3rd & 4th February 2023: Final Fantasy Distant Worlds 35th Anniversary – Coral – in Barcelona (Spain)

3rd February 2023: Mummies, fish, and music

Though I would not have minded to become a gamer back in the day, my joint issues discouraged this. Thus, my relation with the Final Fantasy saga is tangential. However, my sibling is a big fan of one of the instalments, and last year I accompanied them to Final Fantasy VII Remake Orchestra World Tour in Barcelona in 2021. Having had more time to prepare for this one, we got VIP tickets, and I planned a two-day outing.

Our arrival in Barcelona happened right on schedule, and we walked from the station to Caixa Forum Barcelona to see the exhibit Momias de Egipto. Redescubriendo seis vidasEgyptian mummies; Rediscovering six lives, in collaboration with the British Museum. I am not sure whether the items are part of the actual collection over there or are in the archives, because I don’t really remember seeing any of the mummies. The Barcelona exhibits focus around six mummies and how they lives could have been before their deaths. Aside from the actual mummies and their sarcophagi or coffins, there are objects that they may have used in life, and images of what the bodies look like inside the wrappings.

It was at the very same time interesting and creepy, everything we can get to know through technology about these poor souls who passed away millennia ago. There was information about their age, illnesses, and objects they had been buried with – god statuettes, jewellery, funerary miniatures… One of the mummies in display was that of a small child with his face painted on the wrapping, that was more than a bit creepy, to be honest.

A collage showing a a mummy and a turquoise wrapping; a sarcophagus; four canope jars; three statuettes: Horus, an ibis, Thoth; close-up of a sarcophagus, with bright colours; a mummy and a plain wooden casket.

We took the underground towards the waterfront to visit L’Aquàrium de Barcelona, located in the harbour. With more than 11,000 animals and 450 species, it is the largest aquarium dedicated to the Mediterranean Sea. It was inaugurated in 1995 and it holds 35 aquariums, including an oceanarium with capacity for almost four million litres of water (36 metres diameter, five metres high) with two tunnels at the bottom. Species-wise, the aquarium does not have anything out of the ordinary, but the size of the tiger sand sharks is impressive. There are a few sharks, some tropical fish, axolotls, frogs… and a very fun sperm-whale room to keep the jellyfish in darkness.

A collage of the aquarium. Seahorse; swimming sharks; anaemone; baby dogfish shark; tiny crustacean similar to a prawn; sand tiger shark; octopus trying to eat the viewers; penguin showing off; fabulous tiny jellyfish

We grabbed an expensive-but-convenient bite to eat at the aquarium itself during some of the feeding events to make sure the cafeteria was empty. AFter we had finished viewing all the exhibits, we went on towards the hotel, which was well-placed between the auditorium and the shopping centre. Since check in had been so bad when we went to the previous Final Fantasy concert, this time we had booked different accommodation, and it was a total 180 – everyone in the hotel was super friendly, and we had zero issues. We procured some sandwiches for dinner, then got ready for the concert.

The Final Fantasy Distant Worlds 35th Anniversary – Coral – directed by Arnie Roth is a compilation of the background pieces from all the Final Fantasy games, from the first (1987) to the latest to date not counting the remakes (Final Fantasy XV, 2016. It was held at the CCIB – Centre de Convencions Internacional de Barcelona. We had no idea what time doors would open, but I calculated that an hour should be good for queuing for merch and then get to our seats.

By the time we got to the queue, the concert booklet had already been sold out. When we reached the front, my favourite plush toys were also gone. I decided to get the previous year’s CD in order to get it signed later at the meet & greet event that was included in the ticket we had bought. Looking back, maybe I should have asked for the autographs on the tote bag we got for the spending.

The concert had two halves and an encore, and was… strangely not very coral, for something called so. The choir was placed over to one side, and only did three or four songs – they actually did not show up for the whole first half. The set list was accompanied by projected images on the screen and it was super-impessive to see the first 8-bit games at first compared to what the technology of the latest Advent Children (movie from Final Fantasy VII) managed to create.

    First half

  1. Final Fantasy I~III: Medley 2002
  2. Final Fantasy III: Eternal Wind
  3. Final Fantasy IV: The Red Wings ~ Kingdom of Baron
  4. Final Fantasy IV: Main Theme of Final Fantasy IV
  5. Final Fantasy V: Home, Sweet Home ~ Music Box
  6. Final Fantasy V: A New World
  7. Final Fantasy VI: Phantom Forest ~ Phantom Train ~ The Veldt
  8. Final Fantasy VI: Kids Run Through the City
  9. Final Fantasy I~VI: Battle Medley 2022

    Second half

  10. Final Fantasy VIII: Liberi Fatali
  11. Final Fantasy XI: Ragnarok
  12. Final Fantasy XII: Flash of Steel
  13. Final Fantasy VII: Aerith’s Theme
  14. Final Fantasy XIV: Torn from the Heavens
  15. Final Fantasy XV: Apocalypsis Noctis
  16. Final Fantasy IX: Not Alone
  17. Final Fantasy X: 素敵だね [Suteki da ne] (Isn’t it wonderful?)
  18. Final Fantasy Main Theme with Choir ~ The Definitive Orchestral Arrangement ~

    Encore

  19. Final Fantasy X: Zanarkand
  20. Final Fantasy VII: One-Winged Angel

The concert was all right. I did not feel the general chill I had through the previous one. I really liked Liberi Fatali and One-Winged Angel, but I guess I don’t have enough of an emotional connection with most of the games. Aside from the conductor Arnie Roth, we had composer Yoko Shimomura present, and vocalist RIKKI, who is the original singer of 素敵だね in Japanese, and did the live version.

Collage. Three pictures show a classical orchestra with different things projected on the screen behind them - the logo of Distant worlds, several 8-bit screenshots of games, a very realistic depiction of a blond man with a very unrealistic sword. The last picture shows singer RIKKI, composer Yoko Shimomura and conductor Arnie Roth

The M&G was fun, and I got to tell Roth that when I grow up I want to have as much fun as he does at work. They signed autographs and took pictures with people – it was much less stiff than the usual, too. We headed off afterwards for a sandwich, a shower and a good night’s sleep. In general though, not much value for money considering how much more expensive the VIP tickets were, even though the seats were good. Also, the fact that most merchandising sold out showed poor planning.

Collage. The ticket reading the name of the concert, the autographs of the three main artists, and a plush of a Final Fantasy imaginary being, it looks like a white teddy bear with a huge pink nose, a red ball on top of it and cute wings

4th February 2023: Ramen with Friends

We had bed and breakfast at the hotel, and the latter was fantastic. The buffet had both a juice bar and a milk bar – both of which I sampled, of course. I overdid it with the fried egg, I fear, but they were just cooked and it looked just too appetizing not to fall for one. After breakfast, we packed up, vacated the room, and asked the hotel to keep our bags for a couple of hours. We went to the science museum Museu de Ciències Naturals NAT, where we spent a couple of hours. This is the only place where they refused to speak Spanish to us.

