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June 2, 2014

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mm517: Japan – Travelogue 1.5

March 17, 2013

Lynne and Steve’s 30th Anniversary Extravaganza: Our Japan Adventure

Hayama – Yokosuka – Yokohama – Tokyo June 21 – July 1, 2000

Tues. 2000-06-27. Yokohama.

Gotta tell you about China Pete’s. When we had visited the Navy Exchange on Saturday, we looked at their gift section, especially the ceramics, with an eye on our gift shopping list. Dan said that we should not purchase anything here, but rather we would find China Pete’s in Yokohama on Sunday. Dan had been there, and said it was worth the trip for this kind of gift.

Dan didn’t locate directions to China Pete’s in time for your Yokohama jaunt on Sunday. It turned out that that was just as well, since when he finally did locate instructions when he went back to work on Monday, they indicated that C.P.’s is closed Sundays. So Tuesday, our first day on our own (Dan worked all day), we would go find China Pete’s.

Among the river of traffic 15 feet from our windows are four different bus lines, numbers 4, 5, 6 and 7, any of which could, and some of which did, take us to and from Zushi, a town a few miles away from Hayama, and a stop on the JR. We had taken such a bus on Monday, which was a revelation to Dan, who had known it was feasible, but hadn’t yet had the occasion to take it.

Buses, in contrast to the trains, according to every tour guide we’ve looked at, and we’ve looked at many, are difficult enough for tourists that the experts recommend against them. No English signage at all, unlike the trains, most of which have station names in English. The fare system is complex, most of them using a zone system. Sometimes you get on at the back, and take a ticket. Sometimes (in Yokohama, for example) you get on in front and pay a fixed fare. Sometimes you get on at the back but don’t get a ticket (because, Dan figured out, we got on at the beginning of the run and didn’t need one). The buses from Hayama to Zushi and back, depending on the time of day, and maybe the route (difficult for me to tell), varied between 15-30 minutes in duration, at a cost of ¥270.

This is good information for Dan, who now knows that he’s got a reasonable fallback in case he has car trouble, since he can pick up a train at Zushi which would take him to within a 10-minute walk of the base’s main gate.

Back to Tuesday. Lynne and I intrepidly set off for the bus stop at about 9:20. We’d been to Yokohama on Sunday and thought that we were in for an 1½ hour trip. Instead, the number 5 bus that came took almost a half hour by itself to get to Zushi, due to lingering rush hour traffic. We needed to be directed to the correct track to Yokohama by a friendly stranger (thanks to Lynne who asked), since it wasn’t the same track we had taken the day before to go in the same direction. Go figure.

The train to Yokohama (six stops or so) took a half hour, standing room only. Following the detailed xeroxed instructions Dan had obtained, at Yokohama station (very, very busy) we followed the signs downstairs and then upstairs to the track for the Negishi line (sort familiar from Sunday), on which we rode for one stop. At Higashi-Kanagara, we transferred (across the platform) to the Yokohama line.

We expected a short ride, like the Chicago El. We got a 12-stop, 35-minute ride out to a suburb. It was pleasant enough (we had seats – did I mention they’re all upholstered, even in the buses?) but took much longer, and went much further than we had anticipated.

And, it was a challenge, because the further we got from the center of Yokohama (in importance, at least) the less English was available to us. Each previous train ride, I had spotted at least one western-appearing rider. On the Yokohama line, the only non-natives were your intrepid explorers. The bigger trains we rode on had annunciators over every door, which alternated Japanese with English: “Next: Higashi-Kanagara”. Very handy.

The Yokohama line was not so convenient. No annunciator. We had to listen carefully to the announcements by the conductor (slightly more intelligible to us than the standard CTA announcement, but still pretty opaque), or, more likely, peer out the window as we arrived at each station, looking for one of the two station signs that had English language translations. Lynne’s method was the best. China Pete’s instructions told us that our target station was approximately the twelfth stop. Lynne faithfully counted, and, sure enough, 12 it was. So, even with good instructions, a slightly nervous experience.

Then, the map challenge. Street addresses aren’t given out much in Japan, since most of the streets don’t have names. To find a specific place, you are given a map. And, without names or many numbers (Dan’s address, 1820A Somethingorother, is nowhere to be seen: no number, in Roman or Japanese, that I’ve found on his building; and no such street name to be found along the street itself), the mapmaker notes landmarks.

China Pete’s map had us looking first for the Tokai bank, opposite a police box, whatever that is; a Nissan Prince dealer and a used car dealer across the street from each other (and to cross that street required climbing an overpass bridge, which we did four goddam times!); and, incidentally noted a couple of restaurants, which actually came in handy. While that first checkpoint, the bank, wasn’t immediately obvious when we came down from the Fuchinobe station (and at busier stations than this one the direction you exit is crucial in instructions), it turned out to be where I expected it to be.

