ar_wahan: (Japan trip?)
As I was taking a shower, I suddenly had what may or may not be a revelation about the mysterious red, sweet, refreshing tidbits we were served in Japan. I had originally thought they were umeboshi (picked plums), but those are salty.

I think they were pickled crab apples!!
ar_wahan: (Japan trip?)
When we were in Japan in June, it was hot and humid. The heat may be why there were vending machines stocked with beverages on many street corners in Kyoto. As a diabetic who must count carbs, however (in order to administer the corresponding amount of insulin via insulin pump), I was reluctant to try these tempting beverages because I had no idea how many carbs anything except water contained.

On our second night in Kyoto (the last one I wrote about, months ago), we headed out for dinner too late to find any restaurants open within walking distance, so we went to a convenience store a few streets away from our B&B (ryokan). We bought some prepackaged soba salads. And then I spotted a beverage that filled me with glee. When I got back to the B&B, I took two discarded beverage containers that Samurai had in her room, and set them in triumph next to my valuable find.

Guess which one is the Rosetta Stone )

Tonight, rather than take a photo of my scrawling attempts at Japanese lettering in my little booklet, I decided to look for the word on line. And I was gratified to learn that I had read my Rosetta Stone correctly!


And, I was right! )

:P

ar_wahan: (Japan trip?)
I actually wrote up part of this months ago, and LJ ate it. :(

When I started looking on line in May  for ryokan (bed & breakfast) places in Kyoto for June, I was puzzled. April and May were the high tourist seasons, when the cherry trees are in bloom, but for June, I received notices from ryokan after ryokan that no rooms were available. I didn't understand why. But after having stayed in this ryokan (and, later, in others, in other towns), I think I "got it."  These are largely family-run establishments, and the people -- at least, the women (I hardly ever saw the men do anything) -- work really, really hard. I'm guessing after the heavy tourist season, they just say, "We're closed -- on vacation!" Good for them.

On our second morning in Kyoto, I was still seriously jet-lagged, and woke up frequently during the night, and at the crack of dawn. I knew Samurai was still asleep in the next tatami room. The ryokan was on a very narrow street. All the buildings were made of some sort of cement, and there were no trees on the street. An occasional residence would have a courtyard beyond a high cement/concrete garden wall, and at least one (that I could see from my height on the second floor) had a tree inside it, but otherwise, the street was a concrete canyon.

I am assuming that is why every sound in the street was amplified.

Lying there waiting for the rest of the ryokan (and Samurai) to awake, I paid attention to the sounds, having nothing else to do.

There were loud footsteps below my window, and the explosive burst of a man spitting on the street.

Minibikes going by sounded like Harleys.

The click of the claws on a dog's feet on the pavement were sharply clear.

In the house across the narrow street, children preparing to leave for school were bumping up against the inside of their front door with thuds loud enough to make me think someone was pounding on the door to my room.

And yet, between these sharp bursts of noise, there were great silences -- broken by nothing but the cawing of crows. Except for those children at the door, no sounds escaped from the houses themselves. The "canyon" walls seemed to protect us from the noise of cars and buses on the four-lane avenue down at the end of the street.

It struck me then that from the carrying of sounds, you might come away with the illusion that you knew everything about your neighbors  But at the same time, you would not.  Public and private sounds, liveliness and stillness, were as clearly divided (and yet connected) as alleyway and home, as yin and yang.

[I had a much better explanation of this, at least I think, in the paper journal that I was carrying with me and wrote on that morning. But I managed to leave it later on the train to Takayama, for some poor conductor to puzzle over.]
ar_wahan: (Japan trip?)
The thing that struck me the strongest was how in their crowded country, the Japanese make the most of every square inch (or centimeter) they have. The houses are very small and very close together, even in what we'd call the suburbs. But where Americans and other westerners have backyard lawns and flower gardens, the Japanese (at least, from what I saw on this first train ride and from that point on in our journey) grow food. A small back "yard" might often be a flooded rice paddy. (I do wonder if they lease the land to some kind of co-op... it can't be that useful to harvest the rice themselves.) Each narrow strip of ground, about the size of a parking strip in this country, between, say, the railroad tracks and a wall, might be home to tomato plants, berry bushes, fruit trees or even corn.

"Sustainability" seems to be ingrained here, and I admire the Japanese for that. That is the model our world needs.

Even the space, often empty or derelict in this country, under elevated highways is used. I saw people playing on tennis courts beneath the freeways. (At some later point, you'll also see a photo of an old canal in Yokohama still harboring boats under the concrete of an overhead highway.)

It being a Saturday morning as we traveled, I was also reminded of my own kid and parenting rituals as I saw young people playing soccer and baseball (not under freeway overpasses, in this case) with their parents cheering them on.

Did I mention that the houses are really close together? :P You'll read some more reflections on that later, if my memory can reconstruct what I wrote at 7 a.m. or so on our first morning in Kyoto. But for now, on the train to Kyoto, I was struck by how each house had a deck or a rooftop, or at least a little balcony, and each one was filled to capacity with drying laundry hanging out for all the world to see. I would later climb up steep stairs -- well, more like a ladder -- to such a rooftop myself, as I learned that the (electric or gas) clothes dryer is a rare beast in Japan.

Good for them.
ar_wahan: (Japan trip?)
I'd forgotten that in the northern part of Japan, where the few Japanese cranes that live year-round are to be found, there was a fairly large earthquake on June 14 (or maybe June 15 in Japan, thanks to that whole International Date Line thing....).

In a related note, I was Googling "Japanese Cranes Osaka" yesterday prior to my post and ended up seeing wonderful, full-color photos of .... Japanese mechanical dockside cranes loading cargo onto ships at Osaka! :P

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