Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category

Two Words: Monkey Park

Saturday, September 9th, 2006

This photo caught our monkey friend with his mouth open, since he was yelling something about expecting a really big banana for having to pose with these two idiots.

Now, anyone who knows me is certainly aware of my affinity for all things simian. Everything is better when you add monkeys, right? So imagine my surprise and delight when, upon exiting the train at Arashiyama station just outside Kyoto, I spot a large, colorful advertisement for the “Arashiyama Monkey Park”, adorned with cartoon drawings of various cherubic monkeys obviously enjoying themselves and beckoning me to join them. The ensuing conversation with my wife went something like this:

“Where should we go for lunch? How about that zaru-soba place?”

“Monkey park.”

“We’ll see that if we have time after the other stuff. Should we go to the shrine first?”

“Monkey park.”

[Various threats and admonishments in Japanese]


Hai, hai.

“Monkey park!”


Two machiya in Kyoto

Thursday, September 7th, 2006
Nunoya garden

Most machiya, including that housing the Nunoya ryokan, include a nice enclosed garden.

Finally managing to get out of Saijo for a few days of travel before returning stateside, we spent a few days in the old Japanese capital of Kyoto. We split our stay between a fairly expensive (for our budget) traditional ryokan, and a very inexpensive (by Japan standards) guest house. I’d expected a pretty wide gap in terms of quality of service and accommodations between the two, so I was very pleasantly surprised when the latter very nearly matched the former in terms of overall quality of experience.


Noodles and beer

Sunday, August 13th, 2006
I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to get this one up on

Yesterday was the beginning of the O-bon holiday in Japan, during which most people go home to the countryside to visit their families and pray to their ancestors. That being the case, the population of Saijo has now doubled or tripled, and I enjoy grumbling about all the “damn foreigners” with their fancy out-of-state license plates overrunning the highways.


Willie Winkie

Thursday, August 10th, 2006
Willie Winkie
In honor of the Willie Winkie bakery’s answering my “needs” with good combustible sandwiches, I have adopted their name as my new euphemism for the male genitalia.

There’s definitely been a change in the retail environment here in Saijo since my last visit two winters ago. Just like in the U.S., the big stores are moving in and pushing out the Main Street shops. So far I’ve counted at least three new supermarkets and four or five new giant drugstores, most of which are part of a chain called “Mac” (coincidence?). That basically increases the city’s allocation of each by more than double.


Hoppy McBathtime

Monday, August 7th, 2006
Keitai Coke
This Coke machine takes payment via infrared transmission, cellular phone screen reader, or cellphone IC (prepaid?) card. This is in a city with no wi-fi access points.

Internet access has turned out to be another technical challenge out here in the countryside. I’d hoped to find a café or library with wireless access available, but even after inquiring at city hall we came up with nothing—the closest option is a MacDonald’s in a neighboring city, which is about a $10 train ride away. Actually, it turns out that I’m not even allowed to bring my laptop into the local library for some reason. The best we’ve been able to manage is an AOL Japan dialup account, which is free for the first month (which is as long as I need it anyway) but due to the high cost of landline phone calls here ends up costing a couple dollars an hour. Needless to say I will not be downloading American TV programs or playing any online games on this arrangement.


Bathing via bicycle

Saturday, August 5th, 2006
Japanese gardens are known for their fine stone sculptures, such as this stunning rendition of Ultraman taking a dump.

Despite my best efforts to take advantage of staying in downtown Osaka that first night, I wasn’t ultimately able to make it much past 9:00 before turning in. I was up early the next morning though, during which time I was able to take a quiet walk through the neighborhood before the oppressive heat and crowds set in. The bus ride from Osaka to Saijo City took about five and a half hours and would almost have been pleasant had it not been for two kindergarten-age sisters sharing a seat next to their entirely oblivious and/or incompetent mother, shrieking and singing and fighting and babbling for the whole trip.

Saijo is located in Ehime Prefecture, on the island of Shikoku, itself off the southern coast of the main island. There are a lot of rice fields and waterways here, owing to the plentiful natural springs that provide cool, clear water even in the heat of summer. The water is so good that Asahi Beer has a major plant here, and decorative fountains adorn the downtown sidewalks, from which people fill up jugs to use at home.


Next time, I’ll take the bus

Thursday, August 3rd, 2006
Mt. Fuji, I think
Mt. Fuji as seen from the plane. I think.

I’m pretty sure it was Mt. Fuji that I saw poking through the clouds shortly after our plane came within sight of land after our trans-Pacific crossing. Unfortunately I had nobody to point it out to at the time, since my wife had come to Japan about a month earlier due to a family health emergency, leaving me to make the trip on my own. As much as I enjoy traveling alone from time to time, there’s something sad about seeing something so majestic but not having anyone to share it with.

Rather than embarking on the 14-hour marathon of taking the all-night ferry to Nana’s home island directly from the airport, I opted to spend a night in Osaka. It’s been a few years since I’ve spent any amount of time in Japan by myself, and I was looking forward to poking around the downtown Umeda district that evening. Upon clearing customs and immigration at Kansai International (remarkably quickly compared to what I’m used to at Tokyo’s Narita airport) I headed for the airport’s JR train station.