Day 8 - Convention Day 3

Saturday, September 1st, 2007

Looking at the convention schedule last night we realised that we were not really interesting in attending anything in the morning so we made the decision to take the morning to return to Yokohama station to pick up the JR Rail passes that I had purchased in London. The JR Rail pass allows you basically unlimited travel on all trains in Japan including the bullet trains or “shinkansen”. You can only purchase the pass outside of Japan and it is good for 7, 14 or 21 days at a time. As we are in Japan for two weeks but not travelling much in the first week I had decided to go with the one week pass which we will now use in the second week of our trip.

There was a bit of discussion about how we would get to the station. The hotel is Minato Mirai which across a small stretch of water and a small walk from Yokohama station. We decided that despite the warm weather and a bit of confusion as to whether or not we actually could physically walk there we decided to give it a go. The whole MM area is under construction. We passed by several new buildings being built with workers walking along the pavement with hard hats and overalls. Many of the new buildings look like apartment complexes. The new buildings are a marvel of modern architecture and are truly majestic. Making our way along the new pavement and roads we eventually crossed over a busy road bridge into the main area around the station.

Near Yokohama Station

Near Yokohama Station

There are a number of shopping areas that appear to basically only sell western-style furniture and clothing though we were relieved to see that in the shopping complex immediately below the station that the shops were more traditional with a shop selling kimonos and another across the aisle selling traditional stationary. I spent a few minutes picking through the wonderful paper and cards in the stationary shop while mother admired the kimonos.

Kimono Shop (SW)

There is a small travel centre in the station that we visited to exchange our JR Rail coupons for the actual tickets. A single teller speaking not a lot of English was able to help us in one corner of the room. The place looked a lot like a travel centre in the west with agents sitting at low desks with computers helping people who sat on chairs in front of them. There are signs everywhere advertising many places in Japan but also throughout the world. One wall was just covered from floor to ceiling with sheets of writing having the latest specials and prices listed. The JR Rail pass secured (a very colourful – it should be for the money! – pass that folds neatly into the pocket) we also picked up a few tickets straightaway for some of the travel for next week – The tickets from Yokohama to Kyoto (one way) and the tickets to Hiroshima as well – Much easier to do it now while we have time and are thinking about it.

Returning to the convention by the subway we continued with our visit. I started my day with “The Death of Individual Innovation” (12:00 to 14:00) which talked about the current situation in innovation where large groups of dedicated people are innovating rather than individuals. There was a bit of discussion about what innovation was (“using what is established to come up with something new”, in my words) but also about the idea that even in these groups there appears to always be an individual that drives the group forward. Someone always has the “spark” that ignites everyone else's thoughts.

David Brin with Origami (SW)

David Brin with Origami (SW)

Mother attended an interesting panel “David Brin reading with origami play” (12:00 to 14:00). David Brin is an interesting Science Fiction author who has won many awards. In this panel he told a story and illustrated it by making/animating (moving around) characters with paper (using Japanese origami methods). Mother really enjoyed it. How come she gets the fun things and I get the serious ones? Oh well.

Killer Bees Panel

I attended “The Killer Bees” panel from 14:00 to 16:00. This is a group of three authors: David Brin, David Bear and Gregory Benford but in this case David Bear could not attend so we had Robert Silverberg (one time editor but also writer) in his place. This is another traditional convention panel and is always a source of a lot of fun and amusement as these extremely intelligent individuals (each holding something like a PhD) talk about what they are working on and taking jibes at each other. In this case there was a lot of discussion about humanism vs science. Great fun.

From 16:00 to 18:00 I attended “The Universe as seen from the Hubble Space Telescope” which was basically just a series of slides (presented by the same lady as the other space science panels I have attended) of what has been found recently and what is coming in the future. Very good with the questions being answered also very interesting but we did run a bit late…

Having missed going up in the Yokohama Landmark Tower from it's having closed at something like 8:30 (last admission) we were determined to visit it today. After all, it is the tallest building in Japan and we wanted to visit it at night to see the city lit up beneath so we skipped the convention tradition of the Hugo award presentation (awards for excellence in Science Fiction voted on by the members of the convention, such as myself) and headed off to get up the tower.

