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December 27, 2007

First Ramen of the Trip

There are few traditions in Japan that revolve around New Year, one of these it to do house repairs and yearly house tasks. For us this means changing all the batteries in the clocks, clean and repair all the light fixtures and what ever needs renewal. So, we needed to head off to one of the main stations to replace a gas hose for the cooking stove. There is a good ramen place up the hill in Minami-Senri, and they serve a good bowl of spicy tonkotsu ramen with really nice chashu (roasted pork). Chashu is an art form onto itself, I once sent a week on the side of El Capitan debating what the perfect Chashu should be with Nagaska (A member of the climbing team below us, Nagasaka and Takeshi were traveling from Japan to Yosemite. Because of the way we switched belays on the wall, I would end up hanging out with Nagasaka and Rex was hanging out with Takeshi, this went on for days, without us seeing the other). After days of debate on the topic we came to the following conclusion... The perfect chashu should have the perfect balance of fat and meat with a deep roast flavor well into the meat, then when added to the hot ramen it loosens up to the point that it falls apart in your mouth but not in your hashi (chopsticks) or in the ramen itself. When cold it should be think enough to stand on end. After ramen we headed back to Minami-senri for shopping to finish up the missing items for Osetchi. There I found the melons are cheap at the moment... only about $80....

December 26, 2007

The Land of Tanuki (Part 1)

You know you're headed off to a distant land when the final train in the journey is a single car, it's even better when it has a picture of the thing that represents the area that your headed off to.... TANUKI.... Ok, lets start form the beginning, a long time ago when Christen was still living in the valley she took it as her responsibility to make sure I had a correct understanding of Japanese culture despite Mikiko's objections. And it went something like;
  • Tan Tan Tanuki no kintama wa, Kaze mo nai no ni, Bura bura
  • (English) - Tan-tan-tanuki's testicles, there isn't any wind but still go swing swing
Welcome to Shigaraki, home of Tanuki-chon...
From the moment you get off the little single car train you know these people are all about Tanuki. In front of the train station they have a monster Santa-nuki.

Then, you as you start heading into town you realize this might be a little more serious than expected. it's actually a war and these tanuki are massing at the border, ready for battle.

Tanuki of every shape and size

Priests, Females to entertain the troops and even local baseball team members
The kilns where they are firing all the ceramics, this area is very well known for their work. Lots of the bowls you find in at the stores in Kyoto are actually made here, you can get great deals (like half the price) on the same style and makers.

The kilns are lined up on very steep hill so that when they fire the first one at the bottom it takes less fuel to fire the upper ones.

December 22, 2007

Freedom is an Apple Pie

I think we need to start a rebellion in America, we have become so politically correct that we have lost all our freedom, and in this case freedom come in the McDonald's deep fired Apple pie. Some time in the early eighties in California and then later accost the country we were robbed of the choice of baked vs fried Apple pies, and I'm betting there was some prude PC PTA group behind the loss.

December 21, 2007

Hot Springs in every house

Japanese style bath tubs (ofuro) are requirement in Japanese culture, but you have to take a shower and get clean before you can get in the tub. It's not about becoming clean, it's about soaking in very hot water and relaxing. In most households the tub is fulled and stays warn, then in order by household rank everyone takes a turn starting with guests, elders, father, kids then wife. Yes, if you stay late in at someone's house you might be invited to soak and relax and you might even get a few kids thrown in.

Ofuro is actually a personal hot spring (Onsen) that one can visit everyday, but most people in Japan visit onsen often, it's no shock when looking at advertisement pictures in almost all magazines, at the train stations and on the walls of the trains. Japan loves it's onsens, in the northern areas the monkeys will soak for hours in the natural hot springs in pools adjacent to humans. Onsen trips are popular destinations for company trips, school classes (you have never seen bedlam till the peaceful onsen your visiting gets overrun by hundreds of middle school girls), families and reunions of old friends.

