Monday, December 29, 2014

Shopping for Glasses

I went shopping for glasses on Saturday with one of my friends. We went to First Markham Place on Highway 7, east of Woodbine Avenue. I went with her the last time I looked. I trust her opinion and she speaks Chinese which helps up there.

We met in the mid-afternoon at the movie theatre. I don't know the mall well, so it was the easiest place to meet up.

I believe we went to less shops than the first time. We window shopped first and went in to the stores we thought had an ideal selection. In total we spent an hour and a half shopping.

I was looking for a similar rectangular-shape to my previous glasses. Maybe a little taller. Of course they couldn't be too big because my vision is poor and the glass would be too thick. So there had to be a balance.

In one of the stores I tried on a number of pairs of Oakleys. I like their sporty look. In another I tried on these glasses called Orgreens that I had never heard of before. It turns out they're handmade Danish frames made of titanium. They looked good, but they were expensive.

The last store we went into was sort of an afterthought. It was smaller than the rest and didn't have young, attractive looking salespeople. Just an older gentleman and someone that might have been his daughter.

I saw a lonely pair of Ray-Bans in his window and thought I would try them on. They actually looked pretty good. Since they were plastic frames, and slightly thicker, he said I didn't necessarily have to get the thinnest lenses which would have cost more. I could have the frames and lenses for $190 total.

Like I told the salespeople in the other stores, I said I would think about it. And that's what I did. I went out into the mall and thought about the different frames and range of prices and, in the end, went back to him.

I upgraded to the thinner lenses anyway for $250. It still was in line with what the other lens-frame combos cost at the other stores. They'll be ready next week.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Wealth Gap

According to the Broadbent Institute in 2012 the richest 20% of Canadians owned 70% of the country's wealth. In it's opinion a great inequity, and I tend to agree. But, do I care much about it? No, not really. Why should I?

Why should I care what others have? You know who I'm concerned about? Me. Do I care that you drive a Mercedes SUV and live in a 3,500 square-foot house in Richmond Hill? Well sure, I'm a bit jealous. But, in the big picture, it doesn't really matter.

What matters is that I have a roof over my head, clothes to wear, food to eat and a car to drive. And why do I have these things? Partially because of the generosity of my parents and partially because I'm a cheapskate.

My socks have holes in them. Of course I have good ones without holes if I'm going over to someone's house and I'll be walking around in them. I buy Fruit of the Loom underwear from Walmart. I may buy one or two pairs of new shoes a year on average. Rather than take the subway home I sometimes walk 7 kilometres from downtown.

I rarely buy new clothes. Especially since I just deliver towels for work for my friend, Sid. I wear the sports shirts I've acquired over the years from Cornerstone Sports Night and Ultimate. They're practical and functional.

Now I'm not saying we shouldn't have a social network that helps the poor. Of course we should. I'm all for it. And I believe in Universal Healthcare, a hallmark of Canada. But, I also think people have to take some responsibility for their own financial success or lack thereof.

My friend, Markus, works at the LCBO. He's told me stories about people who are just plain stupid with their money. There was the one young lady who bought a $300 bottle of whiskey or something. My friend thought this was a little extravagant and asked her what she did for a living. Turns out she was just a clerk at a law firm or something. This was a gift for her boss, a woman she really liked. A nice gesture, but I think her boss would have been just as happy with a present that cost half as much.

Then there was the fellow who came in to buy some booze and had his credit card denied. He then tried to put it on his debit card which also barely had any money left in his account. So desperate was he for alcohol that he asked if he could put half on his credit card and half on his debit. Are you kidding? You don't have any money. Walk out of the store; pay off your debts; then come back when you're good and ready.

Some people just aren't very bright. In a recent news item Canadians, on average, were $21,000 in debt, not including mortgages. $21,000! I'm sure part of that included student loans which I consider to be a relatively good investment depending on your field of study. But, I'm sure part of that debt incurred included car loans and credit card debt for things you really didn't need.

