Monthly Archives: November 2007

1 Month

Posted by on November 24, 2007

I have been in Japan over one month. I can’t really believe it. I’ve have so much stuff to write about, but I’ve been so busy it has been hard to find the time. I still have 6gb of photos to go through. You’ll be seeing Japan updates for a while I think.

Tomorrow is the last day of my rail pass. I’ll be leaving Tokyo and going to Fukuoka where I can get the ferry to South Korea. I’m hoping to stop and see Mt. Fuji on the way if the weather is clear.

Today I was in Nikko and went to the fish market at 6am. Had sushi for breakfast. Yesterday I was at Shibuya and Shinjuku and was up early to talk with the family for Thanksgiving. (Japan had their Thanksgiving on Friday. Yes, they have it.) Thursday I went and hit Roppongi at night with a guy from Wales, London and Switzerland. A good time was had by all. I’ll be going into more detail on all those neighborhoods later.

I’m staying at a capsule hotel for the second night tonight in Akihabara, the big electronics district. It is……different.

I also got an iPod Touch at the Apple Store in Ginza. It is amazing. If only there were more open wifi ports in Tokyo.

I’ve also hit a point where I have amassed so many photos I’m going to start doing a daily photo on the website. I think it is a good way for people to enjoy some of the sights I’ve seen without having to slog through all my stuff on Flickr.

I think I’m going to take a day of rest in Fukuoka. I’ve exhausted

Tokyo Drift

Posted by on November 20, 2007

I’ve been in Tokyo for two days now and haven’t done a thing. I’ve really just been processing my mound of photos. I’m still not totally done, but I’m far enough for my satisfaction. The problem of uploading that many photos at once is it is usually too many for people to look at all at once. At least I’ve been able to rest and I’m not as sore from carrying my stuff around for several days.

While I found a place in Tokyo, I’m back having to find a place for the weekend. It is near impossible to find a bed in a hostel during the weekend in major Japanese cities. You have to reserve well ahead of time, which quite frankly, isn’t my strong point.

My rail pass runs out on Sunday, so I don’t think I’m going to get too much farther north than Tokyo. I did want to go to Hokkaido, but it is starting to get cold and my desire to see Hokkaido is overwhelmed by my desire to avoid the cold. Korea will still probably be cold (I remember seeing snow in episodes of MASH) and I don’t want to spend much more time than I need to in winter.

My goal for the next 24 hours is sushi. I’m going to seek out one of the best sushi restaurants in Japan for a meal, eat fugu, and visit the fish market tomorrow morning.

Other than that, I’ll be doing the typical Tokoy tourist stuff: Imperal Palace, Ginza, Rappongi, and I might take a day trip to Nikko.

I’ve been asked what I’m going to do for Thanksgiving. I’m thinking turkey sushi….

Adventures in Pooping, Vol. 1: Land of the Rising Bun

Posted by on November 20, 2007

The toilet of tomorrow......TODAY

The toilet of tomorrow......TODAY

This if the first installment in what I’m sure will several posts on the bathroom habits I discover around the world. I can think of no better place to start than the place which has achieved the pinnacle in toilet technology: Japan.

For those of you rolling your eyes right now, deal with it. I’m the guy who brought you McDonald’s reports from every country, so this certainly shouldn’t surprise you. Also, my McDonald’s posts are usually my most popular ones. You can never go wrong underestimating the Internet. PT Barnum would have a field day if he were alive.


The average western toilet is a pretty elegant, yet simple mechanism. Water is in the tank, is emptied into a bowl, the water level causes water to flow down an S-shaped drain in the back which causes a siphon which takes the water and the contents down with it. Refill the tank, rinse, repeat. Everything is done via water pressure and gravity.

Most western toilets are literally no more than that. They may vary a bit in size and shape, but there are few things to add.

The Japanese, however, looked upon what we did with the toilet and said to themselves, “we can do better than this”….and indeed they have. (Given they traditionally used the squat toilet, they had a great deal of room for improvement)

Captain Kirk would feel at home sitting here

Captain Kirk would feel at home sitting here

I’ve seen several toilets like this one, but the particulars I’ll be discussing involve the toilets in my hotel rooms in Kirishima and Kyoto.

For starters, they use electricity. In addition to having it hooked up to the water and drain, you need to plug it in. (Next time you are in the bath tub, think of a large basin of water being mixed with electricity.) The electricity is needed for the pump, the lights on the control panel, and the seat warmer.

The seat warmer. I have a car with a seat warmer. When its the middle of winter, there is no better feeling than having your butt warmed from below. When you are using the john, the feeling of luxury is even greater. If it is cold out (and it is getting chilly here in Japan) you really don’t want to get up. Ever. I could easily fall asleep on the john because it is usually the warmest place in the room. If you aren’t from a cold part of the world and you haven’t experienced the terror of going to the bathroom outside in freezing temperatures, it is sort of like jumping into cold water. The seat warmer is as comfortable as that is unpleasant.

