Archive for June, 2008

The Aftermath…

Posted in NIPPON! on June 22, 2008 by robdc

Well, I’ve been back in the states for about 2 weeks now and I have to be honest, I miss Japan. I did promise I would add a couple of posts about things that I didn’t have time to take down while I was away, so here is the first of such posts.

I came away from this trip knowing now a few things about Japan that you would not read about in any travel guides. For one, the only garbage cans in the streets are for PET bottles, so if you have garbage of another type you’re going to be hanging on to it for a while. And, all the garbage, everywhere, is sorted into 3 groups, bottles & cans, paper, and “combustibles.” It’s an eye opening experience being in a Mc Donald’s and having to sort your trash at the end, food in the combustibles, pour what’s left of your drink into the combustibles, put the lid and straw of your soda with the plastic and the cup with the paper… even throwing away your fast food trash is an exercise in efficiency over there.

I don’t have any pictures of us sorting our garbage or being distraught at having to carry refuse around for an entire day, and I’m sure people reading along are getting bored of the explanations so here is something that I thought was very odd about Japan and I have plenty of pictures of.

There is this social phenomenon in Japan that I found very hard to understand while I was there. Simply put, the men can’t go home. I don’t know how else to say it. The best explanation I got was one hinged on the communal nature of this society. If a man that lives on your block works so hard that he only gets to go home and see his family once or twice a week, then you can’t be seen in your home more than he is or it will appear as if you don’t work as hard, as a result of this, Japanese men do not go home… I know bizarre, but this whole thing leads to an interesting phenomenon. People sleeping everywhere! To me, it was so strange to see this for several reasons:
1. I can’t sleep that well in a bed, let alone sitting up on a train or bus.
2. Fear of getting robbed or worse while I was at my most vulnerable.
3. Fear of missing my stop (they had a sixth sense about getting up at their stops)
4. the whole getting robbed thing would really get to me, so I’m listing it twice.

But As you can see the general Japanese public has no qualms with public napping:
I apologize for the poor quality of some of these pictures but they had to be taken from the hip as to not alert the citizens around me that I was taking these pictures, I was not completely sure how they would react so better safe than sorry. In this shot you can actually see several people sleeping:
Oh yea, another crazy thing is that on board all public transportation, NO ONE IS TALKING! Not a soul! Everyone is quiet as a church mouse and very attentive to the screens or their cell phones (well, those of them who are not sleeping), even on the flight over… silence… very creepy at first but easy to get used to. Far superior to the flea market ambiance of Miami’s public transportation system in almost every aspect. I know I have seen chickens on the metro at downtown station… I digress. With all the people sleeping everywhere, I must admit I was a bit jealous at times of their easy slip into slumber, but this guy, he takes the cake, he is now a role model of mine, I can only hope to achieve this level of relaxation with my surroundings at one point in my life, but until that point, I think this is completely insane.This picture was taken at about 11:30pm on a main road in Nagoya, and this man is passed out right in the street, suitcase and suit still intact, completely unbelievable!!

O.K. that was my first post-Japan installment and I hope to at very least have 2 or 3 more, but for now I’ve got to go. Real life beckons…

Cojelo con take it easy,
Robbie

Advertisements

Going back to Tokyo, Tokyo, Tokyo

Posted in NIPPON! on June 6, 2008 by robdc

Sadly, we left Nagoy yesterday. The girls did give us a fine farewell though. They wanted to take us to their favorite bar in Sakae, but once again… it was closed. So we went back to the English pub that treated us so well our first night in town. We had a great time with Yukiko and Jon Jon, and the bar food was pretty interesting, I’ve never eaten pizza with chopsticks before…

IMG_0919

Ansen took right to it like a fish to water though. We said our sad goodbyes and parted ways to hopefully meet up again either back in miami or on some other travels. The girls gave me a fantastic parting gift, taking into consideration my penchant for good drinks, they gave me a bottle of Sake made by locals here in Nagoya.

IMG_0937

All in all I’d have to say our experience in Nagoya was our favorite, and this is in no small part thanks to Yukiko, Mayumi, and Jon Jon. So thank you all very much for being such great hosts, we had a truly unforgettable time!!

