Floating Torii of Miyajima


Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, Kevin for scale of the floating torii's base at low tide WM

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, Jody seated at the shrine dock's edge (floating Torii) WMStanding at the base of perhaps the most iconic torii in all of Asia, it’s easy to feel the divine dimension which seems to emanate from each and every wooden fiber. The Great Torii (Otorii) of Itsukushima, a Shinto Shrine on the island of Miyajima, like all torii (see Trampled Torii for more), marks the boundary of sacred ground, a physical reminder of the split between the spirit and the human worlds. It also remains as the ceremonial shrine entrance for souls of the departed and the still living alike.

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, Torii Gate through a boardwalk holga WM

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, self-portrait at O-Torii GateThe first Otorii at this location was erected in 1168, a little more than 200 meters offshore. Since then, the gate has continually served the larger shrine, although the one we see today dates to a reconstruction of 1875, itself the eight Otorii in the shrine’s long history. Eight rebuilds are not too shabby for 950 years of sitting in the ocean exposed to the elements!

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, flirting with the floating Torii WM

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, peaceful day on the waterfront WM

Miyajima 2015, Mount Misen, view of the Floating Torii from the rail up the mountain 2 WMThe Otorii is about 55 feet in height, about 80 feet in length at the arch, and weighs a whopping 60 tons. The main pillars are natural camphor, approximately 500 to 600 years old, a tree type known to be resistant to rot and insects. The smaller supporting pillars are natural cedar. The arch has a roof made of cypress bark thatching. Architecturally, today’s design dates back to 1547, and consists of four smaller torii supporting the larger in the style of medieval Ryōbu Shintō (“dual Shinto”), a mix of esoteric Buddhist and Shinto religions.

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, Jody and the floating torii 2

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, solitary view of the floating torii 2 WMArguably, the best time to view the Otorii is during high tide, although one must consider lighting as well. When the waters are high, the gate can appear to float dramatically on or over the sea. At dusk the arch can sometimes be beautifully contrasted against the golden skies of the setting sun and distant mountain ranges. During low tide, the waters recede enough to make a relatively dry trek to the Otorii’s base. While the pictures may not be as beautiful, seeing the gate up close and personal is something to behold. The structure is truly a massive one!

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, solitary floating torii WM

Shot in the Rain

Shot in the Rain

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, large brass chinese latern at dock's edge WMCruises around Otorii can be hired at the Miyajima ferry terminal at night when the gate is illuminated by powerful lights along the shore. And, if you’re lucky enough to catch a high tide, the boat will even pass under and through the gate!

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, Jody with the floating torii in the rain

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, Jody seated at the shrine dock's edge (floating Torii) WMThe structure itself is not sunk or otherwise secured below the seabed, but stands in place strictly under its own substantial weight. Even though, the Great Torii seems all but impervious to the best that Mother Nature can throw at it: it has survived, with little or no damage, storms, typhoons, and even earthquakes.

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, night torii in the rain WM

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, arched Torii WMMiyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, floating tour gate WM

How is this possible? As an engineer, I found this design rather intriguing…if not unlikely. But if you think back 950 years, the technology and tools necessary to build an under-ocean foundation just didn’t exist. Rather, the architect’s strategy focuses on weight that creates pressure, and on wooden joints that offset any potentially destructive forces encountered by absorbing vibration and small displacements of the gate’s various components.

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, Selfie in the Rain at O-Torii Grand Torii Gate

Self-Timer, Tripod Portrait, Shot in the Rain!

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, floating torii WMThe Gate stands on two main and four minor pillars, where the smaller supports act to buttress the larger, giving the structure stability in two dimensions. Its weight acts in the third. Although the pillars themselves are the bases of truly massive trees, another seven tons of weight is added topside by filling the boxed structure below the upper arch with a slew of fist-sized stones that ensure the upper structure stays firmly in place. Then the entire structure is held together by wooden wedges, which absorb motion without unbalancing or otherwise damaging the Torii.

View from the base of Mount Misen

View from the base of Mount Misen

 

Miayjima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, glowing floating torii at night WM

The vermilion color of Shinto Shrines and torii across Japan is believed to help ward off malevolent specters. The lacquer which carries the color also offers some protection from rot and decay, since most torii remain constructed of wood. The sun and the moon are painted on the east and the west (respectively) of the Otorii roof, as implored by Feng Shui in an effort to help further block demons.

