Entering CupNoodles Museum
I spent Thursday taking a walk around Yokohama. Before today, as far as I was concerned, Yokohama might as well be Tokyo – but it’s not, in the way that Hartford is not New York City.
It does have a very nice old port and, armed with a map, I headed out from my hotel with four hours to kill. Seriously, I had made no plans for my day – other than knowing that I needed to catch the train to Narita around 2:00.
My eye was immediately drawn to the Cupnoodles Museum – it looked like a reasonable walk, through some nice looking areas (at least on a map; reality matched) and, in the worst case scenario, would help me get some exercise that might help me sleep on a long redeye flight.
It wasn’t just me at the museum, school children abounded!
The museum was easily found and after paying my 500¥ entry fee, I was free to wander. There was even a free English language audio guide, which helped me understand what I was looking at. For somebody who hasn’t eaten instant ramen noodles in years, it was still enjoyable.
The first CupNoodles Product: Chicken Ramen
Momofuku Ando started selling Chicken Ramen in 1958, eventually turning it into a powerhouse product that is, as college students the world round know, affordable, fast, and not that bad for you. The company creates and sells an incredible variety of ramen soup.
There was a cute, hokey, video presentation (with an English translation for me) – that traced the history of the product, including how cup-o-noodles were invented: a result of the inventor visiting the United States and seeing how Americans liked things in cups.
What enchanted me the most was that after leaving the film, we were presented with a replica of the wooden shed, exactly like the one that Momofuku worked inside while developing his product. This is the Silicon Valley story all over again, but instead of developing the product in a garage, it was developed in a wooden shed.
It’s not a Silicon Valley garage, but it is a replica of the original wooden shed.
The video, and the museum, also emphasized the fact that Momofuku persevered – although his early entrepreneurial efforts (which were not disclosed) failed, he pulled himself up by his bootstraps and he never gave up. The ramen noodles were invented relatively late in his life – he was, as I recall, in his 40s when he finally derived the product that made him famous (and rich).
Although I didn’t actually do it myself (my future travel plans make it awkward), for 300¥, one could actually create your own flavor of Cup Noodles – including you own packaging.
Design your own flavor of CupNoodles.
It was a great way to pass an hour in Yokohama – certainly not something for the cultural elites, but nevertheless amusing and educational.
Yokohama Stadium Lights
I’m winging my way south tonight – leaving the northern hemisphere, heading toward parts I’ve never visited before. I have been south before: South Africa and Swaziland – but I am very much biased toward the northern hemisphere in my travels.
While in Japan I attended three baseball games – on in Nagoya, one in Osaka, and one in Yokohama. While there are some obvious similarities – the fields are different and, consequently, the experiences were rather different.
Swinging away at Nagoya Dome
Oddly my first game – at the Nagoya Dome – ended up being my least favorite, even though I sat next to one of the most interesting people I’ve ever sat next to at a random event. The Chunichi Dragons were hosting the Yokohama Baystars – and the home team won (go team!). The thing is that the Nagoya Dome, opened in 1997, screams generic 1970s era baseball dome in America – it’s a soulless place, with absolutely nothing that gives the physical environment any charm. About the only positive thing I can say about Nagoya Dome is that it offered free wifi, something not offered at either of the other two games I attended.
The interesting guy, sitting next to me, was the prime example of Generation Schengen – perhaps even more so: he was French, but when he was a baby, his parents moved to the Netherlands. For all intents and purposes – especially his accent – he’s Dutch. And boy does he know a lot about American sport – all of them (including some non-sports, like auto racing). His expertise ran the gauntlet from college through professional – and it sounded like he goes to America for vacation, just to watch sporting events. The conversation was exceptionally interesting – and certainly more than made up for the fact that Nagoya Dome is a soulless, pitiful, excuse for a stadium. I couldn’t even be bothered to buy anything to remember the game by.
Surprisingly, for a rainy Friday evening, the stadium was basically empty – there were vast acres of empty seats and it never felt full. Given the weather outside, one would think that fans would have streamed into the stadium – but no. Apparently the Dragons are unloved, even at home.
