Sunny Road Trip!

This week is golden week here in Japan, a series of four holidays that line up to give almost 10 days of well deserved rest in a row. GW, as it’s called, is prime travel season, and with this and all the beautiful weather in mind, I decided to take a short road trip!

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Temple side sakura gazing…

But where to go? I didn’t feel like ranging as far as Kyoto, Nagoya or even Takayama again, and as fun as just driving for the sake of it might be, it’s always more fun to have a definite goal in mind. This is when having Japanese friends can come in handy – if there’s one thing you can count on them having (besides thermal impulse sealers), it’s a bunch of “tourism magazines”. These magazines list, in obsessive detail, just about every single thing to do, see, eat – and most importantly – buy for any given region of Japan.

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Classic Tourist Shot

After flipping through a magazine for our prefecture (I’m still not sure why she had that, seeing as how she’s lived here her entire life), we finally settled on a little tofu maker located in a small mountain village down south. Not just regular tofu, mind you, but the most katai (“hard”) of all katadofus (“hard tofu”) mere mortals can find. I love tofu, and a well made block of katadofu is like mana from heaven to me – if prepared properly it is so dense, so firm and so solid it’s almost like meat. Delicious, healthy, tofu-y meat!

Click play to start. Maybe don’t watch if you’re prone to seizures (^_^)v

Before going on, I decided to try out a little experiment and make a time-lapse video of our road trip. Unfortunately the battery ran out literally two minutes before we arrived at our destination, but it’s still a neat experiment. The file is about 10 MBs so it might take a while to load. It starts out a little slow, but gets pretty interesting towards the end when we encounter all the tunnels.

If you have any questions about the video, check the addendum below! Otherwise, enjoy the pictures!

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Afternoon Tea

Proving that people in the country are always nicer than city folk regardless of where in the world you are, this tea table was set up outside a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) inviting people to sit down and rest with a nice cup of tea, regardless of whether they were staying in the inn or not. Of course, who are we to turn down free stuff? The kindly old woman who owned the place, perhaps sensing I was a panda, was even kind enough to bring us some Japanese sweets to snack on!

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A tree done up in a quasi bonsai style (as opposed to bonsai kitten) (can you believe some people actually thought that was real!?), this was sitting outside of someone’s house.

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Walking the plank

Further down the same street, we saw this small collection of assorted greenery soaking up the sun outside. This is such a Japanese scene – I have written before about the diversity of materials used to construct roads and walking surfaces here in Japan, and this is a prime example. The wooden planks actually form a bridge that spans a canal, allowing occupants to enter their front door from the street (the door would be to the upper right in this picture). They serve double duty however – when the owner wants to water their plants, they merely lift up one of the boards, then reach down into the stream below with a long handled dipper and voila – watering done! No muss, no fuss.

The most wonderful part about this scene is just the sheer number of textures and materials used – we can see modern black asphalt (with yellow road paint!), weathered wooden boards, old moss covered stones, new looking metallic grates and if you look closely, a thin layer of red tile along the sides of the grate opening. Beautiful.

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Rounding the corner, we arrive at our destination! To be honest, I was expecting something a little more…. tofu-y! Traditional tofu making is a laborious process that involves big vats of boiling liquid, large areas to skim and collect the tofu, etc. – I was hoping to see some of that in our visit, but what we found instead was a relatively modern small town grocery store with the much vaunted katadofu stored in a large insulated refrigerator. When we inquired the kindly old lady informed us that all the tofu making equipment was in the back, but a quick glance revealed naught but a sea of gleaming stainless steel industrial kitchen equipment – alas, even this little tofu maker had moved into the 21st century. Nonetheless, the tofu was quite delicious looking and as soon as I hefted its considerable weight, I knew it was worth the journey. Mission Complete!!!

*gives thumbs up*

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I spy, with my panda eye…. something fishy!

