Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Locutus - Ninja Report Card

Locutus has been hard at work on his Ninja skills. Here is a visual portfolio demonstrating his prowess.

Here he is on a bus . . just behind Lance's head

In a graveyard

Sitting with Papa

Disguised as a sumo wrestler:

Visiting Himeji, just before his formal training

Baruto, Jenn, and Locutus (before Baruto's injury)

Locutus killed the bear himself

Locutus at dinner

I am a leaf on the wind

Locutus killed this bear too

He stole her legs and she didn't even notice!

On the subway

Hah! That's no pigeon!

With E.T. his ninja mentor

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Washrooms in Japan

One thing I realize I've never done, is written an extensive post about washrooms in Japan. First off, just like at home, public washrooms are hit or miss for their cleanliness and the facilities available. But, Japanese washrooms have many features that I'd love to see adopted in Canada. But, let's start off with some caveats . . .

Most importantly, if you enter a Japanese washroom and they are selling pocket packs of kleenex by the entrance for 100 yen, BUY SOME! This generally indicates that the stalls do not come equipped with toilet paper so you're on your own to supply it, or drip dry.

I've yet to see a paper towel dispenser in a Japanese washroom. Air dryers are sometimes present. Most Japanese people carry a washcloth or handkerchief with them at all times. It's a good habit to get in to.

Squat toilets are quite common. Don't fear them. They are actually fairy easy to use unless you are drunk or have a physical disability that would prevent you from balancing in a squatted position. In fact, when I am wearing Locutus on my back, they are easier to use than a sit-down toilet. Sometimes they stink. Sometimes our public washrooms stink too.

Restaurants aren't required to have public washrooms. Neither are stores. Get used to using train stations and using whatever facilities are available before you leave places.

Some washrooms come equipped with multi-functional seats. If you don't understand the buttons, don't push them unless you consider yourself a stoic, brave adventurer. Just don't squat on a sit-down toilet.

This is not a squat toilet, do not squat on it!

Now on to my wishlist . . .

1. Stall doors that fit better and go down to the floor and higher than the ceiling. Obviously, in a culture where squat toilets are normal, a normal stall door goes all the way to the floor. This prevents unexpected toddler visitors during your stay as well. A taller door also prevents people from grabbing your coat and/or purse, while you are otherwise indisposed.

2. Multipurpose rooms. Often times in train stations or department stores, we would find a room that was designated a 'multi-purpose room.' This means that it could accommodate someone who needed wheelchair access, it also would have a change table in it. And sometimes other things. Like a fold-out bed, essentially.

A full folding bed was handy for diaper changes

This one also had a mini-stall for other small children to use

I just think this is incredibly clever. In case you are just feeling ill, you've got a spot to lie down. It also works for a first aid station if someone has a cut or takes a fall. Most of them had a sink in the room. Some of them were even more posh and also would serve as a nursing room and had a bottle-warmer as well.

3. A little-boy urinal in the ladies room.

A little urinal for little boys who need to go to the washroom with their mommy

The little boy doesn't have to wait and all the ladies don't have to wait for him while he takes up a stall. It's just smart!

4. A baby-seat in the stalls. This would work in either men's or ladies' rooms. It gives you a place to put your baby so they aren't getting into trouble while you go to the bathroom. There technically is a falling hazard, but since the stall is so small that you should be able to grab your baby while sitting on a toilet, I don't see why this wouldn't work. Except that our stalls are too flimsy in construction.
Something which I would like to see change in general too.

Let's not limit my wishlist just to public washrooms and such either. While the heated seats are nice, and the bidet functions do come in handy, they aren't necessarily on my wish list. Let's move on to the shower/tub section of the bathroom now.

1. On demand hot water. Move water heaters to the spot behind the water source. Then I don't have to wait and pump out cold water for 5 minutes while waiting for the hot water from our water heater in the garage to move up to our third floor.

2. Separate the temperature and pressure control in the shower/bath. One dial controls temperature and another controls the pressure. Not the norm in every hotel bathroom, but boy was it nice when it was set up that way! There even appeared to be a safety button on the temperature control to prevent scalding. At home in my shower there is one generic pressure setting and you can't get cold water to come out at a strong water pressure.

3. A handheld shower head with 2 brackets at different heights. This came in so handy!!! First of all, if you've got a kid who is a mess, you just stand them in the bathtub, take the handheld sprayer and hose them down. You get nice warm water right away if you've got number 1 & 2 in place already. We also used it to clean out messy diapers and easily rinse off messy towels (eating strawberry yoghurt with a 1 year old will make it look like there's been a homicide).

4. A pause button on the sprayer. You can turn the shower on and then pause it, without having to completely reset your pressure setting to off. Also very handy, if a bit of a luxury item. It also lets you move the sprayer within reach of the toilet and sink without getting water all over the floor. Not that this is an issue, since most Japanese bathrooms have a drain built into the pre-fab washroom floor.