Koshien Stadium, see from about as far from home plate as you can be, without being in the outfield stands.
My second game on this trip was the Hanshin Tigers hosting the Hiroshima Carp, down in Osaka. This was a splendid game and a splendid environment – even if the home team lost. Koshien Stadium is an old field, dating back to the 1920s, and it feels like it. I cannot recall ever having seen such narrow passageways to get around the stadium (I accidentally went in the wrong gate because I misread my ticket, so I got to see a lot of the stadium’s underbelly) – with nooks and crannies filled with food and gift stands.
Blowing — getting ready for the seventh inning stretch….
During the seventh inning stretch, one lets go…
After letting go, it’s clean-up time.
The overall atmosphere at the park was outstanding – I would heartily recommend a baseball experience with the Tigers as host. I even ended up buying a baseball jersey for one of the players, Mr. Fukudome – although I suspect that either he mispronounces his own name or I do.
Mr. Fukudome is my favorite Japanese baseball player.
The last game was the Yokohama DeNA BayStars hosting the Toyko Giants at Yokohama Stadium. I purposefully chose a hotel directly across the street from the stadium so that after the game was over, I could get to my room quickly and easily. From my seat to the hotel: less than five minutes.
The BayStar made it back to first in time.
The field is artificial, but still charming. I had an excellent seat: third row, about 20-30 feet beyond first base. Unlike the other fields that I’ve been to in Japan, this one did not have netting protecting fans from foul balls this far out. The sightlines were excellent – for the most part. About the only bummer was the swarm of girls (and it was 95% girls) selling beer, coffee, and other assorted sundries. Since the first row of seats were back from the wall a few feet, the girls (and a million kids, between innings) walked in front of me as they shifted between aisles.
It’s been quite a few years since I last saw a professional baseball game in America and I suspect I will feel a bit let down: Japanese fans behave the way American fans behave at a basketball or football game: constant noise, constant drumming, constant chanting. It’s a vastly different experience from that of American baseball, which, as I recall, is fairly laidback and quiet. There’s nothing quiet about baseball games in Japan.
Sunset at Yokohama Stadium.
Of the four teams whose fields I’ve visited (remembering that I’ve seen the Hiroshima Carp), I would give a slight edge to the Hanshin Tigers over the Hiroshima Carp: both offer excellent visitor experiences. The Yokohama Baystars are in third place. Coming up a distant fourth are the Chunichi Dragons – I might even go so far as to recommend against watching the Dragons play at home, if you’re looking for an initial Japanese baseball experience. It’s that bad.
The pond out front of the National Museum of Korea.
It’s not that I forgot to blog about Seoul, it’s that I ran out of time and there were other, more pressing things.
That said, Seoul is a city I could imagine myself living in. It’s clean, interesting, full of friendly people, and easy to navigate. I had a fantastic time in Seoul – with one minor, bizarre, exception – and would happily return to explore more of the city.
Ihwa Mural Village – the road into the village.
Ihwa Mural Village: Evoi
My first full day in Seoul was spent doing two main things: exploring the Ihwa Art Village (or: Ihwa Mural Village), which is a tightly packed, hilly neighborhood filled with a large number of murals – many of which are cool, a few of which are awesome, and a couple of which left me scratching my head. While I was there – a Wednesday morning, it was crawling with school groups.
Climbing the fish ladder of Ihwa Mural Village.
The other thing I did was go to the Korea Furniture Museum – to which I offer a strange, mixed, review: The museum, once you get there, is amazing. The furniture on display tells a story of Korea’s cultural history that I highly recommend.
With a few major caveats – I actually left the museum angry because they would not call me a taxi – even after I pointed out that I didn’t have a phone that worked in Korea (I did have my German phone, but really?) – she wanted me to walk to the nearest bus stop or call myself. Now, before you call me childish, the museum is on top of a steep hill, with a narrow, windy, two lane road between its entrance and the next street. At least one blind curve in there that made me, as a pedestrian, rather nervous. The museum even recommends taking a taxi from the nearest subway station to them, so it’s a bit strange that they refused to call a taxi for me.
