Nagahama

An American in Japan Part V | Walking Nagahama

Even tourists with poor cardiovascular endurance can walk a small distance to see sights in this port city.

Nestled on the northeast corner of Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater lake in Japan, is beautiful Nagahama. A 70-minute ride on the Biwako line express train from Kyoto, Nagahama is a mellow respite from the busy city. Best of all, tourists can enjoy some nearby sights on foot. After traveling twelve hours to Tokyo and then another few hours, it feels rejuvenating to stretch my legs and walk.

As far as setting up accommodations, Nagahama Royal Hotel is a centrally located hotel right on Lake Biwa. It features rentable karaoke rooms, several restaurants and a public onsen or hot spring bath. In fact, it even has its own indoor smoking room and vending machines featuring snacks and alcohol, so there is no urgent reason to leave the compound.

However, next time, I will personally try to find a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) with a private onsen because of tattoos.

Read more about how having tattoos is a real nuisance in Japan. 

When I become bored with swimming, singing, eating, and drinking, I decide it’s time to venture out and see the nearby city. Walking straight across the street from the hotel lobby, I see the sparkling waters of Lake Biwa to my left. All along the lake is a paved walking path with benches that provide a view of the waters and surrounding mountains. For moments I do nothing but stare at this beautiful scene.

Then, taking a right, I find a foot path through some hedges into what looks like a sports field. I skirt around the edges of the field and eventually find myself at a fountain where there is a statute of some kids walking in a straight line together. This is Ho Park.

Further on, I see Kunimori Shrine and Torii Gate. This Shinto shrine features a series of small doll-sized buildings with items inside. It is hard to see, but one of the items seems to be a Tanuki or monster Japanese raccoon dog.

The Tanuki are technically members of the Yokai in Japanese folklore which I understand to be malevolent tricksters. The Tanuki, as the Bake-danuki have adopted a more “harmless, jovial lifestyle focused on bestowing humans with good fortune and prosperity.”

Taking a moment of silence in the shrine, I attempt to soak up some of that jovial fortune and prosperity for my own life.

Looming up ahead is the pointed roof of Nagahama Castle and Museum. This version of Nagahama Castle that exists today is a recreation of the original 1575 castle built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi who is standing nearby in statue form.

There is a also a random cage of monkeys adjacent to a playground between Nagahama Castle and some tennis courts, northeast of the Ho Park fountain. This unexpected find confuses me greatly.

I scan the cage for obvious signs of distress or cruelty. The primates have a pouring water source, continually refreshed. Peering into their pink faces, I wordlessly inquire as to their wellbeing. It is difficult to connect through the wire of the rusted cage. One of them reclines atop a small dwelling inside of their limited habitat. No karaoke room. No restaurants. No smoking.

Seemingly acclimated for cold with what looks like thick fur, I can’t imagine they are enjoying the balminess of 97 degrees Fahrenheit and the one-hundred percent humidity of Japan in August.

Monkeys

Feeling a bit depressed for the monkeys, but also stimulated at seeing this novel sight, I move on toward the playground, the high point of which is a slide that looks like a loading conveyor belt at a grocery store. I can imagine sending boxes of produce down this rolling incline. Instead, I send myself.

Rather than the normal slippery surface, there are a series of rollers. I stand up and go down the slide on my feet. It feels a little like snowboarding. With a quick internet search, I discover it’s called a rollerslide. This is my first experience with one of these pieces of playground equipment and I wonder why they are not more popular. They should be everywhere.

Making my way out to the street again, I come upon a 7-11 store. This is not just any American 7-11 store filled with MSG-laden potato chips and Mountain Dew. This store is like a gourmet eatery. There are bento boxes of sushi, dried fish in whole form, expensive bottles of Japanese whisky, and so many other delights. I could spend tens of thousands of yen here and not even scratch the surface of my gluttonous appetites.

Then I assess the heat and the long walk back to the hotel.

Three items. I can carry three items.

I make my choice quickly, opting for a cold bottled water, a box of sushi that I hope doesn’t get too warm before I arrive at my destination, and some Hi-Chew candy. I know there are vending machines with more items at “home,” and it seems like a nice afternoon for a swim. 

 

 

 

An American in Japan Part III | Eat It

Exploring food and drink in the land of fermented soybeans, pregnant fish, and Pocari Sweat.

 

Conveniently located next to Osaka Station is the Daimaru Umeda Food Hall. Sushi, bento boxes, freshly made salads, side dishes, candies, and bakery items, are all attractively displayed for purchase.

