|Roasted cricket in sweet sauce||Grilled squid (top half, no tentacles)||Fresh seaweed sushi|
|Sweetened krill||Seared horse meat +||Natto ++|
|Candied grape (like candied apple)||Tomato candy (decent but too sticky)||Salmon roe sushi|
|Dried squid snack *||Wasabi candy||Raw crab sushi|
|Shrimp roe sushi||Cuttlefish tentacles sushi||Crab innards sushi|
|Nabe **||Welsh spring onion sushi||Flatfish fin|
|Blood clam sushi|
* The dried squid snack tastes similar to teriaki beef jerky but with a fishy taste and smell.
** Nabe is a specific kind of Japanese cooking pot in which a variety of dishes can be made, all referred to as nabe. I had three different recipes and liked them all.
+ The seared horse meat looked semi-raw, so it was probably safely cooked to rare, then served. It tasted like regular sirloin steak - good but not great.
++ Natto is fermented soybeans. It looks and smells worse than it sounds. The Japanese really like it. They usually eat it cold on rice. To me, it had a very strong edimame taste, the inner texture of lima beans, and the outer texture of raw okra slime. I did not find it as offensive as most Americans usually do but keep in mind that I only took a spoonful of it and I'm sure I would start hating it if I had to eat an entire meal of it.
Every time you enter a store, restaurant, or other place of service, at least one employee always bows and politely greets you. Often, multiple employees will do the same exact thing, either at the same time or one right after the other.
Not only do Japanese drive on the left side of the road instead of the right, but they even stand on the left side of the escalator so that people who are walking up the escalator can pass those who are standing. This seemed to be a universal rule that all Japanese generally knew and followed.
Umbrella lockers are provided outside many public buildings. Picture an open box filled with standing pipes each ending in a claw. You place your umbrella in the claw, lock it, and take the key with you. When you exit the building, you collect your umbrella. It is free to use.
Soft pornography is in easy reach of young kids. I was told that Japanese parents keep a good eye on their kids and train them what parts of the store they are not allowed to go look at. I will admit that I never saw kids looking at inappropriate items, but the easy access is still baffling to me.
Public loud speakers in Chris's neighborhood were available for public announcements. The beginning and ending of a flood alert was broadcast over the loud speakers. I also heard children's music played over the public loud speakers around 4:00 or 4:15 pm - I was told that it alerted young children to return home because dark was approaching. It got dark around 4:30 pm while we were there.
I can't get over the number of girls and women, especially those in their 20s and 30s, who wore short skirts, boots or high heels, and sometimes stockings to keep their legs warm. The "Japanese school girl" look occurs in normal everyday fashion. Most of the women over age 50 dress pretty much like they do here in the US. Working men in Japan dress in suits much more than in the US. Boys and men who are not dressed for school or work are dressed pretty much like in the US, except sometimes a little more colorfully.
Many Japanese of all ages like to hold up two fingers in a V shape (peace or victory sign) when getting their picture taken. While watching Japanese getting their picture taken at the cultural sights we visited, I saw toddlers, teens, adults, and elderly throwing up the two fingers for their pictures. Not everyone did it but it was common enough to draw our attention.
Japan is slightly more automated than the US. We saw a coffee vending machine that brews fresh hot coffee while you wait. A monitor on the face of the coffee vending machine shows views from cameras inside the machine so you can watch as your coffee is made, from the hot water mixing with the beans and passing through the filter to the robot arm that carefully applies the lid on your coffee cup.
ATM-like machines allow you to use cash or credit card to put travel credits on your train card. You then pass through the turnstyle-less gate, tapping your card on the pad to activate it. You ride to wherever you want to go and tap your card on the gate as you exit and the correct amount is automatically deducted. If you do not have enough money on your card, you buy extra credit at another machine near the exit.
There is no competition. Mimi had already returned to Austin when the rest of us went to The Lock Up in Tokyo. You enter through a short haunted house hallway complete with several scares. The hostess greets your party and handcuffs one of the party members. She then leads you through the restaurant to your table.
The entire restaurant is darkly lit (darker than you are currently picturing). The walls of the narrow passages look like rough hewn gray stone. Tables are located inside cells (small enclosed rooms) that are grouped into four or six packs. The cells themselves have walls of gray stone blocks, small high windows that are sealed by bars, and the cell opening has a bar door that the hostess/waitress/server always shut when leaving your cell. You feel like you are in a dark, sinister prison.
Your menu has a black and dark red molten background lined with lightning. The food and many of the drinks are advertised with excellent photographs so that there are no surprises. Many of the mixed drinks have a chemistry theme to them: a beaker of green liquid, a set of test tubes with various colored liquids, a glass with one liquid accompanied by a fat syringe containing another liquid, etc.
