Git Nekkid

Last post, Ang wrote about all the internal organs we come across in Japan. She failed to mention all the external organs we see, so that’s where I step in. We’re yin and yang like that.

A friend invited us to a resort town in the mountains last weekend to escape the Tokyo heat. So nice. Super nice. And then super naked.

Japan has more hot springs than McDonald’s. I don’t know if that’s true, but you’re the one on the internet. Look it up. Any resort town worth its seaweed salt has onsen in the hotels, or an onsen park, or a hike with an outdoor onsen. They are very enjoyable. But to enjoy them, you have to be very nude. Nude-ish won’t cut it.

When I go to a gym, I’m a fairly modest guy. I don’t shower in my clothes or anything like that, but I don’t do naked lunges to dry off either (I’m talking to you, every old man at a gym ever). I move briskly. Disrobe, robe, go. People are in various states of dress, and that’s the part that throws me off. If there’s a room full of people, and some are dressed and some aren’t, I know which group I want to be in. It’s definitely not the group with the guy in just his socks.

But at the onsen, evvvvverybody is naked. More naked than possible. Don’t tell me zero divided by zero has no solution. I’ve seen the wrinkled answer.

Three generations of a family get naked as quickly as possible, shower, and then continue being naked in scalding water. If people get too hot, they hop out of the onsen and sit on the edge. For those of us still half-submerged in the pool, that puts us at eye level to a lot of person. It’s like staring at a celtic ring. So many twists and knots, but with flesh.

Then everyone stands around to cool down, grandpa does some lunges, they dress and leave. And it’s fine, because you can’t be caught in a compromising position if everything has already been compromised. That’s logic.

Have a look at some meat.

I just learned the word for a restaurant under the train tracks is ガード下 (gadoshita).

I love the ambiance of these places. The rattle of the train overhead has the added benefit of masking the (more than) occasional earthquake.

Gadoshita are also known for having cheap food, usually grilled meats. We ordered chicken skewers, fried tofu, kimchi, and ホルモン煮込み horumon nikomi — stewed innards.

Learning new vocabulary isn’t always fun and games. From the translated menu:

I realize this outs me as a person who takes photos of the word “vagina.” I consider myself an adventurous eater, but I draw the line at womb. Though, meat of the head? Yum! Make mine a double.

Action Craft News Flash!

A long-awaited update — I’m delighted to finally announce that the Action Craft blankets found a home!

Last month I sent four huge boxes off to Kesennuma in Miyagi Prefecture. (If you Google Kesennuma, you’ll find many videos and photos of the port town, which was completely swept away.)

The Action Craft blankets were sent to the organization Network Orange, a nonprofit focused on helping children with disabilities in Kesennuma. Since the tsunami they have extended their efforts to include helping others in the community rebuild their lives, and they were excited to receive our donation. I was a bit worried my terrible kanji-writing skills had sent our boxes off into oblivion, but this week I received word that they arrived safely. The folks at Network Orange said they’d try to send photos, but I’ll cut them some slack, since, you know, they’re helping people survive and stuff.

Congrats to everyone who participated. A job well done.

Balloon Animals for Grown Ups

I just bought this app and though it’s a bit clunky, I’m having some fun playing around.

Friends, I apologize in advance for any late-night balloon animal messages … I’m searching for a word with both Q and T … ooh, I think I got it …

I’m terrible at Scrabble, so please be impressed. (In case you’re curious, that’s a qtaro (?!), unicorn, apple, roadrunner, tree, and zebra.)

Sweet Dreams

I’ve been digging into the depths of my camera’s memory card and was reminded about the Dream Pillow project I participated in a few months back.

A group of high school students established the project with a goal to collect 5,000 pillows for tsunami refugees. They asked for handmade pillow cases to fill with cotton donated from a futon shop. I sent them a simple wiener dog with flowers motif, which reminds me a bit of Rusty. (I’ve watched that clip 1,000 times, no joke. In my defense, I had a dachshund as a kid.)

I sent my pillowcase off hoping the address written in chicken-scratch kanji was eligible enough for delivery, then promptly forgot about it. About a month later, I received a stack of postcards in the mail.

All handwritten and thoughtfully decorated, thanking me for my donation. Talk about sweet dreams!

