I’m skipping a day and writing about yesterday. Day before yesterday was less interesting than yesterday, so I may or may not get ’round to writing about it.

Yesterday we visited the city of Kurashiki, guided by Sid. Kurashiki is a city of about 350,000 people with a small section of well-preserved old architecture. Kurashiki was an important area of commerce during the Edo period and became so commercially powerful that it remained independent of feudal rule. We reached it from Kyoto by taking a shinkansen to Okayama and a local train on to Kurashiki. read more

Categorized as Japan 2008

This One’s For You, Ann

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Yup, I can’t resist Japan’s most famous oddly named beverage. I also spotted this ad on the front of a vending machine:

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I’m sure I could come up with a number of off-color comments involving an attractive young woman and a sweaty pocari, but I’ll leave that as an exercise to the reader.

That aside, I don’t have much to report about vending machines this time. I have only a few minor observations.

  • There are fewer non-caffeinated, carbonated beverages than last time. Last year it was easy to find either Sprite or ginger ale for Tracie; this year it’s been difficult. On the other hand, I’ve found two kinds of Canada Dry ginger ale in stores and machines: Dry and Extra. They’re both excellent, with less sugar than North American products. (Remember the good old days when they had the jingle “it’s not too sweet”? Now it has as much sugar in it as any other soft drink.) Dry seems to have very little sweetness at all, and Extra is darker in color and maybe richer in flavor.
  • There are fewer hot beverages in the machines. Last year there seemed to be a roughly equal offering of hot and cold; now I’d guess that only about 20% of the selection are hot. Rafael said this is probably because it’s later in the year, and they change the selections to suit the season. (They also switch the HVAC systems of all buildings from heat to AC on a designated day.) Handily, tea and coffee can be served either hot or cold. Sometimes you’ll find the same kind of tea and/or coffee offered both hot and cold in the same machine. I did find one machine that had hot cocoa served cold.
  • I haven’t made too many new discoveries this time. I did have an excellent “Pineapple Squash” which proved to be a rather flavorful pineapple soda. Right now I’m drinking what I think is cold oolong tea with honey, but I don’t know exactly what it is because the can is labeled entirely in Japanese.
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    Categorized as Japan 2008

    Whoops! Tourist Trap!

    Yesterday we took a shinkansen (bullet train) to the town of Himeji. Himeji is the home of the Himeji castle, a magnificent feudal-era castle. It’s the castle you often see in photos of Japan, and it appeared in both Kurasawa’s film Ran and the James Bond film You Only Live Twice. We had it in mind to visit the gardens near the castle, admire the building from the outside, maybe have lunch nearby. We knew that Tracie would probably not enter the castle because it’s full of steep flights of stairs, but that I might go on the tour. read more

    Categorized as Japan 2008

    Addendum: Public Restroom

    As a follow-up to my previous post, here are some photos that Tracie took in a restroom in the hotel. Here’s the control panel of the main appliance:

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    Of note here is the button for FLUSHING SOUND, with associated volume controls. You can press this button to make the toilet generate noises to mask the noises that you’re making. There is also the POWERFUL DEODORIZER button which you can press to mask the odors you’re making. Another unusual feature is the pushbutton flush control: read more

    Categorized as Japan 2008

    Follow-Up Report: Toilets

    I’m sure that everyone who read my entry on Japanese powered toilet seats in last year’s blog has been thinking “okay, all of these photos of gorgeous gardens and majestic temples are nice and all, but when is he going to tell us about the toilets?” We have arrived at that moment in this year’s blog.

    There isn’t a whole lot to report, though. Here’s a photo of the fixture in our hotel in Tokyo:

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    Not much new here, although I like the angled layout of the control labels which makes them easier to read from a seated position, and the subtle use of color on the BACK and FRONT buttons. The unit in our hotel in Kyoto is quite straightforward at first glance, but there are a couple of subtle enhancements: read more

    Categorized as Japan 2008

    Sightseeing in Kyoto

    On our first full day in Kyoto we hired our guide and friend Seiki Makino, who goes by Sid when associating with English-speakers. Sid an older gentleman, retired from a career with Panasonic. We enjoyed his company and expertise last year and were looking forward to seeing him again this year.

    The first place we visited, on his suggestion, was the Kyoto National Museum. He specifically wanted to show us the Kyosai exhibit, a special exhibit of paintings and scrolls by a Japanese artist. Sid said that the collection will not travel outside of Japan so it was an unusual opportunity for us to be able to see it. It also became clear that Sid wanted to show us this exhibit as part of his personal presentation of Japan and its culture to us, which was rather touching. Unfortunately (for the sake of this blog) photography was not permitted in the exhibit–not surprisingly for a museum exhibit of antique works. read more

    Categorized as Japan 2008

    Kamakura by Rickshaw

    Jumping back to a previous day: On our first day in Kamakura, we didn’t have any particular plans so Tracie suggested hiring one of the numerous rickshaw drivers to show us around the town a bit. This turned out to be a surprisingly pleasant venture, in part because of the gorgeous temple we visited but mostly because of the warm enthusiasm of the driver. He was in his early 20s, spoke fairly good English, and was very cheerful as he pulled our large American butts through town and up and down hills. His name was Kentaka but he asked that we address him as Ken, presumably because he’s discovered that the average English-speaking tourist is more able to remember Ken than Kentaka. Here are pictures of us and Ken, and Ken’s energetic “manager”: read more

    Categorized as Japan 2008

    Photos For Previous Entry

    Here are the photos that should have been in my entry about the first day in Tokyo that we spent with Rafael and Richard. Here’s the Tokyo International Forum building:

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    That’s Tracie and Rafael. Here’s Richard:

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    This is where we sat for lunch near the beach:

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    No, I have no idea what dogs have to do with coffee. Maybe the idea is that you stop here for coffee while walking your dog in the sun, and feed it a fish?

    Here we are getting ready for lunch. It was windy, as you can see. The wind blew away several pieces of nori (dried seaweed) before we could eat them. read more

    Categorized as Japan 2008

    Darn! No More Cucumber Pepsi

    Sad but true: there’s no more cucumber Pepsi to be had. Richard asked a friend in Tokyo about it and forwarded the sad news on to me:

    “He said that every summer Pepsi makes a one-off limited edition flavor. Last year’s was cucumber. He tried it – and said it was weird. At first you get a scent and initial taste of cucumber, which subsides into a melon flavor, along with the cola. I guess the melon taste makes sense, cause cucumbers are related. He didn’t say he drank more than one – so I guess it was more for the novelty.” read more

    Categorized as Japan 2008