Friday, February 29, 2008

Japan Through These Eyes

Speaking in general about Japan is just wrong... as any modern country, the diversity lies in the region, and the difference is mostly the old urban vs. suburban culture. HOWEVER! I'm not going to let that small but important detail to detain me from station a few of the so called "FACTS" about Japan that I have found somewhat interesting, funny, impressive and bewildering to me.

1. I think that no. 1 should be dedicated to the Pachinko slots. I was surprised to find them in Japan, since nobody told me about them, and I was even more surprised to the simple fact that they are Everywhere! If you are really interested in either a silly way of gambling or a shiny way of becoming stupefyingly deaf, the Pachinko slots are for you.

2. a bit on Manners: As in London, there is the traditional manners concerning stairs and escalators - on normal stairs there are arrows for up and down (which usually nobody cares about), and on the escalators you can stand on the left, but walk on the right.

3. 99% of the cities possess a comfortable sidewalk with a bicycle path. Moreover, there's the intriguing yellow-bricked road for the visually impaired... my belief is that this yellow line is crossing the whole of Japan.

4. Escalators will tell you to be careful while on them. There are also certain vehicles, usually trucks or buses, that will sound off a warning speech while turning left or right.

5. Every bus driver is equipped with a madonna microphone. why? so he can tell you when he's stopping the bus, when he continues to drive, when he turns left or right, and of course, to thank you for dropping off somewhere. I was wondering if one could sue a bus company for not warning before taking a turn...

6. CONBINI - a short-cut for convenient-store (like seven eleven)... almost every conbini is a centre for various payments to the governments and such (electricity and so on) and money transfers to wherever you wish... its also a centre for high-schoolers and students who want to read manga but don't want to pay for it... so they just stand there and read for hours. the sandwiches are not that bad either.

7. Why do many young Japanese women possess crooked legs? it is a good question I've been trying to answer as I was doing my tour... not ALL of them, but some of them have the tendency of sitting crooked legged, with their feet almost facing each-other at a peculiar angle. I wish it would stop at the sitting position, but heck no... they WALK the same way... I've seen some girls who walked with such a disfigure that I almost yelped. so, again with the question of Why... why? I have no idea... my best guess is that its a bad habit which can be stuck, like any bad habit.

8. From Kawai (cute) to Kowai (scary) - The Japanese fashion industry and culture is thriving mainly on the poor young souls of Japans finest... well.. maybe not finest... well... especially those who are not the finest. Anyways, sometimes I, even after staying for 2 months, get spooked by a girl or a boy who defies the law of common sense concerning fashion.

9. SALARY-MAN : this phrase is a Japanese invention, aimed at those formally dressed zombies that work their life out for some pointless gray future ahead of them while missing out entirely the growing up of their children and the radiation of the sun. It sounds scary, and every Japanese knows its a shitty life, but still they pursue it, partly due to the inital push made by their own parents at a young age.

10. Although having a decent job in Japan is tough and demanding, there's the "lighter" side of it, which often occurs at the end of the day (8 frikkin' pm!). Instead of directly going home to see you cherished family, the hard-earning workers are obliged from time to time to join their boss to what you can describe as a geek frat party. They (usually a small group of 3-8) all gather up and find a nice place where they could all get insanely drunk. You can see them if you happen to be in a restaurant or a pub at the same time, all happily drinking, talking about work or whatever, but the fun part is to see them afterwards, wobbling their way home alone in their all too familiar monkey suit and suitcase, totally drunk, while mumbling rude and unintelligible sentences to passing women and foreigners.

11. If you happen to know a bit of Japanese, I suggest that you keep your mouth shut and ask for an english speaker... If they find out you know a bit of Japanese, they will assume immediately that you have read mein-kampf in ancient Japanese and that you write Haiku songs every day at supper.

12. When you buy those sushi roll meals at the super-market or the conbini, just say yes to the first question the clerks will ask you... they just ask you if you want chopsticks to go with it... unless you hear in their babble the words "Pointo-cardo"...

13. Never "try" the food before someone tells you whats in it... you can leave the adventures to other people.

14. One could say Japan is expensive... its definitely not Thailand, but you can always find cheaper places to stay, cheaper food to buy and so on. usually the main problem is the transportation fares, if you are interested in touring Japan. I suggest heartily to consult other people who have been to Japan and know all the little cheap secrets.

15. Find a Japanese friend... apart from the funny english, you can get a lot of help from him, and a lot more information about places.