The museum is divided in several areas. The first one is “history of the Earth”, where you can see a few interactive exhibits, fossils and reproductions. The second one is the collection of living animals, most of the stuffed, some of them just skeletons. There was another one about fungi – with the edible ones exhibited in tins. Then there was one on plants, and finally rocks and minerals. Not a bad place to spend a couple of hours, but it is just one of those places that takes itself much more seriously than it should, to the point that it felt pretentious. Some items were exhibited over and over again, as if they just wanted to use up the room – I counted at least eight elbaite specimens in different locations, and there were a bunch of reproductions taking up important spaces, you would believe they were originals if not paying lots of attention to the writing, and the blue light made for horrid photographs.

Collage. Four pictures show prehistoric animals in blue light, stuffed animals, a tin of mushrooms along real specimens, a red algae and some shiny rocks.

We transited to Sants train station to drop off my sibling’s bag at the cloakroom there and went on to meet my Barcelona friends E**** and P***o who had offered to take us to eat really-real Japanese ramen. Since I had a feeling that the restaurant would be on the small-ish side, and my sibling’s luggage was a bit oversized since they had cosplayed for the concert, I decided on the Sants detour for convenience.

The restaurant is called KOBUTA ramen i més (Kobuta Ramen and More) and I was amused when all of us made the same choice – tonkotsu miso ramen with an extra of half an egg, and water; then we shared some gyoza (dumplings) and karaage (fried chicken). The restaurant is not cheap, but the food makes up for that, it is very authentic Japanese food.

Collage. A dish of breaded fried chicken, some dumplings, and a bowl of ramen, with the ingredients floating - algae, half an egg, noodles, pork meat and spring onion

Though P***o had to leave early, the rest of us headed off towards the bullfighting-ring-turned shopping centre Arenas de Barcelona. There, we climbed up the terrace for views, then sat down for drinks and a long chat. We also popped into the local comic store, since it was convenient, and eventually we headed off to the station.

Collage. Shopping centre las Arenas, a round building that used to be a bullfighting ring, there are two pictures, one by daylight and another one at night, lit up. There's a picture of the views- two clock towers leading to a palace; finally three glasses together showing brightly coloured drinks - yellow, orange and dark pink

The train ride home was surreal. People playing music on their phones, yelling, talking loudly and making the footrests squeak – apparently there had been some kind of sporting event for kids and a lot of families were coming back home. All in all, not a bad couple of days, lots of laughs, I got to see dear friends and eat nice food, and listen to cool music – in the CCIB, not on the train.

27th June 2022: One unexpected Aquarium visit. Zaragoza (Spain)

Because life is strange sometimes, I found myself travelling to Zaragoza in a super-slow train that took three and a half hours (while the high-speed train takes around one hour). It was somewhat of an emergency so we had to leave on Sunday in the late afternoon, and came back on Monday. We booked a hotel next to the station, one that had been built for the Expo 2008, and it goes without saying that the hotel had indeed seen better times.

My company was not required on Monday morning, so I walked towards the area that had been the Expo’08. I crossed river Ebro using the bridge Puente del Tercer Milenio, the longest concrete bow-string bridge in the world, designed by architect Juan José Arenas de Pablo.

Several views of Zaragoza's Millenium Bridge. It is white, arched in form, and the middle is held by a zigzag of wiring.

The north wind was blowing and it was a bit uncomfortable. Furthermore, the area where the Expo used to be was creepy. A lot of it was abandoned and / or fenced off, and even if they had tried to make it a park it just looked derelict and forsaken.

A collage of the parks, buildings and decorations from the former Expo 98. Everything looks derelict, with dry weeds growing where there used to be fountains. Interestingly, no windows are broken.

I looked over at the river Río Ebro. To both sides there were bridges – Pasarela del Voluntariado to the downstream to the left, and Pabellón Puente upstream to the right.

A panoramic from the river bank. There is a bird flying, the sky is blue and there are several clouds

Then I went to the river aquarium Acuario de Zaragoza, which prides itself in being the largest freshwater aquarium in Europe.

The aquarium is divided in five areas or rivers, organised surrounding a central freshwater tank called “World River”, where there are no sharks, but there are several arapaima (Arapaima gigas), one of the largest freshwater species of fish, up to 2 metres long.

Huge Amazonian fish swimming about.

The first river is the Nile (Egypt). It included (obviously) a bunch of fish, a couple of Nile crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus), a Nile monitor lizard (Varanus niloticus, which had somehow by the way figured out that it lived in an enclosure with a sliding door and… was trying to get it open), a couple of lungfish, perches…

Collage: a Nile monitor lizard, Nile crocodiles chilling, and colourful fish.

The second river is the Mekong (China), which is known for its giant fish – as a matter of fact, the largest freshwater fish ever was recently found there. There are also an insane amount of catfish – in the river, the aquarium has them under control. The most interesting thing about the Mekong is the freshwater rays.

Collage: Big orange-and-red fish, and a freshwater ray, which is black with white spots. It looks a bit like a pan.

The third river is the Amazon (Brazil), which is the largest river ever, so there are three separate areas – the blackwater-flooded forest or Igapó, the forest itself, and the mangrove. The displays included Knysna turaco (Tauraco corythaix), which is the “only true red and green bird”, green iguana (Iguana iguana), catfish, red-bellied piranha (Pygocentrus nattereri), electric eels (Electrophorus electricus), anaconda (Eunectes notaeus).

Collage: black and white fish with whiskers, a green and blue bird silendly judging the photographer, brightly-coloured fish and something that looks like a rock but it's actually a weird turtle.

Then there is the Darling-Murray river (Australia), which must be saltier than I had expected, because apparently clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris) and anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor) packs, and seahorses, along Pearl arowanas (Scleropages jardinii), tree frogs (Litoria caerulea), and the supercute (I think it was a) nobbi dragon (Diporiphora nobbi)…

Collage: A lizard, quite unamused; a clown fish hiding behind an anemone

Finally, there’s the Ebro river, the local one. There are the endemic barbs (“barbo de Graells” Luciobarbus graellsii), the local otter (Lutra lutra) and sturgeons (Acipenser sp.).

Collage: a turtle, an edible fish, and a blurry otter that would not stay still for a picture

Throughout the whole run there are hundreds of turtles – the aquarium runs a turtle rescue scheme in order to get abandoned pet turtles out from the rivers, mostly the pond slider (Trachemys scripta).

I saw some of the old Expo’08 mascot, and some people diving in the central tank – I don’t think I’d go into a tank with the arapaima, even if they were swimming near when I was feeding the manatee in Faunia. There were also some animals that had been rescued from illegal trade and donated to the aquarium.

After the aquarium, there was only coming back in yet another train that took over three hours. It was the weirdest trip I have ever taken…

18th August 2018: Plan Switching. Kyoto → Osaka → Nara {Japan, summer 2018}

On this day I was supposed to hike up a mountain – mount Takao to be precise. But you know what? When I woke up that morning I just did not feel up to it, so I decided to change my plans. In the end when you’re on the JR Pass you can get from Kyoto to Osaka for free. For a change, I actually got to Osaka instead of Shin-Osaka which was convenient. Then I grabbed the underground to get to Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan [海遊館], which is actually the largest aquarium in the world.