By the time we located C.P.’s, after a 25-minute stroll (78° -80°, sunny, humid), we were ready to lunch before shopping. Enter Denny’s. Now, I haven’t entered a Denny’s in many years, but it was a very attractive destination to we hungry and footsore journeyers so far from home base. After ascertaining that the menu had both pictures, and as a bonus, English descriptions under them, we sat down. Lynne had grilled chicken with a Caesar salad, and was offered a fork and knife. I had a combination plate of hot “Sukiyaki beef” (marinated, somewhat fatty beef, with rice) with a serving of cold soba, (soup with buckwheat long noodles, ground horseradish and the cutest little button mushrooms in a delicious cold broth) and was served chopsticks. (The Japanese couple who came in just after we did ordered food that I saw they ate with silverware.)

Fortified by Denny’s (and I’ll never laugh at them again) at a price of ¥2,058, we walked back to China Pete’s (up and over that damned bridge for time number three). This turned out to be a quiet, small (two stores with three showrooms between them) but quite delightfully stocked enterprise, and we were pleased to spend some time, and yen, inside. Ceramics and appropriate to our budget gift items, jumped off the shelves, to the extent that we were suddenly concerned about schlepping three substantial bags of merchandise back the way we’d come.

Schlep we did, retracing our footsteps back the 25-minutes to the station (just as hot and humid, but now with cargo), up to the ticket machine and down to the platform. Waited for about 15 minutes for the train (and boy, when the schedule said a train was due to depart at 14:16, it unfailingly did every time – so far), was pleased to get seats, and counted the twelve stops back to Hagashi-Kanagara. Walked across the platform for the Negishi train (love that symmetry) and took it back one stop to Yokohama. Walked downstairs from track 3, across and up to track 9, for the train back to Zushi, in which we again were pleased to be seated. Finally, back at Zushi (at a total cost of ¥890 each for the three-train ride – for some reason it was ¥870 out), boarded a number 7 bus this time, which made its semi-inscrutable way back to Highway 134 in Hayama. Then the last few steps, maybe two blocks, mostly downhill thank goodness, to Dan’s house. Quite an excursion, and a testimony to good directions, and, if the writer can be permitted some self-congratulation, good direction-following (I’m thinking this is a lost art).

Dan got home tired from a long day, and found his telephone not working. We’ll deal with that tomorrow. He cooked up rice in his electric rice cooker (a necessity we’ll add to our culinary repertoire as soon as we get home), and he and Lynne prepared stir –fried chicken and vegetables. Delicious.

We’re vacillating about our Tokyo plans and reservations (we have reservations about our reservations). We may can them all, and just handle Tokyo (overrated in Dan’s opinion anyway) as a day trip on Thursday. More later, I hope.

MORE TO COME

So, feeling a bit rusty after more than a four-year hiatus, and reflecting a totally internal need to get some content back into the ether, I’m repurposing a couple of personal travel journals. Because both are lengthy, in excess of 30 pages (Word document pages, that is), I plan to slice them up into more digestible form. I will try to resist the urge for much after-the-fact content or style edits, especially content. This is Yr (justifiably) humble svt, circa 2000, and the travelogue documents an amazing (for us) adventure, and where my head was at nearly 13 years ago. Your comments are always welcome.


mm516: Japan – Travelogue 1.4

March 9, 2013

Lynne and Steve’s 30th Anniversary Extravaganza: Our Japan Adventure

Hayama – Yokosuka – Yokohama – Tokyo June 21 – July 1, 2000

Mon. 2000-06-26. Kamakura.

Dan left for work at his usual (5:40!) time, and we were on our own for the morning. Without a car, and before we knew how the buses worked, we were constrained to walking distance. Dan suggested that we check out the park near the beach we had seen our first day, so we walked up to the top of the hill where a parking lot branches off our favorite national route, and walked down to the beach. It wasn’t raining, but it was overcast, and thus looked threatening all day. But the temperature was pleasant, and we walked along the beach, still filled with workmen doing inscrutable things to inscrutable structures which might turn out to be concession stands, and boats and other nautical gear strewn about with un-Japanese untidiness. Very picturesque, since there are rock outcroppings in the water nearby, and a tree-filled spit of land to the south. So, we took pictures.

Found the park, and walked up some stairs to it. A nondescript gazebo, a few benches, some grass. A woman with two extraordinarily cute children was nearby. The kids were playing with each other, and were absolutely adorable. Lynne had to take their picture, and asked (their mother?) for permission, which was cheerfully granted. She had very serviceable English, and told us the girls were each three years old. I haven’t seen the pictures, but even if they only catch half the spirit of these kids, the pictures will be really wonderful.

We walked back along a street that at home would be an alley, dodging oncoming cars all the way. Dodging is unfair: they see us, they go around us, but there just isn’t a lot of room to spare, so it feels dodgy.

As planned, Dan was able to spare the afternoon off, got home noonish, and we set off on our once-canceled visit to Kamakura. This entailed the Great Bus Experiment, which turned out reasonably well. Even though we didn’t quite handle the money thing correctly, the driver politely did so for us. People here are polite, even to barbarians.

The bus landed us as hoped at Zushi, a train station on the Yokosuka line. Kamehara was just one stop away; we transferred to a small local train to get three stops closer to our destination. After a short walk through a colorful part of town (an artist’s colony for hundreds of years, Dan reports) we arrived at the park enclosing the Daibatsu [sp?] Buddha, a worthy site to see. It’s bronze, quite elderly (400-500 years old at least), and BIG, over 35 feet tall. For ¥20 you can even walk inside! We photographed it, and admired it, and purchased souvenirs at its gift shop.

