World Expo in Aichi

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World Expo in Aichi

Saturday July 30th, 2005

World Expo 2005, Aichi, Japan. All Day 7 Pics

Biiiiiig day today, got up at 6:15 to get a shower etc, all meet for breakfast upstairs at 6:45 (still telling myself that it’s REALLY breakfast at 5:45 pm on my real schedule) for a very nice buffet style affair without too many unidentifiable things. I did avoid what looked like the “egg soup” though.

It was about a 40 min bus ride from Nagoya to Aichi. I tell you, the Japanese have this mass people-moving thing down! There was parade of buses, (Nagoya Station happened to be under our hotel so no walking) leading to the event site. Apparently 60% of Japan lives in the Tokyo metro area, 30% in the Osaka/Kobe area, leaving 10% for all the rest; Nagoya falls into this category and it’s still huge, with big modern downtown buildings and a sprawl that makes it seem much larger than St. Louis or Cincinnati.

First stop was at the care center for a wheelchair for Mom, which turned out to be a tremendous help in getting into certain events and exhibits with priority seating. For instance we got into the Toyota robot theater show on the first seating, when there is almost instantly a 3 hour wait from the get-go. This show was amazing, utilizing robots that as far as I could discern, actually played trumpets, trombones, tuba, marching french horn and a set of electronic drum pads! The show incorporated a lot of great lighting effects and some new robots that wrap themselves around the operator, and can operate with the operator in an seated upright position, or the wheels can slide apart and the operator is essentially in a recliner operating this thing. There are all kind of light strips on this thing which can dynamically change color continuously throughout the spectrum during the performance. There were a number of dancers that crawled from holes in the floor during an “earth forming’ number as well as a dancer who what hung from the ceiling (about 100ft up!) on some kind of a harness with swivel points on his hips. He was hung from a small arm attached to a rigging point, with long cloth ‘curtains’ hanging down and disguising the rigging wires. He used this to great effect while the guide wires at the top made him fly around in circles making the cloth look like big outrigger ship sails. The dancers ended up getting into these robots, and made then part of the show.

Water jets in the floor of the theater that were so precisely controlled, that at the landing point there were drain holes no larger than 6 inches and these streams just poured right into these drain holes, no muss no fuss! Also some fire jets shooting up puffs of flame in time to the music.

There were a million great photo-ops during the show but photos were not allowed so all I could do was sneak a photo of the empty theater before the show started.

We were trying to get the hard to get into shows out of the way early, so we next went to this animated movie, but before you saw it, they scanned your face twice, made a contour map of it, and then you appeared as a character in the movie (for about 3 seconds!) Cool that they can do it on the fly like that. Movie was pretty good computer animation but the story was kinda lame, a theme that would repeat itself at the end of the day…

Next up was to go to some of the exhibits from each of the countries; they were grouped by region, Asia, South Pacific etc. Some were really elaborate, well done exhibits, and others were excuses to try and sell you cheap bracelets. Lots of ethnic food for each region, but most of it went untried (one can only eat so much, and it was freakin’ HOT all day).

We started with the eastern pacific rim countries, then made our way over to the Middle East area. There was some dancing out front of the Saudi Arabian exhibit which was a pantomime of a knife fight. Why am I not surprised?

We had some lunch, and took a ride on the Wonder Wheel, a half inside, half outside Ferris wheel, each car had it’s own air conditioning system! There were some murals and slides about conservation and then we were treated to some really nice aerial views of the whole Expo grounds, since we were on a hill to begin with and now 100ft in the air. All the big aerial shots came from here, and we only had to wait an hour!

