Tuesday, April 29, 2014


While wandering in the mountains I ran across this strange ceramic stone structure. There wasn't anyone around so I wandered around the building for a while. There were a sign that described something called a "Kamaburo"  It turns out Kamaburo translates to "turtle bath" it's design resembles a sauna, though It's not clear to me where the people would go when this was in use. Upon further research I found out that I had stumbled upon the oldest Kamaburo in Japan constructed in 672AD. I'm pretty sure if this was anywhere else in the world it would be heavily guarded.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

At your own risk.

While public safety is huge in the more populated areas of Japan. Out in the mountains, things get a bit more interesting. Getting a drivers license in Japan sounds like a real pain and I think I can imagine why. I don't know how, but Japan has considerably fewer traffic accidents per 1000 cars than the US.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Crumbling Past

I've been taking photography trips with a friend of mine up into the mountains north of Kyoto. While most people are interested in seeing the flashy tourist sites scattered throughout Japan, especially Kyoto, I've been getting a lot more enjoyment out of exploring the remote communities that grew up hundreds of years ago in the tiny river valleys between mountain ranges. I say these locations are remote, but thanks to the Japanese rail system you can get to surprisingly remote areas by riding on progressively older train lines.
These areas are indicative of cultural shifts in Japanese society. These areas are almost entirely home to the elderly. Most young people have likely moved into the city. There are numerous structures that look like they've fallen into disrepair in the last 10 years or so. I would guess that most of these buildings were built or maintained by WWII generation and as they slowly die off, the things they built or maintained start to decay. Despite their appearance, the buildings aren't usually abandoned. Many families in the city own property in the countryside that they inherited from their elders.
I found this shed especially interesting. It's slowly falling off of the roadside, but is being held back by several elastic cables attached to the ground.

I've heard that old properties like these are extremely cheap as most Japanese people aren't interested in them. There are also superstitions surrounding houses in which people have died. Foreigners interested in a traditional Japanese home may be able to pick one up for next to nothing. If people find out you're living in such a home though, the may avoid you because of the supposed bad luck you have incurred. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Because Why Not

You may wonder why there would be basketball hoops with Norwegian and German flags painted on them next to an ostensibly abandoned house in rural Kyoto. I say why not. If you wander around for a while you learn that Japan is full of untold stories.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Sakura Everything

Sakura (Cherry Blossom) season is just about over now, but McDonalds continues to sell sakura themed foods such as the sakura burger and the sakura float. I haven't tried one, but they seem to be quite popular. This is probably the most stark example of how multinational fast food companies specialize their menu to suit local tastes.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Impossible to escape the past

While I was walking through an area of Hirakata I hadn't yet explored, I happened upon this tiny traditional farm nestled between some public utility infrastructure and a large Danchi (government subsidized apartment complex). There were no gates in the tall fence so the land could only be accessed from the side where I was standing. Maybe this plot was once part of a large group of family farms and is the only one that hasn't been sold to developers.
In front of the plot are two discarded Japanese-style bathtubs. It seems like whenever there is a piece of land where junk is kept there are always at least a few old bathtubs. I suppose they're rather versatile.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Doors to nowhere

Every once in a while I stumble upon a Japanese house with an inexplicable door above ground level. I'm not sure if this is a symbol of dreams never realized or an aesthetic choice, but it's not an isolated phenomenon.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Coffee of the future

Even in my densely packed suburb of Osaka there are areas that have fallen into disuse and disrepair. This vending machine was setup next to a small cafe that has probably been vacant for a long time. The products on display in the machine have become faded and rusty.
I have never seen another Pokka machine in Japan, but it appears they are still in business. According to wikipedia, in 1973 Pokka invented the hot and cold coffee vending machine paving the way for canned coffee to become wildly popular throughout Japan.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

In case of Ninjas?

