Some Final Pictures of the Year, Ones I Hope I Have Not Used in Mysterious Orientations Before…

December 31, 2010

While not as good as “Fanny Hair”, a beauty shop near my apartment, “Hair Make Heaps” is nonetheless a pretty fine moniker for that sort of establishment.

The picture I never tire of taking: Mt. Fuji at sunset, from my bedroom window.

Hey, this place sells bread and food!

Baked cookies are always best, that’s my take on the situation…

This is not a name that rolls off the tongue like Stag’s Leap or Clos du Val…

Perhaps this place could merge with the other hair stylist (above), and they could call the new venture “Hair Make Heaps of Moss”…

Care to make a guess how this might be pronounced? It’s “Marui”. Go figure.

These guys, who hail from Turkey, make the best kebabs in all Japan!

Tokyo Tower rises up behind Zozoji Temple.

Three junior high school girls show off for the gaijin. I thoroughly expect that they could beat me in a hundred-meter dash on their bamboo stilts (by which I mean them on the stilts, and me just running).

Here’s something you probably haven’t had yet: sweet potato soda! News flash: I haven’t had it either, and I have no intention of having it anytime soon.

You can’t argue with that…

This reindeer, which I happened upon in Ikebukuro train station at Christmastime, is life-size, and quite lifelike as well, despite the fact that he is made from styrofoam and nylon fiber.

This must be the world’s shortest escalator!

The colors of winter: persimmons drying in the sun. Thanks, Saki, for this pic!

Happy New Year all! I am on my way out the door, headed for Ikebukuro and an overnight bus trip to the sea. If the weather gods cooperate, I’ll post some pictures of the trip in the next day or two. Sayonara!

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The Special Shopping Opportunity

December 31, 2010

It’s New Year’s Eve, a bit after 6pm Tokyo time, and soon I will depart on my annual New Year’s Eve bus trip, which takes most of the night and ends up somewhere with an eastward sea view, where I and my fellow travelers can watch the first sunrise of the new year. This will be my sixth such voyage, and I have acquired something of a reputation among my friends for bringing good weather, even at times when the forecast was bleak. I may not be so lucky this year, as the sky is totally clouded over, and the predictions are for rain, but I live in hope.

The bus trip is something of a Japanese institution. Every day hundreds of modern buses leave Ikebukuro, Shinjuku or Ueno, loaded with camera-bearing tourists, all headed for one of the myriad ocean or mountain destinations that lie within a day’s trip of Tokyo. The prices are reasonable, usually sixty or eighty dollars for a ten-to-twelve hour trip, which would include lunch, admissions to whatever attractions were scheduled, and of course the round-trip transportation. A typical excursion might include a visit to an onsen (a hot spring / health spa), a stroll through a flower park or a pine forest, a fruit-picking experience (such as a visit to a strawberry field or a peach orchard), and several brief photo-op stops.

The best part, though, is the mandatory stop at whatever sales venue sponsors the trip. It could be a pottery factory, a fish processing plant, a jewelry outlet, just about any sort of shop with suitable bus parking, where the owners feel that they have a chance of separating day trippers from their hard-earned cash. This is quite common all around Asia, as far as I can tell. I have been on similar day excursions in China, Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and each offered a “special shopping opportunity” to punctuate the grueling sightseeing schedule.

In one particularly memorable trip, the sales venue was an amethyst shop. One group of fellow travelers hailed from India, and the women in the party were clearly enamored of amethysts. To the men fell the task of negotiating a suitable price for the purchase. The Chinese store owner chattered amiably in her native language while tallying figures on an ancient calculator (not as ancient as an abacus, but pretty old as calculators go). Whatever the final figure, it began with a seven (as in seven thousand monetary units, or 70000, or whatever). The owner smiled at the elderly Indian man, saying in English “This is very good, very good indeed. In China, seven is a very lucky number!” “Really?” he replied, not missing a beat. “In India, six is a very lucky number.” I suspect that a compromise was made somewhere in the neighborhood of 6.5 (which I have also heard rumored to be a very lucky number), as the Indian family carried bags of swag back to the bus at the end of the special shopping opportunity.

I don’t know what shopping experience will be on offer tonight and tomorrow, but I can tell you I’m looking forward to finding out!