Early Tuesday morning/ at Ueno Station

I am at Ueno Station, on my way to Narita airport to catch the Cathay Pacific flight to Perth. I had planned to take the local subway (the Ginza line), to get here, only to find that my station of departure at the hotel, was closed until 5.40 am. (Then how come the train schedule showed its first train departs at 5.18 am? Oh well).  So I just took a taxi here.

You know you are at the right place when there is a big old aeroplane and a sign that says ‘Narita airport’.
The station for the Keisei Skyliner express train is still a little rough around the edges! .. but hey, here is the train waiting. The doors will open in 20 minutes or so, then I can board.
Here is another train that just came in on the opposite platform.

Monday/ there it is: Mt Fuji

The Tokyo Skytree is the tallest freestanding broadcasting tower in the world. The lines for its public observation decks were short today, and so, up I went.  The view of Mt Fuji in the distance, blanketed in snow, and floating above the clouds and the Tokyo skyline, was wonderful to see.

This is Asakusa station at the end of the Ginza line, on the way to Skytree. The Ginza line opened in 1928 and is the oldest subway line in Asia. Its stations have been upgraded many times, of course. Most of the stations have safety fences with sliding doors installed now, such as these at this station.
Outside the Asakusa station, at the start of the Azumabashi bridge. It’s still about 2.2 km (1.4 mi) to Skytree. I walked half the way, and then took the Skytree line the rest of the way.
Built in 2011, Tokyo Skytree is the 2nd tallest structure in the world at 634 m/ 2,080 ft. Only the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, at 829.8 m/2,722 ft, is taller. The first observation deck is at 350 m, with a second smaller one at 450 m. I went to both (of course).
Here is a naked-eye view towards Mt Fuji (the highest point in white, left on the horizon). The Sumida river is in the foreground. The golden ‘head of foam’ of Asahi beverage company’s headquarters stands out among the shades of grey.
Here is the view of Mt Fuji and the skyline below it from the 450 m deck, drawn closer by my camera’s zoom lens, and with the contrast bumped up. I noted some of the tallest buildings in the skyline. Mt Fuji (‘Fuji-San’) is an active volcano* about 100 km (62 mi) southwest of Tokyo. *Last eruption 1707 to 1708.
Boo! The photo frame on the 350 m deck. Tough to get a good picture with that harsh bright background. My phone’s little flashlight was not quite up to the challenge.
Look at these guys, suspended in a box from the window washing crane outside the 450 m deck! They did double duty as window washers AND as Santas, waving at the kids inside.

Sunday/ the Nozomi Super-Express Shinkansen

It was finally time for me to try one of the other express trains (besides the Narita Express that I had taken several times to and from the airport). I picked the Nozomi (のぞみ, meaning ‘wish’ or ‘hope’) Super Express – the fastest of the fast bullet trains – running on the Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen lines.

The ride to Shin-Yokohama station towards the south of Tokyo Bay takes only 20 minutes. We started out in Tokyo, made a quick stop at Shinagawa station a few minutes later, and then the Super Express could express itself and pick up speed.

Going, going, gone! I stood at the end of the platform at Shin-Yokohama, and as the train on the opposite track slid out of the station & picked up speed, I took a series of pictures. The front and the back end of the train both have the sleek bullet nose. This train is the N700 series, and they reach speeds of 300 km/h (186 mph).
Here is the inside. A cool musician dude with a black hat and jacket is stowing his guitar as we all get settled in at Tokyo Station.
We are approaching Shinagawa, and I was able to catch a glimpse of the new station under construction on the Yamanote Line. Its name will be Takanawa Gateway. The station is set to open between Shinagawa and Tamachi in the spring of 2020, in time for the Olympic Games.
Urban area flashing by as we go on to Shin-Yokohama. The homes on my street on Capitol Hill in Seattle are close to one another, but these are packed in even tighter!
A picture of the beast at rest. As it approaches the station, there is an announcement, and a flashing message on the overhead boards: ‘Train Approaching’. If you stand on that yellow line, oblivious, as the Super Express swooshes in, you are GOING TO SPILL YOUR COFFEE! Or DROP YOUR PHONE!

