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Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics (Part II) March 16, 2010

Posted by Dru in Canada, Sports, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics (Part II)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-nE

In terms of the Olympics themselves, the opening ceremonies were wonderful.  I heard a lot of great reviews from many people.  Of course, we couldn’t top Beijing, and we never tried to.  We did our own thing and had a great time with it.  I am extremely biased, so of course I loved it.  It was artistic and the music was wonderful.  I did, however, fall asleep halfway through, but I blame jetlag as the biggest factor, and it wasn’t very interesting in the middle, to be honest.  In terms of the events themselves, there has been a lot said about different things, and about the Canadian pride.  I will let the media and others talk about that on their own.  For myself, I thankfully had the opportunity to see two events.  I went to see women’s curling on two different days.  When people talk about curling, they only think, “curling”?  It’s a strange sport that is extremely underappreciated.  There is a lot of skill needed to do curling, and there is a lot of thinking involved.  You must use a lot of strategy.  During the games themselves, it was extremely rowdy.  The crowds, obviously it was mainly Canadian, cheered loud and hard for Canada.  Thankfully, many people understand the basic rules of curling, so most of the people could cheer correctly when there was a good or bad shot.  It wasn’t perfect, but people were pretty good about it.  Unfortunately, some of the other players were complaining that it was too loud and they couldn’t hear each other due to the cheering for the Canadian team.  It was part of the Olympic experience, and part of being an athlete.  I personally feel that they should be capable of dealing with these problems as they arose, but I also understand that the fans shouldn’t be as mean about things either.  Even the crowd should get penalties for unsportsmanlike behaviour.

On the Japanese side of things, there were only two sports that really mattered.  The first, and by a long shot, was figure skating.  Figure skating is now the number one winter sport in Japan, at least for the number of fans.  With the rivalry between Mao Asada and Yu-na Kim, it was impossible for Mao Asada to escape the limelight.  She had intense pressure, but by and far, the favourite was Yu-na Kim.  As you must know, by now, the results of their ranking didn’t change anything, and it was a predictable 1-2 finish for them.  The men’s side, however, had a small surprise with Daisuke Takahashi.  He is one of the most passionate skaters I’ve seen in a long time and it was fun to watch him skate.  Many skaters have very little passion when they skate, and it appears lifeless.  He had beaten the odds to become the first Japanese medalist in men’s figure skating.  He should be a hero in Japan.  The second biggest sport of these games was curling.  The Japanese women’s curling team was a young team from Aomori.  They were dubbed, Team Aomori, or Curling Musume (young girls curling).  They were all in their 20s and fairly cute overall.  It was a typical Japanese thing where they took the cutest women and focused a lot on them.  It was a little sad to see them knocked out in the round robin, but I think they did a great job.  If they had another 4 years to train, I’m sure they could come in and possibly steal a bronze medal.  Unfortunately, it’s unlikely, but a new group of young girls will take over and I’m sure women’s curling will get stronger and stronger for them.

By and far, the biggest “event” of these Olympics has to be the party.  Everyday during these Olympics, there was a party somewhere in Vancouver.  Whether it was in the bars, or just on the streets of downtown Vancouver, there was a party somewhere.  When the Canadian women’s hockey team won gold, we had a party.  On the final day of the Olympics, the Canadian men’s hockey team won gold in a nail biting overtime victory over the US team.  The entire country roared to life and screamed at the tops of our collective lungs.  There wasn’t a quite voice in Canada.  From that point on, the city partied until the early morning.  It was amazing to see all of the people erupt into cheers, if not tears, of joy when Sidney Crosby scored the winning goal.  To see thousands of people jump and scream at the same time is amazing.  The only other time you will see this is during a FIFA World Cup final.  You will never see this again.  The only other time you will ever, possibly, see this again is if a Canadian team wins the Stanley Cup.  It was amazing and I hope to experience this again sometime soon.

All in all, the Olympics were an experience that I will never forget.  I will never forget the energy that was in Vancouver while I was there.  I wish it was like that all the time.  People seemed friendlier, and to be able to see so many people walking around and enjoying themselves was a treat.  After the Olympics are finished, and the city returns to normal, things will be different.  I doubt it will return to normal, but the city itself has changed.  Hopefully, the amount of fun we had, and the amount of fun we will have, will continue to grow.  If you ever have a chance to visit Vancouver, I hope you will enjoy it and see all of the things that are left to see.  It’s amazing to enjoy this beautiful city.  It may not have the fashion of New York, or the history of Paris.  It may not have business of Hong Kong, or the craziness of Tokyo.  I would say it’s the most beautiful city in the world with some of the friendliest people as well.  Make sure you meet some people and have fun with them.

