Random Thoughts – Osaka and Japan

[NOTE: This is one of my first write-ups that didn’t publish.  I’m sorry I don’t have the original pictures for it as those are now archived on an external Hard Drive that’s not with me anymore.]
Change in trip tickets!
There’s nothing more worrisome than a change in plans while on travel.  But, Jeff at Air Brokers in San Francisco has been fantastic!  From the beginning, when we were trying to plan out our routes, to getting the e-tickets, adjusting the tickets, and recently, changing the flights out from Tokyo to Beijing – easy and resourceful with Jeff’s help!
He also cost-consciously let me know if there was another more cost-effective way to make changes if I was concerned about the bottom line!  Now, that’s a man after any travelers heart!
jeff@airbrokers.com, Air Brokers International, Inc., 685 Market St., Ste 400, San Francisco, CA 94105,  800/883-3273, 415/836-8718 x 231,  Fax: 415/276-3274
Victor Harbor AUS Lunch (4)     Coffee    
Have not been able to find ANY decaff in Japan so far… except at the NEX, and I forgot to buy it then.  Go figure…
Wifi in Japan
Rumor had it that MacDonalds was the best place to find wifi access, but alas, it’s rather slow, though present!
Also, Starbucks, my standby for wifi in the States, let me down greatly, as few of them have wifi access, or one has to be a customer of an existing internet service.
The Shinkansen trains between Tokyo and Osaka have wifi access, but only to those who purchased plans beforehand with about six internet carriers.  Docomo, SoftBank, Au, and some other providers offer their internet services.  Unknown cost.
Shoes and Shoe Stores
While walking around Namba shopping district (not a mall, not an open air shopping area, but a “district!”), Amy declared, “There’s a a shoe store almost every ten steps!”  And, it was true!  Japan has a Shoe Fetish.  The latest fashion are fuzzy topped boots, long boots, and everyone in fashion (or is short) wears HIGH heels!  The more stiletto the better.
Also, Chris prefers to walk around barefooted, but this is taboo in Japan, as one takes off one’s shoes on entering a home as a sign of respect.  But, if there are no shoes, it’s a bad indication of social level not to have shoes.  To walk into a home with dirty feet — well, heaven help that person … because the traditional Japanese would “not see” them.  They’d be ignored, like the drunks that rarely line the sidewalk, or the few beggars at train stations or side streets.
Japanese garbage truck   Garbage cans and Garbage pickup
For some strange reason, public places rarely have garbage cans.  In some train stations, one can find a recycling bin for glass, cans, plastics and a small bin for garbage (burnables).   Yet, despite the dearth of garbage cans, at least in Osaka, there’s no garbage or litter  in the streets!
At the apartment, the garbage schedule is quite convoluted.  Well, until one gets used to it.  Mondays are for plastic that cannot be recycled like film wraps, bottle caps, foam containers, mesh; Tuesdays and Fridays are burnable garbage, including hashi, paper boxes, food waste, cartons;  Thursdays are for plastic bottles, metal, cans and glass.  Wednesdays and weekends have no garbage collection, so we don’t wake up early to run our garbage downstairs when we forget the night before!  Oddly enough, there are no garbage cans.  We just dump the clear plastic bag of “gomi” at a common location – in front of our building at the base of a tree – and the little musical garbage trucks come by with 3-5 men with gloves who grab and toss the bags into the back of their truck.  Green trucks are recycling, pink are gomi, and I have no idea what the plastics truck looks like.
Japanese hair color auburn   Hair color
Yep, Japan is no longer black only and straight hair.  From the back, it is harder now to tell if the person is a gaijin or a Japanese native.  Hair cuts now include long curled wigs of the anime variety, to the short crew cuts, though tinged with purple or pink sometimes.  Gone are the days where the gaijins towered over the short black-haired Japanese in uniforms or suits.  Clothes have gone the way of the Western world as well.  The give away that someone is Japanese?  They still bow.
Skinny women
