For an officeworker in Japan, the nomikai is a regular part of life.  A nomikai is a food and drink party held immediately after the work day ends.  They are most often held in restaurants or izakaya, usually with everyone seated at one large table.

The traditional nomikai lasts roughly two hours, and it’s not uncommon for people to move on from there to a nijikai, or second party, to continue drinking.    Some of the participants will then go on to a sanjikai, or third party.  Those who go to sanjikai frequently miss the last train, and some of them will keep drinking almost until morning.   There were several instances during my visit in which I learned that my colleagues were quite hung over from sanjikai.

There was a nomikai held at the end of my first week in Japan, partly to welcome a batch of new employees in the group and partly to welcome me to the Tokyo office.   Every picture that follows is the food from the nomikai I attended.  I figured that a post comprised entirely of food would be very appropriate as we head into the Thanksgiving holiday here in the US.

The first photo is a small appetizer of a sort of fish flake custard dish.


Tamago, or egg.  I do love eggs.


Edamame is delicious.


Cabbage leaves in a sesame dressing.  So, so tasty.


The thing about asking Japanese colleagues to identify a dish is that they will often just answer that it’s meat.  If you’re really lucky, they might specify which animal the meat came from.  I was not so lucky.


These noodles were incredibly delicious.


Oh look, a sumimasen button!


This is fried fish bones.  I did not think I was going to dig this, but it was crunchy, salty, and surprisingly delicious.


Leafy stuff in a sesame dressing is one of the most delicious foods on the planet.


I’m pretty sure this is two types of fish.  Someone told me that the pale one was blowfish, but I’m not certain I believe them.


Various fried and breaded seafood things.  The round balls that look like they have cornflakes on the outside were especially delicious.


Remember a while back when I mentioned the Okonomiyake?    This was kind of like that, except huge and portioned out like a big deep dish pizza.


Eggs and vegetables and shrimp!  Super yum.


Slices of cooked meat.  Again, super yum.


What traditional Nomikai would be complete without french fries?


By the time we finished the Nomikai, I was super full of all manner of delicious food.

Of all the food you’ve eaten on trips, which item was the most unusual to you?


The South Florida Railway Museum

Much of the time that I spend with Amelie involves trains.  Specifically, we use them to see one another instead of taking the drive.  When Amelie comes up to visit me, I usually pick her up here, at the Deerfield Beach Tri-Rail station.


Tri-Rail is short for tri-county rail, and it’s a north-south rail corridor in South Florida that connects Miami, Ft. lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and parts in between.


The Deerfield Beach Station  is also one of several throughout the state that serves as an Amtrak station.  Amtrak is America’s answer to the Deutsche Bahn, except it’s not as convenient, not as cheap, and not as useful.  It’s also not as punctual, because Amtrak leases the rail lines from the freight companies, but that’s a different post.


One day in late April, I noticed this sign on the street near the entrance.


Following the sign, I found another one pointing to a nondescript door.  As it turns out, they were doing some work on the external face of the building.  Now, seven months later, there’s a clear sign to indicate that this is an actual museum.   At the time, it looked pretty sketchy.


Inside, however, it was kind of amazing.  This, it turns out, is the home of the South Florida Railway Museum and Model Railroad Club.   Housed in the old rail terminal building, it’s only natural that the museum contained  model trains.


This part of the museum reminded me of Miniatur Wunderland.


There was a lot of detail here, including a tiny herd of tiny cows.


The rail model was a giant construct in the center of a large open room, but the walls were filled with other things.


This vintage Coca-Cola machine was actually being used by the museum staffers as a refridgerator-  the place on the left where you’d normally see Coke bottles is being used to keep the coffee creamer cold.


There were dozens of model engines on the walls representing different time periods and train styles.


Some of them have specific historic importance, like this one from an old hobby store in Miami.  The store is long gone.


Even train cars need sweaters when it gets chilly out.


To a model train enthusiast, this museum is a goldmine.


This license plate had an inside joke for train engineers, but I can’t remember what the word on the bottom was.


