Tag Archives: transportation

Dancing Center Stage

August Abandon Afoot

More midsummer fireworks lie loaded on the launchpad, if that’s your thing – Mizunami has their display tonight, as part of their 54th annual Mino Genji Tanabata Festival (a month after most other observances), featuring teams of dancers and taiko drummers on stage for the 16th year now. It takes place Friday through Sunday in front of Mizunami Station. Everyone is invited to hop into the frenzy of the parade. There’s also a “clay objêt” Toudo Festa competition, in which teams have a frenetic 48 hours to sculpt clay into whatever their imaginations can conjur up.

You could consider Mizunami’s Tanabata fest with its dancing a warmup for Nagoya’s 15th annual Nippon Domannaka Matsuri, or Domatsuri for short, to be held from August 23rd to 25th. Some 23,000 dancers on over 200 teams from all over Japan and the world will carouse and compete for championship original folk dance honors.

The only rules, according to the official website, are “each dancer must hold a naruko, or clapper, and … a melody from a local folk tune of the participants’ home area must be incorporated in the music.” As with Mizunami’s revelry, they encourage the audience to join in the dancing as a means of cross-cultural communication, and welcome last-minute entries without reservation, so to speak.

And as long as we’re on the subject of Nippon Domannaka (the very center of Japan), it’s not just figurative talk when people speak of our central location, or the logistical benefits of relocating the national capital to Gifu to help alleviate congestion in Tokyo.

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Here’s a picture of Yasaka Station, the centralmost station in Japan, on the Nagaragawa Railway Etsumi-Nan Line. The diesel-powered single-car line, which you can use to get from Mino Ota on the Taita Line to Gujo (station photo below), also stops at the centralmost hot spring in the country, accessible directly from Manthatsamouthful Minamikodakaraonsen Station (station and spa are under the same roof). Of course the all-night trance-like dances at Gujo are for many a must-see, gotta-groove to thing this time of year as well…

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…as is, for those who can bear to watch, the bridge-jumping, river-plunging tradition on the river you may be able to view from this walkway. I think they jump from the bridge just a few steps to the left of where I took this photo.

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Alien Life Forms

As aliens, unless we’re married to Japanese or have a permanent visa, life in Japan means getting, changing or renewing our visas from time to time. As the form-filling-out requirements aren’t necessarily consistent, and they unfortunately can’t tell you on the spot whether you need to submit more documents, the process may involve multiple trips to the Nagoya Regional Immigration Bureau (mailing is sometimes an option, but you risk missing strict deadlines if something gets held up in transit; Better safe than sorry).

Also, as the Ministry of Justice has done away with the alien registration card system, everyone will have to pick up a new resident card at the Bureau office to replace the temporary paper issued last year by your local city hall. And don’t forget to get a re-entry permit there before you leave Japan to travel – without one, your visa expires as soon as you leave. When you come back, you’ll just be a tourist on a three month permit with no right to work or study.* Anyway, it pays to know the way to the Bureau.

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From Tajimi or Toki, take the Chuo Line to Nagoya Station. Exiting through the central wickets, there’s no option, as far as I know, but to walk all the way to the west exit of the station, and then, staying inside the station, walk southward as far as you can until you get to the Aonami Line entrance toward the left.

Buy a separate ticket for ¥260 to Nagoya Keibajomae Station. Trains run about every 15 minutes. There are signs leading you to the immigration center from Keibajomae Station.

When you enter the building, there’s a general help center on the first floor to make sure your papers are in order. The main offices are on the second floor. Take a number (most likely on the right) and wait.

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On a recent trip there, I stopped at the Nagoya Station Towers, noticing that the haze made Nagoya Castle stand out (normally from there, I think it’s hard to pick out immediately). Other people took note, as well.

*Update: One benefit of the new system: In most cases, foreign residents won’t have to get re-entry permits anymore. You will have to notify Immigration any time between visa renewals (extensions) that you move or change jobs, which is different from before.

