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how to travel with a smile

the [perfectly calm] adventures of david-andrew

fashion robot games (日本 3)

May 17th, 2013

I didn’t set out to have a specific experience in Tokyo. I just wanted to run into whatever 日本 had to offer. Somehow, this day filled with all the typical Japanese things you see in popular culture in the US.


We paused outside Harajuku Station to get our bearings and decide which way we were going. Our friend guides were looking for a specific restaurant. I was too busy looking at the chaos we just entered to notice we were circling in on our target. Somehow, it seemed like we were always going uphill in this area. We would turn a sharp corner, headed in the opposite direction, and still be walking up a hill. It was worth the climb when we found とんかつ まい泉. Maisen Tonkatsu seemed small upon entering the lobby, but there are more areas than first seen. The lobby has a colorful flower garden and displays of the dishes offered in the restaurant. All over Tokyo we saw detailed artificial food models made for restaurant windows. Inside there are waiting benches against the window and a counter to get a quick lunch. There is an upstairs as well that has a more traditional table setting. We took off our shoes and sat on zabuton cushions. After sitting there for an hour, we decided we need more practice sitting on the floor before returning to 日本.


Once again, I used the point-at-a-picture method of ordering food. It’s easy at tonkatsu because everything is the same. You only have to decide if you want it round, square, heart-shaped, sliced, or on a stick. It came with a mountain of shredded cabbage, rice, miso soup, and a sauce that had similarities to barbecue sauce. I braced my veggie-loving mouth, and took a deep breath. “When in Rome!” I said as I prepared to take the second bite of pork I’ve ever had in my life.

If you are looking for reasons to believe that Tokyo is real and not just a cartoon dream, you won’t find them in the 原宿 (Harajuku) area. There is a cave of mirrors at the Tokyu Plaza. Above the mirror cave is a forest in the sky. Past the mirrors, water flows out of a glass fountain several blocks up the hill. Next time we visit I will know to turn left at the glass water feature to get to Maisen.
harajuku_mirrors_cu harajuku_fountain


I want to live in the forest.

It’s driving me a little nuts actually. I can’t find any evidence beside my own photographs that i didn’t dream most of this. I’ve become obsessed with revisiting Tokyo through Google Street View. Right now I’m looking for all these sights and they aren’t there. Apparently in 2010, the last time Street View updated Tokyo, there was a Gap where the magic mirror cave is now. They traded up, way up. That corner is interesting now. The other possibility is that I totally blocked the Gap from my mind. Let’s hope I really have that power.

One thing we saw all over Tokyo, but more prevalent in Harajuku, was clothing with random words and expressions in English. On one of the trains, we saw a young woman with a T-shirt that said “Gallery Times.” One of my favorites was the honest cap that says “nonsense.”

harajuku_randomenglish_666beerbride harajuku_randomenglish_carve

Harajuku is a colorful area that is easy for pedestrian wandering. There is a good range of shops, both local and international, high-dollar and more accessible. I would like to explore it further on future trip to Tokyo.


“Snoberry” – no hiding the agenda here



resilience = lone urban tree

harajuku_smilecamp harajuku_cpyrt


possibly the world’s worst salad


It was finally time to return to Mitaka with the tickets we purchased on our first day. There is a special bus that goes straight to The Ghibli Museum from the Mitaka stop. Remembering the pleasant, tree-lined street from our first time, we opted to walk again. Hiccup and Sister split form us at this point to visit a family friend in Mitaka.

Positioned between a park and a zoo, The Ghibli Museum is a magic getaway in the quieter Mitaka area. トトロ (Totoro) welcomes you just past the front gate. Below his window, the ススワタリ(soot sprites) crowd into a small opening to get a look too. The stained-glass windows of the building depict the wonderful films of Hayao Miyazaki. It’s like looking into the imagination of the storytelling master. Inside there are bridges, doors, and hallways obviously made for small creatures. You can explore the workspaces of the animators. Pinned on the wall are sketches with notes and inspirational research materials. On the top floor there is an actual Catbus with Mei’s name in hiragana (as a young child would write it in Japanese) set as its destination. If you get past the Catbus, there is a lovely roof walk up through a spiral staircase on the outside of the museum. On the roof, there is a wooded trail to the giant robot from Castle in the Sky. In the museum’s theater, we got to see a short film continuation of the Totoro story called Mei and the Kitten Bus. Alone, it was worth the price of admission.

