Photo Tuesday: Leaving Tokyo

I wrote a whole slew of posts detailing the things that I saw (and ate) during the five weeks I spent in and around Tokyo last year.  I’ve posted dozens of photographs from that trip on this blog, but I don’t think I ever got around to posting this one.

This is one of my favorite photographs from my time in Japan.  It was taken from the high speed train ride back to the airport.  I took dozens of pictures out of the train window, but at this particular moment, we were passing through a busy street near Tokyo Katsushika.   There is so much happening in this photograph, from bike riders patiently waiting for the train to pass so that they can cross the street, to the people going in and out of shops down the street.  Plus:  a Kirin vending machine!

Every time I look at this photograph, I see some new detail that I hadn’t noticed previously.  What do you see when you look?


The South Florida Railway Museum

Much of the time that I spend with Amelie involves trains.  Specifically, we use them to see one another instead of taking the drive.  When Amelie comes up to visit me, I usually pick her up here, at the Deerfield Beach Tri-Rail station.


Tri-Rail is short for tri-county rail, and it’s a north-south rail corridor in South Florida that connects Miami, Ft. lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and parts in between.


The Deerfield Beach Station  is also one of several throughout the state that serves as an Amtrak station.  Amtrak is America’s answer to the Deutsche Bahn, except it’s not as convenient, not as cheap, and not as useful.  It’s also not as punctual, because Amtrak leases the rail lines from the freight companies, but that’s a different post.


One day in late April, I noticed this sign on the street near the entrance.


Following the sign, I found another one pointing to a nondescript door.  As it turns out, they were doing some work on the external face of the building.  Now, seven months later, there’s a clear sign to indicate that this is an actual museum.   At the time, it looked pretty sketchy.


Inside, however, it was kind of amazing.  This, it turns out, is the home of the South Florida Railway Museum and Model Railroad Club.   Housed in the old rail terminal building, it’s only natural that the museum contained  model trains.


This part of the museum reminded me of Miniatur Wunderland.


There was a lot of detail here, including a tiny herd of tiny cows.


The rail model was a giant construct in the center of a large open room, but the walls were filled with other things.


This vintage Coca-Cola machine was actually being used by the museum staffers as a refridgerator-  the place on the left where you’d normally see Coke bottles is being used to keep the coffee creamer cold.


There were dozens of model engines on the walls representing different time periods and train styles.


Some of them have specific historic importance, like this one from an old hobby store in Miami.  The store is long gone.


Even train cars need sweaters when it gets chilly out.


To a model train enthusiast, this museum is a goldmine.


This license plate had an inside joke for train engineers, but I can’t remember what the word on the bottom was.


Cheap plastic sunglasses from the launch of Tri-Rail serve as memorabilia here.


The museum has a fantastic collection of items from the golden age of rail travel, including an ash tray, a drinking glass, and “pasteurized drinking water” as it was distributed on passenger trains in the past.


There are lots of ash trays in the museum.  People smoked a lot back then.


One huge corner of the museum is dedicated to old Amtrak swag.


I think I had a set of those Amtrak playing cards when I was a kid.


This old control board is stuffed to the gills with ancient communications gear, and a now-rare example of an analog word processor.  Er.  Typewriter.  I mean Typewriter.


This old Amtrak sign is about six feet tall, up near the ceiling in the front.


Here’s more examples of older rail signs.  These haven’t changed all that much in the intervening years.


Rail Travel And A Giant Gundam!

Two of my favorite things about Japan are amazing rail travel and giant robots.    Naturally, I went out of my way to see both.

This is the Marunouchi entrance of Tokyo Station, the main intercity rail terminal in Tokyo.


This structure is just the tip of the iceberg, though.  Tokyo Station is the busiest rail station in Japan, serving over 3,000 trains per day.  The station sprawls out beneath the surface, servicing local metro, local train, and Shinkansen (high speed rail) trains.

Interestingly, Tokyo Station has “sister station” agreements with Amsterdam Centraal railway station in the Netherlands, Grand Central Station in New York, and Hsinchu Station in Taiwan. (Well, I think it’s interesting.  Your mileage may vary.)


When approaching Tokyo Station on the subway lines, it’s not unusual to see Nozomi 700 trains, high speed rail on its way into or out of the city.


The Shinkansen have a maximum operating speed of 200 miles per hour, so the best way to get a clear picture of one is to wait for them to stop.