Middle of the afternoon and early evening saw us at the North/South American exhibits where we saw a Merengue dance lesson at the Dominican Repuplic, a tango demonstration in Argentina, and visited the Mexican exhibit which was REALLY well-done. When you first come in they had one of those “misters” you see to keep you cool by spraying you with a fine spray of water. But it was hung across the top of the entrance-way, and was SUPER fine water droplets which was backlit by a light that was projecting moving silhouettes of birds flying on the spray which acted like a projection screen! It was a great effect. Even better (almost) was that they had a REAL Mexican restaurant attached and we immediately went in there because Holly and Jerry always lament the lack of Mexican food in Japan. So we go in and Jerry is already there sippin’ a strawberry margarita! Figures…

The theme of the Expo was how man can be more in harmony with nature, and one of the concepts proposed was the “bio-lung”, a way to create more oxygen in urban areas where space is at a premium (like in Japan). It is a vertical wall a couple feet thick with panels of real grass and big leafy plants growing from it. So it has a small footprint on the ground but big footprint in the air. Seems like a more sensible way to combat the supposed global warming than crippling the auto industry, but what do I know…

At the end of the day there was a the big multimedia show “Evening at the Koi Pond”, an outdoor show on such a scale that it could only really be appreciated from about 100 yards away. This show was a technical triumph in many ways but was overall, well completely lame! Either the elements that comprise the art of good storytelling don’t apply in Japan, or it was another case of brilliant execution of a still-born idea. Show was 1/2 hour long but only really had enough spectacle to keep you interested for 10min.

The good stuff? Well the “projection on water-spray” idea was taken all the way out… Imagine a fan shaped water spray 2 stories high that you could project crisp images, laser outlines on. In the center of the lake, surrounded by dry ice fog, was a 30-foot model of a female snow monkey (jury is still out on whether is was inflatable or not).

They had good use of their performance space by launching (on tethers) helium filled models of the Earth and Moon from the hillside behind the screen, at various times large floating fish or alligators or boats that were lit from the inside with various colors, and of course this water as screen idea is amazing in and of itself. So the story is really obtuse slow because of needless repetition of small ideas that didn’t develop, so when it was all over you just said “what the hell was that all about anyway”?

Kind of a weird note to end an amazing day on but all in all, it was really incredible!

Thank you Holly and Jerry (Horry & Jelly)

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Castles, Pavilions and Rock Gardens

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Castles, Pavilions and Rock Gardens

Well today it was "Castles and Pavilions and Rock Gardens oh MY"... Took the train to Kyoto (about an hour on the express, see yesterday's map) and took a cab to Nijo Castle, a very large place where the Emperor would stay when in Kyoto back in the 16th and 17th centuries. Interesting that the main outer floor was built to squeak on purpose to alert people inside to any ninja intruders or wild boar or whatever! No photos allowed at all of the inside, but I did let my video cam roll pointed at my feet to record the sound of the squeaks. Ohhh I do so live on the edge...

Next up was the rock garden place with a very unusual, manicured rock display that is so obtuse, only the designer knows why the rocks are that way and he's been room temp for about 300 years now. As usual the grounds are surrounded by lush greenery and manicured everything.

Next stop was the Golden Pavillion, an amazing building and beautiful grounds.

For all the images from today's expedition try: Day 5 Web Gallery

Friday is a travel day, going by bullet train to the World Expo at Aichi; big technology exhibits up there (robots and such) so I'm sure I'll will be happenin'!!!

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Day Four: Let the Tourism Begin!

Wow, long day today with two big tourist stops: a walk down to the train (discovering that convenience stores are now universal) to get to a cab that would take us to a funicular (train/tram kinda thing) to the top of Rokko Mountain where there is a spectacular view of the whole Kobe/Osaka Bay Basin area, including Rokko Island where Holly works. Here's one of the photos:

It was an exceptionally good day to go up there because yesterday's typhoon remnant cleared out a lot of the stagnant, hazy air.

Then we took a bus around the top of the mountain, discovering at one stop a miniature golf course! but not like we have here with windmills and elephants on astroturf on concrete! This was on real grass with real greens (not very well mowed mind you) and played with real balls and putters only. Holes were about 10 to 20m long...

After that we took a bus to a train to another train about 30 miles west to the city of Himeji, site of the most original and largest, best castle in Japan.

Didn't really have to ALL that much time to explore the castle but DID make it to the top floor (good vistas from there) and began the treacherous climb down in my socks (no shoes allowed in the castle). Why treacherous? some of the "stairs" were more like ladders with handrails!
When we were done with all the castle we made our way back to the train station to take another train to another train to Rokko Island to meet Holly (Horry) and Jerry (Jelly) for dinner. Last minute change of plans was to dine at Chez Costo in Osaka as were low on supplies in the villa!
Costo in Japan is pretty much like Costco in the US except in the produce section there's squid, and a watermelon is $15. But Pizza is pretty much universal so we had that at the costco food court before shopping.

