Sunday, January 24, 2016

Asia Trip Day 6 - Mt. Fuji (October 2015)

Friday 10/30

Another must see in Japan is probably Mt. Fuji. I had originally tried to plan my own day-trip to Mt. Fuji but due to time constraints, we ended up joining a guided tour. We bought the tour through Viator but I think several travel agencies sell the same tour organized by JTB. The tour was ~$100/person and included a nice Japanese lunch. We did have to get up early in the morning to take the subway to Keio Plaza Hotel near Shinjuku to get on the tour bus.

Our tour bus. One return option was to take the shinkasen to Tokyo Station, but since we wanted to look around Shinjuku, we stayed with the bus option.

First stop was the Mt. Fuji Visitors Center where we had 10 minutes (I hate these tours). It was still cloudy so we could barely see Mt Fuji.

Second stop was one of the 5th Stations partway up the mountain. Lots of people and very cold. This time it was more clear but the sun was behind Mt. Fuji so it was hard to take good pictures.

Lunch: this was probably the best part of the trip. Main course was some type of noodle cooked in a miso soup.

View of Lake Kawaguchi(?) from the restaurant. Too bad we couldn't see Mt. Fuji from here.

Boat ride on Lake Ashi

The boat ride was nice but very windy, and we still could not see Mt. Fuji

The final stop was supposed to be the Komagatake Ropeway, which would have taken us up the side of Kamiyama. Unfortunately, it was closed due to high winds so they let us into a small crappy aquarium next to the ropeway. Oh well...

After the bus dropped us off at the Keio Plaza Hotel, we walked to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office to visit their free observatory. We walked past a huge bicycle lot with individual racks and you pay at a machine. Much different from China where you give some random person to watch your bike and hope it's still there when you return.

I though about going to Tokyo Tower or Tokyo Skytree but ended up here because it's free. This is looking northwest-ish.

Southeast view. You can see Tokyo Tower in the middle of the photo.

For dinner, we tried to find something to eat at department store food courts. Typically these were in the basement levels and served cheap and quick meals. Since it was Friday night, it was super crowded and after wandering for 10 minutes, we decided to find a nicer sit-down place, and ended up at Wako in the Odakyu Department Store. It was katsu restaurant, very similar to Kagura in Torrance. I got the $20 pork cutlet set and it was excellent.

Asia Trip Day 5 - Ghibli Museum (October 2015)

Thursday 10/29

One of the must-do things on the itinerary was to visit Ghibli Museum. Studio Ghibli is famous for producing animated films such as My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and many others. Almost every list of top animated movies contains several Ghibli films, most directed by Hayao Miyazaki. I probably have all his movies on DVD.

The museum is actually in Mitaka, which is about 25 km from Tokyo Station on the JR Chūō Line. To get tickets outside of Japan, I went to JTB Travel in Torrance 4 months before the trip and pay $5/ticket extra for handling. Reading online forums, overseas tickets usually sell out quickly since they only reserve 100 per day worldwide. In Japan, you can go to any Lawsons and buy tickets from a vending machine.

Since it was going to be a long day, we stopped by a few convenience stores to get snacks. Here is a spaghetti bun (that we did not get).

To save a few yen, we walked from our apartment to Ueno Station to keep the trip all-JR. The green train is the famous Yamanote Line which loops around Tokyo. We took the Keihin-Tōhoku Line instead to Kanda Station and transferred to the Chūō Line express.

Instead of Mitaka, we got off the train one stop before at Kichijōji Station. This was the street right outside the station. Ghibli Museum is about a 20 minute walk from either train station.

Totoro in the ticket booth

I heard they were very strict about enforcing the no photography rule inside the museum so I only have photos from the outside. This is from the rooftop garden.

Large robot statue from Laputa (my favorite Miyakazi film) on the rooftop

On the way back from Ghibli Museum, we stopped by Akihabara (electronics and otaku/anime/cosplay) and Ginza (shopping area). We stopped by the Sony company store and they had lots of cool stuff, including a $50 HD projection TV that projected from the ground up. There was a hi-res audio system (CAS-1) that was interesting but still not sold in the US yet. I also tried on a pair of MDR-1A headphones and ended up getting it back home for $300.

We were supposed to meet up with an ex-coworker who was also traveling in Tokyo but we were too tired. For dinner, we ate at Jonathan's, which is like a Japanese version of Denny's, that was next to our apartment. I had a hamberger steak... it was just ok. We also had to get up super early for our Mt. Fuji tour the next day so we didn't want to spend hours looking for a place to eat.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Asia Trip Day 4 - Tokyo DisneySea (October 2015)

Wednesday 10/28

Since we brought my two nieces (ages 8 and 6) along with us on the trip, I tried to plan as many kid-friendly destinations as possible. Also because we live next door to Disneyland (California), we decided to skip Tokyo Disneyland and go to DisneySea instead. I read a lot of reviews online and it seemed different and cooler than Disneyland. In order to beat the rush, we bought tickets online (a separate adventure) and tried to arrive before doors opened at 8am. This meant getting up at 6am and getting on the first of four trains by 7am.

