Top Smells of Japan

  1. 青い畳, or green tatami mats. When I visited Japan in 1993 with Garfield Orchestra, we stayed in a newly built resort in Kobe that had green tatami. (The place we stayed was 神戸市の総合福祉ゾーンしあわせの村, in case I ever want to go back.) Anytime I step into a place with fresh tatami, I feel like I’m back in Japan.
  2. 石油, or kerosene. As much as you try not to, you spill gas everywhere. And the stoves rarely seem to burn it clean. Reminds me of my time staying in a very old Japanese house in Sendai. Though I burned a lot of fuel, the heat went right out through the roof. Perhaps if my bed was elevated I might have gotten some of that heat.
  3. 炊飯, or cooked rice. Open up your rice cooker sometime and put your face into it. You may become addicted to it. (Wait for the rice to finish steaming or your wife will complain that you’ve let out all the moisture.)
  4. 洗濯石けん. Laundry soap scent. Yet another chemical smell, but oddly puts me back in Japan. I don’t use scented laundry soap at home, so perhaps the American stuff is similar. When traveling I seem to hit the same scent every time. When you’re drying clothes in your hotel room it hits even harder.
  5. コンビニ店. It seems every convenience store (Family Mart, 7-11) standardizes their scent. Since you seem to go into one all the time, it becomes a smell you learn. Does it come from combining the oden (fish cakes in broth) with fresh magazine chemical smell? I don’t know how they do it.
  6. タバコ. Tobacco or cigarette smoke. Hey, they still smoke in restaurants in Japan. It’s not that the smell is unique to Japan, you just notice it in different places than you’re used to and it reminds you you’re not in your home country anymore.
  7. 廊下のカビか. Wander the closed air hallways of apartments in Japan and there’s some sort of stale odor. In Seattle apartment hallways, we end up with mildew and mold smells. There’s a similar unpleasantness going on in closed air spaces there, but probably with different mold species or something.
  8. 杉風呂. Cedar bathtubs. Every time I come across one, I decide I want one at home. I’ll probably never own one, though.

I’ll probably add more smells as I come to remember them.

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Japan 2014 – Part A

Due to birth of my second son, which allowed me to take off a lot of time from work, I got to travel in Japan for over 3 weeks.

Hitomi planned out the entire trip, and for this I am grateful. Logistically, a lot goes into planning a long vacation, especially with children. I was fortunate to attend a concert and get to go skiing on my own, despite having two children to take after.

Asakusa 浅草

Hitomi got us tickets on ANA, on the new Boeing Dreamliner 787. Despite the problems it has had, the Dreamliner was probably one of the most comfortable planes I’ve been on. We were seated in a bulkhead row, which allowed the use of a bassinet for baby Luca. Since the plane handles higher pressure better, there was little ear discomfort, which can happen especially with children.

The flight attendants (all women) were something else. Having children I guess gets you extra attention, I suppose, but I never had so many beautiful ladies so attentive. Leo kept busy with his videos. He got a special meal with lots of treats and toys. The food in general was better than most, although it still had that gelatinous quality of reheated food.

On our flight coincidentally was an old friend Max Pham who we met at from Sakura-con–and later helped with a special convention she helped put on for gothic-lolita fashion. Max was going to visit Tokyo Disneyland and various military resorts or bases in Japan with her family (husband, two children). I thought we might have a chance to meet up in Japan, but no, not with our schedules.

In Japan, it always feels late but it’s early. This time (spring) the sun was still out. Once we made it through immigration (I’m still a ‘visitor’ though my kids are Japanese) and customs, we take a local train (we didn’t make the ‘Skyliner’) on a Keisei railway. With our bags, half asleep kids we transfer to Asakusa station, and then check into this very narrow (though modern) hotel.

By narrow, I mean probably less than 15 feet wide, yet maybe 8 stories tall. Places in Tokyo are like this: Built to whatever width land is available. The room was very small, yet big enough for the four of us. For an American, the room (a double nonetheless) seemed like an impossibility, yet was equipped with every comfort (and even a decent bath).

Dinner was MOS Burger, which is was a favorite from back when I was a student in 1997-98 in Japan. The burgers are fairly small and fleshy, but the toppings and bun are the perfect proportion, plus the accompanying fries and drinks are always good. We’d be having nicer dinners the following few weeks, anyway.

