May 2009

Word of this movie has been spreading through the American ex-pat community so I watched the trailer. Some of the word has been disparaging, people knocking it for being schlocky, unrealistic, etc.

An American girl gets dumped by her boyfriend in Tokyo. She searches for a meaning in her life while struggling with the culture clash and decides to try her hand at making ramen. The grumpy chef who trains her reminds me of Pat Morita in the Karate Kid for some reason.

I figured I would at least give in a try, it looks watchable (and since when have Hollywood script writers cared at all about realism?).

I have a tendency to like movies other people trash.

Trailer is linked below:


The streets in Gion, while we were waiting for the tea ceremony to be set up. This particular area had been kept in cobblestone/brick with storefronts in olden style to give a more traditional feel.
Japan Misc

This little cat was so pretty. The neko was also terribly used to gaijin tourists with cameras. He did his best to ignore us and pretend we were not really there photographing him. ^_^
Japan Misc
My memory is lapsing and I am totally forgetting the story behind the boy getting his pants pulled down by the dog. Its an iconic image the way the Morton Salt girl is in America.
Japan Misc
One of the ubiquitous vending machines. I decided to be a little daring and try the iced coffee in the upper left. Yatashii, I believe, is the name. It was brewed right into the cup and then ice drops in. MMMMmmmmm so good!!
Narita Airport Bus Stop
At the Narita Airport, waiting for the bus to take us to our hotel in Tokyo. Sitting down and watching the kanji scroll by on the sign was when I had the first “How are you going to do this?” panic moment when realizing that I could not read the sign. Most of the signs in the airport had enough English on them so that you never got that feeling; however, the kanji scrolled by fast on this sign, fast enough that it induced a panic moment. Never had another moment, even though deciphering the subway ticket system gave me fits at times. (Ok, the second time I got a little panicky was at the Shinjuku Rail Station – the place is a maze)

Maid Cafe flyers

When I was geeking out in Akihabara on my Japan trip I made it a point to save some of the maid cafe flyers.
Maid Cafes are kinda like Hooters for geeks. Pretty girls (how pretty is all relative of course) wear maid uniforms while serving food and drinks to geeky otaku…
or so I am told anyway….
having a girlfriend got in the way … (grumble, grumble)
Maid Cafe flyers

Japan Day 5

On the evening after our bus tour of Kyoto we were trying to figure out where to go for dinner. I knew there was a ramen place down the street but my companion was not disposed towards eating noodles again after the curry soba in Shibuya so she pulled out the guidebook for Kyoto and browsed a bit.

“There are a whole bunch of restaurants over at the JR Station on the upper floors. Want to head over there?” The joy of discovering something wonderful by just being open to new things took over so I agreed readily.

Japan day 5
It turns out that the JR Station in Kyoto has a grand mall attached which rises several stories above the city and has a rooftop Garden. You ride the escalators up for several stories towards the openings and I could not wait to get to the top to take photos.
The ramen stadium was on the seventh floor with more restaurants above. My desire for gyoza dumplings and the girlfriend’s desire for something un-noodly led us to this little tiny little shop on the upper floor. I had a good ramen/gyoza combo and she had a tempura combo. The gyoza were wonderful with the two little steamed dumplings being among the best things I have ever tasted. In a rare lapse I forgot to get a picture of the meal.
Japan day 5
Our seats were along the window so I pulled out my camera an set it on the window ledge up against the glass to get this pic. The lights were beautiful.
Japan day 5

Japan day 5

Japan day 5
When we came out of the restaurant it was dark and I wanted to walk in the park at the top of mall/station. Unfortunately the long exposure times and my shaky hands kept a lot of the shots from coming out but it was one of the best experiences of a trip filled with them.

Kyoto JR Station
The station had a tribute to “God of Manga” Tezuka Osamu ongoing. Besides the posters there were sculptures of various characters gracing the tops of signs.

I get a few more seconds of my 15 minutes of fame checked off.

I was on Twitter the other night when @shibuya246 tweeted that he was playing golf in Chiba (a prefecture of Tokyo for the uninitiated). His pic included Mt. Fuji so I replied back that he was a lucky dog to be playing golf near Mt. Fuji. He took a screenshot of the replies so I got immortialized in a popular blog. Yippee!
Shibuya246’s coverage of the golf outing and speeding ticket afterward are funny to read.
BTW, Twitter is very fun! ^_^  
lots of good people to follow on that screenshot, too, hint, hint  ^_^

(photo credit to Shibuya246 of course)

When I was a kid growing up here in Ohio I remember my father many times talking about going to the Lawson Store one the way home from work or to pick up the Sunday paper. The stores all but disappeared after as series of corporate buyouts and mergers in the 70s and 80s.

In Japan Lawson is the number 2 convenience store chain behind only 7/11. I was pleasantly surprised to find one right across the street from our hotel. I made it a point to go over there every night to get snacks or pop. Fond memories of childhood combined with the customer centric Japanese service was wonderful.

Shibuya246 has a good write up with nice pics of his local Lawson store. (Which inspired this post)

Wiki has a good writeup (albeit brief) of the history of Lawson. (The above images are from there)

I was disappointed that the closest convenience store to our hotel in Kyoto was a Circle K. 

