Wednesday, February 23, 2005
Why to Japan ?

Q: Why go to this strange, expensive, strenuous country ?

A: Because it is both so different and so cultured
or to put it another way It's the most alien place with good plumbing
- Where else can you get this combination ...
(and yes it is expensive but it will cost less than the average banker will lose you in a year - but instead leave positive memories for life)
and because we like sushi

Because we like: the culture, wood prints, bamboo forests, ikebana, harakiri, food (kobe beef, sushi prepared using the principles of "ichi motsu zen shoku"- "one item, consumed entirely" i.e. use fish/veg etc. totally, and without waste and "washoku" - harmonious combination of colours, textures, flavours, cooking methods, Tokyo has 191 Michelin Stars - more than any other city etc.), gardens, lacquerware, no tipping, bonsai, netsuke, courtesy, respect for privacy, veneration of old age, pride in work, sense of beauty (also in everyday things), calligraphy, politeness, shinkansen, kimonos, origami, ceramics, white-gloved escalator attendants, mix of natural and artificial, anti-americanism (understandable after Hiroshima, I suppose), gift wrapping, selling schoolgirls' underwear in vending machines

Also like the corporate values (refreshingly different to American):

- competition doesn't mean earning more but serving better

- company has greater loyalty to its employees than its shareholders

- the objective is to keep the greatest number of people equally happy

rope on rock

Even though we don't like:

Summer humid weather, 1000 earthquakes per year (= 3 per day !), 20 typhoons per summer, No/Kabuki theatre, tea ceremony, violence in sex, denying war crimes, lack of fruit, whale burgers (for research only, of course), noise/warnings, sweets/deserts/bean paste in pastry and the standard tourist fare (Disneyland, Mount Fuji, Beppu, Expo, Geisha)

We enjoy the curiosities:

see below under "Identity"

We fly to Japan, see some people already made friends with via e-mail, do a course on japanese cookery, cooking utensils and foodmarkets, take the bullet train, stay in a traditional Ryokan, watch the Kobe famers massaging their beef with sake (which they don't), see the architecture in Naoshima and then take the trip back visiting some of the greatest hotels in Asia (Architect's Benesse House, Manila Pearl Farm, Peking Capitalists' Club - see below)

Posted at 10:32 am by salmony
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Friday, April 15, 2005
The Itinerary

11/8   Leave Frankfurt, GERMANY - Japan Airlines Business Class

12/8   Arrival in Tokyo, JAPAN
         Keio Plaza Intercontinental Hotel
16/8   Tokyo-Hakone
         Relais & Château Ryokan Gora Kadan de Luxe (*)
17/8   Hakone-Kyoto
         New Miyako Hotel
20/8   Kyoto-Hiroshima
         Granvia Hotel
21/8   Hiroshima-Okayama
         Minshuku (*)
22/8   Okayama-Naoshima
         Benesse House (*)
24/8   Naoshima-Kobe
         Green Hill Hotel & 6km Water Slide (see below)
26/8   Kobe-Toyko
         Grand Palace Hotel

Although some of these can get
very full ...

28/8   Tokyo-Manila-Davao, PHILIPPINES
         Barcélo Pearl Farm Island Resort (*)
1/9      Davao-Manila
         Mandarin Oriental Hotel

2/9      Manila-Peking, CHINA
         Red Capital Club & Residence (*) - Chairman Mao's Suite & East Concubine Suite

6/9   Peking-Frankfurt, GERMANY

(*) see below under "Great Hotels Asia" and

Posted at 09:07 pm by salmony
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Friday, April 29, 2005
Great Hotels Asia

The Barceló Pearl Farm Island Resort, Samal Island, Philippines


A Living Room by the Sea

The houses were built based upon the traditional stilt houses of the Samal seafarers.

Homes and nature linked by wooden footbridges and even by rope ladders – a more beautiful way of getting from the living room to the beach does not exist.