Scary – but attractive.  They aren’t walking skeletons, so that’s a relief.  They’re usually fashionably dressed – though WHOSE fashion is dictating them is up for debate.   Aren’t sure what it is these women are eating when they DO eat.  The number of women we’ve seen eat, … well, they “eat a lot actually,” says Amy.  So, where DO they put the calories?  I carry mine… Amy’s theory – they burn it off walking in the train stations!  I think probably on those stiletto heels make it a good workout!
The men
For  some reason, the non-standard man isn’t much to write about.  In an earlier posting, I wrote about an article about men’s place slipping and the women are gaining power.  Well, I also think the fashionistas are the ones dictating what’s happening, too, with the interactions between men and women in Japan.  Marketing is very effective, and sometimes scary because of how well it’s followed.  Lemmings come to mind …
Amy also thinks the men seem too feminine.  So does Chris.  The guys are skinny, too, it seems, but not as much as the women.
Nissin Cup o Noodles Nissen Cup o Noodles top Nissen Cup o Noodles pkg   Cup o’ Noodles Instant Ramen Museum
Ikeda-shi, Osaka-ku Japan
Off Hankyu-Takrazuka train line, Ikeda stop
55 minutes from Osakako
Rainy day field trip – but the kids were restless.  Free admission, Sunday visit, maybe the lines would be shorter.  Yes, and No.  We didn’t make reservations for the hands-on noodle making, and the next available date was Nov. 10, 2010.  Well, that wasn’t going to happen, so we toured the small museum.  A replica of Ando-san’s experimental shed greeted visitors, as well as hundreds of noodle products made by Nissin company lining the curved walls.  It was impressive – and all I could think of at the time was the salt content of all of them!
Along one side of the museum was the path of genius and history of experiments, even to developing noodles for space travel!  The other side where the walls were lined with the noodle containers was a line for designing one’s own Cup of Noodles.  It looked long, so I stood in it while the kids wandered around the exhibits.  Within an hour, we were handed empty Cup of Noodle cups, given a place to color with permanent markers, and some plastic bags to carry our finished products for later.
Designing and coloring took about 15 minutes for the kids, 30 minutes for me (but then, I was also doing Geoff’s cup!).  When the cup was finished, we stood in a short line to fill it up with noodles ala the “Upside down” thinking method invented by Ando-san (a Taiwanese – Japanese businessman), broth powder (4 choices), and 4 other ingredients of our choosing.  It was then lid sealed, shrink wrapped, and popped down a chute to land at the bottom of the counter line.  Now was the tricky part – putting the sealed cup into an inflatable bag that cushioned the cup all around, and tying a red string as a carrier!
I like the cushion so well, it’ll come in handy for shipping glass works, too!
Y300 for getting us out of the apartment, even on a rainy day, and making our own custom Cup of Noodles!  Priceless…
Library – Bentencho
Multi-language sections
Closed 9/28 – 10/4 for some reason
Dance club at Umeda / Yodoyobashi area
Swing dance
Met Adam, Anna, Dave, Akiko, Etsuko, and several others
Butch Read introduced us to the place.  Amy sprained her ankle and Chris carried her back to the apartment via train ride, and they discovered … they didn’t have the key!  So, Butch and I returned back to the apartment.  Luckily, the kids were resourceful, able to communicate with our next door neighbors, the Ishi-sans, and were able to stay at their apartment till we returned.   Their little baby is Soooo adorable!  He’s about 4-months old.  The next day we gave them a bowl I made and had signed, filled with Hershey’s Raspberry Bliss and Jolly Ranchers!  When we move out soon, they will also get our extra household items we won’t take with us.
Osaka vs Tokyo
Osaka, hands down.  Friendly people, both natives and ex-pats, clean, easy access, less crowded, industrious, well-sign posted for gaijins.  Lots of activities, just like elsewhere.  Where ELSE can one make one’s OWN Cup of Noodles recipe?
Lost in Translation:  Lemmings and the train stations
I explained about lemmings to Amy one day while flowing with the crowd from the Midosuji line to the Chuo line.  A couple of days later, she wanted to tell Chris about the “meerkats that jumped off cliffs!”