This toilet had an honest to God remote control. If there is one thing you are never remote from when you need to operate it, it is a toilet

This toilet had an honest to God remote control. If there is one thing you are never remote from when you need to operate it, it is a toilet

Bidet. Basically, the idea of a bidet is to use a stream of water instead of toilet paper to clean yourself. Traditionally, a bidet was a separate basin next to the toilet. To use it, you’d have to sort of scoot over with your pants around your legs to use it.

If you have never used a bidet before, it is a bid odd at first. In fact, you might think that it isn’t quite as good as using paper. However, once you’ve used it and think about it, it is actually a much better solution than toilet paper.

The real innovation from Japanese was integration of the bidet and the toilet bowl. The bidet just is a nozzle which comes out into the bowl when ready, and directs a spray to the right spot. How it knows where to aim is beyond me. I’m not sure I want to know.

Buttons and knobs. Controlling a western toilet is pretty easy. There is one switch and only one thing to do with the switch. The Japanese toilet is not so simple. In addition to the seat warmer, you have to control the bidet. First, the water can be directed to either spray your entire bottom, or a more directed stream to the area in question. You can also control the water pressure. This is important because if you don’t know what is going to hit you, it can come as a big surprise. Trust me. You can also control the water temperature on some of the toilets, which is also a very nice feature. Very nice.

The other thing I’ve noticed in the places I’ve stayed at are the bathroom sandals. Most bathrooms had a pair of sandals in the bathroom for the express intend of being used while going to the bathroom. I have no idea why you need special toilet footwear, but I’m guessing it might be a carry over from the squat toilet days. From what I’ve seen of the squat toilet, I’d want two pairs of shoes for going number 2 as well.

Finally in Osaka

Posted by on November 17, 2007

Himeji Castle made it through WWII untouched

Himeji Castle made it through WWII untouched

My trilogy of Osaka posts is now complete. I’m writing this in Osaka and I’m exhausted. I spent all of today walking around Nara and Horyuji with a far too heavy camera bag. I had to carry stuff with me I normally wouldn’t have because my room situation was in flux. Rooms in Osaka have been a real pain this weekend.

My back and legs are killing me. I’ve also not gotten much sleep the last few days because I’ve had to get up early to get to Osaka to find a place. I had no luck finding hostels in Osaka this weekend and had to wing it. Thankfully, after 5 rejections, I found a room at a hotel near the train station.

The last few days have been a blur of temples, shrines, and palaces. Today was probably the most impressive of what I’ve seen so far. The structures at Horyuji are the oldest wooden buildings in the world. T?dai-ji Temple in Nara is the largest wooden building in the world. (33% smaller than the one it replaced in 1709). The Buddha inside is one of the biggest statues I’ve ever seen.

Tomorrow I’m off to Tokyo. Honestly, other than historical stuff, I’ve done little else in Osaka. Time is ticking away on my rail pass so I want to make the most of it. I’m going to spend at least four days in Tokyo, perhaps more. I don’t know if I’ll end up in Hokkaido at this rate.

I probably have close to 500 photos to process still from Himeji, Kobe, Kyoto, Osaka and Nara. Tomorrow I’ll stop briefly at Mt. Fuji on the way to Tokyo and spend the day updating the website and sitting around.

Not in Osaka

Posted by on November 11, 2007

Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge - Kobe, Japan (by Everything Everywhere)
Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge. The center span is over 1,900m (6,500ft) long

I am not in Osaka. I’m in Kyoto. I spent last night in Kobe after visiting Himeji Castle. Today I went to the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge, the longest bridge in the world outside of Kobe.

I’ll be spending two full days in Kyoto before going to Osaka. My time in Kyoto should be packed as this place is crammed full of temples, shrines, castles and other bits from the close to 1,000 years it was the capital of Japan.

I’m exhausted from carrying all my gear around for the better part of the last day and a half. My current set up for my bags isn’t cutting it.

I can also tell a marked difference between Kobe/Kyoto and Hiroshima and Kagoshima. It is becoming much more crowded. The train from Himeji to here was nothing but two to three story buildings as far as the eye could see. I’ve had problems getting rooms in Kobe and here, so I’m going to have to do some pre-planning before I head to Osaka this time.

I still have two weeks on my Japan Rail pass, but I feel rushed. I’m going to have to take a week off to rest (yes, vacation from vacation) and get a stable address for a while to have stuff sent to me from home. I also need to get a new pair of glasses and sunglasses. I’m thinking Korea, but maybe I might work in a stop to Singapore from Hong Kong. We’ll see. I don’t think I can wait for Australia.