Four trains, 54 minutes, and ¥650 to go 12 miles

Evidently, everyone else had the same idea. It seemed like all of Tokyo was in line to get in at 8am.

I read somewhere that DisneySea was very expensive to build. It was much nicer than Anaheim Disneyland.

It was nice inside too

We had Chinese food for lunch. It was mediocre and expensive, much like most food served inside theme parks.

Lots of water, in keeping with the "sea" concept

Tower of Terror. I guess there's one of these at each Disney theme park. We didn't get to go on the ride as it was already late in the day, lines were long, and looked like it was going to rain any minute.

One think I did notice was that a lot of Japanese visitors were dressed up, typically with couples or groups wearing the same clothing. This happens in the US, but it didn't seem as prevalent as in Japan. Here are some examples:

Gothic Mickey?

Maybe this is just their school uniform... but why? They're obviously not in school today. Weird.

Not sure what they're supposed to be... fairies?

We ended up leaving about 4:30pm and went to Tokyo Station to eat dinner at Ramen Street (inside the station). Most places were packed but we found a place with open seats and selected our ramen using a vending machine. Maybe it was a different style of ramen but it wasn't very good; other than Yoshinoya and Jonathan's (Western style restaurant), it was probably our worst meal.

LA Clippers vs. Houston Rockets

The last time I attended a NBA game, the Lakers were still a good team and the Clippers were terrible. So when an ex-coworker offered me a free ticket for tonight's game, I agreed to buy him dinner at the Staples Center. The hot dogs were pretty expensive but he had pretty good seats, and the game went into overtime with Clippers winning 140-132. Along the way, the Clippers made 22 3-point shots... crazy. Several times during the game, the Clippers were up by 10+ points but they had a lot of turnovers and the Rockets managed to hit a few last minute 3-pointers to tie the game.


My friend said many celebrities now come to Clippers games instead of Lakers games.

Steve Ballmer (owner) and Conan O'Brien (guest?)

It was an exciting game but one think I really didn't like. Back when the Lakers had Shaquille O'Neal, there was a tactic that other teams would use called "Hack-a-Shaq". Basically, near the end of the game, the other team would foul Shaq to make him to to the free-throw line where he invariably bricked most of his shots. I thought this was used with time running out and the game was close. Now it seems that this tactic is used all the time during the game... DeAndre Jordan was on the free-throw line all night. I guess it's legit as in within the rules but it feels like cheating.

Clippers Dunk Team. My friend said he could do this... I think he would be seriously injured.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

K-pop Crowdfunding

I've participated in a few (5) Kickstarter projects in the past, but primarily for techie products. One day, while browsing through /r/kpop on Reddit, I saw that Stellar was raising funds for their next mini-album on Makestar. They're not very popular in South Korea compared to other girl groups but they are well know for their sexy concept and having music videos and performances banned on Korean TV; this may be a way for their company to generate some pre-release publicity.

Anyway, I don't follow them too closely but have liked their prior songs. I ended up getting a signed CD for ~$25 (not bad) and ~$23 shipping (ugh). What I really wanted was a meal with the group but that would have been ~$850 + airfare to Korea + an interpreter. Now I need to learn their names and figure out how to tell them apart. Hopefully they will perform in the US soon.

They just released a new music video a few hours ago so this is probably the song I "helped" fund.

찔려(Sting) - Stellar

Some of their previous music videos:

떨려요 (Vibrato) - Stellar

마리오네트 (Marionette) - Stellar

Asia Trip Day 3 - Tokyo (October 2015)

Tuesday 10/27

Jet lag is a bitch. I woke up at ~2am local time and was pretty much awake for the rest of the morning. My two nieces were up at ~4am and we put got them to do their homework (since we had to take them out of school for two weeks). We decided to take it easy the first day so we skipped going to Ueno Park and the natural history museum. Instead, we took a trip to the local supermarket to get supplies, back to the apartment to drop off groceries, then to the coffee house downstairs for a light breakfast. Since I wanted to buy our Shinkasen tickets from Tokyo to Osaka early, we went to the JR ticket office in Ueno station. There we bought our train tickets (~$450 for everyone) and got Suica cards as well. Most sales counter staff understood some English so the transaction was pretty painless.

Ueno Station - Ginza Line

From Ueno Station, we headed to Asakusa and Sumida River.

Asahi Brewery golden turd along the river

After buying tickets for an afternoon river cruise, we went to check-out Sensoji Temple and grab some lunch.


