Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Turning Japanese

Here's the final chapter of my trip to the Far East.  Parts one and two were posted earlier this week.

Once we were allowed to enter it was great. But immigration in Japan was even worse than China. Disclosure forms, passports, plus they took our photos, fingerprints, and temperatures (via some thermal camera). Still better than Carnival where they take your temperature rectally.

After two weeks in Mao Tse-Tungland, it was a pleasure to be in a country where the people were warm, friendly, and relatively happy, Pink Lady still performed, and you could use a bathroom without having to be deloused.

First stop was Kagoshima, home of many cows. And I’m told an active volcano. Couldn’t see it through the rain and fog. The cruise director was calling out buses for the tours and instead of Kagoshima said, “Bus four ready for Highlights of Iwo Jima.”

But Kagoshima was so welcoming. Serenading us from the dock was a brass band of preteen girls in pleated uniforms who called themselves “the Little Cherries.” Not the name I might have chosen but they were completely adorable and the ceremony was very touching.

And when we arrived in Kobe there was another band to greet us. But they kept playing “It’s a Small World” so I don’t know if they were being hospitable or just passive-aggressive.

Went to Osaka Castle, first erected 4,000 years ago. Then it was destroyed in a war and rebuilt, then it was hit by lightening and burned down, then I think Godzilla stepped on it, and now it’s been rebuilt yet again. This was a pattern on the trip – going to ancient castles and temples that were reconstructed in 1975.

Dusk found us strolling through the Dotonbori District with its colorful street vendors and buildings that all had dragon and crab statues over their entrances. It was like going to Toon Town.

We ducked into a place for some sake and maybe some genuine Japanese sushi. But that meant large intestine, first stomach, third stomach, fourth stomach, and aorta. Besides, how authentic could they be if they didn’t serve California Rolls?

Kobe beef is not allowed to be exported. So don’t believe it when the Sizzler serves “Kobe” beef.

Dined in one of the ships fancy specialty restaurants, Signatures. This was also my muster station in case we hit an iceberg. Jackets were required – either sports or life. We had a table of nine. Entrees are delivered with a flare. Nine waiters arrive with dishes under silver covers and they all remove them at once. I set it up so that when the domes were proudly lifted everybody said, “Wait, I didn’t order that,” “I think you have my order,” “Does anyone have my scallops?” The poor waiters were totally confused. I’ll probably never be allowed back on the ship.

Met up with friend-of-the-blog, John Doodigian, who is now an English professor in Kobe. He graciously offered to show us around town. Wound up on the Moto Machi shopping street. Fortunately it’s covered since once again it was cold and raining. This was another trip highlight – seeing how the real people lived and shopped. Not many tourists buy family tombs.

Kobe oddities: The Mafia headquarters is around the corner from the police station. There are cat cafes where you can dine and pet kittens, there is a KISS-FM (like every other city in the world), skulls are very popular as is Audrey Hepburn (there is a ROMAN HOLIDAY fortune machine in the mall), they have a Costco, and the former governor of California was also the spokesman for Cup of Noodles (I hope the Japanese could understand him better than we could).

Said goodbye to Kobe (oh, if only the Lakers could) and ventured to the open seas. On my last cruise I hit a cyclone with 120 m.p.h. winds. This time only 70 m.p.h. gusts. All that was missing was the Captain and Tunesia singing “My Heart Will Go On.”

Arrived in Tokyo on the 70th anniversary of the day we bombed them. No welcoming brass band at that port.

I absolutely fell in love with Tokyo. It’s everything a major city should be. Actually it’s everything six major cities all jammed into one should be. 12,000,000 people live there (practically on top of each other) and I’m relieved to report not one of them dressed as idiotically as Ichiro. Fortunately, the ‘Pee Wee Herman in Scotch-plaid with pork pie hat’ look did not catch on. (Of course, now that he’s in Miami he’ll blend right in.)

I couldn’t believe how clean Tokyo was. The streets were spotless. If they did a Japanese version of THE ODD COUPLE it would be Felix and Felix.

Rain, wind, cold, and even sleet our first day in Tokyo. Day two (our last), was glorious however. The sun came out and it was a perfect day. Overslept and missed the tuna auction at the Fish Market, even though I still needed souvenirs to bring back home.

Our tour guide that final day was awesome. Masashi knew the city, the history, the customs, and spoke very good English (having graduated from Oklahoma State).

He took us to my favorite sacred shrine – the Tokyo Dome, home of the pesky Yomiuri Giants. Screw the fact that we were too early for the cherry blossoms to blossom – I couldn’t see a baseball game! Oh yeah, we saw the Imperial Palace – home of emperors and shoguns, lots of significant history, yada yada, but the baseball season hasn’t started yet. Other stadiums in the league include the Yahoo Dome and Kleenex Miyagi.

