Sunday, January 31, 2010
This was some pretty weird and wild business. I went to a party called "Get Yokohammered" in Yokohama, Japan during Siggraph Asia 2009. During the evening a techno group went on called the "Yokohama Residents" and they were all wearing big eyeball costumes. Lots of crazy background videos and on-stage performances, like painting kanji characters, and ironing a dress shirt. Wow, this was nuts.
Saturday, January 30, 2010
December 16, 2009
Japan Trip Day 6: Hakone: Bathing in Coffee, Green Tea, and Sake
I started off the day by chatting with a cool Aussie girl in my hostel about onsens (Japanese hot spa baths.) She said she used to work at a ski resort on Hokkaido (the North Island of Japan), acting as a tour guide for foreigners on their first trip to an onsen. Most people are a little nervous about it at first because it's a public bath, nude, and with other people! Certainly it was not unusual in Roman times, and it's definitely not unusual in Japan :) This sounds like a funny job she had, and she said it was weird because after the "onsen tour" she took the hostel guests on, she kept thinking to herself, "Well, I've seen that person naked!" Hilarious.
Then I chatted with a few more friends and said bye to the SF guys, the awesome British folks, and Mel (another super cool Aussie chick who I gave lots of good advice to the day before about good Canon camera lenses to buy in Japan!)
Then I said goodbye to K's House Tokyo, my fantastic home in Tokyo for 4 nights. It was sad to leave such a fun and awesome hostel, and it really reminded me what I love about traveling and how invigorating and amazing it is. :) From Kuramae, I took a Subway to Tokyo main station, and then headed to the high speed Shinkansen railway tracks... SWEET!! There are a bazillion tasty and fast food stands in the railway stations, and I got my first bento box! It was great, tasty, and had a weird egg and crazy vegetables, but it was good.
MAN the transportation is organized here. It's so friggin' efficient, I can hardly believe it. Everyone lines up in such an orderly way, and there are painted lines on the "prat-fohrm" (haha, i.e. platform), the train stops exactly there, and there are directions telling you where to stand while people exit the train. It's AMAZING. I am now using my "Ray-oo Pah-su!" (rail pass) and it rocks. The Shinkansen is friggin' FAST. From Tokyo I went to Odawara, which I thought was going to be a tiny, disorganized local station based on directions I found online... and instead... it was huge and fancy and modern like every other train station I've seen! I'm having no problem with train transfers, it's super easy and all the signs are in both Kanji and roman characters, and also the announcements tend to always be in English (especially on the Shinkansen trains.)
From Odawara, I took a local line to Hakoneyumoto station. This is a classic example of potential confusing Japan-ness... the guidebook said go to Hakone Yumoto station. The signage called it Hakone-Yumoto Stn. (with a hyphen). And everywhere else, it was Hakoneyumoto. :) The English-ized words in Japan often seem to be lacking spaces anywhere, so sometimes you have to read signs carefully to figure out where you are trying to go.
At Hakoneyumoto (or whatever it was called on the sign at that point), I waited for a bus to "Verde no Mori" meaning "Green Garden", I think. (Of course the bus stop's timetable called it "Verudenomori" or something like that... close enough!) :) While I was waiting there was a group of about 10 Japanese girls waiting too. They were traveling together in a group for the December University holidays. They all seemed very interested and excited that there was a random foreigner with way too many bags, and one of the particularly extroverted girls came over and said, "Where do you come from?!" I said "Canada!", and pointed at the flag on my backpacks, to which I got a resounding "Ooooh!!" from literally all 10 girls at once. It was HILARIOUS. We talked for a bit, and a couple of the girls had pretty good English. It turns out they are all Classical Piano Students at University together, and they were going for a holiday vacation together. They were really nice and funny, and kept laughing at my attempts at Japanese. Once I got onto the bus I had no idea if I was supposed to pay before or after or get a ticket and then pay after or who knows what. So they helped me out and helped me figure out where the heck I was supposed to get off the bus. The bus ride from Hakoneyumoto station up past Yunessun Spa Resort and to my hostel was amazing... the views of the hillsides were beautiful, lots of trees and quiet nature. My first impression: this is VERY different than Tokyo. I got to the B&B and dropped all my junk off and it's pretty bare-bones, but it's super cheap, like $32 a night for my own room. The place is quiet, but has a super cool onsen which I snuck some photos of after I made sure there was no one in there first!