Then, we set off on foot to see a famous shrine. We walked, through more tony residential neighborhoods, up and down alleys somehow accommodating us AND two-way vehicular traffic, always guided by Dan’s excellent guidebook on the area, and by signs promising “So and so Shrine”, “1.9km”, “1.6km”, “600m”, etc. We walked, and walked and walked. I can do the math. 1.9km is less than a mile and a quarter, ordinarily a piece of cake, even on a hot and humid, if still overcast, day. But we never got there. In desperation we walked back toward another shrine, which we found, and which turned out to be distinctly anti-climactic. Just a wood building. And, some special tree, or trees, that Dan wanted to see turned out to be up a tremendously steep set of many too many stairs, so we abandoned that effort.

But, our slogging had a happy end. Walking back around into town (and we had made a large circuit between the local train, and all of our walking) we arrived at another favorite restaurant of Laura and Dan’s, again with no discernable English name. It was down a small path, down the street from the train station (couldn’t have been better for our worn out feet).

This was a true Japanese experience, beginning with removing our shoes at the door (thank goodness, no holy socks!). We sat on cushions placed around a very low table, all set on tatami mats. Very traditional. The specialty of the house is Okinomyaki, a kind of omelet that one cooks for oneself at this house, on the grill set into each table. Dan did the honors; we had two of these delicious dishes, bracketing Yakisoba, a stir fried noodles dish Dan also cooked for us. Dan says that Okinomyaki is the functional equivalent of pizza for Japanese, fast food, not very refined. But delicious, fun because we (er – Dan) cooked it ourselves, and the overall experience, which included a view of a most peaceful garden complete with a pool with fish, was exquisite. And, though I detected an arm of the chopsticks patrol nearby, no action was taken.

After recovering our shoes (don’t ask!), we took the train, and the bus home. A very nice day.

MORE TO COME

So, feeling a bit rusty after more than a four-year hiatus, and reflecting a totally internal need to get some content back into the ether, I’m repurposing a couple of personal travel journals. Because both are lengthy, in excess of 30 pages (Word document pages, that is), I plan to slice them up into more digestible form. I will try to resist the urge for much after-the-fact content or style edits, especially content. This is Yr (justifiably) humble svt, circa 2000, and the travelogue documents an amazing (for us) adventure, and where my head was at nearly 13 years ago. Your comments are always welcome.


mm515: Japan – Travelogue 1.3

February 25, 2013

Lynne and Steve’s 30th Anniversary Extravaganza: Our Japan Adventure

Hayama – Yokosuka – Yokohama – Tokyo June 21 – July 1, 2000

Sun. 2000-06-25, Election Day, we think. Yokohama.

Did we mention that we guessed that Sunday was Election Day? We saw some posters, with color pictures of mature looking people, and the numbers 6 and 25 sort of close together. But how we knew something must be up: the mini-vans, with clusters of loudspeakers, blaring messages at peak volume. I know that Saturday afternoon both Lynne and Dan were disturbed from their short naps by an unusually loud specimen. Heard them Friday. Lots of them Saturday. A few Sunday, although we were out of town. None since. I guess our poster-decoding was correct. Did the loudest candidate win?

Sunday was our first venture afield. The day started most pleasantly with Sunday brunch at the Officer’s Club on the base. Tablecloths, silver service, polite wait persons, decent buffet style food, mostly occidental but some oriental. The dining room, at the 9:15 hour, was filled with families. Very nice.

After returning his DVD rental, Dan once again parked his car near the entrance, and we walked out into town, down the mall street, to one of the railroad stations. Purchasing our ticket to Yokohama, including a transfer to a different line, from a machine was novel. Dan consulted a chart on the wall to determine the fare, and fed money, bills and coins into the appropriate slots, and received tickets and change. Very efficient. We were headed for a couple of destinations in Yokohama, and the very fast express train got us to the main Yokohama station in less than half an hour.

Transferring to the Negishi line, we rode for about three stops to Kannai station. Dan consulted his map, and led us out of the station, and along a busy boulevard past Yokohama station, home of the Yokohama Bay Stars baseball team. People were camped out waiting to buy tickets for that evening’s 18:00 game. We walked around two sides of the stadium, and, just as the map predicted, found a gateway to Chinatown, our first destination of the day.

Yokohama’s Chinatown is the largest in Japan, and contains about 600 restaurants and 300 or so stores of other kinds. Dan says that some of the restaurants are famous for doing ¥40,000,000,000 per year in business, an absolutely astounding total.

The streets were crowded with tourists, again mostly oriental, sampling the huge dumplings and eyeing restaurant after restaurant. Lynne found a bunch small key chain souvenirs, and we window shopped some of the antique stores (very, very expensive). But, after Dan’s excellent navigating we found a tea store (apparently not the one we were looking for, but okay nonetheless), and bought some bulk green tea.

In retrospect, and we realized it soon, we planned our day wrong. We visited Chinatown, with all of its manifest dining enticements while we were still digesting our delicious breakfast. We should have made Chinatown our second stop, not our first, so we could take advantage.

