (origami/tsuru) she would be cured. Eventually she lost the battle but her history goes on and there is a monument in the peace memorial park in her memory that also features origamis sent from schools in Japan and elsewhere.

This is one of those things that make you put things in perspective and also think about the big picture. After that I was amazed to look around at the city and look at its transformation. The last picture in the museum shows a plant growing back 2 months after the bombing, contradicting a prediction that said that nothing would grow back there for years.

I then rejoined my family and had a quick dinner and returned to the hotel.
A quick word about the hotel: For those looking for an affordable option, the Toyoko Inn is a very good alternative. Do not expect luxury though. The room had space for the 2 beds and that was about it (their suggestion is to store your luggage under the beds). Anyway, the free Internet, coin laundry, location and even a basic japanese breakfast (Onigiri, misoshiru and coffee) made it worthwhile.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Day 4 - Nikko (Tuesday)

Our original plan for day 4 was to go to the Tsukiji fish market very early in the morning but unfortunately that did not work. The subway opened at 6AM and we woke up at 7AM. we then changed our plans and went back to one of my original ideas of going to Nikko. We packed our bags and checked out from the hotel and headed to the JR ticket office where we were informed that the next train available only left at 10:35AM, so we had to wait for about 1h30 at Shinjuku. Lesson learned: make your reservations in advance. They have no cost if you hold a JR pass and it can only save you time and give you peace of mind.We stopped by the JR travel center (called View Plaza - pronounced Byu Puraza) but they did not have any information in English so it was a waste of time.

We had a quick connection at Shimo-Imaichi before reaching Tobu Nikko station (these stations are roughly 8 min apart). At the Tobu Nikko station, they have a very helpful staff that speaks good English and off we went to take the bus towards the shrines and temples. We didn't realize that there were two bus routes and we ended up missing the stop that we wanted so we had to take a 150m walk back from the Taiyu-in mausoleum entrance to the Toshugu shrine. It was a very pleasant walk with huge trees standing at both sides of the unpaved steet giving a very soothing atmosphere to the whole place. The Treasury house is located in this street.
Another poor planning made us loose some precious time. We should have taken the spare time at Shinjuku to buy some bento box or something else. When we got there, we were hungry and ended up eating at the restaurant/souvenir shop located in the end of this street that we came through. We ordered Curry Rice, pork loin and rice, and Yuka Soba. Food was OK but the place had too many flies...

The suggestion at the ticket office was to start the tour from the Treasure Hall but we skipped that and went straight to the Rinno Temple. Apparently there are guided tours that goinside the temple where the 3 gods standing 8m tall are located. I caught bits and pieces of the tour guide explanation with mybroken japanese and understood that the gods represented a family (father, mother and a child) and each one was responsible toprotect different things.

From there we went upstairs and visited the whole Tosho-Gu complex. Every little corner seems to be one of those "Kodak" moments and you can spend hours recording and taking pictures of the pagoda, the gates and all the buildings. The place really deserves to be one of the World Heritages. Unfortunately the main hall façade is under rennovation so it did not allow for a good picture. I assume that the this place is visited by groups of tourists and students all year around. On that day in particular there was a group of elementary students that was sitting on the grounds of the complex and getting yelled at by their monitor/supervisor. Apparently a few of them got too excited about the visit and misbehaved. It was interesting to seethe group mentality in action. The whole group was getting reprimended and the instructor went on and on about the embarassment of having to do that in such a sacred place and in front of a lot of people. They had to stay quiet for several minutes to ponder on the reasons why they were here and their responsibilities as visitors.

We then had to rush to Futura-san Jinja. By the time we got there we realized that our schedule was too tight and we would not have timeto do anything else. We just took some pictures from the outside and headed down to the Shinkyo (Sacred) bridge. This was kind of a disappointment. I thought it was going to be in a more secluded location, being sacred and all, but instead it was right by road with no signsand there was not even a decent pedestrian sidewalk surrounding it. From there, we took the bus back to the Tobu Nikko station.

