Posts tagged japan

REVIEW: Yamato Transport Company


LOGO: 9/10. It’s a mother cat carrying a kitten! This logo is everywhere in Japan, as recognizable to Japanese people as the Coca Cola logo. 1 point off because the logo on their vehicles is usually fairly small.

URL: 10/10. It means "Black Cat Yamoto", not something boring like "Yamato Transport Company" like you might expect.

CONVENIENCE: 10/10. There are Yamato drop off locations every few blocks in cities and everywhere else in Japan. They’ll pick packages up too.

PRICE: 9/10. ¥950 for a COD next day delivery from Osaka to Tokyo, about 500km. Try that with FedEx…

AVAILABILITY OF CHANGE: 4/10. Japan is a cash-based society, and I’ve never had a problem giving even street vendors a ¥10000 (about $100) bill and getting a pile of change. Until now. The driver didn’t have change, and only I had ¥10000 bills and ¥850 in coins!

SERVICE FROM DRIVER: 9/10. He was willing to come back later in the day at a time of my choosing and he gave me his cell phone number. Apparently this is also written on their "we missed you" delivery slips.

OVERALL: 9/10. Would ship with them again in a second! Go black cat company!


Approach stairsFor my first full day in Kyoto I decided to… leave Kyoto.  I took a small, suburban railway up to Kibune Guchi then walked uphill for about half an hour to reach Kifune Shrine in Kibune.  Apparently the spirit enshrined there is not exactly the spirit of water itself, but rather the provider of water to others (as in rivers, rainfall, and so on.)  Anyway, I bought my oracle, which came on a piece of paper with blank boxes.  Soaking it in the provided trough revealed my fortune, which according to a Japanese man I asked was “middle lucky.”  He was unhappy – his was bad.

After the shrine, I took a pleasant walk through the hills to reach Kurama.  On the way were awesome views and beautiful mountainside temples and shrines – take a look at my photos for a small taste :)

I had an extremely tasty bowl of tempura ramen at one of the two open restaurants in Kurama, with a cup of amazake afterwards.  This is a sweet, non-alcoholic drink made from fermented rice.  Then I headed to Kurama Onsen, a hotspring resort about 10 minutes walk out of town, and soaked in the water for about 2 hours while the sun set over the hills.
After all that, I finally headed back to Kyoto for more ramen then sleep.

Geiko, making teaThe next day I had the chance to experience a different kind of beauty in the form of a tea ceremony at Gion Corner, a local centre dedicated to preserving and promoting Japanese traditions.  I am sadly not well versed in tea ceremony protocol, but this one was geared towards tourists and they explained everything in Japanese and English.  The best part was that the tea was prepared by a Geiko (Geisha) and served by a pair of Maiko (apprentice Geisha.)  Geiko and Maiko are breathtakingly beautiful in a way that is impossible to show in photos or, really, describe.  Also the way the Geiko prepared the tea was amazing in the perfect way she moved – everything exactly right, lots of steps, but no wasted motions.

All in all, a wonderful couple of days :)

WTFSnow in Tokyo

We love snow!, originally uploaded by scjody.

I said I wished it would snow while I was in Tokyo (I still do – it only snows every few years.) This isn’t what I meant though.

I found these guys on a random walk through Shibuya (the “city” in Tokyo where I live) on Age Day. This is the day when everyone who’s turned 20 in the past year is invited to attend a “coming of age” ceremony, usually at the local city hall.  The fun part is that many of the attendees were dressed in traditional Japanese Kimono.

Anyway, these guys were different.  They were making snow using a machine that crushes ice and blows it out. Then, as far as I can tell, the plan was to paint “WE L♥VE SNOW” on it and take photos of people standing on it as part of something complicated called an “Eco-Action.” A google-translated article is here.

Enjoy a taste of the WTF that is Tokyo!

