Jim Letourneau's Blog

Investing, Technology, Travel, Geology, Music, Golf. I think that covers it.

2017 Live Music

The popular music world is very fragmented these days. Talk to a friend about what their favorite music of 2017 was and be prepared for a struggle. You probably don't know much about your friend's favorite bands. Below is a list of bands that I saw live either in concert or in review/awards shows in 2017. I've rated my favorite performances with *, ** or *** ratings:

Kings of Leon, Big Sandy*, Dawes**, Sloan*, Hey Ocean**, Arcade Fire*, John Fogerty**, Ben Folds**, Tall Heights, New Pornographers*, Born Ruffians, Coldplay*, Kyemara, Jamtown, Webb Wilder*, David Olney*, The Grahams*, Drive-by Truckers**, Tony Joe White**, Robyn Hitchcock*, A.J. Croce, Wynonna and the Big Noise, Low Cut Connie***, Tim Williams, Michael Kuwanuka***, Mbongwana Star*, Couer De Pirate, Tanya Tagaq, Birds of Chicago, Yola Carter, The Cactus Blossoms*, Rodriguez, Trooper, Jason Collett*, The Reverend Horton Heat*, Gregory Porter**, Toots and the Maytals, Ron Burke and a Little Voodoo*, Tom Phillips*, Camie Leard Band*, Lee Fields and the Expressions, Car Seat Headrest*, The Lemon Twigs (Todd Rundgren guest)*, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes (Richie Sambora guest)*, Father John Misty**, Placido Domingo, Shane Gaalaas**, Ana María Martínez, Sting*, Huey Lewis and the News**, Los Blenders, Jann Arden, Alabama, The Mocking Shadows, TR3, Snoop Dogg, Dino Martinis, Lily Hiatt, Allah-Las*, New Order, Billy Cox, Buddy Guy, Zakk Wylde, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Jonny Lang, Dweezil Zappa, Chris Layton , Mato Nanji, Noah Hunt, Ana Popovic, Henri Brown, The Slide Brothers, Scott Nelson, and Tim Austin, Radiohead, Mac DeMarco*, The XX, Celine Dion, John Legend, Little Big Town, Pentatonix, Ed Sheeran, Tavares, Keith Urban, Stevie Wonder**, Kelsea Ballerini, Andra Day, Nick Jonas, Tori Kelly, Demi Lovato, Panic! At The Disco, Thomas Rhett, Jason Derulo, DNCE, Katharine McPhee, Old Crow Medicine Show, John Prine, Iris DeMent, Rhiannon Giddens, Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives**, Amanda Shires, The Lumineers*, Graham Nash, The Milk Carton Kids, Margo Price, Jason Isbell*, Van Morrison, Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm*, Hurray For The Riff Raff, Joe Henry, and Billy Bragg.

Plus during AmericanaFest 2017, I was able to see Mike Judge premier Tales from the Tour Bus and have friendly chats with Holger Petersen, Steve Dawson, and Mojo Nixon.


Forswearing Facebook

Last week I had an email from a friend with the subject line "you left facebook."  I took some time to respond as I didn't sound like a crazed conspiracy theorist. Here is why I left Facebook.

At first I thought that there was no specific incident that caused me to leave Facebook on June 5, 2017 but upon quiet reflection, it was my sampling of Scott Adams' Persuasion Reading List.

Exposure to the work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky ("Thinking, Fast and Slow" and "The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds") primed me to examine Facebook more critically. A quick summary is that System 1 “is the brain’s fast, automatic, intuitive approach" and System 2  is “the mind’s slower, analytical mode, where reason dominates.” It turns out System 1 runs the show. People will tell you that they are rational but they are often guided by the irrational System 1. Just like Michael Lewis and "Moneyball", you've written about irrational behavior. He wrote "The Undoing Project" partly in response to a review of "Moneyball" by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein.

Also, there was a promo article for a book called “The Hacking of the American Mind." that came out in early June.  While the book wasn't published until September 12, 2017, the title was enough motivation for me to pull back from social media. I subsequently learned about hormones from the hacking book. Dopamine is bad and serotonin is good. Facebook triggers dopamine. I'm also pretty sure there was a nice morning shot of cortisol in my morning Facebook hormonal mix. According to hormonal obesity theories, cortisol can trigger weight gain. 

