Smart & Cheap Japan Travel

True Grit: My Thoughts on the Japanese Crisis

March 19, 2011
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On March 11th, 2011 Japan’s northeast coast was hit by a devastating earthquake causing damage with a tsunami, fires, nuclear reactor explosions, and blackouts. As rescuers dig up bodies and engineers struggle to prevent a nuclear catastrophe, the official death toll rises to nearly seven thousand people, with even more reported missing and hundreds of thousands remaining homeless. The already sluggish Japanese economy has been hit hard, as public transportation and electricity disruptions continue.

I’m not on an expert on nuclear technology. I am neither a seismological expert nor a specialist in crisis management. I can only attest to one thing based on my personal experience in Japan, and that is to the grit, resilience, and decency of the Japanese people. Many have asked why there has not been any looting in the aftermath of the earthquake, and why desperately hungry people orderly line up for food. It is said that true human nature comes out in extreme situations, breaking loose from the chains of society. Well folks, you are now witnessing true and unique Japanese bio-psychosocial nature, and it is quite different from all us other humans even though we are all one species. I can promise to you that Japan will come out of this crisis stronger, and continue to contribute to the world with their technological ingenuity and their message of humility and respect.

For crisis related information and donations visit:
http://www.google.com/crisisresponse/japanquake2011.html


Exclusive! A Tourist’s Account from Earthquake and Tsunami Stricken Japan

March 12, 2011
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One of my readers whom I helped out planned a trip to Japan has sent me a detailed account of what went on in Tokyo as the earthquake hit. Absolutely fascinating, read below:

“On our way to the studio Ghibli museum we had just left the train and had boarded a bus. We were in the west suburbs of Tokyo. We were idling at the curb and it was shaking badly like the driver was doing something really funny with the clutch, but then it got worse and we realized there was an earthquake happening. We were really bouncing! I looked out and saw the buildings moving. Metal was rippling on the overhead walkways from the train station. People ran out to the streets. It lasted about one or two minutes. We happened to be on a tour with a guide and she said it was the strongest and longest earthquake she has ever felt in Tokyo. But, 5 minutes after the shaking stopped, everyone went on their way and we drove to the museum. We did not see any damage. We entered the museum and then another quake hit and they had us sit down on the floor at first, and. Later they had us evacuate the museum and go out to a park. In the park hundreds of people were out there, and we were given instructions in Japanese about what to do. Fortunately we had a translator who could tell us what was going on. All the cell phones were down for a few hours, but email was still working on the phones. After about 30 minutes in the park with no further quakes, they let us back in the museum. There we were stuck because all the subways and trains were shut down in Tokyo. We heard it was chaos at all the stations packed with people who couldn’t get home. Imagine NYC on 9/11 when everyone stuck in Manhattan had to walk home due to train service out, and multiply that x 2 at least for Tokyo, a city of 8 million.

The rest of the night was a challenge to get back. Initially we stayed at the museum where the Japanese were very hospitable. They served us tea and water and kept us warm. Then our guide got us a taxi. During the hour and a half ride back to our hotel due to severe traffic jams, we saw packed buses and long lines of people waiting for buses. We were heading into town and most people were trying to head out of central Tokyo. Still it was very bad traffic.

When we got to our hotel, it was packed with people stranded from the nearby train station. The taxi line was several hundred people our taxi driver probably had a very long night! The line of people waiting for a taxi to get home was 300-500 people long. Since our hotel is in a more central location, there were lots more people here who normally rely on trains to get them places. The trains move approximately 6 million people every day here. The lobby was packed with stranded people.

As far as electricity i heard reports of outages but didn’t see any outages. However, a large fire in the bay affected the gas lines and caused many cafes to close. After climbing 19 floors to our room because the elevators were closed down, we are safe and have electricity and internet access! Will have to see how this affects our travel plans if the trains stay down we cannot follow our current plans. About 10 pm last night we saw trains going again so at least some of the public transportation is back online. This morning we got rice packets on the doors with a note that the restaurant was closed. The elevators are working this morning.

During the night, we experienced many aftershocks, one of them quite intense at about 4:00 a.m. It feels like first a shaking followed by a rocking feeling since we are on the 19th floor of our hotel. Kind of like being on a boat!

I have been struck by the calmness of everyone during this crisis. The Japanese barely honk horns even in the worst traffic! Everyone was lined up for buses, no mobs of people out of control demanding things, and everyone being so hospitable at the museum and at our hotel we saw they had opened meeting and banquet rooms for the stranded people and set up areas to get tea and water. Our guide took care of us as well.

We don’t have any English language TV channels. All night and still this morning the TV coverage is constantly about the quake and the tsunamis.”


Only in Japan: A Pet Penguin

March 8, 2011
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I think the video speaks for itself..

(Thank you Michael for the link!)


Ramen: The Food that Deserves a Straightforward Blog Post Title

March 5, 2011
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I’ve been talking about so many rice-based Japanese food, that I nearly forgot that Japanese cuisine plays quite nicely with noodles as well. Ramen is an internationally notorious soup dish that contains Chinese-styled wheat noodles. Many Japanese innovations owe much of their fame to China, and Ramen is no exception. Ramen originated from China, and though the source of the name is debated, it is said to come from the Chinese word “la main” that means “hand pulled noodles.” Until the 1950s the dish was known in Japan as “Shina Soba,” meaning “Chinese buckwheat noodles.” (The term is apparently considered derogatory by Chinese.) The pivotal year in Ramen history was 1958, when instant noodles were invented by Momofuku Ando. Instant Ramen just from adding boiling water into a cup. I wish I could think of such things.

Although Ramen usually comes garnished with many toppings such as sliced pork, dried seaweed, green onions, “Kamaboko“, and corn, it’s categorized and judged on quality primarily on the basis of the two fundamental components: soup and noodles. Thus there are several variations of Ramen one can find in Japan. The noodles can come in various lengths and shapes: Thin, thick, curly or straight. Ramen is further divided into the following four categories based on the soup type:

Shoyu
Prepared using plenty of soy sauce. Soup is a thick brown colored broth. Shoyu Ramen is tangy, savory and salty.

Shio
This is one of the oldest versions of Ramen soup, based on salt. It’s considered the simplest and lightest of all the soups, though its variation, “Shio-Butter,” is probably a bit more hearty (and tastier…).

Tonkotsu
Tonkotsu translates literally to “pork bone.” Soup is a cloudy white colored broth. Definitely one of the more heavy soups.

Miso
Miso Ramen is is the newest version of Ramen which was developed in Hokkaido. Its broth features a combination of abundance of Miso with oily chicken. Tonkotsu or lard is added to the soup to make it thicker and slightly sweeter.

Goma
Goma Ramen has a thick and strong-tasting soup based on white sesame seeds. This isn’t one of the more traditional types of Ramen, and cannot be found in any Japanese restaurant, but I strongly urge you to seek it out.

When you get the chance to visit Japan, you can indulge yourself in the world of Ramen by paying a visit to the Ramen Museum in Yokohama, established in 1994. Although, if you were to ask me, I would rather spend my time on a Ramen-tasting quest for Japan’s best Ramen joint.


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    About the Author

    Born in Tokyo. Lived, worked, and traveled in Japan for over a decade combined. Author of the book, "All-You-Can Japan: Getting the Most Bang for Your Yen" - www.allyoucanjapan.com

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