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I want to break free

16 Apr

[2021 update: if at first you don’t succeed, try again]

I have smoked exactly two thirds of my life: twenty-eight years. It’s high time I stopped. So I stopped.

It’s been only five days but that’s the longest I’ve achieved ever, so there is cause to celebrate.

The decision had been years in the making. Friends and family have persisted over the years and my son recently joined the lecturing bandwagon. I’m thankful because I was impervious! Much as they annoyed me, they were right and I knew it. Slowly I was getting closer to commitment: Quitting is the right thing to do, therefore submit.

I was brought closer to the decision last month by the prospect of tobacco deprivation at airports, during long flights –and basically of limited freedom to smoke–, as I prepared for a 24-hour or so journey to a two-day meeting, followed by a 24-hour or so journey back home. The actual trigger was the epiphany that struck me as I thought I was at last free to go smoke between two flights: that is not freedom, that is (nicotine) enslavement.

In “The Easy Way To Stop Smoking”, the book my good friend Amy gave me years ago, Allen Carr writes:

“It is […] slavery. We spend half our lives in situations in which society forbids us to smoke (churches, hospitals, schools, trains, theaters, and the like) or […] feeling deprived. The rest of our smoking lives is spent in situations where we are allowed to smoke, but wish we didn’t have to.”

I smoked my last cigarette Tuesday after dinner and patched up the next morning. I’ve got lozenges for when the craving is too intense but I don’t like them too much so don’t use them a lot.

The worse day was the day before I stopped.

I had made up my mind, purchased the patches and the lozenges at the pharmacy after picking up my son after school. I was still smoking as my pouch of tobacco was not yet empty –it took me another day to finish it as I let it drag on as much as possible by rolling thinner ones and smoking less.

The second worse day was the third. Possibly because I had not used a patch that morning. Good to know they are not selling squares of adhesive tape!

A couple parting thoughts:

  • Not lighting up is hard, but not as hard now that I have decided to stop.
  • Time goes quite slowly in the process.

Les lieux familiers (bis)

21 Feb

Je voyage assez souvent (et c’est chouette) et me trouve à l’aise dans les aéroports. Quelque chose de familier, d’interchangeable, qui me sied. 

On n’a pas besoin d’y parler trop. C’est reposant. On s’y perd rarement sauf happé dans des rêveries. J’ai un bon bouquin et quand je ne lis pas, j’observe les gens. 

Je regarde souvent ma pellicule photos de téléphone intelligent : il est claffi de photos prises d’avion ou d’aéroport. 

Je suis en transit pour Berlin. Je n’y ai jamais mis les pieds ! On le dit que c’est magnifique et dynamique. J’y vais pour le boulot et prendrai ce que je peux de ces quelques jours. 

Ah, ça va me manquer de moins voyager. 

#ParisWeb 2016: notes and thoughts (day 2)

4 Oct

[Read my notes and thoughts about Day 1.]

I attended Paris Web 2016 on 29-30 September, a two-track conference followed by a day of workshops. I heard about the French Web conference in 2006 for its first edition, but I’ve attended only the last 3 editions. It’s such a great conference. The people are passionate and respectful –no, they are caring and it makes the conference extra special. The staff is dedicated and wonderful. The speakers are excellent. It’s probably the most inclusive conference; as far as I can tell, it’s the only conference that has:

  1. live French sign language,
  2. live translation into French of English presentations, and
  3. transcriptions projected on screen.

In addition, the conferences are filmed for streaming and posterity.

I am not a Web {developer,designer}, but I’m interested for my work in taking the pulse of the Web Community as far as Web Standards are concerned. Each of the two parallel tracks of the conference were appealing and I am looking forward to watching the videos of the talks I could not attend.

Here are my notes and thoughts from the second day:

Web Accessibility

09:00: L’accessibilité décomplexée – ce qu’elle peut faire pour vous. Adoptons un point de vue iconoclaste, voire… totalement décomplexé, sur l’accessibilité !