I had been there before, but the previous time I did not get to see the whale sharks as they were ‘quarantined’. How can anyone block a tank which is in the middle of the whole damn thing, I have no idea, but they did. This time I broke even and had a blast. Unfortunately the Aquarium was packed because this was a Saturday morning, and for some reason my back was hurting a lot. I had dropped my luggage off at a coin locker because I thought it would be better. However at some points I could not really walk straight. The weight of the camera bag was too much and I had to sit down. Found a nice place to watch the sharks from, though.

After the Aquarium I went to Kuchu Teien [空中庭園], observatory in the Umeda Sky Building [梅田スカイビル] to have a look at the skyline and to get the stamp for the Japan Towers rally. I got the greatest omg-gaijin face of the trip here (and truth be told, had I known that the stamp was actually held at the reception desk and not the actual observatory, I might have skipped this). In this case the building is an attraction itself. It consists on two towers joined by some passageways and a circular platform at the top, with see-through escalators.

Next the plan was going to Dotombori, stroll down there, and eat some takoyaki before heading off to Nara where I had my hotel for the night. When I got to the station and jumped on the Osaka Loop line, it turned out that I actually was in the train that continues on to Nara… and it was air conditioned and I had a seat…

I found it a sign and decided to just go with the flow and get to Nara [奈良] on that train. Upon arriving there I checked into the hotel and I decided to go to Nara koen [奈良公園], the main Nara park, and see if I could feed a sacred shika [鹿] deer or two. This was close to 5 pm by now so all the temples would be closing anyway. I did feed the deer some shika senbei [鹿煎餅] (deer crackers), and one of the does bit me. Not even the hand that was feeding her, she actually tried to snack on my tummy. Sheesh.

As I was coming back down I had a pretty sunset over Kōfuku-ji [興福寺].

15th August 2018: Hikone is small and at noon it turns into a pumpkin? Hikone → Kyoto {Japan, summer 2018}

As I had learnt the way to the castle entrance the previous day, first thing in the morning I headed off to Hikone Castle. The walk to the castle is flanked by the Irohamatsu [いろは松], which is a row of special pine trees that were planted there as their roots grow downwards but not sideways.

Hikone castle, Hikone-jō [彦根城], is one of the twelve castles that retain the original keep and one of the five to be a national treasure. The ticket included the castle, the museum, and the Gardens. I was there when they opened so the affluence of people was not to big yet.

Being one of the important ones made two things happen – one, that you have to take your shoes off, and two, that the stairs are crazy. Good thing I was not carrying my backpack – I had left it at the hotel but they told me they could only keep it till noon for whatever reason, so it was a good thing that Hikone is not as big of a town as others. The interior structure of the castle is naked wood, and it feels quite severe.

After the castle I went to the Hikone-jō Hakubutsukan [彦根城博物館], the Castle Museum, as it started drizzling. Normally the castles have the museum inside, but this one was in a nearby tower next to the main gate.

My next destination were the Genkyuen [玄宮園], a traditional garden from where you can spot the castle.

Also within castle grounds was the Kaikoku kinen-kan [開国記念館] (officially translated as Hikone City Museum of History, but it is more as “Memorial Hall”) – unfortunately pics were not allowed except for this Lego Castle.

Finally I checked out Shigakengokoku Jinja [滋賀縣護國神社] under daylight.

I walked back to the hotel through the main street, where I saw many stone statue shops displaying their work - including the city mascot, Hikonyan [ひこにゃん].

Finally, after picking up my luggage from the hotel I stopped by the Ii Naomasa Ritsuzō [井伊直政立像], the Statue / Monument to Ii Naomasa, who was the original builder of the castle.

I jumped on the Hikone Rapid Express, which was packed, and headed off to my next destination, Kyoto [京都]. As I was earlier than expected, I got a jump-start on sightseeing. This would later proof to be not too much of a good idea – originally I only wanted to do one temple so I did not put my luggage into a coin locker. Looking back, I should have.

I went to To-ji [東寺], a Buddhist temple whose pagoda had drawn my attention every time I had been in Kyoto before.

Then, as it was quite close, I decided to check out the aquarium, Kyoto Suizokukan [京都水族館].

Finally, I went to Daishōgun Shōten Machi Ichi-jō Yōkai Street [大将軍商店街 一条妖怪ストリート], a shopping area with a lot of yokai and yokai-like mascots. Unfortunately, most everything was closed due to the Obon festivities, which in the end made for an unrewarded extra effort. Here I was trying to pace myself and not doing a good job out of it.

On my way to Yokai street and back I saw Jinja Kitano-Jinja Otabisho [北野神社 御旅所],

Jizo-in [地蔵院 ],

and finally Daishogun Hachi Jinja [大将軍八神社].

Finally I backtracked to the station and headed off to the hotel for some rest. I made a mental list of things that were incredibly close to the hotel and I could do the following day.

28th July – 3rd ‎August ‎2018: The Spanish “Levante”

My parents sometimes vacation in this tourist-like complex in a little town called San Juan de Alicante in the east of Spain (the “Levante”). My father uses it as a base for diving trips, and sometimes I tag along to keep my mother company. When we arrived this year we found out that there was a new resident family in the garden – a family of squirrels that had apparently shown up travelling in trees that were going to be planted. The complex management decided to make squirrel-nurturing the local sport. Guests were encouraged to watch out for them, and leave them nuts. Also, there were educational signs about what was safe or unsafe to feed the little critters. I caught sight of them at some point or another.

One of the selling points of the complex – aside, of course, from the swimming pool and the great room service – are the big gardens, with lots of trees and plants, and the rescue bunnies. Now the squirrels came over to complete the scene.

31st July 2018: Chocolate & Lobster. Not together.

A meagre 20-minute-drive away from this little town stands the village of Villajoyosa, which translates into something akin to “The joyous village”. If you’ve never heard of it, I’ll just have you known that it has a chocolate factory, the Fábrica de Chocolates Valor, and the chocolate museum (and of course the shop). As it is a working factory, the visit is of course guided. We were told that there was usually a long queue, so we were there before 9:30 for the 10:00 visit, and we were quite literally the first to arrive. Once inside, you get to see what they call the museum, with a short video about how they used to and still make the chocolate, and you visit some of the old equipment. Then, there is a short trip around the factory using some hanging planks – when we were there, the production was halted due to pre-Christmas-campaign holidays. So FYI Christmas chocolate is made in August. The visit was done in one hour, and then we splurged in the shop.

After the visit we went back to the complex, where we had booked a made-to-order lobster “paella” (traditional rice dish) for lunch, and boy was it awesome. I totally sinned with the apple pie afterwards, too.

1st August 2018: Alicante

The day started awesomely with coffee and pancakes, and that alone worked to make me happy.

