Month: December 2014

Tokyo view from Mori Tower by Japanexperterna

Tokyo Adventures Part 1

Some classmates and I decided to venture to Tokyo for a weekend. Because I was heading home immediately after the program ends, this was my only opportunity to see the capital. Together we were able to figure out getting plane and bus tickets, and I was able to use my insider connection (Masanori, a boy who was an exchange student back in California and who lives in Tokyo) to get help finding a decent hotel. He even called the hotel to book us while he was still in America.

Tokyo skyscrapers

Tokyo buildings are big

Our first challenge was in locating our bus to take us from school to the airport. The station above APU’s campus is fairly large, and we weren’t sure which parking lot the bus would take. One of my classmates tried asking a bus driver for directions. I watched the exchange from a short distance, noticing how confused my classmate looked as the driver impatiently repeated his directions. Everyone except I in our Tokyo-bound group was first-level Japanese students. I didn’t know much either, so it felt strange to be the group’s speaking representative. I hurried over to save my classmate. The bus driver repeated his story to me, and I was able to make out that our bus would be coming to the upper parking lot; if we hadn’t asked, we would have missed it. It pays to know a little bit of the language, or at least carry a traveler’s handbook with you.

The plane ride to Tokyo was pleasant; everyone is so polite and helpful at Japanese airports. After we arrived, the boys headed off to find their own place to stay. As for us three girls, we couldn’t have found our hotel without the help of Masanori. Like a trail of lost ducks behind the leader, we followed him through the train stations and streets until coming to the high-rise hotel in Shinjuku. Because it was dark, my first impression of Tokyo was a sea of colored lights filled with people regardless of the late hour.

I was interested in the way you had to slide your hotel key in the elevator to go to different floors, for security. The room was crowded so tightly by the three beds that there was barely walking space between them. None of it was as fancy as our Best Western hotel in Nagasaki, but as a compromise between luxury and cost, it was perfect for our short stay.

Cat saying "whew"Step one—getting there without missing buses, planes or trains—was a success. In retrospect I am amazed at how easily everything could have gone wrong; if we hadn’t asked the bus driver or understood his directions, missing the bus would have led to missing the plane, which would have led to missing the check-in hours at the hotel. None of the employees of any of the services we used knew much English, so we were really yolo-ing it until Masanori took over. The trip was nerve-wracking and fun, and I’m glad I did it.

 

Because WordPress doesn’t show title/caption/alt text/descriptions on cover images, I’m placing the credit for the cover image here: Tokyo View from Mori Tower.
Japanexperterna [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Visit the photographer’s gorgeous site:

www.japanexperterna.se

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Japanese curry bread

The Wonder of Curry Bread

Curry bread (karee-pan [kah-reeh pahn]) is the ambrosia of my Japan experience. I would have curry bread over doughnuts any day. This convenience-store food consists of Japanese curry wrapped in dough and breadcrumbs, which is then deep fried(1). The result is a snack that is easy to hold (if a bit greasy) and bursting with spicy curry flavor. You may be thinking of a jelly doughnut, curry version; however, the bread itself has better flavor and texture than an American doughnut, and of course has an entirely different kind of sweetness that complements the curry.

curry bread in manga

“W-what!? The curry…from inside…” !?!

I love this bread so much that I would buy out Asia Pacific University student store’s entire supply in the mornings when they got a new batch. I had to ask a store manager to find out when they restock, so I could be sure to come in time before they sold out. Curry bread can be found in most convenience stores and some bakeries in Japan.

It pains me greatly that this staple Japanese treat doesn’t seem to exist back home in California. I have to go to Sacramento (hours away) just to get melon bread (sweet melon-flavored bread), let alone curry bread (I don’t know if Sacramento Asian markets carry it).

After my study abroad program was over, I asked my second-cousin who is living in Japan to bring me back curry bread when she visited the U.S. I assume she checked the box at the airport, and had to declare she was bringing them back as gifts rather than for resell. It must have looked funny to anyone who checked her bag. That supply didn’t last me very long.