The next morning we rose and got our things together to leave for Tokyo. When we got here we went back to Akihabara because that place is like techno heaven for me. we found an 8 story electronics and toy store that was beyond description. For a place that is constantly trying to show how new and over its own past it is, it was really funny to find an entire isle dedicated to Godzilla toys:

IMG_0927

Keara found all her hello kitty crap and lost her mind…

IMG_0926

But this was my favorite part. Please tell me where you think you would commonly find this group of gentlemen:

IMG_0934

The bank? A convention on how to be stuffy and business like? no no no… this, my friends, is the video game section of this massive store! and here is one of these business types playing with his psp in the store:

IMG_0932

I love it, a toy store filled with businessmen. It was a pretty funny experience. We are going to try and make our way to the Imperial Palace today, we’l see how close we get. We are all pretty spent and very much aware of the voyage ahead of us tomorrow. So I may not be writing to you again until I’m back in the states. In which case, thanks to those who have been reading so far. I will be making some updates when I get home about specific things that I didn’t have time to write about while I was here, but until then… KAMPAI!!

Cojelo con take it easy,

Robbie

The way of the samurai

Posted in NIPPON! on June 4, 2008 by robdc

I know two posts in one day is a little much but we had the time before our send off from Nagoya so I thought I’d play catch up.

So today was the long awaited Tokugawa museum! This place is home to over 10,000 artifacts that have been passed down generation to generation by the descendants of Owari Tokugawa family. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures in this place, and unlike other places where pictures are “not allowed” they were watching us like hawks. The most amazing wings of the museum were completely dedicated to blades and their creation. Since I don’t have any eye candy for you, I’ll spare you all the details. But the replica of the traditional tea house and the actual shogun armor were pretty damn cool.

Of course like all other great properties in Japan, there was a garden kept to the liking of the Tokugawa family and in the style of what the shogun would have wanted, and of that I have plenty of pictures. This is the very entrance to the garden:

IMG_0886

The lush area was riddled with small streams caused by the half dozen or so waterfalls that were scattered throughout the property. Here is a shot of Keara and Yukiko crossing one of the streams:

IMG_0887

We followed only the most narrow and hidden paths which, as you might have expected, led us to places visitors shouldn’t really be going to. This is one such place, where as soon as we realized we weren’t supposed to be there we snapped pictures before evacuating:

IMG_0890

Here is a quick shot so show the scope of this garden and some smaller pictures of some of the more beautiful things it contained.

IMG_0902

IMG_0893 IMG_0900

IMG_0904 IMG_0907

There was plenty more but again I find myself running low on time. Suffice to say many aspects were added to my dream home setup.

Afterwards Yukiko took us to a restaurant that served more traditional Nagoya meals. I ordered a miso katsu plate which ended up coming with a ton more than just miso katsu:

IMG_0912

That is the miso katsu in the middle with a bowl of hot noodles made specially here in Nagoya, on the left those are some breaded fried shrimp wrapped in sea weed and sushi rice, of course with a beer and some cold green tea. It was a diverse meal, the combination of flavors really complimented each other, which was unexpected. After putting away that much food we all needed to recharge:

IMG_0913

So here we are in the hotel, getting ready for our last night in Nagoya. The girls are taking us to one of their favorite bars and we are more than happy to go along. I’ll be back with more when I get a chance, until then.

Cojelo con take it easy,

Robbie

The Kindness of others.

Posted in NIPPON! on June 4, 2008 by robdc

So yesterday Ansen started off early to go meet up with Yukiko and her family at their home. The plan was for us to meet up around noon. Needless to say, that didn’t happen. When we got up Keara was feeling a bit under the weather and Ansen was nowhere to be found. I slowly started getting out of bed and got a call from Ansen to meet them in Sakae. Since Keara didn’t feel well she didn’t come along.

Thank God for the rail systems in this country being so intuitive because I had no problem meeting up with the group. Ansen had picked up a few more friends, so the lineup was Yukiko, Mayumi, Eunjeuong (Jon Jon), Ansen and myself. We walked through some of the shops of the town where we saw more examples of hilarious English on t-shirts:

IMG_0868

I know I try to live life to the “full” all the time. Since Ansen had lived and studied here before everyone knew why he was here, but the girls wanted to know what my reason for being here was, when I told them it was a cultural and culinary research trip they asked if I had tried a local favorite: slow fried balls of octopus. I had been looking forward to this dish in Osaka, but since we didn’t make it out there I sadly said I had not had any, they replied by letting me know that this delicacy was also native to Nagoya and quickly led us to the closest purveyor of the tasty treat. The balls start off as more of a slurry that is poured into heated pans that have half spheres indented into them, the mixture is stirred and handled with some impressive skill until you get these delicious balls of octopus:

IMG_0872

Here is what they look like served.