Pantsless Tokyo

Pantsless Yoyogi
Well, we tried. I saw a post on couchsurfing with plans for a pantsless train ride, part of No Pants 2010 organized by Improv Everythingwhere. The consensus among some Japanese people I talked to the night before is that it would mostly be foreigners – the concept is a bit weird for Japanese.

The chosen train line was the Yamanote Line, which is probably Tokyo’s busiest train line. It runs in a big loop around central Tokyo – anything important is on the Yamanote Line, or one train connection away from it.

I showed up at Ikebukuro Station (1 station after the start), took off my pants in a washroom, and walked upstairs to the platform… there were a few security guards there who saw me but didn’t do anything except laugh. Then I got the word from a French participant on the platform: “put your pants on or they won’t let you on the train. We’ll take our pants off on the train.”

Sure enough, when the train arrived a few minutes later, the designated car was full of police officers and JR security guards. I got on the car next to it (which was my plan all along.) Word was that there were plainclothes officers in every car, and they were threatening to arrest anyone who participated. A few minutes after we boarded, two police officers came up to us and one of them asked us in English if we were part of the no pants ride… he told us “there’s no no pants ride. Keep your pants on or you will be arrested.”

So yeah. No no pants ride.

After the ride we headed to Yoyogi Park as planned. At least 2 people at the park had actually managed to board the train without pants, and in both cases they were detained and yelled at (but not arrested) by the police. They also kept several people off the car by simply blocking the doors when they saw someone on the platform without pants.

We took some pantsless photos in the park, then headed to an Izakaya (Japanese style pub) where drinking and more pantslessness ensued.

And that was that. Here’s a news article in English – it has links to an article in Asahi Shimbun, Japan’s largest newspaper, and a blog, where commenters mostly thought that the police response was a complete waste of police overtime and public money.

We think that “honest man” on the Facebook event tipped off the police. From what I’ve heard, last halloween there was a party on the Yamanote Line where a bunch of Japanese people took the social convention of “anything goes when you’re drunk” a bit too far and smashed up the inside of the train car. So when the police heard of another weird event on the Yamanote, they reacted.

We may try again. This time it will be invite-only, details by email to people whom the organizers have met and checked out. And it won’t be on the Yamanote Line.

Akemashite Omedetou


I decided I wanted Yakitori (meat on a stick, literally “roasted bird”) for dinner, and Just In Tokyo suggested I find one of the many restaurants near Yurakucho Station.  I chose the busiest restaurant (which was relative – 6PM is early for dinner it seems) and it was excellent.  Great food, friendly service, and as a bonus, new year’s Sake.  The server explained that it’s a Japanese tradition at New Years to have a barrel of sake and serve a free drink to every customer on their first visit in the year.  It came in a traditional wooden cup and tasted excellent!

So yeah, Akemashite Omedetou.  I may be spelling that completely wrong, but it’s Happy New Year in Japanese… I learned that on a fairly random new year’s eve, when I met up with some couchsurfers a few hours after my plane landed.  The evening included dinner at an izakaya (traditional Japanese pub), wandering around the streets, champagne from a convenience store, bars, and karaoke.  Somehow, I finished the evening with a completely different group of people than I started with.  Which was fine :)  Oh, and the trains were running all night, which was good because I didn’t want to have to deal with taxis on my first night in town.

After dinner I headed to Roppongi.  I’ve never been so I thought I’d look around.  It’s pretty seedy – lots of strip clubs and fairly pushy (for Japan) touts.  Lots of businesses in Tokyo have people on the street yelling things to convince passers-by to come in (or holding menus, or in the case of tonight’s yakitori restaurant simply clapping.)  But this is the only place they’ve actually tried to engage me in conversation.  That’s as far as it got though – nobody followed me down the street like in the 3rd world…

My mission in Roppongi was to find cheesecake (it’s always good to have a mission.)  I found a Starbucks about 3 minutes out of the subway station, but decided that was too easy and kept walking.  I finally found a French restaurant that served me some – and then braved the touts again on the way to the subway station, 2 stops from home.

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