Par Nicolas Hoffmann

Nicolas packages accessible plug-ins, shares them on Github, and encourages everyone to do the same. Accessibility brought Nicolas technical knowledge (that should put to rest all the lame excuses from whiners who wait to accrue technical knowledge *before* they think they can tackle accessibility.)
Any contribution is worthwhile and an investment, bound to reap benefits. Nicolas concluded with a question: “What can accessibility do… for you?”
from Nicolas’ slides:

  • Evangelise accessibility
    • Avoid negative impressions (e.g. showing demos that fail)
    • Show positive stuff instead
  • Center your vision on “others” rather than “self”
  • Start small (but start)

Static Websites

10:00: Ne passons pas à côté des choses simples. Quels sont les secrets de la vogue pour les gestionnaires de sites statiques.
Par Frank Taillandier et
Bertrand Keller

Frank and Bertrand held a conversation on stage where one convinced the other that not all data requires a base, and that HTML, CSS and Javascript in some cases can generate simple and light sites that perform well. It’s high time to “Keep It Static Simple”
I used to keep a local diary powered by Blosxom a decade ago and like how simple it was to use from the command line. I then tried Nikola and Pelican several years ago between Christmas and the New Year, determined to change the way I updated my website, but after several days wrestling, I gave up, sad and frustrated. As soon as I can realistically make time, I’ll look again at what generator(s) might be suitable for me.
from slides linked off Frank’s article:

  • “serverless” movement
  • some say 80% of the Web does not require any database
  • Static website
  • Contribution, update via a headless CMS (or use an online service)
  • Role of APIs
  • Yet, ‘simple’ does not mean ‘easy’
  • A plethora of generators: Jekyll, hexo, hugo, pelican, brunch, middleman, metalsmith, gatsby, harp, grav, assemble, lekto, roots, nanoc, phenomic, etc.

wysiwyg CSS? holy cow!

11:00: CSS et édition WYSIWYG, l’amour vache. CSS et édition Wysiwyg, c’est l’amour vache. Difficile à implémenter et compliqué à matérialiser en UI. Pourquoi et comment ?
Par Daniel Glazman

Daniel demonstrated the subtleties around the particular points that make it hard to do wysiwyg CSS.
I believe there are 10 sorts of people. Those who grok CSS and those like me who weep and swear when they have to do some CSS. (Usually the former are quite snotty about that achievement, as they have all the rights to be. R.E.S.P.E.C.T.)
When it comes to CSS, I have no idea what I’m doing. Really. Often do I find myself thinking “hmmm, I have no idea what I’m doing…” but that statement is completely true only as far as CSS in concerned. It’s like I lack the gene to even grasp it. There isn’t one way to do something in CSS, there is *choice*. I would hate it less if I understood why one choice makes sense because $type-here-the-enlightened-wisdom.
The first time I worked in earnest on a style sheet was a fine but cold Sunday in January 2005. It was also the last time. THE DAMN THING TOOK ME 8 HOURS! Behold the comment I left in that style sheet:

/*Here is downtown2.css, a variation of downtown.css
that I made 2 days ago for my W3C People page. As a beginner 
in CSS  I was exposing to a colleague how I wanted images  
to spring out on mouse hover without knowing if that was 
at all feasible ; I was  pointed to 
and was told "I think it does  what you want." I was told it 
was a bit tricky. The style at is exactly 
the one I was looking for! --05jan2005
"Based on stylesheets from, copyright (c) 
2004 Mark Pilgrim.  
Used here with permission" 
--memento background-color:
purple: a880bd
rosy: ecdeff--
Opera 7.54u1:mac displays a scaled flower in the top square 
on the left.--09jan2005*/
Then, I discovered Westciv’s *StyleMaster*, a style sheet editor that let me apply sheets to web pages, experiment and debug. Yet, not without great effort –remember the missing CSS gene. I haven’t used it in years, mostly because I no longer have to create style sheets from scratch, but I was thoroughly enthused by it.
My question to Daniel, had I had the time to ask it, “Isn’t Style Master a wysiwyg CSS editor and if so, how does it work around the challenges you exposed?”
from Daniel’s slides:

  • [history of wysiwyg]
  • Question about copy/paste: should the style be copied and pasted?
  • What about CSS files that are not local and thus can’t be edited?
  • No FileAPI (File System API is defunct and Web Platform WG might take up work on File API)
  • Conclusion:
    • There is a half wysiwyg CSS editor on the market (BlueGriffon, Daniel’s editor).
    • CSS has been thought for rendering engines but not for editors; and it is not getting any better.
    • There are cases when what to do via a client can’t be done: the user will have to make a choice.

