Baseball: the Japanese national pastime?

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The Tokyo Dome is a site to behold. At the time of our visit, the Yomiuri Giants were in the playoffs and we managed to score standing room only tickets to one of The Climax Series games (yes, they really call it that!).

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I love baseball, but the Japanese have me beat on this one. Every attendee stands throughout the whole game, screaming, shouting and often singing/chanting a player’s specific song. They have flags, bands, and unwavering fans. My personal favorite though…The Beer Girls! They have girls who run around the stadium with a mini keg on their back and they pour you draft beers at your seat.

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Have you visited the Tokyo Dome? What was your favorite part?20130614-160710.jpg

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Oh Japan, How Clever!

Japan is funny! They have so many unique ways of doing things and I love the attention to detail they provide. Here are few examples of the many things we loved:

At starbucks there is someone in line who will take your order and write it down for you. They then hand you this little card and you take it to the register where you pay and your drink is prepared.

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The toilets! All the toilets in Japan have heated seat and a variety of options for the bidet. Yep, even the public toilets. I don’t know about you, but there are some mornings where a heated seat would be awesome!

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While we are on the subject of heated toilet seats, we should probably talk about this little toilet/sink combo. The same water that washes your hands is the one that will then fill the toilet bowl, now that’s recycling!

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Ok, before we leave the bathroom, I have to share this awesome feature in our first hotel. The rooms in Japan are very tiny, but we lucked out and got one with a huge bathroom. Of course the toilet had a slew of bells and whistles, but next to it there was also a button you could push to add a privacy screen. You see, there was a window between the shower and your sleeping area, push the button and the window is frosted, push it again and it is clear. Loved it!

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Getting food and drinks in Japan is about as easy as it gets. Want a beer? No problem, just stop by a vending machine:

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Coffee in the morning? Don’t want that awful hotel machine stuff? No worries, they have a portable drip option:

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And if you are hungry? This is my all time favorite! At a train station we picked up a bento box. The lady explained to me in Japanese that I needed to pull the red string attached (ok, there was a lot of charades too). I get settled in to my seat, set out my box, and pull the red string. That little string fires up some grilling mechanism and before you know it I have a piping hot meal. check out the video!

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Kyoto and Cooking

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Have I mentioned how much I love to cook? Or that I think you should take a cooking class in every country you visit? Food is the soul of people and getting a chance to spend some one on one time with a local is invaluable.


We found this cooking class with Emi based on reviews on trip advisor and were not disappointed. After a jam packed day of with touristy sites, we navigated our way via bus to Emi’s part of town. She met us at the University steps and then walked with us the couple block to her home. As you arrive Emi welcomes you to her home, reviews the menu and then you dive right in to the lesson.

While all the flavors of the dishes were familiar, the preparation of the ingredients was new to me. Emi also helped to identify a number of items that were in my local market, but foreign to me (I have seen ginko nuts up and down my street, but until this class I had no idea they were delicious and easy to prepare.)

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During the class we made five dishes: 1. Sesame Dressed Salad with Green Beans & Mitsuba Leaves 2. Yuzu Marinated Grilled Yellow Tail 3. Cooked Rice with Shimeji & Shiitake Mushrooms 4. Simmered Yuba with Kabocha and Ground Chicken Sauce 5. Agedashi Tai, Prawns and Amanaga Shishito.  Each recipe was written out to us and then we were walked through the prep, cooking, and final presentation for each.

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Of course the best part of the class was getting to sample our food! If you are in Kyoto and looking for a different type of experience contact Emi

 

Becoming an Onsen Pro

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Mind you I am certainly not an Onsen pro, but I would love to be one. An onsen is a Japanese hot springs and it is fabulous. We chose an onsen in Hakone and booked a one night stay there towards the end of our Japan trip. It was the perfect way to unwind and enjoy a bit of R&R.

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Upon arriving at the Onsen we were shown to our tatami covered room. Our rooms was actually two side by side rooms, the first room being our “dining” room and the other a place to sleep. We were shown our yakutas (basically a Japanese bathrobe), given a tour of the different spas, and provided the hours for use (they swap when men and women are permitted).

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We wasted no time in changing in to our yakutas (tip: the left side is always the top layer) and checking out the spa area. At first I was a little intimidated, but that is really because I had no clue what I was doing. I luckily had the spa to myself and was able to fumble along. The first thing you do upon entering is put all of your clothes/yakuta/shoes in a the baskets provided. Then you sit down at a shower (yes, sit), bathe yourself, and head to the hot tub. Relax, no really, relax!

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After we had done a few different rounds in the spa it was time for our dinner. This is a huge dinner, served in your room, with you still in a yakuta. We had everything: tofu vegetable salad, pickled veggies, sashimi platter, miso grilled fish, beef and veggies in a table side clay pot, tempura, eel…needless to say we were stuffed when this meal was over. But not so full we couldn’t go in for another soak.