Saturday/ skyscrapers west of Shinjuku Station

I went out to Shinjuku Station today to Tokyo’s skyscraper district, west of the station.  I took a little break after lunch and went back early in the evening, to take a few pictures of the billboards and neon signs.
Man! There is a lot of people out and about on a Saturday night – what a surprise, right?

Here is the Shinjuku building of Kogakuin University (completed 1989, 29 floors). The blues and grays complement each other nicely.
The Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower is just across the street, and home to three educational institutions. Completed in 2008 and 50 storeys (204 m/ 670 ft) tall, its architectural style is called ‘Deconstructivism’. (The design brief called for a building that is anything but rectangular). The architect used white aluminum strips and dark blue glass to make the cocoon.
Here is the entrance to the south of the cocoon. I guess the architect thought: oh well, we have a cocoon, why not throw in a geodesic dome at its base as well? ( ! ).
Here’s lunch today, from a franchise called Soup Stock Tokyo. It’s chicken & veggie curry and rice, bisque soup and iced tea (with tiny cubes). It was spectacular .. I was SO hungry and SO tired as I sat down and scarfed it all up.
Here is a street corner close to Shinjuku station decked out with billboards and neon signs. Shinjuku is a happening place on a Saturday night: beer halls, restaurants, pachinko parlors, karaoke bars, upscale stores and not-so-fancy stores, department stores and more.
A colorful restaurant on one of the side streets. It was still early, so not many people in the street, but the hostess is ready to beckon them in. I suspect those scooters are for take-out food delivery.
And here is a Godzilla installation at the IMAX movie theatre. I’m sure it is to advertise Godzilla King of the Monsters, due out in summer of 2019.  The heroine with the sword must be from a different movie.

Friday/ Yodobashi Camera & Ginza

First on my agenda today, was to buy a train ticket to get me back to Narita airport in a few days. Since the first Narita Express will not get me there early enough, I have to take the Skyliner Express, which runs out of Ueno Station on the Keisei Line.

Then I ran out to the Yodobashi Camera store in Akiba. I love that place! LOL. Just beware: the store’s theme song will stay in your head, long after you had left. Its words are set to the tune of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, and sung in an animated voice:
Marui midori no Yamanotesen (‘The round green Yamanote Line’)
Mannaka tooru no wa Chu-ousen (‘What goes through the middle of it is the Chuo Line’)
Shinjuku nishiguchi eki no mae (‘In front of the west exit of Shinjuku Station’)
Kamera wa Yodobashi ka me ra! (‘[For] cameras it’s Yodobashi Ca me ra!)’

Finally, I walked around the Ginza shopping district a bit, to watch the streetlights come on, and storefronts get lit up, as the sun was setting.

Ueno Station is by Ueno Park, a spacious public park with lots of big ginkgo trees. So the ginkgo leaves on the fence posts along the street is a nice touch.
Ueno Station is on the famous green (its color on maps) Yamanote loop line, operated by East Japan Railway Company (JR East). Akihabara is the stop for the big Yodobashi Camera store (there are other locations as well).  This photo is of the Tokyo Station stop, close to my hotel.
Once I am in the Yodobashi Camera store, and I check out all the home electronics, and Canon cameras and lenses, and Seiko watches, and the toys on Floor 6, AND that rousing theme song plays, I just kind of go: yes! you can take all my money! I don’t care! -you sell so many cool things, and I want to buy all of them! This one I will buy in the United States, though: an LED retro bulb (¥1740 equals US$13), that one can use with a dimmer switch. I would love to have one for my nightstand.
Now to the Ginza district. On the left is Ginza Place (completed 2016), with its white façade of 5,000 aluminum panels. Kitty corner from it is the Wako Department Store, built in neoclassical style in 1932, with its Seiko clock.  It is one of only a few buildings in the city of Tokyo that survived World War II.
This golden retriever pooch with his Christmas garb and soft fur, charmed everyone on the sidewalk and in the store that they went into.
This store, lit up in red from the inside for Christmas, is the headquarters of Tasaki, one of Japan’s premier jewelers.
And here is Fendi (the white corner section), the Italian luxury fashion house, founded in 1925 in Rome.
I had to check into the Noritake store (porcelain wares), but did not buy another coffee mug or dish (I have many already). These are figurines called Hina Dolls (price ¥75,600/ USD 655 .. the artist must have used gold powder paste for the gold). In Japan, young girls are celebrated on Mar 3, called the Peach Festival (also Doll’s Festival). The festival is a wish for their happiness and healthy growth as they grow up.
One of the side streets out of the main street, called Miyuki-Dori. The bird on the lamppost banner is the Fenghuang, a bird from East Asian mythology that reign over all other birds.
This matrix of mannequins is on the first floor of the Uniqlo flagship stoor. I’m on the second floor, with a glass section that provides a view to down below.

