Trip Report:  Japan 2000

05/13/00

Taxi picked me up at about 11:00 AM.  I was doing a last check for things forgotten like my wallet.  Checked all the usual places it could be and it wasn’t there, so presumed I’d packed it in my suitcase. (More on this later.)  The taxi took me to the airport where I had a quick lunch (sandwich and diet coke--$10 --wish I’d had time to eat before going at those prices).  Boarded the airplane on time.  It was just a short hop down to Cincinnati in a tiny, tiny jet.  The jet was so small, in fact, that I had to walk down stairs and across the tarmac to the airplane and my “carry on” bag was too large to fit inside so I had to do a planeside check of the bag.

 Cincinnati was just a relatively short stop (about an hour and a half) while I waited for the plane to Portland.  The aircraft to Portland was bigger, but packed—every seat was full.  The meal on the plane was lasagna, I think.  At least they called it lasagna and the noodles looked like lasagna noodles, but the rest of it looked like no lasagna I’d ever eaten before.  Still, it was passable as airplane food goes.  After about 5 hours we landed in Portland.  I was to overnight here, visiting with my natural father for the first time since I was about 3.  It turns out my father and I resemble each other quite a bit physically.  We also—surprise, surprise—have a similar interest in cars.  He has two classic mustangs of his own—A ’72 and a ’73 (IIRC).  One’s a Mach 1 and the other is a “Grande” which has been “restomoded” with a Boss 351 engine.  He also has a Ford Grand Torino.  While I was there, I got the chance to meet one of my half brothers and an uncle, my father’s twin brother, Virgil.  This was quite an interesting experience in itself.  It seems that both the brother and the uncle are very interested in cars and my uncle is interested in and reads a lot in physics.

 I got a chance to look at the shop my father was fixing up.  The building was already present, which was part of why he’d bought the house, but they were insulating and putting in sheetrock and some internal dividers.  It looked like it would be a very nice place once they finished.  It is, in fact, much like what I would want myself.

 The real panic hit when I was looking through my luggage.  My wallet simply was not there.  Either I’d lost it or I’d left it at home.  Panic.  Panic.  Panic.

 Sumie called several times during the night.  Figures.  In one of the calls, I told her about the wallet.  She surprised me.  I expected her to go ballistic, but she remained reasonably calm.  She sent a fax to my office telling them of the problem.  Our options are:  someone go to my house and see if they can find the wallet, have the company wire money to Sumie’s account in Japan to cover what I would have had from the credit card (my cash was in a belt pouch which I did have with me), or borrow money from Sumie’s parents to cover my needs in Japan to be repaid when I return to the States.

 To help prepare against jet lag in Japan, I stayed up as late as I could—about 12:00 local time.

 05/14/00

Forced myself to sleep in as long as I could in the morning.  Still got up around 8:00 local time.  I don’t sleep well in strange beds, never have.  That’s part of the reason that even short trips tend to be very tiring for me.

 In the morning we went to see Virgil Jr., Virgil’s son and my cousin.  He, also, is a car person and races dirt track (I think).  During the drive, I noticed a lot of old cars, both on the road and alongside it for sale.  George, my father, said that this is because they don’t salt the roads in that area so cars last a lot longer without rusting out.  It’s enough to make me feel jealous.

 We had to arrive at the airport at about 11:30 since I had to meet the flight on to Japan at 1:00.  While waiting, I called the office to speak to Ellen, Don’s wife (since Don was in Canada on his own trip).  While I was speaking to her, it suddenly occurred to me what had happened with my wallet.  Friday evening, I had gone to Don’s to pick up a wheeled cart to help drag my carry-on bags around.  Since I’d been dressed in sweat pants and a T-shirt, I had just dropped my wallet in the console of my car.  And when I got home, I simply forgot about it.  Since I had originally packed the wallet in the suitcase, I remembered packing it—and forgot taking it out.  This led to the confusion afterwards.

 The flight to Japan was about 2/3 full.  That left me with both the window and aisle seat to myself. 

 05/15/00

I slept for about 2 hours on the plane and spent the rest of the time reading.  It was about a 9 hour flight.  After waking up, I had a bad headache and so asked the flight crew for some Tylenol.  It hadn’t started to work yet when we ran into some rough air.  And so, for the first time in my life, I was violently airsick.  Fortunately, I felt it coming in enough time to find and open one of the appropriate bags.

