Thursday, September 25, 2008

Tokyo Disney at 25: Short Shorts, Tall Boots



This year marks the 25th anniversary of Tokyo Disneyland. Marc and I went to take in the rides and do a lot of people watching. Of course, the food was great, too.  

The Rides:
  • Our first ride of the day was Star Tours, a Star Wars-y motion simulation game.  The ride itself is fun, but I think the best part is the walk through the space center (or whatever it is) to get to the ride.  I can't believe I'm saying this, but the robots are cool.
  • Big Thunder Mountain was a big hit.  There's not as much to look at while waiting in line, but it's a great ride.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean, which was closed when we were here last February, was re-opened with updated characters and voices.  The likeness of Captain Jack Sparrow to Johnny Depp's character in the movies was uncanny.  We rode that one twice.  
  • The Haunted Mansion was a disappointment for Marc.  He loved the ride from his childhood visits to Disney World in Orlando.  The Tokyo version is currently re-configured in the theme of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, so Marc spent the ride pointing out what should've been there.  (This fall the Japanese seem to have a fascination with Halloween, which we've not witnessed during the other times we've been to the country.)  I thought the ride was fine, but Marc is a purist and gave it a thumbs down.
  • The spinning tea cups ride - I think it's called Alice's Tea Party - makes it fun to twirl around in circles and get really dizzy.  
  • The best ride by far was Space Mountain, another ride that was closed for maintenance when we visited last year.  It's so scary, and I screamed like a little girl the entire time.  I can't believe I liked it.  It was worth the 90-minute wait.  

The Food:
  • Churros has replaced turkey legs as the Tokyo Disneyland snack of choice.  We still saw a disturbing amount of turkey legs with pink meat being consumed, but churros were everywhere. 
  • Pizza seems to be growing in popularity in Japan.  Marc and I each enjoyed a slice of ham and pineapple pizza.
  • Later in the day we indulged in American junk food:  cheeseburgers and french fries.
The Children: 

I don't even like children, but Japanese babies are so cute!  


This one has his father's hair.


Just like in Orlando, the little girls dress up like Snow White or whatever princess.

The Fashion:

Tokyo Disneyland is a great place to check out the latest fashion trends in Japan.

Japanese girls are wearing short shorts these days.  Really short shorts.  And, as evidenced by the girl on the right, the early-nineties grunge look is making a comeback.



Tokyo Disneyland was crawling with girls wearing tall boots from casual to dressy.  This is at an amusement park, folks.


Animal ears were a popular accessory . . .

. . . even for the park's more mature visitors.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Cat of the Day - Roppongi, Tokyo


Look at this cat!  We saw him sleeping on a blue tarp on a small side street in Roppongi.  He loved me and let me pet him.




Marc says that this picture captures his true personality.

Okonomiyaki in Osaka

We had a taste for okonomiyaki, so we went straight to the source: Osaka.  We arrived at a ticket window at Tokyo Station at 11:05am, and we were on our way to the Kansai region at 11:33am.  In Osaka by 2:30pm. On Dotonbori by 4:00pm. (We walked quite a distance before we gave up and hopped on the subway.)  

There we found a place called Kureo-ru that specializes in this Japanese dish that's like a pizza and like a pancake.  

Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き) means "grilled things you like." (Or something like that.)  Anyway, the Osakan version of this meal mixes cabbage with flour and eggs and whatever else you make like - usually octopus or shrimp or squid, etc.  -  and topped with dried bonito flakes and a salty/sweet sauce.  We ordered our okonomiyaki with shrimp and egg.  There are restaurants where you cook your own okonomiyaki at your table, but Kureo-ru had a grill just for keeping the dish warm.  That was fine with us; we were afraid of cooking our own.  

It was delicious, and we were pleased with our decision to travel 250 miles to experience a local specialty of Osaka.  After we ate, we walked around the shopping arcade, sang karaoke for an hour, then took the bullet train back to Tokyo.  Only in Japan!


The Mystery of Mr. Pachi Pachi Solved! (Well, Sort Of. . .)

My Japanese teacher, Kikuchi Sensei, was kind enough to read my blog and offered some help with my entry regarding the crazy baseball fan in Osaka. (See my post from September 10 entitled "I Forgot About Crazy!")


