Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Sashimi is raw fish that you dip in soy sauce with wasabi before you eat it. That's right, it's very similar to sushi, I usually think of sashimi as sushi without the vinegared rice and mayonnaise (yeah for some reason the Japanese love mayonnaise on their sushi). The vinegared rice and mayonnaise are the reasons I don't like sushi, but I do love sashimi, especially salmon sashimi ;).
Monday, November 26, 2007
We saw too many shops during our shopping spree this weekend, but I always enjoy looking at the interesting food displays in the basements of fancy department stores (where all food merchants are gathered) the most. Real Japanese food is entertaining to look at but fake plastic Japanese food can keep me occupied for quite a while too. Sometimes the plastic food even looks better than the real thing. They have plastic food displays in the windows of most restaurants showing of their menus, which is great for us people who get a headache looking at Japanese menu cards. I can’t even count the times I’ve dragged a waitress out of a restaurant to point at the plastic version of the food I desire to eat. Now that the New Year’s holidays are coming up people can start ordering their osechi (traditional food for the occasion), and they can take their pick from hundreds of colorful boxes with beautiful plastic food like these:
Belgian waffles are popular in Japan too, and who can think of a better way to promote their food than using the famous little statue boy from Belgium who has been pissing away in an alley in Brussels for years? What a fantastic association! That’s probably why these waffles taste a bit funny. But it’s always great to see something European now and then, even if it’s Belgian.
Walking past Nagoya station we noticed herds of people waiting (camera in hand) for something in front of Nagoya station. Curious as we are, we move up the stairs to find out what’s going on. Right at that moment the whole station lights up with beautiful Christmas lights everywhere, hiding in trees, in flowers, in bears and on part of the skyscraping twin towers of the station. People don’t really celebrate Christmas in Japan (I mean it’s not even a day off!) but I’ve found more than enough Christmas lights all over Japan so far (even in Inuyama) to keep my Christmas spirit going until I get home to celebrate with my family.
Once the fans finally got into that special area behind the curtains they were allowed to look at their idols through the window for a couple of minutes, while screaming, jumping up and down and frantically waving at the band for as long as they could muster. I wonder if the band kind of felt like the koalas we saw in Awaji?
Friday, November 23, 2007
Even though I live in Japan, that doesn't mean I don't keep in frequent contact with the homebase, of course I do. These days, we're very lucky that we have Internet at our disposal and we thankfully use that to keep in touch. My sweet mother has a day off on Thursdays so we use that day to talk to elaborately talk to eachother on the calling function of MSN (Skype doesn't seem to work for us). Unfortunately, she was a bit busy yesterday so my brother and stepfather took over the reins and entertained me instead. And this is what they look like when they're doing that:
But of course we had to head down some time and at the bottom of the tower there were some funny mirrors to provide us tourists with some more entertainment. It worked :).
After all that excitement we took a quick picture with this lovely Kyoto Tower mascotte, who was very shocked by the flash.
Kyoto station, across the street, is very entertaining on its own too. This 15-story place is laden with long escalators, leading you higher and higher into the outside air. You wouldn’t think much of the station when you’re outside of it, but once you start riding the never-ending number of escalators your opinion quickly changes. I know this picture doesn’t really capture the magic of the station, but be sure to pay it a visit when you’re in Kyoto.
Apparently it’s Japan’s second largest train station building, with Nagoya’s train station building being number 1. That quite surprised me actually, I thought Tokyo would have to house Japan’s largest train station. Anyway a week later we found ourselves observing the largest train station building in Japan and the world (!) from the 'Sky Promenade' on top of the new 247 meter Midland Square building in Nagoya. We went there on a whim so we didn't have a camera with us, except our cellphones of course and this is the best picture I could take of the train station's twin towers.
Walking the Sky Promenade is quite an experience! It starts with the elevator ride up... the elevators are on the outside of the building and they're made of glass! Didn't realize it until it was too late! Extremely scary but extremely beautiful too! The promenade itself is partially open to the elements so that you can enjoy the sounds, smells and sensations of being that high in Nagoya. Also the glass walls reach until under the walkway, which gives you that 'wonderful' feeling of walking on nothing at about 240 meters up in the air... great! Yes, I was scared but also awed by the beautiful view of Nagoya by night.
The name translates into golden building temple, which makes sense when you see the temple. The top two stories are covered with pure gold leaf. There is also a Ginkakuji (silver building temple) temple in Kyoto, which was inspired by this golden temple and supposed to be covered in silver but they never got around to it.
Other things Japanese people like to do in their sparse free time: enjoy nature … Not really my thing either. Especially not since that activity is always paired with meeting many of Japanese most scary inhabitants: the terrifyingly huge (not exaggerating) bugs. This city girl really needs to get back to big city life… someday hopefully.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
The island we could see from our hotel was Tokushima and the Onaruto bridge connects Awaji to that island. The Onaruto bridge crosses the Naruto strait, which is one of the connections between the Pacific Ocean and the Inland Sea (in between Honshu island and Shikoku island). In the picture of the Onaruto bridge taken from Tokushima, you can see a big white building (if you look closely) in between the Awaji mountains. That was our hotel.
The tide moves large amounts of water into the
The whirlpools can be observed from ships, or from the Onaruto bridge spanning the strait, which is what we tried. There is some kind of observation walkway built under the suspension bridge, starting on the Tokushima side of the bridge and stretches until about halfway the bridge. So you’re walking under the hundreds of cars speeding across the bridge above you, and about 45 meters above the high-speed current of the Naruto strait. You wonder how we were supposed to enjoy the view of the whirlpools? Well they put observation windows in the floor everywhere… which to me seemed more like dangerous holes in the floor of a shaky bridge.
