Pachinko Postcard

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Wednesday April 1 2009File under: travel, Japan

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East Japan Picture Catch-up



I know my last couple posts have been light on photos, so here's a sample of what I've been up to. (East Japan is actually better described as northern Honshu, but my rail pass calls it East Japan, so I'm just rolling with it.)
Tuesday March 31 2009File under: travel, Japan

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The Great Asian Breakfast Dilemma

I'm an unashamed breakfast guy. For me, it's easily the best meal of the day*; such variety, such flavor, and oh so much comfort. In my travels in Asia, however, a satisfactory breakfast is hard to come by.

Sure I get by. I'll do fruit from a street stand, steamed bread dumplings from a convenience store, or even the occasional McDonald's breakfast sandwich*. If I'm lucky enough to be staying with a friend, I'll whip up a scramble with whatever recognizable veggies I can find and some proto-cheese or rejoice in a bowl of cereal.

More often than not, however, I do as the locals [presumably] do. Often that means rice and fish or really white white bread with non-jam jam. At the occasional hotel, a breakfast buffet is included which stateside would make me wake up early like a kid on Christmas morning. Here, however, I trudge downstairs with at least the promise of a comfortable chair to do my crossword in if little else.

Lunches and dinners, give me what you got; mayonnaise and corn pizza, seaweed noodle soup, cabbage pancakes, etc. I'll at least try it and walk away feeling my horizons have been expanded. As for breakfast, a nice Denver omelet would really hit the spot right about now. Heavy on the cheese, please.
Sunday March 29 2009File under: travel, Japan

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Ohio-gozaimasu

File this one under completely random Japanese experiences:

I'm now in the city of Towada in northeast Japan. It is a small-ish city that again doesn't see many honkies. As per usual, I set out on the town with no agenda but to wander around (and possibly buy an ice cream or 3). I was being shown around by a friend of a friend (people are awesome!) - getting the back story on the town, recommendations for which sushi place to check out, etc. Anyway, walking through the town's park (home of baseball and soccer fields, track, and sumo ring, all open to the public), we happened upon the high school's baseball practice.

All of the sudden, while we were just chatting on the side line, we hear the coach yell "Ohio gozaimasu" (which means "good morning") and the whole team stops what they are doing, turns to face us*, and yells "Ohio gozaimasu" (loudly, much like a military response). Then comes the weird part: they all bow, very deeply from the hips, showing us the top of their heads, and just staying like that. Um...awkward. We said "ohio gozaimasu" back and bowed back (although of course no one saw us bow because they were all still very bowed.) Then we slowly backed away.

Traveling is neat.
Saturday March 28 2009File under: travel, Japan

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Sister City

Does your town have a sister city? Would you know what it meant if you did? Besides an organized student exchange and town crier representation at very select municipal events, I had no idea. With the hope of remedying that under-education, I set off northward from Tokyo to visit my home town's sister city.

Kisakata, Japan rates barely a paragraph in the ever ubiquitous Lonely Planet, which is a pretty good indication of how many foreigners they see 'round these parts. But escaping the beaten path was high among the reasons I chose to find my way here. And just because they don't see many honkies doesn't mean that tourism doesn't thrive. From great signage* to a visitors center and gift shops, the town seems to really welcome travelers. Walking paths along the water, abundant nature, and a great coast line complete with sandy beaches* are just a few of the attractions that draw Japanese folk here.

Slowly, similarities between Kisakata and Anacortes become apparent. But is that all a sister city is, a similar city on the far side of the globe? Is there no special handshake you can give someone on the street and get invited to their home for a traditional meal and warm bed? No privileges or special responsibilities of individual citizens? While I didn't go knocking on the door at city hall, it didn't really seem like Kisakata had any great familial love it was ready to show me.

Despite no key to the city or party thrown in my honor, I feel I appreciate Kisakata more than most places I go. I find myself imagining life here for the people, from a simple trip to the grocery store to how it would be to grow up here. I smile at people I meet on the street knowing that although they don't know I'm from their sister city, and even if they did BFD, I feel a little closer to them, kind of like the bond to a second cousin once-removed; you share very little tangible, but hey, they're family.

So while my visit to Kisakata is, on the surface, similar to my time in any other random city (wander around, take random pictures, geocache, see the sights, etc.) it feels a little deeper, a little bigger. This place may not have benefited from my being here, but I have. And I hope this appreciation, while founded on an abstract, almost contrived concept, can be spread to the Anacortes people I share my experience with so when a grubby backpacker from Kisakata finds his or her way to Anacortes, their chances of a stranger taking them in for a meal and showing them around town is a slight bit better. After all, they are kind of like family.
Thursday March 26 2009File under: travel, Japan

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The Story of the Poop

With my recent turlets post and the awesome bathroom antics over at IHJ, I figured this an appropriate time for this post, which has been cooking for some time.

Back in Taiwan, about a month ago*, I was getting all gussied up for Bob's wedding (keep in mind that "gussied up" for me is like decent looking for anyone else). When I got my fancy slacks on, I noticed something in the pocket: it was a piece of rubber poop. What immediately came out of my mouth was, "Well played, Allison."

For some time now, whenever I leave town on an adventure, I always end up carrying along with me this piece of rubber poop, although never by choice*. My neighbor Allison started the tradition of stowing the poop in my luggage some years ago. As I grow keener to being on my toes to catch it before I have to explain it to customs*, she keeps getting more and more devious in getting it in. This last time I was sure I was poop free, but sure enough, I was wrong. Maybe next time, I will steal away in the middle of the night, not having told anyone my plans. Or perhaps I will just need to get used to the giving a piece of poop a personal tour of the world.
Tuesday March 24 2009File under: travel, Japan

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Tokyo Marathon 2009

Have you ever watched a marathon in person? Toyko 2009 was my first. It was so overwelming just getting from place to place, wading through the crowds, and watching so many people exert themselves so much, I am completely pooped. I can only imagine how the 30,000 some participants must feel: a little out of sorts, perhaps.

My reasons for cruising all over town to catch bits and pieces of the festivities was to support my good buddy Dave* who ran like the dickens, beating his goal time by some 30 seconds. For all the stats and times, you'll have to check in with his blog tomorrow where he'll have a much better wrap up than me.

Despite getting rather lost (numerous times) on a rented bike that had only one speed that wasn't exactly perfect for the starting and stopping required for city sidewalk riding* and getting a little wet and really wind blown, it was a good day. There is nothing like a good mission to give purpose to your day.
Sunday March 22 2009File under: travel, Japan

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Turlets of Japan

I've heard stories of the crazy turlets* in Japan and how they analyze your pee to make sure you are getting enough iron and tell you all sorts of fables to inspire you to do your best in there. Well, I haven't found any that do any of that, but I have found a few difference that are kind of interesting.

First, the picture at right* is of a fancy turlet they've had at the last couple hostels I've stayed. There is a built in bidet, deoderizer, flushing sounds that cover up "bathroom noises", and more. It is all a little fancy for me, but some people dig it. The one thing that I don't like about these toilets (besides the fact that they are overkill and use energy needlessly) is the heated seat that I haven't figured out how to turn off. My butt produces plenty of its own heat, thank you very much.

Second is the ubitquitous squatty potty. They were all over SE Asia and China when I was there a couple years ago but I don't think I ever got a proper picture of one. It is rare to find them in the fancy places in Japan, but this one was in a small park that was definitely off the beaten path. Again, they don't quite do it for me, but some people love them.

Finally, perhaps the best turlet invention I've seen in Japan, is the hand washing station built in to the toilet. The water that goes to fill the toilet tank first comes through a faucet so you can use it to wash your hands. Genius, I say! They make most sense in public washrooms that will be flushed every use*. As an added benefit of saving water by providing it for hand washing, it goes to demonstrate how much water is used by each flush of a toilet. The first time I used it, I frantically looked around for the off switch because I had finished washing my hands and it killed me to see the faucet still running. Then I realized it was okay. My only critique of this particular turlet is that enthusiastic handwashing can leave water on the back of the toilet seat, which is never pleasant for the next person to us.

Yep, culture, food, and beautiful sights are not all that catch my eye when traveling. Some things just can't help but be noticed.
Friday March 20 2009File under: travel, Japan

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Kyoto Photo Wall




Tuesday March 17 2009File under: travel, Japan

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Sakurajima Public Footspa

A good idea is a good idea, and today I stumbled on just that: footspas are a good idea. If someone said, "Hey, I've got a good idea. Let's go to a footspa.", I would respond with something along the lines of, "thanks but not thanks." Luckily no one told me to go to footspas. I stumbled upon them all by myself.*

I'm now in Kagoshima, the southern most point in "mainland"* Japan. Just across the bay sits an active volcano. The plan for the day was to ferry across the bay, go climb up the volcano (or at least to wherever they allow), take a picture*, and then come back. My encounter of the footspa came at just the right time. There is just something about sitting outdoors almost up to your knees in [naturally] warm water after a respectable hike and watching a wonderful sunset. If I had brought a clean pair of socks, it would have been that much better, but I'm not going to complain.
Sunday March 15 2009File under: travel, Japan

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