Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Just Another Mishap Abroad

Check out my latest published Matador article about bewilderment and culture shock in Okinawa:


Friday, June 25, 2010

Americans Come in All Shapes...

I love America's diversity. And I don't just mean Mexicans, Chinese, Irish, Africans, and Vietnamese amid many many immigrant nationalities. I mean, I appreciate how Americans are comfortable just being whoever they are. 

Let me explain.

I recently visited the States- Los Angeles, specifically. When I travel home from abroad, I like to pay attention to my first thoughts being home again. Yes, I'm jet-lagged, dehydrated, smelly, and spacey, but this is also the time I'm most sensitive to America's distinctiveness. If you immerse me for a few more hours, the novelty soon wears off and I don't even notice really interesting anthropological details anymore.

So, what better time and place to witness America's self-expression than fresh out of customs at the baggage claim at LAX? 

Here's a sampling:
a group of body builder women
creatively tattooed and pierced people, one of whom had those earrings that stretch the earlobes way out in a creepy way
women with short short shorts
blended race families
really tall people 
people with ridiculously large suitcases
lots of hugging and loud conversations

Okay, writing this now, I realize there's nothing inherently "American" about the scene. I could probably find the same in any major world capital, but coming from Japan, it absolutely struck me as special and American.
Another thing I realized at LAX is that Americans like chitchat. A lot. Chitchat with strangers. Maybe because in Japan, I'm language impaired, I don't notice spontaneous encounters around me so much. 
But in those few short moments at the baggage claim, three different people engaged me in some kind of casual talk. My favorite was a lady who told me all about her 3 year daughter's teeth-brushing habits.
Coming from abroad, what do you first notice about Americans when you enter the States?  

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Most Confusedly Magical Place on Earth

At the risk of sounding devoid of an inner child, I just don't get Disney. 

What's more, I don't get Disney abroad, like in Tokyo where I snapped these pictures a few weeks back when I led a tour there.

I mean, I like Disney movies. I have my favorite characters just like everyone else. I even enjoy the rides- It's a Small World and the Spinning Tea Cups being my favorites, ethnic stereotypes and motion sickness aside. But beyond that, what's the grand appeal? What's worth standing in massively long lines and shelling out money for left and right? Why would an adult want to spend so much time in a place where 75% of the people are under 5 years old? What is it about those plasticky Mickey Mouse pancake flippers which makes people actually buy them?
'This might seem contradictory as my last post gushed about the Alice in Wonderland Izakaya, but you gotta admit there was an element of Las Vegas drag to that place. And I sheepishly admit that given a choice between Disney and Vegas, I'd choose Sin City with all its fakery and glitz any day. 

I suppose that because I consider myself a marginal Disney consumer, I'm confused by the over the top hardcore ones. Like this woman below. She's decked out head to toe in Chipmunk motif. Look! Look at her socks!
What makes Tokyo Disney even more bizarre is this strange trend. At first, I thought people were simply sitting down and waiting for one of those traveling shows. But then I observed a disturbing familiar pattern.

Many people (like chipmunk woman above) consciously pack up and bring INTO the park all their previously bought merchandise from home- stuffed animals, bags, hats, t-shirts, and yes, even socks. I saw one man in a wheelchair wearing a vest covered with pinned-on stuffed animals, like a swarm of killer Mickeys and Minnies. Then, they plop themselves down on blankets and build a little shrine from all their stuff. They sit there contentedly with all their Disney memorabilia and show it off. I'm a bigger fan than you are!

So readers, maybe you can help fill me in. What's Disney's appeal? Are you a Disney fanatic, willing to brave hoards of people and buy $10 corn dogs? Do you obsess on certain characters? What's the longest you've ever waited to ride Space Mountain?

*One cool detail about Tokyo Disney I have to admit was all the popcorn. They sell regular salted, caramel, cheese, strawberry, and milk tea flavors... now I can certainly appreciate that.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Falling Down the Rabbit Hole

I am a huge fan of themed dining and nightspots. Cheesy they may be, what's not to like about entering a world of costumes and imagination? (And Japanese do it so well) You may remember the Ninja restaurant adventure we experienced last summer, which was so fun and memorable. 

On my latest trip to Tokyo, having just seen the Tim Burton version of the classic tale, I found an Alice in Wonderland themed Izakaya. 

An Izakaya is sort of the Japanese version of a pub. They serve alcohol and boast a wide array of yummy appetizer style food. People sit talking and eating for hours. Strangely, Sean and I can never figure out how to pace ourselves in these restaurants. We usually eat everything at once and then we're done after 20 minutes. We observed locals, however, and the trick is to order one appetizer at a time, talk, eat, and then order another. No need to rush, except that the habit seems to be ingrained in our American sense of urgency.
Stepping out of the elevator, you are greeted by a Japanese Alice standing in front of a wall adorned like a page of a book.
Amazingly, the wall actually opens up like an invisible hand turning the pages of a book and you walk down a long corridor of pages filled with passages from the story. 
The path meanders and finally, you enter the main dining room, which is filled with all sorts of fun details. You can't see it in this photo, but inside are funky lamps made out of cool hats, mirrored walls, and a giant teacup in the center where big groups can sit. 
The menu is delivered in the form of this miniature diarama, designed to make you feel like a giant. The sides of the box hold papers that slip in and out describing the food and drinks.
The food items are really clever, representing some feature from the story. I ordered a few things, including a salad with an edible mirror perched on top of it and a cheshire cat meat pie. Of course, every thing comes with a little note in the shape of a key that reads, EAT ME!
Why thank you, I will...
 Prosciutto and Avocado Salad
Minced Beef and Camembert Puff Pastry
Prices were a bit expensive and you are required to buy at least one drink. This is Tokyo after all. But like many places around the world, you pay for the ambiance, right?
The restaurant is aptly named "Alice" and it's located in Toyko in a high-rise in Ginza. 

Some of Japan's other themed restaurants include a 1950's school house, a Christian church (I guess Christianity is still somewhat of a novelty here), and a prison. 

I'm not sure that I'll be checking out any of these others, but here's a question for you readers:

What themed restaurant would you invent?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

What Not To Do in Okinawa

Hi all!

Please check out my latest published Matador Travel article "What Not To Do in Okinawa"


Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Headed to California soon for a summer adventure!

Highlights will include:

A friend's June wedding
My favorite meal ever, a plate of chilaquiles and Caliente Bloody Mary
A search for Donald Draper in San Diego (more will be revealed later)
A stay with our fun Hollywood loving uncle in Los Angeles

Back in a few weeks!


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