We woke up at 5am or so. NHK (public TV) kept Leo and us okay until breakfast was obtainable. Breakfast was on the top floor, from a small room overlooking the river. The weather was cool and rainy, yet we see the (part of) Tokyo Skytree across the way.

The original plan was to see some cherry blossoms, old Asakusa and its surrounding area, and the Skytree. Then head to Odaiba for Anime Japan. With the rain and cool weather, the blossoms were not out yet, and instead the mall seemed like the place to be.

If you are a particular fan of a show in Japan, anime or not, there is something for you to buy. If you like toy trains or cars, there are shops for you. Yes, I’m not a mall guy, but the food and things are much more interesting in Japan. Plus, they really make it easy for breastfeeding mothers and diaper changing fathers.

Other than consuming, we also went to the Sumida Aquarium. The main exhibit was on jelly fish, circulating in some sort of round or donut shaped tanks, of course illuminated with colored lights. Then there were the penguins. Apparently the Japanese have more penguins in aquariums and zoos than any other country. There was of course a huge tank: My favorite part was scaring Leo with the big shark who would appear from time to time.

Odaiba

We took a very cool ferry to Odaiba, a man-made island where Tokyo Big Sight is located for Anime Japan. Hitomi fortunately reserved tickets beforehand, since it seems to be a popular ferry. The ferry was designed by Leiji Matsumoto and had narration (mostly regarding the bridges we passed under) by several of the cast of Galaxy Express 999.

Once we arrived, the weather was pretty good (windy by sunny) and Leo had fun tossing rocks into the water from the beach. Leo’s love of throwing things into the water is intense. Eventually we head out towards the hotel, taking the long way through the park along the water. I think to myself, what a nice place to be, though it’s not maybe so pleasant in summer.

On island are bicycles (even electric and family carrying) for rent, unfortunately Luca is too young to yet ride at three months. I feel like I must ride a bicycle, yet I will have to wait until next trip to do so.

Checking in to the Grand Pacific Le Daiba, there are plenty of bilingual (English) speaking staff on hand and once they figure we speak Japanese they do too. Hitomi hates getting the English map (which is “hard to use”) but one of the staff explains you can enjoy the flavorful way the Japanese translated the map text into English.

Anime Japan

The main convention, for those of you who have been to conventions in the U.S., was the equivalent of the industry you might see at a U.S. convention of the exhibit hall, but more in proportion with like E3. The old E3. Probably most impressive was the life-sized model of a Patlabor, loaded onto the truck like in the anime, and possibly used in the upcoming live action movie.

Besides industry booths: Several regions of Japan were promoting otaku tourism. Many manufacturers of goods and services (e.g. cakes) were selling wares. One of the most interesting was a booth selling ‘hanko’ (chops or signature seals) which can be customized with various anime characters, usable at ordinary banks for approving documents. There were a couple of kid play areas, one where you could get your photograph taken with various popular characters, or another where you could work on crafts.

A cosplay area was setup, complete with dressing area and costumes for rent. There were custom backdrops from various shows. Unfortunately I was too large for most of the costumes and Hitomi wasn’t keen on wearing one herself. We did have fun posing (especially at the end of the show when the crowds left) with the various backdrops.

The other part of the convention were events. Hitomi fortunately had the foresight to sign up for various events ahead of time. Events were the U.S. convention equivalent of panels, though more polished, where questions were arranged ahead of time. I managed to attend the Patlabor live action panel, where Mamoru Oshii, this very soft-spoken and diminutive old man, could barely be heard: Was he really a director?

Hitomi attended an event in the morning where Haruko Momoi and Koike (‘Aniki’) were re-united on stage to talk about their days as Under17. Personally, I have a great fondness of that time, of that unique moé music. I suppose anime fans might find that music a novelty today but really a lot of factors came together, at that time to make it really authentic and fresh. I really enjoyed seeing the event, but poor Hitomi is short and only got to hear it…

Speaking of which, the downside of a good event is too many people were there. The crowds (especially when ferrying around kids) make it tough to really enjoy things. Plus the noise was incredible. There was a retrospective theater (favorite anime from the past 50 years), and they showed the new Mushishi but the theater was part of the convention floor, and who can watch such a show with such noise?

The convention was over early. Around 5 or so on Sunday. It felt fairly short.

One of the highlights for food was an Oyakodon restaurant. They serve these very orange and big eggs in Japan, which you eat mostly raw. It wasn’t particularly kid friendly, but a nice meal. I appreciate that Hitomi let us go for it: She is very concerned about disturbing other diners. (There was a very kid friendly place, and pretty good food which we ate at earlier: Think ball pit where the kids can run around and the adults can watch and eat.)

