Saturday, January 30, 2010

Ramen Adventures in the NY Times


That's Matt Gross, known worldwide as the New York Time's Frugal Traveler. A few months back, Matt came to Tokyo to write a cover story about ramen. He hit me up for help navigating the crazy world of Tokyo ramen. Hells yeah I'm gonna help a writer from the NY Times write about ramen.

The article is out online now. Check it here:

And it will be a cover story in the travel section of the January 31st New York Times. Cop that shit!

More photos over at my ramen site,


And, if you somehow found your way to this site by way of the NY Times article, よろしく, welcome! How did you find me? I don't really link from Ramen Adventures to Gaijin Bash. Gaijin Bash is my little corner of the web where I write about stupid shit that I do in Japan. I'll give a little Q&A, sticking with the questions that every Japanese person will ask you when you meet them for the first time.

どこからきた? What country are you from?

I'm from San Francisco, in America. You have to say San Francisco, so people don't assume you are some sort of jerk (I'm looking at you Candaians, why you hatin on me!). Of course, I hear SF is all about hipster assholes these days, so maybe it's not such a good thing.

日本語が上手ですね!Can you speak Japanese?

More than last year, but not as much as I should if I could study for more than 10 minutes at a time. I can understand about 70% of conversations at bars... ish. I think I'm pretty damn funny, but I can only make stupid oyaji gags in Japanese. Those are like puns, except not funny. Puns are only funny when they are perverted.

納豆を食べる?Can you eat natto?


趣味は何ですか? What are your hobbies?

Eating ramen, photography, and motorcycle touring.

仕事は何ですか? What is your job?

I teach at a private girl's High School part time and tutor on the side. Please don't make any inappropriate comments.

日本はどうですか? How is Japan?

It's great.

アニメが好き? Do you like anime?

I guess being pigeon holed as an otaku nerd is better than being pigeon holed as a fat, racist American asshole. But, no, I'm not really into anime specifically.

鉄砲がありますか?Do you have a gun?

No, dammit, stop asking me if I have a gun! Why do you assume every American has some realtionship with guns. Oh, a follow up? Yes... I've seen a gun. Yes... I've shot a gun. Yes... I've been shot at before...

Any more questions? (generic Japanese questions only please)

Friday, January 29, 2010

Haiko! Snake Research Center (Part 2)


I thought the dinosaur cave was the end of our haikyo adventure. I wandered off into the venom exhibit, and when I came out, a pale faced Paul was waiting for me. "You've gotta see this!"

Like I mentioned before, about half of the Japan Snake Center is in ruins. The legit, open to the public part was practically a haikyo in itself. A few pathetic dioramas, about 30 or so snakes on display, and a plethora of preserved snakes. Needless to say, if you drove here from far far away because of a genuine interest in snakes, you would be greatly disappointed. The Ueno Zoo has a better snake exhibit, plus you can see monkeys throwing poop, which is what life is all about.

What looked like an empty shack, next to the fully functional snake art gallery, was indeed not empty. Are you ready?


This shack was full of dead snakes. Buckets of dead snakes.


Piles of snake skeletons on the floor.


Bottles of snake bits preserved in mystery liquid.


Tiny snake parts in prescription medicine bottles.


Snakes in print form.


And snakes in jars. My god, the snakes in jars.


Surely, someone would have emptied out these Tupperware containers. Any guess what's inside?


Death. Boxes of death.


Faded labels have forever forgotten the species inside.


Coiled in a vacuum, safe from decomposition, can anyone benefit from this snake's death?

And now... I rant!

What the fuck. You have an opportunity here to inspire young minds. Children are drawn to exotic animals, like snakes and insects. And snakes are literally one of the easiest animals to keep in captivity. Terrarium, heat, water, food. Growing up, my mom kept a variety of "creepy" animals like snakes, spiders, and bugs. She used them in her preschool. By the end of the year, the kids were forever cured of any fears that might develop towards such creatures. They could hold snakes, feed snakes, and care for snakes. The Japan Snake Center was visited by mostly families with young children. The only opportunity to touch a live snake was by paying $10 to take a picture with a boa. Utterly worthless, turning a chance to teach into a chance to make some money. The only "educational" thing was feeding time. And to top off the stupidity of this place, you must enter and exit through the gift shop, where you can buy snake wine and purses and belts made from snake skin. I have no problem with snake leather goods, just don't force people's first and last impression of snakes to be from a material point of view. I know that this is Japan, and most aspects of life are more materialistic here, but if you are claiming some sort of educational purpose, don't fucking phone that shit in. End of rant.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Haikyo! Snake Research Center (Part 1)


A couple hours north of Tokyo; past Saitama prefecture; is Gunma. Having lived in Maebashi, the capital of Gunma, for a short time, I can comment. Gunma is ok... if you have a car. Seriously, how would you feel if you lived in a city with nothing except some second rate watermelons.


And a snake research center.


Sorry, the Japan Snake Center. The Japan Snake Center was built sometime in the 60s, the purpose being to advance the study and knowledge of snakes. It is still functioning, and a 1000 yen fee gets you in.


This place is part legit exhibition, part crumbling haikyo. About half of the complex is in utter ruins. Hop over a rather pointless guard rope, and travel back a few million years. No one is there to stop you. If they did try to stop you, you could probably just give them a bill or two and they would turn a blind eye. Ok Doc, let's go back in time!