All I'm saying is take a look at yourself before comparing what you have to what others have. Because what others have really isn't the issue is it?

Friday, December 19, 2014

Dinner at Tsuki Izakaya

I went to dinner with Gabe, Justin and Brenda on Saturday. We went to Tsuki Izakaya on the west side of Yonge near North York City Centre. Though, that's not where Gabe and I first ended up.

Gabe had contacted me earlier and said that Brenda wanted to eat at 5:00 p.m. a Japanese restaurant on Willowdale Avenue. I said, I know that place. It's called Inakaya. We deliver hot towels there. But, I don't believe they open until 5:30 p.m. Did you want to ask Brenda about that?

Well, we didn't ask her. We just showed up at the restaurant and, of course, only the staff was there. I told them we were waiting to meet a friend here and asked if it was okay if we just sat at an empty table.

Well, it turns out that we were at the wrong restaurant. Of course. Brenda and Justin were waiting at the right restaurant which was open at 5:00 p.m. I told the guys at the restaurant we were at the wrong place and we, embarrassingly, walked out.

The right restaurant was a nice place. It was lit dimly and had cool music playing. Brenda ordered all the dishes for us. She's a pro at that.

We had Maguro Tataki - Lightly seared tuna sashimi with ponzu, $14; Spicy Sashimi Salad - Sashimi mori with hot sauce on salad, $12; Nori Age - Batterd seaweed deep fried, $4; Okonomi Yaki - Okonomi Yaki topped with vegetable and katsuo, $9; Tako Yaki - Puffed octopus ball served with tonkatsu sauce, $7; Buttered Squid - Squid grilled with butter and soy sauce, $9; Unagi Kaba Yaki - Grilled Eel, $17; Tempura - Shrimp and vegetable tempura, $9; and Calamari - Deep fried squid, $9.

Now I'm not much of a squid person. So, neither of the squid dishes appealed to me much. The deep fried squid was too chewy as far as I was concerned as well.  I wasn't much of a fan of the deep fried, battered seaweed either. But, other than that the rest of the dishes were quite good.

Along with a bottle of beer each (and after tax and tip) we ended up paying $38 a piece. It was nice trying some authentic Japanese cuisine again. But, for a little bit less, I'd rather go to Echo Sushi for their AYCE dinner.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Japan - East Garden; Ginza; Shibuya

Sunday was my last full day in Japan. I started off at the Imperial Palace by Tokyo Station. It was another place from my 2007 trip that I revisited. Unless you're able to score an Imperial Palace tour you'll be limited to viewing Nijubashi bridge and the East Garden like I was again.

Like some of the temples in Nara, part of the building behind the bridge was under renovation and covered up. Annoying.

The East Garden in autumn was nice. There were spots of red, yellow and orange amongst the greenery. Though in a couple parts of the garden I noticed remnants of blossoms in some of the trees. Weird. I have to say, though cool in the morning and at night, the temperatures there during the day were quite warm.

Jeff's adventure with an empty, plastic water bottle.

After getting off the subway train at Tokyo Station I noticed an empty, plastic water bottle rolling around on the platform. I was surprised to see it because Japan is an incredibly clean place. I rarely saw trash anywhere.

Not wanting to leave it there I decided to pick it up and toss it in the proper receptacle (trash or recycling). I looked around the platform and saw nothing. So I carried the bottle upstairs into the main part of the station and, again, didn't see any sort of receptacle.

So I exited the station and walked through the underground pathway towards the Imperial Palace. There wasn't anything in there either. Upon arriving outside at street level I looked around. There was nothing to been seen in any direction anywhere.

I made it to the Imperial Palace grounds some 15-20 minutes later and notice a bathroom. Finally, I thought, a place with a trash can. I was wrong. Nothing in there either. I left the plastic bottle inside anyway.

Such a clean city with no trash cans! How annoying!

After visiting the East Garden I went over to Ginza. It's a ritzy part of town with expensive stores that I only walk by (not go into).