A few thing to know about going to an onsen;
  Men and woman are split to different areas when bathing, there are a few that have mixed pools or even privet outdoor pools attached to a traditional tatami style room.
  Every one is naked, get over it, it's about relaxing and talking to people and enjoy the escape from the fast pace of modern life (hadaka no tsukiai).

My first experience was years ago on a family trip to Awagi Island, we stopped off at a small onsen. Shinta at 5 years old at the time was left to teach me the proper educate of this most honored ritual. At that point I had been reading about Japanese culture and understood the basics, you get there, put your stuff in a basket, wash yourself very well, then go over take a bowl of water from the hot spring and rinse, then slowly get in the 42'c water and quietly enjoy the peace and quite, then go to the next area and repeat, all very Zen. So, he got us locker put all of our stuff in it and grabbed key, quickly headed to the wash area, sat me on a small stool showed me the soap and how to use the water controls, then in an burst of energy he did the fastest wash job on the planet ( still not sure if the bar of soap touched his body) ran over grabbed a bowl of water and poured it over his head as he dove into the hot hot hot spring. I finished washing off and joined him in the spring where he was sitting, then just as I got settled Shinta jumped up and started to collect all the small stools and bowls and pile them up under water towards the middle of the pool. The just as I was almost relaxed, he ran over showed me the key to the locker and stated he was done. Thus ended my first trip to an onsen and a rather stressful Zen experience.

December 20, 2007

Back to Lilliputian Land

Another day starts with the alarm clock going off, and me heading off to LAX to jump on some airplane heading to a hotel in a far away land. The difference this time, Mikiko is not dropping me at the bus stop and leaving, we are dropped by my mom and headed home to Japan instead of a hotel, wow... home... For a first in my life I'm head off on this mysterious thing I've only heard others remark off-handedly about, vacation... After a nice ride down the 405 ("four or five" mph) freeway on the FlyAway bus we arrived at the North West terminal, a quick swipe of the passports the boarding passes print and we're off to the luggage scan.

As I watched our bags run though the x-ray with all the nifty stuff in my luggage glowing different colors, I only one thought comes to my mind.... New game concept... Who can arrange the items for best representation of a detailed picture, only using the items you would normally travel with ( Liquid shows up blue and red and metal being shades), as I alway have my laptop power supplies, USB cables, tooth paste and soap, I think I'll first go for a simple smiley or maple leaf...

Breakfast at the terminal's local unnamed dinerish waiting area, Mikiko and I migrated to the back table, a typical sight of laptops, food and drink, sending off the last minute emails, few reports, few IM's and it's just a normal morning at in transit.

North West business class rocks, the new seats are those funky looking SciFi pods that lay almost flat and have a complex set of buttons for complete control. Complete on demand entertainment system with over 30 movies, games and an interactive touch screen map system like google maps. The service and food were outstanding.

Wine and Snacks

Japanese Style Dinner w/ Calculate Cake Ala mode

Mixed Greens Salad, Halibut on Couscous with Garlic butter w/ Cheese and Crackers

Chicken and Shrimp with Asian Slaw / Egg pie Florentine

Then, fun with trains... A quick run though the heath station, immigration, baggage clam, customs and a though Narita airport to the Japan Rail (JR) office grab our three week rail passes and got seats on the next Narita Express. A new record has been laid down, 28 mins airplane to train transfer... A short transfer at Tokyo Station to the Hikari Shinkonsen ( Japanese Bullet Train ) with a quick tech handoff from Shimpei for our cellphones and my new datacard, and we're off to Osaka.

While wading though the sea of little Japanese businessmen at Tokyo station, Mikiko and I both started laughing, people in Japan are really short. Not that I'm at tall at 5' 8" with my little Japanese wife being 5' 10", the original reason she started traveling to the US in the first place was to find clothing that fit. Now in the states they have started a public service campaign that kids under 4' 6" should have child safety seats in cars. But in Japan they have a different style of transportation safety, train stuffing ( more to come on this subject later, and maybe even some video).

From Shin-Osaka station we jump a few local trains and we're home, a nice relaxing soak on the furro, and crash... thus ends the 24 hours of sitting marathon...