A very modern tower, the elevator (lift) accelerates up to 750 m/minute to the “Sky Garden” observation deck at 273 m (69 stories). It is quite well done with a dark interior allowing very good views out the windows of the surrounding area. Evidently from up here, on a clear day, you can see 80 km away including Mount Fuji but it was not a clear day and it was dark so the odds were against us seeing the venerable old mountain. We contented ourselves with looking at the vast city that spread out beneath us. The lights stretch into the distance. Of course, Yokohama is not really separated from Tokyo with buildings all the way up the coast between the two cities so lights stretch to the horizon pretty much in all directions. Looking down on top of the high skyscrapers immediately adjacent to the tower with their roof-top helipads was an odd sensation. The most spectacular views are of the area where we are staying – Minato Mirai. This is the showpiece of the city with it's theme park and fantastically modern buildings including the convention centre and attached complex. We were able to watch the tourist boats garishly lit coming into the small harbour beneath the tower and beside CosmoWorld. It was also even possible to make out the red lights of the large Chinatown as well (the largest outside of China likely because of the history the port city has of trading with China).

View from Yokohama Landmark Tower

Having a look at the souvenirs we eventually returned to the ground (18:00) and the shopping complex beneath. The stores are basically what you would expect to see in any shopping complex though we did spend a few minutes in a shop that appeared to be pretty much dedicated to merchandise from the Ghibli films (reading this, you must see a patter with other places we have visited so far…).

Shopping Complex (SW)

Outside of the mall there was a street performer doing a bit of juggling and entertaining a fairly good sized crowd. Not terribly good but the crowd appeared to appreciate it. We sneaked past him (hoping against hope we would not be spotted by him and pressed into service…) and thankfully continued our walk uninterrupted across the bridge to the shopping mall we had visited for breakfast the first day on the other side of the Ferris Wheel.

This time I tried the intriguing restaurant in the food court next to the udon restaurant. I had an interesting meal: A mound of rice topped with (cooked) egg topped with (either) a “demiglace” (sic) sauce (a brown sauce) or a cream sauce (I went for the more unusual latter option) along with Spaghetti and coleslaw on the side. It was actually quite good and tasty. Mother had another helping of udon which she also enjoyed along with some tempura on the side.

After the pleasant meal we had a go on the roller coaster which we can clearly see from our hotel room. It is a modern roller coaster has a few loops before quickly accelerating down and through a hole in the ground (a small pool of water around the hole has jets of water that add to the experience by shooting in the air as you enter the tunnel). Purchasing our tickets from the ticket booth (pointing again…) we got into the rather short queue for the roller coaster. Though much anticipated by both of us roller-coaster fanatics the ride was a bit of an anti-climax. It started off quite good with the loops, tunnel and all that but it ended with a series of very fast circles in a corkscrew which only served to cramp our necks and make us dizzy. Not a good way to end the ride, really.

Oh well, what about the Ferris Wheel?

View of Ferris Wheel from On Board

Much better. The queue was really long as we waited for about 30 minutes to get onto the ride (I was a bit worried about time as the park closed at 9:00 PM and it was already 8:30!). It was a pleasant experience in the small compartment we had to ourselves which was quite breezy. It offered very good views of the modern buildings of the area and was a good 10 minutes long. Much better than the roller coaster! They dropped us off in true theme park fashion with the only exit being through an amusement arcade with no sign of exit to the street…Eventually we found it.

A pleasant enough day. It was good to see a bit more of the city rather than being stuck in the convention. I think a lot of people attending the convention are seeing very little of the area around them which I think is quite a shame. It is true, really, for any of these conventions as some people are only comfortable associating with other attendees and are not really interested in where they are. Japan, for goodness sake! Yokohama, no less, so modern and interesting…Get out a bit!

Day 9 - Convention Day 4

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