IMG_0869

The batch on the left has fish flakes on it while the one on the right is prepared with an egg sauce. Both were delicious but the ones with the egg sauce were my favorite. Here’s a shot of me enjoying the little guys:

IMG_0870

The octopus was good but It really only got our appetites going. We walked around and window shopped for a bit longer before agreeing on a Thai restaurant. The food was pretty good but I wouldn’t advise visiting a Thai restaurant in Japan if you don’t like spicy foods, as there seems to be no restriction on spice here. We ordered a bunch of dishes and shared, I went a bit out of my comfort zone on a couple of things including a tapioca coconut milk concoction that looked like a joke meal served to kids on Halloween, but it all ended up being pretty tasty. Here is a shot of Jon Jon and Mayumi enjoying the bounty we had all ordered:

IMG_0877

And here’s a shot of that tapioca coconut milk soup… you can make up your own mind as to whether or not you would have tried it, but it was actually very kind on the pallet.

IMG_0878

After lunch it was time to check up on Keara. Jon Jon let me use her cell phone… Did I mention the mass market that this country has for cell phone trinkets?

IMG_0879

Keara was feeling much better so we arranged to go pick her up and meet back up with our gracious hosts closer to the part of town where they lived. Once we got there we did some more walking and talking and ended up in a more traditional Japanese restaurant. I continued on my tasting of strange meats with some goat skewers and Keara Ordered some mysterious dish that needed to be cooked, under pressure, at the table for 25 min. Another of ansens friends Shingo met up with us and the joking and melding of cultures continued. When the 25 min were up what arose from the now unsealed cooking device was a delicious steamed muscle rice, it was nothing short of amazing. The food seemed to disappear and before we knew it everyone had to head home. Here is a shot of all of us after dinner:

IMG_2926

Oh right, not all of us, Yukiko couldn’t make it because she had to get to class or work, I can’t remember.

Well that was pretty much the day, thanks to the kindness and warm hearts of Ansens friends here in Nagoya we have been having an experience here that very few first time travelers to Japan get to know.

Almost forgot, with all the fun we’ve been making of people sleeping on trains guess who joined the club…

IMG_0883

No surprise there right guys? So, that is all for now, next will be the Tokugawa museum.

Kampai!

Robbie

Doitashimashite!!

Posted in NIPPON! on June 3, 2008 by robdc

Sorry I wasn’t able to get anything written this morning or last night, we have been really busy. We got to Nagoya on a bit of a high note and just kept running with it. When Ansen said he had friends in this town he wasn’t lying and I can’t tell you what a difference it makes to be hanging out with locals.

After getting settled, Keara and I noticed that Ansen had mysteriously been missing for quite some time. We figured he had been on the phone with family or something and thought nothing of it. When he returned he was short and to the point: “get your stuff, lets go.” Go where? he didn’t say, but we did as he commanded. We got on the subway and when we got off there was a very kind Japanese girl there waiting for us, her name was Yukiko and Ansen had lived with her and her family when he was last here in Japan. She took us to eat at an Izakaya, but this time it came with references… The food was amazing, and again, having a local with us made life SOOO much easier. Some things on the menu that should have been basics to us tasted amazing and had a new zest, the chicken wings were some of the best I had ever had.

IMG_0861

There are some things that exist here that I would look crazy for even asking for back home, if you look closely at my plate, that is a battered and fried ham cutlet… I don’t think I have to tell you that it tasted amazing. The seating was recessed into the floor as it is in many of these types of establishments and there was a group of businessmen having a grand old time right next to us, the combination of atmosphere and phenomenal food made for a fantastic dinner. Here’s a great shot of Keara feeling as she did when we finished our “all you can eat” meal in Kyoto:

IMG_0862

That’s right, its all gone, and we did it…

The delicious food was gone and the night was still young, and our new friend Yukiko wanted to know what we wanted to do next. Scotch was on our minds and a local English pub seemed like the best place to find some. As we found ourselves in an English pub in the middle of Nagoya, we were astounded at the selection and the turn out. There was a football (soccer) match on and it seemed that this place was a local favorite for such events.

IMG_0864

Our drink of choice for the night was Glenfiddich Ancient reserve, 18 years aged and only $6.30 a glass. Back home this was easily a $25 drink, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

IMG_0866

Just when we thought this place couldn’t get any better… Thriller came on. We couldn’t help but join in with a little dance right out of M.J.s classic music video, they even turned up the volume as apparently this was a favorite here.

IMG_0865

To tell you the truth I’m getting a bit sleepy and I feel that right now I wouldn’t do today justice, so I’m going to call it a night. I’m figuring that since we are waiting for Yukiko to get out of class before heading to the Tokugawa museum tomorrow I should have plenty of time to report on todays exploits… until then.