My experience was that in spite of my efforts to control my news feed, it was controlling me instead. If I want to argue about something on Twitter, I have to put in some effort.   

I was still on the fence about rejoining Facebook until I saw a headline zip by about a speech Mark Zuckerberg gave in Chicago on June 22, 2017. 

“It’s so striking that for decades, membership in all kinds of groups has declined as much as one-quarter,” Mr. Zuckerberg said, the network reported. “That’s a lot of people who now need to find a sense of purpose and support somewhere else. People who go to church are more likely to volunteer and give to charity — not just because they’re religious, but because they’re part of a community.”

“A church doesn’t just come together,” he continued. “It has a pastor who cares for the well-being of their congregation, makes sure they have food and shelter. A Little League team has a coach who motivates the kids and helps them hit better. Leaders set the culture, inspire us, give us a safety net, and look out for us. […] If we can do this, it will not only turn around the whole decline in community membership we’ve seen for decades, it will start to strengthen our social fabric and bring the world closer together.”

It was obvious to me that he was blatantly lying and that put me into the Facebook is evil camp. I'm sure some of the problem is with me, but I haven't seen the world brought closer together by Facebook. I have seen seemingly normal people get instantly radicalized on subjects that they have not taken the time to reflect on.

In the red corner, sounding the alarm, are people like Tristan Harris and his Time Well Spent project:

“How do you ethically steer the thoughts and actions of two billion people’s minds every day?”

In the green corner is piles of money money money (insert an O'Jays, Abba or Pink Floyd meme here):

  • Facebook - $531 billion
  • Google - $724 billion

  • Plus Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest LinkedIn etc. that run $10-30 billion each. They're all fighting for our attention. 

The negatives of quitting Facebook are that it is harder for my parents to see what I'm up to. It is harder for me to see what my friends are up to and vice verse. I had to change how I login to most of my Internet services. Once every few days or so, Julia shows me a photo of friends or family members. Sometimes they are interesting. 

My decision wasn't random or reactionary. I just wanted to feel better while I'm using the Internet.

Now Sean Parker, the former CEO of Facebook and billionaire, is conveniently claiming to be a  “conscientious objector” of the platform. In a recent Axios interview "Sean Parker unloads on Facebook "exploiting" human psychology", he makes the following points:

It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.
— https://www.axios.com/sean-parker-unloads-on-facebook-2508036343.html
How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?
— https://www.axios.com/sean-parker-unloads-on-facebook-2508036343.html
And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you ... more likes and comments.
— https://www.axios.com/sean-parker-unloads-on-facebook-2508036343.html

I can always go back but just like the casino,  I know I will be giving up something if I do.

My Favourite AmericanaFest Moments


Low Cut Connie at the High Watt. Adam Weiner is a captivating front man and guitarist Will Donnelly has a few moves that rival the Lemon Twigs. Best live show 


Mojo Nixon in the Ryman lobby during the Americana Music Honors & Awards. 


Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives - one of the best sounding live bands out there.

 Wynona - sparkly red hair and a great band. 

Wynona - sparkly red hair and a great band. 


A.J. Croce


Some stories write themselves... not really but thankfully Mike Judge has documented some great ones in his animated Tales from the Tour Bus.


Robyn Hitchcock with Emma Swift. I find him delightful.


Tony Joe White.


Drive-By Truckers


Webb Wilder


The Grahams at HatWRKS. They have great hats from a great hat store. Great music too.


Jamtown lived up to their name by having numerous guests.


Amazing guitar playing by Duane Betts and guest Jack Pearson at The Cannery Ballroom.

Eating Like a Tourist

A highly recommended restaurant in Zurich, The Zeughauskeller, is located in the old armoury. Schitztel, sausages, potato salad, and seasonal asparagus dishes were featured. The place had a beer hall atmosphere and was filled the a mix of locals and international travellers. 