Progressive WebApps

11:45: Progressive Web Apps : le futur du web arrive. Venez découvrir comment le Web peut proposer une expérience proche du natif sur mobile sans les inconvénients des magasins d’applications.
Par Hubert Sablonnière

Hubert is a great story teller; I loved Hubert’s slides and talk!
(slides not found)

  • Desktop vs Mobile vs hybrid apps
  • … Choice depends on context of the user
  • Hubert Sablonnière: “Les URLs, c’est la vie !”
  • New buzzword: Progressive Web Apps (not a new technology but a marketing term)
  • Service Workers – works only in HTTPS
  • See (by Opera DevRel)

A11Y beyond reference frames

13:30: Vers l’infini et au delà des référentiels. Les trucs et astuces pour améliorer l’accessibilité de vos sites au delà de la simple conformité RGAA
Par Eric Gateau et
Aurélien Lévy

(slides not found)

  • RGAA is not a panacea: test for SVG, Canvas, ARIA only
  • Furthermore, accessibility isn’t just voice over, so RGAA doesn’t cover all aspects of a11y
  • Tests with users
  • Ergonomy
  • Fitts’s law: the biggest and closest the target, the easiest it is to hit.
  • Hick’s law: the time it takes for a person to make a decision as a result of the possible choices he or she has: increasing the number of choices will increase the decision time logarithmically.
  • Gestalt laws: near elements are associated, elements that are alike are associated
  • “When UX doesn’t consider ALL users: “some user experience” = SUX” –Billy Gregory

13:30: – where do we go from here? Deque System’s Principal Accessibility Strategist John Foliot provides some insights and future milestones towards
By John Foliot

John gave a well laid-out presentation of W3C Web Accessibility groups current thinking (where ‘current’ dates back a week prior to John’s talk, when the groups met during the W3C TPAC 2016).
One of my take-aways from John’s talk is that Web Accessibility *requirements need to be testable*.
(slides not found)

  • Assessment: we need to blend the guidelines from WCAG, UAAG and ATAG
  • Project Silver: AG = Accessibility Guidelines – Decision by the end of 2016
    • Engage broadly, easily and openly
    • Communicate on that effort
    • Define and engage stakeholders
    • Make decisions based on evidence and data
    • Lifecycle (keep the standards Up-to-date)
    • Broaden the scope of applicability
    • Establish clear milestones
    • Likely to take 5-7 years
  • … in the meantime: WCAG 2.x
  • Task forces:
    • Mobile
    • Low Vision
    • Cognitive
  • New Guideline?: Device Manipulation
  • New Success Criteria Requirements:
    1. clear, measurable
    2. Documentation for developers to understand why the requirement exists
    3. At least 1 technique for success

#ParisWeb 2016: notes and thoughts (day 1)

3 Oct
I attended Paris Web 2016 on 29-30 September, a two-track conference followed by a day of workshops. I heard about the French Web conference in 2006 for its first edition, but I’ve attended only the last 3 editions. It’s such a great conference. The people are passionate and respectful –no, they are caring and it makes the conference extra special. The staff is dedicated and wonderful. The speakers are excellent. It’s probably the most inclusive conference; as far as I can tell, it’s the only conference that has:

  1. live French sign language,
  2. live translation into French of English presentations, and
  3. transcriptions projected on screen.

In addition, the conferences are filmed for streaming and posterity.

I am not a Web {developer,designer}, but I’m interested for my work in taking the pulse of the Web Community as far as Web Standards are concerned. Each of the two parallel tracks of the conference were appealing and I am looking forward to watching the videos of the talks I could not attend.

