Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Wildlife that we have seen, or touched, while in Japan


These are wild "snow monkeys" that live at the top of a hill in Arashiyama, outside of Kyoto:

Hawks in Kyoto:

(enormous dragonfly)

At the train station in Nagasaki.
They were after bread in the kids' hands.
We are the wildlife:

Sunday, July 5, 2015

12 good years

(this photo is from a few weeks ago, on Father's Day)

"How Japan does it Better"

That's the game we've been playing.  We've got a pretty good start to our list so far.

First of all: trains.  Not only are there assigned seats and lanes for queue-ing up for each individual car, the signage is very often bilingual (Japanese/English)*!  Also, in at least one train we traveled on, there was WiFi available AND outlets in the armrests.   And don't even get me started about efficiency in the train restrooms (special seat-cleaning product, air dryers built into the sinks--are you kidding me!?!).  

Everything anyone ever told me about this place is true.  This is truly amazing stuff from The Future.  
Even the little tray table locks--the ones on airplanes that lock them in place when not in use--are designed so they have hooks in them so while you are eating, you can hook up your little baggie of food or whatever.  I mean come on.

Politeness on public transportation (and really, everywhere) is of utmost importance in Japan. Truthfully, the Japanese need few reminders, but the rest of us sometimes need some coaching (see photo below).  Between the queue-ing and the dead quiet, boarding at Tokyo rail station has got to be the most peaceful and stress-free big-city experience we have ever known.  They open the doors about 1 minute before departure, everyone boards in silence (well, maybe a few "gouzaymas-es" here and there) and then the train starts moving, without us even noticing.  It is so smooth it is almost unbelievable that you are actually traveling.

note that they are not even talking about using earphones.  They specifically
mention "keyboard noise"

Okay, one more thing about trains: they are ALWAYS on time, and, in case you get confused about where you are, just look at your watch and check the train schedule.  Because if the schedule says you will arrive in Nikko at 11:41am, then don't even worry about looking out the window and reading the station name on the sign: just check your watch and if it reads "11:41:00," then it is about 1000% chance that you will be in Nikko.

Super-efficient systems for just about everything, not just trains.  Behold: the side-opening delivery truck!

We love Japanese-style hotel rooms.  The limited hotel spaces in over-crowded urban areas seem deceptively large when set up for the daytime; then at night just pull out the futons and comforters and voila: instant bedroom!

Complimentary kimonos for use at the Japanese public baths that many hotels include.  We all love these, but the girls, especially.  There's nothing like wrapping yourself up in one of these after a hot soak at the end of a day of sightseeing.  Fantastic.

Let's file this one under "the Japanese just plain think of everything": it is a map guide to the bathroom stalls of a single mall restroom.  No joke, they tell you which stalls have those convenient baby seats so you can set down your baby/toddler while you do your business.  
Not only that, but for those who have experienced what these baby seats are like in the US, let me just say: these are full upright highchair-like seats in an extra-spacious stall.  So the little fold-out seats don't snap back up while you are trying to get Junior to stop squirming and buckle him in. I don't even have a toddler anymore, but I sure noticed this one.  Genius.

Double-stacked bicycle parking at a shopping center.  No comment necessary.

Finally (though I suspect I will have more to tell you about before our two weeks are up), I will just mention the self-heating containers of to-go meals at the grocery stores...
...and these little pegs that hold the GRAVEL IN PLACE so it doesn't spread all over and become unsightly:

Message to Germany: you're going to have to step up your game a bit if you want to stay in the running for Most Tidy and Well-Organized Country.

*technically, this may be trilingual because Japanese and Chinese share Kanji characters, too.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

In Japan

We said goodbye to Saipan yesterday and arrived safely in Japan late evening.  All is well.  We are eating lots of soba and riding bullet trains and soaking in hot springs.  More updates to come soon!