Since it was so sunny and beautiful out, we decided to have a little picnic, and ended up buying supplies in the grocery store. Everything was going normally until I spied this bafflingly random collection of what appears to be three dead fishes smeared in miso paste and covered in plastic wrap next to a single carrot and two sweet potatoes just hanging out, casual as can be, next to the potato chips and crackers. What the…!?

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Now while I took the previous picture because I thought that was a really random thing to have hanging out on an unrefrigerated shelf next to some sealed snack foods (ahh, country life), my erstwhile traveling companion apparently misinterpreted my photographic interlude as an indication that I actually wanted to eat the damn thing and without my knowledge, threw one of the fishes (literally, just lifted up the plastic wrap and threw one of the fishes on top of the rest of the groceries) in the shopping basket. Where it remained until we checked out. Where upon it was wrapped. And transported to our designated picnic spot.

Where I took this picture with my new fishy friend.

Needless to say, I wasn’t the one who ended up eating this thing.

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Temple Bell

A random bell lofted atop a concrete embankment in front of a temple. I decided to wander over to have a look while my friend tackled the dead fish from above.

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Despite the fact that I was the one who did all the driving, apparently my friend was pretty tired because when I got back from my little photographic adventure, I found her like this, snoring away in the middle of a park bench in broad daylight. I resisted the urge to grab the chewed up fish skeleton and use it to scare her awake.

But I debated it for a good two or three minutes though…

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Dinosaur Museum

On the way back we passed by this random 35 foot tall statue of a Tyrannosaurs Rex growling fearsomely at a curve in the road, apparently as an enticement to come visit the nearby dinosaur museum. What is mildly amusing about this picture is the sign beneath the T-Rex’s feet. It reads:

“Are you driving safely?”

And all I could think was “No, man, a goddamn dinosaur that just scared the shit out of me when I rounded the blind curve here! What do you expect!!?”

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I don’t know why, but for some reason there were tons of takoyaki stands all over the road going home. And the lines!! My goodness! This was one of the shorter ones we saw.

A while back one of Tennis’s friends came to visit her in Osaka and we decided to go out and give her a taste of the cuisine for which the city is so famous. One of the most humble, yet celebrated of these is takoyaki, which are little round balls of dough wrapped around a delicious piece of broiled octopus with bits of minced ginger and scallions for good measure.

However, much to our surprise, when we described what they were, her friend recoiled in horror and steadfastly refused to touch them, or even consider going anywhere that sold them. A pretty weird reaction, especially since she scarfed much more objectionable things (natto, raw fish, raw eggs, etc.) without hesitation.

Finally, towards the end of her stay, curiosity got the best of us.

“Why do you hate takoyaki so much?”

She shoots us a look of death.

“That is not going anywhere near my lips!”

“But they’re just little balls of dough with octopus in them!”

a pause as confusion flickers across her face.

“Wait…. Are they balls with octopus inside of them, or are they octopus balls?”

“Well those are the same thing, aren’t they?” we reply without thinking.

She shoots us another look. Suddenly a moment of mutual realization dawns across all parties.

“Oh my god…”

“Wait, so you thought that when we said ‘octopus balls’ we meant…”

“And that’s why you…”


Nowadays, I make it a deliberate point to describe them as “octopus dumplings”.

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Spring action shot

We stopped off at a waterfall on the way home, but were disappointed to see the area was closed due to “collapsing stairs and falling boulders”.

Damn. Not much you can say to that. It was nice to stretch our legs anyway.

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Namacha panda love

Aaaannnnd, no journey home would be complete without a stop at the local grocery store to pet this gigantic stuffed namacha panda doll!! I’m still trying to figure out how I can steal him without getting caught. He will be mine someday.

You hear me?

He will be mine.

And that was the sunny day road trip!!!

About the Time Lapse Video

1. What equipment did you use?
I used a Konica Minolta dimage x50 digital camera. It was connected to a Fujitsu Loox Biblo T70h, but any laptop will do.