One last thing, yesterday I promised a photo of a statue that looks like Wimpy playing sax naked. Well it turns out I was a bit "overpromised" on the 'Wimpy' part, but everything else was right:

Here's a slideshow with all the photos I took today…





Day Three-Dog Walk to the River


Day Three-Dog Walk to the River

Tuesday July 26th

It was a pretty mellow day, a good day to be inside since there was a major league typhoon bearing right down on us from the South. A typhoon is a hurricane 75 mph winds or above and a quick check of the radar in the morning looked like we could be in for some serious stuff. Holly was able to cancel her business trip to the local factory (which was a good thing for her). But in the early daylight hours the storm just kinda disappeared and all we got was about an inch of rain from a more or less steady day-long drizzle and some VERY blustery wind; dead calm one second, 45 mph the next.

So, I spent most of the day in front of this computer editing photos, trashing the really horrible ones and making the web galleries of them (a more or less automated feature in Photoshop), and figuring out how to add web code embedded within the blog's text for the links to the picture sites.

I gotta say that my "techno thrill level" was up there pretty high as I am on one side of the planet uploading graphics files and web pages to newly created directories on our server back in Cincinnati.

Along about midday Mom and I went for a *surprise* dog walk down to the pond a block down from Holly's house. I shot some video and edited it after dinner. It's taking a REAL long time to render the web copy so I'll put that link up here tomorrow (gonna let it render while I sleep, that way I don't care HOW long it takes!)

Tomorrow we will try again to take the train to Himeji, where I am told, one can see a sculpture of a guy who looks dead-on like Wimpy from Popeye, except he's nude and playing the saxophone. Now there's an image for ya!!! We'll see if the real thing lives up to expectations! Film at 11…



Day Two-First Real Day in Japan

Monday July 25th,
After kinda weird night of sleep I got up early (for me) and started working on this blog thing. Eventually it was time to start the day (hadn't found the coffee maker here so it took a little longer than usual). I haven't been suffering the effects of jet lag as much as I had thought I would, but when I started to think about it my normal schedule of going to bed at 4am in Cincinnati is almost a perfect 9 to 5 here in Kobe so no adjustment required! Where's my business suit?

The two main items on the agenda today was taking sister Holly's two dogs Sadie and Cody to the river for romping, and then after recovery from that, dinner out with Holly, Jerry and the Big Cheese from P & G who was in town from Cincinnati, a really nice Greek gentleman.

The walk to the river was through the narrow streets of Kobe (none of which are parallel or organized in any way-you probably need 5 years training to be a mailman here!). It was about 5 blocks but with two dogs in tow it felt like 15 because it was in the low 90s and humid as hell. Feels like a jungle here without all the plants! Everytime a car would come by we would squeeze up against the wall with the dogs to let them pass. On the rare occasion where you had two vehicles meeting going opposite directions, it was entertaining to first watch the narrow avoidance of the head on collision, followed by the drivers figuring how to get past each other, which sometimes entailed partially pulling into someone's driveway or a sidestreet.

We eventually arrived at the river and there was some kind of field trip with about 45 little school children, and a few sunbathers, and Moms out with kids. We let the dogs run free in the river and of course they loved it. Why do they always then want to stand within 2 feet when they shake? It was getting really hot now so after letting some of the kids pet the dogs, we headed back.

After a shower and a nap it was time to take the train a few stops down to the restaurant/entertainment/shopping district to hook up with Jerry who would guide us to the Chinese place we were eating at, picked by the Big Boss (Le Fromage Grande?)

Jerry was a bit late so we cooled our jets in a department store called "Hands". There was some amazing things there and we were only really in the entrance rows (there were 6 floors to the store).
Apparently they are big on tabletop fountains there so I took a Quicktime movie with my digital cam; I'll try and find a way to post it.
They also had mehanical insects(???) you could buy for $19 or so. No sign of mechanical insect repellent anywhere though!
I got a pic of Mom inspecting one of two COMPLETE WALLS of hand fans! There was some nice glasswork there as well.