I didn’t know what the phrase that appeared on the scoreboard meant.  Here's the picture:

My sensei told me it refers to a Japanese comic named Kojima Yoshio.  The phrase is sonna no kankei ne wo shite ne, which means "Let's do 'It's None of My Business'," one of Kojima-san's jokes. According to Kikuchi Sensei, the comedian tells stories about unfortunate things that happen to him and ends the stories by saying, "It's none of my business" and doing a fist-pumping, leg-kicking dance. Click here for a link, provided by Kikuchi Sensei, to a You Tube video of one of his little skits.  

Pretty wacky, huh?  I browsed through other videos of Kojima-san, and I think that Speedo is the only bit of clothing he ever wears.  Our crazy Orix Buffaloes fan in Osaka did the same action as Kojima-san, but, thankfully, he did this while remaining clothed.

Anyway, back to my Japanese lesson.  "Pachi Pachi Pachi" is really "Pachi Pachi Panchi" (I overlooked a character, gomennasai).  Here’s a link to Shimaki Johji, a guy who has made a living in Japan by beating his chest.

Special thanks to Kikuchi Sensei for her corrections and insight into Japanese pop culture!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Bonus Creature of the Day - Koi in Ueno

After seeing an elephant in Odawara, I wanted to post something more commonly seen around Japan: a fish.  Here is a koi that was swimming around the murky waters at Ueno Park.  I think he expected me to feed him.

Creature of the Day - Zo Sama



Posted signs indicated the existence of a zoo, but the only animals we saw were this elephant and a large cage filled with Japanese macaques.  I'm not a fan of zoos, so I didn't investigate further.  


I like the elephant, however, especially since he responded to my taking his picture by flapping his ears and waving his trunk.  
Of course, this may be the international sign of an elephant saying, "I hate you! Get away from me," but I prefer to think he was genuinely happy to see me and was saying hello.


Happy Autumnal Equinox Day!

Today is September 23, the day of the autumnal equinox, when day and night are of equal length.  In Japan, today is a national holiday, called Shubun no Hi (秋分の日) or Higan no Chu Nichi (彼岸の中日).  Higan is a week-long period of Buddhist memorial services, and it occurs twice a year, at the vernal and autumnal equnioxes. 

Dedicated to celebrating the changing of the seasons from summer to fall, Shubun no Hi is also a day that families visit tombs to pay respects to their ancestors.  From the balcony of our hotel, we saw people putting fresh flowers at graves.


Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Cat Named Sparrow


Walking back to the hotel from the Karaoke Kan in Roppongi, we spotted a bar called Neko no Shitsupo (Cat's Tail).  Looking into the window of the basement establishment, I found this cute kitten staring at me with wide eyes.  Of course, we had to go inside to pet her!  Going into the bar meant we had to buy a drink (draft beer) and a snack (potatoes and bacon).  When I pet the cat, who was sitting on a table eating grass, I spoke to the woman who eventually cooked our snack. The cat's name is Suzume, which means "sparrow."  Strange name for a cat.  Then again, we're talking about a cat who sits on a table and eats grass.



After eating and playing in the briefcase of another customer, Suzume settled onto a stool at the bar near us, where she took a nap on someone's purse. 

Friday, September 19, 2008

Creature of the Day - Yanbaru, Okinawa

Today's creature is a butterfly in Yanbaru, the northernmost region of Okinawa.  I saw him when we walked around Hedo Misaki at the very tip of the island.

Goya Champuru

Last night I cooked goya champuru for dinner.  Goya champuru is an Okinawan stir-fry dish made with eggs, tofu, pork (or Spam), and goya, an Okinawan vegetable that's called "bitter melon" in the States.







JapanBall 2008 - The Wrap-Up (Finally)


Our tour of Japanese baseball with Bob Bavasi and Mayumi Smith of JapanBall.com ended more than a week ago, and I'm finally taking the time now to reflect on the trip.  It was an incredible experience, regardless of one's interest level in baseball or in Japan.  As I wrote in my last story for yesnetwork.com, you'll become a fan of both Japanese baseball and the country after spending a week with Bob and Mayumi.  