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, tidal boardwalks WM

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, chinese lantern and floating torii WMThe theatrical Otorii of Itsukushima Shrine and Miyajima island is one of Japan’s most popular tourist attractions for good reason, and is no doubt the most recognizable and celebrated feature for most any visitor. As one of three officially designated most scenic views in all of Japan, it is one not to be missed!

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, torii gate to the shrine WM

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, shooting the floating Torii WM

For more information on the Otorii and Miyajima Island, please see:

http://visit-miyajima-japan.com/en/culture-and-heritage/spiritual-heritage-temples-shrines/le-torii-flottant.html

Day trips from Hiroshima are easily accomplished. Direct two-way ferry service operates between Miyajima and Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park.

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, floating Torii through the shrine WM

As You Like: Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima


 

Okonomiyaki are really more like really thin pancakes….

“Nagata-ya,” said the tiny female valet as she tapped a map she was marking for us. We were checking into the ANA Crowne Plaza in Hiroshima and were asking about where to get the savory Japanese pancake for which that prefecture is so famous. This woman, all 5’2” high and 42 kilos strong, then proceeded to drag all four of our bags to our room…without using a luggage cart. We could barely handle two of our overstuffed, overweight and oversized American suitcases.

Hiroshima 2015, Okonomiyaki, delicious concoction! WM

Hiroshima 2015, Okonomiyaki, uses for related utensilsOur appetites, however, were no match for the oversized okonomiyaki (お好み焼き, pronounced “Oh-kono-me-ya-key”) served through Hiroshima. Often called a Japanese pancake, they are really more a crepe. In any case, the thinness of the dough simply serves as the foundation for oh so much more. “Okonomi” in Japanese means “as you like,” referring to the many permutations of ingredients from which a diner can choose to pile onto their grilled (“yaki”) goodness. The delicacy is most popular in Kansai (Osaka, Kyoto) or Hiroshima areas of Japan, but can be found throughout, including in Okinawa. The biggest regional differences are in the toppings and batter used, along with how they are arranged during cooking.

Hiroshima 2015, Okonomiyaki, Nagata-Ya Hiroshima Style WM

Hiroshima 2015, Okonomiyaki, ideas on how to eatWe had passed Nagata-ya the day before happily by accident, and decided to stop by on Saturday after enjoying Hiroshima’s peace park and museum. There was no line late Friday afternoon, but when we returned on Saturday about 3pm, there was a line stretching down the street in front of the store. We decided to stick it out, and ended up waiting probably about 20 minutes. The staff however, like in most of Japan, were amazingly and happily efficient, taking orders outside on electronic keypads, which were then transmitted wirelessly directly back to the kitchen. By the time we sat down at the grill-side counter, our okonomiyaki creation had already been started.

Hiroshima 2015, Okonomiyaki, menu WM

Okonomiyaki became very popular during WWII when rice was in very short supply. Due to the lack of other ingredients, a simpler version was made with more readily available fixings. Suffering harsh wartime conditions, the freshly grilled and hot wheat pancake was nutritious, filling, and inexpensive, all at the same time.

The Line at Nagata-ya's

The Line at Nagata-ya’s

Hiroshima 2015, Peace Memorial Park, Jody night portrait with the A-DomeOsaka-style okonomiyaki mixes all the constituent ingredients, including shredded cabbage, egg, green onion and usually some type of protein, into the batter before grilling. The okonomiyaki in Hiroshima uses very similar elements, the biggest differences being that they are layered on top of the grilled batter rather than mixed within, and include a layer of noodles (soba or udon), and are often topped with a fried egg.

Hiroshima 2015, Okonomiyaki, grilled deliciousness WM

I am a huge fan of udon (my favorite soup in the whole wide world), so we elected for this starchy layer over soba. Looking up and down the grill, however, showed that we seemed to have made a faux pas of sorts: our order was the only one involving the pasta-like noodles. Seriously though, I think okonomiyaki would be better with soba. Nagata-ya offers a “jumbo” coke, and for once, Japan finally served an American-worthy sized soda!

Yes, ours is the only one with udon....

Yes, ours is the only one with udon….

What results is a meal about the size of a dinner plate, and the thickness of the deepest dish pizza you can imagine. It was impossible for me and Jody to imagine eating one each, so we ordered one to share, a move that seemed to surprise our waitress to some extent.