Cojelo con take it easy,

Robbie

A philosopher on the philosopher’s walk.

Posted in NIPPON! on June 2, 2008 by robdc

Yesterday we set out, as all days, very hungry. We fumbled around with ideas of going to several types of places but in the end we found it necessary to tackle an elusive beast that we had heard about in stories. This beast was… the MEGA MAC!! It’s actually two big macs stacked on top of each other, why we wouldn’t have this back home I have no idea (although I’m very thankful for it) but this thing definitely hit the spot.

IMG_0833

With our guts full of imperialist trash we picked up our things and moved on. Our goal today is to visit Tetsugaku no michi, or the philosopher’s walk. It is a path through the eastern part of kyoto that the philosopher Nishida Kitaro used to walk through while meditating. During the short, 3 month, cherry blossom period of the year it looks like this:

(picture taken from Wikipedia.org)

Unfortunately that part of the year ended about 3 months ago so when we got there it looked like this:

IMG_0836

I have to admit that even without the cherry blossoms this place did bring on a sense of self awareness. We walked the 2km both ways and spoke of the things in life that should and shouldn’t effect our day to day existence. Of course Keara and I stopped off at a cafe for a couple of drinks overlooking the peaceful scene:

IMG_0839 IMG_0840

And of course I couldn’t leave without a shot of the philosopher (me) on the philosopher’s walk, blazing the same trail as the great Nishida Kitaro:

IMG_0837

Throughout this trip there have been things that I feel the perfect home should have. With the small bit of space that each family has it amazes me that very special attention (and real estate) is devoted to things like entry ways and small gardens. At one point we strayed from the path a bit and wandered around a small neighborhood where I found a home with this entrance:

IMG_0841 IMG_0842

Something about the fact that this spacious and beautiful entrance exists on such a tiny home makes me think that it should be a fantastic addition to my dream home, 1000 year old tree growing out of rocks and all.

On the hike home we came across one of the many crazy signs that this country has posted all over it, if anyone knows what this says or what justifies a giant daemon hand looming over school children PLEASE let me know!

IMG_0844

We also bid farewell to Kyoto since last I checked in and while cleaning up we realized that without trying we had accidentally acquired a bit of a mini bar in our ryokan:

IMG_0847

Our arrival in Nagoya was filled with excitement as we pulled up to our normally corporate hotel but since it’s the slow season here we were able to get a great price on a 3 bed room complete with wired internet and tv. So far this is definitely the most well equipped place we have stayed at and it definitely affords us the most privacy of any of our past temporary residences.

We’re off to find some delicious food, so I’ll be back with some more update-y goodness later.

Cojelo con take it easy,

Robbie

(thanks dad)

Gods amongst men…

Posted in NIPPON! on June 1, 2008 by robdc

I really can’t put it any other way… Gion was AMAZING! We have seen some things thus far but last night was really a new experience. Geisha walking the streets, throngs of people filling the tiny alleys, it was everything cartoons and movies had led me to believe Japan should be. On top of that we found Japans biggest mistake when it came to this group of travelers… Pay by the hour all you can eat/drink… Oh yes, you read correctly ALL you can eat/drink. And the whole setup was pretty nice too, we had a small grill in the middle of the table and they brought us platters of meats to grill up as we saw fit, and it rained steak for the 90 minutes we payed for. What would 90 minutes of unadulterated grilling and beer cost? $200, $300? no no no, a measly $22 a person. Here are some shots of us doing what we do best… having a phenomenal time!

IMG_0823

The first 3 platters were brought automatically they were a plate of small center cutlets, a plate of chuck slices and a plate of chicken and some really marbled meat we couldn’t really identify, but everything after that was up to us so we got a plate of rib cutlets and a plate of loin, topped with all the jokes and the atmosphere the food was amazing.

IMG_0820 

Another quick shot of Ansen and I toasting to being winners in the game of life.

IMG_0821

When it was all said and done we killed all of it… all the food was gone, we were stuffed and we headed back out to the streets of Gion. Here is the aftermath, I couldn’t believe it either :

IMG_0825

Drinking in the streets is completely ok here, as we have tested this law to its limits. Gion was littered with people in various states of disarray, which made a fantastic little opera for us to watch.  Keara and I stopped into a 711 for a few beers:

IMG_0827

But we really didn’t have to considering that they have beer vending machines here:

IMG_0826

Well, Its about noon here and were headed off to the philosophers walk to have a more stoic day. Be back with more updates soon.

 

Coje lo con take it easy,

Robbie

%d bloggers like this: