Thursday, July 16, 2009


I woke up around 6:00 and got on the computer to wait for the family to wake up. I read the times and wept at the 3% decline in the market. We'd made up half of the loss from our peak, but between the market decline this week and our trip to Japan -- Well, let's just say that college is probably highly over-rated.

Off to Vie De France for breakfast, where Andrea finally got the courage to try the calzone and I tried the soy milk with smoked salmon sandwich. I also bought an apple square, yum! The kids ate carmel rolls, doughnuts, and other less than healthy choices.

After breakfast we headed back to the hotel where we packed up, checked out and caught a cab for Tokyo station. I had downloaded the timetable for Nozomi (the fastest bullet train type) the night before and found that they left Tokyo as frequently as three minutes apart, though at less popular times there were gaps of up to 20 minutes between departures. I figured getting a ticket for a reserved seat would not be a problem. When we got to the station however, the next train was about to leave, the train after did not have four reserved seats together and was followed by a twenty minute gap, so we settled on the third train, meaning over a half hour wait. The helpful ticket agent explained how to get to the platform, what car to get on, and which seats to sit in.

Four hundred dollars later we were on our way. Andrea was shocked at how expensive the tickets were. I defended JR, pointing out that the Taxi ride through central Tokyo, which was not 1/0 as fast or 1/10 as far was forty bucks. She told me to shut-up, but somehow she phrased it politely.

While we waited for the Nozomi, Joshua asked three Japan Rail guards for directions to the bathroom. They let him past the gates without a ticket, guided him to the bathroom, patiently waited outside, and escorted him back with a smile. We went into a food shop and bought a great vegetarian bento that Andrea and I split on the train.

I'm writing this as we rocket along on the train - clean, fast, comfortable, on-time. The train has electrical outlets and wi-fi. America could learn a lot from the Japanese.

In Kyoto there was a convenient, free shuttle bus from the train station to the hotel every 15 minutes. Our room is way larger and more elegant than the one in Tokyo and a lot less expensive. Internet is not free, however, and so we're planning on every other day access.

Once we got settled we headed out to walk around the Gion neighborhood. First we stopped for a snack at a french bakery: Ari and I had garlic bread, Joshua had a cheese danish, and Andrea braved the green bean bread (which turned out to be sweet, not savoury -- accepted on its own terms it was nice). Based on the shopping mall under the main train station and the Gion neighborhood, Kyoto seems more upscale, far more touristy than Tokyo, and far less crowded. We were out of Yen so we stopped at the first ATM we saw and tried to get cash. No luck - the machine spat back a message saying the card was expired or not valid. I called Schwab, they told me that the machine wasn't on their network and suggested that I find one that is. I must have looked at half a dozen ATMs and had no luck finding one that my Schwab Bank card would work on.

We sampled pickles of all shapes and sizes - the local speciality. My cousin Charlie came to meet us for dinner at an Indian restaurant. Joshua told Charles how awesome and fast the Shinkansen was. Charles told Joshua that there building a maglev that will go twice as fast. Americans, especially on the right, love to thump their chest about how America is the greatest, but since we're not willing to invest in infrastructure and education the world is rapidly surpassing us. Japan's economy was stagnant for over a decade, but the place is still hopping and vibrant. The kids behaved like poorly behaved kids. After dinner I pulled out my credit card to pay and the waiter said "Sorry, we only accept cash." Charlie bailed us out. We went back to the hotel, put the kids to bed, finished writing this, and started watching a DVD.

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