Eventually Jerry showed up to collect us and we walked a block or so the the Chinese place. Traditional seating on cushions or tables and chairs, this place was HUGE for a restaurant in Japan: several large rooms. There was no ordering, when we got there all the food had been ordered for us in advance by "the advance team" so I hoped I was not sitting down to a meal of undead, uncooked indescribables! Turns out it was "Japanese/Chinese" cuisine, the same way we get "American/Chinese" at home. It was all impeccably presented, service was amazing (all the servers had kimonos on and PDAs for ordering!)

The food started with appetizers and just kept on coming and coming and coming. Maybe 10 courses in all... oh and did I say "beer"? Beer is pronounced something like "bieru" here and our side of the long table (4 of us, Mom included) went through at least three pitchers and I think we mooched the end of the other end of the table's pitcher as well. It was an amazing dinner all of it great (I did pass on some things like the jellyfish) but we all wobbled out of there about 3 hours later. I shudder to think what that cost ($1000?) for the nine of us.Thank you Holly and Jerry!

Crawled into bed at 10pm (when was the last time THAT happened!) and drifted off. What a great day...

Here's a slideshow of the Day Two pics:




Day One Update-Arrival in Osaka

Day One Arrival 

We landed at Kansai Airport which was featured on the Modern Marvels series on Discovery Channel due to the fact that they just built an island from scratch out in the bay, built a bridge to it, built an airport on the island! One of those engineering marvels that come about when you have absolutely NO more land left on your island to build something huge like an airport.
The terminal building is supposedly the largest building in the world "all under one roof".

 So we took a bus to the Sheraton on Rikko Island in the neighboring city of Kobe. After that a cab ride to my sister's place which is nicely nestled up in the foothills of Kobe.

On the cab ride up there I was constantly struck by the juxtoposition of the very old against the very new, something which I believe I will be seeing more of as the trip progresses.

We have plans to visit the castle at Himeji, got to the Worlds Fair on the weekend and lotsa other stuff... keep you posted!












My First Trip to Japan, July 2005


My First Trip to Japan, July 2005

Ok everyone, here's the first post on my blog, created to "cover" my trip to Japan with commentary and pictures! I said before I came over here that I was going to "out japanese the japanese" when it comes to picture taking and so far I've got a good start (luvvvv that digital camera!)

So why am I in Japan? Well here's the setup: My sister and her husband have taken an assignment here for P & G that is supposed to last 3 years, which they are about halfway through. Even though they live here they still come back often for meetings and the major holidays (like Flag Day) and have accumulated a BUNCH of FrequentFlyer miles. So for Christmas last year they gave me and my Mom a trip to Japan!!! How Cool is that! Thanks Sis…

Saturday, July 23rd

Day One started on about 1 hour of sleep (I had played one of the Salsa Cruises with my band Tropicoso till 2am the previous night) and we were due at the airport around 7:30am. the freaking Cab driver shows up at 6:45 while I'm in the shower (sorry for that bad mental image there) and I have to tell him that he's gonna have to wait as a) I'm still dripping wet and b) Mom isn't even here yet! Eventually Mom arrives, we collectively curse his dispatcher and get to the airport.

We had a quick 45 min flight to Chicago, a 2.5 hour layover (which I spent cruising up and down terminal A with my laptop looking for a wireless internet portal to send a last minute business email that had fallen through the cracks) and then 13 hours non-stop to Osaka, Japan. I had been dreading spending that much time in a plane but it really wasn't all that bad.

They had 5 movies to choose from, were constantly pushing food and snacks to you (I think it was 3 meals, 2 snacks and 4 beverage runs). The plane was a Boeing 777 which was amazing. Every seat had it's own LCD screen for movies etc. but they also had this cool map display showing your position on the Earth as we flew.

Our ground track took us up through Minnesota, Canada, on an arc which peaked right over Anchorage, Alaska. Then back down just to the west of that eastern Peninsula of the former USSR and down along the east side of Japan, then crossing over the island, down the west side of it for awhile before 'attacking' Osaka from the West.

In spite of all the food, you really had to get up and walk around some (it was daylight the whole way) I got up and took some pictures out the rear window of the plane back by the galley.