I was worried that we would not make it on time for our train in which we had reserved seats since it was leaving at 4:45 from the Shimo-Imaichistation. Luckly that train actually left from Nikko Tobu station so we were fine. I did not understand why I had to pay for tickets at the Tobu station. EVentually the crew member that checks your tickets explained me that that line was a like a code share between JR and Tobu but it actually belonged to Tobu so I actually paid for a suplement (2,400 Yen for the three of us). The trip back was uneventful butI left with that feeling that I should have gotten there earlier and spend the whole day visiting the place. Hopefully there will be the chance for a next time.

We then went back to our hotel to pick up our luggage and headed to the Shinagawa district in Tokyo where an ex-MBA colleague leaves with her husband.They were so kind to rent a guest room in their apartment building. We took a nice shower (japanese style, including Ofuro!) and had an excellent dinner at their apartment. A real treat. It was actually our first experience sleeping on the tatami floor and I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed it.(maybe because my back has been bothering me lately and sleeping on a harder surface is better for your health).

Day 3 - Senso-Ji and Odaiba (Monday)

We had a late start and decided to visit Senso-ji in the Asakusa district. Actually our first choice was to visit Ueno Park and its many attractions but we did not pay attention to the fact that most of the museums were closed on Mondays. (Deduct one star in the planning department)

It was cloudy when we left the hotel and when we got to Asakusa (Ginza line - G19) it started to rain so eventually we had to buy a couple of umbrellas (I brought my rain coat with me after checking the weather forecast. Add one star in the planning column). While the Senso-ji complex is located in a rather small area, there are many small buildings in it and we spent around 4h in there. This includes shopping time which is mandatory when traveling with my wife.

It was our first stop in a religious location but it really felt more like a tourist attraction. Anyway, it is one of those mandatory stops. By the way, I will not try to describe the attractions in details as my objective is not to replace guide books. Especially because I am sure I would end up missing in accuracy and details (not to mention that it would make this report way too long).

We were going to follow the recommendation of the Fodor's guide and have lunch at the Tempura place along the Asakusa avenue (Aoi-Marushin) but it just so happened that they were closed for maintenance that day (no points deducted - they were supposed to be open). Plan B was to head back to the Asakusa information center where the gentleman who talked to us suggested we try the restaurant across the street (Santei, the first on the right of the Kamanari-Mon). The food was OK (we ordered two tempura dishes) and the prices seemed right at 3120 Yen. But we also had in the back of our minds an advice from a friend: Never trust a restaurant in which the waitresses are wearing kimonos.

After that, our party split again. My wife decided to go to Kappabashi Dori, a street 4-5 blocks from the Tawaramachi station (G18). This is a restaurateur/chef's heaven as they are specialized in cookware and other restaurant related goods. Definitely not for me or my daughter. So we headed to the Tokyo station where I needed to get my actual JR pass.

JR Pass Exchange
One word of advice: If you can, do the exchange upon your arrival at Narita. I don't know how convenient it us to go from the arrival area to the exchange office there but I can tell you I spent at least 1h30 just to get mine at Tokyo station. The JR exchange office is located in the Yaesu "area" which is a long walk from the subway station. We had to go through a few connectors, spent some valuable time stopping by wrong "green windows" and crossed an underground shopping area to finally get there. While the line at the ticket office was small, the exchange process itself took around 30 min.

I decided to go with my daughter to Odaiba so that she could have some fun and hopefully escape from the bad weather that we experienced in the North side of Tokyo. In order to get there we had to go back to the Ginza station, change to the Ginza Line, stop at the Shimbashi station and then walk to the annex station to take the Yurikamome line. Odaiba is located on the bay and it was quite a nice ride with a good view of the city and the bay since all the ride was made on an elevated track. I chose to stop at the Telecom Center station to get to the Miraikan museum (National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation). While the Fodor’s guide says that the museum closes at 7:00PM, it failed to mention that the deadline to enter the museum is 4:30PM. Major disappointment! Thank God I chose to buy the unlimited pass (800 Yen for adults and 400 Yen for child - The guide book said it was 1000 Yen for an adult).