Hiroshima 2015, Okonomiyaki, busy line chefs 2 WM

Part of the rather unique flavor of this Japanese culinary specialty comes from okonomi sauce that is brushed on during grilling. This glaze is best described as one part steak sauce, two parts BBQ, and one part tonkatsu sauce. Eating the okonomiyaki I was unsure that I really liked the sauce, and now weeks later, I still remain undecided. Although peculiar, it certainly didn’t stop me from devouring my portion of the savory pancake!

Hiroshima 2015, Okonomiyaki, cooked to order WM

In Okinawa, okonomiyaki is called hirayachi (ヒラヤーチー) and is much simpler, using less components than those described above from other areas of Japan. However, Okinawans enjoy this dish mostly at home and cooked at home, so there are very few okonomiyaki restaurants in Okinawa. We have found one (and only one) since our trip to Hiroshima, but haven’t found a way or place to partake of the Ryukyuan version.

Hiroshima 2015, Okonomiyaki, hungry Jody WM

Yes, Japan is known for sushi, sashimi and even Kobe beef. But Okonomiyaki too is a uniquely, if much less known distinctive Japanese dish, and should be included as part of any culinary adventure to this corner of the Far East. Seek it out, whether you find yourself in Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto. But in Hiroshima, seek out Nagata-ya’s. You and your oversized American appetite will not be disappointed.  But more importantly, you won’t be afraid to admit how much you really love these really thin pancakes!

Cutting into our very own fresh Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki

Cutting into our very own fresh Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki

 

For More Information:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Okonomiyaki

http://japanesefood.about.com/od/holidaytraditionalfood/r/hirookonomiyaki.htm

http://nagataya-okonomi.com/en/shop.html

Pop Life Circus


Okinawa POP Circus 2015, Jody welcome to POP Circus

“Pop life, Everybody needs a thrill

Pop life We all got a space 2 fill

Pop life Everybody can’t be on top

But life it ain’t real funky Unless it’s got that pop” ~ Prince, Pop Life song lyrics

 “Every country gets the circus it deserves. Spain gets bullfights. Italy gets the Catholic Church. America gets Hollywood.” ~ Erica Jong

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And Okinawa gets PoP Circus’ “World Circus Festival”, a performance under the Big Top with lends an air of mystique and excitement for kids of all ages.  Established in 1996, PoP Circus – the “Pursuit of Pleasure” – consists of over 30 performers making up various acts, and is eagerly received in Okinawa as an innovative and extravagant performance.

Okinawa POP Circus 2015, world circus festival WM

While PoP Circus is marketed as a spectacular to amaze and thrill, it will appear initially as nothing more than a low-scale, poor quality knockoff of the much more well-known and praise-worthy Cirque du Soleil. It occurs in, however, a much smaller venue, one that creates an intimacy between spectator and performer under the not easily missed illuminated purple Big Top. While it may lack the powerful live music, overdone intrigue and gaudy costumes, there is at least no obscure French storyline to try and decipher….

Okinawa POP Circus 2015, Jody at PoP circus big-top

16513_705775022868557_3321045115409053877_nOkinawa POP Circus 2015, snack banners bilingual WMSome of the starring attractions include a pair of romantic aerial ballet dancers who circle the audience while performing acrobatics suspended by flowing ribbon anchored to Big Top’s overhead. Two Chinese Acrobats perform an incredibly breathtaking feat of balance, strength and contortion in a display of stamina and grace that is hard to beat and which rivals any of the type I’ve ever seen.

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Really, the Confederate Battleflag?!?

Really, the Confederate Battleflag?!?

Of course a circus wouldn’t be a circus without a spastic collection of bungling clowns. While the festival’s are billed as comically entertaining, I still find clowns – the whole idea – creepy at best. Kids, however, seems to always approve through their joyous laughter and smiling faces. And the Japanese, as innocent as they are, expressed loud approval to the clowning around.

No, Clown, you can't have my cotton candy....

No, Clown, you can’t have my cotton candy….

10690090_1050498828300807_4268954099007393626_n11017874_709183169194409_8864077044129416114_nYes there is a dog show starring lots of dogs large and small, and while it may be somewhat predictable, it’s fast pace of tricks one after another make it a surety as a crowd-pleaser.  A young flying trapeze troop from Australia, the Flying Aces, performs almost 40 feet overhead, and a group of Russians pretending to be Celtic (go figure) perform on a set of swings that we never had on the playground as kid!.