Ghibli_totorossign Ghibli_front
Ghibli_gate Ghibli_mosaic
Ghibli_gmbus Ghibli_gmbus_cu
Ghibli_roof_robot Ghibli_roof_tunnel Ghibli_roof_box
 Ghibli_waterfountain Ghibli_bench
 Ghibli_roof_spiralstairs  Ghibli_roof_spiraltotop
Ghibli_vane Ghibli_gazebo Ghibli_courtside

I’m watching もののけ姫 (Princess Mononoke) while I write this. It started my Studio Ghibli/Hayao Miyazaki obsession years ago. If you haven’t seen it, you need to stop everything and watch it now. Then watch My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Ponyo

We met back with Hiccup and Sister and a little tea shop below the Mitaka station. It’s really cute inside and the proprietor was warm to welcome us and patient with our ordering.

Here’s a survival lesson for those needing caffeine in Tokyo. The red banner says “コーヒー” (kōhii) in katakana. It means you can get coffee here!

The sun is starting to set, but our day isn’t over yet. There’s still so much to see and it’s already time to return to the US tomorrow. We said earlier Akihabara is a cool place to see lit up at night.



playing SEGA MaiMai

MaiMai is like DanceDanceRevolution for your hands.
The music video during this level is “Candy Candy” by Kyary PamyuPamyu.
You need to see it. It’s quite distracting for game play.


ThePilot found a game made just for him.

We thought we were doing pretty well at the SEGA MaiMai game. Then we saw this guy.

We reluctantly said goodbyes to Hiccup and Sister in front of the Gundam and AKB48 Cafes (Yes, that is a cafe all about AKB48). We all agreed that we need to come here again.

I won’t have any trouble sleeping tonight. This day exhausted me. I still need to make one more stop on the way back to the hotel. I have been drooling over those cakes since we got here and I have to try the coffee jello before leaving.

mmmm sweet dreams!

Next: our last day in Tokyo is relaxed and quiet

red rocks and pretty lights

September 10th, 2011

Disclaimer: I have no pictures of myself to post for this event because I wasn’t ever standing still long enough for them to be clear.

We’ve had these tickets for months. It seemed like so far away and such a long wait. Finally it was here. Tonight we are going to Red Rocks Amphitheater to see Pretty Lights again!

We got about a block away from the house and Astrid says to Hiccup “You have our tickets, right?” “No i thought you grabbed them.” So ThePilot turns the car back around and we go back to the house. Soon we are flying down the freeway on way to Morrison, CO. It was an amazingly beautiful night in the Denver area. We do not get perfect temperature nights like this in Phoenix. The Pilot rolls down the windows so we can enjoy. Suddenly Astrid and Hiccup’s tickets are floating through the air making their way to an open window. There’s a scramble to bring the papers back down to earth, or car at least. “omg. Give me the tickets.” I put them in the glove compartment for safety.

We arrived at the Red Rocks Amphitheater and I jumped out of our rental so excited. I could feel a bolt of energy move my body to action. I could hear the music and cheering people from the bottom of the stairs. There are 46 flights of stairs from the road to the top. That’s 388 stairs to climb. So, thank the gods for this energy surge I was feeling. I got about 5 steps up when Astrid asked, “David-san, you have our tickets right?”

“Um…I’ll be right back.”

Red Rocks is a magical venue. As expected, it is surrounded by red sandstone jutting out of the ground forming a nature-made amphitheater. The result is a natural acoustic like nowhere else on earth.
When here to see a show, you need to climb all the way to the top at some point to see the big picture of stage surrounded by the rocks.
This cool night we had a soft ceiling of thin clouds. Occasionally the moon would peek out to add its light to the show.
  It was the best combination of man and nature to give the perfect feeling of being surrounded by light. That’s a place I always want to be.
Speaking of light, here are a few of the reasons this show is called Pretty Lights:
I sent a request through twitter to hear one of my favorites, Samso. During the show Derek announced that he was going to play a super old-school track he had never played live before.You guessed right. He played Samso. I’m going to pretend it was just for me.
Every year we go to this show at Red Rocks, there is a person that climbs up to the top of the big cliff on the side of the stage. There seems to be a special little seating area for those who don’t mind the 300ft climb straight up. You can make him out a little in this super zoomed-in photo.

We also got to catch Michal Menert‘s opening set. He makes some brilliant cool music also. You can download his album on the PrettyLightsMusic label site.
All of Pretty Light’s music is available for FREE download at .