Here are my notes and thoughts:


09:30: WebAssembly, une nouvelle cible de compilation destinée au web pour transpiler des programmes natifs vers le Web, nous dévoile ses secrets.

Par Benjamin Bouvier (Mozilla)

The description of the presentation stated that WebAssembly was a W3C Standard. That inaccurate statement piqued my interest. WebAssembly had buzzed in June 2015, but that had died out after a few weeks and if it has buzzed again, I have not heard.
I stood up at the microphone at the end and told Benjamin Bouvier that WebAssembly is being incubated in a W3C Community Group and that the group operates independently from the core W3C-staffed Working Groups and Interest Groups which create Web standards.
from Benjamin’s slides:

  • to port native applications on the Web
  • e.g. Telegram web app uses a small AMS module
  • threads (which JS doesn’t do)
  • sandboxed
  • [Demos of video games]
  • When is WebAssembly going to be released?
    • it’s being implemented by browsers
    • could be available early 2017

e-commerce best practices

10:20: Y’a pas d’avancement, pas de grimaces ! Suggestion de bonnes pratiques à adopter pour des sites e-commerce qui souhaitent épargner des grimaces à leurs utilisateurs.

Par Thomas Gasc

A series of sensible and most relevant Opquast Best Practices for e-commerce sites, illustrated by hand-made slides with graphs and examples.

Cartography on the Web

10:45: L’épopée d’un développeur front au pays des cartes

Par Erik Escoffier

Open cartography on the Web is Erik’s passion. I have heard a lot about the topic in the past decade or so, in particular OSM, without falling for it. BUT, if I had, I already had a user name for myself: osm117 (inside joke: French movie about a dubious spy).
from Erik’s slides:

  • Cartography on the Web
  • Open alternative to Google Maps
  • OSM (the wikipedia for maps)
  • “Open” enables data visualisation. Loads of them.
  • Mapbox [etc.]

DIY Mobile Usability Testing

11:20: DIY Mobile Usability Testing. A cheap, portable, easy to make and outrageously fun way of capturing your usability studies with mobile devices. What’s not to like!

By Bernard Tyers

and Belén Barros Pena

A supercharged and well-delivered talk that didn’t speak much to me, because I don’t have anything to test on mobile personally, but that I found interesting nonetheless.

from Belén’s slides:

  • user is an abstract entity
  • usability sessions are recorded (memory aid)
  • Testing in a lab is better than no testing at all
  • [slides on ideal recording setup]
    • expensive (costs up to USD 3250)
    • vs. Meccano elements + Blu-Tack approach costs less than EUR 70
  • [live demo of usability testing and recording on stage]


12:20: Pourquoi le web devrait s’intéresser au livre numérique. Beaucoup de spécifications sur la publication numérique pourraient se décider sans vous. Il n’est pas certain que vous le vouliez vraiment…

Par Jiminy Panoz

The talk that spoke to me the most thus far, because of the involvement of the W3C in Digital Publishing. I was at home :)
from Jimini’s transcripted slides:

  • W3C digital publishing IG – lacks editors, so comes to us (IDPF)
  • IDPF (merger with W3C)
    • “Je ne sais pas où ça en est. il y a des différences de culture” –Jiminy [en: “I don’t know where that stands. There are cultural differences”]
  • Notable stuff:
    • CSS multi-column layout module
    • CSS figures
    • Latin Text Layout and Pagination (mentioned Dave Cramer)
    • [W3C CSS WG + TAG Houdini task force mentioned]
    • PWP
  • Digpub IG could work on Annotations and user settings.

Open Design

12:35: Open Design : les initiatives existantes et des pistes de collaboration autour du design graphique, des fontes libres et de l’objet libre.

Par My Lê

Hear, hear!
But then, ‘Do as I say, not as I do’, because if you’re like me, you love when documentation exists, but you hate to write it yourself. My take-away, which is slightly higher-level than the scope of the talk, is that sharing how we work has at least two benefits:

  1. Sounding board: you’ll know to steer your work in the right direction
  2. Skills barter: you may get helpful feedback along the way and learn new skills or tips
(slides not found)

Designing for screenless experience

14:10: The Invisible Interface: Designing the Screenless Experience. “When we remove the screen, the experience becomes the product.” I will discuss how to create meaningful interactions for a screenless world.

