Candy as Art 

The drugstore, stationery store, and home goods store were my favorite haunts in Japan, weirdly.  Not even just to buy stuff, but as Museums of  Aesthetic Interestingness.  I probably would have been in heaven had I found a hardware store. 

I think it was because they revealed the application of beauty and aesthetic into even the functionally rote/mundane.



I don’t claim to know what it means, or have any brilliant analysis–  but it was notable!

Part of why I love vintage stuff is the meticulous detail and ornament in everyday things.  

 For example:     

I’ve always assumed mass production ruined aesthetic in American consumer goods.   

But taking even Japanese candy as an example–  i think it must also be mass produced?  So how do they preserve beauty in everyday things?   

My favorite Japanese candy — a compressed powdery/grainy sugar that melts in your mouth — is an example of (delicious) fine detail and beauty!


Other gorgeous Japanese candy:



These are *Baskin Robbins Birthday cakes* in Japan..

For contrast, see a horrifying sampling of American Baskin-Robbins cakes:

Why??  Don’t we need beauty too?  (Is this related to why Americans always have garbage when we’re walking around?  )

Cuteness is an offshoot of beauty in Japan.  There were more examples than I could possibly capture – it was obicuteous (ha!) but here is some of the cuteness we saw:


Sheep robot, because sheep.

Don’t know what this was pointing to, but people seemed to be taking it very seriously. 


Typical subway advertisement 

Anthropomorphic sweets abound 


Fluffy Bunny Claw Machine


Even *vice* was aesthetically pleasing in Japan.  
The only gambling I saw  was Pachinko. (In which a small metal ball bounces around between pegs to hopefully land in a lucky pocket). 

These parlors were insanely loud, colorful, smoky,  bright, ….  and cuteness filled (?).  


There were serious pachinko players ..  With equally serious pachinko ball holders

I felt kind of creepy photographing what, I assume, are gamblers who might not prefer to appear in someone’s blog —  (clearly not enough to *not do it*) — but I was quick about it, so…  Blurry. 

The following is a photo of a lobby of some serious business in and out of which were walking hurried harried businesspeople:

Why do they have a image of a boat full of wacky cute blobs in their lobby?

Lastly, some misc beautiful or cute (cutiful) things I liked enough to purchase:    


Japan as Vertical Lines

This is a self indulgent posting of all the ‘wall photos’ I kept feeling compelled to take.   Does Japan have more fascinating and contrasting vertical surfaces?  Or did I just have more time to notice them?







Looking down…

I love looking at the sidewalks in Japan.  Even the grate covers are beautiful.   Each different town has its own manhole covers–  

This was Lauren’s town’s, Yakage:

  Even the tiny manhole covers and misc drain covers were pretty:

The sidewalks and streets and station platforms (everywhere) also had mysterious raised bumps and lines, which totally confused us until we decided they must be for sight impaired folks?  I will say, they really mess up wheeling suitcases.   Plus, if I couldn’t see them, I bet they’d make me stumble and trip — which just seems mean…

They made for cool abstract photos though…

The stairs were also cool! 

The best thing though, was the super clear numbering on the train platforms.

Since you always had to board a specific numbered car– the platform was little help.  

The first few times we rode a train, the pre-train announcement  (usually in an English accent)-would, inexplicably, say: “This is an eight car train.  The first car is train one, and the last car is train 8”. The statement seemed unnecessary – but especially the last part.  

At one point, though,  the English pre-train recording came on and said  “this is a 6 car train.  Car 1 is car 6, and car 6 is car 1.  Enter car 3, labeled on the platform, for non-reserved seats”.  I’m sure the Japanese which followed, and was suspiciously short, just said “watch the English speakers run around like fools shortly, it’s gonna be hilarious”


The number 10 below has a 3 *in it* — but of course that wasn’t the right spot either. 