Starstruck

Just some assorted license tag pickups to share today, starting with my third Okinawa plates! Just a stone’s throw from my office.

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It struck me there are only six stars on the Subaru (Pleiades, or Seven Sisters) mark. Where’s the seventh? Kind of like the Japanese sense of pregnancy lasting ten months as opposed to nine. Actually, I just checked, and it also refers to the conglomeration of several companies that originally formed Subaru. Now I’m wondering if Seven Stars cigarettes are named after the cluster.

Then, about the same stone’s throw in the opposite direction, parked at Neu Cafe, a thoroughly common sight around here, but one I learned is rare in Japan: This Owari Komaki license plate is apparently the only one in Japan with four kanji characters. All others have two or three.

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And this kind of Mitsubishi truck, quite the everyday sight in North America, is still a rarity here. Even actual farmers here tend to chug along in little white “kei trucks.”

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Lost and Found

Google’s free new Maps iPhone app was welcome news for anyone around here (and perhaps anywhere) who’d come to expect reliable map coverage for free on their iOS device. That it came with turn-by-turn voice navigation this soon was a wonderful unexpected Christmas bonus. A great big thank you to Big G for that. They may have taken the high-tech high road by choosing to provide it for free despite it not being pre-installed anymore.

I tried out the new navigation, technically still in beta, on my iPhone 5 (iOS 6.0), and was pretty happy. As a driver, I really felt like I was using navigation for the first time. There are new options like avoiding toll roads, and displaying public transportation and walking directions. Extra information like StreetView and online restaurant reviews is easily visible without leaving the app. It quickly recalculated routes when I took unscheduled turns. It even kept working after I turned off the screen by pressing the power button on the top edge of the phone, though in truth by pressing it I intended to shut it down completely as the battery was draining and I knew where I was at that point.

It took me to my destination without a hitch, though the place I was going was closed (the app’s Open Sesame button feature is rumored to be in pre-alpha testing). In fact there is a place in the app that shows business hours (none shown in this case), but the info may simply not have been available.

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I was going to Soya Coco, a cafe in Sogi, above, which a recent magazine listed as being open that day (though closed on cold/snowy days), but the owner came out to tell me it was only open on weekends. The app, like Apple’s (no way around it) half-baked attempt at atlasing, does have an option for reporting new or wrong information. I’ll have to get back to Soya Coco another time.

One oddity the app did display was sometimes skipping names of intersections (not that all crossings have names anyway) when telling you to turn. For example, it would say “Turn right at onto 69.” If there’s no name or landmark associated with the intersection, they could simply leave out the “at.” Now if only the WordPress iOS app would leave out “smart” quotes, life would be peefect. That typo is thanks to the iPhone 5′s changed touchscreen, the worst manifestation of which is an often (accepted up to at least iPhone 4) ignored tap on the space key, prevalent and documented enough now to be considered rife. Ithink it’s actually an pverall issueof periphery taps being ignored. Younormally don’t see it here because I take the time to check and edit.

Other than that, the main downside I experienced was the battery usage and heating of the phone, which is only to be expected, and is true of any navigation app and smartphone. Shutting off the screen (if voice directions are enough) would probably cut down on that. I’d also make sure the app was completely off when I wasn’t actually using it (by double-tapping the home button to bring up the active apps on the bottom of the screen, long-pressing any app icon there, and tapping the red minus badge of the wiggling Maps app). Of course, extended use would really call for a car adapter.

So thank Google for restoring and improving a basic free feature the iDevice had clearly lost. This is some of the company’s bread and butter, pavement they’ve been pounding step by step for years (one of their long-term goals may be to be at the center of a fully driverless road transportation system), and something no one should expect Apple to be able to match any time soon. Tim Cook’s moral compass-guided apology was well-placed. One wonders what Steve Jobs would have said (“That’s not the wrong turn you’re looking for;” “There’s great enlightenment to be found in the middle of the Australian desert, you know”). Credit where credit is due, I’d say. No reason we can’t all have a piece of the pie.

