Saturday, January 16, 2016

le Japon

"arigato gozaimaaasssss" Japanese for thank you very much, heard at the counter, getting off the bus, asking for directions.  Sometimes I just hear, gozaimas.  You give a slight bow and eye contact.  Normally I would walk away from making a purchase at the store and mutter "thanks" while half walking away and fumbling with the change and receipt.  In Japan, when you say thanks, things stop just momentarily when you exchange thank you.  Even the hurried hotel housekeeping, stopped in her tracks for a slight bow, I forget even why I had to ask her something. So I do the same and suddenly gratitude becomes an important part of the exchange.

Tokyo Station, the central Japan Railways station, has an area of shops called Station City.  It's kind of a cross between a mall, except not nearly as cavernous, and a medieval marketplace, except no plague. It's extremely modern, three levels, full of people and life and constant purchases made at every store or restaurant or foot stall.  Station City is on two or three levels and you can't see from one end to the other it's so long. There are a labyrinth of corridors with different themes: a dark Edo-era Japanese wood theme corridor with restaurants, a bright Marche with to-go Japanese style food, fresh meat and confectionaries, clothes stores, Hello Kitty store and sixteen similar stores (the Japanese love the cute little toys), fashions, tons of restaurants...mostly Japanese and one with fish tanks containing squid and other fish to eat, others with super fresh oysters on display, bamboo themed area, white glass and white floor and white light area like Macys jewelry store except with food.

I enjoy losing myself in the place because there is so much life.  The Japanese seem to have a sense of making space inviting.. such as bamboo and bonsai gardens. I couldn't find sushi that I wasn't afraid to eat (eel! squid!)  so stopped in to an inviting French themed restaurant.  Fantastic vintage French music, and the best steak I ever had!  I had the cheese opener.  Yesterday I had fried oysters at a Japanese restaurant there. I was surprised and learned very fast that I wouldn't be able to get by very well with English. It's not like Europe where you can get by pretty easily. So the restaurants at the tran station make it easy... they have these picture-menus where you can point to what you want.

the entrance to Gabu Gabu

the fantastic steak.  Due to the language barrier, I would not be able to find out what went into it.

Another area of fine food. Many Japanese where breathing filter masks. I am guessing because of pollution. Tokyo seems smoggy from when I went up Tokyo Tower, you couldn't see Mt. Fuji because of smog. I had no trouble breathing. I've often been served wet-cloths wrapped in plastic (not the chemical wet-naps) and the hotel bathrooms and even many public bathrooms have bidets with front and rear squirters. That is how it is here.

The Shinkansen superexpress is sometimes known as the bullet train. Japan has buses, subway lines, local trains, then Shinkansen for intercity.  Shinkansen platforms are at the upper most level of Tokyo Station. There are many levels and you can lose yourself in them.  Most levels are bustling with commuters and shoppers but once you go up to Shinkansen things quiet down because you are entering an ultramodern world with different melodies playing for train arrivals, strange beeping sounds and echoing announcements. It is a futuristic world. The bullet, I took to Kyoto for a night to see the shrines and temples it is famous for.

Mt Fuji from the train on way from Tokyo to Kyoto

Hishimi Inari shrine in Kyoto.  I didn't see many churches in Japan. Buddhism seems to be practiced in shrines and temples common everywhere. Hishimi Inari is particularly large, but some are not much larger than a market stall. From my observation there is a purifying ritual (Fushimi Inari gives you directions how, using a fountain and bamboo ladle).  Then there is breif chanting and usually two claps of the hand. Infrequently a small gong. You pay money to the shrine for candles, prayer sticks, and other numerous small symbolic items.

Hishimi Inari was captivating, with its orange-painted wooden arches. You walk through them, and they go quite a distance, up a hill, sometimes with small shrines off to the side.

Main temple

Off to one side, on a steep hillside, a bamboo tree stand

Lively alley way of food vendors at base of the shrine

Kyoto Botanical Garden included a Japanese garden pond. Even in drab January I can see how Monet would be inspired!

Which reminds me of this picture I took in Saipan.  Women in dresses and parasols, people dispersed, only for a moment that seemed very Matisse so I shot this of that short lived scene. However, that area of the beach was always pretty quiet and peaceful when I was there.

Matisse above, Monet below.

More of Fushimi Inari

Kyoto central food market, another bustling area of exotic (to me) food, and great for gift shopping.

