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Friday, March 31, 2017

PaGA 2017: Day 5B On the Matter of Donald Trump and My Accident with a Toto Washlet

I should warn you that tomorrow is April 1, or April Fool's Day, in much of this world.  Watch out for those idiotic stories and jokes.  If you're wondering if this second posting today is in the spirit of an April Fool's Eve precursor...well...today is April 1 in Japan.

Something Hillary Clinton would have loved to say, but was awkward enough to merely mis-state the fact, it occurred to me that there are mostly two kinds of Americans:
  • Those who hate / fear / (use your own pejorative) President Trump.
  • Others who have significant character flaws such that they can justify actually supporting him.
If any of you out there somehow feels insulted, do yourself a life-changing favor.  Look inwardly, realize your blunder / confusion / lapse/ (or something similar), and begin to redeem yourself.  For the sake of the country, Humanity and Planet Earth, it is not too late.

On this note, I took a photo of the Toto Washlet in my JR Kyushu hotel:


Would you be able to use this device faced with these options, which you can't understand?  This reminds me of a time long, long ago...say three decades, when I found myself in a conference with Toyota officials in Nagoya.  I excused myself to use the bathroom and was essentially faced with this same enigma.  I don't understand Japanese.

I pressed the wrong button and water shot up to the ceiling and down on me.  If I had the brilliance to slam down the cover, the damage would not have been so embarrassing.  After drying myself off as best as I could, I re-entered the meeting room, expecting the group of black-suited and tied officials to at least react in some way.  Not a semblance of a smirk.  Toto (a company not related to Toyota) was experimenting with their washlet in those days and, apparently, many foreign visitors experienced this same accident.

Tomorrow:  Nagasaki Peace Park and my tonkatsu lunch.

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PaGA 2017: Day 5A Hiroshima to Nagasaki

A good day to review things.  First, last month 60,004 visited this blog site.  That's about 2,000/day.  The highest ever.  Second, I can have a modest breakfast:  Minestrone soup, croissant, slice of bread, cappuccino and orange juice.


I plan to have a major bento on the way to Nagasaki.

At 4.69%, Stanford University is the most difficult to gain acceptance in the USA.  However, the front page of The Japan News today indicated that only 40 of 1042 applicants were accepted into the Takarazuka Music School.  That's 3.8%.  By the way, The Japan News is the former Yomiuri Shimbun, and, while The Japan Times teams with The New York Times, the former links with The Los Angeles Times.  These are the English language daily papers in Japan.

However, there is always the more elite in life:

  • An internship at NBC has a 4.6% selection rate.
  • Want to work for hedge fund Citadel?  You got a 3% chance.
  • Hunter College Elementary School only selects 25 girls and 25 boys from an applicant list of 2500, so they're down at 2%.
  • Want to get a Green Card to stay in the USA?  The odds at 2%.
  • Minerva Schools receive 16,000 applicants for 306 places, or 1.9%.  They stay at 7 resident houses throughout the world during their four years of college.
  • Want to protect President Trump?  Our Secret Service accepts 1% of applicants.
  • Care to attend the Indian Institute of Management?  Around 174,000 annually apply, and the acceptance rate is just below 1%.
  • NASA's class of 2017 selected 15 future astronauts from 8.300 applicants = 0.8%.
  • Say you wish to get a job at Google.  Your chances are 0.4%.  By the way, Google operates this blog site.

I caught the Sakura from Hiroshima to Shin-Tosu and had a nice bento.  The sake came from the Hiroshima Sheraton and the Premium Yamazaki soda from the Tokyo Westin.

One of the problems about transferring from the Bullet Train to a local is that you sometimes need to wait outdoors where the wind and cold can be uncomfortable.  It was freezing today.

Yesterday was actually getting warming with few clouds.  Today, it was raining all day. But all went well and I arrived in Nagasaki to be greeted by a dragon.

Two minutes from the train gate was the JR Kyushu Hotel.  Here is the view from the elevator close to my room.  I think this track is right under my room.

I thought I would be paying $150/night, for two nights, but I showed my Japan Rail Pass, and they said the price would be $150 total.  I might add that all the hotels I've stayed in thus far have the upgraded Japanese toilets (that give you two kinds of showers), an array of amenities in the bathroom and internet that is faster than at home.  The TV sets also have higher definition.

There is a shopping mall adjacent to my hotel with a large market.  I thought I'd have an international meal in my room:


American chicken, Belgian beer and Japanese wine.  This whole meal cost less than $15.  I bought this beer mainly because Heineken was cheaper than Asahi or Kirin.  I thought some food items were also reasonable.  For example:


I'm here in Nagasaki for two main reasons:  their peace park and tonkatsu.  This rather large tonkatsu (pork cutlet) bento only costs $2.66 (112 Yen to the dollar today).  Quite a fancy package of sushi only for $7:


Plastic bags are free if small, but less than 2 cents for middle and large sizes:


Tomorrow, the peace park and my special tonkatsu lunch.