Taiyaki (fish shapes pastry filled with red bean and other goodies)

After lunch at an izakaya (narrowing avoiding a whale restaurant), we took a boat cruise from Asakusa to Odaiba. It took about an hour and we crossed under a lot of bridges.

Cruising on Sumida River

Rainbow Bridge connecting Tokyo and Odaiba

Hotaluna - Our river cruise boat/spaceship

Odaiba is a shopping/entertainment area in Tokyo Bay. We got there kind of late in the afternoon, and spent an hour walking around. There were a lot of shops and restaurants but we ended up back at Ueno Station area for dinner. There are several food alleys south of Ueno Station but it took us awhile to find somewhere to eat. Most places were very small, and packed with people. We finally found a table at Tenya, a chain store specializing in tendon (tempura bowl). I think dinner was <$30 for all 5 of us.
Ginza at night from Shimbashi Station

Asia Trip Day 1/2 - Tokyo (October 2015)

The original plan was to keep a detailed travel diary and add photos each day. Unfortunately, jet lag and lots of walking each day resulted in early bedtimes so not much was written after day 2. I'll post it anyway along with anything else I can remember three months after the trip.


Sunday 10/25 to Monday 10/26

Beginning of a long trip. Sister put on roof luggage carrier and we took her SUV to LAX. Parents dropped us off. The new international terminal is pretty nice. We boarded at a new gate (157) on to a Japan Airlines 777. Seats were decent size-wise but cushion was pretty thin and soon my butt was hurting. We were also lucky to have a vacant center seat so was able to spread out a bit. The food was pretty bland but they did have an assortment of snacks in the galley that were pretty good. The best economy seat food I've had is probably still from the Air France LAX-CDG flight on an Airbus A-380.

Our ride to Tokyo

We arrived at Narita on-time and getting through immigration and customs was very easy. The arrivals area however, was full of people and a complete zoo. We exchanged some (too much) dollars for yen, then tried to find a Japan Airlines counter to try and select seats on our return flight. Unfortunately, the seats that Expedia sold us were class Z, which did not allow seat selection. Sigh... would have been nice to know before we bought the tickets. Anyway, after that we exchanged our Keisei Skyliner voucher for actual tickets, and got on our train to Ueno station. The train was really comfortable and got to about 90 mph along the way.

Keisei Skyliner

Before arriving in Japan, I thought all tracks to each station converged at a single location. This is untrue. Some stations were more like several stations connected by long passageways. Even though it looks like a single station on a stylized map, it can take 10+ minutes to walk to another connecting line. So, when we arrived at Ueno, it was the Keisei Uneo station, different from the Japan Rail (JR) Ueno station, and different from the Tokyo Metro Ueno station. Ugh. Fortunately, I had lots of practice runs with Google street view and we were able to get to our Airbnb apartment, lugging 4 roller suitcases behind us. The apartment was were the instruction said it was, and we were surprised at how small it was; it looked bigger from the website photos. There were only two bedrooms with two beds each so one of the kids had to sleep on the sofa(bed) in the "living room".

Map outside of train station. Good thing this was here since T-Mobile's free data roaming service was useless.

Tiny bedroom

View from Airbnb apartment

Cemetery right outside our window

Since we were tired from the long trip and dragging our luggage down the street, my sister and I went out and got some Yoshinoya beef bowls from just down the street and brought it back to the apartment. It tastes exactly the same as the US version; not sure if that's good or bad.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

MAMAMOO's Moo Party (October 2015)

As mentioned in a previous post, MAMAMOO was in town for the 42nd LA Korean Festival in October, and they also scheduled a fan meet-up. VIP tickets were $110 but you get to shake hands with the girls and get their autograph. I had worried about being the oldest guy at the concert/meet, but I saw a few older white guys there.

I thought the meet-up and the mini-concert was awesome, even factoring the $110 price. After hearing and reading about the recent BTS concert tour fiasco, I was glad that this event was pretty well run. The only minor complaint was the long waits in line: before VIP event, inside VIP event, and between VIP event and concert. I did manage to meet a few people in line (mostly Chinese for some reason) and made some new Facebook friends.

Event was held at the Fonda Theater in Hollywood. The building was a bit old but sound system was working fine.

VIP fan meet-up. You could bring one item for them to sign. I brought a Pink Funky CD I just bought 2 days ago. A lot of people brought posters. Seated (my) left to right: Hwasa, Whee-in, and Solar.

I met this crazy guy from Stockton that drove down just to see MAMAMOO. He brought a few posters and this faux "painting" print from Walgreens. He ended up giving aways some posters but kept the fancy framed print plus a candid photo poster.


... and more Solar. Pretty.

Whee-in stood for this song...

... but had to sit most of the time, especially when there was a lot of dancing.

My autographed CD

I shot a few videos with my Sony RX-100 that came out pretty decent. The videos are grouped in this YouTube playlist.