Getting naked with strangers-Part 2

This post is a bit old, but I just proofed it. The second part has an update as of today 4/30/2019.

Today Andy and I got naked with a whole bunch of strangers and it was great fun. In a prior blog post, I’ve blogged about the hot springs culture in Japan and about how there are incredible hot springs all throughout Japan. The Japanese really know how to enjoy a good bath. They consider communal bathing with their children and friends a prime social activity.  It’s not considered weird at all.  It’s a social, relaxing thing to do.  And communal baths are often open until 2 AM or 3 AM.

Fukuoka has many outdoor hot springs called onsens and indoor baths called sentos where people can go to relax and chill. I found an onsen a 30 minute walk from our apartment so we decided to check it out.

When we got there around 2:30 PM, we were surprised at how nice it was. Last week, while on vacation, we went to a basic onsen with no bells or whistles and this place was a lot nicer. And it was packed!  In the lobby area, we noticed people eating snacks (the place had a small restaurant) and other people were lying around in the lobby on tatami mats taking naps and reading the paper. Other people were enjoying the massage chairs.

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Andy went on a hike and got to visit this cool onsen. I wasn’t with him but he said it was great!

 

Score! Because we came so early it was dirt cheap. We paid $4.50 plus a little extra for the towel and washcloth and we then went to our gender segregated areas. Me on the second floor, Andy on the first floor.  I’ve been to many onsens in Japan. It’s quite intimidating at first, but the internet and various onsen videos helped me learn what to do and what not to do. Remember, Japan is a society of a LOT of rules, and it’s important to follow them, especially while taking onsen. So even though I entered this onsen fairly confident, I was a bit nervous just the same. There were not any other foreign visitors, just me.

After putting my clothes into a locker, I went to the wash area. You MUST, MUST, MUST wash really well before entering the hot springs. There were 20 communal washing stalls with tiny stools to soap up.  There was shampoo and body wash provided. I asked a Japanese lady to help me understand which one was body wash and which one was shampoo and conditioner.  Andy said it was indicated on the bottle in English, but I can’t seen anything without my glasses so I needed a bit of help. I had a good cleaning (sitting on a small stool) and then I tossed several buckets of water on my head to rinse off. Then I entered the indoor hot tub area. It was a big area with individual baths for everyone to enjoy.  Perfect temperature! Ah…  After enjoying some bubbles, I went outside and tried the outside baths which were lovely and scenic. There were three outdoor baths. One huge bath built into a rock with a rock bottom, which easily sat 15-20 happy bathers, a very large foot onsen (long and shallow for feet soaking only) and another smaller outdoor bath also set in rocks. There was also a wet steam room and a place outside where a lot of women were lying down on tatami mats just resting. They looked pretty damn comfortable so I lied down too.  I covered up just a little bit out of respect. My top was exposed but my bottom was partially hidden. Public nudity is not a big deal in Japan at all. People were not flaunting their nakedness, but they were not prude about it either. It just seemed really, really chill and very natural.

After about 90 minutes, Andy and I met up in the restaurant and we enjoyed some beverages. Then we used the massage chairs to end our day.  The massage chairs were about $1 for 15 minutes. A real steal!

We’re going to check out more onsen/sentos in Fukuoka for sure, especially since it’s so cheap.  This particular onses is also open until 3 AM (although the price goes up in the evening) so maybe we will pay a late night visit one night.

BEST BUY ON STEROIDS x 10

Yesterday we went to Yodobashi Camera which is a chain store in Japan. We’ve been to Yodobashi Camera before in Osaka and it was great fun so we went again.  I don’t think I can possibly describe it except to say it’s Best Buy on steroids x 10 combined with the largest Target you’ve ever seen in your life, combined with the a gigantic Sporting Goods Store, combined with a gigantic Walmart.  It was five, or maybe even six gigantic floors of fun. It had everything one would need (with the exception of clothes and food staples). In the market for a telescope? Washing machine?  Fridge?  Need a new Iphone or Android?  Camping gear?  Rice cooker?  Robot floor sweeper? Day planner?  Wireless speaker or perhaps  a new watch? Luggage?  It was mind-boggling to see just what they had there.  Furthermore,  they didn’t have a small selection of anything. They had a huge, enormous selections of everything.  Take rice cookers for example, they must have had 75 models of rice cookers ranging in price from $25 to $1,500.

