Click the above image to open a set of photos from a recent trip I took to Kyoto
Each culture has their own, and you never really notice the ones from your own culture, as thy are almost always so deeply ingrained that you accept them without question. Earlier this month I had a business trip that took me to San Diego. This was great, as it gave me a break from the worsening weather here in Japan as winter makes its presence known. The real bonus of the trip though was the fact that just that week before my trip, Japan Airlines had started non-stop service from Tokyo to San Diego. And better yet, it was via the new 787 Dreamliner.
I’d never flown this model of aircraft before, so it was a pleasant surprise. I believe that different carriers have a choice on how many seats they want to try to cram into an airplane, and Japan Airlines must be commended on its move to actually give you a bit more room than in the past. Just about every feature of the 777 has been thoughtfully upgraded in the new 787: The personal video screens are larger and sharper, the seats and a bit bigger, the windows are larger and have this cool auto-tint feature, so there is no actual slide-down window screen anymore. The bathrooms seem more spacious, with a better designed door and fixtures.
All of these new upgraded features were nice and made the entire flight more comfortable. But what really rocked my world was the meals being served.
I’m not sure if it was a promotion due to the addition of this new non-stop flight, but the meal on the way to San Diego was Kentucky Fried Chicken, and the meal on the way back to Japan was a Yoshinoya Beef Bowl. (See the pics below for proof!) Most of the pictures I took on this trip were food and drink related, so I will refer you to the photo link above if you need a Japan-Photo fix, as it opens up a gallery of some images I captured while in Kyoto late last month.
But getting back to the superstition part of this update, when I arrived in San Diego, I made a pit stop in the bathroom before heading to Immigration, so I had resigned myself to the fact that I would be at the back of the line and it would take me extra time to pass through. As I entered the immigration area I was confronted with VERY long lines at all of the immigration counters. All but one of them. Number 4 had absolutely NO LINE in front of it. Not a single person. At first I thought it was because line 4 was closed, but then I remembered I had just got off of a flight that was was choke full of Japanese people.
Then it hit me, OF COURSE nobody wanted to take line 4!
You see, the number 4 can be pronounced two ways, either Yon, or Shi. But “Shi” is also the Japanese word for death, and thus thought to bring bad luck. That is why many supermarkets in Japan have no checkout line number 4, and buildings will sometimes not have a 4th floor.
As I walked up to the counter in line 4, and I could tell that the immigration officer was confused why nobody had chosen his line up to that point. So I explained it to him and he had a good laugh about it, commenting that it was just like Americans and their superstitions about the number 13.
So wherever you originate from, be it Japan, America, somewhere in Europe etc, we all have our differences based on the culture we were raised in . But once you peel back the superficiality of it all, we are all pretty much the same too.
KFC at 37,000 feet
I was surprised at the volume of airline traffic zipping up and down the California coast.
Oh how I have missed you old friend
Since when did most every convenience and grocery store in America start stoking loads of great beer?
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Rain, it was the season of Wind, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had 42.2 kilometers before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities (Tokyo Governor Ishihara) insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
The Tokyo Marathon, or as I have decided to call it, my “Blind Date”.
I have named it such because it was my first marathon, and I was not quite sure what to expect. 350,000 people had signed up to run the race, but there were only 35,000 available slots, so I was lucky to get in.
And like a lot of first experiences in life, a friend had talked me into doing it. This friend will remain nameless, so lets just say that his name rhymes with “Peter”. It was last year, and “Pete” had run the Tokyo Marathon for the first time. We were talking about it over beers, and I guess he could see the envy in my eyes so he suggested I run it the next year. Feeling good (ten feet tall and bullet proof, due to the beer) I responded with a hearty “Yes!” I should have known better though, as it was the very same situation, a few beers and good food, that got me into climbing Mt Fuji for the second time.
But I am not on to back out on a commitment, so I made sure to put in a good amount of training to get ready for the race.
A couple of days before the race I started eating a lot more pasta, and getting plenty of sleep. I was also keeping my eye on the weather forecast, and I did not like what I was seeing. As it got closer and closer to race day, the weather outlook got more and more bleak. And by the time I woke up at 4:30 on Race Day I found that not only was the wind blowing and the rain falling, but it was also getting colder.