This is Part II of a two part series.  To read more about my experiences at the 2010 Winter Olympics, please go to Part I.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics March 9, 2010

Posted by Dru in Canada, Sports, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-nw

On February 14th, 2010, the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics were opened and the Winter Games began.  It was the first and probably only time in my life that I had seen the Olympics and it was in my hometown.  I had been living in Tokyo for well over 4 years and with the Olympics in my hometown, there was no way I was going to miss it.  I made it back to Vancouver a day before the opening ceremonies and I left a couple days after the closing ceremonies.  My only regret is not being able to see the Paralympics and doing a lot more while I was there.

The city of Vancouver was completely transformed during the Olympics.  In the build-up to the games, there was a lot of skepticism, and many local people were against the Olympics thinking it would be a complete waste of time.  From the beginning, I was all for the Olympics and really enjoyed the idea of having a huge party in my “backyard”.  When I arrived at YVR, the nickname and airport code for Vancouver International Airport, I could somewhat feel the excitement.  It wasn’t extremely apparent, but the number of Canadian flags was somewhat more pronounced.  It wasn’t until I passed immigration control that I really started to feel the Olympics.  I arrived on the same day, but a little after a lot of the Russian athletes arrived.  Most of them were waiting for their bags to come out onto the carousel.  When I exited the secure area and entered the lobby, I could definitely feel the energy as there were dozens of reporters, almost all exclusively with Russian media waiting for the athletes to exit.  The entire lobby had roughly 3 times more people than I had ever seen in my life of passing through, and I had been through that lobby countless times.  I had a quick reunion with my mother before we left the airport and headed to my home.

The first thing I noticed when I exited the airport doors and headed to the parking lot was the sheer amount of Olympic activity.  Of course I was expecting this, but there were so many people holding “Visa”, the company, signs and people directing travellers on where to go and what to do to get out of the airport.  It was amazing to see the amount of people helping others.  The energy when arriving is truly indescribable.  You must be there to experience it.  When we left, I was filled with the same nostalgic feeling of returning to your hometown.  If you have never left home, it’s akin to returning to an old neighbourhood.  It feels extremely familiar, yet different.  The air was clean, especially compared to Tokyo, and the sun felt brighter.  Things seemed bluer.  When driving away from the airport, you are greeted with the 5 Olympic rings on the side of the road, roughly 2 stories high.  It’s quite a sight and one of the biggest signs that Vancouver had changed.  I was also surprised by the number of Canadian flags that were adorned to each and every car.  I would say over 50% of the cars had at least one Canadian flag.  It didn’t hurt that car flags are very popular, especially with hockey during the playoffs.  The buzz was definitely felt.

My home is within the city of Vancouver, but closer to the airport.  I live outside the downtown core, so the feeling that the Olympics were in town was different compared to anyone living downtown.  Around my home, there was a feeling that the Olympics were in town, and many homes had Canadian flags, or other country flags hanging in the windows.  It was also common to see the Olympic fleet, a set over 4600 different GM brand, and associated brand, cars were on the streets.  It’s impossible to walk or drive down any major street without seeing a silver or white car with a 2010 Olympic logo and various Olympic designs on it.  Then there are the buses.  Thousands of buses were used to shuttle hundreds, if not thousands of people as part of the media, athletes, and athletes families.  It was amazing to see how many buses came from out of town to help out in the transportation effort.  When travelling outside the city of Vancouver, things tend to quiet down considerably, but within every bar, and most shops, you will always see something Canadian or 2010 related.  The real craziness occurs when you enter the downtown core, or the immediate area surrounding it.

During the Olympics, the area around False Creek and all of downtown extending to Chinatown was in Olympics overdrive.  You couldn’t walk down the street without someone cheering, someone in red, or seeing a maple leaf.  The entire town was full of Canadian pride.  There had been stories about how the “Humble Canadian” was no longer humble, or no longer polite.  While this is true, we do have a lot of pride in our country.  There were dozens of free places to enjoy and there were a lot of things to see and do around this area.  It felt like the weekend everyday, and there was a party every night.  It was borderline chaos, and there were many protesters out in force for a few days leading up to the Olympics, and for the first few days of the Olympics.  By the end of the first week, there was very little, if any talk about protests.  Thankfully, the protests were violent only once, and it was cleaned up so quickly, that by the next day, you couldn’t tell what had happened.  There was also a sense that the people in Vancouver really didn’t care about the protesters anymore.  They were a nuisance and they were now the enemy, vilified by the few bad apples, and by the crying children who were upset that they couldn’t enjoy themselves in the party.  The only other dark side to things were the violent party goers, but this was quashed very quickly by the police who were visible on almost every corner.  It was difficult for any roughhousing to happen and get out of control.

