Pachinko, the Japanese alternative to casinos

Pachinko machines are sort of a vertical pinball machine. One of my coworkers collected antique models (at what I considered exorbitant prices). So I was excited to see Pachinko parlors near our hotel. The older models are classy in the same way as classic movies. The newer models are glitzier but the concept of play remains the same.

If you’re interested in playing pachinko, this link https://www.wikihow.com/Play-Pachinko gives a good description. From Wikipedia: “By 1994, the pachinko market in Japan was valued at ¥30 trillion (nearly $300 billion).
As of 2015, Japan’s pachinko market generates more gambling revenue than that of Las Vegas, Macau and Singapore combined.

The entire Wikipedia article and references is at this link. Now, pachinko is spreading, mostly to other Asian countries, so it’s a trend to watch.

Awesome amenities

One of the most appealing things about travel is noticing little details that are different from one country to the next. Bathrooms and hotel amenities fall into that category in Japan.

Most Americans and Europeans fear the hole in the floor toilets seen occasionally at restaurants and department stores, simply because we’re unsure of how to use them. But the Japanese also have some of the most high tech plumbing on the planet, as is shown by this toilet menu from our hotel.

Also at the airport, I went into the bathroom marked “women” and immediately panicked when I saw all the infograms of a male figure using the various types of toilets. No need to fear, they are just there to indicate the type of toilet inside each cubicle. And unlike our toilet stalls, Japanese cubicles do not–at least so far– have spaces where the door closes that one could look into. They are very discreet.

Other fun amenities from our hotel include a tea pot (instead of a coffee pot), an earthquake torch (flashlight), and hooks and hangers on the wall to minimize space use. And of course, slippers and free toothbrushes and hairbrushes. And for those who are wondering about my toothpaste tablet experiment (from Lush). You chew the tablets a little bit and then brush. They taste a bit like a minty, baking soda, charcoal mix. Not bad and less for the TSA bag.

My favorite amenity at this hotel is a pre charged, preloaded cell phone that you can use to get around town with. It was a joy when we went off by ourselves.

The robes were a nice touch too. Well off to bed again to see if a can get a little more sleep. I slept 6 hours at my first stretch so the jet lag hasn’t been awful.

One other surprising aspect of. Japanese bathrooms is that all the toilet paper is one-ply, without perforations. It works fine but somehow the Japanese are able to tear it off in a perfect line. Mine looks like my dog Owen has been chewing on it.

Some of the Japanese bathrooms have music playing so others don’t hear your process. Itoya’s bathroom had nature sounds music. It was lovely. And one held one’s hand up to a wall panel to flush. Really slick. The hand dryers actually work perfectly here, and the bathroom stall locks are an engineering marvel. They swing smoothly into place to lock the door securely.

A Foodie Extravaganza in Japan.

Our tour coordinator bought us samples of loads of great dishes:

Sushi: squid, yellowtail, scallops, tuna, salmon. . .

Several wild variations on egg dishes

Gyoza (dumplings).

Horse: a delicacy here, but I had horses as best friends as a kid. I just couldn’t eat my friends.

Anyway, here are some of the pics.

Eggo if you please

Despite two months of Japanese on duolingo, I don’t speak Japanese.  I can read it sometimes, even write a little but saying the words is terrifying.  I’m certain that instead of saying hello, I’m saying “You are a walrus.” Or perhaps I uttered something even more offensive.

message_1535819095206So I did what any teacher’s daughter would do.  I made flash cards! One side has the Japanese and English translation, the other has my best guess of how I’m supposed to pronounce it.  For example, Good morning in Japanese is pronounced a bit like Ohio, our state. And English sounds like a bit like Eggo (the toaster waffles) so that’s my cue.

So my plan is to point at the Japanese for whatever phrase I’m mangling so that the recipient can read it and realize that I didn’t mean to insult him. I made an extra set of cards for Ray.  Now we’re just a couple of days away from testing the strategy. Fingers and flashcards crossed.

No Tips Please but Gifts OK

American tourists are often somewhat unsettled by Japan’s almost totally tip-free culture. One doesn’t tip cab drivers, doormen, hairdressers, the list goes on and on. An attempt to tip your server at dinner or a bartender at a bar could be offensive and puzzling to the recipient. Needless to say, this should be bliss but cases angst and guilt for Americans coming from a must-always tip environment.

One also doesn’t usually tip maids but there is one exception, at a higher-end ryokan (Japanese style inns often found in hot spring resorts.) In that situation, the tip is more of a “thank you for letting me stay here” than a tip’s “thank you for excellent service” meaning. For one thing, the tip is given at the beginning of a stay, not the end, and must be a clean, crisp bill in a nice envelope. I took it a step further and added little thank you cards in japanese with my envelopes.