Besides, twenty minutes in the opposite direction from Villajoyosa we had Alicante. And we could also be lazy and not take the car out, we could just take the bus. We wanted to see the archaeological museum, Museo Arqueológico Provincial MARQ de Alicante, and that was out first stop. However, for some reason a bunch of pictures got lost – and I can only show you this of the library, where pictures were not allowed anyway. It was a… photography accident.

After the museum, we walked around the base of Monte Benacantil, the mount in the middle of Alicante – again, literally – until we were exactly on the opposite side to find the entrance to the Castillo de Santa Bárbara, Santa Bárbara’s castle. The castle is of Arab origin, it may have been built the 8th century. However, there are archaeological remains in the mount dating from prehistoric times. The castle gave the city of Alicante a vantage point towards any kind of threat, whether it originated on land or the ocean. The castle was reconstructed in the 16th century, and later, in the 18th century, it played a part in the war against the French.

After this we walked over to have lunch at a restaurant we had read over in the tourist complex magazine, a prime Japanese restaurant called Nigo, which has the best sushi I’ve ever tried outside Japan.

After that we headed back to the complex and planned our next move.

2nd August 2018: Valencia Diversion

My father was unable to go on his two planned diving outings, so we decided to head home early. However, he was feeling a little disappointed over the cancellation, and I suggested that maybe we could take a detour somewhere else instead. In the end, we decided to book a hotel in Valencia and use the time to visit the Oceanogràfic over there. This is a large aquarium complex. We also reserved a table at the “Submarine Restaurant” and had lunch there.

The aquarium opened in 2003 as part of a big project called “the city of art and science” in Valencia. It has a double layout, over- and underground. The underground area is the big aquariums are built, while the upper enclosures hold most the mammals and the birds.

Once we were done, we said goodbye to the sharks and hi to the nice sunset. Next morning we drove back home.

23rd & 24th June 2018: London Express (England, Great Britain)

I took some family members over to London for the weekend, and they asked me to organise something so they could see a lot of things. We took the red-eye flight so we were downtown London something around 8:30. Our first visit had tickets for 10:00, so first spot was a Costa Coffee for breakfast! (≧▽≦)

Afterwards we saw the Tower Bridge over the Thames.

Then, at the right time, we walked into the Tower of London, where we wandered around visiting all the areas, including the White Tower, the dungeons, the Crown Jewels vault and the raven nests.

Once we were done, we took the underground to the British Museum for a quick visit through the most important collections, along with a few of the less known but interesting things – in the end we saw the Babylonian, Grecian, Egyptian collections, and had a glimpse at a few of the Chinese artefacts and the Hoa Hakananai’a from Easter Island.

We had lunch in-between and then went to the hotel to drop our things off. After that, we took off again and, via underground, we reached Trafalgar Square. We walked towards Piccadilly and on the way we stopped at Legoland and M&Ms shop. Then had dinner in an Angus steakhouse in Leicester square, and to end the day, we had a look at the lit Piccadilly Circus.

We got back to the hotel, and honestly, I had not realised how close to the centre we actually were until I looked out of the window.

The next morning we woke up early and headed off to have breakfast on the go – actually the weather was super nice so we got ourselves some Nero coffee and sandwiches and ate them in front of Westminster’s Abby. As it was Sunday we could not visit the Abby, but we saw the scaffolded Big-Ben, and walked around the Houses of Parliament.

We went to visit the Monument to Emmeline Pankhurst because the youngest person in the group needed to be told about a period in history in which she would not have been as free as she is today.

After that, we crossed over the Thames, then moved on to the London Eye. Half of the group wanting to go up, the other half being not fans of heights, we divided and conquered – two of us went to the London Aquarium while the other three enjoyed their VIP ride in the London Eye. I know you are not surprised I picked the side with the sharks instead of going up.

This guy judged us, very hard:

After our riverbank separation, we regrouped and headed off towards the Natural History Museum where we first saw the Butterfly carp that was installed outside it – they were extremely pretty and beyond friendly, because we were landed on quite often.

When we had finished the walk, we stepped into the Natural History Museum itself to wander through the dinosaur area for a bit, and then around the animal collection.

We decided to head out to the restaurant to have a bite to eat, and as we were walking through the marine invertebrate area (the room with all the crabs and so on), there was a nice lady showing items. And that’s how I ended up holding a megalodon tooth and fanbying like there was no tomorrow. Don’t judge me. Or do so, I don’t care ☆⌒(ゝ。∂)

As they walked into the insect / general creepy-crawler gallery, I walked around the gallery that held “less impressive” fossils, including the ones discovered by Anne Manning. We had lunch in the NHM, then moved on.

A short underground ride later, we were at St James’s Park, where we took a bit of a walk towards Buckingham Palace. As the weather was nice, we got to see a lot of the local fauna, even the local swans.

We hung around for a while as we saw Buckingham Palace, then headed off back towards the airport. Although we had a couple-of-hours delay, we made it home without further complication.

23rd & 24th September 2017: San Sebastián Film Festival (Spain)

23rd September 2017: Let’s go!

Overnight, I headed off to San Sebastián as a Weekend Escapade to the Festival de Cine de San Sebastián International Film Festival that is held over there because they were projecting a Japanese film and the main actor and the director were coming over to present it. The film was “Sandome no Satsujin” [三度目の殺人], the director is Hirozaku Kore-eda and the actor in question was Fukuyama Masaharu, of whom I am a big fan.

I started off at 22:00 on Friday as I had to take a bus to go to Intercambiador de Avenida de América, which is one of the bus hubs in Madrid. My bus to San Sebastián left at 00:30, so in the end I had to wait for almost two hours until I could board. I was dozing for most of the trip so it did not feel too long. I arrived in San Sebastián bus station at around 6:50 in the morning and I had decided that I would go to the so-called Shell Beach, Playa de la Concha, to watch sunrise. I had been told that cafeterias would be open at that time, but not even the one in the bus station was ready.

My plan of watching a sea sunrise was trumped by the fact that the sea is towards the west, but I still could take a couple of nice pictures.

Among them were the beach itself, the “skyline” and the Catedral del Buen Pastor (Good Shepherd Cathedral).

I wandered around, found the theatre where the film was going to be projected and as the sun started warming up, I started feeling less like a homeless dog.

I found the local Starbucks at around 9:00 to get some rest, a coffee, and a cookie before I went to the Aquarium, which opened at 10:00. The Aquarium de San Sebastián is a bit more of a museum than anything else. The first part (second floor) is dedicated to the history of ocean commerce, with different types of ships, and rooms focused on the local harbour, companies, traditional boat racing and whaling. This includes an actual right whale skeleton and several sperm whale teeth and some baleens. The second part (first floor) is dedicated to general fishing and the local oceanography society, including machinery and live specimens.

Finally, after all this, you get to the actual aquarium (yay). There are several small tanks and then a big tank with a walk-through tunnels. The inhabitants are pretty standard, with lots of small fish and several magnifying-glass tanks to make the animals look bigger than they are. The third floor hosts the tropical fish including the piranha and the clown fish. All in all it is a nice place, however, it was under construction and some tanks were covered by dark plastic. After that I left the aquarium and I decided to go up Mount Urquil, which hosts a castle and quite nice views of the city and the ocean.