Thursday/ arrival in Tokyo

Whew – I made it into the Marriott Courtyard here at Tokyo Station. The flight on All Nippon Airlines was uneventful*, as was the express train ride into the city.

After that, I had to work a little to make my way to the hotel with all my luggage. The express train platform is five floors down from street level, deep under the sprawling Tokyo Station complex.

*I forgot to take my large camera out of my big bag as I checked it in. So I fretted that the camera might get damaged by the baggage handling process, or frozen while in the cargo hold .. but it seems to have survived just fine.

Our flight path had us skirt Juneau and Anchorage to their south, fly north over the Aleutian Islands, and over the Kamchatka Peninsula (part of the Russian Far East). Here is the view from the window, just as we started crossing over Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s main islands.
We are just pulling into the gate at Narita’s Terminal 1, next to an aircraft that looks like ours. It was cloudy, rainy and 46 °F/ 8 °C. Tokyo’s latitude of 35° is a little further south on the globe than Seattle’s 47°.
Here’s a billboard with the Narita Express train that I took into the city. JR stands for Japan Rail and not for John Ross (the villain in ‘Dallas’). The beautiful red-brick Tokyo Station building is where I ended up from the airport. The original Station building was completed in 1914. Lately it underwent a 5½-year renovation, and reopened in 2012, restored inside and out.

Wednesday/ at the airport

I made it to the airport. We will board in 30 mins or so.
It’s great to get to this point!  Just to get packed up and the house taken care of before a long trip, leaves me frazzled. But now I can relax a little.

Here’s the engine and tail of Xiamen Air, based in Xiamen, China (across from Taiwan, on the mainland). This is a Boeing 787-8, and I believe it flies the Xiamen-Shenzhen-Seattle route. That’s a symbolic egret on the tail.
Here’s Hainan Air taxiing for take-off to either Beijing, or Shanghai. This is a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner that was made in Charleston, SC. (I looked up its details on planespotters.net with the registration number: B-7667).

Tuesday night/ my bags are packed ..

.. well, almost. I’m heading out to Tokyo in the morning, as part of my itinerary to get me to Perth, Australia, in a few days.

It’s great to have a direct flight from Seattle to Tokyo, but then: there is only Pacific Ocean between the two cities (unless one can make a stop on those Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska!). I’m going to cross the international date line on the way there and fly right into Thursday afternoon in Japan .. but I will get the time back on my return.

Monday/ Trump’s ‘Bottomless Pinocchio’ statements

From The Washington Post today: ‘The Fact Checker’ has evaluated false statements President Trump has made repeatedly and analyzed how often he reiterates them. The claims included here – which we’re calling “Bottomless Pinocchios” – are limited to ones that he has repeated 20 times and were rated as Three or Four Pinocchios by the Fact Checker.