So much THNX to ThePilot for taking a bunch of amazing pictures while I danced without care! xoxo
Seeing Pretty Lights at Red Rocks is becoming a yearly habit.
Every year Derek steps it up more than the last.
Already looking forward to next year!

carnival of lights

July 23rd, 2011
On a whim I mentioned a traveling electronica music event I had run across online to my friends Astrid & Hiccup. It was a massive carnival of rides, art, performers, and some of the biggest DJs in the world. It couldn’t have been more tailor-made for us. One of the stops on the tour was near them in Colorado. Then Astrid was going away the day of the CO leg, so I let it go. Half jokingly I said, “Let’s do Vegas then?”  
Two days later I received a text from those two crazy kids.
“We’re going to Electric Daisy Carnival in Vegas! Get your 3 day pass.”

Hiccup and My Pilot actually ended up bailing on us. So Astrid & I were going to have this adventure all to ourselves.  
The next few weeks I obsessed over the EDC website. I watched a bunch of videos of the rides at previous EDC events. I poured over the list of rumored DJs getting very excited. Social sites were full of anxious and impatient revelers waiting for the official lineup of musicians. Turns out, this was EDC’s 15th year and it’s 1st year in Las Vegas. I watched this trailer made from the earlier years in LA about 42,000 times (not exaggeration): Electric Daisy Carnival 2011 Las Vegas

Even after all of this research and obsessing, I was totally unprepared.

I’ve said before on this blog, flying on seat-available benefits can be difficult. This time I thought I was golden with a 5A Friday morning flight that was showing 75 open seats. no problem. Then around 11P on Thursday night I got a call from My Pilot to tell me it had filled to 3 seats left. There are 37 people listed ahead of me for those 3 seats. I panicked for a bit. Then I realized it could be better.  
I sent a text to Astrid,  
“Looks like I’m driving to Vegas. See you in a few hours.” 
I didn’t see much on my way to Vegas. Save a few passing truck lights, it was one of the darkest drives I have ever driven. I stopped in Kingman, AZ to stretch my legs, bought a caffeinated beverage and a “Route 66″ ashtray for my friend. Everyone asked me about the new bridge that crosses the Hoover Dam. I did not see it on the way. Just as I crossed into Henderson, NV the sun started to peek out over the hills.
We decided to stay up as long as we could then take the ultimate disco nap (enough for 3 days?) into evening. So we got up around 5P, ate a quick stir-fried bite, and headed out for our adventure.  
This massive party was at the Las Vegas Speedway. About a mile and a half from the exit, traffic on Route 15 came to a stop. The crazy people partying came to a start. Beaded and glow-lighted arms waved and fist-pumped out of windows. Kids were hanging out of their windows. The local and trucker traffic didn’t know what was happening. We were crawling out of our skin at this point and wanted to crawl out of the car and get inside the raceway. We turned up Bad Boy Bill in the car and got in line.

The line to get in was really bizarre. There were separate boy/girl lines because they were frisking everyone entering. Yet on the last night I was frisk by a woman. Does that make sense? Some lines were moving faster than others because of the varied qualities of pat-down.  
Astrid told me to meet her by the white tent just inside the gate and went into the girl line with 3 bodies ahead of her. I got into the guy line with 200+ bodies in front of me. It immediately stopped moving at all. no lie. 30 mins later some kids behind me started pushing forward and shouting. “Let’s get this line moving!” There was a minor argument when they tried to push past the guys in front of me. Right there they stopped. Now we were all packed like sardines. My brain starts telling me that a panic attack is in order. I resisted.  
All this time we could see the other lines passing us up at twice the speed. So after being in a still line for an hour and a half, I finally decided to jump the barrier and get in the faster moving line. I was finally up to the check point. I removed everything from my pockets, placed my items on the table, and put my hands in the air to have my body frisked. I spent a total of 5mins in this line.

Inside the gate I looked for the little white tent where we agreed to meet. No one was there. Security was keeping a line of girls about 15ft from the security gate. How was I going to find Astrid in this sea of females? I was suddenly grabbed by the hand and pulled through the sea. Astrid was pulling me as fast as she could toward the entrance gate.

“You have to see this!!!”

Did I say “unprepared” yet? so.

