"" Writer's Wanderings

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Tokyo Tower

The Tokyo Tower is a landmark in the district of Minato, Tokyo. The red and white tower resembles the Eiffel Tower in its structure. It is a communications and observation tower and of course a tourist attraction in the area. Built in 1958, the main source of revenue is tourism and antenna leasing. Like all things built for technology, it was affected by advancement in digital TV. At a little over 1,000 feet tall is a bit too short for complete digital broadcasting but still acts as an antenna for other broadcasting venues.

Beneath the tower is a four story building that houses museums, shops, restaurants and of course provides a ride to the top for those wishing a bird's eye view of the area. We ate at the food court and watched an attendant who fascinated kids and adults alike with his sound effects as he entertained and engaged those around him.

Since our family had already been up to the top and Bob and I weren't really interested in looking at the city from the heights, we opted to visit the aquarium that is there. I'm glad we did. The kids were fascinated and so were we.

The aquarium houses lots of unusual fish, many I've never seen before and quite a few I've never seen in an aquarium display. There was a small touch display with a dozen starfish in it and next to that was a tank of what looked like black and gold mollies. The kids were given nets made of paper and the object was to catch as many fish as you could with the net before it dissolved. It was a lesson in patience. The more you chased a fish the faster your net would fall apart. The one who patiently waited for opportunity and gently pulled the fish up with her net caught the most.

Tanks with huge catfish, eels, decorative fish, porcupine fish, turtles, shrimp, seahorses, the list goes on. About 2:30 a feeding time began with two attendants going to various tanks and feeding the fish. There was a lot of explanation--in Japanese, of course, that Bob and I didn't understand but it was fun to watch. Our youngest granddaughter was quite interested and thankfully she speaks Japanese and could understand what they were saying.

And of course there was a koi pond and food pellets to feed them with. All in all for the price, it was a great time.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Japanese Cicadas

Our son and grandkids met us at the Haneda Airport when we arrived in Tokyo after a thirteen and a half hour flight from Toronto. I was glad to see them. We had been awake for most of the flight since it was during the day and didn't feel alert enough to manage finding their new address. All the way to the apartment, we kept hearing about all the "bugs". I was beginning to wonder until we got out of the Uber van our son had arranged and heard the noise. It was cicadas.

We had our seventeen year cicadas back home in Ohio this past June/July and they were plenty noisy. Their Japanese counterparts were just as vocal. The cicada season in Japan is July to September. I'm guessing that we are now in the peak of the season in August. And apparently it happens every year here.

As we walked to the Tokyo Tower we had to stop every so often because as all little boys do--and some girls too, they had to pick up the cicadas they found and examine them as well as the shells that looked like large beetles that they emerge from. 

The Japanese cicada is a little different looking than ours back home. Their eyes are not a bright red and they appear to be a bid stodgier than ours. They can still sing quite a song as they spend their week of life attracting a mate. It does cover up some of the traffic noise of a big city. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Languages - Learning The Basics

While English is probably one of the most difficult languages to learn (although I think Japanese and Chinese are right up there with it) it is also one of the most universally spoken languages especially in popular tourist areas. This was most evident when we visited Paris. The closer we were to the areas where most tourists are found, the more people spoke English to us.

Some people enjoy practicing their English with you. Others are more timid. But I've always seen a face light up (possibly in a moment of amusement) as you try to say something in their language. I believe it is appreciated though especially with those "magical words" that Mom taught you: Please and thank you.

A search online will help you to find a translator that will phonetically give you the words that translate the "magic" into the language of the country you are planning to visit. Add good morning or good day and of course cost or price if you plan to shop and you can charm your way through your trip.

And of course there's an app. Lots of apps actually. Some you can speak into and have it translated. Others you can use to take a picture of a sign and it will translate it. And still others where you can type in what you want to say. Apps are okay but I still think you will make more friends with your own attempt to remember how to say good morning no matter how much you may mangle the pronunciation. You can be that foreigner who brings fond memories to the local you encounter and a chuckle for what you tried to say.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Dumpster Diving--There's An App For That?

The title piqued my interest: 10 Shameless Ways To Eat For Free. Bob's philosophy is that nothing in life is free. Sure you get a "free" breakfast at some hotel chains and B&Bs but let's be realistic. The cost of breakfast is part of your room rate.

We've even stayed in some hotels that offer an afternoon happy hour with a free drink and appetizers or a sampling of a local restaurant's offerings. The Hampton Inn in Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island in Florida offers a "Chef's Taste" with a sampling from a different restaurant each night.

The article on SmarterTravel started out with something I'd never heard of before--freegan. Basically it involves dumpster diving outside a restaurant or grocery store. Sure. That's what I want to do. Get my meal from a dumpster. Apparently there are those other than the homeless or down-on-their-luck who do. There's even supposed to be an app for it. I looked in the app store for it (Leftover Swap) but couldn't find it.