I saw a trolley with 3 giant glasses rush past. Then some kind of alcohol was poured into them and lit on fire. Hot blue flames quickly shot out of the glass which were quickly quenched with beer. This bit of theatre was capped by the waiter sprinkling a tablespoon of roasted malt. 


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Dining at Ecco

One of the nicest restaurants in Zurich, Ecco, is in our hotel. We enjoyed a wonderful meal with wine pairings and at the end we got to meet Chef Stefan Heilemann. He is 35 and trained in Germany where he worked 18-20 hour days. His staff works 10 hour days which sounds more sustainable. He has earned two Michelin stars after 18 months.  

Rather than pick items from the menu, we were able to order a set number of dishes and allow the Chef Heilemann to surprise us.

I don't have the culinary vocabulary to adequately describe all the dishes. However, each one was truly a surprise and I'm getting hungry just looking at the photos. 

First Day in Zurich

Julia arrived last night around 6:30PM and we opted to dine at our hotel. We were both pretty tired so we called it an early night.  I am experiencing some functional jet lag which means that today  I woke  up at 6:00AM, as many good people do. However, I'm often sleeping until 9:00AM so I'm not fooling anyone.  I see far fewer sunrises than sunsets. Breakfast opens at 6:30 AM and I was an early bird for a change. 


Julia was tired from her hiking trip in Sicily and needed some down time so we opted to take the short train ride from our hotel to old town Zurich. Since I had breakfast at 7:00AM and Julia ate at 10:00AM I was more interested in eating lunch than she was.  I went to the world's oldest vegetarian rerestaurant, Hitl, while she shopped. 


Fried tofu.  


Potatos, cheese and veggies.  


A crazy big vegetarian buffet at Hitl.  

Flying to Zurich

Schipol is an impressive airport but I did t have time to enjoy the people heading to Gate D faced a very long passport control line. Maybe more passport lanes and less mall stuff guys?  Fortunately there was a person rounding up passengers with tight connections in 10 minute increments (flights departing at 9:30, then 9:40 etc.).

It is difficult to predict where a bottleneck will occur at an airport but they show up regularly. 

its looking good to get to Zurich. 

Almost in Amsterdam

I skipped all the "free food" on the flight apart from a micro-bag of salted almonds and a couple of glasses of sparkling water.

Premium Economy seats recline further and have more legroom and the cost was less than what was posted on the KLM check-in site. There were lots of empty seats in the back but I was a little anxious about my connection to Zurich . Sometimes 95 minutes  between connections turns into a crazy sprint to the next flight. Sitting near the front gives me a head start.

My deepest sleep was between takeoff and the first drink service unfortunately. I peaked too soon. I used an eyemask, sleeping pillow, and ear plugs for most of the flight which helped drown out the cute babies in the row ahead.

By 5:00AM Amsterdam time I had given up on pretending to sleep any longer. I know it is wrong but I signed up and paid for some WiFi. Mostly out of curiosity.  I learned that the Mb numbers they were showing weren't per second but total data usage. Oops.  Luckily the cabin lights turned on shortly thereafter and breakfast is being served at 6ish.

I devoured breakfast while trying to reset my biorhythms. I'm meeting Julia in Zurich and I don't want to be sleepy. 

Almost in Amsterdam

I skipped all the "free food" on the flight apart from a micro-bag of salted almonds and a couple of glasses of sparkling water.

Premium Economy seats recline further and have more legroom and the cost was less than what was posted on the KLM check-in site. There were lots of empty seats in the back but I was a little anxious about my connection to Zurich . Sometimes 95 minutes  between connections turns into a crazy sprint to the next flight. Sitting near the front gives me a head start.

My deepest sleep was between takeoff and the first drink service unfortunately. I peaked too soon. I used an eyemask, sleeping pillow, and ear plugs for most of the flight which helped drown out the cute babies in the row ahead.

By 5:00AM Amsterdam time I had given up on pretending to sleep any longer. I know it is wrong but I signed up and paid for some WiFi. Mostly out of curiosity.  I learned that the Mb numbers they were showing weren't per second but total data usage. Oops.  Luckily the cabin lights turned on shortly thereafter and breakfast is being served at 6ish.

I devoured breakfast while trying to reset my biorhythms. I'm meeting Julia in Zurich and I don't want to be sleepy. 