16. Go to Onsens (public baths)... although from time to time you can bump into a shitty place, the experience is worth it - BUT, you must know the rules (that's why a Japanese friend comes in handy)
a. when entering the onsen, you must ask if they have free shampoo and stuff, or do you have to buy from them... and at least get one towel!
b. When entering the locker room, get your locker, get totally naked, and take the small towel (if you have) with you.
c. Enter the onsen itself, and go directly to the showers. Don't look at other people, because you can be damn sure that they would be looking at you right now. sit down on the plastic bench, and get down to washing business.
d. After washing all the soap and using the small towel as a scrub, you can begin with onsen dipping... just remember NOT to put the towel inside the pools... if you only have one big towel, try not getting it wet, cause you'll need it to dry up afterwards.
e. my own advice - shower and soap yourself at least 3 times... its for free and the feeling is good.

17. Especially in Tokyo, you should be aware of what company of trains and subways you are using... (JR, Metro and so on) since they have 3 or four, exchanging between them all the time would cost you more. Plan ahead and try to use a single company for each ride.

18. Saying NO in Japanese is very complex. For example, if it turns out that they don't have your shoe size at the store, they would say to you: "hmm... it appears that its a little sold"... it varies in many colorful ways... one of my favorites is used especially in the areas of Kyoto - when a host tells his visitors this: "ah, would you like some more rice and tea? I'll go make some right now!" - it actually means: "What the F**K are you still doing in my home, fool?!"

19. in some places, workers will bow to you as you enter. In some places, workers will bow to a train or a bus that leaves. In some places, you can see old men and women with a terrible bended back problem, probably due to over-bowing.

20. No, you do NOT wanna try the salty tasty shrimp and eel chips bag...

21. Homeless people would never ask you for money. Except one. you'll find him in Shibuya. He speaks English quite well, and he really wants you to read his poems...

22. 95% of the TV shows in Japan consist of two themes: Food and funny animals. However, I've never seen a funny animal show with food in it... probably because it takes time to turn the funny animals into food... :)

23. stay away from old ladies in markets and supermarkets... they are down right Insane, and they are not afraid to use their teeth. and also don't mess with them on the bus.

24. You'd be surprised, but the re are plenty of Japanese families with more than 2 kids. But not in Tokyo.

25. I probably forgot somethings, but at least I gave it my best shot. This is...was my last day in Japan, and although I wished to stay longer, other adventures await yours truly. see you in a new world!

Saturday, February 23, 2008


The Definition of Engrish: "refers to grammatically incorrect variations of English, often found in East Asian countries. Spelling is also incorrect sometimes. While the term may refer to spoken English, it is more often used to describe written English, for which problems are easier to identify and publicize. Engrish has been found on everything from poorly translated signs, menus, and instruction manuals to bizarrely worded advertisements and strange t-shirt slogans. Usage of the term ranges from the humorous to the slightly pejorative. Country-specific terms, such as Japlish or Janglish for Japan, Konglish for Korea, and Chinglish for China also exist."

I didn't invent the word, heck no... But I definitely like it. As I was wandering the various spots all over japan, I've had the pleasure of encountering those small precious gems of "Engrish"... some of them I got on photoes, for your enjoyment... though my collection is hardly noticable,

if some of you would like to investigate the matter more thouroughly, try this site:

anyways, lets start from the simple up to the philosophical ones...

Its so assuring to find adviced on HOW TO LOOK in a hostel room.

common thing in Japan... the Tooth BLUSH.

I don't know about the Cut part, but I'll definitely take the girl for the BLOW one.

if you are worried about paying for your hand to be CUT, FEAR NOT!!!

It sounds sooo painful to me

Entering the Ferry terminal in Osaka, I had to wait for the Ferry towards Okinawa for about an hour. this was the pamphlate I got from them... It scared me a little bit I must say.

it says: "Thank you for using "Ryukyu express" today. If it is 5:00 pm because I guide you by bus to a MOTHER SHIP. please gather here"



"To create the life for the tweenty-first To seek after genuine articles

To offer the richest assdrtmemt of the latest and best articles

To assure ssatisfaction. delight and happiness

Constrantry at your service in NANKAI's way"

Now, apart from the obvious misspelling, what were they trying to say?!?!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Extreme Free Hugging or those bloody Monkeys

"Shu-hey, my friend", I slurred in Japanese, "tomorrow is my last day, unfortunately...". After 6 days straight of Free-Hugging in the evenings, I sadly announced my premature departure away from Tokyo to all the Free-Huggers I had the pleasure of meeting. A whole week of dedicated Hugging has had its toll on me I have to say... I became happy once again, but I sadly knew that the feeling of home wouldn`t... couldn`t last forever. Every passing day Shibuya had felt more and more like the right place to stay for good. But every passing day drew me closer to the ending point, where I would be forced to part ways once again.

