Japanese Vending Machines are a win

(A guest blog by Ray Shortridge)

Unlike Pachinko, playing the vending machine slots is a guaranteed win for the player.

Japan has the highest per capita number of vending machines in the world. Let’s focus on one vending machine commonly seen on the street, beverages. Here’s one stocked with a wide variety of types of drinks.

A player wins > 99% of the time, because the vending machine vendor maintains the machine assiduously. In Japan, one rarely encounters something broken. Although, if a machine lacks, sufficient coins to provide change, then it won’t let you play.

The bottom row of Boss cold coffee in a can products warrants closer attention. On a video commercial played in the subway car, I had seen Tommy Lee Jones evidently shilling Boss coffee. Well, if the Man In Black guy likes it, then I’ll give it a shot. Must be good.

I played against Boss, for 110¥, and selected the tan 3rd can from the left, cafe au lait. I WON! 😀😀😀 And it was delicious.

Wrestling with Sumo

Sumo is a fun sport to watch but often a bit bewildering for non Japanese. Basically, whoever gets shoved out of the circle first or made to touch the ground with any body part except for the soles of their feet loses. There’s a tremendous amount of religious ceremony due to the sport’s Edo period beginning and its ties to Shinto religion. Here is one of the best explanations I found for neophyte attendees. Sumo basics

We went to one of the really big tournaments and the audience was really excited. The actual matches last only seconds, but the preparation and ritual before the match takes much longer.

It was a large crowd in a large stadium. Finding our seat was difficult as the ticket didn’t have a translation and the apparent entry gate wasn’t the right one. Fortunately, the stadium staff members were very helpful and spoke excellent English

The sumo wrestlers are huge! Yet, they move with surprising grace and agility. The extra weight they carry subtracts about 10 years from their life expectancy and leads to illnesses such as diabetes.

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.

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.

Airline Survival Tips

aircraft airplane blue cargo
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Airplanes- how we love to hate them.  Tight spaces, miserable food in those rare instances when it’s served at all, and the fun of sharing space for hours with a load of strangers.   At times, serendipity places you by a fascinating person but other times you get the toddler kicking your seat, the arguing couple slinging insults, or someone who insists on discussing politics.

airplane silhouette on air during sunset
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While those are certainly nightmare situations, most of my airplane trips have been bearable at  least, and many more were delightful. It helps to reframe the situations. On my first flight to Greece, a bunch of folks at the back of the plane were literally having a party.  Needless to say, I couldn’t sleep so I wandered back to use the restroom and perhaps ask them to tone it down a bit. I encountered several Greek families heading home for a family wedding. They were brimming over with happiness.  Despite my abysmal, nonexistent Greek language skills, they pulled me into the family group and by the flight’s end I had invitations to several homes in Greece. (I didn’t go, mainly because I was traveling with my teenage son and our plans were already set.)  But despite a sleepless night, it was a memorable flight with memories that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Airplane Survival Pack

Assuming you’re an adult traveling by yourself or with other adults, there are a few things you can pack that will make your flight easier.  Parents of small children will need a much larger emergency pack tailored to their children’s needs.

Earplugs.  I never travel without them.  They muffle all sorts of unpleasantness.

Tiger balm.  It can be used on the temples for headaches, under the nose for sinus congestion, and on complaining joints or muscles for pain relief.  And the jar is small enough for your tiny tsa bag.

black hat beside pair of black pointed toe pumps
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A lightly scented scarf or handkerchief.  You don’t want to give your seat mates headaches with a 90s style power perfume, but a light scent that you can bring near your nose if the stale airplane odors start to make you queasy can be a lifesaver.  Vanilla or lavender scents are especially soothing.

Eyeshade.  This is especially good for long flights when the lights are often on when you should be catching shut eye.

Melatonin.  For international multi- time zone flights, I take a pill at bedtime in the new zone.  Does it help? Maybe. But I’m up for trying everything to minimize jet lag.

Ebooks.  As an avid (and speed) reader, I love ebooks!  I used to have to buy 5 or 6 books at the airport to get through my flight and give them away as I left the plane.  Ebooks are much lighter.

Swimsuit.  No, one cannot usually swim on the plane, but a quick dip in the hot tub at my destination can unkink my sore body.

red and black usb cable
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Plugs for electronics. Many planes now have plug ins at each seat. This is especially wonderful for long flights.

A pre-charged no-plug charger for my electronics.  If your plane does not have plug-ins, this will ensure you aren’t left hanging in that thriller you’re reading.

A small selection of any medications you might need while on the plane.  It is much easier to get items out of your purse or daypack than your wheelie that is crammed into the overhead bin. So plan ahead.

A sense of humor.  Things will still go wrong. If a tired toddler is kicking your seat (and the parents are asleep), try pretending that he’s giving you a vigorous massage.

Food Truths

While the food on airplanes is often minimalistic, you have options.  And international flights still offer full meals.

For domestic flights, I generally find appetizing options in the concourse that are tastier than meals purchased from the airline.  If I have time, I eat my meal before my flight and just have juice or water on the plane. And trail mix, jerky (there are even vegan versions), and fruit are good carry on snacks.

ebi tempura bento on brown wooden table
Photo by Quang Anh Ha Nguyen on Pexels.com

For international flights, a lot depends on the carrier.  One of the best meals I had aloft, was the Korean option on Korean airlines–some sort of spicy bulkogi. So here are some tips:

Special needs meals.  If you need these, don’t forget to pre-order them.  If you don’t need them, they’re still sometimes worth pre-ordering, as the options are often more interesting, especially for the vegetarian meal. One downside, you may have to wait longer for your meal.

If you’re adventurous, choose the cuisine of the country flying the plane when the flight attendants offer a choice.  It will almost always be better than the “American” choice.

Think food when booking. If you have a choice of carrier, Korean airlines, Singapore airlines, and Japan airlines are known for having especially good meals. Obviously, one wouldn’t pay a huge amount more just for the food, but if you have a choice between these carriers and others with less-tasty food reputations at about the same price, choose these.

Exercise

This is critical in a long haul.  Do stretching exercises at your seat, get up and go to the restroom more than absolutely necessary, and stand at your seat whenever you’re awake.  Thrombosis would ruin your vacation, so exercise.

When all else fails, close your eyes and imagine all the fun you’ll be having at your destination in just a few short hours.  Happy flying.

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.