I then headed right for Yunessun, a famous water park/spa resort. They give you a cool RFID watchband which acts as the lock for your locker, and also you can buy food with it at any point during the day, so you don't need to carry any money with you when you're at the water park. My first Japanese cultural error was walking onto the carpet with my shoes (again)... ah, crap. After a quick "Sumimasen!" (excuse me), I took off my shoes, and then tried to put on some slippers that were sitting there... the staff laughed at me, and I think they were someone else's slippers :) I got a "Passport" for Yunessun, meaning I could go to both the "Swimsuit Zone" (a water park and spa resort) and the "Naked Zone" (which was an outdoor onsen separated by gender.)
I started first at the water park. There was a nice pool, bubbily spa thing, a roman bath, and they had that gross "Dr. Fish" thing where you put your feet in a pool and there are tiny fish in there who eat the dead skin off your feet. I'd heard about it before and it sounded insane, so I didn't try it. :) There were some more baths, greek style, turkish baths, and so on. From there I went outside and there were some cool warmer tubs in some caves, and a few great water slides. I tried to find the Green Tea Spa, but couldn't find it (turns out it was on the other side of the park).
Then I walked to the other (crazzzzzzy) part of the park, it was hilarious. This was so cool and had all the novelty baths and unusual baths, this was really the main reason I wanted to come to Yunessun. I started in a Coffee Bath (literally, "Hotteh Cohii!"). The aroma of the bath was very coffee-ish, and the water was pretty dark. I laughed cause it seemed like the hotter bath was a dark roast, and the more mild baths had a lighter coffee colour. Hahhahaha so hilarious!!
Then I went to a Red Wine bath, and noticed they had a sign that said there was a "presentation" at 4:30, in 5 or 10 minutes from then. I waited for it, and it turned out the presentation was one of the staff members coming by with 3 big bottles of real wine, and pouring it into the big hot tub that the 20 or 30 of us were all sitting in!! This was not a bath of pure wine, there was definitely a lot of water in there too, but the smell from the water and steam was very red wine-y. Hilarious. The funniest part about the "presentation" was that the staff member told people to come to the edge of the bath near him, and he poured the wine over people's heads rather than just into the water!! Everyone seemed to be totally into this and thought it was hilarious, and several kids had wine poured on their heads too. Man Japan is hilarious and insane! :) The was so funny and we all cupped our hands so we could score a little wine to drink before it hit the water.
From there it got even crazier: Green Tea bath, Sake bath, Black Tea bath, and then a Japanese Traditional Bath. That one was super cool because it had literally 50 floating half-grapefruits in it, along with a ton of other fruit and lemons and citrus... just floating in it?! This is apparently a very traditional bath style and it rocked. I then checked out the walking bath (rocks, running water, and steps), and a weird and interesting Charcoal bath. All this bathing in beverages made me hungry, so I went to the cafeteria and got a nice rice and chicken early dinner by swiping my wristband!
From there I went on to Mori No Yu, the "Naked Zone". This was my first onsen experience and it was just awesome. You start by putting your bathing suit into a locker and putting on an incredibly small "modesty towel" around your... um... crotch. :) Then there was a wooden ladle thing which was really funny and made a hilarious sloshy sound when you dunked it into the hot water. I discretely looked around at the old dude who was also about to get into the bath to see what he was doing, and it seemed like you were just supposed to pour a few ladles of hot water over yourself. Then I got into the bath and it was amazing. Super relaxing and refreshing, and it was surprisingly quick to get used to the idea of everyone being "in the buff" since no one is weird about it, and it's just part of the cultural nature of bathing in Japan. There were many different tubs inside, and then a big window outside. There were lots more tubs outside and it was an incredibly beautiful area with a great view of the night sky. While sitting in the bath you are not meant to get any germs in there, so you are supposed to keep your small courtesy/modesty towel on your head!! You fold it a few times and just leave it on your head, everyone was doing that, it was really really funny. There was a really glorious outdoor vibe, and I sat there for quite a while, moving between different tubs (all at slightly different temperatures.) There were a couple of wooden tubs on stands, and they were just individually sized, which was nice too. Some were just quite warm, but a few of them were very hot! It was a bit like cooking yourself in a human-sized steamed bun steamer!! :)
After a great relaxing time outside bathing with random strangers, I took my courtesy towel off my head and put it back on to roughly cover the nether regions and then walked back inside. I was just about to leave when I saw that there were fresh towels and a "preening room!" In there, there was a free brush, comb and shaver. This was excellent given that I've already been backpacking for a week and so I desperately need to shave, and brush and comb my hair!