 I was feeling a little better by the time we landed.  It was about 3:30 PM local time.  Immigration went quickly and Customs was almost as quick.  They asked the purpose for my trip into Japan, and what company I was doing business with then passed me on without bothering to open my bags.  I guess I don’t look like a smuggler. (But then, just what does a smuggler look like?)

 Sumie, her mother, and her father were waiting for me when I cleared customs.  I was so happy to see Sumie again.  As I’ve mentioned in other trip reports, I don’t handle separation well.  I waited with Sumie and her mother while her father went to get his car.  The four of us piled in and made the short drive to Yatomi-cho.  Once there, they offered me the chance to use their shower.  I really needed it.  I always get sweaty during landing in an airplane.  I don’t feel noticeably nervous or scared, but I always get sweaty.  Plus, there was just a bit of “spillage” from my having been sick.  Yuck.  I felt much better after cleaning up and changing into clean clothes.

 The bathroom was separate from the toilet (a convention in Japan that I would like to see more of in the US).  The toilet itself had some features that I would love to see in the US.  In particular the seat was heated.  Why, oh, why is the bathroom always the coldest room of the house in the US?  And those hard plastic, and cold, seats.  Yow.  But the neatest feature of all was the “shower” feature.  When one finishes, a push of a button sprays water to clean the backside.  The result is much more pleasant than dealing with the problem in the US.  I WANT ONE!!!!

 After the shower, I had some instant ramen.  The instant ramen in Japan is much, much better than that stuff they sell in the U.S.  There were little bits of meat and tiny shrimp in it as well as modest sized chunks of vegetables.  After the snack, they took me to an onsen—a hot spring/public bath.  At this onsen you first remove your shoes at the doorway and place them in small cubbyholes, taking the numbered wooden placard that identifies the cubby.  Then you buy tickets from a vending machine and present them at the entrance.  Men go in one side and women go in the other (and no, the two sides do not connect inside—men and women bathe seperately).  Inside, you undress and put your clothes into a coin operated locker.  You then take your soap and a small towel into the bathing area.  In the bathing area, there are low showers and stools along the wall.  You wash thoroughly while seated on the stools and rinse off thoroughly.  Once completely clean and soap free you enter the pools.  There are several pools, some containing still water, some with bubbling jets, and one in a walled, roofless courtyard (the “rotenburou”—outside bath).  Always check the water before entering.  It’s generally quite hot, a lot hotter than most American’s are comfortable with.  Even if you are entirely comfortable with the water, enter gently rather than diving or jumping in.  This is a bathtub, not a water park.

 After the onsen, we went out to dinner.  Before coming to Japan, I had joked to Sumie about Kaiten-zushi.  That’s a sushi restaurant where different dishes are placed on a conveyor that takes them around the counter.  Customers pick items off the conveyor and the empty plates at the end are used to judge the bill at the end.  There is an anime I had seen, “Marmalade Boy” where an exchange student had said he wanted to go to a kaiten-zushi.  He didn’t care how the food tasted, he just wanted to watch the sushi going round and round.  I had joked about that to Sumie before coming so, naturally, the first place we went for dinner was a kaiten-zushi.

 I was only able to hang on until about 8:30 before going to bed.

 05/16/00

I woke up again at about 3:00 AM local time.  After making a brief “pit stop” I took some melatonin (this seems to work well for me in making a short transition through jet lag) and went back to sleep.  I woke again at about 8:00 AM.  I don’t have a lot of experience with jet lag, but my body clock was certainly all screwed up.

 When I finally got up, Sumie’s mother made a breakfast of nikujaga (meat and potatoes, seasoned with soy sauce), miso soup, and rice.  There were several things they wanted to do today, including some shopping and taking me to a manga shop.  First stop, however, was a bank to exchange my cash money for Yen.  The rate was about 105 Yen to the dollar.  At the grocery store Sumie and I bought snacks both for the trip to Kyoto we would be taking the next day and for the trip to Tokyo on Friday.  The manga shop they chose was a used manga shop.  That meant we could buy manga at very low prices.  Even so, I got extraordinarily lucky.  I scored a complete set of Maison Ikkoku (my personal favorite) for 750 Yen.  At 105 Yen to the dollar, that came to about $7.15!  That wouldn’t even buy one volume in the US (there were 15) and the English translation would come to a couple hundred dollars.  Lucky!

 Dinner that night was at a modest Japanese restaurant.  However, this seems to be typical of “general” restaurants in Japan.  Instead of ordering set “meals” like in the US (an entrée which comes with one or two side dishes) one orders a lot of small dishes of different things in an ala carte fashion.  This allows one to sample a variety of different tastes.  There were a lot of really good things there.

