Saturday, April 30, 2016

Laughing to myself

Hmm...The Golden Arches, or Baskin-Robbins?

Herbs sell everywhere. Remember our big interest a few years ago in ginko for improving memory loss? The Japanese haven't forgotten.

Japanese style fried chicken with miso soup, green salad, seaweed and rice

Well. Well. The Dollar Store follows me everywhere. 

The true meaning of mass transportation

There is no way on earth I would be able to figure out the mass transportation system in and around Tokyo, and my fellow travelers pretty much agree. That's why we stick with our guide and follow her lead. There is limited English signage, and still that doesn't help. 
You might notice my guide is wearing white gloves and it is not for sanitary reasons as you might think. Women in Japan are very concerned about keeping their smooth skin free of blemishes. 
The bottom picture shows a subway car not crowded as some we rode where we had to stand. No graffeti  anywhere. I'm just saying...

Go a head. You figure it out.

It sounds a little fishy

Saturday morning I visited one of the largest fish markets in the world, the Tokyo Metropolitan Cental Wholesale Market where the tuna auctions are held.  The government prohbits observers, however, you can wander the stalls. Be forewarned that it is bustling, smelly and avoiding vehicles requires vigilance.

Yellow fin tuna

I got a lesson on how the colors of tuna affect the fat content and taste.
My favorite is the light tuna on the top row- slightly braised and mouth watering. It won't get any better than that anywhere else in the world. That's a "forever" memory.

The difference between sashimi and sushi is sashimi basically means "sliced raw protein." Usually it means "sliced raw fish" like tunas, salmon, but in Japan they use other protein such as horse. The horse sashimi exists and it is basically sliced horse meat served with soy sauce and wasabi. 

On the other hand, sushi, right here, is a combination of rice and sashimi. So this one is tuna, or maguro sushi, and it has tuna sashimi on top and rice on the bottom.


Random scenes into Japanese life

There's an orderly plan when entering a train car, and people follow the procedures. There is no pushing and shoving.

50 steps up means 50 steps down. A sacred temple in Kamakura.
For my Fitbit friends, already I am an overachiever by a LONG shot.
 For my Buddhist friends, I was pleased to view the Hase Kannon Temple and observe those honoring their beliefs during a holiday week festival.

This might look like a cat boarding kennel. Wrong. All you felines out there, you have not been left by your owners while they are on yet another vacation.
Rather, it's a capsule hotel for  employees required to stay late at work and cheaper than commuting home at an average distance of one to two hours. The employer pays for the stay anyhow. Japan is known for worker dedication  and self-discipline.
There's privacy with a pull down screen, AC and a communal bathroom.
My tour guide was shocked that our pets have larger spaces than the mass human population of Japan of around one hundred thirty million.

Art friends and family, at the Tokyo National Museum there is a fabulous collection of examples of print making using woodblocks.  

Friday, April 29, 2016

Starting off with a Japanese flair

The buffet breakfast in the hotel dining room was a taste of Japanese cuisine with a nod to American tourists  - the proverbial corn flakes. Thanks, but no thanks.  I tried cooked salmon, miso soup, rice, dumplings and green tea while opting out of the cereal.

Today, along with 9 others in my tour group, we used five trains total to get to Kamakura, an ancient city surrounded by mountains on three sides and the sea on the other. Although we were careful to follow our tour guide on and off and up and down stairs from one platform to another, we did not encounter the huge workday crowds due to it being a national holiday. That was fortunate and it was a practice test for gradually building up for coping with masses of people.

We visited both Buddist and Shinto shrines as the religions are the main ones in Japan, and somewhat fused together.

Japanese people tend to be quiet and move quickly from place to place. The island has little space for such a large population. On the other hand, they do laugh a lot with others taking selfies and parading in  their holiday outfits.

