Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category

2/3/10: Tokyo, Japan

…Ok – wow – a lot of naked people here. One, two, three, four – alright, too much counting. Am I staring too much? I hope they don’t see me staring, I’m sure that has to be really rude. But I’m not really staring, I’m just looking around and then sometimes my eyes just happen to fall on a naked person. I can’t help it, they’re everywhere! But I still shouldn’t stare. But I can’t help it, they’re everywhere! Well, maybe I should just keep my eyes closed – yeah, there’s a good idea! I’ll just get into a tub and relax and close my eyes. Let’s see, which tub should I get into – 17.6 degrees – what is that – 17.6 degrees divided by five is… um… three point something – oh there’s no time for this, I’ll just feel it with my foot – GEEZ THAT’S COLD! Ok, definitely not this one. Oooh, bubbles in the bath over there! That one looks much better… Ahhhhh, now this is the life – sitting in a jacuzzi with jets right at my feet and lower back. Oh no… the bubbles are gone… where did they go? Guess I’ll get out and try another bath – wait a second, where’s my towel? Oh, there it is. Why has everyone folded up their towels and put them on their heads? Maybe I should do that too! Hmmm, this doesn’t seem to be working, maybe my head is too round. Or maybe I don’t have the right folding technique. I think I’ll just carry the towel instead. I wonder if it’s too cold to go use the baths outside? Let’s see… Wow, it’s actually not that cold outside – OH MY GOD there’s steam coming off of my toes! I’m ON FIRE! … Oh look! They’ve got a TV by this bath! Cool! Oooooh, nice and hot too. I wonder what’s going on in the show… Ok – so I think she just professed her love to this guy while he was eating lunch with a bunch of his colleagues and now it’s really awkward because he has to reject her in front of all of his friends – and now – oh no, and now she’s crying! This is too sad, maybe I should go try the sauna. Yeah, that’s a good idea! Ok, I think that’s it over there through the door – better wait for someone to go in to make sure – oh, there’s someone headed over there now – come on, go in the door, go in the door – yes, she’s in! Ok, out of the bath – here we go – geez, that door’s hot! Hm – what is that big pot of white stuff over there? Oh, I see – you’re supposed to take a handful and rub it on your skin to exfoliate – cool! I better go get some too, who knows if I’ll ever get a chance ever again on the road to exfoliate. Hmmm – I think I may have gotten too much. Oh, yep, that other girl only has a little handful. Oh well! I’ll just do a really thorough exfoliating job. What is this stuff anyway? It looks like salt. I bet it is salt. Maybe I should taste it, that way I’ll know for sure. But maybe I better not taste it, what if it’s not salt and it tastes really gross? Or what if it’s poisonous? Pull yourself together Zhou, they’re not going to have poisonous substances at a Japanese bath! The worst that can happen is that it tastes bad. Ok, just a tiny lick on the finger, I’m sure that can’t hurt me. No one’s watching, right? I don’t want anyone to think I’m crazy. Ok, no one’s watching – yep, it’s salt! Man, it is getting really really hot in here. I wonder what time it is. Is there a clock? Oh, there it is – and it says 60. Wait a second. 60? That’s not a clock – it’s 60 DEGREES? That’s practically boiling! Geez, I better get out of here before I melt. Whew, that was a close one. Ooooh, now would be a good time to try the cold pool. Ok, you can do it, you can do it. Just start by putting one foot in. GEEZ THAT’S COLD! Ok, don’t be a wimp, just go in slow, ease yourself in – HOLY CRAP IT’S FREEZING! Just go slowly – that’s it – alright, come on, one more step, you can do it… Oh wait, the bubbles are back! See ya!

Picture of the Day: Me and my hero Hachiko.


Read Full Post »

Tokyo Toilets and Trash

2/2/10: Tokyo, Japan

An astute reader will have noticed that despite our professed love for Tokyo, we haven’t described one thing that we’ve done so far here. That’s not going to change today. What interests me most about this city isn’t the sights, but the culture and way of life. In fact when we come back to Japan some years down the road, I would recommend that we spend very little time in Tokyo and focus instead on the rest of country. However, if my boss ever told me you must pack up your family and bags and work abroad for a year in the city of your choice, Tokyo would be at the top of my list.

No Tomato Men? I could definitely stay here longer.