We went to Yodbashi Camera to eat lunch at a sushi restaurant on floor five and it did not disappoint. The fifth floor featured maybe seven or eight high-quality restaurants serving many different types of food.

The sushi restaurant was super fun. We sat in front of IPADS with a touchscreen and ordered sushi in English.  Remember the Jetsons cartoon? That’s what eating sushi at Yodbashi Camera was like. After we ordered, the sushi was delivered to us on a huge track (jetted out from the kitchen) and an electronic sensor made the tray of sushi stop exactly in front of us. Once we took the sushi off the tray, we pressed a flashing button in the Ipad and the sensor moved and jetted the tray back to the kitchen.

If you want to watch a video of the sushi delivery process, you can find it here. Stick with it, it gets off to a slow start.

It came out on a track from the kitchen and an electronic sensor was used to deliver our order right to us.  We were stuffed when we left an it only cost about $23. After we finished lunch, we went to the first floor and found the high-end massage chairs (average price $5,000) and we both had a nice long lie down. There were about 10 chairs and most of them were empty.  We stayed for about 20 minutes. If I were rich, I would immediately go out and buy one of these chairs.  I got quite a good massage and my back and shoulders feel great.

Onsen part 3

Andy and I visited this very, very cool art onsen last week! It was probably the most interesting onsen we’ve ever visited. It wasn’t fancy and it didn’t have any bells and whistles, but we really loved the artwork and the fact that it was decorated in such a cool style. This bath didn’t have any outdoor space but I enjoyed my soak anyway.

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This onsen had great art. Very atypical!

 

Onsen part 4

Today we visited another onsen, but first we went to a festival celebrating tamago, a type of Japanese egg. It was a small festival and it wasn’t anything to write home about. After the festival, we walked across the street to try a new onsen and it was really, really nice. It was very crowded because of the Japanese holiday but people were relaxed and the onsen temperature was nice. Plus, it was raining out so we enjoyed the outdoor hot tubs in the rain. There were a lot of parents who brought their children with them today and it was super cool to see everyone enjoying spending time together in the baths. Everything was segregated by sex, but there was one 4 year old boy with his mom running around.

This onsen had a nice restaurant inside it and a pretty large store where you could buy drinks, snacks and a lot of Japanese gifts. After our onsen, Andy enjoyed some chocolate milk and I ate some strawberries. It was very relaxing.

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Broken Rules

Let me end this post by telling you about two rules Andy and I broke today at the onsen. They were small rules, so it wasn’t a big deal, but Andy and I both chuckled about them when we met up again to enjoy a beverage after our bath.

  1. I entered the onsen lobby and removed my shoes and put them in a shoe locker. This is typical lobby behavior. Then I put on a pair of sandals/slippers to walk around the onsen lobby.  5 seconds later, a staff member came  running after me telling me to take them off.  I’m not exactly sure why, but I surmise they belonged to the staff to either wear outdoors or to wear while cleaning the entry way.  Big mistake on my part. The whole shoe off and shoe changing culture is very difficult to get a handle on if you are not used to it. If you didn’t grow up in Japan or in another Asian country with these practices, it’s hard to comprehend. You are bound to break the shoe rule. The Japanese are used to foreigners making tons of shoe errors, but I really don’t like making them.

