June 6, 2008

Photo of the Day: Geisha on the Move

Geisha on the Move, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Ponto Cho, Kyoto, Japan. 2007.

May 2, 2008

Photo of the Day: Owls

IMG_3029, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Kyoto, Japan. 2007.

February 8, 2008

Photo of the Day: Preoccupied

IMG_3114, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Kyoto, Japan. 2007.

December 22, 2007

Ornaments: Japanese Koi

IMG_1377.JPG, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Even though it's not technically an ornament, we use it that way. It's actually a little pouch. I'm not sure the intended contents. It's scented with incense, which may or may not be relevant.

Purchased in Gion, Kyoto, Japan. Summer 2007.

Photo of the Day: Japanese Koi

IMG_3483, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Kyoto, Japan. June 2007.

November 13, 2007

Photo of the Day: What's Beef?

What's Beef?, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Kyoto, Japan. 2007.

November 1, 2007

Graffiti of the Day: Kyoto Gangster

IMG_3065, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Kyoto, Japan. 2007.

June 27, 2007

Photo of the Day: Dragon Handle

IMG_3444, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Ceremonial bell, Nijo-jo, Kyoto, Japan. 2007.

Apologies for the lack of posts lately. I've been busy drinking beer and enjoying the sun.

All for research purposes, I assure you.

June 23, 2007

Japanese Ear Cleaner

Japanese Ear Cleaner, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Did you know there are two types of earwax?

From Wikipedia:
"There are two distinct genetically determined types of earwax: the wet type, which is dominant, and the dry type, which is recessive. Asians and Native Americans are more likely to have the dry type of cerumen (grey and flaky), whereas Caucasians and Africans are more likely to have the wet type (honey-brown to dark-brown and moist). Cerumen type has been used by anthropologists to track human migratory patterns, such as those of the Inuit."

I heard about this on The World a while back and was fascinated by the concept.

I had no idea that there was more than one type of earwax before hearing that story. It's one of those things I think most people presume is the same in everyone else.

The reporter talks about a childhood ritual common in Chinese families at least, where her mother scraped the hard, crunchy earwax out of her ear with a tiny spoon.

I decided I had to track down one of these ear cleaners myself while we were in Japan. I got this from a rather large selection in the hygiene section at Tokyu Hands in Shinjuku, Tokyo. I didn't see any shaped like a spoon, but there was a pretty large variety, many much more ornate than this little one.

Japanese Toilets

IMG_3613, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

I've been trying to figure out how to describe the toilets since we got there and found one of these hi-tech potties in our room.

The most basic ones 'only' have bidet features, controlled by the console on the side. Using the buttons, you can have it spray the front or the back and determine the water pressure. More advanced toilets have heated seats, deodorizers and running water sounds to mask any offending noises.

It was incredibly weird at first, now I wonder how I can get one at home...

June 18, 2007

Random Observations: Keep to the Left


You'd think the hardest part about visiting a place like Japan where they drive on the left would be trying to avoid getting hit by a car. It turns out that that part is relatively easy.

What I've found to be more difficult is getting used to walking on the left. Over and over again, I've found myself walking against traffic after I've veered right without noticing.

Random Observations: Brilliant!


Everyone talks about the big technological differences that are vastly superior in Japan. What struck me were these random little things I saw there that I loved:

*When you hit the elevator call button, the light goes off on the elevator that is going to come. I don't know how common it is, but we saw this in a few places.

*In our last hotel, the Cerulean in Shibuya, Tokyo, the center of the bathroom mirror is heated. After taking a shower, everything is steamed up except for that.

*Next to the bed a couple of the hotels had controls to open and close the drapes and curtains.

Kyoto Hotel Okura


I raved about it in passing earlier, but I think our incredible hotel deserves a bit more detail.

Kyoto Hotel Okura is described in the Lonely Planet as probably the best hotel in Kyoto. I took it as hyperbole and didn't really think about it when booking it. It seemed like a central location and the price, $172 a night was reasonable. It may be the best hotel experience either of us has ever had.