There were several venues throughout the Lower Mainland that had parties.  A couple of major cities had set up party sites and in the downtown core there were roughly a dozen sites for concerts. There was a concert every night and most of them were free.  It was extremely popular and you had a tough time choosing where to go for which party.  It was also a great chance for Canadian artists to get recognized and to show the world how great Canadian music is.  There were also many pavilions where you could learn a little, or a lot, about different areas of Canada, Russia, and other parts of the world.  Each pavilion was different.  As I mentioned, some of them had concert stages where bands would play local music.  They also had local food, and depending on the place, there were different activities.  One of my biggest regrets was not seeing some of the more popular pavilions, but I saw the one that I had to see, the Royal Canadian Mint Pavilion.  This was a very popular one where the line stretched for up to 7 hours at some points.  It was crazy, but well worth it for me.  I didn’t spend 7 hours waiting, but I did wait for roughly 3 hours.  I waited in line to be able to touch the Olympic medals.  For the first time in Olympic history, the medals were available for viewing, and you could actually touch and hold an Olympic medal.   The weight of each medal was impressive, and the fact that you can learn and appreciate it is very different in person.

Before I could touch and feel the medals, I couldn’t fully appreciate how artful each medal is.  Thankfully, I had the opportunity to hold the medals and it is something that I will never forget.  The only other free event that I wish I could have tried was the Ziptrek line.  It was a free ride that took you on a trip that spanned over 100 metres at roughly 60 metres above ground.  You clipped into a harness and special rope and glided down the rope from one side of a square to the other.  It took roughly 30 seconds to get there, but I heard it was a tremendous experience.  Unfortunately, the lines were at least 5 hours long, and at times 7 hours, so I didn’t bother to wait.  It was too crazy and I had better things to do with my time.  I do wish I had more time to explore and see more of the regional houses, but that’s the price you pay when you have the Olympics and you don’t visit the different areas every single day.  You can miss out on a lot.

This is Part I of a two part series.  To continue reading about the 2010 Winter Olympics, please head over to Part II.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Shinkansen – North Routes March 2, 2010

Posted by Dru in Hokkaido, Japan, Kanto, Tohoku.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Shinkansen – North Routes” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-kJ

Heading north, rather than south, provides a very different experience using the Shinkansen.  Unlike the Tokaido/Sanyo/Kyushu Shinkansen, the lines heading north share a main trunk and branch off at various points.  There are three main lines, and two “mini-shinkansen” that start from Tokyo Station.  The longest line is the Tohoku line.  This line started at the same time as the Joetsu line, but the Tohoku line will become more important in the near future.  The Tohoku line currently runs from Tokyo all the way to Hachinohe.  By the end of 2010, this service will be extended to Aomori, which is the larger than Hachinohe.  Ultimately, the line will be extended further from Aomori to Hakodate, and then Sapporo.  Unfortunately, Hakodate won’t be open until 2015, projected, and Sapporo may not open until 2020.  It will be a long time, but when finished, it will cut the time from roughly 12 hours, to just under 4 hours for the most direct services.  This will severely affect air travel as it currently takes 3 hours for most people to reach Sapporo from Tokyo.

The Tohoku line is also connected to the Yamagata and Akita Shinkansen lines.  These services are slightly different compared to regular Shinkansen.  These lines use special trains that are narrower, and run at grade with various level crossings.  They are usually coupled with regular Tohoku trains, but branch out at their respective start points.  For this reason, it’s very important to know which train you are boarding.  It’s very easy to be on the wrong train from Tokyo Station, but the signs are usually clearly marked, and train staffs usually check tickets while the train is between stations.

The Joetsu Shinkansen is far simpler as there is only one line with no connections.  The complex part is that it shares the tracks with the Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo to Omiya.  This is due to costs.  It’s very easy to see trains along the Tokyo portion of the line due to the volume of trains passing.  Recently, it has also become popular for hotels to create “train” suites.  These are rooms with views of the train tracks.  This is popular for “te-chans”, slang for train spotters in Japan.  You could also make it derogatory by saying “densha-otaku”, but that’s a different story.  It has also proved popular for young families with boys who love trains.  What better way to “take a trip” and not spend too much money.  As always, kids love boxes more than the toys that are inside them.  The Joetsu Shinkansen itself was built to service Niigata, but it also serves a small ski resort called Gala-Yuzawa.