Noitamina (animation spelled backwards) Shop: Late night anime seems to have been around forever, and despite being impossible for employed people to watch (do people just tape it?) continues to grow. Anyway, this shop has both goods and an interesting seating arrangement, sort of like a lecture hall overlooking a screen, but at night overlooks the Rainbow Bridge. (Seating I suppose is for singles or couples to sit side-by-side, not a bad idea.) There was a special menu inspired by Silver Spoon, which just had a live action adaption come out, and we ordered some things off of it.

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Luca

I started to write a few weeks back about the birth of my second son, Luca. Time has slipped and now we’re in a new year, and so slips the details.

The birth was so fairly ordinary, although all births are extraordinary it felt like it was already rehearsed a dozen times. I know from Hitomi’s point of view, it was excruciating and difficult but outwardly appeared to be done perfectly.

This time Hitomi had hired a doula, mostly for after birth care but the doula came (as part of her training) to help with the birth process. I sat on the sidelines, as ultimately the austere Japanese midwife and her managed the one hour process. I headed back from the hospital soon after and slept as Hitomi had yet another fitful night.

Leo has grown fairly attached to mama. Ilana, my part-time nanny, came to watch him during the night. We convened in the morning and headed to the hospital to visit. Did Leo understand what had happened? Ultimately, he ended up throwing a fit and throwing up reddish cranberry juice as I tried to take him back home.

Hitomi was going to have another day in the hospital. So now that I was off of work, I needed to watch Leo. Leo goes from feeling boredom to curiosity, grief to glee, dissatisfaction to fulfillment, so quickly I am jealous of his neurological wiring. But it is very wearing. I knew with the baby born, I was going to be faced with more time with Leo.

The baby had a name, Luca, which I was worried if the name would be good. It’s so feminine in Japanese chances are they’ll think he’s a girl. (Though same with Leo.) This isn’t a huge problem, though. Although cute (meaning in some sense, friendly and attractive) isn’t terribly revered in Western Culture, but in Japan cute is (maybe) not highly respected, but at least socially valuable. Thus Luca and Leo appear not cute in English, they do sound cute in Japan, and so I suppose they’re fitting for half Japanese.

Well then, I had the rest of the week off but now I was pretty much one-on-one with Leo. I took him to daycare as well as on Sunday to his daycare’s annual Christmas event. He was supposed to sing songs with his class but mostly was cheerful and hopped and clapped a lot on stage. In general I tried to wear him out physically. And so I didn’t spend much time with Luca at all, who (even now) spends most his time not more than a few feet away from Hitomi.

There was one scary event, that turned into a bit of a farce. Luca, a few days back from the hospital, had started to cough up blobs of blood (fresh and red, I might add). He had seemed fine otherwise, but it was concerning. After calling the hospital, I took him to the Northwest Hospital ER, which is a bit of a surreal experience having never been into an ER myself. To best describe it: A lot of people show up, then disappear, then show up again. Lots of the same questions are raised. Insurance data is checked and rechecked. Monitors get hooked up. Having a newborn, I heard a lot of ahhs and oohs from the female nurses. Then, having done a test determining blood in the stool, I’m asked to take him to Children’s Hospital, and I get to help the ambulance crew strap a baby car seat to a dolly.

His vitals seemingly fine, cynically, I feel like there’s no real emergency and I’m guessing the ambulance ride is costing a bit more (and taking longer) than me taking him in my Subaru. And then repeats the same sort of experience at Children’s, though at least there they have a bed more appropriate for somebody weighing 8 pounds. There’s also a heat lamp to keep him warmer. They run a few more tests, taking blood and x-rays, and I’m feeling tired and sorry for poor Luca who’s hungry and tired too.

Ultimately, the diagnosis is one of those things that some babies get after they’re born. And I’m simply asked to follow up with a doctor in a few days. Relived, I hire a taxi ride back to NW Hospital. I buy a scone and cappuccino from the in-house 24-hours-open Starbucks, and buzzed from caffeine, I’m also elated to take Luca home.

Christmas was also around the corner. I had about 2-3 hours to shop on Friday, and I sort of felt like I had outgrown malls or something. I wasn’t going to wander around and have presents for people jump out at me. I really do care for my family but I am not good at deciding what to buy.

