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You had me at Western Style

Posted by Jason del Sur in Japan
November 21st, 2006

So I started this post in Japan, but never got around to finishing it. And now it’s two weeks since I’ve been home, and there are certain things I miss. I’m not sure if this is one of them…

I apologize in advance for the graphic nature of this post, but it’s something about Japan that merits mentioning.

First off, I would like to applaud Japan for their abundant and free public toilets. You’ll find them in almost every train station and any tourist area. Now, they probably won’t have soap, and more than likely won’t have toilet paper, but at least they’re there. And if you wander around the streets, more than likely someone will hand you what at first appears to be a normal, quarter-sheet flyer. Normally you ignore them, because they’re handing you flyers to the strip club. But not this guy! He’s handing out packets of toilet paper with ads on it! You don’t have to pay 100yen to buy some from the vending machine.

Now, there’s two types of toilets you’ll encounter in Japan. There’s our standard western style toilet. You know and love it: every house, restaurant, and store outside of Japan has one. Then there’s the Japanese-style squatter.

Now there’s a custom in Japan that you take off your shoes when you enter a house or temple. Sometimes they’ll provide you slippers to wear around. But there’s a special set of slippers for using the toilet. If you’re at a hostel or someplace with a shared bathroom, you’ll notice them sitting by the water closet door. You can’t really call it a bathroom, because the Japanese always separate the toilet room and the shower/bath room.

At first I didn’t understand this custom. But as I encountered more and more Japanese style toilets, I began to understand why. I’ve never seen where more people have missed the toilet more. And I’ve been to Indiana. And I’m not talking number one here.

Luckily many places, especially the bigger train stations and hotels, will have at least one western style toilet. But these aren’t your American Standard standard toilets. These are the 2 hours of extra footage Special Editions with hours of bonus features. Oh yes, these toilets have “bonus features.”

They’re the most advanced defecation disposal devices known to man. It’s cold in the morning. Luckily the seat is heated. I never saw this, but supposedly the girls’ toilets have a button that will start playing music/ocean sounds to mask the sound of what you’re doing. When you sit down, it’s like you’re commanding the Starship Enterprise with the control panel you have beside you. (the Klingon and Uranus jokes are too tempting).

And this is one of the simpler ones:

For a good time, push the blue button. You can guess what it is. Just remember, the orange button means “stop.” Tell them Jason sent you, it’s an experience you won’t soon forget.

An Adventure Ends

Posted by Jason del Sur in Japan
November 6th, 2006

I landed safely at O’Hare International Airport yesterday morning. Through a miraculous disturbance in the space-time continuum and/or the international date line, I arrived in Chicago 3 hours before I left Tokyo. Of course, the effect on my body was compounded from staying out all night in Roppongi the night before.

A day later, I have sadly returned to work and am still attempting to recover from the jet-lag. I still have a couple more posts to write on summing up my experiences in Japan, so keep checking back for more from me, and of course more from Brian. I hope to get all of my photos up on the web sometime this week.

But for the time being, here’s a couple good ones.

Sounds Kind of Fishy

Posted by Jason del Sur in Japan
November 3rd, 2006

Yesterday morning I awoke bright and early (well, as I said before, not as early as hoped, but still early) and I headed to Tsukiji fish market. This is the largest fish market in the world where hundreds of tons of fish come in every morning. They have giant auctions for the best fish. Those happen around 5am, so of course I missed out on that. All the guidebooks say it’s best before 8am, and they’re right. I showed up at 7:45 and it was pandemonium. Hundreds of little trucks carrying pallets of fish narrowly averting each other and me. Fish being butchered right in front of me.

Relevant aside: the night before I was out for sushi, and there’s a tank back behind the counter. Usually you just assume they’re just for show. But at one point one of the chefs picked up a net and scooped out one of the fish. And he sliced it up right there. Oh, it tried to escape. That first cut, the little guy jumped about 4 feet across the table. And the people next to us at the counter had the pleasure of enjoying the freshness.

Back to Tsukiji, everyone walking around and picking out the best fish for themselves. I’m sure I ended up eating something later that day I saw that morning.

Then at 8:00, everything immediately slowed down. It didn’t completely stop, but it wasn’t the insanity it had been 5 minutes earlier. After a little more walking around, I headed home to wash the fish stench from my body before heading down to Fuji.