The side streets of Japan are full of architectural curiosities like this tiny door with a concrete bridge to the street. While I'm sure this serves a plebeian purpose, I would like to imagine it is a secret escape passage in case of Ninjas.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

View from the train

From the train like I take fairly often it is possible to see Osaka castle in the distance. Even at night the castle can be seen as it is strongly illuminated. Though I have ridden this train many times, it still catches me off guard seeing such a supremely traditional building amidst an otherwise thoroughly modern city.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Controlled Entry

When it comes to publicly accessible roads in Japan, instead of using signage to indicate what sort of vehicles are allowed, quite often an array of devices are used to physically block various kinds of traffic. For walking paths, winding metal structures stop bike traffic. Pictured above is a device that lets bikes through while blocking motorized 2-wheeled traffic. There are also structures that block cars while allowing scooters and motorcycles through.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

What it means to be a van

In Japan there are very few minivans as we are used to them in the US. Most vans are larger like the Toyota Vellfire and many families use wagons like the Honda Odyssey. One model that sticks out though is the Mitsubishi Delica. The body is shaped like a traditional minivan, but very often they are sold with modified suspension and tires for off-roading. I suppose that since SUVs are quite rare in Japan, something like this is an attractive option for those who like to drive in the mountains.

Friday, April 4, 2014

In Bloom

Though I can't seem to find the post, I believe I have talked about these decorative cabbage things before. Because it never gets below freezing in Osaka it is possible to have plants outside all year long. At some point in the fall I started seeing what appeared to be decorative cabbages outside many people's homes. They stayed outside all through the winter and now that it is becoming springtime, these cabbages appear to be blooming into a new, less cabbage-like form. Speaking of spring, it appears that Osaka really has a spring season where the weather is warm but not unbearable. This is much preferable to the climate in my home state where it is usually either way too cold or too hot.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Osaka in the morning

After spending the night at an internet cafe, I was awake at 5am in downtown Osaka. This is before the first train starts running, so only locals are walking around. I walked to Nipponbashi, the Otaku center of Osaka. Streets that are usually packed with people were completely deserted.

On some streets there were groups of people camping out for something. I didn't bother to ask what they were waiting for. Eventually I stumbled upon a parking lot full of cars covered in anime characters. There were some guys hanging out at the entrance to the parking lot, but again I didn't bother to ask them what they were doing. Around 7am I returned to my dorm in Hirakata. Later I found out that there was a huge Otaku street party going on that day and I ended up missing it. This just goes to show that it always pays to take a second and talk to Japanese people when I have the chance.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Overnight in an Internet Cafe

The night life in Japan is greatly affected by the fact that most of the train lines stop around midnight. Many bars and clubs that you would expect would be open all night close around this time as most patrons have to leave to catch the last train. Until recently I had never been in downtown Osaka past 11:30 or so. I was meeting with a friend who happened to be coming through Osaka and I decided that I didn't want to cut my night short as this was a rare opportunity to see my friend. After I stayed past the last train, a Japanese friend who was also with us suggested that we spend the night at an internet cafe.
My Japanese friend took me to one such cafe that he frequents. We arrived at around 1am. While the cafe isn't explicitly made for sleeping, it's open 24 hours a day, and at night you can get a special deal, 6 hours in a long cubicle with a padded floor for $17.50. The cubicles are a foot or so off the ground and you take your shoes off before entering. If you stand up you can see over into the cubicle next to you which is rather strange, but in general the atmosphere is very peaceful.

Each floor had a wide selection of manga and magazines to read and had free-to-use soda, coffee, and slushie machines. I made sure to take advantage of this opportunity as this was the only slushie machine I have seen in Japan.

Each cubicle comes with a computer and a second monitor that acts as a television. Both the computer and the TV are filled with porn services. Though I wanted to read some manga and try out a lot of the free drinks, I was actually quite tired and decided to get to bed around 2. The booth was clearly designed to fit an average sized Japanese person. I found that by positioning myself diagonally in the boot I was just barely able to rest comfortably.
Overall I probably didn't get my money's worth, but it was interesting staying the night in Osaka. I'm not sure if I intend to do it again, but it was an experience.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Tradition around every corner

Walking through older neighborhoods I often find that just about every building has a traditional Japanese tiled roof. Even this simple shed has such a roof complete with numerous decorative elements also seen on the elaborate shrines that dot these neighborhoods. Despite their complexity, sheds and other small buildings like this are extremely common in Japan. While people are likely interested in preserving such excellent examples of traditionally architecture, many have fallen into states of disrepair as there are simply too many to reasonably maintain.