With that in mind, these past couple days I’ve been trying my best to act like a local. Some local customs are easy to pick up on. For instance, people don’t talk on cell phones on subway systems despite the service being great. It’s rude and the rules say not to. Also, the locals treat even a fast food cashier like their best friend. In order to blend in, I bowed to the amiable Yoshinoya employee several times while paying for our food, and then again two times from the street outside the restaurant. (This may sound like a joke, but it’s not. The seats on the train from the airport were so warm that I wasn’t sure if I peed my pants or not – now that’s a joke. Once I peed my pants, I immediately found out the difference.)

A couple customs have been much more difficult to get used to. First, playing slots. For those of you who know me, this may come as a big surprise as it may seem that I’ll bet on anything. And here in Tokyo they have Pachinko and slot rooms on just about every street corner. It’s Kevin Heaven! The only problem: the rooms are smokier than Joe Cool singing Tracks of My Tears in a wood-fire oven. You’re probably better off swimming laps in a vat of tobacco. I love gambling, but this one’s going to take some time.

Second, sleeping on the subway. After I wrote a post about people in Hong Kong being able to sleep all the way to their stop, we received hundreds of emails from adoring fans saying that this occurs in subway systems all over the world. Now that we’ve experienced the metro systems in many big cities, I must say I’m not nearly as impressed by the sleeping locals. Everyone seems to be able to do it… everyone but me that is. Until today.

Zhou was reading a book on a long ride and I was exhausted from getting up early to go to the Tsukiji fish market, so it seemed like a perfect time to test my sleeping abilities. I counted out the number of stops, estimated how long the ride would take and then immediately conked out. I groggily awoke some unknown time later, but my spirits brightened quickly as I saw that we were approaching our stop. I had done it! However, in my rash of excitement I noticed two large wet spots on my jacket and a very put off person sitting to my left. Yes, in my unconscious state I had drooled all over myself. This sleeping on the subway is still very much a work in progress.

Finally, using the high-tech Japanese toilets. Like all boys growing up, I dreamed of the day I would get to use the bedets here. Nothing in the world sounder cooler than a toilet that washes your butt for you. The Japanese never have to worry that they didn’t wipe well enough before going to a crowded movie or on a date. I wanted to be like that.

Yesterday my dreams of toilet utopia were, umm, flushed down the toilet. The shopping mall bedet I used was perhaps more uncomfortable than the elephant ride Zhou and I went on in Nepal. I ended up wiping more before and after using the bedet than I would have without it. This experience reminded me of the day I learned the truth about Santa or the day I found out Ashlee Simpson is the second coming of Milli Vanilli – I was crushed.

It might be more difficult to live like a local than I thought.

This guard at the Sensoji Temple seems to be saying, “You are not allowed in the city until you learn to enjoy the bedet.”

Two days ago I promised a trash report update. I’m dead serious, but after walking the city for three full days now I have found one piece of trash. A paper bag was tucked away under a bench we walked past. The even more amazing part? Rubbish bins are so hard to find! I held onto a McDonald’s Coke cup for nearly half an hour before finding a bin to drop it into. My theory on this apparent inconsistency: Tokyodels are so technologically advanced that they’ve invented boots that turn trash into small dogs. That would also offer a reason why so many women wear boots and skirts instead of pants in the cold weather. It would additionally account for the disproportionate number of puppies in this city.


Picture of the Day: You too can now afford to mount fish heads on the wall and pretend to take part in the classic McDonald’s “Give me back that Filet o’ Fish” song.

Read Full Post »

Arigato Gozaimasu

1/31/10 – 2/1/10: Tokyo, Japan

A lot of things are more complicated in Tokyo than they have been anywhere else. For instance, buying a one-way ticket on the JR or Metro in Tokyo is a really elaborate ritual for us. We walk toward the ticket machines and stand in front of the big map with all the lines and their routes and fares displayed on it. Then we just stare at it for a minute or two. And then we have a conversation that goes something like this:

K: Ok, we need to get to Nishi Kawaguchi.
Z: What line is it on?
K: On this little map it’s a gray line.
Z: But there’s no gray lines on the big map.
K: Well, the middle character is like the one for “three” in Chinese but sideways.
Z: Oh, I see one like that!
Kevin looks at where I’m pointing on the big map and then at our little foldout map to match up the characters.
K: No, that’s just plain Kawaguchi. We’re looking for Nishi Kawaguchi.
Z: Are you sure those are two different stations? Maybe Nishi just means station or stop or something?
K: No, they’re definitely two different stations.
Z: Oh, oh, wait, I found it! The dark blue line!

