Cost Free Mementos

A very traditional street light

When I was younger and literally traveling on a shoestring budget, traditional souvenirs were too expensive so I came up with some no cost options.

One of my first collections was pictures of streetlights. It seems like every city has its own streetlight style and some of them are really unique and fun.

An attachment to the streetlights in Kyoto. Each light had a different character.

On this trip, I also collected pictures of manholes. The Japanese artistic district manholes were truly stunning.

One of the simpler manholes we saw
More street level art

Another friend collects pictures of doors and doorways. As you might imagine, she has found some beautiful examples.

If you want mementos that can be placed in a scrapbook, train and museum ticket stubs are great.

In Japan, most chopsticks come with beautifully decorated paper chopstick covers that would make great add ins to a scrapbook page.

The only limit to cost free souvenirs is your own imagination. What will you collect?

Taiko drumming, New Mexico style

Ray and I had so much fun trying out Taiko drumming in Tokyo that we decided to find classes in New Mexico. Bushido Kenkyukai is a well-known dojo for taiko drumming and martial arts. We went to an introductory class which included demonstrations by local students and practice drumming.

As usual, New Mexico artists have added their own twist to a traditional Japanese art. The New Mexico version includes more drummers, extra instruments, and special riffs that aren’t heard in Japan. Still, the foundation is traditional so it’s a fascinating fusion of cultures.

Another local group NM Taiko is also seen at local events like the very popular Aki Matsuri, a Japanese fall festival.

For practicing, since taiko drums are expensive, many artists make use of old tires coveted tightly with packing tape.


It doesn’t give the depth of sound that a real drum does but it definitely is good for an active taiko workout.

So, are you tempted to try taiko drumming?

Magic doors

Taxis were delightful. They were always immaculate and the seats were invariably covered in white lace fabric. When it was time to get out, the doors opened as if by magic–though I’m sure it was through the driver’s command.

In Kyoto, foreigners aren’t particularly welcome as they overwhelm this small town. In that town, taxi drivers hesitate to pick ip foreigners. so a whole separate cab business has developed: “foreigner friendly taxis”. The term is emblazoned on the taxis so foreigners know that they can effectively flag these taxis down. Not surprisingly, these taxis are often driven by foreign immigrants, who often also speak English.

So would you be like me– a little worried about inadvertently soiling the pristine white interior of a taxi? (I’m a klutz by the way.)

Olympic Hopes

At the train station arriving in Nagano, a delightful Japanese town that hosted the 1998 winter Olympics.

These are cool statues along the access road to the shrine.

We were drooling as we passed the shops with their food samples in the windows. This is the restaurant we came back to for soba. Yum.

There is a 7 springs hike nearby.

And here is a gorgeous hand painted manhole cover celebrating the famous apples from the region. They are deservedly famous. I became addicted to the fresh apple juice, apple sake, and fresh apples.

A mn so outlines the sacred places at the temple.

The beautiful shrine appears embraced by the trees.

A fruit stand where we bought one of the famous apples.


Nagano was one of my favorite places in Japan. I think it was the apples. Do you have a favorite place in Japan? Where?

Godzilla’s Godparents

By Ray Shortridge

Godzilla is the iconic Japanese dinosaur, having starred in several movies since Ishiro Honda brought him to life and international acclaim in the 1954 film, Godzilla.

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To no great surprise, this lovable (to the Japanese and the world-wide multitude in the Godzilla cult) monster has been further monetized beyond movie tickets, toys, and stuffed animals. In revving  up to the 2020 Olympics, Japanese entrepreneurs have written “the Godzilla experience” into destination tourist attractions, including a hotel and specialty foods. (For a sampling, navigate to this link.)

Brenda took this evening picture of the hotel with Godzilla peering over the McDonald’s golden arches at the passersby.

While wandering through the gift shop after making soba noodles for lunch, I came across dinosaur junk food products.

My initial thought was that these products were derived from the Godzilla craze. However, that wasn’t so. A Google search revealed that important real dinosaur fossils had been unearthed in the Fukui Prefecture and elsewhere in Japan. The Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum in Katsuyama is a leading dinosaur museum in Asia and houses many of the Japanese fossils. The gift shop was in Fukui Prefecture and was celebrating the dinosaur discoveries that were found more or less in their back yard.

As with Godzilla, entrepreneurs have found a way to profit from the dinosaurs. In Tokyo, where else?, the Henn na (Weird) Hotel is staffed largely by robots, many of which were designed to be dinosaurs.

 

 

Samurai Sushi

We made a traditional version of sushi that was served to samurai as it was extremely portable and stayed good without refrigeration.

The finished result
The class
We all looked properly puzzled

Despite our lack of enthusiasm, our sushis, made with pickled vegetables (for antiseptic properties), nuts, snd rice were delicious.

Teen and Tween Heaven

Harajuku is always popping. It’s the epicenter of teendom, a mind-boggling array of sounds, sights and sensations. Whether you’re into balloons, cosplay, enormous cotton candies, or owl cafes, there is all that and more here.

The entrance to the most famous street in Harajuku
Sweets and food seem to be a big draw
These looked yummy but I think the window desserts were plastic.
Entrance to the owl cafe
We actually tried one of these drinks. They were awesome.
Cosplay clothes up top, hip-hop below
Kawaii (cute) backpacks and styles were everywhere
Giant cotton candies are a thing
Cats and teddy bears are a thing in Japan

So would this be fun for you? I really wanted to go in the owl cafe, but you need reservations.

Takefu Knife magic

Guest blog by Ray Shortridge

Skilled in hand forging blades, craftsmen produce knife blades employing Edo Era tools at Takefu Knife Village in Eichizen, an area in Fukui Prefecture in west central Honshu Island. The Takefu smiths produce world class quality kitchen knives by hand and travel the world instructing gourmet chefs on the appropriate use of the wide variety of blades they craft.

Today’s Takefu knife makers benefit from the history of Eichizen blade production that stretches back 700 years. As legend has it, in 1337, a master swordsmith from Kyoto, Kuniyasu Chiyozuru, discovered water suitable in the forging of blades and settled near Takefu. He and his successors smithed Eichizen blades for farmers to use in harvesting grains and for Samurai warriors to wield in protecting their shogun lords.

In the past blade smiths forged the blades by hand. They beat the heated steel with a hammer, laminating iron and steel into a blank that is light and tough and with a keen edge. Today, the Takefu smiths grasp the white hot blanks with tongs and operate electrically powered hammers to pound the metal.

After we helped staff put handles on finished knife blades, we got to help finish our knives. Our tour of the foundry included instruction on the proper way to sharpen the finished kitchen knife blade so that it would cut paper. We came away with a kitchen knife that passed the paper slicing test and, we found to our delight, also sliced and diced veggies in our own kitchen.

What aspects of a knife do you find important? Do you think it would feel different to slice vegetables with a knife you had helped make?