Travel – Japan

March 15, 2011 – Japan Retrospective – Events and People

Today I’ll wrap up the review of my trip to Japan, but not my thoughts for the country.

The trip was sponsored by the Iowa Department of Economic Development.  Here at an official function our group is introduced.

Patty Judge in Japan

The head of the delegation was former Iowa Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge. Here, Patty seems just a little unsure about the different seating arrangement at a restaurant.  The woven mats on the floor are for sitting on, and there is a recessed compartment in the floor for your legs to dangle down.  You can see some of the place settings on the table.

Always toasts to friendship and success before every meal.

In order to do business in Japan, it takes much more cultivation of personal relationships than in the U.S.  Typically, before getting an order in the food business, you’d get introduced on one trip, exchange some *preliminary* thoughts on products and prices.  If all was well after that, you could expect a trip by your Japanese counterpart to the U.S. to meet with you again and tour the farms/facilities the food would be coming from.  Then, there’d be another visit to Japan to make final arrangements.  During this trip I was representing an organic meat company that lasted about five years before high feed prices doomed the products.

Tokyo Street

Navigating Tokyo was unlike most cities I’ve been in.  Addresses are not on a logical grid of any type.  Unlike western address that go from most specific to least specific (address first, state last) Japanese addresses are the opposite.  In a way, that part makes more logical sense.

An address begins the the prefecture (state), city, ward, district, block, building, and street number.  Only the last three are typically numbers.  To make things more confusing, the blocks although numeric, are not in any order, so block 15 may be adjacent to block 76.  Nor are blocks of a standardized size.  Then buildings are also in a block, but not in numerical order, followed by address.  Even though our guide had lived in Tokyo his whole life, he frequently stopped to ask shopkeepers more specific directions as we arrived closer to our destination.

Finally we’ll end with a gentleman from Nippon Organic Agriculture Products.  Fortunately for us, even though it was just after lunch, he was proud to share a bottle of organic sake with us during our meeting.

one year ago…”Checking the Beehive”

March 14, 2011 – Japan Retrospective – Kyoto

The Japan tribute continues today with a visit to Kyoto.

One thing that usually strikes me outside of the US is the age of the rest of the civilized world. The Heian Shrine is a baby in terms of Japanese history, built in 1895, to commemorate the 1,100th year anniversary of Kyoto.

Heian Shrine

The grounds inside this Shinto shrine were beautiful.

I love the look of supreme confidence, beauty, and protection this new mother gives to the world.


Kinkaku-ji (also known as the Temple of the Golden Pavilion) is a Zen Buddist temple in Kyoto as well. This temple dates back to the 1300s. The Kinkaku-ji grounds were built to mimic the descriptions of the western paradise of the Buddha, intending to illustrate a harmony between heaven and earth.

nijo castle grounds

Here is a view on the grounds of the Nijo Castle, home of the Tokugawa Shoguns. It was built in 1601, and contains concentric circles of moats and embankments.

zen garden

Ry?an-ji (The Temple of the Dragon at Peace) is a Zen temple and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The most famous element of this temple is the ‘Zen garden’ which dates to the 1400s. The garden consists of raked gravel and fifteen moss-covered boulders, which are placed so that, when looking at the garden from any angle (other than from above) only fourteen of the boulders are visible at one time. It is traditionally said that only through attaining enlightenment would one be able to view the fifteenth boulder.

one year ago…”Maple Syruping Season Begins”

March 13, 2011 – Japan Retrospective – Tokyo

Today, the Japanese retrospective continues.  I continue to be deeply saddened by the horrors the people there have experienced.  It is impossible to imagine the collective agony of all the people washed away or crushed.

There’s so little we can do so far away, so I’ll continue my impressions of the beauty and wonder of Japan.

Mount Fuji from Tokyo ANA Hotel

Tokyo is a big town!  About 35 million people call this home and it was named most livable megapolis in the world.  Here’s a view of Mount Fuji in the distance from out my hotel window.

Tokyo Rooftop Garden

There’s more green space than you might imagine – sometimes in unusual places – like this rooftop garden visible from the hotel.

Tokyo Side Stret

And some of the side streets in the city are very beautiful.

Ginza District

This is the Ginza District, known as one of the highest-end shopping districts in the world.

Moat of Imperial Palace

The moat around the Imperial Palace.  It is the home of the Emperor and is generally off-limits to the public. During the height of the Japanese housing bubble in the 1980’s the UK Telegraph reported that the grounds and property were worth more than all the property in California.


This is the entrance to the Senso-ji Shrine.

one year ago…”Tree Pruning”

March 12, 2011 – Japan Retrospective – Food

With the horrific photos and stories coming out of Japan in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami, I thought this might be a good time to take a few days out of the blog to reflect on the goodness of Japanese culture and the beauty of the country.  A few years ago, I was part of an agricultural trade delegation with the State of Iowa to Japan.  We visited Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto.  Today’s entry will be devoted to food!

Norman Makino

The gentleman on the right is Norman Makino, who lives in Tokyo, but works for the Iowa Department of Economic Development.  Norman is the point man for Iowa-Japan relations in Japan.  He helped arrange and guide our tour. I was grateful to hear his voice over the phone on a news broadcast the day after the disaster.

Fugu Tank

I’ll start with something I didn’t eat the “river pig” or Fugu.  This is the one of the most legendary Japanese dishes, as if it improperly prepared, it can kill you with a poison.  The preparation in Japan is tightly regulated and chefs who prepare it are highly trained. It has been part of Japanese culture for 2300 years.  Here’s a poem from the time of the American Revolution:

I cannot see her tonight.
I have to give her up
So I will eat fugu.

– Yosa Buson

Here’s the first course of a more formal Japanese lunch.  I was not prepared for the great quantity of pickled food that appeared on my plates during the ten days.

Here’s the 2nd course of a more formal lunch.  It’s got the aesthetic you might expect from an Eastern chef, with the placement and arrangement of the meat, onions, and peas.  I particularly am drawn to the split pea pod with peas missing.

bento van

The bento van is a fast food version of a Japanese lunch.


Here’s my bento, pretty traditional in that it contains rice, breaded shrimp, meat, pickled vegetables, lemon, and grated vegetable – I’d be much up for this than a Happy Meal!

One of the more exotic and more recent additions to the Japanese diet is this extremely well-marbled beef known as Wagyu.  This beef is so fat, it cooks up like bacon.  Here, it is in a grill built into the center of a table in a Korean barbecue restaurant.

beer vending

Finally, we’ll end with a beverage photo.  This is a vending machine for beer on a sidewalk in Tokyo.  How long do you think one of these would last on a US sidewalk?  And do you think it would only be patronized by customers over the age of 21!

one year ago…”Third Ewe Drops Triplets”