On Sundays they close the roads to vehicular traffic and pedestrians take over streets. They even put chairs and small tables out for people to lounge on. Rich people get tired shopping you know.

I noticed an assortment of people with their various pets out. One fellow brought his two cats (well, one was a kitten) and set them on a low street sign to enjoy the view. They were a magnet for photographers and the curious like me.

Another fellow dressed his dogs up and paraded them around. People seemed to think that was funny too.

And yet another fellow had his pet rabbit which he allowed to hop around and let people snap pictures and pet him.

So, besides all the fancy stores, I took a fair number of animal shots there too.

After that I decided to grab a bite. I headed west over to Shibuya again. I didn't wander around too much since I had gone there the day before. This time I was strictly in search of food.

Of course I wanted to try something different - this time Ramen. I managed to find a place with an English menu and ordered a combo of a bowl of ramen with a smaller bowl of rice with a piece of fried pork on the side. All for under $10 (Y980).

Not bad. Not bad at all.

That was pretty much the extent of my trip. Monday was my last half day before heading home. I went back to Shibuya to grab a bite to eat. There was a restaurant that had omurice (which is basically flavoured rice wrapped in an egg omelette with sauce and various toppings if you wish).

After that I hopped on the subway and headed for Haneda. I got there at least 6 hours before my flight. I really didn't want to be late.

I spent most of the time either sitting and resting or wandering around the airport taking photos.

Naomi almost missed the plane because she couldn't get a connecting flight from Osaka to Haneda because the hourly flights were all booked. She ended up flying to Narita and took the bus from there to Haneda. It was close, but we both made it back to Toronto on schedule.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Japan - Senso-ji; Tokyo Forum; Shibuya

I did a few things in Tokyo on this day. I knew I couldn't visit all new places so I revisited a few from my previous trip.

I started at Senso-ji, a Buddhist temple in the northeast part of the city. It's Tokyo's oldest temple founded in 628. I believe the subway station you get off at is Asakusa (G19 on the Ginza Line if you take the Tokyo Metro Line; or A18 on the Asakusa Line if you take the Toei Line).

There's a line of stalls for tourists on the road up to the temple that sells all matter of trinkets, food and other items.

Here's an excerpt from a Japanese travel website:

When approaching the temple, visitors first enter through the Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate), the outer gate of Sensoji Temple and the symbol of Asakusa and the entire city of Tokyo.

A shopping street of over 200 meters, called Nakamise, leads from the outer gate to the temple's second gate, the Hozomon. Alongside typical Japanese souvenirs such as yukata and folding fans, various traditional local snacks from the Asakusa area are sold along the Nakamise. The shopping street has a history of several centuries.

Beyond the Hozomon Gate stands the temple's main hall and a five storied pagoda. Destroyed in the war, the buildings are relatively recent reconstructions. The Asakusa Shrine, built in the year 1649 by Tokugawa Iemitsu, stands only a few dozen meters to the left of the temple's main building.

After visiting the temple I saw some young boys eating pieces of friend chicken from one of the nearby stalls. So I bought a small (3 pieces) for Y300 ($3.00). It was so tasty. I sat and ate it under the shade of a small picnic area.

Next I took the subway down to Tokyo Station. The Imperial Palace is nearby. I wasn't going there today, but I would visit later. No, I wanted to see the Tokyo International Forum. It's a cool looking glass building in the shape of a long, skinny sea vessel. Construction started in October, 1992 and the building was completed by May, 1996. It opened to the public in 1997.

From their website:

With 11 stories above ground and 3 below, Tokyo's first convention and art center is a magnificent venue embracing a glass atrium and four buildings each housing a unique hall.

I spent a little under an hour taking shots there.

Next I headed towards Harajuku, first stopping at Omotesando to go through the mall there (Omotesando Hills). They had their Christmas decorations up and a light display which was nice.

When I got to Harajuku I was expecting the kids with their Cosplay costumes to be out. After all it was a sunny, Saturday afternoon. But, perhaps, it was too late in the season. The temperatures had dropped some, so maybe they had packed it in for the year. Too bad for me. I got some good shots of them back in '07.