Japanese cuisine is something I’m still trying to figure out. There is a lot of fish, even for breakfast. There is natto, which is fermented soybeans. It looks like a gooey peanut butter rice krispies treat but tastes like a ball of wet socks left overnight in a Ziplock bag.

I’ve even tried Shishamo which are small, dried pregnant fish. Most of the things I think of as Japanese foods are fancy, not everyday fare. Sushi is for special occasions. There are a lot of pickled vegetables, miso soup, and green tea.

Food

Vending machines are everywhere and often carry interesting and colorful drinks in interesting and colorful packaging like Ramune soda which is in a glass bottle and sealed with a marble. There is also Pocari Sweat which replaces human…sweat.

I choose a shrimp tempura maki roll, before some donuts catch my eye.

“Sumimasen,” I say, smiling at the clerk. She responds back in a stream of words in Japanese that I don’t understand.

“Ohayo,” I continue, uttering the customary before-noon greeting. “Onegai shimasu,” I say, pointing to one of the donuts in the case.

The clerk smiles at me and pulls out the bakery, holding it up. “Hai,” I nod. “Arigato gozai masu.” I hand her a 100 yen coin and bow as she gives me the change. I have successfully purchased a donut and according to her social cues, I haven’t said anything weird.

I wander past more food and up a flight of stairs, through an upscale boutique. My stomach growls. Where are the tables?

Finally, I gesture to an employee. I don’t know the Japanese word for table.

“Table?” I ask. She shakes her head and frowns.

I switch to mime. Pretending to open my bag, I hold an invisible fork up to my mouth, chewing air. Then I squat down to sit on an imaginary bench. Other shoppers glance at me curiously. Another woman walks up and says something to the clerk.

“Oh!” she says, realizing what I want. Then frowns and shakes her head. They are both shaking their heads at me.

All that food and no place to eat it?

I walk out toward the building directory. There’s nobody around so I sit on the cement floor and open my food for real, still wondering where everyone else went to eat. On a train? Do they go home? Is it wrong to eat in public?

I shrug and clasp a piece of sushi between two chopsticks and eat it. Delicious!

An American in Japan Part I | Cover Me

A foreigner visits a hotel pool in Japan and learns a lesson in modesty and skin care.

 

The sun beats down on my head as I scan the pool area of the Nagahama Royal Hotel seeking shade. It costs 1,000 yen to enter the premises even though I am a hotel guest. Perhaps this is an even trade for the customary no-tipping practice in Japan.

I choose a white plastic chair under a tree and sit down before surreptitiously ducking under my towel. I remove the package that I purchased at the Can Do store by the train station from my beach bag and open it, pulling out an article of clothing that looks like a pair of nylon stockings. I slide these nylons that are actually UV-protective arm bands all the way up past my bicep, one arm, then the other.

Remaining under the towel like a writhing terry cloth ghost, I shimmy out of my jeans, revealing my black-striped bikini and slide identical bands over my legs, up to my knees.

Now that I am decent, I remove the towel and glance around, sure that everyone is staring at my weirdness. They are not. In fact, many of my fellow swimmers have also donned hoodies, shorts, or arm bands rather than Western-style bathing suits to enjoy the pool, free of the damaging rays of the sun.

I am the only one with them on my legs, however. The resulting look is that of a dolphin trainer getting ready to do a Jazzercise workout.

Why am I wrapped in black nylon? Because I have tattoos on my arms and legs and apparently tattoos are so hideous in Japan that you cannot be seen with them. From what I understand, tattoos are viewed as a sign of a person’s anti-social intent. Tattooed folks are not seen as contributing members of society. They are possible gang members. They are definite pariahs.

SwimminginJapan

I currently feel the full extent of my pariahhood. Not only because I speak exactly five words of Japanese, but because I am the only one here with arm bands on my legs. I could definitely have skipped the pool entirely, but it is almost 100 degrees with 100 percent humidity and I need to cool off.

Also on the hotel’s premises is an onsen. This is a type of public bath fed by geothermal hot springs that I would really like to check out. But I can’t because…tattoos. And because everyone goes in there naked, there is no way to hide my shame.

I paddle around the pool in my black UV-resistant sleevery. It feels kind of nice. The water is cool. The people politely ignore me. My temperature needs are met.

And if I still require cooling off, just inside the hotel from the pool area are two vending machines. One sells beer, the other sells ice cream. I love Japan.