A Travellerspoint blog


Robots - The Final Chapter

....or is it?

overcast 71 °F
View RTW Oct - Dec 2014 on tdeits's travel map.

Tuesday was the day for Robin's talk at the University of Tokyo, so getting ready and getting over there consumed most of the day. U Tokyo is a pretty standard university campus, with one attractive and unusual feature - a beautiful 17th century garden and pond (shaped like the character for 'heart').


The talk went well - both Robin's and the U Tokyo team are friendly rivals in the DARPA Robotics Challenge so there was considerable interest in his work on robot locomotion. Here's Robin in action.


After the talk we were treated to a tour of their robotics lab, which is just stuffed with robots. We watched an HRP-2 as it opened the door to let us in then loaded a cart and pushed it out of the room. We were served a beverage by a Willow Garage robot (sadly, not a beer - robotic beer delivery being the Holy Grail of robot/human interactions, of course). And saw their Baxter and the robot that did the barista demo at Japan Robot Week. Oh, and another Willow Garage robot. All of these critters in a single lab! Finally, we were introduced to one of their latest projects, a humanoid robot with movement controlled by cables and electrical actuators. Here's Robin getting to know it -


This robot is intended to help understand human movement, so it is being designed to be as close to human in structure as possible. Does knowing that make it seem a little less creepy? I didn't think so.

We also got to see the robot under development for the DARPA Robotics challenge, but we didn't take any pictures; friendly rivalry only goes so far!

On the way out, I spotted another cool UAC


We headed to the Ginza for a shabu shabu dinner including Waygu beef to celebrate, and wandered the Ginza for a while.

This was our last day as a group; Robin and Michele head home tomorrow and I head to Korea the next day.

What a start to the adventure!

Posted by tdeits 15:59 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo university uac robots Comments (0)

Google Maps rules in Tokyo!

another travel tip

View RTW Oct - Dec 2014 on tdeits's travel map.

The Tokyo public transportation system can seem somewhat intimidating - like this.


However, Google Maps is astonishingly good at giving accurate directions with train departure times to the minute and accurate fare info as well. We used it dozens of times including some where time was short, and every time we were able to get where we needed to go. High five to Google!

Posted by tdeits 16:18 Archived in Japan Tagged maps Comments (0)

Last of Japan, first of Korea

rain 63 °F

Robin and Michele took off on Tuesday, and so I had Wednesday to do a little more exploring in Tokyo.

I spent the day at the Tokyo Museum of Modern Art, which has a pretty nice collection of Western art and Japanese art dating from the 20th century on. I particularly liked this Braque.


Here are a couple of pieces by Japanese artists. This is Kazuma Oda in 1916 contrasting s new skyscraper with the traditional Japan.


On the other hand, here is a screen by Kokei Kobayashi that celebrates a Western import, corn, in a traditional Japanese medium.


I also visited the Tokyo Craft Museum which had a special exhibition on celadon pottery which had some amazing modern craftsmanship as well as some quite ancient pieces. There were three vases in essentially the same shape, one from the 13th century and two modern reinterpretations; they are nearly identical but I kind of liked the old one best; it had just a bit of variation in glaze that seemed more natural. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed so no pix.

I wrapped up the day with a final sushi meal. By popular demand (i.e. one comment) here's a picture (by the way, this cost $15 - not bad!


Up early tomorrow for flight to Seoul.

Posted by tdeits 06:52 Archived in Japan Tagged art food Comments (0)

Festival Season in Japan

Getting started

sunny 89 °F

I'm off to Japan again, this time in the summer to try and overdose on festival season. I'm fortunate that my son Robin is able to come with me for the first two weeks of my three week excursion.

My planning started off with typical airfare complexity. I priced a ticket from Detroit to Tokyo on Delta and others and it was running around $1800 plus - really too much! As Robin was considering joining me, he did the same and found that a Boston to Tokyo ticket on Delta was pricing at $1000! To add insult to injury, the itinerary went through Detroit. So it ended up being cheapest to buy the Boston to Tokyo ticket and then buy a Detroit to Boston ticket to join Robin there to start the trip. I guess the take home lesson for long international flights is to check every major airport in the US and if you can find a fare with substantial savings, just fly there to take advantage. Arrgh.

Our major goal was to experience a variety of Japanese festivals across the country, taking full advantage of our Japan Rail pass. It provides unlimited travel for 7, 14 or 21 consecutive days and we expect to really exploit this flexibility! The best bargain is the 21 day pass if you can manage to find the time.