While you are eating your meal, the show then begins. The lights go out as the speaker system begins its story of the ghosts that haunt the prison and the fact that they sometimes get out and haunt the prisoners. Black lights turn on in the cells while strobelights flicker in the hallways. Rattling chains and screaming can be heard in the distance. Without warning, a big masked figure throws open your metal cell door, causing it to clang loudly. This scares most patrons. A tall imposing figure in a hockey mask gave Chris a good scare by reach through the window above his head and grabbing Chris's head from above. A shorter monster with a mask displaying a melting face entered our cell and stared at everyone at the table. We waited to see what would come next. He screamed out as he lunged for Chris, causing some of us to jump, he put his hands around Chris's throat, and pretending to strangle him. The creature then put Chris's neck into a hold with his right arm and started comically punching at Chris's face with his left hand (thought without contact). It was all very scary, amusing, and fun. The most shocking thing to me was that, unlike most places in the US, full physical contact between monsters and patrons was allowed and there was no warning that it might happen.
When preparing for the vacation, I viewed a bunch of videos on how to pronounce the most commonly used Japanese phrases. Some of the amatuer YouTube training videos were done by American girls and some of the critisism in the comments available for each video was that the girls were talking too much like anime characters (Japanese cartoons) and that Japanese do not actually talk like that. I call BS on that. I heard at least one Japanese person a day who sounded exactly like an anime character. In fact, one particular Japanese saleswomen sounded extreme, even for an anime character - her voice was so high pitched and expressive that it was hard to believe it was real.
Japanese television is quite a bit different than in the US. Their competition shows are more outrageous, they show more comedy than drama (at least on "basic" stations), and they utilize a lot of big multicolored lettering. Even the evening news utilizes larger, more colorful print that would seem cartoonish in the states.
Most of their commercials are only 15 seconds compared to commercials in the US that are 30 - 60 seconds. Commercials tend to have less information in them than US commercials. The scenes cut much faster and the "stories" are compressed. It feels like time speeds up when watching them.
We all went to a family bath house called a Yunessun. At this bath house, adults and kids, male and female, wore bathing suits and mixed together to enjoy the many baths that were available. A shallow warm pool was available to kids. Every so often, a little show for the kids invovled lightning flashes (flashing lights), dramatic music, and jet sprays randomly firing off to hit the kids with scattered showers.
The big attraction are the variety of hot baths that are available. You can soak in a collagen bath, a mineral bath, or a steam room for health benefits. Outside you can find the "flavored" baths that look and smell like their names imply. Our favorite was the coffee bath (chocolate was not available at the time) and the red wine bath was interesting. We were not impressed by the milk, coal, or green tea baths but it was fun to give them a try.
Also at the Yunessun was a special pool with fish. Garra Rufa, a type of small tropical fish, also nicknamed Chinchin Yu, nibble fish or simply doctor fish, are put in hot springs. As they can live and swim freely in at least 43-degree-hot waters, they are naturally used for the treatment of skin diseases in such spas. When placed in the spa, these fish can feed themselves on the dead cells of the human body, since they only consume such cells, leaving the healthy skin of the human body to grow. We stuck our feet in and were promptly tickled by fish "cleaning" our feet. It was quite an unusual, entertaining, and memorable feeling. The Japanese in the fish pool were jealous that us American folks were gathering more than our fair share of fish on our feet. Maybe our diet makes us tastier or something.
Keep in mind that we left on Nov 24 (US) and arrived on Nov 25 (Japan). On the way back to Texas, we jumped back a day, so we essentially arrived in the US on the same day that we left Japan, despite the 14 hour plane trip. Gotta love time zone math. *grin*
|Nov 25||Andy and Mimi arrived at 4 p.m. We were picked up by Chris and drove 3 hours to the house where we were staying, picking up some food along the way. Then we crashed in bed.|
|Nov 26||Hit the mall for fashion sight-seeing. Hit the grocery store for supplies.|
|Nov 27||Went to a Yunessun, a non-traditional family-oriented bath center to soak in hot water baths featuring multiple scents (coffee, milk, wine, coal), plants, and minerals.|
|Nov 28||Went to Harajuku, Tokyo to see fancy shopping district and alley street shops. Went to Shibuya, Tokyo to see Yoyogi Park.|
|Nov 29||A full day at Disney Tokyo.|
|Nov 30||Mimi left Japan for home. Chris and Andy went to the Imperial Palace Outer East Garden in Tokyo.|
|Dec 1||Went to Akihabara, Tokyo to see electronics district and then did some Japanese style karaoke (up to 6 hours in our own private room; free all-you-can-eat non-alcoholic soup, cotton candy, and drinks)|
|Dec 2||Went to Mt. Fuji to see it from a distance. Drove around Fujiyama to see waterfalls, owls and other birds, a flower garden, a medieval-style village, and an onsen (a traditional Japanese hot spring bath house).|
|Dec 3||Rain day. Stayed in to watch Chris's 3-D television, learn a Japanese card game, and teach spades.|
|Dec 4||Went to Kamakura to see some shrines and a music box museum.|
|Dec 5||Shopping; The Lock Up in Shabuya, Tokyo; and more karaoke.|
|Dec 6||Andy left Japan for home.|