The 700 series Shinkansen are easily recognized by their flat “duck bill” nose and that fast zooming noise you here any time one passes by very, very fast..


The signs on the cars alternate between Japanese and English, but it’s still a good idea to figure out where your wagon stops before the train arrives.  The trains move in and out of stations very, very quickly and all seats are assigned except for the last two or three wagons.

Here is a cautionary tale for Shinkansen use:  When I was returning to Tokyo from Kyoto,  I boarded the Shinkansen at my platform four minutes before my train was scheduled to depart.   It left the station a moment after I took my seat, and two minutes later, the train for which I actually had a ticket arrived.   I realized that I was on the wrong train a short while later, and I thought I would be fine.  However, a helpful fellow train passenger explained to me that this was a local train.  Although it was still a Nozomi, it was stopping at far more places.  This train would still get me back to Tokyo, but it would get me there several hours later.  Luckily, I was able to switch trains in Nagoya to another Express Nozomi that was bound for Tokyo.  The trains in Japan are so amazing that even with the transfer in Nagoya, I arrived in Tokyo less than an hour past my original scheduled arrival.  True story.


Here’s a photograph of people waiting for the train to pass, because I thought it was a neat picture.


You might be wondering why I mentioned giant robots in the first sentence of this post.    I mentioned giant robots because there’s a 1:1 scale Gundam statue in front of Diver City Tokyo in Odaiba-  that’s actual size.


At certain times of the day, the Gundam is lit up, with steam bellowing from its chest.  The Gundam is affiliated with Gundam Front Tokyo, a fun experience for any Gundam enthusiast.


Diver City Tokyo is basically a multi-level shopping mall, which makes this a fascinating place to find a giant Gundam statue.  Inside Diver City, I found a Krispy Kreme!


This picture is really just to show you scale.  You can see the people right on the other side of the Gundam’s giant right foot.


Have you ever been on a Shinkansen?  What’s your opinion of giant Gundam suits?

Arrival In Japan

From May 10th until June 13th of this year, I was in Japan.    In those five weeks, I took nearly 2500 photographs.   I have since parsed them down to 489 that are going to show up in this blog.   I’m not going to post them all at once, though, because I actually like my readers (both of them) and I don’t want to overload you guys.

Besides, some of them are kind of silly, like this snap of the screen on the back of the airplane seat during my twelve and a half hour plane trip from Detroit to Tokyo-Narita Airport.


We landed in Tokyo on Sunday morning a little before lunchtime.  My first visible sign that I was in Japan was right outside the plane window. The guys handling luggage were all wearing safety helmets.  Japan is just full of people in safety helmets while doing their jobs.  I have a whole bunch of other safety helmet pictures for another post later on.


Thank goodness there’s plenty of English in the signage in the airport.  I don’t know a lick of Kanji.


One of the first things I needed to do in the airport was to find the post office.  I had previously arranged to rent a wi-fi device so that I would have data throughout my trip.  This device is about the size of a deck of playing cards, and it gave my phone Internet access for the rest of my time in Japan.  The WiFi Rental Store had reasonable rates and delivered it right to the post office, charged and ready to go.   This was invaluable for finding my way around, especially on that first day.


The next order of business was getting on the express train that took me from the airport to the city.   When I was waiting to board, the seats all rearranged themselves so that they were facing forward when the train started moving again.  This picture is halfway through the little automated seat rotation dance.  High tech train seats are neat!


The train into the city was very high speed, and I had a nice view out of the windows during the ride to Ueno station.   I’m pretty sure this is a rice paddy, but I’m not positive.


I think this was the Sumida river.   I landed on a very pretty day.


In Ueno station, I changed to the regular trains to get closer to the hotel.  This is the Keihintohoku line, which is one of the lines I used most frequently while I was in Tokyo.   The train system in Japan is fantastic, and I was able to get around the city very easily, with only a small amount of confusing lostness.


I only experienced true rush hour once or twice while I was in Japan-  my hours in the office were mostly night-time hours.  I think it’s fantastic that during rush hour, there are subway cars where men are not allowed.  Given how crowded the train can get, I can see why this would be more comfortable for women than a coed car.


Finally, after a very long travel day, I reached Kanda station.  Kanda was my home base for the entire five weeks I was in Japan, and the happy little dog on this store’s sign was always good to see when I got off the train.


