Monday, August 31, 2009

Dogo Onsen

Our last stop for the day was Dogo Onsen, the oldest onsen that stands in Japan. An onsen is a traditional bath house, and the Dogo onsen is probably the most famous onsen in all of Japan. Apparently, the hot springs here were mentioned in poetry written around 3,000 years ago. I didn't get a chance to go inside the actual bath house, as I needed to catch a train home, but I did manage to dip my feet in the hot spring fountain they have for travelers outside. Very comfortable. Right next to this stopping spot is a mechanical clock which was put in during a centennial celebration about 15 years ago. I caught it at just the right time, for most of the day the clock is about half the size, but at every :30 the clock comes to life, expanding to twice its size while displaying various mechanized scenes from Soseki's Botchan. Very cool, reminded me of It's a Small World in Disneyland! I'll definitely have to return here and get the full experience sometime. Very interesting piece of history!

Kimonos and Obis, oh my!

My friend, Ayumi, was showing me around more of Matsuyama today, and on our way to Dogo Onsen, we made a stop at a kimono store where one of her friends works. For those who don't know, the kimono probably one of the most symbolic garments of Japan. After looking around the store at all of the beautifully embroidered finery, her friend insisted that I try one on. Of course, I couldn't say no. The kimono is basically a large robe, tied off at the middle by an ornate sash called an obi. I have to say, I liked the fit. It was pretty hot, the thing doesn't breathe too well, but it's also extremely loose and comfortable. It does constrict movement though, I found myself needing to shuffle along in order not to undo the obi knot. I was very impressed, but then I looked at the price tags on some of the items in the shop. Turns out a complete outfit can easily run you $10,000 or more! Some of the obis on display cost more than I make in a month! But considering the level of detail that went into some of the more ornate designs, and the fact that each garment is completely hand-sewn, I can understand the high price tag. Still, it would be a great look at a fancy get-together, no?


I had another introduction to some interesting Japanese food today. The name is Okonomiyaki, which translated means "whatever-you-like grilled." Basically, its a mishmash of a bunch of different foods, all glued together by several eggs. You order what you want, and they hand you a bowl full of goop, pictured at the top. This particular bowl has beef, shrimp, scallops, and other nameless things. You mix everything together, and pour it onto a hot grill which is built into your table. After letting it cook for a few minutes, flip it over and cook some more. Once it is nice and hard, it is basted with an A1 tasting sauce, and sprinkled with a combination of shaved fish scales and parsley. Cut it up, and enjoy. Really tasty, and really filling!


One of the things I'm really starting to love about Japan is the fact that while the vending machines here carry a few sodas, the majority of drinks offered usually takes the form of green tea. I already liked tea before, but the choices here are just amazing. So much healthier than soda! Of course, there's still a ton of caffeine in tea, but at least it doesn't have all of the high fructose corn syrup and preservatives that soft drinks have. Here's a picture of a bottle I grabbed just a second ago out of the vending machines close to my apartment. I'm not kidding, probably about 10 varieties of tea just in one machine! Right now, one variety tastes pretty similar to the other, but my goal is to be able to distinguish between the different types. Same goes with all the different types of rice you can buy in the supermarket, they all have their distinct flavors. I'm just too Americanized to tell right now, but I'm sure I'll have a more discerning palate after a few more weeks. Bottoms up!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Another night, another place to eat

Had another great night out with some of my friends in Matsuyama tonight. I really like the nightlife here in Japan. It's not really the same as the US. In the States, you go eat at a restaurant, and then go drink at a bar. Here in Japan, you stay in one place the whole time, eating and drinking for the full duration. I have no idea what the name of this place is, but everywhere seems to carry at least two beers: Asahi and Kirin. The sign at the top is advertising their happy hour special! This place started us off by serving a bowl of fried potatoes along with some vegetables which seemed to have come from a can. Still, extremely tasty!

Speaking of bugs

Going along with my last post, here's a nice picture of one of the spiders which makes its home outside my apartment. I'll try to get some more pictures of the local insect life, though it's hard to tell from the pictures at the size of these things!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Oh my giant bugs...

Interesting side note: there are some giant bug species here. Especially cockroaches. I say this because as I came home from my last lesson of the night and turned on the light in my living room, there was a roach the size of my palm sitting on my wall. I've seen some small ones around the apartment before, but nothing compared to this monstrosity. Bad news: I tried to kill him and missed completely. Even worse news: now I can't find him at all. At least the things don't bite. I've closed all the doors to my bedroom, but I have this sinking feeling that he may have found his way in there. Hopefully I don't swallow this guy in my sleep. I'll keep tapping around, maybe I'll get lucky. Except the prize in this game is a giant bug. Note to self: buy some traps tomorrow. I hope they sell some that are big enough...

Update: Got him! How the heck these guys keep getting into my apartment is beyond me though. Still gotta get those traps.


I have to say, people here have been extremely outgoing and nice here. This evening I was invited to a BBQ by some of the graduate students and post-docs who I give lessons to. Lots of fun, though the actual grill was about a quarter of the size of the grills in America. It was out next to Shigenobu river, which, as you can tell from the picture, is not that high during the non-rainy season. In fact, it's almost completely dry. Interesting side note, fireworks are legal out here, as my friends soon showed me. Luckily, no one lost any eyebrows. Unfortunately I couldn't stay too long, as I had to give another lesson shortly thereafter, but I was there for enough time for my shirt to smell like sulfur and BBQ sauce. Scientists are so much fun!

