All posts by todd

Yakushima Island Part III

Sleeping on concrete isn’t so easy, even coming from a night on the floor of a cave. And without the sleeping bags we decided to rent at the last second? We would have been completely miserable.

So at the first hint of light I started making enough noise to be audible without sounding like a wake-up attempt.

Soon we were all awake, laughing at each other as we jumped around in our mummy bags trying to scare the hikers passing by.

Scaring people

First we checked out Yayoi sugi, the second oldest cedar in Shiratani Unsuikyo forest. At 3,000 years, it’s almost as old as the earth if you’re a creationist. By most accounts it’s more impressive than the oldest, so we started hiking towards the now-mythical mountain hut where we’d intended to stay the night before.

Yayoi sugi

I’d like to take a second to point out how lucky we were to have two full days of sunshine in Yakushima, where locals say it rains “35 days a month.” It looks like Bob Ross’s wildest fantasy for a reason.

The first leg up to the Shiratani hut turned out to be the original Kusugawa trail laid hundreds of years ago for women and children traveling through the mountains. You could have told me the rock-lined path was 20 years young and I’d have believed it, but apparently their trails were as tough as their women.

This was golden week, where a few successive holidays turn into a week off work, so many Japanese were visiting Yakushima too. In Tokyo, no one else says hi to strangers, but on the trail everyone goes back to basics.

As a rule people get friendlier the further you are from a city.

Yakushima trees

After a couple hours of hiking with the morning sun filtering through the trees, we reached the hut and put our gear in a side room with plywood bunk beds. Elliot and I set out to do a little exploring while Ty and Elisia took naps.

There was really only one direction: up. After an hour we reached a junction and took the trail up to the closest peak. The trail as rugged as the day before’s… plenty steep and marked only with plastic ribbons. Any malicious hiker with a pair of scissors could confuse a lot of people.

Soon we found ourselves on a rock overlooking the valley with an unbelievable view. We could see the ocean off in the distance and a fast-moving river down below.

As far as we were concerned, we were on top of the world. I’m don’t think I’ll ever forget the Nujabes track Elliot played for me while we relaxed in the sun.

Elliot on the rock

We headed back down to see if the others were awake. I played noisemaker again to get ’em rolling.

Elliot, Ty, and I took the other trail at the junction we’d found on the way to the rock, which led us down to the abandoned railroad that ran alongside the river we’d seen from above. We’d hiked all the way from the top to the bottom, and soon we’d be going back up to meet Elisia at the top.

Yakushima mountain river

But there was no way I was going to miss swimming in a pristine mountain river! We climbed down the bank and I got my skinny dip on. I couldn’t resist standing up and waving a big hello to the tour group that appeared upstream.

Back on the rock, Elisia had beaten us and was hanging out with the other hikers who’d come to check out the view. We’d allowed ourselves plenty of time before sunset to celebrate our last day in Yakushima. We had nuts, garbanzos, coconut milk, and spaghetti. Elliot brought his laptop up for a little music.

After a full day of trains, a trek through the rain, a night in a cave, a ferry, an unmaintained trail, a night on the roof of a restroom, and a hike up and down the mountain valley, we’d made it. This was the Yakushima we’d come to see.

Yakushima crew

Heather & Tyrone (NSFW)

If you’re a member of my family over 30 years old, DO NOT READ THIS.

Heather lived on our floor. She was pretty attractive, but there was something a little off about her… maybe “skeezy” is the right word. Enough that when she’d bounce into my room and plant herself in my 17 year-old virgin lap, I’d complain loudly instead of rejoicing in my good luck.

There was the time she ran in asking if I had a credit card. Yeah, why?

“There are some pictures of me on the Internet!”

“I’m not paying for it, but maybe we can find them anyway. What site?”


Sure enough, we found ’em… The Girls of Spring Break.

(click for the full picture – opens in new window)

After a handful of similar instances, we were pretty sure she Continue reading Heather & Tyrone (NSFW)

People do the strangest things

We were in Yoyogi Park for the Hanami celebration. Then this happened.

Catch the killer move at 1:04?

These two girls and their very feminine wizard call themselves Bercume, after the all-girl J-pop group they emulate, Perfume. But all they do is dance and lip-sync with ice cream cone microphones?

I got a huge kick out of it, but I don’t really get it. Then again, if I was this dude, getting out of the secret hideout and dancing with my girls would probably be the best thing I had going.

What do you think’s in it for the girls?

Temples, monkeys, and mountain trails


I couldn’t help but think that anyone watching would have exactly the wrong impression of us.  Everyone in Excelsior Caffé was seated and enjoying social drinks.  We were standing for lack of chairs and wolfing down the afterthought sandwiches coffee chains serve straight from the microwave.

We were a little behind as usual, heading to Tokyo station to catch our night train.  Our friend Elisia is with us for 10 days, so we were excited to show her the nobi-nobi beds we thought were so cool last year.

Most of the cabins on last night’s Sunset Express are private little space pods with real beds, but one car has carpeted bunks for those unwilling to spring for the Jetson package.  They fill up pretty quickly for good reason.

I woke up to train sounds with plenty of time to take a shower.

If you’re ever on a night train, it’s an absolute must!!  And a great deal — about $3 gets you 6 precious minutes of shower time.  You get to see the shower clean itself when you’ve finished, and if you forget a towel like I did the first time, you get extra points for drying off with the blow-dryer.  Sorry I don’t have video.

The ocean mist was still heavy as the ferry took us past the most famous temple gate in Japan.  Itsukushima Shrine was built on a little mountain island off the mainland where commoners were forbidden.