The other annoyances revolve around little things: they never responded to my email (sent well in advance) for a reservation. I had to ask a Korean friend to contact them on my behalf (and they also ignored his email, so he had to call) in order to get a reservation. My tour guide also stuck to script and rushed me through the museum in almost exactly one hour – she ignored 95% of my questions – and I was the only person on the English language tour. (The museum’s website is also bizarrely designed…)
In short, the museum’s content is amazing, but everything else about the Korea Furniture Museum sucks.
While this is near the Ihwa Mural Village, it’s not a mural. I found the gas lines to make a rather pretty figure.
I spent Thursday and Friday wandering the city – I hit a few museums (including the fabulous National Museum of Korea), wandered some shops, looked at pretty scenery, and watched trading going on in some of the enormous markets around town.
Dried fish for sale in one of Seoul’s markets.
Like Taipei, I think that I could have spent a lot more time in Seoul – I want to return.
A blue man along the streets of Seoul.
With all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Guam under my belt, it occurred to me that I might as well go for it all and visit all of the inhabited US territories – there are five of them, including Guam and, this week’s stop, the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands.
It wasn’t until I was at the CNMI Museum that I learned that the CNMI was a possession of Germany between 1899 and 1916, when Japan forcefully took the islands from Germany. Strangely, I might note, I don’t think any German that I’ve talked to even knew the islands existed before I brought up the fact that I was going to visit Saipan.
Regardless, I had an interesting week on Saipan.
Saipan is a tourist destination for people from Korea, China, and Japan – with a smattering of Russians. There are, of course, US mainlanders here, but they fall into two distinct camps: military (the vast majority) or screwballs like me.
Honestly, I am hard pressed to come up with a reason to come here unless you like World War II (Pacific Theater) history or cannot afford to go some place nicer.
What’s here, geared for the dominant group of tourists, are enormous resort hotels, many of which are obscenely expensive.
What the tourists do is beyond me: none of the beaches that I visited were unusually or especially nice, they were just beaches of mediocre quality. Most of the sites around the island are WWII oriented – and while I’m sure many Japanese tourists like to pause and remember their ancestors who committed suicide at Suicide Cliff, these activities do not take that much time. There’s diving (if you’re into that) – and I hear it’s good.
The island does seem to have an unusually large number of Ford Mustangs (given the population of about 45,000 people) – all of which are in very bright primary colors and rented to tourists, who drive around with the top down and selfie sticks sticking out – or if not with a selfie stick, their gopro camera is attached to the car somewhere visible.
But that seems to be it – when it comes to tourist shit.
On the flip side, there is an undercurrent of poverty and broken dreams here – which I suspect the happy-go-lucky Asian tourists don’t necessarily notice. Abandoned buildings abound and the average age of cars (not counting rental cars) appears to be around 10 years.
Maintenance of buildings and streets seems, at best, shoddy. The nicest, best, maintained building that I’ve noticed around town is a McDonald’s.
I closed out my trip with a quick stop at the Thursday Night Market – a tourist oriented, locals attend, fair held along the ocean front. With a plethora of food choices, one won’t come away hungry, or broke. There are also some stands selling local art (I wasn’t even tempted) and others selling cheap clothing.
It’s safe to say that I’m happy to have visited the CNMI, but if I were looking to vacation in this part of the world again, I would probably choose Guam.
Or, to be frank, stay in either Taipei or Seoul for a little bit longer.
Getting the pink one in place, ready for the day’s celebrations.
Last Sunday, as promised, I made it to the Festival of the Steel Phallus in suburban(ish) Tokyo, specifically Kawasaki.
Ever had a friend who was a total dickhead? This guy’s friends can honestly say so.
Deciding what time to arrive was tricky. When I was there Saturday, the man told me that it got underway at noon – but that didn’t jibe with everything I’d read about the party. Most English language sources said that it was best to get there “early,” without actually defining what “early” meant. Therein I asked a Japanese friend – who did some research and told me that I should be there by 10:00, 9:00 would be better, and if I showed up at 11, “it must be packed and you can’t move….”