The worst shoe error I ever made was in Japan on my second trip here. I was staying at a traditional Japanese hotel and I wore my gym shoes back to my room and walked on a tatami mat (I forgot I even had shoes on) and the staff member at the hotel looked like she was going to pass out when she saw me.  She started staring at my feet and she turned all red. I quickly looked down and then I felt awful. I immediately removed my shoes and bowed like a crazy person to show her how sorry I was.

2. Error two. Before entering the baths and while soaping up, Andy took off his onsen wristband which is basically an electronic bracelet you can use to pay for drinks, food, and other sundries. It’s waterproof, but he decided to take it off anyway.  He left it in the shower area and while in the outdoor bath he remembered it wasn’t on him. He raced back to the area and the man who was showering next to him, had put it aside for him and happily gave it back.

We’ve got about 3.5 weeks left in our Asian adventure.  I will write again soon.

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This photo is from two years ago. We haven’t found a communal foot onsen yet this year.

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Enjoy the sensation of umami!

Japanese food rules. We’ve been enjoying such amazing food throughout the country.  Sushi, sashimi, tempura, yakitori (grilled skewers), tofu, pumpkin, strawberries (it’s strawberry season), udon, soba, ramen.  The list goes on and on.  And the bread and French macarons are just to die for!

The Japanese diet is quite varied compared to the Mexican diet. Because I don’t eat meat or chicken,  there’s not a lot for me to eat in Mexico, but here, where fish is a daily staple, it’s just fantastic.  I like salmon and mackerel and they both are very popular here.

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This is one of our favorite Japanese dishes. It’s called Okonomiyaki. It’s kind of like Japanese style pizza. It’s got eggs, cabbage, mayo and scallions. Sometimes it’s got pork and cheese or seafood. It’s cheap, filling and delicious!

A few days ago I was talking to Andy about how much I  love Japanese food. I was explaining  that I don’t know exactly why, but something about the flavor profile of Japanese food really triggers my taste buds and fires my brain receptors. Then I learned about umami.

Basically there are four basic food tastes/profiles we are all familiar with. 

1.Bitter
2. Salty
3. Sweet
4. Sour

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Andy had coffee jello topped with ice cream. I wasn’t a fan. It’s a popular dessert.

Then there’s another, umami. うま味)

It’s the reason why I love Japanese food so much!  Now I get it.

The flavor sensation of umami is very hard to describe, but if I had to give it one word, I’d describe it as savory. It’s often found in broths and stews, but plenty of other foods feature unami flavor profiles.

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These soba noodles came with a soy sauce dipping sauce. They were chewy, cheap and delicious.

Ever have fresh parmesan cheese and fresh tomatoes together. That’s umami!

Here are a few examples of food that feature umami profiles from other cultures:

Japanese: The Japanese add dashi (fish stock)with kombu seaweed and dried bonito flakes to foods. Umami!

Chinese:  Chinese cooking features leeks and cabbage in their chicken soup. Umami!

Italian- Combination of parmesan cheese on tomato sauce with mushrooms.

Mushrooms, truffles, shellfish, all umami!

In Japanese cuisine, I eat umami flavors many times a day. Fish sauce, fermented vegetables, and soy sauces all have umami flavoring, as do the rice crackers I love. I love the savory flavors of all of these foods.

Just a tiny bit of science according to Wikipedia

Umami has a mild but lasting aftertaste associated with salivation and a sensation of furriness on the tongue, stimulating the throat, the roof and the back of the mouth. By itself, umami is not palatable, but it makes a great variety of foods pleasant, especially in the presence of a matching aroma. Like other basic tastes, umami is pleasant only within a relatively narrow concentration.

You can find out more about the science of umami here. 

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Breakfast!

 

 

A lesson in manners

Do foreign people have bad manners in comparision to the Japanese?  Are Americans and Canadians ill-mannered when visiting Japan?  How important are manners in Japanese society and what types of behaviors are foreigners expected to have when visiting Japan?

I’ll answer these pressing questions in this blog post.