After the "preening", I went to buy some junk food, and walked back to my hostel. Once there, I got a nice chair massage, and the ate a bunch of junk food and watched a bit of Japanese TV in my single room. There was some random stuff on: movies, crazy TV shows, the movie "Seabiscuit" with subtitles, and Quentin Tarantino was in a softbank mobile ad on TV, and it was hilarious. The rest of the evening was just watching some TV and chillin' out, relaxing after a great first 5 days in Japan, thinking about how fun and weird the spa was, and getting excited for the next day's trip to Yokohama for the Siggraph Asia Computer Graphics Conference! It's gonna be awesome to meet up with Tatsuya again at Siggraph, I can't wait!!
I had originally planned to come to Hakone to get a good view of Mt. Fuji, but it turns out the spa was so awesome (and it probably wasn't super clear out anyway), that I happily spent all day there and had an amazing time. Japan is so SUGOI (awesome)!!!!!!
At the Shinkansen high-speed train platform for the first time!
This is how I traveled for 2 weeks. Huge bag JUST fit in the overhead area, and small bag beside me with travel journal, camera, and food handy.
A standard Shinkansen Train Car
First Bento Box for lunch! This was really tasty, for about $10 you can get a hot meal like this in literally 10 seconds on your way through the train station and onto the train. Also got some hot tea from a vending machine and some hi-chews (like Japanese Starburst) for the train ride.
From Hakoneyumato station, I took the bus towards Yunessun Spa Resort
Suuuuper local bus, had no idea where I was going, and nothing was in English. Fortunately I met some Japanese students on their way to a different spa resort, and they helped me figure out when I had to get off the bus.
And... this is where the bus dropped me. Hahaha! No signs, no idea where to go!! Haha :) Tried a few roads and found my hostel pretty quickly.
Found my hostel!!
Snuck into the hostel's onsen public bath and there was no one in there, so I snapped a few quick sneaky photos. These are the tubs where you are required to wash yourself before getting into the hot public bath. You sit on the blue butt-grooved seat and wash yourself with that pump soap (bathing suits not allowed at this point, hehe). Then shower fully, or use that green tub to full up and pour on yourself. Hilarious.
This is a pretty typical hotel amenity in Japan - big public bath where you bathe with random strangers. Sometimes there are two of them (split up by gender), and sometimes males get to use it one day, and females the next.
"Please refrain wearing swimsuit and using towels in the bathtub."
After your bath, you sit here and "groom yourself" - free plastic hair brushes, disposable razors, and always random hair cream and hair growth tonic for baldness that a lot of the old dudes seemed to be keen on using.
Lots of rules and etiquette
Yunessun Spa Resort!
Awesome looking restaurant
Water park from the outside
Inside the entrance, and their mascot is (believe it or not), cat-based!
Now for a few photos of inside the resort... I found these online cause I didn't bring my camera in. Just found a few random photos that other people have taken while there. This one shows the hot coffee spa, the green tea spa, and the red wine spa!
The *amazing* outdoor spa
This is what the outdoor spa looked like when I was there at night. Just amazing (and also with more random uber-naked people)
Red Wine Spa!
Inside the water park area
Another pic of the red wine spa!
Green Tea spa
Someone's random pic of the Sake spa
Everything is in vending machines
Haha terribly unhealthy dinner... some chocolates from the store and a chocolate and vanilla cake roll shaped like a cigar and called "Financier" hahahaha!!
Some fantastic "Engrish", talking about how the logo for Yunessun is a cat who likes spas.