By Avi Itzkovitch

We tend to constrain ourselves to the medium. In the case of the InternetWeb of Things and the everyday life objects, it is sometimes obvious. I think I’ve seen this talk before, or a variation of it. Regardless, it was enjoyable and inspiring. Avi chose a collection of pertinent examples to illustrate how a product needs to cater for its user, plainly and perfectly, and how we need to design for the experience.
from Avi’s slides:

  • Thinking beyond the screen
  • The best interface is no interface
  • quote from Mark Weiser (Xerox PARC): “The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.” (1991)
  • the world is an interface (with connected hardware)
  • how we display info: pull; push – design what makes sense

Environmentally-friendly Webdesign

15:10: Éco-conception : mon site web au régime. Doper l’expérience utilisateur de vos sites grâce à l’écoconception.

Par Frédéric Bordage

Just as Avi taught us in his talk that it’s crucial to think when we design, Frédéric reminded us how ensnared we are with technology, how it makes us forget to Keep It Sweet and Simple (KISS), and why hoggish technology is so bad.
(slides not found)

  • The Web has become fat:
    • x115 in 20 years
    • x3 in 5 years
  • environmental footprint of the Internet is huge: x2 France
  • ISO 14062
  • Tools:
    • GT Metrix identify eco-conception good practices in place on the website
    • grade from 0 to 100 of environmental performances and technical footprint. (example: Paris-Web website, W3C Website)
  • Key good practices:
    • frugality
    • sobriety
    • Mobile First

CSS (hairy) selectors

16:35: Il n’y a pas que class et id dans la vie. La tendance est au lissage des CSS, avec des classes partout. Si on jouait avec de vrais sélecteurs bien poilus, pour voir les avantages ?

Par Gaël Poupard

Gaël delivered a perfect, thorough and well argued talk to emphasize the importance of some CSS selectors in HTML elements. So thorough that it felt like it lasted longer than 15 minutes.
I couldn’t take notes at this point –the subject was too hairy (his topic, not Gaël). But his slides are on the Web

To be continued…

I have fewer notes from the second day, but only slightly fewer. Yet, there was a talk related to CSS, and I have loads to say about it. I’ll post them in a follow-up entry.

Vacationing tips and suggestions for Japan

7 Mar

Here are a few general tips and extensive recommendations in/around Tokyo, and outside of Tokyo, since I compiled the data for Anne (he asked nicely!).

There is not much about food and restaurants as it is far more subjective than sight-seeing. However, I’d say that it would be a mistake not to buy Melon Pan (a pastry, the size of a bread roll) daily at the very least ;)

What to see?

The recommendations below are partly supported by a set of 130 photos of our June 2013 Japan vacation. I think they’re outstanding ;) Regardless of their intrinsic quality, they will still give an idea of the places. I’ve used also photos that Vlad took during our trips there.

What to see and do in Tokyo


You’ll see shrines, big or small, everywhere and in cases, in the most unexpected places. Discreet, shrunken and squeezed between two tall buildings, standing proud and quiet surrounded by lots of space at the edge of which resumes the agitation of the city and city dwellers.

Step inside the gates when there are, look at the fountains, the statues, the ema (votive wooden plaques) and omikuji (prayer paper ribbons tied to trees, or strings), fire and incense, paper lanterns, etc. It’s a striking contrast compared to the modern and bustling city in which you’ll find shrines.
Dragon silhouette

Shibuya day and night:

There is a plethora of shops and restaurants, but in particular, there is the “scramble crossing” which is truly impressive.