Fuji is One Fickle Yama

Posted by Jason del Sur in Japan
November 2nd, 2006

For the first time since Monday I have internet access and a new camera and some cool new pictures. And of course, I don’t have my cable to connect the camera to the computer. Awesome.
I am currently at a Manga cafe in Tokyo. A Manga Cafe is a giant complex where each person has their own booth with a computer and a Playstation. Then there’s shelves and shelves of comics and video games. Appearently this is where a lot of Japanese kids will hang out until 5am after missing the last train.

I spent the day down in Fuji Go-ko, or Fuji Five Lakes. It’s about two hours west of Tokyo and supposedly offers some of the nices views of Mt. Fuji. Before this trip I had my heart set on scaling Fuji, reaching the top at dawn for a spectacular sunrise. However, when I asked the guy at the tourist information center I wanted to climb it today and wanted to know how cold it was, he and the other workers there just laughed at me. You theoretically can do it this time of year, but it’s very dangerous, and none of the huts for resting and eating along the way are open. So in the end I was talked out of climbing, but still going down to the lakes for some Fuji viewing.

And of course, the weather was bad, it was very cold and very cloudy–actually, quite a good thing I didn’t try to climb it today. So I only got one clear view of Fuji all day from the bus, and I didn’t have time to get my camera out. But it’s a damn impressive mountain.

And this just means I have to come back to Japan and climb it during climbing season.

But the good thing about today was I made it to the Tsukiji fish market, although not as early as I would like, thanks to Jenny Tison, Geronimo’s, and Jack Daniels. And I do thank you for it, even if you will never be a champion professional hopscotch player, Jenny. And I may have to get myself on the wall without you.

I will post a description of the insanity that is Tsukiji when I am able to post some pictures.

Last night was a Roppongi night, and it was good, so tonight might have to be one as well.

p.s. yama is Japanese for mountain.

Too Much Tofu

Posted by Jason del Sur in Japan
October 30th, 2006

Yesterday is best presented as a haiku:

Five thirty a. m.
There’s no hangover today
A monk at my door.

Two days ago I awoke with a a raging hangover from Halloween festivities and a missing camera. I was going to Koyosan for the evening, so I knew it would be a relaxed day. In Koyosan, a small mountain town about two hours south of Osaka, you stay at a Buddhist temple. They serve you dinner and breakfast in your room at the temple, but it’s all vegitarian. Some tasty and some not so tasty. Definitely the best miso soup I’ve ever had. But the weird tofu squares that explode with wettness when you bite into them, not so enjoyable.

I didn’t know what I was going to be having, so I prepared myself (and relieved my hangover) with the best thing I could think of at the train station: McDonalds. Nothing says no meat after this for a day like a double cheeseburger and fries. Plus all I had had the day before was conveyor belt sushi and octopus balls (imagine six tiny corn dogs, only instead of hot dogs in the middle, it’s octopus. The octopus ball stand is their version of Chicago’s taco stand. Funny enough tako in Japanese means octopus).

If you ever go to Osaka, definitely take the overnight trip out to Koyosan. It’s a little while away, but the train ride has some awesome views and the cable car ascent to the town is spectacular. There’s some awesome temples and shrines. One of my favorites was this room filled with nothing but hundreds and hundreds of lanterns. There’s just rows and rows of them. They’re on the ceiling. They’re everywhere. Unfortunately by that point my newly purchased disposable camera was already out of film.

The town shuts down after dusk/dinner time–5:30ish–and you don’t know what to do with yourself, but you can do things like read the provided Teachings of Buddha, even if it’s in Spanish. I found the place where they keep the books, and they have every language from German to Polish to Arabic to Portuguese. But no English. I understood about half of the teachings of Buddha, thanks to my high school Spanish.

So you end up falling asleep around 10. It still has been some of the most sleep I’ve gotten all trip. They wake you up at 5:30 for the morning service, which is nice-the service, not the being awoken at 5:30-only you can’t understand what’s going on. But the gong is cool sounding and the fire they build is awesome. Well, because both gongs and fire are awesome.

I also reccommend checking out the cemetary at night. It’s giant, about a kilometer long. While a Christian cemetary tends to be be very creepy at night, a Buddhist cemetary has a very different feel. It is peaceful and serene, even as the candle light lanterns light your path.

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