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Okinawa POP Circus 2015, souvenir book WMOkinawa POP Circus 2015, circus souvenirsMaking a prolonged stop in Okinawa every two or three years, they are now performing at Onoyama Park in Naha City. But don’t wait too much longer; they are only here through the 6th of April! The World Circus Festival is running its 2-hour show daily except Wednesdays, with weekday shows at 1320 and 1900, Saturday shows at 1030, 1320, and 1900, while Sunday shows are at 1030, 1320, and 1600. The Circus tent is located at the eastern corner of Onoyama park in Naha (). Beware there is very limited parking available at the park and surrounding vicinity, but a convenient monorail stop is located adjacent to the park.

Lots of Yummy Goodies!

Lots of Yummy Goodies!

Okinawa POP Circus 2015, show costs and timesOkinawa POP Circus 2015, welcome to Pop Circus WMAdvance tickets for adults are ¥2,500 (¥2,800 at the gate), while tickets for kids age three through junior high school are ¥1,200 (¥1,500 at the gate).  Special Boxes for up to 4 are available for extra fees of ¥5,000 and ¥4,000, depending on exactly how close to the stage you want to be seated.  Reserved bleacher seats with center views are an additional ¥800, the option we elected since the cheap seats’ views are pretty badly blocked by various Big Top support structures. The official website is www.pop-circus.co.jp/ and offers minimal information in English. If you want a sneak-peak of the performances, check out their Facebook page (in Japanese).

See you there!

See you there!

What Does the Fox Say: Kyoto’s Fushimi-Inari Shrine


What does the fox say? It says it all – silently – at the Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shinto Shrine, one of the most impressive visits one could make in all of Kyoto.

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14060715578_2141ddd704_bFoxes (kitsune), regarded as messengers of Inari, play important roles at Inari shrines. Like the song that went viral, there are hundreds of stone foxes scattered and hidden across the Fushimi Inari complex. Often they are depicted holding a granary key in their mouths, visual symbolism reflecting Inari as the protector of rice and cereals, a role so revered in ancient Japan that foxes are often referred to themselves as Inari.

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With endless expanses of crimson-colored wooden torii (See Trampled Torii for more on those iconic contours of the Far East) layered amongst a wooded and peaceful mountain spared from the city’s urban sprawl, the massive religious complex offers an escape to a spiritual world unto its own.

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14328992688_f96798e4a7_bJF4_029682Yes, it’s a Shinto Shrine. But this place is oh so much more. Ancient. Mysterious. Moving. Immense. Describing it as “just another shrine” would be like saying that the Vatican is just another church…. What Fushimi-Inari encompasses is an entire realm of various shrines large and small, nestled amid thousands of torii, all spread across an entire mountain just outside Kyoto proper. For me and Jody, our repeat visits to the shrine – during the day and at night – are some of our more memorable adventures in our flirtations to date anywhere in the Far East. It not only ranks as one of the most impressive sites in Kyoto, but it’s one of the most important to the Japanese people who live there. See Honeymoon’s Atomic Fireworks Saves Kyoto for more on what makes this locality so special.

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Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社) is the lead shrine of Inari. Situated at the base of Inari Mountain, the complex consists of four major religious areas along with dozens and dozens of sub-shrines and alters winding through numerous trails spanning over 2.5 mils and ascending to the mountain’s peak 725 feet above.

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14801914150_8fc1376c87_b 14766524022_1a6a317b62_bInari was initially dedicated to the gods of rice and sake in 8th century Japan. But as the role of agriculture diminished, the Inari deities were repurposed more broadly as protectors of business and commerce. Thus, the guardian spirit or god Inari became the patron of business. Since times distant merchants and manufacturers have traditionally worshipped Inari. This explains, in fact, the shear and almost uncountable number of torii located here, of which over 10,000 are said to be standing. Each has been donated and inscribed by a Japanese business or business person thankful for their prosperity and in the hopes of gaining additional favor with the gods for the future. The resulting long tunnels of torii are some of the most iconic visions in Japan; the torii.