Japanese beetle   Pets of Japan
Small dogs, feral cats (owned ones have collars, lucky things), and bugs (preferably large ones).
TV Shows consist of …
Old time dramas of the shogon periods, samurai warriors, honor, secrets, traitors, love dramas, the usual.
Talk shows – about the latest scandals, gossips, celebrities, fashions, air-headed nonsense, and usually with 1-3 presenters and a panel of 5-7 people sitting, giving their comments on the “reports.”
Game shows – ridiculous, hilarious feats expected of guests, with the above mentioned panel making comments and staying very clean and hip while watching the guests make fools of themselves and getting pretty dirty.
Sports – Sumo!  Need I say more?  OK, there’s also “football” (AKA soccer), and baseball.  Currently not much else can be seen on TV in Japan.  Maybe we’re off season?
Food shows – cooking, like Rachel Ray, Emeril, Bobby Flay, sometimes complete with the requisite panel mentioned earlier.  EVERY dish tasted is “Oishi!”  NONE are terrible, and the taster NEVER makes a face of disgust.  As they taste, they make delicious sounding noises, and make the viewers and commentators hungry.
Commercials – they’re the best!
Japanese vending machines   Vending machines
Sell most anything!  The usual drink machines are ubiquitous, and range in price from Y95- Y150 for tea, coffee, water, juices.  Ice cream, sake, beer, cigarettes are sold outdoors along with the drink machines.  No carding for the cigs or alcoholic beverages — no one buys who isn’t supposed to, I guess.  It’s that honorable.  I guess that’s also why I feel safe walking around no matter what time of night it is, and where I am in Japan!
Work ethic and “Irrashiamase!”
“Welcome!” is shouted to every customer who enters a shop (not a depaatoo – department store, however – too big and noisy).  The first time that happened to us, Mark and I left the store as we thought they were telling us to go away that the store was closed.  Then we saw other people enter and get shouted at, but they stayed inside, so we dared to return and actually shop around.
Customer service is amazing – EVERYONE’s role is to help.  Period.  Only a few times have we met a roadblock where someone doesn’t go the extra mile.  Many times we’ve asked for something simple, and have been given MORE than what we asked – an anticipated next question, or additional answer we might not have thought of asking!  EVERYONE bows, too, and is extremely polite to a customer!  They may not look one directly in the eyes, but the respect is there, as well as the manners.  I LOVE it!
Kanji Longevity Japanese centarians-studied-to-find-the-secret-of-longevity_1 Japanese-mens-longevity-300x203  Health
I am curious to learn how well the life span is now for Japanese people (previously was 77-years-old average) now that so many   smoke (chain smokers live next door to us – and it’s hard to keep the door open for fresh air, as there isn’t any!), and drink most nights of the week, plus work from dawn to late after sunset!  Trains are still crowded even at 8-10 pm on a weekday!  I spoke to a visiting engineer from Georgia, Adam, and he said that he has so limited free time, as he works along with the same Japanese hours.
On the other hand, the emphasis on sports, going to health clubs, healthy foods and drinks seem counter to the majority’s practice (assuming the majority work for large companies and are expected to work the 50-60 hour weeks at least, not including the bonding after work).  The majority of the younger generation, under 30-year-olds, seem to break free from the confines of working the salaried track, dress less traditionally, actually pushing limits of decency while bucking the system, but seem to still “party hearty,” too.  They also smoke a lot.
Building maintenance
Observation:  The front entrance is the first and most important impression.  The rest is ignored.   The interior’s maintenance is dependent on the personality of the owner.
I have seen many building fronts that are immaculate, clean, well-cared for.  And then rounding the corner, the sides show rust drip lines, cracks, spackling, rusting pipes, drooping wires, water marks, partial or peeling paint.  The same with the back side of the building.  Gardens are weedy, or overgrown, steps are cracking, dry rot in wood, roof tiles broken, trash stacked up, and / or gutters leaking.
It’s a dichotomous state – to be so organized and clean, and yet, be next to a chaotic state.
Humidity and mosquitos
There IS a correlation between humidity and the biting bugs!  The more humid and warm, the greater chance of getting bitten.  Lots of standing water in the Japanese streets (benjo ditches, drainage system – AKA curbside drains), as well as buckets (for fires), bad drainage angles of roads, sidewalks, curbs.  We used 30% or higher DEET sprays and lotions – quite effective.  Midori Niiyama also introduced us to a bug bite numbing liquid, too.  Cost Y500 for a tiny bottle.  Sort of like what we have in the States – After Bite?
Fujitsu Escalator and Elevator Company
Between Kyoto and Nagoya along the Shinkansen route to Tokyo, one can see a very tall square silo of a building that looks like a fire training center on steroids, topped with an open circle at the top – though it doesn’t house a clock as I would have expected.  This is the Fujitsu Escalator and Elevator building, where one can see for miles around because everywhere else are flat plains of rice paddies.  I wasn’t expecting to see anything, and didn’t get a picture, it went by so fast.
Sanyo Arc   Sanyo Arc
Same route as above, there’s also the Sanyo Arc Structure – maybe it’s a building, too, but it’s black, glass panes, and a HUGE low arch surrounded by rice paddies, too, and a few low buildings.  Will have to have camera ready on trip up to Tokyo next!
 Japanese love hotel Japanese Queen-Elizabeth-love-hotel Japanese capsule-hotelWorld’s Oldest Hotel Hoshi Ryokan, Japan Ryokan ofuro   Love Hotels, Cubby holes (Capsules), Ryokans