They've been doing this for a long time, and they have it down to a science.  Bob is a skilled tactician, keeping all of the "moving parts" as he liked to call them in play.  Mayumi, in addition to being our interpreter, made sure that we saw more than just baseball and gave us an opportunity to experience many of Japan's important cultural sites. The pace of the schedule was hectic, but it never felt as if we were running around with no purpose.  

What did we do and see?
  • Five baseball games in five stadiums in four different cities (Meiji Jingu Stadium in Tokyo, Nagoya Dome in Nagoya, Kyocera Dome in Osaka, Fukuoka Yahoo! Japan Dome in Fukuoka, Koshien Stadium Osaka)
  • The Ginza, Ameyokocho, and Ueno Park in Tokyo
  • A vast meat dinner at a BBQ joint in Kyoto
  • Kyoto's sightseeing spots of Nijojo, Kinkakuji, Kiyomizudera
  • Genbaku Dome and Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
  • A meeting with baseball legend Sadaharu Oh
  • Miyajima
They planned events, but they gave us the option to participate or not; it was up to us.  When Marc and I first decided to go on this tour, we thought we'd be the ones who didn't participate.  We didn't think we'd be good with the group tour thing and having our days mapped out for us.  Yet we ended up joining the group for all of the cultural side trips because we genuinely enjoyed meeting the other folks and finding out what possessed them to fly to the other side of the world and crisscross the country to watch Japanese baseball games.  

The trip continues for Marc and me; we're in Japan until the first weekend in October.  I still have more blogging to do.  Oh yeah, we've ordered tickets to three more baseball games, so stay tuned. . .

Creature of the Day - Oh, Deer! It's Miyajima!

During our JapanBall tour, the group took a side trip to Miyajima, an island known as "one of Japan's three most scenic spots." (The other two are Matsushima and Amanohashidate.)  Miyajima's claim to fame is the giant torii that stands in the water of the Seto Inland Sea.  Well, at high tide, that is.  The timing of our trip took us to Miyajima at low tide, so our picture of the torii, while striking, does not have the same impact of postcards or brochures.


But the point of my story here is the creature of the day, not the receding water line. Deer.  They're everywhere.  They haven't completely taken over the way their counterparts in Nara have, but they do roam free throughout the island. The Miyajima deer aren't as vocal as the Nara deer, but they can be aggressive. They're cute though, and pretty much just hang out.





Here is a particularly cute little one:

If you look closely, you can see that he's sticking out his tongue.



This one has dirt on his nose.




They seem to be indiscriminate of where they choose to rest; on the sand under a tree will do just fine, thank you.





There are signs posted around the island warning visitors to keep their distance from deer with antlers.  This was as close as our comfort level would allow.




By far this is my favorite deer sighting of the day:  Momma and fawn making their way through town and up a set of stairs.



Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Creature of the Day


Since cat spottings have been few on the trip, I decided to go with a Creature of the Day rather than a Cat of the Day.  The above picture, taken by Marc, is of fish at the Sky Aquarium exhibit at Mori Tower's Tokyo City View.  If you look closely, you can see Tokyo's sprawl in the background.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Back to Civilization

Okinawa was a beautiful, wonderful, muggy, sticky, fun week, but we're happy to be back in a big city with a fast Internet connection!  It's not that we have to be online constantly, but it's nice to know that if something puzzled us during our travels (i.e., giant spiders in Okinawa), we can just look it up on the computer.  

Here's a random site we saw during our drive through northern Okinawa:


Now that we have a fast Internet connection in the room, there will be more to come in the following days.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Typhoon Strong, Internet Weak

I'm at a beautiful resort in northern Okinawa. Everything is perfect, except for the lack of Internet in the rooms - I'm using the brutally slow desktop in the hotel lobby - and Typhoon #13, despite being closer to Taiwan than to Okinawa, keeps dumping lots of rain in the area. As I write this, the weather has cleared, and the sun has even made an appearance, but that can change at any moment.

I was hoping to write more about the baseball tour, but that seems impossible right now since this dial-up is stretching a 15-minute e-mail check into about an hour. Oh well, I guess the point is I'm vacationing at a gorgeous resort on a sub-tropical island. I shouldn't want the Internet, right?

I'll post more once I return to mainland Japan. In the meantime, the article I wrote about our trip to Fukuoka to meet Sadaharu Oh has been posted to yesnetwork.com. Click here to read it!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I Forgot About Crazy!