Situated south of Manila at the Gulf of Davao, 1.5. hours by air and then 45 mins by boat.
Typical Filipino food, the seafood is particularly good.



Red Capital Club & Residence, Beijing, China


On Mao’s Trail

Private residence by leading politicians as their pieds-à-terre of choice.
The concubines’ rooms are next to the Chairman’s Suite – they consist almost entirely of beds and are furnished with with antiques from the Qing Dynasty.
The Restaurant’s „Zhongnanhai cuisine“ includes Mao’s favourite dishes.
The stretch limousine that once used to chaffeur Madame Mao is available for the exlusive use of hotel guests – all seven meters of it including red flags, champagne and Russian caviar.



Benesse House, Naoshima, Japan


On Form

Designed by Tadao Ando in 1992 – the hotel itself is a work of art.
More than half is underground.
From the air it looks like a giant Fisher-Price toy and is linked to the the galleries of the Naoshime Contempory Art Museum and a Seaside Park with landscape art.
Huge concrete cylinder with a transom window.
The restaurants „Sound of the Ocean“ and „Wind between the Pine Trees“ serve elaborate Kaiseki cuisine.


Source: "Great Hotels Asia" ISBN 3-8228-1913-1

Posted at 12:29 pm by salmony
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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Gôra Kadan Ryokan & Yamasa Honjin Minshuku


A Ryokan is a traditional japanese inn built with traditional materials


sleeping on tatami mats,

sitting at 1-foot high tables,

using japanese steam baths 

(and japanese toilets),

eating traditional japanese food

and having a special etiquette on how to use a Ryokan.

They come from simple Minshuku (like a home visit, where you get to see how a family lives)

to a super luxury Relais & Châteaux Ryokan – both of which we will be visiting


Posted at 08:47 pm by salmony
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The Language

Yes/No Hai/Iie
Please Onegai shimass
The honourable function of making tea chakumi
Do you speak English ? Eigo o hanasemass-ka ?
O-sho-jin-gu honourable uncooked food
O-rio-gu honourable boiled food
Excuse me/sorry Sumimasen (*1)
My name is X Watashi no namae wa X desu (*2)
I've reserved a room� Yoyaku shitemasu
Kuidaore The civilised practice of bankrupting oneself through sheer gluttony
Hello Konnichiwa
Mental state of people living on an island (e.g. UK) Shima-guni konjo
Don't give up Gambatte kudassai
Master/Beginner Sempai/Kohai
Death through overwork Karooshi
Thank you (Domo) Arigato (gozaimass) (*3)
Good bye Sayonara
Enough Jubun desu
Beru-ai the "typically Japanese" blue colour in okyo-e - actually "Preussisch Blau/Prussian Blue" (Beruin for Berlin, ai for Blue)
Facade Tatemae - the public display (vs Honne - what you really feel/desire)
How do you do ? Hajimemashite
My name is X Watashi no namae wa X desu
You choose Omakase (to chef)
Mahlzeit Itadakimasu
Where is X X wa doko desuka ?
Toilet Otearai/Keshoshitsu
Taxi Takushi
Train Densha
Left/Right/Straight on Migi/Hidari/Massugu
Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnodu Schwa

*1 note that the "u" is sometimes pronounced
*2 and sometimes it isn't

*3 three of dozens of levels of politeness. In an otherwise wonderfully simple language (no genders, no declinations, not even plurals !) they have added enourmous complexity by distinguishing linguistically whether a man or a woman is speaking, whether the person spoken to is a man or a woman, a superiour to an inferiour, an old person to a young one etc.. That and the amazing writing (3 alphabets in parallel !) make sure any simplicity is entirely removed.

