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Rooftop Temples: It’s Just Different Here

Rooftop Temples: It’s Just Different Here...

Looking out the window of a speeding train, it’s easy to spot lots of small temples tucked away in backyards, small forests, at the top of mountains and hidden in city streets.  But this was a first as we pulled into the station in Asa, in Yamaguchi prefecture, perched on about the 14th floor roof of a modern office building:
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Sour Milk: It’s Just Different Here

Sour Milk: It’s Just Different Here...

As a frequent traveler to Japan it should come as no surprise that there seems to be a different set of tastes that appeal to the average Japanese. The fruit flavors are different, the candies are different and certainly the drinks are different.  But this new offering — conspicuously being announced in the Tokyo subway system, had even my iron-stomached traveling companion gagging:
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Gaijin Panic!

So we get into the taxi  and say “Edo – Tokyo Museum” – being careful to pronounce it “ed – oh”, not “eed oh” and being sure to say Tokyo more like two syllables than three (Toh – kyo vs. Toh – kee – yo).   The taxi driver gives us a blank look.   So we try again – to no avail.  The aggitation starts.   Then we try our BAD pronounciation – no go.   Finally, we find our map.   We desperately try to locate the site on the map and finally succeed – showing the taxi driver exactly where we want to go.  “Oh, Ed-o, To-kyo Museum” he exclaims – exactly as we originally pronounced it!   So the next day we ask our guide what that was about – and he explains a phenomenon he calls “gaijin panic” – where a Japanese person is so concerned about not understanding a westerner, figuring that you will be speaking English, that they don’t understand you when you’re speaking Japanese!   He gets it all the time, he said, since he’s fluent.  Our little incident was amusing – his must be...
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What’s with the No Chocolate Ice Cream?...

OK, I can now say, without qualification, that it is impossible to find Haagen Daz Chocolate Chocolate-Chip ice cream in Japan.   This is too bad for the chocoholic, ice-cream addicted traveler who is jonesing for a fix. Here’s where we tried:  every 7-11 we could find, every Lawson’s we could find, every grocery store that we could identify as a grocery store, the Daimaru, Takashimaya and even the Haagen Daz shop on Kawaramachi-dori  in Kyoto.   None. Nada. Keine.  and, of course, Betsu. We also found every OTHER odd-ball flavor of Haagen-Daz – green tea (of course), Azuji bean (see future posting on this very fine sweet), the god-awful Milk Tea (which did NOT taste like a good ‘cuppa’ at all),  Bitter Caramel,  Mango and “Rich Milk” (whatever that is). Just for emergency support -we went with some Godiva Chocolate ice cream purchased at a high end department store at great expense.  I think it cost $10 for two small cuplettes. But at least they gave us two of those “freezy things” they put in bags of food to keep it fresh until you get it home. We figured we had to wait until we hit the Haagen-Daz stand at DFW airport on the way home.  BUT NO!  Not for the addict – it was Thanksgiving day and even it was closed!   Then, when we got home, the grocery was already closed in 24-7 Las Vegas.  So we tried the 7-11 and the Walgreens.    They didn’t have any either.   We finally wound up buying some plain chocolate ice cream and chipping up a Giardelli 72% chocolate bar to add to it.  This is desperation. Twenty one days after the last fix we finally rounded up some of the real thing!  Ah…. So, if you are a chocolate afficionado (OK, addict is a better term), you might want to consider bringing your own, or else be prepared to pay – big...
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Moms Are Everywhere

Moms Are Everywhere

The gentle women of the ryokan were fussing around, putting each plate just-so, wiping up a tiny little crumb from the table and making sure that each course was presented perfectly.  Our information indicated that we were not to worry if we didn’t eat everything, as many of the dishes were unfamiliar, and that gaijin were not expected to finish every bite.  But apparently, the authors were unfamiliar with one particular attendant in Karashiki… It started with simple instructions, all communicated in sign language and three words of English.  Put this sauce on this item…  Use this utensil to eat this small little delicacy…   Dip this squishy piece of something into that hot liquid and then eat…   And simple instructions can be useful and we appreciated the education. Then things got a little more intense.  After a bit of an incident (let’s just say that having  bar-b-que boyfriend cook his own fish over a flaming brazier is just asking for trouble…), she no longer trusted us to handle this kaiseki on our own.  Now we were instructed on EACH STEP of the meal, and any leftover food was looked upon as a personal insult to her serving abilities.   Every item had to be consumed (or hidden under the mashed potatoes I guess), so it soon became a battle of wits.  Luckily, afforementioned bar-b-que boyfriend eats all slimy food – so was able to help out in the complete consumption department. The next morning, our hovering “mom” also served us breakfast.   Load it up once again!  No item was allowed to go untouched – each one had to be consumed.  Luckily I had my food taster/tester along, so anything I didn’t want could be consumed by him.  But sometimes she hovered so closely, that I wasn’t able to pass off the unwanted items.  So I did resort to hiding them! So when they tell you that it’s OK for gaijin not to eat everything, just remember, moms are...
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Many Views of Mt. Fuji – Cellographing

Many Views of Mt. Fuji – Cellographing

Japan is a photographer’s dream destination and sometimes you’re lucky. The picture of Mt. Fuji on this blog header, taken from the shores of Lake Ashi on a perfect fall afternoon is an example of the serendipity of nature.   I always tell people to not expect to see Mt. Fuji when traveling to Japan, but, instead, to hope to be delightfully surprised if it shows up.   As a result, when I traveled to Hakone recently I had no expectations of seeing Mt. Fuji.  So it was pretty funny when it showed up outside the window on our train – I was too busy taking pictures of something else and when I turned, there is was, looming directly outside.  Wow!  It’s REALLY big from the shinkansen. Then, the next day, we did the Hakone circuit, including the cable car, ropeway, pirate ship and bus ride back up to Gora (more on THAT later).  That’s when I took the more non-traditional “view” of Mt. Fuji – a cablecar full of Japanese women on a day trip who were frantically taking pictures of the famous mountain with their cell...