 I lasted a little bit longer—till about 9:30—before crashing.

 05/17/00

After breakfast (nikujaga, miso soup and rice again) this morning was marked by rushing.  We had to get to Toray in Ohtsu (a city just outside Kyoto) for a meeting.  Our contact there was to meet us at the station so we had to make a particular train in Kyoto to take us to Ohtsu (actually, Ishiyama—two stops beyond Ohtsu).  That meant we had to catch a particular Shinkansen in Nagoya, which meant we had to catch a particular local train in Yatomi.  Unfortunately, traffic was unusually heavy so we missed that train in Yatomi.  We caught the next one, and there were a few minutes before the Shinkansen was to leave so we had to rush very fast to get from the local part of the station to the Japan Rail Shinkansen tracks.  However there was yet another delay as we had to exchange the “exchange ticket” we had bought in the US for the actual JR pass.  Still, by setting a few records for the 400 meter dash, we made it to the Shinkansen we needed to catch.  From there, it was a straightforward matter to reach Ishiyama and Toray.

 Our contact was waiting for us at the train.  Most of the day was spent showing them what we can do and seeing what their capacity was.  We had a bentou (box lunch) at the plant and went out for dinner that evening at a local Japanese restaurant.  As the previous day, the meal was a variety of different things served on small plates.  The finale was an item called funezushi, a local specialty.  I can’t really describe it except to say it was … interesting.

 That night we took a train to Ohtsu proper and stayed at the Shanpia Ohtsu hotel.  It’s a hotel owned by the Toray group and its entrance was actually in the station so it was very easy to get to—a big plus in my book when travelling in unfamiliar territory.  The room was small, smaller than say a Day’s Inn in the US, smaller even than the Motel 6’s I’ve stayed in.  However, a pleasant surprise was the bathroom.  It had the same heated seat and “shower” feature as the toilet at Sumie’s parent’s home.  I could get real spoiled by that.  I guess I’m just a sybarite at heart.

 05/18/00

Breakfast in the hotel, a buffet style breakfast that featured mostly Japanese items.  It was quite good.

 Today was to be a sightseeing day.  Since we were down hear next to Kyoto it seemed a shame not to take a look around.  We went to two shrines (Pictures to follow).   On returning from the shrines we had a late lunch at a Japanese “buffet” style restaurant.  Once again there was the opportunity to try a variety of different things that one doesn’t usually get at home.  Quite good.

 We returned to Yatomi at about 4:30.  Sumie’s mother met us at the station and took us home.  Since my trip had been almost nonstop running since arrival I was very tired.  Because of that, Sumie and her mother took me back to the onsen to relax.  It was as pleasant an experience as it had been the time before although, I think, the water was a bit hotter this time.  I couldn’t soak quite as long.  Also, I was a little nervous since I wasn’t accompanied by Sumie’s father this time.

 That night we went to dinner at a Korean Barbecue.  They have a gas grill in the center of the table and bring seasoned meats and so forth to the table that you cook yourself.  This was another new experience for me and quite good.  The truth is, most everything I’ve tried here has been good.  It may be that I came expecting to enjoy the experience and that had me primed to do so—a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Sumie’s mother was unhappy at our leaving again so soon.  I think she missed Sumie more than she let on.  We agreed to stay most of the day on Friday and take a train later in the afternoon to Tokyo.

 05/19/00

Sumie’s mother made breakfast again.  Yakisoba this time, with the usual miso soup and rice.  As always, it was quite good.  We went to a discount shop where Sumie and her mother did some shopping.  We also went back to the manga shop.  Sumie wanted to look at CD’s.  They had a large collection of used CD’s that were 100 Yen each.  I didn’t see anything that caught my eye.

 We spent most of the afternoon relaxing before going to the station to catch the train for Tokyo.  Travel by Shinkansen is much more pleasant than travel by air, at least when you travel coach.  The seat pitch is much higher so you have more room and the ride is smoother than most airline flights I have taken.  In Tokyo we changed to a train for Ueno station.  At Ueno, rather than try to find the appropriate subway to get to the Ryokan (traditional-style Japanese inn) where we would stay Friday and Saturday nights, we took a taxi.  We were tired and, even though Sumie is a Japanese native, this wasn’t the most familiar territory for her.  Also, I had a weeks worth of luggage along that was really inconvenient to carry up and down the stairs in these train and subway stations.  The taxi took us to our destination a small, but utterly charming, place called the Kuramae Ryokan.  It’s listed in the information provided by JNTO (the Japan National Tourism Organization).  It’s not expensive for Tokyo at about $150 per night for two people.  As is typical of the smaller Ryokan, the bathing and toilet facilities are shared.  The bath is in Japanese style, with a hand shower outside to wash and then a deep tub to soak.  It’s a delightful way to relax tired muscles and help avoid the “next day soreness.”