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14056204387_14037f94ec_bThe earliest structures were built in 711 CE, but were re-located in 816 to the present-day site. However, the main shrine structures we see today were all built around the 14-15th centuries, including the main gate (楼門, rōmon, “tower gate”), and the main shrine (御本殿, go-honden). Today the shrine, one of the earliest Shinto Shrines in Japan, is the country’s most popular, most visited, and serves as headquarters for some 40,000 Inari shrines scattered throughout Japan.

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Interspersed along the shrine’s paths, small food stands serve Kitsune Udon (“Fox Udon”), a noodle soup topped with pieces of aburaage (fried tofu), a treat favored by foxes. You can also try Inari sushi, fried tofu wrapped around sweetened rice.

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The hike around the shrines long and crossing paths is impressive to each and every sense. Light plays with the torii tunnels during the day….. But it is in the late afternoon and throughout the night where it takes an eerie and more spiritually moving turn. There in shadows of the descending day, the small graveyards, miniaturized shrines and silent alters take on a mysterious air.

Leaving our own Ema

Leaving our own Ema

14041109430_846d3c1c88_b14041146147_28a3f9dc03_bThe Japanese, being a very superstitious people, hold that the Inari shrines are possessed by foxes at night. While foxes are generally seen has sacred and benign, they also are known to be somewhat mischievous – as foxes are everywhere) – especially at night. Jody and I, just to be safe and in the hopes of avoiding any accidental mammalian-based bewitching, visited together, even though the bitter cold of the night was calling Jody back to our lukewarm Machiya in Kyoto’s Gion District (read Timeless Townhouse for more on our stay at a traditional Geisha home at the turn of the last century). For the record, Jody was a foxy lady even prior to our visit.

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We recommend that, if possible, a visit to the shrine should be timed for the very late afternoon, when the crowds start to fade along with the harsh light of the day. The chance to explore the torii tunnels alone in the tranquil forests is both spiritually moving and all-things romantic. Having these sites and sights to yourselves is simply a magical experience.

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“The secret of the fox, Ancient mystery, Somewhere deep in the woods, I know you’re hiding…My guardian angel….” ~ The Fox – What Does the Fox Say?

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See my Flickr Set “Kyoto” for more photos of our visit to that iconic Japanese city.

Reference

http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/location/spot/shritemp/fushimiinaritaisha.html

http://www.pref.kyoto.jp/visitkyoto/en/theme/sites/shrines/temples/fushimi_inari/

http://www.sacred-destinations.com/japan/kyoto-fushimi-inari

http://www.insidekyoto.com/fushimi-inari-taisha-shrine

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/japan/kansai/kyoto/sights/religious/fushimi-inari-taisha

Water Closet or Bathroom: Restroom Design East & West


“Treasure night soil as if it were gold.” ~ Chinese Proverb highlighting the value – then and now – of our fecal waste….

http://www.discovery.com/video/surprise-toothbrush-minimyth/

Everything way too close in our bathroom by Tupperware.

Everything way too close in our bathroom by Tupperware.

Don't Brush where you Flush

Don’t Brush where you Flush

Every time I brush my teeth here in our Kwuirky Kondo I can’t help but think about just how much night soil matter may be involved. I know some people who suffer diarrhea of the mouth, but in a literal sense?! But it doesn’t have to be this way….

So why do the bathrooms of the East and West differ so dramatically? Why is it that engineering and architecture across cultures can diverge so significantly for the exact same biological processes that all humans share? Not to be “anal” about the subject, but “bearing down” the origins of modern design helps to “shower” us with more than a few reasons.

For most of recorded history people around the world got their water from springs, rivers or wells, which self-limited consumption to what could be carried. Since it was so hard to get and transport, water was treated much more as a scarce and valuable resource than it is today. Solid waste was kept in cesspits to be emptied by “night soil men” who would then sell it as fertilizer or otherwise dispose of the unwanted byproduct. Liquid waste from the home was sometimes thrown into the road, to which the French exclamation “gardyloo” (garde à l’eau), or “mind the water!” warning would alert passersby.

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In the West the Romans really kicked off our modern approach to toilets with massive civil engineering projects a few thousand years ago. The idea of Turkish and Asian baths placed the Middle and Far East on a much different trajectory. But it was a cholera epidemic in London in the mid-1800s that really brought the modern Western bathroom to bear. Realizing that excrement mixed with drinking water generally equaled death, the march was on to pump clean and safe water directly into homes. Pipes carrying clean water under pressure became the standard in the west, but with some rather unforeseen consequences.

