Thoughts I wrote down

Squat Toilets

It may burn your thighs, but that’s better than burning when you pee.
2005
Nov
29

Squat toilets, more commonly known as “Japanese style” toilets in Japan, are the ones that pretty much resemble a hole in the ground with some added plumbing. No, these toilet are not the most comfortable to use, but in terms of cleanliness, assuming you manage to keep from pooping on your pants, the Japanese style toilet cannot be beat. You don’t touch anything with your bare skin that someone else has touched, assuming like me, you push the flush lever with your foot. Sure, these toilets don’t work for the American standard of relaxing on the crapper for a half hour as you read the Sunday Times, but I am not advocating these things for use in American homes, only in public locations where many people use the same toilet. But I definitely do not advocate their use on trains, airplanes, buses or anything else that moves. That is a disaster waiting to happen.

Japan Recap

Some good stuff and some bad stuff – I’m glad to be home.
2005
Nov
29

I’ve been back from Japan for a couple days now, and I haven’t had a good restful sleep yet, so I am clearly jet lagged. I don’t miss Japan; I’m quite happy to be back in the comfort of my own home, not taking trains or deciphering photos of food. But there are some things from Japan I would not mind keeping. Most of them relate to how civilized a culture the Japanese have. And there are some things that the Japanese can totally keep for themselves, most of which relate to some odd rigid formality of their culture.

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Food Frustrations

Sometimes it’s just hard to find a good meal.
2005
Nov
24

I’m frustrated at Japan. This whole trip has seemed like a total waste. I had this grand impossible vision of my vacation being just like A Cook’s Tour, eating crazy new meals that were all just fantastic. I haven’t had a good meal in two days, and it is really starting to bother me. The worst part about it is that I’m sure I could make things somewhat easier on myself if I just had the balls. I could just waltz right into some joint that in no way caters to foreigners and ask for “chef’s special.” Or take the guidebook along and show the waiter Kanji words of food I might want. But what if I walk into a tempura joint and ask for yakitori. Then I look like a dumb ass American and bring even more disdain than I would have received walking into a place I didn’t belong. See, for all the talk of Japan being welcoming to people and the wait staff at restaurants expecting us to be awkward and ignorant, I get this strong sense every time I wander down a dimly lit alley that I know is lined with tiny restaurants that I don’t belong there and am not welcome at all. And that is part of what is so frustrating to me right now. I just want to have a good meal.

A Temple Visit

Buddhists bring vegetarian fare to a new level.
2005
Nov
22

Sliced gelatin I am definitely getting the hang of things being in a foreign land, but I am so happy that Jen is here to experience it all with me. The worst part of being alone was that I could not share the new things with her. I was unable to fully appreciate what I was experiencing without her to share it with. We are now in a temple in the mountain town of Koya-san. The monks open their temples to visitors, prepare two meals and include them in prayers in the morning. We just finished our enormous vegetarian meal with all sorts of strange tofu-based foods. Jen didn’t eat all that much because she didn’t like the mushy consistency of the tofu, but I had a ball trying all the new things. The dessert was a thick gelatin flavored of orange. It did not melt in your mouth the way Jell-o does, and you could cut it with a knife. I had fun playing with it as I ate.

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The Country at a Glance

Train travel makes all countryside look the same.
2005
Nov
21

It seems that travelling across a country by train could just as easily be here or there. The scenery mostly looks the same. On my journey from Tokyo to Osaka the towns looked different from towns between cities in France in two ways: the signs were in a different alphabet, and the rooftop shingles were distinctively Asian. If you didn’t have a keen eye for shingling, you may not even be able to tell the difference.

Osaka On My Mind

Thirst for the English language quenched in Osaka.
2005
Nov
20

Bullet train I arrived in Osaka by shinkansen, the famous Japanese bullet train, which I suppose was quite fast. I got frustrated quickly trying to navigate yet another station (Shin-Osaka) and realizing that I needed to take a subway to get to the hotel. There seemed to be even fewer English signs than in Tokyo. I stopped at the tourist help desk for help, but I still needed to ask a couple more people for help doing things like purchasing subway tickets. I suppose I should feel proud of myself for having done as much as I have in such a foreign land, but instead I am just frustrated.

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Bad Hair Day, Good Food Day

Pork for lunch and raw egg for dinner. Does it get any better?
2005
Nov
19

Tonkatsu meal Today was a good food day. I went to a recommended tonkatsu place for lunch (Katsukura), on the 14th floor of a department store. They give you toasted sesame seeds in a mortar to crush up and mix with their special sauce. Barley in their rice added a nice texture, and their smoked tea had great undertones. This was probably the only pork dish I would like, though it was definitely fattier than I would have hoped for. Still it tasted good. I ordered the “extra special” cutlet, which was from some name brand pig. I wonder what the usual pig tastes like. This was another place that give you tons of food: cabbage, pickles (yum!), rice and soup accompany the pork. They offered free refills of the side dishes, but I had a hard enough time just finishing what I was served.

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A Day’s Recap

Chores and food mainly.
2005
Nov
18

I managed to get some things done this afternoon that needed doing. I bought stamps for a family friend, made hotel reservations in Nara and Kyoto, and got a train ticket to Osaka. For a city that is really hard to navigate, the officials make it especially difficult to find the tourist information centers. The two I went to today were on the 10th and 8th floors of the office buildings. That is certainly not what a tourist would expect, and I was asked to fill out a questionnaire saying so at the 10th floor office.

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Sashimi Breakfast

Eat it while it’s fresh.
2005
Nov
18

My sashimi breakfast I managed to find my way to Tsukiji market this morning. And I sort of got suckered into eating at a restaurant. The owner came out when he saw me peek in to tell me what was on the menu. I think he really just wanted to practice his English, since he wrote down a bunch of Japanese phrases for me and explained them all to me. He was very nice though, and his fish was quite good. I had a tuna sashimi plate with tea, miso soup and rice. It was a big mound of raw tuna with a few pieces of seared tuna on the side. The raw stuff still tasted like the sea. This was my breakfast, but hey, when the fish comes in fresh at 7am, there is nothing wrong with eating it raw at 9am.

Isolation in a Busy World

Tokyo may have 12 million residents, but I feel all alone.
2005
Nov
18

I am sitting in the park surrounding the Imperial Palace, feeling more alone than I ever have in my life. There is something about this town that just makes me feel totally isolated. Not speaking the language, I wander down streets as life happens regardless of me. It is a very humbling and intimidating feeling.