His advice was spot on.
Having finished breakfast and purchased a train ticket in the morning, I showed up at about 8:30 in the morning – well before everything was set-up – which provided for some nice photo opportunities and the ability to buy things unhindered by excessive crowds.
Putting the black phallus in place, well before the crowds arrived.
If you’ve found this page looking for advice about when to show up, I would say that between 9:00 and 9:30 is ideal: the stands selling the phallus celebrating goods that you want to buy open around 9:00 and the lines and crowds are not excessive until around 10:30 – at which point, you’re going to have to fight your way through a lot of people to buy anything – or even just to see what’s for sale.
That said, I forgot to take pictures of them (and they are not currently in my possession), but I bought two different kinds of cocksuckers.
Oh wait, that sounds bad. Maybe “penis lollypops”?
There were also lots of cocksuckers (in a good way – but truly, I must ask, is a cocksucker ever a bad thing?) wandering around the festival – people who had purchased the lollypops and were eager to consume them before leaving the party.
She’s licking a cock-lolly and riding the wooden pony.
I would estimate that the crowd was about two-thirds Japanese, one-third foreigner (many Americans, many American soldiers, and at least one couple from Poland) – all taking advantage of the many things that one wants to photograph. There were objects to pose with as well.
I wanted to ask this man for his phone number.
From my perspective, I reached my limit of celebrations around 11:00, which means that I did not see the parade. What made me reach my limit was the combination of many people – and rain. I think that had it not been raining off and on, I could have put up with the crowds and waited for the parade to start.
These people were waiting for the parade to start — the festival grounds were, at this point, so completely packed that it was hard to move.
Instead I wandered off and explored the streets of Japan – always a bizarre and worthwhile thing to do.
There is something perversely amusing and awesome about having a “staff only” sign at a phallus festival.
The Hinode American Memorial is in the middle of a traffic circle along Broadway.
I spent today – Easter Monday – popping over to Tinian Island – the immediate neighbor to Saipan, which is, for the record, where I am right now. Visiting Saipan, and the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, gets me one step closer to having visited all the major, populated, political subdivisions of the United States.
Given that I flew to Saipan, it seemed that it would be foolish to not go the extra 11 miles to reach Tinian. The only reasonable way to get there is by air, flying Star Marianas Air – my first ever cash only airline: US$49.50 at the counter, please.
From the air, Tinian is a beautifully green island – and it is easy to forget that during World War II, a huge battle was fought over it, then, after it fell back into the hands of the Americans, the worlds largest airport was built on its lands – along with two extra special bomb pits.
I overflew my destinations when flying from Saipan International Airport to Tinian Airport
Tinian is where the Enola Gay took off with Little Boy stashed safely in her belly until she was over Hiroshima.
This is where Little Boy was assembled, before being transported to the Atomic Bomb pit.
Looking at photos of Tinian during the war and looking at Tinian today, it’s hard to believe that they are one and the same. Photos of the island during the war show it denuded of trees – a vast airport complex, with four parallel runways, at the north end, and facilities everywhere – a vast street network (with naming contrived to resemble Manhattan) and facilities to house all the soldiers.
Atomic Bomb Pit Number 1 — where the Enola Gay was loaded with Little Boy.
You really cannot see it easily today and with a population of around 3100, maintaining the road network of the island’s northern reaches is clearly not a priority. I was grateful that the man at the car rental agency had talked me into a RAV4 instead of a Corolla – some of the potholes didn’t look that bad until you hit them.
A US Landing Craf, in a traffic circle along 8th Avenue — rusting out.
But this glosses over what I was thinking about – war, death, fighting, and our responsibility to history. The facilities of Tinian were built by the Seabees in short order in 1944/45 – and many are still there. But in dreadful shape – sure the roads and runways that are deteriorating, no problem. But seeing plants growing out of the landing craft that is prominently on display in the middle of a traffic circle?
