Photo Tuesday: Leaving Tokyo

I wrote a whole slew of posts detailing the things that I saw (and ate) during the five weeks I spent in and around Tokyo last year.  I’ve posted dozens of photographs from that trip on this blog, but I don’t think I ever got around to posting this one.

This is one of my favorite photographs from my time in Japan.  It was taken from the high speed train ride back to the airport.  I took dozens of pictures out of the train window, but at this particular moment, we were passing through a busy street near Tokyo Katsushika.   There is so much happening in this photograph, from bike riders patiently waiting for the train to pass so that they can cross the street, to the people going in and out of shops down the street.  Plus:  a Kirin vending machine!

Every time I look at this photograph, I see some new detail that I hadn’t noticed previously.  What do you see when you look?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Of course there was food and drink available.

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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.

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

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

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The beverage selection was fantastic.

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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.

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

Nomikai!

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.

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Tamago, or egg.  I do love eggs.

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Edamame is delicious.

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

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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.

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These noodles were incredibly delicious.

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Oh look, a sumimasen button!

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

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

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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.

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

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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.

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Eggs and vegetables and shrimp!  Super yum.

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Slices of cooked meat.  Again, super yum.

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What traditional Nomikai would be complete without french fries?

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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?

Because Japan 2: Engrish, Safety, and Sweetness

Since I took nearly 2,500 photos during my five weeks in Japan, this is another post full of stuff that doesn’t really fit into my entries about specific places or events.

As a longstanding fan of Engrish, I thoroughly enjoyed a chance to see some wonderfully funny missed translations while I was in Japan.  Tokyo did not disappoint.

This is the very steak!  I regret that I did not have a chance to eat The Very Steak.

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I’m not sure if Meat Potato truly counts as Engrish, but it’s still a funny food descriptor.

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This restaurant in Otemachi was absolutely delicious, but their sign was chock full of poetic Engrish.

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I’ve learned since my departure that Drug-on Taco is actually a fairly popular chain of taco trucks.  Depending on the drug, I can see why that might be the case.

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That wraps up my Engrish examples.  Next up in this post is the magic that is the Japanese parking garage.     As you might imagine, space is at a premium in a city as crowded as Tokyo.  It’s no surprise then that the parking solutions here are fascinating and creative.

The first time I walked past one of these bays, I didn’t quite understand what I was looking at.

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What I learned later was that cars are returned to this front space in reverse, and the large disk is a giant turntable to rotate the cars so that they are facing forward for departure.

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Japan’s focus on safety is omnipresent, so it makes sense that they would not want drivers having to back into city traffic.   I would never get tired of the car turntable, because it reminds me of the way the Batcave always kept the Batmobile facing forward in the movies.  parking-50

This appears to be the back of the bay shown above.  The cars are kept in vertical racks, and I believe the car retrieval is automated.  I’m not entirely clear on that, however, because I never saw this in operation.

 

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I keep mentioning how Japan is very safety-conscious.  My first exposure to this was the very first time that I went to Akihabara with my colleage.  As we were walking out of the train station, we saw this worker staring at the building across the street.

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Across from her was a coned off area and signs to direct your attention upward.

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Above that sign, a single worker is washing lots and lots of windows.

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Those with acrophobia or poor balance need not apply.

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While walking home from the office at night, I would often see road construction being set up for the night.  The crews would dig up tremendous sections of the street and it would all be put back into place by morning.  At night, however, the safety gear came out in force.  The vest lights blinked in alternating patterns.

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Teams of safety workers would keep traffic moving around the dig site with their blinky vests and glowy flashlights.

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This man’s vest is not off.  It’s just on the off part of the blink cycle at the exact instant that I took the photograph.   safety-dance-12

Even the cones glow in the darkness!

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People doing work on the street in Japan often work in teams.  It takes two to ticket this parked vehicle.

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These two are really just there to make sure that you don’t get clobbered by falling debris from this tower.  There are always two!  safety-dance-142

Let’s move on to some sweets.  Japan is full of fascinating flavors.  Some of them are amazing, and some of them are not.  These green matcha tea flavored Oreos were not great.  I was optimistic when I saw the package, but the flavor was just not much fun.

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These tiny crunchy balls of chocolate joy were amazing, and I bought packets of them throughout my trip.  The outer shell is crunchy, and the inner part was a sort of creamy fudge.

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In the mood for ice cream?  7-11 has you covered, with these ingenious cone-shaped containers of single serve.