  • The Trump tax cut was the biggest in history – Trump repeated some version of this claim 123 times
  • Overstating the size of U.S. trade deficits – Trump repeated some version of this claim 117 times
  • The U.S. economy has never been stronger – Trump repeated some version of this claim 99 times
  • Inflating our NATO spending – Trump repeated some version of this claim 87 times
  • The U.S. has started building the wall -Trump repeated some version of this claim 86 times
  • The U.S. has the loosest immigration laws in the world — thanks to Democrats – Trump repeated some version of this claim 52 times
  • Democrats colluded with Russia during the campaign – Trump repeated some version of this claim 42 times
  • The border wall will stop drug trafficking – Trump repeated some version of this claim 40 times
  • U.S. Steel is building many new plants – Trump repeated some version of this claim 37 times
  • The U.S. has spent $6 trillion (or more) on Middle East wars – Trump repeated some version of this claim 36 times
  • Thousands of MS-13 members have been removed from the country – Trump repeated some version of this claim 33 times
  • McCain’s vote was the only thing that blocked repeal of the Affordable Care Act – Trump repeated some version of this claim 30 times
  • Robert S. Mueller III is biased because of conflicts of interest – Trump repeated some version of this claim 30 times
  • Inflating gains from a 2017 trip to Saudi Arabia – Trump repeated some version of this claim 23 times

Sunday/ rain day

The rain is back after a dry week, and we did not see the sun all day.
It’s not all bad, though: the cloud cover and rain keep the day temperatures well above freezing. Today it was 46°F (8°C) here in the city.

Here’s 15th Ave at 4.30pm today – the sun had set at 4.18 pm already. My iPhone Xs should do a lot better than my old 6s in low light. The Xs has a camera sensor (made by Sony, by the way) that is double the size of the 6s, and that has larger pixels as well. Larger pixels catch more light photons per pixel for a sharper, truer picture. 

Saturday/ 2019, as a Star Wars opening crawl

A someone on Twitter says, this summary of Trump & his presidency heading into 2019, from the Washington Post (by Robert Costa and Philip Rucker), reads like a Star Wars opening crawl:
‘Facing the dawn of his third year in office and his bid for reelection, Trump is stepping into a political hailstorm. Democrats are preparing to seize control of the House in January with subpoena power to investigate corruption. Global markets are reeling from his trade war. The United States is isolated from its traditional partners. The investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russian interference is intensifying. And court filings Friday in a separate federal case implicated Trump in a felony’.

‘Trump Wars’ The Year 2019. The Washington Post reporting as a Star Wars opening crawl. (I popped the text into a tool online that creates Star Wars opening crawls, with dramatic music in the background). Will we live in ‘interesting times’, as the old Chinese curse says?

Friday/ new phone setup: complete

I snapped a picture of the trumpeting African elephant in my wild animal collection for my lock screen, for now.

I think I have my new phone set up, finally. I store a lot of stuff on the phone, not in the cloud. (I might be in the cloud/s, or on another continent, wanting to get to my data).  So I transferred some 12 Gb of music from iTunes on my desktop computer, a selection of favorite photo folders (animals and friends & family photos), and updated my offline Google maps.

I also fired up all my commonly used apps one by one. For some, I had to enter my username again, and dig up the password (from my Excel cheat sheet), but now I think I have most of the passwords saved on the iCloud keychain.

The Face ID facial recognition system on the phone is impressive, but one has to wonder if it is as secure as Touch ID (fingerprint). My other big gripe with Apple is the removal of the headphone jack, something that really made me hesitate to get the new phone. (There is a headphone jack connector available .. but in time I might spring for a new pair of bluetooth noise-canceling Bose headphones. I just refuse to wear Apple’s wireless Airpods, point blank. I think they look silly, uber-geeky, cheeky. And I will be sure to lose them in no time at all).

Thursday/ my new camera, uh – phone

I ran out to the Apple store today to upgrade my iPhone 6s camera to an iPhone Xs camera. (It’s a little joke. Of course the iPhone Xs functions as a phone as well! .. and has a bigger, brighter screen; more powerful processor; and more storage).