And so it was, that on the seventh day, I hugged for the last time, and, to my surprise, the other permanent huggers handed me one of their free hugs sign as a gift, and some pictures of them and me in good times. to tell the truth I was quite touched, and the Brazilian girl I met who also had to leave back to her country cried non-stop. I guess for both of us it was an opportunity of enjoying a good time with good people, while trying to... well, you can call it "spreading the love all around"... Especially in Japan, since Hugging is quite the rare commodity in the Japanese scenario.

A picture's worth a thousand hugs

While on my way to my new destination, I decided of opening up a new extreme sports - "Extreme Free-hugging"... basically it just trying to offer free-hugs in some unusual and unexpected places... like the place I was about to go to, the Monkey Park.

But before that.

I arrived on a cold snowy noon to Nagano station in Nagano prefecture, which is located about 3 hours west of Tokyo. Taking the train towards Matsumoto to meet with my first Couch-Surfing host, I had the pleasure of viewing the surroundings of Nagano; surrounded by what people call "The Japanese Alps", Nagano is known to be one of the best places in Japan to go skiing, snowboarding, and mainly freezing to death. the whole area, especially Matsumoto, functions as a giant refrigerator due to the way the "Alps" are closing in on the poor city. Still, the scenery is gorgeous.

There I met Nunung, an Indonesian medical student who got a japanese scholarship and stayed at the dorms next to the university. Since she had another visitor in her tiny room, she arranged for me a room that belonged to a friend of hers who happened to be away at the time, and for two days I enjoyed her and her friends company. Mostly there isn't anything worthy to do in Matsumoto, especially if you're not a ski fan or a fridge fan. But like I told Nunung- "its not the places you go, its the people your go with".

two days later, I returned to Nagano proper, in order to achieve my main objective ever since Okinawa, which is to see the darn monkey park, with the monkey onsen. After taking the bus, I had to follow a snowy mountainous road practically littered with tall trees I know not of their names all around. And finally, FINALLY! I had the pleasure of looking at those funny critters bathing in the hot spring and wandering around the beautiful park. I guess the Catharsis wasn't as exciting as I believed it would be, but it was indeed a beautiful day, adding to the beautiful spot. So, yes... it was very enjoyable.

Taking a good picture of them is SO easy!

Monkeys looking at Monkeys

EXTREME FREE HUGGING!!! any Monkey wants a hug?

returning from the mountainous region, my next stop was Kanazawa, which took my some good 4 hours of train switching to get there. There, Majeed, my second couch-surfer host welcomed me to his humble apartment. Majeed, 23, an american (half Iranian for those who wondered of the name) , is an English teacher at a local high-school. The day after, I asked Majeed if It would be alright to join him to see how the school looks like, and maybe sit in an English class... you know... just to see why do Japanese suck so badly in English. Although a class I didn't get to see, Majeed showed me the premises of the school, and talked about the psychological pressure these poor students have to go through; This specific high-school was a "Business school"... in other words, a High-school for students who didn't get good grades on the finals of the 9th grade (age 15...). So, basically, all the students practically know that their future is behind a desk at a convenience store, or some gray accountants position. Not only they know, but also the teachers know, and they just give up on the kids even before they get to know them. It was pretty instructive (and sad) to learn about the deprivation of the capitalist dream factor which enable every one of us at least hope and act for a better future. Maybe I just imagined it, but I think I could have seen despair in the students eyes as I was walking past them in the gloomy halls.

The rest of the day, while Majeed was at work, I spent around the city of Kanazawa, jut walking around like good old times, trying to assess the uniqueness of that city. But, alas, I found nothing special... If my sources are correct, Kanazawa is proud to be the only city on the west coast who hasn't been bombed during WWII, so instead of new and safe buildings, they still possess a lot of those old-rusty-going-to-fall houses.