I walked by John Malkovich while heading there, but he did not look like he was in the mood (or the clothes) to be recognised, so I did not bug him. Then I started my climb up the mount towards the the local castle, Castillo de La Mota, along the batteries of cannons. The castle has a small history museum, and a look-out balcony, and the top has been transformed into a church, with a giant Christ overlooking. The truth is I was mostly improvising on my visits as the week was hell between work and the death of a family member.

After that I had lunch and headed off to the theatre to check out the coming out of people. At this point I planned to wait for the actor and the director to come into the theatre, but for some reason I checked out the schedule, and the name of the actor had been taken out of the presentation! That made me sad for a little while, but I decided that I was okay with it, that it would not be a drama. I had taken my chance, and at least I had gotten some air after all the pain and drama throughout the week. I guess that helped relativise the sadness. I went to a park near the beach to get some sun and enjoy the last days of summer.

Around 15:00 I returned to the theatre, Teatro Victoria Eugenia to start lining as I wanted a seat close enough to see the subtitles- and I found a place on sixth row which was pretty good. As this was a special people’s vote session, we got a ballot to give our opinions. Then I settled to wait, and eventually at 16:00 the presenter came in, and to my surprise, she announced Kore-eda and Fukuyama. That made me so happy I could have died right there and then, and the best was still to come. Kore-eda told us about the film. Apparently several people consider that he has changed genre, but he told us that he disagrees and that he still tried to make a human drama. However, he thought that we should judge. Then Fukuyama told us that he enjoyed San Sebastián and that they had been having pinchos and that he was happy to have returned. I was shaking so hard I could barely hold the phone as I recorded.

All this would have made me very happy already, but there is more. “Sandome no Satsujin”, or “The third murder” tells the story of a lawyer whose job is to defend a man accused of murder. As this would be the defendant’s third murder, if found guilty he will be handed the death penalty. The film is a complex story, completely unpredictable – or I was too enthralled to see the ending coming – but when everything fell into place I felt like gawking.

Furthermore, there was more to come – at the end of the film both Kore-eda and Fukuyama had stayed behind. as I was coming out I looked up and told them “otsukaresama deshita”, and both of them bowed and replied “arigatou”. Then we waited for them to come down from the second floor, from where they had taken the ovation. I dropped my vote and rushed through the red carpet. As other people talked to the director I made a beedive towards Fukuyama. It was then or never, and it turned out to be then.

I was shaking inside but I managed to tell them that I had been a fan of his since Galileo times and I asked for his autograph. He told me thank you (at some point the interpreter tried to help, but I was busy dying and trying to get my meaning across). He signed my Galileo booklet and I asked him to take a picture with me, to which he also agreed. And thus I fulfilled my wildest dreams (and look horrible in the picture). After Fukuyama had continued on the red carpet I managed to sit down on a curb and I was on the phone with my friend C*****, who prevented me from going completely hysterical in fanby bliss.

After I told her everything, I was pretty dead so I headed off to he hotel (pension) that I had booked for the night, and pretty much giggled and crashed, and uncrashed and giggled some more. At 23:00 I was completely zonked out, not without realising that I had headed to get some rest without grabbing my freebies and some merchandising I wanted from the festival.

24th September 2017: And back

I left the hotel early, around 8:30 to head towards the cinema area and buy the short Festival guide (not the big one for 22€ but the little one for 1.5€) and get the free newspaper. I bought a coffee to go and headed back to the bus station, when my bus was at 10:00. I could not sleep and the Wi-Fi was not working, but I could watch Youtube videos on the seat screen. I managed to get home around 17:00 after a couple of buses, and I was pretty much dead. However, it was totally worth it. I think this is why I was hyper enough to decide to go to Vienna next month…

Note: there is a longer comment and summary of the film over at SemiRandom

28th July 2017: Shopping at Ikebukuro {Japan, summer 2017}

This is something I had never thought I would have done, but it was strangely fun – I went shopping along Ikebukuro [池袋]. And not fandom shopping – well, yes, there was fandom shopping, but… It was weird. I was in the Book Off as always that I’m around. I was also in the Sanryo Gift Gate but there was no Yoshikitty to be found.

The original intent was going to the Sunshine City Aquarium [サンシャイン水族館] but when I arrived there was a very long line, so I decided to wander around for a while. I accidentally ran into a T-shirt that I loved and had to buy – full of sciency formulae, and a bag I really liked. I found it a bit expensive, so “decided” not to buy it.

After some conbini lunch I went back to the Aquarium and decided to wait as the line did not seem to be about to be longer than 15 minutes (much better than the 45 before).

The Aquarium was full and it never fails to surprise me how Japanese kids are this wild in aquariums in general- but this time I got pushed around by grannies too! XD I also found a new appreciation for pelicans and ended up with a lot of pelicanbutt pictures.

After the aquarium I headed to the Closet Child on my way to the station and bought a very cool T-shirt from a group I don’t really listen to, but very cool, and 1000¥. And then, because I had not really gotten myself anything too expensive in Closet Child, I gave into temptation and went back for the handbag. Many people have complimented me for it, and I really love it.

Afterwards I met up with B**** for sushi and Starbucks while D****e was in a fancy dinner on a boat, with my camera (yay phone pictures). After I got into the train, I was messaging with D****e and we realised that we were on the same train. What are the chances? Very, very small XD

6th January 2017: Miyajima (in eleven hours) {Japan, winter 16/17}

I was, quite literally, out from sun to sun on this day, and then when it was night I came back for more. Miyajima [宮島] is a small island in Hiroshima Bay, famous for the ‘floating torii gate’, the o-torii [大鳥居], belonging to the Itsukushima Jinja [厳島神社]. About 17 metres high, it is planted on the beach in front of the shrine, and you can walk up to it in low tide. In high tide you see it in the middle of the water. The o-torii’s upper part is around 22 metres long and hollow. It is not nailed or glued, but is weighted down by fist-sized rocks stored in the hollow area. The pillars are solid.

And to the o-torii I headed off literally at dawn, after getting a warm coffee from a vending machine. The first few minutes cough half an cough hour cough were spent around the torii as it was low tide and you could walk up to it.

After I managed to peel myself off the o-torii, I headed off to the shrine it actually belongs, Itsukushima Shrine, which is the main shrine of the island. The shrine has a famous noh stage and when the tide rises it also becomes ‘floating’. It is the biggest shrine in the area. Itsukushima Shrine is dedicated to Ichikishima-hime, Tagitsu-hime and Tagori-hime, known as the Munakata goddesses, are the deities of the ocean, traffic safety, fortune and accomplishment.

After Itsukushima shrine I ducked some deer, which abound, and are always hungry for maps and so on, and I walked down the breakwater to a little shrine named Kiyomori Jinja [清盛神社].

On my way back, I stepped on the grounds of the Buddhist temple of Daigan-ji [大願寺]. It was here where I realised that there were little stamps to be collected in the island, which is always a plus.