We will present one of these card and envelope sets with a clean 10-2000 yen bill inside to the maid who shows us to our room. The amount depends on length of stay and the current currency exchange; we’re only staying one or two nights.

If you’re visiting through a tour, you might give a tour guide a thank your envelope at the end.

I made extra because we can always pull out a card (no envelope) and leave it the table after a super nice meal when the server couldn’t understand my mangled Japanese.

While tips are unwelcome, gifts for hosts are required. More about that later.

Traveling Japan in Airplane Mode

Most U.S. phones don’t give free phone calls and data in Japan. So what is a data addicted traveler to do? If you have a 3g/4g phone you can almost surely use it over Wi-Fi, especially in large cities like Tokyo and Kyoto.

black dslr camera teaspoon ice cream and iphone x
Photo by Malidate Van on Pexels.com

A basic plan
Step 1:
Turn your phone to airplane mode which eliminates the risk of unexpected and pricey roaming charges. When near a free WiFi location, turn on Wi-Fi and GPS/location while staying in airplane mode.

Step 2:
Leave your phone in airplane mode but manually turn on Wi-Fi and location when you are close to a known free spot. Get familiar with all the places that offer free Wi-Fi. Tokyo and Kyoto metros offer free Wi-Fi, which combined with Google maps will guarantee you get off at the right subway stop. Since the map is still available after you exit the station, you will still have the steps

The luxury solution
If you’re spending a lot of time in rural areas or need to be always connected, whether for work, or your facebook addiction, you can rent a pocket Wi-Fi at the airport. Definitely order one online in advance as they are popular. Here is basic information to get you started if flying through Narita airport.
https://www.econnectjapan.com/blog/pocket-wifi-rental-at-narita-airport/

Actual phone calls
Most 3g/4g phones have the option to make calls over Wi-Fi. Unless you make a ton of calls, this should be adequate. If you’re a phone call person, and have a removable sim card, you can get a new sim card for Japan. Check on whether it includes text messages. If not:

Text message savvy
Use something like Facebook messenger that can avoid text messaging fees when used over Wi-Fi.

Obviously, I’ll be a lot smarter about this after our trip. If I have more tips, I’ll add them then.

The Mystery of the Roses, and the Mystery of how we got there

Our dog Owen likes flowers, so he liked the idea of going on a flower hunt. The Albuquerque Botanical Gardens has wonderful flowers, and had a bonsai show last weekend, but that is a dog free zone.  Too bad, they have wonderful summer evening concerts starting in June.

With Owen curled in my lap, “helping”, we used Field Trip (a useful app from Google’s internal startup, Niantic Labs) to find the Albuquerque Rose Garden. For those who don’t have a helpful dog to help you find great apps, Field Trip is one of the best ways to find out underappreciated gems to visit, whether in your home town or while traveling.  As you go through a neighborhood, cards pop up telling you about great restaurants, historical sites, unique architecture, and other items you probably would have missed if it weren’t for the app.  And if you want to get deeper into the magic, Niantic Labs has created an online, multiplayer, science fiction and GPS-based game that uses the sites from Field Trip, often as portals to be hacked.  Ingress basics are explained on Wikipedia.  The game is currently available only on Androids, but is scheduled for IPhone distribution in the future.  If you want to get into a world-wide phenomenon, download the game from Play Store, and then go here for the back story before you start playing.  Once you choose a side, Resistance or Enlightenment, you can’t change.

Anyway, after taking some time off to play Ingress, Owen and I went to find  the Tony Hillerman Library using Waze, my favorite navigator app because it combines chat, cute graphics, and good navigation. Despite my lack of directional ability, Waze got us to our destination, a simple local library surrounded by beautiful rose beds . Somehow, it just seems right that all these beautiful roses surround a library dedicated to one of my favorite authors.  Of course, anyone living in New Mexico who hasn’t read his Navajo Tribal Police novels just doesn’t belong here.  After his death, his daughter added to the series, but we still miss her dad.  As we admired the roses, and snapped some pics, volunteers from the Rose Society were busy weeding, watering, and spraying the roses.  This time of year it is almost a full time job for the volunteers, which is probably why several asked me whether I’d be interested in volunteering, black thumb and all.

 With approximately, 1,200 roses, and more to come, the Albuquerque Rose Garden is a fabulous place to wander, read a book, or close your eyes and smell the rich aroma of the older types of roses.  As scientists worked hard to make the most beautiful rose buds and flowers, often the glorious scent was lost.  But fortunately, the garden has many beautiful older varieties that smell just like your memories of your grandmother’s rose garden.