Taste of Big City

Yesterday night I had to go to the center of Kyoto to buy some used stuff, real bargains, which must be collected at owner's place.  Normally, you would send the address which you can easily google.  You check the closest metro station and the diraction   
in which you should go. Eventuallly you will find the right house/appartament number.  NOT in Japan.  Why? Because most streets have no names (lucky me, Kyoto is a one of very few places where some big avenues are named).  One might ask how it is possible.  I read that in the past people just numbered houses as they were registered in the city hall, so there is no order at all.  How the post is delivered, one might wonder.  I decided to solve this mystery. Even though it's a really complicated thing and often the Japanese themselves are confused, nothing is impossible and I will try to explain it as simply as possible. So think of a baking tin of brownie (mmm...). First divide brownie into pieces. Every piece is called KU (ward). No take one piece (don't eat it - no yet) and divide it into smaller pieces. Now you can say hello to CHO (or MACHI - town). Try to divide it a little more to have a city district CHOME. We are almost there.  Take a tea spoon and chop off a BANCHI (a land number). Now the last division. See that little crumb. That’s GO a house number.  That's a lot of information for such a tiny bite.  Moreover an addressing order  is diverted.  You start with a postal code and you finish with GO.  So how do the Japanese find each other in this street nameless country? That's surprisingly easy. They simply send or fax each other a map of the area.  Crazy? Not for  the Japanese. Even taxi drivers often study maps given by passangers before they start the engine (GPS is useless). You might think that with google maps it shouldn’t be that difficult.  Well, maybe if you know Japanese, because you cannot type the address in roman letters nor in the western order!  Japanese illiterates can only count on their host's good will to send them a proper link.  So I printed 4 maps with different zoom and still I’ve got lost. The Japanese themeselves tried to help me but even they had some difficulties to understand the map.  The good thing is that they will never leave you alone and they will go with you anywhere to help you find the place (thank you my dear Samurai descendants). Ufff we did it so now you can eat the whole brownie till the last KU.


A little Tushie Spa

This place is a sort of taboo. Every one visits it but rarely any one talks about it. But it exists and we cannot deny it.  Toilet - a holy place where one sees a man about a dog.  Usually public washrooms seem to be rather repulsive places and I try not to go there if I don't need to. However when I saw this thing in my lab I couldn't believe my eyes.

It's not a space shuttle seat but an ordinary toilet in the campus. Shocked? So here are some examples what it offers. First of all, no cold toilet seats, but gentle warm surface where you can place your fragile tush. Too much Indian food last night... How about a using powerful deodorant? Cozy: D. But the best part is just ahead. Not clean enough? How about little rear shower?  See that lovely button with a pic of a butt.  

Isn't it tempting to push it?
UUUU  . It's bizarre but nice... Very nice!
You can choose a few modes of pressure and more over it only works when you seat.

Ok it's enough... For now :).


Chenpyon for Champions

Food is my great passion, and everyone who knows well knows also who I love to try new things.  I decided to read something about attractions I can find in my area at Wiki Travel.  I really recommend this portal. Up-to-date info about places for a reasonable price. I found out that one of the places 'need-to-go' is noodle bar next to the main train station. If you have never eaten noodles, think of spaghetti in broth. I went there with Suzuki to check the place.

  The resto itself looks very nice. Red and black colors really go with noodles. Because I came alone I was guided to the bar where all singles sit. I wouldn't find a better place to admire what I saw.  The real cuisine amateur knows what important thing is a process of preparation, when you mix all ingredients and see how miraculously they permeate each other and make a new form of taste and smell. Chefs in the bar are really skilful and sometimes I really jumped down off my chair when the fire came out of the oven.  My eyes were like child's eye in the toy store.  Being a chef is like being an artist, a restaurant performer and I guess I was the only guest who enjoyed the show to the fullest.  I ordered a dish called Chenpyon (as recommended at Wiki).  After a quite long time of waiting (which is good, longer the dish is prepared better it tastes) I got my big noodle bowl. 

It was huge!!!  But that's not a big problem for me as I can eat all the time and I have never enough! The thing about noodles is that you should slurp while eating and it isn't considered boorish. Isn't that cool - you eat something delicious and you show your joy with a penetrating melody of slurping. Couldn't ask for more.  I got so hungry while writing this note that I guess me and Suzuki have to take another ride. Bon appétit.


Following the Road Ahead

I had to take a break from blogging and find a new inspiration. Besides, I didn't want to write only about rain. So, the weather got nicer and I got a bicycle !!!!!!!!!!!!. Yeah I found it on so-called 'sayonara sale’. It was quite cheap and not in its best shape....
There's rust on the pedals, brakes squeak, but it has a basket and the best part is…. that it's MINE. In almost every country I live a have a bike and a bike has it's name. Ladies and Gents meet Suzuki! No more walking. Freedom on the streets!!! But (there is always but when something goes too smoothly) riding a bike is a bit difficult in Japan. First of all in Japan there's left side road system so all day long I had that voice in my head 'to the left .. To the left ... To the left... Fuck almost died again... To the left you morron' Ok I don't call myself a morron in my head but sometimes it was really scary as the Japanese really drive fast. Another thing is that the rear brake is on the left side of the handlebars and even though I'm a lefty I got used to braking with a right brake. So once I almost catapulted myself trough the handlebars. Last thing is that in the suburbs you cannot find a proper bike lane nor a sidewalk so everyone uses the same road as they want (including cars). 