Christmas itself went fine. On the 24th, the side of the family who can’t stand Tim (namely my sisters) showed up and we had a good meal. The 25th was with Tim and we had another good meal. I didn’t have a tree, but I have a good gas fireplace and that was cheer enough. And of course a newborn, which everybody got to hold, when it wasn’t shoved up Hitomi’s shirt. I handed out two pressure cookers (will they get used?) and although failing to wrap a single present a few other things as well.

One of the odd things was we still planned (after Christmas) to go to Mt. Baker. We had rented a cabin with two friends (Gary and Rebecca) who had a 3-month old baby. It was a bit of an odd thing doing a road trip with a newborn. (We had done a trip with 6-week old Leo, to Canada, even.) With a combination of not so great weather (warm and rainy), taking care of Leo, having to cook and cleanup, and being woken up by a newborn, it was a tiring way to spend a vacation. Still, being in the mountain snow and seeing old friends is nice, and I did indeed ski a few moments, on freshly waxed and edged skis no less.

The most reassuring thing about having a second child is you know you’ve dealt with the same things before and thus you have little to worry yourself with.

I know having two to deal with means less time to do the things I enjoy. An old boss of mine suggested that having children was monotonous. In some ways, yes, changing clothes and diapers, reading the same books over and over again, and taking them to daycare seems repetitive and frustrating. Before and after enlightenment carry water, chop wood. Meaning, your life is full (dull) of things to do, and rather think past them, fully experience those moments.

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Things on my mind

Very soon I’m going to have another son. I’d rather it be sooner, since I’m ready to take a break from work.

Leo’s at the age where everything he can do, he must do himself. Otherwise his mother must do. Apparently I’m unsuitable for everything.

Leo can’t sleep alone. Though he looks like an angel sleeping, he doesn’t mind putting his foot in your face. I can see why young kids need lots of sleep, because they aren’t efficient at it.

I’m building a kayak. It’s a project that’s given me about equal parts anxiety and joy. Every time I made a little mistake it haunts me for about a day until I realize it’s no big deal. Hitomi points out how much this kit costs ($1000 or so), so why should I complain about having to replace my hot water heaters.

I actually have two hot water heaters. They are used for heating the house using a radiator and blower system, also known as hydronic heating. Apparently they are more expensive and hotter than regular water heaters, but still have the fatal flaw of rusting out like an ordinary one after ten years. One’s leaking out the bottom so it’s time to replace it. I may replace it with an on-demand tankless solution, but I’m looking at a $5000 cost. But look! There’s a $1000 rebate.

Christmas is around the corner. Maybe it’s pressure cookers for everyone? It seems terribly narcissistic to buy something really you like for everyone, but it’s been my favorite thing this year. It’s good at cooking kale, and kale’s good for you.

This year I played a lot of JRPG, starting with Fire Emblem Sacred Stones, then Fire Emblem Awakening, then now Fire Emblem 紋章の謎 which is in Japanese and I decided to play it on Maniac difficulty. It’s frustratingly hard. My avatar (“my unit”) is a knight. He has terrible speed (I rarely get good stat advancements) so he gets double teamed, but fortunately he has great defense. A lot of my other units are crap and can easily be one-shot killed. Not sure why do this to myself.

I have been enjoying Magic: The Gathering. Ian came up with a good format for our typical 4- and 5-player Commander nights. I wrote up notes. The biggest problem with the format, aside from players who play cheesy as possible decks, is speed. We got three games in three hours. Kevin and Ian did the usual bickering. Gary cheered on Tai, though he was his enemy, Tai was using his decks. Tai played clean, as usual. I almost didn’t go since Hitomi is afraid if she’s in labor, I won’t stop playing and take her to the hospital.

Tonight we walked down to Green Lake, to see the Pathway of Lights. I’ve only see the event a few times. Most years it seems like there’s bad weather or something else going on. We saw some school musical groups performing near the swim area. Although it seemed popular for walkers to wear LED Christmas lights and go around the whole lake, it would be too much time for us. Leo won’t stay in his stroller that long, so we opted instead for a shorter walk.

A shorter walk: Well, so be it.

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Run Scared

My nanny Ilana runs several running events in Seattle. One of these is called Run Scared and takes place in Seward Park.

Since Ilana became my best friend’s girlfriend, I wanted to show her event a bit of support. I had intended to go: Two years ago Leo was just a baby and we passed. Last year we slept in and just missed the start time.