I hopped back on the subway and took it one stop south (on the Fukutoshin Line F15 to F16) to Shibuya Station. This is where you find that well known scramble crossing - Shibuya Crossing, one of the largest in the world. It's fun watching the mass of humanity crisscross from all directions while vehicles wait their turn.

There are a lot of stores geared towards young people here. As well you can find a number of places to eat (which is what I did next).

While still in Toronto I researched conveyor belt sushi restaurants. I couldn't find one in this particular area, but I did come upon one that was similar. Genki Sushi offers small plates of nigiri from Y129.

You order from a touchscreen menu (in your language of choice) and the items are prepared then delivered on a sliding device that comes out from the kitchen. Nine dishes comes in at under 12 dollars.

After eating I took more photos in and around the area before heading back to my hotel. I washed and sat in the hot tub again. Then headed for an early sleep... That was before remembering that the observation decks at the nearby Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings were opening late.

I hurriedly got up and rushed over there, not quite sure how late they were open. I arrived with plenty of time to spare. But, found out that only the North Tower was open late. That's the one that has the restaurant in it which obscures around 1/3 of the view around.

To make things worse (for photography)... the lights inside were quite bright reflecting off the windows. It made it extremely hard to get a decent shot of the city lights outside. Try as I might, I just couldn't manage too many good shots. A disappointing way to end the day that's for sure.

It happens.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Japan - Kabuki-cho and Hanazono Shrine

After I washed up and took a much needed nap, I got up to go out and get something to eat. Originally I believe I was thinking about going down to Shibuya to check the area out. But, first, I thought I'd check my immediate vicinity, Kabuki-cho.

Unbeknownst to me when I booked my "capsule", Kabuki-cho has a bit of a seedy reputation. It's supposed to be a "red-light district of love hotels, host and hostess clubs, restaurants, and nightclubs" according to one film review on a movie set in that part of the city.

Anyway, I walked around the area and through other parts of Shinjuku taking pictures of the colourful lights/nightlife for part of the evening before heading towards Golden Gai. It's an area on the eastern part of the district that has a bunch of micro bars/restaurants all crammed together in an approximately 30m x 30m plot of land. Geared mostly towards locals it's supposed to have some English-speaking establishments. I considered eating there, but, in the end, didn't.

Instead I ended up by the Hanazono Shrine. There was a huge street festival over there. I believe it was for Labour Thanksgiving Day (on Sunday, November 23rd), a national holiday honouring labour in Japan. There were tons of open-air stalls selling food, gifts and kumade - good luck "rakes". They are bamboo rakes decorated with different charms. They are symbols of good luck and are supposed to help "rake in" success and good fortune.

It was in this area I came upon a food stall selling what I later found out was Yakisoba. It's a fried noodle dish made with Chinese egg noodles, thinly sliced meat or seafood, chopped cabbage, sliced onion, shredded carrots, spices and sauces, and topped with a sunny side up egg and red pickled ginger.

I saw an older gentleman frying a bunch of it up and decided to try it. I don't know if it was the fact that I was quite hungry or what, but it was delicious. After downing one order I had another to go. Passing the convenience store across the street from my hotel I bought a couple bottles of my new favourite Japanese beverage, Kirin milk tea, and finished it all off in the common room while watching TV in Japanese.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Japan - Capsule Hotel Shinjuku 510

It was probably around 4:00 p.m. when I arrived at the capsule hotel. I took the subway to Higashi-Shinjuku station (F12). From there it was about 5-10 minute walk west. I had to ask directions, but it wasn't too bad. It's located near the Okubo Hospital, so I just asked people where that was.

When I got to the hotel I saw a sign saying that it was for "Women Only". I went in and the young lady there repeated that. I was quite worried and showed her my reservation. In broken English she told me the men's location was around the building and up the stairs. My goodness, I was relieved. I thought that I had no place to stay in Tokyo.