After Chinatown, we walked back through a park which surrounds the other two sides of Yokohama stadium. They didn’t tell us, though, that it was unpaved, and the mud (from all the rain/mist – our first afternoon here we saw some sun; after that, none until Tuesday) was an unpleasant surprise. We got back on the train at Kannai, and went down a few more stops to Negishi station, where we caught our first bus, to a stop Dan remembered about 10 or so minutes later, near Sainken [sp?] garden.

This is a park and preserve, put together by a wealthy silk merchant over 100 years ago, in the middle of a tony residential area, and not far from docks and refineries. But you’d never know that once inside. For ¥600 each, we were suddenly in a quiet park, with a marsh, and many flowers, and a lake, and a bunch of cats, oddly enough. We walked for a while, and watched a cute young girl feeding pieces of bread to some very large, very hungry carp who had very little competition from one lone duck, and a couple of turtles(!). We finally were hungry, and sat down to an interesting snack of gelled fishcakes (oden, I think, and some served on a stick!), and tea.

We strolled past buildings hundreds of years old that were rescued by this philanthropist (although I believe he lived on the grounds originally), and climbed rather more brick and mud steps than two of us cared to, up to see a three-tiered pagoda from the sixteenth century (I’m remembering).

Recovering (and not a little miffed that we found no benches at the top), we climbed down and entered the inner park, full of more historic buildings gathered from across the country. By then the place was overrun by tour groups, and we had little patience for more. So, we walked the half-mile or so back to the bus stop, took the bus back to the station, took the train back to Yokohama, transferred to a different train than the one we’d taken out, but which got us back to Yokosuka eventually.

Sunday night we threw together some supper at Dan’s, and retired early, once again.

MORE TO COME

So, feeling a bit rusty after more than a four-year hiatus, and reflecting a totally internal need to get some content back into the ether, I’m repurposing a couple of personal travel journals. Because both are lengthy, in excess of 30 pages (Word document pages, that is), I plan to slice them up into more digestible form. I will try to resist the urge for much after-the-fact content or style edits, especially content. This is Yr (justifiably) humble svt, circa 2000, and the travelogue documents an amazing (for us) adventure, and where my head was at nearly 13 years ago. Your comments are always welcome.


mm514: Japan – Travelogue 1.2

February 18, 2013

Lynne and Steve’s 30th Anniversary Extravaganza: Our Japan Adventure

Hayama – Yokosuka – Yokohama – Tokyo June 21 – July 1, 2000

Sat. 2000-06-24. Yokosuka.

Saturday dawned misty/rainy again. The books all said 90 and rainy for this time of year, and, though it’s not quite 90 (thank goodness!), it certainly is shaping up rainy, and way too humid for our tastes. And, regrettably, I don’t think we’re destined to reproduce in person that photograph Dan shared with us of Mt. Fuji from his living room window!

To Yokosuka Naval Base! A sprawling facility (much bigger than the base at Everett where we visited Dan two summers ago), with many warships docked, including the gigantic aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk (CV-63). Dan doesn’t know anyone aboard the carrier, so there’s no chance of a tour, but we came to see the McCain, Dan’s ship.

This was not quite like our tour of the Ray, Dan’s last ship. The John S McCain (DDG-56) is in dry-dock; as Dan promised we saw all of his ship! He was kind of embarrassed, since the ship is in a heavy maintenance cycle. There were workmen (Japanese) hanging over the side blasting off the old paint with high pressure water. There were shrouds over the guns. As Dan said, it’s dirty, noisy and smelly – hardly in condition for a tour. But, we were here, so tour we did.

Dan was an engineering officer on the David R Ray (DD-971), and when we toured that ship, we saw everything, top to bottom. Up ladders (er—staircases – that was one of our strongest memories of that earlier tour: the steep ladders that sailors and officers scramble up and down in all weathers and sea-states that we needed to take very, very carefully) and down, and down, and down. From the bridge to auxiliary engines, we saw it.

On the McCain, Dan is CICO (Combat Information Center Officer), so his spaces are above the main deck, and just below the bridge in the CIC. Under way it’s darkened, lit with red and blue lighting, and the glow from the twenty or so workstations Dan works with. Today, there is regular lighting, the consoles are covered to protect from the painting and the dust, as work is being performed here too.

A brief stop at the bridge (always surprising how little equipment there is on the bridge. The main asset here are eyes), and then to the wardroom where we met a couple of Dan’s colleagues, Misty and Amy. Dan’s stateroom in the Ray was appallingly small, with three men expected to share a space (including a triple bunk) barely the size of my cubicle at work. On the McCain, Dan has a comparatively comfortable space, shared with an officer who’s a department head, thus rating more space. There’s even cable TV (funny, because Dan hasn’t a TV at his home).

So, that was our tour. Workmen, extra hoses, shrouds everywhere, because of the heavy pace of maintenance going on even on a Saturday. But, crippled as our view was, still impressive.

Driving around the base, we got a feel for its size. Lots of ships, so lots of ship support, housing, headquarters, etc. Dan drove us to the Navy Exchange, where we bought some supplies like WD-40 for his balky front door lock, and we headed back toward Hayama. The goal was to get to Dan and Laura’s favorite sushi restaurant ahead of the crowd. Carefully maneuvering into an impossibly small parking space we waited in front for the restaurant to open (I still don’t know its name – no English words here, domo arigato!). A woman came outside, and, using sign language, eventually communicated to us that they weren’t going to open until 12:00, rather than the 11:30 opening Dan expected.