God knows what we had for lunch but it was good and I’m still alive. I wanted to get to the Maid CafĂ©. The gimmick here is that the waitresses all dress in cute little maid outfits and say things like “Nice to have you back my master.” Way better greeting than “Welcome to Subway!”

The Akihabara district must be nerd paradise. Shops sell electronics, figurines, comic books, retro video games, and anime costumes. And the front of every skyscraper has an opaque mural of an anime Japanese girl with giant bazooms. There’s an actual name for these cartoon women. I think it’s “girlfriends.”

Here’s a fun game to play with the kiddies in Tokyo – see how many Fords they can spot.

There are so many active volcanoes in Japan that Space Mountain at Tokyo Disneyland has been known to erupt.

Flew home on American Airlines. In Business Class they hand out little cloth bags of toiletries. On the inside flap it said TWA. My first thought was I hope the plane engine doesn’t say Braniff.

All in all, this was an amazing trip that will leave me with cherished memories and respiratory problems for years. Thanks again to Regent cruise lines, Artful Travelers, and the Little Cherries. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to sleep for four days.

For more travelogues, check out my book, WHERE THE HELL AM I?  TRIPS I HAVE SURVIVED.  Just go here.   It's the only travel guide you'll ever need.  


Anonymous said...

It doesn't have to be produced in Japan to be Kobe beef. The Lakers star can just tart his own line.

Anonymous said...

Just wondering if some can tell why are all the guys on DONE DEAL PRO so old. I found at all the contributors to their forum is over 60 years old. Damn, I am talking to these old farts? Bunch of losers. All these loser old men who cannot sell a studio script, joing Done Deal Pro? Is this true?


Matt said...

I hate to say this but Turning Japanese is a bit of a racist term.

The Vapors were not politically correct.

Anonymous said...


I agree it's very racist.

But isn't American and Europeans racist indirectly?

In my line of business, I met lots of screenwriters who are very racist. But they have the right to be racist. It's their business.

So don't pick on Japan.

Hamid said...

And when we arrived in Kobe there was another band to greet us. But they kept playing “It’s a Small World” so I don’t know if they were being hospitable or just passive-aggressive.

I've enjoyed all three parts of your travelogue but that line killed me. I'll now be getting Where The Hell Am I.

Anonymous said...


Is there money in writing a travelogue. I had a friend from London, who took over 10 years to write 5 travelogues but no publisher would grab it? All he did was brag on twitter about his birds and cats and what he ate for dinner. So sad.

Do you know how much money a non-published writer makes? Are they making a living from writing scripts or travel books?

How are they paying the rent? Are they asking their parents money all the time.

Lucky my friend is from the Jewish background. And he is in the habit of asking his parents for money. Is this the norm?

But really, if you are not making over $80,000.00 net gross after taxes per year writing, how do you pay the rent and mortgages and the bills? Who is paying of the Visa or Amex bills?

Who is paying their rent?

Dan Ball said...

Ken, you've been in rare form with these travelogues. You should travel more often.

Also, in that pic in front of the Tokyo Dome, what the hell is that rusty amusement ride behind you? Is it a weird Japanese trend to paint fully-functional rides to make them look like they're about to disintegrate from decay or did it really fall down after that pic was taken?

Jeff Maxwell said...

Ken, thanks for sharing some highlights of your trip. I was fortunate to have visited Tokyo over twenty years ago and was also blown away by the cleanliness of such a vibrant, jam-packed city. Good to hear it hasn't gone to the dogs.

YEKIMI said...

@Matt Found out years ago after the song had been out for a while that "Turning Japanese" was referring to the look that some men get on their face at the time of climax during masturbation. After that tidbit came out a PD at a radio station I worked for was debating whether to quit playing the record. All the DJs, perverts that we were, said we should put it into even heavier rotation. Glad I wasn't still there when Cyndi Lauper released "She Bop". He probably would have had a stroke.

Ron Rettig said...

Ken, Again a word of warning, protect your memories of the genius of Neil Simon. DON"T WATCH the current horrid version of the Odd Couple.

Anonymous said...


You are the best. Cheers mate. Thanks for the heads up.

Love that comment.

Hamid said...

Anonymous (the one posted at 7.57am)

After carefully considering your very interesting and detailed and intelligent comment, my response is as follows:

About 2.30 in the afternoon most days, but check the timetable first.

Hope that helps.

John Nixon said...

I imagined the band playing the song that the band played at the officers' club on the Navy Base in Yokosuka when I was a kid, "When The Saints Go Bachini". That's what it sounded like to us..."oh when the saints go bah-chee-nee..."

Sum Dum Yung Slant Ho said...

Most honorable writer-san, me rikee vely much! Kanitchiwa!

Cap'n Bob said...

What, no talk of geisha girls and public baths? Either you're holding out on us or you wasted a trip to Japan.

Artie in Sin City said...

I've got it Ken...

The huge machine behind you in the pix at the Tokyo Dome is...

"The unnecessarily slow-moving dipping mechanism"...