Friday, January 29, 2010
Last year, Matt and I donated approximately 10% of our earnings from iMenorah to the San Francisco Jewish Community Center, to help support their fantastic community lecture series - a great force for learning and the promotion of knowledge, tolerance and understanding in our local San Francisco community.
This year, we decided that a very real problem in the city is hunger, and with many more people out of work in 2009 and 2010, we felt this was the best choice for our charitable donation for this year.
We are excited to announce that we have managed to donate just over 2x our 2008-2009 donation!! Thank you very much for your support of our iPhone app, but more importantly, thank you as well for your contributions which have helped us support a growing problem in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Mike and Matt :)
Monday, January 25, 2010
Sunday, January 24, 2010
December 15, 2009
Japan Trip Day 5: Ginza, Partying in Shinjuku
Today started off with a quick breakfast of toast and yoghurt from the "Sheven-Eereven" (7-11) just down the alley from the hostel. Also grabbed a quick "hotteh cohii" in a plastic bottle, those are awesome. There were a few folks in my hostel who were going to Siggraph too, so I chatted with them for a bit which was cool. Then, off to meet Tatsuya again at the Shibuya Starbucks!
I successfully found Tatsuya at the Shibuya Starbucks, and then we wandered a bit in "Tsutaya" (not "Tatsuya", but close!), a music store. We joked around and said how cool it was that Tatsuya had his own music store named after him. We wandered to some bookstores and comic stores, and maaaan there are a lot of anime comic books here! Most are in Japanese only, but the art is really cool. We then went to the Post Office and it was SUPER efficient. They were very fast to serve people, there were gifts you could buy for your family in another city and have them gift-wrapped and mailed right away... it was all very organized and Japanese. :) I bought some stamps to send postcards home, but the 70 cent ones just had a boring blue "twitter bird" (looked like the Twitter logo) on it, so I went extra fancy and upgraded to the 80 cent stamps for everyone (haha, big spender) so I could get everyone cooler Anime character stamps! The Post Office is very big in Japan now, and does a lot more stuff including running a large bank. The Post Office ATMs always take "Cirrus" or "Plus" cards (so you can use your American or Canadian bank card directly in Japan), and have an English option for the screen menus (this is a lifesaver!!)
From the Post Office we continued wandering and found some hilariously unexpected stuff like Outback Steakhouse and KFC. Wow, cyclists are crazy in Japan. Everything is perfectly in order, people walk in straight lines on the sidewalks, sidewalks have arrows instructing you where to walk and how to keep orderly... and then come the bikes! Bikes seems to be the only time when Japan is a complete chaotic free-for-all. Bikes weave maniacally throughout massive crowds on the sidewalk and street, driving at full-tilt completely oblivious of the absurd danger they are causing for pedestrians and themselves. It's hilarious and insane... I think people are so organized everywhere else in life, that getting on a bike must be their only time to kick back and ignore any semblance of transportation-related safety. :)
We saw a huge group of white people and they smiled at us. Later on we went for lunch at a Shabu Shabu place, and the huge group of white people was there!! We were excited to chat with some folks who spoke English, and it turns out that they were a big Mormon group all doing their missions in Japan. It was interesting to chat with them and to hear their opinions of Japan. Tatsuya and I then had an excellent all-you-can-eat lunch of Shabu Shabu, and it was sooooooo good.
From there we went to Ginza, and did some shopping. We went to Uni Qlo, a really nice H&M-style store that is from Japan (I think), but they also have it in Europe. It was a cool place and I got a nice purple flannel shirt. There was a huge Abercrombie & Fitch store opening down the street, and there was a lineup 2 or 3 blocks long and TV cameras for the opening!! Crazy!!
We then got to the Apple Store in Ginza and believe it or not... iMenorah was in the frickin' window display!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I couldn't BELIEVE IT. This artwork was created by my buddy Matt and Me, and was not only across Apple's holiday advertising in the USA and Canada, but it made it's way alllll the way to frickin' JAPAN!??!?!!!!!!!!! I was totally excited.
