Here are a few things about Japan that I just don’t get:
Crowding into an elevator when there is an escalator just over there
Sure, we are 6 floors up, but I’d rather take an escalator, where I can relax and maybe see interesting things rather than pack into an elevator with 12 other people, have to try to push my way in and out, stop at each floor and get out of the elevator to let people out, then squish back in. All the while, trying to avoid uncomfortable eye contact, and also not touch anyone lest they think I am chikan. Oh, and repeat for each floor til we reach the bottom.
Mochi is rice that has been pounded into a dough. Although you can eat it year round, it’s often served at New Years in a soup. I was watching a show on tv, and one of the hosts had a big bite of mochi, and of course exclaimed"Oishii!!!" (delicious). I was thinking “No way, how can you say that big lump of tastless dough is delicious.” There’s a lot of delicious Japanese food I’d rather fill my belly with than mochi. However, one of them is not…
Similar to mochi, dango are balls of usually rice flour, and put on skewer. I remember being at a festival and getting handed a skewer of three mitarashi dango. They looked delicious, these little balls covered with a golden brown sweet shoyu sauce. Only after I bit into it and found out that I was eating another tastless lump of dough, did I realize that it was not nearly as delicious as it looked.
I must say that JAL and ANA>American Airlines. The stewardesses flight attendants for JAL and ANA are so hot. AA, well lets just say they don’t discrimitate based on age…
Seriously though, the service on JAL and ANA is top-notch. They give toys out to the kids on the plane. The food is actually good. The flight attendants are always courteous and never give any sort of bad attitude. Even the JAL and ANA staff at the airport are great. I wish I could fly JAL or ANA every time we fly. Come to think of it, the AA staff at Narita was just as good as the JAL and ANA staff. Could it be that it’s just Japanese training and culture?
On our recent trip to Japan, I had the pleasure of using a washlet several times. For those of you that don’t know what a washlet is, it’s basically a toilet seat that shoots a stream of water at your privates for that clean, fresh feeling. The toilet seat also has a heater in it. There are a couple options, like a bidet stream of water for females, the oshiri stream of water for your buttinski, and then there is a forward/back position adjuster, and sometimes a strength adjustment. Sometimes there is also a some kind of ventilation system for minimal odor.
The only thing I am not sure about is if you are supposed to wipe before you use the stream of water, then wipe again, or just use the stream of water, then wipe. I did the former, in case you wanted to know.
Several months ago, we put an electrical outlet (with the help of a friend) behind the toilet downstairs, getting ready for a future washlet. I think that time is coming soon!
Merry Christmas! Time to open (more) presents! Bay and Koa both received small Pokémon electronic games. These are pretty cool because they are in Japanese (of course) but easy enough for the kids to play. When you have two boys, you make sure to get the same gift for both of them, btw.
Today was a relaxing day. The only things on our agenda were to go to the bookstore and kiddyland, then back out to dinner to a special restaurant that Mariko had found out about a few months ago and looked fun. We relaxed at home all day, then at around 4pm, we headed out the door, took our normal route to the station, then took the train to Osaka, walked for a bit, then found the Kinokuniya bookstore, which is in the underground shopping mall. Mariko went off to do her book and magazine shopping, while I took the boys to the children’s book section. Bay found a few Pokémon books and Koa found a few Ranger books. By the way, Koa is absolutely nuts about the Japanese ranger shows. He watches MagiRangers (they use magic), GekiRangers (they use beast powers), and DekaRangers (SPD Police). He loves to do all the poses that they do on the shows. Anyways, we bought a boatload of books. I saw a few camera magazines that looked pretty good, but decided to save my money!!!
Next it was off to Kiddyland, which is a big toystore, not far from the bookstore. The kids loved the place, of course, and I had fun checking out all the video games. I saw a few people buying WiiFit, which looked pretty cool. We bought a couple small things, then left in order to get to the restaurant early.
We had to take a few different trains and walk a bit, but it was good because it built up our appetite. The special restaurant we were going to was actually a fishing restaurant. Yes, you can actually fish there, and eat what you catch! I was pretty excited to go there, but didn’t know what to expect. The boys were also looking forward to it. When we first entered the restaurant, I was blown away. It was so cool! There was a giant pool that was in the center of the big restuarant, then inside the pool were two “boats” with tables. They weren’t real floating boats, they just looked like it. But all around the tables was the pool, and inside the pool were many, many fish. They were all about a foot long, and I recognized some Tai. Around the outside edges of the pool were private rooms, which opened up to the water, and the diners inside could slide open the window and drop in their lines.
