Trip to Japan – Odds and ends

After almost a month after coming back from Japan, I’ve finally made time to tie up the loose ends from the trip. Photos have all been uploaded, Photosynths have been completed, and blog posts written. To bring things to a close, here are the things that didn’t make it into previous posts.

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Beware, lots of multimedia ahead!

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Food of Japan – Part 3: Kyoto

In the last two installments, I covered most of the food that I came across in Tokyo. On Friday morning, we departed for Kyoto, the former imperial capital of Japan. After a two and a half hour ride on the Shinkansen and settling into our hotel, we decided to venture out and find some dinner. There wasn’t much in terms of restaurants around our hotel and we ended up wandering some of the neighborhood streets. We eventually stumbled upon a local street festival, filled with all sorts of tasty goodies! Excuse the quality of the photos, I only had my cell phone camera on me at this point in time. 😦

Party time!

The neatest part about the festival was that it was for the locals, by the locals. We were probably the only tourists around, so there were a lot of really interesting things to look at.

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Food of Japan – part 2

Now that I’ve had some more time to digest, it’s time for part two of my Japanese culinary experience! We’ll start this time with a shot of what I enjoyed for breakfast on the day we went to Mitaka for the Ghibli Museum.

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In addition to getting sodas, water, and bottles of tea, many vending machines in Japan also sell coffee in a can. This particular serving was cold, however some machines also offer a selection of hot beverages. I did have a chance to try one in Nakano and it was pretty tasty! Breakfast that day consisted of some taiyaki that I’d bought the day before in Nakano. This particular one was matcha-flavored, or green tea flavored.

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Food of Japan – Part 1

I’m back again! This time with an insight into the various foods I ate while I was in Japan. Sadly, I didn’t bring a nice portable camera with me on the trip, so most of the photos were taken with my cell phone camera (main camera was a bit cumbersome to bring with me to dinner).

AppetizerMain course

Of course, neither of the above actually qualify as food in Japan, as I was in the air over North America when I was served these. First was some lovely grilled shrimp served with a tomato bisque and greens. It was then followed by a delicious beef stir fry with cashews, and veggies. First class, FTW!

First and foremost, the Japanese love to eat and really enjoy variety. On some streets, you can count a dozen restaurants in each direction. Furthermore, each department store features a food area filled with smaller cafes that specialize in a variety of cuisine. From noodles to sushi, and culinary delights from all over the world, you’ll certainly find something you fancy.

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Loot from Japan trip

In some earlier posts about my trip to Japan, you saw the following two pictures:

Loot 1

Loot 2

Before I go any further, yes, I did spend way too much money on toys when I was overseas. Fortunately, my plane ticket back was already paid for, so I couldn’t have wound up like Piro and Largo. Now, after some wait time, here’s the unveiling of the loot from Japan!

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Reflections on Japan

It has been a week since I came back from Japan and I’ve had some time to reflect on my experiences there. I got a good dose of the day to day operations in one of the largest cities in the world, as well as a large helping of Japanese culture.

Busy Shibuya crossing

There was a lot to learn and absorb, so here are some of things I took away from the trip…

  • There is an expected code of behavior for everyone who is out in public: No one does anything to inconvenience another human being
    • Everyone is extremely courteous
    • Drivers let pedestrians cross in front of them at the cross walk
    • There is almost no litter anywhere
    • Things like smoking in the streets is almost non-existent; everyone uses designated smoking areas
    • Despite the courteousness of society, the Japanese have almost no sense of personal space – they will cram onto trains, busses, elevators, shops, and try to use space most efficiently
      • Because of this, there are train cars specifically for women to use during peak times
  • The whole of society is very rule abiding
    • Almost no one crosses the street when the light is red, even if there are no cars coming
    • Drivers are conscientious about the speed they are driving, each lane on a motorway has an implied speed that everyone travels at
  • I felt extremely safe in Tokyo, I had no fear of being pick pocketed, mugged, or otherwise fall victim to crime
  • No one talks on the phone on public transport (trains, busses) as it is considered extremely rude and infringes on others’ senses (texting is the norm on trains)
    • I’ve seen conversations end as people come on to the train with “I’m getting on the train, I’ll call you later or text you”
    • Those that do have to take a call on the train do so in a very discrete manner
  • Every single store clerk, from major department store to street vendor greets you when you come in… “irrashaimase~!”
  • It’s pretty easy to get help in a store or train station, just yell out “sumimasen!” and someone will typically come to tend to your needs
  • Store clerks are very transparent during a transaction, they will acknowledge that you’ve given them money, count the amount out loud, announce that you will be receiving change, and then proceed to count out the amount of change out loud
  • It is still a very cash oriented society, most places (save for the big department stores, big electronics retailers, fancy restaurants, and hotels) do not take credit card
  • Everything is extremely punctual – the train system is almost always on time to the minute… you can set your watch by it
    • You can plan a rail journey from one side of the country to the other, make multiple connections, and know exactly when you will arrive
    • In 2003, the average delay on the entire Shinkansen network was 6 seconds (source)
  • Technology, while pervasive, doesn’t stand out
    • Mobile devices are built into everyone’s daily lives
    • Devices aren’t necessarily more advanced than what is in the rest of the world, but the infrastructure and capabilities are
    • Most phones are connected to data, but I saw very few full featured smart phones
      • Flip phones are extremely popular
      • Data is extremely pervasive, and easy to access on a mobile device
      • With something as simple as a phone number, someone could look up all the relevant information about a business (such as a hotel)
    • Broadband speeds are pretty amazing, wired and wireless; the wireless broadband is faster than my home internet connection, while costing the same or less
    • GPS units, on the other hand, are very advanced… streetview with rendered buildings and landmarks, ftw!
  • Being a tourist (especially somewhere like Tokyo) is extremely easy; If you are recognized as a foreigner, the locals understand and will try to help you out
    • Conversely, if you look Asian (like I do), it is assumed you speak Japanese… this caused no end of problems and amusement in stores
    • Many restaurants in Tokyo (and other tourist hot-spots) have English or picture menus for tourists to use

That’s all for now, I think. I’ll finish this up with one of my favorite souvenirs from Tokyo: printouts of all the local rail trips I took using my Suica.

Suica!

As you can see, I’d been to Akihabara a few times, though my favorite of all was when I went to Washinomiya. The rail fare for that trip cost about 1000 yen in total one way.

A day in Kyoto – Shrine visits

Greetings from 34000 feet above above the Pacific Ocean! Please excuse the poor quality of the picture, the built in camera on my netbook can only do so much in such low light!

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It has been an awesome trip culminating in an eventful side trip into Kyoto. With Saturday being the only full day we had in the historic capital of Japan, we set to work visiting several shrines in the area. Our first stop was the Fushimi Inari shrine, which is most famous for it’s numerous gates along the walkway built into the mountain.

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Since schools are in session on Saturday in Japan, we ran into several large groups of students out on school trips. The main street leading up to the main entrance was crowded with locals and students. Compared to some of the other places we visited that day, there were far fewer tourists in the area. First though, a quick stop for some breakfast at a small restaurant along the way.

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