This year: Well, the night before was Sakura-con’s annual Halloween Party. Sakura-con’s annual Halloween event usually happens at the University Heights community center, a very old (110 year old) former elementary school. This year we were somehow in the basement. But I guess that’s a good spot for a Halloween party anyway.

Ostensibly Sakura-con’s event was a potluck, but only a few people brought food, mostly desserts. I brought risotto, since who wants to eat a cold sandwich for dinner? Originally we planned to eat out before the party, but with Hitomi coming home late from her sewing class, it seemed more expedient to simply toss some stuff in a pot.

I should rewind a bit further: After getting a nice bonus from work, I decided to buy a kayak kit from Pygmy and Hitomi started working on Leo’s costume. (I say costume, but really she was spending her time on a decoration for Leo’s red wagon.) So the past week or so we’ve been spending our evenings in the basement, me in the garage and Hitomi in from of her sewing machine.

Buying a kayak kit was probably a mistake. It meant lots of cold evenings in a garage, where you can’t really fiberglass without a space heater blasting. And when was I going to kayak anyway? And then with Boon suddenly off to Malaysia due to his father’s passing, and a lot of pressure to complete a work project, this 80 hour epic craft project was more work than I should have committed to. Rather than being a way to relax, it became a source of late-night anxiety. Especially because early on I screwed up a few things—gluing the butt joints not so well—this was now a project I had to complete to get away from.

Back to the Run Scared event: Yes, we managed to arrive just in time for the start, though it was about a 20 minute journey from the registration to the actual start. Leo wasn’t too keen on riding the wagon, and when Leo walks it’s very much a stop and go process. There’s quite a bit of back and forth about sticks coming down from trees, and whatnot. I cannot entirely criticize Leo, as he’s enjoying life in all its aspects, as I’m hurrying it along, but this is a ‘race’. Or at least there’s an end time to try to make. (I’ve done the cycle events where you get back after the event: It is very sad to come back to no food and cheer.)

With some misty rain turning to substantial droplets, and the course devoid of anyone else in costume, it was like no event was taking place. Sure, I enjoyed my costume, and Leo’s, and all the attention from passers by, but what were we really doing here? I was pulling Leo a few miles in the wagon, and Hitomi (8 months pregnant) carried Leo maybe a mile on her back. It wasn’t a physical challenge as much as physical discomfort. The final sweepers—fittingly one a grim reaper, the other an angel—were shadowing us on the way back. They too gave up on us, passed by us to pull out signs; photos of those slain by horrible disease. I didn’t get much of a look as they passed us by. We were struggling to keep the momentum going and made it to the finish, where everyone was eager to pack up the tent and head home.

Fortunately, there were a few slices of pumpkin bread left and we got one of the last balloon animals, which then Leo untwisted into some sort of red probe to probe wherever he could. Hitomi and I had to pee, of course, and the restroom was one last slog. I got the car and we went off to someplace more civilized.

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Movie Night

Hitomi went out on her own for a movie tonight.

I dropped Hitomi off at a place called Playdate, which is an indoor play area mostly designed around the premise of a hamster wheel. Although at his age, it requires parent involvement which means Hitomi (6 months pregnant) to spin that wheel too. So it was understandable she needed the evening off. (Myself, I spent the day at a M:TG pre-release, going 2-2. Ian’s luck was bad, mine was so-so.)

Leo was fully up around 5:30PM. Again, he took a three hour nap, which isn’t unusual I suppose but it sort of makes the evening fairly short. So snack time became dinner and a game of me trying to adjust. I was adding toast 「パン!」, a fried egg, to a bottle of milk, edamame, and fruit. Myself, I quickly came up with pasta and pesto (homemade).

Leo’s obsession with videos 「びお〜」makes its appearance at the end of dinner. We have an iPad loaded with NHK shows like Pachi Pachi Parade, which for all their charm, are fairly unsophisticated. I decided to take him down to our TV room and play something more for older kids.

Of course I have a ton of anime discs. With the appearance of Internet video streaming services, my collection has not really grown the past 5-6 years, but I still have a ton of things to watch. But what to show a toddler? Nothing too scary, violent, flashy or weird, which left me mostly with Ghibli films. I chose Kiki’s Delivery Service. Okay, I knew it was lengthy, but if we got through the first 30 minutes, I would have been satisfied.