Living downtown makes getting a ride to the airport pretty seamless. I tried the Checker Cab app and I could be picked up in 1 minute but it also said I had to pay cash. Even a taxi business with an app can have some legacy issues. Being a modern consumer, I opted for Uber. It took 3 minutes for the driver to get to my front door. We made some small talk and when I told him I had lived in Peace River, he told me that he had been up there. Why? He was a geologist.

There were old jokes about geologists driving taxi cabs. The new jokes will use Uber. The general population tends to gets resentful when people in the oil business start making stupid money. It used to stop with "it serves them right". Now the survival of the planet is on the line. It was on the news.

Check-in was a breeze. KLM has self-serve kiosks but they also had a ton of agents who were very fast. They'd have several people checked through before I got my passport scanned.

People in the airport business often say "If you've seen one airport, you've seen one airport". Airports today are like malls, but with fewer teenagers and more seating. You can never take your airport experience for granted. Security protocols change. What about my shoes? I'm pretty sure that even the settings on metal detectors vary depending on threat level. I wore the same belt numerous times without issue and then one time it set off the metal detector alert. After that, I always take my belt off but I secretly wonder if it would be detected or not.

One recent trend is to run all passengers through a giant duty free mall on their way to their gates. I don't understand how adding carryon clutter serves the airline business but there's lots of whiskey and perfume for sale if you need it.

Calgary's new International Terminal (who will this piece of infrastructure be named after?) was birthed during an oil boom so there is plenty of capacity. Security uses a system that allows people to fill trays on both sides of the conveyor belt. Most of the delays in security lineups revolve around people loading up trays. More people putting their items in trays at the same time should be faster in theory. It was super fast for me but there weren't any international flights leaving for a few hours (there was more activity on the US side). My goal is to sleep for most of the trip and not eat any thing until Friday morning's breakfast. . 



Getting Ready

I stayed up until 4:30 AM which is lunch time in Europe. I can't sleep before I travel because I get too excited. I use this trait to my advantage so that I can more easily sleep on the plane. Everyone has their go to jet lag cure. Even if I don't follow a regimented chronobiological diet, just setting my phone time to my destination time seems to help. My biggest challenge at my destination is having a power nap (<30 minutes) turn into a groggy 3 hour slumber.

The international traveler, they counsel, can avoid jet lag by simply not eating for twelve to sixteen hours before breakfast time in the new time zone. The Empty Stomach: Fasting to Beat Jet Lag

I don't think it will kill me to skip a meal. Does my long flight serve a very early breakfast or do I wait and see what treats befall me on a 90 minute flight from Amsterdam to Zurich? I don't think two breakfasts are a good idea.


Carry on backpack stuff. Passport, meds and electronics.

 I'm liking my belt. It goes with everything.

I'm liking my belt. It goes with everything.

 Cubes make for easier packing. Shoes need to be more rectangular. I took an extra pair since it is &nbsp;a big bag.   

Cubes make for easier packing. Shoes need to be more rectangular. I took an extra pair since it is  a big bag.


Time to phone a taxi and take out the garbage so when I come home, there will be a sense of peace.

Marty Stuart

I've seen Johnny Cash live. Marty Stuart was the last person Johnny Cash wrote a song with. I've seen Marty Stuart live twice. Showmanship, musicianship, and storytelling make for a compelling show.

"I know more, but I won't tell"

Marty Stuart is the best value ticket on the planet. Just go and watch the show.

The Moneyball Election

Everything about the 2016 presidential election will soon make sense. History will do its job and give us a useful narrative.  There were few correct predictions about the outcome of the 2016 election. About half the population is content and the other half is livid. I don't think we've seen the last presidential election.

Big data is a big deal when it comes to presidential election campaigns. In the arms race for voters, the victors and their consultants only have 4 years before they go back into battle. While they're importance is often overstated, I am still a sucker for underdog data geek wins. 

Every decision of the campaign—where to spend the money, who to target, how to target them, what to speak to them about, what channels of communications to use, what messages to send—was all driven by our data.
— Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix

Obama's big data consultants were viewed as white knights and they rode their success into numerous consultancies hired by the Clinton campaign.

