Category Archives: Asia

Japan – Osaka Castle (7 of 10)

And now, I will talk about some of my sights from Osaka. This city is one of Japan’s largest cities. It is quite expansive, though not quite like Tokyo. I explored much of this city on my own, so I tended to waste more time than I like.

One of the main tourist attractions is Osaka Castle, which I walked around at night time. It is also one of Japan’s most famous castles. You can also go inside, though I’m told the outside is the most impressive.


The castle area is surrounded by a moat. Of course!


Many locals were just relaxing around it, fishing and other such activities.


There were a bunch of cats sitting around and one person was painting one. This cat was looking at me, but didn’t seem overly amused! It also seems to have one blue eye and one green eye!


Here it is! This castle played a major role in the unification of Japan in the 16th century. This structure is not original. It was destroyed in 1615.


The architecture is quite impressive close up.


The ground are also quite relaxing, and likely quite busy during the day when the castle is open, especially at the height of the cherry blossom season (which I missed). Osaka’s skyscrapers can be seen in the distance.

I’ll post more photos from Osaka soon. For now, the rest of my Osaka Castle photos are in my Gallery.

Japan – Kyoto’s Kiyomizu Temple (6 of 10)

And now, I continue with the second half of my Kyoto visit. After visiting the Golden Pavilion, my hosts took me to the Kiyomizu Temple area.


The entrance from the street is very eye catching and bright.


Other sightseers are all dressed up!


A deva gate, with other spectacular architecture in the background.


The main hall of the temple comprises a verdana with very tall pillars that offer a spectacular view of Kyoto. An old Edo period tradition was that anyone who could survive the 13m plunge from the edge of the veranda would have their wish granted. 234 jumps were recorded during the Edo period, 85% of which survived (albeit many with likely serious injuries). It’s now prohibited to jump off now, so unless you want prison, you won’t have your wish granted now.


This view of the city of Kyoto is one of the things that distinctly identify the temple. Sticking out from the centre of it all is the Kyoto Tower. It’s real clear here that there’s no absolutely no super tall buildings which allows an uncluttered view of the mountains in the distance.


This huge, dramatic statue is in the same area. Unfortunately, I don’t remember its significance and the web sites I consulted when preparing this post do not seem to mention this.


Hello, Kitty!

Check my gallery for the rest of the photos from the Kiyomizu Temple area of Kyoto!

Japan – Kyoto’s Temple of the Golden Pavilion (5 of 10)

While in Osaka, students from the lab hosting me took me to see Kyoto. I have separated my photos into two sections: the Temple of the Golden Pavilion which I will talk about in this post, and the Kiyomizu Temple in my next post.


This is downtown Kyoto. This is about as tall as the buildings get, because although the city is very large, it has laws regulating the height of its buildings. Osaka, which I’ll talk about in later posts, has no such laws, so building height is a free-for-all there.


In this area, you can find many buildings constructed in the old style. It is expensive to build them like this now, so the style is preserved in the older architecture.


Here is the Golden Pavilion itself. It is the most popular tourist attraction in Kyoto. Its shingles on the second and third floors are entirely gilded with gold leaf.


The pavillion was originally built as a retirement villa by Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu in the 14th century. This explains the beautiful gardens and scenery surrounding the area. It was later converted into a temple by Yoshimitsu’s son.


Ahh finally, a use for those small Japanese coins that don’t actually buy anything unless you have a truckload of them. If you manage to get a coin in the cup, it’s good luck. Judging by the sight here, lots of unlucky people had walked by before me!


I bought my fortune, in Japanese, at a machine similar to these. Although I couldn’t read it myself, I was told it said “very good” luck, which is the best you can get!


It is best to arrive early, to have any chance at beating the crowds of school children. Virtually all of the elementary school children in the nearby cities go on field trips to this area at some point.


After a morning at the Golden Pavilion, it was time for lunch. We went to a restaurant that specializes in creating these pancakes which are cooked right on the table where you sit. The ingredients are mixed right in front of you!

That’s all for now. Check my gallery for the rest of the photos from my first part of Kyoto.

Japan – ICRA 2009 Robotics Conference (4 of 10)

And now some pictures from the main event, my reason for going to Japan. I attended the ICRA 2009 Robotics conference in Kobe, where I presented my Robot Emotional Control project.

At the conference, various booths were set up demonstrating the latest in robot technology.


This is Paro, the seal robot. It responds to touches, moves its fins, head, and eyebrows, and makes cute sounds. It has an advanced program that changes its “mood” over time depending on how you interact with it. Jumping on top of it probably makes it unhappy, so it may not be as playful. This robot was tested in a nursing home and ended up having a positive therapeutic effect. The elderly responded well to it and enjoyed their time playing with it.


This is Nao, produced by Aldebaran Robotics. It can walk around, dance, and speak a dozen different languages, though it would hopefully stick to just the one I’m used to when interacting with me.


Outside the conference centre, a planetary exploration robot competiton was set up. Here, you see a robot navigating the foreign terrain.


This guy got a bit too pushy. I was taking pictures and it started to roll towards me pushing me towards a wall!


Even robots like to quench their thirst somehow. This is a robotic hand that can be controlled remotely, duplicating the controller’s hand movements, mostly, once you get used to it. I actually had no problem with the robot taking this green tea. This type in the bottle did not appeal to me at all!