I have seen it before, years ago. There were two themes that resonated with me this time around: One was realizing when Kiki was leaving town (at age 13) how her parents felt. Myself, being a parent this time, empathized a lot more. Secondly, was just how unsatisfactory life can be when people are unappreciative. I know the major theme of the movie is finding purpose, and how can one deal with feeling useless at times. Even when doing your job well, it seemingly matters more (for better or worse) how people treat you.

For Leo, I don’t know what he understood. I had fun calling out the various animals (cat, cows, birds, dogs) as well as things like the sea, trees, cars, etc. One thing I forgot about was the big dirigible that unexpectedly floats away and sets up the climax of the film. Leo somehow understood the scale 「おおきいよ!」and although was getting impatient near the end, stood up and watched intently the rescue scene.

Nearing 8PM, it was time for Leo’s bath. He bathes in a clear plastic storage container that resembles an aquarium. Before that, of course, I try to wash and rinse him off, in the manner the Japanese do. . He’s not too keen on warm water 「あっち〜よ」but it’s not really that hot and I try to tease him. I’m sitting on a wooden chair, naked, in the middle of the tub. Aside from his butt and penis「チンチン」, there’s not much really that needs cleaning on this boy and obviously we’re there to have fun.

His pile of toys are kept in a much, much smaller yellow bin that he used to bathe in. There’s a sprayer Hitomi used to irrigate herself post delivery, a kid sized watering can, weird hard plastic toys, and yellow duckies growing black mold in them. The splashing is why I stay naked. I make a half-hearted attempt to clean myself, too, but we use a repurposed Nancy’s yogurt container, that makes a good splash on somebody 30 pounds but not 170.

In good time, Leo climbs out of the plastic bin, and then out of the tub. With wet feet, he’s prone to slip and I try to stamp the water out on a towel on the floor. Then it’s a lot of running around in his bedroom, getting his diaper and pajama’s on. This time, he’s playing with his Lego train set, then after 20 minutes or so I see he’s tossing his collection of balls into the crib, and he soon is crawling in after: My job is done. It’s on with the ceiling slideshow and off to dreamland. (And eventually I need to head back to properly get his sleep sack on so he doesn’t freeze himself awake.)

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Anime Revolution

Just coming back from Otakon, I’m not really sure I wanted to go to yet another convention. Still, going to Vancouver is always pretty fun, and even if the convention wasn’t any good at least we could enjoy bicycling or something else in town.

Hitomi left on her own Thursday night as I had to work Friday. So I left a little early to drive to the border. Traffic was miserable (despite the carpool lane) and Leo in the backseat made it even more miserable. The iPad playing videos seemed to placate Leo, but I found it was pretty grating listening to all the kids songs and I couldn’t listen to my own music. (I had headphones but keeping them on his head as I drove seemed unlikely.)

Finally as the traffic let up past Marysville, we were in Conway and I stopped for some food at the fruit stand. I picked up a sandwich and chips and fresh berries. I did what I could to keep him occupied until the border, feeding him berries from the front seat the the back. The border was like a 30 minute wait and the slower things got the more Leo wanted out. I arrived around 8PM, so a 4 1/2 hour slog, and I was pretty much ready to call the whole thing off.

Although I ate, dinner seemed like a good call and a way to wind things down. The local Izakaya “Hapa” was staffed by hot looking Asian ladies in tight clothes. Our waitress happened to be half Japanese and German and friendly. Yet it was probably not a good place to bring a two year old who likes to climb on tables, on a Friday night. I hate to sound like a Yelp review, but the food wasn’t that great for the price, and it seemed to have interesting dishes, but none seemed really well done.

We grabbed dessert, even though it was quickly getting later and later. Leo was in bed around 10PM, which wasn’t good because I knew he’d be up early. In fact, he was getting us up before 7AM the next day and I was in no mood. I pretty much told Hitomi no more traveling this year. The main reason was not having time with her, and secondarily me not getting enough rest.

I had packed my bicycle and Hitomi had hers, so getting to the convention center was pretty quick. Vancouver has a fantastic pedestrian and bicycle trail around the West End, though expect more than a few tourists to be walking on the bicycle-only path. I had put Leo into a car seat supported on the back of my Ritchey, but I had installed it too high and it felt really scary to turn.

The convention space was one part cruise ship terminal, one part hotel, and the rest anime convention. Throughout the weekend, tourists from the cruise liner were taking their pictures with cosplayers, both kids and grandparents. It was somewhat Disneyland-esque, although a bit more sexy. Girls were dressed as soldiers from the recent anime Attack on Titan, in similar proportion to what I had seen at Otakon.