I checked in at the hotel. It's more of a customary Japanese establishment. You take your shoes off when you get in. There are individual shoe lockers for everyone right there. I was given some towels and a key (617) for my locker (because there's no other place to store your stuff being that you're staying basically in a long, plastic tube).

After putting my stuff in the locker I took a look around. The first thing I wanted to do was take a shower. I couldn't find the shower on my floor. So I went back downstairs (to the second floor) and asked one of the staff members there. He didn't speak much English, but he was very helpful.

He showed me the bathing room for the men. It's like they have at a traditional Onsen (Japanese hot springs). There are a bunch of little, plastic stools in front of a shower head on a hose along with all the shampoo and soap and other items that you could use for bathing. You sit on the stool and do your business. There's also a large hot tub for relaxing in and smaller pool with cool water that you can use nearby.

The fellow gave me a light blue robe and shorts and told me to go upstairs to change and come back down to use the facilities. That's how it worked here. I had no idea.

It was a little weird washing up with a bunch of mostly older, naked guys. But, I got used to it. And the hot tub was great. I was so tired and sore from walking so much. It was amazing to sit in the pool and let all the weariness melt away.

I took a nap in my capsule afterwards before heading out to see the nightlife.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Japan - Back in Shinjuku

I took the JR bus back to Tokyo from Nara. The reason I went with them was because the Willer bus company didn't have any seats available on their bus back. Now the JR bus was only Y4,020 (as opposed to around Y6,000) for the Willer bus. But it was way more cramped, so I'm not sure if it was worth it. The only saving grace was the fact that some of the passengers who booked seats didn't show up. So a few of us got some extra space.

The bus left the JR Nara Station at 9:15 p.m. It made two bathroom stops along the way (while the Willer bus didn't stop at all. Both had onboard bathrooms). The JR bus also made some extra stops to pick up people which also took some extra time. No matter. It still got to Shinjuku station at around 6:00 a.m.

Of course the city was all but dead at that time. It was too early to check into my capsule hotel, so I wandered around with all my crap again.

My first planned stop was the Tokyo Metropolitan Buildings. They're two towers in the Shinjuku area that offer good views of the city from their 45th floor observation decks (at 202 metres). Unfortunately when I got there at about 7:00 a.m. it was still closed to the public. The note on the door to get in said they would be open at 9:30 a.m. Augh!

I spent the time mostly sitting in nearby "Central Park" (I can't remember the Japanese name) killing time. Again.

There was a group of early risers performing Tai Chi to keep me entertained. But they didn't stay too long. A couple of teenagers came by and looked to be practicing a play. That wasn't very interesting. Then a group of people in business attire, all wearing pink scarves, came by with plastic bags and began going around looking for trash to pick up. There's a homeless population that uses the park as their campground.

I went to line up to get to go up to one of the two observation decks. You have the choice of either the North or South Tower. Pick the South. The North has a restaurant in it that takes up around 1/3 of the viewing space. Unless you plan on eating there you won't have access to it. The South Tower provides you more of a 360ยบ view.

After visiting the Metropolitan Buildings I headed to nearby Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. It's located southeast of Shinjuku Station. There's a Y200 entrance fee. It's relatively inexpensive. Quite a few people were there enjoying the lovely day. The Japanese are highly regarded for their skill in gardening. It's simply unmatched by any.

I spent two hours at the garden before heading south to Harajuku (Meiji-jingumae station F15 on the Fukutoshin Metro Tokyo Line). I thought I'd try to see if any of the young kids were dressed up in their cosplay costumes to take some shots of them, but there were none to be found. So I headed to the Meiji Jingu Shrine.

Since it was my second time there (the first was in 2007 when I first visited Japan) I only stayed an hour and a half before heading up to my hotel. It had been a long few days of travel. First the long plane ride to Japan. Then the overnight bus ride, followed by a day of walking in Nara, followed by another overnight bus ride back to Tokyo. I hadn't gotten much rest, so it was time for a break.