Inside the raceway grounds, there was an entire amusement park. From the top of the bleachers you could hear the boom of six competing stages. There were artist performers on stilts (walking trees, schools of rainbow fish, magic bugs) and on bicycles made to look like creatures. A ship of pirate women sailed through the sea of light. Everything was lit in all the colors. Skydivers fell from the sky like shooting stars. The best fireworks show I’ve ever seen completed each night.

I don’t have a lot of really great pictures because we were not allowed entry with the good camera. Pictures can’t do justice for the experience anyway. I guess you’ll just have to come to see it for yourself next time. =D


Video: Carnival Rides – Cliff Hanger – More Cliff HangerBike Snake – HeinekenDOMEClown Band – Donald Glaude – Shooting Stars – LightPOOL – Fireworks


Early Saturday morning we were at the bassPOD stage listening to the very intense Dieselboy. Astrid turned to me and asked if I wanted to go. I could have stayed forever, but we had 3 more nights to go. I agreed, and reached for the my car key. Then panic hit my brain again. I checked every pocket. again.


This time I did little to resist the building panic. I checked again and then turned to Astrid. “I have no keys.” Instantly the past few hours raced through my head. Images played of us on spinning, flinging, upside-down rides. I remembered us laying in the grass in the chill out area. I thought of the 42,000 times someone suspiciously bumped me. We started to retrace our steps. Then I thought of the possibility that I was going to have to call My Pilot. That made it worse.

After scouring every stop we made that night, I started asking for lost+found locations. No one seemed to know anything about it. Every staff and security person sent us on trips to the complete opposite side of this enormous raceway. We did more laps than NASCAR, I’m sure. Every person asked, “What did you lose?” and every time I answered, we got the same “OMG” reaction. After visiting 3 first aid stations, 2 security booths, and a closed lost+found, we finally found an open and staffed lost+found.

They didn’t have my key. I put my number in their notebook and described my Munny key chain.  
We decided the sit down awhile before talking to security about the possibility of being towed. We had some juice from the smoothie stand in preparation for sitting by the car in the soon-rising Nevada sun.  
The whole time we were at the carnival we had full mobile signal, but nothing was able to send or receive. I just imagine one little tower in the desert trying to handle the traffic of 100,000 party people. While we were having a sit, my phone suddenly started to blow up with every text reply from the night.  
One of them said  
“Come to the info booth. We have your car key”
Easily in the top 5 of best messages I’ve ever received. If I wasn’t so dry and exhausted, I could have cried.  
I went through the motions anyway. 
Thinking about it later, I realized that, in my rush to meet Astrid, I must have left them on the little table after being frisked. That’s why they were able to find them at all. If I had dropped them somewhere, I’m sure they’d be gone forever.
After retrieving the keys, we decided to watch the already-peeking sun rise. I’m sure I could have slept right there in the LightPOOL. That was the end of day one.

that's me on the far right with the death-grip on my key. smh.

sleep. eat. party. repeat.

On the last night, we were walking down the stairs in a giant single-file line of anxious-to-party people. As we approached the bottom everyone started to bounce to some infectious sound coming from the cosmicMEADOWS stage at the bottom of the bleachers.  
I wasn’t sure who it was, but I couldn’t wait to get down there and dance!  
Then we rounded the corner.  
“Rabbit in the Moon!!!” 
There was Bunny covered in glow lights. He was throwing them out to the crowd on the big beats.  
Then he was gone from the stage. When he returned he was in a giant bubble and crowd surfing. Everyone was screaming, us included.


We were able to catch The Crystal Method, Wolfgang Gartner, Royksopp, Dirty South, Tiësto, Dieselboy, Above & Beyond, Rabbit in the Moon, Paul Oakenfold, DJ Siren, Simon Patterson and Sean Tyas, Avicil, Ferry Corsten, Donald Glaude, Swedish House Mafia, Bingo Players, ATB, and R3hab. There were so many more. If I could have been 6 places at once, I would have seen them all. It was very hard to choose. 

 Kudos to Insomniac Events for these amazing things:
1. FREE water (!) The water refilling tents were so great, like gas pumps for people.
2. so many porta-potties = We never saw a line once.
3. The crowd control was amazing. There were police and venue security, but joy-kill wasn’t their objective. The vibe was kept safely fun. We saw several police who brought their cameras after the 1st night. I’m sure they had stuff to show the wives at home.
4. a lost & found! I got my car key back!!!


There is no way I’m missing this next year. See you there!