Japan is one beautiful place. Everyone is well mannered. They bow. I saw someone bow to someone's back as they were leaving. The highest form of respect. I don't think it gets any higher then bowing to someone who doesn't know you are bowing to them. I was confused because they have many ways to say thank you. They say it fast and say it multiple times. Multiple thank yous from multiple people per transaction. All transactions were formal by placing coins, bills or card on a tray. Never in their hand. Sushi was by far the least common food I saw available. Japanese food like Takoyaki, while something of their own, is exactly what you might eat at a US state fair. Lots of junk food or comfort food. Ramen, fried pork, beef and butter chicken curries. Lots of Japanese owned versions of western food. They are incredible at baking. They've taken things and improved on it. Tasty croissants. Drip coffee dialed to perfection. The subway while confusing at first is extremely easy to get around. I looked forward to riding it everywhere.
Food was less expensive then I thought it would be. A few things are expensive but I found it to be very cheap for most things or equal to the states. Most expensive pint was $6. Most of my meals $10. Gyoza set with beer $4. Average subway ride $1.50. Many parts of Osaka felt similar to New York, Montreal or even some neighborhoods of Portland. But then you have these significant districts and characteristics that are truly original to Japan. You have to get into the mindset that what you are looking for is possibly vertical. The bar you want might be on floor 3. Or the best restaurant in the basement. If you've been wanting to go don't let the rumour of it being expensive detour you.
It's currently cold and rainy in Kyoto. I missed peak season so most of the color has fallen. I'm in the southeast and it reminds me of walking around a Japanese version of a rainy Ballard, Seattle. I haven't seen any western foreigners in all of Japan except the airport, a handful in the train station and a 2 business men I saw in Umeda. It's truly a bizarre but cool experience. Everything in the details with Japanese design is amazing. The street signs being illustrations of lively people not just stick figures on a yellow sign. The crosswalk "green men" have hats on. Tony Robbins talks a lot about if you want to have positive change in your life or success, to raise your standards. And that you need to back up those standards with rituals. The little rituals in Japanese culture add up to result in high standards and it shows big time.
If there is one place where you can experience and taste the culture of Japan it is the Isetan department store. I've never been more impressed or in awe with a retail experience. Their flagship Shinjuku Tokyo location is massive. Multiple buildings all 8 floors high. It's not just that they have everything you could ever think of in a store but that it is presented in the classiest way. Stationary and writing is big in Japan. The pen section has $100 pens. The men's building has a pipe section and a wall of classy lighters. The eye glass section presented like a museum. The women's perfume area on the first floor has about a 4 to 1 ratio of employees to customers. At every turn there is someone to serve you. To to tell you hello and thank you multiple times. The bottom floor is a food market. Take a Whole Foods glass case bar and multiply it 30 times. Add little specific kiosks with servers in between. One devoted to olive oil. One an oyster bar. There is no limit. You get lost walking through it. The bathrooms are immaculate and the toilets automated with heated seats, spray bidet, water pressure, and a button for white noise sound. There are several cafes, coffee and tea shops littered among different floors. On the home goods floor you test the wine glasses you're buying with wine. Men sharpen the knives you buy in front of you. Take home an Eames chair. The top floor is home to a few upscale and fine dining restaurants. At 11:30am the Italian restaurant was full, everyone dressed up, Japanese business men having a bottle of wine with pasta. I would highly suggest anyone traveling through Japan, Asia or London visit an Isetan store. It is a great way to see how excellent Japanese are at serving people and how dedicated they are to quality, class and presentation.
"It is said that smooth tongue is bad in Japan". Akira used google translate to speak this to me. He says I talk too fast. I met him at a hotel bar in Kyoto. He was wearing the hip robe over his clothes. He said I met you on 3rd floor. I don't recall it at all. The bartender translated that what he meant was we smiled at each other and so he understood it as he met me. The night after that we caught up again at the bar swapping stories of our days. He said he drank to much, cancelled his work, and went to the aquarium instead. He is the one who told me about Omotenashi. He insisted I meet him and his wife in Tokyo. They live an hour outside in the suburbs. His wife met me in the train station. They are in their sixties, have two kids and walk very fast. Both studied in the US. They have a small house with a farm. Pictures of strawberries and radish. He said he borrowed 100 million yen 30 yrs ago to buy their house. He used google translate to say "my mortgage is payed off" I clapped and cheers'd him with Japanese Soju. The meal was in a traditional room, shoes off. It consist of six courses and we started by sharing various shasimi, followed by personal bowls of marinated fish, a tempura dish, a grilled fish head, a sushi plate, and finally soba noodles and soup. They reminded me it's correct to slurp. That you eat dynamically. The night ended with Akira showing me videos and photos of his granddaughter. They said now that their two kids are grown they have two rooms available should I return. I hope so. So grateful for the small moments that lead to bigger ones.
No burger left behind™. Doing my civic duty to hold every burger accountable. Osaka's number one burger @crittersburger One of the reasons I wanted to come to Japan was because at a young age my dad was invited here to cook cheeseburgers in Kumamoto. He couldn't stop talking about how nice the people were, their incredible hospitality, how safe it was, how it was first class always etc..and that stuck with me. I can honestly say this burger is 10/10. You should never have to order a burger to temperature. The level of freshness is off the chain. Nothing makes you feel at home like opening a Heinz ketchup packet.