So we ended up going to the entertainment area called Venus Fort (Aomi station) where we met with my wife (she went back to our hotel once to drop her shopping from Kappabashi). One of the main attractions in this place is the giant Ferris wheel, and they also feature a few other things like Toyota's showroom, Toyota's test drive (the sign said that you needed to have either a Japanese or an international driver’s license. Since I did not have either one, I did not even bother registering for the test drive), a ride in Toyota's automated car (the car makes turns, accelerates and breaks by itself, granted it does not go past 10 kph in a closed track), a pet store, a game room with lots of coin operated machines and even a display of old cars which included an F1 race car (drivers were Mika Salo and Alan McNish). Once again, we stayed out until 'late' (10PM) so we were exhausted in our return from Odaiba back to Shinjuku. Time to shower and crash...

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Day 2 - Having Fun in Tokyo (Sunday)

Still feeling the effects of the time zone change, everyone woke up around 5:30AM (4:30PM back home). We took our time to get dressed and decided to go for a hearty breakfast at the hotel. By the way, we are very impressed with the Hilton Shinjuku. It was great that we arrived during the weekend which gave us the chance to get acquainted with the transportation system without being overwhelmed by the huge crowds.

Today we learned that the hotel has underground connection with the Nishi-Shinjuku Station (M07 - Marunoichi Line). To be absolute honest, walking from the hotel to the Shinjuku station is not much more than this underground connection but... Anyway, we bought the day pass (710 Yen for adult and 360 Yen for child) and headed to the Imperial Palace. The concierge instructed us to take the Marunoichi line all the way down to Tokyo Station (M17). From there it was a short walk to reach the Imperial Palace grounds.

The Imperial Palace
We got there through Miyuki Dori which led us through the Wadakura Fountain Park and the Sakashitamon. We decided to walk south so that we could take a look at the Imperial Palace itself (we were told that you can only enter the walled area if you have a special permit - which of course we did not have). A few tour buses dropped lots of visitors in that area so it was kind of hard to take quality shots of the guarded gates and the Ni-ju-bashi. We walked all the way down to the Sakuradamon and then decided to walk back since it would be too long of a walk to continue surrounding the palace in our clockwise path. By the way, lots of joggers were running around the palace that day. Seems a very popular spot.

So we went back north and entered the Imperial Palace East Gardens (Kokyo Higashi Gyoen) via the Ôtemaimon. Lots of things to see there. Our favorite was the Ninomaru Garden which features beautiful flowers with a nice color mix. We didn't even enter any museum and just like that we spent 3h in the Imperial Palace grounds. It was time to take off since my wife had to attend her Soba making class.

Our schedule was very tight and we ended up having lunch at a McDonald's. Yeah, I know... Wife is a chef and we still went for a MickeyD? Even after watching SuperSize Me? We did... Kind of embaressed to do it but... I don't remember exactly how much we spent there. Her Soba class was in the Tsukiji district and we spent a good 10-15 min trying to decipher the instructions given by the instructor and the maps on the streets.

One of my goals in this trip was to watch a baseball game in Japan and the most popular team in the country is supposed to be Tokyo's Yomiuri Giants. Right now they are playing interleaguegames between central and pacific leagues, so I decided to take my chances and headed to theticket office at the Tokyo Dome, where the Giants hosts their games. We were lucky and found tickets for the match against the Seibu Lions that same day! I ended up chosing 3rd base seats which were supposed to be better but waskind of disappointed as they ended up being closer to the outfield seats (paid 3700 Yen each).
While we were waiting to get into the stadium my daughter convinced me to take the Thunder Dolphin ride, one of the attractions at Tokyo Dome City, an entertainment complex built around the baseball stadium. The minimum height to enter the ride is 1.30m and the minimum age is 8. The interesting thing is that this roller coaster goes through the ferris wheel and it has an impressive drop (80m tall). My daughter was exhilarated. Me? I am getting too old for this!

A few notes from the baseball experience in Japan
*While attendees also eat and drink before and during the game, I noticed that the stands were very clean after the game, nothing like the big mess that is left after MLB games.
*Throughout the whole game, there are girls who sell all kinds of snacks and drinks to the attendees. No big deal there. The Japanese touch is in the fact that they come all the way down to the bottom ofthe stairs, take a bow and work their way up trying to sell their items, usually with a big smile (granted sometimes a fake smile).
*Like in the US, things are not very cheap in the stadium. I paid 800 Yen for a small draftbeer plus 250 Yen for a small cup of water.
*The featured player that night was #8 Tani (center fielder, I think) and he actually made the difference, hitting the only home-run of the game, scoring 2 in a 4-0 shutout win by the Giants. The pitcher Utsumi threw a complete game improving his record to 4-4. Still the Giants are 3rd. or 4th. in the standings...