It consists of three huge zebra crossings where masses of people, just like opponents in battle march against each other, then mingle mid-road and avoid each other until they reach the opposite sidewalk and eventually yield to traffic.
Crowded Shibuya Crossing

Kabukicho and Ginza:

At dusk and night because of the emblematic vertical neon lights. This is Kabukicho:


If you can afford such a hotel (we found good deals, twice, using, I highly recommend a short stay (or long, if you have the budget, you’ll want to stay there forever) at the Park Hyatt.

It spans the top of three towers with the eye of Sauron:
Shinjuku Park Tower

You could see these views:
From the 47th floor, at night


The district to go to, of course, to fulfill your cravings of hi-tech gadget purchases.

Odaiba island:

Take the Yurikamome monorail from Shimbashi (find a spot near the front of the train, never mind if you have to stand, the journey is worth it. You’ll travel trough sky scrapers, next to a three-mast ship, you’ll loop in the Rainbow Bridge after seeing it coming close, you’ll see the big ferris wheel of Odaiba).

There’s a giant Gundam statue near the second Odaiba train stop; it’s quite a landmark (a 18-meter tall robot) with its big feet squarely planted in the ground.

Another landmark is the Statue of Liberty. It’s pretty anytime but perhaps it’s prettier at dusk, or at night, because it’s lit in colours of gold, or greenish, against the Tokyo skyline beyond a water expense. The Rainbow Bridge is lit as well and adds some beauty in the background of the statue.
Statue of Liberty & Tokyo skyline

Another highlight from the Odaiba area is the Miraikan museum of emerging science and innovation. Admission fee of JPY 620 If you do three things while there, let it be contemplating the Tsunagari project (LED-equipped gigantic globe dangling from the ceiling), the Asimo exhibit/demo (a Honda 10 to 15 year-old robot that walks, runs, dances and sings) and the Androids.

Tsukiji Market:

Vlad said they plan to move the gigantic fish market somewhere else –it’s currently near-ish Ginza and they made space farther away for it, I don’t know when the move occurs.

Tsukiji Market is quite something! The most hard-core will show up at 4am and hope to be added to the list of the lucky few that can accompany the workers during the tuna auction. Otherwise, until 2pm you’ll see the exterior market areas teeming with humans; most selling fish and fish-stuff, others buying it, and yet others transporting Styrofoam crates on mopeds and other vehicles.

The noise, the smell, the cramped space all make for a memorable experience. No smoking, no luggage, no hindering allowed. You will probably be shoved and pushed, but it’s part of the experience.

For a break, you can try to get a seat at Yonemoto Coffee. A very small and very authentic coffee shop that serves excellent coffee and plays old jazz music. It looks like it is preserved in an era in the past. Even the owner looks like time has passed and not taken him in its journey forward.
Great ambiance in the morning at the Yonemoto Coffee

Roppongi hills:

Maybe, to get a sense of the skyscrapers and where the white-collar workers go. There’s a giant spider, Maman by Louise Bourgeois, at the foot of the Mori Tower. It’s one of the five or so permanent locations for the impressive and creepy sculpture:
Maman & Mori Tower

Observatory decks:

Here are some of the buildings on top of which you can see Tokyo and the Tokyo cityspace crawling as far as the eye can see:

45th floor of The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building:

It’s free. You can look down on the Shinjuku Park Hyatt (the top of the three “eye of Sauron” joint-buildings is occupied by the hotel where Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson filmed “Lost in Translation”):
Shinjuku Park Tower

Bunkyo Civic Center:

There’s a free observation deck on the 25th floor open 9am-8:30pm daily. We spotted Mount Fuji as the sun was sinking, a reminder that however big Tokyo is, there is this mountain looming, yet dwarfed at the left of the Shinjuku area Tokyo Metropolitan Governement Building (twin towers that are fairly recognisable).

Mori Tower:

Miku Café, 52nd floor. Free admission. You’ll get such views as:
Tokyo cityscape from the Mori Tower
Tokyo panorama from the Mori Tower observation deck

Tokyo Tower:

9am-10pm. There’s an admission fee. You can purchase a ticket (JPY 900) to reach the main observatory (150 m) or walk the stairs (we didn’t, they advertised it was a 13-minute climb and we weren’t up to it), and then purchase another ticket (JPY 700) to reach the Special Observatory (250 m). We didn’t spot Mount Fuji this time, as it remained enshrouded in clouds from the late afternoon till dark, but it’s visible if you’re lucky.