In 2016 they became the overpaid underachieving  establishment outplayed by a team with half the budget. They did not hesitate to heap scorn on their opponents who clearly did not know how to run an election campaign. A Clinton loss was inconceivable.

We played Moneyball, asking ourselves which states will get the best ROI for the electoral vote. I asked, how can we get Trump’s message to that consumer for the least amount of cost?
— Jared Kushner

I suggest reading Nate Silver's ongoing rehash of the 2016 presidential election (The Real Story of 2016). When it comes to big data interpretation, there isn't much room for ego. While many got the election outcome wrong, few have done the work to try to explain where they went wrong. 

With rare exception, reporters tended to portray Trump’s Electoral College strategy as being whimsical and haphazard, even when it was doing some pretty smart things. That may have helped Trump’s team to shut out the noise and maximize its candidate’s chances of winning the election.
— Nate Silver

When Will IoT Fix All The Light Bulbs?

I'm very grateful to live in a house that has numerous kinds of light bulbs and 24/7 electricity. However, today I did agonize over using a double life halogen spotlight versus a 22-year life LED bulb. The curse of choice.

It seemed a waste to throw away a working lightbulb knowing what I know about tungsten mining (you liberals and your "blood light bulbs"... but I digress). My decision to use the old-tech halogen bulb worked out nicely. It has a yellowish hue that matches the existing bulbs in the room.

Of course, the technology to make long lasting light bulbs that can change brightness and hue via an app exists already. Should just replace every last bulb in the house? How long would it take for everyone to figure out how to dim the lights? When someone turns them off at the switchplate will it screw up the settings? Does that make it impossible to turn them back on from the app? Does anyone live in a house without light switches yet?

There's an enormous retrofit market. Who's going first? I'm a little afraid to walk down the lighting aisle at Lowe's these days. 

Internet of Things (IoT), I'm still waiting. 


Ketra - Light bulbs of the rich and famous.




A blog with a domain name used to be a thing. Now I'm spending the majority of my time on Facebook. While there are some great reasons to be on Facebook, it comes at a cost. Facebook knows my buttons because I'm a sucker for making snide and/or humorous comments on articles. Commenting equals engagement so it sends me more articles for me to be mildly irritated.about.  

I'm at the point where I'm losing interest in my opinions. I think that's a good place to be. I do occasionally post to Instagram which links to my Facebook. A nice photo or short video feels better than ranting about science or politics so I'll be attempting to do more of that. Creating vs. reacting.

Paul McCartney at Pappy and Harriet's in Pioneertown - October 13, 2016

All it took was 12 hours and 50 bucks.

An exceptional concert can be as moving as a first kiss, the birth of a child, or playing on a team that finally wins a championship. This was certainly in that category. It has been nearly a week now and I'm still buzzed from seeing one of the most exclusive shows on the planet.

I was supposed to be on a Coachella Valley Water District bus tour heading off to Yuma. I slept in. I had been on Vegas time and the early morning start got the best of me. I was doing my best to not beat myself up about failing at the ONE thing I had to do.

I was looking at Facebook on my iPad and saw the announcement. Paul McCartney at Pappy and Harriet's. I've been there before. I had a free day. I showered and headed up into the high desert. I first learned about Pioneertown from the Cracker CD, Kerosene Hat. It said it was recorded on a soundstage there. Somewhere in California. This was before Google Maps and the ability to pinpoint locations. I remembered the name. Later on I had the good fortune to attend a Cracker Campout. I’ve managed to take in a handful of indoor and outdoor shows there since. Outdoors is magical. Indoors is nice but the sight lines are poor if there is a crowd. If you go there, and you probably will now, you can check out Cracker’s gold record on the wall. 

I drove straight to the venue.  There was light traffic on a road that doesn’t have any traffic most days. I was not the only person wanting to attend this event. If I couldn't get in, I knew I could make a nice loop back to Rancho Mirage through Joshua Tree. What could go wrong?