I have an extreme fear of heights and anything that doesn’t seem sturdy, so it was quite a challenge for Yasu to get me to walk across one of those holes in the floor. I know it doesn’t look like much in the picture, but in real life it is and looks really high, I mean we were 45 meters above sea level, a violent sea I might add. So Yasu was the first to try casually walking over one of those holes. He didn’t feel as casual as he tried to convince himself, but he did it pretty quickly, and soon actually felt comfortable sitting on air. Me on the other hand still chose to walk in big circles around those awful holes.
It took him a long time to convince me to step on one of the glasses covering the scary holes, but eventually I ventured on one with fear running through all of the veins of my body. Of course, I survived my little trip across the glass!
In the end I was still very nervous about standing, sitting, or walking on one of those observation windows, but it was also fascinating to see the sea from that view and I will try about anything for a good picture.
Unfortunately, we didn’t actually see any whirlpools because apparently they were pretty mild that day and too far away from the observation walkway. It was disappointing at first, but all the holes-in-the-floor-fun really made up for that!
Thursday, November 15, 2007
They’ve kept the movie set intact ever since filming the movie 2 years ago and temporarily opened it up to the public, as they are tearing the whole place down in a couple of months. They have pictures of the movie everywhere, so you can see the set in use, which was very interesting. I might have to spend some in the future actually watching the entire movie and recognizing all the buildings we’ve been in and around. And why not, it is supposed to be a feel good movie anyway.
Matsue, the guy that ran the Japanese prison camp in Tokushima, had been imprisoned himself and was intend on treating the German prisoners of war with dignity and respect. To make a long story short, these Germans prisoners had a good time in the camp and had a lot ways to spend their time enjoyably. The prisoners we’re running a bar, a bakery, a printer publishing newspapers, a public onsen with optional massages to make money and keep themselves occupied. But their favorite pastime was playing their instruments in their very own philharmonic orchestra. In the picture below you can see where the prisoners slept and kept their personal belongings, or in other words their bar less 'cells'. Compare this place to for example Alcatraz, which just gives you chill all through your body, and this place seemed more like a summer camp.
Afterwards we went to some German museum near the set, which wasn’t that interesting except for the letters of ex-prisoners of the Bando prison camp. Apparently, many look back on their time in this prison with happy memories and have actually been back to Japan to visit it with their families. It’s kind of a weird situation, so many people feeling homesick to their lives in a prison camp. Matsue ran a very special prison.
They had some peculiar prison guards in this prison too, just look at this friendly watermelon head person without legs. He doesn’t even have a gun to stop prisoners from escaping but he does have a huge cape…
But when they asked Yasu and me to be stand-in guards and keep an eye on the prisoners, we didn’t feel safe without a proper rifle to whip the prisoners back in line.
Even though this all happened during World War I, the Japanese already loved convenience back then. Vending machines in the middle of a Japanese prison camp, right where you’d expect it.
After our prison camp adventure we found a Deutsches Imbiss (German snack bar) near the German museum, with had not much German on offer though except for German bratwurst (sausage) on a bread roll. Unfortunately, their product didn’t even come close to resembling the real German Bratwurst mit Brötchen. The bread, the sausage and even the mustard tasted Japanese and it was a weird combination of tastes so most of it ended up in the trash…
Monday, November 12, 2007
Our room was absolutely awesome! It was more than three times the size of apartment, had carpet nice and soft carpet, beds with real mattresses, a comfortable bathroom, a desk with chair, two couches, a coffee table with two chairs, a fridge, a lot of closet space, a bedside table etc. All this furniture and still more than enough room to dance the tango (not that you’d ever find me doing that in any room). The only thing missing was a small kitchen, and mine is so tiny that it could have fit in any corner of that hotel room, twice. I only wish I had such a room to live in Inuyama!
We arrived when it was dark, so we were wondering what the view would be from our huge and clean balcony (as opposed to my small and very dirty one in Inuyama). We knew we’d be able to see the Naruto Strait and Shikoku island, but at night it was just a black pit with some lights here and there. Early next morning we woke to this breathtaking view:
Because we returning the next evening, and they only had one set menu, they had to fashion a new menu for the second night. Because I’d been such a picky eater the night before (I also am, ask anybody that has been to dinner with me, I’m always whining about the sauces) the next morning the Maître d' enquired about my other dislikes so they could make sure I’d be happy with tonight’s menu. We already told him that any sauces didn’t need to be served on the side this time, because they were very stingy with the amount of sauce anyway so I could handle it and it would make the chef’s life a lot easier. Of course this was a great service from the restaurant, but it made me feel like a queen or something, it was too nice and too much, this rude Dutch girl couldn’t handle it very well.Naturally, the second dinner was very good too, and the delicious bread made another appearance, and they served all the food beautifully like the desert below.
Breakfast was served buffet style in a big hall and the food ranged from typical Japanese breakfast food to a Japanized version of western breakfast food, which was ok but not great. But they had plenty of cutup pineapple and oranges, so that and some baked fish as a side dish made for a tasty breakfast. All in all this was a very nice and fancy hotel, and it was a good stay. Good job booking it, Yasu!
Just before closing time we were hurrying to see the park’s rock garden, but were completely distracted by the kangaroos and their friends: the running ostriches, the loud duck-goose and the pelican who thought he was the king of the world. The lady that worked in that part of the zoo, tried to gather all the animals and put them in the right cages, but the animals had their own agenda. She managed to chase the ostriches into their homes first and that made the pelican feel like he won the running around in circles contest and prominently started flapping his wings on a wooden platform and yelling ‘I win, I win, I win’ (in Yasu’s voice).