Japan Misc

When we arrived in Japan the procedure went like this; in addition to the customs and immigration forms all passengers were required to fill out on the airplane prior to landing there was an additional Questionaire with questions regarding health, i.e. Have you been to or come from a country with a known H1N1 outbreak? Do you have a fever? Are you coughing frequently? Do you have nasal discharge? etc. When the plane landed all passengers remained in their seats until the Health team could board and check everyone. First was a guy in full anti-germ suit with respirator and googles carrying an infared camera. He slowly panned it around checking everyone’s tempature. Then proceeded to the next section of the aircraft. More Health Ministry team members went up and down the aisles checking everyone’s questionaire and handing them a paper with quarantine info on one side? When we got off the stewardesses handed out the surgical masks (like I am awkwardly modeling above ^_^ had the thing on upside down). They told us we were “required” to wear the mask as we left the plane.
Upon moving to Customs and Immigration we had to show the paper we were given on the plane to prove we had been checked before we were allowed to proceed on. By this time I had dropped the mask to my chin so i could breathe clearly. Don’t ask me how the average Japanese wears those things for hours at a time.
These elaborate procedures were meant to stop Swine Flu from getting into the country but I couldn’t help but to think that someone carrying the flu would slip right by all this before it had any effect. Apparently thats what happened because H1N1 popped up in Osaka/Kobe and immediately spread. The confirmed count is up to 193 and rising.
Now the Japanes government is stopping the onboard plane checks to focus on internal prevention. Via JapanProbe:

“We need to shift the focus of our human resources from quarantine efforts to domestic countermeasures,” Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Yoichi Masuzoe said at a hastily arranged press conference Monday.

“That doesn’t mean there’s no point in trying to detect infected people at our airports, but we have limited human resources available,” he said Tuesday, adding he wants to divert some medical personnel involved in quarantine checks to efforts across the country to grapple with the new flu.

The checks of passengers on flights from Mexico, the United States and Canada–the countries that have been hit hardest by the new strain of the H1N1 virus–could end by the end of this week.

Well, that is good news, if a little late…

Japan Day 5

The Shosei-en Garden was just east of the Higashi Hongangi (Shinshu Otani-ha) Temple, North of the JR station. Without a doubt this was my favorite place of all that we saw in Japan. So beautiful and peaceful. I would have loved to have seen it during Hanami. We took a chance on the free day we had and decided to walk up to see it. So glad we did. The Garden is also known as the Kikjoku-tei or the Orange Grove for a large number of trees growing there.

The Shosie-en Gardens

The Gardens are built on the grounds of the former mansion of a Heinan era Prince. Prince Minamoto no Toru, who was the son of Emperor Saga (early ninth century).
The Shosie-en Gardens
In 1641 the Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu gave a large portion of land to the Higashi Honganji. The garden itself got its start in 1643 when the heir of the Honganji tradition commissioned the creation of a garden.
In 1858 and 1864 fires destroyed the grounds and structures. Starting in 1865 and continuing through the Meiji era the buildings and the stone wall and the pond were restored and rebuilt.
The Shosie-en Gardens

The Shosie-en Gardens
I don’t think I could ever say enough about how stunningly gorgeous this place is. It is an oasis of green and tranquil beauty dropped right in the heart of Kyoto only a few blocks from the train station.
The Shosie-en Gardens

The Shosie-en Gardens

The herons lived on the island in the middle of the back pond.
The Shosie-en Gardens
Maybe not cherry blossoms, but pretty enough.
Here is an edited video I put together utilizing the clips I shot that day:

We went to the 440 Club in Shimokitazawa to see the Sooners play. There was a three act show playing acoustic with the Sooners as the middle act. Finally got to see the Sooners play live … Wow very good. Wish I knew what the guy’s name who played in the last act, he was also very good. His name was in kanji and the pronuciation is beyond me.

I loved the Shimokitazawa area. It had such a bohemian feel, so vital, so familiar. I would love to live there. I recorded a video on a corner to best capture the feel of the area:
Japan Day 1

YAY!!! – 200th post

today we will share some lessons learned on the trip to Japan, hopefully make things easier for those contemplating trips of their own:
1.  Schedule some downtime after you first arrive – just time to relax and soak up the feeling of being in Japan. Just a stroll down the street will help you relax after a long overseas flight.
Japan - Day 1
2. Get your money changed to Japanese Yen ahead of time. It was so gratifying to pull out a bill and get a drink from a vending machine just after clearing Customs at the airport and waiting for a bus to the hotel and I was thirsty after 12+ hours in an airplane.
Japan Day1
3. Try to learn what you can about the subway and trains before you go. Many train signs are in English as well as Kanji but it is still mighty confusing. Tokyo has two seperate subway systems. Tokyo Metro and the Toei. Just looking at a map and figuring out the shortest route will not always work. Transferring between lines will raise fares considerably and potentially cause problems when adjusting fares/tickets.
Japan Day1
4. Take a tour. Half a day on a tour bus will give you some of the major sights like the Tokyo Tower and Asakusa Kannon Temple without worrying about transportation and traffic and fares. You can use the rest of your time for other things that you want to do with the big tourist sites out of the way.
Japan - Day 1
5. If you get stuck then ask someone for help. We had people help us several times in the train stations and elsewhere. People always did their best to help us even if the did not know enough English to answer us directly.
Japan is a wonderful place to visit and I encourage everyone to go at least once. It is worth every penny.

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