Most people take photos of the gate from the nearby pier.  Some of the more adventurous go down into the bay when the tide is out and get a bit closer on the sand.  We zipped off our pant legs and waded out in the knee-high water.  It was freezing.

Miyajima gate

The town is adorable, but the coolest part of Miyajima is the mountain trails.  There are a few routes of varying length and difficulty that lead to the temple, observation deck, and monkey sanctuary at the top.  We locked up our packs and Elisia took off for the ropeway (gondola).

The main trail is pretty good for a 2 km climb.  A lot of the stairs are more like box jumps than steps, but it’s a little hard to be proud of something we shared with the elderly and the high-heeled.  Love the Japanese ladies!

At the top we hung out at the temple of the eternal flame, where it’s said the fire’s been going over 1,200 years.  The monsoon that decimated the island about 50 years ago makes me a little skeptical, but I still drank the tea brewing over it.

top of miyajima

Hard to beat relaxing at a temple at the top of our first World Heritage Site.

A little further up at the absolute summit, kids were climbing on the huge rock formations with their parents looking on, but no one could scale the biggest one.  After a couple half attempts, the kids were so interested there was no way I could stop.

Everyone applauded when Ty made it up with a little boost, and after another 30 minutes of trying I took off my shoe to find a toe hold and narrowly avoided failure.  The view was worth it, and one of the mothers told us we were heroes!

ty rock

Over by the top of the ropeway, the monkeys roam freely and the humans are restricted to one area — the ultimate role reversal. We watched them do monkey stuff for a while and got this superexclusive shot of three mid-lesson with their dance instructor.


Kudos for your choice of “Thriller,” guys.

The ultimate fast food was waiting for us at the bottom: corn on the cob basted with soy sauce.  Delicious, satisfying, and healthy.

We made our way back to the ferry and 3 trains later we were back in Tokyo in time to catch last order at our favorite Indian restaurant.  Pretty incredible how much activity and distance you can pack into one day.

Oh, did you know budding antlers feel like jelly-filled leather gearshifts?


Digg tracking clicks like Adobe with Omniture’s

Remember when everyone got worked up over Adobe tracking access to upgrades using Omniture’s deceptively-named URL?

Go to Digg’s front page and keep an eye on your browser’s status bar when you click a story. Before you see the messages normally associated with loading a page, did you catch “Looking up”?

Why wouldn’t Digg want to track users’ clicks? Collecting data on Continue reading Digg tracking clicks like Adobe with Omniture’s

Yakuza Elvis Dance Party

We saw the Japanese Elvises this Sunday at Yoyogi. They dance all over Tokyo, and apparently the large tattoos are a good indication they’re Yakuza — Japan’s equivalent of the mafia.

One of ’em sure likes to start trouble. Check it out.

Stay tuned for hilarious video of the Japanese pop lip-synchers who performed for our Hanami party.

Hidden Vintage Guitar Shop in Tokyo

I miss my guitar. It’s the only thing I would’ve liked to bring but couldn’t.

Fortunately, these universal symbols of awesomeness are sold everywhere, so now and then I get to duck into a music store and play a little.

The sign for the shop across the street from our current place reads, “Premium guitars. Vintage, used, and brand new,” which usually means they have a full supply of cheapos and a couple decent Martins.

Woodman Instruments - Shibuya, Tokyo

It’s a reasonable assumption. When I sold one of my guitars on a Martin forum, every single person who inquired was international. The cost of importing American guitars is astronomical — the Irish buyer would have paid twice as much for a new one!

But this little store, tucked away in a residential area of Shibuya, turned out to have a selection that would be impressive anywhere.

Little Martin parlor guitars from the ’30s. Big Gibson J-45s from the ’60s. A 1956 Stratocaster that would set you back $68,000.00!


I’ve always stuck to Martins, but the wall of Gibson dreadnoughts seemed much cooler. A dark-stained J-45 with a white pickguard was the James Dean of the group, but after trying a few I settled on a golden 1964 J-45CS.

Martins sound much better to me, but there’s something that made playing the Gibsons more fun. They look like they have more character… maybe that translates into a feeling?

Playing a 1964 J-45CS

They probably had 30-40 vintage Gibson acoustics and archtops, 30 or so Martins from 0-18s to an 000-45 custom, a handful of Guilds, and some vintage Fenders.

Their inventory is online here.

If you’re around Tokyo and looking for lots of awesome acoustics and some special electrics, pay a visit to Katsuyuki Sakai at Woodman Instruments, just behind the Cerulean Hotel in Shibuya.

And don’t forget me if you get a free J-45CS with your purchase. 🙂

Woodman Instruments

Optimizing lighttpd with YSlow

Yahoo may trail Google where it counts, but they’ve been very cool about sharing information on optimizing their site.

When your site gets 10 visitors a day, it’s not worth your time to worry about how fast your pages load; but if you’re serving millions of people, every millisecond counts. So Yahoo created a team dedicated to improving user experience via performance.


Though more companies are getting savvy as online presence becomes increasingly essential, it’s still easy to find offenders. Notice how long it takes to load MSN vs. Yahoo. Yahoo is almost Continue reading Optimizing lighttpd with YSlow

FF Tartine Script – choosing logotype for Font Whore

I bought the domain a while ago with the intention of putting up a typography-oriented journal. Though the more fonts I see, the fewer I respect, it’s a pretty apt description.

Tartine Script is an understated script with personality, like a more-connected, heavier Cutiful. I’ve got the normal and heavy weights… went with normal for the logo.

Tartine Script

Quite elegant… not something I’d want to use for body text, but as a display font it works great. Very legible, a little embellishment on the capitals lends it some flair, and great for offsetting the small contemporary fonts in the WordPress theme I selected.

FF Tartine Script