Then I got to Itsukushima Jinja Takaramono-kan [嚴島神社 寶物館], the shrine’s Treasure Hall, where they have a few treasures and old scrolls, armours and so on. Among them they have the ‘Story of Heike’ as well as several of the Heike family Buddhist Sutras. However, no pictures allowed. I continued on my way to the Tahoto [多宝塔] three-story Pagoda (also belonging to Itsukushima Shrine), which has a characteristic shape: it is square on the lower level and has a round shape on the upper level

From there I got to Daishoin [大聖院], another of the big Buddhist temples in the area, where I decided against hiking up mount Misen (2.7 km to the summit). The temple has a few up and downs, and it was here where I ate my karepan breakfast, around 9.30 – 10 am, I am not exactly sure. I do remember that my camera battery was already down one bar out of three.

Then I headed down and then up again to another of the low hills to the Senjokaku [千畳閣] pavillion and the Pagoda of Toyokuni Jinja [豊国神社] and the five story pagoda next to the main building. Toyokuni Jinja was supposed to be a library of Buddhist sutras – however, it did not get finished (although that has its own shuin for some reason (・□・;))

At that point it was barely half-morning I wondered whether to head downtown to Hiroshima, because high tide was only at 3 pm, and I really wanted to see the half-submerged torii, but I did not really know what to do. And no idea what got into me, but at that point I changed my mind and decided to go up Misen [弥山], the “island mount”. I actually decided to take the Miyajima Ropeway [宮島ロープウェー]. I crossed Momijidani Koen [紅葉谷公園], which is full of deer, and probably amazing when it is in full red, and took the ropeway from the park to Kayadani Station [榧谷駅] first and to Shishiiwa Station [獅子岩駅] then, about half an hour away from the summit. From there I took a few pictures and then decided to make my way up.

At that point I was not really thinking about getting to the summit (535 above sea level, and we’re talking 0 to 535 metres for real), but to Misen Hondo [弥山本堂] which is the temple where the ‘eternal flame’ was originally lit by a meditating Buddhist monk hundreds of years ago. The Peace Flame from Hiroshima was lit from here. There were two secondary halls, Sankido [三鬼堂] and Dainichido [大日堂].

But after Misen Hondo, I was ‘so’ close to the summit that it would be a pity not to finish the deed. That way, I could go up one route and down another one in order to see more things. On my way up and from the summit the sights were impressive, although it was a bit tiring. And a bit means a lot…

I think that at some point I considered using the ropeway down but time-wise it was going to be the same and walking down could be cheaper and would get me to see more stuff, such as Miyama Jinja [御山神社]. And I did not break my neck on the long hour and a half of hike-down, either. A greater plus.

All right, what time do you think I made it down? Not even 3 pm just yet, but as I had seen from halfway down the mountain, the tide was already up. Therefore I was able to see the floating o-torii, which was a high moment for me. The problem was that I was almost running out of battery in my camera already, and there was sunset to come! On my way around the bay I ate a very overpriced yakitori, but I was hungry and since Miyajima is ‘World Heritage’ it really does not have convenient stores.

And thus, when I went towards the aquarium, Miyajima Suizokukan [宮島水族館]. I decided to take all my pictures with the phone over there to save camera battery for the sunset pictures. That it was awfully cold at that moment had nothing to do with my decision, of course and walking into K.A.Z. absolutely never ever crossed my mind either.

After the aquarium I was distracted by Omoto Jinja [大元神社], which was full of deer. Praying, I’m sure. There were baby deer too, being bullied cute but for some reason (probably lack of battery) the pictures did not come out.

Then I headed back to the o-torii area to watch it in the sunset and took pictures until I had no more battery on any device.

Once batteries were dead and the sun was too low, so I headed back to my ryokan to recharge – in every sense of the way, as it was after 5.30 pm. On my way back I bought a local speciality – ‘fishcake’ which in my case was shrimp because I did not dare try the oysters. It was yummy. Before going to the hotel, I got myself some groceries to recharge my own batteries and have dinner later.

I spent some time resting, charging all the devices and writing down notes on everything I had been doing during the day, and then, at around 9 pm I came back out again to take pictures of the shrines and o-torii at night.

After that, dinner, shower, bed, and early check-out the following day in order to head down to Hiroshima, after very intense 11 hours running up and down Miyajima. Take that, nine hours in Kyoto.

30th December 2016: Water & lights {Japan, winter 16/17}

I headed off to Enoshima [江の島] to meet with my friend Mk-san, whom I met in Gackt’s birthday party in July. By pure chance, I caught a glance of Mount Fuji Fuji-san [富士山] again.

Together (with Mk-san, not with Fuji-san ~ヾ(^∇^)) we went into Enoshima Aquarium – Enoshima Suizokukan [新江ノ島水族館], which was one of the few I had left in the Tokyo Metropolitan area. The highlight was the focus on algae and seagrass, because the jumping fish did not seem to be in the mood for jumping. Oh, and kira-kira jellyfish!

After the aquarium and lunch, I headed back to Tokyo [東京] and I stumbled upon one of the L’Arc-en-Ciel’s “Don’t be afraid” billboards.

Then I met up with K. and D****e in Nakano Broadway [中野ブロードウェイ] for a bit of shopping before we headed out to Tokyo Dome [東京ドーム] to watch some Winter Illumination.

Later we went to Tokyo Station to see the lights in the Marunouchi [丸の内] side and had some avocado burger in a random Freshness we came across. And it was cold. Very cold. Awfully cold. Finger-ouchy cold.

27th July 2016: I could not miss an aquarium {Japan, summer 2016}

I mean, visiting aquariums is like a second nature to me when I’m in Japan. It seems that each has something that I really love but had not realised it before.

In this case I headed off to Tokyo Sea Life Park – Kasairinkai Suizokukan [葛西臨海水族館] in the namesake park, Kasairinkai Koen [葛西臨海公園], in Edogawa [江戸川], especially famous for keeping a tank of yellowfin tuna (all of which died unexpectedly last year and had been replaced though) <・ )))><<.

The aquarium is mostly an underground complex, accessible through the main dome in the middle of the park. During my visit it was full of parents with young children. For some reason, Japanese people believe that children must love fish? I don’t really understand… ~(・・?))

Before class I went to Tokyo Daijingu [東京大神宮] in Iidabashi [飯田橋], which is surprisingly quite small, and I think it has something to do with finding love?

At night I met with my new friend M. to try to find a cat café we were interested in and somehow did not manage to find, but we turned that into dinner and karaoke – Joysound, to watch the VAMPS special message v(^_^v)♪.

24th – 27th March 2016: Easter in Barcelona (Spain)

I think this has been the first time I’ve been to Barcelona without a concert. However, one of the first times I did take a long touristing tour, so this time round my friend and I took it rather chilly – in the literal sense. As we were there there was a drop in temperature and I had to run to get myself a long-sleeved T-shirt.

