After work : いざかや, ガード下, 赤堤灯。

A couple of friends are heading to Japan next month.  Their first trip.  I have some great restaurants and other places to recommend in Tokyo and Kyoto.  All sorts of cuisines and price ranges.  All in all, though, my favorite restaurants are the low key, working stiff, cheap, grilled chicken-on-a-stick-type joints.  You who travel around know that these are really the best places.

Most commonly, these cozy, friendly, local holes-in-the-wall are called “izakaya” and sometimes “akachochin” (“aka“/red + “chochin“/lanterns with whatever the specialty of the house is shine and advertise out front).  In Tokyo, behind the shockingly expensive Imperial Hotel, in Chiyoda Ward near Yurakucho Station, there are a series of pedestrian tunnels under an elevated section of the Yamanote train line.  Jammed into these tunnels are numerous akachochin, called “gahdoshita“, literally “under the overpass” restaurants.  Pictured above is one of them I frequented over the course of five or so days in Tokyo, almost two years ago to date.  That fellow in the foreground to the right is one of the cooks, taking a photo of some *Japanese* tourists . . . just out-of-frame to the left.

Yakitori with plenty of bainiku, shisomaki, gyuuroso, little grilled shishitou . . . and draft beer.  This is all good and simple and delicious and inexpensive fare.  I’ll be referring my friends — and in May taking a group of MBA students — to these kind of places, as well as to the more “refined” restaurants.  Count on that.

Motsuyaki "gahdoshita".  Under the Yamanote Line.  Tokyo.  2007.

Motsuyaki “gahdoshita”. Under the Yamanote Line. Tokyo. 2007.


Friends after work at an akachochin.  Tokyo. October 2007.

Friends after work at an akachochin. Tokyo. October 2007.


Friends at an akachochin in Kyoto.  2007.  That's the cook/owner in the background.

Friends at an akachochin in Kyoto. 2007. That’s the cook/owner in the background.


Izakaya, late afternoon before the evening rush.  Ueno, Tokyo. April 2008.

Izakaya, late afternoon before the evening rush. Ueno, Tokyo. April 2008.

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A few more photos from more recent times:

Harumi-ya. A great hole-in-the-wall. San-jo Street. Kyoto. 2011.


A friend’s mom looks on as another round’s poured. Ichi-ban Yakitori. Kyoto. 2011.


Fantastic sake bar (with owner, his granddaughter), Kiyamachi-dori. Kyoto. 2011.


Sparkle of Your China*.

July 2006.  On my second trip to China...

July 2006. On my second trip to China...


I first visited China in the summer of 2005 and ever since have been working on writing-up my experiences there and reflections of my various, weird things encountered and witnessed in Beijing and up north in Liaoning Province.

Delegation is the story.  Just click on the tab above, “Sparkle of Your China“.   As is the case with all of them, it’s quite true.  Except for a couple of name changes and a couple of strategic omissions.  For several years I started, stopped and started over.  No, I didn’t spend four years constantly writing less than 3, 000 words.  It’s just taken me four years to finally sit down and, over the course of a few weeks, assemble and flesh-out various little notes and vignettes into something I believe makes for a readable narrative.  I dedicate “Delegation” (again, by way of “Sparkle of Your China“) to Uncle Ron, whose deep knowleged of and enthusiasm for All Things Chinese influenced untold numbers of his students to eventually make the trip; for many, to make their life there.  Also for my father, who always told me, even when I was a kid back in the mid ’70s, “China’s the country to watch for.  This thing they’re doing with Communism?  It’ll never last.  They’re merchants.  They’ve always been merchants and they’ll always be merchants.”   That’s what my father would say, with no shortage of respect.  He was still with us back in 2005 and very much enjoyed hearing my story about “Practical Tim”.  He had, indeed, been right.

A note on the stories featured on this site: they’re in more-or-less finished form, but I’ve no doubt some editing is still in order for any of them.


*Steely Dan  fans assuredly “get” this right off the bat.  To those who aren’t familiar with the album “Countdown to Ecstasy“, I hope that that is something you’ll someday consider treating yourself to.

雨 . . . “rain”

Returning to my native village after many years’ absence,
I’ll, I put up at a country inn and listen to the rain.
One robe, one bowl is all I have.
I light incense and strain to sit in meditation.
All night a steady drizzle outside the dark window –
Inside, poignant memories of these long years of pilgrimage.

By Ryokan(1758-1831).

New gallery, Rain,  is up.   Please look for the kanji (Chinese character) for “ah.may“, rain, above —  atop this Front Page.  Also, please see and enjoy  Shapes & Shadows,  also a new gallery.

In front of Sutton Place hotel.  Tokyo.  2008.

In front of Sutton Place hotel. Tokyo. 2008.


Re:  a couple of emails received today concerning the Japanese Election.  In sum, it is a watershed event as turning out the (which was never “liberal” nor that “democratic”) in favor of the LDP.   The pressure’s now on for the DPJ (“Democratic Party of Japan”) as it has a lot to deliver and if it doesn’t begin delivering  —  on issues like unemployment, elder care, child care, farm issues — and delivering soon, the LDP would be poised to sweep right back in.  A friend of mine, a former U.S. Bureau Chief for a Japanese economic news wire service, wrote to me two days ago saying, in part:

“. . . but that doesn`t mean we trust 100 %  Mr. Hatoyama and DPJ led by him because their platform is too vague. . .”   They are promising to introduce new child benefit for all Japanese parents regardless of their income by just cutting waste of the central government budget.  They are also promising to abolish toll fee of expressway.   But they are going to finance it [by] cutting the waste. . .   They are promising many but are against tax increases.  In Tokyo, the DPJ will easily win the election.  I am not surprised at it.  In rural area like my hometown [  ], the LDP is likely to lose the election.  It is unbelievable because Japanese farmers had supported LDP for several decades.  DPJ pledges to gurantee farmers income and it is working.  You may have read a story  from Tokyo that Japanese people are hoping change and supporting DPJ.  That is overstated to some extent.  [Hatoyama] is no charismatic political leader . . .”

Otherwise, this site will steer mostly clear of politics.

Dear, Beautiful Kyoto . . .

Amid various emails and Memos to clients and necessary phone calls to make and receive I find myself thinking  about Kyoto this morning, and looking ever-so-forward to soon being there again, to just Be there…  I write this (as an update to this post) in mid-November 2009.  I returned from a business trip to Japan (which took me to Kyoto for a few days) less than a week ago.  I’m still jet-lagging somewhat.  In a way it was like going home and now I’m homesick for it.

Closing Time at Chion-in Temple. Kyoto.  2003.

Closing Time at Chion-in Temple. Kyoto. 2003..




Wall at Shinyodo Temple. Nov 2009.

The photo of Noh actor above, mid-performance at Heian Shrine, is from June 2003.   There is only one evening a year, in June, that Noh is performed at Heian Jingu, and I happened to be in Kyoto on that evening.  Only time I’ve seen this.


Next to Kurodani-dera. Okazaki. 2008.


Lanterns at Okazaki Shrine.  Kyoto.  2007.

Lanterns at Okazaki Shrine. Kyoto. 2007.


A side street off of Shirakawa-dori. . . in a mirror. Kyoto. 2007.

A side street off of Shirakawa-dori. . . in a mirror. Kyoto. 2007.


Kawabata Street. Looking North. November 2009.


Nanzen-ji Temple. From my hotel balcony. July 2011.


Sunset near Shoren-in, Jingumachi. November 2009.

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Neighbor Wars, or... it's not all Zen & Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto.  Rough translation:  ”Dog poo left behind! Poo MUST be picked up and taken with you.  If you can't do this, then don't bother walking (your dog) in the first place!

Neighbor Wars.  Rough translation:  ”Dog poo left behind! Poo MUST be picked up and taken with you. If you can’t do this, then don’t bother walking (your dog) in the first place!”   then… Angry face.

A few links to other (but not all) Kyoto-related posts here at LetsJapan.Wordpress.Com:

+ Kiyomizu-dera – (one of the “must see and experience” temples for first time visitors).

+ Okariba (a great, and atypical-for-Kyoto, restaurant on Marutamachi Street).

+ To-ji Temple (東寺 )Flea Market (Japan’s largest.  The 21st of every month).

+ Rain (A Photo Gallery.  Many images from Kyoto).

Where the Rivers Meet:  the Kamo & Takano.  (Post from August 2011).

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Gallery. San-jo Street. November 2009.

A Moment for Hiroshima.

Hiroshima Peace Park.  May 16, 2008.

Hiroshima Peace Park. May 16, 2008.

My first full day in my new town was on August 6, 1990.  The day before, a couple of town hall employees had picked me up in Kobe and together we had driven a couple of hours to the small town that would be my home for the next year, a small town, deep in the heart of Southern Japan’s Chugoku Mountains.  I was settled into my new home, a spacious, two-story house along side the Maruyama River.  That night teachers, administrators and PTA luminaries with the Middle School, where I would teach for the next year, threw a welcome party for me.  It was the first of several welcome parties.