I was in Japan during festival season.  There had been a festival on the street during the day before my arrival.  I missed that, but caught another one later in my trip. I’ll talk about that one in another post, because that’s even more pictures.  This is from the festival I missed- it was sitting on the sidewalk near my hotel, waiting to be transported back to wherever they keep it when it isn’t festival time.


Finally, I reached my hotel.  The Hotel Mystays is a chain throughout Japan, and they have great extended stay rooms.  The little green card with the penguin on it is a Suica card, which is good for most of the train and bus systems in Tokyo.   It can also be used in some convenience stores, which is very handy.


This is an electronics and department store in Akihabara.   It’s about eight stories tall, and was kind of amazing inside.  If ever I doubted I was in Japan, this building is a sure sign that I was really in Japan.


Speaking of signs that you’re in Japan, if you go to Shinjuku, you might run into Tokyo’s tourism ambassador, Godzilla.   (Gojira!)  Apparently, this is a life-sized Gojira head and claw on top of the Toho building.  I was pretty stoked to see him up there!


More signs that I was really in Japan:  Crowds like this!

On a side note, one thing that I love about crowd photos is that I always notice something fun in them a long time after the photo was taken.  For example, I didn’t notice that guy’s epic yawn until just a moment ago.


I took this picture just because I liked the Japanese poster for Inside Out.  But again, check out the random guy stink-eye in the bottom-right corner of the photo!


When I went to the Edo-Tokyo Museum, which I’ll talk about in yet another post, I walked right past this fantastic bike rack set-up.  I’ve never seen one set at an upward angle like this, and I thought it was a pretty genius use of space.


I also was unfamiliar with the concept of a “Sumimasen” button.  Sumimasen is what you would say to get someone’s attention or to pass by someone politely.  It translates to “excuse me.”  In many restaurants, there’s a button like this which is used to signal to the wait staff that you would like to place your order or pay the check.  This photo was taken in a Denny’s restaurant (to be seen in another post, naturally) and it was my very first exposure to the button.  Once again, this is a brilliant concept that I’d like to see used in American restaurants, where you sometimes need a signal flare to get the wait staff’s attention.


Apropos of nothing, this building just makes me bust out in Charlie Brown jokes.  After all, it’s a Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown!

This was seen during my train ride out of Tokyo in the third weekend.  Naturally, I’ll be talking about the rest of those trips in other posts.  Are you beginning to sense a pattern here?



Something that never stopped being funny to me-  American celebrities doing random advertisements in Japan.  Here’s Tommy Lee Jones and his very black coffee drink.


Another thing that was very commonly seen in Japan-  giant animated creatures on buildings to denote what sort of establishment they were.  This giant moving crab was obviously fronting a toy store, right?

Kidding, kidding.  I know it’s a seafood restaurant.


This is the San Ai building in Ginza.  I went out to Ginza to photograph this building because my research about the area had brought me to the conclusion that it was a very popular landmark and many people go there to photograph it.

When I told Amelie, she thought it was pretty funny that the only reason I wanted to go to Ginza to photograph this building was that other people had done so, and that it’s supposed to be famous.

In hindsight, she was absolutely right.  It took me forty minutes to find this building, and it really wasn’t worth the schlep.


This is what the street running alongside Kanda station looks like at night.  One of the lessons it took me a few days to learn was to always look up-  Tokyo is a very crowded city, and there are often businesses and restaurants on the upper floors of a building.


Another Japan custom that was kind of interesting-  in some restaurants, you do take off your shoes.  Often, they have little shoe-locker cabinets to put your shoes in before you go further.


There are shrines and temples all over the city.  This one was about a block away from the hotel.  I didn’t stay here for long, but I’ve got lots of pictures of other shrines.  (For another post, of course.)


One of my favorite things about Tokyo is the way that the temples and shrines are nestled in the middle of modern skyscrapers and city life.  They just blend into one another in places.  I think that’s kind of fascinating.


This post contained 26 out of 489 photos, so there’s only 463 remaining to go in future Japan posts!

Have you ever been to Tokyo?  How did you like the train system?

WEBMU 2014: Nürnberg

Every year, a group of ex-pat bloggers living in Germany gather for a weekend of fun, tourism, food, and drink.  This gathering is called WEBMU – the Whiny Expatriate Bloggers Meet-Up.  The location is different each year-  in 2012 the gathering was in Berlin.  In 2013, the group gathered in Prague, but I didn’t make it to that one.  This year, we met in Nuremberg roughly halfway through the month of September.