Curry bread in pop culture:

Curry Bread Man is a superhero in the children’s picture book series Anpanman by Yanase Takashi (last-first name), which stars an anthropomorphic sweet-red-bean-paste filled bread.

In chapter 21 of the manga Black Butler by Toboso Yana (last-first name), demon butler Sebastian invents curry bread in old England during a curry contest. The food judge says it better than I can: “The deep fried crispy exterior and soft interior’s texture combined with that sticky curry creates several levels of heavenly taste!” “Ingenious and fragrant, it is all blended together as if it were the very meaning of ‘delicious’. It blossoms the moment it is sliced open!”

(1)Wikipedia contributors. “Curry bread.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 9 May. 2014. Web. 8 Dec. 2014.

Cover image: from Wikipedia commons, taken 4 November 2007 by katorisi

Giant Pachinko Palace

Casinos and Love Hotels: Fantastic Architecture in Beppu

Las Vegas Casino

Las Vegas, in Japan.

While strolling Beppu’s streets (looking for cats or onsen), sometimes a building would catch my eye that had such bizarre architecture that I figured it could be one of two things: either a casino or a love hotel. I laughed when I saw a casino named “Las Vegas”. Admittedly, when I think of Las Vegas all I think of is gambling, too. The Las Vegas building was decorated with red-white-and-blue American colors for that authentic atmosphere, and specialized in pachinko and slot machines.

For more traditional pachinko gambling, a ginormous, flashy yellow building shouts itself into being noticed along the main road. Palaces like that one are testament to the popularity of pachinko and the lucrativeness of owning a gambling business. In the evenings, through the windows I could see rows of what looked like salarymen (guys in businesswear) staring into the machines.

Hotel Swing

This is the hotel I caught sight of in the distance at night before finding the locals’ bathhouse. It doesn’t look quite so threatening during day, when you can see the colors and not just the slit windows. (From Google Images)

Because of space restrictions, many Japanese families live in small apartments. Consequently, couples don’t have many opportunities to have time away from the kids. Married couples are one demographic that takes advantage of love hotel services. These short-stay hotels allow visitors to choose a room for a “rest” (1-3 hours) or an overnight stay. They are not brothels, although unfortunately the total privacy they offer doesn’t discriminate legal from illegal activities. According to Wikipedia, the name originates from Osaka’s 1968 “Hotel Love”, and

has since taken alternate guises by operators trying to make their place sound more fashionable than competition: “romance hotel”, “fashion hotel”, “leisure hotel”, “amusement hotel”, “couples hotel”, and “boutique hotel”. Often you can identify love hotels from their gaudy exteriors (castles, boats, UFOs, neon lighting). Another give-away is when signs outside are decorated with hearts. I remember staring at an eight-story building, wondering why its windows were tiny slits (balistraria?). If it weren’t for the colorfully patterned walls, I might think it was a prison.

Beppu's red light district entrance

I don’t know if this is really a “red light district”, but there are a lot of bars and clubs in the alleyways back there.

The weirdest, kinkiest hotels are what get blogged about (dungeons, fantasy scenes, Hello Kitty S&M). While it’s scary to think about the safety issues of these venues, the creative architecture designs are amusing to see as a casual tourist on the outside. For the sake of couples who don’t want anything fancy, just some quality time, there are ordinary looking buildings whose main feature is guaranteeing privacy. I can’t imagine love hotels being successful in puritan America, especially since laws require renters to give their information for safety and liability reasons. Considering America’s crime rate compared to Japan’s, I don’t think America is mature enough to handle couples hotels.

The most interesting love hotels in Beppu are lined up by the docks. They give off a quiet, respectable vibe just like any hotel. Beppu’s host and hostess clubs occupy the hidden alleyways farther inland, a completely different scene. While we searched for cats, my friend and I were amused by fancily dressed men standing outside clubs.

As my high school English professor used to proclaim, life and Shakespeare run on drugs, sex, and rock n’ roll. Every culture dresses them differently.