The memorial to the men who built out Tinian during the war, making it the world’s busiest airport.
World War II has a huge, overly grandiose, and somewhat embarrassing monument in the middle of The Mall, in Washington DC. Some 7800 miles away, where men died, actual WWII history is being eaten away.
American Memorial Park, Saipan.
I flew back to Saipan in the afternoon – and wandered to the American Memorial Park – a national park with a small museum exploring Siapan and Tinian’s WWII experiences, plus some memorials. Some of the memorials seem a bit chincy, others appear to be grand but neglected. But all of it is history that needs to be maintained – and not just in our memories.
The names of the men whose lives were lost are engraved here — this is one of three banks of names.
So… this is one of those times and places where I am proud of my country.
I’m spending tonight in Kawasaki, Japan – which means that I’ve skipped the South Korean part of my trip. That will be addressed later.
The reason I am here is that tomorrow morning – Easter in the Christian world – Kawasaki will be hosting Kanamara Matsuri – the festival of the steel phallus.
Yes, that hot cream filled pastry I ate in Taipei is not my only encounter with something that shape.
Although the festival is not until tomorrow, I decided to head out and find the shrine today – when it’s not so crowded and when navigating unfamiliar streets is less stressful.
Little muscular arms, flexing… or….
The shrine was easy to find – I knew I’d found the right spot when I spotted a row of banners flapping in the breeze, each with what appeared to be a muscular arm flexing.
Count the phalli in this photo.
That’s a big one.
Everything at this shrine is some how related to reproduction, or attempts to reproduce.
The mission to find dinner was more complicated – unlike restaurants in South Korea and Taipei, which either have enthusiastic people willing to try to communicate with you, or English (-ish) menus, I had more trouble tonight. I ended up eating a non-descript meal.
Tomorrow I celebrate the steel phallus and I fly to America.
What a day it will be.
Basically, due to the structure of my current vacation, Taipei was limited to two days.
And what fast days they were: I arrived in Taipei late Saturday night, getting to my hotel at about 11pm. Sleep followed shortly thereafter.
Sunday I wandered the city in the morning – starting with the impressive Chiang Kai-shek Memorial. The approach from the subway station is impressive – with a huge plaza before a huge memorial – and I managed to arrive just in time for the changing of the guard.
Two things about the changing of the guard amused me: first, this is the first time I’ve ever seen so many selfie-sticks in action. Secondly, after the new guards had marched into place, there was another man who came along and made sure their uniforms were perfect.
I’ll admit that when it comes to Taiwan’s history (and China, for that matter), I only know the broad brush strokes, so much of what I learned in the accompanying museum was new to me – Chiang Kai-shek is a name I know, but that’s it. However, I felt that the exhibits went a bit too far – there’s a sense of hero worship that made me a bit uncomfortable. We do not need to know that he sent a telegram to Neil Armstrong after Neil walked on the moon: lots of people did, and the fact that Chiang sent a telegram didn’t really affect Taiwan’s history – other than the fact that I was made aware of it.
Beyond that, I wandered the city, ate a hot cream filled pastry, and hit up two other tourist attractions: A paper museum and Taipei 101.
The Suho Memorial Paper Museum is a hokey place – with exhibits about the history of paper, how paper is made, and the different uses of paper. For an extra fee, one can also make a sheet of paper – which I have. I’d show it to you, but it’s rolled up in my poster tube in my suitcase and I’m feeling lazy.
Taipei 101 is a very tall, bamboo-like looking, building – the views from the top are very nice, although I will admit that photography was crap because it was cloudy – and the sunset I hoped for did not materialize.
I might note that the cream in the balls of the penis cake had a salty tang to it.
At the Shilin Night Market.
Four of the books on this list were read in physical form!
Ah… I’ve been reading. And reading – but not as much as I’ve read before.
It turns out that I left a book off of my last list, so book 24 wasn’t the XYZ Affair, it was Men in the Sun.