Back to a time when might T-Rex was king (emperor?) of the land.


Did you bring your boots? The still water looks almost invisible up close, but runs half a meter deep at some points.


Long shutter times and a tripod hide the fact that it is almost pitch black inside this ruined dinosaur cave.


I suppose there is a connection between dinosaurs and snakes.


Though the more likely reason for the existence of this exhibit was just to make money.


T-Rex has seen better days.


As a child, I could name all of these no problem. Is this an Allosaurus?


Some sort of pathetic acid trip art adorns the walls.


If you climb up the wall, you'll have a 50% chance of seeing another room which is full of barrels, or a 50% chance of falling and breaking your neck. Roll the dice!


Stuck in a perpetual roar, with no one to be terrified.


Be careful of the slippery sludge. Fellow haikyo enthusiast Paul almost slipped and fell into the deep. I won't lie, it would have been funny.


I'll rant about the Snake Center's goal to squeeze as much money out of you as possible next time. So it goes without saying that the dinosaur cave would sell dinosaur related gifts.


Or Pokemon literature.


Or some sort of... medicine?


A successful haikyo exploration, though a bit on the small size. Afterwords, we set off to look at the snakes, which was pretty lame. There was one room with 5 pythons called the Big Snake Festival. You could have your picture taken with a boa for $10. The gift shop sells $200 packs of medicine made from ground up snakes and snake leather purses. As someone who has owned many many snakes, and volunteered at a science museum, I was a bit offended.

Then we discovered the... storage room. Stay tuned!

You can see Paul's account of the trip here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ice on Lake Yamanako


It's easy to forget about the geography of Japan.


The Kanto plains, stretching out from the Tokyo metropolis, are uniformly flat and relatively warm this time of year.


But a mere 100 kilometers away, at the base of Mt. Fuji, the lakes have frozen over.


Keep this in mind, and pack a jacket.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Fishing in the Ishigami River


The Ishigami River in the north of Tokyo is home to many native fish. Yum, do I spy an elusive river eel?


Put the sweet plum sauce away, it's just a rusty bike.


Would anyone dare drop a line in this cement lined, toxic flow?


Without a doubt.


Strictly catch and release though.


Good god, I hope it's catch and release.


If you live in Tokyo, take time to explore the off beaten paths.


The cold concrete jungle is subtly flavored with joy and tradition.


Just pick a direction, and go.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Pooey the Globetrotting Ostrich

This is Pooey.


Pooey was born (purchased) somewhere in North Carolina about 2 years ago. Passed from rider to rider, he was the torch on a charity motorcycle relay across the good old United States of America. When you see motorcycle and USA in the same sentence, you're probably thinking a big fat dude on a big fat Harley. But is all about adventure riding. Off road, middle of nowhere stuff. Cool! You can check out the hellllla massive thread about Pooey here. Check out a couple rad shots from his tours so far:

So after touring America, Canada, Australia, India, and China, Pooey is here in Japan. There's not a lot of epic adventure style riding in Japan, unfortunately, and I don't really have the right kind of bike for that anyways. How to satisfy Pooey?


Booze! Yep, I use my vegetable crisper drawer for liquor. Shochu is made from vegetables, right?


Nothing screams Japan as much as Mt. Fuji, so on a brisk Friday morning I hopped on the CB1000 and headed west...


...with my new sports video camera mounted on the ride. This is a GoPro HD Hero camera. It's meant to be worn on a helmet or mounted on a vehicle. I'm still working out the kinks, but check out a short video of me getting onto the expressway! (warning: it's boring)

Sorry, no more videos. A 2 gigabyte memory card fills up pretty fast. I have a video where I'm at a stop light behind a truck for 2 minutes. Should I upload it?


Headed west on the Chuo expressway. Cafe culture sucks in Japan, so McDonalds is the choice for caffeine. I ordered a cafe latte, and the girl behind the counter freaked. Turns out they don't have McCafe in the countryside. Also talking to foreigners is hella scary to some countryside folk.


Arriving at the prime view spot of majestic Mount Fuji...


... was a disappointment. Fuji's magnetic cloud powers were in effect. Sorry Pooey.


Took some new roads on the way home (route 147 out of Yamanako to the 246). Monkeys!


Lookit them crazy monkeys!


I made a left onto 76, which I thought was 70. After a nice ride along a lakeshore and up into the hills...


... a dead end. I've got a nice collection of "Don't Enter" signs from Japanese roads. The benefits of being too cheap to buy a proper GPS system.


Check the map, and try again.


Managed my way back to the Tomei expressway. Inside a rest stop is a massive real-time map of Tokyo's expressway conditions. A little traffic ahead, but nothing too serious. On a Sunday night, you'll see a lot of red, but on a Friday you're ok.


Use of an electronic toll collection (ETC) system saves time and money. Being Japan, shit is all fucked up, and the unit for a motorcycle costs 4 times the price for a car. Regardless of that fact, they've been sold out for like 2 years. I just bought a used car one, which is technically a no-no, but it works so I don't really care.

Seriously, if I get busted for using a non-regulation payment system before getting busted for something else...


Thus ends my day with Pooey the globetrotting ostrich. He is, yep, a Beanie Baby. And, crime of crimes, his tag is missing. Would this ruin the value of this collectible toy? A quick google search, and it looks like Pooey (nee Stretch) isn't on the top of any collector's lists. Onward Pooey, see it all.