The name of the love hotel is highly suggestive, imaginative, or totally fantasy!  The rooms also carry rather imaginative themes and names.  Here are a few:  B Flat, Sakura, Love Boat, White Palace, Eyes, Hot Spot, Hotel Aroma, Hotel Pal for examples.  They sometimes seem benign, but what’s inside is apparently what counts.  Some have come up on the budget lodging radar, though the name “love hotel” may seem more than Western visitors think they are looking for… search for lodging in NYC comes to mind, and we found a place that charged by the hour.  The Japanese love hotel is mainly a place for privacy in a country where seclusion is a premium, and intimacy is difficult at best.  Married couples also utilize the love hotels, so it’s not just for illicit meetings!

There are also “economy” types of lodgings called, “capsule” hotels.  It’s like a large toilet paper tube of a bed, where your possessions can be stored in a locker outside your tube, and you crawl inside and sleep.  It’s like a sleeper bunk on a train, but less room.  Olivier, the fellow from Nagai Hostel looked them up for his trip to Fukuoka, and decided to avoid them.  They looked too much like coffins.  Being an architect, I’m sure he didn’t like the use of the space.

For an old fashioned Japanese Inn sort of stay, a “ryokan” – like a bed and breakfast inn – offers a tatami room, futons with thick comforters, a time to “ofuro” (hot soak in the tub), and yukata robes.  The more traditional ryokans are built like old farmhouses, thatched roof, wooden floors, verandas, tea garden, and old time Japanese touches.  The cost of staying at a ryokan is less than a modern hotel.  A stay at a ryokan ought to be taken leisurely – like a tea cermony, and enjoy being relaxed.

Most lodging places charge per person, even if staying in the same room.  Annoying, but economically sound.
On the way to Nagoya (incidentally, known for its Fertility Festival in March), I saw the Hotel Day by Day – which seems to suggest that the man’s in trouble … substitute doghouse?

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