A funny story about Men in the Sun – I have the one by David Leddick because a friend of mine wanted the one by Ghassan Kanafani, but didn’t look too carefully at the listing on Amazon before hitting “buy.” The one by Leddick is a collection of gay stories along with photographs of men. The one by Kanafani is a collection of stories about Palestinians. After buying the wrong one, my friend sent it to me before ordering the right one.
Amusing thing: my friend wasn’t the only one to make the mistake. On Amazon, there’s a five star review by Fintago:
So I bought this book for a college class… Of course I had actually been looking for the Men in the Sun by Ghassan Kanafani. That was an interesting class explaining that essay to my professor.
So I see no reason to hit this book with a bad review because I was careless. So for anyone looking for Men in the Sun by Ghassan Kanafani, This is not it!
But if you are looking for erotic pictures of men and poetry, well here you go.
As for this book: entirely forgettable. Photographs I’ve seen elsewhere and a collection of short stories that are probably better off read in the original sources.
As for book 25: it was the XYZ Affair, which I wrongly described as a romance novel set in Wyoming. It’s actually a romance novel and mystery set in Wyoming – Casper, to be exact. It’s not really sophisticated reading on either front, but it did hold my attention as I wondered who did it.
From there I fell into (26) Why We Took the Car (Wolfgang Herrndorf), a teen angst-y novel translated from German into English. The story actually struck a bit of a chord with me – I can understand why it claims to have sold over one million copies. But it only struck a chord with me: it’s aimed at high school students who are not part of the in crowd, exploring how the misfit’s world. I’d certainly recommend it to teenagers, as for adults: it depends on their mental ages. Most overly serious adults wouldn’t get much out of it.
Then I read two books at once: at home, in bed, I was reading Anthony Bidulka’s newest novel, (27) The Women of Skawa Island. Out of the house I was reading (28) Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredibly Voyage. Both of these books were gripping.
The Women of Skawa Island is the second novel in the Adam Saint series – the first was mediocre, the second kept me awake. The first evening I read it, I actually had to keep reading it well past my normal bedtime in order to get past some gripping scenes that would have caused nightmares. I read this book willingly and enthusiastically – nailing it in three evenings, staying up late in order to do so. Anthondy Bidulka’s one of my favorite authors and I’m glad to see that his second series picked up steam with the second novel.
Funny thing about my copy of the book: I own it in paper and on the copyright page it says, “Printed and Bound in Canada.” Fitting because Bidulka is Canadian. On the last page before the back cover, it says, “Made in the USA / San Bernardino, CA / 28 December 2014.” Which is when I ordered the book from Amazon.com…
As for Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage – I read this book after meeting a cat (who died yesterday, March 22, 2015) named after him. His cohabitating family was shocked to learn that I did not know who Shackleton was – so I bought the book in order to learn more. Holy Cow – what a man, what an adventure: sailing a ship to Antarctica in order to cross it by foot: only the ship got trapped in ice and it took a very long time for the men to escape the ice (and the ship sunk) – travelling hundreds of miles across open water to find the relative safety of a desolate island. This is an outstanding book – from 1959 – that I heartily recommend to nearly everybody. I was so in to reading this book that I nearly missed my bus stop at least three times.
Book 29 is What We Hide, a teen novel set in the 1960s. It focuses on the lies that we all tell one another, especially in places where facades matter – like English boarding schools. It’s neither outstanding nor awful, it just is.
Love in a Dark Time, by Colm Tóibín, was book 30: it is a series of 8 biographical sketches of gay men, plus one of a lesbian, that are also not particularly remarkable. What is remarkable is how short and uninformative the last three sketches are. It’s almost like Tóibín was given a word limit – and then after blowing his wad on an excessively long sketch of Oscar Wilde, the other ones had to be shorter, and the last three – one of them was less than ten pages long and said nothing. A friend loaned this book to me – and I finally picked it up to read it because I’d had it for so long that I was feeling a bit embarrassed for not having returned it. Now I’ll feel embarrassed when she reads what I thought of it on my blog – sorry!
Meanwhile I expect to have oodles of time to read over the coming month. I might even knock off most of the new books on my Kindle and have time to re-read old favorites.