The attendees were:

A WEBMU weekend typically runs Friday through Sunday, with the early arrivals taking a day trip to an alternate location in the daytime in Friday.  This WEBMU was no exception, and we met up at 10am to visit scenic and moist Bamberg.  Most of the pictures I took in Bamberg are similar to the pictures I took the first time I visited Bamberg, so I’m not going to include too many of those here.  If you’re curious, you can look at the previous Bamberg post.  (Also, it was raining all day, so many of my new photos have rain drops on the lens.  I really need to get a lens hood.)

One of the first things we saw in Bamberg was this randomly placed elephant.  We’re all pretty sure it’s an advertisement, but it was still random enough to warrant a photograph.


We went to the Altes Rathaus, and to the local cathedral to look again at the Bamberg Rider.


We were in Bamberg on the same day that there was a party for the closing of U.S. Army Garrison Bamberg, so we stumbled across the Burrito Bandito.  It was a little strange seeing US Army guys in fatigues while out and about in Germany.


While waiting for the train back to Nuremberg, we were witness to the Hochzeit of two smaller trains.  The coupling is almost entirely automatic for this type of train, so it was kind of fascinating to watch.  We were all mesmerized, to the great amusement of the conductor from the train on the left.


Fast forward to Saturday, and we started the day with a small city tour… in the rain.


Here’s the tour route, just for fun:


This is one of the two brass rings embedded into the wrought iron-work in Schöner Brunnen, a rather nifty fountain in the city’s main market square near the town hall.  It is said that spinning the brass ring will bring you luck.  The fountain itself is a reproduction; the original lives in the city’s historical museum.


It’s rather amazing to me that I’ve been in Germany for this long and I didn’t manage to get a picture with a section of the original Berlin Wall until this trip.  Here it is.


Albrecht Dürer is kind of a big deal in Nuremberg.  His house is near this statue.


One of Dürer’s most celebrated creations is this creepy-ass rabbit.  The dude with the pink umbrella just makes it so much more surreal, don’t you think?


This store’s sign caught my eye because it’s a rather nifty play on words.  Bohne & Kleid in German is “Bean and Dress,” but it sounds quite a bit like “Bonnie and Clyde.”  It made me giggle.


One of the nifty things about Nuremberg is that a large portion of the old city wall is still intact like this section on the right.


A bunch of these old cities have St. George and the Dragon themed stuff floating around.  It’s all very Trogdor-oriented.


Nuremberg also has a reasonably well preserved castle, part of which is pictured here.


Big castles have big doors.


Here’s the requisite view of the city from the castle’s ramparts.


Later in the day, Cliff and I ventured in to the Deutsche Bahn Museum, a place I had wanted to visit for quite a while.  It had some fantastic vintage carriages.


An old rail-running bicycle looking thing was on display.  This reminds me a little bit of the scene from Blazing Saddles with the quick-sand.


What would a train museum be without incredibly detailed models?


The DB Museum had a ton of great photographs up showing the construction of the railways and bridges.  Most of those pictures didn’t come out well enough to post, but this will give you an idea of how amazing and fascinating the historical photographs were.


Any good train museum would also cover that uncomfortable part of Germany’s history where the railways were part of the World War II experience.  Here’s a train conductor’s uniform from that era.


The best part of the exhibit was the various trains  set up along the outer edges of the museum.  Here’s a mostly-plastic model of an ICE train.  You couldn’t even sit down inside.  The real thing is much nicer.


Apparently, 6th class train rides involved standing up in a giant rectangular train carriage with no roof.  Still beats walking, I guess.


Compare that last one to first class, which has velvet seats and a nice terrace from which you can have champagne toasts.


Speaking of first class, the Prince’s carriages were present in the museum.  They’re very fancy.


The Prince’s carriage had a green room that Cliff thought was amazing.


I was more partial to the blue room in the Prince’s carriage.   What can I say? I like blue!


There were also some massive old steamers in the museum.


When I say massive, I mean massive.  These wheels were nearly as tall as I am.


…and you can step up into some of them for hammy moments.  Here’s Cliff, waving hello from the conductor’s window.


Have you ever been to the DB Museum?  Have you visited Bamberg or Nuremberg?