 We went to dinner that night at another small Japanese restaurant near the Ryokan.  It was about 9:00 so we ate before actually checking in, so as to avoid the risk of the restaurant closing before we could get to it.  It was another of those wonderful means of all sorts of different, delightful items.

 After dinner we each had a long hot soak in the bath and relaxed a bit before going to bed.

 05/20/00

Breakfast at 9:30 in the Ryoukan, served Japanese style.  That meant a number of small dishes of different items, rice, and miso soup.  Sumie had coffee after eating but I could never stand the stuff.

 Saturday’s plan was to go to Yokohama and either see the zoo or an amusement park. 

 By the time we arrived in shin-Yokohama station we were ready for lunch. Lunch was a little more prosaic than most places we’d eaten.  We went to Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Normally, when I’m travelling, I like to do things, and eat things, that I can’t do and eat at home.  KFC isn’t usually in the plan, but once in a while it’s nice to have a reminder of home.  The chicken tasted essentially the same as that produced in stateside KFC’s.  And, of course, the reminder provided a benchmark to measure the various different tastes I experience in Japan.  Yes.  That’s the ticket.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 We chose the zoo, even though it was raining lightly.  Although we got a bit wet even with the umbrella I think the zoo was a good choice.  There were few people there and maybe the rain kept the crowds away.  That gave us a chance to have a pleasant stroll through the grounds and see the different animals.  It was really a lot of fun.

 After the zoo, we returned to Tokyo.  We went up to Asakusa, a region a bit north of where we were staying—one subway stop away—to see the festival that was going on.  The various shops and kiosks had “tourist trap” written all over them, but Sumie was happy.  We had dinner at a Ramen shop.  “Ramen” as served in a restaurant in Japan is far, far different from that stuff you buy in the supermarket in the US.  The broth was not as salty and had more flavor to it.  There were slices of meat and various vegetables in it.  And all of that came at a very reasonable price (particularly considering overall prices in Tokyo).  It was very tasty and very filling.  After Sumie picked up a couple of souvenirs we returned to the ryokan for baths and bed.

 05/21/00

After another breakfast in the Ryokan we planned to go to the Hibiya park hotel, which is near where I would be meeting with Mediken on Monday, and then return to Asakusa to look at the festival some more.  The lady manager of the Ryokan suggested, however, that we leave our luggage there and go to Asakusa first.  She said it was hard to get from Hibiya to Asakusa by subway.  So, that’s what we did.  The festival was much more crowded during the day.  In fact, it was wall to wall people.  One thing I noticed.  In the US, when there’s a “festival” or “carnival” there seem to be lots of stalls with games and “attractions”—things for people to do.  In Japan, OTOH, it seems that the vast majority of the stalls are filled with food—things for people to eat.  I don’t know if there’s any particular significance to that difference, but there it is.  We had a couple of interesting items.  One was a shaved ice treat that came in a kind of double cup.  I had “melon” flavoring on one side and strawberry on the other.  The other item was banana’s dipped in “chocolate” (chocolate, or strawberry, or other flavors).  I’d seen frozen bananas served like that in the US, but these weren’t frozen.

 One game they did have at the festival—goldfish catching.  There is a tank in which many goldfish are swimming.  Players have a “net” that’s a ring with a handle and thin paper is stretched over the ring.  You can use this paper “net” to catch fish and scoop them into a small bowl until it breaks.  A good “player” can catch several fish before the paper breaks but most people don’t manage even one.  The paper is very thin and it takes considerable skill to scoop fish out without breaking it.  Also, once the paper gets wet it gets progressively, and swiftly, weaker, until the lightest of touches will break it.

 We had lunch next to the festival at another ramen shop.  We each had a big bowl of ramen and shared an order of gyoza (think of it as Japanese ravioli—thin pastry wrapped around spiced meat only fried instead of boiled).  Sumie bought some more souvenirs.