Continue reading "Kyoto Hotel Okura" »

Bars: Rub-A-Dub


We only swung by Rub-a-dub in Ponto Cho, Kyoto to see what a Reggae bar in Japan could possibly be like. It turned out to be a lot of fun. It's a very small place that could probably only fit 20 people. Maybe.

We were there late on our last night. The only ones there were the bartenders, a girl who was friend with them and an old Japanese man who had been sitting next to us at the bar, wearing a cowboy hat.

I yelled out a request for some Bob Marley and they invited me over to pick something out. As we listened to "War/No More Trouble" from of Babylon By Bus, the old man got starting moving to the music. Before the song was over, he was dancing in the middle of the bar.

Kyoto: ATMs

All throughout Japan, we found that there weren't as many banks as we see at home. There certainly are not so many that accept American bank cards.

Well, Kyoto has even fewer. In fact, I only found one. After walking in the rain for nearly an hour. With a bar tab waiting to get paid.

Lesson learned: stock up on your yen.

Kyoto: Ponto Cho


Our hotel in Kyoto was just a block or two from Ponto Cho, an collection of interconnected alleys anchored by a pair of main strips, the main stretch, lit up at night with signs and the narrow parallel alley closer to the river sat in its shadow. The area is full of bars, restaurant and clubs stacked in anonymous buildings and packed into narrow pathways. We wandered through here blindly searching for food and drink, sometimes successful sometimes not. Occasionally, we found ourselves stalking geisha walking out of one of the private clubs on their way back to Gion, just across the river.

Continue reading "Kyoto: Ponto Cho" »

Return of the JetLag

Well, it's 4:30 in the morning and I'm wide awake again. The only difference is that I actually have work this morning. I'm still pretty tired, but my mind is suddenly active and I figured I might as well get up rather than wake Tammi. So, I'll take the opportunity to put up some of the posts I worked on on the plane.

June 17, 2007


IMG_2875, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

The first four days in Tokyo were so much fun that neither of us were really excited about going to Kyoto. Everyone we knew who'd been there insisted that we have to go, but we didn't really know much about what was there besides a bunch of temples and shrines. That all sounded well and good, but running around Kyoto, temple-hopping didn't sound so exciting.

We managed to see some culture despite ourselves and we were very glad we did. In particular, Nijo Castle was worth walking through a downpour to see. If nothing else, I had to check out the 'Nightingale floors' with floorboards that chirp when you step on them, just in case there are ninjas about. You can never be too careful.

Beyond that though, we did as we always do: ate well, drank well and enjoyed ourselves to the fullest.

Kyoto was a total change of pace from Tokyo. First of all, it's population is at most an eighth of the size.
Also, English was a lot more common there, enough so that we barely had to deal with language issues while there at all. Other issues, like figuring out where we were and where the banks were turned out to be much more pressing.

June 15, 2007

Photo of the Day: Rainy Kyoto

IMG_3356, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

It poured all day yesterday (Thursday), but we managed to be out and about the whole time - I got pretty soaked in the process. I'll get more Kyoto info posted soon, I hope.

Japan Photo Collection

IMG_3004, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

I'm putting all of the Japan photos I upload in a Japan 2007 collection on Flickr.

Tammi's been posting her photos, too and writing about what we've seen on her blog. Check it out.


Pork Cheek Ramen

IMG_2757, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

This wonderful vision of deliciousness came from Santouka, a spiffy little ramen shop near Gion in Kyoto.

I can't begin to tell you how I love pork cheeks. This restaurant touts the fact that you only get 200 grams of cheek per pig. That's not the point.

The decadence of pork cheeks comes from the meltingly tender texture you feel as it deconstructs in your mouth. It's the waves of richness that overcome you when you taste it.