New Blocks on the Grid

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Construction continues on the latest phase of Tajimi Station area redevelopment, the new Tohtetsu Building adjacent to the Tohtetsu bus terminal in front of the station.

Orange County

Meanwhile, many parts of the area behind (north of) the station, encompassing a wide swath, have finally taken shape after years of looking (and traversing) like a mild war zone. It’s seemed to be in a permanent state of disarray or abandon, with orange striped sawhorses, flashing yellow reflector lights, day-glo traffic cones, do-not-cross tape, courteously bowing flagpeople, detour signs, piles of earth, vacant lots, and heavy equipment strewn about and impeding traffic seemingly since I first moved here.* Tax yen aside, I wouldn’t mind seeing a model or rendering of what it’s actually supposed to eventually look like.

Built to Last – Filling in the Blanks

Farther north, the diagonal spur connecting routes 19 and 248 was finally completed a couple of months ago, also after many years. We got so used to the construction that at first we subconsciously imagined it still going on as we drove unnecessarily cautiously by.

*What will we do without them? I propose setting aside one block as a permanent “under construction theme park,” perhaps called “Koujichuuen,” “Jikatabinotabi,” “Juutainosato,” or “MawarimichiLand.” Visitors can take part in engaging interactive simulated sit-in-traffic-and-wait-for-the-right-of-way exhibits, run a gauntlet of ever-changing obstacle courses, compete to evict buy out find common ground with holdout homeowners, lose kilograms sweltering at construction jobs under the Tajimi summer sun, operate bulldozers and steamrollers (this one actually exists!), and generally appreciate all aspects urban uglification. Bring your own hardhat.

SkyMall, Indeed

The last time I ventured onto the upper floors here, I was an international traveller, standing in line behind people with exasperatingly intractable anomolies (predictably, every other line moved faster, no joke), trying not to attract undue attention from overzealous security officials, and making sure my nail clippers were properly stowed below decks.

This time it was under much more casual circumstances that I did the Airport Walk.

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It’s a much more pleasant experience when the greatest lift you feel is riding the escalator to the movie theater, customs are a cultural talking topic over a leisurely lunch, the only detectors are your taste buds, and your boarding pass looks like this:

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You Don’t Know What You’ve Got

After Centrair Chubu International Airport opened several years ago, Nagoya’s former main airport became a lazy white elephant, a hulking, hollow albatross north of Kasugai whose convenience people around here really came to appreciate after its obsolescence.

Someone had the bright idea to turn the unused part of the largely abandoned gateway into a destination in itself, a modern shopping mall with a unique airshow view. Thus Airport Walk was born. Sure beats vacant storefronts or the wrecking ball. As it’s still a functioning airport, as well as an Air Self-Defense Force base, airplane aficianados (aficianadi?) with a few bucks to spare can kill two birds and satisfy their wingwatching habit while on a shopping spree. The funny thing is, I don’t know if there would have been the same interest in building (or going to) a mall in this spot if it wasn’t an airport like this.

Actually, I didn’t have a chance to see many stores this time, but I did get to Kinokuniya bookstore, an old favorite from Tokyo. They usually have a good selection of English books, though I didn’t see any here. Anyway, with so much former runway, taxiway and tarmac, there’s clearly no shortage of parking, and it’s nearby, after all, so there’s no excuse not to buzz in to the Walk.

Waiting Game

Waiting out a train delay on the Chuo line at Chikusa station, after taking the subway (lower case) from Hoshigaoka. I decided to grab dinner here, ending up at Subway (upper case). A good chance to remind you whenever you get a hankering for a sub and/or sliced turkey, the ‘bway can be an option. This one’s a minute from the station. I just finished a six-incher with horseradish (not wasabi, though they have that too) sauce, another thing not so common in Japan but always among Subway’s condiments (deli case). They’re even playing jazz.