24th March: Gaudí afternoon

Through different means and from different origins, my friend and myself arrived in Barcelona at around the same time mid-afternoon. We met at the station and dropped our things off at the hotel, then we took the underground towards Monte del Carmelo, Carmel Hill, where Parc Güell, the Güell Park, stands. The park, which was supposed to be a urban area originally, was designed by Antonio Gaudí. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.

Visiting some areas of the park is charged, but the whole park is accessible starting in the late evening. We decided to climb up first and then visit the paid-but-free area. Thus we got to the summit of Carmel Hill and saw the Turó de les tres creus, the Three-Cross hill, that offers a great view of the city, including the Tibidabo area with the Cathedral and the amusement park.

We went down and we walked into the architectural area. Although there is no artificial lighting in the area, as the sun went down we were treated to a bit of a magical area, also away from the tourist crowds.

We had dinner at Arenas de Barcelona, the old bullfighting ring now turned shopping and dining centre, then we went up to the roof for some night views.

25th March: Gaudí morning & Gaudí night

We woke up and had breakfast – coffee inception!!

Then we headed off to see the Casa Batlló, the Batlló house, one of Gaudí’s Modernist masterpieces. It is also called the “house of bones”, and it’s kind of wobbly and organic. The roof is designed to look like the back of a dragon. An interesting detail is that the building was not really erected on Gaudí’s orders – it was a renovation of a previously-existing building.

After the house, we went to the harbour area. We hung out for a while (with a stop to buy an extra T-shirt because it was cold), had lunch and eventually purchased tickets for the Museu Marítim, the Maritime Museum, located in the former Royal Shipyard.

The sun was setting when we came out, and we headed towards the Basílica de la Sagrada Família, the church of the Holy Family, also designed by Gaudí. Both of us had already seen it, so we were happy to see it from the outside. When they finish it, I would like to come back though.

26th March: No Gaudí!

We had a walk around the Gothic Neighbourhood of Barcelona, and we made a stop at the Iglesia de La Purísima Concepción, the church of the Conception to visit the cloister.

We saw the cathedral Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia.

We also walked under the Bisbe Bridge, Pont del Bisbe, in the street of the same name.

We had lunch in a Japanese restaurant, then walked around the Port area for a while.

As we had visited the Maritime Museum the previous day, we had a free pass to the sailboat Santa Eulàlia.

We ended the day in the L’Aquàrium Barcelona, the local aquarium.

After that, we backtracked to our hotel. The following morning, on the 27th, we met up with another friend who had a free while for breakfast and then everybody went home.

20th August 2015: Still life, moving life {Japan, summer 2015}

As predicted, the 20th dawned rainy and not too inviting, so I headed off to Ueno Park to visit one of the many museums there. I heard that the collection of the Kokuritsu Kagaku Hakubutsukan [国立科学博物館], Tokyo’s National Museum of Nature and Science had been renewed and I wanted to have a look. In the end, not much had changed, but I still had a fairly good time, because I am a geek like that. There were about three million primary school classes there, though, and a few high school ones, which was a bit annoying – and loud – but nothing too bad.

Some of the wards mix science with mythology and culture, for example the earthquake science area has an ukiyo-e of the god Suzano keeping Namazu, the giant catfish which causes earthquakes, still. As much as the bio area is cool, I think my favourite part of this museum is the fossils collection – which is scattered in different wards in what I assume has some logic but I am yet to find it. I am particularly taken by the Dunkleosteous glass panel, and of course (insert everyone who knows me going ‘duh’ here) the Megalodon teeth.

But kinda a lot of things are cool. Like dinosaur fossils. Which make you giggle when you’ve recently watched Jurassic World. There is a plesiosaur (which, by the way, is not a dinosaur). What is a dinosaur is, of course, the T-rex (#TeamTRex) – completely irrelevant information: it is a cast of Scotty, the largest T-Rex ever found.

After finishing in Ueno and getting into the wrong station – of course, that must happen at least once when I am in Japan, I headed off to Tokyo Skytree [東京スカイツリー] in Sumida [墨田] just because I could.

I did not want to climb it up, but there was something there that had been on my to-see list, Sumida Suizokukan [すみだ水族館], Sumida Aquarium. Apparently there is a tacit agreement among Japanese aquariums so each one has a super cool thing that only they’ve got. So they are like pokemon, you gotta see them all if you wanna catch all the cool things. In this case I was aiming for the giant isopods. But of course, I never say no to sharks, even with annoying kids screwing up the pictures.

And then there was sushi, and that was goooood.

… Maybe I should have titled this post “fish in every form”?

20th August 2014: Shinagawaaaaaaark! {Japan, summer 2014}

I followed D****e to Nippori [日暮里] to visit the famous “Nippori Textile Town” Nipporisen Igai [日暮里繊維街], and that was interesting. I saw a number of shiiiiny stuff, but I was strong and did not buy anything because I still have an awesome dragon fabric around that needs a use. Later we had lunch, gyuutan, and snooped around the largest Buddhist Graveyard in Tokyo, Yanaka Reien [谷中霊園].

This was also the day when Google Maps hated me, but I don’t want to write about that, because this is a journal for good memories. And good memories were created by going to Shinagawa [品川] and the aquarium, Shinagawa Suizokukan [しながわ水族館], which was lots of fun!

15th August 2014: And then there was shiny {Japan, summer 2014}

I like Ueno Kōen [上野公園], the main park in Ueno [上野] just because I do, and off I went again, maybe for the fourth or sixth time. In Ueno station we had awesome ramen at a franchise called Ichiran where you buy a basic ramen card from a machine, and are then given a card (English version was available) to mark off what you’d like on it and how. It was delicious (The bits that are missing on the picture are pork slices and spiciness level). There are different styles of ramen, and this one is Hakata ramen from the Fukuoka Prefecture.

After that we took a stroll down Ueno and ended up at the Tōkyō Kokuritsu Hakubutsukan [東京国立博物館], Tokyo National Museum, which holds many important pieces of historic art:

Leaving Ueno, I headed towards the Minato [港] ward as there were a few things I wanted to do. One of them was visiting a special corner of Shiba Koen [芝公園], and then I wanted to go to Tokyo Tower [東京タワー].

Within Tokyo Tower I visited Tokyo Tower Suizokukan [東京タワー水族館], the little aquarium at the bottom. It did not host sharks, sadly, but quite a few interesting species, among them catfish, one of them seemed very intent on trying to eat me.

There was also this fun sclupture thingy of scaled Tokyo Tower and Godzilla.

I climbed up the main observatory (well, did not climb, took the elevator) to watch the sunset, grab a bite to eat and take lots of pictures. You should appreciate Mount Fuji Fuji-san [富士山] with its summer cap in one of them. Once the sun is down, Tokyo Tower is lit, inside, and out.

I love Tokyo Tower, and going up to the observatory always makes my Tokyo trips feel more complete! I got myself an omamori and a model I have to build, if I eventually find it in the luggage chaos!

4th July 2013: Yokohama Sea Paradise and GACKT 40th Birthday Concert {Japan, summer 2013}

The day started Yokohama [横浜]-bound towards Hakkeijima Sea Paradise [八景島シーパラダイス].

I have tried to spare you fishy pictures, especially those I have shared already (read: I overcame the urge to post hammerhead shark pictures!! And deep-sea crabs too!!), but when I went to the Yokohama Sea Paradise, there was one main thing in mind that I had to see: the whalesharks.

The polar bears seemed to be having a bit of a lover’s quarrel, but the camera did not do a good job focussing on them at the right times.

They also had an impressive amount of beluga whales.

And a very attention-demanding pufferfish or two.

Finally I headed off to the other side of Yokohama, to the Yokohama Arena [横浜アリーナ], for the GACKT Best of the Best concert for his 40th birthday, which was beyond amazing.

GACKT is a Japanese soloist music known for his ego and his… you may call it delirium of grandeur if you wish. He loves doing things big, so when I saw him in Barcelona in 2010 and 2011 I could only imagine how a big stage would feel. To be honest, it did not disappoint, and it was indeed grandiose. Furthermore, the 4th of July happens to be GACTK’s birthday so there were a lot of fun shenanigans going on, and a very nostalgic tone for old fans. There is a whole-length report at SemiRandom.

12th July 2012: Ikebukuro {Japan, summer 2012}

I have decided to give my blistered feet a bit of a rest and take it easy for a couple of days. Thus, I’m indulging in my newly-found love of canned coffee and karepan.

A breaded bun, open. The inside is white, with a golden filling in the middle

Yesterday, Thursday 12th I spent most of the morning updating the blog and refusing to move from the chair. Then I headed off towards Ikebukuro [池袋], where my first stop was the Ikebukuro West Gate Park [池袋ウエストゲートパーク]. Ikebukuro West Gate Park or IWGP, is a series of urban mystery novels by Ira Ishida. It was adapted into a very successful TV series directed by Tsutsumi Yukihiko and starring Nagase Tomoya. And Chibi Yamapi. [spoiler] And then Yamapi dies. Really sad. [/spoiler] Loved it.

An urban park with a decorative fountain in the middle. There are a couple of trees, but it's mostly surrounded by buildings

I found the Ikebukuro Station Owl. Somehow. After missing it a couple of times.

Sculpture of a big barn owl with a red vest. There are three smaller owls on the left, one of them is carrying a heart

And while there is not an Aquarium at the top of the Shibuya 109, there is one at the top of the Sunshine 60 – the Sushine Aquarium. Literally at the top. They have also some non-aquatic animals like an armadillo, a tapir and a lovely couple of desert foxes or feneqs.

A glass wall that opens up to a tropical aquarium

Small jellyfish swimming in a round aquarium

A cuttlefish, an anemmone and some coral

An octopus huddled in a knot so most that is shown are the suckers against the glass

A shot from the open roof of the aquarium building. Some pathways for the animal residents have been built, they are made of glass. A sea lion is swimming through one

A feneq fox curled up sleeping

A Humboldt penguin colony

After a quick browsing through Mandarake and K-books, we had a reservation for dinner at Swallowtails, which is a butler cafe. I was a bit on the apprehensive side, because my level of Japanese is enough to guesstimate some normal conversation but… yeah, not Keigo or polite Japanese in a formal environment. It turned out really, really nice, too. A cool experience sponsored by my insiders in Japan.

Themed cafés are common in Japan. They are normal restaurants which sell passable food and great experiences, or at least an experience. There are cafés for all tastes and personalities – some are related to animals, others to fantasies. Swallowtails has a number of young men “butlers” who treat you as a royalty and take care of you to almost ridiculous extents. I absolutely loved it, because being the doormat I normally am, it feels nice to be… spoilt a little.

A screenshot of a Japanese webpage. It shows a fancy entrance to a tea house, and reads Swallowtail

Afterwards we headed off for a quick sneak peak of Tokyo by night from the observatory in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, Tōkyō Tochō [東京都庁] before coming back home and crashing for the night. Today will hopefully be another slow day…

A view of Tokyo at night, from above the roof tops. The buildings are dark, bit there are thousands of lights and lit windows.

10th July 2012: Osaka, day 2 {Japan, summer 2012}

Tuesday 10th was supposed to be Kyoto day, but train trouble made me change my mind. Since I was in Tennōji anyway, I headed off to visit Shitennō-ji [四天王寺], a massive and colourful Buddhist temple dedicated to the Four Heavenly Kings.

A grand stone torii stands in the foreground. In the background, a temple and a pagoda, in dark red and white colours

A five-story pagoda and a temple building. They are both dark red and white, with some green and golden decoration

A purification fountain. The tap is sculpted to look like a dragon

There are a couple of graveyards, too. I always find fascinating how different cultures react to graveyards. In Japan, apparently, you can picnic there.

A number of polished rock blocks with kanji on them - they are tombstones, and they're arranged in haphazzardly almost one on top of the other

After Shitennō-ji I crossed above the Tennōji Zoo towards the Tsūtenkaku [通天閣] Tower, in Shin Sekai (New World) [新世界], the old-time entertaining district of Osaka. Sort of like two-centuries-ago Namba, you can say. I could follow the Tower in order not to get too lost XD

The Osaka TV tower. It is silver-ish, with a construction like a scaffolder. The upper area resembles a diamond. The body reads HITACHI

This picture is the pure essence of Shin Sekai: the giant blowfish, the Billy Ken (the god of things as they ought to be) statue, and the Tsūtenkaku Tower.

A shopping street, with the TV tower in the background. In the foreground on the right, a golden sitting idol that looks like a fairy, with big feet and pointy ears. On the left there is a restaurant with a giant blowfish paper lantern.

I had some kushikatsu lunch, but it was too hot to really appreciate the goodness of breaded, deep-fried goods:

Some breaded and deep fried vegetables, with sticks to pick them up and eat them

Once done with this, I crossed aaaall the city towards Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan [海遊館], in hopes of seeing their whale shark… but the whale shark tank was closed due to it being refurnished… they were adding 20,000 sardines.

The aquarium building. It is decorated with mosaics of different ocean animals: coral, dolphins, a sunfish...

I went in nonetheless, and took a few pictures for your viewing pleasure, starting by the hammerhead shark.

A hammerhead shark swimming in the tank.

There was also a Sun fish:

A sunfish sniffing the aquarium ground.

My first time seeing Japanese spider crabs:

Three Japanese spidercrabs

Jellyfish I knew, but they’re fun anyway:

White jellyfish with small tentacles folating around in a dark tank

I would have loved to go and see the Castle illuminated by night, but I was too exhausted and feared crashing down, especially considering that I had one challenge left… Kyoto in ten hours. So instead, I went to the hotel and had a full-blown conbini dinner consisting on “Korean hamburger”, onigiri and dorayaki.

A sandwich, a bar of chocolate, a pastry and two onigiri, which look like dark triangles

A close up of the onigiri. The triangle is made out of dry algae (nori), you can see the rice filling on one corner

A close up of the pastry. The wrapping reads どら焼き