Lining Up

I was lucky to band together with a group of fans who thought it was the right time to start a line. Safety in numbers. I was with Nate and his buddy from work, Kelly, Tim, Todd, Rebekah and her Dad. I didn't get to connect with anyone further behind but I'm sure they all made some new friends over the hours spent waiting for the show to start.

It was a long wait. Eventually Paul McCartney's security team led by Brian Riddle walked us to the entrance. They started handing out blue tickets which meant we were definitely getting inside! A lady who worked for the Coachella Valley Weekly handed out snacks and water to people in the lineup. We were extremely grateful.

The Hi-Desert StarDesert SunCV Independent and Coachella Valley Weekly were present and reported on the show.


I couldn't believe being able to walk into the venue and get right to the very front on the security rail. There were no VIPs in site. There was a technician responsible for every piece of equipment on the stage. Todd came in behind me. I spontaneously gave him a hug. We knew how lucky we were.

The Show

I'm relying on Setlist.FM for the list songs that were played as he deviated from the setlist that was taped to the floor and I wasn't writing anything down. Paul's band was amazing and they knew when to ham it up for photographers. 

Post Concert

Once the crew started making neck slashing motions and the lights went on it was pretty clear that this amazing experience was coming to an end. Nobody left their position immediately. We were all basking. 

 Mark Flores asked for “Just one pick!” from any roadie who was within earshot. One of the roadies carefully picked pealed the setlist off the stage and folded the duct tape back so that it wouldn’t be sticky. He handed it out to a lucky crowd member. At this point I thought it would be nice to hit the washroom (since it had been over 12 hours). 

I wandered to the back of the bar. There was a merch table! I bought 2 t-shirts. As luck would have it, they still had my size. Then I saw Brant Bjork with a drink in his hand. I said hey - I know who you are! How did you get here? He’s as local as they come. 

You can buy great experiences. This one could not be bought. All it took was 12 hours and 50 bucks. 

Dumbest Headline Ever

Citi Warns on Gold as Bank Boosts Odds of Trump Win to 40%

There are many things wrong with this headline. Firstly, Citigroup is not in the political forecasting business. Their number of 40% is low compared to Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight site that currently has the chance of Trump winning at 47.5%. We know how Hillary does in televised debates (lost to Obama) when compared to Trump (trounced all opposition).

Their odds number is garbage. 

Secondly, predicting an increase in volatility in anything before a presidential election is like predicting that the sun will rise tomorrow morning. 



Quiet in Kyoto

Our hotel in Kyoto was about 30 minutes west of the downtown either by taxi or train. It was literally the end of the road on the north side of the Hozu River. The Suiran hotel includes a daily sunset wine/champagne tasting on a veranda overlooking the river. Creaky-oared blue rental boats were mixed with longer silent tour boats propelled long poles. There were only a few very quiet motorized boats. On Saturday night we were able to see a long elaborate cormorant fishing demonstration involving numerous spectator boats, food boats and two fishing boats distinguished by splashing birds working under the light of  large hanging bonfires. 

For our first night in Kyoto we ventured out for dinner after hitting the free champagne. It turns out this part of Kyoto shuts down very early. Imagine if Banff, Alberta, Canada shut down at 8:00PM. That's what happens in the westernmost portion of the Arashayama district. There were no open restaurants at 7:30PM and the stands at the train station were starting to shut down by 8:00PM. Lesson learned. During daylight hours this area was completely maxed out with dozens of tour busses taking up every available parking space. 

 Good luck finding a parking spot in Arashayama.

Good luck finding a parking spot in Arashayama.

For our second evening in Kyoto we went for sukiyaki at the highly regarded, Mishimatei. Our taxi driver was seemed excited that we were going there. "Shabu shabu! Number 1 restaurant in Kyoto! Shabu shabu!" I didn't have the heart to tell him that we had to pre-order our choice at the hotel and we picked sukiyaki (which it is famous for as well). I'm sure they don't enjoy tourists agonizing over the menu so they pin you down ahead of time. Our driver couldn't take us right to the restaurant as it was in a pedestrian only area. Once he determined that we would struggle finding the place he amazingly jumped out of his still running taxi and quickly walked us half a block to the entrance. Uber isn't going to disrupt the taxi business here in the same way it has in North America.