5. Let's not forget the mirror with a heated panel that doesn't fog up. Love that too!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Shopping Part II

By now, you'll have noticed that our early efforts at souvenir shopping were quite frustrating. The places we returned to lacked anything new and unique that grabbed our attention. We've come to the conclusion that Japanese department stores are actually just cleverly designed traps intended to confuse and exhaust tourists until they buy things out of sheer exhaustion. Trust us, we adventured through 5 in one city and couldn't find anything actually worth it. It was only because we are experienced adventurers that we got out unscathed.

So, while we had picked up a thing or two here and there, we hadn't really found anything of the calibre we'd brought back on our previous trips to Japan. Nothing as stunning as a Foo Dog statue or replica musket. We have particular weaknesses for drinking vessels and had yet to find anything really indulgence worthy there. The day we were going to possibly go in search of Imari pottery we stopped because of the long travel times involved. I was also looking for some outfits for Locutus to wear to our Samurai Night Fever costume party, and had yet to find any used Kimono stores where something might be worthy. Even in the 1000 yen shop in Miyajima (it's like a $10 store where everything is about $10) the only children's jin bei (asian style pyjamas) they had were quite ugly and they were completely out of the men's selection (Lance likes wearing these in the summer because they are so nice and light and comfortable).

In one of our earlier searches, we'd seen that there was the Harbour Bay Shopping Centre right next to the sumo stadium. So we thought we'd go check it out. It didn't seem particularly large, but it was close to sumo, and the map showed a small green space where we thought we might let Locutus run around for a while and have some fun. So we went, and kind of hit the jackpot.

It's a shopping centre and ferry terminal. Cruise ships dock behind us.

Doesn't look like much, does it? But inside, in addition to a giant aquarium in the centre, they had an entire shop for Imari style pottery. While none of that struck our fancy, they also had a selection of pieces that were by a local artist. It. Is. Gorgeous. We don't have any pictures, but his pieces were in earthy brown tones or blues. The earthy pieces depict forest scenes with little shrines. They are intricate and gorgeous. The blue tone pieces feature Japanese troll-type creatures. The tea mug I bought has his front on one side and his back on the other. Anyone who has an appreciation for DnD-type mythology would love these! So we . . . decided to invest.

Before we bought though, we had to discuss our purchases. So we went to the Japanese Duty Free store in the next building over (we were basically at the cruise ship port). I'd read briefly about it and it sounded like a standard duty free store featuring perfumes, makeup, etc. I didn't think we'd actually find anything. Except in the clothing section, they had some yukata (like a casual kimono made of cotton) and some children's ensembles. We picked up 2 in different sizes and neutral styles so they can be passed down to other kids in the future too (because I consider Foo Dogs and Dragons to be completely gender neutral).

We also picked up a few sumo souvenirs of course. The couple of times that the sumo association had a table set up they had some very good deals and we were happy to support them a bit too. Sadly, they sold out of the handkerchief I liked early so I didn't get any additional colour variations. But that's ok, because handkerchiefs is one thing I did stock up on in Kyoto early on.

Things we almost bought, but didn't . . .
- Japanese patterns - we actually found a fabric shop and they had a pattern section with a few promising pieces. But since the instructions would all be in Japanese, and my Japanese isn't that strong, I decided against it.

- a sweater dress - in the basement of the building next to Hakata station, they had a store that was selling a bunch of really cute sweater dresses. But, in the end, I can get something similar back home fairly easy, so I'm glad we didn't pick one up.

- anything Hello Kitty or Pokemon. Don't tell my nieces and nephews, but we did look for learning chopsticks in those themes. Aside from entire bento sets or cutlery sets, they didn't have anything appropriate though, so we didn't get anything. Also, they sold out of the really cute Hello Kitty Sumo figure by the time we thought to buy one. Clearly we weren't meant to support those particular Japanese icons.

- furniture - Yes, we saw some really cool pieces. However, aside from the obvious issue of getting them back to Canada, there is also the issue of where to put them in our house. (Editorial note, this is only an issue for Jenn. Lance takes an entirely different approach to home furnishing and this did not present an issue for him at all.)

- wood carvings - there were several that were gorgeous, but again, luggage restrictions really limited us.

- booze - well, there's still a chance we'll pick something up at the airport duty free store. This is the first time we've gone to Japan and not visited a sake brewery. We thought we might visit the Asahi brewery, but the info brochure they had at the tourist centre didn't actually tell us where it was or how to get there. In a choice between randomly wandering Fukuoka in search of a beer brewery and watching sumo while drinking beer (Lance at least), we chose sumo.