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Thursday, March 30, 2017

PaGA 2017: Day 4+ Hiroshima

It was a pleasant Shinkansen ride from Tokyo to Hiroshima in succeeding Green Cars.  I had a seafood lunch with a special sake and a beer I've never heard of, but, as I will be staying in that city a few days from now, Karuizawa, thought I'd try it:


It was cloudy and I couldn't see Mount Fuji, but here is a snow mountain between Nagoya and Kyoto:


I'm staying in the Sheraton Hiroshima, the ONLY Starwood property located at a Shinkansen station. It's six years old, and quickly becoming one of my favorites.  The Club Lounge is better than Tokyo Westin's, and the dinner buffet at Bridges was at half price:


That white dish at the top is a truffles risotto.  I had a second course of Maldivian curry with some local beef stew.  Excellent.

I've had some good memories of Hiroshima and here are some highlights:
Hiroshima, with a population of 1.2 million, has about as many people as Hawaii.  As best as I can tell, there are no special radiation ailments today.  It was on 6 August 1945 that the first nuclear weapon, Little Boy, was detonated over this city.  Up to half the population died and 70% of the buildings were destroyed.

Hiroshima is known for okonomiyaki, an egg pancake of cabbage, bean sprouts, pork and just about anything else, depending on your creativity.  The main difference from the Osaka style, it is said, is that 3.5 times more cabbage is used in Hiroshima, and, thus, is healthier.

Honolulu is a sister city, and so is Montreal.  A good fraction of Japanese in Hawaii trace their roots to Hiroshima, including Pearl.  Me?  My father's father, Kenjiro (my middle name is Kenji, so I was named after him) is from Utashinai, Hokkaido, which is north of Sapporo.  One of the intriguing aspects of my ancestors is that one of Kenjiro's grandmothers might have been a female samurai.

Some interesting things about Hiroshima:
  • Headquarters of Mazda, which stands for Matsuda.
  • In addition to okonomiyaki (right), people here tend to send you to oyster restaurants.
  • It is famous for manju (dough covering sweet bean paste) and anko (sponge cake)
  • Everyone goes to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, for the city is known as the peace capital of the world.
  • Also, Miyajima (right), the Shrine Island, is a must.  A Japan Rail Pass allows your free ferry passage.
  • Shukkei-en Garden, once the home of Emperor Meiji, will be 400 years old in 2020.  I was told that the Peace Park has no cherry blossoms, but this Garden blooms earlier, so maybe.
  • They have a zoo.

Here, day 4, and I have yet to see a cherry blossom.  Supposedly, Tokyo reported a bloom on March 21.  That was a false alarm.  Then, the 25th.  Nope.  Hiroshima?  Nothing.  So I caught the Red Bus, which is free for Japan Rail Passers:



Otherwise, each ride costs around $2.  First, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, where I actually saw my first Sakura:


But this was at the base of a tree.  Otherwise, no Cherry Blossoms at this park.  It was on 6 August 1945 that Little Boy was dropped over Hiroshima:


From utter devastation to a clarion call for Lovf and Peace:


You'd think I wouldn't have an appetite after all that, but the Sheraton had made a reservation for me at Teppanyaki Mimitei.  It was either Hiroshima Okonomiyake, an egg pancake for which this city is famous, or, for ten times more, Hiroshima wagyu beef.  After a 12-minute walk, I saw:


Their beef apparently has won some awards.  It started with cuttlefish and beer:


Then the meal:


They serve the rice, tsukemono and miso soup at the end:


Orange sherbert and green tea:


I've come to a conclusion that ALL Japanese wagyu beef is exceptional and worthy of your consideration, even if it costs ten times more.  Everything about this lunch today was terrific, except that I was so supersaturated, I could hardly walk.

Caught the Red Bus to a Japanese Garden called Shukkeien.  I've been to Hiroshima a dozen times, but never here.  This could well turn out to be the most memorable stop of this entire trip.  

The garden was constructed in 1620, but was destroyed in 1945 by that atomic bomb.  It is just about a long walking distance from Hiroshima Station, where the Sheraton is located, but I caught the free Red Bus.

The Cherry Blossoms were beginning to bloom, and the colors were particularly startling:


There were, of course, other flowers:


You need to cross bridges (what you see below is maybe a sixth of the actual length) to walk around, and none of them had any railing, which was spooky for me.  Here, some kimono-clad girls enchanted with a pigeon:


As satisfying as it was to finally see Sakura in bloom, the koi here were incredibly stunning, and I think some were a yard long, and really fat.  There is no black koi here.  My Blue Bar led me to a lot of gold koi:


There were turtles and unusual koi color combinations;


It is here, on a Wednesday, that I tossed a cap of Pearl's Ashes into the lake, and that Bluish Black and White Koi ate it.  I now have links to two kois in Japan, the other at Matsumoto Castle.  Let me call this new one PA#50a, for I'm not sure exactly what number I'm up to.  While that Gold Koi (right) always comes up to greet me when I go to Matsumoto, this might be the final time I'll ever see this Bluish Black and White Koi, for Takuei Pond is rather large with an infinite array of viewing spots.


Walking back to my hotel room, I noticed in a shop at the train station that a small bottle of White Horse and a small cup of ice cream were about the same price.  White Horse happens to be my favorite "not too expensive" scotch.  That is because it is the primary blend in Lagavulin, my favorite scotch.  For dinner I just went to the Club Lounge and had the following:

See those parallel lights at the station?  I can hit a middle iron and land my golf ball on the Shinkansen.

Tomorrow I'm off to Nagasaki to visit their peace park.  I hope their Sakura will be in bloom.

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