Since dumpster diving could get you into some trouble--the dumpster is technically private property and you could be accused of stealing, there is an alternative: foraging. And yes, there's an app for that and I found it. It's called Wild Edibles Forage. Lots of pictures and description and location. Anyone remember Euell Gibbons? He knew all the edible parts of a pine tree. This app was created by "Wildman" Steve Brill, a naturalist, environmental educator and author who gained notoriety in 1986 when he got arrested in New York City for eating a dandelion in Central Park. So I guess even foraging can get you in trouble. I'll stick with the "free" breakfast, happy hour, and a good dinner in a restaurant.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Oh Look! There's a Tourist!

A couple of weeks ago we started thinking about what to pack for our Tokyo trip. We don't start the actual packing for any trip until, at most, two days before we leave. But this trip is a little different. We are planning a climb of Mount Fuji. That means some different items like hiking boots, walking stick, rain gear, warm clothes for the higher altitude, etc. Knowing that the temperatures are going to be very warm and humid in Tokyo we need to pack accordingly. So, Bob turns to me and asks, "Should I pack my shorts?"

My husband lives in shorts when the weather is warm--even slightly warm.

My answer, "No!"

We are going to a big city. It's Japan where customs and traditions are a bit different. We already stick out as foreigners despite our clothing choices. No need to be offensive.

So many times as visitors in a country tourists are easily spotted even if their physical appearance may not be so different. Part of it is in the clothes we choose to wear but a lot of it can actually be in the way we act. SmarterTravel has a great article on how to stick out like a tourist.

One of my pet peeves is mentioned in the article: Standing in the middle of the sidewalk with a guide book or map out to check where you are going. It forces people to walk around you and in a crowded city or town will not gain you any friends if you are blocking their path to work or school or whatever their destination. Use your smartphone. You'll blend in with most everyone. Get an app or a map on your phone. You can always do a screen shot of the map and then you don't have to worry about wearing down the battery with the GPS.

While I'm on pet peeves, the other is talking loudly. When did the volume on our voices go up so loud? Was it with the introduction of loud music and ear buds? There are not too many places in the world where a loud foreign voice will not stand out and identify you as a tourist. I remember being in a restaurant in London once where everyone was quietly enjoying breakfast when a very loud American complained about the version of an American breakfast he got. "Darlin' that ain't no American breakfast!" and then he went on loudly to explain just how it should be. Bob and I just looked at each other enjoyed our English breakfast and tried not to look like we were in any way connected to him.

We will be taking light weight long pants and light shirts to wear in the city--all with at least short sleeves. While Japan does often copy our western styles our aim is to fit in not stand out quite so much. And we will try to soften our tone when we speak out in public. Where are you going to travel this year? Have you checked out the local customs to try to blend in rather than stick out and hear someone exclaim, "Oh look! There's a tourist!"?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

What Do You Do With 13 1/2 Hours In The Air?

In order to visit our son and his family in Tokyo we will endure a long flight of thirteen and a half hours from Toronto to Tokyo. That's after a short flight to Toronto from Cleveland. When I tell people how long the flight is I usually get an eye roll or a tongue clicking or a shake of the head or all three. No one enjoys a long plane flight--except me, sometimes.

I don't mind if we have a little room to spread out in economy or can afford the upgrade to business class with travel miles or that rare, rare instance where we get upgraded to first class. For this flight we booked an aisle and a window seat with one between us. As time nears, the middle seat is still empty. We can only hope.

So what do I look forward to doing on that long puddle jump? A really good book, a little writing and maybe a movie or two. Some planes have games on their video screens but a lot of them are using WiFi to connect with your own personal electronics and link to their entertainment systems. There are even outlets below the seats in some planes to charge your device.

Of course a nap would be nice too but it's a daytime flight that leaves in the early morning on Friday and arrives late afternoon on Saturday, crossing the International Dateline. Did I mention jet lag? Going over to Tokyo won't be bad but coming back is always harder with the jet lag. We leave Tokyo spend fourteen hours in the air and arrive an hour later on the same day. Confused? You gotta love that International Dateline.

Flexing ankles and knees and walking the aisle once or twice will keep circulation going. I was also told once by a doctor that taking a couple of aspirin as you start a long flight will also help. Often the airline will give you a toiletries bag with socks, a sleep mask and toothpaste and brush. In this day of charging for everything, I don't count on freebies and take my own. It is refreshing to brush your teeth toward the end of your flight.

Well with my computer, my ebook and my iPhone, I should be able to entertain myself. And if I get too bored, I can always reach across the empty middle seat and startle Bob awake. That's good for a chuckle or two.

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