My trip started out in Detroit and my first new experience occurred at the Detroit airport (DTW). Workers were installing green walls in the newly remodeled Gate A-1 area.


The pioneer in this concept is Patrick Blanc - you can learn more at his site http://www.verticalgardenpatrickblanc.com/

Another bit of a surprise was the plane I flew from DTW to Boston which was a newly remodeled A 319. It looked nice inside with kind of spacey consoles in the ceiling, made more spacey by the clouds of condensation coming in through the ventilation system. The other new feature was a video screen at each seat. This is usually not seen on shorter flights such as this and coupled with Delta's new 'free movies all the time' policy it makes a nice distraction from the rather harder seats that newer Delta jets sport.

I stayed with Robin that night and we hit an early flight from Boston to JFK then on to Narita. This is always a challenge - it's a 13+ hour flight, but going west is the easier direction. We stayed awake on the flight watching movies and otherwise distracting outselves. It was a cool discovery to find the documentary 'All Things Must Pass' which is about Tower Records, a chain that started in Sacramento, went global and then died back to only Japanese branches. Tower Records was where I learned to buy and enjoy music; they even had listening rooms back in the day - and by 'back in the day' I mean like 1963! I'm sure lots of my HS buds remember Tower and would enjoy the flashback.

We landed in the late afternoon and went to the Narita Hilton where I had a cheap room with a few Hilton points. It's a really nice hotel and so much easier than trying to drag into Tokyo the first night. We crashed without even having dinner and woke up famished. Fortunately, the hotel has an epic breakfast buffet with American, European, Japanese and Chinese sections so I made up for lost time by having a Japanese breakfast followed by a more eclectic plate of just about everything. The Japanese breakfast includes (on the right) sticky rice steamed in banana leaf and (on the left) a dish of natto which is definitely an acquired taste that I enjoy.


Rested and fed, we struck out on our quest for festivals!

Posted by tdeits 00:55 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

First day, first festival

sunny 96 °F

We zipped into Tokyo and stashed out luggage (it seems every JR train station has luggage lockers which is extremely handy) then headed out. Our first destination was the Imperial Palace but it was not open to the public that day, so we browsed around outside - you can even sightsee at walls!


We then decided to visit a nearby museum,the Mori Center Art Gallery. At this point i will interject that this is my first time in Tokyo in summer and it is hot hot hot! It was a steamy 95 degree walk. Fortunately, Japan is loaded with cold drink machines dispensing a bewildering variety of beverages that are most welcome in this weather.

There was another event at the entrance to the museum with some entertaining figures.


Oddly, cats also played a prominent role in the intriguing exhibit at the Mori. the museum on the 52nd floor of a skyscraper so along with art you can enjoy panoramic views of Tokyo which only begin to reveal the sheer size of this city!


About the other cats. The show we saw was titled "Louvre No. 9 — Manga, the 9th Art." It represents a multi-year collaboration between French bande dessinee and Japanese Manga artists to place their work in the context of the Louvre as it might have been/might be. There was some English captioning, some French and most Japanese, so we largely enjoyed just looking at the various interpretations. They ranged from surrealistic to amusing and on to frankly confusing, especially as only selected panels from each artist's work were presented. Photography was not allowed, but there were some reproductions that could be photographed one of which, fortunately, was one of my favorites - 'Cats of the Louvre'


We revived ourselves with a snack at the cafe and headed out through the inevitable gift shop (which actually had some pretty interesting items, but it was too early to start adding luggage mass). Our next stop was a region of Tokyo called Kagurazaka for our first festival that evening.

This was kind of a neighborhood event, in that there weren't hundreds of thousands of foks attending, and we sat on the curb of a small street and watched the festival pass. There were about 20 groups performing; we were kind of surprised to find that each group had largely the same numbr and type of participants, and each group performed the same song. There were also call and responses but when we did research later, we found that they were singing nonsense - the parade is kind of a 'Crazy Days' event. There were variations, of course, but was kind of like imagining ]the Rose Parade where every band played Stars and Stripes Forever in their own unique style. Nonetheless, the obvous enjoyment among the spectators and participants was infectious. Notably, every group had a contingent of little kids who really lit up the experience. Here are a bunch of pictures -


We dragged ourselves back to our apartment and agreed that the one thing Japanese festivals are is a fantastic photo op!

Posted by tdeits 05:38 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

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