Very few people left the game before its end, so the bulk of the 40K + attendees left at the same time and it seemed like everyone headed to the subway station. Still, everyone did it in a very orderly fashion and it was not difficult to get on the train back to our hotel. The bad thing was that it was already late and we did not find anything opened (not even the food courts in the nearby i-land or even at the Odakyu Department store in Shinuku. The alternative was to eat at a Denny's nearby. The food was ok (the menu had nothing to do with the US Denny's menu) but the cigarrette smell was very strong even though we were sitting in a non-smoking area. Probably that was the low-light of the day.
Just got a phone call from my mother-in-law asking if everything was OK. I did not understand what she was talking about until she explained that there was some wacko in Tokyo who stabbed to death 7 people and left 11 more wounded. Here is the CNN update on this tragedy:
I am thankful that we were not visiting Akihabara, the district in which this took place, today. Our hearts go out to the families of those who were affected by this.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Day 1: Trip - Arrival and first exploration (Saturday)

The day started early (We left home around 3:45AM to board on 6:15AM departure flight). This first flight took us to Dallas where we made our connection and from there straight to Tokyo (some 13h flying in this segment).
The only complaint that "the boss" had was that AA switched our seats and we ended up in the bulk head row. Other than that, my only comment is... what a long trip. I don't remember how many movies I watched. And I also had time to work a little (oops!), read the tour book (Tokyo related piece only) and slept (very little).
Upon landing, we took a tram from the satellite to the main terminal and luckily encountered a very short line at immigration (they were asking for citizens from Peru, Bolivia and Brasil to fill out a questionnaire but I pretended I did not listen to that and they did not refer to it at any moment anyways). Bags were out very fast and we had no issues in customs (no questions asked. We are traveling moderately light - 1 medium size luggage and one back pack each).

After exiting the customs area, I exchanged dollar into Yen. The exchange rate was 103.06. This is a much, much better rate than what I could get had I exchanged money back in the US. Thank goodness I exchanged some ideas with some fellow travelers at the fodor's forum.
Finally I paid for the transportation from the airport to the hotel (Limousine Bus) 7,500 Yen for 2 adults and one child. It took us about 1h30min to get to our hotel (Hilton Shinjuku - including stops at the Shinjuku station and the Shinjuku Washington hotel). Bought the ticket at 2:20PM and the bus departed at 2:25PM. Talk about Just-In-Time. The commute was also uneventful mainly because it was a Saturday, I think. We ended up not having time to look for a Tourist Information Center at the airport but hopefully we will find one today.

Tokyo View from Hilton Shinjuku - DayTokyo View from Hilton Shinjuku - Night

After freshening up, which included a visit to the executive lounge area (another benefit of being a frequent traveler), we went for a walk around the Shinjuku neighborhood. In fact our walk was limited to 3-4 blocks from the Hilton to the Shinjuku station. We basically had time to view what was available at the Bic Camera store (which made my wife itchy to spend her fist Yens since she is into photography) and the Odakyu Department store (known as depato here). We concentrated in the grocery floor (another big wife interest) and then finally went to the lowest floor where the restaurants were. My wife went for some Octopuss balls and Gyoza. My daughter and I decided to split a butterflied panco breaded Shrimp (technical term according to the in-house expert) with rice and curry. By that time, everyone was tired, especially me and my daughter, so we decided to come back to our hotel, eat the food and call it the day.

Expense summary (all in Yen):
Transportation Airport - hotel: 7,500
Food: 483 (Takoyaki) + $620 (Gyoza) + 1500 (Breaded Shrimp+Rice+Curry) +370 (two bottles of Coke Zero) = 2973

Other stuff: We got some plug adapters for the Japanese power outlets from the hotel but we are planning to buy at least two for our many electronic gadgets.

See ya.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Countdown to Start the Journey

We are now a little less than 4 hours from our departure to Japan. It is almost 2:30 EDT and my wife and I decided not to sleep, mainly because we did not finish packing until half an hour ago. A friend of ours will drive us to the airport (really good friend to make that offer!).