The Pudding Man from Osaka

Dan went to Osaka this week and returned with a gift:

A box of puddings. I love everything about this — the package design, the cheery little mascots, the fact that it’s pudding and full of eggs and doesn’t have to be refrigerated.

I opened the box, and the puddings were wearing hats. The instructions are fully illustrated, so I know not to put on the caramel sauce and caramel crunch in the wrong order (gasp!).

This is exactly what Dan looks like dressed up as a pudding.

Since I opened the box, I’ve been a steady stream of chuckles. This pretty little puddin’ face has been taped to my computer screen. I like his peeping.

Coincidence that Dan found a pudding doppelganger while in Osaka?

Dan, the Pudding Man.  Has a nice ring to it.

Food Porn, Nagoya Edition

This past spring Dan and I spent a weekend in Aichi Prefecture with a friend to visit her family. It was one of the best weekends I’ve had in Japan. We visited Inuyama Castle during its springtime festival and watched the candle-covered wood carts creak through town, visited temples and an outdoor onsen, took in cherry blossoms along the river, and spent time with some wonderful people. And we ate a lot of food.

It was my first Shinkansen trip. So awesome. If you listen closely, you can hear Dan clapping and giggling like a 10 year old as the train approaches. OK, back to the food.

Because of the festival, Inuyama’s streets were lined with food carts. We started slowly with curry-filled croquettes, fresh from the fryer.

A shrimp pancake. Because why not.

Grilled miso-dipped mochi. And a feisty raccoon flag. This area of Japan is known for its miso, so the local specialties have a rich flavor, which I loved. I even liked it in the sweets.

Noodles for lunch, with more miso and yep, that’s a raw egg.

For dinner we had grilled eel, which might be my new favorite food.  I try not to think about this when I’m eating it.

On Day 2 we were too busy eating to snap photos, and all I caught was our tea-time snack of grilled mochi in warm red bean…soup? broth? Who knows, but redbeansoupbroth was niiice.

A train trip wouldn’t be complete without a beer for the road. This was a local brew. Our friend’s mother then sent us home with a huge bag of goodies — cake, a pomelo, strawberry-filled mochi, tea, and a ton of snacks. She must be related to my mother-in-law.

Such a lovely weekend.

More On Mayonnaise

When friends visit, we take them to an Okinawan restaurant in Shibuya. There’s nothing special about the place, but it was one of our first restaurants in Tokyo, so we keep going back. It’s the same reason why one of us still listens to C&C Music Factory.

Some Okinawan restaurants in Tokyo keep it classy with flashing lights and tacky decorations:

We always get a dish made of shrimp and mayonnaise. It’s good. Better than a scoop of mayo, ketchup (?) and shrimp deserves. (Serious face: shrimp farms destroy mangrove forests, so I try not to eat shrimp that often. I’m sure the Big Shrimp lobby is discussing how to deal with my inconsistent boycott.)

Before I moved to Tokyo, I had an unrealistic view of what Japanese people eat. Sushi…edamame…uh…other kinds of sushi. I had an image that everyone in Japan was extremely healthy, and that once I got here, I would become this sleek, Vitamin-D-glowing guy that smelled vaguely of freshly cut grass.

But now that I’m here, I use my own money willingly to purchase sausage/sauerkraut/mustard-flavored Doritos. Or Anchovy & Garlic Pretzel Bites. As it turns out I have an awful habit of seeking out odd-looking junk food and then being shocked when it tastes exactly as expected. And based on some of the smells emitting from guys on crowded trains, I’m not the only one.

Tokyo residents DO look healthy. But I don’t think it has anything to do with an all-fish-and-vegetable diet. I have friends here who hate sushi and vegetables and put mayonnaise on their pizza. Try to say with a straight face: “I’m a responsible person making sensible decisions and I’m putting mayonnaise on my pizza.”

Perhaps it comes down to portion control. My first few weeks in Japan I felt hungry all the time, but I wasn’t skipping any meals. It just turned out that when I bought lunch or went out to dinner with friends, the portions were smaller than what I was used to in the U.S. But it didn’t take very long to get accustomed to it, and when we visited the U.S. last year, I was that annoying person at restaurants saying, “Wow, I can’t believe how much food they serve here. There’s no way I can finish this,” (there was a way, and I did).

So take hope, world. Japanese people are just as willing to eat junk. They just stop a few bites earlier. Also, they have this weighing on their souls: