Leaving Japan (via the Skyclub!)

I did a great many things during my five weeks in Japan.  There are a few last things that I wanted to do, but I couldn’t schedule everything.

I wanted to go to the Ueno Park and Zoo. I was close to it many times, since the Ueno station was a major pivot point for my metro travels during the city.  I also had dinner once at the Hard Rock there.  I usually try not to eat food when I travel that I could easily get back home, but sometimes you have to make an exception for the local Hard Rock.

I wanted to stay one night in a capsule hotel.  Capsule hotels are all over Japan, and they’re most commonly found close to train stations.  When the trains stop running, someone who has been out to Nomikai and Sanjikai might want to stay out a bit longer.  If you’ve missed the last train back home, a capsule hotel is an inexpensive way to get some sleep before the morning trains start up.  Each capsule is a tiny space, and the hotel will have shared bathroom and shower facilities outside of the “room.”  If you’ve ever seen the movie The Fifth Element, then you have an idea of what these are like- little horizontal places to sleep without many frills.  Some capsule hotels have televisions inside the capsule, and they almost always have privacy screens on the door.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  Daa Nell

I wanted to attend a Sumo match. I was in Japan during Sumo wrestling season.  I thought it would be fascinating to see a match.  However, many of the matches were sold out before I found out about them, and those that were not sold out were prohibitively expensive.  Luckily for me, the matches were often broadcast on television, and I was able to watch a series of matches on the television in my hotel room.   Sumo is really neat to watch, as it turns out, even though I don’t know much about the rules.

I wanted to attend a formal tea ceremony.  There were a few places I found in Japan where I could do this, but most of them were in hotels on work-days.  As it turns out, most of the people who want to attend formal tea ceremonies are tourists, which is why they were all in hotels.

That about wraps it up for my time in Japan, though.  All that’s left is the flight home.   I’m not one to resist a good instructional sign.


One of my colleagues in the Otemachi office gave me a day-pass to Delta’s Skyclub for me to use on my way out of town.   (Thanks, Chiba-san!)  Since it’s a 24 hour pass, I was able to use it to get away from the airport noise both in Tokyo and also on my layover back in the US.  Tokyo’s Skyclub was better.


This is a peaceful oasis compared to the noise of the International terminal.  Lots of places to sit, eat, read, or just stop for a bit.


Of course there was food and drink available.


If you have a flight longer than about twelve hours, I heartily recommend buying a Skyclub daypass-  the food alone makes up for the cost of it.  There were little salads, crescent rolls, fruit, and other edibles.   In Japan, there was sushi.  On my US layover, there was soup and meatballs.


In Tokyo, there were also little meat skewers and bananas.  I enjoyed the banana…  Bananas are good!


Isn’t this tiny bottle of soy sauce just the most adorable thing?  It’s a tiny salty capsule of squee!


The beverage selection was fantastic.


There were even little automatic beer pouring machines that tilt the glass to get the correct amount of foam in the finished pour.  Food automation is always fascinating to watch.


Have you ever seen such an adorable tiny container of soy sauce?



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?