We took our shoes off and walked up a flight of stairs. A half dozen people bowed as we were led to our table. My neck has been sore on this trip and I'm not sure if it is from using hotel pillows or all the bowing.  Our food was cooked in a big pan on an electric burner in the middle of our table by our server. A raw egg was provided. I was instructed to mix it in the provided bowl and dunk my meat into it (I think).  The beef melted in my mouth, an experience I am not used to but it was very pleasant. I didn't find the raw egg dip a detraction but I started skipping that step later in the meal. We were in and out of the place in 60 minutes flat. 

We put our shoes on and headed out into the evening. Our restaurant was at the north end of a four block long covered pedestrian mall called Shin Kyogoku so we walked of our meal by checking out the stores. 


Monkey Butt Fire Sign

Japan has an abundance of signs telling people how to behave in public spaces. Many taxis have signs with a two horned person illustrating what not to do. Some signs seem self evident, like don't electrocute yourself with a selfie-stick. I searched for videos of bullet trains hitting selfie sticks but nothing came up. I honestly felt relieved, I was sure I'd find one. I did find a recent article about a disgraced train driver...

These signs all made pretty good sense.

This sign did not.

 Monkey butt fire sign.

Monkey butt fire sign.

I ran this through Google Translate and now know that the main message is "Protect Arashiyama from fire". 

Sumo Day

We decided to eat in the bowels of our hotel where there are numerous nice restaurants  connected to the subway.  Julia opted for an Italian place. We noticed numerous curry and Italian restaurants in Tokyo. I did not want to be eating Italian food while in Tokyo however the food was perfectly prepared and I'm glad we tried the place. Our waiter was French, surprisingly. I think they needed at least one caucasian at the front of the house for authenticity. He had been working in Tokyo for 15 years and went home about once every 5 years. 

The subways in Japan are timely, colour coded and English friendly but I have visited the Calgary Zoo on my way to the Saddledome more than once. We had one transfer to get to the Ryougoku Sumo Hall. I was distracted by a series of rectangular ponds and a lone man fishing. Tranquility.

 Are they biting?

Are they biting?

The outside of the stadium was nicely marked but we almost went to the adjacent museum. Fortunately it had little in the way of garish coloured signage and we were able to turn around.


The inside of  the Ryougoku Sumo Hall seats 13,000 (see Google Maps Street View of the interior). We had box seats which consisted of a metal rail enclosed area with 4 red floor cushions. A box seat will sit 4 people but sitting cross legged for several hours is not common in North America for a reason. We didn't fill our box and were able to stretch our legs out nicely. In most sports it is preferable to be close to the action but in Sumo, I don't think the front row is very safe. The loser is often pushed out of the ring with great force into the crowd.

There was ample pageantry.  As the better wrestlers squared off later in the afternoon, parades of sponsor banners preceded each match. There were some unique pre-match salt throwing moves that showed just how much more confident the better wrestlers were. The concession stands sold beer and bento boxes. Most of the real food was sold out so we had chips, nuts and crackers with a few real fish sprinkled in (hard, salty, silver and green, about the size of a guppy). At the end of the day a flurry of seat cushions filled the air as fans threw them towards the ring. Apparently this happens when there is an upset. I love watching sumo but not to the point of handicapping the matches. 

While we were preparing for dinner, we felt a pretty serious earthquake. Being on the 33rd floor has many advantages but I couldn't think of any while the building was swaying. Fortunately it was a new building and the best course of action was to do nothing.

Before we went out to eat, we had a drink in the amazing Levita Sky Gallery Lounge. We had to walk down a flight of stairs to get to the bar. One of the bartenders stood at the exact centre of the long bar and made a welcoming gesture while the other two bowed. I had a Japanese whisky on "the rocks". My ice cube was a perfectly clear large rectangle the just fit into the glass. We watched a bartender take a large square block of clear ice and methodically sculpt and wash it down to the size where it fit perfectly into a glass. Then he started on a second one. I'm not sure what drinks got the big perfect round ice cube but I might have to order one before I leave. I have some spherical ice cube molds that I previously loved. Now I feel shame for having served cloudy ice to my friends.