There are nights traveling and in life where things just align. This song came on while I was sitting at the bar of my hotel. Turns out the bartender, this cool girl Namina, is friends with the band. It's their new album released last week. Planet Disco by Room56 here in Kyoto. I shared some old Japanese disco tune I used to DJ with Namina and she started using my phone for songs. We swapped biz cards (she laughed cause mine just says Join Me - courtesy of @ludlowkingsley ) then we tasted some Japanese whiskey and sake all night. This water fountain is from earlier in Kyoto station.
Robot Restaurant, Tokyo.
I wanted to try Tonkatsu. Yes it's just fried goodness but I was curious if any of them had different flavors with sauce. You can't really order a small plate at this restaurant so I just said give me the Hamakatsu special. Roast cutlet, filet cutlet, hamburger with cheese, breaded fried shrimp, rice and white miso soup. I could see it being a good hangover cure. I believe this was the most expensive meal I had in Japan at $20 (outside of being treated to the course meal)
Zen Buddhism is a way and view of life which does not belong to any of the formal categories of modern Western thought. It is not religion or philosophy; it is not a psychology or a type of science. It is an example of what is known in India and China as a "way of liberation" and is similar in this respect to Taoism, Vedanta, and Yoga. It has to be suggested by saying what is not, somewhat as a sculptor reveals an image by the act of removing pieces of stone from a block. - Allan Watts
If you've never done psychedelics , I suggest you do so at some point no matter what age. It turns out in recent news they're working wonders for depression and in various terminally ill patients. If you don't want to try them a second alternative is Japan 💿: Town by Minako
After I walked 25 minutes away from the train station I departed from I realized I left my camera on my seat. A short chat with the station woman and she called the conductor on my last train. A phone call later she confirmed they found it. This wouldn't have happened anywhere I've traveled that I can recall. When things like this happen I sorta play a game. It goes like "I didn't get a parking ticket today, hell ya ... but I was ready to pay for one"... so instead I use this as a ritual to give thanks. Sometimes by thought, sometimes by bought. Tonight I bought some high quality yakitori in honor of not buying a new Ricoh GR
Okonomiyaki is a cabbage based pancake like comfort food. This one had squid, pork mixed in and cheese layered above. It arrived hot in an iron skillet. The bonito flakes on top move like they're alive for a solid five minutes because of the heat reaction
Woke up at 2am, couldn't sleep and decided to go to Tsukiji market, the largest fish market in the world. “It’s not that Tsukiji’s the best in the world. There’s nothing in it’s league. It’s the only one.” - Masuhiro Yamamoto. And that’s great and all but I forgot to check and see if there were special hours. The tuna auctions are closed until Jan 14th to allow for new year business and visitors can’t get in to watch wholesalers until 10am. Regardless it was entertaining to walk around the many shops that hug the outskirts of Tsukiji. It’s extremely quiet but people are everywhere awake preparing for their day, setting up shop, cleaning food, opening boxes. It’s bizarre to think how many people here and worldwide are working the night shift to have things ready for a normal day schedule. This is the view of the port side of Tsukiji from Kachidoki bridge at 3:30am. Full moon and 35 degrees
Japan is it.
Every person/age is dressed more hip than anyone back home. All I brought was a uniqlo jacket. Not enough. It's freezing
If food taxidermy is a thing the Japanese have perfected it. In many restaurants in malls, stations and tourist areas they have amazing replicas of their menus.
The hood I'm in within Namba is far from tourists. So many families and young people. Feels like hip parts of New York but super clean. Had a good chat with barista at Mel's Coffee for some things to do. Old lady in immigration made my day ... "you look familiar like Leonardo di caprio. I'm very pleased to help such a handsome man"
Entering the Gion district of Kyoto. Very old buildings full of more upscale places to eat or shop but they still preserve their heritage. There was a Leica store that was amazing but the only way you know is that the navy blue door curtain had a logo on it. Otherwise it's the same old building restored
Breakfast this morning in Kuromon market was a teriyaki tuna jaw and a fresh scallop grilled with butter sauce.
The main server explaining part of the meal. Sashimi is better during the winter months as the fish muscles tighten. This is a favorite restaurant of Akira's but was Mrs. Ohmori's first time.
An end of the year party. This was a special gathering of buds that are fisherman and their families. A gentlemen outside of this restaurant invited me in after seeing me alone outside. I was trying to translate his sign because it looked cool. I entered around 6pm.. he said what time do you have to be up tomorrow. "Ok .. then you stay with us all night". Not only their new year party but the mothers birthday. I ate whatever they put in front of me. Most of the night was me listening as very little English is spoken. The interior was like a movie set. You enter another world the lighting and the photos on the wall. The most organized hoarders spot you can imagine. Fishing photos, jackets, books, cds stacked on the wall. Toshio, the owner, has had this spot for 30 years. He insisted that "tonight be on me" They wouldn't stop pouring me sake and added a glass of ice and soju. Most of the meal consisted of boiled veggies however at one point Toshio reached into a styrofoam cooler and grabbed 4 live fish. He joked with Niko, the little boy, and kept trying to get him to touch the fish fin. The meal was delicious. I remind myself to put myself in other people's shoes. Imagine a foreigner, a Japanese person that doesn't speak English finding himself in front of an American restaurant. Being invited in, being at 12 person family New Years party, being served by the mother who is having a birthday. Having people ask and point at you "who is he". Omotenashi is what the Japanese call their selfless hospitality. Was a really special night
After school student. Kyoto has a small town feel. The children ride the public transportation on their own. No one locks their bikes while going into stores.