Amid the food stalls, clothing stalls, and dollar-store type stalls was a shrine:

Most of the Kyoto food market is under an arcade, which runs at least a few blocks.


My first night after arriving from Saipan, the bust took me from the airport to one of several nearby hotels, the Crowne Plaza Narita. I took the hotel shuttle to the nearest city, where you could take the train into Tokyo. The hotel night staff, who didn't speak English well, said you could go into Tokyo that way.  I needed to learn because I was to meet a friend in Tokyo the next day, and was hoping to do a dry run, or at least get used to venturing out! The bus dropped me off at Narita train station. It was rush hour, at and around Narita train station, with people walking fast everywhere with purpose.  It was dark and no one seemed to speak English.  I walked very warily, wishing most of all not to get lost!  I walked maybe two blocks away. Take it easy.  It sank in that I will probably spend most of my time in Japan trying to figure my way around.  Here are a few shots from around the station

The next day, the hotel staff was better at english, and explained it's easier to take the bus straight into Tokyo. For Y1000, a shuttle coach took me to Ginza Station.

Japan is right hand drive.

I got out and slowly walked around, always afraid of losing my bearings. Gradually circled outward, like going on an untethered space walk, right?

To get by at all, you should learn the subway system. Little by little during my time here, I was able to figure out the map scheme and how the subways work. Very slow going at first. There are people in ticket booths who were helpful despite a very big language barrier!  Arigato gazaimas!

Area around Ginza Statoin

After walking around some, I stopped for Sake then headed to Tokyo Tower to view the city. Tokyo

After the Tower and meeting a high school friend, I went to Shibuya which is famous for being in movies and have incredible amounts of people crossing the street once the signal turns.

I have to quit blogging for today! It is almost bed time, and I fly home tomorrow.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Saipan Part 2

Finishing up my assignment involved going around the construction site taking various measurements and photographs.

It's common to find  unexploded ordnance (UXO) from WWII when digging in Saipan.  The ordnance is harmless but caution is still taken before someone takes it away. Below is a beach mine, called a baby mine because it's small (about 20 lbs of explosive). This one is Japanese, according to Steve the safety officer who sees these alot.

Finally near the end of my assignment, tine for a trip to Mahagaha Island. John, the project archaeologist, knows one of the small boat owners that run out to the island.  The boat captain took me out there fore $10. It's a 15 minute or so ride.

Once on Mahagaha you walk off the dock into some fairy tale dream island with birds singing and visitors gently laughing having fun on the beach.  It's a natural refuge island and no one lives there.  Several workers come for the day to run food service out of a pavilion and various activities like snorkeling and rent beach umbrellas. 

WWII artillery

It was my first time diving... on the island you pay $65 then they give you a lesson, help you learn the gear, how to breathe through the scuba apparatus.  They a guide takes you out to look at the coral, tropical fish, and other strange sea creatures.  I found this on the beach afterward.  We saw one during diving but didn't have cameras underwater.

On the way back, the boat captain towed four Korean tourists on a banana boat for a fun ride off Saipan.

For my last day on Saipan I rented a car, drove around the island and up Mt. Tapochau, the highest point near the middle of the island.  Lately there had been a cloud bank to the east in morning and west in the afternoon. For my last day there, hardly any clouds.  It allowed a fantastic 360 degree view of the Pacific Ocean. From so high up and seeing so far, you look back and forth a few times and can start to take in the size of our big blue marble.

The small island you see below is Mahagaha Island.

Driving up to Mahagaha it helps to have a Jeep, which is what I had rented

This picture is out of place, but is a gift I gave to the archaeologist who told me that a folding ruler and protractor could not be found on Saipan. So I gave him mine when I was done using them, using survey tape for a bow tie.

Saipan is the northernmost Mariana Island.  This photo below is looking south from Mt Tapochau.  The next island south is Tinian.  It is the island where the Enola Gay took off from to Hiroshima.

This was a strange antenna array with webbing.  It emitted a deep hum and a sign on the fence said radiation danger.  I am guessing that being in such a remote corner of the world probably requires extra sophisticated communication equipment.

Below is the food selection one morning at my favorite place which they call a deli but is really an a la cart extremely casual restaurant.   You can get the usual breakfast and there are usually Filipino or Asian menu options, and fried chicken.

as I survey the horizon

Driving through jungle areas of Saipan