Sometimes in the news we hear and read about how Japanese people are worn out by the ill manners of foreign tourists, especially American tourists. In a few selected places (mainly near Kyoto) they won’t allow busloads of foreign tourists to visit one particular temple any longer because they act so disrespectful. And in some restaurants foreigners are not welcome. Although we’ve never been turned away.

Related to uncouth foreign behavior, Airbnb has had a hard time growing in Japan because many Japanese people don’t want to rent to foreign tourists because they are perceived as 1) Being very loud 2) Won’t follow apartment rules including the important custom of not wearing shoes in one’s house  3) Won’t follow strict recycling instructions which are very important in Japan. Fukuoka where we live now is one such city that is strongly restricting Airbnb rentals to foreigners.

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As a tourist coming to Japan you’d better mind your manners because there are  A LOT of things you can and cannot do. Knowing all of the expected rules for acceptable behavior can be daunting to an average traveler, especially travelers from the U.S.

Luckily, there are tons of internet videos and blog posts about how important it is for visitors to understand and respect Japanese customs and although travelers are cut quite a bit of slack, there are still many important rules Japanese people expect foreigners to abide by.  We know a lot of these rules, but we are learning new ones all the time. Here are some of the most important rules visitors are expected to follow:

  1. Do not show any displays of public affection in public!  We never, ever see Japanese youth or young adults kissing and even hugging in public. In Mexico it’s make-out city. Teens and young adults are practically undressing one another. Not so in Japan. There is virtually no public displays of affection between anyone.  Friends don’t hug when greeting one another (they bow) and we’ve yet to see one single kiss. Sometimes we see people holding hands, but it is very rare. Furthermore public displays of affection is really a no-no on trains where it’s considered rude to have an arm around a significant other. Oops. Andy must take note of this one next time.
  2. Do not use your cell phone in public ever but never, ever on a train. We generally do not observe people taking on their cell phones in public. It’s very, very rare. However, we never, ever hear people using their cell phones on the train or bus and we’ve never even heard a phone ring. There are always announcements for people to turn off their ringers the second they get on the train. Trains are quiet beyond belief.  Most people do not even talk, but if they do, it’s in very quiet voices. The same is true for bus travel. It’s strange for us to be surrounded by so much quiet, especially coming from Mexico where it’s so loud.  Travel on public transportation is quiet and calm.
  3.  Do not walk and eat. We rarely see people eating in public while walking. It’s just not done. People sometimes stand out in front of a their local 7-11/Lawsons/Family Mart store and eat a quick snack, but they won’t walk with their food.  The one exception to this rule seems to be ice cream cones.
  4. Do not get your cold germs on other people.  Japanese people who are sick wear masks in public all the time. They consider this polite behavior as to not spread viruses. I have mixed feelings about this. While I appreciate this, it’s off putting to see so many people wearing masks around large cities.  It makes me think that there is an apocalypse coming.
  5. Do not put your chopsticks upright in your bowl of rice. It’s considered very disrespectful and symbolizes death and bad luck. No upright chopsticks!
  6. Do not throw your trash on the ground. Ever.

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I would like to talk about number five in more detail because it deserves more explanation.  Japan is a clean country. It’s mind-boggling clean.  It’s absurdly clean. Sometimes Andy and I will walk for an entire mile without seeing one piece of trash. And remember, Fukuoka has over one million people!  

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What’s even stranger is that there are very, very few garbage cans anywhere. People just carry their own garbage around in small bags and then throw it away at home. Case in point, yesterday Andy and I went to an outdoor food festival for dinner and after we had finished our food, we gathered up our plastic containers and wooden chopsticks to throw away. It was a huge festival!  We could not find a garbage can!  We looked for about 5 minutes walking in two different directions and then just gave up.  We eventually walked another five minutes and Andy found a very overstuffed garbage can. But otherwise, no cans anywhere, yet there was no garbage in sight.