Here’s a bunch of us posing as we sat together at the banquet. Most of us met at an attendee social event near the beginning. In Japan, it is apparently very common to make the peace sign in pictures.


In a time of energy conservation, such as that consumed by washing dishes, I really can manage with just one knife, maybe two. I needed two spoons though. One for eating and one for flinging stuff.

Japan – Kobe City (3 of 10)

In addition to the island, I also took many photos of the Kobe mainland.


At night, the main streets are brightly lit with advertisements and decorations.


In this photo, I walking towards the North part of Kobe, towards the mountain. This area is known for its modern Western style buildings. As you can see, the weather isn’t too good. It started raining shortly after I took this.


That’s a real tight fit!


Sannomiya Station. This area is one of the busiest areas of Kobe with lots of different train stations located near each other. The JR lines runs through the middle (left to right) and connects Kobe with the rest of Japan. The inner-city Portliner line is to the right of this photo. A “police box” (station) is located in the middle-right.


Travelling West in Kobe next to the JR line. Unfortunately for Japanese culture, McDonald’s restaurants are everywhere, and very well identified with signage. Many are even 24 hour locations. Also take note in the lower left corner, there’s a very funny looking car… or truck..


A close-up view from a pedestrian bridge, which are very common in Japan’s city areas. Road markings are painted directly on the road, including a marking that informs you that making a U-turn is definitely not allowed.


Finally for today, Kobe also has a bustling Chinatown. I walked through, though never managed to buy anything in the area. The architecture is unique and quite interesting.


Looks real good, right? Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this green tea float so much.


My hotel room was the smallest I’ve ever seen. There’s not much more to it than what you see here except a small desk to the right, a small bathroom to the left, and a rather long hallway behind me to the door. This particular hotel also offered a small fridge, and a water jug that was refreshed daily.

That’s all of my Kobe photos. Check my gallery for the rest of the photos I took.

Japan – Kobe’s Islands (2 of 10)

I am now back from Japan. As it turns out, I took a lot of photos, so it’s a challenge deciding how to sort them and share them with you.

I’ll start from photos from Kobe’s Port Island and Harborland area. Port Island is a man-made island that is home to their international convention centre, and also the airport. The Harborland is the mainland area right next to the harbour.


At night, the Harborland area is a beautiful sight.


Kobe’s unofficial symbol, Kobe Tower, dominates the area. I liked how this photo turned out at night. My camera takes excellent photos during the day, but the night poses more of a challenge.


The conference which I attended (and will talk more about later in another post) took place at the Kobe International Conference Centre, which is right next to the flagship Portobia Hotel. As you can imagine, it is very expensive, so I didn’t stay there.


And now for a close-up. The Japanese respect the elderly. It looks like this person is out for a stroll, with the help of a younger person. Both are protected from the sun by an umbrella. The one in the chair is also wearing a mask to protect against the flu. I’m just wondering what the guy is doing behind the giant stone sign.


The Harborland is a classy area, but also one where things are close together, like everywhere in Japan. A tennis court is visible in the middle-right amongst the tall buildings and parking garages, all at the edge of the harbour.


The fancy Oriental Hotel sits at the harbour. No, I didn’t stay here either. Kobe Tower is nearby.


There’s lots of activity on Kobe’s waterfront. This is only one small part. The port is very large and seems to stretch forever into Osaka eventually.


There’s a tourist area with gift shops and an amusement park. The palm trees are easily supported by Japan’s very warm weather. I found it a bit too warm and uncomfortable coming out of Canada’s winter.


Video games are big everywhere in Japan. Namco is one of the big companies involved, though their North American presence has dwindled over the years. There’s lots of establishments everywhere filled with gaming machines.

Japan – First 2 Days in Kobe (1 of 10)

I am writing to you today from Kobe, Japan. I am here for 2 weeks attending a conference and making a presentation at Osaka University. I am posting a few photos that I’ve taken so far, though I may not have much opportunity to many more updates while I’m here.


Welcome to Japan. Wow. This view is not far from my hotel. Before arriving, I didn’t even know they drive on the left here.


Here, you can see a major terminal in downtown Kobe. It’s interesting to note that while most Japanese speak only Japanese, there is little bits of English everywhere and many company names are written using Roman letters that we use.


In this picture, you see the tracks for one of the many train lines snaking through the city. During my one hour shuttle bus ride from the airport to Kobe, the first thing I noticed was an extreme amount of transportation infastructure, and industry. This is actually a large shipping area with a very busy port, although it was busier before 1995 when a devastating earthquake shook the city.


Japanese cars are everywhere here, obviously. Some look quite different, but others are quite similar to the designs being sold by the same companies in North America.


Vending machines selling drinks are everywhere, but get ready for the smallest servings of Coke you’ve ever seen. Even in McDonald’s, a North American kiddie size is the Japanese medium.


This spot isn’t far from the conference venue. People on bikes are everywhere on the sidewalks and it’s a bit difficult to avoid a collision with one.

These are the some of the best photos I have so far. I am attending the conference in Kobe all this week before moving on to Osaka next week, and then back to Calgary afterwards. Amazingly, I haven’t really experienced a jet lag despite a 15 hour time difference. I slept at normal times so far.

I have no full photo gallery yet, because I want to decide which photos to include based on what I end up with later. I’ll try to squeeze in more blog updates as time allows.