Although the idea of a flush toilet had been around for many centuries, it was the convenient and 24/7 water supply that led to its explosion as the primary means of personal waste removal. People rushed to install handy flush toilets, and the demand and nature of the resulting necessary architectural engineering lead down a narrow path of thought.

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Initially the architects and homeowners of the late 19th century simply replaced bedroom washstands with sinks and taps, and had to “find” somewhere to place the toilet. Since they were literally often placed, in the early days, into closets, the origin of the term “water closet” becomes obvious. However, it was certainly easier and less expensive to run plumbing to one central location, rather than all over the house. Ah, the birth of the modern Western bathroom.

As this idea matured, wood was replaced with porcelain and tile (or other impermeable stone) in a nod to defeating microbes as more and more people realized the danger of germs. But such materials don’t come cheaply, and as the bathroom continued to become more and more mainstream, it necessarily got smaller and smaller in order to contain cost. Oh, and there certainly was no reason to keep the sinks, showers and toilets all in separate spaces; the plumbers instead simply lined all these features up in a row and ended up using much less pipe. By the early 20th century, the bathroom became more or less standardized and commonplace throughout the West, and relatively indistinguishable from the ones in use today.

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But in the East, the emphasis was placed on much different concerns than mere cost and convenience. Rather, the idea of cleanliness became paramount, and ritual and relaxation overruled economies of scale and installation. In short, human wants and needs took precedence over the dictations of plumbers. Oh, and they probably lacked those pesky trade unions that do little else but jack up prices and stretch a 4-hour job over two weeks.

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That's a kitchen counter.  Right next to the toilet!

That’s a kitchen counter. Right next to the toilet!

From an Eastern perspective, it’s hard to find things we Westerners actually got right in our bathrooms. The high toilets that we sit upon are contrary to the medical claim that our bodies were engineered to squat. Squat toilets remain commonplace throughout Asia, much to the chagrin of many a Western tourist. Sinks are generally much too low to facilitate washing, so much so that Jody and I, when we remodeled all three baths in our home in Pensacola, purposely put in kitchen counters to elevate our wash basins. Showers are generally severe fall hazards, especially the ones that require a high step over the edge of a tub. The tiny rooms we build and outfit are often inadequately ventilated, and then we proceed to fill that space with a densely toxic cloud of chemicals ranging from nail polish remover to bleach tile cleaner. When we flush solid waste down the toilet, we also unknowingly swoosh nasty fecal-bathed bacteria into the air, where it unfailingly lands on our toothbrush located just a meter away. And when we take a bath and bathe, we sit mired in our own muck, completely defeating the purpose of the bath to begin with.

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The American/Western shower is a source of incredible waste and inefficiency, even though it may feel amazing when you have the rain can, shower head, and all three body sprayers going at the same time. Thank about it – even when you don’t really need the water, like during lathering with soap or shampoo, the water continues to run constantly. One usually stands on tile or in a tiny restrictive porcelain tub that’s already slick when dry; such a surface can become downright dangerous when wet! When we actually do care about water waste, mostly based on cost as opposed to environmental concerns, we either take short showers, or install those really miserable low-flow shower heads that more spit on you than stream. In the Navy aboard ship we suffer BOTH insults.

Waterproof Bathing Room!

Waterproof Bathing Room!

However, things are different in the Far East. Here the Japanese flirt with their facilities in an ages-old ritual developed with much different aims in mind. The shower/bath is usually contained in a waterproof room. That’s right – WATERPROOF! I mean it is tiled floor to ceiling, and the ceiling itself is water-resistant. Aside from the bath’s drain, there is a drain for the room, the low point of the gently sloping floor. Light fixtures are sealed, and power receptacles have waterproof covers (and of course are grounded). It is a fabulous idea, both for cleaning your body, AND for cleaning the room!

So in the shower area – which is just a big open area of the room – one sits on a stool. A bucket, sponge, ladle and hand shower are available for washing. There is no shower curtain to get nasty with mold and mildew, and the hand shower is only turned on when needed. To shower, one fills the bucket with hot water from the spigot and ladles oneself wet. When done lathering, the ladle or the hand shower is used to rinse. Often to end the shower one simply dumps the remainder of the bucket over one’s head. Besides being a more relaxing experience (sitting versus standing), some claim that it only uses 10% of the water compared to a Western shower. Maybe. Way less in any case.