A relatively less used, yet equally important Shinkansen line is the Nagano line.  This was built in time for the Nagano Olympics.  Currently, it shares over half of its line with both the Tohoku and Joetsu Shinkansen lines.  There are relatively few trains that travel this section due to the limited service range.  It basically follows the Joetsu route from Tokyo to Takasaki, where it branches off on its own to Nagano.  There is a planned extension from Nagano to Kanazawa by 2015.  By this time, the line should be renamed to the Hokuriku Shinkansen, further extensions to Tsuruga Station has been planned and will be built.  The line will ultimately link up with Osaka someday in the future.  The main purpose of this line is to connect the major cities on the Sea of Japan side of Japan to the main cities of Japan.  Whether it will prove popular or profitable will remain to be seen.

All three main lines utilize the same trains, while the Yamagata and Akita Shinkansen use their own specialized trains, for reasons mentioned above.  The trains have a similar styling to the southern route trains.  They used to use similar naming methods as their southern route cousins, but now they use the prefix E before their designation.  Due to this naming convention, you can still ride the 200 series train, which is very similar to the 0 and 100 mentioned in my previous post.  The first “modern” train you can travel on is the E1, a wedge nosed, bi-level, Shinkansen.  In 1997, the E2, E3, and E4 were introduced.  The E2 is similar to a duck billed train, but it isn’t as strongly pronounced.  It’s also one of only two trains that have been exported, the other being the 700 series.  The E2 was exported to China for use on their high speed railway.  The E4 is a bi-level train, like the E1, but with a duck bill nose.  The E3 looks like most European high speed trains, but used only for the Yamagata and Akita lines.  By 2011, there will be a new rain, the E5 entering service.  This is expected to take the system into Sapporo when that line opens.  It will be the fastest train in the entire Shinkansen fleet.

The final impression of this fleet is that it’s great!  Coming from Canada where high speed rail is non-existent, this would go a long way to connecting any country.  Countries such as China have begun their own high speed networks.  President Obama has also pledged to start thinking, and possibly building it soon.  If done right, it can earn money and save a lot of fuel.  Connecting Vancouver to San Diego is a viable option, so is Toronto to Miami.  While we must never forget how we get the electricity to power trains, it’s still probably cleaner overall compared to planes.  Can they replace planes completely?  Conventionally, they cannot replace planes at the moment.  We’ll have to wait for maglev trains before that could happen, but even then we are limited to specific ranges.  If you do travel to Japan, do try to use the Shinkansen.  It’s a fun, if expensive, way to travel.  Be sure to buy a JR Pass if you are only visiting.  It’s worth the cost if you head from Tokyo to Kyoto, even for just a day.

This is the second part of two in the Shinkansen series.  To read more, continue to the Shinkansen – South Routes.

Information:

Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinkansen
Japan Guide (Great page for a snapshot of major services): http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2018.html
Japan Railways (Lots of information on what to do in Japan):  http://www.japanrail.com/
Japan Railways (Shinkansen Page):  http://www.japanrail.com/index.php?page=JR-Shinkansen-bullet-train
JR East:  http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/routemaps/shinkansen.html

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Shinkansen – South Routes February 23, 2010

Posted by Dru in Chubu, Chugoku, Japan, Kansai, Kanto, Kyushu.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Shinkansen – South Routes” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-kH

Travelling by train in Japan is one of the easiest, yet most complex things to do.  It is a must for anyone who visits Japan. Going to Tokyo, or even Osaka, you are generally better off using the trains.  Travelling by car can take a lot more time.  While the most used trains are in Tokyo, the most famous train line is the Shinkansen.  This is Japan’s high speed rail line, which happens to also be the first high speed rail line in the world.  It was opened before the Tokyo Olympics, and has been expanding ever since.  The most famous image of the Shinkansen has to be that of the 0 series.  These were the original trains that have only recently been retired.  As of December 2008, these trains were taken out of service.  All of the other trains have remained, but each year, several of the older trains have been retired.

The first Shinkansen line was the Tokaido line.  This is the most famous line as it helps tourists head from Tokyo all the way to Kyoto, and for business travellers as it connects Tokyo with Nagoya and Osaka.  While all of the trains are called “Super Express”, this moniker can be confusing.  The Shinkansen is a super express, relative to regular train services.  When taking the Shinkansen, it’s very important to know which train you are taking.  A Nozomi, Hikari, and Kodama are all very different.  When using the JR Pass, the Nozomi is off limits.  If you do take this train, you might end up paying for the full fare regardless.  This is due to the sheer numbers of people using these trains.  Thankfully, the Hikari is still pretty quick with only a few extra stops, compared to the Nozomi.  The only downside is that travelling to Hiroshima and Hakata, in Fukuoka, is a little difficult.