I have over 200 photos from Japan uploaded to Flickr. I’ll usually have things up there before I will on this website, if only because I have to get photos off my camera nightly. I still have a bunch from Himeji and the bridge I have to upload. I have one from each on Flickr now just so you can get an idea what it was like. I’ve also updated my map.

I’m going to eat some noodles and get to bed. Temples await me tomorrow!

Off to Osaka

Posted by on November 9, 2007

I’m off to Osaka with a stop at Himeji Castle on the way.

I haven’t been posting that much, but if you take a look at the loads of photos I’ve put on Flickr, you can get an idea of what I’ll be writing about shortly. I have a lot of things in the works, but I’m sort of doing “research” before I write about it.

The highlights of Hiroshima were Miyajima and the Peace Park, which I’ll write about in more detail soon.

I’m going to use Osaka as a point for visiting Kobe, Koyoto and points in the area. I feel as if I have to be constantly moving to get the maximum value from my rail pass.

Random Thoughts on Japan

Posted by on November 7, 2007

  • Styx needs to make a sequel to Mr. Roboto where they go find a hotel, get lunch, and take a train.
  • Japan has beer and cigarette vending machines. A pack of cigarettes is about $2.70, which I guess is cheap. I don’t smoke. The beer vending machine is brilliant. Mothers Against Fun would never let that happen in the US.
  • The most popular type of TV show in Japan, as far as I can tell, is a studio with people at a desk who watch videos, and as the video is playing, there is a small picture-in-picture of them watching the video. Then they talk about the video. Usually, there is food involved.
  • American stars who are too big to do advertisements in the US do them in Japan. So far I’ve seen that Tommy Lee Jones is the face for Boss Coffee, Brad Pitt and Cameron Diaz do stuff for Softbank cell phones.
  • Japanese like eggs. They seem to take any dish and dump a fried egg or a hard boild egg on top of it. I saw pasta with a fried egg on top today.
  • My hostel where I’m staying is a few hundred meters away from ground zero. I’ll post more of Hiroshima later. They city doesn’t seem to dwell on the past (which is good).
  • The uniforms that Japanese school children wear are just precious. I saw one group that looked like officials at Wimbledon. One group looked like Morton Salt girls in blue blazers.
  • Noodles rule.
  • I have yet to have any amazing sushi. I’ve been looking. I’ve only been to the places that put sushi on the conveyor belts.
  • I arrived a bit too late to see any baseball games. The Chunichi Dragons beat the Nippon Ham Fighters (Hakkido) in five games. I watched three of the games and one of the games in the high school series. It is like watching the Billy Marting Oakland A’s of the 1980’s. Lots of small ball. Singles and stealing. I wonder when we will see a real Japanese power hitter in MLB. I think the lack of power comes from philosophy, not physique.
  • I’ve been bowed to so often, it is like I was the president….except well liked.
  • The last game of the Japan Series was a perfect game. The manager of the Dragons PULLED THE PITCHER IN THE NINTH INNING OF A PERFECT GAME!!!! Thankfully, the relief pitcher went 1-2-3 to keep the perfect game. It is the only example I can think of in any level of baseball, anywhere, where pitchers shared a perfect game.
  • You never need to walk more than 100m to find a vending machine. Anywhere.
  • Yakushima

    Posted by on November 6, 2007

    My visit to Yakushima was an amazing experience. The forests there are ancient Japanese cedar forests and were used as the inspiration for the movie Princess Mononoke. One of the days I spent in the forest I was in the clouds the entire time. It was a very surreal experience.

    I took a lot of photos and wasn’t really sure how I should go about writing a blog post about it. There wasn’t really anything I could write that would really convey what it was like. Writing about my day and my time on the island isn’t really as interesting as what I saw.

    I decided to do something very different.

    Here is what I’ve spent the better part of the last 24 hours working on. It is sort of an experiment, but I think it will do a better job of explaining what it was like than my words ever would.

    I hope you like it….

    Alive at Ground Zero

    Posted by on November 5, 2007

    I’m well in Hiroshima.

    First, I’m finally around other tourists. Tons in Hiroshima especially around the Peace Park. Second, I get off the train, start looking at bus routes and a Japanese woman comes up to me and says in English “are you lost?” So much for people not speaking English. They also have electronics stores here which I haven’t seen in Japan so far….and 7-11s.

    The bullet train did indeed live up to its reputation for being fast and reliable. I had to take a non-bullet train for a stretch of the journey because there was no track laid yet. that Stretch was about 1/3 the distance but took 1/2 the time. Maybe more.

    The Japanese countryside is very dreary. Same small houses for as far as the eye could see. Every river and stream in the country seems to have its banks covered in concrete.

    I also managed to buy the new Mac OS here and install it. I was worried about the language, but it wasn’t an issue.

    I have wireless here, so expect more photos and updates the next few days.