An original deep-soak tub in a Machiya, Kyoto, Japan

An original deep-soak tub in a Machiya, Kyoto, Japan. It’s set about another foot into the ground.

But that is only half of the story. In that same room is a tub, but one much different from which Westerners are accustomed. Japanese bathtubs (ofuro) are not for cleaning; they are for soaking. In other words, Far Eastern tubs are for cleansing the spirit and mind, and only are used AFTER the body has been cleansed of more tangible dirt as described above. Thus, the tubs are DEEP but short in length. They are designed to be filled fully, and the soaker to sit with their heads back and knees close to their chests. The position is thought to heighten a sense of meditation, or at least relaxation. I can assure you this: I will, after having tried many Asian-sized deep-soak tubs, take depth over length any day! In fact, it makes me want to turn that deep sink back home into a soaking tub. Heck, the room is already almost waterproof as is…if only it had a floor drain.

Even Japanese cats Soak....

Even Japanese cats Soak….

By the way, there is another important difference in Japan’s baths: on-demand, gas-fired water heaters. Yeah, those tubs are deep and hold a LOT of water. But don’t fret. There is literally an unlimited supply of piping hot water in Japan, at least until your gas supply runs out. The water is heated almost instantaneously but only when demanded, and comes to temperature in seconds. A digital control panel allows you to specify the temperature exactly, and there generally are not any annoying anti-scalding devices between you and a 48 degree C bath. In Japan they like their water HOT, and won’t accept anything lukewarm. Yep, the Japanese actually trust you, a grown adult with a vast amount of experience in bathing, with ensuring your own bathing safety. Oh, and since the water remains clean, the water is re-used across the generations often present in a Japanese household.

Toilet Room quite separate and distinct from the bathing area.

Toilet Room quite separate and distinct from the bathing area.

Another aspect of Japanese bathrooms is quite noticeable and makes perfect sense: never, ever do you find the toilet in the same room as the tub and shower. In their minds, this is beyond logic. Why on earth would you do the dirtiest of deeds in the same room where you try to get the cleanest of cleans? Or, to make it cute:  don’t brush where you flush!  Makes you really think about Western bathroom design…. And the American solution of putting a tiny old-tyme W.C. within a larger bathroom? Doesn’t cut it in Japan.

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In many toilet facilities in Japan a separate dedicated pair of slippers are used only in the toilet area. While you may be wearing house slippers or socks while enjoying the home, a necessary switch to toilet slippers is required to use the toilet. These toilet slippers are considered soiled and are never allowed in any part of the home. In hotels with shared facilities or at some tourist attractions, this switching of footwear is a crucial part of bathroom etiquette.

Japan 2014, bathrooms, rocket-surgery electronic toilet control panel

Finally, even though you might be in a Japanese-style dwelling, it’s quite possible that a more Western style bathroom is provided. But even then, Japan’s toilets are high-tech, a fascinating aspect of the Far East to which I’ve already dedicated a blog: see Moaning Myrtle and Bowel Movements. In summary, a control panel like you might find on the Starship Enterprise offers various options, including music, bidet wash, hot-air blow dryer, seat warmer and other sound and olfactory systems designed to mask the smells and noises of a particularly troublesome session of #2.

The deep-soak tub we installed after remodeling our master bathroom.

The deep-soak tub we installed after remodeling our master bathroom.

While we may not be able to import many of these aspects to our already built home back in the states, we will take with us perhaps the most radical, revolutionary change in bathroom engineering of the ages: heated toilet seats! Whether or not you agree with any of the differences thus discussed, there’s not one of you out there that’s going to turn their nose up at a nice, warm, padded throne.

Our non-slip sizeable shower.  We even have a teak stool in the hidden corner!

Our non-slip sizeable shower. We even have a teak stool in the hidden corner!

And if we ever have a home-built, Jody and I will refuse to be mere “stool” pigeons in accepting some run-of-the-mill bathroom design. No, instead we will “bear down” and “strain” ourselves in perfecting our water closet’s design, reworking the plans until we’re “cramping” from fatigue. We’ll reach deep into the “bowels” of our minds to remember these aspects of design, and “flush” them onto paper, preferably a little more durable than TP. And once finished, we will bask, bath, and yes – even defecate in the full glory of our water-centric facilities.