 

 

 

 

During dinner our beds were laid out in the tatami room next door and after all that soaking and eating we didn’t have any trouble falling asleep. If you get a chance to visit an onsen don’t pass it up. You will find it relaxing and you too can be a pro in no time!

Geikos, Maikos and Geishas in Gion

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I can’t recall how we found the Geisha tour, but we somehow found it and decided that it was a must do while in Kyoto. Everyone has watched or read Memoires of a Geisha and has some preconceived notions of what a Geisha is and is not, this tour certainly set us straight.

For our 90 minute tour we met in front of a pastry shop in the evening and waited for the set departure time. Our kimono clad guide quickly collected 1000 yen from each attendee and we were on our way. Since this was a walking tour, we headed in to the cobblestone streets of Gion. Our first stop was directly across from the bridge that is featured in the movie Memoires of a Geisha (you know, the lollipop scene!).

There are actually two types of Geishas: Geikos and Maikos. All Geishas start as a Maiko and then progress to a Geiko.

What is a Maiko?

A Maiko is an apprentice studying to be a Geisha (or a master: Maiko). The typical Maiko begins her training at age 16 and then apprentices for 5 years before she becomes a Geiko. During these years the Maiko undergoes intensive studying and training.

Each Maiko lives in a boarding house or okiya. Okiya is a boarding house for those training to be a Geisha. The woman who owns the okiya will pay for all training and attire of the aspiring Maiko (but she will also take all of the money a Maiko earns in order to repay this debt). A typical boarding house holds between 5-7 girls. As you walk through Gion you can tell which houses are an okiya by the placards on the wall above the door, these are actually the names of the Geishas which live inside.

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In the okiya the Maiko will be assigned an “older sister”. The older sister acts as a mentor and is expected to help with the training of the new Maiko. An older sister will often allow a Maiko to accompany her to a party to watch the ways which she must master.

A Maiko also doesn’t wear a wig, therefore they have weekly appointments to get their hair styled. Once this styling is complete they must not doing anything to mess up this hair as the cost of the styling is $150 per week. In order to keep their perfectly coiffed hair a Maiko will sleep on a pillow that props only her neck, thus ensuring that her hair is suspended in mid air.

What is the typical day like of a Maiko in training?

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Maikos wake at 9am and then attend lessons until later in the afternoon. They are typically given some free time between 2pm-4pm, where they can have a coffee with their fellow classmates. At 4pm they head back to their okiya and being prepping for their evening party. The typical evening out can begin as early at 6pm and end as last as 1am. A Maiko then goes home, removes her make-up and elaborate costume, and will be in bed by 3pm. Gion has passed a special exception to the age limit for drinking so that Maikos in training may participate in a party, therefore they are permitted to drink as long as they are in training (even if they are only 15).

What is a Geiko?

A Geiko is someone who has mastered the skills required of a Geisha (and no, they are not prostitutes!). These skills include dancing, tea serving, and entertaining guests with conversation, games, or jokes. As a Geiko a woman is able to set her own schedule and anything she earns is hers to keep.

Additionally, the style of dress for a Geiko varies from that of a Maiko. A Geiko wears a sash which is shorter in the back and she typically wears a wig.

Geikos are highly valued and the top Geiko made as much money as the CEO of Toyota. Finally, you don’t really age out, but instead can continue to work as long as you please (currently the oldest Geiko is 80 years old).

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What does a Geiko or Maiko wear?

The typical attire of a Geisha includes a kimono and a sash (obi). If the Geisha is a Maiko she will wear an obi that reaches to the ground, while a Geiko will wear a sash that is much shorter. In addition to these items, there are very ornate hairpieces that each wears, which can cost upwards of $1,000 per hair piece. These kimonos and hairpieces change with each season. One final distinguishing feature reserved for a first year Maiko is the sound of bells, which are placed in her shoes so that as she walks you hear the jingle.

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I want to see a Geiko or Maiko!

Your best bet for seeing a Geiko or Maiko is to pay to attend a party. We did not do this. The cost for a party is $1,000 and permits up to 6 people to attend. Your $1,000 will get you 1 Geiko, 1 Maiko, Sake and Beer, 30 minutes of travel time for the Geiko/Maiko, and 1 hour of entertainment. This entertainment includes conversation, games (rock paper scissors) and traditional dance.

You could take another route and just mill about in Gion and hope that you encounter a Geisha. Be warned, they are moving very quickly and are rather difficult to photograph (it is also not acceptable for you to get in their way, as they are on a schedule)

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Good luck spotting a Geiko or Maiko!