What to do and see in Tokyo [continued]

Yoyogi Park, pond, Meiji Shrine:

Meiji Shrine is where the souls of the Meiji Emperor and Empress are enshrined. It is also where they celebrate traditional weddings which processions you can witness. The Jingu Naien Iris Garden (there is a small admission fee, I forgot how much) might be worth of visit if the flowers are in bloom.
The bride and groom II
Meiji Jingu Naien Iris Garden

Harajuku, and Takeshita street:

These are natural next steps after Yoyogi Park. At the Harajuku exit of Yoyogi park, there’s an emblematic bridge where teens dressing according to Harajuku fashion (rock, punk, gothic, lolita) gather and hang out on Sundays.

Takeshita Dori is a small cramped street full to the brim with fashion shops and crepes take-away outlets. This:

Tokyo Imperial Palace Park:

Tokyo Imperial Palace  & reflection

What to see and do near-ish Tokyo


45 minutes away from Tokyo center by train. It’s an island near Tsujido and Kamakura. It was described to me as the Mont Saint-Michel of Japan. It’s beautiful. If you’re lucky with the weather you can see Mount Fuji bigger and more impressive than anything you’re prepared for.


If you’re at Enoshima, go next to Kamakura. There’s a giant Buddha that everybody goes to see. I went to Kamakura last month, at last (5th time in Japan), but we didn’t go see the Buddha. We went to a sanctuary instead, specialised in money laundering. Well, sort of.

What to see and do outside of Tokyo


We stayed there several days in June 2013 and loved it. We found that many people wore the traditional outfit. Far more than in Tokyo, I mean.


Go to Gion, in the city center. You’ll see geikos and maikos.
Geiko & maiko

Yasaka shrine and pagoda:

Go to Yasaka shrine not far from Gion, it is astounding. There is a pavilion decorated with hundreds of paper lanterns. It’s a wonder at night.
Yasaka Jinja dance stage

Nishiki Market:

Visit the Nishiki (covered) market not far from the city center.

Then, further away from Kyoto city center:

Inari Fushimi Taisha:

You need to walk some amount of time through the path of the thousands torii at Inari Fushimi Taisha. The path goes up the mountain for a long while (spans 4 kilometers and takes approximately 2 hours to walk up, dixit wikipedia). We were there under pouring rain and stayed as long as we had the heart for.
The path of thousands of Torii

Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion:

You also need to see Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion.
Kinkaku, the Golden Pavilion

Other Kyoto highlights include:

  • The Nanzen-ji and the Philosopher’s path, as well as the nearby Ginkaku-ji (the Silver Pavilion).
  • Arashiyama in the western suburbs of Kyoto (you need to take a train) for its bamboo grove, and famous bridge.

The Kyoto tower, close to the train station, wasn’t particularly exciting. Done with Kyoto!

Miyajima for Itsukushima island:

A famous and beautiful landmark is the floating torii.

There’s a ropeway to reach Mount Misen and if you’re lucky with the weather it’s breath-taking (we have rain and heavy clouds, sadly, but that was February).

We had not idea, but the island is full of deers! We later went to Nara, with a goal to see the deers (which we did, of course), but we had had a preview of the white-tailed deer already.

We stayed at Kurayada Hiroha, the most enchanting ryokan, but quite pricey (check the rate via My favourite hotel of our February trip! Rooftop hot tub (one for men, one for women, separated by a fence) next to indoor hot tubs (same, separated ones for men and women) were excellent.


Kobe appears to be a narrow flat expanse of city bound by the sea on one side, and a steep mountain on the other. We had such bad weather, and stayed just one night and one morning, that we only got a sense of the mountain side of things by seeing advertisements in the subway. They advertised a ropeway from which it looked like the view on the city was lovely. I don’t know if you’ve been to Hong Kong, but the view reminded me a little of what you see from Victoria Peek.