The last thing I’ll point out about the ground in Japan — no matter where we were: giant okayama, tiny Yakage–  every single place we went–  the streets were immaculate.  Zero trash, papers, food, nothing.    Ever.   But what was weirdest about that was there are no public trash cans.  Like anywhere. Ever.   Rarely there’s a bottle/can recycle slot for all the hot corn cheese drinks and Cans of Fire the Japanese are apparently pounding – but no trash.  

What do they do with it? Put it in their purse or pockets?  Or do they just never have trash?   Somehow, we always had trash, this is how I know there are no trash cans.  I was constantly in a state of trying to dispose of a wrapper or a teabag or a napkin or a cup or a tissue.  Always.  What was I doing differently???  It was puzzling, and somehow seemed like an inferred or symbolic statement about America/Americans.  

 Helpful signs and labels

So it’s cheap and overdone to make fun of bad translations.  We saw plenty, but I only really captured those I found kind of endearing.  Usually these seemed to be trying to take care of people.  The other ones I liked were those that seemed contradictory, or completely baffling.

This first set wasn’t even a  translation issue – so much as a complexity issue combined with lack of translation:

I get step 4(barely):  a cup will appear somewhere, possibly with stuff in it.

There are far too many knobs and settings here.  The arrows do not remotely help.

However!  Had I known what to do–   I would have definitely had a Blendy.

Failing that, perhaps the always-appealing Hot Banana Drink?

What about the Coolish?  Food or elf hat?

Oh wait…  It clearly states it’s a Vanilla Ice Drink Type.

There’s nothing that funny about a Hershey’s choco monaka

Except I’ll never get the name out of my head now.   It’s my new meditation mantra.

We came across this in Kyoto. I’m at a loss for how this name was arrived at:  

Do we similarly invent names in other languages here that make no sense?  I wonder what is our equivalent of the Soft France Sand Hot Dog.

The following just seem so sincere and endearing to me

The next one doesn’t need words to baffle me.  What is going in here?? Are these demons?  Apparitions?  Why are his limbs so distended and wavery, why does she have horns, and what is their relationship to each other ?  Why do they need a sign?

Maybe we even have the next item in US 7-11s, I don’t know.

I think I was struck by  the contrast of Tory’s Highball In A Can surrounded by the Familymart Collection on all sides.   Plus, I associate highballs with Mad Men, or Darren’s boss in Bewitched — not 7-11.

Last, interesting name for bottled water!

I know it immediately killed my thirst without even buying it.   Special shout out to Cathy and Eric on this one–  the sweatest couple I know.


This is a prompt on the ticket machine for the Haruki Train, to Kyoto from Tennoji. ( I could totally be making all these names up and you’d never know!).

It is a single train.   Unless part of the train goes a different speed than another part, this confused us so much.

Being American, we chose the most  ‘loaded’ option, naturally.  Plus we didn’t want to be on the part of the train that went all slow.

Travel day!

Some last shots from the Chorakuen inn, including our delicious breakfast:

I’m not saying this is *why* I chose this property…  But I did not object to this art in the lobby!

The vending machine here sells Adorable Milk:

It was about zero degrees as we departed today (with wind chill, anyway). We were going to wander about Matsue, but it was way too cold, so we took an earlier express train to Okayama, and then a bullet train to Osaka

The trip from Matsue to Okayama was an exotic snow-covered series of landscapes.




One stop before Okayama, we parted ways with Lauren :(. ).

In addition to missing her already, this means Paul and I are again unleashed on Japan without our translator, cultural educator, and horse sashimi and other dubious foods spotter.
We immediately ran into problems in Osaka Shin station, when we attempted to exit the bullet train, and we couldn’t find a seemingly completely irrelevant ticket from three trains ago, which was apparently required to exit.  Evidently, the station masters want to see *every leg of your journey* before they’ll let you escape.

Our impressive gesturing and over enunciation of English, as well as our classic public  ‘pocket and bag rifling display’ provided amusement for the rush hour crowd.