There was a second there when I considered just crawling back into bed and ditching the race. But only for a second. I had trained for 11 or so weeks, and wanted to put all that training to the test so I ate a light breakfast and headed up to Shinjuku.
Upon arriving in Shinjuku I was happy to see that the wind had died down a bit. But I was not so happy to see that the rain had not stopped. I would be even less happy when I found out that I would have to stand in the rain for a bout 45 minutes while waiting for the race to start. That was a pretty miserable experience. But I was able to give a spare pair of gloves to an older Japanese woman who was lining up for the race next to me. She had forgotten hers at home, and I had taken a spare pair just for a case like this so I was happy to be of help.
The only thing that kept me from turning hypothermic while waiting for the race to start was the clear plastic trash bag that I was wearing as it kept my for the the most part dry. I had brought a button up raincoat that I bought at a 100 yen store the day before, but the trash bag was a better solution for the race. ”Pete” had the foresight to bring an extra trash bag for me and right before the race he cut the head and arm holes in it and I slipped it on. The only break to the monotony of waiting for the race to start was when Bobby, a rather famous foreign TV talent in Japan stepped into the group of runners a few paces away from me. He had cameramen and photographers all a round him, so that gave me something to watch while the rain continued to fall. I would have liked to get a photo of all the goings-on, but due to the rain I had decided to not run with my camera as I would have probably shorted it out had I used it in the rain.
So there I was, the minutes counting down to the start, staying reasonably dry (but not warm), with the exception of my feet since my shoes were slowly soaking up the rainfall.
Then, after a minor eternity the race was on! And off I went, WALKING for the first 5 or 6 minutes as the marathon mob slowly filtered through the starting gates. Think of the entire resident population of the Super Dome trying to squeeze through a couple of narrow streets and you will get an idea of how congested the start of the race was.
After going about half a kilometer down the road things started to open up a bit since the road was getting much wider. It was still packed in pretty tight, and because of this I could not really see the road in front of me. That was when I ended up running through a long deep puddle, completely soaking what were up to that point only semi-damp feet. Not a good start. More than 40 kilometers to go, and I would be doing it with soaking wet shoes.
As the kilometers started to click by, the rain continued to fall, the wind started to pick up, and the temperature continued to drop. While running through Ginza, around the 20 kilometers mark I noticed a thermometer on a building at it said 3 degrees C. Shortly after that I felt a brief spattering of hail, but only for a couple of minutes.
Because it was so cold, I had to make periodic periodic stops every 5 or so kilometers to stretch my legs. The cold was keeping my muscles tight, and there was not much I could do about it.
What really kept me going was the crowds that were lined up on both sides of the road for nearly the entire 42 kilometer course. I heard “Ganabatte!”, “Faito!!”, and “Go!!!” more times that I could even begin to count. The only places were there were no spectators to rally the runner on were the couple of bridges near the end of the race since.
The really nice thing about the crowd was the support they provide to the runners. And I’m not just talking moral support. People in no way officially connected to the race would have prepared snack and energy foods ahead of time. They would then hold them out on plates so runner could grab then as they passed.
Slices of lemon, orange, and mikan. Chocolates, sweet hard candy, bananas, and my personal favorite: small homemade chocolate cookie wafers loaded with salt, each individually wrapped in plastic.
As a result of the spectators thoughtfulness to make all of these treats, I ended the race with a full stomach, almost too full in fact. The extra helpings of snacks along the way might have actually slowed me down in the long run, but were it not for the cheering crowds I am sure that it would have been a much more difficult experience. I appreciate each every spectator that took the time to come out and stand out in the rain to cheer all the runner on.
The absolute worst part of the race for me was kilometers 30 though 35. After that I could sense the end and I actually started to speed up. This tells me that i didn’t push myself hard enough for the first half of the race, and I was saving too much energy. During the first half of the race I did think that maybe I was making that mistake, but I was also worried about burning myself out too early. I guess I will be able to better judge things the next time I run.
You can check out the splits in my overall time of 4:20: 25 by following this link and entering my bib number: 27427.
After finishing I got my medal, and headed to the area where I could pick up my change of clothes, although the had seemed to have misplaced my bag so it took them about 15 minutes to actually find it. Not that I minded though, because while I waited they had a nice soft chair for me to sit in, all wrapped up in warm blankets.
