Landmark Tower

I don’t think I’ve mentioned Landmark Tower on this blog before, although I see a glimpse of it almost everyday from our balcony. As the name suggests, it’s an icon of Yokohama and a key feature of the skyline.

According to the Wikipedia entry, the tower is 296.3 m (972 ft) high, which makes it the second tallest building in Japan after Abeno Harukas in Osaka. Tokyo Skytree and Tokyo Tower are both also taller, but technically they’re antennae rather than “buildings”.

On rainy days in Yokohama, the top of the tower disappears into the clouds.

Quoting Wikipedia again, “The building contains a five-star hotel which occupies floors 49-70, with 603 rooms in total. The lower 48 floors contain shops, restaurants, clinics, and offices.” And, “on the 69th floor there is an observatory, Sky Garden, from which one can see a 360-degree view of the city, and on clear days Mount Fuji.

The elevator to the observatory is one of the fastest in the world, reaching the 69th floor in 40 seconds going 750 meters per minute.  Yes, it makes your ears feel funny. I always feel sorry for the young women staff who have to operate the elevators, packing them with people and going up and down a million times a day. At any rate, I’ve gone up a couple of times and enjoyed the amazing views, for example:

More shots of the tower:

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Random izakaya

This is very random, but I quite liked the decor at an izakaya in Tokyo that we visited a while back.

(Izakaya = Japanese pub, usually with an extensive food menu as well as alcohol.)

We entered the izakaya in search of dinner fairly early in the evening, but unfortunately there was already a chain smoker ensconced at the bar in the main area. We asked if there was another section, and the server / proprietress rather grudgingly took us to the back room, which I think she hadn’t intend to open yet.

I’m glad she did, because in addition to having to deal with less stink, we got to eat with this delightful samurai-armored figure looking down on us. The walls also had pretty much every other traditional Japanese knick knack, including tanuki (“raccoon dog” is the usual translation) and maneki neko (lucky cat). The banners on the wall are for different brands of Japanese alcohol (nihonshu and shochu).

Cup Noodles Museum

Avant-garde Cup Noodles sculpture, with the noodles pouring onto the ceiling

Over a year ago, a friend and I visited one of Yokohama’s most popular tourist attractions: the Cup Noodles Museum.

The museum is dedicated to Momofuku Ando, the founder of Nissin Foods and inventor of instant ramen. It’s a relatively small and kid-oriented spot, although instant ramen aficionados in particular will also find it fun.

One room displays instant ramen packaging through the ages, from the 1950s to the present. I didn’t take any photos, but there is also a mock-up of Ando’s rustic kitchen where his experiments led to the creation of a viable instant ramen. A large part of the museum is a timeline painted on the wall (with very creative illustrations!) that explains the development of instant ramen and cup noodles. The overarching message or theme of the whole place is to encourage both dedication and creative thinking with the aim of changing the world.

According to the website: “The brilliant imagination and entrepreneurial spirit of Momofuku Ando that transformed the relationship between human beings and the food they eat embodies the kind of creative thinking we need as we go forward. The new CUPNOODLES MUSEUM was conceived and built around the concept of creative thinking.”

The main points of the timeline are in English, but the fuller explanations are in Japanese only. When I visited, I had recently read an article about Ando in my Japanese class, which helped me to translate the main gist for my friend (yay).

 

Aside from the gift shop, which is chock-full of Nissin souvenirs and special-edition instant ramen, the main attraction is the “factory“, a hall where you can “make” your own customized cup noodles. Because of the popularity, you have to reserve a specific entrance time for the hall when you buy an entry ticket, and it seems that they book out pretty quickly.

Once inside the hall, you buy an empty cup noodles cup from a vending machine and then are escorted to an empty spot in the hall by staff whose crowd-control skills are extremely impressive. At the table, you use the markers provided to decorate your cup as you wish.

After that, you take your cup up to the assembly station. The staff pretty much handle the whole process (for obvious reasons), but you get to turn a crank the puts the instant dry noodles into the cup, select the soup flavour (plain, seafood, chili tomato, or curry) and toppings, and then watch as the cup is sealed and shrink wrapped. The last step is to pump air into the plastic storage pouch for your custom cup. You’ll see people wearing these pouches all around the tourist areas of Yokohama, so you can tell who visited that day!

Puffy plastic bag for transporting customized Cup Noodles souvenirs

The hall also has a kitchen area where special events and activities take place, evidently with more actual “cooking.”

Fun times.

Neighbourhood snaps

A section of the old-timey shopping street

Japan, like many countries, has seen a huge increase of big box / chain stores while small, local, family-owned businesses decline. But there are still a lot of unique shops to be found in every city.

We live near a formerly famous shopping street, which still has lots of small specialized shops that somehow stay in business. Many of the shops focus on just one item, like tea, fish, senbei (rice crackers), watches, alcohol, clothes, or vegetables.

There are also quite a few shops that are generally quirky or that just strike my fancy. So I decided to take some pictures to post some here occasionally. To start, this is one of my favourites, a shop called Tip (I think): “Dog and Lady’s Fashion”, with clothes for both women and their pets.

A one-stop shop?

Yosakoi

I took a little trip to Tokyo today to check out the annual Harajuku Omotesando Genki Matsuri Super Yosakoi.

Yosakoi is a type of festival dancing with traditional roots and modern influences. I had seen videos before and little bit in a parade, but I really wanted to see some of the flashy costumes and large-group choreography in person.

