Friday, December 14, 2012

Japan in 10 Days

Shin-kansen - the bullet train. A glorious invention allowing me to get to Nagano Prefecture in about an hour and a half to see the snow monkeys.
Onsen - natural hot spring. They come in bamboo, salt licking good, fresh water, manmade, natural, indoor, outdoor, sulpher, mineral, and more. The best part is, you experience them wholeheartedly naked. It was a joy to share water with floppy boobs and unshaven va-jjs. ;)
Tako-yaki - octopus flour ball covered in goo, then fried. In technical terms, fried octopus dumplings. About 600 yen for 8.
Yakitori - grilled chicken (and often veggies) on a stick basted in savory sauce.
Tempura - deep-fried, battered seafood and vegetables. Delicious!
Karee raisu - Japanese-style curry and rice.
Okonomi-yaki - Japanese-style hotplate pizza/pancake. Nothing like a pizza or pancake, but that's what they like to call it.
Udon - white wheat noodles. Really thick. About 300 yen for a simple bowl.
Soba - buckwheat noodles. Thin like spaghetti, but grey.
Daikon - a huge white radish.
Kaki - persimmon. Yummy orange fruit that lies somewhere between a peach and a melon, but looks like a squished tomato. Below is a dried persimmon. Delicious!
Wagashi - Japanese sweets.
Manjuu - sweet bean paste bun. Usually 100-150 yen each.
Dango - rice dumplings. Usually with sweet or savory topping.
Tai-yaki - bream-shaped pancake for all you fishermen out there. I think there is usually bean paste inside.
Norimaki arare - rice crackers in dried seaweed. One of my dad's favorites. I saw large, red fish eggs everywhere and have concluded that it must have been Ikura - seasoned salmon eggs.
So it turns out yakisoba (fried Chinese noodles), miso (salty soybean paste), raamen, soy sauce, fried rice, and stir fry are all Chinese cuisine enjoyed in Japan. Just like in any culture or language, you learn food first and foremost.
Ika - squid. Taught to me by my sister because she always others an ika salad at Taki. Oh yum, angel roll is calling my name.
Tako - octopus. Hence, tako-yaki (fried octopus).
Uni - sea urchin.
Ebi - shrimp, prawn.
Kaki - oyster
Manga - comic books. Not just for kids. Adult porn comic books are seen in book stores, on trains, and in other public places.
Japanese Culture 101 from my eyes:
Tokyo - Houses, buildings, people, transportation, temples, shrines, sashimi, noodles, and face masks are everywhere! No natural relief in sight... for miles.
Japanese wait in lines... Everywhere. From getting on/off the bus/train to getting into a busy restaurant, they are always following the rules.
They go to shrines and temples because that is what they were taught to do, not because they are Buddhists or religious.
Everything feels closed in. The roads are barely large enough for two cars to pass each other. Oftentimes, the road is only made for foot traffic or scooters. Seats are unusually tight. Buildings are built right next to each other or attached. There aren't many yards for kids to play in.
They care a lot about presentation and appearance. The women are almost always dressed to the nine and men are equally seen in a suit. Even school boys wear suits.
There is a lot of infidelity. Even love hotels are set up everywhere to cater to the hiding of cheaters.
People mind their own business. Houses are close together, but privacy is not usually an issue.
Japanese are extremely trustworthy when it comes to safety. They are taught to follow rules such as waiting for the 'walk sign at crosswalks, as well as, when you leave something out in the open, no one will touch it. This includes the luxury to never have to lock your house.
There's a lot of stress on Japanese people. It can be felt and seen on the trains, streets, and news of suicides. Is this environmental, emanating from others, placed on individuals at work, cultural, or even necessary?
Most dishes revolve around noodles or rice. Oftentimes in soup form. Several people share one room covered in tatami mats.
They wear a mask for one of four reasons, they are sick and don't want to pass it on, they don't want to get sick, they think the moist air you breathe out and back in is good for you, or, they just think its cool, like smoking.
Japanese are punctual, respectful, and helpful.
People don't speak much on public transportation. Or anywhere really. It is cultural not to talk to each other in public places because they view it as respectful to maintain each others privacy, including silence.
There aren't many crazies or special needs people on the buses, trains, or streets. Are there any here? It seems middle class rides the public transport. I know in Atlanta, the crazies and lower class usually occupy the Marta.
December 11, 2012
A new meaning of onsen
It all started with a picture of a baby snow monkey. I was hooked. At that moment I started my journey (well, through research anyway) to see the exquisite Japanese macaque take a bath in a hot water spring. Jigokudani Yaenkoen was the answer. Monkey Park was named Jigokudani (Hell's Valley) because of the steep cliffs and hot water that bursts from the Earth, resembling hell. Jigokudani is located in a mountainous area near central Japan called the valley of the Yokoyu River. At an elevation of 850 meters, it is in a harsh environment that is covered with snow about one-third of the year. At present, about 200 monkeys inhabit the area and enjoy the onsens. To reach the area, one must take a bus, train, or for me, the bullet train to Nagano City.
From there, you have to hire a taxi or take another bus or train to Yudanaka Station, where again, you must transfer to another bus or taxi to the Kanbayashi Onsen.
You're not quite there yet. Now, a 30 minute walk up a steep, tree laden path must ensue. The views are stunning and the people you pass are friendly. Finally, you reach a small hotel set in the valley over 100 years ago, and a smaller building with a man requesting just 500 Yen to see the spectacular snow monkeys. Walking up towards the rising fog, a sense of calm washes over a ragged body. Snow monkeys dart in and out of onlookers' legs as cameras attempt to catch the action. A soaked, beady-eyed baby abruptly drags himself out of the steamily reflecting pool. Howling shrieks comes bailing out of wrinkly and trodden faces. For a 10 meter span, monkeys run in circles chasing, biting, and shrieking unbeknownst to man. A confused photographer snatches his camera before getting splashed with hot water streaming from a hairy, man like arm. Everyone stands in awe at the natural sight of a baby suckling milk from a dangling nipple. No moment goes unappreciated in such an intimate presence of monkey and man. They seem unbiased towards the intrusion, and as I found out, may even want to play. A momma and her baby cling to the edge of the pool as the parent grasps my camera strap, attempting to take it away. I tighten my grip and allow her to play a game of tug-a-war. She wins as I am smitten by her surprised look every time I pull. The scene plays out until momma is exhausted and photographers have had a good laugh. People continue to meander about the macaques playground. An inspiring place that connects monkey and man with an intriguing understanding of existence. A visit to Jigokudani Yaenkoen that will never be forgotten.
Favorite Quotes:
"Snake is like local Viagra." When talking with a Japanese photographer about snake traditions in Vietnam.
"When you eat noodle, you can make sound." A Japanese man teaching me the appropriate way to enjoy udon.

Matsumoto Castle
Suwa Lake
Mt. Fuji
Mt. Fuji from Hayama, Kanagawa
Mt. Fuji as seen on the 1000 Yen bill. Picture taken by my friend Shogo Asao.
Nagano, Nagano Prefecture
Zenkoji Temple in Nagano City
Powerhouse at a large horse radish farm.
Tsukiji Market: The largest, busiest fish market in the world.
Tuna auctions at 5 AM in Tsukiji Fish Market
Windows showcase the dishes, often with prices, making meals a little easier.
I visited so many temples and shrines that I don`t even know the names of several. Below are random pics of a few of them.

1 comment:

Carina said...

I almost went to Japan after Fiji too! But I still haven't made it... Hopefully soon. Amazing pictures!