Archive for March, 2007

Failure. Success!

Thursday, March 15th, 2007 by Steph

Kites. I was promised kites. And, in turn, I promised others kites. So it happened that four of us made the long 3 hour trek up to Aomori City, on the north tip of Honshu last Saturday with a song in our hearts and a gleam in our eyes. So what if the weather was grey and unambiguously wintery? Surely this would highlight spectacular dragons and whatnot flying through the sky. However, when we arrived in Aomori, we all noticed right away that the city, while windy, was spectacularly lacking in wind powered aircraft. Crap.

Kite festivities would not begin, we were informed at the information desk, until tomorrow. Stupid internet and its empty promises. We then sat down to regroup and figure out how to salvage a day in (let’s be generous) a mildly interesting city in the dead of winter. Step 1? Drown your sorrows by taking refuge in the closest Thai/Vietnamese/New York themed restaurant you can find.

When we heard of a little lunch spot called Saigon that purported to have Thai food, we knew something had to be up. Not picky about the geographic consistency of their menu, Saigon offers samosas, bagels, Greek salads, and Hawaiian beer with aplomb. This met my basic criteria for excitement in Tohoku: just feed me food I can’t get in Noshiro.

After lunch, we went in search of a big Buddha at the nearby Blue-Green Dragon Temple. I have to say, he bested the kites in that he a) existed and b) lived up to the hype. The temple complex had quite a bit to see. Shrines for the old and forgetful, shines for children. Even lots of bells to ring to alert the almighty to your prayers, which Frank will now graciously demonstrate below:

[youtube KL3LwAbCzKQ]

After we’d photographed every subject in the shrine from every possible angle, we went to check out Aomori’s archaeological claim to fame, the Sannai-maruyama site, where you can view artifacts from the Jomon period. I have to say, as the afternoon went from gray to grayer, I wasn’t very excited about going to see a muddy field with a few thatched huts and a huge glorified ladder. But my mind was set, I had to see it. It was one of those “if I see it now I don’t have to come back to see it later” kind of deals. But, the huts turned out to be surprisingly photogenic and even kind of interesting.

Still. I wouldn’t drive 3 hours just for the pleasure.

We concluded our trip to Aomori with a quick onsen visit. For those of you who are still a little fuzzy on onsen etiquette, here’s a charming graphic for you which illustrates the big no-nos. Please provide your own captions:

let’s enjoy bath with manners

There is, however, a rule which isn’t shown above which was enforced by this particular onsen: bring your own soap. Little did we know. I mean, it’s not like this was the first onsen trip for any of us. We thought we knew we knew how to play by the rules, honest.

On the women’s side, the showers were packed to capacity, and I only hesitated for a moment when I sat down to wash up at a seemingly empty spot and noticed that the shampoo bottles at each shower were different. Not what you would expect for onsen-provided items. But never-mind! I ignore lots of stuff that seems strange to me here and chalk it up to the Japanese way. While everyone took my lack of manners in using their belongings gracefully (thanks for the shampoo, whoever you are!), the boys weren’t so lucky. When they sat down to wash up (so I’m told), they elicited a vicious growl from whomever’s territory they’d intruded upon. One of those “maybe-I-look-demure-but-never-forget-this-is-the-land-of-samurai-
and-ass-kicking-ninjas-so-back-the-hell-off” kind of interactions.

Yikes. So much for internationalization.

More Little Moments

Tuesday, March 13th, 2007 by Steph

Some of you may have noticed that the frequency of posts has been slowing of late. We’ve been living here for 7+ months now, and there’s only got so many quirky foreigner moments you can have before this formerly foreign place starts to seem normal. Allow me to catalogue for you a few of the smaller Japan Moments that have come our way:

The Steam Truck
For the longest time, Chris and I could hear this eerie off kilter whine in the distance. And it would creep closer. And very occasionally, we would catch up with this truck on its way through town… steam whistling out the top, with some kind of machinery in the back, like a huge kettle on wheels. But why? Was this person delivering hot water for busted winter pipes? Or maybe making deliveries to more rural areas with an inconsistent water supply? (::cough:: Futatsui ::cough::) Mystery solved as soon as my Japanese skills caught up with my curiosity. I just went out and asked the dude behind the wheel last week… it’s a yam truck. Like, quick, go out and get your piping hot yams. Even though this technically answers my question, I still can’t quite believe that the high demand for yams requires a roving truck.

The Shocker
There’s usually a variety of pools in an onsen: indoor and out, hot and cold, sauna, waterfall, jets, different minerals in different pools, you name it. But I had a new kind of onsen experience last weekend. I noticed the kanji for electricity by this pool, but didn’t think much of it; maybe it meant something different when it’s next to that other thing I can’t read, whatever. We get in, and notice little holes on the side of the wall. When you get close enough to the holes, BAM!, electric shock. I don’t know what this is and why it doesn’t kill you or how it’s supposed to be good for you. All I can tell you is it was uncomfortable and creepy. We got out right away.

Further research indicates that this is a “denkiburo” or “electric bath”. It’s reportedly popular with older folk who have rheumatism.

Illegal Buns
We ran into an ex-pat in a pizza parlour. We discussed how, in Japan, you can have hot dogs on sticks or spaghetti in a bun, but under no circumstances do you see a hot dog actually in a bun. This guy further explained that he had tried to start up his own business to fill this gaping hole in the Japanese economy, and when filing his papers, he discovered to his chagrin that hot dogs in buns are not allowed. He’s can’t even sell hot dogs and buns separately, because what if the customer combined them? What if the officials noticed? Someone would have to be held responsible. His papers were denied. “You really should have known better than to open up a store selling hot dogs and buns. Together. I mean, really.” This story borders on urban legend for me, it sounds so ridiculous. I asked my Japanese teachers about it, who also thought it was silly, but also were unable to explain the dearth of dog+bun. I don’t know if it’s a phallic issue or what. Hello out there, if you know what’s up with this, please fill the rest of us in.

Picture in Picture

Friday, March 9th, 2007 by Chris

Just So, originally uploaded by chrissam42.

I love this little demonstration of the Japanese Way. The only thing that could make it more perfect is if the photo in the poster had the poster in it.

No Snow in Tokyo

Thursday, March 1st, 2007 by Chris

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Tokyo records first snowless winter

Kyodo News

The Tokyo metropolitan area has experienced its first winter without snow since 1876, the Meteorological Agency said Thursday.

The agency’s observatory in Otemachi did not detect any snowfall from December to February, the period defined as winter in Japan.

While Tokyo is more inclined to get heavy snow in early spring than midwinter, it is not certain to see snow in March or later because temperatures are expected to remain unseasonably high, the agency said.

The Japan Times