Posted at 09:20 pm by salmony
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Monday, June 06, 2005
The Identity

Two facts explain a lot:

  • Until recently (1835) Japan had isolated itself entirely from the rest of the world !
    No harbours, foreigners entering Japan were beheaded, ...
    - until this day only 2 of 127 million inhabitants are foreigners

  • In Western cultures we see initiative, individualism, having a strong personal opinion etc. as showing a strong character - in Japan that is considered a sign of weakness !
    Instead the social goal is to subordinate oneself to the group, hence
    - little crime (group sticks together - some say this comes from rice growing where the community needs to share the water together and hence breeds cooperative culture)
    - Hence Tokyo has the lowest violent crime stistiscs, lowest homicide in the world
    - Hence children under 10 routinely travel alone across Tokyo to school
    - better at science than arts subjects (e.g. philosophy - where you need an opinion ...)
    - you never discover your bosses name (he remains tencho)
    - the buddhist monk will get out of his mercedes to go to a red-light district bar (no consistent individual in the western sense - but "one man in his life plays many parts")
Curious facts:
- shoes must be changed between street, home, toilet etc. all day
- signs are everywhere: like in a socialist country: "let us avoid rubbish !" but also as the ultimate nanny state "please do not kill yourself during the rush hour"
- do not look people in the eye (provocative), do not shake hands (avoid contact)
- it is better to be a foreigner than a local in Japan (we are indulged, are not expected to conform - but benefit from the advantages of everything working, politeness, cleanliness etc.)
- religion is eclectic/pick&mix: e.g. celebrate birth with shinto ceremony, have christian wedding and then buddhist funeral. When government did a poll, adding up the adherents to religious groups gave 2x the population
- 13 million people live in Tokyo, 21 million in greater Tokyo, 4.4 million people go through Shinjuku station a day
- due to paucity of space, lack of cellars/attics due to earthquakes/tornadoes/torrential rain - spare stuff is spread around the houses' environs
- suitcases are rented so as not to fill house
- Japan consists of 6852 Islands, from arctic circle (latitude above Omsk) down to tropics (latitude Bangladesh), most is south of the latitude of the alps, 90% is mountainous and unpopulated
- Tokyo is at the Latitude of Tunis - hence the heat in August !
- phone is often used for a few seconds only to talk (as they don't want to disturb others). But mostly a phone is used only for sending mails - not phoning
- when invited, it is rude to come after the appointed time (no ct !) and best to come earlier. I.e. exact opposite of Europe
- Japanese will not help or talk to a person lying in the gutter (unless he's ill). They want to stay away from trouble and avoid any obligations. Unusual in such a helpful, service-oriented society.
- pointing with flat of hand - see here for other Japanese hand gestures
- impolite to blow your nose in public
- "heavy burden" husbands (who flop drunk on wife's doorstep at night)
- "christmas cake" women (who wants one after 24th?)
- sararymen
- "inemuri" spontaneous sleeps
- adults reading manga/watching anime- love and capsule hotels
- "giri (obligation)-choco (chocolate)" as opposed to "honmei (prospective winner)-choco" given from women to men on Valentine's day
- Yakuza (Ya=8 Ku=9 Za=3 the worst combination in Oicho-Kabu (a blackjack-like card game), a hand that always loses)
- Mobile phone variants: throw away, in-store with customer-to-customer telephone directory, local city only ...

Understand more by reading these recommended books

And now enough theory ...

Here follow the Crudities, those hastily consumed and as yet undigested morsels of events, for the nourishment of the reader - live from our trip ...

[Thomas Coryate, 1611]

Posted at 09:32 pm by salmony
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Tuesday, August 23, 2005
First Impressions

Japan is the ideal holiday destination

 + fascinating  
more than can possibly be described here - but see photos for first impressions
 + well organised can set clocks by trains, great signs, all 400.000 vending machines work
 + passion for excellent food            especially seafood
 + squeaky clean and orderly people, streets, transport, bank notes, ...
 + polite    90 degree bowing and handing things with two hands
 + safe even for women at midnight in parks
 + no tourists not even Germans or Americans 
 + slim beautiful people especially while young
 + great air-con not too cold, totally pervasive

However there are some disadvantages

 - heat and humdity (but see air-con above)
 - distance from Europe, within Tokyo
 - expensive but no worse than London
 - no fruit only as 10.000yen gifts

