May 29, 2012

Tokyo Port Wild Bird Park

Tokyo Port Wild Bird Park, located in the uber-industrial fringes of Tokyo Bay. The whole area has been built on reclaimed land: the bird park, the surrounding massive warehouses, Ota Market, the wholesale market next to the park, all the way to Haneda Airport.

The Wild Bird Park was opened in 1989. It may strike you as odd that there is a bird sanctuary in such an industrial area. Indeed, you can't really look into the distance without being reminded of its location. But the park most likely became a necessity in reaction to its surroundings: it's the only spot of nature for a huge stretch of land.

Telescopes have been conveniently set up to aid bird-viewing...

...resulting in images like this...

(look at the strange resting position of the bird on the top left)

...and this.

Unfortunately, there wasn't much variety in terms of bird-watching. The rather ugly coromants were most visible, with a swallow and a mallard mixed in. There were far too many crows, which made me wonder if they were eating all of the smaller birds.

May 25, 2012

Covert Shots of Everyday People

Spied on a subway platform. My mind was so quietly blown by pairing of the vaguely Hermes-patterned backpack and candy heart leggings, it took me a good 10 minutes to realize that she had paired her black Converse high-tops with the kind of frilly lace socks that were once only worn by five-year-old girls.


I appreciated how the mother was reading out loud to her daughter, but in hushed tones so as not to bother the other passengers.

Along Sumida River. Not a great shot, but a woman has brought a fold-up chair and is doing some afternoon reading. I was surprised because this was on a weekday. Also, this woman was wearing major heels for a bike rider.

Old lady walking in front of me. I liked the pastel tones of her outfit, and how the apron was a part of it. Her boldly patterned coin purse also made me smile. You just know she takes a certain pleasure in using it.

Typical view of guys on the train: sleeping, reading, or texting.

Typical for women past the age of 18: does anyone not own something by Coach? (Or Louis Vuitton?)

Kids frolicking at the bus stop on a very rainy day.

The bright colors and patterns of their rainy day gear were probably enough to get them peppy.

Makeshift Nature

These photos were taken on a weekend when I visited a bird sanctuary on one day and a large park on the other. (In fact, these were taken on the way to said places.)

I passed by so many lovingly tended plants on my way. We may not have huge front gardens, but a lot of houses take advantage of the seasons and plant flowers.

Pansies were a favorite of many houses.

In this tiny parking space for one car, they've managed to squeeze in three!

Jasmine flowers were also blooming, giving off an amazingly fresh scent.

A red rose bush mingled with a purple and white jasmine bush. A bumblebee was having a field day.

May 23, 2012

The Pikachu Line

A Pokemon-themed car on the Tokyo Monorail.

Considering that ANA is the owner of the Pokemon planes flown domestically, it doesn't surprise me that Tokyo Monorail is owned in part (9%) by ANA. The Pokemon trains have been running since 2006.

I only saw the trains from the outside, so I wondered if the inside decor is also Pokemon-themed.

May 22, 2012

Burgers, Tex-Mex, and Anything Fried

(Austin, Texas.) The title basically sums up the food culture here.

Food trucks (pretty popular in Austin) congregate in a parking lot in South Congress neighborhood, selling everything from Thai food to huge platefuls of crawfish.

The ever-present sweet potato fries...

...and jalapeno poppers. Don't worry, the seeds have been removed beforehand, so they're not particularly spicy. I have only seen fresh jalapeno once in a Japanese supermarket, and one little pepper cost around 200 yen ($2.50).

A sampler of Austin and Mexican beer from a downtown bar.

Breakfast burritos and migas at a Mexican family restaurant.

One of my favorite meals was at Magnolia Cafe. Apparently there are two in town, and we found the bigger one.

The decor was fun and kitschy...

...and the food was excellent. Chicken with lemon sour cream, Spanish rice, and zucchini. We don't have lemon sour cream in Japan, but I can see it going over very well here. I also very much appreciated being able to eat a vegetable in its plain form -- no excessive grease, dressing, or salt.

Austin burger chain Hopdoddy, my pick for the best burgers in town. (This is completely biased, though. I've never even been inside a Whataburger, the other big chain.) I see the best of Austin here, in terms of food, attitude, and style.

I had the Buffalo Bill burger, with bison, Maytag blue cheese, Frank’s hot sauce, apple-smoked bacon, and "sassy sauce". Bison itself doesn't seem to have a strong taste, so the pairing of blue cheese was genius.

Made in Austin

(Austin, Texas.) The sweetness of this graffiti message (spray-painted on the side wall of a cafe) tells you something about the vibe of this city.

There were a series of animal tags, particularly in the downtown area.

We lucked upon a couple in the process of tagging a wall.

Not all graffiti is cute and sweet, though. Faced with the most obvious message ever written...

...someone put their foot down and said, "no shit".

Baylor Street Art Wall

Baylor Street Art Wall in Austin, Texas. This space may look like a random vandalized area, but it was actually donated by a local company for a certain period of time precisely so local artists could have an outlet for their art.

That said, there has been no safety-proofing of the space -- climbing up the wall presents all sorts of dangers, such as falling on random slabs of concrete, or being snagged by the huge wires protuding from the walls.

There isn't much of the prettiness and whimsy you would expect here from Austin.

There is, however, a considerate -- almost surprising, really, when you consider how the earthquake and its aftermath has largely faded from world consciousness -- tribute to the victims of the Tohoku Earthquake.

Someone has written, "Graffiti is a gateway crime."

May 15, 2012

Ferry Ride Down Lady Bird Lake

(Austin, Texas.) A couple of weeks ago, I took a nice ferry ride up and down a stretch of Lady Bird Lake, which is close to downtown Austin. If you want to learn about the city's history in all its quirky glory, it's well worth it to pay10 dollars per person for the one-hour tour.

The three tall buildings you see in the background are currently some of the tallest buildings in Austin, although there will be an increase in such buildings in the future. I found it hilarious that the guide explained the price of buying an apartment in those high rises in detail as part of city history.

The pair of swans swimming in the lake are actually not native to the lake; they were brought there by a man and the swans subsequently made their home there. There is a ten-mile walking trail that runs alongside the lake, and is called The Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail after Lady Bird Johnson.

Austin may be a city, but it's easy to immerse yourself in nature: rivers, creeks, natural springs. It made me scared for Tokyo, where a row of trees planted sparsely alongside the road counts as greenery. Considering how easy it is to feel joy and freedom from the natural surroundings in Austin, the lack of nature is probably affecting the humanity of Tokyoites.

One of two graffiti works on the Union Pacific Train bridge.

It is forbidden to use a motorized boat in the lake, and swimming is also forbidden because the lake's depths are unpredictable. Not that this stopped this young man from jumping in.

Chase Bank Tower, visible from anywhere downtown. If you look at it from an angle, the Chase logo suddenly starts to look like a pair of eyes, and then the rest of the building morphs into an owl. Rumor has it that the building was built by an architect from a Texas city whose football team are rivals with the Austin team, and as a prank, they deliberately shaped the building to favor their own mascot, the owl.

Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, home to a million female bats. Yes, bats, and all of them pregnant. The bridge was renovated in the 1970s, and concrete slats were added under to reinforce the construction. The tiny crevices in between the slates turned out to be perfect for the hand-sized bats. As the babies are born, the population doubles, and around 9 pm every night, the bats come out en masse, to the delight of bat-watchers. Because it was daytime I couldn't see them, but I could hear their sonic screams.

One of the best works of graffiti I saw is on the railroad bridge, and on the left side of the photo. It's too blurred to make out, but it reads, "Lets (sic) pretend we are robots".

The view from one of the midsize buildings on the other side of the river. The building has a pool on one of the higher floors that looks like it belongs in a beach resort, and there's even a party room you can use so your own apartment won't get trashed.