Cheap plastic sunglasses from the launch of Tri-Rail serve as memorabilia here.


The museum has a fantastic collection of items from the golden age of rail travel, including an ash tray, a drinking glass, and “pasteurized drinking water” as it was distributed on passenger trains in the past.


There are lots of ash trays in the museum.  People smoked a lot back then.


One huge corner of the museum is dedicated to old Amtrak swag.


I think I had a set of those Amtrak playing cards when I was a kid.


This old control board is stuffed to the gills with ancient communications gear, and a now-rare example of an analog word processor.  Er.  Typewriter.  I mean Typewriter.


This old Amtrak sign is about six feet tall, up near the ceiling in the front.


Here’s more examples of older rail signs.  These haven’t changed all that much in the intervening years.


Yokohama Ramen Museum

On my way back from Kamakura, I stopped in Yokohama to have a quick lunch at the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum!


The Ramen Museum is dedicated to the history of Ramen, the well known chinese noodle dish, and the ways that Ramen has changed in Japan.  The main difference, according to the museum, is in the soup stock used for the noodles.  In Japan, a Ramen noodle soup can contain up to forty different ingredients, a “treasure trove of umami.”

The highlight of the Ramen Museum for me was the basement level, where the creators have envisioned a “food-themed amusement park.”  In reality, what they have created is a replica of a Tokyo street from around 1958.  Within that street-scape are nine individual Ramen restaurants emulating popular Ramen shops from across Japan.


The attention to detail in the museum’s indoor street is incredible, and the smells of the various ramen shops are amazing.  Each visitor to the museum is expected to order at least one bowl of ramen, although they make smaller bowls for those who want to sample more than one type instead of having a single meal.


The ceiling of this space is painted to give the illusion of it being dusk, which lends it self to dinnertime.


As for the shops, it’s very much the same thing as Matsuya.  You start at a little ticket machine, choosing your dish and inserting coins for a food ticket.


Once you have your ticket, you can go inside.  Seating is limited, and the shops don’t accept reservations.  A pitcher of ice water and a cup of chopsticks are placed near every seat.


This was on the wall in front of me.  I thought it was fascinating.


This was my lunch.   The dish I chose was vegetarian, although that was not an intentional choice.  I simply chose something that looked delicious.  The ball in the center may look like a meat-ball, but it’s actually a clump of Miso.


Do you like Ramen noodles?  Have you ever tried a Japanese variety?


The Great Buddha of Kamakura

When I went to Hong Kong in 2008, I went to see a very large Buddha on a hill-side.  Tian-Tan is 112 feet tall and it sits atop a mountain near a monastery.  It’s enormous and amazing, and I was very excited to see a piece of antiquity.  The problem, I later found out, is that Hong Kong’s big Buddha isn’t all that old.  In fact, it was built between 1990 and 1993, in roughly the same amount of time as it took me to finally pass algebra during my first go at college.

The Great Buddha of Kamakura has no such problems with its ancestry.  The Amida Buddha located at the Kōtoku-in Temple dates from around 1252, and it has weathered storms and earthquakes.  With this in mind, I set about during my last full weekend in Japan to go see a big Buddha.

Kamakura is about 30 miles outside of Tokyo, so it didn’t take long to get there.  Once in Kamakura, a local tram can be used to get closer to Kōtoku-in.


Once you reach the appropriate stop, it’s easy to find the Temple.  Just follow the crowds!  There’s also helpful signage in case of natural disasters.


Sometimes, you see people in traditional garb around temples.


Once you reach the Temple, you’re supposed to cleanse yourself with these little spoon-like things.


…but don’t use the water to cleanse your mouth!


A short walk past the washing station, the Amida Buddha comes into view.


Made entirely of bronze, this Buddha was once gilded.  There are still traces of gold leaf on the head, near the ears.


Clocking in at just under 44 feet tall, this Buddha is only about a third the size of Tian-Tan, but it’s much more impressive because of how long it has been here.


