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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Proper Zamami Post

Satellite image of Zamami courtesy of Google Maps
Zamami Island, where I've been staying with Dave Sensei the last week, is a special place. I felt that my previous Zamami post didn't really do it justice, so I've worked up a proper one so you can hopefully share in some of its specialness.

Zamami, part of the Kerama archipelago, is some 40km* from Okinawa, although it feels much farther*. Its 6.5 square miles of area are basically covered by 15 or so miles of paved roads, which can easily be explored by bicycle* in one day. Of the 600 inhabitants of the island, 500 live in the main village, a perfectly sized city, at least for some good down time. (Here's a shot of Dave walking to school on Main Street*.) Big enough for a few restaurants but small enough that you start to recognize the same people around town, it has served as a great counterpoint to Taipei and some of the other cities of Taiwan for me.

Despite the small size of things, there is plenty to explore. (With exploration, of course, comes geocaching.) Around the island on tops of various bluffs and hills, there are 5 observatories for checking out the views and trying to spot whales. Beaches and snorkeling are popular (when it isn't raining, of course) which I hope to get some time in for later this week. But my favorite activity so far is just soaking in the wonderful small town vibe. Having an in with the community to introduce me around and get us invitiations to community-type events has only helped that vibe.

People have been asking me, "How's Japan?" I'm somewhat unable to respond. I know practically nothing of cultural/societal Japan is represented here on this island. But time for Japan culture and society will come soon enough. For now, I'm enjoying Zamami.
Monday March 9 2009File under: travel, Japan

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Quote For Monday - Traveler Edition

A friend sent me this quote today and I've been thinking about it all day. Unrelatedly, another friend asked what happened to my Monday quote series. Talk about kismet.

"Your true traveler finds boredom rather agreeable than painful. It is the symbol of his liberty—his excessive freedom. He accepts his boredom, when it comes, not merely philosophically, but almost with pleasure.�

- Aldous Huxley

Monday March 9 2009File under: travel, quote

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Rainy Days on Zamami

Rain, rain, go away. Come again another day. That's pretty much been my sentiment since arriving here on Zamami. My usual routine of roaming aimlessly around looking for neat stuff and taking silly pictures has been greatly curtailed. I got one good roam session in in the 4 days I've been here. Said roam session was great as I saw beaches, tiny villages, and more, but my legs are getting restless.

Luckily there have been indoor activities to keep me not only entertained, but getting a backdoor look at the Japanese (or at least Zamamian) culture. I got to watch Dave's Taiko drumming class practice where presentation was focused on just as much as the music being produced. We also went to his boss's house last night to watch Japan play Korea in the World Baseball Championship*. A night of being in a place where I was the only one that didn't speak Japanese* is a definite cultural experience. And in a brief window of no rain, Dave and I headed out to meet up with his grade schoolers from Geruma while they were on a field trip. It basically turned into babysitting duty/play time. As per usual, my juggling and stupid human tricks made an appearance with positive results.

While nights sitting around a room not knowing what's going on or spending a couple hours having pillow fights with kids isn't my normal independent travel routine, it is my experience on Zamami so far and you aren't going to hear me complain.
Saturday March 7 2009File under: travel, Japan

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I Undress Myself

I'm working up a post about Zamami, the island I'm currently staying on, but don't want to rush it. (There hasn't been much good light for taking pictures recently*.) Anyway, in the meantime, enjoy this sign I ran across on the ferry out here from Okinawa. I sure did.
Friday March 6 2009File under: travel, Japan

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Price Comparisons

I know money seems like a lame thing to be thinking/blogging about when traveling in such incredible places as Taiwan and Japan, but it is a hard issue to avoid putting some thought into. In fact, it can sometimes lend a really interesting light to cultural appreciation. Having just arrived in Japan and conversion rates, etc. already being on my mind, I thought I would post a few price comparisons.
Taipei, TaiwanOkinawa, Japannotes
Lowest denomination of paper currencyNT 100
(about $3.00)
1000 yen
(about $10.00)
In either case, but esp. Japan, a pocket full of change can add up to a lot of money
McDonald's ice cream coneNT 15
(about $0.45)
100 yen
(about $1.00)
This more than 100% increase in price is not going to bode well for that habit. It is worth noting, however, that Japanese McDs ice cream cones are pointed at the bottom. Now you know.
15(ish) minute subway/monorail rideNT 25
(about $0.70)
230 yen
(about $2.40)
Taiwan has the clear advantage here. I was super impressed by Taipei's clean, efficient, awesome subway. Naha, however, has a monorail, and monorails are just plain cool.
Pocari sweatNT 25
(about $0.70)
110 yen
(about $1.15)
In Japan, however, you can get Pocari sweat from a vending machine, one of which is located every 3 feet along every road.
Bed in a hostelNT 590
(about $17.50)
1500 yen
(about $15.50)
Surprisingly Taipei outprices Japan, but I have a feeling while $17.50 was the most I paid for a bed in Taiwan, $15.50 will be the least I have to pay in all of Japan.
Postage for a postcard to the U.S.NT 11
(about $0.30)
70 yen
(about $.075)
The question is if and when they will arrive.

Wednesday March 4 2009File under: travel, Taiwan

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Not a City Guy Me

I've never been much of a big city guy. That goes for travel as well as living (although they are certain perks to cities for both). Anyway, arriving in Chaiyi at 3:30 Saturday afternoon, I decided I couldn't spend another night in a city. Unfortunately, the last train to Alishan (my next hopeful destination) had already left. And if I correctly interpreted the group gesturing and chatter at the bus station, the bus was also not an option. What now? Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.

I rented a scooter*. With only a highway number and a destination city name*, I braved the rush hour traffic and struck out. For a while it was iffy, but as the traffic petered out and the switchbacks took me into the clouds, I knew I made the right decision.

I subsequently spent 2 nights in the tiny mountain town of Fencihu. I passed the days scooting along gorgeous, albeit hardly DOT approved, mountain roads and hiking* among mind-blowingly beautiful tiered tea plantations, cliffs, bamboo forests, waterfalls, sunrises, and six-foot-long-I'm-gonna-bite-you-and-watch-you-convulse-and-soil-yourself snakes*.

Yes, getting out of the city was the right call. If I wasn't flying to Japan tomorrow, I would still be up in that cool mountain air without a horn honk or siren heard the whole night long.
Sunday March 1 2009File under: travel, Taiwan

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