So, to kill some time, we drove around a little, and, at my suggestion, instead of going back to that nerve-wracking parking lot (parking handkerchief is more like it), we parked in the rooftop parking area of good old Sotetsu Rosen, and walked uphill about half a mile or so to the restaurant.

At lunchtime they serve a fixed meal, which is much, much less expensive than a la carte at dinner. We walked in, and sat around a counter filled with fresh looking fish and other items behind glass. Two other couples of Japanese came in at about the same time, and others came in later. Maybe nine or ten seats in all. But, modern enough that we weren’t asked to remove our shoes. Maybe you don’t at sushi restaurants. As we were seated unfortunately under a television, we couldn’t tell as we ate whether the natives were looking at it, or at our semi-fumbling attempts (speaking for Lynne and me) at chopstick use. Reminded me why I hated golf, teeing off in front of a gallery of impatient critics. But I digress.

The meal was wonderful. They kept delivering sushi, placed on a large leaf which served as our individual serving platters, and miso soup, and a concoction of egg with Japanese characters marked on it, and a custardy fish soup, served in a demitasse with a tiny spoon, which tasted wonderful. It was delicious, cost about ¥1300 each I’m remembering, and was memorable. I hope we do it again before we leave.

Saturday afternoon we had planned to visit Kamakura, known for shrines and a spectacular Buddha. But, we had wakened early, and had clambered around the McCain, and had walked back and forth from the supermarket to the restaurant. So we “vegged out,” instead.

This might be a good opportunity to expound on Dan’s bathrooms. We’d been led to expect some interesting bathroom experiences in Japan, and so far, we haven’t been disappointed. At a Denny’s Restaurant (see below), while I found a urinal to be everything I needed in toilet accommodations at the time, Lynne needed to deal with squatting over a toilet. Go figure.

But I digress. Dan’s main bathroom, on the lowest level (meaning a careful two-story trek down from the bedroom) is equipped with a standard toilet, a sink with a heated mirror (to dissipate steam), and a walk-in shower/bathtub compartment that seems larger by itself than our lower level bathroom at home. Dan keeps raving about the bathtub; it seems deep, and optionally can be filled to precise temperature and depth from a control in the kitchen! The shower is excellent, with plenty of water pressure.

But it’s the little half bath upstairs that is a marvel. A small toilet in a tiny space, when one sits down on it the exhaust fan turns on. And, it incorporates an electronically controlled bidet. I don’t think Lynne has tried it, but I’m here to tell you that what Dan describes as the “butt-washer” is an unexpected, unusual, but not unpleasant experience. And, most unique of all to my observation: the wash basin is incorporated into the toilet fixture. When one flushes, water starts running to refill the cistern, as in all toilets. But here, it runs out a faucet that permits one to wash one’s hands, before draining into the cistern. Compact, water-saving, too, too clever.

Well, it wasn’t a page, after all. I hope my fans aren’t too disappointed. Back to Saturday:

Saturday evening, we drove back to the base, where Dan rented his first DVD movie for our later entertainment. His dazzling new computer includes a DVD drive (and a CD-RW — am I envious), and he hoped that the DVD player would provide some visual entertainment in lieu of the television he doesn’t have. Then, parking close to the entrance of the base, we walked for the first time into downtown Yokosuka, with two destinations in mind.

It was about 18:00, and the streets and stores were still crowded. Once again, the English language non-sequiturs abounded. We walked through several blocks made up of individual buildings, but grouped under an awning and labeled Avenue 480, as if it is a form of outdoor mall. Three or four blocks down the street was a stationery store Dan recommended to us. Lynne, who had been advised by a coworker to be alert to stationery purchase opportunities, was entranced by the various items, on three floors, such as charming note paper and matching envelopes, and origami greeting cards, many three-dimensional. Among her inexpensive purchases, she bought a small, beautifully detailed mobile on a stand, for her desk at work.

Another block down was Dan’s favorite tempura restaurant. No English, but pictures. The food was, again, delicious (Dan has good taste, that’s for sure), and, once again, we somehow avoided arrest by the unseen, but certainly present, chopsticks police.

Then, home, to watch our rented movie, “Mumford.” Watching a movie on a 17-inch computer monitor turned out to be surprisingly doable, and the movie itself was delightful. Thence to another early bedtime.

MORE TO COME

So, feeling a bit rusty after more than a four-year hiatus, and reflecting a totally internal need to get some content back into the ether, I’m repurposing a couple of personal travel journals. Because both are lengthy, in excess of 30 pages (Word document pages, that is), I plan to slice them up into more digestible form. I will try to resist the urge for much after-the-fact content or style edits, especially content. This is Yr (justifiably) humble svt, circa 2000, and the travelogue documents an amazing (for us) adventure, and where my head was at nearly 13 years ago. Your comments are always welcome.


mm513: Japan – Travelogue 1.1

February 16, 2013

So, feeling a bit rusty after more than a four-year hiatus, and reflecting a totally internal need to get some content back into the ether, I’m repurposing a couple of personal travel journals. Because both are lengthy, in excess of 30 pages (Word document pages, that is), I plan to slice them up into more digestible form. I will try to resist the urge for much after-the-fact content or style edits, especially content. This is Yr (justifiably) humble svt, circa 2000, and the following documents an amazing (for us) adventure, and where my head was at nearly 13 years ago. Your comments are always welcome.