The next morning another introductory whirlwind.  I was brought to the Principal’s office where I would be officially received.  The Vice Mayor and Superintendent of the Board of Education were there, too.  In the corner of the Principal’s office a television was on, showing the morning news.  Just as the initial introductions were made everything stopped.  It was as though the wind suddenly went out of the sails of a previously fast-moving ship.  It took me a couple of beats and a quick glance over at the television:   it was 8:15 in the morning of August 6, 1990, 45 years to the minute that an atomic bomb had detonated over Hiroshima.  The television was showing the live service — then with everyone’s heads bowed for 1 minute — from Hiroshima Peace Park.  After that moment of reverent silence, we all went on . . .

Middle School Girl at Hiroshima Peach Park Museum, May 16, 2008.

Middle School Girl at Hiroshima Peace Park Museum, May 16, 2008.


I visited Hiroshima in the spring of 1991, and did not revist until last year, co-leading a UAB “Study Abroad” trip to Japan.

For more (experience, photos, etc.) from Hiroshima, please see this page, posted here a few weeks ago.

Spring ’10 Trips. C’est la Soul Sonic Boogie.


Sign at Heian-Jingu (Shrine).

Sign at Heian-Jingu (Shrine). Kyoto.


For the past week or so I’ve promised various people that I would be posting additional Spring ’10 Trip Information, including pricing and trip package details, “withing the next day or two”.  I’m talking about the group trips here:  the ~ 2-week  “Cherry Blossom Spring”  and the ~ 1-week  “Kyoto Sojourn”  trips.  General itineraries for each are, in fact, up (see top of this page) and anyone who’s emailed me with any questions, including pricing, has received a prompt response.  At any rate, I’m still not quite ready to publish all that to the world at large, but almost there.  I will have that information up before the end of THIS week.  Promise.     Ishi no ue ni mo san nen.

Kotowaza are Japanese proverbs, “wise sayings”.  I use one just above: Ishi no ue ni mo san nen.   The literal translation is “Sit on a rock for 3 years”.  Loses something between the Japanese and the English, indeed.  It means:  “Have patience. Patience.  Patience…”  I think of this one a lot.

Other favorite kotowaza of mine, which can sum-up an emotion, nail a situation, or remind me of an attitude or outlook I need to adopt — and to which I posit you can, or will, relate — include:

Baka ni tsukeru kusuri wa nai. There’s no medicine for (to cure) a fool.

Kaze no naka de sodatta ki wa ne ga tsuyoi. A tree that’s grown up in the wind has strong roots.

Chi mo namida mo nai. [S/he has] neither blood nor tears.

Heh o hitte shiri tsubome. [No use] scrunching-up your bum after the fart.

Saru mo ki kara ochiru. Even monkeys fall from trees.

I’ll leave it to you to figure out their respective “inner meaning”, though I believe each is rather obvious.  If you want to guess or have a question, please feel free to comment below.  I’ll be incorporating these and others into one of my stories — it’s a work in progress.

.  .  .

Taikai no itteki . . . Just one drop in the ocean.    Only a moment in time.  C’est la vie . . . C’est la Soul Sonic Boogie.


Gion in July

Gion is Kyoto’s “Geisha District”.  There’s another, older, one — so I’ve been told — now defunct, and one can still see Geisha and Maiko-san (Geisha Novices) aplenty in Ponto-cho, just across the Kamo River, behind where this photo was taken — during one of my early morning strolls around Kyoto.  In it I’m facing east, looking down “Shi-jo Dori” (4th Street) towards one of Japan’s most venerated Shinto Shrines, “Yasaka Jinja”.  Just to the left of me, out of (the picture’s) frame is Nawate Dori (“dori” is one of the words for “street”, by the way).  And just about 60 feet down Nawate Dori on the left, just past “Bali-Bali” (surprisingly, a Balinese restaurant) is “Cafe Terrace”, a favorite little coffee shop.  This was taken in July 2004.  The banners all along the street on the left-hand side proclaim that it’s “Gion Matsuri” (Gion Festival) time, held throughout July, but culminating with a grand parade of huge, multi-storied, wheeled shrines,  since 1533, but whose origins go back to the late 9th Century.

Early Morning.  Gion Matsuri.  July 2004.

Early Morning. Gion Matsuri. July 2004.



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