Living without seeing mounds of garbage is such a lovely experience. It makes me feel good to see how much respect people have for their cities and their surroundings. It’s s really a pleasure to walk around.

There are other customs one must learn, but the ones I’ve listed above are certainly the most important. Japan is a culture rooted in respect for one’s community. The good of the community is always stressed, while the rights of individuals are greatly minamlized. It’s very, very different from America.

 

A Korean Bar Story

We’re wandering the streets of Korea with a single-minded purpose. Find some booze and find it fast.  To accomplish this task, we ask our Korean tour guide, twenty-something Amy to assist. You’d think finding an open bar at 5 PM in a city hosting Korea’s largest cherry blossom festival would be an easy task. You’d be wrong.

We’re also walking with our new friend Irene from Sydney, a thirty-something single traveler who like us, signed up for a one-day cherry blossom bus excursion (to two fantastic locations) and another Korean tour guide who seems intent on helping us search out booze.

Bar 1-closed.  Bar 2-closed.  Bar 3-closed. We’re starting to see a pattern here. Finally Amy finds a few restaurants that are open where we can get beers and she leads us in.  Unfortunately, the restaurant is very uninviting and we’re the only people there. We can’t get our drink on there so we tell Amy to keep searching. We’re wandering around Korea looking for an open bar to grab a drink and we can’t find a single open one!  After 20 more minutes of endless searching, we tell a very dejected tour guide that we will  drown our sorrows with a cup of coffee instead.  An hour later, properly buzzed on caffeine we’re on the hunt again after Amy sends us a Whatsapp with another bar suggestion. After a five minute walk, we see it’s shutdown.  Doesn’t anyone drink in Korea?

We trudge on, not willing to accept defeat.  Irene eventually stops someone on the street and uses Google translate to ask him where a bar is.  He walks us down the street 1/4 of a mile. Yes, it’s called Chicago pizza and it’s a big bar. It’s open!!!

After two rounds, we’re sitting at a grilled eel restaurant eating a bunch of Korean side dishes and some smoky delicious grilled spicy eel. We text Amy to let her know and she meets us at the restaurant where we toast on Korean rice wine.  Then we finish our evening watching the night sky light up miles of cherry blossoms.

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Amy was a fantastic tour guide!

I probably won’t ever see Irene again, or our great tour guide, but the memory of us trudging through the streets of  Korea will remain in my memory for a long, long time and this is why I appreciate these special travel moments so much.

We really loved the cherry blossoms in Korea. They were amazing and they gave Japan a real run for its money. Busan had a great city vibe feel.  It reminded me a lot of San Francisco. Great street food culture, good shopping, nice beaches and an active nightlife.  We’re really happy we went.

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Next steps

We came back via a three-hour ferry trip to Fukuoka a few nights ago. Fukuoka has now reached “full bloom” stage so we have to go out and start exploring recommended cherry bloosom  places. Full bloom will only last for 7-10 days and then the leaves will start falling off the trees so we’re sort of in a race to see their plumage. We’ve got about 10 locations to see, some during the day and some at night. There are several places in Fukuoka where the cherry blossoms are lit up at night so we want to make sure we see at least two or three of these locations.  Unfortunately, it’s cold!  Brrrr.   My red Loki travel jacket, is preforming great in this climate and I’m so happy I have it, but still it’s very cold.  We had to both buy a few warm clothes to see us through. And yeah, I’m the only chick wearing sandals, but sometimes I have socks on.

And don’t get me started about how cold it is inside our apartment. I’ve often heard people complain about the poor insulation of Japanese houses and apartments and I couldn’t agree more. We do have heat/air mini-splits (like Mexico) in each room but we’ve been told they are expensive to operate and we pay for heat/air above $80 per month so we’ve been fairly careful.  Drying our laundry is really a big challenge here.  In Mexico our clothes would dry in about 20 minutes, here it’s more like two days.

More to say.  Be in touch soon.