What we went to Kobe for was two-fold: eating some of the world-renowned Kobe beef (it was delicious. I had no idea beef could melt on the tongue), and a few illuminated landmarks at the harbour (port tower, a ferris wheel, the oriental hotel shaped like a cruiser ship, the roof of the Kobe Maritime Museum shaped like a meshed sailing ship) which were beautiful at night. I’d say that it’s a photographer’s type of visit; beyond the photographs to be gotten, the area was deserted in the evening and it was quite a walk to reach it, and not so much an interesting one.

There is a Chinatown in Kobe, which looks pretty but little, and the district of Sannomiya appeared to us to be the heart of the town. You need to take the subway from the Kobe traing station to Sannomiya anyway. The night life in Sannomiya was lively. Loads of restaurants.

I read that there is an onsen resort nearby Kobe, but we had no idea, so I’ll leave it to you to investigate. Onsen is the term for hot springs as well as hot tubs. They can be indoors, or outdoors (roten-buro). Some allow mixed bathing, but from my experience, it isn’t common. And still, from experience, it appears that none allow tattoos to be visible.

Shiga Kogen ski resort / Jigokudani Monkey Park:

Speaking of onsen, one of the highlights of our February stay, because of the winter/snow, was seeing the snow monkeys of Jigokudani Monkey Park, bathing in a roten-buro:

We took the train to Nagano and from there took another that got us close to the Shiga Kogen skiing domain. A combination of taxi and walking got us to that monkey park (small admission fee). I’m not sure how it looks in May and if it’s worth the hassle of transportation. It takes about 1.5 hours between Tokyo and Nagano and then another hour or so to reach Yudanaka.

We went to other places in February –Hiroshima, Nara, Himeji– and although each place was fine, they didn’t make it to my highlight list.

General tips

Sim cards for visitors:

I used the provider b-mobile twice already (June 2013, February 2015), and will use them again.


ATMs are found in convenience stores (and there are millions of them in Japan –7eleven, Lawson), BUT, oftentimes foreign bank credit cards are not accepted.

ATMS that will accept foreign bank credit cards are found in Post Offices and there is a saying that wherever you are in a reasonably-sized city, there is a post office within 500 meters of where you’re standing. However, Post Offices business hours are 9am – 5 pm.

Always carry cash with you. Some stores and restaurants accept credit cards, but they hardly ever post a sticker on their door advertising that they do. In fact, I have not seen such stickers there. Some hotels even will ask you to pay cash, but that is a minority. Do not presume that you will be able to pay with a credit card.

You’ll need coins for train station lockers and some vending machines. You’ll need bills for vending machines, train tickets and pretty much anything.

Train station coin lockers:

Small: 35 x 43 x 57 cm (prices vary, around JPY 300)
Medium: 57 x 43 x 57 cm (around JPY 500)
Large: 117 x 43 x 57 cm (around JPY 700)
Some stations only have S+M. Most stations have as many S+M and less L.

Japan Rail Pass:

This is a must get if you’re going to travel places outside of Tokyo. The bullet trains you can get on with the JR pass are probably as fast as those you can not get on, and just as comfortable and reliable. Each train in Japan, including subway and local trains run like clockwork. Quite a change, when you’re from France and used to the lousy service of the SNCF (French Railways)!

This railway timetable and route search, although not great-looking, was highly useful. There is an app for smartphones but it requires access to data (nothing offline), and works with JR main lines, local trains and subways:

Transportation within Tokyo:

Get a Suica card (or Pasmo) and recharge it anywhere. One card per person. I have no idea about babies (my son is 7yo and we had to get him a card as well; he paid child fare). There’s a JPY 500 deposit to get the card, and some fee that they might retain (smallish) when you return the card.

The advantage is double: you can recharge is everywhere and you will save loads of time by not having to purchase a train/subway/bus ticket. Suica works in all the train/subway of the great Tokyo area. You can even use it as a payment means at some convenience stores.

More general tip:

There is a @JapanCheapo twitter account and website that a couple of my colleagues in Japan have referred to and that appear useful.

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