The flat fish sizzled…

Breakfast at the ryokan was served in the small dining room. When we were provided an individual grill and an open flame we figured it wasn’t for ambiance – we started looking around at what the other Japanese guests were doing with it. Ah! Cooking the strange little flat fish!

As we nibbled at the dozen or so tiny bowls of surprises our tiny little flat fish sizzled and popped. After last nights fish fiasco we were hesitant to engage as we had no private exit strategy. I leaned over and whispered to Kaety, “When is it done?”, she whispered back, “I have no idea”. I pulled mine off and bit into its tiny little flat side. It was pretty good and skeleton minimal!

We texted Tom and asked how to deal with the rice and pickle course. He replied, ‘alternate bites’. We finished up and were ready for a sunny beautiful day in historic Kurashiki.

The Ryokan Meal: Amazing

The set meal the ryokan staff served us in our room was beautiful and intricate. All the little covered dishes and boxes were delightful and always gave you a sense of a gift to be opened. The food was over the top. Tiny little stacked items with nested items were all colorful and complementary. There were only a few challenging items that gave us pause. We both consider ourselves adventurous eaters but when confronted with the trifecta of skin, head, and skeleton there’s a go/no-go moment. For Kaety the no-go moment occurred after she swallowed. I got mine down but had to turn off all diagnostic systems in my mouth to get it down. Fortunately we had a room with a private toilet for Kaety to deal with her no-go fish. The only complexity after that was negotiating with the super smart toilet, who had no idea what she wanted. There was a lot of discussion about what button on the toilet control panel to push for ‘Yacked up fish’.

Aside from that dramatic moment the meal was excellent!


Naked mistakes in Kurashiki

We made arrangements to stay at a ryokan in the historic district of Kurashiki about an hour south of Kobe.

A ryokan is a traditional Japanese guest house – rice paper walls, tatami mat floors and futon. They serve your meals in your room and have a communal bath for the guests.

We had no idea what to expect. After a perceptually long transit to Kurashiki we found ourselves dumped along side an ancient looking cobbled roadway surround by old world Japan. Moments later we were sitting at out little wooden table in floor chairs in our traditional old world Japanese room. The smell of green grass mats and tea filled the air. We looked at each other across the table and started laughing. What a bizarre transition from the city to the ryokan.

We both felt super gross from a hot sweaty day of travel and wanted to bath but both of us were daunted by the unfamiliar bath territory we’d have to enter to get what we wanted. To prepare we read the instruction sheet that was left on our table.

I scoped out the bath facilities and came back to Kaety with a recon report. It looked pretty straight forward and no one was there. We could make our mistakes and not be naked at the same time.

By the time we mobilized and I made my way into the bath I noticed another pair of slippers outside the door. Oh well.

Naked mistakes aren’t like other mistakes. They seem a lot more high stakes for some reason.

I managed to get the knobs and dials figured out on the shower mechanism, and I got myself scrunched down to sit on the tiny stool.

Once you get rinsed off you soak in the tub. The Japanese guy sharing the space with me got into the tub ahead of me. I settled in and was starting to relax in the water and tune out when he started up a conversation. We fumbled back and forth for a while playing word lawn darts with each other. I only understood 1 out of 3 things he said and while my racing brain sought comprehension of the missing words I’d leave a staring blank space in the conversation. He was doing the same with me. We did have a moment where he smiled and said, “Japanese bathroom culture is different huh?”. I nodded and laughed.

Naked language barrier isn’t any better than clothed language barrier.


Goodbye Kobe

We said goodbye to Kobe and the MTS/Ocean conference to head off for some personal time.

We also said goodbye to the hotel breakfast buffet which had been a delightful amalgam of cultural culinary surprises every morning.

Near the train station we discovered a covered mall that had a dazzling array of shops and interesting mixed marketing messages.

We navigated our way to shin-Kobe station where we picked up the Shinkansen bullet train. Super cool. This train station smelled way different than all the other train stations we’d been frequenting. I suspect the different odor profile was the unique smell of speed.

Watching the landscape go by from the train was a trip – you could see sudden shifts in flavors of neighborhoods, both in architecture and farming spaces. Beautiful place!


Italian dinner in Kobe

We met up for with Tom for dinner in Kobe after the conference. We hugged him and immediately peppered him with all the questions we hadn’t even been aware we’d been saving up, “What’s that yellow thing we keep tripping on?”

He took us up the hill into an old neighborhood that was a fascinating blend of colonial western and Japanese architecture to seek Italian food.

We were a bit ashamed to admit how nice it was to have someone navigate the restaurant like a native.

We talked careers, kids, culture, family, religion, politics and the nitty gritty of kanji for hours! The food was impeccable and the wine was abundant. It was great seeing him and listening to him tell the story of how he experiences his identity living between two cultures.

Kobe train – rush hour crush

We ended up on the metro train at about 5:30, which seemed to be a high capacity time for travel.

When the train arrived it was packed…like not one more person could possible squeeze into the train car packed. Yet the 15 people we were in line with thought otherwise – and we wadded in with them. We crammed into a standing mass of humanity. My body was pressed hard up against four other people – one of them I realized a short time later was completely asleep, his limp body held up by the press of humanity surrounding him.

We made another stop and more people crammed in. One woman’s face was mooshed against one of the windows.

Kaety and I were pressed together with one arm trapped up holding the bar and one arm trapped at our sides. We were laughing at the ludicrous state we were in.

For a culture that doesn’t do public displays of affection I think they were pressure valving that whole state of reserve on their trains. I’m a hugger but I’ve never been in that state of intimate contact with so many strangers before in my life.

The process of getting my phone out of my pocket to snap a photo inadvertently groped at least three people.



Kaety’s suitcase blew its zipper upon arrival in Japan. We spotted an IKEA on the way from the airport on the local metro line and today executed a foray out to buy a new suitcase.

We’ve spent a lot of time at IKEA’s so we were super curious what variations would be unique to a Japanese IKEA.

Come to find out…not much at all. The furniture and home items were the same. The food offerings were about the same but with a few rice and seafood based items we don’t see in the states. Meatballs, potatoes and lingon berry sauce were still front and center.

I did wonder how the almost non-sensical fake Swedish names were being translated into Japanese.

We saw Thomas Fast later that day – he reviewed the photos and reported that the Japanese characters were essentially spelling out phonetic characters to build the exact same name. So an IKEA ‘Fado’ is still a ‘Fado’ in Japan.