2. What settings and software did you use?
I set the camera USB connect mode to “PC Camera”. This is important – this setting lets the camera act like a web cam when connected to your computer. Not all cameras can do this – for example, the Casio Exlim line, despite being a wonderful digital point and shoot in all other respects, lacks this mode, so it won’t work. Usually this feature is buried deep in the “advanced” settings part of the camera menu.

For the computer, I used Microsoft’s timershot powertoy. Basically it takes input from a connected webcam and saves it to the hard drive at a present interval. It’s freeware and should be self explanatory. I set the program to record a snapshot every second.

After that, you should be left with a bunch of images (about 4200 in my case). Now I used the FULL version of QuickTime Pro (USD $29.99). There is an option under the “file” menu to “open image sequence”. Use this to choose all the images you just saved. Then set your frame rate (I used 24 fps) and click “ok”. It will take a while to process, but in the end you’ll be left with a time lapse video! Export or save the video using whatever compression codec and quality level you want.

3. Why is it so small?
Actually the normal images are saved at 320x240px (note that when connecting via PC Camera mode, the digital camera only sends data at this resolution.) I haven’t figured out a way to take advantage of the full 5megapixel capability to make a large time lapse video. It would require messing with the driver and/or firmware which is beyond my expertise. Not to mention there’s not enough ram in this world to process video of that size…! (^_^)v

Anyway, so the normal “full size” video is 320×240 but then I reduced the size in QuickTime Pro to 175×131 to keep the file size quasi-reasonable (full sized is something like 42 MB…!).

4. And the music…?
The music is “Greece 2000 – Original Mix” by Paul Oakenfold. I opened it in a separate instance of QuickTime Pro, then selected a portion roughly equal to the length of the video. Copy the selection, then go to the video, highlight (select all) the entire video, then click “insert” (or paste, add to selection, whatever, I forget). It’s pretty clumsy and could use a fade in/out effect, but QuickTime Pro doesn’t let you do that (you need movie maker or whatever). Ah well, c’est la vie!

5. What’s up with the wrong turns?
Yeah, so I got lost a couple of times. I blame my navigator!

6. Why does the video end abruptly?
I ran out of batteries on the camera. Stupid me, I left the screen on – had I turned it off while recording it would easily have lasted the entire journey and back.

7. Anything else to add?
Yeah, the part at the end of the video where we’re whipping through mountains and tunnels is my favorite part. It’s hard to see, but we’re way up high in the mountains at that point, and very close to some cliff edges. It really is that windy and fast (and terrifying!)…!

Now listening to:
“Asian Kung-Fu Generation – Kona yuki”

8 Reactions

  1. andrew

    I love Takoyaki for the most part it is so good.
    I used to date a woman who hated Tofu…as if that is humanly possible. How can you hate something that doesnt really taste like anything.
    I like Tofu too.
    Hope you had a great Golden Week.

  2. namizon

    your trip sounds nice.
    HK is nice too .. sadly i didnt get to see those cuty pandas…my sister is too tired from all those shopping and we already spent too much money on disney’s ticket.

  3. ben

    This is when “[Japanese] friends come in handy.” Haha.. true! :D

  4. moritheil

    My goodness, that panda is truly a behemoth.
    Oh, and if you want to weigh in with your superior Japanese knowledge, here’s something that’s been puzzling me. :P

  5. moritheil

    I think the most classic-looking shot out of all of the above, incidentally, is the first one. Remembering your prior rant on the sakura theme in Japanese culture, I suspect you wouldn’t object on the grounds of sakura inclusion alone.
    Anyhow, apparently my prior link doesn’t work, so let me insert my shameless appeal here: If you have time, can you shed any light on the nonexclusive use of the term “kami-sama?” I had an entry about it that no one seemed to want to touch. (Linked for this comment)

  6. lizb

    YES! I got it fridayyy. :D
    I’m working on a letter and then I will send it out this weekend I think.
    PS why didnt you go to the dinosaur museum?!?!