The following rumours are not true

you will never be invited to a japanese home they even have an official home visit programme !
earthquakes pathetic. haven't felt a thing. "big" typhoon was rubbish too
language difficulty everything very clearly signed in english and people very friendly and helpful - less problems travelling than in Munich's MVV
technophilia hard to find internet access anywhere.  mobile phones just used for talking and texting as in Europe. but very high-tech toilets.
manga you can read these in internet cafes 
have to take shoes off everywhere  no - only in temples, homes and ryokans
hold old traditions high most Japanese think No theatre boring and don't know what netsuke is.
Tea Ceremony is popular as a hobby, however
Mount Fuji never seen - always in clouds
Godzilla doesn't seem to exist either


- why does a nation so devoted to aesthetics have all their towns so incredibly ugly?
(Answer: Japan grew from 75 to 175 million in 100 years, Japanese are better at details than the grand schemes)

- where do the English habits of driving on the left, tucking sheets in, scones,, admiration of transitory values, non-explictit communication, self-deprecation, complex social conventions and cucumber sandwiches come from?
(Speculation: from William Adams, the last foreign samurai in 17th century - originally from Cornwall - a Shogun adviser)

All in all an ichi-go ichi-e  ("once in a lifetime") holiday
... and here is the next trip ...

We ate a scorpion, dried fishes' heads, survived typhoons and earthquakes, were refused entry into china (and thus to our way home) and had an emergency root canal operation - but otherwise we had the most exciting holiday of our lives in Japan. Also outside Japan we had the nicest hotel (Mandarin Oriental Manila), nicest beach resort (Pearl Farm) and the best discount shopping (Peking) of our lives.

Posted at 03:41 am by salmony
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Friday, October 21, 2005
Traditional Culture

Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) described Japan in "Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan" just as it was before opening up and had been influenced by the West.

What an interesting life: He was born in Greece, illegally married a black woman in US, influenced creole cooking, translated Maupassant, quoted in James Bond film, became Japanese citizen.

"Everything Japanese is delicate, exquisite, admirable - even a pair of common wooden chopsticks in a paper bag with a little drawing up it; even a package of toothpicks of cherry-wood, bound with a paper wrapper wonderfully lettered in three different colours; even the little sky-blue towel, with designs of flying sparrows upon it, which the jinrikisha man uses to wipe his face. The bank bills, the commonest copper coins are a thing of beauty. Even the piece of plaited coloured string used by the shopkeeper in tying up your last purchase is a pretty curiosity"

Fear of Westernisation


Posted at 10:55 am by salmony
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Tuesday, August 25, 2015
Comparison Japan vs UK

Superficially there are many similarities between Japan and UK:

Usually we focus on how different Japan is (Geisha, Onsen, Manga, Shinkansen, atomic bomb history etc) - this is much publicised.

However both countries are actually remarkably similar in many ways (maybe more than between other countries, certainly more than one can expect from two countries at opposite ends of the world)

Both are
- an island nation,
- somewhat connected but at odds with its continent,
- partially successful efforts in separating from dominant cultural neighbour (UK vs US, J vs China),
- long history in same borders (since islands),
- dominant central city,
- democratic,
- punching much above its weight in industry (eg technology) and culture (eg film),
- highly ritualised society (parodied by G&S in The Mikado),
- royal family,
- culture of heavy drinking males,
- best underground,
- authoritanism (school, government),
- love of nature and gardens,
- politeness/fear of social awkwardness/panic of embarrassment,
- drive on left,
- tea
- etc Internet domains
- fish & chips (or rice) ;-)

Some of these similarities differ in extent (e.g. in UK the women also drink a lot, in Japan the tea is green) and some differences are being eroded over time (e.g. UK has now become a foodie nation after a grim past)

Some differences will never heal (Yoko Ono broke up the Beatles ;-)

But by and large an amazing amount of overlap and similarity !

Posted at 07:22 pm by salmony
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