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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Another Travel Quote for a Monday

"We'd now reached the stage familiar to all you seasoned travellers where one city starts looking pretty much like another. You know how it is; first time away from home, you start off thinking how wonderfully different everything is - gods, you say to yourself, in these parts they roof their cattle-stalls with osiers and have an entirely different way of lacing their boots, isn't this incredible? And after a while, once you've trudged far enough and seen enough of the cities of mortal men, you tend only to notice the similarities, the basic shapes that are common to all human settlements - here's the city gate, here's the square, here's the well, here's the palace wall, big deal. I don't know if either way of seeing things is right, or better than the other, although you could say that since the latter view comes with age and experience, it ought to be wiser and therefore more valid. But I don't know. Don't care much either." Tom Holt, Olympiad

I don't intend for this passage to be indicative of the way I'm feeling (I see and appreciate new things everyday), but I came across it in the book I'm reading* and it definitely struck a chord and got me thinking about differences and sames, and how we choose to focus on one or the other and to what degree that can – well, suffisive to say, it made me think.
Monday March 16 2009File under: quote

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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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Ode to Beach Trash


Ode to Beach Trash
Why, beach trash, why
Is all I can say
My time at the beach
Has been ruined today

In this idyllic place
With so few people around
Your bottles and packaging
Seem to cover the ground

Floats, ropes, and buoys
Cans, bulbs, and crates
Lighters, balls, and pens
Flip flops without mates

If I block out this feeling
Deep in my sould
There is much intrigue
That your treasures hold

"Hey this might be useful"
Or "Wow, look at that"
"I didn't know it til now
but I need a hard hat"

But that feeling creeps back
One of sickness and gloom
Each time at the beach
It seems to linger and loom

But you're not to blame
You're the victim here
It's us humans that did this
That fact is quite clear

We use and consume
At a furious pace
Sometimes forgetting
To put trash in its place

Still if we do
Put trash in the can
It could end up here
Atop your fine sand

'Cause stryofoam and plastic
Don't ever die
We often forget that
When we choose what to buy

Though it may not be pretty
I take your image to heart
And share with my friends
So we can all do our part

Why, beach trash, why
Have we caused you to be
But give us a chance
We'll change, wait and see

Thursday March 12 2009File under: Japan, poetry

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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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