After they located my bag I headed to the changing area and stripped off my soaking clothes and shoes, toweled myself off, and changed into a set of dry clothes. I was happy to notice that my feet had held up incredibly well, and had given me absolutely no problems, even though they were wet for the entire race. I saw some other people who were not so lucky. One guys socks were dripping red, and in places his shoes had worn completely through his socks,and deep into his skin.
My leg muscles were obviously sore, but today, just three days after the race and I am feeling back to normal. I’m actually itching to go on another run if you can imagine that!
So in summary The Tokyo Marathon, aka “My Blind Date” turned out to be quite an ugly one, but they day was not a total loss as she ended up having a great personality. :)
From time to time there are some stories that make the national news here in Japan that mystify me.
Sometimes the stories are sad, sometimes they are strange, and other times they are down right creepy. But from time to time a story comes along that can’t be described by any word other than “cute”.
Case in point is a recent article in the Yomiuri Online about a metal light pole falling down and hitting a little girl, slightly injuring her. The little was not doing anything wrong, she just happened to be near it when it fell over.
An investigation by the city determined that the reason the pole fell over was because it had been corroded over the years by countless cats and dogs urinating on it’s base, eventually leading to structural failure. As a result, the city paid the parents of the girl a grand sum of 26, 050 yen, which is just shy of $300 at todays exchange rate, and enough to cover the hospital bill.
After the event, the city immediately inspected all 1,700 of these poles, repainting 600 of them, and replacing 18. And that was the end of it.
If this same thing happened in America, I can just imagine how it could would have turned out:
1. The parents would have sued the city for $300,349,251.97 , which breaks down as follows:
- $15,000 for the ambulance ride to the hospital.
- $27,237 for the actual medical care.
- The remaining $300,307,014.97 for “Pain and Suffering” and emotional trauma, because of the fact that the girl (and her entire extended family, including in-laws) would have to start taking a cocktail of anti-anxiety medication for the rest of their lives, the contents of which include, but are not limited to: Ativan, BuSpar, Celexa, Cymbalta, Dalmane, Desyrel, Effexor, Elavil, Klonopin, Lexapro, Librium, Norpramin, Pamelor, Paxil, Prozac, Remeron, Serax, Tofranil, Tranxene, Valium, Vistaril, Xanax, and Zoloft. (I know most of it read like Klingon, but those are all true drug trade names, honest!)
2. People in all other cities in America would start a class action suite against the cities they live in because this very same type of thing could happen to them.
3. Congress would immediately vote an extra BAJILLION dollars into the Stimulus Package (I can never say that with a straight face) and 90% of that money would of course be directly funneled into bonuses to bankers.
4. The remaining money from the StimulousPackage would be used to fit automated tazers to all light poles that would fire at any offending pet (or person) that decided to take a leak anywhere within a 15 foot radius of the pole. This of course would lead to more lawsuits, and so on and so forth…
I am very glad to be living here in Japan. Where the news makes no sense, but that’s OK, because neither do I.
After nearly ten years in Japan, I finally made it to my first Metropolis Halloween Party. I wish I had started attending them sooner, because it was a BLAST! Although, I’m not completely stupid though, because I had enough foresight to book a hotel room for the night of the party and take the next day off from work.
I had with me the old Fuji F30. It served the purpose well and from the photo gallery you can see I just dumped the memory card straight from the camera. It’s further proof positive that no matter what camera I use I am more than capable of producing bland, out of focus, poorly framed shots with bad composition and timing.
I was dressed up as Peter Pan, and Saori was Tinker Bell. She had scored a great deal on the costumes earlier that week via the internet.
I was not planning to stay out all night (Thats what the hotel room was for) but I was aware that the party was a “Nomihodai” meaning it was sure to be fun, if not a little bit of a challenge for the old liver. And true to form I lost count after the 9th or 10th gin-tonic, but seeing as the party started at 7pm, there was plenty of time not only to drink, but to burn those drinks off.
Granted I was not feeling as chipper as I usually do as I rolled out of bed at the crack of afternoon the next day, but I’ll blame that on the cheap gin.