Lynne and Steve’s 30th Anniversary Extravaganza: Our Japan Adventure

Hayama – Yokosuka – Yokohama – Tokyo June 21 – July 1, 2000

Our story so far:
As our son Dan, a lieutenant in the US Navy, is presently stationed at Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan,
we decided that we had a once in a lifetime opportunity to visit a country that we’d always been curious about, but had never dreamed would be able to visit. So, after a successful bid on Priceline.com (sponsorship opportunity!) saved us $500 per ticket over the lowest quoted rate for the dates we needed, we read a little, packed a little more, and set off on our journey.

Weds. 2000-06-21 – Thurs. 2000-06-22. In transit.

Out of the house at 6:00, flew first to Houston (Priceline’s caveat: must accept connecting flights to get the good price). Made easily what I thought might be a tough, less than an hour, connection. Never had flown a 777 before; it’s large, four pilots and 15 cabin attendants large. Even in economy, we were reasonably comfortable, except that it was a very long flight – Houston to Narita took almost 14 hours flight time! It. Was. A. Very. Long. Flight. Got to Narita, Tokyo’s international airport Thursday afternoon local time. Dan was waiting for us right after we breezed through customs – what a site for sore eyes, indeed!

Took the bus to Terminal 1, where we hooked up with the base bus. That trip took a little over 1-1/2 hours, which was good considering it was rush hour.

Drove to Dan’s place in Hayama, about 10 km from the base. Tiny, fender-scraping parking space, right on a busy two lane highway. Shoes off in entryway, Japan style. Three stories, two rooms per. Entry level: spare bedroom (catchall storage) and big bathroom (including washer-dryer). Main level (up steep, small-treaded staircase): living-dining-computer room, a decent sized kitchen, and a half bath. Top level (more of those tricky stairs): large bedroom, with Dan’s bed and a small nightstand and chair, and a very spacious, walk-in closet. Very new (I could write a page about the bathrooms, and perhaps sometime I will).

Thursday night, which to our Chicago bio-clocks was still the middle of the night Thursday morning, did little but visit, eat some tortellini from the freezer. To bed early (which we discover Dan does every night, since his alarm goes off at 4:50). That sort of set the pattern: to sleep early (especially for SN), awake early (Poor Richard would be so proud). Did we mention THE SKYLIGHT IN THE BEDROOM??? No daylight savings – sun’s up at 4-something this time of year!

Fri. 2000-06-23. Hayama.

Friday a.m. was rainy. We had breakfast together at 5:15am, and Dan left for his 20-minute drive for work at 5:40. We were on our own, and Dan promised to get home early in the afternoon. We napped a lot, trying to adjust to the time difference: 14 hours.

We took a short walk up and down the busy street in front of Dan’s duplex, and, at Dan’s suggestion walked down a narrow alley (however, all the streets are impossibly narrow, so this was a street!). Although the Naval Base is located in Yokosuka (pronounced Yo-kooz-ka), Dan actually lives across the Miura peninsula in the beach resort town of Hayama. So, we walked down this twisty narrow street, past immaculately gardened expensive-looking homes, to a beach.

Sloppiest thing we’ve seen in Japan, by far. Small rowboats and surf gliders scattered around, and workers busy putting up (or rebuilding) what we guessed were concession stands. The rain of early morning was mostly gone, but the sand was wet, so we didn’t linger.

Dan finally got home that afternoon, apologizing unnecessarily for stranding us all day (we napped, and read, and napped, still catching up). We took a walk together, to get a feel for his neighborhood.

The streets are photogenically hilly, but impossibly narrow, and most in his area don’t have sidewalks, just a painted line along one side separating the road from a two-foot wide walk/bikeway. There’s no parking permitted on the streets, but there are always double-parkers. Which need to be maneuvered around, which means a driver crosses over one’s lane (if indeed there’s a lane actually marked), or waits until opposing traffic clears to do so (if you can see it). Many curves have mirrors perched strategically, to help that evaluation. And this is not mentioning the motorbikes and motorcycles, weaving their way around traffic. Put this all together with the right hand drive, drive on the left character of Japan’s cars and roads, and I’m very happy to be a passenger and a (very careful) pedestrian here, thank you very much.

Thankfully, many of the cars are tiny. Dan, who has an ’87 Toyota Mark II (in the US it was a Camry, and indeed it looks very similar to the Camry Brian and Pam drove until about two years ago), is envious of those micro vehicles (“look how easy they’d be to park!”). One of my favorite activities this trip has been to read the names of Japanese cars we pass by. I should have written them down. The Japanese car manufacturers, and indeed, Japanese marketers of all kinds of products, love English words. Even if they’re not certain of their meaning, English words are emblazoned on their cars, their soft drinks, their posters. I don’t think they really care whether the words make sense in English; there’s apparently a cachet to use them.