Alas, after my hour-long journey, this was the view…

There are several stages and hundreds of teams performing over the two days, but it was too wet for me to see much of it. What I did see was pretty awesome, though. I don’t know how the performers managed in the rain, but they were great.

This is what it would have looked like if I went on a non-rainy day last year:

At the gym

I decided to write this post because I’m sad.  haven’t been feeling well and missed going to the gym two days in a row. Woe is me. Well, at least I can blog about it.

I started doing gym fitness classes about 10 years ago, and when living in Australia, I somehow transformed into one of those people who goes to the gym every day at 6:00 in the morning (well, 8:30 am on weekends). I rode there on my bike, too. I didn’t become a real gym rat who spends hours on the weights every day, but I was there every morning, and thanks to Body Attack three times per week along with other classes, I started to feel moderately athletic for the first time in my life. (I’ve always been active, but not particularly athletic.)

There are many things I miss about Australia, but Body Attack and bike paths are among the most mourned!

Fortunately, however, I have a good gym right nearby our apartment, with all sorts of fitness classes that strike my fancy. There are only a few minor drawbacks:

  1. Chiefly: the gym doesn’t open until 10:00am!! The day is half gone by then!! I’m still an early bird but I have to wait for my workout. And the particular classes that I enjoy aren’t on until the afternoon. There’s a weird gap in classes from about 3:00-7:00pm, and I’m not interested in going later than that, so early afternoon is the only option.
  2. On weekdays, my workout comrades are mainly the 60+ crowd, which is totally fine, but it’s a bit different motivation-wise in comparison with being among the oldest patrons at my previous university gym.
  3. There are big gaps in the schedule between classes, usually 20 minutes to an hour, so if I want to do two classes in a row, I’m in for a long time there.
  4. The pool is soooo crowded.
  5. The gym is on the 6th floor and you can only get there by elevator. (I hate taking an elevator when I could walk, and they’re soooo slow.)

But overall, the trainers are good and there’s a nice variety of classes. Even though there’s nothing as challenging as Body Attack, there’s a similar cardio martial arts-inspired one (alas, only once per week!). Y and I have also started going to a boxing class, which is quite fun, but it’s hard to make it there consistently on Sunday afternoons.

ANYWAY, my point in writing this post was to give a little comparison between my current gym and gyms that I have frequented in Canada, the US, and Australia.

Here’s what the signs outside look like (it’s owned by a pro-wrestler, whose image also appears in various locations inside. Cool.):

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The shoe situation is, of course, quite strict. You take off your shoes to go in the locker room (which has bamboo or maybe synthetic bamboo floors), and there are public baths and a sauna.

Generally, Japanese people (especially women) tend not to go outside in workout clothes, so most people change when they arrive, and then back again when they leave.

Shoes that you’ve worn outside definitely CANNOT be worn in the gym. Obviously, this makes the whole experience much cleaner—all gyms should have this rule! People also take off their shoes when using the mats for stretching on the gym floor.

A related point is that the studio floors are swept after every class, and sometimes during the classes as well if it’s particularly humid. Every instructor sweeps and tidies up after the classes, and I even see them cleaning the fans sometimes. Gasp! This is a stark contrast to my, shall we say, gritty Australian experience.

The instructors’ behaviour is probably more formal than other places. They announce their classes and give a little summary over the PA 15 minutes beforehand, and begin the classes precisely at the appointed time (never early, never late). They also end right on time and then rush to the door to say goodbye to everyone individually as they leave.

As in other services and businesses, there are more staff than I would expect to see in other countries. There are a lot of staff whose main role seems to be welcoming people and hanging up signs. There’s nothing wrong with this, but I certainly notice it. (Perhaps the subject of another blog post.) I feel very welcome with the multiple greetings at the entrance and on the gym floor!

This being Japan, there are TONS of ‘please do x’ and ‘please do not do x’ signs all around the gym. I’ve treated you to one below that has pictures. Most of the others are just text, with the most crucial bits in red font (and many of them are 50% red font.)

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Otherwise, I can’t think of anything remarkably different. The equipment is the pretty much the same, except for a hilarious machine that is like riding a mechanical bull, which I haven’t seen elsewhere. (Too bad that I can’t take a video!) The types of classes are similar and the music is probably roughly the same, too.

So that’s a little summary of my home away from home. I’m developing a good vocabulary in words and phrases like: extend, raise, lower, front, back, repeat, 16 more times!

Shinkansen: zoom

One of the best ways to travel—out of all the world’s ways of traveling—is by Shinkansen, the famous Japanese high-speed train. High-speed, meaning that it runs at speeds of up to 240–320 km/h (150–200 mph).

I was lucky enough to take two Shinkansen trips this month. If it wasn’t so pricey (for example, $100 for a one way journey of about 300 km), I’d be on it all the time! The video below shows a bit of my quick journey through Aichi Prefecture.

Travel by Shinkansen is vastly more civilised than by air. Although it’s imperative to be on time (the train is precise to the minute and does not wait), you don’t have to show up two or three hours early for security checks and the leg room is massive compared to economy class on a plane. The ride is super-smooth, and you can buy snacks and wonderful box lunches (bento) on the platform, or just wait for the food trolley to come by during the journey.

My tip for first time riders is that you should get up early and wait by the door a couple of minutes before the train arrives at your station. Most stops are only a couple of minutes, and if you don’t get off quickly, you’ll be whisked away hundreds of kilometers before the next stop.

Another tip: if you are a Shinkansen (or general train) fan, visit the SCMaglev and Railway Park, run by Central Japan Railway Company, in Nagoya.