Will I go again next year? Most definitely, I just need to think of another costume that will be popular as Peter Pan. With Japan having such an obsession for all things Disney I was constantly getting dragged into pictures with people which is a great conversation starter to say the least.
Soooo. Anyone have any ideas about what I should be next year?
Completely off-topic, but I just HAD to share this with you all.
|Gaijin desu or “I’m a foreigner”….Every once in a while I am reminded that I am a foreigner here in Japan. I’m not talking about discrimination, although that can happen from time to time, but rather by something kind of funny that happened today.
Spring is in full swing here in Japan and I took advantage of the great weather today and decided to go for a longer run than usual. On a typical day I run for 30 minutes to 1 hour, in the general area around my house. But today was so nice, I decided to do a little exploring as I went for my run.
I have included some pictures I took today. Mostly shots of flowers and random scenes from the roads and paths around my house. (I do not take a camera when I go running and thus was not able to get any pictures that relate directly to my story.
I headed down a road I had never been on before and decided to find out where it went. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and the weather was perfect. Warm, but no humidity.
I make a point about the lack of humidity because all to soon Japan will turn into one large steam cooker. Summers are notoriously hot and sticky here. And having also lived in the State of Georgia, I can definitively say that Georgia can’t hold a candle to Japan when it comes to humidity.
This place gets hot. Not hot in any terrestrial sort of way, but rather what I imagine the surface of the planet Venus is like on your average July afternoon. Standing-in-the-shade-naked-doing-nothing-and-still-sweating-like-a-pig-hot.
But enough about the humidity, I don’t want to think about it. It will be here soon enough and I can complain about it more later.
Back to the story…
The thing that reminded me that I am a gaijin is what happened when I got out pretty far off the beaten path. I had been running for about an hour and the roads were getting smaller and smaller. The noise of traffic started to fade off into the distance and I started to really enjoy the scenery. Every once in a while I would pass by some people on the road, always giving a friendly nod of my head to them as I slipped past.
Then it happened…BAM…the reminder..
I was coming up on a grandfather going for a walk with his granddaughter. She must have been about 3 years old. I angled off to the side of the road to give them enough room as I passed them. They were heading towards me and I gave the grandfather a friendly nod and then looked at the little girl…
She must not have seen too many foreigners before because she got a look of shock, wonder, and interested on here face. She kind of went mentally blank for a second, and that was all it took for here to forget that she was also walking, and end up tripping on her own feet..and..BAM! Face-plant on the ground, forehead first.
It made a really sharp slapping sound, shockingly loud. I immediately stopped running and asked the grandfather if she was ok. He picked her up, brushed her off and took a look. By this time she was wailing like a stuck pig. Other than a nasty scrape right above her eyebrows she appeared fine.
I apologized for scaring her, and her grandfather said it was ok.
I really do feel bad about it. After the traumatic experience the poor kid will probably be terrified of foreigners for some time. I hope I did not scare her too badly. Who knows, she could go on to develop a phobia of foreigners later on in life…
All said and done this is not too much to write about. The only reason I put it down here is because this is not the first time this has happened to me! A similar thing happened when I was out for a walk one day about a year ago. That time the kid was a boy, and a little older but the result was pretty much the same. I make eye contact-the kid freezes-and trips on his own feet. BAM!..a dirt torpedo.
The only question I have is what causes these kids to lock up like that?
Is it that rarely that they get to see a real live foreigner? And is it really that shocking, or are we (foreigners) just that ugly to them?
I’m not talking any normal kind of ugly. What I am referring to is your above average ugliness…. A scare-the-paint-off-a-fence kind of ugly.
Just kidding. I know exactly what is it.
Racially, Japan is a very homogeneous country. More so than almost any other country on Earth. (maybe that’s because this is not really Earth…Like I said before, this place is like the planet Venus…Hmmm….) 98.99% of the people are Japanese, 1% are some other Asian race (Korean, Chinese,…), and the remaining 0.01% is made up of me and some guy named “Roy” who lives in Hokkaido. (Not really, it just feels that way sometimes.)
So I guess I can understand their shock. Heck, for all I know that very well could have been the first time they saw a gaijin.
Hey, it’s not everyday that one gets to make “First Contact” with an alien species.