Here are some first pictures that I took in Volunteer Park here in Seattle. (Note: The last two pictures will take longer than usual to load over slow connections. I did not reduce their pixel count).

I reduced the pixel sizes of these photos of the duck pond (male and female mallards). These are just to show the 2x optical zoom (top picture), and then setting back to the 1x regular zoom. It’s nice to have choice, and there is a big difference!
Mr Squirrel is nibbling on something, not very perturbed – used to photographers, it seems. This is 2x zoom; original 4,032 x 3,024 pixel size, but cropped somewhat to show just the squirrel.
This is an original size 3,024 x 3,024 square picture. (This is the park’s iconic Black Sun sculpture by Isamu Noguchi, with the Space Needle in the distance). The camera sensor & software does a good job of balancing the intense colors close to the setting sun with the pastels in the sky and the clouds.

Wednesday/ Christmas light enchantments

The Seattle Mariners baseball field – south of downtown – is set up as a Christmas light maze (the Seattle ‘Enchant’ Christmas market and festival). So that’s where we went after beers & dinner tonight. There were forests of light trees, a scavenger hunt for Santa’s reindeer in the maze, and a little ice rink as well.

In a forest of light trees ..
A giant snowflake ..
.. and here’s Rudolph (the Red-nosed Reindeer), one of nine of Santa’s reindeer, hidden in the maze. Some of them are lying down, and it took us a little while to find the last one, called Cupid.

These skaters look very comfortable on the ice of the little ice rink. We did not set foot on there! [Photo credit: thanks to Bryan for the picture].
And here’s a selfie of the friends – from left to right Ken, Steve, Willem, Bryan & Gary. Yes, it was a little chilly! 43 °F/ 6 °C. [Photo credit: thanks to Gary for the picture]. 

Tuesday/ an echidna puggle

Man! I was spending way too much time scrolling through my Twitter feed today.  Trump’s ‘I’m a tariff man’ tweet inflicted heavy losses on the stock market. And it’s official: Seattle is getting a new NHL (National Hockey League) franchise team.

But the tweet of the day for me, was of this cute echidna puggle, born in Sydney’s Taronga Zoo.  They are very unusual mammals: the young hatch out of a leathery egg in their mother’s pouch, and stay there for 45 to 55 days.

 

Monday/ the cosmic perspective

I have finished reading Neil deGrasse Tyson’s quick-read book called Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.  In the front is a quotation from Tyson, that I love: ‘The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you’.

Humans have certainly made strides to understand the mysteries of the universe, but we need another Newton, another Einstein, to help us out with understanding what we now call dark matter and dark energy.

Towards the end of the book, Tyson also offers: The cosmic perspective opens our eyes to the universe, not as a benevolent cradle designed to nurture life, but as a cold, lonely, hazardous place, forcing us to reassess the value of all humans to one another’.

This picture is not in the book, but the epochs shown in it are described. The Inflation Theory proposes a period of extremely rapid (exponential) expansion of the universe during its first fantastically short instants of time. Then it took 380,000 years for the temperature to come down to 3,000 K for atoms to form. Right now we are at the 13.8 billion year mark, and the universe is expanding at an ever increasing rate – something we have only learned over the last few decades. The best explanation is that dark matter and dark energy are at work. [Picture courtesy of Particle Data Group, 2015].

Sunday/ a first look at First Light

We went down to the sales office for an elegant new condominium tower called First Light today, just to see what’s going on there.

The development will be done by Westbank, a Vancouver, B.C.-based firm.
It is still early days, though: the tower’s completion is only scheduled for some time in 2022.

The proposed First Light condominium tower (459 units, 48 floors) was designed by architect James KM Cheng. The design is somewhat minimalist, but features balconies for all the units, and check out that floating roof-top swimming pool (the beige-colored platform complete with tiny lounge chairs).
This is a sample of the steel-wire-and-glass-disk ‘curtains’ (designed by artist John Hogan), that will be strung outside the tower’s podium (lower five floors). It should add texture from afar, and reflect different colors of sunlight, depending on the viewing angle.