 After we finished at the festival and went back to the ryokan, we caught a taxi to take us to our next stop, the Hibiya park hotel.  We got settled in and went to find another Japanese restaurant to have dinner.  We also made sure I could find Mediken for my own meeting and that Sumie could find her way to the station so she could go home on Monday.  I’m not happy with that, but I could not justify keeping her with me for the rest of this trip at company expense.  Still, it would only be for a few days and I would be joining her back in Yatomi.

 The Hibiya Park hotel was a minor disappointment.  The room was larger than the one at the Shanpia Ohtu hotel, but the bathroom was not as nice—no heated seat or “shower” feature.  It’s amazing how quickly one can become spoiled for that kind of luxury.  Still, it had the short but deep tub to allow for a good, hot soak.  I’m a little hedonist, yes I am.

 05/22/00

Vacation time over.  Back to work.  I went with Sumie to Mediken to begin talking about our DiscTrack Plus product and working with them to sell it in Japan.  After I got settled in at Mediken, Sumie returned home.  Ahh! I miss her already.  Mediken was certainly moving fast on the sales.  They had arranged one meeting for Monday afternoon and two meetings a day on the 23rd through the 25th.  That means I won’t be able to get back to Nagoya until Thursday evening.  At least I’ll have Friday back with my Japanese family before going back to the US on Saturday the 27th.

 Lunch was a sandwich grabbed on the way to the first afternoon meeting.  After the meeting we returned to the Mediken office and they loaned me a desk where I could plug in the computer.  This gave me a chance to get caught up on this trip report and use the time before dinner.  I am invited to accompany them with another of their clients—a sputter coater manufacturer from Europe.

 Dinner was at an Italian restaurant across the street from the hotel where I am staying.  The mean was served “family style” with the food presented in large, common, dishes from which each person serves themselves onto their own plates.  I think I lucked out.  I was prepared to eat the various dishes and smile, regardless of how they tasted, but I went through the entire meal without encountering any sweet peppers.  I hate sweet peppers.

 After dinner I returned to my hotel and found several messages from my wife.  She was worried that I hadn’t called.  I explained that I had been out with Mediken and the other people and had only just returned at 10:30 PM.

 05/23/00

After breakfast in the hotel, I was met in the lobby by one of the men from Mediken.  He would be my escort to my first meeting of the day.  There was the usual rush through subway stations to the limited express train (not the Shinkansen and not Japan Rail) that would take us to our destination, the same town we had gone to the day before (Hon-Asagi) which was about 160 km (100 miles) from Tokyo.  Hyakusoku-san of Mediken met us there with his car.  By my best guess, he had started the day several hours earlier at least to drive down there to meet us.  There were two meetings scheduled for the day with a three hour drive between them and a couple of hours drive to return to near Tokyo to board a train for the last leg—yet another hour of travelling to get back to the station near my hotel at 8:00 PM. I was too tired even to go out to a restaurant to eat.  I just picked up a couple of sandwiches at a convenience store to eat in my room.

 05/24/00

After the usual breakfast and getting dressed met one of the people from Mediken at Shimbashi station, the station nearest my hotel, to go to the day’s meetings.  We would take a train, followed by a bus, and then meet Mediken’s vice president to go on to the first meeting of the day.  Well, actually, that was to meet Mediken’s vice president at the location of the first meeting.  On the way to the meeting, I tried to download my e-mail, but was unable to make a connection to AOL’s local numbers even through a Japanese cell-phone modem (borrowed from my travelling companion).  However, once the meeting was over we returned to Mediken’s office (about an hour and a half drive, plus time to stop for lunch—another wonderful Japanese meal).  There, I was able to hook into a phone line and get my e-mail mostly caught up.  The main task was reading work mail and clearing junk out of the server I use for personal mail so it doesn’t fill up the mailbox before I get back.  After that, it was mostly killing time until the afternoon meeting.

 Actually, it turns out that there was no afternoon meeting.  The president of Mediken had decided to concentrate on the first customer and, so, had cancelled the second meeting so we could spend more time at the first.  However, nobody had told me that and so I sat waiting several hours until noting the passing time and thinking to ask about it.

 The next day would involve getting up very early (5:00) to check out of the hotel and go on to Osaka for the next set of meetings.  Therefore, I went to bed early, trying to get a reasonable amount of sleep.

 05/25/00

Up at 5:00.  Double checked that everything was packed before heading out to meet my contact with the company at the station.  I arrived at the station at about 5:40 and waited until the scheduled meeting time of 6:00.  We met and boarded the train to Tokyo station.  From there we switched to the Shinkansen that would take us to Osaka

Not quite Finished  More to come

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