Bars in Japan

A few things I've learned in the last week about the bars in Japan:

1. Most don't open until 6 or 7. Even the hotel bars and the Irish pubs aren't open until 4-5pm. This makes it difficult when all you want it a beer after schlepping around town lost for a couple hours.

2. There just aren't that many bars, in the sense that I'm used to. Most are at least partially restaurants. Apparently a lot of the drinking here is done in restaurants. It's cool, but can make it a bit more difficult picking a place out.

3. They are often hidden in otherwise anonymous office buildings, making them a lot more difficult to find.

June 14, 2007

Random Observation: Check Please!

IMG_3324, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Apparently, in Japan, the way to signal that you want the check is to make an 'X' with your two index fingers as demonstrated above by my lovely assistant.

Random Observations: Cell Phones

IMG_2559, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

It's no surprise that the cell phones in Japan are more advanced than ours. Or that the Japanese are fixated on their phones, perpetually staring into them on the train, in the street and just about everywhere else.

I was surprised to see how big the phones are here. Nearly every phone I've seen, including the hot new phone pictured above, is huge compared to the phones we carry around at home. I guess when it comes to features versus size, they choose features.

June 12, 2007

Random Observations: Smoking

, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

The Japanese smoke a lot. Maybe not as much as the French, but pretty close.

Thank You Orbitz!


Orbitz totally hooked us up with a super-swanky room at a great hotel on the Executive floor. The room is huge and it's got a view of the entire city, including the Buddha statue above.
For that, they get a shout out.

Transport Rant

Forgive the upcoming soapbox tirade. I'm sitting on the bullet train to Kyoto from Tokyo and thinking about some of the inadequacies of home.

While I watch the Japanese countryside zoom by at hundreds of miles per hour, the first thing that comes to mind is 'why can't we do this at home?' I've been avoiding ranting on this subject for a little while now, but those who have known me for a little while have heard me sound off about the concerted effort of various lobbying groups to keep our rail system antiquated. Amtrak should be so much better than it is. When politicians go on about the agency needing to be self-sufficient, I always wonder what they would say about ending subsidies to the interstate system.

Economies run better when people can get around. It's just a fact. That's why we have public transportation. Mayor Bloomberg has said that he wishes the subways could be free because it's such a necessity to us all. The national rail system could be like that, if anyone wanted to do it.

March 9, 2007

Japan Trip's Booked

In order to provide Tammi and myself with a beacon of hope after the chaos of the move, I finally booked our trip to Japan.
We'll land on the afternoon of my 30th birthday and be there for 10 days.

The tentative plan is to spend most of that time in Tokyo, with 2-3 days in Kyoto.

So far I have a list of food I want to eat there. I haven't figured out what else I want to do while we're out there. I'm sort of intimidated by all the options.

More to come.

February 3, 2007

The Birthday Trip: Eating Japan

First and foremost, there's the food. So far, this is what I have my eye on...

Sushi. I used to east sushi a lot. Not so much these days. It's not that I don't like it anymore, it's just that it gets repetitive after a while. Whether it's Nobu or Terriyaki Boy, fish on rice, fish in a roll, or just plain fish starts to bore me. I will of course, be eating sushi while in Japan, but I expect to eat a lot more than that.

Izakaya: I love bar food. Wherever you go, you find some of the tastiest (and most economical) food in casual bar settings. In New York we have some great izakaya around St. Mark's place in the East Village. I'm what you might call an adventurous eater, so anyplace I can get skewers of grilled chicken hearts or raw wasabi octopus appeals to me. I'll be hitting up the local spots a lot in the next few months to start preparing my palate.

Natto: I've heard that in Kyoto I can find Natto, a dish made of fermented soy beans. I don't know why this intrigues me, but I want to try it at least once. Apparently it's very stinky.

I've heard that the Tsukiji Fish Market is a must see. I'm not sure if I can manage to get up quite so early, but we'll see.

Continue reading "The Birthday Trip: Eating Japan" »

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