Saturday Night Live/ the ‘cold open’

‘President Trump’ was again featured in this Saturday’s SNL cold open, portraying him and other world leaders at the G20 meeting in Buenos Aires. Hmm. Is this really funny? I thought. In this case, Putin and Mohammed Bin Salman are – by all credible accounts in the real world – savages, directly responsible for murdering their political enemies. They should be persona non grata at the G20 (and maybe they are). So is it cool to ‘celebrate’ and poke fun at them?

I guess I’m too serious. This is simply an offer to the audience to escape the horrors of the real universe, and jump into a parallel one of parody, for a little while.  Another problem could be that I only have one beer on a Saturday night, and not three or four, as I’m sure most in the studio audience must have had!

‘Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night Live!’ yells the cold open* cast of characters, from left to right: ‘Michael Cohen’ (Ben Stiller), ‘Rudy Giuliani’ (Kate McKinnon), ‘Melania Trump’ (Cecily Strong), ‘Donald Trump’ (Alec Baldwin), ‘Vladimir Putin’ (Beck Bennett), ‘Mohammed Bin Salman’ (Fred Armisen). *In television production parlance, the ‘cold opening’ or ‘cold open’ is a one to five minute mini-act at the beginning of the show, even before the opening credits, that is used to set up the episode and catch the audience’s attention.

Friday/ shocks & aftershocks in Anchorage

Report from the Alaska Earthquake Center:
‘A magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck just seven miles north of Anchorage at 8:29 am on Friday morning, at a depth of about 27 mi (40 km). The earthquake caused power outages, damage to roads and buildings, and closures of schools, businesses and government offices. The extent of the damage is not yet clear, and we are still waiting for word on whether there were any casualties.

This is the largest earthquake to strike near Anchorage since the 2016 M7.1 Iniskin earthquake. Because this morning’s quake was so much closer, the impacts to Anchorage and Mat-Su are far more severe and widespread’.

The USGS aftershock forecast is as follows:

  • Low (4%) probability of another earthquake equal or greater than magnitude 7.0;
  • 27% chance of a magnitude 6+ aftershock, and it is most likely that 0-3 of these will occur;
  • 78% chance of magnitude 5 or greater aftershocks, but likely no more than around 20 of these;
  • Up to 2,200 aftershocks greater than magnitude 3 are possible.
This map from the University of Alaska’s Earthquake Center, shows that the 7.0 event was only one of many smaller ones that preceded it, and that several aftershocks followed.
Tectonic map of Alaska and northwestern Canada showing main faults and historic earthquakes [Source: Wikipedia ‘Denali Fault’/ map by USGS]. There was a really big one in 1964: the Great M9.2 Alaska Earthquake and Tsunami of March 27, 1964.

Thursday/ more (really big) Trump lies exposed

Trump had lied for years about his dealings with the Russians, after his visit there in 2013 at the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. (Repeatedly saying ‘No business with the Russians’, ‘I have no connections to the Russians’).

Today, Michael Cohen (ex-Trump Right Hand Man & Fixer) pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about Trump’s connections to Russia. Cohen had in fact been negotiating with the Russians about the Trump Moscow Tower hotel all the way through June 2016.  Trump was already the Republican nominee for President at that time.

Also, from Buzzfeed News: President Trump’s company planned to give a $50 million penthouse at the proposed Trump Tower Moscow to Vladimir Putin, as the company negotiated the luxury real estate development during the 2016 campaign.

The point is that beside these shady business dealings (sanctioned Russian state bank VTB Bank was to finance Trump Tower), we also know the Russians had hacked the Clinton campaign’s e-mails, and that the Trump campaign & Don Jr met with them to discuss it in June 2016. The Russians exploited Facebook to interfere mightily with the 2016 presidential election. How extensive was Trump’s involvement and knowledge of all this?

Reporting from today’s New York Times. History might very well look back at April 2018 (when Michael Cohen’s home was raided by the FBI), as the start of Trump’s undoing as President.