- a suitcase - this is the first time we've actually managed to fit everything we're bringing back into the same bags we came with. This was partly made possible by the fact that we packed a backpack in one of our suitcases for the trip over here. The other contributing factor is the dwindling diaper supply. On the way here we had a supply that lasted about 10 days. On the way back, we only need to bring a couple of days worth. (Editorial note: if I had to do it again, I'd bring fewer diapers to start, but more diaper wipes)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sumo follow-up

Today was the final day of the Kyushu Grand Sumo tournament. This has been a pretty exciting tournament for us, being able to attend everyday. There were still box seats left during the week so we upgraded on Thursday and Saturday, too. On all three days, we were sitting beneath the camera, about 9 rows up from the dohyo and center ring. It put us about twice the height of the dohyo from the floor and made for spectacular viewing.

The box seats had the added benefit of being more Locutus-friendly. We found that he would stay put and watch sumo for longer sitting in the box than in a seat, because he could roam a little within the box and chat in his way with our neighbours. On Saturday, we had families with children in the boxes on either side of us, so he was well entertained and we were free to enjoy the penultimate day of sumo.

And what a day of sumo! If you're a sumo fan, you'll know what I'm talking about. And if you're not a sumo fan, you won't care. So I'll leave it at that. But some highlights...

  • I think we were featured on NHK on Thursday. We were rather enthusiastic cheering on Shohozan (a new favorite). Jenn noticed the mobile camera folks pointing our direction and talking.

  • Tonight we were part of a cheering section for Yoshikaze. The guys behind us had signs and everything, so we turned our section into the Yoshikaze fan club. And then he won! The crowd went wild.

  • It turns out everyone loves Shohozan! The last few days, regular chants of SHO-HO-ZAN would emerge from the crowd. Normally, sumo fans are rather complacent, so this was awesome and we joined in heartily. He won the Fighting Spirit prize!

  • Ikioi beat Chiyotairyu on the final day. More insult to injury!

  • I gave a smile and nod to Kotoyuki as we passed in the hallway. And I ran into Jean Luc Shimpan in the foyer while walking my son around. And Hakuho is massive up close.

  • All of the staff knew us by the end of the tournament. Or, I guess more accurately, knew us as those people carrying around the adorable Locutus. But they were very friendly and quite accommodating as our son walked us around the stadium, day in and day out, for hours at a time.

Miyajima shopping trip

It was late in the day when we hit Miyajima. We didn't care, because we wanted a spot we could let Locutus wander around. We found some safe spots and let him roam.

Totally safe!

On our previous trip, Miyajima was a good spot for souvenir shops. And so it was again. Only, many of the shops are the cheap tourist stuff, clearly aimed at the hordes of school children that visit the shrine with limited funds. There was a fantastic shop with carvings that would have been great, had they not been improbably large and difficult to transport.

Miyajima's famous landmark

We did find a lacquer shop and managed to get a couple of items off our shopping list. So, moderate success. And Locutus was not eaten by a deer, so...that's good, right? I guess we'll call this one a win.

Famous child-eating deer (of peace)


Sumo Education Association

"Hi! My name is Jenn and I'm adopting you into my sumo education association!"

That's actually how I started a conversation this afternoon at the sumo tournament. You see, I like talking sumo and educating people. So I've been trying to find people at the sumo tournament who look like they probably need some information about sumo (i.e. other gaijin/foreigners).

It ended up going really well and Lance and I had some really good conversations with a bunch of interesting people. It started with a couple from Belgium and their 18 month old daughter (whom Locutus terrorized a bit with his brazen advances). Then we got to meet a couple of couples who were on a sumo trip up from the military base in Sasebo. The other day we really hit pay dirt when 100 JET teachers attended the tournament right next to where we were sitting. And then today there was a family, again from the military base from Sasebo. If we visit Japan again, we're supposed to look them up. They're into Judo quite a bit so the sumo was also very interesting to them.

The next time we come to Japan in order to see a sumo tournament we are going to further expand our sumo education association into a full-fledged tour guide operation. We'll advertise on various travel sites and attend sumo tournaments with other foreigners, giving them info about sumo while we watch, for a modest fee (this isn't a plan to make money, since we'd be there anyway, and we'd probably spend the money we get on snacks for the group.)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Shofukuji Temple

Every day we take Taihaku dori from Hakata station to the International building where sumo is held. We usually walk the distance - it's perhaps a couple kilometers - but if we're in a hurry there are frequent busses that run the length of the street.

Located a block from Taihaku dori at around Gionmachi is Shofukuji temple. It was one of many temples we happened across during our early days of wandering Fukuoka. It's a zen temple. And it's active, though the active parts are well secluded from the visitor parts.

The temple grounds are quite popular with locals. On our first and subsequent visits, we've said hello to many folks using the grounds for walking, running and jogging. The temple isn't large, but it does feature some nice landscaping, wide-open and level paths, and is relatively secluded from the bustle of the city.

We keep coming back to Shofukuji for the same reasons. More importantly, it features some excellent walking courses for Locutus. There are stairs, uneven ground, dirt, leaves and bollards...all the makings for an excellent playground. We've walked the steps up and down from the main building many times, trodden the simple paths over and over, and been appreciative that such an excellent location for our son to explore is so conveniently located.