My Office

Just a couple pictures of my office in the medical school. A little out of the way, the good thing is they have plenty of teaching materials from years past for me to use. All it needs is a little dusting, my poor allergies have been going nuts!

Mmm, liver...

Ok, you may be wondering what that is I'm holding in my chopsticks, and about to eat. Telling these adventurous epicureans how much I like exotic foods, they decided to challenge me. Included on the sashimi boat was some cut up turban snail, which was pretty chewy, and not the best. The thing that I am holding was it's liver. It's hard to tell from this picture, but the thing was covered in mucous, and so slippery that I could barely get a hold of it. Without a doubt, one of the most disgusting things I've ever eaten. Instead of a solid middle, the thing is filled with some sort of foul tasting liquid, which I could swear was ink. The whole thing tasted like a salty, fishy, gooey mess, and for those who will ever travel to Japan, is best left uneaten, and if possible, thrown out before it ever gets put on the plate. All things considered, I would say the boiled cow tendon was much more palatable than this gooey wonder. Oh well, when in Rome...

Another Dinner in the City

Another great dinner in the city tonight. There's a ton of these little places scattered all over the city. Apparently some of my new friends are part of a food and drink club, which basically means they go all over the city looking for good places to eat. Very good people to know, considering how much I love different foods. The second picture is a plate of various boiled things, including eggs, potatos, seaweed, cow tendon, and a big Japanese radish. The next picture is a bowl of boiled octopus, which was delicious. The white part is actually the eggs of the octopus, which are quite chewy, and don't really have any taste. The fourth picture is a big old sushi boat. Right after Azami ordered, the chef went outside, and came back with a flopping fish in his hands, which was then cut up, and served. Talk about fresh sashimi! And of course, the last picture is some more ramen, which the dinner wouldn't be complete without. Gotta love Japanese cuisine!

Matsuyama Indoor Shopping Center

Some pictures of an indoor shopping mall which is right next to the train station in Matsuyama. Don't ask me what the first one is, I have no idea.

Pictures of the bathtub

Here's a picture of the bathtub to go along with my previous post.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Parking Spaces

Interesting side note, parking in the city cracks me up. It might be hard to tell from the picture, but once you park in a spot, a barrier is raised underneath your car. In order to get it lowered, you have to pay the parking meter. This one was just a big metal bar, but in other parking lots I have seen spikes and small metal stakes that raise out of the ground! Cool, huh?


Some of my new Japanese friends took me into the city today to eat my first real bowl of Udon. For those who don't know, udon is thick white noodles made of salt, flour, and water. You take the noodles out of the big bowl, and put some into a smaller bowl filled with a sesame-ginger soy sauce with onions in it, and then slurp to your heart's content. I have to say, one of the more delicious meals I've had in Japan so far. After udon, Ayumi and Hirata-san took me to Ayumi's office to show me where she works. In the pictures below, Hirata-san is on the left, and Ayumi is on the right. The bottom picture is her office. Check out the view of the shopping-center ferris wheel that she's got from her office!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Word on Bathing in Japan

No pictures today, didn't have much time to explore since I was giving lessons. However, I would like to talk a little bit about the proper bathing technique in Japan. One of the first things that I noticed upon arriving is that there are two drains in my bathroom, one in the tub proper, and one in the middle of the floor. Naturally, this confused me. Why have two drains, when only the one in the bathtub is needed? After my first shower, I realized this: the drain in the bathtub is just a hole, and, in fact, the entire tub is not connected to the rest of the room. I learned this when I reached to grab my shampoo, and almost upended the entire apparatus as the entire thing tilted towards the side I was reaching to! Did I mention that the tub is a three by three box, which goes up to my hips? So I had no place to reposition my legs, and probably would have broken my teeth had the tub actually tipped. I now understand why I need two drains. For those who are interested, here is the proper procedure for bathing in Japan:

1. Fill the tub with water, preferably as hot as you can stand.

2. Before entering the tub, use the shower to soap and shampoo. Remove any nastiness and get nice and clean.

3. Enter the tub of near-scalding water.

4. Soak for about 20 minutes or until you have sweat out 15% of your body weight, whichever comes first.

5. Take another shower, washing away all the sweat which has accumulated during your extended soak.

6. Dry yourself off.

7. Step out of the room, and then pull the drain on the tub. (I learned this one after having to dry myself off the first time in four inches of standing water. Apparently my floor drain does not have the same water flow as the drain in the tub, causing a major backup.)

Besides the long procedure, having a personal, if very tiny and confined, jacuzzi is quite nice. I think once I really get the hang of it, I could really get used to this.

Ramen and the Beach

After the art gallery, my friends took me to a ramen shop near the coast. Delicious. After lunch, we went to the beach. Unfortunately, Japanese beaches are mostly known for their trash, but I managed to get a few good pictures of the islands right off the coast.

Live Art Gallery

Went to Matsuyama today to an art gallery named Live Art. Awesome stuff, the guy apparently does these huge canvases in about twenty minutes using only calligraphy ink. I really wanted to buy one, but the prices were pretty steep. All in all, a very interesting take on an old art form. Here are some pictures: