Saturday, June 10, 2006
I was up again at 6 AM, still taking advantage of the morning part of jet lag.
I decided to take a look around the Aiichi Health Center. This is actually more
like an exercise spa and recreation facility that also has a hotel attached. There
is a Japanese spa, swimming pools, weight lifting rooms, baseball field, soccer field,
tennis courts, children's playgrounds, and a rehabilitative medicine center.
The grounds are something like 190 acres, with four planned walking trails, the
longest of which is a little under three miles. It looked like I had plenty of time
before Mr. Tsuzuki was to pick me up for the day's sight seeing, and I wanted to see
as much of the center as possible, so I started out on the long trail. All of the
grounds are manicured and the entire facility looks almost like a botanical garden.
There are sculptures and very nicely designed towers and bridges throughout, and the
children's play areas are well past the level of the welded swing sets and railroad
ties that are common in US parks and playgrounds.
There were quite a few people out on the grounds, walking and getting exercises, and the
grounds seem to be open to the public. There were people of all ages getting their
morning exercise, but it wasn't crowded by any means.
There were even some displays of native plants.
My walk ran a little long, and I ended up rushing the end to get back to my room, pack,
and check out of my room.
Mr. Tsuzuki was a few minutes late, I had a chance to take a couple pictures of the
front of the main building and they appeared to be setting up for a bridal convention
in the front lobby.
When Mr. Tsuzuki arrived, we went to the Gusto international style restaurant for
breakfast. Gusto is one of the more common chain restaurants in Japan like Dennys is
in the US. We ate at these a lot. Again, it seems that international style leans
more toward British than American, with the hotdog like "banger" sausages and other
little details. And their version of a "stack of pancakes" is a little more novelty
and a little less quantity, because the "Pancake Setto" consists of three silver
dollar sized pancakes on a small plate.
Niimi Nankichi Memorial Museum
Our first stop was in Hanada, south of Nagoya, at the
Niimi Nankichi Memorial Museum.
Niimi Nankichi was the most famous children's and fairy tale writer in Japan, with a
status something like Dr. Seus and the Brothers Grimm are in America and the English
speaking world. His most famous work is a story called "Gon The Little Fox", a fox who
plays tricks on people. A few days after playing a trick on a farmer and freeing the
eels the farmer had caught for his family's meal, the little fox sees the funeral
procession for the farmer's mother. The fox feels guilty and begins steeling from the
other villagers and giving what he has stolen to the farmer. The other villagers
believe that the farmer is stealing from them, and beats him up. The little fox
goes to the farmer to apologize for all the trouble he has caused by trying to help,
but the farmer doesn't understand, kills the fox, and then sees that the fox has
brought another gift. The farmer realizes that he has accidentally killed someone who
was trying to help him.
The museum is below ground, built into and meant to accent the rolling surface of the
hills around it.
The roofs, ceilings, walkways, staircases, and even the floors, all
take a wave form and gradually slope up and down throughout the museum. We would never
be allowed to build anything like this in the US due to the Americans with Disabilities
Act, which requires all public buildings to be accessible to people who are in wheel
chairs. The uneven stairs and the sloping floors would not be allowed. But the
sculptural form of the building is beautiful, and shows a little of what we are without
in the US due to government regulations.
The galleries are full of little dioramas which illustrate the stories of Niimi Nankichi,
and the descriptions and explanations are thankfully written in English, so I could
appreciate the author's works. There were several stories about foxes, and quite a few
stories about musicians and villagers. Most of the stories appeared to involve the
death of a character and a recurring theme was the main character realizing the value of
something or someone after it or they are gone.
Handa City Library and Museum
Our second stop was at the Handa City Library and Museum. It is really a cultural
history museum that tells the story
of development in and around Aiichi through displays of both art and architectural pieces
as well as common things such as tools, etc.
An unexpected treat, right inside the entrance was a photo display containing a photograph
of a lantern, that had a 1981 Isuzu Piazza parked next to it.
Displays included rice farming implements, tomb stones, religious iconography, and
large scale pottery.
There was a large room full of festival items, including a large,
two story tall mobile shrine, that would have been carried in a parade or procession as
part of these festivals.
There was a large display about food and food preparation, including the making of soy
sauce, with dioramas showing the process, and display cases full of many antique old
There was a display of sake making, with huge stoneware vats that had to be 12 to 15
feet tall, but they were so large that it was impossible to get a decent picture of them.
One of the last displays we saw was carpentry and wood working, with a complete wall
display of antique planes, hammers, drills, and files.
Shiho Doll Museum
Our next stop was the Shiho Doll Museum,
next to the Yoshihama Doll headquarters and
factory in Takahama. This area is considered the "birthplace of Japanese doll making"
and the museum not only presents the history of doll making, but also uses the medium
of dolls and dioramas to present the history of many aspects of Japanese life.
I am not a doll expert, but it seems that the clothing is a little more important than
the doll that wears the clothing, and the wardrobe and costume work in this museum was
second to none.
On the first floor, there is a large display depicting Japanese festivals, with dolls
on turntables and attached to moving chains in the floor of the display, giving the
appearance that the dolls are dancing in circles and marching in processions.
Dioramas depict historic battles, the life of the imperial family, and daily life of
everyday people, through various eras of Japanese history.
They seemed to spend quite a bit of time covering the topic of the public bath.
One of the larger displays depicted the building of the Daibutsu Giant Buddha in Nara,
which I had visited in 2002. The Buddha and scaffolding is on a turntable so that the
detail on all sides can be seen and appreciated.
There were some life sized dolls on display, wearing full sized costumes and clothing.
One two story tall room had a festival parade theme, with a tall rolling mobile shrine
in the middle. Around the walls and across the balcony of the second floor the parade
onlookers were depicted, even showing dignitaries watching from their private viewing
The museum is arranged so that the visitor starts on the ground floor and proceeds up
through each floor of the building. One of the upper floors was dedicated almost
completely to displays of antique dolls.
And the top floor has a full scale reproduction of a royal wedding complete with a
reproduction of the interior of one of the rooms from the imperial palace.
We left the Doll Museum and went across the street to another smaller museum
related to the doll theme, this one was only one floor, and had tall glass cases around
three walls of the main room containing full sized mannequins dressed in kimonos,
Japanese armor, and costumes. The odd part was that the rest of the room was filled
with tables stacked high with tourist souvenirs for sale.
Our last touristy stop of the day was at
Denpark, a theme park with the theme of
Denmark, in the city of Anjo. Japan has a lot of theme parks, and they range from
the huge size of the US Walt Disney World and Land in California and Florida, and the
familiar Six Flags amusement parks located around the US, to very small size like store
fronts in shopping malls. There are theme parks based on popular cartoon characters,
popular literary themes, video games, popular toys, types of food, and every conceivable
Denpark's theme was tulips, flowers, and Danish style landscaping and buildings
such as windmills. I suppose it was meant to be like a botanical garden, and there
were plenty of very intricate topiary bushes and elaborate flower beds. There were
no roller coasters or thrill rides. But I had the
feeling that I was really missing the point, like when someone waves their hand over
your head and makes that "whooosh" sound to indicate that you just don't understand
and that an idea or concept is just over your head. I really didn't understand why
there was a Danish themed amusement park and why people would go to such a place.
According to the little pamphlet, the park is supposed to be an escape from urban
surroundings and an opportunity to "nurture the same sense of affinity with plants,
trees, the soil, and other elements of nature that rural residents know so well.".
It goes on to explain that there are horticultural classes and an area where people
can rent a little plot of garden space and grow their own plants. OK, fair enough,
an opportunity for people to get close to nature, even if it is in a hyper real
synthetic and overly manicured format. But why does it necessarily have to be
Well, it seemed like we were really there for lunch, and we headed straight for the
Furusato-kan Restaurant, which, strangely enough, did not serve Danish food, but rather
specialized in home cooked style Japanese food. I ordered the Guidon (beef bowl), the
traditional, inexpensive, salaryman's meal. I had not quite gotten a clear understanding
that every piece of beef in Japan seems to be befouled by an egg, and this was probably
the event that really pounded home this message, because my bowl of rice with beef on
top was delivered with what had to be a half dozen scrambled eggs on top. Being a
trooper, I worked around the egg and ate almost all of the beef and rice, but Mr. Tsuzuki
seemed upset and believed I had not eaten much because I left the big mound of eggs in
Once we were finished with lunch, we walked over to the other side of the park to the
Floral Palace. This seemed to be the main building with a cafeteria restaurant, gift
shop with lots of Danish themed foods and gardening supplies, and a large, modern green
house with a mix of touristy shops and floral gardens, complete with sculptures and
We had to cut our visit short, and missed visiting things like the Micro Brewery, because
we were going to be late meeting with the Front Row club members to help setup for
Setting Up For The Show
We drove for quite a while through a more rural and suburban area to Okazaki.
We met about fifteen Front Row club members at the Okazaki city works facility.
The Front Row Club puts on the Gemini Owners Meeting (sometimes called the All
Of Japan Isuzu Meeting).
In the US, the IsuzuWeb more or less picks a regional
car show, arranges to attend as a group and rents tents, tables, and chairs, and
though it is a lot of work to organize a group, arrange hotel accommodations, and
plan activities for the group before and after the show, the work of setting up
and putting on the show itself, and all of the needed facilities and aspects of the
show itself are always taken care of by the show promoters. Even the club tent
is already set up for us on sight.
Well, the Gemini Front Row Club puts their show on themselves, and they are responsible
for everything from renting the park to have the show in, to renting, transporting, and
setting up tents for show car registration, to checking cars in at the gate and getting
them parked, and everything else in between.
This evening the club members were loading tents, tables, and chairs, transporting them
to the park, and setting them up for the show that would take place the following day.
Japan doesn't have pickup trucks, instead, they have these tiny little flat nose delivery
trucks, that look like oversized carts. These are actually licensed as regular cars.
They are more convenient for the narrow streets and tight spaces in Japan, but it seems
like they would have to make a lot more trips to deliver what would fit on one normal
I was between trying to stay out of the way and trying to pitch in and help, but I
really didn't want to break or drop anything, and they were barking orders in Japanese,
so unless someone was moving a large pile of something from one place to another, I
didn't get much of an opportunity to lend a hand. So I shot a few pictures. This must
have looked really stupid, they might have thought something like "what is this foreigner
doing, he travels halfway around the world so he can take pictures of us loading tables
and tents into the back of a truck...".
On the way to the park, Mr. Tsuzuki and I put up signs at a couple of intersections
along the highway to direct club members to the park for the show. I was surprised, the
area really looked like a typical Midwest suburban area, with strip malls scattered
We arrived at the Kuragari Valley, most often referred to as the "Ravine", unloaded
the chairs and tables, and partially set up the
tents for the show registration and administration area.
Then Mr. Yoshiyuki gave the
group a speech about how things were going to be organized the next day, and we
were done setting up.
This year, I had been invited to the Welcome Barbecue to be held at a cabin at the
sight of the show. I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, I think I was picturing
this would be similar to a kids summer camp cabin, I was just hoping to avoid anything
close to a tent, because it had been drizzling all week long.
The group all walked up the hill from the Ravine parking lot area to the cabin, there were
actually two cabins, and another group had rented the lower cabin. We were at the upper
cabin. The cabin had sort of a hillside chalet look to it. All timber construction,
it looked like it was 1 1/2 stories tall, had a little balcony, and a big barbecue pit
area around back. Inside, it is actually two stories. The first floor is mostly a
large, open space with a modern bathroom to the side past a kitchenette. In the open
space, there was a square, knee high table, and a staircase on the other side of the room
that lead up to a couple small sleeping rooms. There were no chairs anywhere, it was
Japanese style, everyone sits on the floor.
The group set down their personal bags and went straight to unloading food and setting
up to cook at the barbecue pit. If my expectations of the cabin were a little off
toward the tame end of the spectrum, my expectations of the barbecue were equally off.
I was expecting sitting around, cooking a little food, and not much entertainment.
I was way off. They unloaded a couple coolers of beer, and someone proudly displayed
a couple bottles of whiskey. It quickly became evident that this was going to
turn into one hell of a party. Someone was even nice enough to make sure there was a
good supply of canned chuhai for me. Several people even marvelled that the foreigner
liked chuhai, shochu, and sake, but didn't care for beer, so I guess I was responsible
for living outside some of the stereotypes expected of an American.
Then came the food. They started out with yakiniku. This is thinly sliced beef,
grilled, and then dipped in a bowl of soy sauce and eaten. Finally, beef that isn't
ruined with egg! Yakiniku also includes grilled vegetables, and they had those covered
also, with carrots, onions, green peppers, and sliced pumpkin.
We were all introduced, as the eating began. Mr. Tsuzuki and Mr. Yamagishi were there,
and so was Mr. Hiroshi Oyama. Many of the rest were people I had met briefly in 2002.
These were Mr. Koji Matsumoto, Mr. Takahiro Niwa, Mr. Takashi Yokota, Mr. Takeshi Okanishi,
Mr. Nito, Mr. Tanahashi, and Ms. Yumi Nakamura. Mr. Ojino Masayoshi and Mr. Eiichi Nakaoka
arrived a little later. Mr. Masayoshi had been locating a cooking grille, someone had
forgotten to bring one, and Mr. Nakaoka was delayed by work.
After breaking out the yakiniku ingredients, they started grilling some other foods,
including pork shishkabobs, those little hot dog like "banger" sausages, and half ears
of corn on the cob.
Something I had not mentioned about yakiniku is that each person is responsible for
cooking their own piece of meat or vegetable, and this is all done using chop sticks,
there are no tongs, forks, or the other typical tools of the American backyard barbecue
grille. However, yakiniku is usually cooked over a hibachi or a small grill, not usually
over a campsite type fire pit. A lot of the club members were complaining of the
excessive heat, "Atsui, hot!". I tried to play the big, tough foreigner, muttered a few
sentences about them being pansies, gritted my teeth and retrieved a few pieces of meat and
vegetables without yelling it was too hot, but it really was. They didn't quite catch on
to the humor of it though.
Then Mr. Yamagishi asked me if I wanted some of the corn on the cob. I said yes, thanked
him, and asked where the butter and salt was. In the US, corn on the cob is eaten with
butter and salt. I was about to learn that things are slightly different in Japan,
as Mr. Yamagishi announced to the group that I was asking for butter and salt to go with
my little half cob of corn. This was quickly followed by the question "Why do you want
butter and salt?", and puzzled looks from everyone. They then went on to explain that
in Japan, corn on the cob is eaten with soy sauce, you just dip the little cob into the
same bowl you use for the yakiniku. In fact, it looked like everything was to be dipped
in the soy sauce.
But the cooking was not over yet. They set up a griddle style grille and began cooking
yakisoba (noodles, meat, and vegetables fried into something like a pancake). It didn't
end up in cake form, but more like stir fried noodles, vegetables, and meat, but
it was very good. They got out the mayonnaise, the standard topping for yakisoba, which
I again passed on, preferring just soy sauce.
The food was all very delicious, and everyone ate until they were stuffed, talked and
joked around, drank, and then ate more.
Mr. Tsuzuki had asked me to write out a speech to give in front of all the people
at the car show on Sunday. I was supposed to explain who I am and where I am from,
what Isuzu cars I own, my experience of drag racing and autocrossing, and my work
designing racing parts. Mr. Oyama was drafted to help, because he was one of the
more fluent English speakers among the group. I devised a plan to finish the task
as quickly as possible, I broke out my laptop computer, typed out my speech in English
in a word processing program, and pasted it into the translation program. OK, this
is cheating, and not terribly accurate, but I couldn't take hours away from the party
to conjugate verbs, adverbs, and adjectives. With the rough translation work done
by the computer, Mr. Oyama read the Japanese text and wrote it out by hand in Romanji,
so I would be able to read it.
Ms. Nakamura sat close by, fascinated by the translation program, helping work out
some of the rough spots in the speech. Mr. Oyama ended up flipping back and forth
between the English text and the machine translation, and asking me to explain lots
of car related terms. I had to make several trips back outside to the barbecue
bringing food and beverages back for the group.
Mr. Yamagishi was having a very good time and came in to see what we were doing.
I had made reference before to Japanese people "turning pink" when I talked about
drinking alcoholic beverages. For the uninitiated, I should probably explain this.
Somewhere on the internet there is a really detailed explanation, but the short
version is that Japanese people lack an enzyme that metabolizes alcohol, and because
of this, alcohol has a little greater affect on them than people of European descent,
and their skin turns pink right about the point that they are starting to feel a good
I had also mentioned that Mr. Yamagishi is sort of a jokester with a very healthy
sense of humor. Well, he really lights up at a party. He wasn't to the point of being
annoying, like the proverbial "guy wearing a lamp shade", but he was a few beers past
quiet happy and well into noisy happy, and it was really funny watching the other club
members chasing him around, trying to keep him out of trouble.
A little later, after everyone was too full to eat any more yakiniku and yakisoba, the
party moved inside, and we all sat around the little table.
They chased Mr. Yamagishi around a little more.
And things kind of wound down to the end of the evening.
I don't actually remember anyone taking this picture. Someone said I passed out shortly
after it was taken. I put mosaics over the faces of some of the Japanese people, there
is a cultural norm in Japan concerning privacy rights and taking pictures of people doing
embarrassing things, including being a little tipsy. I don't suffer from the same thing.
But one thing this picture does illustrate (before pixilation) is that Japanese do not
suffer from red eye caused by a camera flash, this seems to only be a gaijin problem.
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