I saw people riding on the wrong side of the road or pedestrians jump away to avoid a collison... My favorite part is however the street signs ... NO ENGLISH, no international signs! This for example STOP .... 

If you don't know Japanese I wish you good luck on the road.I survived my first day on the Japanese road... (I've lost a lock key once but now I attached this maneki cat (more about cats later) so now it's protected by a Shinto deity). Japan be scared I ride to conquer you!

PS. The word 'bike' is an example of words borrowed from English, which changed a meaning. So it was really confusing when I asked in English 'How long does it take to go there by bike’ and the answer was that it's faster than by car. I was shocked but then when I said that my 'jitensha' is not that fast because it's old. Then the speaker said that I mentioned 'bike'. So finally aftershort pun game I found out that Japanese 'bike' is a motorcycle. And another Japenese mystery was solved, my dear Watson!


The way of the Samurai

Two days ago I read in one of Japanese for foreigners (means in English) magazines about a movie for bloggers. Because I can say I am a blogger too (still a rookie though) I decided to watch it. Julie and Julia is a wonderful, inspiring comedy which pictures my two great loves: cuisine (it's the first thing on my pleasures list) and France, which whatever people say will be always deep in my heart. I'm also a big fan of Meryl Streep performance and I admire her in every role she stars. So, the plot is that Julie blogs about her cooking journey through Julia Child's cook book and the movie shows two authentic stories of both Julie and Julia, so don't worry about Disney's fake drama and a very happy ending. I must say that after watching the film I missed French food so much that I went the nearest bakery called (!!!) ‘Patisserie Sakura’ 

and I bought a croissants and tartine. While eating those mouth melting delicacies  I decided to make my Japanese commitment, similar to the one that Julie Powell made. I will master Japanese in next 5 months so in the end of my stay i will be fluent in Japanese enough to read one chosen book!

My tools: 4 text books, 2 work books, 1 dictionary.... and the Japanese at every corner

Deadline: 30 July

Goal: Master in Japanese

You: wish me good luck!


Japan is Another Planet

It's been almost one month since I came to Japan (wow time really passes so quickly, I feel new wrinkles under my skin) and today I can officially leave my passport at home! Why? First of all if you don't have a passport with you and police would stop you (e.g. as might happen sometimes in night clubs) then you can go to jail and wait till somebody brings your ID (you can comment it on your own) but if you want to stay longer you can obtain a special ID card which is actually more reliable document than a passport (the Japanese strongly trust only their own brands). This special card is called... (fanphare sound please)   an ALIEN regestration card... yeah!!!

nothing like foreigner, newcomer or non-Japanese card... but an alien!!!

In Japanese it is called 'gaijin something' where gaijin normally is translated as foreigner but it might also mean a stranger and generally it's not a very polite term! So you might be no matter who in Japan, still you are an alien! An outside creature who came to Japan to eat all available sushi and drink as much sake as possible. On the other hand, if you come to Japan - the first cultural shock brings a question to one's head: Am I on a different planet... Somehow with all those differences that I met so far (and I had known quite a lot curiosities about the raising sun state before I came here) I can honestly say it: I am legal alien in Japan!


Bad Weather Etiquette

One of the things that you can notice in Japan is that among all Buddhism, Zen, and Shinto cults there is another one. I would call it an umbrella cult. In the land of raising sun umbrellas are literally everywhere. Before you enter any place (or inside) you can always find an umbrella stand, where you can easily park your anti-rain shield.I’ve got one even in my room!  Moreover you might thing that when it’s sunny or if the shop or restaurant is closed, all umbrellas disappear. No way! Every time, every where there is an umbrella in your eye range.  I don’t know if you can borrow one in case you didn’t take yours, but on the other hand they are possible to buy almost everywhere. My favorite model is a transparent 'umbee', which you can use while riding a bike and still you can see the sky above. Generally in Japan people don’t steal so once you leave  your rainy belonging for sure it will wait for you. There are even some machines which you can you can use tolaminate your rainy friends – like the one in the front of my cafeteria. Cool, heh?! The bad thing is that even though it’s funny it indicates that it rains a lot here, what has been sadly true for the last couple weeks. 


When it rains....

In Japan it never rains it pours!  Another cold, depressing day... You should always look on the bright side and find yourself an inspiration. I looked through the window and I found it. Isn't it great to put your rubber shoes on and jump from puddle to puddle. I really enjoyed myself today!

and btw. I saw today pics form the karaoke party. Check the update


In search of off switch...