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The things on the left?  Too chewy, and I didn’t enjoy them at all.

The things on the right?  Green tea flavored Kit-Kats, which are amazing.  Kit-Kat has many fascinating flavors in Japan that are not available in other places.  I brought back a small sampling of strawberry flavored Kit-Kats, cheesecake flavored Kit-Kats, and even some Rum-Raisin.   The green tea flavor is the best one, though.  You can find this in the United States, at specialty shops.  Usually near the Pocky.

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Have you got a good idea for an end-of-post question?  I can’t think of one right now.

Because Japan: Everything’s Kawaii

This post is full of stuff that doesn’t really fit into my entries about specific places or events.   I was in Japan for a total of five weeks.  In that time, I took nearly 2,500 photographs.   This is partly because I was fascinated by almost everything, and partly because I’m the sort of person who likes to take pictures of everything.    Plus, almost everything was kawaii, or super cute!

For example, this poster was in the tunnels leading to and from subway trains.   As near as I can tell, it’s a public service campaign suggesting that you don’t play music loudly in the train because it’s just rude.  I think it’s somewhat telling that the musical people here are brightly colored and the person who doesn’t want to hear the music is pale and lifeless.  I’m just saying.

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Here’s one from the office.  Basically, this is saying that when you’re sick, you should stay home through the worst of it, and wear a face mask until you are once again a happy and healthy bean.  Plus wash your little bean hands, because unwashed bean hands are how disease is spread!

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Continuing the trend to have all signs include really adorable things, this one is a little egg.  I saw this little fellow all over the city, including a stuffed animal version in one of the department stores.

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Lest we forget that we’re in Japan, here’s some bad-ass Transformers.  This was a giant decal on the floor of the aforementioned department store.

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I’m not even going to get into what was happening on television.   I don’t know if this is a children’s show, but it was like nothing I’ve ever seen before outside of Starlight Express.

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I don’t know if one of these guys was the bad guy, and I’m not sure whether they’re supposed to be superheroes or train engines.

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Meanwhile, back in the realm of cute signs, this was on the back wall of a train platform.  I haven’t the foggiest idea what it’s about, but cute samurai cats are always a welcome sight.

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Sometimes the cute samurai cats look mildly evil, like this one on a display case in the Hiroshima castle.  The smaller cat with what looks like a baseball bat is especially adorable here.

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Cute cats were a common theme during my visit.  This hipster kitty is supposed to clip onto cell phones, I think.

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Before we move away from the cat theme, I wanted to point out this logo for a Japanese package delivery service.  The design is of a mother cat carrying a kitten around.  Isn’t that the best logo for a delivery company ever?  “We treat your package like our adorable fuzzy offspring.”

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Meanwhile, near the river in Tokyo, this building exists.  I never found out what the golden squiggly sperm-like structure is supposed to be.    It’s enormous, though.

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I passed this sign every day on my walk to and from the office, and the nearest I can figure out is that it’s to help passing alien beings figure out where to safely cross.  Seriously, neither one of the creatures on this sign looks like a human person.

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This one here?  This looks like a human person.  This hard-hatted worker is a human person who explicitly does NOT want you to go through this door.

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Meanwhile, this other human person is singing karaoke in the middle of the afternoon.  Welcome to Japan.

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Something that I noticed while I was in Japan was that it’s unusual to find  cookies or snacks that are not individually wrapped.   I have theories about how avoiding disease in such a crowded city are a factor in this package design, but I’m only guessing.   Here’s some examples of the individually wrapped delights.

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Here’s something I never did while I was in Japan:  A pachinko parlor.    Pachinko is a sort of automated gambling machine.  They’re very popular, and pachinko places are incredibly loud and smoky.  I walked past one every day on my way to the office, and whenever the doors opened, it was a blast of sound like nothing I’ve heard anywhere outside of Las Vegas.

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Last but certainly not least in this batch of random photos from Japan is the umbrella locker.  This ingenious luggage locking system is all over the place, and it makes sense to have a way to securely store your umbrella in a city that gets as much rain as this one does.    This particular example is at the entry level of the Edo-Tokyo Museum.  Basically, each tiny umbrella slot has a bracket with a key.  You take the key, and use it to retrieve your umbrella when you leave.  The whole thing is kind of genius, actually.

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Have you ever used one of these umbrella lockers?  What’s your favorite individually wrapped snack treat?