After a while, I think they pitied us as they accepted our handful of tickets – including a souvenir receipt as the missing ticket.

We made our way to the subway (our first subway trip!)- to get to our next and final hotel (Osaka Marriott).   I flawlessly managed the ticket machine, if I do say so myself, and we lept aboard a train waiting on the platform,  miraculously headed exactly where we needed to go!  Who needs Lauren now!

Our hotel is attached to the station, so was easy to find after getting off the subway.  It sits atop what is apparently the largest dept store in Japan . The building itself is also the tallest building in all of Japan, per Paul.

We’re on the 47th floor, and the view is great:


Among other benefits, our hotel room comes with complimentary Rose Moist bath salt, and a Lady’s Kit!

Before some of you, from Texas, you know who I’m talking about — get all prudish on me:  here are the contents of the Lady’s Kit:

Miscellaneous other stuff from today:

Here is the Matsue Town Mascot!  (All towns have mascots).

It’ a cat with a roof on its head! naturally!

Also, when I got bored waiting in line for train tickets today, I started taking pictures of my money.  It’s so pretty!

That’s 10000 Yen–the rough equivalent of a $100 bill, and my favorite bill.  Look what’s on the back!

A separate thing that amused me:  I had the opportunity to briskly use the restroom on the express train  (express pee!) – it was all very civilized and the toilet seat was appropriately heated.   There was, however, a miniature urinal right directly at “sitting head level” — a bit close for comfort, IMO.

The best, however, was this sign on the urinal:

Let me just zoom in on that for you..,

….  as IF!!

That same restroom also had a vaguely alarming ‘collapsible baby holder’

As much as I love Japan and this trip, I feel a constant sense of near disaster — between all the heads and horses one might be expected to eat, and the dangers of mistaken drinking from the wrong thing…,

Tomorrow is our last full day in Japan…    :(.    We’re trying to decide between heading back to Kyoto for one more day, or exploring Osaka – which is huge.


Our friendly and somewhat alarmingly over attentive host asked us today if we’d like dinner tonight in the Hotel.    Lauren said he said ‘free of charge’, but honestly I’m beginning to suspect she doesn’t speak a word of Japanese.

We gratefully agreed, and he did the now familiar thing of asking us ‘what time’, followed by dissuading us from any time we offered, to arrive at a time that was clearly in his head to begin with.   (7 Pm, in this case).

Dinner was *completely amazing*.   It consisted of an insane number of tiny dishes of beautiful mystery foods, in a never ending parade of surprise appearances.

I’ll start by saying it was all delicious and stunningly gorgeous, because it truly was!!  … before  now going on to write what may appear to be irreverent and flippant things about various parts  of the meal.   I can only imagine my hosts’ horror should they run across this blog and run any of it through google translate.


Look at how beautiful that is! I thought it was the entire meal — little did I realize it was probably 1/20th of the final total.

A couple of days ago, Lauren informed us of something she referred to as ‘horse sashimi’, which she said she “didn’t care for, –particularly the aftertaste”.  It is apparently slabs of raw horse… (Perhaps delicately sliced in fine slivers?  Who knows… But I picture slabs or chunks myself).   This is relevant because, as we sat down to the first amazing course before us, the first comment out of (the side of) her mouth was “I believe we’re looking at Horse Sashimi”.

In the photo above, you can see at Lauren’s left elbow, and lower mid center on Paul’s/my side, the conjectured ‘horse sashimi’..  (Slabs!  Indeed!).

 My own concerns aside, can you imagine Paul the Vegetarian’s feelings at this moment? Especially because it is a clear cultural expectation to eat all food before you, and potentially insulting to leave any.  Those are some *thick* slabs of uncooked potential horse there!  That’s no small amount of chewing ahead..

Only after she read the menu was her cruel ignorance revealed…

‘Ah, ‘she goes… ‘That’s beef that we’ll apparently cook on these adorable little pans over burners.’

