Thursday, September 28, 2006


word of the day:
bellwether. Means leadership or forefront of a movement.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


In other spa news, my mom, sister, and I dipped into Taketorinoyu in Nagayama on the Odakyu line. More traditional than Yunessun, this place is still going for an upscale-resort feel, with many different types of baths and saunas, and various restaurants, massage services, and other amusing pursuits.
I especially enjoyed the ondol-heated floor relaxation room, with doorways into the various hot sauna rooms - salt, stone, fire, etc. This area was co-ed, with everyone wandering around in their snazzy spa pajamas.
A downside was the smokiness of the common areas. I don't want to go to a refreshing, cleansing spa and leave smelling like a club.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

the Yokohama Museum of Art

I went to check out the Yokohama Museum of Art for the first time for the Nihonga exhibit - Japanese style painting by modern artists.

The museum is located pretty close to Sakuragicho station as well as Minato Mirai, and is in a pleasant walking area. Inside, there's a refreshing generosity of space that is often lacking in Japan, especially in the smaller specialty museums and galleries - but a large open entrance hall was welcoming.

The exhibit was really neat - all of the artist were interesting in their way, and included a pretty eclectic mix: a famous comic strip artist, someone who worked with big abstract blocks of color, a woman who painted beautiful screen-style nature paintins with a twist.

My favorite was Fujii Rai, an artist who draws Japanese scroll-style paintings, but does so on the back of standard letter-sized envelopes. He has mailed more than 500 to the museum, each part of a continuous series, each envelope connected to the last.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Yunessun and Hakone

Trying to inject some non-Tokyokohama culture into the Germans' lives, we decided to visit Hakone for a smaller town vibe and a trip to the onsen. The hang-up was: cheaper beautiful old traditional onsen, sex separate, totally nudical; or more exciting, themepark-y coed swimsuit-wearing and considerably more expensive bathing complex?

The drive to Hakone from Yokohama is quite easy; taking the Tomei, it's only about an hour and a couple thousand yen in tolls, at least to Hakone-Yumoto, the location of many nice onsen. We bypassed the town and made for Ashinoko, the lovely lake from which Mt. Fuji can be seen on a nice day. Also the site of Hakone shrine and the floating torii, Cryptomeria avenue, the old Edo checkpoint, and most alluring: swan pedal boats.

Alas, it was not to be! The stupid swans are so expensive... 1500 yen for 30 minutes. You can't even get going before you have to come back and pay more. We comforted ourselves by choosing the more expensive spa and walking around the lake eating chestnut flavored soft cream. Fuji showed its ugly brown summer shoulders, and a breeze blew pleasantly over the water as we strolled over to the vermilion-red floating torii.

Yunessun is a sight to behold. It's very large - the parking lot extends for ages - and boasts 25+ different baths and attractions - a big tide pool, waterfall baths, baths of coffee, wine, sake, charcoal, tea, curry, and many more. There are even waterslides. Most interesting is the Dr. Fish bath, where flesh-eating fish nibble at the dead skin on your feet for an exfoliatory experience.

Massage is available for an extra fee, and the spa uses an electronic wristband system that you can swipe at various locations as a kind of credit card - grab a soda this way from a machine and pay for it at the end of your stay.

Don't forget to download the coupon on their website for 400 yen off, bringing the admission price down to 3100.

I greatly enjoy the traditional onsen, but this is really fun for a change and especially good if you're keen to go co-ed. Note: as with many onsen, they have a no-tattoo rule, but the girl at reception let us in after making I. promise to wear a tshirt that covered most of his upper-arm sleeves.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


Word of the day: Moe.
Some German friends are visiting us, and they have been spending some time in Akihabara, buying gadgets and cruising the goods. Morriz, 19, became enamored of a black shirt with bright pink lettering stating: 萌え アキバ in TOKYO, and bought it without really knowing what it meant.
I wasn't familiar with that character, and that night we went to the okonomiyaki shop across the street from our mansion. The owners, after serving our food and taking our money, started to exclaim at the shirt.
"Ha ha ha!" they said. "Moe!!"
Apparantly moe is a word meaning "crush" or "fascination", and is commonly used by otaku in manga/anime subcultures. This was highly amusing to the shopkeepers.

And a nice phrase brought to you by the same German guests:
It began to rain, just a sprinkle, on the night that they arrived. Of course, at the slightest hint of precipitation - raining or not - Japanese people will pull out umbrellas. Many a time I have seen people huddling under their umbrellas with nary a raindrop in sight, but only a smallish raincloud hovering overhead.
Accustomed to this attitude, I offered umbrellas to the new arrivals.
"Nah", they said. "We are not made of sugar."
This is reportedly a common phrase used in Germany and I like it a lot.