Category Archives: Asia

Japan – Tokyo and Hiratsuka (1 of 3)

I have been fortunate enough to visit Japan a second time, once again to present work at a conference. The first stop was Tokyo and a nearby small town of Hiratsuka.

This is just part of the big city of Tokyo.

I had a nice view from my hotel room here. This neighbourhood is very expensive to live in.

Streets in Japan are often much narrower compared to what North Americans are used to. This is most likely a two way street, though some areas are unpassable by two opposing cars at the same time. In these cases, drivers must simply look for traffic ahead before proceeding.

I viewed some academic seminars at the University of Tokyo. On campus, space is apparently very limited. In the foreground of this picture, you see two buildings, not one. The upper building is supported completely separated from the building below.

I had one day in the small city of Hiratsuka. It was very rainy and as we were walking away from the ocean, announcements came through the city over loudspeakers that a tsunami was expected in a few hours due to the Chile earthquake. Being next to the ocean in this location made me a bit nervous!

The Japanese train operators were also nervous because of the possible tsunami. The local train station was closed just before I was supposed to board one for Osaka. Although I did make it to another station by car farther away, my plans that day were delayed by several hours.

I have posted more pictures in my gallery, and am working on more blog posts to post soon!

Japan – Goodbye for now! + Video (10 of 10)

After 2 weeks, it was time to go home from Japan.


During my visit, the H1N1 virus was an issue being addressed. Upon landing, an extra hour was added to our time on the tarmac while Japanese health officials took everyone’s temperature on the plane. This experience was a bit unusual to me. We were told not to take pictures. Don’t worry, I didn’t and no one else did either.


My last meal and one of my favourite in Japan was beef curry rice at the airport. This is a popular dish and one that is easy for Canadians to eat with the familiar fork instead of chop sticks.


The airport in Osaka is actually on an artificial island connected with the mainland by a very long bridge. I suspect this is cheaper than expanding to develop on the mountains in the distance. Shortly after taking this photo, the plane lifted off and I began my long trip back to Calgary.


And now for something a little different from my usual blogging. I have compiled a video with clips from random sights around Japan as well as the ICRA2009 conference. Enjoy!

This concludes my blog postings for Japan, 2009.

Japan – Japanese Pub and Osaka University (9 of 10)

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Upon arriving at the place where I was staying in Osaka near the University, Dr. Kitamura who was hosting me suggested we go out to a traditional Japanese pub for dinner. Driving with him to the pub was my first time on the left side of the road in a car! (I’ve been on the left in buses before in the UK, though)


This is the table where we sat inside. It was quite uncomfortable for me sitting on the floor since it is not a position I am used to!


This is one of the many Japanese dishes that Dr. Kitamura ordered for us. I don’t eat seafood though, so I had to pass on some of them.


This eggplant pizza actually tasted quite good.


If I remember correctly, this is a bottle of Sake. This bottle belongs specifically to Dr. Kitamura and is stored at a special spot in the pub.

My main academic reason for going to Osaka was to present at Osaka University in the lab where my supervisor, Dr. Ehud Sharlin, has worked previously.


This is me presenting as students from the lab watch. Thanks to Dr. Yoshifumi Kitamura for this photo!

It was here at the university where I became familiar with a few more Japanese customs. For example, before entering the lab area, everyone removes their shoes and puts on slippers. There are big cabinets to house everyone’s shoes, including some pairs for guests.

After this, I have one more post for Japan. Stay tuned.

Japan – Rest of Osaka (8 of 10)

Besides Osaka Castle, I saw a few other sights in Osaka. I also spent some time just walking around, at least when the weather was cooperating.


Tsutenkaku (informally known by some as Osaka Tower) is a famous landmark in Osaka. I went up. They have a gift shop up top, but unfortunately they accept cash only, and I was short on cash and couldn’t buy some post cards I saw there. Post cards are actually hard to find in Japan compared to other tourist areas.


The city of Osaka seems to stretch forever in this view from from the tower. This is actually a better view than what I saw in person. There was plenty of clouds and rain occurring.


This is one of Osaka’s bustling streets near the tower. Convenience stores like the one to the right are everywhere in Japan, almost on every street corner and they are open 24 hours a day.


Osaka at night is brightly lit and active, especially around one of the main train stations where I was here.


In Osaka, there is a section of several street blocks of electronics stores everywhere.In the centre of this photo, you can see a sign identifying this particular building as the Windows Tower. The logo being used is quite old from the Windows 95 era.


Some are the many stores are smaller versions of North American big box stores, while others are small and carrying various electrical components like you see here. One store also sold used versions of every iPod ever made, and many stores carried all kinds of tiny laptops.


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.