They honor us as tourists and yet, they leave us alone to enjoy ourselves. After finishing at the "neighborhood" sushi bar tonight - one gentleman at the next table leaned over and offered us a small crab leg which he told us to dip in a vinegar sauce - our waiter walked my friend and I out the door to the street thanking us a second - or maybe third time - for coming to dine. That was after he gave us  tea mugs with the restaurant logo.

Whatever they are doing as a whole society to promote the environment, the Japanese certainly do not litter. There were no trash cans in sight at any of the shrines and temples, nor on streets. I first noticed that while leaving the airplane last night. There was not a scrap of paper on the floor at the end of a 13 hour flight. Good for them.

Tempura and miso soup lunch with iced green tea.

A wedding  group is leaving the ceremony for picture time.
The Big Buddha

 My tour guide is describing the purification one might do before visiting the shrine. 

Shinto shrine

The sushi bar; and below, my assortment of sushi which I let the waiter pick. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Keep pushing forth

I safely arrived in Tokyo tonight after a long, long journey starting with mechanical problems in Rochester on the first leg of my journey. Wouldn't you know. I ended up on the late flight out of Chicago, and I took advantage of a whole row to myself to stretch out and snooze - and all night, too. Woot.

There is something magical about a huge city at nighttime, and I observed a flourish of activity from my taxi's windows. The light mist outside appeared to illuminate the neon lights even more and spread a shine over the dark streets.

Now that I have checked into my downtown hotel and getting ready to crash, I am giving thanks to the amazingly helpful airport and transport people these past two days. There is an aura of politeness in Japan that makes me feel so good. That's something I will be exploring further.
I'll be up and out of here early tomorrow, and pictures should be forthcoming.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A faraway voice is calling

Follow along with me on my blog,  Tour Japan With Kay

Be with me in spirit as I begin the airline portion of my three-week trip to Japan.  For some people, a lengthy flight is arduous. I take it all in stride, have light reading material, a noise cancelling headset and the ability to snooze a bit. When I arrive in Toyko, you'll be the first - well, the second in line -  to hear from me. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

How's your chopstick skill?

Heading to Japan requires a bit more planning. Here's why.

Upon examining the State Department's country information section, - that's a smart idea for any trip prep -  you will notice that you must check on your medications, have referral letters from your doctor for each and limit the number of cosmetics/toiletries- hmm... -  in your luggage. Think twice about bringing extra mouthwash and over- the- counter meds etc. and prepare to buy in Japan. It's not a big deal, if you organize, and then you won't get surprised going through customs in Tokyo.

Go to the U.S. Passport and International Travel website and enroll in STEP, the Smart Traveler Enrollment Plan if you haven't alrready done so,  and you will have the latest information in case of emergency while away. Put the app Smart Traveler on your phone for handy reference to the State Department. In light of recent situations around the world, it is a wise plan.

As in other Asian countries, you will be in temples and shrines everyday. Think about slip- on shoes and a pair of "temple socks" to wear over your own (I'm using cheap ballet-type slippers) while walking on cold floors.

There are fewer porters in hotels and on trains. You should be able to carry your own luggage - Think wheels, which most everyone does these days. A backpack is handy for keeping your hands free to tote your larger suitcase. At least, that's going to be my plan of action, along with a multi-purpose raincoat with lots of pockets and a large waterproof purse. Yes, rain is quite common in May, so the choice of umbrella vs a rainhat is up to you.

Of course, there are tons of other things on your personal check list that are part of your travel routine. May I suggest several.

Find a good weather app - I use Weather + - and load in the cities you will be visiting.

Put all the hotels you will be staying in your contact list on your phone, and upon arrival, you will be able to locate yourself by GPS. There is an app, Check My Trip, that holds all your trip info. This will be my first experience using it.

A good currency converter and tip calculator app are indispensible.

Mobile Pass app for quick boarding is a plus.

The Triposo app is a great reference book to load on your phone, too, with maps, places to visit, historical information, restaurants and other pertinent facts. It saves carrying a heavy travel guide with you.

Oh, and practice up using chopsticks.