Later on that evening, after a relatively bad onsen experience, a friend of Majeeds, a girl named Candy from Trinidad, offered me to join her into what would be an educational study of Kanazawas night life. I followed her to a deserted club, where the music was pretty nice, but we were practically alone. Fortunately, it took about an hour till several people showed up into what you can call "a lame night out partying", but, still, it was extremely instructive for me in more than one way - first, I got a private dancing lesson from Candy, and I'm talking about the stuff you see in dirty rap music videos... it was pretty neat...
secondly, I got to witness a futile attempt of a couple of Japanese girls to hit on these couple of weirdos. One of them was actually trying to pull one of the guys onto the dance floor, while he was squirming and shying away... it was pathetic and (frightfully familiar) to me, so Candy and I decided we needed to help them, so I took the girls, and she took the boys, and we tried making all of them move... It was hopeless... 2 minutes later they all went back sitting, while giggling uncontrollably. I guess it took them some drinks to even dance for a while... mostly they danced by themselves, which was really frustrating... oh, there was this one time I got close to this japanese chick, you know, doing my thang and all, and since it became pretty hot from all the dancing, all I had was this sleeveless shirt to dance around with. As we gotten pretty tight, she reached out her hand towards my chest and just started caressing my chest hair for a while, and than she bursted out laughing. That was like the GONG chime for the nights ending, as well for the ending of my Ego... I guess it was pretty instructive, and I enjoyed the dancing in total. So it wasn't that bad after all.

The following morning I waved Majeed good-bye, and made my way towards the bus for Kyoto, my final destination in the chapter called Japan.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Back in Tokyo

NOOooooo!!! they yelled at me in unison as I was reaching for the bottle, and in a ninja like speed all three girls had thrown their hands, the first for the bottle, the second for the glass, and Kumi san for my hands. Even the waitress looked appalled by the almost disastrous event, and all I could do is yell back SUMIMASEN!!! what did I do?!

I really thought that the day was going on smoothly. Kumi and I started off by going to a unique Ice sculpturing that resided next to a beautiful lake surrounded by snowy mountains. Later on we stopped at a nice modern hot springs onsen, which had more than 9 different kinds of pools - green tea, white flower, bubbly wobbly and so on... After that unforgettable relaxation, we headed back home in order to rest prior the evening schedule. As the evening was setting down on the suburban planes of Hokkaido, we took a train towards the main city of Sapporo, there we were to meet two friends of Kumi. There, after a lovely conversation, all hell broke loose...

Yeah yeah... I think my fingers are stuck with that V sign.

"What did I do?!" I thought I heard myself asking again... all I wanted is to pour me a cold one since I didn't think it would be polite to drink straight from the bottle.

"No!" Kumi pleaded... "What are you doing"?

"...Drinking beer?" I answered honestly.

"You Do not do that!"

".... What... beer?"

"No!... It is very bad luck!"
"What... BEER?!"

"NO! to pour to yourself!"


"Beer from bottle", she explained slowly, "and sake... you don't pour to yourself... very bad luck"

"so wait... now I need you to pour me beer every time I finish drinking this tiny glass?!"
And so it came to be, that for the next half hour, I was being served by all three girls... I drink, they pour... the funny thing is was that as they were doing it, they were complaining to me about all the times that they had to pour the sake and beer to the men at company parties, just because they are women...

DA-ME!!! the notorious signal for DON'T DO THAT

After finishing eating (it was more nibbling for me) at that restaurant, we went to this fashionable Fruit pub... yes.... a Fruit pub... the entrance was literally littered with Oranges and the likes, and all the food had the fruity theme to it... including the beer. But, it was actually a nice experience... they even gave each one of us a bag full of fruits as we went home.

old lady sings Karaoke at an ice house in central Sapporo

The next day Kumi and I met another friend of hers, apparently her best friend... we started off at an all you can eat fancy shmansy restaurant... and I really ATE all I can eat... poor bastards.... they didn't see it coming. Later on we drove off to a theme-park zoo. the park, and the zoo, were quite neglected, and all was covered with a thick layer of snow, but all in all the company I was with was worth the while.

Red Panda, or something...

After that, I parted with Kumi, who had to go by herself to a meeting with her sempai (older brother kind of relationship... too complicated to explain), and I was picked up by her brother, Go-san, and together we went back home, there, his mother was waiting for us with delightful and very simple dinner, and I ate like a pig. After spending some quality time with Go-san, it was picture time with all of the family (a Gaijin privilege).

Me and Kumi`s mom, Sachiko

Go-san, Kumi san and Idiot-san

Unfortunately, that was my last day at Kumi`s house... the next day I got a lift to the airport from Kumi, and we, sadly, parted from each other.

To tell you the truth, It was really hard for me. The jolt I get everytime someone I just made an attachment with is gone, probably forever, is quite hard on me poor little heart. YES, I know that thats part of the trip, part of the experience, blah blah blah... I know all that philosophy in shekel... it doesn't make it better.