The second Shinkansen line is the Sanyo line.  This is essentially an extension of the Tokaido line.  This allowed the line to connect Fukuoka, in Kyushu, to Tokyo.  Unfortunately, the trains can take around 8 hours to connect both cities making it impractical for most travellers.  Flying is still the best, but Hiroshima can be better than flying, due to airport locations.  When travelling along the Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen, there are several trains you could use.  The oldest currently being used is the 100 series.  This is styled like the 0 series.  These trains only travel along the Sanyo portion for Kodama (local) services.  It stops at every station, so the chance of riding this is pretty low for the average traveller.  The 300 series is the next oldest of the trains.  This series was fairly popular, but as I am writing this, they are slowly being phased out.  Currently, they are used for Kodama and Hikari services, with an occasional Nozomi.  This was the first Shinkansen that utilized a wedge style nose, rather than a “bullet” style nose.

In Japan, one of the most famous Shinkansen has to be the 500 series.  It is the most unique Shinkansen for its styling.  These trains have a sharp pointed nose, grey and purple colouring, and resemble a fighter jet, rather than an airplane or train.  Prior Shinkansen were made to resemble airliners.  The 500, while striking, was not very popular with customers.  It was very fast, but it was like a Ferrari.  It was relatively small inside, due to the tube like shape of the body.  The windows were smaller, it was darker inside, and a little noisy as each car had its own engine.  Few of these trains were made, but it’s still a popular train for train spotters.  The recent designs along these lines are the 700 series.  The 700 was the first duckbill styled Shinkansen.  The N700 is an evolution of the 700 series with more emphasis on comfort.  The N700 is also the first Shinkansen to be all non-smoking.  They do have smoking rooms.  In the older trains, there are smoking cars.  Entry into these cars is only for smokers.  Anyone else would be forced to leave, not by the train staff, but by the amount of smoke inside the car.  You can literally see a thick haze of smoke, and you can smell it in the adjacent car.  The N700 is quickly entering service and will be the main workhorse of these lines.  While the windows are a bit smaller than the 700, there is wifi access, for a fee, and two prong outlets in each row.  They are definitely thinking about their businessmen.

Connecting to the Sanyo Shinkansen is the Kyushu Shinkansen.  Currently, this Shinkansen line is under construction, with the southern portion complete.  This will link Hakata with Kagoshima, a city in the south of Kyushu.  At this moment, the line is running from Kagoshima to a point roughly half way to Hakata, the end of the line.  By the spring of 2011, this line is expected to be completed with through service to Osaka starting.  This line uses the 800 series of trains, which abandoned the duckbill style of the 700 series.  These trains have a more European styling, and the interior is said to be nicer than other Shinkansen trains.  When the line is completed, N700 trains will be used as well.  This will make it very easy to reach Kagoshima for most travellers.

This is the first part of two in the Shinkansen Series.  Please continue on to read more about the Shinkansen – North Routes.

Information:

Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinkansen
Japan Guide (Great page for a snapshot of major services): http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2018.html
Japan Railways (Lots of information on what to do in Japan):  http://www.japanrail.com/
Japan Railways (Shinkansen Page):  http://www.japanrail.com/index.php?page=JR-Shinkansen-bullet-train
JR Central (Note:  Lots of information on operations and reliability):  http://english.jr-central.co.jp/about/index.html
JR West (Note: This page is not very interesting):  http://www.westjr.co.jp/english/travel/
JR Kyushu (Note:  Great pictures of their trains):  http://www.jrkyushu.co.jp/english/tsubame_top.html

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Twitter/Twitpic January 24, 2010

Posted by Dru in Uncategorized.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Twitter/Twitpic” and other posts.  http://wp.me/s2liAm-twitter

This is a quick post to let you know that I have started a Twitter account.  Sometimes I find interesting things in and around Tokyo, let alone Japan.  I will be posting them up there.  My Twitter account will probably be very different from this blog.  This blog has focused a lot more on my travels in Japan, whereas the Twitter account will probably focus more on things I see.

I have already put up one quick post regarding McDonald’s.  They have the new “Texas Burger”.  It’s the start of their “State” burgers.  Every 15 days, or so, they will release a new burger.  February will see the New York and California burger, followed by the Hawaii burger in March.  I hope you can enjoy my Twitter page as well as this page.

My Twitter page may also provide a few previews into posts that will come in the future.  I will be lucky enough to be heading to the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.  If I have nice pictures, I will post them into my Twitter account before they go live here with a full post.

http://twitter.com/dru46

http://twitpic.com/photos/dru46

Dru

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