What makes this entire exercise even more confusing is that I actually recognize some of the characters in Chinese, but the Chinese words sound absolutely nothing like the way they sound in Japanese. Take the Oji station – I recognized the characters as meaning “prince” in Chinese. Except in Chinese it’s pronounced “wang zi,” which isn’t even close to oji! This whole crazy Japanese writing system blows my mind a little.

What also blows my mind a little is how people will constantly continue talking to us in Japanese even after we’ve made it clear that we don’t have any idea what they’re saying. I think in a similar situation, I would just stop trying to communicate verbally with someone who would only smile and bow in response to everything I say. “This comes in regular and a large size. Which do you want?” Response: smile and bow, smile and bow. But the Japanese – they are persistent. They just keep chatting away to us earnestly as if they really believe this will allow us to eventually understand them through some sort of osmosis. I think maybe they’re making this assumption based on the intelligence of Japanese kids (who can all speak perfect Japanese!), hoping that we American tourists must be at least as smart as the average Japanese 4-year-old. Bless their hearts.

Pictures of the Day: When in Japan, do like the Japanese – and solve weird Rubik’s cubes!

Read Full Post »

Tokyo is No Joke, Yo

1/30/10: Tokyo, Japan

A common theme in this blog is that of first impressions. Before I go on, I’m reminded of a quote on this topic from the late, great Confucius. “First impressions are just a mechanism to tie you over until second impressions.” Please keep these words of wisdom in mind as I now begin to gush about how great Tokyo is.

Tokyo is amazing! It’s hard to know where to start when every single thing about this city is perfect. From Vin Diesel’s cameo performance in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift to our past 12 hours exploring very little of this gigantic mass, I have yet to find a fault.

The first thing I noticed is everyone’s politeness. After our stint in Beijing, I was ready to shove as many old ladies as necessary to board the Tokyo subways. But right away I realized that’s not how things work here (this realization may or may not occurred after I threw one small child out of the path between me and the last empty seat). When the first crowded subway pulled up to the Nippori station, the mobs of awaiting entrants simply stood in place until the very last straggler got off. (There’s another difference between Beijing and Tokyo: people actually get off the subway here.) Then as if we were getting on Noah’s Ark, the new passengers slowly boarded two-by-two and politely took their seats. I even saw one younger male offer his seat to an older lady, who politely turned it down. The two strangers then bowed their heads back and forth several times and I can only assume they later shared a cup of tea and a plate of sushi.

After getting off the subway ourselves, I discovered that Tokyo residents (Tokyo…dels?) are not just polite and rule-abiding on subways, they’re polite and rule-abiding everywhere. Our hostel is a bit away from the main city, and some of the benefits of this include the rent being cheap and the traffic being lighter than in the city center. As we approached anintersection devoid of any automobile traffic, I noticed several locals standing at the street corner. They must be waiting for a bus, I thought. Nope. They were waiting because the “Don’t Walk” sign was illuminated. There wasn’t a car in sight in any direction and there were only two lanes to cross to get to the other side, but these people stood as motionless as an audience watching a Kathy Griffin stand-up act. Then the “Walk” sign flashed on and they all politely crossed the street. I can only assume they all later shared a cup of tea and a plate of sushi.

Part of me wants to see just how far these Tokyodels will go with their politeness. I’d be willing to bet that I could hang a 10,000 yen bill out of my back pocket and no one would ever consider taking it. In fact, I think within two minutes of walking down the street someone would tap me on the shoulder and let me know that money’s falling out of my pocket. And double or nothing says that I can write a sign (in Japanese of course) that says “Rob Me Please” and still no one would take the money. There’s a better chance that someone would would grab a McDonald’s napkin that I throw on the street than the bill in my back pocket. The Good Samaritan would simply throw the napkin in the nearest rubbish bin (no, not a trash can) to keep the streets clean. Along this topic, for the next four days I will keep track of how many pieces of trash I see on the ground anywhere in the city. So far: zero. Tokyo appears to be cleaner than Cameron’s dad’s Ferrari in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I’ll report back if this ends up being true. In the meantime I’m going to find some locals to share some tea and sushi with.

(Yes, I ended this post with a preposition. I’m sure the Japanese wouldn’t care.)

Puzzles for Postcards

I Wouldn’t Want to Battle These Guys Anagram

Traitors React… Or War!

Picture of the Day: There are cars on the subway that during rush hour are for women only. Can anyone tell me what the reason for this is?

Read Full Post »