After the Apple Store excitement, we continued on to Le Cafe Doutor in Ginza to get a nice Mille Feuille cake, and I got a "Blended" coffee (rather than an "American" coffee - still not sure what the difference is!) Had a nice long chat and relax talking with Tatsuya there and watching the colourful streets of The Ginza. Then said goodbye to Tatsuya, and headed back to my hostel to meet up with some new friends there.
I got back to the hostel, dropped my stuff, and went down to the common room to hang out with my new buddies there. I'd chatted the night before to Ben, Jon and Lynsey (cool people from England) and they were keen to go out tonight. We headed out soon after for Shinjuku! We got there and, in a classic Jutan moment, while standing across from a HUGE set of lights and busy city goings-on, I said "There might be something to do over there!" Haha. Ben thought that was hilarious and in true British wit, responded with "Yeah, I dunno, I guess there might be something to do over there!" We got some great curry for dinner and Asahi, and then wandered throughout Shinjuku via some dodgy club district. Some random weird guy/club promoter asked us "So, what kind of beer do you like?!" trying to entice us into his random morally questionable establishment, I expect. haha. We didn't fall for it and instead chose a nice little pub where an older dude standing outside said, "Hey, come in, just for 1 drink!" It seemed like it would be a friendly place, and it definitely was. There was Shochu on the menu, and I'd presumed it was the same thing as I'd had the night before at Alcatraz E.R. with Tatsuya: a nice, light mixed drink... right? It said there was a brown sugar one, so I tried that. Turns out it was just straight shochu and it was "extracted from brown sugar" (ohhhhh, I get it now). The bartenders laughed at us cause we were so surprised with what we got when we ordered it. The other guys ordered some plum wine (which was a much better choice) :) After that we wandered some more and found a really fancy/classy spot where I ordered a tiny daiquiri and managed to spill half of it within 10 seconds. We missed the subway back (I think it closes at 12 or 1) so we took a taxi back to the hostel. The taxis are funny here, the driver presses a button and the back door swings open for you! It's really funny. It was a great evening, and when we got back tons of people in the hostel were still up so we yapped with them until 3ish. Great times. :)
Monsters Inc and other Pixar DVDs in Japanese
This was cool, each DVD came with a microSD card version of it (for your cell phone, presumably)
Trying on some fancy glasses
...and the hot halloween costumes
Then I had to try the hats on
I think this is kosher
Hahaha, Japan is crazy
Exciting underpants (look at the faucet one on the right!)
At the Disney Store
Cool "Andy's Room" setup at the Disney Store
Tatsuya and I went to get Shabu Shabu, it was super good. You have a bubbling bowl of soup in the center of the table, and you boil thin slices of beef and vegetables in it.
All-you-can-eat vegetable and tofu options at the Shabu Shabu place
New Balance "Rainbooww Runninnng!" - the craziest shoes I've ever seen
Cool store in Ginza
DeBeers in Ginza
Matsuya (not Tatsuya!) Ginza store
And then I freaked out. iMenorah (my iPhone app that I created with Matt) made it into the store display... at the Apple Store... in friggin' Tokyo, Japan!
iMenorah on the "App Store Christmas Tree" in Apple Store Ginza, Tokyo
Checking out the Japanese tunes
There was a cool talk at the store tonight, but we had to race off to see the rest of Ginza
App tree from inside the store
Apple Store from the outside
Ginza is awesome at night
Siiiiick H&M in Ginza
Doughtnut Scotch tape
Toy Story stuff
More Pixar stuff
Disney Store cars
Cool Cars from the "Mater's Tall Tales" Cars Toons
Lots of Totoro stuff!!
The "Japanese Monster" section
A crazy somewhat "Up"-inspired invention called "Bowlingual Voice"... seems to be a collar for your dog so he can speak Japanese??!!!!!
People lining up down the block and TV crews for the new Abercrombie & Fitch store opening
Now I've seen it all... a doughnut version of a gyros store
More cool displays
Then we got tea at Le Cafe Doutor
Mille Feuille and Coffee
Nice view of Ginza
Then off to Shinjuku with the Brits
"I bet there's something to do over there!"
Dimly-lit fancy bar
Classy move of the night: spilling my tiny daiquiri drink at the really fancy bar
Back at the hostel at 2am
Utaka excited to see us