I will say now that I never fully trusted her again.

The adorable and so so kind server came by and told us: you may start on these while we prepare your meal.  It was so much food, and just a starter!

All the food is from local areas.

Note the adorable tiny fish!

Because of our ‘heads on deal’, I promptly swapped that for Paul’s ‘headless shrimp’.

That crab is snow crab I think.  It was so sweet!  If challenging to remove with chopsticks…

The paper bowl of broth and misc stuff was a soup thing under which a fire was lit!

I sat waiting for something amazing to happen as a result of fire + paper:  will it go up in flames and cook that way?! Perhaps it’s special Japanese paper that will slowly fold itself into a little bundle around the food in the shape of something beautiful like a swan or a kimono!   This is the kind of ‘magical thinking’ days in Japan causes!

In the end it just cooked in the paper until it was boiling–  delicious!  But ultimately I felt a tiny bit betrayed by the use of paper at all.  Basically no more than a ‘culinary parlor trick’   ..

I didn’t photograph all the courses, but they were all amazing and beautiful and mysterious and minuscule in beautiful dishes, each tinier and more elaborate than the one before..

The final course was micro-dessert:  a lovely mango pudding with a side of taro paste, a yellow (?) chestnut, and a square of delicious something gelatin.

A fantastic, possibly complimentary, possibly incredibly expensive, gorgeous delicious meal!!

Matsue and Tamatsukuri Onsen

Paul and I headed up to Matsue to check into our next hotel, Chorakuen, which is a Ryokan/traditional guest house in Hot Spring country.

Since it’s traditional, not sure how many Americans they get here.  Definitely no English speaking staff here.

Lauren was to meet up with us later that evening to join us —  so when we checked in we fumbled cluelessly through a regimented series of highly ritualized events upon exit from the cab — bags taking away, shoe taking away, slipper giving, paper tags giving (for shoes?), page signing, question asking (who knows what we agreed to!  Two of something, at some point), breakfast table showing, breakfast time deciding, room showing (slipper removing!), table sitting, green tea serving.

We were clearly in trouble almost instantly, and several times — shoes facing wrong way!  Don’t carry your own shoes/bags!  I think we pretty much broke Japan

Our room:

The beds/mats are in the closet behind Paul:

At night someone comes and puts out the “beds”.

The view from our room is beautiful:

After we settled in (and after somehow reobtaining our hidden shoes), we walked around the surrounding neighborhood in search of dinner.

Naturally, Paul thought this restaurant looked good.

That photo is blurry because I only got one shot at it, as every time I stood before it to retake the photo, the pressure sensitive pad beneath it caused the front door of the restaurant to noisily slide open, stopping all conversation within as the wind blasted the patrons and they stared at me.   What’s really sad is how many times that event had to happen before I stopped trying.  Lab mice are smarter than I am.

We went in eventually, and were seated in the only non traditional part of the restaurant.  They were kind of ‘compromise chairs’. Not completely on the ground, yet not full chair height. Just short enough to make us feel silly and like we were Doing It Wrong — possibly by having full length legs.

Again, English was not a thing here, including on the menus.  We ‘mystery ordered’ (food roulette!), and got a nice variety!

 In this photo, you can see part of a complete fish in Paul’s chopsticks:

Anything with a head on, I generously let Paul eat.

After dinner we walked around the town, which has a beautiful river through the middle of it, and multiple walkways next to and above it.   This isn’t a very good photo-  I’ll have to manage one during the day:

Photos from the hotel, including breakfast the next day.

Now it’s snowing outside and there’s a crazy bird.  Lauren tells us that, in Japan, they say the birds are crying (vs singing).

a video from our porch where you can hear crying birds..

Today and tomorrow we are here at Chorakuen.  Museum/temple today.   Tomorrow late afternoon, we part ways with Lauren 😦