Here’s an obligatory selfie to prove I was actually there.  Honestly, sometimes I don’t think I would believe all the places I’ve been if I wasn’t actually in some of the photographs.


Behind the Buddha, there are giant bronze “leaves” etched with what I assume are prayers.


The detail is incredible.  Remember, this is all metalwork.


When I first walked around to the rear of the statue, I didn’t know what the flaps on the Buddha’s back were all about.  I thought it kind of looked like exhaust ports on a giant robot.  Buddha Gundam!


It turns out that the flaps are windows, because you can go inside the Buddha. This is the view looking up into Buddha’s neck-hole from inside.


The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 destroyed the base of the statue, and it was repaired in 1925.  Further repairs were done in 1960-1961, when the neck was strengthened and measures were taken to protect the Buddha from earthquakes.  This sign inside the Buddha talks about construction techniques used to make the statue, as well as some detail about how it was reinforced.


On my walk back to the train from the Buddha, I stopped for a little snack at one of the many shops along the way.


This is a red bean paste treat.   I love red bean paste in dessert foods.  The only place I see bean paste in foods here in the US is at Chinese or Japanese buffets.  This is a travesty of the highest order.


What’s the largest religious icon you’ve ever seen?


Meiji-Jingu and Yoyogi Park

In the vicinity of Shibuya, near the Harajuku station, there is a Shinto shrine called Meiji-Jingu, or the Meiji Shrine.  Meiji-Jingu is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken.  This is not a tomb; the emperor’s actual grave site is in Kyoto.

The shrine was built in 1915, destroyed in World War II, and was rebuilt in 1958.  The entryway to the shrine is easily spotted by this enormous Torii gate.


Meiji-Jingu is located in part of a 170 acre forest filled with evergreen trees from all over Japan.  The walk to the main part of the shrine covers long gravel paths and small picturesque bridges.


Barrels of sake are dedicated to the shrine.


Another torii stands at the entrance to the inner shrine.


The shrine consists of several buildings ringing a very large courtyard.


This is a very popular attraction for tourists, so there are lots of people visiting at any given time.


I was trying to take pictures facing every direction so that you could easily see the differences between the buildings.  It’s nearly impossible to get a photo there without some random guy in your shot.  Get out of there, Mr. Red Shirt!


While I was in the courtyard, a wedding procession crossed the courtyard.


The processional line contained priests, maidens, and celebrants.  Most importantly, there was one guy who had the job of protecting the bridal couple from the elements with a giant cocktail drink umbrella.


Before entering the shrine, the priests did a little blessing of some sort, bowing to the bride and groom.  I quite like their hats.  It’s nice to know that the Vatican doesn’t have a monopoly on amusing religious head-wear.


After a few minutes, the happy couple went into the shrine and I walked back to the first Torii at the entrance to the shrine.  A short walk away from the main gate is one entrance to Yoyogi Park, a 134 acre green space in the middle of Tokyo.

History time! The first successful powered aircraft flight in Japan took place in December of 1910.  That location became an Armyparade ground.  In 1945, it housed the “Washington Heights” military barracks for U.S. officers during the Allied occupation of Japan after World War II.   In 1964, the baracks area became an athlete’s village for the Olympics.  Finally, in 1967, most of that area was turned into Yoyogi Park.

As you can see, it’s a very popular place to be on Sunday afternoons.


A favorite of tourists visiting Yoyogi for the first time are the Rockabilly dance groups that gather in the park.   Here’s four pictures of the dancers, submitted without further comment.


yoyogi-park-3 yoyogi-park-4 yoyogi-park-5

Yoyogi is a favored place of lots of different people doing lots of different activities.  There’s jugglers…


…and mimes…


…there are boy band dance troupes…


…and nunchaku users…


…teaching other nunchaku users.


There are all-accordion jam bands…


…and cosplay types with many-colored hair.


On the ride over, I saw two teens in full vampire regalia, with special contact lenses and fangs.  Regrettably, I did not get a picture.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen in Yoyogi Park?