If you are reading this Kumiko, Know that I had tons of fun. really. really really.

oh, and stop smoking!!! ;)

Back in Tokyo

Ahh, the city that never rests. the Giantic megalopolis. The Heart of Japan. TOKYO!


Once again, I am on my own. I didn't even find any comfort in mingling with the guys from the hostel, since, well, they're annoying like hell... one of them is from New-Zealand and I cant understand what the heck he is saying, and the other one is an old British chump, which also speaks Gibberish for English... I keep imagining to myself that they always say something about Kiwi and sheep.... I don't get it.

But I guess it takes sometime to adjust to being alone each time...trying to shake the moody mood, I went to a club... yes, me... a CLUB... and it was pretty awesome... and yesterday I spent a good 3 hours at the Free-Hugs zone, and it had really lifted my spirit up... and even I got to spend some time today with Kumi, who happened to be in Tokyo before her flight...

well... now I have to think about what to do next.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Winter Fest

ach, the snow! it was only a week ago that I have spent my time lazily on the shores of warm and fuzzy Since Hokkaido is way up north, the temperatures are as low as -10 Celsius degrees, but Okinawa... now all around me is the beautiful surroundings of the snow white Hokkaido. the view is, well, bloody amazing.
Back in Okinawa, I had the chance of meeting in my hostel the beautiful Kumiko Katsuya, who without any hesitation offered me to stay at her home in Hokkaido with her family, since she will be there as well. I still have some hard time digesting this generous offer made by an almost complete stranger, even now as I sit at her home, writing these words.
On the first day, she picked me up from the airport and we drove straight to her home... the sky were a bright blue, yet the land was already covered with a thick layer of snow, and the horizon was littered with towering mountains, all dotted with huge masses of shimmering white. Even I, the notorious nature hater, was struck by this intense exposure to a surroundings I had yet encountered.
She introduced me to her home, which is really big, even in Israeli standards and her family. Her brother, Go, was my age, yet looked much younger, although i did find out that appearance is not what it may seem... 5 minutes later, after I had categorized him as a silent nice geeky guy, he had introduced me his Hip-hop dance shows, and damn the guy can move. After a bit of chit chatting with the mother and brother (dad was at work (7:30 pm), we had decided to go to an Onsen (hot spring baths) nearby. Now, I couldn`t take any pictures inside the Onsen, since everybody were butt naked, but trust me when I say the following words: TRY IT! 3 seconds after you enter, you forget the whole embarrassing naked moment, even though I got many stares as the only hairy foreigner there. but it was great. Me and Go, Kumis brother, entered the hot spring that was located outside in the blistering cold... my body was immersed in heat while my nostrils breathed ice, and all the while looking at a mountainous view bordered by a small lake... gorgeous... and refreshing... and the conversation was not so bad either, even though Go didnt know much English and my japanese was made out of one word sentences.
Back in her house, Father and Mother greeted us, already ready to eat dinner. Now I was a bit scared at that moment, since I started imagining smooshy squids and half dead whales staring at me from my plate while the whole family anticipates my exulted delight... but to my surprise, the dinner was simple and delicious.
The day after, me and Kumi drove together to the winter Festival located in central Sapporo.

A small example of the snow festival

A miniature Snowboard Contest

Since Kumi lives in the suburbs, it was almost a 40 minutes drive, but the view was lovely and the company was lovelier. We spent some 4 hours touring the whole of the winter festival, while it was snowing, and it was a great experience for me... for Kumi i guess she was used by now to snow and the snow festival, but she had a good time too, im sure.

To sum it all, Im really glad I met Kumi... without her I imagine my tour was another lonesome, cold journey in a no gaijins land.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Hazy days or Couchsurfing

Usually, what I do when I get into a city, is just to cruise around the place till its time to go. After a couple of days or so you get to know a bit of the city...

Well, Ive been to Fukuoka for 5 days now, and I have no clue or sense of direction at all here. Most of my time was being spent on following other people foot-steps, getting into a bar, going out for a club, dancing with japanese chicks while the the world around you is littered with hazy pink bunnies (or giraffes?), and waking up in a Karaoke room at 7am with other people you dont really know while Bohemian Rhapsody is screamed in your left ear by a drunk British, sorry, Scottish lassy, some blond hard-core (my ass) japanese punk and the Couch surfer I met, Jenny.

Jenny opened my eyes for the Couch surfing experience... although she didnt offer me a place in her own apartment, she was definitely gracious and happy to assist me with filling up my daily schedule, and inviting her to her house for dinner with many other people.... to summarize, although I didnt get a good look at the city of
Fukuoka, I had a good time. yep.