Now, it’s probably the time to say something about the street in front of Dan’s house. It’s National Route 134, according to the signage readable by us. And, as mentioned above, it also has a name, which I still don’t remember, beginning with “S”. Most of all, though, is that it’s busy. Motor bikes, motorcycles, cars, vans, small trucks, buses, LARGE TRUCKS; all zooming by (all in defiance of a posted 40-kph speed limit – sounds like at least twice 24 miles per hour to these ears).

This goes on all day, and all the noisy night, and all this audio stimulation is less than 12 feet from his windows. Now, when I was growing up, I used to love to stay overnight at my Grandma Daisy’s house. Her guest bedroom looked out on busy Ridge Avenue in Evanston, cars and buses swooshing by all night long. That was exciting to a young boy, and in an odd way, restful. National Route 134 is another species of nighttime comfort altogether. If 45 seconds goes by without something zooming by, we start twitching. It took some getting used to.

And, virtually everywhere we’ve been so far, especially Dan’s neighborhood, is hilly (I had remarked in the morning, as we wound our way down to the beach, how much the area reminded me of California, with houses perched on hillsides, and with a low, semi-tropical appearance). So, we walked down, we walked around, we walked up, for a mile or more, with our eventual target the Sotetsu Rosen, a supermarket.

Looked like our neighborhood Jewel. Except of course for the produce (4 apples, ¥1600 — that’s nearly $4.00 an apple, folks!), and many other items which seemed extraordinarily expensive. And all the packaged goods, some with English (Cream Cheese Cake snacks), most without. One could write a book, I guess. We picked up some snacks (ask Lynne about Pokey’s), giving me a chance to maneuver Japanese money for about the first time. So far, so good. Then we walked back, enjoying the pretty, if compact, gardens in front of many of the homes. Lynne tried to get some photographs of some of them. Hydrangeas seem to be in bloom right now, and look lovely.

The “go home from work” tune on the public address system in the neighborhood (culturally different enough for you?) suggested that it indeed was time for dinner, and time (hurrah!), for our first Japanese meal. Dan took us to a place he likes (on his route to work) that serves soba noodles and ramen noodles. It’s a diner-like place, very clean.

Dan was disconcerted because the displays on the wall over the counter with the dishes illustrated (ideal for pointing, a must with our limited language resources) was gone! He attempted to order soba noodles, we got ramen. No problem, it was delicious. A deep bowl, served with chopsticks. Lots of goodies besides the noodles: vegetables, meat, seaweed, pickled radish, etc. Everything delicious. Then you drink the broth to complete the meal. Excellent. And, no embarrassing moves with the chopsticks. Back home to a quiet evening of conversation and reading, and early bedtime (Dan, a hard work week; we, still sorting out what time it was).

MORE TO COME



mm512: Two Months: Three Amazing Films

February 9, 2013

Blown away by three of the best, not of 2012, but of my lifetime experience!

 

Don’t see too many movies in theatres these days. Oh, the local venue is quite deluxe, actually, a phenomenal upgrade from what used to be available close to home.

But, as has been noted everywhere, Hollywood simply isn’t making product for any beyond the prime market: males 14—34. I’m male, but quite some years beyond “prime”.

Yet in the space of just two months, from Thanksgiving week until my birthday January 21, I was fortunate enough to see three manifestly wonderful films: Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty.

I am not a critic, like my young cousin, Matthew, nor an educator on the topic, like cousin Lee, nor have I ever played one on television, like my hero for more than 45 years, Roger, so the following impressions are highly personal, and informed mainly by my life experience and absolutely not by any chops as an expert cineaste.

To end any suspense, here are the three films.


Lincoln



I inherited my interest in all things Lincoln from my late father, for whom this enthusiasm was substantial all of his life. Carl Sandburg’s multi-volume biography was prominent on our bookshelf, and I wasted no time as a child in absorbing its lessons. My dad made certain that, as Illinois residents, we toured the house in Springfield, and the log cabin in Salem.

Lincoln scholarship has advanced from those Sandburgian days, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, a much more recent history of the wartime President and key members of his cabinet, that I confess I haven’t yet read, was the inspiration for Tony Kushner’s (writer) and Steven Spielberg’s (director) masterful Lincoln, that, talk about inspired, dissects the last few months of our most iconic president’s life when he campaigned ever-so-adroitly to pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, ending slavery.


Zero Dark Thirty



This amazing film tells a (somewhat fictionalized? This is a continuing conversation…) story of one young CIA analyst’s (Jessica Chastain) quest for Osama Bin Laden. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (winner [twice!] for The Hurt Locker three years ago), it is, throughout its 2½-hour length (flew by, actually!), a gripping, compelling, riveting (running out of adjectives here) experience.

Yes, there are some unpleasant moments in the first 45 minutes, as the questioning of suspects utilizes the infamous (and, until now, only imagined) waterboarding form of torture, but I swallowed hard and accepted the scenes as a cost of witnessing the process, much as this country needed to swallow hard and accept that intense interrogation seemed appropriate in the circumstances following 9/11.