Unluckily for me, the weekend was really rainy - no sightseeing, no mood to get out! I like my small studio. It's cozy, most of the time clean, and I have all electrical appliances which ease my life. I decided to stay indoors and do some chores as well as relax a bit in front of TV (actually everything is in Japanese, so sometimes commercials are the best part, because at least they are understandable). One might think that, cooking, doing laundry or vacuuming is as simple as in the west? No way.
Pics below can give you some hints way.

Yes everything is in Japanese. For me it's very funny. Just think - even at  home I fill like little discoverer, who is happy to at least turn on the device!!!
I remember my first lunch from the microwave - it was a disaster - cold and I used fuckin' machine for about half an hour, or the air conditioner - It switched off every ten minutes???
Every young discoverer has it's bible to follow. So have I:

This great book of kanji (Japanese characters) in everyday life - really helps in everyday life. No bullshit about how is flower or bee, but where is switch off or how to use a remote control. Just check this pic
of a remote controller:

In Japan an ordinary day might be a new adventure!


Let's sing together!

So finally almost a month of "hard" work (readily no party) I went out with my lab colleagues. It was farewell party, because again there is something different about Japan that they finish in March and start a new academic year in April. So I can say that somehow I have a "summer break" now, but work is work and there's no holiday for me. The party started with dinner in Japanese style restaurant. No shoes allowed. Food as always was delish, but the seats were horrible. I understand that kneeing position is dignified, but having a party in that way is not really a pleasure. I didn't know exactly what to do with my legs. All in all, after some gymnastic moves I found one stable yoga position. Later we went to next party to another Japanese style bar. Again I was reprimanded to leave my shoes (Yeah better wear clean socks). I tried hot and cold sake, and I was asked by the Japanese to say which one was better. So here is a Japanese hint: If you warm sake you cannot tell if it's good or bad sake. If it's cold you can easily find a cheapie! When finally we were drunk enough, we went to karaoke! The lobby (yeah there is a lobby there) looked like a big pharmacy.
The guy at counter wore even an apron. After short time we were directed into one of many karaoke rooms. The interesting thing is that soft drinks are for free! So if you are thirsty you can drink as much as you want. For booze you need to pay extra and believe me you need lots of it to feel certain enough to sing in front of your pals. Once I started I couldn't finish (I mean singing). Really now I understand the phenomena of karaoke, but the Japanese style one. No the one with a cheap display where you sing in front of the whole bar. In the end I even tried some J-pop - reading Japanese fast is a really difficult task - but with you alcoh friend it's always easier! So if you are not familiar with J-pop check this thing!

7AM we caught a train back home.... Japanization initiated!


When in Rome....

My travel to Japan went smoothly. No lost luggage, no smelly co-traveler. There were no happy smiles of flight attendants either, but for that price you cannot have everything. My first cultural shock occurred at the airport in Osaka. I heard that bird flu is spreading around the world but I didn’t know that its center is in Japan. Generally speaking, everybody apart from the travelers almost looked like surgeons! Did we have a deadly virus on board? Now we will go through quarantine? But after a while I realized that no one really bothers about us and a few minutes later I waited for my taxi... in the city I saw more masked people. 'What is going on here?' I remember that in the first part of Harry Potter there were people in the streets that looked different smiling to everyone. Those were wizards. But who I deal with? First of all - masks don't look friendly. I would say even scary. Second of all people wearing them might smile but I can't notice it anyways. These are no friendly wizards for sure. I found the answer in one of VERY rare English magazines available in my neighborhood. Masks are against spreading germs - simple! Running nose or cough is a good reason to follow that medical fashion. It helps to prevent others from catching what you already have. Moreover it helps to moisture your throat and nose! I would like to see westerners do that! No way! Maybe Japanese exaggerate a bit with prevention. But, isn't it the best policy? Anyway, I can't wait to wear it myself! When in Rome do as the Romans do!


Zen of Milk

Do you believe in Karma... I do! I wanted to start writing a blog for a very long time, but as always - laziness, lack of time, or the next episode of cougar town effectively discouraged me from starting. Today the big day came. I was a bit hungry and insanely bored sitting at my lab desk, no better reason to leave the post than a need of hunger! I went to '7 eleven' shop, which in Japan is something like wonderful oasis of 'everything you need, anytime you want" - but more about in later posts!
It was a very tough decision - what to eat? An instant noodle soup, something 'I don't know what's its name' burger on the stick or a Japanese cookie, which is green even though it's still fresh. All in all trying to postpone this moment of not working I found a box of milk, banana milk. It was cheap. 115 Yen, cold and too sweat - the worst choice - too much thinking I guess. I wanted to get rid of the box but in Japan you recycle everything and I didn't find a proper container for this kind of waste. I decided to follow my verrry long recycling instruction poster at home to recycle it properly. And here I go! I saw this old video of Blur and I found it very Japanese - why - the answer will come soon. Anyways, I looked at my floor and here it was. A said lonely milk box. Then I realized - it would be my new inspiration... Nothing heppends without reason. Hello my new friend!