A reminder: If you’re a US citizen and took the automatic two-month extension on filing your income tax return, time is running out. If you’re sending by mail (I always include a signed letter, per their instructions, explaining that I was out of the US at the time of the original due date), you’ll need it postmarked by Sunday morning (larger post offices are open Sunday till about noon for mailing), worst case. The 2011 IRS-accepted conversion rate is 79.70 yen/dollar. And with that, I guess you know how I’ll be living up my Saturday night…

Update: Now on the local to Tajimi, with room enough to actually type after Jokoji. Another update to follow, but I must say it’s been Japanese patience and sacrifice for the sake of the group at its best.

Update 2: When the first train finally arrived at Chikusa, a Nagoya station-bound, so many people just stood in wonder at the crammed people spilling out once the doors opened. Practically punch-drunk passengers gasped their relief at getting out from the stifling heat of the cars. One man said some body part or other had gone numb from the pressure. “Shindoi,” something akin in this case to “Man, I’m dead” or “That was unreal,” was heard in glorious hi-fi stereophonic sound. Inbound seemed to be moving better than outbound. The wait ended up being about two hours in any case.

As I said, both on the platform and once in the train, I was impressed and moved by how people were being unagressive, calm and even joking more than once about our predicament, in the heat, no less. The doors must have been taking ten or twenty tries to finally close (open and shut case). It’s been a while since I was on that packed a train, going back to guerilla strikes in Tokyo decades ago. For all the passivity, conformity and lack of expression some people knock Japanese for, the no-nail-sticking-out, well-oiled machinery of this society does have its redeeming value (case by case).

I don’t know the nature of the accident/incident at Kasugai station, but one hopes for the best under the circumstances. Important: These incidents can often be prevented. Act on signs you may see.

Bonus: It was actually easier to stand in the crammed car than on a normal rush-hour train because we all kept one another upright (Samsonite suitcase).

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Chrome, Sweet Chrome

At Toki Premium Outlets today I saw this car from the inner road and, as it happened, on entering the packed parking lot, found that the first spot available was right smack next to it. I decided to ask the owner, who was doing some rather serious-looking interior cleaning of it, if I could take a photo, and he graciously consented. Not wanting to be a nuisance, and looking to avoid the clutter in the open doors and trunk, I went for a couple of quick detail shots.

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It’s a 1964 Toyota Corona (maybe an RT20, called the Tiara abroad, if my searching was on target). A beauty. The grille and headlights are much better than those that appeared on Coronas through much of the sixties).

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I don’t like opportunistically gawking or being an ugly tourist type, but I still wish I’d taken a few seconds to get a shot of a same-era Ford Falcon convertible I recently saw on Oribe Street.

Congratulations to the Chunichi Dragons on winning the “Climax Series Final Stage,” otherwise known as the Central League Championship Series. Home field sure seems to help, though the idea of starting off with a one-game advantage is a bit bizarre to American baseball senses. Bring on the Dragons sales. Nagoya area department stores in particular should have them; even if just watching, be prepared for some serious scrum action in Ladies Apparel.

As a satisfied customer, I (eventually) pay my Softbank iPhone bills every month and appreciate their stalwart service and decent deals. Now let’s go out and grind those overrated, DH-dependent prima donnas to a staggering, senseless pulp.

On Track for a Colorful Fall

I don’t know how long it’s been around, but this morning while waiting at Toki station, a different train passed by that looked like it must be a limited one for tourists. It appeared to be white with blue and green stripes, with fall leaves floating about, and said “Train 117,” presumably iina, meaning roughly “that’s nice.” Maybe they even change the leaf motif with each season. I thought I’d caught a glimpse of it recently while driving, and this confirmed it. It didn’t stop in Toki.

Getting off at Tajimi station, someone seemed to be setting up some guide information for the Chawan Matsuri festival. Not sure what or where that is, but there do seem to be more tourists around town than usual today, snapping pictures and taking in the sights we take for granted.

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No sooner had I posted the text above than I stepped outside to encounter this mikoshi (portable palanquin, photos above and below) procession around Oribe Street.

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I learned the festival is, no surprise, another chance to buy pottery from local makers. Among other things, Mosaic Misuzu has another live jazz event scheduled.