How could I forget to write about the crazy guy who dances at the Kyocera Dome in Osaka? We saw him on the scoreboard several times during the Orix Buffaloes game, and one of the group - I think it was Marc - spotted him in the stands not too far away from us.  LA Jon, who has been giving away Takashi Saito bobbbleheads to people he deems worthy of receiving them - the criteria seems fluid - decided this guy deserved the honor.

Here's part of his routine:

I don't know what text in the top picture means, but the bottom picture, pachi pachi pachi wo shite ne, means beating one's chest, which the guy eventually does.  By the way, shite is pronounced "she-tay," and it means "doing," so don't think I'm printing profanity.  I asked the Japanese guy sitting two seats down from me what pachi pachi pachi meant, and he beat his chest and said, "Pachi pachi pachi."  The Japanese like onomatopoeia.  

So anyway, when LA Jon decided that our crazy fan needed to "win" the Saito bobblehead, I went with him to record the momentous occasion in digital media.

As you can see, our new friend was pleased to receive LA Jon's gesture of goodwill.  He was also impressed that Jon spoke to him in Japanese.  A friend of Mr. Pachi Pachi Pachi told us - in English - that this guy has been going to Buffaloes home games for forty-two years and is a fixture at the stadium.  The fans roared each time they saw him on the scoreboard. 

Here is a shot of LA Jon with Mr. Pachi Pachi Pachi and friends:

JapanBall: Making new friends and bridging the gap between cultures

Monday, September 8, 2008

JapanBall 2008 - Going Backward to Day 3: Nagoya

So I mentioned in my last post that we took the shinkansen (bullet train, if I didn't mention it already) to Kyoto then back to Nagoya to see a game between the Yokohama BayStars and the Chunichi Dragons at the Nagoya Dome.  This was an exciting game to see because the crowd was really into it, and the food was great.  The shrimp burger is to die for.  I also bought a pair of koala ears, and I think wearing them made a big difference in how much I enjoyed the game.  



Okay, Bob Bavasi, here is a picture of me with the aforementioned koala ears. Happy?

I wrote an account of the game at the Nagoya Dome for yesnetwork.com; here's the link to it. Make sure you look at the photo gallery, too.  Speaking of photos, Marc and I have taken hundreds of pictures on this trip, and I've uploaded only the first couple of days' worth to flickr. Eventually I'll get to the rest. 

Now let's move forward to Sunday.  In the morning Marc and LA Jon shinkansened it over to Osaka to take a look at the castle there while the rest of us went to Osaka's Kyocera Dome.  We took in an afternoon game between the Seibu Lions and the Orix Buffaloes.  Sadly, the crowd was sparse, but the food was the best yet.  The omusoba, and omelet wrapped around yaki soba noodles, was scrumptious. 


Thanks to Kentucky Joe for holding the plate for me.  (Note the air conditioned seats in the background!)  Later in the day I had the oden, a dish that is normally served during the cold-weather months and has boiled daikon (a Japanese radish), egg, fish cakes, and konnyaku (a starchy yam product).  

Don't confuse oden with Greg Oden, the basketball player who, despite being only twenty years old, looks about thirty-nine.  Bless his heart.

We had a pitcher's duel until the Buffaloes made timely a few timely hits and won 6-2.  Another JapanBaller, DC Bob, is actually keeping a scorecard during these games, so I'll direct you to his blog if any of you are interested in the play-by-play.  I was impressed with 25-year-old Buffaloes starter Chihiro Kaneko, who gave up 2 runs on 7 hits in 7 2/3 innings.  It was also a thrill to see Tuffy Rhodes, who went 2 for 4 with a double, triple, and a run scored. (I admit that I missed the double and the run because I was buying oden at the concession stand. So I suppose I was more thrilled with the food than with Tuffy's performance.)

After the game we piled onto an express train to Kyoto and had dinner at a bar-b-que restaurant.  I'm not talking pulled pork and hush puppies like you'll find in my home state of North Carolina.  This was an all-you-can-eat, cook-at-the-table feast with platters upon platters of thinly sliced red meat.  See the aftermath below:


I'm still not caught up on everything, but I'll make the effort tomorrow.  Need to pack before the early train to Hiroshima.