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Posts tagged drainspotting

Little Edo – Part 2


Toki no kane (時の鐘) is the name of Kawagoe’s original bell tower, which is still used four times a day. We heard the noon ringing. The original is about 400 years old. This one was built in 1893, after the great fire that burned most of the town. If you look closely at the bottom, right part of this picture you can see some newlyweds having their pictures taken.


The bell and tower are also featured on Kawagoe’s manhole drain covers. (Kawagoeshi = かわごえし = 川越市 and shi means “city” in Japanese) (おすい = 汚水 and osui means “sewage” in Japanese)

There are all kinds of interesting shops and restaurants in Kawagoe. The one pictured above is called the Garden Cafe, run completely out of an old VW van, which I’m guessing isn’t from the Edo Period.

Hakuba – Part 5

hakuba sewer cover

In looking through my Hakuba pictures just now, for the first time in a few weeks, I realized that this is going to be about a 20- or 30-part series. I hope you don’t mind.

view from hotel room at hakuba japan

Our lodgings in Hakuba were wonderful. We booked them through a travel agent in Tokyo. After doing so we got an email saying that the owners of Mountainside Hakuba Jodel were going to throw in a free breakfast for us each morning as well. That’s not something that usually happens AFTER you book a place, but it was the first of countless bonuses the fabulous owners imparted to us.

When we arrived at Jodel (マウントサイド白馬ヨーデル) we were surprised to find no one there–no guests, no employees, no owners, nobody. We soon came to find that the Jodel wasn’t alone. Much of Hakuba had an abandoned feel to it, a most welcome contrast to Tokyo. A few minutes after we settled ourselves in the lobby the owners arrived. From the instant we met them I loved them. They were so kind. I think their names were Mr. and Mrs. Uozaki, but Mr. Uozaki asked us to just call him Uo (魚) for short.

Mrs. Uo cut the largest nashi (梨) I have ever seen and gave it to us. They came from her daughter, who lives in Kyushu, that morning. Mr. Uo showed us to our rooms. The above is an unaltered image of my first look out our room’s window. I could have cropped it, or shown you a better picture that I took later, but I like this one for a memory of the initial impression.

Mr. Uo then offered to drive us around town or pick us up (should we call) from any point in town whenever we went out. How is that for service? They fired up the hotel’s bath for us, even though we were the only ones staying there and could have just bathed in our rooms’ baths. The hotel could hold probably 200 or more people, and the bath can handle at least 10 or 15 people at a time, so we felt a bit bad that they should have everything running just for us.

breakfast at Mountainside Jodel Ryokan Minshuku hakuba japan

We were served a breakfast of about a dozen courses each morning, freshly cooked by Mrs. Uo. The views were amazing and Mrs. Uo even decorated our table in fall colors in case we didn’t get enough from looking out the window. Did I mention that we didn’t even order or pay for breakfast?

The Jodel’s owners were so cute. They came out of the kitchen to take pictures with us and of the breakfast. She said she had never made a western breakfast before so she wanted to capture it with photos. Apparently most of their guests are Japanese and the few foreigners they get are from Australia (coming to Hakuba to ski), not the USA or Europe.

ryan and ellie in jodel hakuba mountainside hotel japan

Here are Ellie and Ryan in the lobby of the Jodel. The place isn’t fancy or new, but for hospitality there is no better place on the planet. The price is extremely reasonable, and if you aren’t planning on staying on a Saturday night during the peak of the ski season you will likely have lots of elbow room.

Japanese Birthday Party – Part 1

Soon after returning from our last trip to Japan, in April of 2007, I was at a party with the owner of Travel Essentials. At that party I related the story of how a family of complete strangers befriended us at a Japanese baseball game. The Travel Essentials’ owner asked that I write it up for publication in their newsletter. I did, and a version of it appears here. That was probably the first thing I wrote about Japan on the internet, more than a year before this blog began.

My daughter wrote a bit more about the experience on her blog here. During the 2+ year period since then they’ve exchanged a dozen or so emails. A few days after arriving in Japan this time we got a call from Maya, inviting my daughter to her 11th birthday party the following Sunday.

My daughter and I rode the train west for about 25 minutes to a town, still technically in Tokyo, but feeling very different than the central Tokyo we had become used to, called Kodaira (小平 or こだいら).

drainspotting kodaira japan sewer cover man hole

Like many places in Japan they have their own, custom manhole covers (pictured above). I called Maya from the train station and she road her bike to meet us between the train station and her home. Kodaira was really a change of pace after our first week of crowded streets. Few people were out walking or riding bikes, the sidewalks seemed wider, there were little farms and vineyards–even close to the train station, and cars weren’t constantly roaring past us.

When we got to her house we knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore. The place was huge. Or at least it seemed large compared to every living space we had previously seen inside the confines of central Tokyo. I suppose it was actually quite a bit smaller than our home in Oregon, but after just 10 days in Japan our mental images of living spaces has been drastically altered.

tag at a japanese birthday party

My daughter was clinging to me initially (as I was the translator and possibly the only one there–Japanese or American–who wasn’t nervous), but after introductions we headed to an adjacent park and the kids played ball, tag, and other games. The walls quickly came down, and the kids bonded rapidly even with the language barrier.

japanese birthday party

The BBQ/party took place in Maya’s driveway. The kids were laughing, eating, and having a great time until Maya asked me to take a picture of them with her camera. I also took the one above with mine. For some reason the two kids closest to me had their laughing, happy faces completely altered the second the camera pointed at them. There was nothing I could do or say to get them to smile with a camera in my hands. The moment I put it down the smiles came back though.