The waiter gave us a couple small bamboo poles and a couple small plastic cups of shrimp to use as bait. We ordered some drinks and food, then got down to the business of fishing! I was all set to catch a couple big ones, but wouldn’t you know it, they weren’t biting. I mean we would dangle the bait right in front of their faces, and they would swim away. The kids really wanted to catch something, but it looked like it was going to be a long night. We decided to walk over to the other end of the pool to see if they were biting over there, but I knew we wouldn’t have any luck, since that side of the pool is connected to our side. But, I discovered that there were small cages attached to the side with different fish in it. One of the cages had what looked like sole or flounder, and the other one had lobster. Of course I had to go for the lobster. But they weren’t interested in the bait at all. After a couple minutes, one of the wait staff came over to us and told us that we should just try to hook the lobster, and actually took the bait off the hook for us. He also gave Bay a “kid’s rod” which was plastic, but had a huge treble (triple) hook on it. Now THAT was the pole I wanted to use to get the lobster, but the guys said it was for kids… So I tried to hook the lobster with my single hook. After a couple minutes of trying and almost giving up, zing! I hooked one of the lobsters!
The waiter came over and put it in a net, then Koa got to carry the treasure back to the table. The waiter asked us how we wanted it prepared: sashimi, grilled with butter, or grilled with mayo. We got it with mayo (Japanese love mayo), which was great! They also gave us a celebration song in front of all the other diners. Only then did I realize that the lobster wasn’t such a great deal. It cost us about 3,500 yen, but I think the fun that all of us had made it worth it. By the way, we only saw one other person catch anything, and it was a skinny little thing! Besides the lobster, we had sashimi, croquettes, fried oysters, chicken, tofu, etc. Plus beer for Mariko and I.
Today the kids got to enjoy an early Xmas, and got to dig into their stockings. They actually opened up many of their gifts before we left Texas, so they got to celebrate multiple times.
I think Mariko wanted to spend the day with her Mom, and I got a free dayEwhere I could go out by myself. So, I loaded up the camera bag, got the iPod ready, and headed out. My plan was to head to Osaka Station and just explore around there. I took the normal walking route to the station, then it was a quick train ride to my destination. It’s so great that Mariko’s mom lives just one station away from Osaka Station. You could actually walk to downtown in about 25 minutes if you wanted to.
I was planning on doing a bunch of street photography today, but ended up keeping the camera in the bag most of the time, and just strolling around listening to Jazztronik on the iPod. I love just wandering aimlessly, walking around town and down whatever street looks interesting. The first place I went to was not on the street, though, it was in the underground mallE which is actually the maze of passageways that connect a couple train stations underneath the streets. It’s disorienting at first, since there are so many people walking around, and the passageways look so similar, but after a little while, I started to remember how it was laid out from my previous times there. I found a nice camera shop that my friend Matt recommended to me. Matt, Mikey and I actually went to Yaotomi Camera several years back when we visited Osaka. I found a nice Olympus XA, but decided to hold off on buying it. It was only 4500 yen, but I wasn’t sure I wanted another film camera, although I loved my old one before it broke. I was really looking for a nice used A-mount lens for my 7D, but I didn’t find anything good.
After Yaotomi, I headed up to the surface world. The weather was pretty good, not too cold, and sunny with clouds. I walked down some outside shopping arcade streets, and passed by a couple of restaurants we used to enjoy, a Yukari okonomiyaki restaurant, and a sushi restaurant that is still my favorite in the world. I found it funny and reassuring that these places haven’t changed in these past years.
I saw a Tsutaya down the street so I headed over and went inside. I checked out some CD’s for a bit and then checked out their video game selection. The Wii and DS are kings there, but the PS2 still has tons of shelf space dedicated to it. The PS3 section was small, and the Xbox360 offerings were in a tiny corner in the back. The Xbox360 machine sat there with the red ring of death… I saw a few DS games that looked really good, including a Final Fantasy game, the Professor Layton games, and Momotaro Dentetsu, which I almost bought. But, I decided to save my money and give it a pass.
After Tsutaya, I walked around a lot, and finally ended up at the Sky Building, which looks like two buildings joined at the top by a circular observation deck. There were a whole bunch of Xmas festivities going on in the plaza, but I really wanted to go up to the top, so I bought a ticket (it was either 300 or 700 yen) and headed up in the elevator. At the top, there is a gift shop level, and then you take an escalator up to the next floor. The escalator actually goes out of one bulding and floats high above the ground, eventually reaching the other tower. I found myself in the observation lounge, which gives you a 360° view of Osaka. It was pretty cool because they were having a Konica-Minolta sponsored photo exhibit entitled “Japan through a Diplomat’s Eyes”, in which all the photos were from diplomats and their families, who were working in Japan. The photos were really good, but I wanted to get to the very top, so I found the stairs to the rooftop observation deck. It was really windy and damn cold up there! But, I was happy because there were some nice clouds, and the view of Osaka was great! I ended up taking a bunch of photos up there, and freezing my butt off, but I think it was worth it. And I could actually see where Mariko’s mom’s house was.