There wasn’t much to do in the morning, and I stepped into a video room to watch a little of the Steins;Gate dub. I’m not sure the technology or story makes much sense, but I liked the characters and character designs. The dub was well done, but I think the VA director should have had the actors properly pronounce the character names.

We had also taken a look through the dealer’s room. Although it was small, it had some above average stuff. A few of the booths were selling bootlegs, but there was a car wrap company along with a few cars wrapped with the mascot characters from Anime Revolution (ita-sha); large paper art Zelda and Link; a Sci-Fi real-estate agent, who talked a lot; merchandise and shirts that looked really good (Hitomi and I liked the Volunteer pink shirts); talented illustrators, dojinshi arists, and crafters (felt, plushies) in the Artist area; etc. Hitomi met a Japanese lady selling fashionable printed sweatshirts (Retropop Nama) next to the Origa music booth.

I promised to meet Stein for lunch. He walked from Chinatown in the morning to Kirin in the West End. Kirin has good dim sum, but it’s pretty high end, meaning you order off a menu, not from a cart. Unfortunately that made the meal a bit lengthier—meaning not Leo friendly. I thought everything was pretty great, including the rice soup (お粥), but it wasn’t much.

We had arranged a babysitter for the concert that night. The plan was to attend the concert then eat, and be back around 8 or so. But the concert was about an hour late. I was in line and chatted with some Seattle locals and that wasn’t too bad.

The delay was obviously due to technical difficulties (sound), and when the concert began the sound issues were not solved. Anime Revolution seemed either short on speakers or amplifiers. Or perhaps their configuration was wrong. The DJ that came out tried to twist more than a few nobs–what were they for?–but it didn’t seem to matter much.

I hadn’t seen Origa in person, just on video. Obviously she can sing. But as for singing, this time she was singing dance music, and the volume and mix was too quiet. Though actually it was worse than quiet, it was distorted, like she was singing underwater. And it wasn’t really late enough in the evening to feel like dancing. And it’s hard to dance when you’re there to watch somebody on stage.

Yes, Origa primarily was singing club/dance music: It did not help was that her audience was expecting some of the more melodic tracks from anime she was in, namely Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. I was familiar with her less known work, as I bought her CD Era of Queens way back when it came out. She did sing a cappella (maybe no music track? rights issue?) a few songs from GiTS: SAC. But who knew her newer songs?

I had a few thoughts: One was that audio problems are ever so typical for anime conventions. In my opinion, the one thing you don’t mess up when a guest comes is their audio: Forget them at the airport, but all is forgiven if you ensure their sound is pristine. Secondly, they should have had her perform in a dance-like venue. Like, schedule it as the “Anime Revolution Dance starring Origa”. Lastly, it would nice if Sakura-con could invite her as a guest, as she lives in Vancouver, Canada now, and have her do their dance.

Because the concert ran so late, we didn’t have time for dinner before Leo’s babysitting was over. So much for couple’s romance: Riding back with Leo, I stopped and picked up some food at the neighborhood donburi takeout joint. The staff spoke Japanese but obviously didn’t want to with me. Here I was, 9PM at night, yelling at Leo as he rampaged the place, as I waited for the food to be made I was getting my pickles in order.

Back in the room, Leo’s bouncing on the bed while Hitomi and I are finally eating. And after Leo’s in bed at 10, so ends another exhausting, yet uneventful day.

Like most small conventions, Sunday’s schedule was pretty open. Aside from part of one train-wreck panel (Worst Cosplay Contest) I hadn’t seen any panels and was there anything left to see? Hitomi and I chatted up a few people in the exhibit hall. Leo slept in the stroller, eventually.

I picked up the car, and fought traffic to the convention center and out of the city. An hour later or so we were finally in Richmond, where the local mall had some pretty ugly parking lot traffic. The mall we were at had a nice fountain which intrigued Leo and tempted him to reach into the water. Plus there was some sort of exhibit on Italy, complete with Italian cars and motorcycles. Were the local Chinese going to be intrigued to visit Italy? Leo climbed around all the exhibits that he was supposed to stay off of, oh well.

Enough chasing of the kid. We drove back to the U.S., with a stop for dinner at Skagit River Brewery. There was one more convention left for us this summer: Japan Expo USA.

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