Silver Linings Playbook



This “RomCom,” or, perhaps, “dramedy” stars Bradley Cooper, no stranger to the former genre, and surprisingly effective Jennifer Lawrence, whose roles prior to this film (“Winter’s Bone,” “Hunger Games“) were more soulfully dramatic. The premise is that Cooper is released from eight months in a psychiatric hospital, where he was treated for bipolar disorder, and while back at home pines for his ex-wife, whose ugly betrayal ignited the events that led to his hospitalization. Lawrence plays a very young widow with issues beyond that sad state, who engages Cooper in her quixotic mission to compete in a local ballroom dancing event.

That’s a bare bones synopsis that just scratches the surface of the very profound depths explored by this David O. Russell film. For one thing, Pat Solitano’s father is portrayed by Robert De Niro, who along with the actress Jacki Weaver as the mother, were both nominated for Academy Awards in the supporting actor category. (This film was the first in many years to receive nominations for all four of its principal actors, as well as for Best Picture and Russell’s direction and adapted screenplay among its eight nominations).

So, “Mr. Critic-wannabe,” Why These Three?

So, the context is important here. As noted, we just don’t go to the trouble of seeing that many films in theatres these days. The only other one I recall this year, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, an exception to the juvenile males policy, was well done, in rather a twee way, but it had nowhere near the emotional punch thrown by each of the subject three. What got us out there, and why were they so impactful?

Writing

Great acting (and I’ll get to that) usually doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Acting talent can trump indifferent writing. An example is Meryl Streep in just about anything. And okay, some independent films are all improvisation (and, one of my favorite current television series, “Parenthood,” [NBC! Renew!!] has as a trademark an improvised feel to a number of its two-person scenes), but all three of my impactful films display every sign of very, very careful writing.

For Lincoln, Tony Kushner, an award-winning playwright and screenwriter started with the cited historic material, and created a simply wonderful drama. Mark Boal wrote the screenplay for Zero Dark Thirty. It’s quite apparent that he has an insight into our wars of the ‘Naughts, as he won two Academy awards (writing and producing) for a previous project with Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker, the searing exploits of a squad of explosives disposal technician-soldiers in Iraq. For Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell adapted Matthew Quick’s novel (no, I didn’t read it), and I read an interview with Russell where he emotionally disclosed a kinship with the story due to having a troubled child of his own. It shows.

Acting

Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, Hal Holbrook: all wonderful actors. For Lincoln, they stepped up their game. Great writing requires great acting to bring it out, and they all did phenomenal work. Daniel Day Lewis, especially, channeled the 16th president in a way I had never before seen. Too often a caricature, Abe Lincoln (impossibly tall, black beard, stovepipe hat – hey, he’s on the five-dollar bill for heaven’s sake!), he was fully alive here, thinking, scheming, hurting, parenting, winning. Similarly well known to posterity, Mary Todd Lincoln has been too often portrayed as maddening, and mad. Sally Field humanized her tremendously effectively. Jones intelligently portrayed furious abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens in a most moving way. Just breathtaking acting, on everyone’s part.

Zero Dark Thirty has a standout performance by Academy Award nominee Jessica Chastain as obsessive analyst Maya, and an excellent supporting ensemble, including a personal favorite, Jason Clarke, as a CIA operative neck-deep in waterboard torture.

Silver Linings Playbook! The acting here was superlative to the extent that, it bears repeating that all four principal actors have been nominated in their respective categories, a first in a zillion years. But I must call out Bradley Cooper, who absolutely floored us.

The photogenic Mr. Cooper, best known previously for his light and deft Rom-Com roles (and, for me, for the ill-fated Will Tippin in “Alias” all of those years ago), deeply inhabits Pat Solitano in an uncanny way. And, I know bipolar disorder.

Our terrific younger son has wrestled with this illness since long before it was finally diagnosed. With (finally!) a decent medical professional on the case and the right medication in the right dosage, he has clawed his way back to feeling better and back on the road toward his life’s ambition.

The first twenty minutes or so of Silver Linings had my wife and I looking at each other: “What are we doing here? We go to the movies to escape! This is too real.” Bradley Cooper’s demeanor and his overall look (he’s only a few years older than our son) took our collective breath away. His haggard face, and oh, my God, that stare! That was our son, during the depths of his pain and paranoia. Cooper just nailed it. Astonishing!

As noted above, David O. Russell, the film’s director and screenplay adapter, has a troubled young son himself, a fact that undoubtedly informed his interest in, his approach to the story, and his direction of Bradley Cooper. But, Cooper’s work here is an acting tour de force wherever it came from, and most deserving of its recognition by pretty nearly everyone. And I’m here to say, you have absolutely no idea how close to the bone he struck.

See these films!

Rarely in my experience have any movies been so entirely compelling. To have had this experience three times in a two month span is as remarkable as it was refreshing to the spirit. They are each very different, covering cataclysmic events 150 years ago, the harrowing 10 years following 9/11, and what might have been just the other day in Philadelphia, but each did so with a depth of detail, naked emotional honesty and an utter mastery of storytelling. After all, the combined weight of all three propelled me into writing this essay about movies, a subject I’ve never tackled before.

If you haven’t yet done so, make it a point to see Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty. See them in a darkened theatre, advice I don’t often give, much less take, any more. They will more than reward your investment in tickets, parking, refreshments, time and attention.


 


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