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And thanks to the blending of the best of East meets West, our toothbrushes will, for the most part, remain night soil-free. Can you say that about yours?!?

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Food Fit for a Scoundrel: Genghis Khan


Okinawa Eats: Genghis Khan

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11811345295_6d6c9a0b60_bAmbiance: Long-standing local Mom & Pop establishment, decorated in what can only be described as the Japanese-spin on a half senile American Grandma….

Service: Self-service buffet where you select ingredients that are cooked fresh to order.  The line at the griddles can get quite long at the prime dinner hours, especially on weekends and around military paydays.

Food Quality: Above-average.

Features:  Spacious and eclectic local eatery with easily reconfigurable, family style seating

Cuisine: Mongolian BBQ consisting of frozen meats but fresh vegetables.

Price/Value: Above Average.

Like you Grandma's attic, with food.

Like you Grandma’s attic, with food.

Khan.  What a glutton.

Khan. What a glutton.

Although you may not have the fathered as many sons as Genghis Khan and your Y chromosome may not live on in around 0.5% of the male global population, you can still certainly dine as he did almost as often.

11811730864_e00e2df623_bGenghis Khan is located conveniently a few blocks from our condo, and although we could walk there, we choose to drive because the journey back home would be just too hard on a bloated belly after enjoying the deadly sin of gluttony for at least the previous sixty minutes. The Mom and Pop joint, a not-so-small hole-in-the-wall that’s been around for almost forty years now, is just minutes from Kadena AFB Gate 1.  And the food is just plain yummy:  freshly cooked, served steaming hot, which seems to expand to fill and form-fit your belly, this style of Mongolian BBQ is true comfort food, and a great way to end a long day of adventure on Okinawa.

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Eclectic Americana...for sure.

Eclectic Americana…for sure.

11812080046_f0b833598d_b11811752804_75c29f36c9_bWalking in it seems like you just might be walking into an old antique shop or possibly your overly patriotic grandmother’s house; if you like American flag hand-crocheted quilts, this place is for you! Hungry patrons are greeted at the door and directed to a table (usually of your choice), where you decide if you would like rice or bread to go with your soon-to-be consumed feast.  Then, you simply get up, grab a bowl – imprinted with Japanese and American flags – and fill it with all the meat (chicken, beef, pork and lamb) and up to ten kinds of veggies to your Mongol heart’s content.  Soba noodles are available, along with a plethora of toppings and seasonings, including a Genghis Khan original sauce, soy, olive oil, teriyaki and even sake!  For first-timers, there’s a guide posted in English about recommended spices, which is a great point of departure to start this culinary adventure.  You’ll soon be experimenting and will certainly come up with your own perfect concoction.  A cook then chops the raw ingredients and grills them under your watchful eye.  On slow nights, the owner may even assist you with what he considers best sauce combo.

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11811320325_36664d0237_bThis buffet-style restaurant is perfect for the hungry Mongol in your life that you can’t seem to keep full. They are, however, only open for dinner.  And an insider’s hint:  be careful on payday weekends as the place is often hoppin’ full of Americans!

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11811743484_c73f7cfa85_bA large establishment for Okinawa, Genghis Khan can seat up to 80. In my past times living on Okinawa, because of this high-capacity, we’ve held command Hail & Farewells here to great effect.  The purse-friendly ~1,800 yen buffet style all-you-can-eat Mongolian barbecue includes free refills of a full array of soft drinks, and also comes with rice or bread.

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And really, don’t worry about fathering all those kids. With a royally stuffed belly, you’ll only have eyes for not the bedroom, but just the bed.

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Hours: Dinner only, Sunday 4:00-10:00pm, Monday – Saturday 5:30-10:30pm

Payment: Cash only, but both Dollars and Yen acceptable

Address: 304-4 Sunabe, Chatan-Cho

Google Maps Coordinates: 26.3314702592, 127.749729032; www.google.com/maps?q=26.3315201,127.7496643&z=15&hl=en&source=embed

Directions from Kadena Gate 1: Take a left onto Hwy 58 and then a quick right at the first light (Family Mart).  Then take a right at the first street, where you will see a sign for a medical clinic in Japanese pictured with a blue person and a pink person with a heart in between.  There is actually quite a bit of street parking just past the restaurant.