I went back down to the ground level and outside, then followed the crowd back to downtown. We all walked through a long underground tunnel and ended up back at Yodobashi Camera. I wandered around for maybe another hour before coming back to another record store, Tower Records. I watched and listened to the DJ’s from FM Osaka for a bit, then checked the restaurants nearby to see if Mariko and my favorite Indian restaurant was still there. Sure enough, Ashoka was still in business and looked to be doing quite well. I really wanted to eat there this trip, but we didn’t have time. Maybe next trip!
It was dark by this time, so I figured I should head back home, especially since it was Xmas eve! When I arrived back, the kids were already finished with dinner, which was a special pizza from Pizza Hut. This one had shrimp all around the crust, and then half of the toppings were seafood, and the other half bbq chicken and corn. It was delicious! We also had some really awesome Christmas Cake. Then, the kids got their reindeer food ready, and they put it outside the door, in a little bowl. The next morning, almost all of the reindeer food was gone!
Today there is not much to write about. I had caught a cold a couple days ago, and wasn’t feeling so great. Mariko, her mom and sister, and Bay actually went out to see a NewS concert. NewS is one of the popular boy bands here in Japan, and Mariko’s family is crazy about them. So they all went off to see them. Koa and I just hung out at home, then went for a walk for some food. We ended up at McDonald’s again for some chicken nuggets for Koa, and I had an ebi-filet sandwich (Shrimp). We sat next to an elderly man (in his 90’s), and he gave Koa a small package of chocolate cookies. It’s an Osaka thing that older people give treats to kids. Koa and Bay got some candy from another guy on the bus. Osaka is an interesting place, that’s for sure!
Today was a whirlwind tour of Kansai. In the morning, we had a quick breakfast at home. Mariko’s mom always prepares some food for us before she leaves for work, and today we had tamago-yaki (scrambled egg), sausage, gohan (white rice), and coffee/juice. Our only appointment for the day was meeting our good friend Kayo’s parents in Kobe for dinner that evening, so our day was open.
We decided to take advantage of our JR rail passes and hop on the Shinkansen for Nagoya to eat at an unagi (eel) restaurant that our friends had recommended. I thought it was so cool that we could travel so quickly to another city just for lunch. Plus, riding the shinkansen is pretty cool, no matter how many times I have done it. So, we took the train from our station to Shin-Osaka, which is where the shinkansen stop in Osaka. We found seats in the non-reserved car and the train quickly sped up to Kyoto and beyond. I think it took a little over an hour to reach Nagoya. We switched to a local train, then found the restaurant, Unagi Horaiken, which was up on one of the top floors of a building.
The line for the restaurant was huge! There must have been about thirty people ahead of us, and the restaurant had chairs lined up outside in the hallway. I had forgotten this fun aspect of Japan. It’s basically a line, but just sitting, and every minute or so, you have to get up and move over to the next chair as people are called to their tables. While the unagi restaurant had a huge line, the other restaurants up on that floor didn’t have many customers at all, even though it was about 12:30pm.
With the unagi lunch finished, we headed back to the shinkansen, and headed back to Shin-Osaka. Then we caught another train for Kobe, we we did a little shopping at the 100-yen store before meeting Mariko’s mom and Kayo’s parents for dinner. Kayo’s dad took us to an all-you-can-eat seafood restaurant called Fisherman’s Wharf (I think). We waited in line for a couple minutes, then were seated near the window, where we had a nice view of the harbor. The food here was great. They had a wide variety of food and dessert, plus coffee and soft drinks. Some of the foods were: roast beef, salmon, whitefish, paella, several pastas, mussels, steamed crab, shrimp, pizzas, and sushi. They also had cakes and a chocolate fountain. I at tons (yet again)! It was a fun dinner, and the kids had a good time too.
After dinner, Kayo’s parents drove us home in their car (they were so nice), and we ended another long day.
After exploring for a couple hours, we were pretty hungry, so we walked down the street to find a place to eat. We quickly found a kaiten-sushi place. Kaiten-sushi is a sushi restaurant where you sit at a counter, and plates of sushi move past you on a conveyor belt. You just grab the plates of sushi that you want, and after you are done with your meal, the wait staff counts up the number of plates and tallies up the bill. Bay loves sushi, and ate so much. I too ate a ton, and drank a bunch of green tea as well. I don’t know how many plates we ended up with, but it must have been around 20 or more.
Mariko’s dad said goodbye to us after lunch, and we headed back to the subway and headed for home. Along the way, I made Mariko stop at the McDonald’s so I could try the Mega Tamago Burger, which I see advertised every day. Mariko was unimpressed with the burger, but I thought it was pretty good! Especially with a nice Kirin. We relaxed the rest of the day, and ended it with a nice hot ofuro.