Last minute things:
-Bought Roxio's Toast Titanium 9 to be able to transfer movies from our camera straight to DVDs.
-Wife stopped by a Wal-Mart to buy a plug adapter. The only thing is that she failed to notice that the adapter she bought is good for Australia and UK. So, we are leaving it home for merchandise return...

Let's see how often I am going to be able to update my blog.

Here we go!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Estressado? Que é isso...

Faltam menos de 12 horas para subir no avião e ainda nem começamos a fazer as malas...

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Cell Phones in Japan

Japan is very unique in many ways... Cell phone system is one of them. Our "regular" American 3G and GSM phones will not work over there. The only way that I could maintain some conectivity over there would be to rent a local 3G phone in Japan and slide in my 3G SIM/Chip in it. I checked the AT&T (my wireless provider) website and their roaming rates are very expensive ($2.29/min). The rental itself is $8/day. That solidified my decision that I do NOT want to be found while on vacation.

So I decided to go with myjapanphone... They deliver the phone at your hotel ($15 service) and you can return it in a pre-paid envelope. First week is for free so I decided to go with it. Another fellow traveler has recommended rentafonejapan. I guess both alternatives have their merits. Just the fact that I don't have to waste my time after landing in Tokyo in one of those cell phone rental kiosks at the airport is worth the $15 delivery charge.

The phones will be used for emergencies and to provide a way to contact my wife and daughter in case we decide to visit different places in a same city (ex.: My wife is taking cooking classes in her 2nd. day in Japan. I do NOT plan to join her!).

The thread below contains some inputs on this subject:

Side note: We got an automatic gold fish feeder for our little fat swimming friend. Mail will be on hold for the duration of the trip... Have not paid all bills yet.

I think my next post will be written from the airplane, offline of course. I have not packed a single pair of socks yet. But my wife made sure we got bright new luggage for this trip. Apparently the old ones were not good enough... Who am I to argue that? Important to note: my daughter's luggage is "barbie" pink. The right way to qualify that is "Perua". (if you did not understand, ask a Brazilian friend. He/she will get a crack out of it).

See ya.


Curso de japonês básico para Brazuca:

Se alguém perguntar as horas pra vc no Japão e calhar de ser 9 e meia, aqui vai a tradução:

9 = Ku

horas = Ji

Meia = Han

Coloque tudo junto e vc terá...

Blog é "curtura".

Hotels - Lodging

This is an area that I will not be much of a reference for other fellow travelers simply because I will be using my frequent guest points to stay for free in 3 locations, which I believe is not the case for most of you... Add to that the fact that I have a brother and a friend living there...

Anyway, in my previous post, I added links to a couple of economic hotel chains that I plan to use in my trip. They are the Super hotel and the Toyoko inn hotel. I don't expect much from these places in terms of amenities but they are cheaper compared to the other options that I found in my research.

In Japan, you will find another lodging option called Ryokan. They are inns that are supposed to give you the opportunity of experiencing a true Japanese atmosphere. I am planning to stay one night in one of these Ryokans but have not made my mind yet. In my case, I will have the "added-value" of sleeping on the tatami which is supposed to be good for my back (when you start worrying about these things, it tells you are not that young anymore...).

But come backing to my initial subject, I will be staying at the Hilton in Tokyo (both of them - In the beginning of the trip and then on the very last night). Also, I will be staying at the Westin Miyako Kyoto. They are supposed to be top notch hotels. Not that I care that much. As long as I have a clean bed and a hot shower, I am happy camper, but since I am traveling with my family, I figured they will enjoy the "royal treatment" (at least once in while).

Except at the ryokans, it looks like Internet access will be an easy thing to find. So I hope I will have the discipline and the energy to post my daily activities here.

Only 3 days to start the journey. Have not even started packing yet. Need to worry about our pet gold fish, scheduling bill payments, holding mail... All that fun stuff.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Useful Links

I will keep updating this post as I remember/find useful sites:

-General Japan info:
-Annual Festivals: (This site in general gives lots of tourist information)
-Traveler Forum: (I got very good tips here)
-Japan Rail Pass:
-Japan Consulate in Miami:
-Super Hotel chain (business hotel):
-Toyoko Inn hotel chain (business hotel):